The Arctic Methane Scare: Oversold

By PAUL C. “CHIP” KNAPPENBERGER and PATRICK J. MICHAELS

Arctic_methane_LA_2[1]

Image source: climateemergencyinstitute.com (no, really)

Methane is all the rage. Why? Because 1) it is a powerful greenhouse gas, that molecule for molecule, is some 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide (when it comes to warming the lower atmosphere),  2) it plays a feature role in a climate scare story in which climate change warms the Arctic, releasing  methane stored there in the (once) frozen ground, which leads to more warming and more methane release, ad apocalypse, and 3) methane emissions are  also be linked to fossil fuel extraction (especially fracking operations). An alarmist trifecta!

Turns out, though, that these favored horses aren’t running as advertised.

While methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide, its lifetime there is much shorter, even as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change can’t quite say how long the CO2 residence time actually is. This means that it is harder to build-up methane in the atmosphere and that methane releases are more a short-term issue than a long-term one. If the methane releases are addressed, their climate influence is quickly reduced.

This is why methane emissions from fracking operations—mainly through leaks in the wells or in the natural gas delivery systems—really aren’t that big of a deal. If they can be identified, they can be fixed and the climate impact ends. Further, identifying such leaks are in the fracking industry’s best interest, because, in many cases, they represent lost profits. And while the industry says it has good control of the situation, the EPA isn’t so sure and has proposed regulations aimed at reducing methane emissions from new and existing fossil fuel enterprises. The recent scientific literature is somewhat split on who is right. A major paper recently published in Science magazine seemed to finger Asian agriculture as the primary suspect for recent increases in global methane emissions, while a couple of other recent studies seemed to suggest U.S. fracking operations as the cause (we reviewed those findings here).

And as to the runaway positive feedback loop in the Arctic, a new paper basically scratches that pony.

A research team led by University of Colorado’s Colm Sweeney set out to investigate the strength of the positive feedback between methane releases from Arctic soil and temperature (as permafrost thaws, it releases methane). To do this, they examined data on methane concentrations collected from a sampling station in Barrow, Alaska over the period 1986 through 2014. In addition to methane concentration, the dataset also included temperature and wind measurements. They found that when the wind was blowing in from over the ocean, the methane concentration of the air is relatively low, but when the wind blew from the land, methane concentration rose–at least during the summer/fall months, when the ground is free from snow and temperature is above freezing. When the researchers plotted the methane concentration (from winds blowing over land) with daily temperatures, they found a strong relationship. For every 1°C of temperature increase, the methane concentration increased by 5 ± 3.6 ppb (parts per billion)—indicating that higher daily temperatures promoted more soil methane release. However (and here is where things get real interesting), when the researchers plotted the change in methane concentration over the entire 29-yr period of record, despite an overall temperature increase in Barrow of 3.5°C, the average methane concentration increased by only about 4 ppm—yielding a statistically insignificant change of 1.1 ± 1.8 ppm/°C. The Sweeney and colleagues wrote:

The small temperature response suggests that there are other processes at play in regulating the long-term [methane] emissions in the North Slope besides those observed in the short term.

As for what this means for the methane/temperature feedback loop during a warming climate, the authors summarize [references omitted]:

The short- and long-term surface air temperature sensitivity based on the 29 years of observed enhancements of CH4 [methane] in air masses coming from the North Slope provides an important basis for estimating the CH4 emission response to changing air temperatures in Arctic tundra. By 2080, autumn (and winter) temperatures in the Arctic are expected to change by an additional 3 to 6°C. Based on the long-term temperature sensitivity estimate made in this study, increases in the average enhancements on the North Slope will be only between -2 and 17 ppb (3 to 6°C x 1.1 ± 1.8 ppb of CH4/°C). Based on the short-term relationship calculated, the enhancements may be as large as 30 ppb. These two estimates translate to a -3 – 45% change in the mean (~65 ppb) CH4 enhancement observed at [Barrow] from July through December. Applying this enhancement to an Arctic-wide natural emissions rate estimate of 19 Tg/yr estimated during the 1990s and implies that tundra-based emissions might increase to as much as 28 Tg/yr by 2080. This amount represents a small increase (1.5%) relative to the global CH4 emissions of 553 Tg/yr that have been estimated based on atmospheric inversions.

In other words, even if the poorly understood long-term processes aren’t sustained, the short term methane/temperature relationship itself doesn’t lead to climate catastrophe.

The favorite thoroughbreds of the methane scare are proving to be little more than a bunch of claimers.


Reference:

Sweeney, C., et al., 2016.  No significant increase in long-term CH4 emissions on North Slope of Alaska despite significant increase in air temperature. Geophysical Research Letters, doi: 10.1002/GRL.54541.

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50 thoughts on “The Arctic Methane Scare: Oversold

  1. Facts don’t matter! Everything is going straigt to hell unless everyone conforms to our form of Gaia worship! That is a a translation of a green press release :-) Yet another disaster scenario bites the dust.

    • … the average methane concentration increased by only about 4 ppm—yielding a statistically insignificant change of 1.1 ± 1.8 ppm/°C.

      Facts? Best to get them straight.

      Maybe the article authors need to check whether they are talking about ppb or ppm . That’s three orders of magnitude of error.

      • “Based on the long-term temperature sensitivity estimate made in this study, increases in the average enhancements on the North Slope will be only between -2 and 17 ppb (3 to 6°C x 1.1 ± 1.8 ppb of CH4/°C).”
        Do these figures give an error that is significantly larger than the signal? If so , why bother?

  2. Methane is less powerful molecule per molecule than carbon dioxide. This is readily demonstrated by the computer code, Modtran. Carbon dioxide molecules also outnumber those of methane by 235 to 1. How do the warm mongers repeatedly get by with such lies?

    • “Methane is less powerful molecule per molecule than carbon dioxide.”

      You beat me to it. What you say is true. However, I think they can make the claim that methane is more potent because it depends on ratios. If you get a fixed rate of temperature increase per doubling then it would be much easier to double the amount of methane (because there is so little of it) than the amount of carbon dioxide.

      So, starting from current concentrations, adding a molecule of CH4 will have a greater effect than adding a molecule of CO2.

      • If you double CO2 you 235 times as much increase as you do if you double CH4. Each added molecule of CO2 adds more than each added molecule of CH4.

    • I thought the problem with methane is that it absorbs bands that aren’t already saturated by water vapor.

    • bryceuc, glad to see that others recognise the lies about methane see this https://cementafriend.wordpress.com/2011/10/
      graphicconception below, when molecules absorb and transfer heat the only important issues are the wavelengths of absorption & emission in the e-m spectrum, for a gas the absolute partial pressure and the path length of the radiation. Look at some engineering books on heat transfer -physicists and scientists (especially so-called climate scientists aparently have no idea about thermodynamics and heat transfer which was first elaborated by the the French engineers father & son Carnots (also Baron Fourier was a French Engineer)

    • Things to be kept in mind when thinking about atmospheric concentrations and heat “absorbing/emitting” abilities of “greenhouse” gas molecules.
      ——————————————————

      Carbon dioxide (CO2) 383 ppm — 0.0383% —– Specific Heat Capacity – 0.844 kJ/kg K

      Water vapor — (H2O) 40,000 ppm – 4.0000% — Specific Heat Capacity – 1.930 kJ/kg K

      Methane —— (CH4) 1.745 ppm – 0.0001745% — Specific Heat Capacity – 2.220 kJ/kg K

      The average mass of the atmosphere is about 5 quadrillion (5,000,000,000,000,000) metric tons.

      1.9 trillion tons of CO2, …. 200 trillion tons of H20 vapor …. and 8.7 billion tons of CH4

      At 4%, there is 105 times more H2O vapor than CO2, with 2.3 times more heat trapping ability.

      There is 217.8 times more CO2 than CH4, but CH4 has 2.6 times the heat trapping ability.

      There is 22,923 times more H2O than CH4, but CH4 has 1.2 times the heat trapping ability.

      Atmospheric pressure is the weight of all air molecules above the point of measurement.

      Near earth atmospheric pressure at any given point is constantly changing as a result of changes in the air temperature, the ppm of the different gases and the winds.

      High pressure areas are areas of clear skies, Sunny days, higher daytime temperature/lower nighttime temperatures and a lower ppm of H20 vapor. The higher the air temperature, the lower the ppm for all atmospheric gases.

      Low pressure areas are areas of cloudy skies, overcast days, lower daytime temperature/higher nighttime temperatures and a much higher ppm of H20 vapor. The lower the air temperature, the higher the ppm for all atmospheric gases.

      Increased temperatures cause gas volumes to expand decreasing their ppm, decreased temperatures cause gas volumes to contract increasing their ppm.

      The direction and force of the winds are constantly changing as a result of changes in the air temperature.

      The ppm of all atmospheric gases (excluding H2O vapor) in any specific portion of the atmosphere are constantly changing as a result of changes in the air temperature, the winds and the ppm quantity of the H2O vapor. If the air temperature increases or the ppm of H2O vapor increases, the ppm of other gases decrease.

      H2O vapor is the most important solar/infrared energy absorbing/emitting/reflecting gas in earth’s atmosphere.

      H2O vapor is the only highly variable “short term” gas in the atmosphere and its ppm can drastically change within one (1) hour. Humidity, clouds, fogs and mists are all terms describing atmospheric H20 vapor.

  3. You’re no fun!

    And “really aren’t that big of a deal” should be “really aren’t that big a deal”. The “of” is superfluous.

  4. For a real laugh, check out the folks of CEI (climate emergency institute). They are a Canadian-based internet group, and boy are they whackadoodles. I guess Peter Carter is their head whackadoodle:

  5. So the Arctic melt is supposedly way ahead of schedule but didn’t create a tipping point. The released methane isn’t a tipping point. The Atlantic conveyor isn’t a tipping point. The next big El Nino (ie the one that just ended) isn’t looking good as a tipping point. Are there any tipping point theories left?

  6. Oh Dear!

    Katy Walter-Anthony, Methane-Bomb-Girl Loved by U-Tube, NSF-Lov-Chile will not be pleased.

    But really.

    A part per billion is 10 the the minus 3 part of a millionth. So if methane is rising even by one part per millionth per year, it will take a million years to reach 10 to the minus 3 of 1 part in one hundred, i.e. 10 to the minus 3 of a percent. It is still [cut] Insignificant [cut]
    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

    [pruned .mod]

  7. “…the methane concentration increased by 5 ± 3.6 ppb…”
    “…the average methane concentration increased by only about 4 ppm—yielding a statistically insignificant change of 1.1 ± 1.8 ppm/°C.”
    “…between -2 and 17 ppb (3 to 6°C x 1.1 ± 1.8 ppb of CH4/°C).”

    Wow, pretty tight uncertainties. These numbers developed with hexagonal or dodecagonal dice?

  8. It will take a very very long time for one part per billionth change (increase) to equate to 1 part per cent change (increase), if ever.

    Ha ha

  9. From the article and it leaves me confused, so I ask for anyone to explain the measurements going from ppb in the first part to ppm in the last sentence, Am I missing something elementary here?

    For every 1°C of temperature increase, the methane concentration increased by 5 ± 3.6 ppb (parts per billion)—indicating that higher daily temperatures promoted more soil methane release. However (and here is where things get real interesting), when the researchers plotted the change in methane concentration over the entire 29-yr period of record, despite an overall temperature increase in Barrow of 3.5°C, the average methane concentration increased by only about 4 ppm—yielding a statistically insignificant change of 1.1 ± 1.8 ppm/°C. The Sweeney and colleagues wrote:

    Thanks.

    • Its a simple typo, should be ppb throughout. If you look through the second blockquote, where they use the “ppm” numbers, they are given correctly as ppb.

    • I had trouble with that paragraph as well, perhaps the Researchers are trying to obfuscate the fact that while there is a 5 ± 3.6 ppb/1°C change in daily temperatures, that rate of change doesn’t hold over longer time spans.
      A methane trigger-point release is an amplification that is critical to Apocalyptic Global Warming; without it most models only get into the “Bleh” level of warming, which is not nearly scary enough. If the paragraph is saying what I think it is saying, then there is no trigger-point, that can be reached through CO2 induced Warming; there is no evidence that humidity is rising, relative humidity is declining, in short they have nothing to justify the present level of research funding.

  10. 1. There is reason to believe that the climate sensitivity of CO2 is 0.0. So if CH4 is 25 times as potent of a greenhouse gas as CO2, its climate sensitivity is also 0.0

    2. The previous interglacial period was warmer than this one with more ice cap melting and higher sea levels and hence methane release from permafrost then during the current interglacial period must have happened yet no climate tipping point ever happened. The last ice age followed the previous interglacial period.

  11. By 2080, autumn (and winter) temperatures in the Arctic are expected to change by an additional 3 to 6°C.

    But that expectation is based on a positive feedback caused by methane emissions, so less methane means lower temps which means even less methane than originally predicted.

  12. Wow, the Koolaid is flowing freely today. The hubris is astonishing, look up Dunning-Kruger effect then have a good hard think about it. Yes I know, hubris and self-examination are kind of mutually exclusive…

  13. Arctic Methane bomb-

    It always struck me as odd that there wasnt an arctic methane bomb during any of the other warming periods
    As if the methane knows it isnt supposed to manifest itself unless the warming is due to Mann

  14. Ntural gas, 70 to 95% methane perks up all around the earth continuously. It is
    seriously misunderstood.

    In the areas that have large concentrations of it and the rock layers are semi-
    permable, and there is adequate moisture, the microbe culture turn it into very
    rich topsoil, as in Kansas. The topsoil that I tested in Kansas was more than a
    meter thick.

    In the Ukrane, the topsoil is more than two meters thick in places. The microbes
    which consume the gases use the Hydrogen for energy, and excrete the carbon,
    blackening the soil, are aerobic. The depth to which oxygen can penetrate the
    soil limits the depth of the microbeal activity.

    The reason everyone talks about methane only is that in the field testing is
    done mostly with portable hydrocarbon testers. A positive result from these
    machines means only that a flamable hydrocarbon is present.

    In studies using a gas chromatograph, ethane, propane, butane, et. al.
    gases are identified. The paradigm causes these gases to be identified
    as methane when tested by the cheaper machines.

    In the areas of the earth where large quantities of hydrocarbons rise toward
    the surface, the permaebility of the rock layer plays a large part in the reserves
    of hydrocarbons which accumulate under it.

    In the Persian Gulf area, very little escapes to the atmosphere, and the result
    is a very high quality resource, think Arabian Light Crude.

    In Canada and Venezuela, the surface layer is very permable, the light
    hydrocarbons evaporate and tar sands are the result.

    The USEPA and many scientists think that the hydrocarbons that they
    find in the topsoil and call methane are absorbed from the atmosphere.

    Once the gases which are not consumed by the microbal culture reach the
    atmosphere, they rise.

    In the cold reigons of the world, pockets of hydrates which are released from
    their zone of stability initialy overwhelm the local microbal culture and rise into
    the atmocphere. Over time, the local culture can reach a balance.

    The reason that man is charged with releasing large quantities of natural gas
    into the atmosphere in rice producing lands is that when the land is dry,
    the local culture will consume most, if not all of the rising gas. When the paddies
    are flooded, the areobic culture is overwhelmed and the gas does go into the
    atmosphere.

    In the public arena, people have a very hard time understanding PPB. Even
    someone who has spent a lot of time thinking in PPM, like Dr. Knappenberger,
    thinking in PPB is unfamiliar. This being the case, it is easy to demagogue.

    I will list references later today. I am retired and my wife has just given me my
    assignments for the day.

  15. http://www.biogeosciences.net/9/5291/2012/

    As i said above, the source is misunderstood. If they had dug through the soil horizons,
    well into the sub soil and tested with a sophistacated analyzer, they would have found
    natural gas and possibly still not understood the soure. As long as hydrocarbons are
    thought of as fossil fuel, they cannot be understood.

    http://science.sciencemag.org/content/323/5913/478
    G. Etiope’s work has come the closest to my findings that I have yet read.

    http://inside.indiana.edu/editors-picks/research/2013-05-16-iniub-rsch-eternal-flame.shtml

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18244936

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18244936

    This article comes close in some areas, but as you can read, thinking that
    plants are producing abiotic methane is real fantasy.

  16. Methane is all the rage. Why?
    ——————-
    First, I have to apologize, in the prospect that some one else has raised the same point and I missed it by not reading the whole comments this far.

    The main problem with methane or CH4 and all the rage, from my point of view and understanding, has to do mostly with one particular thing related to it.
    Contrary as in the case of CO2 the residence time of CH4 in atmosphere is estimated, “established” and accepted to be very short indeed.
    That in principal as the conditions stand at the present, without any hypothesis or mechanisms to explain AGW and the anthropogenic forcing of human CO2 emissions towards the CO2 concentrations it means that there is no way that the CH4 concentration and it’s increase can be anthropogenic.

    The very short residence time of CH4 in atmosphere means that the acceleration of CH4 concentration in the last 15-20 years has been the same for not saying more than previous, in a time of a hiatus or a plateau in the temps trend.
    The acceleration and the concentration increment of CH4 is considered as unprecedented, same as that of CO2 for not saying worse, even in a bigger factor of increment for the period of the last 150 years approximately. where the CH4 concentration more than doubled for the time in question.

    There is no way under the conditions to claim that the increase is simply due to human ‘s bulk CH4 emissions, but that will not stop the “idiots” to try.
    As things and happenings are showing the “idiots” are not trying simply to cover this up, hide it and be done with it and it’s problems, but it seems like they going a try to pull it around and use it again as a proof of anthropogenic forcing regardless of any rationale and logic.

    As it stands. regardless of what the CH4 means in terms of warming or what ever, it’s increment and acceleration is not anthropogenic unless AGW true.

    Simple conclusion against CO2 anthropogenic forcing, if CH4 concentration increase not anthropogenic for the way it stand, same must be for the CO2,,both unprecedented and both propagating a no eternal system balance, a balance as claimed feverishly by the AGW “scientists” as an explanation of the anthropogenic forcing………The main lion share for both kind of emissions is the oceans, regardless of studies who some how try to imply indirectly the opposite by showing and claiming that some “under-oceanic farting systems never seam to reach the surface or the atmosphere with their CH4 ”
    Regardless of that the oceans still do emit CH4……..and CO2..:)

    CH4 as it stands at this time is a strong kick in the teeth of AGW, there is no way around it as far as I can tell, it can’t be anthropogenic, period.

    cheers

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