Study reveals that he amount of methane gas escaping from the ground during the long cold period in the Arctic each year and entering Earth’s atmosphere is likely much higher than estimated by current carbon cycle models. The team found that far more methane is escaping from Arctic tundra during the cold months when the soil surface is frozen (generally from September through May), and from upland tundra, than prevailing assumptions and carbon cycle models previously assumed. In fact, they found that at least half of the annual methane emissions occur in the cold months, and that drier, upland tundra can be a larger emitter of methane than wet tundra. The findings challenge critical assumptions in current global climate models.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to atmospheric warming, and is approximately 25 times more potent per molecule than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. Methane trapped in the Arctic tundra comes primarily from microbial decomposition of organic matter in soil that thaws seasonally. This methane naturally seeps out of the soil over the course of the year, but scientists worry that climate change could lead to the release of even larger emissions from organic matter that is currently stabilized in a deep, frozen soil layer called permafrost.