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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #33B

Posted on 16 August 2014 by John Hartz

Adaptation gaps mean African farmers fork out more money for reduced harvests

 In Cameroon’s Northwest Region, Judith Muma walks 9km from her home to her 300-square-metre farm. The vegetables she grows here are flourishing thanks to the money she has borrowed from her njangi (thrift group) and a local credit union to finance a small artisanal irrigation scheme.

“I spend more money today buying farm implements such as water tanks, watering pumps, fertilisers, insecticides and improved seeds. I think we must spend in farming today if we want to adapt to climate change,” Muma tells IPS.

Cameroon’s economy is primarily agrarian and about 70 percent of this Central African nation’s 21.7 million people are involved in farming. Changes in temperature and precipitation pose a serious threat to the nation’s economy where agriculture contributes about 45 percent to the annual GDP.

Adaptation Gaps Mean African Farmers Fork Out More Money for Reduced Harvests by Monde Kingsley Nfor, Inter Press Service (IPS), Aug 14, 2014

Antarctica may lift sea level faster in threat to megacities

Antarctica glaciers melting because of global warming may push up sea levels faster than previously believed, potentially threatening megacities including New York and Shanghai, researchers in Germany said.

Antarctica’s ice discharge may raise sea levels as much as 37 centimeters (14.6 inches) this century if the output of greenhouse gases continues to grow, according to a study led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The increase may be as little as 1 centimeter, they said.

“This is a big range, which is exactly why we call it a risk,” Anders Levermann, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “Science needs to be clear about the uncertainty so that decision-makers at the coast and in coastal megacities can consider the implications in their planning processes.”

Antarctica May Lift Sea Level Faster in Threat to Megacities by Stefan Nicola, Bloomberg, Aug 14, 2014

Charles Mann and The Atlantic miss the mark in a confused climate change piece

A recent climate change article by Charles C. Mann in The Atlantic left me scratching my head. The title, “How to Talk About Climate Change So People Will Listen” piqued my interest. It’s something I grapple with every day. But instead of focusing on how our public conversations about climate change are shifting, he lingers on what he sees as failed efforts to enact national climate policy. Mann is a serious and respected writer — who happens to work with some of my favorite magazines — so this piece felt like a missed opportunity.

Charles Mann and The Atlantic Miss The Mark in a Confused Climate Change Piece by Aaron Huertas, Union of Concerned Scientists, Aug 15, 2014

Dismantling Australian climate policy: a case study in disagreement

The federal government can’t convince the electorate of the ills of renewables. Perhaps they should listen instead, and leave the renewable energy target alone.

Dismantling Australian climate policy: a case study in disagreement, Op-ed by Ketan Joshi, The Guiardian, Aug 14, 2014

Heavy rain and floods: The 'new normal' with climate change?

As people clean up after torrential rains and heavy flooding in cities in the Midwest and along the Atlantic Coast, the events highlight what many climate researchers say is a new "normal" for severe rainfall in the US. 

Quite apart from what long-term changes in precipitation say about global warming, these events also provide a reality check on the ability of urban areas to cope with flooding from intense downpours in a warming climate.

They "definitely can tell us a lot about where our vulnerabilities are and what types of things might be on the checklist for fixing," says Joe Casola, staff scientist with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions in Arlington, Va.

Heavy rain and floods: The 'new normal' with climate change? by Pete Spotts, Christian Science Monitor, Aug 14, 2014

Montana: Big Sky country, big climate problems

No matter how far you go on vacation, sometimes you can't get away — especially if you write about science policy for a living.

I recently escaped the steamy confines of Washington, D.C., for the mountains of Montana for some sorely needed R & R. The last time I set foot in Big Sky Country was 10 years ago, when I attended a grizzly bear conference at a ranch just outside of Yellowstone National Park. And the first and only other time I visited the state was 35 years ago, when I backpacked in Glacier National Park.

From a climate perspective, things there have gotten worse.

Montana: Big Sky Country, Big Climate Problems by Elliott Negin, The Huffington Post, Aug 14, 2014

Recent glacial melt mostly caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions

More than two-thirds of the recent rapid melting of the world's glaciers can be blamed on humans, a new study finds. 

Scientists looking at glacier melt since 1851 didn't see a human fingerprint until about the middle of the 20th century. Even then only one-quarter of the warming wasn't from natural causes.

