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Posts Tagged ‘Permafrost Thaw’

20 Smaller Methane Blowholes Appear Around Giant Methane Blowhole-Turned-Lake In Siberian “Permafrost”. 7 More Giant Holes Discovered.

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2015 at 8:44 pm

B1 – famous Yamal hole in 30 kilometres from Bovanenkovo, spotted in 2014 by helicopter pilots. Pictures: Marya Zulinova, Yamal regional government’s press service

Oldspeak: “Since the area of geological disjunctives (fault zones, tectonically and seismically active areas) within the Siberian Arctic shelf composes not less than 1-2% of the total area and area of open taliks (area of melt through permafrost), acting as a pathway for methane escape within the Siberian Arctic shelf reaches up to 5-10% of the total area, we consider release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage as highly possible for abrupt release at any time. That may cause ∼12-times increase of modern atmospheric methane burden with consequent catastrophic greenhouse warming.Dr Natalie Shakhova of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Dr Igor Semiletov from the Pacific Oceanological Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences

“So, the arctic is melting, Rapidly. De-gassing massive not recorded in millions of years amounts of methane gas from areas previously thought of as “permafrost”.  And the process seems to be accelerating and expanding, making more likely the 50 megaton burp of methane referenced above catastrophically altering life as we know it on earth. But the news being reported in U.S. media is ISIS, Bibi Netanyahu’s controversial speech to the U.S. Congress, And an unarmed homeless man being shot dead by trigger happy cops. The methane time bomb is ticking away, and only a brave few are listening. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.” -OSJ

By Anna Liesowska @ The Siberian Times:

Respected Moscow scientist Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky has called for ‘urgent’ investigation of the new phenomenon amid safety fears.

Until now, only three large craters were known about in northern Russia with several scientific sources speculating last year that heating from above the surface due to unusually warm climatic conditions, and from below, due to geological fault lines, led to a huge release of gas hydrates, so causing the formation of these craters in Arctic regions.

Two of the newly-discovered large craters – also known as funnels to scientists – have turned into lakes, revealed Professor Bogoyavlensky, deputy director of the Moscow-based Oil and Gas Research Institute, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Examination using satellite images has helped Russian experts understand that the craters are more widespread than was first realised, with one large hole surrounded by as many as 20 mini-craters, The Siberian Times can reveal.

Four arctic craters: B1 – famous Yamal hole in 30 kilometres from Bovanenkovo, B2 – recently detected crater in 10 kilometres to the south from Bovanenkovo, B3 – crater located in 90 kilometres from Antipayuta village, B4 – crater located near Nosok village, on the north of Krasnoyarsk region, near Taimyr Peninsula. Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

‘We know now of seven craters in the Arctic area,’ he said. ‘Five are directly on the Yamal peninsula, one in Yamal Autonomous district, and one is on the north of the Krasnoyarsk region, near the Taimyr peninsula.

‘We have exact locations for only four of them. The other three were spotted by reindeer herders. But I am sure that there are more craters on Yamal, we just need to search for them.

‘I would compare this with mushrooms: when you find one mushroom, be sure there are few more around. I suppose there could be 20 to 30 craters more.’

He is anxious to investigate the craters further because of serious concerns for safety in these regions.

The study of satellite images showed that near the famous hole, located in 30 kilometres from Bovanenkovo are two potentially dangerous objects, where the gas emission can occur at any moment.

Satellite image of the site before the forming of the Yamal hole (B1). K1 and the red outline show the hillock (pingo) formed before the gas emission. Yellow outlines show the potentially dangerous objects. Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

He warned: ‘These objects need to be studied, but it is rather dangerous for the researchers. We know that there can occur a series of gas emissions over an extended period of time, but we do not know exactly when they might happen.

‘For example, you all remember the magnificent shots of the Yamal crater in winter, made during the latest expedition in Novomber 2014. But do you know that Vladimir Pushkarev, director of the Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration, was the first man in the world who went down the crater of gas emission?

‘More than this, it was very risky, because no one could guarantee there would not be new emissions.’

Professor Bogoyavlensky told The Siberian Times: ‘One of the most interesting objects here is the crater that we mark as B2, located 10 kilometres to the south of Bovanenkovo. On the satellite image you can see that it is one big lake surrounded by more than 20 small craters filled with water.

‘Studying the satellite images we found out that initially there were no craters nor a lake. Some craters appeared, then more. Then, I suppose that the craters filled with water and turned to several lakes, then merged into one large lake, 50 by 100 metres in diameter.

‘This big lake is surrounded by the network of  more than 20 ‘baby’ craters now filled with water and I suppose that new ones could appear last summer or even now. We now counting them and making a catalogue. Some of them are very small, no more than 2 metres in diameter.’

Satellite images showing pingo before the gas emission on the object B2 (top). Lake formed here at the place of the number of craters and the network of more than 20 ‘baby’ craters around (bottom). Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

‘We have not been at the spot yet,’ he said. ‘Probably some local reindeer herders were there, but so far no scientists.’

He explained: ‘After studying this object I am pretty sure that there was a series of gas emissions over an extended period of time. Sadly, we do not know, when exactly these emissions occur, i.e. mostly in summer, or in winter too. We see only the results of this emissions.’

The object B2 is now attracting special attention from the researchers as they seek to understand and explain the phenomenon. This is only 10km from Bovanenkovo, a major gas field, developed by Gazprom, in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Yet older satellite images do not show the existence of a lake, nor any craters, in this location.

Not only the new craters constantly forming on Yamal show that the process of gas emission is ongoing actively.

Professor Bogoyavlensky shows the picture of one of the Yamal lakes, taken by him from the helicopter and points on the whitish haze on its surface.

Yamal lake with traces of gas emissions. Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

He commented: ‘This haze that you see on the surface shows that gas seeps that go from the bottom of the lake to the surface. We call this process ‘degassing’.

‘We do not know, if there was a crater previously and then turned to lake, or the lake formed during some other process. More important is that the gases from within are actively seeping through this lake.

‘Degassing was revealed on the territory of Yamal Autonomous District about 45 years ago, but now we think that it can give us some clues about the formation of the craters and gas emissions. Anyway, we must research this phenomenon urgently, to prevent possible disasters.’

Professor Bogoyavlensky stressed: ‘For now, we can speak only about the results of our work in the laboratory, using the images from space.

‘No one knows what is happening in these craters at the moment. We plan a new expedition. Also we want to put not less than four seismic stations in Yamal district, so they can fix small earthquakes, that occur when the crater appears.

‘In two cases locals told us that they felt earth tremors. The nearest seismic station was yet too far to register these tremors.


Crater B3 located in 90 kilometres from Antipayuta village, Yamal district (top). Crater B4 located near Nosok village, on the north of Krasnoyarsk region, near Taimyr Peninsula. Pictures: Local residents

‘I think that at the moment we know enough about the crater B1. There were several expeditions, we took probes and made measurements. I believe that we need to visit the other craters, namely B2, B3 and B4, and then visit the rest three craters, when we will know their exact location. It will give us more information and will bring us closer to understanding the phenomenon.’

He urged: ‘It is important not to scare people, but to understand that it is a very serious problem and we must research this.’

In an article for Drilling and Oil magazine, Professor Bogoyavlensky said the parapet of these craters suggests an underground explosion.

‘The absence of charred rock and traces of  significant erosion due to possible water leaks speaks in favour of mighty eruption (pneumatic exhaust) of gas from a shallow underground reservoir, which left no traces on soil which contained a high percentage of ice,’ he wrote.

‘In other words, it was a gas-explosive mechanism that worked there. A concentration of 5-to-16% of methane is explosive. The most explosive concentration is 9.5%.’


