It’s quite possible you’ve already seen the scary story doing the rounds about an “almighty belch” of methane, currently frozen in the deep Arctic permafrost, that if it erupted “steadily over five decades or perhaps during one sudden grandfatherly burp” would do untold damage to the climate and cost as much as a year’s worth of global GDP.
But hang onto your scientific hat, because at least one eminent (and non-denialist) scientist is pouring scorn on this zombie story. NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, winner of the American Geophysical Union’s inaugural Climate Communications Prize for his work on communicating climate-change issues to the public, says the story is bunk. Schmidt says that there have been periods in the planet’s history when the earth has been significantly warmer than today, and there were no massive eruptions of permafrost methane. He tweeted “this means that we are not currently near a threshold for dramatic CH4 releases. (Though we may get there).”
The New York Times “Dot Earth” post by non-denialist NYT Chief Meteorologist Jason Samenow which compiled Schmidt’s tweets also notes:
Nature, the same journal which published Wednesday’s commentary, published a scientific review of methane hydrates and climate change by Carolyn Ruppel in 2011 which suggests the scenario in said commentary is virtually impossible. The review states:
Catastrophic, widespread dissociation of methane gas hydrates will not be triggered by continued climate warming at contemporary rates (0.2ºC per decade; IPCC 2007) over timescales of a few hundred years. Most of Earth’s gas hydrates occur at low saturations and in sediments at such great depths below the seafloor or onshore permafrost that they will barely be affected by warming over even [1,000] yr.
Stories like this may grab headlines, but when they are debunked they inevitably hurt the necessary push to bring the very real dangers of climate change to the public.