Methane Gas Deposits in Arctic Permafrost

After reading a well written blog by Alex, I was influenced to write about something mentioned last semester by Dr. Pillar during one of his brilliant lectures in Geology class.  We somehow branched out into the topic of methane deposits.  This was right around the same time we were assigned a paper.  As I was researching for Alaskan Oil, I came across a few articles that mentioned methane gas deposits.  Methane is a green house gas that is considered very harmful and dangerous in certain amounts. 

 After looking up methane I found that the U.S. EPA has a short paragraph explaining methane gas.  Methane can be trapped in the atmosphere anywhere from 9-15 years and is 20 times as effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than Carbon Dioxide.  It is found stored naturally in nature, in permafrost and also in the ocean, but also created via human influence. 

Humans create waste that gets put into landfills and then buried by soil.  As this waste sits there in anaerobic conditions it is broken down by certain bacteria found in these conditions.  These bacteria create methane gas as a byproduct.  For this reason, you will often times see ventalation pipes in landfills or even on some golf courses that were previous landfills.  These pipes release the harmfull gas into the atmosphere so that it does not build up and become extremely dangerous.  Such an increase buildup of methane, if ignited, could create an explosion of epic proportions.  Just as methane seeps through these ventalation pipes, it is now seeping out of the permafrost as the climate gets warmer. 

An article, posted on the 15th of September in 2006, speaks of the findings of a study done in a frozen peat bog in the subarctic area of Western Siberia.  This area, compared to the size of France and Germany combined, is said to contain “billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas that is melting for the first time since it was sequestered more than 11,000 years ago before the end of the last ice age.”  This gas is being released up to 5 times more than originally thought.  Such a growing rate could dramatically increase the effects of global warming. 

Another study done in northern Siberia includes a unique siberian permafrost called Yedoma.  Yedoma is a frozen tundra dust that settled in the last ice age.  This permafrost is rich in organic matter since it contains large amounts of decomposed plant material and animal bones.  It is said to contain a carbon content 10 to 30 times greater than the average deep soils.  Organic matter that usually decomposes in aerobic conditions produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct.  Large proportions of yedoma soil lay at the bottom of thaw lakes and as the organic matter decomposes under anaerobic conditions it is broken down by microbes that produce methane as a byproduct.  The methane is released in the form of gaseos bubbles that float up to the surface of the lake as it warms.

Stories just like this occur in many regions of the Arctic, some even in our lovely state of Alaska where the permafrost is melting at an alarming rate.  There is good news to all this.  Technology is allowing scientists to find ways capture the methane and use as an energy source.  Some landfills already do this.  This way the methane can help power the energy hungry americans and burn the methane into Carbon Dioxide, a less harmful gas, thus leading to the vicious cycle that is never ending. 

If you are interested in the article in which much of this story came from you can visit the link below:

http://www.terranature.org/methaneSiberia.htm

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One Response to Methane Gas Deposits in Arctic Permafrost

  1. Ah, Dr. DeJaco talked about this in Bio 208. This is a video where people would light matches to the gas to prevent it from entering into the atmosphere.

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