LaCroix, Perrier, San Pellegrino -- refreshing carbonated drinks, especially during hot months. The kind of carbonated bubbling happening in lakes around the world, and more-so in arctic lakes, however: not so refreshing.
And that's because, though carbon is causing Alaskan and Siberian lakes to fizz in the summertime, what's happening to them is probably more accurately called methanation, not carbonation. Which means the bubbles popping at the tops of these lakes are carrying methane, a very flammable greenhouse gas.
::Spits out sparkling water beverage:: "What?!"
Katey Walter Anthony, an aquatic ecologist and professor at the University of Fairbanks Alaska, has been studying methane in lakes for years and tells Circa that melted permafrost underneath the arctic ground is actually creating or expanding these bubbling bodies of water.
"The frozen soil [inside this permafrost] contains dead plant and animal material," she explains. "Microbes consume that organic matter and generate greenhouse gases: methane and carbon dioxide ... And methane forms bubbles."
Fire on ice in the winterWhen these lakes ice over, the methane bubbles pocket together below the surface of the ice. Spearing a hole in one of these pockets creates a funnel for the gas to escape in a stream -- a very flammable stream. Anyone with a match in hand can create a lake-made blowtorch.
Sounds like a neat parlor trick, but Walter Anthony says setting the lakes on fire can be useful -- for science.
"I thought it was fun and games. But now I do it on every new lake that I go to... That fire is a really quick field determination if we have methane [and not nitrogen]."
Methane lakes aren't immediately dangerous, but aren't good for the big picture, either
The methane's escape from lake to atmosphere isn't an immediate danger to humans or animals. But the gas, being of the greenhouse type, will contribute to climate change, Walter Anthony says. And that should, in turn, contribute to more melting permafrost and more methane lakes.
(Note: If the above talk of cyclical and perilous climate change has caused your head to spin, we suggest grabbing a cold LaCroix and taking the rest of the day to relax and watch YouTube clips of people lighting frozen lakes on fire.)