Lakes forming in Alaska due to melting permafrost are “belching” methane into the atmosphere, a scientist working with NASA said.
These lakes, called thermokarsts, are so full of the climate-damaging gas that it is bubbling up to the surface.
According to a 2021 study, more and more of these lakes are emerging as Alaska’s permafrost thaws with rising temperatures and increasing wildfires.
NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) project is studying their impact on climate change, according to a NASA blog post published Thursday.
Thermokarsts form after the earth thaws and collapses
Thermokarst lakes form when permafrost, which is meant to remain frozen year-round, begins to melt.
It also melts massive blocks of ice that are wedged into the ground, causing the ground to collapse several meters.
“Years ago the ground was about 10 feet higher and it was a spruce forest,” said Katey Walter Anthony, an ecologist at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, describing a thermokarst called Big Trail Lake in Alaska.
Walter Anthony has worked with NASA’s ABoVE project to study Big Trail Lake’s impact on climate change.
When water enters the sinkholes left behind, so do bacteria.
“At Big Trail Lake, it’s like opening the door of your freezer for the first time and letting all the food in your freezer have microbes to decompose,” said Walter Anthony.
“When they decompose it, they emit methane gas,” she said.
There are millions of lakes in the Arctic, but most are thousands of years old and don’t emit much gas anymore, according to the NASA blog post.
Only the newer lakes, like Big Trail, which appeared less than 50 years ago, give off large amounts of gas.
And that’s anything but a small amount.
Insiders previously reported that these types of lakes give off so much methane that it’s easy to light them up after a quick swipe in the ice, as seen in the video below.
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Methane is a devastating greenhouse gas
Although carbon dioxide (CO2) remains the most important cause of the climate crisis in the long term, methane leaks have become a hotly debated topic to help control climate change in the short term.
Methane is a greenhouse gas, meaning it traps heat radiated from the ground in the atmosphere rather than cooling the earth.
It is much stronger than CO2, about 30 times more effective at trapping heat. But it also evaporates faster than CO2that lingers in the atmosphere, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“Reducing methane emissions is an important tool we can use now to reduce the impacts of climate change in the short term and rapidly reduce the rate of warming,” NOAA chief executive Rick Spinrad said earlier.
Methane “also contributes to ground-level ozone formation, which causes about 500,000 premature deaths worldwide each year,” Spinrad said.
Human activities such as agriculture, fuel exploitation, and landfills are major contributors to methane emissions.
For example, gas leaks from methane pipelines are increasingly being targeted because they can be detected and easily fixed from space.
But natural sources such as wetlands can also make a large methane contribution, according to NOAA.
It’s important to understand how they might progress, since rising temperatures could cause a “feedback loop” that “would be largely beyond human control,” NOAA said in April.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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