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AGU 2011: Day 5 and wrap-up

Filed under: — group @ 11 December 2011

(Day 1)(Day 2)(Days 3&4)

After 5 days, there is a definite slowdown in energy, desire to ask questions and attendance. But there were still a lot of good talks to be seen. Perhaps most relevant here were a few sessions talking about initial results from the CMIP5 models and the data with which they are being assessed. Overall, most comparisons to the CMIP3 models showed that despite substantial improvements in resolution, completeness, and scope, the CMIP5 models do not show any dramatic differences at the broad-scale diagnostics (global means etc.).

This is not particularly surprising, since it is expected that the importance of the new simulations will be seen in the differences between model types (i.e. including carbon cycles, atmospheric chemistry etc.), or in new kinds of diagnostics from say, the initialized decadal predictions, that weren’t available before.

Looking back at the whole meeting (20,000+ scientists, dozens of simultaneous sessions), it is perhaps worth noting the reasons why such meetings are so important. Obviously, no-one can see everything that is relevant to their research, or talk to everyone they might want to, but there is a lot that can be seen and absorbed much more efficiently than would be possible at home. The social aspect of conferences is also important – beer is an essential lubricant for geophysicists it seems. More important than the sessions are often the chance encounters on the escalators or corridors. Many people get to meet in person who only ever emailed – and this includes other bloggers as well as scientists. We met Eli Rabett, John Cook (Skeptical Science), Zeke Hausfather, Kate @ ClimateSight, Steve Easterbrook, and many others who are only known by their screen names and comments. Many of the scientists whose work has been discussed here recently were also present – Andreas Schmittner, Robert Rohde (of BEST), Jim Hansen, Ben Santer, Roy Spencer, along with many, many first timers whose work will become more prominent. The palpable sense of excitement at the directions the science is taking is very much driven by the bright ideas and new approaches being generated by the younger scientists – including undergraduates and graduate students. And it is the serendipitous encounters with these new voices that are the most unanticipated (and unplanned) benefits of these meetings. This doesn’t happen with Skype unfortunately.

We know that we didn’t see everything we wanted to, so if any other attendees are reading this, we encourage them to point out in the comments any particular highpoints they came across – especially if the talks were part of those broadcast, or if the poster is available on-line.

75 Responses to “AGU 2011: Day 5 and wrap-up”

  1. 51
    Neven says:

    Daniel Bailey, I don’t think that was Shakhova’s brochure, but the brochure from John Nissen, the guy who fronts the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (who stand for “start geoengineering immediately”). He was also at AGU.

    Shakhova nor Semiletov are members of this group, AFAIK.

  2. 52


    Thanks for bringing that to my attention. Upon closer inspection of the poster I cannot ascertain that it was indeed from a presentation made at the AGU. Since the brochure is almost certainly a walk-through of the poster, then indeed you must be correct. And I was in error on that matter.

    Apologies to all for any confusion.

  3. 53
    wili says:

    Joe Romm over at Climate Progress finally got around to discussing the Arctic as a new source of atmospheric carbon, both from permafrost and from the sea. The sea section is toward the end, and seems to suggest that increases there are all from methanogenic bacteria on the surface of the sea.

  4. 54
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE methane hydrates, here’s a NYT article that claims we don’t have to worry about the deeper ones for 1000s of years because the ocean is slow in warming, esp down at the bottom where the hydrates are (tho some scientist aren’t sure about that):

    The only problem for me is, that doesn’t really matter. I’m on board reducing my GHGs because I want to reduce my harms to people (and other creatures) no matter what year, decade, century, or millennium. So if we’re triggering conditions now that will eventually lead lots more destruction (beyond the pittily next couple of centuries), that is what counts, not how long it takes.

    There’s no statute of limitation on world destruction and annihilation of life on planet earth.

  5. 55
    Anonymous Coward says:

    Lynn #54,
    With that approach to risk, methane is irrelevant.
    The long term effects of CO2 are well-established and serious enough to motivate harm reduction while the long term effects of methane are relatively small or speculative. The most likely effect of methane is to hasten the pace of climate change during relatively short periods.
    That’s because methanes degrades to CO2 faster than the likely timescale of significant (relative to emissions from fossil fuels) arctic methane releases.

    Yes, methane is a possible wildcard. It’s of interest to scientists obviously. But please be careful with alarmism which is likely to be detrimental to your credibility in the long run. Lurid throwaways like “annihilation of life on planet earth” are uncalled for.
    The long term risks caused by atmospheric CO2 from fossil fuels are hard enough to communicate and are misunderstood by most. So let’s keep things as simple as possible, alright?

  6. 56
    wili says:

    AC, so is it your perception that our leaders and the populace at large are already overly alarmed?

    Are you against having fire alarms in buildings because they are ‘alarmist’?

    Yes, we should be clear that it is unlikely that absolutely all life will be annihilated…perhaps. But the point is that people and leaders do not seem to be getting the point that this is an existential crisis that requires an appropriately alarmed leadership and populous.

    Meanwhile, for what it’s worth, here is my response to the Gillis article. Please feel free to critique:

    Thank you, Justin, for a much better article than Revkin recently presented on this topic for your paper.

    But there are some points that you overlook:

    –The East Siberian Arctic Shelf, besides being very vast (~200 km^2), is also very shallow (average ~50 meters), so there is little chance for methane to be dissolved and digested there as it bubbles up (see Dr. Joye’s presentation at the recent AGU conference)

    –Much of the Arctic is now ice free for long stretches, allowing increase in waves that can take surface warming down to the bed of the shallow ESAS

    –Warm ocean currents are intruding further and further into the Arctic ocean, currents that eventually sink to the bottom as salinity increases

    –The Arctic is warming much faster than anyone anticipated; As recently as the last IPCC report, no one thought that the ice cover could melt as fast as we have seen it melt

    –Readings from the monitoring stations at Barrow do in fact show huge increases in atmospheric methane levels… (switch parameter to ‘methane’)

    –The recent expedition by Semiletov and others, veterans at looking at these seas, found dramatic increases in methane plumes

    We certainly need more information, but it is not appropriate to dismiss deep concerns in light of ongoing revelations of recent dramatic increases in methane in the Arctic.

    Again, thank you for your article–the last few paragraphs are particularly apt.

  7. 57
    Anonymous Coward says:

    wili #56,
    Yes, my perception is that there is enough alarm. The lack of reaction to the legitimate alarm won’t be helped by setting off phony alarms.

    Speculation aside, you bring forth preliminary data from a single site. I tried three others which show nothing out of the ordinary. I fail to see how this is cause for concern.
    Your data source states: “Users are strongly encouraged to contact Dr. Pieter Tans, Group Chief ( before attempting to interpret preliminary data.” Have you done so?

  8. 58
    SecularAnimist says:

    Anonymous Coward wrote: “The most likely effect of methane is to hasten the pace of climate change during relatively short periods.”

    Yes, large releases of methane from thawing permafrost and undersea deposits could hasten global warming during a relatively short period — like, say, for example, the next five to ten years.

    And you think that is a reason to NOT be alarmed?

  9. 59
    wili says:

    Thanks for the suggestion, AC. We have been discussing this on another site, and one of the other posters there agreed to email him so he wouldn’t get inundated with all of our messages. We are awaiting his response.

    There are certainly more data points and information that we would like to see, but it seems odd that so many people are ready to dismiss out of hand the direct observations of the most experienced scientists on this topic, Semiletov and Shakhova, as well as instrumental data, however preliminary, pointing in the same direction as what they are seeing on the ground.

    Note that the monitoring station at Barrow itself is some 1000 miles away from where the emissions were reported. Others are much further away. So it is not surprising that evidence would first show up at this closest (but still quite distant) station before showing up at others that are further away.

    On the other point, American historian Arthur Schlesinger said “American has only two modes of response to energy issues–complacency and panic.” I would say the same applies to American response to AGW. I see plenty of evidence of complacency, and little of alarm much less panic.

    One more quote (sorry, don’t have the source right now): “We have to plan for panic so we can panic with a plan.”

  10. 60
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #55, I, like you, did not think permanent runaway warming (as on venus) was possible (due to this AGW episode), and I think most scientists have not come to the conclusion that it is possible. But there are some who say it is, especially if we are bound and determined to dig up all the coal and release its carbon into the atomsphere. See esp p. 24 of

    Since this has not managed to get people alarmed, I’m afraid nothing on eart will ever get them alarmed. In fact they seem to be alarmed that people might get alarmed over AGW, but let me assure you there will be no mad rush to the LED & CF bulb sections of Home Depot, no shopping carts colliding and people rush to reduce their GHG, because they just aren’t going to reduce them. Period. Not if it saves them money. Not if it reduced many other environmental and non-environmental problems (like wars). No way.

    Climate scientists can tell us about methane, and how if you get warming going fast enough with our GHG help, it could indeed melt enough methane in stored in ice to contribute significantly to GW (see — and I think it’s more like the rapidity plus succeeding 10-year frames until the whole lot of methane is released, not just one 10-year frame, that would be at work —

    but climate scientists don’t know a lot about human behavior. It’s pretty weird, but the more dangerous and more certain (.50 on the null being more than enough) the danger, the less likely some people with self-esteem problems will act on it. Of course, they won’t act on a no-danger or mild-danger threat either.

    So anyway this issue has given social and behavior scientist a great opportunity to study human behavior….as we pass the 10th floor, having jumped off the high rise, saying, so far so good.

  11. 61
    Anonymous Coward says:

    Regarding this Barrow matter: have any of you alarmists bothered to look at the “in-situ data” on NOAA’s site as opposed to the “flask”? Look at the daily average and you’ll see a big methane spike in 2004 and no spike now.
    If methane concentration was elevated at Barrow, the most likely cause would be local and not what Semiletov observed. There’s oil&gas activity in the Barrow aera. My understanding is that Barrow basically sits on an actively exploited methane field.
    Your standard of evidence seems to be no better than the deniers’.

    Alarms are useful when they tell the people in charge to activate a plan. No one’s in charge and there is no plan.
    You are faced with a political problem. There’s no quick fix and alarmism is not helpful when it comes to devising workable solutions and long term strategies. What do you have an alarmed general public do? What can the average denizen of the USA do?
    Rushing to Home Depot to buy light bulbs is counter-productive because malls are a bigger source of emissions than the average household’s light bulbs, not to speak of the cars that people use to get to malls. If you were to calm down, you might be able to figure that out.
    The first thing to do instead is to get together with like-minded folks in your area and to make plans for collective action.
    Methane has no bearing on any of this.

  12. 62
    wili says:

    “What can the average denizen of the USA do?” Cut drastically back on all activity that produces GHGs. Advocate strongly at every level of organization and government for the same.

    “The first thing to do instead is to get together with like-minded folks in your area and to make plans for collective action.”

    Why do you assume that I am not doing this. Your whole tone here is rather presumptuous and insulting.

    On the methane data, when you assume that the only accurate data is the data you want to believe, it is a kind of selective use of evidence that is, as you say, ‘no better than the deniers.'” We would all like to see more and clearer measurements and explanations for the data we have. Until then, there is no basis to claim that one data point is more reliable than another, one way or the other.

    (By the way, I buy my lightbulbs from the corner hardware store which I walk to.)

  13. 63
    SecularAnimist says:

    Anonymous Coward wrote: “Rushing to Home Depot to buy light bulbs is counter-productive because malls are a bigger source of emissions than the average household’s light bulbs, not to speak of the cars that people use to get to malls. If you were to calm down, you might be able to figure that out.”

    If you were to provide actual data showing the GHG emissions from a single trip to a mall to purchase a household-worth of LED lightbulbs exceeds the GHG reductions achieved by operating those LEDs for their rated lifetime instead of incandescents, your argument might be worth listening to. Otherwise your condescension is hardly justifiable.

  14. 64
    turboblocke says:

    AC at 61 said: Regarding this Barrow matter: have any of you alarmists bothered to look at the “in-situ data” on NOAA’s site as opposed to the “flask”? Look at the daily average and you’ll see a big methane spike in 2004 and no spike now.

    Although there is currently “no spike” at Barrow, the “in-situ” measurements do show a steady increase over the past few years with current trend levels being higher than 2004.

  15. 65
    Anonymous Coward says:

    That’s right. The 2004 spike is of no import, like any other transient local spike.
    I’d also sooner believe this unspectacular increase could be related to happenings in Eastern Siberia than happenings around Barrow. But our guesses are of no import. Let someone qualified take a good look at this trend with the help of additionnal data.

  16. 66
    Hank Roberts says:

    Siberian shelf methane emissions not tied to modern warming – AGU

    Identifying sources of methane in the Arctic – AGU

  17. 67
    wili says:

    Hank, thanks for the links (though the second one does not seem to be working).

    The first one repeats what has already been shown–that there is a long-term process of slow destabilization of seabed methane. It then seems to leap to the conclusion that this means that all recent methane release from this source cannot be related to GW–a rather hasty conclusion imo, but presumably some further reasons for the conclusion were presented in the full presentation.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the destabilization depth for methane in near 0 degree C temps is 200 meters, so the statement that I have seen here and elsewhere that the methane hydrate is at that depth should not surprise us and should not lead us to think that it is therefore stable–it is right on the edge of destabilizing, any even slight amount of warming will do so.

    The second paper is from atmospheric tests from ’08-’09 and finds that at that time methane escaping from the sea floor was not making it to the atmosphere. But now, with eye witness accounts of the methane bubbling up in kilometer-wide plumes, that is presumably no longer the case (unless all the eye witnesses are pulling our collective leg for some reason).

    So, useful as it is to see these abstracts, the first one seems to make a claim with no support presented for it, and the second one is now out of date.

    But this seems to be the only place left on the net that is talking about this much, and we are left grasping at whatever straws are available to try to make sense of sparse and contradictory evidence.

  18. 68
    wili says:

    Sorry to post back to back, but here are some articles that may be of relevance here:

    Waters near the bottom of the Laptev Sea have warmed 3 degrees C since 2007

    Rapid melting of ice possibly explained.

  19. 69
    Hank Roberts says:

    Here’s a summary of the same press release wili refers to, this may help find the eventual journal article that’s being prepared according to the PR.

    “ARCTIC: Data finds seawater temperature decrease that spells trouble
    Data from the Catlin Arctic Survey 2011, collected during an eight-week expedition from March to May, indicates the temperature of Arctic seawater below 200 metres depth has decreased by a ‘surprising’ one degree Celsius compared to previous observations. This may conversely be accelerating Arctic sea ice melt, which could have a knock-on effect for the currents that circulate heat and nutrients around the world’s oceans, the researchers warn. Survey research partner Dr Simon Boxall, of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK, says the temperature change indicates that melting Arctic sea ice is quickly circulating into the ocean’s depths and being replaced by warmer seawater from below. Although global ocean temperatures are rising, a layer of fresher water immediately below the sea ice is thought to act as a buffer between the ice and the warmer Atlantic waters flowing into the Arctic Ocean basin at a lower level. It is this buffer level that seems to be disappearing, which would accelerate ice melt.”

    (Aside — this is also the missing piece that belongs with the Knappenberger notion that the Arctic is not warming, recently revived at the Los Alamos meeting mentioned in another thread)

  20. 70
    wili says:

    Could there be another or an additional explanation for cooling at the bottom of the sea? If lots of methane hydrates are melting, wouldn’t we expect a cooling, since that change-of-state reaction is endothermic? If lots and lots of methane is melting, would that be a large enough energy draw to actually lower the water temperature near sea bottom?

    Could that temp drop also perhaps put a break on further melting–a kind of negative feedback?

    Another thing I’ve been wondering: there was a slight decrease in global average sea level this year. Could that be a factor in the increase in methane destabilization. I had been imagining (rather hoping against hope) that rising sea level might possibly almost keep up with rising water temps so that the methane would remain relatively stable.

    But if the sea level isn’t rising, that’s wouldn’t be something to count on. It does seem an interesting coincidence that the biggest increases in destabilization happened the same year that sea level rise (surprisingly, to me, at least) reversed. I’m guessing, though, that any rise or fall would be too tiny to have much of an effect one way or the other.

    A blessed New Years to all, in case I don’t manage to get back here till then.

  21. 71
    wili says:

    Thanks for the additional link, Hank.

    Revkin has now posted a follow-up article that includes an email response he go from Semiletov and Shakhova:

    Here is the email:

    “We would first note that we have never stated that the reason for the currently observed methane emissions were due to recent climate change. In fact, we explained in detail the mechanism of subsea permafrost destabilization as a result of inundation with seawater thousands of years ago. We have been working in this scientific field and this region for a decade. We understand its complexity more than anyone. And like most scientists in our field, we have to deal with slowly improving understanding of ongoing processes that often incorporates different points of views expressed by different groups of researchers.

    Yes, modeling is important. However, we know that modeling results cannot prove or disprove real observations because modeling always assumes significant simplification and should be validated with observational data, not vice versa. Much of our work includes this field validation. Last spring, we extracted a 53-meter long core sample from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, to validate our conclusions about the current state of subsea permafrost. We found that the temperatures of the sediments were from 1.2 to 0.6 degrees below zero, Celsius, yet they were completely thawed. The model in the Dmitrenko paper assumed a thaw point of zero degrees. Our observations show that the cornerstone assumption taken in their modeling was wrong. The rate at which the subsea permafrost is currently degrading largely depends on what state it was in when recent climate change appeared. It makes sense that modeling on an incorrect assumption about thaw point could create inaccurate results.

    Observations are at the core of our work now. It is no surprise to us that others monitoring global methane have not found a signal from the Siberian Arctic or increase in global emissions. [This refers to the work of Ed Dlugokencky and others; see his comments in my Dot Earth post.] The number of stations monitoring atmospheric methane concentrations worldwide is very few. In the Arctic there are only three such stations — Barrow, Alert, Zeppelin — and all are far away from the Siberian Arctic. We are doing our multi-year observations, including year-round monitoring, in proximity to the source. In addition to measuring the amount of methane emitted from the area, we are trying to find out whether there is anything specific about those emissions that could distinguish them from other sources. It is incorrect to say that anyone is able to trace that signal yet.

    All models must be validated by observations. New data obtained in our 2011 cruise and other unpublished data give us a clue to reevaluate if the scale of methane releases from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf seabed is assessed correctly (papers are now in preparation). This is how science works: step by step, from hypothesis based on limited data and logic to expanded observations in order to gain more facts that could equally prove or disprove the hypothesis. We would urge people to consider this process, not jump to conclusions and be open to the idea that new observations may significantly change what we understand about our world.”

    Revkin’s aside is in square brackets. The note on cooling seems to fit in well with the article we have just been discussing.

    I would be very interested in people’s comments on this letter.

  22. 72
    Hank Roberts says:

    wili, just as one reader to another — until our hosts start another methane topic (there have been many) — would you consider holding off the methane stuff ’til you can put 8it in the January open thread?

    It’s off topic in two different threads now.

    Remember hypertext — post the link, and people can read the original and followups at the original source. You don’t need to post full text copies.

  23. 73
    wili says:

    Thanks, Hank. Will do.

    Just for the record–though I posted the whole letter, this was not the entirety of the Revkin article. We (or at least I) have been waiting for clarification from S&S on their findings, and this is the closest I’ve seen, so I thought the whole letter could be presented for discussion. But it can wait for the January open thread.

  24. 74

    #67–“But this seems to be the only place left on the net that is talking about this much. . .”

    Try Neven’s Arctic sea ice blog:

  25. 75
    On Anonymous Bloke says:

    Tokodave #46
    I’m no Seismologist, but I think you might find the answers you are looking for by searching for information about “fluid-induced seismicity”.