Old fossil fuels reservoirs release Methane
When permafrost is disappearing from the Arctic greenhouse gases are released.
The difference between Carbon Dioxide and Methane
Carbon Dioxide: When animals and humans breathe, carbon dioxide (CO2) is released. Whenever you burn something organic, carbon dioxide is made. Huge fires worldwide cause a rise in carbon dioxide. This makes the quality of the air we breath deteriorate. Add in all the pollution we make on top of that, no wonder it is difficult to stay alive.
Plants use the carbon dioxide to make food, that means they clean the bad air. The same applies to trees, they are the earth air purifiers. How come we destroy nature when actually plants and trees help us to survive. It is a mystery to me. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which changes the weather on our planet and causes global warming. Seeing the number of people, how many animals we keep for food and the way we treat nature are you surprised it is getting warmer?
Methane: Methane is normally a gas but under extreme cold (-183 degrees C), it can be a solid. Its generally assumed that methane is produced in the absence of oxygen in the process of decomposition of carbon-based organic matter. This is very different from the combustion of organic matter which as mentioned earlier, creates CO2. If you burn methane in a pure oxygen environment, you get CO2 and water.
Now we need to introduce a new term. CO2-equivalent. There are quite a few greenhouse gases in our atmosphere but CO2 and methane (CH4) are the most significant global warming chemicals in terms of volume and concentration in the atmosphere. The heat absorbing potential (Global Warming Potential (GWP)) of all greenhouse gases are given in terms of an equivalent amount of CO2. CO2 has a value of one to establish a reference point. Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas and over a 20-year timeline, it has a GWP that is 84 times that of CO2, so methane (in that 20 year period) has a CO2-e of 84. The Earths atmospheric methane has increased 150% since 1750 (the start of the Industrial Revolution) and It is 20 % of the worldwide greenhouse gases.
Natural methane exists below the ground, under the sea floor and as a solid in the ocean’s depths. methane gas is not too toxic but in closed spaces, it can make breathing difficult and even deadly if it displaces the oxygen in the room. You may get a headache, feel dizzy and can lose your coordination. It is dangerous as it is extremely flammable and can explode if the concentration is 5% or greater. Methane can be produced by the natural decay of organic matter under bodies of water, by the natural decay of grasses and leaves that have been covered over to produce an oxygen-free environment, or the digestive processes of mammals (be it humans or animals). Having so many animals as food source does produce a lot of methane.
Can one blame cows for global warming? Well, I think it is us humans who eat too much meat to start with. When you realize there are some 1.5 billion cows and bulls in the world who produce around 2 billion metric tons of CO2-e per year, perhaps it is high time to think about eating alternatives to meat.
An Arctic expert and her findings
I read an interesting but also worrisome article these days. Greenhouse gases are leaking from lakes in the Arctic. Katey Walter Anthony is an Arctic expert that has been studying more than 300 lakes and has come across one which showed an unusual behavior. This lake, which is situated close to the Western Brooks Range and is about the size of 20 football fields, looked like a boiling cooking pot. There were huge bubbles on the surface, some the size of small melons. These bubbles were methane coming from the depth of the lake to the surface.
Strange things are hidden in the permafrost
We have all heard that because of rising temperatures, the permafrost is melting in the Arctic. This poses a problem because things that have been frozen for many millennia are being set free. It has been reported that in Siberia, strange viruses previously thought to be extinct, have made a comeback and pose a danger to animals and humans. Katey Walter Anthony had observed gases rising from different lakes, but never had she witnessed such a huge release of methane. The University of Alaska had posted a video in 2010 which got nearly 500 thousand views on YouTube. On the video you see her standing on a frozen lake where she lit a methane stream which caused a flame as tall as her.
The good and bad of methane
She now came back to the lake with a small team and wanted to see if there were any changes. Her belief is that these lakes are releasing old sources of methane, speeding up climate change, and causing an acceleration of permafrost thaw. It is like a vicious circle as one incident causes the speedup of the other. She had been asked by the NANA Regional Corporation (previously known as The Northwest Arctic Native Association) to look for lakes which ooze methane. Even if it has a negative side the positive would be as a fuel source for far away communities which would have no other access to gas.
To find these type of lakes, which because of these methane seeps do not freeze completely, she asked for the collaboration of the local people. A pilot contacted her with information that in the Noatak region, not far above the Arctic Circle, such a strange lake had been sighted.
A reservoir thousand of years old
The sounding devices which were taken to the lake showed it had huge holes in the bottom. The lake is very shallow for the most part but has 2 significant drops of 50 feet deep. It was also discovered that the methane coming to the surface of the lake had a geologic origin. It was like a huge reservoir thousand of years old. This finding cause reason for concern. If there were many more of this type of places in the Arctic it could pose a huge extra risk to our planet.
2 tons of methane a day
A bigger team came to the lake, more checks and measuring were done. A scientist who came from the Center for Research and Advanced Studies at the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico also took measurements. His instruments, in addition to methane, detected ethane, butane, and propane, indicating the gasses were of fossil origin. When his data had processed the findings it showed a release of 2 tons of methane per day. That represents the gas emissions of 6000 cows. You can imagine if there are many more lakes like this it could have catastrophic consequences.
When Methane gets released it easily mixes with the atmosphere. In the atmosphere, it has an estimated lifetime of 12 years but in this relatively short time, it augments global warming at an accelerated speed.
Carbon Dioxide is less potent but its lifetime is estimated to up to 95 years or even much longer.
If the Arctic starts melting at a faster speed it will not be possible to stop global warming anymore.
All the things we will lose
Global warming will change a lot of things. Many things we know nowadays and take for granted will not be visible anymore. Cities, landscapes and whole countries will disappear. Try and go and visit before it is only a photograph and memory. We are the main culprits and it is a sad legacy we leave to our future generations.
Source: Wikipedia and NDTV, Chris Mooney on September 25, 2018
Photo Source: Pixabay
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