Blog Archive

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Semiletov and Shakhova explain concerns over Arctic methane (thaw point for subsea methane proves to be below zero), John Nissen comments

Semiletov and Shakhova report

by The Tracker, IdiotTracker, December 27, 2011

The methane researchers who disturbed our rest and inspired immediate, pre-communication debunking by Andrew Revkin, Semiletov and Shakhova, now explain their concerns to him based on the recent findings:

We would first note that we have never stated that the reason for the currently observed methane emissions were due to recent climate change. In fact, we explained in detail the mechanism of subsea permafrost destabilization as a result of inundation with seawater thousands of years ago. We have been working in this scientific field and this region for a decade. We understand its complexity more than anyone.  And like most scientists in our field, we have to deal with slowly improving understanding of ongoing processes that often incorporates different points of views expressed by different groups of researchers.
Yes, modeling is important. However, we know that modeling results cannot prove or disprove real observations because modeling always assumes significant simplification and should be validated with observational data, not vice versa. Much of our work includes this field validation. Last spring, we extracted a 53-meter long core sample from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, to validate our conclusions about the current state of subsea permafrost. We found that the temperatures of the sediments were from 1.2 to 0.6 degrees below zero, Celsius, yet they were completely thawed. The model in the Dmitrenko paper [link] assumed a thaw point of zero degrees. Our observations show that the cornerstone assumption taken in their modeling was wrong. The rate at which the subsea permafrost is currently degrading largely depends on what state it was in when recent climate change appeared. It makes sense that modeling on an incorrect assumption about thaw point could create inaccurate results.
Observations are at the core of our work now. It is no surprise to us that others monitoring global methane have not found a signal from the Siberian Arctic or increase in global emissions. [This refers to the work of Ed Dlugokencky and others; see his comments in my Dot Earth post.] The number of stations monitoring atmospheric methane concentrations worldwide is very few. In the Arctic there are only three such stations — Barrow, Alert, Zeppelin — and all are far away from the Siberian Arctic.We are doing our multi-year observations, including year-round monitoring, in proximity to the source. In addition to measuring the amount of methane emitted from the area, we are trying to find out whether there is anything specific about those emissions that could distinguish them from other sources.It is incorrect to say that anyone is able to trace that signal yet.
All models must be validated by observations. New data obtained in our 2011 cruise and other unpublished data give us a clue to reevaluate if the scale of methane releases from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf seabed is assessed correctly (papers are now in preparation). This is how science works: step by step, from hypothesis based on limited data and logic to expanded observations in order to gain more facts that could equally prove or disprove the hypothesis. We would urge people to consider this process, not jump to conclusions and be open to the idea that new observations may significantly change what we understand about our world.
So what is the news here? The different thaw point result will need to be replicated. How far down the melt goes should be directed measured in as many locations as possible. Meanwhile, it should be trivial to do model runs at different thaw points and see what effect that might have.

John Nissen said...

As chair of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group [1], I have spoken to both researchers Igor Semiletov and Natalia Shakhova at the AGU meeting, and have posted comment on Andy Revkin's articles. I would like to explain why our group considers the situation in the Arctic as a planetary emergency.

There have been two major factors that have been drawn to our attention this year: (1) the astonishing decline in sea ice volume, as shown by the PIOMAS model [2] and trend curve drawn here [3]; and (2) the precarious state of methane-holding structures in the Arctic Ocean.

The PIOMAS model, and the trend curve deduced from it, is supported by Prof Peter Wadhams, a leading expert on Arctic sea ice. The sea ice extent has been holding up since the remarkable record minimum in September 2007, but the ice has been steadily thinning, largely melting from below as the currents and rivers flowing into the Arctic have warmed. The thinning cannot continue without a collapse in extent, and this, according to the current trend, is most likely in summer 2014 or 2015 (about equally the most likely). According to this trend, there's a >5% chance of collapse in summer 2013.

The only way to prevent a possible collapse so soon is by geoengineering to cool the Arctic. In theory the necessary cooling power can be produced by either of two techniques: reflecting aerosols (as produced by coal power stations and large volcanic eruptions) and cloud brightening.

However, after the sea ice has collapsed in extent during one summer, so there is little ice left, it might prove impossible to subsequently cool the Arctic and reverse the retreat, however much geoengineering was attempted. Effectively such a collapse would be a point of no return.

The implications of passing this point of no return would be that the Arctic would continue warming, and at a much faster rate. This would provide conditions for methane feedback, where methane would, through its initial warming effect (over 100 times that of CO2, weight for weight), warm the Arctic such as to release more methane, in what is known as a positive feedback loop.

One of the observations of Igor Semiletov is that the retreat of sea ice from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) has been an increase in storms and the churning of water to reach the seabed. [Readers, please check out the images I will place at the end of this post.] Thus we have conditions for methane feedback to start.

But if the Arctic is to continue warming, we could be getting methane feedback not only from ESAS, but from methane hydrates on shelf margins and from thawing terrestrial permafrost (where there is a vast amount of carbon locked up). This faster speed of Arctic warming, coupled with the absence of sea ice cover, would make methane feedback almost inevitable.

Thus it is the significant possibility of passing a point of no return in the summer of 2013 which drives the conclusion of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group that we have a planetary emergency and to call for large-scale deployment of geoengineering techniques (preferably several in conjunction) by spring 2013.

Kind regards,

John Nissen
Chair: Arctic Methane Emergency Group





Anonymous said...

I think the last line is especially important. That their findings may significantly alter our world view.

Based of what Shakhova, Semilitov, and the NFS has been saying the last 5 years, and based on latest sea ice volume data + visual descriptions of large methane hydrate eruptions, it seems obvious that we have entered a period of abrupt global warming. The danger is clear, I don't see what the holdup is. David Archer himself has said the worst case scenario is global warming causing the release of hundreds of billions of tons of methane over a decade, resulting in mass extinction.

I think it is important SRM type geoengineering be deployed immediately as we may have to shield a significant amount of sunlight if even a small fraction of arctic hydrates escape. This will have to be much stronger than the present global dimming due to air pollution.

It is also important to begin planning for community food security, as well as developing alternative forms of nutrition. Norway has already developed some type of synthetic food. Industrial agriculture will not survive well in a period of abrupt global warming unless temperatures are kept cool through heavy geoengineering.


Tenney Naumer said...

Dear Shaheer,

Thank you for your comment.

Based on what we know right now, it is not yet clear that we have entered a phase of abrupt global warming.

The amounts of methane released so far do not indicate this.

You may be right, but we just do not know this yet.

Certainly, conditions in the Arctic are deteriorating.



Anonymous said...

I have a report here from Shakhova and Semilitovs presentation to the US DoD ERP in November 2010. In essence it says,

Good news; conservative estimate 8 Tg.

Bad news: Observed flux exceed estimated by up 3 orders of magnititude...prorating these numbers to the rest of the hotspots adds 3.5 Gt (Ira Leifer) to annual methane release from the ESAS. This is enough to trigger abrupt climate change.(Archer, 2005)

Alvia Gaskills summary to the US DoE suggest such a scenario will precipitate a mass extinction via abrupt global warming.

Now in December 2011 Igor says torches that were only 10m wide have expanded to over 1000m. So this is over and above that of November 2010.

It is pretty obvious where we are and where we're headed. If things are as bad as described than there will surely be some intentional suppression. According to Wasdell NASA detected first hydrate release in 2006 but was instructed by the US govt not to tell anyone.

Hopefully Lovelock is right and we're only headed to a 4-5 degree hotter world, not a 15 degree world as described by Gaskill/Schellnhuber.

S, posted from mobile