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Identifying sources of methane in the arctic

Posted on 05/01/2012

A study of Arctic methane published November 2011 in Geophysical Research Letters by Rebecca Fisher and including Dave Lowry, Mathias Lanoisellé, Mary Fowler and Euan Nisbet as Department of Earth Science co-authors, was chosen by the American Geophyiscal Union, as a research highlight for the weekly EOS magazine on December 6th using the summary study and photograph shown below. The study was also chosen to be cover story for Volume 38, Issue Number 21 of the journal.



Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, enters the atmosphere from a variety of sources—it can leak from industrial gas fields or pipelines, escape from submarine hydrates that decompose with warming temperatures, or be released from decomposition of organic matter. Methane from different sources has different isotopic composition, allowing researchers to identify the source of methane in the air, as Fisher et al. have done in a new study. The researchers analyzed the isotopic composition of methane in the air off Spitsbergen in 2008 and 2009. They found that in the summer, wetlands were the dominant methane source. Methane is being released to the water column from gas hydrates on the seabed, but, so far, the study indicates, this methane has not reached the atmosphere. Wetlands are likely to release more methane as temperatures warm, feeding further climate change.

Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2011GL049319, 2011

Air sampling inlets at Zeppelin station, Spitsbergen, Norway, used in a study that identified sources of methane in the Arctic.
Photo courtesy of David Lowry, RHUL


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