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NASA Finds ‘Amazing’ Levels Of Arctic Methane And CO2, Asks ‘Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?’

By Joe Romm

"NASA Finds ‘Amazing’ Levels Of Arctic Methane And CO2, Asks ‘Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?’"

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A NASA science team has observed “amazing and potentially troubling” levels of methane and CO2 from the rapidly warming Arctic. Given the staggering amount of carbon trapped in the permafrost — and the fact that methane is a very potent heat-trapping gas — the space agency is now asking: “Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?


“Permafrost zones occupy nearly a quarter of the exposed land area of the Northern Hemisphere. NASA’s Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) is probing deep into the frozen lands above the Arctic Circle in Alaska to measure emissions of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane from thawing permafrost — signals that may hold a key to Earth’s climate future.” Credit: UNEP

We’ve known for a while that “permafrost” was a misnomer (see “Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s“). The defrosting permamelt will likely add up to 1.5°F to total global warming by 2100.

Two studies from February provide more evidence the process may happen even faster than we thought:

Now we are getting some of the first detailed observations of carbon emissions from the thawing permafrost thanks to the Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE), “a five-year NASA-led field campaign studying how climate change is affecting the Arctic’s carbon cycle.”

Flying in a specially instrumented C-23 Sherpa aircraft only 500 feet above the ground, CARVE scientists “measure interesting exchanges of carbon taking place between Earth’s surface and atmosphere,” something most other airborne permafrost measurement missions can’t do. The goal:

Ultimately, the scientists hope their observations will indicate whether an irreversible permafrost tipping point may be near at hand. While scientists don’t yet believe the Arctic has reached that tipping point, no one knows for sure.

NASA’s news release is one of the best I’ve ever seen from any source. I’ll quote it at length since its factoids and findings are so citable.

Let’s start with just how fast the permafrost has been heating up. CARVE principal investigator Charles Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains:

Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures — as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years,” Miller said. “As heat from Earth’s surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic’s carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming.”

Recall that NOAA has reported, “In 2012, new record high temperatures at 20 [meters, 65 feet] depth were measured at most permafrost observatories on the North Slope of Alaska and in the Brooks Range, where measurements began in the late 1970s.”

This warming is troubling for two reasons. First, the permafrost contains a staggering amount of carbon:

Permafrost (perennially frozen) soils underlie much of the Arctic. Each summer, the top layers of these soils thaw. The thawed layer varies in depth from about 4 inches (10 centimeters) in the coldest tundra regions to several yards, or meters, in the southern boreal forests. This active soil layer at the surface provides the precarious foothold on which Arctic vegetation survives. The Arctic’s extremely cold, wet conditions prevent dead plants and animals from decomposing, so each year another layer gets added to the reservoirs of organic carbon sequestered just beneath the topsoil.

Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon – an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That’s about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth’s soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850. Most of this carbon is located in thaw-vulnerable topsoils within 10 feet (3 meters) of the surface.

Second, methane is a very, very potent heat-trapping gas. Whether the permamelt releases CO2 or CH4 depends critically on the soils and state of the land surfaces, which CARVE aims to characterize:

There’s a strong correlation between soil characteristics and release of carbon dioxide and methane. Historically, the cold, wet soils of Arctic ecosystems have stored more carbon than they have released. If climate change causes the Arctic to get warmer and drier, scientists expect most of the carbon to be released as carbon dioxide. If it gets warmer and wetter, most will be in the form of methane.

The distinction is critical. Molecule per molecule, methane is 22 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide on a 100-year timescale, and 105 times more potent on a 20-year timescale. If just one percent of the permafrost carbon released over a short time period is methane, it will have the same greenhouse impact as the 99 percent that is released as carbon dioxide. Characterizing this methane to carbon dioxide ratio is a major CARVE objective

After its first full year of science flights, CARVE is analyzing data. Here’s what is “both amazing and potentially troubling.”

“Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we’ve measured have been large, and we’re seeing very different patterns from what models suggest,” Miller said. “We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze. To cite another example, in July 2012 we saw methane levels over swamps in the Innoko Wilderness that were 650 parts per billion higher than normal background levels. That’s similar to what you might find in a large city.

The time to slash carbon pollution was a long time ago, but now is still incalculably better than later.

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83 Responses to NASA Finds ‘Amazing’ Levels Of Arctic Methane And CO2, Asks ‘Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?’

  1. Colorado Bob says:

    The study, published today (June 13) in the journal Science, found that on average, Antarctica’s ice shelves are thinning by about 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) per year. But some of them are thinning much more quickly, by as much as 328 feet (100 meters) annually, said Eric Rignot, a study co-author and researcher at the University of California, Irvine.

    “These changes are faster and larger than anything people anticipated,” Rignot told LiveScience’s OurAmazingPlanet.
    http://www.livescience.com/37423-antarctic-ice-melt-from-below.html

  2. Len Conly says:

    Oil companies like Statoil are flaring methane in the Bakken shale in North Dakota because they have no storage facilities and there are no pipelines. It is business as usual in this case. Unfortunately everything has changed and to gratuitously vent huge amount of CO2 into the atmosphere to ensure profitability in the oil extraction process is clearly the wrong thing to do in an age of climage change.

    This should be stopped until there are ways of using the methane, although we shouldn’t be extracting either gas or oil since both produce greenhouse gases when burned. Why is the Obama administration silent about this act of vulture capitalism?

    This may be debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but from a climate change perspective would it make more sense to simply vent unburned methane into the atmosphere instead of burning it, inasmuch as CO2 remains in the atmosphere for 1000 years and methane persists for “only” hundreds of years?

