Alaska Science Outreach

About    Contact    Home   


Science Seen

Researcher finds Alaska lake boiling with methane

This August, UAF researcher Katey Walter brought a National Public Radio crew to Alaska's North Slope, hoping to show them examples of what happens when methane is released when permafrost thaws beneath lakes. When they reached their destination, Walter and the crew found even more than they bargained for: a lake violently boiling with escaping methane.

“It was cold, wet and windy. We were dropped off in the middle of
nowhere by a helicopter and paddled out to a huge methane plume in
the middle of the lake with no idea what to expect, how strong the
bubbling plume would be, whether or not our raft would stay afloat,
how dangerous it would be to breathe the gas,” said Walter, an
assistant professor in UAF’s Institute of Northern Engineering and
International Arctic Research Center. “The violent streams of bubbles
made the lake appear as if it were boiling, but the water was pretty

A story on the field excursion was set to air on NPR’s afternoon
newsmagazine “All Things Considered” at 4 p.m. Monday, Sept. 10, 2007.

Walter studies methane emissions from arctic lakes, especially the
connection between thawing permafrost and climate change. As
permafrost around a lake’s edges thaws, the organic material in
it-dead plants and animals-can enter the lake bottom, where bacteria
convert it to methane, which bubbles into the atmosphere, sometimes
in a spectacular fashion.

Walter said this summer’s fieldwork indicates that methane hotspots,
such as the one she and the crew experienced, can come from various
sources, not just thawing permafrost. Her next goal is to identify
and quantify the sources of the methane hotspots around Alaska.

“It is unlikely that this methane plume was related to permafrost
thaw,” said Walter, adding that the methane boiling out of the lake
was more likely related to natural gas seepage. “Should large
quantities of methane be released from methane hydrates, for
instance, in association with permafrost thaw, then we could have
large sudden increases in atmospheric methane with potentially large
affects on global temperatures.”

Walter’s project is one of many at UAF happening as part of the
International Polar Year, an international event that will focus
research efforts and public attention on the Earth’s polar regions.

[Read more at University of Alaska Fairbanks]

| Posted 09.11.07 at 3:14 am

Mission Statement & Site Policies | About AlaskaWriter LLC | Request Outreach | Request Reprints | Contribute a Story

Copyright 2004 AlaskaWriter LLC