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Now the proof: permafrost 'bubbles' are leaking methane 200 times above the norm

By 0 and 0 and 0
22 July 2016


Methane bubbles were found at the Belyy island, 763km north off Salekhard, Yamal Peninsula. Picture: Alexander Sokolov

The swelling pockets in the permafrost - revealed this week by The Siberian Times - are leaking 'alarming' levels of ecologically dangerous gases, according to scientists who have observed this 'unique' phenomenon. Some 15 pockets have been found on the Arctic island, around one metre in diameter. 

Measurements taken by researchers on expeditions to the island found that after removing grass and soil from the 'bubbling' ground, the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration released was 20 times above the norm, while the methane(CH4)  level was 200 times higher. 

One account said: 'As we took off a layer of grass and soil, a fountain of gas erupted.' 

Trembling methane bubbles at Belyy Island

An early theory is that warm summer heat has melted the permafrost causing the release of long-frozen gases. 

Video images of the phenomenon show how the ground wobbled under the feet of scientists. Other descriptions say the tundra surface - in a permafrost zone some 765 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle - bubbled or trembled. 

'It was like a jelly,' said one researcher, according to a broadcast by Vesti Yamal. 'We have not come across anything like this before.'

A scientist, not named in video footage, warned it was a 'serious reason to be concerned if gas bubbles appear in the permafrost zone', suggesting there could be 'unpredictable' consequences.

Now the proof: permafrost 'bubbles' are leaking methane 200 times above the norm
The Belyy Island marked on the map of Russia. Picture: The Siberian Times

The researchers are to continue investigating the jelly holes, which also contain unfrozen water. Another scientist Alexander Sokolov has revealed he first witnessed the phenomenon last summer during an expedition to the remote island. 

'We didn't know about these bubbles before the expedition,' said Sokolov who is deputy head of ecological R&D station of the Institute of Ecology of Plants and Animals, in Labytnangi, Tyumen region, Ural Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences 

'We walk dozens of kilometres every day and after having walked quite a lot we came across one such bubbles.

'I've been working in Yamal for 20 years now - some of my peers have been  here even longer - and it's the first time I have ever seen this. 

'I've walked in the tundra for hundreds of kilometres and I went to the exact place where we spotted the first bubble last year at nearly exactly the same time.'

Now the proof: permafrost 'bubbles' are leaking methane 200 times above the norm

Now the proof: permafrost 'bubbles' are leaking methane 200 times above the norm
Methane bubbles, the Belyy island. Pictures: Alexander Sokolov

He explained: 'The day after seeing this bubble, we came across another one. As shown on our video, we punctured it and, let's say, 'air' starting coming out quickly.

'It had no smell - and there was no liquid (eruption). When we returned to our camp, we started discussing the phenomenon with colleagues and decided to find out what was the gas coming out of it.

'Our colleagues gave us a gas analyser worth 7 million roubles ($10,850). This device measures the concentration of the two greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide and methane. Gases are typically measured in parts per million or ppm. 

'The gas analyser showed that one of these gases was dozens of times higher and another was hundreds of times higher than normal.'

The peak CO2 measurement was 7750 ppm, the CH4 reading was 375 ppm. 

Now the proof: permafrost 'bubbles' are leaking methane 200 times above the norm

Now the proof: permafrost 'bubbles' are leaking methane 200 times above the norm
Methane measurements showed it being 200 times above the norm. Pictures: Vesti Yamal

On whether climate change is behind the gas release, he told The Siberian Times: 'It is worth mentioning global warming. 'There is neither warming nor cooling in the Belyy island if you look at the average temperatures. But this figure isn't very representative.

'It's just like in a famous joke about average temperature in a hospital: some people have fever, some are dead, this number doesn't really make sense. 

'I can't say if this summer has been the warmest over the past few years but simply because I'm not following it. 

'Yet it is likely that that 10 days of extraordinary heat could have started some mechanisms, (and the) higher level of permafrost could have thawed and released a huge amount of gases. Geologists suppose that there might be some gas leaking from the underground but it's unlikely. There is solid permafrost under the bubbles.'

Alexander Sokolov's view is that the gas release if from thawing ground immediately below the surface to a depth of around one metre. He is concerned about the consequences of the gas release. 

'It is evident even to amateurs that this is a very serious alarm. As for the future, we are interested in further study of the bubbles.

'We have discovered over a dozen of them. We need interdisciplinary study.

'Initially, we went to Belyy Island for a different reason.'

Now priority is being given to the bubbling tundra. 

'We study tundra ecosystems. The expedition started on 3 June and will continue to 15 August.'

Now the proof: permafrost 'bubbles' are leaking methane 200 times above the norm

Now the proof: permafrost 'bubbles' are leaking methane 200 times above the norm
The Belyy island. Pictures: Alexander Sokolov

Scientists have warned at the potential catastrophic impact of global warming leading to the release into the atmosphere of harmful gases in the Arctic hitherto frozen in the ground or under the sea. 

A possibility is that the trembling tundra on Belyy Island is this process in action. 

Further south, on the Yamal and Taimyr peninsulas, scientists are actively observing a number of craters that have suddenly formed in the permafrost. 

When the craters first appeared on the Yamal Peninsula - known to locals as 'the end of the world' - they sparked bizarre theories as to their formation. 

Most experts now believe they were created by explosions of methane gas unlocked by warming temperatures in the far north of Russia. 

