This post is a collection of excerpts from interviews with three experts on the methane crisis – the ticking time bomb. Dorsi Diaz (writer for the San Francisco Examiner) interviews Harold Hensel, Guy McPherson and Malcolm Light. (Editor~Rolly Montpellier-BoomerWarrior).
Readers who wish to know more about methane and why scientists are sounding the alarm bell should join the The Methane Clathrate Group. There are also grief groups on Facebook where you can discuss your concerns such as The Near Term Human Extinction Evidence and Support Group. Joining any of these groups does not necessarily mean that you have thrown in the towel; these are safe places where you can explore thoughts, learn more, and find like-minded individuals whose concerns mirror yours. (Dorsi Diaz).
Methane – The Ticking Time Bomb
Guy McPherson is a professor emeritus of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona. His scholarly work includes twelve books and more than 100 articles. He lives in an off-grid, straw-bale house where he puts into practice his lifelong interest in sustainable living via organic gardening. Learn more at GuyMcPherson.com.
Q: Guy, you have been sounding the alarm bells for years about climate change and the threat of methane. You recently said you believe the methane clathrate gun was fired back in 2007. What happened in 2007?
A: Apparently we crossed a major threshold in 2007 at about 0.76 C warming. At this point, according to David Spratt’s excellent September 2013 report, “Is Climate Already Dangerous?“, not only had Arctic sea-ice passed its tipping point, but the Greenland Ice Sheet was not far behind, as the Arctic moves to sea-ice-free conditions in summer. The U.S. Navy predicts an ice-free Arctic by summer 2016 which is just a year later than expected by the United Kingdom Parliament, which points out that the six lowest September ice extents have occurred in the years 2006-2012 — and now we can add 2013 and 2014 to the list.
In January 2014 Malcolm Light concluded: “The Gulf Stream transport rate started the methane hydrate (clathrate) gun firing in the Arctic in 2007 when its energy/year exceeded 10 million times the amount of energy/year necessary to dissociate subsea Arctic methane hydrates.” The refereed journal literature, typically playing catch-up with reality, includes an article in the 3 February 2014 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface claiming, “Sustained submergence into the future should increase gas venting rates roughly exponentially as sediments continue to warm.” Not surprisingly, the clathrate gun began firing in 2007, the same year the extent of Arctic sea ice reached a tipping point.
Q: In James Hansen’s book Storms of my Grandchildren, Dr. Hansen’s greatest fear was that the methane would start releasing the way it is now. You have spoken openly about your predictions that Earth is clearly now on its way to human extinction, perhaps as soon as 2030-2040. Do you feel that this is going to be directly caused by the frozen methane that is now clearly showing signs of destabilizing? And would you say the recent reports of the Siberian craters showing large amounts of methane gas to be one of those symptoms? Do you think we are going to see more of these craters in the near future?
A: I think firing the clathrate gun is a huge factor leading to loss of habitat for our species. A second factor, which you mention, is release of methane from permafrost, notably in Siberia. Those Siberia craters are a serious sign of catastrophe under way. Consider, for example, the following information.
Simultaneous with the Laptev Sea mission, several large holes were discovered in Siberia. The reaction from an article published in the 31 July 2014 issue of Nature indicates atmospheric methane levels more than 50,000 times the usual. An article in the 4 August 2014 edition of Ecowatch ponders the holes: “If you have ever wondered whether you might see the end of the world as we know it in your lifetime, you probably should not read this story, nor study the graphs, nor look at the pictures of methane blowholes, aka dragon burps.”
Malcolm Light has a PhD in geology from the University of London where he began detailed Arctic research at the Centre for Polar Observation and Monitoring (CPOM) in 2002. He has worked on international oil and gas exploration for 20 years, 10 years on metal and diamond exploration and 12 years on Arctic climate research.
It was at CPOM that he saw the huge threat that the Gulf Stream heat posed in destabilizing the Arctic methane hydrates and first warned about the consequences All his subsequent papers have appeared in Sam Carana’s Arctic News.
Q: Malcolm, I think most of us who have been following climate change realize now that methane is the game changer when we talk about a possible extinction level event. I recently became aware of another less talked about form of methane which you have been talking about – mantle methane. Can you tell us a little bit more about this methane and is its release an even bigger threat to us, than say, the melting permafrost?
A: Methane formed by organisms in the water becomes trapped in the fabric of water ice crystals when it freezes and is stable below about 300 meters depth in the Arctic Ocean. There are such massive methane reserves below the Arctic Ocean floor (more than 5000 billion tons of methane carbon) that they represent around 100 times the amount that is required to cause a Permian style major extinction event, should as little as one percent of it were released into the atmosphere. There are also giant reservoirs of mantle methane, originally sealed in by shallow methane hydrate plugs in fractures cutting the Arctic seafloor.
Unfortunately for us, global warming has heated up the oceanic currents fed by the Gulf Stream flowing into the Arctic, causing massive destabilization of the sub-sea methane hydrates and fault seals and releasing increasing volumes of subsea methane hydrate and mantle methane directly into the atmosphere. The major threat to us is heat from the Gulf Stream breaking the methane hydrate seals on the fracture systems and releasing both the sub-sea methane hydrate and mantle methane directly into the atmosphere.
I would say that the reserves of mantle methane are probably inexhaustible. Therefore the best thing we can do is cool down the Gulf Stream immediately by cutting back on US and Canadian emissions by 80% to 90 % and thus replace the pressure release valves back on the Earth’s methane pressure cooker, before it is too late to stop it venting itself into the atmosphere and frying us all.
Q: Malcolm, besides the need to drastically cut our emissions now, what can be done about the destabilizing methane on the seafloors? Do you feel geo-engineering is our only option right now to at least try to slow down this runaway train we are on?
A: Scientists at Georgia Tech University have found that at very low temperatures in the ocean, two symbiotic methane eating organisms group together, consume methane and excrete carbon dioxide which then reacts with minerals in the water to form carbonate mounds. These organisms need a specific enzyme and tungsten for this process to operate. A method must be immediately developed for growing these methane consuming organisms in great quantities and delivering them with their vital tungsten operating enzyme to the Arctic Ocean where they can devour all the methane rising in the water column before it enters the atmosphere
Q: Do you have hope Malcolm that the human species can change its ways fast enough to do something about this or have we passed a point of no return?
A: Only a total change in the United States administration from the present, non-democratic, fossil-fuel corporation-bank controlled oligarchic system to an environmentally friendly government, bent on massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and complete replacement of all energy systems by renewable energy, might cool the Gulf Stream down sufficiently to save us.
The problem is the absolute greed for profit in the fossil fuel industry and capitalist system and complete addiction to oil by the consumers, combined with the complete lethargy of the general public to react to anything that does not affect them personally. I think people will only react when they are staring death in the face and then it will be too late.
Harold Hensel has been studying methane for about 15 to 20 hours a week for at least 8 years. He is connected with some of the greatest Arctic scientists in the world. He understands the potential damage that methane can do and the methane emergency that is becoming obvious.
Q: Harold, I know the latest news about the newly discovered Siberian craters with high levels of methane gas in them must have been a shocker to you, as it has been to many of us who have been following methane gas and climate change. Now that we are not only seeing climate change in action (extreme weather disasters, warming oceans, animal and plant die-offs) and also have solid proof that methane is indeed rapidly entering our atmosphere, are you still hopeful that something can be done to stop this runaway climate change?
A: Actually I was not shocked by the newly discovered Siberian craters. I identified what they were from my “armchair analysis”. I called them “methane blow holes” before the scientists arrived. I was aware of “methane traps” that are stored in permafrost under pressure. There is over 2 trillion tons of it in the Arctic alone. Katey Walter identified about 100,000 active ” mechanical seeps” of methane in thaw lakes in the Arctic and estimated about 50,000 more. Mechanical seeps are methane pockets that are already there that have found their way to the surface.
What is really concerning is what Malcolm Light calls “mantle methane”. This is inorganic methane produced by iron oxides, calcite and water. This methane has created huge reservoirs of methane near the mantle. It is around 1200 degrees and under extreme pressure. Fractures created by tectonic plates subducting, overriding and crashing has created fractures in the earth’s crust. Mantle methane has had a route to the surface through the fractures but they have been sealed by ice. The seals are thawing. Methane bursts are coming to the surface and entering the atmosphere.
This wasn’t supposed to happen but it did. Pre-industrial levels of methane were around 750 ppb and under. This is the way it was for at least 400,000 years. Dr. James Hansen says that about 1250 ppb could be livable. Mauna Loa, Hawaii research station is showing about 1860 ppb. The Arctic is measuring about 2200 ppb with spikes up to 2600 ppb. Temperature has historically followed methane and CO2. There is already enough methane and CO2 in the atmosphere for the temperature to go past the temperature of the Permian mass extinction.
Methane is an emerging threat, perhaps new on our environmental radar – the Ticking Time Bomb!
Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org. He’s a Climate Reality leader, a blogger and an Climate Activist. Rolly has been published in several online publications – Climate Change Guide, World Daily, Examiner, The Canadian, 350Ottawa, ClimateMama, MyEarth360, GreenDivas, The Elephant, Countercurrents, Georgian Bay News.
Some of Rolly’s articles have also appeared in newspapers such as The Hill Times and the Kingston Whig.