Remember the panic over methane seeping out of the Arctic seabed in 2009? Never mind.

Remember this BBC story? Turns out it is another one for the Climate FAIL file.

All sorts of wailing came from that by climate alarmists. The New Scientist claimed there were megatonnes of methane bubbling out at that time. It was even billed under “Arctic Climate Emergency” All of this came from a single paper published in the AGU Geophysical Research Letters. In January 2012, perhaps sensing that it really was hyped up, an essay at RealClimate “Much ado about methane” said:

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, but it also has an awesome power to really get people worked up, compared to other equally frightening pieces of the climate story.

Yep. I can recall lots of terrified comments here at WUWT about this, plus some emails along the lines of “if you don’t pay attention to this you’re going to denialist hell”.

Well, a new more comprehensive on-site study has been done, and it has just been announced by the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel:

Gas Outlets off Spitsbergen Are No New Phenomenon

Expedition to the Greenland Sea with Surprising Results

Marine scientists from Kiel, together with colleagues from Bremen, Great Britain, Switzerland and Norway, spent four and a half weeks examining methane emanation from the sea bed off the coast of Spitsbergen with the German research vessel MARIA S. MERIAN. There they gained a very differentiated picture: Several of the gas outlets have been active for hundreds of years.

Frequent storms and sub-zero temperatures – nature drove the marine researchers that were assessing gas outlets on the sea bed off the coast of Spitsbergen for four and a half weeks to their limits. Nevertheless the participants were very pleased when they returned: “We were able to gather many samples and data in the affected area. With the submersible JAGO we even managed to form an impression of the sea bed and the gas vents” summarised the chief scientist Professor Dr. Christian Berndt from GEOMAR | Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel.

The reason for the expedition was the supposition that ice-like methane hydrates stored in the sea bed were dissolving due to rising water temperatures. “Methane hydrate is only stable at very low temperatures and under very high pressure. The gas outlets off Spitsbergen lie approximately at a depth which marks the border between stability and dissolution. Therefore we presumed that a measurable rise in water temperature in the Arctic could dissolve the hydrates from the top downwards” explained Professor Berndt. Methane could then be released into the water or even into the atmosphere, where it would act as a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2.

In fact, what the researchers found in the area offers a much more differentiated picture. Above all the fear that the gas emanation is a consequence of the current rising sea temperature does not seem to apply. At least some of the gas outlets have been active for longer. Carbonate deposits, which form when microorganisms convert the escaping methane, were found on the vents. “At numerous emergences we found deposits that might already be hundreds of years old. This estimation is indeed only based on the size of the samples and empirical values as to how fast such deposits grow. On any account, the methane sources must be older” says Professor Berndt. The exact age of the carbonates will be determined from samples in GEOMAR’s laboratories.

“Details will only be known in a few months when the data has been analysed; however the observed gas emanations are probably not caused by human influence” says Berndt. There are two other possible explanations instead: Either they are symptoms of a long term temperature rise or they show a seasonal process where gas hydrates continuously melt and reform.

Another interesting observation made on the expedition, was that a very active microbial community that consumes the methane has established itself on the sea bed. “We were able to detect high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide, which is an indication of methane consuming microbes in the sea bed, and, with the help of JAGO, discovered typical biocoenoses that we recognised from other, older methane outlets” explained microbiologist Professor Dr. Tina Treude from GEOMAR, who also took part in the expedition. “Methane consuming microbes grow only slowly in the sea bed, thus their high activity indicates that the methane has not just recently begun effervescing.”

Colleagues from Bremen, Switzerland, Great Britain and Norway worked alongside marine scientists from GEOMAR and from the Cluster of Excellence “The Future Ocean”. “The study of the gas outlets in the Norwegian Sea is a good example for combined European research” stressed Professor Berndt. Hence German scientists recovered an ocean floor observatory, installed by the British research vessel James Clark Ross a year ago during a joint expedition of the National Oceanography Centre Southampton and the Institut français de recherche pour l’exploitation de la mer (Ifremer). “Understanding the ocean as a system is a challenge that only works in international co-operations” emphasized Berndt. The analysis of the gathered data will also be carried out internationally.

The expedition at a glance:

FS MARIA S. MERIAN journey: MSM21/4

Head of Expedition: Prof. Dr. Christian Berndt (GEOMAR)

Length of Expedition: 13th Aug. 2012-11th Sept. 2012

Place of Departure: Reykjavik

Research Area: West of Spitsbergen

Place of Arrival: Emden

Further Information on the GEOMAR expedition page


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Robin Barry

I can never get too worked up about methane. In an oxygen rich atmosphere and plenty of heat sources (lightning, fires etc.) it will burn into CO2 and water soon enough.

Oh! I must feign surprise! /sarc

Later, really really softly: “Oh. We didn’t. Huh.”


One wonders if any of these sites can be developed as an energy source? And where do I buy stock?

The Arctic’s Russian continental shelf is very shallow (20-50 meters depth), most likely submerged tundra, very abounded with methane gas. Nothing unusual this, it happens all the time in the permafrost of Siberia which is much larger.

Let’s see… Water vapor is in concentrations of around 30,000ppm and absorbs almost the entire IR frequency range, CO2 absorbs a unique IR frequency of around 15 microns and is in concentrations of 390ppm and its GW effect logarithmic, CH4 absorbs a wide frequency range of IR, but is currently in concentrations of around…wait for it…. 1.7ppm….
Hmmm. I think 30,000ppm>1.7ppm…
Any scientist that starts talking CH4 tipping points should lose his tenure and have you on the floor laughing.
There ought to be a new rule that anyone can repeat any silly Warmageddon propaganda, but when doing so, you have to wear a clown suit, complete with makeup.

i will be patiently waiting for the full coverage this news will garner.
in the meantime, can i interest anyone in this bridge i have for sale? %-)

Alan the Brit

Oh, does that mean I can stop running around like a headless chicken now panicking that the end of the world is nigh? As I said long ago, which of the great “we’re all going to die” scenarios has actually happened in the last 2000 years?

Oh, heck. And I found that one m/o/r/e/ /c/r/e/d/i/b/l/e/ less incredible than some of the claims. [grin] At least methane seeps have been seen.


It’s already happening. A US/Japanese consortium carried out a successful 30-day trial a few months ago, recovering methane from hydrates – I think it was off Alaska.
The real beauty of the processs: they dispaced the methane with another gas…..none other than our old friend CO2. So the process sequesters CO2 while liberating methane. Looks like a carbon-neutral hydrocarbon resource!
Hard to see how the warmists will counter that one (though the economics may not work, of course…maybe it deserves huge subsidies??!!)

Steve R

It’s kind of ironic that people are relieved simply by discovering that it is a natural phenomena.

“Err in haste; repent at leisure.”
Only a true environmental scientist (specifically any bioecologist, or any other scientist with an IQ of over 120) could have anticipated that microbes would have established a habitat and a stable biome in an anaerobic environment righ in methane. These would not even qualify as ‘extremophiles’.

Pretty amazing these bacterial fellas. We have an oil spill in the Gulf and they multiply like mad to eat up the oil, then we have methane emissions on the seabed and they seem to multiply to eat that up as well. While I certainly believe we should always be on the lookout for weirdnesses that humans could introduce on a large scale (possibly such things as CFCs etc?) that could have wide ranging environmental effects, the Earth seems to be pretty good at handling stuff. I’ve heard some interesting stories about the recovery of the ecosystem around Mt. Helena for instance, though I haven’t been there myself.

jonny old boy

those who understand the basics of science have always assumed ( I assume ) that the Earth with its balance of chemistry necessary to sustain complex life on Earth for hundreds of Millions of years has always had a few “tricks up its sleeve” to deal with methane and similar gases. A relatively minor shift in the land Ice and/or permafrost etc etc would not cause any “catastrophic” “tipping points” blah blah blah just like it has not done before…Alarmists have latched on to one facet of Methane and extrapolated doom from that…


Samurai says:
September 25, 2012 at 1:30 am
“There ought to be a new rule that anyone can repeat any silly Warmageddon propaganda, but when doing so, you have to wear a clown suit, complete with makeup.”
Inadvertent Coffee/ monitor interaction right there !


