The Arctic-News Blog describes the situation in the Arctic, focusing especially on the threat of large abrupt methane eruptions from the Arctic Ocean seafloor. Contributors to the blog all share a deep concern about the way climate change is unfolding in the Arctic and the threat that this poses for the world at large.
The image on the right shows the sea surface temperature on July 6 for the years 2014 to 2018 at a location near Svalbard (at 77.958°N, 5.545°E), with an exponential trend added based on those data.
The combination image below shows sea surface temperatures for each of those years, with the location highlighted by a green circle, i.e. 2014: -0.8°C or 30.6°F 2015: 6.2°C or 43.2°F 2016: 8.3°C or 47.0°F 2017: 14.4°C or 57.9°F 2018: 16.6°C or 61.9°F
The situation reflects the rapid decline of Arctic sea ice over the years.
[ click on images to enlarge ]
The image on the right shows the sea surface temperature on July 13, 2018, at that location. It was as warm as 16.9°C or 62.5°F near Svalbard.
This compares to a sea surface temperature of 4.9°C or 40.9°F in 1981-2011 at that location (at the green circle).
The images illustrate why sea ice has fallen dramatically in volume, especially so where sea currents push warm water from the Atlantic Ocean underneath the sea ice.
As the image below shows, Arctic sea ice volume on July 10, 2018, was at a record low for the time of the year.
When only looking at sea ice extent, the dramatic fall in sea ice volume may be overlooked. Complete disappearance of Arctic sea ice in September 2018 is within the margins of a trend based on yearly annual minimum volume, as illustrated by the image on the right.
Latent heat can make that such disappearance can come abruptly. Latent heat is energy associated with a phase change, such as the energy absorbed by solid ice when it changes into water (melting). During a phase change, the temperature remains constant. Sea ice acts as a buffer that absorbs heat, while keeping the temperature at zero degrees Celsius. As long as there is sea ice in the water, this sea ice will keep absorbing heat, so the temperature doesn't rise at the sea surface.
The amount of energy absorbed by melting ice is as much as it takes to heat an equivalent mass of water from zero to 80°C.
Once the sea ice is gone, further heat must go elsewhere, i.e. it will typically raise the temperature of the water. The atmosphere will also warm up faster. More evaporation will also occur once the sea ice is gone, which will cool the sea surface and warm up the atmosphere (technically know as latent heat of vaporization). As temperatures in the Arctic are rising faster than at the Equator, the Jet Stream will change, making it easier for warm air to enter the Arctic. More clouds will form over the Arctic, which will reflect more sunlight into space, but which will also make that less outward IR radiation can escape into space over the Arctic, with a net warming effect.
A warmer Arctic comes with the danger of rapid warming of water in rivers that end in the Arctic Ocean, which will thus further wamr up the Arctic Ocean.
One huge danger is that, as the buffer disappears that until now has consumed huge amounts of ocean heat, and the Arctic Ocean keeps warming, further heat will reach methane hydrates at the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean, causing them to get destabilized and release methane.
Additionally, disappearance of the sea ice will come with albedo changes that mean that a lot more sunlight will be absorbed, instead of getting reflected back into space as occurred previously.
Similar albedo changes are likely to take place over land in the Arctic soon thereafter. Adding up all warming elements associated with disappearance of the sea ice can result in an additional global warming of several degrees Celsius.
The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.
An excellent new paper by Mark Jacobson et al. describes 100% clean and renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for 53 towns and cities in North America.
Clean and renewable energy is not only cheaper, it also avoids health and climate damage many times greater than those savings.
Additionally, clean and renewable energy provides more long-term full-time jobs, provides more robust and stable energy and provides greater energy safety and security, all with less need for land and water.
Furthermore, clean and renewable energy avoids costs of insurance against nuclear accidents, avoids conflicts over fossil fuel resources, avoids pollution of oceans, soil and groundwater and avoids infrastructure for transport of drilling & mining equipment and fuel.
Reductions in mining, drilling and fracking can also avoid falls in land values, with benefits for land owners and for councils in terms of greater rates revenues.
Also note that many of the costs associated with fossil fuel are currently not incorporated in its price. As an example, fossil fuel adds to the cost of conflict over resources and securing of fuel transport. A 2017 report puts the cost of U.S. military intervention in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan over the period FY2001-FY2018 at $5.6 trillion, or $23,386 for the average taxpayer. The report adds that, unlike past US wars, these wars have been paid for largely through borrowing. The $5.6 trillion includes the interest the US has already paid on this debt, but it does not include projected future interest. Even if the US stopped spending money on these wars right now, cumulated interest costs on borrowing will ultimately add more than $7.9 trillion to the national debt over the next several decades.
Local feebates can most effectively and rapidly achieve the necessary transition to clean, renewable energy. Fees can easily be imposed on sales of fuel, and the revenues can then be used to fund rebates on local supply of clean, renewable energy. Another example is to impose fees on registration of vehicles with internal combustion engines, with the revenues used to fund rebates on registration of battery-electric vehicles. Local feebates can best help areas each get their preferred mix (of local supply/storage, of grid interconnection and imports/exports of electricity, and of demand response).
The Climate Plan calls for dramatic cuts in emissions through such policies, while also calling for further lines of action. For more on the benefits of feebates, see the feebates and policies pages.
Earth may have already been in the Danger Zone since early 2014. This is shown by the image on the right associated with the analysis, which is based on NASA data that are adjusted to reflect a preindustrial baseline, air temperatures and Arctic temperatures.
As the added 3rd-order polynomial trend shows, the world may also be crossing the higher 2°C guardrail later this year, while temperatures threaten to keep rising dramatically beyond that point.
What can be done to improve this dire situation?
One obvious line of action is to take stronger action to reduce emissions that are causing warming. There's no doubt that this can be achieved and has numerous benefits, as described in an earlier post. Emission cuts can be achieved by implementing effective policies to facilitate changes in energy use, in diet and in land use and construction practices, etc.
One complication is that the necessary transition away from fossil fuel is unlikely to result in immediate falls in temperatures. This is the case because there will be less sulfur in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight back into space. Furthermore, there could also be an increase in biomass burning, while the full wrath of recent carbon dioxide emissions is yet to come. The resulting rise in temperature threatens to trigger numerous feedbacks that could accelerate the temperature rise even further. For more on how much temperatures could rise, see the Extinction page.
While it's clear that besides emission cuts further action is necessary, such as removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans, the prospect is that such removal will have to be continued for decades and decades to come before it can bring greenhouse gases down to safer levels. To further to combat warming, there are additional lines of action to be looked at, but as long as politicians remain reluctant to even consider pursuing efforts to reduce emissions, we can expect the world to be in the Danger Zone for a long time to come.
The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.
Researchers analyze global potential for 'negative emissions energy' using electricity from renewable sources to generate hydrogen fuel and capture carbon dioxide.
Limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius will require not only reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, but also active removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This conclusion from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has prompted heightened interest in "negative emissions technologies."
A new study published June 25 in Nature Climate Change evaluates the potential for recently described methods that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through an "electrogeochemical" process that also generates hydrogen gas for use as fuel and creates by-products that can help counteract ocean acidification.
First author Greg Rau, a researcher in the Institute of Marine Sciences at UC Santa Cruz and visiting scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said this technology significantly expands the options for negative emissions energy production.
The process uses electricity from a renewable energy source for electrolysis of saline water to generate hydrogen and oxygen, coupled with reactions involving globally abundant minerals to produce a solution that strongly absorbs and retains carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Rau and other researchers have developed several related methods, all of which involve electrochemistry, saline water, and carbonate or silicate minerals.
"It not only reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide, it also adds alkalinity to the ocean, so it's a two-pronged benefit," Rau said. "The process simply converts carbon dioxide into a dissolved mineral bicarbonate, which is already abundant in the ocean and helps counter acidification."
The negative emissions approach that has received the most attention so far is known as "biomass energy plus carbon capture and storage" (BECCS). This involves growing trees or other bioenergy crops (which absorb carbon dioxide as they grow), burning the biomass as fuel for power plants, capturing the emissions, and burying the concentrated carbon dioxide underground.
"BECCS is expensive and energetically costly. We think this electrochemical process of hydrogen generation provides a more efficient and higher capacity way of generating energy with negative emissions," Rau said.
He and his coauthors estimated that electrogeochemical methods could, on average, increase energy generation and carbon removal by more than 50 times relative to BECCS, at equivalent or lower cost. He acknowledged that BECCS is farther along in terms of implementation, with some biomass energy plants already in operation. Also, BECCS produces electricity rather than less widely used hydrogen.
"The issues are how to supply enough biomass and the cost and risk associated with putting concentrated carbon dioxide in the ground and hoping it stays there," Rau said.
The electrogeochemical methods have been demonstrated in the laboratory, but more research is needed to scale them up. The technology would probably be limited to sites on the coast or offshore with access to saltwater, abundant renewable energy, and minerals. Coauthor Heather Willauer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory leads the most advanced project of this type, an electrolytic-cation exchange module designed to produce hydrogen and remove carbon dioxide through electrolysis of seawater. Instead of then combining the carbon dioxide and hydrogen to make hydrocarbon fuels (the Navy's primary interest), the process could be modified to transform and store the carbon dioxide as ocean bicarbonate, thus achieving negative emissions.
"It's early days in negative emissions technology, and we need to keep an open mind about what options might emerge," Rau said. "We also need policies that will foster the emergence of these technologies."
In addition to Rau and Willauer, coauthor Zhiyong Jason Ren at the University of Colorado in Boulder (now at Princeton University) also contributed to the paper. This work was supported by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Office of Naval Research, and National Science Foundation.
It was 6.6°C or 44°F (at 850 hPa) over the North Pole due to hot air flowing from Siberia over the Arctic Ocean on June 13, 2018, 15:00 UTC (left panel). At the same time, the Jet stream (250 hPa) crosses the Arctic Ocean and goes circular over North Canada and Baffin Bay (right panel).
As above combination image shows, it was as hot as 32.7°C or 90.9°F (left panel, at the green circle) on June 11, 2018, on the coast of Hudson Bay. The right panel shows the jet stream crossing the Arctic, while numerous cyclones are visible on both images.
Above combination image shows that it was as hot as 30.7°C or 87.3°F (at the green circle, left panel) on the coast of the Laptev Sea, on June 10, 2018. The right panel shows the jet stream crossing the Arctic at speeds as fast as 161 km/h or 100 mph (at the green circle).
Parallels between methane explosions in the Yamal and on Mars – by Dr. David Page
The Author in the field
Hello, I'm Dr. David Page, a terrestrial geologist researching the rocky planets of the inner Solar System. My area of interest for 15 out of the last 25 years has been twofold – specifically, the geological history of the low-lying plains of the martian equator, and methodologically, how study of the stratigraphical architecture of planetary surfaces allows robust, three-dimensional inferences to be drawn from two-dimensional image data. That is, how to do real geology beyond Earth in a field ordinarily characterised by the geomorphic interpretations of the physical scientists who dominate planetary geology.
My terrestrial interest has long been palaeoenvironmental – what the rock record can tell us about past environments and climates. The Lyellian notion of Uniformity, that 'the Present is the key to the Past', is needlessly contrasted with catastrophism in planetary science (e.g., Baker, 1978; 1993; 1996; 1998; 2002; 2014), and was never a principle to be applied beyond Earth. Yet, it gains an extra dimension with the multiple geological examples that study of multiple planets affords, and can be made to work both ways in that context – i.e., not only can the Present be the key to the Past, but that Past can also be key to the Future.
Let me explain.
Fifty years of orbital observation has resulted in the consensus view that the northern lowlands of Mars are covered in lava. The most cursory geological examination shows this model-based view to be wrong, but study of the heavens is the province of the physicist and the astronomer and so this view prevails. Of the many geological anomalies with this story, the standout is that the ostensibly 'volcanic cones' that populate this terrain are demonstrably post-depositional in origin and thus more likely to be intrusive permafrost mounds. Look at this terrain stratigraphically and that likelihood becomes a certainty, the mounds presenting striking parallels to a new phenomenon in Arctic permafrost.
The dramatic explosion of Siberian permafrost mounds over the last four years has received worldwide media attention, igniting speculations of a methane "time-bomb" and a climatic threshold crossed. Absent any precedent in the geological past, we do not know whether these blasts are random events related to local permafrost instabilities, or the first sign of cascading methane release under climatic warming. Prior to the Arctic explosions the possibility that Mars' mounds might also explode could never be anticipated. Yet explode they do, synchronously, and in their thousands, presenting a scaleable vision of this process run to completion on Earth.
The parallel between this mass-explosion on Mars and the Yamal explosions vis-à-vis methane is described in the paper 'A candidate methane-clathrate destabilisation event on Mars: a model for sub-millennial-scale climatic change on Earth' published last week in the journal 'Gondwana Research'. This link – https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1WtNh,UYEnN-Xs – allows the readers of Arctic-news to freely download the full text of the paper without limitation or registration (until June 9th). I've been asked to extract my paper for that readership and have chosen to précis that aspect that I believe will be of the most interest to them: what the geology says about the rate of devolatilisation on Mars.
It is typically not possible to constrain the rate of past geological events with any accuracy (e.g., was the methane-expulsion of the PETM a geologically instantaneous event, occurring over decades, or did it play out over 10s to 100s of 1000s of years?). Uncharacteristically for a past such event (and uniquely so for a non-terrestrial one), two aspects of the Mars observations allow both the frequency and the scale of the explosions there to be calculated.
Mound explosions on Mars and Earth. Main) Dense cluster of exploded mounds at martian equator, composite haloes around individual clusters indicating synchronous blasts. Explosions traceable continuously for 100s-of-km. Inset) Exploded mound 'C1' in Arctic permafrost, one of six such explosions documented since 2013. HiRISE ESP_036220_1820, 2°N/145°E, 28 cm/px (NASA/JPL), Yamal Peninsula, Siberia (The Siberian Times, reproduced with permission). Mars field-of-view ~ 6 km across, C1 mound-vent ~ 50-m across.
Firstly, and as Figs. 1, 3-4 and 6 of the linked manuscript show, the mound explosions interact with dunes at the surface, showering them with ejecta. The dunes in this region are still active, growing at a rate of ~ 0.4 m/yr, this interaction with a measurably active sedimentary landform showing that explosion did not occur slowly over time but on a timescale of years. Neither is this just a local synchrony, as some aspect of the explosions caused the dunes across the blast-zone to change migration direction post-explosion, the only process that is presently known to remobilise dunes being climatic change (Thomas et al., 2005). Given en-masse explosive degassing of frost-mounds and the detection of methane 500 km downwind of the explosions, this dune remobilisation is most reasonably attributed to brief, mass-emission of a warming volatile.
Secondly, as neither the Earth nor Mars mounds are explosion 'craters' but positive-relief constructional landforms (whose explosion plays no part in their formation), this explosion of pre-existing landforms allows assessment of the degree of degassing on Mars to be made (i.e., "how many have exploded out of how many"). Observation shows over 99% of the exposed mounds to have exploded.
These explosions on Mars and Earth, both new-to-science, offer a unique opportunity for climatic inquiry across two worlds, having already occurred on Mars and now underway on Earth. Can this 'snapshot' of an abrupt, mass-devolatilisation event in-progress tell us anything about current events in Siberia? There is reason to believe that the Siberian explosions are only just beginning as neither the 1000s of onshore lake depressions across the Yamal-Pangody region nor the methane-venting 'pockmarks' of the various Arctic sea-floors show any evidence of explosive genesis, having thermokarstic- and subsidence-origins, respectively. What Mars shows is that once a certain permafrost stability threshold is passed, either through increasing temperature or decreasing pressure, the explosive 'reaction' appears to cascade.
It is important to place this statement in observational context, as those who set store by the solutions of numerical models will say that such cascading devolatilisation is not likely (and perhaps even irresponsible to voice) in regard to the Earth. Yet the martian observations are quite unambiguous, so let us list those elements that are factual:
Thousands of mounds have exploded on a regional scale at a single geological horizon on Mars and with a significant degree of synchrony;
This synchrony has operated, certainly partially and potentially completely, on a human timescale;
The devolatilisation was effectively complete, with > 99% of mounds exploded, the entire reservoir (at least as expressed at the surface) depleting in non-linear fashion.
This explosive-totality and -frequency are measured – they are not, inasmuch as anything can be otherwise when dealing with the geological past and non-terrestrial phenomena, an 'interpretation'. The volatile degassed from these mounds is interpreted to be methane based on the continuing seasonal methane detections in this region and the widespread evidence for freeze-thaw activity here (e.g., Page, 2007, 2008; Balme et al., 2009; Page, 2018), but it doesn't really matter if it's methane- or CO₂-clathrate that was degassed – the mechanism is the same. This regional synchrony documents either 1) the degassing of 1000s of individual volatile caches, indicating cascading devolatilisation, or 2) degassing of a larger, interconnected source at depth, pointing to complete devolatilisation. Collectively, these observations speak of a destabilised volatile reservoir moving rapidly towards total depletion, an inference that is independent both of the explosive stimulus and the volatile involved.
Climate-change studies have long struggled with the “impossible” task (Stassen, 2016) of predicting the consequences of sub-millennial-scale climatic change on Earth absent any example from our past. Mars provides one such example, the first, and a sobering one. If such cascade can occur on a permafrozen body such as Mars without the added drivers of annually-forced temperature increase or inundation by a warming transgressive ocean, then the scope for the same on Earth – where the shallow-marine clathrates of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), the largest near-surface reservoir of labile carbon on the planet, are rapidly warmed to the permafrost thaw-point – would appear straightforward. As a planet (probably) devoid of life and geologically inactive, the amount of methane on Mars will be both small and finite – were this degassing to occur on the same scale and frequency in a region of massive methane concentration on Earth, such as ESAS, then the beyond-worst-case scenario would follow: unstoppable runaway warming.
I don't think that it's 'alarmist' to be alarmed about events in the Yamal when seen in this new martian context – Siberian news reports last year described mapping of 7000 methane-venting mounds across the Yamal-Gydan (The Siberian Times, 27/03/2017), a number far in excess of the global frost mound population (~ 5000 [Mackay, 1998]) as of 1998. If confirmed, these 1000s of 'new' mounds must have formed within the last 20 years by a disequilibrium process unrelated to progressive ice-intrusion (Page, 2018). A University of Alaska permafrost decay expert quoted on the same day (The Washington Post, 27/03/2017) said that this mapping is likely to be an underestimate, and that the new mounds may number as many as 100,000. Should even the smaller of these numbers be correct and disequilibrium methanogenesis the cause, then Mars' explosions may only hint at the near future for a methane-rich Earth of rapidly rising temperatures if Arctic permafrost-explosion follows suit.
A seemingly compelling counterargument, often reused in the media, is that none of the glacial-interglacial transitions of the past 400 kyr shows a sudden, large methane-spike, suggesting that abrupt, large-scale methane outbursts are unlikely. One might appeal to such abrupt events being below the temporal resolution of the rock record in explanation, but absent such spikes the safest answer is to say that large-scale interglacial outbursts did not occur during that time. This time, however, is different. Anthropogenic warming has interrupted the Glacial-Interglacial cycle of the Quaternary (Ganopolski et al., 2016; Haqq-Misra, 2014) and there will be no coming Ice-Age n-1000 years from now to reseal all of this volatile Carbon, as happened at the end of each previous interglacial. This now-broken cyclicity is one reason why catastrophic reservoir-collapse has never occurred in the past and we should not take any comfort from that lack of precedent as never before has an Interglacial period been combined with annual, planetary-scale thermal forcing.
While high CO₂ levels have been present in Earth's atmosphere before (e.g., during the Cambrian and Archaean) without initiating either the moist or runaway greenhouse state, never has the rate of warming been annual in scale as today. The question is not whether anthropogenic emissions could initiate these greenhouse states, but whether Arctic clathrate release could. The IPCC 3rd Assessment Report (2001) concluded that rapid increase in atmospheric methane from the release of buried clathrate reservoirs would be "exceptionally unlikely", at < 1% chance, a figure revised up to 10% by the following report in 2008. Yet the Mars observations show that abrupt, cascading devolatilisation occurs readily in nature, and there is nothing about these observations to suggest that this process is not portable or scalable to Earth. That ESAS lacks Mars' mound-density makes the scaling no less valid, the methane-supersaturation of 80% of ESAS bottom waters (Shakhova et al., 2010) showing that frost mounds are not the sole venting pathway, gas migration pathways growing in capacity annually in the areas of greatest emissions (Shakhova et al., 2017). Destabilisation of the shallow-marine clathrates of ESAS continues to be excluded from every global climate model, the only (regional-scale) model to consider this being that of Archer (2015). The reader is referred to that paper for detail (https://www.biogeosciences.net/12/2953/2015/bg-12-2953-2015.pdf), but I would like to consider one element of that model here.
