Showing posts with label Vostok. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vostok. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mean Methane Levels reach 1800 ppb

On May 9, the daily mean concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Mauna Loa, Hawaii, surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since measurements began in 1958. This is 120 ppm higher than pre-industrial peak levels. This unfortunate milestone was widely reported in the media.

There's another milestone that looks even more threatening than the above one. On the morning of June 16, 2013, methane levels reached an average mean of 1800 parts per billion (ppb). This is more than 1100 ppb higher than levels reached in pre-industrial times (see graph further below).
NOAA image
Vostok ice core analysis shows that temperatures and levels of carbon dioxide and methane have all moved within narrow bands while remaining in sync with each other over the past 400,000 years. Carbon dioxide moved within a band with lower and upper boundaries of respectively 200 and 280 ppm. Methane moved within lower and upper boundaries of respectively 400 and 800 ppb.
Temperatures moved within lower and upper boundaries of respectively -8 and 2 degrees Celsius.

From a historic perspective, greenhouse gas levels have risen abruptly to unprecedented levels. While already at a historic peak, humans have caused emissions of additional greenhouse gases. There's no doubt that such greenhouse gas levels will lead to huge rises in temperatures. The question is how long it will take for temperatures to catch up and rise.

Below is another way of looking at the hockey stick. And of course, further emissions could be added as well, such as nitrous oxide and soot.

Large releases of methane must have taken place numerous times in history, as evidenced by numerous pockmarks, as large as 11 km (6.8 mi) wide.

Importantly, large methane releases in the past did not result in runaway global warming for a number of reasons:
  • methane release typically took place gradually over many years, each time allowing a large release of methane to be broken down naturally over the years before another one occurred. 
  • Where high levels of methane in the atmosphere persisted and caused a lot of heat to be trapped, this heat could still be coped with due to greater presence of ice acting as a buffer and consuming the heat before it could escalate into runaway temperature rises.
Wikipedia image
Veli Albert Kallio comments:

The problem with ice cores is that if there is too sudden methane surge, then the climate warms very rapidly. This then results the glacier surfaces melting away and the ice core begins to loose regressively surface data if there is too much methane in the air.

Because of this, there has been previous occurrences of high methane, and these were instrumental to bring the ice ages ice sheets to end (Euan Nisbet's Royal Society paper). The key to this is to look at some key anomalies and devise the right experiments to test the hypothesis for methane eruptions as the period to ice ages.

Thus, the current methane melting and 1800 ppm rise is nothing new except that there are no huge Pleistocene glaciers to cool the Arctic Ocean if methane goes to overdrive this time. In fact methane may have been many times higher than that but all surface ice kept melting away and staying regressive until cold water and ice from destabilised ice sheets stopped the supply of methane (it decays fast if supply is cut and temperatures fall back rapidly when seas rose).

The Laurentide Ice Sheet alone was equivalent of 25 Greenland Ice Sheets and the Weischelian and other sheets on top of that. So, the glaciers do not act the same way as fireman to extinguish methane. Runaway global warming is now possibility if the Arctic loses its methane holding capability due to warming.

Further discussion is invited on the following points:
  • The large carbon-12 emission anomalies in East Asian historical objects that are dateable by historical knowledge. Discussion about the explanations concocted and why methane emission from permafrost soils and sea beds must be the answer; 
  • the much overlooked fact that if there were ever very highly elevated concentrations of air in the Arctic, this would induce strong melting of glaciers which then lack those surface depositions where the air were most CH4 and CO2 laden. Even moderate levels of temperature rise damaged Larsen A, Larsen B, Petermann and Ellesmere glaciers. If huge runaway outgassing came out when Beringia flipped into soil warming, then methane came out really large amounts with CO2.
  • Discussion of the experiments how to compensate for the possible lack of "time" in methane elevated periods in the ice cores by alternative experiments to obtain daily, weekly, monthly and yearly emission rates of CH4 and CO2 from the Last Glacial Maximum to the Holocene Thermal Maximum (as daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly sampling of air).

Editor's update: Methane levels go up and down with the seasons, and differ by altitude. As above post shows, mean levels reached 1800 ppb in May 2013 at 586 mb, according to MetOp-2 data. Note that IPCC AR5 gives levels of 1798 ppb in 2010 and 1803 ppb in 2011, as further discussed in later posts such as this one. Also, see historic data as supplied by NOAA below.