Atmospheric composition, radiative forcing, and climate change as a consequence of a massive release from gas hydrates
The massive perturbation to global climate and the carbon cycle during the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) (approx. 55.5 Ma) may have been forced by a catastrophic release of methane gas (CH4) from hydrate deposits on the continental slope. We investigate whether reported PETM paleotemperature and paleo-CO2 proxies are consistent with this hypothesis by considering the impact of large increases in CH4 emissions to the atmosphere. Significant effects on atmospheric chemistry and CH4 lifetime are seen for a range of plausible emission rates (1500 Gt carbon over 500-20,000 years). The resulting peak anomalous radiative forcing is 1.5-13.3 W/m2 depending on the emission scenario. The scenarios most closely matched to the PETM carbon isotope excursion have peak forcing of around 3 W/m2, which translates to peak temperature changes as a function of latitude that are a reasonable match to derived estimates. High CH4 levels and enhanced stratospheric water vapor amounts persist for as long as do the emissions and are responsible for more of the peak radiative forcing than CO2 levels, although results are sensitive to the background climate state and base CH4 concentration.