Interview with Malcolm Light by Dorsi Diaz, September 10, 2014
Dorsi Diaz interviews earth systems scientist Dr. Malcolm Light, who has been zeroing in on the current methane situation. In what he is calling an 'extreme national emergency,' Dr. Malcolm Light sheds some light on what his research has led him to, in this rare interview. Answering some of the pressing questions about accelerating climate change and the threat that methane plays, Light expounds on his thoughts about mantle methane, geo-engineering and the governments reluctance to move fast enough to address this growing threat. Light also touches on the Permian–Triassic extinction event -also known as- 'the great dying,' where methane is thought to have played a significant role in the die-off of most of the world's species.
Q: Malcolm, I have been following your work for the last couple of years with great concern. I know that many others have also been reading your work and are also concerned. Could you tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to the point you are now at?
A: My parents were both meteorologists. I have a Bachelor of Science (Honors) in geology (and oceanography) from the University of Cape Town and a PhD in geology from the University of London where I began detailed Arctic research at the Centre for Polar Observation and Monitoring (CPOM) in 2002. Prof. Duncan Wingham, who was in charge of CPOM at the time, invented the Cryosat satellite. I have worked on international oil and gas exploration for 20 years, 10 years on metal and diamond exploration and 12 years on Arctic climate research. It was at CPOM that I saw the huge threat that the Gulf Stream heat posed in destabilizing the Arctic methane hydrates and first warned about the consequences (Poster Duncan 2F).
Light M.P.R. and Solana C., 2002a. Arctic methane hydrates - Mapping a potential greenhouse gas hazard. Abstract and Poster, EGS, Nice, France. To view the poster, click here, from:
Light, M.P.R. and Solana, C. , 2002b- Arctic Methane Hydrates: A Potential Greenhouse Gas Hazard.
All my subsequent papers have appeared in Sam Carana's Arctic-news blog at
Q: Malcolm, I think most of us that have been following climate change realize now that methane is the game changer when we talk about a possible extinction level event. I recently became aware of another less talked about form of methane which you have been talking about – mantle methane. Can you tell us a little bit more about this methane and is the release of mantle methane an even bigger threat to us, than say, the melting permafrost?
A: Methane formed by organisms in the water becomes trapped in the fabric of water ice crystals when it freezes and is stable below about 300 meters depth in the Arctic Ocean. There are such massive methane reserves below the Arctic Ocean floor (more than 5000 billion tons of methane carbon) that they represent around 100 times the amount that is required to cause a Permian style major extinction event, should about one percent of the sub-sea Arctic methane be released into the atmosphere. There are also giant reservoirs of mantle methane, originally sealed in by shallow methane hydrate plugs in fractures cutting the Arctic seafloor.
Unfortunately for us, global warming has heated up the oceanic currents fed by the Gulf Stream flowing into the Arctic, causing massive destabilization of the sub-sea methane hydrates and fault seals and releasing increasing volumes of subsea methane hydrate and mantle methane directly into the atmosphere. The major threat to us is heat from the Gulf Stream breaking the methane hydrate seals on the fracture systems and releasing both the sub-sea methane hydrate and mantle methane directly into the atmosphere. I would say that the reserves of mantle methane are probably inexhaustible. Therefore the best thing we can do is cool down the Gulf Stream immediately by cutting back on US and Canadian emissions by 80% to 90 % and thus replace the pressure release valves back on the Earth's methane pressure cooker, before it is too late to stop it venting itself into the atmosphere and frying us all.
Q: Malcolm, besides the need to drastically cut our emissions now, what can be done about the destabilizing methane on the seafloors? Do you feel geo-engineering is our only option right now to at least try to slow down this runaway train we are on?
A: Scientists at Georgia Tech University have found that at very low temperatures in the ocean, two symbiotic methane eating organisms group together, consume methane and excrete carbon dioxide which then reacts with minerals in the water to form carbonate mounds. These organisms need a specific enzyme and tungsten for this process to operate. A method must be immediately developed for growing these methane consuming organisms in great quantities and delivering them with their vital tungsten operating enzyme to the Arctic Ocean where they can devour all the methane rising in the water column before it enters the atmosphere.
In the modified version of the Lucy Project, hydroxyls can be generated by a polarized 13.56 MHZ beam intersecting the sea surface over the region where a massive methane torch (plume) is entering the atmosphere so that the additional hydroxyl produced will react with the rising methane, breaking a large part of it down. In the Arctic Ocean, the polarized 13.56 MHZ radio waves will decompose atmospheric humidity, mist, fog, ocean spray and the surface of the waves themselves into nascent hydrogen and hydroxyl.
An improved Lucy system could use Nd:glass heating lasers containing hexagonal neodymium which is stable below 863°C. Neodymium glass lasers have extreme output parameters with the most extreme powers and power densities. Prof. Velard from the University of Madrid states that at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, Nd:glass heating lasers are used for nuclear fusion experiments so they will easily have sufficient power to decompose methane.
The Angels (Arctic Natural Gas Extraction, Liquefaction, Sale - Storage) project is a solution to the extreme Arctic methane build - up that must be done in conjunction with a complete cut back in carbon dioxide emissions from North America, if we have any hope of stopping this now, almost out of control, exponentially escalating build - up of methane in the atmosphere and its extreme enhancement of global warming.
The Angels project will require the drilling of inclined boreholes into the sub-sea Arctic permafrost/methane hydrates to drain the over-pressured methane from beneath them and thus depressurize the reservoirs. This will stop many of the Arctic sea surface methane eruptions by drawing ocean water down the eruption zones and will allow a controlled destabilization of the undersea methane hydrates producing a natural gas source for many hundreds of years. This gas can be liquefied in surface plants, put into LNG tankers and sold as a feed-stock for hydrogen plants or permanently stored in propane - ethane hydrates with carbon dioxide at ambient temperatures in deep ocean basins.
Q: What do you think about the use of hydroxyls as a geo-engineering method to cool the earth?
A: According to Heicklen (1967), methane produced at the Earth's surface diffuses upward in the atmosphere and is broken down by photo dissociation (sunlight) and chemical attack by nascent oxygen and hydroxyl. Hydroxyls are one of the main purifiers of the atmosphere and there is now a giant equatorial hole in the Pacific in the hydroxyl concentration which allows the shallower Arctic methane global warming veil between 9 and 11 km in height to rise up into the stratosphere where it will cause increased heating. In the Arctic Ocean, polarized 13.56 MHZ radio waves can decompose atmospheric humidity, mist, fog, ocean spray and the surface of the waves themselves into nascent hydrogen and hydroxyl. In the Lucy Project, hydroxyls could be generated by a polarized 13.56 MHZ beam intersecting the sea surface over the region where a massive methane torch (plume) is entering the atmosphere so that the additional hydroxyl produced will react with the rising methane, breaking a large part of it down.
Q: I have noticed your posts and articles have become much more dire, and I sense a great amount of urgency in your messages. Do you think urgency can create action, especially among global governments? Or are we doomed to red tape and bureaucracy even though we are in the midst of the greatest emergency that humanity will ever face?
A: The increasing urgency of my message about the methane threat is caused by the absolute idiotic behavior of the US and Canadian governments in allowing a massive increase in fossil fuel extraction that has produced a peak in worldwide atmospheric carbon dioxide at the moment when they should be cutting their emissions by large amounts to cool down the Gulf Stream. The US and Canada must cut their global emissions of carbon dioxide by 80 % to 90% in the next 10 to 15 years, otherwise they will be become an instrument of mass destruction of the Earth and its entire human population. Recovery of the United States economy from the financial crisis has been very stupidly based by the present administration on an extremely hazardous "all of the above" energy policy that has allowed continent wide gas fracking, coal and oil sand mining and the return of widespread oil drilling to the Gulf Coast. This large amount of fossil fuel has to be transported and sold which has caused extensive spills, explosions and confrontations with US citizens over fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline. Gas fracking is in the process of destroying the entire aquifer systems of the United States and causing widespread earthquakes. The oil spills are doing the same to the surface river run off. The giant pollution cloud over Canada and the US has sped up the Gulf Stream by three times since the 1940's. The Gulf Stream carries huge quantities of heat into the Arctic Ocean where it is destabilizing sub-sea methane hydrates releasing vast volumes of methane into the Arctic atmosphere causing catastrophic weather systems.
The United States and Canada must immediately cease all their fossil fuel extraction and go entirely onto renewable energy in the next 10 to 15 years otherwise they will be guilty of planetary ecocide - genocide by the 2050's. There must also be a world-wide effort to capture methane in the sub-sea Arctic Ocean methane hydrates in order to depressurize it and thus stop the methane eruptions and eradicate the quantities accumulating in the atmosphere.
Q: Do you have hope, Malcolm, that the human species can change its ways fast enough to do something about this or have we passed a point of no return? Besides sharing, what else do you recommend we do at this point?
A: Only a total change in the United States administration from the present, non - democratic, fossil - fuel corporation - bank controlled oligarchic system to an environmentally friendly government, bent on massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and complete replacement of all energy systems by renewable energy might cool the Gulf Stream down sufficiently to save us. The problem is the absolute greed for profit in the fossil fuel industry and capitalist system and complete addiction to oil by the consumers, combined with the complete lethargy of the general public to react to anything that does not effect them personally. I think people will only react when they are staring death in the face and then it will be too late.
We have only a short time left. Be excellent to each other as we enter this time of worldwide strife, heat and unbelievably ferocious storms. You may make a difference to someone and it will not be forgotten, if there is the other side.
Q: Malcolm, if you could choose just one website or article that could be shared that could help educate people and make a difference, what would it be?
A: 'The Arctic Atmospheric Methane Global Warming Veil'. It's Origin in the Arctic Subsea and Mantle and the Timing of the Global Terminal Extinction Events by 2040 to 2050 - A Review. By Malcolm P.R. Light, Harold Hensel and Sam Carana, June 8th, 2014.
To read another of Dr. Light's papers about methane and the role it is playing in runaway climate change, you can see it here: The Non-Disclosed Extreme Arctic Methane Threat (2013).