Methane and Climate Change
February 24, 2010 8:45 PM   Subscribe

Climate change could be accelerated by 'methane time bomb' Atmospheric methane levels began rising in 2007, when an Arctic heatwave caused sea ice to shrink significantly. Now new preliminary results suggest levels have continued to rise through 2008 and 2009. The new figures [were] disclosed [earlier this week] at the start of a two-day conference on greenhouse gases at the Royal Society in London. (more here; via).
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 (47 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
well. we're fucked.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:51 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


At least we had Maru.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:08 PM on February 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


My impression after reading this is we are presented with one theory presented by E. Nisbet. What about his other peers in atmospheric science & chemistry? Do they tend to agree? Are there skeptics? What are the reactions so far to the presentation? Here is an area where popular science publications could really shine by doing investigative work. If they're just parroting the most thought-provoking ideas, that's great, but there needs to be some followthrough if they're tossing out a hot potato like this to the public. Come on, Telegraph, give Professor Corinne Le Quéré or Professor Ingeborg Levin a call... they're right there at the top of that second link and it looks like they're smart cookies, too, who might be willing to offer their thoughts.
posted by crapmatic at 9:12 PM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Like a ten-year old who ate a burrito for lunch before spending the night with his boy scout troop in a tent, mankind will clear the planet with a 'methane time bomb.'
posted by Kattullus at 9:14 PM on February 24, 2010


What if we burn all the methane?
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:17 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just hope the planet doesn't become too uninhabitable before we get our space program in order.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 9:21 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whew! Boy, am I glad we had all those skeptics who weren't trained in climatology or anything remotely science-related telling us why we were wrong. It's awesome that people who don't grasp their own ignorance have hampered those who put in a genuine effort to fix the damn problem. And by awesome I mean liberal-rage-inducing.
posted by spiderskull at 9:22 PM on February 24, 2010 [9 favorites]


Methane? That's inthane!

--Good Neighbours
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:24 PM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is some really, very heavy duty shit. If this happens with the tundra or the methane clathrates, humanity - indeed most non-microscopic life - is going to face the kind of challenge that has heretofore resulted in staggering loss of life and biodiversity.

Pray this isn't true, or that you have more in common this little fella than readily apparent.
posted by smoke at 9:25 PM on February 24, 2010


Pssshaw! What's to worry about? All we have to do is band together and... oh... wait...

WE'RE DOOOOOMED I SAYS!!!!
posted by MeatLightning at 9:37 PM on February 24, 2010


I thought this was a known thing... I remember watching a BBC documentary several years ago, Earth - The Power of the Planet, where they drilled through the permafrost and lit the escaping permafrost on fire. (Hmm, I can't get this "Explosive Permafrost" video to work on my Mac, but I think that's it.)

So this is just confirmation of what climate researchers said would happen? Shocking.
posted by LordSludge at 9:39 PM on February 24, 2010


This is why climate change is a good thing. We can use this methane gas to power our cars and get out of the middle east.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:40 PM on February 24, 2010


People, people. Don't worry. Everything's going to be okay. The Rapture will be here any day.

(Does anyone else see the irony that the people most at risk to extreme climate change are those who deny its existence?)
posted by Davenhill at 10:13 PM on February 24, 2010


I agree with the comment that this is just one scientist's ideas. I also agree with the comment that we're fucked.

We've sold far too many lottery tickets against our future, at uneconomic prices, and even as the tickets start to cash in we're selling more of them. There are simply too many problems that would take sane people of good will working together to solve - when about a third of the most powerful country in the world is massively stupid psychopaths, we might as well simply give up.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:37 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cool article. And really eerie because a couple of years ago I was at the H.P. Lovecraft film festival in Portland and they showed this movie which deals with the same problem.
I wondered at the plausibility of it, but didn't really research it at all.
Now I'm just creeped out.
posted by kaiseki at 10:43 PM on February 24, 2010


I agree with the comment that this is just one scientist's ideas.

No it's not.

The first linked article refers to data, not ideas, drawn from the work of two scientists, not one:

Professor Euan Nisbet, of Royal Holloway College of the University of London, and Dr Ed Dlugokencky of the Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder Colorado, will set out their findings in a presentation on "Global atmospheric methane in 2010: budget, changes and dangers". After a decade of near-zero growth in methane levels, the two scientists...reveal that: "globally averaged atmospheric methane increased by [approximately] 7 ppb (parts per billion) per year during 2007 and 2008....During the first half of 2009, globally averaged atmospheric CH4 was [approximately] 7 ppb greater than it was in 2008, suggesting that the increase will continue in 2009. There is the potential for increased CH4 emissions from strong positive climate feedbacks in the Arctic where there are unstable stores of carbon in permafrost ... so the causes of these recent increases must be understood."

Furthermore, as LordSludge points out in comments above, the possibility that melting permafrost is releasing methane in such a way so as to potentially accelerate global climate change is not at all a new concept, and has been reported on repeatedly for many years now:

Melting permafrost spews out more methane
Agençe France-Presse
Thursday, 7 September 2006

Fears that retreating permafrost is accelerating climate change have been strengthened by a new study that says emissions of the greenhouse gas methane are soaring in northern Siberia.
In a complex cycle, permafrost melts at the edges of lakes that previously were iced over year-round, according to the research led by Dr Katey Walter of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 10:54 PM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


wait till the methane clathrates on the bottom of the ocean melt...
posted by empath at 11:01 PM on February 24, 2010


Funny, was just discussing this tonight at dinner ...

kaiseki, as smoke points out above, one of the scariest scenarios is the clathrate gun hypothesis, which is concerned specifically with methane hydrate deposits in submerged permafrost just off the northern coasts of Siberia, Alaska and Canada.

What causes the methane hydrate to form in these coastal continental shelves is primarily cold and not depth pressure, so global warming could remove that constraint and cause a runaway release of methane into the atmosphere. It is theorized that the same phenomenon was partially responsible for the 5 degree C sudden warming event at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary 50mya.

And TwelveTwo, one posited effects of the CGH is that the methane would actually burn and smoke. So it may not simply cause heating but in any event could cause severe temperature extremes.

On preview: empath, not all clathrates will melt, just those whose primary clathrate-forming environment is in shallow but cold continental shelf areas. But there are plenty of those in the Arctic.
posted by Araucaria at 11:12 PM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm all for some healthy skepticism, but at this point the naysayers are beginning to annoy me. If you do one thing this week, take a listen to this talk on climate change from Gwynne Dyer*. A portion of the talk is an illuminating look under the hood at the issues climate scientists face vetting data and eventually publishing the findings. Spoiler alert: there's a delay in the process that means we aren't getting the latest information – maybe even to the extent that it's too damn late to do anything about their findings.

*I'll take this opportunity to plug Big Ideas on iTunes as a source for some great lectures. It's like TED Talks for those with a longer attention span, but perhap more academic and wonkish at times.
posted by quadog at 11:27 PM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


The ultimate Dutch Oven. Of DOOM!

(td;dr) (too depressing;didn't read)(what's the semi-colon doing in there anyway? Why a semi-colon? shouldn't it just be tl,dr? or tl.dr? Alright, alright I'm getting back to work...)
posted by From Bklyn at 11:34 PM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I assume that if spikes in atmospheric methane do threaten drastic climate change, the idea of undertaking a global dimming geoengineering project (also) will start to look a lot more appealing.

I suppose it is some comfort to know that humanity does have at least one card left to play, even if that card is drastic, grandiose, and not exactly an ace in the hole.
posted by tss at 11:43 PM on February 24, 2010


oh, and unintended consequences with that? yeah, probably...
posted by tss at 11:44 PM on February 24, 2010


I'm 42, and my dad is in his 80s. Assuming I live as long as he has so far, I'm curious what effects I'll see in my lifetime as the climate changes. Not asking as a skeptic, just genuinely curious.
posted by maxwelton at 12:07 AM on February 25, 2010


maxwelton: That depends on which scenario you want to play out. You may find the wiki article on Abrupt Climate Change interesting. "Abrupt," in this context, means essentially a non-negligible change that can be detected or felt within a human lifetime or so. Then you have to decide if you want to play with some of the hypotheses about ocean current disruption that have been put forward.

It's entirely consistent with some theories that some regions might get colder as a result of an average global-climate temperature increase, if ocean currents were disrupted. So "global warming" might not actually mean "warming" for everyone — the usual example that's put forward is the UK and Western Europe, which are warmer than other areas at the same latitude due to the Atlantic's Gulf Stream. Without that, England might be more like Newfoundland.

I think it's pretty safe to say that in almost any abrupt change scenario, there would be effects on food production — modern crops are very sensitive and tuned to specific soil temperatures, daylight lengths, and growing seasons; changing any of these would require rejiggering the crops. That would mean higher food prices at the very least, I'd imagine.

Plus you have higher sea levels potentially inundating low-lying coastal areas, which has the potential to displace a lot of people in countries like Bangladesh. What effect that would have on someone in a Western nation is arguable though, I suppose.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:00 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Assuming I live as long as he has so far, I'm curious what effects I'll see in my lifetime as the climate changes.

This book explains what is expected.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:02 AM on February 25, 2010


the dead shall rise
and blow us all apart
the world destroyed
by the killer fart
posted by stinkycheese at 1:09 AM on February 25, 2010


Can we get all of the Severe Climate Change Deniers on a national list, so if the sh!t ever goes down, we'll know who to cannibalize first?
posted by Davenhill at 1:28 AM on February 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


I don't think the problem is lessened at all by deniers expelling large amounts of hot air from their butts in efforts to downplay the possible impact of climate change.

Have scientists actually calculated this? On anecodotal evidence it could capably exceed the results of melting permafrost.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:59 AM on February 25, 2010


Funny I should come across this just while I was being furious about an elected member of the British Parliament crowing that how he and his media allies have spread doubt and uncertainty about climate change in the UK.
posted by athenian at 3:16 AM on February 25, 2010


I wouldn't want to eat Andrew Bolt. Never know where he's been.
posted by flabdablet at 7:01 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


one of the scariest scenarios is the clathrate gun hypothesis, which is concerned specifically with methane hydrate deposits in submerged permafrost just off the northern coasts of Siberia, Alaska and Canada.

Perhaps not just a hypothesis anymore...
posted by QuestionableSwami at 7:21 AM on February 25, 2010


Not to overthink this, but has anyone considered how much methane is in a plate of beans?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:45 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, who knew John Barnes' Mother of Storms had it right all along?
posted by sixswitch at 7:52 AM on February 25, 2010


nt
posted by Tlery at 7:55 AM on February 25, 2010


Man, I love that opening blurb in QuestionableSwami's Spiegel link.
Researchers have found alarming evidence that the frozen Arctic floor has started to thaw and release long-stored methane gas. The results could be a catastrophic warming of the earth, since methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. But can the methane also be used as fuel?
"Researchers have found alarming evidence that Cthulhu has started to wake and will soon have risen. The results could be the destruction of the earth, since Cthulhu is a far more potent being than Godzilla. But can he also make delicious sandwiches?"
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:02 AM on February 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


3 years is statistically insignificant. Just saying. It's worrisome, and should be watched closely, but it's not a statistically significant trend.
After a decade of near-zero growth in methane levels, the two scientists will reveal that: "globally averaged atmospheric methane increased by [approximately] 7 ppb (parts per billion) per year during 2007 and 2008."
10 years of zero growth might be the actual trend. As the good professor says:
Professor Nisbet told The Independent at the weekend that the new figures did not necessarily mark a departure from the trend. "It may just be a couple of years of high growth, and it may drop back to what it was," he said.
posted by stbalbach at 8:35 AM on February 25, 2010


But it snowed in Washington D.C. a lot one week, so there's nothing to worry about. Whew.
posted by notmydesk at 8:47 AM on February 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


"The most likely process where this happens - and there is geological evidence that it has happened in the past - is when the methane gas hydrate layer in the sediment destabilises on a slope. And then we have a slope failure, a landslide underwater," Dr Schwark said.

"As long as the scientists in the Siberian Arctic are not able to report very strong increases in submarine landslides and slope failures, I wouldn't expect that the release into the atmosphere is so severe that it is really very serious at the moment," Schwark added.


via upthread
posted by KokuRyu at 9:31 AM on February 25, 2010


Just don't anybody pull Earth's finger!
posted by asusu at 10:04 AM on February 25, 2010


The only real benefit of all this will be Mother Earth/Gaia giving a gigantic middle finger to Jim Inhofe.
posted by blucevalo at 10:23 AM on February 25, 2010


More panic
posted by A189Nut at 12:20 PM on February 25, 2010


Look, the paranoid denialist crowd already has their narrative prepared: HAARP is to blame

You cannot win an argument with an idiot. If climate change is real, the conspiracy did it. If climate change is fake, the conspiracy lied about it. It cannot be a natural phenomenon caused largely by side effects of human activity, because that would mean that not everything happens for a reason, and that is contrary to the paranoid worldview.
posted by fleetmouse at 12:47 PM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't want to eat Andrew Bolt. Never know where he's been.

Rend him down for heating oil.
posted by pompomtom at 3:26 PM on February 25, 2010


just rend him.
posted by wilful at 6:13 PM on February 25, 2010


He wouldn't give you the good oil, just sputter.
posted by flabdablet at 6:17 PM on February 25, 2010


I'm hoping this and anthrogenic global warming will exactly cancel out the next Ice Age.
posted by storybored at 7:22 PM on February 25, 2010




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