June 10, 2014
“There are such massive methane reserves below the Arctic Ocean floor, that they represent around 100 times the amount that is required to cause a Permian style major extinction event, should the subsea Arctic methane be released in a short period of time into the atmosphere….The energy necessary to produce these Arctic methane release rates is relatively small; it requires only about one thousandth of the heat energy input from the Gulf Stream to dissociate the methane hydrates.”
stated that without quick action to curb CO2 emissions, global warming is likely to increase by 4 degrees Centigrade (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) above today’s normal during the 21st century and that is dangerously close to the temperature of 6 degrees Centigrade above normal that initiated the Permian-Triassic extinction event 252 million years ago when 96% of all marine species and 70% of all terrestrial vertebrates were wiped out.
Temperatures far in excess of the 4 C figure noted above are predicted to occur due to a runaway increase in CH4 as a result of the methane feedback loop. That methane hydrate feedback loop will begin to “kick in” after a 2 C increase. Global temperatures will then rapidly rise. Going back to the Permian, it is estimated that after the 4 C to 6 C temperatures were reached, the ocean surface waters at their extreme reached more than 40 degrees Celsius. (104 degrees Fahrenheit) That led to near total planetary life extinction.
Our problem today is that Massive methane reserves below the Arctic Ocean floor and Arctic land areas represent around 100 times the amount required to cause another Permian style major extinction event. These large quantities of Methane Hydrates are now trapped in a frozen state. As temperatures rise from CO2 emissions and darkened land mass is being exposed to the sun and as ice is melting and oceans exposed, the Arctic is warming.
For a better understanding of the ranges in earth temperatures that support life on this planet, here are a few facts:
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the only one that we know of capable of supporting life. The average surface temperature on earth is about 14 °C, but it varies due to a number of factors. The reason is that our world’s axis is tilted, which means that one hemisphere is slanted towards the Sun during certain times of the year while the other is slanted away.
This not only causes seasonal changes, but ensures that places located closer to the equator are hotter, while those located at the poles are colder. The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was in the deserts of Iran (70.7 °C) while the lowest was recorded in Antarctica (-89.2 °C).
These temperatures are dependent on the atmospheric conditions as we presently experience them. A change in CO2 and CH4 emissions from what we have had over the last million years can and will change the equation.
It must be understood that many mitigating temperature factors also led to the Permian-Triassic extinction. Clouds of volcanic ash may have restricted the amount of sunlight available for photosynthesis, thereby inhibiting the process of carbon fixation by plants and lowering the extraction rate of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. (We are experiencing this now with industrial deforestation) In addition, high amounts of carbon dioxide may have been injected into the atmosphere by the venting of volcanic gases from the eruption of flood basalts, combined with the ignition of large coal seams, or by the burning of forests by hot lava.
Like potentialities do, however, exist today. Scientists have found that over the last 38 years, temperatures have warmed at an average of 0.28 C (0.50 F) per decade over land and 0.12 C (0.22 F) per decade over the oceans. And, during that period a vast expanse of ice in the Arctic region the size of Texas has vanished. This could have dangerous consequences with respect to the emission of CH4 from a methane hydrate feedback loop exacerbating the planet’s entry into a period of excessively high temperatures such as those that existed during the Permian-Triassic extinction.
Over a 100-year timeframe methane is about 35 times more potent than carbon dioxide, over 20 years 84 times more potent.
Methane ice crystals in the form of hydrates occur naturally in the Arctic subsurface (as well as deep in the oceans in other areas of the planet) where temperature and pressure conditions were favorable for formation. As temperatures rise beyond the hydrate freezing point – which is now occurring in parts of the Arctic region, methane is released.
This methane danger is not a part of public perception. The probability of an Arctic methane hydrate feedback loop ‑ as here referenced, is being discussed inside of the scientific community. However, in that community specialization of knowledge and the emphasis on cross academic debate as to amounts and timing is hampering environmentally constructive public dialogue.
Throughout the world there is, however, growing awareness of CO2 induced global warming. It is now a part of the public conversation. The mix of national agreements that came out of the 2015 Paris COP21 Sustainable Innovation Forum and the concern expressed by Pope Francis in his 2015 Laudio Si’ is evidence.
A problem relating to both CO2 and CH4 emissions is that ecological conferences and books, papers and lectures by forward thinking scientists are turning out to have limited influence on the general public. One can even say pulp fiction accounts of movies like Star Wars have more. Even the 2015 COP21 in Paris with its heightened awareness and the pronouncement of the Pope’s Laudio Si’ proved insufficient among the major polluter nations to bring their general public into a strong desire for immediate action. As a result, internal legislative initiatives have been uncertain and mixed.
This “pulp fiction” way of thought presents a real danger to our civilization. It confuses the mind with distraction, contradiction and false equivalencies. Reality is pushed aside by immediate needs and self-gratification. As a result, for many citizens the future of our civilization can be characterized as that of a fanciful dream. Some say: Who cares; Geo-engineering will fix it. Others anxiously say; wonderful, this may be the Apocalypse we have all been waiting for. Others simply do not believe there is a problem. Others say: What do I care; I won’t be around.
The fact of the matter is that there is a high probability of an “Apocalypse” on the horizon brought on by the continuation of the burning of fossil fuels and a concurrent massive release of Methane and it is not being recognized. The world community is playing “Russian Roulette” with possible outcomes too horrific to contemplate.
Immediate recognition of these outcomes among leaders of the largest carbon consumer, producer and emitter nations must take place immediately. Binding agreements that will eliminate fossil fuels as our civilization’s primary energy source are essential. The consensus among many scientists is that elimination or near elimination of fossil fuels must take place within a short 10/15 year period of time. This will require the cessation of all new fossil fuel extraction projects (oil, gas and coal) and the retiring of old ones over that time period.
Is it possible? That is the question facing our 21st century Anthropocene Age. Difficult social/political challenges face our carbon dependent civilization. The “Pulp fiction” mentality referenced above rules among the general public. Also there is an “optimism bias” among many of the political and economic elite. It even extends part way into the scientific community.
The result of the recent US election is cause for worry. Human civilization may be at its end.
David Anderson brings together a wide range of interests in his writings, namely; theology, history, evolutionary anthropology, philosophy, geopolitics, and economics. He has written three books. A fourth is near completion. It is about a necessary geo political, social, religious, economic paradigm shift for human survival.
David is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Hawaii (Harvard Asia Pacific) Advanced Management Program. Over his career he was an international risk manager and senior executive at several of America’s premier multinational institutions. During that period he became increasingly aware of the underlying cultural, institutional and religious causes of past and present civilizational dysfunction and conflict.