Arctic Methane Monster Shortens Tail: Shakova, Semiletov Study Shows ESAS Emitting Methane at Twice Expected Rate

ESAS emissions map

(ESAS Bathymetric and Methane Emissions Map. Image source: Nature)

Arctic Methane emissions have been a touchy subject ever since sporadic reports began trickling in during the mid-2000s that volumes of the gas coming from local sources were on the rise. Two of the scientists producing these reports, Igor Semiletov and Natalia Shakova have been observing a key region of the Arctic called the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) since the mid 1990s. At that time, Semiletov and Shakova found no major emissions sources coming from this vast sea whose bottom is composed primarily of carbon-rich submerged tundra.

That all changed in 2010 when an expedition led by Semiletov and Shakova discovered bubbling structures tens of meters across on the shallow and vulnerable ESAS sea bed. Returning in 2011, the pair were surprised and terrified by methane bubbling up from structures as large as 1 kilometer across. During this time Semiletov noted:

“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing. I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them.”

In the period of 2010 to 2013, other regions of the Arctic were also found to be emitting high volumes of both methane and CO2. These regions included but were not limited to Yedoma in Russia, other portions of the Siberian continental shelf, regions off of Svalbard, regions off of Greenland, and regions over Arctic Alaska and Canada (see NASA’s CARVE mission). Though the reports were sporadic and isolated, a picture began to emerge that the vast stores of Arctic carbon — totaling around 5,000 gigatons or a little less than ten times that already emitted via human fossil fuel burning — were beginning to contribute to the world’s atmospheric greenhouse gas stores.

Concern, especially over methane which creates between 25-75 times more warming than an equal volume of CO2, was on the rise. ESAS again fell into focus because about 1,500 gigatons of carbon in the form of methane is thought to be sealed under a now perforated and rapidly melting layer of permafrost. And by winter of 2013, satellite measures were showing an increasing overburden of methane in the atmosphere above the Arctic.

(You can view the 2009 to 2013 time series for January 21-31 below. Note the rapid increase in relative methane concentration. Click on image for higher resolution.)

methane-jan21-31

(Image source: AQUA Satellite, NASA. Image produced by Dr. Leonid Yurganov)

These increasing methane levels were a sign of higher Arctic emissions. And, though concerning, they hadn’t yet risen to the level to indicate the catastrophic release that some scientists feared was possible.

By summer of 2013, Peter Wadhams, a polar researcher with more than 30 years experience studying Arctic sea ice from the vantage of British navy submarines, chimed in with an article published in the prestigious journal Nature entitled Climate science: Vast costs of Arctic change. In the article, Wadhams and his co-authors projected the economic costs of a catastrophic 50 gigaton methane emission from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf over the coming decades. Though the article itself didn’t provide an estimate of how likely such a dangerous emission would be, Wadhams, in his later press interviews indicated that he believed it was certainly possible due to new mechanisms set in motion by melting sea ice.

Misplaced Mechanisms

The Nature article received numerous criticisms from prominent climate modelers. Chief among these were David Archer and Gavin Schmidt. Archer and Schmidt both adhere to the notion that it will take centuries or perhaps thousands of years for a significant volume of methane to be emitted from the Arctic. They conjecture that emissions from Arctic sources will increase, but at a very slow rate, and to a level that is not markedly significant when compared to overall human CO2 emissions. This relatively slow and low Arctic contribution view is based on a model assessment of the physical sciences that has yet to quantify a strong enough physical mechanism to break methane out of its traps and produce the kind of emissions Wadhams and others fear.

In the conjecture over the potential dangers of Arctic methane release, Schmidt and Archer provide support for a long tail of emissions rather than a more sudden and powerful release.

To these criticisms, Wadhams responded in Cambridge University Press:

“What is 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 2008 US Climate Change Science Program report  needs to be seen in this context. Equally, David Archer’s 2010 comment that “so far no one has seen or proposed a mechanism to make that (a catastrophic methane release) happen” was not informed by the Semiletov/Shakhova field experiments and the mechanism described above. Carolyn Rupple’s review of 2011 equally does not reflect awareness of this new mechanism.”

It is worth noting that Dr. Wadhams has been very pessimistic about the state of the Arctic of late, predicting that a near complete loss of summer sea ice is likely by 2015 or 2016 — among the most rapid of such predictions. And the severe pessimism of one of the world’s premier sea ice researchers is not at all cause for comfort. This doesn’t mean that conditions are quite so bad as Wadhams suggests. But they could be. And this potential, along with the related potential for a more rapid ESAS release, is very unsettling, Archer’s and Schimdt’s reassurances aside.

Arctic no Longer in the Holocene

By October and November of 2013, the controversy over Wadhams Nature article had mostly faded. But with little in the way of new information, the details of the issue remained inconclusive as ever. Loss of Arctic sea ice had, at least, taken a pause. Sea ice area and extent had retrenched, under the continued assault of human warming, to levels last seen in 2009, but still remained near record low levels in all measures. This pause in the rate of loss was cause for some relief, if little comfort.

On the flip side, a new report had been issued showing that large regions of Arctic Canada were experiencing temperatures that were warmer than at any time in at least 44,000 years and probably 120,000 years. This report added to a long list of growing evidence that the Arctic was rapidly moving out of any reasonable context comparable to the Holocene and was probably well on its way toward something more closely resembling the Pliocene of about 3 million years ago (the last time CO2 levels hit 400 ppm) or worse.

And out of context, anomalous Arctic heat, meant out of context, anomalous stress on the ESAS’s frozen sea bed.

Arctic Methane Spikes as Shakhova Finds ESAS Emissions At Least Double Previous Estimates

Bad news was also coming from Arctic methane readings when, during September, October and November large spikes pushed local readings in some areas as high as 2500 parts per billion, more than a 600 parts per billion above the global average with large regions around the Arctic frequently showing readings above 1950 parts per billion.

By late November, another report had been issued by Shakhova and Semiletov. Published to the journal of Nature Geoscience, the report found that methane emissions from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, one of the regions of greatest concern, was conservatively estimated to be about 17 megatons per year. This amount is twice that previously estimated by scientists, through the use of physical models and less refined observations, to be coming from this region. It also represents a total emission about twice that of the rest of the entire global ocean system.

The recent Shakhova paper also found the permafrost cap over the methane stored beneath the ESAS to be highly perforated and very close to thawing. Measurements taken from the permafrost showed the top layer had mostly already thawed while the still frozen layers lower down ranged in temperature between 30 and 32 degrees (Fahrenheit) — at the brink of melt. Furthermore, the composed data for the 1999 to 2013 period showed the seabed warming by .9 degrees Fahrenheit even as air temperatures warmed by 1.8 degrees (F) during the summer.

Increasing transport of warmer waters to ESAS bottom zones was facilitated by larger river outflows in the region, likely also a result of human-caused changes to Arctic weather patterns.

Dynamics of bottom water by the coastal zone

(ESAS bottom water temperature measurements from 1999 to 2012. Red = summer. Blue = winter. Green squares = historical data. Source: Nature)

Climate modelers had previously estimated it would take many hundreds of years, perhaps 5,000 to 7,000 years for ESAS permafrost to thaw under human warming. But Shakhova noted the models weren’t even accounting for the higher than estimated current rate of release:

“What we’re observing right now is much faster than what we anticipated and much faster than what was modeled,” Shakhova said. “We decided to be as conservative as possible. We’re actually talking the top of the iceberg.”

The methane beneath the ESAS was also found to be very responsive to environmental changes and conditions, no matter how transient or temporary. Storms, warming waters, and warmer ocean currents were observed to enhance release of methane from the ESAS. Yet one more sign of an increasingly fragile methane cap.

Models Wrong Again?

Anyone following the rapid pace of sea ice melt will recall how, up until very recently, sea ice melt models got the melt time frame dreadfully wrong. As recently as 2007, modellers were stating that near ice free conditions would not happen until the end of this century. Now, after two devastating record melt years in 2007 and 2012, bringing Arctic sea ice within a paltry 2.1 million square kilometers of zero, even the most conservative scientists project the potential for near ice free conditions by around 2035 to 2040, with the more aggressive among these putting the Arctic at a near ice-free end summer state by 2016 to 2020. Meanwhile, global climate model projections of sea ice loss continue to lag well behind observed trends. A mean of IPCC model runs still project a total or near total sea loss by 2100 in a mean of the models surveyed and those models that appear to be within the standard deviation of current observed ice loss trends predict, in their mean, an ice-free or near ice-free state by 2050. So what we have is a noted split between expert analysis of what is happening and what is likely happening to sea ice, and a continued set of highly conservative and apparently inaccurate (at least under current trends) projections by GCMs.

This observed conservatism in GCMs also calls into question their accuracy in predicting the response of global methane traps, especially the critical ESAS methane store. For the ESAS cap to even partly fail, as it now hints at doing, at any time this century would be another massive under-estimation by the climate models. It would also put at risk, as Wadhams warns, the release of gigatons of methane from its ever more permeable ESAS traps together with a number of very severe climate consequences.

Emission Rate Bad, But Not Catastrophic At This Time

Currently, however, it appears that such a very large release is not yet underway. A 17 megaton emission, though double previous estimates and outside the range projected by GCMs, represents about 2.8% of the global total methane emission from all sources (or 10% the total US emission). This puts ESAS on the map of very large single sources, but it does not yet provide enough methane to overwhelm the current methane balance. To do that, yearly rates would have to rise by an order of magnitude, reaching about 150 megatons a year or more.

Ironically, about a 150 megaton per year emission, averaged over thousands of years, is what climate models currently project (although the models show larger emissions happening much later). So it is worth noting that even getting on this track would be a bad consequence while exceeding it by any serious margin this century would be a very, very bad consequence indeed.

To put the size of the ESAS methane store into context it is worth considering that should the ESAS emit 1 gigaton of methane each year, it could continue that emission for more than a thousand years. Such a rate of emission would about effectively double the current forcing from human CO2 emissions and extend the time-frame of that forcing for up to 15 centuries.

Thankfully, we haven’t yet approached such a catastrophe. Instead, the current emission combines with other sources to continue to slowly push world methane levels higher, adding incrementally more heat forcing to an already stressed global system and adding to a yearly growth rate of about 10-20 ppb each year.

A Marker for Future Comparison

Shakhova’s research does, however, put a marker on the ESAS emissions map. Should we return in a few years to find emissions dramatically increased, we will have more evidence that ESAS is indeed rapidly destabilizing. Shakhova and Semiletov’s earlier observations provide some evidence for this already. However, with a quantifiable figure now available, it will be easier to gauge to what degree ESAS is increasing its already substantial, but not currently catastrophic, methane release.

Links:

Ebullition and Storm Induced Methane Release From the East Siberian Arctic Shelf

Arctic Ocean Leaking Methane At Alarming Rate

Arctic and Methane in Context (David Archer attempts to provide some comfort)

More Arctic Methane Bubbles Into the Atmosphere

Arctic warmer than at any time in at least 44,000 years and probably 120,000 years

Climate science: Vast costs of Arctic change

Wadhams Explains Mechanisms in Cambridge University Press

And the Wind Cries Methane

(Updated December 18)

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58 Comments

  1. Excellent summary, thanks!

    Reply
  2. lanikk

     /  December 13, 2013

    Great summary. Are there any scientists out there that are modeling where on the planet could be viable if the worst should happen? Seems like someone would be, right?

    Reply
    • Higher latitudes and elevations become, generally, more viable comparatively speaking. But the pace of potential change will likely be very disruptive even to these regions. We would do best, as Tom notes, to prevent as much harm as possible. Transitioning away from fossil fuels prevents trillions of dollars in losses long term. Adding in more responsible action by civilizations is also worth trillions in material savings over the decades as well as providing untold value in lives saved. Sustainable societies are about survival but they are also about kindness and generally sane civilizations.

      Another way to think about it is that more climate change (built in through externalities) means more poverty and shorter lifespans long-term. And the means of tackling climate change comprehensively include elimination and replacement of non carbon capture fossil energy, long-term population restraint (hopefully not reaching 10 billion souls and building in a slow decline after peak population), far less industrial meat consumption, far better use of land and materials, and trimming civilization to exist more cooperatively with natural systems.

      The dominance-based, commercial/corporate systems of today thrive on all the wrong imputs for long-term sustainability. Cooperative systems where power is more equally shared tend to provide better examples where they do exist.

