It is worse than we thought!
New studies about the warming of the planet and the risk of massive release of methane from the Arctic are “worse than we thought.”
As it goes, the danger to human existence, i.e., to a nice long life on the planet, is obscured from the public by innocence of happenstance, as follows: The climate change issue, as it is embodied within public discourse, masks the true impact of the problem because of the amplitude of public discussion. This, therefore, inadvertently makes the climate change issue seem ordinary, not at all out of the ordinary. As it happens, the more something is brandished about, the more casually people seem to take it, and the resulting sense of complacency overwhelms cause for deep concern.
As for example, flu kills more people, according to the World Health Organization 250,000 to 500,000 annually, than does Ebola, yet, the Ebola outbreak is causing public hysteria; meanwhile, the regular flu season is just now starting.
Similarly, people are way too complacent about climate change at the very moment when it threatens the entire planet with extinction of all species, maybe within current lifetimes, which may be a gross exaggeration, but nobody knows for sure, and that is precisely the point. Nobody knows for sure.
Otherwise, and here’s the hard evidence of too much complacency, if the public at large and the U.S. government were not complacent, then, the United States would all-out, 100%, charge ahead with work to convert from fossil fuels to green energy. Alas, such is not the case.
In that regard, science has discovered two new ominous signals that point in the opposite direction of complacency. These new signals are (1) disturbing methane eruptions in the Arctic and (2) oceanic absorption of excessive quantities of heat, both of which are interrelated, and both part of a potential feedback loop that could one day bring humanity to its knees face-to-face with runaway global warming, leading to an uninhabitable planet, within current lifetimes? Who knows?
The Methane Threat
The Arctic is ‘ground zero’ for the risk of a massive release of methane. In point of fact, if only a tiny percentage, not big, maybe only one percent, of the ancient deposits of methane trapped under, and within, ice in the Arctic is released, everyone will suddenly know all about runaway global warming. All they’ll have to do is go outdoors, and/or, depending upon whether they live coastal, wade through waste-deep water.
As for the risks of massive quantities of methane released from the Arctic region, an international team of scientists recently, as of October 2014, completed a two-part 100-day expedition in the Arctic. The expedition team SWERUS-C3, the Swedish-Russian-US Arctic Ocean Investigation of Climate-Cryosphere-Carbon was led by chief scientist Örjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University, who early on during the expedition remarked: “This was somewhat of a surprise,” Scott Sutherland, Meteorologist, Vast Methane Plumes Spotted Bubbling up From the Arctic Ocean Floor, The Weather Network, July 31, 2014.
Gustafsson probably referenced his first look at plumes of methane bubbling up from within the water whilst he was stationed on the icebreaker Oden. However, as of today, the data collected by SWERUS-C3 is under evaluation for analysis and publication at a later date. The scientists on the expedition have not yet formally commented on their trove of evidence. But, it is clear they encountered vast plumes of methane.
Meanwhile, here’s the dilemma of an Arctic meltdown, which is well underway with 50% of Arctic ice mass already gone within three short decades: Methane, or CH4, has recently been on the radar of scientists, much as CO2 has been in the past, but CH4 is much more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere. As it goes, CH4 is “stirring in the waters” more so than ever before. Conceivably, it is a much bigger problem than excessive quantities of CO2, especially because of its self-fulfilling nature whereby Arctic ice meltdown feeds upon itself in a vicious circuitous feedback loop of more Arctic ice melt releasing more methane trapped in the ice, producing more heat trapping gases in the atmosphere, leading to more absorption of surface heat, and on it goes, a non-stoppable self-fulfillment of runaway global warming.
Along those lines, Dr. Natalia Shakhova, who heads the Russia-U.S. Methane Study at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska and the Pacific Oceanological Institute, Far Eastern Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences, discussed the risks of a methane outbreak in an interview at the European Geophysical Union in Vienna. She explained the elements of an alarmingly tenuous condition in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) where waters are very shallow and thus acutely vulnerable to seepage of methane.
According to Dr. Shakhova, Earth’s atmosphere currently contains five (5) gigatonnes of CH4. Whereas, the ESAS contains 100s-to-1000s of gigatonnes trapped in ice. Only 1% would double atmospheric CH4. Furthermore, according to her statement, anomalous, shaky conditions throughout ESAS may bring on extremely dangerous conditions within “only a matter of decades.”
In the interview, Dr. Shakhova says: “We do not like what we see there. We do not like it at all.”
Upper Ocean Warming studies reveal dramatic increase in heat
The twin sister to the risk of abrupt release of methane from under, and within, the ice is excessive warming of the oceans. A recent study “Quantifying Underestimates of Long-Term Upper-Ocean Warming” by Paul J. Durack, et al, Nature Climate Change, 5th October 2014, DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2389, claims: “… our results suggest that global upper-ocean warming has been underestimated by 24 to 58 percent.”
Since 2004, automated profiling floats, 3,600 floats strategically located worldwide, named Argo (http://www.argo.ucsd.edu) have measured global ocean temperatures down to 2,000 meters. Since most of the excess heat associated with global warming caused by burning fossil fuels is found in the oceans, the study’s results have serious implications for the Earth’s overall energy budget. Unfortunately, “the budget” is being used up much faster, by 24 to 58 percent, than previously thought.
As such, the deadly combination of warming oceans and tenuous ice shelves that contain humongous quantities of methane may result in the “perfect storm” for runaway global warming, but nobody knows for sure. Once again, that’s a key point: Nobody knows for sure.
What is known is that the elements that lead to runaway global warming are “worse than we thought.” For example, the end of the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean, a warm tongue of water that flows northerly past Europe through the Arctic Ocean and towards East Siberia has likely been warming up.
“Our SWERIS-C3 program is hypothesizing that this heat may lead to destabilization of upper portion of the slope methane hydrates…. This may be what we now for the first time are observing,” Scott Sutherland, Meteorologist, Vast Methane Plumes Spotted Bubbling up From the Arctic Ocean Floor, The Weather Network, July 31, 2014.
Ergo, too much ocean heat destabilizes the world’s riskiest cache of methane, resulting in a ratchet up of global warming, bringing in its wake unpredictable, brutal climate change, ruined crops, anomalous weather patterns, horrendous storms, alternating droughts and flooding as well as brutal cold fronts and/or sizzling heat in unusual locales or, in short, human lifestyle metamorphoses into permanent warfare clashes over sources of food and access to dry land. Indeed, interestingly enough, several telltale signs of too much global warming, like 100-year floods every few years and high tides continually flooding roads along parts of the Eastern seaboard, are already beginning to occur all across the Northern Hemisphere.
Still, the bigger problem is lack of recognition by the public at large. This happens because the origin of climate change occurs where nobody sees it, other than a few scientists. This incongruity within the public’s awareness, in turn, feeds into a public discourse that echoes across the land so much so that “climate change” has become humdrum, not at all recognized as a risk to ordinary life. Yes, that is what happens when an issue becomes “old hat,” the “same ole, same ole,” similar to “crying wolf.”
So it goes, the climate change issue, because of overexposure and because of denial by leading politicians, results in a complacent public. As such, it is vulnerable to political grandstanding, an easy target for political manipulation by vested interests of, on behalf of, and paid for by fossil fuel interests now, and forever. Although, forever is likely not an option… not even close.
Postscript: “On climate change, we often don’t fully appreciate that it is a problem. We think it is a problem waiting to happen,” Kofi Annan.
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.