Showing posts with label greenhouse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label greenhouse. Show all posts

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Methane presence over Arctic Ocean continues


The image on the right, created with IPCC data, shows that methane levels have risen even stronger than levels of two other greenhouse gases, i.e. carbon doxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

Methane levels have risen strongly over the past few years, especially over the Arctic.

Previous posts at this blog have illustrated that, from early October 2013, high methane readings have shown up persistently over the depths of the Arctic Ocean.

The persistence of these readings indicates that this methane wasn't blown there from elsewhere. Furthermore, the presence of methane appears to line up closely with the fault line that crosses the Arctic Ocean and extends into Siberia and further into the Sea of Okhotsk.

The latest data show a continuation of this worrying methane presence over the Arctic Ocean.


On October 18, 2013, readings of up to 2426 ppb were recorded. As the above image shows, high peak readings have occurred over the past few months. Currently, however, high readings can be more clearly attributed to methane venting from the depths of the Arctic Ocean. On the image below, methane shows up very prominently over the Arctic Ocean.



For more background, see posts below.

Related

- The Unfolding Methane Catastrophe
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/10/unfolding-methane-catastrophe.html

- Methane hydrates
http://methane-hydrates.blogspot.com/2013/04/methane-hydrates.html

- Myths about methane hydrates
http://methane-hydrates.blogspot.com/p/myths.html



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Abrupt Climate Change

What is Abrupt Climate Change?

Abrupt climate change is defined by the IPCC as a large-scale change in the climate system that takes place over a few decades or less, persists (or is anticipated to persist) for at least a few decades, and causes substantial disruptions in human and natural systems.

Examples of components susceptible to such abrupt change are clathrate methane release, tropical and boreal forest dieback, disappearance of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, long-term drought and monsoonal circulation.

Deposits of methane clathrates below the sea floor are susceptible to destabilization via ocean warming.

Anthropogenic warming will very likely lead to enhanced methane emissions from both terrestrial and oceanic clathrates.

Above extracted from:
- Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), AR5 Workgroup 1, Technical Summary

New Finding Shows Climate Change Can Happen in a Geological Instant

The Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) is a climate shift that occurred 55 million years ago.

James Wright, Rutgers University Research News -
Morgan Schaller, James Wright, and the core sample
that helped them understand what happened
– and how fast it happened – 55 million years ago.
In a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Morgan Schaller and James Wright present their finding that climate change can and did happen abruptly, or in geological terms, instantaneously.

Following a doubling in carbon dioxide levels, the surface of the ocean turned acidic over a period of weeks or months and global temperatures rose by 5 degrees centigrade – all in the space of about 13 years.

“We’ve shown unequivocally what happens when CO2 increases dramatically – as it is now, and as it did 55 million years ago,” James Wright said.

The film below goes into more detail regarding the current situation.

New Film: Last Hours

The film “Last Hours” describes a science-based climate scenario where a tipping point to runaway climate change is triggered by massive releases of frozen methane. Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, has already started to percolate into the open seas and atmosphere from methane hydrate deposits beneath melting arctic ice, from the warming northern-hemisphere tundra, and from worldwide continental-shelf undersea methane pools.

“Last Hours” is narrated by Thom Hartmann and directed by Leila Conners. Executive Producers are George DiCaprio and Earl Katz.


For more, also watch some of Thom Hartmann’s interviews.

High Methane Levels persist over Arctic Ocean

High methane levels are prominent over the Arctic Ocean, as illustrated by the image below, covering a period from October 3, 2013, 10:54 am to October 7, 2013, 11:53 pm. The fact that methane has not been present elsewhere in such high concentrations over this period indicates that the methane wasn't carried there by the wind from elsewhere. Also, methane typically appears to move along the same latitude, due to the Coriolis effect.


The image indicates a link between seismic activity and destabilization of methane that is held in sediments under the Arctic Ocean. Methane does show up prominently along the fault line that crosses the Arctic Ocean and extends into Siberia over the Laptev Sea.

The Diagram that IPCC failed to include in AR5

The diagram below shows global warming evolving into accelerated warming in the Arctic. Feedbacks such as albedo changes and methane release speed up this process, triggering abrupt climate change and finally extinction.

The Diagram the IPCC failed to include in AR5

This threatening situation calls for an Effective and Comprehensive Climate Plan, such as depicted by the green lines of action in the image below and as further described at the ClimatePlan blog. For more background, see related posts further below.




Related posts

- Just do NOT tell them the monster exists
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/10/just-do-not-tell-them-the-monster-exists.html

- Methane Release caused by Earthquakes
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/09/methane-release-caused-by-earthquakes.html

- Climate Plan
http://climateplan.blogspot.com



Friday, September 20, 2013

A RUNAWAY GREENHOUSE EVENT

by John Davies

A linear trendline shows steady growth in the annual increase in CO2 levels, despite promises to reduce emissions.
Furthermore, recent increases show a worrying trend illustrated in the graph by a 4th order polynomial trendline. 

GROWTH RATE OF CARBON DIOXIDE IN THE ATMOSPHERE

The world is probably at the start of a runaway Greenhouse Event which will end most human life on Earth before 2040. This will occur because of a massive and rapid increase in the carbon dioxide concentration in the air which has just accelerated significantly. The increasing Greenhouse Gas concentration, the gases which cause Global Warming, will very soon cause a rapid warming of the global climate and a chaotic climate.

Immediately before the Industrial Revolution, in 1750, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air which had been stable for millennia, the main Greenhouse gas, was 280 parts per million, but in 2013 it is likely to average 395 parts per million. It has been increasing at an increasing rate since 1750.

In 1960 the carbon dioxide concentration was 315 parts per million and in the 1960’s the concentration was increasing at 0.8 parts per million per year, in the 1980’s at 1.6 parts per million and from 2003 until 2011 inclusive it rose at 2 .0 parts per year.

In 2012 it rose 2.39 parts. Between July 2012 and July 2013 atmospheric carbon dioxide increased in concentration by 3.35 parts, by far the largest 12 month increase ever.



THIS HUGE INCREASE SHOULD BE PUBLISHED EVERYWHERE WORLDWIDE NOW

ASSESSMENT

When there have been large anomalous increases in the past, though nothing like this, there has been a rapid return to near normal but this is probably slightly different. The most likely growth in the calendar year 2013 is likely to be about 2.85 parts per million, a calendar year record , but much below the growth from July 2012 until July 2013. The growth for 2012 and 2013 is likely to average out at about 2.62 parts per million, a record for a two year period.

Again, looking to the past, when there has been a rise in concentration like we will have had in 2012 and 2013 the rate of increase in concentration diminishes for a couple of years before rising again. I would expect the rise in concentration in 2014 and 2015 to average 2.55 parts per million before rising at an increasing rate thereafter assuming the world carries on with business as usual. Nevertheless this average rate is faster than we have yet witnessed except for the 2012 and 2013 period. This rate of increase is much faster than that which preceded the greatest ever wipe out of life on earth 249 million years ago.

There is a significant uncertainty about the above growth rate in the near term, with a chance of a higher and lower growth rate though the above forecast is the most likely outcome.

There must be a small chance that this is really the start of a very fast runaway event. Should the growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide in 2013 be greater than about 3.1 parts per million then the world will probably have entered a very fast runaway event.

It is even more absolutely critical that carbon dioxide concentrations from August 2013 onwards are rising at a slower rate than between July 2012 and July 2013 otherwise the world will have entered a very fast runaway Greenhouse Event. Carbon Dioxide concentrations will almost certainly be rising at a slower rate from August 2013 onwards.

The runaway greenhouse event, or a very fast runaway Greenhouse Event is probably just starting, and can only be stopped by an immediate response. The danger is that it will very rapidly run out of our control. I think the net negative feedback to greenhouse gas emissions is just starting to diminish. It is not clear whether this is because the sinks are absorbing less carbon dioxide or a form of positive feedback is starting probably a bit of both.

The rising carbon dioxide levels will probably lead to rising global temperatures from about 2015 onwards which will cause more climatic disruption, especially severe droughts, and thus more carbon emissions almost certainly before 2020.

This is going to occur at a time when the Arctic Ocean will probably become free of sea ice leading to a different set of runaway events which will coalesce with the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

This will lead to societal collapse after rising global temperatures have caused severe droughts and a global famine at some time prior to 2040, but probably much sooner in about 2020 or in the 2020’s.

IMMEDIATE ACTION IS CRUCIAL

The absolute priority is that the world’s public and politicians are told about the rapidly increasing rate of carbon dioxide concentrations in the air which will cause a runaway Greenhouse Event, both in the media and in social media. The gravity of the situation needs to be accepted and all nations agree to co-operate to solve the problem.

There needs to be a world conference at which all nations agree the grave situation that the world is facing and that urgent and drastic action is essential. They need to accept and agree that all nations will cut greenhouse gas emissions to an accepted and equal low level of emissions per person. This will mean that only nations with very small emissions per person like the Central African Republic will not need to make any emission cuts. The rate of increase in Carbon Dioxide needs to be cut to 2 parts per million per annum by 2015 onwards. The arctic needs to be cooled so that the sea ice does not all melt before the end of the Arctic Summer.

Reducing the rate of carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere will be astoundingly difficult. Emissions must be cut drastically, but this will lead to a reduction of Sulphate aerosols in the atmosphere, which might cause temperatures to rise and more carbon to be emitted from biomass as droughts become more severe. The solution is to try the relatively easy route and then use geo-engineering as necessary. This involves huge societal changes, a more egalitarian society and a smaller global economy, but if it is not done almost everybody will die.

Secondly, a group of scientists needs to be formed under the authority of the United Nations to formulate geo-engineering technologies, to go together with cuts in emissions, to reduce the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, such as planting forests, and to cool the arctic to save the arctic sea ice.

The immediate priority is to accept the gravity of the situation and that all nations and peoples will co-operate to solve the problem.

These measures will give humanity a chance of saving civilization.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

No Planet B


By Andrew Glikson
Earth and paleo-climate science, Australian National University
IPCC Reviewer

The global CO2cide 400 ppm milestone

Figure 1. Mouna Loa Month ending May 1, 2013, from:  http://keelingcurve.ucsd.edu/


Figure 2. CO2 levels over the past 800,000,000 years, from:  http://keelingcurve.ucsd.edu/

Figure 3. Mouna Loa CO2 level 29 April, 2013 keelingcurve.ucsd.edu/ 
On the 29 April, 2013, NOAA recorded a CO2 level of 399.50 ppm, while some readings in April 2013 exceeded 400 ppm (Figures 1, 2 and 3, from: http://keelingcurve.ucsd.edu/), signifying a return to atmosphere conditions of the Pliocene (5.2 – 2.6 million years ago).

This followed a rise from 394.45 ppm to 397.34 ppm (March 2012 – 2013) at a rate of 2.89 ppm per year, unprecedented in the recorded geological history of the last 65 million years (Figure 4).

Pliocene temperatures - about 2 – 3 degrees C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures, resulted in an intense hydrological cycle, ensuing in extensive rain forests, lush savannas (now occupied by deserts), small ice caps and sea levels about 25 meters higher than at present (Figure 5).

Figure 4. CO2 rise rates vs Temperature rise rates for the Cainozoic (65 Ma to the present). 

Figure 5. The Pliocene Earth compared to the modern Earth 
http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/features/199704_pliocene/page2.html
Note (1) the lower albedo in the Pliocene poles signifying the smaller
size of the ice caps and (2) the high albedo of 
the modern Sahara and
Gobi deserts signifying the a larger extent of Holocene deserts.
Life abounded during the Pliocene. However, regular river flow conditions such as allowed cultivation and along river valleys since about 7000 years ago, and temperate Mediterraneantype climates allowing extensive farming, could hardly exist under the intense hydrological cycle and heat wave conditions of the Pliocene.

Gradual to intermittent advents of Pleistocene ice ages over the last 2 million years allowed many species to adapt to changing conditions. Abrupt warming events, such as the DansgaardOeschger cycles, occurred during glacial periods (Figure 4). Extreme shifts in state of the climate exceed the rate to which many species can adapt.

The basic laws of atmospheric physics and chemistry and the behavior of past atmospheres indicate changes in the level of atmospheric greenhouse gases constitute a key parameter determining the current trend of the terrestrial climate. Concomitant rates of SO2 release, mainly from coal burning, have regulated changes in temperature.

Increases in SO2 release about 1950 and 2001 are responsible for slow-down of temperature rise (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Comparison of the rate of warming and variations in SO2 levels.
Temperature from 
GISS/NASA (http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/); SO2 levels after
http://www.atmos-chemphys.net/11/1101/2011/acp-11-1101-2011.html.
          Note the overlap between slow-down of overall 
temperature rise rates and increase in SO2 emissions
(http://www.atmos-chem-phys.net/11/1101/2011/acp-11-1101-2011.html) around 1950 and 2001. 
The current CO2 ppm/year rise rate of ~3 ppm/year surpasses any recorded since the last 65 million years of Earth history. High CO2 and temperature rises occurred about ~55 Ma ago. At that stage release of methane drove a CO2 rise of near-1800 ppm and a temperature rise of about 5 degrees C over 10,000 years, namely a rate of 0.18 ppm/year and 0.0005 degrees C/year (Zachos et al. 2008; http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v451/n7176/full/nature06588.html).

The K-T asteroid impact of 65 Ma-ago resulted in a rise of more than 2000 ppm CO2 within about 10,000 years, namely ~0.2 ppm /year. This triggered a temperature rise of about 7.5 degrees C, namely 0.00075 degrees C per year (Beerling et al. 2002 http://www.pnas.org/content/99/12/7836.full) (Figure 4). Calculations by these authors suggest a release of approximately 4500 billion tons of carbon from impacted carbonates and shale, ignited bushfires and ocean warming.

The consequences of the current rise in greenhouse gases is manifested by enhancement of the hydrological cycle, with ensuing floods and of heat waves (http://www.ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/ ; http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=ec_ctte/extreme_weather/index.htm).

Open-ended combustion of known fossil fuel reserves (Figure 7) would lead to atmospheric CO2 levels of ~800 to 1000 ppm CO2, high degree to total melting of the polar ice caps, sea level rise on the scale of tens of meters and disruption of the biosphere on a scale analogous to recorded mass extinctions (http://www.astrobio.net/interview/2553/under-a-green-sky).

Figure 7. CO2 emissions by fossil fuels (1 ppm CO2 ~ 2.12 GtC). 
Alternative estimates of reserves and potentially recoverable resources are from EIA (2011) and GAC (2011).
We are 
headed toward 800 to 1,000+ ppm, which represents the near-certain destruction of modern civilization
as we know it -- as the recent scientific literature makes chillingly clear. 

(http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/01/28/413955/james-hansen-on-cowards/). 
Carbon emissions may be self-limiting. It is likely that, before atmospheric CO2 reach 500 ppm, disruption of fossil fuel-combusting systems by extreme weather events would result in reduction of emissions. On the other hand the extent to which amplifying feedback processes (methane release from permafrost and Arctic sediments, bushfires, warming oceans) would continue to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is uncertain.

Preoccupied with short-term economic forecast, daily A$ exchange rates, share market fluctuations and, sports results, with some exceptions (http://www.theage.com.au/national/greenhouse-gases-in-new-danger-zone-20130428-2imjm.html) the accelerating rate of atmospheric CO2 seems to hardly rate a mention on the pages of the global media.

There are few signs the extreme danger the terrestrial biosphere and the oceans are driving the global community to undertake the urgent large-scale measures required to attempt to arrest current trends.

In Australia the language has changed, from “the greatest moral issue of our generation” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqZvpRjGtGM) to hit-pocket controversy over a “carbon tax”, a meningless 5 percent reduction in local emissions which overlook the export of hundreds of million tons of coal, ending up in the same atmosphere.

There is no evidence the recent IPA celebration (http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/04/05/abbottbolt-rinehart-fawn-in-the-ipa-court-of-king-murdoch/), attended by the likely next prime minister, the world’s media moguls and mining magnates, as well as an archbishop, was concerned with the future of the Earth’s climate.

In professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber’s words stated in Doha “overriding everything else the 1st Law of Humanity: Don’t kill your children!” (http://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/inshort/files/Schellnhuber-keynote-COP18-state-dinner-Doha.pdf).

There is no planet B.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

THE TRAGIC FAILURE OF THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY TO ISSUE ADEQUATE WARNING RE: THE ARCTIC TIPPING POINT EMERGENCY

by Gary Houser

"Our greatest concern is that loss of Arctic sea ice creates a grave threat of passing two other tipping points -- the potential instability of the Greenland ice sheet and methane hydrates. These latter two tipping points would have consequences that are practically irreversible on time scales of relevance to humanity." [1]  ....."We are in a planetary emergency." [2] - World renowned climate scientist Dr. James Hansen
The scientific community must be commended for its efforts to convey to the world the reality of climate disruption caused by carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. That world is now grappling with the politics of whether effective reductions can be achieved in time. But there appears to be a new danger emerging from the Arctic which threatens to accelerate such disruption beyond the reach of any meaningful control. Cutting edge researchers in the field are observing large plumes of methane rising from the shallow seabeds. [3] Others are discovering heightened levels through airborne measurement. [4]  According to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, methane is a global warming gas no less than 72 times more powerful than CO2. [5]

In the course of working on a documentary [6] on this super greenhouse gas and the frightening prospect that such is beginning to thaw and release to the atmosphere in the Arctic, the author has encountered a highly disturbing "disconnect". On the one hand, there are highly eminent scientists - such as James Hansen - warning that the situation in the Arctic could well lead to the crossing of an "irreversible tipping point". On the other hand, such warning is not finding its way into the major scientific reports which government policy makers will use to chart their response. It cannot be found in either the draft of the new IPCC report or the draft of the U.S. National Climate Assessment.

As global climate disruption begins to enter the realm of "tipping points of no return", humanity is coming face to face with a moral crisis inextricably linked to the physical crisis. Scientists are first and foremost human beings. If information is discovered that points to a real possibility that a given situation can abruptly escalate into an existential threat to human survival, there is a profound moral responsibility to issue a loud and unambiguous warning.

There are now several indicators that the factors which could generate such a threat are indeed lining up in the Arctic - such as the ice collapse and the loss of solar reflectivity that will only accelerate further Arctic warming. At this time however, other than a handful of notable exceptions, the scientific community as a whole is utterly failing to issue such warning. This essay is an attempt to grapple with what might be the systemic reasons for such failure. Although the author is not a scientist and addresses the issue from outside that frame of reference, reasons are provided for why such may be an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

The climate science community around the world is performing a tremendous service to humanity. As climate disruption continues to escalate and the threat to our society becomes more grave, its members have worked long hours - in many cases on their own time - to gather the relevant data. As only one example. documentary-related exchanges between the author and scientists working in the Arctic make clear that much personal hardship and sacrifice are being endured in order to conduct such research.

It is well known that in preparation for their work, scientists are taught to exercise great caution in reporting their findings and never stray beyond that for which there is incontrovertible evidence. Even when it appears evidence is present, it is the time-honored tradition of science to still submit any conclusions drawn from such to their peers for review.

In almost every case, this strict methodology has well served the public interest. It has filtered out errors and made solid information available to the public and policy makers. But in the arena of global climate disruption, humanity is now facing something unique and quite un-paralleled by any other issue. There is a point in the process of climate de-stabilization where colossal natural forces can be unleashed which are capable of developing their own unstoppable momentum and spiralling well beyond the reach of human control. When such occurs - the already mentioned "irreversible tipping point".

Though a term used frequently in discussions on climate, its full meaning and magnitude have rarely been taken to heart. Far too often, it is simply another "buzzword" dropped into an article and treated only in the most superficial way. Indeed, such usage seems almost to "anesthetize" us to the horrific reality it points toward. In truth, the crossing of some kinds of tipping points can lead to the crushing of our entire civilization on no less of a scale than nuclear war. The devastation can be so sweeping that the concept of "adaptation" becomes meaningless. "Irreversible" refers to the brutal fact that once humanity allows this process to become triggered, there will be no chance to go back, no chance to learn from our mistakes and correct them.

Of the several tipping point scenarios which are possible, one considered especially frightening is the prospect of triggering an abrupt and large scale methane release in the shallow seabeds along Arctic coastlines. The entire climate debate has been dominated by a discussion of humanity's contribution to the problem - which has been the emission of carbon dioxide since the beginning of the industrial age. What science has discovered is that nature has its own vast storehouse of ancient carbon trapped in the ice of the polar regions.

The scenario of most concern to methane "specialists" is what's known as the "runaway feedback" reaction. As described by Dr. Ira Leifer of the Marine Science Institute at the Univ. of Calif.: "A runaway feedback effect would be where methane comes out of the ocean into the atmosphere leading to warming, leading to warmer oceans and more methane coming out, causing an accelerated rate of warming in what one could describe as a runaway train." [7]  A cycle would be initiated which feeds upon itself and therefore becomes unstoppable.

When one looks at the history of the most devastating "wipeouts" of life on earth - such mass extinction events as the PETM or the end-Permian - it is sobering to learn that large scale release of methane has been pointed to as a "probable cause". World-renowned climate science pioneer Dr. James Hansen relates methane to the PETM extinction event:
"There have been times in the earth's history when methane hydrates on the continental shelves melted and went into the atmosphere and caused global warming of six to nine degrees Celsius, which is 10 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit." [8]
The end-Permian extinction was the most colossal mass extinction event, wiping out over 90% of the life forms on earth. According to paleontologist Michael Benton - considered by some to have written the definitive book on this event (When Life Nearly Died):
"Normally, long-term global processes act to bring greenhouse gas levels down. This kind of negative feedback keeps the Earth in equilibrium. But what happens if the release of methane is so huge and fast that normal feedback processes are overwhelmed? Then you have a "runaway greenhouse"...... As temperatures rise, species start to go extinct. Plants and plankton die off and oxygen levels plummet. This is what seems to have happened 251 million years ago." [9]
While devastation on this level is inherently difficult to grasp, one attempt to convey such is provided in the documentary "Miracle Planet". [10] Though absolute certainty on causation may not be attainable, just the possibility that our society may be triggering a force with this kind of power is mind-boggling enough.


Could anything of this unspeakable magnitude be triggered by thawing methane in the Arctic? Again Ira Leifer: "The amount of methane that’s trapped under the permafrost and in hydrates in the Arctic areas is so large that if it was rapidly released it could radically change the atmosphere in a way that would be probably unstoppable and inimicable to human life." [11]  Hansen adds: "It is difficult to imagine how the methane clathrates could survive, once the ocean has had time to warm. In that event a PETM-like warming could be added on top of the fossil fuel warming." [12]  Dr. Hansen - along with Arctic ice and methane experts - address this issue in more depth in a documentary co-produced by the author. [13]

Methane plumes rising from the seafloor
In examining the key reports being made by the scientific community - such as drafts for the new IPCC document and the National Climate Assessment (of the U.S.), one might expect there to be dire warnings about a potential "point of no return" if these forces are unleashed. We do find a discussion of the various consequences of climate disruption that are hitting right now - Arctic and glacial melt, extreme weather, more powerful hurricanes and storms, increases in drought, food shortages, wildfires, and flooding. But where is the discussion of what these symptoms of disruption are leading to? One of the most frightening spectres looming over humanity - the tipping point of a methane "runaway" - is completely ignored.

How can this be possible? Several factors may be combining. As stated earlier, scientists are trained to only make statements based on "hard evidence". In the case of a potentially abrupt methane runaway, it is not possible to pinpoint a specific moment in time when such may be initiated. It cannot be stated with certainty whether this will happen in 2017, 2027, or 2037. Without this ability to pinpoint and quantify, the response of science has been to simply not address it.

Secondly, scientists are human. All of us have great difficulty in truly facing and absorbing the full implications of a complete collapse of human society and even a wiping out of most or all life on the planet. It is human to utilize methods of psychological denial to block out such a staggeringly horrific threat to our collective existence. In this instance, scientists are no different. Unless there is "absolute proof" staring us in the face, the overwhelming tendency is to push such thoughts out of our consciousness so we can "get on with our day".

A third factor is that the current methodology for the reporting of climate science is fundamentally flawed and dysfunctional in regard to the challenge at hand. The single most important such report is that issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is based on a consensus process and an intensively time-consuming level of peer review. Under normal circumstances, such would be seen as positives. But in a situation where humanity may come under severe threat in the very near term future, these reports are essentially looking backward at where science has been for the past 7 years rather than reporting the cutting edge trend lines. A glaring example is how the IPCC completely missed on predicting the speed at which the Arctic would melt.

The tremendous danger with this situation is that by the time any kind of "absolute proof" is gathered, it will very likely be too late to stop the conditions bringing on the dreaded runaway reaction. An unspeakably terrifying process will already have been set into motion and humanity at that point will be helpless to stop it. Temperatures on earth could eventually skyrocket to a level where mass famine is initiated.
What are the potential solutions to these terrible problems? One would be procedural. A special section of such reports should be dedicated to communicating the work of those scientists whose research is on the cutting edge of dealing with potentially huge climate impacts and yet still "in progress" in terms of gathering the relevant data. For example, even though the precise timing of a methane runaway cannot be predicted, there should be a report on the trend lines and the extent to which the conditions that could bring on a runaway are manifesting. If those conditions are lining up to a considerable extent, then an appropriate warning should be issued.

A second corrective step is more related to basic philosophy and morality. At the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, representatives of the world's nations agreed to apply the precautionary principle in determining whether an action should go forward to prevent irreversible damage to the environment. Principle #15 of the Rio Declaration [14] states that:
"In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."
In a further treatment of the meaning of the precautionary principle, it has been stated that there must be
"a willingness to take action in advance of scientific proof of evidence of the need for the proposed action on the grounds that further delay will prove ultimately most costly to society and nature, and, in the longer term, selfish and unfair to future generations." [15]
A methane runaway in the Arctic more than meets the criteria of being a "threat" which can bring about "irreversible damage". Due to its potential to create an unstoppable wave of continually rising temperatures capable of initiating something as horrendous as a mass extinction event, its irreversible damage could be of the most frightening magnitude imaginable. If humanity failed to recognize this danger and allowed its occurrence, such would most certainly constitute an irreparable crime against future generations. The most fundamental tenet of human morality demands that in such a unique situation the scientific community act on the basis of the precautionary principle and issue the appropriate warning.

In his powerful book on the ethics of nuclear war, Jonathan Schell wrote: "To kill a human being is murder, but what crime is it to cancel the numberless multitude of unconceived people?" [16] In the words of the ecological ethicist David Orr: "Climate destabilization, like nuclear war, has the potential to destroy all human life on Earth and in effect 'murder the future'......... Willfully caused extinction is a crime that as yet has no name." [17]

Is it possible that the very pillar of science which has served our society so well - the uncompromising demand for incontrovertible "evidence" - has in this unprecedented current crisis become a dangerous obstruction? Is it possible that this requirement of absolute "proof" is creating a perceptual blindness that could pave the way for the most horrendous suffering in the history of civilization?

To the scientists who may read this essay, an appeal is made in the name of our collective humanity to truly confront and grapple with the meaning of the term "irreversible" and weigh the potentially horrific consequences of silence. It is no violation of scientific "objectivity" to look at trend lines and determine whether their continued trajectory might well carry our civilization over the cliff. And if this possibility is there, is there not a profound moral obligation under the precautionary principle to issue a loud and unambiguous warning to humanity?

Before arriving at an answer, the reader - and especially any member of the scientific community - is invited to view a powerful film that is simply entitled "HOME". [18] In this artistic masterpiece, images of life on earth convey beyond the reach of words the incredible magnificence of what will be lost if climate disruption is allowed to escalate into an unstoppable "wipe-out". It also describes the methane lurking in the Arctic as a "climatic time bomb". Please watch and please speak out before it is too late. As James Hansen says: "We are in a planetary emergency."

LINKS

[1] Bloomberg, August 17, 2012
[2] AFP: 'Planetary emergency' due to Arctic melt, experts warn
[3] Vast methane 'plumes' seen in Arctic ocean as ... - The Independent
[4] Danger from the deep: New climate threat as methane rises from ...
[5] www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/tssts-2-5.html
[6] [Documentary co-produced by author]: Arctic News: Arctic methane: Why the sea ice matters
[7] Interview with Leifer for documentary
[8] Interview with Hansen http://youtu.be/ACHLayfA6_4
[9] Wipeout: the end-Permian mass extinction
[10] 6 minute clip from "Miracle Planet": http://youtu.be/exfNNDExxIc
[11] Interview with Leifer for documentary
[12] Hansen's book: Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate ...
[13] Same as link at #6
[14] Rio Declaration
[15] www.dieoff.org/page31.htm
[16] The Fate of the Earth - The New York Times
[17] Thinking About the Unthinkable by David Orr We ... - Moral Ground
[18] [Link to free full film]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqxENMKaeCU

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Record levels of greenhouse gases in the Arctic

Carbon dioxide levels are at an all time high. The image below, with hourly averages, shows recent measurements that are well over 396 ppm. Formal figure for the week started April 22, 2012, is 396.61 ppm at Mauna Loa, Hawaii.


The image below shows the atmospheric increase of CO2 over 280 ppm in weekly averages of CO2 observed at Mauna Loa. The preindustrial value of 280 ppm is close to the average of CO2 between 1000 and 1800 in an ice core from Law Dome, Antarctica. For comparison with pre-industrial times the Mauna Loa weekly data have been first deseasonalized by subtracting the observed average seasonal cycle, and then subtracting 280 ppm.



The image below shows the results for carbon dioxide global monthly averages for the period 1979-2010. The axis on the left shows the radiative forcing in Watts per square meter, relative to 1750, due to carbon dioxide alone since 1979.



The situation is even worse in the Arctic, where carbon dioxide levels can reach values over 400 ppm, as illustrated by the image below showing carbon dioxide measurements at Barrow, Alaska.



Apart from carbon dioxide, there are further forcers such as methane. The image below shows methane levels at Mauna Loa, Hawaii.


Methane levels are again higher in the Arctic, as illustrated by the image below showing methane levels at Barrow, Alaska, of well over 1900 ppb.
Figures for methane on above image are monthly averages, showing recent levels well over 1900 ppb. The situation looks even more worrying when looking at hourly averages, showing measurements of up to 2500 ppb.

The fact that such high levels occur is alarming. The danger is that radiative forcing will be extremely high in summer in the Arctic, due to high levels of greenhouse gases and other emissions, which will speed up the loss of sea ice, resulting in even further warming that increases the danger that large amounts of methane will be released from hydrates and from free gas in sediments under the water.  This danger is further increased by the many feedbacks, as depicted in the Diagram of Doom.

For a more detailed description of the many feedbacks, see the Diagram of Doom.