Wakening the Kraken

I was just reading a little article from April this year by Agnostic & Daniel Bailey on the effect of methane hydrates on climate change. Yeah, yeah, I’m a geek. Whatever. If you want to read the article, it’s HERE. If you want to know what the heck they’re talking about, here’s some BACKGROUND.

The authors put their argument together just enough to scare you, but what I think we need here is not a mild scare, but a rapidly accelerating panic. Here’s the gist of their article.

During the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event, about 251 million years ago, 96% of all marine species and 70% of all land species became extinct. The reason: runaway methane release from sources that took millions of years to form. That methane was released because of massive global warming over many tens of thousands of years.

“Methane clathrate, also known commonly (albeit incorrectly) as methane hydrate, is a form of water ice that contains a large amount of methane within its crystal structure. Potentially large deposits of methane clathrate have been found under sediments on the ocean floors of the Earth…”Wikipedia

The second major methane-release-related extinction took place 55 million years ago (the PETM), when 30-50% of water-breathing animals bit the big one.

During the PETM, temperatures rose about 10 degrees F in the tropics and 15 degrees F in the polar regions.

Supposedly, if our current stock of methane hydrate is released, we can expect a very quick 4-16 degree average temperature rise.

We are currently releasing carbon into the atmosphere at a rate 10 times faster than during the PETM. Oh, yeah, and there is significantly more methane stored in the ground and oceans than there was back then.

At the current rate of methane and Co2 release, we can expect the oceans to rise around 5 metres in the next 90 years. I’d sure as heck like to know what the rise will be if we factor in a sudden clathrate discharge.

According to Joe Romm, editor of Climate Progress, “no climate model currently incorporates the amplifying feedback from methane”. Oh, great.

So, what does this all mean? Well, we’re currently at 385 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. Scientists agree that if we hit 450ppm, we’re pretty much screwed.

Methane is 70 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2. It’s currently at 1.7ppm. If the concentration of methane increases 1ppm, it will, by itself, jump us to 450ppm.

“Anthropogenic methane sources, such as rice paddies, the fossil fuel industry, and livestock, have already more than doubled the methane concentration in the atmosphere from pre-industrial levels. Currently methane levels appear stable, but the reasons for this relatively recent phenomena are not yet clear. The amount of permafrost hydrate methane is not known very well, but it would not take too much methane, say 60 Gton C released over 100 years, to double atmospheric methane yet again.” – from Real Climate

Meaning, even without counting oceanic methane hydrates, we’re going to hit 450ppm this century.

“A methane concentration of 6 ppm would be a disaster in the real world. The atmosphere currently contains about 3.5 Gton C as methane. An instantaneous release of 10 Gton C would kick us up past 6 ppm. This is probably an order of magnitude larger than any of the catastrophes that anyone has proposed.” – from Real Climate

So if we’re going to have a climate like the PETM or the P–Tr, what will it be like?

Here’s a quick survey of what happened during the Permian Extinction.

– 286 out of 329 marine invertebrate genera disappear
– mass extinction of insects
– 50% reduction in terrestrial species diversity
– loss of most woodland plant species
– and because of that, topsoil blows or washes away
– 100% die-off of corals
– the absence of trees causes a “coal gap” in the fossil/geological record
– almost 100% of reptiles died out
– anything in the oceans with a shell goes bye-bye, in a pattern consistent with hypoxia, i.e. a shortage of oxygen
– oh, and did I mention no topsoil?

The National Science Foundation comments, “Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the [East Siberian Arctic] shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.”

Here are a few links for those who haven’t had the crap scared out of them yet.

NSIDC Bombshell

Arctic permafrost leaking methane at record levels

The trigger for the clathrate gun

Back to the future: The earth warmed considerably some 55 million years ago. What does that tell us about our current climate dilemma?