As a geologist, it is not clear to me how a model can have "...lessons to teach us about the real Siberian continental margin" (Archer, 2015) when "...many of the model variables are not well known", "...meaning that in some aspects the model results are not a strong constraint on reality". When this model "...neglects many of the mechanisms that could come into play in transporting methane quickly to the atmosphere, such as faults, channels, and blowouts of the sediment column" then one must ask what bearing or predictive-value it has for abrupt methane release. In ignoring faults and thaw-taliks, this model – "...the first simulation of the full methane cycle on the Siberian continental margin" – neglects those surface, subsurface, subaqueous, and subaerial pathways through which methane moves rapidly through permafrost, as observed in ESAS (e.g., Shakhova et al., 2010, 2017). Little wonder that "...No mechanism has been proposed whereby a significant fraction of the Siberian permafrost hydrates could release their methane catastrophically" (Archer, 2007) when every method of rapid release is neglected by the only 'full' model. The importance of such thaw-discontinuities cannot be underplayed in a model of catastrophic devolatilisation (Shakhova, 2014), as illustrated by Mars where violent degassing equivalent to 20 Yamal explosions per km² occurs through sub-mound palaeo-taliks alone (e.g., Figure above). The stated lack of constraint between model and reality is reflected in its most important Prediction, i.e., that atmospheric methane flux from anthropogenic warming of ESAS permafrost will never exceed 0.04 Tg C-CH₄ yr⁻¹ over 100-kyr of global warming (see Figure 15 of Archer, 2015). In Actuality, air sampling surveys over ESAS yield a calculated annual flux to the atmosphere of 8 Tg C-CH₄ (Shakhova et al., 2010), a figure 200 x higher than the model estimate (at Year-1 of this 100-kyr-scale warming) and equivalent to the methane emissions of the entire world's oceans.
In questioning the abrupt 50 Gt Arctic-methane release proposed by Shakhova et al. (2010), Archer says that "...A complex model is not really required to conclude that methane hydrate will probably not produce a methane eruption of this scale so quickly". Yet models (particularly the complex ones) are only as good as their base assumptions, and that regarding the methane flux in this region shows little correspondence with reality. There is thus no support for the Conclusion that "...The model results give no indication of a mechanism by which methane emissions from the Siberian continental shelf could have a significant impact on the near-term evolution of Earth’s climate" as the geological discontinuities that should be foremost in that mechanism are omitted from the model and the long-term CH₄-flux predictions of that model have no bearing to current, observed methane flux.
Knowing whether reservoir degassing follows a linear or cascading path makes all of the difference to whether such a system can be dynamically modelled. The 'plan-view' of the martian event exposed at the surface shows one explosion communicated to another and another, with mutual interference of blast-waves evident throughout. In this explosive degassing over 100s-of-km, Mars shows that once explosion begins it spreads, with local- to regional-scale synchrony. Thus, whether this is the explosion of 1000s of discrete volatile caches confined to the mounds, or 1000s of explosions that depleted a greater reservoir at-depth doesn't really matter, as devolatilisation appears to be limited only by volatile availability and to run to completion once initiated. As such, the proposed < 5% (50 Gt) release from ESAS may be highly conservative. It could also be extremely rapid if the isochroneity of explosion on Mars is valid, the brief dune-remobilisation consistent with mass-emission of a warming volatile of decadal atmospheric lifetime. If a mechanism be required before mass-degassing of ESAS is considered possible, then Mars provides one in the thermal disequilibrium of progressive deposit unroofing – a thermophysical process that will operate just as readily in submerged permafrost as subaerial, having already occurred on Mars and now underway in ESAS.
Unsurprisingly, argument in the scientific press between those who place their faith in numerical models and those who prefer the empiricism of "boots on the ground" (or ice, in this case) is heated in regard to possible ESAS degassing (e.g., http://www.biogeosciencesdiscuss.net/11/C6800/2014/bgd-11-C6800-2014-print.pdf). Ultimately, the 'watchful waiting' of ongoing, in situ documentation and the under-parameterised, low-dimensional abstractions of the modeller will both fail to capture the complexity and timescale of change in this most Open climate system as we must wait for the outcome to arrive before we can fully understand it, and that will be too late. Let us have no more 'scientific reticence' about Arctic methane. Earth at 1 AU is forever on the 0.97-0.99 AU margin of runaway warming (Kopparapu et al., 2013). To see what that's like, we need only look to our other nearest planetary neighbour and carry on with 'Business-As-Usual'. For the $3-trillion that was spent a decade ago bailing-out the shareholders of two corrupt mortgage lenders and a failing bank we could have built enough offshore wind turbines to power the entire planet, fixing dangerous climate-change globally and permanently.
If we're lucky, we may have a decade remaining to fix it now.
A Question and an Answer
Q: Why should the reader pay any heed to the words of an 'off-world' geologist when it comes to Arctic methane, particularly one who mentions Uniformitarianism? A: Because the methodology employed is not his own but one grounded in the geometrical principles of that science, honed over 200 years of inquiry¹. Using that methodology, the volatile-hypothesis for genesis of the martian mounds has been testing its own predictions observationally for over a decade now and has yet to falter, leaving others to explain-away the resulting inconsistencies in the established model (e.g., Jaeger et al., 2008; Dundas et al., 2010). In 2007, I suggested that the methane detected over this region was related to decadal-scale thaw-destabilisation of permafrost mounds, providing a mechanism for clathrate dissociation, and that "...unless thaw and the local methane enhancement over this region are unrelated, release of methane from within the permafrost is a consistent explanation" (Page, 2007). Ten-years on, and this destabilisation-geology and -chronology have been borne out in the discovery of widespread explosive mass-devolatilisation of frost mounds in that same region, paralleling the identical but otherwise new-to-science explosive phenomena in the Yamal (Page, 2018).
This successful prediction is not self-advertisement, and is stated here for one reason alone² – in providing the only analogue for what is beginning in Siberian permafrost now, this past event on Mars provides a unique guide to how such degassing plays-out for real. It is one that we must not ignore – scaling this event to Earth yields 10s-of-millions of explosions in the Arctic and a terminal mass-emission of methane that will make 50 Gt look modest.
It is said that the greatest contribution that Geology has made to human knowledge is the discovery of 'Deep Time'. More significant Today is its unique capacity to reconstruct the Past, and to apply that understanding to anticipating the Future.
¹ When I consider the landforms and surfaces of other planets I do not do so in terms of models, morphology, or hypotheses of origin, but their geometrical relations with one-another vis-à-vis relative-age, a method of inquiry that goes back two centuries to the very inception of geology as a science. In a traverse across the Scottish Highlands, James Hutton (1788) was able to piece together the history of the various plutonic, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks based on the geometry of their intersections. He inferred that the Caledonian granites were younger than the “Primitive” (metamorphic) basement that they intrude, with the numerous faults and intrusive dykes younger than the Old Red Sandstone that they cut. By determining the age of one rock relative to another, Hutton produced a geological “history of events” for rocks whose origins he did not know, a history that remains unchanged to this day (Page, 2015). This directional, temporal logic is practiced by all geologists as a matter of course, whether they be determining the crystallization history of minerals under the microscope, the stratigraphy of an outcrop in the field, or the order of undefined events on a distant planetary surface. These relative-age relations are all defined geometrically, a straightforward reductio, such as Euclid's proof that two intersecting circles cannot share their centres, being the basis for much stratigraphical reasoning. By the same reasoning, two spatially coincident events (mound-formation and -explosion, in this case) cannot share the same point in time if they are separated by a third, intervening event of significant duration (e.g., dune-formation). This simple deposit geometry is what shows accepted explanation of the geology of mound-bearing terrain on Mars to be deficient, and something entirely different, the propositions of planar geometry matters of neither opinion nor interpretation.
² As stated by Hansen (2017) after losing funding for publishing research that pointed out the consequences of findings with no other consideration, "...Funding decisions for other researchers, I noted, sent a clear message: funding prospects were brighter if one emphasized that the science was very uncertain and that much more research was needed before it might be possible to draw inferences related to policy". If emphasising 'uncertainty' is the path to healthy funding, then this Contribution makes it clear that my work is not scientific careerism pitching for funds – the Author's post-doctoral research is entirely self-funded, as detailed in my Funding Statements for papers going back to 2010. It took 15 months to get this paper..
Arctic sea ice extent has been at a record low for the time of year for most of 2018, as illustrated by above image. In 2012, extent went below 3.4 million km². The question is what minimum 2018 extent will be.
Arctic sea ice could disappear altogether in 2018. Have a look at the progressive loss of sea ice volume depicted in the image on the right, from an earlier post. Zero sea ice volume by 2018 is within the margins of the trend line contained in the data going back to 1979.
What drives volume decline is the combination of extent loss and especially thickness loss. Sea ice thickness has declined particularly where the ice once was at its thickest, i.e. north of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
The combination image below shows the decline of the thicker sea ice, by comparing sea ice thickness on April 15 (run April 14) for the years 2015 through to 2018, showing that sea ice this year is entering the melting season with little or no thick sea ice left north of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to cope with the influx of warmer water.
The influx of warm water from the Atlantic Ocean and from the Pacific Ocean is melting the sea ice from below, while sunlight is melting the sea ice from above. Furthermore, warm water from rivers that end in the Arctic Ocean also contribute to melting of the sea ice, and there are numerous feedbacks that can dramatically speed up melting.
Disappearance of the sea ice means that the buffer that until now has consumed huge amounts of heat, will be gone and that heat that previously went into melting the sea ice, will instead warm up the Arctic.
Sea ice can be expected to continue its downward spiral, given the continued rise of the temperature of the sea surface in the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean, as illustrated by the image below.
The sea surface is not necessarily the place where the water is at its warmest. This is illustrated by the image below, showing subsurface ocean heat in the area most relevant to El Niño/La Niña events.
[ click on images to enlarge ]
Indeed, while we're currently still in a La Niña period, it looks like a new El Niño will arrive this summer, as illustrated by the forecast plumes on the right.
This could result in a heat storm in which heat waves could decimate the sea ice, while storms could push the remaining sea ice out of the Arctic Ocean.
This danger is further illustrated by the trend line in the image below, a trend that is contained in NASA LOTI data up to March 2018, adjusted by +0.79°C to better reflect the rise from preindustrial and surface air temperatures, and to better include Arctic temperatures.
[ click on images to enlarge ]
The temperature rise in the Arctic is causing decline of the sea ice extent as well as the extent of the snow cover on land.
The image on the right shows the progressive decline of the spring snow cover on land in the Northern Hemisphere.
Heat waves combined with strong rainfall due to storms could devastate the snow cover in 2018.
Decline of the snow and ice cover in the Arctic comes with a huge loss in albedo, which means that huge amounts of sunlight that were previously reflected back into space instead get absorbed by the Arctic.
A rapid rise in temperatures in the Arctic will also accelerate changes to jet stream, which can cause huge amounts of heat from the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean to enter the Arctic Ocean, further speeding up the temperature rise and threatening to destabilize methane hydrates in sediments under the Arctic Ocean.
The methane will initially be felt most strongly in the Arctic, further speeding up the temperature rise that is already accelerating due to the loss of the snow and ice cover in the Arctic, which makes that less sunlight is reflected back into space and instead adds to warming up the Arctic.
All this shouldn't come unexpected. In the video below, Guy McPherson warns that a rapid temperature rise will affect agriculture across the globe, threatening to cause a collapse of industrial civilization, in turn resulting in an abrupt halt of the sulfates that are currently co-emitted as a result of burning fuel, which will further add to a temperature rise that is already threatening to cause people across the globe to perish at massive scale, due to heatstroke, dehydration and famine, if not perish due to nuclear radiation and further toxic effects of war, as people fight over who controls the last habitable places on Earth.
Edge of Extinction: How Long Do We Have? - YouTube
The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.
The IPCC appears to be strongly downplaying the amount of global warming that has already occurred and that looks set to eventuate over the next decade or so, according to a leaked draft of the IPCC 'Special Report on 1.5°C above pre-industrial'. The 'First Order Draft of the Summary for Policy Makers' estimates that the global mean temperature reached approximately 1°C above pre-industrial levels around 2017/2018.
Let's go over the numbers step by step, by following the image below line by line (click on the image to enlarge it).
NASA's data for the two most recent years for which data are available (2016/2017) show a warming of 0.95°C when using a baseline of 1951-1980 and a warming of 1.23°C when using a baseline of 1890-1910 (left map on image below). In other words, using this earlier baseline results in an additional 0.28°C rise. When using an even earlier baseline, i.e. 1750 or preindustrial, it could be 1.53°C warmer, as discussed in an earlier post.
In other words, merely changing the baseline to preindustrial, as agreed to at the Paris Agreement, can show that we're already above the 1.5°C guardrail that the Paris Agreement had pledged we should not cross.
There's more! As a recent publication points out, most methods that calculate the global temperature use sea surface temperatures. However, doesn't it make more sense to calculate the temperature of the air just above the sea surface? Measuring air temperature at the surface is done in the case of temperatures over land, where one doesn't measure the temperature of the soil or rocks when telling people how warm it is. Since air surface temperatures are slightly higher than sea surface temperatures, the result of looking at air surface temperatures across the globe would be a temperature that is approximately 0.1°C warmer. Furthermore, many areas in the Arctic may not have been adequately reflected in the global temperature, e.g. because insufficient data were available. Since the Arctic has been warming much faster than the rest of the world, inclusion of those areas would add another 0.1°C to the rise. Adding this to the above 1.53°C rise makes that it's already 1.73°C (or 3.11°F) warmer than preindustrial.
Another question is over what period measurements should be taken when assessing whether thresholds have been crossed. When focusing on temperatures during specific months, the rise could be much higher than the annual average. So, does it make more sense to look at a monthly peak rather than at a long-term average?
When building a bridge and when calculating what load the bridge should be able to handle, it makes sense to look at peak traffic and at times when a lot of heavy trucks happen to be on the bridge. That makes a lot more sense than only looking at the average weight of cars driving over the bridge during a period of - say - one, two or thirty years.
Accordingly, the right panel of the top image shows numbers for February 2016 when temperature anomalies were particularly high. When looking at this monthly anomaly, we are already 2.37°C (or 4.27°F) above preindustrial, i.e. well above the 2°C guardrail that the Paris Agreement had pledged we should definitely not cross.
Should the temperature rise be calculated using a longer period? The IPCC appears to have arrived at its temperature rise estimate by using an extrapolation or near term predictions of future warming so that the level of anthropogenic warming is reported for a 30 year period centered on today.
The image below, from an earlier post, shows global warming for a 30-year period centered on January 2018, using NASA 2003 to January 2018 LOTI anomalies from 1951-1980, adjusted by 0.59°C to cater for the rise from preindustrial to 1951-1980, and with a polynomial trend added.
