Global Warming Sign?

From The Independent by Steve Connor:

Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.

The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr Semiletov said. “I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them.”

Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tonnes of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change.

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  • Significant. This was also news today related to global warming as a key conservative magazine released an important article on the issue.

  • DRT

    I have been following that.

    It is the unknown unknowns like this that are the big problem in global warming.

  • RJS

    We can influence the climate. We have influenced the climate …

    How serious, what will happen in the future, and how best to respond … These are open questions with many responses tainted by politics, rhetoric, and human falleness.

  • phil_style

    Unfortunately climate change denial will drown this out. I have given up on our ability to protect this fragile ecosystem that we live in.

  • Maybe the Mayans were right….

  • Tim

    “It is the unknown unknowns like this that are the big problem in global warming.”

    Exactly. People tend to split into two camps on this: believer or non-believer. But it is far too complicated to do this. There are so many uncertainties, but, even the deepest sceptic is not denying the greenhouse effect and that greenhouse gases cause global warming, so we are only really debating the extent of the impact. I doubt that anyone is 100% certain that nothing is going to happen. Throw into this mix: (1) it is a stock problem, not a flow problem – the impacts are a result of atmospheric concentrations, not this years’ emissions and CO2 particularly, once it is in the atmosphere will only be removed over geological time periods (thousands of years) – it is thus effectively irreversible; (2) the impacts are delayed, so if we wait to see the impact of a given concentration, even if we stop emissions then it will get worse –it amplifies over time as atmospheric heating warms the oceans etc; (3) there are trigger points, such as the release of methane (as discussed in this article, plus that in permafrost) that can lead to rapid jumps to significant impacts; (4) some of the possible scenarios are moving us into such extreme levels of concentration that we have no idea what the impacts will be. So the problem is, how do we address a problem for which there may be a very low probability of an extremely devastating impact, but that once we realise we have triggered it, we can do very little about it? Reducing emissions has to be a sensible thing to do.

  • Information like this is very interesting. How we respond says a lot. Does our faith prompt us to do something? Does it encourage us to ask more questions and connect the dots in terms of real data? Do we immediately rush to judgment, because this confirms or contradicts what we already believe or what we think the implications of our beliefs are?

    A decade ago I would have laughed this off as a young-earth creationist. Now I confess it is scary, and it is hard to know how to respond. No actual link has been given here in terms of whether this is caused by human activity. What lengths should we go to for self-preservation? It raises more questions than it answers, but it also shows us something about the nature of our faith. Are we humble? Are we questioning? Or do we just demand to be right?

  • phil_style

    @Tim, you’re right. The precautionary principle must be applied.

    Unfortunately, for many the precautionary principle means protecting the short-term economy, rather than the long term viability of global ecosystems.

  • DRT

    Why don’t conservatives want to conserve the present state of our climate?

  • Larry Barber

    Why don’t conservatives want to conserve the present state of our climate? There are no, or very few, true conservatives left in American politics. Those who call themselves conservatives are really radicals of the right. It is not conservative to bankrupt the government, or to engage in foreign wars for little or no reason, but so-called conservatives have done those very things, among others.

  • From commenter “profanefaith” above, very good statements and questions: “Information like this is very interesting. How we respond says a lot. Does our faith prompt us to do something? Does it encourage us to ask more questions and connect the dots in terms of real data?”

    Allow me to add my own insight, regarding an often overlooked facet of the global warming issue, the accusation that skeptic scientists are corrupt, therefore untrustworthy. I asked the following two questions at the end of an article I wrote last year, titled “The Case of the Curious Climate Covenant”

    “So which is the bigger sin? Failing to stop a so-called global warming crisis which has increasing credibility problems with its underlying science assessments, or breaking the 9th Commandment in order to be sure [skeptic] scientists’ criticisms aren’t taken seriously?”

  • DLS

    “Why don’t conservatives want to conserve the present state of our climate?”

    – I can’t speak for all of us, but I can say that my motivation is wanting to shovel less. I’m tired of shoveling. I also would like to see more death and destruction generally.

  • DRT

    DLS, OK, point made.

    But please, give a little grace on this. I really believe that the evidence is unambiguous to there being some culpability and have to assume that conservatives see the same. And the conservative mindset says we want to be cautious to new endevours. Then why not try and preserve our current environment in case it will change.

    I honestly cannot see it.

  • Ron Spross

    Coincidentally while rummaging through my library this afternoon I found this article, written by Gilbert N. Plass, one of the seminal figures of mid-twentieth century climate science:

    “Quite accurate records of the amount of fossil fuel consumed in the world each year show that in the past 100 years man has added about 360 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. As a result the atmospheric concentration has increased by about 13 percent. The carbon dioxide theory predicts that such an increase should raise the average temperature of the earth one degree F. This is almost exactly the average increase recorded all over the world during the past century! IF fuel consumption continues to increase at the present rate, we will have sent more than a trillion tons of carbon dioxide into the air by the year 2000. This should raise the earth’s average temperature 3.6 degrees.” — Gilbert N. Plass, “Carbon Dioxide and Climate” (in Scientific American Readings “Man and the Ecosphere”), July 1959.

