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  1. David, much appreciate the sanity check.

    Could you or one of your grad students :-) make any guesstimate about my “undergravel filter” scenario — speculating wildly that oil and gas exploration may have left unfilled boreholes intersecting permeable strata, so warm water could move down, across, and back up along with bubbles where the structure happened to favor that?

    I have no guess at numbers on drill test holes intersecting hydrates. I know there’s a history of oil and gas exploration and a new push to tap the same areas currently in progress. The cost and effort to properly fill with concrete and cap an exploratory hole rather than leaving the steel to rust out might well be avoided if nobody imagines a problem could happen.

    Same question really for these land holes — are they in areas where drilling was done? And are they deep enough to encourage circulation, transporting heat faster than diffusion does?

    I’m just looking at the assumption of solid strata and diffusion and wondering, could we screw that up and produce a geological situation unlike that in paleo times, when diffusion was limiting the rate?

    Presumably some competent climate scientists working for the petroleum industries would have more facts on what’s there.

    As Ray Bradbury said, I don’t write to predict the future — I write to prevent it.

    [Response: As a modeler of the deep sediment column, I go to talks about observations of the real world (geology, in other words), and am struck by how simplistic the models are. It’s like clouds in the atmosphere, extremely complex, represented only in some bulk way in the climate models. The real sediment column has faults and explosions (there are lots of things in the ocean that look like this thing in Siberia, they are called “pockmarks”). My hunch for what it’s worth is that drilling holes are probably not a huge addition to the complexity of the real heat transport of the sediment column. The issue comes up also when considering sequestering CO2 in the ground. David]

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 13 Aug 2014 @ 8:02 PM

  2. Thanks a lot David. Seeing another post on methane, I encountered with the fact that the oceans would degas at one point some of the CO2 that we emitted since the Industrial Revolution. I also then found a comment by Gavin which said that the degassing of the oceans would not happen any time soon, and that we where at most a century away. The question is, how much of the CO2 the ocean absorbed would be released back?

    [Response: Ultimately, the CO2 inventories of both the atmosphere and the ocean are regulated by the CO2 weathering thermostat mechanism, on a time scale of hundreds of thousands of years. By the time that thermostat has equilibrated, if nothing else were changing, all of the fossil fuel CO2 that the oceans took up, they would give back. On a more human time scale, Gavin is right that the atmosphere is so over-loaded with CO2 right now relative to the ocean that it would take a lot of removal from the atmosphere before that could be reversed. David]

    Comment by Eduardo Vargas — 13 Aug 2014 @ 8:45 PM

  3. Thanks for putting things in perspective, David. However, although 20,000,000, in a short time (years?) sounds a lot, I hope you’re not using the incredulity argument (“it’s a lot and so couldn’t happen”). If this did come of pockets of free methane trapped in shallow permafrost, is there any way to estimate how many such pockets there may be ready to burst forth? Could it be 20,000,000? I suspect that we simply don’t know.

    Comment by Tony Weddle — 14 Aug 2014 @ 3:48 AM

  4. “…the future of Earth’s climate in this century and beyond will be determined mostly by the fossil fuel industry, and not by Arctic methane.”

    One certainly hopes so, since we have no direct control over Arctic methane releases.

    Although the quantitative assessment presented is somewhat reassuring, the main takeaway is perhaps not the scale, but the fact that we’re seeing something new (or that we presume to be new, at least.) It’s a climate impact and a climate feedback (albeit one that’s quantitatively marginal at present.) If we ‘take our eyes off the [fossil fuel] ball’, we’ll see much more of such phenomena.

    (Well, I’m guessing we’ll see more of them regardless, but perhaps emissions mitigation will allow us to keep them within the radiatively marginal category.)

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 14 Aug 2014 @ 5:49 AM

  5. Of course there’s methane in and around a hole melted through permafrost in a gas producing region. Explosions don’t make smooth-bored holes like that but collapsed pingos do, possibly with gas-pressure driven ejection of material upon melting of the pingo ice cap. Seriously – has there ever been an “explosion” of something that left a smooth-bored hole in the ground like that?

    Comment by jemima — 14 Aug 2014 @ 7:12 AM

  6. Just trying to imagine what 20 million explosions/holes would look like.

    Area of permafrost is a bit less than 20 million km^2. So 20 million such explosions/holes is a bit more than one for every km^2 of permafrost.

    With a diameter of 80 m, one hole for every km^2 of permafrost is about half a percent of the area.

    One every km^2 seems a lot within a few years. What about one every 30 km^2 spread over a 30-year period? Is that more “feasible”? With a lifetime of ~10 years, spreading emissions over 30-year period would of course reduce the peak atmospheric burden (though CH4 lifetime would presumably increase with higher CH4 concentration).

    Comment by Tim Osborn — 14 Aug 2014 @ 7:23 AM

  7. You refer to a methane explosion but close-up pictures of the pit clearly show polishing and erosion by ice. This is a collapsed Pingo and nothing more.

    Comment by mikeworst — 14 Aug 2014 @ 8:02 AM

  8. Since the Russian area of permafrost is more than 10 million square kilometers (e.g., https://nsidc.org/data/docs/fgdc/ggd600_russia_pf_maps/russian_permafrost_desc.html ) we need less than 2 methane explosions per square kilometer in a few years.

    Comment by Arun — 14 Aug 2014 @ 9:19 AM

  9. Oops, failed link above: “undergravel filter” scenario

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 14 Aug 2014 @ 9:49 AM

  10. Thanks for this perspective. Just in case people think David is exagerating in claiming that people are talking about a “Arctic Methane Apocalypse,” I provide for your enjoyment links to recent discussions of these topics by two of our favorites, Guy McPherson and AMEG/ArcticNews:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTrvj9V5l5s

    http://arctic-news.blogspot.co.nz/2014/08/horrific-methane-eruptions-in-east-siberian-sea.html (Though I do think the first schematic here could be useful as a basis for further discussion.)

    I would like to ask David, though: In the past, you have said that there is no pathway for clathrates to escape from their deep repositories. Could these holes represent such possible pathways? Could they happen on the seabed?

    [Response: I didn’t mean to say that, but I might have meant to say that the time scale for heat getting down to where the hydrates are is long (slow). Actually it’s clear that methane gets through the “hydrate stability zone” in surface sediments, which ought, thermodynamically, to act as cold traps and catch it. Some might be due to high-salinity channels that form (hydrate formation leaves behind salt), or upward migration of heat. There are tons of “explosion marks” on the sea floor, called “pockmarks”, and they are often correlated with “wipeout zones” in seismic images, in which the sedimentary layers are smoothed out by some disturbance. ]

    Also, if you could weigh in on whether you think these things are collapsed pingos (which seems to be the WUWT position–reason enough to doubt it, imho) and why, it could be useful in my (mostly fruitless) efforts at beating back denialists on other blogs. Thanks again.

    [Response: I’m not a specialist but that seems to be the consensus. David]

    Comment by wili — 14 Aug 2014 @ 12:08 PM

  11. Extrapolating based on isolated incidents, indeed offers a calm picture of the Arctic circle deglaciation. However, in the big picture i think there are a lot of unknowns involved which need to be better identified. Such as wildfire feedback, coastal erosion, weather/atmospheric anomalies, seasonal changes, species adaptation, ocean currents etc.

    What exactly can we expect in the future, will thaw progress gradual or exponentially, based on feedbacks? This isn’t addressed enough. There should be more communication about possible future scenarios, in particular to support decision making. On the bottom line, we need to reduce CO2 to reduce future risks (known or unknown).

    Comment by prokaryotes — 14 Aug 2014 @ 12:26 PM

  12. “If the bubble was pure methane”“these explosions”

    …couldn’t happen. (UEL for methane is 15% at room temperature at 1 atmosphere, perhaps up to (at a stretch) around 18% for conditions described.)

    http://www.see.ed.ac.uk/feh5/pdfs/FEH_pdf_pp227.pdf

    Comment by John West — 14 Aug 2014 @ 1:26 PM

  13. Related to this there’s a rather shrill and to my mind, counter-productive, video out there talking about methane. Unfortunately, although slick and well-intentioned, it adopts a tone precisely counter to the current advice for best practice in the communication of climate science. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRGVTK-AAvw

    Comment by Andrea Sella — 14 Aug 2014 @ 2:55 PM

  14. That Shakhova 2010 paper opens with: “The sharp growth in methane emission (50 Gt over 1-5 years) from destructed gas hydrate deposits on the ESS should result in an increase in the global surface temperature by 3.3C by the end of the current century instead of the expected 2C.” I only have access to their two preview pages, so maybe the answer is inside the paper, but I can’t figure out how her team got 2C as the “expected” warming. That also seems to imply that the total warming caused by their hypothetical pulse alone is “only” 1.3C. Can anyone explain how they got that 2C figure, or if I’ve misunderstood something in the admittedly little bit of the paper I’ve been able to read?

    Comment by Will — 14 Aug 2014 @ 9:19 PM

  15. I’d feel so much better about your continued calm in the face of multiple lines of evidence indicating rapidly increasing methane escaping in the arctic if you were actually researching methane, which you aren’t, so far as I know.

    [Response: My latest research publication is entitled A model of the methane cycle, permafrost, and hydrology of the Siberian continental margin. In review, Biogeosciences Discussions. Don’t know if that counts. David]

    Let’s review he scientifically reticent statements on methane since 2007 or so:

    * It would take 100 years, at least, for seabed methane to destabilize.

    Or, maybe not?

    * Thermokarst lakes probably don’t mean much.

    But now we have have holes blowing out, too?

    * It will take a very long time for widespread CH4 emissions.

    Except it hasn’t. Yes, you are speaking solely in the scientific sense, but it is beyond obvious that has not been appropriate forquite some time. In fact, I am not claiming your analysis I scientificaly incorrect. I *am* saying without consideration of risk assessment and the whole system.

    Your analysis is, as ever, simplistic in the sense I speak of above.

    1. How can we assume 1 Shakhova event?
    2. As the atmosphere and oceans saturate, won’t residence times increase?
    3. As other emissions sources kick in or speed up, do they not reinforce?
    4. What of research showing significant melting of permafrost, inland, at temps similar to today over the last 3 million years or so?
    5. And what of the simple awareness of what happens to systems when all segments are falling apart at the same time?

    And on and on.

    As has been the case before, you address *only* specific aspects of potential CH4 emissions without addressing the whole system.

    What if the Arctic is ice-free in summer the next year or two and the, and the resulting amplification of temps far inland?

    I don’t do6bt your science, but I continue to see little objectivity and systems awareness in these posts. I don’t know you well enough to know if that is a normal mode for you, but it seems pervasive wrt methane emissions and climate urgency.

    Then there’s risk assessment, but that heads to mitigation…

    Comment by Killian — 14 Aug 2014 @ 10:49 PM

  16. During the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, one possible explanation to the amplification of the ghg-effect could have been the release of South Siberian European and North American (then) permafrost land-based carbon. Seriously hoping for a more mundane explanation for the ending of the ice age. In fact could you do an article on that?

    [Response: If the rise in atmospheric CO2 at the end of the last glacial time had come from organic carbon (trees, peat, dissolved organic matter in the ocean) or especially methane (which is even more isotopically “light” than CO2) it would have left an isotopic signature. What it looks like is that CO2 came from bicarbonate in the ocean, to drive the rise, but no one can figure out quite what changed or why. David]

    Comment by jyyh — 15 Aug 2014 @ 1:38 AM

  17. Sadly we can be certain that there will be no reduction in the CO2 emissions due to an international agreement as our addiction both social and economic is all powerful. The ‘seven sisters’ will simply no allow it and they will fight to the death, ours and theirs, to prevent it. As economic collapse draws ever nearer we will see massive releases due to military attacks on oil fields and infrastructure.
    “let’s assume that the volume of the hole is the same as the volume of the original, now escaped, bubble ” Measuring the volume of release based on the size of the hole seems nonsensical as arterial linkages into this hole could well be immeasurable.I think it is fair to say we have no idea how much methane escaped this hole and others and this relatively new phenomenon is greatly to be feared.

    [Response: Do you think the released methane could be thousands or millions of times higher than the volume of the hole? Seems to me like a long shot from here, that this event could have any global climate significance. Either you need it millions of times larger, or you need millions more of them. David]

    Comment by Kevin Hester — 15 Aug 2014 @ 2:23 AM

  18. Just trying to imagine what 20 million explosions/holes would look like.

    Area of permafrost is a bit less than 20 million km^2. So 20 million such explosions/holes is a bit more than one for every km^2 of permafrost.

    With a diameter of 80 m, one hole for every km^2 of permafrost is about half a percent of the area.

    One every km^2 seems a lot within a few years. What about spread over a 30-year period (one every 30 km^2 per year)? Is that more “feasible”? Given the few reported so far, I doubt that’s much more feasible. With a lifetime of ~10 years, spreading emissions over 30-year period would of course reduce the peak atmospheric burden (though CH4 lifetime would presumably increase with higher CH4 concentration).

    Comment by Tim Osborn — 15 Aug 2014 @ 2:49 AM

  19. Thanks for the informative reply, David. “high-salinity channels” I hadn’t heard of those. And as for the “pockmarks,” are those the same as the “Pingo-like Features” that were the subject of some discussion a few years ago here, iirc?

    One thing I do agree with Secular Animist on is that in-line responses from scientists are among the best features of this site. So thanks again.

    Comment by wili — 15 Aug 2014 @ 2:52 PM

  20. Great to see one of America’s top climatologists putting a lid on Arctic methane hysteria. Click here for more Siberian sense from the only permafrost expert who actually inspected one of the Siberian holes: Fresh Focus on Siberian Permafrost as Hole Count Rises http://nyti.ms/1nDRUcR

    Comment by Andy Revkin — 15 Aug 2014 @ 4:08 PM

  21. Pingos! What a lovely name. For those that are wise in the way of the pingo, could you provide some insight for those of us that are new to their mysteries? Some questions that come to mind:

    How fast does a pingo collapse? It doesn’t look like a rapid process.
    I can see how the melting of the ice lens and destabilization of the earth above could cause a modest depression, but how does the scoured crater and sink-hole-looking formation happen?
    Are pingo collapses likely to contribute substantial methane to the atmosphere?

    Thanks for any illumination you can provide as we strive to become more pingo-savy!

    Comment by MartinJB — 15 Aug 2014 @ 6:31 PM

  22. Tim Osborn,
    “CH4 lifetime would presumably increase with higher CH4 concentration”
    No, CH4 lifetime is a simple exponential decay relative to emissions. So the level of CH4 air concentrations in equilibrium (>10y timeframe) is directly proportional to emissions. The rate of emission from holes popping one at every year as estimated by David above is at least 10000 times smaller than other emissions, e.g. fugitive FF mining and agricultural that are in the order of 100s Mt CH4.

    [Response: Tim is correct. There is a positive feedback of CH4 concentration on it’s own lifetime, which basically means that the more CH4 there is, the longer it lasts. This is not a huge effect, but it does need to be included. It arises from the reduction in OH radical as CH4 oxidation increases. At the highest conceivable CH4 concentration, we estimated that you could increase the lifetime to about 40 years (from about a decade now). – gavin]

    Comment by chriskoz — 15 Aug 2014 @ 11:21 PM

  23. > Killian …
    > “… if you were actually researching methane, which you aren’t, so far as I know….”

    You can look this stuff up; “as far as I know” isn’t far — because it’s hindsight.
    “It’s a poor memory that only works backwards”.

    “David Archer” and “methane” returns (in 0.05 sec) about 70 results;
    “as far as I know” is hindsight.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 16 Aug 2014 @ 8:16 AM

  24. How would the volume of methane from the amount of hydrates in a hole that size (taking hydrate density into account) compare with the volume of methane you calculated?

    [Response: Great question. Hydrate is condensed phase, so much higher density overall, but it’s only one methane per many water molecules. The density of the gas is much more pressure dependent, so the relative abundances of hydrate vs. gas depends on pressure as well. I know that engineers are considering hydrate for hydrogen storage in cars, etc, so there is a storage advantage to hydrates under some conditions. For this feature, however, I don’t think methane hydrate would have been stable, unless it was deeper than a few hundred meters (depending on the surface temperature. If it had been hydrate, it would not have exploded, but would have taken time and heat energy to melt. David ]

    Comment by Christopher Keating — 16 Aug 2014 @ 12:24 PM

  25. David – some aspects of this strange hole have yet to be discussed, and I’d like to hear your views on them.

    First, assuming the present void was formed by a pingo (for lack of any other known suitable mechanism) it would have been of around 40,000m3 volume. Is this not far larger than any previously found, and also of a novel ratio of depth to width ?

    [Response: I presume so, since it’s in the news, but this is not really my area. There’s a lot of impact of permafrost melting on landforms, coastal erosion and so on. ]

    Second, given that the exposed ground shows the depth of the extant permafrost cap, it seems clear that the pingo’s ice did not melt from the top down, as the surface material remained frozen (gas-tight) before finally being blown out. So are we looking at some geological heat source rather than AGW as the instigator of this event ?
    Third, if pingoes on this scale were present at 20,000,000 sites across the permafrost, they would surely be widely reported by drillers as a common occurrence. As they are not so reported, should we not assume that this hole, and its two smaller local siblings, are an odd and possibly localised phenomena reflecting unusual conditions ?

    [Response: Seems like a reasonable supposition to me.]

    With regard to the combined effects of permafrost and clathrate methane emissions I’m rather less sanguine than you, though I continue to press for the requisite Emissions Control treaty as the paramount mitigation priority. (My apols to any who find this statement shrill or in some way objectionable).

    Shakhova has to have known that she was breaking protocol in proposing a worst case 50Gt CH4 event rather than writing of say a 1.0Gt CH4/yr release from geological seepage stocks trapped beneath perforating seabed permafrost.

    [Response: 1 Gt CH4/yr from the Arctic is still orders of magnitude higher than it is today. ]

    To this extent I’d say that her 2010 paper was somewhat impolitic in raising highly critical opposition rather than constructive discussion.

    [Response: It gets people worried, in my opinion for no solid reason. ]

    What troubles me is that even an all-sources arctic methane release of 1.0Gt per year equates on the 20yr horizon to an additional 84GtCO2e/yr, rising somewhat due to the atmospheric glut effect. Last January’s report of the ’79-’12 satellite record of the Albedo Loss feedback showing it on average to have equalled 25% of the forcing from anthro-CO2, in combination with that level of arctic methane release, would offset our best case of emissions control (of say near-zero by 2050) over three-fold.

    With the observation of six other major feedbacks’ ongoing acceleration mostly from currently small outputs, along with that of a burgeoning number of direct interactive couplings between them, I’m unable to share your view that the fossil fuel industry poses the dominant threat to climate, but would entirely agree that it is the earliest and most controllable threat. Yet even a best case of emissions control would not see the last outputs’ warming realized before the 2080s, giving ~70 yrs of warming for the major interactive feedbacks to gain momentum.

    Addressing the overall threat thus appears to demand not the dismissal of the feedbacks as a minor secondary concern but their citing as justification for the urgent agreement of a protocol within the emissions control treaty for the stringent supervision of geo-engineering research by a mandated scientific agency. Beside being commensurate with the predicament, this approach would also preclude the folly of pretense that Geo-E offers anything more than the essential complement to rapid emissions control.

    [Response: What if we postulate a feedback between ozone depletion, which causes people to get better sun tans, warming the climate due to decreasing planetary albedo? I personally think that’s a negligible effect, but should I argue that it could be thousands of times bigger, making it a good argument against (I guess in this case) ozone depletion? Better to call it small if it looks small, don’t want to be “alarmist”. ]

    Regards,

    Lewis

    Comment by Lewis Cleverdon — 16 Aug 2014 @ 12:43 PM

  26. @chriskoz:

    “Tim is correct… – Gavin”

    :-) Sorry chriskoz, I have an advantage: my first ever published paper was about estimating CH4 lifetime changes according to OH changes determined by CH4 itself (and CO, NOx, NMHCs).

    Osborn TJ and Wigley TML (1994) A simple model for estimating methane concentration and lifetime variations. Climate Dynamics 9 , 181-193.

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00208251

    Comment by Tim Osborn — 16 Aug 2014 @ 6:17 PM

  27. A typo in mine at #25 is where 40,000m3 should read 400,000m3,
    and an addendum is the reference for the forcing from the Albedo Loss feedback shown in the satellite record:
    “Observational determination of albedo decrease caused by vanishing Arctic sea ice”
    See: http://eisenman.ucsd.edu/publications/Pistone-Eisenman-Ramanathan-2014.pdf

    Comment by Lewis Cleverdon — 16 Aug 2014 @ 6:43 PM

  28. Lewis, in this video, scientists explain some implications, and in regards to your question about heat transfer/penetration. The hottest years mentioned in the video, are also echoed in the recent Nature study cited above (i.e. Plekhanov and his team believe that it is linked to the abnormally hot Yamal summers of 2012 and 2013).

    I doubt that drillers would find all the holes, potentially formed in recent times, in addition to those observed by chance, the area is huge. My guess is, NASA will probe now for sink formation and similar characteristics.

    Comment by prokaryotes — 17 Aug 2014 @ 12:16 AM

  29. Tim Osborn & Gavin,
    My textbook knowledge about OH radicals is: they are plentiful, ensured by production from sun;s photons. It turns out to be a simplistic view that I need to adjust as I learn from your papers and references therein. Thanks for showing me.

    Comment by chriskoz — 17 Aug 2014 @ 12:23 AM

  30. Uh oh. If Refkin is agreeing with Archer now, perhaps Archer is wrong about this after all!? ‘-D

    Comment by wili — 17 Aug 2014 @ 7:39 AM

  31. “Siberia has explosion holes in it that smell like methane” – first line.
    Perhaps a minor point but methane is odourless.

    Comment by Morley Sutter — 17 Aug 2014 @ 8:02 AM

  32. Kevin McKinney @4 says:
    14 Aug 2014 at 5:49 AM

    “…the future of Earth’s climate in this century and beyond will be determined mostly by the fossil fuel industry, and not by Arctic methane.”

    “One certainly hopes so,”

    One certainly hopes not!

    Comment by Pete Dunkelberg — 17 Aug 2014 @ 9:36 AM

  33. > emissions control treaty for the stringent supervision of geo-engineering

    Point 1 : stop burning carbon, which is the strongest form of “geo-engineering”

    Look away from the arguments about what should be done,
    and instead look at what’s being done, you know how to find this stuff;
    seabed drilling and pipe-laying are righ now getting far more investment than any non-geoengineering approach.

    This will change the world. In fact it already has.

    Oops.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 17 Aug 2014 @ 10:09 AM

  34. There appears to be two different presentation methods on this article. One version says 1 GTon = 1015 g. The “desktop” version (With the brown bar going down the right side) says 1 GTon = 10 raised to the 15th power.

    [Response: 10 to the 15th power is what’s meant. ]

    Comment by Matt — 17 Aug 2014 @ 10:10 AM

  35. Honest, there _were_ links behind that colored text when I posted it.
    I checked.
    I suspect there’s a linkovore hiding somewhere in the blog software.
    Let’s see if it’s still hungry:

    You can look this stuff up; “as far as I know” isn’t far — because it’s hindsight.
    It’s a poor memory that only works backwards.

    “David Archer” and “methane” returns (in 0.05 sec) about 70 results

    Meanwhile — how much natural gas is going to be extracted from the area?
    Look it up — many companies and governments are drilling and laying distribution pipelines now.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 17 Aug 2014 @ 10:48 AM

  36. Wow, that’s an interesting scientific approach to a new phenomenon, assuming that it’s unique (there are now two other examples, by the way) assuming that the emissions were of gaseous methane under pressure rather than solid methane hydrate continuing to dissociate, assuming no methane flows in from surrounding areas, and so on. These appear to be very, very conservative assumptions, and any calculation done under such assumptions will of course lead to a conservative answer.

    But large areas of Siberia are covered with tens of thousands of circular lakes and circular landscape features, and some of them are ten miles or so across. It seems possible that those tens of thousands of circular depressions were generated by similar methane gas eruptions, followed by melting of ice and methane hydrate and subsidence to enlarge the initial gas eruption craters.

    Andrey Plekhanov, Senior Researcher at the State Scientific Centre of Arctic Research, thinks this might be the case:

    http://siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/news/first-pictures-from-inside-the-crater-at-the-end-of-the-world/

    “‘I also want to recall a theory that our scientists worked on in the 1980s – it has been left and then forgotten for a number of years.

    ‘The theory was that the number of Yamal lakes formed because of exactly such natural process happening in the permafrost.

    ‘Such kind of processes were taking place about 8,000 years ago. Perhaps they are repeating nowadays. If this theory is confirmed, we can say that we have witnessed a unique natural process that formed the unusual landscape of Yamal peninsula.”

    So, instead of applying your calculation to the current ejection event, maybe it would be better to apply a different, more realistic calculation to the hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of circular Siberian landscape features which could plausibly have been generated by this process. Since erosion might soon erase such landscape features, it seems possible that most of the circular features visible in Google Earth were generated in a burst of methane gas eruption activity a few thousand years ago, perhaps in the early Holocene.

    Perhaps that will still result in a conservative answer. Perhaps, no realistic scenario exists that would release sufficient methane rapidly enough to make a big difference. But, our rate of change of temperatures in the Arctic is very, very rapid, and a similar burst of methane eruptions might occur more rapidly now than in the early Holocene.

    And, of course, these possible widespread methane gas eruptions are not the only change occurring in the Arctic, as permafrost melts and decomposes.

    What do you think are the possibilities of similar eruptions occurring in the shallow waters of the the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, as the shallow underwater permafrost there melts and potentially uncaps more reservoirs of methane?

    The Yamal area gas fields, by the way, have been supplying large quantities of natural gas to Russia and Europe for decades, so there is a lot of methane in the area. In fact, there may be an association between gas fields and these circular landscape features, which should probably be investigated.

    Comment by Leland Palmer — 17 Aug 2014 @ 12:53 PM

  37. Thanks for the article. You are probably right, we should ignore these anomalies that we have never seen before. With out proper study, lasting many years and pear review, how credibly can we take all of the unique and troubling warning signs.

    I too share you concern for the fossil fuel industry. We should, as a planet, maybe send around a some sort of collection tin for them. It is unfortunate that they are so under funded, but hopefully, once all that pesky sea ice is gone we can “drill, baby, drill” them some meager trickle of profitability.

    As I once read – “Sure kids, the planet is now f#$@ked, but for a short, beautiful time, we managed to create real value for our shareholders.”

    Comment by Ruff — 17 Aug 2014 @ 6:59 PM

  38. Methane is an odourless gas!

    Comment by Frank — 18 Aug 2014 @ 8:29 AM

  39. I do not that being alarmed about the methane holes in the far north means that we are taking our eye off the real problem of fossil fuels. I don’t this is an either or situation. I think it hurts our movement to move away from fossil fuels to pass on a sense that the methane release from frozen reserves is not a serious concern.

    Comment by Mike Coday — 18 Aug 2014 @ 9:41 AM

  40. @wili (#19).

    This is largely unrelated to the initial topic, because the described feature likely has nothing to do with dissociation of gas hydrate, for reasons noted by several people. However, in the spirit of your last sentence, the following it might address several comments in your threads and others.

    There are multiple processes for CH4 passing upward through a regional gas hydrate stability zone (GHSZ).

    The first thing to recognize is that CH4 escapes almost all gas hydrate systems through two mechanisms: 1/ AOM within shallow sediment, and 2/ venting from the seafloor. And it probably should be stated, that in a steady-state world, these outputs are balanced by inputs (methane production), so there is no net carbon gain or loss through escaping methane.

    The first mechanism, which very likely dominates on a global scale, is fairly easy to understand. In most places on continental slopes, gas hydrate does not exist in the upper 10+ meters of sediment (which is another reason for why David is very likely correct in stating that the process of thermal dissociation is slow – heat has to propagate into the sediment). As such, there is a diffusion gradient of dissolved CH4 between the top of gas hydrate and the seafloor. However, the CH4 does not escape the seafloor, because it reacts with SO42- in pore water via anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) to generate HCO3-.

    The second mechanism, venting, clearly happens in many locations, although it most likely is not the major CH4 escape path, at least in a steady-state world. The interesting question, as raised, is how methane directly passes through a GHSZ without forming gas hydrate.

    David mentioned two processes, temperature anomalies and salinity anomalies. In some places, notably above faults, there can be upward advection of warm fluids. This leads to a situation whereby the base of the GHSZ is shoaled toward the seafloor. Such shoaling also occurs if rising fluids are very saline, for example above salt diapirs. Great examples of where both processes operate can be found on slopes in the Gulf of Mexico.

    There is, however, an intriguing and different means of a causing a salinity anomaly. This occurs during gas hydrate formation, which excludes dissolved ions. In areas of rapid gas hydrate formation, surrounding pore waters can become very saline, and surpass the point of gas hydrate-free gas equilibrium. Basically, free gas co-exists with gas hydrate and a brine, and no additional gas hydrate can form, because the pore water is too salty. There is good evidence of this occurring in several places, such as Hydrate Ridge, offshore Oregon.

    There is also a third process, whereby during gas hydrate formation, gas hydrate can separate free gas from surrounding water. The idea here is that free gas can move upward within connected space within gas hydrate. There is good evidence of this occurring in several places, such as Hydrate Ridge. Here it should be noted that this process and the above salt-exclusion process may be coupled.

    None of the above addresses the fate of CH4 once it leaves the seafloor. With AOM, excess HCO3- (at least that not precipitating carbonate) leaves the seafloor, so it is not CH4. This is another wonderful topic, but will leave this to another time, other than to state that very little probably enters the atmosphere as CH4.

    As to the other query, pingos, by definition are restricted to permafrost regions, although one might note they can be found in the ocean where permafrost underlies the continental shelf. Some pingos may have led to pockmarks in this type of environment. However, pockmarks can be found in many places where there is no permafrost. Some are likely related to CH4 expulsion, for example on the slopes off west Africa.

    I’ll guess that David’s new paper might include some of this. The suggestion that David is not an expert on methane was a rather silly comment.

    Comment by Jerry Dickens — 18 Aug 2014 @ 10:18 AM

  41. Look at the Siberian Times picture, off to the right is another lake with fresh slumping of the banks. Look with Google Earth at the Yamal Peninsula.

    ‘If it was a man-made disaster linked by gas pumping, it would have happened closer to the gas fields’, Andrey Plekhanov told The Siberian Times.
    These are about 30 kilometres away. ‘Gas workers would have been on alert, letting us know about it immediately.’

    a theory that our scientists worked on in the 1980s – it has been left and then forgotten for a number of years.
    ‘The theory was that the number of Yamal lakes formed because of exactly such natural process happening in the permafrost.
    ‘Such kind of processes were taking place about 8,000 years ago. Perhaps they are repeating nowadays. If this theory is confirmed, we can say that we have witnessed a unique natural process that formed the unusual landscape of Yamal peninsula.

    some 10,000 years ago this area was a sea….. Yamal, a large peninsula jutting into Arctic waters, is Russia’s main production area for gas supplied to Europe.

    But looking back, rapid changes were happening:

    Environ. Res. Lett. 4 (October-December 2009) 045004
    doi:10.1088/1748-9326/4/4/045004

    Spatial and temporal patterns of greenness on the Yamal Peninsula, Russia: interactions of ecological and social factors affecting the Arctic normalized difference vegetation index

    D A Walker1, M O Leibman2, H E Epstein3, B C Forbes4, U S Bhatt1, M K Raynolds1, J C Comiso5, A A Gubarkov2, A V Khomutov2, G J Jia6, E Kaarlejärvi4, J O Kaplan7, T Kumpula8, P Kuss9, G Matyshak10, N G Moskalenko2, P Orekhov2, V E Romanovsky1, N G Ukraientseva2 and Q Yu3

    1 University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, USA
    2 Earth Cryosphere Institute, Russian Academy of Science, Siberian Branch, Tyumen, Russia
    3 University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA
    4 Arctic Center, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland
    5 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, MD, USA
    6 Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute for Atmospheric Physics, Beijing, People’s Republic of China
    7 Swiss Federal Institute for Forest Snow and Landscape Research, Birmensdorf, Switzerland
    8 University of Joensuu, Joensuu, Finland
    9 University of Berne, Berne, Switzerland
    10 Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia

    Published 15 October 2009

    Abstract. The causes of a greening trend detected in the Arctic using the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) are still poorly understood. Changes in NDVI are a result of multiple ecological and social factors that affect tundra net primary productivity. Here we use a 25 year time series of AVHRR-derived NDVI data (AVHRR: advanced very high resolution radiometer), climate analysis, a global geographic information database and ground-based studies to examine the spatial and temporal patterns of vegetation greenness on the Yamal Peninsula, Russia.

    Many of the greenest landscapes on the Yamal are associated with landslides and drainage networks that have resulted from ongoing rapid permafrost degradation. A warming climate and enhanced winter snow are likely to exacerbate positive feedbacks between climate and permafrost thawing….

    This was seabed 8-10,000 years ago — covered with pingos, I expect, like many similar areas around the Arctic Ocean, whether above or below current sea level.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 18 Aug 2014 @ 11:13 AM

  42. Useful perspective, quoting from:
    http://arstechnica.com/science/2014/01/methane-release-around-arctic-islands-predates-recent-climate-change/

    Plumes of rising methane bubbles have been mapped off the coast of Svalbard to where the water is about 400 meters deep—the edge of the stability zone for hydrates. In order to find out if these plumes are the result of that recent warming or are simply a feature of the area, a team of researchers led by Christian Berndt of Germany’s GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel used a submersible to get a look at the seafloor where the methane is bubbling up.

    There, they found crusts of calcium carbonate formed by bacteria living off the methane. (In fact, there were communities of chemosynthetic bacteria and a kind of tubeworm living at all the methane seeps they visited.) The age of geologically recent, precipitated carbonate in the ocean can be measured using radioactive isotopes of uranium and thorium, so these crusts provided a record of how long methane had been bubbling up at these spots.

    The carbonate turned out to be much older than anthropogenic climate change, with measurements dating them anywhere from 500 years to over 8,000 years old. That means that, at least in the locations they sampled, methane has been bubbling for quite a long time.

    The researchers also made measurements of seasonal water temperature variation and the ability of the sediment to conduct heat, which they used to create a model of the study area. The model showed that there should be a seasonal cycle in the behavior of the shallow-water hydrates just below the seafloor, with some additional hydrates forming while the water temperature is cooler and then melting when the water is warmer. That process could affect the total rate of methane coming up by clearing out pathways to the surface during the warmer part of the year.

    The study allays concerns that these bubbling plumes of methane around Svalbard are a brand-new phenomenon triggered by global warming, but it’s still unknown if the rate of bubbling is changing. The researchers summarize their work by writing that “observations of large contemporary emissions reported in other studies cannot be considered proof of accelerating hydrate destabilization, although neither do they prove that catastrophic destabilization is not accelerating.” Figuring that out will simply take continued monitoring and a better understanding of the conditions on the Arctic seafloor.

    Science, 2014. DOI: 10.1126/science.1246298  (About DOIs).

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 18 Aug 2014 @ 1:11 PM

  43. For the apparently metaphor-challenged (e.g. @31, 38): Think of expressions such as “smells like money,” “smells like a scam” or “smells like truth.”

    Comment by Rick Brown — 18 Aug 2014 @ 2:52 PM

  44. Thank you for the inline responses. (Anyone new to this, don’t forget to scroll back and look for those, they come in a few days or more after the original post, right inline with it). Sanity check especially appreciated.

    One speculation about the shape and depth of the hole:

    Looking at e.g. this discussion:
    http://www.ig.utexas.edu/outreach/ice-bound/pepperoni/pdfdocs/pongo%20paul.pdf
    GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 34, L01603, doi:10.1029/2006GL027977, 2007
    Origin of pingo-like features on the Beaufort Sea shelf and their possible relationship to decomposing methane gas hydrates

    Remember for a long time “pingos” were surface land features — odd hills on the flat tundra, in areas that that had been under the ice age ice, then had been underwater as that ice melted and sea level rose, then exposed again during the next ice age.

    Then they showed up underwater as well. A puzzlement at the time.

    These authors start by saying

    The Arctic shelf is currently undergoing dramatic thermal changes caused by the continued warming associated with Holocene sea level rise. During this transgression, comparatively warm waters have flooded over cold permafrost areas of the Arctic Shelf. A thermal pulse of more than 10°C is still propagating down into the submerged sediment and may be decomposing gas hydrate as well as permafrost. A search for gas venting on the Arctic
    seafloor focused on pingo-like-features (PLFs) on the Beaufort Sea Shelf because they may be a direct consequence of gas hydrate decomposition at depth.

    … We offer a scenario of how PLFs may be growing offshore as a result of gas pressure associated with gas hydrate decomposition.

    Now those illustrations are again talking about bumps on the surface — like pingos but underwater.

    Look at their illustration Fig. 2, on page L01603, upper left corner.

    The caption says in part:

    s the subsurface warms, the top of the gas hydrate stability zone will move downward. Warming results in gas hydrate decomposition in a gradually thickening zone (brown), releasing gaseous methane into the sediments (yellow). Bubble formation associated with this phase change will create overpressured conditions. (b) Shows how material may flow (red arrows) both laterally and vertically in response to overpressure. Displaced sediments rise upward to form the PLF and allow the gas to vent (VG). As the pressure is dissipated through both the transfer of solids and degassing, subsidence in the area immediately surrounding the PLF (black arrows) creates the moat…

    That’s for pingos underneath the ocean, where slow warming has thawed the seabed — which can collapse into a “moat” — but the material (brown, red arrows) being forced up from below is dense mud and rock and clathrate and ice. And the gas expanding and cooling as the gas expands could push up a mass of ice and reformed hydrates creating the typical “bump” in the seabed. We know that methane will rise up and cool and freeze into fresh clathrates, it clogs up deepsea oil wells routinely.

    But imagine this:

    Here warming now is faster. Think “baked Alaska” — toasty on the outside, frozen on the inside.

    Some warmth gets to the deep source material, however.

    What we’re seeing might be due to much more gas and less solids, pushing up through still hard-frozen material — blowing out a deep narrow hole with mostly gas bubbles and not all that much dirt/rock/ice.

    So — my speculation — maybe instead of pushing up a dome with a mass of ice lifted by the gas, we’re seeing a “Mentos” ebullition.

    That would be gas blowing up through a narrow channel, expanding but not refreezing (maybe with not enough dirt and rock in the mess to freeze around?
    The pressure would end up throwing the surface dirt and plant root layer to the sides, then, as the gas escapes, the remaining froth collapses, leaving a deep hole — the small amount of actual dirt and rock forced up isn’t enough to fill the hole, in this speculation.

    There sure are a lot of round lakes out there.

    And while I thought the Carolina Bays had been well enough explained as astroblemes — could they also have been gas releases?
    I note we’re just now starting to lease the seabed offshore of the Carolinas for more fossil fuel drilling — it’s another rich area.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 18 Aug 2014 @ 8:52 PM

  45. and then there’s the long-term concerns:

    Ocean oxygen depletion due to decomposition of submarine methane hydrate
    Akitomo Yamamoto1,2,*, Yasuhiro Yamanaka2, Akira Oka1 andAyako Abe-Ouchi1
    Article first published online: 21 JUL 2014
    DOI: 10.1002/2014GL060483

    We have projected the potential impact of oxygen depletion due to methane hydrate decomposition via numerical modeling. We find that the global methane hydrate inventory decreases by approximately 70% (35%) under four times (twice) the atmospheric CO2 concentration and is accompanied by significant global oxygen depletion on a timescale of thousands of years. In particular, we demonstrate the great expansion of suboxic and hypoxic regions, having adverse impact on marine organisms and ocean biogeochemical cycles. This is because hydrate decomposition primarily occurs in the Pacific Ocean, where present-day seawater has low oxygen concentration. Besides the decrease in oxygen solubility and reduced ventilation associated with global warming, the process described in this study is also important in oxygen depletion.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 18 Aug 2014 @ 9:20 PM

  46. Prokaryotes, thanks for linking the video of Schaefer, Abbot & Miller. It gives the relevant info both that heat is penetrating the deep permafrost faster than was expected, and that the carbon therein is in forms more readily convertible by microbes than was expected. It also reports an expected output of 3.0GtC/yr due to melting, which is almost twice that of the NSIDC study (2011?).

    However it doesn’t give an explanation of how surface heat could have melted a pingo down to ~80ms subsurface surrounded by unmelted permafrost, nor how it could do so while retaining a ~10m gas-tight cap of permafrost over the top.
    This is not to ignore the strong possibility that surface warming weakened the cap enough for high-pressure gas to burst it open, but to refute the possibility of surface warming causing the void that was then mostly emptied of water and filled with gas.

    The idea of the void being a sink-hole faces the problems of its formation through permafrost, and of the lack of any surface water penetration of the solid gas-tight cap – which rather knock this hypothesis. With the impracticality of massed reindeer-peeing playing a role (from aerial images the site is clearly on a regular grazing route) I’m left wondering just what gas presssure would be needed for clathrates to form after a notional influx of hot geological methane melted out a pingo, with sufficient surface warming penetration then causing their destabilization. Which posits a whole series of large IFs . . .

    Regards,

    Lewis

    Comment by Lewis Cleverdon — 18 Aug 2014 @ 9:51 PM

  47. Hank @ 33 –
    > emissions control treaty for the stringent supervision of geo-engineering –

    It’s not at all like you to misquote people intentionally so I take the above to be the result of over-hasty typing. What I wrote was:
    “. . . the urgent agreement of a protocol within the emissions control treaty for the stringent supervision of geo-engineering research by a mandated scientific agency”
    which of course has a radically different meaning. At present the thesis behind this proposal stands unrefuted here on Real Climate as it does on many other public fora across the range of scientific to popular focuses.

    While the global agreement to end fossil fuel dependency plainly will allow the earliest practical action (Geo-E research will take at least years), I think you’re mistaken in stating that fossil carbon combustion is geo-engineering. The widely accepted Royal Society definition speaks of the ‘Intentional’ alteration of the atmosphere ‘For societal benefit’ – which not even the US fossil lobby yet claims for its pollution.

    I see no reason to accept your suggestion of turning away from the issue of what needs to be done to resolve the potentially existential climate predicament. The scale of drilling, pipe-laying etc I do track as a background factor, but the far more troubling issue is for me the fossil lobby’s RD&D efforts. Consider just how much commercial cred fracked gas & oil had 10 yrs ago, and then look at the current worldwide research efforts both on methane hydrates’ extraction and also on coal-seam gasification. Both pose not only vast new accessible reserves but also the prospect of far cheaper outputs than the present deep mining and deep-water drilling operations.

    The fashion for hyping renewables’ rising competitiveness (especially solar PV) wholly ignores this predictable commercial response, just as it ignores the restrictive impacts of intermittency imposing additional storage & distribution costs and, until a binding commensurate global climate treaty is in operation, that of any fossil fuels locally displaced by RE being promptly bought and burnt elsewhere.

    In fact I’d suggest that turning away from a focus on what needs to be done and instead challenging local examples of the global damage is the core of the weakness of public response to the predicament. It is by this lack of specific demands on govt that CoP21 in Paris is on track to discuss merely short-term voluntary ‘pledges’, with the US refusing to discuss the requisite framework for the equitable and efficient allocation of tradable national emission rights under a declining global carbon budget.

    Roll on the day when the scientific community takes this crucial issue to heart.

    Regards,

    Lewis

    Comment by Lewis Cleverdon — 18 Aug 2014 @ 11:22 PM

  48. David: I don’t agree with your assumption that the natural gas leaking from this hole must have been originally in place in the same volume. The natural gas concentration at the bottom of the hole has been measured to be ~10%. The hole is open to the air over approximately a 40 meter diameter surface, and barring absolutely perfect symmetry the wind will generate a vortex over the hole, which would result in mixing on a time scale of around a day or so or faster, even were it some heavier than air gas such as propane. Methane, however, is substantially lighter than air, and a mixture of 90% air and 10% air is dynamically unstable unless the air is warmer by approximately 15C. A smaller difference will lead to active convection. Even were the bottom near freezing, 15C isn’t unusually near the Arctic Ocean at night in summer.

    Assuming that the air was stable when the concentration measurement was taken, it seems reasonable to me to assume a minimum flux of 1 meter of natural gas per day. Across a 40m diameter surface, this is 1250m^3, or 1 ton per day, or 60 tons over a wild estimate of two months that the hole has been there, or 365 tons per year. This is perhaps not a terribly large value, but it is an estimate of the minimum amount of additional leakage from outside entering the hole, which you have assumed to be negligible.

    What about a maximum value? Assuming active convection at 1 meter per second, up over half of the surface and down over half, with a 10% methane concentration, we get a maximum reasonable flux of 60 m^3 per second, or 5 million m^3/day, or 4,000 tons per day, or 1.5 megatons per year. While this may seem small compared to some putative Shakhova event, it’s still around 0.3% of the entire current methane flux of the Earth… from one hole.

    I don’t see the heat shimmer in the video which I would expect if the convection was up near this value. In any case this flux is large enough that satellite methane observations ought to be able to give a tighter upper limit on the flux. I would caution against assuming that most of the flux should flow through spectacular, unusual features like this. The number of features does like this does not put a significant upper bound on methane flux any more than a good estimate of heat loss through geysers puts an upper limit on the geothermal flux of the Earth.

    So, where is all this methane coming from in the first place? Given that the feature is around 30km from the Bovanenkovo Gas Field, which is approximately the 11th largest known natural gas field on Earth, where large-scale commercial production began around 2 years ago, either it is related to natural gas production, or this is a large unexplained coincidence. Yet, doesn’t the fact that the feature is not terribly close to a well site mean that it must be natural?

    Well pipes are sealed with concrete, which is then tested for appropriate pressure reduction along the well string. The assumption is generally made that the surrounding material is, well, rock and not methane hydrates or ice, and will not later melt when production pulls warm natural gas up the well pipe. This assumption has historically generally been correct, but if in fact the field is sealed by methane hydrates near the production casing, the warmer produced gas could melt a path outside the well casing, which might grow larger with time as warmer gas following the path melted a larger path.

    If the gas flows through the top of the main reservoir, but is then capped (presumably by permafrost) in a higher reservoir, it would gradually pressurize this reservoir, spreading farther and farther from the source well. 30km is not an extraordinary distance for a pressure difference to be transmitted in an aquifer, and gas pressure will spread much faster than unconfined water pressure. It’s not what I would have looked for a year ago, but staring at the largest natural gas blowout hole ever observed, I find it much easier to believe that it’s connected to the recent development of a massive natural gas field right next to it, rather than being a natural feature which just happened to appear at the same time and place. In any case, a every natural gas field has a certain amount of other hydrocarbon gasses which act as a fingerprint, and could relatively easily be used to determine if the source of the gas at this hole is in fact Bovanenkovo, or some other source.

    Bovanenkovo itself contains about 7 years of natural gas emissions of the entire Earth. Even if most of this will probably not escape in any eventuality, I think it’s very important to determine as soon as possible whether we’re talking about one well with a bad cement job, one well with methane hydrate melting around it, failure of containment of most wells in Bovanenkovo (which after all will all have much the same conditions at the top of the reservoir), or failure of containment of most wells in the Yamal Project. Confidently stating that we would need 10,000,000 of these events before would have a problem discourages the gathering of very important data and is not helpful.

    Comment by Blaine — 19 Aug 2014 @ 1:43 AM

  49. > emissions control treaty for the stringent supervision of geo-engineering –

    I quoted that fragment because the text seems to assume there is such a thing.
    I’m guessing it’s a hypothetical, something you wish existed — but I’d appreciate a pointer to any reference to such a text or draft.

    I think it would be a good idea, if we recognize that the geoengineering accomplished to date has been done by burning fossil fuel.
    That’s where a treaty needs to begin, I think. Stop going in the wrong direction.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 19 Aug 2014 @ 10:42 AM

  50. Continuing #24:

    What if it was a mixture of gas and hydrates? Could it have been an accumulation of gas that then blew some volume of hydrate to the surface where it could melt? If that was the case then I would think there would be a much larger total volume of methane being released.

    [Response: I really don’t think there could have been hydrate above a few hundred meters depth. David]

    Comment by Christopher Keating — 19 Aug 2014 @ 11:01 AM

  51. David – thanks for your responses to mine at #25.

    While there is scant information on what CH4 stocks may be trapped beneath the ESAS permafrost, and how close the latter was to being significantly perforated even prior to the start of anthropogenic sea-ice loss,
    and while there is good information on the warming of the arctic ocean from raised insolation, from increasing and warming river outflows and from the warming Atlantic influx,
    I don’t share Shakhova’s interest in promoting the unquantifiable risk even of a 1.0Gt/yr CH4 ESAS output as a means to instigate rapid mitigation actions.

    The more productive approach seems to me to entail the quantification of known feedback outputs and their evaluation against the scale of anthro emissions as posing an offset of the latters’ termination.

    The example you postulate of ozone depletion, raised human tanning and resulting Albedo Loss is both practical and amusing, but so far below measurability as to be negligible, as you rightly remark. At the other pole of the issue there are arguably eight major interactive positive feedbacks that are currently or potentially significant, being the near-linear Water Vapour Increase plus the non-linear feedbacks of Albedo Loss, Fertilized Peatbog Decay, Permafrost Melt, Ocean Heating & Acidification, Forest Loss, Soil Desiccation and Methyl Clathrates Melt. (There are of course very numerous direct couplings between them but as these are demonstrably secondary in effect in raising the interdependence of the majors’ outputs they form a distinct class in my view).

    The Water Vapour Increase being near linear is already well integrated into the IPCC’s projections of future AGW, but three of the non-linear majors are of interest here (as described below) in that they have relatively robust quantification of current or projected outputs that are plainly of a scale to significantly offset anthro-emissions control. Even under a best case of ‘near-zero by 2050,’ with the oceans’ thermal inertia this would continue warming up to the 2080s, thus allowing at least 70yrs of anthro-warming accelerating the major feedbacks.

    Albedo Loss – the fraction due to Arctic sea-ice decline (as distinct from land ice decline and snow cover decline) was quantified as imposing a forcing equal on average to 25% of that from anthro-CO2 stock during the satellite record. How much it has grown is not stated in the paper: “Observational determination of albedo decrease caused by vanishing Arctic sea ice” http://eisenman.ucsd.edu/publications/Pistone-Eisenman-Ramanathan-2014.pdf but it seems very clear that Arctic sea-ice loss is in accelerating decline towards zero in the coming decades, meaning that this forcing will rise very substantially along with those from land-ice and snow cover decline.

    Fertilized Peatbog Decay – resulting from elevated CO2 causing disruption of the microbial ecology and a massive production of an enzyme that happens to reduce peat to DOC, which then mostly outgasses as CO2 in outflow streams.
    The level of the streams’ DOC content has been rising at around 6%/yr since the early ‘60s, with the mechanism finally being identified in 2004 : “Export of dissolved organic carbon from peatlands under elevated carbon dioxide levels” – http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v430/n6996/full/nature02707.html . The study’s lead author, Dr Chris Freeman, stated that if the 6%/yr trend held steady, (i.e. under BAU) the global CO2 output would equal anthro-CO2 outputs by mid-century. How large this output would grow under a best case of emissions control is not stated.

    Permafrost Melt – both the projections of GtC of output and of the percentage emitted as CH4 appear to be under upward revision. Your landmark paper: “Climate change: High risk of permafrost thaw.” http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v480/n7375/full/480032a.html
    projected an output of ~1.6GyC/yr by the 2080s, with a consensus of a 2.7% ceiling on the CH4 fraction, and the recent video by Schaefer, Abbot and Miller : “The permafrost carbon feedback loop in the Arctic”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dR-4-kJUxzM puts the expected output at 3.0GtC/yr, while recent years’ CH4 fraction of outputs from the Yedoma areas point to a far higher CH4 percentage.
    In the absence of a published table of the range of CO2e values for different annual outputs and CH4 fractions I’ve found the following via excel, using 1.333 and 3.664 as the factors on GtC for GtCH4 & GtCO2 respectively, and selecting the CO2e value of 86 on a 20yr time horizon to reflect the dynamic of the feedbacks’ mutual reinforcement. This showed that an output of 1.6GtC with 2.7% CH4 gave 10.66Gt CO2e or roughly 30.5% of present anthro-CO2 output, while by contrast, an output of 3.0GtC with 5% CH4 gave 27.64Gt CO2e or roughly 79% of present anthro-CO2 outputs.

    While the projected offsets of anthro-emissions control shown for the feedbacks above are not clear cut and do reflect outputs under BAU, in combination they still represent a clear threat of a very damaging offset under a best case of emissions control. In addition, we of course have no surety of achieving anything like a ‘near-zero by 2050’ emissions control. Moreover, there are the four other non-linear feedbacks now observed to be accelerating that will predictably contribute to the offset effect given at best another 70yrs of continued warming.

    From this perspective while I’d entirely agree that pressure for commensurate emissions control is the primary concern, I’d suggest that it is a necessary but not sufficient response to the predicament. The essential complement is of developing the prudent governance of the research of both modes of geo-engineering, in order to have reliably benign options ready at the point when the UN member states recognise that they must be applied. If that governance is mandated as a protocol within the requisite Climate Treaty, it can also be negotiated to proscribe the possibility of any reckless unilateral deployment of Geo-E techniques.

    Finally, I hope that we may agree that this ‘bottom-up quantifiable hazard’ approach offers a far more cogent case for advancing the proper governance of Geo-E research than Shakhova’s extreme worst case scenario could ever achieve, as it relies on promoting prudence rather than alarmism.

    Regards,

    Lewis

    Comment by Lewis Cleverdon — 19 Aug 2014 @ 10:19 PM

  52. Hank – some very bright people are working on the issue of the governance of Geo-E, on grounds that governance has to precede research both to avoid lamentable outcomes and to prevent them from discrediting the development of a potentially vital capacity for addressing the predicament.

    The address below is to the UK organization on the issue, at the page on the history of “the Oxford Principles”, which is worth a look.
    http://www.geoengineering.ox.ac.uk/oxford-principles/history/

    Regards,

    Lewis

    Comment by Lewis Cleverdon — 20 Aug 2014 @ 1:59 AM

  53. Thanks for the (incomplete) answer in #16. To be sure, you likely mean C13/C12-ratio for preglacial C14 would have been depleted by normal decay by now.

    [Response: Sorry, didn’t mean to be vague. I was referring only to the C-13/C-12 ratio, not C-14. Photosynthesis discriminates against C-13, so organic matter is isotopically lighter than the CO2 it’s made from. When organic matter is fermented to methane (and at the same time CO2), the methane is even lighter. It’s possible to back out what the isotopic composition of the carbon source was leading to the atmospheric increase through the deglaciation. If it were from organic matter, the atmosphere would have gotten lighter as the CO2 went up. Actually, what the isotopes tell us is that there was an increase in the amount of biological carbon through the deglaciation, not a decrease, about 500 Gton C as organic matter, explainable as growth of forests where the ice sheets used to be. It’s actually going the wrong way, making it harder to explain the atmospheric CO2 change. David]

    Comment by jyyh — 20 Aug 2014 @ 3:06 AM

  54. The elevation seems to be only 12m above sea level.
    If so, it is hard to explain the water level in the pit by any pingo or sinkhole theory.

    Comment by Keith — 20 Aug 2014 @ 1:05 PM

  55. Thanks again, Good doctor, might guess there’s been a whole lot of mangrove and coastal forests getting submerged back then, if there’s a C-13 deposit in their soil this might be one source for the excess. Possibly also in coral reefs getting in too deep for growth. who knows.

    Comment by jyyh — 20 Aug 2014 @ 11:17 PM

  56. I am brave. I shall defend our island planet, whatever the cost may be, I shall fight on the beaches, I shall fight on the landing grounds, I shall fight in the fields and in the streets, I shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender to the fossil fuel foe. It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary. This is our ultimate challenge, the stuff that epic history is made of. Don’t stay home and watch it on the tele. Be there. Be brave.

    People’s Climate March: NYC 9.21.14

    http://peoplesclimate.org/

    Comment by Jack Wolf — 21 Aug 2014 @ 10:49 AM

  57. Can anyone (experts?) put these recent observations of high methane concentrations over the Beaufort Sea into context? If I understand the scale correctly, the methane concentrations at 20,000 ft. were over 2,000 ppb over a wide region of the Arctic…

    http://arctic-news.blogspot.co.uk/

    [Response: This ‘data’ is from an uncalibrated, unpublished and inaccurate satellite analysis that no-one else thinks can work. But apart from that… – gavin]

    Comment by Joel Gombiner — 21 Aug 2014 @ 11:32 AM

  58. Sunlight, not microbes, key to carbon dioxide in Arctic
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140821141548.htm
    So, I take it, even less methane.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 21 Aug 2014 @ 8:56 PM

  59. “Siberia has explosion holes in it that smell like methane” Just a small point of fact, because it is often misunderstood even by scientists; methane is a colorless and odorless gas.

    Comment by David Smith — 22 Aug 2014 @ 3:03 PM

  60. About those scary high points you see on charts of methane — I keep pointing this out. I can’t imagine why the people presenting those homemade graphs with the extremely high data points that look so scary aren’t paying attention to me.
    I mean, I am some guy on the Internets …. oh, right.

    But you can look this stuff for yourself.
    It’s a bit hard to find, which is why whatsisname and wattsisname are the top sources for big scary methane data charts that you get linked to if you ‘oogle for the information.
    That means you’re in the ‘oogle bubble seeing what’s popular, not seeing the real source.
    They show you what you like to see, not what’s really out there.

    Work at it. You can look at the original source, which explains what the data points mean.

    You go to the page and narrow down by site, by collection method, by range of time, and it generates a chart for you.
    Start here: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/dv/iadv/graph.php?code=BRW&program=ccgg&type=ts
    Change the “Parameter” from the default “Carbon Dioxide” if you want instead to see Methane.
    Pick a range, say 2000-2014
    Press “Submit” to get the data plotted.*
    It’ll generate a chart for you.

    Read the caption below the chart.
    It says there:

    “Circle Symbols [blue] are thought to be regionally representative of a remote, well-mixed troposphere.
    + Symbols [green] are thought to be not indicative of background conditions, and represent poorly mixed air masses influenced by local or regional anthropogenic sources or strong local biospheric sources or sinks. A smooth curve and long-term trend may be fitted to the representative measurements when sufficient data exist.
    Data shown in ORANGE are preliminary.
    All other data have undergone rigorous quality assurance and are freely available from GMD, CDIAC, and WMO WDCGG.

    Generate charts that match what you see from the second hand chartists with the big scary data points — when I’ve done that, year after year, those scary data points are always orange in the original, unverified — and a few months later they’re not on the chart at all.

    ___________
    *Aside to NOAA: ya know, “submit” and “plot” are exactly the wrong words to use, for people who already suspect you and the data are out to get them. Try some different words, would ya? “Request” and “Chart” are words that mean what you think they mean, nothing other.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 22 Aug 2014 @ 9:10 PM

  61. runaway blockquote above should be just the caption text from the data source, thus:

    “Circle Symbols [blue] are thought to be regionally representative of a remote, well-mixed troposphere.
    + Symbols [green] are thought to be not indicative of background conditions, and represent poorly mixed air masses influenced by local or regional anthropogenic sources or strong local biospheric sources or sinks. A smooth curve and long-term trend may be fitted to the representative measurements when sufficient data exist.
    Data shown in ORANGE are preliminary.
    All other data have undergone rigorous quality assurance and are freely available from GMD, CDIAC, and WMO WDCGG.

    Generate charts that match what you see from the second hand chartists with the big scary data points — when I’ve done that, year after year, those scary data points are always orange in the original, unverified — and a few months later they’re not on the chart at all.
    ___________
    *Aside to NOAA: ya know, “submit” and “plot” are exactly the wrong words to use, for people who already suspect you and the data are out to get them. Try some different words, would ya? “Request” and “Chart” are words that mean what you think they mean, nothing other.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 23 Aug 2014 @ 10:05 AM

  62. I do like this post in providing a usefully authoritative analysis and its coining the term “a Shakhova event”.
    When I have looked to find literature on this subject in the past, the emphasis has been on CO2 emissions from melting tundra with CH4 emissions often being left unmentioned.

    Of course the true authority we should turn to is the IPCC and AR4 didn’t do much to present a useful position on “Shakhova events.” Section 7.4.1.2 told us that if we kept on emitting CO2 and more-than tripled present cumulative CO2 emissions (to 2,000 GtC) we could then be the unhappy recipients of a similar quantity of CH4 although we would have to wait for it all to arrive – 1,000 to 100,000 years for potentially ~2,000 GtCH4, an equivilant of 50 “Shakhova events”.
    For a very rough comparison of such levels of CH4 emissions when emitted at a roughly constant rate over a single millenia, today’s rates of anthropogenic CH4 emissions which contribute a climate forcing of 0.5Wm^-2 would total 400 GtCH4 over 1,000 years, one fifth the quantity.
    As the quoted ~2,000 GtCH4 was the “potential” size of emissions and 1,000 years the shortest of a range of time-spans (let’s call it 2,000 GtCH4 released smoothly over 5,000 years), with no “Shakhova event” happening the Arctic CH4 feedback would more likely equal present CH4 forcing and is thus equal in force to about 13 years-worth of today’s CO2 emissions, or less for +5,000 years.

    AR5 improves the IPCC account of “Shakhova events” giving Arctic CH4 emissions its very own sub-section 12.5.5.5. It says:-
    “A recent assessment of the potential for a future abrupt release of methane was undertaken by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. They concluded that it was very unlikely that such a catastrophic release would occur this century. However, they argued that anthropogenic warming will very likely lead to enhanced methane emissions from both terrestrial and oceanic clathrates. Although difficult to formally assess, initial estimates of the 21st century positive feedback from methane clathrate destabilization are small but not insignificant. Nevertheless, on multi-millennial time scales, the positive feedback to anthropogenic warming of such methane emissions is potentially larger.”

    I think the take-away message is that Arctic CH4 is potentially a scary phenomenon, and certainly is when added to Arctic CO2 emissions. But, like Sea Level Rise which can potentially drown 90% of today’s human endeavour and which is also the result of continuing melting of the cryoshpere, Arctic methane release (along with CO2 release) will be doing its damage over centuries and continuing over millenia.
    And for the present, a few bubbles at sea or flaming craters on land are indeed evidence of Arctic methane emissions but importantly there is so far zero evidence of any increase in those Arctic methane emissions.

    Of course, scary stuff can and does happen. We could theoretically be faced with a “Shakhova event” out of nowhere just as the Jellystone Park super-volcano could blow its top with very little warning. Or the sun send us 2% more insolation for a decade. Or an asteroid the size of Manhatten. Or the rate of sea level rise suddenly jump fifteen times greater than today’s. Or a Vogon battlefleet.
    And I’m told there is evidence that three or four of these sorts of events have actually happened in the past.

    Comment by MARodger — 24 Aug 2014 @ 5:11 AM

  63. #57 inline: “[Response: This ‘data’ is from an uncalibrated, unpublished and inaccurate satellite analysis that no-one else thinks can work. But apart from that… – gavin]”

    Gavin, the methanetracker.org website says this: “All the methane emissions measurements come from the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer (IASI) instrument, aboard of the MetOp series of polar orbiting satellites of the European Space Agency (ESA). The original satellite imagery is coming from the Office of Satellite and Product Operations (OSPO), part of the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS) which is part of NOAA. The original CH4 METOP 2 IASI imagery can be found at: http://www.osdpd.noaa.gov/IASI/html/index.html.”

    What do you find problematic in this use of the data?

    [Response: I’ve done a little more homework on this data, and I’d amend my previous statement to “not very accurate”. This comes from the publication: Xiong et al (2013) which goes into the details of an evaluation exercise against mid-tropospheric sampling flights. They show that the retrieved dof is usually less than 1.5 (implying you get pretty much one value from the retrieval – no vertical distributions) and that the accuracy is badly degraded in cloudy conditions (which is a lot of the time in the Arctic). The errors are around 1-2% standard deviation (~20-40 ppb) or 5-95% range closer to 40-80 ppb. The errors were greatest in the Arctic winter. Thus the use of this data to infer huge changes in the concentration there is a little dubious. – gavin]

    Comment by Kevin O'Neill — 24 Aug 2014 @ 3:07 PM

  64. 15. I’d feel so much better about your continued calm in the face of multiple lines of evidence indicating rapidly increasing methane escaping in the arctic if you were actually researching methane, which you aren’t, so far as I know.

    [Response: My latest research publication is entitled A model of the methane cycle, permafrost, and hydrology of the Siberian continental margin. In review, Biogeosciences Discussions. Don’t know if that counts. David]

    Sure it does. Being petulant/sarcastic doesn’t really help though. I find your posts on methane problematic: You’re a scientist, people listen to you. Yet, I think it is quite fair to say the changes we’ve seen since 2007, when I started posting here, I believe, as ccpo, have matched my expectations, not yours. Yet, you remain sanguine in the extreme given Rapid Climate Change. Your suggested expertise, despite your only recent active study of CH4, far overmatches the comments of someone like myself whose analysis is based in systems, patterns, logic as opposed to being a scientist myself. Despite real world changes being closer to my expectations than yours, you are listened to, and policies are set, and futures arguably put in danger.

    This is a serious issue, and the very core of the argument for more activism from scientists, right?

    So, yes, your posts worry me. Jeff Rutledge posted similar stuff about fossil fuels and coal back in 2007 – 2009. I told him he was wrong. We don’t hear much from Professor Rutledge anymore.

    He had a bone and wasn’t going to let go of it. I get the same “feel” from your posts. It’s the same certainty that the theory will hold vs. the reality. The same sanguine response about future changes. He also failed to look beyond just his science and see the whole system, as I am confident you are doing.

    God bless us all, I hope you are correct.

    I very much doubt that is the case.

    I am, sincerely, glad you are working on methane directly now. Over time I suspect you will become a bit more alarmed. Or, like Rutledge, just sort of go quiet on the topic.

    What concerns me most is you responded to the part of my post that you took personally, though it wasn’t really a key point. A good scientist should be able to apply their skills to different areas of study, in or out of their own general fields. It’s possible you are correct (though ultimately irrelevant). I don’t doubt your skills. I doubt your analysis. But did you address any of my questions? No. I think at least the question of how many Shakhova Events we might see is at least worth a moment of your time, no?

    That you chose the ego defense over a useful discussion doesn’t bode well for the future, eh? After all, it was a fact at the time I wrote it, and still is, technically, until you are published on methane and your conclusions supported by the wider scientific community.

    Cheers

    Comment by Killian — 25 Aug 2014 @ 2:25 AM

  65. 23 Hank Roberts says: screaming meamies!!!!

    You are certainly a dependable varmint. You does loves youse kicks to da shins!

    Now, I did my own little search, and his research *has not* been on Arctic sub-sea methane. Now, might it touch on it a bit in terms of cycle processes? I suppose.

    But my comment stands. And is correct in the context of this discussion.

    [edit]

    25 Lewis Cleverdon David Archer says, “Better to call it small if it looks small, don’t want to be “alarmist”. ]

    Dang! Where’d you get that bus you just tossed Shakhova under? Goodness. Let’s not forget that while she says these things are possible, the last comment I read or heard from her was in terms of the *probability* was still small.

    Yet, here come da bus!

    [edit]

    Look, her point, and mine, is about risk, not a guarantee of massive CH4 pulses, per se. The *effects* of them creates far too high a risk. The alarm is justified within a *risk assessment* of climate, something very dangerously, and studiously, ignored by you, and RealClimate generally.

    I know not all of you are so sanguine, and wish we’d hear those voices more. Here’s one. Unfortunately, not a climate scientists. Still, it’s a voice of reason, not unreason, David.

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/08/20/climate_change_alarmist_optimistic_realistic_not_na_ve_assessment_of_global.html

    Your risk assessment is dangerously lacking.

    51 Lewis Cleverdon says: David – thanks for your responses to mine at #25…

    If that governance is mandated as a protocol within the requisite Climate Treaty, it can also be negotiated to proscribe the possibility of any reckless unilateral deployment of Geo-E techniques. Finally, I hope that we may agree that this ‘bottom-up quantifiable hazard’ approach offers a far more cogent case for advancing the proper governance of Geo-E research than Shakhova’s extreme worst case scenario could ever achieve, as it relies on promoting prudence rather than alarmism. Regards, Lewis

    Tricky fellow, Lewis! Your long post above can be truncated to, “Shakhova? Pishposh! She is *such* an alarmist! Ah! But geo-engineering, there’s a thing! I mean, heck, she *could* be right, right? Or kinda right? So, hey, shouldn’t we have this geo-engineering industry ready to go?”

    I am *dying* here! LOL! First, geo-engineering will fail. Get your climate blinders off, Lewis, and see the far deeper systemic issues. Even without climate issues, we’d be falling into crisis now. Go figure out why, and why greater complexity does not address the problems we face.

    OK… will have to catch up on the rest later…

    Comment by Killian — 25 Aug 2014 @ 3:09 AM

  66. Re- Comment by Killian — 25 Aug 2014 @ 2:25 AM, ~#64

    When Killian says- “you chose the ego defense over a useful discussion” to anyone= Dumbth.

    Steve

    Comment by Steve Fish — 25 Aug 2014 @ 11:04 AM

  67. > the seabed offshore of the Carolinas

    And Lo!

    NATURE GEOSCIENCE | LETTER
    Widespread methane leakage from the sea floor on the northern US Atlantic margin

    A. Skarke, C. Ruppel, M. Kodis, D. Brothers & E. Lobecker

    Nature Geoscience (2014) doi:10.1038/ngeo2232
    Received 03 March 2014 Accepted 21 July 2014 Published online 24 August 2014

    http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ngeo2232.html

    [Response: I got three press (blog) queries on this paper, which for me is a lot. Here’s what I responded:
    The paper does not say that this is a significant methane flux to the atmosphere. They make more about what happens to the water chemistry when the methane dissolves and oxidizes (it uses up oxygen). They never claim it could be significant to the climate, only that it has not been fully accounted for in carbon budgets.
    The paper kind of asserts that warming temperatures are responsible, and that this methane flux is an accelerating thing. But there is no evidence for an increase in emission, and lots of evidence that sea floor emission in general been going on for a while.
    I can certainly believe that there will be more methane released in a warmer world, but since the methane concentration in the atmosphere is dominated by tropical wetlands and human emissions, I expect the actual climate forcing from methane released from the ocean, or the Arctic, to be small.
    However, the cumulative impact of releasing that carbon, from hydrates or from permafrost organic carbon, could be a large amplifier of the long-term impact of fossil fuel release. Like, we could stick to our 1000 Gtons, but the carbon cycle could kick in another say hundreds of gigatons. I don’t think it could double the human impact, releasing as much carbon as we do, or else the natural world would be “tippier” than it is observed to be, with the occasional meltdown like the PETM but not meltdowns all the time, like models do if you set them up with a carbon cycle feedback that is too strong or acts too quickly. David]

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 25 Aug 2014 @ 5:17 PM

  68. 65 Killian said, “First, geo-engineering will fail.”

    Got a cite for that?

    Comment by Jim Larsen — 25 Aug 2014 @ 10:26 PM

  69. Killian, from my perspective, David is simply going by the science. Anything else is speculation. Personally, I think he understates the risk but have nothing to pin that belief on. The fact that we’re starting to see methane wherever we look may be an artifact of looking more rather than feedback effects. There aren’t many long term measurements of seepage so we don’t really know how methane emissions are changing (other than the slow rise shown at measuring stations). Heck the research that Hank linked to do didn’t even sample the gas – maybe it wasn’t methane?

    Comment by Tony Weddle — 27 Aug 2014 @ 12:49 AM

  70. Thanks to Gavin and Kevin O’Neill for looking into the methodology for remotely measuring methane concentrations over the Arctic.

    So it sounds like the measurements of ~2000 ppb come with a 40-80 ppb 2-sigma error; 2-4%, which seems like a very good remote sensing accuracy to me. I took a brief look at the article, and their correlations between in-situ methane and remote sensed methane concentrations do look nice.

    To sum up: Global methane levels are now around 1835 ± 30 ppb (?), and these IASI measurements indicate levels over the Beaufort Sea up to (or higher than?) 2000 ± 80 ppb. I.e. enriched in relation to the global level with 2-sigma confidence, indicating that the Beaufort Sea is either acting as a methane source, or is somehow concentrating methane in the atmosphere.

    Now, my other question (and I am capable of doing my own research, but I’m just wondering if anyone knows off the top of their head), is how do these concentrations compare with historical levels of methane in the atmosphere over the arctic? And do they have any implications about the yearly integrated methane flux and how it’s changing over time?

    Comment by Joel Gombiner — 27 Aug 2014 @ 11:31 AM

  71. 8 Jim Larsen says:

    65 Killian said, “First, geo-engineering will fail.”

    Got a cite for that?

    Got a cite against, showing all geo-engineering is just hunky-dorie? Of course not. Argumentative, per… always.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-hidden-dangers-of-geoengineering/

    The iron into the seas study that blew up into an algal bloom, or some sort of bloom, to give the only real-world example I know of. No, not going to find that for you given it was well-documented.

    More importantly, you are asking for evidence things never done won’t work. You prove they will, since they do not currently exist and it was suggested this is something to consider/do.

    Better yet, we have natural means of doing so: 40% of the dry weight of a tree is carbon. How is growing trees or forests not safer than the unintended consequences of *any* geoengineering, and not magnitudes cheaper? Bio-char. Animals. Just letting the oceans restock themselves removes gigatons. And so very many more.

    Some conclusions are prima facie.

    Occam’s Razor applies. Proving geo-engineering isn’t even needed when near-zero risk options are available. So, no, wont waste my time looking for links for you, hough they are out there… as if every issues doesn’t have two sides…

    …as if you don’t know there are critiques of geo-engineering…

    better yet, principles drawn from nature that direct choices….

    69 Tony Weddle says:

    27 Aug 2014 at 12:49 AM

    Killian, from my perspective, David is simply going by the science. Anything else is speculation.

    Specious. Science is a speculative process. It starts with a suspected, not known, outcome. I tire of people using he illogical admonishment that speculation can only happen in a scientific paper. It’s rather absurd when not only the hypotheses are speculative, but so are the vast majority of results!

    Personally, I think he understates the risk but have nothing to pin that belief on.

    I covered that. Archer and others keep saying this can’t happen or that can’t happen, yer, things keep happening. That is more than enough counter to Archer’s assertions. I find it interesting a blog post by Archer, not a paper, is given such stature by you, but a blog post by me is dismissed. Yet, I am a professional designer of systems intended to mimic natural systems. Not a professor, but nor am I ignorant. I said 7 years ago the Arctic would show greater melt than Archer and others expected.

    I was correct. Yet, still, I am treated with disdain consistently. Hmm… Another simple example, if you look at disxussions between Paul Beckwith the last two years regarding ASI. Paul, a climate Ph. D (or candidate), stated both years we were headed for a melt-out. I looked, checked the numbers, looked at the weather and climate patterns and forecasts and decided we’d very unlikely make new records (13) and definitely wouldn’t in 14.

    Just because you don’t understand how I analyze, doesn’t mean I suck at it. Quite the opposite. I am really good at it.

    Maybe people’s assessment and analysis rubriks need adjustment.

    The fact that we’re starting to see methane wherever we look may be an artifact of looking more rather than feedback effects.

    Or…?

    Tell you what, when Archer’s comments reflect the physical reality better than mine, I’ll stop trying to get him to stop only looking at what the science supposedly tells.

    The science has, after all, been not just a little off, but a lot off WRT global ice and permafrost.

    Comment by Killian — 28 Aug 2014 @ 5:15 PM

  72. >> Got a cite for that?
    > Got a cite against ….?

    Prove me wrong
    Yes prove me wrong
    That’s all I have to say
    Cause my position’s not too strong
    You might think I’d have some facts to help my argument along
    But I don’t
    So you’ll just have to prove me wrong.

    You may very well be right.

    Solid cites trump extensive assertation.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 Aug 2014 @ 6:28 PM

  73. I’d bet my other eye (lost the right to retinoblastoma as a toddler) Archer is on the wrong side of this issue.

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/08/01/3466466/siberian-craters-permafrost-climate-change/

    Comment by Killian — 29 Aug 2014 @ 2:00 AM

  74. 72.>> Got a cite for that?
    Solid cites trump extensive assertation.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 Aug 2014 @ 6:28 PM

    Gave you one cite, noted another you are absolutely aware of.
    [edit – no attacks on other commenters]

    And why no matter what I post? Can you put your scenarios/predictions against mine and win? Nope.

    [edit]

    Comment by Killian — 29 Aug 2014 @ 7:45 PM

  75. Killian, so you’re saying that all climate scientists studying methane in some way should stand up and say that they don’t have the data yet but the situation is imminently perilous, in their view?

    You might be right. The Arctic has warmed very quickly, of late, and that is worrying. The melt of virtually the entire surface of the Greenland ice sheet the other year is worrying. These are the sorts of things that may point to tipping points but the data just isn’t there yet. For better or worse, we’re going to have to wait longer for the smoking gun that seems to be the only thing that will get people to sit up.

    Comment by Tony Weddle — 30 Aug 2014 @ 3:32 AM

  76. One of the first published comments from Russian Scientists about the Yamal crater might be the correct theory – it’s the salt:

    “According to the Siberian paper, “Anna Kurchatova from Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre thinks the crater was formed by a water, salt and gas mixture igniting an underground explosion, the result of global warming. She postulates that gas accumulated in ice mixed with sand beneath the surface, and that this was mixed with salt – some 10,000 years ago this area was a sea. Global warming, causing an ‘alarming’ melt in the permafrost, released gas causing an effect like the popping of a Champagne bottle cork, she suggests.”

    Xiaoli Liu and Dr. Peter Flemmings have studied high salt methane hydrates at Hydrate Ridge, off the Oregon coast. They claim that salt allows the methane hydrate deposits to be at the “triple point” of the system making the system much more temperature sensitive than low salt deposits.

    Xiaoli Liu – High Salt Hydrate Thesis http://www.beg.utexas.edu/geofluids/Theses/xiaoli_liu_hydrate_thesis.pdf

    The Yamal Peninsula is high in salt – several available scientific papers confirm this.

    Sixteen miles from the Yamal crater lies the giant Bovanenkovo gas field, containing about half as much methane as currently exists in the atmosphere. The roof of this deposit lies at about 600 meters depth – so it might or might not be safe from gas eruptions originating at about 100 meters depth. Salt does make methane more mobile, and allows gas phase transport of methane within the deposit.

    Also, there seems to be a regional layer of methane hydrate, encountered when drilling at multiple gas fields, at about 100 meters in depth.

    Sources of Natural Gas within Permafrost- Northwest Siberia http://research.iarc.uaf.edu/NICOP/DVD/ICOP%201998%20Permafrost%207th%20conf/CD-ROM/Proceedings/PDF001189/151104.pdf

    So, there could be many more of these methane blowout craters to come, and the high salt areas could be the first to blow.

    It may be that the terrestrial hydrates cannot be at the triple point of the methane hydrate system. The original Yamal crater and the two other craters, though, argue that this is not the case.

    The regional layer of methane hydrate and the gas that will likely start to erupt from that layer might be a problem. A bigger problem, though, is if the Yamal blowouts happen to blow out a drill rig and a working gas well- or several of them. That could open up the deeper areas of the Bovanenkovo,field, for example, to the atmosphere, and create a way that the huge amounts of gas in these giant gas fields could escape. The total amount of methane in the Siberian gas fields is several times the amount of methane in the atmosphere of the earth-more than 25 trillion cubic meters of methane.

    Realistically, it seems unlikely that the Yamal blowout craters would damage a gas well beyond repair.But the consequences if this does occur, and if it occurs several times, could be huge.

    Given an international effort,it might be possible to remediate the gas fields that are in high salt areas in Siberia, and even do it in an almost carbon neutral way. The natural gas could be burned in oxygen to generate electricity, and create a stream of CO2 and water vapor, and that stream could be deep injected several kilometers into the earth. This is off the shelf technology, and could be done easily. The giant Siberian gas fields could become a huge source of electricity, and this electricity could be exported to Europe The layer of methane hydrate at about 100 meters depth could be drilled into, and the pressure from this layer released, preventing a Yamal type blowout.

    But, if the Russians try to cover up this problem, it’s going to be harder to remediate it, I think.

    Comment by Leland Palmer — 30 Aug 2014 @ 6:51 AM

  77. 75.Killian, so you’re saying that all climate scientists studying methane in some way should stand up and say that they don’t have the data yet but the situation is imminently perilous, in their view?

    Not sure we need all. Bu when more and more climate scientists are calling each other to speak out, does it make much sense for you to take issue with me doing so?

    There is, however, a recurring issue here. What is science? Folks like Hank and some of the people behind RC suggest explicitly or implicitly that only published work equals science. That is ridiculous on its face, but is a common theme that underlies this issue in that people like me, despite our records, are completely dismissed, if not outright antagonized and even looked down upon. But I am doing science review and am analysis. My observations are not random, they come with as much research as anybody on these for a, and I’d wager far more than the vast majority.

    So, am I qualified to speak on climate, as citizen scientist? Why not. Then, should I not be able to legitimately suggest they *need*, as a group, if not as individuals, get talking?

    I was saying it seven years ago. Here. No accident, IMO, the numbers of scientists speaking out and asking their colleagues to is growing rapidly.

    As I say in my more activist roles, time is short.

    You might be right. The Arctic has warmed very quickly, of late, and that is worrying. The melt of virtually the entire surface of the Greenland ice sheet the other year is worrying. These are the sorts of things that may point to tipping points but the data just isn’t there yet. For better or worse, we’re going to have to wait longer for the smoking gun that seems to be the only thing that will get people to sit up.

    Comment by Tony Weddle — 30 Aug 2014 @ 3:32 AM

    I’d say I am right. The flaw in your argument is that science always lags the physical world. Always. Except in models. Actually, even models because they are based on the most current data, which is always behind the physical reality. (E.g., Hansen, et al. saying melt could double every five years, then, voila! it’s found to have done so! But that isn’t in our models, is it? Nope.) And, models are projections, not guarantees. Waiting for proof of the clathrate gun means choosing not to act on the clathrate gun until after the shot is fired. That’s insane, suicidal. And that is the problem with Archer’s sanguine approach.

    Were Archer dryly doing research on CH4, fine. But he’s not. He’s blogging on it, and with a rather clear intent to counter what he considers extreme or alarmist views. (See his comments on Shakhova, which I found shocking.)

    Shakhova is clearly on the accurate side of the risk assessment, not Archer. CH4 is a potential ELE. That means, since it is *already* being found breaking down, no risk is small enough not to act to stop it. The only way to stop it is to cool the planet. The only way to cool the planet is to sequester GHGs. Etc.

    But, folks like Archer make it seem we have all the time in the world. Sorry, but the scientists who are scared time is short, if not already past, are the ones giving the correct advice because of the risk.

    Archer doesn’t talk about this. that’s a problem. For him not to do so in a paper, fine. but on a blog, so as to give an impression Shakhova, Semilitov, myself, and others are all Chicken Littles? And to even name the comments of a fellow scientist alarmist even though she has done far, far more direct work in the Arctic and with CH4? That’s edging past hubris.

