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Press Release 10-036

Methane Releases From Arctic Shelf May Be Much Larger and Faster Than Anticipated

Thawing by climate change of subsea layer of permafrost may release stores of underlying, seabed methane

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Illustration showing leakage of methane from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

The permafrost of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (an area of about 2 million kilometers squared) is more porous than previously thought. The ocean on top of it and the heat from the mantle below it warm it and make it perforated like Swiss cheese. This allows methane gas stored under it under pressure to burst into the atmosphere. The amount leaking from this locale is comparable to all the methane from the rest of the world's oceans put together. Methane is a greenhouse gas more than 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


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Photo of scientists deploying an apparatus to take sonar measurements from the seafloor.

Scientists deploy an apparatus that will allow the research team to take sonar measurements from the seafloor on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf during a research cruise in August 2009. The researchers used sonar to record clouds of bubbles rising from the seafloor

Credit: Igor Semiletov, University of Alaska Fairbanks


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Cover of the March 5, 2010 edition of the journal Science.

The researchers' findings are published in the March 5, 2010 edition of the journal Science.

Credit: Copyright AAAS 2010


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