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Unforced variations: August 2013

Filed under: — group @ 1 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 Responses to “Unforced variations: August 2013”

  1. 351
  2. 352
    Killian says:

    A good overview of the methane clathrate/permafrost issue. Point 3, particularly. Point 2 is also worth a look. Both address research I don’t think all of which has been raised on this site, though I could be wrong about that.

    The Guardian: 7 facts re methane time bomb

  3. 353
    Susan Anderson says:

    Killian @~352. Ahmad’s article is dated August 5, and there has been extensive back and forth about it, including a comment from the author and a number of efforts by Gavin in inline comments (q.v.) and others in other comments in this threat, and stubborn repeats by methane – I hesitate to call them trolls, but it’s a bit like that. Nobody is suggesting methane is a problem, just that this particular item was overhyped and not yet supported by data, while the cost data was definitely poorly supported.

    Nobody is suggesting methane is not a problem, but it appears to me that other forms of methane, such as burnoff, are currently a much bigger problem and the mechanism for methane “burps” is not supported either by science or by paleo history. In any case, CO2 continues to be the important problem.

    Hank@~351: delightful, thanks, will be stealing that.

    This presentation (Saul Griffith, 2008) gave me furiously to think.
    Check out particularly the practical bit near the end about what needs doing. How likely is it that our magic thinking media-obsessed culture will accept this? Only us pointy headed types are paying any attention at all, except to occasionally wail and worry in an unfocused way and go on buying and wasting more and more stuff.

  4. 354
    Susan Anderson says:

    that was, nobody is suggesting methane is *not* a problem … aargh!

  5. 355
    Hank Roberts says:

    Killian, the Guardian’s “Point 2” you link to is “the new empirical evidence on permafrost-associated shallow water methane hydrates on the Arctic shelf.”

    There isn’t a definition of “shallow”

    Look up the sea depth in the area.
    Look up the depth of the material described in the quotes.

    They haven’t found methane hydrates existing above the pressure/stability limits known to science. They have made that assertion.

    They got bubbles.

  6. 356
    SecularAnimist says:

    I really don’t get the obsession with methane deposits.

    We already know that we need to eliminate all anthropogenic carbon emissions as quickly as possible. We already know how to do that.

    We also already know that we need to draw down the already dangerous anthropogenic excess of atmospheric CO2 and sequester it in soils and biomass. And we already know how to do that.

    We already know that the problem is bad, and that first and foremost we need to STOP MAKING IT WORSE.

    Does whatever is or is not happening with methane deposits change any of that? No.

  7. 357
    Killian says:

    Hank, new info happens. You assertion that their assertion is just an assertion has been repeatedly asserted. I assert you can stop asserting it and feel just fine when you wake up in the morning.


  8. 358

    #357–Except that none of it appears to be newer than the last discussion here… Reiterating discussions can be as tedious as reiterating assertions, or so I would assert.

    At the risk of reiterating myself.

  9. 359
    patrick says:

    Tamsin Edwards: here’s an exemplar of what a climate scientist should be and do to relate to peers and public. I think.

    I call this the mini Keeling Lecture, so to speak:
    If you aren’t there, then fine. Let him speak.

    The issue you have raised is a distraction. If you want to raise a normative issue, start with transparency. It’s a lot more relevant. It’s the best brake on spin. And it’s being eroded.

  10. 360
    Hank Roberts says:

    > new info happens
    And you’ll tell us about it.
    It’s repeating it before it happens that gets boring.
    Yes, we know. But the science hasn’t printed it yet,
    and won’t until it’s actually happened and they got pictures.

    Right now they got bubbles.

    Reality is plenty scary.
    A reputation for sticking with what’s real
    can be useful.

    Worth a look:

  11. 361
    Hank Roberts says:

    Killian, you’re trying to make useful points, no fault there. I’m trying to nitpick exaggeration and misuse of terms that confuse people about distinctions that matter.

    This is the distinction that’s lost in all the “methane emergency” reblogging, seems to me (as an amateur trying to get facts here — the real scientists will correct me I trust).

    One liter of methane clathrate solid would therefore contain, on average, 168 liters of methane gas (at STP).

    Methane gas trapped under rock or under layers of permafrost is real, documented, observed, modeled, and often can be tapped for economic use.

    Methane clathrates exist, but are only known within limits — enough pressure and low enough temperature.

    The reblogging confuses this by repeating claims that some unknown, undescribed, clathrate exists in the shallow sediments.

    If that were so, and if the hypothetical warm low-pressure clathrate is about like the known cold high-pressure clathrate, then such a huge volume — 168 liters of methane — could blow out explosively from each liter of that hypothetical clathrate.

    Yes, a huge expanding 168 liter bubble of methane gas, originating from a single liter of such a hypothetical clathrate, would be very scary — if it existed in any volume in those shallow, warming sediments.

    On the other hand, if there isn’t the hypothetical warm shallow clathrate we keep hearing claims about, but nobody has either documented or described as theoretically a possible stable structure — then there’s 1/168th as much methane down there.

    That’s 1/168th of a methane emergency.

    That’s realistic. That amount will, eventually, bubble up.
    But that’s not what the methane emergency stories count on.
    So far, there’s no support for their large claims.

    Reality is plenty scary enough. There are other ways to get an emergency, in fact, we’ve got a planet full of real issues.
    “Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.” — Lewis Carroll

  12. 362
    Hank Roberts says:

    P.S. — if there -is- a clathrate structure stable at relatively warm temperatures and shallow-water pressure out there someone will find it.

    If such a thing is not found in nature (or not in any significant amount) but could exist, someone will figure out how to make it.

    That could be very good news. People are trying to do that sort of thing.
    A few minutes’ poking around turns up, e.g.:

    J. Chem. Phys. 136, 224508 (2012); (10 pages)
    Nonstandard cages in the formation process of methane clathrate: Stability, structure, and spectroscopic implications from first-principles


    Large-scale screening of hypothetical metal–organic frameworks
    Nature Chemistry 4, 83–89 (2012)

  13. 363
    Ray Ladbury says:

    S.A., I think the fascination with polar methane and the clathrate gun hypothesis in particular is because it constitutes a reasonable example of a tipping point. If true, it puts paid to the lukewarmer’s Pollyannaism. If true, we must act now. The thing is that the lukewarmers are simply flat wrong, and demonstrably so. The unfortunate thing is that it is their grandchildren who will feel the pain. That is why I am glad that nothing ever dies on the Intertubes. Our enterprising progeny will be able to do research and find out whose graves to piss on.

  14. 364
    prokaryotes says:

    Hank Roberts:

    if the hypothetical warm low-pressure clathrate”

    It’s not that simple. Here this quote from the paper i linked on the last page already.

    Formation of the open taliks is also dependent on seismic events; that is why numbers of open taliks are formed along the active fault zones. We can therefore expect open taliks to exist anywhere within the 90 m isobath, correlated with area seismic activity. Taking this fact into account, we can better understand the sharpness of spatial gradients in dissolved methane distribution obtained during our study. Thus, we can assume the origin of bottom plumes measured in 2004 within Dmitry Laptev Strait to be a sub-sea bottom talik which might have been penetrated due to the simultaneous influence of Lena River heat efflux, the upward geothermal flux typical of active fault zones, and seismic activity within these zones. The near-shore system of the ESAS widely consists of ICs, which are ice-rich syncryogenic deposits with massive ice wedges. This system has been strongly affected by global warming and exhibits the highest range of coastal erosion in the world, compared to other near-shore systems (Stein and Macdonald, 2003).


    According to our data; one of the bottom plumes (spot 1, 3, Fig. 5) is correlated with the location of a geological fault zone called the “Bel’kovsko–Svyatonosskiy Rift” (Imaev et al., 2000). According to the results of direct measurements of geothermal heat within main normal faults of the ESS, the value of the heat flux ranged from 64 mW m2 to 124 mW m2 (Soloviev et al., 1987). The magnitude of the geothermal heat flux is a crucial component of the LS geological model, which predicts the existence of open taliks under fault zones with high geothermal heat flux values (100 mW/m2 and more) (Romanovskii and Hubberten, 2001). Together with surface sea floor heat flux this energy input would trigger disturbance of gas hydrates deposits.

    The increase of river discharge, the exceptional erosion rate, the increase of warmer waters through albedo lose, increase of wave action… all these interactions cause strains and to some degree impacts for the active faults seismic. Thus, as has been years ago reported – plumes are associated with these faults and with open taliks (or maybe even with pingos), this could mean that deeper methane sources find a pathway through ocean fault surface talik formation.

    The physical process:

    Calculations show that climate warming would induce supra-permafrost taliks in intermediately cold regions (in very cold regions, warming simply induces a deeper summer thaw without forming the talik layer; while in warm, shallow permafrost regions, permafrost quickly disappears). This type of taliks has recently been observed in Russia. With time and continued increase in air temperature or snow depth, this talik layer will become thicker and thicker and the deep permafrost layer would eventually disappear.


    This is an evolving theory with observational evidence, to hint at just pressure and temperature and hydrates is not enough to debunk potential destabilization of “Methane content” deposits, in these particular region (ESAS). It would help in this debate to better quantify the potential here (permafrost, ocean methane, greenhouse gases through respiration, thermokarst formation and aerobic processes etc etc) and possible resulting overall excursion magnitude.