‘The parapet of these craters suggests an underground explosion.’ Pictures of Yamal crater taken by Vasily Bogoyavlensky

Gas probably concentrated underground in a cavity ‘which formed due to the gradual melting of buried ice’. Then ‘gas was replacing ice and water’.

‘Years of experience has shown that gas emissions can cause serious damage to drilling rigs, oil and gas fields and offshore pipelines,’ he said. ‘Yamal craters are inherently similar to pockmarks.

‘We cannot rule out new gas emissions in the Arctic and in some cases they can ignite.’

This was possible in the case of the crater found at Antipayuta, on the Yamal peninsula.

‘The Antipayuta residents told how they saw some flash. Probably the gas ignited when appeared the crater B4, near Taimyr peninsula. This shows us, that such explosion could be rather dangerous and destructive.

‘We need to answer now the basic questions: what areas and under what conditions are the most dangerous? These questions are important for safe operation of the northern cities and infrastructure of oil and gas complexes.’






The latest expedition to Yamal crater was initiated by the Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration in early November 2014. The researchers were first in the world who went down the crater of gas emission. Pictures: Vladimir Pushkarev/Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration

Pingos are mounds with an ice core found in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions.

They can reach up to 70 metres (230 ft) in height and up to 600 m (2,000 ft) in diameter. They usually appear when groundwaters penetrate between permafrost and the top layer, which melts in summer season. They usually form in drained lakes or river channels.

However, gas is not a factor in their creation.

The Methane Monster Roars; Abrupt Catastrophic Methane Releases Growing More Likely As Earth Warms

In Uncategorized on January 14, 2015 at 12:28 am

Methane monster roars

Oldspeak:It is my view that our climate system is in early stages of abrupt climate change that, unchecked, will lead to a temperature rise of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius within a decade or two. Obviously, such a large change in the climate system will have unprecedented effects on the health and well-being of every plant and animal on our planetAs the methane concentrations increase in the Arctic from the large warming rates there in both the atmosphere and ocean, the jet streams will be greatly disrupted even more than now…. Physics dictates that this will continue to increase the frequency, severity and duration of extreme weather events like torrential rains leading to widespread flooding in some regions and droughts in other regions. Needless to say, this causes enormous economic losses and poses a severe and grave threat to our global food supply. Thus, the Arctic can be considered the Achilles heel in our climate system… There will be continuing disruption and fracturing of our weather and climate systems… Further acceleration of these processes is very likely to lead to a ‘abrupt climate change’ system reorganization from a cold, snowy, ice-covered Arctic Ocean to a ‘blue Arctic Ocean’ regime… The final state could have a global temperature average being 5 or 6 degrees Celsius warmer and the transition to this state could occur in one to two decades… Recently, it has been announced that 2014 is the warmest year ever in the instrumental records…. A large preponderance of the heat added to the climate system over the last decade or so has gone into heating the oceans and when this heat balance cycles back to the atmosphere we will see a very rapid rise in global average temperatures.” -Dr. Paul Beckwith, Professor of Climatology & Meteorology, University of Ottawa

“Yep. What he said. Some serious volume of toxic gas is getting passed world wide. It’s not gonna stop. It’s getting worse. Seems the madness will truly begin when the worlds oceans start expelling the massive amounts heat they’ve been sequestering the past decade or so.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

During a recent hike in Washington State’s Olympic National Park, I marveled at the delicate geometry of frost-covered ferns. White crystalline structures seemed to grow from the green leaves, encasing them in a frozen frame of temporary beauty.

Progressing further up into the mountains, I stopped to lunch and sip hot coffee from a thermos while gazing across a river valley at a snow-covered mountainside, sizing up a frozen waterfall for a possible ice climb in the future. Yet I found myself beginning to wonder how many more winters ice would continue to form there.

The disparity of the beauty before me with my troubled thoughts about the planet has found no reconciliation. I had been collecting data and conducting interviews for articles about methane releases in the Arctic for weeks, and pondering the information through the holidays only led me into depression. Going out into the mountains helped, but also provoked grave concerns for our collective future.

To consider the possibility that humans have altered the atmosphere of the earth so drastically as to put our own lives in danger seems, at least emotionally, unfathomable. Given the scale of the planet, one would think, logically, it might not even be possible. Yet the majestic snow-covered peaks near where I live may no longer have glaciers (or even snow) within my lifetime, according to some of the scientists I’ve interviewed.

Paul Beckwith, a climatology and meteorology professor at the University of Ottawa, Canada, is an engineer and physicist who researches abrupt climate change in both the present day and in the paleoclimatology records of the deep past.

“It is my view that our climate system is in early stages of abrupt climate change that, unchecked, will lead to a temperature rise of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius within a decade or two,” Beckwith told me. “Obviously, such a large change in the climate system will have unprecedented effects on the health and well-being of every plant and animal on our planet.”
A Very Different Planet

Vast amounts of methane lie frozen in the Arctic. It’s not news that the Arctic sea ice is melting rapidly, and that it will likely be gone for short periods during the summers starting as early as next year. Losing that ice means releasing larger amounts of previously trapped methane into the atmosphere.

Additionally, lying along the Arctic’s subsea continental margins and beneath Arctic permafrost are methane hydrates, often described as methane gas surrounded by ice. In March 2010, a report in Science indicated that these cumulatively contain the equivalent of 1,000 to 10,000 gigatons of carbon.

For perspective, humans have released approximately 1,475 gigatons in total carbon dioxide since the year 1850.

Beckwith warns that losing the Arctic sea ice will create a state that “will represent a very different planet, with a much higher global average temperature, in which snow and ice in the northern hemisphere becomes very rare or even vanishes year round.”

In the simplest terms, here’s what an ice-free Arctic would mean when it comes to heating the planet: Minus the reflective ice cover on Arctic waters, solar radiation would be absorbed, not reflected, by the Arctic Ocean. That would heat those waters, and hence the planet, further. This effect has the potential to change global weather patterns, vary the flow of winds and even someday possibly alter the position of the jet stream. Polar jet streams are fast-flowing rivers of wind positioned high in the earth’s atmosphere that push cold and warm air masses around, playing a critical role in determining the weather of our planet.

“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” Beckwith explained. “The rapidly warming Arctic relative to the rest of the planet (five to eight times global average temperature rise) is decreasing the temperature gradient between the Arctic and the equator.”

This decreased gradient is disrupting the jet stream, leading to further warming in the Arctic, forming a runaway feedback loop, which in turn is causing the release of more methane in the Arctic.

And on land, it’s already happening as well. On Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula, mysterious holes in the ground drew international attention before they became not-so-mysterious when Russian researchers found significant amounts of methane inside them. Now, that same area is making news again as researchers have found increasing amounts of methane emissions coming from thawing permafrost there.

“As the methane concentrations increase in the Arctic from the large warming rates there in both the atmosphere and ocean, the jet streams will be greatly disrupted even more than now,” Beckwith said. “Physics dictates that this will continue to increase the frequency, severity and duration of extreme weather events like torrential rains leading to widespread flooding in some regions and droughts in other regions. Needless to say, this causes enormous economic losses and poses a severe and grave threat to our global food supply. Thus, the Arctic can be considered the Achilles heel in our climate system.”

US Navy researchers have predicted periods of an ice-free Arctic ocean in the summer by 2016.

British scientist John Nissen, chairman of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, suggests that if the summer sea ice loss passes “the point of no return” and “catastrophic Arctic methane feedbacks” kick in, we’ll be in an “instant planetary emergency.”

