The Arctic Methane Monster’s Nasty Little Helpers: Study Finds Ancient, Methane Producing, Archaea Gorge on Tundra Melt

An emerging methane feedback in the Arctic. It’s something that, since last summer, I’ve been calling the Arctic Methane Monster. A beast of a thing composed of giant reserves of sea bed methane and an immense store of carbon locked away in Arctic tundra.

How dangerous and vicious the monster ends up being to a world set to rapidly warm by humans depends largely on three factors. First — how fast methane is released from warming stores in the sea bed. Second — how swiftly and to what degree the tundra carbon store is released as methane. Third — how large the stores of carbon and methane ultimately are.


(Thawing permafrost and organic carbon in Yedoma region of Russia. Image source: NASA.)

On the issue of the first and third questions, scientists are divided between those like Peter Wadhams, Natalia Shakhova and Igor Simeletov who believe that large methane pulses from a rapidly warming Arctic Ocean are now possible and warrant serious consideration and those like Gavin Schmidt and David Archer — both top scientists in their own right — who believe the model assessments showing a much slower release are at least some cause for comfort. Further complicating the issue is that estimates of sea-bed methane stores range widely with the East Siberian Arctic Shelf region alone asserted to contain anywhere between 250 and 1500 gigatons of methane (See Arctic Carbon Stores Assessment Here).

With such wide-ranging estimations and observations, it’s no wonder that a major scientific controversy has erupted over the issue of sea bed methane release. This back and forth comes in the foreground of observed large (but not catastrophic) sea-bed emissions and what appears to be a growing Arctic methane release. A controversy that, in itself, does little inspire confidence in a positive outcome.

But on the second point, an issue that some are now calling the compost bomb, most scientists are in agreement that the massive carbon store locked in the swiftly thawing tundra is a matter of serious and immediate concern.

Tundra Thaw by Human GHG Now Practically Inevitable

At issue here is the initial power of the human heat forcing and what consequences that forcing is likely to unlock. Consequences that are directly tied to the amount of greenhouse gasses we emit. A total forcing that is now likely equivalent to around 425 CO2e when taking into account the effect of human aerosols and an even more ominous 480 CO2e when and if those aerosols fall out (IPCC and MIT).

The first number, 425 CO2e, were it to remain stable over years, decades and centuries, is enough push global temperatures above the 1.5 C warming threshold that would thaw the northern hemisphere tundra. And within this tundra is locked a store of about 1,500 gigatons of carbon. A massive store that is set to eventually, thaw, decompose and release its carbon as either CO2 or methane over the long period of warmth that is to come.

Area of contiguous permafrost

(Northern Hemisphere Permafrost Zones. Image source: NASA.)

The immense size of this carbon store represents an extreme risk both for extending the period of human warming and for, potentially, generating a feedback in which natural warming adds to, rather than simply extends, human warming. By comparison, human fossil fuel emissions have already resulted in about 540 gigatons of carbon being released into the atmosphere. The tundra store alone represents nearly three times this amount. But the concern is not just the massive size of the tundra store now set to thaw, or the rate at which the tundra will, eventually, release its carbon to the atmosphere. The concern is also how much of the tundra store carbon is released as either methane or CO2.

Methane Provides a Strong Amplifying Feedback

Since methane’s radiative absorption is about 35 times that of CO2 by volume in the IPCC climate assessments (and its short term global warming potential is as much as 72 to 105 times that of a comparable amount of CO2) and since methane release sets off other feedbacks by turning into CO2 after it is oxidized and by increasing atmospheric water vapor, a strong greenhouse agent in its own right, a significant portion of tundra carbon being liberated as methane could result in a rather powerful heat amplification. In the worst case, such an amplification could set off conditions similar to those during which other mini-greenhouse gas runaways occurred — such as the Permian, Triassic and PETM events.

Which is why the release of a new paper should be cause for serious concern.

Ancient Archaea — The Arctic Methane Monster’s Nasty Little Helpers

This week, a paper published in Nature Communications described findings based on a study of thawing Swedish permafrost. The study investigated how microbes responded to thawing tundra in various mires throughout warming sections of Sweden. What they discovered was the increased prevalence of an ancient methane producing micro-organism.

Billions of years ago, methane producing cyanobacteria or archaea were prevalent in the world’s oceans. The methane they produced helped keep the Earth warm at a time when solar output was much less than it is today. Later, as oxygen producing plants emerged, the archaea, to which oxygen was a poison, retreated into the anoxic corners of the more modern world. Today, they live in the dark, in the mud, or in the depths of oceans. There, they continue to eek out an existence by turning hydrogen and carbon dioxide into methane.

A kind of archaea, the newly discovered organism, named methanoflorens stordalenmirensis, was found to be exploding through sections of rapidly melting Swedish tundra. In fact, it is so at home in regions of melting permafrost that it blooms in the same way algae blooms in the ocean. As a result, it comes to dominate the microbial environment, representing 90% of the methanogens and crowding out many of the other microbes.

Distribution of Methanogen

(Methanogen shows global distribution. Each dot indicates a location where methanoflorens stordalenmirensis was discovered. Image source: Nature.)

That these massive archaea blooms can effectively convert large portions of the newly liberated tundra carbon store into methane was not at all lost on researchers:

“Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis seems to be a indicator species for melting permafrost. It is rarely found where there is permafrost, but where the peat is warmer and the permafrost is melting we can see that it just grows and grows. It is possible that we can use it to measure the health of mires and their permafrost. The recently documented global distribution also shows, on a much larger scale, that this microbe spreads to new permafrost areas in time with them thawing out. This is not good news for a stable climate“, said study author Rhiannon Mondav.

So what we have here is a billions year old microbe that thrives in wet regions called mires where permafrost is melting, rapidly converts tundra carbon to methane, readily spreads to new zones where permafrost melt occurs, and explodes into algae like blooms to dominate these environments.

One could not ask for a set of more diabolic little helpers for the already very disturbing Arctic Methane Monster…

Implications Going Forward: Arctic Methane Emission Not Currently Catastrophic, But Likely to Continue to Grow

Recent research shows that the current methane emission from all natural sources north of 53 degrees north latitude is on the order of 81 trillion grams (TG) each year. A portion of this, about 17 TG, comes from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Other inputs are from sea bed sources, thawing tundra and existing wetlands in the region. Meanwhile, the global emission, including both human and natural sources is in the range of about 600 TG each year. Overall, this emission is enough to overwhelm current sinks by about 40 TG each year, which results in continuing increases of atmospheric methane.

Atmospheric Methane Mauna Loa

(Atmospheric methane levels since 1969, Mauna Loa, show levels rising by about 200 ppb over the 45 year period. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

As more and more of the tundra melts and as seabed methane continues to warm it is likely that total Arctic methane emissions will continue to rise, perhaps eventually rivaling or, in the worst case, exceeding the size of the human methane emission (350 TG). But, to do so, current Arctic and boreal emissions would have to more than quadruple — either through a slow increase (high likelihood) or through more catastrophic large pulse events (lower likelihood, but still enough for serious concern). By contrast, recent warm years have shown increases in the rate of methane flux/emission of around 5% with the average flux increase being around 2%.

It is worth noting that NOAA and a number of other agencies do track methane emissions in the Arctic but that a comprehensive tool set for accurately tracking the total emission does not appear to be currently available. Instead, various studies are conducted in an effort to capture total emissions levels. Monitoring does, however, track total atmospheric values.


Discovery of a Novel Methanogen Prevalent in Thawing Permafrost

Methane Producing Microbe Blooms in Permafrost Thaw

The Arctic Methane Monster

The Arctic Methane Monster Stirs

Living in a World at 480 CO2e

Caves Point to Thawing in Siberia

NSIDC: Climate and Frozen Ground

Thawing Permafrost Could Cause 2.5 Times the Warming of Deforestation

Is a Sleeping Giant Waking in the Arctic?

Radiative Forcing of Non CO2 Greenhouse Gasses

Carbon Tracker CH4

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  1. A finding from recent work is that the methane produced in the Arctic doesn’t disperse very well to the globe, it hangs out in big plumes on up to the stratosphere in unexpected high values so acts like a heat lens, accelerating heating more than the global values indicate.

    Without any meaningful cut in emissions, one can expect the Arctic methane sources to outgass so fast as to cause runaway greenhousing, a long predicted state of affairs by glaciologists, and to support that event are ice-cores in Greenland where temperatures rose by 10-14C in a period “… as short as 40-years”.

  2. james cole

     /  March 13, 2014

    When you add up all the factors, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Arctic is a real global warming time bomb. Now comes more and more evidence of just what it means to melt sea ice and to melt tundra. I enjoy all the science surrounding these subjects. At the end of the day, it is a study of a process in motion. We, with all our science, seem relegated to a spectator role in our coming global nightmare. Never in the course of human history has man been able to study and know in detail every aspect of his demise. Yet, deniers control the agenda, we all know that. States compete and wage war to gain more fossil fuels to burn. There is no precedent for such a well documented suicide by a species.
    Sorry for the negativity. I love the science surrounding this process, too bad this interesting science is now the scientific study of a mass suicide. I can’t get my mind around what the major world powers and our rulers are thinking about as this process continues.

    • There are a number of very concerning aspects RE the current crisis. We’ve yet to observe clear evidence of worst effects. I see the science as strongest support for the most vigorous response possible.

    • I think the extent to which we spectate or participate is very much within our control as individuals?

      • The masses born into capitalist industrial civilization have no choice but to participate within the system in order to survive. Ask a suburbanite where their food comes from and they’ll point to the nearest grocery store. Nearly three quarters of America’s diet comes from industrially processed foods. Ask them who they’ll vote for in the next election and it will be whoever they think can get the economy growing again. “Some 50 million U.S. citizens can barely add and total a bank slip or identify a piece of specific information in a brief news story.” America is not a “democracy” but a corporatocracy that rules with what Sheldon S. Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism.”

        This is not doomerism, but reality. Unfortunately, the view of James Cole is closer to the mark than many here understand, but keep up the reporting because at least a few will know some of the reasons for why so many died.

        • I agree with you in all respects save one – and that is over the question of choice.

          I grew up in rural poverty – familiar with the notions of life without stuff (and sometimes even “enough”) and with some knowledge of where food comes from. You could argue (with justification) that this gives me a lead over the urban masses even before additional experience gained in adult life.

          However – I am the oldest of 8 children. Obviously, many of those children knew much of the same life and environment I did, and yet they have all taken a different choice. They have taken the choice to conform to their western society, to seek to belong, to comply with the expectations thereof (with all that is entailed by that) and consequently my path (and knowledge) is now very divergent from theirs.

          How can you account for such a difference in this case, if not through choice?

          Now that is not to say that the choices are easy or obvious ones – simply that they are there and are always there. Given the choice to stand and fight or meekly comply – most will pretend the first choice does not exist (even if it is pushed in their face). The same for the choice to do without a carbon intensive lifestyle, to make plans for collapse and so on. It is comforting for people to feel powerless and subservient to other forces – in this way they abdicate responsibility as well as control.

          In practice, perhaps it is mostly a philosophical question as we know the vast majority will ignore this choice, happy to conform to their society (and indeed the human world can perhaps only work in a general sense when the masses comply with leaders).

          Perhaps in the end my view just acts as a salve to any sympathy I might feel for the affluent urban masses, as I will see their choices – and know that some few of us chose other things, even though it certainly wasn’t the easy option.

          The first choice is simply to realise that there are choices?

        • In my view, this understanding is critical. Our choices brought us here. Our choices, to a certain point, may create a path out or at least a path to a better outcome.

        • “The first choice is simply to realise that there are choices?”

          That’s good!

        • I can remember the place I made a big step in becoming who I am today. I was maybe 14, sitting on a derelict outbuilding next to the decrepit leaky caravan I slept in (in Scotland, no heating even in the winter so I slept below freezing at times), generally thinking how I wasn’t very satisfied with my parents and the job they were doing with respect to my life (a couple of years previously, I had adopted my first rule in life – ruling suicide out as an option and deciding never to admit defeat in life, but always to get back up and fight on).

          It was a nice sunny day then, and the thought came to mind – why should I listen to these people (parents)? Why should I respect their authority? What right do they have to exercise control over me given their failure to provide me with the life of my peers?

          On that day I decided I would be responsible – and by implication empowered. Even at that age, I set my path and took my choices as much as I could – even when it meant opposing parents and teachers. For example, I was teaching myself to program at that time in the school computer room – and those people tried to discourage this on the basis it wasn’t healthy to not mingle with my peers (who were nothing like me at all, another story) and spend so much time in front of a computer.

          Yet – the skills I gained then gave me opportunities I could never have had any other way – so I would say I made the right choice. With choices that were not right at least I owned them and the responsibility. Own your mistakes and resent nobody else.

          Understand the power of choice, and the potential opened by simple stubborn willpower. The number of times I have heard someone say “I can’t do that” – when the only barrier is in their mind…

          While one could argue I take a very cynical viewpoint and am always looking at the system as an outsider (not really belonging to it) – what stops people from making such choices? The discomfort of responsibility? The difficulty of fighting the flow? Or perhaps there is a requirement in most human brains to submit to a source of authority – be it parents or government or peers?

        • Great thoughts there, CCG. We confuse choices with limits and needs with wants.

      • Everyone has choices and they’re making them everyday within the world they were born into and know. As Derrick Jensen said, “…if your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and your water comes from the tap, you’ll defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on it. If, on the other hand, your food comes from a landbase and your water comes from a river, then you’ll defend to the death that landbase and that river, because your life depends on them. Like any good abusive system, this system has made us dependent upon it…”

        By 2050, estimates are that 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities.

        Perhaps if something like this were to happen, then maybe the human race would have a chance:

        • That’s actually an interesting example.

          Of course mass mortality (and epigenetics) are key drivers of rapid evolution.

          It isn’t impossible that a mass cull in the human population could result in a similar circumstance, if the conditions were right. The challenge of course is to preserve such a setup if there are still other aggressive groups out there that can come and dominate the more peaceful one.

      • mikkel

         /  March 13, 2014

        Right on CCG. On a personal level I’m not too concerned with trying to “save” anyone, even myself. However, my partner and I are becoming very interested in explicitly advocating the view you state above, which is straight from existentialism. [I temper my existentialism as drive with Buddhism as Nature.]

        We have started a tea shop/skill building/community meeting space. At first the idea was to help people learn skills and “transition” but even here in NZ (which is much better than most places) we found that people couldn’t prioritise it enough to do it. We are starting to settle on a niche of targeting 22-26 year olds who have enough life experience and skills that they have some sense of individuation, but are at the critical choice in deciding between standing up for self worth or trading it in for the powerlessness of conformity. Many people admit to us their fears that office life will destroy their autonomy and sense of self.

        In the existentialist mindset, this is called authentic living. It is not about finding happiness, it is about finding agency. The name of our place is Artotelic, in reference to autotelicism (

        When we frame it this way, the young people instantly grab onto wanting to learn sustainable skills because they know it is the only path forward. We don’t have to convince them of anything other than the greatest barrier is in our minds.

        Who knows what will happen — it is a struggle to see how many people are incapable of following through on their simple desires of self expression — but I do think the only shot we have is to convince people to take responsibility for their own personal arc, and in doing so, the larger narrative will fall into place.

        • mikkel, it is sooo important to have workable community spaces. I’ve seen efforts to make such here fail over and over again. I helped run one of them, the book store. We hung on well beyond any reasonable economic expectations.

          When you can get it to work, it just changes everything. The potential is huge. But it’s hard to get it started because people are scared and battered and bruised and feeling hopeless.

          But it’s the right way. Thank you for trying to do this.

      • vardarac

         /  March 13, 2014

        Mike, while I appreciate your point about dependency, I think it isn’t necessarily true that many of us need remain dependent on it. Indeed, many of us with that capability could also be capable of empowering others to not be dependent as well.

        That’s vague. What I mean is, and if the modern permaculture techniques are as good as I think they are, is that a mass rollout of things like renewable-powered desalination and aquaponics on individual household levels will do much to bring struggling citizens to a better and sustainable standard of living.

        It may even be possible that we could avoid future food and water crises if enough of our population becomes literate in these respects. And why shouldn’t we? These are the first and most critical aspects of human survival, food and water. Teaching our kids how to manage these practical things might be a better use of their time than many of the things we are apparently failing to teach them now.

        The difficulty will be selling these ideas. I think the idea of trying to convince the masses to shift policy based on climate change just can’t be sold, so a different approach is, ironically, to use similar thought patterns to those that wound up getting us into these fixes in the first place: Faster, easier, cheaper, better. Polyculture is at least the last two of these; perhaps it can be sold on that alone, or the first two worked into it?

        This is all conjecture, of course. If you know someone who’s actively doing research on this subject, I should like to read more about it; if not, I’ll give it an honest try once I’ve found employment.

      • shockley22

         /  March 13, 2014

        Regarding a society free of alpha males: there was a radio show I half heard with a New Yorker (the magazine) sounding writer talking about a period of human or hominid evolution during which, for some reason which I don’t recall, the population of non-alpha males realized that, for the survival of the group, it was necessary to remove the alpha males and this is what they did. And for some evolutionarily significant time they lived without alpha males. Maybe someone has heard this story or has heard of this particular episode in evolution and can fill in what I’m leaving out (i.e., most of the story).

        I would add that, the impression remaining in my mind is that this occurred along the main trunk of human evolution — it is in the ancestry of everyone alive today.

      • shockley22

         /  March 13, 2014

        vardarac, have you looked into earthships?

        He offers internships in New Mexico now.

      • mikkel

         /  March 13, 2014

        Thanks miep! We aren’t technically a non-profit and aren’t going for grants, nor do we take donations. Instead we have what we call “bribe or barter” in which people can do what they want (including have meals) and then negotiate based on how much they valued the experience. We came up with this because we feel that donation/non-profit causes people to put things into a separate mindset (earning points for their altruism tab) instead of our point that an economy is ultimately just about exchange. We don’t need permission to organize and do a lot of things, we can just do it!

        In reality, it’ll mostly be burning a whole in my pocket, but I make too much as a programmer anyway and I have nothing better to do other than put it in a savings fund that would be worthless by the time I needed it. It’s a much better use of the money to get out and meet people, help them have fun and get some people together to do some local projects to show it’s possible. We feel that the professional technical class should be doing these sorts of things because they are the ones that a) have disposable income and b) can help guide transition particularly in concert with the arts.

        Here’s the facebook page to see photos and stuff

        Hopefully there will be a community thing that takes hold again in your neck of the woods and lasts. If we can get our model to work we’re looking to export it and it’ll probably end up as some combination of art studio, lounge and (sustainable) job organization center

      • Mark Archambault

         /  March 13, 2014

        xraymike – thanks for reminding me that I’ve got to get around to reading Sheldon S. Wolin’s “Democracy Incorporated” wherein he describes inverted totalitarianism. The good Chris Hedge’s quotes from him extensively.

    • Andy

       /  March 13, 2014

      I suspect the social impact will vary region to region. As a species we will survive (we are very adaptable). However in some areas the artificial boundaries we’ve created called “countries” could exhibit strain, as tribal and ethnic similarities (and differences) gain more importance.

      Africa and the middle east is a patchwork of nations created by invaders (Europeans) who used rivers, regions, mountains, negotiations to create countries. Under the hood, the historical regions based on tribe, religion, ethnicity can overwhelm and over rule borders when one of the 3 basic needs are not met. These being Water, Food, Shelter. (NOTE: if someone thinks that the 3 basic needs are a diverse investment portfolio, high yield low risk investments, this years luxury sedan then they should stop reading this right here). The potential for conflict in these ares is high, and in some areas beginning (see Ethiopia Dam, Turkey Dam, Lebanon -vs- Israel rivers etc…).

      Europe can fare better in climate, and social cohesiveness for areas. However, Europe is not rich in rivers. Danube can become a conflict resource.

      North America is quite safe as well. US & Canada are young countries. They are basically one nation already, totally integrated in all aspects. It is just a geopolitical convenience to call them 2 countries.

      Russia has land and water. A lot of it is tough to till though. They took Ukraine, we’ll see if the reasons go beyond gas pipes and the black fleet port to include food (wheat & corn).

      Asia can see problems over water. High populations and a reliance on the Himalayas. The longest armed conflict border in the world is right there for a reason ( India & China ).

      Australia is in trouble.

      South America, who knows!

      Caribbean Islands, bad news.

      There is a reason China is expanding “research stations” all over Antarctica.

      Different regions will display a differing ability to handle this. The reasons are extremely complex as so many things fall into play. Such as rivers that cross international boundaries there are red flags that we can use now to try to surmise “what-if” scenarios.

      The science of what is underway with the planet is fascinating, what people will do will be fascinating too. We will eventually do the right thing, but not everywhere.

      It reminds of what Churchill said about the USA, “You can always trust the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other options”.

      • Interesting overview, Andy. You make some good points there.

      • I’d write Europe off personally.

        They have major energy and phosphate dependencies. How are they going to continue to meet those as the global markets stutter and fold?

        Plus multiple southern European nations are economically in dire trouble already, and much as I admire certain things about the EU (human rights – right to live and work anywhere in the bloc, right of family to be together, open borders, etc) it is not an effective decision making entity, nor able to respond with agility to key situations.

        Of the large nations Russia and the US seem fairly well placed – at least in terms of resources vs population density. Both still have their vulnerable points (particularly Chinese manufacturing) – nowhere of note is currently remotely decoupled from global dependencies and complex supply chains.

        Trouble is – when places start to fold – you can expect refugees (from famine and conflict) and increased stress placed on those places still running as push and pull factors apply. Note the stresses on Jordan from Syrian refugees currently (and Jordan isn’t the major African supplier of phosphate to export – but is still not totally insignificant).

        • Russia? That place is going to burn like the dickens. Whole country is sitting on a thawing tundra firetrap.

        • Russia is far from all tundra. You know they produce wine in Krasnodar region on the east coast of the Black sea? Even in Moscow it’s not frozen anywhere near all year round.

          Anyway they can afford to let the tundra go up – almost nobody lives in those parts of Russia. In fact the population density is really tiny if you look at the landmass size and then consider only 140 million people live there…

          You wanna head out into the hills and live off the land? It’s one of the few places in the world you could probably make it stick…

    • shockley22

       /  March 13, 2014

      A piece of beautiful irony regarding peak oil & Cuba’s forced independence from oil.
      For more on the symmetry of this irony wrt America, google “Chomsky Cuba”.

    • Mark Archambault

       /  March 13, 2014


      I often feel the same as you – “We, with all our science, seem relegated to a spectator role in our coming global nightmare. Never in the course of human history has man been able to study and know in detail every aspect of his demise.”

      I feel that most strongly when I’m out birding or on a hike; wondering how the many species of warblers, hawks, swallows, shorebirds etc. that migrate back and forth between the arctic, the middle latitudes and South America are going to make out under 4 C of warming. I don’t think very well. We may end up in a world full of English sparrows, starlings, pigeons, chickens…and rats.

      Still, I have some hope that we may just barely avert the worst case scenario as Robert describes if we get serious real fast. I don’t think that’ll happen unless we’re compelled to. Which is why I think that perhaps the coming El Nino may be the needed wake-up call. We’ll see.

      • jyyh

         /  March 16, 2014

        Birds and smaller mammals generally have a higher normal body (39,5 – 42,5C) temperature than large humans, so they can function almost normally in a +4 world. Even ostriches and emus can live on areas unsupportive for unprotected humans. Of course there’d be more areas too hot for them. I think some lizards can manage even higher temperatures in a high humidity so it’s not like there would be no life where humans can’t survive..

  3. Robert, Good article!

    Please check out the Dark snow project, and read the Rolling stone story.

    Based upon the rapid melting of Greenland and Arctic ice cap, it appears that BC is offsetting aerosols.
    Therefore, with Arctic Methane UP over 1,000ppb= 100 ppm Co2 equivalent ( because atmospheric Methane is 100 times more powerful than Co2) increase from baseline that existed for hundreds of thousands of years.

    So, 400 ppm Co2 PLUS additional 100ppm from Methane= over 500ppm Co2

    500ppm Co2 equivalent is already baked into the Climate change cake!

    Whereas mainstream BS forecasts are using 400ppm, and NOT paying attention to an Arctic that is already warmed by TWICE as much as the rest of the planet.

    Adding in ALL the feedback, with the current Arctic cap melt showing NO ice during May, June, and July within next 5 years, means dramatically faster climate change.

    With NO polar ice during May, June, July, the arctic waters will warm dramatically, and the shallower shelves will heat up and melt any and all underwater frozen tundra/methane.

    The problem with David Archer types, is that they have NOT seen what is ACTUALLY happening! They sit in their office calculating theories, while others are WITNESSING vast increases in Arctic Methane emissions.

    The ESAS is different from other Arctic shelves… so the USGS survey of a few areas in the U.S. does NOT tell us what is actually happening elsewhere.

    It is incredibly insulting to the Shakhova and associates to say what they measured in ESAS does not exist. When Dr. Shakhova study shows atmospheric emissions significantly greater than 5 years prior…

    The calculation that 425Co2 e= 1.5 c increase is totally fallacious, because Arctic is warming at TWICE the rate of elsewhere.

    ******* You need to use the current increase in the Arctic temperature to calculate the MELT in the Arctic, not the temperature elsewhere!!!******

    ALL the IPCC and typical GLOBAL warming estimates are GARBAGE, because they do NOT study the Arctic separately.

    If you want to understand what WILL happen to the Arctic, then you must study what is PRESENTLY already happening in the Arctic.

    Almost all the GLOBAL projections are BS!

    In the last 150 years Atmospheric Methane has increased from 700ppb to over 1,700ppb, and there has been relatively little tundra melt, compared to what remains….. maybe a 5% melt over the last 150 years.

