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article imageExtinction, anyone? Methane, a literal blast from the past, makes a comeback

By Paul Wallis     Sep 26, 2008 in Science
Why go to all this trouble with subprimes, when all you really need to do is stick a few billion tons of methane in the atmosphere? It’s been tried before, it works, and it’s a lot less expensive. It was called the Permian Extinction.
Methane is a gas which is highly explosive. It has an unusual property in relation to ocean water, whereby if a ship sails over an area where methane has been released, the ship sinks like a rock. In sea water, it destroys buoyancy.
ABC’s Catalyst explains that methane levels have risen by 250% since the Industrial Revolution. Methane is used for fuel, and is extremely efficient, but that’s not the whole story. Apparently good ‘ol Homo Sap has been producing more than is being used, a reversal of the normal methods.
(Note: The Paul Willis in the show isn’t me, it’s a guy who hangs around with the wrong vowels.)
It’s well worth watching the media on this show, it’s only a short piece, but it gets a lot done.
The Permian extinction part of the story is particularly fascinating, because it seems that climate dictates how methane behaves, and how much of it is in the atmosphere. Methane trapped in ice, called clathrates, is released by melting:
Narration: Just before the extinction there was a huge amount of volcanic activity in what is now Siberia. It pumped a massive amount of CO2 into the atmosphere causing significant global warming. This may have triggered what has been called The Clathrate Gun. Clathrates melt releasing vast quantities of methane into the air, feeding the global warming loop and releasing more methane….
Dr Krull: The calculations at the Permian Triassic boundary are that about two thousand four hundred gigatons of carbon were released from methane clathrates.
Narration: This resulted in massive global warming, perhaps 10 degrees or more in a couple of decades. So is it possible that the clathrate gun could fire again?
And if it does, what happens? Interesting question, worth seeing the answer.
Oh, gigatons. Not mere billions. OK. Seem to have billions on the mind for some reason.
Can’t imagine why.
The Permian Extinction practically wiped out all life on Earth. It was bigger than the dinosaur extinction.
Bit more glamorous than “failed arithmetic” as a reason for extinction, too.
More about Methane, Global warming, Permian extinction
 
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