Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tipping Points

The increasing melt may be a harbinger of greater changes such as the release of methane compounds from frozen soils that could exacerbate warming, and a thaw of the Greenland ice sheet, which would contribute to rising sea levels, NASA’s top climate scientist, James Hansen, said in an e-mail interview, reports Bloomberg.

“Our greatest concern is that loss of Arctic sea ice creates a grave threat of passing two other tipping points -- the potential instability of the Greenland ice sheet and methane hydrates,” Hansen said. “These latter two tipping points would have consequences that are practically irreversible on time scales of relevance to humanity.”

Above image shows methane levels over a period of four years, from August 1, 2008, to August 1, 2012.

Above image shows methane levels over one years, from August 1, 2011, to August 1, 2012. This shows a marked increase in methane levels on the last of the four years further above.

Above image shows methane levels from August 1, 2012, to August 15, 2012. The image shows high levels of methane across the northern hemisphere. Note the high levels above Greenland.


  1. Lag times for subsequent full expression of even the greenhouse gasses already in the sky seem to have swamped not only the pH stability of Sea to restore balance but zoomed even the event the vulcanism of the Russian steps flowing lava into coal beds which is precursor of P/T global extinction 252m yrs ago produced by comparison.
    (Permian/Triassic) transition involved some huge percentage of life being extinguished on Earth and Oxygen levels dropping to what amount to near zero as far as adapted large creatures are concerned in land and Sea environments.
    It's the speed of the transition that matters in an explosion's power to destroy physical buildings in war. It's nerve gas for Earth we deploy when we drive our cars and turn on our coal fueled central grid electrical system supplied lights and computers to power our computers to write as on line here.. Even with feel good effort made of having signed up for wind powered electricity the effect is same.. Telling the truth about what's happening is not fashionable or fun but even so I think I've seen enough, had enough chances to die to know what is danger, what danger looks like and about chances of changing things if in particular communications break down and fear takes over. -like what would happen if internet at present were taken away.. The scale of what needs to happen if Earth is to survive is like trying to tell a large ant colony to alter habits and to world-wide work with other ant specie colonies to focus on not getting food for themselves but to work for the common interest in altering the air in which they live.

    1. While I have the highest respect for James Hansen, I think he has underestimated the accelerating pace of the changes taking place in the Arctic, which comes with the danger of accelerating even further with methane releases. This, combined with the huge amount of warming that is still "in the pipeline", makes geo-engineering an indispensable part of the action plan to reduce these dangers, in addition to the necessary dramatic cuts in emissions.

      Furthermore, I believe James Hansen's proposed fee-and-dividends isn't as effective as the local feebates I propose, as part of a comprehensive plan of action.

    2. Thanks Sam, It's like it will take an 'act of god' to get the scale of change boiling worldwide to make thing happen to have a shot at peace..
      Communications, it boils down to communications and worldwide actions..
      Taking on the challenge of stopping Earth's overheat and extinction of ecosystem services would zoom up prosperity like nothing else..
      But laying aside petty and not so petty items of what's considered justice is hard.
      Taking on task of stopping global overheat would stop war and unite the people of the world as never before.. It would be a quantum jump in fun to try and do as we should as rational beings instead of as emotions dictate. I think it's doable and worth a try..

  2. Sam,
    melting of the ice sheet is quite tangible and understandable. Methane emission level is something different. To "stop the war and unite people" we need a more understandable description of what is happening and where the threats are.
    As for Russia, there is no public knowledge of the above threats and challenges. On the TV we hear that we are going to extend oil and gas production in Arctic regions, and nothing more...
    I am really impressed by all this, but there are may be just few Russians reading this blog

    1. Hi Piotr, thanks for commenting. Actually, looking at the stats, there are quite of few people in Russia reading this blog, more than in India or China. Additionally, there are many people with a Russian background who live in the U.S. and who are following this blog.

      I agree with Dale that the necessary shift away from fossil fuel to clean energy will also reduce cause for war over resources. It will reduce the (mis)perceived need for the military to fight over resources and protect associated supply lines, storage facilities, centralized plants, etc. That is one out of a number of hidden costs that are all too often excluded in cost comparisons between fossil fuel and clean energy. And as described in this blog, of course, the looming risk of methane releases in the Arctic makes it imperative to act.

      When explained well enough, I'm convinced that all countries will commit to action, including dramatic cuts in emissions, which is in my view best achieved through a comprehensive plan of action.

    2. Thank you Sam, your newer post and older presentation make it clear enough. Still I do not know what can make our business and government to cut oil and gas production which is very big share of Russian economy and export. Where will they get money to invest in "comprehensive plan of action", btw? U.S. can invest both in weapons and ecology. When Russia tries to make equivalent investment in weapons there is no much left...

    3. The comprehensive plan of action that I propose doesn't need extra money, since feebates are self-financing. Sure, Pjotr, Russia stands to earn less money from fossil fuel exports if other countries adopt such feebates, but I'm convinced other countries are going to make that decision, so Russia shouldn't count on a continuation of such exports, but should instead realize that the money earned until now from fossil fuel exports does put Russia in a better position to make the necessary shifts.

      Russia has many good scientists and the science behind global warming is robust and clear, and tells Russia (and the world) to prepare for a rapid move away from fossil fuel. Politicians and economists should add their voice to these calls, as should medical specialists. Already now, Russia is suffering from wildfires and a huge amount of time and effort by many people goes into fighting fires and caring for the people affected by fires.

      Apart from many good scientists, Russia also has many good engineers. This, and as said the profits from fossil fuel, put Russia in a good position to get into the new technologies. I'm not just talking about firefighting, I mean technologies such as biochar, which could significantly reduce the problem of wildfires and improve soil quality at the same time. Given the size of its forests and farms, Russia could become world leader in many new technologies in forestry and agriculture.

      Here's another sector: transportation. Russia is still to get its first high-speed train, despite its huge distances and its long history in railroads. Similarly, Russia has a long history in aeronautics and aviation, as an example, the Tupolev Tu-155 made its first hydrogen-powered flight on 15 April 1988. Transportation is a growth area. Russia's long distances and long history with transportation technologies put it in a good position to focus on the many new and clean technologies that are now innovating this sector.

      I'm sure that the people of Russia will listen to reason and are brave when it comes to making the necessary decisions.

    4. It's nice to dream of vast undertakings; but steel and work will have, on whole have to be paid for and supplies delivered on schedule. So something in addition to cost adjustments to product and services rendered may be needed. People may have a bit of trouble dealing with the change coming. The wrong things are overbuilt. Consumerism and corruption, that and the arms industry and traditions based on oil use. Still all hangs in the balance and on the hope that change can happen on the grandest of scale in all out effort to keep the Earth alive and to not leave people stranded in big trouble..
      Delay has cost the world dearly and Copenhagen Climate Summit should have at least come down strongly on the side of immediate action which should be well advanced and accelerating now if reversal of global warming is really doable. The aching fact is it wasn't done when easier and now it is immensely harder and options are at least diminishing in number to try that are truly effective and fast enough.
      Tapping root core basis of corruption and power and turning the Earth peacefully involves alteration of the value of money and of tradition.

  3. Thx. for the weather and ice forecasts but you really don't get it if you think hydrogen powered flight is relevant to ANY discussion on sustainability see:

    1. I've written about hydrogen for many years, e.g. read this post, and I foresee a bright future for both hydrogen and batteries as sustainable ways to store energy. Note also that most hydrogen is now produced from natural gas, which does put Russia in a good position in the transition toward electrolysis. Furthermore, pyrolysis can produce hydrogen and bio-oil, both of which could be used to power transport, including aviation.