Methane and Frozen Ground | National Snow and Ice Data Center – by Kevin Schaefer – Intro David Lindsay

   David Lindsay

Draft two: Monday was a balmy, windy 50 degrees here, so Laine Harris invited me to go out for one last sail on his Pearson 30. As we drove out to the Branford River, Laine and I discussed my new concert with Kathleen on Climate Change and the Sixth Extinction. Harris enjoyed the concert, and he said, What scared me the most is the fact that the permafrost of places like Siberia are melting, and as that accelerates, will release more and more methane. It appears we are doomed.
We motored down the river, set sails, and wore life jackets and fowl weather tops, to keep warm from the 20 mile an hour wind, the large chop and the spray. It was a fabulous, though short sail, since 45 minutes later we had to turn back. We motored back up the river during a blistering beautiful sunset, watched by the dark windows of the huge McMansions on the river bank. I continued to take pictures with my new Canon Sure Shot.
Laine Harris slowed the engine and slowed the boat as he turned it into a finger pier at Dutch Wharf. I took up a docking line, and prepared to jump down onto the three foot wide finger of the peer. In my excitement, I misjudged too many variables, and jumped too hard, landed on the narrow pier, but couldn’t stop my momentum, and slowly and gracefully went forward across the pier and right into the freezing black water on the other side. I was so embarrassed, I was willing to drown, but first, I took the line still in my hand, and wound it round the cleat, that was now over my head, to keep the boat from banging on the pier.

Harris had to secure his sail boat alone, while I discovered I was so wet and heavy, I did not have the strength to pull myself up onto the dock. I had time to contemplate that you could live in such cold water for about 40 minutes before you died. Laine tried to pull me up, and he couldn’t. I swung a wet leg up and hooked my foot on the low pier, and then the skipper was able to pull my hand to raise my shoulders while my leg lifted, and I slowly emerged from the freezing water and rolled unceremoniously onto the floating dock. In spite of my acute embarrassment, I was going to live. The new camera was still in my pocket.

For the drive home, I forgot in my sogginess to worry about the existential threat of the methane of the Russian tundra.


Now for the post on Methane, by Kevin Schaefer, who is a permafrost scientist at NSIDC.

“What is methane?
Methane is a gas made up of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. It’s the same natural gas that some people use to heat their homes, and it also exists naturally in the atmosphere. Scientists worry that if methane increases in the atmosphere, it could cause even more warming than carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Although there is much less methane in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it traps heat about twenty times as efficiently as carbon dioxide.

What are the sources of methane in the Arctic?
There are two potential sources of methane in the Arctic. The first source of methane is called methyl clathrate. Methyl clathrates are molecules of methane that are frozen into ice crystals. They can form deep in the Earth or underwater, but it takes very special conditions, with high pressure and low temperature, to make them. If the temperature or pressure changes, the ice that imprisons the methane will break apart, and the methane will escape. We’re not sure how much methane is trapped in methyl clathrates, or how much is in danger of escaping.

The other major source of methane in the Arctic is the organic matter frozen in permafrost. This is the source of methane that I study. The organic matter in permafrost contains a lot of carbon. It is made of dead plants and animals that have been frozen deep in permafrost for thousands of years. As long as this organic matter remains frozen, it will stay in the permafrost. However, if it thaws, it will decay, releasing carbon dioxide or methane into the atmosphere. This is why permafrost carbon is important to climate study.

Figure 2. Carbon moves through the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and land in a process called the carbon cycle.
—Credit: NSIDC, modified from NASA Earth Science Enterprise

How did this carbon get into permafrost in the first place?
Carbon was buried in permafrost by processes that took thousands of years. During the last ice age, great ice sheets covered most of the continents. As they spread out and then shrunk back, the heavy fields of ice ground up the rock underneath them into a very fine dust called loess or glacial flour. The ice sheets produced a huge amount of this powdered rock, and wind and rain deposited it onto the soil.”

via Methane and Frozen Ground | National Snow and Ice Data Center

About David Lindsay Jr

David Lindsay is the author of "The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth- Century Vietnam," that covers a bloody civil war from 1770 to 1802. Find more about it at, also known as, David Lindsay is currently writing about Climate Change and the Sixth Extinction., as well as singing and performing a "folk concert" on Climate Change and the Sixth Extinction. He can be reached at daljr37(at)
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