Örjan Gustafsson, an associate professor at ITM relayed the news to The Independent (UK) from onboard the Russian research ship Jacob Smirnitskyi via email: "An extensive area of intense methane release was found. At earlier sites we had found elevated levels of dissolved methane.
"[For] the first time, we documented a field where the release was so intense that the methane did not have time to dissolve into the seawater but was rising as methane bubbles to the sea surface."
Gustafsson –along with two doctoral students from ITM, Vanja Alling and Jorien Vonk– has been on board the Smirnitskyi for 45 days as part of the International Siberian Shelf Study (ISSS-08) project, which also involved researchers from Russia and the USA.
The aim of the expedition was to better understand how the enormous flows of carbon, material and water that pass through the Siberian tundra to the interior of the Arctic Ocean affect the climate.
As the international press reported, the team's discovery is ground-breaking.
"The conventional thought has been that the permafrost 'lid' on the sub-sea sediments on the Siberian shelf should cap and hold the massive reservoirs of shallow methane deposits in place," Gustafsson said.
"The growing evidence for release of methane in this inaccessible region may suggest that the permafrost lid is starting to get perforated and thus leaking methane."
Just what this means for the planet could be significant as millions of tons of methane escaping from beneath the Arctic seabed may rapidly accelerate global warming.
Colleagues and students at ITM have been able to follow the findings of the Stockholm research group via their blog: http://isss08.wordpress.com/.
"It's exciting to see their work picked up by the international press," said Professor Hans Borg and Unit Head at ITM. "This is important research and represents a major Swedish contribution to the International Polar Year 2007-2008."
The International Polar Year is a large scientific research initiative involving over 200 projects and thousands of scientists from over 60 nations, striving to make major advances in polar science. The programme runs from March 2007-March 2009.
The preliminary findings of the International Siberian Shelf Study 2008 will be published by the American Geophysical Union.
Text: Jon Buscal
Stockholm University polar research expeditions 2008:
Stockholm University polar reserach in the International press: