We all know that carbon emissions are a dangerous climate issue but many of us are just starting to learn about the effects that methane gas can have on the environment. And the people in Russia’s frozen Siberian region are some of the first to notice the warning signs.
Methane, among Greenies is a subject that induces conversations about the tons of gas being released into the atmosphere and how that gas affects our global climate. But among those not in the know it brings about images of cows releasing that gas and, most of the time, induces hours worth of giggles.
After all, since the dawn of man there have been those who find â€œfart jokesâ€ funny. The unfortunate thing in this most recent case is that the gas being released has less to do with cows and it sure as heck isn’t funny.
With the global temperature rising at a relatively alarming rate, and ground and sea temperatures also rising to meet it, the focus has fallen on the Arctic Ice Shelf. The polar bears struggle to find enough ice in winter as the summers present hotter and we all know what happens to the polar bears.
It is a sad and depressing scene to even think of their cute little faces struggling. But recent studies in Siberia have shown that it isn’t just the polar ice that shows signs of an extended thaw, the permafrost layer of the Earth’s crust is also at risk.
So What Does That Mean?
When the ground temperature climbs, the layer of Earth that should be partially frozen (permafrost) rises as well and scientists have begun to take note of the actual visual evidence of methane gas rising up from what looks like boiling bubbles in lakes all over the northernmost hemisphere.
Scientist Katey Walter Anthony recently noted* that fifty billion (or more) tons of methane could be released into the Earth’s atmosphere just from the lakes in Siberia alone. When we consider just how many lakes and ponds exist in the northernmost hemisphere, it is easy to see that fifty billion is all too likely a staggeringly low estimate.
The picture at the top of this article indicates the surface as well as atmospheric methane released. Clearly visible is the fact that when it comes to the stratosphere, the greatest levels of methane are trapped on and around the Earth’s equator. This makes sense as the temperatures and relative humidity in the atmosphere draw the gas in and hold it there. But the real wake up call is the surface photo above it.
Based on this graph it is clear that European, Middle East and Asian nations are the highest producers of methane gases on the planet. And this is greatly linked to the thawing permafrost.
What Is Permafrost and What Function Does It Serve?
Permafrost is defined as the topmost layer of the Earth that is frozen, and has maintained that basic temperature, over the course of at least two back to back summer seasons. The top layer of the ground may thaw (known as the active layer) and plants might even grow but it is only a few inches of dirt that thaw out, the ground temperature beneath that top layer of dirt will remain frozen because the relative air temperature rarely rises above zero degrees.
This layer is vital to protection from erosion in the Arctic. As the rock stands firm there is less chance of ocean waters lapping up against it to draw it into the sea. Since plant life is rare in this part of the world the frozen ground is the only defense against receding coast lines.
Studies on the Earth’s permafrost only date back about thirty years but now with increased thaw, rising sea levels, cracks in the crust (erosion) and release of methane gas due to those cracks, scientists have sat up and taken notice.
How Does Methane Gas Factor?
Point blank the methane gas released into the Earth’s atmosphere from the Earth itself is far more detrimental than emissions released from driving a bunch of cars. But it is all interconnected. In the most basic path, carbon emissions are released any number of ways and the global temperature climbs. Every year this causes the permafrost to thaw even deeper.
The Earth, hundreds of meters down, contains all of the long since decomposed animal and vegetable matter from tens of thousands of years ago. As microbes begin to â€œcome aliveâ€ with the thaw and feast on the ancient matter, methane is produced and released.
The vicious circle means that continued deep-Earth thaws release more methane which increases the temperatures as the methane hits the atmosphere, and so on, and so on. According to Wikipedia, methane release can have as great as twenty five times the impact on the atmosphere as other greenhouse gas emissions within a 100 year period. And all of us Greenies know we’re warming up a lot more rapidly than that. So, yeah, it is pretty bad.
What Can We Do About It?
In truth, and it pains me to even say this out loud but, there is really no way to completely stop it. Which is not entirely a bad thing considering if we stopped all emissions from regulating the Earth’s temperature we’d pretty likely plummet into another ice age in a New York minute.
But there are ways we can all take steps to help pull back on emissions and general climate temperature rises. None of these ideas will be new to those living a Greener, more planet friendly lifestyle but it never hurts to get a refresher!
â™¥ Cut back on single vehicle use and carpool, ride a bike or walk.
â™¥ Eat less meat and dairy (cows birthed solely for this industry are said to produce more emission than the entire transportation system).
â™¥ Use less new and reuse more (buying new means production which means emissions).
â™¥ Get aware, get involved and get informed (educating ourselves and then helping to educate others on the harmful effects of methane gas on our atmosphere will raise awareness and effect change!)
Bottom line we need to start taking a long hard look at the lessening hardness of our Earth’s soil or the flatulence joke will surely be on us.
*Information for this article was gleaned from Wikipedia as well as this Yahoo link: http://news.yahoo.com
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