Has an abrupt methane spike started?

In a new Nature News article scientists consider a dangerously fast rise in atmospheric methane (= methane spike) from natural rather than human sources

The physical observations in this article present us with a very important choice, accept the evidence that continued global warming may trigger a methane spike that represents a truly existentially catastrophic risk to continued human existence, and do whatever is needed to stop and reverse the warming process, or to accept the risk by hiding from reality and continuing with business as usual. My colleagues and I on the Vote Climate One are optimists who think that if we fight the risk we can mitigate its dangers.

By way of providing some background to the Nature News article, methane spikes are potentially dangerous global warming phenomena where some scientists think abrupt processes in polar permafrost and continental shelves may release enough methane to boost global temperatures by several degrees over only a few decades — probably enough to cause global mass extinction in the near term — a real, high, and truly existential risk. Because of methane’s strength as a greenhouse gas, its strikingly non-linear physical responses to small changes ambient temperature and pressure around 0 °C, and its heavy involvement in a number of bio/geochemical processes, attempts to model its behavior mathematically tend to be chaotic. Mathematical simulation is made even more difficult due uncertainties in the total amount of methane potentially in play for a spike event. Thus, the observational record as discussed in the news item, combined with methane’s basic physics and chemistry is our best guide to the potential risks it represents in the evolution of our changing climate. The underlying science of methane’s behavior is solid, and thanks to its importance to the petrochemical industry, we know a lot about how methane behaves. “Natural gas” is the marketing name given to most methane found in Nature. And even in this industry its weird behavior can have catastrophic results.

However, it should also be noted that many scientists who accept that the IPCC’s reports represent the ‘best available’ science are still not convinced that that the ‘methane spike’ scenario is likely. Last month, I explored in a detailed presentation “Some fundamental issues relating to the science underlying climate policy: The IPCC and COP26 couldn’t help but get it wrong“, how the IPCC’s structure and policies cause it to downplay and minimize ‘sensational’ findings. If you are disinclined to accept the view that a global warming triggered methane spike is a genuine danger to humanity’s continued survival, please at least read and think about the sources of the controversy.

Tropical wetlands, such as the Pantanal in Brazil, are a major source of methane emissions.Credit: Carl De Souza/AFP via Getty, via Nature

Scientists raise alarm over ‘dangerously fast’ growth in atmospheric methane:

by Jeff Tollefson in Nature, News

As global methane concentrations soar over 1,900 parts per billion, some researchers fear that global warming itself is behind the rapid rise.

Methane concentrations in the atmosphere raced past 1,900 parts per billion last year, nearly triple preindustrial levels, according to data released in January by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Scientists says the grim milestone underscores the importance of a pledge made at last year’s COP26 climate summit to curb emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas at least 28 times as potent as CO2.

The growth of methane emissions slowed around the turn of the millennium, but began a rapid and mysterious uptick around 2007. The spike has caused many researchers to worry that global warming is creating a feedback mechanism that will cause ever more methane to be released, making it even harder to rein in rising temperatures. [my emphasis].

….

Read the complete article in Nature….

Why the evidence from the NOAA (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) tables presented in the above article is so worrisome is discussed in detail in the 15 minute video by Prof. Eliot Jacobsin (a retired prof. computer science from UC Santa Barbara, Methane growth is accelerating, that includes the following graph shown on Biff Vernon’s Climate Geek Facebook post.

Increasing atmospheric methane concentration
The Graph of Doom.
For a neat explanation from Prof Elliot Jacobson, watch this:
https://youtu.be/HqZKibDw1K8

As explained in the video Jacobson uses the NOAA data to calculate the annual mean growth in atmospheric methane which is the difference between the net increase in methane emitted over a year (total emitted over the year minus amount consumed by environmental sinks) minus the amount remaining in the atmosphere that will have decayed over the course of the year. The NOAA link details how the basic measurements are made.

The following graphic from the Nature News item postulates where the increasing amount of methane is being emitted. The evidence suggests that the substantial majority of the emissions are from organic sources rather than fossil-fuel related resources (the article’s bibliography provides links to the sources for the numbers presented here).

Data sourced from Global Biogeochemical Cycles.

The Nature article is sensational enough, but the actual reality is probably even worse because they have said virtually nothing about the huge reserves of potentially easily released organically produced methane stored in Arctic soils. I explored this risk in June last year in a detailed presentation: “Portents for the Future – 2020 Wildfires on the Siberian Permafrost“. Here I showed how rapidly escalating wildfires may lead to rapid permafrost thawing that causes an abrupt methane spike by releasing massive reserves of methane currently locked away in ice-like frozen hydrates.

To me, this is a loud and clear fire alarm that says that if we have any hopes for an optimistic future, it is time to unite and begin working all-out to fight the fire that is burning down our only house – the global ecosystem that feeds us and provides the oxygen we breathe. Even a 16 year-old child could see the danger and what we need to do.

greta-act-as-if-the-house-was-on-fire

Stark alternatives face the Australian Electorate in our upcoming federal election: accept the fearsome reality and fight the fire for our future … or … believe the con and continue with business as usual

Unfortunately, in Australia and many other areas of the developed world, irrespective of the science, deciding to fight the fire is intensely political. In Australia we are currently governed by a LNP COALition administration whose first priority is protecting and even subsidizing already immensely wealthy special interests in the fossil fuel and other environmentally exploitative industries. In his own words and actions on the front bench of Parliament our current PM made his priorities abundantly clear. Most of his COALition partners are more than willing to support and promote these same special interests.

The puppets show and tell
Captain Humbug (A.K.A. Scotty from Marketing) showing the parliamentary puppet troop what it is all about behind his then PM, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared, it won’t hurt you. It’s coal.” With these words Australia’s Treasurer Scott Morrison taunted the Opposition, attempting to ridicule its commitment to renewable energy.” – Picture from The Conversation (15-02-2017). See also Katherine Murphy in The Guardian on 09/02/2017 for the live video — “Scott Morrison brings coal to question time: what fresh idiocy is this? What a bunch of clowns, hamming it up – while out in the real world an ominous and oppressive heat just won’t let up.”

On 20/12/2019 while on his secret Hawaiian holiday in the midst of Australia’s Black Summer wildfires, he also made it loud and clear that he doesn’t fight fires! As printed in black and white in an official transcript from the PM’s own office commenting on the deaths of two fire fighters, Scotty made it abundantly clear to John Stanley on 2GB Radio that HE doesn’t fight fires… “But I know Australians understand… that, you know, I don’t hold a hose, mate, and I don’t sit in a control room. That’s the brave people who do that are doing that job. But I know that Australians would want me back at this time out of these fatalities. So I’ll happily come back and do that.”

As a marketeer Scotty’s principle occupation along with his fellow LNP puppets has been CONvincing people to believe in whatever his clients want him to sell, which the evidence suggests is currently to protect and support the fossil fuel industry above any other consideration. Following on from Tony Abbott’s earlier denials and diatribes about global warming, Scotty and his puppet mates in the Parliament have with considerable success maintained a fog of humbuggery (i.e., denials, lies, misrepresentations, legislative action, blocking, misdirection) preventing any effective actions towards reaching net zero emissions that are considered detrimental to interests of the fossil fuel industry. Beyond this, they actively promote and subsidize the industry to help its continued growth. Not only does Scotty not hold a hose himself, but he and his puppets have done a bloody good job keeping other people from using hoses.

Clearly, If we are to successfully do anything in Australia to stop the carbon emissions contributing to increasing the risk our own species’ extinction we must first rid ourselves of the LNP Government that has blocked and stifled any real progress against the climate emergency.

Vote Climate One was formed to help Australians elect those candidate in their individual electorates who if elected can be trusted to focus on reality and put action on the climate emergency at the top of their Parliamentary priority lists. Our election information team is focused on contacting every formal candidate in each electorate for a statement on how they intend to address the climate issues and combining this with additional evidence from voting records (for existing and previous MPs), additional evidence from social media statements, press reports, and so on. Following our Traffic Light Voting System voters will have access to a complete list of candidates for their House and Senate electorates with stoplights indicating where we think they stand on the climate issue. Those marked with the green traffic light are those we trust to give priority to the climate issues. Those marked with the red traffic light LNP members and micro parties who clearly prioritize supporting special interests ahead of stopping carbon emissions, and other micro parties and independents who are likely to give their preferences to special interest supporters. The amber lights are used for the Labor Party and others who have not clearly stated that the climate is their first priority, but can at least be trusted to work on climate issues where Labor is in a minority government or in coalition with Greens and green light independents.

If enough people follow this guide, we should be able to elect a new government that will give our children and grand children a foreseeable and hopeful future.

Will you help us give our kids a bright future?
Views expressed in this post are those of its author(s), not necessarily all Vote Climate One members.

IPCC’s guidance downplays risks in climate emergency

IPCC’s guidance is dangerous in rapidly evolving climate emergency due to time lost for peer review between observing and reporting reality

Introduction: Year by year we are seeing increases in both the basic readings for global warming and in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events attributed to the warming that show we are in the midst of a climate emergency. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is considered by many scientists (and politicians claiming to be guided by the science) to be the ultimate authority on the likely evolution of global warming and the future risks we face from it. However, the IPCC’s guidance in forecasts and predictions has consistently ignored or underestimated the rising levels of catastrophic and existential risk associated with the accelerating increases.

I don’t dispute the IPCC’s science, as the work leading to it is usually meticulous. But, at the same time, their processes add years of bureaucratic and political delay between the observations of reality and the eventually publications of conclusions from those observations. This means that any guidance offered in IPCC reports and assessments is likely to considerably understate the risks, impacts and rates of global warming. The peer review process and sociological factors in the academic/institutional environments most IPCC authors work in lead authors to minimize dramatic and scary risks irrespective of minimal they might be. These thoughts and their implications are detailed in a January 2022 presentation of mine, “Some fundamental issues relating to the science underlying climate policy: The IPCC and COP26 couldn’t help but get it wrong” on the Researchgate repository .

