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


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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Figure 1: Study area.
Figure 2: Dynamics of the bottom water observed in the coastal zone of the ESAS (1999–2012).
Figure 3: Difference in thermal regime of terrestrial and subsea permafrost in the coastal zone of the ESAS.
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.
Figure 5: Pre/post-storm dynamics of aqueous CH4 and atmospheric CH4 mixing ratios.


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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.

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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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Correspondence to Natalia Shakhova.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Shakhova, N., Semiletov, I., Leifer, I. et al. Ebullition and storm-induced methane release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Nature Geosci 7, 64–70 (2014).

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