Science stunner: Vast East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane stores destabilizing and venting

NSF issues world a wake-up call: “Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.”

Methane release from the not-so-perma-frost is the most dangerous amplifying feedback in the entire carbon cycle. Research published in Friday’s journal Science finds a key “lid” on “the large sub-sea permafrost carbon reservoir” near Eastern Siberia “is clearly perforated, and sedimentary CH4 [methane] is escaping to the atmosphere.”


Scientists learned last year that the permafrost permamelt contains a staggering “1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere,” much of which would be released as methane.  Methane is  is 25 times as potent a heat-trapping gas as CO2 over a 100 year time horizon, but 72 times as potent over 20 years!

The carbon is locked in a freezer in the part of the planet warming up the fastest (see “Tundra 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss“).  Half the land-based permafrost would vanish by mid-century on our current emissions path (see “Tundra, Part 2: The point of no return” and below).  No climate model currently incorporates the amplifying feedback from methane released by a defrosting tundra.

The new Science study, led by University of Alaska’s International Arctic Research Centre and the Russian Academy of Sciences, is “Extensive Methane Venting to the Atmosphere from Sediments of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf” (subs. req’d).  The must-read National Science Foundation press release (click here), warns “Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.”  The NSF is normally a very staid organization.  If they are worried, everybody should be.

It is increasingly clear that if the world strays significantly above 450 ppm atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide for any length of time, we will find it unimaginably difficult to stop short of 800 to 1000 ppm.

Note:  As part of the Climate Science Project, I’m making this post as definitive as I can by including other recent scientific findings on the tundra.  Please add other relevant links in the comments.

The lead author, Natalia Shakhova, explains the new findings in this video:

NSF explains:

“The amount of methane currently coming out of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is comparable to the amount coming out of the entire world’s oceans,” said Shakhova, a researcher at UAF’s International Arctic Research Center. “Subsea permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap.”

Methane is a greenhouse gas more than 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is released from previously frozen soils in two ways. When the organic material (which contains carbon) stored in permafrost thaws, it begins to decompose and, under anaerobic conditions, gradually releases methane. Methane can also be stored in the seabed as methane gas or methane hydrates and then released as subsea permafrost thaws. These releases can be larger and more abrupt than those that result from decomposition.

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf is a methane-rich area that encompasses more than 2 million square kilometers of seafloor in the Arctic Ocean. It is more than three times as large as the nearby Siberian wetlands, which have been considered the primary Northern Hemisphere source of atmospheric methane. Shakhova’s research results show that the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is already a significant methane source, releasing 7 teragrams of methane yearly, which is as much as is emitted from the rest of the ocean. A teragram is equal to about 1.1 million tons.

“Our concern is that the subsea permafrost has been showing signs of destabilization already,” she said. “If it further destabilizes, the methane emissions may not be teragrams, it would be significantly larger.”

Shakhova notes that the Earth’s geological record indicates that atmospheric methane concentrations have varied between about .3 to .4 parts per million during cold periods to .6 to .7 parts per million during warm periods. Current average methane concentrations in the Arctic average about 1.85 parts per million, the highest in 400,000 years, she said. Concentrations above the East Siberian Arctic Shelf are even higher.

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf is a relative frontier in methane studies. The shelf is shallow, 50 meters (164 feet) or less in depth, which means it has been alternately submerged or terrestrial, depending on sea levels throughout Earth’s history. During the Earth’s coldest periods, it is a frozen arctic coastal plain, and does not release methane. As the Earth warms and sea level rises, it is inundated with seawater, which is 12-15 degrees warmer than the average air temperature.

“It was thought that seawater kept the East Siberian Arctic Shelf permafrost frozen,” Shakhova said. “Nobody considered this huge area.”

Last August I discussed findings by German and British scientists “that more than 250 plumes of bubbles of methane gas are rising from the seabed of the West Spitsbergen continental margin in the Arctic, in a depth range of 150 to 400 metres” (see “So many amplifying methane feedbacks, so little time to stop them all” and figure on right).

A lead researcher of that work said, “Our survey was designed to work out how much methane might be released by future ocean warming; we did not expect to discover such strong evidence that this process has already started.”

But the situation in the ESAS is far, far more dicey, as NSF explains:

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf, in addition to holding large stores of frozen methane, is more of a concern because it is so shallow. In deep water, methane gas oxidizes into carbon dioxide before it reaches the surface. In the shallows of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, methane simply doesn’t have enough time to oxidize, which means more of it escapes into the atmosphere. That, combined with the sheer amount of methane in the region, could add a previously uncalculated variable to climate models.

“The release to the atmosphere of only one percent of the methane assumed to be stored in shallow hydrate deposits might alter the current atmospheric burden of methane up to 3 to 4 times,” Shakhova said. “The climatic consequences of this are hard to predict.”

And we also know that a key trigger for accelerated warming in the Arctic region is the loss of sea ice.

A 2008 study by leading tundra experts found “Accelerated Arctic land warming and permafrost degradation during rapid sea ice loss.” The lead author is David Lawrence of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), whom I interviewed for my book and interviewed again via e-mail in 2008. The study’s ominous conclusion:

We find that simulated western Arctic land warming trends during rapid sea ice loss are 3.5 times greater than secular 21st century climate-change trends. The accelerated warming signal penetrates up to 1500 km inland”¦.

In other words, a continuation of the recent trend in sea ice loss may triple Arctic warming, causing large emissions in carbon dioxide and methane from the tundra this century.

Oh, and the Arctic warming could lead to another feedback according to a 2008 Science article:  “Continuation of current trends in shrub and tree expansion could further amplify this atmospheric heating 2-7 times.”  The point is that if you convert a white landscape to a boreal forest, the surface suddenly starts collecting a lot more solar energy (see “Tundra 3: Forests and fires foster feedbacks“).

tundra-trees.jpgThat trend is occurring now, as seen in these two photos from a recent ScienceNews article, “Boreal forests shift north.”

“Upper photo taken in 1962 shows tundra-dominated mountain slope in Siberian Urals. A 2004 photo of the same site, below, shows conifers were setting up dense stand of forest.”

Another major study warns that the warming-driven northward march of vegetation poses yet another threat to the tundra:  “Greater fire activity will likely accompany temperature-related increases in shrub-dominated tundra predicted for the 21st century and beyond.”  The concern is not so much the direct emissions from burning tundra, but the albedo change.

tundra-fire-2.jpgAnd all that warming would cause massive melting of the tundra and faster emissions release. That must be avoided at all cost, since the tundra feedback, coupled with the climate-carbon-cycle feedbacks that the IPCC models, could easily take us to the unmitigated catastrophe of 1000 ppm.

The good news is that a 2009 NOAA-led study found “Near-zero CH4 growth in the Arctic during 2008 suggests we have not yet activated strong climate feedbacks from permafrost and CH4 hydrates” (see “Is it just too damn late?“)

The bad news is we clearly are on very thin ice.  Literally.

Lawrence revised and updated his 2005 analysis of tundra loss under different emissions scenarios (after some scientists criticized the original work) in this 2008 study, “Sensitivity of a model projection of near-surface permafrost degradation to soil column depth and representation of soil organic matter” (subs. req’d).  The updated analysis still found: “the warming is enough to drive near-surface permafrost extent sharply down by 2100.”

I had asked Lawrence if it was still reasonable to keep using this figure in my presentation, since it is so much easier to understand than the figures in his new paper.


He said, “Using the old figure is still fine as long as one mentions the caveats that permafrost is probably degrading a bit too rapidly in the original.

So I will certainly use that caveat, though, of course, I will also caveat the caveat by saying the slightly slower rate of permafrost degradation does not include Lawrence’s new analysis on the accelerated warming of the permafrost due to sea ice loss (or, for that matter, the accelerated warming of the permafrost due to faster shrub encroachment).

Note that the “B1” scenario stabilizes CO2 concentrations in the air at 550 ppm — and the near-surface permafrost permafrost (down to 11 feet) plummets from over 4 million square miles today to 1.5 million.  If concentrations hit 850 ppm in 2100 (A2), permafrost would shrink to just 800,000 square miles.

And while these projections were done with one of the world’s most sophisticated climate system models, the calculations do not include the feedback effect of the released carbon from the permafrost. That is to say, the CO2 concentrations in the model rise only as a result of direct emissions from humans, with no extra emissions counted from soils or tundra. Thus they are conservative numbers-or overestimates-of how much CO2 concentrations have to rise to trigger irreversible melting.

In short, the would-be point of atmospheric stabilization, 550 ppm isn’t stable at all “” it is past the point of no return. We must stay well below 450 ppm to save the tundra and hence the climate.  The new research underscores that conclusion, especially since the planet will keep warming (slowly) for decades even once we slash emissions to near zero.

And that means we must begin a staggering amount of clean energy deployment as soon as possible (see “How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution“).

Wake up media and politicians who are being duped by the anti-science disinformers into thinking there is any serious doubt about the catastrophe we face on our current path of unrestricted emissions!

UPDATE:  WWF’s Nick Sundt points out:

A report released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, Abrupt Climate Change, said in December 2008 (during the Bush Administration) that warming in the Arctic could cause sea levels to rise substantially beyond scientists’ previous predictions and could result in massive releases of methane.  The report said that the “rapid release to the atmosphere of methane trapped in permafrost and on continental margins” was among “four types of abrupt change in the paleoclimatic record that stand out as being so rapid and large in their impact that if they were to recur, they would pose clear risks to society in terms of our ability to adapt.”

The NSF has a good fact sheet, “Questions and Answers on Potentially Large Methane Releases From Arctic, and Climate Change.”

UPDATE:  Since we don’t have a time series of CH4 emissions from the shelf, we can’t know for certain that these emissions levels are new or growing.  But as the study makes clear, they are unexpectedly high and the lid is perforated:

They found that more than 80 percent of the deep water and more than 50 percent of surface water had methane levels more than eight times that of normal seawater. In some areas, the saturation levels reached more than 250 times that of background levels in the summer and 1,400 times higher in the winter. They found corresponding results in the air directly above the ocean surface. Methane levels were elevated overall and the seascape was dotted with more than 100 hotspots. This, combined with winter expedition results that found methane gas trapped under and in the sea ice, showed the team that the methane was not only being dissolved in the water, it was bubbling out into the atmosphere.

These findings were further confirmed when Shakhova and her colleagues sampled methane levels at higher elevations. Methane levels throughout the Arctic are usually 8 to 10 percent higher than the global baseline. When they flew over the shelf, they found methane at levels another 5 to 10 percent higher than the already elevated Arctic levels.

So yes, there is the possibility this is a grand coincidence — but  that would not eliminate the fact that the  lid  on these vast methane stores is perforated and emissions are poised to rise  sharply as temperature rises and none of this is in any of the global climate models.  How much is  the business as usual warming now projected for the region?  Try M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F.

The nations of the world should immediately begin emergency methane monitoring across the entire permafrost region — and, of course, aggressive GHG mitigation.  The risk of abrupt climate change is simply too grave to not treat as the most serious preventable problem now facing the human race as a whole.

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180 Responses to Science stunner: Vast East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane stores destabilizing and venting

  1. David B. Benson says:

    My global temperature predictor doesn’t include changes in atmospheric methane.

    This looks to be very serious.

  2. WAG says:

    Wait, so the climate models don’t include these methane feedbacks? Clearly, the models are wrong and therefore global warming is a hoax!

  3. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    Shazzam. Great and thorough post.

  4. Jeff Huggins says:

    This is why we should be boycotting ExxonMobil, calling the media to wake up, pleading with Obama to be MUCH more outspoken on the issue, and not be willing to just sit and blog about it.

    What are we waiting for? Where are the organizations who should be stepping up to the plate and jumping in?

    If we can’t get at least a growing seed of 300 people here, in the next two days, plus statements from organizations, to agree that there should be a major boycott of ExxonMobil at this point, then I don’t know what to say.

    “Pick up the cry!”


  5. OMFG to the power of 10! Runaway train to Venus stuff. Only I would say this tells us 450 ppm is way, way too high. If we are already seeing methane hydrates deterioration, it’s Target 350 ppm for sure. That means shut down the coal burners ASAP, and mobilize the power of photosynthesis by changing all land use practices to soak carbon, farm, forestry and urban. And hope we catch the runaway train before it rolls away.

  6. Man; looks like I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue …

    (And anyone who does not know not only THAT I’m quoting from a movie, but WHAT movie I’m quoting from … )

    This is incredibly unsettling.

    [JR: Do you like gladiator movies?]

  7. Bill Waterhouse says:

    Wondering what happens to the sea level rise, rainfall, and agricultural yield projections when this methane release is plugged into the models.

    Have been surfing the web to see who is and is not covering this story. Not covering yet: Fox News, NBC and CBS. Covering: ABC, NY Times, LA Times, wire services. Should we start a pool on when Fox carries this story?

  8. Lore says:

    Looks like the train has already left the station! This is biblical news of the worst kind. Even if we flat lined CO2 output today, this widening release of methane will go on for centuries.

  9. Richard Brenne says:

    Great post! Joe, you wrote:

    “It is increasingly clear that if the world strays significantly above 450 ppm atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide or any length of time, we will find it unimaginably difficult to stop short of 800 to 1000 ppm.”

    (tiny typo – or should be for)

    In his latest book “The Vanishing Face of Gaia” James Lovelock mentioned CO2 equivalency was currently (as of his writing about a year ago) 430 ppm, measuring methane and nitrous oxide in addition to CO2 currently at around 388 ppm.

    So when you take the statement above are you saying that the methane will convert to 800 to 1000 CO2 ppm or that the equivalency could become 800 to 1000 ppm, with an increasing percentage due to methane?

    Two of the most highly regarded peak oil experts and authors, Richard Heinberg and John Michael Greer, looking through their perspective of fossil fuel depletion don’t see enough fossil fuels left to get us anywhere near 1000 ppm.

    But fossil fuels might be the lighting of the fuse that detonates the powder keg of methane release as well as other positive feedbacks.

