The HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations (HIPPO) airborne campaign set out a campaign to see where greenhouse gases come from and where are they stored in our planet’s system.
So they flew specially instrumented aircraft over the Pacific Ocean from nearly pole to pole. Between 2009 and 2010, they measured at a 8.7 miles height from the ground the carbon monoxide, water vapor and ozone and the results showed a methane level that was one-half percent above normal.
To determine its source, researchers had first to eliminate factors such as human activities, high-latitude wetlands or geologic reservoirs. Instead, what they came across were cracks in the Arctic sea ice and areas of partial sea ice cover; the revealed water interacts with air, while the methane in the surface waters is released into the atmosphere. The presence of methane didn’t really come as a surprise, it’s just that nobody ever thought it would be set free.
Now, to figure out how is all that methane being produced is another question. More studies have to be conducted to fully answer that question, but it could be that those tiny living things in the Arctic surface waters are to “blame.” And of course, as more cracks will appear, more methane will surface.
Methane is considered the least damaging to the environment because burning it produces the least carbon dioxide of all fossil fuels. However, freeing methane into the atmosphere would have an even more destructive effect on the climate, as the gas is several times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.