17 September 2012, 18:17

Methane emissions in Arctic cause climate change catastrophic effect, expert says

Methane emissions in Arctic cause climate change catastrophic effect, expert says

Over 200 areas of mass emission of methane can be observed in the Arctic Ocean discovered recently by the Russian expedition onboard Viktor Buinitsky research vessel. As the Arctic regions containing methane get wormer more of this greenhouse gas is released into atmosphere meaning higher temperatures. Scientists worry that this increased warming will result in methane being released more rapidly making it into a snowball effect which will rapidly increase the global climate change.

In an exclusive interview to the Voice of Russia Dr Sharon George, the course Director for MSc Environmental Sustainability and Green Technology at the Keele University in UK, described the importance and effect of the discovery of Russian scientists.

Methane emission has been known about for a while in the scientific community, but it is something that the public and businesses don’t know much about. And the worry is that it will have a catastrophic effect because it is one of those things that when it starts it becomes like a feedback loop and it gets worse and worse. The impact on the climate change is not known and we can’t put a figure on it but it is very worrying particularly as methane has worse effect on the climate than carbon dioxide.

The role of carbon dioxide as a cause of global warming is being studied and argued aggressively whereas the role of methane receives little attention even though it is 20 times more potent. Is that a fair position?

Methane is not something new; it has been with us a very long time and we see a rise in methane due to things like farming. It is something climate change experts are quite worried about and research. One of other factors about methane is that it stays in the atmosphere for a long time. Anthropogenic change is something that is with us and we are affecting the climate. In human lifetime we have nothing to compare it to but if we look at the planet Venus that is an example of run-away climate changes. And the public doesn’t make that connection and doesn’t think about the consequences of climate changing so dramatically. And I think that is the reason why methane effect hasn’t been so much in the public eye.

I think that most people are guilty of being complaisant because we don’t see an immediate effect. Climate change is thought about as effecting wild life and we don’t think of as threatening to our existence. Perhaps if people understood that it is a process that is happening and it is actually changing our atmosphere and understood the potency of methane may be that might make things more real for people. There are always going to be skeptics where ever there is an uncertainty in the scientific knowledge when scientists can’t say exactly what is happening by measures.

Could we see the effect of the methane emission in the next decades?

In the life cycle of the planet 30 years is not even a blink of an eye. But we are starting to see temperatures going up. There are different theories of how fast the climate is changing certainly putting the volumes of methane we think are under the Arctic’s into the atmosphere is going to have an effect. On what time scale it happens is still a worry.

The U.S. Energy Department announced plans to spend more than $5 million researching the potential to produce natural gas from deep-sea methane hydrates. The Energy Department calls them "the world's largest untapped fossil energy resource". Could that step become a solution to the mass emission of methane in that region?

It is a very complicated issue because on one hand at the moment that methane is locked away deep in the ocean. Once that released it is released. And the amount there is absolutely enormous. If you think about combusting that and it is going to be released anyway in a catastrophic process that we think has already started then it is better for it to be combusted and it is less damaging to the atmosphere if it is compound with oxygen and converted into carbon dioxide and is less potent as greenhouse gas. In theory that makes sense. In ideal world we would look for ways to stop it from being released in the first place in order to stop the change that is happening.

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