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January 09, 2007

Methane Bubbling Up From The Sea? Environment

The most frightening global warming scenarios involve runaway feedback mechanisms that make global warming self-reinforcing. The thawing of Siberian permafrost, for example, releases methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, into the atmosphere — which causes further warming, which in turn causes further thawing, and so on.

Besides methane in permafrost, an enormous amount of methane is trapped undersea as methane clathrate or hydrate. If that methane were to start being released into the atmosphere, it would be an ominous development, putting it mildly.

Which brings us to what could be the scariest global warming story I've seen yet. Unfortunately, it's impossible at this point to evaluate or confirm its accuracy, so I'll just pass it along.

The source is Wayne Madsen, former NSA analyst and US Navy intelligence officer, who reports:

According to U.S. maritime industry sources, tanker captains are reporting an increase in onboard alarms from hazard sensors designed to detect hydrocarbon gas leaks and, specifically, methane leaks. However, the leaks are not emanating from cargo holds or pump rooms but from continental shelves venting increasing amounts of trapped methane into the atmosphere. With rising ocean temperatures, methane is increasingly escaping from deep ocean floors. Methane is also 21 more times capable of trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

Madsen goes on to speculate that the venting of undersea methane could have been the source of the gas-like odor that alarmed Manhattan residents yesterday. Make of that what you will. (Before you write me to point out that methane itself is odorless, let me add that undersea methane is often accompanied by longer-chain hydrocarbons and hydrogen sulfide, decidedly not odorless.)

Treat this with some skepticism for now. But if it turns out to be true — I don't want to think about it.

[Thanks, Miles]

Posted by Jonathan at January 9, 2007 04:53 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb


Today New York may have just experienced a small belch of methane. Imagine a constant stream of methane from the ocean engulfing all of NY City making it inhabitable.

What would be the effects of shutting down the entire city of NY?


Posted by: Jeff at January 9, 2007 07:25 PM


Hate to say this, but if enough methane is bubbling up from the ocean to 'shut down' NYC, the present system of O2 to CO2 life is what might 'shut down'.

NYC not working stikes me as the least of the worries.

Posted by: eric blair at January 9, 2007 09:04 PM

Good point. I was just thinking of methane seeping around the coast of NYC, but I suppose it would actually seep from many parts of the ocean.

Posted by: Jeff at January 10, 2007 01:04 AM

If this happens its likely a repeat of the Permian extinction (which would be rather unfortunate for everyone, not just New Yorkers).

I would be a little wary of Mr Madsen - he's very good at writing conspiracy theories but I doubt he has much knowledge of methane clathrates or ocean temperatures - it might be worth asking a question over at RealClimate about this, where you'll get some informed comment.

My personal gripe with the ocean at the moment is that its 5% C colder than it should be at Sydney beaches at the moment - damn climate chaos...

Posted by: Big Gav at January 10, 2007 07:23 AM

Or maybe the sensors are getting better and better

Posted by: Pigou Club at January 10, 2007 07:52 AM

Permafrost melt in Siberia is one of many, many global warming-related problems. See http://www.saveandconserve.com/2007/01/an_inconvenient_truth_that_hurts_even_worse_a_year_later.html for an update from Al Gore

Posted by: Save and Conserve at January 10, 2007 10:00 AM

> Which brings us to what could be the scariest
> global warming story I've seen yet.

Which naturally you eat up.

Wayne Madsen's writing is journalistic crap. Real writers and journalists source their material, and they don't write vague and unverifiable things like "according to U.S. maritime industry sources...." They name those sources and they quote them by name.

That's called journalism. It is the process of truth-finding. But the author of this blog will fall for any kind of crap which falls anywhere on the Internet, as long as it reinforces his apocalyptic desires.

Posted by: David at January 10, 2007 11:06 AM

David, two things. First, I was careful to say (and repeat) that Marsden's report should be treated with skepticism since it is impossible to confirm independently. Second, journalists constantly write things where sources aren't identified by name, using phrases like "administration sources say..." or whatever.

I certainly would have preferred that Marsden had identified his source(s), but I think I bent over backwards to indicate that his claim should be treated with skepticism pending independent confirmation. Personally, I would be inclined to believe that he has a source on the maritime sensors, but that when he connects it to the gas in NYC he is just speculating -- which is why I used the word "speculate" in the post. Marsden doesn't strike me as someone who would just make up the story about the maritime sensors, and given the implications it struck me as a story worth passing along, so long as I infused it, as I believe I did, with an appropriate level of skepticism.

Posted by: Jonathan at January 10, 2007 11:34 AM

The Madsen article is of such poor journalistic quality that you should not have even presented it as deserving of consideration. You should have higher standards.

Posted by: David at January 10, 2007 12:08 PM

David, None@none.com,

no. you are suggesting this site be vetted to suit your particular taste. I, for one, would stop reading if Jonathan's censored his freedom of speech to meet your self serving bar.

Jonathan is absolutely correct in pointing out that the standard of journalism in washington D.C. is lower than anything that ever gets posted here.

The treasonous "anonymous" expose of a CIA field agent by the administration is a good example of the intersection of "journalistic ethics" with anonymous sources.

Wayne Madsen is hardly any different, but there is another way that information sources can be judged,

By their track record.

So, if this is an accurate story, there WILL be corroboration.

And probably sooner rather than later - say within three months.

I'll be watching.

With an open mind, but not a leaky one.

Sorry, Jonathan, for using this space to enage in a mild vendetta with one of your readers.

Posted by: Jon S. at January 11, 2007 02:13 AM

I guess its fair to say that Madsen would be right at home at Fox "some people say" News should they ever swing to the left.

I think its good to complain about lack of journalistic standards (in Madsen's case, not Jonathan's) - however since the War on Terror began there is hardly a news outlet out there who isn't just as guilty as Madsen for not citing sources and/or making stuff up...

Posted by: Big Gav at January 11, 2007 03:18 AM

It was conspiracy theorists like Madsen who got me reading Peak Oil sites. It was wild-eyed anti-war types 5 years ago who warned that America was heading towards world war and dictatorship. It was the respected corporate media who supported this march to disaster.

In 1992 I wrote (and later published) a very short story called "Monster Island" in which a white suburban jerk described his life during the era of Godzilla attacks, starting with Godzilla humping the Statue of Liberty. The jerk clearly enjoys the resulting carnage because he hates the minorities in the ghettoes where "his" military chooses to make its stands. He denounces experts who try to explain Godzilla's behavior. He never thinks about those bomb tests that created Godzilla. And he says that the cities are full of "monster sympathizers" who, thank God, are now being rounded up and put in camps. I did not have references or footnotes, just my own deep anger at the cowardice and ignorance of the American people after the 1st Iraq War and where it could lead. (A copy is currently at Fictioninferno.com)

The prophets of the Old Testament didn't get corroboration, and neither did Tom Paine. When the mad prophets give you a better guide to the future than the established sources, it means revolutionary change is coming.

Posted by: super390 at January 13, 2007 07:21 PM