Why should we be so concerned about methane, when all of the talk around climate disruption seems to focus on carbon dioxide levels?

In the atmosphere, methane is a greenhouse gas that, on a relatively short-term time scale, is far more destructive than carbon dioxide. When it comes to heating the planet, methane is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, per molecule, on a 100-year timescale, and 105 times more potent on a 20-year timescale – and the Arctic permafrost, onshore and off, is packed with the stuff.

According to a study published in Nature Geoscience, twice as much methane as previously thought is being released from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a 2 million square kilometer area off the coast of northern Siberia. The recent study’s researchers found that at least 17 teragrams (17 million tons) of methane are being released into the atmosphere each year, whereas a 2010 study had found only seven teragrams heading into the atmosphere.

To gain a better understanding of the implications of Arctic warming, I interviewed some of the scientists conducting the most cutting edge and current methane studies in the Arctic.

Dr. Leonid Yurganov is a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland Physics Department and the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology, and his current research expertise is connected with remote sensing of tropospheric composition and Arctic methane levels. He is a co-author of an upcoming research paper that will show how recent Arctic warming has stimulated speculations about the release of methane from the seabed there and kicked off a new climatic positive feedback loop. Using remote sensing technology, his team has detected long-term increases of methane over large areas of the Arctic.

Yurganov warns of the consequences of a rapidly warming Arctic.

“The difference in temperatures between the poles and the equator drives our air currents from [the] west to [the] east,” he told Truthout. “If this difference diminishes, the west to east transport becomes slower, and north-south currents become stronger. This results in frequent changes in weather in mid-latitudes.”

While Yurganov isn’t seeing “fast and immediate liberation of methane from hydrates” at this very moment, he warned of what would happen if and when it does occur.

“Increased methane would influence air temperature near the surface,” he said. “This would accelerate the Arctic warming and change the climate everywhere in the world.”

Yurganov does not foresee an immediate global collapse within a decade. In his view, the summer Arctic sea ice will continue to shrink in a more linear fashion, but the frequency of extreme weather events and rising sea levels will continue to accelerate. “People should accommodate to climate change and be prepared to a decline in life-level caused by it,” he warned.

Yurganov sees population reduction via people not having as many babies as one answer to our predicament.

“Depopulation, that resolves all the problems,” he said. “The earth with [a] lower global population, say, twice as low, would emit less carbon dioxide.”

Another Russian scientist who has been studying methane releases in the Arctic, however, had even more worrying news.

The Looming Specter of Abrupt Methane Release

Natalia Shakhova is a research associate professor of the University Alaska Fairbanks, International Arctic Research Center, where she focuses on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS). Shakhova believes we should be concerned about her group’s findings from the ESAS, specifically, because that area differs significantly from methane emissions happening elsewhere around the world.

The ESAS is the largest shelf in the world, encompassing more than 2 million square kilometers, or 8 percent of the world’s continental shelf. Shakhova believes it holds an area-weighted contribution to the global hydrate inventory of “at least 10 to 15 percent.”

“These emissions are prone to be non-gradual (massive, abrupt) for a variety of reasons,” she told Truthout. “The main reason is that the nature of major processes associated with methane releases from subsea permafrost is non-gradual.”

This means that methane releases from decaying frozen hydrates could result in emission rates that “could change in order of magnitude in a matter of minutes,” and that there would be nothing “smooth, gradual or controlled” about it; we could be looking at non-linear releases of methane in amounts that are difficult to fathom.

She explained that the transition from the methane being frozen in the permafrost, either on land or in the shallow northern shores of the East Siberian Arctic, “is not gradual. When it comes to phase transition, it appears to be a relatively short, jump-like transformation from one state of the process to another state. The difference between the two states is like the difference between a closed valve and an open valve. This kind of a release is like the unsealing of an over-pressurized pipeline.”

These immediate methane releases in the ESAS could be triggered at any moment by seismic or tectonic events, the subsiding of sediments caused by hydrate decay or sediment sliding due to permafrost degradation and thaw. The ESAS is particularly prone to these immediate shifts because it is three times shallower than the mean depth of the continental shelf of the world ocean.

“This means that probability of dissolved methane to escape from the water column to the atmosphere is from three to 10 times greater than anywhere in the world’s oceans,” Shakhova said. “In the ESAS, methane is predominantly transported as bubbles. Methane bubbles rise to the surface at a speed from 10 to 40 cm s-1; this means that it only takes minutes for methane to reach the water surface and escape to the atmosphere.”

Including all factors, Shakhova estimates that the carbon pool of the ESAS is in orders of magnitude greater than 180 gigatons, and added that “its role will increase over time.”

A study published in the prestigious journal Nature in July 2013 confirmed what Shakhova has been warning us about for years: that a 50-gigaton “burp” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is “highly possible at anytime.” That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide. (Remember, for perspective, humans have released approximately 1,475 gigatons in total carbon dioxide since the year 1850.)

Even the relatively staid Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned of such a scenario: “The possibility of abrupt climate change and/or abrupt changes in the earth system triggered by climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences, cannot be ruled out. Positive feedback from warming may cause the release of carbon or methane from the terrestrial biosphere and oceans.”

In the last two centuries, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has increased from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7 parts per million. The introduction of methane in such quantities into the atmosphere may, some climate scientists fear, make increases in the global temperature of 4 to 6 degrees Celsius inevitable.

Yet some of the scientists I spoke with warned of even worse consequences.

Global Implications

Ira Leifer, an atmospheric and marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of several Arctic methane studies, told Truthout that the scientific community has learned that methane emissions from the Arctic are already larger than previously thought, and said, “The warming trend in the Arctic is clear.”

The dangers of methane-related warning are staggering, according to Leifer.

“The amount of methane trapped in submerged permafrost is vast, and if even a small fraction reaches the atmosphere on the time scale of a few decades, it would lead to a dramatic increase in warming on a global scale,” he warned. “Furthermore, it could lead to a positive feedback where warming oceans release more methane which warms the Arctic more and leads to more methane release. Worse, the warming only slowly percolates to lower latitudes – and therefore it contributes to the enhanced Arctic warming.”

Just as Beckwith, Yurganov and Shakhova noted, Leifer warned that a warming Arctic has “global implications.”

Earth’s weather is controlled in three cells: the tropics, mid-latitude and polar. So a weakening of the difference in temperature between the pole-equator areas causes an expansion of the tropical cell, which drives desertification in some places and increased flooding in others. All the while, polar weather is expanding, as we’ve been seeing in the United States during recent winters.

While humans can adapt to these new fluctuations in the weather, agriculture and ecosystems cannot.

Like Shakhova, Leifer also expressed concern about the ESAS.

“The potential is there for hydrate emissions to increase with warming oceans due to increased dissociation,” he warned. He also confirmed that his recent studies of methane emissions in the Arctic even found the gas hundreds of miles from the coast. This means that the methane cannot be coming from land sources; Leifer has concluded that his recent studies “confirm a local marine source.”

Meaning, the subsea hydrates are already releasing their methane very far from shore. Beckwith notes that the increasing methane releases in the Arctic and the massive impact they will have on the planetary weather system mean “there will be continuing disruption and fracturing of our weather and climate systems.”

He went on to issue a stark warning. “Further acceleration of these processes is very likely to lead to an ‘abrupt climate change’ system reorganization from a cold, snowy, ice-covered Arctic Ocean to a ‘blue Arctic Ocean’ regime,” he said. “The final state could have a global temperature average being 5 or 6 degrees Celsius warmer and the transition to this state could occur in one to two decades, as has occurred many times in the past as recorded in paleorecords.”

