Although methane (CH4) has always been included in charts and diagrams relating to greenhouse gasses, The potential hazard from the The East Siberian Artic Shelf which extends for 2 million square kilometers has until recently been ignored.


“In its last major report in 2001, the intergovernmental panel on climate change predicted a rise in global temperatures of 1.4C-5.8C between 1990 and 2100, but the estimate only takes account of global warming driven by known greenhouse gas emissions.

“These positive feedbacks with landmasses weren’t known about then. They had no idea how much they would add to global warming,” said Dr Viner.” [David Viner, a senior scientist at the Climatic Research Unit at theUniversityofEast Anglia]

Ian Sample, science correspondent Thursday August 11, 2005 The Guardian



Since 2005, a few articles have been available to the layperson, however most of the fuss has been about CO2, a direct consequence of industrial, commercial and private activity.  Unfortunately, there are several indirect possibilities, some that may be “tipping points” that trip a positive feedback loop which many scientists fear may spiral out of control.  The artic tundra is one of them. In a recent article from the BBC news, Michael Fitzpatrick reports:


“The findings come from measurements of carbon fluxes around the north ofRussia, led by Igor Semiletov from theUniversityofAlaskaatFairbanks.

‘Methane release from the East Siberian Shelf is underway and it looks stronger than it was supposed [to be],’” he said.


Interesting how researchers are frequently revealing that global warming indications are often more serious than anticipated.  I suppose it is easier and more politically correct to underestimate and then express surprise than to report on the high side and retract after people have sacrificed perhaps needlessly.

Fitzpatrick continues:


“Methane seepage recorded last summer was already the highest ever measured in theArctic Ocean. Acting as a giant frozen depository of carbon such as CO2 and methane (often stored as compacted solid gas hydrates),Siberia’s shallow shelf areas are increasingly subjected to warming and are now giving up greater amounts of methane to the sea and to the atmosphere than recorded in the past.”


What is a hydrate? 


“WHAT do you get when you combine water and swamp gas under low temperatures and high pressures? You get a frozen latticelike substance called methane hydrate, huge amounts of which underlie our oceans and polar permafrost. This crystalline combination of a natural gas and water (known technically as a clathrate) looks remarkably like ice but burns if it meets a lit match. …Because methane is also a greenhouse gas, release of even a small percentage of total deposits could have a serious effect on Earth’s atmosphere.”


Is this a problem?


Back to the Fitzpatrick article.


The left hand says:  “Despite the high readings, Professor Gustafsson said that so far there was no cause for alarm, and stressed that further studies were still necessary to determine the exact cause of the methane seepage.”


The right hand says:   “The release of this once captive carbon from destabilised ocean sediments and permafrost would have catastrophic effect on our climate and life on Earth, warn the scientists.”


No wonder we are confused and millions of people are turning a blind eye on global warming.  If you are a skeptic, then you can quote the left hand.  If you are a believer, then you can cite the right hand.  This is somewhat like placing equal bets on the red and black numbers, around the roulette wheel. You are always a winner so it can be business as usual and you can claim that you are a team player.