When it Comes to The Arctic Methane Monster, What We Don’t Know Really Could Kill Us — NASA Model Study Shows Very High Carbon Release Uncertainty

(Can we save humanity from the greatest threat ever? Must-watch video highlights the risks and uncertainties of catastrophic methane release from the Arctic environment.)

After millions of years of ice ages, the Arctic has become a vast repository of fossil carbon.

Over the millennia, layer after layer of carbon-based biological material has been locked away in the frozen soil of the Arctic tundras and sea beds. Some of these stores have simply become entombed within the ice. Others, already turned to methane through the slow fluxes of time, underlay the frozen ground and the chilly Arctic sea-bed floor as a kind of fire ice.

An unstable, flammable, and explosive substance called clathrate.

The stores themselves are massive — containing between 2,000 to 3,000 billion tons or more of carbon. Likely more than five times the amount of carbon humans have already emitted into the atmosphere over the past 150 years. An amount that has already likely locked in about 1.8 C of warming short term and 3.6 C worth of warming long-term.

But a thawing Arctic could set off a chain of events leading to far worse warming to come.

In a cold, ice-age world these carbon stores are no threat. Like a sleeping dragon, they remained dormant in the world’s chill zones — unable to break the seal of the ice. But in a world that humans are forcing to rapidly warm through a pace of greenhouse gas emission at least 6 times faster than at any time in Earth’s billions-years history, we risk a major release of this monstrous carbon stockpile.

A Matter of Methane Feedback

We really don’t know how much heat forcing is required to set off a runaway release of this monstrous pile of carbon. But we’ve already warmed the world by at least 0.8 degrees Celsius and many Arctic researchers believe that just 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming is enough to thaw all the Arctic’s tundra.

Such a thaw would certainly expose the massive tundra carbon store to the elements and to microbial action. Increasing an already significant release of Arctic carbon and greatly contributing to the human heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans through greenhouse gas emissions.

Dragon's Breath Jason Box

(In a recent article on his Meltfactor blog, Dr. Jason Box questions whether local anomalies in Arctic methane data involve mini methane outbursts set off by human-caused heating. Dr. Box also, appropriately questioned whether such releases were signs of a potential and larger release due to the human heat forcing of the Arctic environment. Dr. Box, in a manner similar to our own investigation of the Arctic Methane Monster, metaphorically labels these outbursts ‘dragon’s breath.’ Image source: Meltfactor.)

A few years ago, a group of 41 Arctic researchers suggested that even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gasses rapidly, the Arctic release of carbon would equal about 10 percent of human annual human emissions and would continue for a long time into the future. More ominously, these researchers noted that a failure to rapidly draw down human carbon emissions would result in an annual Arctic release of equivalent to 35% or more of the human emission — putting the world on track for a runaway warming scenario.

But the matter of Arctic carbon release is anything but simple or easy to understand. For a significant portion — possibly as much 1/3 to 1/2 of the Arctic carbon store could release as methane. And methane, on very short time scales, is a very potent greenhouse gas. Over the course of 20 years, methane has a global warming potential 86 times that of a similar volume of CO2. If even a very small portion of the Arctic carbon store were to release as methane over a relatively short period — 1, 5, 10 or 50 gigatons out of a total store measuring in the thousands of gigatons — it could greatly exaggerate the already powerful human warming underway or, in the worst case, set off a runaway heating event similar to that of the great Permian and PETM extinctions.

A Poorly Understood Risk

Unhelpfully, there is nowhere near enough direct observation of the Arctic environment to pin down the current rate of carbon release or the likely increase in release rates over the past few decades. We have studies that show more methane emitting from tundra lakes, for example. We have the Semiletov and Shakhova expeditions to the Arctic Ocean which keep providing higher and higher estimates of the methane emissions coming from plumes on the sea floors of the Laptev and East Siberian Seas. We have studies that show increasing CO2 and methane release from the vast carbon stores of Yedoma’s frozen tundra in Siberia. And we have the more disturbing instances of explosive methane outbursts — likely from rapidly thawing clathrates beneath the permafrost — in the Yamal region of Russia this year that resulted in a dramatic cratering of Siberian tundra.

Arctic Methane Overburden

(Large sea-bed methane release ongoing? The Arctic continues to show a very significant overburden of Methane — hinting at larger releases of methane from the Arctic environment. Last year during October, methane readings over the Gakkel Ridge spiked to 2662 parts per billion — or more than 800 parts per billion above the global average — before diffusing into the atmosphere. The above image shows methane over the same region spiking to over 2,400 parts per billion on September 16 of 2014. Link: Arctic News.)

But these studies and instances focus only on subsections of the Arctic. And, in much the way several blind men investigating the various parts of an elephant might disagree on the overall shape of the beast, we have a similar problem with understanding the total shape of the threat posed by Arctic methane and carbon release.

Dr. David Archer, who has developed various model essays of potential Arctic and sea bed methane release claims that there is essentially zero cause for concern for a large-scale methane release this century. A number of Arctic researchers disagree with the chief of these being Peter Wadhams, Dr Semiletov and Dr Shakhova who all seem very concerned about the potential for a large-scale release soon. A middle ground is populated by a number of researchers like Carolyn Ruppel and Sue Natali from the Woods Hole observatory. These researchers are rationally calling for more data on an issue that is all-too-poorly understood in the science.

NASA’s CARVE Finds Models in Disagreement Over Arctic Carbon Release

This current lack of broader understanding and scientific consensus on the issue of potential Arctic and Earth Systems response to a growing human heating of the atmosphere and ocean was highlighted in last week’s report by NASA’s CARVE study.

The study — aimed at monitoring Arctic Carbon emissions — ran a number of global climate models to try and determine how much carbon is currently being released from the Arctic environment. The study didn’t try to pin down future release scenarios. It just aimed at trying to establish a base line for emissions as they stand now. An understanding required to provide any clear assessment of where Arctic carbon emissions may be going in the future.

The researchers plugged the current spotty Arctic carbon emissions data into 40 global climate models and the models dutifully spit out results that were all across the board. In essence, the models confirmed what we risk analysts already knew — there’s not enough information currently available to provide a clear understanding of potential Arctic carbon release scenarios much less pin down how much carbon is currently being emitted.

From last week’s Science Daily Report:

How much carbon is leaving its thawing soil and adding to Earth’s greenhouse effect? …

A new study conducted as part of NASA’s Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) shows just how much work still needs to be done to reach a conclusion on this and other basic questions about the region where global warming is hitting hardest.

Lead author Josh Fisher of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, analyzed 40 computer models of the amounts and flows of carbon in the Alaskan Arctic and boreal ecosystems. His team found wide disagreement among the models, highlighting the urgent need for more measurements from the region…

“We all knew there were big uncertainties in our understanding, and we wanted to quantify their extent,” said Fisher. That extent proved to be greater than almost anyone expected. “The results were shocking to most people,” he said.

Cause For Rapid Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Now


(Ocean methane seeps like these recently discovered vents off the US East Coast and those Discovered in the Laptev Sea by the SWERUS C3 expedition are almost always more numerous and energetic than expected — a likely result of increasing human heat forcing. Such releases almost always include destabilized clathrate stores. Image source: Nature-Geoscience.)

It will take years for scientists to more certainly pin down the risk posed by Arctic Carbon and methane release. A risk that now wraps within it the potential to set off a new Permian type hothouse extinction during the coming 1 to 3 centuries. A risk that, altogether, is likely the most dire risk we’ve ever faced as a species.

As such, we can’t wait for absolute certainty on the scope of that risk. Whether there’s enough sensitivity to set off a large Arctic carbon release at 1.5 C or 6 C warming is moot — because we know that continuing to burn fossil fuels eventually gets us there sooner or later.

So as we continue to research what may well be the greatest environmental threat we’ve ever faced it is entirely prudent to begin a rapid reduction of global carbon emissions with a goal to hit zero carbon and net negative carbon emissions as soon as possible. The risks are simply too great to continue to delay action.

High Risk of Permafrost Thaw

With Few Data Arctic Carbon Models Lack Consensus

Can We Save Humans From the Greatest Threat Ever?

Rate of Methane Release From Tundra Thaw Lakes Increases by 58%

Why We Should Be Paying More Attention to Methane

Hundreds of Seeping Methane Plumes Discovered off US East Coast


Arctic News

SWERUS C3 Arctic Carbon Study

NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Climate Science: The Vast Cost of Arctic Change

Arctic Methane Monster Shortens Tail: ESAS Emitting Methane at Twice Expected Rate

Arctic Methane Monster Exhales: Third Tundra Crater Found in Siberia

High Velocity Human Warming Leads to Arctic Methane Monster’s Rapid Rise from Fens

How Much Methane Came Out of That Hole in Siberia?

Rapid Arctic Thaw Could be Economic Timebomb

Hat Tip to Apneaman

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

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  1. Reblogged this on GarryRogers Nature Conservation and commented:
    The word prudent does not seem to be present in the vocabularies of our leaders.

  2. wili

     /  September 29, 2014

    I really don’t quite understand why Archer and some others are so unwilling, as far as I’ve seen, to at least admit these kinds of unknowns. I linked this over at RealClimate. We’ll see if anyone addresses it.

    • wili

       /  September 30, 2014

      So I got a response from David Archer to the link to this post (and to another post on the same story). This is his response:

      [Response: It’s true that there are lots of uncertainties on the rate of Arctic or oceanic hydrate methane emission. But there isn’t much uncertainty on whether or not these sources are globally significant. They are small, relative to other sources. That’s well known. David]

      This is how I responded to that:

      “Thanks for all your responses, Professor Archer. They are to me the best part among the many good parts of this blog. Surely, though, the last graph, at least, if not deceptive exactly, does not tell the most important part of the story. Most of the non-Arctic hydrate is quite deep, as I understand it, so not likely to make it into the atmosphere, or not for a very very long time.

      Furthermore, we have to hope/assume/work to make sure…that at least the hardest half of that coal to reach will never get used (and also won’t catch fire or reach the surface in some other way). So that basically cuts the ‘pie’ in half, now leaving Arctic sources as about a third, coal about the other third, and everything else the last third or so of sources likely to actually make it into the atmosphere in decade-to-centuries time spans.

      A third does not seem small relative to other sources.

      (Frankly a source that adds up to many times all the carbon that could ever be released from oil seems not very small relative to that source, either.)

      Thanks again for great posts and responses, and let’s agree in any case (I hope) that stopping carbon emissions from coal, gas and oil must be our top priorities, no matter what may or may not be looming in the Arctic. ”


      • wili

         /  October 1, 2014

        In general, David Archer seems like someone trying a bit too hard to convince us (and himself?) that there is no boogyman in the closet.

        • My opinion is that in the 80s and 90s scientists of a similar mindset to Archer would have set time frames for glacial melt substantial enough to drive sea level rise greater than 1-2 feet per century on the scale of hundreds to thousands of years in the future. The primary focus is on what is happening now and on very conservative projections of sensitivity to a forcing.

          In a similar vein, Arrhenius though it would take thousands of years for humans to have even the mildest effect on climate. As we well known now, Arrhenius was witnessing a dawn of an Anthropocene that would shove the Earth into hotter conditions than at any time in at least 100,000 years in little more than 100 years. It was a speed and scale well outside what Arrhenius envisioned. And I doubt Arrhenius in even his worst apocalyptic nightmares did not imagine what we will now almost certainly do by the end of this century if we don’t manage to stop BAU emissions.

          Dr. Archer is defending a difficult position — an undefined status quo in which the goal posts keep moving and in which the notions of stability primarily live in the simulation. Though we have no observational base line for the entire Arctic, the observed 58 percent increase in methane release from tundra lakes, the observed increase in the number of methane plumes emitting from Arctic sea floor regions (now likely greater than total world ocean methane releases), the observed rapid thawing of tundra, the observed methane blow hole phenomena set off by rapid Arctic warming, the observed and greater than expected hydrate destabilization off the US east coast, and continued observation of anomalous methane spikes in the Arctic region all provide background evidence of a growing concern that the bogeyman is rattling the closet door.

          Archer notes that emissions are small compared to the global methane source. This is mostly true. They’re probably in the range of 5 percent. But even at 5 percent they impact global heat forcing to a greater degree than all factors except human emission of NOx, human methane emission, and CO2. And 41 Arctic scientists other than Archer state that the impact could be higher than 35 percent of the total human emission from all sources by end century.

          In this context, the likely now ongoing methane feedback is having more effect on the Earth’s atmosphere now than Arrhenius envisioned humans having for thousands of years. And, sadly, the methane feedback to human forcings may have just gotten started.

          Overall, I think Hansen’s concern over methane release was the proper one. The human forcing is far faster than anything we’ve seen before and this may well put anomalous stresses on Earth systems such as the methane store with anomalous results.

          In addition, we are coming out of a glacial period during which Earth has had the opportunity to sequester far more carbon stores than just prior to the PETM. So we sit on a pile of carbon more comparable to during pre Permian times.

          From the context of observational risk, these two broad and over-riding factors should weigh heavily and should be clear cause for a swift as possible reduction in human greenhouse gas emission. When coupled with reports of increasing carbon feedback in the Arctic, the urgency should be ever greater.

          In this context, in a world heating faster than ever before and loaded with an immense store of heat-accessible carbon, we should not hang our hopes on overly optimistic, unproven, and narrow assurances that may prove false to the great detriment of every living thing. In the face of these threats, very swift action is required.

      • Wili —

        I think this is an excellent and very moderate response. I also appreciate the hard work for putting together such a relevant and salient post to one of the best science blogs on the web.

        In my view, this debate is one of key importance that, to my mind at least, highlights the urgency of fossil fuel emissions reductions.

        In any case, I appreciate the level of this discourse. For my part, I will continue to include Dr. Archer as a critical part of this discussion.

  3. Time for me to go and build and plant another garden bed of vegetables after reading this lest the fear takes over my mind. What kind of world have we left for our children?! Have we left them anything at all? 😦

  4. Here’s the paper by Fisher et al. It’s just come out in Biogeoscience…

    Carbon cycle uncertainty in the Alaskan Arctic

  5. james cole

     /  September 30, 2014

    Is it just me, or has the worsening outlook for the onset of global warming in the near future just gotten people to shut down? The rising threat of methane, plus the out of control CO2 releases, have pretty much smashed our hopes of having seem progress take hold in this decade. I am seeing people less willing to listen to the global warming story, not out of denial, but out of resignation to a bleak fate. Nobody wants you to tell them at a cocktail party that methane in the arctic seas is becoming unstable! Nobody wants to hear over thanksgiving dinner or the football game that the rate of rise in CO2 emissions is increasing. In conversation, I find nobody willing to listen if I bring up global warming and how much worse it is now than just ten years ago. I sense people in the general public now want to hide from the terrible realities that present climate science is revealing. I have always feared the worst case scenario, as regard time line for disruption of a stable climate, but I never dreamed we could be this far along in 2014. The arctic’s fast reactions to Co2 forcing is scaring me and others. The less overall knowledge the public has, the less they seem able to grasp the rapid increase in global warming.
    I really do fear the methane releases that warming seas are going to set off. The basic physics of the process is so simple, but the result is so awful that people by and large just don’t want to know anymore!

    • I equate the behavior to a person who is overwhelmed by bills, mortgage and is unemployed. They don’t open the bills in the mailbox. They just throw them in a pile, afraid to open them.

    • Henri

       /  September 30, 2014

      Reminds me of the case when a fault was detected in a dam’s structure. People far away downstream were worried. People living just miles from the dam were extremely worried. People living right next to the dam weren’t worried at all. The conclusion was that when the possibility was too dreadful to think about the human mind just shuts the reality out.

      • We’ve talked about this being a problem of human nature. I’m more of the mind recently that this is a problem of laissez faire ideology. People are taught that wide ranging societal responses to big problems like these is bad. So they do the mental equivalent to going back to their corners and shutting themselves away.

        If you teach a society that group think is wrong, then a problem like climate change that requires group think simply cannot be dealt with. In essence, the people who are killing group think are killing effective responses to climate change.

    • vardarac

       /  September 30, 2014

      The thing is that I think this is not on most people’s radar, at least in the West; there is not current widespread coverage of it compared to other current-goings on. Top searches for “what is being done about” do not include climate change until a “c” is added to this list, and even then it is only the fourth most searched topic. Indeed, a search for “climate change itself” brings up “hoax” and “skeptics” as third and fourth results.

      There are probably three other attitudes at work where awareness is involved, those being 1. I rely on the thing that needs to be shut down to stop the world from collapsing, so I do not want to change it; 2. This isn’t for real (too scary, not something I can see and comprehend in everyday life, etc.), 3. There’s nothing we can do about it; it’s too late/is part of a natural cycle/we’ll never get enough people on board.

      To be fair, I agree with some of that. I don’t think trying to rally the masses behind this will ever work. The people I think we should really be targeting are rising engineers and entrepreneurs, both with climate change facts and with potential technological vacuums that need to be filled to combat it.

      Provide incentives to tackle the problem and suggest specific solutions that a technical background could begin to attack in a more concrete way. This approach is beginning to work with SENS and I suspect it could have some impact in the climate fight as well. (We need it, too, if Exxon-Mobil’s latest “Be An Engineer” campaign is any indication – the last thing the world needs is new ways to dredge up fossil fuel.)

      • vardarac

         /  September 30, 2014

        An addendum to the list of attitudes: 4. You’re asking me to change my lifestyle? You are clearly just out to control me and are advancing socialism through a global warming hoax agenda. (Seriously, you will see this a lot every time this subject is brought up.)

      • Mark from New England

         /  September 30, 2014

        Vardarac, great comments, and I find that Exxon-Mobil ad sickening. It’s the worst case of greenwashing I’ve yet seen.

      • I suspect our best chance is for the non-fossil fuel oligarchs to get together and take down Exxon, Massey Energy, BP, etc. What is happening is not good for the bottom line for anyone but a fossil fuel top executive who expects to be dead in 20 years. Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, Toyota et al will die along with the rest of us, and their top management may decide to do something drastic. It won’t be compassionate, it may involve the sacrifice of many of the peasants, and it may not be effective. But it might be our best hope for decisions which will count, and won’t require a strong majority of voters to be enlightened and determined to change the various national governments.

        • The companies themselves will require government action. This will create fractures in the neoliberal structures many corps have married themselves too. You can see similar stresses from companies who have recently dumped ALEC. Google’s recent board response to dropping ALEC was along the lines of — ‘we don’t really want to do this but people concerned about climate change pressured us.’

          The issue of how we use resources and the exploit actions of human beings by corporations is one that is closely wedded. So I think the shift you suggest may be more fractious and contentious that it might appear at first blush.

      • If we can’t establish effective national and global climate policy action, then the other responses will almost certainly fail. They are helpful, but they will probably not be broad enough.

        It’s not a question of whether we can act together on a mass scale on the issue of climate change. It’s an awakening to a basic understanding that this is what we simply must do.

    • Idiocracy

       /  September 30, 2014

      I think there is a degree of willing and blissful ignorance on the part of many, particularily well off, people too. “You say reducing consumption to save the planet means i cant leave my ducted home airconditioning running all day long, while I’m out driving my luxury V8 Landbarge to eat at my favourite Korean BBQ restaurant?!?!” HOGWASH!!! This whole global warming thing is baloney anways!”

      Unless rich nations transform their underlying narrative and priorities (i.e. something much more sustainable then a capitalistic consumer society of endless growth on a finite word) then the outcome is inevitable. And like Mr Landbarge above, I can’t see many individuals, yet alone governments, willing to give an inch, not before it’s all to late at least.

    • Mark from New England

       /  September 30, 2014


      I think you’re definitely on to something with these observations, sad to say.


    • In conversation, I stick primarily to new glacial melt science. If people want to know about the potential worst case, then I talk about methane in the context of why action needs to be very rapid.

      The other day, I had a talk with a conservative RE sustainability and climate change. Apparently, he was required to take a sustainability class for a college curriculum. His primary complaint was what he called ‘a sense of imminent danger.’ He then went on to say that building a renewable energy base actually wasn’t so expensive.

      My response was that the risks for bad outcomes were growing and that the primary resistance to putting in place climate solution was political.

      If I were to take account of my two parents, my sister, my in laws, my bro rigger and sister in law, and my sister’s significant other all now are quite aware of the threat posed by climate change and are pushing for some response. My father is a new addition, primarily converted by access to the Climate Reanalyzer — as it has not yet registered even one day with global temperatures below the 1979 to 2000 average.

      The range of outlooks for those who are aware appears to be doomerism to response oriented outlooks. In my view, the most important impression we could make is the need for policy. As in the previous post, the conservative ideological stricture that pushes for no government action is what keeps enforcing a regime where climate outlooks grow worse and worse.

      In this case, individualism really does isolate us, forcing us to confront a problem we can’t possibly solve by ourselves in the loneliness and eerie quiet of increasingly unsettled minds.

  6. Looking for input from you folks.

    We’re looking at buying a place in the next 12 months. We’re definitely going solar, but I also had a further idea. I’m thinking of redirecting the drainage from the kitchen sink, bathtubs and washer into my own grey water system. It would be gravity based, filter the water and then use a settling tank from which I would have drop lines. We would use organic soaps to make the water easier to filter / correct.

    We always grow our own veggies + fruit so I would direct the water that way.

    Any suggestions, cautions, caveats etc…?

    • utoutback

       /  September 30, 2014

      Andy in SD –
      Depending on where you live there are laws related to gray water. Consult your local public health department. Kitchen sink water is considered black and must be sent to your septic tank or sanitation system. Gray water comes from bathroom sink & shower and laundry.
      Living in Utah, I am told that gray water must be released through underground pipes (I don’t agree with this) and should not be used on vegetables, but can be used for trees, including fruit trees and landscaping.

      • It would be interesting to see what kind of laws California, now in the grips of a years long drought, has for water usage. I’d think working on stretching each drop of water to its fullest would be a priority.

        Andy– sounds like an excellent project!

  7. scary! Will we ever learn?

  8. Colorado Bob

     /  September 30, 2014

    Scientists Trace Extreme Heat in Australia to Climate Change

    The savage heat waves that struck Australia last year were almost certainly a direct consequence of greenhouse gases released by human activity, researchers said Monday. It is perhaps the most definitive statement climate scientists have made tying a specific weather event to global warming.

    Five groups of researchers, using distinct methods, analyzed the heat that baked Australia for much of 2013 and continued into 2014, briefly shutting down the Australian Open tennis tournament in January when the temperature climbed to 111 degrees Fahrenheit.

    All five research groups came to the conclusion that last year’s heat waves could not have been as severe without the long-term climatic warming caused by human emissions.

    “When we look at the heat across the whole of Australia and the whole 12 months of 2013, we can say that this was virtually impossible without climate change,” said David Karoly, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne who led some of the research.

    • New Stanford study also links the California drought to climate change. In this case, the study focuses on strengthening high pressure systems in a thickening atmosphere.

  9. Phil

     /  September 30, 2014

    A very good and timely post. Out of all the things that could potentially go pear shaped really quickly, I think this is the issue – both land based permafrost and also the seabed based deposits. I also think you are right in defining it as a risk management issue. We certainly need much more information about what is happening there so that the risk can be assessed, including modelling based upon more thorough information.

    • I find it hard to believe we can construct a reliable predictive model for future methane release when we don’t even know how much methane is being released now. We can saw, based on the observations we have from here and there that it might be 35 teragrams, but we can’t even get the models to agree on that. Because we can’t establish a base line Arctic emission, we can’t observe the rate of increase. If we had established a base line 30 years ago, we could at least say, for example, that emissions from this region of the world had more than doubled, for example.

      I also think that direct observation would provide access to a better understanding of some the real world physical mechanisms that would end up going into a more accurate predictive model essay. But at this point, the fact that we can’t even pin down the base case release data is pretty telling that the science has a lot of ground to cover in a short time.

  10. Colorado Bob

     /  September 30, 2014

    Wildlife numbers plunge as human population nearly doubles – survey

    Wildlife numbers have plunged by more than half in just 40 years as Earth’s human population has nearly doubled, a survey of over 3,000 vertebrate species has revealed.

    From 1970 to 2010, there was a 39-per cent drop in numbers across a representative sample of land- and sea-dwelling species, while freshwater populations declined 76 per cent, the green group WWF said in its 2014 Living Planet Report.

    Extrapolating from these figures, “the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish across the globe is, on average, about half the size it was 40 years ago,” it said.

    The 52-per cent decrease confirmed mankind was chomping through Nature’s bounty much faster than the rate of replenishment, the WWF warned.


  11. And, from California, USA:

    ‘Stanford Report, September 30, 2014
    Causes of California drought linked to climate change, Stanford scientists say

    The extreme atmospheric conditions associated with California’s crippling drought are far more likely to occur under today’s global warming conditions than in the climate that existed before humans emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases.
    The atmospheric conditions associated with the unprecedented drought currently afflicting California are “very likely” linked to human-caused climate change, Stanford scientists write in a new research paper.

    In a new study, a team led by Stanford climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh used a novel combination of computer simulations and statistical techniques to show that a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure hovering over the Pacific Ocean that diverted storms away from California was much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations’

    – Hey, Robert: “…high atmospheric pressure hovering over the Pacific Ocean… much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas”
    – Indeed!

    • The high is right here, at about 9 o’clock:

    • Indeed! And last week’s storm now appears to be just one more minor interlude in the block, which has again RE-established in force.

      I am now wondering about the chicken and egg problem of all that warm NE Pacific water. The large block would tend to keep that water very warm and the water itself would help to anchor the block. I think there’s an atmosphere ocean interplay that needs to be looked at as well.

      In any case, the factors now identified in the science include stronger highs due to a thickening atmosphere, loss of sea ice and polar amplification contributing to the formation of Rossby Waves in which the blocks can reside, and polar amplification influencing NE Pacific SST warming.

  12. Colorado Bob

     /  September 30, 2014

    Ocean acidification could lead to collapse of coral reefs

    An expedition from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Carnegie Institute of Science has measured a roughly 40% reduction in the rate of calcium carbonate deposited in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in the last 35 years—a scenario that could damage the reef framework and endanger the entire coral ecosystem.

    Read more at: Link

    • Coral gets a 1-2 punch. Ocean acidification advances from the north, coral endangering heating events advance from the south.,,

    • If the GBR is under threat from acidification now, it could well be in a state of irreversible collapse by mid century.

      • Phil

         /  September 30, 2014

        I think the consensus now is that it is already in irreversible decline – just the timing is at issue – whether a couple of decades or a bit longer. Under BAU, it certainly is finished. The issue is whether it could recover in a decarbonised world?

    • bill shockley

       /  October 1, 2014

      Richard Heinberg quoted Sylvia Earle saying that the path we’re on leads to a dead ocean by 2050.

      • This century certainly sees a rapid transition to a stratified ocean state together with terribly increasing acidification and anoxia. Under BAU, we are almost certainly on a path to a Canfield Ocean or worse when you consider other factors.

        When you consider the terrible plight of today’s oceans a BAU 2050 ocean is difficult and terrifying to imagine.

      • Bill —

        Absolutely fantastic talk. My general thoughts are we certainly need broad action to help the world’s oceans. It also helps to go vegan. We are literally eating our way through this vast reserve. Too much consumption and not much left.

        Thanks again for posting this here.

      • bill shockley

         /  October 2, 2014

        robert wrote:
        “Thanks again for posting this here.”

        Glad to help, but not sure why—seems like I’m always going away from this thread with a sick feeling. LOL

  13. Check out the air temp anomaly at Antarctica on Climate Reanalyzer. Huge area >+20C anomaly. Also, sea temp anomaly for Northern Hemisphere is off the rails as well. Jet Stream over Russia seems to be misplaced/missing.

    Anyone have thoughts or insight?

    • These are global temps at + 1.15 to +1.2 C above the 1880s average for the day – a very strong positive departure.

      Ridging over the Southern Ocean adjacent to West Antarctica is leading to powerful positive anomalies in excess of +20 C for large sections of that vulnerable region. Past two days has seen Antarctica above +3 C positive anomaly.

      Likewise, we have a strong oceanic flow of warm air running up over the Atlantic and into the Barents, Kara, and Laptev seas which is contributing to strong positive temperature anomalies in the Arctic as well.

      As fall advances, we would expect polar amplification to intensify in the Arctic. But intensification of polar amplification during the Antarctic spring is not a good sign. If that ridge persists, it could have serious impacts come summer.

  14. Tom

     /  September 30, 2014

    We have maybe a generation left and you talk about the threat being centuries off.

    • Tom — this statement makes me wonder if you even read the article. Of course the threat of climate change is imminent. But I suppose you are talking about the threat of near term human extinction? Or the issue, perhaps, of runaway methane release that is a low risk now but appears well set up for heightening risks over the course of the this century and those to follow? If so, please clarify in future posts.


