Zombie Methane Tale Does Climate Change Activism No Good


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.

About Steve Hynd

I'm senior partner at Notthesingularity.com. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature, rpg's and cognitive philosophy/science. My degree is in Philosophy.
  • Van Lynch

    If true that’s good news.

  • jaycubed

    Another factor which would effect methane ice release is the pressure of the overlaying water. As the icecaps continue to melt and sea levels rise there will be greater pressure on the methane ice deposits which should offset some/most of the effect of increased temperatures.

    Of course the continued (and accelerating) rise in sea level will play havoc on a significant percentage of Earth’s agriculturally productive & occupied coastal lands, potentially leading to the displacement & starvation of a few billion people.

You can email us at: NotthesingularityATgmailDOTcom


The Partners

Steve Hynd
Matthew Elliot
Bob Morris
Steve Wollett
Kathy Kattenburg

Classified Ads

Contact us via email if you'd like to advertise on Not The Singularity.

RSS Feeds / Subscribe


Powell’s Books

Click here to visit Powell's Books!