In an exclusive interview with The Independent (UK), Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that he has never before witnessed the such a volume of methane—millions of tons per year in this area alone—being released from the sea:
“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr Semiletov said. “I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them.”
Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tonnes of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change.
For years it has been feared that global warming would result in release of this methane, which has over 20 times as much global warming impact as carbon dioxide. Adding such a high level of greenhouse gas emissions [GHG] to the atmosphere could rapidly accelerate the warming process beyond the point of no return.
Nobody really knows just how serious this is, but it seems essential to respond to the worst case scenario.
Is it possible to mobilize an international response to capture this volume of methane?