An online model of methane in the atmosphere

The radiative forcings of CO2 and methane compared. The scenario is more-or-less comparable to 750 ppm CO2, as we thought.

The CO2 concentration used to generate the last figure.

Timing is everything

Four simulations with the same amount of carbon released as methane in the “spike”, on different time scales for the release.

10 Gton C release in 1 year — the spike.

Same spike but not as sharp: 10 Gton over 20 years.

Same 10 Gton but spread over 50 years.

100 years.

Enjoy. Go and get your swamp gas on, and give the poor model planet your worst. Bwahahahahaha!

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332 comments on this post.
  1. Peter Thorne:

    ruminate and methane – are the cows having the last laugh here I wonder?

  2. wili:

    Thanks for the interactive model, but the assumption implicit in it is that there will be a one time spike or a steady quantity over some period of time.

    Isn’t it much more likely that feedback will increase the amount of methane released every year for however long it takes to melt all the clathrate and release all the free methane below? Is there some way to model such a result?

    Or are you assuming that any release will come all at once since, as the NASA report put it, there is a zipper-like chain reaction–once hydrates start dissolving in one place, sea water rushes down filling in the now empty space and in turn destabilizing neighboring hydrates…?

    [Response:By setting the duration of a slug ("spike") to 100 years, say, there will be a new source imposed every year for 100 years. Kinda loses its spikiness. David]

  3. John E. Pearson:

    Very nice! I think I broke it. Try using the following parameters:

    Chronic methane flux: 0.2
    Methane spike size: 5
    Methane spike duration: 0.50000000001

    and then:

    Chronic methane flux: 0.2
    Methane spike size: 5
    Methane spike duration: 0.50

    [Response:It's got a 1-year time step. ("Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this!" "Don't do that"). David]

  4. anon:

    Re #2. I put in a 500 Gton “burp” over a 10 year period, and it overwhelmed C02 for the first 50 years, then CO2 dominated from thereon. I know it doesn’t model any feedback loops caused by the methane, but even a very large methane burp doesn’t seem to have the long-term effect of CO2, which we already knew eh?

  5. Ray Ladbury:

    Cue panicked response of “But the models are wrong!!!” in 5, 4, 3,…

  6. Uli:

    The model does not convert decaying methane to CO2. This is not very realistic.

    [Response:But the CO2 effect from that carbon is small compared with the methane effect. You're seeing most of the response, just from the methane. Compare 200 Gton C from my "worst case scenario" with maybe 1600 Gton C from fossil fuels by the end of the century under business-as-usual. David]

  7. BillC:

    Is there significant spatial variation in the atmospheric methane sink?

    [Response: Yes, it's dominated by the tropical troposphere. - gavin]

  8. Michael Doliner:

    Question: won’t melting permafrost and bubbling clathrates continue to put CO2 into the atmosphere even if humans stop? If so won’t the climate now warm regardless of what we do?

    [Response:No, there's a lot more warming in the pike from our projected future CO2 emissions than we've provoked so far. So far is only the tip of the iceberg. David]

  9. wili:

    The most likely trajectory of increasing methane release from land and sea Arctic sources is exponential, so it is not clear that this graphing program is very useful in modeling this most likely development.

    We can’t know exactly how any of this will go down, of course.

    “The magnitude and feedbacks of future methane release from the Arctic region are unknown…

    if global methane emissions were to increase by factors of 2.5 and 5.2 above current emissions, the indirect contributions to RF would be about 250% and 400%, respectively, of the RF that can be attributed to directly emitted methane alone.

    Assuming several hypothetical scenarios of CH4 release associated with permafrost thaw, shallow marine hydrate degassing, and submarine landslides, we find a strong positive feedback on RF through atmospheric chemistry. In particular, the impact of CH4 is enhanced through increase of its lifetime, and of atmospheric abundances of ozone, stratospheric water vapor, and CO2 as a
    result of atmospheric chemical processes. Despite uncertainties in emission scenarios, our results provide a better understanding of the feedbacks in the atmospheric chemistry that would amplify climate warming.”

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2011/2010GB003845.shtml

    Are depletion of hydroxyl, ozone…included in the above model?

    (reCaptcha: (Kyd) helphme

    [Response:Yes, depletion of OH is what allows the lifetime to go up with methane load. The indirect radiative effects are accounted for with Hansen's factor of 1.4 efficacy. David]

  10. Ray Ladbury:

    Wili,
    Huh? Why would you assume an exponential profile? That makes no sense unless we are in a metastable state–e.g. like a supersaturated solution.

  11. Jonathan Gilligan:

    Thanks for this. I’ve been using your Understanding the Forecast book to teach climate change for a couple of years, and the interactive models are a fantastic pedagogical resource.

    However, both with the GEOCARB model and your nice new methane model, sometimes the tiny graphs are not the ideal output. Would it be sufficiently easy for you to provide an option to download the text output from the model runs, the way one can for MODTRAN, NCAR radiation codes, and orbital forcing?

    [Response:Sure, I'll get it set up. David]

  12. prokaryotes:

    Lovelock’s predicts that after an initial phase (from amplifying feedbacks) the climate system makes one big jump/spike and the climate stabilzes at a new hotter climate state. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MN8x9A0S_sM

    How much consideration have been done to account for Lovelock’s model input? Could this climate state switch function, like a memristive function (for non-linear properties) be modeled too?

    [Response:Well, one can make a computer program do whatever you program it to do, but it's more useful to build up a model from component pieces that you think you understand, and see if "emergent behavior" emerges, like sudden climate flips. I'm not sure exactly what mechanisms Lovelock in particular has in mind. I know of models of methane in an anoxic atmosphere, CO2 clouds in a very high-CO2 atmosphere, the snowball Earth glaciations, runaway greenhouse effects, all of these are ideas of specific tipping points which have been modeled. David]

  13. Geoff Beacon:

    I’m off to a meeting tomorrow in the UK Parliament. It a meeting about a report for cutting the carbon emissions for the City of Leeds,The economics of low carbon cities. They say

    By 2022 cities such as the Leeds City Region could cut their 1990 levels of carbon emissions by 35% by exploiting the profitable opportunities and by 40% at no net cost.

    I don’t quite believe them (“40% at no net cost”) – I think that the reduction is much too small but if the world can withstand 750ppm CO2e as mentioned above am I being unreasonable in criticising them for

    1. Relying on Kyoto/UK Government/IPCC measures and targets calculated from models with many missing feedbacks.

    2. Not mentioning lifestyles factors: beef and lamb consumption, flying away on holiday, embodied carbon in buildings and consumer goods &etc

    3. Implying that economic growth is the only route to increased employment …

    4. ….

    Me? I would say redesign our lives to avoid Hansonian dangers and tell the people of Leeds not to fly, not to eat beef or lamb, not to build using concrete and steel and not to rely on economic growth to get us out of this difficulty and find another way of creating jobs. Is this unreasonable?

    OK, this might seem off topic but I think we have to be more specific as to how we reconcile our lifestyles with the dangers of climate change. Even if the chances of the methane gun are as little as David suggests, it is an interesting thought experiment.

    P.S. My local council’s public wifi won’t let me access sites that mention the clathrate gun. It’s classed as a persoinal weapon.

    P.P.S. Sorry the link above is to a summary only. I expect you would all like to see a few hundred examples on a Marginal Abatement Curve.

  14. prokaryotes:

    Though the video i linked was not very infromative regards his to specifications. I found now better information and learned he was referring to his Daisyworld model.

    Because Daisyworld is so simplistic, having for example, no atmosphere, no animals, only one species of plant life, and only the most basic population growth and death models, it should not be directly compared to Earth. This was stated very clearly by the original authors. Even so, it provided a number of useful predictions of how Earth’s biosphere may respond to, for example, human interference. Later adaptations of Daisyworld (discussed below), which added many layers of complexity, still showed the same basic trends of the original model. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daisyworld

    [Response:Daisyworld is a fairy tale, no more really. A parable. Plants do not control Earth's climate by altering the albedo. Not even daisies. David]

  15. Chris R:

    #9 Wili,

    As stated in the text of the main article the model uses the results of Schmidt & Shindell 2003. That paper uses a chemical model that factors in NO2, O3, and OH to calculate the extension of atmospheric lifetime due to reduced opportunity for reaction of CH4.

    I have to agree with Ray Ladbury – you have no scientific grounds for assuming a steady exponential increase of CH4. i.e. here’s the opportunity for you or anyone else to state the mechanism. Hand waving allegories about ice sheet melt will not suffice – sea sediment beds are not ice sheets in a very fundamental physical sense.

  16. Hank Roberts:

    A plea if anyone knows the GISS website graphics folks,
    after looking at the methane article there:

    Pie chart full in the face — not good, but not wholly awful.
    Pie chart viewed tipped almost horizontally — bad.
    Example: http://icp.giss.nasa.gov/education/methane/intro/methanesources.gif

    “poor representation of the magnitude …. more difficult for the eye to discern the relative size of pie slices than … bar length.” http://lilt.ilstu.edu/gmklass/pos138/datadisplay/sections/goodcharts.htm

  17. Alan D. Roth:

    I think there are a lot of missing pieces here. If we don’t accept a strong feedback effect that increases methane emissions exponentially, we are intentionally ignoring factors that we know exist. When the methane is emitted from permafrost, it adds to the forcing and there is that much more carbon sitting in the permafrost that is thereby thawed. I think Isaksen et al are going in the right direction, but fall short of the mark due to conservative numbers that don’t consider the reality of methane’s capability during its lifetime in the atmosphere. And few if any models are using the real strength of methane when it is first emitted (100 times CO2) and slowly decreases to reach 72 at 20 years. If that were all there is to achieve a feedback effect it would already be huge. But that’s not all.

    As wili points out, the clathrates are there to affect greater feedback. We have less understanding of the clathrate burden in the Arctic than that of the permafrost carbon, but we know that the potential for methane emissions from the sea bed is serious.

    Then we have the dual effect of the added methane having the added RF on the Arctic sea water, which is now more available to that forcing due to the loss of sea ice, with the increased thermal energy of the Arctic waters in turn moving over the permafrost to increase thawing. I haven’t seen this dual effect described in any articles.

    However, the atmospheric chemistry situation gets a little fuzzy when we identify a feedback effect of increased ozone coming from the increase in methane. While methane as a VOC is a precursor to ozone, and ozone is a GHG, ozone is a precursor to OH which removes methane. So increased methane adds to the ozone burden but then gets removed to some extent by the extra OH from the extra ozone. I haven’t seen any good discussions of that full combination. Please provide any references that you have on this.

    Then we can’t ignore Hansen’s position that black carbon needs to be given greater consideration for its effect on Arctic albedo. The warming from the impact of black carbon causes more deforestation which is tied to increased wildfires that result in more black carbon.

    I can see a Lovelock scenario but his presentation does not provide an understanding of how this dramatic jump can happen. I think if all of the feedback effects identified above acting on each other are fully incorporated in a well-reasoned model, we would see how they could cascade into an abrupt climate change.

    I think it is extremely important that we communicate to the public a range of possibilities including worst case and some general ideas of probability. The saying “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” should be a mottoB. But we are not yet there on what really is the worst. Of course we have the political reality of the deniers denying even the mildest climate change forecast and this would add to their claims that we are “alarmists.” But we aren’t doing our job if we don’t try to communicate how bad it could be and why that worst case forecast has a strong science foundation. But we need to present a strong case and so far we are not quite there.

  18. richard pauli:

    Very nice to see something that calculates and displays.

    But it cries out for improvement — needs better usability display. Make a bigger display, layout the data labels better.. please?

  19. Nathan:

    You say, “Well, one can make a computer program do whatever you program it to do,” – so could you elaborate a little on your methane model? Did it simply use
    a GWP to translate the CH4 forcing to CO2? If yes, what was the figure you used? If not, how does it work, how does it account for indirect effects, etc? – and if it is all very complicated, could you please translate it all roughly into a 100yr GWP for us?

    [Response:Ugh, global warming potentials make me itch. No, it's direct, instantaneous radiative forcing in Watts/m2. Tell you what, I'll post the fortran code here. David]

  20. prokaryotes:

    Alan D. Roth says #17 “I can see a Lovelock scenario but his presentation does not provide an understanding of how this dramatic jump can happen.”

    The 4th video fromt his link, explains in more detail the model (reasonable). Though it is tied to the Gaia Hypothesis he created while working for NASA on the early space programme to assess mars life carrying capabilities. Earth (Gaia) is aiming for an equilibrium state and certain thresholds interact with each other. The model is a very simplistic form of our biosphere/atmosphere. http://climateforce.net/2012/01/11/bbc-james-lovelock-interview-2011/

  21. wili:

    To Ray and Chris: Basically what Alan said.

    It is my understanding that the basic mathematics of feedback is that it leads to exponential rates of growth for some period of time until a new equilibrium is reached (given a large enough source, which is what we seem to have in Arctic terrestrial and marine carbon stores.)

    I didn’t think I had to source such a basic concept to this audience, but here’s one more-or-less-randomly-chosen source:

    “Positive feedback loops act to magnify the impact of changes from outside the loop, and they often represent how the system is able to grow in exponential fashion.”

    http://books.google.com/books?id=38PJahZTzC0C&pg=PA112&lpg=PA112&dq=positive+feedback+loop+exponential&source=bl&ots=xCiKowMAUE&sig=3Jg63flm2RMOIvoy4Sht6byupLQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=eTwOT56DNtH3ggewuYnBBw&ved=0CGsQ6AEwDTgK#v=onepage&q=positive%20feedback%20loop%20exponential&f=false

    If warming is causing methane release from terrestrial permafrost and seabed methane hydrates, then the more of this GHG they release, the more warming will be available to release more methane…

    This is why I, at least, have been hanging on the rather ambiguous wording of a recent interview with Shakhova where she implies that the recent increase in methane release in the Arctic was not cause by GW. In that case, perhaps it is a self limiting, perhaps one-time burst that we can hope will not start an inevitable cycle of warming-release-warming…

    But the mechanism we “alarmists” are alarmed about is the possibility of this kind of exponential growth. That’s why the exact amount of current emissions of Arctic methane (referred to dismissively here as ‘small potatoes’) is something of a red herring, since anyone with a chess board and stories about kings and rice jumbling around in their heads knows that very large things can come from very small origins.

    http://www.singularitysymposium.com/exponential-growth.html

    What we need to know is whether the emissions, whatever their current level, have launched into a feedback loop that will lead to exponential growth over a considerable period.

    For the record, whatever the results, as far as I’m concerned, the message to the world community should be that we need to vastly reduce our own carbon emissions. But if we have set off a re-enforcing feedback loop (or an interacting set of them), we need to know that we must reduce emissions (and eventually sequester atmospheric carbon) at an exponential rate just to keep ahead of these mechanisms. I, for one again, would be greatly comforted if this were not the case, but only if it really is not the case–I am not interested in comforting but ill founded bromides.

    I, like Geoffrey, am tasked with advising a major metropolitan area which is instituting a program to reduce GHG’s. I would like to give decision makers the best, most accurate information of where we actually are, no matter how dire the facts. I would appreciate courteous, clear advise and relevant, accurate information rather than curt dismissal of real concern.

    Thank you,

    wili/John U. Harkness

    [Response:Feedbacks can lead to exponential growth, such as compound interest is really your bank balance feeding back to your bank balance, or population growth. But feedbacks can also be limited, such as the water vapor feedback on global climate, might have an exponential phase if one were starting from a dry atmosphere, say, but which will stop when the atmosphere reaches saturation with liquid or frozen water. For methane degassing in the Arctic to grow exponentially, you'd want the degassing rate to depend on itself, like empty channels somehow enable more methane to flow, or you'd want the climate to respond strongly to the methane, and the degassing to respond strongly and quickly to climate. I'd envision a methane degassing feedback to be a rise in the chronic flux, like we've already seen, in response to temperature and hydrology, rather than an exponential explosion. David]

  22. wili:

    I would also like to add to Alan’s “prepare for the worst, hope for the best” the saying of the philosopher Antonio Gramsci “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

    [Response:I like that.--Jim]

  23. Hank Roberts:

    > what really is the worst

    Physicists should recall, when constructing worst cases, that to biologists we’re well into a great extinction event, and those generally haven’t ended well for charismatic megafauna, among which this time we are included.

    Worst case? Lee Kump outlined it in 2005; Peter Ward wrote a book on it.
    Can we rule it out? Admittedly we have no evidence it’s happening and haven’t got a model that lets it happen in the computer.

    See this is the scary-movie-story line, and it’s — science:

    http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-earth-042711-105329

    End-Permian Mass Extinction in the Oceans: An Ancient Analog for the Twenty-First Century?

    JL Payne… – Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci, 2012 – annualreviews.org
    “… Sulfur isotope record based on data… suggest development of anoxia”

    Just as microorganisms have been able to do wonders when challenged by antibiotics, in just a few decades. I do wonder what they’ll find selectively advantageous (for some of them) about climate change. They seem to have managed the previous great extinction events rather well for themselves.

    It’d be ironic if the gray goo taking over the world came not from the labs of the nanotechies but from good old natural-born slime, evolving under the time pressure unique to this current extinction event.

    Who was it pointed out we’re not doing any better than the blue-green algae yet? Well, we’re faster, at least out of the gate. But they could catch up.

    Not _too_ likely, probably.

  24. Aaron Lewis:

    We no longer have large stores of agricultural commodities in storage. A methane burp can disrupt civilization by changing the weather enough to disrupt agricultural production for a very few years.

    It does not matter if it is a one-year burp or a 10-year burp, if it changes weather more than our primary agricultural crops can tolerate, then it is a real problem, regardless of how fast it is converted into CO2.

    The model does not give a hint of how a change in the concentration of methane (or CO2) will affect agriculture. Burps of methane in deep water will change the chemistry and ecology of the ocean, thereby affecting fishing (and our food supply).

    Less than 400 ppm of CO2 results in weather that is affecting food prices, and yet folks here are blithely discussing large amounts of additional greenhouse gases in the system without a word of what it will do to the food supply.

    # 10 Ray,
    We have a dynamic, non-linear feedback system (weather) with lags between input and feedback. For example, CO2 emissions were relatively linear, but retreat of Arctic sea ice both lags emissions and is not linear. My example would be the movement of a fire through a house. It may take hours to get from spark to small flame, but it might go from a small flame to “flashover” and loss of the structure in minutes.

    # 15 Chris,
    Melting ice/freezing water is a local equilibrium reaction that depends on local energy. Water/ice are subject to the same physics when they are at the top of an ice sheet or at the bottom of an ocean or in a laboratory.

    [Response:I agree that a climate change need not be eternal to be horrifying. Droughts of more than a few years have an enormous impact on agriculture. I find this the more frightening part of the climate change forcast, personally. David]

  25. John E. Pearson:

    Willi: You are conflating mathematics with the physical world. While you are correct that in mathematics exponential growth is frequently the result of instability and feedback, this need not be the case in reality. An example which is not entirely off-point is the relationship between atmospherics CO2 and temperature. A doubling of CO2 is expected to result in roughly a 3C increase in mean temperature. A second doubling of CO2 is expected to result in another 3C increase in mean temperature. This is a logarithmic increase which is far slower than the exponential increase you would posit.

  26. Doug H:

    Strangely, I couldn’t find any parameters that gave a result equivalent to a comforting hug. Playing with figures is sometimes a good recipe for sleepless nights.

  27. Edward Greisch:

    24 Aaron Lewis: Roger that. How is the winter wheat doing? It needs snow and there isn’t any yet. Does anybody know?

  28. GSW:

    @David

    Thought your video lectures for non science majors, in the links, were excellent! Relaxed, engaging and informative presentation.

    Looks like you do a good course, impressed!

  29. Chris R:

    I am not convinced about exponential growth. I consider vague talking about positive feedback loops as distinctly unenlightening – positive feedbacks can also lead to oscillation, not exponential growth. What counts is the system within which the feedback operates. Oscillation? e.g. Warming of sea bottom sediments leads to eruptions at small local areas which then destabilise surrounding areas, so they erupt, until a large area has erupted forming a ‘pock mark’ which is still visible in sonar observations millenia later. But the point is that these eruptions are self-limiting – they do stop at a point forming crater like formations. So instead of an exponential rise you get a series of ‘blips’.

    By far the largest factor in Arctic amplification at present is the loss of sea-ice and the warming that the resultant open ocean then causes to the atmosphere (Screen & Simmonds 2010). I am not aware of evidence of CH4 is playing a role at present, if you are feel free to tell me. Granted the inevitable further warming of the Arctic will cause further degradation of permafrost and CH4 emissions from boreal wetlands, both likely having a strong role in the recent uptick in atmospheric concentration of CH4 (Fisher 2011, Dlugokencky 2009). The CH4 signature of melting permafrost seems to be evident in AIRS CH4 retrievals (Yurganov 2011), but emissions from the East Siberian Shelf don’t appear to be leaving a strong signature. However at present handwaving about ‘feedback’ faces a chicken-and-egg hurdle, because most of the current Arctic warming is not due to CH4, emissions of CH4 will have to increase massively to invoke such a feedback, and all this is happening against a background of substantial ongoing forcing increases are from CO2. Dr Archer’s simple model shows that even with a 100 fold increase in Arctic CH4 emissions the result matches human emissions. I find this disturbing, but are we really going to see a 100 fold increase within the next couple of decades? If not then that gives CO2 even more of a head start.

    Pace is crucial. As discussed at Skeptical Science:
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-rising-ten-times-faster-than-petm-extinction.html
    CO2 is rising faster than the PETM. However, assuming that CH4 releases caused the second wave of the PETM (it’s my working assumption), this does not by extension mean that this secondary response of methane release will be equally as fast. It could initiate sooner, I suspect that we’re seeing the first beginnings of that, but the rapidity of warming does not mean we can then neglect the relatively slow process of that warming proceeding down the sediment column beneath the ocean. The PETM CH4 release probably took a millenium or so, at least, I get the impression from some of the comments here that people expect a release like the cork out of a champagne bottle – I see scant evidence for such an interpretation. Instead I see what Archer/Buffett/Brovkin describe as “a slow tipping point in the global carbon cycle”, slow in human terms even if rapid in geological terms.

    In his previous post Dr Archer has shown how even a massive 100 times increase in CH4 emissions creates a significant and troubling impact, but not a catastrophe. To that many posters here have waved their hands around and claimed that’s too small, with what I consider loose reasoning. Now Dr Archer has provided a simple model and we have some insinuations that it’s too conservative. These are exact mirror of the sort of responses I expect to see from denialists, to see this here is very disappointing.

    As for the extinction of humanity, humans have lived for many millenia on every continent but Antarctica without the benefit of advanced technology.

    Aaron Lewis,

    But the sediments at the bottom of the ocean don’t have moulins and basal lubrication / loss of terminal ice shelves, leading to increased flow of outlet glaciers. There’s a big difference between the commonality of physics at the microscopic scale and resultant processes at the macroscopic scale.

    Dlugokecky, 2009, Observational constraints on recent increases in the atmospheric CH4 burden.
    Fisher, 2011, Arctic methane sources: Isotopic evidence for atmospheric inputs.
    Screen & Simmonds, 2010, The central role of diminishing sea ice in recent Arctic temperature amplification.
    Yurganov, 2011, Presentation for Octobe 2011 London symposium on Arctic CH4.

  30. Ray Ladbury:

    Aaron Lewis: “My example would be the movement of a fire through a house.”

    Well, except we don’t see anything remotely like this in the paleoclimate. Perhaps a better analogous system would be the limnic eruptions in volcanic lakes in Cameroun.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limnic_eruption

  31. Ray Ladbury:

    Alan and Wili,
    NO. Positive feedback need not result in instability or exponential growth. You are using the same argument denialists use to try and deny CO2 contributes to warming!

    Some infinite series converge. Crack open your old calculus text and review.

  32. BillC:

    @David and Gavin’s response to my #7. If the methane sink is dominated by the tropical troposphere (due to OH associated with very high water vapor concentrations and temps?) then will arctic methane emissions persist longer as methane than “average world methane” emissions? IE have a higher GWP? Does this matter quantitatively and is it reflected in the computer model? just curious

    [Response:The atmosphere mixes on a time frame of a year (between hemispheres) or less (within hemispheres). Since the methane concentration is rising on a time frame which is long compared to this mixing, the concentration of the whole atmosphere changes together, which the model approximates by just having a single number representing the average atmospheric concentration. David]

  33. Hank Roberts:

    > Plants do not control Earth’s climate by altering the albedo.
    > Not even daisies. David]

    Baaah! https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Arealclimate.org+albedo+sheep

  34. John E. Pearson:

    There have been several questions regarding the details of the model now. I thought I would test my understanding of it as I thought the explanation was pretty clear in the first place. This won’t help mathaphobes. I trust David will correct me if I say anything too egregious. Let M = [CH_4] = globally averaged concentration of methane. This is assumed to occur instantaneously. The model has no spatial variation. The model solves a single differential equation for the time rate of change of M:

    dM/dt = sources – sinks

    sources = chronic source + spike

    Chronic source = 0 0.188 for t before -50 years.

    [Response:Natural emissions from wetlands mostly. The number comes from Schmidt and Shindell. Then at T = -50 years and for the rest of the simulation, you get natural + chronic human emissions, like the real world today. David]

    Spike = M_S/duration * impulse

    where M_S is the concentration associated with the amount of methane released:
    M_s = Amount of methane released/Volume of atmosphere

    impulse is a step function that is 0 for negative time and t> duration and 1 for
    0<t<duration. That is the spike turns on at time t= zero and off at time t=duration.

    sinks is the instantaneous concentration of methane divided by the lifetime of methane, tau_M:

    sinks = M/tau_M

    tau_M = a function(M,CO2, …) documented in Schmidt & Shindle 2003.

    [Response:In the Schmidt paper they tabulated the lifetime as a function of the methane concentration only. This was for an oxic atmosphere, so presumably one could extend the parameterization to include O2, and probably other stuff like CO concentration etc. But in the on-line model it's only a function of methane concentration. David]

    One can learn something about tau_M by playing with the model. For small M tau_M = 7 1/2 years.
    For large M it increases tau_M ~ sqrt(M)

    As far as I can tell the CH4 doesn't decay into CO2 in this model. The plot of CO2 does not change when the model parameters change?

    [Response:You're right. I do have a CO2-only model here but it's primarily intended for long time scales, doesn't do the short-term transient as well as more complex carbon cycle models (Archer et al., Ann. Rev. 37:117–34, doi 10.1146/annurev.earth.031208.100206). The trick with simply adding the methane decomposition to the CO2 is accounting for how much goes into the ocean etc. Ray has asked for this, too, it's a good idea and I'll get to it. The bottom line I got is that the radiative impact of the accumulating CO2 from the decomposing methane was similar to the RF of the elevated methane concentration (Archer and Buffett, Geophys., Geochem., Geosystems. 6(3) doi:10.1029/2004GC000854). But you're right, it's neglected in this model. David]

    The radiative forcing due to CH4 is calculated to an NCAR model. It wasn't clear to me whether that model includes water vapor feedback or not.

    [Response:Water vapor feedback (warming leads to more water vapor leads to more warming) is considered a part of the climate response, not part of the radiative forcing, by definition. The source of water in the stratosphere from the hydrogens that methane carries is part of the "efficacy" of the methane forcing, a factor of 1.4 from Hansen, which is included in the on-line model. David]

  35. Geoff Beacon:

    David says:

    Plants do not control Earth’s climate by altering the albedo.
    Not even daisies.

    But plant albedo has been under discussion

    “Afforestation projects in high latitudes would be counterproductive in mitigating global-scale warming” (due to albedo effects). (Bala, G. et al. 2007 PNAS104: 6550)

    I attend the Parliamentary event (see #13), and though the report’s authors were at the beginning of a process, had some way to go, but were at least thoughtful and not dogmatic – I was pleasantly surprised. But time will tell as their project develops.

    Others there may have stuck too closely to the UK Government line. e.g. The UK has cut emissions substantially since 1990. But I believe this ignores the embodied carbon in imports and the windfall brought about by using the UK’s reserves of natural gas in new powerstations.

    [Response:Sure plants affect climate, but they are not the primary driver as in Daisyworld. David]

  36. wili:

    Thanks for all the comments. Without accusing my interlocutors of ‘hand waving’ nor comparing them to denialists, I would just like to point out that I did not say that feed back HAD to result in exponential growth, only that is one likely outcome, and that it would be nice to see that incorporated into such a model. Ultimately, many feedbacks would need to be taken into consideration. Presumably it was failure to appreciate the power of some such feedbacks that lead to the stunning failure of researchers to accurately predict the remarkable speed of sea ice loss in the Arctic.

    I understand that modeling multiple feedbacks, positive and negative, can get messy, but that is what we are likely to face as the global industrial society continues to churn out GHGs at ever higher rates.

    Besides the obvious negative feedback that it takes twice the CO2 to produce a set amount of warming, we have slow processes like weathering of mountains, organic material falling into deep ocean bottoms, deep rooted plants creating soil and a few others. But there are many other real and potential positive feedbacks, many of which may work much more quickly than these beyond permafrost melt and dissolving of seabed hydrates:

    Other soil types drying out and releasing their carbon
    Ocean waters warming and acidifying enough that they stop absorbing and start emitting carbon
    Forests, grasses, peat, tundra…drying up and catching fire

    And of course the faster ‘Charney’ feedbacks of albedo and water vapor

    All of these and others feeding back on each other are what is likely to at some point drive us rather rapidly (but not in the Hollywood “Day After Tomorrow” sense) to some new much hotter equilibrium if we keep pushing more anthropogenic carbon forcing into the system. The whole world should be hopping nervous and alarmed that we are pushing hard on a system that we don’t fully understand and that could respond in ways we can’t fully anticipate. Instead, serious discussion of this situation seems to be restricted to this and a couple other sites, where serious concern seems to be met with ridicule.

    I hope a carbon feedback doesn’t happen at all.

    I hope that to the extent it does we get our collective… wits together immediately to bring down carbon emissions faster than any methane and CO2 that may start erupting from permafrost and seabed at ever growing rates.

    I hope we can replant enough grassland and forest to draw down some of the carbon we have foolishly spewed into the atmosphere.

    In fact, I have done more than hoped–I have worked on all of these goals an others for years.

    But I also hope that this can be a place where concerned citizens can ask reasonable questions without being dismissed as ‘hand wavers’ or be compared to denialists.

  37. prokaryotes:

    Re plant albedo..

    Apart from changes in the C cycle, changes in ecosystem energy balance can directly affect regional climate, and in the case of permafrost thaw may be inextricably linked with the C cycle changes already discussed. Changes in albedo brought about by changes in plant species composition, length of the snow season, lake area, or fire frequency can have positive or negative effects on climate warming. Increases in shrub cover in graminoid-dominated tundra ecosystems result in greater absorption of solar radiation in summer and winter, leading to local warming in the summertime (Chapin et al. 2005).

    Similar patterns can be expected as the treeline moves north. Changes in ecosystem albedo can also have a cooling effect. Increased fire frequency in boreal forests alters the proportion of forest dominated by broadleaf deciduous trees. These early-successional species reflect more solar radiation in summer than do the needle-leaved evergreen species they replace, and expose high-albedo snow on the ground in winter.

    These long-term albedo effects can offset increased warming from both the transfer of C to the atmosphere from fire and the short-term decrease in albedo immediately following fire, and may actually cool the climate (Randerson et al. 2006). Lake or wetland expansion may serve to regionally warm or cool the climate, depending on the type of vegetation replaced. http://www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/resources/Schuur.pdf

  38. sidd:

    Pro. Archer has kindly shared the code.May I ask if replacing the line

    CH4_src = CH4_src + source_spike

    by

    CH4_src = CH4_src + A*exp(b/tau)

    where the second term on the right represents
    an exponentially rising source would satisfy
    some of the commenters ?

    sidd

    [Response:Well, CO2 emissions, and concentrations in the atmosphere, are growing exponentially, as flux(t) = flux(t=0) * exp(t/tau). Exponential growth blows up, in some sense you don't need a model to tell you that. For methane, I haven't really bought into the idea of exponentially growing emissions, since I think they would be limited by melting rates, heat transport, carbon availability, stuff like that. So I wasn't really motivated to construct the model that way. I didn't have a scenario in mind that I wanted to simulate. David]

  39. sidd:

    I post this twice because i am not sure the first attempt
    was successful.

    Prof. Archer has kindly shared the code

    Is it the case that replacing the line

    CH4_src = CH4_src + source_spike

    with something like

    CH4_src = CH4_src + A*dexp(b/tau)

    would represent an exponentially growing source ?

    sidd

  40. Chris R:

    Wili,

    You actually said: “The most likely trajectory of increasing methane release from land and sea Arctic sources is exponential…” That is rather specific.

    I wasn’t lightly using the term ‘hand waving’ and likening behaviour to denialists, I was saying that because it’s what I’ve been seeing and accrued ire from reading all the coments over the last few posts drove me to say it. Asking reasonable questions is fine, but when the denialists try to do that their agenda shouts out from behind the questions, I felt I was seeing similar behaviour here. Those comments weren’t aimed solely at you – had they been I would have named you specifically (CCPO is one that comes to mind more readily).

    I actually think that we’re seeing the start of Arctic carbon cycle feedbacks in the post 2007 rise of methane. But I am adamant that the science is clear – we don’t know enough to say with certainty how this will all pan out. If everyone jumps on the catastrophe bandwagon this will have two negative effects:

    1) It will foster a feeling of hopelessness amongst the scientifically uninformed public, leading to the “It’s too late to do anything” attitude.
    2) If wrong then in the years to come the denialists will be able to say that AGW has been overstated.

    There’s enough well evidenced (known knowns) bad news with AGW to leave the Arctic carbon feedback as an NB footnote at present – It will kick in, although we don’t know when and how much, and it may be very bad. Those statements are undeniable in the context of the evidence so far. But why start from the ‘very bad’ angle? I’ve seen numerous posters here who seem to me to be doing that – as I’ve had to tell too many denialists – the door of uncertainty swings both ways.

  41. Sharon Black Hawkins-Fauster:

    I agree totally with 17 Alan D. Roth and 21 + 36 Wili, The Precautionary Principle is the only sensible thing to apply when life on earth is at stake. There is a time and place for sounding an “alarm” and if we are ever to motivate our politicians to act to reduce the CO2 with much stronger actions; they must start thinking beyond their next election and remember they too have children and grandchildren. I may be and old woman (72-12) but I am not brain dead yet and have some knowledge of physics and chemistry. However, knowing that models have underestimated observed effects should be a warning to those of you who are so afraid to be labeled an alarmist that you are going too far in the other direction. We need an alarm to motivate those who would deny that global warming is very serious; from 12 years of reading all I can on this subject, I believe Roth and Wili have got it right. So, I thank Dr. A.D. Roth and Wili profusely for standing up to the ultra-conservative climate scientists — time is running out.

  42. SecularAnimist:

    Sharon Black Hawkins-Fauster wrote: “… those of you who are so afraid to be labeled an alarmist that you are going too far in the other direction …”

    I think this question of whether climate scientists are being overly reticent or conservative in speaking out publicly about worst-case scenarios, as well as emerging empirical evidence suggestive of such scenarios being realized, due to a fear of being labeled “alarmist”, is getting to be a MAJOR question about the public discourse surrounding AGW.

  43. Mark F:

    What’s rather disturbing is that the radiative forcing values produced by rapid releases of tens of gigatons of methane (which are “highly possible” in the ESAS, according to Shakova) are considerably larger in this model than what I’d thought previously. I’ve taken comfort in the fact that warming caused by multiplied methane levels is estimated to increase logarithmically, much more slowly than in a linear increase, but it looks like the speed of release plays a decisive role.

    But shouldn’t indirect forcings such as from increased tropospheric ozone and water vapor (included in your model, if I understand correctly) occur only later, after changes in the atmospheric chemistry have taken place?

    A recent study by Isaksen et al. indicates total radiative forcing (including indirect forcing from ozone etc.) in a scenario with 7 x current CH4 levels (which equals an increase of 30 Gt) to be 3.6 W/m-2. (Much of this forcing is indirect and would occur later.)

    http://www.atmos.washington.edu/academics/classes/2011Q2/558/IsaksenGB2011.pdf
    (see Table 2, bottom of page 8)
    By contrast, your model indicates an _immediate_ RF of almost 5 W/m-2 for a 30 Gt methane spike lasting 10 years. Does the speed of release really enhance the warming this much?

    I really hope that the “alarmists” are wrong this time. The oft-quoted ratio of 1 W/m-2 = 0,8 degree (C) would yield a warming of almost four degrees in the above-mentioned scenario (discounting any counter-forcing from global dimming). A runaway climate change could ensue during this decade if abrupt methane releases approach the magnitudes labeled “highly possible” by Semiletov and Shakova.

  44. Chris R:

    #41 Sharon Black Hawkins-Fauster,

    I’m not a climate scientist, but I’m very alarmed by some evidence about AGW. e.g.
    http://dosbat.blogspot.com/2011/11/hansens-climate-dice.html
    I just don’t think that the evidence warrants alarm about methane. Concern? Yes. Alarm? No.

    [Response:Well, We Are Climate Scientists!. (Appropos of nothing, you just said the magic words). David]

  45. Hank Roberts:

    > whether climate scientists are being overly reticent or conservative

    As expected, “why didn’t you TELL US EARLIER??” starts to be heard.

    [Response:That and "You should have known better" and "We however knew it all along"--Jim]

  46. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    I couldn’t help notice that the first 3 graphics look like the demographic transition theory: (1) high birth and death rates (keeping the population increase low and fairly flat); followed by (2) lowering death rates (due to modern medicine, nutrition, etc) but with high birth rates continuing (bec culturally people were used to having really large families), greatly increasing the population; followed by (3) low death and birth rates (when people realized nearly all of their children would survive to adulthood), again flattening the curve. Seems like not much happened, but that middle phase greatly increased the population…even tho the increase then leveled out later.

    If atmospheric methane did not degrade to CO2 etc, then we wouldn’t have so much to worry about.

    [Response:Or if the lifetime of methane was longer, like N2O (150 years) and our friend CO2. David]

  47. David Lewis:

    @ 41, 42:

    Dr. Archer and all scientists involved with the creation and maintenance of this website are providing a valuable public service.

    I don’t tend to agree that “climate scientists are being overly reticent or conservative in speaking out publicly about worst-case scenarios, as well as emerging empirical evidence suggestive of such scenarios being realized”, especially these days. Its too general of a critique anyway. You need to name names. People who think Dr. Archer isn’t “alarmist” enough sound like they haven’t the slightest idea of the case he’s been making for many years.

    There’s an issue somewhere though. My first understanding that there was a global warming problem came when I participated in the intense debates about what was going to end up as the final statement of the 1988 Toronto Changing Atmosphere conference. (See: http://www.cmos.ca/ChangingAtmosphere1988e.pdf ) There was something about what the top flight scientists in attendance were (and were not) willing to say and put down on paper that profoundly disturbed me.

    The scientists weren’t holding back as they described how grave the problem was. There was no big dispute as this sentence: “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war” was approved as first thing anyone would see in the document.

    Now you can get a bit more “worst-case” than this, (see Hansen’s AGU presentation where he discusses the “Venus syndrome”) but does it matter?

    That 1988 climate conference hit the front pages worldwide. It took place within a few days of Hansen’s famous testimony to Congress. Hansen wasn’t the only guy wandering around at that time trying to figure out how to put this issue onto the front pages.

    Where things fell apart, to my mind, was when delegates hashed out what they were going to tell civilization it should do. Consider the call for action in the Toronto statement, keeping in mind the assessment that civilization faced consequences that could only be exceeded by a global nuclear war. What you see is let’s tell them to see if they can maybe head directly into this catastrophe a bit more slowly. Revkin was at the conference and he thought this was the intended takeaway, as he published a piece in Discover that ended with a quote from McElroy saying this. http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/23/1988-2008-climate-then-and-now/

    Now the statement did contain: “Stabilizing the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 is an imperative goal”, and even without a ppm target this sounded great. But the roadmap to that, “reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 20% by 2005″ i.e. 17 years later, wasn’t regarded even by delegates then as something that was reasonable given the science. But scientists felt it was somehow necessary for them to hold back on telling civilization it had to either stop using fossil fuels or eliminate the resulting emissions of CO2.

    Things have improved drastically in the calls-for-action-top-scientists-are-willing-to-sign-off-on department over the decades, but, it is in this area where current discussion about scientists being “reticent” resonates with the feelings I had back then and to some extent still have.

    But never mind what I say. Dr. Kevin Anderson, former Director of the Tyndall Centre in the UK, is wandering around talking about a “widespread view” among the top flight scientists hanging about at his level worldwide that if warming occurs even to the extent of 4 degrees C, the changes will be “incompatible with an organized global community” among other things which include that the planetary system would then have “a high probability of not being stable”, i.e. the type of thing under discussion in this methane thread. Now according to him, Tyndall studies of how fast the fossil fueled infrastructure is expanding coupled with their assessment of how valid “all” studies of how quickly this could be dismantled and a low carbon, carbon free, or even negative carbon infrastructure substituted mean civilization is almost certainly already committed to 4 degrees as of now.

    Its in what has been allowed to enter public debate in the calls for action department, he says, where there is some room to criticize “climate scientists”. (There are “notable exceptions” I’ve heard him say) He claims climate scientists have not objected strenuously enough as inadequate or erroneous plans for supposedly adequate action are allowed into authoritative reports, i.e. the kind of thing I first noticed in 1988. Anderson puts it this way:

    “I think the climate scientific community has hugely underplayed the size of the problem, knowingly, because its very hard to come up and say what you really think, because people don’t want to hear the message”

    I wrote a post on Anderson’s views that has a number of links for anyone wishing to study what he’s saying in more detail. http://theenergycollective.com/david-lewis/73522/there-really-nothing-be-gained-talking-about-climate-change

  48. prokaryotes:

    How does the model account for the increase in CH4 lifetime as concentrations increase is due to the exhaustion of OH radicals, which
    are the primary tropospheric oxidizing agents [Levy, 1971]? And since the paper cited assumes “NO and NO2 can be considered to be in equilibrium” (Does this imply stable values ?).

    Since we can assume a wetland increase (mainly from warming induced SLR ) and also following more anoxic conditions, as we can observe worldwide “ocean dead zones” etc. How does the models deal with this observations?

    Anaerobic microbial processes including denitrification, methanogenesis, and methanotrophy are responsible for releasing greenhouse gases (N2O, CH4, CO2) into the atmosphere (Schlesinger, 1997).

    Greenhouse warming by nitrous oxide and methane in the Proterozoic Eon

    A lack of dissolved O2 and sulfate in the deep ocean could have produced a high methane flux from marine sediments, as much as 10–20 times today’s methane flux from land. The photochemical lifetime of CH4 increases as more CH4 is added to the atmosphere, so CH4 concentrations of up to 100 ppmv are possible during this time. The combined greenhouse effect of CH4 and N2O could have provided up to 10° of warming http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1472-4669.2011.00286.x/full

  49. flxible:

    re David Lewis’ quote from Dr. Kevin Anderson:

    ” … its very hard to come up and say what you really think, because people don’t want to hear the message”

    No, “people” want to hear a solution, and “stop burning FF” is not a solution that has any relation to the real human world, especially with regard to the economics of that mandate. It’s cold right here right now, I could spend my limited pension income on electric heat, which in my area comes from clean hydro power, and forgo buying food and medcine, or I can burn free wood. Pardon me for wanting to eat and stay warm at the same time I pay rapt attention to the message and await the “powers that be” to start listening.

    Methane is not the tipping point, human society and the power of money is the tipping point.

  50. Hank Roberts:

    >> “stop burning FF” is not a solution
    > I can burn free wood

    So you have one part of the solution.
    Wood is not fossil fuel.

    You add no net carbon to the atmosphere; the tree’s carbon came from the atmosphere, and goes back.

    Lucky you live where you can do that.
    http://www.sparetheair.org/Make-a-Difference/Spare-the-Air-Every-Day/Winter.aspx

    Sorry for the digression.

  51. Ray Ladbury:

    flxible,
    In an ideal world, you would have alternatives to fossil fuels–we’ve known they’d be needed since at least the ’60s. However, research has suffered from lack of funding and lack of insight among policy makers.

    The dangers of climate change, which we’ve known about since the 80s, ought to have been a spur to research as well. However, denialism and oily money have managed to delay a response by two and a half decades. As a result, I am afraid we will have no choice but to conserve–even to the point of hardship–if we are to buy enough time to find solutions.

    The alternative is 1)to run out of critical fossil fuels, and 2)irreparably damage the carrying capacity of the planet even as our human population crests at 9-10 billion people. And that would be ugly.

  52. John E. Pearson:

    Mark F 43:

    Try running the model with these parameters:

    Chronic Methane source flux: 0.2 GT/year

    Spike size: 140 Gt
    Spike Duration: 100 years.

    This results in an increase in [CH_4] of roughly a factor of 7 from about 2 to about 14. The radiative flux contribution from methane increases from about 1W/m^2 to about 4.7W/m^2 which seems in rough accord with the paper you linked to.

    I haven’t checked your assertion that a 7 fold increase in [CH_4] corresponds to an increase in the mass of atmospheric CH_4 of about 30Gt but I assume it is correct. To reach a steady value of [CH_4] = 14 ppm requires a significant flux over time so that in fact even though the net change in atmospheric CH_4 is, say, 30GT, to reach that required about 160Gt of CH_4 released into the atmosphere.

    [Response:Handy conversion factor that a gigaton ppm of carbon in our atmosphere is pretty close to 2 Gton. So CH4 today is 1.8 ppm, that would be about 3.6 Gton, multiply that by 7 to get close to 30 Gton. Beware mass of carbon versus mass of CH4, however; that’s why chemists prefer mole units. David

  53. flxible:

    Soot and particulates are not part of the problem? Lack of research? I could almost say Hank and Ray are part of the “denialator conspiracy”. I’ve been walking the walk since the 60′s, the addiction by humanity generally to growth and consumption is, and has been, the problem, not lack of research funding to find a ‘techno-fix’. As I said, methane is not the tipping point, human society and the power of money is the tipping point, and we’ve passed it.

  54. Hank Roberts:

    flxible:

    Nobody in this conversation is the enemy you believe you are fighting.

  55. Ray Ladbury:

    Flxible,
    Hmm, Can you say where either I or Hank said soot or particulates were not a potential issue? Or where either of us have denied any sort of peer-reviewed evidence?
    No? Then, would that be what is known in common parlance as a LIE?

    The only thing I can point to that might have triggered such abuse is that I responded to your post. Rest assured that this is the last time I will make that mistake.

  56. SecularAnimist:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “In an ideal world, you would have alternatives to fossil fuels …”

    In the real world, we have bountiful alternatives to fossil fuels.

    That’s exactly why the fossil fuel corporations have devoted so much effort to obstructing and delaying any effort to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

    That’s why their campaign of deceit and denial is built around two “big lies” — first, that the problem does not exist; and second, that the solution does not exist.

  57. flxible:

    Yes Ray, here’s the pointers >
    you: “However, research has suffered from lack of funding and lack of insight among policy makers.”
    and Hank: “Wood is not fossil fuel.You add no net carbon to the atmosphere; the tree’s carbon came from the atmosphere, and goes back.”

    My original post was a response to the quote from Dr. Kevin Anderson about the reticence of scientists: ”…. its very hard to come up and say what you really think, because people don’t want to hear the message.”
    “People” have heard the message, and it’s really a question needing an answer. I have no dog in any fight, nor ‘enemies’ in this discussion, on either side of the methane question, but living below a receding glacier, which supplies water and electricity to an area where clear-cut logging is a mainstay and a lot of folks burn wood for heat, I can see both of you as not supplying any more solutions than the denialators who insist that we really need to study things more.

  58. wili:

    Thanks to Chris R at #40 for a thoughtful response.

    “I actually think that we’re seeing the start of Arctic carbon cycle feedbacks in the post 2007 rise of methane. But I am adamant that the science is clear – we don’t know enough to say with certainty how this will all pan out.”

    On this we can agree.

    “If everyone jumps on the catastrophe bandwagon this will have two negative effects:

    1) It will foster a feeling of hopelessness amongst the scientifically uninformed public, leading to the “It’s too late to do anything” attitude.
    2) If wrong then in the years to come the denialists will be able to say that AGW has been overstated.”

    Here, you presume to know exactly how people will respond to particular a particular statement. I claim no such omiscience and choose to try to find out what is really going on no matter where the line of questioning leads without self-sensoring based on some faulty assumption that I know how others might respond.

    Meanwhile, Skeptical Science has an interesting post on the subject (apologies if this has already been linked):

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/arctic-methane-outgassing-e-siberian-shelf-part1.html

    The conclusion:

    “Controversy, however, does not invite complacency. Any increased Arctic methane flux, tapping into vast stores of steadily destabilising methane hydrate, has the potential to keep going over a considerable time-period as a response to warmer (and rising) sea temperatures. We certainly do not need any feedbacks that bring additional natural sources of powerful greenhouse gases to the table, yet that is exactly what we risk up in the Siberian Arctic. The big questions that we now need the answers to are for how long has this outgassing been going on, does it appear to be intensifying and how might a colossal and rapid outburst occur. These are among the points we will be raising with the people on the ground and the answers from our interview with Dr Natalia Shakhova, part two of this post, will soon be appearing, here on Skeptical Science.”

    So that’s a place to keep an eye on for perhaps the next clues.

  59. Aaron Lewis:

    Re 27 December numbers for US crops are at http://usda01.library.cornell.edu/usda/current/CropProd/CropProd-01-12-2012.pdf. However, numbers for China are harder to get, and China is a large producer/ consumer.

  60. Aaron Lewis:

    Re #30 Ray,
    When in the paleoclimate record were the changes in GHG concentrations so rapid? When in the record was the climate system so far out of equilibrium?

  61. Andy Lee Robinson:

    An obvious idea would be to try to collect as much of this methane as possible and use it as fuel. If it is going to be released anyway, then it would be better to convert it to CO2 to reduce forcing, while also getting the benefit of its energy, helping to keep existing gas/oil reserves in the ground for longer, and give more time to switch to renewable methods.

    Covering vast areas of tundra with polythene sheeting would be a bad idea – it would just make a massive greenhouse and accelerate thawing, and wildlife would not be impressed at all!

    If a comprehensive survey of the tundra could be made that could identify significant outgassing from cracks in the permafrost cover, then perhaps they could be covered by domes to capture the methane which is about half as dense as air. Care would need to be taken to purify it out of an explosive mixture. (Perhaps the same technique could be used above cattle sheds?)

    We saw clathrates forming in the Deepwater Horizon clean up footage by the robotic subs, and they frustrated the first attempt of covering the blowout preventer with a dome because they blocked the too-small exit drillpipe. However, in shallower shelf waters where methane is outgassing from decomposing clathrate, collecting it should be much easier, though it is probably outgassing from so many places that it would be impossible to collect enough to make a difference, or be economically viable.

    I can only speculate without further information from the field.

  62. Hank Roberts:

    f, you wrote above:

    “… ‘stop burning FF’ is not a solution …. It’s cold right here right now, …I can burn free wood. Pardon me for wanting to eat and stay warm …”

    It sounds like you’re having a rough time, and the economy is sitting on many of us retired, or will.

    The solution is for us to stop increasing fossil carbon — unnaturally fast — in the atmosphere and oceans, and find wayss to remove the current excess — and to do that, also, unnaturally fast.

    90 percent of the big fish are gone.
    Almost nobody alive today is old enough to remember how it’s changed.

  63. Meow:

    @60: Also for Ray: (1) When, and under what relevant arctic temperatures, were the permafrost and clathrate carbon deposits formed? (2) Since the deposits formed, have relevant arctic temperatures significantly exceeded formation-time levels? (3) If so, for how long?

  64. Aaron Lewis:

    re 29 Chris,
    When we first saw lakes suddenly drain through the Greenland Ice sheet, folks did not recognize what was going on. Have we looked for such events in shallow Arctic waters? Would we recognize the evidence for such events if we saw it?

  65. Celso Copstein:

    I respectfully disagree partially of the methane emission model proposed by Prof.. Archer for the following reasons:

    1. The “worst case scenario” that currently exists is the emission of most of methane located at the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, which is already beginning to happen. The potential release of this methane is 1400 Gt. (1400 Billion tons) and not 200 Gton C over 100 years, acording to this model .

    This vision not mention the influence of this release to produce higher temperature and the increase at arctic albedo and the consequent release of CH4 and CO2 from permafrost exists at land at Siberia and North America , which is already melting and has a potential for release of 1672 Gt of Carbon.

    According Shakhova:

    “The total amount of carbon preserved within the ESAS as organic matter and ready to release CH4 from seabed deposits is predicted to be ∼1400 Gt. Release of only a small fraction of this reservoir, which was sealed with impermeable permafrost for thousands of years, would significantly alter the annual CH4 budget and have global implications, because the shallowness of the ESAS allows the majority of CH4 to pass through the water column and escape to the atmosphere.”

    Shakhova, N., I. Semiletov, I. Leifer, A. Salyuk, P. Rekant, and D. Kosmach (2010), Geochemical and geophysical evidence of methane release over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, J. Geophys. Res., 115, C08007, doi:10.1029/2009JC005602.
    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2010/2009JC005602.shtml

    According Isaksen:
    The atmospheric release of large concentrations of methane can cause an increase in it degradation time to CO2:

    “Since reactionCH4 + OH → H2O + CH3 (R1) also represents a significant loss path for OH, additional CH4 emission will suppress OH and thereby increase the CH4 lifetime, implying further increases in atmospheric CH4 concentrations [Isaksen and Hov, 1987; Prather et al., 2001]. This represents a positive chemical feedback, with a feedback factor estimated to be about 1.4 (uncertainty range 1.3 to 1.7) for current atmospheric conditions [Prather et al., 2001]. The nonlinearity in the chemical system could result in a significantly enhanced feedback factor for large CH4 emissions causing large perturbations [Isaksen, 1988].”

    Isaksen, I. S. A., M. Gauss, G. Myhre, K. M. Walter Anthony, and C. Ruppel (2011), Strong atmospheric chemistry feedback to climate warming from Arctic methane emissions, Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 25, GB2002, doi:10.1029/2010GB003845
    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2011/2010GB003845.shtml

    Also:

    “Increased global emissions of methane has caused a 26% decrease in hydroxyl in the atmosphere with t he consequence that methane now persist longer in the atmosphere, before getting transformed into the less potent CO2. This means that concentrated releases of methane, as would occur over the arctic have a far greater GHC potency than IPCC assumption, rising to as much as 120x CO2 over the first 20 years.”

    http://www.flipdocs.com/showbook.aspx?ID=10004692_698290
    http://www.arctic-methane-emergency-group.org/#/agu-brochure/4558306797
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5953/716.full

    And according to ARCTIC-METHANE-EMERGENCY-GROUP,

    we are compelled to stabilize Arctic sea ice and Arctic Methane without delay.

    http://www.arctic-methane-emergency-group.org

    This I agree.
    Celso Copstein

  66. Hank Roberts:

    > would we recognize the evidence ….?

    How’s this look to you? it’s from 2008, a summary to date.
    Seems to me that a comparison to the evidence described here would be telling.
    If the isotope signature suddenly appears, I’d expect that change will be noticed, as it’s been looked for for quite a while.

    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2008AGUFM.U34A..04W
    “… none of the ice datasets published to date support the clathrate gun. Alternatively, we suggest that permafrost and varying onshore thermogenic gas seepages may play a more critical role in the palaeo-atmospheric methane sources and budgets.”

  67. Hank Roberts:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/rcm.5290/full
    is interesting science; it’s lab tests of the usefulness of the isotope ratios.

  68. prokaryotes:

    Re Andy Lee Robinson “Covering vast areas of tundra with polythene sheeting would be a bad idea ..”

    Covering vast areas of potential methane releasing wetlands/peatlands/thawing permafrost etc with Biochar pieces could be a good idea. You could use planes and animal herds to do the job. http://climateforce.net/2012/01/12/geoengineering-potential-biochar-application/

    [Response:You might want to think that through a little more.--Jim]

  69. Ray Ladbury:

    Aaron Lewis, Explain to me why the release of clathrates should depend on the rate of warming rather than the temperature of the ocean depths?

    Meow, Are you contending that the clathrate formations are unprecedented? Because if they are not, then certainly we have seen higher temperatures in the oceans without any indication of a clathrate gun.

    Look, guys, I freely admit this is worrying–it is the first indication on a large scale of the planet becoming a source rather than a sink of carbon. However, there is nothing in the paleoclimate to indicate a rapid, large-scale, catastrophic release of CH4. There are certainly enough challenges posed by the current situation–not least of which is convincing national governments of the need to take action and that action can be efficacious–without looking for monsters under the bed.

    Science must of needs be conservative. It is the only way our voice will remain trustworthy.

  70. Ray Ladbury:

    SA,
    To say we have the solution to a sustainable energy infrastructure at present is rather over optimistic. We have nothing that will work for transport on a large scale. We have no solutions for a reliable grid based on renewables. It does not pay to gloss over the difficulties.

  71. Meow:

    @69 (Ray):

    Meow, Are you contending that the clathrate formations are unprecedented? Because if they are not, then certainly we have seen higher temperatures in the oceans without any indication of a clathrate gun.

    I am not contending anything. I want to learn how much the paleo data tell us about the potential for significant arctic carbon release. Very roughly, has most arctic carbon remained sequestered over long periods under higher relevant temperatures than any we’re likely to see in the near term? What’re the error bars? Has anything changed (e.g., significant additional deposits in vulnerable places) that might suggest a different response than the ones the paleo record documents?

    Can you point me to some papers about arctic carbon’s paleohistory?

    CAPTCHA: 136. atuolyme

  72. Lawrence Coleman:

    Just been reading about the discovery of previously postulated compounds in the atmosphere called Criegee biradicals. These compounds natually released by plants turn nitrogen and sulfur dioxide into nitrates and sulphate thereby cleaning the atmosphere. Now that we have detected their existance using a synchrotron pure light source we should reasonably soon be able to manipulate these compounds into forms that can be used for climate change mitigation. If we can build a synthetic molecule intermediary that does not require a plant source (because flora on this planet is dwindling rapidly) then in theory we can begin to add this to the growing arsenal of measures we alredy have. Just food for thought!

  73. Chris R:

    #64 Aaron Lewis,

    Do you have evidence that melt lakes have not been forming and draining in summer on the Greenland ice sheet before observations began? As with Shakhova & Semiletov’s (S&S) observations, and most likely as with the Svalbard clathrates – these processes may well have been going on for milenia. After all in the case of the ESS S&S themselves accept that the beginning of the dissolution process may have started when the ESS was inundated with prior to the holocene, some 10,000 years ago:

    In S&S 2010 they coclude:

    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.

    To Andrew Revkin they said:

    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.

    From my reading their disagreement with Dmitrenko is flawed. Dmitrenko’s modelling of sub-sea permafrost changes finds that “after 25 years of summer seafloor warming (as observed from 1985 to 2009), the upper boundary of permafrost deepens only by ~1 m.”

    #63 Meow,

    Jakobsson, 2011, “New insights on Arctic Quaternary climate variability from palaeo-records and numerical modelling”

    Figure 2 – 60degN insolation was around 40Watts/m^2 (~10%) greater than the present for well over 2000 years at the start of the holocene (~8k years ago). Text – Drift wood finds and beach ridge formations (no ice-shelves) from the north coast of Greenland and Ellesmere island have been made. This indicates that there were very low summer sea-ice levels during that time. Siberian coastal sea-ice is likely to have been very reduced in summer and may have been lower than the present (due to increased insolation vs today’s forcings).

    There is no evidence of substantial methane clathrate decomposition during that time. e.g. Hank’s post #66.

  74. Chris R:

    #65 Celso Copstein,

    Shakhova et al, 2008, “Anomalies of methane in the atmosphere over the East Siberian shelf: Is there any sign of methane leakage from shallow shelf hydrates?” AGU Conference presentation.

    The total value of ESS carbon pool is, thus, not less than 1,400 Gt of carbon…

    Since the area of geological disjunctives (fault zones, tectonically and seismically active areas) within the Siberian Arctic shelf composes not less than 1-2% of the total area and area of open taliks (area of melt through permafrost), acting as a pathway for methane escape within the Siberian Arctic shelf reaches up to 5-10% of the total area, we consider release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage as highly possible for abrupt release at any time.

    i.e. 50Gton not 1400Gton.

    See my reply to Aaron Lewis for a crucial caveat to the 2010 S&S paper.

    Isaksen et al & Schmidt/Shindell do not support the quote you make (“…rising to as much as 120x CO2 over the first 20 years”). That quote is from an Arctic Methane Emergency Group report and is referenced “2″, this is a Youtube video by Stephen Chu, it does not support that claim (I’ve just watched it).

    For context – IPCC CH4 forcing currently around 0.5 Watts/m^2. Isaksen table 2 gives forcings for direct and indirect effects, from that table and IPCC forcings:

    4 X CH4 is a total of 2.2W/m^2 or around 4.4 X current CH4 RF, which is around 1.5 X current CO2 RF.

    7 X CH4 is a total of 3.6W/m^2 or around 7.2 X current CH4 RF, which is around 2.4 X current CO2 RF.

    13 X CH4 is a total of 5.4W/m^2 or around 10.8 X current CH4 RF, which is around 3.6 X current CO2 RF.

  75. prokaryotes:

    Chris and others, you can read about updated assessment in this SWIPA draft paper, at chapter V http://amap.no/swipa/CombinedDraft.pdf

    So let’s feed the models the new numbers as Celso Copstein in #65 suggest and let’s start with preparation (including measures to easy the impacts).

    From the draft some other excerpts
    [edit copy/paste; you've been warned enough]

  76. prokaryotes:

    [Response:You might want to think that through a little more.--Jim]
    Please be more specific what exactly you referring to. Use the link context as a basis and then ask me direct questions. Thanks.

    [Response:Negative; stay on topic please.--Jim]

  77. prokaryotes:

    RE Chris R “..Isaksen et al & Schmidt/Shindell do not support the quote you make (“…rising to as much as 120x CO2 over the first 20 years”)”

    I think what you weres looking for is this:

    increases in global methane emissions have caused a 26 percent decrease in hydroxyl and an 11 percent decrease in the number concentration of sulfate particles. Reducing sulfate unmasks methane’s warming by 20 to 40 percent over current estimates http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/news/20091029/ paper (paywall) http://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5953/716

  78. Ray Ladbury:

    Meow and Aaron,
    In the early holocene between 8000 and 7000 years ago, there were a couple of 300 year periods where temperatures likely exceeded current levels. Unless it is your contention that the clathrates and permafrost regions did not exist at that time, it is difficult to see how we face immediate danger. There is certainly evidence of a carbon (you can’t tell the difference between CH4 and CO2 in the data) spike in this period, but it was nowhere near 1400 GT of carbon.

    Yes, it is a concern–especially in the longer term. It is not an immediate crisis, and the forcing that is increasing that concern is anthropogenic CO2. That is what I mean about it being the big top.

    What Shindell is talking about is limiting immediate effects to buy time. It won’t buy enough time.

  79. John Mason:

    Ray,

    Indeed – we see evidence for these periods in the Welsh mountains, where old peat-diggings reveal bogwood above the current tree-line: I think there are similar examples in the Scottish Highlands.

    I reckon we need to look back beyond the Quaternary for any carbon-spike of this nature.

    Cheers – John

  80. Chris R:

    #77 Prokaryotes,

    Nope. I was looking at the papers I stated and the AMEG report. Anyway taking the short-time Global Warming Potential of 72 over 20 years – 72 * 1.4 (i.e. 40% increase) is 98, not 120.

    When you link to a 77.3MByte pdf report it’s best to warn people. I gave the section on methane a quick once-over and didn’t see anything new. Celso Copstein didn’t produce new numbers either. So I’m struggling to see what you’re getting at.

    Perhaps it would be best if you gave your ‘new numbers’ exlained how your got them and let us see what the model does. With regards a methane pulse it’s only amount and duration of pulse.

  81. Hank Roberts:

    Whoah! I backtracked that “120x” quote to the Arctic Methane Emergency Group thing and notice just before that, they state as fact an assumption: turning “methane … into carbon dioxide (CO2) – the comparatively less harmful GHG.”

    CO2 is known comparatively more harmful over the long term, not less.
    And we haven’t seen any science suggesting their scenario — a sudden burst of methane — is happening.

    Again, read the science on the isotope studies, folks. It’ll slow the conversation here down but it will inject some real facts into the opinions.

  82. Hank Roberts:

    http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/news/20091029/397946main_sourcespie_226x172.jpg

    (same paper prokaryotes quoted from just above)

    is a pie-chart showing the amount from various sources of methane.

  83. Harvey:

    THe russians have been studying the permafrost for a long time….

    http://permafrost.su/

  84. Guy Schiavone:

    This analysis is not even close to the worst-case. Worst case would involve the world ocean becoming anoxic due to shut-off of the thermohaline circulation, combined with massive proliferation of methanotrophic organisms leading to a massive out-gassing of hydrogen sulfide. Following these events are atmospheric OH radical depletion and quickly rising levels of methane, setting off the “clathrate gun”.

    Let’s look out at a timetable of several thousand years for this to occur…can we rule this out?

  85. wili:

    Prok @77, the 120x figure is not in that paper, but in the caption to figure two they do mention the 105x value for 20 year methane with feedbacks. Unfortunately, it looks like another example of sloppiness on the part of this group–Hank just pointed out another one.

    Chris @ 74 seems to be confused by the admittedly confusing reference system. The actual reference is to an incomplete URL that mentions includes the name Schindell, so still not very helpful.

    I am sympathetic with lay people trying to make as much sense of the science as they can, but they should be a bit more careful than this. (And for the record, I am not very sympathetic to their geo-engineering proposals for many reasons, not the least of which is the law of unintended consequences.)

  86. Hank Roberts:

    “… reducing black carbon and methane, a key precursor to ozone, fit the criteria best.
    … For ozone, we looked at measures like fixing leaky gas pipes, limiting methane emissions from mines, upgrading wastewater treatment systems, and aerating rice paddies.” — http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/news/20110220/

    http://www.picarro.com/community/blog/how_much_methane_escapes_from_leaking_natural_gas_distribution_pipes

    “… the country’s natural gas distribution systems were obsolete and made from pipes that are prone to leaks….
    … we found numerous leaks, some with concentration levels 15-times higher than the background level for methane in the global atmosphere….”
    and
    “Recent measurements indicate that urban emissions are a significant source of Methane (CH4) and in fact may be substantially higher than current inventory estimates. As such urban emissions could contribute 7-15% to the global anthropogenic budget of methane.”

    —–

    Pipeline engineering would be a good idea.

    “Plastic natural gas pipe failure data kept secret
    by Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle
    9/26/2011

    The type of plastic pipe that caused a natural gas explosion and fire in a Cupertino condominium last month has long been considered a potential threat to the public, but federal pipeline regulators have allowed companies to keep it in the ground and secretly gather limited information about its failings ….
    … an especially problematic type of pipe manufactured by DuPont called Aldyl-A. PG&E has 1,231 miles of the early-1970s-vintage pipe in its system.
    Federal regulators singled out pre-1973 Aldyl-A starting in 2002 as being at risk of failing because of premature cracking. Explosions caused by failed Aldyl-A and other types of plastic pipe have killed more than 50 people in the United States since 1971 ….”

  87. David Miller:

    SecularAnimist says in #56

    That’s why their campaign of deceit and denial is built around two “big lies” — first, that the problem does not exist; and second, that the solution does not exist.

    That’s perfect! I plan to use that….

  88. David Miller:

    David’s inline response in #53:

    [Response:Handy conversion factor that a gigaton of carbon in our atmosphere is pretty close to 2 Gton. So CH4 today is 1.8 ppm, that would be about 3.6 Gton, multiply that by 7 to get close to 30 Gton. Beware mass of carbon versus mass of CH4, however; that’s why chemists prefer mole units. David

    I'm not parsing that - typo check? Maybe 1 ppm CO2 is 2 Gton Carbon?

    Thanks

    [Response:Oops, you're right. I'll edit the remark above. David]

  89. prokaryotes:

    RE Chris R #80

    This model is based on David concluding
    “There isn’t some huge bubble of methane waiting to erupt as soon as its roof melts. And so far, the sources of methane from high latitudes are small, relative to the big player, which is wetlands in warmer climes” http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2012/01/much-ado-about-methane/

    “If the number of lakes or their bubbling intensity suddenly increased by a factor of 100, and it persisted this way for 100 years, it would come to about 200 Gton of carbon emission” http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2012/01/an-arctic-methane-worst-case-scenario/

    But the numbers i was pointing to are about 800gt or more from at least partial possible seabed ebullition, as i understand it.

    Because most submarine permafrost is relict terrestrial permafrost, the carbon pool held can be estimated from knowledge on current terrestrial carbon storage to include not less than 500 Gt of carbon within a 25 m thick permafrost body (Zimov et al., 2006a), 2 to 65 Gt of CH4 as hydrates (McGuire et al., 2009) together with a significant amount of non-hydrate carbon. [...] 800 Gt is previously formed CH4 ready to be suddenly released when appropriate pathways develop. Release of only 1% of this reservoir would more than triple the atmospheric mixing ratio of CH4, probably triggering abrupt climate change, as predicted by modeling results (Archer and Buffett, 2005). http://amap.no/swipa/CombinedDraft.pdf

    So, i think that this abrupt events are on a decade scale when the seabed permafrost permeability vanishes from warmer conditions. But David is not considering this at all in his latest blog post. Also new findings about carbon isotopes are not considered too. That’s why i’m looking forward to read Gavin’s take.

  90. prokaryotes:

    Notice, i meant to write permeability rise…

  91. Hank Roberts:

    > new findings about carbon isotopes

    I’ve been looking; I’ve found papers consistent with what David wrote, e.g.

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2011/2011GL049319.shtml
    http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1943/2058.short
    http://hol.sagepub.com/content/21/7/1167.short

    What new findings about carbon isotopes do you think are not considered?

  92. prokaryotes:

    RE Hank Roberts

    Pressurized laboratory experiments show no stable carbon isotope fractionation of methane during gas hydrate dissolution and dissociation
    ..measured δ13C-CH4 values near gas hydrates are not affected by physical processes, and can thus be interpreted to result from either the gas source or associated microbial processes
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/rcm.5290/full

  93. Geoff Beacon:

    Hank #86

    I’ve just bought Simultaneously Mitigating Near-Term Climate Change and Improving Human Health and Food Security

    I’d read similar stuff it before in Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone published early last year.

    After bothering UK Government Departments about a Plan B to tackle short term forcing for some time now, I’m pleased that more proper scientists are taking this seriously but this raises two doubts. Firstly, why did it take so long? Secondly, why did they not have the courage to mention changes in diet as a possible mitigation strategy?

    For climate see NoBeef.

    For food security see It’s the poor that starve.

  94. prokaryotes:

    On a second thought

    I think that the short impact methane is about, 50gt at has been estimated, but release over a short time of maybe a decade or less. And this general excepted value should be modeled with extensive scenario analysis. Which should include anthropogenic carbon sequestration potentials (as i mention in comment #65), to get a better understanding what could be done about it.

    Then in a second phase microbial processes from different sources (and more hydrate destabilization) make another release (but more gradual over time). When stage 1 is relatively short the second stage will grow over centuries.

  95. sidd:

    Mr. Chris R. writes on the 15th of January, 2012 at 5:22 AM:
    Re: insolation and sea ice in the Arctic:

    “Jakobsson, 2011, “New insights on Arctic Quaternary climate variability from palaeo-records and numerical modelling”

    Figure 2 – 60degN insolation was around 40Watts/m^2 (~10%) greater than the present for well over 2000 years at the start of the holocene (~8k years ago). Text – Drift wood finds and beach ridge formations (no ice-shelves) from the north coast of Greenland and Ellesmere island have been made. This indicates that there were very low summer sea-ice levels during that time. Siberian coastal sea-ice is likely to have been very reduced in summer and may have been lower than the present (due to increased insolation vs today’s forcings).”

    I notice that right around 8Ky bp the sea level was several tens of meters lower. What fraction of the East Siberian shelf was not yet submerged then ? I ask because water transports heat much more efficiently than air and unsubmerged ground gets colder than if it were underwater. And does not a greater insolation in summer imply lower insolation in winter, affording greater radiative cooling time in the longer dark ?

    sidd

    sidd

  96. prokaryotes:

    Re Methane GWP

    The 100- year GWP for methane is ~10% greater (~20 to 40%, including AIE) than earlier estimates (5) that neglected interactions between oxidants and aerosols.
    http://www.see.ed.ac.uk/~shs/Climate%20change/Data%20sources/Shindell%20methane.pdf

  97. Hank Roberts:

    Ah, prokaryotes, that’s the paper I cited earlier in one of the three methane threads. They checked whether the isotope ratios were changed by physical processes and confirmed they were not.

    They reason that, therefore, the methane detected they’re discussing is from one of the local sources identified or microbial action, which means the methane is _not _ coming from clathrates.

    _If_ they’d shown that the physical processes checked _did_ change the isotope ratios, _then_ the methane _could_ have been from clathrates (altered by those processes).

    It hadn’t, so it wasn’t, so it isn’t, from this assessment.

    The paper supports the other comments made. That’s not new information. It’s support for the information we have had.

  98. prokaryotes:

    If an amount of, say, 1 Gt of methane from hydrates in the Arctic would abruptly enter the atmosphere, what would be the impact?

    Methane’s global warming potential (GWP) depends on many variables, such as methane’s lifetime, which changes with the size of emissions and the location of emissions (hydroxyl depletion already is a big problem in the Arctic atmosphere), the wind, the time of year (when it’s winter, there can be little or no sunshine in the Arctic, so there’s less greenhouse effect), etc. One of the variables is the indirect effect of large emissions and what’s often overlooked is that large emissions will trigger further emissions of methane, thus further extending the lifetime of both the new and the earlier-emitted methane, which can make the methane persist locally for decades.
    http://geo-engineering.blogspot.com/2012/01/potential-for-methane-releases-in.html

  99. Hank Roberts:

    GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 38, L21803, doi:10.1029/2011GL049319, 2011
    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2011/2011GL049319.shtml

  100. Geoff Beacon:

    “Looking on the bright side of life”. Layton and Johnstone

    Seabed gas find blows all other energy sources out the water

  101. prokaryotes:

    Re Hank Roberts (#97), not sure which other comments you mean, but thanks for clarification.

  102. prokaryotes:

    Though i have problems to understand what the differences is to “source” and “microbial processes”. I thought source is the hydrate, thus meaning methanogenesis is not trackable by 13C isotope.

  103. Hank Roberts:

    > not sure which other comments you mean

    That’s what I asked you to clarify.

    You wrote above, criticizing the original post of the thread:

    “new findings about carbon isotopes are not considered too.”
    (Comment by prokaryotes — 15 Jan 2012 @ 5:21 PM)

    What “new findings about carbon isotopes” do you know of?
    Findings that “are not considered” in the model you’re criticizing?

  104. Hank Roberts:

    “… new findings about carbon isotopes are not considered too.” (Comment by prokaryotes — 15 Jan 2012 @ 5:21 PM)

    What “new findings about carbon isotopes” are you talking about? Do you know of any, or are you saying you believe there must be some in there somewhere?

    I asked above and you quoted a paper consistent with the model — one of those I’d cited that support the model.

    Do you know of any “new findings about carbon isotopes” that “are not considered” in this model?

  105. prokaryotes:

    RE Hank Roberts “What “new findings about carbon isotopes” are you talking about?”

    It’s a bit strange you asking me again, since i answered you already in #92.

  106. wili:

    I’m not sure I understand the nature of the disagreement or confusion between Hank and prok here, but is this point from Manning (#111 in the “Much Ado…” thread) relevant?

    “Chlorine seems responsible for removing about 5% of methane but it has a larger effect on the isotope ratios. References for more details are:
    - Allan, W., Struthers, H., and Lowe, D.C., 2007: Methane carbon isotope effects caused by atomic chlorine in the marine boundary layer: Global model results compared with Southern Hemisphere measurements. J. Geophys. Res, 112, D04306, doi:10.1029/2006JD007369.
    - Allan, W., Struthers, H., Lowe, D.C., and Mikaloff Fletcher, S.E., 2010: Modeling the effects of methane source changes on the seasonal cycles of methane mixing ratio and δ13C in Southern Hemisphere mid-latitudes. J. Geophys. Res, 115, doi:10.1029/2009JD012924.
    - and another recent study showing that we might still need to know more about atmospheric chemistry relevant for methane removal in different places is at … Thornton, J.A., et al., 2010: A large atomic chlorine source inferred from mid-continental reactive nitrogen chemistry Nature, 464, 271-274.”

    I don’t have time right now to track read over all these studies, but I’m guessing that Cl for whatever reason, reacts more with the heavy isotopes, so that methane coming from marine sources, even if they are fossil, look more like they are from more recent organic sources.

    But I could be way off here (it wouldn’t be the first time). Just wanted to point to some studies that might be relevant to the discussion.

  107. Hank Roberts:

    Prokaryotes, look again at the paper I referred to.

    “CONCLUSIONS

    We show here that there is little to no isotope fractionation when a gas hydrate either dissolves or dissociates. These results suggest than any measured changes in the isotopic values of environmental samples are a direct result of some other fractionation process, such as a different gas source or microbial processes.”

    They’re supporting what’s been done — saying it’s possible to identify the source of environmental samples of methane based on the isotope ratio, confirming that ratio doesn’t get changed by some physical process that would the different sources hard to tell apart.

    So the methane measured in the air has an isotope ratio that can be compared to the various possible sources.

    That’s how the Point Barrow samples have been identified as from surface sources — the isotope ratios.

    There are measurements of the isotope ratios for various sources. So far the methane from clathrates is dissolving, as in this description:
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012821X99000928

    If methane from clathrates were going into the atmosphere in a sudden rush, the ratios measured in the atmosphere would change.

    This is the same way that carbon dioxide from fossil fuel is detected in the atmosphere, by the difference in the isotope ratios:

    “Hans Suess relied on a variety of helpers to collect fragments of century-old trees from various corners of North America. He was looking for the carbon that human industry had been emitting by burning fossil fuels, in which all the carbon-14 had long since decayed away. Comparing the old wood with modern samples, he showed that the fossil carbon could be detected in the modern atmosphere.(5)” http://www.aip.org/history/climate/Radioc.htm


    I’m sure one of the scientists here can explain this better. I’m trying to do it because the people who seem to believe clathrates have been bursting out don’t understand this method.

    This is how scientists can detect a difference between gas from old clathrate deposits and gas from surface peat, vegetation, or microbial action.

  108. prokaryotes:

    Yes, Hank, and i replied to you in #101. Thanks again for a more detailed explanation about clathrate, hydrate, carbon isotopes and this study i cited.

    Now as we have talked about carbon isotope, why not give some feedback to my main part of post #89 where i ask why David is not considering seabed methane?

  109. Meow:

    @73: Thank you for the cite. I think it (and its reference to the “Arctic Palaeoclimate and its Extremes” conference) will be very helpful.

    @78: That’s rather indefinite. @73 has given me some reading to flesh that out.

  110. Chris R:

    #89 Prokaryotes,

    McGuire et al is an interesting paper, thanks for bringing it up. I suggest you read the section headed “Release of CH4 from hydrates in terrestrial and marine regions of the Arctic.” on page 22 of the pdf:
    http://library.arcticportal.org/1216/1/McGuire-Arctic_C_Cycle_Review-EcologicalMonographs_2009-laser_reprint.pdf
    In short the authors note that deep melting of gas hydrate is likely to be a millenial scale process, and that the erosion mechanism does not support the rapid release of a large amount of CH4.

    So yes the figures you have taken from the AMAP do sound alarming. But that report does start the paragraph you have used by noting that the amount of CH4 that could be emitted is ‘theoretically’ enormous. Archer’s work, and work by other researchers such as McGuire et al suggests the problem from marine clathrates is more likely to be ‘chronic’ rather than ‘catastrophic’.

    In short you have some reason to input large numbers for CH4 pulse into Dr Archer’s model, but you must also put large numbers into the model for duration of release.

    As for new findings from C isotopes…

    Fisher 2011 “Arctic methane sources: Isotopic evidence for atmospheric inputs.” find that the Carbon 13 in CH4 isotope signature suggests a role in the recent CH4 increase for wetland sources in the Arctic, and that the signature of marine hydrates is not detected. In closing they note that wetland CH4 has played a role in past interglacial warming, so can be supposed to be a likely player with ongoing climate change. But as I’ve already outlined to another poster here (post #73), even as recent as the early holocene evidence suggests the Arctic was warmer than now for a substantial period, and there was no methane cataclysm then.

    To be clear: I’m not saying this is not a problem. I think we’ve probably already started the land permafrost carbon cycle feedback in the Arctic. But concluding that is a helluva way short of concluding some kind of catastrophic climate change due to massive rapid CH4 releases.

    #95 Sidd,

    According to Shakhova & Semiletov 2010 The East Siverian Shelf “is a shallow seaward extension of the Siberian tundra that was flooded during the Holocene transgression 7 to 15 thousand years ago (17, 18).” The sea-ice conditions implied by the research I cited suggests winter was not so cold as to be able to counter the substantial summer insolation increase.

    Actually exposure to air and direct sunlight will cause far faster warming than if the ocean has to warm first to pass the warming on to sediments – i.e. land air temperatures are increasing faster than ocean air surface due to the higher specific heat capacity of water – it’s a damping effect.

  111. Aaron Lewis:

    Re 69 Ray,

    This instant, I am not worried about clathrates, I am worried about free methane under a permafrost cap under the Arctic seas. These seas are shallow enough ( less than 100 meters) to be affected by changes in sea ice and mixing by storms. Loss of sea ice allows changes in wind driven ocean currents. Changes in sea ice formation change amount of cold rejected brine available to cool the sea bottoms. And water in currents from the North Atlantic is warmer than it was just a few years ago.

    The voice of science is considered trustworthy when science always tells the truth and gets it accurate. Understating an effect or impact will cause as much loss of trust as overstating the situation.

  112. Aaron Lewis:

    Re 73
    Before observations?
    Are you talking 50 years ago? 500 years ago? 5,000 years ago?

  113. wili:

    I have a relevant (I think) question.

    In the “enthalpy of fusion” article in wiki it gives the energy to melt water ice as 79.72 cal/g.

    So it takes about 80 times more energy to melt a given mass of ice as it does to heat the same mass of water by one degree. (Am I right so far?)

    So wouldn’t that mean that it takes the same amount of heat to melt a meter of ice as to heat 80 meters of water by one degree? (OK, a bit more than a meter of ice, or a bit less than 80 meters of water, since ice is lighter than water.)

    But clearly more than a meter of ice has been melting in the Arctic in recent summers over much of the Ocean, so once that ice goes, doesn’t all that solar energy go into heating the water?

    And besides reasons of phase shift, doesn’t the solar energy get absorbed much more efficiently by the open water than by the ice (albedo and all that)? So presumably then the heat needed to melt one meter of ice could heat much more than 80 meters of water?

    If the heating mostly happens on the surface, doesn’t that mean that it is heated much more than one degree? But, as Lewis just pointed out, an ice free ocean is also a much more turbulent ocean, so mixing of any such super-heated surface water down to the bottom should happen fairly easily, especially in storms and high winds over relatively shallow waters.

    ESAS averages 50 meters in depth, so in theory all of that could be heated by more than one degree with the same amount of energy it took to melt the overlaying meter or so of ice.

    Am I missing something?

    If not, why again shouldn’t we worry about things melting at the bottom of the ESAS in the context of that area being ice free for more and more of the summer?

    (Sorry to pepper the questions. Just trying to get a handle on things.)

    (reCaptcha Mrioduc data)

  114. Ray Ladbury:

    Aaron, again,though, the paleoclimate does not indicate an abrupt release, and if we didn’t see on in the early holocene, it is unlikely we are going to see one soon. Yes, it’s a concern. No, it isn’t he main issue…yet.

  115. prokaryotes:

    About submarine permafrost and the paper ask for more research into seabed methane deposits. I would have liked to quote more..

    On carbon transport and fate in the East Siberian Arctic land–shelf–atmosphere system

    Recently detected warmer water temperatures near the seabed may also impact the stability of the ESAS shelf’s submarine permafrost (Holemann et al 2011, Shakhova and Semiletov 2007, 2008).

    Our measurements of CH4 taken in 1994–9 and 2003–10 over the ESAS demonstrate that the system is in a destabilization period (Semiletov 1999a, Shakhova et al 2010a, 2010b, 2010c). Moreover, unlike most other sub-sea locations where CH4 oxidizes within the water column, a substantial amount of CH4 released at the seafloor in the shallow ESAS is delivered to the atmosphere (Shakhova et al 2010b, 2010c).

    We suggest that fluxes from the ESAS could contribute to rising atmospheric CH4 because the ESAS serves as a source of CH4, annually releasing ∼8 Tg CH4 to the atmosphere.
    http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/7/1/015201/pdf/1748-9326_7_1_015201.pdf

  116. Hank Roberts:

    OK, they’ve got some measurements:
    Figure 8, captioned: “Distribution of mixing ratios of CH4 in the atmospheric layer above the sea water (a) and concentrations of dissolved CH4 in the surface layer of shelf water (b) (September 2005).”

    They refer to “taliks” — “Observations showed a highly mosaic pattern of dissolved CH4 spatial distribution in the shelf water…. determined by the current state of sub-sea permafrost, which has failed to seal ancient carbon pools sequestered in seabed deposits within and beneath permafrost, and which provides CH4 with migration pathways; among such pathways taliks could be considered to be primary.”

    Look up “talik” and “pingo” for more on what that’s about; note that our idea of how a pingo forms — both on land and underwater — has changed lately.

    They say they still need to distinguish old methane from recent methane as the area has a lot of river sediment full of decaying organic material — and for models incorporating that kind of data once they have it.

    That makes sense. They aren’t building models based on assumptions, before the data is collected. That makes sense too.

  117. Ray Ladbury:

    Wili,
    Light only penetrates a few meters into water, so any heat transfer below this level is due to transport of water. However, the deep water is both saltier and colder, therefore denser. If anything, warming once all the ice is gone will only increase stratification.

    This is not without consequences–the bottom water is much more nutrient rich. However, loss of sea ice doesn’t necessarily mean that the bottom will heat up immediately.

    Look up the limnic eruption reference I posted recently–I think that might be a possibility as a worst case.

  118. Kevin McKinney:

    #115, #117–And to complicate things further, I believe some work has attributed considerable amounts of sea ice loss to heat advected in from warmer waters, such as the Pacific. So you have to factor that in, too; it’s not just insolation.

  119. wili:

    Thanks, Ray. I had heard that heating of the surface can lead to greater stratification. Is that equally true for the very shallow waters we are talking about, waters that are more and more going to be agitated with larger and larger waves? And those waves could get much larger than what you can get in lakes, so I’m not sure the limnic article really applies here.

    Shouldn’t the warmer waters also throw off a lot of evaporation, making it eventually saltier and denser…eventually heavy enough to sink through the colder water below? And doesn’t the new sea ice that forms every year now hold more salt, so when it does melt, it makes the surface saltier?

    Maybe these processes are all to minor or slow to make a difference. Maybe not. In any case, for some reason, I’m still worried, long and short term about the stability of whatever is at the bottom of this vast, shallow expanse.

    Happy MLK Day to all.

  120. Leland Palmer:

    Very interesting.

    I notice, however, that you are only tracking CO2 and methane.

    According to Isaksen, we can expect on the indirect atmospheric chemistry effects to multiply the methane forcing by something like 250-400%, if global methane emissions increase by factors of 2.5 and 5.2 times, respectively.

    Isaksen-Strong atmospheric chemistry feedback to climate warming
    from Arctic methane emissions

    It is shown that if global methane emissions were to increase by factors of 2.5 and 5.2 above current emissions, the indirect contributions to RF would be about 250% and 400%, respectively, of the RF that can be attributed to directly emitted methane alone.

    Admittedly, these atmospheric chemistry effects are somewhat speculative, but they are based on a state of the art general atmospheric chemistry model.

    I wonder what happens if you add Isaksen’s ozone, stratospheric water vapor, tropospheric hydroxly radical, and so on, into your model?

    [Response:That's supposed to be covered by Hansen's "efficacy" factor of 1.4, which is included. David ]

    My understanding is that every increase in forcing from any source would be amplified by the water vapor feedback, as temperatures increase.

    [Response:Yes, but this is considered part of the response, rather than the primary forcing (as indicated by the radiative forcing). David]

    Shouldn’t a true worst case scenario include atmospheric chemistry changes, and the water vapor feedback?

  121. Lewis:

    114 Ray -
    “the paleoclimate does not indicate an abrupt release, and if we didn’t see one in the early holocene, it is unlikely we are going to see one soon. Yes, it’s a concern. No, it isn’t he main issue…yet.”

    I’ve yet to see a justification for the comparison of arctic methane and anthro-CO2 outputs as significant threats – which appears to underlie both your comments and David’s three posts – yet we’d no doubt agree that their actual significance is in combination, not as notionally ‘alternative’ forcings.

    From this perspective, while it is plain that ESAS has had millennia of slow natural warming since the holocene plus the radical anthropogenic warming of recent decades, and may thus be in an increasingly unstable condition, the possibility of a sudden massive outgassing seems of less concern than the high probability of a steady increase of ESAS CH4 outputs over the coming decades,
    - in combination with rising CH4 & CO2 from both permafrost and from global peatlands hit by the northward retreat of increasing global rainfall;
    - in combination with the dieback and combustion of global forest cover;
    - in combination with cryosphere-decline and albedo loss;
    - in combination with increasing water vapour.
    Notably, the acceleration of the northward retreat of increasing global rainfall – as NCAR has depicted graphically – further compounds the acceleration of each of the terrestrial carbon-bank feedbacks plus the ESAS, while also advancing arctic albedo loss.

    These and other mega-feedbacks must logically reflect the exponential rise of warming provided by our exponentially rising anthro CO2 outputs to date (David uses 0.65%/yr in his model ?) unless there is some mechanism whereby feedbacks can somehow convert an exponential driver into a linear output.

    With these and other feedbacks now active due to the timelagged warming from the pollution of the mid-’70s, they will enjoy further warming, acceleration and interaction until about 2050 off our pollution output to date. They will also be driven by the intended loss of the ‘sulphate parasol’, which Hansen evaluates as being around a doubling of warming received. After 2050, they will be driven for further decades of acceleration (until ~2090 ?) both by their own interactions and by the long tail of timelagged warming from anthro-GHG outputs being phased out. It seems likely that warming will also be accelerated by the net decline of major carbon sinks.

    I’d doubt anything I’ve written is new to you or to many others here, but I’m puzzled as to why this inexorably rising threat is not the focus of evaluation, rather than the dramatic but currently under-quantified ESAS prognoses. There seems no prospect whatsoever of even a radically fast phasing out of fossil fuels preventing the feedbacks having many decades of increasing warming, meaning that their outputs will, if they’re not controlled, easily exceed the carbon sinks’ capacity and thereby become self-fuelling.

    Unless I’m missing some critical negative feedback or novel sink, it thus appears that the conventional policy-goal of ending anthro-GHG outputs is entirely necessary but evidently insufficient as a commensurate response to our predicament. With respect, I’d suggest that the sooner this question is acknowledged and addressed (preferably here on RC) and a demonstrably commensurate response agreed, the better our chances.

    Regards,

    Lewis Cleverdon

  122. prokaryotes:

    Lewis “I’ve yet to see a justification for the comparison of arctic methane and anthro-CO2 outputs..”

    For example a 1 Gt comparison..

    Image shows the impact of 1 Gt of methane, compared with annual fluxes of carbon dioxide based on the NOAA carbon tracker.
    http://climateforce.net/2012/01/16/1-gt-of-methane-in-the-arctic-what-would-be-the-impact-of-such-a-release/

  123. Leland Palmer:

    What if all the methane hydrates dissociate, and a trillion tons of methane end up in the atmosphere over a 100 year period?

    After all, that is what positive feedback is all about, right? Increases in temperature caused by methane releases could of course stimulate additional methane releases.

    In that case, your online model shows radiative forcing from methane at about 15 W/m2, methane lifetime goes up to close to 40 years, methane concentrations increase to 450 ppm or so, and so on.

    CO2 concentration in your model does not change, though- you are showing business as usual CO2 concentration, even though methane is oxidized into CO2.

    Methane concentrations at this point are about 450 ppm, though, so surely a couple hundred ppm of additional CO2 would be produced by this time, from oxidation of methane- on top of business as usual CO2. By the way, what about CO2 and methane produced from rotting permafrost?

    Also, water vapor seems to be missing from your model. Wouldn’t the water vapor feedback multiply all the other greenhouse forcings, by several times?

    Also, atmospheric chemistry effects of release of methane are missing from your model. I don’t see any ozone curves, for example.

    [Response:Parameterized in the efficacy factor of 1.4. David]

    I think, David, that you were hinting that this model represents a realistic real world model. But in several ways, your model tends to minimize realistic real world forcing if large amounts of methane are produced.

    If we ever get 15 W/m2 of forcing from methane alone, is it truly inconceivable that we would get the additional 45 W/m2 needed to produce a true runaway climate from water vapor and other greenhouse gases? Wouldn’t the oceans start to boil, at some point?

    [Response: Not before the sun turns into a red giant. - gavin]

  124. prokaryotes:

    A blog post with some recent data about Daisyworld, i posted this last week, but today i updated it with a new NASA video explaining Daisyworld model.

  125. prokaryotes:

    Ooops, the linkage http://climateforce.net/2012/01/13/the-daisyworld-model/

  126. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Gavin-

    I’m glad you’re sure of that. But that is of course a conclusion on your part.

    Realistically, though, the jokers in the deck in all of this might be water vapor and atmospheric chemistry effects of methane.

    The water vapor infrared absorption curve has lots of peaks in it… at high concentrations of water vapor, it could rise like a curtain, I think. And water vapor is the real 500 lb. gorilla of greenhouse gases, right? Does David’s model include water vapor, implictly, in some way that I am not aware of?

    Realistic atmospheric chemistry effects of methane could, according to Isaksen (referenced above) multiply the greenhouse forcing of methane by several times. David’s model does take increased methane lifetime into account, but I don’t see any curves for ozone, hydroxyl radical, nitrous oxide, carbon soot from burning forests and peat beds, or of course, for water vapor. And I don’t see secondary CO2 produced from oxidation of methane in his model, at all.

    I sometimes see arguments on this site that assume that if widespread dissociation of hydrates did not occur in warm periods in the past, they can’t occur now. But, with hydrates, might the truly most important variable be rate of change, not absolute temperature? Strong enough positive feedback would seem to make that possible, right?

    I don’t see that in this model. Of course, this is a vastly simplified model. What is puzzling about it, though, is that it is simplified in ways that tend to unrealistically minimize the impact of large amounts of methane in the real world, while claiming to be a realistic teaching aid to model that same scenario.

  127. Ray Ladbury:

    Lewis,
    First, we have not had a millennium of steady warming. Until the recent surge, conditions have varied–some periods cooler and others warmer. From 7-8000 years ago, we had a couple of 300 year periods with temperatures as high or higher than current temperatures. It is likely that most of the important feedbacks now were also extant then. For this reason, I think the prospect of catastrophic release is remote in the near term. That in no way means we are out of the woods.

    Also, I believe that if methane increased to 450 ppmv as Leland suggests, we’d no longer be in the region where CH4′s warming potential exceeded that of CO2, and forcing would probably increase logarithmically in that range.

  128. prokaryotes:

    Leland Palmer ask “What if all the methane hydrates dissociate, and a trillion tons of methane end up in the atmosphere over a 100 year period?”

    There is an estimate of 2-65 Gt of methane hydrate in the shallow of ESAS. I think it is a good start to model basic numbers like 1 Gt/ 10 Gt/ 20 Gt etc.

    This is a higly chaotic “non-linear” system, which tends to react rapidly (decadal to century and millenia scales). And then there is the OC / POM flux with Organic Carbon, Particulate Organic Materials, originating from the thawing terrestrial permafrost, transported through the rivers there. Then does the weather situation correspond with the greenhouse gas uptakes, probably mostly from coastel erosion, which can be up to 80 meters a year.

    I think it is quiet likely that by the end of the century, we have a worst case scenario and possible felt much earlier. So what do you do when you face such a scenario? Do you prepare liek Lovelock insist, and build Arks?

    Or do you start large scale global actions, to suck carbon back and use for exampel biochar applications to help natural carbon sinks, emitting less? So far the natural carbon sinks, compensated most of the warming, but with the looming threat of large impact – inputs, the sinks will be overwhelmed.

    It must be made more clear, that we need to preapre for abrupt episodes, already. The government needs to act and needs to shut down the denial machine. We need to reduce the greenhouse gases now, to give the natural carbon sinks now some buffer.

  129. Ray Ladbury:

    prokaryotes, what is your basis for concluding that the system is chaotic? Indeed, what is the basis for assuming its response is nonlinear?

  130. prokaryotes:

    In mathematics, a nonlinear system is one that does not satisfy the superposition principle, or one whose output is not directly proportional to its input http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonlinear_system

    Mathematics A dynamical system that has a sensitive dependence on its initial conditions. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/chaotic

    The hydrates accumulated over a longer time periode, but the release is rather abrupt. And the sensitivity, is dependent on temerature, which in turn depends on a wide range of factors. So i think that’s why i wrote that. Also the resulting impacts from large scale releases, are likely turn out chaotic.

  131. Ray Ladbury:

    prokaryotes, I am familiar with the definition of a nonlinear system as well as that of a chaotic system.

    It sounds as if you are using them as synonyms for “complicated”. They are not. They are also often used as synonyms for “beyond all human understanding,” “beyond here there be dragons,” and “abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” This usage is also incorrect.

    I see no evidence of nonlinear or chaotic behavior in methane emissions. If you do not have any ready at hand, I would recommend a less technical term such as “complex”.

  132. prokaryotes:

    “If you do not have any ready at hand, I would recommend a less technical term such as “complex”.”

    Ok, ofc.

  133. Chris R:

    Prokaryotes,

    I note that you just let my post #110 breeze past you without paying the blindest attention.

    Ray asked you a very pertinent and succinct question in #129. Your reply #130 is evasive – 2 unrelated factoids followed by an unevidenced assertion:

    “The hydrates accumulated over a longer time periode, but the release is rather abrupt.”

    Above you seem to accept that millenial timescale releases is one outcome. However in that same post (#128) you drift back to form claiming “I think it is quiet likely that by the end of the century, we have a worst case scenario and possible felt much earlier.”

    I think it is worth noting that your blog paints a rather more imminent picture (e.g. useage of preliminary CH4 data and selected AIRS images used to give the impression it’s starting now).

    I’ve decided that this ‘discussion’ is a waste of my time.

  134. MMM:

    “But, with hydrates, might the truly most important variable be rate of change, not absolute temperature? Strong enough positive feedback would seem to make that possible, right?”

    What would the mechanism be? Most of the climate impacts that depend on rate-of-change are biological: animals can’t adapt fast enough. Most physical systems care more about absolute temperature than rate of change – there’s an equilibrium value based on the absolute temperature, and they will move in that direction faster or slower depending on the inertia of the system. The one exception that comes to mind is acidification, where we are overwhelming the ocean’s buffer system faster than carbonate can dissolve from the seafloor, so there’s potential for short-term aragonite saturation issues. But I don’t see this as a methane hydrate issue so much…

  135. prokaryotes:

    Chris R. “..used to give the impression it’s starting now”

    If you see it this way, i don’t think that i state somewhere necessarily that it is beginning now. Also only because i link or quote something doesn’t necessarily reflect my own views, it rather helps me to get a better understanding and learning from the entire spectrum of knowledge about the topic at hand.

    But what i think is that it “could” possibly have larger impacts on a time periode from decade to century to millenia scale. Which because of uncertanties necessitates, action today.

  136. Chris Colose:

    Leland Palmer,

    Actually we don’t need to wait all the way for the red giant phase of the sun to generate a runaway or “moist greenhouse”, although we still need to wait at least another billion years or so for enough stellar energy to be deposited on the planet in order to sustain such a scenario (in the red giant stage it’s actually possible the Earth is engulfed completely by the expanding sun, although I believe the current consensus is that enough mass is lost from the sun such that the Earth would actually have a more distant orbit, which could allow it to escape from being engulfed).

    What you’re missing is that water vapor dictates the slope of the outgoing radiation to space with respect to temperature, which increases climate sensitivity, but to determine if it gets into a runaway you have to also know where (or if) the OLR asymptotes to a unique value (i.e., when does the OLR become independent of the surface temperature). Whenever the surface temperature is below the critical point of water (647 K), the OLR cannot be too much higher than a certain threshold value, which numerous studies have pinpointed to be roughly 310 W/m2 or so. That value happens to be much higher than the current amount of sunlight the Earth gets, and is almost independent of the methane concentration, and so it will always reach a radiative equilibrium state (of course, the Earth could become 500 K and inhabitable but still not in a “runaway greenhouse” phase). In the runaway state, the temperature would be much higher than 647 K and well over 250 bars of atmospheric pressure, incompatible with liquid water.

    The other thing lost in a lot of these catastrophe scenarios is that methane is not actually a great greenhouse gas. It’s not even as good as CO2, which absorbs energy right near the peak of emission for an Earthlike planet. The only way it makes sense to say methane is more powerful is when you compare incremental changes of a gas relative to two very different starting concentrations (since adding 1 ppm to a background of 1 ppm means a lot more than adding 1 ppm to a background of 400 ppm, since the effect of GHGs on the radiation budget eventually becomes logarithmic). But if you were to compare them fairly, like 100 ppm CO2 vs. 100 ppm CH4, the CO2 has a larger impact on climate.

  137. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland Palmer: “But, with hydrates, might the truly most important variable be rate of change, not absolute temperature? Strong enough positive feedback would seem to make that possible, right?”

    Short answer: NO.

    Longer answer: The only way I could see something like this happening is if you had a perturbation and a restorative force that could be overcome by a rapid enough impulse. That ain’t the system we’re looking at. So…NO.

  138. Hank Roberts:

    > uncertanties necessitates, action today.

    Nope. Throwing a mix of science, speculation, and catastrophism against the screen hoping something sticks doesn’t necessitate action.

    Try tracking down who’s pushing the speculation and catastrophism and sorting out that -stuff- from the science — you can do that on your own blog instead of porting it all here to see what others say.

    That would be a service to readers.

  139. prokaryotes:

    Hank Roberts, “you can do that on your own blog instead of porting it all here”

    Can you be more specific what exactly you are talking about? You just conflicted me with someone else, in the other topic and one of the moderators does not let me reply to your claims.
    [edit: dealing with your behavior is getting really irritating]

  140. Pete Dunkelberg:

    > if [in addition to our CO2] methane increased to 450 ppmv as Leland suggests, we’d no longer be in the region

  141. Hank Roberts:

    prokaryotes:
    go to your blog, at your home page.
    You have links there to a variety of stuff.
    I suggest you review who and what you link to.
    Some of it is science.
    Some of it is to a geo-engineering blogger with planetary-alignment-quake-methane-doom stuff.
    It seems you want help telling the science from the stuff.
    If so, you could invite readers to come to your blog and comment.
    If you’re associated with Climate Progress, their readers could help too.

    Or ignore me. I’m just some guy on a blog.
    If you want attention, make it worth the readers’ time.

  142. Killian:

    “Leland Palmer: “But, with hydrates, might the truly most important variable be rate of change, not absolute temperature? Strong enough positive feedback would seem to make that possible, right?”

    Short answer: NO.

    Longer answer: The only way I could see something like this happening is if you had a perturbation and a restorative force that could be overcome by a rapid enough impulse. That ain’t the system we’re looking at. So…NO.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 18 Jan 2012 @ 3:33 PM”

    Ray,

    This quote doesn’t exactly refute your assertion, but it does in that it notes the change in the relationship between temperature and pressure, and that would definitely be affected by, and affected by, rate of change:

    “What destabilizes clathrates is not so much the absolute temperature as the shift in the pressure-temperature conditions.”

    That is from V. Petrenko. ironically, he was arguing I was wrong about the clathrates detabilizing faster than expected. His argument was the rapid change at the end of the Younger Dryas didn’t trigger massive release. My argument was that the world was bleeping cold already and warmed rapidly, but still to a sub-frozen temp wrt the clathrates, thus it’s no surprise they didn’t destabilize.

    This exchange happened in April 2009.

    The warming since then from continued inundation, runoff, etc., and all that accelerated warming of the Arctic sea bed – if I recall information at that time was that clathrates were up to – 1.8C, which is very close to the melting point. There has certainly been warming since then. And remember we are talking about clathrates not deep under the ocean, but @ 50m. The pressure is very low compared to deeper clathrates so the temperature change must be more important in the balance than for deeper clathrates.

    Anyone taking this issue even a little lightly, assuming we have centuries before they could possibly blow, is, imo, in for a very serious surprise. I will maintain my position that research over the next few years will bring only worse and worse news about clathrates and permafrost and add that a warming signal from Arctic Methane will begin to be measured. The idea of emissions big enough and in a short enough time to significantly affect warming in my lifetime – I’m in my mid-40s – will become a serious consideration to the degree it is considered generally likely.

    If the sea ice melts out (80% gone-ish) in ht next 3 – 5 years, I guarantee the above.

  143. wili:

    The Dec satellite image is up for Arctic atmospheric methane (at 400 mb) and it shows the darkest splotch of deep red (high methane concentration) over the ESAS (as well as over southern Siberia) that I have seen for December.

    It may or may not be the large blowout that some of us feared, but there is definitely something unusual going on with Arctic methane this year.

    ftp://asl.umbc.edu/pub/yurganov/methane/MAPS/NH/ARCTpolar2011.12._AIRS_CH4_400.jpg

    (And compare with December of last year–or any previous year you care to check:

    ftp://asl.umbc.edu/pub/yurganov/methane/MAPS/NH/ARCTpolar2010.12._AIRS_CH4_400.jpg )

  144. wili:

    The satellite image for Arctic atmospheric methane for December is out and it shows the strongest concentration of methane over ESAS from any of their monthly images back as far as they go.

    ftp://asl.umbc.edu/pub/yurganov/methane/MAPS/NH/ARCTpolar2011.12._AIRS_CH4_400.jpg

    Something unusual certainly seems to be going on with Arctic methane this year.

  145. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Chris-

    David’s model is an incomplete model. It is incomplete in several ways, and each way that it is incomplete underestimates the true known impact of large releases of methane. It’s great that he put it on the web, but it needs work, I think.

    One basic way David’s model is incomplete is that as the methane oxidizes, it converts to CO2. So, it should not be too hard to simply add that CO2, at each step, into the business as usual CO2 projections.

    [Response: This is trivial (and is done in the Schmidt and Shindell code) - but note that for 2000 ppb CH4 is only 2ppm, and gives rise to 2ppm increase in CO2 - a number that is much smaller than the impacts of direct CO2 emissions and their uncertainty. - gavin]

    Another basic way David’s model is incomplete is that it does not include water vapor. The Clausius-Claperyon relationship gives approximate water vapor concentrations at each temperature. So, he needs to add the water vapor feedback into his model, in some way. Since these are back of the envelope calculations, just use the C-C relationship.

    [Response: This is part of the climate sensitivity, and is already incorporated. - gavin]

    Each greenhouse gas acts logarithmically- except perhaps for the atmospheric chemistry effects of methane. Methane of course degrades concentrations of the hydroxyl radical, and so large releases of methane catalyze their own increase in atmospheric lifetime. David’s model does include that, but does not include tropospheric ozone, stratospheric water vapor produced by methane, stratospheric hydroxyl radical, or secondary CO2 produced by oxidation of methane. Isaksen says that these could multiply the greenhouse effects of methane itself by several times, especially for very large releases of methane.

    [Response: Yes it does. The 1.4 factor (to get the effective forcing) incorporates these indirect aspects of methane. - gavin]

    David also needs to include known effects of warming on permafrost, in his back of the envelope model. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be included in any model that he hints constitutes a worst case scenario.

    [Response: That is where the methane is hypothesised to come from - so this is the input! - gavin]

    No single greenhouse gas could lead to a true runaway scenario- that seems clear. Methane and CO2 together also cannot lead to a true runaway scenario, very likely. But can CO2, methane, atmospheric chemistry effects of methane, water vapor, nitrous oxide, the albedo changes, and rotting permafrost lead to a true runaway scenario?

    Show me.

    Fix the model, and include all known major factors. What I’m asking for is a back of the envelope model which realistically includes all known major factors.

  146. Hank Roberts:

    wili, you’re looking at a picture from the AIRS instrument.
    Yes, it has more red on it than some others.

    You then tell us based on that

    “Something unusual certainly seems to be going on with Arctic methane this year.”

    Why? Behind the picture is — what, exactly?

    Find the FAQs and the invitations to ask questions at the AIRS sites — there are several.

    Most sites that post science imagery try to explain what the pictures mean and how to get the underlying data.

  147. Pete Dunkelberg:

    For more details on CH4 fluctuations see the Dr. Natalia Shakhova interview & comments at Skeptical Science.

  148. John E. Pearson:

    144 Gavin wrote: “[Response: This is part of the climate sensitivity, and is already incorporated. - gavin]”

    David wrote in the margin of my comment 34:

    [Response:Water vapor feedback (warming leads to more water vapor leads to more warming) is considered a part of the climate response, not part of the radiative forcing, by definition. The source of water in the stratosphere from the hydrogens that methane carries is part of the "efficacy" of the methane forcing, a factor of 1.4 from Hansen, which is included in the on-line model. David]

    My reading of David’s comment was that the model does not contain water vapor feedback because it doesn’t output climate sensitivity or climate response. The model output is “radiative forcing” plus methane concentrations, lifetime, what the sources and sinks are doing, etc.

  149. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Gavin-

    Response: This is trivial (and is done in the Schmidt and Shindell code) – but note that for 2000 ppb CH4 is only 2ppm, and gives rise to 2ppm increase in CO2 – a number that is much smaller than the impacts of direct CO2 emissions and their uncertainty. – gavin]

    Yes, unless the first large releases of methane end up creating further releases, as tipping points are passed. In that case, with a trillion tons of methane release over a hundred years, we get 450 ppm of methane, and the CO2 produced from that is not trivial, at all.

    Response:Yes it does. The 1.4 factor (to get the effective forcing) incorporates these indirect aspects of methane. – gavin

    Are you sure?

    You guys get the 1.4 figure from Hansen?

    You’re sure that he includes the sort of atmospheric chemistry effects that Isaksen does? I know that atmospheric chemistry effects from methane release have been postulated in the past, but the magnitude and severity of the atmospheric chemistry effects seemed to me to be a new result.

    You’ve read the Isaksen paper?

  150. Andy Lee Robinson:

    A quick question, with CH4 approximate half the density of air, is any lost to space by solar wind ablation, or does our magnetic field help to hang onto it for complete eventual oxidation?
    If there are some losses, then perhaps it could improve our optimism.

    [Response:Methane carries hydrogen into the upper atmosphere where some of the hydrogen can be lost to space. Lovelock called methane Gaia's hydrogen balloons, performing the function of oxidizing the planet. But he's just funny. David]

  151. Hank Roberts:

    From what I see elsewhere (as Joe Romm remarked, the denialists and alarmists have taken over most of the conversation about climate change) — it would seem that the only viable emergency solution is to drill lots and lots of holes through the permafrost, tap off any hiccup of methane that’s just a’waitin’ to blow, pull it away through pipes ….

    oh, wait, that’s industry’s job, innit? And if they’re lucky and tap some high sulfur crude under the Arctic, after refining, they can get paid to punt the ash up to the stratosphere and get an albedo credit ….

    I think there’s a line of question marks and one that says “PROFIT” in there somewhere, along with a “Hey, what could go wrong?”

  152. Andy Lee Robinson:

    @151 and if one of those holes triggers a catastrophic clathrate destabilization?

    oops…

  153. flxible:

    re 151 &2
    Aren’t the Russians already doing it?

  154. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland Palmer,
    Why are you ignoring the paleoclimate–particularly the early holocene? During this time, there were periods of up to ~300 years where temperatures were higher than at present. Since we did not see catastrophic release on a large scale then, why do we expect it now?

    I agree that as warming proceeds, this could be a concern, but it is not something I will lie awake worrying about for now.

  155. Ray Ladbury:

    Andy, We lose helium pretty quickly, but other species are either stable or sufficiently reactive (e.g. H2) that we mass loss is not significant. The geomagnetic field keeps us from being exposed to the solar wind to a large degree. Mars is another question.

  156. Hank Roberts:

    Hm, did S. Korea, Japan, and Conoco follow through on their plans? Lots of “plan to” in that article. This might be some followup:
    PDF
    Using Carbon Dioxide to Enhance Recovery of Methane …
    http://www.pnl.gov/main/publications/external/technical_reports/PNNL-17035.pdf
    by BP McGrail – 2007 – Cited by 2 …. Schematic of down borehole injection tool.

  157. Hank Roberts:

    http://www.newscientist.com/data/images/archive/2714/27141101.jpg

    lots of it

  158. Andy Lee Robinson:

    flxible @153, thanks for the great link (I ended up getting lost on youtube for a while. Judging by comments there, perhaps 90% of the population isn’t worth saving after all :( )

  159. Kevin McKinney:

    #156–Apparently testing continues in Alaska this month:

    http://alfin2300.blogspot.com/2012/01/one-intriguing-idea-for-simultaneous.html

  160. Andy Lee Robinson:

    @155, thanks Ray. Yes, it’s a pity about helium. As with a million other factors that make our Earth habitable, if the atmosphere was more volatile than it is, we wouldn’t be here to discuss it.

  161. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Gavin-

    David also needs to include known effects of warming on permafrost, in his back of the envelope model. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be included in any model that he hints constitutes a worst case scenario.

    [Response: That is where the methane is hypothesised to come from - so this is the input! - gavin]

    I guess I didn’t make myself clear.

    The permafrost contains something in the range of 1.6 trillion tons of carbon, as frozen organic matter, as you know. Recent estimates put that a little higher, as I’m sure you know better than I.

    So, I thought we were talking about sudden releases of undersea methane, similar to those proposed by Shakhova, from the ESAS, due to melting undersea permafrost releasing gaseous methane. The Russian team estimates as much as a trillion tons of methane gas trapped by the undersea permafrost in the ESAS, by the way. The water is fairly shallow, so under worst case assumptions, a sizable chunk of that could end up in the atmosphere.

    I was distinguishing between the undersea sources of methane, and the terrestrial permafrost melting and resulting release of methane and CO2 from this rotting organic material. Release of methane and CO2 from this source would be more of chronic release, rather than a sudden one.

    So, yes, it is possible to just put in a higher input from the methane into the model, to include both terrestrial and subsea sources of methane. But the model does not allow modeling of increased CO2 from rotting permafrost, at all, deferring to the business as usual scenario instead.

    This would of course be easy to fix, by including independent input boxes for CO2 as well as methane.

    A more generalized model would allow input of other gases, as well, to show atmospheric chemistry effects of methane in the same sort of format, or would use Isaksen’s stuff to calculate these from the methane level, and show the resulting graphs.

    Another missing piece of the model is temperature. David has forcing included, but not the subsequent temperature increase. So, it would be helpful to include a consensus estimate of this, as well.

    It would also help to break out the water vapor feedback, as well. Since there is a direct relationship between temperature and water vapor concentration, this should not be too hard to do.

    I’m not trying to be picky, but if David seriously wants to show us a worst case scenario, he’s going to have to show us a more generalized model, I think.

    I believe myself that once this is done, the catastrophic scenarios will look more and more likely.

  162. Hank Roberts:

    > testing continues
    Thank you Kevin. And that alfin2300 link cites to Nature.

    Hm. So, a brief test of sequestering CO2, followed by a “depressurization” operation as mentioned earlier to test sucking out as much methane as possible — that’s consistent with the ‘methane emergency’ assumption.

    And the abiotic argument has a new twist:

    “… We do not yet know how much of the methane resource originates abiotically in the mantle — and thus can be theoretically seen as “renewable methane.” It is likely to be substantial…..”

    Does that “renewable methane” notion make sense to anyone?

  163. David Miller:

    Ray asks in #154:

    Why are you ignoring the paleoclimate–particularly the early holocene? During this time, there were periods of up to ~300 years where temperatures were higher than at present. Since we did not see catastrophic release on a large scale then, why do we expect it now?

    Do we have any estimates of temperatures on the seabed of the ESAS during the warm periods? I don’t think the current warming level is a threat. I’m not at all sure that the altered ocean currents that are currently melting out Arctic ice far faster than models predicted a few year ago are not warming the ESAS and threatening destabilization.

    It’s not global temperature that counts, it’s the temperature of the hydrate itself. I’m not sure it’s safe to assume that if global temperatures then were similar to todays that the hydrate temps must be as well. They may be. How lucky are you feeling?

  164. David Miller:

    Leland says in #149:

    Yes, unless the first large releases of methane end up creating further releases, as tipping points are passed. In that case, with a trillion tons of methane release over a hundred years, we get 450 ppm of methane, and the CO2 produced from that is not trivial, at all.

    I have to side with Gavin on this one. Leland, if we get a trillion tons of methane released in the next century CO2 level are irrelevant as far as humans are concerned. According to the model David put together to start this thread, that level of methane gives us ~10 watts/m^2 of forcing compared to less than 2 currently. That’s in addition to CO2 ramping up to ~6 watts/m^2. In the face of that do you think another few watts would make any difference?

  165. David Miller:

    Killian says in #142:
    “What destabilizes clathrates is not so much the absolute temperature as the shift in the pressure-temperature conditions.”

    True, but unless the seafloor is rising or the sea level is dropping the pressure isn’t changing. It’s temperature in the depths that matter. Most of the hydrates are going to be stable a long time. The wild card is the ESAS hydrates that lie in shallow water that can warm much more quickly than much deeper water.

  166. Kevin McKinney:

    #162–”Does that “renewable methane” notion make sense to anyone?”

    Well, not to me. I read it twice when I found the source–and decided to pass quickly on, as effort spent decoding every comment of someone who says that unlike ‘alarmists’, he is able to ‘intuitively integrate hazards and go on with life,’ may not be highly productive. (May have misquoted a bit, but you get the idea.)

    Perhaps he thinks that ‘abiotic’ processes are more apt to renew the resource than biological and geological ones–but that seems to ignore (or maybe misjudge) issues of timescales. After all, conventional fossil fuels are ‘renewable,’ too, if you take a long enough view, but that scarcely makes them renewable in the normal sense. If we knew what these putative abiotic processes were, I guess we’d be better able to figure out what he was thinking. How edifying that might be, I leave to conjecture.

  167. Kevin McKinney:

    A summary of the state of play of the abiotic theory of petroleum, of which ‘Al fin’s’ abiotic methane appears to be a subset:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenic_petroleum_origin

    Didn’t wade through it all, but the gist is that the abiotic theory is scientifically possible, but seems not to be required by any current observations. Support for abiogenesis is much stronger, apparently, in Russia and the Ukraine than in the West.

  168. Ray Ladbury:

    David, The globe being fairly similar to the current configuration, we’d probably expect similar polar amplification during the early holocene. If there were a real risk at current temperatures, we should have seen it happen then.

    I think it is pointless to worry about all the fireworks going off at once. If our equilibrium were that precarious, we’d be screwed in any case.

    The thing I worry about is reaching a point of no return–where things just get slowly worse–not as dramatic, but probably more demoralizing for out progeny.

  169. David B. Benson:

    Ray Ladbury @168 — Things are already getting worse, and not so slowly. A millennium is a mere time tick for climate.

  170. Leland Palmer:

    Hi David (post 164)

    Yes, unless the first large releases of methane end up creating further releases, as tipping points are passed. In that case, with a trillion tons of methane release over a hundred years, we get 450 ppm of methane, and the CO2 produced from that is not trivial, at all.

    I have to side with Gavin on this one. Leland, if we get a trillion tons of methane released in the next century CO2 level are irrelevant as far as humans are concerned. According to the model David put together to start this thread, that level of methane gives us ~10 watts/m^2 of forcing compared to less than 2 currently. That’s in addition to CO2 ramping up to ~6 watts/m^2. In the face of that do you think another few watts would make any difference?

    It doesn’t make much difference for small releases. But we have to remember that methane turns over rapidly into CO2, while CO2 persists much longer. So, for example if we get a release of 100 Gton of methane this century, we get an average of about 8 ppm methane over that period. Methane lifetime increases to about 13 years, so we get about 7 turnovers of methane in that period. But CO2 produced amounts to about 50 ppm, which is significant.

    This CO2 will also persist for thousands of years. Past possible climate catastrophes like the End Permian and the PETM persisted for tens of thousands of years.

    On the other hand, suppose we get a release of 1000 Gtons of methane in this century. Methane lifetime increases to an average of about 25 years, and methane concentrations get up to an average of maybe 130 ppm, over that period. So, we get maybe 450 ppm of secondary CO2 from that, I think- and that CO2 will persist for thousands of years. So at 1000 Gtons of released methane, secondary CO2 production is very, very significant, indeed.

    David’s model was constructed with the assumption of low methane emissions, I think. The model gives the impression that the methane ceases to exist- it doesn’t. The total amount of warming from secondary CO2 very likely vastly exceeds the total warming from the methane itself, because the CO2 persists much, much longer.

  171. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland: “…suppose we get a release of 1000 Gtons of methane in this century.”

    OK, why do we “suppose” this? Why suppose something for which there is zero historical precedent despite having realized conditions more severe than those of the present day? Why suppose this over the possibility that aliens will come and vacuum just the right amount of CO2 out of our atmosphere to save our sorry asses?

    Again Joan Baez’s quote: “Given a choice between a hypothetical situation and a real one, take the real one.”

  172. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray (post 171)

    Maybe I’m missing something here. You guys on this site have come to some sort of consensus that there is no historical precedent for methane catastrophes?

    The End Permian and the PETM are just a couple of candidates for methane catastrophes in the earth’s past. There are several others in the literature, too.

    My understanding of the early Holocene was that this was normal Milankovitch driven warming. What we are seeing now is abnormal, CO2 driven warming. Since we are betting the future of humanity on the result, that alone should make us cautious.

    My understanding of the time lag between Milankovitch warming and CO2 concentrations is that CO2 is hypothesized to be coming back out of the oceans, after a time lag of about 800 years. That’s going to happen to us, too, likely, so we probably have more warming locked in as CO2 comes back out of the oceans.

    It’s the suddenness and the total lack of randomness of our current CO2 driven warming that scares the snot out of me. If methane is produced slowly enough, most of it is absorbed by the oceans, and what does make it into the atmosphere is quickly oxidized into CO2. The CO2 ends up as carbonate via the rock weathering cycle or remains in the active carbon cycle, no big deal.

    But if methane is produced too rapidly, it starts to overwhelm the hydroxyl radical oxidation mechanism. Methane lifetime increases, and according to Isaksen further atmospheric chemistry effects occur which also multiply greenhouse forcing from methane by several times, for very large releases. So major positive feedback mechanisms kick in.

    Past major climate excursions like the PETM are believed to have occurred more slowly than our geologically instantaneous release of CO2.

    It’s the suddenness of what we are doing, and the unnatural CO2 driven mechanism of what we are doing, coupled with the potential for positive feedback which has many of us worried, Ray.

    Since we are betting the future of the earth on it, maybe we ought to be cautious?

  173. David Miller:

    Leland, #170

    You miss my point. Perhaps I was being too subtle?

    If a trillion tons of methane is released this century global temps go up drastically (5C? 10C or more?) and humanity as we know it all dies. We’re a remarkably adaptable species so extinction is unlikely if that makes you feel any better.

    If you’re arguing that there will be a long CO2 tail based on the methane that will keep us in a hot-house state for some millenia, I agree with you. I just don’t think it matters if we’re already +double digits.

  174. Leland Palmer:

    Hi David (173)

    Past possible methane catastrophes seem to have occurred in stages. Methane and CO2 are a kind of combination punch. Methane spikes the temperatures- and CO2 locks it in.

    Do we really want to set events in motion which will lead to widespread dissociation of the medium depth hydrates hundreds of years from now?

    My objection to David’s model stands. It leaves out the second punch of the methane/CO2 combination, leading students to the conclusion or conceptual frame that the methane caused warming will be temporary.

    No, if we continue along this course, and it does result in the release of significant amounts of methane, the results will not be temporary, very likely. The model is wrong, and should be fixed.

    Even if the methane does not make it into the atmosphere and remains in the oceans, we’re talking major anoxia and acidification, as the methane is oxidized into CO2. The methane could kill us…or maybe it will just kill the oceans, as apparently happened during past methane catastrophes.

    So if we’re talking worst case scenarios, maybe the model ought to show the trade-offs between methane release into the atmosphere and into the oceans. By the way, phytoplankton produce something like 75% of the oxygen we need. So, over thousands of years, if the oceans become anoxic, are we looking at major declines in oxygen levels?

  175. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland,
    The PETM and end Permian are indeed potentially analogous to our current situation–they are NOT analogous to the situation you describe. Carbon emissions (we don’t know whether it was CH4 or CO2) in the PETM and end Permian took place over an extended period of time, NOT in a period of 100 years.

    What is more, the climate to first order doesn’t give a rat’s tuckus whether the warming is due to increased insolation, greenhouse trapping or a Martian heat ray. Temperature is what drives feedbacks. By all means, we need to approach our current situation with caution. However, caution means paying attention to credible threats–not looking for monsters in the closet every time the floor creaks.

  176. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray (175)

    Ah, not so, Kimosabe. In the case of methane, rate of change is itself a very important variable, because large releases of methane exhaust the hydroxyl radical oxidation pathway. Also, methane released slowly into seawater is very different than methane geysers venting directly into the atmosphere. So, methane produced quickly is very different indeed from methane produced slowly.

    Let me repeat that. Methane released quickly is very different than methane released slowly. Check out the Isaksen paper referenced above, to see just how much different methane released quickly could be from methane released slowly.

    In the case of biology and ecology, temperature change done quickly is much different also than temperature change done slowly. Species and ecosystems given time to adapt very likely have a much different fate than species and ecosystems faced with catastrophic change. Consider our recent bark beetle infestation, for example. If an equivalent temperature change had occurred over a thousand years, the pine forests would probably be just fine.

    The fact that the PETM and End Permian took place over a more extended period of time should make us more cautious, not less cautious. Our current rate of increase of CO2 exceeds all known rates of CO2 increase, except in the aftermath of a major dinosaur killer meteor strike, perhaps.

    Since we are in truly unknown territory, that should make us more cautious, not less.

    Your assumption that because the methane hydrates did not have a major destabilization during the early Holocene they cannot have a major destabilization now is just wrong, Ray. With methane hydrates, both temperature and rate of change of temperature are important, I think.

  177. Hank Roberts:

    both temperature and rate of change of temperature are important,

    Well yeah.

    Reach for a worst case — what proportion of seeping methane in the atmosphere is concentrated enough to burn if given, say, hot coals to keep it re-igniting?

    If you figure on a steady release of methane, fairly pure, down in the topsoil around the roots of the tundra at some level there’s a layer mixed densely enough that it could catch fire. Imagine just one lightning fire bringing a few hundred square miles of overly dry tundra to ignition temperature.

    You don’t need a meteor strike or a nuke.

    But you do need a well enough characterized and understood fire risk condition — humidity, temperature, all the rest of the standard wildfire criteria — otherwise a methane leak that burns does burn out fast. It’s not coming out of the ground nearly fast enough to sustain a flame in atmosphere, anywhere as far as I’m aware.

    So worst case probably extreme drought above tundra dried out over a long stretch, low water level, very dry fuel with lots of air around it, and methane seeping up through that.

    A hot forest fire will burn the topsoil fairly deep. Anyone characterized tundra fires, if those have happened and been studied? Any tundra over permafrost-with-hydrates areas known to watch?

    Problem is there’s no known event aside from a meteor strike and extrapolating with this many uncertainties is — uncertain. That’s true for ordinary forest and grass fires.

    I’d watch the fire insurance premiums for any habitations in such areas; seems to me the insurance companies must have models of their own for setting rates and risks.

    Worst case? Are we there yet?

  178. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland, you aren’t thinking this through. The methane will not become unstable until the permafrost melts and/or the ocean warms enough to destabilize the clathrates. That takes a)a sufficiently high temperature and b)time. In the relatively recent past (7000-8000 years ago), we had temperatures higher than current levels in polar regions for periods of hundreds of years. We saw no catastrophic release of methane. This makes it unlikely that we will see such catastrophic releases now unless temperatures rise quite a bit more or we wait a few hundred years. The rate of temperature rise doesn’t matter to first order–the temperature and the duration of the temperature are what matter.

  179. Hank Roberts:

    So — sanity check. I went to the AIRS site and used the link provided to ask about the AIRS imagery that’s been posted with claims of oh maybe could this be a methane blowout etc etc.

    Here’s the reply, in full:
    —————- begin quote

    Color bars are very nonlinear, and the eye can be easily fooled. The
    comment you quote is reading too much into that image.

    That commenter should also view this image of the trend over the
    Arctic cap:

    ftp://asl.umbc.edu/pub/yurganov/methane/70-90N_VMR_CH4.jpg

    The early monitoring of CH4 had shown a small trend upward that
    stopped around 2000, for no known reason. Then the trend may have
    begun again around 2008. Looking at the trend plot, there is a very
    small increase since 2008. The variability is larger by a factor of
    five, and there was a large excursion in mid-2011 that reached the
    level last seen in mid-2003.

    ——— end quote

    Why do this? As an example of why it’s better to do it _before_ posting alarmist stuff to science sites. ASK the scientists about what you find.

  180. Leland Palmer:

    Yes, Ray, I think that the rate of change of temperature does indeed matter. Methane released slowly from the hydrates bleeds off into the ocean, and most of it does not make it to the surface. Methane released slowly from the hydrates does not exhaust oxygen levels in the area, and oxidation to CO2 is able to take place without creating dead zones. Methane released slowly into the oceans does not form methane geysers which reach all the way to the surface.

    Consider this Berkeley LBL study from May of 2011:

    Berkeley LBL Labs/ LANL Simulation

    A two-part study by scientists from the U.S Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Los Alamos National Laboratory paints one of the most detailed pictures yet of how climate change could impact millions of tons of methane frozen in sediment beneath the Arctic Ocean. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

    The initial phase of the project found that buried deposits of clathrates, which are icy crystalline compounds that encase methane molecules, will break apart as the global temperature increases and the oceans warm.

    In the second phase, the scientists found that methane would then seep into the Arctic Ocean and gradually overwhelm the marine environment’s ability to break down the gas. Supplies of oxygen, nutrients, and trace metals required by methane-eating microbes would dwindle year-by-year as more methane enters the water. After three decades of methane release, much of the methane may bubble to the surface — where it has the potential to accelerate climate change.

    “Our simulation found that large methane releases erode the ocean’s ability to consume methane. At this scale, resource limitations come into play,” says Matthew Reagan of Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division. Reagan is a co-author of an article on this research that was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research. The initial results of the project were published last year in Geophysical Research Letters.

    Their research counters the view held by some scientists that the oceans will always consume big plumes of methane. Indeed, small-scale methane releases have been seeping from seafloor vents for eons. In these cases, hungry ocean-dwelling microbes quickly oxidize most of the methane before it escapes into the atmosphere.

    But this cycle will be disrupted if the Arctic region’s vast stores of clathrates break apart and unleash a rash of new methane seeps, the scientists found.

    “Large-scale methane releases have a greater impact than we anticipated,” adds Reagan. “When this happens, microbes cannot consume all of the methane because there isn’t enough oxygen to fuel them.”

    It’s interesting how well all of this fits into the geological evidence for the PETM and End Permian. History never repeats itself exactly, though. For one thing, the sun is hotter now, by a couple of percent- equivalent to hundreds of ppm of CO2- than it was during the End Permian.

    Rate of change matters, Ray.

  181. sidd:

    Mr. Ray Ladbury writes on the 21st of January, 2012 at 9:10 PM:

    “The methane will not become unstable until the permafrost melts and/or the ocean warms enough to destabilize the clathrates. That takes a)a sufficiently high temperature and b)time. In the relatively recent past (7000-8000 years ago), we had temperatures higher than current levels in polar regions for periods of hundreds of years. We saw no catastrophic release of methane. This makes it unlikely that we will see such catastrophic releases now unless temperatures rise quite a bit more or we wait a few hundred years.”

    8 millennia ago sea level was lower by some tens of meters. ESAS is very gentle gradient, thousand miles to the 100 fathom line in parts. Much of ESAS was exposed then. Now we have fast encroaching and rapidly warming oceans, so situation is different? I keep returning to the thought that water is so much better at moving heat than air, so ESAS under warming water might degenerate much faster than ESAS under enchanced insolation. I have previously posted a link from Univ. of Alaska to a model that might be improved.

    sidd

  182. Leland Palmer:

    Hi sidd- (post 181)

    Yes, the sea levels would probably matter. Dissociation of hydrates, like melting of ice, is an endothermic reaction- it takes heat. Sea water might be better at delivering heat than air, and also the average temperature of the sea water would probably differ from the average temperature of the air.

    On the other hand, pressure goes up as depth increases, and pressure makes hydrates more stable.

    So, it’s a complicated picture- requires modeling. Logical conclusions could easily be wrong. Anti-intuitive stuff happens all of the time, in the real world.

    By the way, sea levels are another way in which rapid rates of change might matter a lot. It’s looking to me like we might have a full blown methane catastrophe occurring in the Arctic, while the Antarctic remains relatively intact. So, we could be having a methane catastrophe with low sea levels, without increased pressure from sea level rise to close down hydrate dissociation. Along with our present rate of change of CO2, that is another thing which has likely never happened before in earth history.

    Breaking new ground when all of your eggs are in one basket, to mix a few metaphors, might not be the world’s best idea.

    What is the alternative?

    Giving up fossil fuels?

    Take it, IMO- it’s a bargain.

  183. Hank Roberts:

    >> rapidly warming oceans, so situation is different?

    Yes, and you can look up the borehole temperature data and find out which — air or water — changes the temperature of sediment, to what depth, how fast.

    You don’t need rocket science to understand this.
    Library science, though, will help.

  184. Hank Roberts:

    Or you can trust some guy on a blog to do the looking up, of course.
    Not recommending that, mind you. Why would you trust some stranger to read things for you instead of reading them yourself?

    But, well, there’s
    http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/methane-hydrates-and-contemporary-climate-change-24314790

    Global and Regional Ecology
    Methane Hydrates and Contemporary Climate Change
    By: Carolyn D. Ruppel (U.S. Geological Survey, Woods Hole, MA)
    © 2011 Nature Education
    Citation: Ruppel, C. D. (2011) Methane Hydrates and Contemporary Climate Change. Nature Education Knowledge 2(12):12

    in which you’ll find

    “Fate of Contemporary Methane Hydrates During Warming Climate

    The susceptibility of gas hydrates to warming climate depends on the duration of the warming event, their depth beneath the seafloor or tundra surface, and the amount of warming required to heat sediments to the point of dissociating gas hydrates. A rudimentary estimate of the depth to which sediments are affected by an instantaneous, sustained temperature change DT in the overlying air or ocean waters can be made using the diffusive length scale 1 = √kt , which describes the depth (m) that 0.5 DT will propagate in elapsed time t (s). k denotes thermal diffusivity, which ranges from ~0.6 to 1×10-6 m2/s for unconsolidated sediments. Over 10, 100, and 1000 yr, the calculation yields maximum of 18 m, 56 m, and 178 m, respectively, regardless of the magnitude of DT. In real situations, DT is usually small and may have short- (e.g., seasonal) or long-term fluctuations that swamp the signal associated with climate warming trends. Even over 1000 yr, only gas hydrates close to the seafloor and initially within a few degrees of the thermodynamic stability boundary might experience dissociation in response to reasonable rates of warming. As discussed below, less than 5% of the gas hydrate inventory may meet these criteria.”

    Then you might ask yourself, well, what’s “reasonable rates of warming” then?

  185. sidd:

    Mr. Hank Roberts writes on the 22nd of January, 2012 at 12:46 PM, quoting Ruppel:

    “A rudimentary estimate of the depth to which sediments are affected by an instantaneous, sustained temperature change DT in the overlying air or ocean waters can be made using the diffusive length scale…”

    Why is a diffusive model appropriate ? Setting up the transport equations for heat diffusion alone will of course give large time constants. If we instead uses coupled mass and heat transport equations, which allow for heat transfer by mass transport of water, as is the case when taliks open up or ice lenses melt out, we will calculate much smaller time constants.

    sidd

  186. Hank Roberts:

    sidd says
    >>Why is a diffusive model appropriate ?
    … quoting Ruppel et al, who wrote
    > A rudimentary estimate … can be made using the diffusive length scale…”

    That’s specifically about when gas hydrates could get warm enough to melt.
    You want to calculate mass transport of water; that’s after melting occurs.

    I think that rudimentary estimate of warming clathrates would be useful figuring out the locations and times at which mass transport will become significant in that material — remember some is very thick and deep ice.

    Here’s mass transport: “Northern hemisphere wetlands, which may experience increased production of isotopically-light CH4 in response to local warming, appear to be the key culprit in enhancing atmospheric CH4 concentrations during several Pleistocene (~2.6 Ma to 10 ka) and Holocene (since 10 ka) warming events.”

    But I’m not the right one to answer your question.
    They expect and want your questions: http://www.nature.com/scitable/

  187. Leland Palmer:

    Here’s a link to the Lawrence Berkeley lab paper referenced above, which talks about resource limitations to methane oxidation:

    Marine methane cycle simulations for the period of early global warming

    But upcoming methane injections confronting the Earth System will ultimately be unprecedented in mass and scope. Fluxes from the ocean bottom may well dwarf those of contemporary systems investigated thus far. From the calculations already presented, it is clear that effects may permeate much of the Arctic basin. Consumers will be forced to deal with a host of nutritional and kinetic challenges in order to remove the molecule before it reaches the sea surface, and they will have to do so in uncharted portions of the geochemical parameter space

    Interesting discussion of thermal diffusion versus mass transport, from sidd, I think. Hydrates are full of chimneys with gas bubbling up the chimneys. So, wouldn’t that make the water/gas mixture in the chimneys lighter than the surrounding sea water and so make it bouyant? Wouldn’t that mean that water was being sucked in somewhere, so it could convect up the chimneys?

    Maybe thermal diffusion is actually less important than mass transport. Or, maybe as warm sea water is sucked in, it gets chilled by endothermic dissociating hydrates, and this tends to limit convection. Hydrates have quite a reputation for plugging up pipes is all I know about it.

    I certainly don’t know whether mass transport will be more important than thermal diffusion. I’m not sure that anybody posting on this board knows.

    In a case like this, though, betting the future of the planet on it, maybe we ought to be a little humble about our ability to predict stuff?

    It seems possible to me that we might end up welcoming sea level rise, and even trying to speed it up by spreading dark material on the Antarctic ice cap, just so that we can get some sea level rise to increase hydrostatic pressure and stabilize the hydrates, on the opposite pole of the earth.

    In the real world, in such a complex situation, it is quite conceivable to me that our presently imagined worst side effect (sea level rise) could in fact be welcomed if it will just slow down the dissociation of the methane hydrates.

    Who’s running this madhouse, anyway? What are we doing betting the future of the biosphere on hard to predict stuff like this?

  188. Hank Roberts:

    Here, for comparison, some models from 1995
    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/1995…/94JD02829.shtml

    and some of the problems with many of the various models and hypotheses and notions entertained to date, an interesting overview:
    http://www.clim-past.net/7/831/2011/cp-7-831-2011.pdf
    Clim. Past, 7, 831–846, 2011
    http://www.clim-past.net/7/831/2011/
    doi:10.5194/cp-7-831-2011

    Down the Rabbit Hole: toward appropriate discussion of methane
    release from gas hydrate systems during the Paleocene-Eocene
    thermal maximum and other past hyperthermal events

    “the field is moving fast and that it is hard to keep up. The same is true
    for the gas hydrate and deep biosphere communities. I suspect
    that I have inadvertently omitted some pertinent literature….”

    Anyone who has a favorite notion might well find it discussed here.
    View as HTML

  189. Eli Rabett:

    Think about what happens when the methane oxidizes to water vapor in the stratosphere. Not good.

  190. John E. Pearson:

    185 & 186: I agree with Sidd. It isn’t remotely clear to me that a purely diffusive model is reasonable. As Sidd said, a purely diffusive model will necessarily give long time constants. It is fairly easy to imagine mechanisms in which mass transport carries heat faster and deeper into clathrates resulting in accelerated melting. Hank said “You want to calculate mass transport of water; that’s after melting occurs.” The processes aren’t that simple. It is fairly easy to imagine schemes which will result in nonlinear waves which release CH4 as they propagate. Basically repeated applications of the following set of processes: melt-mass transport of heat laden water-diffusion of heat into clathrate. There is neither a law of physics nor any conceptual barrier to prevent such a process from occurring. I’m not claiming that in actuality clathrates can or will melt this way but I’ve not seen anything that rules it out. Indeed when you talk to people who work in the area you will find that opinions vary. It’s a question that can be addressed by modeling and experiment. There is little point in prolonged internet squabbles about a question of physics. There will be people who work in this area no matter what gets said here. In due time these issues will be resolved.

  191. sidd:

    The phrase I should have used in my previous comment was “percolative” as opposed to a “diffusive” calculation. We have 2 elements (water and methane) near phase transitions, one liquid to solid water, and methane+water from solid clathrate to gaseous methane. The solid phases serve as percolating medium all mixed in soil. Each nonfrozen phase can flow through the percolating medium, if connectivity is above the percolation threshold, and both nonfrozen phases, methane and water, carry heat. Modelling this seems quite difficult, but it seems clear that if you allow mass flow through percolation, heat transfer will be larger than a diffusive calculation would indicate.

    In another life, I did do some work on multiphase mixtures in porous media, and I am somewhat familiar with the natgas/water/oil work in the petroleum industry. But that is in a background medium that is not going to melt or vaporize.

    For just one example of the complications. “self preservation” of clathrates allowing inclusions of clathrate to survive in metastable conditions by growing a coating of water ice, while percolation channels form around them. How many such inclusions survive until the warming water makes them fizz ?

    sidd

  192. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland, you are moving the goalposts. Before you were talking about catastrophic release–far greater than David’s worst case. Now you are talking about whether the methane dissolves or is emitted into the atmosphere.

    Catastrophic release is quite unlikely on a timescale of decades and probably unlikely on a timescale of a century. Clathrates are not a new phenomenon. The lack of a rapid catastrophic release in the peleoclimate record ought to tell us something.

    As to the modes of heat transfer, the surface water will be both warmer and fresher than the deep water–I suspect that will inhibit mixing.

  193. Hank Roberts:

    > nonlinear waves … melt-mass transport of heat laden
    > water – diffusion of heat into clathrate. There is neither
    > a law of physics nor any conceptual barrier to prevent such a process

    Well yeah, in fact the plan to “depressurize” methane-bearing strata by drilling holes and sucking could certainly accomplish that.

    Let’s hope they stay with the idea of pumping liquid CO2 in to displace methane while leaving the clathrate structure frozen instead.

    Still gonna have to work really, really hard to make this source increase faster than the expected increase of methane from wetlands, though.

  194. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray- (192)

    I’m talking about what a lot of people including the Berkeley LBL / LANL guys and Isaksen are talking about, Ray. Resource limitations preventing oxidation and sudden release of free methane associated with hydrates in the Arctic ocean can lead to direct emission of the methane into the atmosphere, that’s the first part of it. The second part is that once in the atmosphere, people like Isaksen (using a state of the art general atmospheric chemistry model) are talking about atmospheric chemistry effects which could amplify the effects of methane by several times. This strong feedback in turn makes the more catastrophic scenarios due to methane release more likely than previously thought.

    The clatrate gun hypothesis remains the leading hypothesis to explain events like the PETM and the End Permian, I think. Isaksen’s stuff about atmospheric chemistry effects only makes it more likely that methane hydrate dissociation is a general explanation for many extinction events in earth history- because less methane is required to cause the severe effects of events such as the End Permian. Less methane required to cause severe effects, due to atmospheric chemistry changes, makes the clathrate gun hypothesis more likely to be correct, I think, and a better fit to the known isotope ratio changes, I think.

    David’s model has several major flaws, in my opinion. It leaves out increased CO2 from permafrost decay, for example, and leaves out secondary CO2 produced by methane oxidation. Leaving out secondary CO2 produced by methane oxidation gives students and online users of the model the impression that the climate would recover from a major methane release fairly quickly- when in reality the accumulated secondary CO2 would remain for thousands of years, would almost certainly add more heat to the system from the secondary CO2 than from the methane, and could trigger more rounds of catastrophic methane release from deeper levels of hydrates, even after the icecaps melt.

    Although David says that he completely incorporates the water vapor feedback and atmospheric chemistry effects in his climate sensitivity figure, this still does not seem likely to me. Each atmospheric chemistry effect greenhouse gas would have it’s own associated water vapor feedback. Isaksen’s stuff implies that climate sensitivity to forcing is greater for rapid rates of temperature change (and so for methane release high enough to overwhelm ocean oxidation and cause atmospheric chemistry effects) than for slow rates of change…something that challenges the idea that the earth has s single climate sensitivity to forcing regardless of rate of change.

    It’s not a football game, Ray. There are no goalposts, and if we get this one wrong, we may well kill the biosphere, I think.

    According to climate scientist Ken Caldeira, fossil fuel combustion locks in greenhouse heating due to CO2 about 100,000 times greater than the useful heat of combustion of the fossil fuel, if added up over thousands of years. On some level, we all know that this is true, otherwise we would not be worrying about what our puny technology is doing to the planet. This means that if Isaksen is right about atmospheric chemistry effects of methane, our current geologically instantaneous exponential increase in CO2 emissions might cause total greenhouse warming millions of times greater than the heat of combustion of the fossil fuel. And other people including the IPCC reports talk about atmospheric chemistry effects of methane, not just Isaksen.

    So the side effects of fossil fuel combustion are a minimum of 100,000 times greater than the benefits- and could even be greater than that.

    That’s a totally ridiculous energy supply system, and it makes our “cheap” fossil fuels almost infinitely expensive.

    The answer is obvious, Ray.

    Give up fossil fuels, and avoid all activities in the future which might trigger a methane catastrophe. In particular, greenhouse gas emissions totally outside the envelope of known rates of release in past earth history are almost infinitely foolish, in my opinion.

  195. Kevin McKinney:

    #194–”Give up fossil fuels. . .”

    Ironically enough, that’s one aspect of the situation that is NOT very controversial in this context. Which is why I remain a bit bemused by the, er, very thorough development of this methane discussion: Ray’s projected future less spectacularly catastrophic than Leland’s, but not sufficiently so WRT risk mitigation to make any difference. As I said elsewhere, “fall 1000 meters, fall 100 meters. . .”

    Or, give up fossil fuels.

  196. Hank Roberts:

    Remember, 90% of The Big Fish Are Gone

    The methane catastrophe is typical Homo sapiens behavior.

    Think back to the ‘Cold War’ period in which “overkill” and “making the rubble bounce” were a strategic position, and “we target time zones, not cities” was a laugh line.

    Would it be a catastrophe if there were nobody there to observe it?

    You’re talking about Earth’s “Etch-a-Sketch” reset button.

    It’s happened before.

    I think the important focus here is not to fall for the lines of argument from the “geo-engineering” industry.

    Remember, people know damn well where the leverage points are in a problem, and consistently want to push things in exactly the wrong direction.
    https://www.google.com/search?q=leverage+points

  197. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland, what do you think is the probability of everyone on the planet giving up fossil feuls tomorrow? The next day? Ten years from now? Twenty? Thirty?

    I’d be happy as a pig in feces if we had an alternative to fossil fuels. We don’t. So we damn well beter be sure that a clathrate gun is a credible and proximate threat. If the oceans become a net source of carbon rather than a sink, we are pretty well screwed. It doesn’t matter whether it’s CH4 or CO2.

    You have not made a convincing case that David’s model doesn’t represent a worst case in the near term. More to the point, if you don’t like the model, build a better one. That’s how science works.

  198. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Kevin-

    Giving up fossil fuels is not controversial among scientists, anyway. But among policy makers, the story is different. Consider the output of Scott Borgerson, a “David Rockefeller Visiting Fellow” at the Council on Foreign Relations, in his series of op-eds in major newspapers, interviews with Dan Rather on television, collaboration with Senators on Arctic councils, and so on. He paints the melting of the Arctic as a great business opportunity, extolling the virtues of “going North” on shipping and “resource” exploitation:

    From the official magazine of the Council on Foreign Relations – Foreign Affairs:

    The Great Game Moves North
    The Arctic is the fastest-warming region on earth and continues to melt at a breathtaking rate. Last summer, for the first time in history, the polar icecap retreated far enough to open sea routes north of Eurasia as well as North America, and it is expected to be completely ice-free during the summer months in 2013. Boreal forests are appearing where there was once just frozen tundra, and last summer, the first wild fire was recorded north of Alaska’s Brooks range, in a region where the local Inuit dialects lack a word for forest fire.

    In an article in Foreign Affairs last year, I described how not only is the climate changing fast, but the region’s geopolitics are also rapidly transforming. As the Arctic coastal states begin to make claims over both these transit passages and newly accessible deep-water resources, a Great Game is developing in the world’s far north.

    The next few years will be critical in determining whether the region’s long-term future will be one of international harmony and the rule of law, or a Hobbesian free-for-all. Although the Bush administration took a huge step by publishing a new Arctic policy during its final week in office, the Obama administration must do far more to keep Washington from being further marginalized in this geostrategically important region.

    The polar icecap in the central Arctic Ocean thinned by half between 2001 and 2007. Other signs — such as warmer deep-water ocean currents, greater albedo feedback loops, and massive ice shelves breaking free — point to further melting. Scientists are increasingly concerned that the thawing permafrost will disgorge millions of tons of methane, unleashing what some refer to as a “climate bomb,” a runaway warming cycle that could dramatically raise the planet’s temperature.

    The next few years will be critical in determining whether the region’s long-term future will be one of international harmony and the rule of law, or a Hobbesian free-for-all.

    The Arctic may be open to year-round shipping within a few decades, if not sooner. Eventually, the Arctic, like the Baltic Sea or Great Lakes, will freeze in the winter and melt in the summer. Shipping companies are taking notice. The German-based Beluga Shipping company, for example, is planning to move cargo from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the Northeast Passage this summer unassisted by icebreaker escort.

    Last July, the U.S. Geological Survey released the first-ever comprehensive assessment of the region’s oil and gas potential, and the numbers are staggering. Based on a resource appraisal of technically recoverable hydrocarbons, the Arctic contains about 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and about 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas. Together this represents 22 percent of all untapped but technically recoverable hydrocarbons. More than 80 percent of these resources lie offshore.

    Believe it or not, among policy making circle with a great deal of influence with the Republican Party, this melting is viewed as a good thing.

    So, yeah, we know we’re going to have to give up fossil fuels.

    But do the oil corporations and our foreign policy apparatus know it?

    No, they look upon it as a business opportunity, many of them.

    Instead of criticizing “alarmists” people on this blog need to start agitating, and spreading the word, IMO.

    I know that this is a policy post, not a scientific post, and this is a scientific site. But scientists do not make science in a vacuum.

    Our foreign policy elites are not unaware of the science- they just look upon the melting as a business opportunity, I think, many of the most powerful and influential of them.

  199. Kevin McKinney:

    “Instead of criticizing “alarmists” people on this blog need to start agitating, and spreading the word, IMO.”

    Mine, too, Leland–which is why I now suggest for the third time that this discussion has moved past the point of practical utility. How many methane molecules can dance in a cage of hydrates? Before, that is, they start a mass jailbreak?

    What matters is constructing the alternatives to fossil fuels, and communicating to the folks who (as you point out) have highly unrealistic notions of what is happening, and what is likely to happen.

    So far, I’ve written articles that have garnered 11,000 or so unique page views on climate-science-related topics. That’s what I can do, and am doing. Furthermore, I know that quite a few people who post here are doing what they can, too–and that often, we don’t know what they do until it comes out in some tangential manner.

    So “start” will not be the correct verb for a lot of readers here, I suspect.

  200. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray (197)

    We have plenty of alternatives to fossil fuels, Ray. The fossil fuel corporations will tell us all that this is not the case, but yes, there are alternatives.

    We only spend five percent or so of our incomes on energy. If it was seven percent, for a while, we’d never even notice.

    Biomass energy is carbon neutral, and could in fact be made carbon negative if carbon capture and storage is added to it. Most coal fired power plants are on rivers and lakes for cooling water, and water transport of biomass or charcoal would vastly expand the area available to supply each power plant. Where solar is not available, often wind, biomass, engineered geothermal, small scale hydro, and so on are available. We even have an electrical grid to transport energy and act as a universal power transmission system. Our transport fleet could easily be electrical or hybrid, without much trouble at all. And EVs would eventually end up cheaper than petroleum fueled vehicles, many experts agree.

    The cost of solar is declining very, very rapidly and is projected to reach grid parity in many states within five years. The Germans pay half as much for solar as we do- because of feed in tariffs.

    We could lead the world into a new energy era- but our financial elites are heavily influenced by the huge profits of the oil and coal business, and will not change until they are forced to do so, IMO.

    Our financial elites don’t want to change, Ray. They could change, but they won’t, I think.

  201. David B. Benson:

    Leland Palmer @200 — Solar PV costs what it costs; feed-in tariffs simply transfer the burden from the solar PV owner to the tax payers. Unfortunately biomass energy can only be a boutique solution has humans have already appropriated around 60% of net primary production.

    More generally, Brave New Climate [linked on the side bar] is a place to discuss energy solutions with Real Climate almost entirely devoted to, well, the real climate. Lets try to keep it so.

  202. Lewis:

    Leyland – my compliments on your perseverance.

    I share much of your concern over the dismissal of the relevance of the methane threat. To imply that it is “Much ado about nothing” seems to me a gift to the deniers, and anyway premature given that we’ve yet to see the report on last summer’s ESAS research trip. Notably Dr Shakhova’s interview on Skeptical Science does not offer any contradiction of Semiletov’s account (Independent) of the scale and number of plumes over a kilometre across.

    Ray’s persistence in ignoring the difference between an ESAS permafrost response to a warm period before 8,000 yrs of inundation and its response to present rapid warming after that period seems to me a partisan position. Given the ongoing loss of arctic albedo, the ongoing rise of incoming currents’ delivery of heat energy to the Arctic Ocean, and the ongoing increase of global rainfall and also its ongoing northward retreat – (implying greatly increasing warmer runoff into the Laptev Sea after flowing over vast areas of warming tundra) a lack of real concern over Dr Shakhova’s warning seems more than a bit relaxed.

    Professor Archer’s model appears to reflect this position, and certainly warrants further development. Besides fixing the glitch whereby changing the ’source flux’ value changes the CH4 ppm, watts/m2, etc, from yr-50 to yr0, additional data is needed for a plausible output to be shown. Including CO2 from CH4 decay is one such item, but that from permafrost melt is far more relevant. As you’ll know, Schuur et al projected a flat 2.7% of permafrost carbon output being emitted as CH4, which implies 98.6TsCO2 for each tonne of CH4 released. Given that the model intendedly reflects all arctic CH4 outputs, that ratio should be reduced to reflect Arctic Ocean and ESAS outputs as well. After much study of the AIRS plots I’d tentatively propose a present ratio of annual CH4 outputs of 1.0-ESAS to 2.0-Arctic Ocean and Canadian archipelago to 2.0-permafrost. This would imply a revised output ratio of about 40Ts CO2 per 1.0T CH4 across the arctic. No doubt Prof. Archer could provide a more accurate ratio if he saw fit.

    Another helpful addition would be allowing a variable percentage rate of change in emissions rather than using an arbitrary ’source flux for a period of years’. The NOAA/NSIDC study indicates an average rise in carbon output from permafrost of close to 8.2%/yr between 2010 and 2020, (with that percentage rate of change declining thereafter as the study excluded the diverse direct accelerators from arctic amplification and also the timelagged warming from permafrost’s own GHG outputs).

    A further very informative change would be to stack the several sources of additional forcing to show their combined effect, rather than merely providing them individually for comparison.

    However, the problem with using the ESAS 50Gt CH4 threat, or the global Clathrate Gun threat, as campaigning issues is that they each form a gift to deniers – given the lack of scientific consensus on their probability and timing. Once the 2011 ESAS research is published, this position may change, but Shakhova’s call for further research implies that it may be far from conclusive, so a working consensus may take years or decades to achieve.
    Meanwhile, I’d strongly urge that campaigning should be based on the quantifiable prognoses for a ‘Habitable Climate AWOL’ outcome. It is less dramatic than a potential methane eruption but the proximity of our becoming committed to that outcome is also far more demonstrable. Given the quantified impacts of the major feedbacks (including the reported forcing-equivalence of current albedo loss to ~30% of anthro-CO2 outputs, and the microbial peat bog decay under elevated CO2 with DOC emissions rising at ~6%/yr) there is a strong case for proposing that we are already at or near being committed to feedback outputs exceeding the carbon sinks. They would thereby becoming self fuelling, with inevitably genocidal results, regardless of the rate of control of anthro-CO2e outputs.

    Scientific support for the formal goal of avoiding the feedbacks taking over by cutting anthro-GHGs to provide a 2.0C limit on warming – is already fragmenting, not least because conservative institutions such as the Hadley Centre acknowledge that it offers only a 46% chance of doing so, and that this calculation actually includes an assumption of increasing natural carbon sinks.

    It will take time for a scientific consensus to form around the recognition of the necessary action but insufficient efficacy of cutting anthro emissions, but it will remain a far more cogent influence over international diplomacy than the potentially abrupt threats because the incremental growth of feedback outputs can be tracked and publicized year by year, while a methane eruption hasn’t happened until it happens.

    I guess you’ll have seen as much as I of the conventional mindset regarding pressure on ecosystems that :- “It hasn’t collapsed yet, therefore our conduct is sustainable” ?

    Regards,

    Lewis

  203. CM:

    Leland Palmer #194, you stated:

    David’s model has several major flaws, in my opinion. It leaves out increased CO2 from permafrost decay, for example,

    How is this a flaw in “an online model of methane in the atmosphere”?

    and leaves out secondary CO2 produced by methane oxidation. (…)

    As I’m just another layman mouthing off, I’m not sure if this is also covered by David’s parameterization. But anyway, if you look e.g. at Isaksen’s 7xCH4 case, they get a 3.6 W/m2 total radiative forcing, of which 0.2 W/m2 (6%) from secondary CO2. A difference, but not a crucial one.

    Although David says that he completely incorporates the water vapor feedback and atmospheric chemistry effects in his climate sensitivity figure, this still does not seem likely to me.

    I wouldn’t trust my feelings too far if I’d been told otherwise by the experts not once, nor twice, but three times.

    Each atmospheric chemistry effect greenhouse gas would have it’s own associated water vapor feedback.

    I don’t see how that makes sense. GHGs cause forcings, the sum of forcings causes a warming, the warming leads to a water vapor feedback. The water vapor only cares how hot it gets, it doesn’t care what mix of gases was doing the heating.

    Isaksen’s stuff implies that climate sensitivity to forcing is greater for rapid rates of temperature change (and so for methane release high enough to overwhelm ocean oxidation and cause atmospheric chemistry effects) than for slow rates of change…something that challenges the idea that the earth has s single climate sensitivity to forcing regardless of rate of change.

    I don’t think Isaksen’s stuff implies anything of the sort. Far as I can see, Isaksen et al. do not calculate temperatures or climate sensitivity, but total radiative forcings from methane. The forcings are indeed greater for rapid rates of methane release.

    David appears to apply a different multiplier than Isaksen et al., but that’s probably partly due to their defining direct vs. total forcings differently (Gavin had a note on this).

    Bottom line: David’s model ends up with a total RF of about 5 W/m2 from about 10xCH4 (eyeballed), whereas Isaksen et al. with 5.4 W/m2 from 13xCH4. They may not be entirely comparable (different release rates and time horizons). Still, they’re close enough that I don’t really see what the issue is.

  204. Ray Ladbury:

    Lewis: “Ray’s persistence seems to me a partisan position.”

    Look, moron, if you consider requests for fricking evidence to be a partisan position, then you are beyond help or redemption. So pardon me if I don’t hold your fricking hand when you tell me you are scared of the dark or the monster under the bed or whatever else it is you are scared of.

    We’re trying to do science here. That deals in evidence, not in, “well it could be,” or unsubstantiated fearmongering. Anyone familiar with my positions on this board or elsewhere would testify to my bona fides in demanding denialists pay attention to evidence. I have been more than outspoken in calling for action. I’m not about to take it easy on you or Leland when you equally cavalierly ignore evidence. So, I’ll tell you the same thing: Until you do the goddamned math, you got bupkes. Now let the adults talk, sweetie. It’s past your bedtime.

  205. Lewis:

    Well Ray, that’s twice you’ve misquoted me and then responded to your inventions, rather than addressing the issues proposed.

    121 LC – “. . .it is plain that ESAS has had millennia of slow natural warming since the holocene plus the radical anthropogenic warming of recent decades, and may thus be in an increasingly unstable condition, . . .”
    127 RL – “First, we have not had a millennium of steady warming.”

    202 LC – “Ray’s persistence in ignoring the difference between an ESAS permafrost response to a warm period before 8,000 yrs of inundation and its response to present rapid warming after that period seems to me a partisan position.”
    204 RL – “Lewis: “Ray’s persistence seems to me a partisan position.”

    Quite why you feel the need to indulge in pathetically tedious invective is your problem. Your various arrogant and bullying comments across these threads, while persistently ignoring valid considerations, does nothing to raise the cogency of your arguments – on the contrary, they appear to be an increasingly emotional attempt to bolster your own optimism bias.

    I know little of US codes of conduct in science, but in the UK this is not how scientific discussion is conducted.

    Regards,

    Lewis

    [Response: Please do not get caught up in attacks on other commenters (and this goes for everyone). - gavin]

  206. Leland Palmer:

    Hi CM-

    David is certainly an expert, there is absolutely no doubt about that.

    But he also co-authors scientific papers with ExxonMobil chief scientist Haroon Khesghi:

    [edit - extensive ad hom argument deleted. Either stick to substantive issues or take it elsewhere.]

  207. Ray Ladbury:

    Lewis, It’s simple. You aren’t discussing science. You are looking for monsters under the bed. Here’s how things are supposed to go. First, you estabish that you have a credible threat. That means that conservatively, there is reason to believe that the situation could have severe consequences and has a reasonable chance of being realized. You DO NOT simply speculate that “well it could be really bad.” You show that it could be really bad. You know, actually present evidence.

    I insist that the so-called skeptics pay attention to evidence. I will not expect less of those who are convinced of anthropogenic warming. If I am a partisan, then my cause is ensuring that we apply proper methodology in both science and risk mitigation. Is that OK with you, or do you have a problem with that position?

  208. sidd:

    I hear Dr. Radbury’s exhortation to do the math.
    Here is my feeble attempt to shut up and calculate:

    Following the comment by Mr. John E. Pearson, on the 22nd of January, 2012 at 7:23 PM:

    “melt-mass transport of heat laden water-diffusion of heat into clathrate”

    i inject 1 Kg meltwater (330 odd kJ/kg is Latent heat) into clathrate. Max. concentration of methane in ice is around 1:8, Latent heat to dissociate clathrate to water + gas is around the same as to melt ice.

    i have a handy maxwells demon that moves the heat obtained by refreezing the original 1 Kg of meltwater into breaking down 1 Kg clathrate. i get 7/8kg new water and 1/8kg methane. I inject the 7/8 kg water into clathrate and get 49/64 Kg water back and so on… eventually i liberate 1 Kg methane.

    there is around 1e13 sq km permafrost, so if i do 1kg (1 litre) water per sq. Km. per year i liberate 1e13 kg CH4 or around 10 Gton/yr

    1ton per year (1 cubic meter water) per square km buys me 10,000Gton/yr this is an average rainfall of 1/10 cm rain per year injected into the permafrost.

    lets say that such percolation melt is only 10% effective
    thats still only an equivalent of 1 cm/yr rainfall.

    these are small amounts compared to the hundreds of Gton of ice melting in GIS and WAIS, and very small compared to deep ocean storage.

    ok, so someone tell me where my astronomical orders of mag error is ?
    please? i do know that to get it rite you have to put in the real dissociation enthalpies and the perc coefficients and so on and so forth…

    sidd

  209. sidd:

    i see one problem with my calculation: not all permafrost areas have clathrate deposits underlying…i have no idea what the factor there is

    sidd

  210. Ray Ladbury:

    Sidd@208,209,
    Well yeah, the proportion with clathrates and the invocation of Maxwell’s Demon, but other than that…

  211. Ray Ladbury:

    Congratulations, Leland, you can pick up the ashes of whatever credibility you may once have possessed at the door. Don’t let it hit your butt on the way out.

  212. John E. Pearson:

    This is a very nice start.

    http://ejde.math.txstate.edu/conf-proc/17/a1/alexiades.pdf

  213. sidd:

    Dr. Ray Ladbury, I do apologize for misspelling your name in my post. My eyes and fingers fail me more often as I age.

    sidd

  214. sidd:

    Mr. Pearson, I am aware of the Alexiades reference, but thank you nevertheless. I note with regret that the word “experiment” occurs only once therein…

    sidd

  215. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray-

    Sticking strictly to the science:

    The CO2 curve in David’s model is fixed. No matter how much methane is emitted, no matter how much permafrost rotting occurs, we are stuck with business as usual CO2, in David’s model.

    For large releases of methane, this is simply unrealistic.

    A common theme seems to be emerging regarding methane. Large injections of methane into the system can both overwhelm the oceans’ ability to oxidize it and overwhelm the hydroxyl radical oxidation mechanism once it is in the atmosphere.

    For small releases of methane, these shortcomings of the model are not particularly important. For large releases, the model is actively misleading, and gives a misleading impression of the duration of the crisis. Due to secondary CO2 and atmospheric chemistry side effects, any large releases of methane will produce tens or hundreds of ppm of CO2, persisting for many thousands of years.

    What appears to be emerging is a general model of most past mass extinctions. That model is the clathrate gun hypothesis, modified by ocean and atmospheric chemistry effects of methane. Methane is strongly reducing, and is a sort of holdover from our early atmosphere. Methane can both locally overwhelm the Arctic Ocean’s ability to metabolize it and once in the atmosphere it can overwhelm the hydroxyl radical oxidation mechanism, increasing its own lifetime.

    From Isaksen:

    . The indirect contribution to RF of additional methane emission is particularly important. It is shown that if global methane emissions were to increase by factors of 2.5 and 5.2 above current emissions, the indirect contributions to RF would be about 250% and 400%, respectively, of the RF that can be attributed to directly emitted methane alone. Assuming several hypothetical scenarios of CH4 release associated with permafrost thaw, shallow marine hydrate degassing, and submarine landslides, we find a strong positive feedback on RF through atmospheric chemistry. In particular, the impact of CH4 is enhanced through increase of its lifetime, and of atmospheric abundances of ozone, stratospheric water vapor, and CO2 as a result of atmospheric chemical processes. Despite uncertainties in emission scenarios, our results provide a better understanding of the feedbacks in the atmospheric chemistry that would amplify climate warming

    Note that Isaksen does not even try to predict atmospheric chemistry effects beyond 13 ppm of methane. According to David’s model, substantial releases of methane would result in much higher levels of methane than this. Note that the trend in forcing is not encouraging- at 13 ppm of methane concentration, forcing due to increased lifetime, secondary CO2, and atmospheric chemistry effects is up to 400 percent of that forcing directly attributable to methane itself.

    The End Permian mass extinction, plausibly due to a methane catastrophe triggered by CO2 released from the Siberian Traps volcanism, killed on the order of 95 percent of all life on earth at that time. There have been several other mass extinctions and ocean anoxic events that fit this general model. Compared to our present utterly nonrandom and extremely fast release of CO2, these events occurred relatively slowly, in several stages. Note that these stages are likely due to secondary CO2, with its high persistence in the atmosphere, setting off new rounds of hydrate dissociation.

    According to the standard model of stellar evolution, the sun is about two percent hotter now than it was during the End Permian. Hansen says this is equivalent in forcing to about 1000 ppm of CO2.

    Suppose the likelihood of the above scenario was one percent. In that case, since this scenario threatens most human beings on the planet, the risk is huge, and strenuous efforts to avoid that scenario would be justified.

  216. Leland Palmer:

    Correction, at the end of the fourth paragraph from the bottom of my post # 215:

    Note that the trend in forcing is not encouraging- at 13 ppm of methane concentration, forcing due to increased lifetime, secondary CO2, and atmospheric chemistry effects is up to 400 percent of that forcing directly attributable to methane itself.

    Make that:

    …directly attributable to methane itself with it’s current atmospheric lifetime.

  217. Hank Roberts:

    > likelihood … one percent…. strenuous efforts
    > to avoid that scenario would be justified.

    Now, say you have a hundred scenarios that are one percent likely.
    And fifty scenarios that are two percent likely.
    And twenty-five that are four percent likely, and so on.
    Up to a handful of scenarios that are more likely than not.
    Top one is, say, warming from burning fossil fuels, call it — most likely.

    If you’re lucky, you’ll pick the one among many one percent risks that’s actually going to be the one that, in the real world, is really happening, and dedicate the world’s effort to that particular cause.

    If you’re an energy company interested in tapping natural gas under permafrost, you might be lucky in a whole different way, of course.

    You might convince people that it’s a public service as well as a profitable business, in the short term.

    But if the methane isn’t going to melt more than 100x faster than in the past, you’ll have wasted the effort you could have focused on the main problem, and put all that methane up for burning to the drillers’ profit.

    Do you feel lucky?

  218. John E. Pearson:

    214 Sidd: “John” will do.

    After a little more thought I don’t like the mechanism I proposed the other day. I think the latent heat is so high propagation failure would be nearly certain unless the clathrates were already near melting, in which case the proposed scheme is not particularly relevant.

  219. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Hank-

    I was using the one percent probability of a methane catastrophe as an argument. Even a small chance of an utter catastrophe carries a substantial risk, if risk is defined as insurance companies do by multiplying consequences of an event by probability of that event.

    But the true probability of a methane catastrophe if we continue on our present course is likely much higher than that, in my opinion.

    Looking at the geological record, there are discontinuities, often marking the boundaries between geological periods. The End Permian mass extinction is the boundary between the Permian and the Jurassic periods, of course. An event happened which was so severe it wiped out 95 percent of the life then existing, and the empty ecological niches produced allowed the dinosaurs to evolve to fill those empty niches.

    Many of these boundaries are marked by severe discontinuities in the carbon isotope C12/C13 ratios, that have been attributed to several trillion tons of carbon from a living source entering the active carbon cycle. The methane hydrates are very likely this carbon source. Methane hydrates are simultaneously abundant, volatile, capable of positive feedback reinforcement of their own release, and are derived from a living source, and so have an anomalous C12/C13 ratio- fitting the clathrate gun model.

    If methane catastrophes have occurred several times in earth history, and have occurred as recently as 50 million years ago for the PETM, then likely the potential for us to set one off is high, not low.

    Our current rate of change of CO2 emissions might actually guarantee a methane catastrophe- we don’t know.

    Everything appears to be happening decades ahead of schedule- melting icecaps included. We cannot responsibly take the sort of risk involved in business as usual (or above) emissions of CO2.

  220. sidd:

    John., would you expand on the sentence “…tbelow the he latent heat is so high propagation failure would be nearly certain unless the clathrates were already near melting, …”

    “Self preserved” clathrates survive in the metastable zones pf P and T, so these metastable inclusions are actually above the T and below the P of the hydrate stability zone. I wonder if these are in the “super warmed” or “hyper warmed” regions (super warmed is when the latent heat absorbed by dissociating clathrate would be enough to cool the mass of back below the dissociation temperature, hyper warmed is when the heat absorbed would be insufficient to cool the mass of clathrate back below the dissociation temperature.)

    sidd

  221. Leland Palmer:

    Hi CM:

    Leland Palmer #194, you stated:

    David’s model has several major flaws, in my opinion. It leaves out increased CO2 from permafrost decay, for example,

    How is this a flaw in “an online model of methane in the atmosphere”?

    It’s definitely a flaw if that model claims to be a worst case scenario, with some definite relationship to the real world, CM. Secondary CO2 has been important in past apparent methane catastrophes, and appears to have set of further rounds of hydrate dissociation. What took hundreds of years in past methane catastrophes could take decades in our present situation with our geologically instantaneous and unnaturally consistent releases of CO2.

    and leaves out secondary CO2 produced by methane oxidation. (…
    As I’m just another layman mouthing off, I’m not sure if this is also covered by David’s parameterization.

    From David’s description of his model:

    The radiative forcing is compared with Business-as-usual CO2 radiative forcing with the model year 0 corresponding…

    This is business as usual CO2, no matter what happens to the methane.

    But anyway, if you look e.g. at Isaksen’s 7xCH4 case, they get a 3.6 W/m2 total radiative forcing, of which 0.2 W/m2 (6%) from secondary CO2. A difference, but not a crucial one.

    Yes for small releases, the secondary atmospheric chemistry effects that Isaksen models- also left out of David’s model, by the way- would be important. Since Isaksen’s results are new results, it’s hard for me to see how David could be including them in his model.

    Although David says that he completely incorporates the water vapor feedback and atmospheric chemistry effects in his climate sensitivity figure, this still does not seem likely to me.

    I wouldn’t trust my feelings too far if I’d been told otherwise by the experts not once, nor twice, but three times.

    Each atmospheric chemistry effect greenhouse gas would have it’s own associated water vapor feedback.

    I don’t see how that makes sense. GHGs cause forcings, the sum of forcings causes a warming, the warming leads to a water vapor feedback. The water vapor only cares how hot it gets, it doesn’t care what mix of gases was doing the heating.

    Good point, but the two statements are equivalent. The bottom line is that more forcing from more greenhouse gases including stratospheric water vapor, tropospheric ozone, and stratospheric hydroxyl radical results in a BIGGER water vapor feedback.

    Isaksen’s stuff implies that climate sensitivity to forcing is greater for rapid rates of temperature change (and so for methane release high enough to overwhelm ocean oxidation and cause atmospheric chemistry effects) than for slow rates of change…something that challenges the idea that the earth has s single climate sensitivity to forcing regardless of rate of change.

    I don’t think Isaksen’s stuff implies anything of the sort. Far as I can see, Isaksen et al. do not calculate temperatures or climate sensitivity, but total radiative forcings from methane. The forcings are indeed greater for rapid rates of methane release.

    David appears to apply a different multiplier than Isaksen et al., but that’s probably partly due to their defining direct vs. total forcings differently (Gavin had a note on this).

    Bottom line: David’s model ends up with a total RF of about 5 W/m2 from about 10xCH4 (eyeballed), whereas Isaksen et al. with 5.4 W/m2 from 13xCH4. They may not be entirely comparable (different release rates and time horizons). Still, they’re close enough that I don’t really see what the issue is.

    David does include increased methane lifetime from exhaustion of the hydroxyl radical oxidation mechanism, I’ll give him that. He doesn’t include ocean exhaustion of methane oxidation, though, leaving it up to the user to input steadily increasing methane inputs into the model…which is not possible because only linear inputs are allowed.

    My main problem with the model is that it appears to me to give unrealistic long term results and consequences, and I still have concerns about the water vapor feedback being included from more different sources of forcing, occupying different infrared absorption bands.

    Given the inputs to the End Permian, for example, I think that David’s model would show a brief bump of methane forcing followed by a quick decline.

    What actually occurred according to the clathrate gun model of that extinction was further rounds of methane release probably set off by secondary CO2 and atmospheric chemistry effects. Over about 80 thousand years, this resulted in a severe mass extinction, moving from the oceans which likely became anoxic, to the land, apparently. Some have argued that what cause the land based extinctions was actually hydrogen sulfide from the anoxic oceans, combined with severe drought and rapidly changing climate.

    How to kill off (almost) all life: the end Permian extinction event

  222. Hank Roberts:

    Seems to me David’s model goes as far as watching Wiley Coyote treading air well past the edge of the cliff — you’re asking him to add gravity to the model so you can see where the coyote goes after that point.

    I dunno. Seems to me clear enough as it is.

  223. Leland Palmer:

    By the way, CM-

    Greenhouse gas forcing is logarithmic to concentration. Each time a new greenhouse gas is injected into the atmosphere, it starts out on the steep part of its forcing vs concentration curve. This is because infrared absorption bands start to get saturated as concentration increases, as you know. That is why methane is currently considered “25 times worse than CO2 when its effects are averaged over a century”. It is present at around 1800 ppb, so is still in the steep part of its forcing versus concentration curve, as I’m sure you know as well as I.

    It seemed to me when I read the Isaksen paper that we were multiplying the problem considerably by adding greenhouse gases presently in the atmosphere at very low concentrations via atmospheric chemistry effects of methane. Tropospheric ozone is presently at very low levels, for example. Stratospheric water vapor, as well, I believe. I’m not sure about hydroxyl radical, but I seem to remember it is present in the atmosphere at very low concentrations at present, due its chemical aggressiveness and short lifetime. We haven’t talked about nitrous oxide, but I believe there is speculation that anoxic oceans could start to produce that as well.

    So it’s hard for me to believe that David’s model contains these new, startling atmospheric chemistry results, or their resulting water vapor feedback. He’s going to have to give me more than a blanket assurance that they are included- he’s going to have to show me how.

    Looking at the graphs of infrared absorption bands, I can imagine the ozone band getting much wider as concentration increases, for example. I can imagine the long complex water vapor bands with their broad tails rising almost like curtains as concentration of water vapor increases with temperature.

    [Response: We can all imagine an unlimited number of bogeymen under the bed, but having to show you personally that each of your imaginings isn't going to pop up and bite you is neither possible nor interesting. There would indeed be knock on effects on strat water vapour, OH and O3, but none of these rise to anything like the impact you appear to be imagining. Conversely, the confidence that you exhibit on the exact cause of the PT extinction, the state of the hydrate reservoirs 250 million years ago etc. is hugely over-estimated. That period remains mysterious for the very good reason that it happened 250 million years ago and all evidence is extremely partial, indirect and sparse - there have been many theories for this event, and I can guarantee there will be many more. And as for the PETM, the only extinctions that occurred were in deep sea benthic foraminifera. - gavin]

  224. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland,
    In science, you don’t get to assume there’s a 1% chance of catastrophe due to a particular threat–you have to show it.

  225. Steve Fish:

    Leland Palmer:

    Please explain to me why I should pay any attention, or even read, your repetitive and extravagant extrapolations when you are not an expert. I prefer to get my science, outside of my own area of expertise, from the researchers who are actually publishing science.

    Steve

  226. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Gavin

    We can all imagine an unlimited number of bogeymen under the bed, but having to show you personally that each of your imaginings isn’t going to pop up and bite you is neither possible nor interesting. There would indeed be knock on effects on strat water vapour, OH and O3, but none of these rise to anything like the impact you appear to be imagining. Conversely, the confidence that you exhibit on the exact cause of the PT extinction, the state of the hydrate reservoirs 250 million years ago etc. is hugely over-estimated. That period remains mysterious for the very good reason that it happened 250 million years ago and all evidence is extremely partial, indirect and sparse – there have been many theories for this event, and I can guarantee there will be many more. And as for the PETM, the only extinctions that occurred were in deep sea benthic foraminifera. – gavin

    Yes, thank you Gavin.

    I do believe you have the shoe on the wrong foot, though, in my opinion.

    The correct question should be- what do we want to bet that these plausible interpretations of the fossil record are wrong?

    Do we really want to be the world on it?

    For the sake of fossil fuels?

    [Response: ??? - gavin]

  227. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Steve-

    Leland Palmer:

    Please explain to me why I should pay any attention, or even read, your repetitive and extravagant extrapolations when you are not an expert. I prefer to get my science, outside of my own area of expertise, from the researchers who are actually publishing science.

    Oh, I explained some of that in the post that was deleted. Some of this has to do with the existence of money and influence in the real world.

    I do not think that you should believe anyone blindly, or put too much assurance in any source of information. The financial interests involved in this debate are immense. ExxonMobil, for example, has profits in the 30-40 billion dollar range per year on gross sales in excess of 400 billion dollars. That’s bigger than the gross national product of most countries. The oil and natural gas under the arctic sea ice is likely worth trillions of dollars, and methane from the hydrates is also worth trillions, if it can be tapped.

    Don’t bet the world on any information from anyone, certainly not in such a complex situation, with so much at stake.

    Oh, another reason you should listen to me is that it’s not really me that you are listening to. It’s Isaksen and Isaksen’s general atmospheric chemistry model talking about methane atmospheric chemistry effects, among other sources including the IPCC reports. It’s some guys from Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Los Alamos, and their man-years of hard work on their model showing resource depletion in the Arctic ocean interfering with ocean oxidation that you should listen to. It’s Benton and Twitchett you would be listening to about the End Permian, among others.

  228. Anonymous Coward:

    Leland,
    You aren’t speaking for Isaksen or anyone else. Let us know about current research but please don’t attribute your own inferences to them.

    And please quit drawing innocent bystanders into this disgraceful conspiracy theory about Exxon influencing scientists who are obviously not on their side. Keep this kind of stuff stuff for the Curry thread.

    Let me ask you what I asked other methane alarmists before: what practical action do you think is justified by methane-realted risk that isn’t already justified without reference to methane? I got no answers so far but it seems some methane alarmists are interested in banning beef or something. Do you have more serious proposals in mind? Can you provide some kind of quantitative risk analysis? If not, please work this stuff out before pointing fingers.

  229. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland,
    Well, except Isaksen isn’t hiding under the covers afraid to look out. Isaksen has a hypothesis. It bears looking at. It is not, as yet, sufficiently credible to cause us to stop the global economy. We do not have a sustainable energy economy ready to deploy and take the place of the current unsustainable fossil-fuel based economy. We would be a whole helluva lot closer to that goal than we are if we had heeded warnings in the ’70s of imminent shortages of petroleum or in the 80s and 90s of imminent climate change. We as a species decided to ignore these threats.

    Now we are stuck with an unsustainable energy economy, an unsustainable population and hoping against hope that we can buy enough time to avert disaster. As a result, we must know that a threat is indeed credible before we can devote scarce resources to its mitigation. Welcome to the real world.

  230. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Gavin-

    [Response: ??? - gavin]

    I thought that answer was clear. Here it is again:

    Do we want to bet the future of the biosphere that the clathrate gun hypothesis augmented by ocean and atmospheric chemistry effects of methane is wrong?

    Shouldn’t we be cautious, and humble about our ability to predict the outcome of such a snarl of interlocking positive feedback loops?

    Shouldn’t the existence of mass extinctions and oceanic anoxic events in the fossil record make us more cautious, instead of less?

  231. Hank Roberts:

    > what do we want to bet that these
    > plausible
    > interpretations of the fossil record are wrong?

    Plausible? If they’re plausible to the scientists, that’s where research will happen.

    If not, you should look hard at whether you’re being used for political ends to push investment into drilling methane sources before their stability is known.

    It’s clear that a methane hydrate layer drilled and sucked out is going to pull in more water and continue to evolve gas. There are gas wells mentioned earlier that just keep on producing gas long after they were expected to tap out, and likely that’s from releasing methane from clathrate — provoked by drilling into the source.

    Your cautionary message should be ‘hands off hydrates til we know what’s happening’ — right?

    Then we agree.

    This is a feature if you’re drilling for gas.
    It’s a bug if you’re a climate scientist concerned about methane.

  232. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland,
    May I make a couple of substitutions.

    Do we want to bet the future of the biosphere by not having the ability to exterminate invisible pink unicorns who threaten the very fabric of space time.

    Both threats are equally established.

  233. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray-

    Leland,
    May I make a couple of substitutions.

    Do we want to bet the future of the biosphere by not having the ability to exterminate invisible pink unicorns who threaten the very fabric of space time.

    Both threats are equally established.

    There are trillions of tons of invisible pink unicorns on the continental shelves of most continents and in the Arctic? Invisible pink unicorns, capable of overwhelming the ocean and atmospheric mechanisms of unicorn oxidation, and increasing their lifetime in the atmosphere? Invisible pink unicorns, with greenhouse potency 75 times that of CO2, if their effects are integrated over a 20 year period?

    Who knew? :)

    Seriously, though, there are trillions of tons of methane hydrates. And they are capable of overwhelming the ocean oxidation mechanisms in the Arctic, over a 30 year period- not according to me, but according to Lawrence Berkeley Lab and Los Alamos National Labs.

    According to Isaksen’s state of the art general atmospheric chemistry model, large emissions of methane are also capable of overwhelming the hydroxyl radical oxidation mechanism in the atmosphere, and increasing its own greenhouse potency by this mechanism. David’s model includes increase of methane lifetime by overwhelming the hydroxyl radical, by the way, so I assume you’re not accusing him of pink unicorn fantasies as well.

    Well, except Isaksen isn’t hiding under the covers afraid to look out. Isaksen has a hypothesis. It bears looking at. It is not, as yet, sufficiently credible to cause us to stop the global economy. We do not have a sustainable energy economy ready to deploy and take the place of the current unsustainable fossil-fuel based economy

    Yes, thank you for your efforts to defend the global economy, Ray. I wasn’t aware that defending the global economy was a purely scientific pursuit, though. But delaying conversion to renewable sources of energy, when the existing fossil fuel supply system has ludicrous levels of greenhouse side effects in return for small amounts of useful heat of combustion is foolish, in my opinion.

    We only spend five percent of our incomes on energy- far less than past societies, in many cases. If it was seven percent of our incomes for energy supply, or even ten percent for a while, that would certainly not kill the economy.

    We can live and do fine with renewable energy sources, Ray.

    But can we live and do fine with tens of gigatons of hydrate methane shooting into the atmosphere?

    The available science says we cannot, regardless of your assertions.

  234. Hank Roberts:

    So, Leland, do I understand you correctly?

    Your cautionary message is

    “Don’t mess with drilling into hydrates til we know what’s happening”

    — right?

  235. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland,
    OK, by all means convert to a totally renewable energy economy. Don’t worry. We’ll wait.

    What freakin’ planet do you live on?

    Do you actually think that this is all easy and that the sole reason why we don’t have a renewable energy economy and a flying car and a frickin’ pony, for that matter, is because of ebil scientists?

  236. John E. Pearson:

    220 Sidd: I am on vacation and away from the internet mainly (Hallelujah). In any case I prefer to hold this discussion off-line. You can reach me via my gmail account. use my first name middle initial and last name with no punctuation.

  237. Steve Fish:

    Leland, could you please stop posting the same rant over and over again?

    Ray, in order to maintain the high level of scientific content of recent posts, can you tell me if the albedo forcing of pink unicorns is positive or negative?

    Steve

  238. CM:

    Leland,

    I suggested above that Isaksen and David’s model actually get pretty similar forcings from similar CH4 scenarios. I could be wrong about that, but if I’m right, there seems little point in insisting that Isaksen has more scary knock-on stuff.

    Yes, even I know GHG forcings are logarithmic with concentration, so you can bet these guys have factored it in.

    You indicated that you understood my argument that the water vapor feedback would depend on the temperature change from the total forcing, not on what gases are doing it, so what’s this about “the water vapor feedback being included from more different sources of forcing, occupying different infrared absorption bands”?

    David’s model does leave out CO2 from oxidized methane, so there’s one forcing missing relative to Isaksen. Let me try this on the back of my envelope, and hope someone will care to correct my reasoning if it’s too badly off:

    David puts 200 GtC into the atmosphere. Let’s oxidize the lot to CO2. Assume airborne fraction of 50%. That’s 100 GtC = 50 ppm CO2 added over 100 years. From present levels, that is, if you imagine we quit fossil fuels today but David’s worst case happens anyway, that translates into another ~ 0.6 W/m2 added to the 5 W/m2 from the methane and stuff, still more or less comparable to the BAU CO2 case. On the other hand, assuming David’s worst case methane scenario happens on top of the BAU CO2 case, it matters less.

    Point about the long tail of CO2 taken. I don’t know how many of us will be around to care if we get David’s worst case plus BAU fossil fuel use, though. I think it’s plenty scary as it is.

  239. Kevin McKinney:

    Leland, again, who is “betting?” You keep acting as if you are the only one concerned, which is not the case.

    What do we do differently if you are absolutely correct about methane hydrates, than if we are “merely” concerned about pervasive agricultural drought, punishing extreme precipitation events and 100 million potential climate refugees?

    Steve–I’m no expert, but I think the albedo effect of pink unicorns is highly frequency-dependent.

  240. Ray Ladbury:

    Steve, of course the forcing due to invisible pink unicorns is much greater than their invisible white counterparts. However, whether the net is positive or negative depends on whether they occupy land previously occupied by dark jungle or bright snow.

  241. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Hank-

    So, Leland, do I understand you correctly?

    Your cautionary message is

    “Don’t mess with drilling into hydrates til we know what’s happening”

    — right?

    No, not really. It soon won’t be necessary to drill- just harvest the plumes from the dissociating hydrates. But catching all the methane would be like catching soup in a net, of course. The methane could even be burned via oxyfuel combustion, and the resulting CO2 captured and deep injected into fractured basalt layers below the sea floor. Sale of electricity could pay for the project. Methane could be captured and burned as natural gas, which would also minimize its impact on global warming.

    I think we need a WWII scale effort to slow, stop and reverse global warming. That should include nationalizing the fossil fuel corporations, diverting maybe half of our “defense” expenditures to dealing with the problem, and so on. There should be an emergency effort to convert to renewables, electrify the transport fleet, etc.

    But the first step in building a political consensus is understanding the magnitude of the problem.

    It might also be possible to minimize methane emissions elsewhere, to compensate for Arctic emissions, for example methane emissions from rice culture and landfills could be minimized.

    It might also be possible to artificially boost hydroxyl radical concentrations, and so keep methane lifetime short. I doubt it, but we should try.

    It might be possible to artificially supply nutrients to methanotroph bacteria in the oceans, and so oxidize as much methane as possible.

    Whatever we do, we need to get unified and get busy, IMO.

  242. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray:

    Leland,
    OK, by all means convert to a totally renewable energy economy. Don’t worry. We’ll wait.

    What freakin’ planet do you live on?

    Do you actually think that this is all easy and that the sole reason why we don’t have a renewable energy economy and a flying car and a frickin’ pony, for that matter, is because of ebil scientists?

    You’ve got a great talent for projection, Ray. :)

    Renewables are diffuse sources of energy. Lots of energy there, but spread thinly. So, it’s an economic problem, and a technological problem, although wind generated electricity can now compete with fossil fuel generated electricity, and the price of solar is dropping like a bomb.

    Also, many fossil fuel subsidies are indirect- like the 3 trillion we just spent a few years ago invading the Middle East, to secure supplies of Iraqi crude.

    Nobody said anything about “ebil” scientists, Ray.

    Where do you get this stuff?

    First its pink unicorns, now evil scientists?

  243. Lewis:

    CM – “Point about the long tail of CO2 taken. I don’t know how many of us will be around to care if we get David’s worst case plus BAU fossil fuel use, though. I think it’s plenty scary as it is.”

    I’ve yet to see how we might get Either the anthro-CO2 outputs Or David’s worst case ESAS methane event; whatever feedback outputs we generate are surely inevitably in addition to our anthro-GHG outputs, which seem unlikely to be ended before 2040 at best ?

    The fact that the impact of timelagged warming plus loss of the sulphate parasol warming plus our remaining GHG outouts’ warming is ‘scary,’ doesn’t mean we can discount the feedbacks’ contribution as being irrelevant. With rapid action we can still control anthro-emissions and endure the now unavoidable impacts of climate destabilization. But if the feedbacks’ outputs are allowed to exceed the net carbon sinks, then we should likely be committed to a warming that society would not survive.

    In this sense the focus on Shakhova’s warning of a 50Gt CH4 burst “at any time” seems a distraction. It is unusable as a lobbying/campaining issue owing to both the lack of consensus on its probability and to its being a potential future event rather than an ongoing developing symptom of dangerous warming.

    That focus distracts attention from what is in my view the more cogent issue of the raft of interactive feedbacks that are reportedly already accelerating, including:
    cryosphere decline,
    global peatlands’ decay under changing rainfall,
    global peatbogs’ decay under rising CO2,
    global forest cover’s desiccation and combustion,
    permafrost melt,
    and rising water vapour in a warming atmosphere.
    The AIRS plots also show a substantial rise of CH4 from the Arctic Ocean since 2002, but while this may well be a feedback effect from rising water temperature from AGW compounded by ice-cover loss and rising river outflows, some still claim that at least the ESAS component is only a natural outcome of ~8,000 years of permafrost’s inundation.

    There is also a major driver of each of the carbon-bank feedbacks in addition to AGW in the form of the ongoing northward retreat of increasing volumes of rainfall. (I’d agree that technically the shift is ‘poleward’, but in practice the NCAR report projects it to be essentially northward over land).

    Moreover, there are very diverse direct interactions between feedbacks (as opposed to the indirect effect of their GHG outputs’ warming which is then timelagged in effect by Ocean Thermal Inertia). Just one of many such interactions I’ve heard of is the increase of summer biomass across the tundra falling, and being washed and windblown, into increasing areas of open water – due to increasing rainfall maximizing landslip-dam pools, thermokarst pools and river volumes – where that biomass then sinks and adds to CH4 outputs from anaerobic decomposition. Small beer locally, but off the ~49GHa.s just of permafrost, let alone the tundra as a whole, it may well prove significant.

    The sheer diversity of the direct interactions of feedbacks, alongside the fact that many arise in response to extreme weather events, means that their combined CO2e outputs are not, and probably never will be, effectively predictable on an annual basis. What can be predicted with some confidence is that with anthro-GHGs’ warming not peaking much before ~2070 if our GHG outputs are ended by 2040, if the feedbacks as a whole are not controlled before their outputs exceed the natural carbon sinks, they will then, over time, accelerate to the point of ending the climatic stability on which society survives.

    This issue is distinct from that of controlling anthro-GHG outputs, but its resolution in no way supersedes that requisite priority; on the contrary, controlling the feedbacks is the essential complement to controlling our emissions. Plainly, ignoring either issue would be lethal to our prospects.

    In particular, ignoring the feedbacks for fear of somehow facilitating abusive and incompetent sulphate geoengineering is highly counter-productive:
    it leaves us tangled in the superpowers’ ‘brinkmanship of inaction’ and drifting directly downstream towards an inevitable emergency imposition of that quick cheap dirty and ‘effective’ intervention with sulphates.

    In terms of avoiding that emergency intervention, I suggest that we need to give a great deal more attention to the feedbacks and to what could be done for their control. The wishful thinking of pretending that because they’re mostly not shockingly large today they do not warrant this effective consideration would not only be an unscientific perspective, it would also be potentially lethally dangerous to society.

    Regards,

    Lewis Cleverdon

  244. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Kevin-

    Leland, again, who is “betting?” You keep acting as if you are the only one concerned, which is not the case.

    What do we do differently if you are absolutely correct about methane hydrates, than if we are “merely” concerned about pervasive agricultural drought, punishing extreme precipitation events and 100 million potential climate refugees?
    < \blockquote>
    We work the methane problem, Kevin.

    We reduce methane emissions from livestock, landfills, and rice culture, maybe.

    We introduce odorant chemicals into natural gas at the wellhead, so that when it leaks we can smell it, maybe.

    We develop technology to capture methane from methane plumes in the ocean, burn it via oxyfuel combustion to generate electricity, and deep inject the resulting CO2 into fractured basalt layers under the ocean floor. So maybe the first thing to do is start building underwater electrical cables, running from methane emitting regions to connect with onshore electrical grids.

    Maybe we genetically engineer trees to be able to utilize methane and metabolize it.

    [Response:Good luck with that.--Jim]

    Mostly, though, methane catastrophism is highly motivational. A realistic assessment of what we are facing might actually get us moving.

  245. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland, the problem with renewables is not that they cannot generate energy. They can. The problem is that they cannot with current technology be integrated into a robust energy infrastructure capable of supporting a complex, global civiliztion. I would love to be proved wrong in this. However, I’m pretty familiar with renewable energy and with energy infrastructure. This is one reason why I have favored deploying renewable energy generation in places like Africa where currently there is little to no energy infrastructure. Not only would it improve the lives of people in underdeveloped countries and facilitate development, it would also keep developing nations from investing in nonrenewable infrastructure. Moreover, because it would significantly improve people’s lives, they would be more likely to accept and even adapt to the less reliable energy supply renewables supply.

    The industrial world is a much tougher nut to crack–replacing an existing infrastructure is always more difficult than building a brand new one. In the industrial world we rely on energy on demand. Much of our infrastructure depends on it. Figuring out how to meet this demand with renewables is not a trivial problem–and implying that it would be easy to solve is not helpful.

    FWIW, I agree that this issue should have been addressed by now, but when you have presidents who consider solar panels on the whitehouse to be an eyesore, making progress on energy issues is a pipedream. Even today, the majority of the US political and industrial establishment is in denial of even the basics of the threats we face to our global energy, agricultural and industrial infrastructure from depletion of fossil fuels and climate change. You’re talking about a WW II scale effort. I’d settle at this point for a simple acknowledgement of the physical reality of the challenges we face.

  246. SecularAnimist:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “… the problem with renewables is … that they cannot with current technology be integrated into a robust energy infrastructure capable of supporting a complex, global civilization”.

    With all due respect, that’s simply not true.

    According to the American Wind Energy Association, in 2011 the US added 6,810 Megawatts of wind capacity for a cumulative total of nearly 47,000 MW; and there are over 8,000 MW of wind generation capacity under construction at the start of 2012. Wind power accounts for more than 35 percent of new US generating capacity installed in the last 4 years — more than coal and nuclear combined.

    According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, in the first three quarters of 2011 the USA installed over 1 Gigawatt of grid-connected PV, for a cumulative total of 3.1 GW — ten times the cumulative PV capacity installed as of 2005. Hundreds of megawatts of utility-scale PV is under construction right now. Over 1,200 MW of concentrating solar thermal power were under construction at the end of 2011, with another 4,000 MW of concentrating solar thermal projects in the pipeline with signed power-purchase agreements from utilities.

    The reality is that wind and solar are mature, powerful technologies that are ALREADY, “with current technology”, being “integrated into a robust energy infrastructure capable of supporting a complex, global civilization” — and this is happening worldwide, at large scale, and at an accelerating rate.

  247. Hank Roberts:

    > several trillion tons of carbon from a living source entering the
    > active carbon cycle. The methane hydrates are very likely this

    Well, no.

    Would you change what you advocate doing if your assumption turned out to be wrong?

    END-PERMIAN MASS EXTINCTION FROM MASSIVE BASALT-COAL INTERACTION …
    gsa.confex.com/gsa/2009AM/finalprogram/abstract_162958.htm

  248. Hank Roberts:

    This may be worth a look once it’s available:
    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/12/12/1118675109.full.pdf
    Explosive eruption of coal and basalt and the end-Permian mass extinction
    PNAS 2011 ; published ahead of print December 19, 2011,

  249. Kevin McKinney:

    #244–Some of those measures seem practical and useful; others, such as the ‘underwater cables,’ not so much–to me at least. But I think the idea that “methane catastrophism is highly motivational” is flawed. You are not convincing folks in large numbers here, on a ‘friendly forum.’ Why would you expect a better result in a wider context already sensitized to ‘alarmism?’

    Personally, I think that we’ll do better with claims that are highly supportable.

  250. Ray Ladbury:

    SA, Great!! Except that just in the US, we require 24/7/365 generation of 500 GW, and the load is nowhere near constant,so peak generating demand is probably twice that.

    There is also a limit to how much renewable energy we can accommodate on the current grid–and we don’t have the technology for a new grid yet.

    I said before, the problem is not one of generation, but rather one of reliability, energy storage and getting the energy where it is needed in a form where it can be used.

  251. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray:

    Leland, the problem with renewables is not that they cannot generate energy. They can. The problem is that they cannot with current technology be integrated into a robust energy infrastructure capable of supporting a complex, global civiliztion.

    Wrong.

    Solar, for example, turns out to be a pretty good match to the daily demand curve, especially in areas which use a lot of air conditioning.

    The more intermittent sources you add together, the less intermittent the whole becomes.

    Most fossil fuel fired power plants could easily integrate a solar thermal trough retrofit, reducing emissions and fuel consumption.

    Thank you for your efforts to protect the global economy, but really, the global economy is in no danger- except from climate change itself, IMO. We’re already paying more for food, for example.

    It’s energy, Ray. Conservation of energy says that energy can be changed from one form into another.

  252. Ray Ladbury:

    Energy’s great, Leland. We need usable energy. Learn the difference. You know, Leland, we have something in common–neither of us has the foggiest idea what you are talking about.

  253. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray-

    Perhaps more to the point:

    SEGS Solar Thermal Plants

    As an example of cost, in 2002, one of the 30 MW Kramer Junction sites required $90 million to construct, and its operation and maintenance cost is about $3 million per year (4.6 cents per kilowatt hour).[3]

    These early solar thermal power plants built in the 1980s have now paid off their loans, and are now producing electricity in the 3-5 cents per kilowatt hour range. Likely, with technological advances, this could be improved on.

    Oh, Lord, please save us from the terrible scourge of solar energy. :)

  254. SecularAnimist:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “There is also a limit to how much renewable energy we can accommodate on the current grid–and we don’t have the technology for a new grid yet.”

    Again, with all due respect, this statement does not accurately reflect the reality. I would commend to your attention the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory:

    NREL is a leading expert in grid integration analysis of renewables, and collaborates closely with the power industry to share such transformative information. NREL has helped educate the power industry about the viability of significant penetration of renewable energy on the grid, while helping overcome and better understand operational, reliability, and economic concerns.

    For example (emphasis added):

    The Western Wind and Solar Integration Study examines the benefits and challenges of integrating up to 35% wind and solar energy penetration into the grid by 2017. The study finds that these targets are technically feasible and do not necessitate extensive additional infrastructure, but do require key changes to current operational practice.

    Though wind and solar output vary over time and cannot be perfectly forecast, the technical analysis performed in this study shows that it is operationally possible to accommodate 30% wind and 5% solar energy penetration. The study also finds that a 27% wind and solar energy penetration across the Western Interconnection decreases fuel and emissions costs by 40% and carbon emissions by 25%–45%, depending on the future price of natural gas.

    So it is “technically feasible” for wind and solar to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation by 25% to 45% in five years — without “extensive additional infrastructure”. That’s huge.

    I would add that distributed, end-user solar photovoltaics can have an even greater impact than this type of analysis suggests. Why? Because there is no need for the utility to “integrate” them, as there is with utility scale solar. As far as the utility is concerned, distributed solar simply looks like a reduction in peak demand.

    Now, recognizing and appreciating the moderators’ indulgence of this off-topic digression, I will let it go at that.

  255. CM:

    Lewis,

    > whatever feedback outputs we generate are surely inevitably in addition to
    > our anthro-GHG outputs

    Surely. The question mark was over whether anything like David’s worst-case methane scenario would happen, not over whether our emissions would continue (nor, alas, over whether we are on the BAU track). And I was questioning Leland’s specific criticisms of the OP, not advocating that we ignore methane and other carbon feedbacks, in the Arctic or elsewhere.

  256. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland, so when will you take me for a spin in your solar car?

    Is it really so hard to understand that energy sources do not equal an energy infrastructure?

  257. Ray Ladbury:

    SA, our disagreement is evidently over what constitutes “significant”. Decreasing fossil fuel emissions by even 45% ain’t gonna cut it.

  258. Hank Roberts:

    Science. 2008 Apr 11;320(5873):195.
    Amplification of Cretaceous warmth by biological cloud feedbacks.
    Kump LR, Pollard D.
    Source

    Department of Geosciences and Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA. lkump@psu.edu
    Abstract

    The extreme warmth of particular intervals of geologic history cannot be simulated with climate models, which are constrained by the geologic proxy record to relatively modest increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Recent recognition that biological productivity controls the abundance of cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) in the unpolluted atmosphere provides a solution to this problem. Our climate simulations show that reduced biological productivity (low CCN abundance) provides a substantial amplification of CO2-induced warming by reducing cloud lifetimes and reflectivity. If the stress of elevated temperatures did indeed suppress marine and terrestrial ecosystems during these times, this long-standing climate enigma may be solved.

    PMID:
    18403703
    [PubMed]

  259. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray-

    Leland, so when will you take me for a spin in your solar car?

    Is it really so hard to understand that energy sources do not equal an energy infrastructure?

    Not a problem. A plug in Prius, with solar cells on the roof to recharge it- no problem.

    I don’t have one, to be honest. Nor do I yet have solar cells on my roof. But I do intend to make that transition ASAP.

    I often ride the bus to work, by the way. But natural gas powered buses, with only a few percent methane leakage, are probably worse than diesel buses.

    Electric buses, on the other hand, powered by renewable energy sources, are quite achievable:

    Proterra Electric Buses

  260. Leland Palmer:

    #244–Some of those measures seem practical and useful; others, such as the ‘underwater cables,’ not so much–to me at least. But I think the idea that “methane catastrophism is highly motivational” is flawed. You are not convincing folks in large numbers here, on a ‘friendly forum.’ Why would you expect a better result in a wider context already sensitized to ‘alarmism?’

    Personally, I think that we’ll do better with claims that are highly supportable.

    About the underwater electrical cables:

    World’s Longest Underwater Electric Cable to Connect Iceland and Europe

    The one from Iceland to Europe just being studied, so far. But there are other shorter ones.

    Reliable submarine power cables

    ABB is one of the world’s most experienced submarine cable manufacturers, with well over a century’s experience of cable manufacturing and installation. We offer complete cable systems for all types of applications, from medium voltage distribution to high voltage AC and DC transmission.

  261. RichardC:

    Moderators, this should probably be on unforced variations. Feel free to move it there. Thanks.

    254 SA says, “So it is “technically feasible” for wind and solar to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation by 25% to 45% in five years — without “extensive additional infrastructure”. That’s huge.

    I would add that distributed, end-user solar photovoltaics can have an even greater impact than this type of analysis suggests. Why? Because there is no need for the utility to “integrate” them, as there is with utility scale solar.”

    First, I think distributed PV is as hard to integrate since it is net change in demand that matters to the utility, and users will be using the grid as storage for their PV systems. Sunny day? The utility will have to cope with not just their own excess PV but also users’. Cloudy day? Gotta make up for everybody’s as well. Some of this will be handled by users, but really, what’s the difference between a user sticking a battery in their basement and a utility putting one in a box at the subdivision entrance or at a power plant? (plug-in hybrid cars will help – sometimes your Volt will leave your garage fully discharged BECAUSE it was plugged in, but again, no difference whether the PV is utility or user owned.)

    This isn’t robust, just a blog post. I assume I’ve made errors. Corrections?:

    IEA/OCED says the USA has 3,101TWh/year of fossil fuel electric generation. (2008). That means we need to add 775TWh/yr in five years to hit your benchmark of 25%. irecusa.org says we installed 435 mw PV in 2010 and 80mw CSP in 1991 (best year so far). Planned wind construction for 2012 is 8,300 mw. Add the three together for a total of 8815 mw. Assuming a capacity factor of .3 and we will install 2645 mw/hr, or 23 TWh/yr in 2012. If we ramped up installation of solar and wind by 300%/yr (linear) we’d build 23 + 92 + 161 + 230 + 299 = 805 TWh/yr. That’s enough, but it neglects wasted energy when the wind blows too hard (HUGE issue for 25% penetration, especially with no transmission backbone), and neglects the energy required for all that construction, not just of turbines and cells, but also turbine and cell-building factories, mines, smelters, roads, etc, plus all the things every one of the workers involved buys for their personal lives, plus the multipliers through the economy.

    Your source also says, “Additional transmission will be needed to deliver wind power to market,” by the way. Oops.

    So, NO time for approving projects (right-of-way can take years), NO time for training the people who will do all this work, NO time for environmental impact studies, NO time to find, analyse, and purchase property, NO time to build up cement production, steel production, etc. Then, at the end of five years we will have factories and installers in place able to build 300TWh/yr per year of wind and solar. Since we’ll have run out of “integration room”, the whole shebang will have to be dismantled. We don’t want that, so we’ll have to build a transmission backbone and smart grid and replace all our appliances for smart ones. Even then, we’ll get to 45% in 2 more years. Then we’ll definitely have to toss out most of our construction capacity. Lots of folks out of work, lots of useless factories, lots of waste.

    The cost? Assuming $2/w for construction/installation and $20/w for construction of the factories that construct the cells and turbines, and we get $617 billion for construction and $2.1 trillion for construction of construction capability. Double that for roads, transmission lines, stuff, and declining quality of sites (they’re taking the best ones now for sure!), and the cost is about $5 trillion, or about 7% of GNP for 5 years.

    Technically possible? I doubt it. Extremely foolish? Certainly. The maximum construction capacity for renewables we should build is total desired capacity / 20 so that we’ll end up with an industry sized to replace itself as it wears out. Assuming a 10 year ramp-up, 30 years is the time it will take us to get to 45% market penetration, and getting past that is going to take serious storage capacity.

    The results? Assuming 0% energy growth, we’ll still be spewing 55% of 2011 carbon for electricity in 7 years. Electricity represents 1/3 of emissions, so we’ve dropped GHG emissions by 15%.

    Assuming this ratio hold true for all efforts, it takes 7% of GNP for a year to drop GHG emissions 1%. Getting to 80% reduction by 2050 means we’ll have to spend perhaps 10% of our GNP for 39 years (GNP will increase). So, to achieve our stated goal we must make an effort equivalent to what you are proposing, but for 39 years. This fits well with the 30 year logical build-up period I mentioned above, and also fits the size of the US military. So yes, if we declare war on AGW and use perhaps 90% of our military budget and personnel to fight that war (instead of Iraq et al), then we can do what we’ve supposedly committed to do by 2050.

    Now all we have to do is convince the Republicans that destitute muslims half the world away aren’t a greater threat than AGW. That’s probably harder than actually doing the 80% reduction by 2050.

  262. Kevin McKinney:

    #260–Sigh. OK, I was unclear–I wasn’t questioning the technical feasibility of underwater electrical cables, nor their economic feasibility for that matter–IIRC, they are proving quite useful in getting some offshore wind-generated power ashore.

    I was using that phrase as a shorthand for this proposal:

    We develop technology to capture methane from methane plumes in the ocean, burn it via oxyfuel combustion to generate electricity, and deep inject the resulting CO2 into fractured basalt layers under the ocean floor. So maybe the first thing to do is start building underwater electrical cables, running from methane emitting regions to connect with onshore electrical grids.

    Which strikes me as perhaps not impossible, but certainly apt to soak up way more time and money than the results are likely to warrant. (YMMV.) And I sure wouldn’t start by building the cables. . .

  263. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland, you seem to have zero understanding of how difficult what you are proposing would be. Do the math. How much lithium would be required for everyone in the US to have a plug-in Prius? How much additional electrical generation would be required to power the beasties? How much would it cost to put in charging stations–literally everywhere?

    Now look at the global population and extrapolate the results. There is a reason why this is hard.

  264. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Jim-

    Maybe we genetically engineer trees to be able to utilize methane and metabolize it.

    [Response:Good luck with that.--Jim]

    Well, I’m just a lowly analytical chemist, not a genetic engineer. Let me run it past my friend Gary.

    This did pop up on Google, though:


    Methylobacterium populi sp. nov., a novel aerobic, pink-pigmented, facultatively methylotrophic, methane-utilizing bacterium isolated from poplar trees (Populus deltoides×nigra DN34)

    So, it’s a bacterium that lives in poplar trees, which utilizes methane. It is of course a long way from a bacterium with an appropriate metabolic pathway to a practical and effective system, complete with acceptable environmental impacts. But, who knows what it might turn into, if someone were to actually work on methane metabolizing trees or plants (or bacteria which have a symbiotic relationship with such trees or plants)?

    We cannot depend on every idea to work. We have to have lots of ideas, and just blame the bad ones on any convenient dog, or something. :)

    Science consists of ideas as well as facts and theories, though, don’t you think?

    It’s interesting, the totally non-creative culture which has grown up on this site.

  265. SecularAnimist:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “SA, our disagreement is evidently over what constitutes ‘significant’. Decreasing fossil fuel emissions by even 45% ain’t gonna cut it.”

    In fact, what the NREL says is even less “significant” — they are talking about reducing only the emissions from electricity generation by 45 percent, not all emissions.

    We have to start somewhere. When I read that it could be possible to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation by 45 percent in five years, with mainstream, mature, mass-produced technology that is already at hand — my reaction is not to think of reasons why it can’t work, my reaction is “let’s get on with it!”

    And again, with respect, I would suggest that if the NREL says that integrating “significant” amounts of wind and solar into the grid can be done much more quickly and easily and less expensively than you seem to believe, that you look into what they are saying.

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “How much lithium would be required for everyone in the US to have a plug-in Prius? How much additional electrical generation would be required to power the beasties? How much would it cost to put in charging stations–literally everywhere?”

    Ray, again with sincere respect, you sound as though you are unaware that some of the largest corporations in the world are investing many millions of dollars in exactly these areas: advanced battery technologies and charging networks for example. And perhaps unaware that US government studies have shown that existing generation capacity is sufficient to charge up to 85 percent of the US passenger car fleet if they were converted to electric cars.

    All of these questions have been looked into. The work to address them is proceeding rapidly. This is not vaporware from some science fiction scenario, this is today’s technology.

    There is plenty to by cynical and pessimistic about — particularly the entrenched economic and political power of those who want to continue to amass wealth and power from “business as usual” and their dominance of the public discourse.

    But there is no reason to be cynical or pessimistic about the capacity of the renewable energy, efficiency and other technologies that we have at hand NOW to make very “significant” reductions in GHG emissions very quickly — IF we choose to apply them. On the contrary, it’s one of the few things that gives any reason for optimism.

  266. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Kevin-

    [Kevin]I was using that phrase as a shorthand for this proposal:

    [LP]We develop technology to capture methane from methane plumes in the ocean, burn it via oxyfuel combustion to generate electricity, and deep inject the resulting CO2 into fractured basalt layers under the ocean floor. So maybe the first thing to do is start building underwater electrical cables, running from methane emitting regions to connect with onshore electrical grids.

    [Kevin]Which strikes me as perhaps not impossible, but certainly apt to soak up way more time and money than the results are likely to warrant. (YMMV.) And I sure wouldn’t start by building the cables. . .

    Yes, good idea, right? :)

    We’ll soon have tens of billions of dollars worth of methane, an energy source, bubbling up in plumes in the ocean. This idea is a carbon neutral way to dispose of at least some of it, and make money at the same time. Profitable stuff has a way of multiplying, don’t you think?

    There are patents for devices for methane capture from ocean plumes, available on Google patents, by the way. None of them tested, though.

    I’d rather that we had been prudent, and avoided the warming oceans and subsequent methane plumes. But it might be possible to do profitable remediation, at this point. Profitable remediation would be good, don’t you think?

  267. SecularAnimist:

    RichardC, all I can say about your comment (currently #261) is that it is full of assumptions which appear to be based on an almost complete lack of knowledge of what is actually going on with renewable energy technologies today.

  268. wili:

    I had thought that energy discussions were verboten on this site, but since they seem not to be, I’ll pitch in.

    What always becomes stunningly clear to me when these conversations come up (but apparently to few others, so perhaps I’m missing something?), is that we need to drastically reduce our energy use.

    IIRC, Europeans use about half the energy Americans use with no great loss of quality of life, and some may say their QOL is even higher than ours.

    Latin Americans get by with half of that, and in many of those countries the happiness index shows higher satisfaction than for the US.

    So, in theory, we could cut our energy use to a quarter of current use without negatively affecting how happy and satisfied people are with their lives.

    But if we are seeing this as the existential threat it is, we should be looking at making cuts that are actually sacrifices and that make us occasionally less comfortable than we might otherwise like to be. Such sacrifices should be able to bring us down to another halving or quartering of energy use, that is to around 5-15% of current use rates.

    At this point we are in the range of what can be supplied with a reasonable increase in existing renewables, especially with some management of demand so that some energy-requiring activities are simply avoided when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing in the general area.

    IIRC, again, domestic petrol use in Great Britain dropped by 95% during WWII. Can’t we make something close to that kind of sacrifice to have a chance of preserving a habitable planet for our grandkids?

  269. Hank Roberts:

    > totally non-creative culture

    You’ve confused science with wishful thinking.

    It’s a very common problem; statistics was invented to distinguish between facts and wishes — by doing the math.

    If you’d show some numbers instead of waving hands and wishing, you’d get a lot of creative responses.

    Look at http://www.azimuthproject.org/azimuth/show/HomePage for examples.

  270. flxible:

    SA – While I agree with and admire your always cogent and incisive comments, the primary thing you [and Ray] avoid is the fact that the average working stiff simply cannot afford to switch to electric transport. I can keep my travel minimal to save a buck or 2 on fuel, but there is no conceivable way I can purchase a $40,000 electric or hybrid car and the charging arrangements needed to replace perfectly functional ancient ICE vehicles, even if the bankrupt govt co-signed for a loan. I note that over a year ago General Electric announced it would start switching their multi-thousand fleet of vehicles to electric in order to support growth of the supply industries it’s part of . . . still waiting for them to start on that plan. If a company like that can’t do it …. there’s plenty of reason to be pessimistic about our ability to choose change.

  271. Kevin McKinney:

    #266–Yes, Leland, your vaporware is lovely. But it’s still vaporware. That’s why I wouldn’t start with the cables, I’d start by designing and testing some of that collection gear you refer to.

    If I had any of the necessary skills and money, that is–but I think I do better writing my articles.

  272. Anonymous Coward:

    #268 wili,

    “I had thought that energy discussions were verboten on this site”
    I thought that only nuke energy was taboo.

    “Latin Americans get by with half of that, and in many of those countries the happiness index shows higher satisfaction than for the US.”
    Life expectancy is less subjective.
    Countries with substantially higher life expectancy than the US but much lower emissions per capita include France with 35% of US CO2 emissions as well as Israel or Sweden with 30%.
    If you’re OK with slightly higher life expectancies than the US, Costa Rica has only 10% of US emissions. But many of these small countries are special case with a lot of their income coming from tourism, expats or something.
    You have to settle for substantially lower life expectancies like those in Vietnam (life expectancy in the USA is about halfway between Vietnam and Israel) to find larger countries with very low emissions. Most Latin American countries don’t fare so well.
    None of this means that US emissions could easily be brought in line with those leaders without a massive growth in renewable or taboo energy, electric vheicles and so on. It would at best take decades to fix excessive urban sprawl for instance.

    “So, in theory, we could cut our energy use to a quarter of current use without negatively affecting how happy and satisfied people are with their lives.”
    In theory, yeah. The trouble is that your “we” is an abstraction that can therefore not cut anything. In contrast, Lincoln’s Republican party was a real “we” that could bring about social change.
    It’s a problem with most comments on RC about the issue. Some kind of benign yet powerful “we” is usually assumed while the motivations of the cliques which actually devise and implement public policies are ignored.

  273. SecularAnimist:

    flxible:

    Yes, electrifying ground transport to reduce tailpipe GHG emissions does present challenges beyond those of reducing the GHG emissions from electricity generation.

    Yes, the cost of being an “early adopter” of any new technology — such as electric cars — is quite high.

    Consider that the original 1981 IBM PC — with an 8-bit 8Mhz CPU, 64 Kilobytes of RAM, a 360 Kilobyte floppy drive, no hard drive, no network capability, and a monochrome text display — cost over $7000 in today’s dollars.

    Consider that today’s electric cars benefit from none of the economies of scale that will bring down prices as production increases — especially given the extreme inherent simplicity of electric drive vehicles compared to internal combustion vehicles, and especially if the industry adopts standardized interfaces and form factors that will spur third-party development of interchangeable components (which played a huge role in driving down the cost of personal computers).

    Consider that today, IBM is developing lithium-air batteries that will cost significantly less and have many times the energy density of today’s lithium-ion batteries, enabling electric cars to have a range of 500 miles per charge. And IBM expects these batteries to go into commercial production in less than 10 years.

    Perhaps in 10 years, “IBM PC” will stand for “IBM Personal Car”.

  274. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland: “It’s interesting, the totally non-creative culture which has grown up on this site.”

    Yes, shame on us for allowing little things like facts inhibit our unfettered creativity! Show us, Leland. Deliver us from the reality-based community!

  275. RichardC:

    267 SA said, “RichardC, all I can say about your comment (currently #261) is that it is full of assumptions which appear to be based on an almost complete lack of knowledge of what is actually going on with renewable energy technologies today.”

    OK. We agree I’m ignorant. That’s why most of us are here, to find those who can answer questions and correct misconceptions. Hopefully someone will help. My post was:

    I think distributed PV is as hard to integrate since it is net change in demand that matters to the utility, and users will be using the grid as storage for their PV systems. {ignorant and erroneous logic}

    This isn’t robust, just a blog post. I assume I’ve made errors. Corrections?:

    {more ignorant and erroneous logic}

    {inappropriate political snipe. My contribution to the political tone. Oops.}

  276. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray-

    Interesting quote from Semiletov, which I missed back in December:

    Independent Interview with Semiletov in December, 2011

    Igor Semiletov of the Russian Academy of Sciences tells the UK’s Independent that the plumes of methane, a gas 20 times as harmful as carbon dioxide, have shocked scientists who have been studying the region for decades. “Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of meters in diameter,” he said. “This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing.”

    Semiletov said that while his research team has discovered more than 100 plumes, they estimate there to be “thousands” over the wider area, extending from the Russian mainland to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.
    “In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed,”

    Semiletov said. “We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale — I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometer or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere — the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal.”

    [edit - repeating yourself over and again is not interesting.]

  277. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray-

    Leland, you seem to have zero understanding of how difficult what you are proposing would be. Do the math. How much lithium would be required for everyone in the US to have a plug-in Prius? How much additional electrical generation would be required to power the beasties? How much would it cost to put in charging stations–literally everywhere?

    Now look at the global population and extrapolate the results. There is a reason why this is hard.

    Yes, but if there is a lithium shortage, the price of lithium will rise, and this will stimulate the search for alternatives and better technological use of existing supplies, right?

    We can’t really expect the market to respond to a potential shortage before it arises, right?

    Have past technological revolutions had to solve supply problems before they arose?

    We just went through a period in which we spent three trillion dollars on an aggressive invasion of the Middle East, and another few trillion to bail out Wall Street. So, we apparently have money to spend- if our financial and political elites want to spend it.

    Then, of course, their are nickel metal hydride batteries, the patent rights to which are owned by Chevron- which refuses to produce large format nickel metal hydride batteries in United States. You’ve seen the film Who Killed The Electic Car, about he GM Impulse electric car? Perhaps there should be an eminent domain law for technology?

    We have an immensely diverse and powerful technology, Ray, and an economic market which serves to minimize the impact of shortages and dislocations. Past technological revolutions have not had to solve shortages before they happened, and expecting this one to do so is not reasonable.

  278. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland, Are you familiar with the periodic table? I suggest you study it. I don’t think you are going to come up with a substitute for lithium.

    While you are at it, maybe you could crack a couple of other books and try to learn how the world actually works. Here’s a hint: It isn’t simple.

  279. Kevin McKinney:

    #272–Perhaps better on “Unforced Variations,” but in response to AC. This was recently published on CO2 and life expectancy:

    http://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2012/January/carbon-emissions-research

    AC’s source, perhaps? Anyway, abstract here:

    http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1371.html

    This tool is interesting for various comparisons. Here is Norway (a northerly oil-producing nation which nevertheless has a carbon footprint much lower than the US) v. USA:

    http://www.nationmaster.com/compare/Norway/United-States/Environment

    And life expectancy: Norway 80.2, USA 78.37

    http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_lif_exp_at_bir_tot_pop-life-expectancy-birth-total-population

  280. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray-

    Leland, Are you familiar with the periodic table? I suggest you study it. I don’t think you are going to come up with a substitute for lithium.

    While you are at it, maybe you could crack a couple of other books and try to learn how the world actually works. Here’s a hint: It isn’t simple.

    Oh, thank you, Ray. I have the Periodic Table pretty much memorized, being an analytical chemist. But thank you anyway. :)

    Seriously, though, I wasn’t talking just about a substitute for lithium. I was talking about the ability of a robust technology and a market economy to solve a problem, in some way, if the demand for it is there.

    Take the large format nickel metal hydride batteries, for example, invented by Stanford Ovshinsky, now apparently being suppressed by Chevron. No conflict of interest there, of course.

    Those would be likely be good enough for plug in hybrids, although the range would be reduced. They are used in the conventional Toyota Prius. Funny about the Prius, wasn’t it, Ray? The Japanese could do it, and sell millions of them to Americans, but somehow we just can’t do it, here in this country.

    There are lots of alternative battery technologies, Ray. Lithium ion batteries are just the front runner, right now. There are also design options like removable rechargeable battery packs to assist in overcoming the shortcomings of batteries, and so on.

    Finally, if batteries just can’t be made to work, there is carbon fiber flywheel energy storage technology.

    Nobody said anything about it being simple. But in a crash program, similar to the Apollo space program, many things would be possible and could be accomplished.

  281. Ray Ladbury:

    Ah, I understand. Leland is a “magic of the marketplace” cornucopian. I find it interesting that while you admit that Li-ion is the current energy-stroage best choice, you don’t seem to have any understanding–even curiosity–as to why. All I can say Leland is that if you actually do the math, it doesn’t work out.

  282. Pete Dunkelberg:

    Ray,
    let’s start converting gas stations to power stations ASAP. Let there be more electric mopeds, bike lanes and bike racks for parking. Transportation infrastructure must change. Battery technology will improve, and the parts of the world without our addictions will make good use of public transportation. Whether we have passed peak oil of merely peak affordable oil, oil’s continued cheap and easy flow is not something to bank on.

    Surely you agree that “We have to leave oil before it leaves us.”

  283. Pete Dunkelberg:

    This discussion has drifted from its original topic, but I think all agree that transportation infrastructure will change and that working now to make the best of it beats just waiting for the end of affordable oil. So that leaves speculating on the details of the coming change. There is a new open thread for your thoughts. Could all agree to take what is off topic here over there?

  284. SecularAnimist:

    Ray and Leland, I mentioned above IBM’s project to develop lithium air batteries that will give electric cars a range of 500 miles per charge. IBM aims to have a “full-scale prototype” by 2013 and commercial production by 2020. If you are interested to know more, here are the links to IBM’s “Battery500 Project” page and an article in New Scientist:

    http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/smart_grid/article/battery500.html

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328466.200-air-battery-to-let-electric-cars-outlast-gas-guzzlers.html

    I prefer to focus on today’s mature technologies which can be, and already are being, deployed at scale NOW. And the batteries in today’s first generation of electric cars — e.g. the Leaf and the Volt — are plenty good. But there are technologies approaching commercial production, in batteries and particularly in PV, that could be complete game-changers.

  285. Hank Roberts:

    “… you want him to be Edison, but there’s a risk he’ll end up being Buckminster Fuller.”
    http://www.strategy-business.com/article/11111?pg=all

    Point is you can’t _model_ this stuff until it’s known.

    Modeling hypotheticals is marketing, which is noise.

  286. John:

    Ray, Not to mention to 600 million cars on the planet that must be changed and just under 52 million cars are manufactured worldwide each year

    Here is a sobering site of the realtime magnitude of the numbers – http://www.worldometers.info/
    Actually, you might need a stiff drink after seeing some of these numbers. Not sure how accurate these type of sites are, but they do give some sense of scale.

  287. Ray Ladbury:

    Pete Dunkelberg,
    I’ve been advocating development of alternatives to oil since I was in high school in the 70s. Not only do we have to worry about depletion, price shocks, supply disruptions and greenhouse gasses when we use petroleum as a fuel, there is also no good substitute for it when it comes to feedstock for many organic chemicals or for increasing yields in agriculture. The problem is that not only do we have to develop viable alternatives AND deploy them without disrupting a complex global economy, we first have to awaken the power brokers from their cornucopian fantasy that the market will always provide.

    As it stands now, there are no viable plans or alternatives, nor are resources anywhere near adequate to develop them. We are still living in the age of the market mystics who don’t want to know how markets work for fear it might damage their faith.

  288. Leland Palmer:

    Hi All-

    OK, striving to avoid repetition:

    The Palaeocene–Eocene carbon isotope excursion: constraints from individual shell planktonic foraminifer records

    The Palaeocene–Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) is characterized by a global
    negative carbon isotope excursion (CIE) and widespread dissolution of seafloor carbonate sediments. The latter feature supports the hypothesis that the PETM and CIE were caused by the rapid release of a large mass (greater than 2000 Gt C) of 12C-enriched carbon…

    Fast rates would be consistent with a catastrophic event, e.g. massive methane hydrate dissociation, whereas slower rates might implicate other processes…

    Analyses of individual mixed-layer planktonic shells from cores spanning the boundary generally yield pre-excursion or excursion carbon isotope values, but no transitional values suggesting that the d13C of the
    atmospheric and surface ocean carbon pools changed very rapidly on geologic
    time-scales (less than 500 years).

    So, that’s two trillion tons of carbon – or more – these guys are talking about being released by the PETM event- in less than 500 years.

  289. SecularAnimist:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “As it stands now, there are no viable plans or alternatives …”

    Again, with all due respect, that is simply not true.

    There are multiple “viable plans and alternatives” that can be rapidly implemented IF we choose to do so.

    Take a look at the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Reinventing Fire for one example:

    Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era offers actionable solutions for four energy-intensive sectors of the economy: transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity.

    Built on Rocky Mountain Institute’s 30 years of research and work in the field, Reinventing Fire maps pathways for running a 158%-bigger U.S. economy in 2050 but needing no oil, no coal, and no nuclear energy.

    Should we have started 30 years ago, when RMI founder Amory Lovins wrote Soft Energy Paths? Absolutely.

    Are we going to suffer because we failed to do so? Unfortunately yes.

    Will we choose now to finally implement the solutions at hand? I don’t know. There are powerful and wealthy forces working very hard to delay and obstruct those solutions.

    Is it helpful to deny that solutions exist? I don’t think so.

    Having said that, I’m with Pete Dunkelberg — let’s move this off-topic discussion to the February open thread and leave this one to the methane.

  290. Kate:

    Ray Ladbury,
    I’m admittedly ignorant on this stuff, but isn’t the idea about capturing CO2 from the air that you would store it in solid form, and be able to use it for the stuff oil is being used for now? So we theoretically have a replacement for oil that wouldn’t be intensely difficult to get, should we feel so inclined?

  291. Pete Dunkelberg:

    Ray,
    OK,fine, you must have been in school at the time of the oil embargo. I dearly wish more people had learned from it. But you never quite seem to be in favor any particular action – or maybe I just can’t interpret your “development”. If I may ask, are you in favor of “deploy, deploy, deploy” current alternative energy, while continuing R&D of course? Or do you favor waiting for new technology?

  292. Hank Roberts:

    > capturing CO2 from the air …
    > store it in solid form
    No easily available solid form for carbon dioxide

    > use it for the stuff oil is being used for now?

    Coal (carbon) and oil (carbon+hydrogen) are burned, producing heat, carbon dioxide, and for hydrocarbon fuels, hydrogen oxide (water).

    From carbon dioxide, you’d have to remove oxygen to make something that can again be burned.

    Hydrogen oxide — water — can be split back into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen saved and burned later.

    Doing that consumes energy. Finding cheap efficient ways to do those things is a challenge.

    Catalysts are chemicals that make chemical reactions happen, repeatedly, without being used up. Finding catalysts to make fuel out of CO2 and water is a challenge.

    One idea is to react carbon dioxide to produce methanol (“wood alcohol”) and then have an energy system that uses methanol as a fuel.

    That’s not available yet. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methanol_economy and
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090416102247.htm

  293. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland, the fact that they are “talking about” a catastrophic event does not mean said event actually occurred.

  294. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray-

    Leland, the fact that they are “talking about” a catastrophic event does not mean said event actually occurred.

    I assume you are not questioning the existence of the PETM, but just the methane catastrophe explanation for the PETM.

    There are those pesky C12/C13 isotope ratios, Ray, showing major excursions during several of these events. All of the evidence is consistent with a major methane release (at least a couple of trillion tons of carbon) coming from a highly enriched source of C12. There was, for example, widespread dissolution of carbonate sediments at the same time, consistent with ocean acidification.

    In the paper quoted, they can actually measure the isotope ratios of individual sea creatures. I have seen other papers which simultaneously measure the C12/C13 and the O16/O18 ratios, too, showing a very consistent picture of both warming and the spread of the C12 enriched carbon, starting at the surface of the ocean (shallow water sea creatures) and subsequently spreading to deeper layers.

    It’s a very consistent picture, Ray- far too consistent to bet the farm against, IMO.

    Doing a little math- David is talking about 200 billion tons of carbon over a hundred years, as a worst case scenario. These guys are talking about ten or more times as much. I’ve seen modeling papers on the End Permian and on similar events during the Jurassic, which talk about five or six trillion tons of carbon from methane hydrates- not just to talk, but because that is the amount of carbon from methane hydrates necessary to fit the hard data of the carbon isotope excursions. Other sources of carbon tend to be worse- it takes more carbon to explain the carbon isotope excursions, when they do the math.

  295. RichardC:

    282 Pete siad, “let’s start converting gas stations to power stations ASAP. Let there be more electric mopeds, bike lanes and bike racks for parking. Transportation infrastructure must change. Battery technology will improve,”

    As you say, battery technology will improve. There will be improvements in density, but the big deal is charge/discharge rates. I see claims around 80% recharge in one minute at 90+% efficiency and a huge lifetime. That represents a large cable, so the winning design for a filling station will surely be robotic. So where do people spend one minute in a defined spot? The drive thru. “Would you like to top your battery with that, sir?” Drive thrus might be easier to convert than gas stations because there would be much less strain on the local grid.

    While you’re changing infrastructure, what about networked driverless vehicles? The efficiency gains would be huge. No traffic lights needed except for pedestrians. Cars go through in both directions at speed only feet from colliding, with bicycles given greater leeway, of course. Lots less concrete needed because of super densities. Commutes and trips get faster, and there would be very few accidents too. Too bad the system would be an easy terrorist target.

  296. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland, I know of at least 3 or 4 competing explanations for the PETM that also explain the isotopic signature (e.g. volcanic eruptions causing massive coal/peat fires). I tend to go with the experts on this–they say the cause is yet to be determined, and certainly, since clathrate formation is not rare, you would have to explain why the PETM seems to have been a unique occurrence. Why shold a clathrate gun be a one-shot?

  297. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray-

    Leland, I know of at least 3 or 4 competing explanations for the PETM that also explain the isotopic signature (e.g. volcanic eruptions causing massive coal/peat fires). I tend to go with the experts on this–they say the cause is yet to be determined, and certainly, since clathrate formation is not rare, you would have to explain why the PETM seems to have been a unique occurrence. Why shold a clathrate gun be a one-shot?

    No, Ray, the PETM does not seem to be a one-shot. The methane catastrophe explanation, when ocean and atmospheric chemistry effects of methane are taken into account, is in fact a generally applicable theory, capable of explaining several past mass extinctions. These include a really huge event which appears to have ended the snowball earth state of the climate back in the Precambrian, the End Permian, a couple of events in the Jurassic, and the PETM.

    I’ve worked in labs most of my life, Ray. I do analytical chemistry method development, and one of the things I’ve learned is that a method developer has to be able to recognize a positive result. When your hypotheses start to make good predictions, you need to pay attention.

    In this case, the key is explaining the isotope ratio excursions, and explaining how geologically instantaneous events can cause massive carbon and simultaneous massive oxygen isotope ratio excursions. The oxygen isotope ratio excursions show sudden warming, and the carbon isotope ratio excursions show massive release of carbon from a once living source.

    In this case, though, the experts pretty much agree that the methane catastrophe theory is the lead theory. There are a few outliers, but most academic experts go with the clathrate gun hypothesis, or some modified version of it. A coal fire a continent wide, releasing a couple of trillion tons of carbon geologically instantaneously, does not seem likely to me. With methane hydrates, though, the snarl of potentially reinforcing positive feedback loops combined with the reducing effects of methane provide an easy explanation for the suddenness of some of these events.

    Go read the paper about the PETM, Ray. The isotope data from the individual microfossils, combined with the known habits of the individual sea creatures, paint a chilling and utterly convincing scenario- C12 enriched carbon spreading through the active carbon cycle, at the surface of the ocean first, then later to deeper layers of the ocean. Simultaneous warming is shown by the O16/018 oxygen isotope ratios.

    The clathrate gun hypothesis predicts methane plumes shooting directly into the atmosphere. Semilitov’s results show widespread and impressive plumes of methane, “up to a kilometer wide” bubbling up through the ocean directly into the atmosphere. This is a prediction of the clathrate gun hypothesis- coming true before our eyes.

  298. Hank Roberts:

    Leland, please, read something instead of repeating the alarm without citing sources. You’re far beyond what the science has been able to tell us yet.
    http://www.uta.edu/faculty/awinguth/PETM-Home.html

  299. Pete Dunkelberg:

    @ 297: “Go read the paper about the PETM, Ray.”

    I strongly suspect Ray’s read a few, probably including Wrestling with the PETM (aptly retitled ;)).

    RichardC @ 295, I’m glad we agree on doing good things. Why don’t quite feasible good things happen?

    Public transportation? Bike lanes to help kids get to school?
    Ex-ter-min-ate! says the Dalek.

    Solar potential spurned.

    Let’s just do it.

    Big Carbon attacks Mike Mann again.

    For any here who have not been getting your daily Romm, it is like this every day. If you don’t check Climate Progress every day you have no idea how numerous and relentless the attacks are on all that is good and decent and feasible.

  300. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Pete (#299)

    Your “Wrestling with the PETM” link is a great paper, IMO. But it strongly defends the methane catastrophe theory:

    Down the Rabbit Hole: toward appropriate discussion of methane release from gas hydrate systems during the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum and other past hyperthermal events

    Enormous amounts of 13C-depleted carbon rapidly entered the exogenic carbon cycle during the onset of the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM), as attested to by a prominent negative carbon isotope (δ13C) excursion and deep-sea carbonate dissolution. A widely cited explanation for this carbon input has been thermal dissociation of gas hydrate on continental slopes, followed by release of CH4 from the seafloor and its subsequent oxidation to CO2 in the ocean or atmosphere. Increasingly, papers have argued against this mechanism, but without fully considering existing ideas and available data. Moreover, other explanations have been presented as plausible alternatives, even though they conflict with geological observations, they raise major conceptual problems, or both.

    Yes, alternative explanations to the methane catastrophe explanation conflict with geological observations, have major conceptual problems, or both.

    The authors think that David Archer’s estimate of the total size of the methane hydrate reservoir is too small:

    The total mass of carbon stored as CH4 in present-day marine gas hydrates has been estimated numerous times using different approaches as reviewed in several papers (Dickens, 2001b; Milkov, 2004; Archer, 2007). Prior to 2001, several estimates converged on 10 000 Gt, and this “consensus mass” (Kvenvolden, 1993) was often cited in the literature. However, the convergence of estimates was fortuitous because different authors arrived at nearly the same mass but with widely varying assumptions; an appropriate range across the studies was 5000–20 000 Gt (Dickens, 2001b). In the last ten years, estimates have ranged from 500-2500 Gt (Milkov,2004), ∼700–1200 Gt (Archer et al., 2009), and 4–995 Gt
    (Burwicz et al., 2011) to 74 400 Gt (Klauda and Sandler, 2005). The latter is almost assuredly too high (Archer, 2007).The others are probably too low.

    Yes, the new estimates of total mass of gas hydrates seem low, to me, too.

    Here’s a link to the Milkov paper:

    Global estimates of hydrate-bound gas in marine sediments:how much is really out there?

    Readers might take note of his employer, at the time the paper was written. Personally, I’m quite sure that being employed by British Petroleum had absolutely no impact on his estimate.

  301. sidd:

    I note a very readable article in the February GSA Today by Kidder and Worsley outlining a progression from “icehouse” through “greenhouse” to “hothouse” via a HEATT (haline euxinic acidic thermal transgression) episode. In this progression, the “thermal mode” haline circulation via polar sinking of cold brines gives way to a “haline mode”, of sinking warm brine driven by evaporation, together with increasing anoxia and euxinia. The authors conclude that we are probably near a “cool greenhouse” where most northern ice melts and half of Antarctic ice sheet,but that it would be difficult to create a “hot greenhouse” or a “hothouse” even if we burn all the fossil fuels, and that the “icehouse” will not return for millennia.

    sidd

  302. Leland Palmer:

    Hi All-

    David says a worst case release from the hydrates is about 200 Gton of carbon from the methane hydrates. Here’s a paper on two events during the Jurassic which talks about 3000-5000 Gton releases of methane, in order to fit their modeling of the carbon isotope excursions during these periods. That’s 15 to 25 times as much methane- doing the math.

    ON THE NATURE OF METHANE GAS-HYDRATE DISSOCIATION DURING THE TOARCIAN AND APTIAN OCEANIC ANOXIC EVENTS

    The magnitude and timing of a major rapid negative carbon-isotope
    excursion recorded in marine and terrestrial matter through the Early Toarcian (Early Jurassic) and Early Aptian (Early Cretaceous) oceanic anoxic events (OAEs) have been proposed to be the result of large methane gas-hydrate dissociation events. Here, we develop and evaluate a global carbon-isotope mass-balance approach for determining the responses of each component of the exogenic carbon cycle (terrestrial biosphere,atmosphere and ocean). The approach includes a dynamic response of the terrestrial carbon cycle to methane-related CO2 increases and climatic warming. Our analyses support the idea that both the Early Toarcian and Early Aptian isotopic curves were
    indicative of large episodic methane releases (5000 and 3000 Gt respectively)
    promoting warm ‘greenhouse’ conditions in the Mesozoic. These events are calculated to have increased the atmospheric CO2 concentration by 900 and 600 ppmv respectively and land surface temperatures by 2.5° to 3.0°C. However, we show that much of the methane released from oceanic sediments is rapidly sequestered by terrestrial and marine components in the global carbon cycle, and this effect strongly attenuated the potential for ancient methane gas-hydrate dissociation events to act as major amplifiers in global warming. An increase in oceanic carbon sequestration is consistent with the deposition of globally distributed black shales during these OAEs.Our analyses point to the urgent need for high-resolution marine and terrestrial carbon-isotope records to better characterize the nature of the Toarcian and Aptian events and improve our interpretation of their consequences for the global carbon cycle.

  303. Steve Fish:

    Leland (~#302), you continue to make unscientific extrapolations. The Beerling et.al. article you cite is 10 years old and only states that their findings are consistent with their hypothesis, and another Beerling & Berner paper in the same year claims results provide a preliminary theoretical explanation of their idea. A quick forward search of more recent research that cites these papers demonstrate other mechanisms for catastrophic methane and CO2 release not related to warming. Examples:

    2005- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012821X05003730
    2007- http://folk.uio.no/hensven/Svensen_etal_EPSL_07.pdf
    2010- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016703710005156

    What has Beerling been saying more recently about large releases of methane from global warming? What evidence do you have of any kind of consensus on this question? This is a science, not a speculation forum. A current review article that supports your claims would be useful.

    Did you actually read the good 2011 review in Nature linked by Hank Roberts above (#184). There are a lot of good references there:
    http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/methane-hydrates-and-contemporary-climate-change-24314790

    Some further quotes from this review:
    “4. Deepwater gas hydrates (~95.5%).
    These gas hydrates, which constitute most of the global inventory, generally have low susceptibility to warming climate over time scales shorter than a millennium.”

    And:
    “Conclusions
    Catastrophic, widespread dissociation of methane gas hydrates will not be triggered by continued climate warming at contemporary rates (0.2ºC per decade; IPCC 2007) over timescales of a few hundred years.”

    But also:
    “Proof is still lacking that gas hydrate dissociation currently contributes to seepage from upper continental slopes or to elevated seawater CH4 concentrations on circum-Arctic Ocean shelves. An even greater challenge for the future is determining the contribution of global gas hydrate dissociation to contemporary and future atmospheric CH4 concentrations.”

    This is a balanced look at the methane problem and it does not support your alarmism. Please provide some scientific evidence to back your assertions, not opinions. Steve

  304. Hank Roberts:

    > provide some scientific evidence to back your assertions

    Wait, it sounds like Leland’s fallen into that trap called ‘reverse citation’ — it’s a bad practice.

    That’s not what Steve is suggesting, as he makes clear.

    But for Leland — seriously — think about whether you’re starting from what you believe and scrounding around for stuff you can claim as evidence.

    It doesn’t work out well.

    It’s an Internet-era problem, where students will write down whatever it is they believe, then ‘oogle the buzzwords and pick and choose to get “citations” they can use for references.

    Before the Internet, it was easier to search for sources first and work from those to reach conclusions — because it’s so much more work to search through vast amounts of literature to pick out a few sources that can be claimed as support for some odd outlier belief.

    Now — it’s just as easy to find “citations” for odd beliefs because ‘oogling does the work of searching through all the other reference material.

    Don’t start with assertions and then go look up ‘scientific evidence’– because you can find anything on the Internet.

    Either go to a good reference librarian in that area of science, someone who knows the literature and how to search it — or start from good review articles and follow citations forward.

    That’s what Steve did there, starting from the review article I mentioned.

  305. Hank Roberts:

    Leland, looking back a bit, you were on this same subject at
    http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2009/08/17/204508/positive-methane-feedbacks-permafrost-tundra-methane-hydrates/
    citing a web book “killerinourmidst” dated 2004-2007

    The author of that web book cites as his primary source: David Archer.

    Here, you’ve been reading newer information from David Archer, and you keep complaining that he’s not doing it right, based on — old information.

    Do what Steve points out — follow citing papers forward and see what’s being made of an idea as later work is done on it.

    And be very wary of commercial interests that will start hyping anything that they can make money from — like “pressure relief” by drilling for gas.

  306. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Hank-

    My criticisms of David’s online model have to do with factually correct concerns.

    Firstly, he leaves out secondary CO2, produced by methane oxidation. For small releases of methane, this is OK. For large releases of methane, this is actively misleading, and gives a mistaken impression or conceptual frame of the duration of the crisis. Secondary CO2 could also lead to new rounds of deeper hydrate dissociation. The graphs at the top of this page give the misleading impression that substantial releases of methane could be quickly recovered from. This is unlikely, at best.

    Secondly, in a companion article to the online model, he suggests that 200 Gtons of methane evolved over one hundred years constitutes a worst case scenario. There are hundreds of scientific papers, recent as well as a decade or more old, which calculate methane releases much greater than that- on the order of 15 to 25 times as great. Most of those releases are believed to be over a longer period of time than one hundred years- but our triggering blast of CO2 is also being produced much more rapidly than past triggering events.

    Thirdly, he includes business as usual CO2, methane, and increased methane lifetime, but leaves out secondary atmospheric effects of methane, as modeled by Isaksen, for example. There is no provision for inclusion of stratospheric water vapor, tropospheric ozone, or stratospheric water vapor in David’s model. Any model claiming to be a worst case scenario should include these.

    Fourthly, David leaves out oceanic chemistry effects of methane. Modeling from LBL and LANL suggests that large sustained releases of methane would start to exhaust the methane oxidation ability of the Arctic ocean, and lead to methane bubbling directly into the atmosphere. Only by including steadily increasing quantities of methane into the inputs to the model, something that the model does not allow, can this oceanic chemistry effect be included.

    Fifthly, David does not include the oceanic chemistry effects of methane on ocean production of nitrous oxide. Recent studies have indicated that oxygen depleted oceans can produce nitrous oxide at rates much higher than those of oxygenated oceans.

    In addition, I am not satisfied that David’s model includes much stronger water vapor feedback from all of these sources of forcing.

    We don’t even know what’s going to happen. How can anyone, no matter how scientifically astute, predict the outcome of such a snarl of interconnected positive feedback loops, including physical and chemical effects, and come out with a prediction of what the worst case scenario would be, with any sort of scientific credibility?

    It’s not really possible, I think.

    David’s model needs to include secondary CO2. It needs to be adjusted to allow more flexible inputs of methane, to account for oceanic chemistry effects and exhaustion of Arctic ocean oxidation. It needs to deal with the water vapor feedback in some more straightforward and transparent manner, I think. It needs to allow for the inclusion of nitrous oxide, stratospheric water vapor, tropospheric ozone, and the stronger water vapor feedback from each of these to be a credible worst case model.

    My main problem with the model is that this is presented as a worst case model, when it is obviously incomplete, and for large releases of methane is actively misleading.

  307. Leland Palmer:

    Correction:

    Thirdly, he includes business as usual CO2, methane, and increased methane lifetime, but leaves out secondary atmospheric effects of methane, as modeled by Isaksen, for example. There is no provision for inclusion of stratospheric water vapor, tropospheric ozone, or stratospheric water vapor in David’s model. Any model claiming to be a worst case scenario should include these.

    Make that …stratosperic water vapor, tropospheric ozone, or stratospheric hydroxyl radical…

  308. Leland Palmer:

    Another problem with David’s model- and with any worst case model- is the logarithmic nature of greenhouse gas forcing.

    This effect guarantees that the side effect greenhouse gases, such as ozone, nitrous oxide, tropospheric ozone, stratospheric water vapor, and stratospheric hydroxyl radical will be by far the most potent.

    This means that unanticipated side effects can be very, very important, and this undermines the whole idea that it is scientifically possible to come up with a worst case scenario.

    [Response: Sorry, but this just isn't true. OH isn't a greenhouse gas anywhere in the atmosphere, and in the stratosphere it is not even the limiting factor on CH4 oxidation. Your whole argument appears to be that you anticipate that unanticipated side effects will certainly be "very, very important", but the effects you mention are neither unanticipated nor unquantifiable. And when they are quantified, they are small. Maybe something unknown will have a big effect - that can't be ruled out - but your certainty that such a mechanism is not only present and will be dominant has no evidentiary basis. This is why people are not taking your points on board, it has nothing to do with anything else. - gavin]

  309. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Gavin-

    About OH- well, you’re right. I misread this paragraph from Isaksen:

    More CH4 leads to more stratospheric water vapor, and this increase is also significant below 30 km where stratospheric water vapor is radiatively efficient. OH decreases strongly in most of the troposphere due to increased CH4 oxidation. The strongest decrease in OH is found in the lower troposphere with reductions by more than 50% in the three cases. In the stratosphere, OH increases as a result of enhanced production from water vapor. The ozone increase is particularly large in the upper tropical troposphere where the ozone radiative forcing is strong [Ramaswamy et al., 2001], while in the lower stratosphere the ozone increase is modest, with regions where ozone even decreases slightly when CH4 is perturbed. In the upper stratosphere ozone is reduced due to the more efficient removal by HOx (odd hydrogen) reactions.

    So while there are massive atmospheric chemistry changes associated with methane atmospheric chemistry, increased forcing by OH is not one of them. I was wrong, and I apologize about that one.

    About the future being sufficiently quantifiable to bet the future of the world on business as usual, no, I don’t believe that is the case. The logarithmic nature of greenhouse gas forcing makes low concentration greenhouse gases inhabiting unoccupied absorption bands the most potent. Methane, although you have described it as a “sucky” greenhouse gas (I think that was you, if I remember right) provides about 25 percent as much radiative forcing as CO2 right now, even though its concentration is 150 times less, as you know, due to this logarithmic effect.

    Therefore unanticipated side effects could be very important. You’re telling me you have anticipated and quantified every possible interaction, with sufficient confidence to bet the future of the biosphere on business as usual, or even with sufficient confidence to publish a scientifically valid worst case scenario?

    Pull on the other leg for a while, this one’s coming off at the hip. :)

  310. Rick Brown:

    Leland @ 309:

    Could you please connect your phrases — “About the future being sufficiently quantifiable to bet the future of the world on business as usual . . .” and “. . .with sufficient confidence to bet the future of the biosphere on business as usual . . .”– to anything Gavin or anyone else here has said or implied? Thanks.

  311. Hank Roberts:

    What David Archer wrote:
    “… The radiative forcing is compared with Business-as-usual CO2 radiative forcing …”

    What Leland Palmer seems to believe that meant:
    “… bet the future of the world on business as usual ”

    Mr. Palmer — “business as usual” is _described_ not _recommended_ above. You focus on the unlikely — and ignore and so minimize the likely.

    Give us a break to talk about the science for a while, eh?

  312. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland, I’m beginning to think that the solution to your problem may have less to do with atmospheric chemistry and more to do with phar_ma_cology.

  313. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray-

    Oh, thank you. :)

    Here’s another interesting oceanic chemistry process, not taken into account by David’s “worst case scenario”- methane driven denitrification:

    CAMBRIDGE, Maryland — The increased frequency and intensity of oxygen-deprived “dead zones” along the world’s coasts can negatively impact environmental conditions in far more than just local waters. In the March 12 edition of the journal Science, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science oceanographer Dr. Lou Codispoti explains that the increased amount of nitrous oxide (N2O) produced in low-oxygen (hypoxic) waters can elevate concentrations in the atmosphere, further exacerbating the impacts of global warming and contributing to ozone “holes” that cause an increase in our exposure to harmful UV radiation.

    “As the volume of hypoxic waters move towards the sea surface and expands along our coasts, their ability to produce the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide increases,” explains Dr. Codispoti of the UMCES Horn Point Laboratory. “With low-oxygen waters currently producing about half of the ocean’s net nitrous oxide, we could see an additional significant atmospheric increase if these ‘dead zones’ continue to expand.”

    Although present in minute concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere, nitrous oxide is a highly potent greenhouse gas and is becoming a key factor in stratospheric ozone destruction. For the past 400,000 years, changes in atmospheric N2O appear to have roughly paralleled changes in carbon dioxide CO2 and have had modest impacts on climate, but this may change. Just as human activities may be causing an unprecedented rise in the terrestrial N2O sources, marine N2O production may also rise substantially as a result of nutrient pollution, warming waters and ocean acidification. Because the marine environment is a net producer of N2O, much of this production will be lost to the atmosphere, thus further intensifying its climatic impact.

    Increased N2O production occurs as dissolved oxygen levels decline. Under well-oxygenated conditions, microbes produce N2O at low rates. But at oxygen concentrations decrease to hypoxic levels, these waters can increase their production of N2O.

    N2O production rates are particularly high in shallow suboxic and hypoxic waters because respiration and biological turnover rates are higher near the sunlit waters where phytoplankton produce the fuel for respiration.

    When suboxic waters (oxygen essentially absent) occur at depths of less than 300 feet, the combination of high respiration rates, and the peculiarities of a process called denitrification can cause N2O production rates to be 10,000 times higher than the average for the open ocean. The future of marine N2O production depends critically on what will happen to the roughly ten percent of the ocean volume that is hypoxic and suboxic.

    Funny, I didn’t see increased production of nitrous oxide anywhere in David’s “worst case scenario”. Yet, large releases of methane have been associated with anoxic oceans in several past apparent methane catastrophes. The modeling by LBL and LANL also shows this, of course.

    David’s model is a very simple one. Can such a simple model, which leaves out chemical and biological effects of methane release, possibly claim to be a “worst case scenario”?

    [Response: a) this has nothing to do with methane. b) why you appear to think that repeating your point for the 20th time will make a difference when the previous 19 times didn't remains a mystery. - gavin]

  314. Leland Palmer:

    Link to the above:

    Oceanographer: Nitrous Oxide Emitting Aquatic ‘Dead Zones’ Contributing To Climate Change

  315. Leland Palmer:

    Actually, gavin, it has everything to do with releases of methane.

    Oxidation of methane to CO2 uses up available oxygen in seawater. Ocean suboxia and hypoxia are known effects of methane release. Ocean anoxia and acidification have been associated with past apparent methane catastrophes. Not to mention that global warming itself could disrupt global thermohaline water circulation, leading to widespread anoxia and hypoxia

    From Lawrence Berkeley Labs, and their study of methane release:

    As Climate Changes, Methane Trapped Under Arctic Ocean Could Bubble to the Surface

    They turned on the methane plumes and ran the simulation for three decades to predict what would happen during the early stages of climate change-driven ocean warming.

    The result is a scenario that could be all-too real in the future: In some places, such as near plumes in the Okhotsk Sea and Bering Sea, the oxygen level plummets. Localized acidification also sets in. The environment becomes inhospitable for many organisms, including microbes that like to consume methane.

    “The amount of methane entering the ocean is huge and it changes the water chemistry dramatically,” says Reagan. “It consumes oxygen, the microbes stop eating, and methane can reach the surface.”

    [Response: Sorry, but no. The oxygen minima zones have no relation to areas of methane release, and the quote you pulled in your last comment didn't mention methane once. The quote now demonstrates that there isn't much capacity to in the ocean to soak up much methane (since the volume affected by a plume is small and easily saturated), so the idea that sea floor plumes would lead to widespread anoxia (away from where the actual plumes are) is not supported. You are simply stringing together disparate bits of science that use similar words but in different contexts in order to spin a fantasy of imminent catastrophe. It is a great shame that the fact that you appear to be getting the impression that I don't think any of this stuff is interesting - nothing is further from the truth - but making progress means paying attention to the details and actually quantifying the size of various effects - and explaining why none of this happened in the Early Holocene, the Last Interglacial, the Pliocene, or indeed any time in the last 50 million years. - gavin]

  316. Kevin McKinney:

    Leland, this is getting into Gish territory now. Please, give it a rest. The more you say, the less convincing (or even interesting) you become.

  317. Steve Fish:

    Making unsupported alarming statements, refusing to cite research to support ones claims when asked, citing only cherry picked research, ignoring substantive criticism, writing long and repetitive posts, and the willingness to criticize experts when one has no expertise themselves are all trolling behaviors. I believe that a series of posts that continue this behavior for too long should go straight to the Bore Hole.

    On the other hand, I also believe that if I were in charge the world would all be like “The Big Rock Candy Mountain.” Steve

  318. Hank Roberts:

    Tangential tidbit, from our local earthquake response info — consistent with earlier stories about the overall leakiness of the natural gas distribution systems around the world:

    “Many of the older homes in the area already have tiny gas leaks now that might not be detectable by your nose. You can purchase a sniffing device in advance of a disaster and sniff the entire house for leaks. That way, you’ll know if the house already has a problem ….”

  319. Leland Palmer:

    Hi gavin-

    Let’s try this again. Perhaps a shorter reply will get through moderation.

    One problem with David’s “worst case scenario” article and the accompanying online model is that neither of them contain any chemistry, of any sort, either atmospheric or oceanic.

    Does he really expect that we can dump billions, tens of billions, or hundreds of billions of tons of methane into the oceans and atmosphere, and have no chemical effects?

    Massive dissociation of gas hydrate during a Jurassic oceanic anoxic event

    The mass of methane-hydrate carbon necessary to cause the
    negative excursion over this short timescale can be estimated using simple mass-balance equations 7. Taking present-day mass and d13C estimates, we calculate that 1.5 × 10E18 to 2.7 × 10E18 g of carbon is required for excursions of −2 or −3.5‰respectively. These figures are 14–24% of the estimated present-day gas-hydrate reservoir (compare 14–19% for the LPTM using estimates of reservoir mass and isotopic composition derived from refs 7 and 24). If the synchronous burial of light organic carbon is taken into account, the mass of methane-derived carbon necessary to produce the excursion is very much larger. Release and oxidation of methane in such quantities would have reduced oceanic O2 levels and thus helped promote organic-carbon burial, irrespective of any productivity changes driven by redistribution of nutrients.

    So, once again, these guys are talking about trillions of tons of isotopically light carbon, from methane hydrates- 1.5 to 2.7 trillion tons, they say. More methane than that is required, though, if synchronous burial of C12 enriched organic carbon is taken into account.

    And, they are associating this with an oceanic anoxic event, and with methane oxidation.

    Would suboxic conditions result in increased production of nitrous oxide, perhaps vastly increased production?

    [Response: No-one is arguing that a massive methane release would have no effects on anything. The issue is whether anything that is conceivable now (not in the Jurassic, not in the Eocene, not at the PT event), not over 60,000 to 100,000 years, but over decades, that would radically alter any near term trajectory. If your point is simply that a 10,000-fold increase in methane emissions is a worse case scenario than an 100-fold increase in methane emissions, I'm not sure who you are arguing with. If you think that this increase in methane emissions is remotely credible, then we are just going to have to agree to disagree. - gavin]

  320. Leland Palmer:

    Hi gavin-

    If you think that this increase in methane emissions is remotely credible, then we are just going to have to agree to disagree. – gavin

    Well, if such massive methane releases have happened before, not once but maybe a dozen times, then as a worst case scenario, they are credible, don’t you think?

    [Response: Snowball Earth happened before, so by this argument it is credible that it could happen tomorrow. Sorry, but I don't buy it. The Arctic has been warmer than today probably in the Early Holocene, certainly in the Eemian, at Stage 11, the Pliocene etc. But no huge methane spike has occurred in over 50 million years. Thus if you want to make the case that it is credibly imminent, you have to explain why it didn't happen then. - gavin]

    Group think has set in on this site, in my opinion. You guys seem to have come to some sort of consensus that it is possible to construct a worst case scenario before we even know what will happen qualitatively. I don’t think it is possible to quantitate a situation when we don’t even know what will happen qualitatively.

    There are several factors which might make the methane releases faster, this time. Also, even if the crisis does not develop faster than it has during past methane catastrophes, it might be essentially unstoppable, even with advanced technology and a true war on climate change. So even if it doesn’t happen in a couple of decades or a century, it may certainly be that our window of opportunity to stop a methane catastrophe is rapidly closing.

    Firstly, the sun is hotter than it was during the End Permian, by a couple of percent, according to the standard model of stellar evolution. According to Hansen, that is equivalent in forcing to maybe 1000 ppm of CO2.

    Secondly, our triggering blast of CO2 is unnaturally swift, and unnaturally systematic. Past triggering events, by the clathrate gun hypothesis, have very likely been slower and very likely much more random.

    The positive feedback nature of some of these feedback loops are also very worrisome, of course.

    Our geological situation could also be less stable than in past methane catastrophes. It may be that having a region like the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, with its shallow subsea permafrost and shallow hydrates, has never happened before. Due to the positive feedback nature of methane release, and the ancillary atmospheric and oceanic chemistry effects that David’s “worst case” model neglects, this alone might accelerate our coming methane catastrophe beyond what has occurred before.

    David could do us a real service by revising his model, I think. Unfortunately, if he does that, he will likely have to revise his worst case scenario upward.

    [edit - just stop with personal comments]

  321. CM:

    Leland,

    David’s model needs to include secondary CO2. It needs to be adjusted to allow more flexible inputs of methane, to account for oceanic chemistry effects and exhaustion of Arctic ocean oxidation. It needs to deal with the water vapor feedback in some more straightforward and transparent manner, I think. It needs to allow for the inclusion of nitrous oxide, stratospheric water vapor, tropospheric ozone, and the stronger water vapor feedback from each of these to be a credible worst case model.

    For the umpteenth time: The model may not explicitly do atmospheric chemistry, but it is implicit in the parameterization of the ‘efficacy’ of methane (the 1.4 factor). This comes from Hansen et al., p. 38, and accounts for the direct methane forcing as well as indirect effects certainly including stratospheric water vapor and tropospheric ozone (but not the secondary CO2).

    The methane input is not generated by the model, but by user input, and so is whatever we choose to make it, and includes whatever multipliers we choose to imagine. The model welcomes you to try a different number than David’s 200 GtC. You can release, say, 5000 GtC if it makes you feel better. Kids, don’t try this on your home planet.

    The water vapor feedback is dealt with in an entirely transparent manner. It’s not dealt with. It doesn’t have to be. We’re comparing forcings, not calculating temperature change.

  322. Kevin McKinney:

    #320–

    “Group think has set in on this site, in my opinion.”

    Why? Because you fail to convince?

  323. Leland Palmer:

    Hi gavin-

    Snowball Earth happened before, so by this argument it is credible that it could happen tomorrow. Sorry, but I don’t buy it. The Arctic has been warmer than today probably in the Early Holocene, certainly in the Eemian, at Stage 11, the Pliocene etc. But no huge methane spike has occurred in over 50 million years. Thus if you want to make the case that it is credibly imminent, you have to explain why it didn’t happen then. – gavin

    Sure, no problem.

    Rate of change.

    Non-random forcing.

    Accumulation of methane hydrates during recent ice ages.

    Approaches to past warm periods have been gradual, and not systematic. There was a certain amount of randomness mixed in. Methane released quickly has nonlinear atmospheric and oceanic chemistry effects which overwhelm oceanic and atmospheric oxidation mechanisms for methane. This makes methane released quickly much, much worse than methane released gradually.

    Past forcing has been mostly orbital based, with some amplification from CO2. What we are seeing now is not global warming as usual- it is unnaturally swift and systematic CO2 based forcing, far different from past gradual orbital variation driven forcing.

    We’re told, by David among others, that current methane hydrate stocks are lower than can plausibly be the case for past apparent methane catastrophes. Aren’t we coming out of an ice age, with cold ocean water temperatures? Does this make any sense, at all, that current methane hydrate mass would be so low? Have the fundamental bacterial and geochemical cycles that higher lifeforms inhabit changed in some way, that would explain this?

  324. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland, here’s a clue. When Gavin asks you to explain why something didn’t happen, he’s not asking you to throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks. Do some math.

  325. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray-

    Thank you for your advice. :) Here’s some advice for you- do a little chemistry, specifically atmospheric and oceanic methane release chemistry. Then apply some math to that. :)

    Here’s some other math for you, Ray:

    From Down the Rabbit Hole:

    The total mass of carbon stored as CH4 in present-day marine gas hydrates has been estimated numerous times using different approaches as reviewed in several papers (Dickens, 2001b; Milkov, 2004; Archer, 2007). Prior to 2001, several estimates converged on 10 000 Gt, and this “consensus mass”(Kvenvolden, 1993) was often cited in the literature. However, the convergence of estimates was fortuitous because different authors arrived at nearly the same mass but with widely varying assumptions; an appropriate range across the studies was 5000–20 000 Gt (Dickens, 2001b). In the last ten years, estimates have ranged from 500-2500 Gt (Milkov, 2004), ∼700–1200 Gt (Archer et al., 2009), and 4–995 Gt(Burwicz et al., 2011) to 74 400 Gt (Klauda and Sandler, 2005). The latter is almost assuredly too high (Archer, 2007). The others are probably too low.

    If there are 5000-20000 Gt of hydrates now and in the past, then past releases of methane of several trillion tons are easy to explain. The isotope evidence of past apparent methane catastrophes and oceanic anoxic events then has a natural and logical explanation.

    There seems to be no convincing reason that methane hydrate total mass should be lower than in the past. We’re coming out of several ice ages, Ray, with low water temperatures.

    So, if the methane hydrate dissociation explanation for past methane catastrophes is correct, current methane hydrate total mass cannot plausibly be as low as Archer says it is, in my opinion.

    [edit - there is no point whatsoever in you continuing here if you keep making ad hom attacks on the authors, their co-authors, uncles, cousins or postmen. Just stop it or leave.]

  326. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland, listing numbers is not math. You need to show either that such events have happened with some regularity in the past (good luck) or that the situation now poses unique risks IN THE PRESENT TENSE. Handwaving is not science, and you are doing so much of it you’re on the verge of levitating

    Leland, if you look back through the years, I have been one of the most forceful–some would say strident–advocates of forceful action. I do so, however, on the basis of known, credible risks. Those alone are sufficiently daunting that anyone capable of intelligent risk assessment will have already realized the necessity of action. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Adlai Stevenson, we need a majority.

    The majority of people have no understanding of science or of risk calculus. To convince them, we have to rely on our credibility. That means being right more often than wrong, but it also means we have to be damned sure we aren’t crying wolf. If we do, we play right into the hands of denialists who seek to portray us as “alarmists”. The established risks are alarming enough for anyone who cares about the futures of their progeny.

    The risk you have adopted as your own pet cause is a possible risk. I is not as of yet a credible risk–and all the “Well, it could…” or “But it might…” you can muster cannot change that. Only hard facts and evidence matter in establishing the credibility of a risk. I do you no favors if I lower the bar for you. You would merely stumble over the next hurdle. Get the evidence, and then we’ll talk.

  327. Leland Palmer:

    Hi All-

    It’s kind of instructive to enter 12000 tons of methane released over 10,000 years into David’s model.

    Of course, secondary CO2 in David’s model does not change, as we’ve discussed, and in this case this is extremely misleading, because truly massive amounts of secondary CO2 would be produced. But, the model makes this look kind of survivable.

    But, suppose our hotter sun, more rapid triggering event, and the unnatural nonrandom nature of our current forcing makes all of this happen in a thousand years. Certainly, most experts doubt that David’s estimate of total hydrate stocks is correct. It seems awfully low, and there seems to be no compelling reason that current total hydrate stocks would be so low.

    So, nobody knows how much hydrate is down there, really. Let’s say that it is close to 20 trillion tons, in line with traditional estimates from a decade ago, as a worst case scenario.

    Let’s say it takes 1000 years to release it, as a worst case scenario.

    Methane concentration in the atmosphere would increase to 180 ppm, over a hundred years, as a worst case scenario.

    Forcing, just from methane would increase to about 12 W/m2 over a hundred years, not of course including ozone and stratospheric water vapor, and secondary CO2.

    Now, that’s what I call a worst case scenario, with a couple of caveats, of course.

    This would be “somewhere over the rainbow” so to speak, in totally uncharted territory. Nobody knows what strange and wonderful atmospheric and oceanic chemistry effects would occur. Ocean anoxia seems likely. Ozone at high concentrations down to ground level in the tropics seems likely, extrapolating from Isaksen. Destruction of stratospheric ozone by stratospheric water vapor seems likely.

    I keep wondering about Hansen’s remark “at some point the oceans would start to boil…”. At the current time, I’m not sure that doing all the math in the world will tell us if this will happen, or not, if this more realistic worst case scenario- complete with all of the unknown atmospheric chemistry, oceanic chemistry, and biological effects occurs.

  328. Leland Palmer:

    Perhaps a shorter post will make it through moderation:

    The end-Triassic mass extinction (~201.4 million years ago), marked by terrestrial ecosystem turnover and up to ~50% loss in marine biodiversity, has been attributed to intensified volcanic activity during the break-up of Pangaea. Here, we present compound-specific carbon-isotope data of long-chain n-alkanes derived from waxes of land plants, showing a ~8.5 per mil negative excursion, coincident with the extinction interval. These data indicate strong carbon-13 depletion of the end-Triassic atmosphere, within only 10,000 to 20,000 years. The magnitude and rate of this carbon-cycle disruption can be explained by the injection of at least ~12 × 10E3 gigatons of isotopically depleted carbon as methane into the atmosphere. Concurrent vegetation changes reflect strong warming and an enhanced hydrological cycle. Hence, end-Triassic events are robustly linked to methane-derived massive carbon release and associated climate change.

    This paper talks about 12 trillion tons of light carbon from the hydrates, entering the carbon cycle during the triassic mass extinction.

    Twelve trillion tons is a big number- 60 times bigger than David’s “worst case scenario”, although admittedly over a much longer time span.

  329. Leland Palmer:

    Correction: make that 12000 Gigatons, or 12 trillion tons of carbon, not 12,000 tons.

    Sorry.

  330. Leland Palmer:

    Whoops, forgot the link-

    Atmospheric Carbon Injection Linked to End-Triassic Mass Extinction

  331. Ray Ladbury:

    Leland, since your numbers are all apparently rectally extracted, why stop at 12000 Gtons?

  332. Leland Palmer:

    Hi Ray-

    Oh, that number came from a peer reviewed article in Science, the official journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, (the AAAS), Micha Ruhl, et al,Science 333, 430 (2011).

    They got it by an analysis of carbon isotope ratios. That’s the amount that they calculated would be necessary to cause the negative carbon isotope excursion they observed, occurring at the same time as the End Triassic mass extinction event.

    If 12 trillion tons of hydrate methane came out of the hydrates back at the end of the Triassic, and fundamental geochemical and bacteriological conditions have not changed much, it’s kind of hard to see how total methane hydrate stocks worldwide could be 700-1200 Gtons now, at least for me.

    I suppose it’s possible, but absent some compelling reason why methane hydrate stocks are so low, right now, Occam’s Razor says that worldwide hydrate stocks should be in the 20,000 Gton range, or so.