Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Methane is a waste product of bacteria that are consuming organic matter such as dead plants and animals. When plant and animal matter decompose at the bottom of a lake the methane bubbles up and is released into the atmosphere. When it is winter and ice covers the body of water the methane has nowhere to go and becomes trapped   in the ice.

If there is enough methane bubbling up it will actually prevent ice from forming and there will actually be spots in a lake that are open water due to methane.

Methane bubbles in the ice on Beaver Pond

Katey prepares to ignite released methane
on Beaver Pond

Katey Walter a scientist who studies methane’s release from ponds and lakes in Alaska. Walter is a Limnologist which originates from the Greek word limne for lake. She majored in biogeochemistry at Mount Holyoke College and got her Ph.D. while measuring methane emissions in northern Siberia.  Katey counts hotspots and methane bubbles in frozen and thawed lakes to find out how much methane the lakes emit. This number is then multiplied by 365 to find out how much a lake emits a year.  Today, after discussing methane with us at UAF, our group went out on a frozen swamp with Katey Walter. We were looking for methane bubbles in the ice. We found some frozen methane bubbles in the ice and chopped through them. Katey Walter held a lit match by the hole and then a huge flame erupted, it was very exciting.

As global temperatures continue to rise more and more permafrost will thaw. When the ground is frozen Bacteria does not consume organic material and no methane is released. When this permafrost that has been frozen for thousands of year’s thaws it releases large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide which rise into the atmosphere and trap sunlight from escaping earth this rises Earths temperature. Today permafrost contains 950 Gigatons of carbon which will be converted into methane if this frozen ground thaws.

At right:
Methane burns into water and carbon dioxide