Slide 3 from my January 2022 presentation exploring issues with the reliability of the IPCC's too conservative forecasts for the future evolution of global warming and why it shouldn't be trusted.
Slide 3 from my January 2022 presentation.

The article discussed here is an example of recent observations that should greatly change many presumptions in even the most recent IPCC AR6 report.

Carbonate rocks (e.g., limestone, dolomite) in permafrost zones may be global warming time-bombs for methane release.

The article linked here describes an unexpected observation from satellite scans of methane gas concentrations in the atmosphere over Siberia. As the frozen land warms in spring and summer remarkably high concentrations of methane are associated with geological outcroppings of common calcium carbonate rocks such as limestone and dolomite. Carbon is a significant component of these kinds of rock. Ordinarily this carbon is considered to be quite inert in relationship to short-term climate change. The authors were surprised to discover that largest releases of methane (~ 85 times the greenhouse potential of CO₂ over 20 years) in Siberia — not associated with fossil fuel production — were from these rocky areas. The observed behavior of the methane releases suggests these areas represented a risk of becoming global warming time bombs.

Methane release from carbonate rock formations in the Siberian permafrost area during and after the 2020 heat wave

by Froitzheim et al., PNAS August 10, 2021

ABSTRACT: Anthropogenic global warming may be accelerated by a positive feedback from the mobilization of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost. There are large uncertainties about the size of carbon stocks and the magnitude of possible methane emissions. … Two elongated areas of increased atmospheric methane concentration that appeared during summer coincide with two stripes of Paleozoic carbonates exposed at the southern and northern borders of the Yenisey-Khatanga Basin, a hydrocarbon-bearing sedimentary basin between the Siberian Craton to the south and the Taymyr Fold Belt to the north. [see featured image above] Over the carbonates, soils are thin to nonexistent and wetlands are scarce. The maxima are thus unlikely to be caused by microbial methane from soils or wetlands. We suggest that gas hydrates in fractures and pockets of the carbonate rocks in the permafrost zone became unstable due to warming from the surface. This process may add unknown quantities of methane to the atmosphere in the near future [my emphasis].

Read the complete article….

When the IPCC’s AR6 was being drafted its authors never encountered or even contemplated many of the discoveries made like the above, or the kinds of NB4 extreme weather events observed over the last 4-6 years (they were “unknown unknowns”)

The IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 6th Assessment Report that informed COP26 totally missed this risk — the abrupt release of prodigious amounts of greenhouse methane gas from permafrost. They also missed or downplayed many other risks that have only begun to appear as the climate emergency accelerates. My graphical essay, “Some fundamental issues relating to the science underlying climate policy: The IPCC and COP26 couldn’t help but get it wrong“, documents the fact that the IPCC’s claim to provide the best and most stringently peer reviewed scientific understanding of basic physics of Earth’s Climate System is true. However, their scientific methodology is deeply flawed when applied to predicting the rapidly evolving and changing behavior of the large and complexly dynamical Climate System:

  • By the time the IPCC’s deeply bureaucratic and political review processes result in publication, the work is based on the reality of a world that existed several years ago, not the reality of today’s increasingly rapidly changing world
  • Research and publishing in academic and institutional environments are deeply (but most subliminally) constrained from publishing novel ideas and scary stuff. This is called “scientific reticence” — a situation that can only be amplified by the requirements that publications are approved by their political sponsors.
  • Finally, the Climate System involves non-linear and often chaotic feedback interactions of many variables – some of them not at all well understood. Many climatologists come from backgrounds in physics and mathematical modeling is very helpful for understanding the behaviors of mostly linear systems. Climate behavior in the antithesis to this kind of system. Where climate is concerned, modeling is useful for understand what can happen under specific circumstances where most of the variables are controlled. It is inappropriate for long term forecasting.

However, even taking the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report at face value: “The best peer-reviewed science we have” shows unambiguously that if we don’t stop and reverse global warming very soon, human life on the planet will be faced with a growing crescendo of extreme weather events and climate hell within a few decades at the most.

Today, we are already seeing the beginnings of this crescendo! But there is only one mention of a few sentences in the entire 3949 pages of the full IPCC report of the realistic possibility that if we fail to stop the warming, that runaway global warming will lead to the global mass extinction of most complex life.

The point raised here is that the scientific methodology underlying IPCC reports cannot help but underestimate and down play the full range and magnitudes of risks humans face from the rapidly accelerating climate emergency. This also provides great cover for the fossil fuel industry special interests, the humbugging puppets in our governments that keep spruiking the message that we shouldn’t look up, because there is noting there to see, and the much too compliant press.

To conclude, if we are to find and execute any way to stop and reverse the still accelerating warming of our only planet, we have to begin by replacing all the humbugging puppets in our Federal Government with people able to rationally understand the risks we face who also have the gumption to put acting on the climate emergency as their first order of business if elected to Parliament.

Our Vote Climate One Traffic Light Voting Guide will help you elect candidates in your electorate who are most likely to meet these critria, and equally identify LNP Coalition Members and fellow travelers and those whose preferences might flow in a way that would elect/reelect one of the humbuggers.

Views expressed in this post are those of its author(s), not necessarily all Vote Climate One members.