Most Significant Global Warming Tipping Point Theory Bites the Dust

A scientific study on the results of the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill has yielded some surprising results that appear to disprove fears of methane release as a global warming “tipping point” to catastrophic warming.

The theory as currently incorporated by most climate models requires “tipping points” to go from mild anthropogenic warming to catastrophic global warming. The most plausibleand significant of these potential tipping points has always been the release of methane triggered by warmer temperatures:

A piece in the latest issue of Science shows that there’s a considerable amount of methane (CH4) coming from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, where it had been trapped under the permafrost. There’s as much coming out from one small section of the Arctic ocean as from all the rest of the oceans combined. This is officially Not Good.
Here’s why: methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, significantly more powerful than carbon dioxide. There are billions of tons of methane trapped under the permafrost, and if that methane starts leaking quickly, it would have a strong feedback effect—warming the atmosphere and oceans, causing more methane to leak, and on and on. The melting of methane ice (aka “methane hydrates” and “methane clathrates”) is probably the most significant global warming tipping point event out there.

IEET. Pushing Back Against the Methane Tipping Point

Scary stuff. However, the recent BP oil spill has given scientists the chance of an “impossible experiment” where just such a release of methane has occurred. And the results are now in:

ScienceDaily (Jan. 7, 2011) — Calling the results “extremely surprising,” researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara and Texas A&M University report that methane gas concentrations in the Gulf of Mexico have returned to near normal levels only months after a massive release occurred following the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

Kessler added: “Based on our measurements from earlier in the summer and previous other measurements of methane respiration rates around the world, it appeared that (Deepwater Horizon) methane would be present in the Gulf for years to come. Instead, the methane respiration rates increased to levels higher than have ever been recorded, ultimately consuming it and prohibiting its release to the atmosphere.

Science Daily. Gulf Oil Spill: Methane Gas Concentrations in Gulf of Mexico Quickly Returned to Near-Normal Levels, Surprising Researchers.

Who would have thought it? Not all the myriad teams of climate scientists, obviously, with their billions in research grants, their supercomputers and climate models. But then, a research paper that ends something along the lines of “we conclude that there is no danger, and therefore no need for further study” is not likely to lead to a grant renewal is it?

So what are the implications for this most dangerous of tipping points? The researchers say that their empirical findings (note empirical – as opposed to models on a computer) prove that similar methane releases are not a cause for concern so far as global warming is concerned:

Kessler noted: “We were glad to have the opportunity to lend our expertise to study this oil spill. But also we tried to make a little good come from this disaster and use it to learn something about how the planet functions naturally. The seafloor stores large quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, which has been suspected to be released naturally, modulating global climate. What the Deepwater Horizon incident has taught us is that releases of methane with similar characteristics will not have the capacity to influence climate.”

And so another terrifying tipping point bites the dust. Expect to read all about this in the newspapers and to hear about it on TV. Or not. Maybe just here at Hauntingthelibrary.

22 responses to “Most Significant Global Warming Tipping Point Theory Bites the Dust

  1. yea yea, climate scientists, they didn’t build my house.
    Little Butterflys with big dreams of controlling the world.

  2. Howard T. Lewis III

    Hey, great reporting! I’m so sick of this global warming scam.

  3. Wasn’t methane supposed to have caused the great extinction at the Permian-Triassic boundary? I always realised that warmist references back to that event were self-serving, with ludicrous attempts to ban domestic animals (except the cattle of Rajendra Pachauri’s native India, for some reason).

    Is the methane theory about the Permian Extinction nothing more than a bonkers greenie alarmist scare-story, cut and pasted from about 1996 on to the end of the Permian?

  4. Others have pointed to the isotopic signature of the last great methane surge as an argument against explosive clathrate melt (Petrenko et al. 2009). After the Younger Dryas cooling event things heated up very abruptly indeed, but the methane appears to have come from expanding wetlands, not clathrates:

    The research team, overseen by Scripps geoscientist and study co-author Jeff Severinghaus, collected what may be the largest ice samples ever for a climate change study. The researchers cut away 15 tons of ice from a site called Pakitsoq at the western margin of the Greenland ice sheet to collect the ancient air trapped within. Methane exists in low concentrations in this air and only a trillionth of any given amount contains the carbon-14 isotope that the researchers needed to perform the analysis. Levels of carbon-14, which has a half-life of 5,730 years, were too high in the methane to have come from clathrates, the researchers concluded.

    So there was no great planet-warming belch of methane from the high Northern Latitudes that turbocharged the end of the last glaciation. No climate tipping point.

    Summary article here:

    Keep hammering the alarmist claptrap HtL. It gets you nowhere but it feels good.


  5. The failure of methane to be a threat is diagnostic to how bad and slapdash the conclusions have been about methane release into the atmosphere. It is now apparent, as any good biologist could predict, that, when the permafrost melts, the life wakes up and begins active metabolism. These areas then become carbon sinks, not methane sources. The assumption that melted tundra is a mass of rotting vegetation is totally wrong. But, such bad conclusions fit their catastrophe model, so they accept it as the right answer.

  6. Charles

    Agreed on permafrost melt, but the article is about clathrates.

  7. HTL,

    Thanks for keeping up on the Gulf spill – very interesting indeed and I don’t think it will make much headway in the mainstream media. Too bad.

  8. You’ve been had, “releases of methane with similar characteristics” means deep water releases, nothing to do with the Alaska stuff that the article tries to associate this with.

    • Edit: Siberian, not Alaskan.

      • You have completely missed the point. The nature of the methane release is not the issue here, but the fact that it was absorbed so quickly and completely. Here is the key sentence from the article above:

        “…Instead, the methane respiration rates increased to levels higher than have ever been recorded, ultimately consuming it and prohibiting its release to the atmosphere.“

      • To quote from your quote “prohibiting its release to the atmosphere”

        My point was that this study shows a methane release would not in all likelihood reach the atmosphere in huge quantities as the quote clearly shows.

      • But it’s absorbed because it’s released at the bottom of deep water, not the shallow East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

  9. Charles

    Sorry – I’ve just glanced over the quote in the headpost and noticed that it states that the clathrates are trapped under permafrost.

    Clathrates are frozen methane deposits on the sea bed, which exist in a stable form because of a combination of low temperature and high pressure.

    Permafrost is a self-explanatory land subsurface freezing phenomenon.

    What a muddle, eh?

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  15. Sorry, but I have to ask if you’ve read the links you’ve posted? BBD was on the right track – these are NOT similar conditions, and no scientist should try to compare dissimilar conditions! Let’s expand the ‘impossible experiment’ soundbite:

    “This tragedy enabled an impossible experiment,” Valentine added, “one that allowed us to track the fate of massive methane release in the DEEP OCEAN, as has occurred naturally throughout Earth’s history.”


    “The East Siberian Arctic Shelf, in addition to holding large stores of frozen methane, is more of a concern because it is so SHALLOW. In deep water, methane gas oxidizes into carbon dioxide before it reaches the surface. In the shallows of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, methane simply doesn’t have enough time to oxidize, which means more of it escapes into the atmosphere.”

    And that’s not even taking into account differences in water temperature, nutrients, gas constitution, capacity for bacterial growth (even if the bacteria exist there?) between the ARCTIC and GULF OF MEXICO.

    There is no way this phenomenon can possibly refute the study, and the high atmospheric levels of methane rather suggest it ISN’T happening in the area of the Arctic studied, doesn’t it?

  16. This piece is typical of deniers in its dishonesty, juxtaposing “requires” and “significant” as if the threat of global warming depends on methane release into the atmosphere in cases like Deepwater and the failure of methane to reach the atmosphere means “there is no danger, and therefore no need for further study” when nothing of the sort is true.

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