Mackenzie River Delta in Canada as seen by satellite (NASA)

Methane Seeps Out as Arctic Permafrost Starts to Resemble Swiss Cheese

From an Article by Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News, July 19, 2017

PHOTO: In parts of northern Canada’s Mackenzie River Delta, seen here by satellite, scientists are finding high levels of methane near deeply thawed pockets of permafrost.

Global warming may be unleashing new sources of heat-trapping methane from layers of oil and gas that have been buried deep beneath Arctic permafrost for millennia. As the Earth’s frozen crust thaws, some of that gas appears to be finding new paths to the surface through permafrost that’s starting to resemble Swiss cheese in some areas, scientists said.

In a study released today, the scientists used aerial sampling of the atmosphere to locate methane sources from permafrost along a 10,000 square-kilometer swath of the Mackenzie River Delta in northwestern Canada, an area known to have oil and gas desposits.

Deeply thawed pockets of permafrost, the research suggests, are releasing 17 percent of all the methane measured in the region, even though the emissions hotspots only make up 1 percent of the surface area, the scientists found.

In those areas, the peak concentrations of methane emissions were found to be 13 times higher than levels usually caused by bacterial decomposition—a well-known source of methane emissions from permafrost—which suggests the methane is likely also coming from geological sources, seeping up along faults and cracks in the permafrost, and from beneath lakes.

The findings suggest that global warming will “increase emissions of geologic methane that is currently still trapped under thick, continuous permafrost, as new emission pathways open due to thawing permafrost,” the authors wrote in the journal Scientific Reports. Along with triggering bacterial decomposition in permafrost soils, global warming can also trigger stronger emissions of methane from fossil gas, contributing to the carbon-climate feedback loop, they concluded.

“This is another methane source that has not been included so much in the models,” said the study’s lead author, Katrin Kohnert, a climate scientist at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany. “If, in other regions, the permafrost becomes discontinuous, more areas will contribute geologic methane,” she said.

Similar Findings Near Permafrost Edges

The findings are based on two years of detailed aerial atmospheric sampling above the Mackenzie River Delta. It was one of the first studies to look for sources of deep methane across such a large region.

Previous site-specific studies in Alaska have looked at single sources of deep methane, including beneath lakes. A 2012 study made similar findings near the edge of permafrost areas and around melting glaciers.

Now, there is more evidence that “the loss of permafrost and glaciers opens conduits for the release of geologic methane to the atmosphere, constituting a newly identified, powerful feedback to climate warming,” said the 2012 study’s author, Katey Walter Anthony, a permafrost researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“Together, these studies suggest that the geologic methane sources will likely increase in the future as permafrost warms and becomes more permeable,” she said.

“I think another critical thing to point out is that you do not have to completely thaw thick permafrost to increase these geologic methane emissions,” she said. “It is enough to warm permafrost and accelerate its thaw. Permafrost that starts to look like Swiss cheese would be the type that could allow substantially more geologic methane to escape in the future.”

Róisín Commane, a Harvard University climate researcher, who was not involved with the study but is familiar with Kohnert’s work, said, “The fluxes they saw are much larger than any biogenic flux … so I think a different source, such as a geologic source of methane, is a reasonable interpretation.”

Commane said the study makes a reasonable assumption that the high emissions hotspots are from geologic sources, but that without more site-specific data, like isotope readings, it’s not possible to extrapolate the findings across the Arctic, or to know for sure if the source is from subsurface oil and gas deposits.

“There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of these geogenic sources at other locations in the Arctic, but it’s something that should be considered in other studies,” she said. There may be regions with pockets of underground oil and gas similar to the Mackenzie River Delta that haven’t yet been mapped.

Speed of Methane Release Remains a Question

The Arctic is on pace to release a lot more greenhouse gases in the decades ahead. In Alaska alone, the U.S. Geological Survey recently estimated that 16-24 percent of the state’s vast permafrost area would melt by 2100.

In February, another research team documented rapidly degrading permafrost across a 52,000-square-mile swath of the northwest Canadian Arctic.

What’s not clear yet is whether the rapid climate warming in the Arctic will lead to a massive surge in releases of methane, a greenhouse gas that is about 28 times more powerful at trapping heat as carbon dioxide but does not persist as long in the atmosphere. Most recent studies suggest a more gradual increase in releases, but the new research adds a missing piece of the puzzle, according Ted Schuur, a permafrost researcher at Northern Arizona University.

Since the study only covered two years, it doesn’t show long-term trends, but it makes a strong argument that there is significant methane escaping from trapped layers of oil and gas, Schuur said.

“As for current and future climate impact, what matters is the flux to the atmosphere and if it is changing … if there is methane currently trapped by permafrost, we could imagine this source might increase as new conduits in permafrost appear,” he said.

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Science is Under Attack in the U. S. Government

by Duane Nichols on July 22, 2017

Scientists are essential to the future of mankind

I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trump administration.

Letter to the Editor by Joel Clement, Washington Post, July 19, 2017

NOTE: Joel Clement was director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the U.S. Interior Department until last week. He is now a senior adviser at the department’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government.

I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science.

Nearly seven years ago, I came to work for the Interior Department, where, among other things, I’ve helped endangered communities in Alaska prepare for and adapt to a changing climate. But on June 15, I was one of about 50 senior department employees who received letters informing us of involuntary reassignments. Citing a need to “improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration,” the letter informed me that I was reassigned to an unrelated job in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies.

I am not an accountant — but you don’t have to be one to see that the administration’s excuse for a reassignment such as mine doesn’t add up. A few days after my reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress that the department would use reassignments as part of its effort to eliminate employees; the only reasonable inference from that testimony is that he expects people to quit in response to undesirable transfers. Some of my colleagues are being relocated across the country, at taxpayer expense, to serve in equally ill-fitting jobs.

I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities. During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a U.N. conference in June. It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government.

On Wednesday, I filed two forms — a complaint and a disclosure of information — with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. I filed the disclosure because eliminating my role coordinating federal engagement and leaving my former position empty exacerbate the already significant threat to the health and the safety of certain Alaska Native communities. I filed the complaint because the Trump administration clearly retaliated against me for raising awareness of this danger. Our country values the safety of our citizens, and federal employees who disclose threats to health and safety are protected from reprisal by the Whistleblower Protection Act and Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.

Removing a civil servant from his area of expertise and putting him in a job where he’s not needed and his experience is not relevant is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. Much more distressing, though, is what this charade means for American livelihoods. The Alaska Native villages of Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are perilously close to melting into the Arctic Ocean. In a region that is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the land upon which citizens’ homes and schools stand is newly vulnerable to storms, floods and waves. As permafrost melts and protective sea ice recedes, these Alaska Native villages are one superstorm from being washed away, displacing hundreds of Americans and potentially costing lives. The members of these communities could soon become refugees in their own country.

Alaska’s elected officials know climate change presents a real risk to these communities. Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) have been sounding the alarm and scrambling for resources to help these villages. But to stave off a life-threatening situation, Alaska needs the help of a fully engaged federal government. Washington cannot turn its back.

While I have given small amounts to Democratic candidates in the past, I have no problem whatsoever working for a Republican administration. I believe that every president, regardless of party, has the right and responsibility to implement his policies. But that is not what is happening here. Putting citizens in harm’s way isn’t the president’s right. Silencing civil servants, stifling science, squandering taxpayer money and spurning communities in the face of imminent danger have never made America great.

Now that I have filed with the Office of Special Counsel, it is my hope that it will do a thorough investigation into the Interior Department’s actions. Our country protects those who seek to inform others about dangers to American lives. The threat to these Alaska Native communities is not theoretical. This is not a policy debate. Retaliation against me for those disclosures is unlawful.

Let’s be honest: The Trump administration didn’t think my years of science and policy experience were better suited to accounts receivable. It sidelined me in the hope that I would be quiet or quit. Born and raised in Maine, I was taught to work hard and speak truth to power. Trump and Zinke might kick me out of my office, but they can’t keep me from speaking out. They might refuse to respond to the reality of climate change, but their abuse of power cannot go unanswered.

Read more:

Letters to the Editor: Interior Department cuts represent an assault on our public lands

Jacquelyn Gill: The ‘war on science’ doesn’t just hurt scientists. It hurts everyone.

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Our EARTH is Becoming a Plastic Planet

July 21, 2017

A Plastic Planet: Enought to Bury Manhattan Two Miles Deep From an Article by Julie Cohen, UCSB Current, July 19, 2017 Industrial ecologist Roland Geyer measures the production, use and fate of all the plastics ever made, including synthetic fibers. Since the large-scale production of synthetic materials began in the early 1950s, humans have created [...]

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DAPL Under Review at Missouri River Crossing

July 20, 2017

Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) environmental study may take months From an Article by Blake Nicholson, Houston Chronicle (Associated Press), July 18, 2017 BISMARCK, N.D. – Additional environmental review of the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline is likely to take the rest of the year to complete, U.S. officials said in court documents in which they [...]

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Part 2. The True Price of Power — Coal & Natural Gas

July 19, 2017

Coal & Natural Gas and the True Price of Power, Part 2 From a Report by Glynis Board, Ohio Valley ReSource, WFPL – NPR, July 17, 2017 ‘Where Paradise Lay‘ Coal is showing its age. The average age of coal plants in the U.S. today is about 40 years and for the past couple of [...]

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Part 1. The True Price of Power — Coal & Natural Gas

July 18, 2017

Paradise Cost: Coal, Natural Gas, And The True Price Of Power, Part 1 From a Report by Glynis Board, Ohio Valley ReSource, WFPL – NPR, July 17, 2017 Thanks to singer-songwriter John Prine, Paradise Fossil Plant might be the only coal-fired power plant that has a household name. “Paradise,” Prine’s 1971 ballad, drew on boyhood [...]

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Outdoor Chapel Now Blocking Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in PA

July 17, 2017

Nuns to dedicate outdoor chapel built in the path of proposed pipeline From an Article by Amanda Watts and Paige Levin, CNN, July 8, 2017 An open-air chapel set up by Catholic nuns to block construction of a natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania will be dedicated Sunday on a spot directly in the pipeline’s proposed [...]

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Fracking is Ill Advised in Wayne National Forest (Ohio River Valley)

July 16, 2017

Government Violating Own Laws to Pave Way for Fracking Plan in Ohio’s Only National Forest From an Article of the Center for Biological Diversity, EcoWatch.com, July 6, 2017 Conservation groups Wednesday expanded a lawsuit challenging a U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management plan to permit fracking in Ohio’s only national forest. The groups [...]

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FERC Investigating Misbehavior of Rover Pipeline in Ohio

July 15, 2017

Feds investigating Ohio pipeline over ‘misstatements’ From an Article by Timothy Cama, The Hill Newsletter, July 14, 2017 Federal officials are investigating the developer building a controversial natural gas pipeline over alleged “misstatements” regarding its construction in Ohio. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) staff said in a Thursday notice that they preliminarily determined that Energy [...]

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Wind Mills Bring Balance to Energy Projects in West Virginia

July 14, 2017

Appalachian Power looks to acquire planned wind power projects, one in WV From an Article by Max Garland, Charleston Gazette-Mail, July 5, 2017 Appalachian Power is continuing its shift toward renewable energy, as the electric utility announced Wednesday it is seeking approval to acquire two wind power facilities under development. One of these projects, the [...]

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