Large, Troubling Methane Pulse Coincides With Arctic Heatwave, Tundra Fires

Siberian Heatwave July 23

Temperature color graphic. Areas in red indicate temperatures in the range of 77-86 degrees (Fahrenheit) but may not fully capture daily maximum temperatures.

(Image source: Arctic Weather Maps)

During a murder investigation, sometimes you find traces of smoke from a gun fired in relation to the crime. In other cases, sometimes you find the gun itself. Even more rarely, do you find a smoking gun dropped at a still fresh crime scene. Such was the case with the Arctic today.

The crime scene: another anomalous Arctic heat wave. The suspect: human caused climate change. The accessory: Arctic amplification. The smoking gun: major methane emission in the Arctic.


Yesterday, I reported that a large Arctic heat wave had settled over Siberia, once again setting off tundra fires. The heat wave was so intense that it pushed temperatures in a range of 77 to 86 degrees all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean even as it caused numerous massive blazes to emerge both on open tundra and throughout Siberia’s boreal forests. Atmospheric conditions — a Jet Stream mangled by human caused climate change and a large heat dome had enabled the formation of this heat wave.

But now we find something even more ominous than evidence that human global warming is moving the Jet Stream about all while pushing polar amplification into such a high gear that the terms ‘Arctic Heat Wave’ and ‘Tundra Fire’ have now become common meteorological parlance. And that thing is a large and disturbing methane pulse.


(Image source: Methane Tracker)

On July 21-23, a large methane emission in which numerous sources caused atmospheric spikes to greater than 1950 parts per billion flared over a wide region of Arctic Russia and the Kara Sea. This event was so massive that an area of about 500 x 500 miles was nearly completely filled with these higher readings even as a much broader region, stretching about 2,000 miles in length and about 800 miles at its widest, experienced scores of large pulses. You can see a visual representation of these emissions in yellow on the image above, provided by Methane Tracker which compiles data provided by NASA’s Aqua Satellite.

As noted above, this major event coincided with a large Arctic heat wave and numerous tundra fires that raged throughout the region. Another unprecedented occurrence in a summer of strange weather and mangled climate.

Conditions in Context

Average global methane levels are currently around 1830 parts per billion (Mauna Loa surface data). This level, about 1130 parts per billion higher than the pre-industrial average of 700 parts per billion represents an additional global warming forcing equal to at least 28% of the added CO2 forcing provided by humans. It has long been a concern among scientists that the Arctic environment, as it is forced to warm by human-caused climate change, would emit an additional significant volume of methane from carbon stocks locked in tundra and in methane stores sequestered on the sea bed. Since methane has between 25 and 105 times the heating potential of CO2, the possible added additional warming is quite substantial.

In the 2000s, a number of Arctic researchers found disturbing evidence of methane emissions coming directly from the Arctic environment. In 2013, NASA began its CARVE mission to more clearly define the Arctic’s response to human-caused warming. Its preliminary research has found methane plumes as large as 150 miles across.

Overall, the Arctic environment is already clearly adding its own methane to the global mix. We can see this in local Arctic methane measurements that average around 1900 parts per billion and above in many Arctic locations. These readings are about 70 parts per billion above the global average. This week’s large methane pulse where a broad region experienced methane levels of 1950 to 1980 parts per billion is yet more evidence that the Arctic is beginning to provide a dangerous and troubling amplifying feedback to the already break-neck pace of human warming. In total, around 2,500 gigatons of methane are thought to be locked in carbon stores both in the Arctic tundra and in hydrates (frozen methane and water) on the Arctic Ocean floor.

Though a dangerous and troubling addition to a human-caused warming that is already changing the world’s weather in harmful and damaging ways, this particular methane pulse is not yet evidence of runaway global warming. In a runaway, Arctic methane emissions would likely exceed 500 megatons per year, which would be enough to raise global levels by about 150 parts per billion or more annually. Such a runaway would be a global nightmare requiring an unprecedented human response if Earth’s life support systems were to be preserved in any rough corollary to what we enjoy today. Though such an event is probably still low-risk (but perhaps as high as 10-20 percent), it cannot be entirely ruled out due to the speed and violence at which human greenhouse gas emissions are altering Earth systems.

So the prudent course would be for a rapid response as if such an event were imminent. The reason is that a runaway methane emission in the Arctic would cause severe and untold damage and harm.

To this point, Peter Wadhams is warning that about 50 gigatons of methane are at risk of rapidly destabilizing should the Arctic sea ice melt in the next two years. The region in which these methane stores are locked is the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a shallow sea that is very vulnerable to rapid warming and methane release. Wadhams notes:

The loss of sea ice leads to seabed warming, which leads to offshore permafrost melt , which leads to methane release, which leads to enhanced warming, which leads to even more rapid uncovering of seabed. If a large release has not occurred by 2016 the danger will be continuously increasing. It is thought that at 2-3C of global warming, which means 6-8C of Arctic warming, methane release from permafrost on land will be greatly increased.

Those who understand Arctic seabed geology and the oceanography of water column warming from ice retreat do not say that this is a low probability event. I think one should trust those who know about a subject rather than those who don’t. As far as I’m concerned, the experts in this area are the people who have been actively working on the seabed conditions in the East Siberian Sea in summer during the past few summers where the ice cover has disappeared and the water has warmed. The rapid disappearance of offshore permafrost through water heating is a unique phenomenon, so clearly no “expert” would have found a mechanism elsewhere to compare with this.

Perhaps, equally troubling, is that large regions of permafrost are now also thawing. In the Hudson Bay region, an area that saw unprecedented heat, dry conditions and wildfires this year, permafrost temperatures have risen by .45 degrees Celsius. Peter Kershaw, an adjunct professor of earth sciences at the University of Alberta, who was in Churchill recently on a research project noted:

“It’s a big concern and so far not well-quantified. That organic material is being made available for decomposition. It’s out of the freezer and sitting on the counter.”

Though most climate scientists do not currently believe that such a rapid release of methane is possible over such a short period, we do have to ask ourselves — what if Wadhams and others like him are right? In such a case we could see a catastrophic warming of up to 5 degrees C by 2050, far beyond anything mainstream models or paleoclimate would suggest. But the human rate of climate forcing that is now more than ten times anything seen during the geological record puts us in a context that is entirely out of previous reckoning. So these warnings by Wadhams should be listened to, heeded, and taken into account. (Hat Tip to commenter Colorado Bob for the head’s up on these articles).

More likely, however, is that a combination of methane release from the tundra and the ocean floor and a loss of albedo (reflectivity) due to ice sheet loss will result in an effective doubling or more of the initial human greenhouse gas forcing over the coming decades and centuries. Such a response is still very dangerous in that it risks locking in, long term, already damaging changes to the world’s environments. Should the Earth System fully respond to the 400 ppm CO2 and 1830 ppb methane we’ve already achieved through our emissions , we can expect at least a 3 degree Celsius global temperature increase and long-term sea level rise of between 25 and 75 feet. Such changes would severely damage both human infrastructure and the environments upon which human-based agriculture depend for its now vast food production. In addition, a 24% increase in the hydrological cycle and a number of destabilizing changes to the world’s weather systems would cause severe added damage.

A rapid Earth Systems feedback response risks these changes at current greenhouse gas levels. And since we are now seeing both methane release and ice sheet response, a level of these feedbacks are already in play, showing a far greater risk than initial forecasts indicated. Further greenhouse gas emissions risk even more damaging potentials, possibly locking in ever-greater consequences. For this reason, any global policy that does not seek to fully mitigate such new and over-riding risks by planning a complete phase out of carbon emissions is an unconscionable policy to open the door to immeasurable harm to human lives and the living systems of our world upon which we depend.

These first methane burps are a warning for us to act now, before our capacity to act is seriously degraded and before events start to spiral beyond the point of rational control. We have had other warnings which we have, so far, mostly ignored. And though the responses by the Obama Administration and World Bank to de-fund new coal plants are encouraging, we should redouble our efforts now, lest we enter an age of bitter regret as the consequences of our carbon emission form a trap that is difficult or impossible to escape.

Leave a comment


  1. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    More very disturbing news on our climate situation. The Secular Jurist highly recommends following the robertscribbler blog to stay abreast of the evolving anthropogenic effects to Earth’s biosphere.

  2. Oh, shit…

  3. Steve

     /  July 24, 2013

    Well at least I was able to enjoy 18 hours thinking there wasn’t any reason to be concerned about drastic effects from methane anytime soon! LOL!

    • Sorry Steve! New events!

      I had thought about our comments and how ironic they seem now. But the point I was trying to make was that there is much reason to be concerned even if large methane releases on the order of a runaway are not happening now. I guess I failed in that communication!

      I had not meant to remove your worries entirely, but to give reasonable probabilities. The article here gives far better total context than any of my comments.

      Best regards.

  4. Steve

     /  July 24, 2013

    It appears new events are going to continue taking place at an alarmingly increasing pace. I’ve been fascinated by and have been following weather events pretty close the last couple years. The jet stream issues that surfaced in July were loud alarm bells going off. Now I’m reading about some guy named Wadham predicting total summer ice loss in two years. Going by gut feeling alone, I have a feeling that will be catastrophic. I don’t think anyone has a clue of the impact that would have immediately. What will we know in six months from now?

  5. You’ve shown your true colors – pissy little fairy who can’t learn from others and gets offended very easily. What a joke. Your knowledge is confined to climate and little else.

    • You know, I kind of like that.. ‘pissy little fairy.’

      Never piss off a Fae, for we are the wrath of nature herself. And nature, as some of you doomers well know, all too surely bats last.

      As for my so called lack of knowledge on energy… I am in the process of proving you wrong.

      Good bye, Mike, I’ll miss your little doomer ambushes and all the rationalizations as to how fossil fuels are the only valid energy sources. I hope the dirty, dangerous and depleting energy corps paid you for your efforts, you worked hard enough on their behalf.

    • Obviously, too many x-rays isn’t a good thing.

  6. james cole

     /  July 25, 2013

    First time commenter here. But a regular reader for some weeks now. Anyways, the Arctic this year seems to indicate that last year was not a “one-off” or a “fluke” but is part of the pattern of extreme warming at high latitudes.
    We see feed backs here, no? Like melted arctic sea ice helping to unglue the jet stream which has now allowed this extreme heat to be locked in over Siberia, thus speeding up all arctic melting. A classic feedback. Now less ice ,or soon no ice, could make the Jet Stream act even more extreme, lock in more heat domes, etc. etc.
    Some have commented that IF the ice all goes in summer in the next few years, this could unlock a set of extreme weather events, and flip climate to a new state as well.
    Given that a melted arctic is far in the past, it would be good to look at climate when last the arctic sea was devoid of ice in summer.
    I also note that the mass of evidence in 2013 that global warming is real, picking up steam and causing new extremes in weather, has only caused the deniers to up their game of lies and confusion tactics. They act with desperation now that the global warming is right in all our faces, impossible to deny, but the deniers can still muster the lies needed to present the fossil fuel industry case that global warming is a liberal hoax, and the earth is cooling.

    • That’s an insightful assessment. Thanks for jumping in after lurking for a few weeks.

      My thoughts are that things will probably proceed for a decade or two or three as you describe, then switch to something quite violent as Greenland melt amps up. Hansen warns of continent size frontal storms that pack the strength of hurricanes, making Sandy look like a midget.

      In any case ‘normal’ weather is a goner.

  7. Thank you! I had been wondering about that heat. It is obvious that the Siberian melt area is spectacular, and this sheds light on the topic (borrowed for my quixotic efforts at education elsewhere, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery).

  8. Summer cyclone chewing up Canada’s Arctic sea ice

    Arctic scientists are watching in awe this week as a raging summer cyclone tears up what could become a record amount of rotting northern sea ice.

    “We’re really watching this year with a lot of fascination,” said Matthew Asplin, an Arctic climatologist at the University of Manitoba……………….
    Cyclones are not unusual in the Arctic, but seem to be changing in recent years, said David Barber, one of Canada’s top sea-ice experts.

    “These cyclones are not getting more frequent, but they are getting deeper — which means stronger,” he said.

    And they’re getting harder on sea ice, which they break up through wave action associated with high winds and through rainfall, which darkens the ice and makes it absorb more solar energy. The storms also bring up water from the depths, which is actually warmer than surface water.

    Cyclones can destroy large amounts of ice very quickly.

    “In 2009, we actually documented one of these events in which large, multi-year ice floes — Manhattan-sized — broke up in a matter of minutes,” said Barber.

    Read more:

    • Thanks for the heads up and for the pertinent link. Those guys down on the Arctic circle have been making noise about this for a few years now. Good to see they’re finally getting press.

      And, yeah, that ice is about as rotten as rotten can be. My opinion is that Wadhams is probably right about sea ice. We’d better all hope to God he’s wrong about Methane.

  9. The man who should have been on the cover of Rolling Stone –
    The Dark Snow Project
    “25 June, 2012, on his way for his 23rd Greenland expedition, sitting in New York’s Laguardia airport terminal, writing a blog on Greenland’s declining reflectivity (a.k.a albedo), Box beheld the crowded waiting area with crowds glued to TV monitors that blared news about record setting Colorado wilderness. Box’s research had linked Greenland’s albedo decline with the warming of the past decade, but was wilderness soot making the ice even darker? “From the airport, Box rang snow optics expert Dr. Tom Painter to ask if snow surface samples could identify wilderness soot and its source (Colorado? Siberia? Arctic Canada?) and whether it was possible to discriminate between industrial and wilderness soot. Painter: ‘YES’.” The Dark Snow Project stems from Box’s “unified theory” of glaciology. He wondered if “tundra fires in Canada, massive wildfires in Colorado, and pollution from coal-fired power plants in Europe and China had sent an unexpectedly thick layer of soot over the Arctic region last summer, which settled onto Greenland’s vast frozen interior, increasing the amount of sunlight the snow and ice absorbed, which in turn accelerated the melting.” – See more at:

    • Another great reference. Box is doing some very important work. And, I agree, he should have been on Rolling Stone’s cover.

      Did you notice the earlier Los Alamos study?

      • Did you notice the earlier Los Alamos study?
        No , I missed that one :
        Today’s pass over Russia :

        I was looking at this area today , on the Wunder maps . The 10 day forecast is calling for more 80F to 90F degree days. This thing is really getting rolling.

      • It’s more complicated than that. I noticed the Box article in an prominent location on the cover, but the controversy over Tsarnaev’s picture buried it, and many newsstands are not carrying it (particularly in Boston). They are selling like hotcakes on ebay. Jason Box’s hard work has been put on a back burner.

        Climatecrocks gives you the picture; please take a look. I was horrified when the news broke over a week ago and I saw the issue, because so much work goes into getting something like this out, and now it’s over and done. I wish Rolling Stone would reissue the Box article, but what a hope.

  10. Warm is the new normal, say Atlantic oceanographers
    The average temperature of the Atlantic Ocean is up 4 degrees compared to last year, according to Dalhousie University oceanographers.

    The trend is being traced from the Florida coast up to Newfoundland, affecting native flora and fauna and causing concern among fishermen.

    Fisherman Mark Debaie said he’s never seen water this warm so early in the year.

    “It was 70.2 degrees there yesterday. A lot warmer than it should be,” he said.

  11. T.O.O.

     /  July 26, 2013

    Who was xraymike69 and what the heck was he talking about? His logic and verbiage makes me think he is a graduate of the Steve Goddard School of Etiquette.

  12. Bush Family bought a gigantic Estancia in Paraguay 3+ years ago that sits over one of the largest aquifers. Think they have info that we don’t? Hmmmm.

  13. What is actually happening is that the summer sea ice now retreats so far, and for so long each summer, that there is a substantial ice-free season over the Siberian shelf, sufficient for solar irradiance to warm the surface water by a significant amount – up to 7C according to satellite data. That warming extends the 50 m or so to the seabed because we are dealing with only a polar surface water layer here (over the shelves the Arctic Ocean structure is one-layer rather than three layers) and the surface warming is mixed down by wave-induced mixing because the extensive open water permits large fetches. So long as some ice persisted on the shelf, the water mass was held to about 0C in summer because any further heat content in the water column was used for melting the ice underside. But once the ice disappears, as it has done, the temperature of the water can rise significantly, and the heat content reaching the seabed can melt the frozen sediments at a rate that was never before possible. The authors who so confidently dismiss the idea of extensive methane release are simply not aware of the new mechanism that is causing it.

  14. The Rolling Stone article on Jason Box reported the Jakobshavn glacier is advancing at 170 feet a day .
    I wrote about the Jakobshavn glacier in 2007, and have been following it for 8 years. So when this article reported the speed of the glacier at 170 feet a day, I went and looked up what the numbers were:

    ” So, it went from 113 feet a day in 2005 to 135 a day in 2007 ….. 22 feet a day faster.
    In 2 years, the Jakobshavn Glacier has increased it’s speed by nearly 20%.”

    So in 8 years, the Jakobshavn Glacier has increased it’s speed by just under 50%.

  15. One more thing , take a look at the lakes in the bottom of the frame, and tell me what you think we are seeing ?

  16. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for your references to my website and even more, your use of

    I had one question. In the blog post above you stated “Average global methane levels are currently around 1830 parts per billion.”

    We crossed an average of 1800 ppb in 2011. The highest average mean this year, according to a full orbit coverage from the METOP 2 IASI CH4, has been 1807 ppb in any 12 hour period.

    So I am curious if you meant 1803 ppb instead of 1830? If you are finding a report of a global average of 1830 ppb, would you share the source?



    • Cheers A4R, I’m using the NOAA ESRL average at Mauna Loa for surface conditions (rounded to the nearest 10). The satellite measure is probably more accurate when considering total atmospheric volume and I’ll seriously consider using it in the future and marking changes appropriately.

      Best wishes and thanks for the fantastic work RE methane tracking.


      • Hi Robert,

        Thanks for your very helpful reply both here and on the ASI Board. It gave me a chance to understand what the base was in your article, which I really appreciated. I found some new sources form your post.

        BTW, I have collected CH4 layers from the METOP 2 satellite since January, 2013, and one file I am creating is the highest mean methane reading for every 12 hour period which will be YTD sometime this week. I will also start posting those on the ASIB and my site, once I hace some time.

        We are updating methanetracker and adding more reporting. Keep watching for more uses and if you can, please register and post comments or how you find it useful.

        All the best,


  17. Aqua/MODIS
    07:40 UTC

    Smoke and fires across central Russia

  18. Interesting that you should pick up on the recent warming in Hudson bay there’s just been a new study out which says that it looks as if the bay has recently reached an ecological tipping point related to the shift in temperature.

  19. There was one sentence I picked up on on a re-read:
    “In such a case we could see a catastrophic warming of up to 5 degrees C by 2050, far beyond anything mainstream models or paleoclimate would suggest.”

    I’m not sure I agree with this entirely. The climate models may not predict such catastrophic and rapid rates of warming – but paleoclimate does contain examples of truly abrupt climate change, at least under certain conditions. One such example would be the Younger Dryas:

    I quote from that link:

    “The end of the Younger Dryas, about 11,500 years ago, was particularly abrupt. In Greenland, temperatures rose 10° C (18° F) in a decade”

    Although this paper seems to argue the reverse – that the freezing was very rapid and the warming less so (one would need to look at the details to see if both were possible eg if different temperature measurements were being referred to).