The advent of the “blue Arctic Ocean” Beckwith warns us of is only a matter of time, and will most likely happen before 2020, considering that exponential decline in Arctic summer sea ice volume has already been determined by the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System data and models, which have been corroborated with recent CryoSat measurements, as well as modeling by the Naval Graduate School Regional Climate Models.

Beckwith believes the first of these “blue ocean” events will likely last a few weeks to one month the first time it happens, but then extend to several months just a few years later.

Meanwhile, the IPCC has not addressed Arctic methane releases as a runaway feedback loop, nor has the mainstream media across the political spectrum.

“Then, the greatly increased Arctic warming from albedo collapse would likely result in a year round ‘Arctic blue ocean’ within a decade or two, completing the regime shift to a much warmer climate,” he said.

Thus, Beckwith, like Shakhova, warns of the 50-gigaton methane burst, and fears it is only a matter of time before it occurs.

I asked Leifer if he believed we have already triggered a rapid increase in global temperatures that could lead to the kind of abrupt climate shifts of which Beckwith warns.

“Recently, it has been announced that 2014 is the warmest year ever in the instrumental records,” he said. “A large preponderance of the heat added to the climate system over the last decade or so has gone into heating the oceans and when this heat balance cycles back to the atmosphere we will see a very rapid rise in global average temperatures.”

Another “Great Dying?”

The Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago was related to methane – in fact, the gas is thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of approximately 95 percent of all species on the planet.

Also known as “The Great Dying,” it was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of 6 degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas. Released into the atmosphere, it caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years.

We are already in the midst of what scientists consider the sixth mass extinction in planetary history, with between 150 and 200 species going extinct daily, a pace 1,000 times greater than the “natural” or “background” extinction rate. This event may already be comparable to, or even exceed, both the speed and intensity of the Permian mass extinction. The difference: Ours is human caused. (Plus, it probably isn’t going to take 80,000 years; it has so far lasted just a few centuries, and is now gaining speed in a non-linear fashion.)

It is possible that, on top of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that continue to enter the atmosphere in record amounts yearly, an increased release of methane could signal the beginning of the sort of process that led to the Great Dying.

Some scientists fear that the situation is already so serious and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play that we are in the process of causing our own extinction. Worse yet, some are convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible – in the course of just the next few decades – or, as Beckwith believes, possibly even sooner than that.

Back in Olympic National Park, when I was returning from my hike, I happened upon a small herd of elk. I watched them as they watched me, before they slowly began to retreat further into the forest. As I continued along, I wondered how they are responding to what is happening to the planet. Their habitat is shifting dramatically, as are their food and water sources. Approaching the trailhead, I marveled at green moss-covered trees – and contemplated how the magnificent natural landscape of Olympic National Park will respond as the climate is rapidly disrupted. The Olympic Mountains support the third largest glacier system in the 48 contiguous United States and are rapidly losing their glaciers. And with at least four already endangered species living within the park the impacts are already clear, and are guaranteed to worsen.

I went on to wonder how humanity will respond, but then checked myself with the fact that the Arctic methane feedback loops are most likely already well underway, only an international emergency immediate response to cease all global carbon emissions might slightly mitigate the crisis, and yet most world governments’ responses are laughable.

Naturally, what was left was to ask myself: How am I responding?

How are you?

 

 

Warming Oceans Speeding Up Cycle of Climate Change

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2015 at 12:09 am
https://i0.wp.com/www.truthdig.com/images/eartothegrounduploads/CROP-Arctic_ice_floe.jpg

Sun on the water, as Arctic ice increasingly melts, is part of the “positive feedback” process warming the oceans and reducing CO2 storage. Photo by Paul Gierszewski via Wikimedia Commons

 

Oldspeak: “Yep. The worlds oceans are locked into an irreversible non-linear positive feedback loop. It is accelerating. As the oceans warm, their ability to sequester CO2 diminishes and more and more of the potent greenhouse gas methane bubbles towards the surface as the deep water begins to warm. Human actions cannot reverse or decrease what has been started. These are observable, ongoing, and ever increasing impacts. They will continue to worsen. As time passes the changes will become impossible to ignore. We would do well to acknowledge and accept our fate. Only the Love remains…” -OSJ

By Tim Radford @ Climate News Network:

LONDON—The warming oceans could start to return more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as the planet warms, according to new research.

And since 70% of the planet is covered by clear blue water, anything that reduces the oceans’ capacity to soak up and sequester carbon could only make climate change more certain and more swift.

It is a process that engineers call “positive feedback”. And under such a cycle of feedback, the world will continue to get even warmer, accelerating the process yet again.

Many such studies are, in essence, computer simulations. But Chris Marsay—a marine biochemist at the UK’s National Oceanography Centre in Southampton—and colleagues based their results on experiments at sea.

Sediment traps

They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they examined sediment traps in the North Atlantic to work out what happens to organic carbon—the tissue of the living things that exploit photosynthesis, directly or indirectly, to convert carbon dioxide—as it sinks to the depths.

Sooner or later, much of this stuff gets released into the sea water as carbon dioxide. This is sometimes called the ocean’s biological carbon pump. In deep, cold waters, the process is slow. In warmer, shallower waters, it accelerates.

And as there is evidence that the ocean is responding to atmospheric changes in temperature, both at the surface and at depth, the study suggests that “predicted future increases in ocean temperatures will result in reduced CO2 storage by the oceans”.

The research was conducted on a small scale, in a limited stretch of ocean, so the conclusion is still provisional—and, like all good science, will be confirmed by replication. But it is yet another instance of the self-sustaining momentum of global warming.

Such positive feedbacks are already at work in high latitudes. Ice reflects sunlight, and therefore the sun’s heat. So as the Arctic ice sheet steadily diminishes over the decades, more and more blue water is available to absorb heat—and accelerate warming.

“The world is at a crossroads in terms of climate health and climate change”

The same gradual warming has started to release another greenhouse gas trapped at the ocean’s edge. Natural “marsh gas”, or methane, is stored in huge masses, “frozen” as methane hydrate in cold continental shelves.

Methane exists in much smaller quantities than carbon dioxide, and has a shorter life in the atmosphere, but is far more potent, volume for volume, as a greenhouse gas.

Researchers at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromso reported last month in Geophysical Research Letters that once-frozen methane gas was leaking from thawing ocean floor off Siberia. Some of this thaw is natural, and perhaps inevitable. But some is connected with human influence and could accelerate.

Alexei Portnov, a geophysicists at the university’s Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Climate and Environment  says: “If the temperature of the oceans increases by two degrees, as suggested by some reports, it will accelerate the thawing to the extreme. A warming climate could lead to an explosive gas release from the shallow areas.”

Biological origin

Arctic methane, like ocean organic carbon, has a biological origin. It is released by decaying vegetation under marshy conditions and tends to form as a kind of ice at low temperatures and high pressures, much of it along continental shelves that, at the height of the Ice Ages, were above sea level.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature also reminded the world last month that the ocean plays a vital role in climate, and that plankton, fish and crustaceans could be considered as “mobile carbon units”.

In this sense, the fish in the sea are not just suppers waiting to be caught, but are important parts of the planetary climate system. The healthier the oceans, and the richer they are in living things, the more effective they become at soaking up atmospheric carbon.

“The world is at a crossroads in terms of climate health and climate change,” said Dan Laffoley, vice-chairman of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, introducing a new report on the marine role in the carbon cycle.

“Neglect the ocean and wonder why our actions are not effective, or manage and restore the ocean to boost food security and reduce the impact of climate change. The choice should be an easy one.”

