A real-time example of the birth and spread of climate propaganda

Summary:  In our weak condition, America has become unusually susceptible to propaganda.  Accepting of it, so long as it confirms our views.  Loving lies.  If we become sheep, don’t blame the wolves for preying upon us.  This post traces the evolution of  science research into propaganda.  Real science, exaggerated into propaganda, a doomster story that will circulate for years.  People questioning it will be derided as ignorant — the story is science.  These techniques are effective because sheep are easily ruled by fear.


  1. Real science:  the original journal article
  2. Accurate summaries of real science for a general audience
  3. Exaggeration of science to create propaganda
  4. Result:  ignorant fear
  5. Articles about using these methane deposits as a problem — and a solution
  6. More information on the FM website

(1)  Real science:  the original journal article

Extensive Methane Venting to the Atmosphere from Sediments of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf“, Natalia Shakhova et al, Science, 5 March 2010 — Abstract:

Remobilization to the atmosphere of only a small fraction of the methane held in East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) sediments could trigger abrupt climate warming, yet it is believed that sub-sea permafrost acts as a lid to keep this shallow methane reservoir in place. Here, we show that more than 5000 at-sea observations of dissolved methane demonstrates that greater than 80% of ESAS bottom waters and greater than 50% of surface waters are supersaturated with methane regarding to the atmosphere. The current atmospheric venting flux, which is composed of a diffusive component and a gradual ebullition component, is on par with previous estimates of methane venting from the entire World Ocean. Leakage of methane through shallow ESAS waters needs to be considered in interactions between the biogeosphere and a warming Arctic climate.

Here is the careful and precise conclusion of the article:

The annual outgassing from the shallow ESAS of Tg C-CH4 is of the same magnitude as existing estimates of total CH4 emissions from the entire world ocean. Although the oceanic CH4 flux should be revised, the current estimate is not alarmingly altering the contemporary global CH4 budget. These findings do change our view of the vulnerability of the large sub-sea permafrost carbon reservoir on the ESAS; the permafrost “lid” is clearly perforated, and sedimentary CH4 is escaping to the atmosphere.

There remains substantial uncertainty regarding several aspects of the CH4 release from the ESAS. To make predictions of future development of these CH4 releases, there needs to be progress in the comprehension of the forms and locations of the sedimentary CH4 sources as well as how each may respond to Arctic change. Multidimensional isotopic analysis of the released CH4 is one method to apportion the CH4 sources and to constrain the flux attenuation that is attributable to microbial CH4 oxidation. The relative importance of the various flux components may also be independently approached by means of detailed observations of atmospheric mixing ratios throughout the year because enhanced venting may be expected during fall breakdown of water column stratification (September to October) and ice breakup (May to July). To discern whether this extensive CH4 venting over the ESAS is a steadily ongoing phenomenon or signals the start of a more massive CH4 release period, there is an urgent need for expanded multifaceted investigations into these inaccessible but climate-sensitive shelf seas north of Siberia.

(2)  Accurate summaries of real science for a general audience

(2a)  “How Stable Is the Methane Cycle?“, Martin Heimann, Perspectives section of Science, 5 March 2010 — “Ship and satellite data help to elucidate how methane emissions from sources such as wetlands may change in a warming climate”  Subscription only.  Excerpt:

On page 1246 of this issue, Shakhova et al. report convincing evidence of methane outgassing from the Arctic continental shelf off northeastern Siberia (Laptev and East Siberian Sea), based on painstaking repeated surveys using Russian ice breakers between 2003 and 2008. … Based on their extensive data set, the authors estimate an annual outgassing to the atmosphere of ~8 x 1012 grams of carbon (8 Tg C) as methane from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf waters. Consistent with this, concurrent atmospheric concentration measurements on the ship and with a helicopter document methane levels up to four times as high as recorded elsewhere in the Arctic basin.

… How important are these fluxes in the global methane cycle? Considering the global emissions of ~440 Tg C as methane per year, the Siberian Arctic Ocean emissions and the changes in northern wetland emissions are negligible. This is good news, implying that current climate change does not affect the natural methane cycle in a globally important way. But will this persist into the future under sustained warming trends? We do not know. Current modeling studies indicate that the climate-methane feedback from wetlands and permafrost will not be catastrophic but that there will be sustained methane leakages from wetlands and permafrost areas in coming decades. Keeping track of these leakages is indispensable for quantifying the climate-methane feedback on a global scale.

(2b)  “Methane bubbling out of Arctic Ocean – but is it new?“, New Scientist, 4 March 2010 — Excerpt:

A wide expanse of Arctic Ocean seabed is bubbling methane into the atmosphere. This is the first time that the ocean has been found to be releasing this powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere on this scale. The discovery will rekindle fears that global warming might be on the verge of unlocking billions of tonnes of methane from beneath the oceans, which could trigger runaway climate change. The trouble is, nobody knows if the Arctic emissions are new, or indeed anything to do with global warming.

… Researchers have speculated that the Siberian emissions could explain an unexpected rise in concentrations of methane in the atmosphere, globally, over the past three years. However, it is not clear whether the leakage is a new phenomenon. Graham Westbrook of the University of Birmingham, UK, reported 250 submarine methane hotpots off the Arctic islands of Svalbard last year, but did not determine whether they were affecting the atmosphere above. “The subsea permafrost has been degrading and leaking methane beneath for thousands of years,” he told New Scientist. He added that nobody knows how much of the recently detected methane releases are due to human influence on climate and that the fraction “is probably quite small”.

Shakhova and her colleagues are calling for “urgent” investigations to determine whether the methane venting they have found is an ongoing phenomenon or signals the start of a larger release.

(3)  Exaggeration of real science to create propaganda

Study: Arctic seabed methane stores destabilizing, venting“, newsroom of the University of Fairbanks, 3 March 2010 — Despite this carefully written bit of alarmist propaganda, there is nothing in the Science article showing “instability” in the methane deposits, or that they have become “destabilizing.”  Excerpt:

A section of the Arctic Ocean seafloor that holds vast stores of frozen methane is showing signs of instability and widespread venting of the powerful greenhouse gas, according to the findings of an international research team led by University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov.  The research results, published in the March 5 edition of the journal Science, show that the permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, long thought to be an impermeable barrier sealing in methane, is perforated and is leaking large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.

“The amount of methane currently coming out of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is comparable to the amount coming out of the entire world’s oceans,” said Shakhova, a researcher at UAF’s International Arctic Research Center. “Subsea permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap.” … “Our concern is that the subsea permafrost has been showing signs of destabilization already,” she said. “If it further destabilizes, the methane emissions may not be teragrams, it would be significantly larger.”  Shakhova notes that Earth’s geological record indicates that atmospheric methane concentrations have varied between about .3 to .4 parts per million during cold periods to .6 to .7 parts per million during warm periods. Current average methane concentrations in the Arctic average about 1.85 parts per million, the highest in 400,000 years, she said. Concentrations above the East Siberian Arctic Shelf are even higher.

… “The release to the atmosphere of only 1% of the methane assumed to be stored in shallow hydrate deposits might alter the current atmospheric burden of methane up to 3 to 4 times,” Shakhova said. “The climatic consequences of this are hard to predict.”

(4)  Result:  ignorant fear

Matthew Yglesias, bloging at ThinkProgress, reports these theories about the future as present facts, inciting panic among his readers.  They consider their fears proven science since they trust the 3rd hand reports as gospel.  Another doomster myth is born.

Comments (270+, very discouraging to read):

PhillyGuy (and here): “The methane stuff really freaks me out. … once its happening, we’re pretty much screwed. There’s basically a point of no return, where you get a self-perpetuating cycle of warming and things really get ugly from there. No amount of progressive response will really be able to address the consequences”

Jesse: “Frankly, I think we progressives should just stop talking about stopping global warming, and start planning the most progressive responses to a significant increase in the earth’s temperature. …”

N: “If this report is indicative of a widespread release of methane from seafloor beds, the least of our problems will higher global temperatures. A large release of methane into the atmosphere could in fact cause a global extinction, killing off for good global warming alarmist and deniers. …”

(5)  Articles about using these methane deposits as a problem — and a solution

Methane as a climate change agent

Methane deposits as an energy source:

(6)  For more information on the FM site

Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.   Such as…

Posts on the FM site about science-related propaganda:

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