Today, I’m setting off for Sweden, to take part in field work for a project about Arctic methane (MAMM – methane in the Arctic, measurements and modelling). The research aircraft is going to be based in Kiruna, Sweden, and will be arriving there tomorrow. We’ve got a stop over in Stockholm to get there on a commercial flight, as we can’t do the journey in one day. It really is quite far north – the northernmost town in Sweden, where I don’t think it even gets dark at this time of year!
The aim of the project is to find out more about the methane (CH4) emissions in the Arctic, which are not very well known. Not only are the measurements in the Arctic quite sparse, as it’s rather remote, but the emissions are also very variable. One large source is wetlands, where bacteria produce methane (I’m no biologist, but wikipedia has an entry on wetland methane emissions). As the temperature increases, more methane is emitted. There are widespread wetlands in Scandinavia, and we have colleagues taking measurements there at the moment. Hopefully we will be able to fly over them and take more measurements, so we will be able to observe methane on the local scale, and the larger scale by the aircraft. Another source of methane is from “thermokarst lakes”. These are lakes that are frozen in winter and melt in the spring/summer, which releases methane.
One possible outcome of any Arctic warming is that there could be a positive feedback. This is because methane is a strong greenhouse gas (it is many times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, which I could go into in another post). Local emissions of methane will cause a local warming. As increased temperatures lead to more melting, and more release of methane, you can see how this could continue on and on! There is also a hypothesis that increases temperatures in the Arctic could be contributing to the bizarrely south-of-the-UK jet stream that we currently have, which has brought us immense amounts of rain. More on that on the Met Office blog.
So, what will I be doing for my field work, seeing as I usually live in the model world? Well, so far this week, I’ve been part of the group who are flight planning. We’ve been keeping a close eye on the forecasts for the European Arctic region, to try and plan the most suitable places to fly each day. We’re only flying Friday through to Monday, so we don’t have much room for manoeuvre, as it were. We want to link up some of the wetlands aircraft measurements with satellite measurements, but the satellite can only measure when there’s no cloud. Unfortunately, it’s looking like it might be cloudy at various times over the weekend.
We also want to go north to Svalbard. Hopefully we won’t see polar bears. What we do want to see is some methane coming out form the ocean. There is an undersea ridge, where methane trapped inside clathrates is released. There is definitely methane coming out form the vents (see a paper by Fisher et al, which I’ll have to find the link for later), but the question is whether it all dissolves in the water, or is some escapes to the atmosphere. We shall hopefully find out more over the weekend!
So, that’s just a quick brain dump of what’s going on in my head just at the moment, while I’m on the train to London. Hopefully I’ll have time for more brain dumps over the weekend!