Nav: Home

Study reveals lakes a major source of prehistoric methane

October 25, 2007

A team of scientists led by a researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has identified a new likely source of a spike in atmospheric methane coming out of the North during the end of the last ice age.

Methane bubbling from arctic lakes could have been responsible for up to 87 percent of that methane spike, said UAF researcher Katey Walter, lead author of a report printed in the Oct. 26 issue of Science magazine. The findings could help scientists understand how current warming might affect atmospheric levels of methane, a gas that is thought to contribute to climate change.

"It tells us that this isn't just something that is ongoing now. It would have been a positive feedback to climate warming then, as it is today," said Walter. "We estimate that as much as 10 times the amount of methane that is currently in the atmosphere will come out of these lakes as permafrost thaws in the future. The timing of this emission is uncertain, but likely we are talking about a time frame of hundreds to thousands of years, if climate warming continues as projected."

Ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica have shown that during the early Holocene Period--about 14,000 to 11,500 years ago--the levels of methane in the atmosphere rose significantly, Walter said. "They found that an unidentified northern source (of methane) appeared during that time."

Previous hypotheses suggested that the increase came from gas hydrates or wetlands. This study's findings indicate that methane bubbling from thermokarst lakes, which are formed when permafrost thaws rapidly, is likely a third and major source.

Walter's research focused on areas of Siberia and Alaska that, during the last ice age, were dry grasslands atop ice-rich permafrost. As the climate warmed, Walter said, that permafrost thawed, forming thermokarst lakes.

"Lakes really flared up on this icy permafrost landscape, emitting huge amounts of methane," she said.

As the permafrost around and under the lakes thaws, the organic material in it--dead plants and animals--can enter the lake bottom and become food for the bacteria that produce methane.

"All that carbon that had been locked up in the ground for thousands of years is converted to potent greenhouse gases: methane and carbon dioxide," Walter said. Walter's paper hypothesizes that methane from the lakes contributed 33 to 87 percent of the early Holocene methane increase.

To arrive at the hypothesis, Walter and her colleagues traveled to Siberia and northern Alaska to examine lakes that currently release methane. In addition, they gathered samples of permafrost and thawed them in the laboratory to study how much methane permafrost soil can produce immediately after thawing.

"We found that it produced a lot very quickly," she said.

Finally, she and other researchers studied when existing lakes and lakes in the past formed and found that their formation coincided with the early Holocene Period northern methane spike.

"We came up with a new hypothesis," she said. "Thermokarst lake formation is a source of atmospheric methane today, but it was even more important during early Holocene warming. This suggests that large releases from lakes may occur again in the future with global warming."
-end-
Co-authors on the paper include Mary Edwards of the University of Southampton and the UAF College of Natural Science and Mathematics; Guido Grosse, an International Polar Year postdoctoral fellow with the UAF Geophysical Institute; Sergey Zimov of the Russian Academy of Sciences; and Terry Chapin of the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology.

CONTACT: Katey Walter, assistant professor of research, Institute of Northern Engineering, at 907-474-6095 or via e-mail at ftkmw1@uaf.edu. Marmian Grimes, UAF public information officer, at 907-474-7902 or via e-mail at marmian.grimes@uaf.edu.

Note to editors: Photos are available on request.

University of Alaska Fairbanks

Related Methane Articles:

Microbial fuel cell converts methane to electricity
Transporting methane from gas wellheads to market provides multiple opportunities for this greenhouse gas to leak into the atmosphere.
Methane seeps in the Canadian high Arctic
Cretaceous climate warming led to a significant methane release from the seafloor, indicating potential for similar destabilization of gas hydrates under modern global warming.
Methane emissions from trees
A new study from the University of Delaware is one of the first in the world to show that tree trunks in upland forests actually emit methane rather than store it, representing a new, previously unaccounted source of this powerful greenhouse gas.
Oil production releases more methane than previously thought
Emissions of methane and ethane from oil production have been substantially higher than previously estimated, particularly before 2005.
Bursts of methane may have warmed early Mars
The presence of water on ancient Mars is a paradox.
New method for quantifying methane emissions from manure management
The EU Commision requires Denmark to reduce drastically emissions of greenhouse gases from agriculture.
New 3-D printed polymer can convert methane to methanol
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists have combined biology and 3-D printing to create the first reactor that can continuously produce methanol from methane at room temperature and pressure.
Arctic Ocean methane does not reach the atmosphere
250 methane flares release the climate gas methane from the seabed and into the Arctic Ocean.
Long-sought methane production mechanism identified
Researchers have identified the mechanism by which bacteria create methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Retreat of the ice followed by millennia of methane release
Methane was seeping from the seafloor for thousands of years following the retreat of the Barents Sea ice sheet, shows a groundbreaking new study in Nature Communications.

Related Methane Reading:

Archaea: Salt-Lovers, Methane-Makers, Thermophiles, and Other Archaeans (A Class of Their Own)
by David M. Barker (Author)

Looks at the archaea domain, providing information and examples of species from the three major phyla, as well as information about why so little is known about this diverse domain. View Details


Methane Production Guide - how to make biogas. Three simple anaerobic digesters
by Richard Jemmett (Author)

Methane or biogas is a colourless, odourless, flammable gas and the main constituent, 85% to 90%, of the piped natural gas that we use in our homes in the UK, Europe and the USA.

