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The Methane Time Bomb And The Future Of The Biosphere

In Environment
Apr 29th, 2018

By Dr Andrew Glikson Countercurrents

The extraction and transfer from the Earth crust to the atmosphere of every economically available molecule of carbon, including coal, oil, tar sand oil, shale oil, methane gas, coal seam gas and other forms of hydrocarbon, constitutes the most significant shift in composition of the atmosphere since the PETM hyperthermal event about 56 million years ago[i] and the K-T extinction of the dinosaurs some 66 million years ago[ii].

Methane, the most potent common greenhouse gas, billions of tons of which are stored in Arctic permafrost, lakes, shallow seas and sediments, is emitted as the Arctic warms by an average of 3-8 degrees Celsius. This release threatens to melt the large polar ice caps, leading to tens of meters sea level rise and disappearance of species a rate two orders of magnitude faster than they would have without human interference[iii].

Compounding this effect is extensive drilling for coal seam gas, perforating the crust in several parts of the world and releasing commercial and fugitive emissions of methane to the atmosphere. Having sent young generations to kill and die in wars, the powers to be are now presiding over the greatest mass extinction of nature since 66 million years ago.

The accumulation of many hundreds of billions tons of unoxidized methane-rich organic matter in Arctic permafrost and of methane hydrates in shallow Arctic lakes and seas (Figure 1), before and since Arctic glaciation about 2.6 Ma-ago, as well as in tropical bogs, has created a reservoir of carbon whose release to the atmosphere may have catastrophic effects on the biosphere.

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Andrew Glikson is Earth and climate scientist, Australian National University, Canberra, A.C.T. Australia

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