His first book is Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution. Osborne agrees that “the Arctic is greening”. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world (in part due to the loss of solar reflectivity). The Arctic region is one of the many natural sources of the greenhouse gas methane. ", "Study finds hydrate gun hypothesis unlikely", "Melting Arctic sea ice accelerates methane emissions", "Molecular and biogeochemical evidence for methane cycling beneath the western margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet", "Ice-sheet-driven methane storage and release in the Arctic", "Melting Arctic Ocean Raises Threat of 'Methane Time Bomb, "Permafrost Threatened by Rapid Retreat of Arctic Sea Ice, NCAR Study Finds", "Accelerated Arctic land warming and permafrost degradation during rapid sea ice loss", "Methane Bubbling Up From Undersea Permafrost? The rapid thawing of permafrost causes "mega slumps" that puncture the landscape like the holes in swiss cheese (Credit: Sue Natali), The organic-rich permafrost holds an estimated 1,500 billion tonnes of carbon. “Scientists are finding that those microplastics are accumulating across the entire ocean and being dumped into the Arctic”, explains Osborne. ", Further research by Klaus Wallmann et al. That affects us all. The Arctic Ocean becomes warmer than the former ice cover and much more water vapour enters the air. Natali explains that, “mercury often binds up with organic material in places where you have high organic matter content… organism’s bodies don’t remove it, so it bio-accumulates up the food web. Nature Communications, 9(1), p.83. As a direct result of rising air temperatures, she says, the permafrost is thawing and “the landscape is physically crumbling as a result… things are changing so fast, and in ways that researchers hadn’t even anticipated.”, The headline of the 2017 Arctic Report Card pulled no punches: “Arctic shows no sign of returning to a reliably frozen region”. “You hear people say ‘we used to pick blueberries over there’, and you look over there and it’s a wetland.”. Hong et al. Considering the possible formation mechanisms of such plumes, their studies indicated thermoabrasion and the effects of shallow gas or gas hydrates release. , Even with existing levels of warming and melting of the Arctic region, submarine methane releases linked to clathrate breakdown have been discovered, and demonstrated to be leaking into the atmosphere. " Analyses of data from an expedition to remote outposts in the Canadian Arctic in 2016 indicated that permafrost is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted. In South Bend, Indiana, it reached -29C in January 2019, almost twice as low as the city’s previous record set in 1936. The methane is believed to have started its release due to the rising temperatures of the Arctic Ocean, brought on by warming Atlantic currents. What such stories masked, however, was that the opposite was happening in the far North, beyond the Arctic circle.  A 2011 Russian survey off the East Siberian coast found plumes wider than one kilometer releasing methane directly into the atmosphere. If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. When a young boy and 2,500 reindeer died, the disease was identified: anthrax. “In geological timescales this is not a slow release. (2018) found that the hydrate release is due to the rebound of the sea bed after the ice melted. Lawrence et al. And we depend on the Arctic. Permafrost and clathrates degrade on warming, thus large releases of methane from these sources may arise as a result of global warming. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Capital, and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday. Arctic methane release from natural sources, to be distinguished from industrial sources, is the release of methane from seas and soils in permafrost regions of the Arctic. Then a postdoctoral research fellow studying the effects of thawing permafrost due to climate change, she had seen photos of this site many times. The Northern Hemisphere winter of 2018/2019 was dominated by headlines of the “polar vortex”, as temperatures plummeted unusually far south into North America. But she adds that studies of animal populations actually suggest that, “warmer temperatures also increase the prevalence of viruses and disease, so we’re seeing a lot more caribou and reindeer becoming more sickly as a result of this warming climate… it is just not an environment that is suited to thrive at these warmer temperatures.” Natali also says that many areas are experiencing “Tundra browning”: the higher temperatures lead surface water to evaporate into the atmosphere, causing plants to die off. ", A 2014 study found evidence for methane cycling below the ice sheet of the Russell Glacier, based on subglacial drainage samples which were dominated by Proteobacteria. They concluded that the hydrates acted as a dynamic seal regulating the methane emissions from the deep geological gas reservoirs and when they were dissociated 8,000 years ago, weakening the seal, this led to the higher methane release still observed today. “I still get chills when I think about it… I just couldn’t believe the magnitude: collapsing cliffs the size of multi-storey buildings … and as you walk along you see what look like logs poking out the permafrost. suggest that current rapid melting of the sea ice may induce a rapid melting of arctic permafrost.  Land ecosystems are considered the main sources of this asymmetry, although it has been suggested that "the role of the Arctic Ocean is significantly underestimated. “In some places in the Alaskan Arctic, you fly over a swiss cheese of land and lakes formed by ground collapse,” says Natali, whose fieldwork has moved from Siberia to Alaska.  This compares to around 500 million tonnes released into the atmosphere annually from all sources. Sea ice loss is correlated with warming of Northern latitudes. A report by the U.S. January 2019 also saw Arctic sea ice average just 13.56 million square kilometres ... Melting ice can release methane, which will exacerbate global warming (Credit: Alamy) In … , Sinkholes discovered in the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, Russia beginning in July 2014 are believed by Russian researchers to have been caused by methane released due to permafrost thawing. “Water that was close to the surface now becomes a pond.” Many of these ponds are bubbling with methane, as microbes suddenly find themselves with a feast of ancient organic matter to munch on, releasing methane as a by-product.