Methane from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Science, Volume 329, Issue 5996, p.1146 - 1147 (2010)


0036-8075, 1095-9203



In their Report “Extensive methane venting to the atmosphere from sediments of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf” (5 March, p. 1246), N. Shakhova et al. write that methane (CH4) release resulting from thawing Arctic permafrost “is a likely positive feedback to climate warming.” They add that the release of Arctic CH4 was implied in previous climate shifts as well as in the recently renewed rise in atmospheric CH4. These claims are not supported by all the literature they cite. Their reference 5 (1) presents measurements of emissions only of carbon dioxide, not CH4. Their reference 8 (2), a study we conducted, suggests that a very large (~50%) increase in atmospheric CH4 concentration associated with an abrupt warming event ~11,600 years ago was driven mainly by wetlands, without distinguishing between high and low latitudes. Their reference 9 (3) was published in 1993 and is not relevant to the renewed growth of atmospheric CH4 that started in 2007. Their reference 10 (4) does not imply Arctic CH4 releases in this renewed growth, and other recent work (5) also does not support sustained new emissions from the Arctic as the cause. These findings of CH4 emissions from the Arctic sea floor [in the Report and in (6)] add to our understanding of the atmospheric CH4 budget, but they do not show that Arctic warming has produced a positive feedback in radiative forcing by causing these emissions to increase recently. A newly discovered CH4 source is not necessarily a changing source, much less a source that is changing in response to Arctic warming. Shakhova et al. do acknowledge these distinctions, but in these times of enhanced scrutiny of climate change science, it is important to communicate all evidence to the scientific community and the public clearly and accurately.