Researchers Warn Of Catastrophic Methane Release From The Thawing Arctic

Arctic Ice

Thawing of just part of the Arctic due to global warming could cost the world up to $60 trillion as the warming seabed and melting ice release methane into the atmosphere, warming the Earth more.

“The imminent disappearance of the summer sea ice in the Arctic will have enormous implications for both the acceleration of climate change, and the release of methane from off-shore waters which are now able to warm up in the summer,” study researcher Peter Wadhams, of Cambridge University, told The Guardian.

Arctic sea ice extent october from 1979 to 2012

The event, which scientists are calling a “methane burp” could advance global warming by 15 to 35 years at any moment. Arctic researcher Natalia Shakohova of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, told New Scientist that this release is “highly possible at any time.”

More than a trillion tonnes of methane are trapped under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, and much more could be under the entire Arctic. A decade of ice melt and warming seas will trigger a climate catastrophe, the researchers said, releasing up to 50 billion tonnes of the potent greenhouse gas.

Methane release in the Arctic

Large vents are already spewing methane, researchers report. Research cruises in 2012 found huge plumes of methane up to a kilometer wide bubbling to the surface, according to New Scientist.

This release of methane would raise global temperatures by 1.3 degrees Celsius, contributing to increased melt. The Arctic ice minimum in 2012 was less than 40% of the average ice cover during the 1970s.

To figure out the economic cost of a decade of extreme methane release — say from 2015 to 2025 — the researchers added the extra methane and temperature increases to the climate models through to 2200 — that’s how they got the $60 trillion cost globally from just the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

These financial impacts will mostly be felt in the poorest parts of Africa, Asia, and South America — causing loss of crops, droughts and other extreme weather, and increasing sea level rise. This continued methane release could completely undermine the global financial system, the researchers said in commentary published today, July 24, in the journal Nature.

This is in contrast to other, sunnier reports on Arctic melt, which detail the possible “good” this melt will have — opening up shipping lanes, increasing fishing, and even allowing us to access minerals, natural gas, and oil in the ocean bed.

Meanwhile the devastating effects are being ignored. Neither the World Economic Forum in its Global Risk Report nor the International Monetary Fund in its World Economic Outlook have recognised the potential that increased warming in the Arctic poses, the authors note.