What is the deal with Methane?

Recently a comment published in Nature made the case for a catastrophic release of the methane (a very potent GHG) in the Arctic which in turn could cause sudden warming and cause massive economic damage in the trillions of dollars.

Scary stuff! But before you panic it would be worth reading through a series of tweets by Gavin Schmidt who does an excellent job of putting the methane bomb in some much-needed context:

1) Methane is an important part of the anthropogenic radiative forcing over 20thC. Human caused increase from 0.7ppm to 1.8ppm

2) Methane emissions have a direct GHG effect, and they effect atmospheric chemistry and strat water vapour which have additional impacts

3) Direct forcing from anthropogenic methane ~0.5 W/m2, indirect effects add ~0.4 W/m2. (For ref: CO2 forcing is ~1.8W/m2)

4) natural feedbacks involving methane likely to be important in future – via wetland response to T/rain chng, atmos chem &, yes, arctic src

5) monitoring and analysis of atmos conc of CH4 is very important. However, despite dramatic Arctic warming and summer sea ice loss ….. >

…. In recent decades, little change has been seen in atmos concentrations at high latitudes.

6) There are large stores of carbon in the Arctic, some stored as hydrates, some potentially convertible to CH4 by anaerobic resporation

7) there’s evidence in deep time records of large, rapid exogenous inputs of carbon into climate system; leading theory relates this to CH4

8) it is therefore not silly or alarmist to think about the possibilities, thresholds and impacts for these kinds of events

9) in more recent past, there have been a number if times when Arctic (not necessarily globe) has been significantly warmer than today.

10) Most recently, Early Holocene, which had significantly less summer sea ice than even 2012. Earlier, Eemian 125kyrs ago was sig warmer

11) At neither of these times is there any evidence for CH4 emissions or concentrations in excess of base pre-industrial conditions.

12) this means that we are not currently near a threshold for dramatic CH4 releases. (Though we may get there)

13) Much of the concern re dramatic changes in Arctic methane come from one off surveys and poorly calibrated remote sensing

14) thus potential for Arctic CH4 to have threshold behaviour is real, but very lg scenario used in Nature comment is not realistic

15) We should be monitoring the Arctic better than we are, and we should be alert for ‘surprises’ in the greenhouse.

16) But we should not take what-if sensitivity experiments as predictions.

17) phew!

Comments:

  1. I found the response of Dr Wadhams to be useful. Moreso than the commentary, the insulting title WaPo put on it, or the tweets.

    Professor Peter Wadhams. Head- Polar Ocean Physics Group. U Cambridge.
    Peter Wadham, s

    • Dr.Wadhams writes in the linked Capitol Weather Gang article:

      "... the observed mass of rising methane plumes in the East Siberian Sea ..."

      Would someone -- please -- point to an actual first hand document that records these observations?

      I've seen the claim for several years, but found no pictures, no logbook, no review, no publication.

      Why isn't this _documented_ somewhere an amateur reader like me can find it??

      I'm sure the evidence will bubble up eventually, if we keep going the way we're headed.

      But I'm looking for something more than anecdotes supporting actual observation over the past few years, preferably with some baseline.

      • This presumably refers to Shakhova who publishes mostly in Russian, but I suspect the problems here go deeper than that.

        I believe observational evidence actually weights against the proposition of an accelerating Siberian methane source thus far.

        I could be wrong but so far have come up empty as well.

    • Wadhams makes little sense.

      What is the extent of Wadham's claim as reported in Nature?

      "As the amount of Arctic sea ice declines
      at an unprecedented rate [4,5], the thawing of
      offshore permafrost releases methane. A
      50-gigatonne (Gt) reservoir of methane,
      stored in the form of hydrates, exists on the
      East Siberian Arctic Shelf. It is likely to be
      emitted as the seabed warms, either steadily
      over 50 years or suddenly [6]."

      That's the entirety of the geophysics in the article, and it references only [6] Shakhova, N. E, Alekseev, V. A, & Semiletov, I. P. Doklady Earth Sci.430, 190–193 (2010).

      In his follow-up http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2013/07/26/rebuttal-to-methane-mischief-misleading-commentary-published-in-nature/ Wadhams makes the following claims:

      "In our analysis we showed (a) that for a given total volume of release, the overall cost is relative insensitive to details of the rate of release or, within limits, its timing, BUT that (b) the overall cost is roughly proportional to the overall volume of release. "

      which is patently untrue - methane, unlike CO2 has a short lifetime in the atmosphere and its impact is diluted roughly twenty-fold to the extent that the release is not abrupt. This is a poor start. Then he goes on to say

      "The mechanism which is causing the observed mass of rising methane plumes in the East Siberian Sea is itself unprecedented and hence it is not surprising that various climate scientists, none of them Arctic specialists, failed to spot it. What is actually happening is that the summer sea ice now retreats so far, and for so long each summer, that there is a substantial ice-free season over the Siberian shelf, sufficient for solar irradiance to warm the surface water by a significant amount – up to 7C according to satellite data. That warming extends the 50 m or so to the seabed because we are dealing with only a polar surface water layer here (over the shelves the Arctic Ocean structure is one-layer rather than three layers) and the surface warming is mixed down by wave-induced mixing because the extensive open water permits large fetches."

      which may be true for all I know but does not offer any mechanism by which methane hydrates (clathrates) may be destabilized, because they do not and cannot exist at 50 m depth.

      Wadhams says:

      "David Archer’s 2010 comment that “so far no one has seen or proposed a mechanism to make that (a catastrophic methane release) happen” is also rendered obsolete by the Semiletov/Shakhova field experiments – the seeing – and the mechanism described above – the proposing. Carolyn Rupple’s review of 2011 equally shows no awareness of this new mechanism."

      This is extraordinary in the extreme because as far as we can see Wadhams **has proposed no new mechanism** which can directly involve clathrates because **clathrates do not exist at the depths he discusses** or anywhere near those depths. Yet he is confident in dismissing prior work **on clathrates** on the basis of these irrelevancies.

      A couple of obscure observational papers are the only supporting evidence provided.

  2. From Wadhams:

    We can therefore dismiss the 2008 US Climate Change Science Program report for this reason. Equally, David Archer’s 2010 comment that “so far no one has seen or proposed a mechanism to make that (a catastrophic methane release) happen” is also rendered obsolete by the Semiletov/Shakhova field experiments – the seeing – and the mechanism described above – the proposing. Carolyn Rupple’s review of 2011 equally shows no awareness of this new mechanism.

    The "mechanism" above describes warming of the seawater on the ESAS (a reference would be nice), not the rate of accelerated thawing of the seabed or the mechanism of release (eg, biogenesis, hydrate destabilization, permafrost cap perforation) of the methane.

    The quantitative results of the "field experiments" have gone publicly unreported since 2010, despite the fact that, from second-hand reports, S&S consider that their findings mandate urgent action.

    Given this, it seems a bit rich to dismiss Archer and Rupple for having out-of-date information. There seems to be a lot of arm-waving going on here. The pity is that Arctic carbon-cycle feedbacks are a genuine big deal and Wadhams' commentary confuses rather than clarifies.

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  5. What's with the attack mode? Shakhova is actually going out and making observations.

    More here:

    http://vimeo.com/71177231

    I am so not convinced by people saving move along, nothing to see here. I'm vacuuming up everything I can find as as far as I know, there's an awful lot we don't know and it's perfectly clear there's a lot of methane about from a lot of different sources, some of which are not a problem. That is not a good excuse for the "move along, nothing to see here" promotion from Andy Revkin, and I'm surprised to be seeing it here. Gavin's tweets are clear about the need to keep an open mind. One needs facts, not emotions, here.

    • Yes, Susan, I do feel frustrated by this story and I'm sorry if that frustration comes over as aggression. It's all too easy to spout off on the Internet in a tone that I would never use in person.

      My main beef is with Wadhams. He calls himself an expert, but his explanations are maddeningly vague. As you say, there is a lot we don't know here, yet Wadhams unfairly dismisses the views of Archer and Ruppel, even though they know at least as much as he does.

      Of course, there is also the fallout in terms of the credibility of climate science if/when the catastrophic gas releases do not materialize in less than two years' time.

  6. Hmm, Gavin is one of those people who manages to be less disagreeable than I am when he disagrees.

    But he unambiguously says "we are not currently near a threshold for dramatic CH4 releases".

    That.

    Shakhova handwaves to the contrary. I won't speculate publicly why, but my guess is not flattering.

    Wadhams is being ethically irresponsible and technically incoherent, and has probably jumped the shark.

    Whiteman's article is a travesty which injures the Nature franchise, but it's just another in a series of travesties by mainstream economists.

    Ask somebody else how to say all that nicely and pleasantly with no hard feelings. I haven't the willingness to do it, nor particular skill at it.

    I agree with Andy as well. "The pity is that Arctic carbon-cycle feedbacks are a genuine big deal and Wadhams’ commentary confuses rather than clarifies." and "The quantitative results of the “field experiments” have gone publicly unreported since 2010, despite the fact that, from second-hand reports, S&S consider that their findings mandate urgent action." The latter is enough to make Shakhova's behavior dubious.

    And I agree with Stoat and NMTB

    I am sure that Shakhova appears like a very nice, thoughtful and earnest researcher to those who are disposed to alarm and not adept with the details.

    People disposed to believe their respective nonsense say exactly the same "nice, thoughtful, earnest" thing about Pat Michaels, or Judith Curry, or Dick Lindzen. Well, maybe not Dick Lindzen.

    But there is little room left for Shakhova to appear responsible, and if there's anything to what she says she had better put up or shut up pretty soon.

    • MT, what's "NMTB"? I'm not seeing it at the link http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/earth-insight/2013/jul/24/arctic-ice-free-methane-economy-catastrophe#comment-25422174 (but the blog discussions are broken up into pages, collapsed and condensed, likely I'm missing it).

      Thank you for blunt clear writing. Much appreciated.

  7. Ultimately for me as a non expert, I haven't seen any convincing explanation to explain why the paleo record (which shows a warmer arctic and no corresponding large methane release) isn't a good analogue of the current warming trend in the arctic.

    Until I do see such an explanation I will find it very hard to accept that there is an imminent methane bomb in the arctic.

    • Can you point out to me where the paleorecord demonstrates anything near the kind of rapidity of changes we are observing today, short of an asteroid impact? Because, well, I must have missed it. And I have looked.

      Thanks in advance.

      • None are known. But systems with a thousand year time constant will still not fall over overnight. Further, the Arctic Sea Ice was gone in the Eemian; there's no sign of a huge methane pulse in ice cores. Further, there is no proposed mechanism for a methane release, just frantic and inconsistent handwaving from the proponents of this theory.

        In short, science works better than guessing. The science sees no way for this to happen, and the proponents of this scary hypothesis do not refute the existing science, but rather appear to not understand it. This is very like the Watts brigade in reverse.

        As journalists we at Planet3.0 are very much in the Nate Silver school. We believe that many things are not really matters of opinion. Some few things are surely true, and there are a great many things that are surely false.

        A couple of articles about this nonsense are on their way elsewhere. We will link to them. Whether you find our or others' reporting on this trustworthy is up to you, of course. But we believe that the reason we are in this bizarre and terrifying quandary in the first place is to a very large extent the fault of journalists refusing to make judgments on what is true and what is false. That's what journalism is for - delegated investigation.

      • None are known.

        Great. Who knew that 'rate' had nothing to do with 'change'.

        Get back to me when you have some numbers. As far as I can tell we are in super volcano territory already. That whole energy conservation thing. Asteroid territory won't be far behind.

      • So, the recent paleo record can't serve a good analogy (is no counterexample) due the speed of current change. The East Siberian Artcic Shelf is flushed permafrost tundra as it was not gaciated. Even if methane clathrates cannot exist at 50m depth (as mt said here), that permafrost has lots of methane and will thaw much faster than permafrost on land: 1) The water protects it from winter cold. 2) The water will warm rapidly due to rapid summer sea ice retreat. It's a matter of a few decades.

        Looks like a cute little bomb to me, even without clathrates - but I'm just a dilettante.

        More on the ESAS: http://www.skepticalscience.com/arctic-methane-outgassing-e-siberian-shelf-part1.html
        Part 2 has an interview with Natalia Shakhova:

        NS: Yes, such shallow hydrates were sampled in Siberia. They form as a result of the so-called “self-preservation phenomenon” and they are termed “metastable”. This phenomenon has been intensively studied by Russian geologists starting in the late 1980s.

        (...)

        Notes

        The "self preservation phenomenon" mentioned by Dr Shakhova in her reply to the first question is well-known in Russian and other northern petrochemical industry circles, where much discussion may be found. It is temperature-dependent i.e. it requires fairly low temperatures to work. For more information, see Self-preservation of gas hydrates for a briefing.

        Someone needs to dig out some old Russian and Canadian research.

      • Interesting. To me, this is precisely an example where Shakhova appears evasive:

        Q: "Have any such remarkably shallow methane hydrate deposits on the ESAS been directly observed/sampled...?"

        A: "Yes, such shallow hydrates were sampled in Siberia. They form as a= result of the so-called “self-preservation phenomenon” and they are termed “metastable”. This phenomenon has been intensively studied by Russian geologists starting in the late 1980s."

        Should she not have said, instead, "No, not directly on the ESAS, but such shallow hydrates were found in small quantities in Siberia on land?" rather than "yes"?

        Is there actually a direct observation on the ESAS? She does not really claim so but leaves the impression that she does.

        If she has something, she should publish it, not just wander around TV stations looking worried.

      • mt, I'm quite confident in your expertise - but I haven't yet seen a compelling counterargument, neither by you nor by others. The score seems 50:50. If hydrates have been found on land, isn't it plausible that they also exist on the shelf ?

      • There can be no compelling counterarguments until there is something substantial to refute. So far it remains in the "not even wrong" category. Nothing there but furrowed brows. Spare me.

        It is not hard to come up with hypotheses in earth science.

        Suppose I say Yellowstone is gonna erupt and destroy us all with a five year deep freeze, and when you ask me for evidence I look scared and talk about Pompeii. Do you care to refute me? How?

      • Yeah. But for me it still looks like only almost not even wrong. I might have some knowledge of weird plate tektonics near Yellowstone. A Schrödinger cat sitting next to it. Like knowing about land based methane hydrates next to the Siberian Shelf. But yeah, the box will be either opened anyhow or not opened anyhow, and there are more immediate things to ponder. (Alas I've been offline this weekend, enjoying crazy weather. No homework done.)

  8. We could learn from medicine on this kind of thing:

    Be wary of:
    -- Those pushing something unproven, asserting it's obviously got to help
    -- Those arguing against well-founded remedies, asserting some unproven fear or problem

    Medicine:

    "Although there is a weak evidence base for some practice, it gains acceptance largely through vocal support from prominent advocates and faith that the mechanism of action is sound. Later, future trials undermine the therapy, but removing the contradicted practice often proves challenging....
    "... a project of BMJ ... review of 3000 medical practices.... found that slightly more than a third of medical practices are effective or likely to be effective; 15% are harmful, unlikely to be beneficial, or a tradeoff between benefits and harms; and 50% are of unknown effectiveness....
    "... One surprising type of reversal we observed was potentially beneficial therapies being withheld because of unfounded concerns about their potential to cause harm."

    A Decade of Reversal: An Analysis of 146 Contradicted Medical Practices
    Mayo Clin Proc. August 2013; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2013.05.012

  9. "You ain't seen nothin' yet"

    – Horatio Algeranon's rendition of Bachman Turner Overdrive

    I felt the global warmin’, it swept my home away
    Some said I had it comin’ to me, but I wanted it that way
    I think that any warm is good warmin’
    And so I took what I could get, mmm
    Oooh, oooh, it flooded me with big drowned ice
    And said

    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    Here’s somethane that you never gonna forget
    B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet

    And now I’m feelin’ better, ’cause I found out from Kloor
    I went to see the blogger and he told me of a cure
    He said that any warm is good warm
    So I took what I could get, yes, I took what I could get
    Oooh, oooh, it flooded me with big drowned ice
    And said

    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    Here’s somethane, here’s somethane that you’re never gonna forget
    B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    You need educated

    Any warm is good warm
    So I took what I could get, yes, I took what I could get
    And then, and then, and then it flooded me with big drowned ice
    And said

    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    Here’s somethane, here’s somethane,
    here’s some-methane, mama, you’re never gonna forget
    B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nu-nu-nu-nothin’ yet
    You ain’t been a-drowned

    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    I know I ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    I know I ain’t seen nothin’ yet

  10. Can you point out to me where the record demonstrates anything near the kind of rapidity of changes being claimed anecdotally for methane hydrate dissolution?

    That's the question the scientists are asking. Gavin's asking the Guardian writer right now.
    Twitter, it's so much more up to date than blogging .....

