Thursday, November 21, 2013

High Methane Levels all over Arctic Ocean

High levels of methane were recorded all over the Arctic Ocean on November 19, 2013, as illustrated by the image below. The image also shows that most methane was present over the fault line that crosses the Arctic Ocean (as also indicated on the inset).

[ Click on image to enlarge ]
A recent post described that more methane may actually be present closer to the North Pole than IASA images may indicate. This because measurements can be obscured by clouds. If no data are recorded over a certain area, no methane levels will show up on images for the respective area. This was the case on November 17, 2013, when the Arctic Ocean was quite cloudy, and little or no data were recorded for the center of the Arctic Ocean.

On November 19, 2013, the sky was much clearer, resulting in a lot of data from the center of the Arctic Ocean, as also illustrated by the image below.

In conclusion, high methane levels can actually be present all over the Arctic Ocean, even when images only show high levels in some areas.

An earlier post described how the sea ice can act as a shield, especially when the ice is more than one meter thick.

How does this rhyme with the above image? The November 19, 2013, Naval Research Laboratory image on the right shows that the sea ice was meters thick in some locations where methane shows up on the top image.

So, is methane actually rising from the seafloor of the entire Arctic Ocean, perforating even the thickest ice and entering the atmosphere all across the Arctic Ocean? Or, if thick sea ice does act as a shield, how did methane appear all over the Artic Ocean in such huge quantities?

The images on the right indicate that the methane may actually only rise from the seafloor in a few locations.

As the top image on the right says, the Coriolis Effect can make methane over the Laptev Sea end up over Canada a few days later. So, methane may not be perforating the sea ice in the north of Canada, but may instead originate from elsewhere in the Arctic.

The animation underneath shows methane readings from November 9 to 19, 2013, with each of the 20 frames covering a period of 24 hours and with frames following each other up 12 hours after each other. As the animation shows, it looks like methane is predominantly entering the atmosphere at specific locations, most notably along the fault line that crosses the Arctic Ocean.

It may well be that this methane ends up all the way in Baffin Bay, to the left of Greenland. Since the Greenland ice sheet is 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) thick, this may form a natural barrier that keeps the methane there, also helped by winds rising vertically from Baffin Bay to well above Greenland's mountains. Methane may also be traveling under the sea ice, all the way from the Gakkel Ridge and the Laptev Sea right to Baffin Bay.

On the other hand, it could also be that hydrates underneath the sea bed of Baffin Bay itself have become destabilized and that, since the ice over Baffin Bay is rather thin, methane has no problem perforating the ice and is entering the atmosphere there in huge quantities.

Either way, the end-conclusion is that the methane that is now showing up all over the Arctic Ocean, is rising from the seafloor, due to destabilization of sediments that hold huge amounts of methane in the form of free gas and hydrates. As warming in the Arctic continues to accelerate, the danger is that this will cause more methane to rise from the seafloor and that the methane itself will contribute to warming in the Arctic, in a deadly spiral set to cause abrupt climate change at a devastating scale.


  1. good morning sam, thanks for the write-up! i've been following the bering sea/west alaska storms over at 'weird weather' for about a week now, the worst is past (for now) but i wonder if you can make any connections between the recent cyclones in that region and these methane releases? the storms chopped up a LOT of ice, i've been following local groups and info on FB and they have said this was a very unusual storm, the greatest danger being from the ice itself. FB search for 'kotlik.'

  2. I wonder how much methane that equates to?

    I've only got very bad math, which is almost certaintly wrong with lots of unknown things. But I'm guessing ~100 thousand tons of methane?

  3. Sam , I have been looking into what a methane "burp " is. By you estimation are we entering a positive feedback cycle is the sea ice of 1 meter can not contain methane rising from the sea bed ? Is it time to truly buckle up for a totally unpredictable future ?

  4. I wish the International Space Station was in polar orbit because then it could have scanning equipment on board to cover nearly the whole Earth save for the very top and bottom if it makes sequential passes-
    Then the German built Infrared Path Differential Absorption Lidar or Light Detection and Ranging satellite technology could be inserted into orbit and tried out on methane detection in real time now.

    1. Why isn't this technology flying already - Why hasn't US Congress prioritized technology and why is it busy passing laws to prioritize oil drilling on federal lands, demote the ability to regulate oil drilling, and to give a green flag to anything the Fracking business wants to do. -Auger on -See what happens.