    • Sasparilla says:

      “would it make more sense to simply vent unburned methane into the atmosphere instead of burning it, inasmuch as CO2 remains in the atmosphere for 1000 years and methane persists for “only” hundreds of years?”

      Ahh, but that Methane after 100 years or so decomposes into CO2. It’s actually much, much better to flare it then to just release it – however as you observe not releasing it in the first place is the correct answer.

      As to the Obama administration, this development is a goal of theirs (All In Engergy policy). Despite the rhetoric on climate change the administration has said “no” on all pure climate change choices given to themselves (Obama approved the first 2 tar sands pipelines, Keystone 1 and Alberta Clipper) just 4 months into office after all his speeches and getting the nobel prize for his “climate stance”.

      • rollin says:

        There are now systems available to land locked methane producers that will convert the methane to liquid fuel at the spot instead of burning it. At least that way it could displace some liquid fuels and not just be wasted.

      • BillD says:

        No, because the methane is degraded to CO2. First you get the super GHG effects of methane, then you still get the long-lasting CO@

    • Mike Roddy says:

      Obama doesn’t answer to you, Len. The oil companies have called the shots in all branches of government in DC for a long time, and they’re now stronger than ever. Barry either loves them or is scared of them.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Len, the concept of ‘the wrong thing to do’ does not compute to a capitalist if that ‘wrong thing’ maximises profits. ‘Vulture capitalism’ is tautologous, although there are also forms of capitalism that devour live victims, rather than merely carrion. And Obama remains silent because that is what he is employed to do, and he doesn’t want to cruel his chances of some nice ‘consultancy fees’ from the fossil fuel plutocrats upon retirement.

  3. Superman1 says:

    “The time to slash carbon pollution was a long time ago, but now is still incalculably better than later.” You have quoted your dire warning postings from 2008, 2009, etc, and they have been paralleled by ZERO action. How many zeros in a time series are required before reality sets in?

    • People worked for a long time with ZERO results to end slavery, end apartheid, gain voting rights for women and social acceptance for gays.

      Studies I’ve read of large social changes show non-linear response when it comes.

      Will this happen with climate change? Unknown by you, unknown by me.

      • Sasparilla says:

        So well said Barry…

        Far better to be on the side of encouraging that change to happen, calling out what’s going on – than to be out telling everyone its over, there’s no chance and in the end serving the interests of the fossil fuel companies who want to make that reality happen.

        • Greatgrandma Kat says:

          As angry and frustated as all of us here at CP get sometimes it does not stop the good fight. Here we have a place to vent so that we can move forward in doing all we can to help stop the worst outcome of CC/GW. I for one belive we have only a few years left to avoid the worse that the climate can bring. Whether we rise to this challage as a speices remains to be seen, but fighting for that to the bitter end is what is required of all who know the outcome if we don’t.

      • Superman1 says:

        The difference, Barry, is that for most of the examples you use, there was a large and committed group of people who were willing to do whatever was necessary to make it happen. That does not exist with climate change, since everyone involved would have to participate in the draconian sacrifices required, and very few are willing.

        • Superman1 says:

          In addition to not having anywhere near a critical mass of motivated troops, and not being willing to identify the main problem (as these prior movements were willing and able to do), climate change has a strong time factor associated with it. The central message of Anderson’s findings is that we have to start taking draconian fossil-fuel reductions measures now; we don’t have the luxury of time to wait for a movement to form!

      • Joan Savage says:

        Thanks. Non-linear response is right on the mark.

      • Jeff Poole says:

        Good examples except that none of them apply.

        All of the above, unlike action on climate, didn’t have any kind of time limit after which there was no hope of change.

        A better example of change in the face of an implacable physical reality counting down might be Peak Oil where the world responded by… Oh wait…

    • Joe Romm says:

      More than we’ve seen so far!

  4. Sasparilla says:

    Ahhh, thank goodness we actually have CARVE to measure this…hopefully there are other programs as well, but at least we’ll be able to know what is going on to an extent.

    • Superman1 says:

      “hopefully there are other programs as well”. Because of the multi-decadal strategic interest in the Arctic, many environmental parameters were measured by covert communities. I would bet the mortgage even more measurements are being taken now because of climate change issues, but those results will never see the light of day.

  5. Joan Savage says:

    The 650 ppb methane over background concentration reported from airplane collection raises a question about concentrations of methane at the Arctic surface. Methane is lighter than air so we don’t know where the greatest concentration is in the vertical column. (COSMIC-2 would help answer that.)

    As the methane is released from the surface, that means a potentially flammable combination of methane and drying peat. Once a peat fire starts, it is very difficult to extinguish. Some burn for decades.

    Methane in the atmosphere is bad. Yet so is added CO2 and soot.

    I don’t like the mind set of expecting some horrible event to ‘convert’ deniers through shock and awe. But, a burning Arctic tundra would be at least, unusual.

    • Joan Savage says:

      Although we might think the high Arctic is too soggy to burn, some of it is drying out.

      http://geolog.egu.eu/2013/06/10/imaggeo-on-mondays-vanishing-lakes-and-dry-arctic-landscapes/

      • Dave S. Nottear says:

        Newsflash, 2027

        North American Tundra Fire Alert: evacuation of Canuckistan in progress – Mexico said, “No Mas” to more arctic refugees, declared a TransIsthmus Water Emergency, and requested Food Aid… meanwhile, in hollywood, the stars are being eaten – ah, are eating…

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      There is, in my opinion, no climate or weather disaster, no matter how great, that would convince the denialist hardcore. They are part paid disinformers, whose income depends on it, part Rightwing ideologues who will always refuse to admit that ‘the Left’ were correct, and part those psychological types who constitutionally feel no empathy for the victims of disaster, so long as those tragedies befall others. Possibly, if they suffer directly themselves, there may be a reaction, but with these types it is very likely to be perverse. Any calamity can simply be denied away, mitigated with false pseudo-science or declared to be ‘natural variability’, if an extreme ‘outlier’ event.

      • I’m tempted to say “I’ll see your pessimism and *raise* you” in car-game lingo, but our civilization has a pathological overuse of “competition” (what I call Competitosis or Competosis if you like, if I may coin a term) so I won’t even joke about it…but:

        There are far worse possibilities you did not list in “perverse reaction” than deny it or mitigate it with pseudo-science…there can be outright *damaging* reactions, from high profit high risk geo engineering that is not just pseduo science but harmful “science” (harmful actions) possibly devastatingly so…to less extreme “Shock Doctrine” type outcomes, “the solutioh is to privatize even more things, folks!” etc

        Obama is not acting as he is because he’s hoping consulting fees…he is merely reacting to the environment he is in , in which case if he said or did anything TOO sane, he’d be attacked (and I am not defending morally his actions..the same thing I’m about to say applies to all politicians to various degrees) and it would be killed, so his options, and any big name politicians’s options are:

        * propose something as ultra reactionary as the Republicans to

        * propose mild far too little far too late but better than option A above (there is a spectrum within this choice B, and this is why we should press Obama, to move within this inaequate spectrum, because an inch forward is still better than going backwards)

        or

        * C. propose something remotely sane, watch it get shot down, and you lose a lot of political capital and accomplished what? nothing. I’m not a mainstream democracy, my politics are at or beyond Green party, anti-corporate-capitalism so I’m not saying this with a smile, it’s ugly, I hate this reality, but it’s the reality…it’s up to people to do what the leaders (in our sick system) cannot due…they can “lead” by following us, at best, or be ultra reactionary (the right wing) at worst…that’sw their spectrum of possibilities

        the grassroots must least, including, implement at local, then regional, new energy systems, new *economic* systems, too…

        See “Now! Alternatives to Wall Street project” on our website.

        or econdemocracy [sic] at gmail

      • The hardcore will continue to oppose. But they might be overcome by the many who would respond to a series of disasters that were indisputably linked to the distortions in the jet stream, which are getting more pronounced all the time. The catalyst is to have a prominent public figure, with a gaggle of scientists behind him or her, say it. Preferably a Republican who finally finds a pair.

  6. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Joe – this report is quite a stunner. Yet on two points I’m puzzled:

    “If just one percent of the permafrost carbon released over a short time period is methane, it will have the same greenhouse impact as the 99 percent that is released as carbon dioxide.”

    With 1.0 tonne of carbon producing 3.664Ts CO2, or 1.33Ts CH4, then using the 105 x GWP for methane, a 1% CH4 output doesn’t equal the GWP of the 99% CO2 output.

    To get equal GWP from CO2 and CH4 it appears you need 2.557% of the carbon as CH4 which gives:
    2.557 x 1.33 x 105 = 357.08Ts CO2E
    and
    97.443 x 3.664 x 1 = 357.03Ts CO2E

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but if so, what?

    A more useful percentage figure for CH4 is that which would double the CO2E output from a pure CO2 release, which appears to be 2.7%:
    2.7 x 1.33 x 105 = 377.06Ts CO2E
    and
    97.3 x 3.664 x 1 = 356.51Ts CO2E

    In combination these two figures are 733.56Ts CO2E, which is almost exactly twice 100 x 3.664Ts CO2E from a pure CO2 release. If this isn’t correct, could you provide the right percentage ?

    The second point that seems odd in the report is the statement:
    “If climate change causes the Arctic to get warmer and drier, scientists expect most of the carbon to be released as carbon dioxide. If it gets warmer and wetter, most will be in the form of methane.”

    A quick glance at the Dai PDSI graphics shows an unmistakable migration of rainfall into high latitudes, with some areas of permafrost getting an increased preciptation index of as much as 10 to 20. So warmer and wetter would be the highly likely prospect of unabated warming.

    But the odder part is the idea of “most” of the carbon being emitted as methane, when the received wisdom has been a maximum of 3%.
    By the above calculations, even a 51% release as CH4 would give a 20-fold CO2E increase over a pure CO2 release.

    IF the authors are correct in using “most” as the as the predictable outcome of “warmer and wetter”, then I wonder whether we might agree the need for effective Albedo Restoration as a stark necessity to halt the feedbacks’ acceleration ?

    Regards,

    Lewis

    • catman306 says:

      Albedo Restoration has a promising sound to it.

      It’s just an engineering problem that our technology can solve with thousands of small solar and wind powered snow making machines. The solar power makes water to be used in a wind powered snow generator. They don’t need to be large nor do they need to be expensive.

      Just a centimeter of light snow would restore albedo that snow will require constant renewing whenever the temperature is above freezing.

      But
      “Permafrost zones occupy nearly a quarter of the exposed land area of the Northern Hemisphere.” and that’s a lot of area.

      Each year we build millions of polluting automobiles that are destroying our livable planet. Instead, we could build millions of albedo restoring machines and perhaps save what’s left of the place.

      • Mike Roddy says:

        If you calculate the scale of this enterprise, you would not be optimistic, Catman.
        Snow machines for thousands of square miles would be required for substantial albedo offsets. That’s a major industrial project, especially given the Arctic’s logistics.

        • catman306 says:

          I just meant that ‘Albedo Restoration’ invokes in me the same kind of reaction in me as ‘Change you can believe in’ did 5 years ago. “Fool me once…”

          Wikipedia could not quickly give me the areal extent of Arctic permafrost and tundra, nor the land area of the Northern Hemisphere. How many square miles or square kilometers were permanently frozen before we started burning fossil fuels?

          Yes, this would take an enormous global effort, and might do some good, but as Superman points out it will not be sufficient.

          With no silver bullets (except, perhaps, nuclear winter), combating global warming will take the combined efforts of nearly everyone on the planet to do what they can. But we can’t even get most of the MSM to talk about what is certainly looming in the near future.

          Sorry if I gave you the impression that I’m optimistic.

      • Lewis Cleverdon says:

        Catman – Albedo Restoration is pretty obviously a necessary component of commensurate global strategy in my view – but IMHO it needs to provide a concerted affect global temperature rather than being a series of peicemeal responses to ‘individual’ feedbacks, owing to their interactivity both by direct dynamics (e.g. warmer air off the arctic ocean) and also via inputs to timelagged AGW.

        The Cloud Brightening option – which is still starved of funding – offers a useful targetting ability in this regard. If focussed on the arctic ocean and the sea-currents carrying anthro-heat-energy into it, it would both provide global cooling while achieving a far stronger regional cooling effect:- on the arctic sea-ice (albedo); on the northern permafrost (methane); and on the methyl clathrates (methane); while also controlling the destabilization of the Jetstream that reportedly has us within ten years of the start of global crop failures.

        Given the urgency, the absence of chickenfeed research funding for Cloud Brightening ($10m ?) is one of the stronger indications that the US Govt is covertly opposed to any commensurate action on AGW until after climatic destabilization in China generates regime change, thus ending its bid for global economic dominance.

        If anyone thinks that the US Govt (in the person of D Cheney) wouldn’t launch such an amoral strategy, I’d suggest they’re overlooking the last nine decades of US conduct as a major power.

        Regards,

        Lewis

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        I still think that albedo restoration must be more widespread than in the frigid zones with ice and snow alone. Having the roofs of the planet reflecting solar radiation, and as many surfaces as possible, as well, seems a low-tech approach, that could be realised with mass mobilisation. It might make cities somewhat cooler, too, in summer. In winter we will just have to wear jumpers.

    • David Miller says:

      The thing you’re missing is that the measurements are all in volume (ppm), not in mass. A single CH4 molecule traps more than 100 times as much heat as a single CO2 molecule. One CH4 molecule becomes one single molecule of CO2 plus some water that quickly falls out of the atmosphere.

      So 1% of the carbon molecules emitted as methane will trap more heat than 99 emitted as CO2. If you want to think of mass, compare methane and CO2 based on the tons of carbon contained, not as total mass.

      • Lewis Cleverdon says:

        David – Thanks for your response. I was quite prepared to accept that my figures above were wrong, not least because the report Joe quotes includes the phrase “Molecule per molecule, methane is 22 times more potent . . .”

        However, with the atomic weight of CO2 (44) being 2.75 times that of CH4 (16) there are logically 2.75 times the number of molecules in a tonne of CH4 as there are in a tonne of CO2. If GWP is actually assessed on a molecule per molecule basis, then on a tonne per tonne basis it would have a GWP of 105 x 2.75 = 288.75 on a 20yr time horizon.

        As this is very different to swathes of public info over the last two decades, I did a search on – gwp one tonne methane – This gave pages of support for GWP being assessed by weight per weight but nothing for the molecule per molecule basis. With many NGO and university sites not included, below are a few official ones.

        EU Comn: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Glossary:CO2_equivalent
        “The carbon dioxide equivalent for a gas is derived by multiplying the tonnes of the gas by the associated GWP: MMTCDE = (million metric tonnes of a gas) * (GWP of the gas). For example, the GWP for methane is 21 and for nitrous oxide 310. This means that emissions of 1 million metric tonnes of methane and nitrous oxide respectively is equivalent to emissions of 21 and 310 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide.”

        EPA: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/ch4.html
        “Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 on climate change is over 20 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.”

        CDIAC (DOE): http://cdiac.ornl.gov/pns/current_ghg.html
        “The Global Warming Potential (GWP) provides a simple measure of the radiative effects of emissions of various greenhouse gases, integrated over a specified time horizon, relative to an equal mass of CO2 emissions.”

        Wikipedia (on IPCC):http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global-warming_potential
        “An exact definition of how GWP is calculated is to be found in the IPCC’s 2001 Third Assessment Report. The GWP is defined as the ratio of the time-integrated radiative forcing from the instantaneous release of 1 kg of a trace substance relative to that of 1 kg of a reference gas.”

        MethaneNet (a scientific collaboration network):
        http://www.methanenet.org/content/methane-has-larger-gwp
        “However, current methods of calculating 100-year global warming potential (GWP) figures – such as those used to inform the strategies of the Kyoto Protocol and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – are based largely on the direct radiative effects of emissions but do not take into account the (often amplifying) effects of indirect gas-aerosol interactions. When these were taken into account using a Goddard Institute for Space Studies climate model, the scientists found that methane has a 100-year GWP that is ~10% greater than previously thought, rising to ~20-40% greater when aerosol-cloud interactions are included. This equates to one tonne of methane having approximately 33 times as much effect on the climate over 100 years as one tonne of carbon dioxide.”

        The last of the quotes above is included because it indicates that a further rise of the accepted GWP of methane over the 20yr TH, perhaps by 30% to 137 ?, is now in the offing. It seems a very sober site – worth a look.

        So I find myself a bit more puzzled by the report – does NASA have no review process to ensure their scientists don’t propose crucial comparators that are at odds with the IPCC, and and don’t publish straight errors of maths over the 99% to 1% equivalency ?

        I remain open to a cogent explanation of why my figures above are wrong.

        Regards,

        Lewis

    • Superman1 says:

      “need for effective Albedo Restoration as a stark necessity to halt the feedbacks’ acceleration”. The problem is global, and the solutions need to be global. The three necessary, BUT NOT SUFFICIENT, conditions are immediate elimination of all non-essential uses of fossil fuel, rapid carbon recovery, and low-risk geo-engineering (perhaps restoration of the ARTIFICIAL Albedo).

    • rollin says:

      Next you need to add in the arctic ocean methane releases as the newly exposed water heats up. It’s not just he land that holds vast amounts of methane.

  7. Jeff Huggins says:

    2017 to 2021 — and TODAY!

    The period 2017 to 2021 will be critical — vital — irreplaceable — in terms of our response to climate change. There can be no doubt about that.

    SO THEN, although there are a number of vitally important things we should be doing now, as a movement, one of the most critical is to do what it takes to make sure that the person we elect as president in 2016 is the right and very best person to Lead the country to tackle climate change. Period!

    SO THEN, as I have been asking and explaining in numerous different ways in recent comments, I ask that CP and CAP do whatever it takes to find out the positions — in clear and concrete terms — of would-be Democratic nominees for president, ASAP and as soon as they become likely would-be nominees. In other words, let’s start TODAY with Hillary Clinton.

    There is a story in the New York Times today (on the website; I’m not sure if it was in today’s paper or will be in tomorrow’s) titled, ‘Hillary Clinton Steps Onto a Stage Again’, by Raymond Hernandez. The first/summarizing paragraph online, when I read it this afternoon, went like this: “In a speech Thursday in Chicago, the former first lady and secretary of state made remarks suited to a domestic policy debate.” (dated June 13, 2012)

    OK then: She is running (at least that’s the clear conclusion of the vast majority of pundits on TV); she is the clear front-runner for the Demo nomination (according to the polls and TV folks); and she is already making “remarks suited to a domestic policy debate” in a speech in Chicago.

    Do you (we) get it?

    NOW IS THE TIME, then, to begin in a very serious way to find out and understand Hillary’s position on climate change, in clear and concrete terms. For example, here’s a question that should be posed to her repeatedly until she answers it: “How would you rule regarding Keystone XL if you were president today, that is, if it were your decision to make? Would you approve it or deny approval? Please be specific and clear and decisive. Thank you.” (For goodness sake, you’ve had nearly two decades to familiarize yourself with the issue of climate change, and you’ve had several years to consider Keystone XL itself! Clearly, if you can’t decide by now, and if you can’t be straightforward enough to tell us what you think, you aren’t fit for the nomination or to Lead the country during the Crucial years 2017 to 2021.)

    You get it.

    So, please, will CP and CAP lead the way to find out where Hillary stands with respect to climate change TODAY, so we can do everything possible starting today to make sure that we somehow end up with a nominee and a leader who can and will Lead the country during 2017 to 2021.

    (I hope this message speaks for itself and that if someone doesn’t think this is a good idea they will put forward the very best logic they can muster — their best foot forward, publicly — to explain in clear terms why.)

    Thanks,

    Jeff

    • It’s a good idea, Jeff. I’ve been trying to get my congressperson to write a letter to the CIA and Joint Chiefs, asking about the risk assessment they’ve shared with Obama about the imminent disappearance of the ice cap.

      Surely, if we are reading about this here, the CIA must be analyzing the potential scenarios.

      I sometimes think that the outlook is so grim, that the Administration’s risk mitigation plan has two parts: (1) hope (they’re famous for hope, right?) and (2) don’t let on to the public because it’ll cause too much anxiety and strife (the “why deal with this any earlier than we have to” approach).

  8. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks for this, Joe, it’s an excellent summary. The truth isn’t fun, but we need to know it.

  9. Jack Burton says:

    I hate to say I told you so, but I did tell you so. This is amazing new information, but it is also totally expected information.
    The Russian confirmation of the growth of giant methane plumes in the arctic ocean a few years back are evidence. Also, around the same time I read a report about methane levels in the lower atmosphere over the arctic regions showing alarming new elevations.
    It should surprise no one who has been awake, the arctic is a ticking time bomb. Tundra and ocean methane both are temperature sensitive. The arctic is melting, permafrost thawing. It is moving ahead now a lighting speed. We are at or near the first big tipping point in the climate change story. This first one will be bad enough, the ones coming afterwards will be unimaginably worse. Still, I admire the denial community, they will tell lies about this new data, and people will believe them. The Main Stream media will down play it all on orders from their big advertisers. Fossil fuels will win the short term battle, and humanity will lose their stable and friendly climate. History will record that greedy fossil fuel barons were able to use their wealth to dupe an entire planet. Now how stupid is that. Are we humans really collectively intelligent? Or are we just bloody fools?

  10. Nell says:

    Colorado fires fuels by beetle kill and drought… no mention of climate change on CNN.
    Historic storms in the Midwest moving east…no mention of climate change.
    Historic floods in Europe, hardly even covered here in the US.

    What we need now is a model that can predict when the structure of civilization starts to break down. We know our global structures are tough… but how tough?

    Anybody know if such models have been developed? Or even discussed?

    • Andy Hultgren says:

      Neil,

      “The ecosystem services upon which human livelihoods depend would not be preserved” has been predicted at warming of ~4C. This is from the UK Royal Society’s series on a 4C world. (http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1934/217.full)

      So, I think avoiding 4C warming would be a good starting point if you want to think about widespread risks to human society or “civilization.” And remember that 3C warming entails a real risk of simply continuing on to 4C warming, if carbon-cycle feedbacks are strong (which evidence appears to suggest they are).

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      In the MSM propaganda system, climate destabilisation is verboten. It has been ‘disappeared’ even as the disasters mount. That’s really existing ‘Freedom of the Press’.

      • Mike Roddy says:

        That’s right, Mulga. I put together a proposal to do something about it, working with a former television and print journalist. There was going to be humor, along with detailed rebuttals and investigations of conflicts of interest. It got nowhere, though all we needed were salaries and expenses. A typical response from one well known activist was “yeah, yeah, yadda yadda, we know the media is corrupt”. There is no willingness to do anything about it, except for stolid and lightly read academic/professional blog reports.

        You would have been a great addition, Mulga, and deserve a wider audience.

        It’s not just the masters who are destroying us. If anyone with $ is listening, I can be reached at mike.greenframe@gmail.com

        • BobbyL says:

          Since the so-called “corrupt MSM” produces shows like the recent CBS Sunday morning news show with a climate change segment in which experts warned that we are headed for 6C maybe what we need is more corruption of the media. In many cases these “corrupted people” are doing a great job of warning us about what will likely happen if emissions are not reduced.

          • But Bobby, that was one show when the opportunity to do hundreds or thousands such pieces exists. Was there any follow up? Will there be?

          • BobbyL says:

            The main point is it shows the information we need is not being purposely suppressed. But I am sure many other examples can be found by searching the mainstream newspapers, magazines, and other media. Certainly the op-ed sections of major newspapers like the NY Times has examples such as Thomas Friedman’s columns. Here is one example from Time magazine http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2105169,00.html It’s fiction that the story is being purposely suppressed to protect profits of fossil fuel companies but we definitely should have more coverage given the urgency of the situation. I don’t think anyone who understands the situation would dispute that.

          • Mike Roddy says:

            Note that the show was at one of the least watched times, and on a low rated program.

            The networks will throw the truth a bone occasionally, but the proof is in the low US public awareness of what’s going on. People get their information from the media. Stories about the Kardashians outnumber climate stories by something like 1,000 to 1.

            Somebody should conduct a poll asking Americans if they know anything about Arctic methane, permafrost melt, or Antarctic glacier collapses. The number would be in the single digits, harmless to the oil companies. We are in a planetary emergency, and little gestures won’t get er done.

    • wili says:

      Another source for what lies ahead is Mark Lynas’s excellent “Six Degrees.”

      One of the first calamities he predicts will unfold as we approach one degree C above pre-industrial temps is the destabilization of the giant, currently-grass-covered sand dunes known as the Nebraska Sand Hills.

      Once the stabilizing grass on these giant dunes dies from heat and drought, they will start wandering across the plains blown by the winds that are always blowing there, turning one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world essentially into the Sahara.

      If you look at the most recent Drought Monitor maps, you may notice that the only place that the highest-level (‘Exceptional’) of drought persists in an officially “Long Term Drought” area is directly over the Sand Hills area.

      http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/monitor.html

      A poster on another blog from an are of NM affected by the shorter-term Exceptional Drought there said that all the grass in his area is already dead, and most of the bushes and trees are dead or dying.

      So probably things are equally bad or worse in the Sand Hills now–that is, they are about to destabilize and start to roam the plains.

      If anyone is from that area and can report directly on their current condition, please do share your observations here.

    • Greatgrandma Kat says:

      First read World on the Edge by Lester Brown, than go to the Earth Policy Institute wed site http://www.earth-policy.org these should give you the facts and study results along with other places to look for more.

  11. EDpeak says:

    ——-A Depressing Calculation..? ——

    “We’ve known for a while that “permafrost” was a misnomer (see “Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s“). The defrosting permamelt will likely add up to 1.5°F to total global warming by 2100.”

    Let’s run with this…I’d be interested to hear the percise assumptions upon which this 1.5F is based, but let’s use it to calculate as follows, as I’ve suggested for a while:

    Thus,

    1) the extra 0.6C from “in the pipeline” heating we’ve talked about before this arctic consideration was added plus

    2) (5/9)*1.5 = 0.833 so another 1.43 or so degrees Celsius from just heating in pipeline (the amount of extra warming without this arctic effect, that would take place even if we ended all emissions omorrow) plus above arctic effect, ALONE.

    3) The Earth has already warmed, to date, by what? Roughly 0.8C at the very least, right?

    So we’re at 1.43+0.8 or 2.23 C “and counting” – already soon going to lock in above 2C ofwarming

    Why are we not talking about such calculations as these, on ClimateProgress and elsewhere? We fear that if we say that then the denialists, delayers, etc, will use it to say “it’s too late, so we might as well burn it all”

    ..but that’s not a good reason to deny the
    public this information…that we *can* prevent even *worse* from happening so *should* take action but that we’re already over 2.2C “and counting” – the calculated estimate goes up beyond that, every day, with each day 90 million or so barrels of oil burned, plus coal, plus..

    Finally Let’s remember Prof Kevin Anderson, that 2C of *total* warming should probably be thoguht of not as the threshold for “dangerous” but for “extremely dangerous” climate change if we are consistent – he
    explains why (“past climate danger, in denial
    /watch?v=32HfnxIDLLA on YT)

    Am I making any huge error above Joe?

    If anything I should be adding more “warming by 2100″ not counted in the above, like higher GHGs (thus more added in warming fractional degrees additionally in F or C) by 2100 from Amazon partial die-off which is almost certain by 2100 on present trends..

    • Brooks Bridges says:

      I cannot validate your math but based on many posts here and Anderson’s video you must be close.

      I think you’re right it is long past time to start couching climate change in terms of probability of collapse of civilization. Or, what are odds that your 6 year old daughter, grandson, whatever will have a viable environment when they’re 85?

      To relate to airplane safety: They have a measurement that captures precisely what people want to know: What are my chances of dying on my next flight? In the aviation safety field, it’s known as Q: death risk per randomly chosen flight. Recent data: When you get on your next jet airplane, your chance of being killed — your Q — is one in ninety million. (Note, NOT crashing, dying. Turns out the survival rate in plane crashes is an amazing 95.7 percent.)

      Give comparable uncertainties, e.g., car accident, house burning down, cancer etc.

      It is past time to put things in terms of our chances of survival as a species.

      Question for parents: “If our planet were an airplane, would you put your child on it with this degree of uncertainty it would land safely?”

    • Superman1 says:

      “Why are we not talking about such calculations as these, on ClimateProgress and elsewhere?” I have posted such calculations multiple times, and estimated that if we stopped all fossil fuel combustion today, we would peak somewhere between 2-3 C in three-four decades.

      • Superman1 says:

        CONT’D. But, that’s not what the so-called climate change ‘fighters’ on this site want to hear. Rather, they want to promulgate the idea that a combination of painless conversion to renewables and conservation, along with growth and prosperity, can be accomplished ‘virtually overnight’, in their own words. You will never see the temperature and emissions profiles accompany their proposals.

        • EDpeak says:

          We see eye to eye on at least one thing: the need for (at least) efforts/approximations of realistic “lower bounds” on heating we’re likely locked into. I must disagree about “most” here saying it will be “painless”. That’s not true or fair about most posters that I’ve read here. First, “conversion and conversation” are items that others have stated could and should be *some* (not all!) the steps we take. And second, very few if any, that I’ve read said it would be ‘painless’ I think you might take a useful step in silencing partly responding to critics by agreeing that your claims that “most” here say it will be “painless” is not true and taking that one statement back..will you? Peace,
          E.D.

  12. SecularAnimist says:

    Superman1 wrote: “for most of the examples you use, there was a large and committed group of people who were willing to do whatever was necessary to make it happen”

    There were also defeatist whiners who were unwilling to do anything at all except to disparage, denigrate and discourage those committed people, which as we can see on this blog, is also true with regard to the fight against global warming.

    • EDpeak says:

      1. The analogy is not a bad one, and I agree defeatism due to the “zero” (or more like “far, far too little”, which is bad enough) so far – is not the way to go In one way things are worse here – the laws of physics have some built-in “deadlines”

      For equal rights etc, if the movement’s success is 20 or 40 years later than thought/hoped, it’s bad enough: 20-40 years of more of the same level of damage, suffering, etc

      But here, if there is a sufficient delay, you have not just more years of the “same” level of suffering – but worse – potentially far worse.

      I admire your work and agree with you a lot, so please read the following in that spirit (I also share many of your frustrations and yet feel some comment psts which many of us find frustrating come from a place that is not only well meaning, but from a place all of us have, at least as a sub-component, inside us..So, item two I was getting to is…)

      2. I am not a daily visitor as you two are, but as I’ve said before, I’ll say here – I too have been frustrated by (many not all) of Superman1′s posts, the ones which seem to imply we should just give up, or that nothing will work or that nothing will help (when in reality, not only is a quarter-inch forward better than nothing, but even pushing politicians towards policies that lead to 1 inch *backwards* is still a success *if* the alternative was several feet backwards – which tens to be the very sad case) but is there a “positive feedback loop, with negative consequences” in a feud among posters, that we should work to avoid, or resolve, or at least ignore some posts? Very valid criticism of some of his posts is sometimes, he’s not being pragmatic enough to say “ok then what [constructive thing] *should* we (as citizens) do” – doesn’t the same logic apply to posters? What constructive things should we do as posters? I don’t have an easy answer, but I suspect “keep posting frustrated rebuttals of Superman1″ is not the most constructive answer..? Peace,
      E.D.

      • Superman1 says:

        “keep posting frustrated rebuttals of Superman1″. Unfortunately, what we’re not getting are rebuttals of content of my messages, we’re getting pure invective for my posting the truth. People who claim they fight against climate change, but offer proposals that will drive us over the cliff, are not my definition of ‘fighters’. I’m fighting to win, not offer nice-sounding but losing proposals.

    • Superman1 says:

      “those committed people”. ‘Committed’ to drive us over the climate cliff with feel-good sound-good losing proposals.

  13. Icarus62 says:

    World leaders need to be funding research into DAC (direct air capture) of atmospheric CO2, as it’s undoubtedly too late for even the most wildly optimistic reductions in emissions to avert dangerous global warming – ‘dangerous’ meaning both causing massive harm to human civilisation and a strong possibility of triggering natural positive feedbacks which will take warming out of our hands.

    • David Miller says:

      Icarus, the very best tool we have for direct air capture is agriculture. Nothing else even comes close.

      Building soil carbon with green manure plants and charring of crop residue could remove several billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere. http://www.iaees.org/environdata/enframe.asp?xuhao=2 lists ‘total arable land’ at 1.6 billion hectares: a mere ton per hectare is 16% of our current emissions. If soil carbon could be built at that rate for all agricultural land, over half our current emissions could be sequestered.

      In addition to a very low expenditure for carbon captured this way there are other huge benefits to having large quantities of biochar in the soil. Among them are reduced nutrient requirements, reduced pollution from fertilizer runoff, more retained water available for the crop, and healthier and more nutritious plants which require less chemical inputs.

      • Mike Roddy says:

        Halting deforestation and halving wood products consumption would have a greater effect. Destruction of forest sinks is responsible for around 5 billion tons of CO2 emissions annually. Some is for wood products, some for biofuels and cattle ranching. All of it is deadly.

  14. Paul Klinkman says:

    Bombs go off.

    I suspect that heat doesn’t penetrate permafrost in a linear fashion. As each successive layer of permafrost starts to melt it generates bacterial growth, which generates gases, which generates an upward column of mixed gases and water, which pulls an equal amount of relatively warm water down to this level. Given any small crack through the permafrost, a section of permafrost deep in the layer may start generating gases, creating one of the kilometer-wide plumes that we have been seeing.

    My message to our planet’s consensus (but not real consensus) climate forecasters is as follows: “Boom!”

    • catman306 says:

      Maybe climate never had a threshold or a tipping point. Maybe it had a hair trigger all along. More than a few knew.

    • Something like this may already be happening. Lakes are appearing in the tundra and trees are falling into them as they widen. If the lake melts down far enough to penetrate the whole depth of the permafrost, sometimes they drain away leaving holes in the permafrost and further accelerating the melt. If you look at the work on Elgygytgyn, the climate at 300ppm and 400ppm was apparently quite different to the present climate. One thought is that we are already in a new climate regime. The effects are simply not yet apparent. There is enough inertia in the system that it will take some time to get to the climate that accompanies 400ppm and we are heading hell bent for election towards 500ppm.

  15. Michael Pope says:

    The monitoring of permafrost melting and consequential carbon release in the Arctic is welcome. However it is not the tundra permafrost which poses the greatest threat. That comes from permafrost covering the submerged continental shelf bordering the Arctic Ocean and that is what NASA should be most concerned about and monitoring closely.
    It is a pity that greater attention has not been paid to the repeated warnings of Dr Shakhova. She, and Dr Semiletov, have drawn attention to the fact that permafrost on the seabed has hitherto formed an impermeable seal beneath which are an estimated 1,400 gigatonnes of methane in the form of gas in sediments, shallow clathrates, yedoma and permafrost.

    Dr Shakhova has warned that degredation of permafrost forming this impermeable seal would result in release of sedimentary methane, lowering subsurface pressure and possibly destabilising shallow clathrates.

    She has further noted that over 70% of the Siberian continental shelf is covered by water less than 50m deep, affording methane released from the seabed no chance of oxidising in the water column before venting to the atmosphere. In 2012, Dr Semiletov reported plumes over the Siberian continental shelf up to 1 km in diameter venting methane to the atmosphere.

    What these scientists did not need to point out is that anthropogenic global warming is responsible for global warming. Much of that energy absorbed by the oceans and has initiated feedbacks which humans have no way of controlling. Those feedbacks include the melting of Arctic sea ice, enabling Arctic Ocean seawater to absorb (rather than reflect) solar energy. This in turn contributes to ocean warming and the melting of seabed permafrost along the Arctic coastline.

    The danger is that now thawing of seabed permafrost has commenced, it will continue, resulting in the uncontrollable release of increasing volumes of methane. The release of sedimentary gas alone could vent an estimated 500 gigatonnes of methane to the atmosphere, possibly in less than century.

    And that is sufficient to bring about catatrophic, irreversible climate change.

    Think about it

  16. Raul M. says:

    Well, there is still the nice thought of being invited into one of the new storm shelter cities soon to be constructed deep underground. Of course the weather inside will be pleasant year round and far beyond the ravaging effects of the ultraviolet rays that will reach the surface. My guess is the timely health caution for surface uv rays will be counted in seconds of exposure instead of minutes or hours by the 2020′s. has something to do with the interactions of methane in the stratosphere. Well back to imagining the best floor plans of the new underground city.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      You need soft rock, though. Google underground caves of Turkey. They were great hideouts against invaders, another problem we can anticipate.

  17. Vic says:

    Perhaps we should use aeroplanes to spray low temperature tolerant algaes onto the melted tundra with the aim of stimulating photosynthetic activity which would oygenate the water thereby preventing microbial methanogenisis.
    Some form of permanent vegetation would presumably compete with microbes for the newly released carboniferous compounds, resequestering them in its growing stems. These melted zones would eventually revegetate ‘naturally’, but if we sped that process up somehow we might buy ourselves some time. It might be as simple as adding nitrogen fertiliser, like we do on our farms.

    • Jeff Poole says:

      “It might be as simple as adding nitrogen fertiliser…”

      That would be the same nitrogen fertiliser that, on use, releases Nitrous Oxide gas which is 297 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2…

      I somehow doubt that would help.

  18. h4x354x0r says:

    Man’s ability to move carbon from long-term sequestration to being an active component in climate processes, is completely off any timescale chart of any historic change we’ve ever been able to measure. We are going to drive the earth through changes in 150-300 years, what has only happened on a 10,000-15,000 year timescale before.

    Yet, we find through better computing power and more specific research, that within those thousands-of-years overall change, there were fairly quick specific events, like large-scale ice sheet collapses causing very sudden large changes in sea levels.

    There’s no roadmap for what we’re doing to the planet right now. Call me an alarmist, I’m ready to ring a few bells. Sad part is, even at the breakneck pace we’re altering our environment compared to geological history, it still seems slow from a human time perspective. Thus, our inaction.

    I’m calling the year 2020 the “Year of Climate Change Vision.” Of course, by then it will be too late. It’s already too late, really. Mitigation costs are already ramping up. Now, we either just pay for mitigation while we keep creating more problems, or pay for both mitigation *and* sustainable conversion. That will require both energy production and lifestyle changes, BTW.

    We could do it. We could fix the mess we’ve made and give future generations a wonderful gift. Granted, it wouldn’t be easy. But, I’m very disappointed that there’s not a serious social impetus to try our hardest. We’re really handing our kids a pile of ….stuff, right now. I wish we could do better.

  19. Methane may be up to 143 times as potent a green house gas on a one year basis.
    http://mtkass.blogspot.co.nz/2013/03/the-real-strength-of-methane.html