I woke up this morning to an interesting article on NBCnews.com that mentioned a new study that shows that the methane hydrates located off the East coast are destabilizing at an alarming rate. So what does this mean? Well, basically, it appears that this is caused by a change in the Gulf Stream, or the natural convection cycle where warm waters are transported north and east from Florida towards the Arctic and Europe where the water is cooled and begins its southern journey back down. However, climate change inspired temperature changes are throwing off the natural cycle and destabilizing the methane hydrates on the sea floor.
Why should we care? Aside from the fact that the Gulf Stream is responsible for the weather patters on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as the nutrients in the water that sustain our fish, this new discovery represents a something of a turning point in climate change. Methane, or (CH4) to all my chemistry nerds out there, is a potent greenhouse gas that currently accounts for 16% of GHG emissions. While less abundant than carbon dioxide, methane is 23x more potent than CO2. The fear is that we have now reached a tipping point where increased global temps actually bring on unwanted effects of their own. And believe it or not, we have a lot of methane hidden in a frozen state in the permafrost on our northern locations.
I mention this study not to be an alarmist (well, maybe), but because I believe that many of us think that climate change will be easy to solve once all parties come together to take action. This is not true. It is going to take plenty of work to solve this problem. There is definitely a tipping point where the Earth enters into a reinforcing cycle of warming – the question is: did we just pass it? If not, can we take corrective action before we reach that point.