Arctic methane emergency called off?

Here’s the issue, as described in Wikipedia:

The Arctic region is one of the many natural sources of the greenhouse gas methane. Global warming accelerates its release, due to both release of methane from existing stores, and from methanogenesis in rotting biomass. Large quantities of methane are stored in the Arctic in natural gas deposits, permafrost, and as submarine clathrates. Permafrost and clathrates degrade on warming, thus large releases of methane from these sources may arise as a result of global warming. Other sources of methane include submarine taliks, river transport, ice complex retreat, submarine permafrost and decaying gas hydrate deposits.

There’s an outfit called the Arctic Methane Emergency Group which dedicates themselves to, well, emergency alarm stuff. Things like this:

Planetary catastrophe is inevitable without geoengineering to cool the Arctic

Hold on there folks, some new research on actual Arctic soils over the last 20 years has provided some fresh insight. It seems there is no need to panic after all.

From Science News

News in Brief: Warming may not release Arctic carbon – Element could stay locked in soil, 20-year study suggests

In a 20-year experiment that warmed patches of chilly ground, tundra soil kept its stored carbon, researchers report.

In 1989, ecologists set up greenhouses on plots of tundra in northern Alaska. Air temperature inside the greenhouses was on average 2 degrees Celsius warmer than outside.

Over two decades, the team reports, mosses and lichens gave way to woody shrubs. Decomposition slowed in surface soil while it sped up deeper underground. Warmer soils may have allowed plant roots and plant litter to penetrate farther into the ground, increasing both the deep soil’s carbon stocks and its rates of decomposition, the researchers suggest. Overall, though, there was no difference in total soil carbon in the greenhouse plots compared with plots that had no greenhouses.

Oh, that’s gotta hurt. Here is the paper:


Long-term warming restructures Arctic tundra without changing net soil carbon storage

Seeta A. Sistla, John C. Moore, Rodney T. Simpson, Laura Gough, Gaius R. Shaver & Joshua P. Schimel


High latitudes contain nearly half of global soil carbon, prompting interest in understanding how the Arctic terrestrial carbon balance will respond to rising temperatures1, 2. Low temperatures suppress the activity of soil biota, retarding decomposition and nitrogen release, which limits plant and microbial growth3. Warming initially accelerates decomposition4, 5, 6, increasing nitrogen availability, productivity and woody-plant dominance3, 7. However, these responses may be transitory, because coupled abiotic–biotic feedback loops that alter soil-temperature dynamics and change the structure and activity of soil communities, can develop8, 9. Here we report the results of a two-decade summer warming experiment in an Alaskan tundra ecosystem. Warming increased plant biomass and woody dominance, indirectly increased winter soil temperature, homogenized the soil trophic structure across horizons and suppressed surface-soil-decomposer activity, but did not change total soil carbon or nitrogen stocks, thereby increasing net ecosystem carbon storage. Notably, the strongest effects were in the mineral horizon, where warming increased decomposer activity and carbon stock: a ‘biotic awakening’ at depth.


What I get out of this is that plants overall did better with that extra warmth, and becuase they did better, the soil was managed better due to feedback loops. Yep, those unexpected surprises from “Nature will find a way” always get you when you least expect them.


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and the acidification of the world’s oceans is pretty much in an advanced state, meaning….. SHTF!!! uptake ability for CO2 going down, cycle is running….. not good.


No actual field research or experiment needed or wanted. The models are all.

Robert of Ottawa

Apocalypse now postponed.

Oh there will be great wailing and much gnashing of teeth!


THAT’S the way you do science ladies and gentlemen. No stupid models. No stupid computers. No stupid scientists 2000 miles away in ivory towers. Go to the source, figure out how to collect the data, draw conclusions.
Well done.
A new review paper from SPPI and CO2 Science finds the growth rate of atmospheric methane has significantly decreased over the past 30 years, the opposite of IPCC predictions. Separately, a new paper finds, “Warming may not release Arctic carbon – Element could stay locked in soil, 20-year study suggests.”
Atmospheric methane’s contribution to anthropogenic climate forcing is estimated to be about half that of CO2 when both direct and indirect components to its forcing are summed (see Figure 1, below); and nearly all models project atmospheric methane (CH4) concentrations will increase for at least the next 3 decades, with many of the scenarios assuming a much larger increase throughout the 21st century. A quick fact-check, however, reveals that observations lie far below the model projections, as shown in each of the four prior Assessment Reports of the IPCC. So what has caused the IPCC to get things so wrong?


