The accelerating meltdown of the Arctic ice sheet is getting more attention as August wanes, but now a new scientific study centered on Antarctica is giving us even more reason to worry.
Data published in the journal Nature suggests there may be as much as 4 billion tons of methane gas trapped beneath the ice at the South Pole.
That’s about the same amount as the methane trapped beneath the fast-melting ice in the northern Arctic, which has already started to be released. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term.
“There’s a potentially large pool of methane hydrate in part of the Earth where we haven’t previously considered it,” Jemma Wadham, professor of Glaciology at the UK’s University of Bristol and lead author of the study, told Bloomberg. “Depending on where that hydrate is, and how much there is, if the ice thins in those regions, some of that hydrate could come out with a possible feedback on climate.”
The methane beneath Antarctica dates back 35 million years and is currently the form of "methane hydrate," trapped in the sediment beneath the seabed.
Methane levels are already rising around the world. Last November, the United Nations reported that methane reached 1,808 parts per billion in 2010, up 0.28% and the highest levels since the organization began keeping records.
"Our study highlights the need for continued scientific exploration of remote sub-ice environments in Antarctica, because they may have far greater impact on Earth’s climate system than we have appreciated in the past," Professor Slawek Tulaczyk, from the University of California at Santa Barbara, told Bloomberg.
Indeed, scientists and the media need to pay alot more attention to both the North and South poles. The ice cover in the Artic was at the fourth smallest levels on record (just 1.9 million square miles) in mid-August — with five weeks to go in seasonal melting period.
If things continue at the same rate, the Arctic could experience ice-free days in the summer within a decade, increasing the potential for methane to escape.
Scientists that model the effects of carbon on climate change "suggest it will be hell on Earth by 2100. But in calculating the rate and amount of methane and carbon released from Arctic sources, they didn’t even add in the effect of accelerated warming from the permafrost releases themselves. In other words, they looked at greenhouse gas emissions from conventional sources only, despite the fact that releases from methane feedbacks are equivalent to those from fossil fuels," notes author John Atcheson, in his article, "We Are Writing an Epilogue to the World We Knew."
"So yeah, Hell is coming, but it’s coming a lot faster than any predictions you’ve see so far from the scientific community," he says.
Read his article: