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Pearlescent blue clouds mysteriously appeared in far northern latitudes after the eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia. Perhaps these noctilucent clouds existed before the massive eruption threw enormous quantities of sulfurous vapors into the stratosphere. Perhaps the bright sunsets that attracted millions of eyes resulted in the wispy ultra high clouds finally being noticed. Perhaps. But why then are these strange clouds spreading south? Why are clouds once seen only in places far to the north such as Norway and Finland now being seen as far south as Colorado?

On June 13, 2012, when this image was taken from the space station as it passed over the Tibetan Plateau, polar mesospheric clouds were also visible to aircraft flying over Canada. In addition to the still image above, the station crew took a time-lapse image sequence of polar mesospheric clouds several days earlier on June 5, while passing over western Asia. It is first such sequence of images of the phenomena taken from orbit.

Polar mesospheric clouds form between 47 to 53 miles (76 to 85 kilometers) above Earth’s surface when there is sufficient water vapor at these high altitudes to freeze into ice crystals. The clouds are illuminated by the sun when it is just below the visible horizon, lending them their night-shining properties. In addition to the polar mesospheric clouds trending across the center of the image, lower layers of the atmosphere are also illuminated. The lowest layer of the atmosphere visible in this image--the stratosphere--is indicated by dim orange and red tones near the horizon.

Electric blue clouds, literally at the edge of space, have been recently seen glowing in the dark from Oregon to Colorado to Virginia, further south than they have ever been seen.  Until the last several decades they were always seen north of 50 N Latitude. No one is sure why the clouds are moving south but global warming is a suspected cause.

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Image created by NASA

Noctilucent clouds form at exceedingly cold temperatures around negative 125 Celsius, 50 to 100km (30 to 60 miles) above the earth's surface, in the mesosphere. The atmosphere is one hundred million times drier than the Sahara desert, but clouds form because the temperature is so low. They are seen in midsummer when the moisture from the stratosphere (the layer below the mesosphere) is known to upwell into the mesosphere. One other likely source of water is upwelling methane gas. Methane is broken down by UV and high energy radiation to generate hydrogen gas which reacts with oxygen to form water. Material from incoming meteors may also add both tiny particles needed to seed the clouds and ice particles which vaporize. Powerful volcanic eruptions may also add particles that nucleate ice.

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Noctilucent clouds over Portland by VictorVonSalsa Portland, Oregon 15July09

Less venting of natural gas from oil wells led to slowing of the growth rate of atmospheric methane from 1985 to 2007. The perfect match of methane levels to ethane levels during that period is the clue that ties the decline to oil and gas production activities. Natural processes do not release methane and ethane in tandem as oil and gas production does. In 2007 Arctic sea ice suffered a catastrophic decline and increases in Arctic methane levels were observed.

Graph showing decline in growth of methane and ethane were in synch through 2007 - tied to less flaring and release of natural gas. After 2007, when Arctic sea ice collapsed, methane increases while ethane declines.
Sea ice extent and area declined catastrophically in 2007. Since that sudden decline increasing levels of methane have been observed in the atmosphere above the Arctic ocean. Permafrost has also melted in increasing quantities with the warming of the Arctic and the melting of the sea ice. The loss of ice greatly darkens the Arctic and amplifies the warming. There are many agricultural sources of methane but none of them suddenly changed in 2007. The sudden change in methane/ethane in 2007 correlates directly with the loss of sea ice.
Natural processes work to remove methane in the tropics and warm temperate areas. Those processes are not active in the polar regions. Thus methane in the rises up in the lower atmosphere because it is very light and becomes more concentrated as it rises up in the Arctic than in the tropics. This figure shows the growth of methane in the lower atmosphere from 2008 to 2011. Some of this methane rises to the middle and upper layers of the atmosphere.
Extremely low temperatures at the top of the lower atmosphere trap water vapor that rises up in the form of icy cirrus clouds, so the stratosphere is extremely dry. Methane, however, passes through the cold trap into the stratosphere. When it reaches the upper atmosphere, it is oxidized by energetic particles and oxygen to CO2 plus water. Meteors burning up in the upper atmosphere creates a very thin smoke. The water may then freeze onto fine particulates formed from meteor smoke to create noctilucent clouds if the conditions are right.

Professor James Russell has proposed that increasing amounts of methane escaping to the upper atmosphere are causing noctilucent clouds to brighten and spread further south

The inner solar system is littered with meteoroids of all shapes and sizes—from asteroid-sized chunks of rock to microscopic specks of dust. Every day Earth scoops up tons of the material, mostly the small stuff. When meteoroids hit our atmosphere and burn up, they leave behind a haze of tiny particles suspended 70 km to 100 km above Earth's surface.

Inside the meteor smoke zone, at a height of 83 km, so-called noctilucent clouds can occur, describes a NASA article. Meteor dust is the nucleating agent around which such clouds form. Specks of meteor smoke act as gathering points where water molecules can assemble themselves and grow into ice crystals to sizes ranging from 20 to 70 nanometers.

While noctilucent clouds appear most often at Arctic latitudes, they have been sighted in recent years as far south as Colorado, Utah and Nebraska. Question is: Why are the clouds brightening and spreading?

Prof. James Russell of Hampton University believes that more in methane in the atmosphere is causing this. Russell explains: "When methane makes its way into the upper atmosphere, it is oxidized by a complex series of reactions to form water vapor. This extra water vapor is then available to grow ice crystals for noctilucent clouds."

In conclusion, this greater occurrence of octilucent clouds is an indication that more methane is escaping into the upper atmosphere.

Originally posted to Climate Change SOS on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 06:10 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech, Astro Kos, and Climate Hawks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Reelect the President & Elect a Dem Congress (185+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock, Paul Ferguson, Polly Syllabic, bythesea, Susipsych, jamess, Dallasdoc, Jim R, sockpuppet, erratic, palantir, enhydra lutris, FrugalGranny, jayden, carpunder, AdirondackForeverWild, One Pissed Off Liberal, HoundDog, cotterperson, AuntieRa, Lorinda Pike, 3goldens, Alumbrados, eeff, defluxion10, KateCrashes, oortdust, Marihilda, Joy of Fishes, Copp, Louisiana 1976, petulans, WarrenS, pat208, Ashaman, zerelda, A Siegel, shortgirl, maybeeso in michigan, just another vet, Pluto, joanneleon, Wheever, Preston S, billlaurelMD, a gilas girl, notrouble, Lizabet, ranger995, kevinpdx, mrkvica, Bob Love, Trotskyrepublican, MadMs, Lujane, Temmoku, antirove, high uintas, Andrew F Cockburn, Amor Y Risa, copymark, kbman, grassofleaves, RWood, homo neurotic, tbirchard, JekyllnHyde, science nerd, WiseFerret, Dood Abides, terabytes, jfromga, PHScott, Shockwave, BalanceSeeker, Hopeful Skeptic, joe pittsburgh, BusyinCA, asterkitty, tonyahky, too many people, subtropolis, SteveLCo, Singing Lizard, Meteor Blades, ChemBob, bnasley, cacamp, tapestry, JayDean, KenBee, NoMoreLies, hubcap, rioduran, Pescadero Bill, bear83, walkshills, tofumagoo, MikeBoyScout, Miss Jones, greycat, blueoasis, bubbanomics, jadt65, Born in NOLA, GreyHawk, atana, LillithMc, TiaRachel, poliwrangler, Susan from 29, cwsmoke, Larsstephens, ozsea1, pgm 01, RunawayRose, SolarMom, pimutant, wu ming, Glen The Plumber, Zinman, ivote2004, ZhenRen, PeterHug, Assaf, kurt, Debs2, Jujuree, mikeconwell, drawingporno, eyesoars, oldliberal, Regina in a Sears Kit House, alefnot, radical simplicity, Calamity Jean, Nulwee, northsylvania, splashy, Angie in WA State, outragedinSF, jnhobbs, home solar, uciguy30, Pat K California, bsmechanic, asym, Burned, kaliope, Habitat Vic, spacejam, Wary, maryabein, JanL, beltane, marleycat, dewtx, RumsfeldResign, Only Needs a Beat, flowerfarmer, scarvegas, boatwright, kamarvt, semiot, John Barleycorn, deepsouthdoug, California06, figbash, LSmith, orlbucfan, SeaTurtle, Sun Tzu, yet another liberal, Thestral, FinchJ, Joieau, glitterscale, entrelac, millwood, Milly Watt, Lily O Lady, jrooth, paradise50, Port City Moon, LilithGardener

    Make no mistake, this is about more than strange clouds It is a global emergency. Urgent action on climate is needed now.

    Republicans are dangerous and irresponsible. We must elect people who take climate change seriously.

    look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

    by FishOutofWater on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 06:09:26 PM PDT

  •  This an excellent article (17+ / 0-)

    Thanks for putting in the time.  

    One question: you point out that lower levels of methane venting from natural gas from oil wells led to reduced methane levels from 1985 to 2007.  Did that trend reverse in 2007 (i.e., an increase in NG venting)?

    If so, how much of the methane increase is due to venting, and how much is due to permafrost melting?  The venting could, in theory, be regulated.  If the permafrost is leaking massive amounts of methane we are in deep trouble.

    No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little. - Edmund Burke

    by AdirondackForeverWild on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 06:39:00 PM PDT

  •  Earth reverting to the Eocene (19+ / 0-)

    Fifty million years ago, the poles had a swampy tropical climate with little, if any, freezing weather.  One of the hypotheses is that high altitude clouds in the stratosphere held in enough heat during the time that the sun was below the horizon, that not much cooling could happen, certainly not enough to form ice caps.

    This little global warming experiment that mankind is performing could prove whether this hypothesis has any merit.  

    I wonder when Baffin island will be ready to plant okra and collards....

    •  It sucks. We just had another week of 100+ temps (5+ / 0-)

      In Oklahoma. Several of those days were at 104.  I had just put some more flowers in my pollinator gardens thinking that the heatwave had broken.

      It looks like I wasted my time and money. No significant rain either. It's supposed to cool down this weekend. Good gods I hope so.

    •  Watching the big fireworks show in Helsinki... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and me, coming from the sub tropics, had to say how cold it had gotten so quickly. Yesterday the high was 14C (57F) and the night temp dropped to about 10. Today, it probably won't even reach 14.

      One of my friends reminded me (they had told me in winter as well), that without the clouds, there isn't anything to hold the heat in.

      The climate here is going to be crazy as hell in the coming decades. How the plants will cope with wildly fluctuating temperatures is beyond me, but we have to try.

      A Victory Garden documents my family's experience transitioning from suburban lawn to edible food forest based on permaculture principles. A new blog following my life as an immigrant in Finland will be up soon.

      by FinchJ on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 01:58:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We are going to get... (15+ / 0-) amazing light show before we all blink out of existence.

    Holy freaking shit, FOOW.  This is some crazy stuff.

    Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

    by WarrenS on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 07:00:28 PM PDT

    •  I've seen this in Oregon. It looked surreal (5+ / 0-)

      I was driving north between Harrisburg and Albany and the whole sky to the north and east had the appearance of computer art - pastel colors in solid blocks, blues and pinks mostly. It was very striking and was more than a momentary phenomenon, lasting 15 minutes or more as I drove. It's sad to read that the source of this beauty is so potentially deadly to us as a species.

      Free: The Authoritarians - all about those who follow strong leaders.

      by kbman on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 08:23:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have seen that in Oklahoma too. It was a couple (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kbman, WarrenS, mightymouse

        of years ago. I am going to search my photo archive because I took pictures. The clouds looked like something depicted in an acid trip. They were "electric" blues and pinks, and peaches. It was bizzare, they looked like they were throbbing, just enough to make my eyes feel funny. I think it was mostly because the pastels were at the same value as the blue sky background though.

        I pulled off the road so that I and the kids could watch it. It never occurred to me that it could be noctilucent clouds, because I had no idea it could happen this far south.

      •  Well (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kbman, entrelac

        it seems a search of the photo archives I have stored might produce those same clouds here in the tropics. I watched part of that NASA clip and I'm sure I've photographed them here and I'm in the Caribbean.

        If peace is to prevail we all have to become foes of violence.

        by spacejam on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 03:36:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Sigh ... (20+ / 0-)

    While the DNC is electrifying, there are certain -- quite serious -- gaps.  While the platform discussed Climate Change, the silence about Climate Disruption in the speeches is near deafening.  The President, based on what I've seen, will talk glowingly of natural gas production but won't speak to Climate Change.

    And, well, seeing a sky like this is one of those thin silver linings that don't make up for the darkening clouds of climate disruption.

    Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

    by A Siegel on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 07:06:12 PM PDT

    •  Yes, the idea that we will use natural gas (8+ / 0-)

      and somehow open the Arctic for oil production without putting the ecosystem at risk is absurd.

      I have no doubt that Obama will be better than Romney on climate change. But I also don't hold out too much hope that he, or the party, will come clean to the American people that consumer culture is destroying this planet.

      What we will hear is how human ingenuity will solve this crisis, even though we don't need ingenuity as much as we need humility. Ironically people believe that having faith in our ability to create is going to save us, when climate change is-largely- a consequence of our pursuit of the stuff we've already created.

      Craig Mackintosh, the editor of the Permaculture Research Institute (, responded to a question about reductionist science with a very well thought out comment, which you can find here. The original article was a tongue-in-cheek editorial about how perhaps, we should focus on genetically modifying our own behavior instead of tweaking everything else on the planet. It would be cost effective and solve the root of the problem.

      He quoted a very powerful passage from Wendell Berry's Agricultural Crisis, a Crisis of Culture in which Berry describes our society as one that relies upon specialists to a detrimental degree. Part of it, which I quote here, is particularly elucidating:

      The first, and best known, hazard of the specialist system is that it produces specialists – people who are elaborately and expensively trained to do one thing. We get into absurdity very quickly here. There are, for intance, educators who have nothing to teach, communicators who have nothing to say, medical doctors skilled at expensive cures for diseases that they have no skill, and no interest, in preventing. More common, and more damaging, are the inventors, manufacturers, and salesmen of devices who have no concern for the possible effects of those devices. Specialization is thus seen to be a way of institutionalizing, justifying, and paying highly for a calamitous disintegration and scattering-out of the various functions of character: workmanship, care, conscience, responsibility.
      -emphasis added

      Of course, Mr. Berry isn't saying we shouldn't specialize at all. But the point here is that we've created a society in which we outsource responsiblity to someone else. And, unfortunately, we will be captivated by those who would tell us: "Leave it to us, we will fix everything, go about your lives. And don't forget to buy something today."

      Because that, to me, is the climate change policy of the American political class. Don't worry, we'll switch over to green energy. You just support this through buying a different product. Nothing else is required of you. Perpetuating the consumer culture is a matter of survival for the 1%... so while many of these products are wonderful, they falsely create the impression our world with its consumer "culture" can continue but with a different brand name.

      By the time most folks realize that, in fact, our culture of destruction is the root cause of anthropogenic climate change, it may be too late. We need a political party that understands how dire the situation is.

      Another relevant quotation from Berry is this one, in which he accurately describes the life of an average American in our consumer culture and "service" economy:

      The fact is, however, that this is probably the most unhappy average citizen in the history of the world. He has not the power to provide himself with anything but money, and his money is inflating like a balloon and drifting away, subject to historical circumstances and the power of other people. From morning to night he does not touch anything that he has produced himself, in which he can take pride. For all his leisure and recreation, he feels bad, he looks bad, he is overweight, his health is poor. His air, water, and food are all known to contain poisons. There is a fair chance that he will die of suffocation. He suspects that his love life is not as fulfilling as other people’s. He wishes that he had been born sooner, or later. He does not know why his children are the way they are. He does not not understand what they say. He does not care much and does not know why he does not care. He does not know what his wife wants or what he wants. Certain advertisements and pictures in magazines make him suspect that he is basically unattractive. He feels that all his possessions are under threat of pillage. He does not know what he would do if he lost his job, if the economy failed, if the utility companies failed, if the police went on strike, if the truckers went on strike, if his wife left him, if his children ran away, if he should be found to be incurably ill. And for these anxieties, of course, he consults certified experts, who in turn consult certified experts about their anxieties
      -emphasis added

      So, what is the point of rebuilding an economy in which the vast majority of our lives are spent in the pursuit of money, when our pursuit of money is exactly that which is contributing to the destruction of our ecosystem?

      Where is the political party with the gumption to say this to the American people?

      A Victory Garden documents my family's experience transitioning from suburban lawn to edible food forest based on permaculture principles. A new blog following my life as an immigrant in Finland will be up soon.

      by FinchJ on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 02:28:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Between these and the Northern Lights caused (3+ / 0-)

    by increased solar activity, we are getting some beautiful sunsets lately.  

    He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason. - Cicero

    by SpamNunn on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 07:49:28 PM PDT

  •  terrific breakdown (4+ / 0-)

    have to admit -- and i like to think that i'm generally conversant on a range of environmental matters -- this is wholly new to me.

    solid work. highly unsettling -- methane, as relating to atmospheric inputs = not a toy.

    tipped / rec'd

    keep your eyes on the sky. put a dollar in the kitty. don't the moon look pretty. --becker&fagen

    by homo neurotic on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 08:14:58 PM PDT

  •  We are toast, literally (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    If the methane comes from the permafrost in Siberia or the Arctic ocean we may have reached the point of no return, right?

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 08:29:25 PM PDT

  •  Cosmic farts (0+ / 0-)

    I knows em when I see em


    The dirty little secret of American politics: There is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs. ~ C.Hedges

    by cosmic debris on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 09:08:15 PM PDT

  •  Badly sourced diary. Sensationalism. (0+ / 0-)

    You link to 1)your own previous diary 2) a profile of the scientist, not his proposal or article and 3) a 9 year old interview on the general topic. Such sensational charges require much better back-up than this.

    "We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard, and too damned cheap." Kurt Vonnegut

    by tomasyn on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 09:44:37 PM PDT

    •  Strange comment (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FishOutofWater, Agathena

      as it does not actually address the observed phenomenon or claims in the post. In fact there are links to current articles (here, eg., which derives from here)

      If I have issues it's in details not too important to the big picture: ethane is irrelevant -- its lifetime is too short and mixing ratios too low; you don't get fractionation by mass until you're above the turbopause; etc. But none of that is relevant to the phenomenon of NLCs being more and more common at lower latitudes: almost certainly that arises from an increase in methane emissions -- which, BTW, has a feedback term leading to an increase in its lifetime.

      •  The NASA article that is the ultimate source (0+ / 0-)

        for this diary says only that Russell "believes" that increasing methane causes more NLC's. It cites no actual research indicating that this is true (apparently there isn't any yet), and even the phenomenon of NLCs becoming more frequent at lower latitudes is only mentioned in passing, not supported by any evidence. It may all be true, but it isn't close to being proven by this diary or any of its source material.

        "We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard, and too damned cheap." Kurt Vonnegut

        by tomasyn on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 04:40:50 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Nit pickin' (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Agathena, orlbucfan

          Unexplained phenomena should lead to open minded discussion not the kind of snarky tone in the above comment.

          I note that the source article in the science journal Nature was quickly provided.

          Labor was the first price paid for all things. It was not by money, but by labour, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased. - Adam Smith

          by boatwright on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 06:21:04 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yes, if I could quickly find it why did the (0+ / 0-)

            diarist leave it out? That's all I'm saying...I wish there were higher standards of evidence here. And if the phenomenon is unexplained, wors like "may" or "might" should be used.

            "We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard, and too damned cheap." Kurt Vonnegut

            by tomasyn on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 06:36:23 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  The diarist has a solid reputation for providing (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              factual diaries on this blog for years and that counts for a lot.

              ❧To thine ownself be true

              by Agathena on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 06:53:42 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Yes, I've read many of them too, and learned (0+ / 0-)

                about things I might not have heard of otherwise. I appreciate Fishoutof Water's work. But generally, I've been disappointed with the level of accuracy and evidence in the diaries that hit the rec list. I want DKos to be a more reliable source of information generally, not a place where I have to be skeptical and check all the sources and sources of sources, and do the googling myslef. Maybe that's unrealistic.

                "We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard, and too damned cheap." Kurt Vonnegut

                by tomasyn on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 07:10:57 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

      •  A quick google search reveals the missing (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        boatwright, Lily O Lady

        "We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard, and too damned cheap." Kurt Vonnegut

        by tomasyn on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 04:52:08 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree with your points above. (0+ / 0-)

          This Nature paper is from 1989 when methane was growing at a much faster rate.  This field of science (stratospheric and mesospheric clouds) has also advanced in the past decade.  You can find many papers on the mechanisms that create noctilucent clouds -- and yes, methane is important.

          Interestingly, since about 1990 the methane growth rate has slowed.  Here is a time series from Barrow, Alaska where many scientists are anxiously watching for permafrost sources of methane.

          You can find a bunch of methane timeseries at the NOAA/ESRL website.

    •  Since when can someone not use earlier writing? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Agathena, orlbucfan, entrelac

      The earlier diary on noctilucent clouds cited multiple sources. Those sources tie back to article in Nature you linked to.

      I raise an issue here that has not been well investigated yet. Is the collapse of Arctic sea ice in 2007 and increasing Arctic methane tied to the southward expansion in noctilucent clouds in very recent years?

      Where's the sensationalism?

      I show that oil and gas operations have captured more natural gas since 1985. I show a figure that shows that methane levels in the Arctic atmosphere have gone up.

      Perhaps the recent increase in noctilucent clouds hasn't responded yet to the increasing Arctic methane. Maybe the deep solar minimum played a role. However, in the Youtube video the scientist suggests that increasing methane may be playing a role.

      I think it's an interesting issue. I report on recent environmental data  that have not yet been fully analyzed to bring the public into science.

      Increasing Arctic methane emissions are a fact.

      look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

      by FishOutofWater on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 06:35:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  What I meant to say, and apologies if it came (0+ / 0-)

        across badly, was that none of your sources actually supported your title that an increase in noctilucent clouds is linked to methane. Your title was not justified. It turns out there there is evidence, as in the Nature article I link to above, so perhaps an update?

        "We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard, and too damned cheap." Kurt Vonnegut

        by tomasyn on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 06:47:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great Lakes Disappearing! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Agathena, TJ

    This year, the Lake Michigan / Lake Huron August level was 23" BELOW! the historical average.

    There are trees growing on newly formed near shore islands along the coast; boat moorings are high and dry; docks end on dry land.  

    I'm hearing a bit of noise out of the Democrats, but considering the seriousness of all this, it's just noise. Meanwhile, the long term drought continues, and nobody gives a s**t about anything but the price of gas.  Wait until the stores start running short of food..............

    Labor was the first price paid for all things. It was not by money, but by labour, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased. - Adam Smith

    by boatwright on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 06:12:16 AM PDT

  •  Elect Obama, and then change his mind on this (0+ / 0-)

    "We’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration in the last three years, and we’ll open more."

    Make him pay special attention to what fracking for gas and oil is doing to the atmosphere. You can do it.

    ❧To thine ownself be true

    by Agathena on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 06:46:49 AM PDT

    •  Once the election's past (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      you can't do squat.  No leverage whatsoever.  I will probably vote for the Dems,  but after last night I'm under no illusions that they are anything but neoliberal.  Also known as Republican-lite.

      •  "clean" coal which is an industry fiction (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        was brought up in his speech. That was disappointing since Obama had stopped using that term for months now. When I heard that I thought he is getting his information from the industry not from environmental scientists. Let's hope there is some way for scientists to penetrate the WH bubble during the next crucial years.

        ❧To thine ownself be true

        by Agathena on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 07:00:12 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The methane threat is overblown considerably here (0+ / 0-)

          Methane only lasts 10 years in the atmosphere before it is reduced to CO2. That Science article projects the East Siberia Artic Shoreline release as only ~0.6% of global FF burning, 50 million tons C per year/9000 million tons of fossil fuel burning and cement production. Most methane comes from cows and rice. Long term(centuries) permafrost release is a serious threat but considering the amount of permafrost release is a function on temperatures it seems obvious to focus immediately reducing FF emissions and to ignore permafrost for now.
          It's a distraction IMO.

          •  Not entirely true (0+ / 0-)

            It has a half-life of about ten years.

            •  I read methane lasts 10 years at Real Climate. (0+ / 0-)

              And the lifetime of methane in the atmosphere is short, about 10 years, so methane doesn’t build up like CO2, SF6, and to a lesser extent N2O do.


              Half-life really refers to radioactivity, not chemical breakdown.

              •  Checked wikipedia (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                enemy of the people

                You're right and I was wrong.  The lifetime is 8.4 years.

              •  Half-life is simply a mathematical expression (0+ / 0-)

                to capture the net effect of one or multiple processes.

                The concept can apply to any time-dependent decay process.

                The half-life of chemical reactions depends on the Temperature, Pressure, the concentration of ALL the other reactants, products.  But it also includes the ENERGY put into or released from the system.

                Example:  The half-life of a tank of gas in your truck, is the time it takes to go from full to half-empty.  The half-life on any given day, depends on how fast you drive, and how heavy a load you carry.  Another way to say the half-life depends on how efficiently your engine carries out combustion, converts the energy to motion, and whether you are carrying the load uphill or down hill.

                Example: Everything you ingest has a half-life.  Drugs you take leave the body by various routes or are metabolized and the net effect is measured.  The half-life is the average amount of time it takes for the amount of the drug in your body to become half of what you ingested.

                Make sense?

                So the half-life of methane in the atmosphere tells us ONLY what the half-life is right now, based on CURRENT atmospheric conditions and CURRENT inputs, i.e. HALF of what we pump up there this year will still be there 10 years from now - IF and ONLY IF there are no other sources AND the Temperature, Pressure, AND all other atmospheric inputs and outputs remain the same.

                I appreciate that you are digesting complex information and stated what seemed to make sense to you, but your  conclusion

                Half-life really refers to radioactivity, not chemical breakdown.
                is simply not true.
              •  Radioactive decay is a specific type of (0+ / 0-)

                chemical half-life.  It is a chemical decay that occurs coincident with characteristic emissions that depend on the specific element and atomic structure.

                It may be useful to understand that radioactive decay is simply one type of chemical decay that is relatively INDEPENDENT of atmospheric Temperature and Atmospheric Pressure, and normal atomic concentrations at the surface of the earth.

                •  Sorry, radioactivity is nuclear disintegration (0+ / 0-)

                  it is independent of other factors.


                  •  Not sure if "sorry" in your comment (0+ / 0-)

                    indicates your agreement or disagreement.

                    If the former, I'll stop.  

                    You seem to have a decent grasp of radioactivity and how to assess which types of radioactivity raise environmental concerns.  I appreciate your interest in understanding chemistry and being able to decide for yourself when environmental problems are large or small.

                    If your "sorry" was expressing disagreement, please look at

                    Radioactivity falls within the sub-field of chemistry called  nuclear chemistry, and involves a subset of isotopes that are called "unstable" because they are high energy atomic states that spontaneously decay by emitting ionizing radiation.  (It's a mass to energy conversion that is NOT dependent on factors outside the nucleus - at the normal Temp and Press at the surface of the earth).

                    There are other sub-sub fields of nuclear chemistry that use the stable isotopes.  The isotopes are called stable because they do not decay by emitting ionizing radiation.   Stable atomic nuclei can be excited and will decay in a variety of processes that decay with characteristic half-lives.

                    One example is an MRI machine, which relies on nuclear magnetic radiation, NMR.  In an MRI experiment magnetic nuclei (such as Hydrogen or Iron) are excited with radiowaves and then observed as the nuclei decay back to their lower energy state (the ground state).  

                    Unlike radioactive decay, the decay half-life of magnetic nuclei, and other properties of the decay mechanism, ARE dependent on factors outside the nucleus, such as

                    1. the number and type of atoms nearby,
                    2. how many bonds separate the two atoms,
                    3. how large the molecule is,
                    4. as well as properties of the molecular environment, such as whether the material is liquid or solid.

                    •  Sorry-nice way to say no, you're wrong (0+ / 0-)

                      Radioactivity has nothing to do with exterior factors, it is
                      due to instability in the atomic nucleus, an unbalance in numbers of neutrons and protons.
                      NMR machines work on the 'spin' of
                      protons and neutrons which of course is influenced by external magnetic fields. There is also something called electron 'spin' reasonance and something else called electron paramagnetic reasonance.

                      •  Sorry, you are applying chemical terms incorrectly (0+ / 0-)

                        You seem to have some chemistry knowledge or training and I hope this comment will clear up your confusion or motivate you to use correct chemical language when discussing environmental chemistry in a public forum.

                        ETOP, I'm not trying to give you a hard time but I can't let stand the confusion your incorrect authoritative statements have added to the comments of this diary.  

                        For readers who are trying to understand the material as it relates to environmental science and policy, and who haven't taken any advanced chemistry, I'll address a few related terms that have well-established IUPAC definitions that chemists and those in overlapping fields rely upon.

                        For the non-chemists: IUPAC is the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.  Since this is a political forum, I'll state outright that IUPAC is NOT a political organization for the chemical industry.  

                        IUPAC IS an international standard setting body that arose in the late 19th century, from a need to reduce ambiguity when recording, reporting, and discussing chemicals and chemical phenomena.  The first international conference was convened early in the 20th century and continues to meet regularly to hammer out in detail, all the rules and syntax of chemical nomenclature.  They have many projects and resources available for specific subfields within in chemistry.

                        IUPAC also maintains a dictionary/textbook, the IUPAC Compendium of Chemical Terminology - the Gold Book, so that classes of molecules, chemical reactions and chemical phenomena can be published worldwide in a common language, with limited ambiguity.

                        The IUPAC Gold Book is free, available for download as a pdf, and also organized online as a very useful hyperlinked dictionary/textbook

                        EOTP, this statement in your earlier comment is incorrect:
                        "Half-life really refers to radioactivity, not chemical breakdown."
                        Half-life has a well-defined meaning and has much broader uses in chemistry, physics and biology.  

                        According to IUPAC, the term "half-life" is used in chemical reactions to describe the time it takes to deplete starting materials half-way:

                        Half-life or t(1/2): For a given reaction the half life t 1 2 of a reactant is the time required for its concentration to reach a value that is the arithmetic mean of its initial and final (equilibrium) values. For a reactant that is entirely consumed it is the time taken for the reactant concentration to fall to one half its initial value... [italics mine]
                        EOTP, this statement in your earlier comment is also incorrect:
                        "radioactivity is nuclear disintegration"
                        EOTP, this statement in your earlier comment applies only to a subset of radioactive decay processes:

                        "Sorry, radioactivity is nuclear disintegration (0+ / 0-)
                        it is independent of other factors."

                        According to IUPAC,
                        radioactive is
                        "The property of a nuclide undergoing spontaneous nuclear transformations with the emission of radiation."

                        nuclide is
                        "A species of atom, characterized by its mass number, atomic number and nuclear energy state, provided that the mean life in that state is long enough to be observable."

                        radioactivity is
                        "The property of certain nuclides showing radioactive decay."

                        natural radioactivity is
                        "Radioactivity of naturally occurring nuclides in materials where the isotopic abundance of that nuclide is natural."

                        induced radioactivity is
                        "Radioactivity induced by irradiation."

                        radioactive decay is
                        "Nuclear decay in which particles or electromagnetic radiation are emitted or the nucleus undergoes spontaneous fission or electron capture."

                        While nuclear decay is
                        "A spontaneous nuclear transformation."

                        radiation is
                        "A term embracing electromagnetic waves as well as fast moving particles. In radioanalytical chemistry the term usually refers to radiation emitted during a nuclear process (radioactive decay, nuclear reaction, nuclear fission, accelerators)."

                        nuclear fission is
                        "The division of a nucleus into two or more parts with masses of equal order of magnitude, usually accompanied by the emission of neutrons, gamma radiation and, rarely, small charged nuclear fragments."

                        radioisotope is a
                        "A radioactive isotope of a specified element."

                        EOTP, nuclear decay is much broader than nuclear disintegration.  

                        Your statement about radioactive half-life being independent of external factors is limited to reactions in which the starting material is completely consumed and there is NO reverse reaction pathway.  That subset includes, all radioactive decay processes that involve nuclear fission, or that involve alpha particle emissions, but only SOME of the radioactive decay processes that involve beta particle emissions, and NONE of the radioactive decay processes that involve gamma ray emissions.

                        Your example, a radioactive clock, based on Uranium, is one example of radioactive decay, in which spontaneous nuclear transformation, with particle emission does indeed have a fixed half-life, independent of external factors.

                      •  Part of my run-on comment to ETOP was not (0+ / 0-)

                        what I meant to write and should instead read:

                        Your statement about radioactive half-life being independent of external factors is limited to reactions in which the starting material is completely consumed and there is NO reverse reaction pathway.  That subset includes, all radioactive decay processes that involve nuclear fission, or that involve alpha particle emissions, but only SOME of the radioactive decay processes that involve beta particle emissions.  and NONE of the Radioactive decay processes that involve gamma ray emissions occur after particle emissions or from irradiation, and merely involve relaxation of a high energy nucleus back to a lower energy state.
                        Bottom line:

                        Nuclear decay processes are a subset of chemical transformations.  

                        All of nuclear decay processes can be described in terms of a half-life, but only some of them have half-lives that are independent of external factors.

  •  I'm a little late commenting but FooW, I wonder (0+ / 0-)

    what your take is on the blog Arctic News?  I was googling noctilucent clouds and ran across it. Yesterday's issue looks interesting, but the majority of posts seemed to concern methane, and Global Extinction within one Human Lifetime as a Result of a Spreading Atmospheric Arctic Methane Heat wave and Surface Firestorm caught my eye. Since I have no real background in science, I have no sense of whether these guys are legit or not. Any thoughts?

    A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. - Greek proverb

    by marleycat on Fri Sep 07, 2012 at 11:27:47 AM PDT

  •  Small quibble with the picture illustrating (0+ / 0-)

    methane decay in the stratosphere and mesophere.

    Whoever made the picture was making a point about how methane contributes to water in those atmospheric layers.

    But in a lay context the picture might teach readers the wrong lesson, that methane becomes water, leading them to ask, So what?

    The mass balance in words is:

    1 Methane molecule and 2 Oxygen molecules and ultraviolet sunlight

    decays to

    2 water molecules and 1 carbon dioxide molecue

    The mass balance equation written in chemical terms is:
    1 CH(sub4) + 2 O (sub2) + UV light = 2 H(sub2)O + 1 CO(sub2)
    FOOW, I know you understand this and offer this for your non-scientist readers who remember their high school chemistry.
  •  What an interesting diary - Noctilucent - my (0+ / 0-)

    new favorite word!

    I have a few questions that has probably been addressed.

    Let me start with what I understood from my cursory reading of the diary and my understanding of physical chemistry.

    Meteor dust is usually so small and disperses so quickly that it is generally invisible, (It is transparent to sunlight in the visible region).

    When the particle density is high enough and there is a coincident source of water vapor, the dust provides a surface that nucleates ice crystals, forming Noctilucent clouds.

    First question is about the origin of the blue color.

    Are the clouds really glow in the dark - as in absorbing UV light and emitting blue light that we can see, on the dark background of the night sky?


    Do the clouds appear blue against the dark sky because the particles are scattering visible light, and it is the longer wavelengths  that are reflected back to our eyeballs?  (The moon appears white wherever it reflects/scatters all wavelengths of sunlight equally).

    Second question is about the size of the particles in the Noctilucent clouds.

    Visible light for humans is in the range of 400 nm - 700 nm.

    If the blue color is due to differential scattering of visible light don't the scattering particles have to be larger than 20 to 70 nm?  At least one or two orders of magnitude bigger, somewhere in the range of 200 nm - 7 microns?

    Third question is about the fate of the CO2, which is polar.

    Since both water and CO2 are quite polar, it's hard for me to imagine that the meteor dust goes around sponging up the water while leaving the CO2 to wander free in a relative vacuum, since it can't form any hydrogen bonds on it's own.

    At the  temperature and pressure of the mesophere, wouldn't the CO2 readily freeze to the surface of the ice particles?  It is a polar molecule and I'm wondering why it wouldn't form a solid phase, a "frost" layer on the water ice particles.

    What am I missing?  (IR radiation brilliance in the upper atmosphere drives CO2 sublimation?)

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