 

Increasing Methane Releases From Thawing Arctic “Permafrost” Is Accelerating Global Warming, As Industrial Civilization Plunders On

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2014 at 1:08 am

Oldspeak: “ Arctic permafrost is an area of intense research focus because of its climate threat. The frozen ground holds enormous stores of methane because the ice traps methane rising from inside the Earth, as well as gas made by microbes living in the soil. Scientists worry that the warming Arctic could lead to rapidly melting permafrost, releasing all that stored methane and creating a global warming feedback loop as the methane in the atmosphere traps heat and melts even more permafrost….Researchers are trying to gauge this risk by accurately measuring stores of methane in permafrost on land and in the ocean, and predicting how fast it will thaw as the planet warms. Though methane gas quickly decays once it escapes into the atmosphere, lasting only about 10 years, it is 30 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat (the greenhouse effect)….Shakova and colleague Igor Semiletov of the Russian Academy of Sciences first discovered methane bubbling up from the shallow seafloor a decade ago in Russia’s Laptev Sea. Methane is trapped there in ground frozen during past ice ages, when sea level was much lower.” -Becky Oskin

“When you consider that global atmospheric methane concentrations are higher than at any point in at least the last 650,ooo years and rising, you do the math. As fossil fuel use and temperatures  increase, the probability of a catastrophic methane pulse increase significantly.  it’s not good that scientists have no idea fast methane hydrates are melting, as the planet warms. That means 50 GiGATONS of methane gas could be released into the atmosphere at any timeThe arctic methane timebomb is ticking. it cannot be stopped or mitigated or adapted to. When it goes off it will be very very very bad for life on earth. We need to start accepting this reality.” -OSJ

By Mark Karlin @ Buzzflash:

In 1965, a singer-songwriter, Barry McGuire, wrote a song called “The Eve of Destruction.” It was inspired by the decade of violent foreign wars and civil rights clashes, but applies to the current acceleration of global warming:

But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?

Some readers may find the recent BuzzFlash at Truthout commentaries on the devastating climate change that is occurring a bit gloomy and lugubrious.  After all, if US residents turn on the television or listen to the radio, few news outlets are discussing the looming cataclysm.  Also, like carbon monoxide, it is odorless. In the air around us, it is not visible.

More frequently, nonetheless, we are seeing reports of its volatile impact in hurricanes, droughts, deluges and the melting of glaciers and the Arctic ice, among other ominous signs of its growing destructive power.

Yet, still most people don’t believe “we are on the eve of destruction,” as fossil fuel plunderers are granted the rights – even subsidized by the US government – to continue their destruction of our ecosphere.

Climate change is not due to any single cause, although carbon dioxide is the key catalyst. However, global warming results from a chain reaction of toxic changes in the Earth’s eco-balance.

For instance, as temperatures rise, ice melts and reduces the cooling of the atmosphere, thus causing an even warmer environment.  As a result, areas that are covered with permafrost melt and methane is released.  With the release of methane, climate change exponentially increases.

The website TGD Daily reports:

A team of researchers lead by Florida State University have found new evidence that permafrost thawing is releasing large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere via plants, which could accelerate warming trends.

The research is featured in the newest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We’ve known for a while now that permafrost is thawing,” said Suzanne Hodgkins, the lead author on the paper and a doctoral student in chemical oceanography at Florida State. “But what we’ve found is that the associated changes in plant community composition in the polar regions could lead to way more carbon being released into the atmosphere as methane.”

Permafrost is soil that is frozen year round and is typically located in polar regions. As the world has gotten slightly warmer, that permafrost is thawing and decomposing, which is producing increased amounts of methane.

Relative to carbon dioxide, methane has a disproportionately large global warming potential. Methane is 33 times more effective at warming the Earth on a mass basis and a century time scale relative to carbon dioxide.

As TGD Daily notes, “If the permafrost melts entirely, there would be five times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere than there is now, said Jeff Chanton, the John Widmer Winchester Professor of Oceanography at Florida State.”

Methane is also increasingly being released from the oceans as ice that shielded it melts, with large methane bubbles, for instance, now rising up in the Arctic Ocean (which is expected to be free of ice cover in a few years due to higher temperatures) and being released into the atmosphere.

BuzzFlash at Truthout has mentioned before that the ruling elite in industry and in governments, in general, have moved from a position of virtually ignoring global warming and its likely devastation to a position of adaptation, if that is even remotely possible, to the pending disaster.

Given that sort of betrayal on the part of the developed world’s leadership, some of us may seek to live for the day, since we believe that there is little that we can do as we pass the last hours on the eve of destruction.

This is our collective Earth, however, and those who would so greedily lead us into an apocalyptic ruin should be removed from positions of power.  Attempts at halting the advancing deterioration of the planet cannot begin soon enough.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Arctic Methane On Tenterhooks? : “future of human kind face dire consequences due to first signs of dangerous climate change in Arctic.”

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2014 at 7:39 pm

https://i1.wp.com/ingienous.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/nasa-methane-2012.jpgOldspeak: ” According to interpretation by Climate Change Institute (University of Maine), on March 10th, 2014, this “record low sea ice cover occurs at a time that typically features sea ice maximum.” the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG), who answers their own query: “Why is Arctic Methane An Emergency?” by saying, “The reason, in one word, is: “Runaway.” According to AMEG: Arctic methane emissions are increasing as the Arctic warms several times faster than the rest of our planet. 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 (carbon feedback). The more the temperature increases and the longer the Arctic warms the more methane these sources will emit. That much is certain… Furthermore, AMEG claims: If methane release from Arctic sea floor hydrates happens on a large scale… then this situation can start an uncontrollable sequence of events that would make world agriculture and civilization unsustainable. It is a responsible alarm, not alarmist, to say that it is a real threat to the survival of humanity and most life on Earth...” -Robert Hunziker

“Hmm. Record low Arctic sea ice at a time it’s supposed to be at maximum. Coincidentally, that same day global average atmospheric concentrations of CO2 went above 400 parts per million, just as it had in around the same time the previous year. Meanwhile, what used to be meters wide plumes of methane gas have grown to a HUNDREDS OF KiLOMETERS in alarmingly short time. These non-linear feedbacks will accelerate as time passed and temperatures rise. As Elites Greenwasher Bill McKibben says, “it’s game over for the climate.” We’re hovering around 400 parts per million of CO2.  Oceans will continue to warm and acidify and melt more methane hydrates. it will be interesting to see what happens this summer. We’re likely to see a near ice-free Arctic.” -OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Recent developments up North are cause for concern. The Arctic “sea ice area” registered a record low on March 9, 2014 at 12.88 million square kilometers. 1

Further confirmation, according to reports from NSIDC (National Snow & Ice Data Center, Boulder) and Cryosphere Today (Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University or Illinois), Arctic sea ice area dropped to a record low of 12.95 million square kilometers on March 10 of 2014. It is a measure smaller than that seen during the late 1970s and breaking the previous record low, set just three years ago, by 150,000 square kilometers. Sea ice extent, meanwhile, fell to 14.5 million square kilometers, a measure roughly tied with the previous record low set in 2011 and also below area values seen during the late 1970s.

Forebodingly, the abrupt ice loss may set the stage for new record lows of sea ice area, extent, and volume for the upcoming summer of 2014 (Arctic News.)

According to interpretation by Climate Change Institute (University of Maine), on March 10th, 2014, this “record low sea ice cover occurs at a time that typically features sea ice maximum.”

