Methane burns as it escapes through a hole in the ice in a lagoon above the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Credit: Photo courtesy of Natalia Shakhova
Oldspeak: “There are three huge reservoirs of Arctic methane till recently safely controlled by the Arctic freezing cold environment. They are now all releasing additional methane to the atmosphere as the Arctic rapidly warms…We do not like what we see. We do not like it at all.” –Dr. Natalia Shakhova, September, 2012
“There is a so-called methane threat in the north of the bog. On top of that, the ice shelf is also thawing, releasing methane hydrates and something really awful is happening.” –Professor Sergey Kirpotin, May, 2015
When scientists start sayin shit like this, it’s not good. I feel it’s safe to say that, things in the planet’s polar air conditioners and adjacent environs are going terribly wrong, very fast, faster every day. What happens when these previously frozen bogs catch fire because the temperature is 40 degrees hotter than normal near the arctic? Well that’s happening, wildfires in the fucking arctic have been happening since early April, earlier than ever coincidentally, so I guess we’ll see soon enough won’t we? Expect these fires to proliferate as summer progresses, generating even more voluminous releases of C02 and CH4. Shit is goin to hell in a handbasket mighty quick ain’t it? Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…. it’s gonna really suck when the Arctic Methane Time Bomb goes boom.” -OSJ
By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:
Methane (CH4) is 25 times more efficient at entrapping solar radiation and effectuating global warming than is carbon dioxide (CO2).
As the Arctic becomes more and more ice-free, the release of methane entrapped for millennia in Arctic ice accelerates. This, in turn, increases the risks of a planetary catastrophe. Yet, the scientific community does not like using words like “catastrophe,” which is considered alarmist. So, forewarned, this is an alarmist article.
Not only is this article alarmist, it is an indictment of views about climate change held by most, if not all, of the Republican candidates for presidency. Regardless of their individual personal beliefs about climate change, they are beholden to fossil fuel interests and extremely rich right-wing whackos that clandestinely pour money into phony orgs and payoffs for weak-kneed, cowering scientists to disseminate “confusing information to the public about global warming/climate change.” Without a doubt, these are the nation’s top gun eco terrorists. Similar to Al Qaeda, they work in the shadows.
Over the past couple of centuries, the rate of increase of CO2 versus CH4 in the atmosphere is running askew as carbon dioxide’s increase of 40% is a far distant second place to methane’s 250% increase. There’s nothing confusing about those numbers.
As it happens, by all accounts, climate scientists are wringing their hands over the 40% increase in carbon dioxide. That’s understandable as CO2 remains in the atmosphere for up to hundreds of years, blocking solar radiation from bouncing back into outer space. Ergo, over time global warming consumes the planet in a dreadful event that is currently tracking headlong towards bright red flashing lights at the end of the tunnel of doom.
Thereby, CO2 blanketing the earth is similar to turning on an oven, the more CO2 is emitted, similar to turning up the oven, the more heat builds, as it gets hotter and hotter and hotter over time whilst the “CO2 blanket” traps solar radiation. In time, humanity is toast.
Considering the fact that scientists worry about CO2 in the atmosphere, they must be experiencing migraines, sleeplessness and outright gloominess about CH4 because, with gigatons of methane trapped under Arctic ice, only a fraction of that CH4 could turn the planet into something akin to an oven, assuming too much Arctic ice melts. And, that is precisely the point as Arctic melt is already occurring at an alarming rate!
It’s all about runaway global warming as the Arctic threatens to turn ice-free in September, during its minimal cycle, in an upcoming year. Some Arctic experts believe it could happen within a few years, some several years, some in decades or longer.
There is a lot of mystery behind the likely impact of an ice-free Arctic because it has never happened before in human history. Questions arise: How much methane is trapped under the ice and how quickly does it release into the atmosphere and how soon does agricultural land turn bad?
Of course, the process takes considerable time to play out because nature still follows a geological time clock, which is very slow. Nevertheless, human-induced climate change has already proven to speed up nature’s course, increasing the risks of a runaway global warming nightmare, maybe within current lifetimes, who knows?
After all, the proof is found in facts. As a result of excessive levels of greenhouse gases like CO2 in the atmosphere, the Arctic is warming up 2-3 times faster than lower latitudes, which fact shall be discussed further on.
Still, nobody knows how this will play out. After all, how many scrapes with extinction has humanity experienced? The answer is: None, this will be the first go-around.
Along those same lines, scientists have calculated approximately how much methane is buried under and within the ice, but in the interest of maintaining some decorum of sanity and in the spirit of forestalling outright public panic, that information will not be divulged.
Arctic Update- Things Getting Worse, Not Better
It appears that the rise of methane in the atmosphere is accelerating… Things look set to get worse… global methane levels have risen from a low of 723 ppb a couple of centuries ago to mean methane levels as high as 1,839 ppb in 2014. That’s a rise of more than 254%. The situation is dire….1
Not only that, unruly spikes of methane up to 2,845 ppb are becoming more commonplace in the Arctic.
Meanwhile, the Arctic’s big spring melt-down is now in full swing.
During April, the decline in ice extent starts to accelerate… April 2015 was marked by a fairly rapid decline during the first week of the month, little change during the middle of the month, and then a steep decline over the final week.2 Uh-huh.
Additionally, and of crucial interest: “April was marked by higher than average air temperatures (1 to 3 degrees Celsius or 2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the Arctic,” which is the evidence of Arctic temperature increasing 2-3 times faster than elsewhere on the planet.
Multi-Year Ice Dissipating Fast, Increasing Risks of Ice-Free Arctic
Arctic ice experts are quick to point to the risks associated with loss of multi-year ice because multi-year ice maintains the integrity of the Arctic. Loss of multi-year ice is precedent to an ice-free Arctic, which is precedent to runaway global warming.
Ice thickness over the central Arctic Ocean has declined from an average of 3.59 meters (11.78 feet) to only 1.25 meters (4.10 feet), a reduction of 65% over the period 1975 to 2012.3
The Lindsay results carry the distinctive footprint of global warming, nothing confusing about that. Significantly, the Lindsay study includes over 3,000 thickness measurements by sonar from submarines and from air by satellites as well as aircraft.
The significance of multi-year ice is that it constitutes what is popularly known as the North Pole and its ice environs or the Arctic. Multi-year ice constitutes thicker, more solid, longer-lasting ice, or structure, same as the Arctic has existed for thousands upon thousands of years.
However, nowadays, with human-caused global warming as a result of fossil fuel CO2 emissions coincident with extreme warming of the northern latitudes, multi-year ice is dissipating fairly quickly. This, therefore, opens up the Arctic to increase potential of methane release as solar radiation is absorbed into the dark background of water rather than reflected back out into outer space by the white background of ice and snow, scientifically known as the “albedo effect.”
Therein lies the focal point of risks of runaway global warming, turning the planet into a hotbed of human warfare squabbling over tillable land. Over time, these battles for survival will likely take the human socialization process back in time to something akin to the Neanderthal Age, with cell phones!
Leading Siberian Scientist Delivers Stark Warning- Frozen Bogs Becoming New Methane Threat
Inauspiciously, a newly recognized methane threat has been discovered in the Russian hinterlands, which is one more horrendous example of disastrous blowback from use of fossil fuels. Assuredly, the billionaire eco terrorists will now have to sic their spin-doctors on this one. Maybe they could say Russians cannot be trusted. Something like that might work.
Russian Professor Sergey Kirpotin, director of the BioClimLand Centre of Excellence for Climate Change Research discovered thawing frozen bogs in western Siberia, which will release billions of tonnes of methane, greatly speeding up effects of global warming.
Just like that, a new force of methane appears to be kicking into gear in the bogs with uncanny timing, as Arctic ice-melt is opening up clear water passageways for oil and gas exploration. Talk about a Catch-22, this is it in spades!
Prof Kirpotin, 51, first made the discovery about the threat 10 years ago when it was found the permafrost melting for the first time since being formed at the end of the Ice Age.
He warned at the time that it could be ‘an ecological landslide that is probably irreversible.’ Now it seems the situation is more advanced than first thought.4
Remarkably, Prof Kirpotin’s discovery is essentially a trip back in geologic time to the last Ice Age, 100,000-to-20, 000 years ago, which is amazing and also filled with scary after-effects. Just to think: The permafrost Dr. Kirpotin investigated has not melted since the last Ice Age, until now! This is yet another distinctive footprint of global warming.
According to Prof Kirpotin:
There is a so-called methane threat in the north of the bog. On top of that, the ice shelf is also thawing, releasing methane hydrates and something really awful is happening.
“Something really awful happening” is not exactly a nerve-soothing statement by a leading expert on Siberian bogs.
Science is Radically Divided on the Timing Issue of Climate Change
Without question, scientists are radically divided on the issue of climate change and few predict an upsurge any time soon. Nevertheless, it’s the scientists who base opinions on first hand knowledge “boots on the ground” who are screaming the loudest. They do not let “computer models” override what they personally experience. In contrast, they see and feel the “reality in the field.” They are like scientific pioneers in the field, in the marsh, below and above the ice, on expeditions into the wilderness where nobody cares to tread. It’s hard work.
And, they happen to be the scientists who do not like what they see. For example, Dr. Natalia Shakhova, one of the world’s leading authorities on methane. She heads the Russia-U.S. Methane Study at the International Arctic Research Center, at the University Alaska Fairbanks and the Pacific Oceanological Institute, Far Eastern Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences.
Dr. Shakhova’s expeditions “boots on the ground” to the Arctic convince her that only a tiny percentage of the vast amounts of methane buried in Arctic ice is necessary to double current atmospheric methane. Worse yet, she suspects an outburst of 50 gigatons could happen at any time, which would likely cripple civilization. Decidedly, it would be a disaster beyond repair, further burdening an increasingly fracturable ecosystem, which may one day burst wide open, catching all humanity flatfooted!
By all appearances, the ecosystem has increasingly become more fragile within the context of a very resilient planet that has already withstood five extinction events, but it is still standing.
Thankfully, pioneering scientists like Dr. Kirpotin and Dr. Shakova travel to the field and report their findings. Otherwise, nobody would ever truly know how dangerously civilization is on edge and at risk. Meanwhile, fossil fuels burn away ever-faster, facilitating capitalism’s neoliberal experiment, truly a life or death enterprise.
Every hour the sun beams on to Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year. Capture it!
Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read other articles by Robert.