The Impact of Methane Clathrate Emissions on the Earth System

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 - 07:00
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Methane is locked in ice-like deposits called clathrates in ocean sediments and underneath permafrost regions. Clathrates are stable under high pressures and low temperatures, so in a warming climate, increases in ocean temperatures could lead to dissociation of the clathrates and release methane into the ocean and subsequently the atmosphere. This is of particular importance in the shallow parts of the Arctic Ocean, since clathrates are expected to start outgassing abruptly, especially at depths of around 300 m. We will present a sensitivity analysis of the atmospheric impact of methane emissions using multi-century steady-state simulations with a version of the Community Earth System Model (CESM) that includes atmospheric chemistry. Our simulations include a plausible release from clathrates in the Arctic that increases global methane emissions by 22%, as well as a scenario with 10 times those clathrate emissions. The CESM model includes a fully interactive physical ocean, to which we added a fast atmospheric chemistry mechanism that represents methane as a fully interactive tracer (with emissions rather than concentration boundary conditions). The results indicate that such Arctic clathrate emissions (1) increase global methane concentrations by an average of 38%, non-uniformly; (2) increase surface ozone concentrations by around 10% globally, and even more in polluted regions; (3) increase methane lifetime by 13%; (4) alter the interannual variability in temperature, surface methane, surface ozone, and methane lifetime, and (5) show modest differences in surface temperature and methane lifetime compared to simulations in which the clathrate emissions are distributed uniformly.

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