Robin Barry says:
September 25, 2012 at 1:08 am
“I can never get too worked up about methane. In an oxygen rich atmosphere and plenty of heat sources (lightning, fires etc.) it will burn into CO2 and water soon enough.”
It also gets consumed by radicals in the atmosphere.
(Remember the wikipedia is alarmist when interpreting the text)

Geothermal heat is more likely to cause methane to come out of solution than rising(?) sea temperatures.
Typical BBC propaganda claptrap.

Robin Barry, where did you get that information? Methane can not burn in the atmosphere because a) the concentration is too low and b) the temperature is too low. Click on my name to get to a post on methane. Misinformation is spread by political greens and green paid scientists. Unfortunately, like the saying “some mud thrown sticks” many believe the misinformation because they do not bother to look at texts such as the “Chemical Engineering Handbook” (which has information on properties of many substances, heat and mass transfer theory, chemical reactions and theory, processes such as combustion and evaporation, and equipment used in processes.such as boilers and heat exchangers)

Brian Johnson uk

The BBC having ‘lost’ Richard Black is now using total incompetents [Who is Judith Burns?] to convey the myth that is Global Warming.

Amazing how much of the earth we know little about. Another crisis of the day explained. Is anyone keeping a list of impending climate crises and tipping points? It seems like we had a couple per day a while back. Its hard to give each one the proper worry without a list with rankings.


Samurai on September 25, 2012 at 1:30 am
Let’s see… Water vapor is in concentrations of around 30,000ppm and absorbs almost the entire IR frequency range, CO2 absorbs a unique IR frequency of around 15 microns and is in concentrations of 390ppm and its GW effect logarithmic, CH4 absorbs a wide frequency range of IR, but is currently in concentrations of around…wait for it…. 1.7ppm….
Hmmm. I think 30,000ppm>1.7ppm…
Any scientist that starts talking CH4 tipping points should lose his tenure and have you on the floor laughing.
Anyone who makes such a simplistic argument and expects it to have a semblance of truth is going to be the real centre of amusement.
Evidently samurai is yet another climate skeptic who finds it impossible to understand the simple fact that water vapor concentrations go down the higher you go.
Amazing but true. Apparently it’s an effect due to a little known property of water vapour; it condenses at low temperatures. Apparently it’s also little known that the atmosphere gets colder at height.
Isn’t nature wonderful?


So let me get this straight……
The Arctic seabed is Earth’s arse-end and it’s been farting for hundreds of years?


If we’re talking about relative quantities, it’s hard to envision a limited area of the Arctic adding even one percent to the quantities already produced by ants, termites, E coli in mammals, decomposing organic matter, septic tanks, etc, etc, etc, covering every inch of the world’s land mass.


@ Centafriend
Firstly, methane can and does burn in the atmosphere – naturally: the phenomena is variously known as will o’ the wisp, Jack o’ lantern, corpse candles and ignis fatuus – note that even the Romans knew that! Indeed, that’s why methane was among the first gasses discovered.
Secondly, Robin wasn’t describing a self-sustaining flame, he was describing molecular oxidation. Methane is a fuel: if you mix a single molecule of it with an oxydizing agent (say oxygen or ozone) and irradiate it (with UV from the Sun, or heat from lightning), it will oxidize: no if’s or but’s.


Don’t expect this story to appear on the BBC

New word (for me) dept:
> with the help of JAGO, discovered typical biocoenoses that we recognised from other, older methane outlets”
Hmm. sounds like a biome. says

A biocoenosis (biocoenose, biocenose, biotic community, biological community, ecological community), coined by Karl Möbius in 1877, describes the interacting organisms living together in a habitat (biotope). This term is rarely used in English, as this concept has not been popularized in Anglophone countries. Instead, English-speaking scientists normally use the terms ecosystems or communities.

Hmm, from fuzzy high school recollection and decades of use, an ecosystem can be large enough to contain multiple types of biomes. says

Biomes are climatically and geographically defined as similar climatic conditions on the Earth, such as communities of plants, animals, and soil organisms,[1] and are often referred to as ecosystems. Some parts of the earth have more or less the same kind of abiotic and biotic factors spread over a large area, creating a typical ecosystem over that area. Such major ecosystems are termed as biomes. Biomes are defined by factors such as plant structures (such as trees, shrubs, and grasses), leaf types (such as broadleaf and needleleaf), plant spacing (forest, woodland, savanna), and climate. Unlike ecozones, biomes are not defined by genetic, taxonomic, or historical similarities. Biomes are often identified with particular patterns of ecological succession and climax vegetation (quasiequilibrium state of the local ecosystem). An ecosystem has many biotopes and a biome is a major habitat type. A major habitat type, however, is a compromise, as it has an intrinsic inhomogeneity. Some examples of habitats are ponds, trees, streams, creeks, and burrows in the sand or soil.

Biomes are often known in English by local names. For example, a temperate grassland or shrubland biome is known commonly as steppe in central Asia, prairie in North America, and pampas in South America. Tropical grasslands are known as savanna in Australia, whereas in southern Africa it is known as certain kinds of veld (from Afrikaans).

Never heard of biotope either. says

Although the term “biotope” is considered to be a technical word with respect to ecology, in recent years the term is more generally used in administratitive and civic activities. Since the 1970s the term “biotope” has received great attention as a keyword throughout Europe (mainly Germany) for the preservation, regeneration, and creation of natural environmental settings.[3] Used in such a context, the word biotope often refers to a smaller and more specific ecology and is very familiar to human life. In Germany especially, activities related to regenerating biotopes are enthusiastically received.

Okay, so we could describe a methane hydrate biome as an area with CH4 release and bacteria soak it up. Then perhaps a particular patch of that biome would be a biocenose. And if the alarm bells are ringing and people rushing around to fix or offset the damage, it’s a biotope.

CH4 as a much ballyhooed “powerful greenhouse gas” that has no prominent place in the IR spectrum to brag about:


LazyTeenager – original (and current as far as I know) forecasts were that the amplification was due to increased H2O vapor and certain types of clouds (also made of H2O) that trap heat and that these were positive feedbacks.
Now you are telling us that the amount of H2O in the air will go down as temperatures go up? Actually I think that is a point skeptics make to show the amplification is less than predicted. You really are a lazy teenager, aren’t you?
Samurai – all transmission of light is logarithmic, not just for CO2.


Lazy – forgot one point. Water condenses at night you say. Samurai’s point was that water is at high conc. in the air, during the DAY, when the sun is shining, which is when/where the IR absorbance takes place. Do you think the sun shines at night and the water condensation would affect IR absorbance at night?
I’ve heard Ben Santer say that there is still room for absorbance in the side bands or wavelengths near lambda max. so that the additional CO2 will still have its full effect so I will trust that this is largely true, but that says nothing about feedbacks.


I was very interested to read in several of Hansen’s papers that for some UNKNOWN reason the rate of CH4 increase in the atmosphere took a dive and became much flatter (in the 80’s and since I believe).
Could be some unknown natural process using it up, or less being produced naturally, or something due to man that we don’t know about/understand yet (less produced or more used up) OR it could be a change in the way it is measured (if so I think Hansen would have mentioned it) now as opposed to the 50’s. Either way, with just this single simple measurement there is something completely unknown going on [or not going on 🙂 ]. Just serves to highlight was a complex, uncertainty riddled science with which we are dealing.

Claude Harvey

These rogues can forget about future research funding. Were they born yesterday? This is NOT the stuff of news headlines and grand money!

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7

Sounds like Matt Ridley needs to update Acapolypse Not to include this latest failed prediction.
Actually what we need is a whole page full of “countup” clocks — one for each disaster that was predicted and didn’t happen. How long has it been since we were all supposed to starve in the 70’s, or be wearing gas masks, or die of AIDS? So many dire predictions, and yet we’re all still here.
It’s like that line from Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

When I saw you stop the world from, you know, ending, I just assumed that was a big week for you. It turns out I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse.


