When I was a kid growing up in rural New York, my veterinarian father told me that cow farts were hurting the environment. I didn’t believe him. Years later I would learn that he wasn’t lying – the methane released by livestock totals about 80 million metric tons every year, making agriculture one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gases.

But a new report published in the journal Nature surmises that there may be greater sources of methane we need to worry about. Researchers believe microbes underneath the ice in Antarctica turned organic matter as old as 35 million years into large amounts methane, and those gases are being held in by a thinner and thinner amount of ice. Researchers believe the methane reserves are also at rather shallow depths, meaning ice melt due to climate change will probably cause the methane to be released into the atmosphere.

“This is an immense amount of organic carbon, more than ten times the size of carbon stocks in northern permafrost regions,” said study leader Jemima Wadham of Bristol University.

The group estimates a potential volume of four billion tons of carbon sitting in the ice-locked methane reservoirs. There is little doubt that much methane would have an impact on global climate change.

The authors state that “the Antarctic Ice Sheet may be a neglected but important component of the global methane budget.”

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