An Arctic methane 'belch' could cost $60 trillion

Scientists warn that a massive release of the gas from thawing permafrost could do catastrophic economic damage worldwide.

By Bruce Kennedy Jul 25, 2013 1:38PM

Ice breaking at the Arctic Bay ice floe edge (Paul Nicklen/National Geographic/Getty Images)Whether you believe this is a man-made phenomenon or not, it's hard to dispute that parts of the earth are undergoing some dramatic changes in climate, including a gradual warming trend. A balmier globe may provide some economic benefits. Transportation companies, for example, are already looking at moving more shipping through the seas above Canada and Russia as the fabled Northwest Passage becomes less ice-bound.

But a group of scientists are now warning that any such benefit could be overwhelmed by another result of less ice in the Far North: A huge release of methane gas, long frozen in the Arctic permafrost, could end up costing the global economy tens of trillions of dollars.

The scientists, all from European universities, published their research earlier this week in the journal Nature.

The study points out that most data focus on the wealth trapped in the Arctic. It's thought to contain about 30% of the world's undiscovered gas deposits and 13% of its  untapped oil. According to Lloyd's of London, investment in the Arctic region could reach $100 billion within the next 10 years.

But the scientists also note that the Arctic is crucial to the global environment because of its influence on the world's oceans and environment and that altering it could entail dramatic economic damages.

Along with concerns about oil spills and other pollution in the Arctic, as the region keeps warming, the scientists estimate that the release of methane from thawing permafrost in the seas off northern Russia could end up costing $60 trillion -- about the size of the overall world economy last year. Such a release would cause sea levels to rise, agriculture to be damaged and human health to be harmed.

The report warns: "A 50-gigatonne (Gt) reservoir of methane, stored in the form of hydrates, exists on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. It is likely to be emitted as the seabed warms, either steadily over 50 years or suddenly."

Much of the cost of a methane "belch" into the atmosphere, they warn, would be borne by developing countries, which would face extreme weather conditions. But all nations would be effected by what one of the study's authors, professor Gail Whiteman at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, describes as an economic time bomb.

"We think it's incredibly important for world leaders to really discuss what are the implications of this methane release," Whiteman told BBC News, "and what could we indeed do about it to hopefully prevent the whole burst from happening."

More on moneyNOW

Jul 25, 2013 2:42PM
Something to think about
Okay, here’s the bombshell. The volcanic eruption in Iceland ,
… Since its first spewing of volcanic ash has, in just FOUR DAYS, NEGATED EVERY SINGLE EFFORT you have made in the past five years to control CO2 emissions on our planet – all of you.
Of course, you know about this evil carbon dioxide that we are trying to suppress – it’s that vital chemical compound that every plant requires to live and grow and to synthesize into oxygen for us humans and all animal life.
I know….it’s very disheartening to realize that all of the carbon emission savings you have accomplished while suffering the inconvenience and expense of driving Prius hybrids, buying fabric grocery bags, sitting up till midnight to finish your kids’ “The Green Revolution” science project, throwing out all of your non-green cleaning supplies, using only two squares of toilet paper, putting a brick in your toilet tank reservoir, selling your SUV and speedboat, vacationing at home instead of abroad, nearly getting hit every day on your bicycle, replacing all of your 50 cent light bulbs with $10.00 light bulbs…..well, all of those things you have done have all gone down the tubes in just four days.
The volcanic ash emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere in just four days – yes, FOUR DAYS – by that volcano in Iceland has totally erased every single effort you have made to reduce the evil beast, carbon. And there are around 200 active volcanoes on the planet spewing out this crud at any one time – EVERY DAY.
I don’t really want to rain on your parade too much, but I should mention that when the volcano Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, it spewed out more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire human race had emitted in all its years on earth.
Yes, folks, Mt Pinatubo was active for over one year – think about it.
Of course, I shouldn’t spoil this ‘touchy-feely tree-hugging’ moment and mention the effect of solar and cosmic activity and the well-recognized 800-year global heating and cooling cycle, which keeps happening despite our completely insignificant efforts to affect climate change.
And I do wish I had a silver lining to this volcanic ash cloud, but the fact of the matter is that the bush fire season across the western USA and Australia this year alone will negate your efforts to reduce carbon in our world for the next two to three years. And it happens every year.
Just remember that your government just tried to impose a whopping carbon tax on you, on the basis of the bogus ‘human-caused’ climate-change scenario.
Hey, isn’t it interesting how they don’t mention ‘Global Warming’
Anymore, but just ‘Climate Change’ - you know why?
It’s because the planet has COOLED by 0.7 degrees in the past century and these global warming bull artists got caught with their pants down.
And, just keep in mind that you might yet have an Emissions Trading Scheme – that whopping new tax – imposed on you that will achieve absolutely nothing except make you poorer.
It won’t stop any volcanoes from erupting, that’s for sure.
But, hey, relax……give the world a hug and have a nice day!”
Jul 25, 2013 1:59PM
We can't solve this problem for good without also banning Rosie O'Donnell from Taco Bell.
Jul 25, 2013 2:03PM
Can the human species actually stop global warming? I don't think so, we're going to have to live with global warming.
Jul 25, 2013 2:16PM
hmmm... pseudoscience. pseudoeconomics. $60 trillion. That's a big number, and someone had to pull that badboy out of their orifice.
Jul 25, 2013 2:53PM
And My wife bitches at me when I fart !!!
Jul 25, 2013 4:14PM
"Arctic belch"?,..I'm more concerned with the "Media Vomit", continually spewing propaganda.
Jul 25, 2013 2:54PM

"We should be harvesting the methane hydrate. (natural gas).  as for the global warming part, our axis has shifted 2 degees of the 70 degree tilt, this is causing a change in weather, not us, also the sea level will not rise as the poles melt, the ice is "floating " now ,and like a glass filled with ice, will not overflow as the ice melts."


Some FOOL thumbed this down but it sure beats fracking. The methane gas rises from the thaw, so capturing it requires less equipment, more brains, less environmental damage, more fuel to move us away from fossils. WOW... makes incredible sense. Thanks Raymond, beats reading condescending moron posts.

Jul 25, 2013 2:55PM

Remember when we were so strongly urged to stop using aerosol hair spray because "science" said the fluorocarbons were the cause of the hole in the ozone layer?  I wonder if there was some political motivation against the hair spray companies, and whether the hole in the ozone layer provided an excuse to rail against said companies.


I wonder just how much of the planetary warming on other planets in our solar system is human-caused.  Leonardo DiCaprio claimed recently that if we changed our ways that we could reduce the human carbon footprint by over 90%.  Just how much of this human carbon footprint is the total climate change phenomenon comprised of?  That might be a good question before we start legislating things.  I tend to think money and politics play a larger role in this than actual scientific concerns do.


What ever did happen to that ozone hole anyhow?  Ain't it funny how this world kept turnin"?    

Jul 25, 2013 2:51PM
We do not always perceive how complex and fragile our bodies are or our planet  till something goes really wrong and we end up in the hospital or an environmental catastrophe No matter what.It is always good to plan for the future and have contingencies....
Jul 25, 2013 3:33PM

When those methane hydrates melt and go into the atmosphere, you will see a greenhouse effect on steroids.  In terms of its ability to trap and retain heat, methane far exceeds carbon dioxide.  You'll see faster melting of ice caps, which will cause oceans to rise faster and higher.  You'll see more frequent and powerful ocean storms because of warmer ocean temperatures.  Atmospheric oxygen levels will rise because you will have more and bigger plants.  Animals that live off those plants will also grow bigger.


The wild card:  the melting ice caps cause a pressure destabilization on the ocean floors, where you have large pools of methane distilled into the ocean deeps.  Think of whatever was kept in its current place because of the ice caps rebounding to where it was before the ice caps.  When you subject a pool of methane distilled into water to this, it ends up going off like a bomb.  Look up Lake Nyos, then try imagining that on an ocean-wide scale.

Jul 25, 2013 3:42PM
I am sure it would be costly to some economy's, but as an accountant, I'd like to say, show me your calculations before you try to see me on such a number.
Jul 25, 2013 3:01PM
Jul 25, 2013 5:58PM
Are these the same European scientists that concluded pedophilia is a sexual orientation?
Jul 25, 2013 4:52PM
Fun reading all the posts by folks who've hustled over to wiki to get some "facts" so they can pretend to be experts in areas such as hydrogeology, climatology etc. Here's a fact for the idiot who claimed that if the poles melt we'd just have lots of floating ice. Hey Moron, melt means a fluid state. We did a little study in college to determine the potential oceanic rise if the Antarctic ice shelf ever melts. Holy smokes, adios all of Florida, NYC, just amazing as the seas rise over 200 feet. The ice shelf in the south pole is an average of 9,000 feet thick and that stretches over 5 million square miles. Antarctica is a big continent. The damage to coral reefs, tidal plains, habitat loss would be incalculable. But most likely we will have depleted the oceans long before that happens.
Jul 25, 2013 4:40PM
Just have a Russian guy up there ready with a match  for when this methane erupts.
Jul 25, 2013 2:40PM
The sky is falling , the sky is falling   yada yada yada 
Jul 25, 2013 8:07PM
I just hope the idiots that voted the socialist liberal into office have had a good dose of his methane, maybe the next time they won't vote for the a**wipe liberals.
Jul 25, 2013 5:29PM
A quick question to those of you who have given my statement repudiating the misinformation stated by Mr. Holbird, with the TRUE FACTS of the matter. Why on earth would you find such information to be worthy of a "thumbs down"?

Look if your doctor informed you that your wife was a diabetic, and then said doctor were to prescribe a new diet for her consisting of donuts, ice cream, and large amounts of soda, would you be upset if a friend were to provide you with the FACTS that what your doctor had prescribed would in fact kill your wife ?

Jul 25, 2013 3:50PM
Better pray now so matter what happens you are on his (God) side and not the loosing side....especially you that think there is nothing we can do about the earth changes...the end WILL come someday ready or NOT.
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