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Melting Ice Sheets And Release Of methane

Melting Ice Sheets And Release Of methane


  • GS 3 || Environment || Climate Change || Global Warming

Why in news?

  • The Greenland Ice Sheet emits tons of methane showing that sub-glacial biological activity impacts the atmosphere far more than previously thought.

Bristol’s University Research

  • As reported in Nature, — methane was continuously exported from beneath the ice.
  • A key finding is that much of the methane produced beneath the ice likely escapes the Greenland Ice Sheet in large, fast flowing rivers before it can be oxidized to CO2, a typical fate for methane gas which normally reduces its greenhouse warming potency.
  • An international team of researchers led by the University of Bristol studied the Greenland Ice Sheet, sampling the meltwater that runs off a large catchment (> 600 km2) of the Ice Sheet during the summer months.
  • Their study purported at least six tons of methane was transported to their measuring site from this portion of the Ice Sheet alone.
  • Team have found unequivocal evidence of a widespread sub-glacial microbial system. Now we clearly see that active microorganisms, living under kilometres of ice, are not only surviving, but likely impacting other parts of the Earth system. This sub-glacial methane is essentially a biomarker for life in these isolated habitats.


  • Methane gas (CH4) is the third most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere after water vapour and carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • Although, present in lower concentrations than CO2, methane is approximately 20-28 times more potent.
  • Therefore smaller quantities have the potential to cause disproportionate impacts on atmospheric temperatures.
  • Most of the Earth’s methane is produced by microorganisms that convert organic matter to CH4in the absence of oxygen, mostly in wetlands and on agricultural land, for instance in the stomachs of cows and rice paddies. The remainder comes from fossil fuels like natural gas
  • While some methane had been detected previously in Greenland ice cores and in an Antarctic Sub-glacial Lake, this is first time that meltswaters produced in spring and summer in large ice sheet catchments have been reported to continuously flush out methane from the ice sheet bed to the atmosphere.

Mains Question

  • How melting of the glacier will lead to climate change?