    But relatively recently it was shown that long-term impact of moderately subzero temperatures should be regarded, not as the extreme and limiting, but rather as a stabilizing factor supporting the viability of microorganisms. Arctic organisms are welladapted to the extreme temperature conditions within permafrost, which is one of the most stable and balancedof the natural environments called the cryobiosphere(Gilichinsky, 2004). Thus the ESAS, underlain by relict permafrost, is an extraordinary area which provides the right environment for in-situ methane production, accepts riverine export of methane, and has some additional sources of methane arising from the unique combination of geological,climatic and hydrological features which characterize this region: methane release from retreating coastal ice complexes, submerged submarine taliks, sub-bottom permafrost itself and decaying gas hydrates


    And again, this has nothing to do with an lingering methane emergency, re the recent nature study – some here at least confused the basic discussion earlier with methane science in general.

  15. 365
    Hank Roberts says:

    > pressure and temperature and hydrates is not enough to debunk
    > potential destabilization of “Methane content” deposits

    You’ve understood the argument, finally. Nobody’s said there’s no problem.
    The methane emergency people hypothesized some unknown hydrate and built a big scary story on that super-dense storage suddenly expanding into gas form.

    That’s why scientists push for evidence.

    Reality is _plenty_ scary enough. We know what we know is there — undersea sediment that was coastal shallow water or above sea level at the peak of the ice age, and became permafrost then. Since the peak ice age/lowest ocean level those deposits have been slowly covered as the sea level rose–covered by water and sediment from the rivers. More methane comes up from below from geological sources and gets produced from biological sources.

    That’s all _plenty_ scary.

    But it’s somewhat well mapped, somewhat understood.

    Nobody objects to trying to convince people about what’s known.

    The only problem all along has been the claims that some mysterious stable shallow hydrate existed — which would mean a vastly larger amount of methane condensed in a place it would blow out.

    Got it? Point is — when claims are made, rather than just repeat them, be skeptical about whether there are facts on record, whether the physical chemistry supports the idea such a structure of highly dense warm clathrate could exist, then whether it does exist.


    If what the methane emergency people were promoting there and so many bloggers reblogged without questioning were possible — and can be found or made — it’d be not only a freaking horror, but also good news.

    Super stable extremely energy-dense storage for natural gas at near freezing and near atmospheric pressure.

    Think about it.

    Too bad it doesn’t seem to be real. Nice excursion.

    Back to reality. Which is plenty scary enough.

  16. 366
    wili says:

    Hi Prok. From your first link:

    “Thus, we can assume the origin of bottom plumes measured in 2004 within Dmitry Laptev Strait to be a sub-sea bottom talik which might have been penetrated due to the simultaneous influence of Lena River heat efflux, the upward geothermal flux typical of active fault zones, and seismic activity within these zones.

    The near-shore system of the ESAS widely consists of ICs, which are ice-rich syncryogenic deposits with massive ice wedges. This system has been strongly affected by global warming and exhibits the highest range of coastal erosion in the world”

    Given the huger rates of erosion, do you think that it is possible that some of the seismic activity in the region is actually part of a response to that shift in land mass?

    Your last link suggests that we are likely to see increases in biological activity as these areas continue to warm up. It seems to me that this represents another potential mechanism for methane release, as creatures start burrowing through the capping subsea permafrost layer. Have you come across any articles that address this possibility specifically?

    Thanks again for all your excellent work and for your great climate science blog.

  17. 367
    Susan Anderson says:

    Ray Ladbury, you are an optimist. (1) I assume it’s children, not grandchildren, and unless we’re quite old, ourselves who are in line for accelerating cascades of consequences of our neglect and conflict (see, for example, the mideast, where scarce goods and water defy all parties, resulting in distribution of blame to those seen to be in control). (2) You’re assuming all our electronics and infrastructure will still be in place, and there will be transport to those graves.

    Being possessed of a too vivid imagination and a tendency to think of mundane things like toilets and laundry in the most romantic of movies, I wish there were some way to shut off our marketing owners who control the public understanding these days, so we could get practical about what’s real.

    For me, a real upside of the Tamsin Edwards article is seeing the pushback. Seems a fair number of people are getting tired of seeing lies hold the upper hand, and thinking it might be time to say so, rudely and with emphasis if necessary.

  18. 368
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “… polar methane and the clathrate gun hypothesis … If true, we must act now.”

    Well, that’s exactly my point:

    It is already self-evident that we must act now, given the entirely NON-hypothetical, empirically observed, massively destructive, rapidly worsening effects that we are already experiencing from the warming that has already occurred from the GHGs that we have already emitted.

  19. 369
    Killian says:

    Hank said, Got it? Point is — when claims are made, rather than just repeat them, be skeptical about whether there are facts on record, whether the physical chemistry supports the idea such a structure of highly dense warm clathrate could exist, then whether it does exist.


    You have a bad habit of assuming those who don’t agree with you 100% are not being sceptical. This is a false assertion that causes you to be quite insulting of others.

    Get over it so that conversations here might be more productive. Also, YOUR fallacy in logic is that what we know today is what we will know tomorrow, yet, how many effects of increased GHGs have caught the scientific community off guard over the last 8 years?

    A little more tolerance for those who do not see as you do would go a long way. After all, we’ve been more accurate than you have. You’d think that would mean something with you and others, for example, getting you to be less reticent about possibilities rather than constantly pooping on those that are more open to dire consequences happening rapidly.

    At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter if the bubbles are coming from biogenic or physical causes, and we should all be acting as allies to FIRST act to mitigate and SECOND act to adapt to what is unavoidable regardless of what we do.

    Anything else deserves a slap upside the head.

    The guys in Hawaii on Dec. 7th, 1941, didn’t spend time deciding if they should act, they acted. The risk assessment globally is the same now: We know the bombs are falling, we see the planes and ships blowing up and the people dying, albeit in relative slow motion, and, most importantly, we know how our own defenses work and how to use them.

    Get off people’s backs for jumping on the .50 calibre and getting some return fire going while you discuss whether the enemy is really shooting at us or not.

    This little PSA goes for everybody. We are way past our due date on cooperating to create a sustainable response to climate changes. Please read the Hirsch Report from 2005. The reason is not to encourage you to believe we can peak in oil production, but to look at what it says about time frames for wholesale societal changes to infrastructure and behavior.

    This report can be considered a blueprint for planning time frames in the US. (And just imagine how much worse it might be for less-wealthy societies… or, actually, much easier – harder they fall and all that…)

    We don’t have time for silly squabbling. CH4 in the Arctic is just the nail in the coffin. Things are already dire without ANY Arctic CH4.

    Got it? Seriously?


  20. 370

    #363, 368–Seeing as we *are* on the unforced variations thread, how likely is it that the climate debates of today will be accurately remembered in popular culture? Not only do Susan’s questions have some basis, there are sobering examples: Japanese teaching of the history of the Imperial Army in the mid-twentieth century, American/Canadian teaching of the history of the ‘conquest of the Western frontier’ vis a vis the aboriginal populations, teaching of the Holocaust in Iran today, and on and on and on…

    They say that history is written by the winners, but that’s too simple (as at least one of my examples about suggests.) In one sense, the winners are the ones who achieve control of the historical narrative, perhaps.

    “Climategate,” anyone?

    I do believe that ground truth speaks with a loud voice. But it may not always be the *only* loud voice.

  21. 371

    “We don’t have time for silly squabbling. CH4 in the Arctic is just the nail in the coffin. Things are already dire without ANY Arctic CH4.”

    Er, K, I really think that’s a pretty good paraphrase of what Hank has been saying.

    Well, that and getting hyperbolic doesn’t help achieve mitigation goals any.

  22. 372
    Hank Roberts says:

    “We don’t have time for silly squabbling. CH4 in the Arctic is just the nail in the coffin. Things are already dire without ANY Arctic CH4.”
    Yep. You got that right.

    Finding out what’s real helps choose mitigation goals.

    A warm-temperature low-pressure clathrate could be shipped in tin cans in ordinary freezers, rather than super-cold high-pressure vessels. It’d be a game-changer. If it exists, or could be created.

    A warm-temperature low-pressure clathrate would be a huge forcing not in the current models. It would change everything. If it exists, now, in large quantities. But we don’t have evidence that it exists, even if theory turns out to suggest a way it could be possible. We don’t even have that.

    Understanding the forcings affecting climate change tells us what we can and can’t hope to do.

    That’s what the science is for. Understanding what’s real.
    We have to do the arithmetic, not tell big scary stories, to make plans.

  23. 373
    Killian says:

    Well, that and getting hyperbolic doesn’t help achieve mitigation goals any.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 25 Aug 2013 @ 8:34 PM

    So long as you think fair risk assessment is hyperbolic, and dismiss others’ points of view that way, you’ve got a serious problem. That is exactly the bias I am addressing.

    Nothing I said is hyperbolic. I said in 2007 we’d see 1 – 3 ft. rise in SLR by 2100. Hyperbolic? I said in 2007-2008 we’d see increasing Arctic CH4 emissions at the high end of estimates and beyond. We are. Ecosystems are shifting faster than expected. Ditto.

    So, yeah, gosh, hyperbole.

    Consider that as a systems-oriented thinker/designer I (and others) might be applying knowledge and logic you don’t.

    And do notice I don’t say you or Hank or anyone is sub-hyperbolic, do I? Why should I insult your stance? What does that accomplish? By the same token, the speak softly crowd have held sway for decades and where are we? Does that not indicate a change in approach is at least worthy of discussion?

    Hyperbolic? Not even a little. Hope you figure that out. Sooner than later.

  24. 374
    prokaryotes says:


    Your last link suggests that we are likely to see increases in biological activity as these areas continue to warm up. It seems to me that this represents another potential mechanism for methane release, as creatures start burrowing through the capping subsea permafrost layer. Have you come across any articles that address this possibility specifically?

    Great you asked, i just published a follow up paper “Methane release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf and the Potential for Abrupt Climate Change” from Shakhova and Semiletov which helps to better understand some of the interactions (2010).

    Among these are:

    Most of the ESAS area is affected by tectonic and seismic activities, Formation of gas migration pathways within fault zones, Over pressured gas fronts serve as a powerful geological force to build up migration pathways, Pingo-like features as a gas migration pathway


    Given the huger rates of erosion, do you think that it is possible that some of the seismic activity in the region is actually part of a response to that shift in land mass?

    I link to a 2012 paper which addresses:
    On carbon transport and fate in the East Siberian Arctic land–shelf–atmosphere system


  25. 375
    MalcolmT says:

    Hank @322 Thanks for the link – fascinating story – but it’s okay, we have plenty more deserts to flood. I actually like the idea of filling Lake Eyre via a pipeline from the South Aust coast to give us the “inland sea” that the early explorers went nuts looking for…

  26. 376
    prokaryotes says:

    You can read the paper On carbon transport and fate in the East Siberian Arctic land–shelf–atmosphere system online, excerpt:

    Besides mobilization of old OC stored in sub-sea permafrost, there are terrestrial sources of OC delivered to the ESAS. It is highly likely that the Great Siberian Arctic Rivers (GSARs; Ob, Yenisey, Lena, Kolyma and Indigirka rivers) carry and bring to the shelf an integrated signal of terrestrial organic material (OM) released from the soil and the degrading terrestrial permafrost within their vast watersheds (Guo et al 2004, Dudarev et al 2006a, Alling et al 2010, Sánchez-García et al 2011). The ESAS acts as a Lena, Kolyma and Indigirka estuary; thus, it accepts the integrated signal and transfers it further via the signal carrier, which is shelf water, to the Arctic Ocean (Semiletov et al 2000, 2007, 2011, van Dongen et al 2008, Pipko et al 2010, 2011, Vonk et al 2010, Charkin et al 2011, Gustafsson et al 2011, Karlsson et al 2011). Another significant source of terrestrial carbon delivered to the ESAS is coastal erosion; on the shores of the ESAS the rates of erosion are the greatest on the globe and can reach up to 80 m yr−1 (figure 2; Grigoriev 1993, Are 1999, Rachold et al 2000). The latest estimate produced a value of 4 Tg C-OC released from the coastal ice complex into the ocean annually (Grigoriev et al 2006).

    Results of initial offshore studies, performed in the 1990s, demonstrated that the biogeochemical consequences of terrestrial OM transformations within the ESAS could play a significant role in the Arctic marine carbon cycle (Semiletov et al 1994, 1996a, 1996b, Semiletov 1999a, 1999b). Further studies revealed that the eroded terrestrial OM is available for microbial oxidation; this oxidation is followed by a significant carbon dioxide (CO2) buildup in the water column, and consequent CO2 release into the atmosphere (Pipko et al 2005, 2008, 2011, Repina et al 2007, Semiletov and Pipko 2007, Semiletov et al 2007, Anderson et al 2009, 2011). Partitioning between the riverine and eroded terrestrial OM exported onto the shelf is still under discussion (Rachold et al 2000, Dudarev et al 2003, 2006b, Vetrov and Romankevich 2004, Semiletov et al 2005, 2011, Macdonald et al 2008, Vetrov et al 2008, Vonk et al 2010, Charkin et al 2011, Gustafsson et al 2011). Results presented in the current letter serve to contribute to this discussion.

    Numerous important and newly emerging problems with potential influence on climate change arise from land–shelf interaction in the ESAS. Addressing these problems requires long-term international cooperation between Russia, to whom the ESAS belongs, and other countries. This brief overview describes the state of progress in establishing such cooperation by reporting results of field research accomplished during 1999–2011 in the ESAS. The objectives of this study were pursued in order to identify and quantify the main processes responsible for carbon cycling in the ESAS land–shelf–atmosphere system and factors altering them. These objectives included the following.

    To investigate how redistribution of old carbon from degrading terrestrial and sub-sea permafrost and from coastal erosion contributes to the carbon pool of the ESAS.

    To study how changes in the hydrological cycle of the surrounding land and alteration of terrestrial carbon cycles contribute to formation and propagation of halocline waters and affect the hydrological and biogeochemical parameters of shelf water masses, and to quantify the area-scaled ESAS contribution of CH4 and CO2 to the atmosphere.

    To define specific factors which control CH4 emission to the ESAS atmosphere in order to develop a conceptual model of CH4 propagation from the seabed to the atmosphere, and to assess the strength, type, and dynamics of the source.

  27. 377

    #373–Killian, I didn’t say your points were hyperbole; that’s your (incorrect) assumption.

    To clarify, I think the ‘methane bomb’ argumentation most likely *is* hyperbole–and specifically the ‘shallow clathrates’ idea. Which is not to say that the methane doesn’t bear watching, or is not cause for concern.

    But, as we all seem to agree, the bottom line is:

    Find Implement ways to reduce GHG emissions, ASAP!

  28. 378

    Anent my last, the next concrete step on my ‘to do’ list is a face-to-face Friday with our local congresscritter. A Tea Party type, likely not so amenable to reason on this topic, but chipping away, chipping away…

  29. 379
    MA Rodger says:

    Kevin McKinney @370.
    I thought everybody knew. History is written by Walt Disney. Consider Scottish history, for instance. You’ll even get the BBC saying it is Hollywood films that provide the history of Scottish hero William Wallace for the great unwashed. Even in Scotland, the BBC will introduce Wallace in news items “as featured in the film Braveheart.” Of course, the film is not historically correct but does that stop it being accepted as history. Historically, the real battle-winning hero of yester-year was actually the not-so-famous Andy Murray whose equally not-so-famous son (another battle-winning Andy Murray) was victorious at the obscure Battle of Culblean and probably as significant at bringing the Scots victory in the Second War of Independence as was Bruce at Bannockburn in the First War of Independence. Yet I doubt many Scots have even heard of these Andy Murrays (although they will all be well aware that it was Andy Murray’s mum who invented the Scottish game of tennis that is now enjoyed world-wide).
    If climatology has problems convincing the great unwashed of AGW, expect no help from historians – they have a far more difficult job of their own.

  30. 380
    Hank Roberts says:

    Killian, Procyotes — if the claimed form exists — a shallow-water, low-pressure, high-temperature clathrate — that would store something like 160x as much methane than we believe can possibly exist there.

    This isn’t a trivial difference.

    It’s good-news-bad-news — if such a structure can exist, and does. That means far more methane than anyone has evidence for, in highly dense form, in shallow warm locations. Huge, huge difference from what we know about.

    It’s not news if such a structure doesn’t exist
    If nobody can create it, that’s too bad, as it’d be very, very useful.

    The difference between 160x and 1x is rather large in forcing terms.

    Get that one simple point — that Gavin and others have tried to make since day one of the “methane ’emergency'” — won’t you? That’s the only thing you’re saying over and over that’s wrong.

    I do notice you’ve both stopped using the term “hydrates” talking about those shallow warm locations, in the last few days.

    That’s real progress. The other possibilities mentioned are all well known.
    Yes, it’s a terrible problem. It’s just not 160x the problem already known.

  31. 381
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hard numbers:

    “This is the worst 14-year drought period in the last hundred years,” ….
    …. less water has been flowing from the watershed into the upper Colorado River and into Lake Powell. Flows in July were just 13% of normal ….

  32. 382
    Hank Roberts says:
    U.S., Japan Successfully Test Methane Hydrate Technologies
    03 May 2012
    “The proof-of-concept test ran February 15 to April 10. The team injected a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen into the formation, and demonstrated that this mixture could promote the production of natural gas. Scientists are analyzing the data to determine if the technique can also be used to store carbon dioxide in the ice.

    “… Building upon this small-scale test, the department said it is launching a new research effort to conduct a long-term production test in the Arctic as well as research to test additional technologies that could be used to locate and safely extract methane hydrates ….

    “… technologies to locate and safely extract natural gas from methane hydrate formations like those in the Arctic and along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Projects will address direct sampling or remote sensing of deepwater gas hydrates; new tools and methods for monitoring, collecting and analyzing data to determine the reservoir response and the environmental impacts related to methane hydrate production; and clarifying the role in the environment of methane hydrates, including their response to warming climates….”

  33. 383
    Meow says:

    There appears to be a positive feedback between ocean acidification and global temperature via reduced marine emissions of dimethylsulfide. . The paper is paywalled, but it appears from the ScienceDaily summary that the effect increases climate sensitivity by a few tenths of a degree C. That would be a big deal. Also, warming independently appears to reduce DMS emissions.

  34. 384
    Hank Roberts says:

    And to get methane out, pump CO2 in.

    Chemical Engineering Journal
    Volume 225, 1 June 2013, Pages 636–640

    Short communication
    Thermodynamic and 13C NMR spectroscopic verification of methane–carbon dioxide replacement in natural gas hydrates

    “The conversion of CH4 hydrate to CO2 hydrate with net recovery of CH4 is regarded as an attractive method of both CO2 sequestration and CH4 production. In this study, the CH4–CO2 swapping phenomenon occurring in gas hydrates and its potential application to CO2 sequestration was examined through thermodynamic equilibrium studies and a 13C NMR spectroscopic analysis. It was found that the CO2 composition in the hydrate phase and the expected recovery level for CH4 after swapping can be easily estimated from thermodynamic equilibrium studies linked to 13C NMR spectroscopic results. The experimental results showed that approximately 67% of CH4 is recoverable after replacement by CO2, which was also confirmed by direct dissociation. The corresponding chemical formula for the mixed gas hydrate after CO2 replacement is 5.03CO2·2.51CH4·46H2O. The results presented in this study further build the thermodynamic and physicochemical background required for understanding the simultaneously occurring dual mechanism of CO2 sequestration and CH4 recovery.”

    Where oh where do we get clean CO2 to pump down in, at what cost?
    Any profit left over, if it’s done that way?

  35. 385
    Dave Peters says:

    Poking around to attempt an assessment of the threat to Giant Sequoia groves @ the Rim Fire near Hetch Hetchy this am, I happened upon the following:

    I first was awed by the grove at Calaveras a half century ago. If you can enter one of these and remain unmoved–you qualify for a stone soul award. Though it has been 28 years since I tried my first N-plant salvation job, I was utterly unaware of the extraordinarily tight connection between Earthly climate and these supremely special living beings until this very morning.

    Speaking of souls, I know not how it affects you all, to watch with nose pressed against some parlor window, in all but complete helplessness, as such large alterations in the status quo are wrought, but I find some relief in this new found awareness–as the mere hand full of lingering groves have “made it to the Anthrocene.” As example of one human spirit standing against a tide, check out the accompanying “statement of Joe.” This to is worth a smile.

  36. 386
    Killian says:

    Physicists find electrical networks more susceptible to cascading failure than thought.

    Ain’t complexity grand? Snarkiness aside, the assumption should be, with any and all systems, that they are more sensitive than we think because we quite simply do not understand all the feedbacks in far too much of the world around us, both the Natural and the built.

    When thinking of building out massive new grids…

    Massively distributed is the way to go.

  37. 387
    Hank Roberts says:

    so – someone in the industry must be working on ways to dope water and methane with materials that enhance the stability of clathrates — because they’ve long been working on figuring out what does make clathrates more likely and more stable in order to _avoid_ their forming.

    From 1992: “… thermodynamic experiments were run on sixteen simulated drilling muds and associated test fluids. Results indicated that to a first approximation the salt and glycerol content of water in mud dominated hydrate formation. To a lesser degree other mud additives such as bentonite, barite, polymers, etc. collectively promoted hydrate formation slightly….”

    So has anyone done the numbers? What’s the economic case now for extracting methane — just pipe it long distances to burn elsewhere?

    How about for setting up and running equipment at or near sources, to produce liquefied natural gas and transport that by, oh, something like

    — tapping hydrate structures
    — running refrigeration by burning some methane on site
    — extracting oxygen from air by cooling, nitrogen as liquid
    — burning methane in oxygen to produce CO2 and H2O
    — cooling the hot CO2 to remove the water
    — running pumps to transfer CO2 back down into the hydrate structure to displace methane, because at a given temperature and pressure the CO2 hydrates are a bit MORE stable than the methane hydrates, I think
    — shipping liquefied natural gas (use the liquid nitrogen for cooling?)

    How would the economics change assuming a spherical cow, I mean, assuming a lower-pressure, higher-temperature stable hydrate (say one’s found in even trace amounts in the organic material in sediments, fortuitously, because some combination of trace materials turns out to promote such a super-stable clathrate cage)?

    That hypothetical stable form could be packaged for transport with less energy cost — warmer, lower pressure. Put it in pop-top tins for storage.


    End result — sustainable natural gas infrastructure, as methane being formed from organic material reaching the deep seabed is continuously being converted to clathrates? Possibly directly to clathrate form by microbial action?

    Are the microbes smart enough to be doing this already, for us, if we paid attention?


  38. 388
    patrick says:

    @381 Lake Mead has iconic status. It can’t be denied. Big change in the icon’s message, isn’t it?

    “…The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced today it will reduce the flow out of Glen Canyon Dam by 9% starting in October. …

    “And with a smaller river flowing downstream, levels in Lake Mead will drop by an additional 2.4 meters. The reservoir will nevertheless remain high enough for the same amount of water to be released from Hoover Dam as this year. Looking ahead to 2015, however, there is a 2% chance that Hoover dam will have to cut back, according to the Bureau’s 2-year forecast of river conditions and dam operations. Those odds go up to 50% in 2016. If Hoover Dam tightens the tap, some users of the Colorado River would get less water than before, as specified in the 2007 agreement.”

  39. 389
  40. 390
    Prokaryotes says:

    Clathrate formation is really just a question of temperature and pressure. Methanogenesis on the other hand can happen literally everywhere, as our observation shows.

    The only meaningful action here is to help sustain existing ecosystems and to improve them when possible. And then we can hope for a gradual trend of rising methane emissions, currently at 1870ppb global mean.

  41. 391
    Killian says:

    re: 387

    Rather than playing with fire, how about we just cool the planet a bit?

  42. 392
    Chuck Hughes says:

    I have a question here… I’ve had several people tell me that the climate hasn’t warmed since 1998. I understand that the warming is probably going into the deep ocean and that the pause is probably temporary. My question is, what’s going to happen to all that heat that has been stored in the deep ocean? Will it come back out in the form of a strong El Nino event or will the heat dissipate or disappear?

    Also, do scientists expect the warming trend prior to 1998 continue in the near future? The only thing I was able to find were some open ended answers and a few maybe’s. The answers may be in the latest IPCC report but I haven’t found it. I also listened to Kevin Trenberth’s (sp?) assessment but even he didn’t sound too sure about what would happen. Thanks

  43. 393
    wili says:

    to prok at #374, thanks.
    to killian at #373: Well put.

    Between possible biological action, collapse along slopes, pingos, seismic faults and activity…many mechanisms have been proposed that may (and may have) allowed clathrates and pressurized pools of free methane to be released suddenly to the ocean and hence to the surface. Further, we have actual measured data of methane leaking from the ocean floor, and eye witnesses of explosive emissions entering the atmosphere from the ocean.

    Summary dismissals of such overwhelming evidence does not smack of impartial weighing of the evidence.

    Please note that I am no fan of AMEG in general (and especially not of geo-engineering in particular). Just want to come to one place, at least, where the full range of data, observation, analysis, and reasonable possibilites can be soberly assessed.

    (I must say that the idea of trying to mine these things sounds once again like whacking at enormous hornets nests–it’ll work fine…till it doesn’t.)

  44. 394
  45. 395
    prokaryotes says:

    Chuck Hughes

    I’ve had several people tell me that the climate hasn’t warmed since 1998. [..] Will it come back out in the form of a strong El Nino event

    1998 was so exceptional, because it was a El Nino year, and since then there were warmer years (2005 & 2010).

    Meehl (2013) is an update to their previous work, and the authors show that accelerated warming decades are associated with the positive phase of the IPO. This is a result of a weaker wind-driven ocean circulation, when a large decrease in heat transported to the deep ocean allows the surface ocean to warm quickly, and this in turn raises global surface temperatures.

    The Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (Power [1999]) is an index for the mean state of the north and south Pacific Oceans. During the positive phase, El Niño is the dominant global weather pattern, and during the negative phase, La Niña is dominant. During the late 1990′s the positive IPO phase weakened considerably and has been in the negative phase since the year 2000. In other words, La Niña been the dominant pattern of late. It is therefore not surprising that global surface temperatures during the 2000′s have warmed less than previous decades (1977-2000) – when the IPO was in a positive (El Niño-dominant) state.

    This can be better understood by considering the effects of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) on the vertical distribution of heat in the surface layers of the ocean. During El Niño heat builds up in the surface layers where it is able to interact with the atmosphere, and therefore raises global surfaces temperatures. During La Niña much more heat is transported to deeper ocean layers and, with the surface layers cooler-than-normal, global surface temperatures are cooler-than-average.


  46. 396
    Bojan Dolinar says:

    #392, Gaving already did an article that partly addresses the questions you brought up:

  47. 397
    Hank Roberts says:


    the analysis by Whiteman et al., Vast costs of Arctic change, Nature, 499, 401-3 (25th July 2013)… full response to the Comment … is accessible at:

  48. 398

    Chuck, the ‘climate hasn’t warmed since 1998’ thing is still a cherry-pick, content of the the linked article notwithstanding. That’s easily demonstrated by the fact that there’s been ‘considerable warming’ since 2000. (The scare quotes are there because this is all basically playing spin games.) Illustration:

    Nobody has a crystal ball. But we do know what the biggest forcing over time is, and that it seems nearly certain to keep increasing over the medium term, so I think confidence remains high that yes, the ‘pause’ will prove temporary.

  49. 399

    The good news: China’s energy mix will be increasingly dominated by renewables, as established (and increasing) efforts to clean up air pollution and carbon emissions start to ‘turn the Titanic.’

    The bad news: emissions aren’t expected to peak until 2027.

    ‘Good news’ takeaway: there’s considerable scope for policy to improve this outcome.

    ‘Bad news’ takeaway: the UNFCCC process still shows few signs of strong functionality, and remains the ‘only game in town.’

  50. 400
    Hank Roberts says:

    Here’s some gritty details (read all the way down in the comments where the electrical engineer explains the confusion) about some of the issues and approaches to connecting solar photovoltaic -with- battery storage to the local grid. Three different meters, if you’re in Washington State; refusal to connect in So. California. Approaches vary. Issues — are complicated.