Subsea permafrost, methane and we\’re all gonna die!

So, a new paper out showing that the subsea permafrost in the Arctic is melting. This will/could lead to large emissions of methane and thus to increased climate change and thus to we\’re all gonna die.

A brief outline of the paper is here.

Now, me, I\’m perfectly willing to accept that hypothesis. Not that I\’ve the scientific education to prove it wrong anyway but…..

The thing is, I can see this becoming part of the anthropogenic climate change hysteria. And I don\’t think it really is.

For, you see, no one is saying that the Arctic Oceans, at 50 metres down, have been getting warmer. Certainly not getting warmer as a result of anything that we\’re doing with fossil fuels or cow burps.

What is being said is that these permafrosts have been there a long time and that they\’re now thinning.

Permafrost is also common within the vast continental shelves of the Arctic Ocean. This subsea permafrost formed during the last glacial period when global sea levels were more than 100 m lower than at present and the shelves were exposed to very harsh climate conditions. Subsea permafrost is slowly thawing at many locations.

This isn\’t part of \”we\’re killing Gaia\”. This is part of \”Gaia\’s getting warmer as a result of the end of the last ice age\”. Analagous with the SE of England tipping into the sea as a result of the loss of the glaciers in the North, rather than SE England sinking below the waves as a result of rising sea levels (although in that case there\’s a bit of both, about 50/50 if I\’ve remembered correctly).

That we\’re not causing it doesn\’t mean there\’s nothing we can do about it of course. We could argue that if Gaia\’s trying to kill us by throwing off her winter woolies then we have to redouble our efforts to stop killing ourselves.

But at that point we get all tangled up in this question of costs and benefits. If there\’s a huge extra (if it\’s not huge and not extra it doesn\’t matter) natural addition to climate changing gases then we\’ve got to reduce our emissions even more than originally thought. But reducing our emissions even more costs us a great deal more.

And costing a great deal more changes the balance of whether we should be going for mitigation or adaptation.

If those methane eruptions are really big it doesn\’t matter at all what we do about our own emissions: the climate\’s fucked anyway. So we should go hell for leather for being as rich as possible and damn our own emissions so that we\’ve a chance of surviving.

It could in fact be that far from such methane emissions meaning that we should curtail our own activities, we should simply ignore our own activities.

Do not expect to see this thought in a Guardian near you soon.

6 thoughts on “Subsea permafrost, methane and we\’re all gonna die!”

  1. Remember methane level increases are not accelerating rapidly; if anything they rose much more slowly in the 2000s than they did in the 1980s; and they are only now reaching levels they were at eleven thousand years ago. According to two ice cores, methane concentrations were higher than today at 11,000 BP, then declined for six thousand years then started rising again four thousand years ago as the climate cooled (not warmed): see graph in this paper: http://www.poyi.org/67/32/index.php.

  2. Obviously methane can vary, and not NECESSARILY in sync with global temperature (which during the holocene seems to have been relatively stable). But there is this from one of the articles:

    “Shakhova notes that the Earth’s geological record indicates that atmospheric methane concentrations have varied between about .3 to .4 parts per million during cold periods to .6 to .7 parts per million during warm periods. Current average methane concentrations in the Arctic average about 1.85 parts per million, the highest in 400,000 years…”

    And a lot of the extra energy from the amplified greenhouse effect seems to have gone into the oceans, including in the arctic (despite some sea ice fluctuation related to winds and moisture influx).

    That said, the new study doesn’t seem to establish how much of the Siberian subsea out-gassing is a feedback, and what it’s future potential is. The NSF article on it just suggests that the release of a fraction of the estimated quantity could accelerate the warming process. More study is needed in this area, as clarified here:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/03/arctic-methane-on-the-move/

  3. Pingback: Yes Tim, they are saying exactly that « Rearranging the Deckchairs

  4. “For, you see, no one is saying that the Arctic Oceans, at 50 metres down, have been getting warmer. Certainly not getting warmer as a result of anything that we’re doing with fossil fuels or cow burps.”

    Yes they are

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