Methane stored in permafrost is the big unknown in the climate crisis. More and more is slowly becoming known about the gas that can be released when permafrost thaws. New research has shown that large amounts of methane exist deep within the Earth.
The top layer of permafrost has now been well studied, but little is known about what lies beneath. That's why researchers tried to map the storage and distribution of methane in Spitsbergen. To this end, eight very deep wells drilled by fossil fuel companies in the permafrost were examined. Large amounts of methane have been detected. The conclusion is that this methane, present at a depth of at least two metres, is easy to find and can therefore easily reach the surface when the permafrost thaws. This probably applies to methane everywhere in permafrost, not just in Spitsbergen.
The research shows that the permafrost in the valley is better preserved, so the risk of methane emissions is lower than at higher elevations. This is probably because the permafrost in the valley is formed by the water table, creating a thicker ice layer. At higher elevations with less water, the ice is also thinner and more permeable. So methane will be released much sooner there. Right now, little methane is escaping, but that could change quickly. How much will be released and what the consequences will remain is speculation for now, but it doesn't look good.
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