Skip to main content

A previously unknown methane-producing micro-organism, known as a 'methanogen', is thriving in northern Sweden's thawing permafrost in a thick subsurface layer of soil that has previously remained frozen. The trend of Global Warming and the havoc it is creating in the polar regions will continue to melt the permafrost allowing the microbes to flourish in organic matter and drive methane gas release, which would further fuel global warming.

The wet areas show where the mire has thawed out completely. Here methanogens thrive. Credit: Photograph: Rhiannon Mondav reporting on an international study published in Nature Communications. The newly discovered microbe is blooming and flourishing and producing large amounts of greenhouse gases.

Several billion years ago, before cyanobacteria oxygenised Earth's atmosphere, there was a group of microbes called archaea which flourished in the warm, shallow oceans, letting out the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere. Today, most of the archaea's descendants hide in places where oxygen cannot reach them. Many still produce methane. The methane-producing (methanogen) archaea in permafrost have led still lives in the frozen soil. The small amounts of methane they produced have stayed below the ice or have been consumed by methane-eating neighbours.

Because the permafrost has remained frozen and has only begun to melt in the last 30 years a new dangerous assault to the climate is marching forwards.

The heating-up of the arctic regions has changed this status quo. The methanogens now have access to carbon dioxide and hydrogen which they convert into methane. The methane is let out into the atmosphere and contributes to further global warming.

Previous research shows that the permafrost of the Stordalen mire has melted quickly over the last 30 years and that the mire emits an increasing amount of methane. Rhiannon Mondav, PhD student of limnology at Uppsala University, is part of the international research group which decided to look for methanogens in the mire. Several hundred samples of peat, water and air were gathered over several years and analysed.

When Rhiannon Mondav analysed the peat samples she discovered a previously unknown methanogen. Together with the research group she mapped its genome and named it Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis.

This newly discovered methanogen exists in such abundance that it made up 90 per cent of the archaea in the Stordalen mire. Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis feels so at home in the melting permafrost that it blooms, in a similar way to algal blooms. This is a previously unknown phenomena in methanogens, and since methane is a by-product of their metabolism it will have significant environmental consequences.

 Now that the new species has been described, it has been found to exist also in other peatlands and mires, contributing in a significant way to global methane production and thereby global warming. Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis manages surprisingly well in the acid peatlands with annual cycles of freezing, melting, flooding and drought.

"Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis seems to be a indicator species for melting permafrost. It is rarely found where there is permafrost, but where the peat is warmer and the permafrost is melting we can see that it just grows and grows. It is possible that we can use it to measure the health of mires and their permafrost. The recently documented global distribution also shows, on a much larger scale, that this microbe spreads to new permafrost areas in time with them thawing out.

More References.

Newly discovered microbe holds key to global warming

Journal References:

Nature Communications

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site