Re: [geo] Methane - time for realism + risk analysis

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John Nissen

Mar 9, 2010, 10:48:49 AM3/9/10
to Albert Kallio, Climate Intervention, Mike MacCracken, Sam Carana, John Gorman, Oliver Wingenter, Stephen Salter, John Latham, Gregory Benford

Hi Albert,

[The posting of this message to Geoengineering has been denied, even without the attachment, as the moderator considers the content appropriate to Climate Intervention.  Therefore, with reluctance, I am continuing this thread on Climate Intervention.] 

Thanks for your excellent posting, Albert.  Further to the methane issue, I'd like to quote from the article at:

Joe Romm at Climate Progress describes this methane release as "the most dangerous amplifying feedback in the entire carbon cycle." According to the NSF, "the Earth's geologic record indicates that atmospheric concentrations of methane have varied from about 0.3 to 0.4 parts per million during cold periods to about 0.6 to 0.7 parts per million during warm periods." Today's study pegs methane levels in the Arctic at 2.85 [should be 1.85?] parts per million, the highest concentration in 400,000 years, so the methane feedback loop is already well under way.

Perhaps the scariest part of these findings is that they are not included in climate models. According to Romm, "no climate model currently incorporates the amplifying feedback from methane released by a defrosting tundra." The methane findings from the East Siberian shelf are a dangerous new variable that must be incorporated into planning and policy making. 

So here is the reasoning behind treating the methane risk seriously.

1. We have to assume (high probability) that a significant proportion of the carbon locked away by permafrost will emerge as methane. 

2. As Arctic warming continues, we can expect accelerating discharge of methane (high probability). 

3. Since the warming is accelerated by positive feedbacks, e.g. from sea ice retreat, we can expect the discharge to grow non-linearly (high probability). 

4.  Because there is much more carbon locked away in permafrost than currently in the atmosphere, we can expect the end result to be at least several degrees of global warming on top of the warming from CO2 (high probability).   

5.  The total warming, of at least six degrees, would lead to extreme climate disruption and global crop failure (high probability). 

6.  With a population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, there would be global food shortages leading to wars, loss of societal infrastructure, and ultimately the collapse of civilisation (high probability). 

Thus the disturbing conclusion is that by allowing the Arctic to continue warming, helped by retreat of sea ice, we risk Armageddon.  As I have argued before, the best chance we have to save the day is using solar radiation management (SRM) to cool the Arctic sufficiently to halt the retreat of Arctic sea ice.

To put some figures on this, I have estimated some probabilities of sea ice summer disappearance, based on the observations of sea ice retreat over the past 30 or 40 years.  I have considered rapid deployment of SRM (either one technique or two in parallel, ramping up to full scale deployment in 2011 or 2012), with estimates of probabilities to be successful in preventing sea ice disappearance.  I have also estimated the effect of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to zero overnight on saving the sea ice.  I have assumed that sea ice disappearance would be a point of no return, with accelerated methane discharge eventually leading to Armageddon, as argued above.  These figures and calculations are shown in the attached/appended spreadsheet*.  



* [The attachment is a copy of a Geoengineering googlegroup document, and thus is available by signing into the Geoengineering googlegroup and looking at the "Documents" section.  The document is entitled "risk analysis 2".]


Veli Albert Kallio wrote:
Further to Mike's comments:
When methane seeps into sea water and gets dissolved, it gets attacked by methanogenic bacteria that cosumes this to carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide then dissolves again into water. However, there are about 22,000 methane clathrate explosion craters in the Arctic. The largest methane escape crater on the sea floor measures over 750 km2 in area.
Royal Society's science book of the year award for 2008 was awarded to Mark Lynas' "The Six Degrees" which refers to the methane clatrate explosion sites in the Arctic sea beds.
The off-shore methane craters have resulted from violent gas bursts of methane. As methane itself is soluble to a sea water in a limited degree, a gradual build up of carbon dioxide is often required to necessitate the nucleation of dissolved gases.
Carbon dioxide is dissolving in cold and deep waters sometimes 5 times of the volume of water or more, methane is dissolving considerably too, but not nearly as much as carbon dioxide. When outgassing event and methane clathrate explosions do occur, methane that has been converted to carbon dioxide acts as the active ingredient of gas nucleation.
Michel Halbwachs has successfully neutralised three deep water methane/carbon dioxide laden deepwater pockets that have been nucleating (or pose major risk of gas nucleation). He has three successful projects under management on controlled outgassing of highly dissolved deep water pockets that can cause fatalities if gas is not leaked out.
As methane clathrates dissolve in innumerable sites across deep Arctic lakes and coastal deep water pockets (that lack adequate water circulation), as the methane leaks out and gets converted to carbon dioxide, it builds up and eventually starts to sizzle out (like champagne) when there are disturbances in the vertical water column, or excess heating.
These can also be stirred and triggered by vessels traveling over and can be extremely dangerous due to density of nucleating water being much lower due to its high, nucleated, foamy gas content. When the carbon dioxide sizzles out, the methane comes out with it.
The high carbon dioxide content of water may also shut down some methanogenic bacteria, this effectively stopping further conversion of methane into carbon dioxide. Thus, the proportion of gas dissoleved will eventually consist high volumes of methane as well.
I have also been in touch with some scientists who believe that there were recently a huge methane explosion resulting from the conical deep water basin of Lake Cheko, where a sub lake bed may have collapsed due to melting of permafrost layer that was retaining a gas field. The lake and trespassing river may have fallen into the cavity of gas field triggering huge methane explosion 3-5 miles above nearby Tunguska forest in spring 1908. This explosion killed and injured about half a dozen people due to its remoteness. Microdiamonds and molten rock materials have been discovered. The standard idea is that it was a meteorite impact (a bolide fire ball) rather than an on-shore methane explosion.
For the COP15/COP16 intermediate summit at Copababamba, I yesterday received petition to put forward from the First Nations' as some ancient first nations of the Americas recall seeing these immense fireballs, what they say, at the end of ice age, perhaps in Beringia when they were forced to move out as sea levels rose which area is near to the methane explosions and migrants came roughly via the same area (North East Coast of Siberia) as Mark Lynas', Euan Nisbet and others reported findings of sea floor methane escape craters.
Back in July 2008 there were also huge explosion on the North West Passage, Nunavut, Canada, about ten days to two weeks after the NW passage cleared itself off sea ice, which was second consecutive summer when the area was sea ice free. The sound were heard hundreds of miles away and whales were spotted moving away from the area.

Therefore, we need to keep in mind and search for the still deep water pockets or areas that may be excessively accummulating methane and carbon dioxide when permafrost soils and methane clathrated sea beds are melting.
If you know of any extremely carbon dioxide and methane laden sites (still deep water pockets) please contact Michel Halwachs who has been successfully contracted to defuse these. It would also make sense to controllably neutralise some of them and burn nucleating methane-carbon dioxide mixtures rather than letting them GHGs to go for birds.
Wint kind regards,
Veli Albert Kallio

Date: Sun, 7 Mar 2010 09:55:56 -0500
Subject: Re: [geo] Methane - time for realism

While I wholeheartedly agree that methane is a critical issue, it would sure be nice if they got the facts right.

Consider this paragraph: “Dr. Shakhova said that undersea methane ordinarily undergoes oxidation as it rises to the surface, where it is released as carbon dioxide. But because water over the shelf is at most about 50 meters deep, she said, the gas bubbles to the surface there as methane. As a result, she said, atmospheric levels of methane over the Arctic are 1.85 parts per million, almost three times as high as the global average of 0.6 or 0.7 parts per million. Concentrations over the shelf are 2 parts per million or higher.”

It is simply not the case that the concentration over much of the globe is currently 0.6 or 0.7 parts per million. That may well have been the preindustrial concentration that was being referred to, and if that is the case, that correction is needed. Alternatively, they should report the global average concentration as roughly 1.6 to 1.7 parts per million, as is clearly shown in the global observations (see ).  


On 3/5/10 5:11 PM, "John Nissen" <> wrote:

Methane Melt: The Most Important Story You Don't Follow

Alex Steffen <> , 5 Mar 10

We've written before about the danger that climate change will lead to the thawing and release of methane frozen on the ocean floor, and indeed the worrisome news that some scientists were observing patches of Arctic sea foaming with gas bubbles from "methane chimneys" rising from the sea floor <> .

Now, researchers in Alaska have found a similar process underway <> :

Natalia Shakhova, a scientist at the university and a leader of the study, said it was too soon to say whether the findings suggest that a dangerous release of methane looms. In a telephone news conference, she said researchers were only beginning to track the movement of this methane into the atmosphere as the undersea permafrost that traps it degrades.

But climate experts familiar with the new research reported in Friday’s issue of the journal Science that even though it does not suggest imminent climate catastrophe, it is important because of methane’s role as a greenhouse gas. Although carbon dioxide is far more abundant and persistent in the atmosphere, ton for ton atmospheric methane traps at least 25 times as much heat.
Until recently, undersea permafrost has been little studied, but work so far shows it is already sending surprising amounts of methane into the atmosphere, Dr. Shakhova and other researchers are finding.
Last year, scientists from Britain and Germany reported that they had detected plumes of methane rising from the Arctic seabed in the West Spitsbergen area, north of Scandinavia. At the time, they said they had begun their work hoping to gain data to predict future emissions and had not expected to find evidence that the process was under way.
It is “indispensable” to keep track of methane in the region, Martin Heimann of the Max Planck Institute in Germany said in a commentary accompanying the Science report. So far, Dr. Heimann wrote, methane contributions from Arctic permafrost have been “negligible.” He added: “But will this persist into the future under sustained warming trends? We do not know.”
In an e-mail message, Euan G. Nisbet of the University of London, an expert on atmospheric methane, said the situation “needs to be watched carefully.”
Atmospheric concentrations of methane have more than doubled since pre-industrial times, Dr. Heimann wrote. Most of it comes from human activities including energy production, cattle raising and the cultivation of rice. But about 40 percent is natural, including the decomposition of organic materials in wetlands and frozen wetlands like permafrost.
Dr. Shakhova said that permafrost in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, peat land that flooded as sea levels rose after the last ice age, is degrading in part because runoff from rivers that feed the Arctic Ocean is warmer than in the past.
She estimated that annual methane emissions from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf total about seven teragrams. (A teragram is 1.1 million tons.) By some estimates, global methane emissions total about 500 teragrams a year.
Dr. Shakhova said that undersea methane ordinarily undergoes oxidation as it rises to the surface, where it is released as carbon dioxide. But because water over the shelf is at most about 50 meters deep, she said, the gas bubbles to the surface there as methane. As a result, she said, atmospheric levels of methane over the Arctic are 1.85 parts per million, almost three times as high as the global average of 0.6 or 0.7 parts per million. Concentrations over the shelf are 2 parts per million or higher.

A huge release of one-frozen methane is (potentially) almost the definition of a feedback loop <> , perhaps even a tipping point into runaway climate change.

Luckily, we're not there yet. Scientists have been very clear to say that while these field observations are surprising and disturbing, they do not yet indicate a catastrophe. We need to wait for more data to figure out if it's time to panic yet.

In the meantime, we need to focus even more strongly on four solution spaces:

1) Getting to a zero net emissions <> economy as quickly as possible. It's very clear now that we can do this at a net gain for society, with more (and more wide-spread) prosperity for most people, and that it's largely the opposition of entrenched interests that's preventing us from making huge strides forward: this needs to change.

2) Implementing climate-adaptive ecological restoration, safeguarding  <> ecosystem services and researching  <> soil carbon sequestration <> and other practices that have multiple benefits while pulling greenhouse gasses from the air. We need to be helping the planet's natural systems heal towards resilience as much as we possibly can.

3) Engaging in a stronger and more realistic debate about geoengineering, its limits and its politics <> , especially since news of potential tipping points always accelerates calls for geoengineering research, even deployment. Geoengineering's main use in the climate debate at the moment is as a propaganda tool by those seeking to stall action on emissions reduction <> ; that doesn't mean that we don't need to discuss what mega-scale answers might be possible should we find tipping points sliding past more quickly than we feared.

4) Building psychological resilience <> in the face of huge and alarming planetary changes. News like this is disturbing. We need to find ways, as a culture, as communities and as individuals, to understand disturbing changes without losing our balance. Psychologically wrecked people are no good to themselves, others or the planet. We need to promote the capacity to be healthy and happy despite monumental challenges.



Apr 15, 2010, 3:41:55 AM4/15/10
to, Albert Kallio, Climate Intervention, Mike MacCracken, Sam Carana, John Gorman, Oliver Wingenter, Stephen Salter, John Latham, Gregory Benford
I read your post to the climate intervention group about methane
emissions for the first time tonight. I agree with your projections
and your assessment of the projected methane threat to civilization
but I disagree with your conclusion that SRM is the best way to stop
the methane promoted increase in global temperatures. I have written a
report on methods of reducing methane emissions in the arctic and
other places. I have surveyed the scientific literature and found
several chemical agents that can help prevent release of biologically
synthesized methane from warmed permafrost and glacial lakes. I am
soliciting reviews of my report and the methods contained in it from
scientists who are willing to sign nondisclosure agreements.
Please reply to

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