Researchers have started arguing whether the next step in global warming – release of the methane from permafrost and the Arctic sea floor – will be “apocalyptic or merely “catastrophic.” Whatever the terminology – new evidence indicates that the largest-ever mass extinction in Earth’s history, when life nearly died, had this as its proximate cause.
Over 250 million years ago, carbon dioxide released by volcanoes caused enough warming to trigger a methane release event. Why this matters: each molecule of methane released to the atmosphere is about 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than each molecule of carbon dioxide. When the methane is released, global temperatures rise rapidly. Last time, the sudden pulse of methane to the atmosphere may have happened in only 10 years, a blink of an eye in geological terms. It’s the same place we’re now heading.
As if to underline that, satellite images have just revealed more than 200 strange, bright blue lakes in Russia’s Arctic regions that are now bubbling like jacuzzis, as a result of leaking methane gas.
I’d go for “apocalyptic.”
Figure 1. Ball-and-stick model of a single molecule of methane, or CH4, our potent wee nemesis.