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The Methane 'Time Bomb': How big a concern?

Posted on 29 January 2019 by greenman3610

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Comments 1 to 15:

  1. I find this clip Incredibly disingenuous. We know that the permafrost is warming up all around the world and we also know of no mechanism that will stop or reverse this trend even if we stop co2 over the next 20, 30 years.

    We also know that the arctic oceans are warming and that is the trend for the future regardless of what we do over the next 20 years. Warm water WILL disrupt the clathrates, the Phd is correct that the clathrates don't go into uncontroled collapse by themselves, but warm water will make them ALL melt.

    I understand the desire to not alarm people too much but alarming them too little is worse.

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  2. I agree jef, methane clathrates are probably the smoking gun from the End Permian Extinction event.

    Methane Hydrate: Killer cause of Earth's greatest mass extinction


    We're altering the fundamental balance that determines how warm the Earth's surface is, creating a host of feedbacks making it almost impossible to predict the likely outcome.

    If there is only a 1 in 1 million chance of a massive release of methane into the atmosphere taking climate change completely out of control then that is too much. What if it is much higher than that due to factors we aren't even aware of yet?

    At what point will this be treated as the very real crisis it is.

    Summers here are bad enough with massive wildfire action covering hundreds of thousands of hectares in fires and millions of square kilometers in dense smoke that creates life threatening breathing conditions. Not to mention the heat waves that create the wildfire conditions. And ocean nations dealing with being inundated. And critical habitats in rapid retreat and more.

    At some point complacency becomes delusional.

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  3. I do not downplay the climate problem, the climate problem is huge, but there is a danger in too much unfounded pessimism that we have already crossed tipping points (change irreversible) would create a feeling that its pointless reducing emissions.  Wouldn't it? In fact the tipping point for arctic summer ice is from 1-3 degrees c, greenland ice sheet is 1-3 degrees, for artic winter ice is 5degrees c, permafrost it is 6 degrees c, so there is still a chance to avoid these. List of all tipping points here. A slim chance in some cases.

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  4. The video was a snap shot of different points of view, with no unifying dialogue or conclusions. This could be seen as thought provoking and non preachy, but some people might conclude "nobody really knows what's going on". Is this the message we want to send?

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  5. To my mind there is huge danger. With melting snow and ice you are getting more water vapour in the air. Water vapour radiates infrared radiation and snow and ice are almost like black bodies when it comes to infrared radiation. Besides this, the dark rock left behind after melting will absorb far more radiation than snow. The extra infrared radiation from greenhouse gases is mainly in the 5 to 8 micron wavelength range and above about 14 microns in wavelenth. This downwelling sky radiation concentrates itself in the top few mm of the sea surface causing high sea surface temperatures which will lead to rapid evaporation.

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  6. nigelj @3

    We already have crossed climatic tipping points that already have profound impacts on all our lives and the biosphere as a whole.

    It's not pessimism to keep pointing out that coral reef systems are probably going largely extinct in what is an instant in geological terms.

    That the cryosphere is in rapid retreat that is going to have significant impacts globally for people and ecosystems.

    That extreme weather events are creating hellish conditions already and more. 

    And we're still at the same rate or higher of carbon dioxide emissions as decades ago when some of the earliest experts were warning of this growing catastrophe.

    And it is a catastrophe already with the very real potential to eclipse all other catastrophes in human history. In fact it is guaranteed to do so if we just keep collectively doing what we're doing for a little bit longer.

    The inertia in change created by this one radiative forcing is incredible and we keep adding to it each year based on the myth that we can suddenly turn it around when it becomes so destructive that it is impossible for anyone to deny the danger.

    It's iike if a mob of people were levering a massive boulder on a slope above a town. It moves slowly at first and they keep up the process of forcing to a gradually higher and higher speed as the slope it is on increases. This is exactly what is happening with fossil fuels created climate change. 

    The longer it goes on and the more it is forced the more force it has until it is totally out of control and every in its path is destroyed.

    And a huge part of the debate is still if it's even happening.

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  7. Doug_C@6 Well said.

    We need to stop the polls that ask if so and so believes in GW/CC and whether they think humans are contributing.

    Just ask, "What do you think the consequences of GW/CC will be?"

    "What are you prepared to do to decrease GHG emissions?

    We don't ask people if they think the Earth is round or if the sun orbits the Earth. Time to stop asking people what they think about science they don't know any better than orbital dynamics.

    We need to lead people towards action and solutions.

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  8. Evan @7

    Unfortunatley we are now in a position of triage having to decide what we can save and what resources we have to do so.

    The loss of coral reef systems alone is going to have a profound effect on how life in the oceans behave. One quarter of marine species are dependent on coral reefs for some or all of their lifecycle. The oceans are the main lungs of the planet and home to most life here.

    The loss of glaciers is going to also have major impacts on us and the ecosystems around us in many places. I'm from British Columbia and have been familiar with glaciers all my life and the rivers and lakes they feed. It's really sobering to think of a BC... and many other places... with little or no glaciers.

    As a kid in the early 1970s I remember a family trip through Glacier national park on the Canada-US border and the many glaciers that gave the park its name. Most are now gone in a pattern repeated globally.

    Extreme Ice Survey

    The polar ice sheets have already lost their stability and are losing ice at an incredible rate, far faster than models that treat them as solid blocks melting from the outside predicted.

    And it goes on an on, we have upset a fundamental balance that determines one of the most important factors on Earth, how warm it is on the planet's surface. And it is still treated as a relatively minor issue by far too many people, many of them in positions that need to take responsible action, not keep promoting the same activities that have brought us here.

