Global Wildfires: Methane, the Final Nemesis of Climatic Degradation
ENVIRONMENT, 16 Aug 2021
Prof Hoosen Vawda – TRANSCEND Media Service
The Occult Adversary Remains Invisible
12 Aug 2021 – According to Greek mythology, Prometheus, in Greek religion, is one of the Titans, the supreme trickster, and a god of fire. His intellectual side was emphasised by the apparent meaning of his name, “Forethinker”. In common belief he developed into a master craftsman, and in this connection, he was associated with fire and the creation of mortals. The Greek poet Hesiod related two principal legends concerning Prometheus. The first is that Zeus, the chief god, who had been tricked by Prometheus into accepting the bones and fat of sacrifice instead of the meat, hid fire from mortals. Prometheus, however, stole it and returned it to Earth once again. As the price of fire, and as punishment for humankind in general, Zeus created the woman Pandora and sent her down to Epimetheus (Hindsight), who, though warned by Prometheus, married her. Pandora took the great lid off the jar she carried, and evils, hard work, and disease flew out to plague humanity. Hope alone remained within. This was the beginning of the maladies which humanoids face including the SARS Cov-2 pandemic, drought, flooding, and mammoth wildfires. Therefore, the mythical narrations about the Titan Prometheus are full of sacrificial and altruistic acts for humankind. Prometheus, wild assisting mortals with what he thought was life sustaining fire, may be apportioned blame for the evils subsequently experienced by humanity.
Hesiod further relates in his other tale that, as vengeance on Prometheus, Zeus had him nailed to a mountain in the Caucasus and sent an eagle to eat his immortal liver, which constantly replenished itself; Prometheus was depicted in Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, who made him not only the bringer of fire and civilization to mortals but also their preserver, giving them all the arts and sciences as well as the means of survival. The myth of Prometheus and fire makes us contemplate on a serious question: If Prometheus had not stolen the fire from Zeus, what the mankind would have done? But the mischievous Titan in the Greek Mythology stole it and while he was celebrated by the mortals he was cruelly punished by the God of all Gods.
The availability of fire to earthly mortals, having been stolen from heavenly mortals resulted in the worship of fire, especially in areas where the earthly fire is believed to be the image of the heavenly fire. For a number of psychological reasons, fire is considered to be a personified animated or living power: it moves vehemently, devours, and becomes hungrier; it spreads fast into a giant blaze and is red like human blood and warm like the human body. It makes the plants that it has devoured suitable for fertilizing the earth; it shines brightly in the night and, by transference, may have “eternal life” or by constant rekindling can be made into a “perpetual fire.” In cremation it separates the body from the soul; it drives away predatory animals and insects that cause pestilence. The principal functions of fire are similar to those of its main adversary, water: to purify and to ward off evil, especially from home and hearth. Fire magically drives away rain but, with its smoke, also attracts rain clouds during a period of drought. Fire is believed to have both heavenly and earthly origins: it is brought by lightning, and it lives in the volcano of the underworld.
Legend in New Zealand has it that the Maori hero Maui seizes it from his ancestress Mahuike in the depth of the earth and puts it into a tree. Since that time, it has been possible to get fire from the wood of the trees. Similar legends are narrated in Africa and each is respected and devoutly practiced as thanksgiving to the respective ancestors for “Giving Fire” to the people and when the community has transgressed, the fire then seeks revenge by causing widespread devastation and loss of life. This is what is presently happening worldwide, ranging from west coast of the Americas to North Africa, through to Central Eurasia and far afield to the east, in Australia. In Algeria, firefighters, troops and civilian volunteers continued to battle blazes on Wednesday in forests across northern Algeria. The fires have left at least 65 people dead. Twenty-eight of those killed were soldiers deployed to help emergency services tackle the more than 50 fires that broke out on 10th August 2021, state television reported.
