Melting ice in Alaska is creating new lakes full of bacteria ‘belching’ methane into the atmosphere, NASA scientist warns

Melting ice in Alaska is creating new lakes full of bacteria ‘belching’ methane into the atmosphere, NASA scientist warns

Methane bubbles rise to the surface of thermo-karst

Themokarst lakes found in Alaska are so full of methane, that the gas rises to the surface in large bubbles.NASA / Sophie Bates

  • NASA is studying “thermokarsts” in Alaska, lakes that appear as melting permafrost.

  • These lakes can release high levels of methane, a dangerous climate change gas.

  • As temperatures rise and more of these lakes appear, this could create a negative feedback loop.

Lakes that appear in Alaska due to melting permafrost “belching” methane into the atmosphere, said a scientist working with NASA.

These lakes, known as thermokarst, are so full of the climate-damaging gas that it can be seen bubbling to the surface.

More and more of these lakes are appearing as Alaska’s permafrost melts as temperatures rise and forest fires increase, according to a 2021 study.

NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) project is studying their effect on climate change, according to a NASA blog post published Thursday.

You Can Light These Lakes On Fire

Thermal karsts can be so full of methane that they can be set on fire.University of Alaska Fairbanks

Thermokarsts are born after the earth melts and collapses

Thermokarst lakes occur when permafrost, land meant to remain frozen year-round, begins to melt. As this happens, huge blocks of ice wedged into the ground also melt, causing the ground to drop several feet.

“Years ago, the land was about three meters higher 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 is working with NASA’s ABOVE project to study the effect of Big Trail lake on climate change.

As water invades the sinks left behind, so do 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 microbes to decompose,” said Walter Anthony.

“As they decompose it, they are belching out methane gas,” she said.

Katie Walter Antony is seen in a kayak on Big Trail lake in Alaska.

Walter Antony is seen in a kayak on Big Trail lake in Alaska.Sophie Bates / NASA

There are millions of lakes in the Arctic, but most of them are thousands of years old and don’t emit much gas anymore, according to a NASA blog post.

It’s the newer lakes, like Big Trail, that surfaced less than 50 years ago, that leave high gas levels.

And this is far from a small amount. Insider previously reported that these types of lakes give off so much methane that it’s easy to ignite them after a quick job in the ice, as seen in the video below.

Methane is a devastating greenhouse gas

While carbon dioxide (CO2) remains the main long-term driver of the climate crisis, methane emissions are a major issue in helping to control climate change in the short term.

Methane is a greenhouse gas, meaning it keeps heat radiating from the ground trapped in the atmosphere instead of allowing the Earth to cool.

It is much more powerful than CO2, about 30 times more efficient at trapping heat. But it also dissipates faster than CO2, which remains in the atmosphere, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“Reducing methane emissions is an important tool that we can use right now to reduce the impact of climate change early, and to quickly reduce the rate of warming,” said Rick Spinrad, head of NOAA, previously.

Methane also “contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, which causes about 500,000 premature deaths worldwide every year,” Spinrad said.

Human activities such as agriculture, fuel cultivation, and landfills are major contributors to methane emissions. For example, methane pipeline gas leaks are increasingly being targeted because they can be seen from space and are easy to fix.

But natural sources such as wetlands can contribute significantly to methane, according to NOAA. It’s important to understand how they might progress because a “feedback loop” could lead to rising temperatures that would be “largely beyond human control,” NOAA said. in April.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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