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Researchers discover massive methane 'fountains' in arctic ice - a genuine threat to the atmosphere?

Thursday, December 22, 2011 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: methane, atmosphere, planet Earth

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(NaturalNews) When a Russian team recently stumbled upon a few methane "fountains" releasing large amounts of methane gas from shallow arctic waters directly into the atmosphere, they had no idea that there were hundreds, if not thousands, more. The UK's Daily Mail reports that the Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev has identified at least 100 large methane plumes in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf that are releasing high amounts of the methane gas into the environment.

"We found more than 100 fountains, some more than a kilometer (just over three-fifths of a mile) across," said Dr. Igor Semiletov, who was involved in the discovery. "These are methane fields on a scale not seen before. The emissions went directly into the atmosphere."

Under normal circumstances, methane leaks deep in the ocean oxidize long before they reach the surface. Microbes in both marine and freshwater sediments convert methane into carbon dioxide on its way up to the ocean surface. But since the area where the methane fountains have been discovered is in relatively shallow water, there is not enough time for this conversion to take place.

According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), methane gas is 30 times more potent, gram for gram, than carbon dioxide in affecting the climate (http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_i...). If true, this means that continuous, high-level releases of this gas from melting "permafrost" under the sea has the potential to rapidly alter normal climate conditions -- and there really is nothing anyone can do about it.

"Earlier we found torch or fountain-like structures like this," added Semiletov about prior methane release discoveries in the area. "This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 meters (about 3,280 feet) in diameter. It's amazing."

On the flip side, some question the validity of the theory that methane contributes to climate change on any significant level, alleging that, like carbon dioxide, it is not much of a threat to the planet. Research conducted by Dr. Joel Kauffman, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, for instance, actually found that methane is not really the active "greenhouse gas" that some claim it is (http://www.second-opinions.co.uk/methane4.ht...).

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