    I have held the view for some years now that truly abrupt climate change is entirely possible – at least over substantial regional areas.

    “The events are rapid: they last around 750 years, and their abrupt onset may occur in mere years (Maslin et al.. 2001).”

    I appreciate not all my examples are analogs for the modern day – but the general principle matters too – that abrupt changes are entirely possible and likely in a general sense (my personal conclusion is that changes in glacial state happen rapidly – abruptly even – due to albedo and shallow water clathrate feedbacks – and the general link between methane and temperature is as solid as between carbon dioxide and temperature).

    The violent and abrupt transition through thresholds seems more the norm for the earth system than gentle linear changes – at least for larger peturbations such as the one we are introducing through very substantial changes in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. There are few past analogs for our current rate and magnitude in this respect.

    Another concern is the scope for transitions to conditions that might lead to extended drought (sometimes called mega-drought):

    There are plenty of other regions around the world where this could have potentially very serious effects – and I’m not sure it seems a safe assumption to assume that the transition occurs slowly (ie decades vs years). Even if the transition is gradual of course, the impact on society may be abrupt – social stresses accumulating until a breaking point is reached (which can be deceptively minor sometimes).

    Finally – and there is no certainty here:

    They’re saying the world appears to be warmed 5C in 13 years if memory serves. My understanding is that’s the world – not a specific region – though the paper is a little technical for me and needs more time to try to pick apart and understand.

    However, there seems no credible mechanism (including those proposed in the paper itself – the rate and magnitude of the addition of 13C carbon they are postulating is verging on the incredible) for doing so given the background circumstances of the PETM. It remains an awkward puzzle therefore, while at least making the notion of major regional changes seem relatively mundane and tame to contemplate.

    In conclusion my suspicion is that people have tended to assume that climatic changes are usually slow and gradual for the simple reasons that we cannot contemplate easily how something as large (compared to us) as a planet can change so rapidly and fundamentally – and because it isn’t comfortable to consider that we are rolling the dice and hoping we don’t trigger abrupt events (with an ever greater probability that we do). It’s more comfortable to believe that the planet changes slowly and gradually because then we can continue to delude ourselves that we are in control and can change our behaviour (and the outcome) any time we want to.

    • These are certainly worth investigating. The new PNAS paper adds a bit to the current volume of work pointing to the potential for a truly catastraphic rate of change. That said, it’s certainly not a settled issue. Clearly there was an ongoing forcing before such a rapid switch occurred. It’s really just a question of when and how the inertia breaks down, isn’t it?

  20. My heart weeps for my new born..Only If i would have known this earlier :(..Damn the greedy who bought this upon the innocent and the innocent it seems are too comfortable to change…Man will finally taste the bullshit he created.

    • We are not giving up on anyone’s newborn.

      Warmest regards to you, Birdman. Easter Island reference?

      • I am a naturalist and a nature photographer from India, is my collection of photos.I always wanted to be free as a bird so the name seemed appropriate but given the current circumstances Ra pa-nui bird-man fits too :)..Its curious “Bird man” is Tangata Manu in their language and Manu also means man in hindi… Sanskrit is the source of many words in many languages.

  21. I shared your post 96 however it seems your WP theme doesnt show up well under the browser Demonecromancy I had to use Firefox… hope it is fixed !

  1. Arctic Heat Wave Re-Intensifies Over Central Siberia Setting off Rash of Tundra Fires | robertscribbler
  2. Methane Pulse Coincides With Arctic Heatwave, Tundra Fires - SLUniverse Forums
  3. Another Week of Climate Disruption News, July 28, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered
  4. Heat Dome Wildfires, Methane Pulse Expand, Blanketing Arctic Siberia in Cloud of Dense Smoke | robertscribbler

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: