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Methane, more scary than we thought

Methane’s Contribution to Global Warming Is Worse than You Thought

It seems we've been "fudging the numbers" in a sense, when comparing the global warming potential of methane to CO2. When global warming potential (GWP) of a gas is calculated, a time frame is assumed. The IPCC decided to use a 100 year time frame.

With a 100 year time frame methane heats up the planet 21 times as much as CO2. The problem with that assumption is that we don't have 100 years. A 20 year time frame would be much more realistic, given the urgency of climate crisis. With a 20 year time frame...

... any CH4 released today is at least 56 times more heat-trapping than a molecule of C02 also released today. And because of the way it reacts in the atmosphere, the number is probably even higher, according to research conducted by  Drew Shindell , a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Center. [emphasis mine]


What if we were to use the IPCC’s 20-year comparison instead of its 100-year comparison? For starters, it would force us to get much more serious about tackling  the sources of methane emissions. Here in the US, the top methane sources are the decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture (from ruminant digestion), and leaks from natural gas drilling and transmission. A new emphasis on methane would require us to get smarter about capturing methane at landfills, reduce the market incentives that encourage Americans’ meat-heavy diets, and ensure that methane isn’t leaking from fracking operations.

But beyond the policy specifics, adopting the 20-year global warming potential comparisons would be useful for changing how we think about climate change.

And we appear to be approaching some irrevocable tipping points that will create powerful negative feedback loops, the most worrisome being  the release of methane  stores at the bottom of the ocean and locked into sub-Arctic permafrost.

Image from Arctic Methane Release Tipping Point Diagram
With 56 times as much warming as CO2 in mind, we'd take this feedback more seriously.

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  • up

    Ruth Anthony-Gardner

    Scientists have monitored greenhouse gas methane – once frozen on the sea bed – bubbling up to the surface at an alarming rate.

    According to one study published in the journal Nature by Professor Wadhams and others, this could produce an average rise in global temperature of 0.6 degrees Celsius in just five years.

    Arctic could become ice-free for first time in more than 100,000 ye...

    I assume this means 0.6° Celsius rise every five years from methane hydrate, not that it would rise 0.6° in the first five years and then mysteriously stop rising. That acceleration is the most frightening prospect, not just one "very, very serious upward jerk". In fact it seems reasonable that the rate would gradually increase over time.

    I should point out that Dr Wadham's prediction that the Arctic could be free of sea ice this year or next is not supported by Dr Peter Gleick or Professor Jennifer Francis. But remember scientists like Wadhams who study the Arctic first hand have consistently warned that climate models are too conservative, while model makers disagreed (and were proved wrong year after year).

    Peter Gleick does say that

    “ … the changes in the Arctic presage dramatic fundamental changes in climate throughout the globe.”

    “We're on a runaway train, scientists are blowing the whistle, but politicians are still shovelling coal into the engine.”

    • up

      Ruth Anthony-Gardner

      Trembling Tundra is a new feature of thawing permafrost, from bubbles of methane and carbon dioxide  under the surface.

      Trembling tundra - the latest weird phenomenon in Siberia's land of...

      Earth is moving as 'leaking methane gas due to global warming causes surface to bubble' in a new phenomenon.

      This extraordinary sight - in a video filmed of the tundra on remote Belyy Island in the Kara Sea off the Yamal Peninsula coastline - was witnessed by a scientific research expedition. Researchers Alexander Sokolov and Dorothee Ehrich spotted 15 patches of trembling or bubbling grass-covered ground.

      When punctured they emitted methane and carbon dioxide,...

      • up

        Ruth Anthony-Gardner

        Bermuda Triangle disappearances explained by methane hydrate explosions!

        Large undersea craters from methane hydrate release are found in various places worldwide. This isn't new. The hypothesis that a ship above such a release would sink, based on the sudden drop in ocean density which would result, is also not new. This comes to prominence now as scientists who've studied the Yamal craters take a fresh look at subsea possibilities. Take "new theory" with a grain of salt. Also, it would be extraordinarily unlikely someone could document such an event, and live to share it. So  take "there is no evidence to show that this has actually ever happened" with a grain of salt too.

        Bermuda Triangle mystery solved? Experts claim methane gas explosio...

        Note: the video attached to the article appears to have no relevance.

        ... a new theory may have finally solved the mystery.

        Earlier this year, several craters were discovered which piqued scientists' interest from around the globe.

        Soon after it was discovered that the large holes in the ground were likely caused by the release of large amounts of gas beneath the surface in a process known as methane hydrates.

        Now, experts believe that this phenomena may be the reason why air and water vessels go missing over the Bermuda Triangle,...

        "It is very probable that the similar sinkholes in the ocean were produced [as a result] of decomposing gas hydrates.”

        Benjamin Phrampus, an Earth scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, added: "Gas hydrate is known to exist along the U.S. North Atlantic continental margin, with a very large province on Blake Ridge (north of the Bermuda Triangle).”

        A study back in 2003 confirmed that these bubbles arising from the deep ocean are capable of sinking ships, but Mr Phrampus said that there is no evidence to show that this has actually ever happened.