Arctic Methane Burp May Slam World Economy

July 28, 2013 in Green, Top News

Arctic Methane Sea Ice

Arctic ice is believed by scientists to be a reservoir of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Recent measurements over such ice masses have recorded heightened methane levels. Source: Eric Kort/NASA, JPL.

Methane release, due to ice melting in the Arctic, is likely to have a devastating impact on the world economy according to scientists studying the issue. Expected release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea in the next several decades alone is estimated to cost $60 trillion. This is just 15 percent of a total predicted cost of $400 trillion associated with Arctic melt.

This forecast comes among findings published July 1 in Nature based on research by climate change professor Gail Whiteman of the Erasmus University Rotterdam, ocean physics professor Peter Wadhams of the University of Cambridge, and policy modeling reader Chris Hope of Judge Business School at University of Cambridge.

According to the research team, the Arctic region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth’s oceans and climate, and the ripple effects of climate change in the Arctic would deal a severe blow to the global economy. In particular, this will come as a result of unlocking frozen reserves of methane, releasing the gas into the atmosphere and speeding up global warming with destructive and costly climactic changes resulting planet-wide.

An estimated 50-gigatonne (Gt) reservoir of methane is stored in the form of hydrates on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. This methane will be emitted either gradually over a half a century or suddenly, or alternately in  spurts. The scientists used an integrated assessment model known as PAGE09 to quantify the likely impacts and the costs of mitigative efforts or adaptation.

An earlier version of the PAGE model was used in preparation of the United Kingdom’s official 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. The PAGE model focuses on net present value of climate effects in relation with quantities of carbon dioxide emitted or saved from entry into the atmosphere. In this study, the team ran the PAGE09 tool 10 thousand times to calculate confidence intervals and assess risks of climate change until the year 2200.

Higher methane concentrations in the atmosphere that result from release of Arctic Shelf reserves will accelerate global warming, speeding up consequent sea-ice retreat, reducing the reflection of solar energy, accelerating the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. In the scenarios run using the PAGE09 model, a 50 Gt release of methane into the atmosphere between 2015 and 2025 could advance by 15–35 years the date when global mean temperature rise exceeds two degrees Celsius. This would come about in 2035 if no mitigating actions are taken, or by 2040 with more conservative assumptions. Mean climate change impacts were calculated at $60 trillion as a result of methane release alone from that area.

Arctic climate change risk has not found its way yet into world’s economic and financial institutions in long term planning or preparations. As noted in Nature, neither the World Economic Forum nor the IMF recognize the potential economic threat at hand.