Is Arctic Methane a Bomb or Not?

We all know we’ve got thousands and thousands of nuclear bombs, that we can choose whether or not to detonate. The problem about the methane bomb is we don’t get to make that decision.

The above is the current map of permafrost areas in the Arctic and further south in the Northern Hemisphere. Most of these areas are now thawing rapidly, and carbon is therefore seeping out, both on land and underwater. In particular, the flooded earlier land permafrost area of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) is a concern, as this permafrost is being eaten up by a constantly warming Arctic Ocean.

But let’s start with the basics: Is the so–called methane time–bomb a bomb in the normal sense of the word? Obviously, it’s not a crafted, man–made explosive device. But then, is it able to explode, like a bomb? Well, the locals of Siberia have reported hearing loud bangs and seeing fire light up the night sky when these bangs occur, later to find the methane blowout craters on the ground. I think it fits the bill of a bomb, but hey, let’s be super–conservative here and not give that a pass.

It is, however a bomb or at least a time–bomb when you take the full picture into view. No, not the isolated hydrates on a bench in a lab, that’s an isolated and reductionistic case, typical of some of the worst kinds of human/science tradition. In the full picture view, the thawing over most of the permafrost areas on the map, is triggered by the planetary warming we’ve seen already: It’s now warm enough for this permafrost to thaw, year–on–year. And as parts of the resulting gas emissions from the thawing process are methane molecules, and the rest mostly carbon dioxide molecules, this thawing inevitably causes more warming.

Do you see the problem here? A thawing caused by the warming is causing more warming! We got ourselves a warming, self–reinforcing feedback loop. The thaw will increase with the increase in the thaw. This process clearly is already out of our hands. We don’t control it, and in particular we don’t control the thawing of subsea permafrost that is being done by an already non–frozen Arctic Ocean, in the case of the ESAS. As reported by field scientists doing research in the area, these drowned fields of permafrost will continue to thaw (and release their methane) until the day that the sea above them is gone and they’re exposed to air again (and that air needs to be cold like a freezer).

In a nutshell: It’s a bomb, and we triggered it already, but it will take much more time than your average Hollywood bomb to explode completely. It still doesn’t mean we are able to defuse it. We can send in the Bomb Squad, but all they can do is take measurements and selfies with the permafrost.

Annual Average Sea Ice Extent

2018 was the 2nd lowest (start of green graph) calendar year on record for annual average sea ice extent in the Arctic. After 2016, but before 2017. Since New Year we’ve climbed back up to 4th lowest, and per now it even seems likely we’ll leave this chart at the high end, by averaging higher than 10 million km² sea ice extent.

Q: Where’s the data source for this plot?
A: Here: https://ads.nipr.ac.jp/vishop/#/extent
Q: How can anyone make an annual average graph?
A: Easy. Use a computer. Add all the ice for the latest 365 days, divide by that number of days.
Q: Why would I even do that?
A: Let’s say you want to know how much ice we have in 2019 compared to other years.

Yale University goes out of its way to say Nothing To See Here! on Permafrost

More Arctic Methane Shenanigans: Ivy League university Yale in the United States of America is worried that their January 2019 propaganda video on methane hydrates wasn’t swallowed hook, line and sinker by human beings connected to the Internet.

The first sign that you are reading a political propaganda piece and not science communication, is when an article isn’t talking about Climate Element X, but rather about human beings connected to the Internet who are worried about Climate Element X. Sometimes this may be hard to recognise, but in our case, it’s spelled out:

«Such concerned voices in recent weeks are the focus of this post»

Bud Ward, Yale Climate Connections

This may seem trivial to an untrained eye, but when the focus isn’t Climate Element X, but concerned voices, then the scientific discipline involved is also no longer climate or natural sciences, but social or political sciences. In a nutshell: How can we make these darn concerned voices go away? Josef Stalin or George W. Bush could prolly suggest one or two ways such voices can be silenced. But let’s read Yale’s article carefully.

«The blogosphere for years has been abuzz, and particularly in recent weeks, with information – and, equally importantly, misinformation – about the near-term risks posed by uncontrollable and potentially catastrophic releases of large Arctic deposits of methane hydrates, ice-like substances holding a powerful greenhouse gas.»

Bud Ward, Yale Climate Connections

Comment: Several high–profile voices from David Attenborough and Stephen Hawking to scientists and world leaders have stated in recent years that Climate Change is the defining or most important issue of our time. Yale University shouldn’t be so surprised to also find human beings connected to the Internet who share this view. In fact, their chosen authority figure, USGS Lead Scientist Carolyn Ruppel, confirms the fact that these hydrate deposits are thawing already, and thereby also releasing their methane to the Earth’s atmosphere.

«Highly vocal have been voices cautioning about existing or perhaps imminent methane releases to the atmosphere, resulting in global catastrophe or cataclysm and threatening human civilization.»

Bud Ward, Yale Climate Connections

Comment: Any thawing of sediments under a rapidly warming ocean containing hundreds of gigatons of a highly potent greenhouse gas is of course a potential threat to human agriculture & civilisation, and cautioning about these emissions by our planet itself seems, if anything, highly appropriate. This is something we need to know about, and Yale University ought to look closer at its own university shield, which in English has the motto “Light and Truth”. Yale shouldn’t take it upon themselves to spread Darkness and Lies, so should praise any and all information campaigns about these very important issues instead of trying to quell them.

«Such concerned voices in recent weeks are the focus of this post, as many appear to be in response to the January 29 post of videographer Peter Sinclair’s monthly video, at this site. That video included interviews with several highly regarded experts pushing back on the doom-and-gloom “methane time bomb” meme.»

Bud Ward, Yale Climate Connections

Comment: Peter Sinclair’s video on YouTube was a cleverly crafted propaganda video, in which scientific authority and language were abused in order to give human beings connected to the Internet the impression that ice couldn’t melt because it requires heat. The USGS Lead Scientist was kicking in open doors with her “revelation” that hydrate meltdown requires heat — we all know that this heat is available in abundance once the thawing front in the ESAS reaches more deposits deeper down in the subsea permafrost layers. Calling this irreversible deeper and deeper thaw into the methane containing layers a “time bomb” is hardly an exaggeration.

«It’s no surprise that some of those recent and ongoing online commentaries mischaracterize the expert perspectives reflected in that January 29 video. One comes to expect that of the online world of commentary and hyperbole.»

Bud Ward, Yale Climate Connections

Comment: What’s the issue with the “online world” and human beings connected to the Internet? Does Yale expect people in 2019 to arrive by horse and carriage to deliver their commentary, or do they perhaps prefer surface mail or telefax messages littered with handwritten comments? It’s strange, but amusing, to see Yale repeat a meme that is almost as old as the Internet itself, namely that modern human beings using it must be inherently evil or ill–informed. And what’s the nature of these “mischaracterisations of expert perspectives”? Is it that the whole video was called propagandistic? If it’s ridden with political propaganda, is it not a political propaganda video? If such characteristics are unwanted, maybe Yale should think about not releasing political propaganda footage to YouTube? Nip it in the bud, eh. Easier than trying to control the response, when propagandising the planet.

«Carolyn Ruppel, PhD, who heads the gas hydrates research project for the United States Geological Survey, USGS, is among those featured in that video, along with other reputable scientists.»

Bud Ward, Yale Climate Connections

Comment: … Who admits on tape that she stopped working with the Arctic half a decade ago.

«But given constraints on how much information could be included in that single six-minute video, we provide here six brief educational videos – ranging from one minute to nearly five minutes – drawn from the Ruppel interview remarks not included in that initial video.»

Bud Ward, Yale Climate Connections

Comment: Artificial, self–imposed constraints. Peter Sinclair voluntarily made his monthly YouTube video that short, likely because he wanted to convey a simple, propagandistic message about Arctic methane: Nothing To See Here, Move Along! He wanted to “Keep It Simple, Stupid” for political propaganda effect, not out of respect for the scientific matter at hand. 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.

«These six segments provide authoritative background on the “methane time bomb” and why experts may not “lie awake at night” fretting about it.»

Bud Ward, Yale Climate Connections

Comment: Well, that would be nice, wouldn’t it. But they don’t. Please see my walk–through of the videos below. And thank you for providing the extra footage, revealing to me and everyone that the propagandistic contents and intents of the January video were exactly as bad as first assumed, if not worse.

Video Footage Walk–Through

For clarity, what human beings connected to the Internet are mostly worried about, the aforementioned Climate Element X, is methane hydrates in the shallow ESAS (0–50m water depth) in East Siberia.

#1

«[…] But it doesn’t mean there is hydrate everywhere in there. One of the things in terrestrial areas, is that gas hydrate tends to focus only in certain areas, it’s not this big, wide–spread or high–saturated deposit. So, one thing I think we generally have to be careful of, is talking about what the inventory of gas hydrate is to begin with. OK. So, even if the thawing’s happening, the amount there in the first place on these Arctic continental shelves, is not a huge amount. And it is not ubiquitous. And it is not necessarily even a thick deposit. So, that’s one of the things: The amount available to even emit methane is probably not nearly as large as some people are estimating.»

Carolyn Ruppel, Lead Scientist, USGS

Comment: Well, obviously, the worry is about the methane that’s there, and how fast that’s gonna thaw. If Ruppel disagrees with “some people” about the amounts, that’s a matter for scientific debate among experts. On Wikipedia, citing science reports, the only figure we find for subsea methane / methane hydrates in the ESAS is 1,400 Gt carbon. Ruppel admits these deposits are thawing, and the scientific consensus seems to be that the submerged permafrost is thawing by about a foot every year, across the ESAS shallow seas.

#2

«Barents Sea […] pockmarks […] on the sea floor […] methane releases […] But that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to panic about the amount of methane that’s coming out.»

Carolyn Ruppel, Lead Scientist, USGS

Comment: True, but the human beings connected to the Internet are panicking about current and future releases from the ESAS, not the Barents Sea. Giant, kilometer–wide pockmarks in the Barents sea floor only make the matter worse, not better.


#3

«[…] Again, it’s not ubiquitous. So, again, I’d argue that probably the amount is not nearly as large as people might think it is, if they don’t think about the vagaries of gas hydrates.»

Carolyn Ruppel, Lead Scientist, USGS

Comment: Again, obviously, the worry is about the methane that’s there, and how fast that’s gonna thaw. If Ruppel disagrees with “people” about the amounts, that’s a matter for scientific debate among experts. On Wikipedia, citing science reports, the only figure we find for subsea methane / methane hydrates in the ESAS is 1,400 Gt carbon. Ruppel herself admits these deposits are thawing, and the scientific consensus seems to be that the submerged permafrost is thawing by about a foot every year, across the ESAS shallow seas.

#4

Ruppel here explains that ocean waters are under-saturated with methane, meaning that for releases from waters more than 100 meters deep, methane tends 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.”

Bud Ward, Editor, Yale Climate Connections

Comment: Well, the worry, as mentioned, is methane hydrates in the shallow ESAS (0–50m water depth) in East Siberia. These human beings connected to the Internet are obviously less worried about other seas and deeper waters.

#5

Ruppel here discusses what she calls a common “misconception” involving the risk of a “catastrophic trigger” of methane releases. The thermodynamic properties of methane hydrate render that fear “not a scientifically sound worry,” she says. “That is simply not how these deposits can function thermodynamically.” She explains that the reaction that releases methane is “endothermic.” The significance of that, she says, is that the methane absorbs heat from the surroundings, and the methane “keeps shutting itself down.”

Bud Ward, Editor, Yale Climate Connections

Comment: Well, the video shows a dry, laboratory environment, with hydrate resting on a table at prolly sub–zero temperatures Celsius. In real life, ESAS sea floor permafrost thaws about a foot every year, and the above zero C wet environment (commonly known as ‘the ocean’) melting the hydrates won’t be shut down, even though the hydrate melt is endothermic. The physics is the same as for a glass of ice cubes being introduced to tap water: They will melt. The melting of ice cubes into liquid water is also endothermic (it requires heat transfer), that doesn’t stop them from melting. In fact, global warming and the collapse of the Cryosphere (or Frozen Earth) is all about adding heat and melting the ice. Duh!

#6

Here Ruppel points out that “methane seepage is not new … in geophysics, the tools have changed quite a bit in the last decade … you can actually do this with your fish finder. Go out on a lake, turn your fish finder 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.”


“It would be inappropriate for us to portray them as new, just started happening,” she advises.

Bud Ward, Editor, Yale Climate Connections

Comment: Fine, it’s not new. But over the ESAS, the main worry here, you have a time–series of scientific measurements of methane releases from the seabed. The increase in volume is very significant. You should study the peer–reviewed scientific literature. I dunno, go on the Internet or something, to find that info. Stop worrying about human beings connected to the Internet who worry, and read up on the actual evidence, recorded in peer–reviewed scientific reports.

Schätzing to Werminghausen 2007–19

Prague, May 2007: I’m enjoying this ancient, Central European city and its parks, food and people with my dad and his buddy, but most of all I am reading The Swarm by Frank Schätzing ten or maybe 15 hours a day. Because it’s such a fascinating novel.

Finally filmed this year by ZDF, The Swarm will now be turned into an 8–piece TV series for 2019/20.

Frank tells a fabulous story, as you can imagine, in which we’re taken down under water and introduced to the frozen methane hydrates, a first for me personally, as well as their little buddy, a worm that eats methane hydrates. We’re also introduced to the larger problematique of thawing sediments and global warming from the hyper potent greenhouse gas, methane, and obviously the mad human rush to make a buck even from mining these super unstable frozen hydrocarbons.

Fast forward to 2014, when the Climate Panel releases its 5th major report, and their now infamous conservatism leads me to read about the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) on the Internet, and study this fascinating landscape of climate activists and perspectives, in a summer that seemed to smash every record for heat in Western Norway. There seemed to be a major problem connected to Frank Schätzing’s hydrates, but scientists and their handlers in political office appeared to prefer to keep people in the dark: The less we know about Arctic methane, the better.

Cross–linked from AMEG and related blogs, I also discover Wolfgang Werminghausen, a German father of twins and soft–spoken family man and climate blogger. Wolfgang has noticed that everything climate always happens “Faster Than Expected”, and he’s therefore settled on this as the name of his WordPress blog and audio podcast.

Faster Than Expected 21.

Talking in 2017 and again here in 2019, Wolfgang and I go into how scientists and their political handlers systematically underestimate the size of climate danger, and how fast it is approaching. We delve into the Tipping Points and the Self–Reinforcing Feedback Loops, but also the darker sides of the human mind, and how to handle fear.

Talking South S02E01.

First 1–Week Melt in the Arctic

January 28th to February 3rd saw the first 1–week melt or compaction of sea ice in the 2019 Arctic. That is, the sea ice extent reported by JAXA was lower than 7 days before for the first time this year, be it primarily due to wind or actual melting of ice. Arguably, every single day of the year contains a combination of melt and freeze, or compaction and expansion, so clearly, we’re talking about a net melt.

January 28–February 3 saw weekly extent decline for the first time, and the 21,000 km² decrease was enough to take 2019 from 7th to 4th lowest.

Meanwhile, the much more important data for sea ice volume can be seen in this zoomed out 10–year chart:

Sea ice volume showing an irreversible, post–Tipping Point collapse towards zero Arctic sea ice. Arguably, this is the most significant graph in all of human history, revealing both the lies of the UN and the larger Climate Change Community and the now inevitable fate of Global Industrial Civilisation.

Please help share this most important graph revealing persistent decline and a climate Tipping Point several decades back in our past: The true Tipping Point for ice is not at a future date or a yet to materialise future temperature threshold, it already happened.

Should you need more walk–through / explanation of the chart, I’ve got that in these fine videos: youtu.be/hXjbUY-Nt3Q | youtu.be/w8Hh5f68lhA | youtu.be/4DhzKbx21S8

Q: Where’s the data source for this plot?
A: Here: http://psc.apl.uw.edu/research/projects/arctic-sea-ice-volume-anomaly/data/
Q: How can anyone make a decadal average graph?
A: Easy. Use a computer. Add all the ice for the latest 3650 days, divide by that number of days.
Q: Why would I even do that?
A: Let’s say you want to know how much ice we have in the latest decade compared to the decades before that.