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Methane & Permafrost Release

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Methane Formation
Methane formation beneath permafrost is created by three different processes. To begin, methane can be made through the thermal decomposition of organic matter, known as being produced thermogenically. Furthermore, methane can also be produced abiogenically and bacteriogenically (Stotler et al., 2010). These processes include the reduction of carbon dioxide and methanogenic microbes that emit methane as they decompose due to an increase in anaerobic bacteria respiration in the area. Under specific conditions of low temperatures and high pressure, methane gas and water combine to crystallize, creating ice that is referred to as methane hydrates (Stotler et al., 2010). From here, these hydrates rise to the surface and wait to be emitted. The cold temperatures in Canada contribute to the methane being trapped under these layers of permafrost, while global warming contributes to the release of these methane hydrates as the permafrost degrades at an increasing rate (Stotler et al., 2010).

Methane Release

As Canada’s permafrost degrades, methane will be able to escape its entrapped surroundings and be released into the atmosphere. The process of methane being released is known as ebullition and can occur at point sources and hot spots. Ebullition is the term given to methane that is rushing forth and expelling into the air. Although methane emissions are a growing problem, the release of methane through the melting of permafrost is a very slow process. As permafrost degrades at an increasing rate due to rising global temperatures, methane is slowly being released from these areas. Methane is released as a gas in high concentrations that disperse over large areas in the atmosphere. Along with methane emissions, carbon is also being expelled in large quantities as the ground thaws (Anisimov, 2007).
Methane formation that occurs within permafrost starts off as little gas bubbles beneath the surface. As the permafrost degrades, these pockets of entrapped gas rise to the surface and are released into the atmosphere. However, methane isn’t the only thing being released as the ground thaws. Along with carbon, organic matter is also made available and is used by microbes for degradation to further emit other greenhouse gases, including more methane (Anisimov, 2007). More specifically, In Lupin, Nunavut, entrapped gas beneath permafrost was studied and it was concluded that the gas bubbles were 64-87% methane (Stotler et al. 2010). As permafrost degradation continues to increase in the future, more of this methane will be released into the atmosphere in large concentrations. Figure # shows the contribution of peat and lake sediments in the formation and release of methane into the atmosphere. The darker spots shown on the lake surface are areas where methane gas has punctured the surface allowing the gas to expel into the atmosphere.
As stated before, methane is usually released into the atmosphere at point sources or hot spots. Both vary in abundance, location, and methane concentration. As time progresses and global temperatures continue to increase, fluxes from all sources will continue to rise as well (Camill, 2005). This will only lead to the further stimulation of mathanogenesis, leading to an increase in methane emissions into the atmosphere.

CITATION FOR FIGURE: Figure 6. Cross-Section of a Thermokarst (Walter et al., 2007).

References
Anisimov, O. (2007). Potential feedback of thawing permafrost to the global climate system through methane emission, Environmental Research Letters 2, 1-5.
Camill, P. (2005). Permafrost Thaw Accelerates in Boreal Peatlands During Lae-20th Century Climate Warming. Climate Change, 68, 135-152.
Stotler, R. L., Frape, S. K., Ruskeeniemi, T., Sudicky, E., Tarasov, L., Ahonen, L., et al. (2010). Origin and stability of a permafrost methane hydrate occurrence in the Canadian Shield. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 296, 384-394.
Walter, K.M., Smith, L.C., and Chapin, F.S. (2007) Methane bubbling from northern lakes: present and future contributions to the global methane budget. Phil. Trans. R. Soc, 365, 1657-1676.
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