Methane Gas May Destroy the Earth, thoughts on how to save the planet.

By | March 6, 2010

Red alert: We’ve awakened a beast that may consume the planet.   Global warming has started a chain reaction and is now causing huge releases of frozen methane. Methane is a green house gas itself which will cause further warming.  Our planet may be converted into a fiery hell world thanks to our denial and ignorance.  (Even if the release is part of a natural cycle human emissions since the industrial age have sped this along. )

Ice and bubbles are seen above the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.Image: Ice and methane bubbles dance across the surface of the East Siberian Sea.

Arctic seabeds are belching massive quantities of methane, according to a new study that says ocean permafrost is a huge and largely overlooked source of the powerful greenhouse gas, which has been linked to global warming.

Previous research had found methane bubbling out of melting permafrost—frozen soil—in Arctic wetlands and lakes.

But the permafrost lining the deep, cold seas was thought to be staying frozen solid, holding in untold amounts of trapped methane.

“It’s not the case anymore,” said study leader Natalia Shakhova, a biogeochemist at the University of Fairbanks, Alaska. “The permafrost is actually failing in its ability to preserve this leakage.”

(Related: “Methane Bubbling Up From Undersea Permafrost?”)

In fact, Shakhova and colleagues estimate that roughly eight million tons of methane are leaking into the atmosphere each year from the East Siberia Sea (map), fueling concerns of accelerated global warming. – nationalgeographic

… Current average methane concentrations in the Arctic average about 1.85 parts per million, the highest in 400,000 years, said Shakhova.

Concentrations above the East Siberian Arctic Shelf are even higher, and scientists are concerned because the undersea permafrost “has been showing signs of destabilization already,” she added.

“If it further destabilizes, the methane emissions… would be significantly larger.”

Geological records indicate 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. –  commondreams

Extinction by methane may have happened before.

What caused the worst mass extinction in Earth’s history 251 million years ago? An asteroid or comet colliding with Earth? A greenhouse effect? Volcanic eruptions in Siberia? Or an entirely different culprit? A Northwestern University chemical engineer believes the culprit may be an enormous explosion of methane (natural gas) erupting from the ocean depths.

In an article published in the September issue of Geology, Gregory Ryskin, associate professor of chemical engineering, suggests that huge combustible clouds produced by methane gas trapped in stagnant bodies of water and suddenly released could have killed off the majority of marine life and land animals and plants at the end of the Permian era — long before dinosaurs lived and died.

The mechanism also might explain other extinctions and climate perturbations (ice ages) and even the Biblical flood, as well as be the cause of future catastrophes.

Ryskin calculated that some 10,000 gigatons of dissolved methane could have accumulated in water near the ocean floor under high pressure. If released quickly, perhaps triggered by an earthquake, the resulting cloud of methane would have an explosive force about 10,000 times greater than the world’s entire stockpile of nuclear weapons. The huge conflagrations plus flooding and overturned oceans would cause the extinctions. (Approximately 95 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land species were lost.) – sciencedaily

How much time do we have before this methane release causes mass extinctions by displacing atmospheric oxygen?

This is a good time to read a bit more about methane:

What is Methane?
Methane is a fuel created biologically by decaying biological material. It is found in the ocean on the seafloor in a frozen form intermingled with water. This is called methane hydrate, a dormant form of methane that is of a condensed volume. When the methane hydrate melts, it reacts with oxygen and increases its volume over 150 times in size, and the gas is more powerful than the fossil fuels we use today. But more than 350 miles under the sea, the methane hydrate is relatively harmless. The volume that can be found is the scary part, which is over eighty-thousand times natural gas reserves, at two-hundred-thousand-trillion cubic feet. – associatedcontent

How toxic is methane?

By itself, methane is not toxic. It is extremely flammable and will cause an explosion; it will also kill you by asphyxiation if it leaks into an enclosed space and deprives you of oxygen. But methane only becomes poisonous when it forms part of another gas and is subject to certain circumstances. The bad news is that this happens quite often.

How Are People Exposed to Methane Gas?
Exposure to pure methane is by breathing, drinking, eating and touching, and many of us will have experienced all four.

  1. Inhalation
    We may have breathed the gas when it has entered a building or home by issuing from a crack in the foundation or via a sewer trap. Or we may have unwittingly inhaled methane when we passed close by a septic tank, sewer, manhole or farm waste pit.
  2. Ingestion
    It is possible but doubtful that you have drunk a glass of water contaminated with methane. Methane created naturally underground can certainly make its way through the soil and into a water reservoir or lake, but even if this happens, the gas tends to evaporate quickly. Similarly, a young child may eat dirt that has traces of methane. But the levels of exposure are low and there are no known effects on the body.
  3. Touch
    As for touching, methane gas has trouble passing through the skin, so you are unlikely to absorb it. But if methane does enter your system, by whatever means, your body will remove it swiftly through your breath, blood and urine. And medical research on the issue shows that even after years of exposure to methane, our reproductive and internal organs remain unaffected.

Permafrost methane of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf by vinny12.So after all this, you might feel entitled to breathe a sigh of relief and move on. But I wouldn’t dismiss methane detection so easily if I were you. Methane is not a safe gas and you dare not ignore it. Why else do we place fans under buildings to remove methane emissions that we have discovered are seeping from the ground? The reason is not just the flammability of the gas but its properties as an asphyxiant: methane displaces oxygen, and in an area without ventilation will cause suffocation.

Identifying Methane Exposure by Symptoms
Is it possible, then, for us to identify methane gas before we succumb? Perhaps. Impending suffocation may give rise to symptoms such as headaches and dizziness as the amount of oxygen in our bodies depletes. This was a problem among some of the students at the New London School before the methane ignited and caused terrible destruction and death (see Historical Events Where Methane Gas Has Killed). But it is just as likely that we will feel nothing until our brain registers a deficiency of oxygen and causes us to gasp for air. By then, however, it is usually too late for us to do anything other than collapse.

// Carbon Monoxide is a Byproduct of Methane

This problem of ventilation is critical when natural gas (which is 97% methane) is burned in our homes, offices and businesses. When natural gas is burning in our boilers, heating radiators and water, and for some reason has an insufficient air supply, carbon monoxide is produced.

Carbon monoxide is colorless, non-irritating, odorless, tasteless and deadly. At 200 ppm (parts per million), you develop a frontal headache after just one to two hours of exposure. At 1600ppm (just 0.16%), you are dizzy, have a headache and feel nauseous within twenty minutes; you are dead in under two hours. At 12800ppm, you are lifeless in less than three minutes.

40,000 people each year in the United States require medical attention after inhaling carbon monoxide fumes, and many of them suffer permanent damage to their heart muscles. 500 people a year die as a direct result of carbon monoxide exposure.

Confusion About Symptoms
The symptoms are easily confused with other conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, flu, and migraines. Other more advanced symptoms you may experience include confusion, convulsions and unconsciousness. At the clinical level, you may have tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) and hypertension (high blood pressure).

Carbon monoxide also affects the central nervous system, causing hallucinations and a heightened emotional state. This can give rise to sightings of “ghosts” and apparent supernatural occurrences.

The gas behind all this is methane, which in the form of natural gas is piped into some 67 million homes across America. We shouldn’t be scared of it – but we should certainly be wary.

via Methane Gas Detection.

How can we survive? How can we save the planet? Could we extract the methane from the atmosphere?

Methane is present in the atmosphere, at roughly 1.7 parts per million (wikipedia (’s_atmosphere#Composition)). It is in principle possible to extract it in large quantities by the same mechanism that we get nitrogen, argon, and other noble gases – by liquefying large volumes of air, and seperating the components by boiling point (fractional distillation). However, this involves liquefying one million litres of air for each 1.7 litres of CH4 – so unfortunately you’d have to put in far more energy to extract it then you’d get back by burning it.

Someone quickly needs to make a system that can liquefy a million liters of air using the power from less than 1.7 litres of methane, then we need to mass produce these devices and deploy them everywhere.  The system would have to dispose of the CO2 produced. This would save the earth and fix our energy shortage.

Who knows how much energy it currently takes to liquefy a million liters of air and extract methane? Other ideas?

10 thoughts on “Methane Gas May Destroy the Earth, thoughts on how to save the planet.

  1. Sam

    Um… Surely we can harvest this while it’s below the water, if we could get someone important to care? Then it’s “Good-bye, Middle-Eastern Oil!” We’ll still have the carbon issue, but we’re going to have that with oil, too. At least this would let us have our independent energy source.

    1. Xeno Post author

      There is plenty to harvest as ice, too much … but at this rate we will need to pull it out of the air as well. It would be great if the entire world realized the authenticity of the threat and put aside diffrerences long enough to work together to save humanity.

      Alas, I think we are too stupid, selfish, xenophobic and shortsighted to launch a project for and by all humankind… and so armagedon will come as another methane extinction.

      We can hope the secret government knows already and is working on ways with secret technology to keep our atmosphere breathable.

      What is the closest thing we have to a hand held Star Trek type device that tells the percentages of atmospheric gasses?

  2. Sepp

    “We can hope the secret government knows already and is working on ways with secret technology to keep our atmosphere breathable.”

    Fat chance for that I say. If the secret government knows about methane and if there is a real threat to our survival, they can safely predicted to make plans to save their own asses by leaving for other planets, leaving us behind to face the odds on our own …

    1. Sam

      Well, I wouldn’t consider that realistic. I know there should be other Earth-like planets out there, but they are not close, not even slightly. Easier to adapt to what’s happening here than to try to learn another planet’s whole system.

