This past weekend, a surprisingly large section of open water showed itself on The Pond. A steady stream of bubbles came up to the water’s surface. The bubbles were methane escaping the mud below.
The next morning, the temp at the cabin was -27F, so at ice level it was easily -30F. Much of the open area had frozen over, but a neat circular hole remained in the ice. From the hole, a trail led off across the pond’s snowy surface. One of the resident beavers had come out to explore the area. It followed all of the trails we made in the snow the previous day, and then it went off on its own, exploring at its leisure.
There were several times, where the trail dipped below the snow, and the beaver tunneled for quite a distance, before popping up again to the surface. I had never seen where a beaver had gone swimming in the snow. Most of these tunnels were near the cat tail stands, but not all.
The day after I followed the beaver trail, the open water had completely closed over. The methane is the clear culprit in the open water, especially such a large opening. As the bubbles rise to the surface, the ice thins due to the movement of the water. Most of the methane pocket locations are known, and those areas are avoided when anyone traverses The Pond. We are guessing that this opening was caused by a large, unknown pocket, that gave way. The bubbles that we watched coming up were in three distinct trails, but we wondered if the beaver had helped things along. Surely, the beaver knew about the location of the thinning ice, and kept one section open longer than the rest. Did their movement below, open up the large section we found? The beaver is an intriguing species of rodent.
Walking blindly across ponds in the Interior of Alaska can lead to wet feet, and sometimes much worse.
Methane being released from the pond bottom, causes the ice to thin directly above the pocket of methane. With no snow to speak of right now, the pockets are easy to find. This one has caused a perfect hole to form in the ice.
Katey Walter Anthony & a member of her methane hunting team, with high tech tools
I was fortunate enough to join a group from the University of Alaska – Fairbanks, when they toured an Interior Alaska lake, as a part of their ongoing study of methane.
With Alaska seeing the melting of its permafrost, the organic material that has been locked in the frozen ground for thousands of years, is now being released in the form of methane gas. Katey Walter Anthony, and her team, have been studying lakes throughout Interior Alaska for years, in order to get a better understanding of this transfer.
HBO was in town, with a group from Oslo, Norway, making a documentary. We all joined the fine folks from UAF out on some local lakes. Methane is being released year round, but in winter it is trapped under the ice. The ice often shows the tell tale signs of methane release: whether in the form of bubbles in the ice, or a thinning of the ice where the methane rises from the lake bed. An ice fishing chisel and torch can make for an interesting day out on an Alaskan lake.
Warning: Do not try this without the professionals from UAF!
Lakes all across the arctic are releasing methane at an astonishing rate.
Photos courtesy of Nicholas Hasson, UAF Geophysical Institute
While working on a job a while back, I suddenly was aware of the sound of running water. Almost like the sound of a fountain. Interior Alaska had a lot of snow over the winter, so there was standing water everywhere, but moving water had me curious, so I went off towards the sound.
I came to a water hole that only fills up after break up. By the end of June it would probably be dried up. But now, it was full, and in the middle of the large puddle, was a water fountain. Initially, the stream of water went up 3-4 feet above the surface of the puddle. By the time I decided to hike back to my truck to get my phone, it had dropped down to 5-6 inches. From the time I heard the water, to the time the puddle stopped percolating, was a good 90 minutes.
A pocket of methane below the service had suddenly found a way up to sunlight, and the release put on a good show. These pockets are being released all across the Arctic, and I live in a hot bed of that activity.