Lakes appearing in Alaska from melting permafrost are “spewing” methane into the atmosphere, a scientist working with NASA has said.
These lakes, called thermokarsts, are so full of climate-damaging gas that you can see it bubbling up to the surface.
According to a 2021 study, more of these lakes are appearing as Alaska’s permafrost thaws with rising temperatures and increased wildfires.
NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) project is studying their effect on climate change, according to a NASA blog post published Thursday.
Thermokarsts arise after the earth thaws and collapses
Thermokarst lakes appear when permafrost, ground that is supposed to stay frozen all year round, begins to thaw.
When this happens, huge blocks of ice stuck in the ground also melt, causing the ground to collapse several feet.
“Years ago the ground was about three meters taller and it was a spruce forest,” said Katey Walter Anthony, an ecologist at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, describing a thermokarst called Big Trail Lake. in Alaska.
Walter Anthony worked with NASA’s ABoVE project to study the effect of Big Trail Lake on climate change.
As the water invades the sinkholes left behind, so does the bacteria.
“At Big Trail Lake, it’s like opening your freezer door for the first time and giving all the food in your freezer to the microbes to decompose,” Walter Anthony said.
“As they break it down, they spit out methane gas,” she said.
There are millions of lakes in the Arctic, but most are thousands of years old and don’t give off much gas anymore, according to the NASA blog.
Only newer lakes, such as Big Trail, which appeared less than 50 years ago, release high levels of gas.
And it is far from being a small sum.
Insider previously reported that these types of lakes release so much methane that it’s easy to ignite them after a quick hit in the ice, as seen in the video below.
frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; automatic reading; clipboard-write; encrypted media; gyroscope; picture in picture” allow full screen>
Methane is a devastating greenhouse gas
Although carbon dioxide (CO2) remains the main long-term driver of the climate crisis, methane leaks have become a hot issue to help control short-term climate change.
Methane is a greenhouse gas, meaning it traps heat emitted from the ground trapped in the atmosphere instead of letting the Earth cool.
It is much more powerful than CO2, about 30 times more effective at trapping heat. But it also dissipates faster than CO2that persists in the atmosphere, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“Reducing methane emissions is an important tool we can use now to mitigate near-term climate change impacts and rapidly reduce the rate of warming,” NOAA Director Rick Spinrad previously said.
Methane also “contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, which causes an estimated 500,000 premature deaths globally each year,” Spinrad said.
Human activities such as agriculture, fuel extraction and landfills are major contributors to methane emissions.
For example, gas leaks from a methane pipeline are increasingly targeted because they can be spotted from space and are easily repaired.
But natural sources such as wetlands can also be big contributors of methane, according to NOAA.
Understanding how they might progress is important because rising temperatures could cause a “feedback loop” that “would be well beyond the ability of humans to control,” NOAA said in April.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
Learn more about Business Insider: