Methane Hydrates Tipping Point threatens to get crossed
The July 2020 ocean temperature anomaly on the Northern Hemisphere was 1.11°C or 2°F above the 20th century average, the highest July anomaly on record. The yellow circles onthe image below are July data and red circles are data for other months.
The July 2020 ocean temperature anomaly on the Northern Hemisphere was well above the latent heat tipping point of 1°C above the 20th century average, threatening to soon reach the methane hydrates tipping point of 1.35°C above the 20th century average.
These are only two of ten tipping points that are hitting the Arctic, as described in a earlier post, while additionally there are further tipping points that do not specifically hinge on what happens in the Arctic, e.g. the ozone layer is very vulnerable, as described in an earlier post.
The latent heat tipping point
An earlier analysis indicates that the latent heat tipping point gets crossed when ocean temperature anomalies on the Northern Hemisphere get higher than 1°C above the 20th century average. As above image indicates, the tipping point did get crossed temporarily on several occasions in recent years, but this year it looks to have been crossed irreversibly, as indicated by the trend.
In other words, the sea ice has virtually lost its capacity to act as a buffer to consume further heat entering the Arctic Ocean.
Once the latent heat tipping point is crossed, further incoming heat will have to get absorbed by the Arctic Ocean, instead of getting consumed by the melting of sea ice, as was previously the case.
As long as there is sea ice in the water, this sea ice will keep absorbing heat as it melts, so the temperature will not rise at the sea surface and remain at zero°C. The amount of energy that is consumed in the process of melting the ice is as much as it takes to heat an equivalent mass of water from zero°C to 80°C.
Meanwhile, global heating continues and more than 90% of global heating is going into oceans.
Arctic sea ice is getting very thin and, at this time of year, it is melting rapidly, due to heat entering the Arctic Ocean from above, from the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, and from rivers that end in the Arctic Ocean.
The two images below shows the difference in sea surface temperatures of the Arctic Ocean, between August 4, 2020, 12 GMT and a forecast for August 22, 2020, 12 GMT. The important difference between the two images is the shrinking of the pale blue area (where the sea surface temperature is below 0°C) in the Arctic Ocean and the increase in areas with other tints of blue (above 0°C).
The image below, from a recent post, shows ocean surface temperatures on August 10, 2020, with very high anomalies showing up where the sea ice has disappeared. The image also shows that the Arctic Ocean in many places is very shallow (right panel).
The dramatic decline of the sea ice is even more evident when looking at the fall in ice thickness. The navy.mil animation below was run on August 16, 2020, and shows sea ice thickness over 30 days (last 8 frames are forecasts for August 17 – August 24, 2020).
The methane hydrates tipping point
As discussed in earlier posts such as this one, the rising temperature of the Arctic Ocean threatens to destabilize methane hydrates contained in sediments at the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean.
As the top image shows, the methane hydrates tipping point could be crossed soon, as the Arctic Ocean is heating up dramatically, which is in part the result of the latent heat tipping point getting crossed, which makes that the temperature of the Arctic Ocean can rise very rapidly.
The methane hydrates tipping point threatens to get crossed as ocean temperature anomalies on the Northern Hemisphere become higher than 1.35°C above the 20th century average, which threatens to occur early next year.
Because the Arctic Ocean in many places is very shallow, heat can quickly reach sediments at the seafloor, which threatens to destabilize methane hydrates. The water of the Arctic Ocean is particularly shallow over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), making that the water there can warm up very quickly during summer heat peaks with heat reaching the seafloor and penetrating cracks in frozen sediments at the seafloor, which can lead to abrupt destabilization of methane hydrates contained in these sediments.
As discussed in an earlier post, the loss of subsurface sea ice is only one of ten tipping points hitting the Arctic. As the temperature of the oceans keeps rising, more heat will reach sediments at the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean that contain vast amounts of methane, as discussed in this page and this post.
Large abrupt methane releases in one spot will quickly deplete the oxygen in shallow waters, making it harder for microbes to break down the methane there, while methane that is rising through waters that are only shallow will also be able to enter the atmosphere very quickly, leaving little time for microbes to break down the methane.
As illustrated by the 2012 image on the right, a large abrupt release of methane from hydrates in the Arctic can have more warming impact than all carbon dioxide emitted by burning of fossil fuel in a year. This is the result of the high global warming potential (GWP) of methane following its release.
As this warming is concentrated in the Arctic, it will contribute to further methane releases from hydrates in the Arctic.
The situation is extremely dangerous, given the vast amounts of methane present in sediments in the ESAS and given that there is very little hydroxyl in the air over the Arctic to break down the methane.
Ominously, the MetOp-1 satellite recorded a peak methane level of 2434 parts per billion on the afternoon of August 14, 2020, at 321 mb, while mean methane levels were 1919 ppb.
The danger is further illustrated by the image below, posted in February 2019 and showing a potential rise of 18°C or 32.4°F from 1750 by the year 2026.
Indeed, a rise of 18°C could eventuate by 2026, as illustrated by the image below and as discussed in an earlier post.
The situation is dire and calls for immediate, comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.
• NOAA Global Climate Report – July 2020
• Danish Meteorological Institute – 5 Day Ocean Forecast – Universal (Greenwich) Time
• Danish Meteorological Institute – sea ice thickness and volume
• NOAA ocean heat content
• North Hole 2020?
• Arctic Hit By Ten Tipping Points
• Why stronger winds over the North Atlantic are so dangerous
• Very High Greenhouse Gas Levels
• Critical Tipping Point Crossed In July 2019
• Fast Path to Extinction
• Crossing the Paris Agreement thresholds
• Why America should lead on climate
• Methane’s Role in Arctic Warming
• The Threat
• When will we die?
• A rise of 18°C or 32.4°F by 2026?
• Most Important Message Ever
• Climate Plan