A Storehouse of Greenhouse Gases Is Opening in Sibera
In the permafrost bottom of the 200-meter-deep sea, enormous stores of gas hydrates lie dormant in mighty frozen layers of sediment. The carbon content of the ice-and-methane mixture here is estimated at 540 billion tons. "This submarine hydrate was considered stable until now," says the Russian biogeochemist Natalia Shakhova, currently a guest scientist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks who is also a member of the Pacific Institute of Geography at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Vladivostok.
The permafrost has grown porous, says Shakhova, and already the shelf sea has become "a source of methane passing into the atmosphere." The Russian scientists have estimated what might happen when this Siberian permafrost-seal thaws completely and all the stored gas escapes. They believe the methane content of the planet's atmosphere would increase twelvefold. "The result would be catastrophic global warming," say the scientists. The greenhouse-gas potential of methane is 20 times that of carbon dioxide, as measured by the effects of a single molecule.
RELATED SPIEGEL ONLINE LINKS
- Heating Homes With Manure: In Germany, Villages Begin Producing own Power (05/31/2007)
- Last Major Field Goes On Line: How Long Will Siberia's Gas Last? (12/18/2007)
- Global Warming Fears: Norway's Moose Population in Trouble for Belching (08/21/2007)
- Blame Bovine Belching: Changing Cows' Diet Could Cut Emissions (07/10/2007)
- From the Archive: Researchers Explore Siberia's Role in Climate Change (07/09/2007)
- SPIEGEL Interview with BASF CEO Jürgen Hambrecht: 'I Have a Problem with the Term Climate Change' (06/27/2007)
Shakhova and her co