Massive Methane Hydrate Destabilization in the Past with Profound Implications for Today’s Climate

Oct 22, 2022

In the last video from October 21st, (‘AMOC Slowdown causing Rapid Warming of Subsurface North Atlantic causing Rapid Loss of Greenland Ice‘) I chatted about how huge subsea warming occurred at 150 meters depth in the North Atlantic Ocean and triggered Heinrich Events.

In this video, I discuss evidence that clearly shows there was large methane clathrate thaw on continental shelves off Africa during the Eeemian Interglacial around 125-126,000 years ago.

The evidence [1] is in the marine core sediment layers on the continental shelf and just outside the shelf in the water column down to 1800 m depths. The sediment core record evidence, using various dating proxies, various types of biologically derived organic proxies, and isotopic analysis give us proof for large methane emission into the water column and oxidation, large atmospheric methane concentrations, and warning of the intermediate water layers by 6.8 C at 700 meters depth (from about 7 degrees C to about 14 degrees C). This warming physically enters deep into the marine sediments destabilizing the methane clathrates, by melting the ice cage and releasing methane gas.

As mentioned in the previous video, in the North Atlantic the subsurface water at 150 meter depth of Newfoundland warmed from about 7 degrees C by between 8 and 12 degrees C, destabilizing the ice sheets and glaciers causing tremendous calving as measured by Ice Rafted Debris (IRD) in Heinrich Events.

In this video, the peer recent reviewed scientific paper shows that intermediate depth water off Africa at 700 meter depth warmed from 7 degrees C by about 6.8 degrees C, destabilizing methane clathrates within the sediment.

Combined, these papers are bad news for present day humanity.

Importance for Present Day Climate System:

1) Clearly, with AMOC (Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) the intermediate water will warm significantly, by at least 7 degrees C in both the North Atlantic and equatorial East Atlantic (likely also at many other places; two studies were just scratching the surface).

2) In the North Atlantic, we can expect this warming to greatly destabilize Greenland Ice Sheets and Glaciers grounded below sea level.

3) In the equatorial East Atlantic, this warming destabilized methane sediments within the sea floor sediments, and caused massive outbursts of methane changing global climate.

4) Although not discussed here, I recall a paper from a few years ago by Hansen et. al (and other papers) talking about how intermediate water near Antarctica was warming quickly. We know that Antarctica Ice melt is rapidly accelerating, with a doubling period of about 7 years (as is Greenland Ice melt). Clearly, Greenland Ice is melting from below (by warm ocean water) and on top (by warm air temperatures). However Antarctica is not melting a lot on top (still too cold) so therefore HAS to be melting more and more from below, from warming ocean water.


Ref 1: Evidence for massive methane hydrate destabilization during the penultimate interglacial warming. Link, here. Schneider, Yu, Kylander-Clark. Edited by Mark Thiemens, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA; received February 3, 2022; accepted July 2, 2022. August 22, 2022
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Metta Spencer, To Save The World, Hudson Bay Ice, Paul with Dr. Peter Wadhams, and Dr. Stephen Salter.


About paulbeckwith

Well known climate science educator; Part-time Geography professor (climatology, oceanography, environmental issues), University of Ottawa. Physicist. Engineer. Master's Degree in Science in Laser Optics, Bachelors of Engineering, in Engineering Physics. Won Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario gold medal. Also interested in investment and start-ups in climate solutions, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Avid chess player, and likes restoring old homes. Married with children.
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