More Methane

It wasn’t that long ago that The Independent reported the detection of unprecedented methane (CH4) emissions from the sea bed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf by Russian scientists. This has spawned considerable speculation, and concern, about sudden increase of methane concentration in the Arctic due to extreme Arctic warming, which could potentially cause a nasty global-warming feedback since methane is a potent greenhouse gas. That some are very concerned is no surprise.

Some readers at RealClimate have expressed their worry, pointing to recent high levels of Arctic methane concentration based on AIRS (Atmospheric InfraRed Sounder) data. It has even been asked whether there is dramatic increase month-to-month, considering that the AIRS data for March 2012

shows higher values than recorded just one month earlier, in February 2012

Could this be the harbinger of catastrophic Arctic methane release? Is such a thing even possible? In a report at the EGU (European Geophysical Union) conference in 2008, Shakova et al. stated

… we consider release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage as highly possible for abrupt release at any time. That may cause ~12-times increase of modern atmospheric methane burden with consequent catastrophic greenhouse warming.

The sudden release of 50 Gt (gigatonnes) of methane in the Arctic would indeed have disastrous consequences, and Shakova et al. are specialists in this field. But what I haven’t yet seen is observational data indicating alarming methane increase in the Arctic recently. Is there such evidence?

I managed to find surface measurements of methane concentration extending at least to the end of the year 2011, for five stations. Three are from stations maintained by the Japan Meteorological Agency, and can be downloaded from the World Data Center for Greenhouse Gases: Minamitorishima, Ryori, and Yonagunijima. The other two are from ESRL (Earth System Research Laboratory), for Barrow and Mauna Loa. Barrow is the furthest north, and is genuinely Arctic. Next most northern is Ryori, then Yonagonijima and Minamitorishima, with Mauna Loa furthest south (but still in the northern hemisphere). Two questions to ask are: 1. Do any of the records show signs of extreme recent rise? 2. Is there indication of more rapid increase in the far north than in more southerly latitudes?

To investigate, I examined the data from 2000 to the present. I removed the seasonal signal (since each record shows a different seasonal pattern of variation) to compute de-seasonalized CH4 concentration. The data then look like this:

All five records show CH4 increase, with the latest rise starting around 2007. But the rates of increase are not “alarming,” and there’s no sign of exaggerated increase after 2007.

As for latitude variation, there’s very little. The five records cover a range of latitudes from 71.3N (Barrow) to 19.5N (Mauna Loa) but they all show very similar time evolution. This is even clearer if we set them all to the same zero point, computing anomalies as the difference between the de-seasonalized values and the average for the period 2000-present:

I don’t see any sign of alarming increase in methane concentration, either in the Arctic or elsewhere, and no sign of greater increase in the Arctic than in other regions.

I do see signs of steady methane increase. Methane is indeed a potent greenhouse gas, and a sudden massive release (50 Gt) would indeed be disastrous. But even steady release at the present rate will raise the level of greenhouse-gas warming, making the global warming problem worse. Surely it’s something to be concerned about, and measures we can take to reduce methane emissions will be beneficial.

And there’s always the possibility of sudden massive release. I honestly don’t know the likelihood of this, but there’s evidence that it has happened in the very-very-distant past, with terrible consequences for life on earth. Therefore I would recommend keeping a very close eye on Arctic (and other!) methane concentration data, because if such an event should come to pass, the sooner we know about it the better our chances of fending off the disaster. I hope it doesn’t happen. If it does, I hope we can cope.


95 responses to “More Methane

  1. How long would it take for an increase of emissions far in the North to be detected in Barrow? Can we detect a remote increase from a remote place?

    Or, what density of stations is required to be sure we don’t miss such an increase?

  2. Tamino-dono,

    Thank you for this post. I was more depressed than usual lately because I was sure it was too late–because of the all the “vast methane release” articles.” That will teach me not to accept qualitative evaluations over quantitative ones.

  3. Thanks, Tamino. It is really good to see this data synthesized in such a usable form. And good, too, that there isn’t evidence of immediate catastrophe–perhaps needless to say.

  4. Note on those AIRS images: 400 mb is air pressure; convert to altitude:
    400 MB = 23,574 ft.

  5. David B. Benson

    The artic warmed roughly comperably during the Eemian Interglacial and there is no ice core evidence for a methane burb.

    • Except for the fact that the arctic isn’t done warming as the cryopshere continues to respond as a slow Earth-system feedback to the rapid increase in CO2 we’ve seen over the few centuries. Since we have higher levels of CO2 now than the Eemian we can expect higher tempertures. Added to this of course is the fact that levels of greenhouse gases continue to rise. The Eemian is a bad comparison. The Pliocene of Miocene might be more appropriate from a paleoclimate perspective.

    • David B. Benson.

      Do you have evidence that specifically demonstrates that there were deposits of methane clathrates during the Eemian, functionally and magnitudinally comparable to those that exist today?

      I’ve always wondered if fossil carbon preserved as methane is more labile than other forms, and thus whether it would exhibit long-term global presence in the quantities in which it currently occurs.

  6. With the largest increase in greenhouse gases in more than a million years happening as rapidly as it has, the potential for some black swan event related to a sudden methane release is certainly there. Most worrisome is that we really can’t predict the odds of such an event. With the climate models being so wrong about how fast arctic sea ice was going to decline prior to 2007’s shift downward, can we really trust them to say anything meaningful about the potential for a black swan event related to methane?

  7. Black Swan definition:
    “It is the same logic reversal we saw earlier with the value of what we don’t know; everybody knows that you need more prevention than treatment, but few reward acts of prevention.”

    • That is one of a very few tomes I consider a “must read,” perhaps twice or even thrice. Taleb adds a heaping helping of support to…

      “Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” — J. B. S. Haldane

  8. As methane has a short half-life in the atmosphere, I’m not sure how well it’s represented in the ice cores.

  9. Barrow is pretty close to a large oil field, and AFAEK they don’t capture the natural gas. Be careful with that one.

  10. Tamino, as you know, I find you erudite, rational, informative and your work highly educational. In this particular instance, I would like to add a question concerning perspective. As you show, recent methane emissions in the Arctic resemble a linear trend – but is that but an effect brought on by peering too closely at the steeply rising almost straight-line shaft of an exponentially rising curve ? I am in the process of reviewing the data sets to paint a picture of the last 10,000 years or so, and I think I see an acceleration curve in atmospheric concentrations – which would indicate the possibility of accelerating emissions. For example :

  11. Tamino, can you add C13/C12 ratio to this? I ask because the Moyhu plotter appears to show a change in trend (eyeballing only, at ).

    I don’t know how long is needed to have a likelihood of detecting a change in trend for that data.

    I found a 2006 abstract that says “After 1950, when methane concentrations increase very rapidly, C13 rises sharply as well. Both C13 and concentration have been level for the last several years….” but I don’t know what that means.

    • Hank,
      What is shown in the Moyhu plotter is the Global Stable Carbon Isotopic Signature. It’s based on the ratio, but has some adjustment to make it more indicative of fossil fuel use. It’s what CDIAC has, but I’m looking for a good source of unadjusted C13/C12 ratios. The trend change may be influenced by the adjustment.

  12. Oops, broken link; the last quote I posted can be found on this page:
    B11E-07 INVITED
    The evolution of the methane cycle over the last 300 years: carbon isotopes and concentration constraints

    Note that’s written in 2006, about when the trend appears to start up.

  13. Hank,

    “can you add C13/C12 ratio to this?”

    It’s not done by a competent mathematician, but here it is anyway….

    I’ve just knocked together a plot of per-mil anomaly of C13 in methane.

    I’ve calculated as follows – calculate the average for each month over the period 1998 to 2010, then subtract the average from the actual values for the period 1998 to 2010, result is the anomaly. I’ve not de-seasonalised as I haven’t figured out how to do that as a discrete step – I guess I’ve missed the relevant lesson over here.

    Here’s a plot of the raw figures I did a while ago.

    Bands go from north to south, caveat re SH still aplies – only one station per band.

    Note the Arctic has a larger annual range. But all told this supports Tamino’s conclusion in the main post. There’s reason for concern in the Arctic, but no reason to start pumping sulphates into the atmosphere at present – old ladies swallowing flies…

    The raw data are from here:
    Readme file here:
    See sections 6 and 7 for explanation of the data.

  14. Thanks Chris.
    On Barrow (and other sites), the documentation for how samples are collected discusses how they get clean air samples, which wind directions they avoid to keep from getting local contamination, and so on.
    The AIRS site notes which values are considered local and dubious from all their sources.
    Barrow collects at ground level (so does Mauna Loa but the ground ain’t level).
    AIRS is attempting to derive a useful signal from the satellites and is still calibrating against what else is known; the altitude makes a difference.

    Has anyone been making aircraft flights taking samples at various altitudes right underneath the satellites as they go by? That’d be an excellent way to calibrate the satellite results. I know something similar is done to validate things like chlorophyll, CO2, sea ice and surface melting by having expeditions go out and take samples as a satellite goes over to match up.
    “Ground Truth” is the term of art.

  15. David B. Benson

    The first of the major interglacials, from Dome C 740000 year dD data shows interglacial 4 at about 325000 years ago. The peak temperatures from both Vostok and Dome C was not quite as high as during interglacial 2 (Eemian), but almost.

    The Quaternary began (by fiat) 2.588 mya and we can take that as a time when methane accumulation in the arctic regions began in earnest, possibly earlier. So thre was over 2 million years of clathrate formation and methane trapping in tundra before interglacial 4 came along to presumably warm the arctic region quite strongly as the global average temperature would be about the same as interglacial 2, roughly 2 K warmer than now. Yet the evidence is that the temperature went up by only that much. Now for interglacial 2 there were only about 210 thousand years for methane to once again accumulate in arctic regions but the temperature maximum was a bit higher than that for interglacial 4. There has only been about 115 thousand years for methane to once again accumulate.

    So long as global average temperatures are not driven up more than about another 2 K I, at least, see no methane burp enhancing further temperature increases. While it is true that CO2 levels are currently more like during the Miocene, the Miocene was in equilibrium and just now Terra’s climate is far from equilibrium. As soon as people stop adding excess CO2 to the atmosphere the concentration will begin to drop. The resulting shape will look rather similar to that of a log normal probability distribution, long tail and all.

    The result of these thoughts by an amateur is that I don’t consider methane to be such a significant hazard in comparison to sources of excess CO2 such as burning fossil fuels (including natgas) and deforestation.

  16. Oh, lordy lord lord lord, the AMEG has gotten to the Sierra Club:

    “Loss of summer ice is also leading to enormous releases of methane (a greenhouse gas 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide) from the Arctic Ocean seabed, which are likely to hasten the rate of climate change.”
    —Paul Rauber,

    No cite. I tried emailing them some links.
    I’m not going to scrape their sticker off my car, but I hope they check facts.

  17. These eruptions have only just started in the last 8 months or something from what I understand, the previous 10 years had seen increased release which prompted Shakova to warn of large scale rapid eruptions, to me kilometer diameter plumes sounds pretty large scale it would also seem that she gets the gold star for understanding the system.

    I imagine as the Cavern walls have been breached water is flowing into the Caverns, this water is then hitting the Clathrates that comprise the Cavern walls causing them to disintegrate. An estimate I think Shakhova made for the non-free Methane is 1.3 teratons which of course is Venus here we come, except worse as once Antarctica collapses rapidly the Isostatic rebound and associated effects is liable, I think, to destabilise the Lithosphere to such an extent it collapses in on itself, leaving the Globe a molten blob.

    So it would seem there is SFA to be done now except devise an escape plan or not depending on ones tastes.

  18. This, to me, smelled like a smoking gun, in the RC thread titled
    Arctic Sea Ice Volume: PIOMAS, Prediction, and the Perils of Extrapolation, by John Nissen of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group:

    “… we can take immediate measures to avoid the risk of inadvertent warming …. we could even allow more sulphate aerosol into the atmosphere, as this has proven successful at global dimming – taking care about not to release “pollution” near centres of population where it could damage health. I’m sure there are other things to do if we put our minds to it. Necessity is the mother of invention.

    The evidence suggests we could already be at the point of no return. So we have to fight to save the situation with utmost determination. There is no time to lose.
    Comment by John Nissen
    — 18 Apr 2012 6:16 PM”

    Possibly not coincidental: Live blogging the new EPA coal plant rule – this’ll be exciting

  19. The Independent has another story today –

    I guess we should be slightly wary given that the previous story was slightly over-egged. The abstract of the paper in Nature Geoscience is less dramatic, but the paper is paywalled so I couldn’t rega the whole thing.

  20. I found this couple of lines interesting:

    “I removed the seasonal signal (since each record shows a different seasonal pattern of variation) to compute de-seasonalized CH4 concentration.”

    What I wondered was whether the increase seen from February to March was consistent with the normal seasonal cycle for the Barrow station.

  21. My understanding is that these eruptions have only begun in the last 8 months or something so perhaps it is a little early to see them registering.

