Quantcast
Popular
Tarmo Virtanen, University of Helsinki

Not So Funny: The Arctic is Leaking Laughing Gas

Nitrous oxide, the main ingredient in laughing gas, does more than just act as a nerve agent; it is a powerful greenhouse gas. It is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and scientists believe could be leaking from ancient reservoirs beneath Arctic permafrost.


A team of researchers from Sweden, Finland and Denmark analyzed 16 frozen peat cores from the Finnish Lapland and melted them in a specialized warming chamber in their lab. The goal was to see what kind of elements would be emitted if warming temperatures were to ensue in the Arctic. Their study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that nitrous oxide could emerge from more than one-fourth of the Arctic's peatland surfaces.

The researchers collected peat core samples. Carolina Voigt

There would be a five-fold increase in the amount of nitrous oxide released, compared to the average seasonal thawing of the uppermost part of the peat. The emissions would be so high, they'd match that of tropical rainforests, which are the highest polluters of nitrous oxide.

In fact, due to climate change in the region, there are already "hotspots" releasing the gas at a much higher rate than expected. This is what prompted the researchers to analyze nitrous oxide in the first place, since it usually isn't seen as much of a threat compared to methane and CO2.

"Usually nitrous oxide emissions from Arctic soils were believed to be negligible, basically because the nitrogen content—the substrate for production of N2O—is probably rather low, or the production rate is rather low due to the cold climate," said Carolina Voigt, from the University of Eastern Finland.

Another concern from the study is the lack of vegetation in the Arctic, without plants to suck up the nitrous oxide, it will go straight into the atmosphere.

"Plants take up nitrogen from the surface soil so they reduce the nitrogen pool that's available for N2O production in the soil profile, so plants are very effective at reducing N20 emissions," Voigt said.

Voigt said the wetter the conditions are, the less likely nitrous oxide is to be released from the peat.

"So future N2O emissions in the Arctic probably will depend largely on how vegetation and moisture conditions will develop in the future," she said.

With Arctic warming at an all time high, however, this may soon be the reality.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Popular
Alex Nabaum

Hope Trumps Nope: A Blueprint for Resistance

By Naomi Klein

LET'S REWIND A BIT, to the week Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election. At that moment, I was reeling from witnessing not one catastrophe but two. And I don't think we can understand the true danger of the Trump disaster unless we grapple with both of them.

I was in Australia for work, but I was also very conscious that, because of the carbon involved in that kind of travel, I might not be able to return for a long time. So I decided to visit, for the first time in my life, the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland, a World Heritage Site and Earth's largest natural structure made up of living creatures. It was simultaneously the most beautiful and the most frightening thing I had ever seen.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
Austin's Pecan Street Project. Pecan Street Inc.

Rooftop Solar and EVs Save Water and Cut Pollution: Better Use of Data Will Optimize the Benefits

By Beia Spiller

Thanks to improvements in technology, it's easier than ever to be green.

Solar panels and electric vehicles (EVs) are two prime examples of technologies that can help people minimize their environmental footprint, without sacrificing comfort or having to radically change their daily behavior. But the question still remains: How much of an environmental benefit do these technologies actually produce? And, are there actions that owners of these technologies can take to minimize their pollution footprint even more?

Keep reading... Show less

MUST-SEE VIDEO: 5 Threats Today to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante After Trump's Decision

While we fight to defeat President Trump's attacks on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, these are some of the real, on-the-ground threats we must keep at bay.

Following the lead of Native American tribes, The Wilderness Society and other groups have filed lawsuits against President Trump for violating the Antiquities Act when he essentially eliminated Bears Ears and greatly reduced Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

Keep reading... Show less
Fracking
Shutterstock

Study: Babies With Low Birth Weights More Likely Near Pennsylvania Fracking Sites

By Steve Horn

A new study published in the journal Science Advances has concluded that babies born within two miles of sites of fracking for natural gas in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale basin are more likely to have low birth weights.

Researchers from Princeton, the University of Chicago and UCLA analyzed a decade of Pennsylvania birth data from 2004 to 2013—reviewing 1.1 million birth certificates—and concluded that those babies born to mothers living in close proximity to fracking sites are more likely to weigh under 5.5 pounds at birth. Specifically, the study concluded that babies born within a kilometer (just over half a mile) of fracking sites are 25 percent more at risk of low birth weights, which comes with other health effects.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

Victory! Monsanto Shill Michael Dourson Withdraws After Public Outcry

The Center for Food Safety heralded reports that Michael Dourson, President Trump's controversial nominee to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Wednesday withdrew his nomination after senators raised concerns over his past work and conflicts of interest.

"Dourson is a long-time pesticide industry shill, with a history of manipulating scientific research to benefit corporate special interests. He was a dangerous, irresponsible choice to oversee chemical safety at the EPA," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director a Center for Food Safety.

Keep reading... Show less
The manta ray, shown here, is one of at least 37 species of sharks and rays that have been documented in the archipelago. Pelagic Life

See the World's Newest Marine Park in the Pacific Ocean

By Matt Rand

For the health of the ocean and all who depend on it, this is big news: In November, Mexico became the latest nation to create a large, fully protected marine reserve.

The Revillagigedo Archipelago National Park, the country's largest marine protected area, is larger than the state of New York and protects 57,176 square miles (148,087 square kilometers) from fishing and other extractive activities.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Renewable Energy

Major Job Losses in Renewable Energy if Current Tax Plan Passes

By Steve Clemmer

In March 2017, I testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on how federal tax credits for renewable energy have been a key driver for the recent growth in the U.S. wind and solar industries, creating new jobs, income and tax revenues for local communities. They have also helped drive down the cost of wind and solar power by more than two-thirds since 2009, making renewable energy more affordable for consumers.

Keep reading... Show less
Offshore oil rig in the Santa Barbara Channel. Berardo62 / Flickr

White House to Release Offshore Drilling Plan

By Pete Stauffer

The Trump administration is expected to unveil the new Five Year Offshore Oil Drilling Plan as early as this week, after signing an executive order earlier this year to expand offshore oil drilling in U.S. waters. Expanded offshore oil drilling threatens recreation, tourism, fishing and other coastal industries, which provide more than 1.4 million jobs and $95 billion GDP along the Atlantic coast alone. The executive order directed the Interior Department to develop a new five-year oil and gas leasing program to consider new areas for offshore drilling. The order also blocked the creation of new national marine sanctuaries and orders a review of all existing sanctuaries and marine monuments designated or expanded in the past ten years.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!