The Independent carried a story on Tuesday that should alarm anyone interested in climate change (anthropogenic or otherwise).
"Exclusive: The methane time bomb", by Steve Connor, describes a just concluded methane sampling expedition along "the entire length of Russia's northern coast". Interested readers should just follow the link to get the whole story. To summarize: warming waters are releasing so much methane from previously trapped deposits that in some areas the seas are literally foaming as gas bubbles up from below. Previous sampling cruises in the area have detected increasing concentrations of dissolved methane in water, but apparently methane deposits are escaping at an increasing rate. Here is a good number from the article to keep in mind: the arctic region as a whole has warmed 4 degrees C in the last decade.
Since the release is caused by melting permafrost, there isn't much we can do to stop it. So, given that methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, we might want to give some thought to attempting a fix.
Jamais Cascio has been following this threat for quite a while, and extends here his thoughts on dealing with atmospheric methane using geo-engineering using bio-engineered microbes.
The most conservative estimates I've seen start at around 70 billion metric tons of methane -- the equivalent in greenhouse terms to 1.6 trillion metric tons of CO2. As a point of comparison, the total annual greenhouse footprint in the US is about 7 billion tons; globally, the annual footprint is about 30 billion tons.
If this methane leak continues to increase, we may be facing a disastrous result that no amount of renewable energy, vegetarianism, and bicycling will help. This is one scenario in which the deployment of geoengineering is over-determined, probably needing to remain in place for quite a while as we try to remove the methane (or, at worst, wait for it to cycle out naturally over the course of a decade or so). It's also a scenario that might require large-scale use of bioengineering.
That would be, to put it lightly, an extremely hard project. And we are nowhere near ready to start. Happy Thursday.