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16 June 2017

Release of Methane from the Seafloor Linked to Climate Change

12,000 years ago, the end of the ice age triggered explosions of methane to create huge craters in the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. This methane is still being released today as a result of the increased global temperature caused by global warming, and it could prove to make things worse for the climate.

The way that methane escapes is through the collapse of ice sheets when the climate warms. Due to the build-up of pressure beneath the ice, a large amount of methane is released all at once which results in craters spanning up to 1 kilometre wide.

What’s important to consider is that the current state of West Antarctica right now is similar to how the Arctic Ocean was at the backend of the last ice age. With rising temperatures a prominent issue all over the world, the area is susceptible to more of these methane explosions which can add to the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. What’s more, there is concern that the rate at which the gas is released from the sea floor could cause even more harm because of the intensity of the explosions.

Marine geologist Karin Andreassen from the Arctic University of Norway said in a press release:

“Despite their infrequency, the impact of such blow-outs may still be greater than impact from slow and gradual seepage. It remains to be seen whether such abrupt and massive methane release could have reached the atmosphere.”

It’s hard to know for certain how this will impact upon climate change given discoveries of methane and carbon dioxide levels off the coast of Norway’s Svalbard archipelago proved to be lower than expected. However, the fact that this methane is still being released is evidence enough that even if it’s not contributing to global warming, the state of the climate is far from ideal.

These discoveries at the very least paint a good picture of what happened in the past. They will be beneficial to the scientific community when it comes to identifying the outcome of diminishing ice sheets in the future and potentially help them understand whether or not these methane releases pose a threat to our atmosphere.

A similar phenomenon has also been recorded on land on the Siberian peninsulas of Yamal and Gydan. The melting of permafrost in these areas caused reactions similar to those found on the seafloor, although the craters are a lot smaller.

James Darvill

James is a passionate scriptwriter and reluctant poet with a talent for the dystopian. When he’s not staying up late watching the Simpsons he’s beating the world at Mario Kart, always with a glass of wine in hand.