Global Warming Getting a Power Boost from Methane Gas

Global Warming in perspective

Global Warming in perspective (Photo credit: net_efekt)

Global warming is a very complex process.  One major aspects of it is that it’s much like an explosive.  Explosives like C-4 and dynamite require a primer or blasting cap which is a much small explosive to provide a small burst of intense energy needed to detonate the main far more larger explosive charge into a catastrophic chain reaction.  In the case of global warming man is the primer producing enough CO2 (carbon dioxide) to trigger global temperature to rise beyond the critical threshold to ignite the complete meltdown of glaciers and polar ice sheets.  This detonates the liberation of huge stores of sequestered greenhouse gases trapped deep under the oceans and and at the bottom of glaciers and polar ice sheets which melt away causing a chain reaction of greenhouse gases that produce even more global warming thus feeding upon itself.

CO2 is quite soluble in water.  To appreciate its solubility, our atmosphere contains only about 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 or less than half a percent in the atmosphere.  The vast majority of CO2 is actually absorbed by water.  Contrast that to 21% of oxygen in our atmosphere.  Nature produces about equal amounts of both gases but oxygen is far less soluble in water so it largely remains in the atmosphere at much higher concentrations.

The bottom of oceans store vast quantities of CO2 absorbed over millions of years.  These very cold and dark waters can concentrate large amounts of CO2 under enormous pressures like carbonated beverages when cooled and sealed under pressure in a can.  As the oceans warm up due to global warming these vast reservoirs of CO2 start to be liberated back into the atmosphere.  You can see this effect by comparing the amount of CO2 that escapes from a warm can of soda versus a cold can when opened.  Thus not only are we putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel but the consequential warming of the oceans from global warming causes a chain reaction to liberate even more sequestered CO2 back into the atmosphere like a snowball rolling down a hill.  The amount of CO2 stored under these oceans is billions of times more than man has ever put out, but warming these ocean waters only 2-3 degrees C liberates a few percent of this stored CO2 back into the atmosphere which is far more than that put out by man and normally emitted by nature.  Thus our output of CO2 over the last 100 years acts as a primer to release a far greater amount of naturally stored CO2 from the oceans in a chain reaction.  CO2 is also stored in ice which when melted liberates additional CO2 back into the atmosphere.  So we are the trigger for far greater greenhouse emissions.

But the story doesn’t end here.  There is a another sequestered gas that is even deadlier as a greenhouse gas, that is Methane gas (CH4).  Nature produces Methane through decaying organic matter similar to the way oil is produced in nature.  It occurs in oil and natural gas wells as well as shale.  It burns readily to produce CO2 and water vapor and is a cheap source of energy so it is often collected and stored to be sold.  A controversial process called fracking liberates large stores of it from shale.  It is sometimes captured in enclosed garbage collection sites and used as fuel.  It is also a byproduct of decaying cow manure and is recaptured by some farmers for fuel.  Its concentration in our atmosphere is a fraction of CO2 even though it is not very soluble in water and breaks down over time from UV sunlight exposure.  Man and nature produces far less methane than CO2.  But pound for pound methane is more than 20 time more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2.  This makes it an extremely potent and dangerous greenhouse gas.  But due to its current low concentration in the atmosphere it plays little role in global warming.

However there is an enormous storage of methane gas trapped in frozen permafrost of ancient decayed forests under the Antarctic ice sheets and other frozen tundras such as northern Siberia and Greenland.  As the tundras thaw and icecaps melt exposing more ancient tundras these vast stores of methane gas will escape into our atmosphere and significantly add to the overall greenhouse gas load.  Estimates are that by 2020 some of these Antarctic ice covered areas will be exposed liberating methane into our atmosphere and that by 2040 most of the ice caps will have melted exposing these huge ancient tundras which will liberate even more massive amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere.  This could start a catastrophic chain reaction where global warming will accelerated at an even greater pace causing unprecedented catastrophic weather events within the next 30-100 years resulting in untold amounts of property damage and loss of life.  Even if we stopped all CO2 emissions by 2040, global warming may take on a life of its own.

So it is imperative to dramatically reduce our emissions of CO2 now to curb further melting of arctic ice and tundras.  Huge sheet of ice have already broken away from Antarctica and glaciers throughout the world are rapidly melting.  If we do little now to stop greenhouse gas emissions we may be too late to stop this methane power boost later.

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2 Responses to Global Warming Getting a Power Boost from Methane Gas

  1. Pingback: New Technology May Overshadow Global Warming | ouR Social Conscience

  2. Pingback: Global Warming – A real threat to all Life on Earth | ouR Social Conscience

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