Whitley's Journal

Superstorm Sandy and the Future

It is an odd and chilling feeling to see Hurricane Sandy called a superstorm. It's going to go down in history as Superstorm Sandy.

I didn't coin the word 'superstorm' but the Coming Global Superstorm, certainly brought it into the language. And the movie based on it, the Day After Tomorrow, fixed the idea of such storms in the public imagination.

Sadly, my work also added fuel to the false debate about global warming that was being generated by powerful moneyed interests such as the Koch Brothers, big coal and big oil, and put before the public by Rupert Murdoch's propaganda machine and Rush Limbaugh. What is so pitiful is that their efforts to avoid spending money to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are going to lead to them spending vast amounts more to save their assets from the storm damage that is coming. And some of these companies will not survive at all, perhaps many of them. Perhaps most.

They weren't interested in winning the debate. The debate itself was the delaying tactic that they sought, and in that sense, they won the battle. We have indeed delayed doing anything serious about global warming until this late hour.

While I can and do blame the responsible parties for creating this fake debate, what concerns me more is that the most serious effects of the delay that it caused have yet to be felt. To be specific, there are billions of gigatons of 'frozen' methane on the sea floor of the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean. Changes in the Atlantic currents caused by a warming of the water have drawn the Gulf Stream northward. At some point, these waters are going to get too warm for the methane hydrates to remain frozen, and they are going to release, causing almost unimaginable quantities of this gas to enter the atmosphere.

Measurements being taken around the arctic since 2010 have indicated that methane is already spiking there, and arctic warming is indeed proceeding faster than global warming models predicted just a few years ago. This is not because of melting methane hydrates, but because of melting permafrost releasing trapped organically produced methane into the atmosphere. But it's the beginning of a chain reaction. As the permafrost melts, it charges the atmosphere with methane, which then traps 20 times more heat that carbon dioxide. This, in turn, causes the arctic ocean to warm, which forces Atlantic currents further and further north. This happens because they require cold water for the vast 'heat pump' on which they depend to work. The temperature difference between warm water in the south and cold water in the north is what makes the currents possible.

Last summer, the warming of the North Atlantic drove the Gulf Stream far to the north. This opened a late-season 'gate' of warm water and warm air that allowed Sandy to enter northern waters and collide with cold air storms that were descending from the Arctic across the North American land mass. The result--a storm that was at one point a thousand miles wide, by far the largest storm, in terms of area covered, that has ever been recorded in the region. Another result: the North Atlantic warming is continuing.

Methane hydrates melt into methane gas at 47 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is only a matter of time before the temperature of the water in contact with them exceeds that level.  When that happens, massive amounts of methane will enter the atmosphere. This gas is a far more efficient heat trapper than carbon dioxide, and it will cause dramatic temperature spikes and a climactic upheaval that is likely to be extremely damaging.

However, methane does not last for years and years like carbon dioxide. It dissipates in about 12 years. The result of this will be that temperature spikes caused by the methane will suddenly, at some point, lose their support from atmospheric methane.

Compared to what will happen then, Superstorm Sandy was just a baby. Because we allowed the false debate to go on too long, even if the United States and China dropped our carbon dioxide releases to zero, it is now too late.

There is more, and worse, to come. And the false debate will not end. Even as the upheaval overtakes us, it will continue. Unlike the methane, we will remain frozen.

I find it difficult to believe that China can make any real progress in reducing its emissions. The country is simply too corrupt and too big a polluter to do this. The US can and is doing this, but it is probably too little too late, and with China's emissions increasing, it is not going to help.

The entire coastal region around the Atlantic, from Florida up through Canada, Greenland, and Europe all the way down to the Straits of Gibraltar is at risk from rising sea levels, climactic extremes of flooding and drought and storms of unprecedented power. The probability of crops being destroyed in vulnerable but high-productivity areas such as central and southern Europe and the British Isles, is overwhelming, as is the likelihood that coastal areas over the entire region will sustain in some cases irrecoverable damage.

So what is to be done? The first thing is that existing urban infrastructure needs to be strengthened to make sure that essential services and metropolitan population concentrations are protected as much as possible. Secondly, analysis of agricultural trends needs to be done, and growing areas that are likely to survive, in particular in Africa, need to be developed with all haste.

I assume that the false debate will not end. Even as their profits are being destroyed by climate change, the companies that pay for the fake science behind it will continue to support it. Rush Limbaugh will not change his position, and millions of people will continue to send representatives to congress who do not 'believe in' global warming, as if belief had anything to do with it. The Koch brothers, big oil and big coal will continue to fund the fake science that argues against the obvious, and millions of people will continue to believe Rupert Murdoch's propaganda machine.

However, many more people, and more every day, are not willing to listen to the propaganda any more. They have only to look around them--and they are doing so--to see that it is a lie. Global warming models have been strikingly accurate up to now, and if they are adjusted to account for rising levels of atmospheric methane, their record will remain intact. If not, then the rate of change will overtake them.

Thanks to the power of the fake debate in our political life, though, we have lost our chance to reduce carbon dioxide emissions enough to matter over the next 10 to 20 year period. This means that it is also too late to stop the methane cycle that is currently beginning. It is not too late, however, to understand it and prepare our infrastructure as best we can to meet the challenge of the upheaval that is coming.




"....there are billions of gigatons of 'frozen' methane on the sea floor of the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean."
What's your source for this figure? "billions of gigatons" would be at least 2,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons. That's multiple orders of magnitude above estimates I could find.

"Methane hydrates melt into methane gas at 47 degrees Fahrenheit"
At which pressure? There will be a pressure/temperature curve, not a static temperature vs pressure. The average depth of the arctic ocean, according to an entry I found in Wikipedia, is 1038 meters. That equates to about 104 atmospheres of pressure.

The temperature at this depth is generally about -1 to -2C, or about -30 to -28 F. Given the thermal mass of the Arctic Ocean, there is NO chance that the temperature at the Arctic sea floor will rise above 47F anytime in the next 10,000 years, barring some catastrophic event such as tectonism which lifts the Arctic sea floor above sea level, or the sun going supernova. And if such a catastrophe did occur, outgassing of methane from the ocean would be the least of our worries.

All this is not to say that we won't see an increase in atmospheric methane, but if we do, it will be from terrestrial or tropical oceanic sources, not from polar sea floors.

Whitley's simply been redundant with his magnitude prefixes. The peer-reviewed Nature article claims there to be 2.5 gigatonnes of methane hydrates in a 10,000 square KM region of the North Atlantic, along the eastern margin of the U.S. The stated mass should be contrasted to the upper bounds estimate of a 5000 gigatonne global store of frozen hydrates. The North Atlantic represents somewhat of an outlier in Clathrate formation, forming at depths of 250m whereas most Clathrates are found at depths between 1000m and 3000m. This is because it's pretty damn cold down there (~30F). At a depth of 1000m, Clathrates can form in as high a temperature as 60F. But at 250m the maximum stability temp for Clathrates is close to freezing (32F). That's a bit close for comfort, but I've seen no data on the estimated volume of Clathrates at precisely those depths.

What's the potential for real trouble here then? It's not necessarily to do with the magnitude of the unstable Clathrates. If that whole 2.5 gigatonnes went off in spectacular fashion much of it would be absorbed by the ocean and critters and such. Even if it all made it to the surface it would not contribute as much to warming as compared to the existing 2.1 *million* gigatonnes of CO2. But there's 4 somewhat plausible scenarios that concern me.

1. A quickening of the "disassociation" occurring now could possibly destabilize sea features (i.e. underwater avalanches), causing a mechanical release of otherwise frozen hydrates (i.e. release without a temperature bump). This could possibly manifest a dangerous forward feedback loop.
2. Sudden methane release causing temporary acidification of the ocean and interrupting the growth cycle of plankton
3. A modest, but extremely rapid influx of methane could manifest its effects in highly non-linear ways -- the big flapping wings of a very large butterfly, if you'll excuse the analogy
4. We have vastly underestimated the frozen hydrate stores! Perhaps there's much more trapped in the sediments than we realize.

I've no hard data to qualify the probability of these scenarios. I just sure hope they are as they appear to be, wild a$$ conjectures.

Here's the sources for many of the "facts" and figures I state.
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v490/n7421/full/nature11528.html
http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~archer/reprints/buffett.2004.clathrates.pdf
http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070908101242AALwgLr

Sorry, one other thing.

An interesting note on the Koch Brothers. I refer you to the skeptic who was "converted" by research that was (partially) funded by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. I can't argue they've been proponents of global warming theory in the past, or even the present. I can argue they've positively, and ironically, contributed to the science of it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/30/opinion/the-conversion-of-a-climate-ch...
http://berkeleyearth.org/donors/

You bring up a good point about the estimates of hydrated methane. I have long suspected that estimates of terrestrial anhydrous methane are also far too low. However, this works both ways. Given the huge population size (for example, square meter grids of the sea floor), it is very difficult to gain enough direct measurements of any constituent part (such as methane hydrates) to achieve statistically valid conclusions about the total reservoir of that constituent. So the estimates of the amount existent are just those -- estimates -- not discreetly known quantities. I would not be at all surprised to find out that our estimates are orders of magnitude too high, rather than too low.

A model can be no better than the parts used to build it. Climatological modeling has often been frustrated by employing uncertain assumptions, and will continue to be.

There is no doubt about Global Warming being real..

Creating doubt, and uncertainty is just a technique used to try and discredit, facts. Its effective because scientists are trained to be doubtful, and use evidence rather than intuition to make judgement calls.

Global Warming does not depend on Methane Hydrates and it will proceed to its conclusion in any event. All thats really being discussed above is the difference between a catastrophe, and a cataclysm.

I would prefer that neither even was to happen. However at this point Catastrophe, is a sure thing. Whether your killed by an anvil dropping on your head from the sky, or die because a black hole enters the solar system, and gobbles up the earth, in the end, dead is still dead.

When i look at the results of Hurricane Sandy, and the devastation that it's caused, and is still causing, I see another warning that will eventually be rationalized a way. Reason, and rationality can become the perfect disguise, for darker motives.

Hurricane Sandy however was not alone, there also was the phenomena known as Derecho, that happened before it. And then there was hurricane Katrina.

In our culture, we are taught to believe that horrendous acts are committed by the irrational. However, in point of fact the most horrendous deeds are usually committed by those who portray themselves as the most rational among us. Horrendous beliefs and acts are almost always justified by reason.

So go ahead, argue, use your reason, to deceive and mislead others. The results will be the same. As Whitley has pointed out the climate change deniers have put our civilization in a terrible position, one in which we can only hope to try and cope with what comes.

The climate of the Earth is changing, and those changes are approaching us on a massive scale, implacably, inexorably to a final end. All of us, every one of us needs to take steps to prepare. Our government will be too overwhelmed to be able to effectively help. If you doubt that.. and and I am sure many will, you only have to look at what's happening to the people after Sandy right now, and what happened to Katrina survivors for a taste of what will happen to you, when the Next 2 or 3 larger Sandy's come through.

I would like to believe there are other subscribers whom appreciate that an objective, non-sensationalistic approach to Global Warming is the only means to know its true nature ... and to accept that truth without reservation. Indeed, skepticism is intrinsic to science, yet that skepticism is the engine of discovery -- true science is impelled to find answers that fit the data, and when later data disagrees, find better answers. Rinse. Repeat.

There's a lot of good climate science going on in this world, but too often we wait for our talking heads on the TV and radio to present these "facts" to us. We're delivered beliefs that have already been distorted by others' beliefs, and unfortunately that's where it stops; we've been granted the Gospel truth, no need to question the details. Belief is without inertia; it is the pillar of knowledge, not its chariot. It's nice to have a roof to stand under but I feel it's far more important we stay ahead of the darkness chasing us. Horrible massive death is encroaching, in this dangerous place it always is.

I don't doubt we are collectively screwed, but I also recognize that as a belief. Shall we face our destruction trembling like helpless creatures hiding in the forest? Or do we face inevitability with our eyes wide open and hands outstretched, enraptured in the joy of real knowing?

I've hope that some very smart, motivated people will solve this vastly multivariate, highly non-linear climate puzzle within acceptable degrees of confidence. And then, and only then, can we see the options available to us. Non-linear systems exhibit exponential amplifications of certain inputs ... is there a tractable solution just out of our sight? Or is there absolutely none, at least none in time? We have to keep looking until we're certain of either. Let's keep the question open. However, that doesn't mean we should be paralyzed by uncertainty either. Act local and think global and all that.

