So many amplifying methane feedbacks, so little time to stop them all

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"So many amplifying methane feedbacks, so little time to stop them all"

The UK’s National Oceanography Centre in Southampton reports:

The warming of an Arctic current over the last 30 years has triggered the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from methane hydrate stored in the sediment beneath the seabed.

German and British scientists “have found that more than 250 plumes of bubbles of methane gas are rising from the seabed of the West Spitsbergen continental margin in the Arctic, in a depth range of 150 to 400 metres” [See figure on right].

Methane released from gas hydrate in submarine sediments has been identified in the past as an agent of climate change. The likelihood of methane being released in this way has been widely predicted.

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

This is the first time that such behaviour in response to climate change has been observed in the modern period.

While most of the methane currently released from the seabed is dissolved in the seawater before it reaches the atmosphere, methane seeps are episodic and unpredictable and periods of more vigorous outflow of methane into the atmosphere are possible. Furthermore, methane dissolved in the seawater contributes to ocean acididfication.

Geophysics Professor Graham Westbrook warns: “If this process becomes widespread along Arctic continental margins, tens of megatonnes of methane per year – equivalent to 5-10% of the total amount released globally by natural sources, could be released into the ocean.”

For more on this, see the original GRL study here (subs. req’d).

The rest of this post, which reviews some recent findings on the not-so-perma-frost, is a guest blog by Ken Levenson, who blogs at checklisttowardzerocarbon.

The vast amount of carbon stored in the arctic and boreal regions of the world is more than double that previously estimated…

Reported in July of this year, by Science Daily – it’s a staggering amount:

“We now estimate the deposits contain over 1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere”, said Dr. Charles Tarnocai, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, and lead author.

So the fact that the permafrost is now permamelt becomes a concern truly second to none. More worrying still is that the melting is not the product of a single positive (or amplifying) feedback but, at a minimum, a tag team of three feedbacks each reinforcing each other while attacking from different angles: Land, Sea and Air. There is a comprehensive and devastating attack underway on the permafrost that would make General William Tecumseh Sherman proud.

From the Land:

A new article by Tracey Logan in New Scientist reports:

The fire that raged north of Alaska’s Brooks mountain range in 2007 left a 1000-square-kilometre scorched patch of earth – an area larger than the sum of all known fires on Alaska’s North Slope since 1950.

Now scientists studying the ecological impact of the fire report that the blaze dumped 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – about the amount that Barbados puts out in a year. What’s more, at next week’s meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Albuquerque, New Mexico, two teams will warn that as climate change takes hold tundra fires across the Arctic will become more frequent.

The concern is two-fold:
1. It transforms the tundra, traditionally a carbon sink, into an carbon emitter.
2. More importantly it radically increases the ground’s solar absorption.

Pristine tundra takes up about 30 to 70 grams of carbon per square metre during the summer months, whereas the severely burned site lost about 40 to 120 grams per square metre. The team also found that the most severely burned terrain absorbed 71 per cent more solar radiation than normal…

The really big problem: The burnt tundra — a newly minted solar heat collector — is sitting on the permafrost.

“Along with the melting ice in the permafrost, you’re also exposing more old carbon that was stored in that freezer [as organic material] and is being allowed to decompose and reintroduce itself to the atmosphere.”

Helping drive the Tundra fires is the air assault.

From the Air:

The average surface air temperature warming in the arctic has been many times greater than Earth’s average warming. The warming is concentrated where it can likely do the most damage. (See posts NASA: Another brutally hot year for the Siberian Tundra and NOAA’s arctic report card shows stronger effects of warming in Greenland and permafrost.)

The NOAA 2008 report card notes a shockingly number:

Autumn temperatures are at a record 5º C above normal, due to the major loss of sea ice in recent years which allows more solar heating of the ocean. Winter and springtime temperatures remain relatively warm over the entire Arctic, in contrast to the 20th century and consistent with an emerging global warming influence.

As the excerpt states the feedbacks are reinforcing each other. On to the the sea attack.

From the Sea:

Permafrost threatened by rapid melt of Arctic sea ice – reported the American Geophysical Union in 2008.

The team finds that, during episodes of rapid sea-ice loss, the rate of Arctic land warming is 3.5 times greater than the average 21st century warming rates predicted in global climate models. While this warming is largest over the ocean, the simulations suggest that it can penetrate as far as 1500 kilometers (about 900 miles) inland. The simulations also indicate that the warming acceleration during such events is especially pronounced in autumn. The decade during which a rapid sea-ice loss event occurs could see autumn temperatures warm by as much as 5 degrees C (9 degrees F) along the Arctic coasts of Russia, Alaska, and Canada.

What’s to worry about? It’s not like we’ve been losing all that much sea ice – NOT. See also North Pole poised to be largely ice-free by 2020: “It’s like the Arctic is covered with an egg shell and the egg shell is now just cracking completely”.

The rapidly melting Arctic permafrost is now our biggest existential threat – as it was the Soviet ICBMs raining down from the Arctic circle we so feared growing up. And while we and the Soviets were restrained by self-interest, the hard-charging feedbacks have no such restraints. We must restrain the feedbacks. And as Joe says, the time to start is yesterday.

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25 Responses to So many amplifying methane feedbacks, so little time to stop them all

  1. I wonder if dissolved CO2 and now CH4 in the ocean will affect the amount of O2 than can be dissolved in a specific quantity of water? In the atmosphere CO2 displaces O2 and while the ocean is a liquid instead of gaseous “atmosphere” I wonder if the same thing will happen there and, if so, if enough O2 could be displaced to essentially suffocate marine life…

    I haven’t seen any mention of that possibility yet.

    Melting permafrost is also going to release a lot of CH4 into the atmosphere and in that case it goes directly into the air unlike the undersea deposits described here.

  2. Paul K says:

    I wonder what and how long it will take to add these feedbacks into warming forecasts. I am a bit unnerved by the clathrate (methane hydrate) melt. I envisioned that at least this feedback wouldn’t kick in until the oceans warmed considerably. But it appears that many of the clathrates are right at the marginal zone on the continental shelves, so only a small change in ocean temps at that depth will melt and release methane.

    I hate to load more depressing news on, but there was also another study released today that confirmed the increases in water vapor observed in the atmosphere is due to humans.

    Climate Models Confirm More Moisture In Atmosphere Attributed To Humans
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090811091832.htm

    This is important because it confirms what the climate models have been predicting, warming initially forced by increased anthropogenic CO2 then causes a water vapor feedback, leading to the increased warming the models forecast.

  3. I read that methane will acidify ocean waters faster than thought
    “Increased Ocean Acidification In Alaska Waters, New Findings Show”
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090813163158.htm

    This may be a very rapid change since the pteropods are so vulnerable. When it is goodbye to salmon, we should be very clear on the reasons why.

  4. I did some quick reading and found that, in answer to my question regarding oceanic O2 depletion in my first post:

    “It may be possible to explain past marine extinctions by the scrubbing effect. If an inert gas is bubbled through water, the surface of each bubble acts as a semi permeable membrane. Gases diffuse across this membrane according to their concentration inside and outside the bubble. The result of bubbling methane through the ocean is to deplete the oxygen dissolved in the water, leading to ocean anoxia.
    The consequences of a methane-driven oceanic eruption for marine and terrestrial life are likely to be catastrophic. Figuratively speaking, the erupting region “boils over,” ejecting a large amount of methane and other gases (e.g., CO2, H2S) into the atmosphere, and flooding large areas of land. Whereas pure methane is lighter than air, methane loaded with water droplets is much heavier, and thus spreads over the land, mixing with air in the process (and losing water as rain). The air-methane mixture is explosive at methane concentrations between 5% and 15%; as such mixtures form in different locations near the ground and are ignited by lightning, explosions and conflagrations destroy most of the terrestrial life, and also produce great amounts of smoke and of carbon dioxide. Firestorms carry smoke and dust into the upper atmosphere, where they may remain for several years; the resulting darkness and global cooling may provide an additional kill mechanism. Conversely, carbon dioxide and the remaining methane create the greenhouse effect, which may lead to global warming. The outcome of the competition between the cooling and the warming tendencies is difficult to predict.[2]”

    Source of quote: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clathrate_gun_hypothesis

  5. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    There is a question due to arise pretty soon – just who is responsible for controlling the feedbacks ? Assuming that is that their control is practicable ?

    Will increased Papuan forest fires count as a part of Papua’s emissions entitlement ? Is Canada responsible for its tundra plus its 250 miles of exclusive economic interest zone offshore ? Is Denmark responsible for the clathrates round Greenland ?

    Or do these feedback outputs need to be accounted as a global output whose control, or offsetting, is allocated according to nations’ wealth ? As much for efficacy’s sake as for equity ?

    Plainly, apart from painting the arctic white, (et techno-absurdity cetera), ‘control’ is going to be about not merely halting global warming, but cooling the planet sufficiently to decellerate the burgeoning feedback loops. Short of a nuclear winter scenario, that wholesale reversal of society’s impact cannot happen exept by operating a range of benign geo-engineering techniques. Merely cutting even US GHG outputs even to Papuan levels cannot reduce airborne carbon swiftly enough. The loops are evidently on their way to swamping the planet’s carbon sinks, after which the possibility of control is lost.

    Thus there needs to be an end to prejudice over the geo-engineering option, and the advance of criteria for techniques’ selection and research, as well as the acceptance of those techniques’ exclusion from commercial carbon markets as the critical options by which the feedbacks may be addressed by the nations. Plainly, the issue of feedbacks is beyond the capacity of industry to resolve by the reform of its practices – only states can now marshal the necessary resources for the task.

    Regards,

    Lewis

  6. Paul K says:

    Lewis, please remember that roughly half of the carbon emitted from fossil fuels is being absorbed into the carbon sinks. If we cut the fossil fuel emissions, then we still have a chance the feedback loop carbon can be absorbed into the sinks. This would be particularly true if reforestation and improved farming practices are adopted.

    The threat from ocean acidification seems to growing as we learn more about this effect of raising CO2, so I can’t say that we can count on the ocean CO2 sink though. Its becoming clear, that mankind is likely going to face some tough decisions. In all cases though, we will have more options if we stop burning coal ASAP (unless CCS is used, and the relative economics on that option versus renewables doesn’t look good).

    We have to shut coal use down. Without that action, we have very little room to maneuver.

  7. Leland Palmer says:

    Oh, what a shame.

    Most of the methane will dissolve in the sea water, and be metabolized into CO2, I think, by methanogen bacteria. So, in the short term, maybe the main effect will be increased acidification of the oceans? Dunno, maybe so.

    Some will make it all the way to the surface, though, especially if the quantity of methane released accelerates.

    Once in the atmosphere, it will be oxidized into CO2 with a half-life of something like 12 years, by the hydroxyl radical. Unfortunately, the MIT modeling study featured on this blog a couple of months ago predicted some decline in the hydroxyl radical over the next century – likely another feedback effect.

    Over a 20 year period, methane is something like 70 times worse as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Over a century, this drops to about 25 times worse.

    It could easily get this bad, I think:

    How to kill (almost) all life: the end-Permian extinction event
    Michael J. Benton and Richard J. Twitchett
    Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1RJ, UK

    The biggest mass extinction of the past 600 million years (My), the end-Permian event (251 My ago), witnessed the loss of as much as 95% of all species on Earth. Key questions for biologists concern what combination of environmental changes could possibly have had such a devastating effect, the scale and pattern of species loss, and the nature of the recovery. New studies on dating the event, contemporary volcanic activity, and the anatomy of the environmental crisis have changed our perspectives dramatically in the past
    five years. Evidence on causation is equivocal, with support for either an asteroid impact or mass volcanism, but the latter seems most probable. The extinction model involves global warming by 6 degrees C and huge input
    of light carbon into the ocean-atmosphere system from the eruptions, but especially from gas hydrates,leading to an ever-worsening positive-feedback loop, the ‘runaway greenhouse’.

    We need to seize the coal fired power plants, and convert them to biochar or biomass fuel, enhanced efficiency including oxyfuel combustion and an indirectly fired combined cycle system retrofitted to existing power plants, and deep injection of the resulting stream of CO2 into deep saline aquifers and basalt deposits.

    This would make them into “carbon negative” power plants, which would take carbon out of the biosphere and ultimately the atmosphere and transfer it back underground at the same time it generates useful electricity.

    The effects of “carbon negative” electricity generation would be very synergistic.

    It’s looking like we need a synergistic answer to this problem.

    Now would be a good time to do this, don’t you think?

    We still have a chance to turn this thing around, if we jump on it now.

    If not, bend forward, assume the emergency position, and kiss all you hold dear goodbye, I think.

  8. paulm says:

    Were only at 0.8C increase now. There is another 0.8C plus some more to go, even if we have zero emissions tomorrow!

    I really don’t understand why Lovelock’s projections are not not taken more seriously. Or why there aren’t more realistic projections from the main stream.

    The fundamentals dont look good…down right scary.

  9. paulm says:

    Season of dread returns as Haiti awaits devastating hurricane season
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/aug/17/haiti-hurricane-season

    Bill Clinton, who became the United Nations’ envoy to the country in May, joining a new effort to make sure that this year, at least, does not bring Haiti to the tipping point.

    There is however a bigger question: does Haiti offer a cautionary tale of what can happen to a country that does not adapt to climate change?

    It took until last year for the country’s elite to begin to see a connection between the devastation of the landscape, and natural disaster. “I have to admit that for the majority of the business society, managing water, managing soil, climate change, these are all things that they talk about on CNN and BBC, or that you hear Al Gore going on about,” said Gregory Brandt, a prominent businessman. “It’s not for us. I’d say the majority was aware but not concerned.”

    The international community was also slow to grasp the connection, said Anita Swarup, who has worked as a consultant on climate change for Oxfam, Unicef and other organisations. “As far as I can see, little or nothing has been done in terms of dealing with climate change,” she said. “The international community is not sufficiently focused on the impacts of climate change on a poor country like Haiti and considerably more needs to be done.”

    Now that reality is inescapable because of the increasing severity and frequency of storms. The Haitian government and the international community are now fully engaged, but those on the front line of efforts to repair the environmental degradation that has left Haiti so exposed to climate change now admit they feel overwhelmed.

  10. jorleh says:

    Very interesting this coverage up to 1000 miles inland of the strong warming. If you have seen it yourself: the Baltic Sea ice loss in last winters: Practically no ice any more: forty years ago and earlier 1 – 2 meters ice every year for months.

  11. Thomas says:

    All right, I’m completely missing this one: “Furthermore, methane dissolved in the seawater contributes to ocean acididfication.”

    Umm … Why? How?

  12. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Thomas-

    I think what they are talking about is an indirect effect.

    Methane is metabolized by bacteria, which produce CO2. The CO2 increases acidity of the oceans.

    Increased production of methane, especially from the huge methane hydrate deposits, could likely significantly effect ocean acidity.

    This almost sounds like they are talking about direct chemical oxidation of methane into CO2, though. In the atmosphere, this is accomplished by the hydroxyl radical, mostly.

    Most of the methane reacts with the oxygen in the water to form carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas. In sea water, this forms carbonic acid which adds to ocean acidification, with consequent problems for biodiversity.

    So, overall, I think they are talking about methane oxidation into CO2, but I’m not sure whether the main oxidation is a biological or wet chemistry process.

  13. john says:

    It is imperative that we model a scenario in which methane from clathrates and melting permafrost is factored in. The consequences of these feedback loops are devastating, and we have examples in the geologic record of just how bad it can get — the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and the Permian die off both caused catastrophic extinctions, and in the case of the Permian die off, it took hundreds of millions of years to get back to the level of diversity that existed before the event.

    In 2003 I tried to get NOAA and/or Scripps to model fedbacks from release of methane from clathrates — and got no interest. At the time, they thought we were centuries away from anything like it occurring. I put an oped on the issue in 2004 in the Baltimore Sun, in the hopes that it might stimulate some interest/action, but it did not.

    We worry too much about appearing alarmist. It is time for alarm. One of the reasons I am so down on Waxman-Markey is that the near term targets are so weak, they leave no margin of safety — if methane releases have started, we need dramatic and fast action now. It may be too late already, as some say; but if we don’t take immediate and aggressive action now, it will be too late.

  14. Leland Palmer says:

    Oh, on edit-

    The bacteria that consume methane are classified as methanotrophs, not methanogens, and the reactions might include formaldehyde?

    I think the overall reaction is still methane to CO2, though.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methanotroph

  15. Ian Forrester says:

    Leland, you are correct that formaldehyde is an intermediate in the microbial oxidation of methane to CO2. I worked with the methanotrophs a number of years ago as a means to remove methane from potentially explosive situations in various coal mining and transportation situations.

    We were always checking for formaldehyde release but never could detect it since it is the point at which the carbon is fixed by the micro-organism and is fed into the various metabolic pathways.

    A bigger concern I would have is that the methanotrophs will quickly use up the dissolved oxygen and cause anoxic conditions. A number of groups have postulated that certain methanotrophs could oxidize methane in the absence of molecular oxygen. I have never really felt that this was viable, certainly at any useful rate of oxidation except that methane oxidation might be linked to sulphate reduction, but that is not very welcome.

  16. Raleigh Latham says:

    I’m feeling the urge to flee to New Zealand, the top of Canada, or Norway right now…thinking 10 years ahead.

  17. David B. Benson says:

    Methnae consumers are nickle limited, I believe. NOt so much nickle in sea water. Ocean floor probably better.

  18. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Ian-

    A bigger concern I would have is that the methanotrophs will quickly use up the dissolved oxygen and cause anoxic conditions. A number of groups have postulated that certain methanotrophs could oxidize methane in the absence of molecular oxygen. I have never really felt that this was viable, certainly at any useful rate of oxidation except that methane oxidation might be linked to sulphate reduction, but that is not very welcome.

    Yes, ocean anoxia is part of the scenario, I guess.

    The guy that wrote this webbook seems to have some of the chemistry of the sad scenario worked out:

    http://www.killerinourmidst.com

    So, you’re thinking that the methanotrophs will be overwhelmed by the methane flows and limiting factors like oxygen, and then the methane will be more likely to escape directly into the atmosphere, without ocean oxidation?

    Is there a nonbiological pathway to methane oxidation in the oceans?

    Thanks for the info.

  19. John McCormick says:

    Leland, thank you for that link to Killerinourmidst. It is info such as yours that makes this the go-to climate web page.

  20. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi John-

    Oh, I read your article in the Baltimore Sun, via the Internet!

    Methane Burps: Ticking Time Bomb
    by John Atcheson

    The Arctic Council’s recent report on the effects of global warming in the far north paints a grim picture: global floods, extinction of polar bears and other marine mammals, collapsed fisheries. But it ignored a ticking time bomb buried in the Arctic tundra.

    There are enormous quantities of naturally occurring greenhouse gasses trapped in ice-like structures in the cold northern muds and at the bottom of the seas. These ices, called clathrates, contain 3,000 times as much methane as is in the atmosphere. Methane is more than 20 times as strong a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.

    Now here’s the scary part. A temperature increase of merely a few degrees would cause these gases to volatilize and “burp” into the atmosphere, which would further raise temperatures, which would release yet more methane, heating the Earth and seas further, and so on. There’s 400 gigatons of methane locked in the frozen arctic tundra – enough to start this chain reaction – and the kind of warming the Arctic Council predicts is sufficient to melt the clathrates and release these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

    Once triggered, this cycle could result in runaway global warming the likes of which even the most pessimistic doomsayers aren’t talking about.

    An apocalyptic fantasy concocted by hysterical environmentalists? Unfortunately, no. Strong geologic evidence suggests something similar has happened at least twice before.

    The most recent of these catastrophes occurred about 55 million years ago in what geologists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), when methane burps caused rapid warming and massive die-offs, disrupting the climate for more than 100,000 years.

    The granddaddy of these catastrophes occurred 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, when a series of methane burps came close to wiping out all life on Earth.

    Thanks for the early and what may be tragically correct input.

    I think we need to seize the coal fired power plants, and convert them into biomass/CCS carbon negative power plants:

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

    Peter Read and Jonathan Lermit

    Abstract
    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. The nature of sequential decisions, taken in response to the evolution of currently unknown events, is discussed. The impact of such decisions on land use change is related to a specific bio-energy conversion technology. The effects of a precautionary strategy, possibly leading to eventual land use change on a large scale, is modeled, using FLAMES. Under strong assumptions appropriate to imminent ACC, pre-industrial CO2 levels can be restored by mid-century using BECS.

    I think we need to seize the coal fired power plants, and convert them into biomass/biochar burning “carbon negative” power plants that use carbon capture and storage. We could pay for the CCS with increased efficiency:

    EERC Technology Greatly Improves Power Plant Efficiency

    March 26, 2004
    GRAND FORKS, ND -Researchers at the University of North Dakota (UND) Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) say they have made major strides to improve the efficiency and dramatically reduce emissions of coal-fired power plants by burning a combination of pure oxygen and coal to generate electricity in an advanced power system. The material used in the system is the same alloy used to make F-16 fighter jet engines, and it is the first time it has been used in a coal-fired power system.

    In a demonstration project conducted at the EERC, a natural gas- and coal-fired system was used to test a very-high-temperature heat exchanger, which is the heart of an advanced high-efficiency power plant-otherwise known as an indirectly fired combined cycle (IFCC). It could hypothetically have no emissions whatsoever.

    “Results of previous demonstrations while firing with air prove that the efficiency of a power plant using this technology could improve by about 30%, resulting in cheaper, cleaner energy,” says EERC Senior Research Manager John Hurley.

    Today’s power plants burn coal and air to heat water into steam, which is blown through a turbine and turns a generator making electricity. A power plant using IFCC technology heats air to a much higher temperature in the heat exchanger and uses the hot air to turn the turbine resulting in a significantly higher efficiency. The EERC has used the system’s heat exchanger to produce air at 2000 degrees.

    I think that most coal fired power plants are located on rivers. Those rivers become a natural biomass/biochar transport network to bring fuel to the power plants, for those that are navigable. Through a combination of water, rail, and road transport where necessary, we should be able to get the biomass to the power plants.

    Most areas of the country are located on top of deep saline aquifers that could be used for CO2 storage. Some areas of fragmented basalt rock strata, like those located under the Juan de Fuca plate off the coast of the Pacific Northwest actually appear to be very stable storage reservoirs, capable of chemically reacting with the stored CO2.

    What do you think we ought to do?

    What sort of drastic action were you thinking about?

  21. Leland Palmer says:

    Oh, link to the above:

    http://www.energybulletin.net/node/3647

  22. Leland Palmer says:

    Oh, in post #20 I was replying to John (Atcheson, apparently)in post #13 rather than John McCormick’s post #19.

    Thanks for the thanks, John McCormick. :)

    Here’s a link to the Read/Lermit paper referenced in post #20:

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

    Almost uniquely, they are talking about what appears to be a practical way to return to pre-industrial levels of CO2 by mid-century, unless our opportunity to do this is overwhelmed by runaway positive feedbacks.

    I really think their Biomass/CCS scheme is our best shot at bringing the system back under control. Better, if we overshoot into an ice age at some future point a century or two from now, resumed combustion of fossil fuels or release of CO2 from underground storage, would allow us to dampen out the climate swings, and achieve a stable climate equilibrium.

  23. John McCormick says:

    This blog will fall into the web file cabinet. Its shelf life has about 24 hours.

    Til then, my belief is the positive feedback mechanisms are known but their contribution not factored into the IPCC scenarios so we will soon know the B1 scenario has been left in the dust.

    Then, the planet’s systems will be on a path beyond our ability to reverse. At which point, the future is beyond our projecting and we inhabitants are relegated to the role of spectators; (Dr Lovelock’s view)

    When do climate scientists spread the warning that positive feedbacks will overwhelm mitigation efforts and focus on emergency adaptation efforts that might include geoengineering (of that approach I have little to no hope)? Probably never. So, we all cling to CCS and the Lackner capture toys. Until it is too late to throw all we have into efforts to give next generations a few more decades to survive and hopefully come up with solutions we have failed to accept and fund.

  24. Greg Robie says:

    Last summer there was a Russian research vessel doing similar studies as this British one. Has anyone seen a report from that work. I believe that ship observed these methane bubble chimneys reaching the surface and recorded background levels of methane up to 100 Xs previous measurements.

    While I am glad to finally get a graphic of these bubble chimneys to include on my web site which I reorganized and updated last fall because of the observed methane bubble chimneys. Given the gravity of what these chimney represent (land-based permafrost is about -12° C while the sub-sea permafrost is—or was— -1.5° C) I am amazed it took until August 6th of this year to be published. As John noted in an earlier comment, the methane time bomb wasn’t predicted by the models to be a concern for a long time . . .

    I wonder, in the competition for funding do important studies get sidelined? Do the needs of modelers trump those of field science and/or come to capture the minds of their creators through motivated reasoning dynamics? Is it only the MSM that does bad (unscientific) things to get money?

    Anyway, IMHO the methane time bombs fuse is lit. We have passed tipping points. Most of the comments here seemed to be framed as though we haven’t. The need for hope, even this false hope, is part of the reason we have passed the tipping points and not “thought”/felt this was the case. To see and accept the reality of what we have done is too painful to contemplate. To do so can make you sick because neuropeptides are shared communication mechanisms among our neurological, endocrine, and immune systems.

    To be healed, global capitalism and its fiat currencies denominated in consumer credit have to be moved on from. McKinsey, and CBO figure twisting withstanding, systemically this economy cannot be greened. To make it into the next paradigm (and to feel its hope as ones own) one has to give up all ones current hope for a better past. Such is the hard work of recovery from an addiction—and I don’t think there is any 12 step group for this addiction . . . yet (we still think of what we are addicted to as “success!”).

    Within the framework of the US Constitution, recovery include replacing the Federal Reserve note with a constitutional currency; stripping personhood from corporations; undoing the work that has been one to implement the Unitary Executive theory; de-establish capitalism as a state sponsored/established religion (end fascism).

    . . . Hi, I’m Greg, I’m a fascist. This is my first meeting. I’ve been ethical for zero days. . . .

  25. Dan Robinson says:

    I’m regularly bothered by the ways atmospheric carbon dioxide amounts are stated. I often see “Carbon” apparently used to mean carbon dioxide, or maybe methane, often in tons. If my understanding is correct, twelve tons of carbon in the atmosphere is equivalent 44 tons of CO2, or 16 tons of methane, which would be considerably worse in the “short” term.

    It’s difficult to visualize a ton of CO2 or methane, which are normally gases, or especially a trillion tons.

    How many tons of CO2 are in the atmosphere now. Would it make more sense to instead talk of percent change from such events as the Brooks Range fire, or a percentage of the difference between present amount and 350 ppm, as well as the feedback effects that might have?

    It seems like both 350 ppm and 450 ppm are somewhat arbitrary numbers on a broad spectrum between Utopia and Venus conditions. Can anyone give some idea of how much better off and worse off we’re likely to be with said ppms?