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NOAA stunner: “Methane levels rose in 2008 for the second consecutive year after a 10-year lull,” CO2 up 2.1 ppm to highest levels on record “despite economic slump”

By Joe Romm  

"NOAA stunner: “Methane levels rose in 2008 for the second consecutive year after a 10-year lull,” CO2 up 2.1 ppm to highest levels on record “despite economic slump”"

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The news from NOAA, “Greenhouse Gases Continue to Climb Despite Economic Slump,” is that all our dawdling on climate action this decade is having real impact on the atmosphere:

Two of the most important climate change gases increased last year, according to a preliminary analysis for NOAA’s annual greenhouse gas index, which tracks data from 60 sites around the world.

Researchers measured an additional 16.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) “” a byproduct of fossil fuel burning “” and 12.2 million tons of methane in the atmosphere at the end of December 2008. This increase is despite the global economic downturn, with its decrease in a wide range of activities that depend on fossil fuel use.

That meant a 2.1 ppm rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 386 ppm, easily the highest levels homo “sapiens” sapiens have ever seen, which is not news (see “World carbon dioxide levels jump in 2008 to highest in 650,000 “” if not 20 million “” years“), but should still worry everyone since it continues the nearly 40% higher rate of growth of concentrations this decade compared to last.  It also meant a 4.4 part per billion rise in methane concentrations, which definitely is news — and far more worrisome.

Sharply rising methane levels have been implicated in most every major rapid warming spell in Earth’s history, as Nature (subs. req’d, excerpted below) explained in a report last month. The report, on what they called “a ticking time bomb,” warned the “vast stores of methane “” a potent greenhouse gas “” could be released from frozen deposits on land and under the ocean.”

[Note:  The figure above is from the Nature article, but I have rather lamely added the 2009 data point and even more lamely extended the running mean line.  I only did this because NOAA doesn't appear to have graphed their latest data -- unlike last year (see "NOAA: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, Methane Rise Sharply in 2007").]

NOAA deserves praise for some clarity and bluntness — thank you Dr. Lubchenco, “another scientist who gets climate“:

Only by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and increasing energy production from renewable resources will we start to see improvements and begin to lessen the effects of climate change,” said scientist Pieter Tans of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.

I don’t think that sentence every appeared in a NOAA release during the previous administration (aka the Dark Ages).

“Think of the atmosphere and oceans taking in greenhouse gases as a bathtub filling with more water than the drain can empty, and the drain is very slow,” said Tans. “We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the point where they match levels that can be absorbed by Earth’s ecosystems.”

The useful bathtub analogy strikes again! (see here)

The increases in CO2 and methane during 2008 are slightly less than those measured in 2007, but fall well within the range of yearly fluctuations from natural changes, according to NOAA experts.

The rise in CO2 levels varies from year to year along with plant growth and decay, wildfire activity, and changes in soil conditions. Emerging from that natural variability is a consistent upward trend produced by burning coal, oil, and gas for transportation and industry.

NOAA says we have met the enemy, and he is us.

So why is the methane rising?  Here’s my explanation.  As a major 2008 study found, Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss:

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, the recent trend in sea ice loss is poised to triple Arctic warming, causing large emissions in carbon dioxide and methane from the tundra this century.  What is especially worrisome is that 2007 and 2008 provide strong evidence on behalf of this theory:

  • NOAA just reported that “methane levels rose in 2008 for the second consecutive year after a 10-year lull.”
  • The tundra can emit vast amounts of methane when it defrosts (see Part 1).
  • Scientific analysis suggests the rise in 2007 methane levels came from Arctic wetlands (see here).
  • And 2007 saw record Arctic ice loss [see "Ice Ice Maybe (not)"] “” as did 2008 (see “here)

David Lawrence of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has analyzed permafrost loss this century under various warming scenarios:

[Lawrence told me that using the above figure is "still fine as long as one mentions the caveats that permafrost is probably degrading a bit too rapidly in the original" (see discussion, literature links here).]

Note that the B1 scenario is “stabilizing” at 550 ppm atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, but in fact NCAR’s model doesn’t look at the feedback of the CO2 and methane emissions from the tundra loss, which would drive concentrations far higher!  So we must avoid 550 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 (see Tundra, Part 2: The point of no return).

We are, of course, on pace to exceed the A2 scenario “” U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm “¦ the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” “” 1000 ppm.

I’ll end with longer excerpts from the Nature report:

In 2007, scientists scouting the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean began to notice some troubling signs. In about half of their seawater chemistry samples, the concentration of dissolved methane was two to ten times higher than in samples taken during previous years from the same locations. Then, last summer, they observed large rings of gas “” sometimes as wide as 30 centimetres in diameter “” trapped in ice, as well as methane plumes bubbling to the surface over hundreds of square kilometres of the shallow waters along the Siberian Shelf.

The team, from Russia and other nations, presented their results at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in December, where scientists cautiously voiced their concerns that large quantities of methane are becoming destabilized as the planet “” and the ocean “” heat up. Researchers have long speculated that warming could unleash vast stores of the greenhouse gas from where it lies frozen beneath the sea floor and locked up in Arctic soils. If those deposits were to melt, it would almost certainly trigger abrupt climate change. Methane heats the atmosphere with an efficiency 25 times that of carbon dioxide, and its release could put in motion a positive feedback loop in which warming releases methane, causing further warming, which liberates even more of the gas. Whether that’s already happening is anyone’s guess. Scientists are quick to point out that the Arctic methane plumes could be anomalous or simply part of a longer-term trend. Natalia Shakhova, a biogeochemist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and one of the leaders of the Siberian Shelf study, says, “Two years is nothing in geologic time scales.” James Kennett, an Earth scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, agrees and says it is very possible that the Arctic methane releases “just simply weren’t observed before.”

See Arctic Research Center at AGU: The underwater permafrost is thawing and releasing methane.

During the Pleistocene, which lasted from about 1.8 million years ago until 10,000 years ago, ice sheets cloaked much of North America and Eurasia, and animals such as woolly mammoths and mastodons lumbered around on the frozen, icy tundra. This era was brought to an abrupt end by a rapid warming spell that caused widespread glacial melting, raising sea levels by more than a hundred metres and triggering mass extinctions. According to research by Katey Walter and her colleagues, methane bubbling up from the bottoms of Arctic lakes accounted for between 30 and 87 per cent of the rise in atmospheric methane that helped bring an end to the Pleistocene8. These lakes now account for six per cent of global methane emissions. “So we know that they have the potential to become an even bigger source in the future,” says Walter.

More recently, Martin Kennedy and colleagues reported in Nature that a massive release of methane some 635 million years ago might have spelled the end of the last ‘snowball Earth’ period, when ice sheets stretched as far as the Equator. According to their analysis, this was a period of abrupt glacial melting and destabilization of methane hydrates. Although there is not widespread agreement about what role methane has played in periods of abrupt climate change in Earth’s history, “When we look at the geologic record, at critical thresholds, methane is implicated in almost all of those occurrences,” says Kennedy.

Bottom line:

“These deposits [of methane] rival fossil fuels in terms of their size. It’s like having a whole additional supply of coal, oil and natural gas out there that we can’t control,” says James White, a geochemist at the University of Colorado, Boulder….

In the meantime, how concerned should we be about the possibility of climate catastrophe resulting from methane? “It’s probably safe to say that we don’t know,” says White. “But if there’s a ticking bomb in the room, you’d like to know the possibility of it going off. The fact that it’s there at all is unnerving.”

Paging Jack Bauer — although this is one ticking-time-bomb scenario where we already know who is behind it and how to stop it.

Related Posts:

‹ Energy and Global Warming news for April 24, 25: The inevitable watering down of Waxman-Markey

Waxman whacks Gingrich upside the head — with the help of some quotes from Climate Progress ›

53 Responses to NOAA stunner: “Methane levels rose in 2008 for the second consecutive year after a 10-year lull,” CO2 up 2.1 ppm to highest levels on record “despite economic slump”

  1. Harrier says:

    Okay, it’s official. I hate permafrost. Alongside the rate of warming, permafrost is the biggest difference between past periods of global warming and the present. There wasn’t any permafrost on Earth during either the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum or the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event. It’s an entire extra store of carbon and methane that’s extremely sensitive to warming.

    I’d be a lot less worried about the future if we didn’t have the melting permafrost to contend with.

  2. Harrier says:

    And now we might have flu pandemic on our hands.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/25/world/americas/25mexico.html?ref=nyregion

    Hooray!

  3. Gail says:

    Is this relevant?

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090423142457.htm

    Now Harrier, how can we get people to take climate change as seriously as a flu pandemic? They’ve practically shut the entire country of Mexico down because of this!

  4. MarkB says:

    Off-topic…

    Ironically, in an article with a contrarian spin, I found an interesting statement:

    “Last week, federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett said experts predicted sea level rises of up to 6m from Antarctic melting by 2100, but the worst case scenario foreshadowed by the SCAR report was a 1.25m rise. ”

    Can this be confirmed from a SCAR report? They appear to be downplaying projections that are in reality very worrisome. Remember…the latest ipcc report didn’t count on any real contribution to sea leve rise from Antarctica due mainly to uncertainty and the conservative nature of the ipcc.

    http://www.news.com.au/story/0,27574,25348657-401,00.html

  5. Harrier says:

    Gail: I saw articles about that study earlier. During a previous warming period many thousands of years ago, the resulting spike in methane didn’t come from melting clathrates but from an expansion of wetlands.

    The relevant meaning for us is that methane clathrates perhaps aren’t going to melt as readily as some might have feared.

    The problem is that the release of methane from permafrost might warm the Earth enough that the clathrates would start releasing methane.

    Ugh. I hate permafrost.

  6. Leland Palmer says:

    Bad news, Joe, as always. This climate crisis is just awful – it’s like watching a slow motion train wreck.

    And as always (sorry for the repetition, I’m trying to spread the word as widely as possible) I think that the time has come for an emergency carbon negative intervention. We need to make the maximum effort that the human race is capable of making, and we need to do it now.

    Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage (BECS):
    a Sequential Decision Approach to the threat of Abrupt Climate Change

    http://www.etsap.org/worksh_6_2003/2003P_read.pdf

    Abrupt Climate Change (ACC – NAS, 2001) is an issue that ‘haunts the climate change problem’
    (IPCC, 2001) but has been neglected by policy makers up to now, maybe for want of practicable
    measures for effective response, save for risky geo-engineering. A portfolio of Bio-Energy with
    Carbon Storage (BECS) technologies, yielding negative emissions energy, may be seen as benign, low
    risk, geo-engineering that is the key to being prepared for ACC.

    Check out Figure 3. Notice that the line labeled “manhattan project style policy from 2020″ gets us down to pre-industrial levels of CO2 by roughly 2050.

    The huge effect of carbon negative energy production on the whole problem is obvious, whether Read and Lermit are totally quantitatively right or not.

    Read’s and Lermits’ ideas can be updated by the addition of oxy-fuel combustion to make such a conversion more efficient and economical, biocarbon fuel to make biomass more transportable, getting biomass from fire-protecting the forests, using the electricity generated for electric and plug-in hybrid cars, and getting some of the carbon for biocarbon from municipal waste, agricultural waste, and manure.

    I think we have to do this sort of emergency intervention, and do it now, just to stay even with the problem. Even that might not turn the corner on this problem. But it’s worth a shot, IMO.

  7. Harrier says:

    Leland, I always appreciate your posts on biocarbon. They remind me that there is a solution to increasing levels of CO2 that we could attempt, and it is the presence of a solution that allows me to maintain some measure of optimism.

    I wish there were some way to deal with the prospect of methane spikes. Perhaps the only saving grace is that the gas has a relatively short atmospheric life before it breaks down into carbon dioxide.

  8. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Harrier-

    Thank you so much.

    Regarding methane, I have wondered myself if there was something we could do, and wonder if just this once, we could consider artificially increasing the concentration of the hydroxyl radical in the atmosphere. The hydroxyl radical is what oxidizes methane to CO2.

    I don’t know much about this process, and will be researching it on the Internet.

    It might be possible to add a photochemically activated substance to the atmosphere that would artificially increase the concentration of the hydroxyl radical in the atmosphere, leading to faster oxidation of methane to CO2. A successful compound would degrade benignly on fairly short timescales, and have to be continually replaced, so it could be withdrawn quickly if bad effects are seen.

    I hate geoengineering approaches, other than carbon negative energy approaches (BECS), which I think is in a “benign geoengineering” category of its own. To make BECS more benign, of course, intensively develop carbon sequestration by mineral carbonation, and do away with deep injection ASAP.

    I hate geoengineering approaches. We’re not smart enough to do geoengineering, I think.

    We might be forced to do short term biodegradable geoengineering to more rapidly degrade methane into CO2, if this is even possible.

    I post this in the hope that someone who knows more about this might be able to come up with a practical way to do this.

  9. Famous photographer W. Eugene Smith did a series of photos for LIFE magazine on the country doctor. One image captured the expression on his face as he realized the child he was treating would lose an eye. It is a moment of realization, not unlike the feeling I sense emerging now – knowing there is no way this will turn out well. We just have to choose the least bad solution..
    http://jeffphotos.blogspot.com/2007/07/w-eugene-smith-country-doctor.html

  10. Martin Hedberg says:

    The scientist tells us there still is time to act. Don’t give up, it is not to late!

    But we don’t do enough (since there still is time).

    When the scientist eventually tell us it is to late. -Then it is to late.

  11. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Harrier-

    A safer way to deal with methane is to cap landfills, and use manure to generate biogas, and burn the biogas.

    Biocarbon/CCS might be a better solution to methane, allowing carbonaceous municipal waste to be conveted into biocarbon before it ever makes it to the landfill, and transforming manure into biocarbon. Sewage sludge can be made into biocarbon, the Japanese and Germans are doing this, so why not manure? Air drying or solar drying it first would be a good idea. Also, eating less meat and milk and decreasing the cow population is a good idea.

    It might be possible to use old landfills as sources of biocarbon, too, eliminating methane leakage from them.

    If we more intensively manage anthropogenic sources of methane, maybe we can compensate somewhat for permafrost emissions.

    Maybe not, but it seems worth a try.

  12. Yuebing says:

    Richard,

    We are all processing more and more negative information of late. The bad news taps are open wide.

    However, there is still room for an overall positive outcome to this future trainwreck. Consider:

    Climate change is just getting started. Sure, there are bad things happening around the planet, but we are still just a degree or so hotter. If we act now with the technology we have now, we can head this off. Efficiency, renewables, and push the technical limit of reforestation gets us turned around in ten or fifteen years and headed towards 350 ppm CO2. See Hansen’s http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/abstracts/2008/Hansen_etal.html Plus we get a cool new economy and maybe even some injection of sustainability concepts into mainstream culture.

    Progress towards a global solution to this crisis has been largely blocked by the US, Australia, and a few others. The blockage here in the US has been cleared! Obama, Chu, Zoi, etc get it. (need a who is who and what they said article please)

    There are no economic barriers to fixing this right now–just inertia and stupidity.

    My advice is to leaven all the very necessary examination of just how massively bad this could get with a healthy dose of “we can fix this now, we must fix this now”. It’s true.

    Anyone else noticed the “Age of Stupid” project?

    http://www.ageofstupid.net/

  13. Gail says:

    Thank you for that clarification Harrier. I do think of course we must be positive and support green energy policies and search for innovative technology that will bring nature back into balance.

    For several years I have been sort of joking/complaining that spring doesn’t last as long as it used to, because it seemed by the time it gets warm enough to work the garden it gets instantaneously unpleasantly hot to do so. Okay, last week I had frost on three mornings and this afternoon, with the temperature hitting 90, I realized it’s true.

    The climate HAS changed. (Obviously I already knew that, but every fresh, visceral revelation has an element of shock.) Thus, it is only logical that most of the long-lived and immobile trees and shrubs that have evolved to live in a particular environment are not going to be able to survive in one that is progressively becoming more uninhabitable for them. They cannot adapt fast enough to keep up. Something of course will take their place, but it won’t be, for the most part, whatever has been there up till now.

    This must be true around the world. Any plans to reforest will not succeed unless they take into account the future climate shifts, and extreme weather.

  14. Sasparilla says:

    It certainly would have been nice to see a more marked slowdown in the increase of CO2 levels.

  15. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    Why does this article say CO2 is currently at 386 ppm and NASA says 389 ppm? Just normal variability?

    http://climate.jpl.nasa.gov/

  16. Max says:

    Gail wrote: “Any plans to reforest will not succeed unless they take into account the future climate shifts.”

    That’s one thing that worries me about Biochar as a silver bullet (even assuming our bio-char production and distribution methods, themselves, are carbon neutral). I.e, will biochar be as “inert” in future soil conditions?

    Here’s what worries me about biochar in our current climate conditions: Supposedly, biochar acts like a soil “fertilizer”, not merely a physical soil amendment. If so, that implies some biochar carbon is experiencing uptake into new growth (either of plants, or soil fungi). In either case, that implies less CO2 uptake by our “carbon-negative” crops, since their new biomass is shifting the “inert” biochar carbon into “renewable” mobilized carbon.

    (It’s possible biochar acts 100% as a catalyst, but is there any evidence for such an optimistic scenario?)

  17. ecostew says:

    There is very little peer-reviewed science on biochar and there is not consensus on the science of long-term AGW mitigation or long-term beneficial soil health (biochar is not natural organic material from existing ecosystems except for natural return fires). More complicating, soils reflect their soil genesis and changing ecosystems (the presence of biochar in ancient slash and burn in the Amazon Basin in no way supports pursuing it as a tool to mitigate AGW or its long-term benefits for soil health of soils in general), which going forward will include AGW ecosystem shifts – one should consider the precautionary principle before adopting any policy as it relates to biochar mitigating AGW and long-term soil health.

  18. paulm says:

    Does this mean we have to take geo engineering seriously now as part of the solution?

    [JR: Does this mean we have to hope someone invents a time machine and travels back in time to warn us? No, 'cause we'd ignore them, too.]

  19. David B. Benson says:

    Max — About half the carbon added as a soil amendment returns to the active carbon cycle within a few decades. Despite ecostew’s stewing, all reports indicate that adding biochar for agricultural productivity is positive as long as not too much is added. However, adding to mature forest soils results in essentially all the added carbon being returned to the active carbon cycle within decades. The conclusiion seems to be that eirther one buries biochar deeply or else at least half returns to the active carbon cycle.

    Still, biochar amendents in farming are good, even if just for improved yields.

  20. ecostew says:

    David B.

    You must reference the peer-reviewed science, which supports your claim.

  21. ecostew says:

    David B.

    I re-read your post – it is totally without grounding in peer-reviewed science. You really appear like the AGW denialist as you push biochar without peer-reviewed science.

  22. Gail says:

    Greetings folks,

    I took a break and went to a movie matinee (and got out of the 90 degree APRIL! afternoon). While watching the ads we are now forced to endure, it occurred to me that just like on the teevee, which I rarely watch, the ads are at least as compelling as the program.

    What about (okay I know I sound desperate) getting every environmental group and climate science people together to collectively fund a MASSIVE and brilliant ad campaign on the teevee, on movie theater screens, and radio, on the web and print media, to educate the populous about the consequences we face if we continue business as usual?

    It’s time to TALK TO THE PEOPLE, no? There is money out there for saving birds and polar bears, and funding think tanks, and genius awards, and there are celebrities who understand what is at stake.

    Can’t there be some kind of coordinated public educational effort so that Joe sixpack is motivated to contact his elected representatives and demand action??

    Not just (excellent) movies like “An Inconvenient Truth” or “The Age of Stupid”, or programs on PBS that preach to the converted, but a concerted, huge outreach on MSM?

  23. Hmpf says:

    Here’s another vote for a coordinated, massive, outreach effort.

  24. ecostew says:

    I agree – http://www.michaelmoore.com/ might be a great part of the effort!

  25. Gail says:

    Guys, Guys! Thanks for the enthusiasm, and I personally revere (or at least admire) Michael Moore. But the deniers LOATHE him, just as they revile Al Gore. They have their place and I am grateful for their work. But what we need are spokespeople who appeal to the sort of person who kind of KNOWS the climate is a problem but is too intimidated, or just too busy and preoccupied with their daily routine, to take notice and become energized.

    What about the octomom as a spokesperson? (just kidding!)

  26. Harrier says:

    One thing I’ve just started to learn about that intrigues me is an event in Earth’s past called the Azolla Event: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azolla_event

    Some 49 million years ago, massive blooms of the freshwater fern Azolla in a landlocked, unmixed Arctic Ocean absorbed huge quantities of carbon dioxide over the course of slightly less than one million years. As blooms died they sank to the bottom of the sea, taking the sequestered carbon with them. Because there was no deep ocean mixing, the very bottom of the ocean was anoxic, which meant that bacteria could not reach the Azolla to decompose it. Thus, bloom after bloom of Azolla was buried, the carbon dioxide it had absorbed locked away.

    It makes me wonder whether Azolla ferns might make good large-scale carbon sinks today. They certainly seem to grow at sufficient volume to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide; all they need is enough freshwater and some phosphorous.

  27. Will Greene says:

    Gail, I’m with you. But it has to be lead by respected climate SCIENTISTS. Al Gore (love the guy), can have no part in the project as was previously alluded to. I asked Joe the question a while back whether we need a massive educational campaign, he never answered, but I strongly think we do. I’m on the street in Tempe and disinformation and plain stupidity on the subject is abundant.

    There is more than enough public education on solutions, how to be green ect. We need a campaign concentrated on the nitty gritty science. Every person in America needs to know the Mann Hockey Stick Graph, know the difference between the troposphere and the stratosphere, in other words, climate 101. The majority of the world is probably at about a kindergarten level as far as climate science and climate change.

  28. Will Greene says:

    I love the reality campaign, and that has a place, but we need something way less political, and much more educational. I agree, PBS, BBC, ect preach to the choir. Movie theaters are a good idea to reach a wider audience.

  29. If you want to see the worse case scenario then check out these maps if the global ice caps should melt completely.

    http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/2008/03/worse-case-scenario.html

  30. oxnardprof says:

    I hope that all those who post here (except for the ‘deniers’) actively communicate with their representatives. We need to push hard politically, to actively support the storngest possible action on the Waxman bill.

    I am considering contibuting to my reps who support strong action, specifically tying support to climate action.

    I see so many inane letters to the editor, guest editorials, etc. that I get overwhelmed in how to respond to my local paper.

    Perhaps we need a resource to generate appropriate letters-to-the editor to respond to deniers and encourage strong action on the issue.

  31. Susan says:

    I keep hoping Obama will do an education campaign (though it’s not his subject); also, Holdren terrific in person.

    I got slammed for mentioning the results coming in from the Catlin expedition. Is there something wrong with it? Looked good to me, but I’m not the best judge.
    http://www.catlinarcticsurvey.com/

  32. Harrier says:

    Sea level rise isn’t even the worst thing that would happen. Whole swaths of the planet could become unfathomably hot, and deserts could stretch north and south out of the tropics. Honestly, if I had to pick a problem related to climate change that was forced to stick around, in exchange for all the rest, I might pick sea level rise just because I happen to think we can deal with it more readily than drought and desertification.

  33. Susan says:

    Harrier, the one that really scares me is socioeconomic conflict; starvation; disease; pests; migration. Whatever the problem, it is exacerbated so much by guns and rapacious leaders. No matter floods or drought, if you have money and can move/create shelter, but what if you can’t?

  34. paulm says:

    Yes, sea level will not be the worst we have to cope with first. Well before this starts to force our hand many other extreme events – heat waves, droughts, storms and fires, will probably critically affect society.

    If six degrees cooler is a mile of ice over Boston – what will be 4-6dC be the other way. Its just scary.

  35. Greg Robie says:

    Joe,

    Thanks for collecting much of what is a known unknown, concerning Arctic methane, in one place. In the reports I read about the recent ISCC March gathering in Copenhagen one noted that world wide there are only 20 scientists currently studying Arctic methane. Also, because it is the Arctic, there are very few data collection venues.

    I find the NOAA graphic on atmospheric methane that I’ve incorporated into the narrative page last year of my Open To Info website the most damning, when juxtaposed with the failures of existing climate modeling to get the timeline right for the collapsing ice extent in the Arctic Ocean.

    http://home.roadrunner.com/~robie/opento/metanoiaHP.html

    If I were a betting man, I would bet that _if_ a comprehensive network of methane monitors were installed, and _if_ more scientists start studying what is going on up there, in terms of methane release/methane settling, we would find out that a tipping point has been passed for the detonation of the methane time bomb and klimakatastrophe. (One of the advantages of being a amateur generalist, rather than a professional specialist in matters of AGW, is that one can see patterns and draw conclusions that there, as yet, is not scientific studies proving their veracity; modeling that confirms such an hypothesis. One can speak forthrightly, as is being advocated here at CP, even if one has no professional social standing for doing so — other than rational common sense.)

    IMHO one needs to be brain dead (in denial) not to see the pattern. Atmospheric methane moves from north to south during its ~10 year life in the atmosphere. Its major source are the northern latitudes. There is some indication that some of the temperate zone methane moves north in winter (like our other pollutants such as flame retardant chemicals rendering breast milk unsafe for human consumption). Even so, and in conjunction with the measurements taken on the research voyages last summer, where up to 100Xs increased levels of methane were recorded, warming dynamics are changing in the high latitudes and fast! Methane is a major positive feedback factor. Since the “10 year lull (a somewhat meaningless global average)” is theorized to be attributable to substitution of new rice strains that release less methane, it is likely that the “lull” masked the warning data of the growing Arctic methane release that would have otherwise been seen if the aforementioned “ifs” had been invested in years ago; had CH4 been studied with as much fervor as CO2; if CO2 did not dominate the science and modeling as it has.

    Anyway, thanks for this blog entry. I look forward to more on this subject.

  36. Gail says:

    It will come down to food, the basic necessity, and the water to grow it. I think a well-orchestrated ad campaign to scare the bejeesus out of everyone is called for. I think the sentiment to NOT scare people lest they become apathetic has failed. They already are apathetic. I rely on Obama to lead on climate change but it would be better to have a non-political educational effort.

    If people can be convinced by a radio show that the War of the Worlds began, and if Mexico can shut down the country because 83 people died of a flu, then we ought to be able to mobilize around clean energy to save our planet.

    Well, I’m looking forward to 60 minutes tonight and also this:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29840099/

  37. Dill Weed says:

    Human flatulence has been entirely over looked. Billions of farts are cut everyday releasing hundred of thousands of tone of methane-sulfur compounds. We’re killing ourselves and offending our neighbors.

    Dill Weed

  38. Hmpf says:

    Yeah, Gail. The ‘let’s not scare people too much’ approach has always seemed odd to me – like telling someone who has lung cancer that they have ‘just a bad cough’ or something. I mean, in medicine (I think) it’s an accepted fact by now that the patient needs to know the truth – and I imagine especially so when there’s treatments that can be tried and behaviour changes to be made etc.

    It should be a simple process, really: 1.) Educate people about the real dangers and urgency of the situation, and 2.) tell them that yes, we *can* still influence the outcome significantly if we make a real, serious effort, starting now. No half-measures, no feel-good politics and symbolic or incremental changes; big changes, as big as we can possibly make them, NOW.

    It’s sad that we can make that kind of effort to wage war, but can’t seem to be able to motivate ourselves to do the same to save our collective asses.

    I do agree with Will Greene above, though, who says that we need scientists for this; Al Gore and other political figures alone won’t do, as they will automatically be read as biased by a lot of people. (So will scientists, by the “all scientists are in on the big conspiracy” crowd, but one would hope that that crowd is at least *slightly* smaller than the “I don’t trust politicians, and especially not those of the ‘wrong’ party” crowd.)

  39. Gail says:

    Thanks, Hmpf for moving us past the offensive Weed comment!

    Joe R, what do you think about a massive ad campaign on tv, in theaters, in magazines and newspapers? What about proposing a collective effort by groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, WWF, the Doris Duke Foundation, and other environmental organizations to collaborate on fundraising for a coordinated campaign – and then hire some fantastically creative advertising firm to develop the program? Perhaps the focus could be 1) educating the public on the problem and 2) encouraging the public to write their elected representatives and demand that they support Obama’s energy policies.

    Sigh, I wish I was more than just a chicken farmer.

  40. K Nockels says:

    I use to feel so frustrated with the lack of real warnings coming from the science community but that has certainly changed in the last two years. I always felt that if THE PEOPLE of our planet had solid good science warnings from the science community that we would see what we had to do and get it done if for no other reason than our children. It seems the wake-up calls keep coming faster and faster and most people have only just started to notice. With most taking the view that it does not apply to them. Change my life style NOT ME! let someone else do it. When it comes to WHAT WILL IT TAKE for everyone to get it, I’m really scared how far that will mean we have to go down the road toward 6c and that by than we may have gone to far. I see us on a razor’s edge. The projections are mostly based on gradual warming and the simulations that include tipping points are not included in the IPCC report. They seem to be falling farther behind with each report. The change is happening so fast that even some scientists are telling us they are having trouble keeping up. We seem to have some solutions to parts of the problem but TIME it seems waits for no man or woman to GET IT! And this TIME some are telling us we have left to turn things around is shrinking fast, how close are we really from the edge? I have been personally involved in raising awareness (and living accordingly) of Global Warming/Climate Change since 1998.

