Saturday, July 27, 2013

Arctic methane bubbles will destroy 1/2 of your wealth

Tons of journalists have promoted a "Stern review on steroids", namely a commentary about the Arctic methane that Gail Whiteman, Chris Hope & Peter Wadhams have published in Nature:
Climate science: Vast costs of Arctic change.
For the sake of brevity and accuracy, I will refer to the authors as the three imbeciles. We're told that some frozen permafrost in the Arctic will melt within a decade and via the methane-induced global warming and sea level rise and other things, this will destroy $60 trillion of wealth in the next decade.

The figure is approximately equal to the global annual GDP – what the whole mankind produces in one year – or one-half of the total mankind's household assets ($125 trillion). A few bubbles of natural gas in an irrelevant faraway empire of ice will destroy 1/2 of the wealth of the average human. Holy cow.

Even if some damage were in the pipeline, and I don't think so, the estimate would be an overestimate at least by 4-5 orders of magnitude. The authors offer some amazing science-fiction mechanisms that are supposed to achieve this tour de force.

The Nature article was so implausible that even much of the hyperalarmed mainstream media started to write down stories that the paper is probably wrong. For example, the Washington Post climate blog titled its story
Methane mischief: misleading commentary published in Nature.
RealClimate's major fearmonger Gavin Schmidt – whom I praise at least for efforts to look like a hard scientist even though he is far from one – wrote his first tweet-based guest blog at Anthony Watts' famous skeptical blog,
Gavin on why the Arctic methane alarm is implausible.
It's very likely that I would subscribe to every single sentence in his list of 16 tweets. On the other hand, sadly, RealClimate only allowed Gavin to publish a relatively petty and off-topic attack against Christopher Booker – and nothing else about the Arctic methane issue. Similarly to Gavin at WUWT, however, Judith Curry describes the methane paper as depending on several implausible assumptions which makes its claims impossible.

Just to be sure, methane is a potent greenhouse gas but its concentration is only 1.8 ppm instead of 400 ppm as CO2; the human activities have more than doubled that concentration from 0.7 ppm. The dependence is mostly logarithmic so an exponential rise of methane (CH4) would only lead to an approximately linear rise of the temperature. When the coefficients are quantified, it turns out that the methane-induced warming has been about 1/10 of the observed warming in the 20th century. It's pretty much a practically negligible – although theoretically possibly detectable – player.

The methane can't be released too quickly – the required mechanisms would just contradict some laws of physics – but even if it could be released too quickly, it just couldn't have any of the proposed consequences. Bob Carter's and John Spooner's excellent new book, Taxing Air, also mentions the methane issue, e.g. around page 92 (paperback) of Chapter IV.

The facts seem clear: the three imbeciles' statement that the $60-trillion evolution is "likely" is indefensible. Some reports in the media are unusually sensible. For example, The Register wrote an article called
DON'T PANIC: '$60 Trillion' Arctic METHANE SCARE is already DISPROVEN
that summarizes some voices claiming that the observed methane release isn't caused by the warming oceans at all, thus invalidating a crucial assumption of the three imbeciles' thesis. The New American has a story called Arctic Ice Scare — Climate Price Tag Claim Melts Under Scrutiny. Also, James Taylor released a similar story about the warmists who debunk this story. Andrew Revkin talks about the Arctic methane credibility bomb. But I particularly liked a modestly titled story at LiveScience.COM,
Arctic Methane Claims Questioned.
Among the technical topics, they discuss whether 50 billion tons of CH4 could be farted off in the next few decades. Voices of experts including Gavin Schmidt are collected to argue that the answer is No. The main evidence comes from interglacials – 8,000 and 125,000 years ago, the Arctic was warmer than it will be in a few decades and there's no signal of a permafrost-related bump in the icecore data whatsoever.

Another alarmist, David Archer, agrees with Gavin's conclusion but focuses on the impossibility of the required fast release.

