The methane bomb: is it happening right under our noses?
Regular listeners to this program will recall that I have passed on irregular warnings from global climate scientists about the 'clathrate burst theory' or the 'methane bomb.' The question is whether global warming is creating a situation in which, at a certain temperature threshold, billions of tons of methane, which had been locked in a stable state in permafrost and under the seas, will suddenly come tumbling out into the atmosphere, thereby warming the globe several degrees and raising planetary havoc.
I suppose "planetary havoc" is a rather mild choice of words when I'm talking about mass extinction, and my own demise along with yours. Forget the glaciers, like that NorthWest forest? It'll burn away in a year. That sort of change is what I'm on about here-- oh yeah, and then there's the displacement of oxygen to the point that anyone who couldn't breathe at sixteen thousand feet will have to --ah--stop that breathing business.
(thanks to Tyger for that reference)
Arctic warming triggering methane release, study reveals (excerpt)
Rising temperatures in the Arctic are triggering the release of methane from the seabed, according to new research by German and British scientists published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
21.08.2009. During a research cruise in autumn 2008, the team discovered over 250 plumes of methane gas bubbling up from the seabed at depths of less than 400 metres off the coast of the Norwegian island Spitsbergen in the Arctic Ocean. The extent of the plumes came as a surprise to the researchers.
'Our survey was designed to work out how much methane might be released by future ocean warming; we did not expect to discover such strong evidence that this process has already started,' commented Professor Tim Minshull of the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton in the UK.
The methane is released from methane hydrates found in marine sediments on the sea floor. Methane hydrate is an ice-like substance made up of water and methane that is stable at high pressures and low temperatures. Researchers have predicted for some time that as ocean temperatures rise, methane will be released as methane hydrates become unstable at ever greater depths.
According to the researchers, 30 years ago methane hydrate was stable at depths of 360 metres. Today, it is only stable at depths of 400 metres.
On board the research ship RRS James Clark Ross, the team used sonar to detect plumes of bubbles, then deployed a water-bottle sampling system to pick up bubble samples from different depths.
In total they found over 250 plumes of methane at depths shallower than 400 metres; some plumes were even discovered in water shallower than 200 metres. The strength of the plumes varied widely; some of the plumes were so powerful that they came to within 50 metres of the water's surface before the gases dissolved into the water.
The researchers believe that some plumes may be strong enough to release methane directly into the atmosphere on occasion. As well as contributing to climate change, dissolved methane makes the ocean more acidic and reduces the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water, making it a serious threat to much marine life.
Over the past 30 years, the temperature of the stretch of ocean covered by this study rose by 1°C, moving the zone under which hydrates remain stable from a depth of around 360 metres to 396 metres.
'If this process becomes widespread along Arctic continental margins, tens of megatonnes of methane per year - equivalent to 5% to 10% of the total amount released globally by natural sources - could be released into the ocean,' said Graham Westbrook of the University of Birmingham in the UK.
The researchers are now carrying out further investigations of the newly discovered plumes. 'Further exploration of hydrate and monitoring of methane release are needed to quantify the likely magnitude of future emissions,' the scientists conclude.
The study is a contribution to the International Polar Year (IPY), which drew to a close earlier this year.
Warming waters release methane plumes into Arctic sea (excerpt)
24 August 2009, by Tom Marshall
Scientists have found more than 250 plumes of methane gas rising from the seabed near Svalbard in the Arctic Circle.
A paper in Geophysical Research Letters details the findings, made on an expedition in Autumn 2008 in the British research ship RRS James Clark Ross.
The team of scientists from Birmingham University, the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton and Royal Holloway University think the gas is being released from methane hydrate beneath the seabed, which is melting because of warming waters above.
Similar gas plumes have been found elsewhere in places like the Black Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, but this is the first time scientists have found them in where the conditions for their occurrence can be clearly attributed to climate warming.
'Various people have predicted this for several years, and methane from hydrate beneath the sea bed has been strongly appealed to by scientists looking to explain past climate shifts,' says Professor Graham Westbrook, a geophysicist at Birmingham University. 'But this is first time anyone's discovered a situation where it actually seems to be happening now as a result of rising water temperatures,' he adds.
The gas plumes rise from the seabed between 150m and 400m deep, and can reach 50m from the surface before petering out. The team found them with a sonar system designed to track shoals of fish, and subsequently took water samples and measurements of temperature and salinity at different depths.
Methane hydrate is a solid material composed of water and methane. It forms at high pressures and low temperatures. 'Hydrate looks just like ice, but when you get it to the surface it begins to fizz - once you remove it from the stability zone it immediately starts breaking down to methane gas and water,' says Westbrook. 'You can even set light to it - you end up with what looks like a piece of ice in your hand, with flames coming from it.'
Normally hydrate exists only in what scientists call the gas hydrate stability zone, or GHSZ. This zone begins at the seabed and stretches down several hundred metres until the Earth's heat becomes too great for hydrate to form.
The West Spitsbergen current, which flows northward through the area, has warmed by 1°C over the last 30 years. Westbrook believes this has caused the top of the GHSZ to move deeper - it used to start around 360m beneath the seabed, and now it starts around 400m. Hydrate that was once in its upper reaches is now outside the GHSZ and hence has broken down, releasing methane.
If this happened across the Arctic, large amounts of methane could be released - Westbrook estimates that tens of teragrammes could escape every year.
If this methane reached the atmosphere, it could potentially contribute to climate change, leading to a vicious circle of more methane leading to higher temperatures, in turn melting more methane hydrates.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere more than 20 times more effectively than carbon dioxide. Indeed, some scientists have suggested increased release of methane from the seafloor could have been partly responsible for rapid changes in the ancient climate.
But Westbrook remains cautious about the methane's potential impact on the climate. Few of the gas bubbles even reach the surface, and in those that do much of the original methane has dissolved into the surrounding waters on the way up, to be replaced by nitrogen.
Under corporate rule, you and I are supposed to pretend that this is the natural order of things and that nothing can be done. Certainly, any sudden, massive effort will require a new tax structure, thereby undermining the hegemony of the super-rich--our rulers, like the four heirs of the Walmart fortune who each year receive over $70 billion stolen from the dreams, vitality, and wages of millions of low-wage workers. The four heirs would have to be taxed down to, say, a billion each, and their armies of lawyers, and for that matter their armies of armies, won't stand for that. We need a revolution to save this planet, so I guess it's a matter of whether you'd prefer to die fighting, or die on your knees fighting for breath.
Not so long ago there was a decision to invade Afghanistan. Others had done it before and failed miserably, but in this case the technology was vastly superior to anything the Afghans could lay their hands on. The goal was officially to restore the legitimate government, which had been taken over by whackos and thieves. But as it turned out the original invasion force wasn't sufficient to pacify the country, so additional troops had to be sent in.
The Western forces fought their way through the Bolan Pass, swept through Kandahar and conquered Kabul. Soon afterwards Atkinson was released from duty, thereby escaping the catastrophe which awaited his comrades. During the subsequent rebellion the British political agent was beheaded and an estimated 16,000 Western soldiers, and their dependents, every last one of them that is, were slaughtered in a week by the Afghans defense forces. The only Briton known to have escaped was Dr. William Brydon, though a few others were captured.
That was in the Eighteen-Forties. Has anything changed?
Officials: US to Add 14,000 Combat Troops in Afghanistan
Posted By Jason Ditz
In what seems to be just the latest move in the ongoing US escalation in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials have indicated that they intend to swap out 14,000 support troops in favor of another 14,000 combat troops, which they called “trigger pullers.”
The move comes just days after it was reported that General Stanley McChrystal is planning to ask for another 20,000 combat troops, but does not appear to be a consequence of that, as officials say McChrystal may still request additional combat forces on top of this sometime soon.
The 14,000 non-combat troops which are being “rotated out” for this plan also does not really mean the number of forces on the ground will remain static, as the official said most of them would likely be replaced by additional private contractors.
NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen says that regardless of how poorly August’s elections are perceived, the alliance remains committed to continuing and escalating the war as well. He did however say he hoped the election, despite widespread fraud and intimidation, would be considered “credible.”
(Considered credible by, say, the US corporate talking heads and the sheep they lead?)