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Chris Mooney @chriscmooney
, 20 tweets, 6 min read Read on Twitter
1. Want to thank folks for reading my recent story about Esieh Lake, a strange lake in the Arctic that’s bubbling up lots of methane, and the scientists led by Katey Walter Anthony of @UAFairbanks, who are trying to plumb its secrets. washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/…#thread
2.Here, I’m hoping to share a little more about the story, and some photos and charts.
3. We were intrigued by this study by Walter Anthony and her colleagues on Arctic thermokarst lakes, formed as permafrost thaws, and the major punch they could deliver to the climate system, since they thaw to considerable depths and unleash methane. nature.com/articles/s4146…
4. Here's a visualization of some of those findings by the Post's @JohnMuyskens, showing emissions that are already happening from these lakes in NW Alaska
@JohnMuyskens 5. And here's another showing just how much these lakes could worsen greenhouse gas emissions from permafrost by the year 2100 in a moderate (not the worst!) warming scenario.
6. But we soon learned Walter Anthony was also planning to study another type of lake, with higher emissions, than these lakes. And Post photographer Jonathan Newton, whose spectacular work is seen throughout the story, and I got to come along. washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/…
7. Walter Anthony had named the lake – which she’d visited just once before -- “Esieh.” It wasn’t easy to get to – a good ways into the tundra just above the Arctic circle. And it was also a place where grizzly bears sometimes hang out (though we didn’t see any).
8. So on the one hand, the site had this sort of intense beauty – as you can see in this image -- but at the same time, it kept you on your guard.
9. We made camp on a hillside a good ways away from where we stored food and where the scientific work was being done. It was a squishy, uphill tundra walk to get there but it had quite the view
10. The site had also been clearly witness to some major, recent changes. Alongside the lake was a “thaw slump” – the remnants of a fast collapse of a permafrost hillside, which had left actual icy permafrost exposed to the sun. As we watched, it was melting steadily.
11. At least until we showed up on site, it seemed that a beaver had been running things at the lake and managing quite nicely.
12.The beaver may or may not have been witness to whatever happened to cause the lake to bubble so much, putting out what the scientists later estimated to be 2 tons of methane per day, considerably more than your average thermokarst lake.
13. So the story was about that mystery and whether it gives us anything to worry about. And while we can’t say that Walter Anthony’s theory for what’s happening is totally proved at this point, the idea certainly makes sense.
14.The methane bubbling up in the lake is not directly from permafrost but is tied to the thaw of permafrost, Walter Anthony thinks.
15. As permafrost thaws across the Arctic, on land and below lakes, it may in some cases remove a kind of icy seal that had previously rested atop very old deposits of fossil fuels.
16.The methane coming out of the lake had a fossil origin, the scientists showed – for those who have been asking on Twitter, the methane is “radiocarbon dead,” in Walter Anthony’s words, meaning all the C14 had decayed -- and was coming up with other fossil gases, like ethane.
17.And there were signs something dramatic had happened at some point at the lake bed, since there were these kind of underwater calderas beneath the largest bubbling seeps, almost as if the lake may have erupted at some point.
18. The question then becomes – on top of thermokarst lakes, will there turn out to be another kind of methane-producing Arctic lake to worry about? The answer is maybe.
19. The issue really is how many lakes intersect with fossil fuel deposits that are near the surface, and what the threshold would be for them to thaw enough to release gases.
20. I leave that question to the scientists, though I plan to check in about it regularly in the future. For now, though, thanks for following along on the journey! /end
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