I'm playing catch-up here
Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loops
This is from Guy McPherson's giant climate change essay
** Latest additions are flagged with two asterisks on each side. ** To access only the latest information (on most browsers), use CTRL-F, type two asterisks into the “find” box, and hit “Return” or “Enter.” Note that this essay has grown from a few thousand words in January 2013 to the current massive missive.
About 250 plumes of methane hydrates are escaping from the shallow Arctic seabed, likely as a result of a regional 1 C rise in temperature, as reported in the 6 August 2009 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. Methane bubbling out the Arctic Oceanis further elucidated in Science in March 2010. As described in a subsequent paper in the June 2010 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a minor increase in temperature would cause the release of upwards of 16,000 metric tons of methane each year. Storms accelerate the release, according to research published in the 24 November 2013 issue of Nature Geoscience The latter paper also concludes the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is venting at least 17 teragrams of the methane into the atmosphere each year, up from 0.5 teragrams just 7 years earlier (a teragram is equal to 1 million tons). According to NASA’s CARVE project, these plumes were up to 150 kilometers across as of mid-July 2013. Global-average temperature is expected to rise by more than 4 C by 2030 and 10 C by 2040 based solely on methane release from the Arctic Ocean, according to Sam Carana’s research (see especially Image 24). Whereas Malcolm Light’s 9 February 2012 forecast of extinction of all life on Earth by the middle of this century appeared premature because his conclusion of exponential methane release during summer 2011 was based on data subsequently revised and smoothed by U.S. government agencies, subsequent information — most notably from NASA’s CARVE project — indicates the grave potential for catastrophic release of methane. (I doubt industrial civilization manages to kill all life on Earth, although that clearly is the goal.) Catastrophically rapid release of methane in the Arctic is further supported by Nafeez Ahmed’s thorough analysis in the 5 August 2013 issue of theGuardian as well as Natalia Shakhova’s 29 July 2013 interview with Nick Breeze (note the look of abject despair at the eight-minute mark). The 16 August 2013 issue ofGeophysical Research Letters includes a report of the Siberian Kara Sea where “Arctic shelf region where seafloor gas release is widespread suggests that permafrost has degraded more significantly than previously thought.” In early November 2013,methane levels well in excess of 2,600 ppb were recorded at multiple altitudes in the Arctic. Later that same month, Shakhova and colleagues published a paper in Nature Geoscience suggesting “significant quantities of methane are escaping the East Siberian Shelf” and indicating that a 50-billion-tonne “burst” of methane could warm Earth by 1.3 C. Such a burst of methane is “highly possible at any time,” which echoesfindings from 2008(paradoxically, on 23 May 2015 Shakhova said, “We never stated that 50 gigatonnes is likely to be released in near or distant future”). In the 7 September 2015 issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, Shakhova and colleagues concluded that “progression of subsea permafrost thawing and decrease in ice extent could result in a significant increase in CH4 emissions from the ESAS” (East Siberian Arctic Shelf).In the 7 September 2015 issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, Shakhova and colleagues concluded that “progression of subsea permafrost thawing and decrease in ice extent could result in a significant increase in CH4 emissions from the ESAS” (East Siberian Arctic Shelf). Taking an expectedly more conservative approach, Peter Wadhams expects a 0.6 C rise in global-average temperature within five years after an ice-free Arctic, more than sufficient to collapse civilization and enough to make Wadhams ponder human extinction.
By 15 December 2013, methane bubbling up from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean had sufficient force to prevent sea ice from forming in the area. Nearly two years after his initial, oft-disparaged analysis, Malcolm Light concluded on 22 December 2013, “we have passed the methane hydrate tipping point and are now accelerating into extinction as the methane hydrate ‘Clathrate Gun’ has begun firing volleys of methane into the Arctic atmosphere.” According to Light’s analysis in late 2013, the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere will resemble that of Venus before 2100. The refereed journal literature tackles the topic of hothouse Earth with a paper in the 9 February 2016 issue of Nature Communications: “Water-rich planets such as Earth are expected to become eventually uninhabitable, because liquid water turns unstable at the surface as temperatures increase with solar luminosity. Whether a large increase of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases such as CO2 could also destroy the habitability of water-rich planets has remained unclear. Here we show with three-dimensional aqua-planet simulations that CO2-induced forcing as readily destabilizes the climate as does solar forcing. The climate instability is caused by a positive cloud feedback and leads to a new steady state with global-mean sea-surface temperatures above 330 K” (330 Kelvin is about 57 C, compared to today’s temperature of about 15 C). Two weeks after Light’s 2013 analysis, in an essay stressing near-term human extinction, Lightconcluded: “The Gulf Stream transport rate started the methane hydrate (clathrate) gun firing in the Arctic in 2007 when its energy/year exceeded 10 million times the amount of energy/year necessary to dissociate subsea Arctic methane hydrates.” The refereed journal literature, typically playing catch-up with reality, includes an article in the 3 February 2014 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surfaceclaiming, “Sustained submergence [of these sediments] into the future should increase gas venting rate roughly exponentially as sediments continue to warm.” Not surprisingly, the clathrate gun began firing in 2007, the same year the extent of Arctic sea ice reached a tipping point. Abundant evidence supporting the firing of the clathrate gun was collated and presented here on 9 September 2012. Further confirmation the clathrate gun had been fired came from Stockholm University’s Örjan Gustafsson, who reported from the Laptev Sea on 23 July 2014: “results of preliminary analyses of seawater samples pointed towards levels of dissolved methane 10-50 times higher than background levels.” Jason Box responds to the news in the conservative fashion I’ve come to expect from academic scientists on 27 July 2014: “What’s the take home message, if you ask me? Because elevated atmospheric carbon from fossil fuel burning is the trigger mechanism poking the climate dragon. The trajectory we’re on is to awaken a runaway climate heating that will ravage global agricultural systems leading to mass famine, conflict. Sea level rise will be a small problem by comparison.” Later, during an interview with Vice published 1 August 2014, Box loosened up a bit, saying, “Even if a small fraction of the Arctic carbon were released to the atmosphere, we’re fucked.” Trust me, Jason, we’re there.
Simultaneous with the Laptev Sea mission, several large holes were discovered in Siberia. The reaction from an article published in the 31 July 2014 issue of Natureindicates atmospheric methane levels more than 50,000 times the usual. An article in the 4 August 2014 edition of Ecowatch ponders the holes: “If you have ever wondered whether you might see the end of the world as we know it in your lifetime, you probably should not read this story, nor study the graphs, nor look at the pictures of methane blowholes aka dragon burps.”
One of the authors of two research papers rooted in the Siberian Kara Sea concluded on 22 December 2014, “If the temperature of the oceans increases by two degrees as suggested by some reports, it will accelerate the thawing to the extreme. A warming climate could lead to an explosive gas release from the shallow areas.” As we’ve known for a few years, 2 C is locked in.
By late February 2015, the Siberian crater saga had become “more widespread — and scarier — than anyone thought,” with numerous reports from the mainstream media. Naturally, these reports focused on economic impacts and the need for further research.
Methane release from thawing offshore permafrost was further verified with researchreported in the 7 August 2015 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research. This paper, for the first time, describes pingo-like features beneath the seabed offshore from Siberia.
According to researchers quoted in the 22 September 2015 issue of The Siberian Times, the rare media outlet that is willing to address abrupt climate change in a meaningful manner, those massive craters on the Yamal Peninsula are, in fact, created by the release of methane. Furthermore, more craters are expected due to eruptions as permafrost continues to melt.
It turns out those giant, methane-emitting craters in the Yamal region of Siberia have subsea counterparts. A paper in the 7 August 2015 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Science connects the craters on land with those in the adjacent, shallow South Kara Sea. According a write-up in The Siberian Times: “Large mounds — described as pingos — have been identified on the seabed off the Yamal Peninsula, and their formation is seen as due to the thawing of subsea permafrost, causing a ‘high accumulation’ of methane gas.”
The importance of methane cannot be overstated. Increasingly, evidence points to a methane burst underlying the Great Dying associated with the end-Permian extinction event, as pointed out in the 31 March 2014 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As Malcolm Light reported on 14 July 2014: “There are such massive reserves of methane in the subsea Arctic methane hydrates, that if only a few percent of them are released, they will lead to a jump in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere of 10 degrees C and produce a ‘Permian’ style major extinction event which will kill us all. Apparently a 5 C rise in global-average temperature was responsible for the Great Dying, according to Michael Benton’s book on the topic. In that case, the rise is temperature requires tens of thousands of years.
Discussion about methane release from the Arctic Ocean has been quite heated (pun intended). Paul Beckwith was criticized by the conservative website, Skeptical Science. His response from 9 August 2013 is here.
Robert Scribbler provides a terrifying summary 24 February 2014, and concludes, “two particularly large and troubling ocean to atmosphere methane outbursts were observed” in the Arctic Ocean. Such an event hasn’t occurred during the last 45 million years. Scribbler’s bottom line: “that time of dangerous and explosive reawakening, increasingly, seems to be now.”
Sam Carana includes the figure below in his 10 September 2014 analysis. Based on data from several reputable sources, exponential release of methane clearly is under way. Robert Scribbler reaches the conclusion, finally, on 8 December 2014.
A paper published in the 22 December 2015 online issue of theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports, “that emissions during the cold season (September to May) contribute ≥50% of annual sources of methane from Alaskan tundra, based on fluxes obtained from eddy covariance sites and from regional fluxes calculated from aircraft data. … The dominance of late season emissions, sensitivity to soil conditions, and importance of dry tundra are not currently simulated in most global climate models.”
In a Heinrich Event, the melt forces eventually reach a tipping point. The warmer water has greatly softened the ice sheet. Floods of water flow out beneath the ice. Ice ponds grow into great lakes that may spill out both over top of the ice and underneath it. Large ice damns (sic) may or may not start to form. All through this time ice motion and melt is accelerating. Finally, a major tipping point is reached and in a single large event or ongoing series of such events, a massive surge of water and ice flush outward as the ice sheet enters an entirely chaotic state. Tsunamis of melt water rush out bearing their vast floatillas (sic) of ice burgs (sic), greatly contributing to sea level rise. And that’s when the weather really starts to get nasty. In the case of Greenland, the firing line for such events is the entire North Atlantic and, ultimately the Northern Hemisphere.