    And if from pre-industrial levels we’ve gone from 280 to 388 (or 390, which it was last May meaning it could be 392 this May), that means 110 ppm increase. I’d like to know your and any other highly-educated estimates about what could still be in the pipeline. My off-the-top-of- my head guesses, not counting dandruff:

    Oil – 50 ppm remaining?
    Natural gas – 40 ppm remaining (cleaner, maybe more of it)?
    Coal – 100 ppm remaining (we burned the cleaner half first)?
    Tar sands – 100 ppm remaining?
    Oil shale – 100 ppm remaining?

    Someone might say these figures are absurdly high because we’ve been burning increasingly large quantities of fossil fuels for hundreds of years and only increased 110 CO2 ppm, but “increasingly” is the key word. Sometime within the last three decades we’ve burnt more fossil fuels than humans had ever burnt in all time put together before that, and the rate has only been increasing.

    Of course it’s difficult to imagine our being stupid enough to burn all of that, but does the potential for maybe almost 400 (390) ppm from just fossil fuels exist? Or is it smaller, maybe 200 ppm that could still trigger catastrophic climate change?

    Then if there’s more deforestation that’s how much more CO2 in the atmosphere, both from the burning and less trees to absorb CO2, so what’s that worth, another 100 ppm (especially if there is such fossil fuel depletion that billions use trees to heat and cook where they’d used fossil fuels before)?

    Then the oceans appear unable to absorb CO2 at the previous rate, so the loss of that as a sink is worth what by 2100, another 100 ppm (not exactly added, but by not being absorbed)?

    All this might total up to (and I think my estimates might be up to double too much) 600 ppm of potential without counting the methane positive feedback, which has almost no limit in potential danger, especially when methane clathrates are considered.

    If you, Joe, or anyone else wanted to guestimate what other positive feedbacks could mean to CO2 equivalency, I’d of course love to hear them.

    To do the full-cost accounting we have to consider any potential negative feedbacks as well – anyone care to comment there?

    This is all just preliminary, but Heinberg and Greer are quite scholarly generally, they have highly intelligent audiences and I’d like to help their audiences get up to speed on this.

    Because as they’re now communicating, peak oil and all fossil fuel depletion can be used (with or without their intent) as a kind of psychological mechanism of denial, as geo-engineering often is. (As in, “We’ll just run out of fossil fuels and be fine!” and “We’ll just geo-engineer our way out of the problem and be fine!”)

    Sarah Palin’s “Drill, Baby, Drill!” response to all these questions somehow didn’t seem sufficiently wise or well-informed.

  10. AH1 says:

    The methane CLATHRATES were first observed to be melting and releasing methane into the atmosphere in 2008, and this was not expected for at least another couple of decades, if at all this century. The climate models could be seriously underestimating the potential positive feedbacks. The release was observed again in 2009: (West Spitsbergen and Barents Sea). Here is a journal showing the potential for significant large-scale methane clathrate releases from West Spitsbergen: Here’s another news item from 2010:

    Methane clathrates are a dangerous positive feedback mechanism and have the potential to trigger runaway global warming if something is not done quickly. However, burning from clathrates and permafrost methane (big implications for Siberian forest fires) could release soot, causing localized dimming around around Europe and Russia. Meanwhile, the soot could land on the Arctic ice cap and Greenland, speeding up melting.

  11. Wit's End says:

    Hi Richard, I think you can definitely add in some substantial ppm from loss of forest carbon sinks – Briffa had it nailed in 1998 and the notion has languished in obscurity ever since:

  12. Steve L says:

    Okay, but there was just recently a new paper indicating that feedback CO2 will be lower than previously thought (so that balances this news somewhat). Also, I’d like to see an update of this graph:

    [JR: I’m not very impressed with that paper. Many other papers suggest otherwise — three are discussed here.

    Methane graph to 2008 here.]

  13. Chris says:

    I’m going to hazard a guess that the 72x methane warming equivalent over 20 years vs 25x over 100 years for a given amount of methane is due to methane oxidatively converting to methanol, which then gets washed out? My “chemical intuition” is waking up :)

  14. Leif says:

    It is getting increasingly difficult to keep a sense of humor in the face of all this.

    I predicted a few days ago on the Bastardi post that this was going to be the year that push comes to shove, that Nature was going to assert it’s self in an obvious fashion. Is this the issue?

    Spin that FOX…

  15. David Britt says:


    One of your axioms on this site is that we have a problem, but it’s not too late to solve it. How does this news affect that evaluation? If 385 ppm, by virtue of the this particular feedback, is as bad as we feared something like 1000 ppm might be (which this news would suggest is the case), it throws all of the “wedges” right out the window. Does this make geoengineering more palatable? What is the numerical argument against someone who thinks we’re too far gone already? Given that climate models don’t take this influence into consideration, I must assume there is no such argument at this time. I’m curious as to your opinion.

    [JR: I don’t see how one can say it’s too late, only that it is very, very hard; needs a WWII-style and WWII-scale effort; and the do-nothing and do-little crowds are better funded and currently in favor with the status quo media!]

  16. prokaryote says:

    Some links

    The Threat of Methane Release from Permafrost and Clathrates
    How important is hydroxyl depletion?

    Positive feedbacks

    Most of this is the result of positive feedbacks (see illustration) from lost ocean ice, says David Lawrence of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. His modelling studies show that during periods of rapid sea-ice loss, warming extends some 1500 kilometres inland from the ice itself. “If sea-ice continues to contract rapidly over the next several years, Arctic land warming and permafrost thaw are likely to accelerate,” he says.

    Changes in wind patterns may accelerate the warming even further. “Loss of summer sea ice means more heat is absorbed in the ocean, which is given back to the atmosphere in early winter, which changes the wind patterns, which favours additional sea ice loss,” says James Overland, an oceanographer at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. “The potential big deal is that we now may be having a positive feedback between atmospheric wind patterns and continued loss of sea ice.”

    Incidentally, the changing winds might also be to blame for some of the cold and snowy weather in North America and China in recent winters, Overland says. Unusual poleward flows of warm air over Siberia have displaced cold air southwards on either side.

    Terrestrial ecosystem carbon dynamics and climate feedbacks

    Arctic methane release

    Clathrate gun hypothesis

  17. Hmpf says:

    I’d be enormously relieved if someone who knows climate science could reassure me that the ‘runaway train to Venus’ scenario, to borrow a phrase from Patrick Mazza @ #5, is extremely unlikely.

    Anyone? Please?

    (I am, perhaps somewhat foolishly, rather invested in the idea of the continued existence of sentient life on this planet.)

    [JR: It has been considered unlikely (and to Venus, very, very unlikely), but in the paleoclimate record, it appears to have happened. See the update.]

  18. Lou Grinzo says:

    First, let me add my own Yowza! reaction to this. I mentioned this on my site earlier, but will add an update to Joe’s post.

    Second, this seems as good a time and place as any to mention something I spotted in a paper sometime back. The authors did an analysis of what happens when you get not just a big pulse of methane, as in a single-year release, but ongoing releases every year (as in outgassing from melting permafrost). Essentially they did a big exercise in summing the yearly effects–the methane from year T1 has a huge impact in T2 and then starts to decline, but in year T3 you have the still high impact from the T1 release plus the higher impact from the T2 release, and so on. They concluded that because of these periodic releases you get a much higher impact from methane. I think it was over 100x, but that’s a guess based on memory.

    I’m pretty sure I have the paper squirreled away on an external HD that’s not easily accessible right now; I will look for it when I can and post about it on my own site and in a comment here.

    I don’t know how to interpret their analysis, frankly. It sounds so obvious that I have a hard time believing that no one else seems to be talking about it, unless, that is, they’re simply wrong and the effects don’t compound as they said.

  19. Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Hey Joe, that’s a press release from the U of Alaska at Fairbanks not NSF, isn’t it?

    [JR: NSF. I fixed the link. UA’s release appears to be very similar (but no figure).]

  20. prokaryote says:

    The result of bubbling methane through the ocean is to deplete the oxygen dissolved in the water, leading to ocean anoxia.

    The consequences of a methane-driven oceanic eruption for marine and terrestrial life are likely to be catastrophic. Figuratively speaking, the erupting region “boils over,” ejecting a large amount of methane and other gases (e.g., CO2, H2S) into the atmosphere, and flooding large areas of land. Whereas pure methane is lighter than air, methane loaded with water droplets is much heavier, and thus spreads over the land, mixing with air in the process (and losing water as rain). The air-methane mixture is explosive at methane concentrations between 5% and 15%; as such mixtures form in different locations near the ground and are ignited by lightning, explosions and conflagrations destroy most of the terrestrial life, and also produce great amounts of smoke and of carbon dioxide. Firestorms carry smoke and dust into the upper atmosphere, where they may remain for several years; the resulting darkness and global cooling may provide an additional kill mechanism. Conversely, carbon dioxide and the remaining methane create the greenhouse effect, which may lead to global warming. The outcome of the competition between the cooling and the warming tendencies is difficult to predict.

  21. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    It is very good to see the fact published here that there is no credible scenario for constraining global temperature if it is once pushed past a 2.0C ceiling. Far too many supposedly coherent politicians and media appear to regard 2.0C as an aspirational visional destination – i.e. one we can expect to be breached a bit. In that this attitude appears more responsive than the outright denialism, it is that much more seductively irresponsible.

    Moreover, there is a standard nonsense that needs similar debunking about ‘stabilizing’ GHG concentrations at various numbers – as opposed to peaking and then reducing them. – It is patently nonsense and has been patent nonsense for the last 25 years of its usage, given that the period that a given degree of (pollution-based) warming is maintained defines the rate of acceleration of multiple mutually iterative positive feedbacks.

    Thus it seems we have no choice but
    1/. to recover airborne carbon by the gigatonne, with the goal of restoring the pre-industrial atmospheric CO2e concentration ASAP to decelerate and then disable the feedbacks;
    2/. while also ending anthro-GHG outputs’ to halt their increase of airborne GHG volumes;
    3/. while also engaging in artificial albido restoration as a firebreak to halt the feedbacks’ acceleration, if one or more reliably benign techniques for doing so can be identified.

    Given that two of these three actions can be classed as geo-engineering, and that there is much opposition to the mis-application of the same, it is surely time that the debate addressed the issues of what authorities should be tasked for what specific purpose with the application of which chosen techniques, and after what period of field-trials’ research ?

    In short, the news from off Siberia is unequivocal: even with the required US GHG cut of 40% by 2020 off 1990, global GHG cuts cannot be shown to reliably control the problem. [Note, that 40% is more than ten times what the US has offered at the UN]. Thus we have to address the issue of geo-engineering as an essential component of credible strategy.

    Just my two-pennerth.



  22. Lore says:

    #16 Hmpf:

    I’m not the expert, but from my understanding, it’s not likely that our planet will go Venusian. On the other hand what does it matter, we only have to exceed livable conditions.

  23. Wit's End says:

    Perhaps, Joe should rethink his file and label this post under humor??

    What is left but the cataloging of the denouement?

  24. PeterW says:

    Hmpf says: I’d be enormously relieved if someone who knows climate science could reassure me that the ‘runaway train to Venus’ scenario, to borrow a phrase from Patrick Mazza @ #5, is extremely unlikely.

    Hmpf there is no similarity between Venus’s atmosphere of 96% CO2, and the 800ppm to 1000ppm CO2 atmospheric concentration on Earth that Joe is talking about. But I wouldn’t be reassured by this. As I understand it most life would disappear on Earth if the planet reached these ranges.

  25. Lou Grinzo says:

    Found it! (The paper I mentioned above.)

    As I said, I don’t know how to interpret this. My hunch is that it’s either a Very Big Deal, or a Complete Miss.

    Someone PLEASE tell me it’s the latter.

  26. Robert Brulle says:

    Great post. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about what this really means. We either act rapidly or crazy geoengineering schemes are about all we will have left.

  27. Craig says:

    Wit’s End,
    Thanks for posting that Yahoo link to the Reuters article.

    I’m wondering if anyone would care to comment on this quote from the article.

    “It’s good that these emissions are documented. But you cannot say they’re increasing,” Martin Heimann, an expert at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Germany who wrote a separate article on methane in Science, told Reuters.

    “These leaks could have been occurring all the time” since the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago, he said.

    How valid is Heinmann’s assertion?

  28. Wit's End says:

    And Robert, guaranteed, the crazy geoengineering schemes will

    a) not work and
    b) have nasty unintended consequences of their own.

  29. prokaryote says:

    Robert geoengineering does not have to be crazy

  30. Jeff Huggins says:

    What Motivates

    In the January-February (2010) issue of The Harvard Business Review — featuring “Breakthrough Ideas for 2010” — there is a very interesting article, listed as Number 1 in the list, titled “What Really Motivates Workers”, by Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer.

    In essence, the article is about some considerable research that shows that what motivates and energizes workers the most is the actual feeling that real progress is being made. Here, I’m not talking about the external rewards … bonus and compensation and so forth. Instead, I’m talking about the motivating and energizing feeling that progress (in the actual task at hand) brings.

    Why do I mention that here? Because …

    Not only are the stakes (with the climate) big and growing, but also … people who are working to address the problem and make progress will only be able to keep motivated and energized, and effective, if and as progress is actually being made. We are all (only) human. We need to find better ways to actually make real progress. Not enough progress, and more and more bad news, is NOT a recipe for ultimate success.

    The methane is down there, apparently seeping up, AND (if we aren’t careful) people in the cause will begin to burn out. The time frame for making progress is NOT “forever” or “whenever”. We need to make progress now.


  31. Hmpf says:

    Yeah, I know that it gets dangerous/impossible for life on Earth long before an exact replication of Venusian conditions, but I somehow find that particular prospect particularly terrifying. Not that the more likely prognoses are that much more reassuring… *sigh*

    I so wish that we lived in a world where it seemed sensible to more than a tiny minority to do everything we can to minimize existential risk as much as possible…

    Anyway: thanks for the (doubtful ;-)) reassurance, all.

  32. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    Maybe a silly question, but can you have permafrost on the seafloor under the ocean? I have a vague recollection of a discussion saying it wasn’t called permafrost (can’t remember the details but dealt with the pressure aspect of the water keeping things contained). ??

  33. Wit's End says:

    Wouldn’t you think, at the very least, we could prolong our demise by just doing a few simple things like, not idling our cars, or burning fossil fuels for pure recreation?

    I guess, that is an impossible request, because it requires recognizing that there are limits.

    And we are a predatory species.

  34. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Robert at 27.

    Are all geoengineering schemes crazy in your view,
    or do you mean that we are somehow denied the use of sane ones ?

    For instance, have you seen any tree planting recently,
    or read of the multiple yields of Biochar ?

    As for “acting rapidly” which I take as meaning rapid GHG output cuts,
    before this news came from Siberia the goal agreed at the G8 of a 50% cut in GHG outputs by 2050 was expected to give a less-than-even chance of staying below 2.0C.
    (A 46% chance according to UK Met Office).

    The outcome of Copenhagen is that we’re nowhere near on track even for that very dubious goal.

    Geoengineering thus needs discussion – not knee jerk dismissal – if we are to see it used rationally as the only viable instrument against the feedbacks, rather than being used as a panic measure for corporations to claim to have ‘offset’ their pollution.



  35. Craig says:

    So this study shows that the rate of methane release is higher than what was expected. But I’m not clear as to whether or not there is any historical record for this phenomena. My current impression is that this was the first study of this kind, which makes it a harder to put the results into context. Quoting a Reuters report:

    “OSLO (Reuters) – Large amounts of a powerful greenhouse gas are bubbling up from a long-frozen seabed north of Siberia, raising fears of far bigger leaks that could stoke global warming, scientists said.

    It was unclear, however, if the Arctic emissions of methane gas were new or had been going on unnoticed for centuries — since before the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century led to wide use of fossil fuels that are blamed for climate change.”

    That seems like a qualifier worth noting.

  36. prokaryote says:

    However, much of the methane released from permafrost may remain in the atmosphere longer, due to OH depletion. The more methane there is to be oxidized, the more chance there is of OH depletion, and the longer it will take for methane to oxidize. A study by Drew Shindell, accompanied by the NASA image below, concludes that chemical interactions between emissions cause more global warming than previously estimated by the IPCC.

    Over a long period, methane’s impact looks less threatening, but over a short period from its release, methane’s impact will be dramatic. In the first five years after its release, methane will have an impact more than 100 times as potent as a greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide.

    In the absence of OH to oxidize methane, much methane could persist locally with its full GWP for years, causing a dramatic greenhouse effect and thus warming locally. This and all the above-mentioned feedback mechanisms can dramatically amplify local warming in the Arctic, causing large-scale thawing and melting over a period of years, rather than centuries. Arctic amplification is largely overlooked by the IPCC which uses a period of a century to calculate methane’s impact.

  37. Harrier says:

    I know there have been several mechanical systems in development that can suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Are there any plans to develop similar mechanisms for methane?

  38. richard pauli says:

    The climatological car-crash has begun; some saw it coming, some see it now, and others see clearly how it will continue. So many have no clue yet what is happening. But the very first thing we must do is take our foot off the gas pedal and move it to the brake.

  39. From Peru says:


    And as 50% of warming is masked by aerosols, we could expect that forcing will DOUBLE even if we stop emissions today…

    Probably the point of no return was passed decades ago when we hit 350 ppm CO2.

    Too late for Arctic sea ice, too late for the Antarctic Peninsula, but…
    … we are still in time to save Amazon Rainforest and Greenland + Western Antartica Ice Sheets!

  40. Steve Bloom says:

    Joe, Shakhova has a few other interesting things to say in the Science podcast.

  41. Lore says:


    I believe the scientists are giving a measured and cautious opinion on this finding, as usual, the IPCC reports for example. Then again it doesn’t take much of a detective to suspect this as one of the reasons for the recent spike in methane levels in the Northern latitudes. As well as methane levels in the Arctic being greater then they have been for over 400,000 years.

  42. sHx says:

    ‘Tis Time to wear paper bags over our heads, methinks.

  43. sHx: Do you think that will that help?

    Still, this article reminds me of another chilling line from Hitchhikers Guide to the galaxy…

    “Last call, gentlemen.”

    (Could be worse, There could be a Vogon construction fleet in orbit to destroy the Earth for a hyperspace bypass. Or worse yet… read us their poetry.)

  44. Mosley says:

    This is a great informative site. Really it’s great. Only I would say this tells us 450 ppm is way, way too high. If we are already seeing methane hydrates deterioration, it’s Target 350 ppm for sure. That means shut down the coal burners ASAP, and mobilize the power of photosynthesis by changing all land use practices to soak carbon, farm, forestry and urban.

  45. wag says:

    Even the Wall St Journal is picking this story up:

    Also, the Financial Times reports on a review by the Met Office that concludes that the evidence for global warming is stronger than the IPCC had originally concluded.

    Pile on

  46. evnow says:

    I posted this in TOD – but should post it here as well.

    Read “Under a green sky : global warming, the mass extinctions of the past, and what they can tell us about our future by Peter D. Ward”. It is all about extinction events – particularly Permian caused by such methane release.

    “In Under a Green Sky, Ward explains how the Permian extinction as well as four others happened, and describes the freakish oceans—belching poisonous gas—and sky—slightly green and always hazy—that would have attended them. Those ancient upheavals demonstrate that the threat of climate change cannot be ignored, lest the world’s life today—ourselves included—face the same dire fate that has overwhelmed our planet several times before.”

    We are cooked.

    Really. Humans are just too dumb to act on long term threats. Thats why you see people who care about short term profits rather than long term problems (big oil, republicans, democrats etc).

  47. Leif says:

    This report is a bit more conservative. It notes no long term data base to confirm increase or not. Does not do much for me however.

  48. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Evnow –
    “Really. Humans are just too dumb to act on long term threats.”

    Fortunately you are mistaken. What you take to be humanity are in fact Americans,
    a special class of humans who’ve suffered the most awful conditioning to both nationalism (via daily school rituals) and materialist consumerism (via unequalled average time spent attending commercially oriented “televisions”).

    Other nations have not been so badly afflicted with either ailment. The UK for instance has made law an annual 3% cut of GHG output, showing serious effort to address a long term issue – despite US footdragging.

    For Americans to blame their inaction on human nature seems like just another layer of self indulgence.



  49. mike roddy says:

    I’ve been following the feedback predictions for a while. Scientist friends told me several years ago that we desperately needed to wake up about all kinds of biological feedbacks, including albedo, as you pointed out, Joe. That’s why this subject has become my obsession, and maybe this news will finally bring enough other people to do whatever they can, too.

    Wit’s End, you’re right: an early order of business has to be restoring terrestrial sinks. I’m presenting a paper on this subject to an international steel conference this summer, and will try to persuade them to go on an emergency footing via product substitution. Destroying and even degrading remaining primary forests is now more insane than ever. This is especially true in North America, and we need to stop blaming Brazilian peasants all the time. We use about 23% of the entire globe’s wood products. That’s another word for deforestation.

    Then, world leaders have to cancel coal plant construction, grant no new permits for natural gas plants, and retire all existing plants within 3 years, worldwide.

    A persuasive and respected Senator (Kerry? Stabenow?) needs to take Republican colleagues aside, even if it has to be in private, in a bar, and carefully yet forcefully explain how the real real world works. One at a time, if necessary. Graham, bless his heart, has provided cover.

    Humor? The dinosaurs are laughing their asses off. Their gooey remains have caused the extinction of a genus of mammals that considered THEM to be stupid.

  50. James Newberry says:

    No. 41: We already have paper bags over our heads. They are called “The Economy Bags.” Soon they will need to be waterproof, like the plastic petro-bags blowing around trash dumps.

    Price of petro fuels $2 or $3 dollars per whatever. Cost of petrofuels, ten times as much during the last century. For today’s fossil fools, priceless.

    We have an economy with too much gas, and which is underwater at present and soon to be. Where is my nuclear bailout bucket? Let’s have some more corn fuel. We’ll all be starving, but fired up.

  51. prokaryote says:

    There is one rule here

    Rule 1
    Adapt or Die.

    US should go 100% renewable asap, and put all effords on removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Actions to counter this, are consdiered a threat to national security and those people belong into prison.

  52. “We are cooked”?

    It is unclear to me why the mere hopelessness of our situation should or could ever be permitted to matter by anyone who aspires to being a human being.

    The picture that always comes first to my mind is from the movie The American President (produced by the same folks who went on to make the TV Series The West Wing). The ongoing secondary story turns upon the debate between the positions that say, on the one hand, “You fight the fights that you can win,” vs. on the other, “You fight the fights that need fighting.”

    OK, the above news is grim. But that’s too namby-pamby. Rather, let’s take it all the way and declare without qualification that WE ARE DOOMED!!

    So what?

    If that is the excuse that one will use to stop fighting — to stop fighting the fights that need fighting — then that person wasn’t in it to begin with.

    We define ourselves by what we attempt, not by what is handed to us wrapped up in a neat little bow.

    For myself, I suppose it is the German in me: Gotterdamerung is just a party, and we’re all invited. But as long as I live, I will live as a human being.

  53. evnow says:


    UK is just good at exporting emissions.

    Unless the humanity recognizes that limitless exponential growth is not sustainable on a finite planet we can’t get to 350 ppm.

  54. Bill Waterhouse says:

    #45 – wag – yes the WSJ picked up the story but most of the comments in response on the WSJ blog are denialist looney tunes.

  55. paulm says:

    With this they may just pass the climate bill in the states.
    This is pretty scary stuff. But really we knew it was coming.

    From the crazy off the edge graphs of arctic sea ice in 2007 the game was pretty much up. Now with the permafrost melt in the graph above falling off the edge also it just confirms this.

    Gentlemen/women we have tipped.

    There is a reason why Hansen suddenly switched from 450 to 350 with frantic ado. I think most people in the know knew Lovelock was right, but it is difficult to accept that scenario.

    I guess we now have to face up to the reality of the devastation that awaits and start to put in place plans to protect humanity and our culture the best way we can. I real hope that there is the realization now that we need to plan and construct an ‘ark’.

    Thanks for that vivid description #21.

    It has already been pretty depressing before this news, with all the massive earthquakes recently. Got to keep moving forward though.

    Keep up the good work Joe.

  56. Heraclitus says:

    Another stomach lurch, but the real “the horror, the horror” moment will come with the predictable claims of alarmism from the usual suspects and the shrugging off of this by the vast majority, who will carry on living their everyday lives.

    It’s the waiting I can’t stand. It’ll be too late, but at least when people start waking up it’ll be possible to make a fight of it. All we can do is keep shaking them.

  57. sHx says:

    “Humor? The dinosaurs are laughing their asses off. Their gooey remains have caused the extinction of a genus of mammals that considered THEM to be stupid.”

    Actually, dinasaurs were stupid. Although they managed to survive for 150 million years, they did not build a single rocket engine.

  58. Raleigh L says:

    News like this hits me like a punch to the gut, will Canada still have a livable climate in 4 decades time?

  59. isosceles says:


    I suggest we boycott Chevron’s products too.

    Aren’t you a product of Chevron ?

  60. VERY CONCERNED says:

    Maybe the mayans are right? Very scary. Could anyone pleas explain to me what should be expected to happen?

  61. George Crate says:

    I live in a small town in VA. we are very poor. the only jobs in this area are coal mines. as saying the mines should be shut down what will we do? we live hard rough lives.

  62. Andrew Mulkey says:

    I appreciate the potential of the release of methane in permafrost and sub-sea permafrost to greatly exacerbate climate change, but how much potential methane is stored in these particular East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) deposits?
    Is this particular perforation of sub-sea permafrost and release in-and-of-itself a potentially catastrophic event?

    In general I’m having difficulty reconciling the strongly worded statements from NSF with the more conservative outlook presented in the description of Shakova et al. in the Science Prospective.

    In the NSF press release is Shakhova is quoted, “The release to the atmosphere of only one percent of the methane assumed to be stored in shallow hydrate deposits might alter the current atmospheric burden of methane up to 3 to 4 times. […] The climatic consequences of this are hard to predict.” I assume she’s talking about total hydrate deposits, the potential release that’s contingent upon the discovery or spread of the trend seen in the ESAS in other areas of sub-sea permafrost. Never-the-less, this sounds potentially grim.

    On the other hand, the Perspective in Science written by Heimann which summarizes Shakhova et al. appears conservative in its characterization of the importance of this finding and describes the Siberian Arctic Ocean methane release as negligible relative to the overall global methane emissions (around 440 Tg C of methane per year).

    Overall, Heinman’s description seems mixed, but it leaves me with the impression that methane is not a potentially catastrophic contributer to the overall climate trend, “Current modeling studies indicate that the climate-methane feedback from wetlands and permafrost will not be catastrophic but that there will be sustained methane leakages from wetlands and permafrost areas in coming decades…” He continues, saying that this is basically a trend to keep an eye on.

    I understand permafrost to be a heavy hitter in terms of warming potential, not only because of the the fact that its methane, and the fact that there’s loads of it sequestered, but also because of its potential for positive feed-backs–once the train leaves the station it’s gone. But why is there this disparity between the two assessments of Shakhova et al.’s findings, in NSF and the Science Prospective? Is Heimann’s use of the word “catastrophic” something technical in meaning that I’m missing?

  63. prokaryote says:

    59, “what will we do?”

    1 example.

    Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a greenhouse gas mitigation technology which produces negative carbon emissions by combining biomass use with carbon capture and storage.[1] It was pointed out in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a key technology for reaching low carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration targets.[2] The negative emissions that can be produced by BECCS has been estimated by the Royal Society to be equivalent to a 50 to 150 ppm decrease in global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.[3]

    The concept of BECCS is drawn from the integration of biomass processing industries or biomass fuelled power plants with carbon capture and storage. BECCS is a form of bio-energy with carbon storage(BECS). BECS also includes other technologies such as biochar and biomass burial.

  64. James O'Neill says:

    Guys (and gals) relax!

    We breath out carbon dioxide and cows fart methane so it must be safe in any context!!

    Also, there were some questionable emails sent between a few scientists so that disproves all of this.

    I’m voting for 666ppm stabalization because that will make Satan happy.

  65. James O'Neill says:

    I almost forgot….

    We are also Global Cooling. Sean Hannity said so with a big smug grin on his face. I didn’t realize Global Cooling would be something to get excited about (an Ice Age???) but if Sean believes it then we are safe. He is a great logician.

  66. Richard Brenne says:

    Am I the only one that made it all the way through Jim Hansen’s book?

    Jim knew more about the climate of Venus than anyone, then applied that knowledge to Earth’s atmosphere and became the scientist who knows more about that than anyone (in my opinion and according to an ongoing but informal poll I’ve taken of dozens of top climate scientists) and here is what he says in his recently released “Storms of My Grandchildren”:

    (Spoiler alert! The ending is just that!)

    Hansen writes at the bottom of page 236: “. . .if we burn all reserves of oil, gas and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty.”

    Hansen points out that the fossil fuel warming could be like the atomic bomb that then implodes the hydrogen bomb (okay, the bomb thing is my metaphor in paraphrasing him) of the release of methane from hydrates as warmed Earth during the Paleocene Eocene thermal maximum centered around 55 million years ago when there was no ice on Earth and thus sea levels were 250 feet higher and curling was even more pointless.

    Just as I’ve always looked to Lawrence as the ultimate authority on methane release, I think Hansen’s the guy for the big picture like Oppenheimer was at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. This is all in his Chapter 10, titled “The Venus Project.” All this is more optimistic than Hansen’s story “In the Year 2525” that begins on page 260 of Chapter 11, which is what he’s saying our species could be declaring.

  67. fj2 says:

    Climate Fires and Birds: How is the Tundra Changing?
    Kim Martineau

    “This area has seen 26 fires since 1950-nearly a third of them in the last three years.”

  68. fj2 says:

    61. Richard Brenne,

    “. . . if we burn all reserves of oil, gas and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse.”

    Reaching this stage is way after runaway greenhouse has started. Kind of suspect this quote is out of context.

    We are likely in runaway greenhouse mode already.

  69. PSU Grad says:

    I asked this before, but that post seems to have disappeared. Can someone give me some perspective on this? Yes, we can joke about cows farting, but that’s likely to be a denialist claim (“look at all the methane released from cows farting, this is no big deal”).

    What are we talking about in relationship to the methane already being released (by cows or otherwise)? I apologize if I missed it in the post, but want to slap down these arguments should they arise.

    I told my wife about this last night. She has more chemistry background than I can ever hope to have. She gave a one word expletive, something that comes out of the same cow orifice as farting.

    And since I need some humor right now, in response to post #6:

    “Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up the court for 48 minutes!!”

  70. Ben Lieberman says:

    As noted, a key question is the rate of increase, but it seems quite predictable that the Times in an article with contributions from Revkin stresses over and over again that this may not be a problem to be worried about now.

  71. Lore says:

    “Times in an article with contributions from Revkin stresses over and over again that this may not be a problem to be worried about now.”

    Well that’s good news, lets just go back to business as usual and like CO2 emissions we can worry about it when it’s too late. I get a little tired of Revkin suggesting that we all go back to sleep and he’ll wake you when and if there is something to be concerned with.

  72. J Bowers says:

    # 45 Mosley says: “This is a great informative site. Really it’s great. Only I would say this tells us 450 ppm is way, way too high. If we are already seeing methane hydrates deterioration, it’s Target 350 ppm for sure.”

    I’ve been posting these very recent papers elsewhere on CO2 ppm and paleoclimate. It would be an understatement to say that they are alarming if robust, and I’ve yet to see them debunked.

    Palaeoclimate: Global warmth with little extra CO2. Schneider & Schneider (January 2010)

    Atmospheric CO2 concentrations during ancient greenhouse climates were similar to those predicted for A.D. 2100. Breecker et al (October 2009)

    Coupling of CO2 and Ice Sheet Stability Over Major Climate Transitions of the Last 20 Million Years. Tripati et al (December 2009)

    Earth system sensitivity inferred from Pliocene modelling and data. Lunt et al (December 2009)

    High Earth-system climate sensitivity determined from Pliocene carbon dioxide concentrations. Pagani et al (December 2009)

  73. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Tell me again how my outlook is too pessimistic.

  74. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Jeff Huggins – boycotting the worst of the oil companies is certainly necessary, and needs formal organization to optimize its effect. Yet I guess we’d agree that such action is almost miniscule within the overall scale of the global task.

    And that task has just increased with the news from Siberia,
    in that there now appears to be no prospect of cutting GHG output swiftly enough
    (i.e. industrialized nations cutting by even more than 40% by 2020 off 1990)
    for the planet’s carbon sinks to then draw down enough airborne carbon
    (allowing for the 35-year ocean heat-sink time lag)
    to decelerate the advancing feedbacks before their outputs swamp the carbon sinks,
    which would be the material definition of the runaway greenhouse effect.

    Short of a crash program of geo-engineering plus a radical GHG outputs’ termination program, it seems that we are already committed to the runaway greenhouse.
    And this information will become increasingly widely available, potentially impacting peoples’ morale.

    All of which focusses on your accurate observation that most people need a sense of progress in a task to be motivated in its fulfillment – they have to feel that the means applied are commensurate with the scale of the task they face. In this context, beside raising a boycott, I wonder where you stand on the advancement of efforts at geoengineering ?



  75. Lou Grinzo says:

    A few more thoughts on this…

    It’s true that we don’t know for sure the history of these releases in Siberia. But we do know from simple logic that a warmer environment will mean more melting and greater releases, and we also know that it’s getting warmer up there quicker than the planet overall. As desperately as I want to hear that this is much ado about nothing, it currently seems like pretty long odds we’ll get a happy ending. The key, of course, is that we should not be guessing about such critical matters. This is why I’ve been advocating for a long time for much greater funding of basic Earth science, particularly regarding permafrost and ice dynamics.

    I think it’s obvious that one of the major contributors to the twitchiness of the climate is simple geography. Look at a map–there’s all this land near the North Pole, exactly where it would have to be to grow and amass large amounts of biological material (i.e. carbon) during warm periods. That carbon is stored when enough of it is pulled from the atmosphere to cool the planet and freeze the northern regions. This sets the stage for a quick warming later when something–orbital perturbations, GHG emissions from naked apes, whatever–pushes the temperature up just enough to trigger the melting of that permafrost and a release of the carbon as CO2 and methane. Consider how twitchy the planet would be if there were large continents just the distance from the South Pole, as well(!).

  76. Jeff Huggins says:

    Dear “isosceles” (Comment 61) and Lewis (Comment 76),

    isosceles, I’m fine boycotting Chevron’s products too, and Shell’s, and etc. We need to get ourselves off of the oil habit as much as possible. But, for many people, the timing of that transition will depend on when they can get a hybrid vehicle, or when we can all go electric, or (in the nearer term) when people can get more and more fuel efficient vehicles and try to drive less. So, during the transition, people will still need some gasoline, hopefully in reducing amounts. I won’t go into all the facts here, but if people need to occasionally buy gasoline from someone, they should choose an independent or, instead, a company that is doing the best job and trying to fool the public least. That company is NOT ExxonMobil. So, my suggestion is to definitely boycott ExxonMobil, and then (if you like) to also boycott any or all of the others.

    No, I’m not a “product of Chevron”. I worked there for about three years, long long ago, before I went to business school and then went on to do other things. When I was at Chevron, I had no idea about global warming, which says “something”, because it seems to mean that people in the industry — the leaders and etc. — must have just not wanted to raise the subject. I worked there for three years and had no idea. That was after some of the early news coverage had already started, off and on. I also had offers from Exxon and Shell at the time. But, I’m not a “product’ of Chevron. (That said, if you like the idea, you can boycott me if you like.)

    In any case, isosceles, your comment seems to suggest that you agree with the wisdom of boycotting ExxonMobil, and perhaps others in addition to ExxonMobil. Is that the case? Are you stating that you are “in” and supportive of a boycott of ExxonMobil, honestly? Or, were you merely joking to try to make a funny point related to Chevron and my background? Please let us know.

    Lewis (Comment 76), thanks for your comment. Yes, I think a boycott of ExxonMobil is a good choice and indeed necessary, in my view. And yes, the overall global warming problem is huge and is much larger than ExxonMobil itself. But, in important senses, I don’t think that a boycott of ExxonMobil would be “miniscule” in light of the overall problem. Indeed, a key factor in whether we can address the overall problem is whether we can take responsible action, including responsible economic action. Can people — citizens — actually do more than write e-mails, pick up a phone now and then to call a Senator, and show up once a year at an annual event? THAT’s the question. If we can’t, we may as well forget it. But, if we can show that we care enough to stop buying Company X’s products, and to get a large number of other people to do the same, and then to stop buying Company Z’s products, and to stop watching any of the programs run on any NewsCorp media outlet, then the companies (and other companies) will start taking note. So, our ability to take action with respect to ExxonMobil will have a great deal of meaning, and implications, beyond trying to influence ExxonMobil itself. So, in that sense, I don’t think it’s a miniscule action. Indeed, I think it is THE place to start.

    Thanks for your messages, you two. Happy Friday, and Be Well,


  77. mike roddy says:

    Ben and Lore,

    I pestered Revkin about biological feedbacks for a long time on Dot Earth. He either ignored me or would say something like “There’s a lot of uncertainty on this topic”, “We really don’t know enough about clathrates, and some data indicates it’s not a major issue”, etc.

    Since I know scientists, and have read some of the literature myself, this was my first clue about the man. You should see the Dot Earth comment section now (most of the credible commenters have fled). It’s a denialathon, filled with bad grammar and worse reasoning.

    I have no idea if this is because he believes it or the orders come from upstairs, from the Sulzbergers. I don’t know which is worse, actually.

  78. prokaryote says:

    Nightfall (Isaac Asimov), describes civilization breakdown.
    Nemesis (Isaac Asimov), descibes a scenario when humans are forced to settle in space, because the weather on earth went havoc.
    Our Angry Earth (Isaac Asimov), describes in detail the collapse of our environment.
    He even talked about the permafrost but could not know how fast we approach this stage.

    Those are not comparable scenarios, but offer a glimpse of what we face now with climate refugees and further accelerating of climate changes.

    Better let’s start NOW to act and prevent the worst.

  79. Mike#22 says:

    I also was going to point out Hansen’s Venus Earth writings. I think the nascent concern over this scenario will only grow in the coming years.

    Over the past ten years, things just keep getting scarrier and scarrier. The Grand Climate Experiment we are running right now could actually end up a scorched mess. The Experiment:

    Before you start the experiment, arrange to have vast quanitities of CO2 and CH4 sequestered in such a way that a sudden temperature rise will start a fast feedback that will release the CO2 and CH4. Also, wait until the sun has increased in brightness to unprecedented levels as it moves along the main sequence. The increased solar radiation will help the reastion. Ready?

    First, scour the globe looking for all the reduced carbon that has been stored over the past billions of years. Dig it up, pump it up, strip mine it, whatever, but get as much as possible back into the atmosphere as CO2 in a geological instant,

    Two, make a lot of trash and bury it in landfills to create a reliable steady source of methane,

    Three, arrange for 1.3 billion cattle for more methane,

    Four, cut down or burn most of the world’s forests to release the stored carbon as CO2 into the atmosphere,

    Five, make sure that when your are burning fossil fuels or biomass to make CO2, you also release a good amount of NO2 and black carbon,

    Six, make as much fertilizer as possible and apply it in such a way that a lot ends up as NO2 gas,

    Seven, build a lot of roads and buildings that have a low albedo–this traps more incoming solar radiation,

    Eight, release a gaggle of long lived industrial chemicals into the atmosphere that among other things do a really good job at absorbing IR. Be creative,

    Nine, fill the atmosphere with contrails and SO4. This will slow a lot of the early warming process enough so that humans won’t get too alarmed and cancel the esperiment,

    Ten, retreat to the nearest safe planet.

  80. Robert Brulle says:

    First, a clarification. I didn’t intend to characterize biochar as wacky. But the other schemes, such as “mirrors in space” are wacky.

    This is an interesting debate about whether we should just “wait and see” about this. An analogy to this situation is we see a small brush fire next to a large dried out forest. Do we have a forest fire yet? Well, we don’t know what is on the other side of the ridge. So perhaps. Do we wait and see if the brush fire expands into a forest fire? No. We go and put out the fire while we still can. This should set off some alarms.

  81. Harrier says:

    I think we’re past using ‘natural’ means of carbon storage and removal. It’s time to start constructing vast artificial means of taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and to find a way to do the same thing for methane. We no longer have the time to coax nature along.

  82. Bill Waterhouse says:

    re #65 – Andrew – listen to the Shakhova interview Joe has posted and tell us if you’re still so sanguine. I understood her to say they hadn’t measured all the releases and had much more to publish once they ran their data.

  83. Jeff Huggins says:

    The Relationship Between Uncertainty and Responsible Action

    Noting Robert’s point (Comment 83), I’d like to mention that I am hoping (fingers crossed) that Joe will choose to run a short and (I think) helpful guest post I submitted illustrating one central aspect of the relationship between uncertainty and responsible action.

    Joe, did you get that, and did you like it?



  84. David Smith says:

    Does any of this impact oxygen levels in the atmosphere? Is this something we need to be worrying about?

  85. mark says:

    “evnow says:
    March 5, 2010 at 12:06 am
    I posted this in TOD – but should post it here as well.

    Read “Under a green sky : global warming, the mass extinctions of the past, and what they can tell us about our future by Peter D. Ward”. It is all about extinction events – particularly Permian caused by such methane release.”

    Re: Dr. Peter Ward:

    Last night, on CBC television,

    “The Nature of Things with David Suzuki” yesterday’s program, Dr. Peter Ward was the main guest, explaining this very clearly.

    A world dominated by microbes, is what he described.

    He said that he is very frightened.

    I think it may be podcast at CBC.Ca.

    It was very interesting.

  86. Hmpf says:

    Everybody who mentioned Peter Ward’s scenario: thanks for reminding me of the *other* scenario that scares the s**t out of me. :-(

    (Anybody know the odds on *that* one?)

    Really, I’m rather strongly attached to “civilisation” as it exists now – for all the bad it has done, there’s also so much good about it that would be worth preserving… Not to mention the current level of biodiversity, which would also be eminently worth preserving. Yet all that already seems almost impossible, so I’d almost be willing to settle for a type of hope that merely includes the continued existence of some sentient life and *some* other forms of life on this planet. Although that is a depressing kind of hope.

    … Where’s the effective, radical, world-changing movement I can join?

  87. john atcheson says:

    In an article in the Baltimore Sun ( years ago, I urged the modeling community to do one simple thing: model the effect of massive releases of methane from clathrates and permafrost.

    I contacted Scripps and others, noting we didn’t need to be definitive, we didn’t need to say it was inevitable, but we did need to bracket the range of possible outcomes — The response from my Scripps contact was, “It could be bad, but I’m not a methane guy.” It was typical.

    The debate we should be having in the media is not whether climate change is real, but whether it is — to quote a Harvard Lampoon cover from decades ago, “A Threat or a Menace.”

    But with a few exceptions, reluctant and super-cautious scientists have been too afraid to talk about the potential risks, pining for certainty and huddling in fear of being accused of overreach while the world literally burns.

    Nero anyone?

  88. hunter says:

    Yes, except for that pesky MWP, and that even peskier Holocene, this is would be the end of the world.
    And you can dodge that the Holocene was not global, but even your pals say it was in the NH, so face it: You are selling spooky stories and doing a worse job than a good fire and brimstone preacher.
    By the way, here is a song that is appropriate for your debating style:
    Just a reminder:
    The batting average for apocalyptic cults is 0.000.

  89. PSU Grad says:

    Does anyone here know of a good on-line course in Atmospheric Chemistry? Or even a good textbook I can peruse? I need to understand more about this stuff (hey, at least I’m confessing my ignorance).

  90. Stuart says:

    First, this is very bad news. Even the trolls are quiet, but that could be due to the vigilance of our host.

    Second, I really like Robert Brulle’s brush fire/forest fire analogy. I think I will use that one next time I need to explain that we need to take action now.

  91. Aaron Lewis says:

    Not much discusion of how plumes of released gas will affect (Arctic Basin) ocean circulation. She talks about circulation a bit in the pod cast, but otherwise not much discussion.

    One, key short term effect is that a plume of gas can drive overturn in a body of water and disrupt normal ice formation. This is a feedback that is really not in the models. It is worth thinking about in the near term.

  92. jcwinnie says:

    I see an open barn door
    And I want to paint it white
    No albedo anymore no need to join the fight
    I see Senators walk by dressed in their finest clothes
    I have to turn my head until my hatred goes

    With apologies to Jagger / Richards

  93. Jeff Huggins says:

    Dear PSU Grad (Comment 91),

    I met with an excellent atmospheric chemist from U.C. Berkeley a year or so ago, and before we met, he suggested that I read several parts of the book “Introduction to Atmospheric Chemistry”, by Daniel J. Jacob (Princeton University Press). It was published in 1999 or 2000 or somewhere around there, so it won’t be completely up-to-date in terms of the latest findings specific to global warming. But, it is a great basic text on the basics, including many of those having to do with climate change. And, perhaps there is an updated edition by now, I’m not sure.



  94. PSU Grad says:


    Thanks Jeff! Right now I’m more interested in the fundamentals. Regardless of the endeavor, once you get the fundamentals down you can catch up with the rest. Also happens to be the least expensive of the three books listed on Amazon (where I should have checked to begin with).

  95. Pocahontas says:

    Joe. I don’t know how you have the conjones to do this day after day. It has to wear you down. Hopefully we never need to have a ‘culture-ark’ but if we do then you need to go on there as one of the tireless warriors that tried to save us from ourselves. Thanks, Joe. I really mean it.

    [JR: I couldn’t not do it.]

  96. max says:

    The same issue of Science that contains this article also contains a Perspective written by Martin Heimann of the Max Planck in Jena. Here is a brief extract:

    “How important are these fluxes in the global methane cycle? Considering the global emissions of ~440 Tg C as methane per year (1), the Siberian Arctic Ocean emissions and the changes in northern wetland emissions are negligible. This is good news, implying that current climate change does not affect the natural methane cycle in a globally important way. But will this persist into the future under sustained warming trends? We do not know. Current modeling studies indicate that the climate-methane feedback from wetlands and permafrost will not be catastrophic but that there will be sustained methane leakages from wetlands and permafrost areas in coming decades (8). Keeping track of these leakages is indispensable for quantifying the climate-methane feedback on a global scale.”

    This report is clearly extremely worrying but it should spur us to action not despair.

    [JR: This statement by Martin Heimann has no basis in fact: ” Current modeling studies indicate that the climate-methane feedback from wetlands and permafrost will not be catastrophic but that there will be sustained methane leakages from wetlands and permafrost areas in coming decades (8).” Check the link he uses. He should have cited the Lawrence piece that I linked to. I’ll blog on this Monday.]

  97. John Stanley says:

    From the Industrial Growth Economy to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum: a time reversal of 55 million years in only half a century – & we still call it “development”.

  98. Wit's End says:

    Mike #22, brilliant!

    Hmpf, and any others troubled by their enlightenment as to the likelihood of Earth becoming Venus, the Sequel…I once thought that there would emerge a special discipline in psychiatry to help people accept the inevitability of catastrophic climate change (and I gather there sort of has).

    But that reminds me of what my daughter’s oncologist said to me when I asked is there was any point in harvesting her eggs before he began chemotherapy.

    He just looked at me like I was incredibly stupid and deadpanned, “There’s no time for that.”

    Now my strongest hope is that none of my three daughters have any children.

    Try to be the best person you can be, try to do the right thing, and enjoy every moment you have with the people you love. That’s my conclusion, for what it’s worth.

  99. David Smith says:

    The ExxonMobile Boycott – To Jeff and others;

    1) Are there other companies, subsidiaries of EM that we should consider boycotting as well?
    2)To not buy theit products alone is not enough. A non-purchase, or purchase of one of their competitor’s products should be accompanied by an email to EM stating something like “You may think I’m a loonytune, but I’m still not buying your gas until your xyz behavior changes.” Send a copy to your local newspaper, possibly your senator, and all your contacts on your email list as well.
    3) I would still like to know which company that sells gasoline is the least offensive with regards to GHG so I can ofer them my business.

  100. Leif says:

    David Smith: I use to think that BP was one of the better companies a few years ago but recent developments have soured me on them as well. For starters it looks like anyone but EXXON at the present.

  101. Harrier says:

    I saw someone on New Scientist put up an interesting idea: use electron guns to ‘zap’ methane from the atmosphere.

    Doing a little more reading, it appears that it would work by firing a concentrated stream of electrons at methane-rich air. The electrons would separate the methane into carbon and hydrogen, the latter of which would escape from the atmosphere out into space.

    It’s certainly intriguing, though I don’t know nearly enough about chemistry to know whether it would work.

  102. joyce says:

    How far advanced is the race to harness this energy? I know that many scientists have been working on this.
    Hook up that natural gas pipeline in Siberia, pronto…

  103. Chris Dudley says:

    Joe in #18,

    Hansen has said a few times now that burning all fossil fuels including tar sands and oil shale would lead to a Venus-like runaway. He calls it a dead certainty. Now, it has been hard for me to ascertain if he means just the first water vapor driven stages or if he means complete loss of the hydrogen from the oceans and an eventual massive carbon dioxide atmosphere.

  104. Raleigh L says:

    I think you should all be careful before proclaiming that the release of Methane will “turn Earth into Venus”. When you make truly unfounded statements like that, you drive people to apathy, despair, denial, and inaction instead of support for mitigating. Instead, maybe you could mention that the atmospheric half life of Methane is 12 years, and that a greater short term impact on methane emissions comes from livestock.

    You should all take great care before you make people feel like there is nothing we can do, as people, to help avert an even greater climate catastrophe. Instead of fueling the flames of panic and despair, maybe you could tell how much CO2 and Methane could be added to the atmosphere in THE SHORT TERM, and refer to efforts which could sequester both from the atmosphere.

    When you say “climate change will turn Earth into Venus”, it makes people want to give up support for mitigating greenhouse gasses in favor of shooting aerosols into the atmosphere.

  105. David Smith says:

    Rewarding a company, a positive move, complements the boycotting of another company and makes the message even more powerful. The carrot and stick approach.

    Sorry, I am not a scientist, so I don’t have much to add to the scientific debate. I can contribute to corrective action to bring the science closer to a solution.

    If people are going to participate in a boycott, I and others can help to make it as effective as possible.

  106. PSU Grad says:

    For Stuart @93:

    “Even the trolls are quiet, but that could be due to the vigilance of our host.”

    That might be one explanation. Another that occurred to me is that, since this is fairly sudden information, the trolls haven’t yet received their talking points or instructions. Once those talking points are received, expect to see a whole new set of rationalizations.

    I saw a very lame attempt at denial on, but it was pretty pathetic. No, they just haven’t developed a standard line. Note how similar many of the denier posts were after Joe went on with Cavuto.

  107. Richard Brenne says:

    Raleigh L (#107) – Your point is an important one and needs to be carefully considered by all who communicate climate change. But just as there is a place for careful consideration of the psychology of one’s audience and how best to reach them, there is even more place for honesty, courage and candor, which are typically the three things in shortest supply.

    Saying “people can’t handle the truth” is problematic as well. Who are we to say what they can or cannot handle? Who among us has the right to try to censor or quiet Jim Hansen? Other than maybe a handful of colleagues, Jim knows more about the Earth-Venus atmospheric similarities and potentials than all the rest of us put together, and by that I mean all 6.8 billion of us.

    There is a place for the full-cost accounting, for courage, candor and the tragically brutal truth. Climate Progress is at the top of the list of such places, with this thread at the top of the CP list.

    But then you’re right, we need to brainstorm and work together on the messaging. I don’t think you ever get messaging down perfectly right from the beginning unless you’re maybe Karl Rove or the Devil, who’ve had a close working relationship.

    So you do your best and try all different approaches for all different audiences and you closely observe and see which ones work best and keep those while discarding the approaches that don’t work for a given audience.

    I’ve tried a wide range from sophomoric humor (hoping to matriculate to junioric or senioric humor, maybe someday) to discussions of spirituality.

    Anyway, I appreciate your sentiment and feel it’s something we need to think about a lot. I’m working to get the script down for the full-cost accounting of what’s happening (and feel Mike#22 writing at comment #82 does an absolutely brilliant job of this), then give bits and pieces in all mediums as appropriate.

  108. climateprogressive says:


    PSU Grad says:
    March 5, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    For Stuart @93:

    “Even the trolls are quiet, but that could be due to the vigilance of our host.”

    That might be one explanation. Another that occurred to me is that, since this is fairly sudden information, the trolls haven’t yet received their talking points or instructions. Once those talking points are received, expect to see a whole new set of rationalizations.

    I guess it’s something like this:


    But I’ve always liked Dr Who!

  109. Hmpf says:

    Reply to Raleigh @ #107:

    I don’t think that saying “there is nothing we can do” will ever be a morally tenable position. I’m with Logic Deferred @ #54 on that. No matter how scr***d we seem to be, trying to find a way out will always be the human thing to do. Or maybe not quite necessarily – if our doom were something inevitable, visited on us by something beyond our own stupidity – fate, nature, whatever. Maybe then it would be wise to adopt an attitude of peaceful acceptance (one case where this seems a reasonable attitude to me is our individual, inevitable deaths; though even there, I’d say, it depends on the circumstances, and sometimes ‘raging against the dying of the light’ ;-) is eminently appropriate there, too.) But with a case like our collective one, with a (potential) doom brought so recklessly upon ourselves *by* ourselves, fighting it is the only morally defensible action, for the simple fact that what lead to this – what is still making the situation worse and worse – is so WRONG. Evil, if you will, though that’s an expression I’m leery of. But certainly, the way we’ve set up so much of our civilisation, our economy, at the moment is morally wrong. And that’s why it will always be the right and necessary thing to fight it, no matter how bad the odds.

    Also, there’s the fact that the only way to be absolutely sure you have no chance to survive a desperate situation is giving up. We shouldn’t *count* on our collective ingenuity and potential for goodness to pull us out of this – I’ll be the first to admit it’s highly unlikely. But, IMO, we shouldn’t *ever* completely dismiss the possibility, either.

    But I’m well aware that very few people look at it like this. So, what you’re saying probably holds true for the majority of people. Which is a serious problem… because if the situation *is* desperate, how do we motivate people to fight anyway?

    Michael Tobis had an interesting link in his sidebar today, btw:

    Maybe there’s something in that. Maybe we need to make a lot more noise about every potential solution we know… And also, I do think that we need to use all our knowledge of human behaviour to figure out how to save our collective behinds.

  110. Jeff Huggins says:

    To David Smith and Leif,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Actually, the boycott is “on”. By that, I mean that I think it’s unnecessarily limiting if we think that a boycott is only a “go” if somehow a formal statement signed by NNN people exists from the get-go. That presents an artificial barrier of sorts. As long as we “stick with it” and convey it and try to inspire it, it is “on” and will be growing. Already there are five or six or seven of us, and perhaps more.

    That said, I do think it would help to keep it somewhat focused for now. If we try to boycott all companies that have any link whatsoever to global warming, that task would be too ill-defined and broad to get started, I think. There are some clear “bad actors”, and one of them happens to be the most profitable, stubborn, and deceiving company in the U.S., if you ask me. So, they present a good boycott candidate.

    Cheers for now,


  111. It is long past time that we establish a self-supporting off-Earth presence of ourselves and other life.

    Had we begun building power satellites and the accompanying infra-structure of habitation, we could now be generating at LEAST the equivalent of the USA’s energy use from orbit, without requiring ANY combustion or nuclear power generation.

    Unfortunately, the ramp-up time to construct such infra-structure and power generation capacity is on the order of 10-20 years.

    Everything humans have learned in the past 5,000 years tells us that massive, planetary-wide disasters are a common event in the history of the Solar System.

    On the scale of the Solar System, the Earth is negligible.

    At least we have plenty of oil to use…since the Fall of 2008, re-evaluation of old fields (Western North America, Argentina) and discovery of new fields Eastern Coast of Mexico in the Gulf of Mexico, Argentina) has added nearly 3,000,000,000,000 (3 trillion) barrels to the known recoverable reserves–and we have only a vague notion of how much is under the Arctic Ocean (or many other unexplored places on the planet.)

    These additions are equal to 10x the remaining Saudi reserves, and represent a quadrupling of the previously known reserves. Bringing reserves from 1 to 4 trillion barrels. With more to be evaluated.

  112. lgcarey says:

    This is a very worrying development. However, there is a very reasoned recent (Dec. 2009) Q& A post at CSIRO (Australia’s national science agency) discussing recent trends in CH4 emissions over the last several years, and examining the most likely sources for recent increases in CH4 concentrations in the Northern Hemisphere (with a significant rise in 2007 & 2008). The CSIRO conclusion is that the risk of destabilization of undersea arctic methane deposits presents a very significant climate risk, but that radiocarbon examination indicates that the 2007-08 increases were most likely due primarily to emissions from terrestrial wetlands rather than undersea deposits. Hence, panic over the current Science paper appears premature — but it sure looks like a wake up call. We may not have gone over a tipping point yet, but the paper pretty clearly indicates that widespread destabilization of methane deposits is more than a theoretical risk.

  113. There is strong reason to think that cooling off the Caribbean would stabilize the climate, since the climate was stable for much, much longer periods before the Panama Isthmus than since (before, climate was stable for hundreds of thousand s to millions of years, since it has wobbled over periods of thousands to tens of thousands.)

    This cooling could be begun within 5-10 years of beginning the project at a cost of less than US$20 billion. And it would generate enough cash-flow from energy and food production to pay for itself–even if it failed to moderate the climate.

    Politically, it has the advantage of only requiring the approval of one country.

    The project is well within our current engineering ability, requiring one off-shore dam (to hold tidal energy,) and large pipes drilled through the Isthmus bedrock from the Caribbean coast to the undersea continental shelf in the Pacific.

    Since it is powered primarily by gravitational forces, and requires only one moving part (w/.o the generation facilities,) It has the advantage of being low-maintenance with an extremely long life expectancy.

    [JR: Uhh, there is strong reason to think this?]

  114. Stuart says:

    PSU Grad – I hadn’t thought of it that way. It will be interesting to see them spin this.

    Charles – do you have a link for those oil reserve numbers? We need to get off the fossil fuels anyway, oil should be too valuable to burn. If oil stays cheap then our ecosystem is screwed because we will just keep on burning it.

  115. Gestur says:

    Why does this news of the CH4 emissions from the ocean shelf off Siberia remind me of a 50 year-old macho-stud who has just received the news from his doctor that he has locally advanced prostate cancer—that most of the cancer is confined within the prostate, but some has started to escape to the immediate surrounding tissues? For this stage he faces several treatment options and some have some pretty good prognoses if he:

    • accepts that the diagnosis is accurate with high levels of confidence

    • accepts that there are risks involved in each treatment option

    • accepts that if he does nothing he will develop metastatic disease, and his prostate cancer will very likely slowly grow outside the prostate and its immediate environs, spreading very likely to more distant organs and thus bring about his early death

    • begins a decision process based on the available information on efficacy and the non-reducible levels of uncertainty inherent in them

    • and finally but quickly, begins immediately with one or more of the treatment options.

  116. Forget “Abrupt Climate Warming!”

    Try “Extinction Level Event.”

    The last huge methane release some 55 million years ago, resulted in a huge loss of species as the methane first asphyxiated then ignited and roasted most of the planetary surface.

    With thousands of lightening strikes per hour and the additional lightening implied by such rapid movement of atmospheric gases, ignition is nearly certain,

    Even without such ignition, huge methane releases would destroy most of the oxygen-dependent life on the planetary surface–just by displacing oxygen, even without the toxic effects of methane compounds.

    Geological records indicate that such releases have happened over periods of days to months. People and animals in affected areas would be dead within a few minutes from asphyxiation, and huge releases would affect most of the planetary surface.

    All of the processes involved in climate change are positive feedback mechanisms, reinforcing each other. This implies that the process overall is exponential–by the time you notice it happening, it may be too late to effect change.

    Scientists are people, and people tend to reject results which disagree to greatly with their preconceived notion of how things progress.

    If there is one thing we have learned since developing the scientific method, it is that major planetary-scale events can and do happen on extremely short time-lines

    The history of science is filled with findings which were ‘unbelievable’ to those who did the research, but which were accurate none-the-less.

    As Pascal said, just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

  117. Harrier says:

    Charles, are you sure you’re not thinking of the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event? The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum didn’t lead to a major increase in terrestrial extinctions. It mostly affected ocean extinction.

  118. Chris Winter says:

    Another fine post, albeit a frightening one.

    I’m not saying I feel the train for Catastrophe has already left the station — just that news of clathrate release is not good news. There’s a lot of information to get through here, and I’ll have to work through it later.

    FWIW, LogicDeferred, I at least know what movie that line comes from. My momma didn’t raise no dummies, I dug that rap. ;-)

    And jcwinnie, let me just say, “We can’t always get what we want, but if we try sometimes, we get what we need.”

    Now I’m off to do errands — and to find out a bit more about John Barnes’s novel Mother of Storms.

  119. G says:

    I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut, kind of the same way I felt after 9/11. This was not supposed to happen yet, not while the main climate debate in America is whether global warming is real or not. I actually went looking on skeptic and denier sites looking for some refutation that I could buy into without success. However, I don’t believe that, whatever the situation may be that it is hopeless. If enough people get informed, we might be able to take action as a species to prevent the worst case scenario. I no longer feel that we can take geo-engineering off the table.

    Please, all of you who have taken time to post in this thread, contact your congresspeople and members of the media and encourage others to do here. Your senators and representatives all have contact forms on their homepages, and believe it or not, they want to hear from you. A real, polite and intelligently worded (and perhaps brief) letter from a constituent is more valuable than a visit from a lobbyist, since in the end it is really the votes that put them in office. I have been told from a congressional aide that the right-wing understands contacting representatives much more, perhaps because they are more prone to active rage and less prone to apathy like the left. Also, from experience with family in the media, I know that journalists do at least read the subject titles of all mail that comes into their inbox and more than likely will read the message if it is not insulting or looneytunes. They need this correspondence as well to take to their editors so that these stories can be covered and promoted to feature status. Speaking of editors, write to them as well. Not to be mean, but it’s an echo chamber here, this message needs to be heard by the undecided.

  120. Bud Smith says:

    Hi all,

    Excellent and timely post by Joe, well done!

    Thanks to all for the comments. The tone is like going to a wake, and halfway through the toasts, someone announces that the punch is spiked – with cyanide. But that’s appropriate.

    In #89, Hmpf asks:
    >Where’s the effective, radical, world-changing movement I can join?

    The Transition movement is a pretty serious attempt to get people to change the way we live in the face of Peak Oil and climate change. I’m on the Initiating Committee for Transition San Francisco, and we just got recognition as the 55th official Transition Initiative in the US. (I co-authored the press release.) See and for information. (Transition is a bottom-up effort; we definitely need top-down answers too.)

    In #89, Chris Dudley says:
    >Hansen has said a few times now that burning all fossil fuels including tar sands and oil shale would lead to a Venus-like runaway. He calls it a dead certainty…

    Having read Hansen’s book, first, I’ll stipulate that he’s a real hero. He’s clearly quite expert, and sounds quite certain, but didn’t spell out the steps clearly enough for me to know if I agree with his reasoning. I emailed him about it, and he was kind enough to answer, but of course he couldn’t provide the missing pieces in an email. I’m still waiting for someone to spell it out in detail, hopefully in a public forum – either Hansen himself, or someone who can, in effect, speak for him.


  121. Lore says:

    “Please, all of you who have taken time to post in this thread, contact your congresspeople and members of the media and encourage others to do here.”

    What if your senator and congressman happen to be James Inhofe or Joe Barton respectively? I really doubt they will be persuaded by a few emails. While they may represent the extreme examples of denial in government they do stand for a wider and more pernicious group of elected officials that only hope to placate and maintain big business, the status quo and their own jobs. If these were truly intelligent and vigilant workers, representing the present and future welfare of the public, action on climate change would have taken place a long time ago.

  122. PurpleOzone says:

    George Crate, #64:

    I understand your circumstances. I believe a meaningful climate bill must consider your situation in WVA and other states with mining jobs.

    A jobs program to employ the people put out of work by reducing mining is a necessary part of a climate bill. I think establishing factories, probably wind farm factories, would be best.

    None of us on this board should forget that real people may be dislocated by changing our sources of energy. Talking vaguely about ‘green jobs’ may not get to the people adversely impacted.

  123. David B. Benson says:

    Produce more OH radicals in the atmosphere?

  124. G says:

    @lore (124) : You have a point, but I don’t think most representatives are that dogmatic. They generally work to serve their constituencies and are overwhelmed by the issues, so when a lobbyist says, “here’s what your voters want from you” and they package it up nice and tidy with PR and rhetoric, the politician will take the path of least resistance. There is only one defense against that, which is citizen involvement, even on the most minimal level.

  125. Steve Bloom says:

    Stephen Leahy of IPS does his usual excellent job covering this story.

    Re #116: Your premise is incorrect since closure of the Central American Seaway didn’t have the effect you ascribe to it.

    But speaking of geo-engineering, if we do get a big Arctic methane pulse the only possible way to counteract that scale of warming will be aerosolization of the atmosphere, the side effects of which are so bad that it would probably be preferable to just deal with the consequences of the warming.

  126. Leif says:

    #116: Ocean acidification is still on the table and will more than likely kill your progeny anyway.

    If both AGW and ocean acidification are not both addressed, humanity is all but toast either way.

  127. GFW says:

    The one denier (so classified by tone) upthread did make a relevant point that should give us a little more hope.

    The arctic clathrates did not blow out during the 5000-8000 years ago climatic optimum. Nor did they blow out at the warmest point of the previous interglacial. Those points *suggest* we have at least 2-3C breathing room on the clathrates, unless there’s a good reason to believe this time is different.

    I’m not being a pollyanna here – even without the clathrates, the above-ground pemafrost thawing is worrisome, and human behavior could take us into the danger zone for the clathrates within 100 years. I just think the paleo record means we don’t have to freak out about the clathrates right now. But we still need an aggressive move away from fossil fuels – all the tar sands and a good fraction of the coal need to be left in the ground.

  128. Lore says:


    I agree, it’s the only option we have as a people. However, in a reality check, we have to accept that the voices of the media driven deniers have and seem to be for the forseable future, been louder and moe successful at getting their points across then those of common sense. In the end it all amounts to nothing more then a delay tactic at which point the science tells us, as in this instance, it may be far to late for any remediation. As it stands now, not until we are all dumped into the proverbial fox hole will we all become believers.

    I’m totally disgusted with the media vilifying honest scientists and degrading good scientific work in a trumped up witch hunt just for the sake of gaining more eyeballs and ears. All of which has convinced a large portion of the gullible public to relax their guard and dismiss the inevitable. Our government officials are more than willing to keep these people fat, dumb and happy.

  129. Harrier says:

    GFW, I don’t think it’s the clathrates we’re worried about here just yet. These Siberian methane deposits seem to be in shallower water and less stable than actual clathrates.

    Moreover, I think their release might be something we could counteract, as opposed to the huge blast of methane we’d get from the clathrates melting.

  130. Lore says:


    Thought I’d mention you’ve been quoted, rather extensively, over at “The Atlantic” on this topic.

    [JR: I saw that. I’m just glad that the word is getting spread on this important study.]

  131. Raleigh Latham says:

    I’m fed up with all the god damn apathy and despair from news like this, so I decided to do something different and actually ACT towards mitigating in my own way. I’m a college student with not much to spair, but I just donated $800 to offset 74 tons of CO2, even though I can’t really afford this right now.

    I know we feel like we’re helpless at times, especially when it comes to methane coming out of the artic, but I implore you all to put your money where your mouth is, and actually do something instead of dragging others down with you into despair. When the others won’t act, is time for us to, cause we’re some of the few who actually understand the reality of climate change.

    I don’t have much optimism for what the future holds, but at least I’ll know that I actually tried to do something when there was still time.

  132. Bud Smith says:

    I just blogged on this at my new blog,, inspired by (and strongly linking to) Joe and all of you. Thanks! Boy, is the New York Times’ Dot Earth all wet on this one!

  133. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #130: The Holocene hypsithermal was probably about as warm as present, but 1) there’s evidence we’ve already exceeded it (e.g. Antarctic Peninsula ice shelf loss), 2) it was a peak with nothing further in the warming “pipeline” and 3) it was driven by Milankovitch cycles, and so would have had a pattern of warming quite different from the GHG-driven one we see now. In other words, it doesn’t provide much of a basis for optimism about the near future.

    Re the ESS methane, bear in mind that it’s not clathrates but submerged yedoma. Probably clathrates never could have formed to begin with at those depths. In any case, the problem with the yedoma is that it can release its GHG burden much more quickly than would be the case with clathrates, and as Shakhova notes there’s more than enough methane present to amount to big trouble if even a small fraction is released in a short period of time.

    Bear in mind also that studies of mid-Pliocene climate show that the global average 2-3C warming associated with CO2 levels in the 350 ppm range will result in Arctic amplification more than sufficient to make northern permafrost a thing of the past. Would a rapid transition to such a climate in turn be sufficient to pull the trigger on the clathrate gun? We are betting that it won’t be despite having no way to know the odds.

  134. Mike#22 says:

    Global Warming hasn’t actually happened yet. Not much anyway. These are warnings of proximate catastrophe. Very proximate.

    We still have some time. Not much.

  135. Bud Smith says:

    Sighting of a Joe Romm reference on The New Republic site, at Good article, right through the Romm quote.

    Then, Plumer says, in authorial voice “That’s why the these (sic) feedbacks are so unnerving”. Ends with a calming reference to the “sanguine” scientists Dot Earth exclusively quotes, and with something sort of in-between a quote and a paraphrase from one of them.

    Misses the logical inconsistency between calling the methane leaks “feedbacks”, then approvingly quoting scientists who say that they aren’t necessarily new, and therefore aren’t necessarily feedbacks.

    In the end, a poorly thought through, and badly written article. No, I can’t say so there, as only subscribers can comment.

  136. David B. Benson says:

    Raleigh Latham (134) — Another thing you (and everybody else) can do which will certainly help is

    eat less red meat.

  137. Bill Waterhouse says:

    Joe – I broke my personal boycott and read Dot Earth today which says arctic methane releases are no problem at all. There are quotes and attributions to Dr. Dlugokencky of NOAA. I hope you can reach Dr. Dlugokencky and give us his views in your post on Monday – from Googling his work I doubt he is as unconcerned as he was portrayed.

    Also, re Leif @#129, could you please address what effect would big methane releases have on ocean acidification?

  138. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    GFW –
    Your call for “an aggressive move away from fossil fuels” is plainly sensible – and like you I’m not for freaking out about the news of sub-sea permafrost melt. Personally I’d like to hear from the elders of that coast’s native people on when they first noticed the sea bubbling and how common it’s been since then.

    However, given the change in Arctic Sea temperatures over the failing permafrost during the last 20 years, and given the lack of methane feedbacks’ inclusion in any of the GW scenarios (as JR remarks), it seems that neither the IPCC projections nor the Copenhagen mitigation aims reflect the real threat posed by this feedback’s advance.

    To hold to prior aims, of leaving much of the coal and all the tar sands in the ground, cannot be shown to be even a near-sufficient response.

    The proposed 40% GHG cut for Annexe 1 (Industrialized) nations was part of the formal codification of those aims, and they offered a less-than-even-chance of staying under the 2.0C threshold. (the UK Met Office said 46%).
    So even if the US had raised its Copenhagen offer of 3.67% eleven-fold to 40% (by 2020 off the 1990 baseline) and all other nations had honoured their top offers in return (such as the UK’s 42%), we’d still have had a less-than-even-chance of preventing the runaway AGW effect.

    With this news of an additional potentially major methane output from Siberia, and the observations from around the planet of numerous other feedbacks accelerating, holding to outdated mitigation aims is a dangerous indulgence. Even if they were achieved in full from now till 2050, the rising impact of the feedbacks reflecting both ‘pipeline’ time-lagged warming and non-linear exposure effects and declining sink capacities, would very likely tip us into the runaway state.
    Therefore I suggest we need to address the role of geo-engineering as an additional necessity, and not in any way as an alternative to swingeing emissions cuts.

    Personally, I find the message of the massive feedbacks being triggered by our pollution, and of the need for rapid native afforestation and other demonstrably benign geo-engineering options to control them, adds credence to the message of having to end our man-made GHG pollution ASAP. It presents our pollution as a small but critically damaging intrusion within the vastness of the planet.

    If there is some easing of our predicament that negates the urgent need to explore the geo-engineering options, then I wish you’d describe it to me.



  139. prokaryote says:

    The venus scenario is irrelevant, because all life on earth would be long gone till this stage would be reached.

    Think of ocean anoxia, explosive methane clouds, ocean depletion, food chain collapse, carbon sinks become carbon emitters and short time scales.

    If you want to understand how earth system works, watch this 4 part video lecture from Dr. James Lovelock.

    He explains sudden climate state shifts – non linear reactions. If you look into past mass extinction events you find that the time scale of warmth is unseen in earth history.

    Massiv and expensive action is needed now if we want to avoid extinction scenarios.

  140. GFW says:

    Re 132 (Harrier) & 135 (Steve Bloom).

    Thanks for the correction of seabed Yedoma vs clathrates. My overall point – that this source of CH4 did not cause any significant event (i.e. that we have detected in the paleo record) during the Holocene climatic optimum or the peak of the previous interglacial still stands though. OTOH, if the Holocene had the average temp of the reconstructions, we may well be in uncharted territory already. (OTOOH, the HCO warming was very biased to high latitudes. According to Wikipedia “Of 140 sites across the western Arctic, there is clear evidence for warmer-than-present conditions at 120 sites.” So, perhaps we are not yet in uncharted territory. But that was surface temp, so the seabed Yedoma wasn’t being as greatly warmed by ocean currents with their ultimate origin in tropical waters. So, I go back and forth …)

    I certainly appreciate Steve’s point that conditions were different – there would likely have been more ice in general remaining from the previous glacial at those times, so that may have protected a significant fraction of the Yedoma. Or my point about ocean currents applies. I sure wish I knew.

    Hey, do we have an ice core record of CH4? Uh oh. We do.
    and we’re now at twice peak interglacial levels. Damn cattle!

  141. GFW says:

    A followup to that 850ky chart of CH4.
    Here’s how we got from a natural amount to the current amount.

  142. Leif says:

    I apologize for the confusion. I was coming back on #116 who wanted to breach the Panama zone and thus presumably cool the earth by messing with the Gulf Stream. My point was that even if such action preformed as intended, questionable as Joe pointed out, ocean acidification will still run rampant making the seas unproductive. It was also pointed out that methane rising thru sea water also has a tendency to change to CO2 which in itself would thus raise the ocean acidity. More so from deeper water than shallow but one must assume shallow to some degree. While ocean acidification, in and of itself, will probably not kill all folks, the oceans currently supply the population of earth with a large amount of food. That will adversely affect a large portion of the earth’s carrying capacity if removed.

    My personal view is that given a “run away methane event” humanity will not survive very many generations no matter what ocean acidity becomes.

    I believe that it was Einstein who said: “I do not know the weapons that will be used to fight WW III but WW IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

    My hope is that WW III will be a universal fight to stabilize the climate, fought with rational thought and scientific understanding, and that Humanity will be victorious.

  143. Harrier says:

    Maybe we should just ignite the methane as it comes up.

    Give it a spark, let it explode, let the combustion turn it into CO2, remove the CO2 from the atmosphere. It’s better than letting it get into the atmosphere as methane.

  144. Francis says:

    Speaking of Joe Romm sightings, he was called out by name (and not in a nice way) by Prof. Adler over at Volokh Conspiracy:

    Thanks for your hard work Joe.

    (a lurker)

    [JR: Amazing how the anti-science idealogues love Pielke and his pals! But the name is perfect — the anti-science folks are conspiracy theorists.]

  145. Leif says:

    Torch off the methane? Easier said than done. First you are looking at an area about the size of Siberia. Gas concentrations might be too diffused to ignite. Windy weather will further diffuse the gas. Even if you could get ignition on any one day , what about the next and the next…. All the soot produced would blacken the sky and settle on the snow and ice. More melting…. It does not appear that we can get there from here.

  146. Harrier says:

    Well we can’t just let it keep bubbling up. Something has to be done. We have all these plans in place to cut back or draw down atmospheric CO2, but there’s nothing planned to handle the methane. Surely there’s something we can do.

  147. Leif says:

    Harrier, #49: I know of no plans to “draw down atmospheric CO2 other than reforestation and Bio-char. Nether one of which is being implemented at a meaningful capacity. The best solution is stopping production of green house gases. It can be done, it must be done.


  149. Harrier says:

    That’s all well and good, but again, what about methane? We must have a solution in place to deal with that.

  150. Leif says:

    Solution? 350 ppm or less. We know 280 ppm worked.

  151. Matt says:

    Leif –

    There are a number of CO2-absorbing “artificial trees” in development. Klaus Lackner is probably the biggest name working on them. Here’s a recent interview:

    The technology sounds promising, but it would take literally millions of the things to even make a dent in a single year’s emissions, much less draw down some of the older CO2 up there. I just don’t think it can scale up fast enough to make much of a difference. But every little bit helps, I guess.

    As for the methane – I’m trying not to get discouraged, but it’s hard. Hopefully this is a new observation and not a new occurrence. I’m not holding my breath though. It would be different if we were even taking the first step to begin cleaning up our mess, but we aren’t. Is it cowardly that I’ve stocked up on sleeping pills, for when the time comes? I’m young (23) and I don’t have any children, so there’s no one relying on me. I guess I have that luxury, to go whenever I choose.

    Man, that post took a turn, huh?

  152. Per 151, “Does anyone have a better idea?”

    How about filtering you out entirely until you at least learn how to type?

    (PS: there’s a subtle and arcane secret that the cognoscenti have discovered. It is on the left side of your keyboard, called the “Caps Lock” key …)

  153. Jeff Huggins says:

    Gentlemen … the oil and gas industries flare gas all the time, often in very large volumes. Not in the volumes that these sources could/would reach, but still lots. And they know it. And it’s allowed. It’s all just a matter of expedient economics to them … a return on investment calculation usually.

    So again, we need to find (appropriate) ways to change the behavior of our own major companies. We humans are venting loads of gas, from wells and refineries, now … as we speak … into the air.



  154. Harrier says:

    But can we do it fast enough? That’s the real trick of it. We need to start doing it now and I’m not sure we will.

  155. prokaryote says:

    Harrier, the survival of the species is at risc.

    As long we have decision makers which refuse to listen to the facts – science – evidence, we will not make it.

    There are people who pretend this is all a big hoax. If you ask me those people are a threat to national security.

    Our system needs to be updated, we waited to long, we did not listen and soon it will be to late.

  156. Wit's End says:

    I for one welcome our Doomlove overlord…

  157. Dana Pearson says:

    Anyone remember Dr. Murry Mitchel? I had several occasions to speak with him, in the 70’s, during the Carter years, after the oil embargo. I was working at GAO at the time, when Monte Canfield (A Time to Choose) had come in to run the new “Office of Special Programst” began looking at the future prospects in new and innovative ways. I was doing all kinds of long range alternate energy future studies and happened to chat with him about global warming issues and he prophetically said to me, “Dana, by the time we’re able to prove it with our models it’s going to be too late to do anything about it” These words burned themselves into my soul and I am sitting here having the first bottle of wine I’ve had in years, crying inside, all the time having known, deep down inside, it would come to this.

    I had a daughter 9 years ago. She’s brought a lot of amazing joy into my life and I weep at the realization of how we’ve squandered all the time that has gone by since Murry spoke those words to me. What a shame. What a waste of so many opportunities…

    I keep wondering when we’re going to wake up… So many of us are ready to change… Yet, it’s almost as if an outside force is blinding most people to the truth and I just sit here and ask, time and time again, why? why? why?

    For most of my years at GAO I worked ceaselessly to encourage change. Yet we keep on doing the stupid things, denying all the opportunities we have to save ourselves…

    I hope, for Ellie’s sake… and all like her… that we will wake up and do all the amazing things waiting to be done… to make it through this.

  158. mike roddy says:


    Don’t trust GreenInc. They like mad scientist solutions, since leaving the trees in the forest- or, for that matter, leaving the coal in the hole- upsets too many New York Times advertisers.

    Forest carbon sequestration volume is a function of soil, water, and sunlight. The longer you allow nature to work, the healthier the ecosystem will be, and the more biomass sequestered. In the Northwest US, we’ve lost 90% of our forests, and the remaining tree farms are being clearcut on short rotations, which causes soil compaction, microclimate warming, and poor carbon scores. It takes 14 years after a clearcut before the site even begins to achieve net sequestration. Alternatively, Pacific Northwest forests in their natural state sequester more carbon than any ecosystem in the world on a per acre basis, far more than the Amazon, for example.

    Restoration of natural habitat is not the only solution, but (unless you’re in the timber industry) it’s benign, cheap, and effective. We would have to stop building houses out of two by fours (a horrible technology anyway), and tax junk mail and packaging. We could achieve a 300 Tg annual sequestration increase strictly by leaving a lot more of our forests alone.

    Standing in the way are the same forces that want us to keep burning coal and driving gas guzzlers: the dark side, baby.

  159. Bill says:

    I’m working against it in my own way, but collapse of the globalized industrial project is underway and will be in full progress 20 years from now. This is the best “coordinated” response that humankind will be able to muster. Of course it was never only about climate change… but our fixation on “progress” and technology as the answer to every problem and the attempted separation of humankind and culture from nature. This trajectory coupled with the energy in fossil fuels led to a colossus that was and is not sustainable. I believe John Michael Greer is right… it is a predicament we face at this point. Not a problem.

    Hope lies in the prospect that the globalized industrial project contracts enough that the biosphere will retain some of its life sustaining qualities for future generations.

  160. Leif says:

    Forgive me folks, I posted this on another thread but feel that it is appropriate here as well. As is the “all caps” at the end.

    Well President Obama, you campaigned for the job, it is past time to step into the ring and take the bull by the horns and show your stuff.

    Pearl Harbor attack cost America 2,403 lives. In three months the Nation transformed itself, produced zero automobiles, rationed gas, and was soon capable of producing a liberty ship every three days. Industry and the economy did quite well and factoring out the lives lost so did the nation, both short and long term. Ushering in the largest economic boom the world has ever experienced.

    In 2008 alone, the United states lost 568 folks to weather related causes and over 30,322 million dollars in property and crop lose. World wide those numbers are much higher and sure to climb.

    So what is the cry? Don’t do anything to harm the economy. What a crock of excrement. What those folks are really saying is “don’t do anything to harm MY economy!” Those industries and lackeys, EXXON, Inhofe,+++, care not one iota for the future of the Nation, it’s people, or the well-being of humanity and the life support systems of the Earth. Their actions and rhetoric have clearly shown that to be true.


    Fist held high,
    Gray Panther

  161. Birth control would help, too. Lots of it. Simplistic but effective if people can be convinced it is for the best. My two adult children have no children. I consider this a responsible move.

  162. Richard Brenne says:

    “What do we do about this?” seems the key question on this world-class world-ending thread.

    Well, if there’s no hope for Earth we can always go to DotEarth where it isn’t happening.

    Some, I hope facetiously here but even brilliant elsewhere like Stephen Hawking, have suggested we need to find another planet. . .to what, destroy?

    And I say brilliant elsewhere because anyone suggesting this is being an absolute spit-drooling idiot if they imagine that we can inhabit another planet when we couldn’t inhabit this one. The Biosphere Project didn’t come close to succeeding – on Earth! There’d always be that “D-Oh!” moment when we found we’d forgotten to bring something especially useful, like water. Or oxygen.

    The incredible success of Apollo within a decade led us to consciously or subconsciously imagine that the Earth is not, for our intents and purposes, a closed system. It is.

    Earth is the Titanic that has just hit the iceberg and we’re the captain, ship’s architect and crew who know it’s going down, while most of the passengers are still partying, dancing and ignoring our warnings.

    We need to do the best we can by everyone, getting everyone wearing layers of wool (dries quickly and from the inside), in lifejackets, filling every lifeboat and pulling out all the furniture to form rafts for those men who remain. The fact that the vast majority won’t listen or do any of these things doesn’t mean we don’t try to save them. (No metaphor fits perfectly and this one is no exception – adaptation cannot save us, only mitigation can.)

    In our case, we need to do the best we can for everyone on Earth today, and the best we can for everyone who ever will be on Earth, including all other species.

    It’s like we’re fighting in history’s largest battle for the very survival of all we love with the equivalent of invading Mongols or Nazis (although oddly we’re each also the invaders ourselves). Standing on the ridge overlooking the battle, each of us needs to decide where we belong in the battle.

    Whether that’s anything from education to biochar, what each of us recommends to others is probably our own calling. Let’s each answer our callings. While health care, peace and every other issue is important, this is more important that all issues like that there have ever been, combined.

    Discussing this here, educating ourselves and others in every way possible is, to me, the first and most important step.

    Or we can just return to DotEarth, which is so much easier.

  163. toby says:

    Here is the take of Davis Archer at RealClimate, quite conservative:

    Money quote:

    “Is now the time to get frightened?

    No. CO2 is plenty to be frightened of, while methane is frosting on the cake…. Methane sells newspapers, but it’s not the big story, nor does it look to be a game changer to the big story, which is CO2. ”

    [JR: Oh, I agree CO2 alone is reason to act. If you really read the literature and talked to climate scientists, then methane doesn’t change the game in some narrow technical sense that we are really screwed just by CO2 on our current emissions path. But methane doesn’t sell newspapers since it continues to be ignored — like CO2 — by most of them. Methane is what raises the prospect of, as NSF and the Bush Admin said, “abrupt climate warming.”]

  164. Bill Waterhouse says:

    Warning – the link in #167 takes you to a denialist blog whose author has written “Global Warming and other Eco-Myths.” Waste of time.

  165. Bill Waterhouse says:

    since the former #167 has been taken down, my post about it (now #167) so be taken down too

  166. Peter Sergienko says:

    I’m at the end here, but two thoughts after trying to digest the news and all the thoughtful comments.

    First, maybe we’re already doing so, but doesn’t this news confirm that we need to think about temperature changes associated with global warming regionally and not as a global average? In other words, it may do us no good to limit the global average to a 2C increase if we get there through some combination of Arctic warming of 5C that, while it may be offset elsewhere to get us to what we think is an acceptable average, nevertheless results in the loss of our “control” over the climate because of runaway GHG feedback emissions in the arctic.

    Second, regarding the boycotts, I’ve been boycotting Exxon since the Valdez incident so you can add me and my family to the list. However, I think a movement that may prove more attractive to many, because it’s based on saying “yes” to something, is to become an economic localist. Bank at your local credit union or small bank and buy what you really need from your local farmers and one-of-a-kind retailers to the greatest extent possible.

  167. Leif says:

    Peter, #69: Good call on credit union banking. I have been a patron at our local credit union for 30 years and went thru the past banking mess with out a problem except what we had in the “big picture” which was minimal.

  168. tangostar says:

    Unfortunately, I think the real impact of CO2 and CH4 release is already being played out across the planet as marginal ecosystems are stressed beyond recovery and are collapsing. We don’t see this necessarily, because our country is relatively good about environmental protection..which is really sad when you think about that in terms of all the bad policy and bad enforcement and just bad behavior happening in our country concerning the environment.

    What I would like to see is more discussion, not of global warming per se, but of how a change in overall climatic temperature will effect the conditions necessary for human civilization to survive. How does a degree or two affect agricultural production or livestock management or algae growth or any other of a billion things that make our life as we know it possible?

    This is something that makes sense to me. Why isn’t there more serious discussion of how global warming affects human daily life? And could affect that life in the near future?

  169. Wit's End says:

    Um, I’m going to put this link here and also at the most recent post of CP, Arctic melt to cost up to $24 trillion…

  170. Karen says:

    I was shocked to read this – I was expecting to hear about something like this 10 or 30 years from now. I’m a biologist so I haven’t studied details on climate change & environmental chemistry in detail but I expect this has been going on for a while now. In retrospect it makes sense given all the rapid changes in the arctic that we knew about even in the 1990s. As many have mentioned, it’s a positive feedback loop so once the ball really got rolling there was very little we could have done to stop it. Probably that window was a decade or more ago.

    I can’t help but think of what happened with my mother when I look at this news. She was diagnosed with lower esophageal cancer in 2006. Many have used the cancer metaphor for this aspect of climate change and I think it’s appropriate. With lower esophageal cancer, it starts out decades earlier as heartburn and then as GERD, and then if left untreated cancerous cells start forming. If the patient doesn’t seek treatment or is in denial in these early stages (as my mother must have been) then the problem grows worse. The irony is that early intervention can pretty much stop the process but once the cancer forms it’s game over, even with radical surgery. Well that’s us humans about 20 years ago – as a society we ignored the warnings and didn’t do anything about it, and now we’re beyond the point where treatment (i.e. green energy, cuts in CO2 emissions) is going to save us. Radical surgery (i.e. ambitious climate engineering proposals) might work, or might kill us. We’re like a patient who knows he or she has 5 years left – do we take a chance on the surgery or do we do the most with the time we have left?

    I agree with tangostar (#171) – a discussion on how to adapt is needed. Assuming we don’t experience the asphyxiation/fire/vacuum bomb scenario some have suggested (in which case most of us will be dead and the rest will be unprepared), we’re looking at some pretty drastic climate changes. And no I don’t mean climate models (which have obviously given us an incomplete picture compared to real “in the field” science like this study) but logic & our knowledge of biology and geology. So the temperature will go up very high in the arctic and significant warming elsewhere. A major problem seems to be food chain collapse. Will it be more humid or more dry? Will the soil type in what is now the boreal forest be able to support more tropical plant types? Can we as a species adapt by banking plant seeds to grow in higher latitudes? Will the lower latitudes even be habitable? I assume our infrastructures and social systems will be stressed or broken. I’ve been looking for information like this for 3 years now and have yet to find any theories on what might happen with a temp increase of 6-20C and what, if anything we can do aside from avoiding living on the coastline.

  171. toby says:

    Karen (#174),

    This book by Mark Lynas is a highly-praised look at the ramifications of the possible degree rises.

    Basically, my understanding is that if the average surface global temperature goes much over 3C increase past 1970 levels, then the human race is f**ked. Most of the plants, animals and temperate climates which sustain us would be gone, and so would we, maybe with “Mad Max” survival levels. We’ve already clocked up about 0.5-1C.

    2C is awful in itself – ice shelves & glaciers gone, lot of farmland gone, increased hurricanes, increased droughts, major sea level rises, coastal areas abandoned, a crash in food production, famines, major dislocation of people, resource wars, major population loss. Even at >1C, some of this might happen. With business as usual, we are due to hit this towards the middle or end of the century.

    At 6C, you’re talking about a violent planet of superdroughts, superhurricances and precipitation such that it is problematic which species would survive, if any.

    Dan Miller has a good video on this – he talks about the scenarios at about 11:00 into the talk.

    A really gloomy prognostication – I find Joe’s site the best antidote I know.

  172. Greg Robie says:

    This an edited repost of a comment I’ve made at DotEarth after reading Andy’s enthusiasm for David’s analogy at RealClimate regarding the significance of this paper:

    The analogy David used at RealClimate concerning acceleration and what’s more important (CO2 or CH4)—that seems to have been trusted in framing a post on this paper at DotEarth—misses an important point: science warns us of a slow motion methane time bomb, but not so concerning carbon dioxide.

    A better analogy, regarding acceleration, might be that of a space launch vehicle upon which is perched the referenced passenger vehicle from the RealClimate analogy. In this metaphor, the planet’s carbon sinks function as gravity, while anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission are the rocket’s first stage engines: if we keep accelerating the rate of their burn beyond the capacity of gravity to keep the vehicle on the launch pad there is lift off. BTW, the passenger car—in which we are all passengers—is not designed for space travel.

    For the safety of us all we need to keep the rocket on the pad and control the burn of these first stage engines such that while there is still fuel to burn (fossil carbon) we don’t lift off, and especially important we don’t lift off and leave the atmosphere.

    As the analysis of the voluntary promised cuts in anthropogenic CO2 emissions coming from COP 15 demonstrate, we already have lift off. This means the odds of us safely settling back on the launch pad are not good. Even so, with some mind numbing interventions, heroic cooperation, and gifted piloting, it is technically possible with, perhaps, a few passengers not being thrown from the car in the process, to re-land the rocket erect.

    However, in an inversion of our space program’s launch vehicle’s design, the first stage engines have controls while the booster stage are solid fuel engines. These booster engines are the methane time bomb. Once they are ignited they roar. The fuse for igniting them is triggered by altitude.

    Since this rocket was never intended to fly, the engineers do not know what altitude the ignition switch is calibrated to. To save money on this irrelevant part, the design and manufacture of the switch was outsourced to China. No one at the rocket assembly plant could read the chinese instruction so it was installed as shipped. And who cared . . .

    With lift off having been achieved that cavalier attitude is a BIG oops. Trying to manually land this thing, more or less gently, more or less upright, will take a lot better pilot than Tom Hanks in Apollo 13, and a lot, lot, lot more work by the ground crew. If this drama has a Hollywood ending—where the launch vehicle is somehow re-tethered to earth—it will be because we know what we don’t know about the Arctic methane feedback. Even then, if the rocket lifted off enough (and the fuse to the solid fuel boosters seems to be burning), relaunch is going to happen anyway—for whoever may be left in our oil burning car/economy we’ve been joy riding in.

    We are at a place and time where not only is CO2 important, but CH4 is more important. David, at Real Climate, has it wrong . . . but who wants to go out on the hood of that car and tag it “Major Tom”?

    Ed Dlugokencky apparently doesn’t.

    I believe the paper reference both at DotEarth and here ( ) may have only one surface air collection site in its study to back up the assertion made: Alert, Canada. Joe, as you may know since I initially copied your that correspondence, for two months I have been asking NOAA’s information officer what, if any, of the other eight surface air collection sights in northern latitudes may be among the 46 of 118 used in the Dlugokencky et. al. study. I have been told: I think it is in the paper, I’ll try to find out, the definition of what the Arctic is is fluid, I don’t understand your question, I’ll get back to you. Maybe you can get a more prompt and definitive response.

    In any event, Alert is about 1800 miles north—and up wind—of where the permafrost has vanished 80 miles north in the past 50 years in Canada ( ). It is on the other shore of the Arctic Ocean from where the methane hydrates are destabilizing—which a long way for surface air sampling to see the signature of these underwater methane releases. BTW, Ed has written that the existing monitoring network [he is responsible for] will have difficulty seeing the signature of the methane time bomb detonation.

    Regardless, this paper Science has published concerning seabed permafrost leakage and the increase in Arctic atmospheric methane that can be seen from satellite data using a different metric ( ), these go along way to confirming that Ed doesn’t have the monitoring network needed to learn what is not knowable with what he has to use. The last, though not recent, temperature measurements I’ve read of seabed permafrost recorded such to be between -1 and -1.5 degrees centigrade. Given the run away warming occurring in the Arctic, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that a degree or two of warming could have occurred; is occurring in water that is averaging 50 meters in depth. The paper from the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburg referenced in the HuffingtonPost story breaks down the percentages of methane coming from the Arctic. It is 2% for the high northern latitudes (which the seabed sourced methane would contribute to), 7% for the northern latitudes that include the lost permafrost noted in the other study, and, combined, contribute 30% of the renewed increase in Atmospheric methane.

    While responsible scientists tend to not go out on a limb, maybe Ed has, unintentionally (and by trying to appear non-alarmist), climbed out on one.

  173. paulm says:

    Of course there is probably more methane down there than there was historically. This might not be history repeating itself…
    it might be much worse….
    and it probably will trigger at a much lower temp than before.

  174. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    If anyone here finds themselves strolling along the base of a 160-foot earthen dam,
    when they see multiple small jets of water pissing out through it from the huge reservoir behind it,

    it is to be hoped that, while enjoyiong the view of the villages down the valley, they will
    a/. realize that somebody should be told about the leaks, and
    b/. waste no time in communicating the facts, and
    c/. refuse to accept the brush off that “it may be natural” but demand, with whatever pressure is productive, that emergency action is taken.

    Given the exceptionally warm waters flowing into the Arctic Ocean over the last 20 years, alongside the scale of threat if these emissions are the start of even a minor collapse of the subsea permafrost,
    I find the complacency displayed over at Real Climate just astonishing.



  175. Richard Brenne says:

    Lewis Cleverdon (#178) – Great metaphor. There are more good metaphors on every subject here at CP than all other websites I know of combined.

    And Mike Roddy, here but especially in the methane-bubbled waters of DotEarth and the surprisingly placid (just because something isn’t scaling into a problem yet doesn’t mean it couldn’t be the beginning of a very serious trend – and if not there then methane release on land or other locations at sea could be) waters of RealClimate (who I generally like more than I did in this instance, and they got the wrong David as far as I’m concerned, feeling as Joe does that David Lawrence is the foremost American scientist on this), Mike Roddy (too many parentheticals) was like Bruce Lee attacked by hundreds of denier-Ninjas and he outdid all of them with more persuasive arguments, discussion and interdisciplinary thinking (understanding the science, social psychology, mass media, etc).

    In fact I think Mike’s comments over there were more valuable than about all the others put together.

    So nice job Mike, and Lewis! You make your fellow (and gal) Climate Progressives proud.

  176. Chu says:

    Everyone here has heard feedback from a PA system, right? It’s probably the simplest feedback system you’ll find that most people are familiar with. The sounds from the speaker go back into the microphone and come back out louder and louder.

    In paleotimes, the speaker is not quite close enough to cause feedback unless there is a large driving force, ie orbital variations. Once those happen, the noise out of the speaker goes into the mic and feeds itself, ie the CO2 released due to heating self-reinforces, until the system reaches a maximum.

    What we’re doing with AGW is bringing the speaker and microphone closer together. The source of the original sound is the same, but now the feedback from the speaker into the microphone is louder, and can cause the runaway condition much easier.

    To sum up, previously the *inputs* changed. The *multiplier* followed, causing more change than strictly dictated by the input. (This evidence also proves the effectiveness of CO2 as a greenhouse gas. If you ignore the greenhouse effect of CO2 in ancient times, the temperature curve ends up about half what we see. With CO2 feedback added in, the predicted curve and actual curve match.)

    Currently, the *multiplier* has been increased. The input hasn’t significantly changed. That multiplier will soon start its own looping process out of our control, if it hasn’t already.