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Earth Science

Strong Methane Emissions On the Siberian Shelf 582

rrohbeck writes "The Independent reports brand-new results of high concentrations of methane — 100x normal — above the sea surface over the Siberian continental shelf. A large number of methane plumes have been discovered bubbling up from the sea floor. This is probably due to methane clathrate, buried under the sea floor before the last ice age, breaking up as higher water temperatures melt the permafrost that had contained it."
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Strong Methane Emissions On the Siberian Shelf

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  • Hollow Men (Score:5, Funny)

    by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <aussie_bob@@@hotmail...com> on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:08AM (#25201315) Journal
    So this is how the world ends. Not with a bang but with a flatulent belch of ancient methane.
    • Re:Hollow Men (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Chris Rhodes ( 1059906 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:12AM (#25201343) Journal
      On the bright side, we might get to test this theory. http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn2088 [newscientist.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MrCreosote ( 34188 )

      Who let the dogs out!!??

    • by jcwayne ( 995747 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:59AM (#25201609) Homepage

      This dinosaur's last gas(p).

    • by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @02:03AM (#25201881) Journal

      The mass extinction at the end of the Permian has been attributed to numerous causes. One of the prime theories also has to do with rapid release of methyl hydrates from ocean-floor clathrates.

      The theory goes along the lines that oceanic overturning (exchange of bottom waters with surface waters) was limited in the Permian (even after the end of the Permo-Carboniferous glacial period), allowing accumulation of clathrates in oceanic sediments. However, overturning increased in the late Permian due to changes in oceanic circulation. This is conjectured to have caused massive releases of methane from methyl hydrates, with consequent large rapid swings in climate on land and in sea.

      The evidence is not conclusive, but is strong. Most of it is derived from studies of marine fossils and isotope ratios. Discussion of the evidence and assessment of this and other theories for the extinction may be found, for example, in:
      D.H. Erwin, The Great Paleozoic Crisis: Life and Death in the Permian, Columbia University Press, New York NY, 1993. ISBN:0715301306.

      Of course, oceanic overturning is much stronger in the modern world, with deepwater formation especially strong in the North Atlantic and at the margins of Antarctica. This suggests the potential for clathrate release is probably rather less than it was in the late Permian, but not necessarily negligible. Another conjectured effect of global warming is slowing of oceanic overturning

      The degree to which evidence supports these conjectures regarding ancient disruptions to climate is open to interpretation.

    • Re:Hollow Men (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Gerzel ( 240421 ) <brollyferret.gmail@com> on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @02:32AM (#25201973) Journal

      Eh. While it isn't good, remember this is one of the cooler portions of Earth's history, and we are technically still in an iceage. So it can get quite a bit hotter and life will still be sound.

      Sure our civilization might not like it but life will go on.

      We've got a long way to go before the run-away venusian greenhouse effects are seen. Still that doesn't mean we should do nothing.

      • Re:Hollow Men (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Pentagram ( 40862 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @03:35AM (#25202191) Homepage

        So it can get quite a bit hotter and life will still be sound.

        An important aspect of the problem is the speed at which warming is occurring, not just the overall temperature change. The faster the increase, the more difficult it is for life to adapt. And the rate at which change is happening is unprecedented.

        • Unprecedented? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by RudeIota ( 1131331 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @04:13AM (#25202305) Homepage

          And the rate at which change is happening is unprecedented.

          I'm not really arguing with you, but 'unprecedented' is relative what slice of time you look at and who's graph you pay attention to.

          If you look at temperature records provided by proxy sources (ice cores, tree rings etc...) over hundreds of thousands of years - on many of the graphs you'll find - it's pretty clear that the last millennium has been nothing unusual.

          If you look short term though, (past few hundred years) it looks pretty damning.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Well, the only events you see that are comparable in rate to the modern warming are the Dansgaard-Oescher events, associated with a restart of a collapsed thermohaline circulation. The THC is not now restarting, so it does appear something unusual is now going on.

    • by gbobeck ( 926553 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @05:41AM (#25202555) Homepage Journal

      "Pull My Finger!"

  • Own up (Score:2, Funny)

    by gringer ( 252588 )

    Alright, who farted a few hundred thousand years ago?

  • by Talisein ( 65839 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:11AM (#25201333) Homepage

    Luckily the methane emissions won't cause further warming. Hurray!

    • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:14AM (#25201349)
      By a factor of 27 or so. That's why effluent processing plants will burn the stuff off (apart from the fact it gives them some power).
      • yes and no (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jipn4 ( 1367823 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:29AM (#25201449)

        Methane has an atmospheric half-life of about 7 years (turning into CO2 and water), fairly independent of any biosphere.

        CO2 has an atmospheric half-life of somewhere between 50-100 years, with some nasty feedback (more CO2 = higher temperatures = longer half life).

        So, per-volume, methane is worse, but what's gonna get us is the CO2 because that hangs around much longer and has the positive feedback.

        • Re:yes and no (Score:5, Informative)

          by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @01:11AM (#25201681)

          Normally the relative greenhouse strength is corrected for a 100-year period (ie the shorter half life is already accounted for in the 27x number; I haven't checked the number, though).

          It sounds like methane does have a feedback loop -- methane causes warming releases more methane. Sure, there's a limited amount down there, but it's a rather large amount. We'd really rather it stay put.

          Not saying the CO2 isn't bad... but there's no shortage of other effects to go with it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Jesrad ( 716567 )

          CO2 also is already providing the maximum greenhouse effect it can. It reflects/absorbs only a pair of infrared wavelengths and the current density of CO2 in the atmosphere is already catching pretty much all of the solar energy radiated through these bands. Sorry I don't have a link handy.

          • Re:yes and no (Score:5, Informative)

            by jipn4 ( 1367823 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @03:50AM (#25202251)

            Where do you people come up with this sort of nonsense?

            Here's the projected relationship between CO2 concentrations and temperature increase:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:IPCC_AR4_WGIII_GHG_concentration_stabilization_levels.png [wikipedia.org]

            Notice how it keeps going up?

            That's assuming we don't hit some kind of positive feedback loop.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Troed ( 102527 )

              Where do you people come up with this sort of nonsense?

              Real science. Grandparent is correct, and if you spend a few minutes researching the subject you'll (easily) find his missing link.

              IPCC is a political organisation. AGW is a religion in the US (mostly). I prefer science over both politics and religion.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by meringuoid ( 568297 )
                Real science. Grandparent is correct, and if you spend a few minutes researching the subject you'll (easily) find his missing link.

                Well, why don't you provide that link, then? It's the done thing to cite one's sources when making claims, rather than expecting your readers to do the work on your behalf. After all, if it's such a small job of work, it's better that you do it once, than that every one of your readers should have to do it separately. Unless you enjoy wasting your readers' time?

                I spent a few

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by meringuoid ( 568297 )
            Because of the lack of a link, I'm forced to guess as to what you're going on about. This is why it's important to cite sources. But I made that rant in a more deeply nested reply.

            I think what you're looking at is the infrared absorption spectrum [wikimedia.org]. I quite agree that the principal frequencies at which carbon dioxide absorbs infrared are quite saturated - to a good approximation, all the infrared at those frequencies is absorbed.

            Thing is, though, what happens then? Your molecule absorbs a photon and goes

  • Is it recoverable? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:12AM (#25201341) Journal

    Could this be used to drive electric plants? Is it recoverable? Anyone have a match? A really fucking big match?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Let's look at this for a few decades and see if it's really happening.

  • Could this explode? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lwsimon ( 724555 )
    So, what happens if lightning strikes over one of these plumes?
  • Well (Score:5, Funny)

    by Walkingshark ( 711886 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:18AM (#25201375) Homepage

    We're advising all our customers to put everything they have into canned foods and shotguns.

    • Re:Well (Score:5, Funny)

      by Tubal-Cain ( 1289912 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:57AM (#25201599) Journal

      My PC doesn't fit in canned food. It doesn't run as well, either.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Valdrax ( 32670 )

      Because of the end of civilization, the Clamp Cable Network now leaves the air. We hope you've enjoyed our programming, but more importantly, we hope you've enjoyed... life.