  41. pilot soldier says:

    hello….i’m sorry but….they are already doing it…..it’s call “atmospheric geoengineering”…..chemical trails people….”chemtrails”…..they mix something with the jet fuel…….look in the sky people THEY ARE ALREADY DOING IT

    http://www.infowars.com/the-government-is-already-geo-engineering-the-environment/

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuP9KYgSUcQ

    they are trying to create an artificial sunscreen.

    geoengineering it’s REAL, and it’s happening right now

  42. Will Greene says:

    K Nockels, it clearly hasn’t been silent on the scientist front, Hansen is a great example, but how many have really stuck their neck out there as far as becoming politically active? It’s like they (you) tell us we’re headed for catastrophe, and what then? How can they then just go back to their labs, classrooms, ect? The world is CRYING OUT for a MASSIVE education campaign by climate SCIENTISTS, beyond what we’re seeing now. The absence of such a campaign suggests the science is not clear enough to act. We here thanks to Dr. Romm, know that’s not the case, but that’s how it plays to the populace.

  43. David B. Benson says:

    ecostew — I grow rather tired of your tirade in which it is clear you have made no attempt to read the relevant literature.

    Biochar review:

    http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/node/578

  44. Gail says:

    Well, pilot soldier, if the government is deliberately creating chemtrails to combat climate change, it’s not working! Here in New Jersey, spring has ceased to exist. This past week we went from frost 3 mornings to 2 days over 90 degrees and 3 more to follow. No rain. The early leaves are hanging, wilted.

    If this is April, which it is last time I checked, then we can expect widespread crop failures at harvest time.

    Just watched Joe R on 60 minutes. Did that guy Rogers from Duke Energy basically admit that we’re NOT going to be able to save the planet??

  45. I wrote a few days ago about the need to engage the artistic community in the process in a post called The Death of Literature. Scientists have been tirelessly warning us for the last decade, and now we need creativity and passion to jump start a movement, and command the world’s attention.

    http://one-blue-marble.com/blog/?p=384

  46. paulm says:

    Depends what you mean by save, Gail.

    We are certainly going to see 2-3dC+ in the near future no matter what we do (unless there is a miracle). And who knows how much higher it will get once it reaches that level.

    3dC is a very different planet. I doubt civilization as we know it now will survive that.

  47. Brad Arnold says:

    The real sleeper in global warming senarios isn’t the permafrost above water (NASCAR predicts that 50% of surface permafrost will melt by 2050, and over 90% by 2100!), it is submarine permafrost. For example, an area six times the size of Germany containing about 540 billion tons of carbon off the coast of Siberia. That submarine permafrost is perilously close to thawing. Three to 12 kilometers from the coast the sea sediment is just below freezing. The permafrost has grown porous, there is a loss of rigor in the frozen sea floor, and the surrounding seawater is highly oversaturated with solute methane.

    “…Researchers were investigating “alarming” reports in the last few days of the release of methane from long frozen Arctic waters, possibly from the warming of the sea…” –”Arctic sea ice drops to 2nd lowest level on record,” AP, 27 Aug ’08

    “If the Siberian (submarine) permafrost-seal thaws completely and all the stored gas escapes, the methane content of the planet’s atmosphere would increase twelve fold. The result would be catastrophic global warming.” –”A Storehouse of Greenhouse Gases Is Opening in Siberia,” Spiegel, 17 April ’08

    It is important to note that natural methane emissions from melting permafrost (or the “compost effect” of microbial activity) are not included in current climate models. In my opinion, natural methane emissions from melting methane hydrate will soon overwhelm any cuts we make to our emissions (did I say cuts?):

    The world’s emissions of the main planet-warming gas carbon dioxide will rise over 50 percent to more than 42 billion tonnes per year from 2005 to 2030 as China leads a rise in burning coal, the U.S. government forecast on Wednesday. China’s coal demand will rise 3.2 percent annually from 2005 to 2030, the Energy Information Administration said in its International Energy Outlook 2008. –Reuters, 26 June 2008

  48. Theodore says:

    Here is a half-baked idea for somebody else to work on. Grow bamboo. Drill holes in it. Blow sand in the holes. Dump it in the ocean. The sand will make it sink to the bottom, where it will be covered with sediment, trapping its carbon.

  49. TeddyLee says:

    Although, the world economy is still in slow recovery, individual country are pumping their money to maintain individual econormic glow. It means peoples are still consuming heavy energy and creat more green house gas.

  50. Russell says:

    here’s a query. what would be the outcome of combining “highest levels of greenhouse gases that homo sapien has ever seen” and solar activity climbing this year to the largest solar max (which hasn’t been seen in 50 years) in 2011?