Unforced variations: August 2013

This month’s open thread.

Since there are two main topics (Advocacy and Methane bombs) buzzing around the blogo-twitter-sphere this week, perhaps those are our starters for ten… (Feel free to populate the comments with links to various commentaries – we will chime in as we find time).

450 comments on this post.
  1. Patrick 027:

    … and on the bright side, a 2.5 (?) % chance of going for more than 8 (?) million years…

    Couldn’t find any reference to this statement online, so I can’t confirm the numbers right now.

  2. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    I recently ran across this paper in Science, well just the abstract:

    Changes in Ecologically Critical Terrestrial Climate Conditions

    This line jumped out at me: “Inertia toward continued emissions creates potential 21st-century global warming that is comparable in magnitude to that of the largest global changes in the past 65 million years but is orders of magnitude more rapid”

    The paper seems to use this rate of warming then to extrapolate what the ecological ramifications will be. If this is true the prospects are daunting to say the least, but is this rate of global warming likely? It is a new paper so it is hard to find the complete version.

  3. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    I found the press release of the paper here:

    Climate Change Occurring Faster Than Ever

  4. Hank Roberts:

    Science 9 August 2013:
    Vol. 341 no. 6146 p. 599
    DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6146.599

    News & Analysis
    How to Make a Great Ice Age, Again and Again and Again
    Richard A. Kerr

    “For more than 30 years, climate researchers have been trying to figure out how slight changes in Earth’s orbit could drive the great ice ages. Now the best computer model of the ice ages yet may have found the answer: a rhythmic stretching of Earths egg-shaped orbit around the sun every 100,000 years amplifies the influence of a second orbital cycle.”

  5. Jim Larsen:

    200 Hank,

    Nope. Due to Gerrymandering and the Electoral College, along with polarized voters who would vote for a chimp if it was of the right party, you only have to move a few voters in a few swing states.

  6. David B. Benson:

    Why an Ice Age Occurs Every 100,000 Years: Climate and Feedback Effects Explained
    Except that the next stade (glacial) has been postponed for about 100,000 years.

  7. patrick:

    202 & 203 That line from the press release jumps out at me too, plus:

    “There are two key differences for ecosystems in the coming decades compared with the geologic past,” Diffenbaugh said. “One is the rapid pace of modern climate change. The other is that today there are multiple human stressors that were not present 55 million years ago, such as urbanization and air and water pollution.”

  8. patrick:


    “…the Promise and Pitfalls of Blogging…(2012) Gavin Schmidt…talks with Pace University environmental science students and their professor, Andy Revkin, about the opportunity for scientists in many fields to help fill the online space “between the paper and the tweet.”

  9. Hank Roberts:

    > you only have to move a few voters in a few swing states

    You mean move _into_ those few swing House districts, and vote there, eh?
    I think I’ll leave that to younger folks, I’m kind of set in my ways and means.

    I wonder what it’d take to put advertising where those voters would see it, though, not to mention doorbell-ringers and chatter-uppers to do that convincing, where possible. Science does work, if there’s a way to do that.
    But, ah, the policy discussion belongs elsewhere.

    How to convince people to understand physics, though, that might take science.

  10. Chuck Hughes:

    More extreme flooding events. Now in North Arkansas and Southern Missouri and many other states. I assume this is due to the jet stream pattern:


  11. Jim Larsen:

    207 Patrick,

    There are also human “anti-stressors”, such as efforts to aid migration. Plant a tree that prefers a bit hotter clime than you have at present, and you’ve helped migrate.

    209 Hank,

    Newspapers and TV stations in swing states are in great demand.

    I meant move as in change the opinion of, but your point about internal migration holds in a Tea Partyesque way.

  12. prokaryotes:

    Violence + Global Warming – Temp increase of just 2°C can up inter-group conflicts by 50% http://climatestate.com/2013/08/10/violence-global-warming-temp-increase-of-just-2c-can-up-inter-group-conflicts-by-50/#comment-421

    From 2009: Fuel fumes ‘can increase anxiety and aggression’
    Simply filling up a car can increase the risks of suffering from anxiety and aggression, a new study suggests. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/6636033/Fuel-fumes-can-increase-anxiety-and-aggression.html

  13. prokaryotes:

    As Antarctic Sea Ice Melts, Seaweed Smothers Seafloor http://www.weather.com/news/science/environment/antarctic-sea-ice-melts-seaweed-smothers-seafloor-20130808


  14. prokaryotes:

    A batch of new video’s from

    NASA: Potential Evaporation in North America Through 2100 (August 2013 in HD) http://climatestate.com/2013/08/10/nasa-potential-evaporation-in-north-america-through-2100-august-2013-in-hd/

    NASA: The Future of Fires in Perspective to Future Emissions Scenario’s (August 2013) http://climatestate.com/2013/08/10/nasa-the-future-of-fires-in-perspective-to-future-emissions-scenarios-august-2013/

    NOAA: Huge Ocean Dead Zone in Gulf of Mexico (August 2013) http://climatestate.com/2013/08/10/noaa-huge-ocean-dead-zone-in-gulf-of-mexico-august-2013/

    NASA: Wildfires, Smog – Particulate Matter Will Only Get Worse (August 2013) http://climatestate.com/2013/08/10/nasa-wildfires-smog-particulate-matter-will-only-get-worse-august-2013/

  15. Susan Anderson:

    Chuck Hughes @~210

    I think you could characterize it, in a manner of speaking, as a jet stream *lack* of pattern. There have been stalled “patterns” in various configurations all summer.

  16. prokaryotes:

    I thought that I would post this image of Eustatic Sea Level Rise Projects after NRC, 1987. As the indicated “High” sea level by 2100 per Hoffman 1983 was 3.5m; this figure indicates how intimidation of climate science after 1983 has induced researchers to adopt “least drama” SLR projections with lower “High” projections. The risks of high SLR were evident to researchers before 1983; but what has changed in the meantime is researchers’ increased reticence to express their true opinion on this matter. http://forum.arctic-sea-ice.net/index.php/topic,70.msg12126.html#msg12126

  17. prokaryotes:

    Climate Change Deniers can’t Spin the Truth!

  18. Tony Weddle:

    flxible, I think we need to keep in mind that average life expectancy is an average. If the average is, say 78, you can expect a significant number of people to live well beyond that. I’d be surprised if there weren’t a significant number of people born this year alive in 2100. This, of course, discounts severe environmental impacts before then and, probably, even societal collapses.

  19. prokaryotes:

    Super Typhoon Utor Bearing Down on the Philippines

    In a few hours, Super Typhoon Utor will make landfall on Luzon; more specifically, near the Casapsapan Bay.

    As of Sunday evening local time (Sunday morning EDT), Utor was packing maximum sustained winds of around 240 kilometers per hour (150 mph)–the equivalent of a strong Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic or eastern Pacific oceans.

  20. Steve Fish:


    Have you or your colleagues been intimidated into altering your published projections of sea level rise for the last 30 years, as suggested by Prokaryotes above?


    [Response: Not in the slightest. – gavin]

  21. Kevin McKinney:

    Lonny Thompson, ‘back in the saddle again!’

    Congratulations, Dr. Thompson!


  22. Hank Roberts:

    This is quite good, clear writing; one of a number of relevant posts:


  23. Thomas Lee Elifritz:

    Re: SkepticalRaptor, yes, I found his honest reporting and unbiased editing of the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis wiki page to be particularly amusing.

    You need to vet your scientific opinion sources more carefully, Hank.

  24. Hank Roberts:

    Possibly useful, seems to have a lot of the info otherwise widely scattered:
    Setting up OSX for Data Analysis

    R (with ESS)
    Python (with EIN and assorted scientific Python stuff)

  25. Tony Weddle:

    The story linked to by Hank Roberts shows the debate between scientists about the threat of abrupt methane release in the Arctic. What confuses me, though, is that those (e.g. Shakhova et al) who’ve done the research on the ground (sea) for more than a decade say one thing and those that haven’t (e.g. Gavin and David) say another. Are the latter suggesting that the former have some kind of bias? Why should we not take more seriously the findings of those who do the actual research?

    [Response: This is both factually incorrect and also illogical. First, there are many arctic scientists who share the scepticism over the ‘imminent’ threat of an Arctic ‘methane bomb’ – scientists from USGS working in the Beaufort Sea, other Russian scientists, Canadian researchers etc. – many of whom have also been quoted in critical articles on the this topic. But even if that were not true, the logic of the argument makes no sense. Should no one be able to criticise an idea with huge ramifications (if true) based on their knowledge of the system as a whole? Or are the speculations of people that claim huge impacts, based on a small technical issue that only they know about, immune from criticism? This makes no sense. The basic issue here is that a small number of people are pushing an idea based on a mechanism that actually has no observational support at all. You might be happier asking them for actual evidence that there exist shallow hydrates close to the surface (in a zone where they are not thermodynamically stable even now) and where anthropogenic warming is about to arrive (though since they are not stable anyway, it’s unclear to me why that is even needed). This is not ignoring the methane that was measured in the column, and it is not ignoring the state of the permafrost, and neither is it a claim that everything is fine in the Arctic (it is not). But it is looking closely at the difference between what is being claimed and what can actually be concluded. Any reasonably knowledgeable scientist in this domain can work this out for themselves. – gavin]

  26. Hank Roberts:

    Chain reaction shattered huge Antarctica ice shelf
    Draining of meltwater lakes from surface explains sudden demise of Larsen B.
    Jane Qiu, 09 August 2013

    Hat tip to Slashdot, where

    Jim McNicholas writes “At the end of the summer of 2002, all 3000 lakes on the Larsen B ice shelf drained away in the space of a week. And then the 2,700-square-kilometre ice shelf, which was some 220 metres thick and might have existed for some 12,000 years, rapidly disintegrated into small icebergs. The draining of one lake on an ice shelf changes the stress field in nearby areas, causing a fracture circle to form around the lake.

  27. Chris Colose:

    Tony Weddle (#225)

    I share Gavin’s frustration on the methane issue, which is why I wrote a SkepticalScience piece on this topic here (which I am aware has also been dealt criticism from Nafeez Ahmed, Paul Beckwith, etc, though I stand by the arguments and conclusion of my piece).

    I’m also not an expert in this area, however it was easy to access many of the key articles (from Shakhova et al., and all of the papers referenced in my article above…including several key review pieces, responses, the USGS webpage, etc). I also sent out a few e-mails to Arctic experts prior to publishing the article. I found it pretty easy to gather from that reading/inquiry (and my own background understanding of paleoclimate/future predictions) that the catastrophic “methane bomb” actually has no support whatsoever and has been the topic of some pretty irresponsible talking points by some of the experts who are pushing the idea. I was actually surprised after my SkS piece was published to see how much disagreement there has been on the internet.

    I don’t know Natalia Shakhova, Peter Wadhams, etc, and I’m not sure why they remain so convinced about the imminent threat of subsea deposits. But actually it’s been Wadhams and other people (e.g., Nafeez Ahmed) who have repeatedly conveyed the odd impression that their catastrophe mechanism is self-evident from the “observations,” they have insulted “modelers,” and suggested that there’s some ideology or bias from those (like Gavin or David) who aren’t directly at the field site- with the implication that they have no clue what is going on, or can’t sort out the evidence. It’s been pretty bizarre for a scientific discourse.

    Also, I’m not aware that anyone is questioning some of the observed methane fluxes from the East Siberian Shelf. The entire question has been the interpretation (e.g., source/changing source) and perspective for how that is all going to translate into an enhanced atmospheric reservoir in the near future. I’m really not sure why those at sea have some special privilege in answering these questions, especially since what has been observed so far does not translate trivially into the predictions being proposed.

  28. Tony Weddle:

    Thanks for the reply, Gavin. I wasn’t suggesting that climate scientists couldn’t comment on the research of others but I was confused because it seemed to me that other climate scientists simply didn’t believe what Shakhova, Semiletov and others were saying. In the article I linked to, it seems to be quoting Peter Wadhams as saying the methane hydrates had been detected at 20m below the sea floor in the ESAS. If these detected hydrates are not stable (which presumably they wouldn’t be at only maybe 70m below the surface) then that would be a worry. However, what has actually been found is not clear to me. Maybe Shakhova and Semiletov’s paper (apparently due out in Nature, soon, according to Wadhams) will shed more light on the matter.

  29. patrick:

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2013/aug/11/texas-drought-fracking-video (11 Aug)

    “People are going to fight over water. Any water–‘s just the way it is.”

    “It’s just going down and down and down. I guess our atmosphere’s changing.”

    “Seems like the climate’s changing, not only here but all over the world.”

    ‘Here,’ in this case, is Mertzon TX.

  30. simon abingdon:

    @Susan Anderson #215

    Quite so Susan. We’re seeing more and more examples of such “weather weirding”. It’s an entirely new phenomenon and one whose increasingly damaging effects are now unmistakable. Down at my local pub they talk of little else.

  31. prokaryotes:

    Re #222 When i read a Wikipedia page one of the first things i do is to check the talk page and often have a look at the revision’s – to get all the data. Checking cited claims is pretty straight forward “Normally”.

    Speaking of Wikipedia:

    William M. Connolley, reverts my Wikipedia edits on the new Methane study. He claims “it was rubbish. Excuse: this is too new”

  32. Tom Adams:

    Perhaps the real threat from methane hydrate is that humans will exploit them as another fossil fuel in a world where green gas emissions remain unregulated. “Japan says it has successfully extracted natural gas from frozen methane hydrate off its central coast, in a world first”:


  33. prokaryotes:

    Re gavin #225 “an idea based on a mechanism that actually has no observational support”


    “A key challenge in assessing the impact of dissociating gas hydrates on global atmospheric methane is the lack of a technique able to distinguish between methane recently released from gas hydrates and methane emitted from leaky thermogenic reservoirs, shallow sediments (some newly thawed), coal beds, and other sources.”

    Mass fractionation of noble gases in synthetic methane hydrate: Implications for naturally occurring gas hydrate dissociation http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0009254112004603

  34. patrick:

    Communicate the [fact that there is a] consensus. (Oh no, you haven’t.)
    Very good video of John Cook, Skeptical Science, is embedded here (8 Aug):


    “The results of this study can be compared to the PhD research done by my Skeptical Science colleague John Cook, at the University of Queensland.”

    The video is a talk by Cook following from his own research, at the recent AGU Chapman Conference, “Communicating Climate Science: A Historic Look to the Future.”

    This article (8 Aug) is by Dana Nuccitelli and John Abraham, about findings in “Public Understanding of Science,” 3 April.

    It shows five tactics that have created distrust in climate science. Each one is a version of ad hominem.

  35. Hank Roberts:

    Right, it might be possible to do that, if it works in the field.
    But that has nothing to do with the temperature/pressure conditions.

    Look, prokaryotes, your heart is obviously in the right place, you’re scared, and you’re repeating scary stories you’ve read.

    But there can’t be clathrates above the temperature/pressure line, they come apart when the temperature/pressure stability conditions aren’t satisfied.

    The “bomb” only exists below the stability line.
    Above that line, methane gas — far less methane total volume — exists, not the much denser clathrate form. Yes, drill through the permafrost, methane comes out. Crack the permafrost, methane comes out.

    The notion appears to be that there’s a frozen layer of permafrost with methane gas under it — sure, could be. Then they say, well, with super high pressure under the hypothetical solid permafrost cap, there could maybe be shallower hydrates held together by the extreme pressure even though they’re warm.

    Yes, that happens — at great depths. Drill holes into methane gas reservoirs surrounded by clathrate keep yielding gas far beyond predictions, because removing the gas reduces the pressure, and that can take a deep hydrate into the instability conditions at its temperature. Then you get a methane drill hole that just keeps on giving gas, because there’s a dense source and they’re depressurizing it.

    That’s a gas driller’s method for getting more gas out, methane that would remain stable — unless drilled into and depressurized.

    But nobody’s found any evidence yet — or nobody’s published, if it’s found — that clathrates exist in the shallow warm sediments held somehow under extreme pressure by a frozen permafrost cap.

    If that existed, the first drill hole in it or the first crack would produce an increasing flow of methane. It hasn’t happened. Or they haven’t published.

    Yes, you can come up with notions about why. Secrets by the Russian government, secrets by the gas companies planning to tap the area, secrets by the space dragons controlling the empire, whatever.

    No evidence yet. Obvious things to look for to tell if the bubbles observed are from deep geological sources — noble gases from radioactivity deep in the Earth show up in fossil fuels, but not in methane from surface organic matter decomposing.

    No evidence.

    What’s the answer here?
    Promoting the scare story isn’t right.
    Please stop.

    Turn your talents toward trying to find out how to falsify the story — you claim to be doing a research blog.

    That’s how it’s done.

  36. patrick:

    “I’m going to just try to debug a few myth about consensus while I’m talking about my PhD research:


    Recent posts at SkS on this topic include these:


    “Few papers on geography bother to mention in the abstract that the Earth is round.”


  37. patrick:

    Video posted by John Cook on YouTube 23 Apr: Naomi Oreskes with Nick Minchkin (3 mins):


    Getting to critical conversations score: Extra High.

  38. patrick:

    “People like Neven, who can provide clear descriptions to the larger public are doing a great service. This is particularly so because scientists who are employed at major research institutions are often not trained in communication and such activities are not rewarded. I view these complementary activities and viewpoints [as] an exciting development in the larger conversation about climate change.”

    12 Aug SkS leads with John Abraham:



  39. Hank Roberts:

    From Lawrence Livermore National Lab:

    “Preserving the mixed hydrates may be possible at an easily accessible temperature, just a few degrees below ice’s melting temperature”

    “… Methane hydrate’s stability curve (Figure 2) has been established for some time. If conditions fall outside that curve, the material will dissociate into its components, methane and water. Durham, Stern, and Kirby looked at how the dissociation occurs under a variety of temperature and pressure conditions outside the curve.

    After the samples were created, the pressure was reduced to 0.1 MPa, the pressure at sea level. They did this in two ways: by slow cooling and depressurization and by rapid depressurization at a range of temperatures.
    The compound decomposed to ice and gas as expected in all experiments except those that involved rapid depressurization at temperatures from 240 to 270 K (Figure 3). In these experiments, the team found yet another surprise. Even after the pressure drop, the methane hydrate was “preserved” as a compound for as long as 25 hours before it decomposed.
    This behavior may have implications for future exploitation of the material. Preserving the mixed hydrates may be possible at an easily accessible temperature, just a few degrees below ice’s melting temperature.

    In another series of experiments, the team is looking at the strength of gas hydrate samples in various temperature and pressure scenarios. Results of these experiments may indicate the possible effects that stresses from gravity, tectonic activity, or human disturbance might have on gas hydrate deposits.
    Thus far, the team has found that water ice and methane hydrate have about the same strength at very low temperatures of 180 K and below. But the hydrate is much stronger than ice at temperatures of 240 K and above. The most recent data indicate that methane hydrate is several times stronger than ice (Figure 4). Although methane hydrate is not as strong as rock, the data may be good news for the stability of the deposits….

  40. Hank Roberts:

    Listening now, this is quite good, sober, serious, factual discussion; audio files and transcripts usually show at the program’s link after a few days.

    Report: Climate Change Already Having Major Impacts on California
    Mon, Aug 12, 2013 — 9:00 AM (radio program)
    Forum, Host: Penny Nelson
    Christopher Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, professor of biology and environmental Earth system science at Stanford University and co-chair of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
    Craig Miller, science editor for KQED
    Matt Rodriquez, California secretary for environmental protection

  41. prokaryotes:

    Hank (#235), if you attribute certain claims, the least one should do is to cite/quote the source. I have no idea what you talking about and i wonder why such strange comment makes it through the moderation.

  42. Hank Roberts:

    prokaryotes, see Gavin’s inline response earlier in the thread.

    I think you do know what people are talking about: the lack of evidence problem, for those doing the promotion of the methane emergency idea.

  43. Aleph Null:

    Many thanks to Gavin, Chris Colose, and Hank Roberts for applying some evidence-based reasoning to the Arctic methane issue.

    I keep seeing studies which find ever-greater levels of methane leaks from fracking. The practice keeps growing by leaps and bounds, and the latest study I know of measured 6 to 12 percent leakage rates. I’d like to see a comparison of total fugitive fracking emissions (assuming these measured rates are typical) with the evidence about Arctic methane sources. That could provide some useful perspective.

  44. prokaryotes:

    A Mechanism for Shallow Methane Hydrate dissociation http://climatestate.com/2013/08/12/a-mechanism-for-shallow-methane-hydrate-dissociation/

  45. Hank Roberts:

    I ranted earlier that the librarians are going missing from public conversations where they’re most needed.

    Turns out the schools are eliminating librarian jobs too.
    Damn. http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2013/08/new-york-city-has-fewer-school-librarians-ever/68217/

  46. patrick:

    236 Make that: ““I’m going to just try to debug a few myths about consensus while I’m talking about my PhD research…” –John Cook


  47. Hank Roberts:

    pressure at 50 m. depth
    is about 0.6 MPa

  48. Kevin O'Neill:

    #235 Hank Roberts

    Hank, aren’t the methane fountains that are described by Are (2001) exactly what you’re saying hasn’t been published? I believe these were found in the shallow waters of the East Siberian Sea. Shakhova refers to them in one of her papers.

    Considerable gas levels in permafrost were revealed under the floor of Arctic seas and on land (Are, 2001). A particularly powerful gas discharge erupted from a well drilled through the sub-sea permafrost on the Pechora sea shelf; a gas–water fountain originated from the hole 50 m beneath the sediment surface (at a water depth of 64 m), and at one point the fountain rose 10 m above the ship. The echo sounding carried out at the drilling site 10 days after this event revealed an underwater fountain 10 m in diameter, with a height 40 m above the sea floor.

    Methane release and coastal environment in the East Siberian Arctic shelf, N. Shakhova, I. Semiletov, Journal of Marine Systems 66 (2007) 227–243

    [Response: One of the reason that hydrate deposits are not well mapped is precisely because drilling through them (100’s of meters sub-seafloor) can lead to explosive releases of free gas and hydrate disassociation. This is not however the issue. – gavin]

  49. JCH:

    We do not wish to suggest which of the three possible explanations is the most probable, leaving this for others to decide. Quite possibly, all three factors contribute to some extent. But we hope that the need to understand the origin of the recent stagnation in global warming will accelerate efforts to achieve a more reliable simulation of climate variability on decadal time scales, and the ability to disentangle the relative contributions of forced (deterministic) and internal (stochastic) variability.

  50. Hank Roberts:

    Kevin, that’s gas in the permafrost, they say.

    That’s no surprise.

    What reason is there to think they tapped some high pressure reservoir that was keeping a methane hydrate stable at that depth (64 meters) at whatever temperature that seabed was? It’d have to be enormous pressure, if I read that stability curve right. But what they describe is bubbles coming up that don’t reach the surface, they dissolve into the ocean. That happens lots of places, and is a routine problem for gas drillers.

    Leaping from that to assume a clathrate existed at that depth would seem rather much — where is that site on the stability curve? What would the gas pressure be when the well hit gas, for that to be holding a hydrate together?

    Drillers would have the pressure records. They get blowouts from ordinary gas pockets and from drilling into hydrates deep in the sediment.

    Someone must know the answers, where are they?