Showing posts sorted by relevance for query methane plume. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query methane plume. Sort by date Show all posts

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lucy-Alamo Projects - Hydroxyl Generation and Atmospheric Methane Destruction

As you know the weather is starting to change rapidly for the worse now and I have been working on Arctic methane induced global warming for about 14 years. There are massive deposits of methane gas trapped in the undersea permafrosts in Russian waters and onland in Siberia as well and if the global warming boils of just 10% of what is there, there is enough to cause a Permian style extinction event that humanity will not survive. Some brilliant work on the Arctic methane threat has been done by a Russian scientist Natalia Shakhova and others who indicate that we are in a very perilous position, if we don't find a way of reducing the atmospheric methane and depressurizing the undersea methane to stop the massive methane eruptions there. I and some other workers have designed a radio-laser Atmospheric methane destruction system based on the early Russian radio-wave induced conversion of methane to nano-diamonds. This radio-laser system can be installed on nuclear powered boats such as the 40 Russian Arctic ice breakers and start immediate work on destroying the atmospheric methane clouds that are building up in the Arctic. An abstract about the system is attached and it has been accepted for presentation at a congress of the American Meteorological Society to be held on January 10 - 14, 2016 at New Orleans in Louisiana, U.S.A. This system should be mounted on the nuclear icebreakers and used onshore. Once the methane is brought under control there should be a reduction in the massive fire hazards, heat waves and severe storms systems that are plaguing Russia and the rest of the world.

Yours sincerely,

Malcolm P.R. Light
Earth Scientist

The Abstract follows:-
No. 275345 Lucy - Alamo Projects - Hydroxyl Generation and Atmospheric Methane Destruction.
Malcolm P.R. Light (Dr)
Retired, Cortegana, Spain

Congress of the American Meteorological Society, Wednesday 13, January, 2016

Methane formed by organisms in the water becomes trapped in the fabric of water ice crystals when it freezes and is stable below about 300 metres depth in the Arctic Ocean and on the shallow East Siberian Arctic Shelf. There are such massive methane reserves below the Arctic Ocean floor, that they represent 100 times the amount, that is required to cause a Permian style major extinction event, should the subsea Arctic methane be released into the atmosphere because of methane's giant global warming potential (100 to 1000 times CO2) over a short time period (Light and Solana, 2012 - 2014, Carana 2012 - 2014). There are also giant reservoirs of mantle methane, originally sealed in by shallow methane hydrate plugs in fractures cutting the Arctic seafloor and onshore in N. Siberia (Light, 2014, Carana 2013, Light, Hensel and Carana, 2015). The whole northern hemisphere is now covered by a thickening atmospheric methane global warming veil from Arctic methane emissions at the level of the jet streams, which is spreading southwards at about 1 km a day and already totally envelopes the United States (Figure 1). There must therefore be a world-wide effort to capture and thus depressurise the methane in the subsea and surface Arctic permafrost and eradicate the quantities accumulating in the ocean and atmosphere.

Methane produced at the surface diffuses upward and is broken down by photo dissociation (sunlight) and chemical attack by nascent oxygen and hydroxyl (Heicklen, 1967). The Lucy Project is a radio/laser system for destroying the first hydrogen bond in atmospheric methane when it forms dangerously thick global warming clouds over the Arctic (Figure 2, Light & Carana, 2012). It generates similar gas products to those normally produced by the natural destruction of methane in the atmosphere over some 15 to 20 years. Radio frequencies are used in generating nano-diamonds from methane gas in commercial applications over the entire pressure range of the atmosphere up to 50 km altitude (Figure 2, Light and Carana, 2012). Recent experiments have shown that when a test tube of seawater was illuminated by a polarized 13.56 MHZ radio beam, that flammable gases (nascent hydrogen and hydroxyls) were released at the top of the tube (, 2013). In the Arctic Ocean, polarized 13.56 MHZ radio waves will decompose atmospheric humidity, mist, fog, ocean spray and the surface of the waves themselves into nascent hydrogen and hydroxyl over the region where a massive methane torch (plume) is entering the atmosphere, so that the additional hydroxyl produced will react with the rising methane, breaking a large part of it down (Figure 2)(, 2013).

A better system could use Nd: glass heating lasers containing hexagonal neodymium which is stable below 863oC (Krupke 1986 in Lide and Frederickse, 1995). Neodymium glass lasers have extreme output parameters with peak powers near 10 to the power 14 watts when collimated and peak power densities of 10 to the power 18 watts per square cm if focused (Krupke 1986 in Lide and Frederickse, 1995). Velard (2006) states that at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, for inertial confinement nuclear fusion, "192 beams of Nd: glass - plate amplifier chains are being used in parallel clusters to generate very high energy (10 kilojoules) at a very high power (>10 power 12 watts) and at the second and third harmonics of the fundamental, with flexible pulse shapes and with sophisticated spectral and spacial on - target laser light qualities". The Nd: glass laser system is more stable and efficient than the longer wavelength CO lasers and shorter wavelength KrF lasers (Velard, 2006).

The three 13.56 MHZ radio transmitters in the Lucy Project (Figure 2) could be replaced by 3 groups of parallel lasers each forming a giant circular flash lamp. Half the Nd: glass lasers in the flash lamp could be tuned to exactly 21 million times the 13.56 MHZ methane destruction/nano-diamond formation frequency (Mitura, 1976). The adjacent alternate lasers will be tuned to a slightly different frequency exactly out of phase with the primary frequency by 13.56 MHZ.The Nd: glass lasers have a wavelength of 1052 nm equivalent to a frequency of 2.85*10 power 8 MHZ. The methane molecule requires 435 kilo-joules per mole to dislodge the first hydrogen proton and an average of 409.3 kilo - joules per mole for the other three protons (Hutchinson, 2014). Hydroxyl requires 493 kilo - joules per mole to generate it from water (Hutchinson, 2014). A set of four focused Nd; glass lasers will have an energy of about 454.5 kilo-joules per mole, and will be strong enough to dislodge the first hydrogen proton from a methane molecule. Of course this can also be achieved by increasing the number of focused lasers to six or eight. Exactly the same neodymium laser system could be shone on the sea surface, at the base of the rising methane cloud, generating hydroxyls and nascent oxygen and thus breaking down the methane. The power source for these radio transmitters/lasers in the Arctic can come from floating or coastal nuclear or gas electric power stations and the transmitters could be located on shore or on boats, submarines, oil-rigs and aircraft. We have only 1 to 5 years to get an efficient methane destruction radio-laser system designed, tested and installed (Lucy and Alamo (HAARP) projects) before the accelerating methane eruptions take us into uncontrollable runaway global warming. Humanity will then be looking at catastrophic storm systems, a fast rate of sea level rise and coastal zone flooding with its disastrous effects on world populations and global stability.


- Lucy-Alamo Projects - Hydroxyl Generation and Atmospheric Methane Destruction, by Malcolm P.R. Light (Dr) Light

- North Siberian Arctic Permafrost Methane Eruption Vents, by Malcolm P.R. Light, Harold H. Hensel and Sam Carana 

- Poster created for Geophysical Congress on methane hydrates, earthquakes and global warming, Nice, France, 2002, by Malcolm Light and Carmen Solana

Poster Presentation at American Meteorological Society's 18th Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry, January 10 - 14,...
Posted by Sam Carana on Monday, October 19, 2015

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Rebuttal: David Archer wrong to dismiss concern about potential methane runaway in Arctic

               Why This Threat Is Real and the Imperative to Exercise
               the Precautionary Principle When the Stakes Are This High  
                                    by Gary Houser

         "We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered
          methane fields of a fantastic scale - I think on a scale not seen before...... 
          This is the first time we've found continuous, powerful and impressive
          seeping structures more than 1,000 meters in diameter. It's amazing."  
              - Dr Igor Semiletov  (crew leader of Sept.-Oct. 2011 U.S.-Russian
                methane expedition in interview with the UK Independent) (1)  
In the first sentence of his Jan. 4 entry on the "Real Climate" blog (2) , David Archer links to a rebuttal I wrote to oppose Andrew Revkin's "Dot Earth" dismissal of an article in the UKIndependent about dramatic new observations of methane emissions in the Arctic (3), Archer portrayed this rebuttal as an example of someone getting people un-necessarily "worked up" about the issue. As the co-producer of a documentary which has interviewed several leading edge scientists on this topic  I have asked for space to respond. With all due respect to Archer, the result of these interactions has been a strong sense of urgency that stands in stark contrast to his dismissive stance.  
Growing Concern About Rising Arctic Temperatures and Impact on Methane -
It is acknowledged that the Arctic is the most rapidly warming region on earth. As indicators point toward a near term loss of ice cover in the Arctic (with some studies pointing toward a late summer ice-free condition as soon as 2015 (4), there is a growing concern about how amplification of Arctic temperatures will affect the massive deposits of frozen methane in the shallow seabeds of the continental shelf areas. Researchers on the "front line" in the Arctic gathering empirical evidence - such as Igor Semiletov and Natalia Shakhova - are now reporting methane plume activity on a scale not witnessed before now.  
These observations were reported in the UK Independent  and since that time have stirred up controversy as to whether humanity may be receiving a first glimpse of a situation that could escalate into one of the scenarios most feared by climate scientists - an unstoppable positive feedback known as a methane "runaway" event. This controversy has been reflected in the above-described exchange on "Dot Earth" and is now expanding to "Real Climate" and even more recently to Joe Romm's "Climate Progress". On Jan.11, Romm wrote about how the methane situation is combining with other factors to create an urgent danger in the Arctic  (5).  The twin issues of contention in this controversy have been whether the methane threat is real and whether it is imminent, therefore deserving the urgent attention of the world.   
The Big Picture Context of the Methane Controversy - 

Before launching into a discussion of those two points, it would seem useful to explore the larger context. A key question deserving exploration would be "what is at stake?"  What are the potential consequences if humanity fails to pick up on warning signs and a methane runaway event becomes unleashed?

The topic at hand is what most climate scientists would likely see as the worst case "nightmare" scenario which could lead to a total global catastrophe. We are talking about a greenhouse gas that has a full 72 times more powerful warming impact than CO2 within the first 20 years (6).  We are talking about a global stockpile that contains as much carbon as all the world's known reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas combined. If there is even a chance that significant amounts might be released into the atmosphere by an unstoppable methane "runaway",  a profound moral responsibility exists to approach the topic with utmost care and caution.  
What is a Methane "Runaway" Event? -  
The term is defined by Ira Leifer (methane researcher at the Marine Science Institute at Univ. of Calif - Santa Barbara) :
    "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)
Due to the enormous size of the methane deposits, this process would "feed" on itself in a way that humanity would most likely be helpless to stop.  
Possible Key Role of Methane in Two Mass Extinctions, Including Worst in Earth's History -
In order to ascertain what kind of potential threat methane may be in the present context, it is important to look at earlier periods on earth when methane may well have played a key role in the most devastating mass extinction events in the geological record. Although not a "lock" in terms of absolute "proof", very strong circumstantial evidence points toward a major role of methane in two of these events. One is the "End-Permian" in which severe global warming led to such extreme heat and depletion of oxygen that over 90% of life forms were wiped out. (8)  One attempt to take this association out of the abstract and make it more tangible can be seen in a nine minute segment (highly recommended) from the acclaimed documentary series "Miracle Planet"  (9)     
James Hansen relates methane to another extinction event (Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum - PETM): 
   "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." (10)
   "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.(11)   

We are clearly dealing with a destructive force of almost unimaginable power, which underlines my earlier warning that it be approached with utmost caution.  
Are the Factors Present Which Could Lead to a Runaway?   
In exercising such appropriate caution in dealing with a force of this magnitude, a logical question would be to ask whether the factors are now existent (or may soon be in the very near future) which could potentially unleash such a runaway. Here are several factors which are already present:
A) The incredible warming power of methane as a greenhouse gas (already quantified);  B) The phenomenally huge volume of methane present in the continental shelf areas of the Arctic;  C) The quite shallow depth of these seabeds, which allows direct venting to the surface and atmosphere (methane otherwise safely oxidizes in deep water);  D) Their location in the most rapidly warming region on earth, where such is accelerating due to the "albedo flip" (open water now absorbing solar heat rather than having it reflected away by ice cover) and warmer water infiltrating at the river mouths;  E) Direct observations confirming that large scale methane plumes are venting to the surface and into the atmosphere;  and F) Direct observations confirming that seabed bottom temperatures are hovering at the thaw point (12)  
20 Degree (Fahrenheit) Rise in Arctic Temperature by 2095 -
A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) projects how much temperature rise could be expected in the Arctic by the year 2095 if world governments continue on a business as usual path. Its projection is an astounding 20 degrees (F) (13).  Even more astonishing, this projection does not even consider how feedbacks could amplify this warming even further. According to study co-author Ronald Prinn:  
     "And the odds indicated by this modeling may actually understate the problem, 
      because the model does not fully incorporate other positive feedbacks that can
      occur, for example, if increased temperatures caused a large-scale melting of
      permafrost in arctic regions and subsequent release of large quantities of
      methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. Including that feedback “is just going
      to make it worse.”  (14)  
While it is not possible to pinpoint any particular time when a release of methane might hit "critical mass" and initiate the runaway, it certainly appears the necessary ingredients are present and a collision course has been set up. The question is no longer "if" but "when". With the Arctic warming so much faster than the rest of the world and arriving at such incredible temperatures within this century, it is clear that the "writing is on the wall" in terms of the future of methane in the shallow Arctic seabeds. Unless there is a major shift away from the "business as usual" scenario, it is inevitable that they will thaw and vent into the atmosphere.  
How Soon Could Late Summer Ice-Free Conditions Accelerate the Warm-up? -   
Most climate observers agree that the steady temperature climb in the Arctic will only accelerate once late summer ice-free conditions set in.  Even with such astounding projections as that by M.I.T., the situation is actually more frightening and urgent. Almost every prediction of how rapidly climate impacts will occur has been out-paced by developments in the real world. If this consistent pattern repeats in regard to loss of Arctic sea ice (as it most likely will), the threat to hydrate stability will accelerate even more quickly. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been projecting a late summer ice-free Arctic by summer 2030. But experts who say that loss of ice thickness should be factored in as well as loss of surface ice are pointing toward an ice-free condition as early as 2015 (15)   
One of the top experts on Arctic ice - Peter Wadhams of the University of Cambridge in the UK - supports the PIOMAS sea ice volume model (16).

    Wadhams is concerned that the collapse could prove to be a point of no return for the ice:
   "It is really showing the fall-off in ice volume is so fast that it is going to bring us
    to zero very quickly. 2015 is a very serious prediction and I think I am pretty 
much persuaded that's when it will happen."  (17)    
Archer Acknowledges Power of Methane and Vulnerability (especially in Arctic) -  
In a piece Archer co-authored in 2009 (18), he acknowledged both the destructive power of methane and the fragile and "intrinsically vulnerable" nature of hydrates:     
    "There are concerns that climate change could trigger significant
     methane releases from hydrates and thus could lead to strong positive
    carbon–climate feedbacks. .... Methane hydrate seems intrinsically
    vulnerable on Earth; nowhere at the Earth's surface is it stable to
    melting and release of the methane."
In this same piece, Archer affirms another key factor regarding this vulnerability:
    "Rapid warming well above the global average makes the Arctic hydrates
     particularly vulnerable to climate change."  
In his current post, he alludes to the immense scale of these methane stockpiles and continues to outline the parameters of what is at least an extremely significant potential threat: 
   "The total amount of methane as ocean hydrates is poorly constrained but
    could rival the rest of the fossil fuels combined."  
It is significant that Archer acknowledges that the potential exists for a large scale positive methane feedback to occur. Where we disagree is in our assessment of how serious and how urgent this threat is.
 Six Direct Challenges to David Archer  
1) Human Warming  *ON TOP OF*  Natural Warming -  
Having acknowledged several key reasons why methane poses at least a very large potential threat to humanity, it is difficult to comprehend why Archer would set himself up as a naysayer and discredit those who see indications that this potential might soon become a reality. One of the ways he tries to do this is to point toward the possibility of natural geothermal warming coming up from below and ask the question: how do we know the plumes are coming from new, human-created warming?  But this question severely misses the point and throws the conversation off track. If indeed there is pre-existing warming coming from below, then this is only going to combine with human-made warming from above to create an even more volatile and dangerous situation.  
If the permafrost cap is becoming perforated (as suggested by Shakhova), then the hydrates may become subject to de-stabilization from both directions.  
2)  Arctic Warming Already Approaching Methane Thaw Point in Shallow Seabeds -
Archer does not address the reports of scientists in the field who are describing how close the water temperature in the shallow seabeds is hovering near the thaw point. Igor SemiIetov - the crew leader of the recent U.S.- Russian methane expedition supported by the National Science Foundation - has been tracking the Arctic methane issue for over 15 years. In an interview for our documentary, he shared these remarkable comments on thaw points and warmer water at the surface being driven to deeper depths by increased levels of wind and wave action as the ice cover retreats:
    "When ice has gone, there are stronger winds and waves and a deeper mixing of
     water which causes the comparatively warm upper layer to mix with water at
     deeper levels. There are already studies which confirm that in some areas,
     bottom temperature in summer is 2 to 3 degrees above zero celsius (freezing).
     This means that when we determine average temperature of the year, it is
     already somewhere close to zero degrees celsius (the freezing / thaw point)......  
     As this warming spreads to a larger area, the more that shelf-based permafrost
     will thaw."   (19)     
3)  With Methane On Verge of Thawing Within Decades, How Does Archer Defend Complacency? -  
With methane-laden areas already so close to a thaw point, it becomes a critical question to determine how rapidly the temperatures in the Arctic will increase. Once the ice cover undergoes collapse, there is nothing to prevent an escalation of Arctic warming. Under the business as usual scenario, we are seeing stunning projections of how warm the Arctic could become within this century - such as the M.I.T. study. These projections create a collision course whereby currently frozen methane will inevitably thaw. Now a strong case emerges that ice loss could happen even more rapidly than originally speculated, expanding the same open water that Semiletov says is driving warm temperatures downward to the seabed. With such a prospect of a warming Arctic releasing the colossal methane deposits, how does Archer defend the case for complacency?   
I would ask him to respond to two science articles - illustrated with graphics - by Sam Carana,  a member of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) which presented a poster, distributed a brochure, and gave a presentation at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference in San Francisco. Carana explores the connection between ice loss, warming temperatures in the Arctic, and the release of methane. (20) and (21)
4) Grasping Irreversibility, Dropping Insistence on Absolute Evidence That May Come Too Late -
Archer portrays the "alarmist" crowd as predicting a runaway within the next few years. This is not true. What they are saying is that a process may be initiated which could lead to a runaway. Sam Carana speaks to this point:
   "The danger is that if relatively large amounts of methane are released abruptly into
    the atmosphere in the Arctic, they will persist for decades, triggering yet further
    temperature rises and methane releases, in a vicious cycle leading to runaway
    global warming, even if the world did manage to take the necessary steps to
    dramatically reduce emissions."  (22)   
As it is the definition of "runaway" that such a feedback will be all but impossible to stop once it starts, the only option for humanity is to act preventatively. When Archer continues the quest for some kind of absolute "smoking gun" evidence that the methane emissions now occuring are being caused by human-made warming, it seems he is having difficulty - as many of us are, including myself -  in grasping the full meaning of the concept of IRREVERSIBILITY. This quest is wrong not only for the reason shared earlier but because at the point this causal connection may well become unequivocally "proven", it is highly possible that the runaway will have already been triggered and therefore too late to stop.   
There will be no chance for a do-over here. For those who advocated complacency and were wrong, there will not be an opportunity to reverse courseWith all respect, I must ask  why make a gamble that could lead to such unspeakably tragic consequences?   The  incomparably more relevant question to ask is whether the factors may be lining up that could bring on a runaway, and what our societal response should be if they are.   
5)  Amplification and Other Consequences of Complacency  -
We are obviously in a situation where time is of the essence. There are also two other factors that come into play. Huge amounts of fossil fuel industry money are backing orchestrated efforts to discredit climate science in general and most certainly any sense of urgency. In addition, many people are struggling with a very natural form of psychological denial that blocks us from seeing how close humanity may be to oblivion.   
I have no reason at all to doubt the sincerity of Archer and believe his stance to be genuine. But when a scientist on a blog as respected as Real Climate downplays urgency, it can inadvertently be used as fodder to support both of these factors. Such a stance can be amplified by the blog universe (such as Scientific American as well as many denialist sites)  to give an impression of a "consensus" in the scientific community when this is emphatically not the case. Archer is delivering a message of complacency (what Joe Romm refers to as "pushing the snooze button" (23) )  at precisely the moment when humanity must be heightening its vigilance to avoid passing a point of no return.   
6)  The Case for Invoking the Precautionary Principle and Assigning All Resources Necessary to Confirm Whether A Runaway Situation Is Being Approached -
A methane runaway would qualify as a planetary emergency. It is the view of a growing network of concern that several factors are combining which point toward the near term potential for such to develop in the Arctic. Rather than discredit such concern, humanity would be much better served by a rigorous scientific inquiry that could confirm whether there is merit to it. Igor Semiletov, involved in cutting edge field research on methane emissions, has informed this writer that much more could be accomplished with expanded funding support.  
I call upon Archer and all Real Climate contributors to vocally support an immediate and high level escalation of research aimed toward "getting at the facts" on potential runaway - no matter where they lead.  As the stakes could not be higher, it would be unspeakably tragic if world governments failed to provide such and the situation evolved to a point where a catastrophe spun out of control.    
Preparation of Safe Geo-Engineering Options Should Humanity Need to Use Them -
The concept of geo-engineering has attracted a spectrum of opinions ranging from support to opposition and many shades in between. However, there is a fundamental reality staring in our face. If humanity waits until the point of no return is crossed and a runaway is unleashed, it will be too late to develop any such options. In the opinion of this writer, the prudent position is to work now on developing safe geo-engineering options so that there might at least be a chance to implement them should the world become convinced that a runaway is imminent.      
Perceiving a threat that Arctic ice could conceivably collapse as soon as 2013, John Nissen - chairperson of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group  (24) - offers a statement in support of urgent development of safe modes of geo-engineering :
   "The Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) has been set up for the express
    purpose of drawing the world’s attention to the danger arising from astonishingly
    rapid retreat of sea ice, accelerated warming of the Arctic and escalating methane
    emissions from the seabed, especially in the area off the Siberian coast. It is the
    methane that can produce abrupt climate change, but it is the retreat of sea ice
    that has triggered this crisis......  We are approaching a likely point of no return, 
    and therefore it is essential that emergency measures are taken to avoid passing
    this point. This involves intervention on a large scale to cool the Arctic, either
    directly or indirectly by cooling currents and rivers flowing into the Arctic. By
    definition such intervention constitutes what is called 'geoengineering', but, whereas
    geoengineering has generally been considered on a global scale to counter global
    warming rising over decades, we need geoengineering geared to cool the Arctic
    with a timescale of just months, to prevent a possible collapse in sea ice extent
    in September 2013."   
Critical Need for the Scientific Community to Speak Out More Forcefully -  
In the case of methane, we are not dealing with a dramatic image of an atomic fireball and its capacity to render immediate destruction. But extended over a longer range of time, the global devastation it would inflict would be no less sweeping. The spectre of a methane runaway is real and it is an existential threat to humanity.  
In our society, the scientific community holds a position of great respect. In order to protect scientific "objectivity", our tradition has been to separate the institution of science from the realm of public policy. I do not call upon Real Climate to violate its internal agreement and issue specific policy directives. However, I do call upon it to release a generic warning to policy makers that humanity must break out of its state of denial, recognize that the laws of physics do not operate on a political calendar, realize we are dealing with a powerful force that can spin out of control, and therefore quickly educate ourselves as to the severity of the threat. It is my hope that Real Climate - as well as the larger community of climate scientists - will rise to the occasion and show the way.    

                       Gary Houser          Co-producer and writer
                                "Sleeping Giant of the Arctic:
              Could Thawing Methane Trigger Runaway Global Warming?"  
Methane bubbles from: Sauter et al.
East Siberian Arctic Shelf map from: Sodahead
Arctic sea ice volume decline graph by Wipneus based on PIOMAS data.

(7)  Documentary interview with Leifer  , (in progress);  the crew has interviewed climate scientists Igor Semiletov and Natalia Shakhova (Internat'l Arctic Research Center / IARC at the Univ. of Alaska - Fairbanks), Ira Leifer (Marine Science Institute at Univ. of Calif.-Santa Barbara), Vladimir Romanovsky (IARC), and Katey Walter (Univ. of Alaska - Fairbanks). On geological history and extinction events, paleo-climatologists Michael Benton (Univ. of Bristol in UK, author of book When Life Nearly Died) and Andrew Glikson (Australian National Univ. in Canberra). Also in consultation with Peter Wadhams of the Univ. of Cambridge - one of the top Arctic ice experts in the UK. 
(10)  Interview segment with James Hansen:   
(11)  from Hansen's book Storms of My Grandchildren
(12)  Documentary interview with Semiletov 
(19)  Documentary interview with Semiletov 
(24)  Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) website:

Monday, September 2, 2013

North Hole

Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies

A dust storm approaches Stratford, Texas, in 1935. From: Wikipedia: Dust Bowl
During the 1930s, North America experienced a devastating drought affecting almost two-thirds of the United States as well as parts of Mexico and Canada. The period is referred to as the Dust Bowl, for its numerous dust storms.

Rapid creation of farms and use of gasoline tractors had caused erosion at massive scale.

Extensive deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains in the preceding decade had removed the natural deep-rooted vegetation that previously kept the soil in place and trapped moisture even during periods of drought and high winds.

So, when the drought came, the dust storms emerged. But what caused the drought?

A 2004 study concludes that the drought was caused by anomalous sea surface temperatures (SST) during that decade and that interactions between the atmosphere and the land surface increased its severity (see image above right with SST anomalies).

Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies in the Arctic

As the above chart shows, SST anomalies in the days of the Dust Bowl were not greater than one degree Celsius. It is in this context that the current situation in the Arctic must be seen. This year, SST anomalies of 5 degrees Celsius or more are showing up in virtually all areas in the Arctic Ocean where the sea ice has disappeared; some areas are exposed to sea surface temperature anomalies higher than 8°C (14.4°F), as discussed in the post Arctic Ocean is turning red.

High SST anomalies can change weather patterns in many places, as discussed in an earlier post on changes to the Polar Jet Stream. The world is now stumbling from one extreme weather event into another, and things look set to get worse every year.

Feedbacks in many ways make things even worse in the Arctic, as described in the post Diagram of Doom. A recent paper by Feng et al. notes that river runoff has significantly increased across the Eurasian Arctic in recent decades, resulting in increased export of young surface carbon. In addition, the paper says, climate change-induced mobilization of old permafrost carbon is well underway in the Arctic. An earlier paper already warned about coastal erosion due to the permafrost melt. In conclusion, the Arctic is hit by climate change like no other place on Earth.

North Hole

As the ice thickness map below shows, holes have appeared in the sea ice in places that once were covered by thick multi-year sea ice.

One such hole, for its proximity to the North Pole, has been aptly named the "North Hole". On the sea ice concentration map below, this hole shows up as a blue spot (i.e. zero ice).

The "Methane Catastrophe"

Why do we care? For starters, methane appears to be rising up from these holes in the sea ice, forming a cloud of high methane concentrations over the Arctic Ocean.

Perhaps this is a good occasion to again look at the methane plume over one km in diameter that appeared in the Laptev Sea end September 2011. The image is part of a paper on the unfolding "Methane Catastrophe".

Back in 2008, Shakhova et al., in the study Anomalies of methane in the atmosphere over the East Siberian shelf: Is there any sign of methane leakage from shallow shelf hydrates? considered release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage as highly possible for abrupt release at any time.

For more on the methane threat, please read the post methane hydrates or view the FAQ page.


The threat of the "Methane Catastrophe" requires action to be taken urgently, such as discussed at the Climate Plan.


• Climate Plan

• On the Cause of the 1930s Dust Bowl - by Siegfried Schubert

• Anomalies of methane in the atmosphere over the East Siberian shelf: Is there any sign of methane leakage from shallow shelf hydrates? - by Natalia Shakhova et al.

• The degradation of submarine permafrost and the destruction of hydrates on the shelf of east arctic seas as a potential cause of the “Methane Catastrophe”: some results of integrated studies in 2011 - by V. I. Sergienko et al.

• Methane hydrates

• Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Friday, August 30, 2013


by Gary Houser

by Peter Wadhams

Prof. Peter Wadhams, measuring the Arctic sea
ice's thickness with the help of a submarine
"The world is entering one of the most dangerous periods in its history. The failure of international efforts to reduce carbon emissions has led to a carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere which guarantees a serious level of global warming during coming decades, enough to compromise the life support system of the planet. On top of the carbon dioxide threat, a further greenhouse gas threat looms - the prospect of large releases of methane from offshore sediments on Arctic continental shelves. This is an outcome of the retreat of sea ice which allows coastal waters to warm up and degrade the offshore permafrost. This threat, all too clear in the photographic evidence of methane emissions obtained by US-Russian expeditions, could greatly accelerate global warming and add further enormous costs to the planet's burden. Only immediate drastic action can avert a catastrophic worsening of our climatic plight. I support this commentary by Gary Houser."

Dr. Peter Wadhams [ from his bio: Professor of Ocean Physics, Cambridge University in the UK, leads the Polar Ocean Physics group studying the effects of global warming on sea ice, icebergs and the polar oceans. This involves work in the Arctic and Antarctic from nuclear submarines, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), icebreakers, aircraft and drifting ice camps. He has been studying polar ice issues for 43 years and has led over 40 polar field expeditions. ]

Link: DAMTP Professor Peter Wadhams - University of Cambridge
Co-author of major new commentary in Nature : Cost of Arctic methane release could be 'size of global economy ...

The Severity of the Threat and the Tragic Moral Failure to Address It
by Gary Houser
{Disclaimer: The threat of climate catastrophe is not a "pretty" concept. As impacts begin to
intensify, there will be much real suffering and some photos included in this commentary
are representative of this reality and the danger forcing itself upon us. They are intended
for grown-ups, whose most important responsibility is to protect the future of their children.
Some of these images are not intended for children.}

fish skeleton on parched soil, credit: Will Sherman
“Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon - an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 billion metric tons of it.... In comparison, about 350 billion metric tons of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850.”
- from NASA news release "Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic? [1]

“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.”
- ecological ethicist David Orr [2]

“It's not clear that civilization could survive that extreme of a climate change.”
- world renowned climate scientist James Hansen, referring to the radical increase in global warming that would result from a major release of super greenhouse gas methane [3]


All who might dismiss this title as “exaggeration” and the opening photo as “alarmism” owe it to their children and grandchildren and the future of humanity to read on. Large scale thawing and release of previously frozen methane gas has wiped out great swaths of life before and is quite capable of doing so again. Warming from carbon emissions is now unleashing Arctic deposits of this super greenhouse gas - an awesome and truly frightening force - and threatens to initiate a chain reaction that could well be unstoppable once started.

This commentary does not dwell on “doomsday” rhetoric. But humanity is teetering much closer to oblivion than what has been “getting through” in the shallow coverage offered by mass media, and there is a moral imperative to issue a warning. Mass extinction - especially self-imposed - is not a “pretty” concept and the use of a few graphic images is necessary to both convey a reality that may be forcing itself upon us and to penetrate the shield of denial. The voices of scientists pressing on this front deserve to be amplified. Their observations and concerns are presented to the reader, who is invited to evaluate whether any “alarm” is justified. Humanity is standing on the very edge of a cliff, and if we fall off it will be a one way ticket to Hell.

Despite the looming shadow cast by this danger, it has yet to make its way into public consciousness. Even the world-wide environmental movement has continued to focus on human-generated emission of global warming gases and has not grasped the dire implications of the accelerated catastrophe which could ensue if nature's own stockpile becomes activated - an immense storehouse containing far more carbon than humans have generated since the onset of the industrial age. Though the sweeping scale of this existential threat combined with its potential irreversibility - once triggered - may be leading to psychological denial, the reality of the danger compels humanity to take all precaution and spare no expense in both understanding and reducing it. Yet the response so far points to an unspeakably tragic moral collapse. Every single segment of our society that should be either sounding the alarm or taking definitive action to prevent this global catastrophe is presently looking the other way. This commentary examines such failure in Part Two, but first explores the nature and magnitude of the danger itself.

Geological Record Points to the Destructive Power of Methane -
Although carbon dioxide persists much longer in the atmosphere, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that methane is a full 72 times more powerful during its first 20 years. [4] It is the prevailing view of the scientific community that earlier major releases of this gas resulted in the most catastrophic wipe-outs of life in planetary history. Two critically important British documentaries explore the scientific inquiry linking methane to both the Permian [5] and PETM [6] mass extinction events.

Volcanic eruption: Mount Pinatubo (1991)
Etched into ancient layers of rock is the record of the Permian extinction event - the most complete decimation of life known to science. Searches for fossilized clues of living organisms reveal a stunningly empty slate. [7] It is believed that a staggering 90% of the life forms on earth simply disappeared. Scientific opinion - also based on the geologic record - is that a tremendous series of volcanic eruptions in Siberia released enough carbon dioxide to drive earth's temperature up five degrees C (centigrade). This radical increase then warmed the world's oceans enough to thaw previously frozen methane. Evidence points to the heat from this super global warming gas driving temperatures up another five degrees C and causing the horrific wipe-out.

How Severe is the Current Threat?
Numerous, quite authoritative and politically neutral sources (such as the World Bank and the International Energy Agency (IEA) are now in agreement that if global carbon emissions are not dramatically reduced very quickly, the planet will be seeing temperature increases of five degrees C or more by the latter part of this century. [8] Such a human-generated increase could very well take the place of the volcanic eruptions in Siberia, and could set the stage for a potential mass release of ancient methane.

How the Arctic Is Playing a Key Role -
The vastness of the carbon deposit which could be released from the Arctic is mind-boggling, dwarfing the total thus far generated by humans. Nowhere on earth are temperatures rising as quickly. NASA describes the role of the Arctic in driving climate disruption: "The Arctic is critical to understanding global climate. Climate change is already happening in the Arctic, faster than its ecosystems can adapt. Looking at the Arctic is like looking at the canary in the coal mine for the entire Earth system." [9]

Arctic ice, August 19, 2007, by Ash from Flicker
Last year, Arctic ice coverage was reduced to its lowest level in recorded history. Even worse, this massive meltdown appears to be developing an unstoppable momentum through what scientists are calling a “death spiral” - where open water caused by accelerated melting is now absorbing additional solar heat and setting into motion even more melting. [10]

Methane plumes rising from the seafloor
Ira Leifer - methane specialist at the Univ. of California and co-author of a paper describing evidence that Arctic methane is venting into the atmosphere [11] - describes the unique factor represented by the shallow seas in that region:
“The East Siberian Arctic Shelf is vast and shallow..... Methane in a shallow sea can make its way to the atmosphere without dissolving significantly and being eaten by microbes.......These vast methane hydrate deposits are a risk and a great concern because as the oceans warm, they will release their methane and it will make its way to the atmosphere.” [12]
Super Greenhouse Gas Beginning to Thaw and Vent to Atmosphere -
Researchers in the field are now bringing back eyewitness reports of plumes of methane bubbles rising to the surface on a scale they have never seen before. Igor Semiletov - who has pursued this issue for 15 years - reported astonishment regarding the observations made during a joint U.S.-Soviet expedition to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) in 2011:
“We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale - I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometer or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere - the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal.” [13]
In an ominous paper based on the findings of that expedition, Russian scientists elaborated further on the unprecedented nature of the observed plumes:
"In some oceanographic sections, a number of plumes over 100 meters in diameter were joined into a multirooted enormous plume over 1000 meters in diameter which exceeds greatly the dimensions of plumes registered formerly in the Sea of Okhotsk and in other areas of the World Ocean where the typical plume diameter usually varied from a few meters to tens of meters." [14] 
This unsettling scale of plume activity is reflected in the following chart:
From: The Degradation of Submarine Permafrost and the Destruction of Hydrates on the Shelf of East Arctic Seas as a Potential
Cause of the “Methane Catastrophe”: Some Results of Integrated Studies in 2011, V. I. Sergienko et al., in Oceanology (Sept. 2012)
NASA has conducted measurements of methane over the Arctic Sea via airplane. According to researcher Eric Kort:
“When we flew over areas were the sea ice had melted, or where there were cracks in the ice, we saw the methane level increase...... Our observations really point to the ocean surface as the source, which was not what we had expected.....The association with sea ice makes this methane source likely to be sensitive to changing Arctic ice cover and dynamics, providing an unrecognized feedback process in the global atmosphere-climate system.” [15]
Methane Emissions from Seabeds Paralleled by Land-Based Permafrost Releasing Carbon -
Observations of increased methane emitting from the shallow Arctic seabeds are being mirrored by similar observations on land. The rate at which previously frozen carbon is releasing from land permafrost is now accelerating :
“Thawing permafrost is emitting more climate-heating carbon faster than previously realized. Scientists have now learned that when the ancient carbon locked in the ice thaws and is exposed to sunlight, it turns into carbon dioxide 40 percent faster. 'This really changes the trajectory of the debate over when and how much carbon will be released as permafrost thaws due to ever warmer temperatures in the Arctic.” [16]
From: NOAA 2012 RUSALCA Expedition, RAS-NOAA. Wrangel Island, Alaska in early morning (Photo credit: Kate Stafford)
From the same NASA news release mentioned above:
“What they're finding, Miller said, is both amazing and potentially troubling. "Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we've measured have been large, and we're seeing very different patterns from what models suggest. We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze.” [17]
A major report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) summarizes this parallel situation:
“According to the report, Arctic and alpine air temperatures are expected to increase at roughly twice the global rate, and climate projections indicate substantial loss of permafrost by 2100. A global temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius means a 6 degrees Celsius increase in the Arctic, resulting in an irreversible loss of anywhere between 30 to 85 percent of near-surface permafrost.” [18]
Ground-breaking Study Quantifies Global Damage That Could Result from Major Methane Release -
Authoritative science journal Nature recently published an article describing the staggering economic impact that would be caused by a major release of methane. Top British ice scientist Peter Wadhams collaborated with economic modelers to apply to Arctic methane the same modeling used in the highly respected Stern Report to quantify the damage to the world economy which would result from human-generated greenhouse gases. They issue a stunning warning that the damage could be comparable to the total value of the entire global economy last year:
“We calculate that the costs of a melting Arctic will be huge, because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems such as oceans and the climate. The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion in the absence of mitigating action - a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion).” [19]
How Close Are We to a Major Release?
It is not possible to predict precisely when such a line could be crossed. But Arctic scientists are indeed reporting that the conditions necessary for such a “breakout” are now in fact lining up. These include a vast storehouse of frozen methane, shallow seas that allow the gas to reach the surface, a massive loss of ice that only seems destined to accelerate, and rapid warming of temperature. Shallow seas also warm faster than deep ocean. Not only is the Arctic the most rapidly warming region on earth, but the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is the most rapidly warming segment of that region. According to Natalia Shakhova of the Russian team:"Observed warming on the ESAS (March-April-May)..... is the strongest in the entire Arctic and the region is now 5°C warmer compared with average springtime temperature registered during the 20th century." [20]

This level of radical warming is already approaching that generated by the volcanic eruptions preceding the Permian mass extinction. The fact that major concern is increasing is reflected in the striking development that no less than 21 Russian scientists all agreed that circumstances were approaching a point when the words "potential catastrophe" should even be included in the title of their paper: "The Degradation of Submarine Permafrost and the Destruction of Hydrates on the Shelf of East Arctic Seas as a Potential Cause of the 'Methane Catastrophe' ." Here is what they say in the paper itself:
"Under the conditions of the observed abnormal warming of the East Siberian shelf, the acceleration of thawing of the upper layer of submarine permafrost and an increase of bottom erosion are inevitable ...... The emission of methane in several areas of the ESS is massive to the extent that growth in the methane concentrations in the atmosphere to values capable of causing a considerable and even catastrophic warming on the Earth is possible." [21]

When one looks at the history of extremely careful and cautious use of language by the Russian research teams, this escalation in terminology is even more remarkable.

When such conditions are forming and carry consequences that could bring down our civilization, it is clear that humanity is already entering into an emergency state. In his article “Methane Hydrates: A Volatile Time Bomb in the Arctic”, Australian climate scientist Carlos Duarte states the following :
“Even moderate (a few degrees C) warming of the overlying waters may change the state of methane from hydrates to methane gas, which would be released to the atmosphere......If the state shift is abrupt it may lead to a massive release ....which could cause a climatic jump several-fold greater than the accumulated effect of anthropogenic activity.” [22]
According to the world-renowned climate expert who has done more than any other to alert world attention to the crisis - James Hansen:
“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.” [23]
“We are in a planetary emergency.” [24]
Runaway Methane Feedback: The End of Life as We Know It? -
A large methane release would in itself be a catastrophic event - as described in the Nature article. But the threat from methane could yet escalate to another level of existential nightmare. Ira Leifer comments on what is called a “runaway feedback”:
“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..... 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 probably be unstoppable and inimicable to human life." [25]
Death at the Dambas, Arbajahan, Kenya (2006). Part image, photo credit: Brendan Cox / Oxfam
The British expert with over 30 years of experience studying Arctic ice issues - Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University - was asked by the author to respond to the question “Are there any natural “brakes” in the Arctic ecosystem that would prevent a large methane release from escalating into an unstoppable runaway reaction?” His response:
“There are no brakes. The methane release itself results as a positive feedback from another warming-generated process, the retreat of summer sea ice. So we have global warming causing summer sea ice retreat causing offshore permafrost thawing causing methane release causing a big instant warming boost causing endless other positive feedbacks.” [26]
Several cutting edge observations by scientists are presented in a documentary co-produced by this writer (available free on YouTube [27] ), featuring the immensely respected James Hansen. In reference to the radical temperature increase that would be caused by a major release of methane, Hansen warns that “it's not clear that civilization could survive that extreme of a climate change.” [28]

Time is running out - by Louis Afonso
Rising sea levels will indeed flood many of the coastal cities of the world and their residents will be confronted with great chaos and strife. Their populations will be forced to migrate inland, but that in itself does not represent a collapse of civilization. The kind of radical heat brought on by a major methane release will not permit any escape. Life cannot be sustained without adequate food and water, yet such capacity would be severely impacted.

Time is not on our side. If human society does not recognize the danger and take concerted action to prevent it, colossal natural forces are simply going to run their course. Circumstances would disintegrate in a manner that humanity could no longer control. Yet in the precious time we have to act before such a point is reached, our society is utterly failing to do so. In Part Two, a hard look is taken at this failure at many levels - in the hope that such can be reversed before time runs out.

  1.  Is Arctic Permafrost the "Sleeping Giant" of Climate Change? - NASA ...
  2. Thinking About the Unthinkable by David Orr We ... - Moral Ground
  3. James Hansen - Humanity Cannot "Adapt" - YouTube
    (brief clip from interview for documentary "Arctic Methane: Why the Sea Ice Matters")
  4. Global-warming potential - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  5. "The Day Earth Nearly Died" (BBC documentary) :
  6. The Day The Oceans Boiled (VARIOUS SEGMENTS) Part 3 - YouTube
    (9 minute clip from UK Channel 4 documentary)
  7. Permian-Triassic Extinction
    (video: two minute overview by PBS)
  8. (A) An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How ...(Summary of over 60 studies)
    (B) IEA's Bombshell Warning: We're Headed Toward 11°F Global ...
    (C) Shocking World Bank Climate Report: 'A 4°C [7°F] World Can, And ...
  9. Is Arctic Permafrost the "Sleeping Giant" of Climate Change? - NASA ...
  10. Arctic Sea Ice: The Death Spiral Continues | ThinkProgress
  11. Geochemical and geophysical evidence of methane release over ...
    Extensive Methane Venting to the Atmosphere from ... - Science - National Science Foundation (NSF) News - Methane ... (National Science Foundation press release)
  12. Interview for documentary "ARCTIC METHANE: Why the Sea Ice Matters"
  13. Vast methane 'plumes' seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats ...
  14. The Degradation of Submarine Permafrost and the Destruction of Hydrates on the Shelf of East Arctic Seas as a Potential Cause of the “Methane Catastrophe”: Some Results of Integrated Studies in 2011, V. I. Sergienko et al., in Oceanology (Sept. 2012)
  15. Danger from the deep: New climate threat as methane rises from ...
  16. IPS – Thawing Permafrost May Be “Huge Factor” in Global Warming ..
  17. Is Arctic Permafrost the "Sleeping Giant" of Climate Change? - NASA ...
  18. NSIDC Press Room: Press Release: UNEP report urges ...
  19. Climate science: Vast costs of Arctic change : Nature : Nature ... and
    Methane meltdown: The Arctic timebomb that ... - The Independent
  20. Natalia Shakhova powerpoint at Washington DC conference:
  21. The Degradation of Submarine Permafrost and the Destruction of Hydrates on the Shelf of East Arctic Seas as a Potential Cause of the “Methane Catastrophe”: Some Results of Integrated Studies in 2011, V. I. Sergienko et al., in Oceanology (Sept. 2012)
  22. Methane hydrates: a volatile time bomb in the Arctic
  23. Bloomberg, August 17, 2012
  24. AFP: 'Planetary emergency' due to Arctic melt, experts warn
  25. Interview for documentary "ARCTIC METHANE: Why the Sea Ice Matters"
  26. Email exchange with the author
  27. Documentary "ARCTIC METHANE: Why the Sea Ice Matters"
  28. James Hansen - Humanity Cannot "Adapt" - YouTube
    (brief clip from interview for documentary "Arctic Methane: Why the Sea Ice Matters")


