Coal Ash Wednesday: 419 parts per million


Breaking all the wrong records in the climate change fight:

Scientific instruments atop the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii showed that levels of carbon dioxide in the air averaged 419 parts per million in May, the annual peak, according to two separate analyses from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Those readings are about half a percent higher than the previous high of 417 parts per million, set in May 2020. Carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas driving global warming and researchers have estimated that there hasn’t been this much of it in the atmosphere for millions of years.

I think it was 11 years ago when I attended a climate change summit hosted by NC WARN, featuring former NASA scientist James Hansen. At that time, atmospheric carbon was about 378 parts per million, and Hansen was adamant that we must keep it from passing the 400 mark. That was a tipping point that would very likely trigger the dissolving and subsequent release of methane hydrates in the permafrost and ocean floor. That is no longer a theory, it is happening right now:

Scientists say they have found evidence that frozen methane deposits in the Arctic Ocean have started to be released over a large area of the continental slope off the East Siberian coast, the Guardian can reveal.

High levels of the potent greenhouse gas have been detected down to a depth of 350 metres in the Laptev Sea near Russia, prompting concern among researchers that the discovery could have “serious climate consequences”.

The slope sediments in the Arctic contain a huge quantity of frozen methane and other gases – known as hydrates. Methane has a warming effect 80 times stronger than carbon dioxide over 20 years. The United States Geological Survey has previously listed Arctic hydrate destabilisation as one of four most serious scenarios for abrupt climate change.

The international team onboard the Russian research ship R/V Akademik Keldysh said most of the bubbles were currently dissolving in the water but methane levels at the surface were four to eight times what would normally be expected and this was venting into the atmosphere.

“At this moment, there is unlikely to be any major impact on global warming, but the point is that this process has now been triggered. This East Siberian slope methane hydrate system has been perturbed and the process will be ongoing,” said the Swedish scientist Örjan Gustafsson, of Stockholm University, in a satellite call from the vessel.

Don't let methane's extremely short half-life (about 10 years) fool you into believing this is not a big deal. The warming it will cause during that brief time is horrific, but it doesn't just "go away" after that 10 year period. It converts into carbon dioxide, just adding to the nightmare.