    So, yeah, I support those scientists who see the danger and understand the risk assessment to speak out.

    Often here at RC it is said the scientists job is not to do policy or activism. Fine. But it *is* their job to make sure the science is understood. If that science is being distorted and lied about, who but the scientists involved can most effectively rebut that?

    It doesn’t have to be activism, it can just be advocating for themselves and their work. They can go that far without stepping into policy.

    Comment by Killian — 30 Aug 2014 @ 2:15 PM

  78. Looks like Shakhova’s trip this summer found destabilized sub-sea permafrost not only in the long-inundated deep Arctic Shelf, but in the far more recently inundated near shore Arctic Shelf, and comparable emissions as those found on the deep shelf.

    Archer reiterates the seemingly outdated claim that propagation of the heat takes time frames far longer than is explained by the destabilized near-shore clathrates.

    So, yeah. There’s that.

    She also refutes the claim that any sub-sea destabilization is due to long-term SLR, not Climate Change.

    So, yeah, there’s that, too.

    I believe this is as yet unpublished info coming from this summer’s research trip. If it holds, two key arguments for Archer shot all to heck. I think you should back up that bus, David, and give the lady a call.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQDVr1eMLK8

    Comment by Killian — 30 Aug 2014 @ 3:08 PM

  79. Something off about the interview. It seems like it’s a repurposed 2012 interview about their 2011 expedition. She doesn’t mention their new estimate from the most recent paper (17 tg) instead referencing the old (8) . They also didn’t return from an expedition in June, they left on one on June 27 . Background and outfit the same, too. Very fishy.

    Comment by Pcalith — 30 Aug 2014 @ 11:05 PM

  80. A quick GoogleMap tour of the area of this hole will soon show y’all that these hole features are very common. They range in age from old enough to have the thrown soil around the edge of the crater overgrown (which would suggest 100’s to 1000’s of years there) to comparatively new holes with fresh spoil around them. Some holes have clear water and you can see down to some depth, while others seem to have some disturbance (possibly out-gassing) causing turbid water.

    The craters seem to lie along depressions. The water levels within the craters appears to be close to the nearby sea level rather than perched up within a local ground water table. This could suggest a pretty open aquifer well-connected to the sea, and thus (through tidal effects) to any warmer coastal water effects.

    So the area is very active in this process, and clearly has been for a very long time.

    ‘Discovery’ of these recent events may or may not imply a change in the rate of such hole formation, rather they may reflect a higher level of surveillance of a previously remote area. One or even two swallows do not a summer make, tho they may be worth looking out for as a sign of things to come.

    Comment by Nigel Williams — 31 Aug 2014 @ 3:51 AM

  81. The Yamal area was glaciated during the last ice age.

    I’m told 100 meters depth is too shallow for methane hydrate formation, in the absence of glaciation. But the area was glaciated during the most recent ice age. The kettle lakes of the Yamal Peninsula are a glacial landform.

    The extra pressure from the glacier could have allowed a regional layer of gas hydrate to form at about 100 meters depth. A regional layer of methane is documented by this paper:

    Sources of Natural Gas Within Permafrost North-west Siberia

    http://research.iarc.uaf.edu/NICOP/DVD/ICOP%201998%20Permafrost%207th%20conf/CD-ROM/Proceedings/PDF001189/151104.pdf

    In this paper, they talk about a very troublesome layer encountered at around 100 meters depth at multiple gas fields, creating blowouts. They talk about permafrost soils evolving much more gas than could be accounted for by pore volume, drilling cores from 70-120 meters evolving in excess of 10 times the volume of gas accountable by pore space in the cores (page 1003).

    They estimate the gas content of this gas layer at a minimum of 50,000 cubic meters per square kilometer, and say it could be an order of magnitude more. They speculate that this could be a regional phenomenon, common to the entire region.

    Add Xaioli Liu and Peter Flemmings high salt “triple point” proposal to this (post # 76), heat via global warming, and we could plausibly end up with thousands of these craters, I think.

    Something is blowing craters in Siberia, it appears. I think Anna Kurchatova was right – it’s the salt, combined with a layer of relict methane hydrate left over from the last ice age.

    This proposal may or may not be right, but it does form a hypothesis consistent with the known facts, I think. It accounts for the existence of these blowouts so soon in the global warming process, by the “triple point” phenomenon of Xiaoli Liu and Peter Flemmings.

    I hope David’s estimate of the total gas released by these blowouts is correct – because we’re going to see thousands of these things, if this hypothesis turns out to be right. Chances are, David’s estimate was very low, because he did not account for the bouyancy of methane and the chronic methane emissions, which could be very significant and long lasting from such a hydrate layer.

    I think we’re still missing something, though. The few statments from the Russian scientists available in the popular press also mention that they are concerned about taliks – and the fact that the lake in the bottom of the Yamal crater will not freeze in the winter.

    Deep taliks (unfrozen areas within the permafrost) are often associated with lakes, and Yamal has many thousands of lakes. Deep taliks may be another plausible mechanism by which methane could be released from the giant gas fields – especially if those taliks are high in salt, and allow gas phase methane transport within the talik, and ultimately to the atmosphere.

    Comment by Leland Palmer — 31 Aug 2014 @ 11:22 AM

  82. > Shakhova

    Google: https://www.google.com/search?q=%22Nick+Breeze%22+22methane+emergency

    This looks like the material repeatedly repackaged and promoted by the AMEG people.
    It’s quite an impressive PR operation. Dig deep, they hide their conclusion,
    which seems invariably to be, bless our drilling operation, credit us with
    saving the world from the methane monster by making money faster than ever by
    building more drilling and processing and pipeline infrastructure, by
    committing money and effort to keeping the dinosaur alive a little longer.

    AMEG’s plan seems to be burning methane fast that likely would stay in place if left alone.

    It’s counterproductive, except to make money by releasing the methane for sure, rather than leave the strata alone and focus the money and effort on non-carbon infrastructure and conservation as fast as possible. Of course conservation benefits everyone so the profit is widely diluted, not concentrated.

    Seems to me the classic mistake, pushing the lever in the wrong direction.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 31 Aug 2014 @ 11:29 AM

  83. How could a melting pingo eject spoil outwards from the crater?

    It looks to me like some kind of gas pressure pushed the spoil outwards. Liquid pressure would have washed away the spoil, solid pressure would have wider in effect. Conclusion :its not a collapsed pingo.

    Max

    Comment by Max — 2 Sep 2014 @ 1:53 PM

  84. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/remote-cold-corners-world-melting-ground-giving-way/

    Current thinking: sinkhole, not methane.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Sep 2014 @ 10:21 PM

  85. “How could a melting pingo eject spoil outwards from the crater?” – See more at: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2014/08/how-much-methane-came-out-of-that-hole-in-siberia/comment-page-2/#comment-590542

    I wondered the same thing, but the thinking is that the collapse was sudden enough to eject the debris, if I have this right–basically a big, muddy, splash. As Hank’s links note, though, the assessment hadn’t yet included actual in situ work, since the place is very hard to get to.

    I hope we’ll hear some more about this when folks do get there and take a close look.

    Comment by kevin mckinney — 3 Sep 2014 @ 8:49 AM

  86. There is this study from 2005, which is frequently cited and might help to explain crater/sinkhole formation.

    The process is a continuum, when Initial permafrost warming develops thermokarst and lake expansion, and followed by lake drainage as the permafrost degrades still further.

    Disappearing Arctic lakes, https://seagrant.uaf.edu/news/05ASJ/Science_Arctic_Lakes.pdf

    Thus, the craters discussed here might originate from cave pond formation, due to permafrost degradation, which may be created conditions for the accumulation of an explosive air/gas mixture, because of the contained area and anaerobic conditions, which favor methanogenesis.

    Comment by prokaryotes — 3 Sep 2014 @ 10:46 AM

  87. The argument that the only way methane can escape from below the Arctic ocean is from heat conducting downward from the ocean bottom may be in error. It is similar to the argument that the glaciers can not contribute to a rapid sea level rise due to the time it takes heat to melt the ice. This prediction was wrong and one reason was that water flowing down cracks in the ice lubricated the ice/rock contact and caused glaciers to accelerate into the ocean. In other words, a mass transfer mechanism dominated over a simple melting scenario. The same may hold for the release of sub-ocean floor release of methane clathrate. If a crack opens up in the ocean floor down to clathrate deposits, the pressure on these deposits is reduced since the density of the sediment that formerly kept the pressure at a certain level is 2.5 times as much as the water which fills the crack. If the clathrate begins to break down and release bubbles, the pressure is further released making a sort of air (methane) lift of the crack. A very rapid release of methane can result. When enough of this clathrate “glue” is removed, slumps can occur which can expose more clathrate to lower pressures.

    Comment by William Hughes-Games — 8 Sep 2014 @ 5:59 AM

  88. > argument that the only way methane can escape

    The thought isn’t that it’s the “only way” but that the other ways are minor contributors, as that matches what’s been observed.

    Most of the methane in the atmosphere is still coming from leaky pipes and rotting vegetation — and either of those could also have a much larger outburst if we screw things up badly enough.

    Question is whether the human influence is going to provoke behavior that hasn’t been seen in the past.

    Yes, anthropogenic surprise does seem to have happened with the ice caps – look back at Stoat’s old thread Why do Science in Antarctica?, which has existed long enough to capture the change: what we used to think and how that’s changed, one publication at a time, as the world has changed. Someone should capture that for the history of science.

    But — what’s the point of making methane the bugaboo? It’s not. At the very worst it’s just heaping trouble on already really bad trouble.

    Coal is the bugaboo along with other fossil fuels, because we’re burning them fast.

    Worried about the methane monster?
    Stop feeding it carbon dioxide.
    Sarve it where it lays.
    Don’t enable its escape by burning more fossil carbon.

    All the screaming about methane is distracting attention from the CO2 problem — which is screwing up the oceans’ chemistry even faster than it’s screwing up the climate.

    The problem is the people burning fossil fuels. Methane levels change due to our CO2 actions.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Sep 2014 @ 9:40 AM

  89. Re post #88, Hank Roberts-

    “But — what’s the point of making methane the bugaboo? It’s not. At the very worst it’s just heaping trouble on already really bad trouble.”

    The point in talking about the methane monster is that carbon isotope excursions consistent with releases of trillions of tons of methane have coincided with past mass extinction events, including the End Permian, the End Triassic, and the PETM. Large carbon isotope excursions are also associated with the Aptian and Toarcian oceanic anoxic events, among others. In fact, methane release from the oceanic hydrates perhaps triggered by flood basalt eruptions, could be a general explanation for most mass extinction events. Substitute anthropogenic fossil fuel use for the flood basalt eruption, and we could be triggering just such an event.

    So, that’s the sort of buzz saw we’re monkeying with, maybe.

    The sinkhole explanation for the Yamal crater is interesting, it might explain the low volume of ejecta compared to the volume of the hole. I guess it is possible to have a 300 foot deep sinkhole in thermokarst, in land only 40 feet above sea level.

    The giant Russian gas field Bovanenkovo is very near the Yamal crater, perhaps coincidentally. There is a photo on Google Earth 6.5 miles away from the Yamal crater of what appears to be a working natural gas well, on a road leading to the central area of Bovanenkovo 16.5 miles away. Along that road are other photos of drill rigs and what appear to be gas processing facilities of some sort. The Yamal crater is at 70 28 42.8 N, 67 47 52.8 E.

    Comment by Leland Palmer — 8 Sep 2014 @ 10:44 PM

  90. > Substitute anthropogenic fossil fuel use for the flood basalt eruption

    Agreed, that would not be a good idea.

    Numbers are coming in on the problems handling methane, written up for example here:
    http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/methane-fracking-obama-climate-change-bill-mckibben
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?as_ylo=2014&q=howarth+methane+leak

    Agreed, the problem is burning fossil carbon.
    It hurts when we do that.
    We should stop doing that.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Sep 2014 @ 7:07 AM

  91. Hi Hank Roberts-
    A system kept in control by feedback, deprived of feedback, con often go out of control. Try driving a car with the windshield painted black, for example.

    The only way to bring the climate system back into control is to tell the truth, so that our society can react to the situation as it is.

    If there is a chance of a methane catastrophe, even a small chance, major efforts are justified to avoid it. Risk is calculated by multiplying the probability of an event by the consequences of that event. In the case of a methane catastrophe, the consequences are so huge that even a small probability of occurrence results in a huge risk to humanity. But, the probability of a methane catastrophe does not appear to be small, at all. It appears to have a large probability of occurrence, and the consequences could be an extinction level event. So, the risk is huge, unprecedented, totally off the charts, and a World War II level of effort, at least, is required.

    Yes, methane exported to Europe from Russia could have consequences greater than burning coal, because of leaks. If it was burned locally to generate electricity, heavily monitored, and the resulting CO2 deep injected, though, I think that almost carbon neutral remediation could be done. Add Siberian biomass from thinning and fire protecting the forests to the CO2 that is deep injected, and the overall impact could be slightly carbon negative – if it is done correctly, openly, and subject to independent monitoring.

    About the crater, another way to account for the low volume of ejected material might be if most of it was ice and the ice subsequently melted.

    Comment by Leland Palmer — 10 Sep 2014 @ 4:00 AM

  92. > If there is a chance of a methane catastrophe, even a small chance,
    > major efforts are justified to avoid it.

    The “major effort” would invest money into drilling, more gas pipes, and burners.
    Say what??

    The “major effort” the Methane Cat people recommend is drilling to “depressurize” and burning the gas. Go ahead, find anything _they_ recommend to “reduce” the “risk”.

    It’s a scam. Weigh the risk and follow the money.

    I’m saying that’s a greenwashing, bogus, lying, moneymaking, backasswards, wrong claim being promoted by the fossil fuel people to build more gas infrastructure and make money faster.

    There is nothing _different_ about methane compared to the other feedbacks from warming.
    _Except_ it’s a very small, low likelihood risk, and a _large_ short-term profit opportunity.

