Isn’t this at least generally true right across the board? It seems to me to characterize our progress in science across many decades. We always know more today than we did yesterday and usually know more tomorrow than we did today. But the quest is never ending and new challenges emerge from our ever expanding sphere of knowledge. There’s nothing to do save plow on and keep plowing, and never give up the ship.
I have posted on RealClimate about 4 times in the past 5 years regarding the potential thaw of the methal hydrate deposits at the bottom of the oceans.I stated in my posts on your website that I believe firmly that those deposits are in quite a good bit of danger of melting from climate change feedback mechanisms.On Nov 8th, ScienceDaily posted a huge new study on the PETM boundary 55 million years ago, and some key data on how the methane at that point may very well have melted and contributed to the massive climate shift.I am an amateur who reads in the new a lot about climate change.I’d now like to say “I told you so!!!”It seems that the new study has confirmed what I was saying, namely, that those deposits are in danger of melting in the next 500 years.In reference to the above open ended post, I humbly suggest this opens a “whole new set of important questions”.
If I missed a RealClimate post on this new PETM/methal hydrates study, my apologies.What do you experts think now?Was I right to raise a huge alarm about these deopsits 3 years ago?
Mark J. Fiore
Boston College Law School, 1987.
(not a real scientist, like you guys, but a fairly up to date guy on the climate change news stories)
Do you think the methal hydrates are going to melt in the harsh light of this new study I’ve just pointed out?
Mark J. Fiore @2 — Somehow the climate survived during the Eemian interglacial despite global temperatures about 2 K warmer than even now. [I'll point out that it was far from pleasant in East Africa during that time; humans tended to move elsewhere around then.]
Comment by David B. Benson — 16 Nov 2011 @ 9:48 PM
Good quote, especially the part about “being confused on a higher level.” Though, I would suggest the most important stuff is the textbook material, things that are rather well known. The “details” are important and interesting, and may in fact be of key importance to society (rather than just of academic interest…for example the stability of the Greenland ice sheet), but they are called details for a reason.
For comment # 7, Blair Dowden, here is the link.I do not know how to embed a link into another webpage by using cut and paste because my computer skills are quite bad, but here is how it is spelled. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/1111091
It was on the Nov 9th ScienceDaily stories.
Also, thanks to #8, John Byatt, for the link to the RealClimate post from 2010 on methane.I now remember reading that now that I just read it again.It does not comfort me because it says that the methane can change into co2.Also, it does not comfort me that a bigger problem is the peat moss methane escaping.Both sources of potential methane release worry me.Now that you all know the link to the sciencedaily story, what do you think?
It appears that the link address is not working.Here is the exact title of the story:
Methane May be Answer to 56 million year old question:Ocean could have contained enough methane to cause drastic climate shift.
It is from ScienceDaily, Nov 9th, free e mail subscription to their top stories.
Mark Fiore: I recall reading reports of Russian and other scientists observing actual bubbles and gas escaping on the Arctic Sea surface along the coast line. This study was maybe a couple years ago. They found methane in the escaping gas samples.
You might want to pursue that lead. I am sorry I can’t give you a better lead and reference.
“We have not succeeded in answering all our problems. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole set of new questions.”
Agree up to there, but do not accept confusion bit, just look for answers to the ‘whole set of new questions’. Here is one: http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/HMF-T.htm
details on line in few days (data verified by Dr. Svalgaard from Stamford), came out of the question and clear answers in here: http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/theAMO.htm
I found many answers in the Arctic
Could any reader enlighten me about the delay aspect of climate change. I am under the impression that the weather we are experiencing is related to CO2 increases that happened years possibly decades ago. This lag time between a CO2 increase and the manifested related weather change I find very frightening in that we are experiencing weather related events to the level of CO2 that occurred a long time ago with much lower CO2 levels.
Understanding public complacency about climate
change: adults’ mental models of climate change violate
conservation of matter
Why Don’t Well-Educated Adults Understand Accumulation? A Challenge to Researchers, Educators, and Citizen
Very basic textbook material like conservation of matter is not known very well at all.
Comment by Pete Dunkelberg — 17 Nov 2011 @ 6:47 AM
Conservation of energy is also under appreciated. Numerous denier arguments involving slight fluctuations in the global distribution of warmer vs cooler sea surface areas as supposed explanations of climate change neglect all the energy that goes into ocean heat content, melting large ice deposits and so forth. Where does the energy come from, and why?
Comment by Pete Dunkelberg — 17 Nov 2011 @ 7:15 AM
#11 Mark J. Fiore
Methane leaks from the oceans and many other sources. Context is always key. CH4 is indicated in climate change in a number of studies, but confidence levels aka level of understanding needs to be increased before claims are made.
Generally, there are indications that if we reach 4 to 6C rise there is a chance possibly for larger methane hydrate release once the oceans warm up.
While many are still misled about the science now, I don’t think that will last forever. So, feedbacks and all, there is still a chance we can turn things around depending on how long we wait, which of course changes the odds.
Meaningful concern is needed of course, but acting alarmed is different than recognizing an alarm. And being alarmed often leads to poor decision making. Just food for thought.
Other readers here know better than I, but if we presume that a 3˚C per doubling of CO2 is correct for climate sensitivity then the current level of 395 ppm translates into an actual temperature commitment right now of 1.41˚C. We have, of course, only seen about 0.6˚C of this. This means that if we stopped burning fossil fuels enough right now to hold atmospheric CO2 levels at 395 ppm, temperatures would continue to rise another 0.8˚C or so.
So in that sense yes, what you are seeing is the tip of the melting ice-berg. Extreme weather can be expected to get much worse, and that’s even if we were to get things under control instantly, today.
“Generally, there are indications that if we reach 4 to 6C rise there is a chance possibly for larger methane hydrate release once the oceans warm up.”
I have heard that too, but hasn’t the Arctic warmed up much faster than the rest of the globe and much more than models had predicted? So might we not get this melting up there well before the whole globe reaches these temps?
On the general question at hand–uncertainty in science should not be a cause for great comfort. It means we don’t know exactly how great the harm is that we are doing, so we should tread much more carefully than we have been doing. Wendel Berry describes it as crossing a swift but cloudy river depending on submerged stepping stones whose locations you cannot be sure of.
This actually relates back to the methane issue: We can’t be sure at what point we would trigger such a catastrophe, so it is best to steer way clear of such a possibility. Unfortunately, we seem to instead be charging ahead blindly and recklessly.
Mark, do a google scholar search on Semiletov or Shakhova for recent work on methane hydrates. They and other scientists were recently rushed up to the Arctic “on short notice” on reports of “dramatic” increases of methane release, and observers reported “seas bubbling as if they were boiling.” The scientists’ report on this will not come out for another five months or so. I have seen no instrumental measurements showing a dramatic increase in atmospheric methane, though, but I only have limited access and time to look.
The whole issue is of great concern, and should get more attention and discussion. I think the (understandable) attitude John just expressed about trying to avoid alarm can, unfortunately, get in the way of people’s willingness to look squarely at things that might truly be quite frightening.
Methane hydrates have been on everyone’s radar for some time. If you dive even in the shallow waters of the Gulf Coast you can see methane bubbling to the surface.
As you might expect, the hypothesis that methane hydrates was a contributor to the PETM has been kicking around for a while.
I’ll admit it is a convenient ‘possibility’ but to quote medical school, “when you hear horse hooves, don’t think zebras”.
The popular press rarely looks at all angles of a topic in the sciences. If you spend an hour or so a week keeping up in the journals (I confess I spend closer to eight to ten) then you would notice that in the last three years at least three competing hypothesis for the cause of the PETM has circulated.
