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Executive Summary for April 14th

We review the latest Arctic news, including new worries about Greenland’s biggest glacier melting, the Arctic’s rapidly thawing permafrost, and underground methane explosions in northern Russia.

Published on April 14, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Bad News for Greenland’s Biggest Glacier

The Jakobshavn glacier at Greenland’s Ilulissat icefjord disgorges a tremendous amount of ice into the ocean every year, and new research suggests the glacier is shrinking faster than expected.

As the Washington Post reports, that’s because it looks as if the glacier extends considerably deeper beneath sea level than previously believed. This matters because as the glacier retreats it will expose a broader swath of ice to the warm ocean, speeding up its ice loss.

The region contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by nearly 60cm (2ft), while the entire Greenland ice sheet contains enough sea ice to raise ocean levels by more than 6 meters (20ft).

Predicted Permafrost Thaw May Be Too Modest

Arctic permafrost may be thawing considerably faster than expected. A new study says that another 4 million square km (1.5 million square miles) of permafrost will disappear for every degree Celsius of warming.

As the Washington Report notes, the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, offers an estimate that’s about 20 per cent higher than previous studies. If its findings prove true, it means that if the Earth reaches 2C (3.6F) above preindustrial levels, more than 6.5 million square km (2.5 million square miles) of permafrost would thaw.

This, in turn, would release more methane into the atmosphere, which could create a vicious cycle in which more melting triggers yet more warming. Beyond spurring further warming, another consequence of thawing permafrost is that northern communities could expect to see more roads buckling and buildings sinking into the ground.

Beware of Exploding Pingos

Russia has installed its first underground sensor to help detect methane explosions along its northern coast. The government worries that such explosions may pose a threat to the country’s oil and gas infrastructure.

As the Siberian Times reports, the seismic sensor has been installed at Sabetta, home to Russia’s big Yamal liquefied natural gas plant and accompanying port. Other sensors are planned near the area’s gas deposits.

The hope is to create an early-warning system to anticipate the growth of methane bubbles within the region’s ice-filled hills, which are known as pingos. The release of underground methane gas into these formations has led to at least 10 pingos exploding in recent years, leaving behind dramatic craters. Researchers warn that the region is home to several thousand pingos.

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