Smoke From Peat Bog Fires Blankets Europe and Russia Amidst Record Heat and Drought

According to reports in the Associated Press, on September 1 of 2015, Kiev shattered its all-time record high temperature as readings rocketed to 35.5 C (96 F) in a city stifling under the pall of bog-fire smoke. The city ordered school cancellations and urged restraint in the use of fossil fuel burning vehicles as gray smog choked the city pushing air pollution levels to between 2 and 18 times normal.

For Kiev, it was just one more hot, dry day among many. A heat dome high pressure system has dominated the region for much of late July through early September. And rainfall totals for the past month were just 4 percent of average. Now bogs across a wide swath of Ukraine and Russia are drying out, issuing tell-tale plumes of smoke, and filling the region with a choking smog.

Peat Bog Fires

(Drought and heat induced bog fires blanket Ukraine and Western Russia in a dense cloud of smoke on September 3 of 2015. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

The record heat, drought, and fire outbreaks for this region come during a year in which record hot global temperatures are hitting 1 degree C above 1880s averages. A year in which a monster El Nino is firing off. And a year in which Arctic sea ice extent measures are in the range of second lowest ever recorded. All these factors likely played a part in the formation of a persistent heat dome high pressure system over Eastern Europe during July and August. In the setting off of the kinds of wildfires that have now become all-too-common in a rapidly warming world.

For Europe, in general, there were numerous related impacts throughout mid-to-late summer. According to a related report from DW:

The impact of the lack of rain and high temperatures could be felt across many sectors. Agricultural production was reduced, and forests dried out and became more susceptible to insect attacks. Hydropower production decreased, rivers fell to record low levels, and inland water transport was completely shut down in some places.

By today, temperatures across Ukraine and extreme Southwestern Russia had risen to an amazing 12-14 degrees Celsius above average (21 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than normal for this time of year). It’s a ridiculous extreme temperature departure for a mid-latitude region. The scorching center of a stifling dome of hot air that extends from the Caspian Sea all the way to Poland and Italy.

Ukraine Heatwave

(Temperatures in Russia and the Ukraine today hit 12-14 C above the already hotter than normal 1979-2000 baseline in the GFS model summary by Climate Reanalyzer.)

This record heat, drought and fire danger is expected to linger over the impacted regions for at least until Sunday. Then, a trough digging in through Eastern Ukraine is expected to shove the hot pool eastward into Russia and Kazakhstan. Setting the stage for record hot conditions running along a ridge extending from the Middle East through Russia and Siberia and on into the Arctic.

Links:

Kiev Cancels School Amid Record Heat, Bog Fires

LANCE MODIS

Climate Reanalyzer

Arctic Sea Ice at Second Lowest on Record

Monster El Nino Hurls Record Barrage of Hurricanes at Hot Blob

Halfway to 2 C

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Arctic Sea Ice Prepping For New Record Lows in 2016-2017?

It’s been a pretty rough Summer for Arctic sea ice. Rougher than one would expect when considering how rapidly Greenland is melting and given that the Gulf Stream appears to be slowing down.

Increased rates of Greenland melt, increased fresh water outflow from rivers into the Arctic Ocean, and increases in ice berg calving have provided more fresh water to the Arctic Ocean (which would tend to cool the ocean surface) and weakened the south-to-north heat transfer of the Gulf Stream. Under such conditions, we’d tend to expect more than a little rebound in Arctic sea ice coverage. What we instead saw was a brief bump in the sea ice area, extent and volume measures during 2013 and 2014.

As of September 2nd, less than two weeks shy of traditional melt season end, sea ice extent in the JAXA measure had hit second lowest on record (please also see Neven’s most recent comprehensive sea ice report for his take on near end season ice states).

image

(Japan’s sea ice monitoring facility finds Arctic extent values at second lowest on record for September 2, 2015. Image source: JAXA.)

It’s a trend well below the 2014 pseudo-recovery year. One that is now tracking just beyond the previously record-smashing 2007 trend line. The measure of 4.346 million square kilometers is about 60,000 square kilometers below 2007. And though still quite a bit higher than 2012, it’s a swing that pushes toward a somewhat unsettling reassertion of the long-term melt trend. A trend that since the 1970s has reduced late season sea ice coverage by nearly half.

Other measures, though slightly less pronounced than the JAXA monitor, also show significant departures below the pseudo-recovery years 2014 and 2013. The NSIDC extent measure places the 2015 melt season as roughly tied with 2007 as second lowest on record and a 4.586 million square kilometer coverage. Meanwhile, sea ice area is tracking the 2010 melt line at 6th lowest on record for the date at 3.322 million square kilometers — a substantial 370,000 (approximate) square kilometers below 2014 — in the Cryosphere Today measure.

Conditions in Context — Preparation for Another Record-Breaker in 2016 and 2017?

Given recent science and observations showing increased rates of Greenland melt, increased fresh water flows into the Arctic Ocean, and a slowdown of the Gulf Stream, North Atlantic Overturning Circulation, and a related development of a cool pool between Greenland and England, we should probably assume that the Arctic is now involved in a climate change feedback tug of war. On the one hand you have rising atmospheric greenhouse gas levels in the Arctic due to a combination of human emissions and a growing carbon feedback response from permafrost and seabed stores. This heat-trapping atmospheric witch’s brew couples with loss of sea and land ice albedo to push for a continued rapid Arctic warming. On the other hand, you have fresh water outflows interrupting some of the south-to-north heat transfer in the North Atlantic and keeping a lid on some of the ocean heat in the High Arctic and near Greenland.

Laptev Storm

(A storm churns through the Laptev Sea on September 3, 2015, hurling 25-35 mph winds and 6-10 foot seas at the nearby ice. Trends show that 2015 is likely to be a year of ice losses, with end summer area and extent values in the range 2nd to 6th lowest on record. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Adding to this volatile mix is a potentially record-shattering El Nino which will, over the course of the next two years generate an ocean and atmospheric heat pulse that will probably maximize in the Arctic come 2017. Since 2015 is seeing returns to sea ice area and extent values in the range of 2010, 2011, 2008 and previous record low year 2007, there appears to be a preparation for the Arctic to challenge 2012 record low values over the 2016-2017 time period. And if sea ice does hit new record low values during that period of heightened risk we can also expect the whip-lash melt response from Greenland to grow even stronger.

Links:

JAXA

NSIDC

To Compact or Not to Compact?

Cryosphere Today

LANCE MODIS

Gulf Stream Slowing Down

Human CO2 Emissions to Drive Key Ocean Bacteria Haywire, Generate Dead Zones, Wreck Nitrogen Web

Trichodesmium. It’s the bacteria that’s solely responsible for the fixation of nearly 50 percent of nitrogen in the world’s oceans. A very important role for this microscopic critter. For without nitrogen fixation — or the process by which environmental nitrogen is converted to forms usable by organisms — most of life on Earth would not exist.

Now, a new study produced by USC and the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), has found that human carbon emissions are set to drive this essential organism haywire. Forcing evolutionary changes in which the bacteria is unable to regulate its growth. Thus generating population explosions and die-offs that will be very disruptive to the fragile web of life in the world’s oceans.

Trichodesmium_bloom,_SW_Pacific

(A Trichodesmium bloom off New Caledonia. Image source: Earth Observatory.)

Trichodesmium — A Mostly Helpful Bacteria Essential to Ocean Life

Trichodesmium is a form of cyanobacteria. It resides in the near surface zone composing the top 200 meters of the water column. Possessing gas vacuoles, the bacteria is able to float and sink through the water column in order to access the nutrients it needs for growth — nitrogen, iron, and phosphorus. A widespread bacteria, it is often found in warm (20 to 34 C), nutrient-poor waters in the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, the North and South Atlantic, the Caribbean, near Australia, and in the Northeastern Pacific.

Trichodesmium congregates in blooms which are generally a straw-like color. For centuries, this coloration has generated its common name — sea straw. However, in higher concentrations it can turn waters red. The Red Sea, for example, owes its name to this prolific little bacteria. Trichodesmium blooms generate a strata that support mutualistic communities of sea creatures including bacteria, diatoms, dinoflagellates, protozoa, and copepods. These small organisms, in turn, are fed on by a variety of fish — notably herring and sardines.

But Trichodesmium’s chief role in supporting ocean health is through making nitrogen in the air and water available to living organisms. It does this by turning environmental nitrogen into ammonia as part of its cellular metabolism. This ammonia can then be used for growth by a wide variety of creatures on up the food chain. Trichodesmium is an amazing producer of this biologically available nitrogen — perhaps generating as much as 50 percent of organic nitrogen in the world’s oceans (70 to 80 million metric tons) each year.

Human Fossil Fuel Burning is Projected to Drive Trichodesmium Haywire

But now a new study by USC and WHOI shows that atmospheric CO2 concentrations projected to be reached by the end of the 21st Century in the range of 750 ppm CO2 could force Trichodesmium’s nitrogen fixation rate into overdrive and lock it there indefinitely.

Trichodesium Nitrogen Fixation before and after

(Rate of nitrogen fixation in Trichodesmium at 380 ppm CO2 [black and red], at 750 ppm CO2 [pink, yellow and light blue], and when CO2 levels are returned to 380 ppm after five years of exposure to 750 ppm levels [dark blue]. Image source: Nature.)

The study subjected Trichodesmium to atmospheric CO2 concentrations (750 ppm) projected under a somewhat moderate rate of continued fossil fuel burning scenario by 2100 for five years. After this five year period of exposure, Trichodesmium nitrogen fixation rates nearly doubled (see above graphic). But, even worse, after the Trichodesmium bacteria were returned to the more normal ocean and atmospheric conditions under 380 ppm CO2, the rate of nitrogen fixation remained elevated.

In essence, researchers found that Trichodesmium evolved to fix nitrogen more rapidly under higher ocean acidity and atmospheric CO2 states at 750 ppm levels. But when atmospheric levels returned to 380 ppm and when oceans became less acidic, Trichodesmium’s rate of nitrogen fixation remained locked in high gear. For an organism like Trichodesmium to get stuck in a broken rate of higher metabolism and growth is practically unheard of in evolutionary biology. Organisms typically evolve as a response to environmental stresses. Once those triggers are removed, organisms will typically revert to a near match of previous states. Strangely, this was not the case with Trichodesmium.

David Hutchins, professor at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and author of the new study described this alteration to Trichodesium as ‘unprecedented’ stating that:

“Losing the ability to regulate your growth rate is not a healthy thing. The last thing you want is to be stuck with these high growth rates when there aren’t enough nutrients to go around. It’s a losing strategy in the struggle to survive.”

Uncontrolled Blooms, Population Crashes, Biotoxin Production, Dead Zones

Nitrogen is a key component of cellar growth. So Trichodesmium nearly doubling its rate of nitrogen fixation means that the bacteria’s rate of production will greatly increase as atmospheric CO2 levels and ocean acidification continue to rise. Under heightened CO2, the bacteria essentially loses its ability to restrain its population.

La-Jolla-Red-Tide.780

(Large algae/bacterial blooms like this red tide off La Jolla, San Diego are causing the expansion of hypoxic and anoxic dead zones throughout the world’s oceans. A new study has found that one of the ocean’s key microbes goes into growth overdrive as atmospheric and ocean CO2 concentrations rise — which would greatly enhance an already dangerous rate of dead zone expansion in the world ocean system. Image source: Commons.)

As a result, researchers warn that Trichodesmium blooms may run out of control under heightening levels of CO2. Such out of control blooms would rapidly remove scarcer nutrients like phosphorous and iron from the water column. Once these resources are exhausted, Trichodesmium would begin to die off en-masse. As with other large scale bacterial die-offs in the ocean, the decaying dead cellular bodies of Trichodesmium would then rob the nearby waters of oxygen — greatly enhancing an already much amplified rate of anoxic dead zone formation. And we know that anoxic waters can rapidly become home to other, far more dangerous, forms of bacterial life. In addition, large concentrations of Trichodesmium are known to produce biotoxins deadly to copepods, fish, and oysters. Humans are also rarely impacted suffering from an often fatal toxicity response called clupeotoxism when the Trichodesmium produced toxins biomagnify in fish that humans eat. Sadly, more large Trichodesium blooms will enhance opportunities for clupeotoxism to appear in human beings.

Exacerbating this problem of heightened Trichodesmium blooms and potential related dead zone formation is the fact that ocean waters are expected to become more stratified as human-forced warming continues. As a result, more of the nutrients that Trichodesmium relies upon will be forced into a thinner layer near the surface — thus heightening the process of bloom, die-off, and dead zone formation.

Final impacts to ocean health come in the form of either widely available nitrogen, (during Trichodesmium bloom periods) which would tend to enhance the proliferation of other microbial life, or regions of nitrogen desertification (during Trichodesmium die-offs). It’s a kind of ocean nitrogen whip-lash that can be very harmful to the health of life in the seas. One that could easily ripple over to land life as well.

No Return to Normal

But perhaps the most shocking finding of the new research was that alterations in Trichodesmium’s rate of growth and nitrogen fixation may well be permanent after the stress of high CO2 and ocean acidification are removed. Hinting that impacts to ocean health from a rapid CO2 spike would be long-lasting and irreparable over anything but very long time-scales. Yet more evidence that the best thing to do is to avoid a major CO2 spike altogether by cutting human carbon emissions to zero as swiftly as possible.

Links:

Irreversibly Increased Nitrogen Fixation in Trichodesmium in Response to High CO2 Concentrations

Climate Change Will Irreversibly Force Key Ocean Bacteria into Overdrive

Trichodesmium

Earth Observatory

Red Tide Algae Bloom off San Diego

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse

Trichodesmium: A Widespread Marine Cyanobacteria with Unusual Nitrogen Fixation Properties

Nitrogen Fixation

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Monster El Nino Hurls Record Barrage of Hurricanes at Hot Blob, Sets Sights on Drought-Ravaged California

The Hot Blob in the Northeastern Pacific held its own for quite some time. But it now faces the assault of a barrage of tropical cyclones spat from the maw of a monster El Nino that is now tracking its way toward the strongest such event on record. If this keeps up, the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge warding storms off the US West Coast will be besieged by increasingly powerful cyclonic systems. The Ekman pumping from such storms will cool the ocean surface at its periphery and expanding toward its heart, eventually crushing the ocean impetus for ridge formation. The continuation of such a pattern could then kick Bjerknes feedback into higher gear — opening wide the door for powerful storms striking the US West Coast this Fall and Winter.

*   *   *   *   *

A Record-Shattering Barrage of Pacific Cyclones

Late during the evening of August 29th of 2015 something odd happened. For the first time in the history of modern meteorological record keeping, three category four typhoons simultaneously churned their way northward through the Pacific Ocean. These massive and powerful storms, just one category shy of the strongest typhoons we have a measure for, were hurled out of a region of extremely hot sea surface temperatures near the Equator. A zone, that for late August was also hitting record hot levels amidst a building Monster El Nino. And never before in modern memory had so many storms of such high intensity filled Pacific Ocean waters.

image

(Signs that powerful Fall and Winter storms are coming for the US West Coast? From north to south, strong cyclones are starting to put the squeeze on the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. The Central and Eastern Pacific between 10 and 30 North, in particular, shows an eye-widening number of tropical cyclones. As of Tuesday, September 1, a whopping four tropical systems were churning northward out of an extremely hot El Nino zone. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

By today, the furthest northward cyclones had vented their fury and dropped in intensity. Meanwhile, a fourth storm — tropical depression 14-E — was in the process of exploding over the very hot waters of the Eastern Pacific. It’s an unprecedented number of storms flowing out of what may become the strongest El Nino on record as part of a powerful ocean-atmospheric feedback.

Strong Bjerknes Feedback to Crush RRR?

Now, this strong storm pulse is starting to put the squeeze on the famed Ridiculously Resilient Ridge (RRR). It’s a persistent ridge that for the better part of three years has turned storms away from the US West Coast — deepening already prevalent drought conditions over California and threatening water security across the US West.

But now the RRR is surrounded by storms. A strong frontal trough runs from 30 North across the Central Pacific and on up into the Bering Sea. Another significant late summer low churns off the Pacific Northwest — running south and east toward Seattle and British Columbia. And four tropical cyclones push northward into the ridge’s southern boundary. It’s a full court atmospheric press. One that, through the mechanism of Ekman pumping, will push for the generation of upwelling and related cooling of the Northeastern Pacific waters beneath the RRR.

Bjerknes Feedback

(Sea surface temperature and atmospheric conditions are beginning to fall more in line with an El Nino related pattern called Bjerknes Feedback. Image source: NOAA.)

If this happens, a good portion of the RRR’s atmospheric inertia will fail — opening wide the door for a powerful west to east storm track development fed by heat rising off a Monster El Nino sprawling over the Equatorial zones. It’s a pattern that’s starting to look like a rather significant Bjerknes-type feedback to a record or near record El Nino. One that may well continue to develop and grow ever-stormier as Fall progresses.

2015 El Nino Still Heating Up, Expected to Heat Up More

Feeding the powerful pulse of storms is a still-heating Equatorial Pacific. As of Monday, NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report found that the critical Nino 3.4 zone had warmed 2.2 degrees Celsius above average. This warming follows an inexorable three month rise that began in June and has mostly continued unabated. Furthermore, seasonal trends together with the already powerful observed atmospheric feedbacks would tend to continue to push surface warming through October and November. So it’s likely that an El Nino that has already ventured well into monster event range will warm further over the coming 4-10 weeks — setting the stage for a possible excession of 1997’s record setting intensity.

image

(The 2015 El Nino is starting to look like one of the very intense events some climate models predicted as an upshot of human-forced global warming. It’s only early September and Nino 3.4 is already 2.2 C hotter than average. This Equatorial Pacific region is still heating up as storm-forced up-welling begins to develop cool regions in the RRR supporting zones of the Northeastern Pacific Hot Blob. It will take a boatload of strong storms to crush the RRR, but the still strengthening monster El Nino to the south keeps firing them northward. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Model runs still point toward this possibility with CPC/IRI convergent and dynamic 3 month average predictions in the range of 2.3 to 2.5 C above average (which would beat out 1997’s 2.2 C departure). Meanwhile, uncorrected CFSv2 model runs continue to put the October, November, December 3 month average prediction in the range of 2.75 C above baseline. A level that would basically blow the 1997 El Nino out of the water. To this point it’s worth re-iterating that weekly sea surface temperature departures for the Equatorial Pacific are now entering record setting ranges. Many analysts, like Weather Underground’s Steve Gregory, expecting these waters to continue to warm over the coming weeks.

Conditions in Context: Look Out For Rough Weather Coming to US West Coast

Though it’s too early to lock in the death of the RRR, conditions are lining up that will continue to put the squeeze on this persistent weather pattern. As a result, chances for some very intense storms beginning to slam into the US West Coast starting during October, November and December are on the rise. For those looking to a possible end to the droughts, wildfires and water shortages in the Western US, this potential change in conditions may be seen as a relief.

However, such an extreme switch brings with it the distinct possibility that storms associated with a potential strongest El Nino on record will be very disruptive. The droughts and numerous wildfires throughout the West have established soil conditions that will only enhance flood related impacts. Powerful rains associated with El Nino will likely increase erosion and further damage soils in regions already impacted by the severe droughts, mass tree deaths, and wildfires related to human forced climate change and fossil fuel burning.

California missing two years of rain

(As of August 13, 2015, some parts of California were facing a rainfall deficit of 2 years or more. In order to break the drought, 2015’s monster El Nino would have to set off severe flood conditions during Fall and Winter. With the RRR under threat, is California staring down the barrel of a switch to an equally ridiculous barrage of storms? Image source: National Weather Service, Phoenix.)

To this final point, parts of California are now entering a 2 year rainfall deficit. A deficit that, in some places, equals 30-40 inches or more. A monster El Nino crushing the RRR and massively amplifying the Pacific Ocean storm track and pumping immense volumes of moisture into the mid-latitudes raises the risk that this much water or more could be dumped upon parts of California and the US West Coast in little more than a season. A switch from persistent, crushing drought to flash flood that could be extraordinarily disruptive.

Links:

Earth Observatory: Trio of Hurricanes in the Central and Eastern Pacific

Earth Nullschool

National Hurricane Center

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

NOAA: Bjerknes Feedback

NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

CFSv2 Model SST Predicted Departures in Nino 3.4

Steve Gregory: El Nino Stronger!

Climate Change Could Double the Likelihood of Super El Ninos

National Weather Service, Phoenix

Hat Tip to Ray Duray

(Please support public, non-special interest based science like the fantastic El Nino reports provided by NOAA and without which this analysis would not be possible.)

Shades of a Canfield Ocean — Hydrogen Sulfide in Oregon’s Purple Waves?

Are we already starting to awaken some of the horrors of the ancient hothouse ocean? Are dangerous, sea and land life killing, strains of primordial hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria starting to show up in the increasingly warm and oxygen-starved waters of the US West Coast? This week’s disturbing new reports of odd-smelling, purple-colored waves appearing along the Oregon coastline are a sign that it may be starting to happen.

Purple Waves

(Purple waves wash over the Oregon beach of Neskowin on August 15. A form of hydrogen sulfide consuming bacteria is known to color water purple. Is this an indicator that the deadly gas is present in Oregon’s waters? Image source: Jeanine Sbisa and Beach Connection.)

A Dangerous Beauty

Oregon beachgoers and ocean researchers alike are flummoxed. There’s something strange in the water. Something that’s coloring the waves of Oregon’s beaches purple even as the off-shore waters are painted greenish-blue. These puzzling purple waves have been washing up along the Oregon Coastline for the better part of a month. And no-one seems to know exactly what’s causing it.

Eyewitness photographer Jeanine Sbisa described the scene at Neskowin:

“The purple was only on the edge of the water. I did not see any patches in the deeper water. ( in fact the deeper water was a beautiful turquoise, instead of the deep blue that it usually is at Winema). Some of the waves were a deep clear purple. Other waves in other segments were a rich foamy lilac color. The colors were amazing. Very beautiful.”

All up and down Oregon’s coastline similar reports have been surfacing. Oregon State Park Ranger Dane Osis photo documented another incident at Fort Stevens State Park near Astoria. And eyewitnesses at some locations have described a ‘funky smell’ issuing from some of the purple-colored waters.

Initial reports have claimed that there’s no evidence the purple waters are harmful. But such assertions may well be premature.

Purple Sulfur Bacteria

At issue is the fact that the waters off Oregon are increasingly warm. They are increasingly low oxygen or even anoxic. Conditions that are prime for the production of some of the world’s nastiest ancient species of microbes. The rotten-eggs smelling hydrogen sulfide producing varieties. The variety that paint the waters green (or turquoise as described by Jeanine Sbisa above) or even an ugly black. And there is one primordial creature in particular that thrives in warm, low-oxygen, funky-smelling water. An organism that’s well known for coloring bodies of water purple — the purple sulfur bacteria.

Purple Canfield Ocean

(Artist’s rendering of what a Canfield Ocean may have looked like. A Canfield Ocean is a deadly hothouse ocean state implicated in 5 of 6 major mass extinction events. And, perhaps, we see a hint of this deadly ocean along the Oregon coast today. Image source: Biogeochemistry.)

In order for blooms of purple sulfur bacteria to form, waters have to be low in oxygen or anoxic. There has to be hydrogen sulfide gas present in the water. And the water has to be relatively warm. This is because the bacteria is warmth-loving, anaerobic, and it uses the sulfur in hydrogen sulfide gas as part of its energy production process.

In the current day, the purple sulfur bacteria is present in anoxic lakes and geothermal vents. But during ancient times and during times of hothouse extinction, the purple sulfur bacteria are thought to have thrived in the world’s oceans — painting them the strange tell-tale purple we see hints of along the Oregon shoreline today. A purple that was the hallmark color of a life-killing hothouse ocean.

In his ground-breaking book “Under a Green Sky,” Dr. Peter Ward vividly describes what a Canfield Ocean may have looked like:

Finally we look out on the surface of the great sea itself, and as far as the eye can see there is a mirrored flatness, an ocean without whitecaps. Yet that is not the biggest surprise. From shore to the horizon, there is but an unending purple colour – a vast, flat, oily purple, not looking at all like water, not looking anything of our world. No fish break its surface, no birds or any other kind of flying creatures dip down looking for food. The purple colour comes from vast concentrations of floating bacteria, for the oceans of Earth have all become covered with a hundred-foot-thick [30m] veneer of purple and green bacterial soup.

The purple sulfur reducing bacteria, though not dangerous themselves, live in a kind of conjoined relationship with the much more deadly hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria. The purple, is therefore, a tell-tale of the more deadly bacteria’s presence. And hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria may well be the most dangerous organism ever to have existed on the planet — largely responsible for almost all the great extinction events in Earth’s deep history. For hydrogen sulfide itself is directly toxic to both land and ocean-based life. Its deadly effects are increased at higher temperatures. And not only is it directly toxic in both water and air, if it enters the upper atmosphere it also destroys the ozone layer.

(Video shot on July 18 [please excuse the colorful language] showing purple waters and dead jellies, barnacles and mussels on another Pacific Ocean beach. Video source: Gezzart.)

Purple waters are a sign that the little organisms that produce this deadly agent may be starting to bloom in an ocean whose health is increasingly ailing. Tiny tell-tales that we’re on a path toward a hothouse Canfield Ocean state. A path we really don’t want to continue along through the ongoing burning of fossil fuels. For that way leads toward another great dying.

*  *  *  *  *

Pigmented Salps — An Indicator of Bio-Magnification?

UPDATE TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1: According to reports from Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon’s purple waves are being caused by the large-scale spawning of an oxygen dependent jellyfish-like vertebrate called a salp in the near shore zones along the Oregon coastline. The normally clear salps have apparently developed a purple pigmentation which is coloring the waves in this region a strange hew. The findings, though seemingly reassuring, raise more questions than they do answers.

First, salps do not typically spawn in the near-shore region. However, during recent years, near shore salp spawnings have become more common leading to reports of these jellies washing up all along the U.S. Coastline. Phytoplankton and other bacteria are a typical food source for salps and the jellies are mobile enough to follow this food. So large blooms in the near shore ocean could be one reason for salps coming closer to shore.

Second, salps are typically clear — devoid of any pigmentation. So the question here is how are salps picking up this strange purple color? Since salps are filter-feeders known to eat bacteria, it’s possible that a highly pigmented food source or a source laden with purple sulfur bacteria may be resulting in this odd new coloration for salps. So identifying pigmented salps as the source of the purple coloration does not necessarily eliminate the possibility of sulfur reducing bacteria being present in either the near shore or the off shore waters where salps typically reside and feed. Pigmentation, in this case, may be due to salps bio-magnifying the natural pigmentation in their food source. Given the fact that salp coloration is practically unheard of, it’s somewhat puzzling that marine researchers haven’t investigated this particular mystery a bit further.

Third, the region off the Oregon coastline has been increasingly low in oxygen due to a combination of eutriphication, ocean current change, and ocean warming. This fact of declining ocean health in the off-shore Oregon environment is contrary to assertions circulated in some media sources claiming that large salp blooms are a proof that the environment in the bloom region is healthy. Salp blooms follow bacterial and phytoplankton blooms. And such blooms are well known triggers for dead zone formation. Though salps tend to aid in mitigating these blooms, their presence is not necessarily a sign of healthy waters. Conversely, in the case of very large algae blooms, salps presence may indicate just the opposite. Since salps are oxygen-dependent, it’s possible that the near shore environments where wave mixing tends to oxygenate the water is a drawing these vertebrate jellies closer in due to a loss of an off shore environment healthy enough to sustain them.

As with the freak appearance of pink pigmented salps at Manzanita during 2010, the widespread purple waves off Oregon during 2015 remain somewhat of a mystery. The key question as to why salps, that are known to be a clear-bodied species, are picking up a pigmentation very similar to that possessed by purple sulfur bacteria has not been answered.

Links:

Purple Waves Puzzle Oregon Coastal Scientists

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse — Hydrogen Sulfide in the World’s Warming Oceans

Purple Sulfur Bacteria

Canfield Ocean

Under a Green Sky

Biogeochemistry

Hat Tip to Wharf Rat

Top Scientist — Threat of Catastrophic Permafrost Thaw is “Real and Imminent”

There’s a lot of carbon stored in the Arctic’s thawing permafrost. According to our best estimates, it’s in the range of 1,300 billion tons (see Climate Change and the Permafrost Feedback). That’s more than twice the amount of carbon already emitted by fossil fuels globally since the 1880s. And the sad irony is that continuing to burn fossil fuels risks passing a tipping point beyond which rapid destabilization and release of those carbon stores becomes locked in.

permafrost_map

(Global permafrost coverage as recorded by the World Meteorological Organization. A 2 C global warming threshold is generally thought to be the point at which enough of the Arctic permafrost will go into catastrophic destabilization, to result in a global warming amplifying feedback that then thaws all or most of the rest. The 2 C threshold was chosen because it is the bottom boundary of the Pliocene — a time when this permafrost store formation began. However, there may be some risk that enough of the store could become unstable at lesser levels of warming — crossing the tipping point sooner than expected. Image source: WMO.)

At issue is the fact that most of this carbon has been stored during the past 2 million year period of ice ages and interglacials. Due to human fossil fuel burning, we are now entering a period in which the Arctic is becoming warmer than at any time in at least the past 110,000 years. And with atmospheric CO2 levels now hitting and exceeding concentrations last seen during the Pliocene of 2-3 million years ago, large swaths of that carbon store may be in jeopardy of rapidly thawing. Such a thaw would release yet more CO2 and heat trapping methane into the atmosphere.

It’s something to worry over even if you’re not one of those, like Sam Carana, who’s concerned about a potential catastrophic methane release. And it doesn’t take a climate scientist to tell you that we’ve already seen some disturbing increases in methane emissions from thermokarst lakes, from permafrost regions themselves, through the permafrost and duff-destroying mechanisms of Arctic wildfires, from submerged seabed tundra in the ESS, and from the odd new features we’re now calling methane blowholes.

smoke-from-siberian-tundra-fires-august-1-2014

(Are large Siberian fires like this outbreak on August 1 of 2014 indicative that the Arctic permafrost carbon stores are nearing a critical tipping point? Top scientists think we should find out as quickly as possible. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Top Woods Hole Scientist Calls for Tipping Points Investigation

With so much carbon stored in the permafrost, any level of warming that begins to unlock significant volumes of its massive store can result in passing a climate change point of no return. Setting off amplifying feedbacks that do not stop until much or all of that carbon is released and we’ve been propelled into new, much hotter, climate states. Given the fact that we are already starting to enter the range of Eemian temperatures — a period in which the world was as warm or warmer than now, but the Arctic stayed reasonably cooler — it’s more than reasonable to assume that such a danger is already upon us.

Today, a noted Woods Hole Scientist by the name of Dr. Max Holmes called such a threat “real and imminent” stating:

“The release of greenhouse gasses resulting from thawing Arctic permafrost could have catastrophic global consequences. The United States must lead a large-scale effort to find the tipping point – at what level of warming will the cycle of warming and permafrost thawing become impossible to stop. The real and imminent threat posed by permafrost thawing must be communicated clearly and broadly to the general public and the policy community.”

Dr. Holmes was joined by other Woods Hole scientists in issuing this call for more research into what they now consider a growing and immediate threat (see full press release here).

The generally accepted ‘tipping point’ for large permafrost store release tends to be in the range of 2 degrees Celsius. The problem is we’ve already emitted enough CO2, methane and other greenhouse gasses to warm the Earth by 2-4 degrees Celsius long term and by around 1.4 to 1.9 degrees Celsius this Century. So it appears we already have a good deal of momentum toward the accepted permafrost thaw and related carbon release tipping point. Dr. Holmes’  and his Woods Hole colleagues are calling for a focused effort to more accurately nail down that tipping point. To give us a better idea how close we really are and to provide a sense of urgency for avoiding what could best be described as a terrible brand of trouble.

Links:

US Scientists Warn Leaders of the Dangers of Thawing Permafrost

Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback

World Meteorological Organization

Appropriate Concern Over Catastrophic Methane Release

LANCE-MODIS

Hat tip to Redskylite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10-15 Foot Waves Break Seawall at Barrow, Alaska

This is not something that is normal for typically ice-choked Barrow, Alaska. Today, 25 to 35 mile per hour winds and fetch-driven, 10-15 foot high waves are breaking through coastal barriers and flooding the streets and homes of a town that is used to far more placid seas.

Barrow Flooding

(Recently, Barrow city officials had a barrier of sand erected to protect structures from the newly ice liberated waters of the Beaufort Sea. Today, a strong coastal low pressure system’s surf smashed that barrier, flooded the coastal road, broke a channel through to an inland lake, and swamped numerous structures. Image source: Barrow Sea Ice Webcam.)

*    *    *    *    *

There’s been quite a lot of potential storm energy building in the Beaufort Sea this season. Nearby waters in the Chukchi have ranged between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above average. Warmth, moisture and low pressure systems have flooded in from the Pacific off the back side of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge to the south. It was a pool of warmth and heat just waiting for a trigger.

As August swung toward September, the near polar regions began to cool even as the Summer sun retreated. Temperature differentials between ice free sections of the Chukchi and Beaufort and remaining ice covered regions in the Central Arctic Basin hit new extremes. And, yesterday, a strong low pressure system began to develop off the Northern Alaskan coast (see video of yesterday’s building surf here).

image

(Fifteen foot waves north and west of Barrow, Alaska as detected by Earth Nullschool at 2:05 PM EST on August 27th. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In response, Alaska weather forecasters yesterday issued a High Surf Advisory. They probably should have issued a Coastal Flood Warning instead. For by today, the low had intensified to a 985 mb system. It has wrapped its left side in 35-45 mph winds and 10-15 foot seas. Seas that are now ripping large holes through coastal barriers erected to protect Barrow from a newly ice-liberated and storm-tossed Arctic Ocean.

High waves and surging seas are expected to persist, and possibly intensify, over the next 12-24 hours for Barrow. So currently observed coastal flooding may continue to worsen through tonight and tomorrow.

Coastlines Newly Vulnerable to Open Water Storms

The Northern Alaskan Coastlines, as with many Arctic shores, are used to typically placid or ice-locked waters. In the past, when sea ice dominated the Arctic Ocean during Summer, there were few open stretches of water available for a storm to generate fetch. Now, vast regions of Arctic Ocean remain open for long periods during July, August and September. In addition, with high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream delivering so much heat and moisture from more southerly regions, the late Summer and early Fall Arctic is increasingly primed for storms.

The result is strong storms running through open waters and generating powerful surf. Surf that is aimed at gently sloping beaches and low elevation coastlines with few natural barriers to protect against waves and storm surge. It’s a new vulnerability that today, for Barrow, resulted in a storm riled and ice free Arctic Ocean surging into streets, roadways and homes. Another climate change related situation that is new — if not at all normal.

Links:

Barrow Sea Ice Webcam

Earth Nullschool

High Surf Advisory For Barrow Alaska

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Griffin

Hat tip to Timothy Chase (fetch discussion)

Signs of Gulf Stream Slowdown — Sea Level More Than a Foot Higher off US East Coast

It’s the stuff that climate disaster movies are made of. But the events are all too real — happening now and not part of some dramatized script played out on the silver screen.

Signs abound that global ocean circulation is being profoundly altered by human-forced climate change. A pool of cold water has developed in the North Atlantic. England is getting slammed by anomalous winter-type rains and gales in August. And sea surface heights off the US East Coast are more than 30 centimeters (one foot) above the 1979 to 2015 average.

Sea level anomalies 30 cm off US east coast

(Global sea surface height anomalies off the US East Coast are more than a foot (30 cm) above the 1979 to 2015 average. A clear sign that the Gulf Stream is slowing down, perhaps by as much as 15-30 percent. Complete shut down of the Gulf Stream, though unlikely without extremely large melt outflows from Greenland, would result in a very dangerous 1 meter sea level rise. An impact that is primarily driven by ocean current change. Sea level rise by thermal expansion and glacial melt would, necessarily, pile on top of this bulge of backed up waters. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

This past March, after observations of rising sea levels off the US East Coast, extreme positive sea surface temperature anomalies in the same region, and a critical slowing down of North Atlantic over-turning recorded throughout the 20th Century, Professor Stefan Rahmstorf published this earth-shattering paper in the scientific journal Nature.

The paper meticulously recorded a slow-down of bottom water formation in a region of the Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland. The period studied included all of the 20th Century and the first one and one half decades of the 21st Century. Rahmstorf concluded that Greenland ice sheet melt — starting around 1900 and spiking after 1975 — was having a profound impact. Cold, fresh water issuing out from Greenland was cutting off the flow of heavier, salty water transported northward by the Gulf Stream. It was preventing larger portions of that water from sinking. And it was slowing down the Gulf Stream together with a host of other ocean circulation driving currents.

A system vital to both the life and health of the world ocean and global weather stability was entering an arrest. In other words, the world ocean heartbeat was fading.

The Gulf Stream Train Wreck

Since the publication of Rahmstorf’s paper, evidence of a bottom water formation interruption and a subsequent Gulf Stream train wreck continued to pile up. Sea surface temperatures off the US East Coast, during summer time spiked to as high as 85 Fahrenheit (29.3 C) off the coasts of New York and New Jersey. And regions off Nantucket hit as high as 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 C). That’s between 7-10 F (4-6 C) hotter than average for an already typically warm Gulf Stream.

imageimage

(Left frame image shows Gulf Stream waters spiking to 29.3 C or 85 F off New York and New Jersey. Temperatures in the range of 7-10 F [4-6 C] above average. Right frame image shows cool pool development in the typical bottom water formation zone between Greenland, England and Newfoundland. Combined with the ocean current overlay, which shows widespread meandering, this hot south, cold north ocean surface dipole is an indication that the Gulf Stream is slowing down and that bottom water formation is weakening. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Further north, the opposite is happening. In the region east of the Grand Banks where the Gulf Stream currents typically flow strongly, there’s only a weak, meandering, confluence. The Gulf Stream appears to have hit a barrier. It has bottled up off the Northeastern US Coast. And it appears reluctant or unable to flow past mid-ocean.

As a result, a broad zone between England, the Southeastern Coast of Greenland and Newfoundland lack the warm, salty inflow of a strong Gulf Stream. Sea surface temperatures range from 2-7 F (1 to 4 C) below average. The northward progress of heat from the Gulf Stream is tapering off. And this cut off of heat flow from Equator to mid latitudes shows more and more as the development of an anomalous cool pool continues throughout.

Taking in the entire North Atlantic, what we see is a weather-destabilizing hot-cold dipole. The warm waters are backed up off the US East Coast. This is evidenced by both the very warm sea surface temperatures and by an extreme increase in sea surface heights by 1 foot over a broad region. And to the north, we have the climate change signature cool pool.

Anomalous Storms Strike England During Summer

This Gulf Stream train wreck and related cool pool development has already done a bit of a number on UK weather this summer. A series of gales and heavy rainstorms have slammed into the UK Coast — bringing heavy seas and torrential rains. One months worth of rainfall fell over parts of the UK during the past week alone. And with more storms on the way it appears that August of 2015 may be the wettest ever recorded.

It’s a changed climate state that Dr. James Hansen warned of in a recent paper. One that means more powerful storms for the North Atlantic as the Greenland Ice Sheet spews out greater and greater volumes of water and ice. Ever since 2012, we’ve seen a tendency for these kinds of anomalously powerful storms. And more rough weather is certainly on the way.

storms-reshape-englands-coastline

(During the winter of 2013 and 2014, storms reshaped the coastlines of the British Isles. But this was just the start. For the North Atlantic is now in the process of firing up an age of storms. Image source: AGU.)

The Fall forecast is calling for the strong gales that we’ve already seen to continue to intensify through at least October and November. Strong storms that will draw energy by the high differences in sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic, but also, possibly, from an El Nino-amplified storm track causing powerful troughs to begin to dig in off the US East Coast. A situation that could set up a kind of trans-Atlantic storm firing line.

The long term forecast, however, is even worse. With Greenland just beginning to shed more and more of its ice, the cool pool off England will tend to intensify even as the hot pool off the US East Coast and within the Gulf of Mexico heightens. A screaming, storm-generating temperature differential that such melt will worsen as the decades wear on and if human fossil fuel burning continues to add more heat fuel to this already developing dangerous situation.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Rahmstorf– AMOC is Slowing Down

World Ocean Heartbeat is Fading

Earth Nullschool

Even Chances August Will Be Wettest on Record for The UK

Warning From Scientists — Halt Fossil Fuel Burning or Age of Storms, Rapid Sea Level Rise is Coming

North Atlantic Ramping up to “Storms of My Grandchildren?”

AGU

Fall Forecast: Storms Target UK, France

Hat tip to Spike

Mass Whale Death in Northeastern Pacific — Hot Blob’s Record Algae Bloom to Blame?

Something lurking in the Northeastern Pacific is killing off the graceful giants of the world’s oceans. For since May of 2015 30 large whales have been discovered dead — their bloated and decaying bodies washed up on Alaskan shores. It’s an unusual mortality event featuring a death rate of nearly 400 percent above the average. So far, scientists don’t yet have a culprit. But there is a prime suspect and it’s one that’s linked to climate change.

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Bears consuming whale carcass

(Bears consume the carcass of a beached finback whale on the Alaskan coastline. Image source: NOAA.)

This month the US government declared an ‘unusual mortality event’ after it was confirmed that 30 large whales including 11 finback whales, 14 humpback whales, one gray whale and four other whales so bad off it that spotters where unable to identify the bodies by type were found dead. For large whales, whose numbers tend to be low due to size, low birth rates, and dietary requirements, that’s a very rapid mortality rate. As a comparison, all of 2014 only featured four large whale deaths in the Gulf of Alaska.

According to an official statement from NOAA:

“NOAA Fisheries scientists and partners are very concerned about the large number of whales stranding in the western Gulf of Alaska in recent months… To date, this brings the large whale strandings for this region to almost three times the historical average.”

Hot Blob’s Record Algae Bloom Suspected

Starting an official investigation of this odd large marine mammal mortality event shows that scientists are somewhat baffled about what could have caused the tragic deaths of these majestic creatures. But the scientists’ investigation is not absent a suspect. For the emergence of extraordinarily warm ocean water in a region where these whales live has been linked to a number of mass sea creature die offs.

This area — an expansive zone of 1 to 5 degree Celsius hotter than average surface waters — has been implicated in the mass death of starfish, in dolphin mortality events, in sea lion mortality and orphaning events, in sea otter deaths, in salmon deaths, and in the mass death of crabs and shellfish (see “Starving Sea Lion Pups and Liquified Starfish” and “Hot Pacific Ocean Runs Bloody“).

Hot Blob

(A combination of factors related to human-caused climate change have forced the Northeastern Pacific into a period of record warmth. First, sea ice recession in the Arctic has enabled the formation of warm ridges in the Jet Stream over this region. Second, ocean waters are globally hotter than they’ve been in at least 135 years. Third, a switch to positive PDO and El Nino in the Pacific has unlocked an unprecedented degree of ocean heat forced into Pacific waters by record strong trade winds throughout the 2000s. As a result, the typical positive PDO signal is amplified. In other words, as Dr. Kevin Trenberth has warned time and again, deep ocean warming is coming back to haunt us. Image source: NOAA/ESRL.)

Abnormally warm waters fertilized by the particulate fallout from fossil fuel based industry and climate change driven wildfires can create a host of problems for sea life. First, the warmer waters contain lower levels of oxygen — which reduces the range in which fish and crustaceans can live. Hotter, lower oxygen and zero oxygen waters also create zones and regions in which toxic microbial life thrive. We’ve talked a lot about the deadly hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria. But the expansive algae blooms of a warming, nutrient enriched ocean surface can produce a host of other toxins. Microcystins, Nodularins, Anatoxin-a, Cylindrospermopsins, Lyngbyatoxin-a, Saxitoxin, Lipopolysaccharides, Aplysiatoxins, BMAA, Hydrogen Sulfide Gas and Domoic Acid are just some of the toxins produced by algae and bacteria that thrive in warming waters, in low oxygen waters, or in waters that have been subject to high nutrient loading from increasing run-off and the fallout of nitrogen and particulates due to fossil fuel burning.

In particular, this year’s record red tide has resulted in an extreme outbreak of the kind of algae that produce the deadly neurotoxin — domoic acid.  And it’s this domoic acid poisoning that many are pointing to as a possible cause of excessive whale deaths.

Whale stranding locations

(Whale stranding locations along an abnormally warm Gulf of Alaska. Strandings may be associated to a global warming-tied blob of hot water in the Northeastern Pacific together with a related red tide algae bloom impacting the region. Image source: NOAA.)

The massive algae bloom impacting regions of the Northeast Pacific threatens whales in a number of ways. First, the whales swim in the algae-filled waters. So the toxin is a part of their environment. It thus becomes unavoidable. The toxin concentrates in the bodies of the tiny sea creatures upon which the whales feed — planktonic life forms that, in their turn, feed on the toxin-laden algae. As domoic acid moves up the food chain, it bio-magnifies — becoming more concentrated. And since whales must consume prodigious volumes of small sea life to survive, the opportunity for biomagnification of toxins in whales is great.

Biomagnification of domoic acid is also a threat to human beings. And it is for this reason that the US Fisheries Services have curtailed the consumption of West Coast shellfish, which can contain high concentrations of domoic acid from 2015’s record red tide.

Conditions in Context — Deadly Waters

Mass whale deaths and strandings along the Alaskan coastline have, over recent weeks, garnered a great deal of attention from the public. However, these strandings and deaths do not occur in isolation. The tragic and freakish mortality events are happening in a region of abnormally hot water. A region of hot water that scientists have linked to human-forced climate change. An area in which numerous other mass sea creature deaths have occurred.

The region features low oxygen waters. Waters infected by deadly microbes that have liquified starfish, crabs, and sea cucumbers. And waters that now feature the largest red tide — a massive bloom of toxic algae — on record. It should be very clear from all these related events occurring within the same region of abnormally hot water that a warming ocean is an increasingly deadly ocean. And if we are to have any hope of halting these events, we should look to cessation of fossil fuel burning and related human forced warming of the Earth System as rapidly as possible.

Links:

NOAA: Alaska Fisheries

NOAA/ESRL

Scientists Baffled by Mass Whale Death

Whales are Mysteriously Dying in Northeastern Pacific

Starving Sea Lion Pups and Liquified Starfish

Hot Pacific Ocean Runs Bloody

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

(Please support public, non-special interest based, science like the fantastic efforts conducted by the fisheries and ocean researchers at NOAA.)

 

 

“It Feels Like Doomsday” — Massive Lake Baikal Wildfires Threaten Water Supply

From the satellite shot, it appears as though Lake Baikal is burning…

Lake Baikal Burning

(Massive wildfires surrounding Lake Baikal spew huge columns of smoke into the air masking the lake and sending off thousand-mile long clouds of gray from the burning forests and permafrost. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

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Lake Baikal. A great 350 mile long body of water sitting amidst the lands of southeastern Siberia. It’s the largest reservoir of fresh water in the world. From the satellite eye floating far above, it usually appears as a graceful splash of blue among the green hills and plains of summertime.

But today, this enormous lake is almost completely shrouded by smoke. Not a hint of blue. All is steely gray from the smokes vomited out by permafrost and forest fires surrounding the lake. Fires that are old and long-burning. Fires that began back in April when locals reported instances where the dry land — likely thawed and dried out sections of permafrost and duff overburden — “burned like grass.”

A Russian Emergency

During mid-August, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev helplessly vented his anger at Russian fire response authorities who seemed unable to deal with the disastrous blazes raging around Lake Baikal. He ordered Puchkov, a top Russian emergency response official, to “Fly there to deal with this…” while making a broader accusation that officials had been ‘complacent’ in dealing with the disaster. Medvedev added in his August 14 statement:

“Unfortunately, as usual in August we have a … number of problems. The situation this year is really hot when it comes to fires. This week fires [were] fought in Yakutia, near Gelendzhik in the Krasnodar region. Now in Siberia and the Far East large wildfires are blazing. [The] most difficult situation[s] [are] in the republics of Buryatia, Tyva, in the Irkutsk region, the TransBaikal region and the Chukotka Autonomous District.”

Contrary to Medvedev’s statement, facing off against large fires in August was not a typical situation for Russia. At least until about the mid 2000s when permafrost thaw began to really ramp up as human-forced warming of the climate provided extra heat and fuels for wildfire ignition. Since that time, Russia has been forced to deploy thousands of firefighters on a yearly basis.

It’s a problem extra resources alone will not be able to solve. For the burning comes due to added atmospheric heat thawing permafrost and providing billions and billions of tons of additional wildfire fuels by turning what was once ice into a peat-like under layer. This thawing creates an understory fuel for the fires spreading over large sections of Siberia. Now, trees will often burn all the way to the roots and the newly thawed land itself will burn to a depth of three feet or deeper. Even worse, some of these fires will continue to smolder beneath the snow and ice throughout Winter — only to explode over the land once again during Springtime.

Such is all-too certainly the case with the massive fires now surrounding and endangering Lake Baikal.  Medvedev’s rants aside, it’s a situation that is now endemic to the thawing permafrost itself. One we will have to deal with and one whose outcomes we can only solve if we halt carbon emissions and bring Earth back into temperature ranges that are more natural to the Holocene.

A Threat to the Lake’s Water Supply

Lake Baikal Burning shores

(‘The sky is aglow with uncontrolled burning.’ Lake Baikal residents sit helplessly by the waters edge as monstrous plumes of smoke blot out both sky and sun. Image source: The Siberian Times.)

Russians often call Lake Baikal ‘the Jewel of Siberia.’ It’s a jewel that contains 20 percent of all the fresh water on Planet Earth. So it’s understandable why they’re desperate to save it. But the massive fires, spewing out volcano-like plumes of smoke and ash, are, sadly, a threat to this beautiful and valuable resource. For, according to reports from Mikhail Slipenchuk — Russia’s deputy head of ecology and natural resources, near-shore burning wildfires can often cut off the lake’s water arteries. The result is a reduction of water flows to the lake and its ultimate diminishing.

Unfortunately, Lake Baikal water levels were already dropping due to a combination of persistent drought and over-use of water resources well before this Summer’s epic wildfires. Now the fires cast yet another pall over one more threatened fresh water source.

‘It feels like doomsday’, said one eyewitness to the large fires raging all about the precious water source.

Links:

Lake Baikal Burning

Prime Minister Rages Over Lake Baikal Wildfires

Siberia’s Road to Permaburn Hell — The Dry Land Burned Like Grass

Drying Lake Baikal Threatens New Era of Water Wars

LANCE MODIS

Hat Tip to RedSky

 

 

 

 

 

 

US Experiencing Worst Fire Season on Record as Blazes in Washington and Oregon Explode Twelvefold to Over 1 Million Acres

Across the Northwest US — a region known for its damp climate, its rainforests, and for often cool and wet weather — wildfires have been exploding. This summer, heat and dryness settled over the region in a months-long drought and heatwave. By late June, wide areas were seeing their worst fire conditions on record — meaning that heat and drought were generating a never-before-seen potential for wildfire outbreak.

The heat settled in, baking Oregon, Washington and Montana with 90 and, sometimes, 100 degree + heat. Fires sparked and smoldered throughout June, July, and through late August. But over the past twelve days, despite amazing preparation and effort on behalf of fire officials, northwestern wildfires exploded in size by more than tenfold — erupting from about 85,000 acres in coverage to over a million acres burning as of Monday, August 24th.

Astronaught Photo Wildfires August 18

(An astronaut aboard the International Space Station photographs wildfires burning out of control on August 17, 2015. Image source: NASA and TIME.)

In a scene that has become all-too-common in a world that’s 1 degree Celsius above 1880s averages and climbing, firefighters were called in from as far away as Australia to battle the blaze. Prison inmates, firefighters from throughout the US and Canada, and National Guard Soldiers joined with the Australians to form an army to fight the blazes. Numbering more than 20,000, this force’s valiant efforts likely saved hundreds of lives and thousands of structures as fire conditions worsened in Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Montana.

By Thursday, three firefighters had tragically lost their lives as President Obama was calling the situation ‘out of control.’ Through Friday, Saturday and Sunday, acres burned continued to expand as vast plumes of smoke covered large swaths of the United States. Particulates born of the western conflagrations by Monday were hazing skies as far away as Newfoundland.

Massive Smoke Plume from Out of Control Northwest Wildfires

(Massive wildfires burning across the western United States sent out a 1,500 mile long plume of smoke on Saturday, August 22. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Worst US Fire Season on Record Through Late August

As the US Northwest fights valiantly to get its massive wildfires under control, the United States now finds itself in its worst fire season on record through late August. In Alaska alone more than 5.1 million acres have burned. Now, with nearly 7.5 million acres gone up in smoke across the United States since Spring, we are about 300,000 acres ahead of previous worst season 2012.

The US record fire season should not be viewed as an event in isolation. Nor should it be viewed as normal — new or otherwise. It’s an upshot of extraordinarily warm waters in the Northeastern Pacific shoving hot airs northward into regions that typically experience cool, wet weather. The climate of the Desert Southwest has been forced into Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Montana. And the result is that forests, already weakened by rising atmospheric nitrogen levels, and not accustomed to such heat and dryness, are at ever-greater risk of fire. Added dangers and stresses that are the direct upshot of human-based fossil fuel burning and human-forced global warming.

Links:

National Interagency Fire Center

Worst Fire Conditions on Record

LANCE-MODIS

Astronaut’s View of Northwest Widlfires

Resources Scarce as Northwest Fires Grow in Number

Hat Tip to Ray Duray

Monster El Nino Turns Typhoon Eyes Toward Arctic

What does a Monster El Nino look like? In two words — climate change. And by the end of August climate change’s Monster El Nino may have spawned two strong tropical cyclones and hurled their powerful remnant systems into the Arctic.

The 2015 Monster

The Equatorial Pacific is cracking wide open. Heat, at near new records for August, is oozing out. In the Nino 3.4 zone last week, the heat bleed hit a new intensity of + 2 degrees Celsius above average. That puts our current El Nino easily in the running for one of the top three strongest. And the warming there is expected to continue through at least October — possibly setting up conditions in which the 2014-2016 El Nino is the most intense and perhaps longest-running such event ever seen.

image

(Our Monster El Nino and three hot blobs — one off California, one off the Pacific Northwest, and one in the Bering and Chukchi — just keep getting hotter and hotter. The extremity of heat covering this section of the Pacific Ocean is simply extraordinary. And the fact that it keeps building may have some serious impacts on Pacific, Arctic, and North American weather patterns. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Unlike typical El Ninos, the high heat anomalies are not isolated to a band along the Equator. They extend upward across a vast pool that encompasses practically all of the Northeastern and North-Central Pacific. All of the Bering Sea and a chunk of the Arctic Ocean as well. It’s as if the typical El Nino heat has developed a great chimney that runs over thousands of miles from Equator to Arctic. One that encompasses millions of square miles of much warmer than normal ocean surface. An entire zone that, for the ocean, is a blistering 1-5 degrees Celsius hotter than ‘normal.’

The Warming World’s Intense El Ninos’ Dance With Polar Amplification

Scientists have long warned us about this. Warned us that increasing global temperatures through ongoing fossil fuel burning could greatly amplify the intensity and the frequency of strong El Nino events. A recent paper published in Nature has continued this line of research finding that, under human-forced global warming, the frequency of strong El Ninos is doubled. And, right on queue, the 2014-2016 El Nino is shaping up to be one of the nastiest, if not the nastiest such event we’ve yet experienced.

But it’s not just a question of the intensity of heat boiling out of the Equatorial Pacific. It’s also a question of how a strong El Nino behaves in a world that has been forced to warm by 1 degree Celsius. According to Dr. Jennifer Francis, a significant portion of that extra heat has tended to focus in the Arctic. And this extra Arctic heat has, among other things, gone to work weakening the Jet Stream. In some regions, as we see today over the entire Northeastern Pacific, the tendency has been for powerful high amplitude ridges to form. The ridges often extend all the way into the Arctic — developing pathways for yet more heat to hit the high polar zones.

Like El Nino, the ridge over the Northeastern Pacific is involved in an ocean-atmosphere dance. It’s a dance that includes widespread and abnormally warm water (see hot blob strengthens). And it’s a dance that includes the powerful impact of a Monster El Nino stalking the equatorial zones.

El Nino Hurls Twin Typhoons at the Arctic

Last week, this atmospheric dance included the formation of two tropical cyclones. Feeding off the powerful convection rising up over the Equatorial Pacific, these massive cyclones gathered intensity from the easterlies rushing in to feed the El Nino. They steamed north and westward. By today, Typhoon Goni was threatening the Philippines and Taiwan with 125 mph sustained winds. Meanwhile, Super Typhoon Atsani’s 150 mph sustained winds were tearing through Pacific Ocean waters east of Guam.

image

(GFS model forecast graphically displayed by Earth Nullschool finds typhoons Goni and Atsani running into wall of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge by Tuesday. It’s an atmospheric heat bleed from El Nino to Arctic that, according to long range forecasts, has a risk of carrying these strong storms with it. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Over the next few days, the typhoons are expected to turn north and eastward. Goni is predicted to skirt the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan. Atsani is expected to remain over open waters to the east of Japan. Both are heading toward the hot, northward moving airs on the backside of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.

Currently, the Ridge is positioned over the Northeastern Pacific Ocean hot pool just south and east of the Aleutians. It’s a strong and very deep high pressure system that’s expected to maintain in the range of 1035 to 1040 mb over the coming days. It’s dredging up the hot El Nino airs of the Equatorial Pacific and flinging them all the way to the Arctic Ocean.

Atsani is expected to plow into the back of this atmospheric wall of hot airs and to then follow the warm flow northward — approaching the Bering Sea edge by next Thursday as a powerful 960 to 970 mb extra-tropical low with Goni’s remnants following in its wake.

RRR meets Atsani With Sights on Arctic

(Forecast sea level pressure map for Thursday, August 27th show Atsani’s powerful remnants on a track for the Bering Sea and Alaska or the Arctic Ocean. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

If Atsani’s remnants enter the Bering as predicted, it will then either track through Alaska or enter the southern Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. At that point, the strength and disposition of the Arctic high will determine its final path. If the high recedes closer to Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago, Atsani’s extratropical system could be projected into the Arctic Ocean proper as a late season cyclone threatening the sea ice. If the Arctic high is more centrally located, Atsani’s remnants would plow down into the facing trough over Western and Central Canada — bringing with it some very stormy weather.

A Very Odd Storm Track

As with last week, we continue to see this odd tendency for a storm track to develop from the Western Pacific through to the Bering Sea, Alaska, and the Arctic itself. It’s a teleconnection-driven atmospheric dance between a powerful summer El Nino, the hot blob of water over the Northeastern Pacific, and the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge riding over top. With such a pattern so firmly entrenched, there’s a risk that this storm track will maintain well into Fall and, perhaps, persist into Winter with Alaska as the destination for Pacific storms. Under such a pattern there is little hope for drought-busting weather to reach California. Which would mean a continuation of terribly dry conditions there unless our Monster El Nino can somehow squash the extraordinarily dogged RRR.

Meanwhile, for the Arctic, the risk of powerful storms plowing through weak, late season ice is looking a little bit less like an outlier event and more and more like a possibility for end August. So we’ll have to keep a close watch on Atsani, Goni, the RRR and the Arctic High.

Links:

NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

Earth Nullschool

Frequency of Strong El Ninos Doubles Under Human Heat Forcing

Dr. Jennifer Francis Explains How Polar Amplification Mangles the Jet Stream to Generate Extreme Weather

The Hot Blob Strengthens

Climate Reanalyzer

Wrecked Pacific Storm Track Now Runs from Equator to Arctic Ocean

 

 

 

Massive Sargassum Seaweed Bloom is Choking The Caribbean — Climate Change a Likely Culprit

According to Caribbean leaders, it’s a disaster that will take at least 100,000 people and 120 million dollars to clean up. And disaster may not be the best word to describe it — for an enormous Caribbean beach and water choking bloom of sargassum algae may be a new abnormal ocean condition. Yet one more dangerous upshot of a warming world.

St-Vincent-August-2014-credit-E.-Doyle

(Great, sulfur-stinking mats of sargassum algae are now choking the beaches and near-shore waters of the Caribbean. In some places the mats are 10 feet deep. These great piles of seaweed can foul beaches, kill off native species, and result in ocean dead zones when they rob waters of nutrients and then die off — pulling life-giving oxygen out of the water by decomposition. Image source: Mission Blue.)

*   *   *   *   *

A Legend of the Ancient Mariners

The story, in this case, begins with an enormous mat of algae called the Sargasso Sea. This vast collection of organisms has at its foundation two forms of algae that produce inter-connected floating masses of seaweed. The mats collect and link together in an Atlantic Ocean Gyre — forming a vast region off the United States Coast.

Ancient sailors crossing the Atlantic during the dawn of North American colonization often passed through the Sargasso Sea. It tended to be a notable feature of their travels as the floating mats were sometimes dense enough to halt the progress of vessels.

1891 Map of the extent of low and high concentration Sargasso seaweed

(An 1891 map proved by NOAA shows the regions of low and high concentration sargassum seaweed in the North Atlantic and Caribbean. Image source: NOAA — Teachers at Sea.)

For hundreds of years the enormous collection remained a mystery. But by the 20th Century researchers had found that the seaweed was transported by the Gulf Stream from the Gulf of Mexico and Carribean into an area just south of Bermuda. There it bloomed as it fed on nutrient-laden run-off spreading outward from the large estuaries of the North American Continent. The sargassum then efficiently recycled these nutrients to support a vital community of hundreds of sea creatures and birds.

The Sargassum algae that make up the Sargasso Sea are not only native to this region. It ranges the tropical and subtropical zones of the Atlantic — blooming wherever there is warmth and nutrients to support it. Lately, there have been signs that biodiversity in the Sargasso Sea is falling. Recent research expeditions are noting fewer and fewer of the species traditionally supported by the sargassum mats. It’s a potential sign of failing ocean health. One that is, perhaps, linked to the massive accumulation of sargassum in the Carribean during recent years.

(Big changes in the Sargasso Sea. MBARI expedition finds lower biodiversity in the sargassum mats. Video source: MBARI/Youtube.)

Ocean Sargassum Fertilization in a Warming World

Due to its highly efficient use of nutrients, pelagic sargassum thrives in warm, well-fertilized waters. And lately, as the Earth has warmed, run-off into the Atlantic Ocean habitats of the sargassum has increased. Added heat in the atmosphere has resulted in greater instances of heavy downpours. These downpours increase erosion — flushing more nutrients into streams and rivers.

In addition, fertilizer-based farming industry leaves soil laden with phosphates and nitrogen. So the heavier downpours are now raining over lands that are artificially loaded with nutrient. Adding to the fertilizer flush is a constant rain of nitrogen particle fallout from an immense and global burning of fossil fuels over the world’s waters — a third new source of nutrient that wasn’t there for the sargassum to access before. Finally, an added warmth in the surface waters due to greenhouse gasses forcing the world to heat up by 1 degree Celsius over the past 135 years creates a yet more ideal environment for the sargassum to grow and bloom.

Reports now indicate that much of the seaweed choking off the Caribbean’s beaches and waters is issuing from a region east of the Amazon River outflow. These reports hint that deforestation, a resulting increase in erosion of Amazon Rainforest soils, and the rise of industrialized farming in Brazil may also be playing a role in the current epic bloom. Finally, there is growing evidence that the Gulf Stream current — a transporter of sargassum out of the Carribean and Gulf of Mexico may be slowing down as thermo-haline circulation weakens. All these factors — the warming waters, the increased nutrient loading of the surface waters, and the reduction of sargassum transport due to Gulf Stream slowing — combined hint at a sargassum seaweed train wreck whose epicenter is the Caribbean Sea.

Caribbean Beaches, Ocean Life Under Threat

Over recent years, it’s thought that these factors combined to help generate a massive bloom of sargassum in the Caribbean. As early as Fall of 2014 reports had been trickling in of 3-4 foot thick mats collecting along Caribbean coastlines and piling up on beaches. By August of 2015 the mats have grown to as dense as 10 feet thick. Now vast swaths of beaches are covered in the sulfur-stink of this great pile of dying biomass.

Typically sargassum is a vital part of the life-giving system of the Atlantic Ocean. Numerous species of fish, including tuna and jacks, rely on the food provided by the prolific algae. Birds, turtles, and scores of invertebrates also rely on the algae in one way or another. But when the algae becomes too prolific it turns from boon into curse. Sea turtle nests become fouled with the stuff. New hatchlings often are unable to clamber through the dense piles to reach the sea. The dense tangles reduce the mobility of larger animals including sharks, rays, and adult turtles. And when the piles become too thick large sections of the sargassum are cut off from light and nutrients. The result is that the large masses can contain oxygen deprived zones where the dead matter decays. These little pockets host hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur producing bacteria — further toxifying the waters and resulting in the now prevalent reports of a ‘rotten eggs’ smell near the sargassum piles.

(“From the surface, it looks bad. But could you imagine if you were a fish?” Dave Eliot goes underwater to take a look at these climate-change enhanced algae blooms. Video source: YouTube.)

For Caribbean Island nations, who rely so much on their pristine beaches and ocean habitats as a source of economic stability, the amazing accumulation of sargassum is a disaster. Today Sir Hilary Beckles of the University of the West Indies called on the international community for aid saying:

“Herein is an endemic and systemic threat to the resilience and development of these nations and therefore we must have an international response to this… What you are looking at is maybe US$120 million . . . and probably we would have to deploy over 100,000 people to carry out a similar strategy across the Caribbean space to make our beaches available to those who wish to use them for their multiple purposes… We must show our children enjoying our beaches and give visitors the assurance that the weed is not killing us and that life goes on. We must let people know that we in the Caribbean are not sitting on our hands but trying to find solutions to the threat presented by the Sargassum weed.”

But, as with so many of the disasters cropping up these days — simply reacting to the symptoms (be it sargassum, or drought, or flood, or mass migration, or sea level rise, or wildfires, or species endangerment, or a thousand other issues related to human fossil fuel emissions and a great heating of the atmosphere and oceans) does not address the root cause. And for that you need a rapid cessation of fossil fuel burning.

Links:

Sargassum Seaweed Single Greatest Threat to Caribbean Tourism

Beautiful Caribbean Beaches Now a Smelly Mess After Seaweed Invasion

Sargassum Seaweed Turns Caribbean Waters Murky

Stinking Seaweed Causes Tourists to Cancel Caribbean Holidays

NOAA — Teachers at Sea

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

How Global Warming Produces Increasing Instances of Extreme Weather

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Climate Change is Causing Mt Rainier to Grumble

The volcanic Mt Rainier is grumbling. But it’s not what you think. At least not yet.

According to reports from the Seattle Times, the glaciers atop Rainier have melted to the point where they are becoming unstable. Particularly so with Tahoma Glacier which, all throughout July to mid August, has emitted large floods of muddy, ice-choked water. Tahoma sent its floods rumbling down the mountainsides, filling streams and rivers with roiling, brown outflows.

These glacier outburst floods issuing from Rainier have packed quite a punch. They’ve been strong enough to shake the earth, setting off seismographs in the region of Rainier. It’s a shaking and quaking that’s tumbled boulders down the mountainside, gouged out new flood channels and smashed great swaths of trees.

Mt Rainier Glaciers

(Over recent months, the Tahoma Glacier on the southwestern face of Mt. Rainier has been issuing large flows of glacial outburst material. Those familiar with the mountain believe that a warming climate may have pushed Rainier’s glaciers into a new era of destabilization. Image source: Glaciers of Washington.)

Zachary Jones noted in his eyewitness report to the Seattle Times:

“The rumble was getting louder and trees were falling down and it looked like a big pile of rubble was raging down the dry creek bed. We saw huge boulders, half the size of a Volkswagen bug, just raging down and falling over each other (see related video here).”

Scientific Link Between Glacial Melt, Increase in Volcanic Activity

Back during the 1980s and 1990s, Rainier went through a similar period of warming-stoked glacial destabilization. Now, the heat is even worse. A new phase of glacial retreat has isolated Tahoma and set it on path toward more rapid melt. It may mean that coming years and decades host a ramping of glacier outbursts for Rainier. It may also mean a changing of the weight loading atop Rainier’s volcanic vents and magma chambers. Setting up a rising risk for increased volcanic activity from Rainier as its overburden rocks and underlying magma structures develop a new equilibrium.

Recent, though rather controversial, science has established a link between glacial retreat over and near volcanic systems and increased volcanic activity. In particular, studies focusing in on Iceland have linked periods of glacial melt with increased periods of volcanism. Though it is uncertain whether Rainier will succumb to the added stresses of glacial melt and respond by entering a new period of volcanic awakening, the melt human warming is setting off does provide a new stress to one of the most dangerous volcanic systems in the western US.

In other words, Rainier’s grumbling glaciers are bad enough without adding in a volcanic bassline.

Links:

Rainier Melting Unleashes Glacial Outbursts

Climate Change’s ‘Waking Giant’

How Will Melting Affect Volcanic Hazards in the 21st Century?

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

 

 

Playing Chicken With Hothouse Extinction — Obama’s Shameful Shell Drilling Approval

Earlier this week President Obama made one of the worst decisions of his presidency. He decided to ignore the concerns of thousands of protesters and more than 60 percent of the American public over the issue of climate change. He decided to approve a dangerous plunging of new wells into unstable, clathrate-laden seabeds in the Arctic. Effectively, he’s deciding to play a dangerous game of chicken with a natural world that’s been riled and wounded by climate change. And in this game he puts us all at risk.

It’s a bad move that sends all the wrong signals. It demonstrates an attachment to the old, limited resource dominance based, policies that cause so many problems and that keep us dependent on fossil fuels for far too long.

Shell Drilling approved for Arctic

(Shell is now approved to poke holes into the Arctic seabed in a mad, climate-destroying, quest for oil. The Arctic, overall, is a terribly risky place for drilling. Ice, storms, and drilling regions laden with explosive and warming clathrate all result in increased risks for blow outs, destruction of equipment, loss of life and related oil spills. But the worst threat of all comes from the resource itself. The future of a life-sustaining world and the future of continued fossil fuel burning are completely incompatible. Image source: Greenpeace/Mark Meyer.)

To this point, each new productive well, each new coal plant, each new gas fired plant, each new internal combustion engine extends the lifespan of fossil fuel burning. And that’s something we shouldn’t be investing in at the moment. We are pushing well past the dangerous 400 parts per million CO2 threshold. Adding all other greenhouse gasses together, the gross heat trapping is now equivalent to nearly 485 parts per million CO2e. Even maintaining these thresholds will raise the world’s temperatures by as much as 3.8 C over 500 years (and possibly break the 2 C threshold this Century). And that’s if the world’s carbons stores, long buried in ice beneath glaciers, permafrost and cooler seas, long kept safe within healthy forests, do not release through the warming and burning that will come under such a major jump in temperatures.

We have a window now. A brief window where we can draw down carbon emissions fast enough to allow some of that excess of heat trapping gasses to fall out. To give our ailing oceans and biosphere the chance to take up some of that carbon and prevent this very high risk scenario. But taking advantage of that window involves saying farewell to the age of fossil fuel burning.

So it’s the height of shame and short-sightedness for Obama to have approved the Shell project, especially after so many worked so hard to put his feet to the fire. So many people — who put their necks on the line in acts of noble, nonviolent protest to protect their children and loved ones from more carbon spewing oil wells sunk into the warming Arctic seabed — just got the message loud and clear from Obama: ‘we’re not really too concerned about our future.’

Portland Protest

(During late July and early August, protesters in Portland managed to briefly delay Shell’s drilling expedition. It was a loud and clear signal from the public to Obama — we don’t want the future climate wreckage Shell is attempting to help lock in. It was a noble plea Obama has now blithely ignored. Image source: Greenpeace/Tim Aubrey.)

Playing Dangerous Games of Climate Chicken

Obama has done many good things with regards to climate change. Many things madcatter, drill, baby, drill republicans would have never done. He’s using the EPA to regulate carbon, he’s committed to cutting overall carbon emissions by more than 30 percent through 2030 (which is, I have to say a good move, but not fast enough), he’s pushed CAFE standards through the roof, and he’s helped to drive solar energy prices lower even faster than they would have been lowered otherwise. He’s at least helped to delay the Keystone Pipeline.

But, sometimes, as with fracking, as with other new pipeline construction, and as with the Shell Arctic drilling expedition, his policies cut against the grain of a necessarily rapid reduction in carbon emissions. Such backsliding is shameful and there is, at this time when human caused climate change is displacing people, on average at the rate of 8,000 each day, when heatwaves are now killers that stretch hospitals to the breaking point, when we have crossed or are crossing the Eemian boundary which implies a 20-25 feet of sea level rise for our cities and islands, when James Hansen’s storms are brewing in the North Atlantic, and when a monster El Nino is cracking wide the Pacific to ooze out yet more heat, there is absolutely no excuse for it.

Obama is not like republicans. He, unlike that mad beyond nightmares political set, is at least influenceable, at least somewhat sensitive to the great dangers we’ve stoked to new life. For his support relies, in large part, on those of us who are very concerned about climate change. And for the backward action of the Shell approval our appropriate response is shaming. We need a leader who’s a climate hawk — not someone who’s going to risk our future and our children’s future in a dangerously irresponsible game of climate chicken.

Links:

Obama Gives Shell Final OK to Drill in the Arctic

Portland Activists Force Shell to Turn Around

Greenpeace

Mark Meyer

Tim Aubrey

Hat Tip to Caroline

Dangerous Heat Sets Sights on Southern United States

High wet bulb temperatures and related heatwave mass casualty events have spanned the globe during the record hot summer of 2015. Now, it appears the Southern United States is also falling under the gun of life-threatening heat and humidity.

Gulfs of Mexico, California Host Screaming Sea Surface Temperatures

As with so many recent heatwaves with the potential to produce mass casualty events, the story starts with sea surface temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). And across a broad region of the Gulf of Mexico and all throughout the Gulf of California ocean surface waters now feature temperatures in the range of 30 to 33 degrees C (86 to 91 F).

image

(A tell-tale pool of 30 C+ water is gathering in the Gulfs of Mexico and California. Such hot water is a support for deadly wet-bulb readings in the range of 30-33 C. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

These are waters warmed by increasingly vicious human hothouse conditions. A world ocean facing a global fever that is 1 degree C (1.8 F) hotter than the more placid, less dangerous temperatures of 135 years ago.

In the Gulfs of Mexico and California, this heat has concentrated — pushing the waters there into 1-4 C above average ranges. Generating a dangerous reservoir of latent heat. One featuring ocean temperatures similar to those that kicked off heatwave mass casualty events in India, Pakistan, Japan and Egypt this summer. But this feature of the human hothouse is now focusing in on the Southern US — creating conditions that are increasing the risk of heat stress, heat injury and possibly loss of life.

The steaming waters of our southern gulfs will feed dangerously high wet bulb temperatures throughout a large region from the Carolinas to Florida through the Gulf States and on into the Southwest over the coming days and weeks. Ocean temperatures hot enough to support wet bulb readings in the range of 30 to 33 degrees Celsius. Dangerous levels very close to the maximum human threshold of 35 C.

NOAA Predicts Heat Indexes to Skyrocket

Concordantly, a similar measure used to determine how hot it feels outside is set to skyrocket throughout the southern US over coming days. In many regions heat indexes are predicted to exceed 100, 105, 115 or even 120 degree readings.

High Heat Index US South

(Forecast heat index map for Monday, August 24. Over the next seven days, heat index values are predicted to remain in dangerous ranges across large sections of the Southern United States. Image source: NOAA.)

Regions at greatest risk include Southern California, Arizona, and the Gulf Coast states of Texas, Lousiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

Heat index values in excess of 105 F (40 C) are considered dangerous. Those crossing a 127 F (53 C) threshold are considered exceedingly dangerous. The NOAA forecast now includes dangerous heat indexes predicted for the above regions lasting for at least the next seven days. And with sea surface temperatures likely to remain much hotter than average near the area of highest impact through the end of August, these high-risk heat conditions have the potential to continue for some time.

Links:

NOAA

Earth Nullschool

Heatwave Mass Casualty Events of 2015

Wet Bulb

Heat Index

Hat tip to DT Lange

Human-Baked Baffin Bay Takes Biggest Bite Yet out of The Greenland Ice Sheet

You wouldn’t generally think of ocean temperatures in the range of 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 10 degrees Celsius) as hot. But to the great sea-fronting glaciers of Greenland it may as well be boiling.

Greenland Ice Sheet in Hot Water

All it takes is 32 degree F (0 C) water to begin melting the ice. And for each 1 degree increase above that margin, melt rates will dramatically ramp higher. Though a typical summer will push ice to melt at the Greenland seafront ice edge, this year, especially near Baffin Bay, the melt pressure has been extraordinary.

Ever since late June, 40-50 degree F sea surface temperatures have dominated the ice edge zone. For most regions that’s temperatures in the range of 4-11 degrees Fahrenheit (2-6 C) above average. The kind of heat that really risks a rapid melt along the ice margin.

Above Normal Sea Surface Temperatures Near Greenland

(Sunday, August 16 sea surface temperature anomalies as provided by NOAA.)

A latent heat that sits at the surface, gnawing away at the ice, waiting for a fresh water flood. And when the fresh water does come, that hotter, saltier, heavier water is forced downward beneath the lighter fresh water outflow. At this point, the hotter waters are locked below the surface where they go to work eating away at the glacier base. Notably, the only region within Baffin Bay where we currently see cooler surface water is in the major glacier melt zone near Jakobshavn. It’s an indication that ice melt from a major glacier outflow there is cooling the surface waters even as it pulls the surface heat downward and toward the glacial base.

This glacial melt heat conveyor is the kind of process we are seeing more and more frequently near the great ice sheets as fossil fuel industry has continued its harmful emissions. And, it’s a process that, this week took a huge chunk out of one of the world’s fastest moving ice masses.

Huge Chunk of Jakobshavn Breaks Off

According to reports from The Arctic Ice Blog, the Jakobshavn glacier sent its biggest chunk of ice on record floating off into Baffin on August 16 of 2015. For a glacier that drains 6.5 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet and that has been known to release icebergs the size of Lower Manhattan, that’s really saying something.

You can see this amazing and rather chilling calving event in action in the August 14 to August 16 satellite imagery comparison developed by Espen Olsen below:

Espen Jakobshavn

(Jakobshavn experiences what is likely it’s largest calving event yet on Sunday, August 16, 2015. Image source: Espen Olson.)

Here we see the ice-choked Baffin Bay waters rapidly surging inland and taking up more of the Jakobshavn’s traditional outflow channel. What we do not see in this image, but what clearly happened, was that an ice mass hundreds of meters tall and covering an area of about 12.5 square kilometers was shattered into flinders as warming ocean waters invaded the Greenland Ice Sheet. Waters that will deliver still more heat to the ice. Waters that seek for the very heart of Greenland — a below sea level basin topped with 2-3 kilometer tall mountains of ice.

Back in the 19th Century, the Jakobshavn Fjord was half full of grounded Greenland ice. A long tongue of the glacier extended on outward through the channel. As of 2015, the Fjord is now completely full of water and ocean-bound ice bergs. The ocean itself has begun to invade the much larger ice masses beyond the Fjord. The broader inland mass of the Jakobshavn Glacier which is now directly in contact with the rising seas (indicated as Jakobshavn Isbrae on the maps above and below).

Jakobshavn Melt Progression

(Warming waters from Baffin Bay have driven through the ice in the Jakobshavn Fjord and are now boring into the thicker ice masses of Jakobshavn Ibrae. An impact that has serious implications for global sea level rise. Image source: The Arctic Sea Ice Blog and Espen Olsen.)

The inland-retreating Isbrae itself is a vast field of giant ice sheets. Massive tilting escarpments of luminous ice that, in the current age of fossil fuel forced warming, often cup great 1-3 kilometer long melt ponds in their wildly varied topography. It’s a single region that, in total, may hold about 1.5 feet of global sea level rise locked away in a rapidly melting ice pack. And Jakobshavn is just one of many regions (together containing about 15-20 feet worth of sea level rise) that are currently undergoing rapid melt due to the invasions of warming ocean waters.

Links:

NOAA

The Arctic Ice Blog

Espen Olson

A-Team

LANCE-MODIS

2015’s Cruel Climate Count Continues as NASA Shows July Was Hottest On Record

Andrew Freeman is right. It’s been a cruel, cruel summer. Hothouse mass casualty events, spurred by a ridiculous accumulation of heat trapping gasses in the Earth atmosphere, have spanned the Northern Hemisphere. The result has been thousands of lives lost and the hospitalization of tens of thousands more as global temperatures rocketed to levels not seen in probably 100,000 years (related — Hothouse Mass Casualties Strike Egypt).

July of 2015 Hottest on Record

Now, in a record-shattering hot year featuring extreme weather weirdness and an emerging monster El Nino, yet one more record has fallen. For according to both NASA and Japan’s Meteorological Agency (JMA), July of 2015 squashed and smashed previous record hot Julys 2011 (NASA) and 1998 (JMA) to take the title as hottest July yet.

July Temperatures Japan Meteorological Agency

(Japan’s Meteorological Agency shows July of 2015 was the hottest on record by a wide margin.)

In the JMA graph, beginning in 1890, you can plainly see the new July record is well above the +0.67 C per Century warming trend line of the last 125 years. A new high that leaves the 1998 super El Nino year in the dust.

For JMA, that’s 0.72 C above the 20th Century average and about 1 C above 1890.  For NASA, global temperatures also hit a similarly hot range. July of 2015 was 0.75 C above their 20th Century base line — putting it at about 0.95 C hotter than 1880s values when annual record keeping began. Now we only wait on NOAA’s report coming out in a few days for a final confirmation of this obscene July heat.

2015 On Track For Hottest Year By a Wide Margin

Focusing in on the NASA measure, we find that January through July temperatures are setting a course for a record shattering 2015. Overall, global temperatures during that seven month period were 0.8 C above NASA’s 20th Century benchmark and about 1 C above 1880s values. A level of heat that, if it were simply maintained, would beat out previous record hot year, 2014, by a substantial margin (0.07 C).

To the layman, these may seem like small numbers except when one considers that just 3.5 C of cooling from Holocene climates means the start of a new ice age. In just 135 years we’ve hit 30 percent of the difference between the Holocene and an ice age — but on the side of hot. Moreover, an annual temperature climb of 0.07 C equals 7 degrees Celsius warming if maintained for one Century. So a one year jump in that range is a pretty wide margin, especially when we consider that we’re now experiencing back-to-back hottest years on record.

El Nino + Climate Change In the NASA Graphic

NASA Temp Map July 2015

(NASA’s July distribution of hot and cold temperature anomalies shows a world that’s tipping more and more toward climate extremes. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Geospatially, the representation of hot and cold temperature extremes in the NASA map hints at an absolute mess for July weather patterns. While abnormal and extreme warmth dominated the East Siberian, Chukchi, and Beaufort airs, a plug of below average temperatures hovered over the Laptev. Two substantial chimneys of heat extended into the Arctic — one exploding up from the Hot Blob in the Pacific and another stretching diagonally over the Lake Baikal region of Russia (Related: The Dry Land Burned Like Grass). Most of Western Europe baked while the Yamal region cooled. In the North Atlantic the Climate Change signature and storm generating cool pool maintained — gearing up to throw a few wicked cyclones at the British Isles in the midst of, what should be placid, summer.

And all across the equatorial region anomalous heat built — pushing monthly temperatures from 1-4 degrees Celsius above average in some of the typically hottest regions of the world. In this analysis we must pause for a moment to point out the awesome and terrible wave of heat building up from the Eastern Equatorial Pacific, telegraphing through the Hot Blobs off the North American West Coast and extending on up through the Bering Sea. A teleconnection feature that must fall if California is to have any hope of receiving a drought busting set of storms this Winter — monster El Nino or no.

The mid-to-equatorial latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere were also abnormally warm with few regions showing any departure into cooler than ‘normal’ in this zone. Meanwhile, the Southern Polar Region was a mess of hot ridges and cold troughs indicative of a very wavy Jet Stream pattern for the zone. In particular, a ridge blazing south through the Weddell Sea set off some much warmer than normal readings for Coats Land and the Ronne Ice Shelf.

El Nino Zonal Signature

(Zonal temperature anomalies for July show a clear signature of El Nino and a climate change related heat sink in the Southern Ocean. Image source: NASA GISS.)

In the NASA zonal map, we can clearly see the signature of El Nino. Equatorial temperatures are the hottest in the measure pushing to +1.3 degrees Celsius above average over the world’s belt-line. To the north, heat gradually tapered off — still maintaining near +1 C through the 40 degree line before dipping down to around +0.8 to +0.3 C in the 50s, 60s, and 70s and then rising again to around +0.7 C at the pole.

To the south, anomalies rapidly plunged throughout most zones — dipping to +0.35 C in the range of the furious fifties (50 degrees South Latitude). In the oceanic heat sink region where fresh and icy water met the warmer, saltier waters of the Southern Ocean, heat uptake by that ocean-atmosphere interface hit an extreme level as negative zonal anomalies spiked to -1.4 C in the range of 65 South Latitude. This ocean heat uptake and related atmospheric cooling is associated with a global warming related fresh water outflow due to Antarctic glacial melt — the Southern Hemisphere version of the North Atlantic cool pool.  Zonal temperatures swing again higher, hitting +0.6 C at the land glacier edge in the region between 70 and 80 South, before dipping to around -0.7 C in the Antarctic interior near 90 South.

Conditions in Context

During the record hot July of 2015 temperature and weather hit new extremes. Variation between hot and cold temperatures became greater over many regions of the globe as hot and cool pools grew in prominence and related weather influence. Glacial melt and ocean current change related cool pools dominated the North Atlantic and a band near 70 South in the Southern Ocean. Meanwhile, extreme equatorial heat associated with El Nino developed teleconnections with high amplitude ridges — especially with the Hot Blob related Ridiculously Resilient Ridge over the Northeastern Pacific.

In addition, a synergy developed between high ocean temperatures, related high humidity, and a number of dangerous heatwaves. Near record and record hot waters in the regions of India, Pakistan, and Japan synergistically enabled deadly, mass-casualty producing heatwaves in those regions. This is due to the fact that hot waters enable higher wet bulb temperatures over land — pushing wet bulbs, at times, close to the human survival limit of 35 C.

With Global temperatures now at 1 C above 1880s levels we begin to witness hints of what a human-forced hothouse may look like. But what we see now are only the early, easy outliers.

Links:

Japan’s Meteorological Agency

NASA GISS

2015’s Cruel Summer

Hothouse Mass Casualties Strike Egypt

India Sees Worst Flood in 200 Years

El Nino Crosses Monstrous Threshold

(Please support public, non special interest based science, like the fantastic research produced by NASA and JMA without which this report would not have been possible.)

Tumbling Down the Rabbit Hole Toward a Second Great Dying? World Ocean Shows Signs of Coming Extinction.

The last time Earth experienced a Great Dying was during a dangerous transition from glaciation and to hothouse. We’re doing the same thing by burning fossil fuels today. And if we are sensitive to the lessons of our geological past, we’ll put a stop to it soon. Or else doesn’t even begin to characterize this necessary, moral choice.

