As Arctic sea ice breaks apart, massive amounts of methane could be released into the atmosphere from the cold waters beneath.
High concentrations of the greenhouse gas have been recorded in the air above cracks in the ice. This could be evidence of yet another positive feedback on the warming climate – leading to even faster Arctic warming.
The Arctic is home to vast stores of methane – there are billions of tonnes of methane in permafrost alone. It is a potent greenhouse gas, so a major methane release would greatly accelerate climate change. The gas is found in icy crystals called hydrates beneath the shallow seas that flood some areas of the continental crust, as well as in permafrost. It is also being released from Arctic wetlands.
But this doesn't explain why Eric Kort of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and his colleagues found patches of methane in remote regions of the Arctic Ocean, far from any of these known methane sources.