Why Is Arctic Methane An Emergency?

The Arctic Methane Emergency Group, an organization of high level climate scientists, sounds the alarm over Arctic Ice meltdown. They address the interaction effects of multiple positive Arctic feedback processes, which current climate models have yet to incorporate.

A 2012 paper By Prof C Duarte says The Arctic could Trigger Domino Effect Around the World. ... it is not included in the linear projecting climate models.

... these are all real risks with continued warming, What is not addressed is that these would be mutually reinforcing.

Runaway is a descriptive term for what the scientists call abrupt irreversible rapid global warming, which would be global climate catastrophe. It involves tipping points.

The Arctic responds to global warming by increasing the rate of warming through several feedback processes, which, if allowed to become established, will inevitably lead to uncontrollable accelerating global warming or what for many years has been called "runaway" climate change. This is not to be confused with the scientific term "runaway greenhouse effect" or Venus syndrome.

This emergency to our planet's biosphere comes from multiple positive Arctic climate feedback processes, each of which affects the whole biosphere and each of which will increase the rate of global warming / temperature increase.

Already today, all the potentially huge Arctic positive climate feedbacks are operating.

The Arctic summer sea ice is in a rapid, extremely dangerous meltdown process.

Models of sea ice volume indicate a seasonally ice-free Arctic likely by 2015, and possibly as soon as the summer of 2013.

If methane release from Arctic sea floor hydrates happens on a large scale — and this year's reports suggest that it will — then this situation can start an uncontrollable sequence of events that would make world agriculture and civilization unsustainable. It is a responsible alarm, not alarmist, to say that it is a real threat to the survival of humanity and most life on Earth. [emphasis mine]

They say "abrupt cooling can happen (thermohaline circulation change)", but don't include the latest data about the southern hemisphere theromohaline circulation decline. Will that counteract Arctic warming?

Here's a 30 second video showing the Arctic Sea Ice decline that's easy to understand.

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And the video comes with a Shell ad - how do they do it!

I know! *groan*

Thank you Ruth for the article.

Ruth, thanks so much for sharing this wealth of information.  Coincidentally, the current Atlantic has a cover story entitled "What if we Never Run out of Oil?" -- based on the limitless potential of fracking and -- amazingly, considering your post -- extracting fuel from the methane hydrates in the ocean's floor!  http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/05/what-if-we-neve...

The article calls the use of these new resources both a miracle and a disaster (mainly for the countries who will have no source of wealth other than petroleum).

Charles Mann mentions

Avoiding the worst effects of climate change, scientists increasingly believe, will require “a complete phase-out of carbon emissions … over 50 years,” in the words of one widely touted scientific estimate that appeared in January.

But he is largely unaware of or ignores the urgency of our need to transition quickly from carbon based energy.

He considers economic growth inherently good, and suggests subtly that carbon-based energy that marched in lock step with it must also be inherently good.

... a basic truth: economic growth and energy use have marched in lockstep for generations.

Even his final conclusion seems to assume that we can safely further develop and utilize energy crutches. Methane hydrate isn't even at the pilot plant phase yet, but he speaks of it as a useful crutch.

Natural gas, both from fracking and in methane hydrate, gives us a way to cut back on carbon emissions while we work toward a more complete solution. It could be a useful crutch. But only if we have the wit to know that we will soon have to lay it down.

Overall, Mann presents a useful background, but his perspective is fossil fuel friendly. For example, he's far more aware of the political ramifications of political and economic destabilization caused by withdrawing rapidly from oil than aware of the political and economic destabilization caused by Climate Destabilization. He mostly ignores that more and more sophisticated fossil fuel extraction technologies present diminishing returns alongside greater risks.

... oil reserves should not be thought of as physical entities. Rather, they are economic judgments: how much petroleum experts believe can be harvested from given areas at an affordable price.

This perspective has a corollary: natural resources cannot be used up. If one deposit gets too expensive to drill, social scientists (most of them economists) say, people will either find cheaper deposits or shift to a different energy source altogether. Because the costliest stuff is left in the ground, there will always be petroleum to mine later. “When will the world’s supply of oil be exhausted?” asked the MIT economist Morris Adelman, perhaps the most important exponent of this view. “The best one-word answer: never.” Effectively, energy supplies are infinite. [emphasis mine]


His discussion of the way oil reserves lead to corruption is helpful.

... a phenomenon that petroleum cognoscenti now call “Dutch disease.”

A good modern economy is like a roof with many robust supporting pillars, each a different economic sector. In Dutch-disease scenarios, oil weakens all the pillars but one—the petroleum industry, which bloats steroidally.

Worse, that remaining pillar becomes so big and important that in almost every nation, the government takes it over. ...  Because the national petroleum company, with its gush of oil revenues, is the center of national economic power, “the ruler typically puts a loyalist in charge,” says Michael Ross, a UCLA political scientist and the author of The Oil Curse (2012). “The possibilities for corruption are endless.”

Shortfalls in oil revenues thus kick away the sole, unsteady support of the state—a cataclysmic event, especially if it happens suddenly.

Mann does mention the environmental perspective, but with less depth. He seems to be aware of the problems but to ultimately fail to grasp the way economics depends on the environment.

But environmentalists are less enthusiastic than one might imagine about the prospect of weaning ourselves from coal with gas.

Activists fear that the negative effects of obtaining natural gas could swamp the positive effects of burning it.

The real concern, Ruppel and other researchers told me, is less an explosive methane release from under the Earth’s surface—the environmental disaster that might have caused havoc eons ago—than a slow discharge at ground level, from the machinery that will pull methane hydrate out of the seafloor. The problem already exists with fracking.

Thanks so much, Alan, for sharing this with us.

Joseph Robertson of the Hot Springs Network gives a concise overview of what passing 400ppm CO2 means.

Atmospheric CO2 Passes 400ppm

Nature allows for ordered systems to cohere and to unravel. When systems cohere, we can talk about harmony, syntropy, life evolving out of chaos, and then intelligent life out of whatever life before intelligence is… when systems come apart, that is entropy: the unraveling of orderly persistent systems. The news from Mauna Loa Observatory, in Hawai’i that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have passed 400 ppm means we are at a tipping point, where widespread climate entropy may be taking hold.

The rate of increase in global average temperatures has been far greater than the standard models projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the most diverse and widespread scientific research project in world history—foresaw. Feedback effects have been more potent accelerators of global climate destabilization than expected.

As a result, the kind of catastrophic weather climate displacement events expected to arrive at mid-century have come fast and furious in the last few years.

... natural “carbon sinks”...  like the deep ocean or dense tropical rainforests ... the Earth’s most powerful carbon sinks are reaching their limit, and we are seeing ecosystem degradation in dense forests and dangerous acidification in the oceans. As absorption capacity shrinks, the metabolic rate for reprocessing atmospheric CO2 may be slowed in ways that could further accelerate the destabilization of vital climate patterns.

The first thing we need to do is restart our process of exploring and understanding the best options for pricing carbon-emitting fuels. We can implement a fee and dividend plan that would allow for massive sums of private capital to motivate world-altering technological change in how we interact with and consume energy. Then, we can make the most advanced and ultra-efficient energy technologies the dominant paradigm for energy access and use.

We can make big changes that will stave off the worst climate unraveling, but we have already built so much destabilization into our climate system that we cannot afford to continue waiting. [emphasis mine]




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