Dazzling bubbles with a deadly core

By Yashi Banymadhub

The pockets of methane trapped within Canada’s frozen Lake Abraham are a natural wonder, dazzling yet with a deadly core.

Beautiful, aren’t they? But these ethereal blue orbs found in Canada’s frozen Lake Abraham have a dark side. Although produced by a natural process, the alluring ice-encased bubbles enclose a dangerous greenhouse gas and are therefore a threat to the planet.

The story of how the bubbles come into being is far from appealing and, as with many a horror story, it starts with dead bodies. Microbes feeding on decomposing organic matter at the bottom of the lake release methane, which floats to the surface in bubbles.

When the water freezes in winter, these bubbles become trapped, producing magical landscapes. But come the spring thaw, the bubbles pop, releasing the methane within them to the atmosphere. Methane is highly flammable and so the bubbles explode when set alight. Its real danger lies in its impact on Earth’s temperature. Although methane doesn’t stick around in the atmosphere like carbon dioxide, its heat-trapping effect is 34 times stronger, making it potentially far more detrimental to our climate.

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This pretty-but-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: some use anaerobic digesters to turn farm waste and other methane sources into cleaner biogas.

Featured image © Pictureguy | Shutterstock