Those are methane bubbles—and that's not good news. So said a group of international scientists after analyzing the Siberian coast along the Arctic Ocean, the Weather Channel reports. The 60-member team said the bubbles were mostly dissolving in water, but high methane levels at the surface suggest that the powerful greenhouse gas is emerging from the Laptev Sea. "At this moment, there is unlikely to be any major impact on global warming, but the point is that this process has now been triggered," Swedish scientist Örjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University tells the Guardian. "This East Siberian slope methane hydrate system has been perturbed and the process will be ongoing."
Scientists fear that methane will emerge from melting portions of the Arctic and create a tipping point that accelerates climate change. Methane's global warming potential is 80, meaning it can spur global warming 80 times faster than carbon dioxide. And this find marks the third possible sighting of methane emissions in the region. But the scientific team—part of a multi-year effort to study climate effects along the East Siberian Arctic Ocean Shelf—says their find is preliminary and requires further study. "The discovery of actively releasing shelf slope hydrates is very important and unknown until now," chief scientist Igor Semiletov tells the Moscow Times. "This is a new page." (Read more climate change stories.)