*    *    *    *    *

The Great Dying of 252 million years ago began, as it does today, with a great burning and release of ancient carbon. The Siberian flood basalts erupted. Spilling lava over ancient coal beds, they dumped carbon into the air at a rate of around 1-2 billion tons per year. Greenhouse gasses built in the atmosphere and the world warmed. Glacier melt and episodes of increasingly violent rainfall over the single land mass — Pangaea — generated an ocean in which large volumes of fresh water pooled at the top. Because fresh water is less dense than salt water, it floats at the surface — creating a layer that is resistant to mixing with water at other levels.

Algae Blooms and Red Tides in the Stratified Ocean

This stratified ocean state began to cut the life-giving thread of the world’s great waters. Reduced mixing meant the great ocean currents slowed. Oxygen transport into the depths declined. Moreover, a constant rain of debris in the form of particulate matter from burning forests and nitrogen oxides from the smoldering coal beds fertilized the ocean surface. Food for algae also came from increasing continental run-off. And a spike in iron loading due to glacial melt added yet more fertilizer. Great microbial blooms covered the world ocean, painting its face neon green, blue, or blood red.

antarctic-algae-bloom-terra

(Stratified Ocean waters hosting massive algae blooms. It’s a combination that can quickly rob ocean waters of oxygen. During the Permian, a transition to stratified and then Canfield Ocean conditions led to the worst mass extinction event in the history of life on Earth. Today, the Southern Ocean’s waters are increasingly stratified due to glacial melt run-off of fresh water. In addition, these waters also host very large algae blooms like the ones seen above in a NASA satellite shot from 2012. Image source: NASA and Live Science.)

Rising CO2 levels increased ocean acidification even as the blooms spread toxins through the waters. When the blooms finally exhausted all the available food in their given region, they died off en masse. And by decay they further robbed the waters of life-giving oxygen. At this point the strains to ocean life became extreme and the first mass deaths began to occur. The stress opened pathways for disease. And the warming, de-oxygenating waters forced migrations to different Latitudinal zones and ocean depths. What life there was that couldn’t move, or couldn’t move fast enough died in place.

Transitioning to a Canfield Ocean

At first, ocean deaths appeared prominently in the bottom regions that saw the most rapid declines in oxygen levels and the swiftest increases in temperatures. For not only did the fresh water at the surface of the world’s oceans prevent mixing — it also prevented the oceans from ventilating heat into the air. Instead, the ocean heat was increasingly trapped at depth. Aiding this process of heat transport into the world’s deeps was a bottom water formation that issued from the hot Equator. There, evaporation at the surface increased saltiness. The heavier, hotter, saltier waters sank — carrying with them the Equatorial surface heat which they then delivered to the ocean bottom.

The hot, low oxygen bottom water became increasingly loaded with methane as the heat activated frozen stores. It created an environment where a nasty little set of primordial, hydrogen sulfide producing, creatures could thrive.  These little microbes cannot live in oxygen rich environments. But warm, anoxic bottom waters are more like the ancient environments from which they emerged. Times long past when the world was ruled by microbes in conditions that were simply deadly to the more complex and cold-loving life forms of later times. To most life, the hydrogen sulfide gas produced by these little monsters is a deadly toxin.

Ancient ocean conditions

(Oxygen, iron and hydrogen sulfide content of the world’s oceans over the past 4 billion years. Ancient oceans were hotter than today. They were rich in iron and densely populated with hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria. They were also anoxic. During hothouse events, oceans can again lapse into these ancient ocean states. Called Canfield Ocean environments and named after Dr. Donald Canfield who discovered them, these states are extremely deadly to ocean life. If they become too deeply entrenched, Canfield Oceans can also transform the global atmosphere, resulting in extinctions of land animals as well. Such an event was thought to be the primary killing mechanism during the Permian Extinction. Image source: Nature.)

The rotten-eggs stinking, hydrogen sulfide filled waters at first did their dirty work in silence at the bottom of the warming world ocean. But, steadily, anoxia progressed upward, providing pathways for the hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria to fill up the oceans. Death expanded from the bottom toward the surface.

In all the great mass extinction events but, possibly, one, this heat-driven filling up of the world ocean with deadly hydrogen sulfide gas during hothouse periods represents the major killing mechanism. The other impacts of hothouse waters — ocean acidification and habitat displacement — do provide killing stresses. But the combined zero oxygen environment filled with a deadly gas generates zones of near absolute death in which few things but microbes and jellyfish can live. In rock strata, the anoxic, zones are marked by regions of black as the hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria-filled waters eventually take on the color of tar. In the lesser extinctions, these black zones are confined to the lower ocean levels. In the greater ones, they rise higher and higher.

During the Great Dying, the oceans brimmed full of the stuff. Black, purple and neon green waters bubbled to the surface to belch their lethal loads of hydrogen sulfide gas into the airs. The gas was deadly toxic to land plants and animals alike. And it eventually wafted into the skies, turning it from blue to green and eating away at the protective ozone layer.

In this terrible way, more than 99 percent of all living things were killed off. Of species, about 95 percent of ocean forms were lost with around 80 percent of the land forms being wiped out.

Early Signs of a New Ocean Extinction

The Great Dying of the Permian Extinction 200 million years ago should be a warning to anyone still enamored with the notion that today’s terrifying fossil fuel burning results in any future that is not horrible, wretched, bleak. Today, we dump 11 billion tons of carbon into the air each year — at least six times faster than during the Great Dying. Today, the great melting glaciers are beginning the painful process of ocean death by spreading out their films of stratifying, iron-loaded fresh water. Today fossil fuel industry, industrial farming and warming all together are fertilizing the ocean surface with nitrous oxides, particulates, phosphates flushed down rivers, and an overall increased runoff due to a multiplication of extreme rainfall events.

(The hot blob in the Pacific Ocean is setting off the largest red tide on record. Just one of many dangerous impacts to sea life due to this large region of abnormally warm water.)

And the impacts are visible to anyone who cares to look. In the Pacific Ocean, a climate change related blob of hot water is resulting in mass ocean creature die offs. Low oxygen waters beneath the blob are wrecking large zones of ocean productivity and risking the proliferation of deadly hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria. The largest red tide on record has spun off the hot blob. Covering waters 40 miles wide and 600 feet deep, it has left piles and piles of dead shellfish rotting on beaches across the North American West Coast.

Across the Continent, the Chesapeake Bay suffers a proliferation of dead zones and greatly reduced productivity. There’s a rising risk that, during coming years, increased warming will deliver a heavy blow to life in the Bay and turn one of the world’s greatest estuaries into a large hydrogen sulfide production zone similar to the Baltic Sea. In the Gulf of Mexico, a similar dead zone emerges near the outlet of the Mississippi. And out in the Atlantic Ocean, mobile dead zones now swirl providing a roving surface hazard to both the deep open waters and to the coastal regions that now sit in the firing line.

In the Arctic, recently ice-freed waters are now the host of massive blue and green Algae blooms.

Barent Algae Bloom July 2015

(Large blue and green algae bloom covering the southern Barents Sea during late July of 2015. Large algae blooms are now a frequent feature of previously ice covered waters in a warming Arctic. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Ever since the mid 2000s a massive algae bloom like the one pictured above has dominated the Barents Sea during summer time. Often running as deep as 400 feet, this sprawling mat can rapidly deplete northern waters of vitalizing oxygen and result in mass fish kills. Waters around Greenland, in the East Siberian Sea, the Chukchi, and the Beaufort have also hosted large, and potentially ocean-health threatening algae blooms.

And, in the polynyas and open waters off a melting Antarctica, massive algae blooms are also starting to form. Some of the blooms are so dense they emit a nasty rotten-eggs smell — a sign that sulfide producing bacteria may already be active in some of these waters. Fed by iron from melting glaciers, these immense blooms represent rapid explosions of life that can equally rapidly deplete waters of nutrients and then oxygen as they die off.

The blooms and the related expanding, low oxygen dead zones now range the entire world ocean. And where we see the red, the neon green, the cloudy light blue what we see are the signs of another ocean extinction in the making. An extinction that is likely building faster than at any time in the geological past. But we may still be able to avoid another great dying. The amount of carbon we’ve emitted into the world’s airs is immense, but it is still but a fraction of the carbon explosion that resulted in the Permian die-off. It is still a tiny fraction of the carbon that remains in the ground. The carbon that could be burned but shouldn’t. And a rapid cessation of fossil fuel burning now should, hopefully, be enough to prevent another hothouse spurred great dying in the oceans and upon the lands.

As for continued burning of fossil fuels — that results in ever greater risk of unleashing the horrors of the ancient hothouse. A set of now stirring monsters that we should carefully allow to fall back into slumber — leaving them to rest in dreams of the great long ago where they belong.

Links:

A Deadly Climb From Glaciation to Hothouse: Why the Permian-Triassic Extinction is Relevant to Current Warming

Antarctic Glaciers are Loading the Southern Ocean Up With Iron (Not the Good News Some Are Making it Out to Be)

Large Algae Blooms off Antarctica

Under A Green Sky

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse

Canfield Oceans

Nature

K-T Extinction — Impact or Hothouse Caused?

Climate Change Happening Faster Than Scientists Predicted

How Global Warming Sets off Extreme Weather

Hot Pacific Ocean Runs Bloody

Pacific Algae Bloom is The Biggest Red Tide We’ve Ever Seen

Chesapeake Bay Dead Zones

The Atlantic Ocean’s Whirlpool Dead Zones

LANCE-MODIS

Wrecked Pacific Storm Track Now Runs From Equator to Arctic Ocean

There’s something not quite right going on in the Pacific.

In the northeast of that great ocean, the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge just keeps growing. A gigantic high pressure cell spreading out to encompass the entire region from the Aleutians to just off the California Coast. This giant, implacable system has lasted now for the better part of two years.  A mountain of atmospheric inertia towering over a deadly, human-warmed, hot pool of Pacific Ocean water.

A Not Normal Storm Track

To the west of our monstrous ridge runs an abnormal storm track. Firing off just north of the Equator and south and east of Japan, the track is fed by tropical systems swinging north and eastward. Merging frontal storms with the warm core cyclones, this storm track runs up along the boundary of the Northwest Pacific and into the Bering. Many of these storms end up bottled there. But a few surge over into the Chukchi and East Siberian seas. In this way, heat and moisture that originated in the tropics is eventually delivered to the Arctic. Exactly the kind of south to north heat and storm potential energy delivery that Dr. Jennifer Francis has been warning us about.

Over the next few days, this storm, heat, and moisture conveyor belt will continue to lend energy to systems firing off over the Pacific side of the Arctic. These storms will generate winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour with higher gusts. They’ll send swells in the range of 4-7 feet rippling across the still ice-smattered waters. And they’ll fling rain, sleet, freezing rain and snow over the still melting ice. An unsettled pattern featuring cold-core systems with an intensity comparable to tropical depressions but firing off in the chill boundary zones along the sea ice melt edge.

Ridge Forms South-to-North Storm Conveyor Belt

image

(Pacific storm track runs from just north of the Equator and on up into the Chukchi in this GFS model forecast for high [white] and low [purple]  pressure systems on Sunday, August 16th. Is this the track that El Nino generated storms take as the world warms? If so, there’s more trouble in store for the Arctic. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Then, according to GFS model runs, things start to get interesting. By Sunday, August 16th our massive Northeast Pacific Ridge starts to really flex its muscles. It heightens to a near 1040 mb high pressure cell and links arms across the Arctic with a 1030 mb high over the Central Arctic Basin and another 1030 mb high over the Barents. In other words, the ridge forms a transpolar daisy chain. And on the left side of this transpolar ridge, the storm and moisture conveyor running toward the Arctic boundary kicks up a notch. Double barrel cyclones fire off in the region of 15 degrees North Latitude spawning from the very strong atmospheric feedback of our monstrous-looking El Nino. Three more storms run in train from 30 North to just past the 70 degree line in the Chukchi.

And all run along a diagonal northeasterly track aimed directly at the Arctic’s thawing heart.

It’s a new, odd storm track. One that, depending on the strength and orientation of the Arctic high either ends in the Bering, or runs all the way to the Pole itself. A heat and moisture delivery system that begins to take form in August but that, during recent years, has churned along through Fall, Winter and Spring. It’s a pattern that in 2015 is fed both by the global warming related hot pool in the Northeast Pacific and an El Nino still plowing toward off-the-charts strong. And due to the immense energy of the weather and climate systems involved it’s an anomalous pattern that risks an extreme storm potential energy delivery running from Equator to Arctic.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Global Forecast System Model

Hot Pacific Ocean Runs Bloody

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

How Climate Change Wrecks the Jet Stream, Amps up the Hydrological Cycle to Generate Extreme Weather

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