Arctic Methane: Even Worse than we thought?

December 1, 2011

Recently, some poor reporting of a new study has set the blogosphere aflutter about “lower sensitivity” of the climate to greenhouse gases.

Joe Romm at Climateprogress has a great analysis of what the study says and doesn’t say. One of the key pieces of the puzzle – the new research, by Schmittner et al, summarizes the warming effect of “fast” climate feedbacks, like sea ice and water vapor, but leaves out the slower, longer term feedbacks like tundra melt, and the accompanying methane release. ( see the video above – methane is a greenhouse gas much more powerful than CO2)

Now, news from the University of Alaska Fairbanks underlines the dangers of ignoring the “slow” feedbacks, which may not be so slow, after all…

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

FAIRBANKS — An international group of researchers believes greenhouse gases from thawing permafrost will be released at a much faster rate than previously estimated, which could have significant implications for climate change projections.

A survey of 41 scientists — including seven University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers — estimates the amount of carbon released from thawing permafrost by 2100 will be 1.7 to 5.2 times larger than previously estimated. Their conclusions, reported Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature, describe permafrost thawing as a likely accelerator of global warming.

“Our collective estimate is that carbon will be released more quickly than models suggest, and at levels that are cause for serious concern,” the article states.
The higher figures come about because of an ongoing reevaluation of the carbon stored in permafrost.
In most soils such material is typically in the top several feet, but in frozen soils those carbon-filled sediments can be much deeper.
Because of that, the estimated amount of carbon stored in northern soils has tripled in recent years, to roughly 1,700 billion tons. That’s four times more than all the carbon emitted by human activity since the Industrial Revolution and twice as much as is currently present in the atmosphere.


And the picture is even more alarming for the end of the century. The scientists calculate that about than 300 billion metric tons of carbon will belch from the thawing Earth from now until 2100.

Adding in that gas means that warming would happen “20 to 30 percent faster than from fossil fuel emissions alone,” said Edward Schuur of the University of Florida. “You are significantly speeding things up by releasing this carbon.”

Usually the first few to several inches of permafrost thaw in the summer, but scientists are now looking at up to 10 feet of soft unfrozen ground because of warmer temperatures, he said. The gases come from decaying plants that have been stuck below frozen ground for millennia.


38 Responses to “Arctic Methane: Even Worse than we thought?”

  1. clearwater2

    Your knowledge of everything, from basic meteorology, to astronomy, to paleoclimates of earths distant past can easily be refuted by A freshman High school course in Physical Science.

    Take your misinformation, confusion, fossil fuel funded activity elsewhere.

  2. Martin – you believe in conspiracies and I don’t. It’s that simple. You fooled yourself into believing things aren’t done not because they’re impractical but because Somebody blocked progress. Good for you.

    I don’t even need to claim I know better than the experts. There’s enough expert quotes out now I can simply quote an expert against another, often the very same expert. Good for me.

    And besides none of the bigwigs in climate science seems clued up on policy making. Good for all.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      “Martin – you believe in conspiracies and I don’t.”
      Except the conspiracy of every major scientific organization on the planet that affirms AGW.
      oh, yeah, that conspiracy.

    • Martin_Lack Says:

      You seem remarkably assured about the rightness of your own judgement. Good for you. However only 49% of us can be better-than-average at doing that; and I am not doing it. Good for me.

      Unfortunately, the last 30 years of prevarication have meant that we have failed to prevent geologically-significant climate change. Not good for you or me.

  3. I thought we’d been through that already. Yawn. People and academies don’t need to conspire to agree on this or that topic. Fashionable topics will see many agree, and especially the Establishment guys (and gals). It’s much easier for dedicated activists to rally the unsuspecting around a cause if only because the non-activists have day jobs to do. Etc etc.

    Actually the above explains all of contemporary politics in liberal democracies. 🙂

    Like Oscar Wilde the truly great minds don’t usually enter the fray. They prefer a night at the theatre to the boredom of activist driven politics.

  4. You’ve instead clearly been going to the (movie) theater alright, to watch b-movies though…

  5. Martin_Lack Says:

    Maurizio, I know I have fired lots of questions at you but, even from those that you have deigned to answer, it is clear that you are content with the status quo.

    Even though the conspiracy to which I object is a well-documented reality (e.g. Merchants of Doubt and the Atlas Network) and even though you claim not to believe in any conspiracy theories, you have clearly decided all-by-yourself that climate change is not a problem that we need to address.

    Therefore, although I am sorry to get all Messianic about this, just as Jesus said “those who are not for me are against me“, the problem is that by your acquiescence in the face of danger, you have chosen to be part of the problem rather part of the solution…

  6. mrsircharles Says:

    Also => Methane hydrates and global warming (Professor David Archer at Real Climate)

    “The juiciest disaster-movie scenario would be a release of enough methane to significantly change the atmospheric concentration, on a time scale that is fast compared with the lifetime of methane. This would generate a spike in methane concentration. For a scale of how much would be a large methane release, the amount of methane that would be required to equal the radiative forcing of doubled CO2 would be about ten times the present methane concentration. That would be disaster movie. Or, the difference between the worst case IPCC scenario and the best conceivable ‘alternative scenario’ by 2050 is only about 1 W/m2 mean radiative energy imbalance. A radiative forcing on that order from methane would probably make it impossible to remain below a ‘dangerous’ level of 2 deg above pre-industrial. I calculate here that it would take about 6 ppm of methane to get 1 W/m2 over present-day. A methane concentration of 6 ppm would be a disaster in the real world.”

  7. kokuaguy Says:

    Here’s my contribution at summarizing this research as reported here and elsewhere:

  8. Maurizio Morabito (omnologos) Says:
    “Roger Lambert – you can’t even be bothered to google “omnology”. Good to know.”

    LOL. There’s a non sequitor for you. Now why would anyone conclude that one needs to Google “omnology” when one sees the net identity “omnologos”? Answer – for good laughs, that’s why.

    For if one does the search, one finds that omnology is a squishy new age pseudoscience proposed by Howard Bloom which has found no traction anywhere, save for the quixotic efforts of one Maurizio Morabito, who no doubt aspires to the Bloomian ideal of being “omnicompetent” in “a field for those with a gaggle of curiosities and with the potential to use their multiple intellectual and artistic hungers to provide unusual perspectives to the scientific community”.

    I know that I, for one, breathlessly await these revelations on the hard sciences, seeing as ‘omnology’ proposes to offer objective truths based on:

    “…introspection to uncover hidden passions and relate them to research in chemistry, anthropology, psychology, history, and the arts, she, too, has a treasured place on the wild frontiers of scientific truth — the terra incognita in the heartland of omnology.” and: the ultimate goal of omnology:

    To see a World in a Grain of Sand

    And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

    Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

    And Eternity in an hour.

    To see a World in a Grain of Sand

    And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

    Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

    And Eternity in an hour.

    Let me close with the words of yet another poet, William Blake, on the ultimate goal of omnology:

    To see a World in a Grain of Sand

    And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

    Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

    And Eternity in an hour.

  9. Donald Says:

    Those of you here who have not renewed your illuminati membership, please do so now as the current financial year is about to end. take note that due to chairman Chavez’ latest edit Euros and Dollars are no longer accepted. 🙂

  10. astrostevo Says:

    Great dramatic clip – worrying feedback issue. Thanks for this.

    Slightly off topic but how do the conifers around the lake manage to grow in permafrost (ie. permanently frozen ground) in the first place. How can their roots function and obtain liquid water undersuch circumstances? Curious about that.

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