'"This Is Truly Terrifying": Scientists Studying Underwater Permafrost Thaw Find Area of the Arctic Ocean "Boiling With Methane Bubbles"'
Scientists studying the consequences of methane emissions from underwater permafrost in the Arctic Ocean announced this week that they found a 50-square-foot area of the East Siberian Sea "boiling with methane bubbles."
"This is the most powerful seep I have ever been able to observe," lead scientist Igor Semiletov said Monday, using a term for methane gas bubbling up from the seafloor to the surface. "No one has ever recorded anything similar."
Semiletov, a Russian researcher who has participated in 45 Arctic expeditions, set out on the Academic Mstislav Keldysh last month, accompanied by scientists from the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
Compared with carbon dioxide, methane has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere but is better at trapping radiation, so methane's impact is more than 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Experts are increasingly concerned about the consequences of thawing permafrost that is located both beneath land and water in the planet's coldest regions. Last week, the Washington Post reported on "stunning and dramatic" scenes from a region of Eastern Siberia where "sections of many older, wooden buildings already sag toward the ground—rendered uninhabitable by the unevenly thawing earth," and "rivers are rising and running faster," sweeping away entire neighborhoods.
The Academic Mstislav Keldysh expedition's research team, led by Semiletov, traveled to an area of the Arctic Ocean known for methane "fountains" to study the effects of permafrost thawing. Around the "powerful" fountain they found east of Bennett Island, the concentration of methane in the atmosphere was more than nine times higher than the global average.