This is the first of several posts I will do on Global Collapse. I am not saying, right here anyway, that civilization as we know it will collapse, but I am asking the question: “Can collapse be avoided?” This post will deal with global warming and the associated climate change.
Right now CO2 is higher than it has been in over 20 million years. But it has been higher, a lot higher.
The chart below was published in the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2015 and the source of their data was Goddard Institute for Space Studies
What this chart clearly shows is that global warming, so far, is primarily a northern hemisphere phenomenon and mostly above 60 degrees latitude.
Arctic still heating up twice as fast as rest of planet. Annual average temperatures have continued to rise for the region as a whole throughout the recent slowdown in the pace of warming globally, according to a new analysis of conditions above 60 degrees north latitude.
In fact, the loss of reflective sea ice is part of the reason Arctic temperature has risen three times faster than the global average in recent decades. This effect, known as Arctic amplification, has consequences for nearby land ice, too.
But why is the Northern Well for one reason that’s where most of the people are. That’s where most of the CO2 emissions comes from. But… don’t the air mix from north to south?
How long does it take something in the atmosphere of the northern hemisphere to appear in the atmosphere of the southern hemisphere? The best answer I could come up with was about six months. (I am not at all confident that six months is correct however.) Anyway that is clearly way too short a time for CO2 to have such a different effect on the temperature between the two hemispheres. But what about methane?
(Global distribution of methane averaged over 2011 by NASA/AIRS. Note the very high concentrations in the Arctic region. For this map, the highest concentrations occur in the Yedoma region of Russia, a region of multiplying methane emitting tundra melt and Thermokarst lakes [see below]. Image source: NASA/AIRS.)
Methane mixing ratio here is parts per million and the chart goes from 1.71 to 1.85. That is not a big difference but if it takes an average of 6 months for the atmosphere, north to south, to mix then that means there must be a continuous release of methane from the Arctic area.
Here are the measurements in parts per billion as measured by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, a department of the US Department of Energy.
Methane Concentrations, February 2014
Prehistoric ……………….. 722 PPB ……… Ice Core measurements.
Northern Hemisphere 1893 PPB …….. Mace Head, Ireland
Southern Hemisphere 1762 PPB …….. Cape Grim, Tasmania
Pre-industrial concentrations of CH4 are evident in the 2000-year records from Law Dome, Antarctica and longer ice-core records found on CDIAC’s collection of data access links to atmospheric trace gases. A spline function fit to those data gives 697 ppm for year 1750, but this may be lower than the global average if agricultural sources in the Northern Hemisphere were already contributing nontrivially. For graphs of two-thousand-year records of CH4, CO2 and N2O concentrations are found here.
The above charts only go to the year 2000. The atmospheric methane has jumped about 400 parts per billion in just the last 15 years. Also notice that the methane concentration as measured from Mace Head, Ireland in February 2014, 1893 ppb, is higher than the highest point on the global chart above, as measured in 2011, 1885 ppb.
But where is all this methane coming from? From the melting methane clathrates, (sometimes called hydrates), in the ocean crust and arctic permafrost.
A multinational team of researchers led by marine geophysicist Dr Bryan Davy from GNS Science has found what may be the world’s biggest pockmarks on the seafloor about 310 miles east of Christchurch, New Zealand.
Scientists believe they are the ancient remnants of vigorous degassing from under the seafloor into the ocean. The structures (the largest being 6.8 miles by 3.7 miles in diameter and 328 feet deep) are at water depths of about 0.6 miles and there is currently no sign of gas being emitted from them.
The team investigated the larger seafloor structures on the German research ship Sonne. Their aim was to determine the geological origin of the structures, which were first noted in 2007.
And the below link is the results of that study.
Multibeam swath bathymetry data from the southwest margin of the Chatham Rise, New Zealand, show gas release features over a region of at least 20,000 km2. Gas escape features, interpreted to be caused by gas hydrate dissociation, include an estimated a) 10 features, 8–11 km in diameter and b) 1,000 features, 1–5 km in diameter, both at 800–1,100 m water depth. An estimated 10,000 features, ∼150 m in diameter, are observed at 500–700 m water depth. In the latter depth range sub-bottom profiles show similar gas escape features (pockmarks) at disconformities interpreted to mark past sea-level low stands. The amount of methane potentially released from hydrates at each of the largest features is ∼7*1012 g. If the methane from a single event at one 8–11 km scale pockmark reached the atmosphere, it would be equivalent to ∼3% of the current annual global methane released from natural souces into the atmosphere.
3% from just one pockmark and there are thousands of them on the seafloor:
The seafloor of Penobscot Bay has been in the news quite a bit lately due to controversy around a proposed dredging project in Searsport. A little-discussed aspect of the dredge proposal is that the Army Corp of Engineers is proposing to deposit the dredge spoils into an expansive cavern on the sea floor in western Penobscot Bay, called a “pockmark.”
These pockmarks in the Barents Sea are believed to be only 10,000 to 12,000 years old, dating back to the end of the last ice age. The long grooves here in the sea floor was caused by ice pushing across the seafloor. Therefore the pockmarks have to be younger than the melting of the ice.
Sometimes they happen on dry land. This is a small one, below, only 100 feet across.
But that year, 2014, also saw something else. A potential catastrophic release of methane. For in the frozen region of Yamal, Russia the earth near a remote Siberian village began to destabilize. Soon after, according to eyewitness accounts, the area began to smoke. Then, with a bright flash, the ground erupted.
When the smoke cleared, a massive crater was found where only flat, frozen tundra was there before. A giant plug of frozen earth had been ejected violently. And all that remained was an ominous gray-black crater.
Researchers investigating the crater found 10 percent atmospheric methane concentrations at its base.
I have watched well over a dozen “Methane Bomb” videos on Youtube. Most, but not all, predict a catastrophe in just a few years. Some, especially those by Guy McPherson, predict the total extinction of human beings as well as most other life. They call it “the firing of the clathrate gun”. And when it goes off, all life as we know it will be destroyed. I don’t believe it! For one reason the clathrate gun has been fired many times before. The last time was just ten to twelve thousand years ago. But then there was no real methane spike in the atmosphere.
But there was massive global warming at this time. But the warming was relative, we went from a deep ice age to the normal weather we have experienced since the melting of the ice. I have no idea why the methane did not show up in the ice core but it could have had something to do with the fact that little ice was laid down during this period. That is it was a time of the great ice melting.
We are well past the point of no return. Given the delay between greenhouse gas emissions and the actual warming of the atmosphere, there is no way we can possibly stop it. Given the forty year delay between cause and effect, even if we completely stopped the emissions of greenhouse gasses today, it would still be forty years before we saw the first changes from our actions. And we all know we are not going to stop emissions, the best we can hope for is a slowing down of emissions. And it is way, way too late for that to help at all.
If we accept that greenhouse gases are warming the planet, the next concept that needs to be grasped is that it takes time, and we have not yet seen the full rise in temperature that will occur as a result of the CO2 we have already emitted…
The reason the planet takes several decades to respond to increased CO2 is the thermal inertia of the oceans.
The trigger has already been pulled, the methane explosion has already started, the atmosphere is getting warmer but the oceans are getting even warmer. And it will get worse, a lot worse, but it will not lead to total extinction of the human species as Guy McPherson predicts. It will be bad but not that bad.
It has all happened before.
The last methane release, or clathrate gun was fired a mere ten to twelve thousand years ago. But it was muffled by a world with one third of its land covered by ice. The melting of the ice absorbed the heat and all that happened was the ice age disappeared. But it has happened before when the earth had very little ice cover. And the winter temperatures at some parts of the Antarctic averaged 50 degrees F, (10 degrees C).
In an area where the Antarctic ice sheet borders the Southern Ocean today, frost-sensitive and warmth-loving plants such as palms and the ancestors of today’s baobab trees flourished 52 million years ago. The scientists’ evaluations show that the winter temperatures on the Wilkes Land coast of Antarctica were warmer than 10 degrees Celsius at that time, despite three months of polar night.
Also the Antarctic, 52 million years ago, was in pretty much the same place it is today. So we cannot use the excuse that the Antarctic continent was much further north.
Also there was intense global warming 90 and 150 million years ago as well as many other times in the geological past. There were many extinctions but life survived. And the laws of physics have not changed. There were deep carbon deposits in the past, there were methane clathrates in the past and the clathrate gun has gone off before. So it is extremely likely that, in the past, there were sudden surges, taking only a few decade, for the global temperature to jump several degrees.
No doubt that there will be more extinctions but life will survive. And given humans can adapt to almost any environment, and in their enormous numbers, occupy every habitual niche in the world, there will be human survivors.
And anyway, there are other possible catastrophes that are likely to hit way before global warming starts to have catastrophic effects.