The methane hydrate feedback revisited

Methane release from the not-so-perma-frost is the most dangerous amplifying feedback in the entire carbon cycle (see “NSIDC bombshell: Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s, releasing 100 billion tons of carbon by 2100“).

Methane (CH4) deserves attention it is such a highly potent greenhouse gas — 25-33 times more powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 100-year time-horizon, but as much as 100 time more potent over 20 years, according to the latest research!

Last year I reported on a major study in Science that found the vast East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane stores appeared to be destabilizing and venting.  The normally staid National Science Foundation issued a press release warning “Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.”

Now there is a new Geophysical Research Letters study on a paleoclimate analog that may be relevant to humanity today, “Methane and environmental change during the Paleocene”Eocene thermal maximum (PETM): Modeling the PETM onset as a two”stage event.”


Skeptical Science has a great analysis of the study, which I repost below in its entirety:

Wakening the Kraken

Posted on 23 April 2011 by Agnostic & Daniel Bailey

Methane (CH4) is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, 20-30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2) on a century timescale.  Fortunately it normally occurs in very low concentration in the atmosphere – about 0.3 to 0.4ppm during glacial periods and 0.6 to 0.7ppm during warmer periods.

In 1750 the concentration was ~0.7ppm.  By 2010 it had reached >1.8ppm, and is now at its highest level in 500,000 years.  This is largely due to human activity, particularly the keeping of large herds of cattle and flocks of chickens and the production of fossil fuels.  Methane has a relatively short life in the atmosphere where it oxidizes into CO2 over a period of 9-15 years.

Large amounts of methane are produced in anaerobic conditions by bacterial activity in the sediments below the seabed as well as by chemical transformation of organic matter at greater burial depths. Methane hydrates are formed by bonding with water to make an ice-like substance in certain temperature/pressure conditions that can be found at shallow water depths in polar regionsIt yields 164 m3 of CH4 per m3 of solid clathrate.

Like Savoir Faire, Clathrates are seemingly everywhere

Clathrate occurs in the Antarctic and particularly in the Arctic where it is abundant in the relatively shallow though very cold seabed of the vast continental shelves which almost encircle the Arctic Ocean.  It also occurs in the sea bed of warmer waters where they are of sufficient depth to enable it to remain stable.

Methane clathrate has accumulated below the seabed over millions of years.  Billions of tons of it lie dormant beneath permafrost, in the pores of sandstones or shrouded in silt.  As long as it remains under pressure or in cold conditions (below 0°C) it is stable and does not release methane.

We know that in the past there have been sudden changes in global warming associated with releases of greenhouse gases.  These rapid, massive releases were characterised by unusual deficiency in carbon isotope 13 (ˆ‚13C ) and massive extinction of animals, most recently at the time of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), about 55.8 million years ago.


The world at the approximate time of the PETM (courtesy Christopher Scotese)

It is believed that the PETM was likely initiated by changes of the orbital parameters of the Earth (eccentricity, obliquity and precession of axis) causing an increase in the intensity and distribution of solar radiation reaching the earth.  This in turn, over many thousands of years, triggered natural climate change, amplified by CH4 releases characterised by a ˆ‚13C deficiency.

A major difference between the PETM (Natural) and present (Anthropogenic) global warming is that the former was likely initiated by increased exposure to solar radiation causing carbon feedbacks and rapid global warming.  The latter, geologically sudden increase is primarily caused by the on-going burning of fossil fuels, which yearly inject a massive bolus of CO2 in the atmosphere, initiating further carbon feedbacks.

Natural global warming is self-rectifying either by slow chemical weathering processes responsible for mineral sequestration of carbon or by gradual return of Earth’s orbital parameters to what they were before the onset of global warming, thereby significantly reducing the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface.  The result is cooling oceans able to gradually absorb and lower atmospheric CO2, enabling restoration of albedo at higher latitude/altitude, producing further slow global cooling. This explains why post-maximum temperatures are slow to fall.  The mechanism for reducing anthropogenic global warming, initiated through radiative forcing of greenhouse gases, is to stop emissions and reduce their concentration in the atmosphere to levels which do not stimulate carbon feedbacks.

I know what you’re thinking: Was it one shot or two?

Carozza et al (2011) find that natural global warming occurred in 2 stages:  First, global warming of 3° to 9° C accompanied by a large bolus of organic carbon released to the atmosphere through the burning of terrestrial biomass (Kurtz et al, 2003) over approximately a 50-year period; second,  a catastrophic release of methane hydrate from sediment, followed by the oxidation of a part of this methane gas in the water column and the escape of the remaining CH4 to the atmosphere over a 50-year period.

The description of Stage 2:  Very rapid and massive release of carbon deficient in ˆ‚13C, does put one in mind of the Methane Gun hypothesis. It postulates that methane clathrate at shallow depth begins melting and through the feed-back process accelerate atmospheric and oceanic warming, melting even larger and deeper clathrate deposits.  The result:  A relatively sudden massive venting of methane – the firing of the Methane Gun.  Recent discovery by Davy et al (2010) of kilometer-wide (ten 8-11 kilometer and about 1,000 1-kilometer-wide features) eruption craters on the Chatham Rise seafloor off New Zealand adds further ammunition to the Methane Gun hypothesis.

It has been known for many years that methane is being emitted from Siberian swamplands hitherto covered by permafrost, trapping an estimated 1,000 billion tons of methane.  Permafrost on land is now seasonally melting and with each season melting it at greater depth, ensuring that each year methane venting from this source increases.

Methane clathrate has accumulated over the East Siberian continental shelf where it is covered by sediment and seawater up to 50 meters deep.  An estimated 1,400 billion tons of methane is stored in these deposits.  By comparison, total human greenhouse gas emissions (including CO2) since 1750 amount to some 350 billion tons.

Significant methane release can occur when on-shore permafrost is thawed by a warmer atmosphere (unlikely to occur in significance on less than a century timescale) and undersea clathrate at relatively shallow depths is melted by warming water.  This is now occurring. In both cases, methane gas bubbles to the surface with little or no oxidation, entering the atmosphere as CH4 – a powerful greenhouse gas which increases local, then Arctic atmospheric and ocean temperature, resulting in progressively deeper and larger deposits of clathrate melting.

Methane released from deeper deposits such as those found off Svalbard has to pass through a much higher water column (>300 meters) before reaching the surface.  As it does so, it oxidises to CO2, dissolving in seawater or reaching the atmosphere as CO2 which causes far slower warming, but can nevertheless contribute to ocean acidification.

A significant release of methane due to melting of the vast deposits trapped by permafrost and clathrate in the Arctic would result in massive loss of oxygen, particularly in the Arctic ocean but also in the atmosphere.  Resulting hypoxic conditions would cause large extinctions, especially of water breathing animals, which is what we find at the PETM.

Shakhova et al (2010) reports that the continental shelf of East Central Siberia (ECS), with an area of over 2 million km2, is emitting more methane than all other ocean sources combined.  She calculates that methane venting from the ECS is now in the order of 8 million tons per annum and increasing.  This equates to ~200 million tons/annum of CO2, more than the combined CO2 emissions of Scandinavia and the Benelux countries in 2007.  This methane is likely sourced from non-hydrate methane previously kept in place by thin and now melting permafrost at the sea bed, melting clathrates, or some combination of both.

Release of ECS methane is already contributing to Arctic amplification resulting in temperature increase exceeding twice the global average.  The rate of release from the tundra alone is predicted to reach 1.5 billion tons of carbon per annum before 2030, contributing to accelerated climate change, perhaps resulting in sustained decadal doubling of ice loss causing collapse of the Greenland Ice Sheet (Hansen et al, 2011).  This would result in a possible sea level rise of ~5 meters before 2100, according to Hansen et al.

Evidence supports the theory that sudden and massive releases of greenhouse gases, including methane, caused decade-scale climate changes – with consequent species extinctions – culminating in the Holocene Thermal Optimum.

‘Ware the Kraken

In summary, immense quantities of methane clathrate have been identified in the Arctic.  Were a fraction of these to melt, the result would be massive release of carbon, initially as CH4 causing deeper clathrate to melt and oxidise, adding CO2 to the atmosphere.  Were this to occur, it would greatly worsen global warming.

While natural global warming during the ice ages was initiated by increased solar radiation caused by cyclic changes to Earth’s orbital parameters, there is no evident mechanism for correcting Anthropogenic Global Warming over the next several centuries.  The latter has already begun producing methane and CO2 in the Arctic, starting a feedback process which may lead to uncontrollable, very dangerous global warming, akin to that which occurred at the PETM.

This extremis we ignore – to our peril.

— Agnostic & Daniel Bailey

JR:  It is worth noting that no climate model currently incorporates the amplifying feedback from methane released by a defrosting tundra. Indeed the NSIDC/NOAA study I wrote about in February on methane release by the land-based permafrost itself doesn’t even incorporate the carbon released by the permafrost carbon feedback into its warming model!

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

Related posts and amplifying feedbacks:

NOTE:  Kraken are “legendary sea monsters of gargantuan size.”   Tennyson wrote a poem called, “The Kraken,” about the undersea monter who sleeps, “Until the latter fire shall heat the deep.”


67 Responses to The methane hydrate feedback revisited

  1. Sou says:

    This is really too awful to contemplate. But we have to do so. Given the time taken to publish research, how much warning will we get if the process increases suddenly?

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    The work that you and John Cook have done here is unimaginably important, Joe. Nobody else has either summarized the recent science on methane or made it intelligible to lay readers. Thanks. Unfortunately, your audience is high level, but small.

    The question is- how do we get MSM to communicate this critical information? All major newspapers and networks, are ignoring it, and Huffington and MSNBC have been silent, too. Even Realclimate was way too cautious here. The fossil fuel companies have succeeded just as much as if they had full censorship privileges.

    If nobody steps up to buy or start a media company- the current ones are morally hopeless- my idea is to go retail. There must be one person in a fossil fuel company or television network who sees the importance of this evidence, and becomes motivated to tell the public what is going on. It would be a career suicide move- whoever did it would be called all kinds of names, lose income, and drummed out of power.

    So what? People die for important causes, and there has never been one remotely as important as this one. If the right people don’t step up, it will be cowardice and selfishness that destroys us, not stupidity.

    [JR: Thanks. I am working on a plan at least to increase readership of CP. Other things are in the hopper too, but not yet baked.]

  3. Lou Grinzo says:

    Sou asks a very good, if disturbing, question: “Given the time taken to publish research, how much warning will we get if the process increases suddenly?”

    As I say constantly, timing is everything in climate policy, and we face several latencies that all work against us. Something changes in the environment (e.g. the permafrost starts releasing significant amounts of CH4), then we observe it or the effects it has on the climate, then enough of us in the right positions of power become convinced action is needed (this is the step the deniers try to influence the most, obviously), then we hammer out a new policy, then the policy is put into effect (often delayed by “grandfather clauses” and/or attempts to appease special interests by easing into or watering down the new policy), then the policy actually takes effect, then we start to see the desired results, years or decades later. This all assumes that the new policy is effective enough to work, and that we haven’t already passed a tipping point.

    As close as we are already to locking in some nightmare scenarios, these delays are very bad news. At least in the case of CH4 we would know very quickly if the atmospheric levels, which have been rising since late 2006/early 2007, suddenly accelerated, thanks to ongoing monitoring. We need more resources devoted to figuring out exactly where new emissions originate — tropical wetlands vs. Arctic tundra seems to be the main contenders — especially given recent observations. But at least we have an eye on the aggregate number.

  4. Some European says:

    Good summary. Still, somebody should make an easier version for consumption among the general public and especially journalists. Also, for it to catch the media’s attention there should be something new to it, like a big all-encompassing study. A good time to release such a study might be in September, just when another Arctic sea-ice record awaits to be reported. Ideally, the journalists would write that this new finding proves clearly that everything we have been told by scientists and governments has been a gross underestimate. It should also include mention of the pentagon for maximum shock effect. (I’m dreaming but why not?)
    I estimate that about 1 in 3000 people in the western world are aware of the methane feedback. And 1 in 50,000 should have heard of the Venus syndrome. Do other readers agree with those estimates?
    We are so bad at spreading the message, one would almost think we were deliberately trying to hide the awful truth, to avoid panic!

  5. PeterM says:

    At school now, reading this. Methane is discussed in Hansen’s book. He says the since the last release during the PETM- they are ‘reloaded’ and ready to pop.

    I suggest CP having access to Facebook- it may add readership
    SS is there- and some other climate sites.

  6. Sasparilla says:

    Excellent article, thank you for posting it, the size of the potential methane sources is staggering (a consequence that the clathrates, in particular, have had a long time to build up since their last major release).

    Joe, it blows my mind, that at this point, nobody has a climate model that incorporates the methane feedbacks from the melting permafrost. With an ice free summer arctic coming in the next 10 years we’re going to be living large releases before we get them in our models.

    We’ve known about these potential runaway feedback triggers for more than a decade (Amazon rainforest dry-out, melting permafrost, melting clathrates to name a few), its a shame we’re not further down the road on forecasting their potential effects yet. It feels like we’re really running out of time (i.e. just having enough time to forecast the runaway feedback effects before they actually start occurring).

    I had hoped / assumed modeling of these feedback effects was happening by now – the implication that the 2013 IPCC report won’t have that in it (since you need it in models first) is very, very discouraging. For all its faults the IPCC reports are the baseline for alot of the political discussions and while the 2013 report will have alot of updates, the fact that it seems like it won’t have permafrost methane feedbacks (and the consequential feedback forecasting) is a big disappointment.

    Well, at least with more reports like this, methane feedbacks are increasingly coming into focus and they’ll get incorporated into the models at some point.

    Doesn’t seem like nature wants to wait for our methane feedback research papers and atmospheric models to be created before it moves forward with implementation…

  7. colinc says:

    JR: It is worth noting that no climate model currently incorporates the amplifying feedback from methane released by a defrosting tundra. Indeed the NSIDC/NOAA study I wrote about in February on methane release by the land-based permafrost itself doesn’t even incorporate the carbon released by the permafrost carbon feedback into its warming model!

    Gee, do you think that has anything to do with Arctic researchers saying what they are “seeing NOW is decades ahead of the WORST-CASE models”? More than a year ago I read an article on Science Daily regarding the latest research of Dr. Katey Walter who had recently returned from Siberia. (Sorry, can’t find the link.) In it, she reported that over the 3 yrs since her previous trip there, the size and number of “melt-ponds/lakes had quintupled.”

    Almost more alarmingly(?!), no one even seems to mention (be aware of?) the thermal-conductivity of water. Yes, water is an excellent(?) “heat-sink” but also a superb conduit to move thermal-energy. The oceans are not warmer than they are because a significant amount of the energy they are “absorbing” is being transmitted post-haste to all the ice (being a colder “sink”) in contact with that water, on the surface (glaciers/shelves/”caps”/icebergs) and the sea-floor (clathrates). The “situation” we are facing is extremely more dire than most anyone seems to realize.

  8. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Outstanding work on Climate change and Global Warming and the role of Methane.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  9. colinc says:

    @4. Some European

    I estimate that about 1 in 3000 people in the western world are aware of the methane feedback. And 1 in 50,000 should have heard of the Venus syndrome. Do other readers agree with those estimates?

    I think your sample-size should be doubled or tripled at the very least! :)

    …one would almost think we were deliberately trying to hide the awful truth, to avoid panic!

    Bingo!! “It” is, after all, all about the money. TPTB do NOT want people looking out for themselves, EVER! The “common people’s” sole “use” is to generate more money for the super-wealthy, astoundingly narcissistic and moronic “elite.” Not to mention the vast sums of said money spent to subvert “the message” and the lack of said money available for any new, or expansion of, research in ANY science related to climate. This is NOT going to end well, but “end” it will and probably much, much sooner than 99% of any population realizes. Furthermore, anyone (including climate researchers) with [grand-]children is probably averse to “believing” the worst and are desperately seeking an “error” in order to NOT contemplate the impending mortality of said offspring.

  10. catman306 says:

    Thanks, Joe!

    I followed someone’s link and according to this PBS program, Huntley Brinkley reported on the danger of human caused global warming BEFORE the first Earth Day in 1970 forty years ago. Yet we have senators who say they can’t believe it. Apparently sixty years warning won’t be enough for homo sapiens and the rest of us. Bio-diversity will return to Earth approximately 10 million years after the climate stabilizes.

    What chance do we have? This video shows some of the political and media differences back then and now.
    It’s through understanding these differences that any chance for us will arise.

    American Experience The First Earth Day

  11. Tom says:

    Geeez Louise! Between the environmental degradation accelerating and the world economic condition heading for dissolution within a few years at best, the fact that they (and Peak Oil which you can wrap into the aforementioned economic problem) will hit with a one-two knock-out punch to the human species (not to mention all the others we rely on) in the very near future is almost beyond comprehension for most people.

    When Wm. Catton described population overshoot as the cause for the now happening bottleneck – climate wasn’t even a part of it! This just makes it not only inevitable and highly probable in the near future but probably FATAL for mankind as well!

  12. Lewis C says:

    Sasparilla at 6. –

    Having struggled with my own underskilled under-equipped efforts at modelling just three major interactive feedbacks plus anthro CO2e outputs, I’ve run slap into the problem which I think scientists have thus far hinted at, but have not publicly described in detail.

    You’ll no doubt recall the butterfly’s wing syndrome, where, due to a weather system’s “sensitivity to initial conditions” the vortex from the flap of a butterfly’s wing is the difference that results in a mighty storm. This is a very practical concept, and speaks of the impossibility of gathering data at a fine enough level to predict the long-range outcome of supposedly known interactions and potentials within a chaotic system.

    Notably the forest, permafrost, albido-loss and clathrate feedbacks are all directly or indirectly driven by weather events – for instance a cloudy arctic spring and summer minimises the solar input to the ocean which cuts one heat source affecting sea-bed clathrates.

    The extreme weather events, such as the Q4 2010 Canadian High, are not predictable for particular future years but their location, timing and severity is critical to just how fast particular feedbacks will accelerate, and thus how fast their warming effect will accelerate both themselves and all other warming feedbacks.

    I hope I’m wrong, and that some genius mathematician is even now identifying a formula whereby we can reliably project how soon the final window of opportunity for mitigation will have closed. Yet it’s worth noting that literally millions of students have been conned into degrees on diverse ‘Earth Studies’ themes, on grounds that “If only we get enough info to the decision makers then they’ll take action.”

    – I guess we’d agree that in reality they’ve had more than enough info for two decades or more, but that the imperial petro-dollar and the vested interests have thus far blocked the necessary global action by imposing the black farce of a diplomatic “brinkmanship of inaction”.

    I suspect that we’ll have to make do with an annual gazette of all feedbacks’ changed rates of acceleration, plus trends to date. This would be a very good start, and a real boon in terms of energizing those millions who accept climate science but are thus far passive under its threat.

    What I can’t get my head round is how, with a projected output of 1.5Gt from the ex-permafrost methane feedback “before 2030” (let alone outputs from other feedbacks) the idea that we could stabilize CO2 at 450ppmv simply by emissions cuts and a modest carbon recovery effort still holds water. If you or anyone else can explain this I’d be grateful.



  13. Raul M. says:

    Given that the knowledge is available and the religions
    predict a saving time. It would seem that those who have the
    power to do so will need to build their saving place within
    the next ten years. The place will have to have self-containment.
    My guess is an underground city and the rest of humanity
    will make out as best as they may.
    Probably, I won’t hear of the miracle city even being built, but
    to chosen few had best get a move on.

  14. Colorado Bob says:

    I have a prediction –
    As this process moves forward, one day soon in the fall, a ship will be cruising on a calm sea in the far north . Conditions will be just right for some ignition source from the ship to touch off a pool of methane at the sea surface.

    The searchers arriving on the scene will find the ocean boiling with bubbles.

  15. Floyd Smith says:

    Really great stuff, thanks. I’m a bit worried that people will see the list of links to amplifying feedbacks as comprehensive. It isn’t (and I don’t think it’s meant to be); one big one that’s missing is the loss of reflectivity as ice disappears, which of course is the feedback most directly affecting the permafrost. Also, decreasing capacity of the oceans, as they warm, to absorb CO2. Others?

  16. Adam R. says:

    This is one of those appalling threats accompanied by large uncertainties–uncertainties which climate zombies, in a bizarre departure from rationality, point to as reasons for delay!

    I guess the Arctic ocean will indeed be boiling with CH4 bubbles before they become alarmed. Their ideas for mediation at that point will be interesting to hear.

  17. Joe, you mentioned that no model accounts for methane from melting permafrost, but what about the undersea methane clathrates? Are we to assume that these are well characterized in the models or are they (as I suspect) another under-reported risk factor?

  18. Robert In New Orleans says:

    Would it or would it not be better to capture the methane by some means and burn it for fuel as opposed to using other fossil fuels such coal or oil?

  19. Michael says:

    According to a recent paper, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf may already be releasing as much as 3.5 GT of methane a year – equivalent to 350 GT of CO2 on a 20 year timescale – about 10 years of current human GHG emissions:

    Bad news: directly observed fluxes exceed estimated by up 3 orders of magnitude

    Interpretation of acoustical data recorded with deployed multibeam sonar allowed moderate quantification of bottom fluxes as high as 44 g/m2/d (Leifer et al., in preparation). Prorating these numbers to the areas of hot spots (210×103 km2) adds 3.5Gt to annual methane release from the ESAS. This is enough to trigger abrupt climate change (Archer, 2005).

    This is from the same paper (mentioned above) that says that estimated fluxes are around 8 million tons per year but that is a conservative estimate, not observed – which is 3 orders of magnitude higher.

    If those numbers are anywhere close to reality, even an order of magnitude higher (which still equals annual human emissions), then we are in big trouble…

  20. mark says:

    BTW, the article in Annual Reviews claims that extinctions were pretty much limited to benthic forams, and (surprise) other species proved more adaptable than previously thought…. huge changes in range and communities, but nonetheless, the authors claim it was a catharsis stopping short of extinction for most larger lifeforms.

  21. Bob Lang says:

    To all those who may be close to giving up hope, here is U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s favorite quote (from his Facebook page ):

    William Faulkner on receiving the Nobel Prize: “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”

    Faulkner’s complete version from his 1950 Nobel Prize banquet speech reads:

    “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

  22. mark says:

    “Indeed the NSIDC/NOAA study I wrote about in February on methane release by the land-based permafrost itself doesn’t even incorporate the carbon released by the permafrost carbon feedback into its warming model!”

    I must be confused, Joe…. the way I read that post, it sounded like the author(s) you talked to did incorporate that carbon, but made the outrageously conservative assumption it would all be CO2, and instead of a large portion of C4. (And as we know, if the microbes decomposing the thawed permafrost have acces to oxygen they’ll make CO2, but where they do not they will make C4…. and since a lot of thawed permafrost is saturated a great deal of the action will be aenerobic and so make methane)

  23. scas says:

    To touch on lag times between studies and publishments. The 800 Tg are old numbers. The presentation to the DoD on November 2010 says that the ESAS is adding 3.5 Gt to annual methane release. How much of this is oxidized or jetting to the high tropopause, I don’t know.
    Are people assuming that old numbers are correct until a new peer-review study has come out and been published, when presentations by the same author obviously show different numbers. I am missing why this 3.5 Gt annual methane release somehow doesn’t count, but the 800 Tg does?

    These are the exact words, by Shakhova: “Bad news: directly observed fluxes exceed estimated by up 3 orders of magnitude.
    Interpretation of acoustical data recorded with deployed multibeam
    sonar allowed moderate quantification of bottom fluxes as high as 44 g/m2/d (Leifer et al., in preparation). Prorating these numbers to the areas of hot spots (210×103 km2) adds 3.5Gt to annual methane release from the ESAS. This is enough to trigger abrupt climate change (Archer, 2005).”

    The fuse for the methane bomb is quite obviously lit. Temperatures are going up – hydrate melt is only going one way. People should know the truth.

  24. scas says:

    @Michael – looks like you beat me to it. I think we’re good for a while given oxidation and mixing times of large releases. Let’s hope for a substantial volcano that exactly cancels out methane heating!

  25. Zetetic says:

    @ Robert In New Orleans post #18:
    The first problem with trying to capture all of that methane is how are you going to trap it over such a huge surface area? It’s not like we are talking about a couple of wells, but rather entire regions.

    The second problem is what are we then going to do with all of that trapped methane? Burn it? Or, somehow sequester such a large volume of methane?

    I don’t see how it could be practical compared to reducing CO2e emissions in the first place.

  26. Joan Savage says:

    The water vapor that results could be considerable, over decades, as methane and atmospheric oxygen convert to CO2 and water vapor. Is that conversion dynamic possibly already part of the system?

    NOAA has been studying an increase in clouds over the Arctic since 1980.

  27. Lewis C says:

    Zetetic at 25.

    In principle it is of course preferable to burn methane to release CO2 instead – between 25 and 100 times preferable depending on the chosen timescale – but I share your thoughts on the impracticality of trapping emissions before doing so over vast areas of the inclement arctic ocean.

    Whether we should somehow put that combustion to use is a secondary consideration – China has begun exploiting an area of permfrost on the Tibetan plateau which holds enough methane to supply China’s present needs for 90 years –

    Sadly the timescale for reducing CO2e even at a radical pace is far too long to have a useful effect on the potentially imminent ESAS hydrates and free gas hazard. Consider that we must:
    – allow at least 20 years for even a radical global GHG contraction curve to reduce GHG outputs below what the natural sinks will (we hope) continue to sequester, thus at best we’ll cease adding to airborne CO2e by 2031;
    – allow at least twenty years for carbon recovery efforts to get established at a significant scale, and then wait about 35 years (~2066) for their effect on airborn CO2e to be discernable in the timelagged temperature record;
    – face at least 35 years of ‘pipeline’ warming from our past emissions
    (much of the present feedback activity reflects the timelagged warming off about 335ppmv CO2 + other GHG levels in about 1975)
    plus a further 20 years of pipeline warming from our unavoidable future GHG outputs;
    – face a rather sudden additional rise in global temperature during the GHG contraction curve of between 25% and over 100% of current warming, due to the closure of the cooling ‘sulphate parasol’ that is only maintained by our fossil fuel combustion;
    – face the potentially rather large outputs of both CO2 and methane from diverse carbon>warming feedback loops, due to the above diverse sources of warming over the next (35+20)= 55 years,
    in addition to the warming due to albedo loss (that was recently reported to already be imposing a forcing equivalent to ~30% of anthro CO2 outputs)
    together with the timelagged warming effect of the emissions from the carbon>warming feedbacks themselves.

    All in, it seems that “reducing CO2e emissions in the first place” although it is utterly necessary, is at least as insufficient as a timely solution to the destabilization of the ESAS methane-bank as trying to collect and burn its emissions is impractical.

    All this is written not in the hope of depressing the hell out of people, but rather to try to coldly face the facts of our redeemable predicament.

    I suggest that we have to do more than contract the emissions and initiate carbon recovery on a global scale. The next chunk of evidence for ESAS methane releases, together with the next positive findings on the impact of cryosphere decline causing intensifying seismic activity, are liable to convince TPTB that it is high time for a global emergency program of geo-engineering in the well-proven, cheap and seriously polluting form of sulphate aerosols.

    As long as the climate defence movement fails to actively demand rapid research of the most benign of geo-engineering options, it seems pretty plain that we’ll drift directly into reliance on the unsustainable temporary prop of sulphate aerosols. –
    What other choices will there be ?



  28. Deborah Stark says:

    October 2003
    Thermokarst Lakes | Andrushkina, Russia

    Katey Walter Anthony took this photo from a helicopter in October 2003, flying over the forested tundra zone near Andrushkina, Russia. This is not far from the town of Cherskii in the Sakha Republic of Russia’s Far East. It is a zone of continuous permafrost, and the landscape is covered by millions of thermokarst lakes releasing methane. This photo is a good example of how much of the land surface is covered by lakes in some regions of the Arctic. The majority of lakes emit large quantities of CH4.

  29. idunno says:

    Hi Joe,

    This is excellent.

    May I suggest that you take the rest of the week off?

    Daniel and Agnostic’s paper significantly downplays the danger facing us due to the current situation in the East Siberian Shelf – but it is fairly close.

    I really can’t imagine that anything else is likely to arise during the rest of April that deserves any further comment.

    Just leave this as the lead story on climate progress for a week or so…

    Your call.

  30. Deborah Stark says:

    August 1997
    Polar stratospheric clouds due to vapor enhancement: HALOE observations of the Antarctic vortex in 1993


    …..Aerosol measurements from the Halogen Occultation Experiment (HALOE) during the Antarctic spring of 1993 are compared with calculations of the volume of different types of polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) at equilibrium. The observed volumes increased by a factor of ∼30 coincident with water vapor enhancements of ∼3 ppmv, suggesting that the enhancement of water vapor was important in determining PSC growth. The enhanced water vapor was coincident with increased methane mixing ratios, and trajectory analysis suggests that the vapor enhancements were consistent with transport from lower latitudes….. END excerpt.

    February 2011
    CALIPSO spies polar stratospheric clouds

    April 1989
    Relation between increasing methane and the presence of ice clouds at the mesopause

    TRENDS of increasing atmospheric methane, carbon dioxide and other species have now been identified. It is well-known that water vapour is an important product of methane oxidation in the stratosphere, and here we investigate the possibility that a substantial change has occurred in middle-atmospheric water vapour as a result of the increase in methane over the past century and a half. We show from modelling of mesopheric ice-particle formation that noctilucent cloud brightness should be a sensitive indicator of the water content at the high-latitude summertime mesopause (at a height of 85 km). Blake and Rowland have recently suggested that the occurrence of polar stratospheric clouds may be increasing because of increasing methane. We look at the record of noctilucent cloud occurrence for which the historical record is more complete. We find that noctilucent clouds are absent from the historical record before 1885, which is consistent with our hypothesis.

  31. Villabolo says:

    #4 Some European:

    “Also, for it to catch the media’s attention there should be something new to it, like a big all-encompassing study. A good time to release such a study might be in September, just when another Arctic sea-ice record awaits to be reported. Ideally, the journalists would write that this new finding proves clearly that everything we have been told by scientists and governments has been a gross underestimate. It should also include mention of the pentagon for maximum shock effect. (I’m dreaming but why not?)”

    If we go right away into communicating a study to the general public, it simply won’t penetrate their minds. We have to bear in mind, at all times that when dealing with the public the issue never is about the factual or the logical but about the psychological.

    I would use this sequence:

    1. First and foremost, before anything else gets communicated; we should publicize a thorough expose of the oil companies involvement in propagandizing against AGW. This is absolutely necessary to destroy their credibility.

    But first off, I would start with an expose of Lord Monckton’s NON-AGW quackery, with secondary emphasis on the fact that oil companies fund him.

    The following, and no more, should be emphasized:

    a) He’s the supreme leader of the anti GW movement, chosen by Republican Congress as the only spokesman on the issue.

    b) He is a quack who has claimed that he invented a cure for half a dozen diseases including the one he still suffers from (Grave’s disease).

    c) He has claimed that you can eat pesticides (DDT) by the tablespoon without harming you.

    Don’t go beyond those three points, for psychological reasons. More than three points will be forgotten by most people.

    By discrediting him and his corporate pimps we accomplish the same as they try to do by emphasizing Al Gore.

    2. Then we should encourage people to read the basic rebuttals to Denier propaganda such as the ones in

    3. Man distorted Nature will do the rest.

    An all encompassing study, whose abstract alone won’t even be read by the public (with its 10 second attention span), should not be promoted to the public; just referenced.

    “I estimate that about 1 in 3000 people in the western world are aware of the methane feedback. And 1 in 50,000 should have heard of the Venus syndrome. Do other readers agree with those estimates?”

    My estimate, for the US and Canada, is about 1:1,000 to 1:5,000 for the Methane issue. Won’t bother guessing about “Runaway Greenhouse Effect” but I would not put it as high as 1:50,000. Anyone who knows about Methane has a strong probability of knowing about Venus.

    “We are so bad at spreading the message, one would almost think we were deliberately trying to hide the awful truth, to avoid panic!”

    Not malice, just sheer incompetence.


  32. Deborah Stark says:

    Re: idunno | Post #29

    …..Just leave this as the lead story on climate progress for a week or so…..

    I think that is a good idea.

    The methane hydrate feedback revisited is the most succinct and lucid summation of this increasingly important issue I have seen to-date. It is excellent and I would like to see it Up Top for a few days if possible.

  33. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #s 29/33: He can pin it to the top without having to cease other posting.

    Just to note that by the time the NSIDC permafrost study results were announced the follow-on modeling study (allowing for methane release and feedbacks) was already underway. I expect we’ll be hearing about those results by the end of the year. My guess is that it will amount to ~100 ppm CO2-eq. (which also accounts for the methane) by 2100, which IMHO (IANAS) makes the chances of avoiding a major ESS methane release approximately zero.

    Everyone should make sure to view the pdf linked in #23. Joe, could you add it to the end of the post?

  34. Ray Duray says:

    Jeff Masters at WeatherUnderground brought my attention to the NOAA temperature anomalies map for March, 2011:

    For those of you worrying about the imminent acceleration of methane release from Siberia’s permafrost and the clathrates just offshore, you may not have to wait long to see hell break loose. All of northern Siberia was at least 5C. above normal for March.

  35. Paulm says:

    I might just change my miNd now about flying and get a last holiday to Perth in with my family.

    Maybe Obama knows about all this and so has decided the best course of action is just to get on with life while its there.

  36. mark says:

    Although I’m feeling fairly despairing for human society, I’m feeling pretty hopeful for the human species. PETM was a huge redistribution of plant and animal communities, and certainly a globe changer, but it was NOT a mass-extinction event….. unless you were a single cell foraminifera at the bottom of the ocean.

  37. mark says:

    Seafloor methane hydrates was the cover story in March 2004 Discover Magazine. Text and some graphics are still online. Remember though that this is yesterday’s news, and the release appears to be happening much faster than thought even so “recently”.

  38. Peter M says:

    The PETM was spread over a period of at least 10,000 years- so species extinction was less extreme and adaptation was easier because of the long drag time. An event like the PETM could happen in just over the next 100 years this time- making species(and ours) adaptation far for difficult.

  39. Some European says:

    @ Mark
    Nice to see some ‘good’ news. On the other hand, what was the rate of warming leading up to the PETM? It might well be, we are going to get an order of magnitude faster this century. I don’t see how evolution can save us and our fellow species in just a few generations.

  40. Joan Savage says:

    I endorse leaving this CP piece as top post, like “above the fold” in paper journalism, but in these parlous times, something horrid could happen that would bump it.

    Thanks very much to Deborah Stark (#30) for references on the water vapor association with methane release. Also of great relevance is a quote that “scas” posted on CP “Science Sunday” 4-17-2011, and the attribution may have been buried in the link to an earlier CP post.

    “Thermal shocks, which occur when surface temperatures change, take time to penetrate into sediment (Nisbet 1989). Thus, if the surface temperature changes, say by 10 ◦C (as is expected in the high Arctic in this century), it may take 100 yr for significant heating to penetrate 100 m, and 1000 yr to penetrate 500 m into permafrost sediment. If the hydrate is 200 m down, then the warming effect may take 100–500 yr to have impact. But, though slow, the warming is inevitable. Once the warming pulse is put into the sediment, it moves down inexorably. If the surface cools again, a cooling pulse will follow the warming pulse, but the warming cannot be halted. If the warming effect is large enough, the hydrate will break down into water and free methane.”

    Euan G. Nisbet. Have sudden large releases of methane from geological reservoirs occurred since the Last Glacial Maximum, and could such releases occur again? Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A. 2002. 360, 561-607

    [JR: Been the top post for almost a day. I’ll keep it on the front page for a while.]

  41. Joan Savage says:

    Thanks, Joe. (Comment in #40)

    I’m eagerly awaiting the “roll-out” for wider readership. This is so important. It should be syndicated, or the equivalent.

    Working up how one might communicate the Arctic methane mass (1400 billion tons) to high school and above, I found the need to translate that into volume, the ppm of CO2, and loss of percent O2 in atmosphere, both of which which are more familiar publicly-shared numbers.

    A general chemistry version comes up with a wretchedly high number for increase in CO2 ppm, but I’d like to see what modelers might say, the need for modeling the methane being a key point in the CP post.

  42. prokaryotes says:

    “Methane (CH4) deserves attention it is such a highly potent greenhouse gas — 25-33 times more powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 100-year time-horizon, but as much as 100 time more potent over 20 years, according to the latest research!”

    And the breakdown uses up a lot of air molecules within the process. And once the atmosphere washes them out, the weathering process – the carbon isotopes acidify the water ways and ground. Speaking of long lasting poisoning of earth biosphere.

  43. prokaryotes says:

    “A major difference between the PETM (Natural) and present (Anthropogenic) global warming is ”

    Another major difference is the timescale of the release of anthro-emissions, which is about 10.000 times faster today.

  44. prokaryotes says:

    “natural global warming occurred in 2 stages:”

    There is another, see-saw effect, first the northern hemisphere glacial vanish and release of these deposits, the second shot comes later when the southern pole shots another round of CH4.

  45. prokaryotes says:

    “The world at the approximate time of the PETM”

    An very active geological time, which is about to happen to from mass distribution.

    Climate forcing of geological and geomorphological hazards

    This is why nuclear power can not supply energy, each single plant is a threat.

  46. prokaryotes says:

    What we need are images showing the carbon equivalence the clathrate gun could release in comparison to anthro-emissions.

  47. prokaryotes says:

    What do we need to counter the extinction threat – methane time bomb?

    Large scale biochar projects around the world, every farmer has to help sequester. Every household has to separate trash, to sort organic materials for sequestration.

    Co2 emitting cars should be banned from city centers.

    Regulation how many airplane flights people can do for fun, making flying more expensive.

    Energy infrastructure more efficient.

    Shutting down Co2 emitting sources and replace with clean tech (solar, wind, geothermal, wave etc).

    Stopping all fossil subsidies and giving them instead to clean energy projects.

    This has to be done. Good Luck Human!

  48. Lewis C says:

    Joan – thanks for reposting the quotation from Nisbet’s earlier paper.

    While it appears absolutely correct in principle, there are also relevant mitigating factors and potentials which it does not describe.

    1/. A heating pulse will be losing its energy as it penetrates frozen material and will thus impose only a very small fraction of its damage after long periods of very slow penetration.

    2/. The duration of that heating at the surface is critical to how much warming will eventually reach and destabilize methyl clathrates far below the seabed. The duration of that heating is still technically within our control.

    3/. A prolonged cooling pusle (if that could be engineered) will help somewhat to counteract the present warming pusle by restabilizing methane in the form of methyl clathrates. Rising sea levels will assist this process by increasing the ambient pressures.

    All of which is not to belittle the ESAS methane hazard in the slightest, but to affirm the fact that disastrous venting is not yet inevitable: mitigation is still relevant, feasible and supremely urgent.

    I would hope that the lack of discussion of commensurate mitigation on this thread in response to the shocking ESAS news is not indicative of the response of Americans in general once our global predicament becomes more widely known. Getting people out of the “rabbit-in-the-headlights” or ‘tharn’ state is far harder than avoiding that mindset taking hold by focussing on the effective options for mitigation while the news sinks in.



  49. Zetetic says:

    @ Lewis C #27:
    I agree that at this point it may be too late to stop a release of methane deposits, especially if we continue to take the gradualist approach as show by most countries. I also agree that the problem we now face is that we’ve done far too little for far too long.

    While you have a point that geoengineering may help with mitigating the effects that are “already in the pipeline” it doesn’t seem likely that such efforts will accomplish much without a drastic reduction in CO2e emissions first. While I have concerns about using sulfur dioxide to mitigate global warming, it is inexcusable (IMO) that we aren’t already using other methods such as “cool roofs” and using albedo increasing measures on land exposed by shrinking glaciers and some types of “brown land”.

  50. Andy Hultgren says:

    Without going into the issues of geo-engineering, Lewis C (#27) gives a very succinct summary of the future we face using some back-of-the-envelope reasoning.

    What I am wondering is if that summary is (roughly) accurate? Does anyone (Joe or others) have any feedback on that comment? The most important question in my mind is around the accuracy of Lewis C’s assertion that there is a ~35 year time lag between when GHGs are emitted and when most of their warming effect is realized. I know there is such a lag due to thermal inertia of the oceans, but I’d be curious to hear feedback on the 35yr quantification (or – Lewis C – could you provide a source for that info?).

    Thanks Joe for posting this, and thanks all for an excellent comment thread.

  51. Mike Roddy says:

    Here’s some geo engineering: cut America’s use of wood products. We’re still clearcutting carbon sinks, including in Canada, for paper towels, packaging, and two by fours. The US uses 25% of the earth’s wood products. If we halved that, there would be a substantial reduction in our emissions, in the neighborhood of 220 MT CO2 per year. Sinks would also be allowed to regenerate.

    This is on the verboten list for American media, because paper is their raw material. Even the TV and radio stations are owned by conglomerates that include plenty of print outlets.

  52. Lewis C says:

    Andy at 50 –
    thanks for your response.

    Regarding the “35-year timelag” issue, I first leaned of this effect back in the ’80s, since when I’ve seen no scientific refutation but constant reference to it as accepted science. My rounding of the much-quoted ’30 to 40 years’ into a notional 35 years may actually be somewhat conservative.

    ‘Skeptical Science’ offers a good lay summary, with a reference to a paper on the issue by Hansen et al:

    “The reason the planet takes several decades to respond to increased CO2 is the thermal inertia of the oceans. Consider a saucepan of water placed on a gas stove. Although the flame has a temperature measured in hundreds of degrees C, the water takes a few minutes to reach boiling point. This simple analogy explains climate lag. The mass of the oceans is around 500 times that of the atmosphere. The time that it takes to warm up is measured in decades. Because of the difficulty in quantifying the rate at which the warm upper layers of the ocean mix with the cooler deeper waters, there is significant variation in estimates of climate lag. A paper by James Hansen and others [iii] estimates the time required for 60% of global warming to take place in response to increased emissions to be in the range of 25 to 50 years. The mid-point of this is 37.5 which I have rounded to 40 years.”
    . . . . . . .

    Implications of the 40 Year Delay

    The estimate of 40 years for climate lag, the time between the cause (increased greenhouse gas emissions) and the effect (increased temperatures), has profound negative consequences for humanity. However, if governments can find the will to act, there are positive consequences as well.

    With 40 years between cause and effect, it means that average temperatures of the last decade are a result of what we were thoughtlessly putting into the air in the 1960’s. It also means that the true impact of our emissions over the last decade will not be felt until the 2040’s.

    (Posted on 22 September 2010 by alan marshall)



  53. This should be a deal breaker. We are already facing runaway climate out of our control within a couple of decades.

    There is now no excuse to delay any longer. Urgent action is needed.

    Find some action occurring in your area and get involved – get out on the streets and demand action.

  54. Leland Palmer says:

    There may be a few things we can do, beyond the obvious steps of stopping fossil fuel use, and switching to alternative energy.

    BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Storage is one of them. This could actually start putting carbon back underground. BECCS would have very high impact, because it is a synergistic solution, which simultaneously displaces coal use, generates useful electricity for electric vehicles displacing more fossil fuel use, puts carbon back underground balancing existing fossil fuel use, and prevents the decay of carbonaceous waste material into methane. Existing coal fired power plants could also be retrofitted to do BECCS, and the transformation could be progressive, with more and more coal displaced over time as bigger and bigger supplies of biomass become available. Existing coal fired power plants could also be upgraded to combined cycle operation, almost doubling the efficiency, and the resulting efficiency could pay for the retrofit and the parasitic losses due to the carbon capture and storage.

    There have been various schemes for harvesting the methane hydrates for methane, using traps that would funnel the methane plumes into ships for compression and storage. Needless to say, this is a huge task, and capturing all of it is impossible. How much could be captured, is a good question. Hydrates are also very good at plugging up pipes, and are a hazard in the oil industry for this reason. Just burning the methane and transforming it into CO2 would reduce the hazard. The place to harvest the plumes, though, would likely be right where they are venting from the ocean floor. It would even be possible to capture the methane, burn it to produce electricity, export the electricity to shore, and then capture and deep inject the CO2 a kilometer or two below the ocean floor, ideally into a fractured basalt formation for in situ mineral carbonation.

    Finally, I think we are going to have to do sulfate aerosol geoengineering, hopefully for a short while, especially in the Arctic. What is going on up there now is a disaster, which will just keep building, unless we do something massive, like BECCS, do it as universally as possible, and do it NOW.

  55. Andy Hultgren says:

    Lewis C. #52,

    Thanks for following up. I appreciate it, and find the scenario you laid out unfortunately convincing.

    I’m still trying to wrap my mind around all this – it is very difficult to dispassionately envision the consequences of our current actions. At this point, it appears that civil disobedience makes very good sense.

    I appreciate your candor (really) along with Joe’s and the many other regulars here.

  56. Joan Savage says:

    Shakhova’s observation of increased methane emissions may also relate to the recent 40% depletion of the Arctic ozone in the winter of 2010-2011.

    “This is pretty sudden and unusual,” said Bryan Johnson, a research chemist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado.

    Press Release: US State Department
    05 April 2011
    “Scientists Detect Record Depletion in Arctic Ozone Hole”
    Charlene Porter, Staff Writer

  57. Joan Savage says:

    That was too brief. The quote of Bryan Johnson refers only to the phenomenon of the Arctic ozone depletion without a comment by him on methane.

    Other work in atmospheric chemistry links methane to stratospheric ozone depletion.

  58. Leland Palmer says:

    Yes, the hydroxyl radical is what oxidizes methane into CO2 in the atmosphere. The hydroxyl radical is produced from ozone.

    While it may not be possible to directly increase hydroxyl radical concentration in the atmosphere, I wonder myself if it would be possible to increase ozone, and so indirectly boost concentrations of the hydroxyl radical. I wonder about solar powered drone aircraft flying around, producing ozone and releasing it locally.

    Needless to say, if the hydroxyl radical concentrations drop, methane lifetime in the atmosphere will be increased, and make the problem much worse.

  59. Sailesh Rao says:

    The fundamental axiomatic shift we need is to see through the blatant lie underlying our modern culture that More Consumption = More Happiness. If we see through this lie, then perhaps we won’t need such a gargantuan energy generation enterprise in the first place? Currently, Western consumption has reached its zenith and yet, the proportion of Westerners on anti-depression medication has never been higher. In an environment where our industrial oil/radiation/toxic spills are bio-concentrating their way up the food chain, it is neither desirable nor healthy to be leading high footprint, cancer-inducing, apex predator lifestyles and then walk miles to raise money to seek cures for that cancer. Perhaps, it is time that we stop behaving like mindless consumers, as if we were human caterpillars, and transform ourselves into human butterflies, nurturing the regeneration of Life.

    Forests are the largest stores of terrestrial carbon and can be regenerated to sequester excess carbon and to suck up the toxins that we’ve unleashed. It is through such nurturing of Life that we can squeeze through the extinction event that we’ve unwittingly triggered. Unlike past extinction events, this anthropogenic event is proceeding with 7 billion (and counting) conscious, intelligent and potentially aware beings that can act to counter the event. Alternately, if the forests die out due to our apathy, neglect and especially, our mindless, cud-chewing consumption, there will be even higher carbon, radiation and toxin spikes injected into our environment, thoroughly cooking our goose.

    The fate of the Lion, the Tiger and the Elephant, to name a few, is intimately tied to our own. What will we do now?

  60. John le Mesurier says:

    Joan Savage # 40

    Unfortunately, 80% of clathrates on the East Siberian Continental Shelf lie in water which is ~50m deep – in other words relatively shallow and therefore highly vulnerable to warming seawater. As Natalia Shakhova points out, if melting of just 3% of those deposits occurs, we risk on-set of sudden climate change. And as pointed out, in the first 20 years, CH4 is 100 times more powerful than CO2.

    The Kraken article puts forward a scenario where Siberian methane emissions begin slowly, as they are now doing, causing warming which is sufficient to allow the first of the major emissions identified by Carozza et al (2010). That would certainly accelerate Arctic ice loss, including collapse of the Greenland Ice Sheet and the 5m rise in sea level predicted by Hansen et al (2011) to occur this century.

    No one, not even the foolhardy should ignore the articles admonition: – This extremis we ignore – to our peril.

  61. Daniel Bailey says:

    The most powerful, impactful point of Carozza was that each of the two stages identified had their releases largely confined to an extremely narrow 50-year window for each stage (which could have been concurrent).

    It was coupling that with the evidence from Davy 2010 and Shakhova 2010 that served to crystallize the the main thrust of the article for us.

    That we could not rule out being in such a window today, ourselves, or even begin to bound the attendant risks, was alarming to us. Hence the closing line of the article.

    Thanks, all, for your thoughtful replies and your insights. And to Joe, for reposting the article here on Climate Progress.

  62. Joan Savage says:

    John le Mesurier (#60)

    I look with alarm at the coincidence of East Siberian methane release with the persistently increased Arctic cloud cover and this past winter’s 40% decline in Arctic ozone. If melt-methane is in the Arctic troposphere or stratosphere, its breakdown could be rapid, so I’d like to see what data NOAA has to offer about it.

    The continuing thermal wave downward was noticeable decades ago. That time lag of 35-50 years is coming due (also acknowledging Lewis C’s posts).
    In the late 1980s one of my graduate advisers ruefully commented that the permafrost melt was something that politicians wouldn’t understand, until it was too late.

  63. Steve Bloom says:

    Daniel, the Shakhova slide presentation linked above, which refers to data gathered very recently pursuant to an NSF-funded field camapaign (very expensive since it’s in the Arctic Ocean), particularly slide 34, is frightening indeed. I think you should update your post to address it.

    Speaking of that field campaign, it’s being led (two separate grants) by Ira Liefer and Samantha Joye, both of whom played prominent roles in monitoring the Gulf subsequent to last summer’s spill and who appear to be the leading researchers when it comes to this sort of thing. Arctic Ocean field campaigns are seriously expensive, so the NSF clearly considers this work to be a priority.

    But some questions arise:

    If very much of that possibly vastly-increased methane flux is reaching the atmosphere, why aren’t we seeing it in the monitor data (nearest is on Svalbard IIRC)?

    Why didn’t similar events occur in the warmest interglacials?

  64. Steve Bloom says:

    Also, Daniel, re Carozza, I assume we’re talking deep ocean clathrates (i.e. not the ESAS since during warm climates clathrates shouldn’t be able to form there)? If so the short period for the blow-off sounds even more impressive.

  65. Joan Savage says:

    A phase diagram for methane hydrates:

    Let’s keep it in mind regarding the effects of temperature and depth on the clathrates.

    Note that a sea level increase of 3 meters would not be enough to compensate for the recent shift of 3C temperature reported in Shakhova and Semiletov’s lecture, slide 28.

  66. espiritwater says:

    Notes from Hansen’s book, “Storms of my Grandchildren”–

    CO2 that caused climate change during earth’s history was introduced much more slowly than (now)… allowing negative (diminishing) feedbacks… to come into play… During the PETM… global temperature recovered on fairly rapid geologic time scale. If we choose to burn all fossil fuels, it will occur so fast, carbon cycle diminishing feedbacks won’t have time to come into play. If we burn all fossil fuels, it will be comparable to that of the PETM, but it will have been introduced at least 10X faster… Thus, carbon cycle diminishing feedbacks will not significantly reduce ocean warming. The warming oceans can be expected to affect methane hydrate stability and at a rate that could exceed that in the PETM, where the rate of change was driven by the speed of the methane hydrate climate feedback, not by the nearly instantaneous introduction of fossil fuel carbon.

  67. espiritwater says:

    “… if we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there’s a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty.”