What Bubbles Beneath the Ice (Photos)

At a first glance, it appears that these frozen waters are bursting with some sort of strange sea creatures (a jellyfish, perhaps), but in fact, they are filled with innumerous methane frozen bubbles. Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, hosts several lakes that freeze in the winter, capturing within bubbles of methane, which is a highly flammable gas.

The answer to the how and why of this and this begins with bacteria in the mud at the bottom of the lake munching on dead plants and other organic matter. This releases methane gas. As the methane attempts to escape, it bubbles toward the frozen surface of the lake and gets trapped beneath the ice.

What Bubbles Beneath the Ice (Photos)
Lake Abraham in Alberta Canada. Photo: Emmanuel Coupe-Kalomiris
What Bubbles Beneath the Ice (Photos)
Paul Zizka, 35, tracked down the natural phenomenon,
which he photographed at Lake Minnewanka,
the Vermillion Lake and Abraham Lake

For a time, it stays trapped beneath the last remnants of ice. And then the ice cracks and the methane bubbles away into the atmosphere.

That’s when the gas can pose a problem.

Methane is a greenhouse gas, with 20 times the effect on climate change as the more commonly fingered culprit carbon dioxide. There are many frozen methane lakes like Abraham Lake. In fact, ecologist worry that as the planet warms, more and more methane will be released from them, and they’ll increasingly add to the changing climate.

What Bubbles Beneath the Ice (Photos)
Bubbles under the frozen surface of Lake Minnewanka. Photo: Paul Zizka

Methane is also very flammable.

Scientists working with methane-producing lakes in Alaska proved it was the flammable gas and not something less menacing bubbling up by drilling a hole, pouring in some warm water, like a tongue of flame,fire burst from the frozen depths.

But as dangerous as its flammability makes it, methane is also useful. Methane lakes are beginning to be utilized as sources of energy, such as the outfit on Lake Kivu in Rwanda. Here, developers have begun tapping into extensive gas deposits underneath the lake to be used in the creation of electricity.

Similar techniques are being used to mine something called methane hydrate, a frozen and extremely concentrated form of methane, from lake and ocean floors.
Its potential uses and dangers aside, though, methane from the floor of Abraham Lake creates a visual treat as the bubbles wind and churn in their slow, eventual struggle to escape the blue lake.

What Bubbles Beneath the Ice (Photos)
Lake Abraham in Alberta Canada.
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