Might Arctic Warming Lead to Catastrophic Methane Releases?

Image: National Science Foundation

Guest post by Indur M. Goklany

In the earlier post reporting on the recent greening of the Arctic, some commentators — Crispin in Waterloo, BillD, Jimbo — have alluded to the notion that Arctic thawing could lead to positive feedback by adding to methane emissions to the atmosphere.

This global warming bogeyman is founded on the plausible notion — plausible, at least at first blush — that warming might release methane from methane clathrates (or hydrates) stored in the Arctic permafrost which would increase its concentration in the atmosphere.

But methane has a “global warming potential” averaged over 100 years of 25, that is, methane, ton-for-ton, is 25 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (AR4WG1 Technical Summary: 33). Thus, such releases of methane would constitute a positive feedback for global warming.

The initial concerns about methane stemmed from the fact that by the 1990s the atmospheric concentration of methane, which had been growing rapidly, had exceeded 1,730 parts per billion (ppb), almost twice the maximum amount measured over the past 650,000 years in ice cores (AR4WG1: 3).

Concern of runaway methane feedback was also stoked by a number of modeling studies which suggested rapid disintegration of the permafrost with global warming (e.g., Lawrence and Slater 2005, Zimov et al. 2006). However, in a modeling study which took into consideration the thermal profile of the permafrost, and the fact that the melting effect of warm air surface temperatures on the upper layers of permafrost would be countered by cooling due to colder deeper layers of permafrost, Delisle (2007) showed that “massive releases of methane in the near future are questionable.”

Even more compelling is that the growth in atmospheric concentrations has slowed substantially. As noted by the IPCC AR4WG1 (p. 796):

Recent measurements show that CH4 growth rates have declined and were negative for several years in the early 21st century … The observed rate of increase of 0.8 ppb yr–1 for the period 1999 to 2004 is considerably less than the rate of 6 ppb yr–1 assumed in all the [IPCC] SRES scenarios for the period 1990 to 2000.”

The latest observations indicate that the rate of change is not increasing, and that they “are not consistent with sustained changes … yet” (Dlugokencky et al. 2009: 4). [Dlugokencky’s “yet” seems gratuitous — no matter, I’ll give it a pass.] They also indicate that the geographical pattern and the isotopic signature of methane increases suggests that the major sources are wetlands — probably tropical wetlands —rather than Arctic permafrost.

Petrenko et al. (2009) examined the source of isotopic methane in a glacial ice core from West Greenland to determine the probable source of the large increase in methane during the abrupt warming of +10±4°C that occurred during the transition from the Younger Dryas to the Preboreal (~11,600 years ago) (Grachev and Severinghaus 2005). They concluded that “wetlands were the likely main driver of the [methane] increase and that clathrates did not play a large role,” a finding they noted “is in agreement with findings from previous ice core CH4 isotopic studies” (Petrenko et al. 2009: 508). This study essentially reiterated the results of another paper by many of the same researchers that appeared in Nature the previous year (Fischer et al. 2008). Notably the Petrenko et al. study’s publication was accompanied by an announcement titled, “Ancient Greenland methane study good news for planet, says CU-Boulder scientist” (Eureka Alert 2009).

So it seems that while methane emissions might increase if there is warming, there is no evidence of catastrophic releases from clathrates.

References

1. The above is, for the most part, extracted from:

Goklany, Indur M. (2009). Trapped Between the Falling Sky and the Rising Seas: The Imagined Terrors of the Impacts of Climate Change. Prepared for University of Pennsylvania Workshop on Markets & the Environment, draft, 13 December 2009.

2. Specific references follow:

AR4WG1 ≡ IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report for Work Group 1 ≡ IPCC (2007). Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Delisle, G. (2007), Near-surface permafrost degradation: How severe during the 21st century?, Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L09503, doi:10.1029/2007GL029323.

Dlugokencky, E. J., et al. (2009). Observational constraints on recent increases in the atmospheric CH4 burden. Geophysical Research Letters, 36, L18803, doi:10.1029/2009GL039780.

Eureka Alert. 2009. Ancient Greenland methane study good news for planet, says CU-Boulder scientist. PR announcement, 23 April 2009. Available at http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-04/uoca-agm042109.php.

Fischer, H., Melanie Behrens, Michael Bock, Ulrike Richter, Jochen Schmitt, Laetitia Loulergue, Jerome Chappellaz, Renato Spahni, Thomas Blunier, Markus Leuenberger & Thomas F. Stocker (2008). Changing boreal methane sources and constant biomass burning during the last termination. Nature 452: 864 -865.

Grachev, Alexi M. and Jeffrey P. Severinghaus (2005). A revised +10±4 °C magnitude of the abrupt change in Greenland temperature at the Younger Dryas termination using published GISP2 gas isotope data and air thermal diffusion constants. Quaternary Science Reviews 24 ( 5-6): 513-519.

Lawrence, D. M., and A. G. Slater (2005). A projection of severe nearsurface permafrost degradation during the 21st century, Geophys. Res. Lett., 32, L24401, doi:10.1029/2005GL025080.

Petrenko, Vasilii V.; Andrew M. Smith, Edward J. Brook, Dave Lowe, Katja Riedel, Gordon Brailsford, Quan Hua, Hinrich Schaefer, Niels Reeh, Ray F. Weiss, David Etheridge, and Jeffrey P. Severinghaus. 14CH4 Measurements in Greenland Ice: Investigating Last Glacial Termination CH4 Sources. Science 324: 506-508.

Zimov, S. A., E. A. G. Schuur, and F. S. Chapin III (2006). Permafrost and the global carbon budget, Science, 313, 1612–1613.

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62 Responses to Might Arctic Warming Lead to Catastrophic Methane Releases?

  1. Bill Illis says:

    Barrow Alaska’s methane measurements which are the highest and lead the global numbers by a few years, looks to be slowing down again after a brief rise in 2008 and 2009. Still looks to be plateauing at some point in the very near future.

    http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/webdata/ccgg/iadv/graph/brw/brw_ch4_ts_obs_00011.png

  2. Max Hugoson says:

    650,000 Years in Ice Cores?

    I say B.S. What ice core would have existed that many years ago? Where would that be sampled from? When one considers the RATE at which the ice accumulates both in the Northern Hemisphere (say about 6″ per year, Greenland), unless there are periodic melt offs, this would be 350,000′ of ice. I’m IMMEDIATELY suspicious when I hear a number as this. That would be 70 Miles high.

    Does anyone apply sanity checks to these “peer reviewed papers”?

  3. Darren Parker says:

    Treehugger have been pushing the whol catastrophic Methane release for the last 6 months – that and ocean acidification seem to be the last cards in their hand. Not much of a playbook

  4. a jones says:

    The Idsos at their web site. CO2 science and linked on this board, have been probing this for some years. They list a number of papers on the subject.

    The general conclusion of which is that this not a simple physical process, the moment the permafrost warms biological processes previously inhibited by the cold also become active with entirely different results and outcomes to those posited by elementary physical models.

    As do many other biological mechanisms.

    However much computer power you have can neither use simple physical models to predict this kind of thing nor can can you effectually incorporate biological activity into the models in any meaningful way because too little is known about them.

    So it isn’t whether the supposedly warming permafrost might release CO2 it is also about how much the biological processes might adsorb it.

    Did you imagine that all that CO2 wasn’t bound up there except by biological processes when temperatures were warm enough to allow this?

    Kindest Regards

  5. Don Mattox says:

    The GAO say 2 billion!!!
    White House Should Coordinate Geoengineering Research to Help Fight Climate Change
    Published October 30, 2010 | FoxNews.com
    Print Email Share Comments (297) Text Size
    The White House should come up with a strategy for federal research into large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system that could help tackle climate change, a new watchdog report concludes.

    The Government Accountability Office found in its report more than 50 current studies, totaling slightly more than $100 million, focusing on piecemeal strategies to reverse climate change, but none directly addresses what would happen if adventurous programs on carbon dioxide reduction and solar radiation management were put in place.

    “Without a coordinated federal strategy for geoengineering, it is difficult for agencies to determine the extent of relevant research, and policymakers may lack key information to inform subsequent decisions on engineering and existing climate science efforts,” the report said, adding that most of the $2 billion spent each year on federal climate science research could also help geoengineering with better coordination.

    Geoengineering either removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or offsets temperature increases by reflecting sunlight back into space.

    GAO cautioned that these strategies poses some environmental risks that could be hard to contain.

    “Major uncertainties remain regarding the scientific, legal, political, economic and ethical implications of researching or deploying geoengineering,” the GAO report read.

    The GAO prepared the report for Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology.

  6. a jones says:

    Erratum

    I should have also included methane in the above post.

    Kindest Regards

  7. pyromancer76 says:

    Indur Goklany, I like the way you set the record straight. I also wonder what happens to “methane” in an abrupt warming like Y-D when Earth is impacted by comet break-up debris, as the research seems to strongly suggest. Why don’t those who are in the throes of AGW-Climate Change-Climate Disruption pay attention (with money and studies and preventive measures) to the real dangers to Earth.

  8. Chris Edwards says:

    So where was this when the vikings farmed there? just askin.

  9. pat says:

    This was the type of conjecture that Popular Science used to have fun with back in the 60/70’s. However since the onset of the scientific dementia of Scientific American, National Geographic, Nature, Science, etc, Popular Science and its unrelated buddy Popular Mechanics have grown up and had to be the parents of the genre. So they don’t publish pure conjecture like this as science anymore unless it is clearly labeled as such.

  10. William says:

    25% of the current global warming is due to CH4 released by cows. Reduce AGW eat less meat.

    CH4 has a half life in the upper atmosphere of less than 7 years. GCR converts CH4 into CO2 and H2. The hydrogen is gradually removed by the solar wind.

    The CO2 is deposited on to the surface of the continents or the deep ocean.

    The upper layers of the ocean are saturated with CH4 which would indicate the mantel or the core is releasing CH4. (It is the core.) At high latitude locations and in the deep ocean the CH4 that the CH4 accumulates.

  11. Max Hugoson says:
    October 30, 2010 at 5:24 pm
    650,000 Years in Ice Cores?
    I say B.S. What ice core would have existed that many years ago?

    Ice cores extend to about 800,000 years. The snow is compressed into ice and the annual layers are rather thin [4000,000 millimeter/800,000 years = 5 millimeters not 6 inches] as also the Arctic/Antarctic are low precipitation areas to boot.

  12. Joseph Day says:

    Biomass degrades though biological action. When the temperature warms, bacteria and fungi become more active. Methanogens might have a go, and if there is enough methane, methanotrophs could have an opportunity to grow. If so, methane may be converted to CO2 before it leaves the ground. Given that the atmospheric methane concentration has nearly leveled off, that suggests some form of equilibrium has been established.

    Physicists and engineers ignore biology all too often. Biology is such a ‘soft’ science. It’s unfortunate if they have that bias. I’ll tell you, Nature bites you when you get too cocky. I’ve seen it happen (and I smile a quiet little smile).

    The problems we face today are partly due to theoreticians giving politicians the credibility they need to set otherwise irrational policy. For example, climate models suck, and policy based on them is dangerous. I don’t mind theoreticians, but at some point they need to validate their theory. Build a better transistor. Make a fusion reactor. Make some tiny black holes. Include the sun and cosmic rays in your climate models (What? That makes climate unpredictable?!! Inconveniently unpredictable.)

    And another thing: Too many politicians are lawyers. We need other varieties. Any volunteers? You just need some people skills. And you can’t be from Berkeley.

  13. MarkW says:

    Where does this 6 inches of accumulation number come from? Considering the huge differences in the amount of snowfall world wide, it sounds like you are the one spouting BS. For example, places in the Antarctic only get a few tenths of an inch of snow per year. Beyond that, ice does not accumulate, snow does. Then as more snow accumulates, the snow gets compressed into ice.

  14. BillD says:

    I was not even particularly thinking about methane clathrates (or hydrates). Methane is also produced during anaerobic degredation of the organic matter rich tundra. I don’t have the numbers in hand, but I have read that the tundra is the largest store of dead organic matter that would be converted to CO2 if the ground melts. Another few degrees of warming in the arctic will have a big effect. I expect that the arctic will continue to warm.

  15. 899 says:

    Oh, yes, this is a dangerous situation … (chuckle!)

    So let’s see: Did said methane releases cause trouble during the two prior major warming periods, i.e., Roman, and MWP?

    No? Then what’s the big deal now, even though it’s much cooler than either of those periods?

  16. Oliver Ramsay says:

    Max Hugoson says:
    October 30, 2010 at 5:24 pm
    650,000 Years in Ice Cores?

    I say B.S. What ice core would have existed that many years ago? Where would that be sampled from? When one considers the RATE at which the ice accumulates both in the Northern Hemisphere (say about 6″ per year, Greenland), unless there are periodic melt offs, this would be 350,000′ of ice. I’m IMMEDIATELY suspicious when I hear a number as this. That would be 70 Miles high.

    Does anyone apply sanity checks to these “peer reviewed papers”?
    ————–……………………—————-

    Apart from ensuring that your comment appears twice, I can only observe that delusions of accuracy and precision are the hallmark of this fantastically self-satisfied ‘field’ of ‘climate science’.
    WRT your question, I believe there are numerous knowledgeable and intelligent people out there but they take frequent vacations. Very typically, they travel to places that are warmer than where they live. I really don’t know if that fact has any significance.

  17. Doug Badgero says:

    I am always somewhat suspect when people point to evidence in ice cores. Even more so when they talk about methane in this context. Methane is much more reactive than CO2 and although ice cores are cold, they are not absolute zero. I am sure they attempt to correct for this, but what uncertainties does this introduce? How confident are they that they understand these uncertainties and have accounted for them properly?

  18. major says:

    Why cant we put stake in the heart of the Global Warming Fanatics?? They dont quit and they continue repeating the same dull chant as there there were no other questions to be answered and no possiblity of ever being wrong.

    They are like the cult of Landrew; dangerous relentless robotic humanoids.

  19. Rhoda R says:

    Don Mattox: GAO is not qualified to give that kind of recommendation since they are, essentially, a bunch of accountants. Their brief is to review Government expenditures to make sure they are 1) being spent as the appropriations direct and 2) in a somewhat efficient manner. Having said that, the GAO is also an intensely political organization that has no problem whatsoever in showing what their sponsoring Senator or Representative wants them to show.

  20. Michael says:

    OT, Political

    The people have been in the back seat since 1913. That was the year we gave the keys to someone we trusted. Our benevolent government. They gave us back in that same year the Federal Reserve and the IRS.

    We have been in for a wild ride ever since. Instead of us doing the driving, we gave control to the Governors of our country, for them to take us where they wanted to go.

    All the Tea Parties are saying is, We the people want the keys back.

    How about trying the Constitution for a change. We can start with, no undeclared wars. Period.

    When our republic started back in 1776, all the people agreed to live by the bill of rights and the constitution. They conquered the land mass from England that stretched from Main to Georgia. That’s the whole Jersey Shore and then some. And the whole of the Atlantic Ocean was their Protection from the people they just stole that whole of a land mass from that stretched from Main to South Georgia. The lack of technology gave Great Briton a snow balls chance in hell of taking it back from us.

    Now the question is; How are they going to govern themselves? That’s a lot of nice real estate, and the people that did the conquering were only about 8% of the entire population at the time. But that 8% gave to the other 92% something they all agreed with. Most farmers in the field at the time had very little idea a major war was going on. They had no technology to get information to them except by word of mouth. There was very little opposition publicly to what that 8% gave them afterwords. A woman asked Benjamin Franklin: What have you given us, a democracy or a republic? Ben replied, A republic, if you can keep it. Ben also said, a democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what is for dinner? A republic is two wolves and a heavily armed sheep deciding what is for dinner.

    The second Renaissance began at the time of our founding fathers. You know, the guys who were generals and statesmen at the time, about 8% of all the people that lived between Main and Georgia, those years between 1775 and 1776. Those guys reached deep down and came up with a plan to govern our country called the bill of rights and the constitution some 11 years later. You could call it The New Utopia at the time, and wouldn’t be exaggerating.

    All this my friends with the riots going on in Europe and the Tea Parties rising, I say we are in our 3rd Renaissance. And you know this because you are moving into the drivers seat, again.

    The Tea parties are taking the keys out of the hands of both the DINO’s and RINOS’s They are kind of the remnant of we the people. The way it was originally supposed to be, where the people were to be in charge and in the drivers seat. It’s making a lot of people mad, but so be it.

    Until someone comes up with a better plan, we want to stick with the previous plan that worked. That’s what is going on now.

  21. R. Gates says:

    Accelerated methane release from various sources as a positive feedback to general global warming remains a subject of intense research and huge unknowns. Furthermore, the fluctuation of atmospheric methane concentrations (while generally going up over the past many decades) is even more variable and the sources and causes less well understood than the the fluctuations of CO2, which, we all know, has been increasing far more steadily. The issue is far from settled on which way atmospheric concentrations will be headed in the short and longer but because of the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas, any growth of atmospheric concentration over the long term represent a serious enough threat to climate stability that in needs close monitoring.

  22. janama says:

    I note they talk in parts per billion as opposed to CO2 which is parts per million.

    The oceans are full of methane because the 139,000 active submarine volcanoes pump out CH4 and CO2.

    As Dr Spencer has advised us that the oceans are cooling CH4 is also reducing as it should.

  23. martin mason says:

    But surely the theory is disproven because there weren’t positive feedback and runaway warming in previous warm periods, there were always subsequent cool periods.

  24. rational debate says:

    I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that methane levels “exceeded 1,730 parts per billion (ppb), almost twice the maximum amount measured over the past 650,000 years in ice cores (AR4WG1: 3).” and similar claims re CO2… I cannot help but suspect that its far more likely that there’s a flaw in using ice cores this way, that the ice isn’t entraining “old” methane and/or CO2 accurately wrt historical levels….or how we handle them, or something along those lines. I mean, certainly the values are possible – but how probable is it, really, that methane levels would be so grossly higher than ever before over the last 650,000 years?

  25. davidmhoffer says:

    BillD;
    I don’t have the numbers in hand, but I have read that the tundra is the largest store of dead organic matter that would be converted to CO2 if the ground melts. Another few degrees of warming in the arctic will have a big effect.>>

    Let’s think this through. Let’s start by accepting the notion that the tundra is the largest store of dead organic matter. Where do we go from there? Well, let me ask the obvious, how did all this dead organic matter get there? Did someone ship it there? No, doesn’t seem likely, pretty expensive to ship your garbage that far in recent times, and before that shipping and trucking hadn’t been invented yet…OK, it musta growed there and then it died. Hmmm. Too cold now for anything much to grow there, hardly any plants at all. No plants, no animals. Hmmmm. I got it! The climate must have been WARMER there at some point in the past than it is now. Really nice and warm with lotsa plants and animals and such. Now wait a cottin pickin minute. Didn’t Mann and Jones and Briffa tell us that the current warming is unprecedented? Never been warmer than it is now? Clearly it was warmer, a LOT warmer, and then it cooled off. Is that the decline they were hiding? No, never mind, different decline. Anyway it was warmer then, what caused it? No real large human population back then, musta been natural causes. Would be nice to know in case the happen again. Hey! They might be happening right now for all we know! In any event, if it was that warm in areas that are now tundra, the rest of the planet must have been scorching. Boiling! Tipping! Islands capsizing. Trees bursting into flame. Yes! Spontaneous arboritic combustion! Clouds of smoke and haze, dead rotting fish washing up on shore, mountains of dead animals decaying into disgusting ponds of rotten flesh. Methane and CO2 being released into the air in monstrous quantities… wait, which way does it go, co2 cause warming or warming causes co2… never mind not important. Point is that this would have been cataclysmic, a world wide event scorched into the geological and paleoclimactic records. What? No such record? Nothing?

    OK, never mind.

  26. LazyTeenager says:

    Don Mattox says:

    The GAO say 2 billion!!!
    ————-
    Told you this the other day when a good number of WUWT readers were double mooned with trillions of dollars with nary a blush for gullabilty.

    Before the guys with sixth grader reading comprehension skills get carried away with this I should point out that this is not the amount spent on geo-engineering. It’s the total climate research bill. It’s not even the amount spent on AGW-related research. You will have to find out what proportion that is AGW-related for yourselves.

  27. JER0ME says:

    Now they are getting stressed over parts per billion in the air? parts per BILLION?

    The whole ‘parts per million’ of CO2 makes 0.03% look kinda scary when seen in poor light. Can you really take less than 1% of that and try to scare me? Go on and try…..

  28. pat says:

    There are many people, including many fixated scientists, who do not realize that methane is geologic in origin, as well as biologic. It is an enormously common molecule throughout the solar system. Mars has methane being extruded from surface areas. It has always been here. While it is a “greenhouse” gas, it is dealt with harshly and greedily by bacteria.

  29. LarryOldtimer says:

    There are so many assumptions in all of this “climate” stuff, it astounds me that any thinking person takes any of it seriously.

  30. JPeden says:

    R. Gates says:
    October 30, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    …but because of the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas, any growth of atmospheric concentration over the long term represent a serious enough threat to climate stability that in needs close monitoring.

    1] There has been no scientific determination that GW constitutes a net disease entity.

    2] There has been no indication that previous warm periods have somehow suffered from effects related to methane.

    Then you claim, Gates, that you are somehow above “emotional ” thinking? Why don’t you at least try to break yourself from your obsessive need to disasterize?

  31. DesertYote says:

    #
    Max Hugoson
    October 30, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Ice accumulation is more like 6mm/year tops, not 6in/year. Ice cores go back at least to the beginning of the Ionian stage of the Pleistocene, around 780,000 years BP. For a number of reasons, I am a bit skeptical about gas measurements from ice cores, but they are the best record we have. I have also not seen any argument that can successfully argue for their dismissal as evidence.

  32. rational debate says:

    Well, golly gee whiz, would ya look at that?

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VBC-51509K7-1&_user=10&_coverDate=10/02/2010&_alid=1520522033&_rdoc=16&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_origin=search&_zone=rslt_list_item&_cdi=5923&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_ct=1682&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=d36406be4233a32b979791d05c1489f5&searchtype=a

    New insights on Arctic Quaternary climate variability from palaeo-records and numerical modelling

    Martin Jakobssona, Corresponding Author Contact Information, E-mail The Corresponding Author, Antony Longb, Ólafur Ingólfssonc, Kurt H. Kjærd and Robert F. Spielhagene

    a Department of Geological Sciences, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden

    b Department of Geography, Durham University, Science Site, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK

    c Faculty of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland, Is-101 Reykjavik, Iceland

    d Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, DK-1350 Copenhagen, Denmark

    e Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Literature, Mainz, and Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, IFM-GEOMAR, Wischhofstr. 1-3, D-24148 Kiel, Germany
    Accepted 26 August 2010.

    Available online 2 October 2010.

    Abstract

    Terrestrial and marine geological archives in the previous Arctic contain information on environmental change through Quaternary interglacial–glacial cycles. The previous Arctic Palaeoclimate and its Extremes (APEX) scientific network aims to better understand the magnitude and frequency of past previous Arctic climate variability, with focus on the “extreme” versus the “normal” conditions of the climate system. One important motivation for studying the amplitude of past natural environmental changes in the previous Arctic is to better understand the role of this region in a global perspective and provide base-line conditions against which to explore potential future changes in previous Arctic climate under scenarios of global warming. In this review we identify several areas that are distinct to the present programme and highlight some recent advances presented in this special issue concerning previous Arctic palaeo-records and natural variability, including spatial and temporal variability of the Greenland previous Ice Sheet, previous Arctic Ocean sediment stratigraphy, past previous ice shelves and marginal marine previous ice sheets, and the Cenozoic history of previous Arctic Ocean sea previous ice in general and Holocene oscillations in sea previous ice concentrations in particular. The combined sea previous ice data suggest that the seasonal previous Arctic sea previous ice cover was strongly reduced during most of the early Holocene and there appear to have been periods of previous ice free summers in the central previous Arctic Ocean. (emphasis added) This has important consequences for our understanding of the recent trend of declining sea previous ice, and calls for further research on causal links between previous Arctic climate and sea previous ice.

    REPLY: it’s already on the main page of WUWT, about an hour ago – Anthony

  33. Natsman says:

    Why is EVERYTHING “catastrophic” these days?

  34. Pops says:

    What’s with the Catastrophic? Is it not possible for anyone to present a theory without the use of that word?

  35. Pops says:

    Natsman – great minds think alike.

  36. Jeremy says:

    Pops,

    We can all agree about “catastrophic”. It really is the end this time! No really! This time it is all true!

  37. Enneagram says:

    That would be great to burn it, changing it into energy!!
    How was it?…Wasn´t it so that “fossil fuels”reserves were about to end forever?
    Long Live Big Oil!, then? LOL!

  38. movielib says:

    Experiment shows warming leads to negative biological feedbacks that reduce tundra thawing.

    Blok, D., Heijmans, M.M.P.D., Schaepman-Strub, G., Kononov, A.V., Maximov, T.C. and Berendse, F. Shrub expansion may reduce summer permafrost thaw in Siberian tundra. Global Change Biology 16: 1296-1305.

    http://co2science.org/articles/V13/N42/C1.php

  39. Frank says:

    Even more importantly, melting of permafrost at the end of the last ice age – which had to be more extensive than anything that will happen in the near future – didn’t cause a surge in methane concentrations found in ice cores dating to the time!

  40. richard verney says:

    The arctic has been warmer in the past (and with correspondingly less ice) and hence if runaway methane release was going to happen, it already would have occurred. When one examines the evidence on a geological time scale, it is apparent that there is no problem here.

  41. Louis Hooffstetter says:

    I don’t typically side with alarmists; however, this particular concern is supported by pretty solid scientific evidence:

    There are huge natural gas (methane) reservoirs located around the globe. Most of them are located in continental shelves beneath the oceans:
    http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/photos/uncategorized/2008/05/28/naturalgashydrate.jpg

    The cap rock sealing these reservoirs is a water-methane ice (clathrate) that will melt as (or if) the oceans continue to warm. There is a very real possibility that some of these clathrate layers could fail like the ice dam that held back glacial lake Missoula, resulting in large, sudden releases of methane.

    Many of these deposits are already leaking. Whether or not future releases will be “catastrophic” or not depends on the rate of release. Given the potential for large, sudden releases, the environmentally prudent thing to do would be to recover the methane and put it to good use it as fuel. As methane, it’s greenhouse effect is 25x as potent as CO2, and once released to the atmosphere, it will ultimately be converted to CO2 anyway.

  42. Dave Springer says:

    Today is highest methane level in 650,000 years? Surely it has been warmer during that time and if there were any runaway effect from methane we’d have seen evidence of it in the geologic column. The fact of the matter is that there is no evidence that the earth has ever experienced a runaway greenhouse from any cause. By evidence of the past alone it would appear that the saturated greenhouse hypothesis is correct in principle if not in detail.

    Everyone reading this is probably not aware of it. It would behoove everyone if they were aware of it.

  43. Kitefreak says:

    #
    #
    davidmhoffer says:
    October 30, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    —————————————-

    Fantastically well put – I am chuckling out loud to myself.

    If you’re going to demolish an argument, sarcasm is such a great spice to add to the dish. Thanks.

  44. Richard Sharpe says:

    richard verney says says October 31, 2010 at 8:02 am

    The arctic has been warmer in the past (and with correspondingly less ice) and hence if runaway methane release was going to happen, it already would have occurred. When one examines the evidence on a geological time scale, it is apparent that there is no problem here.

    Ahhh, but you see, all the Geologists are in denial, so they cannot be trusted. Only the new “scientists” from the Great Church of Global Warming are to be trusted.

  45. Enneagram says:

    BTW: A well kept “secret”: “calthrates” all over the oceans floors, produced by the natural decaying of sea organisms, from whales to krill, it is a gigantic reserve of methane (CH4), in other words: There is a lot of “fossil fuels” down there. Then THERE IS NO NEED WHATSOEVER for controlling its use by increasing its price or by increasing related taxes: Truth is that we have a continuous production of them!

  46. Dave Springer says:

    Michael says:
    October 30, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    “OT, Political”

    re; the republic

    It might be more apt to call it a federation of states bound by common defense, common currency, and regulation of interstate commerce.

    In the long run the USSC was supposed to be the protector of the constitution with only 9 lifetime appointed justices. There’s where I place the blame for the bloated federal bureacracy. The USSC let the commerce clause of the constitution be subverted so that federal law can regulate just about everything that goes on in individual states. The founders are spinning in their graves. That isn’t what they imagined nor is it what the states imagined when they voted for the establishment of the federation.

    The worst effect of the Obama administration and two years of a rubber-stamp congress is the replacement of two old liberals on the USSC with two young liberals. That makes it now impossible to change the status quo of the Supreme Court for a very long time so we can expect a continuing assault on states rights for the indefinite future.

    The real change we’ve been hoping for will probably begin in Texas where we have a very popular governor seriously talking about refusing to let the federal government impose its will on the people of Texas and even entertaining talk of secession.

    I think we need a showdown where one large bold state “just says no” to federal commandments and challenges them to do something about it. There’s nothing that can be done about it. The military isn’t allowed to interfere with domestic problems and it would never go along with invading Texas in the first place as a good fraction of the military are Texans loyal to Texas. The national guard sure isn’t strong enough to invade Texas even if it tried. So in the words of one of our great Texans “Bring It On!”

  47. Gas hydrates are most fascinating. They are difficult and expensive to study. I have done several literature reviews for clients in the recent past. This hype is mostly that and even having summer ice free conditions for extended periods will not substantially alter pressure/temperature conditions that these hydrates exist at.

  48. DocMartyn says:

    Have a look at this nice ppt show, especially slide 20.

    http://www.alaska.edu/uaf/cem/ine/walter/index_docs/PALIMMN_background.pdf

    The majority of CH4 coming from thawed permafraost is 5000 years old.

