Saturday, June 30, 2012

Earth on Fire

Two people have died in the wildfire in Colorado Springs, 347 homes have been destroyed and more than 35,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes, in the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, reports Reuters. The destruction surpassed the 257 homes destroyed recently by a large blaze north of Denver.
According the Wikipedia, the 2012 Colorado wildfires have now claimed 5 fatalities, over 600 homes have been destroyed and at least 202,425 acres have burned (i.e. 316.3 square miles or 819.2 square kilometers).
Below, a photo of the smoke cloud at Colorado Springs from the local Waldo Canyon fire, taken on June 26, 2012, by U.S. Air Force/Mike Kaplan.

An AP news update at USAtoday includes:
• Idaho: A fast-moving 1,000-acre wildfire in eastern Idaho that destroyed 66 homes and 29 outbuildings was expected to be contained Saturday. Some 1,000 residents were evacuated.
• Utah: More than 50 houses were destroyed.
• Montana: Authorities in eastern Montana ordered the evacuation of several communities Saturday as the Ash Creek Complex fires, which has burned more than 70 homes this week, consumed another 72 square miles. The blaze grew to 244 square miles overnight.
• Wyoming: A wind-driven wildfire in a sparsely populated area of southeastern Wyoming exploded from eight square miles to nearly 58 square miles in a single day, and an unknown number of structures have burned. About 200 structures were considered threatened.
NASA has released a map, an edited version of which is below, showing the intensity and scope of the heat wave in the western United States, with temperature anomalies reaching 12 degrees Celsius in the period of June 17 to 24, 2012. Colorado experienced the brunt of the heat wave and had eight large wildfires burning on June 28, 2012. Wyoming and Utah—other states that have seen unusually hot weather—together had nine wildfires burning.

NASA adds that this heat wave, like all extreme weather events, has its direct cause in a complex set of atmospheric conditions that produce short-term weather. However, weather occurs within the broader context of the climate, and there’s a high level of agreement among scientists that global warming has made it more likely that heat waves of this magnitude will occur.
The image on the right, edited from another NASA image, depicts the relative concentration of aerosols in the skies above the continental United States on June 26, 2012.
As the image below shows, the heat wave is moving east, with temperatures reaching extremely high values over much of the United States. The image, edited from, shows temperature predictions in both Celsius and Fahrenheit.

The image below, edited from NOAA, shows that temperatures are predicted to reach peaks on the East Coast of over 115 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, July 1st, 2012.

The United States isn't the only place witnessing extreme temperatures. Fires are raging in Russia, while I recently described the danger of abrupt local warming in the Arctic.
The NASA Global Fire Map below shows fires detected by satellite from June 9 to June 18, 2012.

The image below, from the Climate Emergency Institute, shows that most of the largest climate feedbacks take place at higher latitudes on the Northern Hemisphere. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When the sea ice is gone

How long do you think it will take for most sea ice in the Arctic to disappear? How much change in temperature you think this would result in? 

Below an educated guess from some of the members of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group

Professor Peter Wadhams
Peter Wadhams Sc.D., Professor of Ocean Physics
and head of the Polar Ocean Physics group at the
of Cambridge, U.K., researching effects
of global warming 
on sea ice, icebergs and oceans

My own view of what will happen is:
  1. Summer sea ice disappears, except perhaps for small multiyear remnant north of Greenland and Ellesmere Island, by 2015-16.
  2. By 2020 the ice free season lasts at least a month and by 2030 has extended to 3 months.
  3. September sea surface temperatures are already elevated by 6-7°C over continental shelves of Arctic. As shrink back continues, the newly exposed surface water over abyssal depths warms up less in a single summer (say 2-3°C) because of deeper surface water layer (150 m) than over a shelf (50 m).
  4. The 6-7°C warming over the shelves causes offshore permafrost to shrink back and vanish over about 10 years. During this time there is elevated methane emission from offshore and from onshore warming, and global warming rates increase by about 50%.
  5. Result is that bad effects forecast for end of century (4°C warming worldwide, 10°C in Arctic) actually occur by about 2060. Speed of change is catastrophic for agriculture; warfare and population crashes ensue.
  6. Late in the day, the rapidly disintegrating civilised world tries desperate technofixes for warming and resource depletion, e.g. widespread use of nuclear power (thorium cycle), geoengineering. This may work, and bring us back from the brink of destruction after heavy losses.

Paul Beckwith
Paul Beckwith, B.Eng, M.Sc. (Physics),
Ph. D. student (Climatology) and
Part-time Professor, University of Ottawa

My projections for our planet conditions when the sea-ice has all vanished year round (PIOMAS graph projects about 2024 for this; I forecast 2020 for this) are:
  • Average global temperature: 22°C (+/- 1°C)
    (rise of 6-8°C above present day value of about 15°C)
  • Average equatorial temperature: 32°C
    (rise of 2 °C above present day value of 30°C)
  • Average Arctic pole temperature: 10°C
    (rise of 30°C above present day value of -20°C)
  • Average Antarctica pole temperature: -46°C
    (rise of 4°C above present day value of -50°C)
  • Water vapor in atmosphere: higher by 50%
    (rise of 4% over last 30 years, i.e. about 1.33% rise per decade)
  • Average temperature gradient from equator to North pole: 22°C
    (decrease of 28°C versus present day value of 50°C)
  • Very weak jet streams (driven by N-S humidity gradient and weak temperature gradient as opposed to existing large temperature gradient)
- Result: very fragmented, disjointed weather systems
- Basic weather: tropical rainforest like in some regions; arid deserts in others with few regions in between

Note: This scenario would require significant emissions of methane from the Arctic. Without this methane, the scenario would still occur but would take longer. Disclaimer: Best guess and subject to rolling revisions!

Peter Carter
Dr. Peter Carter, MD, Canada

If methane is the main driver of natural end glacial warming rather than carbon dioxide, projections of global temperature increases are out by orders of magnitude.

On sea ice:
According to Tim Lenton’s opinion that 2007 was the tipping point, the start of ice free summers would begin @2015 on a new linear trajectory. As we know the trajectory is not linear, it would probably be earlier. As most of the models project possible abrupt loss, I assume it could be any year now.

Whatever the additional warming may be [because of already unavoidable committed warming], the multiple cascading Arctic positive feedback domino effect is already unstoppable except by cooling. 

Sam Carana

Already now, temperature rises and levels of greenhouse gases are higher in the Arctic than elsewhere. The prospect is that we'll lose most sea ice within a few years, resulting in a lot more sunlight to be absorbed, adding to the temperature rise in the Arctic. 

This would push up Arctic temperatures by over 10°C within a few decades, but in some places such rises could occur in a matter of years, rather than decades

Most worrying is that such intense local warming in the Arctic can cause large abrupt methane releases from sediments. This would add a lot of additional warming that would result in massive crop losses globally, threatening global fresh water supply and causing extinction at massive scale. 

Clearly, action must be taken to reduce the danger that this will eventuate.

John Nissen 

John Nissen, MA (Cantab) Natural Sciences, 
Director of Cloudworld Ltd, U.K., Chair of
Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG)
Of late, I have been basing my estimates of Arctic warming on a current rate of 1 degree per decade, doubling after sea ice collapse, and doubling again when ice is gone for five or six months of the year. Looking at PIOMAS data, I think we can safely assume 2015 for the first doubling, and around 2020 for the second doubling. This means that between 2015 and 2020, the rate would be 2°C per decade, i.e. 1°C per 5 years. After that, it would double to 4°C per decade, up to 2030. That gives 5°C warming over 15 years.

I am now wondering whether 1°C per decade is too small, since Peter says that the water has warmed 6-7°C. However 1°C per decade is already at least 5x global warming, reckoned to be at less or equal to 0.2°C per decade.

If today, there has been 0.8°C global warming temperature rise, then, by 2030, global warming will be around 1.2°C, neglecting methane and Arctic warming. If we take Flanner's higher figure of ~4 W/m2 increase, for the Northern Hemisphere, when sea ice has gone, then that is ~2 W/m2, globally. According to Hansen net the current net forcing imbalance is under 1 W/m2, producing the 0.2°C per decade, and nearly 1.0 degree global warming temperature rise by 2020. With complete loss of snow and ice, we'd only be doubling the global warming rate. Suppose we double the rate from 2020 to 2030, then the global warming temperature rise would be around 1.4°C by 2030.

A temperature rise of 1.4°C doesn't seem too bad, but then we have the disruptive effect of the Arctic warming disrupting the NH weather systems. This is already having a serious effect, so could be pretty catastrophic by 2020, let alone 2030.

