Explosive methane lakes: Watch scientists set fire to flammable frozen bubbles

Methane is a highly flammable gas, and millions of the world’s lakes are producing a lot of it.

The methane is produced by bacteria as they feed on organic matter, such as leaves and dead animals, which have fallen into the lake.

In the summer months, bubbles of methane float to the surface and pop, releasing the explosive gas into the air. However, if the lake freezes over in winter, the methane bubbles become trapped under the surface, creating spectacular patterns in the ice.

These lakes are being closely monitored by scientists because methane is a greenhouse gas twenty-five times more potent than carbon dioxide. As it is released into the Earth’s atmosphere, it can trap heat and lead to global warming, kick-starting a vicious cycle.

As these warmer temperatures cause more of the frozen ground around the lake to thaw and collapse, more trees are sent toppling into the water. This increase in organic matter in the lake gives the bacteria more to feast on, leading to more methane being produced.

The amount of methane released by one lake won’t have much effect, but the combines emissions from the millions of methane lakes across the world is more damaging.

Scientists estimate that more than ten times the amount of methane currently in the Earth atmosphere will come out of these lakes in the near future.

To test the presence of methane in the lakes, scientists are using a very brave method. By poking holes in the ice and holding a lighter over the surface, enormous flames are send into the air, showing that this flammable gas has been released.

Watch the video below to see them carry out these explosive experiments and hear the University of Alaska’s Professor Katey Walter Anthony explain more about the methane produced….


Learn more about Canada’s stunning methane lake, Lake Abraham, in Issue 76 of How It Works magazine, on sale Thursday 13 August! It will be available from all good retailers, or you can order it online from the ImagineShop. If you have a tablet or smartphone, you can also download the digital version onto your iOS or Android device. To make sure you never miss an issue of How It Works magazine, make sure you subscribe today!

Plus, take a look at:

What is the deepest lake in Canada? 

Why don’t lakes have tides like the sea?

What is gas?