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In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who led the 8th joint US-Russia cruise of the East Siberian Arctic seas, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed."Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter.

This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 metres in diameter.

There is a probability of future massive releases might occur within the decadal scale, but to be more accurate about how high that probability is, we just don't know," Dr Shakova said."Methane released from the Arctic shelf deposits contributes to global increase and the best evidence for that is the higher concentration of atmospheric methane above the Arctic Ocean," she said."The concentration of atmospheric methane increased unto three times in the past two centuries from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7ppm, and in the Arctic to 1.9ppm.

That's a huge increase, between two and three times, and this has never happened in the history of the planet," she added.

Each methane molecule is about 70 times more potent in terms of trapping heat than a molecule of carbon dioxide.

However, because methane it broken down more rapidly in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, scientist calculate that methane is about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a hundred-year cycle.

However, with the melting of Arctic sea ice and permafrost, the huge stores of methane that have been locked away underground for many thousands of years might be released over a relatively short period of time, Dr Shakhova said."I am concerned about this process, I am really concerned.

But no-one can tell the timescale of catastrophic releases.

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