Could Arctic Carbon Bomb be Larger than Thought?

March 22, 2018

Above video outlines the problem.
I spend a lot of time pushing back on catastrophist notions that a “methane bomb” is going to wipe out humanity in coming decades.  Simply hard to find scientists who agree with that.

But we do have a problem, and it may be that the dimensions are poorly understood.
New study warns of possibly larger methane emissions from thawing permafrost. Important to caution not to fall in to the “one study syndrome” – science is a continuum, and in reading Chris Mooney’s Washpost piece, he makes it clear that current studies conflict on these issues.
Experts I have interviewed are stressing that the larger term of uncertainty in this equation is still the emissions decisions that humans make in coming years.

Washington Post:

For some time, scientists fearing the mass release of greenhouse gases from the carbon-rich, frozen soils of the Arctic have had at least one morsel of good news in their forecasts: They predicted most of the gas released would be carbon dioxide, which, though a greenhouse gas, drives warming more slowly than some other gases. Scientists obviously weren’t excited about more carbon dioxide emissions, but it was better than the alternative: methane, a shorter-lived but far harder-hitting gas that could cause faster bursts of warming.

Now even that silver lining is in doubt.

Research released Monday suggests that methane releases could be considerably more prevalent as Arctic permafrost thaws. The research finds that in waterlogged wetland soils, where oxygen is not prevalent, tiny microorganisms will produce a considerable volume of methane, a gas that doesn’t last in the air much more than a decade but has a warming effect many times that of carbon dioxide over a period of 100 years.

“What we can definitely say is that the importance of methane was underestimated until now in the carbon studies,” said Christian Knobloch, a researcher at Universität Hamburg in Germany and the lead author of the study, published in Nature Climate Change.

The divergent finding came after Knoblauch and his colleagues conducted a lengthy experiment, more than seven years long, monitoring patches of submerged and artificially warmed soil from Siberia in the laboratory, and gradually seeing sensitive methane-producing microorganisms become more prevalent over time.

Knoblauch contends that other studies have not examined waterlogged Arctic soils for as long, and he notes that in some cases it took three years or more for the methane-generating microorganisms to really get cranking.

“What we saw is that it takes a very long time until methane starts being produced, and the study that we did is really the first one which is so long,” Knoblauch said.

The research was conducted along with colleagues from several institutions in Germany, Sweden and Russia.

So much methane was produced in the experiment, the researchers calculated that the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from wet soils, or wetlands, will be higher than from drier soils, where carbon dioxide should indeed be the top gas released. This finding, if further confirmed, could reorient calculations of the overall potential of permafrost to worsen global warming over the coming century.


For instance, one major study of the permafrost warming potential, published in 2015 in the journal Nature, played down the potential for methane release in wet soils, saying drier soils would be the bigger problem.

“In spite of the more potent greenhouse gas CH4, a unit of newly thawed permafrost carbon could have a greater impact on climate over a century if it thaws and decomposes within a drier, aerobic soil as compared to an equivalent amount of carbon within a waterlogged soil or sediment,” that research found. The new study would appear to contradict this.

But Knoblauch cautions that more research would have to be done to go from these results to a forecast for just how much methane could waft from permafrost in the coming decades. It will be important to know, for instance, how much thawed permafrost will be stuck in watery conditions vs. dry ones.

One Arctic permafrost expert not involved in the research, Merritt Turetsky of the University of Guelph, praised the new study, noting that the researchers had spent a long time trying to uncover the behavior of tiny methane-producing organisms in watery soil. The research, she said, could help bridge the gap between field studies of waterlogged permafrost that have detected methane emissions and laboratory studies that have seemed to play down the importance of the gas.

Nature – Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback:

Climate warming as a result of human activities causes northern regions
to emit additional greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, representing a
feedback that will probably make climate change happen faster than is
currently projected by Earth System models. The critical question centres
on how fast this process will occur, and recent publications differ in their
outlook on this issue. Abrupt releases of CH forecast to cause trillions of
dollars of economic damage to global society contrast with predictions of
slower, sustained greenhouse gas release that, although substantial, would
give society more time to adapt.
This range of viewpoints is due in parto the wide uncertainty surrounding processes that are only now being quantified in these remote regions.

17 Responses to “Could Arctic Carbon Bomb be Larger than Thought?”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Ho-Hum—-more yada-yada about the melting permafrost carbon bomb. Doesn’t everyone know that it’s coming? The only question is when. Guy McPherson has pretty much shut down. and is simply trying to enjoy life while awaiting the end.

    Just so they don’t feel left out, the Indo-AUS equatorial regions have their own “Carbon Bomb” ticking down. Sea grasses, a WAY more important carbon sink than most folks realize, are in big trouble—-SLR and rising temperatures are killing them off (to say nothing of the usual pollution and habitat destruction that man brings everywhere he goes).

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    Keep in mind that the mentioned study is calculating with a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 28 for methane which is at the very low end. Already in 2013, the IPCC corrected the GWP for methane upwards which means it’s somewhere between 34 and 86. So the time bomb isn’t only ticking, it’s ticking faster than you might imagine.

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    Facts can change very quickly:

    Nobody can tell where or when the tipping point is.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      “Nobody can tell where or when the tipping point is”.

      Not true! The human species is most adept at finding “tipping points” of many kinds.

      Like the discoveries made by ignoring signs and walking out on thin ice until you fall through, touching wet paint to see if it’s dry, and burning your fingers on a hot stove, we will continue pouring CO2 into the atmosphere until that lesson is learned.

      My prediction? Let’s see what the arctic sea ice does this year and what kind of temperature anomalies occur globally and particularly in the far north, but I’d bet that some things will “tip” as early as 2022 and no later than 2030.

      • 1happywoman Says:

        DOG, what are you smokin’?? Nobody in the United States cares about tipping points for actic sea ice or global temperature anomalies. We won’t do anything until Miami is completely under water, every forest has disappeared due either to drought-enhanced fires or heat-enhanced insect infestations, and the ocean is so acidic there aren’t any fish left to catch. And those things STILL might not be enough.

        • 1happywoman Says:


        • dumboldguy Says:

          I don’t give a rodent’s rear end what “the people in the United States care about”, since so many of them are either ignorant of the science or don’t want to face reality. I’m just making my best guess as to where we’re going based on the science, and IMO the arctic sea ice and temperatures are the “lit fuse” that will set off a number of climatic “bombs”.

          And yes, it appears that nothing will be “enough” and that we’ll continue down the road until it’s far too late for billions of humans and other living things. Buy your tickets for Musk’s Mars Mess now.

          (And you used to be “happier”—-what happened?)

          • 1happywoman Says:

            The best boss I ever had in my entire life retired. I worked for him for 12 years. I now have a new job in a different state. I am not happy.

          • Sir Charles Says:

            Now you sound like a patriot, dumbo 🙂

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Now you sound like someone who simply must say something even though he has nothing to say—-with the emphasis on “simple” and “nothing”.

      • redskylite Says:

        Well I guess those intrepid and unfortunate souls are providing valuable “empirical evidence for the skeptics and deniers”. Sadly, reminds me of a under 10 who I used to walk to junior school with, who for some crazy reason put his hand in a pot of molten lead, being used by workmen, in the pre-health & safety conscious days of the late 50’s.

  4. redskylite Says:

    I certainly appreciate the group of scientists that review and “grade” the media in “Climate Feedback” and see they give high regards for this Washington Post’s communication – though they don’t like the eye catching headline too much. Kudos to Chris Mooney and I hope “Climate Feedback” can make the time and cover even more of the mainstream media’s Climate Science releases.

    “Three scientists analyzed the article and estimate its overall scientific credibility to be ‘very high’.

    A majority of reviewers tagged the article as: Accurate, Sound reasoning.

    Scientists who reviewed the article found that it accurately described the study and provided context on its overall implications by quoting comments from two other researchers. ”

  5. redskylite Says:

    More extremely bad news from the pen/fingers of Chris Mooney:

    The increase in emissions of the all-important greenhouse gas came as global energy demand itself increased thanks to strong economic growth — and that demand was sated by all types of energy, including renewables but also oil, coal and natural gas.

    • redskylite Says:

      I take comfort from an ex-beatle, and I’m talking about the administration of the leader of the “New World”.

  6. redskylite Says:

    More on shorter lived pollutants (including Methane and Black Carbon) causing trouble up in the Arctic from Inside Climate News:

    “When people talk about climate change, the focus is often on carbon dioxide, and for good reason. The CO2 pumped into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels today will hang around for centuries, building up over time and continuing to warm the planet.

    It isn’t the only culprit, though. Mixing in are other pollutants that only stick around for a few weeks or years but pack a powerful punch while they’re there. And the Arctic, where the average temperature is rising twice as fast as the rest of the world, has become the unfortunate laboratory where researchers can best measure their impact.

    The role that short-lived climate pollutants play in the Arctic has repercussions, because what happens in the Arctic affects the entire planet.”

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