Saturday, September 28, 2013

Arctic Methane Monster

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released the Summary for Policymakers of Working Group I.

Sadly, the document contains little or no warning on the looming Arctic Methane Monster.

The IPCC does warn that people's emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) must be reduced to avoid dangerous temperature rises.

The IPCC does add that "accounting for warming effects of increases in non-CO2 greenhouse gases, reductions in aerosols, or the release of greenhouse gases from permafrost will also lower the cumulative CO2 emissions for a specific warming target".

Yet, the IPCC fails to warn that huge amounts of methane, contained in sediments under the Arctic Ocean, are ready for release any time.

There are no warnings about high sea surface temperatures in the Arctic Ocean. In August 2013, sea surface temperatures of over 20°C (68°F) were recorded in some areas in the Beauford Sea and up to 18°C in the Bering Strait. Even this late in the melting season (September 28, 2013), sea surface temperatures of over 12°C are still recorded close to Svalbard (image right), in an area where methane hydrates are known to have become destabilized over the past few years. There are no warnings that, wherever the sea ice retreats, sea surface temperature anomalies are coloring the Arctic Ocean scarlet red, with temperature anomalies of over 4°C all over the place (image below). No warnings that earthquakes can destabilize hydrates that have become vulnerable due to temperature rises.

This lack of warning gives the false impression that the situation could only become dangerous until after decades of further emissions.  

Indeed, the IPCC acts as if there was a carbon budget to divide among countries, whereas the reality is that there is a huge carbon debt to our children, while the situation could become catastropic any time soon. It appears that the IPCC has been trying desperately to please those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo.

In reality, the situation calls for comprehensive and effective action, such as proposed at the ClimatePlan blog.


- Just do NOT tell them the moster exists


  1. Catastrophic sudden release or more sullen smaller more numerous escape events compounding, or both; Fact is there is enough of the Methane in Clathrate starting self release and out of control it qualifies identifying Earth as in Runaway extinction event. Yet the consensus process of IPCC on the science doesn't recognize the gully washer events in history as what is happening. What's out of control is the Corporate Monster and hold money has on mankind's thinking..
    The monetary monster is out of control which is based on money not linked to Earth, health of her open systems. That needs a goodly dose of medicine in the nick of time, but I'm not sure what can now be done to undo warm water currents flowing into Arctic melting out methane clathrate ice. Or to stop earthquake increase, or through seeding of sulphate in lower stratosphere stopping veil at 30 to 47 kilometer altitude from following exponential methane increase of present anomaly trend..
    It makes one wonder what God would say about the situation and what each of us can do. Justice.

  2. The report states that CO2 has increased 40% since pre-industrial times, and methane has increased 150%.

    1. Methane levels are now more than 2.5 times their historic peak of 700 ppb. Illustrative is this image , which shows that - from a historic perspective - greenhouse gas levels have typically moved within a narrow band, but have recently risen abruptly to levels unprecedented for at least 450,000 years.

      The post associated with that image discusses that while there may be a time-lag, temperatures have historically moved up and down roughly in tandem with greenhouse gas levels. This means we're already commited to further temperature rises, i.e. even if we managed to stop the growth in greenhouse gas levels, temperatures would eventually catch up and could rise by, say, 10 degrees Celsius.

      On this, the IPCC says: "A large fraction of anthropogenic climate change resulting from CO2 emissions is irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale, except in the case of a large net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere over a sustained period."

      The IPCC further points out that, since warming is currently masked by aerosols, reducing emissions of aerosols will cause additional warming. The IPCC also warns about additional warming effects due to release of greenhouse gases from permafrost. Yet, the IPCC acts as if there was a carbon budget to divide among countries for many years to come, whereas the reality is that there is a huge carbon debt that must be acted on ASAP, as the situation could become catastropic any time soon.

  3. I see that the IPCC is to release a 2000 paper into global warming there may be hopefully some detail about the methane problem in the arctic. Has the IPCC approached people such as your selves.

    1. Hi Stuart. Some contributors to this blog (such as Professor Peter Wadhams) have taken great effort to get the IPCC report to include warnings about the situation in the Arctic, specifically rapid decline of snow and ice cover, and methane releases from the seabed of the Arctic Ocean, but it appears that the IPCC has chosen not to listen.

    2. In summary the new IPCC report is showing about the same conclusion as the old report about 4-5 years ago, with more detailed data and more scientific power. Yet the new IPCC report, though not mentioning the dire situation in the arctic is at least going in the right direction. But it isn't catching enough attention anymore. The attention they get is far from close to the last report. People are getting "used" to bad news and are distracted from consumerism, the continued noise signals coming from mass media mostly lacking substantial information and the war in syria.

      Moreover, the huge amounted dept, that the Obama is facing now, can be seen as a direct consequence of the limits of growth we are facing: The price of a barrel of oil has tripled within the last 10 years and also the price of wheat, rice and corn has risen dramatically. This is sending many economies in crisis and the governments of many countries are struggling for survival. They can't or they refuse to explain the people that there aren't simply enough resources to maintain a such high standard of living. The goverments are facing such huge challenges simultanously, the situation can easily result in more and more failed governments and growing anarchy on a worldwide scale.

      In simple words, we should all go the alps, work hard and live without luxury only from the fruit of our work and from what nature is willing to donate us, while at the same time begin to rely on some of the most useful technology and only on renewable energy to mitigate climate change. And we all should be happy to be living a simpler life!

    3. Hi Felix. I believe that growth itself isn't the problem, instead the issue is where growth should occur. I believe the key is to facilitate rapid shift to better production methods, encouraging growth in clean energy, in vegan-organic food, etc. As the post says, governments must take more comprehensive and effective action, such as discussed at the ClimatePlan blog.

    4. Paraphrasing Al Bartlett, growth destroys the environment, smart growth destroys the environment.

      Regarding the lack of methane awareness in AR5, it is necessarily a conservative document and so we can assume that the situation is worse, possibly much worse, than AR5 reports. But there is genuine disagreement within the climate science community about the level and immediacy of the methane threat, so I really wouldn't expect this kind of document to include it.

    5. Hi Mike. I prefer to remember Al Bartlett for quotes such as "Compound growth can, over time, yield enormous increases" and “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function”. While it's interesting to apply that to population size, a more pressing and immediate concern is climate change feedbacks and local warming in the Arctic.

      Sure, there are many views on the urgency to act on the methane threat. But there's no reason for the IPCC to ignore those who do recommend action. It's inexcusable that the IPCC rules out the possibility of catastrophic methane developments this century, and does so with "high confidence", acting as if there was scientific consensus behind that conclusion.

  4. The denial machine will now concentrate on "natural GAS" (fossil fuel sold as alternative/clean energy) They have shifted from Energy Independence to Export and funded more Energy Deep Fraud. They will disconnect methane from ice melting and the other weight shifting anthropogenic impacts. (Just what an Owl mentioned as she flew north to check for herself) "If the oceans turn the fish to stew, what ever will happen to me and you?" in memory of Dr Seuss

  5. Hi Sam,

    I am interested to know in how the IPCC have managed to dismiss catastrophic methane release. Is it because they rely on retrospective analysis, look at the trends and decide that there is no cause for alarm? If so have they factored the consequences of albedo loss? It seems to me that no retrospective analysis would give any indication of the effects of albedo loss, which may give quite a sudden and likely irreversible effect on ocean temperature, with quite a substantial stimulus for methane release.

    In other words where does albedo loss fit into the views of Peter Wadhams vs the IPCC?

    1. Hi araizis. Indeed, decline of snow and ice in the Arctic constitute huge albedo changes, and that's not the only thing the IPCC has chosen to ignore. Read more at the new post Just do NOT tell them the monster exists