Research continues to investigate the behavior of components of the climate system in the real world as well as the virtual. With more and better data from the real world, the virtual climate system becomes more accurate.
Real-world Arctic methane plumes rising from the Arctic seafloor have been confirmed. These are worrisome because of their large capacity to further force climate change. Methane is 20 times as effective as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the climate system. Up until recently, methane has been stored quite effectively in the Arctic due to the cold temperatures. Since the Arctic has warmed twice as much as the rest of the globe in the past 100 years, those methane stores are thawing and releasing their methane back to the ocean and atmosphere.
The warmest climate since the Mesozoic era was in the Paleocene epoch, during the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum. It has been hypothesized that one of the causes of the PETM was the massive release of methane from clathrates, the same phenomenon that is occurring now. Once the effects of the PETM subsided, Antarctic glaciers were able to form. It stands to reason, therefore, that releasing massive quantities of methane would again force the climate system to a warm enough state to remelt the Antarctic glaciers.
The reason these clathrates are melting faster is likely to be the record ocean warmth that has been observed. So much for the climate change denier argument that no warming has occurred in the past decade – such warming is occurring right now.
FishOutOfWater shared a graphic that illustrates the enormous danger that methane and other gas hydrates pose to our climate system – I’m going to re-post it here and discuss it:
What you should take from this pie chart is the volume of gas hydrates are double that of fossil fuels. Being as most hydrates act as more efficient greenhouse gases than most fossil fuels, the release of those hydrates present humanity with an increasingly uncertain future. It won’t take nearly as much hydrates being released to further warm the ocean and atmosphere as it did fossil fuels. Unfortunately, our greenhouse gas emissions have accumulated to such concentrations that the release of hydrates is likely to continue to appear and intensify around the globe. Another positive feedback loop is likely to develop as a result.
The release of hydrates was not a part of the 2007 IPCC 4th Assessment Report either. In fact, the 4AR was lacking in a number of important feedback scenarios. Climate models have been similarly lacking in these feedback processes. It will be very important moving forward to account for these – the results may not look good politically, but the science will speak for itself.
Speaking of politics, the U.S. House has passed climate and energy legislation. The U.S. Senate needs to do the same – the sooner the better.
Cross-posted at SquareState.