Thursday, February 7, 2019

Arctic Methane Debate Rages On

Update Feb. 12, 2019


Thanks to Dahr Jamail for this update today: "[Dr. Ira Leifer, Chemical Engineering Department,
University of California, Santa Barbara, noted] the normal background rate for methane seeps from a seabed in that area is approximately 3000 methane seeps over a thousand square kilometer area. He had, using satellites to measure the methane, [ . . .] found in another thousand square kilometer area, [. . .] there were already 60 million methane seeps [ . . .]"

Leifer was "chief mission coordinating scientist for the NASA effort for airborne remote sensing of the Gulf oil spill."

In contrast, Yale Climate Connections updated their story on the debate Feb. 7, 2019

More countries are following this, so I am giving both sides of the issue.

As with DNA, the truth is in details.

In my April 29, 2018 blog post "What is the Source of 2017s Increased Atmospheric Methane?" I wrote "A 2014 article in Scientific American reported 'Levels of the potent greenhouse gas continue to rise and scientists aren't sure where most of it is coming from, though likely suspects include fracking, increased coal mining in China and a melting Arctic." I added "Regardless of source, or sources, humanity is moving in the wrong direction, and it's time to reverse course [of carbon burning] whatever the cost."

April 28, 2018, I covered similar conflicting information between Natalia Shakhova, ("Expertise: chemical oceanography") Research Associate Professor at International Arctic Research Center at The University of Alaska Fairbanks vs The U. S. Geological Survey / University of Rochester. 

In my October 29, 2018 blog post "TASS Reports Russian Scientists Found 'Massive' New Arctic Methane Emissions" I wrote "TASS, noted by Wiki as 'the largest Russian news agency and one of the largest news agencies worldwide,' reported today newly discovered increase in Arctic methane emissions 'may affect the planet’s climate system.' According to the Ministry of Education and Science, 'Russian scientists have found a new big area in the East Arctic’s seas with big emissions of greenhouse gases. [ . . . ] They also saw that emissions in earlier found areas had become more active.'"

"This news is more important than regular news chatter because details may determine how, where, and if humans get to live on Earth."

This news is more important than regular news chatter because details may determine how, where, and if humans get to live on Earth. Many news sources noted Australia is having a summer so hot fish are dying in rivers, and bats and birds are falling from trees and dying. theweek.co.uk reported January 16, 2019 "Researchers now believe that at least 23,000 spectacled fruit bats died - around one-third of the total population - over just two days in and around Cairns, where temperatures passed 42C [107.6 F]."

Chile and Argentina are also having extreme heat-problems.

Since U. S. winter is Australia's summer, will summer 2019 in the U.S. present similar heat when the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun? Last summer, California had it's worst-ever fire, and the summer before was also it's worst-ever fire up to that time. Specifically, July and August 2018 brought the Mendocino Complex Fire in Colusa, Lake, Mendocino, and Glenn counties, and December 2017 brought the Thomas Fire to Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. In addition, November 2018 brought the Camp Fire to Butte County, which, according to Wiki, "was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history to date" killing "86 civilians," some of whom burned in cars fleeing, and destroying "18,804 buildings."

For these reasons, I followed with interest recent conflicting information between Jem Bendell, a Professor of Sustainability Leadership and Founder of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) at the University of Cumbria (UK) vs Carolyn Ruppel, Ph.D, a Research Geophysicist at Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center, and leader of the USGS Gas Hydrates Project.

In short, Ruppel coauthored a paper with Kessler in 2017 about the methane threat, to which Bendell responded "key questions at the heart of this scientific debate (about what would amount to the probable extinction of the human race) include the amount of time it will take for ocean warming to destabilise hydrates on the sea floor, and how much methane will be consumed by aerobic and anaerobic microbes before it reaches the surface and escapes to the atmosphere. In a global review of this contentious topic, scientists concluded that there is not the evidence to predict a sudden release of catastrophic levels of methane in the near-term."

Bendell added, "a key reason for their conclusion was the lack of data showing actual increases in atmospheric methane at the surface of the Arctic, which is partly the result of a lack such information. Most ground-level methane measuring of sensors collecting systems are on land. Could that be why the unusual increases in atmospheric methane concentrations cannot be fully explained by existing data sets from around the world (Saunois et al, 2016)?"