      Reply
      • lanikk

         /  December 15, 2013

        Thank you Robert. We are driving as little as possible and carpooling. Our diet is now “Eat to Live” inspired. Living at higher altitude already though not a high latitude. (NM since ’75 Home of the ‘Cadillac Desert” and “Great Aridness”.) Wondering if the Andes qualify as better? Still not high latitudes I know. Though what is happening in Russia and the poles is making me wonder about the high latitude issue. Posting all your articles to my facebook site…for whatever good it will do. In total agreement with Tom and fearing for my baby grandson. Kind Regards, Lannie

        Reply
        • Sorry to say that, according to models, NM is right in the center of an expanding desert.

          On the North American continent, I’d say non coastal Maine and British Columbia are the most resilient locations. And you’re right, the extreme high north will be very volatile. I would not want to be living in barrow, for example, nor anywhere near those very large carbon piles in Siberia or under the ESAS.

          I admire you for your individual actions. But I also believe we will need our larger systems to act effectively — local, state, Feds, and international. I see plenty of individuals who act well in the face of this. Our governments and business leaders would do well to learn from people like you.

      • lanikk

         /  December 15, 2013

        Yes, you are right about NM and desert SW. Water is drying up as I write this…no water in the acequia this year. Rivers and reservoirs having record lows as predicted. Staying here and using up the little water that is left is not a good option. Wish it might be easier to move to BC. Seems like the options/doors/borders for moving anywhere are rapidly closing indicating that government knows more than it is letting on. Personally, I have little hope for govt or leadership to do the best thing. Even our best Congressperson at the moment has taken donations from big oil. HInt: His father was the Secretary of the Interior several administrations ago…Do you have any thoughts about South American spots? Gratefully, Lannie

        Reply
  3. Tom

     /  December 13, 2013

    This information must be spread far and wide to wake people up. We’re killing ourselves by driving cars, running factories, mining and using coal for energy, fracking for oil, and raising cattle on an industrial scale (among many other factors) and need to scale down civilization immediately or there may not be one beyond 2040. Great report Robert, thanks.

    Reply
  4. SAN FRANCISCO — Antarctica’s crumbling Larsen B Ice Shelf is poised to finally finish its collapse, a researcher said Tuesday (Dec. 10) here at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

    The Scar Inlet Ice Shelf will likely fall apart during the next warm summer, said Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. Scar Inlet’s ice is the largest remnant of the vast Larsen B shelf still attached to the Antarctic Peninsula. (Another small fragment, the Seal Nunataks, clings on as well.) In the Southern Hemisphere’s summer of 2002, about 1,250 square miles (3,250 square kilometers) of the enormous Larsen B Ice Shelf splintered into hundreds of icebergs. Scar Inlet is about two-thirds the size of the ice lost from Larsen B.
    http://www.livescience.com/41916-antarctica-ice-shelf-future-collapse.html

    Reply
  5. Antarctica’s ice loss on the rise
    “An international team of polar scientists had recently concluded that West Antarctica caused global sea levels to rise by 0.28 mm each year between 2005 and 2010, based on observations from 10 different satellite missions. But the latest research from CryoSat suggests that the sea level contribution from this area is now 15% higher.

    http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/CryoSat/Antarctica_s_ice_loss_on_the_rise

    Reply
  6. Endangered Right Whales Abandon Atlantic Feeding Grounds Due to Ocean Changes

    While no-one is sure what is causing the change in the whales’ behaviour, a report in the Yale environment360 online magazine says alterations in the whales’ feeding patterns are taking place against a backdrop of major climate-related ecosystem shifts throughout the north-west Atlantic Ocean.
    Read more at http://livinggreenmag.com/2013/12/13/mother-nature/endangered-right-whales-abandon-atlantic-feeding-grounds-due-ocean-changes/#FG67lEPBylYY84KJ.99

    Reply
  7. Deadly Fungus, Not Climate Change, Killing Frogs in Andes.

    A new study of frogs living in the Andes of southern Peru found that the animals can withstand rising temperatures at higher elevations. But the warming trend has extended the range where chytrid fungus can thrive, leading to widespread infections of the disease known as chytridiomycosis……………. “This pathogen is like no other in the history of the world. Chytrid fungus outbreaks make bubonic plague look like a slight cough,” study researcher Vance Vredenburg, associate professor of biology at San Francisco State University, said in a statement. “We need to look carefully at what is causing these outbreaks.”

    http://www.livescience.com/41932-deadly-fungus-killing-frogs-in-andes.html

    Reply
  8. 2 good charts here :

    “Overall our time series of mass change show that the combined losses from Greenland and Antarctica have increased over time and the ice sheets are now losing almost three times as much ice as they were in the early 1990’s.

    The results of the IMBIE 2012 experiments showed that the agreement between mass balance estimates from radar and laser altimetry, gravimetry and the input-output method is good in all ice sheet regions.

    http://imbie.org/imbie-2012/results/

    Reply
  9. Gerald Spezio

     /  December 13, 2013

    Robert says: “To do that, yearly rates would have to rise by an order of magnitude, reaching about 150 megatons a year or more.”

    Shakhova’s latest “estimate” is based on empirical data, & ONLY from the ESAS.

    The probability that an increase to 150 megatons of methane per year from all arctic sinks will occur in the next one to three years is very high – more than 90%.

    A simple doubling of each years methane escaping from the ESAS alone would put 80 megatons into the atmospheric commons in two years – 20 tons to forty to eighty.

    Then consider the multiplying effect of the escaping methane from other Siberian sinks, especially the enormous vulnerable land mass.

    This is an empirical question, & it will be answered shortly.

    Will CARVE’S 150 km diameter plumes turn into 300 km in short order?

    Will the arctic ocean be ice free in 2014 or 2015?

    150 megatons per year is almost here NOW.

    We are about to OBSERVE the entire world turn into a completely bonkers madhouse with total panic everywhere.

    It will almost surely be soon & ABRUPT.

    Bangledeshies, Pacific Islanders, & Inuit are living it NOW.

    Reply
    • ESAS + Arctic Tundra is about 35 megatons. We don’t have a total Arctic emission as yet, but those two sources are probably a majority of it.

      A doubling rate like the one you describe would be very, very bad. I put 2014 ice free at 15%. Not likely, but possible. More likely, we’ll have a between 2013 and 2012 scenario with a new record low come 2015, 2016 or 2017. This could knock the Arctic into a near ice free range during these years. We’ll see. Lots of heat moving around in those regions. And only ice sheet melt to slow it down.

      The 150 megaton number would be a 25% increase of total current global emissions (methane). A very strong amplifying feedback totaling about 1/6 the total human CO2 forcing on top of everything else. Not sudden catastrophe, but very, very bad. Catastrophe is probably in the range of 500 mt to 2 gt per year emission or more.

      What’s happening now, I’d just put in the ‘bad’ category.

      Reply
  10. james cole

     /  December 14, 2013

    I am glad to see this issue addressed. I followed with shock the announcement by Russian scientists who discovered the massive year on year change in the methane release. I think this work is so shocking that it has not sunk in yet. Add in all the changes to sea ice, land ice , tundra CO2/Methane and now the sub sea methane plumes. When it is all put together, the result is that the flip has occurred already. Those who remain calm because the flip is not on a gigantic level are seriously deep in wishful thinking and denial. Read all the evidence of just the last five years, If you do not panic based on that, then what does it take to panic you?
    Yet, this is fact : Tar sands expand, fracking is going global, deep sea drilling is expanding, and the powers are fighting over arctic drilling rights. Can you believe it? The horrific evidence is slapping us in the face, and what do we do? We expand all fossil fuel extraction at break neck speed. Read the financial press, they salivate at Arctic drilling and even more so on the fracking boom in the UK and Eastern Europe. The surge in car sales in China is toasted as epic! The history written about our suicide pact with fossil fuels will make great reading for those kids who live into the next century.
    When the first methane plume goes epic, I predict that the reaction will be to try and expand arctic drilling as the temperature rise will allow more arctic drilling. Suicide Pact, that is what I call human economics in 2013. Get an I-phone and who cares how big the methane plumes become eh?

    Reply
  11. mikkel

     /  December 14, 2013

    This paper (http://rspa.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/467/2129/1243.abstract) creates a reasonable mathematical model that suggests we won’t know when a major release happens until it occurs. The general gist is that the “holes” you describe in the permafrost allow heat to radiate down into the ground quite deeply and cause localized melting which then creates decomposition.

    This decomposition then causes further heating which leads to subsurface chambers of methane that can’t fully escape, particularly since the surface will freeze again over winter.

    If enough of these chambers form then they could cause a chain reaction collapse and lead to massive outbursts without any prior warning.

    The support for this possibility is seen in the fact that you can already go to many parts of the Arctic and poke a hole in the ground then light it, as well as the very similar dynamics of heat transfer occurring within the Greenland ice sheet that is causing slipping.

    I find this much more likely than the “slowly increase over thousands of years” scenario.

    As a footnote, all the mathematical terminology in that link is saying that the rate of temperature increase is the determining factor for the “bomb” exploding, not the overall temperature. This makes sense intuitively because the “bomb” is loaded from methane that can’t escape through the surface, so the faster the temperature increases the more can go into the ground during the summer while keeping it trapped during the winter.

    This is why targets like X GT released (or 350 ppm) have some use but the overall messaging needs to be that we reduce emissions as much as possible on the easy side even though we’re going to miss the targets that we should in aggregate.

    The conclusion states: “We suspect that such rate-dependent tipping points
    are much more common in the climate system than is typically assumed, and
    suggest that deriving the associated critical rates of global warming, as we have
    done here for the ‘compost-bomb instability’, would provide valuable guidance
    for climate change policy.”

    Comments like the above from Gavin that only look at equilibrium state for given temperatures are way off the mark for this very reason.

    Reply
    • Excellent link and comment. Certainly food for thought.

      Rate of warming is now at least 10 times faster than at end of last ice age. And this is just as part of the initial forcing. Will hate to see what happens once the feedbacks start to kick in.

      Given the changes ongoing, you need a simulations point of view to reach and hold equilibrium. It’s my experience that models don’t do very well with non linear systems.

      Reply
      • mikkel

         /  December 14, 2013

        I believe that AGW has the worst possible characteristics for society in that it has long delays before impacts are felt, once we feel large effects it’s too late to do anything and it will require a fundamental reworking of our civilization.

        But on top of that, I believe it is an existential threat to modern science and in many ways, believe that many fields of science as an ideological establishment should be as obsolete as the fossil fuel companies.

        This is rather heretical, but it goes directly into the nature of non-linear systems. The whole of science is based on a conservative, observational based and iterative modelling paradigm, but this fails when the system is in disequilibrium with nonlinear feedback.

        It is a great tragedy that so many of our most brilliant minds are wasting away attempting to make models that will predict what will happen with certain scenarios when the only honest answer is “we don’t know, other than it will be highly volatile.”

        A control engineer would say “define the boundaries of the system and desired behavior and we will figure something out.” If you ask them, “what will happen when the system goes out of the boundary?” then the answer is a simple, “not sure. Catastrophic failure is almost guaranteed but how it fails will be a surprise.”

        So the question scientists need to be asking is “what are the critical points that we need to avoid?” and then advocate to do everything to avoid them no matter what.

        We’re past that point for Arctic sea ice and very close on the Greenland ice sheets; I hope it’s not the same for methane.

        I wish that the scientific establishment would give up its obsession with trying to count the grains of reality, even as the sand slips through their fingers, and instead use that passion and intellect towards social movements to create a different one. This is a large part why I quit academia.

        Robert – I listened to an interview of yours a couple months ago and while you did a good job of being scientifically correct (even at points when you said you weren’t sure) I thought you missed a big opportunity to be forceful in a way that professional scientists refuse to be. You write so eloquently about our collective tragedy yet during the interview you kept falling back to focus on being technically correct even at the risk of losing the sense of urgency.

        Reply
  12. RS –
    I have a comment trapped in moderation , it had 2 links in it about the AGU meeting.

    Speaking of that, here’s another dozy –

    Earth’s poles are shifting because of climate change

    Climate change is causing the North Pole’s location to drift, owing to subtle changes in Earth’s rotation that result from the melting of glaciers and ice sheets. The finding suggests that monitoring the position of the pole could become a new tool for tracking global warming.

    Computer simulations had suggested that the melting of ice sheets and the consequent rise in sea level could affect the distribution of mass on the Earth’s surface. This would in turn cause the Earth’s axis to shift, an effect that has been confirmed by measurements of the positions of the poles…… “Remove these wobbles, and you are left with an additional signal. Since observations began in 1899, the North Pole has been drifting southwards 10 centimetres per year along longitude 70° west – a line running through eastern Canada.

    This drift is due to the changes in the distribution of Earth’s mass as the crust slowly rebounds after the end of the last ice age. But Chen’s team found something surprising. In 2005, this southward drift changed abruptly. The pole began moving eastwards and continues to do so, a shift that has amounted to about 1.2 metres since 2005.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24755-earths-poles-are-shifting-because-of-climate-change.html#.Uqxa2STnbIV

    Reply
  13. A great quote –

    There is growing evidence that the Arctic’s new normal is driving changing weather patterns in lower hemispheres. “The Arctic is not like Vegas,” said University of Virginia ecologist Howie Epstein, another report contributor. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”

    http://www.popsci.com/article/science/fewer-reindeer-more-wildfires-welcome-arctic-2013

    Reply
  14. Long, an important topic as it’s the key to any positive results to not overheat the planet methane or not.

    With the loss of most of the 9-year ice, this means keeping sea-ice longer each season until the permafrost seabed is refrozen as the only solution to stopping this accelerating process.

    There are indications of a rapid rise in global temperatures that can’t be well explained in the geologic history that a rapid release of methane would explain and nothing else is as handy as a process to do that, the jump in global temperatures above 6-10C over a short time, decades, a half-century.

    I don’t expect “ice free” means much more than a visual look at extent, functionally the sea-ice is already gone otherwise the surface seawater over the shallows wouldn’t be so warm and the outgassing wouldn’t be increasing so quickly, we don’t have a lot of time to correct this.

    Volume is running about 20% of 1980’s due to the thinning and loss of old ice regardless of extent or cover area. This means what ice is there is weak and subject to winds and currents evidenced in 2012 by a storm that literally shoved 98% of the old ice out Fram Strait and there are no quick fixes to restore it. This is totally disruptive to sea mammals as well, this a short video of that event via satellite, 30-seconds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knhvEgdcGH0

    Humanity is down to one ace left and no face cards in the game, my take, and to stop what’s going on due to feedbacks showing up with each new study it seems we must play the ace asap.

    I’ll call in geologic terms what we’re doing as “hyper-heating” by raising the radiative forcing so fast and continuously over natural processes it can’t be a “warming”, it’s a radical heating and without the ocean as a heat sink we’d be cooking.

    The solution is to rapidly reduce greenhouse emissions as far as possible and keep at it knowing it will rebound. That’s it, that’s the ace, nothing else will work to stop many feedbacks not just the clathrates, on land thawing permafrost is contributing as much methane as the seabed deposits over millions of square kilometers.

    The solution is to create a cooling shock to the atmosphere and hopefully initiate cooling feedbacks to counter the ones now in place accelerating the heating of the Arctic.

    The only known time humanity did this in all of history was the main driver of the Little Ice-age, from a paper by Nevle and Bird in 2009 this was from a reforestation after European contact in the Americas disrupted ongoing forest clearing for agriculture that resulted in a dropping of CO2 some 12-ppm over a short time, but that’s from ~285-ppm down to 273-ppm and we’re above 400-ppm.

    My take is yes, we need to drop CO2 to 280-ppm to have a Holocene atmospheric circulation and restore the polar gradient and normal weather patterns, this cooling as I say hopefully initiating cooling feedbacks that contributed to what drove the Little Ice-age to cool as strongly as it did.

    Good luck on that, I have several significant solutions to help do this that are practical but not a player, no money, no power so just advocate them and of course will work with anyone into seriously causing a cooling impulse with the least disruption to existing lifestyles a priority.

    Reply
    • You have got to be kidding me. Like a 3rd degree burn scar all over the roof of Russia. Just brutal.

      So the end November numbers are out. Looks like I’ve got some work cut out for me next week.

      Big floods in Brazil ongoing…

      Reply
  15. OT –
    13 December 2013

    “It’s like a zombie wasteland,” says Tucker, who is, like Perlkin, a field technician employed by the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). “You’ll see detached arms crawling away from their body.”.

    Among the animals now affected are the scavenger bat star, Asterina miniata; some species of sea urchin, an important source of food for threatened sea otters; and recreational and commercially fished species such as the California spiny lobster (Panulirus interruptus) and sheephead fish (Semicossyphus pulcher).
    http://www.nature.com/news/scientists-search-for-clues-in-sea-star-die-off-1.14370

    This is spreading , like a bad “B” movie.

    Reply
  16. Well, I just finished watching Guy McPherson’s most recent presentation at the link below:
    http://guymcpherson.com/recent-video/

    It’s the top video. He now shows that there are 24 natural positive feedback loops that are irreversible.

    2010 = 1
    2011 = 4
    2012 = 6
    2013 = 13

    According to several scientists that he quotes in his presentation, we are talking about a 5-6 degree C rise within the next 15-20 years…. once we factor in these feedback loops.

    Anyone who understands the trends of exponential moves in nature realizes that we really don’t have much time left, and there is no way to stop this rapid climate change. We have just run out the clock.

    What a shame….

    Reply
  17. A great article –

    Climate Change Planning in New York City and New Bern
    A Tale of Two Cities: America’s Bipolar Climate Future
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/contradictory-climate-change-planning-in-new-york-city-and-new-bern-a-938704.html

    Reply
    • Do they plan to move the city? Do they plan to build a sea wall of ever increasing height?

      Reply
    • NYC is doing the right thing and if the rest of the world were equally aggressive RE climate change we’d be in much better shape. But, unless they bring the rest of the world, including the currently backwater NC they are still certainly screwed. As noted above, there’s only so much one can do to adapt…

      Reply
  18. Thousands evacuated after Gaza floods

    The flooding, caused by four days of torrential rain, was so severe that many homes could only be accessed by rowing boat with water two metres deep in some places.

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/12/thousands-evacuated-after-gaza-floods-2013121418338338458.html

    Reply
  19. Gerald Spezio

     /  December 15, 2013

    We are all Palestinians now.

    Reply
  20. lanikk

     /  December 15, 2013

    Anyone building arks yet? If so, where?

    Reply
    • Not exactly. But there are a number of marine scientists who are looking to ‘rescue’ and tank endangered species, especially certain forms of the most threatened corals that act as keystone species for numerous marine environments.

      Reply
  21. lanikk

     /  December 15, 2013

    Anyone else wondering where the folks on the top (who undoubtably know what is happening) intend to go when the planet goes into final meltdown?

    Reply
    • Ha! I don’t know how many can hide in hollowed out mountains that are relics of the Cold War. It’s pretty clear there’s not too much planning going on. Their best bet would be to sustain the civilization that has granted them so much luxury and power. I’m thinking that most are still pretty much in denial. The Pentagon does appear to be more and more concerned about climate change of late.

      On another and related note, the bunker craze that has emerged among some survivalists just doesn’t work out for anything but a rather short to medium range crisis. Eventually, you have to come out of the mountain or the bunker. And then what do you have?

      Reply
      • lanikk

         /  December 15, 2013

        You’ve got that right, Robert. They will have put themselves in an untenable position in a dystopic landscape…and sorry I’ve not been keeping up with your replies…I keep seeing them after I reply back to an earlier one. Thank you for your thoughtfulness in answering. Wishing everyone in the Desert SW would read the DeBuis’ book, “The Great Aridness”. Big time wake up call.
        Thanks for the pointers on North America. Seems like the folks I know that are leaving here are generally headed to the NW US, specifically Washington State. Thank you for considering putting together a post on the subject. I think of moving as just another form of activism in the sphere of the Transition Town movement. Kind Regards, Lannie

        Reply
  22. Here is a poem I wrote that I thought apt for what you write about in this post, robertscribbler.

    http://lifeisnotanerror.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/the-precariousness-of-us/

    I hope you find it an enjoyable read and please do not get lost in my other philosophic ramblings!

    Reply
  1. Beneath the Cracking, Melting Ice, the Arctic Methane Monster Continues its Ominous Rumbles | robertscribbler
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  3. Like a Volcano Awakening at the Top of our Earth: From Baffin Bay to the Laptev Sea, Arctic Methane Monster Releases Troubling Ourbursts | robertscribbler
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  7. Existe Mesmo Um “Monstro de Metano Do Ártico”? | Alterações Climáticas
  8. Ignoring the Arctic Methane Monster: Royal Society Goes Dark on Arctic Observational Science | robertscribbler

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