FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Dangerous Methane Mystery

Photograph Source: Mikenorton – CC BY-SA 3.0

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf (“ESAS”) is the epicenter of a methane-rich zone that could turn the world upside down.

Still, the ESAS is not on the radar of mainstream science, and not included in calculations by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and generally not well understood. It is one of the biggest mysteries of the world’s climate puzzle, and it is highly controversial, which creates an enhanced level of uncertainty and casts shadows of doubt.

The ESAS is the most extensive continental shelf in the world, inclusive of the Laptev Sea, the East Siberian Sea, and the Russian portion of the Chukchi Sea, all-in equivalent to the combined landmasses of Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and Japan.

The region hosts massive quantities of methane (“CH4”) in frozen subsea permafrost in extremely shallow waters, enough CH4 to transform the “global warming” cycle into a “life-ending” cycle. As absurd as it sounds, it is not inconceivable.

Ongoing research to unravel the ESAS mystery is found in very few studies, almost none, except by Natalia Shakhova (International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska/Fairbanks) a leading authority, for example: “It has been suggested that destabilization of shelf Arctic hydrates could lead to large-scale enhancement of aqueous CH4, but this process was hypothesized to be negligible on a decadal–century time scale. Consequently, the continental shelf of the Arctic Ocean (AO) has not been considered as a possible source of CH4 to the atmosphere until very recently.” (Source: Natalia Shakhova, et al, Understanding the Permafrost–Hydrate System and Associated Methane Releases in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, Geosciences, 2019)

Shakhova’s “until very recently” comment explains, in part, why the IPCC does not include ESAS methane destabilization in its calculations. Meanwhile, Shakhova’s research has unearthed a monster in hiding, but thankfully, mostly in repose… for the moment. Still, early-stage warning signals are clearly noticeable; ESAS is rumbling, increasingly emitting more and more CH4, possibly in anticipation of a “Big Burp,” which could put the world’s lights out, hopefully in another century, or beyond, but based upon a reading of her latest report in Geosciences, don’t count on it taking so long.

Shakhova’s research is highlighted in a recent article in Arctic News: “When Will We Die?” d/d June 10, 2019, which states: “Imagine a burst of methane erupting from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean that would add an amount of methane to the atmosphere equal to twice the methane that is already there.”

Horror of horrors, the resulting equation is disturbing, to say the least, to wit: Twice the amount of CH4 that is already in the atmosphere equals a CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) of 560 ppm, assuming CH4 is 150xs the potency of CO2 in its initial years. And, adding that new number to current CH4/CO2e of 280 ppm to current CO2 levels of 415.7 ppm, according to readings at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, equals total atmospheric CO2 of 1256 ppm.

In other words, if ESAS springs a big fat leak, the Big Burp, which would only be <5% of the existing frozen methane deposit; it is possible that atmospheric CO2e would zoom up go as high as 1256 ppm.

What happens next?

A recent third-party study, also referenced in the aforementioned Arctic News article d/d June 10th, concluded that at 1200 ppm atmospheric CO2 global heating cranks up by 8°C, or 14.4°F, within a decade. (Source: Arctic News d/d June 10, 2019). Truth be known, that scenario is not problematic, it’s catastrophic and too far along to be classified as a problem. After all, problems can be fixed; catastrophes are fatal.

According to Shakhova’s research, as referenced in Geosciences/ 2019: “Releases could potentially increase by 3–5 orders of magnitude, considering the sheer amount of CH4 preserved within the shallow ESAS seabed deposits and the documented thawing rates of subsea permafrost reported recently. The purpose of this paper is to introduce the ESAS permafrost–hydrates system, which is largely unfamiliar to scientists,” Ibid. (Side note: 3 orders of magnitude is equivalent to 1,000, i.e., a large methane release.)

More from Shakhova: “Here we present results of the first comprehensive scientific re-drilling to show that subsea permafrost in the near-shore zone of the ESAS has a downward movement of the ice-bonded permafrost table of ~14 cm (6 inches) year over the past 31–32 years… However, recent studies show that in some areas very recently submerged permafrost is close to or has already reached the thaw point,” Ibid.

Shakhova’s studies are based upon marine expeditions, including drill campaigns that investigate the thermal regime, geomorphology, lithology, and geocryology of sediment cores extracted from boreholes drilled from marine vessels and not based solely upon climate models calculated on desktop computers.

