By Robert Hunziker
A mysterious uptick in atmospheric methane (CH4) was first detected 15 years ago. Of major concern, CH4 is a potent greenhouse gas that’s ~80 times greater than CO2. It’s like a turbo-charged booster heating up the planet. It is a climate change event that keeps scientist up at night, sleepless bouts of tossing, turning, sitting up, screaming on occasion.
“In the past few years, however, that uptick has accelerated into a surge. The implications for global warming are immense.” (Source: L. Hook and C. Campbell, Methane Hunters: What Explains the Surge in the Potent Greenhouse Gas? Financial Times, August 22, 2022)
Every year chemists at the Global Monitoring Laboratory of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Boulder, Colorado receive roughly 6,000 flasks from 50 worldwide atmosphere-monitoring stations. The lab measures levels of gases inside the samples, e.g., carbon dioxide (CO2) nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4).
Since 15 years ago, the lab’s results have shown methane acceleration increasing year-over-year. As a result, since 2007 the scientific community has become increasingly concerned about levels of CH4 in the atmosphere. Its danger is triggering an unstoppable self-fulfilling cycle that ratchets up global warming way too fast too quickly.
That threat is already starting to bubble to the surface in thousands of thermokarst lakes or melted permafrost lakes that are rapidly spreading all across the high latitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere. According to an article in Nature Communications by Katey Walter Anthony, Professor of Ecology and Biogeochemistry at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, current climate models greatly underestimate the methane released by these lakes that are popping up like spring flowers all across the interior of Alaska. She believes that methane could become the dominant source of atmospheric warming. It’s on a fast track guided by nature’s own course as it reacts to global warming. A plane flight across Alaska finds mile after mile after mile of newly formed thermokarst lakes bubbling up methane. Anthony claims the lakes emit methane 10 times more than a normal lake. In her words: “They are hotspots.”
According to Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor for the UK and founder of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group: “With the Arctic having warmed 3C, well above the global average… risks are also growing that large amounts of methane trapped in thawing permafrost could be released… If all of that is released, we’ll see temperatures rise 5-8C (8-14F) over 20 years… extraordinarily destructive to the future of humanity.”
It is only too obvious that surging methane is a major risk to society at large. It is widely acknowledged that a rise of 5-8C global warming most likely spells “death warrant.”
A potential solution to excessive levels of methane is discussed in more detail at the end of this article, which is a group of scientists and engineers under the banner Atmospheric Methane Removal AG, Switzerland, link: https://amr.earth
“Atmospheric methane had its highest growth rate ever recorded by modern instruments in 2020, and then that record was broken again in 2021. Nobody knows exactly why.” (Source: L. Hook and C. Campbell, Methane Hunters: What Explains the Surge in the Potent Greenhouse Gas? Financial Times, August 22, 2022)
However, after years of research, scientists have identified the distinguishing fact that fossil sources of CH4 contain more carbon-13 isotope than do microbial sources like wetlands, cattle, and landfills. As such, that evidence has exposed a major concern for the scientific community, to wit: Since 2007, it has become quite obvious that the worst possible case may be underway: “The planet itself could be emitting more methane, and it is not slowing down,” Ibid.
According to Ed Dlugokencky, a chemist at the NOAA lab: “After 200 years of increasing… all of a sudden we start to see a decrease in delta carbon-13. That means something significant has happened,” Ibid.
As such, horror of horrors, if Dlugokencky’s significant change proves to be the “methane bomb,” meaning the planet warming itself thereby causing more methane released into the atmosphere in a terrifying feedback loop sans human influence, then how to stop it? In the vernacular, it leads to the ultimate threat called runaway global warming.
“If you think of fossil fuel emissions as putting the world on a slow boil, methane is a blow torch that is cooking us today,” according to Durwood Zaelke, Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, Ibid.
There are plenty of professionals, like Zaelke, that are extremely concerned about the prospects of the methane bomb, which could wipe out civilization, unless it can be stopped. In that regard, the UN Environment Programme claims that existing technologies (not yet proven as operational) could cut methane emissions by 45% by 2030. In turn, this would avoid 0.3C of additional warming.
Atmospheric Methane Removal Ag is one strong prospective source for cutting methane emissions. AMR is an engineering company that is science driven. Its technology is designed to help “Cool Planet Earth.”
According to AMR: “The problem of atmospheric methane is that it has an initial global warming potential (GWP) 120 times worse than CO2 (2). 40% of all current global warming (GW) is caused by methane, and the problem / the proportion of methane is growing… Unlike atmospheric CO2, which enables photosynthesis, atmospheric methane has no beneficial effect – life on earth could happen with zero methane in the air.”
AMR utilizes Enhanced Atmospheric Methane Oxidation (EAMO) via Iron Salt Aerosol, a natural chemical reaction in order to deplete methane from the atmosphere. This process is similar to the same chemical reaction accomplished by the sun interacting with natural iron salt aerosols emitted by the planet, except EAMO accelerates the process fast enough to make a big difference in methane’s impact, quickly. The sun takes much, much longer, maybe a decade or more, for the same impact of nature taking its own course.
According to ARM, by utilizing EAMO, within approximately 20 years atmospheric methane would decrease to pre-industrial levels. Thereby, average global temperature would cool by ~0.5 degrees, compared to conditions without EAMO in combination with emission reductions as scheduled by nation/states to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
AMR’s Enhanced Atmospheric Methane Oxidation process sends iron-salt aerosols into the atmosphere. It’s significant that implementation of AMR’s technology in terms of costs, effectiveness, and build-out is “the lowest hanging fruit of all GHG removal technologies.” The first prototype has already undergone tests in a laboratory environment. The initial field test is scheduled for 2023.
AMR’s development to date should attract a significant level of interests by nation/states as well as individual parties that are interested in funding a well-conceived plan.
It should be stated that the alternative to initiating technologies to helping solve the global warming threat, which may already be so far along that only an all-world effort suffices, is unspeakable, but nobody wants to believe it.
Robert Hunziker is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and published in over 50 journals, magazines and sites worldwide.