Melting permafrost in Siberia after last year’s heat wave could release ‘methane bomb’

Melting permafrost in Siberia after last year’s heat wave could release a ‘methane bomb’ that would rapidly accelerate global warming

  • Summer 2020 heatwave in Siberia sparked an increase in methane gas emissions from limestone, which could result in a ‘methane bomb’
  • The extreme heat wave resulted in a ‘temperature drift’ of 6 degrees Celsius over the baseline period of 1979-2000
  • Since June 2020, methane concentration has increased in the Taymyr Fold Belt and the edge of the Siberian Platform
  • At the beginning of 2021, there was methane throughout the area as methane spread
  • About 11% of the entire world is covered by permafrost

The 2020 heat wave that occurred in Siberia over the summer led to an increase in methane gas emissions from limestone, an event that could lead to Earth’s atmosphere being hit by a ‘methane bomb’.

A new study by researchers at the University of Bonn found that the extreme heat wave in Siberia resulted in a “temperature drift” of 6 degrees Celsius over the base period of 1979-2000.

Since June 2020, there has been an increase in methane concentration in two long areas of the region: the Taymyr Fold Belt and the edge of the Siberian Platform.

Summer 2020 heatwave in Siberia sparked an increase in methane gas emissions from limestone, which could result in a ‘methane bomb’

By early 2021, the methane had spread throughout the region, the researchers found.

The extreme heat wave resulted in a 'temperature drift' of 6 degrees Celsius over the base period of 1979-2000.  Since June 2020, methane concentration has increased in the Taymyr Fold Belt and the edge of the Siberian Platform

The extreme heat wave resulted in a ‘temperature drift’ of 6 degrees Celsius over the base period of 1979-2000. Since June 2020, methane concentration has increased in the Taymyr Fold Belt and the edge of the Siberian Platform

What’s worrisome about the two areas is that the bedrock was formed by Paleozoic limestone formations, dating back to 541 million years ago.

By early 2021, there was methane throughout the area as methane spread.  The foundation is formed by limestone formations from the Paleozoic, dating from 541 million years ago

By early 2021, there was methane throughout the area as methane spread. The foundation is formed by limestone formations from the Paleozoic, dating from 541 million years ago

“Methane is particularly dangerous here because the warming potential is many times higher than that of CO2,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Dr Nikolaus Froitzheim of the University of Bonn in a statement. pronunciation.

According to the Milieudefensiefonds, methane has 80 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years of its release into the atmosphere.

WHY IS PERMAFROST SO IMPORTANT?

Permafrost – soil that has been frozen for at least two years – is sensitive and prone to global warming.

It is usually found in high-latitude regions, such as the Arctic, and stores large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, which are released into the atmosphere as the ground melts and disintegrates.

An estimated 35 million people currently live in cities or towns atop permafrost, and thawed soil can cause the soil to become unstable, the scientists said.

This would put buildings, roads and other infrastructure at risk of collapse.

The researchers compared the spatial and temporal distribution of methane concentrations in the air of Northern Siberia with geological maps to arrive at their findings.

About 15 percent of the Northern Hemisphere, or 11 percent of the entire world, is covered in permafrost, according to a Study April 2021.

If this part of the ground were to thaw as a result of climate change, that could be especially concerning, given the impact it would have on rising temperatures.

Previous research suggested that thawing the permafrost would contribute to a rise of ‘just’ 0.2 degrees Celsius by 2100 and not lead to the aforementioned ‘methane bomb’, but the new study challenges that assumption.

Froitzheim noted that the soil formation in these areas is “very thin to nonexistent,” so there’s little to worry about about methane from decaying soil.

However, it is likely that the fracture and cave systems in the limestone become porous at higher temperatures.

“As a result, natural gas, mainly methane from reservoirs in and under the permafrost, can reach the Earth’s surface,” he explains.

Frotizheim continues: ‘The estimated amounts of natural gas in the subsurface of Northern Siberia are enormous. If parts of this are added to the atmosphere as the permafrost thaws, it could have dramatic consequences for the already overheated global climate.’

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Several groups of scientists have expressed concerns about what would happen if Earth’s permafrost melted.

In July 2020, a separate group of experts found that increased permafrost melt could cause microbes to release 40 billion tons more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than previously thought.

Other studies, including one published in September 2017, have raised concerns about unlocking ancient diseases trapped in the permafrost.

THREATS FROM DEFROST PERMAFROST

Permafrost, which is mainly found in areas at high latitudes such as the Arctic, stores large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, which are released into the atmosphere as the ground melts and disintegrates.

As permafrost melts and releases gases into the atmosphere that cause warming, the permafrost melts even more, releasing more of these gases, such as methane and CO2, leading to a positive feedback loop that exacerbates climate change.

But other threats from melting permafrost include:

  • Release of ancient microbes: In August 2016, an anthrax outbreak in Siberia sickened 72 people and killed a 12-year-old boy. This was because an anthrax-infected reindeer had thawed, releasing the bacteria.
  • Damaged landscapes and roads: When the ice in the permafrost thaws, the water drains and the ground above can collapse, deform, or disintegrate. The Alaska Dispatch News reported that thawing permafrost is distorting roads in Bethel, Alaska.
  • Loss of historical data: Thawing permaforst can also threaten natural historical records. For example, ‘Otzi’, a 5-300-year-old dead man found in the Alps, would not have been preserved as well if thawed.
As permafrost melts and releases gases into the atmosphere that cause warming, the permafrost melts even more, releasing more of these gases, such as methane and CO2, leading to a positive feedback loop that exacerbates climate change.

As permafrost melts and releases gases into the atmosphere that cause warming, the permafrost melts even more, releasing more of these gases, such as methane and CO2, leading to a positive feedback loop that exacerbates climate change.

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