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Scientists discover sea ‘boiling’ with methane in Siberia

The situation in southern Siberia remains uneasy as 25 more settlements were flooded, Russian ministry of emergencies said in a statement on Wednesday.

A group of Siberian scientists have discovered a “methane fountain” — an area of the sea where water is bubbling over with the powerful greenhouse gas.

According to the team that travelled to the East Siberian Sea, the discovery is unlike anything they’ve seen before.

The crew, lead by a Tomsk Polytechnic University researcher Igor Semiletov, was studying the environmental effects of thawing permafrost. Turns out, it’s a lot worse than they imagined.

READ MORE: What is permafrost and what does it mean for Canada as it thaws

Permafrost refers to ground that is permanently frozen for at least two years in a row. Sometimes, Newsweek points out, it can be frozen for tens of thousands of years.

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The National Snow and Ice Data Center reports that 8.7 million square miles of the Northern Hemisphere is permanently frozen.

According to a journal article by Nature Communications, when permafrost begins to melt, trapped organic material begins to break down, causing the release of “massive emissions of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere.”

READ MORE: Last month was the warmest September on record: European satellite agency

The release of methane causes water to bubble and lead to even more warming.

This melting process has been happening in Siberia. Video footage taken by hunters that circulated in 2016 shows grass bobbing “like jelly” due to the instability of the melting permafrost underneath.

Tomsk Polytechnic University released a statement regarding the findings, which, translated from Russian, reads that the increase in concentration of atmospheric methane was six to seven times higher than the average.

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The statement adds that researchers found an area of water four to five square meters in size that was “boiling with methane bubbles.”

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The methane levels of these bubbles, collected with buckets, tested at nine times higher than average global levels.

“This is the most powerful gas foundation I’ve ever seen, Semiletov said in the statement, according to The Moscow Times. “No one has ever recorded anything like this before.”

meaghan.wray@globalnews.ca