The areas north of Siberia have been long known to hold massive methane reserves as well as other powerful greenhouse gases. And despite an incredibly harsh winter in Europe, a new report has come out dictating that a massive shelf surely melted and is releasing these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, possibly contributing to the problem of global warming.
No one knows for sure if the recently discovered bubbling waters have been releasing methane for hundreds or even millions of years, or if they have simply been recently discovered and been releasing these gases for hundreds of years or if they are an entirely new occurrence that had been previously trapped beneath the ice. It’s possible this has been going on for years, or possibly even centuries without the knowledge of surveyors. It’s believed by many that global warming is almost exclusively a manmade effect, but it’s also speculated that natural greenhouse gases could be playing an active part assuming the collectively agreed upon model is a working one.
The theory goes that greenhouse gases, such as methane (the primary gas being released from thawed ponds in Siberia) hang in the atmosphere, trapping thermal energy within, and creating an effect much similar to a glass building remaining warm in the winter during the day even if snow and air outside remain cold. As talks of a global carbon tax begin, one point of contention has been these natural sources and whether or not they could be taxed as well by a global entity. The seabed north of Russia was once considered what is called “permafrost” or ice that maintains a solid state throughout the year rather than melting during the summer months. This permafrost allegedly was holding in methane gas build up from millions of years ago, and as it melted let out an average of eight million tons of methane per year. Methane is produced from decaying organic matter, such as plant matter and organisms. The estimations come from a projection drawn from surveying of over 5,000 sites around the area.
If eight million tons of methane from a natural source seems like a lot, it should be noted that worldwide there is an average of 440 million tons per year from natural sources. Greenhouse gases appear to be as much of a natural part of the order of life on Earth as any other, but there is a strong feeling among several scientists that a sudden influx from sources other than natural ones will cause a steady increase in global temperatures. Such an increase could thaw areas where methane had been collecting and let out a sudden gust that is suspected to be potentially problematic. Of course since this is a field of science, not every factor is well understood and many are saying more conclusive results must be reached before global policies are created based on them. Of course both sides feel very strongly about the time scale as well. It’s projected by some scientists that global warming, if a real problem, could potentially damage the Earth’s biosphere in the next ten to twenty years. Over all, however, the media scare around the Siberian methane thaw is considered by several scientists to be a bit ambitious.