  3. JLB272

    To all responses, I think we need a Revolution. If the “secret government” were in place already, exactly…they would be long gone on their “superhero space rockets” by now. I am a student gaining perspective on the world, in hopes to save it. I’ve been waiting for a leader to say what needs to be done, and help us grasp the magnitude of worry humanity has. I see no one taking action about how we consume more than we can shovel in our little fiendish monkey mouths. If we want to save ourselves, we have to save ourselves every day. I don’t think any leader can turn back the Industrial Revolution, or tell the typical person not to drive their car every day of the week if there’s an option.

    I came across this article because I’m currently drawing a picture where every house and apartment complex has ceilings with solar panel sheeting. Every backyard, office building, restaurant, and even larger-scale landfills and farmland has devices to trap methane. In my thoughts, the methane is trapped by means of self-powered fans (or windmills??) into a large sheet (or some next step) to trap the CH4 from these large and small man-made methane waste sights.

    I’ve learned a lot about CH4 lately, and this is my latest idea in my sketch book to save the world. I have so many questions going through my mind as to how to get such a larger amount of water to exist purely for the reason of heating methane…

    Can methane be extracted from the water by any other means? Like ion exchange, rather than using the boiling point to get rid of methane, you could use a chemical that reacts to form something else? I’m not that far in Chemistry yet, any Chemists know ways of eradicating Methane from the air? What about saving the methane extracted (somehow safely), and using it to fuel our cars now until we find a better solution for the larger-scale future? Methane provides more heat per mass unit than any other hydrocarbon. I have also read that it produces less CO2 in the atmosphere than our current petroleum based fossil fuels.

    Any one else thinking about this stuff and putting it into action? What do you think about hydropower? Do you think that messes up the geography of the land, biological systems already there, just as much as burning coal messes up our atmosphere? Which is more important to protect right now? How do we do it small scale to prove what will help save us large-scale?

    E-mail me if you are interested in fueling ideas, have something fun to say….

    Go to my website to hear some amazing music.
    Student Website w/ information of what the West Coast of USA is doing with wave power.
    Article is called “Modeling Ocean Waves..”

    1. Xeno Post author

      Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, so we don’t want to start running our cars on it…. Too much methane would result in run away global warming, in turn releasing more methane trapped in under sea ice.

      Great big releases of methane would reduce Earth oxygen levels and cause massive animal deaths, at first just in isolated pockets, but eventually all over.

      Cell death from oxygen starvation is the thing that kills almost all of us in the end. The only exceptions I can think of are people who are completely exploded, or very quickly burned alive.

      If we don’t get our 3.3 ml of O2 per 100g of brain per minute from the blood which brings it from air in the lungs, the continual decay of DNA, RNA and proteins going on every second in our cells is no longer balanced by continual repair.

      That constant repair keeps our cells alive and it is done using energy from ATP generated mostly from glycolysis, the process where one glucose (sugar) molecule and six O2 (oxygen) molecules react in a ten step process involving ten different enzymes to produce six water molecules, six CO2 (carbon dioxide) molecules and 36 ATP molecules.

      Cells also get ATP needed for repair from breaking down fats, proteins and other carbohydrates.

      Freezing a person (at a certain rate) can stop the cellular damage by keeping the molecules from hitting each other and reacting so that re-introduction of O2 at a later time can restart the cellular machinery, such as the glycolysis that takes place in the cytoplasm of our cells.

      Cell death, build up of damage inside the cell to a point beyond repair, happens around 4 to 8 minutes without oxygen. So, to survive death in a good state a cryogenically suspended person should be frozen starting just before they actually die.

      To be dead is to have a percentage of your cells degrade, fill with junk and die from lack of energy needed to repair themselves.

      If you have read this and understood it, you understand death!

    1. Xeno Post author

      Hello. I’m not sure I understand your request, but I think you are saying you’d like to learn about methane gas to help the people of Afghanistan. You would like to know how much gas is in a particular place.

      A quick google search turned up this, but it is several years old and I don’t know if it is correct:

      Scientists find bigger oil and gas resources in
      By John Heilprin, The Associated Press
      WASHINGTON — Two geological basins in northern
      Afghanistan hold 18 times the oil and triple the
      natural gas resources previously thought, scientists
      said Tuesday as part of a U.S. assessment aimed at
      enticing energy development in the war-torn country.

      Nearly 1.6 billion barrels of oil, mostly in the
      Afghan-Tajik Basin, and about 15.7 trillion cubic feet
      of natural gas, mainly in the Amu Darya Basin, could
      be tapped, said the U.S. Geological Survey and
      Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Industry.

      Afghan President Hamid Karzai described the estimates
      as “very positive findings,” particularly since the
      country now imports most of its energy, including
      electricity. …

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