Yedoma Region of Russia Showing Significant Methane Pulse

August 7 Methane Pulse, Yedoma

August 7 Methane Pulse, Yedoma

(Image source: Methane Tracker)

August 4-7 saw a large and growing pulse of methane emerging from the Yedoma region of Russia and the Siberian Arctic over the past week. By Wednesday, about 30 percent of the Yedoma region was covered in methane readings exceeding 1950 parts per billion, according to measurements published through the online resource — Methane Tracker.

This pulse emerged in conjuction with late summer fires and heatwaves scorching this massive region of permafrost above or near the Arctic Circle. Yedoma includes a broad expanse of permafrost ranging from Siberia to a shallow sea known as the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. In total, this region is estimated to hold 500 gigatons of carbon locked in, now thawing, tundra.

The region has come under increased scrutiny and study during recent years as temperatures throughout the Arctic and especially in this area have rapidly risen due to human warming. While global temperatures have increased by an average of around .2 degrees Celsius per decade, temperatures in Yedoma have increased by more than twice that rate at a whopping .5 degrees Celsius per decade. As a result, most of the tundra, both land and shallow sea, is subjected to increasing heat forcing and is at greater risk of releasing large volumes of carbon into the atmosphere.

The geographic region of Yedoma and its related loess layers are indicated on the map below. Note the large off-shore region extending into the East Siberian Arctic Shelf:

Yedoma Map with loess deposits.

Yedoma Map with loess deposits.

(Image source: Ole Log)

Originally, it was estimated that Yedoma released about 4 megatons of carbon each year. Instead, recent expeditions have found that the region releases a staggering 44 megatons of CO2 and an estimated 4 megatons of methane. The CO2 emission alone is greater than that pumped out by 1 million automobiles and, since methane is so powerful a greenhouse gas, the forcing provided by the 4 megaton methane emission is nearly twice that.

Recent studies conducted by N. Shakhova have estimated that as much as 50 gigatons of the methane locked in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf could rapidly destabilize and emit over a brief period of 1-50 years. The Shakhova paper is refuted by another scientific paper produced by C. Ruppel who claims that the global .2 degree Celsius temperature increase each decade is not enough forcing for a rapid release. Peter Wadhams, who produced a recent article for Nature, refutes these findings noting that temperatures in the Arctic are warming faster than the global average and that sea ice losses can result in very strong, if briefer, temperature spikes during summer months that provide a powerful forcing to the sub-sea methane. Wadhams observations are refuted by other scientists — notably Gavin Schmidt and David Archer, who favor a slow release scenario based on what they have seen in various climate models.

In context to this scientific argument is the well supported theory that methane release contributed to rapid warming during past global heating events such as the PETM and the Permian-Triassic.

Nevertheless, we have seen a rising methane emission from the Arctic over the past decade. These increases are not indicative of the extraordinarily rapid release Shakhova has warned is possible. But they are still rapid enough to raise local methane levels by a rate of 5-10 parts per billion each year — nearly twice the global rate of increase. What this rate shows is that Arctic methane emissions are occurring at a faster pace and at relatively higher volumes than those in the rest of the world.

The Yedoma spike chronicled above by Methane Tracker is a troubling, though not catastrophic, occurrence. It appears during a time when high temperatures and wildfires are affecting a large region of Yedoma where we see the methane pulse. It is possible that methane seeping up through the tundra from anaerobic pockets where methane-producing bacteria can thrive are venting into the atmosphere as the tundra thaws. During times of high heat forcing, such as periods of late summer at times when human warming has induced more and more Arctic heatwaves, higher volumes of this methane are at risk of venting into the atmosphere. In some places, the methane concentrations are high enough to ignite in fires, as we have seen in numerous melt ponds across the Arctic. In the presence of wildfires driven by Arctic heatwaves, a high rate of methane emission creates a volatile additive to an already anomalous situation.

Major Wildfire Outbreak in the Region of Yedoma and Siberian Russia

Major Wildfire Outbreak in the Region of Yedoma and Siberian Russia

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

Whether or not catastrophic methane spikes of the kind Shakhova and Wadhams warn of will result from human forcing, it is likely that methane and related CO2 emissions will continue to increase throughout the Arctic and at rates far faster than is correlated in the climate record over the past 800,000 years. The carbon store there is vast, and the rate of forcing increase is far faster than at any time in the geological record. For reference, it took about 8,000 years for the Earth to warm out of the last ice age. Temperature increases averaged at a rate of .006 degrees Celsius per decade during this time. The current rate of human-cased warming is more than 30 times that. Yet even with this very slow level of forcing we find atmospheric CO2 and methane levels rising significantly over the ice age to interglacial transition period — with CO2 rising by 100 ppm and methane rising by 300 ppb.

