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Sadly, this isn't about Breaking Bubblesand my inability to get a good (let alone great) score while procrastinating. While that might merit counting as some form of distressing situation (in perhaps the saddest form of self absorption), the Breaking is about distressing news from Russian scientists.

In the backdrop of our lives, the atmospheric carbon dioxide count keeps mounting higher. While a level of 350 ppm might represent safety for human civilization, we are closing on 400 with little hope of keeping below 450 ppm (and likely to keep moving beyon that). We are already seeing climate catastrophe with mounting climate chaos (from droughts in Texas to floods in Durban around climate talks to ...) causing damage and, yes, killing people.

One of the great concerns has been a basic question: at what point does the situation move beyond humanity's ability to control.  When do we reach the point where 'positive feedbacks' (no, positive is not a good thing) create out-of-control runaway conditions that will push catastrophic climate chaos into a death spiral for species after species ... potentially even humanity.

One of the greatest concerns:  methane burps (and Arctic methane release -- including permafrost melting). That methane hydrates, methane capture at low temperatures and under pressure in the ocean, will start to release in massive amounts that will lead to runaway conditions.  Methane, as a reminder, is roughly 25 times as serious a greenhouse gas per molecule than carbon dioxide.

The news ... Russian scientists have reported massive size methane bubbling in areas of Arctic ice retreat, far before anything ever recorded before.

"Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing," Dr Semiletov said. "I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them."

More than 100 plumes in the range of 1000 metres in diameter "over a relatively small area ..."

In 2010, Semiletov's team released a study that such methane emissions were in the range of eight million tons / year.  Correlating this to CO2, one could put this at about the equivalent of 185 million tons / year of CO2 which would mean roughly the equivalent of Argentina's emissions.  This latest report suggests that this is a significant underestimate.

And, well, there is a lot more there ...

As Joe Romm discussed last year

Scientists learned last year that the permafrost permamelt contains a staggering “1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere,” much of which would be released as methane.  Methane is  is 25 times as potent a heat-trapping gas as CO2 over a 100 year time horizon, but 72 times as potent over 20 years!

“Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.”  The NSF is normally a very staid organization.  If they are worried, everybody should be.

Here is a discussion of methane from just last year when the news was a bit cheerier (or, well, not quite as disastrous.

Another angle re the Arctic and climate change  ... There are, of course, three major Arctic nations: Russian, the United States, and Canada. The Russians, writ large, used to consider global warming as a good thing (think of a warmer Siberia ... much nicer in winter) until the massive fires last year.  The United States, with the election of Barack Obama, looked like it was going to do a major turnaround but the Tea Partyites and Koch-topus domination has fostered a truly no-nothing Congress and the Andrew Bpraised "George W Obama"e world praised George W Obama for continuing Bush Administration negotiating policy in climate talks. And, well, Canada just walked away from the Kyoto Accords with a government more enraptured with tar sands oil production than their citizens' future.  And, their Arctic lands melt, their permafrost is no longer permanently frosted, and their ice-free Arctic waters bubble ...

With this news in mind, time to turn to a global warming threatened bottle of beer.


1.  See FOOW's 2009 Arctic Ocean Methane Plumes - Huge Carbon Traps Melting+

2.  To point to a nuance above that was not as clear to others as to myself.  I didn't write "game over" above but highlight  the troubling question being about at what point would this spiral out of humanity's control and that massive methane burps was one of the scenario paths pointing to that.  Am I asserting 'game over': no, if for no other reasons that I don't know how to define 'game over' and that don't know how to judge whether that tipping point has passed even as news like this fosters real reasons for concern.

3.  As I have noted in comments and elsewhere, I refuse to accept this (or any other news) as "game over' simply because, if for no other reason, I have children. We are already experiencing catastrophic impacts from climate change.  That boat sailed long ago. And, it will get worse -- no matter what.  However, I refuse to lose hope that my (and our ...) actions and efforts have the potential to reduce the extent of that damage and help foster paths toward a sustainable, viable, and even desirable human civilization ... I continue to Give thanks for hopeful pessimists.

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