Feedback from the Melting Arctic

NASA completed a cross-institutional study on rising methane levels in the Arctic. The results, we're afraid, do not look good.
Melting Arctic photo courtesy of NASA

On July 12, 2011, crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy retrieved a canister dropped by parachute from a C-130, which brought supplies for some mid-mission fixes.

The ICESCAPE mission, or "Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment," is NASA's two-year shipborne investigation to study how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the ocean's chemistry and ecosystems. The bulk of the research took place in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in summer 2010 and 2011.

Photo courtesy of NASA.


New evidence on global warming has emerged from the Arctic. A study published by Nature Geoscience in April reports raised levels of methane where melting ice exposes areas of the Arctic Ocean. Methane, a major contributor to global warming, is 20 times more effective than carbon at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Previous studies have shown elevated levels of methane over thawing permafrost. This is the first study to show increased methane over Arctic waters.

The study’s findings raise fears that a positive feedback system could be created. Increased methane contributes to a warmer climate—which in turn could accelerate the process of melting. This is significant, considering the vast size of the Arctic. 

Eric Kort of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory led the multi-institutional research team.


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