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Earth Science

The Arctic Is Leaking Methane 303

Posted by kdawson
from the thar-she-blows dept.
registerShift and other readers sent in news that the Arctic Ocean seabed is leaking methane. "...climate experts familiar with the new research reported in Friday's issue of the journal Science that even though it does not suggest imminent climate catastrophe, it is important because of methane's role as a greenhouse gas. Although carbon dioxide is far more abundant and persistent in the atmosphere, ton for ton atmospheric methane traps at least 25 times as much heat. ... [One scientist] estimated that annual methane emissions from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf total about seven teragrams. (A teragram is 1.1 million tons.) By some estimates, global methane emissions total about 500 teragrams a year. ...about 40 percent is natural, including the decomposition of organic materials in wetlands and frozen wetlands like permafrost."
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The Arctic Is Leaking Methane

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  • Fuel? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hackwrench (573697) <hackwrench@hotmail.com> on Friday March 05, 2010 @09:55AM (#31370272) Homepage Journal
    So can it be capped and used for fuel?
  • Re:Fuel? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by carlhaagen (1021273) on Friday March 05, 2010 @10:04AM (#31370380)
    Wouldn't it just be easier to collect the staggering amounts of methane byproduct from all our cattle and other livestock? Surely the methane resources in these "establishments" are far more manageable than those of an arctic plain.
  • Re:Fuel? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Friday March 05, 2010 @10:07AM (#31370422)
    In most cases, probably not. The methane is seeping out at low local concentrations over a vast area - there is no huge concentrated deposit like it is the case with oil or natural gas. Instead it is dissolved at low concentrations in the soil. Pure, concentrated methane hydrate deposits exist and might be useable for fuel extraction, though. Those are usually deeper in the oceans, where the hydrate is stabilized by water pressure. Getting the stuff to the surface without prematurely releasing the methane due to the pressure reduction is non-trivial, though. I suppose oil and natural gas are too cheap to make harvesting such methane hydrate deposits economically viable at the moment.
  • For clarity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HungryHobo (1314109) on Friday March 05, 2010 @10:15AM (#31370494)

    7 teragrams = 7,000,000 metric tons.

    Far easier to think about if you work in units people are used to.

    To compare to something in human terms:

    The British Emerald is the largest LNG carrier I can find and can carry somewhere in the region of 77500 metric tons of gas (155,000 cubic meters with LNG having a density of about 0.5 kg/L).

    So this is something like approximate to the largest natural gas tanker in the world releasing it's entire load into the air about 90 times over.

    any corrections to figures welcome.

  • Re:Fuel? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Friday March 05, 2010 @10:19AM (#31370538)
    Natural gas is indeed mostly methane, with some ethane, propane, CO2 in the mix. I was using the term to refer to fossil gas mostly associated with oil deposits and the like. I just looked it up and found that the distinction between fossil gas, methane clathrates and swamp gas seems not to be that strong in English, which is not my first language.
  • Re:Let It Burn! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pydev (1683904) on Friday March 05, 2010 @10:26AM (#31370622)

    Methane being 25 times more hazardous to the climate than CO2 then surely even burning it in-situ would be ecologically sound byproduct is CO2 + 2H20

    That's not true. Methane's half-life in the atmosphere is so short that it is not a significant risk; in a year, all that methane is going to be CO2 anyway and only 1/25th as potent for global warming.

    CO2 is risky because it has a half-life of over a century.

  • by PakProtector (115173) <cevkiv@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday March 05, 2010 @10:37AM (#31370706) Journal

    Parent is insightful, +5.

    We have, as a nation, in the name of Corporate Greed and the Maximization of Profit, destroyed our manufacturing sector, which was the world's greatest after WW2. We have ceased to create real Wealth, and now we produce only imaginary Wealth. Not everyone can be a Doctor or a Lawyer or an Engineer. We need actual jobs that actually produce things.

    Our entire system is based on a redistribution of wealth; we take it from the many and concentrate it into the hands of the few.

  • by PPalmgren (1009823) on Friday March 05, 2010 @11:08AM (#31371130)

    Do you want to pay for the conversion? The reason it isn't done is it is not worth the cost. Buttloads of industries use tools and supplies that have measures set in the imperial system, like piping. Converting all of these would require massive investment, and incur complications much more expensive than leaving it be. If you simply changed the measures without dimensions it wouldn't help, because "gimme that 1/4'' pipe" is much easier than "gimme that .635cm pipe" for people who would use it, and people would continue to use imperial regardless. This doesn't even include the re-education of the general populace that rarely uses measurements, which is daunting and expensive.

    The people who require precise measurement and an international system both use metric and know how to convert to it. Their mistakes are simply negligence and laziness (this is coming from someone in the shipping industry who uses short ton [2000lb], long ton[2240lb], and metric ton[1000kg] regularly). Forcing everyone to convert because it would make everything equal for the OCD crowd is not a valid reason.

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Friday March 05, 2010 @11:22AM (#31371302) Journal

    But I'm happy about it because I think it is important. Anyway since I spent a while putting my submission together, here it is for your (hopeful) enjoyment:

    Will LIFE almost end AGAIN? Another Great Dying?

    I've said it before (http://slashdot.org/submission/1066423/Another-Permian-extinction-on-the-way?art_pos=62, http://slashdot.org/submission/1056203/Global-Warming-Tipping-Point?art_pos=71 [slashdot.org]) and I'll say it again: there may be a chance that we may be facing another Permian level extinction event. What is that you say? It was the greatest extinction event in earth's history (hence "The Great Dying") causing up to 96% of all marine organisms to go extinct and 70% of terrestrial vertebrates. Remember, these are entire SPECIES that went extinct, individual population losses were obviously higher. The cause? Well according to Wikipedia: "only one sufficiently powerful cause has been proposed for the global 10 reduction in the 13C/12C ratio: the release of methane from methane clathrates;[7]"

    So, as you can see, I keep saying this because the stakes are so high.

    Well now there are reports (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory?id=10010948) that the methane clathrates off of Eastern Siberia are releasing 8 million tons of methane a year. While currently "negligible" compared to global emissions of about 440 million tons: "The release of just a 'small fraction of the methane held in (the) East Siberian Arctic Shelf sediments could trigger abrupt climate warming,'" This WILL become more likely because: "If atmospheric temperatures rise, the hydrate stability zone will shift upward, leaving in its stead a layer of methane gas that has been freed from the hydrate cages. Pressure in that new layer of free gas would build, forcing the gas to shoot up." http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090902133637.htm [sciencedaily.com]. Of course what's driving this is the quick rise in temperatures in the Arctic/Antarctic, temperatures there are rising twice as fast as the global average (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jan/14/arctic-permafrost-methane). So even if we manage to keep the temperature rise BEFORE counting in the additional methane release to a very optimistic 2 celsius (3.6 degrees for Americans) it will be twice that for the arctic regions. Remember also that these articles are talking about just a small part of the arctic methane clathrate reserve (which is itself just a tiny part of the global reserve in all the deep sea sediments) and that it is coming out of out of the sea bed in other places too. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090902133637.htm).

    If the temperature rises cause enough methane to come out to cause the temperature to rise even more we could be in for a very bad greenhouse effect. Methane is 20x more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2 and there are 500-2500 Gigatons of the stuff on the ocean floor compared to just 700 Gigatons of CO2 in the atmosphere. So if just 5% of the stuff comes out, we've doubled the heat retained in this manner by the atmosphere!

    Now I probably lost the climate-denialists/creationists/young-earthian/Republicans a while ago but to those of you still reading please consider that this is an EXISTENTIAL threat, that is it threatens our (humankind's) very existance. Maybe if temperatures soar into the mid-one hundreds, people will still be able to walk outside/in the winter/in Antarctica and exist in air-conditioned caves elsewhere but I think you'll agree we will have made our own hell on earth. So even if the chance of a semi-runaway greenhouse effect is very small we should really REALLY be careful. (To see the effect of a full runaway greenhouse effect, just visit Venus, hot enough to melt lead!).

    Sure prediction, especially about the future, is hard. But the vast majority of climate scientists think we are headed for a cliff in the fog, fast. They may dis

  • Re:Fuel? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BobMcD (601576) on Friday March 05, 2010 @12:08PM (#31371896)

    See my post above, but also, Re #2:

    http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/06/26/methane_digester/ [publicradio.org]

    The cost of the setup is here:

    The biggest hurdle is cost. This on-farm power plant, called a manure digester, is only the third in the state, and it has a half a million dollar price tag. Federal, state and local grants paid for much of it, but the farmer paid the remaining $100,000.

    The savings seem less clear, though he does expect to drive his car for free, power the process for free, and earn $400/week from pumping power back into the grid. Without knowing his costs, it is hard to say for sure how long it would take him to reclaim even his own $100,000.

    We can guess though, from this site [farmanddairy.com]:

    In South Dakota, for example, electricity alone represents 30 cents per 100 pounds of milk.

    and

    The 200 cows on Jerry Jennisson's central Minnesota dairy farm make 1,100 gallons of milk every day.

    Google holds the weight of milk at '4.5 lbs/gallon'... So a little rough math puts the dairy farm's operation at 4950 pounds and $14.85 per day.

    Total revenue, from what we know, generated by the digester is something in the area of ($5,420.25 + $20,800) $26,220.25/year. He'd get his money back out in four years, or so, and the total break-even is twenty years. None of this accounts for the other economic factors. There are likely additional positives and negatives to the formula, but at the end of the day it actually does earn money.

    Also, this is first-generation tech. Efficiency will undoubtedly go up, increasing revenue and lowering costs. There were only three at the time of the writing, which means they were not being mass-produced, but custom built.

  • Re:Sustainable (Score:3, Interesting)

    by radtea (464814) on Friday March 05, 2010 @12:20PM (#31372046)

    Nature seeks states of equilibrium.

    One might as well say, "Nature seeks extinction", as far more species have become extinct due to entirely natural processes than currently exist.

    The Earth has become uninhabitable at least once already, with the build-up of a highly toxic gas that was the result of the natural metabolism of natural organisms, sometime between 1 billion and 500 million years ago. This entirely natural process killed off very nearly every living thing, driving a vast range of single-celled species to extinction. It also happened to open the door to complex multi-cellular life, which evolved from the few survivors, but that was an incidental side-effect.

    It is the nature of life to use all resources to the maximum extent possible, and evolution is a locally optimizing "greedy" algorithm, at least to first order. The only kind of "equilibrium" nature produces is that of a stalemated war, and that only temporarily.

  • by radtea (464814) on Friday March 05, 2010 @12:31PM (#31372202)

    Why do people think climate scientists are any different,

    Because they work in a field that is extremely messy and fraught with uncertainty and yet promote the results of their unphysical computational models as being virtually certain, and they lead their arguments with fearmongering language about the risk of dire consequences rather than the science.

    If anyone believes that climate models are an adequate basis for public policy, then they also necessarily believe we ought to immediately implement global free trade, because economic models are of far higher quality than climate models, and the underlying processes are far better understood, and all economic models show that global free trade would be of vast economic benefit, to the extent of saving millions of human lives per year.

    So give that you are assuming that climate models are a sufficient basis for public policy, am I correct in assuming you are also absolutely in favour of global free trade? Can you point to any impassioned articles you have written on this subject, and the millions of lives that are lost each year as a result of not adopting this policy? You are clearly deeply concerned with things that will better humanity's future, so surely you must have written such things.

    If not, why not?

  • by zogger (617870) on Friday March 05, 2010 @12:39PM (#31372294) Homepage Journal

    There's a lot of it being done small scale in places like India and Pakistan, a lot of households run on biogas, but in areas with stacks of regulations, etc, it is not quite as popular. The hoop jumping requirements are Olympic caliber. On big scales it takes good quality expensive materials,as it tends to eat up steel. I've done it on a small scale, made some test runs using junk plumbing parts and tubs and old barrels, that's it. You do get good burnable gas relatively easy, it's those fine picky points of engineering that need to be sorted out and where the big costs lie.

    In the US, the most common biogas harvesting is methane extraction from old dumps. On farms so far there are some examples, but it's just too expensive for most guys to build. There's a lot of interest to be sure, but once they look at the costs and regs, the enthusiasm drops fast. Even just composting on large scales is expensive and has some serious regs associated with it, and the fines for non compliance are bankruptcy class quickly.

        We have three large scale litter composting sheds here, large scale as in hundreds of tons total at any given time being composted, and they have to be approved design, covered buildings, and once you jump through those expensive hoops to get that built, then you have new buildings that just add to your local taxes. Oh, then you need a hundred grand and up big loader, and one or two smaller bob cat loaders just to rearrange the composting litter. Then some spreader trucks, which ain't cheap either. More expense, more taxes and insurance, etc. So you try to do good, and they charge you more for that effort.

      The government makes it almost a no win situation with that in other words. We've looked into shifting to biogas..ain't happening right now.

    Start paying farmers more for their products than the wall street speculators get for server entry shuffling and flash trades, etc. on commodities....we'll talk. We'd have the re$ource$ then to do stuff like this more, and most farmers would love to go for it, because energy costs are killer, and farmers just love building *neat shit*. We are outdoor and equipment nerds. Our gadgets are big and expensive, so that means they have to pay, else you can't afford them. Nothing is pocket change, nothing. Everything is always "man this just sucks" expensive just to purchase or build, then ongoing maintenance, which is a huge set of overlapping projects all the time and repairs, etc.. Our farm has medium beefy data center energy costs, some thousands of bucks a week depending on weather extremes for electricity and propane. And you really can't chance, nor do they like to offer, any huge loans for this stuff, as one bad season, etc, could wipe you out completely. Ain't worth the risk, you most likely couldn't get the loan anyway, catch 22 and a half there.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biogas [wikipedia.org]

  • by Late Adopter (1492849) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:10PM (#31373394)

    If the vast majority of medical experts told you that you had a disease that was curable but only if you acted quickly wouldn't you do so?

    Suppose one believes the full corpus of scientific literature on AGW. What do you do next? The IPCC report says that trends don't predict an extinction level event, but *do* constitute a certain amount of cost to global society. Do we have a model that says if we put Treaty X into effect as soon as possible we avert all that cost? Well how much of it CAN we avert? And how much does that affect the world around us? Will China comply? Do we lose even more of our manufacturing industry? Does it bite into GDP? Jobs?

    It's not as black and white as "slam on the brakes". There's real costs and potentially real benefits that have to be weighed, and I don't see literature that realistically shows either is higher than the other (though I'm willing to be pointed to sources).

  • Re:Let It Burn! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pugugly (152978) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:10PM (#31373402)

    Ouch - I was familiar with the numbers, but not the curve.
    So, fundamentally the effect is frontloaded, so the direct effect is to warm up faster and the indirect effect is to release more methane as it does so.
    And, if I'm reading the formulae in the wiki article right, those numbers are direct effect numbers, not taking into account feedback loop effects. Understandable - much easier to calculate, less assumptions, but as methane leaks out of permafrost, it's going to cascade a lot.

    We may have hit tipping point.

    Pug

  • by Retric (704075) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:35PM (#31373762)

    If you are using propane for heating you may want to look into building a solar hot water heating system. http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/water_heating/index.cfm/mytopic=12850 [energysavers.gov]. Assuming you target an 80% solution (aka use 80% less fuel than you did) they can useually pay for them selves in 3 to 7 years. With larger scale systems having a faster payback time.

  • by BlackThorne_DK (688564) on Friday March 05, 2010 @03:09PM (#31374200)
    Last I checked the country I live in was largely metric. Water pipes, TV screens and some sizes of lumber is still in inches though. It's kind of a transition fase that was never really completed. Not a real problem here, but I struggle to keep track of short and long tons.. Here a ton equals 1000 kilograms.
  • yes (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zogger (617870) on Friday March 05, 2010 @03:28PM (#31374446) Homepage Journal

    Sold a lot of those things back during the first big energy crisis then tax credits deal back in the 80s. They were basically *free* then if you had enough taxes taken out, so it was an easy sell. Carter sucked on most issues, but for energy, he was our top prez ever, and IF we had followed through with those goals from back then, we'd be doing a lot better today.

        Ya, they work well. There's a lot of nice solar thermal stuff that people forget about it, only thinking about solar PV. In fact, my first solar project was a swimming pool heater in the 60s. How about solar ovens for cooking and water purification? I have some of that stuff, too, along with my PV.

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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