I was surprised the other day to find that many soils in temperate areas act as methane sinks due to the presence of methanotrobes. It seems that these little beasties eat the methane quite happily. Of course that produces carbon dioxide, but as we’re always being told – methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

“Arctic methane emergency called off”
I would be interested how you can infer this from a paper that does not mention methane once.
At most this paper could find the response of moist acidic tussock ecosystem, nothing about other terrestrial and marine sources of methane in the Arctic.
REPLY: I’m not talking about marine sources such as clathrates, I’m talking about earthen sources. Decomp = methane. They point out decomp sped up initially, then leveled off as plant systems started to manage better.
Unless of course you want to refute this headline story too:


As Gilda Radnor would say … Never Mind!!

Extract the worrisome methane and burn it for fuel. Methane has 21 times the greenhouse potential than methane. Problem solved and we have fuel. Or, don’t worry about apocalypse from sudden release of arctic methane.
[Rather, “potential than CO2”? Mod ]

Lord Galleywood

O/t and my bad – Who the hell has buggered up twitter and farcebook at 12.30am BST – I’ll find ya.

Over two decades, the team reports, mosses and lichens gave way to woody shrubs.

And the shade from those shrubs inhibits warming of the soil and release of its methane.


No abnormal weather.
No worry about Tuvalu & Maldives.
No methane amplification. …………. What’s next?


richard telford says:
May 15, 2013 at 4:23 pm …………..

Methane was not a problem when the Arctic was ice free during summers of the Holocene. So no problem this century bearing in mind climate sensitivity is off somewhat according to observations.

We therefore conclude that for a priod in the Early Holocene, probably for a millenium or more, the Arctic Ocean was free of sea ice at least for shorter periods in the summer. This may serve as an analogue to the predicted “greenhouse situation” expected to appear within our century.
Arctic sea ice cover was strongly reduced during most of the early Holocene and there appear to have been periods of ice free summers in the central Arctic Ocean. This has important consequences for our understanding of the recent trend of declining sea ice, and calls for further research on causal links between Arctic climate and sea ice.
Calcareous nannofossils from approximately the past 7000 yr of the Holocene and from oxygen isotope stage 5 are present at 39 analyzed sites in the central Arctic Ocean. This indicates partly ice-free conditions during at least some summers. The depth of Holocene sediments in the Nansen basin is about 20 cm, or more where influenced by turbidites.
….Nevertheless, episodes of considerably reduced sea ice or even seasonally ice-free conditions occurred during warmer periods linked to orbital variations. The last low-ice event related to orbital forcing (high insolation) was in the early Holocene,…
A 10,000-Year Record of Arctic Ocean Sea-Ice Variability—View from the Beach
We present a sea-ice record from northern Greenland covering the past 10,000 years. Multiyear sea ice reached a minimum between ~8500 and 6000 years ago, when the limit of year-round sea ice at the coast of Greenland was located ~1000 kilometers to the north of its present position. The subsequent increase in multiyear sea ice culminated during the past 2500 years and is linked to an increase in ice export from the western Arctic and higher variability of ice-drift routes

yet again ideology-fuelled scare tactics trumped by science – isn’t it time Gore and his Groupies gave it up as a bad job and looked for honest work?

This “arctic methane scare” has always seemed a bit foolish to me, considering even Wikipedia (with their debunked hockey stick) suggests it was warmer around 6000 years ago.
They suggest arctic temperatures were a half degree warmer for how long? Oh, a mere two or three thousand years. It seems to me that would have released all the methane there was to release.
Others, (including geologists who have studied evidence that suggests the arctic ocean wasn’t frozen for substantial periods of time,) (IE: land forms made by surf and not ice; radio-carbon dated driftwood from the far side of the arctic ocean, higher sea levels, and so on,) dare to differ with Wikipedia, and suggest that temperatures 6000 years ago were as much as 2 degrees warmer than they are now.
If there was going to be some sort of methane calamity it would have already happened.
Therefore, if you really want to get people alarmed, you have show proof it has already happened. That was what wiped out the Woolly Mammoths and the Greenland Vikings! And it will happen again, if you don’t use curly light bulbs!
(Forgive me. I likely shouldn’t give Alarmists any ideas, however my heart is prone towards pity, and these days those guys are obviously in need of help.)


Thank God. They were just about ready to place the orders for a billion air conditioners to be stationed all around the arctic to keep the tundra cool. All powered by windmills, of course.


During the Eemian interglacial Hippopotamus frolicked in the rivers Thames and Rhine. Some Warmists will tell you that it was about as warm as the present. The Arctic’s methane was kept under control. Relax good people, the climate (false) alarm is almost over. Did I mention the even warmer PETM? Did I mention methane eating microbes? Did I mention…………..oh, forget it.


@Jimbo, sorry I could not resist:
During the Eemian interglacial Hippopotamus frolicked rivers Thames and the Rhine.
Some Warmists will tell you that it was about as warm as the present.
Personally I am biding my time.

Bill Illis

It looks like “the canary in the coal mine” Methane measurements from Barrow Alaska have ticked up again this year – a few parts per billion.
Overall, Methane levels in the atmosphere have nearly flatlined now – a little known fact it seems. 6 years ago, it looked like Methane had peaked but it seems to be increasing slightly again – probably the increased activity in the natural gas industry (natural gas being about 97% Methane – don’t blame the cows please since they have nothing to do with it).
Barrow is the leading indicator for the world and the leading indicator for Arctic methane releases I guess.
Methane does not appear to be an issue that should be worried about (unless you are a professional worrier – paid to be a worrier that is – as in doomsday prognisticator, please send money to save us from the few parts per billion trend of Methane).

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Ulaanbaatar

The growth of Arctic trees (which are already present in highly stunted forms) increases each time the temperature rises. Their dead remains can be seen in Labrador well north of the ‘treeline’. If the Arctic warms considerably, trees will take over, just like everywhere else further south. Freezing out plant life increases the level of CO2 in the atmosphere because one removal mechanism is shut off. Rotting of vegetation => methane => CO2 continues as the study showed.


Funny how all these skeptic points we pointed out over the years are all coming to pass.


This research was about the soil as a carbon sink (positive or negative) not about methane. The title is in error.


nigelf, just a rewording:
Funny how all those warmist points that skeptics pointed out were completely wrong…
It’s almost as if warmists are completely unaware of how the planet works. There’s this little thing called “LIFE” that changes everything. To some creatures, methane is food. Increased methane means more food for the little guys, who experience a population boom. Once they’ve eaten all that is available, they starve and die, their microscopic bodies ultimately creating a thin strata layer for geologists to puzzle over in the far future.
Same goes for CO2. Increase it, and organisms and plants have a feeding / multiplying frenzy, lower the levels, and die off. Oh, and EXACTLY the same for crude oil. Surprise, surprise! Virtually every substance out there breaks down eventually and the components are food for something. Even toxic chemicals. Even… gasp… radioactivity integrates into nature!

Willis Eschenbach

GENUG (@GENUG) says:
May 15, 2013 at 3:25 pm

and the acidification of the world’s oceans is pretty much in an advanced state, meaning….. SHTF!!! uptake ability for CO2 going down, cycle is running….. not good.

Actually, the neutralization of the ocean is barely detectable, and we have little historical information with which to compare it.
Nice try at shrill fact-free hysteria, though,


Things burying AGW seem to be emerging on an almost daily basis now – taking studies such as this and media into account. It gives the sense of a long suppressed protest of dissent starting to emerge.

Joel Heinrich

And again, anyone not ignoring worldwide measurements does know that methane [growth] has been declining in the last twenty years..

Rick Bradford

Most of the Alarmists don’t care how wrong or absurd they are; they just shout loudly in the hope of attracting attention, funds, and creating some action (whatever it is).
We’ll be able to test AMEG in about 7 months or so. They state:
“Climate extremes are all too apparent resulting in food prices rising ominously towards a level which could put over a billion people into starvation next year and provoke food riots all over the world.’
“What is happening will seriously impact food, agriculture and the insurance industry in 2013,”

Robert Austin

GENUG (@GENUG) says:
May 15, 2013 at 3:25 pm
Good practice is to end a post parodying warmist hysterics with “sarc off”. Not all readers get the sarcasm and might think that you are a genuine nutter!

Janice Moore

“‘Shut up,’ he explained.” [Ring Lardner]
Glad ol’ Geenug started us off with a bit of humor. LOL.
Those AGW guys (head shake). They’re a laugh a minute!
Just a leeetle bit frustrated.