1946 famine in China
The Barriers Blocking Adequate Warning and Understanding -
The impact of climate disruption on humanity has been called an "inconvenient truth". It has been described as causing extreme weather, giant storms, record flooding, expanded drought, and rampant wild fires. But all such descriptions utterly fail to convey the full scope of the horrendous wipe-out now looming over us all. "Connecting the dots" reveals a threat of such sweeping magnitude to our entire future existence that it is very difficult to accept into our consciousness. A psychological defense mechanism within us all drives an extremely potent internal barrier.

Chief among the external barriers is the inordinate power of the fossil fuel industry. Our government - which is supposed to act in defense of the public interest - is not taking strong enough action because of the influence wielded by the wealthiest corporations on earth. It is no secret that the right wing extremist Tea Party was bankrolled by this industry in order to push the Republican stance into an obstructionist position on climate. It has also placed massive funding behind a widespread media blitz attacking the credibility of the science community. The strong pre-existing inclination toward denial has only been exacerbated by the disinformation campaign of the carbon pollution profiteers. But the failure to provide warning is more insidious when it can be observed even among those elements of society one would assume are tasked with this responsibility.

The Failure of Mass Media -
The U.S. mass media in particular has failed to move beyond superficial slogans and engage in a penetrating investigation into the depth of the climate crisis. To not even raise the climate issue during the presidential campaign was outrageous and indefensible. Investigative reporters should be intensively pursuing the Arctic methane story and bringing it to the attention of the prime time news outlets. They are not.

One of the greatest challenges regarding the climate emergency is that public consciousness must shift BEFORE a tipping point is reached whereby it is no longer possible to reverse course. If this shift fails to happen in time, humanity would likely be placed in a helpless position. One of the great benefits offered by the video medium is that a fictional event can be so vividly simulated on screen as to make the viewer feel like he or she is truly "experiencing" it. In 1983, there was a major television event called "The Day After". In prime time, heavily publicized in advance, and using well known "Hollywood" actors, a national TV audience of over 100 million "experienced" the horror that would be entailed in a nuclear holocaust. [1]

The nation's leading policymakers - including even the president - were profoundly affected. In former President Reagan's autobiography, he wrote that the film was "very effective and left me greatly depressed," and that it actually changed his mind about the prevailing policy on nuclear war. [2] Many give credit to that "experience" as being the turning point when public opinion turned solidly against the continuation of the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Four years after the broadcast, a nuclear treaty was signed with the Soviet Union. A brief clip from that film serves as an example of the power of the video medium to simulate disaster: [3]

Nagasaki, Japonia, 9 august 1945
This time the threat is not from the immediate destruction of an atomic fireball but rather a slow motion holocaust - a gradual but inexorable decimation of the conditions for life on this planet. Gathering force step by step, it would be even more insidious as the momentum would build until the inescapable trap is finally sprung.

Climate breakdown is not quite as "black and white" as a nuclear explosion, but with good preparation and script-writing it can be portrayed. The TV networks could be developing a film comparable to "The Day After". They could be dedicating comparable resources to another major television event with the goal of making a global climate catastrophe more tangible and more "real" to another large national audience. They are not.

How the Scientific Community Is Falling Short -
The scientific community of course deserves much credit for the huge amount of research and education it has provided on climate. But so much institutional attention has been focused on the issue of human-generated global warming (from carbon dioxide emissions), that it has been extremely slow to make the shift toward recognizing the tremendous threat presented by the vast stockpile of nature's own greenhouse gases being stored in the polar regions.

There is also a structural reason that the scientific community is failing to communicate to policymakers how dire our situation has actually become. The primary documents produced by the world's scientists which are supposed to guide government policy decisions are the periodic reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But these reports are being compromised by two severe problems. One is the very slow and un-necessarily cumbersome internal process by which new scientific information is incorporated. There can be a three year lag time before cutting edge science is integrated into mainstream literature.

A classic example is the tremendous threat from thawing Arctic permafrost (both sea-based and land-based). As most major revelations have come within the last three years, initial drafts indicate that the new IPCC report - due to be released later this year - is not even going to address this issue in any meaningful way. Some Arctic scientists are speaking up for its inclusion, as reflected in a document prepared for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP):
"The potential hazards of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from warming permafrost are not included in current climate-prediction models. 'This report seeks to communicate to climate treaty negotiators, policy makers, and the general public the implications of continuing to ignore the challenges of warming permafrost,' said U.N. Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.....'Anthropogenic emissions targets in the climate change treaty need to account for these emissions or we risk overshooting the 2 degrees Celsius maximum warming target,' Schaefer added." [4]
IPCC meeting
At a time of approaching tipping points, such lag time is exceedingly dangerous. Making matters even worse is the second major structural problem. Government political entities have actually been given the power to review and "approve" the science that is released to policymakers and the public. This has created an opening for vested interests to pressure their governments to refrain from language conveying urgency, often resulting in excessively watered down statements and overly conservative predictions. Another classic example: The IPCC projected that the all-important Arctic ice collapse would not occur until the year 2100, and yet such is already pressing upon us.

British climate feedback expert David Wasdell decries what he calls a "grossly inappropriate" process:
The initial language of an IPCC report "has to be passed through a conference of the agencies of the governments, and if they don't like it because it affects their particular country .... they will veto it. So what comes out - particularly in the Summary for Policymakers - is that which is 'acceptable' ...... from science that is about six years out of date, and that becomes the basis for negotiation and decision-making. It is grossly inappropriate....... There are many pressures ..... not least the enormous profits that continue to be made from fossil fuels."
A critically important and eloquent critique of the IPCC process is available in a video interview with Wasdell. [5]

A stunning real-life example of such suppression of science occurred during preparation of the last report in 2007. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. actually removed language calling for emission reduction:
"Some sections of a grim scientific assessment of the impact of global warming on human, animal and plant life issued in Brussels yesterday were softened at the insistence of officials from China and the United States ...... U.S. negotiators managed to eliminate language in one section that called for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions." [6]
It is frightening that an imminent danger of such sweeping magnitude is in the process of being completely ignored in the new IPCC report to the world. If left uncorrected, this report would not be updated for six more years and policymakers would continue to not be properly informed during the only window of time that may be available to avert catastrophe. There should be a hue and cry from the entire scientific community to not allow this. Presently, it is failing to do so.

It is also true that the scientific tradition of seeking absolute "proof" - normally a good thing - in this case works against the best interest of society. By the time there is "absolute" proof that a major methane release or even a "runaway" situation is imminent, it will very likely be too late to stop it.

A much more complete statement by this writer addressing the failure of the scientific community to provide adequate warning is available here. [7] The full weight of the world scientific community should be placed behind an emphatic warning based on the precautionary principle and a moral imperative to act preventatively NOW before a tipping point is crossed.

Smokestacks - image courtesy of worradmu/

"They who dig a hole and scoop it out
fall into the pit they have made.
The trouble they cause recoils on themselves;
their violence comes down on their own heads."

- Biblical book of Psalms 7

"The earth dries up and withers.....
The earth is defiled by its people ....
They have ....... broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse consumes the earth."

- Biblical book of Isaiah 24

Drought in Maharastra, India. Photo credit:

The Failure of the Religious Community -
The failure of the multi-faith religious community is especially grievous, as it is the segment of society which has willfully taken on the responsibility of providing moral guidance. At a time when humanity is facing a holocaust that can only be compared to all out nuclear war in its magnitude, it should be shouting to the world that there is an existential emergency. At the peak of the nuclear arms race in the early 1980s, the religious community did speak out and many leaders achieved impact through dramatic acts of nonviolent civil disobedience at nuclear weapon facilities. But apart from the actions of some courageous individuals, today's leaders seem only willing to issue proclamations and only a tiny number have joined the protests in the streets.

At precisely the time when a powerful voice like that of the prophet Isaiah in the Judeo-Christian tradition is needed, the religious community as a whole has been complicit in a terrible and indefensible silence while this catastrophe approaches. The definition of sin is "a transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate." [8] How can it be said that this definition does not fit such complicity and overwhelmingly tragic moral failure in the face of a possible wipe-out of God's Creation? The magnificence of life - and how it stands to be decimated by such catastrophe - is depicted with breathtaking cinematography in a film entitled "Home"[9]

Jesus wept - painting by Erik Hollander

"Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand....
For this people's heart has become calloused;
They hardly hear with their ears,
And they have closed their eyes."
- words of Jesus in Matthew 13

Exclusive Focus on Tar Sands Oil Blocking Awareness of Other Imminent and Equally Dangerous Threats -
The climate movement has come a long way. A major coalition has formed in opposition to the tar sands pipeline, and many good-hearted people are giving their all - including nonviolent civil disobedience - in spirited resistance. This writer is a part of that campaign. in particular deserves praise for becoming the "conscience" of this struggle. The money power of the industry has forced a pitched battle, and it is quite understandable that such a protracted struggle consumes resources.

Keystone XL Pipeline protest - photo taken Feb 13, 2013 - from: 
However, a quite serious problem has emerged from the current single-minded focus on tar sands. The tremendous threat presented by the Arctic meltdown is simply being shunted aside. Bill McKibben - spokesperson for - reminds over and over in his writings that the laws of physics cannot be stopped. Those same laws are now dismantling the Arctic ice cover, a drastic change that will lead to drastic consequences. McKibben acknowledges such in communications with this writer, yet the posted material of does not even mention this gathering emergency - let alone issue any kind of warning to the public. It is entirely correct that "doing the math" requires that remaining fossil fuel reserves be left in the ground. But presenting that as the single focus of concern is glaringly and even dangerously incomplete. The "front line" in terms of the most imminent and unstoppable tipping point staring humanity in the face is the threat of releasing nature's own vast stockpile of global warming gases in the Arctic, and yet the very group being looked to for leadership on the climate issue has been inexplicably silent.

Though some success has been gained in "breaking through" to media coverage on tar sands, this does not make the other threats go away. The frightening consequences of climate disruption are unfortunately not lining up in single file. As such, humanity is now faced with yet another "inconvenient truth". The climate coalition - and most particularly as a leading force - has a responsibility in this situation to convey all relevant facts to both the public and policymakers, and it is presently failing to do so.

The Most Colossal Moral Tragedy -

"The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time."
- Terry Tempest Williams

Who stands up for the children? - screenshot from children against climate change protest video
Children sing out for their future in this gut-wrenching music video. [10] The region of earth now facing the most imminent "tipping point" is the Arctic. It is an emergency situation requiring immediate prioritization and preventative action. No scientist can predict an exact date when a large methane release or unstoppable methane "runaway" may be triggered. But there is also no credible scientist who can deny that the conditions for such are now forming. Some advocate that geo-engineering research be stepped up to prepare for a last gasp effort at regaining control. But opposition to even such research is increasing the likelihood that humanity may well run out of options.

We are sliding closer and closer to the brink of a methane-heated hell on earth. If temperatures shoot up 10 degrees C or more (well within current projections), we could well find ourselves involuntarily tethered to an unstoppable "doomsday machine" leading to a parched wasteland facing a ghastly wipe-out of life comparable to what happened 250 million years ago. It would become the greatest tragedy imaginable not only because of the scale of destruction but also because there was a real opportunity to prevent it and yet those who tried to issue a warning were ignored. Those engaged in a life or death struggle on a ravaged planet would not look back kindly on this unspeakable failure to address the unmistakable warning signs raging in our faces.

 Drought in Somali (2011, part image) - credit: Cate Turton/Department for International Development

It would be easy to place all blame on those blindly seeking profit from fossil fuels. But the other segments of our society - those that supposedly existed to provide clear thinking and act as a counterweight to the forces of raw greed - would also have failed. That is why it would qualify as the most colossal moral tragedy in human history. In the final analysis, all words fail to do justice. What words could possibly convey the moral atrocity of taking this majestic earth and sacred gift of abundant life and rendering it dessicated and lifeless? As David Orr points out, there is no language for self-imposed, "willfully caused" extinction. Though perhaps these words from Martin Luther King and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley grope in the right direction?

"Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, Too late."
- Martin Luther King [11]

Human remains - photo credit: Kiril Kapustin at

"And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
- from Shelley's poem "Ozymandias"

Desolate world - image courtesy of Gualberto107/

  1. The Day After - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  2. An American Life
  3. The Day After Nuclear Attack Scene - YouTube
  4. NSIDC Press Release: UNEP report urges policymakers to account for thawing permafrost ...
  5. Envisionation Interview: David Wasdell On the IPCC & Scientific ... [8 minute clip]
  6. Washington Post: U.S., China Got Climate Warnings Toned Down
  7. The tragic failure of the scientific community to issue ... - Arctic News
  8. Sin - definition of Sin by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and ...
  9. HOME - YouTube Home (2009 film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  10. Children's choir singing 'Cool the World' ... - YouTube
  11. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1967 Riverside Church speech, ' Beyond ...


Gary Houser is a long time public interest advocate and writer based in Ohio in the U.S.  He is presently organizing support for the 50 megawatt Turning Point solar farm - set to become the largest solar farm in the eastern part of the country, and symbolically located on a former strip mine in coal country.  But his primary focus is raising awareness about the great danger of super greenhouse gas methane, its likely role in the most deadly mass extinction event in earth's history, and the potential for human-generated carbon pollution to unleash vast quantities currently stored in frozen form in the Arctic - a release that could escalate climate disruption to a level beyond human control. He is the associate producer of a short, grassroots-style documentary on the topic available on YouTube ("Arctic Methane: Why the Sea Ice Matters"), seeking to use it as a catalyst to spark a fully funded program for broadcast on a major public TV venue such as PBS in the U.S. and the BBC in the UK. He is also seeking a Congressional hearing, and working to form a co-operative network of methane activists in the U.S. - including the producers of another documentary just released entitled "Last Hours". Recently becoming a dad has only increased his sense of urgency and determination to work on behalf of future generations.