Methane can be made using simple apparatus and a process known as anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion is one of the most common biological procedures in nature, as the name implies, it means to carry or breakdown in the absence of air. Once you know the principles of this process it is possible to make biogas in small or large quantities from a variety of waste materials. The book describes making an... View Details


Atmospheric Methane: Its Role in the Global Environment
by Mohammad Aslam Khan Khalil (Editor)

Methane is an important greenhouse gas that can cause global warming. The present concentrations of methane are nearly three times higher than several hundred years ago. Today, more than 60% of the atmospheric methane comes from human activities, including rice agriculture, coal mining, natural gas usage, biomass burning, and raising of cattle. Methane affects the stratospheric ozone layer and the oxidizing capacity of the atmosphere, which in turn control the concentrations of many man-made and natural gases in the atmosphere. This book brings together our knowledge of the trends and the... View Details


Coal Bed Methane: From Prospect to Pipeline
by Pramod Thakur (Editor), Steve Schatzel (Editor), Kashy Aminian (Editor)

Coal Bed Methane: From Prospect to Pipeline is the proceedings of the 25th anniversary of the North American Coal Bed Methane Forum. It provides the latest advancements in the production of coal bed methane covering a variety of topics, from exploration to gas processing, for commercial utilization. Additionally, it presents the origin of gas in coal, reservoir engineering, control of methane in coal mines, production techniques, water management, and gas processing.

The vast coal resources in the United States continue to produce tremendous amounts of natural gas,... View Details


Methane and Climate Change
by Dave Reay (Editor), Pete Smith (Editor), Andre van Amstel (Editor)

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and is estimated to be responsible for approximately one-fifth of man-made global warming. Per kilogram, it is twenty-five times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 100-year time horizon – and global warming is likely to enhance methane release from a number of sources. Current natural and man-made sources include many where methane-producing micro-organisms can thrive in anaerobic conditions, particularly ruminant livestock, rice cultivation, landfill, wastewater, wetlands and marine sediments.

This timely and authoritative book... View Details


Advanced Reservoir and Production Engineering for Coal Bed Methane
by Pramod Thakur (Author)

Advanced Reservoir and Production Engineering for Coal Bed Methane presents the reader with design systems that will maximize production from worldwide coal bed methane reservoirs. Authored by an expert in the field with more than 40 years of’ experience, the author starts with much needed introductory basics on gas content and diffusion of gas in coal, crucial for anyone in the mining and natural gas industries.

Going a step further, chapters on hydrofracking, horizontal drilling technology, and production strategies address the challenges of dewatering, low production... View Details


Methane: Planning a Digester
by Peter-John Meynell (Author)

Describes the physical and chemical processes leading to the production of biogases and describes procedures for constructing a digester to convert sewage and organic wastes to methane for use on farms and in homes View Details


Methane Capture: Options for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction
by Kelsi Bracmort (Author), Johnathan Ramseur (Author)


Research on climate change has identified a wide array of sources that emit greenhouse gases (GHGs). Among the six gases that have generally been the primary focus of concern, methane is the second-most abundant, accounting for approximately 8% of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2008. Methane is emitted from a number of sources. The most significant are agriculture (both animal digestive systems and manure management); landfills; oil and gas production, refining, and distribution; and coal mining.
View Details


How to Build a Methane Producing Bio-Digester. DIY Biodigester. (The Debt Killer Book)

Nature breaks down waste products cleaner then humans could ever dream of. Millions of microscopic critters called Anaerobic & Aerobic bacteria do the job of 10 garbage dumps in a matter of months. Not to mention we save the land fills from taking over the neighborhood.

You will learn how to build a Home Bio-Digester system that will convert 99% of your garbage naturally into 100% dark, rich fertilizer, suitable for adding directly onto plants, garden, trees or landscaping & cleaner burning fuel (methane) that can be used for cooking in your stove or back yard barbecue grill,... View Details


Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century
by Vaclav Smil (Author)

Natural gas is the world’s cleanest fossil fuel; it generates less air pollution and releases less CO2 per unit of useful energy than liquid fuels or coals. With its vast supplies of conventional resources and nonconventional stores, the extension of long-distance gas pipelines and the recent expansion of liquefied natural gas trade, a truly global market has been created for this clean fuel.

Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century discusses the place and prospects of natural gas in modern high-energy societies. Vaclav Smil presents a systematic survey of the qualities,... View Details

Best Science Podcasts 2017

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2017. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Simple Solutions
Sometimes, the best solutions to complex problems are simple. But simple doesn't always mean easy. This hour, TED speakers describe the innovation and hard work that goes into achieving simplicity. Guests include designer Mileha Soneji, chef Sam Kass, sleep researcher Wendy Troxel, public health advocate Myriam Sidibe, and engineer Amos Winter.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#448 Pavlov (Rebroadcast)
This week, we're learning about the life and work of a groundbreaking physiologist whose work on learning and instinct is familiar worldwide, and almost universally misunderstood. We'll spend the hour with Daniel Todes, Ph.D, Professor of History of Medicine at The Johns Hopkins University, discussing his book "Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science."