Climate Plan


Friday, February 1, 2013

Dramatic increase in methane in the Arctic in January 2013

Below a combination of images produced by Dr. Leonid Yurganov, showing methane levels January 1-10, 2013 (below left), January 11-20, 2013 (below center) and January 21-31, 2013 (below right).

Click on image to enlarge
Above image shows dramatic increases of methane levels above the Arctic Ocean in the course of January 2013 in a large area north of Norway.

Why are these high levels of methane showing up there? To further examine this, let's have a look at where the highest sea ice concentrations are. The image below shows sea ice concentrations for January 2013, from the National Snow and Ice data Center (NSIDC).

Overlaying methane measurements with sea ice concentrations shows that the highest levels of methane coincide with areas in the Arctic Ocean without sea ice. This is shown on the animation below, which is a 1.84 MB file that may take some time to fully load.

Strong correlation between Methane and Ocean/Land/Sea ice
Where methane levels above the Arctic Ocean are relatively low, there still may be very high levels of methane underneath the sea ice that are still broken down by bacteria, as discussed in the post Further feedbacks of sea ice decline in the Arctic. As that post concludes, much of this methane is likely to enter the atmosphere without getting broken down by bacteria as the sea ice retreats further. Sea ice is declining at exponential pace. The big danger is that a huge rise of temperatures in the Arctic will destabilize huge amounts of methane currently held in the seabed. Comprehensive and effective action is needed now to avoid catastrophe.

Dr. Malcolm Light kindly provided the following comments on the image at the top of this post:
The first image clearly shows that the westerly Svalbard branch of the Gulf stream must be destabilizing methane hydrates between Norway and Svalbard. The effects of the eastern Yermack branch of the Gulf stream which enters the Barents Sea is clearly seen in the third figure and methane hydrates in the whole Barents Sea region are clearly being destabilized by the heat it is bringing in. All this extra heating of the Gulf Stream causing increased evaporation is the reason for the giant flooding that has been seen in Europe and the water clouds are preventing the ocean from losing its heat efficiently so the Yermack and Svalbard branches can still destabilize the methane hydrates even in the dead of winter.
Little correlation between Methane
and Depth of the Arctic Ocean
As said, there appears to be a strong relationship between the location of the high levels of methane and the contours of land and sea ice, as illustrated by the above animation. There appears to be little relationship between methane levels and depth of the sea, as illustrated by the animation on the right. For a larger-scale version of the bathymetry map by Martin Jakobsson, see the earlier post on Arctic temperature anomalies.

The animation further below shows selected NOAA images at different altitudes on January 23, 2013. The lowest altitude is ~111 meters (~364 feet) above sea level. At this altitude, high methane levels (up to ~2000 ppb) show up over the Arctic Ocean, against a global mean of 1793 ppb. Much of the land remains colored grey at this altitude, since no values are registered where the land is higher than this altitude.

At all higher altitudes up to ~8 km (~26250 ft) peak values in the Arctic remain visible that are higher than 2000 ppb, up to a staggering 2241 ppb, while global mean methane levels range from 1768 to 1795 ppb.

At even higher altitudes, centrifugal forces move the methane toward locations over the equator. At an altitude of ~16 km (~52000 ft), levels of up to 1880 are recorded over the equator, against mean global levels of ~1700 ppb. All this compares with pre-industrial methane levels of ~715 ppb.

Proportionally, distribution of the methane on that day remains roughly the same geographically, i.e. relatively high methane levels consistently show up in the same spots in the Arctic. Comparison with other days furthermore shows that values for each location often do not change much from day to day. This indicates that methane tends to rise up in the air and will remain in the same location unless there are winds strong enough to spread the methane geographically.

Methane on January 23, 2013 - this is a 2.42 MB animation that may take some time to fully load 
Below a combination of images showing methane levels over five years (2009 on the left, to 2013 on the right), each time for the same period (January 21-31) - images by Dr. Leonid Yurganov.

Click on image to enlarge


  1. The Methane release appears to be accelerating in the entire Barents Sea area. Those readings were in January when cold and ice should be making the opposite happen. And the readings are at 600mb or about maybe 14000ft indicating the stuff is migrating upward to where it will blanket the entire Earth and cast heat downward on top of what life is used to.
    Control of methane release must be regained somehow. And the only real way to do that is to get ice cover to stay on the Arctic Sea and Northern hemisphere.

  2. Sam, Dale,

    what is the significance of this rise in methane concentration from where it was 10-20 years ago, about 1800ppbv, to today's 1900 ppbv, for an area of the size you illustrate in your charts? Is this Armaggedon or a cow's fart? Please express this in simple terms which a climate idiot like me can understand. Something like "If these emissions continue all year round and the methane given-off were to spread over the whole of the planet's surface, they would provide the same amount of extra heat to the planet as x% of humanity's current C02 emissions".

    I know about the coming future Arctic ice melt and also the hydroxl absorption effect so I think I know enough, not to misinterpret what you say.

    The reason I ask is that the answer is important in assessing the risk and also communicating the situation to other climate idiots like me, ie Joe Public.

    Martin Harrison

  3. I agree with Martin

    Without knowledge of comparable baseline emissions to judge climate forcing by this process, risk assessment or future projections can be made. Can you help with that?

    As a suggestion a chart showing deviation from 'normal' would be far more useful and further an assessment of impact of that deviation in words.

    Kind regards

    Jurgen Heissner

    1. Martin and Jurgen, I have meanwhile added an image at the bottom of the post showing methane levels over five years for this period (January 21-31). Combine this with the top image. There are dramatic increases in methane levels in the Arctic and there is no indication that this increase will slow down, in fact, there are many indicators warning that this increase will continue, as illustrated by the Diagram of Doom.

      As said in above post, the big danger is that this methane will contribute to a huge rise of temperatures in the Arctic that will destabilize huge amounts of methane currently held in the seabed, in a vicious cycle that will escalate into runaway warming and result in wildfires, crop losses, destruction and extinction around the globe at unprecedented scale. A comprehensive and effective climate plan is needed now to avoid catastrophe.

  4. Yet something else to keep tabs on, Neven. Thanks for the heads-up and awaiting the data in the coming months with interest. Would be interested to see an overlay of seawater-depth on the animation - isn't a lot of that area fairly deep?

    1. John, I did look for a link between depth of sea and methane levels, but I did see no relationship. I have meanwhile added another animation to illustrate this. PS, if you were referring to me, I'm not Neven.

      Sam Carana

    2. Sorry about that, Sam! It was late at night when I posted!

      The depth factor is of interest to me because I've read that methane emitted at significant depth is supposed to dissolve in the water-column - this was one reason for the concerns about the subsea permafrost of the relatively shallow East Siberian Arctic Shelf, where outgassing has of course been witnessed over a wide area. All the best - John

    3. Yes that's an important point, Sam. This needs watching.

    4. No worries, John, I had that very same idea about shallow waters, so let's continue to closely watch and analyze things. Waters in the ESAS are still covered with ice at the moment, and I fear they will also show high levels of methane emissions soon as the sea ice retreats.

    5. Let me add, John, that the perception of evenly distributed methane levels throughout the Barents Sea and Norwegian Sea may be due to a scale that tops out at 1920 ppb for the top images, whereas methane was actually present at a variety of higher levels -- methane levels up to 2241 ppb were registered on January 23. The animation at the bottom uses a scale with higher methane levels colored in yellow and it appears to show higher levels of methane over shallow waters than over deep waters.

      Furthermore, lack of oxygen in the water may prevent methanotrophs from breaking down the methane, making that methane escaping from sediments under deep waters can rise through the water without getting oxidized and can reach the atmosphere unaffected, despite a long rise through the water. Similarly, large abrupt releases could cause local oxygen depletion even in summer, resulting in much of the methane entering the atmosphere without being affected by methanotrophs. The page Oxygenating the Arctic discusses this in more detail.

  5. I have been reading your posts for some time with great concern. But until this post, it wasn't presented in a way I could explain/show to others. This post is a much better communication.

    Some of the other charts are just too busy/complex. There is one graph in particular that seems to have a whole bunch of curves with different scales that happened to end up in the same area. To my novice self it seems like anyone could play with the scales of the curves until they all came out in the same area. I could not feel confident using charts like that with others. But this post, with its overlays between ice and methane, and its overlays between ice and depth, and its series of the same 10 day period many years in a row is much more understandable/presentable.

    One other thing that would be helpful is to better explain methane in the different layers of the atmosphere. I have seen many pictures taken at different pressures/altitudes? Worse the pictures seem to have a range of pressure/altitudes associated with them. I don't understand why the measurements can't be taken at a specific level. And I have a hard time locating/visualizing where they are in the atmosphere. Also from what I can tell the dark areas in the lower atmosphere do not seem to match with pictures taken higher up. So I'm confused as to how the methane moves up between layers. I would expect the higher levels to match the lower levels. But to my untrained eye, the lower levels seem to match open sea areas and the higher areas seem to match land areas. So they seem to come from different sources to me.

    Perhaps some kind of vertical cross section of the atmosphere that explains/locates the different measurement levels, and how methane is moving from layer to layer would be helpful.

    I could also use help understanding the effect of this much methane. I read one post that said: “20 Gt of methane an initial greenhouse effect equivalent to 2000 Pg of carbon dioxide”. Most people think of greenhouse gasses in terms of 394 ppm co2. Many know that 350 ppm or 280 ppm would be better. That 400 ppm is worse and 450 or 550 ppm is really bad. Is there a way you can translate a 20 Gton methane release into co2 ppm’s. Is this saying that 20 Gton of Methane would initially be equal to a co2 level of 2000 ppm? I’m guessing they are different scales, and that some conversion has to occur to put it in terms of co2 ppm.

    1. I have meanwhile added an animation to the post, showing methane at different altitudes. For more on the potential impact of large abrupt release of methane in the Arctic, also see the post at

  6. As Methane has far greater impact on global warming than carbon dioxide; the proof of this hypothesis may come sooner than later.

  7. Is it possible to have the same set of data for summer season ? I posted this link to some climate scientists and they said that this needs some analysis. One of the riders being that if this is indeed the Methane from calthrates it will show up in summer as well.

  8. Everyone seems concerned about methane, and only in the context of warming. The dead zones in the oceans have been growing for years. As they grow they release deadly and explosively flammable heavier-than-air hydrogen sulfide. This past year (2012) marked the first time in human history that a major metropolitan area (Kuwait City) was told to shelter-in-place because of hydrogen sulfide.

    Vehicles, absorbent materials, barns, vacant homes are now bursting into flame all around the world. The vehicles do not need to be running either, as hydrogen sulfide is reactive with copper and rusted iron/steel.

    The methane releases and the hydrogen sulfide releases work together synergistically: the methane induces heating. Hotter waters results in larger dead zones. Larger dead zones create more hydrogen sulfide, which reacts away the ozone layer, which also causes more heating, which melts more of the methane, and so on.

    This is a planetary extinction event and it is underway right now. What you will see is more fires, more explosions, and more animals and people dropping dead.

    More info, including daily updates as the burning and dying of the Earth progresses:

  9. simply stated climate change.

  10. Arctic tropospheric atmosphere above solid sea ice gets devoid of Methane compared to areas over open sea surface and broken ice to lesser degree..
    As is obvious by the images in this article. This indicates to me that should a billion ton CH4 release occur it wouldn't necessarily hang out in Arctic and cause unleashing of secondary mega release necessarily in Arctic region. But this means OH gets swamped out over large expanse of Earth at lower latitude and particularly at elevation in Atmosphere. It also means the ozone layer will be damaged in lower Stratosphere quicker as methane rises and water is released as if a shift of partial pressure isn't hard enough some special super-greenhouse gasses injection don't make it any easier. The CO2e of sky is approx above something like 470ppm. I don't think mankind is going to make it not so much because of the simple physics for now as the denial of reality that is widespread. The reluctance to care to act and the wallet contents that drag our ambition down.. That and a bunch of militarists. And a bunch of high bankers who think physical properties of elements don't apply to them.. but I'm interested in changing the ownership of the problem to the general public on line and changing the world so it can live. -any brilliant ideas out there.

  11. Very interesting. With the reports from Semiletov on the large emissions from the Siberian sea, I was surprised not to see large increase there. Seems much more is being emitted in Barents Sea.
    To be clear, CH4 is 100 times more potent than CO2. The increase of 1.1ppm is eqaul to 110ppm of CO2. CH4 accounts for 40% of warming effect.

    1. Craig, the post suggests a close link between methane emissions and open water, as opposed to waters covered by sea ice and land. Waters north of Siberia were still frozen in January, hence the lower methane levels there.

  12. Sam, I'm curious how Leonid Yurganov makes those great top-view images of methane concentration over the arctic. The downloadable images from IASI are side-view, global images and very little can be made out of what's happening in the arctic. I've been guessing that Mr. Yurganov has access to the entire database of raw, numerical data and uses some kind of custom software to make those useful, evocative images. Too bad IASI doesn't use the same software, or make the raw data available, same way you can get ice data from PIOMAS. Or, have the software available on demand to convert the raw IASI numerical data into images. Thanks for the great work on this blog.

    1. Yes, Leonid Yurganov accesses the IASI data directly, whereas I typically use the NOAA images generated from the IASI data. And yes, it would be great to have more tools to analyze the IASI data. One such tool is which wasn't available when the above post was written, and which has since contributed immensely to more recent posts.

    2. I was confusing the tool (IASI) with the methanetracker website. Didn't realize this is just a guy hacking the data, LOL. This looks like something I would do (have done)! I'm going to have to do some exploring before I bother you further. Thanks for the reply.