Sunday, February 22
As permafrost thaws in the Arctic, huge pockets of methane -- a potent greenhouse gas -- could be released into the atmosphere. Experts are only beginning to understand how disastrous that could be.
Methane (CH4) has at least 20 times the heat-trapping effect of an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide (CO2). As warmer air thaws Arctic soils, as much as 55 billion metric tons of methane could be released from beneath Siberian lakes alone, according to Walter’s research. That would amount to 10 times the amount currently in the atmosphere.
At 32, Walter, an aquatic ecologist, is a rising star among the thousands of scientists who are struggling to map, measure and predict climate change. Parts of her doctoral dissertation on Siberian lakes were published in three prestigious journals in 2007: Science, Nature and Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.
According to one of her studies, methane emissions from Arctic lakes were a major contributor to a period of global warming more than 11,000 years ago.
"It happened on a large scale in the past, and it could happen on a large scale in the future," says Walter, who refers to potential methane emissions as "a time bomb."