Climate Change arcitic sea ice

Published on November 15th, 2013 | by Don Lieber


Methane Emissions “Through The Roof” As Arctic Melts Faster Than Predicted: Arctic Study Group

arcitic sea iceArctic methane emissions this month were recorded at historic-high levels, causing great concern among climatologists, who cite rapidly melting Arctic sea-ice and warming oceans as the main causes.

As reported in the blog Arctic News, ”huge amounts of methane are now escaping from the seabed of the Arctic Ocean, penetrating the sea ice, and entering the atmosphere, in a process that appears to be accelerating, resulting in levels as high as 2662 ppb (at 14384 feet altitude) on November 9, 2013.” Experts generally agree that this amount is roughly twice the globally ‘safe’ level.

Another study group, the Alamo Project, said, “Greenhouse gases are escaping the permafrost and entering the atmosphere at an increasing rate – up to 50 billion tons each year of methane, for example — due to a global thawing trend. This is particularly troublesome because methane heats the atmosphere with 25 times the efficiency of carbon dioxide. The release of all this stored carbon could change climate in the Arctic in ways researchers have yet to fully understand.”

Methane is one of most potent greenhouse gasses on earth — it is called “the canary in the coal mine” of climate change. It traps more heat in the atmosphere, more rapidly, than carbon. Since 1750 (the dawn of the coal-burning industrial revolution), atmospheric methane has increased by 150%.  The recent increase, however, has reached levels not seen on earth in almost 500,00o years according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The current rate of methane emissions are a sign that dangerous “climate feedback loops” are underway.

Huge amounts of methane lay trapped under the frozen waters of the Arctic — perfectly safe while they lay dormant and frozen. The dramatically warming Arctic ocean, however, has begun to “thaw” the methane gas, which then rises through the ocean and is released into the atmosphere. The Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) explains this in terms of “climate change feedback” loops — a cascade of events which compound each other. (For examples of many of the other climate change feedback loops now occurring, see this excellent overview by University of Arizona professor Guy McPherson.)

One of the principal players in climate change feedback loops is Arctic sea ice. Scientists have become increasingly alarmed at the rate of sea ice melting. Last year, Arctic sea-ice melted down to the lowest level ever recorded. (Attributable, mostly, to human initiated greenhouse gas emissions). Scientists predicted, at the time, that the Arctic could become entirely ice free as early as 2020 – with dramatic implications for climate change.”We are on the edge of one of the most significant moments in environmental history as sea ice heads towards a new record low,” said John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK, at the time. “The loss of sea ice will be devastating, raising global temperatures that will impact on our ability to grow food and causing extreme weather around the world.”

This month’s readings, however, are even more worrisome. The recent AMEG report suggests that the current “catastrophic” explosion of methane emissions will further increase the climate feedbacks so dramatically that Arctic sea ice may, indeed, “disappear completely” as early as September 2014.

Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean Physics at the University of Cambridge, put the importance of arctic sea ice in perspective:

The present thinning and retreat of Arctic sea ice is one of the most serious geophysical consequences of global warming and is causing a major change to the face of our planet.  The scientific community has drawn attention to the risk of dangerous climate change if the world does not reduce emissions of carbon dioxide – a worthy and critical objective. However, I wish to point toward a much more immediate problem that does not seem to be recognised among the climate change community at large: This is the problem of rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice, and likely consequence of catastrophic methane feedback.

In summary: Rapidly warming temperatures have accelerated the melt of sea ice and permafrost, which in turn has now begun to cause the release of huge amounts of methane — which will cause even greater atmospheric warming.

And what’s the industry’s response to a melting arctic and the dramatic implications this holds for climate change? Always ready for opportunity, Shell last week announced new plans to drill for oil in the newly navigable Arctic waters north of Alaska.

Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video / / CC BY

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About the Author

Don Lieber has written extensively on international human rights, war and disarmament, and climate justice. His writings have have been published by the United Nations, The Associated Press, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, DeSmog Blog, E-The Environmental Magazine, and others. He is a frequent contributor to PlanetSave. When not writing about climate change, he plays bass for the NYC-based band "Wifey".

  • Jack Wolf

    Here is a link to a question and answer session with one of the scientists, Dr Natalia Shakhova of the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

    I find this very disturbing.

    • Zachary Shahan


      • Jack Wolf

        You’re posts need dates. And no, thank you.
        Can I also suggest a board posting climate actions and speaker series? I seem to always hear about them after the fact.

        • Zachary Shahan

          The date is in the URL, but I guess non-bloggers might not notice that. We’ll work to get dates back in the text somewhere.

          Suggestion taken.

  • Sherrie

    Don’t know why comment I posted last night didn’t appear. Anyway, thanks for this article; It’s not so easy to get such critical info condensed neatly in 1 spot like this.

    McPherson article–referenced above in paragraph 5 or 6, depending on how fussily you define”paragraph”) is a must read– delivers menu of easily digestible itemized chunks of focus areas. Looking forward to detailed sharing of this article & its links w/ fellow conspirators in Sierra, Food & Water Watch…

    Seems 1 of the most underrecognized atrocities here= the release of those huge amounts of methane, resulting FROM melting of sea ice/permafrost , resuting IN more warming (at an accelerated rate..?) Loops indeed !
    Meanwhile, the U.N. Climate Conference is underway this wk. in Warsaw- I don’t see whether Pres. O is an expected attendee–prob find out soon enough. Probably too soon…

    • alternatesteve2

      I’m not so sure about that, Sherrie…..yes, climate change, including possible methane releases are a possible concern, but Arctic ice melting… soon as September of *next year*? I’m sorry, but unless Russia decides to restart nuclear testing up there for whatever reason, or a meteorite blows up or something else equally extraordinary, that’s not going to happen. Okay?

      I hate to say this, but this article kinds reeks of fearmongering in spots, and given that the AMEG is the same group that released a paper by Malcolm P.R. Light claiming that humanity is supposedly at risk for extinction as soon as 2050…..well, you be the judge. Personally, I can’t help but wonder if these AMEG guys are just attention seeking more than anything else. I might be wrong, but then again….maybe not.

      • renewableguy

        The artic sun does not set on the artic during the summer. Albedo is decreasing in the Artic and absorbing more energy over heating it up.
        By 2100 we will have a very different arctic circle than today.

        • alternatesteve2

          “The artic sun does not set on the artic during the summer.”

          Yes, I know.

          “By 2100 we will have a very different arctic circle than today.”

          Maybe so, if we don’t keep emissions below 450-500 ppm. But I seriously doubt that we will suddenly become ice-free in the summer next year especially after the (slight) recovery(though not the kind of recovery Watts and co. were hoping for of course!) we had this year, barring divine intervention, or something equally improbable……

          • renewableguy

            I’m under the impression there is a pretty rapid melt going on. What it will be next year is hard to tell. It could be a record low for all we know. Or a little more growth. I’m thinking something a little smaller than this year more than likely.

          • alternatesteve2

            “I’m thinking something a little smaller than this year more than likely.” It could go either way, I suppose.

        • Dave Kimble

          I agree with alternativesteve2 – the paper by Malcolm P.R. Light is a cunningly crafted bunch of facts and totally incorrect statistical inferences based on those facts.

          He selects 15 monthly data points of Temperature Anomaly in Australia, and compares them with 12 data points for 2012, some of which overlap, and uses the difference to project forward to 2030 and beyond, as if it was climate trend data, when it is in fact weather data.

          And why 15 data points and not 12 or 16 ? – because that selected data gives the biggest change.

          It’s pure scientific fraud for scaremongering purposes.

          • renewableguy

            Data points from one year isn’t the right way to project climate. I would rather have the previous 30 years.
            Could you provide a link to your source?

          • renewableguy

            Dave Kimble

            don’t think this guy is a good representative of good climate science. There are a lot of things that look funky to me.

    • Zachary Shahan

      We do have some spam filters for catching common spam. Must have gotten caught in one of those. ?

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