Is the climate dragon awakening?

Using a vast and credible set of climate measurements and physics, James Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren makes the case that humans overloading the atmosphere with carbon would eventually trigger the release of vast additional carbon stores locked in shallow sea gas hydrates and from Arctic tundra.

In my professional opinion as a climatologist with more than 70 externally reviewed scientific publications, after 12 years of university education focused on atmospheric and oceanic science, and followed by 10 years of university lecturing on micro and mesoscale meteorology theory and instrumentation, Hansen’s warnings should be met with an aggressive atmospheric decarbonization program. We have been too long on a trajectory pointed at an unmanageable climate calamity; runaway climate heating. If we don’t get atmospheric carbon down and cool the Arctic, the climate physics and recent observations tell me we will probably trigger the release of these vast carbon stores, dooming our kids’ to a hothouse Earth. That’s a tough statement to read when your worry budget is already full as most of ours is.

December 2013, I found myself in a packed room at the world’s largest science meeting, the AGU fall meeting. The session: “Cutting-Edge Challenges in Climate”. Invited speaker Dr. Lori Bruhwiler presented ”Arctic Permafrost and Carbon Climate Feedbacks” – a cautious, objective, and science-only [politics-free] survey of the Arctic carbon issue and what data we have. Also invited, Dr. Peter Wadhams pitched ”The cost to society of a methane outbreak from the East Siberian shelf”, off the fence, citing costs to humanity measured in trillions of $. My take home from the session was well paraphrased by Bruhwiler, citing a sparse observational network, concluding ‘we just can’t say much yet’. That was then…

Clearly, considering the vastness of the Arctic, the network of ground-based observing stations does appear sparse, with a solitary station representing Siberia, at Tiksi, you’re left thinking that governments should do more to keep their finger on this pulse. On the pulse side, however, the measurements happening at Tiksi [and other sites in the network such as Alert and Pt. Barrow northern Alaska], I can tell you, are really high end; with BSRN radiometers, eddy covariance gas fluxes, gas flask sampling, etc., impressive and not inexpensive. What do these data tell us?

A 30 year methane data series from Alert, far northern Canada, 30 year, includes an 8% increase in methane. This is the most recent 8% of the more than 250% humans have elevated methane since industrialism began year 1750 or so. The Tiksi record started recently is too short to deduce a trend. But it includes, like the other records in this network,
Methane records from this network include occasional spikes. Green symbols on the charts below indicate these extreme positive outliers. A reasonable hypothesis for the outliers marked below by me with dragon breath? [I had these labled WTF? ] would be: extreme outlying positive anomalies represent high methane concentration plumes emanating from tundra and/or oceanic sources. Another reasonable hypothesis would be: extreme outlying positive anomalies represent observational errors. What NOAA states: the outliers “are thought to be not indicative of background conditions, and represent poorly mixed air masses influenced by local or regional anthropogenic sources or strong local biospheric sources or sinks. ” Fair enough. But, the dragon breath hypothesis has me losing sleep.

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