The new paper suggests that exactly this type of cascading release of methane reserves rapidly warmed the Earth 635 million years ago, replacing an Ice Age with a period of tropical heat. The study's lead author suggests it could happen again, and fast -- not over thousands or millions of years, but possibly within a century.
"This is a major concern because it's possible that only a little warming can unleash this trapped methane," Martin Kennedy, a professor at UC Riverside, said in a release. "Unzippering the methane reservoir could potentially warm the Earth tens of degrees, and the mechanism could be geologically very rapid."
Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. And the frozen reserve is twice as large, by volume, as the world's known fossil fuel reserves.
Admittedly, it's a worst-case scenario. But fuck.