At the same time, the implicit danger of Arctic sea ice loss triggering subsequent methane release has been compounded by the recent occurrence (March 6th, 2014) of an earthquake, magnitude 4.5, at Gakkel Ridge, which fault line crosses over the Arctic, resulting in a massive spike up of methane in the atmosphere to 2,395 ppb. This was reported by Arctic News on March 6th: “The situation is dire, given that methane concentrations have risen strongly following an earthquake that hit the Gakkel Ridge.”

By its very nature, the wrath of Mother Nature is on full display (payback for fouling the air), as an earthquake shakes lose deadly methane, spiking to new highs, at the same moment in time when the Arctic ice cap shrinks to all-time seasonal lows, which, in turn, creates nail-biting nervousness about the upcoming, or following, summer ice seasons. Will all hell break lose, triggering massive methane release? Nobody really knows! But, the thought, the consideration must be existent.

And, regarding the infamous “2013 ice rebound” chatter in the USA, according to PIOMAS (Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington):  “It seems that last year’s rebound has been fully negated after a couple of relatively warm months (the flipside of the cold outbreaks in the US) and 2014 will start out at approximately the same level as previous years.” 2

“No matter how you slice it – by date, by year, by average, by anything – we’re still losing ice, 2013 was not a ‘recovery,’ and the Arctic Ice ‘death spiral’ swirls on… Again, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions about what will happen later this year, but this clearly puts lie to the claim that the Arctic is recovering. And I think we’ll have a lot more bad news like this ahead.” 3

The Methane Predicament

Excessive release of methane into the atmosphere is a threatening and a complex issue that impacts the entire planet, all-in negative. The risk is that a melting Arctic prompts massive release of methane. However, the scientific community is split on the outlook. Most scientists do not believe it an issue for the near future but do recognize the danger. On the other hand, there are some very prominent scientists who believe otherwise, that the Arctic region is a powder keg ready to explode at any time, any year.

For one, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG), who answers their own query: “Why is Arctic Methane An Emergency?” by saying, “The reason, in one word, is: “Runaway.”

According to AMEG:

Arctic methane emissions are increasing as the Arctic warms several times faster than the rest of our planet. 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 (carbon feedback). The more the temperature increases and the longer the Arctic warms the more methane these sources will emit. That much is certain.

Furthermore, AMEG claims:

If methane release from Arctic sea floor hydrates happens on a large scale… then this situation can start an uncontrollable sequence of events that would make world agriculture and civilization unsustainable. It is a responsible alarm, not alarmist, to say that it is a real threat to the survival of humanity and most life on Earth.

Down Under, Carlos Duarte, PhD, Director, Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia, who was awarded the Prix d’Excellence by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, claims that the “future of human kind face dire consequences due to arguably the first signs of dangerous climate change in the Arctic…”  4

In that regard, the National Academies have stated that the Arctic has already started an “abrupt climate change,” 5  causing one to wonder (shudder) if their analysis qualifies within Duarte’s “dire consequences” statement.

The Global Warming News Syndrome

Over the past several months, the mainstream (and other heterodox) news services have been filled with joy and celebration all across the land over the ostensible bounce back in Arctic sea ice, thus, knocking the props out from under the climate change (warming) advocates, who consistently scare the daylights out of the public with doomsday forecasts of Arctic sea ice loss prompting uncontrollable methane release, leading to a series of problems like food shortages, violent weather systems (already present), and runaway global warming, all because of the reckless use of fossil fuels.

Regrettably, as for the health of the planet, the same USA news sources that aggressively reported the death of global warming were, themselves, dead wrong.

As usual, climate change is not capricious outside of its trend. It shows its true colors over time, and the unfortunate fact of the matter is a trend is a trend until broken. The trend for Arctic ice is decidedly down, melting away by the decade, losing its substance in the face of a leviathan of methane.

Those journalists who pounded the table the hardest about the demise of global warming should spend more time thoroughly analyzing the repercussions of an ice-free Arctic, as well as finding a solution to getting off fossil fuels.

There’s an assignment.

  1. Sam Carana, “Has the Descent Begun?” Arctic News, March 12, 2014. []
  2. PIOMAS March 2014, Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System at the Polar Science Center, March 2014. []
  3. Phil Plait (astronomer), “The Unfrozen North”, Slate, March 12, 201 []
  4. “Arctic Scientist Warns of Dangerous Climate Change”, University News, The University of Western Australia, Jan. 30, 2012. []
  5. Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change, Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council of the National Academies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., December 2013 []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

Last Hours of Humanity: Warming the World to Extinction

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2013 at 6:12 pm

(Image: <a href=" http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-106825397/stock-photo-refinery-with-smoke-and-global-warming-concept.html?src=NbITD5enX9lI4lerT943VQ-1-0"> via Shutterstock </a>)

Oldspeak:Will several centuries of burning fossil fuels release enough carbon into the atmosphere to mimic the effects of past volcanic and asteroid activity and provoke a mass extinction?

If our burning fossil fuels warms the oceans enough that that methane melts and is quickly released into the atmosphere, the Earth will be in its sixth mass extinction.

And make no mistake about it, the animals and plants that are most heavily hit by mass extinctions are those that are largest and at the top of the food chain.

That means us.

We must stop the carbon madness and move, worldwide, to renewable 21st century energy sources.” –Thom Hartmann

“The grim reality is, we’re ALREADY in earth’s sixth mass extinction. We’re witnessing its beginning. We’re losing 200 species PER  DAY. irreversible positive feedbacks have already begun.  Accelerated ocean acidification/warming/deoxygenation/mass extinctions , massive increases in methane releases globally  and permafrost melt have methane levels in the arctic higher than they’ve been in 400,000 years.  Phytoplankton, the organisms crucial to all life on earth, producers of half the worlds oxygen and sequestering carbon have decreased 40% since 1950. And there are no serious efforts to stop the extractive energy systems that are creating  these catastrophic positive feedbacks, in fact these systems are being EXPANDED.  The show is going on, whether we want to see it or not.” -OSJ

By Thom Hartmann @ Truthout:

If you were standing outdoors looking at the distant and reddening sky 250 million years ago as the Permian Mass Extinction was beginning, unless you were in the region that is known as Siberia you would have no idea that a tipping point had just been passed and soon 95% of all life on earth would be dead.

It’s almost impossible to identify tipping points, except in retrospect.

For example, we have almost certainly already past the tipping point to an ice-free Arctic. And we are just now realizing it, even though that tipping point was probably passed a decade or more ago.

This is critically important because in the history of our planet there have been five times when more than half of all life on Earth died. They’re referred to as “mass extinctions.”

One – the one that killed the dinosaurs – was initiated by a meteorite striking the Earth. The rest all appear to have been initiated by tectonic and volcanic activity.

In each case, however, what happened was that massive amounts of carbon-containing greenhouse gases – principally carbon dioxide, were released from beneath the Earth’s crust and up into the atmosphere.

This provoked global warming intense enough to melt billions of tons of frozen methane on the oceans floors. That pulse of methane – an intense greenhouse gas – then brought the extinction to its full of intensity.

While in the past it took continental movement or an asteroid to break up the crust of the earth enough to release ancient stores of carbon into the atmosphere, we humans have been doing this very aggressively for the past 150 years by drilling and mining fossil fuels.

So the question:

Will several centuries of burning fossil fuels release enough carbon into the atmosphere to mimic the effects of past volcanic and asteroid activity and provoke a mass extinction?

Geologists who study mass extinctions are becoming concerned. As more and more research is coming out about the massive stores of methane in the Arctic and around continental shelves, climate scientists are beginning to take notice, too.

The fossil fuel companies are sitting on roughly 2 trillion tons of underground carbon. That, in and of itself, is enough to warm the earth by 5 or 6°C, and is an amount of carbon consistent with tipping points during past mass extinctions.

There are an additional estimated 2 trillion tons of methane stored in the Arctic and probably 2 to 5 times that much around continental shelves all around the Earth.

If our burning fossil fuels warms the oceans enough that that methane melts and is quickly released into the atmosphere, the Earth will be in its sixth mass extinction.

And make no mistake about it, the animals and plants that are most heavily hit by mass extinctions are those that are largest and at the top of the food chain.

That means us.

We must stop the carbon madness and move, worldwide, to renewable 21st century energy sources.

This is why we’ve produced a short documentary on this topic, and a short e-book titled The Last Hours of Humanity: Warming the World to Extinction that you can find at www.lasthours.org.

Please check it out and share it with as many friends as possible.

The future of humanity is at stake.

“We do not like what we see. We do not like it at all.” Leading Climate Scientists Find Disturbing New Evidence Of Massive Arctic Methane Release

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2013 at 7:30 pm

https://i2.wp.com/www.finestdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/gazmetan-640x373.jpg

Oldspeak: “The most catastrophically dangerous methane source is Arctic sea floor methane hydrate… The largest source is the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), the largest continental shelf in the world… All the evidence indicates that an abrupt massive release of methane gas from Arctic hydrates could happen which most likely would be catastrophe to the global climate and our planet.  “Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, so the climatic implications of adding more of it to the atmosphere are grave. A massive methane release could also affect the atmosphere’s ability to cleanse itself.” Science (the world’s leading journal of original scientific research) carries an article by scientists that describes the methane situation: Current average methane concentrations in the Arctic are, “… the highest in 400,000 years… on par with previous estimates of methane venting from the entire World Oceans… Regarding recent observations of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf by Russian scientists, where, until now, it was thought the permafrost was cold enough to remain frozen, the recent observations found the methane venting into the atmosphere from this one region comparable to the amount of methane coming out of the entire world’s oceans” –Robert Hunziker

Amidst all the frantic politically and economically motivated hand wringing, saber-rattling and negotiations over Syria’s possession of chemical weapons, we’re all bearing witness to a globally catastrophic chemical release exponentially more devastating and destructive to the entire biosphere. Arctic sea floor methane hydrate, is beginning to steadily and increasingly release from what was previously known as “permafrost”. The planet’s climate is warming so extremely that ice thought to be permanently frozen is melting. Aside from methane hydrates, “warming in the Arctic is causing the release of toxic chemicals long trapped in the region’s snow, ice, ocean and soil… a wide range of Persistent Organic Pollutants have been remobilized into the Arctic atmosphere over the past two decades as a result of climate change, confirming that Arctic warming could undermine global efforts to reduce environmental and human exposure to these toxic chemical”. SO not only our are leaders pushing for actions that will require a significant increase in the extraction & burning of chemicals that will accelerate the onset of runaway irreversible climate change, very few are putting forth any policy to address this imminent global ecological disaster that will affect all life on this planet. For some reason all focus is on what’s going on in a country embroiled in a civil/proxy war and not on the ominous sequence of events leading up to fundamental and irreversible changes in life as we know it.  This will not end well.” –OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

How real, and imminent, is the danger of runaway global warming?

“Without stopping it, sooner, or later, one way or another, the loss of Arctic summer sea ice would lead to runaway global warming,” says Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG).

For runaway global warming to develop into an unstoppable worldwide disaster, first off a tipping point must occur. A tipping point is when there is no turning back, similar to the Titanic hitting the iceberg one hundred years ago.

The Tipping Point

As for the risk of a climatic tipping point event within current lifetimes, first-rate advice comes from Peter Wadhams (Professor of Ocean Physics and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group, Dept. of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge).

Here’s why Prof Wadhams’ advice is so keenly followed: Over the past 40 years, Dr. Wadhams has led 40 research trips to the poles, including 7 trips on nuclear submarines, conducting sonar readings (to accurately measure ice thickness), in order to study, analyze, and interpret the behaviour of sea ice. As such, he doesn’t rely upon scientific models; rather, he believes in “boots-on-the-ground” as the most thorough way to understand what is happening in nature.

Here is what Prof Wadhams says about a climatic tipping point, as expressed in the Abstract version of the article “Arctic Ice Cover, Ice Thickness and Tipping Points,”1: “We show results from some recent work from submarines, and speculate that the trend towards retreat and thinning will inevitably lead to an eventual loss of all ice in summer, which can be described as a ‘tipping point’ in that the former situation, of an Arctic covered with mainly multi-year ice, cannot be retrieved.”

In other words, Prof Wadhams’ tipping point appears to be when the Arctic is ice free, which he believes will occur around the year 2015. This, in turn, implies a runaway heating up of Earth over an indeterminate period of time because of positive feedback between an ice-less Arctic, thawing permafrost and melting hydrates (methane locked in ice) emitting increasingly massive quantities of methane into the atmosphere, or to put it another way, runaway global warming.

But, nobody can possibly know the timing of the sequence of events leading up to runaway global warming, nor, for sure, whether it will happen as expected; it could be better, or it could be worse than expectations. But, whichever result, it’s not good.

The Tipping Point Controversy

Though, there are respectable scientists at odds with Prof Wadhams, for example: A new paper, “Reducing Spread in Climate Model Projections of a September Ice-Free Arctic,”2 claims that the Arctic will be ice-free in September by around 2054-58, which is certainly a long way off from Prof Wadhams’ 2015 deadline.

In response to the PNAS paper, Prof Wadhams claims their projection departs significantly from his empirical observations of the rapid loss of Arctic summer sea ice, and here is how they differ: They use “scientific models,” i.e. computers; he uses “empirical evidence,” or boots-on-the-ground.

Along those lines, Prof Wadhams says, “The modelers did not pay sufficient regard to observation, especially of ice thickness… A very great physicist, Richard Feynmann, said that when a model comes up against measurements that contradict it, it is the measurements that must be preferred and the model must be abandoned or changed.”3

If Prof Wadhams is correct, the earthly consequences, over an indeterminate period of time, will most likely be:

  1. Sea levels will rise – probably a lot… for example, one-day Miami will be under water.
  2. Atmospheric jet stream displacement, because of a rapidly warming Arctic, will force ultra extreme weather events (this is already happening), especially in the Northern Hemisphere.
  3. Resulting in – catastrophic flooding, e.g. Central Europe 2013
  4. And, resulting in – severe droughts, e.g., China (2011- worst in 50 years & 2013), U.S. (2012- worst in 50 years), Russia (2010- worst in 50 years & 2012), Syria (2006-11- worst in history of Fertile Crescent), and on and on.
  5. Which equate to- decreased food production
  6. Leading to food riots, leading to political turmoil, leading to war

And, sooner or later, it is highly probable the geopolitical scene will witness hordes of people assembled in caravans (like the dystopian film Mad Max, Warner Bros. 1979) combing the planet in search of food and water and/or warlike behavior similar to the Huns, a nomadic people who ravaged and plundered Roman provinces in the 3rd & 4th centuries.

As such, personal wealth will be meaningless in this dystopian world overshadowed by hordes of desperate people as they crush totalitarian, and democratic, governments around the world, similar to how the almighty Roman army fell in the 3rd and 4th centuries to the hordes of Vandals and Huns in province after province after province.

Barrow, Alaska Observatory – Monitoring Methane

Barrow, Alaska is the furthest northern point in North America; it’s where the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea meet, and it is at Point Barrow, the Barrow, Alaska Observatory (“BRW”), est. in 1973, where scientists at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Earth System Research Laboratory, Global Monitoring Division keep a watchful eye on methane levels in the atmosphere. This is one of five methane-monitoring locations around the world.

According to R. Gates,4 “What’s worrisome to those who follow methane is the return to higher growth rates over the past few years… This is significant because it shows the underlying long-term growth rate. If you compare this year’s low point to last year’s, you get a sense of the upward turn in the atmospheric methane concentrations. The bottom line is: The trends should be of great concern.”

Methane (“CH4”) is already at unprecedented levels, since 646,000 BC:

Ice core records show global atmospheric conditions going back millions of years, but just since 646,000 BC global atmospheric concentrations of methane appear relatively subdued, and the atmospheric level varied within a couple hundred points of 500ppb.

Conversely, it has only taken a couple hundred years to break that 646,000-year trend. Nowadays, the CH4 level is at least 3xs higher @ 1750-1800ppb.5

Repercussions of Elevated Levels of Methane

Large releases of methane have occurred many times in the past and did not result in runaway global warming. Here is why: (a) in the past the trend was very gradual, over hundreds-to-thousands of years, allowing for a natural breakdown of the CH4 over time; whereas, as of today, we’ve already made a 3-fold move in only 200 years, and emissions are only now starting to increase in a serious way; as well, in the past, (b) when high CH4 levels trapped a lot of heat, the heat was counter-balanced by large buffers of ice that consumed the heat to prevent runaway temperature rises.6

Withal, conditions today are different because there are no huge Pleistocene glaciers to cool the Arctic Ocean if methane goes into overdrive this time around. In the Pleistocene Era, the Laurentide Ice Sheet alone was equivalent of twenty-five (25) Greenland ice sheets. This buffer to unchecked runaway global warming no longer exists.6

Therefore, as of today, Mother Earth has set the stage for runaway global warming without the checks-and-balances previously provided by nature.

Current Levels of Methane

Some of the world’s most accomplished climate scientists, similar to Prof Wadhams, have spent considerable time studying methane emissions with boots-on-the-ground in the Arctic.

Science (the world’s leading journal of original scientific research) carries an article by scientists7 that describes the methane situation: Current average methane concentrations in the Arctic are, “… the highest in 400,000 years… on par with previous estimates of methane venting from the entire World Ocean,” which is an incredible statement!

The previous statement is startling enough that it deserves to be repeated in a new context, as follows: Regarding recent observations of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf by Russian scientists, where, until now, it was thought the permafrost was cold enough to remain frozen, the recent observations found the methane venting into the atmosphere from this one region comparable to the amount of methane coming out of the entire world’s oceans.

Furthermore, in a recent live interview, Dr. Natalia Shakhova, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Arctic methane release, ended by saying, “We do not like what we see. We do not like it at all.”

“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.”8

And furthermore, “The most catastrophically dangerous methane source is Arctic sea floor methane hydrate… The largest source is the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), the largest continental shelf in the world… All the evidence indicates that an abrupt massive release of methane gas from Arctic hydrates could happen which most likely would be catastrophe to the global climate and our planet.”8

The Risks

According to the article “Methane, Good Gas, Bad Gas”9: “Burn natural gas and it warms your house. But let it leak, from fracked wells or the melting Arctic, and it warms the whole planet.”

“Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, so the climatic implications of adding more of it to the atmosphere are grave. A massive methane release could also affect the atmosphere’s ability to cleanse itself,” according to Arlene Fiore, a physical scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There is absolutely no doubt that Arctic sea ice is getting thinner, melting, and rupturing. For example, the largest single block of ice in the Arctic, the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, which has been around for over 3,000 years started cracking in the year 2000. Within two years it had split all the way through and is now broken into pieces.

The biggest worry, according to Dr. Ronald Prinn, TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science/MIT, in a lecture series entitled: “Arctic Warming: Risks for Methane Emissions (Aug. 2012)”: “… the polar regions, which are warming much faster than expected… if the ice goes, expect massive sea level rise.”10

In like manner, the most recent Arctic News is not comforting.11:
1) The Siberian permafrost is in particular danger. A large region called the Yedoma could undergo runaway decomposition once it starts to melt.
2) Global climates only slightly warmer than today are sufficient to thaw extensive regions of permafrost.
3) Evidence of melting of permafrost has also been reported form the dry valleys of Antarctica… reaching a rate about 10 times that of the last ~ 10,000 years.
4) Already, measurements along the Siberian shelf have discovered enhanced methane release… a Russian marine survey conducted more than 5,000 observations of dissolved methane showing that more than 80% of East Siberian shelf bottom waters and more than 50% of surface waters are supersaturated with methane.

The Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev, surveying 10,000 square miles of sea off the coast of eastern Siberia, made a terrifying discovery of “fountains” of methane one-half mile across erupting from Arctic sea ice, coming to surface like a boiling pot of water on a stovetop. The research team located more than 100 fountains, and they believe there could be thousands. These are methane fields on a scale never before seen by scientists. The resulting problem is multi-fold, in part, because methane releases from the seas can be larger, and much more abrupt, than land-based releases.

A Problem – Understanding and Believing

One major problem with trying to understand the potential of a methane outbreak is the false sense of security that “this really can’t happen.”

Yet, what if these scientists have got it right?

Then, what?

The future grows dim.

As a matter of assurance of survival, why not give the scientists the benefit of doubt and do what they suggest, which is remove CO2 emissions as much as possible by getting off fossil fuels?

As it goes, a worldwide conversion from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable sources of energy like solar and wind and tides and geothermal and biofuels would likely prompt an economic renaissance, with full employment, equivalent to the impressive secular economic growth cycle prompted by the invention of the Ford Model T.

And, such a worldwide conversion to renewable energy would rescue civilization, as we know it. In that event, the world’s ruling order of unparalleled wealth won’t have to worry about massive invasions by hordes of desperate people, similar to what the Roman Governors of the Provinces of the Empire experienced in the 3rd and 4th centuries.

Post Script:
On a positive note, a student movement at more than 300 university and college campuses is encouraging endowments to divest holdings of fossil fuel companies. As for one example, Divest Harvard says: “By sponsoring climate change through our investments, our university is threatening our generation’s future.”12

  1. AMBIO (Publisher: Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences), February 2012, Volume 41, Issue 1 []
  2. By Professor Jiping Liu, Dept. of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, UAlbany, Spring-2013, Phys.org in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences []
  3. Ice-free Arctic in two Years Heralds Methane Catastrophe – Scientist by Nafeez Ahmed, The Guardian, July 24, 2013. []
  4. Arctic Atmospheric Methane Trends, 2013, Arctic Sea Ice Blog, July 2013. []
  5. Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. []
  6. Source: “Mean Methane Levels Reach 1800 ppb,” Arctic News, June 28, 2013. [] []
  7. “Extensive Methane Venting to the Atmosphere from Sediments of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf,” Natalia Shakhova (International Arctic Research Centre, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK), Igor Semiletov (Russian Academy of Sciences, Far Eastern Branch, Pacific Oceanological Institute, Vladivostok, Russia), et al, Science, 327(5970), March 5, 2010. []
  8. Arctic Methane, Arctic Methane Emergency Group. [] []
  9. Marianne Lavelle, National Geographic, December 2012 []
  10. Source: Global Warming Puts the Arctic on Thin Ice,” Natural Resources Defense Council, Aug. 2012. []
  11. Andrew Glikson (Honorary Professor, Geothermal Energy Centre of Excellence, The University of Queensland), “Methane and the Risk of Runaway Global Warming,” Arctic News, July 26, 2013. []
  12. Randall Smith, A New Divestment Focus on Campus: Fossil Fuels, New York Times, Sept. 6, 2013. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.