Very Bad News About Global Warming

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Future

Fossil portrait of a Permian global-warming denier

While our feeble President had already diddled away a year with a “healthcare reform” before he even proposed a healthcare bill, and achieved absolutely nothing at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the real problems of Planet Earth have suddenly gotten much worse, and “unexpectedly huge quantities of Siberian methane are being released into the atmosphere” in the shallow waters of east Siberia.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress describes this methane release as “the most dangerous amplifying feedback in the entire carbon cycle.” According to the NSF, “the Earth’s geologic record indicates that atmospheric concentrations of methane have varied from about 0.3 to 0.4 parts per million during cold periods to about 0.6 to 0.7 parts per million during warm periods.” Today’s study pegs methane levels in the Arctic at 2.85 parts per million, the highest concentration in 400,000 years, so the methane feedback loop is already well under way.

Corporate media immediately quoted anybody with a Ph.D. who doubted the seriousness of this news, but at the top of the climate-science pyramid James Hansen has been ringing alarms about methane released from permafrost since forever.

If both the slowdown in CO2 emissions and reductions in non-CO2 emissions called for by the alternative scenario are achieved, release of “frozen methane” should be moderate, judging from prior interglacial periods that were warmer than today by one or two degrees Fahrenheit. But if CO2 emissions are not limited and further warming reaches three or four degrees Fahrenheit, all bets are off. Indeed, there is evidence that greater warming could release substantial amounts of methane in the Arctic. Much of the ten-degree Fahrenheit global warming that caused mass extinctions, such as the one at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary, appears to have been caused by release of “frozen methane.” Those releases of methane may have taken place over centuries or millennia, but release of even a significant fraction of the methane during this century could accelerate global warming, preventing achievement of the alternative scenario and possibly causing ice sheet disintegration and further long-term methane release that are out of our control.

The particular form of methane bubbling out of Siberian permafrost is methane hydrate, aka methane clathrate, and last year the American Geophysical Union devoted a full session of their annual meeting to discussing scary scenarios like the Clathrate Gun Hypothesis.

The clathrate gun hypothesis is the popular name given to the hypothesis that rises in sea temperatures (and/or falls in sea level) can trigger the sudden release of methane from methane clathrate compounds buried in seabeds and permafrost which, because the methane itself is a powerful greenhouse gas, leads to further temperature rise and further methane clathrate destabilization – in effect initiating a runaway process, as irreversible once started as the firing of a gun.

And methane clathrate bubbling out of permafrost isn’t just very bad news, it may be very bad news beyond your wildest dreams of what very bad news can be, because…

Methane clathrate breakdown may have caused drastic alteration of the ocean environment and the atmosphere of earth on a number of occasions in the past, over timescales of tens of thousands of years; most notably in connection with the Permian extinction event, when 96% of all marine species (and 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrate species) became extinct 251 million years ago.

But there’s still a chance that methane clathrate won’t really erupt from the seabed and Siberian permafrost, and snuff out almost all life on Earth!

So shop ’til you drop, because you may drop a lot sooner than you think, and in general live your life as if there’s no tomorrow…

Because there probably isn’t.

   

11 comments

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    • Edger on March 7, 2010 at 2:41 am

    the plutocrats are stealing every last buck they can.

  1. but several steps are implicated in the PT extinction according to many theories.

    The alarming aspect of all this is that we just don’t know.  The methane clathrate problem is not included in the climate models, we don’t know how much there is in the arctic and the very real danger is the “tipping point” positive feedback problem leading to increased warming even if humans do nothing or stop releasing CO2 (which nobody expects).

    But as to the PT extinction, a couple of additional steps were necessary, and it wasn’t the methane itself but rather the global oceanic circulation slowing down, leading to the oceans becoming anoxic, followed by the anoxic extinction of the sea life and the rise of purple sulfur bacteria releasing hydrogen sulfide.  Hydrogen sulfide is the implicated global killer of life on the land.  I don’t recommend taking a whiff of hydrogen sulfide, by the way — it is what we humans like to call “poison gas”.

    But the P/T extinction was driven by natural climate imbalance caused by the siberian traps lasting millions of years.  Not that it couldn’t happen (not at all) but the natural climate driving was extreme even by comparison with today’s standards.

  2. Obama’s appearance at Copenhagen Climate Conference was a joke.

    Despite what you may have heard, the Copenhagen summit did not reach an agreement to tackle climate change. What it produced instead was merely a side deal, put together on Friday evening by a handful of the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas-emitting nations, including the United States and China, the two climate superpowers. This side deal was then very grudgingly endorsed late Friday night by the European Union and other rich industrial nations, and accepted even more reluctantly on Saturday by many, but by no means all, developing nations. International opinion was so divided, and the side deal so unpopular, that the full summit explicitly declined to approve it on Saturday afternoon. Rather, it voted merely to “take note” of it.

    No surprise, really: the side deal was in substance all but toothless, and the U.S. and other world powers imposed it at the last minute in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion. In a brief press conference before returning to Washington, Obama hailed the deal as an “unprecedented breakthrough,” but his own words undercut that claim. What was agreed, the president explained, was not a legally binding accord but a mere “political declaration” that he acknowledged fell well short of what climate science required. “There is much further to go,” he said.

    According to many news reports, the side deal pledges to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial level in which our civilization developed and to which the earth’s ecosystems have adapted. Would that this were true. In fact, the deal merely “recognize[s] the scientific view” that the increase should be kept to 2C.

    Worse, the deal does little to bring this result about. It neither enumerates nor prescribes binding limits on the emissions that drive global warming; it merely commits both developed and developing nations to “take action” to “achiev[e] the peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible….” Emissions reductions will remain purely voluntary, and failing to achieve them will result in no penalties.

    And Obama wasn’t even posturing about anything beyond cap-and-trade, which James Hansen discussed in a recent Times editorial about Obama’s non-leadership.

    At the heart of his plan is cap and trade, a market-based approach that has been widely praised but does little to slow global warming or reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. It merely allows polluters and Wall Street traders to fleece the public out of billions of dollars.

    Sound familiar?

    Is there a problem with healthcare?

    Obama’s plan gives hundreds of billions of dollars to the insurance industry.

    Financial meltdown?

    Obama gives hundreds of billions of dollars to the banks.

    And what’s Obama’s plan for global warming?

    He “merely allows polluters and Wall Street traders to fleece the public out of billions of dollars.

    What else would you expect?

  3. Even Mt Everest was not high enough.

  4. on that secret spaceship that will blast off to safety to another world as the planet earth, engulfed in flames, fades in their rear view mirror.

    Who will be seated next to him?  The Bushes, the Clintons, the Cheneys, the Five Supemes (the other four will be “left behind”), the best-known shock jocks?  Will you be among the chosen few?

    Whicb raises a disturbing question…

    Who is more despicable and dangerous, the enemy who openly declares his/her intentions, or the enemy who pretends to be your friend?  

  5. David Archer at Real Climate also provides a little perspective about the humongous amount of methane bubbling out of Siberia…

    The new data enable the methane flux from this region to the atmosphere to be quantified, and they find that this region rivals the methane flux from the whole rest of the ocean.

    Archer’s article is studiously calm, because he doesn’t want to get himself marginalized as a “wing-nut climate alarmist” by the MSM, but if you look at the analogy he constructs with highway velocities, he’s saying that methane increases the velocity of global warming by 50%.

  6. For another perspective see this: Threat of Methane from Thawing Permafrost. Even if Methane clathrate breakdown does not occur on any significant scale, there is still a large problem, according to this lady:

    Katey Walter Anthony, an aquatic ecologist and a biogeochemist with a list of academic publications going back to 2005, is a research professor working with the Water and Environmental Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She studies the permafrost in Alaska, Canada and Russia. She is also involved in “Outreach & Education” appearing on programs and in articles on NPR, the BBC, National Geographic, Nature and Scientific American.

    I encountered her in the December 2009 issue of Scientific American, to which, unfortunately, I do not have on line access. From the various descriptions of her work and activities it seems that the lady is fearless. May she remain so. This diary is comprised of quotes and summaries of various of these above links and other articles.

    Lots of links to articles and videos at the linked diary, though some may no longer work.  

  7. Beijing, China – About one-quarter of China’s total reserves of combustible ice were discovered on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Qinhai province, in September 2009, and the western province is expecting increasing excavations in the following years, said provincial governor Luo Huining on Saturday.

    He said the local government is planning to allow large energy companies to tap the new resource while minimizing the damages to the ecological system, reports Xinhua.

    As a natural gas hydrate, one cubic meter of combustible ice equals to 164 cubic meter of regular natural gas. In addition, since the “ice” contains little impurities, it causes negligible pollutants when burned.

    “Qinghai has just started the exploration, but the key problem is that we still do not have the correct technologies,” he said.

    Mining the “ice” could cause geological disasters, such as slumping, according to scientists. Also, it will cause the emission of large amounts of methane gas, which aggravates global warming.

    The “ice” reserves on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are estimated to equal at least 35 billion tonnes of oil, which could supply energy to China for 90 years.

    source.  emphasis added by bubba.

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