Claude Harvey

Re: Claude Harvey
Make that “grant”” money.

jonny old boy

phosphine [PH3] and diphosphane [P2H4] I believe self combust when exposed to oxygen and are abundant along with methane in many boggy, marsh areas etc etc. So this is one vehicle whereby methane in small concentrations will ignite I assume….. I am not an expert, far from it in this field so I am sure someone will(may) correct me if I have made an elementary error on this one !

Don Mattox

There are natural gas seeps all over the world. One in Muktinath, Nepal is sacred to the Buddist.

more soylent green!

Instead of panicking over this, why didn’t somebody try to harvest it as a clean energy source?


Methane is seeping through vents all over the ocean floor, feeding the microbial base of the food chain. Somewhere in Thomas Gold’s book “The Deep Hot Biosphere” it is mentioned that methane seepage on land is also enormous, that seepage rates through the ground have been measured near gas deposits and it was calculated the rate of seepage would have emptied those deposits in a small fraction of the time they are supposed to have been there. A lot of the methane coming up from the deep gets oxidized to CO2 and water before it reaches the surface, and the methane that does make it to the atmosphere is fairly quickly oxidized in the same way.
Beautiful pictures of ocean floor seepage and comments here:
Hydrocarbons in the deep Earth? (Carnegie Institution experiment)
A theory that refuses to die – abiotic oil and gas
Thomas Gold’s Deep Hot Biosphere and the Deep-Earth theories of the Origin of Petroleum
Freeman Dyson on Thomas Gold
The evolution of multicomponent systems at high pressures: VI. The thermodynamic stability of the hydrogen–carbon system: The genesis of hydrocarbons and the origin of petroleum
J. F. Kenney†‡§, Vladimir A. Kutcherov, Nikolai A. Bendeliani∥, and Vladimir A. Alekseev∥
The spontaneous genesis of hydrocarbons that comprise natural petroleum have been analyzed by chemical thermodynamic-stability theory. The constraints imposed on chemical evolution by the second law of thermodynamics are briefly reviewed, and the effective prohibition of transformation, in the regime of temperatures and pressures characteristic of the near-surface crust of the Earth, of biological molecules into hydrocarbon molecules heavier than methane is recognized.
The H–C system does not spontaneously evolve heavy hydrocarbons at pressures less than ≈30 kbar, even in the most favorable thermodynamic environment. The H–C system evolves hydrocarbons under pressures found in the mantle of the Earth and at temperatures consistent with that environment.


The link I’ve just sent with pictures of life feeding on methane vents seems messed up. Here it is again:

“One in Muktinath, Nepal is sacred to the Buddist.”
It’s thought by some that the Oracle at Delphi sat over another. Apparently even the ancients knew about “huffing”.

Pamela Gray

Lazyteen says the atmosphere gets colder at height. This armchair weather nut knows that is a load of horse apples. How lazy can you get? It took me three mouse clicks to find:
Temperatures decrease with altitude in the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere, from an average of about 20° C to below -50° C. In the next layer, the stratosphere, temperatures warm only slightly up to the ozone layer at the top of the stratosphere, where they increase rapidly with altitude until becoming about the same as on the earth’s surface. Temperatures in the next layer, the mesosphere, cool rapidly with altitude to below -80° C. Temperatures rise rapidly with increases in altitude in the next layer, the thermosphere, but temperatures there can vary widely. Depending on the activity of ionized particles within this region, they reach a high of over 1,200° C in the daytime and become extremely cold at night. The next layer is the exosphere, which cools with altitude to where it ends about 1,000 km above the earth’s surface.


There is something called the Louisiana Sinkhole that has been on the news lately
And there is this place in Turkmenistan, a big sinkhole that seems to have been burning nonstop since 1971. The locals call it The Gate to Hell.


Bill says: “all light transmission is logarithmic.”
Yes, but for CO2, any additional atmospheric CO2 concentration past 540ppm contributes very little to the overall CO2 GHE.

Yet another “face palm” for the “We must act now” bunch??