  49. The previous interglacial, the Eemian was average some 2°C higher than today, with the Arctic countries like Alaska 5°C warmer than today. The Arctic was largely icefree (at least in summer) and forests were growing until the Arctic oceans. Even with the warmer oceans during thousands of years, the methane levels were not going over 700 ppbv. Thus no problem of clathrates and/or melting permafrost, even with much higher temperatures. See:
    http://www.ferdinand-engelbeen.be/klimaat/eemian.html

    For those who doubt that ice cores are good keepers of ancient atmospheres, there was a lot of discussion here at WUWT:
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/08/20/engelbeen-on-why-he-thinks-the-co2-increase-is-man-made-part-2/

    The curve for CO2 and methane in ice cores are similar: both increase very rapidely around 1850, together with the increase of fossil fule use. Methane increased some 100 ppbv in the period starting 6,000 years ago. Some see that as the increase of agricultural expansion of humans. See:
    http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/recentac_majorghg.html#fig2

  50. tty says:

    Re Eemian climate (Ferdinand Engelbeen 11:48 am)

    In northern Siberia climates were even warmer, up to 10 degrees warmer than at present and the same applies to Baffins land. On Greenland temperatures were also about 5 degrees warmer than now. There is also evidence of large-scale melting of permafrost in Alaska.
    And as already noted, no remarkable release of either CH4 or CO2 resulted.

  51. 899 says:

    major says:
    October 30, 2010 at 8:29 pm
    Why cant we put stake in the heart of the Global Warming Fanatics?? They dont quit and they continue repeating the same dull chant as there there were no other questions to be answered and no possiblity of ever being wrong.

    They are like the cult of Landrew; dangerous relentless robotic humanoids.

    Why indeed!

    Their own words shall be their own undoing. That’s why!

    Give them space, and give them time, and soon their story shall unwind, revealing to all its hideous wickedness, and how our deaths they would define.

  52. 899 says:

    R. Gates says:
    October 30, 2010 at 9:07 pm
    Accelerated methane release from various sources as a positive feedback to general global warming remains a subject of intense research and huge unknowns. Furthermore, the fluctuation of atmospheric methane concentrations (while generally going up over the past many decades) is even more variable and the sources and causes less well understood than the the fluctuations of CO2, which, we all know, has been increasing far more steadily. The issue is far from settled on which way atmospheric concentrations will be headed in the short and longer but because of the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas, any growth of atmospheric concentration over the long term represent a serious enough threat to climate stability that in needs close monitoring.

    VERY BIG QUESTION FOR YOU: GOT =ABSOLUTE PROOF= OF YOUR ASSERTIONS?

    No?

    Too bad, eh?

    Until then, all you have is conjecture, prognostication, and wishful thinking.

  53. JPeden says:

    Natsman says:
    October 31, 2010 at 2:13 am

    Why is EVERYTHING “catastrophic” these days?

    It’s the automatic postulate of Post Normal Science’s Method. Except that according to PNS, Climate Catastrophy will be magically avoided if we eliminate the ~”obscence inequality of wealth ” between nations. [Hulme]

  54. 899 says:

    Pops says:
    October 31, 2010 at 2:21 am
    What’s with the Catastrophic? Is it not possible for anyone to present a theory without the use of that word?

    Well, you see? In the ‘beginning,’ the term ‘catastrophic’ was intended to impart the idea of, well, ‘catastrophe.’

    Now, any human sufficiently knowledgeable in his own native language, would have come to understand the term ‘catastrophe’ as something akin to the worst sort of happenstance.

    So, here we are, toiling over relative terms, when the abstract and the absolute come to mean the very same thing.

    You see? It’s not the idea, but rather the interpretation: When murder may come to mean mere death, then murder is acceptable.

    But isn’t that really what they have in mind for the rest of us?

    THINK: Stalin’s murders in the Ukraine were —and are— considered ‘acceptable’ by the current ‘soviet’ of the scientific establishment.

    Humans are —according to them— VERMIN on the face of the Earth.

    But, will THEY do the rest of us the favor of LEAVING FIRST?

    No! Of course not! THEY demand that WE leave first.

    Leadership DEMANDS that we follow by example.

    Therefore, they are caught-up in their own web: WHY SHOULD WE DIE, WHY THEY WON’T LEAVE FIRST?

  55. David S says:

    Methane is the main constituent of natural gas. So if we can harvest all that nasty methane from the ocean floors we can burn it to heat our homes and in the process reduce it to the much more harmless CO2, thereby rescuing the earth from another disaster du jour. Problem solved!

  56. Mark says:

    richard verney says:

    The arctic has been warmer in the past (and with correspondingly less ice) and hence if runaway methane release was going to happen, it already would have occurred. When one examines the evidence on a geological time scale, it is apparent that there is no problem here.

    This is a fundermental problem with all such “doomesday” senarios involving some positive feedback effect of GHG.

  57. Tim Clark says:

    Ferdinand Engelbeen says: October 31, 2010 at 11:48 am
    The curve for CO2 and methane in ice cores are similar: both increase very rapidely around 1850, together with the increase of fossil fule use. Methane increased some 100 ppbv in the period starting 6,000 years ago.

    Do you have any numbers on fossil fuel use in 1850-1900?

    Didn’t think so.

  58. Crispin in Waterloo says:

    davidmhoffer says:
    October 30, 2010 at 9:46 pm
    ++++++++

    Appreciated your humour in that one.

    Moving on:
    While previous ages may have been warmer and there was no catastrophic release of methane that we know about, it could happen, right? There could be a release of underground oil (Athabaska tar sands), under-sea methane burps (Bermuda triangle), natural gas ‘gas-offs’ through fissures (earthquakes in Africa) – many things could happen that perhaps did not in the Holocene. There are no doubt many things to fear. Stephen Colbert held his rally in Washington last weekend to promote and entrench the idea that we should be fearful “because there are so many things out there we should be afraid of”. I don’t agree with him on his principal point nor the ending of the sentence with a preposition.

    Something we do NOT need to be afraid of is that the methane emerging from rotting vegetation will put into the atmosphere, over say 100 or 200 years, so much additional forcing that there will be a run-away greenhouse effect. It is a ridiculous and unscientific idea. There are several reasons why not, but the most obvious is that the methane turns to CO2 quite quickly and is absorbed by growing plants that cannot grow now because they are frozen in that very permafrost. Silly people.

    Let’s look at northern Siberia and the Canadian shield between the Mackenzie River and Hudson Bay – a vast area of the globe. There is, straight south of any point across those tracts, a vast forest of evergreens. They grow as far north as possible until the cold stops them. A pine tree 200 years old north of the treeline is about a foot high. When it warms they will immediately grow, one additional day per year whenever possible.

    By my calculation it will take about 5 kg of tree to consume all the methane (in fact all the carbon) released by melting the permafrost. Suppose I am wrong by 100%, or 200% or 500%. The entire forest to the south will also grow taller and thicker. It is not just the permafrost area that is affected. The ENTIRE North American evergreen forest will expand upwards if it is a little warmer.

    It means there is zero, absolutely no chance whatsoever, that a methane release from the rotting of preserved vegetation in permafrost could spike the global temperature. As that is the main claim regarding permafrost, that should put an end to the hyping of this particular calamity.

    The release of methane stored in the ocean is a completely different matter. It has nothing to do with permafrost. It is not so much frozen as it is under pressure. If there is a tiny rise in the temperature of the ocean at great depths, perhaps there will be a release of some of the methane, or more likely, the rate of accumulation of it will decline.

    But remember, the sea level will be increasing too. Will the increased pressure from deeper seas all over the world increase the extraction of methane from the atmosphere? Will it exactly compensate for the slight rise in temperature? Will the pressure increase outweigh the temperature increase while the tundra gobbles up the CO2? Will warmer seas enhance the growth of seaweed and more than compensate for the presence of additional carbon in the form of methane?

    Stay tuned to this channel….for about a million years.

  59. Tim Clark says:
    November 1, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Do you have any numbers on fossil fuel use in 1850-1900?

    Didn’t think so.

    There are only rough estimates of CH4 releases of that period (mostly from increasing livestock, rice growing and far behind as third, coal mining), see:
    http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/meth/ch4.htm

    Livestock and rice still are the major sources, with coal mining still at the third place, but biomass burning (with some methane losses) is coming near.

    Fossil fuel use 1750-2003 can be found here:
    http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/tre_glob.html
    Again rough estimates for the earlier period.

  60. In addition: the CH4 data found in ice cores, firn and atmosphere for the period 1000-1997:

    http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/atm_meth/lawdome_meth-graphics.html

  61. George E. Smith says:

    “”””” Leif Svalgaard says:
    October 30, 2010 at 6:38 pm
    Max Hugoson says:
    October 30, 2010 at 5:24 pm
    650,000 Years in Ice Cores?
    I say B.S. What ice core would have existed that many years ago?
    Ice cores extend to about 800,000 years. The snow is compressed into ice and the annual layers are rather thin [4000,000 millimeter/800,000 years = 5 millimeters not 6 inches] as also the Arctic/Antarctic are low precipitation areas to boot. “””””

    If my memory serves me, Vostok sits on about 430,000 years of ice, and it is at “Dome C” where the cores go back close to that 800,000 year age.

    And the problem at Vostok, is that they now know that they are sitting on top of a huge liquid water lake; so at that point the ice recored would cease. They have quite deliberately stopped drilling at Vostok closer thanba few metres to the lake, because they don’t want to accidently tap into it, and inadvertently completely contaminate the thing, before they figure out how they might safely research the properties of that lake. (or if they can)

  62. Lady Life Grows says:

    This particular panic-attempt is another positive-feedback idea. Intellectually, it makes sense, which makes it a good example of abuse of the intellect that can result in disastrous wrong anwers.

    If the net climate modifiers were positive feedbacks, then life on Earth would have vanished eons ago. We may not understand the factors, but the presence of life today, the stability of even the 20th-21st century climate within 3 degrees C, and paleontology research on past temps showing impressive stability overall–all these things PROVE that the real feedbacks are primarily negative.

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