Return of the Methane Bomb Squad

February 7, 2019

My most recent video has been extremely controversial and I’ve gotten a lot of blowback – in short, because the message is, “no, we’re not all going to imminently die, so chill out, we have work to do.”
I push back on some of the fever swamps of the internet where the climate message is “the arctic methane bomb” is exploding, and it’s too late to do anything.
As a matter of fact, that is not the opinion of some extremely well known experts, including Dr. James Hansen, and Dr. Carolyn Ruppel, who heads the US Geological Survey team on Methane Hydrates.
I’ve posted more clips from the interview with Dr. Ruppel, now up at Yale Climate Connections​
Highly recommended to better understand this critical point.
We have a big, big problem with climate – but it’s not time to run for the hills. It’s not ‘imminent human extinction” as some youtubers would have you believe.
We’re not getting off that easy.
We have to turn and fight for the future.

Dr. Carolyn Ruppel is a one woman “methane bomb” squad – a formidable scientist with superb communication skills. In at least one comment on the youtube page, I was accused of misquoting her or taking out of context. I’ve also been attacked on the basis that the 30 second clip in the video (above) was not a complete enough explanation.

Therefore, I went thru the footage of the interview, and pulled out the most critical points.
(Note: had to re-upload these after some killjoy at Yale noticed I had the wrong date – 2019, instead of 2018..)

1. In the first video, Dr. Ruppel explains the fundamentals of methane hydrates, where they are concentrated, and why. The areas of greatest concern are in the arctic continental shelf, which are areas that during the last glaciation, when sea level was lower, were vast northern permafrost grasslands – what Dr. Abbott calls a “Serengeti of the North”, which helped to lay down the massive layers vegetation and living remains, now frozen in permafrost which still exist.  There are isolated deposits of methane hydrate, a greenhouse gas in frozen form, in these areas.

As the glaciers retreated, due to changes in earth’s orbit, oceans rose and flooded large areas of permafrost coastal plain, which have become an extended arctic ocean shelf.  It is that shelf area, where relatively warm ocean waters may cause those hydrates to break down.

However, Dr. Ruppel explains, because hydrates can only concentrate in certain types of soils, they are not as widespread as some people believe, and huge methane releases from hydrates have not been confirmed in these areas. 

much more below….

2. In this second video, Dr. Ruppel discusses newly described areas in the Barents Sea where pockmarks have been discovered on the sea floor, which may be indications of methane release from deposits that formed under an ice sheet which covered the area during the glacial maximum.  “That is a new environment”, says Dr. Ruppel, “but that doesn’t mean we need to panic about the amount of methane that’s coming out.”

3. In this third excerpt, Dr Ruppel reveals that deposits of methane hydrate in the arctic typically coincide with areas of conventional oil and gas deposits, and leaks from those deposits may be the source of hydrate deposits. “They are not ubiquitous,” said Dr. Ruppel, “and the amount may not be as large as people might think it is.”

4. Here Dr. Ruppel points out that ocean waters are very undersaturated with methane, meaning that, for any methane release from waters deeper than 100 meters, there is a tendency for methane to be absorbed in the water column before reaching the surface. “It’s not a freight train that this methane is going to wind up directly in the atmosphere.”

5. In this clip Dr. Ruppel discusses the thermodynamic properties of methane hydrate – in that the reaction that releases methane is “endothermic” – it absorbs heat from the surroundings.and tends to dampen itself. 

“This is a problem when we try to produce methane from hydrates – it keeps shutting itself down,” says Dr Ruppel.
“So it’s not a situation where, we trigger breakdown, and suddenly that whole deposit is going to release its methane all of a sudden. That is not a scientifically sound worry.”

6. Here Dr. Ruppel points out that “ geophysics, the tools have changed quite a bit in the last decade…you can try this with your fish finder. Go out on a lake, turn your fishfinder on, and you may find methane coming out. We have the tools to routinely image the water column, and that is why we are finding methane coming out everywhere.”

Many of these seeps have likely been happening for a long time. “We just didn’t know about them before.”
“It would be inappropriate for us to portray them as new, that just started happening.”

“We see rocks in some of these places, that would have taken a very long time to form, certain particular rocks associated with methagenic processes.”


16 Responses to “Return of the Methane Bomb Squad”

  1. indy222 Says:

    Great to post this. Yes, too much “Death to you ALL in 7 years!” apocalyptos out there. However, Arctic methane is missing entirely from too many of the projections that tha happytalkers and profit-hunters make. MacDougall et al did some sober estimates of methane release (not explosions, but tundra) and show that it is indeed a significant amplifier, and much more so if ECS is above 3C as so many recent studies show. Not death by “explosion” (like that guy in “Man on Fire”, under the freeway bridge!), but slow decrepitude to a bad place. I wish there were more scientists aiming at the solid middle of the post-IPCC science, but everyone’s got an agenda it seems, and a big one is just to justify complacency. Either thinking some tweeks around renewables and a beautiful future is ahead, or we’re all DEAD men walking so what’s the point? Both are way too convenient.

    Yeah, we got hard work that’ll essentially “never” end (for people alive today), and that’s the real message NO one wants to hear.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Either thinking some tweeks around renewables and a beautiful future is ahead, or we’re all DEAD men walking so what’s the point? Both are way too convenient.

      Well, emotionally simplistic, maybe.

      My personal pessimism is based on important recent political events: China, which has shown great potential to use its tyrranical power to push through renewables and dry nuclear, is starting to feel the economic pains of slowing growth, French people have rejected fossil fuel cost increases, Trump is still POTUS, Bolsonaro is from the same mold as Trump, many African countries, after flirting with political reform, are slipping back into corrupt religious or tribal warfare, and attempts by the new progressive Democrats for solutions like high-speed rail are being shot down by the usual suspects.

      It’s not that we’re not putting enough effort and resources to solve the problem of climate change, but that there are in 2019 still major political forces actively pushing business as usual.

  2. Jean Swan Says:

    So the methane is absorbed in the water column seems like it means the methane is still there and that is not good?

    • greenman3610 Says:

      if it’s in the water it is not acting as a greenhouse gas.

      I’m sure there is some point where it would not be good, but we are a long way from that – also clear that a certain background emission from subsea is normal.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      We don’t really know how “not good” that may be. A lot of complicated physics, biology, and chemistry involved—critters “eat” the methane, temperature layering and stratification can hold it deep down, surface and deep water may or many not “mix” and allow it to bubble out. We understand terrestrial methane in permafrost far better and it should worry us more (and even Ruppel manages to communicate that to some extent),

  3. Jean Swan Says:

    Also thanks for this video.

  4. greenman3610 Says:

    a future vid with Ben Abbot and Katey Walter, plus others, will help focus on the permafrost issue, which is serious, but still in our power to influence.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Yes, you did get a lot of blowback on Youtube, and the comments were of a much higher quality than usual. I made my “blow back” comment on the original posting of Climate Bomb back in January, and these additional comments here from Dr.Ruppel don’t change my mind—-she is NOT a “superb communicator” in that she again muddies the waters with too many irrelevancies, “possiblies” and other qualifiers. To say nothing of the fact that she is NOT an expert on permafrost but on subsea clathrates, and it’s the melting permafrost that should be our first concern

      A good source of more than 100 pieces on methane over the past few years.

      A blog that has been inactive for a few years but still has good data and graphics.

      Look at all pages and click on links in both of those. There’s a lot of info out there, and a lot of uncertainty, but the old saw about “handwriting on the wall ” holds true here. Yes, we shouldn’t just give up, OR succumb to wishful thinking that somehow we’ll be saved, but the fact that we really don’t yet know enough is the thing that should scare us the most.

  5. Going South Says:

    “His narrative shows an almost crying female student who used to believe Arctic methane meltdown was kinda dangerous, but who now understands that the danger was “overblown”, because #endothermic. Because ice simply can’t melt on planet Earth because melting would require heat. It’s so stupid.”

  6. Vernon Brechin Says:

    This perspective ignores two major factors.

    1) There are many other reenforcing feedback mechanisms coming into play.

    2) The urgings, to make major cuts in fossil fuel use, have been with us for at least two decades and yet only a minimal response has occurred so far.

    Some of these commenters choose not to take that failed history into consideration.

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      1) Sherlock.

      2) Rubbish. Very large percentage of comments are bitching and screaming about that precise thing!

  7. Kevin Hester Says:

    I prefer the perspective of field researchers like Professor Peter Wadhams and Dr Natalia Shakova who both hypothisise a 50 gigatonne methane burp.
    Irrespective of what people want to believe we should be applying the “Precautionary Principal”.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      if by that you mean stop emitting carbon asap, we’re all totally on board.
      Concern is that doomsday messaging is counterproductive, and very likely wrong.

      • I never bought into the precise timeline of 2030 or its game over but clearly, the permafrost is starting to melt. Vice News has several good videos documenting it. Ben Abbott said in your video that human actions could mitigate up to 70% of the melting by us acting. That still leaves 30% which is huge considering there is more potential CO2 stored in the Arctic permafrost than humans have released in our entire history.

        I really don’t think humanity will take the needed steps until it’s too late. I would love to convert to solar but being a fifty-something asthmatic with a bad back, I can barely afford my medical bills, let alone an extra $30k to cut down the trees surrounding my home and installing a solar system. Solar tends not to work that well when it is cover in shade. So, unless the Green New Deal pays for it, it’s not going to happen for me any time soon. Can be done and will be done are 2 wildly different things.

        Another important point you never mentioned once is the impact of our ever-increasing population. Experts are predicting another billion people on the planet by 2030. That’s a billion more people using electricity, flying in planes, driving cars, heating homes, etc. So, going by the global average of 8 tons per person x 1 billion new people, that is a shit load of extra CO2. Also, let us not forget its not just cows that fart. Why haven’t you talked to anybody about this? Do you somehow believe an extra billion people will have zero impact on our environment?

  8. Richard Conricus Says:

    These are indisputable facts: Methane emissions from the Arctic are now in the top 1920ppb while the global figure is 1850ppb (before industrialisation roughly below 700ppb). During human 10,000 years of civilization, the carbon dioxide content has been around 280ppm and a temperature difference of about + -1degree C. During the ice ages, the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere ranged between 180-270ppm. The world thus stands before a rapid temperature rise never before experienced in the history of the world in such a short time.

  9. […] internet fever swamps about an imminent arctic “methane bomb”. In the last week since I produced a video that portrayed the best science on the issue, it’s clear that to question the “game […]

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