Environmental Protection

Commentary

MIT Model Omits Methane Threat

It is very unfortunate that the MIT climate model omitted natural methane emissions (that is the current situation with virtually all climate models because they can't accurately quantify the amount of natural methane emissions, it is simply omitted rather than estimated), and therefore is still badly underestimating the rate and severity of future global warming:

  • For instance, a sizable quantity of Siberian permafrost is under the ocean, an area six times the size of Germany containing about 540 billion tons of carbon. That submarine permafrost is perilously close to thawing. Three to 12 kilometers from the coast, the sea sediment is just below freezing. The permafrost has grown porous, there is a loss of rigor in the frozen sea floor, and the surrounding seawater is highly oversaturated with solute methane.
  • "...Researchers were investigating "alarming" reports in the last few days of the release of methane from long frozen Arctic waters, possibly from the warming of the sea…" –"Arctic sea ice drops to 2nd lowest level on record," AP, Aug 27 2008
  • “If the Siberian (submarine) permafrost-seal thaws completely and all the stored gas escapes, the methane content of the planet's atmosphere would increase twelve fold. The result would be catastrophic global warming." –"A Storehouse of Greenhouse Gases Is Opening in Siberia," Spiegel, April 17, 2008

What most people don't realize is that methane is 70 times more powerful than CO2 for the first 20 years (this is a better expression of CO2(e) than 23 times more powerful over the lifetime of the two gases). In other words, a ton of carbon can be CO2 or CH4, and therefore vary in greenhouse gas strength by 70 times in the short term. Furthermore, methane trapped in ice has more carbon than all the oil, coal, and natural gas still in the ground. It has been estimated that half of all surface permafrost will melt by 2050 (over 90 percent by 2100). That is not even counting the melting submarine permafrost.

Brad Arnold

St. Louis Park, Minn.

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