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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

THE VENUS SYNDROME (Part 14)

The following represents the backdrop of a novel entitled The Venus Syndrome, to be published next year.
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August 17, 2012, was a bad day for Planet Earth, in fact, the worst day ever for homo sapiens since Mr. Tubo erupted 71,000 years ago, dropping our population to 15,000 or so. The temperature had finally reached 110°F in Washington, D.C., breaking the record set last year by 2°F. But the temperature itself was not the problem; it was more the accumulation of the past three years being the hottest for the entire globe. Global climate warming was not only happening, but getting worse.

Hurricane Valerie has stormed through the District and Hurricane Zeke is heading for Hawaii, with Alberto close on heels (yes, the Pacific, for the first time, cycled through and came back to A). Worse, something is forming just south of the Big Island, and the meteorological conditions suggest that the movement could well turn north instead of west, as have the half dozen Category 5 hurricanes which formed in the mid-Pacific over the past five years. Only three Category 5 hurricanes hit the U.S. Mainland (Camille in 1969, Andrew in 1992 and Igor in 2010) in the fifty years prior to this, but already three have struck this year (Debby in May and Tony last month). However, Hurricane William, located in the Gulf of Mexico, and seeking New Orleans, has the lowest minimum pressure ever of 878 mb (millibars, with the previous low being an unnamed 1935 hurricane at 892 mb), with sustained winds of up to 200 miles per hour. The Army Corps of Engineers warned that funds were not made available to shore up the dikes beyond Category 3 after Katrina, so only the worst is anticipated.

Of particular concern to scientists, though, is that the thermohaline circulation might have stopped today. These currents kept certain coastal regions cool and others warm. They also kept the marine methane hydrates (MMH) below critical temperature. Expected now is a steep increase in ocean temperatures in many of those shelf areas heavy in MMH deposits.

Both the north terrestrial and magnetic poles are now over ocean, with the seafloor 13,000 feet (4000 meters) below. Normally, only half the ice melts. As of today, there is no ice in the Arctic around the poles.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) met last month in an emergency session to declare that the permafrost of the U.S., Canada and Russia is, indeed, melting, and the 10.4°F (5.8°C) temperature rise by 2100 will now occur by 2025. The International Arctic Research Center (IARC) of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks reported that the northern ecosystems hold one fourth to one third the world’s soil carbon, and much of it is carbon dioxide and methane trapped in the ice. Over the past 200 years, the atmospheric concentration of methane has tripled. Now, this ice is thawing with the deeper solid turning into slush, and, the expectation is that the effect of CH4 on global climate warming will in a few years exceed that of CO2. A 2°C increase in permafrost temperatures amplifies methane flux by 120%, and there is a real danger that taliks, or thawed permafrost, are disintegrating, to further accelerate the effect.

The IARC also will soon release the results of the joint Russia-U.S. cruise investigating methane plumes found in the East-Siberian Sea. The speculation is that methane gas hydrates are melting at the bottom of the sea. As there is one million times more natural gas (methane) in these permafrost reservoirs than the normal methane annually released from the northern ecosystems, the implications are frightening.

Ten years ago (Alaskan Science Forum, January 3, 2001, Article #1523 by Ned Rozell), it was reported that 50% of Russia and Canada, 80% of Alaska, 20% of China and all of Antarctica is underlain by permafrost. In northern Siberia this permafrost is 1,600 meters (5,250 feet, or a mile) thick. A decade ago, this permafrost had warmed to within one degree Celsius of thawing in Alaska. Major melting was expected by 2040. It is occurring now.

The global system then even further positively reacts by melting the permafrost, contributing more carbon dioxide and a lot more methane into the atmosphere, which speeds up the process. Even an idiot would be able to determine that this is not a smart thing to foster.

Nearly twenty years ago in 1992, Jeremy Leggett, the scientific director of Greenpeace International’s Atmosphere and Energy Campaign, had warned that as the oceans warm, they will be less able to absorb carbon dioxide and will become thermally stable, reducing the circulation of nutrients and population of phytoplankton, further decreasing carbon dioxide uptake, and this gas will begin to get released into the atmosphere instead of absorbed. Then the tundra will melt, discharging methane and reducing the albedo, meaning less sunlight will be reflected back into space. The hydroxyl reservoir that oxidizes methane will be moderated and the more dangerous methane will remain in the atmosphere for longer periods, exacerbating the problem. Droughts will occur and photosynthesis will drop, meaning that carbon dioxide will not be absorbed as much. All these positive feedbacks will mount until the runaway effect becomes uncontrollable.

All this heat finally resulted in portions of the ocean going hyper-critical with respect to temperature, and the danger point for runaway water vapor was finally exceeded on this August day in 2012. That in itself was not the trigger, for, in itself, it should have taken many millennia to get to the Venus Syndrome.

The problem was that this critical condition occurred over portions of the warmer Pacific, which sat over huge deposits of marine methane hydrates (MMH). It was purely coincidental, but in the Ring of Fire, at a spot off Peru, a major subsea earthquake rated at 8.9, triggered a massive underwater volcanic eruption, which served as a fuse to destabilize the hydrates, beginning the release of copious amounts of methane into the atmosphere. A major tsunami is expected to hit the Pacific Rim, but that has now become a minor irritant. A sizable MMH deposit off Guatemala, possibly catalyzed by a related earthquake, also went metastable. Unexpectedly, there was a huge reservoir of methane gas below the clathrates that just came to the surface. Thus, in a matter of 24 hours, Planet Earth had its hottest day ever, a sudden influx of methane from the ocean, and an atmosphere where methane superseded carbon dioxide as the primary agent for global warming. The Great Ocean Conveyor Belt stopping was particularly ominous, for the ocean surrounding these MMH beds would further warm.

It had to take the Global Warming equivalent of a Perfect Storm to catalyze an expedited Venus Syndrome: portions of the ocean surface at critical positive feedback temperature; cessation of the cooling currents thus warming the marine methane hydrate (MMH) deposits; a major subsea earthquake combined with a cataclysmic undersea volcanic eruption; resultant tsunami which instantaneously lowered the sea level over the MMH deposits near the coastlines; and, most importantly, crossing over of the dynamic equilibrium pressure-temperature condition allowing marine methane to explode to the surface.

Scientists at the International Marine Methane Hydrates Research Institute at the University of Hawaii calculated that one teraton, a million times a million, of methane will be released into the atmosphere over the next year or two. The early Eocene, 55 million years ago, experienced a similar event, resulting in a temperature rise of about 16 degrees Fahrenheit across the now populated regions of the world.

An emergency session of the United Nations, panicked by these developments, was called for August 20, where members of the IPRCC were summoned to participate. Computer models over the past week were refined with the latest worst case scenarios, and a new progress report was presented to the General Assembly at 10AM that fateful Monday. New York City, badly enough, was already at 102°F that morning, but the news was particularly devastating.

The chairman of the IPRC, reported that we had reached and tripped over the tipping point. The Venus Syndrome had begun, and, now, could probably not be stopped. Humanity at large, and most of life, would cease to exist within a century, providing a short period to develop solutions for survival, the only rational one being to leave Planet Earth, although emergency efforts are being planned to release air pollution particulates and sulfute aerosols into the atmosphere. Fortunately enough, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Book 2) program had recently detected signals from an advanced civilization in the Orion constellation. The data is being interpreted and….
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A long time ago, according to Greek mythology, there was a very beautiful princess of Troy by the name of Cassandra. Her younger brother Paris was the character who kidnapped Helen, the wife of the King of Sparta, and brought her to Troy. Apollo, son of Zeus, fell in love with Cassandra and gave her the power to know the future if only she were to marry him. She was given that power, but refused to marry him, so Apollo put a curse on her predictive capabilities, and doomed her to despair, for while her powers remained, no one would believe her. Sometimes I feel that I have Cassandra’s curse.
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Hurricane Ike is now only barely a hurricane after incapacitating Cuba, but is just back in the ocean, where it could strengthen to a Category 3 storm, and cross this weekend over what looks like the coastline between Brownsville and Corpus Christi.
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Tropical Storm Lowell is at 45 MPH, but should slightly weaken and make a right turn to Baha.
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In the western Pacific, Typhoon Sinlaku has strengthened to 85 MPH and appears headed north away from the Philippines and east of Taiwan. It is projected to make landfall in south Kyushu late this weekend.
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In the face of Hurricane Ike, the price of crude oil dropped to $102.26/barrel, a five month low. Why? The Dow Jones Industrials tanked 280 to 11,230.
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