Methane releases in the Arctic can lead to abrupt local warming that triggers further methane releases. The amount of methane stored in hydrates is huge and release of even a small part of the methane in hydrates could lead to runaway global warming.
Abrupt climate change is upon us. Farmers are in despair. Food prices will go through the roof. The government’s climate change policy is in tatters. The government should have acted years ago. Now it may be too late.
The government is in the dog house, not for what they have done but what they have left undone. They have done much towards reducing CO2 emissions. The question is, will emissions reduction, however drastic, prevent abrupt climate change? The answer is ‘No’! The proof is that abrupt climate change is upon us.
There has been an elephant in the room, and it has been totally ignored.
It’s all about the Arctic sea ice.
It’s about the Arctic sea ice, whose reflection of sunshine keeps the planet cool. Remove the sea ice, and not only does the planet start to overheat, but the whole climate is suddenly changed. The global weather systems, on whose predictability farmers rely, are dependent for their stability on there being a temperature gradient between tropics and the poles. Remove the snow and ice at one pole, and the weather systems go awry and we have “global weirding”. Furthermore, the weather systems get stuck in one place, and we get weather extremes: long spells of hot/dry weather with drought, or long spells of cold/wet weather with floods.
This global weirding has started with a vengeance. The sea ice is rapidly disappearing. The behaviour of the polar jet stream is disrupted. Extreme weather events occur more often and with greater ferocity. And the food price index climbs and climbs.
There is an obvious relationship between strife and food – if you starve a nation they will fight to get food. This relationship has been pinned down by an organisation called the Complex Systems Institute, CSI. They show that the food riots break out when the food price index rises above a certain critical level. An example was the Arab Spring.
The current index is above the critical level. Because of extreme weather events this year, the index is expected to rise again in 2013. The UN’s food watchdog, the FAO, forecast that the index will rise even further in 2014.
Meanwhile the insurance industry is worried by the trend towards greater number and strength of extreme weather events, including hurricanes. Note that Sandy’s cost was greatly amplified by the diversion westward as it approached the coast off New York. Sandy had hit a jet stream blocking pattern. The loss of Arctic sea ice is leading to this kind of unusual event become more frequent. The insurers are worried, but governments should be even more worried, because extreme weather events will drive the food price index even higher.
So what can be done?
That is the subject of AMEG’s strategic plan, to be launched on Wednesday, 5th December, 6 pm, in San Francisco in association with the American Geosciences Union meeting there. Venue is to be announced.
For further information contact AMEG chair, John Nissen, firstname.lastname@example.org, with subject line to include “AMEG launch”, phone +44 20 8742 3170 or skype john.nissen4.
NEWS RELEASE: 1 SEP 2012
ARCTIC SEA ICE CRASHES: GLOBAL FOOD AND METHANE FEEDBACK EMERGENCY - AMEG WARNS ACTION NOW IMPERATIVE
AMEG press release, 1st September 2012
The record low Arctic sea ice extent, reached in the past few days, shows that a collapse in the sea ice is underway, and the minimum to be reached in a few weeks, could be as much as a million square kilometres below the September 2007 and 2011 minima (which were almost the same). AMEG has repeatedly warned that this could happen, raising the issue in their submission to the UK Environment Audit Committee (EAC) hearing on “Protecting the Arctic”, on Hansard record. The complete collapse of sea ice, till practically none is left for at least one day of the year, is now likely by 2015. The extreme danger lies in the repercussions of the sea ice loss, especially those resulting from seabed methane emissions and from altered jet stream behaviour – the latter already being experienced with extremes of drought and floods in different parts of the northern hemisphere. However AMEG is confident that a crisis can be averted if immediate action is taken to cool the Arctic, but this will inevitably involve a degree of intervention known as geoengineering because of the large cooling power required. Preparations need to start straightaway for deployment of the best candidate techniques, with a view to rapid deployment, hopefully in time to head off a worse collapse of sea ice next summer.
The repeated warnings about the sea ice by AMEG sea ice experts (including Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University) have been ignored or scorned as doom- mongering by climate scientists, who claim that the sea ice will last for decades. So the current collapse may come as a nasty surprise to many people. However the collapse could have been expected from observed trends, particularly of sea ice volume. The Arctic has been warming, sea ice has retreated leaving open water in summer, and the relentless Arctic summer sun has warmed the water to produce further thinning of the ice. Each year, come the minimum ice extent at the end of summer, the thickness and volume of the ice has been less. The trend reaches zero volume before September 2015, by which time the extent must obviously have collapsed.
The AMEG warning on methane emissions has also been ignored or scorned by climate scientists, who claim that the emissions will be too slow to have an appreciable global warming effect this century. However AMEG has been advised by Russian scientists, Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov, that escalating emissions from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf seabed pose a threat of abrupt climate change, as the protective and insulating cover of the sea ice disappears. There is so much methane stored under the seabed that only one percent release of this potent greenhouse gas, e.g. as a result of a large earthquake or rapid seabed heating, could cause intolerable global warming.
AMEG has recently warned of increased climate extremes and a global food crisis that will deepen as the Arctic warms. This year’s severe drought in the US is not an isolated event; much of the world has been afflicted by extreme weather in one form or another, with floods and droughts impacting agriculture*. Such extremes have been on the increase. Recent research by scientists, such as Dr Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, shows convincing evidence that this increase is related to dramatic warming of the Arctic and changing polar jet stream behaviour.
Droughts and floods have been gradually increasing in intensity for a great many years, as the IPCC AR4 report (2007) predicted would occur with global warming. However the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet. This has weakened the jet stream, increasing the frequency and duration of warm/dry spells and cool/wet spells, and thereby making matters much worse. This year we have seen widespread crop failures and a rise in food prices. Unless emergency measures are immediately taken to cool the Arctic and restore the sea ice, one can expect an ever worsening food crisis in years to come, with the prospect of famine on a biblical scale.
There are other serious repercussions of sea ice disappearance and Arctic warming, such as a disintegration of the Greenland Ice Sheet to cause massive sea level rise. But AMEG has chosen to focus on methane escalation and the food crisis because they can be seen to be already under way, with apocalyptic results if Arctic warming continues unabated.
AMEG’s conclusion is that we have a planetary emergency as a result of the downward spiral of sea ice. Only by grasping the nettle and applying geoengineering with great determination, as in a war effort, do we have a chance of remedying the situation before it is too late. International collaboration to fight this common “enemy” of Arctic meltdown must bring all nations together, simply in the cause of survival.