Monday, October 20, 2014

Warming oceans releasing methane = bad news

The way that I stay on top of climate change issues is to follow the Twitter feeds from a variety of sources including Grist, RTCC, Michael Mann, Climate Change and others.  Effectively these sources serve as a news clipping service for me so that I can stay up-to-date on the current science of climate change as it unfolds.  You can see who else I am following from my own Twitter profile.

Over the last year or so the news has been getting pretty bleak.  A significant issue is that while the surface temperature of the planet is not warming as much as expected in recent years, scientists have now found that that heat is going into the deep oceans.  This is really bad news because those warming oceans are contributing to ocean acidification which is harmful to aquatic life, particularly coral reefs.  As water warms it expands raising the average ocean levels.   Warmer oceans also increase the melt rate of the polar ice caps.  It is also bad news because the warming oceans in the Arctic are releasing methane in massive bursts from gas hydrates in the arctic ocean floor.  Methane is 30 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and even if less than 1% of the methane trapped in the ocean floor were released we would be in really really deep shit.  Here is a summary of the current science on this topic and its potential to cause abrupt climate change.  Add to this the massive methane gas releases from melting permafrost and we have a serious problem. 

What this means in the grand scheme of things is that most of the estimates that have been created about climate change and particularly ocean level rise are much more conservative than previously thought.  Many climate scientists are saying that we can expect ocean levels to rise by up to 10 feet by 2100, but my interpretation of all the existing science would seem to indicate that we could expect much more than that.  Many tipping points have already been crossed.

As I said in an earlier blog post (Bye-bye Beaches): 
"This means that within your lifetime you will lose what cherished memories (of beaches) you have because we have so thoroughly screwed up the planet that the oceans will inevitably rise and take away many of our favorite places."

Is this the world we want  to leave to our children and grandchildren?  While climate change may seem such a large and abstract thing that is beyond our ability to respond to in a direct way, I personally am doing everything I can and "being the change I want to see in the world" as Gandhi thoughtfully suggested.   It is up to every one of us to do our very best to reduce our use of fossil fuel and live a sustainable lifestyle.   Almost every purchase we make can be a vote for a solution to the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced.