Arctic Ocean

euphroThe Arctic Ocean: It’s leakier than it looks.

We learned last week that Al Gore has become a vegan, and speculated that it might be because methane emissions from livestock are a surprisingly large driver of climate change. Meanwhile, a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences argues that the U.S. EPA has vastly underestimated methane emissions because it calculates them from the bottom-up — how much methane does a cow release times how many cows there are, for example — rather than actually measuring the methane released into the atmosphere.

We often talk about greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide as if they are one and the same. CO2 is by far the most prevalent greenhouse gas, but while much less methane is released into the atmosphere, methane is about 21 times more potent over a 100-year period.

And now we’ve got another reason to worry about methane. New research published in the journal Nature Geoscience finds that “significant quantities of methane are escaping the East Siberian Shelf as a result of the degradation of submarine permafrost over thousands of years.”

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Methane is stored on the Arctic Ocean floor, and is kept there by a layer of permafrost. As the permafrost thaws due to global warming, the methane escapes. Extra methane has also been escaping in recent years due to stronger and more frequent storms that shake up the ocean and bring gases to the top more quickly. As the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner notes, there are also carbon stores being similarly affected.

And the methane release creates a feedback loop: More methane causes more warming, which causes more rapid methane release.

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The good news, on the other hand, is … nothing. Well, OK, the good news is that the public is slowly growing more aware of the climate impact of methane leakage. You’ve got to start somewhere.