    So, what happens when ALL the tundra eventually melts????

    Arctic Methane release is already increasing……

    The Arctic feedback loops are simply NOT in any of the conventional models!!!

    Greenland melt has TRIPLED its rate over the last decade!!

    Good article!

    But, I also want to explain about the ESAS. David Archer disputes that there are Methane Hydrates in such shallow water, which may be generally true…. But, I seriously doubt that Archer understands the significance of the bacteria that are CREATING METHANE from the melting tundra under the ESAS.

    Under water Tundra melts much faster when the water warms, than on land tundra. The density of water transmits heat significantly faster than air.

    Therefore, underwater tundra will melt much faster than on land tundra.

    The ESAS is believed to only have been submerged for the last 8,000 to 15,000 years.

    That is one of the big difference between the ESAS and other Arctic shelves. Other Arctic shelves that have been underwater for millions of years, are less likely to have a significant amount of frozen tundra under them.

    The USGS study of U.S. Arctic shelves did NOT show similar Methane emissions, and therefore most people decided that ESAS info was fake…. WRONG!

    Relatively Shallow Arctic water with NO ice during May, June, and July will warm dramatically!

    Methane monster= METHANE BOMB!!!

    The Arctic is key to understanding climate change!

    Do NOT look at the global increase in temperature, look at the Arctic increase in temperature.

    Look at ALL the feedback loops in the Arctic, and then you will realize that all the IPCC forecasts are GARBAGE!

    During the previous extinction events, there was NO ice. The only remaining Methane stores were in the deepest part of the Oceans.

    NOW, the amount of stored Methane is far, far, greater than in previous times when the extinction events occurred.

    The amount of Methane that will be emitted over the next few decades will cause shock and awe… and not in a good way!

    The solution: Humans must invent a process that SUCKS METHANE from the atmosphere!

    If we do NOT we face complete disaster!!!

    The 400ppm of Co2 will cause severe problems, and there is probably nothing we can do.

    But, I do believe that Methane can be “harvested” from the atmosphere, and use in not polluting fuel cells.

    The Fuel cells will power the machines that harvest the atmospheric methane.

    But, “we” need to start working on this now!!!!!

    Thank you, Ken Luskin

    • OK Ken. Good job.

      I don’t agree with about half of this but it’s an honest post. So I’ll let it stand.

      Just a couple of clarifications…

      1. 1.5 C is global. 1.5 C global warming = 6 C Arctic warming approximate (without ice sheet response as temporary negative feedback.

      2. Archer and Schmidt have not allayed my concerns. That said, I respect much of their work. So I’m conflicted RE methane.

      3. I disagree that IPCC produces bad science. The model predictions for sea ice loss were many years behind. So they were too conservative RE ice sheet response. That said, I have every reason to believe that they’ve gotten the radiative forcing figures, including aerosols, mostly correct. In general, we can probably expect more conservative assessments from a consensus body like IPCC. So they’re worth looking at in that context.

      4. Black carbon does have a positive feedback. In the Arctic it has been implicated in increasing melt rates. That said, in the global context, the negative radiative forcing is stronger from aerosols overall. In fact, a recent NASA study shows quite high negative forcing from aerosols. This is not reason for comfort. It delays warming only in the short term.

      5. Methane… The IPCC, NASA, NOAA and other band absorption studies show x35 CO2 values. It does not include water vapor feedback and other responses that are broken out in the radiative forcing studies. I’ve seen values as high as 105 for methane and as low as 20. I’m pretty confident the x35 number is close although one NASA study (Schmidt) put it around x45. This is an issue that may require further investigation.

      • mikkel

         /  March 13, 2014

        I thought 100x was when it was first released and then based on half life of degradation it ends at 35 over 100 years (they used to say 20 but have revised it upwards)?

        That’s probably the whole response.

        • Over the course of its 12 year atmospheric lifetime, methane has a global warming potential value of 105 x CO2 (include water vapor and other feedbacks). The global warming potential, therefore, is for a single molecule emitted and its overall climate effect, not for a constant value of methane in the atmosphere and its direct absorptive effect, which would have a different measure for a snapshot radiative forcing value for the same molecule in any given year.

          The baseline radiative forcing for methane is (or should be) 750 ppb (1880 value). IPCC gives .5 watts per meter squared for 1080 ppb increase (2011 value). 4 watts per meter squared equals 275 CO2e. This gives us 70 ppm CO2e (roughly) (68.75 exact) per watt. .5×70 = 35 CO2e. This gives us a band absorption for methane of 32x CO2 approximate.

          We have numerous studies that show band absorption in this range. One, the Schmidt study gives a radiative forcing of .8 watts per meter squared.

          Now the 105 global warming potential value must come from other feedbacks, likely water vapor feedback for methane. This, for some reason is proportionately high. IPCC takes the radiative absorption forcing of water vapor into account separately with its own spot on the ledger.

          In any case, since the question has been raised, this may require further investigation and writing. I’m not entirely satisfied with these answers.

      • 105x is the Shindell et all figure for methane over a 20 year timeframe.

        Because of the rapid breakdown of methane into carbon dioxide, the extra warming potential of methane is very heavily front loaded.

        I would imagine the figure of 35x is for a century timescale.

        I believe both the above – 33x over 100 years and 105x over 20 years – include not only the direct greenhouse effects of methane – but also indirect and direct effects upon aerosols (ie secondary effects).

        Anyone noting that methane has 105x really needs to be putting that in context.

        Over ten years (approximately the half life for methane in the atmosphere), the figure would be even higher. Still – it doesn’t linger for thousands of years – that’s really quite helpful in this context.

      • Furthermore, I think you’ll find if you exclude direct and indirect aerosol effects from methane forcing – the IPCC figures are approximately right – 72x for the 20 year timescale and 25x for the 100 year timescale. If memory serves, quantifying the aerosol effects was the step forwards Shindell took – and media outlets all over the world are grossly irresponsible for blindly quoting the 25x figure without qualifying it and conveying that it is irrelevant as the warming is mostly front loaded.

  4. Paul W

     /  March 13, 2014

    Could you comment on the global warming potential of SF6 (sulfur hexafluoride)? It’s estimated to be almost 24,000 times greater than CO2.

    There are a few facts I’ve gathered:
    1. Very inert/long lifetime in the atmosphere (800-3200 years)
    2. Industrial use as a gaseous insulator
    3. 6 S-F bonds may make more vibrational modes possible and hence greater chances to absorb IR radiation (this is pure speculation on my part)
    4. The range at which SF6 absorbs IR radiation is at high wavelength (i.e. lower energy than most of the molecules discussed here). My feeling is that there aren’t many gaseous molecules with this kind of absorption. Is it this lower energy absorption that’s not naturally present that gives man-made SF6 such a high GWP?

    • It’s one of the many industrial chemicals that are extraordinarily strong and long lived ghg. Current atmospheric concentration is 7 parts per trillion (ppt), so the current CO2e forcing is about 170 parts per billion. Atmospheric rates of increase are 2 ppt per year.

      In comparison with methane and CO2 the net forcing is very small. But this is not a chemical we want in our atmosphere. Should be banned or highly restricted so as to prevent release.

      I haven’t seen the band absorption studies for SF6 to see how radiative forcing compares to global warming potential. But there may be links on the AWEG website.

      • mikkel

         /  March 13, 2014

        How is concentration 7 ppt and increasing at 2ppt? Actually, I just looked it up on Wiki and it says increasing at 0.2 ppt/year

        • Typo. Missed the decimal.

          In any case, I find it highly disingenuous that fossil fuel companies are using this chemical to attack solar. They may as well attack the entire electronics industry. It would take 200 years at current emissions to equal just 1 ppm CO2.

          That said, it’s not a chemical to ignore. And it’s just one drop in the soup of over 50 other non CO2 chemicals we should probably also be getting a handle on.

    • It’s worth noting that SF 6 and other related agents can be incinerated or contained after use. There are also replacements. Because they are used in such small quantities, the changes needed to prevent release are far easier and less immediately pressing than dealing with fossil fuels.

  5. I just popped in to note that permafrost mire and permafrost dry land are two very different habitats. The permafrost dry land thaws much deeper and is pretty well aerated whereas the mire habitat even smells different when thawing. I guess the smell is the exhaust of these and other archaea speeding up.

  6. vardarac

     /  March 13, 2014

    Hey Robert, are there any papers out on the biochemistry of this bug? Is there any possibility that the CO2 + H2 => CH4 reaction could be reversed through bioengineering?

    • That’s a good question. But since the bug is a new discovery, I think it’s somewhat unlikely. Might also be worth looking into natural competitors.

      Archaea are a large subset of Cyanobacteria. Most of these produce methane or other substances harmful to the kinds of complex life inhabiting today’s world. So your question might well be worth a dig RE the larger context.

    • jyyh

       /  March 16, 2014

      again the ‘quick look’ images accompanying the abstract are barely readable. but generally there’s no pure hydrogen involved in this anaerobic methanogenesis reaction pathway. It just looks so for it’s a common abbreviation for compounds too complex having only hydrogen atoms in their reactive sites… so no is the answer to your question. what the bug does is to scavenge stuff normally undigestible in the lack of oxygen, use part of it as a fuel source to drive this reaction, leftovers are building blocks for it’s growth and more undigestible thrash. looks like near similar pathway (can’t tell for sure), the f420 refers to the hydrogen carrier molecule. You may think of it as a human scavenger on a dump site who sells parts of the scrap he finds and uses unmarketable stuff to build his hut in a slum, sort of bacterial equivalent for dump diggers.

      • jyyh

         /  March 16, 2014

        one sentence was possibly cut too short for non-biochemists “for compounds too complex” -> “for compounds too complex to write out in a simple diagram”

        The methanogen is a bottom feeder and aerating the mires or turf in question would only lead to more potent decomposers using oxygen turning the stuff down there straight into CO2. after the initial decomposition of the stuff in turf it could be source material for building soil, but first it should be dug out and reduced to about 10th with controlled burning/bioreactions to form or For nature, this took about 5000 years after the Russian plain was freed from tundra/permafrost after the last glacial, so it can be done, albeit with no help from humans this will take a long time.

  7. Re “methane’s radiative absorption is about 35 times that of CO2”, that link wasn’t updated since around 2006?

    • The 20 year GWP of methane is 86, which means that if the same mass of methane and carbon dioxide were introduced into the atmosphere, that methane will trap 86 times more heat than the carbon dioxide over the next 20 years — which cites IPCC AR5 report

    • Some of this stuff moves too slow for my taste. Hence the digging expedition. My general feeling is that climate research, response, and mitigation are all grossly neglected in relation to the larger risk.

    • Global warming potential…

      The 20 year numbers I’m seeing are:


      I’ll dig up the papers when I get back.

      It’s worth noting that the atmospheric lifetime of a single methane molecule is 12 years and that for the purpose of long term climate sensitivity (ESS) periods extending hundreds of years are relevant.

      If the radiative forcing measure attempts to extrapolate over a 100 year horizon and if the assumption is that some of the current methane load will fall out, then I understand these numbers more (though I don’t agree with the assumption). At the very least TCS and ECS should take into account the full methane forcing of the stronger shorter term GWP of methane.

      Before I open that can of worms, I need to find the specific time horizon that radiative forcing assumes. My initial understanding was that this was a snapshot.

  8. “a comprehensive tool set for accurately tracking the total emission does not appear to be currently available” What about the METOP data (IASI)

    • Good question. I haven’t seen the data analyzed so as to determine the annual emission in Tg on a yearly basis. It it’s available, it should be made public. Instead, I see reports for this year or that, much of it from before 2004.

  9. At the same time, the implicit danger of Arctic sea ice loss triggering subsequent methane release has been compounded by the recent occurrence (March 6th, 2014) of an earthquake, magnitude 4.5, at Gakkel Ridge, which fault line crosses over the Arctic, resulting in a massive spike up of methane in the atmosphere to 2,395 ppb. This was reported by Arctic News on March 6th: “The situation is dire, given that methane concentrations have risen strongly following an earthquake that hit the Gakkel Ridge.”

    • Saw this. We’ve had a number of emissions in this range this year. Gakkel and Baffin Bay appear to be active emission zones. The current events are not the kinds of spikes we would expect from a catastrophic instance and we don’t have enough information to determine whether or not these instances are leading up to one. So for this issue, the error bars appear to be quite large.

      What to look for in the catastrophic instance:

      An amplifying swarm of earthquakes followed by a very large release along with bottom displacement and/or slope collapse.

  10. German March ‘heat wave’

    On March 9th (last Sunday) Germany recorded its highest temperatures ever measured during the March 1-10 period of the month. Numerous cites broke their records for such, with Lippstadt leading the way at 23.7°C (74.7°F), the warmest temperature ever measured anywhere in Germany prior to March 10th. Unofficial readings of 24.4°C (75.9°F) were reported from Soest and 24.1°C (75.4°F) at Unna and Rietburg. Widespread temperatures above 20°C (68°F) were observed in North Rhine Westphalia and Lower Saxony (Germany’s west and northwest) and early spring flowers (daffodils, crocuses, etc..) are blooming even in northern Germany following what has been an exceptionally warm winter.

  11. Researcher develops more accurate method to measure surface meltwater volume of Greenland ice sheet


  12. Andy

     /  March 13, 2014

    One aspect of large scale methane release I have not seen much coverage is the impact on the food chain locally.

    As methane bubbles up over large areas, I wonder how much is perfused into the water choking off smaller life forms thereby disrupting the food chain in the Arctic ocean.

    Also as it releases on land, similar effects may occur. If there is a wide area of plant kill, this could create fire fuel as well as food chain disruption.

    Depending on dispersal, and the mass of the methane this effect could be roughed up as a possibility / probability percentage.

    On land, as the climate shift causes areas to shift from one form of vegetation to another this may speed this change up. For example if boreal forest is to be replaced with savannah, the first step of course is to remove to forest.

  13. Over the past two weeks, this scenario has been playing out over South Africa, as a virtually stationary area of low pressure has been present to the north, with one temperate trough after another moving in from the west. This has brought an almost constant ‘conveyor’ of tropical moisture to the eastern parts, resulting in flash-flooding, saturating the ground and causing major dams in the area to overflow. Below is a graph comparing rainfall figures (for select cities) for the the first ten days of this month, to the climatological average for the whole month. Many areas have already received over 200% of the normal, and we still have more than half the month to get through!

  14. Mark Archambault

     /  March 13, 2014


    Much earlier in this thread you write: “Russia? That place is going to burn like the dickens. Whole country is sitting on a thawing tundra firetrap.”

    Have you told Putin? 😉

    Do you think he knows?

  15. Jay M

     /  March 13, 2014

    Boots on the ground from the SF area. We have had two periods of significant rain since the end of January. The first one mainly went into Northern California, while the second went south and caused problems in the LA area. Finally the hills are green, but you can tell that the grass isn’t very luxurious. There have been a couple of other “winter like” weather episodes, i.e. cloudy weather, but have deposited minimal amounts of moisture. As of now the high pressure off the coast has been back in command for several days, which causes relatively warm, clear weather. This will result in the rapid dry out of the seasonal annuals, assuming we don’t have much more precipitation. We are more or less towards the end of the heavy rain season, so dry going forward is likely. One of the points that I have seen mentioned on the MSM is that the salinity levels are going up in the Sacramento delta region, as the ocean pushes in more against low river flows (this is usual in drought situations). This is another impact on fresh water supply for the districts that draw from this lower region of the river systems feeding the bay.

    • Mark Archambault

       /  March 13, 2014

      Good report. Please keep us posted throughout the coming dry season.

      • Andy

         /  March 13, 2014

        Down here in San Diego there is a 12 month supply of water for the Imperial Valley agriculture. If we don’t get an El Nino this fall, then next summer we may see fields left fallow here as well.

    • Andy

       /  March 13, 2014

      The salt water pushing up the delta may also affect agriculture.

      • Mark Archambault

         /  March 13, 2014

        This will be one growing season to watch in CA. Lots of the agriculture in the central valley is very water intensive, is it not? Wine grapes, almonds and other tree nuts, citrus fruits… (correct me if I’m wrong). I love almonds, but now realize how water intensive they are. Best enjoy them now before they’re just a food for the rich, like strawberries became in the movie “Soylent Green”. Now THAT is a worst case scenario – being on set with Charlton Heston!

      • The SLR really hurts low level California..

    • Excellent scouting and SITREP! Glad to see some relief but the summer there is likely to be pretty amazingly rough.

      We see the Jet Stream split trying to develop in association with the El Nino pattern that appears to be emerging. The high is a brute, fighting the moisture flow even as it attempts to come on. If the El Nino emerges and is strong, I’ll bet the high is over-run by a series of rather powerful storms come winter. It could be the most severe on record given current atmospheric changes.

      So perhaps one of the worst summer drought periods on record followed by a potential for some of the worst floods. We’ll have to see how that El Nino develops…

    • coopgeek

       /  March 13, 2014

      They’re apparently starting to get desperate in the attempts to keep salt out of the Delta (and therefore the water supply for San Joaquin farming areas and LA), with some “temporary” dams built across the mouths of three sloughs.

      I reckon these are temporary in the sense that they’ll maybe do the trick until the more permanent tunnels can bypass the Delta entirely and let it die.

      Great conversation here today. I’m going to re-read the notes-comparisons about community spaces and organizing. Writer’s block has been fierce but I’m due for another blog or two soon.

      • “Great conversation here today. ” This blog *always* has the best discussions. Half the rest of the Internet is meanwhile busy ripping each other’s lips off. You guys should give lessons on how to do it right.

        • In the discussion, everyone is considered equal. This means everyone’s opinions, views, and contributions matter. People who do not behave in this way are thrown out either temporarily or permanently. Truth is found objectively without regard for egoism. People are dealt with as feeling human beings and with dignity and respect.

          Lastly… No climate change deniers…

  16. Mark Archambault

     /  March 13, 2014

    Back to Ancient Archaea – “The recently documented global distribution also shows, on a much larger scale, that this microbe spreads to new permafrost areas in time with them thawing out. This is not good news for a stable climate“, said study author Rhiannon Mondav.”

    How does this microbe spread I wonder? The wind? On the feet of birds?

    • Perhaps. Or it could be resident in local traps, waiting to emerge come the thaw after eons of latency.

      • Bingo !
        One key, to their spread is how the thaw goes. If the water drains away and the tundra dries out we get one family of microbes, if it turns mucky and wet, the bugs in question go to work. This means local conditions will rule as to whether the water it there to harbor their growth.

        • Have you seen a map of mires/wet regions vs dry regions? I’d be interested in disposition. The initial thaw would provide a wet burst, at least, but then local conditions and changing climate zones would probably win out.

      • Have you seen a map of mires/wet regions vs dry regions?

        No, but I got to think such a map will look like swiss cheese.

  17. Mark Archambault

     /  March 13, 2014

    I don’t mean to be hogging the cyberspace here, but just saw this report on a NASA report on climate sensitivity over at ClimateProgress. Perhaps Robert already pointed us to it.

    • Yep. They put TCS at 1.7 C. Nice graphic shows Arctic warming by 22.6 F at end of Century. No more sea ice under such temps — year-round.

  18. How wind helps Antarctic sea ice grow, even as the Arctic melts

    Dr Sharon Stammerjohn, a professor of ocean sciences from the University of Colorado, said the changes in sea ice were having a significant impact on marine life.

    “For the southern ocean there is a huge seasonal change between the summer minimum and the winter maximum and the ecosystem has evolved to deal with that amazing phenomenal change,” she said.

    “It’s the rate of change that is quite alarming in these regions, with particular regard to the ecosystems. We are seeing fundamental change in these marine ecosystems.”

    Professor Simmonds said he hoped that policy makers would use this research to understand the impacts that current levels of greenhouse gases are having on the southern ocean.

    “The planet is at present in uncharted waters with respect to carbon dioxide [and other greenhouse gas levels]. We are doing extraordinary things to the climate system, and the consequences will be felt downstream,” he said.

    “The ocean is intimately involved with all of this, it has an extremely long memory.”

  19. Africa’s air pollution underestimated in climate change models

    Human activity in Africa significantly contributes to air pollution. However, no detailed data regarding country-by-country pollutant emissions in the continent was available until now. To remedy this scientists mapped these emissions in Africa for 2005, before estimating them for 2030, using three scenarios. The researchers showed that the climate change models used by the IPCC underestimate Africa’s emissions, which could account for 20-55% of global anthropogenic emissions of gaseous and particulate pollutants by 2030.


  20. A plague of fleas: Tiny Eurasian exotic is upending watery ecosystems across the northern Great Lakes

    The zooplankton never saw it coming. Well, perhaps it would be more correct to say that they never smelled it coming. These tiny, eyeless water creatures recognize predators by their scent, and zooplankton in the Upper Midwest have never added the spiny water flea to their stink list. The results have been catastrophic.

    “The word I use is blindsiding,” says limnologist W. Charles Kerfoot, a professor of biological sciences at Michigan Tech. “When Bythotrephes longimanus was introduced here from northern Europe 30 years ago, the native species were totally oblivious to it.”

    They still are, which is why the spiny water flea, aka Bythotrephes (pronounced BITH-oh-TREH-feez) is devouring its way through the Great Lakes and into the surrounding inland waters. As a result, this half-inch-long predator with a spikey tail is on the verge of disrupting an entire ecosystem from the bottom up.


  21. By the way a show on Animal Planet called ” Ice Cold Gold” . Miners on the Southwest coast of Greenland . The rocks are amazing . . They are hunting ruby’s south of Nuuk. , it on tonight.

  22. A new study on the relationships between ancient languages corroborates the hypothesis that the first Native Americans spent thousands of years living along a vast swath of now sunken land bridging the Asian and North American continents.

    North America’s first inhabitants migrated from mainland Asia across a land bridge spanning the Bering Sea before traveling south and eventually settling across the land. But for several years now, geneticists and archaeologists have been theorizing that the migration was not as simple as crossing the land bridge and never looking back, but that the first Native Americans inhabited the expansive land bridge known as Beringia for as many as 10,000 years and that a back-and-forth migration may have taken place.

    • Makes sense. The coastal region would have been productive and likely hosted settlements. With the end of the last glacial age, the inhabitants would have eventually been separated by sea level rise.

  23. Sumatra’s burning rainforests

    Massive forest fires are raging on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra. Many of the blazes were deliberately lit to make way for lucrative and environmentally controversial palm oil plantations.

  24. xraymike79 –
    ” Mother Nature pulls up her dress and they all rush in.”

    I’m stealing that comment.

  25. xraymike79 –
    ” Mother Nature pulls up her dress and the gangsters all rush in.”

  26. Regarding the heat Trapping of Methane.

    1) What counts is the amount of heat trapping at the PRESENT, because that is what actually increases heat trapping.

    2) Methane is constantly breaking down, but more methane is constantly being released into the Atmosphere, which has MORE than made up for the break down.

    3) Atmospheric methane is 105 times more powerful than Methane for heat trapping!

    4) Therefore, the calculation for how much heat trapping is CURRENTLY going on means using 105 TIMES the amount present, and NOT some lower number.

    5) Using a lower number than 105 for Methane, is akin to suggesting that the amount of time a typical Caucasian will experience a sunburn at the equator, should be calculated using the average radiation over a 24 hour period. What matters is the average radiation during sun hours.

    6) Why NOT calculate the heat trapping of Methane over a 10,000 year span, and then suggest it is close to zero, so its having NO effect today?

    7) In order to ACTUALLY calculate how much heat is TRAPPED, based upon the amount of Co2 and Methane, means using the amount that is CURRENTLY in the air. Otherwise, you are just fooling yourself.

    8) Using a lower number than 105 for atmospheric Methane is absurd! What we are trying to calculate is what is ACTUALLY HAPPENING at various different levels of Co2 and Methane.

    9) Atmospheric Methane has been above 1700 for the last 12 years, so why would anybody use a value of less than 105 to calculate heat trapping, RELATIVE to the long term average of 700?

    10) What matters is the CURRENT AMOUNT of METHANE, NOT the some estimated amount many years from now!!!

    11) Our planet receives almost the exact same solar radiation has it has many tens of millions of years ago.

    12) The amount of heat that is trapped, is based upon Co2/Methane levels ( heat trapping gasses), and the amount of reflective snow cover.

    13) The Arctic is key:
    1) Because the relatively thin polar ice sheet can melt very fast, as we are now seeing.
    2) The positive feedback loops from NO arctic ice dwarf any other regions on earth.

    Arctic atmospheric Methane concentrations are and have been exerting the equivalent heat trapping of an additional 100ppm of Co2 !

    400ppm Co2 plus 100ppm Co2 equivalent INCREASE from Methane = 500ppm Co2 equivalent.

    NOW, that we understand that its NOT just frozen methane hydrates that matter, but its also Methane created from bacteria feeding on melting tundra, people like Archer will have to recalculate how much Methane could BURP from the ESAS from quickly warming shelf waters.

    WHY is there so much more Methane in the Arctic atmosphere than elsewhere?

    WHY did the measurements from Dr. Shakhova double over a 5 year time frame?

    Clearly the vast bulk of frozen tundra/methane exists in the Arctic!

    How fast do the ESAS waters heat up when there is NO ice ?

    How much Methane is released per cubic meter of ESAS frozen tundra over time?

    How much Methane is released per cubic meter of on shore frozen tundra over time?

    Now doubt the reason we do NOT have any answers to these questions, is because most people are too scared to want to know the answers!

    Telling yourself that atmospheric Methane only has 35 times the heat trapping of Co2, is equivalent to telling yourself that Co2 has NO heat trapping at all as measured over millions of years, since it too breaks down.

    The situation is FAR, FAR worse than you are representing!

    Nothing that IPCC has stated explains what is currently happening in the Arctic!

    Just because the IPCC is better than nothing, is NO reason to use the GARBAGE forecasts they put out.

    • 2) Methane is constantly breaking down,

      Over decades, and only then does it oxidize into CO2.

    • OK Ken, stop shouting please.

      I’m trying to nail down the difference between global warming potential for methane which is between 72 and 105 times CO2 on a 20 year scale and the radiative forcing values given by the IPCC/NASA/NOAA which imply a x35 value.

      If the radiative forcing values given by IPCC/NASA/NOAA are simply global warming potential measures strung out over a 100 year period, then your assertion needs to be taken into account. If other measures like water vapor forcing, which is included in the IPCC account separate from methane, make up some or all of the difference, then that needs to be considered as well.

      I’m working on this now and it might take a few days to sort out all the details. The questions, boundaries and data are not at all transparent. So this takes a bit of analysis.

      But, if this is the case, as you’ve asserted, I can’t help but wonder why the radiative forcing values for energy imbalance at the top of the atmosphere are so low (currently .6 watts per meter squared of energy imbalance)? This would imply more negative forcing from aerosols or less positive forcing from methane.

      Think of this back of the napkin —

      Current warming of .8 C at a 425 ppm CO2e forcing accounts for all of the TCS warming (immediate), about .05 C of the ECS warming (1.5 C) and zero of the ESS, or long term, warming (3.0 C). This is what we would expect from this level of forcing. But the energy imbalance should be in the range of 1 Watt per meter squared.

      Aerosols are already baked in to the 425 CO2e number. We’ve had weaker than usual solar activity which could knock off about .2 watts per meter squared. But it still leaves us about .2 watts per meter squared below where we should be.

      Seems to me the aerosol effect should be stronger and we are closer to 410 CO2e short term given the energy imbalance.

      Now this doesn’t even include the added energy from methane if we apply another .9 watts per meter squared of forcing (65 ppm CO2e) from methane at around the 100 value. Is aerosol negative forcing a full 1.4 watts per meter squared? And, if not, where is the extra .4 C of TCS warming and related increase in energy imbalance at the top of the atmosphere?

      These are good questions and ones that need to be answered.

      But I’m not entirely comfortable with saying that everything IPCC (and related agencies like NASA and NOAA) does is bad. And I think it’s fair to say that climate change will both make a mockery of the over predictors, the under predictors and many other predictors as well. The issue here is to provide the best possible understanding of a complex situation. Without IPCC, we wouldn’t even have a solid base line for discussion.

      Finally, I’ve seen no scientific studies that support a 500 ppm CO2e or higher. We get some that are close, like the MIT study. But there’s nothing out there in the literature to support this assertion. Perhaps I should pick up the phone and start asking questions like ‘what’s the transient CO2e forcing of current atmospheric methane?’

    • Aaron Lewis

       /  March 16, 2014

      Concur strongly on CH4 / 105 CO2 equivalent. Lower numbers assume pulses, and then declining concentrations, but we are seeing stable to increasing concentrations. We need to calculate the total heating occurring on a season by season basis, and that does not allow time for the various sinks to reduce concentration.

      While the atmosphere is well mixed on a longer term basis, over a period of days or weeks, it is much less so. The melt season in the Arctic is brief, so a plume of CH4 can have more effect than predicted by global, well mixed levels. Then, once ice is gone, albedo feedback kicks in. Thus, the effect of a brief plume that melts snow for a few days results in ongoing warming.

      Ice is a nonlinear and discontinuous material. The GIS It is spatially discontinuous as in moulins, and therefore equilibrium models will fail. The behavior of ices is discontinuous with temperature, so any ice flow model must define and bound temperature. The GIS ice flow models in the literature fail on both of these points.

      The GIS contains enough potential energy to drive progressive structural collapse as the ice warms and weakens. For a preview, see minute 64 in ‘Chasing Ice’. In a GIS collapse event, sheets of ice will flow into both sides of the fjords, breakup, and be pushed out to sea by the water/ice slurry forming as more ice flows into the fjord. It is a fast process.

      The folks doing ice models need to move on to finite element analysis. They have tended toward “most defensible models”, but “most defensible model” is not always “best estimate”. I have long given up publishing, as many reviewers consider my calculations to be alarmist. I was a risk manager at a large engineering firm, We thought about what could go wrong in our projects, so we could take reasonable precautions. I found that the best managers wanted “best estimate” rather than most defensible model.

  27. National Summary Information – February 2014

    U.S. saw regional extremes for winter 2013/2014 including widespread dryness, unusual cold, record warmth, and heavy snow

    Overall, contiguous U.S. experienced much drier and colder than average winter that ranked ninth driest and 34th coldest on record.

  28. Mark Archambault

     /  March 13, 2014

    Mother Nature goes to bat, after doing steroids:

    How ironic if a long slumbering super-bug from the not-so-permafrost becomes the face of Mother Nature fighting back against an ever growing fever.

  29. kenluskin

     /  March 13, 2014

    Robert, I will try to avoid the caps key!

    Somebody decided that using the current heat actual trapping level of Methane would cause confusion, for some crazy reason, because they wanted to make a 100 year model, and they wanted to reduce the current effect of Methane in importance.

    If you talk to most people who understand that Co2 is important factor in climate change, they have never ever heard about Methane.

    This simply because it clouds the discussion, and confuses people. Most people will say that human activities do not cause Methane emissions. So, if Methane is publicized as half the problem,(as it really currently is) then it weakens the case against Co2.

    No doubt that there are numerous human causes for the increase in Methane starting 100 years ago:

    1) drilling for oil and gas
    2) mining coal and other minerals
    3) farm animals

    All greatly add Methane to the atmosphere above the natural causes.

    As an example of how scientists can fixate on something while excluding something of equally or greater importance is the debate about modern diet and heart disease.

    1) In the 1950s the U.S. heart attack rate started increasing rapidly.
    2) The medical community decided that the entire cause was too much fat.
    3) So, for the next 50 years, all everyone heard about was that they should avoid heating fat.
    4) Every packaged food became non fat!

    ***Recently a bunch of studies showed that Vegetarians, who ate no animal fats, had no better life expectancy.

    Now Doctors realize that human system is a lot more complicated, and there are other factors besides saturated fat, that cause health problems.

    1) Refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are also linked to many health problems.

    In fact, fat is a very necessary part of a diet, while refined sugar/HFCS is not.

    2) Non saturated fats are more healthy than saturated fats

    The answer to the Vegetarian question is twofold:

    It turns out that heart disease, and many other diseases including cancer, are linked to chronic inflammation.

    1) There are 2 key fatty acids linked to diet because the body cannot manufacture them. Omega 3s and Omega 6s What is important is the ratio of these in a diet. Omega 6s are pro-inflammatory, while Omega3s are anti-inflammatory. Omega3s are found in fatty fish and ground flax seeds. While there are a number of non saturated fats that contain high amounts of Omega 6s. So, if the vegetarians did not eat seafood, they tended to have much higher Omega6 intake, and much lower omega3 intake.

    2) Homocysteine! The vegetarians had significantly higher levels of this pro-inflammatory amino acid, than the meat eaters. One of the ways the body reduces Homocystine levels is through the Vitamin B-12. For a vegetarian B-12 is very difficult to obtain since it is mainly derived from fish and animal products. But, there are a number of packaged foods that are fortified with B12, which were probably being avoided by most vegetarians.

    So, for decades Americans were avoiding fat, while guzzling sodas and devouring sugar/syrup laden foods…. the result is that Americans are fatter than ever, and sicker than ever.
    A high saturated fat foods such as eggs, are very satiating. While high carbohydrate foods (fruit juice) that people think are “healthy”, tend to greatly increase appetite.
    Back to Climate change:

    1) From the current level of Co2 there is very little chance it will increase more than 10 percent over the next decade. Natural sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide include volcanic outgassing, the combustion of organic matter, wildfires and the respiration processes of living aerobic organisms. Without massive Volcanic outgassing, Co2 levels were relatively stable for millions of years. There is no Co2 feedback loop. The feedback loop from human induced increase in Co2/Methane levels is more Methane, that eventually breaks down into Co2. So, the problem is not from the small increase in Co2 levels from Methane breaking down, its from the heat trapping during the time Methane is present.

    2) Methane >>> It is the simplest alkane, and the principal component of natural gas. Methane in the atmosphere is eventually oxidized, producing carbon dioxide and water. As a result, methane in the atmosphere has a half life of seven years. The Earth’s crust contains huge amounts of methane. Large amounts of methane are produced anaerobically by methanogenesis. Other sources include mud volcanoes, which are connected with deep geological faults, and livestock (primarily cows) from enteric fermentation.

    3) Based upon a 7 year half life: at 14 years there is still 1/4 of Methane still in the atmosphere. Since atmospheric Methane was in a relatively stable range for hundreds of thousands of years, and most probably millions of years, it is clear that a certain amount is naturally produced even during ice ages. Otherwise, it would break down and be gone from the atmosphere.

    The Risk: massive increases in atmospheric Methane are very real. Vast stores of carbon in the form of frozen tundra, have lied dormant and sealed away for millions of years.
    The most probable way this carbon could be released into the atmosphere is by decaying and turning into Methane.

    3)Of course humans should try to stop the production of Co2 immediately, but the present level would still exist for thousands of years.

    4) Therefore, the key risk to an all out run away disaster over the next few decades is from massive releases of methane.

    5) There is an immediate forcing of 100 fold greater than Co2 per molecule in the atmosphere. The increased heat causes arctic tundra to melt faster, which increases the methane release. Therefore, there is a real risk of runaway global warming from the release of Methane.

    6) The amount of Co2 plus Methane is already baked into the heat trapping cake. The result is that 80% of the volume of the polar ice cap has melted in just the last 14 years. Greenland is now melting at triple the rate 15 years ago. Current models do not explain these melt rates.

    7) Water melts frozen tundra significantly faster than air of an even higher temperature.

    8) SIBERIAN SHELF: >>> The Siberian Shelf, one of the Arctic Ocean coastal shelves (such as Milne Ice Shelf), is the largest continental shelf of the Earth, a part of the continental shelf of Russia. It extends from the continent of Eurasia in the general area of North Siberia (hence the name) into the Arctic Ocean. It stretches to 1,500 kilometers (930 mi) offshore. It is relatively shallow, with average depth of 100 meters. ( The ESAS is only an average of 50 meters in depth)

    9) ESAS: >>> why it is important is because the seabed of this shelf is very thick – its a few kilometers of thickness. And this includes in itself the so-called super carbon pool. It is covered with subsea permafrost. Permafrost is a frozen ground which is on top of the sediments and they serve as a cap preventing or capturing the methane escaping from the seabed. And because the permafrost was thought to be stable, and reliably preventing this methane escaping from the seabed deposits, this area has never been considered a source of methane to the atmosphere, never until very recently when started investigating this area ten years ago<<>>SHAKHOVA: During those five years of investigation we accumulated enough knowledge to report about eight million tons of methane escaping annually to the atmosphere of our planet. Now were budgeting about 17 teragrams, 17 million tons of methane escaping into the atmosphere of our planet, and this is on par with what Arctic tundra is currently emitting into our atmosphere, and Arctic tundra is thought to be the major source of methane, natural source of methane, in northern hemisphere, so its kind of comparable to terrestrial sources and it is even more important I think. <<>>SHAKHOVA: Important because in other ecosystems, methane, to be released, needs to be produced first, because methanogenesis is the process responsible for the origin of methane. In the sea bed, as I said, this methane has been producing for hundreds of thousands of years, but been prevented from escaping to the atmosphere because the permafrost on top of the sediment has been serving as a cap, as a seal, preventing the escape. <<>>The concentration of methane in the atmosphere is increasing much faster than that of carbon dioxide. It means the last 200 years, the concentration of methane in the atmosphere increased about three times. This is much faster that what is carbon dioxide is increasing. This is the major concern of our scientific community<<>>warming of permafrost leads to its failure to prevent the carbon pool from releasing, and the carbon pool, and in particular the methane, which is ready to go, which has been accumulated for a long time, is what is releasing. And this methane serves as the greenhouse gas, which warms the planet again, which warms the Arctic. So this is the loop, when the Arctic is warming and releases more methane<<>>So you’re saying the more methane that comes off the Arctic, the warmer things will get, which will lead to more methane coming off the Arctic… SHAKHOVA: This is exactly how it works. <<>>CURWOOD: This all sounds very scary. I mean, methanes a very powerful greenhouse gas, and if its coming out at this rapid rate, we could be in a lot of trouble.<<>> SHAKHOVA: Yes, we could be, but we better believe in science and in ourselves because I’m sure that we will be able to come up with ideas how to solve this problem, how to fix it, how to mitigate, how to maybe recover this methane.

    >>>Because this, the methane, could be used as a fuel. It has some use for humanity, so we better utilize this methane as use for something important for us, rather than just being afraid of things, and there is no use in just being afraid.

    >>> We need to learn more about this planet. We need to learn more about this planet, we need to learn how to live in agreement in peace with this planet.<<<

    CURWOOD: Natalia Shakhova is Professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Thanks so much for taking this time with us today.

    SHAKHOVA: Thank you so very much for having me. That's been my pleasure, and my duty to inform you about the things we are investigating.<<<

    • And now I see how fossil fuel companies spin the methane issue. Burning the methane is a terrible idea. No matter who it comes from.

      If the notion is to warp the debate so as to supplant and ignore CO2, then you’re not going to get much traction here. BAU fossil fuel emissions get us to 800+ ppm CO2 by end of century which is more than enough to wreck the climate all by itself. A level that will remain in the atmosphere for ages and ages if we reach it.

      Methane, at least, rapidly oxidizes. And the current rate of atmospheric increase is 4ppb per year — in the worst case, .4 CO2e.

      Yes, reducing the methane emission would help immensely. Ironically, we could do this by switching to a vegan diet! But the notion of collecting sea bed methane for burning is not likely to help us in the least. In fact, any further continuation of the fossil fuel based economy is a disaster in motion.

      Fuel cells? Vaporware. It’s the clean coal for natural gas — only trotted out as a distraction. And even with the admittedly highly efficient fuel cells, carbon emission continues…

      Ken —

      This is what I will do:

      1. I will not ignore methane and the potential risk posed by large release (though currently very murky).
      2. Keep providing clarification RE radiative forcing and global warming potential.
      3. Keep monitoring CO2 as the primary ghg due to current rate of increase, dominance as the primary global climate regulator (NASA), and due to its massive influx from fossil fuel based industry.

      I will not promote schemes that generally ignore the problem of continued human carbon dioxide emission, however.

  30. Aaron Lewis

     /  March 16, 2014

    Let me play the devil’s advocate here. Consider a methane plume from the bottom of the ocean, or a lake, or a pipeline that is flammable. That means that the plume is at least ~ 5% by volume (50,000 ppmv) CH4. At 105 equivalent CO2, it is ~ 5,000,000 ppmv equivalent CO2 as a greenhouse gas within the volume of the plume. It takes a lot of mixing, to knock that down into the 400 ppmv range. And, if the plume is from decomposing clathrates, then it might be much more than 5% ppmv CH4.

    • Oh, it’s a disaster. To what extent is not entirely clear at this point. The boundaries defined by AMEG and Archer/Schimdt are not at all comforting to me. We need better research to nail these risks down. Why an army of scientists isn’t descending on the Arctic to rapidly assess methane and other amplifying feedbacks that are clearly now in play is beyond me.

      As it’s possible that paleoclimate and the models fail due to the fact that the velocity of human forcing isn’t well taken into these contexts.

      So my risk analysis is caught between the conservative rock that is the official science and the hard place that is the exponential curve fitting of AMEG. Do I want to completely discount either? No. Am I satisfied with either. No.

      And here is why I think Archer/Schmidt, AMEG and everyone else in their right mind should be screaming for both rapid mitigation/response as well as a comprehensive assessment of the Arctic carbon store along with full monitoring.

      Do you want me to step outside the science and provide a speculative assessment?

      We have 3,000 to 5,000 gt carbon in various stores around the Arctic. We can assume this store will release, eventually with the Arctic thaw. During the end of the last ice age, it took about 5,000 years for the liberated tundra and seabed stores to release.

      Given the pace of human warming, the liberated stores (if the entire Arctic thaws, which it probably will without very decisive action by humans) may well release over 400-1000 years averaging 2-10 gt per year, but ramping up and then tailing off on a curve.

      A portion of this release will be CO2. A portion will be methane. Could we hit 1-3 gt per year of methane or more from this source eventually? Possibly. Do we have any major scientific assessment describing this risk? No.

      The problem is that the velocity of human forcing is not well accounted for in the science. And this needs to happen now. Otherwise we really don’t know where the precipice lies.

      And, as mentioned above, we need a comprehensive assessment and monitoring of the entire Arctic carbon store.

      In any case, if the notion is to burn hundreds to thousands of gigatons of methane or convert it into CO2 in the oxidation chambers of fuel cells, the notion is the height of stupidity. We have zero carbon energy sources now. We need to use those while doing our best to keep the methane monster in its traps. Not work to let it out of its cage. Such a notion is the very peak of insanity.

  31. Reblogged this on Move for Change and the Brooklyn Culture Jam and commented:
    Haven’t posted in a few days, but this is reinforcing the story of methane and runaway climate change. Check out the full story at the ‘read more’ link.


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