Assessment of bubble-borne methane emissions in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf via interpretation of sonar data

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Denis Chernykh1, Ira Leifer2, Natalia E Shakhova3 and Igor Peter Semiletov3, (1)Pacific Oceanological Institute FEB RAS, Vladivostok, Russia, (2)University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, United States, (3)University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, United States
Arctic warming is proposed to increase methane emissions from submerged permafrost driving a positive feedback. Where emissions are from shallow seas, bubbles transport much of the methane directly, while frequent Arctic storms sparge much of the remaining dissolved methane before microbes can oxidize it. Complexity arises where emissions are small bubbles or from deeper water due to dissolution below the storm-mixed layer. Given that these emissions span a wide geographic area, a promising remote sensing technology that has been used to map and estimate emissions; however, significant uncertainties exist in sonar data interpretation due to a range of parameters affecting sonar return including bubble size distribution and spatial distribution, vertical velocity, and temperature all of which are closely inter-related in a complex and at best poorly understood manner, and change as the bubble plume rises.

This process was illustrated in a series of in situ calibration experiments in the East Siberian Arctic Sea (ESAS) where controlled air bubble plumes were created and observed with sonar to quantify the relationship between sonar return and bubble plume flux for a first calibration of in situ sonar bubble plume observations in the ESAS. Results highlight the importance of bubble plume dynamics to sonar return and the absence of a simple relationship between sonar return and bubble flux. Instead sonar return related to height above seabed, even accounting for dissolution and changing hydrostatic pressure, confirming earlier laboratory studies for a deeper water column. Calibrations then were applied to field data of an area of ESAS natural seepage.