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News Extra: New Russian research shows Siberian seabed methane gas emissions have significantly increased

01 December 2016

A report in the Siberian Times on the findings of a new expedition in the Laptev Sea north of Siberia  claims scientists have found evidence of a significant increase in the rate of underwater permafrost degradation and methane release.

Stock image
Stock image

The findings come from an expedition led by Professor Igor Semiletov, of Tomsk Polytechnic University, on the research vessel 'Academic M.A. Lavrentyev' which left Tiksi on 24 September on a 40-day mission.

Prof. Semiletov said: “The area of spread of methane mega-emissions has significantly increased in comparison with the data obtained in the period from 2011 to 2014. These observations may indicate that the rate of degradation of underwater permafrost has increased.”

Detailed findings will be presented at an international conference in Tomsk on 21 to 24 November. The research enables comparison with previously obtained data on methane emissions.

The team found evidence that in places the ice plug that has hitherto prevented the release of huge reserves of gas hydrates has melted, with fountains of methane bubbling up to the surface.

“This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter,” the Siberian Times quoted the professor as saying. “It's amazing. Over a relatively small area, we found more than 100, but over a wider area, there should be thousands of them.”

In 2013, his research partner Natalia Shakhova, a scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, reported in the journal Nature Geoscience that the East Siberian Arctic Shelf was venting at least 17 teragrams of the methane into the atmosphere each year. A teragram is equal to 1 million tons.

“It is now on par with the methane being released from the arctic tundra, which is considered to be one of the major sources of methane in the Northern Hemisphere,” she said. “Increased methane releases in this area are a possible new climate-change-driven factor that will strengthen over time.”

According to the Siberian Times, the results of the expedition will be discussed at the international conference, which will be attended by scientists from 12 universities and institutes of Russia, Sweden, Netherlands, Great Britain and Italy.

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