The 'Arctic Methane Emergency' appears canceled due to methane eating bacteria

Many readers know that we’ve covered the supposed “ticking time bomb” of methane that is supposedly going to be released somewhere, somehow, either from methane clathrates on the sea floor due to ocean warming, or from melting permafrost. Due to methane having a greater GHG warming factor,  a potential of 34 times that of CO2 over 100 years, there’s a perceived threat so great, that there’s a collection of scientists that have formed the Arctic Methane Emergency Group.

They made this King Canute style press release last year, where they called for a “rapid refreezing of the Arctic to halt runaway melting”, as if somehow we’ll just put a halt to those processes with a wave of the hand:


TIME: Thursday, December 4, 2014, 12:00-12:30 PM

SUBJECT: Arctic meltdown: a catastrophic threat to our survival

AMEG calls for rapid refreezing of the Arctic to halt runaway melting

WHO: John Nissen, Chair AMEG, supported by Professor Peter Wadhams, Cambridge University, co-founder of AMEG and world-renowned expert on Arctic sea ice, with Paul Beckwith, AMEG blogger.


There is strong evidence of advanced acceleration in:

• Arctic warming and sea ice decline in a vicious cycle

• Substantial ice loss in Greenland with potential massive loss due to unstable glaciers

• Disruption of jet stream behaviour, with abrupt climate change leading to crop failures, rising food prices and conflict in the Northern Hemisphere

• Rapid emissions of methane from the Arctic seabed, permafrost and tundra.

The tipping point for the Arctic sea ice has already passed.

Our conclusions are:

• The meltdown is accelerating and could become unstoppable as early as Sept 2015

• Immediate action must be taken to refreeze the Arctic to halt runaway melting

• Greenhouse gas emissions reduction, however drastic, cannot solve this problem

• Calculations show that powerful interventions are needed to cool the Arctic

• Any delay escalates the risk of failure

• Arctic meltdown is a catastrophic threat for civilisation.

AMEG therefore calls for the immediate setting up of a task force, specifically mandated to ensure that the Arctic is cooled as quickly and safely as possible.

They have this banner from Peter Wadhams (who recently thought big oil was sending out climate science assassins) on the AMEG website:


Meanwhile, Arctic Ice is stubbornly holding on just one month away from peak melt, which occurs typically in mid-Sptember:


So, I’m sure the AMEG won’t be happy about this new study that suggests nature has already cancelled their emergency, likely from already dealing with the issue over millennia:

From PRINCETON UNIVERSITY and the department of canceled emergencies, comes this very inconvenient study

On warmer Earth, most of Arctic may remove, not add, methane

In addition to melting icecaps and imperiled wildlife, a significant concern among scientists is that higher Arctic temperatures brought about by climate change could result in the release of massive amounts of carbon locked in the region’s frozen soil in the form of carbon dioxide and methane. Arctic permafrost is estimated to contain about a trillion tons of carbon, which would potentially accelerate global warming. Carbon emissions in the form of methane have been of particular concern because on a 100-year scale methane is about 25-times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat.

However, new research led by Princeton University researchers and published in The ISME Journal in August suggests that, thanks to methane-hungry bacteria, the majority of Arctic soil might actually be able to absorb methane from the atmosphere rather than release it. Furthermore, that ability seems to become greater as temperatures rise.

The researchers found that Arctic soils containing low carbon content — which make up 87 percent of the soil in permafrost regions globally — not only remove methane from the atmosphere, but also become more efficient as temperatures increase. During a three-year period, a carbon-poor site on Axel Heiberg Island in Canada’s Arctic region consistently took up more methane as the ground temperature rose from 0 to 18 degrees Celsius (32 to 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit). The researchers project that should Arctic temperatures rise by 5 to 15 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years, the methane-absorbing capacity of “carbon-poor” soil could increase by five to 30 times.

The researchers found that this ability stems from an as-yet unknown species of bacteria in carbon-poor Arctic soil that consume methane in the atmosphere. The bacteria are related to a bacterial group known as Upland Soil Cluster Alpha, the dominant methane-consuming bacteria in carbon-poor Arctic soil. The bacteria the researchers studied remove the carbon from methane to produce methanol, a simple alcohol the bacteria process immediately. The carbon is used for growth or respiration, meaning that it either remains in bacterial cells or is released as carbon dioxide.

First author Chui Yim “Maggie” Lau, an associate research scholar in Princeton’s Department of Geosciences, said that although it’s too early to claim that the entire Arctic will be a massive methane “sink” in a warmer world, the study’s results do suggest that the Arctic could help mitigate the warming effect that would be caused by a rising amount of methane in the atmosphere. In immediate terms, climate models that project conditions on a warmer Earth could use this study to more accurately calculate the future methane content of the atmosphere, Lau said.

“At our study sites, we are more confident that these soils will continue to be a sink under future warming. In the future, the Arctic may not have atmospheric methane increase as much as the rest of the world,” Lau said. “We don’t have a direct answer as to whether these Arctic soils will offset global atmospheric methane or not, but they will certainly help the situation.”

The researchers want to study the bacteria’s physiology as well as test the upper temperature threshold and methane concentrations at which they can still efficiently process methane, Lau said. Field observations showed that the bacteria are still effective up to 18 degrees Celsius (64.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and can remove methane down to one-quarter of the methane level in the atmosphere, which is around 0.5 parts-per-million.

“If these bacteria can still work in a future warmer climate and are widespread in other Arctic permafrost areas, maybe they could regulate methane for the whole globe,” Lau said. “These regions may seem isolated from the world, but they may have been doing things to help the world.”


M.C.Y. Lau, B.T. Stackhouse, A.C. Layton, A. Chauhan, T. A. Vishnivetskaya, K. Chourey, J. Ronholm, N.C.S. Mykytczuk, P.C. Bennett, G. Lamarche-Gagnon, N. Burton, W.H. Pollard, C.R. Omelon, D.M. Medvigy, R.L. Hettich, S.M. Pfiffner, L.G. Whyte, and T.C. Onstott. 2015. An active atmospheric methane sink in high Arctic mineral cryosols. The ISME Journal. Article published in print August 2015. DOI:10.1038/ismej.2015.13.


Methane (CH4) emission by carbon-rich cryosols at the high latitudes in Northern Hemisphere has been studied extensively. In contrast, data on the CH4 emission potential of carbon-poor cryosols is limited, despite their spatial predominance. This work employs CH4 flux measurements in the field and under laboratory conditions to show that the mineral cryosols at Axel Heiberg Island in the Canadian high Arctic consistently consume atmospheric CH4. Omics analyses present the first molecular evidence of active atmospheric CH4-oxidizing bacteria (atmMOB) in permafrost-affected cryosols, with the prevalent atmMOB genotype in our acidic mineral cryosols being closely related to Upland Soil Cluster α. The atmospheric (atm) CH4 uptake at the study site increases with ground temperature between 0 °C and 18 °C. Consequently, the atm CH4 sink strength is predicted to increase by a factor of 5-30 as the Arctic warms by 5-15 °C over a century. We demonstrate that acidic mineral cryosols are a previously unrecognized potential of CH4 sink that requires further investigation to determine its potential impact on larger scales. This study also calls attention to the poleward distribution of atmMOB, as well as to the potential influence of microbial atm CH4 oxidation, in the context of regional CH4 flux models and global warming.

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August 19, 2015 7:26 am

Hey, it’s food. Critters invade any such niche.

Reply to  kim
August 19, 2015 9:34 am

Just as other critters thrive on other hydrocarbons such as an oil spill.

Reply to  Allencic
August 19, 2015 10:31 pm

The Deepwater Horizon spill was 4 times as large as the annual Gulf of Mexico annual seepage and after about two years it was pretty much gone.
If there are bacteria that are in place in any number they will rapidly increase to match a new food source.
I guess we have defused the 400-1000 GT methane bomb in the arctic tundra.
1893 PPB NH/1762 PPB SH
There is about 700 MT of methane released per year with 340 MT of it natural.
The methane level has gone from 722 PPB to about 1830 PPB.
“For a conversion factor of 2.78 Tg(CH4) per ppb and an atmospheric concentration of 1,774 ppb”
700 TG per year is equivalent to (700/2.78 =) 251 PPB per year. So the half-life of 1830 PPB must cause a 251 PPB reduction for a half-life of 4.7 years and a mean lifetime of 6.8 years.
If the 400 GT got released over a 100 year period we might have 29 PPM of methane or the warming equivalent of 928 PPM CO2 increase. In theory. But the methane warming (downwelling IR) due to an increase in atmospheric concentration, to my knowledge hasn’t been measured. The CO2 forcing was about 1/3 what the global warmer cheering section wanted. Further the mechanism for the 1 W/m2 of CO2 forcing by 2100 to cause disastrous methane release hasn’t been satisfactorily explained. Now that the little critters are eating the methane even that concern goes away.

Charles Samuels
August 19, 2015 7:30 am

The big problem with the theory of this World Renowned Arctic Ice Expert is that the loss of ice in the arctic had nothing to do with warming but rather was the result of changing atmospheric patterns that flushed a lot of old ice out of the Arctic Ocean through Fram Strait. Some was even lost through the Bering Strait, which was very unusual.

Reply to  Charles Samuels
August 19, 2015 7:44 am

shhh, you’ll ruin his (fictitious, grant money soliciting) catastrophe.

Reply to  Charles Samuels
August 19, 2015 9:53 am

“arctic had nothing to do with warming”
That;s got to be some settled science three.
look ma, more settled science from skeptics.. 100% sure that it had nothing to do with warming.
Now what does climate science say….. Many factors drive the loss of ice

Joel Snider
Reply to  Steven Mosher
August 19, 2015 11:02 am

Yes, Steven. We KNOW many factors drive ice loss.
Look ma, more sarcastic, false equivalency from Mosher. Can we have some red herring for dessert?
Mr. Mosher, I’ve read the’ Crutape Letters’, and I’ve followed your posts for years, and while I respect the fact that you at least acknowledge Climategate, as well as your willingness to at least appear here and engage the skeptic case, the apologistic tone of that manuscript as well as the general theme of your posts suggests to me that your primary motive in both cases has been damage control.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
August 19, 2015 2:49 pm

@ Mosher,
Do you post these types of drive-by comments at Judith’s site, or are they reserved for us at WUWT.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
August 19, 2015 3:59 pm

Poor little Steve, he’s got an emotional condition that requires him to embarrass himself as frequently as possible.
1) Nobody said that ice loss was due to only one factor.
2) The fact that the ice loss in 2012 was from wind related weather changes is proven.
3) The ice levels have been rebounding for the last three years, which wouldn’t be happening if the ice loss had been due to CO2, since CO2 levels have continued to climb.

Retired Engineer Jim
Reply to  Charles Samuels
August 19, 2015 1:22 pm

But weren’t those “changin atmospheric patterns” a direct result of the demon molecule CO2?

Reply to  Retired Engineer Jim
August 19, 2015 9:33 pm

Good point. Or were you sarcastic?
It is difficult to rule things out in a mathematically chaotic system.
(And yes, even alarmist scientists accept it is chaotic.}

August 19, 2015 7:32 am

It’s simply amazing to learn how well the earth takes care of itself.

Reply to  katherine009
August 19, 2015 7:41 am

Always amazes me too. Almost like this isn’t Gaia’s first rodeo…
The less we know, the simpler it seems.

Reply to  katherine009
August 19, 2015 8:10 am

Or rather, how well Earth takes care of its inhabitants (not that I think there’s there’s a man in the sky fiddling with the human existence/climate knob*; we are still here as a result of the planet’s attributes, not the other way around).
* Have we nominated anyone for this yet?

Eustace Cranch
Reply to  PiperPaul
August 19, 2015 8:47 am

Or rather, how well Earth takes care of its inhabitants
Really? This planet (and its environs) have casually snuffed out far more species than exist right now.
I don’t think the laws of physics care whether we’re here or not.

Reply to  PiperPaul
August 19, 2015 10:16 am

You snipped this part so that you could make your remark:
“We are still here as a result of the planet’s attributes, not the other way around.”

Reply to  PiperPaul
August 19, 2015 4:01 pm

Piper, the snipped part has no impact on Eustace’s point.

Reply to  PiperPaul
August 19, 2015 9:35 pm

No, Piper’s point is very good. It is the anthropic principle in action.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Salong, Lombok
Reply to  katherine009
August 19, 2015 9:45 am

Yes, and it explains in part why there is so little methane in the atmosphere. It is unlikely that there are not methane eating bacteria elsewhere in the world. Mayne we should look.

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Salong, Lombok
August 19, 2015 12:23 pm

There are methane consuming bacteria all over the ocean floors and lake beds of the world.

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Salong, Lombok
August 19, 2015 1:48 pm

Yes Aphan, They are also in the commercial sewer plant ‘bugs’ for the digesters. I use a blend called Flush-it in my home septic system with complete success eliminating sewer gas from the seep field (even in the wettest year since I’ve lived here). Hydrocarbon digestion is one of their brags.

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Salong, Lombok
August 19, 2015 1:50 pm

I should have added that it is very useful in my 1 acre pond to keep the water clear and slow the algae growth.

Mark Cooper
Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Salong, Lombok
August 19, 2015 7:06 pm

The main reason there is so little Methane in the atmosphere is because it is a relatively unstable molecule that decays to CO2 + H2O when exposed to O2. Adding a spark will make it happen in a millisecond! Otherwise it can take a few years to take place.

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Salong, Lombok
August 19, 2015 8:52 pm

They are also termed “Stealth” bacteria and archea, as they are extremely difficult to document and nearly impossible to cultivate.

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Salong, Lombok
August 20, 2015 5:46 am

This “epiphany” is nothing new. Methane and fossil fuels are abundant, reliable and a great source of useful biological energy. Organisms have evolved to make use of it. Facts long known are just becoming hard to conveniently ignore to keep the narrative going.. I studied oil spills in the 1970’s and still shake my head at how spills are handled.
The marine industry has a miserable time with diesel eating microbes that exist in the little bit of water at the bottom of most diesel tanks, They create sludge of proteins that clogs filters and cause issues with engines. At the same time i can go into my local marine supply store and buy microbes to put into the bilge to eat any oil that might be floating around,They are very effective! In polluted harbors and places with natural seeps, oil spills have disappeared “miraculously” overnight. The reality is that some activist against fossil fuels are baffled when a spill such as the BP spill goes “away” so quickly. Where did it go?
German subs sunk so many ships off Cape Cod that the beaches looked paved! Where did it go? Well the answer is that if you have a bushel of apples and you eat them where did THE APPLES go? Seeps are natural events and are very active all over the word. Anthropogenic spills are offensive regrettable messes. Refined products transiently poisonous as they evaporate and might mix in the water column. Wouldn’t you rather have a microbe eat it or do what we do…mush it around with dispersants and poisonous chemicals. Force it down into the soil where it creates an anaerobic environment. With this natural clean up crew, lets think this clean up business through…What can not be recovered directly by mechanical means is a boon to microbes seed it,encourage a bloom, let them at it! Be patient as they feast. Go figure!

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Salong, Lombok
August 20, 2015 10:05 am

I wonder if there are also methane consuming bacteria which can travel by air and perhaps propogate in cloud and rain drops.

Ian Macdonald
Reply to  katherine009
August 19, 2015 11:28 am

That is true, and whilst the CO2 scare is bunkum, if we cause too much actual pollution then it might decide to take action to correct the problem… Ouch.

Stuart Jones
Reply to  katherine009
August 19, 2015 5:24 pm

it is simple, the earth is a complex but closed system, as one (or multiple) things change, reactions are set in motion to offsett that change, feedback upon feedback. Man is but a small component in this system, and to think that we can have any effect upon the efficiency of the system as a whole is pure fantasy. The carbon in the fossil fuels we burn are part of the system, release the CO2 (even a small percentage increase) and adjustments will be made to keep the staus quo of the system overall. Thaw out the permafrost and release methane that is then absorbed by the soil that is thawed out just another example of the almost perfect system that is the earth. Oh and as population increases to the point where it becomes a problem then a solution will eventuate all on its own, probably one or many natural population reduction events like desease, or famine caused by the loss of food crops…or war. makes you feel insignificant doesnt it…

August 19, 2015 7:37 am

the methane eating bacteria might explain how the methane got there in the first place?

August 19, 2015 7:38 am

well, there are two options, 1) if the data does not cooperate, torture it until it does, or 2) on to the next (fictitious, grant money soliciting) catastrophe!

August 19, 2015 7:40 am
Reply to  Rbabcock
August 19, 2015 8:53 am

Could it be that the Danish have not had the James Hansen lecture on “data refinement” yet?

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Rbabcock
August 19, 2015 9:20 am

the NSIDC graph looks suspiciously like a hockey stick. just sayin….

Reply to  Rbabcock
August 19, 2015 9:28 am

Looks like they fudge the numbers by including “area of ocean with at least 15% sea ice”.

Reply to  Rbabcock
August 19, 2015 10:15 am

Different algorithms.
Look at the Min for both.
sea ice extent is estimated. So different satellites, different algorithms will give you different numbers.
This is one reason why folks look at anomalies or scaled values.
1. That’s why you have multiple teams looking at the same problem
2. Thats why you look at changes RELATIVE to the historical figures for that methodology.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
August 19, 2015 11:19 am

Makes sense but one is showing 8 million sq km and the other around 6 million. Looks to me like one or the other or both algorithms need a little work.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
August 19, 2015 4:48 pm

NSIDC is about 2 standard deviations from the mean. The Danish site looks closer to 1 standard deviation.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
August 19, 2015 8:56 pm

Ah, make everything a derivative…

Reply to  Rbabcock
August 19, 2015 11:19 am

NSIDC says right there on their graph that it is the “Area of ocean” with at least 15% sea ice. If you think about it, that actually makes no sense.
What I think they are actually showing is a summation of “areas” (grid cells) that have at least 15% ice cover in them. A clue to why there is such a big difference can be found on the Danish website:
where they state that they have improved the algorithm by removing a “coastal zone mask” which was causing estimates of area with >15% sea ice to be underestimated. NSIDC has apparently not fixed this.

August 19, 2015 7:41 am

It’s not been a good year for Professor Peter Wadhams: Arctic sea ice refuses to disappear and now the microbes are eating his methane catastrophe.

tom s
Reply to  Old'un
August 19, 2015 10:04 am

Yeah, I placed a gentleman’s bet with him via email correspondence last year…im trying to collect my congrats for the big win but he’s yet to respond to me this year. Wonder why? Tee he he…

August 19, 2015 7:44 am

Peter Wadhams? If Greenskull couldn’t stop him, nobody could. Thank God he’s on their side.

Bruce Cobb
August 19, 2015 7:46 am

This must really frost Whacky Wadham’s shorts.

August 19, 2015 7:50 am

I am calling for the immediate and drastic increase in the budget for the Department of Cancelled Emergencies.
The economic importance of this agency can barely be overstated, as we are facing a veritable deluge of cancelled emergencies due to a recent uptick in warmista alarmist shenanigans.
The weirdest part of it is, warmistas consider it an even bigger emergency when their disasters fail to materialize.

Reply to  menicholas
August 19, 2015 8:42 am

I think we should increase the black budget for those super ninjas equipped with electron beam weapons that Wadham thinks have been removing global warmists from this mortal coil.

george e. smith
August 19, 2015 7:51 am

So ok, I’ll bite.
Just what is AMEG’s geo-engineering scheme for ” refreezing ” the arctic ??
I understand that sometimes there’s a little bit of sunshine there. We could coat the Arctic, with a metallized Mylar reflective sheet, to stop that sunlight from getting to the ice.
OOoops ! I forgot; ice is already a good reflector they say. Ain’t all that much sunlight getting in there anyhow; I do believe that’s why it is so darn cold up there, and TSI is only 1362 Wm^-2 , even less up there because probably at least air mass 2 inclined atmospheric path.
You just don’t get a whole lot of solar energy density up in the arctic, to reflect much.
We could re-direct the Gulf stream, and other ocean circulators, so they don’t pump so much heat up there from the tropics. That would call for some pretty big pumps; well we could power those from the sun.
So we could use solar panels to stop the sunlight from getting to the ice, and use the electric juice to power the pumps to turn the gulf stream around.
Well that oughta do it.
I’ll get right on it; howabout some grant money ??
g >>> GGG

Reply to  george e. smith
August 19, 2015 7:59 am

To have a supposedly serious person, who claims to be an actual man of science, make such a nonsensical declaration is mind boggling.
But besides for that, the authors seemed to have missed the memo re the refreezing of the Arctic which began e few years ago. Which, by the way, completely refuted the whole notion of Arctic death spirals, topping points, and runaway melting.
Another published paper which uses outdated and false information as the initial premise!
Seriously, what is wrong with these people?

Reply to  menicholas
August 19, 2015 2:58 pm

Ok, just to be clear…I was referring to the guy in the article, not you George.

Reply to  george e. smith
August 19, 2015 4:42 pm

try airmass 80 at that angle.

Reply to  Alex
August 19, 2015 4:49 pm
August 19, 2015 7:54 am

Have you visited the Arctic Methane Emergency Group website? It looks dead: no activity at all.
My favorite bits:
“The tipping point for the Arctic sea ice has already passed.”
“The meltdown is accelerating and could become unstoppable as early as Sept 2015”
“Nathan Currier describes responses to the emergency in the Arctic … concluding that geoengineering will have to be part of the action.”
I look forward to the 50 gigaton burst in a few weeks, then.

Reply to  Neil
August 19, 2015 8:49 am

I look forward to the 50 gigaton burst in a few weeks, then.

Sure. We can call it the “Putin Bomba”. And if it dumps a few zillion tons of radioactive ash into the arctic vortex to get spread uniformly across Siberia, Mongolia, Canada — what’s a little deadly fallout between friends?
As long as it gets the job done. The Arctic must not thaw!
Sometimes you have to wonder — is this all part of a complex tongue-in-cheek joke? Do people really have no idea what even the order of magnitude of the energies and power levels they are discussing are? Do they have so very little idea of the shortness of the time spanned by the data that goes into the assertion of “normal” ice in the arctic in the first place?

Reply to  rgbatduke
August 19, 2015 9:52 am

“Putin Petard” would be more entertaining considering the origin of the word. Anyone who has spent time around natural gas pipelines knows that gas leaks are often marked by really nasty smelling soils, often very dark in color, indicating oxygen deficiency. The smell and the color are both the result of bacterial action. The leak has to be really serious before the threat of an explosive event is significant. I suppose that if the Arctic Ocean really warmed up abruptly, we could see methane enter the atmosphere as clathrates melted. That could occur much more rapidly than the little guys could respond, but astonishingly, that would mean that a warming event drove the gas levels, not vice versa. Oops.

Albert Paquette
August 19, 2015 7:54 am

That would seem to agree with some variation of the weak anthropogenic principle: The earth must be a very stable and homeostatic place, otherwise we wouldn’t have had the billions of years necessary to evolve from some primitive single-cell entity into a complex, self-aware, reasoning creature. Thus, the very fact of our having the intelligence to debate climate change is strong evidence that the climate hasn’t changed all that much in the past and is very unlikely to change enough in the future to worry about.. My money is on negative feedback (probably cloud albedo effects) when it comes to regulating greenhouse warming.

michael hart
August 19, 2015 8:01 am

Well it’s a shame that it is an “as-yet unknown” species of bacteria that they claim is oxidizing methane efficiently to methanol. The petrochemical industry will pay a huge sum of money for an efficient low temperature catalyst.
Alternatively, these people are just speculating wildly.

george e. smith
Reply to  michael hart
August 19, 2015 8:24 am

What do you mean it is an unknown species of bacteria ?
It is the species of bacteria that eats methane.
Translate that into mediaeval Roman mumbo jumbo, in three words or less, and there you have its name !

Reply to  george e. smith
August 19, 2015 9:05 am

Methanotroph, methanophile, chemotroph
They oxidize CH4 to CH2O/formaldehyde/sugar in chemosynthesis.

Reply to  michael hart
August 19, 2015 8:38 am

I presume its the same bacteria which consumed the methane released by BP in the Gulf of Mexico.
Science is no longer “speculating wildly”

Reply to  MojoMojo
August 19, 2015 8:41 am

Methylocella silvestris

michael hart
Reply to  MojoMojo
August 19, 2015 9:00 am

Does it live in the arctic? Why didn’t they test for activity?

michael hart
Reply to  MojoMojo
August 19, 2015 9:10 am

They also appeared to speculate directly about the chemical sequence, implying significant detectable methanol. Which was the bit that attracted my attention. Oxidizing methane is not the difficult part. Stopping at methanol before further oxidation takes place is much harder.

Reply to  MojoMojo
August 19, 2015 1:01 pm

Depends. The bacteria they describe in the article lives on land, and consumes methane from the atmosphere (air). These are aerobic bacteria. There are both aerobic and anaerobic bacteria living in the oceans and lakes of the world too. Some consume methane, some consume sulfur, some live along cold seeps, others along hydro thermal vents which are really hot. Look up Acidobacteria.

Reply to  MojoMojo
August 20, 2015 11:29 am

Obviously petrolium and methane eating bacteria don’t exist in the arctic as evidenced by submarine [periscopes] covered with tar after punching through the ice during the cold war.

Reply to  michael hart
August 19, 2015 9:39 am

There are known methane-oxidizing enzymes from known bacteria. The authors of this study did find the genes encoding such enzymes in their soil samples, but the abundance was low, so they assume that there may be other, as yet unknown enzymes with similar activity. Generally speaking, only a minority of soil organisms can be cultivated and characterized in isolation, so this study is no more or less hand-wavy than others.
Methanol is indeed only the first intermediate of microbial methane oxidation. The bacteria would derive no advantage from producing it; instead, they oxidize it further, either all the way to CO2 for the sake of energy production, or only to formaldehyde, which they then assimilate it to intermediate metabolites and macromolecules. So, using these microbes for methanol fermentation from methane would not be easy. The situation is different from ethanolic fermentation. Many organisms ferment glucose to lactic acid, but some dispose of the latter by converting it to ethanol. Thus, to these organisms, ethanol is not an intermediate but a final product of metabolism.

Reply to  Michael Palmer
August 19, 2015 11:43 am

Thanks, well said Michael Palmer. It’s interesting that the photosynthetic autotrophs utilize CO2, whereas the methanogens use CH4.

Reply to  Michael Palmer
August 19, 2015 2:59 pm

Studies have methanophiles in the Australian Alps and in the north Australia grasslands/ dry tropics. Methane is not a problem.
Jet cloud has always moved north and south of the equator. It seems to control the monsoons and where they fall.
Good luck with controlling them.

Reply to  Michael Palmer
August 19, 2015 9:45 pm

Several companies are well into this for obvious reasons – scroll down this Motley Fool article on Intrexon for a cost comparison of natural gas vs sugar as a feedstock:
There was work on this going on on the lower tech side of this 20 – 30 years ago too, without too much success, but there’s a good chance of it happening this time (some organisms, for example, can live on methanol as a sole carbon source). Methane to fish food technology seems to have resurfaced too:

Joel Snider
August 19, 2015 8:02 am

But… but… the lack of a problem is no reason not to regulate. Is it?