    Remember there's permafrost above ground melting; the rivers are carrying the organic material out into the sedimentary fans of the Laptev Sea. Organisms there consume that stuff, some producing CO2, some producing CH4, some consuming the CH4 -- but that's new carbon, with its ample tracer of atomic bomb Carbon-14.

    This is how we know when carbon comes from fossil sources, remember.
    This is key. Look at Spencer Weart's history.

    Anyone obscuring that fundamental tool -- obscures the science we know explains that the CO2 increase is in fact from fossil carbon. Is someone teaching the controversy?

    Someone must have dragged sample bottles through areas where methane is bubbling up and checked that for isotope composition.

    The 'smoking gun' would be finding bubbling columns of _old_ carbon, without the radioisotope.

    • >The ‘smoking gun’ would be finding bubbling columns of _old_ carbon, without the radioisotope.

      Those who know, please check me on that, it's my opinion-- but don't trust me on that point.
      I'd like to know, and that should have been a question, not a statement.

    • Hank, carbon from fossil sources not only lacks C-14 due to radioactive decay; it's also depleted in C-13, because photosynthesis preferentially extracts C-12 from atmospheric CO2. The C--13 fraction in atmospheric CO2 is declining as fossil fuel burning continues. No other mechanism can account for that declining ratio.

      I presume you knew that already, and it just slipped your mind 8^D!

  11. I'm not sure where anybody rational really pushed the idea of a spectacular methane event in the next couple of years.* I would certainly hope not! I have a watching brief on the issue because there is evidence lately of some unusual observations and it is not entirely clear that the information we have justifies a 100% dismissive attitude. I'm with the people who note rate.

    Personally, I don't separate all the difference sources of methane and I include it as a greenhouse gas. Though Wikipedia is incomplete and imperfect, it provides a ready reference as to all of these and their strengths. I'm still in learning mode, and of course I will likely never be able to digest the science properly, so will continue to rely on the conclusions I can understand as best I can.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas

    Last week I printed (sorry guys, I like paper) Dr. Schmidt's tweets and highlighted them and it was on my table when I returned. Here's my cherrypick, pardon the repetition:

    Methane is an important part of the anthropogenic radiative forcing
    Methane emissions have a direct GHG effect, and they effect atmospheric chemistry and stratospheric water vapour which have additional impacts
    natural feedbacks involving methane likely to be important in future – via wetland response to temperature/rain change, atmospheric chemistry and, yes, arctic sources
    There are large stores of carbon in the Arctic, some stored as hydrates, some potentially convertible to CH4 by anaerobic resporation [from wikianswers: Without oxygen. A fermentation process of glycolysis]
    there’s evidence in deep time records of large, rapid exogenous inputs of carbon into climate system; leading theory relates this to CH4
    it is not silly or alarmist to think about the possibilities, thresholds and impacts for these kinds of events
    we are not currently near a threshold for dramatic CH4 releases. (Though we may get there)
    potential for Arctic CH4 to have threshold behaviour is real, but very large scenario used in Nature comment is not realistic
    we should not take what-if sensitivity experiments as predictions

    (I've been busy elsewhere, but surprised by the animus and promised myself I'd do what I could to say what I think, for what it's worth. Andy Skuce, I just found your work this year and like what I've seen.)

    *yes, I have studied the Nature thing and replies in depth.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLCgybStZ4g

    • Yes, this is a real problem. No, there is no real evidence for the scenario in the Whiteman comment, despite their claim that it is "likely".

      • well duh, I had no idea who Whiteman was. I don't have the animus against this particular item that seems to animate you all. Instead, I observe that in fact we are risking our whole economy and more on the gamble that things are not serious, which I think is just plain stupid. I'm happy to note that we don't need to worry much about this particular one, but I'm not closing my mind on it (as you appear to be doing) just yet.

        I am so tired of the circular firing squad. So much energy is spent attacking inwards those who talk about the variety of possible problems we might be facing, without paying any attention to the cheerleaders on the sidelines who are leading you all by the nose here. It's the tactics, stupid. If you can be persuaded to spend energy claiming "own goal" they will cheer you on as you do their work for them. Reasonable people can hold an idea without going for broke on it.

        If you want to see the line of country, take a look here. Nobody's giving an inch to reason, they are all about hatred and distraction, all the time.
        dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/30/polar-researchers-explain-north-pole-lake/

        Do you really want to ally yourselves with these dead enders?

        Anyway, you did me a favor. This is a good article:

        http://www.globalresearch.ca/arctic-methane-release-and-global-warming/5344315

  12. Brand new paper out, the Guardian guy tweets it to Gavin. (It's paywalled)

    Gavin's reply quotes something I assume he's read behind the paywall. He wrote

    > Nice paper, but no evidence for shallow hydrates: "hydrates
    > are not stable at at the seabed and near sub-seabed"

    and

    > ... evidence - not just assertions. Presence of CH4 != presence of hydrates != huge climate feedback

    There's apparently plenty of gas and oil, though, regardless of where/if there are hydrates:
    http://en.rian.ru/infographics/20111007/167371478/Russian-oil-and-gas-fields-in-the-Arctic.html

    Here's (from a different site and project)
    http://www.biology.ufl.edu/ecosystemdynamics/CiPEHR.html a good description of how to tell old carbon from "recent" Holocene carbon:
    http://www.polartrec.com/expeditions/carbon-balance-in-warming-and-drying-tundra-2013/journals/2013-04-18

  13. Psst. Help me out somebody; at sea-bottom temperature and pressure, how much methane and CO2 in gas and bubbly-water form, vs. how much in methane clathrate form? Clathrate's denser storage, but how much?

    • Hank, according to Wiki, a litre of hydrate would contain 168 litres of methane at atmospheric pressure.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methane_clathrate

      A shallow sandstone might have 20-30% of pore space, so at atmospheric pressure that would be 0.25 litres for every litreof rock, assuming gas only in the porespace. Roughly speaking, you would have to multiply that by a factor n for every n 10 metres of burial, assuming hydrostatic pressure and a perfect gas.

      So, hydrates are highly concentrated deposits of methane compared to free gas reservoirs, at least for gas reservoirs located above a few km of burial.

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  16. >dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/30/polar-researchers-explain-north-pole-lake/

    Susan, I don't read Andy Revkin's comments often, because he's flypaper for wackos.
    The main article is quite reasonable, and these cameras have been in place for years and they see meltwater ponds like that most summers in recent years. Yes it's new over decades; nothing new year to year.

    Reality is plenty bad enough (and we're making things worse).

    Similarly the methane stuff is also flypaper for wackos -- but more from the horrible-we're-all-gonna-die side (and, you know I'm suspicious they're being set up by the emergency drumbeat used by the gas industry that's already ramping up to drill for gas in the Arctic, particularly in Russia; it's a two-for-one if they can get some kind of credit or payment for "alleviating the methane emergency" and sell the gas too. (Notice they're not talking about sequestering the CO2, sigh).

    Big money will fund several extremes around any area of inconvenient public policy to suck the energy out of the center where people can agree -- as tobacco and chemical companies did for home fire issues. It's a kind of cynical joke to them, to send money to people they disagree with, to get them to pile into the public area advocating unreasonable solutions that delay, defer, and put off actual action.

    If the methane starts boiling out tomorrow, instead of just hypothetically doing it -- we need to stop burning fossil fuels, and invest not in more gas infrastructure but in renewables.

    If the methane stays where it is for a couple hundred more years --- we still need to stop burning fossil fuels immediately as fast as we can, and invest not in more gas infrastructure but in renewables.

    Each chunk of money spent is a step down a path -- and we know where the paths lead.
    The "methane emergency" is most probably a few hundred years down the wrong path.

    So the answer is -- don't go there, and don't claim we are -already- there -- because that's not proven
    And would make no difference. Either way, we need to stop investing in the wrong path.

    Ask anyone beating the methane emergency drum what they think should be done about it.

    • Hank, I get the impression that you are not reading my careful words but responding to others, and perhaps something in your head, using me as a proxy for something I haven't said. For example, here is what I said over at RealClimate just now:

      There seems to be a repressive attitude towards discussion of possibilities, particularly when the word methane comes into the discussion. It really is too bad that the extraordinary costs of climate disruption in the ordinary way of business got buried in the specifics of what appears to have been some rather simplistic assumptions and exaggerated scenarios.

      I would suggest that being repressive is going to have the opposite effect from the one intended ... “We don’t know” is not quite the same as “it’s impossible.” Gavin makes this distinction nicely in his tweets. I acknowledge that currently there is a lot of information that indicates for the moment methane is a very very minor contributor and the mechanisms and history say we shouldn’t shift focus or take extreme measures on an outside chance that history and data do not support.

      You guys seem so upset you're exaggerating with people like me. I'm the first to admit I'm no expert, and simply look at the various bits and pieces as they emerge. However, on the whole I do believe that observation is outstripping theory in the realm of climate.

      This seems to me to make your point, though. Laypeople have perhaps been led to think they know more than they do, with the opposition laughing all the way to the bank exploiting the situation.

      http://wottsupwiththatblog.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-deficit-model-vs-the-asset-model/

      I meant the DotEarth link to show the worst of the attack - in fact the earlier article was much more representative - it is rare for the loonies to own a post like that - they did the same with Andy's second article on the Marcott and Shakun work, with MacIntyre taking a hand.

      Those of us who persist do it for the lurkers - and over time there has come to be an island of reason in the midst of the people you saw dominating that particular section.

      Andy Revkin, on the other hand, is just blocking out a whole realm of information, using Pielke, Breakthrough, and any other voice he can find that supports extreme fuels. In this case he is using his three-day stay in 2003 and short visit to some conference earlier this year to claim the Arctic is not doing what it is doing. The webcam was made to order for his "nothing to see here, move along" approach.

  17. > responding to others, and perhaps something in your head

    No doubt both and I'll try to do better when following up one of your comments.
    I don't think you're promoting the confusion.
    I think the long inline answer you got out of Gavin at RC (a few days after you posted good questions) is a real contribution (and I am serious -- asking questions that entice an expert to take time to type thoughtful answers is a high skill in this medium).

    • Praise from the praiseworthy is praise indeed. I'm glad you felt that was useful, but on the whole my reaction at RC was toned down from my chagrin at having overstepped. It is difficult to get a handle on the problem - methane is complicated. I am often surprised at the massive level of tolerance, and even encouragement, I get from people in the scientific community when as far as my technical knowledge goes I must be the equivalent of naked in public.

      Dad (PW), being interested in physics first last and always (sometimes annoyingly so), asked me if there were readily available pictures of IR absorption, and of course once I reflected a moment, found Wikipedia featured it front and center under greenhouse gases.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Atmospheric_Transmission.png
      from here:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas

      • >chagrin at having overstepped
        That's how we learn:

        Blake:

        "You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough"
        and
        "Then I asked: 'does a firm perswasion that a thing is so, make it so?'"

  18. So, being a climate science blogger is not much kinder than being a scientist trying to get a paper to publication -- it seems to involve being pounded every step of the way by your colleagues and friends.
    I wonder how people do it.

  19. So the methane emergency statements continue; they seem to have quit using the word "hydrate" now and yet the same quantity of methane is being talked about -- although that doesn't add up. I heard (AGU streaming) one of the methane guys asking Gavin to let them write a lead post at RC -- though it seemed clear their repeated themes don't meet Schneider's criteria for advocacy. Now I'm seeing a wave of new posters at climate blogs repeating the same claims, or the same claims second or third hand.

    What would the methane emergency people recommend, other than drill-baby-drill to "depressurize"?

    What difference would it make to the industries, which are already well advanced in progress toward drilling for Arctic gas? Would they get extra tax credit for preventing something catastrophic? Or what?

    If the structures containing methane there are so weak they could blow out -- then, one couldn't use them to capture the CO2 after burning the methane, so what happens to that?

    • Hydrates are stable at sufficient pressure depending upon temperature. I suppose the phase transition curve is different for carbon dioxide cathrates than for methane ones, but the general shape will be the same.

  20. This is a start toward answering that -- I only have access to this first page:
    http://www.researchgate.net/publication/5941754_Free_energies_of_carbon_dioxide_sequestration_and_methane_recovery_in_clathrate_hydrates

    Point is -- nitrogen and CO2 both form clathrates, so it might, I'd guess, be possible to capture exhaust from burning fossil fuel and pump it down to where it would form stable clathrates, without the time and energy needed to separate out the CO2 from the nitrogen (and nitrogen oxides, presumably).

    Just guessing. Anyone able to see the whole article care to say more?


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