Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Could the Navy help warn us of possible human extinction?

Sent to a list which include some folks high up in making policy for the military:


Since some of you have good contacts with the Navy --

A long-term friend of mine, deeply concerned about global climate change,
has suggested that the Navy might have a role to play in reducing our woeful ignorance
about ocean phenomena which might threaten our lives more seriously than warming or ocean acidification do.

I would be interested in your thoughts about how one should follow up.

By way of introduction -- Rod was formerly one of the most important partners in Arthur Anderson,
in the good part of the company, training people in how to use systems thinking and systems methods
in managing Fortune 500 companies, and also providing these companies with in-depth unbiased information about climate change.

Rod's current idea, at the top of the trail below, builds on previous discussion. In essence,
the email trail makes sense if you read from bottom to top. (From item 1, to 2, to 3, to 4).

Best regards,


4 ==================================================

From: Rod
To: 'Paul Werbos'


When I was focusing on the NAO THC issue based largely on work out of the
Potsdam Institute George Klir referred to me a former systems science PhD
student of his who is an expert on thermohaline. At that time he worked at
the Naval Warfare Research Center and no doubt they have an interest in
hiding (or finding) submarines within thermohaline layers.

Maybe it is time to turn "swords into plowshares".

Any ideas?

3 ======================================

-----Original Message-----
From: Paul

Hi, Rod!

On Apr 30, 2012, at 6:23 PM, Rod wrote:

Here is the link to the Nature abstract:

I do not enjoy a subscription at the moment but perhaps your
organization does. There are some informative charts in the abstract.

When I go to the web site, I see all three pages, which seems to have
To be sure, I clicked on "pdf," and then downloaded the article. But It was
still just the same three pages.

What troubles me about this finding is the vastness of the
(diminishing) Arctic Sea ice. I remember reading (maybe Arctic Dreams
by Barry Lopez) years ago that there are many microorganisms living
under the sea ice that are not normally living in the open sea (archaea?).

It's amazing how little science really understands even now about some of
the basics of life on earth.

When I started this job, circa 1990, I remember a guy from Wood's Hole who
reported a success story with neural networks:
"Thanks to neural networks, we were able to detect two new types of microbe
in the ocean this year. By the way, these two types account for about 90% of
the biomass of the ocean." Quite a zinger.

He explained a bit more (about how hard it had been to do this kind of
study), but still I wondered.

In 2009, when working on climate stuff, I read up a bit more on archaea.
People had recently believed they were relatively rare, mainly in deep open
trenches and such. "Extremophiles." But it seems they may be about half of
the biomass of the ordinary ocean, in modern up-to-date work (though of
course there is a lot of textbook lag, not as bad as what we have in my
field, but still noticeable.) And maybe they are 90% of the biomass below the sea bed, where the
amount of biomass is far greater than people used to think. These are
general impressions from the current literature, but are of course not a
mature equilibrium of analysis. (Others would know more .. but many know less
who depend on older information.)

Archaea as a group are amazingly adaptable. And what they do to us depends a
lot on what we do to them. They certainly were implicated in all the
extinctions (except perhaps the one based on a comet) in Ward's history of
the earth. They are the main source of H2S and of methane.

For mass extinction purposes, both via methane or via H2S (direct or via
ozone depletion), there are two key drivers: (1) how much do the archaea
produce; and
(2) how much escapes to the atmosphere. Low levels of oxygen and nutrients
in the water seem to be the main drivers of (1), and those in turn are
heavily influenced by ocean currents and nutrient runoff from the land.

It does worry me that we don't seem to have a basic handle on the basics of
where we might be going in the fluxes of this system.
As Ward says, the study of thermohaline currents seems to be relatively
static, from what I have seen, without the kind of generalization and data
which would give us early warning of possible disasters.

The political advocacy types seem to view Ward as "just another footnote to
support our concern about ocean acidification," which may be worse in its
way than the fundamentalist climate deniers who at least know that they are
shutting their eyes and putting their heads in the sand.

Best of luck... to us all... we need it...


It is important to remember that as recently as the 16th century (and
later) sea ice completely surrounded Iceland, and "Eskimos" were
spotted in kayaks in Scotland. So the total sea ice cover diminished
greatly from its 16th century peak, and is diminishing greatly again now.

In any event I can only hope the methane studies continue to be funded
as this may be very high on the list of planetary challenges.

2 ==================================================================

From: Paul
Subject: Re: NASA finds new potential source of CH4

Thanks, Rod!

I literally felt a chill up my spine as I read your email, and clicked
on the link.

My immediate thought as I read what you said: "If it's from open ocean
and not from permafrost or clathrates... that leaves just one

And on a very quick glance the story says what seems obvious: what
else could it be but living things in the ocean?

Of course, I certainly don't know at this point... but the words which
popped into my mind immediately were:
methanogen archaea.

If we are already seeing a big expansion of archaea ... that's the key
final stage leading to the death-by-H2S and
death-by-renewed-ozone-depletion scenarios.

But certainly it is 'way premature to say we know what is going on.
For example, I didn't see a time-series in this story.
But if the kind of mechanisms that Kemp and Ward talk about are
actually getting started in the Arctic Ocean..
I guess I shouldn't have just limited the discussion to the North
Atlantic and North Pacific as I did in my posting to Jerry.
(Also, I hope that the obvious issue with the Black Sea is not large
enough to be relevant to the ozone issue.) Yet Ward's book suggests
that the North Atlantic by itself was already enough to explain the
massive extinctions at the end of the eocene.

Who knows? I guess we really ought to keep our eyes open here....

Best regards,


1 =================================

On Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 10:37 PM, Rod wrote:
Data collection over open water of the Arctic Ocean shows elevated
levels of
CH4 that NASA believes may be from the ocean water and not from
melting permafrost or methane clathrate deposits on the sea floor.
This source of
CH4 could potentially be large and bears further study.


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