Many readers know that we’ve covered the supposed “ticking time bomb” of methane that is supposedly going to be released somewhere, somehow, either from methane clathrates on the sea floor due to ocean warming, or from melting permafrost. Due to methane having a greater GHG warming factor, a potential of 34 times that of CO2 over 100 years, there’s a perceived threat so great, that there’s a collection of scientists that have formed the Arctic Methane Emergency Group.
They made this King Canute style press release last year, where they called for a “rapid refreezing of the Arctic to halt runaway melting”, as if somehow we’ll just put a halt to those processes with a wave of the hand:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
TIME: Thursday, December 4, 2014, 12:00-12:30 PM
SUBJECT: Arctic meltdown: a catastrophic threat to our survival
AMEG calls for rapid refreezing of the Arctic to halt runaway melting
WHO: John Nissen, Chair AMEG, supported by Professor Peter Wadhams, Cambridge University, co-founder of AMEG and world-renowned expert on Arctic sea ice, with Paul Beckwith, AMEG blogger.
There is strong evidence of advanced acceleration in:
• Arctic warming and sea ice decline in a vicious cycle
• Substantial ice loss in Greenland with potential massive loss due to unstable glaciers
• Disruption of jet stream behaviour, with abrupt climate change leading to crop failures, rising food prices and conflict in the Northern Hemisphere
• Rapid emissions of methane from the Arctic seabed, permafrost and tundra.
The tipping point for the Arctic sea ice has already passed.
Our conclusions are:
• The meltdown is accelerating and could become unstoppable as early as Sept 2015
• Immediate action must be taken to refreeze the Arctic to halt runaway melting
• Greenhouse gas emissions reduction, however drastic, cannot solve this problem
• Calculations show that powerful interventions are needed to cool the Arctic
• Any delay escalates the risk of failure
• Arctic meltdown is a catastrophic threat for civilisation.
AMEG therefore calls for the immediate setting up of a task force, specifically mandated to ensure that the Arctic is cooled as quickly and safely as possible.
They have this banner from Peter Wadhams (who recently thought big oil was sending out climate science assassins) on the AMEG website:
Meanwhile, Arctic Ice is stubbornly holding on just one month away from peak melt, which occurs typically in mid-Sptember:
So, I’m sure the AMEG won’t be happy about this new study that suggests nature has already cancelled their emergency, likely from already dealing with the issue over millennia:
From PRINCETON UNIVERSITY and the department of canceled emergencies, comes this very inconvenient study
On warmer Earth, most of Arctic may remove, not add, methane
However, new research led by Princeton University researchers and published in The ISME Journal in August suggests that, thanks to methane-hungry bacteria, the majority of Arctic soil might actually be able to absorb methane from the atmosphere rather than release it. Furthermore, that ability seems to become greater as temperatures rise.
The researchers found that Arctic soils containing low carbon content — which make up 87 percent of the soil in permafrost regions globally — not only remove methane from the atmosphere, but also become more efficient as temperatures increase. During a three-year period, a carbon-poor site on Axel Heiberg Island in Canada’s Arctic region consistently took up more methane as the ground temperature rose from 0 to 18 degrees Celsius (32 to 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit). The researchers project that should Arctic temperatures rise by 5 to 15 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years, the methane-absorbing capacity of “carbon-poor” soil could increase by five to 30 times.
The researchers found that this ability stems from an as-yet unknown species of bacteria in carbon-poor Arctic soil that consume methane in the atmosphere. The bacteria are related to a bacterial group known as Upland Soil Cluster Alpha, the dominant methane-consuming bacteria in carbon-poor Arctic soil. The bacteria the researchers studied remove the carbon from methane to produce methanol, a simple alcohol the bacteria process immediately. The carbon is used for growth or respiration, meaning that it either remains in bacterial cells or is released as carbon dioxide.
First author Chui Yim “Maggie” Lau, an associate research scholar in Princeton’s Department of Geosciences, said that although it’s too early to claim that the entire Arctic will be a massive methane “sink” in a warmer world, the study’s results do suggest that the Arctic could help mitigate the warming effect that would be caused by a rising amount of methane in the atmosphere. In immediate terms, climate models that project conditions on a warmer Earth could use this study to more accurately calculate the future methane content of the atmosphere, Lau said.
“At our study sites, we are more confident that these soils will continue to be a sink under future warming. In the future, the Arctic may not have atmospheric methane increase as much as the rest of the world,” Lau said. “We don’t have a direct answer as to whether these Arctic soils will offset global atmospheric methane or not, but they will certainly help the situation.”
The researchers want to study the bacteria’s physiology as well as test the upper temperature threshold and methane concentrations at which they can still efficiently process methane, Lau said. Field observations showed that the bacteria are still effective up to 18 degrees Celsius (64.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and can remove methane down to one-quarter of the methane level in the atmosphere, which is around 0.5 parts-per-million.
“If these bacteria can still work in a future warmer climate and are widespread in other Arctic permafrost areas, maybe they could regulate methane for the whole globe,” Lau said. “These regions may seem isolated from the world, but they may have been doing things to help the world.”
M.C.Y. Lau, B.T. Stackhouse, A.C. Layton, A. Chauhan, T. A. Vishnivetskaya, K. Chourey, J. Ronholm, N.C.S. Mykytczuk, P.C. Bennett, G. Lamarche-Gagnon, N. Burton, W.H. Pollard, C.R. Omelon, D.M. Medvigy, R.L. Hettich, S.M. Pfiffner, L.G. Whyte, and T.C. Onstott. 2015. An active atmospheric methane sink in high Arctic mineral cryosols. The ISME Journal. Article published in print August 2015. DOI:10.1038/ismej.2015.13.
Methane (CH4) emission by carbon-rich cryosols at the high latitudes in Northern Hemisphere has been studied extensively. In contrast, data on the CH4 emission potential of carbon-poor cryosols is limited, despite their spatial predominance. This work employs CH4 flux measurements in the field and under laboratory conditions to show that the mineral cryosols at Axel Heiberg Island in the Canadian high Arctic consistently consume atmospheric CH4. Omics analyses present the first molecular evidence of active atmospheric CH4-oxidizing bacteria (atmMOB) in permafrost-affected cryosols, with the prevalent atmMOB genotype in our acidic mineral cryosols being closely related to Upland Soil Cluster α. The atmospheric (atm) CH4 uptake at the study site increases with ground temperature between 0 °C and 18 °C. Consequently, the atm CH4 sink strength is predicted to increase by a factor of 5-30 as the Arctic warms by 5-15 °C over a century. We demonstrate that acidic mineral cryosols are a previously unrecognized potential of CH4 sink that requires further investigation to determine its potential impact on larger scales. This study also calls attention to the poleward distribution of atmMOB, as well as to the potential influence of microbial atm CH4 oxidation, in the context of regional CH4 flux models and global warming.