Friday, August 30, 2013


by Gary Houser

by Peter Wadhams

Prof. Peter Wadhams, measuring the Arctic sea
ice's thickness with the help of a submarine
"The world is entering one of the most dangerous periods in its history. The failure of international efforts to reduce carbon emissions has led to a carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere which guarantees a serious level of global warming during coming decades, enough to compromise the life support system of the planet. On top of the carbon dioxide threat, a further greenhouse gas threat looms - the prospect of large releases of methane from offshore sediments on Arctic continental shelves. This is an outcome of the retreat of sea ice which allows coastal waters to warm up and degrade the offshore permafrost. This threat, all too clear in the photographic evidence of methane emissions obtained by US-Russian expeditions, could greatly accelerate global warming and add further enormous costs to the planet's burden. Only immediate drastic action can avert a catastrophic worsening of our climatic plight. I support this commentary by Gary Houser."

Dr. Peter Wadhams [ from his bio: Professor of Ocean Physics, Cambridge University in the UK, leads the Polar Ocean Physics group studying the effects of global warming on sea ice, icebergs and the polar oceans. This involves work in the Arctic and Antarctic from nuclear submarines, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), icebreakers, aircraft and drifting ice camps. He has been studying polar ice issues for 43 years and has led over 40 polar field expeditions. ]

Link: DAMTP Professor Peter Wadhams - University of Cambridge
Co-author of major new commentary in Nature : Cost of Arctic methane release could be 'size of global economy ...

The Severity of the Threat and the Tragic Moral Failure to Address It
by Gary Houser
{Disclaimer: The threat of climate catastrophe is not a "pretty" concept. As impacts begin to
intensify, there will be much real suffering and some photos included in this commentary
are representative of this reality and the danger forcing itself upon us. They are intended
for grown-ups, whose most important responsibility is to protect the future of their children.
Some of these images are not intended for children.}

fish skeleton on parched soil, credit: Will Sherman
“Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon - an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 billion metric tons of it.... In comparison, about 350 billion metric tons of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850.”
- from NASA news release "Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic? [1]

“Climate destabilization, like nuclear war, has the potential to destroy all human life on Earth and in effect murder the future'......Willfully caused extinction is a crime that as yet has no name.”
- ecological ethicist David Orr [2]

“It's not clear that civilization could survive that extreme of a climate change.”
- world renowned climate scientist James Hansen, referring to the radical increase in global warming that would result from a major release of super greenhouse gas methane [3]


All who might dismiss this title as “exaggeration” and the opening photo as “alarmism” owe it to their children and grandchildren and the future of humanity to read on. Large scale thawing and release of previously frozen methane gas has wiped out great swaths of life before and is quite capable of doing so again. Warming from carbon emissions is now unleashing Arctic deposits of this super greenhouse gas - an awesome and truly frightening force - and threatens to initiate a chain reaction that could well be unstoppable once started.

This commentary does not dwell on “doomsday” rhetoric. But humanity is teetering much closer to oblivion than what has been “getting through” in the shallow coverage offered by mass media, and there is a moral imperative to issue a warning. Mass extinction - especially self-imposed - is not a “pretty” concept and the use of a few graphic images is necessary to both convey a reality that may be forcing itself upon us and to penetrate the shield of denial. The voices of scientists pressing on this front deserve to be amplified. Their observations and concerns are presented to the reader, who is invited to evaluate whether any “alarm” is justified. Humanity is standing on the very edge of a cliff, and if we fall off it will be a one way ticket to Hell.

Despite the looming shadow cast by this danger, it has yet to make its way into public consciousness. Even the world-wide environmental movement has continued to focus on human-generated emission of global warming gases and has not grasped the dire implications of the accelerated catastrophe which could ensue if nature's own stockpile becomes activated - an immense storehouse containing far more carbon than humans have generated since the onset of the industrial age. Though the sweeping scale of this existential threat combined with its potential irreversibility - once triggered - may be leading to psychological denial, the reality of the danger compels humanity to take all precaution and spare no expense in both understanding and reducing it. Yet the response so far points to an unspeakably tragic moral collapse. Every single segment of our society that should be either sounding the alarm or taking definitive action to prevent this global catastrophe is presently looking the other way. This commentary examines such failure in Part Two, but first explores the nature and magnitude of the danger itself.

Geological Record Points to the Destructive Power of Methane -
Although carbon dioxide persists much longer in the atmosphere, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that methane is a full 72 times more powerful during its first 20 years. [4] It is the prevailing view of the scientific community that earlier major releases of this gas resulted in the most catastrophic wipe-outs of life in planetary history. Two critically important British documentaries explore the scientific inquiry linking methane to both the Permian [5] and PETM [6] mass extinction events.

Volcanic eruption: Mount Pinatubo (1991)
Etched into ancient layers of rock is the record of the Permian extinction event - the most complete decimation of life known to science. Searches for fossilized clues of living organisms reveal a stunningly empty slate. [7] It is believed that a staggering 90% of the life forms on earth simply disappeared. Scientific opinion - also based on the geologic record - is that a tremendous series of volcanic eruptions in Siberia released enough carbon dioxide to drive earth's temperature up five degrees C (centigrade). This radical increase then warmed the world's oceans enough to thaw previously frozen methane. Evidence points to the heat from this super global warming gas driving temperatures up another five degrees C and causing the horrific wipe-out.

How Severe is the Current Threat?
Numerous, quite authoritative and politically neutral sources (such as the World Bank and the International Energy Agency (IEA) are now in agreement that if global carbon emissions are not dramatically reduced very quickly, the planet will be seeing temperature increases of five degrees C or more by the latter part of this century. [8] Such a human-generated increase could very well take the place of the volcanic eruptions in Siberia, and could set the stage for a potential mass release of ancient methane.

How the Arctic Is Playing a Key Role -
The vastness of the carbon deposit which could be released from the Arctic is mind-boggling, dwarfing the total thus far generated by humans. Nowhere on earth are temperatures rising as quickly. NASA describes the role of the Arctic in driving climate disruption: "The Arctic is critical to understanding global climate. Climate change is already happening in the Arctic, faster than its ecosystems can adapt. Looking at the Arctic is like looking at the canary in the coal mine for the entire Earth system." [9]

Arctic ice, August 19, 2007, by Ash from Flicker
Last year, Arctic ice coverage was reduced to its lowest level in recorded history. Even worse, this massive meltdown appears to be developing an unstoppable momentum through what scientists are calling a “death spiral” - where open water caused by accelerated melting is now absorbing additional solar heat and setting into motion even more melting. [10]

Methane plumes rising from the seafloor
Ira Leifer - methane specialist at the Univ. of California and co-author of a paper describing evidence that Arctic methane is venting into the atmosphere [11] - describes the unique factor represented by the shallow seas in that region:
“The East Siberian Arctic Shelf is vast and shallow..... Methane in a shallow sea can make its way to the atmosphere without dissolving significantly and being eaten by microbes.......These vast methane hydrate deposits are a risk and a great concern because as the oceans warm, they will release their methane and it will make its way to the atmosphere.” [12]
Super Greenhouse Gas Beginning to Thaw and Vent to Atmosphere -
Researchers in the field are now bringing back eyewitness reports of plumes of methane bubbles rising to the surface on a scale they have never seen before. Igor Semiletov - who has pursued this issue for 15 years - reported astonishment regarding the observations made during a joint U.S.-Soviet expedition to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) in 2011:
“We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale - I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometer or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere - the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal.” [13]
In an ominous paper based on the findings of that expedition, Russian scientists elaborated further on the unprecedented nature of the observed plumes:
"In some oceanographic sections, a number of plumes over 100 meters in diameter were joined into a multirooted enormous plume over 1000 meters in diameter which exceeds greatly the dimensions of plumes registered formerly in the Sea of Okhotsk and in other areas of the World Ocean where the typical plume diameter usually varied from a few meters to tens of meters." [14] 
This unsettling scale of plume activity is reflected in the following chart:
From: The Degradation of Submarine Permafrost and the Destruction of Hydrates on the Shelf of East Arctic Seas as a Potential
Cause of the “Methane Catastrophe”: Some Results of Integrated Studies in 2011, V. I. Sergienko et al., in Oceanology (Sept. 2012)
NASA has conducted measurements of methane over the Arctic Sea via airplane. According to researcher Eric Kort:
“When we flew over areas were the sea ice had melted, or where there were cracks in the ice, we saw the methane level increase...... Our observations really point to the ocean surface as the source, which was not what we had expected.....The association with sea ice makes this methane source likely to be sensitive to changing Arctic ice cover and dynamics, providing an unrecognized feedback process in the global atmosphere-climate system.” [15]
Methane Emissions from Seabeds Paralleled by Land-Based Permafrost Releasing Carbon -
Observations of increased methane emitting from the shallow Arctic seabeds are being mirrored by similar observations on land. The rate at which previously frozen carbon is releasing from land permafrost is now accelerating :
“Thawing permafrost is emitting more climate-heating carbon faster than previously realized. Scientists have now learned that when the ancient carbon locked in the ice thaws and is exposed to sunlight, it turns into carbon dioxide 40 percent faster. 'This really changes the trajectory of the debate over when and how much carbon will be released as permafrost thaws due to ever warmer temperatures in the Arctic.” [16]
From: NOAA 2012 RUSALCA Expedition, RAS-NOAA. Wrangel Island, Alaska in early morning (Photo credit: Kate Stafford)
From the same NASA news release mentioned above:
“What they're finding, Miller said, is both amazing and potentially troubling. "Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we've measured have been large, and we're seeing very different patterns from what models suggest. We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze.” [17]
A major report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) summarizes this parallel situation:
“According to the report, Arctic and alpine air temperatures are expected to increase at roughly twice the global rate, and climate projections indicate substantial loss of permafrost by 2100. A global temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius means a 6 degrees Celsius increase in the Arctic, resulting in an irreversible loss of anywhere between 30 to 85 percent of near-surface permafrost.” [18]
Ground-breaking Study Quantifies Global Damage That Could Result from Major Methane Release -
Authoritative science journal Nature recently published an article describing the staggering economic impact that would be caused by a major release of methane. Top British ice scientist Peter Wadhams collaborated with economic modelers to apply to Arctic methane the same modeling used in the highly respected Stern Report to quantify the damage to the world economy which would result from human-generated greenhouse gases. They issue a stunning warning that the damage could be comparable to the total value of the entire global economy last year:
“We calculate that the costs of a melting Arctic will be huge, because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems such as oceans and the climate. The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion in the absence of mitigating action - a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion).” [19]
How Close Are We to a Major Release?
It is not possible to predict precisely when such a line could be crossed. But Arctic scientists are indeed reporting that the conditions necessary for such a “breakout” are now in fact lining up. These include a vast storehouse of frozen methane, shallow seas that allow the gas to reach the surface, a massive loss of ice that only seems destined to accelerate, and rapid warming of temperature. Shallow seas also warm faster than deep ocean. Not only is the Arctic the most rapidly warming region on earth, but the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is the most rapidly warming segment of that region. According to Natalia Shakhova of the Russian team:"Observed warming on the ESAS (March-April-May)..... is the strongest in the entire Arctic and the region is now 5°C warmer compared with average springtime temperature registered during the 20th century." [20]

This level of radical warming is already approaching that generated by the volcanic eruptions preceding the Permian mass extinction. The fact that major concern is increasing is reflected in the striking development that no less than 21 Russian scientists all agreed that circumstances were approaching a point when the words "potential catastrophe" should even be included in the title of their paper: "The Degradation of Submarine Permafrost and the Destruction of Hydrates on the Shelf of East Arctic Seas as a Potential Cause of the 'Methane Catastrophe' ." Here is what they say in the paper itself:
"Under the conditions of the observed abnormal warming of the East Siberian shelf, the acceleration of thawing of the upper layer of submarine permafrost and an increase of bottom erosion are inevitable ...... The emission of methane in several areas of the ESS is massive to the extent that growth in the methane concentrations in the atmosphere to values capable of causing a considerable and even catastrophic warming on the Earth is possible." [21]

When one looks at the history of extremely careful and cautious use of language by the Russian research teams, this escalation in terminology is even more remarkable.

When such conditions are forming and carry consequences that could bring down our civilization, it is clear that humanity is already entering into an emergency state. In his article “Methane Hydrates: A Volatile Time Bomb in the Arctic”, Australian climate scientist Carlos Duarte states the following :
“Even moderate (a few degrees C) warming of the overlying waters may change the state of methane from hydrates to methane gas, which would be released to the atmosphere......If the state shift is abrupt it may lead to a massive release ....which could cause a climatic jump several-fold greater than the accumulated effect of anthropogenic activity.” [22]
According to the world-renowned climate expert who has done more than any other to alert world attention to the crisis - James Hansen:
“Our greatest concern is that loss of Arctic sea ice creates a grave threat of passing two other tipping points - the potential instability of the Greenland ice sheet and methane hydrates. These latter two tipping points would have consequences that are practically irreversible on time scales of relevance to humanity.” [23]
“We are in a planetary emergency.” [24]
Runaway Methane Feedback: The End of Life as We Know It? -
A large methane release would in itself be a catastrophic event - as described in the Nature article. But the threat from methane could yet escalate to another level of existential nightmare. Ira Leifer comments on what is called a “runaway feedback”:
“A runaway feedback effect would be where methane comes out of the ocean into the atmosphere leading to warming, leading to warmer oceans and more methane coming out, causing an accelerated rate of warming in what one could describe as a runaway train..... The amount of methane that’s trapped under the permafrost and in hydrates in the Arctic areas is so large that if it was rapidly released it could radically change the atmosphere in a way that would probably be unstoppable and inimicable to human life." [25]
Death at the Dambas, Arbajahan, Kenya (2006). Part image, photo credit: Brendan Cox / Oxfam
The British expert with over 30 years of experience studying Arctic ice issues - Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University - was asked by the author to respond to the question “Are there any natural “brakes” in the Arctic ecosystem that would prevent a large methane release from escalating into an unstoppable runaway reaction?” His response:
“There are no brakes. The methane release itself results as a positive feedback from another warming-generated process, the retreat of summer sea ice. So we have global warming causing summer sea ice retreat causing offshore permafrost thawing causing methane release causing a big instant warming boost causing endless other positive feedbacks.” [26]
Several cutting edge observations by scientists are presented in a documentary co-produced by this writer (available free on YouTube [27] ), featuring the immensely respected James Hansen. In reference to the radical temperature increase that would be caused by a major release of methane, Hansen warns that “it's not clear that civilization could survive that extreme of a climate change.” [28]

Time is running out - by Louis Afonso
Rising sea levels will indeed flood many of the coastal cities of the world and their residents will be confronted with great chaos and strife. Their populations will be forced to migrate inland, but that in itself does not represent a collapse of civilization. The kind of radical heat brought on by a major methane release will not permit any escape. Life cannot be sustained without adequate food and water, yet such capacity would be severely impacted.

Time is not on our side. If human society does not recognize the danger and take concerted action to prevent it, colossal natural forces are simply going to run their course. Circumstances would disintegrate in a manner that humanity could no longer control. Yet in the precious time we have to act before such a point is reached, our society is utterly failing to do so. In Part Two, a hard look is taken at this failure at many levels - in the hope that such can be reversed before time runs out.

  1.  Is Arctic Permafrost the "Sleeping Giant" of Climate Change? - NASA ...
  2. Thinking About the Unthinkable by David Orr We ... - Moral Ground
  3. James Hansen - Humanity Cannot "Adapt" - YouTube
    (brief clip from interview for documentary "Arctic Methane: Why the Sea Ice Matters")
  4. Global-warming potential - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  5. "The Day Earth Nearly Died" (BBC documentary) :
  6. The Day The Oceans Boiled (VARIOUS SEGMENTS) Part 3 - YouTube
    (9 minute clip from UK Channel 4 documentary)
  7. Permian-Triassic Extinction
    (video: two minute overview by PBS)
  8. (A) An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How ...(Summary of over 60 studies)
    (B) IEA's Bombshell Warning: We're Headed Toward 11°F Global ...
    (C) Shocking World Bank Climate Report: 'A 4°C [7°F] World Can, And ...
  9. Is Arctic Permafrost the "Sleeping Giant" of Climate Change? - NASA ...
  10. Arctic Sea Ice: The Death Spiral Continues | ThinkProgress
  11. Geochemical and geophysical evidence of methane release over ...
    Extensive Methane Venting to the Atmosphere from ... - Science - National Science Foundation (NSF) News - Methane ... (National Science Foundation press release)
  12. Interview for documentary "ARCTIC METHANE: Why the Sea Ice Matters"
  13. Vast methane 'plumes' seen in Arctic ocean as sea ice retreats ...
  14. The Degradation of Submarine Permafrost and the Destruction of Hydrates on the Shelf of East Arctic Seas as a Potential Cause of the “Methane Catastrophe”: Some Results of Integrated Studies in 2011, V. I. Sergienko et al., in Oceanology (Sept. 2012)
  15. Danger from the deep: New climate threat as methane rises from ...
  16. IPS – Thawing Permafrost May Be “Huge Factor” in Global Warming ..
  17. Is Arctic Permafrost the "Sleeping Giant" of Climate Change? - NASA ...
  18. NSIDC Press Room: Press Release: UNEP report urges ...
  19. Climate science: Vast costs of Arctic change : Nature : Nature ... and
    Methane meltdown: The Arctic timebomb that ... - The Independent
  20. Natalia Shakhova powerpoint at Washington DC conference:
  21. The Degradation of Submarine Permafrost and the Destruction of Hydrates on the Shelf of East Arctic Seas as a Potential Cause of the “Methane Catastrophe”: Some Results of Integrated Studies in 2011, V. I. Sergienko et al., in Oceanology (Sept. 2012)
  22. Methane hydrates: a volatile time bomb in the Arctic
  23. Bloomberg, August 17, 2012
  24. AFP: 'Planetary emergency' due to Arctic melt, experts warn
  25. Interview for documentary "ARCTIC METHANE: Why the Sea Ice Matters"
  26. Email exchange with the author
  27. Documentary "ARCTIC METHANE: Why the Sea Ice Matters"
  28. James Hansen - Humanity Cannot "Adapt" - YouTube
    (brief clip from interview for documentary "Arctic Methane: Why the Sea Ice Matters")


1946 famine in China
The Barriers Blocking Adequate Warning and Understanding -
The impact of climate disruption on humanity has been called an "inconvenient truth". It has been described as causing extreme weather, giant storms, record flooding, expanded drought, and rampant wild fires. But all such descriptions utterly fail to convey the full scope of the horrendous wipe-out now looming over us all. "Connecting the dots" reveals a threat of such sweeping magnitude to our entire future existence that it is very difficult to accept into our consciousness. A psychological defense mechanism within us all drives an extremely potent internal barrier.

Chief among the external barriers is the inordinate power of the fossil fuel industry. Our government - which is supposed to act in defense of the public interest - is not taking strong enough action because of the influence wielded by the wealthiest corporations on earth. It is no secret that the right wing extremist Tea Party was bankrolled by this industry in order to push the Republican stance into an obstructionist position on climate. It has also placed massive funding behind a widespread media blitz attacking the credibility of the science community. The strong pre-existing inclination toward denial has only been exacerbated by the disinformation campaign of the carbon pollution profiteers. But the failure to provide warning is more insidious when it can be observed even among those elements of society one would assume are tasked with this responsibility.

The Failure of Mass Media -
The U.S. mass media in particular has failed to move beyond superficial slogans and engage in a penetrating investigation into the depth of the climate crisis. To not even raise the climate issue during the presidential campaign was outrageous and indefensible. Investigative reporters should be intensively pursuing the Arctic methane story and bringing it to the attention of the prime time news outlets. They are not.

One of the greatest challenges regarding the climate emergency is that public consciousness must shift BEFORE a tipping point is reached whereby it is no longer possible to reverse course. If this shift fails to happen in time, humanity would likely be placed in a helpless position. One of the great benefits offered by the video medium is that a fictional event can be so vividly simulated on screen as to make the viewer feel like he or she is truly "experiencing" it. In 1983, there was a major television event called "The Day After". In prime time, heavily publicized in advance, and using well known "Hollywood" actors, a national TV audience of over 100 million "experienced" the horror that would be entailed in a nuclear holocaust. [1]

The nation's leading policymakers - including even the president - were profoundly affected. In former President Reagan's autobiography, he wrote that the film was "very effective and left me greatly depressed," and that it actually changed his mind about the prevailing policy on nuclear war. [2] Many give credit to that "experience" as being the turning point when public opinion turned solidly against the continuation of the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Four years after the broadcast, a nuclear treaty was signed with the Soviet Union. A brief clip from that film serves as an example of the power of the video medium to simulate disaster: [3]

Nagasaki, Japonia, 9 august 1945
This time the threat is not from the immediate destruction of an atomic fireball but rather a slow motion holocaust - a gradual but inexorable decimation of the conditions for life on this planet. Gathering force step by step, it would be even more insidious as the momentum would build until the inescapable trap is finally sprung.

Climate breakdown is not quite as "black and white" as a nuclear explosion, but with good preparation and script-writing it can be portrayed. The TV networks could be developing a film comparable to "The Day After". They could be dedicating comparable resources to another major television event with the goal of making a global climate catastrophe more tangible and more "real" to another large national audience. They are not.

How the Scientific Community Is Falling Short -
The scientific community of course deserves much credit for the huge amount of research and education it has provided on climate. But so much institutional attention has been focused on the issue of human-generated global warming (from carbon dioxide emissions), that it has been extremely slow to make the shift toward recognizing the tremendous threat presented by the vast stockpile of nature's own greenhouse gases being stored in the polar regions.

There is also a structural reason that the scientific community is failing to communicate to policymakers how dire our situation has actually become. The primary documents produced by the world's scientists which are supposed to guide government policy decisions are the periodic reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But these reports are being compromised by two severe problems. One is the very slow and un-necessarily cumbersome internal process by which new scientific information is incorporated. There can be a three year lag time before cutting edge science is integrated into mainstream literature.

A classic example is the tremendous threat from thawing Arctic permafrost (both sea-based and land-based). As most major revelations have come within the last three years, initial drafts indicate that the new IPCC report - due to be released later this year - is not even going to address this issue in any meaningful way. Some Arctic scientists are speaking up for its inclusion, as reflected in a document prepared for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP):
"The potential hazards of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from warming permafrost are not included in current climate-prediction models. 'This report seeks to communicate to climate treaty negotiators, policy makers, and the general public the implications of continuing to ignore the challenges of warming permafrost,' said U.N. Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.....'Anthropogenic emissions targets in the climate change treaty need to account for these emissions or we risk overshooting the 2 degrees Celsius maximum warming target,' Schaefer added." [4]
IPCC meeting
At a time of approaching tipping points, such lag time is exceedingly dangerous. Making matters even worse is the second major structural problem. Government political entities have actually been given the power to review and "approve" the science that is released to policymakers and the public. This has created an opening for vested interests to pressure their governments to refrain from language conveying urgency, often resulting in excessively watered down statements and overly conservative predictions. Another classic example: The IPCC projected that the all-important Arctic ice collapse would not occur until the year 2100, and yet such is already pressing upon us.

British climate feedback expert David Wasdell decries what he calls a "grossly inappropriate" process:
The initial language of an IPCC report "has to be passed through a conference of the agencies of the governments, and if they don't like it because it affects their particular country .... they will veto it. So what comes out - particularly in the Summary for Policymakers - is that which is 'acceptable' ...... from science that is about six years out of date, and that becomes the basis for negotiation and decision-making. It is grossly inappropriate....... There are many pressures ..... not least the enormous profits that continue to be made from fossil fuels."
A critically important and eloquent critique of the IPCC process is available in a video interview with Wasdell. [5]

A stunning real-life example of such suppression of science occurred during preparation of the last report in 2007. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. actually removed language calling for emission reduction:
"Some sections of a grim scientific assessment of the impact of global warming on human, animal and plant life issued in Brussels yesterday were softened at the insistence of officials from China and the United States ...... U.S. negotiators managed to eliminate language in one section that called for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions." [6]
It is frightening that an imminent danger of such sweeping magnitude is in the process of being completely ignored in the new IPCC report to the world. If left uncorrected, this report would not be updated for six more years and policymakers would continue to not be properly informed during the only window of time that may be available to avert catastrophe. There should be a hue and cry from the entire scientific community to not allow this. Presently, it is failing to do so.

It is also true that the scientific tradition of seeking absolute "proof" - normally a good thing - in this case works against the best interest of society. By the time there is "absolute" proof that a major methane release or even a "runaway" situation is imminent, it will very likely be too late to stop it.

A much more complete statement by this writer addressing the failure of the scientific community to provide adequate warning is available here. [7] The full weight of the world scientific community should be placed behind an emphatic warning based on the precautionary principle and a moral imperative to act preventatively NOW before a tipping point is crossed.

Smokestacks - image courtesy of worradmu/

"They who dig a hole and scoop it out
fall into the pit they have made.
The trouble they cause recoils on themselves;
their violence comes down on their own heads."

- Biblical book of Psalms 7

"The earth dries up and withers.....
The earth is defiled by its people ....
They have ....... broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse consumes the earth."

- Biblical book of Isaiah 24

Drought in Maharastra, India. Photo credit:

The Failure of the Religious Community -
The failure of the multi-faith religious community is especially grievous, as it is the segment of society which has willfully taken on the responsibility of providing moral guidance. At a time when humanity is facing a holocaust that can only be compared to all out nuclear war in its magnitude, it should be shouting to the world that there is an existential emergency. At the peak of the nuclear arms race in the early 1980s, the religious community did speak out and many leaders achieved impact through dramatic acts of nonviolent civil disobedience at nuclear weapon facilities. But apart from the actions of some courageous individuals, today's leaders seem only willing to issue proclamations and only a tiny number have joined the protests in the streets.

At precisely the time when a powerful voice like that of the prophet Isaiah in the Judeo-Christian tradition is needed, the religious community as a whole has been complicit in a terrible and indefensible silence while this catastrophe approaches. The definition of sin is "a transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate." [8] How can it be said that this definition does not fit such complicity and overwhelmingly tragic moral failure in the face of a possible wipe-out of God's Creation? The magnificence of life - and how it stands to be decimated by such catastrophe - is depicted with breathtaking cinematography in a film entitled "Home"[9]

Jesus wept - painting by Erik Hollander

"Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand....
For this people's heart has become calloused;
They hardly hear with their ears,
And they have closed their eyes."
- words of Jesus in Matthew 13

Exclusive Focus on Tar Sands Oil Blocking Awareness of Other Imminent and Equally Dangerous Threats -
The climate movement has come a long way. A major coalition has formed in opposition to the tar sands pipeline, and many good-hearted people are giving their all - including nonviolent civil disobedience - in spirited resistance. This writer is a part of that campaign. in particular deserves praise for becoming the "conscience" of this struggle. The money power of the industry has forced a pitched battle, and it is quite understandable that such a protracted struggle consumes resources.

Keystone XL Pipeline protest - photo taken Feb 13, 2013 - from: 
However, a quite serious problem has emerged from the current single-minded focus on tar sands. The tremendous threat presented by the Arctic meltdown is simply being shunted aside. Bill McKibben - spokesperson for - reminds over and over in his writings that the laws of physics cannot be stopped. Those same laws are now dismantling the Arctic ice cover, a drastic change that will lead to drastic consequences. McKibben acknowledges such in communications with this writer, yet the posted material of does not even mention this gathering emergency - let alone issue any kind of warning to the public. It is entirely correct that "doing the math" requires that remaining fossil fuel reserves be left in the ground. But presenting that as the single focus of concern is glaringly and even dangerously incomplete. The "front line" in terms of the most imminent and unstoppable tipping point staring humanity in the face is the threat of releasing nature's own vast stockpile of global warming gases in the Arctic, and yet the very group being looked to for leadership on the climate issue has been inexplicably silent.

Though some success has been gained in "breaking through" to media coverage on tar sands, this does not make the other threats go away. The frightening consequences of climate disruption are unfortunately not lining up in single file. As such, humanity is now faced with yet another "inconvenient truth". The climate coalition - and most particularly as a leading force - has a responsibility in this situation to convey all relevant facts to both the public and policymakers, and it is presently failing to do so.

The Most Colossal Moral Tragedy -

"The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time."
- Terry Tempest Williams

Who stands up for the children? - screenshot from children against climate change protest video
Children sing out for their future in this gut-wrenching music video. [10] The region of earth now facing the most imminent "tipping point" is the Arctic. It is an emergency situation requiring immediate prioritization and preventative action. No scientist can predict an exact date when a large methane release or unstoppable methane "runaway" may be triggered. But there is also no credible scientist who can deny that the conditions for such are now forming. Some advocate that geo-engineering research be stepped up to prepare for a last gasp effort at regaining control. But opposition to even such research is increasing the likelihood that humanity may well run out of options.

We are sliding closer and closer to the brink of a methane-heated hell on earth. If temperatures shoot up 10 degrees C or more (well within current projections), we could well find ourselves involuntarily tethered to an unstoppable "doomsday machine" leading to a parched wasteland facing a ghastly wipe-out of life comparable to what happened 250 million years ago. It would become the greatest tragedy imaginable not only because of the scale of destruction but also because there was a real opportunity to prevent it and yet those who tried to issue a warning were ignored. Those engaged in a life or death struggle on a ravaged planet would not look back kindly on this unspeakable failure to address the unmistakable warning signs raging in our faces.

 Drought in Somali (2011, part image) - credit: Cate Turton/Department for International Development

It would be easy to place all blame on those blindly seeking profit from fossil fuels. But the other segments of our society - those that supposedly existed to provide clear thinking and act as a counterweight to the forces of raw greed - would also have failed. That is why it would qualify as the most colossal moral tragedy in human history. In the final analysis, all words fail to do justice. What words could possibly convey the moral atrocity of taking this majestic earth and sacred gift of abundant life and rendering it dessicated and lifeless? As David Orr points out, there is no language for self-imposed, "willfully caused" extinction. Though perhaps these words from Martin Luther King and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley grope in the right direction?

"Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, Too late."
- Martin Luther King [11]

Human remains - photo credit: Kiril Kapustin at

"And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
- from Shelley's poem "Ozymandias"

Desolate world - image courtesy of Gualberto107/

  1. The Day After - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  2. An American Life
  3. The Day After Nuclear Attack Scene - YouTube
  4. NSIDC Press Release: UNEP report urges policymakers to account for thawing permafrost ...
  5. Envisionation Interview: David Wasdell On the IPCC & Scientific ... [8 minute clip]
  6. Washington Post: U.S., China Got Climate Warnings Toned Down
  7. The tragic failure of the scientific community to issue ... - Arctic News
  8. Sin - definition of Sin by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and ...
  9. HOME - YouTube Home (2009 film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  10. Children's choir singing 'Cool the World' ... - YouTube
  11. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1967 Riverside Church speech, ' Beyond ...


Gary Houser is a long time public interest advocate and writer based in Ohio in the U.S.  He is presently organizing support for the 50 megawatt Turning Point solar farm - set to become the largest solar farm in the eastern part of the country, and symbolically located on a former strip mine in coal country.  But his primary focus is raising awareness about the great danger of super greenhouse gas methane, its likely role in the most deadly mass extinction event in earth's history, and the potential for human-generated carbon pollution to unleash vast quantities currently stored in frozen form in the Arctic - a release that could escalate climate disruption to a level beyond human control. He is the associate producer of a short, grassroots-style documentary on the topic available on YouTube ("Arctic Methane: Why the Sea Ice Matters"), seeking to use it as a catalyst to spark a fully funded program for broadcast on a major public TV venue such as PBS in the U.S. and the BBC in the UK. He is also seeking a Congressional hearing, and working to form a co-operative network of methane activists in the U.S. - including the producers of another documentary just released entitled "Last Hours". Recently becoming a dad has only increased his sense of urgency and determination to work on behalf of future generations.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The astounding global warming impact on our oceans that will reduce cloud cover and bring tears to your eyes

Ocean acidification will just not kill significant ocean ecosystems, but add even more to global warming

by David Spratt

Another significant global warming positive feedback that will add even more to future temperature rises has been identified by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany. End result: Perhaps another half a degree of warming this century.

New research just published in Nature Climate by Katharine Six and her colleagues shows that as oceans become more acidic (by absorbing increasing volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to form carbonic acid), the amount of a compound called dimethylsulphide (DMS) in the ocean decreases.

So what? The researchers say that marine DMS emissions are the largest natural source of atmospheric sulphur, and changes in their strength have the potential to alter the Earth’s radiation budget. They establish:
… observational-based relationships between pH (acidity) changes and DMS concentrations to estimate changes in future DMS emissions …
Global DMS emissions decrease by about 18(±3)% in 2100 compared with pre-industrial times as a result of the combined effects of ocean acidification and climate change. The reduced DMS emissions induce a significant additional radiative forcing, of which 83% is attributed to the impact of ocean acidification, tantamount to an equilibrium temperature response between 0.23 and 0.48 K. Our results indicate that ocean acidification has the potential to exacerbate anthropogenic warming through a mechanism that is not considered at present in projections of future climate change.
Shorthand: by reducing DMS production in the oceans, acidification could add up to another half a degree of warming this century. And that's on top of the 4-to-6 degrees Celsius warming that is now being projected for the emissions path on which the world now seems stubbornly stuck.

Reporting on the latest finding, Eliot Barford in Nature explains that:
Acidification would lead certain marine organisms to emit less of the sulphur compounds that help to seed the formation of clouds and so keep the planet cool.
Atmospheric sulphur, most of which comes from the sea, is a check against global warming. Phytoplankton — photosynthetic microbes that drift in sunlit water — produces a compound called dimethylsulphide (DMS). Some of this enters the atmosphere and reacts to make sulphuric acid, which clumps into aerosols, or microscopic airborne particles. Aerosols seed the formation of clouds, which help cool the Earth by reflecting sunlight.
But this idea that warming will have a DMS impact is not new. As far back as 1994, James Lovelock and Lee Kump published a paper in Nature on Failure of climate regulation in a geophysiological model, with conclusions far more eye-watering that this new research.

Lovelock has explained in The Revenge of Gaia that as the ocean surface temperature warms to a temperature over 12 degrees Celsius (°C), "a stable layer of warm water forms on the surface that stays unmixed with the cooler, nutrient rich waters below". This purely physical property of ocean water, he says, "denies nutrients to the life in the warm layer, and soon the upper sunlit ocean water becomes a desert".

This chlorophyll-deprived, azure-blue water is currently found predominantly in the tropics, which lacks the richness of the marine life of the darker, cooler oceans. In this nutrient-deprived water, ocean life cannot prosper and, according to Lovelock, soon "the surface layer is empty of all but a limited … population of algae". Algae (such as phytoplankton), which constitute most of the ocean’s plant life, are the world’s greatest carbon sinks, devouring carbon dioxide while releasing DMS, which is transformed into an aerosol that contributes to greater cloud formation and, hence, affects weather patterns. The warmer seas and fewer algae that Lovelock predicts are likely to reduce cloud formation and further enhance positive climate feedbacks.

This process should be distinguished from the phenomenon of green, red, or brown algal blooms, which can occur in fresh and marine environments when phytoplankton assume very dense concentrations due to an excess of nutrients in the water. The dead organic material becomes food for bacteria, which can deprive the water of oxygen, destroying the local marine life and creating a dead zone.

Because algae thrive in ocean water below 10°C, the algae population reduces as the climate warms. Lovelock says that severe disruption of the algae–DMS relation would signal spiralling climate change. Lovelock and Kump’s modelling of climate warming and regulation published in Nature in supported this view:
[A]s the carbon dioxide abundance approached 500 parts per million, regulation began to fail and there was a sudden upward jump in temperature. The cause was the failure of the ocean ecosystem. As the world grew warmer, the algae were denied nutrients by the expanding warm surface of the oceans, until eventually they became extinct. As the area of ocean covered by algae grew smaller, their cooling effect diminished and the temperature surged upwards.
Lovelock and Kump (1994) Figure 2
According to Lovelock, the end-result was a temperature rise of 8°C above pre-industrial levels, which would result in the planet being habitable only from Melbourne to the South Pole (going south), and from northern Europe, Asia, and Canada to the North Pole (going north).

On current projections and a high fossil-fuel-use pathway, 500 parts per million carbon dioxide (ppm CO2) in the atmosphere will be exceeded by mid-century. Already the concentration has just hit 400 ppm CO2 (compared to the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm CO2), greenhouse emissions are still growing each year and are currently adding more than 2 ppm CO2 annually.

And the reaction to this astounding paper? In personal correspondence, Kump says their research was generally ignored – and never refuted. I guess that's how cognitive dissonance expresses itself.

Of course reduced DMS production is not the only, or most imminent impact of global warming on our oceans.

In 2013, Frieler, Meinshausen et al. showed that “preserving more than 10% of coral reefs worldwide would require limiting warming to below +1.5°C (atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs) range: 1.3–1.8°C) relative to pre-industrial levels”. Obviously at less than 10%, the reefs would be remnant and reef systems as we know them today would be a historical footnote. Contrast this finding of impacts at 1.5°C or warming, compared to the current, forlorn attempts to hold warming to not more tha 2°C!

Already, the data suggests the global area of reef systems has already been reduced by half. A sober discussion of coral reef prospects can be found in Roger Bradbury’s “A World Without Coral Reefs” and Gary Pearce’s “Zombie reefs as a harbinger for catastrophic future”. Bradbury’s article opening is sharp:
“It’s past time to tell the truth about the state of the world’s coral reefs, the nurseries of tropical coastal fish stocks. They have become zombie ecosystems, neither dead nor truly alive in any functional sense, and on a trajectory to collapse within a human generation. There will be remnants here and there, but the global coral reef ecosystem — with its storehouse of biodiversity and fisheries supporting millions of the world’s poor — will cease to be.”
And on all of this, not one word will be uttered during Australia's current national election campaign. I mean, who in their right mind thinks elections are about our collective future?

David Spratt studied at Australian National University.
David co-authored the book Climate Code Red (2008).  

Above article was posted earlier at


- Rising ocean acidity will exacerbate global warming, Eliot Barford, August 25, 2013

- Global warming amplified by reduced sulphur fluxes as a result of ocean acidification, Six et al., August 25, 2013

- Limiting global warming to 2 °C is unlikely to save most coral reefs, Frieler et al., September 16, 2012

- The Revenge of Gaia, James Lovelock, 2006

- Failure of climate regulation in a geophysiological model, James Lovelock and Lee Kump, June 30, 1994


- Arctic melt hits food security in bitter taste of life on a hotter planet, by David Spratt, July 11, 2013

- Climate Plan

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Methane Jump

Methane Jump - a video created by Sam Carana with for

The video shows high methane levels during the period July 16 - August 16, 2013, as recorded by IASI, MetOp2 Satellite. The video shows how high levels can get, mentioning that methane readings suddenly jumped dramatically, with levels recorded as high as 2349 ppb (on August 1, 2013). Later in August 2013, methane reached even higher levels. The image below shows readings as high as 2442 ppb on August 5, 2013.

We can count ourselves lucky that - until now - only a small part of the methane appears to be released from the Arctic seabed, but such releases threaten to send huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere rather abruptly, triggering runaway global warming and ending civilization as we know it in a matter of decades.

Below a comparison of early August methane levels over the years, created from images by Leonid Yurganov.

Below are two maps with methane lvels at over 1950 ppb, for the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere, respectively, for the period from July 16 to August 24, 2013.

The chart below shows average values of methane for the same period, with a peak level of 1862 ppb on August 2, 2013, on the Northern Hemisphere.

As the above chart illustrates, the methane jump occurred early August, 2013, both on the Northern Hemisphere and on the Southern Hemisphere. Assuming a total burden of methane in the atmosphere of roughly 5 Gt at an average value of 1800 ppb, then a simple division results in an additional burden of 2.78 Mt for each rise of one ppb, implying that a methane jump of 20 ppb corresponds with an additional burden of about 56 Mt (or 56 billion kg) of methane in the atmosphere.


- Arctic Ocean is turning red

- Dramatic rise in methane levels since end July 2013

- Methane levels remain very high around the globe

- Methane levels keep rising rapidly

- Methane as high as 2349 ppb

- Where does the methane come from?

- Conversion table (Gt and Mt to kg, etc.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Four Hiroshima bombs a second: how we imagine climate change

Hiroshima bomb - from: Wikipedia image
Where does the excess heat go that is trapped in our atmosphere by greenhouse gases every day?

The title of this post is a hat-tip to David Holmes, Monash University, Australia, who recently published an article with that title at The Conversation, discussing that the daily excess heat absorbed by Earth equals the heat released by well over four Hiroshima bombs every seconds.

It's actually well over four Hiroshima bombs every second, given that there are 86,400 seconds in a day and based on James Hansen calculations (at a Feb 29, 2013, TED presentation) that the current imbalance of 0.6 watts/square meter (which does not include the energy already used to cause the current warming of 0.8°C) was equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs every day, 365 days per year.

As illustrated by the graph below, most of this excess heat is absorbed by oceans and ice. Some of the heat is consumed by the process of melting ice into water, but most heat ends up warming up the oceans.
Graph by Sceptical Science
An earlier post (September 2012, added underneath) described the study by Nuccitelli et al. that measures heat going into the oceans in Joules and, as discussed above, measuring excess heat in terms of heat released by nuclear bombs might give more meaning to what is going on.

Where does the extra heat go? 

Global warming is causing Earth to heat up. As shown on the image below, by Nuccitelli et al., most heat goes into the oceans. A substantial amount of heat also goes into the melting of ice.

Warming of water in the Arctic Ocean

Global warming is heating up the oceans big time. As the image below shows, the global ocean heat content has been rising for many years.

White arrows mark ice drift directions. Red arrows mark 
the transport path of warm Atlantic water entering the 
Arctic where it submerges under the cold, ice-covered 
surface layer. Robert Spielhagen (IFM-GEOMAR, Kiel)
The Arctic is affected in particular by the Thermohaline Circulation.

Water flowing into the Arctic Ocean from the Atlantic Ocean is about 2°C warmer today than it has been for at least 2,000 years, according to a study published in Science. The current of warm water lies 50 metres below the surface, and can reach 6°C in summer — warm compared to Arctic surface waters, which can be -2°C.

At the same time, cold water and sea ice are driven out of the Arctic Ocean, along the edges of Greenland. The net result is a marked increase in the temperature of the water in the Arctic Ocean, especially the top layer of the water which causes the sea ice to melt.

The Arctic radiates comparatively less heat into space

Furthermore, cold layers of air close to the surface of the Arctic Ocean make it difficult for infrared radiation to go out to space, according to a study published in Science. These layers do warm up, but warming of these layers is directed downwards, thus amplifying warming in the Arctic.

Surface air temperatures in the Arctic are rising rapidly

Anomalies for surface air temperatures are higher in the Arctic than anywhere else on Earth. The increase in temperature anomalies appears to be an exponential rise. This is caused not only by the above-described points, but also by feedback effects as further described below.

How much will temperatures rise?
In the above graph, rising temperatures are compared to the global average for the period 1951-1980, which is typically used as a base period by NASA in temperature change analysis. The background behind this is that the U.S. National Weather Service uses a three-decade period to define "normal" or average temperature. The NASA Goddard Institude for Space Studies (GISS) analysis of temperature anomalies began around 1980, so the most recent 30 years at the time was 1951-1980.

The study 'Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide', by NASA scientists led by James Hansen, describes those early efforts and was published in Science back in 1981. The image below is from the paper, showing that much of the extra heat trapped by carbon dioxide released by people in the atmosphere ends up in oceans.

The paper discusses how many years it can take for oceans to warm up, and the role of feedbacks in that process. The paper notes that a surface albedo change over land areas of 5% (equivalent to a 1.5% global change), would affect global temperature by 1.3°C, adding that paleclimatic evidence suggests that surface warming at high latitudes will be two to five times the global mean warming, due to snow/ice albedo feedback and greater atmospheric stability, which magnifies the warming of near-surface layers.

Feedbacks further accelerate warming in the Arctic

Feedbacks are described in more detail in posts such as Diagram of Doom (image below) and Changes to Polar Vortex affect mile-deep ocean circulation patterns.

Diagram of Doom
One such feedback is albedo change — retreat of Arctic sea ice results in less sunlight being reflected back into space, as further discussed in Albedo Change in the Arctic. Loss of Arctic sea ice is effectively doubling mankind's contribution to global warming. Increased absorption of the sun's rays is the equivalent of about 20 years of additional CO2 being added by man, Professor Peter Wadhams said in a BBC article.

One of the most threatening feedbacks is release of methane that are held in the currently frozen seabed. As the seabed warms up, it starts to release methane in what can be rather abrupt ways. Due to methane's high global warming potential and low levels of hydroxyl in the Arctic, this threatens to further accelerate local warming and trigger further methane releases, in a vicious spiral of runaway global warming.

from: Methane Hydrates

This situation calls for comprehensive and effective action as discussed at the climateplan blog.


- Accelerated Warming in the Arctic 

- Arctic Ocean is turning red

- How much will temperatures rise?

- Methane Hydrates