  • James U

    @RussellC. That’s a false choice. I for one have never slandered any climate change sceptics, and choose to take action on the climate change crisis because my examination of the facts show that there is sufficient cause for concern. There is no conflict here, and saying someone is wrong is not slander. Calling out a lie is not slander if there is a lie.

    I also note that your article is a bit of a hatchet job on some climate change activists. In fact your whole article is an examination of personal history, possible motives, etc. It’s ad-hominem. There is no attempt to engage with the actual debate, so you have really not contributed anything.

  • Diane

    Someone said that nobody is actually denying that human-caused carbon emissions contribute to global warming. Someone else responded: “No actual link has been given here in terms of whether this is caused by human activity.” People are still denying.

    The whole North pole meltdown is frightening, Scientists have also failed to factor in the acceleration caused by multiple effects happening at once. But frankly, given that nothing but nothing has seemed to change any policy, even simply to be prudent (“just in case”), I have little hope for us. Meltdowns in Japan, oil spills over and over, Katrina … at this point, I can only imagine we’ll have a horrible, devastating disaster that will kill a billion or two billion or more people, rich and poor alike, and then–maybe–the survivors will wake up. I hate to be fatalistic, but it’s the story of the Fall replayed over and over.

  • Tom

    “methane could be suddenly released” it hasn’t been, it isn’t being, but it “could” be released. So, a researcher just found something that has probably been happening for 1000s of years, but now we have to be afraid? Having worked in the atmospheric sciences for over 30 years I think it helps to put all articles such as this in the context of 5 basic truths: 1.) climate change is real, 2.) climate change is natural, 3.) climate change is not catastrophic, 4.) climate change cannot be controlled by humans, 5.) climate change is being used by special interest groups.

  • James U

    @Tom, I believe the point of the article was that methane is now being released way more than it was, and it could (given probable events) be released way, way more.

    You have worked in atmospheric sciences for over 30 years. Can you substantiate your 4th point? Observed temperature raises correlating with CO2 (with isotope matches), and observed temperature levelling correlating with use of sulphur additives in fuel would both argue against it.

    as for your point 5, everything is used by special interest groups. On both sides of politics. It’s hardly an argument against the facts or against prudent action based on the facts.

  • Wyatt

    Junk science reigns. What about methane? Ask Congress. Didn’t we, the American taxpayer, fund some sort of cow fart study. Do we have underground, flatulent cows at the Arctic circle? Is there a huge landfill, of course created by the USA, under the Arctic Circle?

    get a life.

  • klem

    “Tom, I believe the point of the article was that methane is now being released way more than it was, and it could (given probable events) be released way, way more.”

    I don’t think so. The point is that methane releases are being observed more, that’s all that can be concluded by science. If they are concluding that more is actually being released, that’s not science, that’s specualtion. I work in earth science, I know what can be supported and what is speculation. Because more people are being seen speeding on the roads is a function of the availability of CC cameras, not that it is happening more. Otherwise you’d have a correlation between increased speeding and increased CO2 emissions, beleive me there is some one out there now trying to write that study and they’ll get it peer reviewed to boot.

  • DRT

    klem#20, The article is clearly implying that the big plumes are new. Having said that, it is not conclusively saying they are new and you could be right. We don’t have enough info to tell.

  • AHH

    Wyatt @19,

    The methane bit is far from junk. It has long been known that, under cold and pressurized conditions, methane gets trapped in ice-like hydrate structures (some people at my research institution work on hydrates). This is a long-recognized problem in natural gas pipelines. There are huge hydrate deposits on the seafloor and to a lesser extent in permafrost, and scientists have worryied for years that warming could cause these to release lots of methane, which is a strong greenhouse gas. Now it looks like some of that is happening, although one cannot draw too many conclusions based on just one study.

    And, despite your snarkiness, methane gas from cattle (more from burps than farts, as I recall) makes a greenhouse contribution that is not insignificant. One reason why eating less beef can be a step in creation care.

  • DRT

    I need to pile on. Just forgoing some of your beef intake pays big dividends to the ecology (and atmosphere).

  • Fish

    A key point I didn’t notice in the article was that large releases of methane several million years ago jolted our climate with a runaway feedback loop.

    “Our findings document an abrupt and catastrophic means of global warming that abruptly led from a very cold, seemingly stable climate state to a very warm also stable climate state with no pause in between,” said Martin Kennedy, a professor of geology in the Department of Earth Sciences, who led the research team.”

    Old article but I don’t have time to do much googling this a.m.

  • @James U, comment #15. One has to wonder if James honestly chooses to take action based on all of the ‘facts’, or only on those which omit assessments of skeptic scientists. If this turns out to be the case, there most certainly is a moral conflict here for him. Fascinating how he claims my article is an ad-hominem hatchet job, but is unable to point out a single specific fault in it. Also ironic how he claims I haven’t attempted to engage in debate, when my online articles point to a widespread effort on the part of the mainstream media to marginalize skeptic scientists – thus indicating a collective effort to avoid debate on the entire topic.

    And then there is his statement, “Calling out a lie is not slander if there is a lie.” Tell us, what lie is that, and how do you prove it is a lie?