Above image illustrates the importance of what's going to happen next. The temperature rise up until now may well be dwarfed by what's yet to come and the outlook may well be even worse than what the above trend suggests. The image below, from an earlier post, shows how the rise from 2016 to 2026 could take place twice as fast as above trend, due to the combined impact of the warming elements listed in the left box of the image below.
Meanwhile, the rise in carbon dioxide levels appears to be accelerating, as illustrated by the images below.
Indeed, despite pledges made at the Paris Agreement to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial, the rise in CO₂ since preindustrial, i.e. 1750, still appears to be accelerating.
On March 18, 2018, the sea surface temperature near Svalbard (at the green circle) was 16.7°C or 62.1°F, i.e. 14.7°C or 26.4°F warmer than the daily average during the years 1981-2011.
On March 30, 2018, methane levels as high as 2624 parts per billion were recorded.
The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.
The Arctic is warming up more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, due to numerous feedbacks. At times, large areas over the Arctic Ocean can become 30°C or 54°F warmer than 1979-2000, as illustrated by the image below.
On February 27, 2018, large parts of the Arctic Ocean north of Greenland had turned into open water, as illustrated by the image below.
Yet, while the situation in the Arctic is desperate, with sea ice north of Greenland collapsing and more, mainstream media do not seem to care. If there ever were warning signs of what could eventuate, this is one. The sea ice north of Greenland is typically the thickest, as it is the least affected by melting and can build over many years. Early February 2018, sea ice north of Greenland was up to 5 m thick. To see sea ice this thick getting pushed away and open water emerging north of Greenland in the middle of winter is simply stunning.
For years, I've been warning about the situation in the Arctic, in particular the 'Open Doors Feedback', which is accelerating Arctic warming. Such feedbacks were taken into consideration in an earlier analysis that warned about a potential 1.6°C warming globally due to albedo changes in the Arctic, in combination with associated changes such as loss of the ice buffer (latent heat), more heat transfer from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arctic Ocean due to stronger winds along the path of the Gulf Stream, and more heat entering the atmosphere or remaining in the atmosphere, due to more open water in the Arctic Ocean and as oceans get more stratified and take up less heat from the atmosphere.
So, the current situation doesn't come as a big surprise, but it's stunning to see sea ice collapse north of Greenland.
Back in March 7, 2007, I posted the article 'Ten Dangers of Global Warming', describing events getting progressively worse, with one danger feeding and reinforcing the next one, culminating in panic. Then, I thought that reading that post could at least help people better understand what's going on, and thus help people avoid panicking, but right now, I wonder whether most people do want to understand at all. Anyway, here are some images and words describing what happened over the past few days.
Jet Stream over Arctic Ocean on February 25, 2018
As Arctic warming keeps accelerating, there's ever less temperature difference between the North Pole and the Equator, and this slows down the speed at which the jet stream circumnavigates Earth.
Jet Stream over Arctic Ocean on February 26, 2018
The jet stream is getting more wavy and a more wavy jet stream makes it easier for cold air to move out of the Arctic and for warm air to move into the Arctic, so this 'Open Doors Feedback' is a self-reinforcing feedback that further accelerates warming in the Arctic.
During the northern winter, the Arctic is increasingly getting warmer than North America, Europe and Siberia. This increases the temperature difference between these continents and the oceans, which at times is causing winds to strongly speed up over the North Atlantic and the North Pacific, making an already wavy jet stream extend even further over the Arctic Ocean, reaching areas well beyond the North Pole.
Atmospheric river of heat reaches the North Pole; temperatures were as high as 1.1°C or 34.1°F on February 25, 2018
As the jet stream makes this detour, a huge amount of heat enters the Arctic from the south.
Temperatures above 6°C at Kap Morris Jesup, Greenland's northernmost weather station, on February 25, 2018
These events were preceded by the Polar Vortex splitting up. On February 9, 2018, the Polar Vortex was split up into 4 vortices and reached speeds as fast as 425 km/h or 264 mph.
Polar Vortex split up into 4 vortices
A Sudden Stratospheric Warming event occurred on February 16, 2018, with temperatures reaching as high as 8.9°C or 47.9°F over Hudson Bay.
Polar Vortex splitting up into 4 vortices with a Sudden Stratospheric Warming event occurring on February 16, 2018
Arctic sea ice extent was at record low for the time of the year on February 26, 2018, at 14.159 million km². Arctic sea ice extent typically reaches its maximum in March, but maximum extent in 1991-2000 was reached on February 24. So, there is a chance that Arctic sea ice extent will go all downhill from now on this year.
Zero sea ice volume is within the margins of the trend depicted on the image above on the right. Disappearance of the sea ice also means loss of the buffer that until now has consumed huge amounts of heat.
Here's another warning sign. High methane releases followed this chain of events on February 27, 2018, pm, likely originating from the seafloor of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS).
Methane levels as high as 2892 ppb on February 27, 2018
Add up the impact of all warming elements and, as an earlier analysis shows, the rise in mean global temperatures from preindustrial could be more than 10°C in a matter of years, as illustrated by the images below.
A 2°C rise in temperature alone is devastating, especially when considering that the speed at which this rise could occur leaves little or no time for plants and animals to adapt.
The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.