Katey Walter and the Flaming Lakes
November 30, 2010
Katey Walter is not a household name for most people, but among climate wonks, she’s a rockstar.
You may have seen her in Earth: A Biography, introducing Iain Stewart to the lakes of northern siberia – she has become a minor youtube star for a clutch of videos showing wide eyed students lighting methane explosions on the frozen lakes of Alaska.
Methane levels in the atmosphere continued to increase in 2009, and probably in the current year as well.
The graph above is from NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory. (If you go there, you’ll have to enter “Methane” in the drop down menu to get this graph – and don’t stress too much, the widely outlying dots at the top right are almost certainly artifact)
The “Methane Time bomb” is one of the most feared feedbacks in the climate system.
If you look at a google earth map of northern canada or siberia, you’ll see a swiss cheese like system of lakes, each of which may be pumping out methane at increased rates due to warming permafrost. (Melting the frozen soil releases organic matter, bugs eat it and produce methane) The gas is some 23 times more potent as Co2 in it’s heat trapping effect.
A recent AP article profiles a crusty Russian scientist who has followed the situation in Siberia for decades.
Steven Chu describes the problem here:
And here’s some further detail -