The Arctic is thought to contain about 30 percent of the world's undiscovered gas, as well as about 13 percent of its untapped oil. Those economic opportunities have provided major incentives for investment in Arctic oil and gas fields. Lloyd's of London, an insurance market, has projected that investment in the region could reach $100 billion within 10 years.
At the same time, thawing ice has also cleared a route for vessels there during the summer. Arctic shipping is expected to see about 40 million tons a year in 2050.
But those projected figures do not present a full picture of the economic effects of melting in the Arctic, the authors said.
The Arctic ice stores roughly 50 billion tons of methane, a concentrated gas some 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Over the past few years, scientists have observed the gas pluming from the region’s thawing ice. That raised the question: even as profits are hauled in from shipping and drilling in the Arctic, could that methane gas be waiting to undo all those gains? Could the toll of that released gas far outweigh the rewards of melting Arctic’s ice?
Researchers used what is called the PAGE09 model to assess a broad range of risks arising from methane gas release. Their work is built on the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change’s model, which judged the economic effect of extra greenhouse-gas emissions on such factors as sea level rise, temperature, and extreme weather risk. That model found that, as a result of global warming, the world would incur a total cost of $450 trillion by the end of the century.
But seven years ago there was too little research on methane gas in the Arctic to include in the model its influence on the global economy, Dr. Whiteman said. So this time, scientists modeled a 10-year release of the 50-billion-ton methane bubble between 2015 and 2025 and showed the effects of that decade-long burst until 2200. The model was based on the current rate of greenhouse emissions.