NOAA’s 2016 Report Card: The Arctic is Shouting Change

From winter to spring to summer to fall, it’s been an odd year for the Arctic. And according to Donald Perovich, one of the authors of NOAA’s 2016 Arctic Report Card, the Arctic isn’t just whispering change, it’s not foretelling change, “it’s shouting change.

(NOAA’s Arctic Report Card presented at the American Geophysical Union this morning. Video source: AGU.)

****

Winter and spring of 2016 saw very warm temperatures in the northern polar region of our world. There, Arctic sea ice extent maximum hit its lowest values ever recorded in March. During summer, cooler, cloudier conditions prevented a complete meltdown by the time of sea ice minimum in September. However, sea ice extent bottomed out at second or third lowest on record in most of the major monitors. Moving into October, November and December, Arctic sea ice failed to refreeze at typical rates as extraordinarily warm temperatures were reinforced by pulses of air rising northward from the middle latitudes. At times, the gap between previous record low years and the new record lows seen during November of 2016 were as much as 1.1 million square kilometers. Now it is practically certain that average sea ice extents throughout 2016 will hit a new record low overall.

Arctic Warming at Least Twice as Fast as Rest of World

Much of this melt was almost certainly driven by the record warm Arctic temperatures seen during 2016. And according to NOAA, this year shattered all previous high marks for Arctic heat by a big margin — hitting 3.5 degrees Celsius warmer than 1900. Overall, this rate of warming is at least twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

arctic-warming-trend

(Arctic heat during 2016 centered over recently seasonal and annual ice free regions in the Chukchi and Barents seas. It’s an indicator that sea ice loss since 2007 and related loss of albedo [reflectivity] is starting to have the predicted heat-amplifying effect. Image source: NOAA.)

And all this extra heat has not only had a significant and substantial impact on sea ice — it is hammering the Greenland ice sheet, forcing the permafrost to rapidly thaw, and increasing the incidence of algae blooms related to ocean acidification.

Greenland Melt and Permafrost Thaw

In Greenland, the average annual rate of land ice loss is now 230 billion tons per year. This despite the fact that warming in the Greenland and Barents seas is helping to drive increased rates of precipitation in Eastern Greenland. So far, much of the precipitation is coming as snowfall. And this increase is helping to mitigate some of the mass losses due to melt across Greenland (see Marco Tedesco’s comments in the video above). However, as Greenland continues to experience surface warming, precipitation is likely to come more and more as rain — which will only further help to accelerate melt.

NOAA also notes that added Arctic heat has substantially altered the permafrost. Increasingly, this region of frozen soil is given over to thaw. As a result, profound changes to the Arctic landscape are ongoing. In wet regions, the permafrost is giving way to thermokarst lakes. In drier zones, the moisture that was locked into the soil and preserved by permafrost is being steadily lost — which is one of the primary drivers of drought and related wildfire hazards now being experienced in Canada, Siberia, and Alaska.

arctic-carbon-sink-to-source

(As permafrost thaws, microbes within the soil break down carbon and begin to emit methane and carbon dioxide. According to NOAA, “the warming tundra is now releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than it is taking up.” Image source: NOAA.)

Overall, the permafrost is emitting more and more methane and carbon dioxide as it melts and as microbes in the thawed soil activate. And consensus science now indicates that, on balance, this thawing ground is now emitting more carbon than it is taking in. This is a step change from its previous state — when the frozen land acted in concert with the boreal forests as one of the world’s primary carbon sinks (please also see: Beyond the Point of No Return).

Large Algae Blooms Indicator of Ocean Acidification

During 2016, the Arctic also saw a continuation of large algae blooms popping up in regions near the receding sea ice edge. This happens as high nutrient waters liberated by ice allow sunlight to produce a riot of plankton and algae growth. These minute life forms take in atmospheric carbon. But as they die, they transfer this carbon to the ocean. As a result, and as Jeremy Mathis noted in the press briefing this morning (see video above), Ocean acidification increases.

Conditions in Context — The Arctic Screams Change

The above indicators present a picture of an Arctic undergoing rapid climate destabilization. As a result, everything from weather patterns, to the rate of sea level rise, to Northern Hemisphere growing seasons are likely to see some impact from these Arctic changes over the coming years and decades. In addition, loss of sea ice and likely harms to life in the Arctic Ocean due to warming, habitat loss, and ocean acidification will remove food sources for local communities.

NOAA researchers identify some potential positive outcomes — such as increased commerce, ship traffic, tourism, and mineral extraction. But it is difficult to see how these supposed positives do not further exacerbate an already difficult to manage problem. Increased commerce, ship traffic and tourism threaten to harm already stressed habitats and animal populations. In addition, if new fossil fuel sources are exploited in the region, it will only add to the currently severe problems presented by warming. As a result, there is a high likelihood that the net impact to the region will be starkly negative as species are threatened or go extinct and numerous communities are lost to the rising seas, destruction of environmental resource bases or endangered by worsening fires.

Links:

AGU Fall Meeting

NOAA’s Arctic Report Card

Beyond the Point of No Return

Thermokarst Lakes

Hat tip to Vic

 

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67 Comments

  1. Andy_in_SD

     /  December 15, 2016

    Snow Water Equivalent Interactive Map in Canada, very informative for trend viewing.

    https://www.ccin.ca/home/ccw/snow/past/swe

    Reply
  2. Genomik

     /  December 15, 2016

    Heres my hero for 2016 (and hopefully 2017 and 18), CA Gov. Jerry Brown, also speaking at same meeting.
    __________________________

    ‘We’re ready to fight.’ Gov. Jerry Brown unloads on Trump and climate issues

    In perhaps his most fiery comments since Donald Trump won the presidency, Gov. Jerry Brown said on Wednesday California will push back against any effort to stop or reverse policies fighting global climate change.

    “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight,” Brown said to applause during a speech to the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

    The governor has mostly held back in recent weeks from commenting on the potential policy changes promised by the president-elect during the campaign. But in the impassioned speech to a group of scientists, Brown lamented what he described as a “miasma of nonsense” on important issues facing the nation and world.

    The only direct comment about the president-elect came in a reference to worries that climate research conducted by NASA could come to an end under the new administration. Brown reminded the crowd of the nickname he was given by a newspaper columnist in 1976, “Governor Moonbeam,” for his interest in a state-sponsored satellite.

    “If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite,” roared Brown to the crowd.

    And referring to Rick Perry, the former Texas governor Trump has selected to lead the Dept. of Energy, Brown reminded everyone of California’s advantages over Texas when it comes to renewable energy.

    “We’ve got more sun than you’ve got oil,” he quipped.

    http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-updates-we-re-ready-to-fight-says-gov-jerry-1481739836-htmlstory.html

    Reply
    • This. We need every governor with half a brain left to rally around this guy. Jerry Brown for President in 2020. Who’s with me?

      Reply
      • He just got my vote for 2020. He’s had my vote all along.

        He needs to act a little crazier, though, or nobody will believe he’s a politician.

        CASA, we’ll call it – California Aeronautics and Space Administration.

        Reply
      • Uncle B

         /  December 15, 2016

        I worked for a social service organization in Boston in the early 90’s and had a chance to meet several of the democratic presidential candidates in the run-up to the ’92 election. Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown were the two who stood out the most, especially Brown. I remember my boss saying, “America isn’t ready for Jerry Brown yet.”

        I think we’re ready now.

        Reply
    • Josh

       /  December 15, 2016

      There is now a video of this on YouTube:

      Well worth a watch. Firey, and evidence that there are still intelligent people ready to speak out…! I don’t know any of his other policies, but with that caveat out of the way I’d say that this man makes me wish I was Californian.

      Reply
  3. climatehawk1

     /  December 15, 2016

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  4. Xerxes Zorgon

     /  December 15, 2016

    The other end of the world isn’t doing very well either: http://www.sciencealert.com/there-s-a-giant-crater-in-east-antarctica-and-it-s-very-bad-news.

    “Scientists have visited a vast, 2-kilometre-wide (1.2-mile) ice crater in East Antarctica for the first time, and after years of speculation, say they finally know how it got there.

    Despite media reports suggesting that the crater was left behind by a meteorite strike, the team says the giant circle is the result of a meltwater lake collapsing under the surface – and it’s a signal that the coldest place on Earth might be far less stable than we thought.”

    Reply
  5. The image is from Uni Hamburg at http://icdc.cen.uni-hamburg.de/1/daten/cryosphere.html; they have charts for both the Arctic and Antarctic.

    Reply
    • Thanks for this, Sammy. I’m going to go ahead and copy the actual image in for people to see. Note that October exceeds the 1 standard deviation line and that November hits the 2 SD line. In the record we’ve never seen this kind of consistent negative excession for Antarctic sea ice.

      The other point is that the trend, until now, appeared to be mildly positive — with slight sea ice extent gain. This is for the period since 1979. However, prior to that time, records show an appreciable drop in sea ice coverage leading up to 1979 in the Antarctic zone. So we are operating from a lower baseline in this context.

      Reply
      • Thanks, Robert (I used the drag & drop approach someone mentioned a while back in this blog, but the image still ended up as a link).

        Reply
  6. Vic

     /  December 15, 2016

    An estimated 4200 barrels of oil (667,000 litres) has leaked from a ruptured pipeline approximately 240km from Standing Rock in North Dakota, contaminating more than 8.5km of Ash Coulee Creek.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/image/8121510-3×2-700×467.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-14/department-of-health-confirms-oil-spill-standing-rock/8121264

    Reply
    • And it hit water supplies just as Standing Rock tribes feared.

      I think we need to be very clear that this resource is harmful. How many spills have leaked into how many watersheds? How many lives, homes, and crops have been ruined as a result? And the most bitter irony of all is that it’s not necessary any longer for industry to operate on the stuff. We have replacement fuels and technologies — wind, solar, electric vehicles — that can remove the pressure of new construction of pipelines. That can begin to remove the harmful grip of the toxic fuels on lands and waters and airs. And everyone, everything benefits.

      Listening to the Native Americans at this point is listening to a cry to save lives and communities. Failing to listen hurts our chances for happiness, prosperity and, in the end, survival.

      Reply
  7. Vic

     /  December 15, 2016

    That top link was wrong, should have been this one

    Reply
  8. Genomik

     /  December 15, 2016

    Here’s the Energy Gang again. A group of businesspeople involved in alternative energies. This is their final 2016 podcast and a wrap up of years events. From their perspective there’s some thing’s to be optimistic about. It’s good they don’t always agree w each other so it’s more valuable. These can be helpful allies to address climate change!

    https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/the-energy-gang-year-end-extravaganza

    Reply
  9. Bluesky

     /  December 15, 2016

    Hi again, I response in this post here instead of the last one. Ah then I see Robert, the artic sea ice was in a big decline in around 2007 and again 2012, i remember that 2012 was a bad year yes, so we should have see this ‘big jump’ in temperature already back then because of the albedo effect as nasa says, it will probably take some more time then, the question is just how much time? As nasa says it’s the same as double our co2 emissions if we loose only 0,01 in albedo affect. Which sounds very high to me,

    I’ve been following the antarctic sea ice decline for some time now, looks almost like it’s in free fall and it’s going to set a new record ind the end of december if below 6,000,000 km2.

    Look near the bottom on this page, to see how much the antarctic sea ice has decreased this year,

    https://forum.arctic-sea-ice.net/index.php/topic,1759.100.html

    That’s a 50% reduction in antarctic sea ice compared to the last decades, if it’s below 6,000,000 km2.

    Yesterday it’s was down to 8,278,712 km2.

    Reply
    • Bluesky

       /  December 15, 2016

      Ah sorry I was looking at the wrong graph, it was only for december the 8th, my bad but not easy with all these graphs, maybe I should just stick to your site instead robert thanks. It’s still low the antarctic sea ice this year, but not that low 🙂

      Reply
    • Yep. 8.28 now but we will probably see below 6 million square kilometers by end of December. The Arctic sea ice forum is a good site and well worth keeping an eye on.

      Reply
      • Bluesky

         /  December 15, 2016

        Yes it’s a very good site, I have been interested in climate change in around 7 years, but keep in mind that I have gone through almost every single article on your site and the artic news in just under 3 months 🙂 Got a little freaked out finding out the mainstream media was giving us wrong numbers on global temperature, using the 1960-90 timeline against the 2c limit, which is totally wrong..

        Reply
        • 1880s is the baseline we use. It’s probably the one that’s most representative of Holocene average. Some start from 1750s which is a reference for the more exact start of the industrial period. However, that time shows a significant negative departure from Holocene average as a start point due to its proximity to the Little Ice Age.

    • Tigertown

       /  December 15, 2016

      It has melted like butter since the first of this month. Some double century drops mixed with a few triple century drops.

      2016, 12, 01, 11.434,
      2016, 12, 02, 11.278,
      2016, 12, 03, 10.994,
      2016, 12, 04, 10.764,
      2016, 12, 05, 10.553,
      2016, 12, 06, 10.338,
      2016, 12, 07, 10.166,
      2016, 12, 08, 9.850,
      2016, 12, 09, 9.672,
      2016, 12, 10, 9.410,
      2016, 12, 11, 9.043,
      2016, 12, 12, 8.734,
      2016, 12, 13, 8.464,
      2016, 12, 14, 8.205,
      Units are in millions of km*sq

      Reply
      • Tigertown

         /  December 15, 2016

        I guess I should have stated that these are NSIDC numbers, JAXA numbers may vary, but are in downward spiral as well.

        Reply
      • Thanks for this, Tigertown. For reference, the number I quoted above is from JAXA. Not much separation between the two.

        Reply
  10. Shawn Redmond

     /  December 15, 2016

    Nothing about what is happening is linear, the following link is a run of 8 videos about 10 minutes each. I watch them a lot to try and keep my mind in step with the concept of exponential. if you don’t work with this math daily it is a mystery. Our minds don’t naturally understand or even conceive this problem rationally. Accountants use this in business but don’t seem to use in the real world. Perhaps they think it only applies to economics.
    Dr. Albert Bartlett

    Reply
    • So the problems that result from climate change tend to be non-linear. But it’s worth noting that not everything is exponential. It’s just that losses to the cryosphere — in terms of land ice especially — are now in the process of going exponential. And as we hit high feedback rates in the Arctic and Antarctic the velocity of both warming and change will rapidly accelerate there.

      High melt rates from the ice sheets will, however, put a damper on local atmospheric warming even as the rate of atmsophere to ocean heat transfer in these regions accelerate.

      Reply
  11. 5191

     /  December 15, 2016

    How in hell can increased commerce,ship traffic,tourism and mineral extraction be seen as
    positive outcomes?

    Reply
    • It’s certainly not a positive outcome for the Arctic environment. I think Mathis panders a bit too much to the business interest perspective on this one. I’ve held fire in the Article, because I’m trying to be as fair as possible. But we should be clear that the value of the science here is in its ability to identify an emerging threat — not just to the Arctic, but to the globe as a whole.

      If, for example, those resources are extracted and burned, it basically guarantees that seas rise by about 220 feet. How many Arctic communities will be left after such an event? And this doesn’t take into account the radical loss of ocean health or the resulting increased likelihood of severe weather and wildfires. Nor do we get a clear picture from this discussion of the risk to growing seasons and related human crops. Changing the Arctic so fast just presents harm after harm after harm.

      If the changes were slow and gradual, we might find that parts of the Arctic adapt and take on new habitat features. However, with the Arctic changing so rapidly under human warming, there is basically no time for species to move or evolve or even effectively adapt to the new conditions.

      To be very clear, if people are worried about what they are seeing now in the Arctic, they should remember that we haven’t seen anything yet.

      Reply
      • Shawn Redmond

         /  December 15, 2016

        Agreed RS but to here things like commerce and tourism as a bonus that just makes the hairs bristle. As far as humans are concerned, I doubt if we’ll do as well in the new swamps of the north as we now do in ones of the mid latitudes.

        Reply
        • I felt the same way. And good point about swamps. Seems to me that a lot of the place is pretty rapidly turning into desert. So it’s a desert-swamp.

        • I’ve updated the post to provide a bit more clarity on ‘positive outcomes.’ I appreciate everyone for contributing to the discussion and for helping me to refine my perspective on this issue.

  12. utoutback

     /  December 15, 2016

    Interesting article on the adoption & price for new solar energy installation:

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-15/world-energy-hits-a-turning-point-solar-that-s-cheaper-than-wind

    This appears positive. Of course we still need energy storage technology to couple with this development.
    But, I have a general question. As we work to shift to new technology to provide a higher standard of living to the world’s now 7.5 billion humans are we not continuing to extract increasing amounts of resources from our planet? I think it’s been said before that in order to provide the standard of living enjoyed by the developed nations to the whole world, we would need 3 planets worth of resources.
    The cult of eternal growth of world GDP takes us where? What about sustainability?
    Our present predicament is not just about fossil fuels. It is also an existential question about our species being invasive and destructive to the global habitat.
    When is enough, enough?

    Reply
    • So if you take fossil fuels out of the sustainability equation, we get a lot closer to 1 Earth. It’s a big part of getting to not needing 3 planets.

      Reply
      • Shawn Redmond

         /  December 15, 2016

        “Scaramucci continued, “There was an overwhelming science that the Earth was flat, and there was an overwhelming science that we were the center of the world. We get a lot of things wrong in the scientific community.””
        I believe it was the power of the time that was making those assertions i.e. the religious zealots of the time. It was then, as is now, the scientists that were persecuted. The difference being that then they lost their lives along with their livelihood. I think your Scaramucci has the wrong end of the stick (anyone surprised?). What passes for an educated human at that level in our society….. words fail me!

        Reply
        • mulga mumblebrain

           /  December 17, 2016

          Real science has known the world to be round since at least the time of Eratosthenes, who lived in the third century BCE, and was the Head Librarian in the Great Library of Alexandria, which was burned to the ground by fanatics like Scaramouche ( the ‘little skirmisher’ a ‘stock clown-character of Italian commedia dellarte’). Eratosthenes also calculated the tilt of the Earth on its axis, and the Earth’s circumference. I’m tempted to say that these brain-deaders take us back to before the third century BCE, but, in truth, they represent an eternal hatred of the Truth.

  13. coloradobob

     /  December 15, 2016

    Ugly , ugly pictures ……….

    New weird landforms appear due to thawing permafrost on Yamal peninsula

    http://siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/news/n0817-more-weird-landforms-appear-due-to-thawing-permafrost-on-yamal-peninsula/

    Reply
    • Raul M

       /  December 16, 2016

      Still don’t know if capturing gas then processing with fuel cell technology then transmitting electricity by wire to the grid makes more sense when the gas would otherwise be global warming writ large.

      Reply
      • I think that running the natural gas (containing methane) through a fuel cell does make sense. Fuel cells do produce a small amount of nitrogen oxides, though, I think. Better yet would be capturing the methane, burning it using oxy-fuel technology or some other carbon capture system, and deep injecting the resulting CO2 – this would be roughly carbon neutral. At least this would avoid the methane greenhouse potency of something like 85 times that of CO2 when impact is considered over 20 years.

        The problem is trying to catch all the methane. I wouldn’t be surprised if catching 99% of it costs some exponential function of catching 90% of it. Trying to catch even 50% of it might end up being impossible.

        Better I think is keeping it in the ground, of course, by slowing the growth of and eventually reversing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. I think that BECCS (Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage) can play a big part in that.

        Reply
  14. Bluesky

     /  December 15, 2016

    Very easy to see the shocking difference in the artic from all the other years, especially in the second half of this year..

    http://ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/meant80n.uk.php

    Reply
    • Vernon Hamilton

       /  December 19, 2016

      That’s my home page. I look at it every morning , like some others look at the stock market tickers.

      Reply
  15. Abel Adamski

     /  December 15, 2016

    Meanwhile the forces of Darkness gather, the loony tunes deniers gaining power and influence
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2016/dec/15/one-nation-senator-joins-new-world-order-of-climate-change-denial

    A key figure picked to prepare the US federal environment agency for life under a Donald Trump administration has met in Washington DC with some of the world’s most notorious and longest-serving climate science deniers, including One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts.

    Myron Ebell, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), was picked by the now president-elect to lead the Environmental Protection Agency “transition team” back in September.

    Trump has pledged to strip many powers from the EPA to boost fossil fuel production.
    On climate change policy, neither time nor Trump are on Turnbull’s side

    Ebell has spent two decades trying to undermine the science linking dangerous climate change to fossil fuel burning.

    E&E News reported that Ebell was at one meeting hosted by the CEI and held in the hearing room of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee.

    The EPW committee is chaired by Senator James Inhofe who, like Trump, has described human-caused climate change as a hoax.

    The meeting was not open to the public or the press, E&E News reported, with Ebell refusing to give any details.

    Climate denial who’s who

    But details of the gatherings have been made public by some of the climate science denialists who attended. The attendee list reads like a who’s who of the climate science denial world.

    The article provides links to the attendees who will now have influence over the administration such as Tony Heller, Delingpole, Chris Horner, Fred Singer etc

    Reply
    • Hi Abel-

      Read that more in sorrow than in anger. What foolish people. Ebell has said that if he’s wrong about climate change, he’ll have to apologize.

      But if millions or billions of people die, that apology won’t do them any good posthumously. What sort of sociopath would think that his own apology was worth that much?

      Tweet from Malcolm Roberts, Australian Senator and member of a coal mine owner’s group::

      That list is like the elected membership list of the Paid Climate Change Denier Hall of Infamy. DeSmog Blog has profiles on these guys, I think. This is like the climate denial criminal’s list of the ten or more least wanted. Idiotic cockroaches from Hell!

      Effective action on climate change has a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting past this gang.