But since 1991, about 69 percent of the rapidly increasing melt was man-made, said Ben Marzeion, a climate scientist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

Recent Glacial Melt Mostly Caused By Man-Made Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Study Finds by Seth Borenstein, AP/The Huffington Post, Aug 14, 2014

Recent urban floods: A simple equation

Meteorology and climatology usually involve complex calculus and physics. However, as I watch breathtaking flooding in Boulder, Pensacola, Detroit, Baltimore, and Long Island, a rather simple equation comes to mind.

Urban Flooding = Increase in intensity of top 1% rain events + expanding urban impervious land cover + storm water management engineered for rainstorms of "last century"

I have researched and published on precipitation/urban hydrometeorological processes for over 2 decades. I am also a member of the NASA Precipitation Science team and was Deputy Project Scientist for the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission that recently launched.

Recent Urban Floods: A simple equation by Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Weather Underground, Aug 13, 2014

Swamped by rising seas, small islands seek a lifeline

The world’s 52 small island developing states (SIDS), some in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth because of sea-level rise triggered by climate change, will be the focus of an international conference in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa next month.

Scheduled to take place Sep. 1-2, the conference will provide world leaders with “a first-hand opportunity to experience climate change and poverty challenges of small islands.”

According to the United Nations, the political leaders are expected to announce “over 200 concrete partnerships” to lift small islanders out of poverty – all of whom are facing rising sea levels, overfishing, and destructive natural events like typhoons and tsunamis.

Swamped by Rising Seas, Small Islands Seek a Lifeline by Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service (IPS), Aug 11, 2014

Thinning Arctic snow could alter North Pole ecosystem

Spring snow in the western Arctic has thinned by about a third and, in some regions, is less than half as thick as it was in the 1950s, decades of research has revealed.

A team of researchers analyzed data from NASA's IceBridge air surveys from 2009 to 2013, data from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers'buoys that were frozen into ice sheets and historic data collected by Russian scientists from 1954 to 1991. The results show that snow depth has thinned from 14 inches to 9 inches (36 centimeters to 23 centimeters) in the western Arcticand from 13 inches to 6 inches (33 cm to 15 cm) over the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, west and north of Alaska, respectively.

"Knowing exactly the error between the airborne and the ground measurements, we're able to say with confidence, yes, the snow is decreasing in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas," Ignatius Rigor, an oceanographer at the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory in Seattle, said in a statement. [On Ice: Stunning Images of Canadian Arctic]

Thinning Arctic Snow Could Alter North Pole Ecosystem by Kelly Dickerson, Live Science, Aug 14, 2014

Tibet's glaciers at their warmest in 2,000 years - report

The Tibetan plateau, whose glaciers supply water to hundreds of millions of people in Asia, were warmer over the past 50 years than at any stage in the past two millennia, a Chinese newspaper said, citing an academic report.

Temperatures and humidity are likely to continue to rise throughout this century, causing glaciers to retreat and desertification to spread, according to the report published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research.

"Over the past 50 years, the rate of temperature rise has been double the average global level," it said, according to the report on the website of Science and Technology Daily, a state-run newspaper.

Tibet's glaciers at their warmest in 2,000 years - report by by Stian Reklev and Kathy Chen, Reuters, Aug 14, 2014

Why are we not taking climate change seriously?

Climate scientists have issued a steady drumbeat of warnings and data pointing to profound changes that have already begun because of climate change.

Yet a survey from the United Kingdom finds that when it comes to climate denial, the United States leads the world. Only 54% of Americans agree that human activity is largely causing the climate change we're currently seeing.

Why is the U.S. the world leader in climate denial? And how can scientists and policymakers convert the "deniers?"

Why are we not taking climate change seriously?, NPR, Aug 14, 2014 

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Comments 51 to 61 out of 61:

  1. Hi scaddenp-

    Past recent glaciations, you mean. There are a series of mass extinction events associated with massive carbon isotope excursions, consistent with the release of trillions of tons of light carbon from the oceanic methane hydrates, if you go further back. And recent glaciations have arguably occurred more slowly and randomly than current warming, without the terrible speed, non-randomness and scale of our current fossil fuel emissions.

    You know, thanks for pointing out the immense probably thermogenic methane gas fields in that area of Siberia. Gazprom says that one field there, Zapolyarnoye, has about 3 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. Thats a little bigger than two gtons of methane, right there, compared to about 5 Gtons of methane in the atmosphere right now. Boy howdy, I hope hundreds of Yamal style craters don't start blowing the roof off of that gas field, in say 20 years, or 50 years!


    Now that we know such cold gas eruptions like Yamal exist, we would be remiss in our duties as stewards of Earth if we didn't investigate that possibility, wouldn't we? As the permafrost melts, and weakens I hope gas pressure doesn't blow that those Gazprom gas wells out of those soils formerly known as permafrost.

    Looking at it in Google Earth, that area looks a little pockmarked, by the way, showing a landscape dotted with circular lakes, perhaps suggestive of past Yamal style gas eruptions plus subsidence.  There has been some water streambed erosion through there, though so it's hard to be sure. Gazprom says that this immensly productive field is in an area only 50 km long and 30 km wide, and they are annoyingly vague about its exact boundaries. If you know the exact boundaries of this field, that would be helpful.

    You've totally got the shoe on the wong foot, though, abut responsible action. Fear is a totally natural reaction to danger. I truly believe we are in a lot of danger, and it would be irresponsible not to investigate the Yamal cold eruption phenomenon. Given the apparent occurance of past methane catastrophes, we are in fact being remiss right now in not banning fossil fuel use, just on the chance that we might set one off.

    Personally, I think that we're going to see more of these Yamal cold gas eruptions. I think they're going to start popping like popcorn. I think we're going to see all sizes of them, many thousands of them, and some of the ones to come are going to make the current Yamal crater look very tiny, indeed. After they blow, I think we're likely to see large chronic emissions from some of them, and a repeated series of explosive eruptions from others. After we get thousands of them, the combined instantaneous and chronic eruptions will likely create a truly significant impact on global warming, I think, and may be large enough to start the widespread dissociation of the continental shelf methane hydrates.

    It would be irresponsible not to say this. I know that I have no bad motives in making these posts. I'm not motivated by profit, or greed, or glee at scaring people. I'm motivated by sincere concern, and a conviction that we are only seeing a tiny preview of coming attractions in these Yamal cold gas eruptions.

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  2. Leland Palmer @51, you are motivated a firm belief that causes you to ignore all contrary evidence, and to seize upon any evidence that may trivially support your belief as proof of the belief's rationality.  Your approach, in other words, is that of pseudo-science, not sciene.  The primary effect of your approach to evidence, if persuasive to any, is to teach those who are persuaded that pseudoscience is "rational", thereby making them more vulnerable to the pseudoscience from AGW deniers.  In other words, you are a hindrance, not a help towards effective action on the real problems stemming from global warming.

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  3. I'm with Tom. This is utterly irrational. As has repeatedly been pointed out to you, in deep geological time, the world was different with shallow seas and the possibility of much more methane hydrate. Pleistocene glaciations are with a world that is much like ours. 

    It doesnt actually matter how big those fields are because as has been also repeatedly pointed out to you, loss rates from gas fields are very slow and incapable of producing the dangerous amounts of methane. If you could leak gas fast there wouldnt be a gas field - their very existance implies tight deep seal rocks.

    You might see more subsidence etc from methane hydrate loss (a far more plausible explanation than frozen ground holding back a gas seep) but 20,000,000? or even 2,000,000? Anyway, russian scientists are investigating and we will await data with interest.

    Your sincere concern is noted but more attention to the science (and arithmetic) instead of uninformed alarmism would be nice. 

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  4. OK, I was wrong, mea culpa.

    The vast majority of those circular landforms in Siberia are kettle lakes, left behind by the retreat of glaciers. There aren't thousands - there are millions - 300,000 on the Yamal Peninsula alone.

    So, yes, there are two processes that can leave circular holes operating simultaneously in the same area, and Occam's Razor works better with simple systems than with complex ones.

    But, just because I got excited and acted like an idiot doesn't mean that the problem doesn't exist. We've still got cold eruption craters appearing in the same area, mixed in with hundreds of thousands of circular kettle lakes. 

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  5. Leland Palmer @54:

    First, thankyou for acknowledging your error.

    Second, it would be nice if you linked to the source of the information that forms the basis of your claims.

    Third, I did find a comprehensive discussion of thermokarst lakes (including Kettle lakes) by Grosse, Jones and Arp (2013).  It turns out they can be formed by two known methods, to which it appears a third one can now be added.  The second of the known methods is from permafrost melt, and is explained in detail in Figure 7.  It is an ongoing process that has been observed, as has happened in Alaska (Fig 6).

    Fourth, drained thermokarst lakes have been dated using C14, and show ages from 5.5 thousand years ago up to the present.  Therefore the approximately 2 million thermokarst lakes worldwide have formed over that 5 thousand year interval, at an average rate of 400 per year.  Total thermokarst lake and pond surface area is estimated at between 250 and 380 thousand km^2, and hence with an average formation rate of 63 km^2 per year.   No doubt that rate is not even over time, but never-the-less this is obviously an ongoing process that has been part of the background cause of atmospheric methane for a long time, and has not caused any methane catastrophes in that period.  Further, ongoing formation of thermokarst lakes is budgetted into expected increaseses of methane emission with time under global warming (including those by Archer).

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Also see the NSF news release of July 16, 2014:

    Certain Arctic lakes store more greenhouse gases than they release

  6. Tom Curtis and JH-

    I still wonder if I'm inhabiting the same planet with you guys, frankly. I'd be lying if I said any different. Yes, there are negative feedbacks going on, JH. We hear about the greening of the Arctic as a negative feedback, and that's great.

    But, the Yamal crater is located about 16 miles from  Bovanenkovo, one of the three largest natural gas deposits in the world. The latitude and longitude I got off the web for this crater is 70 28 42.8 N, 67 47 52.8 E.

    From Gazprom-

    "32 fields were discovered in the Yamal Peninsula and its offshore areas with the aggregate reserves (A + B + C1 + C2) and resources (C3) reaching 26.5 trillion cubic meters of gas and some 1.64 billion tons of oil and condensate. The Bovanenkovo field is the most significant one in Yamal as its (A + B + C1 + C2) gas reserves amount to 4.9 trillion cubic meters."

    4.9 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, located an average of 16 miles from the Yamal blowout, is more than three Gtons of methane, and is equal to roughly half of the methane in the atmosphere of the entire earth at this time.

    Another one of the three cold gas eruption craters we know about so far is located in the Taz district, and appears to be roughly 85 miles from Zapolyamoye, another giant gas field that contains about 2 Gtons of methane.

    The entire Yamal complex contains several times the amount of methane contained in the entire atmosphere of the earth. It's located under a kilometer or more of permafrost that has just barely started to thaw, and already we've got three cold gas eruption craters that we know about.

    I really do hope you guys are correct about how stable it all is. I find your calm and your confidence in scolarship and mathematics to keep us safe almost as unnerving as the eruptions themselves. I wonder if it is humanly possible to predict what will happen to such a complex system that is being affected so massively by global warming.

    Twenty six point five trillion tons of natural gas is worth about 10 trillion dollars, by the way. So, I really do wonder how that huge profit motive will affect the information coming out of Russia about these blowouts.

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  7. Uh, make that twenty six point five trillion cubuc meters of natural gas, in the last paragraph, equal to about 10 trillion dollars, gross sales at European market prices.

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  8. Leyland, the gas in those reservoirs was produced millions of years ago and the fact that it is still there tell you about the quality of gas seals immediately about the reservoir (at 2+ kms deep). Given the changes that reservoir has been through, a little bit of warming on top isnt going to magically change seal properties.

    Basically, in the planet I live in, you cannot get that methane out of those reservoirs into the atmosphere at a rate that would make much difference. If it was that easy, we wouldnt need all these highly paid reservoir engineers. I am also think it is extremely unlikely that the craters have anything to do with the gas reservoirs at all, and idea that gas could be leaking from those reservoirs over a wide area rather than on narrow fault zones is fantasyland as far as I am concerned.

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  9. Leyland Palmer @56:

    1)  The gas horizons for two of the fields in the Yamal pensinsular are at 900 meters (for five), and 2,850 meters (for the other 37).  For two other fields (paywalled), the top horizon (of many) are at 1,200 meters, and 600 meters (the later being for the Bovanenkovo field).    I could find no reason to think these depths are not typical.  Scaddenp's estimate of an average depth greater than 2 km seems well born out.

    2)  The fact that just two smaller fields coul have the gas split among 42 distinct horizons shows that leakage of the gas is restricted, and the exception.  Were vertical leakage easy, the gas would leak away from all lower horizons and accumulate in just one or two shallow horizons (or dissipate entirely).

    3)  The Yamal peninsular has 26 different gas bearing fields.  Again, if lateral leakage was easy, these fields would conglomerate.  The fact that they remain distinct fields shows they are unlikely to leak.

    4)  Contrary to your claims, the permafrost at Yamal (and at Bovanenkovo in particular) extends only to 350 meters depth, and only to 160 meters depth at Bovanenkovo (see second link above).  That is, for even the shallowest gas horizon the topmost gas horizon has a depth 440 meters greater than the deepest permafrost.  The idea of global warming melting and hence weakening that 400 plus meter layer of non-permafrost is fanciful, to say the least.

    5)  High levels of methane gas in the permafrost of the Yamal peninsular has been known for some time, and thoroughly explored.  In particular, it has been determined by composition, and by C13 ratios that the gas is of biological origin and is not related to the underlying gas fields.  Please note, this is not speculation, but the result of observations over 30 cores drilled to depths 450 meters (ie, 290 meters beyond the lower limit of the permafrost) at the Bovanenkovo field to specifically explore how permafrost methane would impact on production drilling).

    6)  Those wells found gas releases that lasted "from several days to several months", so analogies with the "Door to Hell" are misleading.  Gas flow rates in a case described as the "most representative", initial flow rates of 3000 cubic meters per day fell by a third within two days, and to 1200 cubic meters per day after 10 days.   It continued falling thereafter so that by six months later it was down to 500 cubic meters per day.

    Even at the initial high flow rates, from 50,000 such "blowouts", the flow would need to be maintained for 90 years to release the equivalent amount of gas to that contained in the Bovanenkovo field.   At the more realistic long term flow rate  of 500 cubic meters per day, it would take  over 5 million such blowouts to release that quantity of gas in five years.  That is assuming, contrary to the evidence, that the flow rate was steady.  In fact it was continuing to decline.

    Even with that release, the radiative forcing from methane would increase by 0.2 W/m^2, compared to the current (2013) 1.8 W/m^2 radiative forcing from CO2.

    It is no wonder that one of the authors of the paper studying gass blowouts at Yamal joined with David Archer and many others in 2009 to write:

    "Holes in the ocean’s sediment surface (pockmarks) and submarine landslides are among the mechanisms of eruptive methane release as a result of hydrate estabilization. Quantities released in single events are constrained to about 1–5 GtC, resulting in increased radiative forcing of up to 0.2 Wm−2 if all the methane were to reach the atmosphere (Archer 2007). For comparison, the best estimate total change in radiative forcing from pre-industrial times until today is 1.6 Wm−2 (IPCC 2007b). Methane releases from hydrates that could be most significant to climate change are more likely to be of chronic nature."

    Again, Leland, you are manufacturing fears out of nothing.  The only sum that gives you cause for concern is the total mass of methane locked up in the north.  Even then, your figures (such as the total gas in the Bovanenkovo field) do not generate the types of radiative forcing that you fear.  More importantly, any time actual potential flow rates are quantified, it becomes clear that (as the leading experts repeatedly tell us), methane release in the north may well cause a chronic low grade increase in radiative forcing - but are highly unlikely to cause a sudden catastrophe. 

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  10. @Leland Palmer: You are no longer skating on the thin ice of excessive repetition because you have fallen through it. If you do not cease and desist, you will forfeit your privilege of posting comments on this website. 

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  11. John Baez has an interesting update on the Yamal craters.  Perhaps the most important new information is that some of the many circular craters on the Yamal peninsula are recent.  That has been determined by comparing satellite photos of the region.  Baez quotes extensively from an article, which says:

    "Professor Bogoyavlensky told The Siberian Times: ‘One of the most interesting objects here is the crater that we mark as B2, located 10 kilometres to the south of Bovanenkovo. On the satellite image you can see that it is one big lake surrounded by more than 20 small craters filled with water.

    "Studying the satellite images we found out that initially there were no craters nor a lake. Some craters appeared, then more. Then, I suppose that the craters filled with water and turned to several lakes, then merged into one large lake, 50 by 100 metres in diameter.

    ‘This big lake is surrounded by the network of more than 20 ‘baby’ craters now filled with water and I suppose that new ones could appear last summer or even now. We now counting them and making a catalogue. Some of them are very small, no more than 2 metres in diameter.’"

    This proves the formation of the craters has been an ongoing event over the last decade.  It follows that the current rate of increase in atmospheric methane already includes a contribution from the formation of yamal type craters.  The rate of formation could possibly accelerate with continued warming, but such an acceleration will result in an increase in the rate of methane increase rather than a sudden rapid rise (Shakhova event).

    Also of interest are anecdotal accounts of residents in the area seeing a flash at the time, and in the direction of the formation of one of the recent craters.  Such a flash would indicate the formation was literally explosive, with a significant proportion of the methane oxidizing when the crater was formed.  If true, that would indicate a far lower rate of methane release from these events than that estimated by David Archer at Real Climate.

    Finally, Baez links to an article by Chris Mooney assessing the risk of a methane lead disaster from such methane releases. 

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