The Arctic and Methane

The question of the potential for methane emission from melting Arctic ice has been asked many times, but the exact danger posed is often only speculated at. As it turns out, recent evidence has pointed to a potentially catastrophic release of methane in the near future, and this theory has been backed up with sufficient evidence.

As some of us know, the melting of sea ice inevitably leads to more melting, and this chain effect is currently underway in the Arctic, where tons of sea ice is melting every year. Scientists have previously theorized that there was a danger of methane trapped in frozen arctic soil being released alongside CO2 from the ice, and these fears have recently been confirmed. As Donatella Zona states, “Arctic soil layers are structured kind of like a sandwich in the winter.” There’s a top layer (the very surface of the soil) and a bottom layer that both freeze as temperatures drop. In between them, there’s a layer of soil — found just below the surface — that can remain unfrozen for months, even as the temperature drops. Because of this unfrozen soil, methane is released even in winter months, leading to the conclusion that not only does the danger of methane emissions in the Arctic exist, but the situation is worse than was theorized.

Several scientists have theorized that there lies the potential for a massive 60 Gigatonne methane release “at any time”. The Arctic methane problem has been compared to a ticking time bomb, and the threat of such an emission brings home the reality of global warming’s early dangers leading to potentially cataclysmic dangers.

More attention must be brought to methane in the Arctic, as from recent evidence it could at one point come to overshadow other man-made emission problems. The most frightening fact about this danger is that it may already be too late to prevent its effects.