Methane’s Contribution to Global Warming Is Worse than You Thought

It seems we've been "fudging the numbers" in a sense, when comparing the global warming potential of methane to CO2. When global warming potential (GWP) of a gas is calculated, a time frame is assumed. The IPCC decided to use a 100 year time frame.

With a 100 year time frame methane heats up the planet 21 times as much as CO2. The problem with that assumption is that we don't have 100 years. A 20 year time frame would be much more realistic, given the urgency of climate crisis. With a 20 year time frame...

... any CH4 released today is at least 56 times more heat-trapping than a molecule of C02 also released today. And because of the way it reacts in the atmosphere, the number is probably even higher, according to research conducted by  Drew Shindell , a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Center. [emphasis mine]

 

What if we were to use the IPCC’s 20-year comparison instead of its 100-year comparison? For starters, it would force us to get much more serious about tackling  the sources of methane emissions. Here in the US, the top methane sources are the decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture (from ruminant digestion), and leaks from natural gas drilling and transmission. A new emphasis on methane would require us to get smarter about capturing methane at landfills, reduce the market incentives that encourage Americans’ meat-heavy diets, and ensure that methane isn’t leaking from fracking operations.

But beyond the policy specifics, adopting the 20-year global warming potential comparisons would be useful for changing how we think about climate change.

And we appear to be approaching some irrevocable tipping points that will create powerful negative feedback loops, the most worrisome being  the release of methane  stores at the bottom of the ocean and locked into sub-Arctic permafrost.

Image from Arctic Methane Release Tipping Point Diagram
With 56 times as much warming as CO2 in mind, we'd take this feedback more seriously.

Tags: Climate Change, Climate Destabilization, global warming potential, methane, methane release tipping point

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Replies to This Discussion

Wow - so behind - trying to get caught up on your discussions.

So 20 year time frame - wow that's so close. I hope they get on the ball and start thinking of solutions.

Now that we appreciate how dangerous methane is, we've just discovered an overlooked reservoir holding as much as Arctic permafrost, but even more vulnerable to evaporating.

The science team estimated that 50 percent of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (1 million square kilometers) and 25 percent of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (2.5 million square kilometers) overlies pre-glacial sedimentary basins containing about 21,000 billion metric tons of organic carbon.

"This is an immense amount of organic carbon, more than ten times the size of carbon stocks in northern permafrost regions," Wadham said. "Our laboratory experiments tell us that these sub-ice environments are also biologically active, meaning that this organic carbon is probably being metabolized to carbon dioxide and methane gas by microbes."

They also calculated that the potential amount of methane hydrate and free methane gas beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet could be up to 4 billion metric tons, a similar order of magnitude to some estimates made for Arctic permafrost. The predicted shallow depth of these potential reserves also makes them more susceptible to climate forcing than other methane hydrate reserves on Earth. [emphasis mine]

Study suggests large methane reservoirs beneath Antarctic ice sheet

This suggests that when the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melts the methane released will give a big kick, further accelerating climate Destabilization. So that diagram above for Arctic Methane Planetary Emergency needs a companion diagram: Antarctic Methane Planetary Emergency.

Note the bubbles in the left part of the image, compared to normal ocean on the right.


Russian scientists have discovered spots in the Arctic Ocean where mass emissions of methane can be observed.

According to the press-service of the expedition aboard The Viktor Buinitsky research vessel, the diameter of some of the ‘methane fields’ found in the northern part of the Laptev Sea exceeds 1 kilometre.

Were the vessel to sail into that bubbling methane field, it might sink. Large outgassings of methane temporarily decrease water density, so stuff which normally floats sinks. Will this pose a shipping hazard to vessels plying the Arctic passage in summer?

Methane emissions discovered in Arctic Ocean

The evidence mounts. Obama needs to address these issues. 

For whom is one to vote? Romney is out, Obama doesn't realize the economic problems caused by his administration, no one is taking up the climate change or getting off fossil fuels. What intelligent options exist?

This diagram illustrates methane reservoirs in the Arctic.

Great illustration

Enormous Methane Releases from the Arctic Shelf

The Eastern Siberian Arctic Shelf is a shallow area of the Arctic Ocean seafloor with vast methane deposits trapped beneath a subsea permafrost layer. Warming has already created over a hundred holes where methane is bubbling out.

A section of the Arctic Ocean seafloor that holds vast stores of frozen methane is showing signs of instability and widespread venting of the powerful greenhouse gas, according to the findings of an international research team led by University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov.

The research results, published in the March 5, 2013 edition of the journal Science, show that the permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, long thought to be an impermeable barrier sealing in methane, is perforated and is starting to leak large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.

Not at all good news! Response: stay calm, explore options, publicize research, stay flexible. Respond to events as they occur. Enjoy the present moment with a full appreciation for all the full-of-wonder gifts we enjoy. 

