By Jassim Mater

Warmth is not a word normally associated with Russia’s far northern extremities, one of the coldest places in the world with temperatures sometimes dropping to -50 degrees Celsius.

But under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf a process is taking place that could make the world hot enough to drive most life on the planet to extinction.

Or it could do nothing.

Trapped under the area’s seabed and permafrost is about 50 billion tonnes of methane gas. Increasing global temperatures have caused the Arctic ice to thaw faster, accelerating the release of the powerful greenhouse gas, scientists say.

“Oceanologic work showed that the amount of dissolved methane at the water zone of the Laptev Sea and the Eastern-Siberian Sea is several times higher then the amount of methane anywhere else in the world’s oceans,” says Vladimir Tumskoy, a researcher at Moscow State University.

“As the thawing keeps going, the amount of gas released is growing, but we don’t know how much it thawed in the past, because the studies on this have taken place only for 10 to 15 years,” says Tumskoy, who took part in a fact-finding expedition to the Arctic Shelf.

Scientists fear if global temperatures continue to rise, it could cause a positive feedback loop – more methane released into the atmosphere, in turn raising global temperatures, and so on.
Or it could trigger a massive amount of methane to be released at once.

“Maybe at some point it will defrost to some huge methane storage and there will be an immense explosion and an outstanding methane release,” Tumskoy suggests.

The potential of such a release, however, is a matter of much debate…

…David Archer, a computational ocean chemist and professor at the Geophysical Sciences department at the University of Chicago, says the focus should remain on carbon dioxide.

“In the short term – the next 10-50 years – the Arctic is the source of a small fraction of global methane emissions to the atmosphere, and so it has – and I think will continue to have – a small impact on Earth’s climate, relative to fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions,” Archer told Al Jazeera.

“I am most concerned about temperatures by about 2040 or 2050, as we start approaching the 2 degrees Celsius values that all the climate negotiations are trying to avoid. Methane released now will have very little impact by then because methane only has a 10-year lifetime in the atmosphere.”…

Continue reading at Al Jazeera…

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