Environment

Arctic winter observations show higher-than-expected methane emissions

Arctic winter observations sho...
The results of the study showed that as much as half of the Arctic's methane emissions occur during the winter
The results of the study showed that as much as half of the Arctic's methane emissions occur during the winter
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The results of the study showed that as much as half of the Arctic's methane emissions occur during the winter
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The results of the study showed that as much as half of the Arctic's methane emissions occur during the winter
To check that their results were representative of the entire Arctic region, the researchers compared their findings to readings taken by aircraft, flying over the region as part of NASA's Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE)
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To check that their results were representative of the entire Arctic region, the researchers compared their findings to readings taken by aircraft, flying over the region as part of NASA's Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE)

A new study led by researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and San Diego State University (SDSU) has examined the amount of methane gas escaping from the Arctic – a key component of global warming. The results go against conventional theory, finding that a much larger amount of the gas escapes during the Arctic winter than previously thought.

The observations focused on the amount of methane – a greenhouse gas that has a big impact of atmospheric warming – escaping from the Arctic tundra, caused largely by the decomposition of embedded organic matter. It's important to monitor these emissions, as it's thought that climate change may significantly increase the amount of gas escaping, especially that currently caught in a stable layer of frozen soil called permafrost.

The new readings aren't the first time that we've looked at the Arctic methane emissions. In fact, scientists have been using specialized equipment to accurately record the level of emissions for decades. However, there's one big problem with how things have been done up until this point – nearly all recordings have been made during the short Arctic summer.

For the winter months, which account for 70 to 80 percent of the year, climate change models have been relying purely on speculation. Those predictions generally follow a theme – that because of the frozen ground, methane emissions drop to almost zero during the winter.

Unfortunately, and thanks to the new study, we now known that the assumption isn't just too simplistic, but it's actually entirely wrong. While the ground does freeze up more in the winter than the summer, it's a little more complicated than current models predict. When temperatures drop to around 32° F (0° C), the top and bottom parts of the uppermost layer of the ground – known as the active layer –freeze, but the central section remains insulated, continuing to break down organic matter throughout the coldest periods of the year.

To determine exactly how much methane is emitted by that central layer, the researchers upgraded five sampling towers above the Arctic Circle in Alaska, enabling them to gather data throughout the year, making recordings between June 2013and January 2015. The results were instantly alarming, with the study finding that a large part of the total methane emissions from the region occurred during the colder months.

To check that their results were representative of the entire Arctic region, the researchers compared their findings to readings taken by aircraft, flying over the region as part of NASA's Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE)
To check that their results were representative of the entire Arctic region, the researchers compared their findings to readings taken by aircraft, flying over the region as part of NASA's Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE)

To check that their results were representative of the entire Arctic region, the researchers compared their findings to readings taken by aircraft, flying over the region as part of NASA's Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE). Aligning the two sets of data, the team found that the CARVE readings supported those of its own work, showing that methane continues to be emitted long after the surface freezes during the winter months.

With the results varying so significantly from predictions, and given that methane is such a significant driver of atmospheric warming, it's now essential that climate models be adjusted accordingly.

"It is now time to work more closely with climate modelers and assure these observations are used to improve model predictions, and refine our prediction of the global methane budget," said SDSU's Donatella Zona.

Source: NASA

8 comments
Mel Tisdale
Let us hope that this isn't the black swan that we have feared for so long. Unfortunately, it is a prime candidate to be the cause of runaway climate change, with all that that implies for us and our progeny.
Battlespeed
Yes, and it's been doing this throughout eons of time. The whole notion of a "methane budget" is simply ludicrous in the first place because the simple fact is no one has any notion of what normal levels of emissions are - as this ghastly "error" so clearly illustrates.
Jeff Goldstein
Methane is much more powerful as a greenhouse gas than co2. Now we read that estimates of methane going into the atmosphere from the Arctic used in climate change models were total guesswork and wrong. Now that this is being admitted why should anyone have any confidence in any predictions of global warming? How many other components of the global warming models are just based on guesswork?
Lbrewer42
The political and media push for AGW, and the people wjho refuse to research into how AGW people have to fudge their data is the only thing keeping us in this Modern Dark Ages of Science. AGW was proven wrong with the first CLimateGate that is now ridiculed by the media and places like WIkipedia. But anyone reading the pile of emails etc,. finds even the programmer for the project made comments to himself to ignore certain parts of actual data b/c the outcome was not going to show AGW had happened. Then there is now the convenient forgetting that even last year the AGW people were saying there had been a 15 year hiatus. Scoffers can google "game over! The IPCC Quietly Concedes Defeat." It is simply the IPCC's own reports over tha past years being compiled and prove no AGW. But it is likely AGW promoters will not look. The facts are not fudged in the IPCC report, but they hold this concept of AGW as a religion. Ignore the facts to keep it alive.
habakak
LOL! This is what I always find ridiculous about modeling. It always missing something, or a few things. The climate is insanely complex and with so many factors affecting it, it is impossible to build a model that can predict it decades out into the future. Technology will solve the problem. And I don't mean the climate problem, I mean the dirty energy problem. Take electric cars. Watch 'Who killed the electric car?'. What a ridiculous piece of dung. All the speculation and conspiracies about why the EV1 died. the reality is it 'died' because the technology (battery energy density and power density, as well as price/$ per kWhr) was just not ripe in the early 90's. 3 years a go the world did not have an electric car (I think barely more than 100 Tesla Roadster were produced). Over the next 25 years the rise of electric cars (light vehicles and public busses) and greening of the electric grid will make the whole 'climate worry' go away as the technology finally reaches economic viability.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
95% of the greenhouse effect is due to water vapor. About 5% of the total is due to pumped water.
Robert in Vancouver
This is more proof that all predictions about global warming are wrong and will always be wrong. Nobody can predict what the global climate will be 10 or 50 years ahead. But yet Al gore and global warming alarmists want to raise carbon taxes and regulate everything to death based on computer models using totally incorrect and fabricated data.
Bruce Miller
Clatherites in Canada's Northlands? What effect, not so much temperature, but acidity of seawater on this "Frozen Natural Gas"