Global Warming: Methane Could Be Far Worse Than Carbon Dioxide
Methane gas, abundantly trapped as a half frozen slush in the northern hemisphere's tundra permafrost regions and at the bottom of the sea may well be a ticking time bomb, says geologist John Atcheson in an article published by the Baltimore Sun in December last year. Methane is about twenty-five times stronger as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Since arctic warming seems to procede faster than expected, there is a real danger that deposits of methane and similar gases trapped in normally frozen ground, may thaw out and "belch" into the atmosphere, wreaking havoc with our computer simulations of global warming.
According to Gregory Ryskin, associate professor of chemical engineering at Northwestern University, "explosive clouds of methane gas, initially trapped in stagnant bodies of water and suddenly released, could have killed off the majority of marine life and land animals and plants at the end of the Permian era" — long before dinosaurs lived and died. Ruskin believes that methane may have been the driving force in previous catastrophic changes of the earth's climate, where 95 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land species were lost in - geologically speaking - the blink of an eye.
You may ask "what can I do about this?". There are some suggestions in an article posted on the ZPEnergy site. Perhaps we should do everything possible to reverse the current trend towards global warming by burning less fossil fuels. The first target would be to go "carbon neutral", after which we should be figuring out ways to trap some of the excess carbon in the atmosphere and use it or store it in a non-gaseous form.
Using hydrogen instead of petroleum-derived fuels would be a first step, although we must find a way to produce the gas without burning more of the black stuff. Options range from the relatively inefficient direct-current electrolysis, solar hydrogen production at sea, the use of metal catalysts, high frequency electric currents, ultraviolet light and the action of bacteria which naturally produce hydrogen. It seems none of the technologies are quite ready to use, but there is no room for complacency.
Comes to mind the methane atmosphere that was recently found to be prevalent on Saturn's moon Titan. Could there be a point of break in the equilibrium of atmospheric composition where a celestial body's gas cover can switch from a predominantly nitrogen/oxygen composition to predominantly methane? If so, we better watch our steps because human bodies as well as most known animal species do not run on methane. We might be in for an unpleasant surprise.
John Acheson asks:"How likely is it that humans will cause methane burps by burning fossil fuels? No one knows. But it is somewhere between possible and likely at this point, and it becomes more likely with each passing year that we fail to act.
So forget rising sea levels, melting ice caps, more intense storms, more floods, destruction of habitats and the extinction of polar bears. Forget warnings that global warming might turn some of the world's major agricultural areas into deserts and increase the range of tropical diseases, even though this is the stuff we're pretty sure will happen."
In what might have been an early warning, in 1986, lake Nyos in Cameroon "burped" an amount of gases killing 1800 people, following a much smaller scale disaster on neighbouring lake Monoun two years earlier, which killed 37 people. While carbon dioxide has been fingered as the main culprit, there seems to have been a "fiery" component to the eruption indicating possible presence of combustible methane: "Skin discoloration found on some victims were tentatively interpreted as burns, but this diagnosis is still controversial. Witnesses on topographic highs report a loud noise originating from the lake and, in the case of lake Nyos, flashes of light visible over the lake".
Apparently, three dissolved gasses, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide and methane come together and indeed, a project to recover the methane from the waters of Lake Kivu, on Rwanda's north-western border, is in advanced stage of engineering. A similar project is underway to de-gas lakes Nyos and Monoun in Cameroon.
While such isolated cases as the lakes in Africa may be amenable to direct engineering solutions, capturing the gasses and putting the methane to use as a fuel, we may not have such an easy solution ready for widespread methane outgassing from the warming of larger bodies of water and huge stretches of half-frozen tundra.
The only possible solution to stem the steady increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide would seem to satisfy our energy needs without burning hydrocarbons.
Ticking Time Bomb
15 Dec 2004
The Arctic Council's recent report on the effects of global warming in the far north paints a grim picture: global floods, extinction of polar bears and other marine mammals, collapsed fisheries. But it ignored a ticking time bomb buried in the Arctic tundra.
There are enormous quantities of naturally occurring greenhouse gasses trapped in ice-like structures in the cold northern muds and at the bottom of the seas. These ices, called clathrates, contain 3,000 times as much methane as is in the atmosphere. Methane is more than 20 times as strong a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.
Now here's the scary part. A temperature increase of merely a few degrees would cause these gases to volatilize and "burp" into the atmosphere, which would further raise temperatures, which would release yet more methane, heating the Earth and seas further, and so on. There's 400 gigatons of methane locked in the frozen arctic tundra - enough to start this chain reaction - and the kind of warming the Arctic Council predicts is sufficient to melt the clathrates and release these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Once triggered, this cycle could result in runaway global warming the likes of which even the most pessimistic doomsayers aren't talking about.
An apocalyptic fantasy concocted by hysterical environmentalists? Unfortunately, no. Strong geologic evidence suggests something similar has happened at least twice before.
The most recent of these catastrophes occurred about 55 million years ago in what geologists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), when methane burps caused rapid warming and massive die-offs, disrupting the climate for more than 100,000 years.
The granddaddy of these catastrophes occurred 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, when a series of methane burps came close to wiping out all life on Earth.
More than 94 percent of the marine species present in the fossil record disappeared suddenly as oxygen levels plummeted and life teetered on the verge of extinction. Over the ensuing 500,000 years, a few species struggled to gain a foothold in the hostile environment. It took 20 million to 30 million years for even rudimentary coral reefs to re-establish themselves and for forests to regrow. In some areas, it took more than 100 million years for ecosystems to reach their former healthy diversity.
Geologist Michael J. Benton lays out the scientific evidence for this epochal tragedy in a recent book, When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time. As with the PETM, greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide from increased volcanic activity, warmed the earth and seas enough to release massive amounts of methane from these sensitive clathrates, setting off a runaway greenhouse effect.
The cause of all this havoc?
In both cases, a temperature increase of about 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit, about the upper range for the average global increase today's models predict can be expected from burning fossil fuels by 2100. But these models could be the tail wagging the dog since they don't add in the effect of burps from warming gas hydrates. Worse, as the Arctic Council found, the highest temperature increases from human greenhouse gas emissions will occur in the arctic regions - an area rich in these unstable clathrates.
If we trigger this runaway release of methane, there's no turning back. No do-overs. Once it starts, it's likely to play out all the way.
Humans appear to be capable of emitting carbon dioxide in quantities comparable to the volcanic activity that started these chain reactions. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, burning fossil fuels releases more than 150 times the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by volcanoes - the equivalent of nearly 17,000 additional volcanoes the size of Hawaii's Kilauea.
And that is the time bomb the Arctic Council ignored.
How likely is it that humans will cause methane burps by burning fossil fuels? No one knows. But it is somewhere between possible and likely at this point, and it becomes more likely with each passing year that we fail to act.
So forget rising sea levels, melting ice caps, more intense storms, more floods, destruction of habitats and the extinction of polar bears. Forget warnings that global warming might turn some of the world's major agricultural areas into deserts and increase the range of tropical diseases, even though this is the stuff we're pretty sure will happen.
Instead, let's just get with the Bush administration's policy of pre-emption. We can't afford to have the first sign of a failed energy policy be the mass extinction of life on Earth. We have to act now.
John Atcheson, a geologist, has held a variety of policy positions in several federal government agencies.
Man-made Global Warming - The Debate is not over!
Global warming is going to wreak havoc with the world economy. That is the latest dire prediction based on the idea that our use of fossil fuels and our production and release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is responsible for an increase-to-come in temperatures. We've got to act now, we are being told. There is a strong consensus that we're in for some heavy heat and that industry is to blame for it. So energy use must be curtailed and polluters must be made to pay. UN General Secretary Kofi Annan says that there is "a frightening lack of leadership" regarding the steps to take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions...
Global temperatures could be set to soar
New Scientist - 29 January 2005:
THE Earth could be even more sensitive to global warming than we imagined. If carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere double, as they are widely expected to do, the planet's temperature could rise by a huge 11.5 °C, according to early results from a project that uses home PCs to test climate models.
Atmospheric Methane - Oceanic Burp Warmed Earth
Researchers have found evidence to support a theory that an abrupt warming of the Earth 55 million years ago was caused by the sudden release from the ocean of frozen deposits of methane.
COINCIDENCE STINKS - by Tom Slattery
Take a look at this "coincidence" of Los Angeles rainfall in 1883-84 and Los Angeles rainfall for the present "water year" of 2004-05...
CBS News: Ancient Global Warming Disaster
Scientific documentation and ramifications of global warming from both human as well as natural causes. A number of global warming links on the Free Energy News site.
Hot and Bothered: An Interview with Ross Gelbspan
Mother Jones - April 18, 2005
For nearly a decade, Ross Gelbspan has watched global warming deniers generate a lot of heat, and little light. "First time around, they said global warming is not happening," he says. "Then after the science became pretty powerful, they said, `Well it's good for us.' Now they're saying that the impacts will be pretty negligible. They're a moving target." The former Boston Globe editor and veteran journalist first encountered the skeptics when he started writing about climate change in the early 1990s. Their arguments almost convinced him to drop the subject altogether. But he soon came to understand that global warming was not only real, it was perhaps the most important story of the day.
Some Like It Hot
WHEN NOVELIST MICHAEL CRICHTON took the stage before a lunchtime crowd in Washington, D.C., one Friday in late January, the event might have seemed, at first, like one more unremarkable appearance by a popular author with a book to sell. Indeed, Crichton had just such a book, his new thriller, State of Fear. But the content of the novel, the setting of the talk, and the audience who came to listen transformed the Crichton event into something closer to a hybrid of campaign rally and undergraduate seminar...
Mystery Climate Mechanism May Counteract Global Warming
A new study by two physicists at the University of Rochester suggests there is a mechanism at work in the Earth's atmosphere that may blunt the influence of global warming, and that this mechanism is not accounted for in the computer models scientists currently use to predict the future of the world's temperature. The researchers, David H. Douglass and Robert S. Knox, professors of physics, plotted data from satellite measurements of the Earth's atmosphere in the months and years following the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991. The results, published in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters (and now online), show that global temperatures dropped more and rebounded to normal significantly faster than conventional climate models could have predicted.
Michael Crichton's book STATE OF FEAR discusses global warming in the informal setting of a novel. He nevertheless does give documentation and states his conclusions clearly. Perhaps the essential concept he conveys is that "we know astonishingly little about every aspect of the environment, from its past history, to its present state, to how to conserve and protect it."
Greenland Sea Cold Water Re-Cycling Has Nearly Stopped
Britain Expected to Become Cooler. by Linda Moulton Howe
Will the Threat to Life Cause Vested Interests to Support Energy Breakthroughs?
Rapid melting of the arctic permafrost is an unrecognized time bomb. Huge deposits of methane, a greenhouse gas twenty times more destructive than carbon dioxide, are locked in the permafrost. Methane, released as "burps", could snuff all mammalian life in the arctic ...
Origin of pingo-like features on the Beaufort Sea shelf and their possible relationship to decomposing methane gas hydrates
The Arctic shelf is currently undergoing dramatic thermal changes caused by the continued warming associated with Holocene sea level rise. During this transgression, comparatively warm waters have flooded over cold permafrost areas of the Arctic Shelf. A thermal pulse of more than 10Â°C is still propagating down into the submerged sediment and may be decomposing gas hydrate as well as permafrost.
Gas Hydrates on the ocean floors - On June 15, 2007 the Science channel noted that there is enough energy in gas hydrates in the Gulf of Mexico to power all USA energy needs for 3,000 years. These deposits are found worldwide in the oceans and represent a cleaner and far more abundant source of energy than oil. Methane hydrate is the most common form.
September 2008: The methane time bomb
Scientists aboard a research ship that has sailed the entire length of Russia's northern coast have discovered intense concentrations of methane – sometimes at up to 100 times background levels – over several areas covering thousands of square miles of the Siberian continental shelf.
Methane is about 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and many scientists fear that its release could accelerate global warming in a giant positive feedback where more atmospheric methane causes higher temperatures, leading to further permafrost melting and the release of yet more methane.
posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Tuesday February 1 2005
updated on Sunday December 26 2010
URL of this article:
Disclosure Project charges: Energy inventions suppressed
A pattern of deliberate suppression of energy related inventions has been found by investigators of the Disclosure Project, a group that promotes government transparency in technology related areas, such as energy technology and extraterrestrial technologies gleaned by governments from UFO finds. They are asking whistle-blowers to come forward to add hard evidence to substantiate the pattern.... [read more]
February 10, 2004 - Sepp Hasslberger
Ocean's Bounty is Gone
As humans we have a duty to ourselves and to future generations to preserve this planet as a sustainable habitat for the human, and by logical extension, for all other species living here. Clearly we are not doing so. As Bill McKibben reports in the Miami Herald, according to a study published in Nature this spring, "the populations of every single species of large wild fish have fallen by 90... [read more]
June 10, 2003 - Sepp Hasslberger
Global Warming or Ice Age Coming?
We hear about global warming and in fact, the temperatures seem to be slowly inching up. Whether this is a man made effect or depends on solar activity or other environmental factors outside of our control is an open question. What is new to me is that, even in a scenario of global warming, there could be local flips towards a cold climate. A mechanism that could bring about such... [read more]
February 07, 2004 - Sepp Hasslberger
'Oil Shock' Looming - What are the Alternatives?
We like to think that our way of life is "normal", that nothing will happen to force a drastic change in how we live, produce, move around, warm ourselves in the winter and light our streets and houses. Yet, we are using a highly vulnerable energy technology (the burning of fossil fuels) and we have allowed a commercial cartel to monopolize that energy technology while sabotaging any valid alternatives. We... [read more]
June 24, 2004 - Sepp Hasslberger
The Energy Racket
What does energy have to do with us? Are we not able to get electricity from "the grid" and fill our vehicles' tanks with various types of hydrocarbon combustibles - all for a reasonable price? Energy is one of the areas where a potentially desastrous monopoly is controlling what goes and what doesn't. Potentially desastrous because monopolies have the nasty habit of charging whatever the market will bear, and wiping... [read more]
August 24, 2003 - Sepp Hasslberger
Water + Sunlight + Catalyst = Hydrogen - Are We Ready For It?
Recently, I sent out an e-mail message to some people interested in the energy dilemma, linking an article that describes a potentially very significant discovery on how to manufacture hydrogen without input of electricity. The article says: Australian scientists predict that a revolutionary new way to harness the power of the sun to extract clean and almost unlimited energy supplies from water will be a reality within seven years. Using... [read more]
October 05, 2004 - Sepp Hasslberger