Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Biggest Story of 2013

While the world chose to turn a blind eye, the biggest story of 2013 is the methane over the Arctic. As the year progressed, huge quantities of methane started to be released from the seabed of the Arctic Ocean.

Biggest story of 2013: Huge methane releases from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean
Very high concentrations of methane have been recorded over the Arctic Ocean over the year and the high releases are still continuing (a peak of 2399 ppb was reached on December 29, 2013, p.m.). The methane appears to originate particularly from areas along the Gakkel Ridge fault line that continues as the Laptev Sea Ridge, as discussed in earlier posts.

The Naval Research Laboratory animation below shows that sea ice extent is growing and that thinner sea ice is getting thicker, which is normal for this time of year. At the same time, the multi-meters thick ice is not increasing in extent nor in thickness. In fact, much multi-meters thick sea ice is being pushed out of the Arctic Ocean. Methane looks to be moving underneath the sea ice along exit currents and entering the atmosphere at the edges of the sea ice, where the sea ice is fractured or thin enough to allow methane to rise.

What is causing the release of this much methane?

To answer this question, let's first examine why the Arctic is warming up more rapidly than other places.

Emissions are causing albedo changes in the Arctic, while emissions from North America are - due to the Coriolis effect - moving over areas off the North American coast in the path of the Gulf Stream (see animation on the right).

These impacts constitute a second kind of warming that is hitting the Arctic particularly hard, on top of global warming.

In addition, there are feedbacks that are further accelerating warming of the Arctic, in particular:
  • Snow and ice decline is causing more sunlight to be absorbed in the Arctic (feedback #1).
  • As warming in the Arctic accelerates, a weaker Jet Stream lets warmer air move from lower latitudes into the Arctic (feedback #10).
  • A weaker Jet Stream further elevates the chance of heat waves warming up the Gulf Stream and warming up rivers that end in the Arctic Ocean (feedback #11). This feedback looks to have caused a lot of seabed warming and subsequent methane releases from the sea floor of the Arctic Ocean.  
  • The high methane concentrations are in turn further warming up the air over the Arctic (feedback #2). 
The above is depicted in the diagram below.

The diagram below shows thirteen feedbacks that are accelerating warming in the Arctic.

Hover over each kind of warming and feedback to view more details, click to go to page with further background 
Image Mapemissions cause global warmingArctic warming accelerated by soot, etc.additional warming of Gulf Stream by emissions methane releases escalatePolar vortex and jet stream weaken as Arctic warmssnow and ice decline causing less sunlight to be reflected back into spacemethane releases warm Arctic airas sea ice decline weakens vertical currents, seabed warmsStorms cause vertical mixing of wateraccelerated Arctic warming causes storms that push cold air of the Arcticextreme weather causing storms that push away sea iceextreme weather causing storms that create higher waves, breaking up the sea icestorms creating more wavy waters that absorb more sunlightextreme weather causing fires, etc.weaker polar vortex and jet stream let cold air move out of Arcticextreme weather causing warmer waterssnow and ice decline cause seismic activity that destabilizes hydratesmethane releases prevent sea ice from forming
The image below shows that global warming is hitting the polar regions particularly hard. In a large area of the Arctic Ocean, surface temperature anomalies of more than 2.5 degrees Celsius were recorded during the year 2013.

Importantly, on specific days anomalies did reach much higher values. The image below shows how a large area of the Arctic was exposed to 20+ degrees Celsius surface temperature anomalies recently.

[ click on image to enlarge ]
The NOAA map below shows where sea surface temperatures in August 2013 were warmer (red) or cooler (blue) than the 1982-2006 average.

By September 2013, surface waters around the Barents Sea Opening were about 5°F (3°C) warmer than they were in 2012. Southern Barents Sea temperatures reached 52°F (11°C), which is 9°F (5°C) warmer than the 1977-2006 average. Warm water from rivers flowing into the Arctic Ocean was highlighted in the earlier post Arctic Ocean is turning red.

The danger is that an ever warmer seabed will result in release of ever larger quantities of methane, escalating into runaway global warming.

What makes this story even bigger is that the media have largely chosen to ignore the threat that methane releases from the Arctic Ocean will escalate into to runaway global warming.

While one can read many stories in the media that global warming was supposed to somehow have 'halted', little attention was given to a recent study that points out that the commonly-used United Kingdom temperature record is actually biased and underestimates warming in certain regions, in particular the Arctic.

And while the IPCC points out that most of the additional heat associated with global warming goes into oceans (image right), the IPCC fails to highlight the vulnerability of the Arctic Ocean.

Indeed, perhaps the biggest story of the year is the question why the IPCC has decided not to warn people about the looming Arctic methane threat, ignoring the need for comprehensive and effective action such as discussed at the Climate Plan Blog.


- Ocean heat: Four Hiroshima bombs a second: how we imagine climate change

- (Three kinds of) Warming in the Arctic

  1. Albedo: snow and ice decline causing less sunlight to be reflected back into space
  2. Methane releases warm Arctic air
  3. As sea ice decline weakens vertical currents, seabed warms
  4. Storms cause vertical mixing of water
  5. Accelerated Arctic warming causes storms that push cold air of the Arctic
  6. Extreme weather causing storms that push away sea ice
  7. Extreme weather causing storms that create higher waves, breaking up the sea ice
  8. Storms creating more wavy waters that absorb more sunlight
  9. Extreme weather causing fires, etc." title="extreme weather causing fires, etc.
  10. Weaker polar vortex and jet stream let cold air move out of Arctic
  11. Extreme weather causing warmer waters
  12. Snow and ice decline cause seismic activity that destabilizes hydrates
  13. Methane releases prevent sea ice from forming


  1. http://arcticicesea.blogspot.com/2013/12/szczelinowanie-lodu-w-morzu-beauforta.html
    Fracturing of ice in the Beaufort Sea.

    1. Thanks Hubert, the images show well the extent at which fracturing is occurring.

  2. The USA is the main culprit of all the doom expected for years to come

  3. The biggest story of 2013 is as you say the disparity between lack of coverage of Earth's shift out of HZ and the reality that likely, if you believe in a presence Large in the Universe like a web vibrating including time and all manner of energy linked to all form of matter and matters.
    That the cosmos is ajar at the size of the disparity unto heaven..

    1. I need to elaborate because although what I wrote seems illogical, logic isn't effective to people but what is is emotion and full spectrum painting of not only present state of Earth danger but true potential to zoom up world prosperity and hope should proper adjustment take place fast..
      I wish I could go back in time sometimes and change the world and make it stop destroying.
      I kick myself hard for writing sometimes. But writing is like using colors of the rainbow to paint.
      Needless to say going to Denver Art Museum to see French impressionist and US Western Art had an effect on me New Years Day.. The time span of perspective and the changes to thinking represented.. The detail and the effect of the use of colors and depiction of Nature..

  4. It's not just that the IPCC hasn't warned people about the arctic warming and methane threat, it has *downplayed* it saying it is not a worry until 2100. I've not understood why this has occurred. The IPCC is usually conservative but this is beyond conservatism. It's either outright ignorance or deception on their part.

  5. During those christmas days, we were visiting friends and relatives. My wife is often starting openly a conversation about those themes. While some people are just loughing about it, my god mother and here husband were really shocked about the fact, that the arctic ice will probably be completely melted away in summer 2015.
    While I'm pleased about your thorough analysis - Sam - we must be aware, that mother earth life supporting systems are severly affected, and could enter in a state of shock when all the arctic ice is gone in 2015. It's time to pass mother earth to the ICU (intensive care unit), with all possible scientific analysis, financial and personal resources being available and immediate measures can be taken.
    Wish you a happy new year 2014! Felix

  6. Thanks all who have commented, liked, shared and send messages privately over the year. Let's all hope that 2014 will be a better year and that the situation in the Arctic will get the attention it deserves.

  7. I am wondering by how much the recent finding on a potential tripling of black carbon emissions mainly from China and India is contributing to albedo changes in the Arctic, which could be blamed on free trade in the US and a wholesale effort to offshore US industrial production in order to circumvent US environmental protection standards; worker's rights, health, and safety laws; overtime laws; Social Security and Medicare contribution laws; tax laws, and now the ACA too?

    "Black Carbon Pollution Is Two To Three Times Worse In India And China Than Previously Thought"

    By Ari Phillips on January 28, 2014 at 5:12 pm (Think Progress.org)


    "Exposure to ambient black carbon derived from a unique inventory and high-resolution model"

    Rong Wang, Shu Tao, et. al., (2014) PNAS


  8. The question you asked - "perhaps the biggest story of the year is the question why the IPCC has decided not to warn people about the looming Arctic methane threat," - i have an answer for.

    I'll provide short and full versions of the answer for readers' considerations. Beware, i am not restricting myself while writing this message, and the truth (as i know it) is blunt and unpleasant to say the very least.

    Short answer: the IPCC decided not to warn people about the looming Arctic methane threat, possibly because it is a wrong thing to warn people about it.

    Full answer: IPCC do not warn mankind, because it won't help mankind to know the truth - but exactly the opposite, it'll only worsen the situation. The key to understanding this - is knowing who are exactly now-living, modern "people". Are they all heroes who are ready to sacrifice much (or, anything) for common good? Nope. Are they all able caretakers of Gaia, capable of making wise decisions about how to prevent extinctions, improve habitats, and at least soften impacts of accelerating climate change? Nope. Hey, even best scientists we have all admit that Gaia is far beyond our complete comprehension (our as a civilization's, i mean). How can we expect Average Joe to actually do good, if even our best scientists are often puzzled whether any specific action brings more good or harm to the extremely large and complex Gaia's systems?

    Most importantly, are modern people all ABLE persons, - able to change anything truly significant even in their own lives? Nope! Most of them are what called "consumers", and _only_ that. Shaped to be so by modern education systems, fashion, various institutions, many laws, peer pressure and market forces, how couldn't they be consumers. And, nurtured by modern "conviniences", most of them do not feel the urge to know more, they do not have the curiousity of a scientist, and vast majority of them are not very bright in general - average IQ is average exactly because it is most people who has their IQ that high (applying to Earth Climate issue - "that low", should i say). Confused by campaigns of climate-change denial, tricked again and again by marketing tricks and advertisements, not sure what's true anymore - how can they know anything for sure? So you see, they are not guilty about it - after all, "civilized" world is keeping vast majority of its people in this exact state for several generations already. Nonetheless, all those billions of people (over 80% of whom have a TV nowadays, etc etc) - are one huge power, and, should they be "awaken", - i am not sure how even more destructive (to themselves as well as to Gaia) most of modern humans can become (collectively). So you see, it may well be that if they would learn the whole grim truth about consequenecs of global-scale, massive, ongoing methane release (gigaton-scale annual release for at least several decades, possibly few centuries) - they would only accelerate the agony of modern industrial civilization, and make it uglier than it would otherwise be.

    Because, naturally, if everyone knows what comes, - EVERYONE would want to make sure he/she would get through. If at all possible. But now, we honest scientists know quite well that it won't be possible for _everyone_ to get through. Not for 7+ billions people, it won't. Not even for 2 billions, if you'd like to know my opinion - i am sure about it. It might be there won't be "life support" on Earth 2050 for more than mere few hundreds millions humans, even. So you see, people would start to fight for means to stay alive. Reserves, good locations, needed and durable devices and tools, good lands, etc etc. And in a world where there are more than a dozen countries with nuclear weapons, this could create a war in compare to which World War 2 would seem like just a little warm-up...

    1. When I was young, history was taught to be one long sequence of wars between populations with ever-changing names. At school, teachers sought to drill names of faceless populations into students, in combination with names of cities where and years when battles were fought, without bothering to mention what the conflicts were about. In response, I concluded that only if all people on Earth one day would jointly face one huge enemy, they could possibly unite and combine efforts. Later, I learned that there is such a common enemy, i.e. global warming caused by emissions from fossil fuels, etc. I also learned that, for more than a century, people had been fighting wars about fossil fuel. In 2005, I believed the flooding of New Orleans would set in motion a worldwide panic that would make everyone realize that we should all reduce pollution levels. Because so few people did seem to draw that conclusion, I started writing about global warming. In early 2007, in the post Ten Dangers of Global Warming, I pointed at panic as the 10th danger. Panic is a dangerous and irrational response that can and needs to be avoided by pointing at the necessary comprehensive and effective action such as discussed at the Climate Plan blog.