Mark from the Midwest
Reply to  Joel Snider
August 19, 2015 8:21 am

We need more money to study the problem so we can regulate it so that it doesn’t re-appear. It’s sort of like the super-double-secret probation in Animal House.

Jim G1
August 19, 2015 8:17 am

“• Calculations show that powerful interventions are needed to cool the Arctic”. Has anyone seen these calculations and upon what data they are based?

Greg Woods
Reply to  Jim G1
August 19, 2015 9:18 am

I think that they are Powerful Interventions by G’d.

george e. smith
August 19, 2015 8:20 am

I thought that the bacteria made the methane. Isn’t methane a sure sign of intelligent life somewhere ??
Now you say they eat the stuff too ?
So bacteria are also baketeria, and they chef their own food.
Wunnerful !

Reply to  george e. smith
August 19, 2015 9:59 am

I think cows are a more common source in the macroscopic world. Cows are intelligent; they are also malignant, evil minded, Machiavellian critters. They are one of the most successful life forms on the planet because they successfully domesticated humans about five to seven thousand years ago.

Reply to  Duster
August 19, 2015 10:40 am

“I think cows…are one of the most successful life forms on the planet because they successfully domesticated humans…”
And I’d say you’ve never been a human companion for a cat.

Reply to  Duster
August 19, 2015 11:01 am

Companion? I think “slave” is the word you are looking for.

Reply to  Duster
August 19, 2015 3:01 pm

Once cats learned to imitate the tonal characteristics of a crying human infant, the outcome was never in doubt.

Joel O’Bryan
August 19, 2015 8:28 am

AMEG just needs to call-in the EPA pollution response On Site Coordinator to mitigate the dangers lurking beneath their feet.
Who ya gonna call???…. Gina’s GHG busters
Someone needs to make a parody song of GhostBusters gone EPA Response Team and send them to the Arctic.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
August 19, 2015 8:31 am

carrot orange tundra anyone???

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
August 19, 2015 10:34 am

The EPA mitigation results on the Arctic’s methane are in:
Pepto Bismol anyone??
But don’t worry, EPA Administrator Gina McArthy assures us nature will heal itself. Now we aren’t so sure we can survive EPA stupidity.

george e. smith
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
August 19, 2015 1:01 pm

So it’s what the purple pill does !

M Seward
August 19, 2015 8:35 am

Climate scientists don’t actually understand the mechanisms at work ??
How can that be???
This is about stuff on land isn’t it? So it can’t be that ship of fools again, can it?
It must be some sort of disease going around. Climatoid Kleptomania do you think?

August 19, 2015 8:46 am

I call the Eschenbach Principle on the paper. It’s got 18 authors.

van Loon
August 19, 2015 8:47 am

Whew! What a relief.

Peter Foster
August 19, 2015 8:53 am

Can someone enlighten me as to the physical basis for the statement that methane is 25 to 34 times more effective than CO2 ?
The mass factor only accounts for 2.75 times (CO2 = 44 amu, methane = 16 amu) .
The longevity is given as 10 to 12½ years which is far less than for CO2 – one would think that if it is removed more quickly then it is less of a problem.
The difference in the number of bonds that could absorb a IR photon might also account for some of it but it still gets nowhere near 25 times !
It is also misleading as the atmosphere does not contain equal amounts (by mass) of these gases so comparing them by mass distorts the picture completely (no doubt deliberate)

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Peter Foster
August 19, 2015 9:09 am
August 19, 2015 9:03 am

If Peter Wadhams is a “world-renowned expert on Arctic sea ice,” why does it have to be stated in the intro? It’s like saying, “Barack Obama, president of the United States.”
Or maybe he isn’t so “world-renowned.”

Reply to  rovingbroker
August 19, 2015 9:27 am

Wadhams must surely be an embarassment to Cambridge these days. His shrill Arctic ice vanishing statements have all been hilariously wrong, and his “climate science assasins” claims simply bizarre.
Perhaps he’ll take to standing on street corners next, with “The End is Near” sandwich board and a biblical robe.

Jason Calley
Reply to  mikegeo
August 19, 2015 11:03 am

People who crave the disaster-porn of “scientists” like Wadhams can never be bothered to recognize the unending failure of their predictions. The whole point of end-of-the-world predictions is that the reader experiences a quick rush of excitement and holier-than-thou self reflection. The truth or falsity of the prediction does not even enter into the experience.
Just my opinion based on years of observing this phenomenon…

August 19, 2015 9:05 am

Methane-eating bacteria? Are we doomed again?

Celeste Z deBetta
August 19, 2015 9:19 am

If the bacteria eats methane, what does it excrete ?

Reply to  Celeste Z deBetta
August 19, 2015 9:49 am


Reply to  Michael Palmer
August 19, 2015 11:54 am


Reply to  Michael Palmer
August 20, 2015 8:14 am

And plants “eat” CO2 and produce O2, very cool.

Reply to  Celeste Z deBetta
August 19, 2015 12:04 pm

Primarily it produces biomass, research after the Gulf spill showed that it was a very efficient route, ~40-50% conversion. This route in the tropics will be far more effective than in the Arctic, comparison of the Gulf spill and the Exxon Valdez illustrate this.

DD More
Reply to  Phil.
August 19, 2015 12:41 pm

Works up north too.
Along a narrow road down an abandoned railroad grade about 20 miles northwest of Bemidji, a world-class outdoor laboratory lies among the pine trees.
In part, it marks the spot where on Aug. 20, 1979, a Lakehead Company pipeline seam split, spewing about 440,000 gallons of crude oil. It was one of the largest pipeline spills in Minnesota.
Today, the site is one of the most-studied crude oil spills in the world, and after three decades of research, it still produces important findings.
Scientists here discovered that bacteria that break down oil are everywhere, ready to go to work. Even in the northern Minnesota woods there are microbes that eat carbon and break down oil. The population of those bugs explodes when there’s oil in the ground.

August 19, 2015 9:32 am

I think that a significant paper relating to this statement from wadhams et al is this from 2014:
Marine cloud brightening:
regional applications
John Latham, Alan Gadian,,JimFournier
BenParkes,, Peter Wadhams,and Jack Chen
The general principle behind the marine cloud brightening (MCB) climate engineering technique
is that seeding marine stratocumulus clouds with substantial concentrations of roughly monodisperse
sub-micrometre-sized seawater particles might significantly enhance cloud albedo and longevity,thereby producing a cooling effect. This paper is concerned with preliminary studies of the possible beneficial application of MCB to three regional issues: (1) recovery of polar ice loss, (2) weakening of developing hurricanes and (3) elimination or reduction of coral bleaching.
The primary focus is on Item 1. We focus discussion herein on advantages associated with engaging in limited-area seeding,regional effects rather than global; and the levels of seeding that may be required to address changing current and near-term conditions in the Arctic. We also mention the possibility that MCB might be capable of producing a localized cooling to help
stabilize the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
“Marine cloud brightening” appears to be the answer to all the horrors that human intervention has inflicted upon the planet , but I have not yet ascertained how exactly this is to be brought about . More research needed.

Keith Willshaw
Reply to  mikewaite
August 19, 2015 10:04 am

If we are lucky this ‘answer to all the horrors that human intervention has inflicted upon the planet’ won’t work but there is a very real chance that such an intervention would push the planet into a new ice age.
Now that would be Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change.

Walt S
August 19, 2015 9:47 am

Life, uh, finds a way.

August 19, 2015 9:48 am

Bacteria that consume methanol? Don’t they know it will make them go blind?

August 19, 2015 9:48 am

Washington Rules of Order: 1) Never let a good a catastrophe go to waste or be dispelled, and 2) Those stupid Americans will believe anything from Harvard consulting and others. And if they do find out about it that will be too late to undo the policy reach.

August 19, 2015 9:49 am

damn….next thing you know they will discover carbon

August 19, 2015 10:02 am

Just to give everybody perspective on the “methane emergency”, here is Figure 2.2 from AR5’s Chapter 2, Observations Atmosphere and Surface.
Note well this figure ends in 2012 or 2013. Note that atmospheric methane appears, if anything, to be saturating at just under 1800 ppm. Its growth rate has been decreasing across the entire “hockey stick” part of global warming, and it appeared to flatten out completely from 2000 to maybe 2008. There is another figure I’ve seen that compares observed methane concentration to the concentration predicted by models, and they are among the greatest failures of all of the model results, with the wrong curvature let alone the wrong value — methane concentration is supposed to be increasing faster — accelerating — not diminishing.
One is tempted to use methane as a thermometer. If we do, we note that very clearly methane concentration increases more slowly the warmer it gets, apparently approaching a “terminal concentration” that might well be indendent or nearly so of global temperature, or that might be a “tipping point” the other way — any temperatures higher than this will actively decrease average methane concentration in the atmosphere. In that case, it is yet another negative feedback on global warming, as it will autoregulate the total greenhouse effect downward given any further temperature increase.
It also makes one wonder if the small bump in the rate of concentration increase post 2008 is a sign that the atmosphere actually cooled somewhat in that time frame, back to the temperatures extant from 1993 to 1998. At any rate, there is clearly a “pause” as the rate of change of atmospheric methane has had no meaningful trend all the way back to 1993, and its overall clearly negative from 1980 to the present.
Bacteria eating methane is a pretty good explanation for this, but it doesn’t really explain the difference in atmospheric/tropospheric methane concentration between the warmer northern hemisphere and colder southern hemisphere. This difference is really profound. One wonders if it all by itself is responsible for the melting of the arctic and freezing of the antarctic.
Since methane is (apparently) mostly produced by life, not release of oceanic methane, this could be interpreted as yet another side effect of increased CO2, which very clearly boosts the entire biosphere to a higher level — it warms, makes things a bit wetter, directly fertilizes plant growth, indirectly increases nitrogen fixation, and increases transpiration efficiency in C3 (and to a lesser extent C4 and CAM) plants. There is simply more stuff being grown produced every year to rot down into (among other things) methane, both plant matter and animal that eats the plant matter. It is indeed very telling that almost none of the massive bolus of methane released in the Gulf Oil Disaster even reached the surface. It was frozen out at the bottom and eaten on the way up, and hence failed to produce an expected methane plume over the southeast US. Methane, Ozone, NO_x, and OH have a complicated chemistry in the upper atmosphere, as well, that makes it difficult to fully understand the impact of methane on the concentration of other GHGs and aerosols and vice versa.
Overall, it seems pretty reasonable to question any assertion of an imminent methane postive feedback emergency. If anything, methane levels in the atmosphere appear to be levelling, which makes sense if they are mostly the product of and a proxy for the health of the biosphere. It is also consistent with the discovery that methane in water is food, rapidly consumed by bacteria, and it seems not unreasonable that this will prove to be true to at least some extent in wet terrestrial soils as well, methane being consumed on the spot as it is produced and converted into CO2 and water (or methanol, or something else). Unfortunately, papers that look at methane concentrations and use the observational data to argue that there is no emergency and that methane is unlikely to ever be a major player in global warming seem for some reason I cannot father to be popular or common, where papers that allege that methane will — excuse me, “might” (under unspecified and indeed unspecifiable conditions) — produce runaway greenhouse warming seem to be the rule.
Personally, I think a lot more research energy might be put into understanding the difference between NH and SH methane concentration. Methane is very definitely not a well-mixed gas in the troposphere, and that is odd. A second oddity is that methane is extremely “light” — a molecular weight of only 16, less than almost any other component of the atmosphere. One rather expects it to be comparatively light enough to invert comparatively rapidly and be more highly concentrated in the upper troposphere and stratosphere.
However, in the upper troposphere, increased concentration could easily have an anti greenhouse effect — it could represent an additional pathway for atmospheric heat to be lost to a much greater depth than CO2 or H2O. At a saturated concentration, it could actually reduce the rate of greenhouse warming due to CO2 by short-circuiting the radiation resistance and lowering the effective emission height to a lower, warmer layer of the troposphere in its bands. But all of this is very complicated indeed, and I can’t solve the equations in my head either…

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  rgbatduke
August 19, 2015 10:12 am

organic matter exposed to UV can generate methane. It can also be released from carbonaceous chondrite meteorites as this Nature paper showed. Maybe solar UV is creating methane under diminished stratospheric ozone?

Reply to  rgbatduke
August 19, 2015 5:45 pm

Bacteria eating methane is a pretty good explanation for this….
Since methane is (apparently) mostly produced by life…
– rgb
Methane eating bacteria are–if you think about it logistically–a pretty good reason to doubt the story of biological origin accounting for anything but a tiny fraction of Earth’s methane budget.
Methanotrophs infest the planet from pole to pole, from the deepest anoxic sediments to the oxygen-rich surface. More than 80% of all methane produced below the ocean is consumed by anaerobic microbes before it reaches the sediments, leaving less than 20% for
i) aerobic microbes in the sediments,
ii) production of methane hydrates in the sediments, and
iii) aerobic microbes in the water column
Producing methane hydrate from that small portion of the total production budget still gives us around twice the amount of carbon locked up in all known gas, oil and coil reserves, despite the fact that greedy microbes have been eating the stuff for millions upon millions of years.
Methanogens, in contrast, are a niche market microbe that’s hard to find, because it requires a supply of hydrogen or acetic acid in an oxygen-free environment. That is why the microbes responsible for all the methane hydrates on Earth remain hypothetical and surreal.
“Below the seafloor, an unknown but potentially vast biosphere of microbes may be making the methane that percolates upward. ”

Reply to  Khwarizmi
August 19, 2015 9:25 pm

If you take the current estimated volcanic Carbon production at some few tenths of a GtC per year and multiply it by, say, 3 billion years, you get an awful lot of Carbon for the wee beasties to work with that is totally unaccounted for by many orders of magnitude in the reservoirs of any published Carbon Cycle. Carbon cannot leave the planet. Only Hydrogen and Helium can.
This metabolism can be all anaerobic and the beasties have been at it for well over 3 billion years. We oxidizers think nothing but photosynthesis and oxidation, but an entirely different balanced reducing world is possible…even likely.

August 19, 2015 10:30 am

While some higher level lifeforms were inconvenienced and even injured, the bacteria had a feast on the oil spill in the Caribbean Sea, too. Bacteria are Earth’s, and, it seems, man’s best friend, too.

August 19, 2015 10:39 am

Whatever they did it worked! The ice is returning to the North Pole and Santa will not drown.
I think the plan was to gather all the ice machines from fast food joints in Canada, and have them continually dump ice in the ocean on the west coast of Ellesmere Island.
Bravo for these scientists, their quick thinking and more importantly, their quick action.

Harry Passfield
August 19, 2015 12:22 pm

Arctic warming and sea ice decline in a vicious cycle

Now, I’ve heard of ‘vicious circles’, but is a ‘vicious cycle’ some form of two-wheeled transport minus the saddle?

Reply to  Harry Passfield
August 19, 2015 1:57 pm

Ouch! A few years back when I lived in suburbia, a neighbor’s kid rode one of those and ended up in the hospital with a temporary colostomy.

August 19, 2015 1:17 pm

Measured in parts per billion – data doesn’t look too scary to me (similar to the CO2 scare – predictions vs observed):

jim hogg
August 19, 2015 2:01 pm

All we need now to spoil the whole show is bacteria that consumes Co2 . . . GM preferably!

Reply to  jim hogg
August 19, 2015 2:10 pm

Jim that job’s been covered by photosynthesis for millennia.

Reply to  Dawtgtomis
August 19, 2015 2:12 pm

…not to mention photosynthetic bacteria.

August 19, 2015 2:09 pm

Hint to alarmists: These bacteria produce CO2 as a waste product. Better jump on that.

August 19, 2015 6:02 pm

This Wadham guy reminds me of Yasser Arafat.
Intoxicated lying for living does something distinct, Baghdad-Bob-like to your face.

Ray Boorman
August 19, 2015 7:30 pm

(sarcasm ahead alert for those who type before they think)
This threat is so dire & immediate that it is imperative that all nuclear weapons in the world be detonated immediately. Destroying humanity is the only way to save humanity…. or at least me & my bevy of 20 yr old beauties hiding deep in my bunker. I don’t give a rip about the rest of you.

Olaf Koenders
August 21, 2015 4:20 pm

“Due to methane having a greater GHG warming factor, a potential of 34 times that of CO2 over 100 years..”

It was well known that CH4 had a warming potential of 23 times that of CO2. Now suddenly – via Wiki of course – the goalposts have been moved. Sounds like Connolly at work all over again.

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