In conclusion, as the world community continues to accept the reality of climate change as an existential threat, which fact is emphatically spotlighted by the likes of the Children’s Crusade, originating out of Sweden, and the Extinction Rebellion, originating out of the UK, it is important to emphasize the timing factor. Nobody knows 100% for certain how the climate crisis will turn out, but there is pretty solid evidence that the issue, meaning several ecosystems which are starting to collapse in unison, is accelerating, by a lot. So, there is not much time left to do something constructive, assuming it’s not already too late. Speaking of which, a small faction of climate scientists has already “tossed in the towel.”

After all, it’s not that hard to understand their point of view as many ecosystems have already hit tipping points, which means no turning back, no fixes possible, but still, (and, here’s the great hope) nobody really knows 100% for sure how all of this will play out.

Nevertheless, in a perfect world that really/truly “follows the science” a Worldwide All-In Coordinated Marshall Plan to do “whatever it takes” would already be in a full-blastoff mode.

But… It’s not!

More articles by:

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
July 16, 2019
Conn Hallinan
The World Needs a Water Treaty
Kenneth Surin
Britain Grovels: the Betrayal of the British Ambassador
Christopher Ketcham
This Land Was Your Land
Gary Leupp
What Right Has Britain to Seize an Iranian Tanker Off Spain?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Democratic Virtues in Electing a President
Thomas Knapp
Free Speech Just isn’t That Complicated
Binoy Kampmark
The Resigning Ambassador
Howard Lisnoff
Everybody Must Get Stoned
Nicky Reid
Nukes For Peace?
Matt Johnson
The United States of Overreaction
Cesar Chelala
Children’s Trafficking and Exploitation is a Persistent, Dreary Phenomenon
Martin Billheimer
Sylvan Shock Theater
July 15, 2019
David Altheide
The Fear Party
Roger Harris
UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Bachelet’s Gift to the US: Justifying Regime Change in Venezuela
John Feffer
Pyongyang on the Potomac
Vincent Kelley
Jeffrey Epstein and the Collapse of Europe
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Hissy-Fit Over Darroch Will Blow a Chill Wind Across Britain’s Embassies in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
Juggling with the Authoritarians: Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Fake Book
Dean Baker
The June Jobs Report and the State of the Economy
Michael Hudson – Bonnie Faulkner
De-Dollarizing the American Financial Empire
Kathy Kelly
Remnants of War
B. Nimri Aziz
The Power of Our Human Voice: From Marconi to Woods Hole
Elliot Sperber
Christianity Demands a Corpse 
Weekend Edition
July 12, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Skull of Death: Mass Media, Inauthentic Opposition, and Eco-Existential Reality in a Pre-Fascist Age of Appeasement
T.J. Coles
“Strategic Extremism”: How Republicans and Establishment Democrats Use Identity Politics to Divide and Rule
Rob Urie
Toward an Eco-Socialist Revolution
Gregory Elich
How Real is the Trump Administration’s New Flexibility with North Korea?
Jason Hirthler
The Journalists Do The Shouting
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pâté Politics in the Time of Trump and Pelosi
Andrew Levine
The Electoral Circus as the End of Its Initial Phase Looms
David Swanson
Earth Over the Brink
Ron Jacobs
Presidential Papers
Robert Hunziker
The Flawed Food Dependency
Dave Lindorff
Defeating the Trump Administration’s Racist, Republican-Rescuing Census Corruption
Martha Rosenberg
Pathologizing Kids, Pharma Style
Kathleen Wallace
Too Horrible to Understand, Too Horrible to Ignore
Ralph Nader
An Unsurpassable Sterling Record of Stamina!
Paul Tritschler
Restricted View: the British Legacy of Eugenics
John Feffer
Trump’s Bluster Diplomacy
Thomas Knapp
Did Jeffrey Epstein “Belong to Intelligence?”
Nicholas Buccola
Colin Kaepernick, Ted Cruz, Frederick Douglass and the Meaning of Patriotism
P. Sainath
It’s Raining Sand in Rayalaseema
Charles Davis
Donald Trump’s Fake Isolationism
Michael Lukas
Delisting Wolves and the Impending Wolf Slaughter
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Shaking Off Capitalism for Ecological Civilization
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail