Dr. Katey Walter, from the University of Fairbanks, sees methane like many climate scientists these days. The warming across the planet is concentrated at the poles because of what is called polar amplification. This means that the Arctic is warming even more than the rest of the Earth. In many places the Arctic has already warmed from 6 to 9 degrees in the last 20 years. This warming is driving permafrost melting unlike any seen in thousands and maybe hundreds of thousands of years. Permafrost is made up of ice and partially decomposed organic matter – namely, tundra, buried in the ice for possibly hundreds of thousands of years. Permafrost can be thousands of feet thick and it can melt catastrophically in huge areas, all at once. Once melted, the partially decomposed organic material continues with it’s decaying process and releases immense amounts of methane and carbon dioxide.
It is believed that melting permafrost is the main cause of the return of rising methane levels in our atmosphere that stabilized about a decade ago because of better agricultural practices. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than CO2. Scientists estimate that there is 2,000 times the methane in permafrost than there is in our atmosphere, or about 1,000,000,000,000 tons (One trillion tons). (Dr. Walter says 50 billion in her interview with the LA Times – those numbers are dated see Fields below). The link below shows Dr. Walter setting a methane jet aflame on a frozen lake in Alaska. There is also a link to several of Dr. Walter’s personal videos from her website on the my home page here – Extreme Climate Change Montage