Peter Wadhams, one of the three imbeciles, tried to defend the indefensible, namely their paper, by the following claims:
The mechanism which is causing the observed mass of rising methane plumes in the East Siberian Sea is itself unprecedented, and the scientists who dismissed the idea of extensive methane release in earlier research were simply not aware of the new mechanism that is causing it.
I can't believe that someone who thinks in this way may be employed as a scientist. I wouldn't accept a kid that is this retarded to an elementary school for healthy children. Saying that a "mechanism [in Nature] is unprecedented" is tantamount to saying that the laws of Nature are changing in front of our eyes. He may very well shake his hand with Lee Smolin and similar psychopaths.

Carolyn Ruppel, a methane hydrate specialist, also says that the three imbeciles' proposed "new mechanisms" are nearly impossible.

The humans have changed many things in the centers of their civilization and some miles behind its borders but the bulk of Nature is living in one of the most average periods of the 4.7-billion-year-long history of our blue, not green planet. Even in recent millions of years (a very recent era relatively to the planet's long history), the Arctic Ocean was both much warmer and much cooler than it is today – and no other quantity than the local temperature over there (and a few others) can really matter. Nature has been obeying the same laws for 13.73 billion years, since the birth of the observable Universe. That's surely true for the fundamental laws but even the emergent, effective, approximate laws that may be used in geology or climatology have been pretty much identical for billions of years.

To say that a mechanism they propose may be "unprecedented" means that you either don't understand that the laws of physics are fixed or you don't understand that the life of the Earth is much longer than that of the humans' industrial civilization. Among imbeciles on steroids, e.g. the environmental activists, you may look cool if you say that mechanisms of the Arctic methane release are "unprecedented" and these environmentalist loons may emit lots of lies about your being a good scientist but you will be immediately identified as a science-ignorant imbecile by everyone who actually has a clue about natural sciences.

So I encourage the bosses and presidents of the universities that dared to employ these three imbeciles to fire them and do everything that is necessary for these individuals not to damage the good name of science and the good name of homo sapiens as a species. When I meet a dog on the street, I must often be ashamed to be a human – whenever I imagine that some of these dogs could have seen what the imbeciles have written in Nature. ;-) They're a disgrace. Also, the journalists who have parroted this breathtakingly stupid piece of climate alarm pornography – and be sure that their number is still much higher than the number of journalists who have been equipped with a brain – should be treated on par with those who sell child pornography because their behavior is actually more dangerous than child pornography.

And that's the memo.


  1. “Imbeciles on steroids”, I like that, Lubos.

  2. Well, I would suggest that oil companies go there and suck up the methane. We can use it as gas to produce electricity (and CO2). Good for us, and good for the earth.

  3. "Saying that a "mechanism [in Nature] is unprecedented" is tantamount to
    saying that the laws of Nature are changing in front of our eyes. He may
    very well shake his hand with Lee Smolin and similar psychopaths."

    Ha ha! Good one.

  4. I'm glad you posted about this, Lubos. I had already read some of the criticisms, but you've collected all those and more, and you've added your own thoughts. Good job! Some warmists who have used Wadham's paper - immediately swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker - have thereby made an outstanding demonstration of the fact that they are nothing more than propagandists.

  5. Arrogance is just so unattractive. If Witten can be a such a modest person, I'm sure you can too, Luboš.

  6. "...those who sell child pornography because their behavior is actually more dangerous than child pornography."

    I'm sorry, but I can't make any sense of this last sentence?

  7. Someone should invent a board game, Climate Alarmism: The Parlor Game. People who want to amuse themselves like children with scary scenarios of apocalypses could then find a harmless outlet, instead of promoting ruinous economic schemes and crackpot theories that get published in journals. Great review, Lubos.

  8. I thought that Nature had good reviewers and editors--I guess that they have turned that job over to RealClimate and John Cook. Nature has to stop shooting itself in the foot or it will turn into SciAm.

  9. One would think that if a reporter can see that this is nonsense, he or she might begin to realize that it's part of a pattern of exaggeration. Or maybe even think about the implications of such nonsense being published in one of the 2 most prominent general science journals in the world. But I guess they're not there yet.

