Frozen ‘methane bubbles’ under ice, dangerous if popped

Frozen methane bubbles can be seen in many lakes around the world, with one of the best-known places being Lake Abraham in Alberta, Canada.

By   |  Published: 2nd May 2021  6:29 pm

Trapped methane causes frozen bubbles to form under the ice on the lake’s surface. This phenomenon results when decaying plants on the lake bed release methane gas, which creates bubbles that become trapped within the ice, in suspended animation, just below the surface as the lake begin to freeze. Let’s read more about the phenomenon.

Bubbles of highly flammable methane frozen in iced-over lakes are a strange yet stunning natural phenomenon – but can be dangerous if popped. They also harbour problems for the environment. Appearing to hang in suspended animation below the surface of frozen lakes, methane bubbles are a curious sight.

Frozen methane bubbles can be seen in many lakes around the world, with one of the best-known places being Lake Abraham in Alberta, Canada.

In winter, wind speeds can reach 48 kilometers per hour at Lake Abraham – combined with very low temperatures, it means the ice that forms on the surface of the lake is very clear, giving visitors a fantastic glimpse of the frozen bubbles below.

Troubling bubbles: How are they formed?

Methane bubbles are formed in water when dead organic material such as creatures or leaves sink to the bottom of the lake, which are then decomposed by bacteria. The bacteria then produce methane, which forms bubbles that rise to the surface. In summer, the bubbles simply pop when they reach the surface and enter the atmosphere. But in winter when the lake is frozen, the bubbles are trapped on their way to the surface.

Cause for global warming

But as beautiful as they may be, the frozen methane bubbles portend troubles ahead for the environment: as temperatures rise around the globe, more permafrost is melting – letting frozen organic matter thaw and providing more food for bacteria.

That means more methane – a powerful greenhouse gas around 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide – being released into the atmosphere, triggering rising levels of global warming along with it.

Solution

This pressing problem isn’t limited to Canada: Russian and US scientists have also measured methane emissions from thawing bogs in Siberia; and as the climate warms, more once-frozen lakes could also start releasing their gases.

Scientists have yet to find a solution. Nevertheless, the main source of global methane is human activity. We can all help by eating less red meat and dairy produce – livestock produces huge amounts of the gas. Farmers are also helping by some using anaerobic digesters to turn farm waste and other methane sources into cleaner biogas.


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