Furthermore, the Priests of Leviathan have been allowed to measure methane and temperature-related isotopes in several of those wonderful ice-cores: Temperature leads methane, with no indication of positive feedback at any stage of the glacial cycle. No wonder the Priests have not been allowed to interpret the results quantitatively.

michaeljmcfadden says:
September 25, 2012 at 2:28 am
Pretty amazing these bacterial fellas. We have an oil spill in the Gulf and they multiply like mad to eat up the oil,
Just about everyone that has owned a diesel learns this. Unless you treat the fuel with some methyl or similar, bacteria from contaminated fuel will grow on the layer between the fuel and the water that accumulates at the bottom of the tanks. It turns the diesel into a black green goo that clogs all your filters and stops the engine. Jet fuel reportedly has a similar problem.
Life exists just about everywhere there is an energy source. Over time nature learns how to take advantage of the energy source. The end product of this process is waste, which in turn another form of life will evolve to consume. Carbon based energy sources produce CO2 and H2O as waste, which plants have evolved to consume as their food.
There is only one sure way to eliminate waste. Eliminate life. Because every living thing produces waste. Even plants, which produce oxygen as waste, which is highly corrosive and deadly to life without specialized, evolved structures to deal with it. It is this oxygen that is responsible for forest fires, because without this waste product from plants, there would be no forest fires. Not one.

Bill says:
September 25, 2012 at 5:39 am
I was very interested to read in several of Hansen’s papers that for some UNKNOWN reason the rate of CH4 increase in the atmosphere took a dive
start measuring temperature in the morning and by noon you will be convinced the world is headed for a fiery end. but by morning you will be convinced the world is headed for an ice age. by noon, you will be again be convinced the earth is doomed to the fires of hell.

@sleepalot, I had thought that people with no technical qualifications and no experience in chemistry and chemical processes (which includes combustion) would not comment and expose their lack of knowledge. That fact that the level in the atmosphere has been fairly constant at about 1.7ppm since about 2000 is an indicator that it does not oxidise by contact with oxygen. Otherwise given that the atmosphere has roughly 20.9% oxygen there would then be no methane. Also, it was possible to measure the increase from around 1985 (about 1.58ppm) to around 2000 (about 1.72pmm) and to identify that as leakage from pipelines in Russia and East bloc countries. With tightening of supply to Europe and higher prices the Russians have largely fixed the leakage and that is why the level has been relatively constant. Maybe with the upsurge in shale gas in USA and other countries the level will rise again.The only oxidation of CH4 which you will see in my post comes from the occasional reaction with ozone. The -OH radical has been detected in the atmosphere. The methanol formed is very soluble in water (rain & clouds) and of course the sea but the quantities are too small to be measured.
As will see in my post and the note from Sunsettommy above, methane is an insignificant absorber of IR and together with its insignificant presence (1.7ppm) it has zero affect on anything.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)

Note to the youngsters:
You know that ancient heirloom top-loading “clathrate gun” that’s been laying around for centuries, that you were warned was put away loaded and could possible explode and kill everyone if the trigger was bumped? Turns out it’s only a cap gun, and somewhat common. Feel free to play with it if you want.

As I have said many times, but apparently not often enough, they take natural events and present them as unnatural so they have an unending supply.
They are then amplified into hysteria by the media, the gossipmongers in the global village.
The public is unlikely to learn everything about the way the earth works so we have to continue to educate them to the game being played. The methane issue is just one more example.
They seem close to that point as the polls show. The Pew centre poll shows environment and global warming very low and declining faster than all issues except illegal immigration.
It has something to do with the economy, but mostly because it forces people to examine and rethink priorities. It allows them and politicians to offset the environmentalists claims to moral high ground and the pressure of ‘shouldn’t we act anyway’ of the precautionary principle.
Of course, there is also the more traditional sequence laid out by Aesop and his fable about the boy who cried wolf. The modern equivalent is Chicken Little crying wolf.

Kelvin Vaughan

Robin Barry says:
September 25, 2012 at 1:08 am
I can never get too worked up about methane. In an oxygen rich atmosphere and plenty of heat sources (lightning, fires etc.) it will burn into CO2 and water soon enough.
Oh no not dreaded CO2!