Our beautiful planet: Frozen bubbles | eco@africa | DW | 15.03.2018
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Environment

Our beautiful planet: Frozen bubbles

Bubbles of highly-flammable methane frozen in iced-over lakes are a strange yet stunning natural phenomenon – but can be dangerous if popped. They also harbor problems for the environment.

Appearing to hang in suspended animation below the surface of frozen lakes, methane bubbles are a curious sight.

But while they may look stunning, were you to "pop" one and hold a lit match over it, explosive consequences would follow – while mostly harmless, methane is an extremely-flammable gas and would ignite.

Frozen methane bubbles can be seen in many lakes around the world, with one of the best-known places being Lake Abraham in Alberta, Canada.

In winter, wind speeds can reach 48 kilometers per hour at Lake Abraham – combined with very low temperatures, it means the ice that forms on the surface of the lake is very clear, giving visitors a fantastic glimpse of the frozen bubbles below. So how are they formed?

DW eco@africa - frozen methane bubbles (picture-alliance/All Canada Photos)

Frozen methane bubbles create a layered effect as they became trapped in the ice while rising to the surface

Troubling bubbles

Methane bubbles are formed in water when dead organic material such as creatures or leaves sink to the bottom of the lake, which are then decomposed by bacteria. The bacteria then produce methane, which forms bubbles that rise to the surface.

Read more: Dangers lurking in the permafrost
Read more: Arctic warmer than much of Europe is a worrying sign of climate change
Read more: Higher methane levels make fight against global warming more difficult 

In summer, the bubbles simply pop when they reach the surface and enter the atmosphere. But in winter when the lake is frozen, the bubbles are trapped on their way to the surface.

DW eco@africa - frozen methane bubbles (picture-alliance/All Canada Photos)

Abraham Lake in Alberta, Canada, is one of the best places to see the frozen bubble phenomenon

But as beautiful as they may be, the frozen methane bubbles portend troubles ahead for the environment: as temperatures rise around the globe, more permafrost is melting – letting frozen organic matter thaw and providing more food for bacteria.

That means more methane – a powerful greenhouse gas around 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide - being released into the atmosphere, triggering rising levels of global warming along with it.

DW eco@africa - frozen methane bubbles (picture-alliance/robertharding)

As the permafrost melts, more methane is being produced - bad news for the environment

Do you have a picture of a beautiful landscape or something amazing in nature that you want to share with our readers? If so, you can send it to us using the upload tool on our website, or by emailing us at ecoafrica@dw.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

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