The methane under the permafrost could explode and cause an environmental disaster

The pressure they exert on the seabed off the coast of the Svalbard Islands is strong and dangerous

by Lorenzo Ciotti
The methane under the permafrost could explode and cause an environmental disaster
© Joe Raedle / Staff Getty Images News

Millions of cubic meters of trapped methane that could end up in the atmosphere: for now they are found under the permafrost off the coast of Svalbard. But the pressure they exert on the seabed is considerable and dangerous.

A large-scale escape could further fuel climate change. Dr Thomas Birchall of the Svalbard University Center said methane leakage from the permafrost is limited. However, climate change, with the retreat of glaciers and the melting of the permafrost itself, could pave the way for an increase in emissions.

The melting of permafrost can cause an environmental disaster

The melting of Arctic sea ice is related to warming in northern latitudes, which causes both marine and terrestrial permafrost to melt. The current rapid melting of sea ice could produce a rapid melting of Arctic permafrost with consequences for methane release and wildlife.

It is predicted that the cold air passing over the ice today will be replaced, as the ice melts, by warmer air passing over the sea, warming the permafrost and gradually leading to a complete melting of the Arctic, as the permafrost covers it almost completely.

In turn, the melting permafrost releases an enormous quantity of methane, which can be released in gaseous form or transported in solution in river water, thus contributing to speeding up the process of melting ice. New Scientist says that since existing models do not include feedback effects, such as heat generated by decomposition, permafrost may be melting much faster than previously thought.

Considering that methane is one of the so-called greenhouse gases, the release of this substance from Arctic sea ice is a phenomenon that contributes to global warming and is fueled by positive feedback. Analyzes in the Siberian Arctic show an increase in the rate of methane released from the Arctic seabed.

In particular, taking into account only the terrestrial permafrost of this region, it was possible to estimate a release of 3.8 teragrams of methane per year, significantly above previous estimates, which were equal to 0.5 teragrams per year.