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Bouncy grass in the Arctic hides dangerous secret

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Thursday, July 21, 2016, 1:43 PM - When the researcher in the video above gingerly tests the surface of that grassy bulge in the video above, it looks for all the world like a poorly inflated jumping castle.

The way it bounces suggests there's water beneath, but that's actually gas -- which bodes poorly for a region already impacted by climate change.

It's one of fifteen such patches spotted by scientists Alexander Sokolov and Dorothee Ehrich on a recent expedition to Belyy Island in the Kara Sea off the northern coast of Russia, just off the Yamal Peninsula (It's actually at a similar latitude as northern Baffin Island in Nunavut.

The Siberian Times, which published the video, reports that when the scientists cut into the bubbles, they emitted carbon dioxide and methane.

It's likely a taste of things to come as the planet warms. The Times reports this summer has been unusually hot on the island, such that some polar bears that usually hang around the ice offshore have relocated to the dry land.

It's similar to a phenomenon that grabbed headlines when first detected in Siberia in recent years: The formation of massive craters in parts of northern Siberia.

The Times says some experts believe they were caused by explosions of methane that had built up under particular circumstances. One such blast on the Taimyr Peninsula in 2013 could be heard 100 km away.

DON'T MISS: Inside Siberia's mystery craters

Melting permafrost often gives off greenhouse gases such as methane. Many tracts of permafrost have been frozen for thousands of years, trapping nutrients that are a feast for bacteria when they melt out. The bacteria give off methane as a byproduct.

Which is a major problem, as methane is considerably more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide -- Gizmodo says it has 84 times the short-term warming potential. 

With global temperatures on the rise due to CO2 already, further melting risks freeing still more greenhouse gases, triggering a feedback loop that will accelerate warming.

SOURCES: Siberian Times | Gizmodo

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