Methane and climate: 10 things you should know

15 09 2018

The graph above shows methane concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere over the past 10,000+ years: 8000 BCE to 2018 CE.  The units are parts per billion (ppb).  The year 1800 is marked with a circle.

Note the ominous spike.  As a result of increasing human-caused emissions, atmospheric methane levels today are two-and-a-half times higher than in 1800.  After thousands of years of relatively stable concentrations, we have driven the trendline to near-vertical.

Here are 10 things you should know about methane and the climate:

1. Methane (CH4) is one of the three main greenhouse gases, along with carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

2. Methane is responsible for roughly 20% of warming, while carbon dioxide is responsible for roughly 70%, and nitrous oxide the remaining 10%.

3. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG).  Pound for pound, it is 28 times more effective at trapping heat than is carbon dioxide (when compared over a 100-year time horizon, and 84 times as effective at trapping heat when compared over 20 years).  Though humans emit more carbon dioxide than methane, each tonne of the latter traps more heat.

4. Fossil-fuel production is the largest single source.  Natural gas is largely made up of methane (about 90%).  When energy companies drill wells, “frac” wells, and pump natural gas through vast distribution networks some of that methane escapes.  (In the US alone, there are 500,000 natural gas wells, more than 3 million kilometers of pipes, and millions of valves, fittings, and compressors; see reports here and here.)  Oil and coal production also release methane—often vented into the atmosphere from coal mines and oil wells.  Fossil-fuel production is responsible for about 19% of total (human-caused and natural) methane emissions.  (An excellent article by Saunois et al. is the source for this percentage and many other facts in this blog post.)  In Canada, policies to reduce energy-sector methane emissions by 40 percent will be phased in over the next seven years, but implementation of those policies has been repeatedly delayed.

5. Too much leakage makes electricity produced using natural gas as climate-damaging as electricity from coal.  One report found that for natural gas to have lower overall emissions than coal the leakage rate would have to be below 3.2%.  A recent study estimates leakage in the US at 2.3%.  Rates in Russia, which supplies much of the gas for the EU, are even higher.  Until we reduce leakage rates, the advantage of shutting down coal-fired power plants and replacing them with natural gas generation will remain much more modest than often claimed.

6. Domestic livestock are the next largest source of methane.  Cattle, sheep,  and other livestock that graze on grass emit methane from their stomachs through their mouths.  This methane is produced by the symbiotic bacteria that live in the guts of these “ruminants” and enable them to digest grass and hay.  In addition, manure stored in liquid form also emits methane.  Livestock and manure are responsible for roughly 18% of total methane emissions.

7. Rice paddy agriculture, decomposing organic matter in landfills, and biomass burning also contribute to methane emissions.  Overall, human-caused emissions make up about 60% of the total.  And natural sources (wetlands, swamps, wild ruminants, etc.) contribute the remaining 40%.

8. There is lots of uncertainty about emissions.  Fossil fuel production and livestock may be responsible for larger quantities than is generally acknowledged.  The rise in atmospheric concentrations is precisely documented, but the relative balance between sources and sinks and the relative contribution of each source is not precisely known.

9. There is a lot of potential methane out there, and we risk releasing it.  Most of the increase in emissions in recent centuries has come from human systems (fossil fuel, livestock, and rice production; and landfills).  Emissions from natural systems (swamps and wetlands, etc.) have not increased by nearly as much.  But that can change.  If human actions continue to cause the planet to warm, natural methane emissions will rise as permafrost thaws.  (Permafrost contains huge quantities of organic material, and when that material thaws and decomposes in wet conditions micro-organisms can turn it into methane.)  Any such release of methane will cause more warming which can thaw more permafrost and release more methane which will cause more warming—a positive feedback.

Moreover, oceans, or more specifically their continental shelves, contain vast quantities of methane in the form of “methane hydrates” or “clathrates”—ice structures that hold methane stable so long as the temperature remains cold enough.  But heat up the coastal oceans and some of that methane could begin to bubble up to the surface.  And there are huge amounts of methane contained in those hydrates—the equivalent of more than 1,000 years of human-caused emissions.  We risk setting off the “methane bomb“—a runaway warming scenario that could raise global temperatures many degrees and catastrophically damage the biosphere and human civilization.

Admittedly, the methane bomb scenario is unlikely to come to pass.  While some scientists are extremely concerned, a larger number downplay or dismiss it.  Nonetheless a runaway positive feedback involving methane represents a low-probability but massive-impact risk; our day-to-day actions are creating a small risk of destroying all of civilization and most life on Earth.

10. We can easily reduce atmospheric methane concentrations and  attendant warming; this is the good news.  Methane is not like CO2, which stays in the atmosphere for centuries.  No, methane is a “short-lived” gas.  On average, it stays in the atmosphere for less than ten years.  Many natural processes work to strip it out of the air.  Currently, human and natural sources emit about 558 million tonnes of methane per year, and natural processes in the atmosphere and soils remove all but 10 million tonnes.  (again, see Saunois et al.)  Despite our huge increase in methane production, sources and sinks are not that far out of balance.  Therefore, if we stop increasing our emissions then atmospheric concentrations could begin to fall.  We might see significant declines in just decades.  This isn’t the case for CO2, which will stay in the atmosphere for centuries.  But with methane, we have a real chance of reducing atmospheric levels and, as we do so, moderating warming and slowing climate change.

A series of policies focused on minimizing emissions from the fossil-fuel sector (banning venting and minimizing leaks from drilling and fracking and from pipes) could bring the rate of methane creation below the rate of removal and cause atmospheric levels to fall.  A more rational approach to meat production (including curbing over-consumption in North America and elsewhere) could further reduce emissions.  This is very promising news.  Methane reduction represents a “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to moderating climate change.

The methane problem is the climate problem in microcosm.  There are some relatively simple, affordable steps we can take now that will make a positive difference.  But, if we don’t act fast, aggressively, and effectively, we risk unleashing a whole range of effects that will swiftly move our climate into chaos and deprive humans of the possibility of limiting warming to manageable levels.  We can act to create some good news today, or we can suffer a world of bad news tomorrow.

Graph sources:
– United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), “Climate Change Indicators: Atmospheric Concentrations of Greenhouse Gases.
– Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), “Latest Cape Grim Greenhouse Gas Data.
– National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Earth System Research Laboratory, Global Monitoring Division, “Trends in Atmospheric Methane.


Beyond the Point of No Return

4 12 2016

Imminent Carbon Feedbacks Just Made the Stakes for Global Warming a Hell of a Lot Higher

Republished from Robert Scribbler’s excellent website……..

If EVER there was a need to start soil farming, this proves it beyond doubt.

“It’s fair to say we have passed the point of no return on global warming and we can’t reverse the effects, but certainly we can dampen them,” said biodiversity expert Dr. Thomas Crowther.

“I’m an optimist and still believe that it is not too late, but we urgently need to develop a global economy driven by sustainable energy sources and start using CO2, as a substrate, instead of a waste product.” — Prof Ivan Janssens, recognized as a godfather of the global ecology field.

“…we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it… we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.” — Professor Stephen Hawking yesterday in The Guardian.


The pathway for preventing catastrophic climate change just got a whole hell of a lot narrower.

For according to new, conservative estimates in a scientific study led by Dr. Thomas Crowther, increasing soil respiration alone is about to add between 0.45 and 0.71 parts per million of CO2 to the atmosphere every year between now and 2050.

(Thomas Crowther explains why rapidly reducing human greenhouse gas emissions is so important. Namely, you want to do everything you can to avoid a runaway into a hothouse environment that essentially occurs over just one Century. Video source: Netherlands Institute of Ecology.)

What this means is that even if all of human fossil fuel emissions stop, the Earth environment, from this single source, will generate about the same carbon emission as all of the world’s fossil fuel industry did during the middle of the 20th Century. And that, if human emissions do not stop, then the pace of global warming of the oceans, ice sheets, and atmosphere is set to accelerate in a runaway warming event over the next 85 years.

Global Warming Activates Soil Respiration Which Produces More CO2

This happens because as the world warms, carbon is baked out of previously inactive soils through a process known as respiration. As a basic explanation, micro-organisms called heterotrophs consume carbon in the soil and produce carbon dioxide as a bi-product. Warmth is required to fuel this process. And large sections of the world that were previously too cold to support large scale respiration and CO2 production by heterotrophs and other organisms are now warming up. The result is that places like Siberian Russia, Northern Europe, Canada, and Alaska are about to contribute a whole hell of a lot more CO2 (and methane) to the atmosphere than they did during the 20th Century.

When initial warming caused by fossil fuel burning pumps more carbon out of the global environment, we call this an amplifying feedback. It’s a critical climate tipping point when the global carbon system in the natural environment starts to run away from us.

Sadly, soil respiration is just one potential feedback mechanism that can produce added greenhouse gasses as the Earth warms. Warming oceans take in less carbon and are capable of producing their own carbon sources as they acidify and as methane seeps proliferate. Forests that burn due to heat and drought produce their own carbon sources. But increasing soil respiration, which has also been called the compost bomb, represents what is probably one of the most immediate and likely large sources of carbon feedback.


(A new study finds that warming of 1 to 2 C by 2050 will increase soil respiration. The result is that between 30 and 55 billion tons of additional CO2 is likely to hit the Earth’s atmosphere over the next 35 years. Image source: Nature.)

And it is also worth noting that the study categorizes its own findings as conservative estimates. That the world could, as an outside risk, see as much as four times the amount of carbon feedback (or as much as 2.7 ppm of CO2 per year) coming from soil if respiration is more efficient and wide-ranging than expected. If a larger portion of the surface soil carbon in newly warmed regions becomes a part of the climate system as microbes activate.

Amplifying Feedbacks Starting to Happen Now

The study notes that it is most likely that about 0.45 parts per million of CO2 per year will be leached from mostly northern soils from the period of 2016 to 2050 under 1 C worth of global warming during the period. To this point, it’s worth noting that the world has already warmed by more than 1 C above preindustrial levels. So this amount of carbon feedback can already be considered locked in. The study finds that if the world continues to warm to 2 C by 2050 — which is likely to happen — then an average of around 0.71 parts per million of CO2 will be leached out of soils by respiration every year through 2050.


(When soils lose carbon, it ends up in the atmosphere. According to a new study, soils around the world are starting to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is caused by increased soil respiration as the Earth warms. Over the next 35 years, the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped out by the world’s soils is expected to dramatically increase. How much is determined by how warm the world becomes over the next 35 years. Image source: Nature.)

The upshot of this study is that amplifying carbon feedbacks from the Earth environment are probably starting to happen on a large scale now. And we may be seeing some evidence for this effect during 2016 as rates of atmospheric carbon dioxide accumulation are hitting above 3 parts per million per year for the second year in a row even as global rates of human emissions plateaued.

Beyond the Point of No Return

What this means is that the stakes for cutting human carbon emissions to zero as swiftly as possible just got a whole hell of a lot higher. If we fail to do this, we will easily be on track for 5-7 C or worse warming by the end of this Century. And this level of warming happening so soon and over so short a timeframe is an event that few, if any, current human civilizations are likely to survive. Furthermore, if we are to avoid terribly harmful warming over longer periods, we must not only rapidly transition to renewable energy sources. We must also somehow learn to pull carbon, on net, out of the atmosphere in rather high volumes.

Today, Professor Ivan Janssens of the University of Antwerp noted:

“This study is very important, because the response of soil carbon stocks to the ongoing warming, is one of the largest sources of uncertainty in our climate models. I’m an optimist and still believe that it is not too late, but we urgently need to develop a global economy driven by sustainable energy sources and start using CO2, as a substrate, instead of a waste product. If this happens by 2050, then we can avoid warming above 2C. If not, we will reach a point of no return and will probably exceed 5C.”

In other words, even the optimists at this time think that we are on the cusp of runaway catastrophic global warming. That the time to urgently act is now.


Quantifying Soil Carbon Losses in Response to Warming

Netherlands Institute of Ecology

Earth Warming to Climate Tipping Point

This is the Most Dangerous Time for Our Planet

Climate Change Escalating So Fast it is Beyond the Point of No Return


Soil Respiration

Harquebus’ latest newsletter….

30 06 2016

Howdy all.

The state and quality of main stream journalism (MSJ), including that at our own ABC and despite what they might think of themselves, has deteriorated to the point of being totally useless. Instead of news, we get stories about cats in schools, fanfares about stupid celebrities making stupid remarks and any other triviality that might distract their audiences from the real world and the little that does resemble credible news, is either government propaganda, incomplete, misleading or a combination of all three. The credibility of MSJ is now non existent.

The collapse of Venezuela, shattered climate records, the release of Arctic methane and CO2, unsustainable global debt, Bilderberg meetings and the sixth mass extinction event currently under way are never mentioned. Our environment continues to be destroyed, the oceans polluted and fished to exhaustion, finite resources are wasted on corporate profits while poverty and overcrowding due to unsustainable population growth continue unabated and the fault lies squarely with MSJ which, has failed to hold those responsible to account.
Tony Jones, Australia’s most popular TV journalist, is the worst of the lot. For decades he has reveled in his popularity while all that sustains us is destroyed in the pursuit of growth and profit. He and his MSJ peers must change or we can kiss our sorry little behinds goodbye and if they think that they and theirs are somehow going to be exempt from the bloody mess that will inevitably befall us then, they are even more stupid than the ignorant fools who govern us.
Aussie journalists are only slightly more trustworthy than the corporate bought and paid for politicians that they serve. How proud they must be.

“Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.” — Mark Twain Here is my usual list of links which, also proves my point.



“As the economy unwinds, doctors are now stealing hospital food to feed their families.”
“”We want food!” Looting and riots rock Venezuela daily”
“With delivery trucks under constant attack, the nation’s food is now transported under armed guard. Soldiers stand watch over bakeries. The police fire rubber bullets at desperate mobs storming grocery stores, pharmacies and butcher shops. A 4-year-old girl was shot to death as street gangs fought over food.”

“Half of the world has passed the point of maximum energy consumption. This point is marked by large scale economic crisis. Asia Pacific is approaching that point now.”

Trans-Pacific Partnership will barely benefit Australia, says World Bank report”
The average Australian worker will not benefit in any way shape or form from this agreement.”

“The EPA states that methane is a greenhouse gas that could have 25 times the impact of carbon dioxide over the next century.”

“The melting of the permafrost represents one of humanity’s greatest fears for it contains vast amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide.”
“we are now experiencing the highest level of relative and absolute global inequality at any point in human history.”
“the 21st Century will be a new dark age of luxury for a few and barbaric suffering for most. ”
“the UN warns bluntly that world population, now well over seven billion ‘has reached a stage where the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available
“Mexico’s wells are running dry.
You would almost not know if you took your news from television or the mainstream media. It is like a closely guarded secret — the aunt in the attic.”

“We have forgotten the lessons of the 1760s, 1850s, and 1920s. We have let Economic Royalists hijack our democracy, and turn our economy into their money machine. Now the middle class is evaporating, infrastructure is crumbling, and pressure is reaching a breaking point. Anti-establishment candidates are on the rise, and no one knows how things will turn out.”

“Australian scientists report that many surviving corals affected by mass bleaching from high sea temperatures on the northern Great Barrier Reef are the sickest they have ever seen.

“In 2009, Obama promised to help “rid the world of nuclear weapons” and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. No American president has built more nuclear warheads than Obama.”

“Thus, if tomorrow a war were to break out between the US and Russia, it is guaranteed that the US would be obliterated.”
“If attacked, Russia will not back down; she will retaliate, and she will utterly annihilate the United States.”

“Whether we believe that innovation and technology ultimately make the world better or worse, there is now overwhelming evidence that they are unsustainable in any case. Between economic over-extension, energy over-dependence, and the ruination of our atmosphere and other environments by our civilization and its technologies, it is now almost inevitable that we will soon see a collapse that will make the Great Depression, and perhaps even the five previous great extinctions of life on Earth, look like nothing.
“Modern technology requires cheap energy, and, notwithstanding the recent power games between the US and Russia temporarily and artificially driving down oil prices, we are quickly running out of it.”
“the evidence supports their theory that his death was in no possible way a suicide, as has been reported by police and the mainstream media.”

“Having successfully used the EU to conquer the Greek people by turning the Greek “leftwing” government into a pawn of Germany’s banks, Germany now finds the IMF in the way of its plan to loot Greece into oblivion .”

“All references to climate change’s impact on World Heritage sites in Australia have been removed from a United Nations report.”
“Australia’s Department of the Environment requested that Unesco scrub these sections from the final version.”

Peak oil mates, peak oil. Those that deny it do not understand it.
“when oil companies (and governments) talk about oil supply, they include all sorts of things that cannot be sold as oil on the world market including biofuels, refinery gains and natural gas plant liquids as well as lease condensate.”
“If what you’re selling cannot be sold on the world market as crude oil, then it’s not crude oil.”

“You’d think this would be pretty big news.  The Prime Minister of one of the biggest economies in the world just made a presentation saying we are on the brink of collapse not only in Japan but worldwide and it was mostly swept under the rug.
“The same globalist elites who are orchestrating the coming collapse own all the major media companies.  They don’t want Joe the Plumber and main street to get an inkling that something is wrong until it is too late… just like in 2008.”

“Neoliberalism hasn’t delivered economic growth – it has only made a few people a lot better off.”
“Ocean plastic has turned up literally everywhere. It has been found in the deep sea and buried in Arctic ice. It has been ingested with dire consequences by some 700 species of marine wildlife.”
“inflate another bubble. In other words, do more of what failed spectacularly.
This process of doing more of what failed spectacularly appears sustainable for a time, but this superficial success masks the underlying dynamic of diminishing returns:”
“If our leaders had made better decisions since the last crisis, things could have turned out differently.  But instead, they continued to conduct business as usual, and now we will reap what they have sown.”

“The high-profit, low-risk nature of environmental crime is matched by the low funds and uncertain priorities given to fighting it by many decision-takers.”

“That $1.3 trillion bubble was enough to bring down several major banks and cause cascading damage across the global financial system.
Today’s bubble is EIGHT TIMES the size of the last one”

“The Arctic is on track to be free of sea ice this year or next for the first time in more than 100,000 years”
“Scientists have monitored greenhouse gas methane – once frozen on the sea bed – bubbling up to the surface at an alarming rate.”
“We’re on a runaway train, scientists are blowing the whistle, but politicians are still shovelling coal into the engine.”

“A husband should be allowed to lightly beat his wife if she defies his commands and refuses to dress up as per his desires; turns down demand of intercourse without any religious excuse or does not take bath after intercourse or menstrual periods.”

“That has left economists and fund managers worried the unconventional measures are setting the stage for exactly what central banks are trying to prevent—another financial crisis.”

“Australia has amassed a huge pile of debt—over 120% of GDP—and most of it is mortgage debt on overvalued real estate. Now that Australia’s economy, which was driven by commodity exports to China, has tanked, a lot of this debt is being turned into interest-only loans, because Australians no longer have the money to repay any of the principal.”
“as conditions deteriorate further, the Australians will become unable to afford taxes and utilities.”

“the internet has fallen into the hands of large corporations and governments and become the “world’s largest surveillance network”.”

“if you care to avoid vaporization and, assuming we do avoid it, live a life other than serfdom, you must wake up and realize that your most deadly enemy is Washington, not the hoax of “Russian aggression,” not the hoax of “Muslim terrorism,” not the hoax of “domestic extremism,” not the hoax of welfare bankrupting America, not the hoax of democracy voting away your wealth, which Wall Street and the corporations have already stolen and stuck in their pockets.”

“We are heading into a very dark time…a time where technology will be used to enslave, not enlighten or uplift mankind.”

“Its fast-growing stalk yields one of the strongest and most useful fibers known, used in superior paper, canvas, ropes, insulation, cardboard, clothing, shoes and plastic — plastic that is, by the way, biodegradable. This one plant can provide many of the products an industrial society needs, sustainably, while drastically reducing pollution, energy consumption, deforestation, fossil fuel use and providing income for millions of farmers”
“Both hemp and marijuana are cannabis plants. Hemp is cannabis sativa and marijuana is cannabis indica. So when regulators wanted to prevent people from getting high on cannabis indica, they criminalized cannabis, which included cannabis sativa, which made it illegal to use one of the most useful and sustainable crops the world has ever known.”

“There is no such thing as sustainable agriculture. It does not exist.”

“The economic reality, evident to anyone who isn’t a spin doctor for the Coalition or a journalist for The Australian, is that we have a weak economy, unable to finance our expected living standards.”

“The last station on Earth without a 400 parts per million (ppm) [CO2] reading has reached it.”
“That’s the first time it’s passed that level in 4 million years (no, that’s not a typo).”
“the planet as a whole has likely crossed the 400 ppm threshold permanently”

“Seven climate records set so far in 2016”

“What will corporations blame when they can’t use “tighter money supplies” as an excuse?”


Harry aka Harquebus
Salisbury North.
South Australia.

How fossil fuel burning nearly wiped out life on Earth – 250m years ago

30 05 2015


Originally published in the Guardian, this article just blew me away, as it seriously contests ideas I had accepted as facts a very long time ago….

Do you want to know the real reason for the advances by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria? Changing light bulbs in America. This is the explanation given by John McCain, Republican chair of the Senate armed services committee. At the weekend he blamed Barack Obama’s inability to magic away Isis on the president’s belief that climate change is “the biggest enemy we have”. Never mind the role of the Iraq war – which McCain supported – in destabilising the region, destroying the Iraqi army and creating the opportunities Isis has exploited. Never mind the propagation of Salafi doctrines by Saudi Arabia, which McCain bravely confronts by grovelling before its tyrants. It’s the Better Buildings Challenge and the Solar Instructor Training Network that allowed Isis to capture Ramadi and Palmyra.

In fact there is a connection, but it strengthens Obama’s contention that “climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security”. One of the likely catalysts for the 2011 uprising in Syria was a massive drought – the worst in the region in the instrumental record – that lasted from 2006 to 2010. It caused the emigration of one and a half million rural workers into Syrian cities, and generated furious resentment when Bashar al-Assad’s government failed to respond effectively. Climate models suggest that man-made global warming more than doubled the likelihood of a drought of this magnitude.

But this is nothing by comparison to the real threats to global security, which make global security, as understood by McCain and Obama, look almost frivolous. As the evidence accumulates, it now seems that climate change was the commonest cause of mass extinction in the Earth’s prehistory.

In the media, if not scientific literature, global catastrophes have long been associated with asteroid strikes. But as the dating of rocks has improved, the links have vanished. Even the famous meteorite impact at Chicxulub in Mexico, widely blamed for the destruction of the dinosaurs, was out of sync by more than 100,000 years.

The story that emerges repeatedly from the fossil record is mass extinction caused by three deadly impacts, occurring simultaneously: global warming, the acidification of the oceans and the loss of oxygen from seawater. All these effects are caused by large amounts of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. When seawater absorbs CO2, its acidity increases. As temperatures rise, circulation in the oceans stalls, preventing oxygen from reaching the depths.

The great outgassings of the past were caused by volcanic activity that were orders of magnitude greater than the eruptions we sometimes witness today. The dinosaurs appear to have been wiped out by the formation of the Deccan Traps in India: an outpouring on such a scale that one river of lava flowed for 1,500km. But that event was dwarfed by a far greater one, 190m years earlier, that wiped out 96% of marine life as well as most of the species on land.

What was the cause? It now appears that it might have been the burning of fossil fuel. Before I explain this extraordinary contention, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what mass extinction means. This catastrophe, at the end of the Permian period about 252m years ago, wiped out not just species within the world’s ecosystems but the ecosystems themselves. Forests and coral reefs vanished from the fossil record for some 10 million years. When, eventually, they were reconstituted, it was with a different collection of species which evolved to fill the ecological vacuum. Much of the world’s surface was reduced to bare rubble. Were such an extinction to take place today, it would be likely to eliminate almost all the living systems that sustain us. When plants are stripped from the land, the soil soon follows.

The latest research into the catastrophe at the end of the Permian is summarised in two articles by the geologist John Mason on the Skeptical Science site. The strongest clues all seem to point to the same conclusion: that the extinctions were triggered by the eruption of an igneous belt even bigger than the Deccan plateau: the Siberian Traps. As well as CO2, the volcanoes there produced sulphur dioxide, chlorides and fluorides, causing acid rain and the depletion of ozone.

But because carbon dioxide’s residence time in the atmosphere is greater than that of these other gases, it’s likely to have been the major cause of extinction. The change of state – including a rise in oceanic temperatures of 6-10C – was too sudden and sustained to permit the majority of life forms to adapt. The onset of mass extinction coincides with a giant carbon spike “so distinctive that it serves as a marker-horizon all over the world”.

So where did the carbon dioxide come from? Some of it would have bubbled out of the magma. But, enormous as the eruptions were, this alone seems insufficient to account for either the total volume of emissions or the ratio of isotopes (the different atomic forms) of the carbon entering the atmosphere. Fossil fuel seems to fill the gap.

The volcanoes exploded through the Tunguska sedimentary basin,cooking much of the coal, petroleum and methane it contained. Particles of coal fly ash have been found in rocks as far away as the Canadian Arctic. Rising temperatures might also have destabilised methane hydrates – a frozen form of natural gas – causing the kind of runaway feedback that terrifies some climate scientists today. Yes: the geological record suggests that fossil fuel burning might have eliminated most life on Earth.

And today? According to a paper published in 2013, the current rate of ocean acidification, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is faster than at any time in the past 300m years. During the Permian mass extinction, the eruption of the Siberian Traps through the Tunguska basin seems to have produced between one and two gigatonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Today fossil fuel burning produces 30 gigatonnes a year.

Isis? Global security? If anyone were to survive a mass extinction on the scale of the Permian catastrophe, they would look back and shake their heads, amazed that we could have considered such issues more important.

Are we already past dangerous climate change?

26 02 2014

Are we already past dangerous climate change? asks a Mark Cochrane follower over at Peak Prosperity dot com….. This paper (PDF) – not peer reviewed – he ads, is a critique of the AR5 WG1 SPM. David Wasdell lays out a case that the current situation is far worse than the AR5 posits. He uses a much higher value of Earth System Sensitivity to show that we have no carbon budget left, even for 2C. He also uses other sensitivity estimates to show that there is, at best, very little or no budget left to avoid dangerous climate change.

Wasdell is one of the climate scientists that Guy McPherson leans heavily on for his NTE scenarios, so this question is quite pertinent to How Guy McPherson gets it wrong..

Mark Cochrane

Mark Cochrane


Mark replied: Yes we are………But

I read through the 21 page document and it is a good expose of how the politics of the IPCC process shades an already conservative (consensus) representation of what the science indicates is likely to occur as a function of a given amount of greenhouse forcing. For those who do not know, the IPCC process requires 100% consensus of all the authors nominated by all the countries to agree on their interpretation of the data. This means that in the end, after marathon sessions of back and forth, the final interpretation depends on just how far the most skeptical scientists are willing to be moved. These are not ‘alarmist’ interpretations as some would have you believe. Furthermore, the public does not really look at the IPCC report, they look at the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) which is a short Cliff Notes version. The short version is wrangled over by political appointees (not scientists) who literally argue over every word and every figure. They produce a sanitized version of the report that all governments can support. Again, not conducive to ‘alarmist’ or even the most likely scenarios.

That said, the author (Wasdell) of the document you linked and the IPCC authors are talking about two different outcomes with regard to the made up 2C line in the sand for “dangerous” climate change. The SPM is focused on the so-called fast feedbacks (e.g. radiative forcing of greenhouse gases) and the likely temperature impacts within this century. Wasdell is making the case for including both fast and slow feedbacks and using a final equilibrium temperature as the metric of “dangerous” temperature changes. The slow feedbacks include things like changing albedo values from melting ice sheets and methane release from melting permafrost. These slow feedbacks stretch out for hundreds (maybe thousands) of years. So even if we manage to keep increases under 2C this century (unlikely), the planetary temperatures will certainly rise above that value over the following centuries. Though everything we see shows the 2050 and 2100 outcomes of the model projections the IPCC also does some analyses of “Long-term” changes out to 2300. Here is the figure from the AR4.

The unrealistic goal of 2C is pretty obvious even on the sanitized Figure 10 in the SPM of AR5 (AR5 SPM link; figure is on page 28). Every scenario but the fantasy RCP 2.6 blows past 2C  by 2100 and the trajectories are shooting even higher into the future.

The IPCC and especially the SPM make use of the Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) for a doubling equivalent of carbon dioxide concentration, which basically accounts for fast feedbacks and is taken to probably be between 2 and 4.5C, with 3C used as the most likely value (note some models show it to be >5C). Wasdell is arguing to use what is termed the Earth System Sensitivity (ESS) which includes both long and short term feedbacks. It is poorly constrained but may be twice as large as the ECS values.

In the near term there is not a huge difference in using one over the other and what needs to be kept in perspective is that both approaches are postulating an outcome for a doubled CO2 equivalent that is held constant which is not actually a realistic model of what is likely to happen. It does give a measure of sensitivity though. If you are going to try to make mitigating attempts, going after the fast feedbacks is the most reasonable approach since doing things like reducing methane emissions from fossil fuels (or cows!) could make meaningful changes in the short term that have long term significance, while trying to shade glaciers to mitigate long term feedbacks would be ludicrous.

Ultimately though, the 2C threshold is just a chimera created to give policymakers and the public a figure to hang their concerns on. Barring a miracle or a global catastrophe, we are not likely to reduce emissions by the >80% necessary before 2020 in order to maybe squeak in under 2C this century.  In any case, the climate change (0.8C) that we’ve already experienced has led to numerous extinctions and many thousands of human deaths (e.g. 80,000 in 2003 Europe, 50,000 in 2010 Russia). Surely this has already reached “dangerous levels”.

The time has come to spread the message

7 12 2013

I just found this.  IF this doesn’t scare the pants off you, then I don’t know what will.  The time to turn “Western Civilisation” OFF has arrived.  It may in fact be way too late, but only time will tell.

Reblogged from Arctic News.

[ click on image to enlarge ]

Above image shows methane rising from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean on December 3, 2013, and entering the atmosphere, reaching levels as high as 2425 parts per billion (ppb). Last month, on November 9, 2013, methane reached levels as high as 2662 ppb.

The image below gives an idea of the height of this level, compared to historic levels, and how fast levels of methane (CH4) have been rising compared to levels of two other greenhouse gases, i.e. carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

While CO2 levels are in ppm and CH4 in ppb, they are directly comparable, because a CH4 cloud that, 5 years after its abrupt release, has shrunk to 20% its original size will over those 5 years have exercized local warming more than 1000 times stronger than the global warming potency of the same mass of CO2.

Why worry about methane rising from the seafloor in the Arctic? Sediments underneath the Arctic Ocean hold vast amounts of methane. Just one part of the Arctic Ocean alone, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS, see map), holds up to 1700 Gt of methane. A sudden release of just 3% of this amount could add over 50 Gt of methane to the atmosphere, and experts consider such an amount to be ready for release at any time.

The 5 Gt of methane that currently is already in the Earth’s atmosphere is responsible for almost half (42%) the global warming caused by people. As the IPCC puts it, methane is responsible for 0.94 W/m2 of radiative forcing, while total warming caused by people adds up to 2.26 W/m2 of radiative forcing.

Imagine what kind of devastation an extra 50 Gt of methane could cause. Imagine the warming that will take place if the methane in the atmosphere was suddenly multiplied by 11. Recent calculatations by Whiteman et al. show such an event causing $60 trillion in damage. By comparison, the size of the world economy in 2012 was about $70 trillion.

Smaller releases of methane in the Arctic come with the same risk; their huge local warming impact threatens to further destabilize sediments under the Arctic Ocean and trigger further methane releases, as illustrated by the image below.

Victor Hugo

In the light of these figures, there is no question that this is important and that dramatic changes are needed to reduce such dangers. Indeed, the only question is what kind of changes are needed.

The challenges may seem huge, the opposition to change may seem formidable. Yet despite the saber rattling of armies, and despite covert efforts by powerful conglomarates and vested interests to resist change, common sense will prevail, because nothing is as strong as an idea whose time has come. [“On résiste à l’invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l’invasion des idées.” — From: Histoire d’un crime, Victor Hugo.]

As the prospect of climate catastrophe becomes ever more apparent and as the political imperative to take comprehensive and effective action becomes ever more urgent and obvious, this message will spread and the winds of change will grow stronger day after day. Be part of the solution and spread the message!

Arctic Death Spiral and the Methane Time Bomb

18 11 2013

I wasn’t convinced about Guy McPherson’s assertion of Near Term Human Extinction…….  but now I’m not so unsure.  This really scary movie made me feel like blowing up coal railway lines and assassinating a few dickhead politicians. We are TOAST. IF you haven’t got the download bandwidth, let me know;  leave an address in a message, and I’ll send you a CD…. but the time to revolt has well and truly arrived.

The start’s a bit crap in my opinion, they even misspelled SPIRAL in the title…….  I recommend skipping the first ten minutes.