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How much methane came out of that hole in Siberia?

Filed under: — david @ 13 August 2014

Siberia has explosion holes in it that smell like methane, and there are newly found bubbles of methane in the Arctic Ocean. As a result, journalists are contacting me assuming that the Arctic Methane Apocalypse has begun. However, as a climate scientist I remain much more concerned about the fossil fuel industry than I am about Arctic methane. Short answer: It would take about 20,000,000 such eruptions within a few years to generate the standard Arctic Methane Apocalypse that people have been talking about. Here’s where that statement comes from:

How much methane emission is “a lot”? The yardstick here comes from Natalie Shakhova, an Arctic methane oceanographer and modeler at the University of Fairbanks. She proposed that 50 Gton of methane (a gigaton is 1015 grams) might erupt from the Arctic on a short time scale Shakhova (2010). Let’s call this a “Shakhova” event. There would be significant short-term climate disruption from a Shakhova event, with economic consequences explored by Whiteman et al Whiteman et al (2013). The radiative forcing right after the release would be similar to that from fossil fuel CO2 by the end of the century, but subsiding quickly rather than continuing to grow as business-as-usual CO2 does.

I and others have been skeptical of the possibility that so much methane could escape from the Arctic so quickly, given the century to millennial time scale of warming the permafrost and ocean sediments, and point out that if the carbon is released slowly, the climate impacts will be small. But now that explosion holes are being found in Siberia, the question is

How much methane came out of that hole in Siberia? The hole is about 80 meters in diameter and 60-100 meters deep.

It’s hard to say exactly how much methane did this, because perhaps the crater allowed methane to be released from the surrounding soil. There may be emissions in the future from permafrost melting laterally from the sides of the hole. But for a start let’s assume that the volume of the hole is the same as the volume of the original, now escaped, bubble. Gases are compressible, so we need to know what its pressure was. The deeper in the Earth it was, the higher the pressure, but if we are concerned about gas whose release might be triggered by climate warming, we should look for pockets that come close to the surface. Deep pockets might take thousands of years for surface warming to reach. The mass of a solid cap ten meters thick would increase the pressure underneath it to about four atmospheres, plus there may have been some overpressure. Let’s assume a pressure of ten atmospheres (enough to hold up the atmosphere plus about 30 meters of rock).

If the bubble was pure methane, it would have contained about … wait for it … 0.000003 Gtons of methane. In other words, building a Shakhova event from these explosions would take approximately 20,000,000 explosions, all within a few years, or else the climate impact of the methane would be muted by the lifetime effect.

What about the bubbles of methane they just found in the Arctic ocean? There were reports this summer of a new expedition to the Siberian margin, documenting vast plumes of methane bubbles rising from sediments ~500 meters water depth.

It is certainly believable that warming ocean waters could trigger an increase in methane emissions to the atmosphere, and that the time scale for changing ocean temperatures can be fast due to circulation changes (we are seeing the same thing in the Antarctic). But the time scale for heat to diffuse into the sediment, where methane hydrate can be found, should be slow, like that for permafrost on land or slower. More importantly, the atmospheric methane flux from the Arctic Ocean is really small (extrapolating estimates from Kort et al 2012), even compared with emissions from the Arctic land surface, which is itself only a few percent of global emissions (dominated by human sources and tropical wetlands).

In conclusion, despite recent explosions suggesting the contrary, I still feel that the future of Earth’s climate in this century and beyond will be determined mostly by the fossil fuel industry, and not by Arctic methane. We should keep our eyes on the ball.


References

  1. N.E. Shakhova, V.A. Alekseev, and I.P. Semiletov, "Predicted methane emission on the East Siberian shelf", Dokl. Earth Sc., vol. 430, pp. 190-193, 2010. http://dx.doi.org/10.1134/S1028334X10020091
  2. G. Whiteman, C. Hope, and P. Wadhams, "Climate science: Vast costs of Arctic change", Nature, vol. 499, pp. 401-403, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/499401a
  3. E.A. Kort, S.C. Wofsy, B.C. Daube, M. Diao, J.W. Elkins, R.S. Gao, E.J. Hintsa, D.F. Hurst, R. Jimenez, F.L. Moore, J.R. Spackman, and M.A. Zondlo, "Atmospheric observations of Arctic Ocean methane emissions up to 82° north", Nature Geosci, vol. 5, pp. 318-321, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/NGEO1452

106 Responses to “How much methane came out of that hole in Siberia?”

  1. 51
    Lewis Cleverdon says:

    David – thanks for your responses to mine at #25.

    While there is scant information on what CH4 stocks may be trapped beneath the ESAS permafrost, and how close the latter was to being significantly perforated even prior to the start of anthropogenic sea-ice loss,
    and while there is good information on the warming of the arctic ocean from raised insolation, from increasing and warming river outflows and from the warming Atlantic influx,
    I don’t share Shakhova’s interest in promoting the unquantifiable risk even of a 1.0Gt/yr CH4 ESAS output as a means to instigate rapid mitigation actions.

    The more productive approach seems to me to entail the quantification of known feedback outputs and their evaluation against the scale of anthro emissions as posing an offset of the latters’ termination.

    The example you postulate of ozone depletion, raised human tanning and resulting Albedo Loss is both practical and amusing, but so far below measurability as to be negligible, as you rightly remark. At the other pole of the issue there are arguably eight major interactive positive feedbacks that are currently or potentially significant, being the near-linear Water Vapour Increase plus the non-linear feedbacks of Albedo Loss, Fertilized Peatbog Decay, Permafrost Melt, Ocean Heating & Acidification, Forest Loss, Soil Desiccation and Methyl Clathrates Melt. (There are of course very numerous direct couplings between them but as these are demonstrably secondary in effect in raising the interdependence of the majors’ outputs they form a distinct class in my view).

    The Water Vapour Increase being near linear is already well integrated into the IPCC’s projections of future AGW, but three of the non-linear majors are of interest here (as described below) in that they have relatively robust quantification of current or projected outputs that are plainly of a scale to significantly offset anthro-emissions control. Even under a best case of ‘near-zero by 2050,’ with the oceans’ thermal inertia this would continue warming up to the 2080s, thus allowing at least 70yrs of anthro-warming accelerating the major feedbacks.

    Albedo Loss – the fraction due to Arctic sea-ice decline (as distinct from land ice decline and snow cover decline) was quantified as imposing a forcing equal on average to 25% of that from anthro-CO2 stock during the satellite record. How much it has grown is not stated in the paper: “Observational determination of albedo decrease caused by vanishing Arctic sea ice” http://eisenman.ucsd.edu/publications/Pistone-Eisenman-Ramanathan-2014.pdf but it seems very clear that Arctic sea-ice loss is in accelerating decline towards zero in the coming decades, meaning that this forcing will rise very substantially along with those from land-ice and snow cover decline.

    Fertilized Peatbog Decay – resulting from elevated CO2 causing disruption of the microbial ecology and a massive production of an enzyme that happens to reduce peat to DOC, which then mostly outgasses as CO2 in outflow streams.
    The level of the streams’ DOC content has been rising at around 6%/yr since the early ‘60s, with the mechanism finally being identified in 2004 : “Export of dissolved organic carbon from peatlands under elevated carbon dioxide levels” – http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v430/n6996/full/nature02707.html . The study’s lead author, Dr Chris Freeman, stated that if the 6%/yr trend held steady, (i.e. under BAU) the global CO2 output would equal anthro-CO2 outputs by mid-century. How large this output would grow under a best case of emissions control is not stated.

    Permafrost Melt – both the projections of GtC of output and of the percentage emitted as CH4 appear to be under upward revision. Your landmark paper: “Climate change: High risk of permafrost thaw.” http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v480/n7375/full/480032a.html
    projected an output of ~1.6GyC/yr by the 2080s, with a consensus of a 2.7% ceiling on the CH4 fraction, and the recent video by Schaefer, Abbot and Miller : “The permafrost carbon feedback loop in the Arctic”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dR-4-kJUxzM puts the expected output at 3.0GtC/yr, while recent years’ CH4 fraction of outputs from the Yedoma areas point to a far higher CH4 percentage.
    In the absence of a published table of the range of CO2e values for different annual outputs and CH4 fractions I’ve found the following via excel, using 1.333 and 3.664 as the factors on GtC for GtCH4 & GtCO2 respectively, and selecting the CO2e value of 86 on a 20yr time horizon to reflect the dynamic of the feedbacks’ mutual reinforcement. This showed that an output of 1.6GtC with 2.7% CH4 gave 10.66Gt CO2e or roughly 30.5% of present anthro-CO2 output, while by contrast, an output of 3.0GtC with 5% CH4 gave 27.64Gt CO2e or roughly 79% of present anthro-CO2 outputs.

    While the projected offsets of anthro-emissions control shown for the feedbacks above are not clear cut and do reflect outputs under BAU, in combination they still represent a clear threat of a very damaging offset under a best case of emissions control. In addition, we of course have no surety of achieving anything like a ‘near-zero by 2050’ emissions control. Moreover, there are the four other non-linear feedbacks now observed to be accelerating that will predictably contribute to the offset effect given at best another 70yrs of continued warming.

    From this perspective while I’d entirely agree that pressure for commensurate emissions control is the primary concern, I’d suggest that it is a necessary but not sufficient response to the predicament. The essential complement is of developing the prudent governance of the research of both modes of geo-engineering, in order to have reliably benign options ready at the point when the UN member states recognise that they must be applied. If that governance is mandated as a protocol within the requisite Climate Treaty, it can also be negotiated to proscribe the possibility of any reckless unilateral deployment of Geo-E techniques.

    Finally, I hope that we may agree that this ‘bottom-up quantifiable hazard’ approach offers a far more cogent case for advancing the proper governance of Geo-E research than Shakhova’s extreme worst case scenario could ever achieve, as it relies on promoting prudence rather than alarmism.

    Regards,

    Lewis

  2. 52
    Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Hank – some very bright people are working on the issue of the governance of Geo-E, on grounds that governance has to precede research both to avoid lamentable outcomes and to prevent them from discrediting the development of a potentially vital capacity for addressing the predicament.

    The address below is to the UK organization on the issue, at the page on the history of “the Oxford Principles”, which is worth a look.
    http://www.geoengineering.ox.ac.uk/oxford-principles/history/

    Regards,

    Lewis

  3. 53
    jyyh says:

    Thanks for the (incomplete) answer in #16. To be sure, you likely mean C13/C12-ratio for preglacial C14 would have been depleted by normal decay by now.

    [Response: Sorry, didn't mean to be vague. I was referring only to the C-13/C-12 ratio, not C-14. Photosynthesis discriminates against C-13, so organic matter is isotopically lighter than the CO2 it's made from. When organic matter is fermented to methane (and at the same time CO2), the methane is even lighter. It's possible to back out what the isotopic composition of the carbon source was leading to the atmospheric increase through the deglaciation. If it were from organic matter, the atmosphere would have gotten lighter as the CO2 went up. Actually, what the isotopes tell us is that there was an increase in the amount of biological carbon through the deglaciation, not a decrease, about 500 Gton C as organic matter, explainable as growth of forests where the ice sheets used to be. It's actually going the wrong way, making it harder to explain the atmospheric CO2 change. David]

  4. 54
    Keith says:

    The elevation seems to be only 12m above sea level.
    If so, it is hard to explain the water level in the pit by any pingo or sinkhole theory.

  5. 55
    jyyh says:

    Thanks again, Good doctor, might guess there’s been a whole lot of mangrove and coastal forests getting submerged back then, if there’s a C-13 deposit in their soil this might be one source for the excess. Possibly also in coral reefs getting in too deep for growth. who knows.

  6. 56
    Jack Wolf says:

    I am brave. I shall defend our island planet, whatever the cost may be, I shall fight on the beaches, I shall fight on the landing grounds, I shall fight in the fields and in the streets, I shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender to the fossil fuel foe. It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary. This is our ultimate challenge, the stuff that epic history is made of. Don’t stay home and watch it on the tele. Be there. Be brave.

    People’s Climate March: NYC 9.21.14

    http://peoplesclimate.org/

  7. 57
    Joel Gombiner says:

    Can anyone (experts?) put these recent observations of high methane concentrations over the Beaufort Sea into context? If I understand the scale correctly, the methane concentrations at 20,000 ft. were over 2,000 ppb over a wide region of the Arctic…

    http://arctic-news.blogspot.co.uk/

    [Response: This 'data' is from an uncalibrated, unpublished and inaccurate satellite analysis that no-one else thinks can work. But apart from that... - gavin]

  8. 58
    David B. Benson says:

    Sunlight, not microbes, key to carbon dioxide in Arctic
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140821141548.htm
    So, I take it, even less methane.

  9. 59
    David Smith says:

    “Siberia has explosion holes in it that smell like methane” Just a small point of fact, because it is often misunderstood even by scientists; methane is a colorless and odorless gas.

  10. 60
    Hank Roberts says:

    About those scary high points you see on charts of methane — I keep pointing this out. I can’t imagine why the people presenting those homemade graphs with the extremely high data points that look so scary aren’t paying attention to me.
    I mean, I am some guy on the Internets …. oh, right.

    But you can look this stuff for yourself.
    It’s a bit hard to find, which is why whatsisname and wattsisname are the top sources for big scary methane data charts that you get linked to if you ‘oogle for the information.
    That means you’re in the ‘oogle bubble seeing what’s popular, not seeing the real source.
    They show you what you like to see, not what’s really out there.

    Work at it. You can look at the original source, which explains what the data points mean.

    You go to the page and narrow down by site, by collection method, by range of time, and it generates a chart for you.
    Start here: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/dv/iadv/graph.php?code=BRW&program=ccgg&type=ts
    Change the “Parameter” from the default “Carbon Dioxide” if you want instead to see Methane.
    Pick a range, say 2000-2014
    Press “Submit” to get the data plotted.*
    It’ll generate a chart for you.

    Read the caption below the chart.
    It says there:

    “Circle Symbols [blue] are thought to be regionally representative of a remote, well-mixed troposphere.
    + Symbols [green] are thought to be not indicative of background conditions, and represent poorly mixed air masses influenced by local or regional anthropogenic sources or strong local biospheric sources or sinks. A smooth curve and long-term trend may be fitted to the representative measurements when sufficient data exist.
    Data shown in ORANGE are preliminary.
    All other data have undergone rigorous quality assurance and are freely available from GMD, CDIAC, and WMO WDCGG.

    Generate charts that match what you see from the second hand chartists with the big scary data points — when I’ve done that, year after year, those scary data points are always orange in the original, unverified — and a few months later they’re not on the chart at all.

    ___________
    *Aside to NOAA: ya know, “submit” and “plot” are exactly the wrong words to use, for people who already suspect you and the data are out to get them. Try some different words, would ya? “Request” and “Chart” are words that mean what you think they mean, nothing other.

  11. 61
    Hank Roberts says:

    runaway blockquote above should be just the caption text from the data source, thus:

    “Circle Symbols [blue] are thought to be regionally representative of a remote, well-mixed troposphere.
    + Symbols [green] are thought to be not indicative of background conditions, and represent poorly mixed air masses influenced by local or regional anthropogenic sources or strong local biospheric sources or sinks. A smooth curve and long-term trend may be fitted to the representative measurements when sufficient data exist.
    Data shown in ORANGE are preliminary.
    All other data have undergone rigorous quality assurance and are freely available from GMD, CDIAC, and WMO WDCGG.

    Generate charts that match what you see from the second hand chartists with the big scary data points — when I’ve done that, year after year, those scary data points are always orange in the original, unverified — and a few months later they’re not on the chart at all.
    ___________
    *Aside to NOAA: ya know, “submit” and “plot” are exactly the wrong words to use, for people who already suspect you and the data are out to get them. Try some different words, would ya? “Request” and “Chart” are words that mean what you think they mean, nothing other.

  12. 62
    MARodger says:

    I do like this post in providing a usefully authoritative analysis and its coining the term “a Shakhova event”.
    When I have looked to find literature on this subject in the past, the emphasis has been on CO2 emissions from melting tundra with CH4 emissions often being left unmentioned.

    Of course the true authority we should turn to is the IPCC and AR4 didn’t do much to present a useful position on “Shakhova events.” Section 7.4.1.2 told us that if we kept on emitting CO2 and more-than tripled present cumulative CO2 emissions (to 2,000 GtC) we could then be the unhappy recipients of a similar quantity of CH4 although we would have to wait for it all to arrive – 1,000 to 100,000 years for potentially ~2,000 GtCH4, an equivilant of 50 “Shakhova events”.
    For a very rough comparison of such levels of CH4 emissions when emitted at a roughly constant rate over a single millenia, today’s rates of anthropogenic CH4 emissions which contribute a climate forcing of 0.5Wm^-2 would total 400 GtCH4 over 1,000 years, one fifth the quantity.
    As the quoted ~2,000 GtCH4 was the “potential” size of emissions and 1,000 years the shortest of a range of time-spans (let’s call it 2,000 GtCH4 released smoothly over 5,000 years), with no “Shakhova event” happening the Arctic CH4 feedback would more likely equal present CH4 forcing and is thus equal in force to about 13 years-worth of today’s CO2 emissions, or less for +5,000 years.

    AR5 improves the IPCC account of “Shakhova events” giving Arctic CH4 emissions its very own sub-section 12.5.5.5. It says:-
    “A recent assessment of the potential for a future abrupt release of methane was undertaken by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. They concluded that it was very unlikely that such a catastrophic release would occur this century. However, they argued that anthropogenic warming will very likely lead to enhanced methane emissions from both terrestrial and oceanic clathrates. Although difficult to formally assess, initial estimates of the 21st century positive feedback from methane clathrate destabilization are small but not insignificant. Nevertheless, on multi-millennial time scales, the positive feedback to anthropogenic warming of such methane emissions is potentially larger.”

    I think the take-away message is that Arctic CH4 is potentially a scary phenomenon, and certainly is when added to Arctic CO2 emissions. But, like Sea Level Rise which can potentially drown 90% of today’s human endeavour and which is also the result of continuing melting of the cryoshpere, Arctic methane release (along with CO2 release) will be doing its damage over centuries and continuing over millenia.
    And for the present, a few bubbles at sea or flaming craters on land are indeed evidence of Arctic methane emissions but importantly there is so far zero evidence of any increase in those Arctic methane emissions.

    Of course, scary stuff can and does happen. We could theoretically be faced with a “Shakhova event” out of nowhere just as the Jellystone Park super-volcano could blow its top with very little warning. Or the sun send us 2% more insolation for a decade. Or an asteroid the size of Manhatten. Or the rate of sea level rise suddenly jump fifteen times greater than today’s. Or a Vogon battlefleet.
    And I’m told there is evidence that three or four of these sorts of events have actually happened in the past.

  13. 63
    Kevin O'Neill says:

    #57 inline: “[Response: This 'data' is from an uncalibrated, unpublished and inaccurate satellite analysis that no-one else thinks can work. But apart from that... - gavin]”

    Gavin, the methanetracker.org website says this: “All the methane emissions measurements come from the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer (IASI) instrument, aboard of the MetOp series of polar orbiting satellites of the European Space Agency (ESA). The original satellite imagery is coming from the Office of Satellite and Product Operations (OSPO), part of the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS) which is part of NOAA. The original CH4 METOP 2 IASI imagery can be found at: http://www.osdpd.noaa.gov/IASI/html/index.html.”

    What do you find problematic in this use of the data?

    [Response: I've done a little more homework on this data, and I'd amend my previous statement to "not very accurate". This comes from the publication: Xiong et al (2013) which goes into the details of an evaluation exercise against mid-tropospheric sampling flights. They show that the retrieved dof is usually less than 1.5 (implying you get pretty much one value from the retrieval - no vertical distributions) and that the accuracy is badly degraded in cloudy conditions (which is a lot of the time in the Arctic). The errors are around 1-2% standard deviation (~20-40 ppb) or 5-95% range closer to 40-80 ppb. The errors were greatest in the Arctic winter. Thus the use of this data to infer huge changes in the concentration there is a little dubious. - gavin]

  14. 64
    Killian says:

    15. I’d feel so much better about your continued calm in the face of multiple lines of evidence indicating rapidly increasing methane escaping in the arctic if you were actually researching methane, which you aren’t, so far as I know.

    [Response: My latest research publication is entitled A model of the methane cycle, permafrost, and hydrology of the Siberian continental margin. In review, Biogeosciences Discussions. Don't know if that counts. David]

    Sure it does. Being petulant/sarcastic doesn’t really help though. I find your posts on methane problematic: You’re a scientist, people listen to you. Yet, I think it is quite fair to say the changes we’ve seen since 2007, when I started posting here, I believe, as ccpo, have matched my expectations, not yours. Yet, you remain sanguine in the extreme given Rapid Climate Change. Your suggested expertise, despite your only recent active study of CH4, far overmatches the comments of someone like myself whose analysis is based in systems, patterns, logic as opposed to being a scientist myself. Despite real world changes being closer to my expectations than yours, you are listened to, and policies are set, and futures arguably put in danger.

    This is a serious issue, and the very core of the argument for more activism from scientists, right?

    So, yes, your posts worry me. Jeff Rutledge posted similar stuff about fossil fuels and coal back in 2007 – 2009. I told him he was wrong. We don’t hear much from Professor Rutledge anymore.

    He had a bone and wasn’t going to let go of it. I get the same “feel” from your posts. It’s the same certainty that the theory will hold vs. the reality. The same sanguine response about future changes. He also failed to look beyond just his science and see the whole system, as I am confident you are doing.

    God bless us all, I hope you are correct.

    I very much doubt that is the case.

    I am, sincerely, glad you are working on methane directly now. Over time I suspect you will become a bit more alarmed. Or, like Rutledge, just sort of go quiet on the topic.

    What concerns me most is you responded to the part of my post that you took personally, though it wasn’t really a key point. A good scientist should be able to apply their skills to different areas of study, in or out of their own general fields. It’s possible you are correct (though ultimately irrelevant). I don’t doubt your skills. I doubt your analysis. But did you address any of my questions? No. I think at least the question of how many Shakhova Events we might see is at least worth a moment of your time, no?

    That you chose the ego defense over a useful discussion doesn’t bode well for the future, eh? After all, it was a fact at the time I wrote it, and still is, technically, until you are published on methane and your conclusions supported by the wider scientific community.

    Cheers

  15. 65
    Killian says:

    23 Hank Roberts says: screaming meamies!!!!

    You are certainly a dependable varmint. You does loves youse kicks to da shins!

    Now, I did my own little search, and his research *has not* been on Arctic sub-sea methane. Now, might it touch on it a bit in terms of cycle processes? I suppose.

    But my comment stands. And is correct in the context of this discussion.

    [edit]

    25 Lewis Cleverdon David Archer says, “Better to call it small if it looks small, don’t want to be “alarmist”. ]

    Dang! Where’d you get that bus you just tossed Shakhova under? Goodness. Let’s not forget that while she says these things are possible, the last comment I read or heard from her was in terms of the *probability* was still small.

    Yet, here come da bus!

    [edit]

    Look, her point, and mine, is about risk, not a guarantee of massive CH4 pulses, per se. The *effects* of them creates far too high a risk. The alarm is justified within a *risk assessment* of climate, something very dangerously, and studiously, ignored by you, and RealClimate generally.

    I know not all of you are so sanguine, and wish we’d hear those voices more. Here’s one. Unfortunately, not a climate scientists. Still, it’s a voice of reason, not unreason, David.

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/08/20/climate_change_alarmist_optimistic_realistic_not_na_ve_assessment_of_global.html

    Your risk assessment is dangerously lacking.

    51 Lewis Cleverdon says: David – thanks for your responses to mine at #25…

    If that governance is mandated as a protocol within the requisite Climate Treaty, it can also be negotiated to proscribe the possibility of any reckless unilateral deployment of Geo-E techniques. Finally, I hope that we may agree that this ‘bottom-up quantifiable hazard’ approach offers a far more cogent case for advancing the proper governance of Geo-E research than Shakhova’s extreme worst case scenario could ever achieve, as it relies on promoting prudence rather than alarmism. Regards, Lewis

    Tricky fellow, Lewis! Your long post above can be truncated to, “Shakhova? Pishposh! She is *such* an alarmist! Ah! But geo-engineering, there’s a thing! I mean, heck, she *could* be right, right? Or kinda right? So, hey, shouldn’t we have this geo-engineering industry ready to go?”

    I am *dying* here! LOL! First, geo-engineering will fail. Get your climate blinders off, Lewis, and see the far deeper systemic issues. Even without climate issues, we’d be falling into crisis now. Go figure out why, and why greater complexity does not address the problems we face.

    OK… will have to catch up on the rest later…

  16. 66
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Killian — 25 Aug 2014 @ 2:25 AM, ~#64

    When Killian says- “you chose the ego defense over a useful discussion” to anyone= Dumbth.

    Steve

  17. 67
    Hank Roberts says:

    > the seabed offshore of the Carolinas

    And Lo!

    NATURE GEOSCIENCE | LETTER
    Widespread methane leakage from the sea floor on the northern US Atlantic margin

    A. Skarke, C. Ruppel, M. Kodis, D. Brothers & E. Lobecker

    Nature Geoscience (2014) doi:10.1038/ngeo2232
    Received 03 March 2014 Accepted 21 July 2014 Published online 24 August 2014

    http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ngeo2232.html

    [Response: I got three press (blog) queries on this paper, which for me is a lot. Here's what I responded:
    The paper does not say that this is a significant methane flux to the atmosphere. They make more about what happens to the water chemistry when the methane dissolves and oxidizes (it uses up oxygen). They never claim it could be significant to the climate, only that it has not been fully accounted for in carbon budgets.
    The paper kind of asserts that warming temperatures are responsible, and that this methane flux is an accelerating thing. But there is no evidence for an increase in emission, and lots of evidence that sea floor emission in general been going on for a while.
    I can certainly believe that there will be more methane released in a warmer world, but since the methane concentration in the atmosphere is dominated by tropical wetlands and human emissions, I expect the actual climate forcing from methane released from the ocean, or the Arctic, to be small.
    However, the cumulative impact of releasing that carbon, from hydrates or from permafrost organic carbon, could be a large amplifier of the long-term impact of fossil fuel release. Like, we could stick to our 1000 Gtons, but the carbon cycle could kick in another say hundreds of gigatons. I don't think it could double the human impact, releasing as much carbon as we do, or else the natural world would be "tippier" than it is observed to be, with the occasional meltdown like the PETM but not meltdowns all the time, like models do if you set them up with a carbon cycle feedback that is too strong or acts too quickly. David]

  18. 68
    Jim Larsen says:

    65 Killian said, “First, geo-engineering will fail.”

    Got a cite for that?

  19. 69
    Tony Weddle says:

    Killian, from my perspective, David is simply going by the science. Anything else is speculation. Personally, I think he understates the risk but have nothing to pin that belief on. The fact that we’re starting to see methane wherever we look may be an artifact of looking more rather than feedback effects. There aren’t many long term measurements of seepage so we don’t really know how methane emissions are changing (other than the slow rise shown at measuring stations). Heck the research that Hank linked to do didn’t even sample the gas – maybe it wasn’t methane?

  20. 70
    Joel Gombiner says:

    Thanks to Gavin and Kevin O’Neill for looking into the methodology for remotely measuring methane concentrations over the Arctic.

    So it sounds like the measurements of ~2000 ppb come with a 40-80 ppb 2-sigma error; 2-4%, which seems like a very good remote sensing accuracy to me. I took a brief look at the article, and their correlations between in-situ methane and remote sensed methane concentrations do look nice.

    To sum up: Global methane levels are now around 1835 ± 30 ppb (?), and these IASI measurements indicate levels over the Beaufort Sea up to (or higher than?) 2000 ± 80 ppb. I.e. enriched in relation to the global level with 2-sigma confidence, indicating that the Beaufort Sea is either acting as a methane source, or is somehow concentrating methane in the atmosphere.

    Now, my other question (and I am capable of doing my own research, but I’m just wondering if anyone knows off the top of their head), is how do these concentrations compare with historical levels of methane in the atmosphere over the arctic? And do they have any implications about the yearly integrated methane flux and how it’s changing over time?

  21. 71
    Killian says:

    8 Jim Larsen says:

    65 Killian said, “First, geo-engineering will fail.”

    Got a cite for that?

    Got a cite against, showing all geo-engineering is just hunky-dorie? Of course not. Argumentative, per… always.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-hidden-dangers-of-geoengineering/

    The iron into the seas study that blew up into an algal bloom, or some sort of bloom, to give the only real-world example I know of. No, not going to find that for you given it was well-documented.

    More importantly, you are asking for evidence things never done won’t work. You prove they will, since they do not currently exist and it was suggested this is something to consider/do.

    Better yet, we have natural means of doing so: 40% of the dry weight of a tree is carbon. How is growing trees or forests not safer than the unintended consequences of *any* geoengineering, and not magnitudes cheaper? Bio-char. Animals. Just letting the oceans restock themselves removes gigatons. And so very many more.

    Some conclusions are prima facie.

    Occam’s Razor applies. Proving geo-engineering isn’t even needed when near-zero risk options are available. So, no, wont waste my time looking for links for you, hough they are out there… as if every issues doesn’t have two sides…

    …as if you don’t know there are critiques of geo-engineering…

    better yet, principles drawn from nature that direct choices….

    69 Tony Weddle says:

    27 Aug 2014 at 12:49 AM

    Killian, from my perspective, David is simply going by the science. Anything else is speculation.

    Specious. Science is a speculative process. It starts with a suspected, not known, outcome. I tire of people using he illogical admonishment that speculation can only happen in a scientific paper. It’s rather absurd when not only the hypotheses are speculative, but so are the vast majority of results!

    Personally, I think he understates the risk but have nothing to pin that belief on.

    I covered that. Archer and others keep saying this can’t happen or that can’t happen, yer, things keep happening. That is more than enough counter to Archer’s assertions. I find it interesting a blog post by Archer, not a paper, is given such stature by you, but a blog post by me is dismissed. Yet, I am a professional designer of systems intended to mimic natural systems. Not a professor, but nor am I ignorant. I said 7 years ago the Arctic would show greater melt than Archer and others expected.

    I was correct. Yet, still, I am treated with disdain consistently. Hmm… Another simple example, if you look at disxussions between Paul Beckwith the last two years regarding ASI. Paul, a climate Ph. D (or candidate), stated both years we were headed for a melt-out. I looked, checked the numbers, looked at the weather and climate patterns and forecasts and decided we’d very unlikely make new records (13) and definitely wouldn’t in 14.

    Just because you don’t understand how I analyze, doesn’t mean I suck at it. Quite the opposite. I am really good at it.

    Maybe people’s assessment and analysis rubriks need adjustment.

    The fact that we’re starting to see methane wherever we look may be an artifact of looking more rather than feedback effects.

    Or…?

    Tell you what, when Archer’s comments reflect the physical reality better than mine, I’ll stop trying to get him to stop only looking at what the science supposedly tells.

    The science has, after all, been not just a little off, but a lot off WRT global ice and permafrost.

  22. 72
  23. 73
    Killian says:

    I’d bet my other eye (lost the right to retinoblastoma as a toddler) Archer is on the wrong side of this issue.

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/08/01/3466466/siberian-craters-permafrost-climate-change/

  24. 74
    Killian says:

    72.>> Got a cite for that?
    Solid cites trump extensive assertation.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 Aug 2014 @ 6:28 PM

    Gave you one cite, noted another you are absolutely aware of.
    [edit - no attacks on other commenters]

    And why no matter what I post? Can you put your scenarios/predictions against mine and win? Nope.

    [edit]

  25. 75
    Tony Weddle says:

    Killian, so you’re saying that all climate scientists studying methane in some way should stand up and say that they don’t have the data yet but the situation is imminently perilous, in their view?

    You might be right. The Arctic has warmed very quickly, of late, and that is worrying. The melt of virtually the entire surface of the Greenland ice sheet the other year is worrying. These are the sorts of things that may point to tipping points but the data just isn’t there yet. For better or worse, we’re going to have to wait longer for the smoking gun that seems to be the only thing that will get people to sit up.

  26. 76
    Leland Palmer says:

    One of the first published comments from Russian Scientists about the Yamal crater might be the correct theory – it’s the salt:

    “According to the Siberian paper, “Anna Kurchatova from Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre thinks the crater was formed by a water, salt and gas mixture igniting an underground explosion, the result of global warming. She postulates that gas accumulated in ice mixed with sand beneath the surface, and that this was mixed with salt – some 10,000 years ago this area was a sea. Global warming, causing an ‘alarming’ melt in the permafrost, released gas causing an effect like the popping of a Champagne bottle cork, she suggests.”

    Xiaoli Liu and Dr. Peter Flemmings have studied high salt methane hydrates at Hydrate Ridge, off the Oregon coast. They claim that salt allows the methane hydrate deposits to be at the “triple point” of the system making the system much more temperature sensitive than low salt deposits.

    Xiaoli Liu – High Salt Hydrate Thesis http://www.beg.utexas.edu/geofluids/Theses/xiaoli_liu_hydrate_thesis.pdf

    The Yamal Peninsula is high in salt – several available scientific papers confirm this.

    Sixteen miles from the Yamal crater lies the giant Bovanenkovo gas field, containing about half as much methane as currently exists in the atmosphere. The roof of this deposit lies at about 600 meters depth – so it might or might not be safe from gas eruptions originating at about 100 meters depth. Salt does make methane more mobile, and allows gas phase transport of methane within the deposit.

    Also, there seems to be a regional layer of methane hydrate, encountered when drilling at multiple gas fields, at about 100 meters in depth.

    Sources of Natural Gas within Permafrost- Northwest Siberia http://research.iarc.uaf.edu/NICOP/DVD/ICOP%201998%20Permafrost%207th%20conf/CD-ROM/Proceedings/PDF001189/151104.pdf

    So, there could be many more of these methane blowout craters to come, and the high salt areas could be the first to blow.

    It may be that the terrestrial hydrates cannot be at the triple point of the methane hydrate system. The original Yamal crater and the two other craters, though, argue that this is not the case.

    The regional layer of methane hydrate and the gas that will likely start to erupt from that layer might be a problem. A bigger problem, though, is if the Yamal blowouts happen to blow out a drill rig and a working gas well- or several of them. That could open up the deeper areas of the Bovanenkovo,field, for example, to the atmosphere, and create a way that the huge amounts of gas in these giant gas fields could escape. The total amount of methane in the Siberian gas fields is several times the amount of methane in the atmosphere of the earth-more than 25 trillion cubic meters of methane.

    Realistically, it seems unlikely that the Yamal blowout craters would damage a gas well beyond repair.But the consequences if this does occur, and if it occurs several times, could be huge.

    Given an international effort,it might be possible to remediate the gas fields that are in high salt areas in Siberia, and even do it in an almost carbon neutral way. The natural gas could be burned in oxygen to generate electricity, and create a stream of CO2 and water vapor, and that stream could be deep injected several kilometers into the earth. This is off the shelf technology, and could be done easily. The giant Siberian gas fields could become a huge source of electricity, and this electricity could be exported to Europe The layer of methane hydrate at about 100 meters depth could be drilled into, and the pressure from this layer released, preventing a Yamal type blowout.

    But, if the Russians try to cover up this problem, it’s going to be harder to remediate it, I think.

  27. 77
    Killian says:

    75.Killian, so you’re saying that all climate scientists studying methane in some way should stand up and say that they don’t have the data yet but the situation is imminently perilous, in their view?

    Not sure we need all. Bu when more and more climate scientists are calling each other to speak out, does it make much sense for you to take issue with me doing so?

    There is, however, a recurring issue here. What is science? Folks like Hank and some of the people behind RC suggest explicitly or implicitly that only published work equals science. That is ridiculous on its face, but is a common theme that underlies this issue in that people like me, despite our records, are completely dismissed, if not outright antagonized and even looked down upon. But I am doing science review and am analysis. My observations are not random, they come with as much research as anybody on these for a, and I’d wager far more than the vast majority.

    So, am I qualified to speak on climate, as citizen scientist? Why not. Then, should I not be able to legitimately suggest they *need*, as a group, if not as individuals, get talking?

    I was saying it seven years ago. Here. No accident, IMO, the numbers of scientists speaking out and asking their colleagues to is growing rapidly.

    As I say in my more activist roles, time is short.

    You might be right. The Arctic has warmed very quickly, of late, and that is worrying. The melt of virtually the entire surface of the Greenland ice sheet the other year is worrying. These are the sorts of things that may point to tipping points but the data just isn’t there yet. For better or worse, we’re going to have to wait longer for the smoking gun that seems to be the only thing that will get people to sit up.

    Comment by Tony Weddle — 30 Aug 2014 @ 3:32 AM

    I’d say I am right. The flaw in your argument is that science always lags the physical world. Always. Except in models. Actually, even models because they are based on the most current data, which is always behind the physical reality. (E.g., Hansen, et al. saying melt could double every five years, then, voila! it’s found to have done so! But that isn’t in our models, is it? Nope.) And, models are projections, not guarantees. Waiting for proof of the clathrate gun means choosing not to act on the clathrate gun until after the shot is fired. That’s insane, suicidal. And that is the problem with Archer’s sanguine approach.

    Were Archer dryly doing research on CH4, fine. But he’s not. He’s blogging on it, and with a rather clear intent to counter what he considers extreme or alarmist views. (See his comments on Shakhova, which I found shocking.)

    Shakhova is clearly on the accurate side of the risk assessment, not Archer. CH4 is a potential ELE. That means, since it is *already* being found breaking down, no risk is small enough not to act to stop it. The only way to stop it is to cool the planet. The only way to cool the planet is to sequester GHGs. Etc.

    But, folks like Archer make it seem we have all the time in the world. Sorry, but the scientists who are scared time is short, if not already past, are the ones giving the correct advice because of the risk.

    Archer doesn’t talk about this. that’s a problem. For him not to do so in a paper, fine. but on a blog, so as to give an impression Shakhova, Semilitov, myself, and others are all Chicken Littles? And to even name the comments of a fellow scientist alarmist even though she has done far, far more direct work in the Arctic and with CH4? That’s edging past hubris.

    So, yeah, I support those scientists who see the danger and understand the risk assessment to speak out.

    Often here at RC it is said the scientists job is not to do policy or activism. Fine. But it *is* their job to make sure the science is understood. If that science is being distorted and lied about, who but the scientists involved can most effectively rebut that?

    It doesn’t have to be activism, it can just be advocating for themselves and their work. They can go that far without stepping into policy.

  28. 78
    Killian says:

    Looks like Shakhova’s trip this summer found destabilized sub-sea permafrost not only in the long-inundated deep Arctic Shelf, but in the far more recently inundated near shore Arctic Shelf, and comparable emissions as those found on the deep shelf.

    Archer reiterates the seemingly outdated claim that propagation of the heat takes time frames far longer than is explained by the destabilized near-shore clathrates.

    So, yeah. There’s that.

    She also refutes the claim that any sub-sea destabilization is due to long-term SLR, not Climate Change.

    So, yeah, there’s that, too.

    I believe this is as yet unpublished info coming from this summer’s research trip. If it holds, two key arguments for Archer shot all to heck. I think you should back up that bus, David, and give the lady a call.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQDVr1eMLK8

  29. 79
    Pcalith says:

    Something off about the interview. It seems like it’s a repurposed 2012 interview about their 2011 expedition. She doesn’t mention their new estimate from the most recent paper (17 tg) instead referencing the old (8) . They also didn’t return from an expedition in June, they left on one on June 27 . Background and outfit the same, too. Very fishy.

  30. 80
    Nigel Williams says:

    A quick GoogleMap tour of the area of this hole will soon show y’all that these hole features are very common. They range in age from old enough to have the thrown soil around the edge of the crater overgrown (which would suggest 100′s to 1000′s of years there) to comparatively new holes with fresh spoil around them. Some holes have clear water and you can see down to some depth, while others seem to have some disturbance (possibly out-gassing) causing turbid water.

    The craters seem to lie along depressions. The water levels within the craters appears to be close to the nearby sea level rather than perched up within a local ground water table. This could suggest a pretty open aquifer well-connected to the sea, and thus (through tidal effects) to any warmer coastal water effects.

    So the area is very active in this process, and clearly has been for a very long time.

    ‘Discovery’ of these recent events may or may not imply a change in the rate of such hole formation, rather they may reflect a higher level of surveillance of a previously remote area. One or even two swallows do not a summer make, tho they may be worth looking out for as a sign of things to come.

  31. 81
    Leland Palmer says:

    The Yamal area was glaciated during the last ice age.

    I’m told 100 meters depth is too shallow for methane hydrate formation, in the absence of glaciation. But the area was glaciated during the most recent ice age. The kettle lakes of the Yamal Peninsula are a glacial landform.

    The extra pressure from the glacier could have allowed a regional layer of gas hydrate to form at about 100 meters depth. A regional layer of methane is documented by this paper:

    Sources of Natural Gas Within Permafrost North-west Siberia

    http://research.iarc.uaf.edu/NICOP/DVD/ICOP%201998%20Permafrost%207th%20conf/CD-ROM/Proceedings/PDF001189/151104.pdf

    In this paper, they talk about a very troublesome layer encountered at around 100 meters depth at multiple gas fields, creating blowouts. They talk about permafrost soils evolving much more gas than could be accounted for by pore volume, drilling cores from 70-120 meters evolving in excess of 10 times the volume of gas accountable by pore space in the cores (page 1003).

    They estimate the gas content of this gas layer at a minimum of 50,000 cubic meters per square kilometer, and say it could be an order of magnitude more. They speculate that this could be a regional phenomenon, common to the entire region.

    Add Xaioli Liu and Peter Flemmings high salt “triple point” proposal to this (post # 76), heat via global warming, and we could plausibly end up with thousands of these craters, I think.

    Something is blowing craters in Siberia, it appears. I think Anna Kurchatova was right – it’s the salt, combined with a layer of relict methane hydrate left over from the last ice age.

    This proposal may or may not be right, but it does form a hypothesis consistent with the known facts, I think. It accounts for the existence of these blowouts so soon in the global warming process, by the “triple point” phenomenon of Xiaoli Liu and Peter Flemmings.

    I hope David’s estimate of the total gas released by these blowouts is correct – because we’re going to see thousands of these things, if this hypothesis turns out to be right. Chances are, David’s estimate was very low, because he did not account for the bouyancy of methane and the chronic methane emissions, which could be very significant and long lasting from such a hydrate layer.

    I think we’re still missing something, though. The few statments from the Russian scientists available in the popular press also mention that they are concerned about taliks – and the fact that the lake in the bottom of the Yamal crater will not freeze in the winter.

    Deep taliks (unfrozen areas within the permafrost) are often associated with lakes, and Yamal has many thousands of lakes. Deep taliks may be another plausible mechanism by which methane could be released from the giant gas fields – especially if those taliks are high in salt, and allow gas phase methane transport within the talik, and ultimately to the atmosphere.

  32. 82
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Shakhova

    Google: https://www.google.com/search?q=%22Nick+Breeze%22+22methane+emergency

    This looks like the material repeatedly repackaged and promoted by the AMEG people.
    It’s quite an impressive PR operation. Dig deep, they hide their conclusion,
    which seems invariably to be, bless our drilling operation, credit us with
    saving the world from the methane monster by making money faster than ever by
    building more drilling and processing and pipeline infrastructure, by
    committing money and effort to keeping the dinosaur alive a little longer.

    AMEG’s plan seems to be burning methane fast that likely would stay in place if left alone.

    It’s counterproductive, except to make money by releasing the methane for sure, rather than leave the strata alone and focus the money and effort on non-carbon infrastructure and conservation as fast as possible. Of course conservation benefits everyone so the profit is widely diluted, not concentrated.

    Seems to me the classic mistake, pushing the lever in the wrong direction.

  33. 83
    Max says:

    How could a melting pingo eject spoil outwards from the crater?

    It looks to me like some kind of gas pressure pushed the spoil outwards. Liquid pressure would have washed away the spoil, solid pressure would have wider in effect. Conclusion :its not a collapsed pingo.

    Max

  34. 84
  35. 85

    “How could a melting pingo eject spoil outwards from the crater?” – See more at: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2014/08/how-much-methane-came-out-of-that-hole-in-siberia/comment-page-2/#comment-590542

    I wondered the same thing, but the thinking is that the collapse was sudden enough to eject the debris, if I have this right–basically a big, muddy, splash. As Hank’s links note, though, the assessment hadn’t yet included actual in situ work, since the place is very hard to get to.

    I hope we’ll hear some more about this when folks do get there and take a close look.

  36. 86
    prokaryotes says:

    There is this study from 2005, which is frequently cited and might help to explain crater/sinkhole formation.

    The process is a continuum, when Initial permafrost warming develops thermokarst and lake expansion, and followed by lake drainage as the permafrost degrades still further.

    Disappearing Arctic lakes, https://seagrant.uaf.edu/news/05ASJ/Science_Arctic_Lakes.pdf

    Thus, the craters discussed here might originate from cave pond formation, due to permafrost degradation, which may be created conditions for the accumulation of an explosive air/gas mixture, because of the contained area and anaerobic conditions, which favor methanogenesis.

  37. 87

    The argument that the only way methane can escape from below the Arctic ocean is from heat conducting downward from the ocean bottom may be in error. It is similar to the argument that the glaciers can not contribute to a rapid sea level rise due to the time it takes heat to melt the ice. This prediction was wrong and one reason was that water flowing down cracks in the ice lubricated the ice/rock contact and caused glaciers to accelerate into the ocean. In other words, a mass transfer mechanism dominated over a simple melting scenario. The same may hold for the release of sub-ocean floor release of methane clathrate. If a crack opens up in the ocean floor down to clathrate deposits, the pressure on these deposits is reduced since the density of the sediment that formerly kept the pressure at a certain level is 2.5 times as much as the water which fills the crack. If the clathrate begins to break down and release bubbles, the pressure is further released making a sort of air (methane) lift of the crack. A very rapid release of methane can result. When enough of this clathrate “glue” is removed, slumps can occur which can expose more clathrate to lower pressures.

  38. 88
    Hank Roberts says:

    > argument that the only way methane can escape

    The thought isn’t that it’s the “only way” but that the other ways are minor contributors, as that matches what’s been observed.

    Most of the methane in the atmosphere is still coming from leaky pipes and rotting vegetation — and either of those could also have a much larger outburst if we screw things up badly enough.

    Question is whether the human influence is going to provoke behavior that hasn’t been seen in the past.

    Yes, anthropogenic surprise does seem to have happened with the ice caps – look back at Stoat’s old thread Why do Science in Antarctica?, which has existed long enough to capture the change: what we used to think and how that’s changed, one publication at a time, as the world has changed. Someone should capture that for the history of science.

    But — what’s the point of making methane the bugaboo? It’s not. At the very worst it’s just heaping trouble on already really bad trouble.

    Coal is the bugaboo along with other fossil fuels, because we’re burning them fast.

    Worried about the methane monster?
    Stop feeding it carbon dioxide.
    Sarve it where it lays.
    Don’t enable its escape by burning more fossil carbon.

    All the screaming about methane is distracting attention from the CO2 problem — which is screwing up the oceans’ chemistry even faster than it’s screwing up the climate.

    The problem is the people burning fossil fuels. Methane levels change due to our CO2 actions.

  39. 89
    Leland Palmer says:

    Re post #88, Hank Roberts-

    “But — what’s the point of making methane the bugaboo? It’s not. At the very worst it’s just heaping trouble on already really bad trouble.”

    The point in talking about the methane monster is that carbon isotope excursions consistent with releases of trillions of tons of methane have coincided with past mass extinction events, including the End Permian, the End Triassic, and the PETM. Large carbon isotope excursions are also associated with the Aptian and Toarcian oceanic anoxic events, among others. In fact, methane release from the oceanic hydrates perhaps triggered by flood basalt eruptions, could be a general explanation for most mass extinction events. Substitute anthropogenic fossil fuel use for the flood basalt eruption, and we could be triggering just such an event.

    So, that’s the sort of buzz saw we’re monkeying with, maybe.

    The sinkhole explanation for the Yamal crater is interesting, it might explain the low volume of ejecta compared to the volume of the hole. I guess it is possible to have a 300 foot deep sinkhole in thermokarst, in land only 40 feet above sea level.

    The giant Russian gas field Bovanenkovo is very near the Yamal crater, perhaps coincidentally. There is a photo on Google Earth 6.5 miles away from the Yamal crater of what appears to be a working natural gas well, on a road leading to the central area of Bovanenkovo 16.5 miles away. Along that road are other photos of drill rigs and what appear to be gas processing facilities of some sort. The Yamal crater is at 70 28 42.8 N, 67 47 52.8 E.

  40. 90
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Substitute anthropogenic fossil fuel use for the flood basalt eruption

    Agreed, that would not be a good idea.

    Numbers are coming in on the problems handling methane, written up for example here:
    http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/methane-fracking-obama-climate-change-bill-mckibben
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?as_ylo=2014&q=howarth+methane+leak

    Agreed, the problem is burning fossil carbon.
    It hurts when we do that.
    We should stop doing that.

  41. 91
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Hank Roberts-
    A system kept in control by feedback, deprived of feedback, con often go out of control. Try driving a car with the windshield painted black, for example.

    The only way to bring the climate system back into control is to tell the truth, so that our society can react to the situation as it is.

    If there is a chance of a methane catastrophe, even a small chance, major efforts are justified to avoid it. Risk is calculated by multiplying the probability of an event by the consequences of that event. In the case of a methane catastrophe, the consequences are so huge that even a small probability of occurrence results in a huge risk to humanity. But, the probability of a methane catastrophe does not appear to be small, at all. It appears to have a large probability of occurrence, and the consequences could be an extinction level event. So, the risk is huge, unprecedented, totally off the charts, and a World War II level of effort, at least, is required.

    Yes, methane exported to Europe from Russia could have consequences greater than burning coal, because of leaks. If it was burned locally to generate electricity, heavily monitored, and the resulting CO2 deep injected, though, I think that almost carbon neutral remediation could be done. Add Siberian biomass from thinning and fire protecting the forests to the CO2 that is deep injected, and the overall impact could be slightly carbon negative – if it is done correctly, openly, and subject to independent monitoring.

    About the crater, another way to account for the low volume of ejected material might be if most of it was ice and the ice subsequently melted.

  42. 92
    Hank Roberts says:

    > If there is a chance of a methane catastrophe, even a small chance,
    > major efforts are justified to avoid it.

    The “major effort” would invest money into drilling, more gas pipes, and burners.
    Say what??

    The “major effort” the Methane Cat people recommend is drilling to “depressurize” and burning the gas. Go ahead, find anything _they_ recommend to “reduce” the “risk”.

    It’s a scam. Weigh the risk and follow the money.

    I’m saying that’s a greenwashing, bogus, lying, moneymaking, backasswards, wrong claim being promoted by the fossil fuel people to build more gas infrastructure and make money faster.

    There is nothing _different_ about methane compared to the other feedbacks from warming.
    _Except_ it’s a very small, low likelihood risk, and a _large_ short-term profit opportunity.

    Whether it’s a methane burp, waking Cthulhu prematurely*, ocean pH change, or melting the icecaps — whatever the odds or likelihood of any particular bugaboo — they all need the same damn “major effort” required: stop burning fossil carbon.

    A small likelihood of some extra methane clathrate melting.
    Big deal.
    Read the numbers in the original post at the top of the page.

    If we warm up to vast slope failures and a “methane catastrophe” ALL the other more probable and worse — slower, vaster — feedbacks will also happen. That’s what we should stop.
    Because by the time the methane burps out it will be a trivial addition to the disaster.
    Get it? Yes it’s big and scary.

    Want an analogy? The methane catastrophe is like a possibly rabid bat in the next room, while a bear’s chewing on your leg.

    _______________________
    * Below the thunders of the upper deep;
    Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
    His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
    The Kraken sleepeth: …
    There hath he lain for ages and will lie
    … Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
    Then … In roaring he shall rise …

  43. 93
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hank Roberts-

    There are likely 5000-20000 gigatons of carbon as methane in the methane hydrates, about 5 gigatons of carbon as methane in the atmosphere right now, and about 25 gigatons of carbon as methane in the Siberian gas fields. If there is a regional layer of Siberian methane hydrate at about 100 meters, total methane content of that layer could be on the order of a gigaton or two of methane, as a worst case, I think.

    Release of even a small percentage of the oceanic methane from the hydrates could be catastrophic. Methane is the greatest risk in global warming, because of the greenhouse positive feedback and reducing chemistry effects of methane. Burning it is better than letting it go directly into the atmosphere, and burning plus deep injection of the resulting CO2 would likely be acceptable.

    The Russians are not going to stop developing their giant natural gas fields. Better it be burned locally, the electricity exported and the CO2 deep injected, than have it exported to Europe and have a percentage of it leak. Exporting the energy as electricity could be made roughly carbon neutral, exporting the gas directly to Europe is strongly carbon positive, and allowing any fraction of Siberian methane to escape to the atmosphere could act as a bridge to general destabilization of the oceanic methane hydrates and be catastrophic.

  44. 94
    Hank Roberts says:

    > [big scary numbers]
    So what? That’s trivial compared to the rest of the problem. Remember?

    the atmospheric methane flux from the Arctic Ocean is really small (extrapolating estimates from Kort et al 2012), even compared with emissions from the Arctic land surface, which is itself only a few percent of global emissions (dominated by human sources and tropical wetlands).

    In conclusion, despite recent explosions suggesting the contrary, I still feel that the future of Earth’s climate in this century and beyond will be determined mostly by the fossil fuel industry, and not by Arctic methane. We should keep our eyes on the ball.

    > Better it be burned locally, the electricity exported and the CO2 deep injected

    Yeah, right; “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t.”

    Electric transmission efficiency losses are greater than gas pipe losses.
    Your plan would burn more carbon in the name of efficiency.
    Nobody’s pumping CO2 into deep storage.

    You’re urging them to drill and burn, saying “but we wish you’d do it right.”

    They’re drilling and burning and building pipelines, and laughing at the people they fooled.

    A methane burp won’t happen if we don’t continue burning fossil carbon.
    If we do and it happens, it will add a short term problem to a terrible longterm crisis.

    Don’t invest in burning more fossil carbon.
    Don’t keep being fooled by bogus arguments for burning more carbon.

  45. 95
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hank Roberts-
    I’m not urging the Russians to develop their natural gas. The natural gas in the Siberian gas fields is worth about ten trillion dollars, and short of a nuclear war, there is no way to stop them from developing it.

    Better it be developed in an almost carbon neutral way, I think. Electricity transmission losses, especially from high voltage DC power lines, are reasonable, these days. High voltage DC power losses are acceptable up to about 4000 miles, and Germany is about 2000 miles from Yamal.

    Regarding methane flux, that can change, that’s what positive feedback is all about. The total amount that could be dissociated is huge, on the order of a thousand times the methane content of the atmosphere. Current flux from the oceanic hydrates is small, but that will change as warming increases, and calculated future flux is based on assumptions that could be wrong. Mass flow, for example, as some of the previous posts on this thread have mentioned, could be very important and has likely been vastly underestimated.

    Deep injection of CO2 for secondary oil recovery is a mature technology. The NatCarb database estimates that U.S. deep injection capacity is on the order of 2-20 trillion tons of CO2. Siberian capacity is likely more than adequate to sequester the carbon from their natural gas.
    The argument that we only have one eye to keep on one ball is absurd, by the way.

  46. 96
    Hank Roberts says:

    > The natural gas in the Siberian gas fields is worth about ten trillion dollars

    Cite? “worth” under old accounting omits costs of the CO2; whatever’s done with it, it has costs.
    As better alternatives become available, gas hydrate won’t be worth nearly that much.

    They’re in a hurry to capture the investment money, and take it away from the competition.
    They’re claiming the hydrate “likely” to blow out eventually if it’s not drilled out soon.
    That’s exaggeration for profit.

    > Better it be developed in an almost carbon neutral way, I think.

    Wouldn’t it be nice.

  47. 97

    “The natural gas in the Siberian gas fields is worth about ten trillion dollars, and short of a nuclear war, there is no way to stop them from developing it.”

    – See more at: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2014/08/how-much-methane-came-out-of-that-hole-in-siberia/comment-page-2/#comment-594039

    An unsupported assertion. Reshaping of the energy economy could quite possibly render development of that gas uneconomic (or less economic.) I’m not saying that *will* happen, but it certainly could. This is the ‘stranded assets’ problem, which is receiving serious discussion (well, it *seems* serious, at least) these days. True, coal will be hit first, nat gas later if at all.

  48. 98
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hank Roberts-
    Gazprom says their total gas reserves are about 33 trillion cubic meters of gas, with about 25 trillion cubic meters in the combined Urals and Siberian areas.

    http://www.gazprom.com/about/production/reserves/

    25 trillion cubic meters at 400 dollars per thousand cubic meters is about 10 trillion dollars, at roughly current market prices.

    “They’re claiming the hydrate “likely” to blow out eventually if it’s not drilled out soon. That’s exaggeration for profit.”

    So far, only one Russian scientist I can recall has suggested drilling into the supposed high pressure layer of methane that he speculated might have caused the Yamal crater. If there is a regional layer of high salt methane hydrate, shallow, at 70-150 meters and so susceptible to global warming, and if that layer is going to start to blow, then drilling to relieve pressure seems like a good idea, to me.
    If so, it is possible to do that remediation in an almost carbon neutral way.

    Kevin McKinny-
    The nuclear war remark was an exaggeration – I think. Certainly the Russians say they are going to continue to develop their gas reserves. They just built a pipeline to China, to aid in that process. Gazprom and other big natural gas producers have long term permits to develop the gas – one that was quoted on a webpage said the permit was good “until 2045″.

    What I wish they would do is pipeline the gas to get it off the permafrost, because building electrical transmission towers in permafrost might present engineering challenges. Once off the permafrost areas, I wish they would burn the natural gas using oxyfuel combustion, for example, in high efficiency combined cycle power plants. If oxyfuel combustion and a very high temperature topping cycle was used, the extra efficiency from the higher oxyfuel Carnot efficiency might be enough to pay for compressing and pumping the CO2. Once compressed, I wish they would deep inject the CO2, and just export the electricity. They might even make more money that way, I think. If a worldwide price on carbon is imposed, electricity prices increase, or gas prices decrease, this would make this almost carbon neutral scheme more profitable.

  49. 99
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Leland Palmer …. So far, only one Russian scientist …
    > I can recall has suggested drilling … relieve pressure

    It’s not the Russian scientists who worries me, it’s the AMEG urgency-of-drilling claims.

    It’s a poor memory that only works backward, and recollection misses a lot.
    ‘oogle will find the claims for you: AMEG and depressurization
    Work back in time to the older stories to see how the promotion has been done over time.

    E.g.:

    climateviewer.com/2013/10/23/worlds-first-off-shore-fracking/ Oct 23, 2013 – … flow test applying the depressurization method and confirmed production of … AMEG plans to avert climate change doomsday scenario with …

    arctic-news.blogspot.com/…/charting-mankinds-expressway-to-extinctio… Aug 12, 2012 – The exponential increase in the Arctic atmospheric methane derived from the destabilization … formed above the ozone layer at 30 km to 50 km altitude (Ehret, 2010). … and oil companies to depressurize the Arctic subsea methane reserves

    They have an answer: drill and burn. They’re exaggerating a low risk slow feedback that’s a minor part of the climate problem, promoting the notion that it’s an imminent disaster.

    They want to capture money that should be spent on climate change and use it for their natural gas drilling operation, and greenwash the development. It’s backasswards deceptive PR.

    My opinion. You should look this stuff up for yourself.
    Follow the money.

  50. 100
    Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Hank-

    I wish we were living in a world where the Russians would voluntarily stop producing their natural gas. We don’t live in that world, I think. Better it be done in an almost carbon neutral way.

    Regarding methane associated risk of abrupt climate change, I think myself that it is unprecedentedly large, if the probability of occurrence is multiplied by the consequences, and considering that the consequences of a methane catastrophe could be an extinction level event. Climate change in general is proceeding much more rapidly than was predicted, and the rate of methane hydrate dissociation is likely being underestimated as well, I think.

    The slowness of the methane feedback is open to question, given the unprecedentedly rapid and systematic triggering event provided by fossil fuels. If marine hydrate dissociation is a more chaotic process than the published estimates have assumed, this could increase the rate of dissociation. If mass flow is more important than previously assumed, if gas driven pumping through the hydrates is greater than previously assumed, or if high salt hydrates at equilibrium with ocean temperatures are common, these things could also increase the rate of dissociation. I don’t think an authority exists on the planet that is capable of calculating those risks with sufficient certainty to allow continued fossil fuel use without carbon sequestration.

    Methane emitted from the terrestrial hydrates doesn’t have to get through the oxidation barrier of the oceans to be emitted directly into the atmosphere. If there is a shallow layer of high salt terrestrial methane hydrate that causes gas blowouts, encountered at multiple gas fields in Siberia, that is a previously uncounted phenomenon. If that layer is starting to destabilize in Yamal type blowouts, as some Russian scientists including Anna Kurchatova fear, that could change the calculations significantly, I think, especially if we get thousands of those blowouts and the chronic emissions from them are significant.

    Even if the Yamal crater is a sinkhole rather than a methane blowout, we are still living in a world in which the fossil record contains multiple probable methane catastrophes.


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