While seabed and arctic methane is first in line on my own personal hit list (methane is the guy in the line-up with the shaggy beard and the Charlie Manson eyes) there is this nagging little voice in the back of my head that says “keep looking”
Science is about asking questions and each answer brings more questions (which is probably why when talking science to politicians its important to mention “if you don’t like the answers, don’t ask the questions!”)
Methane hydrates have been on everyone’s radar for some time. If you spend any time at all reading the journals, even limiting yourself to Science and Nature, you’ll see that in the last three years there have been no less than three competing hypothesis about the cause of the PETM.
( All interesting ideas but I’m not bragging to my mother about them yet. )
However to quote my physician about his time in medical school – “when you hear horse hooves, don’t think zebras!”
It would be simple to point to methane hydrates (he’s the shaggy guy with the Charlie Manson eyes on the far right of the line up) but a little voice in the back of my head keeps saying, keep looking.
Science is about asking questions, the answers always lead us to more questions.
[ Its easy to explain to adults (and small children) how energetics of a reaction may favor one chemical result over another, but its more fun to lead them into the deep forest to show them how flora, fauna and the planet are woven together. ]
Not sure how this conversation got started but of the ideas I get from my advisers, the best ones come from the hallway.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am in no way saying we should be comfortable with the uncertainty. The Precautionary Principle is applied when there is high risk plus uncertainty. There are areas of climate science that are more and less certain. Context is always key.
David B. Benson says: “Somehow the climate survived during the Eemian interglacial despite global temperatures about 2 K warmer than even now.”
What does this mean, that the “climate” survived? Certainly, it is accurate that our ancestors survived the Eemian, but we shouldn’t be cavalier about our survival of previous major climate shifts; we cannot assume that we will survive future crises. We did not have a population of 7 billion people back then, a population that is highly dependent on modern technology and “cheap” energy. Our Eemian ancestors also didn’t have nuclear, biological, and other potentially extincting weapons at their disposal. When you start considering the social and economic impacts of shifting percipitation patterns, rising sea levels, and the rising cost of energy, one can see the potential for major social and economic upheavals that pose the danger of economic and social instability that could lead to new major and very dangerous wars.
Comment by Geno Canto del Halcon — 17 Nov 2011 @ 1:22 PM
Burt Armstrong @ 16, you are very much on the right track, but think more in terms of accumulating ocean heat content and rising sea surface temperatures. That is the main source of more water vapor and energy (as latent heat) in the air, and consequently weather trouble. Some countries have been effected more than others so far. Read this
“It means that 1,030 out of the total 1,120 municipalities throughout Colombia have been adversely affected, covering 29 of the 32 Colombian departments.”
To get an idea of the irregularity of climate disruption, compare drought in Bolivia.
“We have not succeeded in answering all our problems. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole set of new questions. In some ways we feel we are as confused as ever, but we believe we are confused on a higher level and about more important things.”
To me, this is progress. For example: The Earth is flat => the Earth is a sphere => the Earth circles the Sun => the Sun is one of many hundreds of billions of stars in a galaxy we call the Milky Way => The Milky Way is among a hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe => the universe is ???.
The deeper the knowledge, the wider is the span of questions. Unfortunately, many people do not understand this concept.
Another problem is the inability of many people to understand the concept of scale. An example of this is Steve Goddard’s pixel counting where he converts temperature anomaly map scales of +12 to +1 and -1 to -12 to simply +1 or -1 depending on color – http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/07/16/co2-optical-illusion/ (please glance at the comments). Scale is very important.
Geno Canto del Halcon @28 — The additional warming during the Eemian interglacial, about 2 K, was not enough to unleash a methyl hydrate runaway as is sometimes hypotesized happened during the PETM temperature ‘spike’. That is all I meant except to point out that conditions during the Eemian interglacial in East Africa were not conducive to human habitation; many groups left for more hospitable locations.
That suggests that much the same will begin to occur now as peoples transhuminate, to use an old fashioned term, to more equitable regions. Altogether, that might prove civilization ending is (very roughly) the same way the German transhuminations put paid to the Roman Empire. Of course, even worse might well ensue.
[I suppose I'm not confused at a high enough level yet.]
Comment by David B. Benson — 17 Nov 2011 @ 7:26 PM
In my life (a long one) we say we are confused because we do not have the basic (lowest level) understanding of our existence. All we have are theories based on concepts which we have invented that fit our current knowledge and understanding.
Saying “we believe we are confused on a higher level and about more important things” is totally arrogant and kills the flame of discovery.
Popper wrote about the role of Reductionism in science and said much the same thing about the maturation of the confusion. He argued that our attempts to solve problems created so-called solutions that uncovered other problems we hadn’t known about and (most importantly) couldn’t have thought about without the first round attempts.
Popper also pointed out that Reductionism as a philosophy was doomed in an indeterminate universe, but that it worked surprisingly well as a method for Science. He even went on to argue that it is probably the only sensible method we have that COULD work to do what we are trying to do.
Comment by Pete Dunkelberg — 18 Nov 2011 @ 9:46 AM
This a bit OT, but I had been assuming this is the Pulitzer winner Mark Fiore of Solyndragatepocalypse and ContagionEx, but seems not?
Back to topic, while reductionist thinking is a good working tool, it should not be given authority. Being unable to study or understand something, potentially or actually, is not a good reason to limit one’s view of reality.
I am grateful for every kind of work that is done to enhance our understanding, but we still stand on the earth, which is infinitely interesting and varied. Physics does not encompass our whole experience, though it makes a good attempt to understand things. Theory is nice, but it doesn’t limit reality. Understanding is useful, but not if it leads to a closed mind.
Aside from fake skepticism, the narrow kind that denies reality in favor of preference, another bete noir comes to mind: string theory. Just like Chicago economics, it’s pretty but leads to trouble if its followers start to treat it as an object of worship, invariant and all encompassing.
Comment by Susan Anderson — 18 Nov 2011 @ 11:51 AM
“They and other scientists were recently rushed up to the Arctic “on short notice” on reports of “dramatic” increases of methane release, and observers reported “seas bubbling as if they were boiling.” The scientists’ report on this will not come out for another five months or so.”
I wonder if the quote is from a physicist. Up to the late 19th century, it looked as if the major problems were nailed, and only details remained to be tidied. Then big holes started to appear and despite good work by Bohr, Heisenberg, Einstein, et al., things have become in a way increasingly confused since even if we can still get amazing stuff done.
Re: Arctic methane rush: Perspective needed. Breathless reports of scientists on a ship off Russia reporting bubbling seas are a recurring phenomenon (e.g. this Independent story, 2008), but according to the unwritten laws of journalism, always presented as totally never-seen-this-before breaking news. They’ve been doing this for some years, see publications from the International Siberian Sea Shelf Study. The most recent major summary of their findings, I think, is Shakhova (2010). It’s disturbing reading. The main RealClimate posts on this are getting a bit long in the teeth (2005, 2006); maybe it’s time to raise us to a higher level of confusion?
(re: Arctic methane rush, cont’d) …and Harvey’s Newsvine source at #44 exemplifies the confusion, blogging the dramatic quotes from the 2008 expedition as breaking news from this year’s. Apparently this year’s results will be published in half a year’s time. The owl of Minerva, and all that.
#47–”I feel your pain,” but in this case it’s actually the *same identical stuff* hitting the fan–despite the blogger’s claim that Dr. Gustafsson’s comments were “leaked two days ago,” the identical quote appeared in print in 2008, as a quick Google search will confirm.
Thanks for the comments. Let’s just say something massive were to happen, some kind of massive release of CH4 presaging a catastrophic release and the start of a PETM type event. We’d know it was happening from;
1. Substantial increase of CH4 concentration around the Arctic.
2. Substantial increase of Carbon 13 in CH4.
The authors find that the maximum PETM rate of emission for organic carbon as the source is equivalent to 6.2 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, and for methane as the source, 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. For comparison: 2010 human-carbon emissions were 30.6 billion tonnes.
So if organic carbon was the source, current emissions are almost 5 times faster than the PETM, and if methane, current emissions are rising 27 times faster.
I dont’t think I was trying to reassure anyone, more like trying to get them worried on a higher level and about more important things—to paraphrase the OP.
Note that some amount of this particular kind of stuff has probably been hitting the fan for thousands of years during the present interglacial, as bits of permafrost left on the Siberian shelf by the last glaciation have thawed and eroded, fizzing methane. Recent research shows there’s lots more of this going on than we thought. But do present observations mostly show something that has been going on all the time, just without scientists freezing their butts off to observe it? Or do they show an acceleration signaling the onset of a potentially huge anthropogenic carbon feedback, as one would rather expect now that we’re defrosting the Arctic? If so, slow and insidious, or fast and catastrophic?
From Shakhova (2010):
The annual outgassing from the shallow [East Siberian Arctic Shelf] … is of the same magnitude as … existing estimates of total CH4 emissions from the entire world ocean (…). Although the oceanic CH4 flux should be revised, the current estimate is not alarmingly altering the contemporary global CH4 budget. These findings do change our view of the vulnerability of the large sub-sea permafrost carbon reservoir on the ESAS; the permafrost “lid” is clearly perforated, and sedimentary CH4 is escaping to the atmosphere.
There remains substantial uncertainty regarding several aspects of the CH4 release… To discern whether this extensive CH4 venting over the ESAS is a steadily ongoing phenomenon or signals the start of a more massive CH4 release period, there is an urgent need for expanded multifaceted investigations into these inaccessible but climate-sensitive shelf seas north of Siberia.
Scientists rushing to sea isn’t the real story, the real story’s in what they publish when they get back. Eventually.
The warming of an Arctic current over the last 30 years has triggered the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from methane hydrate stored in the sediment beneath the seabed. Scientists at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Birmingham, Royal Holloway London and IFM-Geomar in Germany have found that more than 250 plumes of bubbles of methane gas are rising from the seabed of the West Spitsbergen continental margin in the Arctic, in a depth range of 150 to 400 metres. Methane released from gas hydrate in submarine sediments has been identified in the past as an agent of climate change. The likelihood of methane being released in this way has been widely predicted.”
But it was the possibility that this process was happening in the much shallower (average ~50 m) area of the vast (~200 k^2)East Siberian Arctic Shelf that really had me concerned since the methane would have little time to dissolve into the ocean before entering the atmosphere there. Toward the bottom of this page, you can link to Shakhova’s slide presentation on this from last year:
Slides 33 and 34 are key. 33 shows the basic level, without figuring in sudden releases or ‘fluxes’, from the area is ~8 Tg/year. But 34 shows that the directly measured fluxes show methane releasing at up to three orders of magnitude faster than the general rate, and if higher rate were to be extended throughout the region, it would add up to ~3.5 Gt/year just from ESAS. I take these, then, to mark out the range of possible current (at the time) emissions–certainly higher than the 8 Tg figure but presumably much lower than the hypothetical ~3.5 Gt figure. But that leaves quite a wide range–was it closer to 10 Tg or 100 Tg or larger?
So that was the rate already at least a year ago. But then this year there was news of a ‘dramatic’ increase in this rate and “massive discharges” that required scientist to go up “at short notice.” Does this mean a 10% increase? 50%? 100%? An order of magnitude? Two?…
Good grief! I thought we decided as a community to stop discussing seafloor methane and pre-Quateranry climate. In only complicates matters, and forces us to reconsider how carbon and sulfur cycle in the time domain.
There have been a string of recent papers on the PETM and other past hyperthermal events of the Early Paleogene. Rob Deconto and colleagues (I think) will have another coming out prominently very soon.
About two years ago, Gavin Schmidt suggested I write a post on this topic. I guess maybe I should take him up on the task. I had no idea it was so interesting to others.