Ebullition and storm-induced methane release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf

Journal name:
Nature Geoscience
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Published online


Vast quantities of carbon are stored in shallow Arctic reservoirs, such as submarine and terrestrial permafrost. Submarine permafrost on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf started warming in the early Holocene, several thousand years ago. However, the present state of the permafrost in this region is uncertain. Here, we present data on the temperature of submarine permafrost on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf using measurements collected from a sediment core, together with sonar-derived observations of bubble flux and measurements of seawater methane levels taken from the same region. The temperature of the sediment core ranged from −1.8 to 0°C. Although the surface layer exhibited the lowest temperatures, it was entirely unfrozen, owing to significant concentrations of salt. On the basis of the sonar data, we estimate that bubbles escaping the partially thawed permafrost inject 100–630mg methane m−2d−1 into the overlying water column. We further show that water-column methane levels had dropped significantly following the passage of two storms. We suggest that significant quantities of methane are escaping the East Siberian Shelf as a result of the degradation of submarine permafrost over thousands of years. We suggest that bubbles and storms facilitate the flux of this methane to the overlying ocean and atmosphere, respectively.

At a glance


  1. Study area.
    Figure 1: Study area.

    a, ESAS bathymetric map (water depths≤50m). The location of the study area is marked with the dotted pink rectangle. The red freeform line shows the ship track followed for the multibeam survey referred to in b. The black circle shows the position of the borehole performed on land (Chay-Tumus28, referred to in Fig. 3); the red circle shows the position of the borehole performed offshore (borehole 1D-11, referred to in Fig. 3). b, Seepage intensity and spatial density distribution (shown as different colours and heights) in the study area (see Supplementary Information for description of seep analysis methodology). The vessel track is shown as a brown line.

  2. Dynamics of the bottom water observed in the coastal zone of the ESAS (1999-2012).
    Figure 2: Dynamics of the bottom water observed in the coastal zone of the ESAS (1999–2012).

    a, Position of oceanographic stations where the bottom water temperatures observed in summer are marked by red triangles; winter stations are marked by blue triangles; historical data are marked by green squares. b, Red and blue triangles represent the measured values of bottom water temperature for each station in a. Dashed lines reflect historical data (http://research.iarc.uaf.edu/SSSS); black, annual mean bottom water temperature (MBWT); blue, winter MBWT; red, summer MBWT. Solid lines reflect modern MBWT from the stations marked in a: black for annual, blue for winter and red for summer.

  3. Difference in thermal regime of terrestrial and subsea permafrost in the coastal zone of the ESAS.
    Figure 3: Difference in thermal regime of terrestrial and subsea permafrost in the coastal zone of the ESAS.

    The black curve shows the temperature of the sediments at different horizons of the sediment core obtained on land in Chay-Tumus28 (the position of the borehole is marked by a black circle in Fig. 1a); the red curve shows the temperature of the sediment core obtained offshore in Buor-Khaya Bay (borehole 1D-11; the position of the borehole is marked by a red circle in Fig. 1a). As seen from the temperature curves, sediments in the 1D-11 borehole are much warmer (from −2 to 0°C) than those from the on-land site (from −8 to −11.5°C).

  4. Simulated areas of open taliks in the coastal area of the ESAS under different thermal regimes of sediments determined by bottom water temperature.
    Figure 4: Simulated areas of open taliks in the coastal area of the ESAS under different thermal regimes of sediments determined by bottom water temperature.

    a, Areas of taliks based on historical data sets describing bottom water temperatures. b, Areas of taliks based on historical data sets updated with modern data (1999–2009). c, Areas of methane hotspots observed in the coastal area.

  5. Pre/post-storm dynamics of aqueous CH4 and atmospheric CH4 mixing ratios.
    Figure 5: Pre/post-storm dynamics of aqueous CH4 and atmospheric CH4 mixing ratios.

    af, Observed dynamics during different stages of the storm in 2009 (ac) and 2010 (df). a,b, Water-column CH4 concentrations right after the storm event (a; wind speed, U, 2–6ms−1) and two days after the storm (bU=4–7ms−1). c, Atmospheric CH4 mixing ratios (blue line corresponds to a; red line to b). d,e, Water-column concentrations before and at the beginning of the storm (d; U increasing from 5–8ms−1 to U>15ms−1) and several hours after the storm (e; U=3–8ms−1). f, Atmospheric CH4 mixing ratios (the blue line corresponds to e; the red line to d).


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Author information

  1. These authors contributed equally to this work

    • Natalia Shakhova,
    • Igor Semiletov &
    • Ira Leifer


  1. International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska, Akasofu Building, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775-7320, USA

    • Natalia Shakhova &
    • Igor Semiletov
  2. Russian Academy of Sciences, Far Eastern Branch, Pacific Oceanological Institute, 43 Baltiiskaya Street, Vladivostok 690041, Russia

    • Natalia Shakhova,
    • Igor Semiletov,
    • Anatoly Salyuk,
    • Denis Kosmach &
    • Denis Chernykh
  3. Marine Sciences Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

    • Ira Leifer &
    • Chris Stubbs
  4. Bubbleology Research International, Solvang, California 93463, USA

    • Ira Leifer
  5. Russian Academy of Sciences, Far Eastern Branch, Institute of Chemistry, 159, 100-Let Vladivostok Prospect, Vladivostok 690022, Russia

    • Valentin Sergienko
  6. Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, 903 Koyukuk Drive, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775-7320, USA

    • Dmitry Nicolsky
  7. Moscow State University, 1-12 Leninskie Gory, Moscow, Moscow 119991, Russia

    • Vladimir Tumskoy
  8. Department of Applied Environmental Science and Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Stockholm University, Stockholm 10691, Sweden

    • Örjan Gustafsson


N.S., I.S., I.L. and V.S. designed the field work; A.S. and D.K. collected the water samples, set up the analytical instruments, performed the onboard measurements, and conducted quality control; C.S. collected and analysed sonar data; N.S., I.S., A.S., D.N. and I.L. analysed the data; N.S., D.K., D.N., I.L., and A.S. created the figures; N.S., I.S., I.L, and O.G. drafted the first manuscript; and all authors contributed to the final version.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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