Giant Plumes of Gurgling Methane Could Fast-Track Planetary Warming

global warming, carbon emissions, methane, greenhouse gases, arctic, permafrost

Recent discoveries have confirmed scientists’ longstanding fears that global warming would catalyze the release of millions of tons of potential greenhouse gas emissions locked up in ice and permafrost in the great white north.

Layer after layer of plant debris that has not yet decomposed lies trapped in arctic and subarctic permafrost. As global temperatures rise and this perennial ice begins to melt, previously frozen organic matter will thaw out and decompose, releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gases into our already saturated atmosphere.

This may not seem like such an earth-shattering phenomenon, but scientists are deeply troubled since there’s a strong chance that methane (CH4) will be released – as it does in anaerobic wetland conditions – which does not bode well for planetary warming since it is 21 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Nearly 1/4 of the northern hemisphere is underlain by permafrost that contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere, wrote The New York Times. This amounts to nearly 2 trillion tons of carbon in soils of the northern regions, 88 percent of which is “locked in permafrost,” according to Canadian scientist Charles Tarnocai and colleagues.

The New York Times reports:

For now, scientists have many more questions than answers. Preliminary computer analyses, made only recently, suggest that the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions could eventually become an annual source of carbon equal to 15 percent or so of today’s yearly emissions from human activities.

But those calculations were deliberately cautious. A recent survey drew on the expertise of 41 permafrost scientists to offer more informal projections. They estimated that if human fossil-fuel burning remained high and the planet warmed sharply, the gases from permafrost could eventually equal 35 percent of today’s annual human emissions.

Meanwhile, Yahoo news reports that Russian scientists have discovered “hundreds of plumes of methane gas, some 1,000 meters in diameter, bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean.” Igor Semiletov of the Russian Academy of Sciences told the UK Independent that thousands more of these giant gurgling methane pots could be lurking in the ice between the Russian mainland and the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

Having more heat-trapping greenhouse gases in our atmosphere will exacerbate many of the climate change problems we are already beginning to face, include rising temperatures, biodiversity loss, drought and famine, water scarcity, and an upsurge in the expense and intensity of certain natural disasters.

But here’s the good news: if we can scale back human-caused carbon emissions and therefore reduce the rate at which the planet is heating up, most researchers believe we can slow down the rate at which this methane will be released into the atmosphere.

:: New York Times, Yahoo News

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48 thoughts on “Giant Plumes of Gurgling Methane Could Fast-Track Planetary Warming”

  1. Columbus says:

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  2. Kenneth says:

    Obvious…………..in reply to the question “Your point is?

  3. Kenneth Lane says:

    Posts stating faith in science is the same as faith in religion———-well science has NOTHING to with faith in anything–but thanks for the attempt to muddy the waters. Religions are BS mind control at best and just another con game perpetuated by those who profit from the con.

    1. So Kenneth, your point is?

  4. JTR says:

    I was thinking about an agreement between governments to legally require recycling, but I can see now that would take a long time. Meanwhile, the growing volunteer movemnent is doing the actual work, so I guess that’s the best I can do as an individual. Thanks again.

  5. greenman says:

    You’ll need to do the research. There are too many to simply list. Google terms like ‘sustainability’ and ‘zero waste’, as well as ‘green building’. Careful, though — there are a lot of greenwashers out there, and you’ll have to navigate around them to find the real non-profits making the effort. Unfortunately their pockets are not as deep as those of the corporate greenwashers. Pick one and make a difference. Volunteer.

  6. JTR says:

    Thankyou, greenman. I’m hoping for an emergency Worldwide campaign to immediartly begin safe recycling of all trash, and peaceful reduction of the human population, but I don’t know who to contact. Do you know who and what organizations might be able to get it started?

  7. greenman says:

    JTR — I’m as caught in the plight of ‘the human condition’ as anyone else. Certainly we must all do our part as citizens to reduce the population voluntarily. We must recycle. We must stop polluting. We must stop creating stuff that can’t be recycled or reused. Otherwise, we are nothing but vermin living in our own filth. I’d like to believe humans are somehow special, but considering what we’ve done to our planet, maybe not so much.

    To put ‘hope’ in grand scientific ‘discoveries’ or last-minute ‘breakthroughs’, however, is equivalent to joining a cargo cult. It’s wishful thinking and nonsensical.

    Life in a fully diverse and balanced ecosystem is a buffered series of small adversities, depending on the perspective of the organism in question. When grand technical ‘solutions’ are bestowed that promote the survival of one organism out of balance over others, all those small adversities that would have happened little-by-little get temporally bunched together in a single delayed large catastrophe, often causing overall detrimental repercussions across multiple species that far exceed the small buffered adversities of the original species in question.

    If we survive, hopefully, we’ll learn that one lesson: faith in science is no better than faith in religion.

  8. Hilke Breder says:

    There is no safe way of releasing methane fuel from methane ice. Read the novel “The Swarm” by Frank Schaetzing – sci-fi thriller with solid grounding in science.

  9. JTR says:

    Greenman,

    Family planning is not violent or immoral. Don’t you think all women should have the right to decide if and when to conceive and birth their children? If so, most would choose no more than 1, 2 or 3, which would reduce the human population down to a number the biosphere could easily support. Then, the economy would stabilize and all human-generated waste products and materials could be safely recycled. Why don’t you answer my questions?

  10. Kenneth Lane says:

    Veronique, well that use of free or almost free fuel would be a direct threat to the ecopolitical power structure that feeds itself and no one else.
    I live near the confluence of the Illinois, Missouri and Mississippi
    Rivers and there is not one water turbine drawing power from the flow of trillions of horsepower that pass by daily–that is daily, year after year of wasted tremendous power!

    We live in a country run by thugs and criminals–from it’s very birth! Coated in the slime of theft and deception we wallow in our fake religions while raping the planet—–not that I’m down on my fellow man–just tired of the lies and deceptions.

  11. Veronique says:

    Why not take this methane and burn it instead of petrol to produce electricity or other goods?

  12. JTR says:

    Greenman,

    Is it too late for globally and peacefully organized family planning education to reduce the human population, and 100% safe recycling of all human-generated waste products? I wasn’t employed in any of the sciences, but I do a lot of reading, studying and thinking on my own, so I’m asking for a scientifically informed answer. I need to know if it makes sense for me to continue trying to persuade people to change their habits.

  13. Pete Password says:

    Agree with greenman, but had a laugh at some of the deranged comments here, most appear to be from America where they keep people dumb and docile. 1)Jeff – you are incoherent and it’s impossible to make out what you’re saying 1) A Hamilton – you haven’t thought too deeply about anything have you? 3) Globo Girl – you’re a certified moron, and not at all funny 4) Toby – you’re not very well 5) Wolf359 – you got that from a denialist website, try http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php for some actual, real, scientific explanations that even you might understand 6)NotFallingforIt – which part of the article didn’t you understand? Have difficulty understanding things? Never mind, go back to sucking your thumb.

  14. greenman says:

    @Karin Kloosterman — try the next 45 years. It’s a race between running out of resources to feed 8 billion people or a natural disaster that decimates our numbers like penicillin in a petree dish full of bacteria. Ask any well-respected, tenured, peer-reviewed professor of ecology to corroborate: we will lose 90% of all species on the earth within 45 years, primarily due to human overpopulation. It’s already too late to turn back because it’s morally _reprehensible_ to consider reducing the human population on purpose. (Actually it’s been too late since the late 90’s.) We cherish our children as much as our grandparents and want as many relatives to thrive as long and healthily as possible. At the same time, we know continuing our population growth is worsening the problem. It’s Science versus ethics/morality. This watery ball can only support 2 billion humans. Do the math.

    Nobody wants to talk about the fact that there are too many humans and not enough resources. The boat will sink before we willingly toss anyone overboard. Hence, it _will_ be a global natural catastrophe that will decimate our numbers, or we’ll just let the boat break and sink.

    We are in trouble. We need to wake up, put down the toys, and fix the world, if we can.

  15. Kenneth Lane says:

    In reply:
    “still reeling over the inquisition I suppose.”

    As we all should for it was one of the times when religious Conservatives held sway.

  16. I think greenman is thinking most rationally. We’re in for trouble. Well at least the next 100 years will be interesting…

  17. Maurice says:

    Hey All,

    What comes next is my article on societal breakdown (the crunch) due to adverse environmental factors.

    Go back and read my article about this (section 2)

    Get ready, cause it’s coming.

  18. iruel says:

    good information
    Thank

  19. Zutronic says:

    Posed as a terrible problem seems so absurd. Posed as a challenge seems so much more appropriate! Defense contractors worried about revenue and their bottom lines, yet rich in resources, technology and government funding? Rather than looking for wars how about cleaning up the planet? Plenty of work to do right now! Hell yeah! How about maybe developing an adsorption process to cultivate this methane gas and treating it like the resource that is? How about cleaning up the Great Pacific Ocean plastic garbage soup? There’s two to start! And what government and what citizenry would not support such responsible endeavors? The military population of the world has never been higher, so there’s even a very large workforce available! What are we waiting for? Everything is in place ready to go: technology, companies, personnel, funding-just a little shift from war to planet clean-up!

  20. Joe Bob says:

    Science is stupid. Only science I care about is football, church and the bible…

    Oh, yeah, got to fit NASCAR in there somewhere too. Can’t forget that.

  21. CrazyChester says:

    To the naysayers I would ask: What are your scientific credentials? The same ones who claim life has thrived on earth for billions have also told us that there have been multiple mass extinctions recorded over this time period, at least one that is suspected to be connected with a massive release of methane. There is no doubt in my mind that life itself will continue, but the question is whether human life can continue.

  22. jeff says:

    Your article is accurate except for the concluding paragraph. That humans can have any impact on methane release is doubtful. That we could do it by parking our cars is however is absurd. First, each of the last 20 ice ages (and there are only 20 that can be studied) were preceded by an interglacial of about 10K years duration. Each interglacial ended with a warming spike lasting about 2000 years. We are in an interglacial currently and it has lasted 12k years. We are exactly due for a glacial cycle. If you look at tree ring data we have been in a warming trend for the last 2000 years – interrupted only by the mini ice age. This is solid data. Estimates are that a 0.1% increase in solar radiation causes 30% of the warming. What about spending money on a more accurate data concerning these assumptions? What about the contribution of carbon injected by deep see vents? The real question should be why have you never heard this? The consensus that you hear about is simply a politically driven lie, perpetrated by the usual collusion of thugs. The UN wants to be able to raise funds independently of donor nations. The Russians want to sell their oil. The Europeans believe that they have the replacement infrastructure (rail, nuclear etc) in place, to replace some need for oil while maintaining the benefits of $2 taxation per gallon – but only if economic competition can be crippled. Thus, although Koto was critical and the non-participation of the US an outrage – when it came time for Europe to comply there was no attempt. What would be the motive it you were not crippling the US? Global Warming as the new religion for the press – it makes them feel great to manipulate the minds of the little people.

  23. A Hamilton says:

    As I have said for years, global warming has to be a fact using the “evolutionists theory”. The dinosaurs died out because of an ice age, and the ice melted causing land masses we can now call home. If there were no “global warming” the ice would still ne here.
    Whose SUV’s caused the ice to start melting in the 1st place? Sounds like a naturally occurring phenomenon to me!!!!!!!! Or the theory is a bunch of hype to gain funding for a cush research job.

  24. Jiimyzatl says:

    I’m amazed at the amount on anti-intellectual posters here. Facts? We don’t need no stinking facts…. We got our beer and mt dew!!!

    My fav is the poster who is confident in surviving climate change… Evidently they are unaware of the fact that entire civilizations have been wiped out by climate change…

  25. TOBY says:

    This is Planet X in our Solar System moving the plates around releasing Methane form deep layers of old vegetation decomposing form PREVIOUS Pole Shifts now upon us again.

  26. TOBY says:

    This is Planet X in our Solar Sstem moving the plates around releasing Methane form deep layers of old vegetation decomposing form PREVIOUS Pole Shifts now upon us again.

  27. zen says:

    People are fanatics first and thinker second (if at all).

    All of this happens as a natural process of the warming cycles.
    The earth has been warming since the last glaciation period, and releases from melting glaciation are GOING TO OCCUR REGARDLESS OF THE EXISTENCE AND ACTIVITIES OF MANKIND!

    Have a nice day

  28. GloboGirl says:

    Another collosal hoax scamming the earth worshippers. When will you pepole realize that Correlation does not connote causation? BTW – I left my porch lights on last night and its snowing this morning. If I don’w want to shovel any more, I better remember to turn them off tonight.

  29. greenman says:

    This *is* worse than your gentle readers may imagine. Methane is generated by microbes. Microbes generate heat. As they get started in little pockets, the microbes won’t be quieted by freezing temperatures. They’ll create their own self-sustaining pockets of heat that will only spread. Very likely it will spread *quickly*.

    Think of it this way: it’s like how a pile of mulching lawn clippings, raked leaves and horse manure during the winter. Even though it’s cold outside, the middle of the compost pile stays hot and steams out gases. The tundra and permafrost are basically a continuous, many-feet-thick layer of unmulched compost, complete with anaerobic bacteria, water and everything necessary to mulch — except heat. Raise the overall planetary temperature just enough during the winter, and those microbe suddenly become active enough to sustain winter composting. And there’s a lot of mulch… It is a powder keg waiting for release.

    As methane emissions start in the permafrost, they will increase exponentially in a matter of years rather than decades. A stew of methane-emitting microbes will literally boil methane into the atmosphere, as seen in Alaska. There will be orange-tinted (methane-enriched) atmosphere within years from the advent of permafrost melt. It will so grossly change the stability of life so quickly and permanently on earth that we have no way to know what will survive. It will get hot. Unfortunately, it’s already begun. There is *no* turning this back. When Stephen Hawking suggests we need to find a new planet to live on soon, he’s not joking. We (humans) have grossly unbalanced the diversity of species necessary to maintain a sustainable world ecology, and we have given ourselves the job – if we survive – of fixing it.

  30. Wolf359 says:

    Global warming…hmmmmm, yes it is…it’s been warming since the last ice age when almost half of north America was under a mile of ice. it is a cycle that’s been going on since, well since the earth began. All the doomsdayer liberals seem to conveniently forget about such things as the sun continually getting hotter, plate tectonics, vulcanism, etc. Yes man has contributed to global warming, but very minimally.

    This cycle will continue long after we are gone….and the next global cooling (IE ice age) wipes any record of us from the planet.

  31. GaboonViper67 says:

    I wonder if all those who worship scientific and evolutionary theory realize how silly this makes them all look; speculating about global catastrophy because of melting permafrost.

    Aren’t they the ones claiming that life has thrived on this earth over billions of years? Don’t they think the life currently on earth has gone through, and survived, climate changes before? LOL!

    The science community is looking petty and silly, grasping at straws left and right, exposing the ever obvious fact that all they really want is to have power to dictate to everybody else…still reeling over the inquisition I suppose.

  32. Malenita says:

    P.S. My first paragraph was in response to Alex.

  33. melto says:

    Use some drilling technique to capture the methane for heating fuel.

  34. Malenita says:

    The plumes have been there for ages – what is new is that the permafrost is melting, exposing the previously frozen plumes to the atmosphere. It is a vicious circle: as more permafrost melts into ponds of water leaking methane, the dark water is further warmed by the sun, causing further melting.

    Unfortunately, there is no money to be made from reversing this scenario, and so it will continue…

  35. Mike Drabik says:

    “IF we can scale back human-caused carbon emissions and therefore reduce the rate at which the planet is heating up, most researchers believe we can slow down the rate at which this methane will be released into the atmosphere”.

    And that’s a big IF which I believe is unlikely to happen on an individual basis. Why? From what I’ve seen a significant segment of the population is in living deliberate denial of GW because it means reducing cars on the road by a huge number — and these are usually conservatives, right-wingers and libertarians; or else have decided that they will accept the consequences of it – usually the moderately liberal or left-leaning individuals.

    This means the “IF” lies in the hands of leaders with fortitude to do what needs to be done. They will have to become willing to commit political suicide to keep humanity from severely damaging itself or killing large groups of people. And very few pols have that kind of courage.

  36. Cody says:

    I guess some people can’t handle the truth – no matter what the facts are, some folks just can’t wrap their heads around it. We are causing global warming. Everything points in that direction, and then comes some jerk (like the ones posting their denial comments here) that thinks he or she has found the key point that all the world’s scientists have missed that says global warming is natural and we can’t do anything about it. A bunch of geniuses.

  37. Scientists are always careful in what they say to maintain credibility. Naysayers are always taking the cheapest stabs. We’ll see what happens when the ship starts sinking.

  38. Adam Baum says:

    Its the end of the world as we know it,Its the end of the world as we know it, Its the end of the world as we know it, And I feel fine

  39. Andy says:

    The power of the media is astounding….
    ALL SCIENTISTS AGREE THAT THE PLANET IS WARMING UP…..
    But you wouldn’t know that, because of how they spin it.
    There isn’t a legitimate scientist in the world who doesn’t believe global warming is occuring right now.
    There have been frantic warnings at conferences….
    But even the most conservative estimates areen’t good.
    There is complete agreeement, and yet the public is unaware.
    Its amazing. If you can blitz the TV networks, yahoo, and google, and even youtube with misinformation. It works.

  40. Sticka Forkinit says:

    Latest global temp anomaly for Nov 2011…… .12 C!!!
    Longest period without hurricane making landfall in the U.S.
    in 100 years
    ave. Global precip normal…

    AARGGH! this confirms gov’t climatologist’s WORST FEARS, not only does global warming cause record cold, snow, but now an even worse fate: Boring weather!

    Studies indicate our weather is now less interesting that it has been since pre industrial times!

    The evidence is overwhelming, time for debate, science, and rational thought is over, multi-billion $ computer simulations predict that we are fast approaching a tipping point, beyond which we face ever more tediously dull weather!

    The 100+ members of the United Banana Republics unanimously agree that we must compensate them for their mind numbing boredom.

    But wait, here’s the GOOD NEWS! If we surrender all wealth and freedom to our politicians immediately, they will restore a Garden of Eden-like paradise of perfect weather to the planet forever!

  41. JTR says:

    1. Safely recycle 100% of all human-generated waste products and
    2. Peacefully reduce the human population with family planning education.
    That way the biosphere would survive to keep on supporting us. If not, ecocide and extinction are inevitable.

  42. NotFallingforIt says:

    I guess the carbon dioxide thing isn’t working out for them so they have to come up with something scarier.
    Personally I could use a little global warming it gets awful cold in the new England states this time of year.
    Don’t these lunatics scientists realize methane has been leaking into the atmosphere for millions of years, it comes from lakes,ponds, oceans, seas, rivers, mammals of all kind and rotting vegetation.
    Greenhouse gases are what’s keeping the whole Earth from turning into Antarctica.

  43. WiseCow says:

    If they don’t keep you panicked, they can’t control you. If they can, you will only see one side of two.

  44. C.Ecker says:

    What a shining piece of journalistic genius — everything except the author omitted the credits to Chicken Little regarding ‘scientific content.’

  45. Alex says:

    Are these plumes new or have they been going for ages?

  46. Paul says:

    I’m sure others must have pointed this out…. but if you burn methane – then it becomes co2 and water… co2 contributes less to the greenhouse effect than methane – a lesser evil as it were…. why don’t we burn it?

  47. Kenneth Lane says:

    Republicans work tirelessly to lie about global warming and these darn facts just get in the way of their progress toward making the planet HELL ON EARTH!

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