Gas By Another Name

March 17, 2012

Some joy from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group:

We declare there now exists an extremely high international security risk* from abrupt and runaway global warming being triggered by the end-summer collapse of Arctic sea ice towards a fraction of the current record and release of huge quantities of methane gas from the seabed.
Such global warming would lead at first to worldwide crop failures but ultimately and inexorably to the collapse of civilization as we know it.
This colossal threat demands an immediate emergency scale response to cool the Arctic and save the sea ice.
The latest available data indicates that a sea ice collapse is more than likely by 2015 and even possible this summer (2012).
Thus some measures to counter the threat have to be ready within a few months.

More from the Group, other climate studies, videos and reports can also be found here.

This methane is some way-bad shit — a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
From the UK’s Independent last December and a piece on the joint US-Russia cruise of the East Siberian Arctic seas.
Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who led the expedition:

“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter.
“This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 metres in diameter.
“It’s amazing,” Dr Semiletov said.
“I was most impressed by the sheer scale and the high density of the plumes.
“Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them,” he said.

These science guys from all over the world figure there’s hundreds of millions of tons of this methane gas underneath the Arctic permafrost.
And like a lot of other climate-changing articles on studies/reports/findings, the Independent piece also carried the most-usually found phrase in stories of its kind: ‘More/quicker then previous studies/reports/findings anticipated.’
As such: Dr Semiletov’s team published a study in 2010 estimating that the methane emissions from this region were in the region of 8 million tons a year but the latest expedition suggests this is a significant underestimate of the true scale of the phenomenon.

As the earth continues to warm, the permafrost in the Arctic also starts to melt, which in turn allows this methane shit to bubble up to the surface (as described above as “plumes”) through what’s been called “chimneys” — seen in the drawing at the left — and the more heat, the bigger the release.
Two years ago, this process was already getting bad: “The amount of methane currently coming out of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is comparable to the amount coming out of the entire world’s oceans.”

The same thing down south in the Antarctic region  — and this methane-release sequence is of the quick BOOM variety, as in not much happening, then pop.

(Illustration found here).

The permafrost methane is just fine where it is right now — everything’s cool until released by what scientists call a ‘trigger,’ and in this case, the trigger is the warming earth.
A 2008 study using history reported this heat could trigger an abrupt climate change because very little warming could unleash this trapped methane, and could happen fairly rapidly.
Key word here is abrupt: 1. Unexpectedly sudden; 2. Surprisingly curt; 3. Steeply inclined; and so forth.
Way back in 2004, the Union of Concerned Scientists: The term “abrupt climate change” describes changes in climate that occur over the span of years to decades, compared to the human-caused changes in climate that are occurring over the time span of decades to centuries.
Of course, this was before the real game changer in 2007 with the release of the UN’s IPCC report that determined that is was “unequivocal” the globe was warming, and, us humans were “very likely” the cause of it.
The report started a climate-change shit-storm which continues to this very minute — five years later and assholes still deny what’s now happening right outside their own windows.
One hopes, but…

Natalia’ Shakhova, a colleague at the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks — from the Independent story:

“I am concerned about this process, I am really concerned. “
But no-one can tell the timescale of catastrophic releases.
“There is a probability of future massive releases might occur within the decadal scale, but to be more accurate about how high that probability is, we just don’t know,” Dr Shakova said.
“Methane released from the Arctic shelf deposits contributes to global increase and the best evidence for that is the higher concentrastion of atmospheric methane above the Arctic Ocean,” she said.

What prompted this particular post was this particular story this morning from the BBC:

An eminent UK engineer is suggesting building cloud-whitening towers in the Faroe Islands as a “technical fix” for warming across the Arctic.
Scientists told UK MPs this week that the possibility of a major methane release triggered by melting Arctic ice constitutes a “planetary emergency.”

Wave energy pioneer Stephen Salter has shown that pumping seawater sprays into the atmosphere could cool the planet.

Towers would be constructed, simplified versions of what has been planned for ships.
In summer, seawater would be pumped up to the top using some kind of renewable energy, and out through the nozzles that are now being developed at Edinburgh University, which achieve incredibly fine droplet size.

I’ve done posts on this terrible accident/event-waiting-to-happen before — and it’s frightening no one seems to be paying much attention to what’s already happening to the earth’s climate, much less the near future, causing Nina Federoff, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to proclaim last month she’s “scared to death” of the serious lack of serious concern for what’s happening to the planet’s environment.

So thusly, the BBC ends its piece:

Depending on the size and location, Prof Salter said that in the order of 100 towers would be needed to counteract Arctic warming.
However, no funding is currently on the table for cloud-whitening.
A proposal to build a prototype ship for about £20m found no takers, and currently development work is limited to the lab.

Cow by any other word.

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