Alanna Mitchell covered this subject in her 2009 book, Seasick:
“…methane hydrate molecules, when cold, are like geodesic domes, stable structures that remain in the ocean’s deeps…If the molecules are shaken up or warmed, the bonds break and bubbles of flammable methane (a carbon compound and a highly efficient greenhouse gas) shoot through the water column at phenomenal speed. If that happened on a large enough scale across the ocean floor, intense global warming would happen instantly.”
A recent ocean health/gray whale workshop this blog editor attended in March of this year, this subject was discussed by several of the scientists who presented their most recent findings in the Artic and Bering Seas. They were shocked at the rate of change and carbon release from their regions of study.
Neptune 911 reported on this issue earlier this year: https://neptune911.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/1378/
After a year of record drought, wildfires, and severe weather blamed on climate change, the last thing anyone wants to hear is that things may be getting worse. Scientists reported Wednesday that a changing Gulf Stream off the East Coast has destabilized frozen methane deposits trapped under nearly 4,000 square miles of seafloor.
As if that weren’t bad enough, methane is bubbling out of the frozen Arctic faster than had been expected. Researchers reported in the journal Science that methane had become trapped in the permafrost over time and a warming climate is now resulting in its release.
Concerns about global warming have centered on rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but scientists note that methane can be 30 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide so any large-scale release could have significant climate impacts researchers said.
Temperature changes in the Gulf Stream are “rapidly destabilizing methane hydrate along a broad swathe of the North American margin,” the experts said in a study published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature. Using seismic records and ocean models, the team estimated that 2.5 gigatonnes of frozen methane hydrate are being destabilized and could separate into methane gas and water.
What is ironic is that man-made carbon dioxide has warmed the oceans to such a degree that we have unleashed natural methane. That will speed up global warming exponentially beyond what man-made carbon pollution can. So man is responsible for this new problem.
“We may approach a turning point” from a warming driven by man-made carbon dioxide to a warming driven by methane, Jurgen Mienert, the geology department chair at Norway’s University of Tromso, told NBC News. “The interactions between the warming Arctic Ocean and the potentially huge methane-ice reservoirs beneath the Arctic Ocean floor point towards increasing instability,” he added
In addition to the methane off the East Coast that is being destabilized, methane is already seeping out in the Arctic as permafrost melts.
Historically, methane concentrations in the world’s atmosphere have ranged between 0.3 and 0.4 parts per million in cool periods to 0.6 to 0.7 in warm periods. Current methane concentrations in the Arctic average about 1.85 parts per million, the scientists said, the highest in 400,000 years.
The study said about 8 million tons of methane a year, equivalent to the annual total previously estimated from all of the world’s oceans, were seeping from vast stores long trapped under permafrost below the seabed.
“Subsea permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap,” Natalia Shakhova, a scientist at the University of Fairbanks, Alaska, said in a statement. She co-led the study. The release of just a “small fraction of the methane held in (the) East Siberian Arctic Shelf sediments could trigger abrupt climate warming,” they wrote.
About 60 percent of methane now comes from human activities such as landfills, cattle rearing or rice paddies. If we add this previously trapped methane, the effect on climate change will speed up. Already, the ice cover has almost disappeared in large parts of the Arctic.
Meanwhile, we are still producing carbon dioxide at alarming levels. The combination of man-made carbon dioxide and natural methane could be catastrophic. It is conceivable that in the not-so-distant future Mitt Romney may not be poking fun at the President for trying to slow the rising oceans.
The only defense we have is to aggressively reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels so we can slow the warming of oceans that are releasing this methane. We need to double down on green energy. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress and presidential candidate Mitt Romney are committed to oil and coal companies and want to double down on fossil fuels. It is doubtful that this news will sway their positions. Profit and greed trump just about everything.
This latest news is serious, and we must start taking it seriously.