Now we add in the methane, and there's more uncertainty, except things are going to be worse, and could be a lot worse, especially if that 50 Gt of methane comes out of ESAS this decade. That could send global forcing up to around 9W/m2 (averaged over 20 years?), and warming rate up to 2°C per decade, giving us over 3°C global warming temperature rise by 2030 in the worst case. So we'd be well beyond the so-called safety limit of 2°C!

I agree with Peter that some dramatic increase in methane emission is inevitable, so my conservative estimate would be an additional 400 Mt per year by 2020. This would nearly double the methane forcing by 2030, from current 1W/m2 (including indirect effects) to around 2W/m2. This would add a temperature rise of 0.1°C, taking the total from 1.4 to 1.5°C.

So my conclusion on global warming temperature rise is between 1.5°C and 3°C by 2030, while the Arctic warms at least 5°C above current temperatures. We must not go there! Geoengineering is essential!

BTW, the warming in the Arctic would guarantee collapse of the Greenland Ice Sheet this century, adding ~7 metre sea level rise and probably triggering the collapse of the WAIS adding a further 7 metres or so.

 Douglas Spence - Software Engineer,
interested party and concerned citizen 
Douglas Spence 


1. Even with the Arctic ice in the present state increasingly extreme weather is already moving us closer to a point of increasing risk to agricultural output.

2. For the last few years extreme weather has worsened year on year and since we have positive feedback processes in progress we have no reason to suppose this will do anything but accelerate rapidly.


3. I expect significant to majority sea ice loss to occur in either 2012 or 2013, and expect this to dramatically worsen the weather, causing immediate stress to global food supplies. Combined with weak economic conditions we will see stress in countries dependent on food imports or aid triggering more "Arab spring" moments in previously stable regimes. Movement of refugees will cause knock on effects in neighbouring regions.

4. Modern civilisation is fragile and dependent on global supply chains that can be disrupted both by weather and politics. We will experience an increasing incidence of problems maintaining normal operation in technologically advanced societies. There is the potential for conflict in the Arctic as new resources open up.

5. Other positive feedbacks such as methane release and forest burn off will accelerate.


6. I expect total sea ice loss will occur during summer in either 2014 or 2015. By this time I expect agricultural output to have declined to a point where food supplies are inadequate and famine and conflict are rife. Farmers will not know what to plant or when and even acquiring seed from other climatic regions may be problematic.

7. Social conditions will be comparable to the Holomodor. People will try to eat anything and everything - earthworms, insects, each other - even in some cases their own children. Nation states will fragment and reform into smaller and increasingly violent competitive groups fighting over rapidly diminishing resources. Maintaining the supply chains required for the operation of modern technology including agriculture will be largely impossible.

8. If we see widespread war before nation states fragment there is a possibility of the use of nuclear and genetically enhanced biological weaponry. Whether through war or famine the human population will be in freefall.


9. The climate will continue to worsen as more heat flows into the system and this will become the new threat to survivors as population density becomes too low to sustain conflict. Most survivors will be eliminated, leaving the human race on the brink of extinction. A majority of the planet will cease to be habitable. The deserts will greatly expand, though this will help balance the planets thermal budget. Very few people will live to see the Arctic sea ice entirely gone throughout the year or the ruined cities drowned in the rising sea.

10. Assuming the collapse is as rapid and severe as I expect – I would expect the human population to collapse below the new carrying capacity of the planet and therefore for resource pressure to lighten once a sufficient number of people die (granted with few useful resources left and uncertainty about precisely which regions would be good prospects).


Theoretically there will be some isolated and scattered areas where the climate is still habitable, resources are sufficient and some form of agriculture can be practised. If small groups of people make it to these areas, there is a theoretical chance over many generations to recover civilisation, albeit at great disadvantage.

Disaster taxa will rapidly proliferate into the empty ecosystem, leaving the return of biodiversity to occur over a few million years, bringing the sixth great mass extinction to a close.

NB Since we are at a point where weather is a key effect, allow +/- 1 year for (good/bad) luck.

Malcolm Light
Malcolm Light, PhD, University of London
Earth science consultant

If left alone the subsea Arctic methane hydrates will explosively destabilize on their own due to global warming and produce a massive Arctic wide methane “blowout” that will lead to humanity’s total extinction,  probably before the middle of this century. AIRS atmospheric methane concentration data between 2008 and 2012 (Yurganov 2012) show that the Arctic has already entered the early stages of a subsea methane “blowout” so we need to step in as soon as we can (e.g 2015) to prevent it escalating any further.

The Arctic Natural Gas Extraction, Liquefaction & Sales (ANGELS) Proposal aims to reduce the threat of large, abrupt releases of methane in the Arctic, by extracting methane from Arctic methane hydrates prone to destabilization.

After the Arctic sea ice has gone (probably around 2015) we propose that a large consortium of oil and gas companies/governments set up drilling platforms near the regions of maximum subsea methane emissions and drill a whole series of shallow directional production drill holes into the subsea subpermafost “free methane” reservoir in order to depressurize it in a controlled manner. This methane will be produced to the surface, liquefied, stored and transported on LNG tankers as a “green energy” source to all nations, totally replacing oil and coal as the major energy source. The subsea methane reserves are so large that they can supply the entire earth’s energy needs for several hundreds of years. By sufficiently depressurizing the Arctic subsea subpermafrost methane it will be possible to draw down Arctic ocean water through the old eruption sites and fracture systems and destabilize the methane hydrates in a controlled way thus shutting down the entire Arctic subsea methane blowout.

AMEG presentation, London June 16, 2012

On June 16, 2012, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) gave a presentation on the situation in the Arctic at the Campaign against Climate Change (CaCC) conference (see video below).

AMEG from Nick Breeze on Vimeo.

Below an web-copy of the AMEG flyer distributed at the conference:


EVERYTHING depends on you helping the Arctic

the Arctic is warming ever faster (1)
the sea ice volume is plummeting (2)
which prefaces a collapse in sea ice extent (3)
Arctic warming already disrupting climate,
  causing unpredictable weather for farmers
already escalating emissions of methane (5)
  from vast store in Arctic seabed (6)
and, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas (7)
  risks runaway global warming. (8)

  Demand action to pull back from the brink
Demand that governments assess the threat
from Arctic methane release, and
Demand swift action to COOL THE ARCTIC.
   FIND OUT MORE - and do your part
Join our campaign at
 Contact: AMEG chair, John Nissen 
 email with subject line: AMEG campaign
The URL to the presentation is:
For more background, see the recent Message from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) and the references below: 

1. The Arctic is warming ever faster

2. Sea ice volume is plummeting

3. which prefaces a collapse in sea ice extent

4. unpredictable weather for farmers

5. escalating emissions of methane

6. from vast store in Arctic seabed

7. methane is a potent greenhouse gas

8. runaway global warming

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How much methane is located in the Arctic?

Arctic sources of carbon have been studied by a team of researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California, United States, led by Joshuah Stolaroff. Their estimates are illustrated in the image below, showing the potential total release, next to their characteristic annual release of methane and the geographic extent for each source.
Stolaroff et al., 2012, DOI: 10.1021/es204686w 
Note: Numbers in brackets behind the figures in above table relate to references below. If you cannot view these references, click here

For comparison, the NOAA image below shows the world's carbon dioxide emissions for each year in PgC (i.e. GtC or billions of tonnes of carbon).

Annual total emissions. The bars in this figure represent carbon dioxide emissions for each year in PgC yr-1 from the specified region. The final bar, labeled 'Mean', represents the 2001-2010 average. CarbonTracker models four types of surface-to-amosphere exchange of CO2, each of which is shown in a different color: fossil fuel emissions (tan), terrestrial biosphere flux excluding fires (green), direct emissions from fires (red), and air-sea gas exchange (blue). Negative emissions indicate that the flux removes CO2 from the atmosphere, and such sinks have bars that extend below zero. The net surface exchange, computed as the sum of these four components, is shown as a thick black line. 

Clearly, if merely a fraction of the sources at the top would end up in the atmosphere, we'd be in big trouble. Some of the carbon may be released gradually in the form of carbon dioxide, but it's much worse if large amounts of methane escape abruptly into the atmosphere, given factors such as methane's high Global Warming Potential. Anyway, it should be clear that the huge size of some of these sources poses a terrifying threat.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fires are raging again across Russia

NASA satellite image, acquired April 24, 2012 
Back in April, thousands of hectares were burning when NASA captured above image of fires in a rural area north of Omsk, a city in south central Russia near the Kazakhstan border, according to the NASA report accompanying the image.

In May 6, 2012, the Voice of Russia reported some 11000 hectares (about 42.4 square miles) of forests in Siberia to be on fire.

Lena River, Siberia - Wikipedia
Earlier this month, eight Russian paratroopers died fighting a massive forest fire in southern Siberia, reports UPI.

Russia has now declared a state of emergency in several eastern regions, due to hundreds of wildfires, reports NASA.

Smoke from fires burning in Siberia can travel across the Pacific Ocean and into North America. A NASA analysis of satellite images shows that aerosols from fires took six days to reach America's shores. In certain cases they saw smoke that actually circles the globe, describes NASA.

These fires are causing a lot of emissions, including soot that can be deposited on the ice in the Arctic, resulting in more sunlight to be absorbed which will speed up the melt.

Furthermore, high temperatures in Siberia will warm up the water in rivers, causing warm water to flow into the Arctic, as illustrated by above Wikipedia image highlighting the Lena River and the August 3, 2010, satellite image below, showing warm river water heat up the Laptev Sea (degrees Celsius).

The image below was edited from a report by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, describing that the globally-averaged temperature for May 2012 marked the second warmest May since record keeping began in 1880.

NOAA image, temperature anomalies for May 2012
The image below was edited from a recent NASA report describing a total of 198 fires burning across Russia. As the inset shows, the fires on the main image are part of an area where further fires are raging.

NASA satellite image, acquired June 18, 2012
Below are two maps from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, showing temperature anomalies in Southern Russia for the week from June 10th to 16th, 2012, of over 7 degrees Celsius (12.6 degrees Fahrenheit), with temperatures in areas around the Caspian Sea reaching over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

Perhaps even more worrying than high temperatures in Southern Russia are high temperature anomalies in Northern Siberia, some of which were in the 16-18 degrees Celsius range for the week from June 10-16th, 2012 (see NOAA image below).
Satellite image June 15, 2012 from DMI -

Source: via Sam on Pinterest

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Arctic sea ice area falling rapidly

Above graph, produced by Neven Acropolis of the Arctic Sea Ice Blog from Cryosphere Today data, features in the recent post at Climate Progress, entitled: Death Spiral Watch: Arctic Sea Ice Takes A Nosedive.

As Neven adds, 2012 has over half a million of square kilometres less ice than record minimum years 2007 and 2011.

In above image, from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), Neven compares sea ice extent in March 2012 and June 2012, illustrating how much sea ice has disappeared within the past three months.

Note the difference between sea ice extent and area, as described in te NSIDC FAQ page:
A simplified way to think of extent versus area is to imagine a slice of Swiss cheese. Extent would be a measure of the edges of the slice of cheese and all of the space inside it. Area would be the measure of where there is cheese only, not including the holes. That is why if you compare extent and area in the same time period, extent is always bigger.
For more graphs, also read Neven's post ASI 2012 update 5: when graphs agree, and my earlier post Arctic sea ice volume on track to reach zero around 2015

I like to add an image that I made some time ago:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Arctic sea ice volume on track to reach zero around 2015

The image below shows recent data on Arctic sea ice volume, as calculated using the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS, Zhang and Rothrock, 2003) developed at the Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington.

As shown on the images below, by Wipneus and earlier published at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog, sea ice volume loss is on track to reach a minimum of 3000 cubic kilometers this summer.
The recent sea ice volume is in line with the exponential trend calculated by Wipneus that is pointing at zero ice volume around 2015 (image below).


Will sea ice collapse in 2014?As described in an earlier post, I believe that a trendline pointing at 2014 fits the data best (image left).

As discussed, some ice may persist close to Greenland for a few years more, since Greenland constitutes a barrier that holds the sea ice in place. Similarly, natural variability could prolong the ice longer than expected.

However, such arguments offer no reason to rule out an imminent collapse of the sea ice, since natural variability works both ways, it could bring about such a collapse either earlier or later than models indicate.

In fact, the thinner the sea ice gets, the more likely an early collapse is to occur. There is robust evidence that global warming will increase the intensity of extreme weather events, so more heavy winds and more intense storms can be expected to increasingly break up the remaining ice in future, driving the smaller parts out of the Arctic Ocean more easily. Much of the sea ice loss already occurs due to sea ice moving along the edges of Greenland into the Atlantic Ocean.

Could you think of any reason why Arctic sea ice would NOT collapse in 2014?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Methane sequestration in hydrates

Could natural gas should be regarded as "clean energy", or as a "bridge fuel" on the road to a clean energy society? This is questioned by a Cornell University study that concludes that emissions caused by natural gas can be even worse than emissions by coal and diesel oil, especially when looked at over a relatively short period (image below).

Robert Howarth et al. - Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations
Not surprisingly, many people call for a ban on drilling in the Arctic, where factors such as remoteness, low temperatures of the water, presence of sea ice, shallowness of seas, long sea currents and lack of bacteria and hydroxyl combine to further increase environmental concerns about spills, leakage and fugitive gases.

Such factors should also make drilling in the Arctic more expensive. At first glance, one would therefore think that over time, in a world shifting to genuinely clean energy such as produced by solar panels and wind turbines, such more expensive "unconventional" sources of fuel will never become economic anyway. Many were therefore caught by surprise when the Energy Department announced the completion of a "successful field trial of methane hydrate production technologies". The announcement adds that a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen was injected to promote the production of natural gas, and that ongoing analyses will be needed to determine the efficiency of simultaneous carbon dioxide storage in the reservoirs.

Indeed, there are concerns about the stability of the sequestered carbon dioxide (i.e. about possible leakage of carbon dioxide over the years), while there are also concerns about emissions caused in the process of producing this carbon dioxide in the first place. A concern voiced by Holly Moeller in a recent post is that any carbon dioxide sequestered as part of the methane extraction process will quickly be replaced through burning of the extracted methane. One should consider that methane in hydrates is highly compressed -- when taken out of the hydrate, it expands some 170 times in volume. And of course, there are also concerns about fugitive releases during capture and leakage during transport and distribution of the methane.

Ironically, environmental concerns can lead both to calls for bans on drilling and to calls for capture of methane in the Arctic. Large amounts of methane are present in undersea sediments in the Arctic. There are indications that much methane is on the verge of abrupt release any time now, due to rising temperatures worsened by the risk of hydrate destabilization due to seismic activity. Some therefore argue that drilling could risk destabilizing the hydrates. Others, on the other hand, argue that to reduce the risks of large methane releases, preemptive action is needed to remove methane from such locations.

In the ANGELS proposal methane is extracted, stored and sold as LNG, for distribution as fuel. There are a number of alternative proposals, each with their advantages and disadvantages. One alternative is to store captured methane in hydrates. Methane hydrates only remain stable within a limited range of  temperatures and pressures, i.e. between 290 and 5,076 psi (2-35 MPa). A group at the University of California - Irvine, led by Prof. Kenneth Yanda, does important research on hydrates. The group proposes to produce hydrates stabilized partly by other gases such as propane, to makes it possible for the hydrates to remain stable at a relatively low pressure of 25 psi (0.172 MPa). Hydrates can be produced that contain larger cages for other gases, as well as smaller cages for occupancy by methane. The group produced propane-methane hydrates that can be stable at temperatures of up to 288 K (14.85 degrees Celsius) and can fill up to 50% of the cages. In other words, such hydrates can store a combination of propane and methane at near ambient temperature and pressure conditions.

Further research is needed, such as into the possibility of converting methane into propane and other gases using UV light. The eventual goal could be long-term storage of such gases in the form of hydrates. In conclusion, rather than using the methane captured in the Arctic as fuel, it could be relocated to places where it can be expected to remain stored long-term, in the form of hydrates, e.g. in the deeper waters north of Alaska.

This may also lead to smart ways of sequestration of carbon removed from the atmosphere. Indeed, when considering places to sequester excess carbon, why not look at where nature stores most carbon, i.e. in hydrates? The amount of carbon stored naturally in hydrates is huge -- the 1992 image below illustrates this well, even though it's dated and estimates have changed a bit since.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The ANGELS proposal

The Arctic Natural Gas Extraction, Liquefaction & Sales (ANGELS) Proposal aims to reduce the threat of large, abrupt releases of methane in the Arctic, by extracting methane from hydrates prone to destabilization.

By Malcolm Light (author), Sam Carana (editor) and Harold Hensel (public relations)

You can view the presentation by clicking on the link below:

Project Lucy

Project Lucy is a proposal to decompose methane in the atmosphere using beamed radio frequency transmissions, possibly assisted by further technologies.

By Malcolm Light and Sam Carana

You can view the presentation by clicking on the link below:

Presentation to the Iowa City Climate Advocates Group

Presentation by Harold Hensel to the Iowa City Climate Advocates Group. This presentation is under construction and will be moved to soon.

You can view the presentation by clicking on the link below:;jsessionid=92F5E56C055A37001FA4BBA859AF8EDE.ecom405_main?sourceId=533754321803&cm_mmc=Share-_-Personal-_-Email-_-Sharee-_-Images&token=655304763507%3A256173328&_requestid=199106

Blowing Hot Air: The Methane Hydrate Delusion

Earlier posted May 10, 2012, at Science 2.0 Seeing Green. Posted with the author's permission.  
By Holly Moeller  

Last week, word came from Prudhoe Bay that sent chills through me as surely as if I’d been standing in the Alaskan North Slope drilling outpost myself. The United States Department of Energy – in collaboration with energy giant ConocoPhillips and the Japanese nationalized minerals corporation – reported success from a month-long test extraction of methane gas tucked into an icy lattice below the permafrost.

These methane hydrates – also called methane clathrates, after the particular crystalline structure of the ice matrix – are found in cold regions (like the Arctic, where low temperatures keep the permafrost soil layer frozen year-round) and off continental shelves (where pressure from a thick blanket of water stabilizes the compressed gas).

Though testing to reveal the full extent and nature of these gas deposits has only just begun, methane hydrates are already making headlines as the next big energy source.

The US Geological Survey estimates that there’s twice as much burnable carbon hiding in hydrates as in all other known fossil fuel deposits worldwide. And since methane gas burns hot and clean – giving off 33% more energy per carbon dioxide molecule emitted as petroleum, without the nasty nitrogen and sulfur oxides that come from coal – ears around the world have perked up.

In 2006, China pledged $100 million to hydrate exploration. In 2008, Japan and Canada completed a six-day test drill in the Mackenzie Basin. And now that this year’s test results are looking good, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu says that domestic gas prices could drop 30% by 2025.

As an added bonus, methane extraction traps CO2. The latest technology pumps the most notorious greenhouse gas into the ground, where it replaces methane in the ice matrix. The displaced methane is then pumped to the surface and – in the DoE’s (and, undoubtedly, ConocoPhillips’) vision – down pipelines to heat homes in the Lower 48.

Plus, argue supporters, climate change projections indicate that rising temperatures may release much of that methane anyway. If the permafrost thaws or the ocean warms, vast tracts of icy clathrates could melt, outgassing methane – which has 20 times the warming potential of CO2 – into the atmosphere, further accelerating climate change. This is one of the most feared positive feedback loops known to climate scientists.

So wouldn’t it be nice if we could turn some of that methane into carbon dioxide ahead of time?

I don’t think so.

Burning fossil fuels – oil, coal, and natural gas – put us into our tenuous climatic position in the first place. Any CO2 we sequester during methane hydrate extraction will quickly be replaced through burning of the extracted methane. And the CO2 trap is only temporary: warmer polar temperatures will free it as surely as the presently trapped methane scientists are so concerned about.

Add to this the issue of scale. Given that commercialization of methane hydrate extraction is still a political pipe dream, we’re unlikely to process any significant portion of the 320 quadrillion cubic feet of methane scattered in hydrates around the country.

Now to don our economic hats. Increased supply and decreased costs only drive up demand. Say we can, as the DoE promises, double our natural gas supply and effect dramatic price cuts by using only 1% of domestically available methane hydrates. This quick fix of another carbon-based fuel will only delay our ultimate sustainability reckoning.

Methane hydrates, no matter how vast their supply seems, are just another nonrenewable resource. A boom in gas production will add years – maybe decades – to the difficult but necessary transition to renewable energy sources. And in the meantime, we’ll be doing plenty of damage to our environment both globally – through additional greenhouse gas emissions – and locally – by drilling in sensitive ecosystems.

In the last decade, we’ve fought plenty of environmental battles over how and where to drill for oil. We’ve seen the consequences – Deepwater Horizon and the Gulf of Mexico 2010 spill, for example – of pushing our technological limits towards harder and harder to reach deposits.

And now we want to grasp at something even more risky, at mineral formations that, when destabilized, cause explosions and landslides.

I’m afraid that the laws of economics – especially in a country that will invest $6.5 million this year alone (plus an additional $5 million, pending Congressional approval) on methane hydrate recover research – will once again favor Sarah Palin’s mantra, “Drill, baby, drill.” Because as surely as methane is trapped within its lattice of ice, we’ve trapped ourselves in a spiderweb of fossil fuel dependency. Unlike methane, however, it seems even climate change can’t force us out.

Editor's notes:  
- Methane's global warming potential (GWP) is more than 130 times that of carbon dioxide over a period of ten years, as described in the post Methane in the Arctic.
- The Energy Department's announcement can be viewed at: