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

Nature Geoscience volume 7, pages 6470 (2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

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 100–630 mg methane m−2 d−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.

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Acknowledgements

We dedicate this paper to the memory of the crew of Russian vessel RV Alexei Kulakovsky who sank on 27 August 2010 trying to rescue our expedition during the severe storm on the Laptev Sea. We thank L. Hinzman, J. Calder and V. Panchenko for their support of our work in the Siberian Arctic. This research was supported by the International Arctic Research Center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks; the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences; the US National Science Foundation (Nos OPP-0327664, OPP-0230455, ARC-1023281, ARC-0909546); the NOAA Climate Program office (NA08OAR4600758); the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (Nos. 11-05-00781, 11-05-12021, 11-05-12027, 11-05-12028, 11-05-12032); the Swedish Research Council; the Nordic Council of Ministries; and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. We thank C. O’Connor for English editing.

Author information

Author notes

    • Natalia Shakhova
    • , Igor Semiletov
    •  & Ira Leifer

    These authors contributed equally to this work

Affiliations

  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

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Contributions

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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Natalia Shakhova.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2007

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