      If we are looking at a risk based understanding of the science, we have to consider the whole of the science, not just the most pessimistic examples. One generation left would be the absolute worst case. But, yes, we must consider that too.

      Most likely, though, under laissez faire BAU without broad policy response we are looking at a catastrophe that is ramping up now and that continues for centuries and millennia. The human animal would be caught up in the tragedy along with the rest of life. We’re a very tough species. But, yes, our survival is in question, especially if we can’t learn to work together on a global scale to rapidly solve this problem.

  15. Spike

     /  September 30, 2014

    One argument I have seen deployed against a major Arctic carbon release leading to a self sustaining greenhouse warming is that it didn’t happen in previous Pleistocene interglacials, despite some being warmer than the Holocene. This would be reassuring if they had been several degrees warmer, but I have read Hansen’s work suggesting that the Eemian was only around 1C warmer, which we must be pretty close to now. Uncharted territory approaches unless other interglacials were warmer still – do we know? The fact that the permafrost researchers linked to by Robert above talk of a 10 to 35% of current anthropogenic release later this century would imply a need for huge negative human emissions to stand still then. I do wonder if some of the scientific reserve is related to the realisation that this implies we may have already crossed a threshold, that we are already in an environmental equivalent of On the Beach, and that if this was apparent to the public it would lead to despair and unwillingness to proceed with tackling CO2 emissions on the basis that it would be apparently a lost cause, an argument which we have all seen deniers use recently – eat drink and be merry, for later this century….

    • Part of the issue is that even though current temperatures are comparable to the Eemian, the state of global energy imbalance is far worse. If we reached an Earth Systems energy balance, the global temperature is likely in the range of 3.6 C above 1880 with all ghg forcings and feedbacks included. So we are not really looking at an Eemian climate we are looking at a climate that is moving into the Miocene or earlier. And each year we add a tremendous volume of heat trapping gasses to the problem making it that much worse.

      • mikkel

         /  September 30, 2014

        I really really wish that this would start to be recognized more by many climate scientists. The main threat to methane stores comes from warm currents and very severe (if relatively short term) heat waves that cause enough melt to unlock biological feedback. Both of these things are directly related most to energy imbalance, with total heat a secondary characteristic.

        I think it’s highly likely that the Arctic is already having heat waves far stronger than the Eemian saw, even if the Eemian was a bit warmer on average.

        It’s not just methane either — this same blindness has led to some facepalming over comments about droughts and weather has well.

    • wili

       /  September 30, 2014

      Past is not necessarily prolog. Lots more carbon has been sequestered in the Arctic since the Eemian. Much of that has now been slowly warming for about 10,000 years now.

  16. Every day or 2 I scout through climate change / global warming related articles in the news. I do so to gauge the media attention and opinion, as well as a skim of the comments to see roughly where john-q-public is on this. I would have thought with the now irrefutable evidence of disruptions we would see more information, and less nonsense opinion bits.

    Unfortunately, it looks like the paid opinion bits which have the thin veneer of claiming to be information (heartland types), denial articles (regurgitating the same tired debunked material) and such now seem to range from 40 to 60% of the media content. The comments sections have been overwhelmed by the anti-science crowd with 60 to 80% of the content.

    It appears that a confluence of the denial industry doubling down (very well paid to do so) and their unpaid foot soldiers have hit the internet hard, just as many people have perhaps given up on trying to educate others with real information.

    • Perhaps we should set up a Reddit-style bot to parse comments on a page and reply with links to evidence directly refuting already-used points or sources that users make. Would make it easier than continually link-hunting.

      • I’ve found that negative renewable energy misinformation is just as rampant as climate change denial and misinformation. Add to that a complete denial of policy response.

        The strategy appears to be:

        1. Deny climate change, failing that see 2
        2. Deny renewable energy’s viability as a response, failing that see 3
        3. Deny effective policy response

        The first tier involves an appeal to the hard core of the right wing church of climate change denial. The second tier involves a broader appeal to those who are generally leery of technology. The third tier involves a much more broad appeal against anyone who is suspicious of government action.

        The strategy appears to be to completely and utterly dominate the policy debate with the bully deniers acting as spoilers to demoralize the opposition. It’s tough to respond rationally to such a cynical set of approaches. I moderate most of it out here as it simply repeats the same arguments endlessly in propaganda style fashion.

        The problem with the endless repetition is that the individual refuter has to redo the work each and every time. So your approach might be an option with the casualty being an actual discourse. But it’s probably fair to say that we don’t really have much of a discourse on the unmoderated sites now.

    • The climate march and related fall outs have kicked the hornets’ nest. Even small actions on climate change can be a huge threat to some of these special interests. So there’s a kind of desperate response at the moment.

      We did have a couple of decent recent announcements —

      New York to push for 80 percent carbon emission reduction by 2050 along with huge renewable incentive programs from the state.

      Statoil to delay large tar sands expansion for at least three years due to pipeline access uncertainty.

      Also, there’s a huge push now being organized by oil interests to remove the renewable fuels standard. The climate narrative cuts directly against that grain.

      These are just a few examples, but overall, we are in a state of total media and political warfare over the issue.

  17. Unless we change direction, the world will warm 3-5 degrees Celsius

    • Should say ‘this century.’

    • wili

       /  October 1, 2014

      Thanks for that report. Note that they focus on economic growth, as well as population, as something that needs to be changed rapidly to address the problem. From the article:

      “Population and economic growth are key drivers of change,” Reilly says.

      And of course the economy can be changed much much faster (in a relatively humane way, that is) than can population dynamics (not that we don’t have to work on that, too).

      • bill shockley

         /  October 1, 2014

        wili wrote:
        ““Population and economic growth are key drivers of change,” Reilly says.

        And of course the economy can be changed much much faster (in a relatively humane way, that is) than can population dynamics (not that we don’t have to work on that, too).”

        A carbon tax (especially the carbon fee & dividend method) is a beautiful thing: it addresses both population and economic growth in addition to the obvious issues of CO2 and environment. It wasn’t obvious to me, but Richard Heinberg does an amazing job of establishing that in his videos.

        Not sure if it means anything but Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson have spoken out in favor of climate action:

        • Couldn’t agree more with Heinberg on the carbon tax. That and about a hundred other measures are needed. But a carbon tax would certainly help.

          Paulson says he’s been an environmentalist for years. My view is he’s selling something — probably consulting. But at least it’s not oil, gas and coal…

  18. Apneaman

     /  September 30, 2014

    No risk is too small or too big to ignore.

    Nation fails to address coastal and inland flood risks, civil engineer society says

    • A national strategy would be nice…

    • Andy (at work)

       /  September 30, 2014

      I suspect the insurance industry will react to the issue quicker than the glacial movement within the powers that be.


      N. Carolina where it is illegal to mention the words “climate change”, “ocean rising” or other such things so that developers can keep hawking properties which will be vulnerable in the future. I think the only way that tactic will end or get side swiped is when the insurance industry says “nope, not going to cover those properties”.

      A national strategy would be optimal, but I fear that won’t occur until the effects are well upon us.

  19. Colorado Bob

     /  September 30, 2014

    Study links heat waves in Asia to climate change

    Human-caused climate change increased the severity of last year’s heat waves in Asia, a new report found. But not all extreme weather events could be linked to global warming, as climate expert Thomas Peterson tells DW.

    The report, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, investigates the causes of a wide variety of extreme weather and climate events from around the world in 2013. Titled “Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective” the 84-page document examines the causes of 16 individual extreme events – including heat waves, rain, flood, droughts and storms – that occurred on four continents in 2013.

    Thirteen independent studies mentioned in the report – compiled by 92 scientists from around the globe – determined there was a link between extreme weather and the burning of fossil fuels. But while the authors found that human influence had substantially increased both the likelihood and severity of heat waves in places like Asia and Australia, it was more difficult to measure the influence of human activity on other events like droughts, heavy rain and storms.

  20. Doug

     /  September 30, 2014

    Robert, David Archer actually responded to your post on this topic over at real climate. (Wili linked to it over there. Archer’s response is near the bottom of the comments (in green type) under his post regarding methane.

  21. Colorado Bob

     /  September 30, 2014

    USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory has finally confirmed that it is becoming active. Mount St. Helens eruption may be coming and magma, pressure building are cause of worry.

  22. Jay M

     /  September 30, 2014

    Unfortunately I couldn’t locate a link to this article (09/30/2014) on the SFGate site, but the SF Chronicle plays the news as “Drought link to warming unclear” By Kurtis Alexander : However, the scientists said they could not conclusively tie global warming to California’s lack of rainfall. “It’s a lot easier to associate heat extremes with human influences than it is some of the other extremes,” said Thomas Karl, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center and one of the authors of the new report.

    So, a bit more of the old soft shoe from the local birdcage liner.

  23. Colorado Bob

     /  September 30, 2014

    The Aral Sea was once the fourth largest lake in the world.

    Watch it dry up.

  24. Colorado Bob

     /  September 30, 2014

    Growing, and Growing Vulnerable
    Barrier Islands Feeling the Effects of Climate Change

    Fire Island, Before and After Sandy

    Lidar laser light pulse images showing how Fire Island in New York looked before Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, left, and how Fire Island looked afterward.


  1. Existe Mesmo Um “Monstro de Metano Do Ártico”? | Alterações Climáticas
  2. When it Comes to The Arctic Methane Monster, What We Don’t Know Really Could Kill Us — N ASA Model Study Shows Very High Carbon Release Uncertainty | robertscribbler | Enjeux énergies et environnement
  3. Ignoring the Arctic Methane Monster: Royal Society Goes Dark on Arctic Observational Science | robertscribbler

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