NASA finds high CO2 & methane levels over Arctic permafrost

Permian-Triassic extinction event in context with other such events

Permian-Triassic extinction event in context with other such events

Carbon dioxide gets most of the climate change press. But methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas. Climate scientists have long studied it as an indicator of CO2 levels and a possible co-conspirator in a number of dramatic extinction events correlated to a sharp increase in global temperatures, most notably the Permian-Triassic event. Recent data suggests there is reason to be concerned:

“Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we’ve measured have been large, and we’re seeing very different patterns from what models suggest,” Miller said. “We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze. To cite another example, in July 2012 we saw methane levels over swamps in the Innoko Wilderness that were 650 parts per billion higher than normal background levels. That’s similar to what you might find in a large city.”

Ultimately, the scientists hope their observations will indicate whether an irreversible permafrost tipping point may be near at hand. While scientists don’t yet believe the Arctic has reached that tipping point, no one knows for sure. “We hope CARVE may be able to find that ‘smoking gun,’ if one exists,” Miller said.

In addition to the CO2 this could signal, large stores of methane are locked away in the oceans as methane hydrate and in the Arctic permafrost. If the ambient temperature in those locations were to rise just a bit, some or all of these stores could be released, adding significant momentum to the climate forcing already in progress due to human emissions. For more discussion see FishOutofWater’s diary here.


  1. says

    Thanks for keeping our eyes on the biggest ball of all, Stephen. The positive feedback loops that seem to be kicking in now are getting quite scary. We must keep this issue front and center if we are going to make any progress on it.

  2. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ lehman scott : seconded by me.

    If the escalating feedbacks are starting to kick in seriously and with the thermal inertia and already committed fossil fuels burning still to come and the high and rising levels of all the GHGs in the atmosphere – this is one of the scariest situations for the future – and hardly anyone seems to be really paying attention or realsiing just how bad things are.

  3. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Graphic clip here on methane being released -and combusted in Alaska :

    ‘Arctic Lake Methane Ignited by Katey Walter Anthony’ on youtube. Seen similar clips or scenes elsewheer including a thriller/ documentary on the Aussie ABC a few years (?)ago.

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