The fact that even such slow forcings can result in such significant responses should serve as a warning when we consider the current, very rapid human temperature forcing. A related, more rapid, Earth Systems methane feedback could quickly overwhelm sinks and provide a much higher relative atmospheric methane level. Meanwhile, as we consider this, very valid, concern, we observe significant and rising methane emissions from the Arctic’s most vulnerable stores. Given these two very valid concerns, it is both prudent and rational to identify rising methane emissions as a current and growing threat.

***

Related: Arctic Methane and Why Sea Ice Matters

Links:

Methane: From Obscurity to Super-Stardom, by Gavin Schmidt

It’s All About Frozen Ground — NSIDC

Extensive Methane Venting to the Atmosphere by Natalie Shakhova

Methane Hydrates and Contemporary Climate Change by Carolyn Ruppel

The Vast Costs of Arctic Change by Chris Hope, Peter Wadhams and Gail Whiteman

Dissolved Organic Carbon Loss From Yedoma Amplified by Ice Wedge Thaw

Kudos to:

Colorado Bob

Prokaryotes

A4R (Methane Tracker)

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19 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Climate Force.

    Reply
  2. Robert, please email me regarding a program for Radio Ecoshock, summarizing events this summer of 2013. radio //at// ecoshock.org

    Reply
    • Cheers Alex. I am on travel and mostly out of Internet contact for Friday and Saturday. I will promptly email you when I return Sunday evening.

      Reply
  3. Read the comments as well folks –
    A rhinoceros is hosed down at the Warsaw zoo where temperatures peaked at 37.0°C (98.6°F) on Thursday, August 8th, the warmest temperature ever measured in the city. Photo by Czarek Sokolowski/AP.

    Other countries are close to setting their national records (and actually may already have done so once late data comes in):

    Bosnia: 42.0°C (107.6°F) at Bihac on August 8th (national record is 43.1°C (109.6°F) at Mostar on August 24, 2007

    Hungary: 40.6°C (105.1°F) at Gyor on August 8th (national record is 41.9°C (107.4°F) at Kiskunhalas on July 20, 2007. It would appear that Budapest has broken or come very close to breaking its all-time heat record with a 39.4°C (102.9°F) reading today.

    Croatia: 39.8°C (103.6°F) at Karlovac with unofficial readings as high as 45°C (113°F) reported. National record is 42.8°C (109.0°F) at Ploce on August 5, 1981.

    San Marino: 39.8° (103.6°F) at Ca Mercato di Serravelle on August 7th (national record is 39.9°C (103.8°F) at San Marino on July 29, 1983

    Slovakia: 39.6°C (103.2°F) at Senica on August 8th (national record is 40.3°C (104.5°F) at Hurbanovo on July 20, 2007

    Poland: 38.0°C (100.4°F) at Sulejow on August 8th (national record is 40.2°C (104.4°F) at Proszkow on July 29, 1921

    Czech Republic: 39.7°C (103.5°F) on August 8th at Brod nad Dyji (national record is 40.4°C (104.7°F) at Dobrichovice on August 20, 2012

    NOTE: The above figures are NOT final with more data coming in. I will update the figures on Friday.

    South America

    In spite of a brief intense cold snap in July, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina are experiencing unprecedented winter heat. Temperatures have averaged more than 10°F above normal for the past month with readings as high as 103°F in Brazil and Bolivia, 100°F in Paraguay and 97°F in Argentina. The very unusual circumstances of heat alerts in the middle of winter have been issued in some locations.

    KUDOS: Maximiliano Herrera for much of the above information.
    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/weatherhistorian/comment.html?entrynum=183#commenttop

    Reply
  4. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for the great post. One thing that could be clearer is that yedoma is an area with a certain physical geography, but not a political area. Thus the caps on Yedoma, leads to an assumption of a political region, versus an area containing yedoma.

    Hope that helps.

    A4R

    Reply
  5. Robert Scribbler, what an amazing site. I’d like to learn more about you. Incredibly prolific. Do you have a day job? I am a long-term climate advocate, and have been deeply concerned about the feedback loops you highlight on this site. Anyway, love to get in touch. website is http://www.climatesolutions.org, email is patrick@climatesolutions.org

    Reply
  6. FAIRBANKS, Alaska – The temperature hit 80 degrees for the record 36th time this summer on Thursday in Fairbanks, and, only 1.44 inches of rain has fallen in Alaska’s second-largest city since June 1, according to the National Weather Service.

    That’s 2.25 inches below normal and makes this summer the fourth-driest on record, meteorologist Ed Plumb told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1czUw74 ).

    There is no precipitation in the forecast for the next week.

    “We’re not getting any August weather any time soon,” Plumb said.

    August is normally the wettest month of the summer, but the Alaska fire season still is cooking.

    Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/08/09/fairbanks-adds-to-record-heat-stretch-36-days-over-80-degrees-with-below-normal/#ixzz2bVerSS4X

    Reply

  7. Forests in Earth’s northern latitudes have been thickened by migrating plant species and younger growth, driving a stronger gyration in the amount of carbon that cycles between land and the atmosphere each year, a new study suggests.


    The net rise in seasonal exchange of carbon between land and air cannot be explained solely by increased burning of fossil fuels, more wildfire or changes in the way the ocean cycles carbon, according to the study published online Thursday in Science. Researchers suspect major ecological changes are behind the trend in an area of the globe that is expected to bear the brunt of climate change.

    Above the 45th parallel that marks most of the U.S.-Canada border, the seasonal flux of carbon absorbed and released has increased about 50% over a half century, the researchers found. Lower latttudes did not exhibit as steep a change.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-forests-carbon-20130808,0,524320.story

    Reply
  8. Robert – what a pleasure to find a sober well focussed site with insightful posts.

    The Yedoma outputs that you report from recent expeditions are to me shocking in their CO2:CH4 ratio.

    In this context I guess you will recall the NSIDC report of 2011, which calculated that permafrost releases could total over 100 gigatons CO2 by 2100, and which offered such choice quotes as:
    “The thaw and release of carbon currently frozen in permafrost will increase atmospheric CO2 concentrations and amplify surface warming to initiate a positive permafrost carbon feedback (PCF) on climate….
    [Our] estimate may be low because it does not account for amplified surface warming due to the PCF itself….
    We predict that the PCF will change the arctic from a carbon sink to a source after the mid-2020s and is strong enough to cancel 42-88% of the total global land sink.
    The thaw and decay of permafrost carbon is irreversible and accounting for the PCF will require larger reductions in fossil fuel emissions to reach a target atmospheric CO2 concentration.”

    “Amount and timing of permafrost carbon release in response to climate warming,” Tellus DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0889.2011.00527.x

    It’s my guess that that report will someday be used in undergraduate tutorials as a case study in optimism bias. For instance, the line “[Our] estimate may be low because it does not account for amplified surface warming due to the PCF itself….” makes a classically absurd use of the word ‘may’.

    The study also wholly ignores the impacts both of interactive time-lagged warming from the six other mega-feedbacks,
    and the direct drivers including increased precipitation due to the poleward migration of rainfall,
    and the warmer winds coming off the de-iced arctic ocean,
    and the extreme heat events and rainfall events due to a destabilized jetstream,
    and the contribution of all these to increasing areas of melt-pools and landslip dam-lakes providing darker surfaces to raise insolation,
    and the contribution of all the above to increasing the saturated anaerobic conditions favouring the conversion of permafrost carbon to methane, not CO2.

    The study then neglects to account any fraction at all of the carbon release as methane.

    Archer did acknowledge separately that there would be a methane output, which he claimed would be not more than 2.7% of total carbon released. Under the critical 20-yr time horizon methane’s CO2e of about 105 means that 3% of carbon emitted as CH4 doubles the total CO2e impact, and 6% roughly trebles it.

    In academic terms Archer’s credibility has now been shot in the arse by the recent study of the vast area of Siberian ‘yedoma’ permafrost, showing it to be already be emitting ~44Mts CO2 and ~4Mts CH4 annually. To get the carbon content by dividing these outputs by 3.664 and 1.333 respectively, gives a ratio of 12.01 to 3.01. That is, about 20% of permafrost carbon is going up as methane, before the diverse drivers listed above have done much acceleration to raise that fraction.

    The point where that report seems to me just dead wrong, twice, is in claiming that “The thaw and decay of permafrost carbon is irreversible, and accounting for the PCF will require larger reductions in fossil fuel emissions to reach a target atmospheric CO2 concentration.”

    First, it is not irreversible; we both can and we must apply Albedo Restoration to cool the planet and halt the seven mega-feedbacks’ acceleration and, incidentally, to stabilize agriculture and avoid intensifying global crop failures. We have no choice in the matter, since emissions control alone doesn’t cool the planet and would simply let the feedbacks rip, with a best case of anthro-warming continuing to around 2080 (i.e. 2050+timelag).

    This issue may be the key to Archer’s conduct and his dismissal of Wadhams’ findings, as the latter recognizes and promotes the imperative need of Albedo Restoration, under stringent UN scientific supervision and mandate, as an essential component of the climate treaty that will legislate global Emissions Control.

    Second, we need to terminate fossil fuel emissions ASAP – perhaps by 2050 – and you cannot cut deeper than zero nor faster than is endurable by the world’s poor. Ending emissions only stops adding to the problem, so to achieve the rational CO2 concentration target of 280ppmv – and thereby to end the ocean acidification and the need of continued Albedo Restoration – we can and we must also employ benign techniques of Carbon Recovery on a massive scale.

    If it is deployed as a new global industry, using a huge area of non-farmland for productive native forestry, with both biochar for soil fertility and coproduct methanol as the profitable yields, we are still looking at around 100 years to get back to 280 ppmv, so a lesser scale will simply be too slow for much of the marine ecology’s survival. Carbon Recovery is thus the third leg of a stable and commensurate climate treaty. (Given the scale, it would require the same stringent UN supervision to accredit sustainable management).

    I may of course be wrong in surmising that Archer has tried to bury the major methane threats because he fears that Geo-E would be allowed to undermine emissions control – he might be just a pig-headed idiot in love with his own model – but he is a senior scientist and must know he’s going way out on a limb in claiming there is no mechanism for what Semiletov and Shakhova and others have already been observing.

    In this context what I find rather puzzling is the lack of MODIS shots of the ESAS plumes – I wonder if you know of any being released ?

    Regards,

    Billhook

    Reply
  9. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for your great work. I wanted to mention that I ran a volume chart -still beta- from 01/01/13 to 08/08/13 (all 100 layers) and it gave me about 600,000 km3 with readings over 1950ppb for this methane pulse. Short and violent. There’s only one venting episode with more volume this year. It lasted only one day in the same area and reached almost 900,000 km3 on 1/18/13, but this one that’s happening right now does cover more km3 over the course of three days.

    Reply
  10. Robert i added your blog’s RSS feed to http://climatestate.com/

    Reply
  11. Ajaytao2010

     /  August 10, 2013

    Nice reading about you

    Thanks for visiting my blog. Be in touch. Browse through the category sections, I feel you may find something of your interest.

    Reply
  12. From the essay:

    In context to this scientific argument is the well supported theory that methane release contributed to rapid warming during past global heating events such as the PETM and the Permian-Triassic.

    The hyperthermals that have occurred since the PETM are perhaps the best parallels in the geologic record to what we might see as the result melting permafrost and shallow methane hydrate deposits. For permafrost, please see for example:

    DeConto, Robert M., et al. “Past extreme warming events linked to massive carbon release from thawing permafrost.” Nature 484.7392 (2012): 87-91.(pdf)

    An introduction to this the possible role of the destabilization of methane hydrates along the continental shelves, people may wish to go here. For something more technical on this topic, please see:

    Zachos, James C., et al. “Tempo and scale of late Paleocene and early Eocene carbon isotope cycles: Implications for the origin of hyperthermals.” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 299.1 (2010): 242-249. (pdf)

    In either case, within a geological context, hyperthermals are fairly brief, lasting only a few tens of thousands of years. This strongly suggests we are primarily dealing with a shallow carbon pool. In contrast, the Permian Triassic Extinction and other major extinctions appear to be primarily due to flood basalt volcanism. Please see:

    Vincent E. Courtillot and Paul R. Renne (2003) On the ages of flood basalt events, C. R. Geoscience 335, 113–140 (pdf)

    .

    Reply
  13. Steve

     /  August 14, 2013

    Extreme events are increasing at an alarming pace. I hadn’t even heard about this from Russia. http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2013_08_14/Over-1-mln-sq-km-flooded-in-east-Russia-official-7191/ Things might be averaging out somewhere near normal in the overall scheme of things, but that is masking the reality of what is taking place.

    Reply
    • Major drought transitions to fire which transitions to deluge. Definitely not normal.

      Reply
    • I’m on this. It appears a huge storm erupted in the region of wildfires I reported on about ten days ago. The storm has continued for at least a week and is still ongoing.

      I’d noticed clouds and thunderstorms associated with a large storm system in the region. But without ground reports there was no way to know how intense it was. Thanks so much for the heads up. Will reference you in the credits.

      Best.

      Reply

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