  10. Right. By the way, just 2 minutes ago, I finished watching Solar Attack on Czech Nova Cinema TV:

    Some coronal mass ejections were going to burn the oxygen in the whole Earth's atmosphere. A crazy US billionaire has had a theory that this would happen, due to ozone holes and 3-5% (wow) of methane in the atmosphere (it's 0.0002% now). They confused the magnetosphere with the ozone layer ;-) but otherwise touching. He managed to convince a Russian friend who was a commander of a nuclear Russian submarine to send 5 nuclear bombs to the North Pole to detonate the Earth's biggest fire extinguisher and stop the fire in the atmosphere and save the Earth. ;-)

    The key role of methane in this apocalypse was over the edge, however. I can imagine that if some people are just not able to separately evaluate basic scientific questions, they may feel exactly as if they were in the movie in which the methane is 10,000 denser than in the reality etc. etc.

  11. Sorry Boss - I got beef, and questions.

    "Just to be sure, methane is a potent greenhouse gas but its concentration is only 1.8 ppm instead of 400 ppm as CO2; the human activities have more than doubled that concentration from 0.7 ppm." - Lubos said

    So if the concentration were something larger than 1.8 ppm, and let's stipulate that as much larger. Exponentially larger. Say 5% of the atmosphere. You say then there would be no doubt a large and easily detectable increase in surface temperature?

    When the coefficients are quantified, it turns out that the methane-induced warming has been about 1/10 of the observed warming in the 20th century. It's pretty much a practically negligible – although theoretically possibly detectable – player.

    I think not. And I have evidence to back it.

    Titan with a thick methane coating has a surface temperature of 93.7 K (−179.5 °C).

    Hyperion, Titan's close neighbor, has no appreciable atmosphere and virtually the same surface temperature, 93 K (−180 C).

    Where is the theoretically detectable player? It's hiding somewhere maybe?

    Wikipedia's "expert", McKay (in my opinion a cull),
    claims that Titan's greenhouse effect raises the ave. temperature by 12 K degrees.

    That's obviously false. But McKay is so in love with the methane greenhouse theory that he had to invent something to keep it alive.

    So we get this freak anti greenhouse effect that seems to only apply to Titan.

    But what is the anti greenhouse effect?

    "Titan has a strong greenhouse effect due to N2, CH4, and H2 (Samuelson 1983, McKay et al. 1989, 1991). Titan also has an antigreenhouse effect caused by a high altitude organic haze layer (McKay et al. 1991). Titan’s haze is opaque at visiblewavelengths but is virtually transparent to thermal infrared wavelengths. Thus, it blocks sunlight from reaching the surface but readily allows thermal radiation to escape."

    That's from the pdf link.

    So the anti greenhouse effects are clouds. They don't say it in such straight terms, but that's what they are describing.
    In the rest of the universe, clouds, whatever they be made of, along with various surface details, mountain ranges, shadows, craters, darker and lighter soil features, these are all effects described by one term, called albedo. Everyone else agrees on this term. It encompasses all wavelengths eminating from the surface of the planet, moon, or what have you, including thermal infrared wavelengths.

    So why is McKay and company renaming albedo and pretending like it's something new that they discovered?

  12. Dear papertiger, you're surely joking. If you had 5% of methane in the atmosphere (30,000 times more than what it is) - which is close to what a movie I watched last night, Solar Attack, claimed, the increase in surface temperature would be the least of your worries.

    Why? At concentrations above 1% or so, methane becomes dangerous because it's flammable. See section 8 here;

    So I would insist that even in your nonsensical because impossible scenario, the greenhouse effect would be negligible. 30,000 times is just 15 doublings which still corresponds to just several degrees Celsius of warming while the combustion of the atmosphere adds hundreds of degrees. Unless you want to add 5% methane and eliminate oxygen, or something like that, but sorry, I won't discuss similar idiocies because they're above the allowed threshold of idiocy. Again, if there were no oxygen in the atmosphere, the real problem would be bigger than some irrelevant greenhouse gas effect.

    I thought that you were a climate skeptic? Who has crippled your mind so that you started to believe that the greenhouse effect could be the greatest problem?

  13. That's angry Luboš.... :)

  14. It's not an impossible senario. It's the actual facts on the ground at Titan.

    Titan doesn't have oxygen to allow combustion.

    30,000 times is just 15 doublings which still corresponds to just several or a dozen of degrees Celsius of warming...

    No it doesn't. We have the example Titan with a thick atmosphere and 5% methane at virtually the same temperature as the airless neighboring moon Hyperion.

    Show me anywhere else where methane causes global warming that you can actually point to.
    Forget the theory. The theory is dead. Doesn't matter that it was a pretty theory that you liked alot.

    On Titan there is no global warming.
    Because of that fact, theories need to be discarded.

    Cheese and rice

  15. Dear papertiger, the greenhouse effect is just one effect that contributes to the temperature. Differing albedos - reflectivity of the surface - matter at least as much (and usually more than) the greenhouse effect. So a moon with a strong greenhouse effect may still be colder than a moon without it.

    Methane on Titan surely contributes many degrees to the temperature.

  16. So where are these many degrees of temperature added to Titan? They aren't in the observation.

  17. Of course that they're observed. Titan would be about 21 deg C cooler without the methane-based greenhouse effect. It would be cooler than other moons because it's more reflective. See e.g.

    Titan’s atmosphere and greenhouse effect

    Titan is the largest moon orbiting Saturn, the sixth planet from the Sun. It’s the only moon known to have a substantial atmosphere, composed of 95% nitrogen, 3% methane and traces of other gases. Titan’s atmosphere absorbs some of the infrared heat energy given off by the surface. This gives Titan a greenhouse effect which keeps it about 21 °C warmer than it would otherwise be – similar to the strength of the greenhouse effect on Earth. But Titan also has a large albedo caused by a layer of haze that blocks out some sunlight, cooling the moon by about 9 °C and so counteracting some of Titan’s greenhouse effect. Overall the atmosphere increases Titan’s surface temperature by about 12 °C.

  18. Lets define some terms, just so we are talking the same thing.

    The albedo scale is a 1 to 0,

    One being a perfect mirror like you mentioned in the amazing tech advances post. Zero being pitch black.

    Enceladus, a big iceball spouting snow into space, has a 0.99 albedo - the highest in our solar system.

    The moon is very dark by comparison with a 0.12 albedo.

    What you describe as a large Titan albedo is in actuality 0.22 , very close to the moon's.

    The lower the albedo gets the higher the surface temperature. btw has a mean surface temperature of 75K, which since it is the closest thing in the solar system to a perfect reflector, has to be the absolute low temperature for an astronomical body at the distance of Saturn.

    Now Hyperion has a 0.30 albedo without an atmosphere, so by rights even if Titan were naked rock without a GH effect at 0.22 it still would be warmer.

    Instead what we have is a moon wrapped in roughly the same thickness of ghg as the Earth, only it's the "super strength" ghg methane, that is practically the same temperature as the airless rock next door.

    Temperature taken directly at the Huygen's crash site, in Titan's "tropical" equatorial region.

  19. Good data, papertiger. I am not able to resolve the contradiction at this point but I suspect that either one of the numbers we use is wrong, or there is some extra effect due to non-sphericality of Hyperion or some extra radiation from other sources over there.

  20. Dear Tyger, a planetary scientist should be able to answer your questions in their sleep. Ask on or ...

  21. Extra warming effect due to non-sphericality of Hyperion?
    Having a hard time with that one.
    Here's why.
    They derive the temperature from the albedo somehow. I've tried looking closer at how that happens, but I was paywalled out of the helpful papers.
    Albedo is independent of the size of the cross section of the moon.
    Think of it as piece of paper. If you fold it in half, it doesn't change the color.

  22. Yeah. I 'm going to hold out for someone who is awake.
    Stick with the devils I know.
    But thanks for the suggestion.