Wildfires in the Western part of America have been doing more damage in recent years than ever before. Scientists have discovered a reason for the spike. A recent University of Wyoming study shows the increase in expansiveness, frequency and intensity of wildfires is caused by the effects of global warming. Wildfires release carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming, and in severe cases, irreparably damaging forests ecosystems. The resulting smoke and haze can travel miles, creating public health crises as people breathe in unhealthy levels of pollutants.
Each year, forest fires consume millions of acres of land, destroying thousands of homes and properties in the Western United States and around the world. Fires like the 100,277-hectare Lutz Creek fire in British Columbia in August 2018 and the Camp Fire in California in November 2018, which burned more than 142,000 acres, exact a costly economic and human toll. The need to study the relationships between environmental factors and fires to minimize risk is critical. NASA provides data, services, and tools that enable resource managers, disaster management teams, and scientists to understand and monitor environmental conditions before a fire starts, measure the intensity and development of fires as they are burning, and assess the effects and impacts of wildfires. NASA’s Aqua satellite spotted smoke from a large area of wildfires burning in southern British Columbia, Canada.
The chemical composition of fire or state of fire is the result of a chemical reaction called combustion. At a certain point in the combustion reaction, called the ignition point, flames are produced. Flames consist primarily of carbon dioxide, water vapor, oxygen, and nitrogen. In a candle flame or small fire, most of the matter in a flame consists of hot gases. A very hot fire releases enough energy to ionize the gaseous atoms, forming the state of matter called plasma. Examples of flames that contain plasma include those produced by plasma torches and the thermite reaction. Fire emits heat and light because the chemical reaction that produces flames is exothermic. In other words, combustion releases more energy than is needed to ignite or sustain it. In order for combustion to occur and flames to form, three things must be present: fuel, oxygen, and energy, usually in the form of heat. Once energy starts the reaction, it continues so long as fuel and oxygen are present.
It is noted that of the four billion years of earth’s existence, conditions were not conducive for spontaneous wildfires until the last 400 million years. A naturally occurring atmospheric fire did not have the chemical elements available until major earth changes occurred, according to Steve Nix. The earliest life forms emerged without needing oxygen (anaerobic organisms) to live about 3.5 billion years ago and lived in a carbon dioxide-based atmosphere. Life forms that needed oxygen in small amounts (aerobic) came much later in the form of photosynthesizing blue-green algae and ultimately changed the earth’s atmospheric balance toward oxygen and away from carbon dioxide. Photosynthesis increasingly dominated earth’s biology by initially creating and continuously increasing the earth’s percentage of oxygen in the air. Green plant growth then exploded and aerobic respiration became the biologic catalyst for terrestrial life. Around 600 million years ago and during the Paleozoic, conditions for natural combustion started developing with increasing speed.
Fire needs fuel, oxygen, and heat to ignite and spread. Wherever forests grow, the fuel for forest fires is provided mainly by continued biomass production along with the resulting fuel load of that vegetative growth. Oxygen is created in abundance by the photosynthesising process of living green organisms, so it is all around us in the air. All that is needed then, is a source of heat to provide the exact chemistry combinations for a flame.
When these natural combustibles (in the form of wood, leaves, brush) reach 572º, gas in the steam given off reacts with oxygen to reach its flash point with a burst of flame. This flame then preheats surrounding fuels. In turn, other fuels heat up and the fire grows and spreads. If this spreading process is not controlled, you have a wildfire or uncontrolled forest fire. Depending on the geographic condition of the site and the vegetative fuels present, the resultant combustions are called brush fires, forest fires, sage field fires, grass fires, woods fires, peat fires, bush fires, wildland fires, or veld fires, as in South Africa.
Naturally caused forest fires are usually started by dry lightning where little to no rain accompanies a stormy weather disturbance. Lightning randomly strikes the earth an average of 100 times each second or 3 billion times every year and has caused some of the most notable wildland fire disasters in the western United States.
Most lightning strikes occur in the North American southeast and southwest. Because they often occur in isolated locations with limited access, lightning fires burn more acres than human-caused starts. The average 10-year total of U.S. wildfire acres burned and caused by humans is 1.9 million acres where 2.1 million acres burned are lightning-caused, as well as, in the Alps
Still, human fire activity is the primary cause of wildfires, with nearly ten times the start rate of natural starts. Most of these human-caused fires are accidental, usually caused by carelessness or inattention by campers, hikers, or others traveling through wildland or by debris and garbage burners. Some are intentionally set by arsonists.
Some human-caused fires are started to reduce heavy fuel buildup and used as a forest management tool. This is called a controlled or prescribed burn and used for wildfire fire fuel reduction, wildlife habitat enhancement, and debris clearing. They are not included in the above statistics and ultimately reduce wildfire numbers by reducing conditions that contribute to wildfire and forest fires.
Wildfires are spread, based on their categories. The three primary classes of wildland fires are surface, crown, and ground fires. Each classification intensity depends on the quantity and types of fuels involved and their moisture content. These conditions have an effect on fire intensity and will determine how fast the fire will spread.
Surface fires typically burn readily but at a low intensity and partially consume the entire fuel layer while presenting little danger to mature trees and root systems. Fuel buildup over many years will increase intensity and especially when associated with drought, can become a rapidly spreading ground fire. Regular controlled fire or prescribed burning effectively reduces the fuel buildup leading to a damaging ground fire.
Crown fires generally result from intense rising ground fire heat and occur in the higher sections of draping trees. The resulting “ladder effect” causes hot surface or ground fires to climb the fuels into the canopy. This can increase the chance for embers to blow and branches to fall into unburned areas and increase the spread the fire.
Ground fires are the most infrequent type of fire but make for very intense blazes that can potentially destroy all vegetation and organic manner, leaving only bare earth. These largest fires actually create their own winds and weather, increasing the flow of oxygen and “feeding” the fire.
In summary, most wildfires are started accidentally by humans. The origin of wildfires and causes are variously attributed to campfires gone out of control, arson to conceal criminal activities as it happened in South Africa, lightning, and industrial accidents, but no reference is made to natural methane gas emissions as the root cause of these spontaneous, self-combusting wildfires. The result is increase in greenhouse gases causing global warming, which in itself is a factor for the initiation of wildfires and the problem becomes a vicious cycle. Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are called greenhouse gases.
The major constituents of Earth’s atmosphere, Nitrogen (N2) (78%), Oxygen (O2) (21%), and Argon (Ar) (0.9%), are not greenhouse gases because molecules containing two atoms of the same element such as N2 and O2 have no net change in the distribution of their electrical charges when they vibrate, and monatomic gases such as Ar do not have vibrational modes. Hence, they are almost totally unaffected by infrared radiation.
A greenhouse gas (GHG) is a gas that absorbs and emits radiant energy within the thermal infrared range, causing the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone (O3). Without greenhouse gases, the average temperature of Earth’s surface would be about −18 °C (0 °F), rather than the present average of 15 °C (59 °F). The atmospheres of Venus, Mars and Titan also contain greenhouse gases.
Human activities since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, circa 1750, have increased the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide by almost 50%, from 280 ppm in 1750 to 419 ppm in 2021. The last time the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was this high was over 3 million years ago. This increase has occurred despite the absorption of more than half of the emissions by various natural carbon sinks in the carbon cycle.
At current greenhouse gas emission rates, temperatures could increase by 2 °C (3.6 °F), which the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says is the upper limit to avoid “dangerous” levels, by 2050. The vast majority of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions come from combustion of fossil fuels, principally coal, petroleum, oil and natural gas, with additional contributions from deforestation and other changes in land use.,
The greenhouse effect is the way in which heat is trapped close to the surface of the Earth by these gases. These heat-trapping gases can be thought of as a “blanket wrapped around the Earth”, which keeps it warmer, than it would be without them.
To understand how methane gas causes wildfires, it is necessary to review the basic chemistry of this gas. Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula CH₄. It is a group-14 hydride and the simplest alkane and is the main constituent of natural gas. a colorless odorless flammable gaseous hydrocarbon CH4 that is a product of biological decomposition of organic matter and of the carbonisation of coal, is used as a fuel and as a starting material in chemical synthesis. The relative abundance of methane on Earth makes it an economically attractive fuel, although capturing and storing it poses technical challenges due to its gaseous state under normal conditions for temperature and pressure. Naturally occurring methane is found both, below the ground and under the seafloor. It is formed by both geological and biological processes. The largest reservoir of methane is under the ocean floor in the form of methane clathrates. When methane reaches the surface and the atmosphere, it is known as atmospheric methane. The Earth’s atmospheric methane concentration has increased by about 150% since 1750, and it accounts for 20% of the total radiative forcing from all of the long-lived and globally mixed greenhouse gases. Methane has also been detected on other planets, including Mars, which has implications for astrobiological research.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, about 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth, on a 100-year timescale, and more than 80 times more powerful over 20 years. The effects are not hypothetical. Since the Industrial Revolution, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled, and about 20 percent of the warming the planet has experienced can be attributed to the gas. There is not that much methane in the atmosphere. about 1,800 parts per billion, about as much as two cups of water inside an average home swimming pool. That is about 200 times less concentrated in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, the most abundant and dangerous of the greenhouse gases. But methane’s chemical shape is remarkably effective at trapping heat, which means that adding just a little more methane to the atmosphere can have huge impacts on how much, and how quickly, the planet warms. In simple terms, if Co2 is one blanket wrapping the Earth, then Methane is 28 blankets wrapping the globe and causing global warming, resulting in drastic climate change, according to Dr Deborah Gordon
It is also necessary to examine the sources of this occult adversary; Methane. There are both natural and human sources of methane emissions. The main natural sources include wetlands, termites and the oceans. Natural sources create 36% of methane emissions. Human sources include landfills and livestock farming. But the most important source being the production, transportation and use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuel production and intensive livestock farming have caused the current increase methane levels. Together these two sources are responsible for 60% of all human methane emissions. Other sources include landfills and waste (16%), biomass burning (11%), rice agriculture (9%) as well as biofuels (4%).
About 30% of methane emissions are produced by wetlands, including ponds, lakes and rivers. Another 20% is produced by agriculture, due to a combination of livestock, waste management and rice cultivation. Activities related to oil, gas, and coal extraction release an additional 30%.
Methane is also released into the atmosphere by natural processes. Wetlands, termites and the oceans are all-natural sources of methane emissions. The methane produced by natural sources is completely offset by natural methane sinks. This has been so for thousands of years.
Coal mine methane (CMM) refers to methane released from the coal and surrounding rock strata due to mining activities. In underground mines, it can create an explosive hazard to coal miners, so it is removed through ventilation systems. In some instances, it is necessary to supplement the ventilation with a degasification system consisting of a network of boreholes and gas pipelines. In abandoned mines and surface mines, methane might also escape to the atmosphere through natural fissures or other diffuse sources. Coal mine methane is emitted from five sources. These are:-
- Degasification systems at underground coal mines (also commonly referred to as drainage systems). These systems may employ vertical and/or horizontal wells to recover methane in advance of mining (known as “pre-mine drainage”) or after mining (called “gob” or “goaf” wells)
- Ventilation air from underground mines, which contains dilute concentrations of methane
- Abandoned or closed mines, from which methane may seep out through vent holes or through fissures or cracks in the ground
- Surface mines, from which methane in the coal seams is directly exposed to the atmosphere
- Fugitive emissions from post-mining operations, in which coal continues to emit methane as it is stored in piles and transported
Anthropogenic sources (340 Tg/yr) predominate over natural sources (160 Tg/yr), and 80% of the total methane emission is of modern biogenic origin. Only 20% is due to fossil carbon sources (Wahlen et al. 1989). Wetland rice fields have recently been identified as a major source of atmospheric methane.
Methane emission during wood fungal decomposition is a new discovery as traditionally it was thought that methane is generated only under anaerobic conditions, and, therefore, recent discovery that green plants emit methane was a real scientific sensation. Hence, the concepts of this problem should be reevaluated, and novel natural sources of methane should be found. One of such sources can be processes of biological decomposition of wood, because development of wood-decomposing organisms inside such a substrate occurs under the conditions of physiological hypoxia and anoxia. Under natural conditions, decomposition of dead wood is mainly performed by basidial fungi, which are the only known group of microorganisms capable of biological conversion of all wood compounds. These fungi, as shown in, are accompanied by bacteria, which may include methane generating species.
Another source of biofuel is biogas, or biomethane, produced from waste in landfills and waste processing facilities, and with methane digesters from the manure produced in animal raising activities, biomethane has enormous potential.
The remainder of methane emissions come from minor sources such as wildfire, biomass burning, permafrost, termites, dams, and the ocean. Scientists around the world are working to better understand the budget of methane with the ultimate goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving prediction of environmental change. Hydroelectric Dams are an increasing source of methane emissions. 25% more methane is being released from reservoirs than previously thought, according to a study published in BioScience, October 5, 2016.
While the methane levels detected in Arctic Ice Packs were not particularly large, the potential source region, the Arctic Ocean, is vast, the finding could represent a noticeable new global source of methane, As Arctic Sea ice cover continues to decline in a warming climate, this source of methane is increasingly released.
The emissions of natural methane gas are manifested by phenomena variously unexplained throughout the word. Such phenomena also occurred in the ancient world, described collectively as the “Ever-Burning Lamps and Eternal Flames”. One such unexplained feature is the occurrence of the eternally burning flame found in a temple in India. This is seen in the very famous Jwalamukhi Temple, dedicated to Parvati Devi, a Hindu Goddess, located in Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh in northern India at the foothills of the Himalayas, is famous and is considered extremely sacred for Hindu devotees. This temple is unique in that it does not house any idol, or murti in it. However, the worshippers pay respects to the flame inside the temple which is believed to be the manifestation of Goddess Jwalamukhi. This flame is revered by most people in the Northern parts of India and pilgrims visit the site from other parts of the country, as well as the world. Jwala in Hindi means the flame, therefore as the name suggests, the temple harbours a set of eternal flames that have been burning for ages inside the cave, and no one to date has been able to find its source. The Hindu devotees, correctly believe that there are seven or nine such eternal flames that are burning, which signify the seven divine sisters or the nine Durgas, in Hinduism. There is an absolutely wonderful narration associated with this eternally burning flame in Hinduism. Every year during the Navaratri, there is held a fair at the Jwalamukhi town, where devotees from all over come to witness the flame and seek blessings from the Goddess Parvati.
The Bottom Line is that natural methane gas is an overlooked, occult foe in the war against climate degradation. It is more powerful than C02 and natural leakage from various subterranean sources not only causes global warming, due to its 28 times greater potency but is directly responsible for wildfires, on different continents, for some reason, mainly on the western aspects. Further geobiological research is urgently warranted to verify the hypothesis, presented. In the interim the stark reality is that Mother Earth is screaming for help and is dying from humanoid caused destructive activities, which are violently disturbing the balances operative in the various, fragile ecosystems.
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Professor G. Hoosen M. Vawda (Bsc; MBChB; PhD.Wits):
Director: Glastonbury Medical Research Centre; Community Health and Indigent Programme Services; Body Donor Foundation SA.
Principal Investigator: Multinational Clinical Trials
Consultant: Medical and General Research Ethics; Internal Medicine and Clinical Psychiatry:UKZN, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine
Executive Member: Inter Religious Council KZN SA
Public Liaison: Medical Misadventures
Activism: Justice for All
Tags: Climate Change, Deforestation, Environment, Forest fires, Global warming, Methane
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Aug 2021.
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