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Sea of Methane Endangers Planet

Abraham lake freezes over in winter and methane bubbles were trapped.

Matthew Skubis from Getty Images Pro/CanvaPro

Deep below the icy expanse of the Arctic lies a hidden danger that could have catastrophic consequences for our planet. Layers of methane gas are trapped beneath the permafrost, and as the landscape changes, this sea of methane has the potential to be unleashed, wreaking havoc on the world. 

Studying the permafrost beneath the islands of Svalbard, researchers found an immense reservoir of methane that could reach several million cubic feet. Currently, the leakage from below the permafrost is minimal, but glacial retreat and permafrost thawing could “lift the lid” on this hidden danger, according to Thomas Birchall, a geologist at Norway’s University Center in Svalbard and lead author of a study published in Frontiers in Earth Science.

Ocean currents can thin the permafrost, creating patchy and unpredictable regions. Geographical features can also allow gas produced by underlying rocks to escape. Even in areas with continuous permafrost, methane gas can migrate beneath the cold seal of the permafrost, creating the potential for escape.

A large-scale seepage would initiate a dangerous feedback loop of warming—a cycle where methane release leads to further permafrost thaw, resulting in additional gas emissions. While the focus of the study was on Norway, the researchers believe that migrating deposits of methane are likely present in other parts of the Arctic region as well.