The warmer temperatures experienced in the Arctic as climate change progresses lead to a greater release of methane when the permafrost melts. But methane is also being released when ice in thousands of lakes in the north melts in the spring and frozen methane bubbles are released.
Scientists know that methane is more potent than carbon dioxide in that per mole, its global warming potential is 3.7 times that of carbon dioxide. The expansion of the release of methane in the Arctic makes the path to achieving zero emissions longer. Unfortunately, time is running low to meet that goal before irreparable damage is done to the environment.
The process of creating these methane bubbles in northern Canadian lakes begins when dead leaves, grass and animals fall into the water. They eventually sink and are eaten by bacteria that excrete methane. The methane bubbles then turn into thousands of icy white disks when they make contact with frozen water.
While the release of this greenhouse gas will contribute to warming the planet, it can have another impact that is much more immediate and potentially dangerous. The bubbles release methane when the ice melts and if anyone in a boat lights a match it may result in a huge explosion.
Methane bubbles can be seen in lakes across Banff National Park in Canada, as well as the Arctic Ocean off Siberia. In the latter location, bubbles as large as 900 metres across have been found.