And for the record, I'm here because of Whitley's beautiful *scientific* mind. I don't think Whitley is representing sensationalism, I think he's a rich source of hypotheses that are guided by strong intuitions of hidden knowledge, and he indirectly energizes dialogue in the climate science community. There is a theme of urgency underlying many of his hypotheses that people mistake for "belief" and sensationalism, but it's the side effect of having such strong appreciation for what global catastrophe really looks, and feels, like.

I think what I'm really trying to say is, we are all very ignorant and we must admit this to ourselves. We don't have the answers we need, yet. We can and must do much better, and it is not a sin to believe so. Thank God we've lights like Whitley in this world to help us, or at least me, see that profound truth.

For anyone worried that the Government has its head buried in the sand alongside the hydrates...
http://energy.gov/node/387289
Lot of really good research being funded by the DOE. Money well spent!

That link is a link to a research project to develop hydrates as fuel. Just like the one above for the Japanese government. Burning methane as fuel will release carbon dioxide, a green house gas. We have to stop using hydrocarbons as fuel. That is the bottom line... There are alternative energy sources that do not release CO2.

On a physical level I thinkg we're probably past the point of no return. I think if we realy too much on "media" to tell us the truth we're fools. As a close observor of nature, I have drawn my own conclusions- things are getting pretty ugly. In the Boise area we suffered thru months of heavy smoke from raging mountain forest fires down here in the city. Hospitals were full, people simply couldn't breathe. It was horrible. I sat there and asked myself "is this the new normal"? Too dry of a winter (and another one forecast this winter), then too hot, too early in the summer. What's next? I think of the members here who aren't just following ufo stories, but are working on their souls awakening. For some there will be another portal perhaps, that we will find soon. Another shift, and it won't be climate related :) There's always hope from another perspective....

Gerald, that's an unfortunate misrepresentation of the linked content. It's now likely most won't have bothered to look at it and moreover have assumed I'm an ignorant climate-change "denier" that likes to troll Whitley's journals. Oh well, I'll try again: http://energy.gov/node/387289

While the content of the embedded link itself contains another link to a recent methane extraction project (conducted by the DOE and the Japanese government) the page is clearly about Energy Department funding of 14 different methane hydrate-related advanced research projects. Yes, there's an emphasis on understanding the viability of methane hydrate as a fuel supply, but if you scroll down a little more and look you'll discover many of the projects are in fact about measuring and modeling environmental impacts. One such example:

"The University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas) — The project at the University of Texas at Austin will develop conceptual and numerical models to analyze conditions under which gas will be expelled from existing marine accumulations of gas hydrate into the ocean, which could potentially have a damaging effect to the ecosystem
Energy Department Investment: $1,176,000"

This research project is crucial to appreciating the risk and environmental impact of methane release, as are several more. Don't underestimate the progressiveness and objectivity of Dr. Steven Chu, our Secretary of Energy. I don't believe him to be perfect but I refuse to believe he's a shill for the energy interests. He's a force for good science and the resulting positive environmental practices we will eventually benefit from. What would a Romney-nominated cabinet member in that post give us? Obama made a bold and wise choice in Chu. Excited to see what Chu could do with 4 "Obama legacy" years...or perhaps I'm being naive.

If asked to choose between Whitley and 99% of the scientific community or "Bryce", "Eddie", and their fossil fuel industry compensated sycophants, a logical person would choose the former hands down.

This in summary is the answer.

If asked to choose between Whitley and 99% of the scientific community or "Bryce", "Eddie", and their fossil fuel industry compensated sycophants, a logical person would choose the former hands down.

This in summary is the answer.

Whitley, you wrote:

"Changes in the Atlantic currents caused by a warming of the water have drawn the Gulf Stream northward..."

Forgive me but I'm confused. I thought you and others said that because of the desalination of the North Atlantic due to glacial runoff and melting Polar Ice, the Gulf Stream would collapse farther to the South than it presently does; primarily, because the less salty, cooling Gulf Stream waters would not sink below the colder water any longer; thus, interrupting the entire global oceanic flow.

I'm not being critical... I think that Global Climate Change is a genuine phenomena and should be taken seriously.

Would you please clear this up for me? Thanks

Read the original source: http://www.unknowncountry.com/journal#ixzz2D8nzcEaH

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