    I also have family who work in the oil industry in Alberta and I get how important it is to people there. But it is incredibly frustrating to try to explain to people how what they are doing right now to meet their immediate needs is going to make it very difficult to impossible for them and their kids to meet those needs in just a few decades. With major emergencies along the way like the record flooding in southern Alberta in 2013 and the massive wildfires that burned down Fort McMurray in 2016.

    There are real actions and solutions to this growing catastrophe but they require a willingness to change. Sadly something that is still lakcing in many people, who are somehow able to ignore the fact that the Earth is already changing now for the worst.

    Real change to a low carbon sustainable energy and economic model has so many benefits that it no longer makes any sense at all to talk about fossil fuels as anything else but a disaster on a scale that makes CFCs, DDT and many other human created ecological and social problems minor in comparison.

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  9. Doug_C@8 Well said. So let's stop asking people if they believe in GW/CC and just take polls about what we should do about it. By asking if people believe GW/CC is occurring and if ask about causation, we are leading into the industry that is standing in the way of progress. That is, we legitimize the false debate by asking about the false ndebate.

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  10. “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” - Mark Twain

    There are no greater fools in todays world than those who are intentionally denying fossil fuels driven climate change.

    They have won the decades long struggle to face this crisis by pulling the rest of society most notably the entire field of science into the mud where everyone is seen in the same irresponsible and foolish light.

    Those of us who really are interested in being the best not worst we can be need to step totally out of this paradigm and make the necessary changes.

    In the long term we will all be so much the better for it.

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  11. I used to interact briefly with methane hydrate researchers at the USGS, mostly from a resource assessment perspective. From what I remember, being a non-clathrate specialist, was that they (USGS, i.e. Carolyn Ruppel and Tim Collett) didn't think massive marine destabilization via global warming was likely. I remember someone saying that ocean waters are relatively unsaturated with methane and that the methane wouldn't be able to rise to the surface.. I could be totally wrong on this!

    I do know that the going theory is that massive onshore methane hydrates deposits are "frozen" thermogenic natural gas fields that had probably been there for a long time, well before the icehouse climate we are or used to be in. Therefore, it's unlikely that these frozen gas fields will destabalize and make it to the atmosphere--they are already trapped so to speak.

    The methane hydrate stability zone, onshore Artic Alaska, is typically around 800' to over 4,000' below the surface, and would take a very long time to thaw out anyways. By then the earth will probably be 8 degrees C warmer--game over!

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  12. It may require some fundamental shift to destabilize some of these methane hydrate deposits, the concern I have is we are shifting the entire global system of heat transfer and storage from a relatively stable state to one that is in flux to a much different system. One not ever seen before when we consider continental arrangement, Solar output and ocean circulation.

    There was a paper by Hansen and his GISS team a number of years ago about research that showed it was possible that as the poles continue to warm and deep water submergence off of Greenland slowed it a new area of deep water submergence could form in temperate zones introducing relatively warm water to the deep ocean.

    There are so many variables at work here that I don't think a massive methane release is off the table. It may not happen for decades or centuries, but we could be creating the conditions right now that triggers such a release at a later time and not even know it.

    What we do see in the geological record is the isotopic fingerprint of massive methane clathrate releases during periods of rapid warming from a prior stable state. 

    Which is exactly what is happening now.

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  13. "What we do see in the geological record is the isotopic fingerprint of massive methane clathrate releases during periods of rapid warming from a prior stable state.

    Which is exactly what is happening now."

    Respectfully, those periods were directly related to, and a result of, Large Igneous Province events.  This has been covered by this venue before.  But to the best of my knowledge, the evidence supporting a firing of the Clathrate Gun since the PETM is scarce (and the evidence of a firing then is mixed).

    What the paleo record and recent research shows is that clathrates have endured periods of warmer temperatures than even now for even millions of years and remained in stable configurations.  Obviously, that is not proof that clathrates will remain immune to future warming, but since in science we use the past as a guide to the future, it does lend some measure of confidence that time remains to make a difference for those coming after us.

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  14. Some additional tidbits:

    • Methane saturation of seawater. If methane were well mixed, it may well be that it would disperse.  However, off the north Russia coast I've seen reports of chunks of clathrate ice rising to the surface, and not mixing in. (Sorry, can't find citation.)  Methane release also tend to 'pipe' creating a narrow column with lots of bubbles, rather than widely dispersed ones.  This may locally saturate the column, allowing more gas to reach the surface.
    • Permafrost botany.  There is a wide band north of nominal treeline in the arctic that has very small spruce trees — just a few inches high — hiding amoung the scrub willow and birch.  Treeline is a fairly sharp line with something like 60 days of +10C highs per year. (Probably misremembering from my general ecology course 45 years ago)   The existence of these tiny trees growing in the surface microclimate means that only a small polar warming could release their growth.  A spruce forest is much darker (lower albedo) that tundra.  What would the effect be of a one or two hundred kilometer wide circumpolar band going from an average albedo of .7 to .8 (tundra snowcovered a good chunk of the year) to an albedo of .2 to .3 (Spruce is very dark even in winter, esp, with low angle light.)  Google 'snow albedo effect' for more info.  
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  15. It should be noted that the "skeptic" of methane and methane hydrates being a significant contributor to global warming in this video link is Juliana Musheyev. She is not a climate change scientist or researcher and according to this link, she is an "Interfaith Activist" with the Center For Religious Tolerance. While that does not discount her opinion, it should be taken into consideration especially when she has admitted much of her research came from YouTube.

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