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Tue Aug 1, 2017, 11:41 AM

Methane-eating microbes found beneath Antarctica's melting ice sheets


Methane-eating microbes found beneath Antarctica's melting ice sheets

July 31, 2017
Rachel Damiani
photographer: Reed Scherer

Lurking in a lake half a mile beneath Antarctica’s icy surface, methane-eating microbes may mitigate the release of this greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as ice sheets retreat.

A new study published today in Nature Geoscience traces methane’s previously unknown path below the ice in a spot that was once thought to be inhospitable to life. Study researchers sampled the water and sediment in Antarctica’s subglacial Whillans Lake by drilling 800 meters through ice for the first time ever. Next they measured methane amounts and used genomic analyses to find that 99 percent of methane released into the lake is gobbled up by microbes.

These tiny microorganisms may have a big impact on a warming world by preventing methane from seeping into the atmosphere when ice sheets melt, said Brent Christner, a University of Florida microbiologist and co-author on the study.

“This is an environment that most people look at and don’t think it could ever really directly impact us,” Christner said. “But this is a process that could have climatic implications.”


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Reply Methane-eating microbes found beneath Antarctica's melting ice sheets (Original post)
OKIsItJustMe Aug 2017 OP
mitch96 Aug 2017 #1
OKIsItJustMe Aug 2017 #2
mitch96 Aug 2017 #5
mackdaddy Aug 2017 #3
OKIsItJustMe Aug 2017 #4

Response to OKIsItJustMe (Original post)

Tue Aug 1, 2017, 12:48 PM

1. "Methane-eating microbes "

Fantastic!! a cure for cow farts!!!

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Response to mitch96 (Reply #1)

Tue Aug 1, 2017, 01:00 PM

2. Why is it that any mention of "methane" inevitably leads to a "cow fart" joke?


However, no this is not “a cure for cow farts.”

There is a great deal of concern in some quarters about large amounts of methane trapped under the ice. The fear is that if/when the ice melts, all of that methane would be released into the air. (By the way, if it were, it would not smell like a “fart.” Methane is odorless.)

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Response to OKIsItJustMe (Reply #2)

Wed Aug 2, 2017, 01:35 PM

5. " leads to a "cow fart" joke?"

I'm glad you realized it was a joke.. It's a guy thing...

Actually, A 2006 United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization report, it claims that the livestock sector, most of which are cows produce the most methane.. Livestock is the largest source of methane gas emissions worldwide, contributing over 28 percent of total emissions.
So when I hear methane I think cow farts... that simple!!!

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Response to OKIsItJustMe (Original post)

Tue Aug 1, 2017, 02:49 PM

3. OK, cool that there are methane eating microbes under 800 meters of ice, but

I am not sure this has any application to the melting permafrost in the Arctic. By the time the Antarctic ice sheet melt probably in a few hundred years, humans may well already be gone from the Methane being released in the Arctic, NOW.

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Response to mackdaddy (Reply #3)

Tue Aug 1, 2017, 02:57 PM

4. Those antarctic microbes are not unique


Methane and Frozen Ground

What will happen to the frozen carbon if permafrost thaws?

When permafrost thaws, the frozen organic matter inside it will thaw out, too, and begin to decay. It's like taking a bag of frozen broccoli out of the freezer and putting it into the refrigerator. Once it thaws, it will eventually decay and break down.

As organic matter decays, it gets eaten up and digested by microbes. The bacteria that eat it produce either carbon dioxide or methane as waste. If there is oxygen available, the microbes make carbon dioxide. But if there is no oxygen available, they make methane. Most of the places where methane would form are the swamps and wetlands. And there are many miles of wetlands in the Arctic. When you walk around in the Arctic tundra, it's like sloshing through a giant sponge.

When permafrost carbon turns into methane, it bubbles up through soil and water. On the way, other microorganisms eat some of it. But some methane makes it to the surface and escapes into the air.

The big questions are: How much carbon is currently frozen in permafrost? How much will thaw out in the future and when will it be released into the atmosphere? We also want to know how much carbon could be released as methane, and how much could be released as carbon dioxide. That's related to how much of the land is wetlands, since ponds and lakes and swamps are the main places that will produce methane.


Thawing permafrost releases old greenhouse gas

Study in the Mackenzie Delta in Canada shows large emissions of geological methane

The thawing permafrost soils in the Arctic regions might contribute to the greenhouse effect in two ways: On the one hand rising temperatures lead to higher microbial methane production close to the surface. On the other hand deeper thawing opens new pathways for old, geologic methane. This is shown in a study in the Mackenzie Delta (Canada), conducted by scientists from the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ, the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and partners in the US. The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Arctic permafrost acts like a gigantic cap of frozen material over mineral resources and fossil fuels. Scientists apprehend that thawing permafrost could lead to rising methane emissions. “We wanted to find out how much methane is released on a regional scale and were looking for spatial patterns in gas emissions”, says lead author Katrin Kohnert from GFZ´s section for Remote Sensing. In order to do so a team led by GFZ scientist Torsten Sachs performed a study in a 10,000 square kilometre area in Northern Canada. Using the research aircraft Polar 5 of AWI the scientists conducted airborne measurements of atmospheric gas concentrations and meteorological variables during two extensive flight campaigns in the summers of 2012 and 2013.

The result was a high-resolution (100 m x 100 m) methane flux map of the Mackenzie Delta. “We found strong emissions solely where the permafrost is discontinuous, that is where the landscape contains areas that are thawed permanently”, says Katrin Kohnert. “We think that the methane comes predominantly from deeper geologic sources and not from recent microbial activity close to the surface.” Even though the hotspots only occur on about 1 percent of the area, they contribute 17 percent to the annual methane emission estimate of the study area.

The conclusion of the authors: The warming climate triggers not only the natural production of biogenic methane, it can also lead to stronger emissions of fossil gas. This could contribute significantly to the permafrost-carbon-climate feedback. Kohnert: “Therefore permafrost areas vulnerable to thawing warrant much more attention.”


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