    Whether it’s a methane burp, waking Cthulhu prematurely*, ocean pH change, or melting the icecaps — whatever the odds or likelihood of any particular bugaboo — they all need the same damn “major effort” required: stop burning fossil carbon.

    A small likelihood of some extra methane clathrate melting.
    Big deal.
    Read the numbers in the original post at the top of the page.

    If we warm up to vast slope failures and a “methane catastrophe” ALL the other more probable and worse — slower, vaster — feedbacks will also happen. That’s what we should stop.
    Because by the time the methane burps out it will be a trivial addition to the disaster.
    Get it? Yes it’s big and scary.

    Want an analogy? The methane catastrophe is like a possibly rabid bat in the next room, while a bear’s chewing on your leg.

    _______________________
    * Below the thunders of the upper deep;
    Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
    His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
    The Kraken sleepeth: …
    There hath he lain for ages and will lie
    … Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
    Then … In roaring he shall rise …

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 10 Sep 2014 @ 11:04 AM

  93. Hank Roberts-

    There are likely 5000-20000 gigatons of carbon as methane in the methane hydrates, about 5 gigatons of carbon as methane in the atmosphere right now, and about 25 gigatons of carbon as methane in the Siberian gas fields. If there is a regional layer of Siberian methane hydrate at about 100 meters, total methane content of that layer could be on the order of a gigaton or two of methane, as a worst case, I think.

    Release of even a small percentage of the oceanic methane from the hydrates could be catastrophic. Methane is the greatest risk in global warming, because of the greenhouse positive feedback and reducing chemistry effects of methane. Burning it is better than letting it go directly into the atmosphere, and burning plus deep injection of the resulting CO2 would likely be acceptable.

    The Russians are not going to stop developing their giant natural gas fields. Better it be burned locally, the electricity exported and the CO2 deep injected, than have it exported to Europe and have a percentage of it leak. Exporting the energy as electricity could be made roughly carbon neutral, exporting the gas directly to Europe is strongly carbon positive, and allowing any fraction of Siberian methane to escape to the atmosphere could act as a bridge to general destabilization of the oceanic methane hydrates and be catastrophic.

    Comment by Leland Palmer — 11 Sep 2014 @ 10:54 AM

  94. > [big scary numbers]
    So what? That’s trivial compared to the rest of the problem. Remember?

    the atmospheric methane flux from the Arctic Ocean is really small (extrapolating estimates from Kort et al 2012), even compared with emissions from the Arctic land surface, which is itself only a few percent of global emissions (dominated by human sources and tropical wetlands).

    In conclusion, despite recent explosions suggesting the contrary, I still feel that the future of Earth’s climate in this century and beyond will be determined mostly by the fossil fuel industry, and not by Arctic methane. We should keep our eyes on the ball.

    > Better it be burned locally, the electricity exported and the CO2 deep injected

    Yeah, right; “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t.”

    Electric transmission efficiency losses are greater than gas pipe losses.
    Your plan would burn more carbon in the name of efficiency.
    Nobody’s pumping CO2 into deep storage.

    You’re urging them to drill and burn, saying “but we wish you’d do it right.”

    They’re drilling and burning and building pipelines, and laughing at the people they fooled.

    A methane burp won’t happen if we don’t continue burning fossil carbon.
    If we do and it happens, it will add a short term problem to a terrible longterm crisis.

    Don’t invest in burning more fossil carbon.
    Don’t keep being fooled by bogus arguments for burning more carbon.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 11 Sep 2014 @ 11:55 AM

  95. Hank Roberts-
    I’m not urging the Russians to develop their natural gas. The natural gas in the Siberian gas fields is worth about ten trillion dollars, and short of a nuclear war, there is no way to stop them from developing it.

    Better it be developed in an almost carbon neutral way, I think. Electricity transmission losses, especially from high voltage DC power lines, are reasonable, these days. High voltage DC power losses are acceptable up to about 4000 miles, and Germany is about 2000 miles from Yamal.

    Regarding methane flux, that can change, that’s what positive feedback is all about. The total amount that could be dissociated is huge, on the order of a thousand times the methane content of the atmosphere. Current flux from the oceanic hydrates is small, but that will change as warming increases, and calculated future flux is based on assumptions that could be wrong. Mass flow, for example, as some of the previous posts on this thread have mentioned, could be very important and has likely been vastly underestimated.

    Deep injection of CO2 for secondary oil recovery is a mature technology. The NatCarb database estimates that U.S. deep injection capacity is on the order of 2-20 trillion tons of CO2. Siberian capacity is likely more than adequate to sequester the carbon from their natural gas.
    The argument that we only have one eye to keep on one ball is absurd, by the way.

    Comment by Leland Palmer — 12 Sep 2014 @ 3:58 AM

  96. > The natural gas in the Siberian gas fields is worth about ten trillion dollars

    Cite? “worth” under old accounting omits costs of the CO2; whatever’s done with it, it has costs.
    As better alternatives become available, gas hydrate won’t be worth nearly that much.

    They’re in a hurry to capture the investment money, and take it away from the competition.
    They’re claiming the hydrate “likely” to blow out eventually if it’s not drilled out soon.
    That’s exaggeration for profit.

    > Better it be developed in an almost carbon neutral way, I think.

    Wouldn’t it be nice.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 12 Sep 2014 @ 3:02 PM

  97. “The natural gas in the Siberian gas fields is worth about ten trillion dollars, and short of a nuclear war, there is no way to stop them from developing it.”

    – See more at: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2014/08/how-much-methane-came-out-of-that-hole-in-siberia/comment-page-2/#comment-594039

    An unsupported assertion. Reshaping of the energy economy could quite possibly render development of that gas uneconomic (or less economic.) I’m not saying that *will* happen, but it certainly could. This is the ‘stranded assets’ problem, which is receiving serious discussion (well, it *seems* serious, at least) these days. True, coal will be hit first, nat gas later if at all.

    Comment by kevin Mckinney — 13 Sep 2014 @ 9:18 AM

  98. Hank Roberts-
    Gazprom says their total gas reserves are about 33 trillion cubic meters of gas, with about 25 trillion cubic meters in the combined Urals and Siberian areas.

    http://www.gazprom.com/about/production/reserves/

    25 trillion cubic meters at 400 dollars per thousand cubic meters is about 10 trillion dollars, at roughly current market prices.

    “They’re claiming the hydrate “likely” to blow out eventually if it’s not drilled out soon. That’s exaggeration for profit.”

    So far, only one Russian scientist I can recall has suggested drilling into the supposed high pressure layer of methane that he speculated might have caused the Yamal crater. If there is a regional layer of high salt methane hydrate, shallow, at 70-150 meters and so susceptible to global warming, and if that layer is going to start to blow, then drilling to relieve pressure seems like a good idea, to me.
    If so, it is possible to do that remediation in an almost carbon neutral way.

    Kevin McKinny-
    The nuclear war remark was an exaggeration – I think. Certainly the Russians say they are going to continue to develop their gas reserves. They just built a pipeline to China, to aid in that process. Gazprom and other big natural gas producers have long term permits to develop the gas – one that was quoted on a webpage said the permit was good “until 2045″.

    What I wish they would do is pipeline the gas to get it off the permafrost, because building electrical transmission towers in permafrost might present engineering challenges. Once off the permafrost areas, I wish they would burn the natural gas using oxyfuel combustion, for example, in high efficiency combined cycle power plants. If oxyfuel combustion and a very high temperature topping cycle was used, the extra efficiency from the higher oxyfuel Carnot efficiency might be enough to pay for compressing and pumping the CO2. Once compressed, I wish they would deep inject the CO2, and just export the electricity. They might even make more money that way, I think. If a worldwide price on carbon is imposed, electricity prices increase, or gas prices decrease, this would make this almost carbon neutral scheme more profitable.

    Comment by Leland Palmer — 14 Sep 2014 @ 2:32 AM

  99. > Leland Palmer …. So far, only one Russian scientist …
    > I can recall has suggested drilling … relieve pressure

    It’s not the Russian scientists who worries me, it’s the AMEG urgency-of-drilling claims.

    It’s a poor memory that only works backward, and recollection misses a lot.
    ‘oogle will find the claims for you: AMEG and depressurization
    Work back in time to the older stories to see how the promotion has been done over time.

    E.g.:

    climateviewer.com/2013/10/23/worlds-first-off-shore-fracking/ Oct 23, 2013 – … flow test applying the depressurization method and confirmed production of … AMEG plans to avert climate change doomsday scenario with …

    arctic-news.blogspot.com/…/charting-mankinds-expressway-to-extinctio… Aug 12, 2012 – The exponential increase in the Arctic atmospheric methane derived from the destabilization … formed above the ozone layer at 30 km to 50 km altitude (Ehret, 2010). … and oil companies to depressurize the Arctic subsea methane reserves

    They have an answer: drill and burn. They’re exaggerating a low risk slow feedback that’s a minor part of the climate problem, promoting the notion that it’s an imminent disaster.

    They want to capture money that should be spent on climate change and use it for their natural gas drilling operation, and greenwash the development. It’s backasswards deceptive PR.

    My opinion. You should look this stuff up for yourself.
    Follow the money.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 14 Sep 2014 @ 10:06 AM

  100. Hi Hank-

    I wish we were living in a world where the Russians would voluntarily stop producing their natural gas. We don’t live in that world, I think. Better it be done in an almost carbon neutral way.

    Regarding methane associated risk of abrupt climate change, I think myself that it is unprecedentedly large, if the probability of occurrence is multiplied by the consequences, and considering that the consequences of a methane catastrophe could be an extinction level event. Climate change in general is proceeding much more rapidly than was predicted, and the rate of methane hydrate dissociation is likely being underestimated as well, I think.

    The slowness of the methane feedback is open to question, given the unprecedentedly rapid and systematic triggering event provided by fossil fuels. If marine hydrate dissociation is a more chaotic process than the published estimates have assumed, this could increase the rate of dissociation. If mass flow is more important than previously assumed, if gas driven pumping through the hydrates is greater than previously assumed, or if high salt hydrates at equilibrium with ocean temperatures are common, these things could also increase the rate of dissociation. I don’t think an authority exists on the planet that is capable of calculating those risks with sufficient certainty to allow continued fossil fuel use without carbon sequestration.

    Methane emitted from the terrestrial hydrates doesn’t have to get through the oxidation barrier of the oceans to be emitted directly into the atmosphere. If there is a shallow layer of high salt terrestrial methane hydrate that causes gas blowouts, encountered at multiple gas fields in Siberia, that is a previously uncounted phenomenon. If that layer is starting to destabilize in Yamal type blowouts, as some Russian scientists including Anna Kurchatova fear, that could change the calculations significantly, I think, especially if we get thousands of those blowouts and the chronic emissions from them are significant.

    Even if the Yamal crater is a sinkhole rather than a methane blowout, we are still living in a world in which the fossil record contains multiple probable methane catastrophes.

    Comment by Leland Palmer — 23 Sep 2014 @ 4:15 AM

  101. Better it be done in an almost carbon neutral way…. I don’t think an authority exists on the planet that is capable of … carbon sequestration…. some Russian scientists … fear … thousands of those blowouts and the chronic emissions from them ….

    Fixed that for ya.
    It’s a scary story sold to pretend their infrastructure development is climate-friendly.
    It’s a flat lie to cover investing money in short-term profit from gas instead of in alternatives.
    No credible argument for “depressurizing, selling, and burning” is being made.
    They want to burn it before it loses its value as better alternatives are already threatening that.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 23 Sep 2014 @ 10:26 AM

  102. P.S. for Leland Palmer: the Russians are not alone, being in a hurry to extract more gas fast before the value collapses; soon enough it will be left in the ground as uneconomical to extract. They know.
    You can look this up:
    https://www.google.com/search?q=electric+industry+gas+profit+model+solar+photovoltaic

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 23 Sep 2014 @ 11:34 AM

  103. That’s a great example of selective quoting, but I have to say that it’s not at all accurate, in several different ways. The Russians are not proposing to deep inject the CO2 from their natural gas and export the energy as electricity, for example – I’m proposing that. If the AMEG folks are proposing that too, that’s great. It’s an obvious solution, though. Also, most of the methane is in the deep gas deposits, not in the possible regional layer of shallow methane hydrate possibly associated with the Yamal crater.

    I hope that better energy alternatives do arise. But the Russians could probably sell their gas for a lot less than they do now, and still make a profit. Solar energy and other alternatives are very diffuse sources of energy, and getting the cost down far enough to put the fossil fuel interests out of business is going to be very, very difficult.

    We better hope that some form of carbon storage does materialize, though – because quite a few published studies say that getting back to 350 ppm of atmospheric CO2 without some form of carbon capture and storage is infinitely costly, and so effectively impossible.
    I believe myself that we’re going to have to go to carbon negative energy production by combining biomass energy with carbon capture and storage to avoid a methane catastrophe and mass extinction event – if it is not already too late.

    If we put too many constraints on solving this global warming problem, it’s going to be impossible to solve, I think. Eventually, we’re going to have to do what works scientifically, that keeps methane out of the atmosphere, and takes CO2 back out of it – if it is not already too late to stop positive feedback generated low level runaway global heating.

    Comment by Leland Palmer — 24 Sep 2014 @ 2:54 AM

  104. > If the AMEG folks are proposing that too, that’s great

    They aren’t.

    > to put the fossil fuel interests out of business
    > is going to be very, very difficult.

    The impossible takes a little longer.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 24 Sep 2014 @ 11:34 AM

  105. Hello David,
    I want to thank you for the wonderful book assigned in my grad school class on The Global Carbon Cycle. I also want to point out that Natalia Shakhova has recently taken cores of the East Siberian Arctic subsea permafrost. She has observed first hand that they have thawed as far down as 15 meters in an area that has only been submerged for 150-200 years, not the thousands of years that you predicted such thawing would require. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dQDVr1eMLK8

    Comment by Robyn Wagoner — 24 Sep 2014 @ 2:12 PM

  106. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/09/140924-natural-gas-impact-on-emissions/

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 27 Sep 2014 @ 8:10 PM

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