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Unforced Variations: February 2012

Filed under: — group @ 1 February 2012

This month’s open thread. Current topics are focused on the laughingly bad Daily Mail article by David Rose, the fallout from the Wall Street Journal’s latest regurgitation of why no-one should ever do anything ever. And perhaps someone might want to audit some of David Whitehouse’s arithmetic and reading comprehension…

Or anything else. Within reason.

399 Responses to “Unforced Variations: February 2012”

  1. 301
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hi All-

    Relying on direct measurements of methane would be better than relying on indirect temperature correlations, of course. I’ve been searching the web for methane satellite maps, and they are hard to find.

    Did finally find these, however:

    Yurganov AIRS Methane Video 2002-2011 (November)

    Yurganov AIRS Methane Video 2002-2011 (December)

    The videos are organized by month, and seem to show that 2011 was an anomalous methane year, in the arctic.

    Offhand, I’d say they do correlate with the NASA GISS temperature anomaly data.

    These were put together by an amateur, working off data posted on the website of Dr. Leonid Yurganov of the University of Maryland. They are from the NASA AIRS satellite.

  2. 302
    Leland Palmer says:

    Here is the link to all the AIRS satellite methane videos, and the monthly images from Yurganov:

    Dosbat’s Blog

  3. 303
    Leland Palmer says:

    Wow, look at January, 2012:

    Yurganov AIRS Methane Video 2003-2012 (January)

    Nasty, nasty looking month of January, 2012, I think.

    Question- why do we have to get this data via the back door, from some amateur (thank you, dosbat!) putting together videos from images posted on a scientist’s website?

  4. 304
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Leland
    > Question- why do we have to get this data ….

    Leland, you know the answer.

    You gave it yourself.
    You aren’t using data.
    You’re asserting “truth” as you see it, without analysis.

    You probably asked the scientists and were told the same thing I was when I asked — that the pictures are being misinterpreted, and there’s no evidence for the wild claims being made — and they’re looking into this.

  5. 305

    Dr. Andrew Weaver of U. Victoria has a paper in Nature out about the GW potential of various FF, and says that the oilsands have a surprisingly small potential (but oh, that coal!):

  6. 306
    Steve Fish says:

    Leland asks (~#303): “Question- why do we have to get this data via the back door, from some amateur….?”

    Leland, perhaps you should consider the fact that real science undergoes pre- and post publication review by experts in reputable scientific journals, while blog science produced by amateurs is just scientifically empty fun. Steve

  7. 307
    Leland Palmer says:

    It’s a little surprising, looking at the NASA GISS temperature anomaly data and the AIRS satellite methane maps that both the temperature and methane concentration anomalies are displaced from the peak of the sea ice melt season by about 2-4 months, at least for 2011. So peak sea ice melting is in September, but peak methane concentration is in December/January, at least for 2011.

    This implies, maybe, that the summer/fall pulse of heat takes a while to penetrate into the hydrate deposits, or that water temperatures lag air temperatures, or that the hydroxyl radical oxidation mechanism of methane doesn’t work as well at low temperatures during the winter.

    A lot of the Arctic methane seems to be coming from the terrestrial permafrost, though. See Yurganov page 15.

    Very interesting, and full of unanticipated side effects. What did we expect, though?

  8. 308
    MARodger says:

    Hi Kevin @305.
    All Dr Weaver is quantifying is how much carbon there is in the various global FF reserves. He says he doesn’t count the energy required to process the fuel (which is why tar sands are so nasty). And he doesn’t consider how little energy is derived per ton CO2 when the fuel is burnt (which is why coal is so nasty). All he’s saying is that there’s loads more coal on the planet than there is tar sands.
    Talking of tar sands, the Guardian have a piece today on Canada threatening a trade war with the EU if they categorise tar sand oils as being more polluting than conventionally-derived oil.

  9. 309

    #308–Yes, that was explained in the linked story (albeit not quite as clearly!)

    As to the, er, aggressive defense of the tarsands by the Harper government, it is not surprising. Although Harper et al give lip service to the need to address climate change, their behavior suggests that they don’t give a [proverbially valueless object] about GW. Personally, I suspect that they are largely in agreement with conservative Republicans on the topic, but that they find it impolitic to say so.

  10. 310
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Hank-

    Yes, hypothesis generation is anathema to scientists of all sorts. It carries with it the possibility of being wrong- definitely bad JuJu.

    Suppose there is no significant casual relationship between methane generation from the hydrates and the hot spots over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS). Suppose this apparent correlation is only coincidence. Suppose the hydrates just aren’t generating much methane yet, regardless of the many theoretical reasons to think that they might, and the anecdotal reports from Shakhova and Semiletov.

    Doesn’t it worry you, just a little, to see the fastest warming place on earth be parked over 1.7 trillion tons of methane hydrates and free associated methane gas?

    We’re not doing a very good job of monitoring Arctic methane concentrations, even though that may be the most important data in the world.

    We’re not doing a very good job of monitoring the total amount of methane hydrate, either. Shakhova seems to think that there is as much methane hydrate and free methane gas in the ESAS as Archer thinks there is in the entire world, for example.

    We should wonder why this is, I think.

    Why is the science about atmospheric methane concentrations and methane hydrates so uncertain?

  11. 311
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Hank-

    Make that causal not casual.

    My point is- why isn’t the ESAS and other Arctic regions set up with an extensive monitoring network, which would tell us all precisely how much methane is evolving from the hydrates?

    AIRS isn’t the world’s best satellite for methane monitoring. Aircraft monitoring of methane concentrations is in fact being shut down, not expanded.

    Why are we all forced to speculate?

    We have three trillion dollars to invade the Middle East, a few years ago, but we don’t have a few million to set up such a network- when the future of the world could well depend on the answer?

    We’ve known global warming was coming for decades. The oil corporations have known about the threat from the methane hydrates for at least a decade- they do after all employ a significant fraction of all the geologists and paleontologists on the planet.

    Why are we forced to speculate about how much methane is coming out of the hydrates?

  12. 312
    Chris R says:

    Leland Palmer,

    “Why are we all forced to speculate?”

    My suggestion that the persistent pattern over the ESAS is linked to emissions from that region is just a suggestion without further data. However as I’ve argued at my blog I think it’s a reasonable suggestion.

    I don’t however think that it’s reasonable to look at the widespread high concentrations of this January and conclude that these are largely due to the ESAS. Due to the pattern being similar to a persistent pattern associated with boreal land wetlands (including tundra), it seems to me that these recent increases, and the bulk of the post 2007 increase in the Arctic region, are due to the land source not ocean sources. Indeed I’ve discussed research that concludes as much using carbon isotopes in methane.

    What bothers me is the current fashion for ‘speculation’ to tend towards the worst interpretation possible. As I’ve had cause to tell many denialists over the years – the door of uncertainty swings both ways. The denialists like to cherry pick the least worrying swing of the door, others like to cherry pick the most worrying swing.

    For what it’s worth, in researching my recent posts I’ve read a stack of papers about Arctic methane and the ESAS, and as I’ve blogged in detail – I see reason for concern in the AIRS images and the current state of the science on that matter – but I agree with Dr David Archer, we most likely face a chronic problem, not a catastrophic release of methane.

  13. 313
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Chris R-

    Re post 312-

    All of that seems reasonable.

    While you’re doing all this agreeing, though, you might remember that Archer’s numbers for methane hydrate for the entire world (700-1200 Gtons) are roughly equal to Shakhova’s numbers for just the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (1000 Gtons). So, that might bias David’s estimates toward less catastrophic outcomes, if Shakhova is correct about the total amount. Archer’s estimates for total hydrate mass also conflict with isotope ratio evidence of methane releases much greater than his estimates- as much as ten times greater, in the case of the End Triassic.

    Yes, it does look like much of the methane is from terrestrial sources, especially permafrost. It also looks like the cold winter temperatures are preserving much of the emitted methane, by slowing down the hydroxyl radical oxidation mechanism. Also, total worldwide methane concentration is rising, most of it from other sources, which makes the Arctic methane maps for 2011-2012 look especially bad. So, yes, I think I was premature to blame it on the ESAS. Because of the lack of information, though, it is not unreasonable to wonder if the ESAS is responsible for some of it, and the temperature anomaly hot spot over the ESAS is still worrisome, whether coincidental or not. Of course, increased levels of methane from the terrestrial permafrost, if that’s what we’re seeing, are not good news, either.

    I wouldn’t let this conversation on this thread influence you, one way or another, though. Certainly, don’t let my flailing about influence you. We can’t just rely on the experts, anymore, IMO- this is too important a subject, and there are too many non-scientific factors involved to rely on any source of information.

  14. 314
    Mike says:


    My local paper carried this story:

    Rare fungus kills endangered rattlesnakes in Southern Illinois

    Anyone know if this might be climate change related?

    [Response:Unlikely but possible.–Jim]

  15. 315
    Steve Fish says:

    Leland (~#313) provides us with his wisdom in the following:

    “We can’t just rely on the experts, anymore, IMO- this is too important a subject, and there are too many non-scientific factors involved to rely on any source of information.”

    I say:

    This sounds like an an appeal to pseudoscience to me. Who but the experts could know enough to evaluate current conditions? Leland asks us to believe his amateurish proclamations regarding cherry picked data and a belief that all the methane will out-gas instantaneously when the science says that only 4.5% can be affected by warming, gradually, over the next several hundred years. Steve

  16. 316
    Hank Roberts says:

    It’s a tipping point.
    _A_ tipping point.

  17. 317
    adelady says:

    Leland “We can’t just rely on the experts, anymore, IMO- this is too important a subject, and there are too many non-scientific factors involved to rely on any source of information.”

    I have no idea what a ‘non-scientific factor’ might be. Especially in the context of methane. What we do have to do is to accept scientific knowledge and expertise as it is. That is, error bars, confidence limits and all. ‘All’ includes accepting that nothing is ever perfect – most of all, data.

    It also includes accepting what scientists tell us about where we are with climate. We’re right on the edge of having very little to guide us. When they say things like this rate of CO2 release or temperature increase or change in extreme weather is ‘unprecedented’, we’re obliged not to just nod a passive agreement but to do something about it.

    That’s where the larger world of non-scientists has to step up to the plate. Not to nag the scientists, but to get involved one way or another in dealing effectively with what we’ve been told. That might mean getting solar panels or insulation on your own property. It might mean getting involved in local efforts to improve public transport or bike paths. It might mean joining a political party you’re not especially fond of in order to give voice to your concerns.

    Regardless, those are the places where the ‘non-scientific factors’ really come into play.

  18. 318
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Steve-

    If Shakhova is right about the hydrate mass of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (1000 Gtons) then David is surely wrong about his estimate of total hydrate worldwide (700-1200 Gtons).

    According to G. R. Dickens: Down the Rabbit Hole: toward appropriate discussion of methane release the three modern revisionist estimates of worldwide hydrate mass are all the results of modeling, and are sensitive to assumptions. All three cases give results much lower than traditional estimates of around 10,000 Gtons. All three made little or no effort to compare their results to the real world, and in some cases make obviously wrong predictions.

    I hadn’t made the connection, but Dickens is one of the early authors of the clathrate gun hypothesis, and is featured in this documentary about the End Permian mass extinction:The Day the Earth Nearly Died

    The conflict between Shakhova’s estimates and Archer’s estimates seems to fit this pattern: David’s modeling does not match reality, or at least strongly conflicts with Shakhova’s estimates, and those of people like Dickens who have been working on the hydrate problem for more than a decade- and who claim to take pains to compare their estimates to reality. Shakhova and Dickens certainly seem to be careful, pragmatic scientists.

    Don’t trust anybody, is my advice. Look at all the science, not just that from some expert that you trust. Keep in mind that you may prefer a reassuring message to an alarming one.

    Think for yourself.

  19. 319
    Leland Palmer says:

    About non-scientific factors-

    There are trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuel resources in the Arctic.

  20. 320
    Leland Palmer says:

    In my laboratory work, I always look for hypotheses which have either increased explanatory power, or increased predictive ability, or both.

    The clathrate gun hypothesis appeals to me, because it has increased explanatory power- it is a common explanation for most mass extinctions in the earth’s past.

    It also has a great deal of predictive ability.

    The clathrate gun hypothesis organizes a lot of information, ties it into a coherent whole, and then makes good predictions. It even makes good quantitative predictions- the numbers add up.

    In this case, the theory that makes the most logical sense, has the greatest explanatory power, makes good predictions, and fits the facts quantitatively also has extremely alarming real world implications.

    There is no lower bound to the time necessary to set off a methane catastrophe, in the geological record, generally. The record speaks of sharp discontinuities, and often these extinction events appear to occur in stages, with each discontinuity setting off the next,like a chain reaction. These apparent methane releases could happen very suddenly.

    Like lighting a fire, how rapidly the fire proceeds depends on initial conditions.

    The sun is about two percent hotter now, than it was during the End Permian.

  21. 321
    Ray Ladbury says:

    On this very page, there are 20 comments so far. Ten of them are by you, all on the same topic. Have you ever thought of taking up stamp collecting? Have you considered church?

  22. 322
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Ray-

    I do sometimes consider church…

    …especially when I see the greatest warming temperature anomaly on earth parked over 1.7 trillion tons of methane hydrates and free methane gas, as is the case right now with the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

  23. 323
    Steve Fish says:

    Leland (~#s 318, 319, 320), in my laboratory work I always thought for myself and followed the evidence within the area in which I was an expert. For areas outside of my expertise, I always let the experts work out their own consensus to inform me of the best approximation of reality. That is how science works and why it works so well.

    Your inexpert cherry picking of science that matches your methane bomb hobby horse is not a good example of thinking for yourself. Steve

  24. 324
  25. 325
    Ron R. says:


    SecularAnimist’s comment # 147 — 7 Feb 2012 @ 4:38


    Kevin McKinney’s comment #153 — 8 Feb 2012 @ 8:08 AM

  26. 326
    Chris R says:

    Leland Palmer,

    The claim that modelling attempts to estimate the amount of hydrates do not refer to the available empirical evidence is specious IMO. As I argue here, I think Shakhova & Semiletov’s estimate of 1400Gt methane in the sediments of the ESAS is an overestimate, potentially by a large margin. Furthermore having read (virtually – in case I’ve missed one) all of S&S’s papers over the last decade, I don’t see anything that settles the key question – is what they are observing new and increasing? i.e. a result of the last few decades of Arctic warming. Or is their work a new observation of a process that’s been going on for centuries or more in response to the early holocene inundation of the ESAS. From all I’ve read only Dmitrenko et al’s 2011 modelling study throws real light on this crucial question; and they find that modern warming accounts for a recession of just 1 metre in the hydrate stability zone upper boundary, with most of the sediment warming and methane release being an ongoing long-term response to the early holocene inundation.

    The clathrate Gun hypothesis – if the trigger on the gun is so sensitive that we are going to see it fire this decade or shortly thereafter how come we’ve only seen such an example during the PETM, and not during more recent warming events? I accept the theory that the methane hydrates and boreal land carbon were key players in the PETM. However Schmidt and Shindell modelled various inputs of methane and found that the best fit to paleo observations was a flux of 0.3Gt per year, around 3 to 10 times current emissions from the Arctic (assuming no growth of sinks). Crucially they found that more massive short lived pulses of methane produced too much short term warming and did not maintain the warming for long enough to match paleo records.

    There are two scenarios –

    1. People like me are wrong. within a short time (2 decades?) we will see what S&S rightly call catastrophic GW, with some 50Gt of methane being released in less than a decade.

    2. People like me are right, and the release will be chronic, not catastrophic.

    If scenario 1 is correct then it’s probably already too late to stop it. The massive action needed will take years to organise and coordinate. Some are calling for geo-engineering to cool the Arctic – this process will have detrimental side effects – those carrying out the action may find themselves legally, and hence financially, responsible for those side effects of an intentional action. Geo-engineering may be a viable policy option after the event is underway as the lesser of evils in a position of extremis, but carried out beforehand? I see no precedent for it.

    If scenario 2 is correct then those talking of scenario 1 are building a situation that can be painted as ‘crying wolf’ to be used by those dead-set against action, or those who just like the way they live now and want excuses to do nothing.

    However if people argue publicly that scenario 2 is the most likely, leaving the nasty surprises like scenario 1 as the side-order (not the main course), then if scenario 1 happens what do the public see? They see sceintists, bloggers, activists, all joining together in a chorus of “This is much worse than we thought.”

    Banging on about scenario 1 is the lose-lose situation, there’s not a great deal you can do about it, and if you bang on about it you come across as a doomer. Sticking with what the conservative scientific position suggests (scenario 2) means you don’t cry wolf and if scenario 1 does happen then you can join the scientists in declaring to the world that AGW is much worse than you thought. That plus the event itself might be enough to get people thinking seriously about reacting to AGW.

    Don’t think for a minute that my agreement with the ‘chronic not catastrophic’ position isn’t my considered position based on the evidence I’ve read. If I was persuaded by scenario 1, I’d shut up about it, start stockpiling canned foods, and getting everything I’d need to live ‘off the grid’. I’m not joking.

  27. 327
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Chris R-

    Is this Dosbat? If so, thanks for posting the AIRS images and videos.

    As I argue here, I think Shakhova & Semiletov’s estimate of 1400Gt methane in the sediments of the ESAS is an overestimate, potentially by a large margin.

    Oh, I doubt it. It’s a shame we don’t know precisely how much is down there, and have not sent scientific or even scientific/military expeditions up there to find out, with Russian cooperation, of course. But Shakhova’s and Semiletov’s estimates fit right in with the carbon isotope ratio data from past apparent methane catastrophes, and their apparent release of trillions of tons of methane. Those pesky Carbon Isotope Excursions- you try rubbing them out, and soaking them out, but you’ve still got CIE’s. :) So, 1700 Gtons of hydrate and free methane, the number I’m familiar with, seems about right. If 12000 Gtons came out of the hydrates at the End Triassic, 1700 Gtons seems right in the ballpark. I’ve seen numbers for other events in the 5000-8000 range. So, I believe Shakhova and Semiletov, and Dickens, not Archer.

    The clathrate Gun hypothesis – if the trigger on the gun is so sensitive that we are going to see it fire this decade or shortly thereafter how come we’ve only seen such an example during the PETM, and not during more recent warming events?

    I think the answer to that is rate of change, and nonrandom forcing. It’s the fast and unnaturally systematic forcing from CO2 that has me worried. Our present rate of change of CO2 is unique except in the aftermath of a major dinosaur killer meteor strike, I’ve read somewhere. The magnitude of the forcing is respectable, and it is unnaturally fast.

    Methane released slowly is no problem- it is easily oxidized by the oceans and atmosphere into CO2, and sequestered as carbonate. It’s large scale, fast releases that have the ability to overwhelm oceanic and atmospheric methane oxidation mechanisms.

    Other factors which might put us very much at risk are the location and size of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf hydrates, and the fact that we are coming out of ice ages with low water temperatures. Maybe to set off one of these extinction events, you need a large area of shallow hydrates in the Arctic, so that the rate of release will activate these latent positive feedback loops, and send the system out of control.

    About scenario 1 and scenario 2- A slight probability of scenario 1 should be enough to justify radical action. A slight probability multiplied by the huge consequences of scenario 1 results in a huge risk. A prudent species would avoid huge risks, don’t you agree?

    But the probability of scenario 1 (catastrophic release) is not slight, in my opinion. If large scale methane releases have happened before, and those pesky carbon isotope excursions that won’t go away say that yes, they have, then our present situation with our large shallow East Siberian Arctic Shelf located directly under the fastest warming place on the planet seems extremely hazardous. Couple that with our fast and unnaturally systematic release of CO2, and likely large hydrate stocks left over from past ice ages, and we have the makings of a perfect storm.

    The only real thing wrong with the clathrate gun theory is that the oil corporations didn’t like it. In explanatory ability, predictive ability, and quantitative fit with the known facts, it’s a fine theory.

    Are we too late? Maybe. But a prudent species would try to stop it. A prudent species would have realized 50 years ago that relying on an energy source with greenhouse side effects a hundred thousand times greater than the intended benefit is a bad idea, done in such quantities.

    How do you get out of a hole?

    The first step is to stop digging.

  28. 328
    AIC says:

    Requesting Comments on latest Wall Street Journal letter

    “Concerned Scientists Reply on Global Warming”
    The authors of the Jan. 27 Wall Street Journal op-ed, ‘No Need to Panic about Global Warming,’ respond to their critics.

    Feb 21, 2012 WSJ, the same 16 replying to the letter by Trenberth et al.

    I would appreciate it if somebody here could do a point-by-point comment on this latest letter. Or is it too much to hope for that the WSJ will publish a reply by Trenberth et al ?

  29. 329
    wili says:

    I can’t speak for Leland, but I just want to know what is actually happening, and, to the best that science can tell us, what may be about to happen.

    So far, as far as I’ve seen, it has mostly been denialists who decide what to believe is true based on what they think the likely consequences, policy or otherwise, would be. It is somewhat disturbing to me to find someone I have greatly respecting saying that we should evaluate the situation more on (or as much on) what it might mean in terms of consequences than just based on what the science says is most likely.

    These kinds of statements just lead me to conclude that you and others are downplaying the possibility of rapid release from ESAS because of how you think people might respond to the news rather than what may actually be going on there.

    I hope you are right, by the way. But I try to avoid basing judgment of what is real on hope.

  30. 330
    Hank Roberts says:

    Recommendation: try a different search engine.
    Here’s why:
    search engines now show different results to different people.

    I’d sure like to know if the Google Scholar results are also biased.

    Anybody know if the Scholar science results are also being spun toward what the search engines record about what other sites you visit, terms you searched, news you read, movies you watched, mail you wrote and read, and stuff you bought?

    That would suck.

  31. 331
    MARodger says:

    AIC @328
    It seems a universal truth that newspaper letters’ columns will contain a high level of craziness. The subject of your curiosity keeps the craziness level well topped up at the WSJ
    It is evidently written by a bunch of Little Ice Age Revivalists. They are quite fun in an idiotic sort of way. I’d catagorise it as ‘incohereant unsubstantiated twaddle.’ The authors would do well to visit my graphical collection & examine the evidence that they so obviously are having trouble accessing.

    Just as heart patients have a right to decide their treatment, so folk have a right to decide AGW policy.
    In science, prediction is all. Temperatures have not risen as the IPCC predicted. Oceans Heat Content has not increased enough, “…perhaps not increasing at all.” So why should we believe science that now says it is hiding in deep oceans.
    So a second opinion is given by the letter-writers. Mother Nature tells us what the science is. Think of the climate scientists’ bad motives. Trust nobody. Don’t take our word. Look at the graph of temperature. Think upper oceans & lower atmosphere.
    Okay 2000-10 was perhaps 0.2 deg C warmer than 1990-2000 but what about the Little Ice Age? That could be responsible for some of that warming so the question is how much? And what about the Medieval Warm Period? Holocene Climate Optimum? They weren’t CO2.
    This 97% concensus – it is dubious & anyway, science isn’t democracy. Their muzzling of oponents is bad & this Trenberth was in on it, as Climategate shows.
    The green economy sucks & the reduced CO2 emissions likely won’t do any good. CO2 is just being demonised.
    And things are not good at the APS.
    AGW policy is a serious business & evidence cannot be ignored. The science isn’t settled. Many more well-qualified scientists agree with us but science isn’t democracy. Let the evidence speak. AGW is nonsense.

  32. 332
    Hank Roberts says:

    This is fascinating, for those who like this kind of detail, and useful for predicting changes in the rest of the world.

    The Construction of Normal Expectations
    Consumption Drivers for the Danish Bathroom Boom

    online: 23 APR 2008
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-9290.2008.00017.x

    “… The capacity problems arise from several different trends. The most important is the changing showering practice—from the weekly bath or shower to the daily (or twice daily) shower…. the change took place during late 1960s and the 1970s. Such changes do not involve everybody, but since the 1980s the daily shower has been a norm for the younger and middle-aged …. a recent qualitative study on teenage cleanliness (Gram-Hanssen 2007) indicates the strength of this norm. Another indication is the widespread indignation when old people in need of care are not offered a daily shower (a much-debated issue during the Danish general election campaign in 2007). Hand and colleagues (2005) identified the same trend in the United Kingdom and tried to explain it within a longer historical perspective than we apply here….”

    (links and cites in the original)

  33. 333
    Leland Palmer says:

    Here’s an interesting link, re the total amount of methane hydrate in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS):

    Preliminary Geospatial Analysis of Arctic Ocean Hydrocarbon Resources

    This is a Pacific Northwest National Labs document from 2008, full of caveats and hard to read.

    This PNNL report, PNNL-17922, estimates that most of the ESAS is underlain by hydrate deposits. In figure 3.6 they show dark blue color, corresponding to hydrate deposits approximately 200 meters thick, covering about half of the ESAS:

    Boundaries for the thick (~200 m) hydrate deposit (dark blue) are confined to water depths greater than 30m and less than or equal to 100 m.

    Shakhova says that the areal of the ESAS is 2.10E+06 square kilometers. If the hydrate deposits are an average of 100 meters thick, then that’s about a tenth of the above number, or 2.10E+05 cubic kilometers of hydrate deposits. That’s 210,000 cubic kilometers of hydrate deposits. At a density of 0.9 for hydrate, that would be about 190 trillion tons of hydrate, if it was all hydrate.

    For Shakhova’s number of 1.7 trillion tons of carbon from methane in the hydrates to be correct, the carbon as methane content of those deposits would only have to be about 1 percent. The carbon content of methane hydrate is about ten percent, so they appear to be assuming that the deposits are about ten percent hydrate.

    It all seems reasonable, to me, as an order of magnitude estimate. Shakhova says that the hydrate deposits in the ESAS can be 20-100 percent pure, higher than the 10 percent they assume.

    So, 1.7 trillion tons of carbon as methane in these deposits seems pretty reasonable, it in fact seems conservative.

  34. 334
    AIC says:

    MARodger @330

    I had not been aware before of your collection of graphs. Very interesting, pulling together a lot of information. Thank you for the work.

    Thank you for the precis.
    I was really hoping that somebody would do a point-by-point response to the WSJ letter, suitable for quoting for a general audience, but maybe I should use your graphs and consider it an exercise for the reader.

    When you get down to it, the WSJ letter needs response on four levels:
    1) AGW is happening.
    2) If fossil fuel CO2 emissions are continued at a rapid rate it is going to be very bad for our civilization
    3) We can develop substitute sources of energy for our civilization at a cost less than the cost of continued AGW
    3a) The sooner we get working on developing non-fossil-fuel sources of energy for our civilization, the easier it will be.

  35. 335
    Chris R says:

    #327, Leland Palmer,

    I’m going to leave the rest of your post and concentate initially on the first paragraph. Sorry but I find your reasoning rather imprecise.

    I have given very detailed and specific reasons for doubting the 1400Gt estimate of total methane in the ESAS and the 50Gt as possibly available for imminent release. In message #326 I provided a link to that post so you could see and criticise my reasoning. To help you find the salient text, search that page for “How do they come up with” then read the three paragraphs that follow the quote.

    You refer to carbon isotope excursions, yet in message #326 I touched upon research by Schmidt and Shindell which finds a 0.3Gt per year sustained release best matched the available paleo evidence from the PETM. As I stated in that message they found that more massive responses produced more warming than the paleo record, e.g. 3Gt per year for 500 years produced greater warming than the proxy data supports. You seem to be unaware that the PETM carbon isotope excursion lasted for something of the order of 10k-20k years. As methane is a transient compound in the environment if (as I suspect) methane hydrates played a large role in the excursion, then there must have been a long term chronic release.

    I am most certainly _not_ unaware of the carbon isotope excursion, as you would be aware had you taken the opportunity to at least skim my blog posts on this matter, i.e. see here.

    So no, actually Semiletov & Shakhova’s 1400Gt in reserve, 50Gt primed for imminent release, doesn’t exclusively match with the isotopic excursion during the PETM.

  36. 336

    There is a highly likely possibility that El-Nino , apparently now coming or trending, leaves tracks in the horizon sky. I deal with this on my workout blog soon to be on the main website. This is really intriguing if so…. I think it is very difficult for many to observe the horizon, because they have busy lives, rely on computers and standard meteorology, ordinary folk pass 16.9 hours looking at each other,TV or computers and .1 hours looking at the road. There is something in the air all the time. I joke often that a mother ship from planet Crypton would fly over any big city of millions and perhaps 2 people would notice….

  37. 337
    Susan Anderson says:

    Hank Roberts @~331

    You might enjoy this history:
    The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History, Katherine Ashenburg

    Interesting sidelight on things we take for granted. The thought of doing without hot and cold running water gives me the shivers, but we have no idea how many of the things we take for granted only arrived in the latter half of the 20th century.

  38. 338
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Chris R-

    About imprecise reasoning-

    Back when dinosaurs walked the earth (when I was in school :)) in my physics classes the professors taught that the first thing to do when making a calculation in an uncertain situation was make an order of magnitude estimate. Then, later, when all the fancy calculations were done, the students would have something to compare their results to, to see if they were obviously wrong.

    So, in this highly politicized atmosphere, with trillions of dollars of money at stake in the Arctic, when a paper is an outlier or conflicts with my back of the envelope estimates, I admit I just tend to dismiss it.

    Looking at the map of the ESAS, with something like 2 million square kilometers of area, and an average hydrate thickness of about 100 meters, that’s about 200,000 cubic kilometers of hydrate deposits. That’s a big number, corresponding to roughly 200 trillion tons of hydrate, if it was all hydrate.

    Round Shakhova’s numbers off to 2 trillion tons of carbon.

    For Shakhova to be right, and Archer to be wrong, only about one percent of the hydrate deposits need to be carbon as methane. That seems like a reasonable number- low if anything. Shakhova says that sediments in the ESAS can be 20-100% pure, and methane hydrate is about 10% carbon. So Shakhova’s estimates could in fact be very low.

    So, when I saw your stuff, I admit that I took a quick look at it, and dismissed it as unlikely. Looking at the maps of hydrate deposits and their thicknesses tell an entirely different story.

    So, I’ll take another look, when I find the time.

  39. 339
    Meow says:

    A new paper holds that AGW made the 2010 Russian heat wave 3x more likely, but that its magnitude was within natural variation. PR at .

    Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’, New Climate Dice are rollin’….

    P.S. This paper used models run on volunteers’ computers via If you’ve got computer power to give, they can use it.

  40. 340
    David B. Benson says:

    Ancient Warming Shrunk Horses to Housecat Size
    Interesting history of sizes over PETM.

  41. 341
    Hank Roberts says:

    I do respect the way he presents the basic facts to his readers, patiently, over and over, and tries to separate those from opinions, hypotheses and political positions.

  42. 342

    Another little milestone–my summary/review of “Climate Cover-up” is just hitting its 1000th page view.

    Sadly, no prizes on offer for the 1000th reader.

  43. 343
    Chris R says:

    #338, Leland Palmer,

    Yes you have an order of magnitude – of the order of 1000Gt, not of the order of 100 or 10,000Gt. You’re beyond that stage now.

    So you dismiss Shakhova & Semiletov’s step by step reasoning which arrived at 1400Gt gross with 50Gt at risk of imminent release. You proceed to loosely argue that it’s 2000Gt, concluding this is ‘low if anything’. Then you dismiss my detailed reasons why I think Shakhova & Semiletov’s 1400GT gross with 50Gt at risk of imminent release is a high-sided estimate. You do so without saying why you dismiss it.

    Meow (#329) links to Hansen’s ‘Climate Dice’ paper. Last year I posted a message here asking for evidence of ongoing destructive AGW weather events, as I’d failed to convince myself with my own reading. Someone directed me to that newly issued Hansen white paper. With one read I turned from a sceptic of the drought threat to one of the growing numbers of bloggers ringing the alarm on drought. So you see, all it takes to change my mind is robust, well reasoned evidence.

    I’m sorry but I’ve not found that in this dicsussion of the issue of methane clathrates. It seems to me that you’ve reached your conclusion first and then have gone looking for the evidence, which is a shame because that’s of no help in deciding if we do face an imminent methane driven catastrophe. And that’s a very important matter.

  44. 344
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Chris R-

    Looking again at your post #326, I was not surprised. It was just more of what I have come to expect from Archer, and people persuaded by Archer.

    If there were no mass extinctions in earth history, many of them accompanied by a large carbon isotope excursion, Archer’s claim that 1000 Gtons of release from the methane hydrates is a maximum might have some plausibility.

    But, there are those pesky carbon isotope ratio excursions, that won’t go away accompanied by mass extinctions. The calculations made from those excursions are generally conservative calculations, which don’t take into account carbon burial- and they give a lower bound to the amount released of several thousand Gtons of carbon. I’ve posted a link to a paper before which calculates 12,000 Gtons of carbon released during the End Triassic. Since it seems unlikely that all of the methane hydrates dissociated at that time, total hydrate mass, at least back then, must have been greater than that- on the order of 20,000 Gtons, at a guess. Since we are coming out of a series of ice ages, with low water temperatures which expand hydrate stability zones, it seems reasonable to assume that total worldwide hydrate mass right now is in fact greater than that.

    As Dickens points out in Down the Rabbit Hole, these carbon isotope excursions are accompanied by widespread dissolution of carbonate sediments during the event and increased carbonate deposition after the events- a straightforward prediction of the clathrate gun theory. So, the fact that the theory makes good predictions adds weight to the methane release scenarios.

    Then, there are the extinction events themselves. If 1000 Gtons of methane are an upper limit, what killed everything? If the release was so gradual, what created the extinction events themselves? Methane released gradually is oxidized quickly into CO2, in the oceans and the atmosphere. Only methane released rapidly could overwhelm the oceanic and atmospheric oxidation mechanisms, and cause the extinction events themselves. In the case of the End Permian, for example, CO2 alone seems insufficient to cause the extinction event itself.

    The massive and abrupt methane release theory has great explanatory power- it in fact integrates most past mass extinctions into a single framework. It has great predictive ability- predicting a large carbon isotope excursion during the Triassic, for example, which is then found in reality. Finally, it makes good quantitative predictions, but only if the total methane hydrate mass is much greater than Archer claims it is.

    I just don’t believe Archer’s stuff. His output contradicts known facts.

    There are trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuel resources in the Arctic.

    We cannot risk the future of the world on Archer’s predictions. We cannot assume that the releases will be gradual, this time. We in fact may have a unique set of circumstances, including the location and hydrate content of the ESAS and a more rapid and systematic triggering event which could create the “mother of all methane catastrophes”.

  45. 345
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Hank, perhaps recommend the following to Roy:

    The data are pretty clear evidence of a temperature of the Universe.

    Have to agree. Roy is one of the few truly skeptical “skeptics”, though I think he has some issues with self delusion.

  46. 346
    Chris Colose says:

    Roger Pielke Sr. has decided to post a set of e-mail exchanges I had with him. Originally I only wanted to point out an article I wrote at SkepticalScience, but somehow he turned it into an interrogation session, and for some reason I went along with it.

    For odd reasons, he thinks that the dynamic responses of clouds/water vapor to ENSO must be the same as to global warming. He also does not seem to get the difference between ‘radiative forcing’ and ‘radiative imbalance.’

    I think Roger is very confused. He doesn’t let people comment there, just alerting people…

  47. 347
    MARodger says:

    Chris Colose @345
    He was showing poor grasp of ‘radiative forcing’ last Autumn when he butted in on a SkS thread that was discussing his downplaying of CO2’s contribution to forcing.
    The discussion got pretty messy as I remember. This link will put the curious into the middle of it.

  48. 348
    John Mashey says:

    Wegman Report is in the news at USA Today, also mentioned by Retraction Watch and of coruse, with serious discussion of more details at the original discovery Deep Climate.

  49. 349
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Chris R-

    Oh, it wasn’t me that made the map the order of magnitude estimates are based on.

    That was the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which made that map.

    Preliminary Geospatial Analysis of Arctic Hydrocarbon Resources

    They show 200 meter thick hydrate deposits extending over about half the area of the ESAS, and deposits of lesser thickness covering just about all of the rest of the ESAS.

    Let’s go through it again. Two million square kilometers of area, multiplied by 100 meters of thickness, equals 200,000 cubic kilometers of hydrate volume. That’s equal to roughly 200 trillion tons of hydrate, if it was all hydrate and was 100% pure. Assume the purity of the deposits is ten percent, that brings the total down to 20 trillion tons of hydrate. Methane hydrate is about ten percent (11, actually, but who’s counting) carbon. So, that brings the total down to about 2 trillion tons carbon, assuming that the hydrates are ten percent pure.

    But Shakhova says that the ESAS hydrates are 20-100% pure. Assume that averages out to 40% purity, to be conservative. That would bring the total of carbon as methane in the ESAS up to about 8 trillion tons. So, if the map is correct, and Shakhova’s purity numbers are correct, Shakhova’s estimates are conservative. Conservative numbers are OK- those that are obviously an order of magnitude low are not.

    Dickens says that a previous consensus estimate before the science became distorted by politics and money to be 5 to 20 trillion tons of carbon as methane in the entire world. Those seem like reasonable numbers, given the known extent and thickness of the hydrate deposits.

    Looking at the map, and multiplying the area by the thickness, means that David Archer’s estimates are nonsense- if the map is correct.

    What do we want to bet that the map is not correct?

  50. 350
    Hank Roberts says:

    I’d recommend emailing the people who made the maps, and wrote the document you cite, and inquiring what they think of your estimates.

    Just sayin’ — ask the people whose data you’re claiming as the basis whether they think you’re using the data appropriately.

    Always a good idea.