Wow, this is a headline I didn’t want to read.
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:
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 oil–absent ‘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 Ports–they 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 the multi-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?