Science News

Melting Arctic Sea Ice Causing More Methane Emissions

The melting of the Arctic ice cap is encouraging more natural emissions of methane — one of the most potent greenhouse gases driving climate change.

 

Researchers at Sweden’s Lund University worked with Dutch and American colleagues to find that the recent accelerated melt of sea ice around the North Pole is allowing the Arctic’s surface waters to absorb more heat and promote the growth of microorganisms in the adjacent tundra.

Those microbes in turn give off natural methane emissions that promote even further climate change and sea ice loss. This feedback loop of warming and melting appears to have increased with virtually every new cycle over the past decade.

“While numerous studies have shown the effects of sea ice loss on the ocean, there are only a few that show how this oceanic change affects ecosystems on the surrounding land," said study author Frans-Jan Parmentier.

According to the paper’s abstract, the researchers compared “satellite observations of Arctic sea ice concentrations to methane emissions simulated by three process-based biogeochemical models.”

The study shows that “rising wetland methane emissions are associated with sea ice retreat” and that “simulated high-latitude emissions for 2005–2010 were, on average, 1.7 Tg CH4 yr−1 higher compared to 1981–1990 due to a sea ice-induced, autumn-focused, warming. Since these results suggest a continued rise in methane emissions with future sea ice decline, observation programs need to include measurements during the autumn to further investigate the impact of this spatial connection on terrestrial methane emissions.”

The findings were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters here.

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