More on Arctic methane–are we really f**ked?

This is what's coming out of the Arctic as the ice melts.

This is what’s coming out of the Arctic as the ice melts.

Wow, this is a headline I didn’t want to read.

If we release a small portion of Arctic carbon, ‘We’re fucked’: Climatologist

Yup. That’s (more or less) what  Dr. Jason Box, a widely published glaciologist, tweeted. He had been following the developments from an expedition  into the Arctic in search of data on methane releases. Scientists taking part in the expedition made a disturbing discovery in the Arctic Ocean: They saw “vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor.”  Hence this tweet from Dr. Box:

The tweet from Dr. Box on 7/29 on learning of massive Arctic methane plumes.

The tweet from Dr. Box on 7/29 upon learning of massive Arctic methane plumes.

update, Aug 12–the actual headline is now here–Dr. Box had used the word carbon, not methane. when methane hydrates are released, they hit the atmosphere and eventually degrade into c02. Potato, patas fritas…

A few weeks ago, I posted here on the case for global warming setting off positive feedback loops that would melt the Arctic. I was especially concerned with the escape of methane from under permafrost. This was in response to a number of methane vents opening up in Siberia. Since I first posted the article, a number of other articles have come out regarding the methane. There’s additional information here including links. One commentator put it this way: We’re going to see the tundra breaking out in these things like zits on a teenager. That’s a SEPARATE problem, though. This is about the possibility of the Arctic ocean waters warming up to the point where they release huge amounts of methane currently sequestered at the bottom of said oceans. Dr. Natalia Shakhova leads the Russia-U.S. Methane Study at the International Arctic Research Center, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her research shows a drastic fall-off in Arctic ice (and a consequent freeing of the methane hydrates underneath) over the past decade. There’s an interview here, where Dr. Shakova expresses great concern about the status of the warming of the Arctic–and only 1% of the sequestered methane would need to be released in order to face climate calamity. And this discovery just adds another level of concern to Shakova’s dire predictions.

These are two separate feedback loops out of the three dozen identified by Dr. Guy McPherson. The permafrost thaw in Siberia is one; but the release of Arctic methane may be even more serious. One question that has been raised by many of my enviro-friends is whether the the people in charge understand the ramifications of runaway climate collapse–the evidence that indicates Earth may have passed a Rubicon on global heating as a result of the activation of various feedback loops that were tripped when average temperatures went 1 degree centigrade over average baseline temperatures. 

One of the anomalies of this phenomenon is that extinction level heating of the planet will not be uniform. The Northern hemisphere will cook first–as a result of larger heat-trapping land mass (including land mass with permafrost that is melting) and the prevalence of both people and fossil-fuel belching machinery. The Southern hemisphere may survive an extra 12 years as a result of this anomaly. Is it possible that the elites are preparing to flee to the South in order to savor an extra decade or so? Is that why nobody is telling us what’s going on?

Why else could it not be news that the planet is about to have multi-gigaton ‘burps’ of methane due to warming? If the elites are making their plans, the last thing they want are the 99% (referred to on the Titanic as ‘the people in steerage’) to have a go at the metaphoric lifeboats heading south?

Remember that the world is also looking at peak oilabsent ‘unconventional’  fuels from extraction methods like fracking, shale oil smashing, and melting of the tar sands, the amount of fossil fuel extracted annually in order to power all our toys is in decline. The ‘unconventional’ extraction methods are not cheap. Fracking has quick fall offs of production and requires constant reinvestments in drilling. The shale needs to be heated in order to give up its oil–that requires lots of energy inputs. One of the reasons the world economy is on the ropes is high prices for energy (the US consumer pays far less for natural gas than our European counterparts, which is part of the reason companies are pushing for LNG Portsthey want to export ‘our’ gas to Europe). The price of energy is one of the things dragging on the economic recovery–and now that a significant proportion of our energy is coming from unconventional sources, high prices are built in. Tar sands ‘oil’ (actually, bitumen) can’t be extracted profitably unless oil prices are above $65 a barrel. If we’re in economic stagnation now, what happens when we turn the corner and get the majority of our energy from unconventional methods?

Which brings me to this article. I don’t vouch for its veracity, but it raises some interesting questions. After all, the methane hydrates under the Arctic–the ones that present such a nightmarish prospect for global warming should they melt down–would fill the need for the world’s energy for a long time if they were somehow harnessed before they hit the atmosphere. But burning the gas would also accelerate carbon in the atmosphere (albeit at a slower rate). Have the leaders of the world decided that peak oil is a bigger threat to human existence than the methane releases? Do they have technology needed to capture thmulti-gigaton bursts of methane expected ‘at any moment’ by people like Jason Box? And even if we can capture Arctic methane in any significant degree, does that stop the other feedback loops such as Siberian permafrost?

Most of all, do we trust the denialists (who didn’t anticipate global warming in the first place) to get us out of this mess? Or do the denialists have a plan B? Are the plutocrats planning a mission to Mars if this little live experiment with screwing with atmospheric methane fails?


  1. Raymond DeBrane · · Reply

    The Plutocrats are going to get a surprise when any deals that they made to go to Mars or go into a military DUMB don’t happen. The Plutocrats will be the most expendable because once everything goes to sh*t, money will become worthless, and limited commodities like oxygen, water, food, etc will not be wasted on the rich. They will be used for the best and the brightest and the young, beautiful people. The rich will most likely either get left behind on the surface, or shot down by the military after the military gets everything they want out of them. Most if not all Politicians will face the same fate. At that point, justice will be served. The rich and the politicians got us into this mess. They deserve what’s coming to them.

  2. Raymond, the good news (such as it is) means that the plutocrats don’t get off the hook either. As I noted in my profile of Guy McPherson from earlier this year, the cessation of industrial civilization is the only thing that will keep climate collapse and human extinction at bay. But if that happens, (or if humans go extinct in a short time), the world will have 440 nuclear reactors (plus all the fuel and waste) that will be unattended. under that scenario, underground bunkers would be need to be humanity’s home for a minimum half-million years. As for the money guys getting off the planet to Mars, that is a trillion dollar prospect without any long-term plan. Once they get to Mars, they’re stuck.

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