Now the proof: permafrost 'bubbles' are leaking methane 200 times above the norm
This crater was discovered by hecilopter pilots in 2014. Picture: Vasiliy Bogoyavlensky

On Yamal, the main theory is that the craters were formed by pingos - dome-shaped mounds over a core of ice - erupting under pressure of methane gas released by the thawing of permafrost caused by climate change.

The Yamal craters, some tiny but others large, were created by natural gas filling vacant space in ice humps, eventually triggering eruptions, according to  

leading authority Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky, of Moscow's Oil and Gas Research Institute. Recently there were accounts of a 'big bang' leading to the formation of a crater on the Taimyr Peninsula. 

The noise could be heard up to 100 kilometres away and one resident saw a 'glow in the sky' after the explosion. The crater was first seen by reindeer herders  who almost fell into it soon after the 2013 eruption. Since then, its size rapidly increased at least 15 times during the next year and a half.

It is expected to be even wider now but no recent scientific surveys have been made to the remote site.  

Our pictures show the so-called Deryabinsky crevice in snow soon after it was formed, when the hole was some four metres in width, and the latest known pictures which illustrate how it is now a lake, some 70 metres in diameter. 

Comments (11)

U.S. Government pisses me off so much to point I think it could be something new if all the methane bubbles are erupted through man-made efforts by the end of 2021. Perhaps fire non-explosive methane harpoons into the largest methane bubbles amid attempts to flood U.S. coastal regions due to global sea level rise.
Gregor Hirsch, Divided States of America
16/12/2020 13:47
im really scared I think we have reached the point of no return us humans the planet is sick we are all doomed 10 years tops then massive changes so sad
sara shaw, goole uk
05/07/2017 07:38
Methane from permafrost is NOT coming from methane clathrates (or hydrates). Permafrost is composed of undecayed material of dead plants and animals.

When it thaws, it then decays. If oxygen is available, it will rot and give off CO2.

If NO oxygen is available, it will rot, and give off CH4.

The methane in undersea clathrates or hydrates is from organisms that died and rotted millennia ago, and the methane has been trapped all this time.

Also, atmospheric methane NEVER caught fire and burned up the planet.

There were several huge methane releases, whose global warming impact caused severe warming of the Earth.

But, it was not by fire.
Craig, Chicago, IL USA
18/11/2016 17:55
Maybe the methane has been under the Siberian tundra, frozen as methane hydrate. Climate change melting the Arctic is allowing the soil to warm, the methane to melt and rise through Earth's crust.
As for the amazing round shapes of the phenomenon, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming USA has many areas of bubbling thermal activity made up of water, mud and gas. The bubbles are round and in that way, are similar to the methane craters. Mud pots are fascinating to watch. Yellowstone has a huge volcanic magma chamber heating it from beneath the surface, though.
The scary thing about the Arctic in Siberia is methane is a greenhouse gas and highly explosive, as some have already mentioned here. Too much methane in Earth's atmosphere only adds to the greenhouse effect.
@Allan I'm also familiar with the theory that life on Earth was destroyed in one of the previous extinction events, by sudden melting of methane hydrates that caught fire, incinerating the entire planet.
Very very scary!
KooLynx, Rocky Mountains USA
04/10/2016 12:02
"Perfect circles like these" certainly do exist in nature. These things are bubbles. If you've never seen a perfectly circular bubble in nature, you must live in an alternate universe with entirely different physics than ours.

What shape is an impact crater? A planet? An orbit? A dandelion puff? An eye's pupil? A water ripple? Cross section of a dissected worm? A dung beetle's prize possession? Etc etc etc...
Karsten Johansson, Toronto, Canada
07/09/2016 23:32
Put tarp over the pockets and shunt the methane to a generator. Solves the problem and generates needed energy at the same time.
Dave, Virginia, USA
05/08/2016 07:14
At this point it seems prudent to have an increase in monitoring of the tundra and the CH4 entering the atmosphere. Thanks for this post. Following.
Wendy, Finger Lakes
02/08/2016 05:39
This is a very important development, given that it has never been witnessed before, by scientists monitoring changes on the Tundra for decades. The bubbles remind me of a pressure cooker release valve, releasing pressure inside the pot to prevent it from exploding? On the one hand, however, while this analogy 'may' represent the 'bubbles' as a safety mechanism, exhausting relatively small quantities of leakage much deeper below the permafrost, perhaps? It's nonetheless alarming, if this is indeed the case? One wonders where the gas came from, and how long it took the 'gas bubbles' to form and suddenly emerge? And the apparent rapid growth of the craters caused by the eruptions...could we be facing an unpredictable catastrophic reaction, if the combined apparent weakening on the Tundra's surface is linked to below the permafrost shield?
Dennis Broe-Ward, Newmachar, Scotland
28/07/2016 05:55
That's very alarming news we can read !! We are all concern about what's happenind in siberia especially in the north; Releases of CO2 and methane will increase earth global warming. It's like a climate bomb under our feet !!

thanks for your ecological news !!!
Guilloux Christophe, Caen/Normandy
26/07/2016 01:29
Thank you for your informative post. It was great reading more about methane in the ground. I have a question about the crater though. Is it really that round or has a hand been made in sculpting it? Perfect circles like these don't occur in nature and was just wondering what the solution was.
Ryan Smith, Oxford, England
25/07/2016 22:19
Thank you for your informative reporting and pictures about climate change. Past extinction events featured CH4 and this current extinction event will be no different. Please keep the news coming, concerned minds want to know.
Allan Barr, Covelo, Northern California.
23/07/2016 23:20

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