Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

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.


  1. Solomon, S. D. (ed.) Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

  2. Friedlingstein, P. et al. Climate-carbon cycle feedback analysis: Result from the C4MIP model intercomparison. J. Clim. 19, 3337–3353 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Gruber, N. et al. in The Global Carbon Cycle: Integrating Humans, Climate and the Natural World (eds Field, C. B. & Raupach, M. R.) 45–76 (Island Press, 2004).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Vonk, J. E. et al. Activation of old carbon by erosion of coastal and subsea permafrost in Arctic Siberia. Nature 489, 137–140 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Shakhova, N. et al. Extensive methane venting to the atmosphere from the sediments of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Science 327, 1246–1250 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Shakhova, N. et al. Geochemical and geophysical evidence of methane release from the inner East Siberian Shelf. J. Geophys. Res. 115, C08007 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Biastoch, A. et al. Rising Arctic Ocean temperatures cause gas hydrate destabilization and ocean acidification. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L08602 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Holemann, J. et al. Near-bottom water warming in the Laptev Sea in response to atmospheric sea-ice conditions in 2007. Polar Res. 30, 6425–6440 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Serreze, M. & Barry, R. Processes and impacts of Arctic amplification. Glob. Planet. Change 77, 85–96 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Soloviev, V. A., Ginzburg, G. D., Telepnev, E. V. & Mikhaluk, Yu. N. Cryothermia and Gas Hydrates in the Arctic Ocean (Sevmorgeologia, 1987).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Romanovskii, N. N., Hubberten, H-W., Gavrilov, A., Eliseeva, A. & Walker, D. Offshore permafrost and gas hydrate stability zone on the shelf of East Siberian seas. Geo-Mar. Lett. 25, 167–182 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Nicolsky, D. & Shakhova, N. Modeling sub-sea permafrost in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf: The Dmitry Laptev Strait. Environ. Res. Lett. 5, 015006 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Nicolsky, D. J. et al. Modeling subsea permafrost in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf: The Laptev Sea region. J. Geophys. Res. 117, F03028 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Dmitrienko, I. A. et al. Recent changes in shelf hydrography in the Siberian Arctic: Potential for subsea permafrost instability. J. Geophys. Res. 116, C10027 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Romanovskii, N. N. & Hubberten, H-W. Results of permafrost modeling of the lowlands and shelf of the Laptev Sea region, Russia. Periglac. Process. 12, 191–202 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Shakhova, N., Nicolsky, D. & Semiletov, I. Current state of sub-sea permafrost on the East-Siberian Shelf: Testing of modeling results by observational data. Dokl. Earth Sci. 429, 1518–1521 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Leifer, I. & Patro, R. The bubble mechanism for transport of methane from the shallow seabed to the surface: A review and sensitivity study. Cont. Shelf Res. 22, 2409–2428 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Leifer, I. Characteristics and scaling of bubble plumes from marine hydrocarbon seepage in the Coal Oil Point seep field. J. Geophys. Res. 115, C11014 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Leifer, I., Luyendyk, B. P., Boles, J. & Clark, J. F. Natural marine seepage blowout: Contribution to atmospheric methane. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 20, GB3008 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Solomon, E. A., Kastner, M., MacDonald, I. R. & Leifer, I. Considerable methane fluxes to the atmosphere from hydrocarbon seeps in the Gulf of Mexico. Nature Geosci. 2, 561–565 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Reeburgh, W. S. Oceanic methane biogeochemistry. Chem. Rev. 107, 486–513 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Greinert, J., McGinnis, D. F., Naudts, L., Linke, P. & De Batist, M. Atmospheric methane flux from bubbling seeps: Spatially extrapolated quantification from a Black Sea shelf area. J. Geophys. Res. 115, C01002 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. McGinnis, D. F., Greinert, J., Artemov, Y., Beaubien, S. E. & Wuest, A. Fate of rising bubbles in stratified waters: How much methane reaches the atmosphere?. J. Geophys. Res. 111, C09007 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Greinert, J. & Nutzel, B. Hydroacoustic experiments to establish a method for the determination of methane bubble fluxes at cold seeps. Geo-Mar. Lett. 24, 75–85 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Wanninkhof, R. Relationship between wind speed and gas exchange over the ocean. J. Geophys. Res. 97, 7373–7382 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Proshutinsky, A., Proshutinsky, T. & Weingartner, T. Northern Sea Route Reconnaissance Report: Climatology of Environmental Conditions Affecting Commercial Navigation along the Northern Sea Route 148 (Univ. Alaska Fairbanks, Institute of Marine Science, 1994).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Nikiforov, E. G. & Shpaikher, A. O. Features of the Formation of Hydrological Regime Large-Scale Variations in the Arctic Ocean (Hydrometeoizdat, 1980).

    Google Scholar 

  28. Grigoriev, N. F. Mnogoletnemerzlie porodi primorskoy zoni Yakutii (Nauka, 1986).

    Google Scholar 

  29. Leifer, I. & Boles, J. Turbine seep-tent measurements of marine hydrocarbon seep forcing on sub-hourly time scales. J. Geophys. Res. 110, C01006 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Leifer, I. & Culling, D. Formation of seep bubble plumes in the Coal Oil Point seep field. Geo-Mar. Lett. 30, 339–353 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Groisman, P. & Soja, A. J. Ongoing climatic change in Northern Eurasia: Justification for expedient research. Environ. Res. Lett. 4, 045002 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Francis, O. P., Panteleev, G. G. & Atkinson, D. E. Ocean wave conditions in the Chukchi Sea from satellite and in situ observations. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L24610 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Sepp, M. & Jaangus, J. Changes in the activity and tracks of Arctic cyclones. Clim. Change 105, 577–595 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Notz, D. The future of ice sheets and sea ice: Between reversible retreat and unstoppable loss. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 20590–20595 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Wadhams, P. Arctic ice cover, ice thickness and tipping points. Ambio 41, 23–33 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Parmentier, F-J. W. et al. The impact of lower sea-ice extent on Arctic greenhouse-gas exchange. Nature Clim. Change 3, 195–202 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Screen, J. A. & Simmonds, I. The central role of diminishing sea ice in recent Arctic temperature amplification. Nature 464, 1334–1337 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Richter-Menge, J. & Overland, J. E. Arctic Report Card (2010).

Download references


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

Authors and Affiliations



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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Natalia Shakhova.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 1309 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing