Excessive burning of fossil fuels is considered as one of the most important factors influencing global warming, but a new study shows that subsea permafrost is losing its impermeability and for this reason, several million tons of methane are released into the water each year.
Researchers concluded that the release of just a fraction of the methane held in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf sediments could lead to a sudden warming of the climate.
Considering the large amounts of methane under the seabeds and the methane emitted by rotting vegetation, researchers said that these emissions could possibly reach the level of carbon emissions.
They measured the concentration of methane in water and found that 8 million tons of methane are emitted annually from the permafrost below the seabed north of Russia. In the oceans, the permafrost has been always considered as an impermeable cap that seals methane but after some research was found that in the Arctic for example, methane concentrations are the highest in 400,000 years.
Despite this research, some people say this is not a reason to be scared. Martin Heimann, an expert at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Germany explained that the amounts of methane in water are lower compared with other sources of pollution.
“It’s good that these emissions are documented. The release of 8 million tonnes of methane a year is negligible compared to global emissions of about 440 million tonnes“, he said. However, U.S., Russian and Swedish research institutions still argue that besides the methane emitted from human activities (60%), there are signals for a more massive release period from the seabed.