  • by Wowlapalooza ( 1339989 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:22AM (#25201407)

    "I fart in your general direction!"


    Siberian Shelf

  • by clarkkent09 ( 1104833 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:33AM (#25201469)
    A large number of methane plumes have been discovered bubbling up from the sea floor over the Siberian continental shelf.

    In other news, the Russian Navy announced a successful test of a submarine powered by a brand new propulsion system. The exact details are still classified, but sources claim there is a mysterious link between it and a new food and beverage contract awarded by the Navy to Taco Bell
  • by Aussie ( 10167 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:50AM (#25201559) Journal

    but let's just hope it doesn't follow through.

  • by G3ckoG33k ( 647276 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @12:57AM (#25201595)

    People have been expecting these Methane clouds:
    http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5j3U0vEk53bVXHIcGUqqO64rvDAUg [google.com]

    "Melting of methane ice unleashed runaway global warming some 635 million years ago, according to a study released Wednesday that has implications for today's climate-change crisis.

    Release of the potent greenhouse-gas, at first in small amounts and then in massive volumes, brought a sudden end to the planet's longest Ice Age, its authors believe.

    During the "Snowball Earth" era, Earth froze over completely, with glaciers that crept down into the tropics and possibly even reached the equator."

    The Hives: Hate to Say I told You So:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsm2hSKkH7E [youtube.com]

  • Ob. Russia (Score:5, Funny)

    by DavidD_CA ( 750156 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @01:02AM (#25201629) Homepage

    In Soviet Russia... the outdoors farts on you.

  • by MrMista_B ( 891430 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @01:17AM (#25201707)

    http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn2088 [newscientist.com]

    "The release of massive clouds of methane from icy hydrates buried under shallow ocean floors is the leading suspect for the most devastating extinction in the fossil record, according to a new analysis.

    Methane best matches the unusual carbon-isotope fingerprints found at the scene of the crime, says Robert Berner of Yale University in Connecticut, US, though it cannot explain atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at the time.

    Berner says: "It's possible that you could have a combination" of effects causing the mass extinction that ended the Permian period, 250 million years ago. The event wiped out the vast majority of marine species and left Europe a near-desert."

    Oh shi...

  • What a surprise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by abigsmurf ( 919188 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @04:13AM (#25202309)
    Assuming they are correct and this is because of 'permafrost' melting, is 100x background that significant? The article doesn't mention figures so I had to look around.

    Methane currently makes up 0.00017% of the atmosphere. That means these very localised 100x concentrations have 0.017% methane. This would mean if this concentration was worldwide, it would be approx 10x worse than the CO2 in the atmosphere. EVERYBODY PANIC.

    However these are concentrations close to the surface over a very localised area. Permafrost makes up 25% of the earths surface, so that means on average this methane will now be of concentration to be 2.5x worse than the CO2. Still pretty bad.

    However there are other factors, not mentioned. It's safe to assume 100x was the worst they found, not the typical (afterall makes for the best headlines), what was the average reading? How far above the surface was the reading taken? How does the concentration diffuse as you take readings higher up?

    The article also neglects to mention that Methane breaks down after about 12 years (compared to 50-100 for Co2) and there's plenty of bacteria that break it down. Whilst this may cause levels to spike, once the vents in the exposed area are spent, it won't take long for levels to stabalise again.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hey! ( 33014 )

      To answer your question -- no, not in itself.

      However, that's not the question. The question is, has there been any change in the mechanisms releasing methane. If so, we don't know whether we've seen the full impact of the change that has taken place, or whether the change is progressing.

      It's not a cause for panic, it's something to look into. Even if this change has no global implications, the Arctic is changing in ways that make it very worth keeping an eye on.

  • by Cro Magnon ( 467622 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2008 @09:12AM (#25203599) Homepage Journal

    This time, it wasn't me!

Basic is a high level languish. APL is a high level anguish.