    Either way kilometer in diameter eruptions of Methane are a catastrophic event as it means that the caverns containing free Methane have been breached which means water will be flowing down through the cracks and hitting the Methane Clathrates that line the Caverns. I think Shakhova estimated around 1.3 teratons of Methane stored in Clathrates thus as this process has started nothing can be done but prepare radical plans for ones own survival.

    I mean radical as the rapid warming causes the Ronne and Ross Ice Shelves to break away from the WAIS causing it to slide off the land resulting in Isostatic rebound causing a super Volcano to break out along the Transantarctic mountain range. As a result the EAIS collapses which causes Isostatic rebound to occur on a scale relatively significant to lateral pressure within the entire Lithosphere causing it to invert, I think, resulting in the Globe becoming a molten ball.

    The light at the end of my tunnel is digital transformation, obviously a feeble light but one must have some sort of light otherwise insanity beckons.

    • Uh, yeah right. Just don’t listen to those voices you hear in your head, OK? Especially the one that says to bet your house on 37 Black…

      • yeah well I had a similar discussion with James Hansen and I came out roses so if you want the full treatment just say so : )

      • ps, maybe you can start the ball by pointing out where I’m incorrect.

      • If that were an actual nutter theory and not a brilliant tongue-in-cheek example of slippery slope (literally) thinking, I’d bet that the “full treatment” left Hansen (and everyone else in the vicinity) covered in spittle and, of course, the nutter ending up as the only person in the room capable of “coming up roses.” Let me appreciate the piece with a hearty guffaw.

      • My discussion with Hansen revolved around if Isostatic rebound occured at a constant rate or variable, I proposed variable and then a few years later a study on Isostatic rebound in Greenland revealed it to be variable relative to the rate of melt. Accelerated Isostatic rebound is central to my model and was the only undocumented phenomenon.

        If you think collapse of the Ronne and Ross (due to rapid warming…say from 1.3 teraton’s of Methane) is not catastrophic then you are the nutter… but of course what does one thing have to do with another.

      • Respectfully, criminogenic, if you solely attribute ice shelf collapse to methane release, then you are the one who will be branded “nutter“.

        And this is coming from one of the authors of the Wakening the Kraken article. I, for one, am not yet convinced the beast wakens. Sleeps fitfully, yes.

      • Oh, you were serious? What sort of timeframe are we looking at? How fast will the methane be released? How fast will the ice melt? Will the general circulation be disrupted, and if so, then what sort of response will the climate have? Will humans dump teratons of aerosols into the atmosphere in an attempt to emergency mitigate, and what will the result of that be? How easy is it for the WAIS to slide right off into the ocean? What do you mean by “the EAIS collapses”? Is it sliding into the sea also, then, and how long does that take? What level of certainty do you have on that? Won’t the resulting volcanic activity, which surely won’t happen in a matter of days, just as the sliding won’t happen in a matter of days, dim the atmosphere and cause rapid global cooling, which will cause H20 to precipitate out, which will cause more cooling, which will cause the oceans to freeze, which via albedo will result in snowball Earth? Finally, it might be safer to go with analog transformation. It’s easier to relate to a broader variety of things that way, and the universe won’t be so rigidly black and white. But I suppose that’s the human in me speaking.

        Just out of curiosity, what probability would you put on your final event (globe = molten ball), given current conditions?

      • Respectfully Daniel Bailey would not 1.3 teratons of Methane be enough to awaken it?

      • -How fast will the methane be released?

        Previous models of Clathrate release revolve around the Sea profile warming, the current breaching of East Siberian Sea Caverns circumvents this by introducing water directly to Clathrates. As Clathrates are structured in a sedimentary fashion layers of Clathrates are now exposed. Water hitting Clathrates causes immediate dissolution thus the time frame is only limited by Methane pressure inhibiting flow of water through cracks, fair to say the time frame of entire dissolution of Clathrates in the region is on the scale of a few years.

        -How fast will the ice melt?

        Central to my model is the collapse of the Ronne and the Ross, thus melting is not relevant and as seen in the Larsen collapse such events happen rapidly.

        -Will the general circulation be disrupted, and if so, then what sort of response will the climate have?

        My model relies on Methane warming over-riding previous Circulation patterns.

        -Will humans dump teratons of aerosols into the atmosphere in an attempt to emergency mitigate, and what will the result of that be?

        From what I’ve seen the deeper the evidence for MMGW the deeper into denial Humanity delves thus I expect nothing to be done.

        -How easy is it for the WAIS to slide right off into the ocean?

        The WAIS is marine based meaning it’s base is below sea level thus it can float if significantly destabilised.

        -What do you mean by “the EAIS collapses”?

        The WAIS causes a Isostatic depression of up to 1km thus the Tectonic activity created by this rebound will express itself along the most relevant stress plane, that is the Transantarctic mountains. The EAIS will act as a anchor causing the land previously below the WAIS to rise up a kilometer at a rate relative to the WAIS collapse rate. This creates Magma flows from the Transantarctic mountains so the EAIS is sliced up literally as a hot knife through butter.

        -Won’t the resulting volcanic activity, which surely won’t happen in a matter of days, just as the sliding won’t happen in a matter of days, dim the atmosphere and cause rapid global cooling, which will cause H20 to precipitate out, which will cause more cooling, which will cause the oceans to freeze, which via albedo will result in snowball Earth?

        Volcanic release of CO2, as seen in the Siberian traps event, along with the already elevated levels of Methane, negate a Volcanic winter.

        -Just out of curiosity, what probability would you put on your final event (globe = molten ball), given current conditions?

        To me the process has already begun, the end result is as certain as Gravity and on a Geological time scale it has already happened.

      • Criminogenic,
        Fascinating that you can reach such certain conclusions–and without the aid of any evidence. Impressive.

      • meh to actually point out a process I describe that has no supportive evidence or are you content with vague smart-arsery?

        The only process that had some doubt was variable Isostatic rebound, as James Hansen suggested, this has since been clarified.

      • Criminogenic,
        I am sure that somewhere nucleosynthesis is going on, and somewhere gravitational collapse. There may even be an honest lawyer plying his trade somewhere. I would not, however posit that all these things are going on at the poles without evidence that they were or at least that they have in the past and have produced effects of the scale you are suggesting.

        I would also not posit scenarios such as yours without ending them with “ooga-booga” and maybe making my face look spooky with a flashlight.

      • And–much against my better judgment–what is the evidence for the existence of these “Caverns” lined with clathrates?

      • Let me tread your patronising shores and point out that free Methane (estimated by Shakhova at 50Gt) is evidence of voids, porous material or Caverns or whatever you want to call them, it can’t reside in a solid material. Shallow Clathrates serve in part as a seal on these voids in the Arctic region.

      • addendum: …dumbarse.

        [Response: Perhaps we can save the snark and insults for those who actually deserve it?]

      • Criminogenic,
        Clathrate caverns, huh?
        Oh Jebus. I suppose you think of aquifers as underground rivers, too, huh? And that oil sits in huge pools in the rock? Dude, to quote Mark Twain: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

      • “whatever you want to call them”

        *I* don’t want to call them anything…this is your gig, not mine.

        And your response(s) have justified my reservations about commenting.


      • The existance of subterranean resevoirs of Methane is not my gig, it’s just a fact whether Mark Twain likes it or not. Second fact is that free gas cannot exist in solid strata and once evacuated a empty void is left. Third fact is that under Gravity seawater flows down into that newly evacuated void via the path of Methane evacuation.

        The nature of the void is of secondary importance, Aquifers can be Cavernous, the Limestone coast of South Australia is such an example. My Grandfather owned a irrigated Cattle grazing property there and as a child I enjoyed wandering around searching for fractures in the Aquifer through which recently evacuated irrigation water flowed back into the Aquifer. I could look down through these fractures and see glimpse’s of vast Caverns. Within these Caverns water flowed from one region to another, the optimum point for extraction was along these underground streams, even better if one could find a intersection of two or more streams.

        The fractures were blocked via hand and shovel ensuring the recently liberated water did not flow whence it came and it was of utmost import to restrict this possibility as the Bore pumps created a flow of up to 200000 litres/ hour from memory, it was massive as the diameter of the pump outlet is around 300 mm and a impressive solid stream of water is continually ejected. Unblocked fractures resulted in that freshly liberated water flowing straight back down useless to the process of forming glowing cattle.

      • My understanding of how Subterranean Methane deposits are formed is that organic material is deposited on the Sea floor forming Sediment, over time this Sediment builds up and in the lower layers the Organic material decomposes creating a void, as the volume of the non-decomposed Organic material is larger than that of it’s constituents. The geological material is seperated by the formation of Clathrate crystals. Due to the Clathrate molar ratio of 1:5 between Methane and Water, large quantities of water are sequestered in a structured format leaving a void filled with free Methane, thus it can be seen that free Methane is always ‘connected’ to Clathrates, if there are Clathrates present.

      • Criminogenic, did you see the lost city of Atlantis, too?

      • Ah Snark so you dispute the existance of Caverns in Limestone, good luck with that.

      • Crim, if I understand you correctly, your evidence for “Caverns” is that there *must be* voids in the sediment?

      • criminogenic,
        if you want to be taken seriously by scientists, then get serious about learning the science of the systems you are discussing. If all you are interested in is spinning scary stories, then expect to be treated dismissively by serious scientists.

        For a threat to be credible, the theory that predicts it must reflect the behavior, characteristics and history of the system and there must be some evidence that it either has happened before or that the system is experiencing unprecedented conditions.

      • Kevin, there must be voids present in the sediment to house the free Methane that Shakhova and others estimate to be around 50Gt, they don’t have to be in the form of Caverns, it can be porous material.
        Free gas can only exist in a void otherwise it is in solution and not called a Free gas.

      • Snark, I take it you are unfamiliar with the ‘Methane burp’ event of which there is evidence to have occured previously.
        The current Atmospheric changes on a Geological time scale have a similar signature to a large Meteorite strike or Volcanic event thus qualifying the current situation as unusual and likely to produce rapid change within the system.

      • @ criminogenic

        Respectfully, I suggest you research methane clathrates a bit more. For starters, John Mason has a couple of excellent posts on Arctic methane clathrates (here and an interview with Shakhova here). Free gas is rare. Clathrate can spontaneously disassociate into gas with warming and/or pressure reductions (cold+pressures work to keep it in stable lattice form as clathrate).

        You probably should review Shakhova’s work. In addition to the Kraken piece I mentioned earlier, read the source pieces linked therein, such as the Davy and Carozza papers.

        If you object to the tone of others then less speculating and more referral to the primary literature would be a step in the right direction.

        Or grow a thicker skin.

      • Daniel, Thankyou for the AAAS link. I have been following Shakhova’s work for around 8 years and find her postion to be most nuanced thus am content with her projection of 50Gt free Methane in the region.

        As for the usual hurley burley of debate, I give as get then move on bearing no grudge as you will note my latest reply to Snark and Kevin are of a purely technical nature.

      • As Clathrates dissociate under pressure reduction the only factor stopping large scale dissociation is the Geological structure of resevoirs. Clathrate resevoirs would have to be in perfectly sealed locations seperated by solid rock that is of a non-permafrost nature, to the 50 GT of free Methane currently venting, which seems unlikely.

      • Criminogenic: “…as you will note my latest reply to Snark and Kevin are of a purely technical nature.”

        Wrong, but of a technical nature. Dude, did you even read what Daniel referenced? Try it again–for comprehension.

      • My Snark you surely are a fan of outlier positions, firstly no Caverns in Limestone and now no such thing as the proposed Methane burp, you are a braver man than me Gunga Din.

      • Criminogenic, I’m a fan of evidence–an entity with which your posts are utterly uncontaminated.

      • I don’t think you are a fan of evidence, there is evidence of a ‘Methane burp’ in the Geological record and you brazenly ignore it.

      • Criminogenic,
        There is evidence of a carbon spike–possibly consistent with a “methane burp”, but also possibly consistent with burning of coal fields by widespread volcanism.

        In other words, there is a carbon spike and there are hypotheses as to what caused it. That is different from evidence. Learn the difference.

      • Err Snark you gave a definitive “no” to the possibility of the Methane burp hypothesis, perhaps you should learn nuance.

        The Clathrates in the ESS are shallow thus it is entirely possible that the current plumes of Methane is due to their disassociation and not free gas deposit release, which would be definitive proof of the ‘Methane burp’ mechanism. Of course this is really bad news and a lot of people don’t like the idea but life is a bitch so what you gonna do, go Wattsian?

      • I find that as one’s understanding of the Lithospheric system clarifies the general trend is that a larger pile of shit about to fall is revealed, not smaller.

      • Evidence against Volcanic activity causing some previous spikes:

        “The isotopic carbon ratio of the sediments is a major factor in promoting this theory because the methane byproduct of many benthic bacteria contains the most isotopically light form of carbon. Other sources of gas include volcanic degassing, which would not produce the volume or light isotopic ratio that has been observed.”

      • At the risk (OK, certainty) of prolonging this already-interminable sub-thread, criminogenic might be better served in reading a more recent examination of the PETM, replete with links to the recent literature, than a layman summation more than a decade old:

        DeConto et al 2012: Thawing permafrost drove the PETM extreme heat event

      • Well one shouldn’t throw around accusations of mental illness then amusingly complain about the Internet getting filled up.

        It doesn’t matter if Clathrate release exclusively caused the PETM, the simple fact proven by Isotopic evidence proves that Clathrate Methane release on a large scale occured thus it is possible, that is my point. I don’t think anybody is disputing that the estimated 1.3 teraton in the Arctic region is not a significant event although I wonder with the hyperbolic dismissal I’ve encountered here by proposing it.

        Ironically you pointed out Clathrates disassociate when pressure drops and that it is not free sourced Methane venting at the moment, thus logically it is Clathrates disassociating causing the current venting. Please instead of patronising me and fobbing me off with links explain in your own words why this summation is incorrect, if you have them.

      • Criminogenic,
        Sweet baby Jebus, you are ignorant. I did not say the carbon came from volcanism, but rather potentially from large-scale burning of coalbeds by volcanic activity–coal is depleted in C-14 and C-13.

        As Daniel says, thawing permafrost is another possibility. Ferchrissake, crack a book.

        [Response: Maybe we should reserve hostility for those who really deserve it.]

      • Ah Snark so you now admit the possibility of Clathrate venting, lol, a change from the definititve ‘No’ of previous utterance. Keep telling me how I’m ignorant, I’ll be sure to pass it on to JH when next I remind him how my understanding of Isostatic rebound was proven to be of more nuance than his, he’ll love to hear it.

        Specific evidence of previous Clathrate venting:

        “Hinrichs has used fossil remnants of bacteria that flourish only under high methane concentrations to show that large quantities of the gas must have been released in the Santa Barbara Basin off California during an event some 44,000 years ago. This gas didn’t necessarily escape to the atmosphere, he says, but it did come from underwater ice.”

      • I suggest that everyone ignore the ill-mannered one. All we are doing is feeding into his desire for attention.

        Hence his unsupported assertions and name-dropping: hallmarks of the attention troll.

      • Ah Daniel for a second I thought you were referring to Snarks blasphemy.. lol. I take it you have no concise rebuttal to the proposition it is Clathrates disassociating, don’t feel bad to be bested by an Abstract painter, you join a esteemed group. : )

      • Daniel, I believe the patient is suffering from delusions of adequacy.

      • I believe the patient is suffering from delusions of adequacy.

        I have that malady from time to time. Then I have the temerity to write a blog post…

        Longest. Sub-thread. Ever.

      • Thanks for all the fish.

  22. Hi Tamino, Just wondering if you have seen these :-

    From here :-

    Looks a bit worrying to me.

    • Jo, the most recent ESRL flask measurements (those in the different color) are those not yet having gone through the final quality control and measurement correction processes. Think of them as “provisional”.

      • Also, I went to the ESRL website to reproduce the graphs — but they’re different now, and don’t show the extreme increases indicate in the graphs which were linked to.

  23. What’s this about?

    Study Finds Surprising Arctic Methane Emission Source,

    • @Geoff Beacon

      Although I have requested a copy of the research article from E. A. Kort, there has been nothing forthcoming. Maybe my email was filtered out.

      @Tamino @Everybody

      Does anybody have a copy of this and any related in-depth papers they could show me ? Please ?
      “Atmospheric observations of Arctic Ocean methane emissions up to 82° north”, published in Nature Geoscience (2012), doi:10.1038/ngeo1452

      I have had access to the academical intranet several times in my life, but I am currently not in possession of permission to download…any help would be very welcome. Not everything is ‘oogle-able (although a lot is !)

      If I am forced to, I shall join a physical library and physically go and physically read this article – but that is always a last resort.

      • @Geoff Bacon

        I have now received the paper from E. A. Kort and it makes very interesting reading.

        Now, if they could only train polar bears to carry the methane monitoring equipment, rather than having to fly regular sorties in planes…


  24. @Geoff Beacon : I have requested a copy of the paper from E. A. Kort to see if I can find out.

    I have also made this request today :-
    To: “Dr Pieter Tans, Group Chief”

    Dear Dr Tans,

    The view presented by Old ESRL for Barrow, Alaska (BRW) :-

    shows preliminary data for 2012 that appear to be much higher at close
    to 1950 ppb than for the New ESRL which shows data points only up to
    roughly 1925 ppb :-

    I’m wondering if you could tell me why there is a disparity in the
    preliminary data ? And when do you think all the data will be fully
    cleaned up ?

    Many thanks,

  25. I have heard word from NOAA. It appears I was not comparing like with like and the underlying data sets for Old ESRL and New ESRL charts are in fact the same. Also, the point was made that fossil fuel extraction factilities are close to the data collection site and that local air loading conditions need to be factored in to when measurements are planned to be taken.

  26. @joabbess

    Thanks. I’ve just noticed

    ‘+’ Symbols are thought to be not indicative of background conditions, and represent poorly mixed air masses influenced by local or regional anthropogenic sources or strong local biospheric sources or sinks.

    e.g. at

    Previously, I wasn’t sure whether these had been put down to measurement error.

    It’s a pity there arn’t more measuring stations.

    Has anybody compared these results with other CH4 data such as in AIRS? (

    Bigger budgets for the science?

    It worries me that Arctic methane feedbacks (and CO2 feedbacks ) are not yet in the climate models.

  27. > compared these results with other CH4 data such as in AIRS?

    Yes. There are several ways to find out.
    Google Scholar will help.
    Use the search box at the top of the page.
    Go to any of the several AIRS websites and read the FAQs and explanations.
    There is not a simple clear absolute comparison; the work is at the stage of calibrating the instruments against each other as conditions vary. Same for the GOSAT instrument, q.v.

    Note when you see the scary pictures: the elevation (“bar” is air pressure, 1 bar is ground level, conversion tables are ‘oogleable) for the AIRS images.

    It’s horseburger at this point, beaten to death and being tenderized on blogs.

  28. cr: The existance of subterranean resevoirs of Methane is not my gig, it’s just a fact whether Mark Twain likes it or not. Second fact is that free gas cannot exist in solid strata and once evacuated a empty void is left. Third fact is that under Gravity seawater flows down into that newly evacuated void via the path of Methane evacuation.

    BPL: 4th fact is that the methane in question is not free, but present as clathrates; i.e., individual molecules sequestered in ice. There are certainly subterranean reserves of methane, but not in the Siberian plateau or at the ocean floor. Under them, perhaps.

  29. Here’s the interview I did with Dr Shakhova, which is a bit less sensational than some of the comments in this thread!

    Interesting post, Tamino – thanks. Nothing obviously mega-scale going on so far, and as the field-seasons go by we’ll get a much better idea of what is going on up there.

  30. I am a new friend of Giovanni :-

    I made these PNG of AIRS data :-

    I think you’ll agree with me that December 2011 – January 2012 was unusually high. I don’t think these are provisional data – I don’t think they will be corrected/adjusted downwards.

    It seems that a “plateau” in atmospheric methane at 60N – 90N ended in the 2007 – 2008 period, when there were unusually warm conditions in the Northern Hemisphere effectively cancelling winter in many places – which probably led to higher bioproductivity and more methane.

    Also it seems possible that 2009 – 2010 may demonstrate depressing effects on bioproductivity from La Nina.

    But, I’m not an expert, so please feel free to deconstruct my remarks.

    • Jo, you may wish to read the Schaeffer et al 2011 paper, Amount and timing of permafrost carbon release in response to climate warming (available here).

      Of course, having read it you may regret doing so. Keep in mind the authors project the most optimal scenario (100% of degradational release is CO2). Life has a nasty habit of not being optimistic…

  31. David B. Benson

    This link is dedicated to a certain personage who posts on this thread:

  32. Hey, I know (only virtually…thank goodness!) someone like this:

    He had never seen the raw data.
    He had no clue as to how the experiment was done.
    He didn’t know any of the experimenters, at least not enough to slander their integrity.
    The experiments were performed by many groups of people over a period of 60 years.
    The first such experiment preceded the first theoretical calculation of the quantity.
    His own prediction was 10,000,000 standard deviations off of the most recent experimental and theoretical ones (although it’s doubtful he knew what a “standard deviation” was).
    His theory was not capable of describing the dynamics necessary to perform any experiment to measure the quantity.
    Apparently this quack was under the impression that all experimenters and theorists were part of a huge conspiracy, dating back decades (if not centuries), to unanimously support one theory.

    Thanks, DBB!