Methane Levels Stable Despite The Arctic Warming, Study Says

First Posted: Jun 23, 2016 08:53 AM EDT

A recent research reveals that there is no significant increase in methane emissions despite the Arctic warming. The findings were based on the analysis of almost three decades of air samples from Alaska's North Slope.

The study was printed in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. It was led by Colm Sweeney, a CIRES scientist working at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder and lead author of the study and other colleagues.

Sweeney stated that there has been a huge increase in Arctic warming, and while they do see spikes in methane due to short-term temperature changes, they're not seeing a long-term change in methane levels. On the other hand, he said that it doesn't mean thawing permafrost isn't releasing carbon. He added that it's happening; it just isn't showing up as methane.

The researchers complemented the measurements from the barrow observatory with measurements made by a five-year, NASA-led airborne campaign known as CARVE or Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment. They found that there was an uptick in methane levels in late fall and winter, yet no long-term signal across Alaska's North Slope.

Steven Wofsy of Harvard University and the co-author of the study said that the bacteria that produce methane and bacteria that consume methane will both become more active as temperatures get warmer. He further said that their study indicates that over the past 30 years, these processes have balanced out in the study area.

The researchers concluded that observed short-term methane spikes from the Arctic will likely have little influence on global atmospheric methane levels in the long-term. Meanwhile, the researchers are further observing the Barrow observatory's dataset for signs that the permafrost has been emitting carbon dioxide.

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