Weekend Open Threat — uh, Thread: Enjoy These Prospective Disasters!

Because you are in Orange County (likely in spirit if not in flesh), you no doubt highly value your personal and community security.  Well, we hate to rattle the gates on your housing development, but here are two recent stories that explain why we are (mostly) all going to die horribly — and maybe in your lifetime!  Enjoy!

1. It’s The End of the World As We Now Know It

Coming to you from Siberia (just like some of my own probable ancestry), it’s: a cat’s eye view of my nostril!

Siberian Crater from Methane Explosion

No, no — nothing that terrifying.  (And it’s not a close up of a pore or anything else anatomical that you might be thinking.)  It’s just a portent of the end of the world due to a massive acceleration in global warming.  Specifically, to riff on Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime”:

This ain’t no sinkhole, this ain’t no space rock, this ain’t no fooling around.
No time to argue ’bout global warming, we ain’t got time for that now.

This Siberian crater has baffled scientists because if were a meteor crater that apparently deep the energy would not have been directed downward in such a comparatively narrow hole.  (It’s around the diameter of a football field, but still.)  It would spread out wide and more shallow, like a moon crater — or other craters, such as Crater Lake.  It looks like it could be a sinkhole — but a sinkhole would not have a “lip” of raised dirt around it.  Some have suggested that it might be a “pingo” — a special kind of geological swamp monster found in Australia — but if it were that sort of wet sinkhole it would have been filled with water.  Scientists now give one of two possible explanations for it:

(1) Giant burrowing rodent, like a Hedgehog Godzilla, or
(2) The point from which a huge underground methane explosion burst through the earth’s surface.

Of these, the latter is far more likely, as I did not just make it up.

Here’s the story — and it’s neither pretty nor pleasant-smelling:

Anna Kurchatova from Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre thinks the crater was formed by a water, salt and gas mixture igniting an underground explosion, the result of global warming. She postulates that gas accumulated in ice mixed with sand beneath the surface, and that this was mixed with salt – some 10,000 years ago this area was a sea.

If Dr Kurchatova’s explanation is correct, the consequences are profound. It means that There are vertical structures where salt accumulated as methane ices formed in permafrost. Layers of permafrost may have salty vertical zones of weakness in them that will allow sudden release of methane trapped below the permafrost layer as the climate warms. Vast quantities of methane trapped in river deltas in the Arctic ocean on the Siberian shelf may be unstable. This crater appears to be evidence that the methane is not protected by a very slowly melting solid layer of permafrost. Methane bubbles recently observed in the Laptev Sea, reported on by the National Science Foundation, could be the beginning of the release of an enormous amount of subsea methane.

Schematic diagram by National Science Foundation of methane release from shallow Siberian subsea sediments.

attribution: NSF
Methane is escaping from shallow subsea sediments on the Siberian platform. This National Science Foundation diagram shows Siberian platform methane bubbles rising to the surface and entering the atmosphere.

The concerns of a methane catastrophe expressed by scientists who have discovered large amounts methane escaping from the Laptev Sea may reinforced by this land based observation of methane instability in Siberian sediments of marine origin. Extraordinarily high methane levels were observed over the Laptev sea in fall 2013.

Methane is a much much more potent driver of global warming than is carbon dioxide.  It’s down there in Siberia under a constant pressure — but when we heat things up here on the biosphere, melting loosens the “cap” put into the methane from above.  And so it goes boom.  Check out the link above for more cool graphics about how climate change projections just got worse.

2. Our Sun Just Shot at Us and Barely Missed!

Yes, the sun’s shooting a Coronal Mass Ejection at us happened two years ago — but it’s still news, because scientists have just found out how close we just came to being set back 120 years, a pre-electronic-circuit time for which we are currently (get it?) ill-prepared.  Here’s the story from the Washington Post:

On July 23, 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earth’s atmosphere.  These plasma clouds, known as Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years.

“If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,” physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado tells NASA.

Fortunately, the blast site of the CMEs was not directed at Earth.  Had this event occurred a week earlier when the point of eruption was Earth-facing, a potentially disastrous outcome would have unfolded.

Solar flare preceding CMEs on July 22, 2012 (NASA)

CME captured by NASA July 23, 2012 (NASA)

If you read the Post’s story (as well you should), you’ll see that this sort of event, which has a 12% likelihood of occurring over the next decade (unless those space scientists are just messing with us), would only bring about the end of “life as we know it.”  That is, modern life — not all life.  The power that we use for transportation, communication, agriculture, acquiring water — yes, including desal! — would be gone.  Electric currents would lose their capacity — and, I expect, their capacitors.  (Nyuk, Nyuk.)  We would have to go back to playing board games — and without air conditioning, either.

The most comparable historical predecessor to this event is one that happened in 1859, documented by English astronomer Richard Carrington, who lent his name to what we now call a “Carrington Event.”  This storm was at least as strong, but it missed.  Its strength was in part due to a similar CME having traveled down the same pathway just a few days previously, clearing out the particles that could get in the way of maximum death and destruction and calamity.

On the bright side, it would be pretty:

During the Carrington event, the northern lights were seen as far south as Cuba and Hawaii according to historical accounts.  The solar eruption “caused global telegraph lines to spark, setting fire to some telegraph offices,” NASA  notes.

And there is a more significant benefit as well, for those who worry about robots taking over the world.    THIS IS WHY THEY NEED US AROUND!  As in the wrongly maligned finale of Lost, they (mechanical rather than spiritual, same difference in this respect) would need to keep humans around, and smart and skilled enough, to reboot the system and get those robots back up and running just in case their shielding from massive CME attacks failed.  And we would do it, too, because that’s the only way we’d get back our Internet!  So, in an odd way, it is the threat of CMEs that will force the robots to take care of us, keep our schools in reasonably good shape, and instill a culture where we take basic steps to preserve our continued existence — steps like taking measures to combat global warming.  (Or they could try to train apes and dolphins to do it, which might make even more sense.)

This is you Weekend Open Thread.  Talk about that, or anything else you’d like, within reasonable bounds of decorum and discretion.

I’ve promised a new OC Register Dearthwatch for the past few weeks, without my workload dipping down to the point where I could put one together.  So, this week I’m not going to promise you one — in the hopes that I will then do it.  Enjoy your weekend!

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)