Arctic Methane on Tenterhooks?
Recent developments up North are cause for concern. The Arctic “sea ice area” registered a record low on March 9, 2014 at 12.88 million square kilometers. (Source: Has the Descent Begun? Sam Carana, Arctic News, March 12, 2014.)
Further confirmation, according to reports from NSIDC (National Snow & Ice Data Center, Boulder) and Cryosphere Today (Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University or Illinois), Arctic sea ice area dropped to a record low of 12.95 million square kilometers on March 10 of 2014. It is a measure smaller than that seen during the late 1970s and breaking the previous record low, set just three years ago, by 150,000 square kilometers. Sea ice extent, meanwhile, fell to 14.5 million square kilometers, a measure roughly tied with the previous record low set in 2011 and also below area values seen during the late 1970s.
Forebodingly, the abrupt ice loss may set the stage for new record lows of sea ice area, extent, and volume for the upcoming summer of 2014 (Arctic News.)
According to interpretation by Climate Change Institute (University of Maine), on March 10th, 2014, this “record low sea ice cover occurs at a time that typically features sea ice maximum.”
At the same time, the implicit danger of Arctic sea ice loss triggering subsequent methane release has been compounded by the recent occurrence (March 6th, 2014) of an earthquake, magnitude 4.5, at Gakkel Ridge, which fault line crosses over the Arctic, resulting in a massive spike up of methane in the atmosphere to 2,395 ppb. This reported by Arctic News on March 6th: “The situation is dire, given that methane concentrations have risen strongly following an earthquake that hit the Gakkel Ridge.”
By its very nature, the wrath of Mother Nature is on full display (payback for fouling the air), as an earthquake shakes lose deadly methane, spiking to new highs, at the same moment in time when the Arctic ice cap shrinks to all-time seasonal lows, which, in turn, creates nail-biting nervousness about the upcoming, or following, summer ice seasons. Will all hell break lose, triggering massive methane release? Nobody really knows! But, the thought, the consideration must be existent.
And, regarding the infamous “2013 ice rebound” chatter in the USA, according to PIOMAS (Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington): “It seems that last year’s rebound has been fully negated after a couple of relatively warm months (the flipside of the cold outbreaks in the US) and 2014 will start out at approximately the same level as previous years,” PIOMAS March 2014, Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System at the Polar Science Center, March 2014.
“No matter how you slice it- by date, by year, by average, by anything- we’re still losing ice, 2013 was not a ‘recovery,’ and the Arctic Ice ‘death spiral’ swirls on… Again, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions about what will happen later this year, but this clearly puts lie to the claim that the Arctic is recovering. And I think we’ll have a lot more bad news like this ahead,” Phil Plait (astronomer) The Unfrozen North, Slate, March 12, 2014.
The Methane Predicament
Excessive release of methane into the atmosphere is a threatening and a complex issue that impacts the entire planet, all-in negative. The risk is that a melting Arctic prompts massive release of methane. However, the scientific community is split on the outlook. Most scientists do not believe it an issue for the near future but do recognize the danger. On the other hand, there are some very prominent scientists who believe otherwise, that the Arctic region is a powder keg ready to explode at any time, any year.
For one, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG), who answers their own query: “Why is Arctic Methane An Emergency?” by saying, “The reason, in one word, is: “Runaway.”
According to AMEG: “Arctic methane emissions are increasing as the Arctic warms several times faster than the rest of our planet. There are three huge reservoirs of Arctic methane till recently safely controlled by the Arctic freezing cold environment. They are now all releasing additional methane to the atmosphere as the Arctic rapidly warms (carbon feedback). The more the temperature increases and the longer the Arctic warms the more methane these sources will emit. That much is certain.”
Furthermore, AMEG claims: “If methane release from Arctic sea floor hydrates happens on a large scale… then this situation can start an uncontrollable sequence of events that would make world agriculture and civilization unsustainable. It is a responsible alarm, not alarmist, to say that it is a real threat to the survival of humanity and most life on Earth.”
Down Under, Carlos Duarte, PhD, Director, Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia, who was awarded the Prix d’Excellence by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, claims that the “future of human kind face dire consequences due to arguably the first signs of dangerous climate change in the Arctic…” Arctic Scientist Warns of Dangerous Climate Change, University News, The University of Western Australia, Jan. 30, 2012.
In that regard, the National Academies have stated that the Arctic has already started an “abrupt climate change,” Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change, Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council of the National Academies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., December 2013, causing one to wonder (shudder) if their analysis qualifies within Duarte’s “dire consequences” statement.
The Global Warming News Syndrome
Over the past several months, the mainstream (and other heterodox) news services have been filled with joy and celebration all across the land over the ostensible bounce back in Arctic sea ice, thus, knocking the props out from under the climate change (warming) advocates, who consistently scare the daylights out of the public with doomsday forecasts of Arctic sea ice loss prompting uncontrollable methane release, leading to a series of problems like food shortages, violent weather systems (already present), and runaway global warming, all because of the reckless use of fossil fuels.
Regrettably, as for the health of the planet, the same USA news sources that aggressively reported the death of global warming were, themselves, dead wrong.
As usual, climate change is not capricious outside of its trend. It shows its true colors over time, and the unfortunate fact of the matter is a trend is a trend until broken. The trend for Arctic ice is decidedly down, melting away by the decade, losing its substance in the face of a leviathan of methane.
Those journalists who pounded the table the hardest about the demise of global warming should spend more time thoroughly analyzing the repercussions of an ice-free Arctic, as well as finding a solution to getting off fossil fuels.
There’s an assignment.
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.