Watch Susan Jacoby - The Dumbing Down Of America.

I like these illustrations - very educational.

The Arctic Methane Emergency Group of climate scientists warns that the planet stands at the edge of abrupt and catastrophic climate change.

Methane Outbreak Alert!

... some of the world’s most renowned climate scientists formed AMEG, because they were prompted by indisputable signals of the beginning stages of massive releases of methane, thus, threatening an extinction event on planet Earth.

... AMEG has studied key non-linear trends in the Earth-human System and reached the stunning conclusion that the planet stands at the edge of abrupt and catastrophic climate change as a result of an unprecedented rate of change in the Arctic.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, as of February 2013, methane levels in the atmosphere are measured at 1,874 ppb (parts per billion.) This level, in an historical context, is more than twice as high as any time since 400,000 years before the industrial revolution. In the past, methane has ranged between 300-400 ppb during glacial periods and 600-700 ppb during warm interglacial periods.

In 2012, expeditionary teams in the Arctic were shocked, and dismayed, to find methane bubbling up from deep ocean sites. “Previous observations have pointed to large methane plumes being released from the seabed in the relatively shallow sea off the northern coast of Siberia, but the latest findings were made far away from land in the deep, open ocean where the surface is usually capped by ice.”1

Moreover, as if discovering methane emissions from the deep seas of the Arctic isn’t already of major concern, a recent study discovered immense amounts of methane locked under Antarctic ice: “They… calculated that the potential amount of methane hydrate and free methane gas beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet could be up to 4 billion metric tons, a similar order of magnitude to some estimates made for Arctic permafrost. The predicted shallow depth of these potential reserves also makes them more susceptible to climate forcing than other methane hydrate reserves on Earth.”2

According to the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG), the “Arctic is in meltdown.” As such, AMEG has declared: “An extremely high international security risk of acute climate disruption followed by runaway global warming.”

According to David Wasdell, International Coordinator, Meridian Programme: “A runaway climate change is now clear and beginning to be quantified for the first time… the greatest threat we face as a planet… The rate of change we’re generating in the current situation is between 200-300 times faster than that experience of any extinction event apart from the asteroidal impact.

We’ve lost about 40% of the phytoplankton in the oceans which is the basis of the food chain.”

... the albedo effect is collapsing in the Arctic.

A collapsing albedo effect is ominously apocalyptic for the Arctic, and for the world. And, disturbingly, Arctic albedo is already in the collapsing stage. This will inevitably lead to ever more methane emissions and a vicious cycle of feedbacks leading to an extinction event, probably unstoppable.

According to physicist Paul Beckwith, University of Ottawa, ... methane is the key now to a ‘tipping point’ in the climate. He believes it is entirely possible that before 2020 the Arctic will be clear of sea ice with open waters three months of the year ... [emphasis mine]

The White House has been briefed. White House warned on imminent Arctic ice death spiral

Senior US government officials are to be briefed at the White House this week on the danger of an ice-free Arctic in the summer within two years.

The meeting is bringing together Nasa's acting chief scientist, Gale Allen, the director of the US National Science Foundation, Cora Marett, as well as representatives from the US Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon.

This is the latest indication that US officials are increasingly concerned about the international and domestic security implications of climate change.

Senior scientists advising the US government at the meeting include 10 Arctic specialists, including marine scientist Prof Carlos Duarte, director of the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia.

In early April, Duarte warned that the Arctic summer sea ice was melting at a rate faster than predicted by conventional climate models, and could be ice free as early as 2015 -...

Duarte is lead author of a paper published last year in Nature Climate Change documenting how "tipping elements" in the Arctic ecosystems leading to "abrupt changes" that would dramatically impact "the global earth system" had "already started up". Duarte and his team concluded: "We are facing the first clear evidence of dangerous climate change."

Extreme weather events over the last few years apparently driven by the accelerating Arctic melt process - including unprecedented heatwaves and droughts in the US and Russia, along with snowstorms and cold weather in northern Europe – have undermined harvests, dramatically impacting global food production and contributing to civil unrest.

The group, which includes among its founding members leading Arctic specialists such as Prof Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University, stated that:

"The weather extremes from last year are causing real problems for farmers, not only in the UK, but in the US and many grain-producing countries. World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue."

When will people listen?!? This isn't just a ecological issue now, its a constitutional issue!don't get me wrong,I deeply respect the environment, but this is now a violation are right to LIVE! The government is allowing us to die just so someone can have a fancy new iPhone or a Lamborghini! If we don't do something NOW, we will ether die, or have to leave the planet. Reneger the protests against the large Haddon collider(lawsuits, news articles, etc.)? We need to do something like that. NOW.

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