Over the past few months, Arctic reporting stations have been reporting an unexpected increase in the outgassing of methane from thawing permafrost. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas. In the past, the sudden release of methane from arctic tundras and methane hydrates under the Arctic Ocean have been connected to the spikes in heat that mark the end of interglacials. Methane readings from the station in Alert, Canada, are showing an increase in methane of 20 parts per billion over one year, an increase of 2-3 times over the global average from the past five years, and readings from Barrow (Alaska), Summit (Greenland), and Svalbard (Norway) all show similar trends.
Methane has a greenhouse gas potential 29 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the span of a century. Thankfully, it has an atmospheric half-life of only seven years, of which can mitigate it’s long-term impact, but in the short term it’s effect on global temperatures may exacerbate it’s release from Arctic deposits, as increasing temperatures continue to melt northern permafrost. In addition, the trillions of tons of methane hydrates ‘frozen’ on the ocean floor will release as ocean temperatures rise through 47 degrees Fahrenheit.
Interestingly, methane release has also increased at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, however this is more likely to do with increased seismic activity in the Pacific region.