      When legislatures pass laws that pi is equal to 3, or some such anti-science nonsense, it’s kind of funny. This anti-scientific nonsense is a tragedy beyond words. This widespread flight from reality seems almost as bad as the one that occurred in Nazi Germany under Hitler.

      But, give this flight from reality time – its growing, and could end up being almost infinitely worse than the tragedy of Nazi Germany. You don’t see a tragedy like potential destruction of an entire biosphere from a methane catastrophe hyperthermal mass extinction event every day.

      Reply
    • mulga mumblebrain

       /  December 17, 2016

      Abel, in my opinion, those names need to be added to the list of those who MUST face trials for crimes against humanity one day. The millions, perhaps billions, who will suffer and/or die because of their malevolence, demand it.

      Reply
  16. Jim

     /  December 16, 2016

    Hi Robert,

    A recent Environment Research Letters article points out that growth in atmospheric methane increased by over 10 fold comparing the average of 2000-2006 to 2007-2015, with 2014 and 2015 averaging a 20 fold increase over the 2000-2006 period.

    Having seen the work of Semiletov – Shakhova (initially on your blog) who have been measuring methane plumes in shallow water of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf since at least 2010 and knowing that they recently completed a 2016 survey, I thought I’d look for some clues as to the results of the 2016 survey, which are yet to be published.

    Apparently Dr. Semiletov presented something at this week’s American Geophysical Union meeting in SF. I wasn’t able to locate the presentation, but you may have better luck. I did find a general interview with Dr. Semiletov in the UK based Independent newspaper. It lacks quantitative data but is disturbing. I did find some quantitative data in a Russian blog from someone who attended the Arctic forum at the Polytechnic University in Tomsk. In that article the author claims that East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane releases may have grown from 8 million tons in 2010 to perhaps 100 million tons in 2016. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the blog, but once you get past the syntax issues of the machine translation it seems to correspond reasonable well to the Semiletov’s qualitative comments in the Independent article.

    The blogger points out that increases of a couple of orders of magnitude would be required for methane to create a climate crisis. But if we’ve seen an order of magnitude increase in just 6 years that’s not too hard to image, especially with accelerating heating of an increasingly ice free, low albedo, arctic.

    Jim

    http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-

    9326/11/12/120207http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/vast-methane-plumes-seen-in-arctic-ocean-as-sea-ice-retreats-6276278.html

    http://all.true-news.info/scientists-are-sounding-the-alarm-the-permafrost-threatens-the-ozone-layer-of-the-earth/

    Reply
    • The pace of atmospheric methane increase is now similar to that seen during the 80s and early 90s. There was a pause during the 2000s. By 2008, atmospheric methane began increasing again. There has been no consensus determination for causes as yet. Fracking, increased emissions from wetlands, increased emissions from drought and wildfires, increased emissions from permafrost and the Arctic environment and others including agriculture and related deforestation are all suspect sources and likely contributors.

      Reply
    • For reference, the highest annual increase for a given year was 1991 at 14.4 ppb. https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends_ch4/

      Reply
    • I think myself that the “orders of magnitude” argument is a weak quantitative argument. This argument says that to become a significant problem Arctic methane emissions would have to increase 2 or more orders of magnitude, and goes on to paint that increase as unlikely.

      What increase in heat output occurs when a campfire sets a forest on fire? Ten orders of magnitude increase? Twenty orders of magnitude increase? Nature can do this, if the circumstances are right. In the case of the forest fire, there is strong positive feedback between heat released and growth of the fire. In the case of methane hydrates, the feedback is not as strong. Could there be hard to model factors like gas driven pumping of warm water through subsea deposits that could provide stronger direct feedback?

      But other factors are not remaining equal, as CO2 concentrations increase and the ice albedo feedback kicks in, solar energy input to the system can change drastically. Solar energy input to the system is huge, and the amount of methane on the ESAS is probably huge. So small percentage increases in these factors could result in large changes in methane emissions.

      Methane hydrate and subsea permafrost are forms of water ice. It takes heat to melt these forms of water ice, but conversely when exposed to heat ice will inevitably melt. So, sooner or later, it seems almost inevitable that large quantities of methane will be released.

      Considering the complexity of the real world, and the number of potential positive and negative feedback loops in such a system, quantitative estimates of methane releases are weak arguments, in my opinion. Time and again, such quantitative estimates of the pace of global warming driven changes have been shown to be almost comically conservative, and have ended up being drastically wrong.

      We should not bet the future of the biosphere on someone’s weak quantitative argument, I think.

      Reply

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