Richard Telford and DB are right. This paper is not about methane, and the abstract does not mention it. It is about total soil carbon.
“Decomp = methane. They point out decomp sped up initially, then leveled off as plant systems started to manage better.”
No, decomp usually produces carbon dioxide. Methane would only be produced in a totally anaerobic environment, where the roots of the woody plants could not survive. There’s no evidence of that here.


Like the approach of this guy: Georg Delisle – permafrost expert – pulls no punches
“…it is utter imbecility to suppose that the entire permafrost could thaw out by the end of the century. It would take thousands of years.”
His study ‘Near-surface permafrost degradation: How severe during the 21st century?’ was the basis for his presentation.
Geoscientist and permafrost expert Georg Delisle from Hanover presented his research.
He studied time periods from the last 10,000 years when the global temperature was warmer than today for several thousand years by as much as 6°C. Ice cores that had been extracted from Antarctica and Greenland provide exact information about the composition of the atmosphere during these warm periods.
His conclusion: ‘The ice cores from both Greenland and Antarctica provide no indication of any elevated release of greenhouse gases at any time even though back then a deep thawing of the permafrost when compared to today would have been the case.’

Lew Skannen

So now what are we going to do with our huge, half-built, planetary catastrophe averting, geo-engineering device???

Janice Moore

Bloke down the pub says:
[on WUWT Diminishing CO2 Returns Thread at: ]
on May 8, 2013 at 1:57 PM
“[*] is one of the reasons warmists bang on about ocean ‘acidification’. They know mother nature won’t play ball with warming so they need something else to scare the children with.”
MODTRAN calculates that 50% of the warming effect of current (almost 400 ppm) CO2 levels would be accomplished by just 20 ppm CO2 (for a tropical atmosphere w/ constant relative humidity):
The NCAR radiation code says that 40 ppm CO2 would be needed to get 50% of the current CO2-caused warming, rather than 20 ppm, but, either way, … we’re well past the point of diminishing returns w/r/t the warming effect of CO2.
The alarmist projections of wild increases in temperature are based on assumptions of dramatic amplifications of the warming effect through positive feedbacks. But for the tropical atmosphere MODTRAN calculates only +65% amplification from water vapor, and that’s really an upper-bound, because it doesn’t taking into account various negative feedbacks, such as water-cycle (evaporative) cooling.” [Dave Burton on above thread on May 8, 2013 at 1:25 pm]

Steve Keohane

Nick Stokes says:May 15, 2013 at 8:00 pm
Richard Telford and DB are right. This paper is not about methane, and the abstract does not mention it.

Nor does the abstract mention that the sky is blue, either. You know damn well, Nick, that the MSM has been spouting crap about the concern over methane release from a warming tundra for years.

Pat Frank

Richard Telford, you argue consistently for the reality of AGW. What evidence can you deploy that supports your position?

Pat Frank

You, too, Nick Stokes: where’s the evidence that supports your position on the reality of AGW?

NZ Willy

The mind boggles at the number of deluded people who think that catastrophe is right around the corner. How in he#$ do these people think that the Earth has reached its benign environment after 4.6 billion years if there were such lethal traps everywhere?

William McClenney

When I see something like this, I simply have to wonder what in the anthropogenic world happened at the end-Eemian (yes, we were indeed there) when sea levels rose +6 to +45M above mean sea level (amsl):
Some say +52M amsl:
Immediately thereafter:
“…sea level fell with apparent speed to the MIS 5d lowstand and much cooler climatic conditions.”
We have little choice here. Something wreaked climate havoc, not once but twice at the end-Eemian:
On the other hand, if we do not restrict our inquiry to just methane we have this:
“Would you like fries with that?” inquires the attendant through the drive-thru climatesoup squak-box…….

Janice Moore

Hey, Lew Skannon (re: 8:22PM), you want to know: “So now what [is the Fantasy Science Club] going to do with [their] huge, half-built, planetary catastrophe averting, geo-engineering device???” LOL, they’ll turn them all into …… electric sledgehammers! (still rakin’ in the coin — kah – ching!):

Janice Moore

Got that link from an AGWer — figures (sorry about that, folks).
Let’s try again (just like all good modellers do!):

Janice Moore

Go, Pat Frank!
Since they HAVE NO EVIDENCE, you’ll either be blessed with a peacefully quiet evening, or….. do I hear shuffling footsteps down the hall?……. Uh, oh…. put on your helmet and goggles (and nose plug) for —————— INCOMING! ———— large load of regurgitated baloney headed your way….. (ugh — AGW stinks).


the Muppets had it right all along !