Ruppel appeared in a January 29, 2019 Yale Climate Connections video "Polar melting: 'Methane time bomb' isn't actually a 'bomb'" in which she noted "People who may not be too aware of the thermodynamics of gas hydrates may believe that once you start triggering warming of those, and breakdown of those deposits, you can't stop it. And, in fact, the thermodynamics helps you a lot on that because of the nature of the reaction [ . . . .] this is a problem when we try to produce methane from hydrates. It keeps shutting itself down, right? So it's not a situation where we trigger breakdown, and [ . . . ] the whole deposit's going to release its methane all of a sudden. That [ . . .] is not a scientifically sound worry."

So is the Arctic methane death bomb unlikely? I don't know.  Is Arctic methane still a problem? Yes.

"If we mitigate or reduce human emissions, looks like you can avoid 70 to 80 percent of the permafrost climate feedback. That means the size of this ecosystem feedback to climate depends almost completely on what we do." -- Ben Abbott, Brigham Young University

In the above video, Ben Abbott, a Brigham Young University "ecosystem ecologist who studies the permafrost climate feedback,"said "If we mitigate or reduce human emissions, looks like you can avoid 70 to 80 percent of the permafrost climate feedback. That means the size of this ecosystem feedback to climate depends almost completely on what we do. [ . . . .] This is a call to action, not a declaration of defeat."

My concern is the volume to cause trouble for humans may be much smaller than any giant short-term Arctic methane release.  This is because, as I wrote before, an October 4, 2016, Siberian Times article quoted Professor Igor Semiletov, of Tomsk Polytechnic University, Shakhova's colleague, "We have reason to believe that such emissions may change the climate. This is due to the fact that the reserves of methane under the submarine permafrost exceed the methane content in the atmosphere [ . . . ] many thousands of times. If 3-4% from underwater will go into the atmosphere within 10 years, the methane concentration therein (in the atmosphere) will increase by tens to hundreds of times, and this can lead to rapid climate warming. This is due to the fact that the greenhouse effect of one molecule of methane is 20-30 times greater than one molecule of CO2." I added "The good news is that even though methane has a much stronger effect than CO2, the life of methane in the atmosphere is shorter.  Duncan Clark's January 16, 2012 article in The Guardian noted 'Between 65% and 80% of CO2 released into the air dissolves into the ocean over a period of 20–200 years' while 'Methane, by contrast, is mostly removed from the atmosphere by chemical reaction, persisting for about 12 years.'"

Bendell wrote "Data published by scientists from the Arctic News (2018) website indicates that in March 2018 at mid altitudes, methane was around 1865 parts per billion (ppb), which represents a 1.8 percent increase of 35 ppb from the same time in 2017, while surface measurements of methane increased by about 15 ppb in that time. Both figures are consistent with a non-linear increase - potentially exponential - in atmospheric levels since 2007. That is worrying data in itself, but the more significant matter is the difference between the increase measured at ground and mid altitudes. That is consistent with this added methane coming from our oceans, which could in turn be from methane hydrates [. . . .] [A] report of subsea permafrost destabilisation in the East Siberian Arctic sea shelf, the latest unprecedented temperatures in the Arctic, and the data in non-linear rises in high-atmosphere methane levels, combine to make it feel like we are about to play Russian Roulette with the entire human race, with already two bullets loaded."

In short, this debate is like two people standing on the upper deck of a possible Titanic arguing about damage caused by collision when the ship hit the iceberg.  It is clear most scientists agree humans on Earth must switch from carbon to renewable energy as soon as possible. At the end of my April 28, 2018 post mentioned above, I wrote, "In other words, depending on how much Arctic methane is released how fast, it could be a difficult time for humans and other species if Shakhova's and Semiletov's concerns become reality.  Creon says in the Greek tragedy Oedipus 'Time is the one incorruptible judge.'"

Thanks to many recent visitors from United States, Russia, Belgium, Germany, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Spain, France, Indonesia, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Portugal, Estonia, United Kingdom, South Korea, Netherlands, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Philippines, Latvia, Poland, Ireland, Israel, Slovenia, Georgia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Denmark, Rwanda, Hong Kong, Argentina, Sweden, Switzerland, Lithuania, Nepal, Mexico, Turkey, Palestine, Burundi, Thailand, Mauritius, Ghana, Oman, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ecuador, Albania, Azerbaijan, United Arab Emirates, Greece, Norway, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Romania, Singapore, Lebanon, Peru, Uganda, Malaysia, Colombia, Austria, Honduras, and "Unknown Region[s]."

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