Scientists Concerned About Methane, Fishing In Arctic Ocean
April 23, 2012

Scientists Concerned About Methane, Fishing In Arctic Ocean

While some scientists encouraged the creation of regulations governing fishing in the Arctic Ocean on Sunday, others published a report warning that the body of water could actually be a significant source of the greenhouse gas methane.

The latter team, lead by Eric Kort of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), participated in a total of five flights to measure atmospheric methane levels in latitudes as high as 82 degrees north in 2009 and 2010, AFP reporters said. They discovered concentrations of the gas near the surface of the ocean, particularly in regions where the sea ice had cracked or broken up, the French news agency added.

"We suggest that the surface waters of the Arctic Ocean represent a potentially important source of methane, which could prove sensitive to changes in sea-ice cover," they wrote in their study, which has been published in the journal Nature Geoscience and has raised concerns among the team that this could potentially be, in the AFP's words, "a disturbing new mechanism that could accelerate global warming."

The source of the methane in the water is unclear, they said.

Meanwhile, the Pew Environment Group released a statement Sunday in which they report that over 2,000 scientists representing 67 countries had written an open letter addressing leaders in the Arctic region.

The purpose of that letter, they said, was to encourage the drafting of an international fisheries accord to protect the currently unregulated waters of the central part of the ocean, which has recently become vulnerable to industrial fishing due to the loss of permanent sea ice is as much of 40% of the ocean.

"Scientists recognize the crucial need for an international agreement that will prohibit the start of commercial fishing until research-based management measures can be put in place," Henry Huntington, the Pew Environment Group's Arctic science director, said in a statement. "There's no margin for error in a region where the melting sea ice is rapidly changing the marine ecosystem."

The signees of the letter are asking Arctic countries to protect the Central Arctic Ocean by developing a precautionary international fisheries management accord, prohibiting the catching of fish until researchers can determine what impact fisheries would have on the ecosystem, and creating a monitoring and enforcement system before allowing commercial fishing to commence in the area.

"Although industrial fishing has not yet occurred in the northernmost part of the Arctic, its newly opened waters are closer to Asian ports than Antarctica's waters are. Large bottom trawlers regularly catch krill and toothfish in the Southern Ocean, placing stress on populations of these fish. The lack of regulation in the Arctic region could make it an appealing target for similar activities," the organization said in their news release.