Janice Moore

Of course! #[:)]
At least (if Honeydew can perfect his design), it will be something USEFUL (can crusher?).
Edison would have been proud.

Pat Frank

Janice, thanks. 🙂 I’m prepared to be shown the light, but “hand of god!” won’t do it.


I think it would be fair to say that this might be a surprise to those whose sole focus as a specialist was atmospheric meteorology.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that this would prove overly surprising to soil scientists, ecologists or agricultural biologists.
The lesson to learn is that reductionist science is entirely inappropriate in complex systems and that fluid thermodynamics specialists would have a greater intuitive insight into soil biology than those devoted to newtonian mechanics.
Just as biologists in the UK betray their ignorance when wading into climate politics, it may be the case that physicists should be cautious before straying into areas of complex system biology.

rtj1211 says: May 15, 2013 at 11:26 pm
“I think it would be fair to say that this might be a surprise to those whose sole focus as a specialist was atmospheric meteorology.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that this would prove overly surprising to soil scientists, ecologists or agricultural biologists.”

This paper comes from Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, University of California Santa Barbara. They thought it worth publishing.

REPLY: I’m not talking about marine sources such as clathrates, I’m talking about earthen sources. Decomp = methane. They point out decomp sped up initially, then leveled off as plant systems started to manage better.
Unless of course you want to refute this headline story too:
So rather than admit that your post grossly misrepresents Sistla et al, you divert me to a realclimate-written post that confirms that Arctic methane releases will play a significant role in climate evolution, even if sudden enormous releases of methane are unlikely.

My view comes from the way methane has been portrayed in the Arctic. There are numerous essays which suggest methane will be released from tundra. One of the problems in the use of the word “carbon” is it is often shorthand for carbon dioxide or for methane, they don’t make that clear. I read it as a combination of CO2 and methane from soil decomp. For example here’s a story about an NSF press release where Carbon and Methane are used interchangeably in the Arctic. From Think Progress

Scientists learned last year that the permafrost permamelt contains a staggering “1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere,” much of which would be released as methane. Methane is is 25 times as potent a heat-trapping gas as CO2 over a 100 year time horizon, but 72 times as potent over 20 years!
The carbon is locked in a freezer in the part of the planet warming up the fastest (see “Tundra 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss“). Half the land-based permafrost would vanish by mid-century on our current emissions path (see “Tundra, Part 2: The point of no return” and below).

Here’s what the NSF says (much like what Nic Stokes says):

Methane is a greenhouse gas more than 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is released from previously frozen soils in two ways. When the organic material (which contains carbon) stored in permafrost thaws, it begins to decompose and, under anaerobic conditions, gradually releases methane.

I’ve long been exposed to this idea, and that is what I thought was going on here since they artificially elevated temperatures. I just recent ran a critique of a story in the Guardian where we talking about how if surface vegetation is disturbed/removed, we end up with the permafrost below it melting which leads to decomp and methane release. In this study, they point out how a 2 degree warming was “expected” to cause issues like this, but instead the vegetation responded favorably, against their expectations.
Now I don’t defer the possibility that I could be wrong, but at the same time I’ll point out that when press releases and news stories are written, when “carbon” is used, it should be made perfectly which form of “carbon” they are talking about. From my perspective, the word “carbon” as shorthand for CO2/Methane in the Arctic needs to be clarified in many places.
Of course it would also help if Science would stop paywalling everything (including those studies done in California where I pay taxes to make it possible, where they should be public domain) so only those with perceived unlimited funds (feeding at the government trough – You and Nick for example) can read the papers. I went to UCSB looking for it, and was denied access. Of course if I had access to the paper, it may have clarified the issue to the point where it was clear that “Carbon” was not shorthand for Methane/CO2 in this case.
Next time there’s a story here at WUWT or elsewhere where “carbon” is used as shorthand, I’ll expect you to complain to the authors. Something tells me you won’t though, because your demonstrated holier than thou critical commentary is always one way.

Ed Zuiderwijk

Isn’t that Methane burried in clathrates below the ocean bottom?
Isn’t the temperature at that depth around 4 degrees or less, and isn’t that the case worldwide irrespective of what the temperature of the surface waters is?
So what is the problem?