Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Arctic Methane "Burp": A Climate Catastrophe with $60 Trillion Pricetag

New study looks at planetary, social and economic impacts of increasingly perilous Arctic melting

Jon Queally

Warning that a dramatic "burp" or "pulse" of methane from beneath the fragile permafrost of the Arctic caused by continued global warming would set off a "climate catastrophe," a new study says that the continued melting is also an economic "time bomb" that could cost the global economy $60 trillion.

Billions upon billions of tons of methane remain stored in the permafrost throughout the Arctic regions, but specific concern has been placed on the enormous reserves that sit locked beneath the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Scientists have repeatedly warned that if these deposits—many frozen in the form of methane hydrates—were released, they would trigger massive feedback loops and dramatically increase the rate of global warming.

The new study confirms these established fears, but also looks at the potential social and economic costs that would follow.

Though the corporate scavengers of the fossil fuel and mining companies are drooling over the prospects of a melting arctic in order to exploit previously inaccessible reserves of mineral and energy resources, the climate researchers say both the planetary and economic impacts should be taken extremely seriously.

The report's authors say that global financial and political leaders of the world continue to avoid the warnings of scientists when it comes to the dangers posed by the melting arctic.

As the Guardian's John Vidal reports:

Governments and industry have expected the widespread warming of the Arctic region in the past 20 years to be an economic boon, allowing the exploitation of new gas and oilfields and enabling shipping to travel faster between Europe and Asia. But the release of a single giant "pulse" of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea "could come with a $60tn [£39tn] global price tag", according to the researchers who have for the first time quantified the effects on the global economy.

Even the slow emission of a much smaller proportion of the vast quantities of methane locked up in the Arctic permafrost and offshore waters could trigger catastrophic climate change and "steep" economic losses, they say.

"The global impact of a warming Arctic is an economic time bomb," said Gail Whiteman, a climate policy analyst at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and one of the authors of the report.

"The imminent disappearance of the summer sea ice in the Arctic will have enormous implications for both the acceleration of climate change, and the release of methane from off-shore waters which are now able to warm up in the summer," added Cambridge University's Peter Wadhams, another co-author.

As Vidal notes:

The Arctic sea ice, which largely melts and reforms each year, is declining at an unprecedented rate. In 2012, it collapsed to under 3.5m sqkm by mid September, just 40% of its usual extent in the 1970s. Because the ice is also losing its thickness, some scientists expect the Arctic ocean to be largely free of summer ice by 2020.

The growing fear is that as the ice retreats, the warming of the sea water will allow offshore permafrost to release ever greater quantities of methane. A giant reservoir of the greenhouse gas, in the form of gas hydrates on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), could be emitted, either slowly over 50 years or catastrophically fast over a shorter time frame, say the researchers.

A "massive methane boost," explained Wadhams, "will have major implications for global economies and societies. Much of those costs would be borne by developing countries in the form of extreme weather, flooding and impacts on health and agricultural production."

________________________________________


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Congress Must Act': Bernie Sanders Demands End of Filibuster to Codify Abortion Rights

"We must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country. And if there aren't 60 votes to do it, and there are not, we must reform the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes."

Jon Queally ·


Human Rights Defenders Warn Biden Border Policy 'Quickly Transforming Into Trump 2.0'

Like his predecessor, President Joe Biden now being accused of "using racist, xenophobic tropes about immigrants to weaponize Covid-19 against migrants and asylum-seekers."

Jon Queally ·


'Bombshell': Israeli Spyware Used to Hack iPhones of US State Department Officials

Calling the Israel-based spyware maker NSO Group an "in-plain-sight national security threat," one expert warned that "a multi-agency investigation is immediately needed."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Progressive Caucus Hails Honduran Election as Chance for 'New Chapter' in Relations

"We encourage the Biden administration to use this opportunity to make a clean break with previous presidential administrations, which worked to ensure that the 2009 coup d'état succeeded."

Brett Wilkins ·


'The Facts of This Case Are So Egregious': Parents of Michigan School Shooter Charged in Killings

"There were a lot of things that could have been so simple to prevent," the Oakland County prosecutor said of the mother and father now being sought by law enforcement.

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo