|Nick Breeze interview with East Siberian Arctic Shelf researcher (ESAS) Dr. Natalia Shakhova on why the important news about methane news is not reaching mainstream news. Powerful interests seem to be in the way of Arctic methane education.|
A few days ago an important Royal Society meeting took place that presented important research on the current state of the Arctic. Called ‘Arctic sea ice reduction: the evidence, models, and global impacts’, the event was held in London, England. It was advertised as a “Scientific discussion meeting organised by Dr Daniel Feltham, Dr Sheldon Bacon, Dr Mark Brandon and Professor (Emeritus) Julian Hunt FRS.”
Powerful interests seem to be standing in the way ofNick Breeze, Dorsi Diaz
important research on methane and a dwindling Arctic.
People following the rapid loss of Arctic ice and all that data could even be forgiven for feelings of excitement and hope that at least someone is ‘working on it’. We could have assumed that communication was one of the goals here, especially since the conference was tweeted widely, even from inside the conference. Following those tweets we could also have assumed that it was intended that people in the conference were to share information that was important not only about climate change but the loss of the Arctic sea ice.
Such a conference sounds like a great idea, doesn't it? We could have a cause for hope and the organizers seemed transparent, even going so far as to tweet plans. But such assumptions and presumptions would have been misplaced. Instead, what happened has turned into what has been called a Royal Society snubbing of scientists: a brouhaha has developed both in scientific circles and the world wide web, and has now raised serious questions. The main issue was that cutting edge scientists Dr Shakhova and Dr Semiletov were not even invited to present or discuss their very recent findings on important Arctic sea ice and methane releases.
Who are they and what did they have to offer to this conference? Perhaps it was an ‘accident’ that they were not invited? Maybe they were just not on the guest list? Or, if they were deliberately not invited, what could be the reason?
As it turns out Dr Shakhova & Dr Semiletov had just returned from a crucial expedition to the Arctic. The Swerus C3 expedition was conveyed aboard the icebreaker Oden. The goal was to gather data about the Arctic, in particular concerning methane hydrates and systems interaction.
Martin Jakobsson, Professor at Stockholm University and chief scientist on Leg 2, says: “SWERUS-C3 is a two-leg Swedish-Russian-US cooperation that will investigate the linkages between climate, the cryosphere, and carbon. Leg one of the expedition departed from Tromsø, Norway, on 5 July and travelled along the Russian Arctic coast to reach Barrow, Alaska, where a change-over of research staff and crew took place on 20 August. On 21 August SWERUS-C3 set off for its return journey back to Tromsø, this time over the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater mountain range.”
Jakobsson continues: “During the expedition's second leg we studied the warm Atlantic water that flows into the Arctic Ocean and pockmarks at 900-meter depths as well as the enormous tracks on the ocean floor left by previous ice sheets found in the central Arctic Ocean. The material will be able to provide new perspectives on Arctic sea ice development and history as well as stability of gas hydrates along the Arctic continental shelf.”
Findings in the Arctic have not been particularly reassuring; in fact they portend a dire scenario. A press release from University of Stockholm described that they discovered: “Vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor of the Laptev continental slope. These early glimpses of what may be in store for a warming Arctic Ocean could help scientists project the future releases of the strong greenhouse gas methane from the Arctic Ocean.”
This could all be read as some mere diplomatic or career-based tussle among scientists, or some type of television drama happening at an obscure conference of less-than household names, so why would the average reader be interested in what this has to do with life on earth?
It does have everything to do with every being that inhabits this planet. To put it into context: Arctic events are turning into a planetary emergency and are developing as you read. Key is the full meltdown of Arctic sea ice, akin to our planetary air conditioner going kaput. Please see the startling Arctic Death Spiral photo here to check just how little Arctic ice is left: Arctic Death Spiral 1979-2013 ( Sea Ice Decline / Deglaciation)
Key words: Planetary emergency
A recent article in USA Today entitled Study: Earth in the midst of sixth mass extinction states: “The loss and decline of animals around the world — caused by habitat loss and global climate disruption — mean we're in the midst of a ‘sixth mass extinction’ of life on Earth, according to several studies out Thursday in the journal Science. One study found that although the human population has doubled in the past 35 years, the number of invertebrate animals – such as beetles, butterflies, spiders and worms – has decreased by 45% during that same period.” Simple Google searches on this topic allow one to uncover a recent addition of many such articles on the same topic.
To be clear, I have the utmost respect for the scientific community and what they have contributed to the advancement of science. I have interviewed some, and helped give voice to the work of scientists, professors, teachers. and experts: I believe in open communication. I believe that when there is a huge problem as in this case of our planetary emergency or ‘6th mass extinction event’, we need all hands on deck, especially the ones out there on the front lines. Dr Shakhova & Dr Semiletov are two of these.
According to computer modelling, our ‘Arctic air conditioner’ was supposed to stay intact and run effectively for many years. Previously the year 2100 was said to have been the year we would really see all ‘he##’ break loose. Now we realize that those models were way off. In fact, our ‘air-conditioner’ is self-destructing more every minute, causing a meandering jet stream which is already reeking climate havoc around the world: typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other such catastrophic climate events are more commonplace. Indeed, climate change has already become downright nasty. What we were told would not happen until much later is actually taking place right now.
Scientists and governments realize we have a great big problem and have started doing lots and lots of research into our ‘Arctic air conditioner’. Experts were sent to view the problem, Dr Shakhova & Dr Semiletov on board, and told to report back their findings.
The air conditioning experts that were sent to check on the problem were not invited to address the Royal Society event to report back, nor to even discuss the air conditioner break down. To be fair, some of them were called upon, including Professor Peter Wadhams (although other significant issues arose to do with Prof Wadhams too). However, the only reporting scientists who were called upon to report on the problem were those same who have been using those same types of conservative computer modeling methods that have traditionally proved to be seriously behind the time actual timeline followed by the Arctic ice.
Clearly it is has been safe to say for years now that those computer modeling methods are more conservative than accurate, and are now in fact far and away off the mark of accuracy. Even a non-scientist can clearly see there is a deeply serious divide between the predictions of conservative models and the dramatic melting events of current days.
The Royal Society plans a ‘communicative’ conference on Arctic sea-ice and leaves out experts recently returned from a life-threatening expedition specifically to review the problem. Meanwhile, others in comfortable office chairs merely crunch data for help guessing at possible problem scenarios. To whom would you listen? Would you trust just one expert or would you call on as many experts as possible to pool resources? Do you feel safe just listening to one side of the story without real-world observations, data, and discussion being included?
|created by Zaven Ohannessian with screenshot from interview with Dr. Natalia Shakhova, by Nick Breeze|
Imagine for a minute that you are Shakhova and her colleagues. You have been sent to view and report back on the broken air conditioner. You have observed rapid and almost unbelievable changes taking place on your expeditions. It is falling apart and leaking methane. You know that methane is many times more potent and powerful than carbon dioxide and can cause way more damage to the earth if lots of it are coming out. In fact, you have not seen such massive changes before on numerous previous expeditions. You are deeply concerned and really need to let others involved with the ‘Arctic air conditioner’ know what you have seen.
But, when a chance to talk about your data and observations comes up, you are not invited. The very important meeting goes on without you and nothing that you have seen, documented, and observed will become public knowledge. You are stunned by this snub. You want to be able to tell them and therefore the world what is going on. You want to get this information out so that they will let others know what is happening to our ‘Arctic air conditioner’ and the symptoms that its melt are causing.
I can only imagine how that must have felt, sitting on this newest and very important data and not being able to share. Politely though, Dr Shakhova writes a letter about her exclusion, and asks to be able to present her data and observations. She sends a letter to Sir Paul Nurse at the Royal Academy (via climate communication journalist Nick Breeze):
October 4th, 2014
By mail and email
Dear Sir Paul Nurse,
We are pleased that the Royal Society recognizes the value of Arctic science and hosted an important scientific meeting last week, organised by Dr D. Feltham, Dr S. Bacon, Dr M. Brandon, and Professor Emeritus J. Hunt (https://royalsociety.org/events/2014/arctic-sea-ice/).
Our colleagues and we have been studying the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) for more than 20 years and have detailed observational knowledge of changes occurring in this region, as documented by publications in leading journals such as Science, Nature, and Nature Geosciences. During these years, we performed more than 20 all-seasonal expeditions that allowed us to accumulate a large and comprehensive data set consisting of hydrological, biogeochemical, and geophysical data and providing a quality of coverage that is hard to achieve, even in more accessible areas of the World Ocean.
To date, we are the only scientists to have long-term observational data on methane in the ESAS. Despite peculiarities in regulation that limit access of foreign scientists to the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone, where the ESAS is located, over the years we have welcomed scientists from Sweden, the USA, The Netherlands, the UK, and other countries to work alongside us. A large international expedition performed in 2008 (ISSS-2008) was recognized as the best biogeochemical study of the IPY (2007-2008). The knowledge and experience we accumulated throughout these years of work laid the basis for an extensive Russian-Swedish expedition onboard I/B ODEN (SWERUS-3) that allowed more than 80 scientists from all over the world to collect more data from this unique area. The expedition was successfully concluded just a few days ago.
To our dismay, we were not invited to present our data at the Royal Society meeting. Furthermore, this week we discovered, via a twitter Storify summary (circulated by Dr. Brandon), that Dr. G. Schmidt was instead invited to discuss the methane issue and explicitly attacked our work using the model of another scholar, whose modelling effort is based on theoretical, untested assumptions having nothing to do with observations in the ESAS. While Dr. Schmidt has expertise in climate modelling, he is an expert neither on methane, nor on this region of the Arctic. Both scientists therefore have no observational knowledge on methane and associated processes in this area. Let us recall that your motto “Nullus in verba” was chosen by the founders of the Royal Society to express their resistance to the domination of authority; the principle so expressed requires all claims to be supported by facts that have been established by experiment. In our opinion, not only the words but also the actions of the organizers deliberately betrayed the principles of the Royal Society as expressed by the words “Nullus in verba.”
In addition, we would like to highlight the Anglo-American bias in the speaker list. It is worrisome that Russian scientific knowledge was missing, and therefore marginalized, despite a long history of outstanding Russian contributions to Arctic science. Being Russian scientists, we believe that prejudice against Russian science is currently growing due to political disagreements with the actions of the Russian government. This restricts our access to international scientific journals, which have become exceptionally demanding when it comes to publication of our work compared to the work of others on similar topics. We realize that the results of our work may interfere with the crucial interests of some powerful agencies and institutions; however, we believe that it was not the intent of the Royal Society to allow political considerations to override scientific integrity.
We understand that there can be scientific debate on this crucial topic as it relates to climate. However, it is biased to present only one side of the debate, the side based on theoretical assumptions and modelling. In our opinion, it was unfair to prevent us from presenting our more-than-decadal data, given that more than 200 scientists were invited to participate in debates. Furthermore, we are concerned that the Royal Society proceedings from this scientific meeting will be unbalanced to an unacceptable degree (which is what has happened on social media).
Consequently, we formally request the equal opportunity to present our data before you and other participants of this Royal Society meeting on the Arctic and that you as organizers refrain from producing any official proceedings before we are allowed to speak.
On behalf of more than 30 scientists,
Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov
Among concerned people following this closely is part-time Professor Paul Beckwith, PhD student of abrupt climate change. Beckwith offers his concerns on this latest turn of events at the Royal Society in his newest video: A little chat on methane
Beckwith’s latest statement about his overall assessment of the Arctic situation and where we stand is not particularly comforting either: “Our climate system is presently undergoing preliminary stages of abrupt climate change. If allowed to continue, the planetary climate system is quite capable of undergoing an average global temperature increase of 5°C to 6°C over a decade or two. Precedence for changes at such a large rate can be found at numerous times in the paleo-records. From my chair, I conclude that it is vital that we slash greenhouse gas emissions and undergo a crash program of climate engineering to cool the Arctic region and keep the methane in place in the permafrost and ocean sediments.”
Beckwith points at research in the U.S., such as a study published in 2012 by Lawrence Livermore Laboratory researchers who sum up the situation as follows: “The question is not whether but how much and how quickly methane will be released due to warming, and whether it will be enough to trigger a runaway feedback loop.” The study, earlier discussed at the Arctic-news blog, concludes: “In our review of Arctic methane sources, we found that significant gaps in understanding remain of the mechanisms, magnitude, and likelihood of Arctic methane release. No authors stated that catastrophic release of methane—e.g., hundreds of Gt over years to decades—is the expected near-term outcome. But until the mechanisms are better-understood, such a catastrophe cannot be ruled out. The evidence is strong that methane had a role in past warming events, but the particular source and release mechanisms of methane in past warming is not settled. Whereas most authors indicated that a catastrophic release is unlikely, a chronic, climatically significant release of Arctic methane appears plausible. Such a release could undermine or overwhelm gradual emissions reductions made elsewhere, and thus warrants technological intervention.”
Beckwith further points at paper by 21 Russian scientists, including Shakhova and Semiletov, who sum up the situation as follows: “The emission of methane in several areas of the East Siberian Shelf is massive to the extent that growth in the methane concentrations in the atmosphere to values capable of causing a considerable and even catastrophic warming on the Earth is possible.”
In the meantime, we wait with anticipation to see what the U.K. Royal Society's response will be, and if we will be able to hear of Shakhova and Semiletov's latest data and observations on the state of the Arctic. I, for one, would like to know everything about how the ‘Arctic air conditioner’ is really doing; wouldn't you?
Planetary Emergency Update
As I write the text above, a new article is released: “It’s Worse Than We Thought” — New Study Finds That Earth is Warming Far Faster Than Expected. A small excerpt: “Earlier this week, a new study emerged showing that the world was indeed warming far faster than expected. The study, which aimed sensors at the top 2,000 feet of the World Ocean, found that waters had warmed to a far greater extent than our limited models, satellites, and sensors had captured. In particular, the Southern Ocean showed much greater warming than was previously anticipated.”
Many thanks to Julian Warmington, Associate Professor at BUFS, Busan University of Foreign Studies, for editing this news report.
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