The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as well as world governments ignores the risks of an ice-free Arctic (Wadhams). Rather, an ice-free Arctic is widely applauded by much of the world as a positive way forward for re-opening of northern shipping routes, new trips for cruise lines, and access to a huge cache of fossil fuels.
According to Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, an ice-free Arctic with its concomitant methane outbreak potential is scarcely mentioned by the IPCC in its assessment. Evidently, the IPCC does not want to discuss the possibility of major catastrophes.
In truth, an ice-free Arctic tempestuously opens up eons of methane entrapped ever since the last Ice Age. The ramifications are profound.
When the Vatican recently held meetings with leading scientists about climate change in preparation for the Pope’s encyclical of June 2015, one of the invited guest speakers was Professor Peter Wadhams. Assuming that the Pontifical Academy of Sciences listened carefully to his words, they may still be suffering from bouts of sleeplessness.
Status of Arctic Sea Ice & Why it Matters
Peter Wadhams, professor of Ocean Physics and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge recently committed to a very candid interview: “Our Time is Running Out – The Arctic Sea Ice is Going,” May 15th, 2015, (all subsequent quotes are from that interview).
“I’ve been measuring the ice thickness go down by 50% over the last 30 years. In the summer for instance, you used to see very heavy pack ice so that a ship would have great difficulty getting through it. Today, it’s more like a blue planet. It’s almost an ice-free Arctic. That’s a big change.”
Accordingly, with the passage of time, the risk of a massive methane outbreak increases along with the ongoing disintegration of sea ice.
“We’re really concerned about the Arctic offshore… the continental shelves of Siberia are very shallow waters. And up until recently there was always sea ice over those shelves, even in the summer… now, it retreats in the summer and it already disappears for 2-3 months off of those shelves. That allows the water to warm up. And, when the water warms up, it causes underwater permafrost to melt, which hadn’t melted since the last Ice Age, and that’s allowing methane to be released.”
According to Professor Wadhams, the East Siberian Sea is a lurking monster. He believes the effect of a methane outbreak could be as catastrophic as an asteroid collision into Earth. The amount of warming would be immediate and large. The probability it will happen: “I would say it is about 50% because we’re seeing the permafrost melting and we’re seeing the methane already being released.”
In fact, field scientists are already seeing sizeable increases of big plumes of methane in the summer whilst discovering new areas of methane release. Until only recently, the East Siberian Sea was monitored every year by one Russian ship. Whereas nowadays, and over the past couple of years, Swedish ships are going elsewhere in the Arctic, and “they’re seeing just as much methane coming out as in East Siberia.”
“So, it’s not a low probability, high catastrophic risk. It’s a high catastrophic, high probability risk.”
He believes complete disappearance of the ice in mid summer could occur within the next couple of years. Presently, the volume of ice in the summer is only a quarter of the 1980s. If that trend continues, summer ice will go to zero very soon.
Impact of Ice-Free Arctic
Changes in the Arctic are driving changes elsewhere on the planet. “For instance, the disappearance of ice in the Arctic is leading to warmer air masses moving over Greenland in the summer. That’s causing the Greenland ice sheet to melt faster. And, that’s causing global sea level rise to elevate.”
Result, instead of a one-meter sea level rise this century, as predicted by the IPCC, Greenland’s melt could cause a rise of a couple of meters, or more. In fact, some glaciologists are talking about 4 or 5 meters [13-16 ft.].
The final cataclysmic impact of too much sea level rise would be some areas of the world, like Miami, would have to be completely abandoned, vacated, evacuated similar to Chernobyl, and very much like Chernobyl, because of cuckoo energy policies.
Not only that, global warming accelerates as a result of Arctic sea ice loss, which reduces global albedo whereby radiation is reflected straight back into outer space, but with loss of the white icy reflective background the sun’s radiation absorbs into a dark background, all of which results in the rate of worldwide warming much faster than anticipated by mainstream science, the IPCC.
“So, this attempt to pretend that we can keep global warming below two degrees C, which was already a pretense, is even more ridiculous. It’s certainly going to get to 4 C or 5 C degrees by the end of this century, which will have quite catastrophic impacts on agricultural production.”
What to do?
As for stopping offshore methane release by “bringing back Arctic sea ice, some people are proponents of doing that. The problem is you really cannot bring back the ice without cooling the planet. Global temperatures govern sea ice; it cannot be isolated or targeted. Finding a way to bring back Arctic sea ice won’t work unless you can cool the entire planet.”
The only realistic possibility, ironically, is modification of the fracking method used in oil and gas drilling by utilizing offshore platforms along the Arctic coastline, a network of horizontal drills into the creation of cavities to suck up the methane to prevent it from emitting into the atmosphere (Wadhams). But, no research has been done on this. It has only been suggested.
Regardless of how, what, or when, resolution of the problem is an enormous, overwhelming task: “There is a conspiracy of complacency around the world in which they still imagine that if we do a few minor things, minor adjustments and reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, then all will be well. But, it won’t because we’ve already got too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We’re already going to have more than 2C degrees of warming even if we don’t emit anymore because of the already existing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So, we’ve got to not only stop emitting it or reducing it, reducing emissions, but find ways to take it out of the atmosphere, and that’s a technology that hasn’t been developed.”
Climate change has a progressive effect, slowly working throughout the world. But, all of the slowness is building up to a big change. Moreover, by the time anomalous weather patterns disrupt agriculture, causing worldwide starvation, it’ll be too late to do anything. Unfortunately, global inertia is the problem. “The forces of inertia are so enormous… the use of fossil fuel is so built into our society. Everything in life results from burning fossil fuels.”
Timing of the Worse Case
The only way to save civilization as it currently exist is to bring CO2 levels down, and that can only be accomplished by some drastic method of actually removing CO2 from the atmosphere. “We can’t do it by messing around with reducing our emissions, we can’t even do it by stopping our emissions because we’ve gone too far. We’ve got to actually take it out.”
Professor Wadhams claims climate change research must, front and center, become the major thrust of a worldwide scientific effort, and it must be done urgently, similar to the Manhattan Project (ironically.) Society will be forced to use some technology, which is not yet proven, to remove CO2 to prevent a catastrophe. Accordingly, there is no time to tinker around.
He believes in a worse case scenario, “by ten years time, we’ll really be in the soup.”
Current Arctic Weather Conditions
According to Arctic News, as of July 2nd, “While the media gives wide coverage to the heat waves that have been hitting populous countries such as India, Pakistan, the U.S., Spain and France recently, less attention is given to heat waves hitting the Arctic.”
Furthermore, “The heat waves that hit Alaska and Russia recently are now followed up by a heat wave in East Siberia… a location well within the Arctic Circle… temperatures as high as 37.1°C (98.78°F) were recorded on July 2, 2015.”
And, even more, “With temperatures as high as the 37.1°C (98.78°F) recorded on July 2, 2015, huge melting can be expected where there still is sea ice in the waters off the coast of Siberia, while the waters where the sea ice is already gone will warm up rapidly. Note that the waters off the coast of Siberia are less than 50 m (164 ft.) deep, so warming can quickly extend all the way down to the seabed, that can contain enormous amounts of methane in the form of free gas and hydrates.”
Also, on July 1, 2015, a temperature of 36°C (96.8°F) was recorded near the Kolyma River that flows into the East Siberian Sea.
The Arctic is hotter than Miami!
Somehow or other, 98°F in the Arctic makes the world seem upside down/sideways. Is it?
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org