Climate change could be accelerated by the release of a gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide from the thawing Arctic sea bed.
Scientists exploring Russia's north coast have told The Independent newspaper that they have found methane 'chimneys' where bubbles of the gas is escaping into the atmosphere.
Orjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University told the newspaper: "The conventional thought has been that the permafrost 'lid' on the sub-sea sediments on the Siberian shelf should cap and hold the massive reservoirs of shallow methane deposits in place.
"The growing evidence for release of methane in this inaccessible region may suggest that the permafrost lid is starting to get perforated and thus leak methane."
Scientists fear the extra methane in the atmosphere could accelerate warming which in turn would thaw the seabed more and release more methane, creating a feedback loop.
The researchers have claimed that there could be more methane in the permafrost than there is in the whole of the world's carbon stores.
Cows, another source of methane, are one of the areas that are growing faster than the Irish government counted on, according environment minister John Gormley.
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