The Biggest Story of 2013: The Methane Threat to Planet Earth

January 2nd, 2014 - by admin

Arctic News – 2014-01-02 00:28:05

(December 31, 2013) — While the world chose to turn a blind eye, the biggest story of 2013 is the methane over the Arctic. As the year progressed, huge quantities methane started to be released from the seabed of the Arctic Ocean.

What is causing the release of this much methane?

Very high concentrations of methane have been recorded over the Arctic Ocean over the year and the high releases are still continuing (a peak of 2399 ppb was reached on December 29, 2013, p.m.). The methane appears to originate particularly from areas along the Gakkel Ridge fault line that continues as the Laptev Sea Ridge, as discussed in earlier posts.

The Naval Research Laboratory animation below shows that sea ice extent is growing and that thinner sea ice is getting thicker, which is normal for this time of year. At the same time, the multi-meters thick ice is not increasing in extent nor in thickness.

In fact, much multi-meters thick sea ice is being pushed out of the Arctic Ocean. Methane looks to be moving underneath the sea ice along exit currents and entering the atmosphere at the edges of the sea ice, where the sea ice is fractured or thin enough to allow methane to rise.

What is causing the release of this much methane?

To answer this question, let’s first examine why the Arctic is warming up more rapidly than other places.

Emissions are causing albedo changes in the Arctic, while emissions from North America are — due to the Coriolis effect — moving over areas off the North American coast in the path of the Gulf Stream (see animation on the right).

These impacts constitute a second kind of warming that is hitting the Arctic particularly hard, on top of global warming.

In addition, there are feedbacks that are further accelerating warming of the Arctic, in particular:
• Snow and ice decline is causing more sunlight to be absorbed in the Arctic (feedback #1).

• As warming in the Arctic accelerates, a weaker Jet Stream lets warmer air move from lower latitudes into the Arctic (feedback #10).

• A weaker Jet Stream further elevates the chance of heat waves warming up the Gulf Stream and warming up rivers that end in the Arctic Ocean (feedback #11). This feedback looks to have caused a lot of seabed warming and subsequent methane releases from the sea floor of the Arctic Ocean.

• The high methane concentrations are in turn further warming up the air over the Arctic (feedback #2).

The above is depicted in the diagram below. [Go to original story link to view graphics.]

The diagram below shows thirteen feedbacks that are accelerating warming in the Arctic.

The NOAA temperature anomalies chart below can act as a chart for the year 2013, and confirms that global warming is hitting the polar regions particularly hard — a large area of the Arctic Ocean saw 2.5+ degrees Celsius surface temperature anomalies during the year 2013.

Importantly, on specific days anomalies did reach much higher values. The image below shows how a large area of the Arctic was exposed to 20+ degrees Celsius surface temperature anomalies recently.

What makes this story even bigger is that the media have largely chosen to ignore the threat that methane releases from the Arctic Ocean will escalate into to runaway global warming.

While one can read many stories in the media that global warming was supposed to somehow have ‘halted’, little attention was given to a recent study that points out that the commonly-used United Kingdom temperature record is actually biased and underestimates warming in certain regions, in particular the Arctic.

And while the IPCC points out that most of the additional heat associated with global warming goes into oceans (image right), the IPCC fails to highlight the vulnerability of the Arctic Ocean.

Indeed, perhaps the biggest story of the year is the question why the IPCC has decided not to warn people about the looming Arctic methane threat, ignoring the need for comprehensive and effective action such as discussed at the Climate Plan Blog.

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