Atmospheric CO2 Rocketed to 405.6 ppm Yesterday — A Level not Seen in 15 Million Years

As CO2 levels hit a new record global high of 405.66 ppm yesterday, I couldn’t help but think that HG Wells could not have imagined a more perilous mechanism for exploring the world’s past.

For when it comes to testing the range of new climate extremes, the present mass burning of fossil fuels is like stepping into a dark time machine. As all that carbon hits the airs and waters, the climate dial spins backward through hundreds of thousands and millions of years. Speeding us on toward the hothouse extinction eras of Earth’s deep history. Now, not only is it driving us on through extreme weather and temperature events not seen in 100, 1,000, 5,000 or even 10,000 years, it is also propelling us toward climate states that haven’t occurred on Earth for ages and ages.

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Ever since 1990, the world has experienced atmospheric CO2 levels in a range that hasn’t been seen since the Pliocene geological epoch. A period of time 2.6 – 5.3 million years ago hosting carbon dioxide levels ranging from 350 to 405 parts per million and global average temperatures that were 2-3 degrees Celsius hotter than 1880s levels. Overall, global sea levels towered about 80 feet higher than those humankind has grown accustomed to.

Annual mean CO2 Growth Rate

(Never has the Earth seen a CO2 build-up so rapid as the one produced by the human fossil fuel energy era. Rates of CO2 increase just keep ramping higher ever as the world’s climate sinks appear to be filling up. In this context, 2015 saw the swiftest pace of CO2 rise yet. Warming ocean surface waters can’t absorb as much CO2 as cooler oceans. And a record hot ocean during 2015 contributed to this extreme atmospheric CO2 accumulation. For the whole of the past year, CO2 built up in the atmosphere at a rate of 3.2 parts per million per annum. That’s well above the already raging pace of 2 parts per million average annual accumulation during the decade of the 2000s. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

If global atmospheric CO2 levels had stabilized in this range, it’s likely that we would have eventually seen climates, temperatures, and sea levels that became more and more like those experienced 2-5 million years ago. A process that would have likely taken centuries to reach a final, far warmer climate state. One in which little to no ice remained upon Greenland or West Antarctica, and one hosting a substantial retreat of coastlines.

From 1990 through 2015, that was our climate context. The new world that was steadily settling into place. One that would eventually assert itself unless atmospheric CO2 levels were somehow drawn down to below 350 parts per million. It was kind of a big deal. Unfortunately, few experts really talked about it.

Exiting the Pliocene

But starting in 2015 and continuing on into 2016 the fossil fuel burning time machine again cranked us back toward hotter, more dangerous times. For during the past two years we began to exceed the maximum CO2 threshold of the Pliocene and we started to enter CO2 ranges that were more typical to those of the Middle Miocene climate epoch of 15 to 17 million years ago.

 

Rocketing on past the Pliocene

(Rocketing on past the Pliocene. On February 4 of 2016, a record daily atmospheric CO2 level of 405.66 was recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory. The Earth hasn’t experienced CO2 levels this high in 15-17 million years. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

By late April of 2015, as CO2 approached its typical May high point, daily readings had hit a range of 404.9 parts per million — propelling us toward the outside boundary of the Pliocene climate context. For a brief period of 9 months, CO2 retreated back from the Pliocene boundary as spring and summer-time plants in the Northern Hemisphere respired. However, average atmospheric CO2 levels were still ramping higher as a rampant burning of fossil fuels around the world continued. By yesterday, February 4, 2016, daily CO2 levels at the Mauna Loa Observatory had rocketed to 405.66 parts per million. A level well outside the upper range for the Pliocene climate epoch. One more typical for periods seen during the Miocene of 15-17 million years ago.

Entering the Middle Miocene

Unfortunately, this daily Februay peak at 405.66 parts per million is not the end to the current year’s ramp up. Typical atmospheric peaks occur during May. And this year, we are likely to see atmospheric levels hit near 407 parts per million in the weekly and monthly averages over the next few months. Such a range thrusts us solidly out of the Pliocene climate context and well into that of the Miocene.

Though the Middle Miocene was not a hothouse extinction climate, it was one much more foreign to humankind. Back then, only the great apes existed. Our most ancient ancestor, Australopithecus, was still at least 9 million years in the future. It’s fair to say that no human being, or even our closer offshoot relatives, have ever breathed air with the composition that is now entering our lungs. Never lived under the oppressive and intensifying dome of such a great global atmospheric heat forcing.

co2_data_mlo

(We said farewell to the Holocene climate context when CO2 levels rose above 280 parts per million back during the 19th Century. By around 1990, we had begun to enter the Pliocene context, a period occurring 2-5 million years ago. As of 2015, we had begun to exit the Pliocene climate context and enter the Middle Miocene. If current rates of fossil fuel burning or business as usual rates of fossil fuel build-up continue, we will be entering the Ogliocene climate context in about 25 to 50 years. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

We are now entering a period in which atmospheres are more similar to those seen during the Middle Miocene Climate Optimum — the last time CO2 measures exceeded a threshold of roughly 405 parts per million (see here and here).

The Middle Miocene Climate Optimum of 15-17 million years ago was a radically different world. It hosted an atmosphere in which carbon dioxide levels varied wildly from 300 parts per million to 500 parts per million. Temperatures were between 3 to 5 degrees Celsius hotter than the 19th Century. And sea levels were about 120 to 190 feet higher. During this period, the world was still cooling down from the heat of the Paleocene and Eocene epochs. Carbon was being sequestered. And it was the first time the world broke significantly below a 500 part per million CO2 plateau that had been established during the Oligocene 24 to 33 million years ago.

If CO2 levels remain in this range, these are the temperatures, sea levels, and climate conditions we will transition to and ultimately experience. But time, and fossil fuel burning, is not on our side. For under business as usual fossil fuel burning rates of increase, we could hit the Oligocene threshold within as little as 25-30 years. And even if the current rate of increase were maintained, the Oligocene boundary sits about 5 decades away.

Links:

NOAA ESRL (Please support public, non-special interest based, science like the fantastic and essential work produced by the experts at NOAA.)

The Keeling Curve

Pliocene Climate

Entering the Middle Miocene

Hat tip to Kevin Jones

 

Rapid Acceleration in Sea Level Rise — From 2009 Through October 2015, Global Oceans Have Risen by 5 Millimeters Per Year

The evidence that a human-forced warming of the globe is hitting a much higher gear in terms of both added heat and ramping impacts just keeps streaming on in. Today, an update in the satellite monitor tracking global sea level rise provides yet one more ominous marker. The world’s oceans are rising at an unprecedented rate not seen since the end of the last Ice Age. A rate that appears to be rapidly accelerating.

Greenland Melt Zachariae Isstrom

(Surface melt visible across the Zachariae Isstrom Glacier in Greenland on July 20th of 2015. Melt like that occurring on this glacier has become more and more widespread over Antarctica and Greenland. It’s an ongoing heat accumulation in the world’s great ice mountains that is contributing to increasing melt water outflows into the rising world ocean system. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

It’s a tough bit of evidence that the world is swiftly accumulating heat. For aside from atmospheric temperature readings, the rate of sea level rise is probably the best marker for how fast the world is warming. It’s a sign of heat build-up that’s thermally expanding the ocean. And, far more ominously, it’s a sign that the great glaciers of the world are starting to accumulate enough heat to go into a more and more widespread melt and destabilization.

Ocean Rise Begins with Ramp-up in CO2 Emissions

Ever since the Holocene climate era began about 10,000 years ago, ocean levels and shorelines have remained remarkably stable. At the close of the 19th Century, and in conjunction with a build-up of heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere through the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, sea levels began a rise that would start to mark a departure from the stable coastlines human civilizations had enjoyed for so long.

hansen-sea-level-rise

(Global sea level rise has ramped higher and higher — an upward curve that follows increasing volumes of CO2 in the atmosphere and rising global temperatures. Image source: Dr. James Hansen.)

At first the rise in global waters, driven by a then slow accumulation of heat in the world ocean system, was slight and gradual. Beginning in 1870, and continuing on through 1925, sea levels across the world increased by about 0.8 millimeters per year. The increase was likely driven by heat accumulating in the atmosphere and then transferring to the surface waters of the oceans. From 1870 through 1925, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had increased from around 280 parts per million to 305 parts per million — into a range about 25 parts per million above the typical interglacial peak CO2 level of the last 2 million years. A volume of heat trapping gasses that began to slowly upset the Holocene’s relative stability.

If scientists and researchers at the time were paying closer attention, they would have noted this mild but consistent increase in the height of global surface waters as the first hint that the human emission of greenhouse gasses was starting to alter the Earth environment. Sadly, it took many more decades to begin to understand the profound changes that were starting to take place.

The First Acceleration — 1925 to 1992

While climate science was still in its infancy during 1925, a human forced warming of the globe was starting to kick into higher gear. A signal of atmospheric warming since the 1880s was beginning to develop. Though unclear, it was becoming apparent that the airs of the world were building up heat. But the waters of the world were providing a strong signal that the Earth was accumulating that heat more and more rapidly.

Sea level rise, at that time driven by thermal expansion and by a later small but growing contribution from glacial melt, took its first leap higher. And from 1925 through 1992, the average rate of sea level rise more than doubled to 1.9 millimeters per year. It was a sign that the Earth was warming more and more rapidly and that the heat was showing up in still more thermal expansion of the world’s waters.

The Keeling Curve

(Globally, CO2 began to increase in the atmosphere starting with the widespread burning of coal in England during the 17th and 18th Century. As new fossil fuels like natural gas and oil were added to the mix and as fossil fuel based burning greatly expanded during the 19th, 20th, and 21st Centuries, concentrations of this key greenhouse gas sky-rocketed. By the decade of the 2010s, the rate of atmospheric greenhouse gas accumulation was about 6 times faster than at any time in the geological record. A human emission that, if it continues for just a blink in geological timescales, is the equivalent to multiple clathrate guns firing off at the same time. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

During the same period, atmospheric greenhouse gasses increased from 305 parts per million in 1925 to around 350 parts per million (entering the bottom range of the Pliocene 2-5 million years ago) by 1992. This jump by 45 parts per million in just 67 years pushed the Earth’s climate well outside the range of past interglacials — exceeding the previous peak of 280 parts per million CO2 by more than 70 parts per million overall. Atmospheric temperatures, by 1992, had also increased into a range about 0.5 C above 1880s values.

We had started to enter a period where the context of the human-driven warming (primarily enforced by a monopolization of energy markets by fossil fuels) was being pushed far outside the range of the Holocene and into time periods tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years in the geological past. The Earth System, in other words, was entering a period of increasingly dangerous imbalance.

The Second Acceleration 1992 to 2009

During the 17 years from 1992 through 2009, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose by 40 parts per million to about 390 parts per million in total. That’s a rate of accumulation nearly four times faster than the entire period from 1925 through 1992. An accumulation that by 2009 had pushed the world into a climate context more similar to the warmest periods of the Pliocene of 2-5 million years ago, than of the geological epoch in which human civilization emerged and thrived. For the Holocene was then starting to look like some fond memory fading off into an increasingly murky and smoke-filled far horizon.

Rate of ocean heat uptake has doubled since 1997

(The amount of heat contained in the world ocean system has doubled since 1997. This raging ocean heat uptake has been fueled by a heat accumulation at the top of the atmosphere that is now equivalent to lighting off 5 hiroshima type bombs on the surface of the Earth every single second of every single day. 90-95 percent of this heat goes into the world ocean system. Image source: Dr PJ Gleckler — Industrial Era Ocean Heat Uptake Doubles. See Also: Skeptical Science.)

Rates of sea level rise again increased — hitting a ramp up to around 3 millimeters per year. More ominously, scientific studies were beginning to indicate that the Greenland Ice Sheet and West Antarctica were starting to significantly contribute to the rising waters. The great glaciers were showing their first signs of a mass seaward movement called a Heinrich Event. And with the world hitting 0.8 degrees Celsius above 1880s temperature values and rising, such an event was starting to look more and more likely.

Sea Level Rise at 5 Millimeters Per Year Since 2009

Now, by early 2016, with the world at 1.1 C warmer than 1880s averages and with CO2 levels likely to peak at around 407 parts per million this year, it appears that rates of sea level rise have again jumped markedly higher. For according to satellite altimetry data from AVISO, global sea levels rose by 36 millimeters from the end of 2009 through October of 2015. That’s an annual rate of around 5 millimeters per year and one far above the longer term range of 3.1 mm per year established from 1992 through 2012.

Sea level rise AVISO

(Global sea level rise as measured by satellite altimetry hits a noticeably higher ramp from 2009 through late 2015. Image source: AVISO.)

We can clearly see the departure from the trend line starting post 2011 in the above graph. And if we were to cherry pick that particular departure zone, the rate from trough-to-peak would be 7 millimeters per year. However, since a La Nina occurred during 2011-2012 and a record strong El Nino is occurring now, that particular trend line is probably a bit exaggerated. The reason being that La Nina tends to dampen rates of sea level rise through variable cooling and El Nino tends to spike rates of sea level rise as world surface waters warm during such events.

However, even when correcting for La Nina and El Nino variation, it appears that sea level rise since 2009 is tracking in a range of 4 to 5 millimeters each year — which is yet another significant departure from the trend. A rate that, if it were to further solidify, would be 5 to 6 times faster than initial rates of sea level rise at the start of the 20th Century or two and a half times faster than the sea level rise rates from 1925 through 1992.

Open water and no snow in south Greenland on February 2, 2016

(Open water and no snow in Southern Greenland on February 2 of 2016. Zero sea ice and no snow in southern Greenland during Winter is a strong sign that the island is falling deeper and deeper into the grips of a severe warming event. Image source: Greenland Today.)

Spiking rates of heat accumulation and related thermal expansion of the world’s oceans is likely playing a part in the current increase. But, all-too-likely, the numerous destabilized glaciers now rushing seaward — which in total contain at least enough water to raise seas by 15-20 feet — are also starting to add greater and great contributions. And, unfortunately, with global temperatures now pushing into a very dangerous range between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages, we are likely to see more and more of these glaciers go into a rapid seaward plunge. It looks like we’ve already locked in a ramping rate of sea level rise for decades to come and at least 15-20 feet long term. But that pales in comparison to what happens if we keep burning fossil fuels.

Links:

AVISO Sea Level Rise

Climate Monsters We Want to Keep in the Closet

Greenland Glacier Rapidly Losing Mass

Dr PJ Gleckler — Industrial Era Ocean Heat Uptake Doubles

Skeptical Science

Collapsing Greenland Glacier Could Raise Seas by 1/2 Meter

Dr. James Hansen

Contribution of the Cryosphere To Changes in Sea Level

The Keeling Curve

LANCE MODIS

Greenland Today

Hat Tip to Catherine Simpson

Hat Tip to Wili

 

Sea Ice Death Spiral Continues — Start of 2016 Sees Arctic Ocean Ice Hitting New Record Lows

In January, Arctic sea ice extent hit a new record average low for the month. Meanwhile, during the first days of February, both Arctic sea ice extent and area hit new daily record lows even as global sea ice area also entered the second lowest range ever recorded. And so it seems that the sea ice death spiral of a record warm world continues.

January lowest sea ice on record

(According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice extent averages were the lowest on record for the month of January since at least 1979. The new low beats out 2011, continuing an ongoing decadal January decline of about 420,000 square kilometers every ten years. Image souce: NSIDC.)

But before we go more into the new spate of record low Arctic and global sea ice measures, it’s important to consider the context — our world has not seen the current level of heat forcing from greenhouse gasses (CO2 + methane + NOx + other greenhouse gasses) in the atmosphere since about 15 million years ago. It’s an unprecedented amount of hothouse potential that is having equally unprecedented results.

Unprecedented Volume of Heat Trapping Gasses Drives Raging Atmospheric and Ocean Warming

About 50 billion tons of CO2 equivalent from all those greenhouse gasses hit the Earth’s atmosphere each year these days. In vast part driven by industrial fossil fuel burning and extraction, this unconscionable, monstrous, and difficult-to-imagine accumulation of heat-trapping vapors is pushing the world to warm up at an unprecedented rate. A pace that is now at least 20 times faster than the widespread warming that occurred at the end of the last ice age.

Temperatures above 80 North

(It’s likely been a record warm start of the year for the Arctic above the 80 degree North Latitude Line. Temperatures in that high Arctic region have tended well outside the 2 standard deviation range and have hit above the record line on numerous occasions. Image source: NSIDC.)

Back then, it took about 2,500 years for the Earth’s atmosphere to heat by 1 degree Celsius for a total of a 4 C temperature increase over 10,000 years. By just this past year, in 2015, fossil fuel burning had managed to do more in 135 years than what an Earth System rising up out of an ice age did in all of two and one half millenia. For 2015 hit a new record high of about 1.1 C above 1880s averages in all the major global temperature monitors (NASA, NOAA, JMA, UK MET Office). It’s amazing, crazy, terrifying to think about. The end of the last glacial period was a great upheaval that violently re-shaped our world. And fossil fuel industry is running a similar, if much more dangerous, geological process in fast forward by pumping out heat trapping gasses at a rate at least six times faster than anything seen in all of Earth’s history.

Yet as amazing as the current rate of atmospheric warming is, it’s just the thin lens through which a vast amount of heat is transferring into the world’s ocean systems. In fact, according to Peter Gleckler, an oceanographer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory “Ninety, perhaps 95 percent of the accumulated heat is in the oceans.”

Arctic Sea Ice Concentration January

(What was possibly the warmest January on record for the Arctic contributed to major sea ice losses in almost all of the major ice formation basins. Image source: NSIDC.)

And all that extra heat doesn’t just sit there. It goes to work transforming water to water vapor — shoving atmospheric moisture content 7 percent higher for each degree Celsius of warming even as it amps up the rate at which water evaporates from the Earth’s surface or falls down in the form of precipitation. Perhaps still more ominously, this heat goes to work melting the great white ice coverings it comes into contact with at the shoreline and upon the ocean surface.

Arctic Sea Ice Hits New Record Lows For January Through Early February

For 2016, that heat has led to new record lows in Arctic sea ice extent and area even as it has pushed global sea ice coverage within striking distance of a scant range never before seen in the whole of the modern era. New record daily lows for sea ice extent — now an almost annual occurrence for at least some time during the calendar year — are now also being breached.

Arctic Sea ice area new record lows

(Arctic sea ice area explores new record low territory on January 29 through 31 of 2016. Image source: Cryosphere Today.)

In the major monitors, Arctic sea ice extent hit a new record low average for the month of January, 2016. This average included a number of record daily lows early in the month even as the entire monitor held within 1st to 3rd lowest on record for each day throughout January. Record daily lows were again breached in the NSIDC measure on January 29th. A streak that continued on through February 1st with totals hitting 13.911 million square kilometers for the day. That’s 119,000 square kilometers below the previous record daily low for February 1 set in 2011 at 14.030 million square kilometers or a region of ice lost below the previous minimum extent slightly larger than the State of Virginia.

Arctic sea ice area as recorded by Cryosphere Today (see graphic above) followed a similar record low range through the end of January. By January 31st, the most recent date in the measure, Arctic sea ice area had hit 12.27 million square kilometers or about 61,000 square kilometers below the previous record daily low for sea ice area set during 2006.

globalice

(A very warm Arctic during January of 2016 likely contributed to shoving the global sea ice area measure into striking distance of new record lows by early February. Image source: Pogoda i Klimat. Data Source: Cryosphere Today.)

Also disturbing is the fact that global sea ice area — which has shown consistent losses over time — has also now come within striking distance of new record lows. The Cryosphere Today monitor now shows global sea ice area in the range of 14.5 million square kilometers or just above previous record lows set during 2006 for this time of year.

Conditions In Context — Amazing Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies, Major Winter Warm-ups Hit Sea Ice Hard

Arctic sea ice area negative anomaly is now in the range of -1.23 million square kilometers. With Antarctic sea ice at around 200,000 square kilometers below average, it’s pretty clear that the bulk of current global sea ice losses are now ongoing in the Arctic.

Warm ocean waters, especially in the Barents Sea and the Greenland Strait are likely major contributors to record low sea ice extents during recent weeks. These sea surface temperatures now show between 1 and an amazing 8 C above average reading in the NOAA sea surface temperature anomaly map below.

NOAA Sea surface temperature anomalies

(Sea surface temperatures are in the range of 4-8 degrees Celsius or 7-14 degrees Fahrenheit above average near sections of sea ice in the Northern Barents Sea. These very warm sea surfaces continue to suppress refreeze and provide melt pressure on into early February. Image source: NOAA.)

Such amazingly warm waters likely helped contribute to major atmospheric warming events in the high north over the past two months including one above freezing event at the North Pole during late December and another near freezing event for the same region during late January, likely added to the overall melt pressure. The very warm water in the Barents likely helped to enable the observed warm air slots that formed north of Svalbard and on toward the North Pole on numerous occasions.

Over the next seven days, Arctic air temperatures are expected to range about 1 C above average — as opposed to the 2-3 C above average range seen during the past month. This slight cooling may allow for a more rapid freezing of some regions including the Sea of Okhotsk. But overall warm waters and airs along the sea ice edge in the Bering and Barents should continue to suppress major ice formation there. By the second week of February, risk increases that high amplitude Jet Stream waves will deliver another burst of warm air to the far Northern Latitudes, potentially continuing the trend of extreme above average atmospheric temperatures in the region of the Arctic Ocean during 2016.

 

 

Links:

NSIDC

NASA GISS

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

This is Where 90 Percent of Global Warming is Going

CO2 Rising Ten Times Faster Than PETM

NOAA

Cryosphere Today

Pogoda i Klimat

Zika and the New Climate Dystopia — Human Hothouse as Disease Multiplier

As of today, authorities in Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, El Salvador and Venezuela were urging women to avoid getting pregnant… It is unthinkable. Or rather, it is something out of a science fiction story, the absolute core of a dystopian future. — Bill McKibben in a recent statement on global warming and the now pandemic Zika virus.

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There are a plethora of diseases out there. Diseases we don’t know about. Diseases locked away in far-off, rarefied corners of the world. Diseases that operate in small niche jungle environments. Diseases that live in only cave systems or within a single species. Diseases that were locked away millions of years ago in the now-thawing ice. Diseases that, if given a vector — or a means to travel outside of their little rarefied organic or environmental niches — can wreak untold harm across wide spans of the globe.

Countries with Reported Active Zika Transmission

(Countries with reported active Zika transmission. Until recently, Zika flare-ups had been isolated to Central Africa and French Polynesia. Now the virus is a global pandemic with World Health Organizations authorities concerned infections could top 4 million. Image source: The CDC.)

Such was the case with the once humble Zika virus. Discovered in 1947 in Central Africa, the disease first only existed in monkeys. The virus took 7 years to make the leap into humans in 1954. But, at first, symptoms were only mild and for most of the history of this disease it was considered to be a less harmful form of the Dengue Fever Virus — to which it is closely related. The virus, at first, appeared only to result in fever, headaches, rash and back pain — if any symptoms appeared at all. It would take much longer for the devastating and horrific after-effects of an, at first, seemingly harmless virus to begin to show up.

Until 2007, when the virus began to grow to its current pandemic levels, it was mostly isolated to Central Africa and a region of French Polynesia in the Pacific. Both areas are among the warmest and wettest in the world. Both featuring very large and persistent populations of the kinds of mosquitoes most suited for the transmission of this, now widely-feared, illness.

An Issue of The Expanding Range of Disease Vectors

In epidemiology parlance, a vector is a disease carrier. In the case of Zika, the primary carrier is the mosquito. In total, seven species of the Aedes variety of mosquitoes are known to carry Zika.

Under normal climate conditions, the ranges of these disease-bearing insects would tend to remain rather stable. But that’s not the case in the current world. Since 1880, the world has been warming and the extents of disease vector mosquitoes has been expanding. Under the current regime of 1 C temperature increase over the past 136 years, Aedes aegypti — one of the chief transporters of the Zika virus — has expanded its range on out of the tropics and into increasingly higher Latitudes.

Global_Aedes_aegypti_distribution

(Global Aedes aegypti distribution in 2015 — red indicates highest frequency, blue indicates zero frequency. Aedes aegypti is a disease vector for viruses like Dengue and Zika. As the globe has warmed, their range has been expanding into ever higher Latitudes. Image source: Aedes aegypti Distribution.)

But not only is the global extent of these disease carriers expanding — so is their persistence in the regions into which they’d previously occupied. Regions that may have seen only one or two weeks out of the year in which female, Zika infected, mosquitoes were active may now experience a month or two of exposure. And regions in which the mosquito was active for only a few months may now see active, disease-bearing populations for half of the year or more.

It is this increasing duration and expansiveness of disease vector exposure that is one of the most dangerous epidemiological impacts of climate change. Not only does climate change enable the movement of diseases out of previous isolation in remote reservoirs. It also enables an ever-broadening range of transport as the areas in which disease-carrying species are adapted to live dramatically expands both in terms of space and in terms of time of exposure.

It’s as if we decided to load up trillions of mosquitoes with what amounts to biological live rounds and then gave them the ability to unload that deadly ammunition over broader and broader expanses of the globe. That’s basically what you get when you warm the world. An expansion and global invasion of hitherto unknown illnesses spread throughout the world by vectors like the mosquito.

Zika’s Viral Explosion Occurs During Hottest Year on Record

Returning to our tale of the Zika virus’s expansion during 2007 through 2016, we find that Zika during this time-frame had leapt out of its traditional 20th Century range and expanded coincident with the spread of Aedes variety mosquitoes along the warming and moistening climate bands. In 2007, the first leap outside of Central Africa and French Polynesia occurred in Yap — a part of the Federated States of Micronesia.

The epidemic range then again expanded through 2014 into Easter Island, broader Polynesia, the Cook Islands, and New Caledonia. The geographic expansion of this illness along the Pacific Island chains indicates that Zika’s increased virulence likely sparked from the French Polynesian strain and not from the strain in Africa.

Then, in 2015, coordinate with the hottest global temperatures on record, Zika leapt out of its Pacific Island basin environmental confines and spread into Brazil and the Caribbean. The virus subsequently spread through a broad section of Central and South America. As of yesterday, travel warnings of possible exposure to the Zika virus included this list of 22 countries:

Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Samoa, Suriname, and Venezuela.

By today,  the World Health Organization was issuing warnings that as many as 4 million people may end up being infected before the most recent outbreak is finished.

The New Climate Dystopia — We are Now Telling Women Not to Have Children

Like many viral fevers, Zika attacks the nervous systems of those it infects. And though initial onset symptoms may seem mild, with up to 80 percent of those infected showing no symptoms at all, the virus may cause severe longer-term damage to both the unborn and to vulnerable individuals. For as infection rates for the virus increased what were suspected to be related instances of a kind of temporary paralysis called Guillian Barre Syndrome and a terrifying shrinking of the heads of unborn infants called microcephaly also spiked.

Microcephaly

(A spike in microcephaly rates — a tragic shrinking of the heads of unborn children as a result of viral damage to the nervous system — among infants in regions of Zika virus outbreak has raised global concerns about the virus’s ongoing impact. Most particularly, women in an expanding number of countries are now being asked to refrain from having children for months or even years. Image source: The CDC.)

From BBC today:

The virus, which has no symptoms 80% of the time, is blamed for causing stunted brain development in babies. About 3,500 cases of microcephaly have been identified in Brazil so far. And medical staff in Recife, a state capital in north-east Brazil, say they are struggling to cope with at least 240 cases of microcephaly in children.The city’s Health Secretary, Jailson Correia, a specialist in tropical diseases, told the BBC he and others needed “to fight very hard”.

These are profoundly terrible impacts. Ones that were not initially expected from a virus that at first seemed so innocuous. And it’s this threat of Zika-spawned microcephaly among infants that is spurring everything from travel warnings to the hitherto unprecedented measure of some countries requesting that their human populations take the extreme step of avoiding pregnancy.

As of Monday authorities in Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, El Salvador and Venezuela were urging women not to get pregnant. The pregnancy moratorium — which is voluntary — ranges in duration from a few months to two years in the case of El Salvador. And the reason for the requested moratorium is sadly practical. Authorities in these countries are now forced to choose between asking women to avoid pregnancy or having their healthcare systems overwhelmed by infants suffering from microcephaly.

With a vaccine likely 10-12 years away for Zika, with 4 million cases expected in the current outbreak, and with the range of Aedes type mosquitoes who carry the virus continuing to expand on the back of a human-forced warming of the globe, we are sadly just at the beginning of this particular tragedy. An event that, as Bill McKibben noted in The Guardian earlier this week, has leapt fully into the realm of dystopia.

A Profound Dislocation For Humankind

Microcephaly among infants is both tragic and terrifying. Its impact strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a human being. If a virus, driven to far-flung regions by the heating of the world through fossil fuel burning, is able to cripple our children while still in the womb, our sense of security is shattered as we witness heart-breaking brutality. It’s the kind of thing so terrible it couldn’t come from the human imagination. Which is why, when we witness it, we experience a strange sense of dislocation. A surreal sense that all is not right. Like the moment after the car hit the telephone pole, the moment you’re still flying through the air flung free of the vehicle. The moment just before the inevitable impact with the pavement.

But the impact, sadly, does come. Not only are we turning many of the species of this world into climate orphans. Into creatures without a safe space in which to live and thrive, we are also doing it to ourselves. For the children of Zika are climate orphans too. The tragic victims of an expanding range of environmental conditions that are hazardous to human life. And Zika is but one example of the deadly diseases, extreme weather, sea level rise, glacial collapse, ocean death, and crop disruption we are now forcing upon the human habitat. A habitat we are rendering less livable for ourselves and pretty much everything else.

That’s what terminal dislocation means — to be forceably ejected. To be suddenly introduced into a very hostile environment in which survival, and in this case reproduction, is suddenly a crap shoot. For human beings, this is a profound dislocation. One that makes the world we’re living in now seem all-too-alien. For we’re not living in the world we are used to. And the one we’re making is both terrible and tragic. And, in all honesty, we desperately need to stop the damage before some other very big, or terrible, or essential thing breaks free.

Links:

The Zika Virus Foreshadows Our Climate Dystopian Future

About Climate Change and Vector-Borne Diseases

The CDC

The Zika Virus

Mosquito Borne Zika Virus Spreading Explosively

Aedes Aegypti

UCAR: Climate Change and Vector-Borne Disease

Brazilian City Sees Spike in Microcephaly Cases

Facts about Microcephaly

2 C Warming Increases Mosquito Population by 50 Percent

Hat tip to Umbrios

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to RedSky

Welcome to the Renewable Energy Renaissance — Fight to End Fossil Fuel Burning is Now On

Beneath the dark and growing cloud of human fossil fuel emissions there are a few carbon-free lights being kindled among all the black, coal-ash soot.

They’re the lights of a new renaissance. An unprecedented period of change for governments, the energy markets, and for individuals themselves. For we are all, whether we realize it or not, now embroiled in a struggle that will determine our own fates as well as that of our children and of all the generations to follow. For this renaissance is as much about liberation — the provision of clean energy choice as means to free ourselves from a wretched captivity to fossil fuel consumption — as it is about fighting to leave those very hothouse mass extinction fuels in the ground.

It’s a new kind of vital social unrest. A global struggle for justice on a scale not seen since at least the downfall of the slave trade. The battle lines have been drawn — in courtrooms, at ports, along pipelines, and on the train tracks, in the legislative offices of cities, states and in the halls of the federal government itself. We, as a civilization, are being divided into pro-renewable energy, pro-response to climate change, pro saving life on this Earth, and anti-renewable energy, anti-response, climate change denial factions. It is a disruptive, highly dangerous period of history. One we must successfully navigate if we are to survive as a modern civilization and, perhaps, as a species living on this Earth.

volcano-eruption

(The human carbon emission is now 150 times that of current volcanic activity. To achieve the same rate of emission from volcanoes, you would need a Siberian Flood Basalt equal to that which set off the Permian Mass Extinction — the worst hothouse extinction in Earth’s history — active on every continent on the face of the Earth. Image source: Human Activities Produce More Carbon Emissions Than Volcanoes.)

Given the crucial nature of what has now become an essential conflict over the fate of the Earth herself, it’s worth asking yourself the question — which side are you on? The darkness of climate change is upon us and the need to make such a choice could not be more clear or resonant.

Nevada Monopoly Fossil Fuels vs Solar Fight Goes National

An example of this struggle in microcosm took place during December through January of 2015 in Nevada. Emboldened by similar decisions in Arizona, monopoly utilities moved to protect their carbon-polluting infrastructures by pushing the state government (made up of a majority of republicans to include the governor — Sandoval) to impose restrictive fees on solar energy use throughout the state. Targeting rooftop solar energy systems, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUCN — also made up entirely of republicans) voted to, across the board, increase costs for rooftop solar users by both slashing incentives and imposing draconian fees. The decision negatively impacted 12,000 current solar customers using rooftop power to include families, schools and even public libraries.

Solar City, a leading solar energy provider in Nevada has since decided to completely remove its industry from the state. The decision came after this statement:

“[The PUC] has effectively shut down the rooftop-solar industry and taken the extraordinary step to punish over 12,000 existing solar customers, including schools, with exorbitant fees in what appears to be an attempt to protect the profits of the state’s largest utility. All three members of the PUC, who voted unanimously to change the rules, were appointed by Governor Sandoval.”

“Most disturbing is the PUC’s decision to retroactively sabotage existing solar customers’ investments by changing the rules on them. The Nevada government encouraged these people to go solar with financial incentives and pro-solar policies, and now the same government is punishing them for their decision with new costs they couldn’t have foreseen. These actions are certainly unethical, unprecedented, and possibly unlawful. While the rest of the country embraces a clean energy future, Nevada is moving backwards.”

Nevada Pro Solar Protesters

(Solar energy supporters protest Nevada’s draconian solar fees in a January 13 action outside the PUC headquarters. Under the initial ruling even existing solar users would have been penalized. Now a new ‘compromise’ offered by PUC will ‘only’ provide a severe disincentive for pretty much every other Nevada resident to adopt solar energy for their home or business. Image source: Ecowatch.)

Nevada’s PUC decision smacks of a monopoly power generation protection scheme. One that has made it impossible for solar installers to operate in the state. As result, Nevada’s two other top solar installers (Vivint and Sunrun) have now followed Solar City’s example and decided to halt operations in Nevada. The jobs impact from just these three solar providers closing shop is a net loss of 6,000. But with hundreds of small solar installers active in Nevada before the ruling, the economic and environmental damage is likely to be ongoing and long-term.

As Vox noted on January 20th:

For the state’s monopoly utility, it’s a successful attempt to avoid competition. For the well-funded conservative groups fighting the spread of solar around the country, it’s the first decisive victory. For most Nevadans, however, it represents an own goal, a senseless act of self-sabotage.

But what happens in Nevada, apparently, doesn’t really end up staying in Nevada. After Harry Reid, a Nevada Senator, questioned the decision’s legality, national voices began to take up the cause as well. Hillary Clinton spoke out against the decision. Bernie Sanders — running a strong challenge to Hillary in this year’s democratic nomination campaign — noted that the PUC board’s decision was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Martin O’Malley, also a democratic presidential candidate, implied that the decision was an intentional ‘sabotage’ of the solar energy industry.

PUCN has since offered to ‘grandfather’ in existing solar users. But the war to stop rooftop solar growth by this fossil fuel powered utility appears to have jumped back into Arizona where another large utility is seeking to impose similar exorbitant fees.

26 Red States Appeal Supreme Court to Rule on Clean Power Plan

As if Nevada’s war against rooftop solar industry within its own state wasn’t bad enough, a group of 26 states currently governed by fossil fuel industry funded republicans are now submitting a Supreme Court challenge to Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The group has re-stated the now typical and jaded republican claim that the EPA doesn’t retain the legal authority to regulate carbon emissions. The new claim is predicated on the statement that EPA will force fossil fuels out of business, stating that the federal government does not retain the authority to effectively ban the use of a particular set of fuels.

It’s a convoluted appeal that smacks of past states rights arguments regarding every kind of dangerous, toxic or nefarious trade from slavery, to firearms, to tobacco. The appeal letter demands an ‘immediate stay’ on the Clean Power Plan (a cessation of implementation). It seeks to sanctify as ‘legal right’ the ability of coal plants to remain open and to continue pollution. It attacks federal government decisions that would support renewable energy as a solution to climate change (without using the words climate change once in the document, which itself required a supreme manipulation of legalese to achieve). And it uses language that implies state policy directives and goals supersede those of the federal government.

UCS-Clean-Power-Plan-costs-and-benefits

(According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the benefits of the Clean Power Plan far outweigh the costs. The fossil fuel industry and their political allies don’t want you to know this basic fact. Image source: The Union of Concerned Scientists.)

The appeal holds up as evidence the fact that numerous coal plants will be forced to close during 2016 as states attempt to come into compliance with the Clean Power Plan. Plants the republicans are seeking to keep open for their industry sponsors. Plants whose emissions republicans continue to fight to lock in.

The statement is, in essence, an attempt to make an end run around the typical court appeals process which will take months. Such a delay would force states, by law, to move to comply with the EPA standard before any Supreme Court ruling. An action that smacks of desperation on the part of the fossil fuel industry and its backers.

We should be very clear — any effective action on climate change will require that fossil fuel generating power plants be closed down early. That they will not be permitted to emit their toxic, hothouse extinction forcing, gasses into the atmosphere on and on into the coming decades. This is a moral decision that is as necessary for the survival of human civilizations as it for many of the innocent creatures now living on our planet. The authors of the above letter know this, which is why the language is crafted in such a way as to attack the very rational underpinnings of that understanding.

New Study Says US Can Go 100 Percent Renewables Without Nuclear

As the fossil fuel industry fights through all its various political agents to retain dominance and not lose ground against a burgeoning renewable energy sector and an environmental movement morally compelled to reduce harm by preventing the worst impacts of human-caused climate change from being realized, a new study released today provides still more hope for a rapid transition away from a horribly damaging dumping of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that existing technologies including upgraded powerlines connected to wind and solar energy power stations across the US could provide 80 percent of the electricity for the United States by 2030. The upgraded power lines would link the various regional power sectors in the US. In turn, these sectors would share renewable energy across the entire grid structure of the United States. Such sharing would vastly reduce the intermittency of renewable energy without the need for large-scale energy storage systems. A windstorm in Kansas could thus provide electricity to Gulf Coast residents sitting in still air. Sunlight falling at dawn in DC could, in a similar way, power street lamps during the dark of still night in LA.

The study authors note:

Carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation are a major cause of anthropogenic climate change. The deployment of wind and solar power reduces these emissions, but is subject to the variability of the weather. In the present study, we calculate the … configuration of variable electrical power generators using weather data with high spatial … resolution over the contiguous US. Our results show that when using future anticipated costs for wind and solar, carbon dioxide emissions from the US electricity sector can be reduced by up to 80% relative to 1990 levels, without an increase in the levelized cost of electricity. The reductions are possible with current technologies and without electrical storage. Wind and solar power increase their share of electricity production as the system grows to encompass large-scale weather patterns. This reduction in carbon emissions is achieved by moving away from a regionally divided electricity sector to a national system enabled by high-voltage direct-current transmission (emphasis added).

The reason why large grid structures able to efficiently transport  renewable energy from individually modular and intermittent systems works is due to the fact that there’s always wind blowing or sun shining somewhere on the Earth. The more inter-connected and efficient the grid, the more it is enabled to tap and move this energy from place to place and greatly, overall, reduce the intermittency of wind and solar for the entire structure.

It’s worth noting that such a system would radically alter current power generating and distribution structures. US utilities would tend to shift more from power providers to grid operators — electrical power middle-men that move energy from distributed power sources to far-flung customers.

Renewable Energy Projected to Dominate Electricity Markets by 2030

But not only is renewable energy advancing as a result of scientific viability studies, these sources of non-carbon-based power, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), are poised to leap into positions of market dominance over the next 25 years. The report, cited by Joe Romm today and published by IEA in November, indicates that renewables will produce more than 50 percent of the world’s electricity by 2030 and will have leapt into a position of significant dominance by 2040.

IEA Power by Source 2030

(Renewables shown as dominating the electrical power market by 2040 in this IEA graph.)

Disturbingly, IEA also notes a continued growth in the consumption of coal and gas. So if the IEA report is correct, carbon emissions for the power sector would continue to increase through 2040, which would be a bad outcome for the world’s climate and for life on Earth. Specifically, it would put us on a path toward around 2.7 C warming this Century and about 5-6 C warming long term — which would be about enough to push CO2 levels above 550 ppm and melt most or all of the ice on planet Earth should such high greenhouse gas concentrations be maintained.

However, Joe Romm finds some cause for optimism. Joe notes that China’s coal emissions may have peaked in 2013 and that China is rapidly adding renewable energy capacity. According to Climate Progress:

… this projection is not what would happen if the nations of world pursued the kind of aggressive policies they unanimously agreed to in Paris to avoid very dangerous warming and stay below total warming of 2°C. That would effectively end fossil fuel emissions by 2100. Indeed, the IEA forecast does not fully take into account what now appears to be an unexpectedly rapid shift away from coal in China. As a result, in its chart, coal power generation increases substantially by 2040. …. Goldman Sachs, for one, believes global coal consumption for power generation peaked by in 2013.

The IEA itself notes that one of its key assumptions may be too conservative: “China is becoming the wild card of coal markets, with the risks to our projection of a plateau and then a slow decline in coal demand arguably weighted to the downside.” I think the plateau and slow decline scenario was plausible a year ago, but China’s coal consumption dropped nearly 3 percent in 2014, at least 5 percent in 2015, and one analyst in Beijing projected recently, “coal consumption will drop by between 2.5 percent and 3 percent in 2016.” Beijing keeps adding new policies to slash coal use, as detailed in a major analysis last month from the Center for American Progress, which concluded “Chinese coal consumption enters downward spiral.”

If Joe’s correct, then it appears that the entire fossil fuel based electricity industry is now in a fight for its life. One it must inevitably lose for so many of the rest of us and of much of life here on Earth to survive. So when you hear talk coming from state regulators about coal industry losses, preserving rates and markets, or preventing coal and gas plants from being shut down, you should remember — there’s a critical choice being made here. One to cut off the short term prosperity of the fossil fuel special interests to prevent centuries upon centuries of devastation, death and pain here on Earth for future generations and for the entirety of the natural world. And it’s for this reason that we must make the entirely moral choice to send coal, gas and oil on its way. To leave these fuels from hell where they belong — in the ground.

We certainly do not need these toxic hothouse fuels and we can most certainly survive without them. In fact, our future survival and opportunities for future prosperity absolutely depend on the cessation of their burning, and soon.

Links:

Solar City Stopping Sales, Installations After PUC Ruling

Nevada’s Strange Decision to Throttle its Own Solar Industry

26 Republican Led States Challenge Clean Power Plan

Support 350.org

Future Cost-Competitive Energy Systems and Their Impact on CO2 Emissions

Better Power Lines Would Help the US Supercharge Renewable Energy

World Energy Outlook 2015

By 2030, Renewables Will be the World’s Primary Energy Source

Hat tip to Scott

 

 

Polar Amplification vs a Godzilla El Nino — Is the Pacific Storm Track Being Shoved North by Arctic Warming?

It’s an El Nino year. One of the top three strongest El Ninos on record. The strongest by some NOAA measures. And we are certainly feeling its effects all over the world. From severe droughts in Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America, to Flooding in the Central and Eastern US, Southern Brazil, and India, these impacts, this year and last, have been extreme and wide-ranging. During recent days, Peru and Chile saw enormous ocean waves and high tides swamping coastlines. Record flooding and wave height events for some regions. All impacts related to both this powerful El Nino and the overall influence of human-forced warming by more than 1 C above 1880s temperatures on the whole of the hydrological cycle.

Amped up by a global warming related 7 percent increase in atmospheric water vapor (and a related increase in evaporation and precipitation over the Earth’s surface), many of these El Nino related impacts have followed a roughly expected pattern (you can learn more about typical El Nino patterns and links to climate change related forcings in this excellent video by Dr Kevin Trenberth here). However, so far, some of the predicted kinds of events you’d typically see during a strong El Nino have not yet emerged. A circumstance that may also be related to the ongoing human-forced warming of the globe.

Storm Track Not Making it Far Enough South

Particularly, there has been an absence of powerful storms running in over Southern California then surging on into Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas. During strong El Nino events, heat and moisture bleeding off the super-warmed Equator have typically fed powerful storms racing across the Pacific. These storms have tended to engulf the entire US Pacific Coast from San Diego through to Seattle. However, much of the storm energy is often directed further south toward Central and Southern California.

Ridiculously Resilient Ridge Returns

(A massive Pacific storm being warded off by high pressure systems over the US West Coast on Tuesday, January 26th. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

These storms tend to run over regions that are typically much drier. So strong El Ninos of the past have often generated abnormal and memorable storms and rains. But this year there has been, mostly, an abscense of such events. Storms have slammed into Northern California, Oregon, been deflected back into the coasts of Canada and Alaska, or even been bottled up near the Aleutian Island Chain.

But today, a high pressure cell dominates the western US, warding off a powerful storm system. The storm, howling just south of Alaska and pushing out average 60 foot wave heights and hurricane force winds across the Pacific, is predicted to rebound toward Alaska where it will become bottled up in the Bering sea and push above freezing temperatures into the Arctic Beaufort Sea during Winter. The storms and rains will steer far away from Southern California and even much of California altogether.

Rainfall Patterns Have Tended Toward the North, Contrary to NOAA’s Seasonal Predictions

 

NOAA Precipitation

(NOAA precipitation quantities prediction for the coming week is indicative a continued northward shift of the Pacific Storm track. Image source: NOAA.)

It’s a pattern more reminiscent of some strange ridiculously resilient ridge (RRR) than that of a strong El Nino. And though storms later this week are again predicted to slam into the Northwest and weekly rainfall totals are expected to rise to near 1 inch for parts of Southern California, the path of these storms and related moisture flows are quite a bit further north than one would expect for a year in which strong El Nino was the dominant feature.

The moisture flow, instead, so far has tended northward across the upper and central tiers of the US even as the El Nino related moisture bleed toward the Gulf and East Coasts has remained quite intense. Such observed weather is both contrary to what we’ve tended to know about Strong El Nino and to NOAA’s seasonal forecasts which had predicted much more rain for the southwest than what we’ve seen so far.

Seasonal Outlook NOAA

(NOAA three month outlook is more in line with traditional strong El Nino forecasts bringing strong storms in through the southwestern US. We currently do not see a prevalence of that particular pattern. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

Polar Warming + Hot Blob Tugging the Storm Track Northward?

Since weather patterns related to El Nino are an aspect of global atmospheric dynamics — teleconnections between the influence of an excess of hot air and heavy rainfall at the Equator and of large scale atmospheric wave patterns downstream, you have to wonder if there isn’t some kind of influence competing with El Nino on a global scale. One with enough oomph to nudge the Pacific Storm Track northward.

Hot Blob Pacific Northwest

(The Hot Blob is still a dominant feature of ocean waters in the Pacific Northwest. Is its influence helping to pull the Pacific Storm Track northward during a strong El Nino year? Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The first likely suspect is the pool of still much warmer than normal sea surface temperatures lurking off the US West Coast. Though somewhat diminished from their peak during 2014 and 2015, the waters in the hot blob off California, Oregon, Washington, Canada and Alaska are still in the range of 1 to 3 C above average. A very large region of significantly warmer than normal ocean surfaces that wasn’t present during the 1982-83 and 1997-1998 super El Ninos. And much of the warmest anomalies are now centered much further to the north along the coast of Alaska.

But the second potential player is likely even more significant. And that would be an ongoing and extreme warming of the northern polar region. Heating at the Pole generates less thermal gradient between the higher Latitudes and the Equator. And such a lessened gradient would tend to impact the strength of the circumpolar winds that drive weather systems and storm tracks. In particular, the overall warming of the globe would tend to pull these storm tracks northward even as the loss of thermal gradient would tend to enhance wave patterns in the Jet Stream.

 

Polar Amplification January 26

(Polar Amplification shown as very intense in the January 26 Climate Reanalyzer graphic. Is Polar Amplification helping to shove the Pacific Storm Track northward even during a record strong El Nino year? If so, it’s bad news for long term moisture levels in the US Southwest. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Perhaps also specifically related to this ongoing polar amplification, we find that two warm slots — one over the Barents and far North Atlantic east of Greenland and another over the Bering — have tended to develop during recent Winter years. These slots have often served as staging areas for warm air invasions of the Arctic. But what they also represent are regions of water that have been freshly liberated from their sea ice coverings. As such, these vast regions of water serve as heat transport and ventilation zones. And all this extra heat energy may be sucking the related North Atlantic and North Pacific Storm tracks into what may well be described as an oceanic and atmospheric trap.

If such a situation where the case, we’d tend to see a dipole of warm east, cold west in the storm trap regions. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen more and more of with Greenland and Siberia serving as the backdrops to reinforce this tendency. Thus setting up the stage for cold air slots cutting through Northeast Siberia and Northeast Canada and warm, wet air slots over Alaska and the UK.

The question to be asked is, then, are these new influences related to human-forced warming also now doing battle with El Nino for control over the Pacific Storm Track? And has that influence increased enough to dramatically nudge that track northward? We may find the answer to that question in what happens to the direction of powerful Pacific Storms over the next few months. But early indications seem to be that polar warming and the related hot blob may have thrown a wrench in the kinds of El Nino storms that we’ve been used to.

Links:

El Nino Related Waves, Floods Strike Chile

Dr Kevin Trenberth on El Nino and Climate Change

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

NOAA

The United States Drought Monitor

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Arctic Heatwave Drives Deadly Asian Cold Snap

In the Arctic today, there’s a warm wind howling over Siberia. It’s a wind blowing from the northwest. A wind originating from the Arctic Ocean. Siberia is warming up today because warm air blew in from the direction of the North Pole. This should strike everyone as ridiculously, insanely odd.

****

In Okinawa it snowed for the first time since 1977 this weekend. In Taiwan, a cold snap turned deadly killing 85 as tens of thousands more huddled in homes that lacked any form of central heating. In South Korea, 500 flights were grounded due to unseasonable weather. In Hong Kong, the temperature was 3 C — the same temperature as a region near the southwestern coast of Svalbard east of Greenland and above the Arctic Circle.

What the hell is going on? In short, a global warming driven heat-up of the Arctic has punched a hole in the Jet Stream and driven chill, Arctic air all the way into portions of Southeast Asia that seldom ever see temperatures go below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 Celsius).

An Arctic Super-Warmed By Climate Change

Temperatures in the Arctic are just off the charts warm for this time of year. It’s the sad result for a region that now sits in the bull’s eye of rapid heat accumulation due to human greenhouse gas emissions forcing the world above 400 parts per million CO2 and 485 parts per million CO2e. CO2 levels alone that have not been seen in at least 3 million years and a ridiculous total heat forcing at the top of the atmosphere that likely hasn’t been seen for all of the past 10 million years.

Arctic Heatwave, Southeast Asian Chill

(Extreme heat in the High Arctic brings summer-like seasonality to that region even as a record cold snap grips sections of Southeast Asia. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

It’s the kind of heat forcing that has a profound, far-ranging impacts. Impacts, that for many regions of our world, start in the Arctic.

There, in the long dark of polar night, all that overburden of greenhouse gasses is doing its work to re-radiate the sun’s heat. And the ocean sitting beneath the inexorably thinning and greatly reduced sea ice is also transporting that accumulated heat into the Arctic air. Firing off weather systems that run northward in Kamikaze fashion. Surging up through the gauntlet of Greenland chill along that increasingly dangerous storm bombification zone of the North Atlantic. Howling over Svalbard and into the Arctic itself. Giant heat engines aimed directly at the Arctic’s heart.

And heat the Arctic in strange and stunning fashion all of these various processes do — with a large region of extreme, above average temperatures stretching from the North Pole itself, to the northeast tip of Greenland, all throughout a quarter-pie section of the High Arctic above the 80th parallel, on into the Kara, the Laptev, and finally terminating in what should be deeply frozen North-Central Siberia. This entire vast region features temperatures in the range of 20 degrees Celsius or more (36 degrees Fahrenheit) above average for this time of year. For today, for this vast section of the Arctic, it’s as if the Winter Season did not exist.

Extreme Warmth in the Arctic, Cold in Southeast Asia

image

(Gale force northwesterly winds bring much warmer than usual temperatures to Northeastern Siberia even as record cold hits Southeast Asia. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Just off the coast of Svalbard the current temperature is 3.7 C (or 39 degrees F). That’s the same reading that Taipei City Taiwan, thousands of miles to the south and sitting in the ridiculously warm Southwest Pacific, saw yesterday. Running along the zero degree Longitude line to 85 North, just a few hundred miles from the North Pole, we find 1 C or 34 F temperatures. Temperatures run near or even above freezing along a vast section of ice-covered waters in the Arctic Ocean above 80 North Latitude and on toward the coast of Siberia. There at 74.5 North and 87.55 East, a freakishly warm northwest wind howling out of the Arctic Ocean is pushing temperatures to -1.4 C (29.5 F and above the point at which salty ocean water freezes). It’s colder now in the hills of North Vietnam at 20.1 North Latitude, 103.9 East Longitude with temperatures there hitting -1.5 C (29.3 F).

This is worth repeating — it’s colder in North Vietnam than it is on the shores of Arctic Siberia. Something, most definitely is not right with the weather.

Predictable Seasons Disrupted

To understand what, we need to think for a little bit about atmospheric physics. In a normal world — meaning the world in which we’re used to living, the same world in which human civilization developed and evolved — cold remains mostly locked in the Arctic. Heat remains most highly concentrated at the Equator. This is due to the fact that at the greenhouse gas levels of the Holocene (in the range of 275 parts per million CO2 and 600 parts per billion methane) solar insolation — or the direct heating of the Earth’s surface by the sun’s rays — was more-so in the driver’s seat. The blanket of greenhouse gasses was in that nice Goldilocks zone where its heat trapping ability was just enough to keep the Equator hot, the mid Latitudes mostly warm, and the poles cold. Just right.

This just right atmospheric heat balance with cold at the poles and heat at the Equator set up a large temperature difference between the low Latitudes and the Poles. This high degree of thermal difference, in turn, drove strong circumpolar winds called the Jet Stream that mostly kept the climate zones stable and locked in place. In the north, it was cold, as it should be. And, in the south, it was hot, as it should be. That rapidly moving wall of upper level air did its part to keep the climates divided and stable. To keep the seasons we now know in their appropriate phases and predictable progressions — Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall (please see Dr Jennifer Francis — Jet Stream and Climate Change).

But now, with greenhouse gasses rocketing to above 400 parts per million CO2 and above 1830 parts per billion methane, the Goldilocks zone for human climate is no more. Now, the purity of polar cold has been violated by floods of heat rushing up from the south and oozing up through the ocean itself. Now, that kind regulator of the seasons — the Jet Stream — has been driven into a helter-skelter tangle. And this is why it’s warmer in the Arctic than it is in parts of Southeast Asia.

Arctic Heat Drives Asian Chill

Polar Vortex Disrupted

(Warm air injected into the Arctic through a weakness in the Jet Stream over the North Atlantic drives a polar vortex disruption, strong trough formation over Eastern Siberia and a record Asian cold snap. Image source: University of Washington Jet Stream Analysis)

And it’s exactly the kind of scenario that happened this weekend through today. A weakness in the Jet Stream just west of the United Kingdom developed — allowing warm air to flood northward into the Arctic. While the UK and sections of the Arctic began to experience warm temperatures more usual for Spring and Summer in the affected regions, polar cold was driven southward — this time down another weakness in the Jet Stream that developed over Siberia through Southeast Asia.

It’s the kind of polar vortex disruption, distortion and collapse that we’ve seen so much of during recent Winters. A pattern of warm north, cold south that is the very upshot of a rapidly warming world and an equally swiftly destabilizing climate system.

Links:

East Asian Cold Snap ‘Kills 85 in Taiwan’

Deaths in Japan and Taiwan as Record Cold Snap hits East Asia

Climate Reanalyzer

University of Washington Jet Stream Analysis

Earth Nullschool

Dr Jennifer Francis — Jet Stream and Climate Change

Hat Tip to Greg

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Ryan in New England

 

The Human Hothouse Turns Bolivia’s Second Largest Lake into a Withered Wasteland

Lake Poopo in Bolivia has dried up. And Climate Change has been named as the top cause of the disaster.

After decades of drought and depressed rainfall related to a human-forced warming of the globe, the once-massive lake is now gone. Once measuring 90 by 32 kilometers and covering an area of over 1,000 square kilometers this second largest lake in all of Bolivia has turned into a dried out disaster zone. Cracked, baked earth, overturned and abandoned boats, and the desiccated remains of lake life are all that are left as sign to the fact that a giant lake once existed. The flamingos, fish and other wildlife that relied on the lake are now dead or long gone. Yet more lonely casualties of a climate changed radically by an incessant burning of fossil fuels.

(Human-forced climate change is implicated in Bolivia’s loss of Lake Poopo. Video source: TeleSUR English.)

Rainy Season Undone

About a decade ago, the rainy season in this region of the Altiplano Mountains began to dry up. Rainfall became less regular and the great Lake Poopo — important to locals for its supply of fish and wildlife — began to fade away. By 2015, record global temperatures and El Nino conditions had again pushed the rainy season back. By January of 2016, one month into the typical rainy season, no rains had yet fallen and the great lake had dried up completely.

According to NASA, ongoing drying impacts related to warming have been impeding the flow of water into Lake Poopo for decades. The first time the lake dried out was back in 1994. The lake subsequently took more than three years to re-fill. But it has never fully recovered.

Rates of Evaporation Increase by a Factor of 3

Rising global temperatures are increasing the rates of evaporation and precipitation worldwide. But Lake Poopo sits in an evaporation and water loss hot spot. Scientists researching this drying event indicate that impacts to the hydrological cycle as a result of a human-forced warming of the globe have increased rates of evaporation for the Lake Poopo area by 3 times that of the 20th Century average.  And this greatly intensified baking of the lands there has resulted in a profound loss of reliable water supply for the lake.

Lake Poopo BeforeLake Popoo Dried Up

(Lake Poopo before and after. A merciless and ongoing decadal drought has caused lake Poopo to turn into a dried up desert. Image source: Earth Observatory.)

Long-term Outlook Looks Pretty Amazingly Bad

Since Bolivia occupies a region very vulnerable to the human-forced warming of our world, the current drying of Lake Poopo may last longer than the 1994 event or, perhaps, indefinitely. Bolivian officials seem determined to restore water to the lake — estimating that such a project would require the diversion of other sources along with a 150 million dollar investment.

But the situation is now far more challenging than during the time following the initial drying event of 1994. Global temperatures are in the range of 0.5 C hotter. Meanwhile, trends toward drying are settling in all over this region of South America. Bolivia’s first largest lake — Titicaca — is also under threat, require a half a billion dollars to preserve its own falling water levels. Sao Paulo, to the east, is still undergoing its own severe water crisis. And to the north, the loss of moisture due to a deforestation and warming of the Amazon Rainforest is further exacerbating extreme drying events throughout South America.

Given this changing local and global environment, any lake restoration efforts will meet with extremely severe challenges. Over the next two decades, global temperatures may spike above 1.5 C above 1880s averages and the Amazon may be well on its way to collapse. It’s difficult to imagine that many lakes and rivers would survive such brutal conditions, much less the very vulnerable Lake Poopo.

Links:

Earth Observatory

TeleSUR English

Lake Poopo

Bolivia’s Second Largest Lake Lost to Climate Change

Bolivia and Peru Sign 500 Million Dollar Deal to Preserve Lake Titicaca

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Warm Arctic Storms Aim to Unfreeze the North Pole Again — That’s 55 Degrees (F) Above Normal For January

It’s worth re-stating. The Starks were wrong. Winter isn’t coming. Winter, as we know it, is dying. Dying one tenth of a degree of global oceanic and atmospheric warming at a time. Steadily dying with each ton of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses emitted through our vastly irresponsible and terrifyingly massive burning of fossil fuels.

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According to UCAR reanalysis, it’s something that’s only happened three times during December in the entire temperature record for the North Pole since the late 1940s. Four times now that a record warm surge of air hit that highest point of Northern Hemisphere Latitude during late December of 2015. An event that was influenced by the very destructive Winter Storm Frank. A combination of weather variables that, by themselves, was odd and rare enough. But what may be about to happen next week is even more rare. Because we’ve never, not once, seen this kind of heat set up at the North Pole during January.

UCAR North Pole

(UCAR’s North Pole temperature data record since 1948 per Bob Henson shows no above freezing days at the North Pole during January through late April. But it could happen next week.)

Disturbingly, what we’re seeing now starting to take shape is another warm air invasion of the Arctic with the potential to bring above-freezing temperatures to the North Pole during the long polar night. An odd and highly abnormal event that may again take place this Winter in just a few more days. If it does happen it will be yet another case of a never-before-seen warming event occurring in a record hot world.

North Pole May Unfreeze A Second Time This Winter

According to Global Forecast Systems model reanalysis by Earth Nullschool, it appears that a record warm Earth atmosphere and ocean system is again taking aim at the High Arctic. Another synoptic daisy chain of storms funneling warm, south-to-north winds — dredging them up from the tropics, flinging them across thousands of miles of North Atlantic Ocean waters, driving them up over Svalbard and toward the North Pole — is predicted to set up by early morning Monday.

image

(Temperatures are predicted to warm into a new record range for the North Pole by late Tuesday. Readings that strike very close to freezing at the North Pole now appear in the most recent Global Forecast System model summary by Earth Nullschool. If temperatures in this region do hit above freezing, it will be an unprecedented event. Image source: Earth Nullschool. )

The anchor of these dervishes of Equator-to-Pole heat transfer is the very Winter Storm Jonas that just crippled the Eastern US with record snowfall amounts and storm surges that have beaten some of the highest seas seen during Superstorm Sandy. A second, hurricane force low in the range of 950 mb is predicted to set up between Iceland and Greenland. But the tip of this spear of record atmospheric heat pointed directly at the Arctic is a third, but somewhat milder 990 mb, storm.

And it is this northern low that will draw a leading edge of record warmth into the Arctic. An anomalous, ocean-originating heat front that will spread its pall of air warm enough to melt sea ice during Winter north of Svalbard tomorrow. A swath of near and above-freezing temperatures spreading inexorably Pole-ward. Reinforced by the supporting lows and the synoptic wave of warmth in train, this storm is predicted to drive near or slightly above freezing temperatures into the region of 90 North Latitude by late Tuesday or early Wednesday. An event that would be unprecedented, at least in modern meteorological reckoning. One that may well be unprecedented for the whole of the Holocene.

Conditions in Context — Another Summer-Type Heatwave For The Arctic During the Long Dark of Winter

Another Wave of Extreme Arctic Heat

(Another wave of extreme, above average temperatures for the Arctic is on the way. Image source: Climate Reanlyzer.)

To put such extraordinary temperatures into context, this predicted record polar warmth is in the range of 55 degrees (F) above normal for January. And for such a typically frigid region, these temperatures are more usual for June, July, or August. Or, to make another comparison, for Gaithersburg, Maryland it would be like seeing readings above 94 degrees (F) for the same Winter day. A summer heatwave in the midst of what should be a season of cold. That’s what’s predicted for a region that will not see a single ray of sunlight until April.

Heat trapping gasses with the ability to re-radiate the sun’s energy in the dark of night or in the depths of Winter are now having a profound impact on our world. It’s something that should really be keeping us up at night. At the very least, it’s something that on Tuesday may push the North Pole up above freezing on a, black as night, January day.

Links:

Warm Arctic Storm to Push Temps Above Freezing at North Pole During Winter

The Storm that Will Unfreeze the North Pole

Climate Reanlyzer

Earth Nullschool

Bob Henson

UCAR Climate Reanalysis

Hat Tip to Greg

Blizzard Fueled By Ocean Heat Cripples Eastern US, Floods Coast With Historic Storm Surge

We knew the weather this weekend would be wicked. A predicted extreme winter storm kicked into a much higher gear by an atmosphere warmed by human greenhouse gas emissions and by a record heat and moisture bleed coming off an anomalously hot Atlantic Ocean kind of wicked. A severe Blizzard featuring 12-40 inch snows, near record to record storm surges, and hurricane force wind gusts that has been showing up in model forecasts since earlier this week. And it appears that’s exactly what we’re getting.

Heavy Snows Cause Major Disruptions

Jonas Saturday Morning

(National Weather Service Radar showing heavy snowfall stretching from West Virginia to Rhode Island at 10:45 AM Saturday Morning.)

By early Saturday morning, the reports were coming in. More than 1,500 vehicles were wrecked or disabled along Virgina State highways Friday evening as the storm roared across the region. Sudden, heavy snowfall generated a similar snarl — setting off a 40 mile long traffic jam in Kentucky which stranded motorists for more than 12 hours. According to reports from The Weather Channel, Jonas had already dumped as much as 28 inches of snow by 8 AM this morning. With 5-20 more inches on the way for many regions, these totals are expected to continue to climb.

These crippling snowfall totals were hitting very close to home in Gaithersburg, MD — where I took this video of still heavy snows over an already amazing 21 inch accumulation (unofficial).

The video was taken during a lull in an area that’s been experiencing accumulations at faster than 1 inch per hour rates since late last night. Sporadic reports of thundersnow were also starting to trickle in — especially in areas closer to the Chesapeake Bay like Baltimore.

Severe Coastal Flooding Threat Grows

Along the coast, Jonas’s impacts began to look more like those of Superstorm Sandy than of a typical winter snowmaker. Winds on the Eastern Shore of Virginia hit a peak hurricane force gust of 85 miles per hour earlier this morning as Jonas gorged on record warm Atlantic Ocean waters and intensified. These strong winds combined with astronomical high tides and a climate change related pile up of Gulf Stream waters off the US East Coast to push tides to the second highest level on record for Delaware beaches.

According to the Weather Channel:

On Saturday morning, the water level at Lewes, Delaware, rose to 9.27 feet, a storm surge of more than 4 feet. This is the highest level on record at that gauge, beating 9.20 feet on March 6, 1962. Record flooding has also been observed in at least three New Jersey locations (Great Channel at Stone Harbor, Cape May Harbor, Delaware Bay at Cape May).

Cindy Nevitt in Cape May, New Jersey sent along this photo of ocean floodwaters and ice floes surging around her coastal home this morning as Jonas mercilessly drove its surge inland:

Cindy Nevitt Cape May New Jersey

(Severe coastal flooding surges into Cape May New Jersey as hurricane force gusts drive a storm surge into the Northeast Coast on Saturday morning. Image source: Cindy Nevitt.)

Reports are beginning to come in of ongoing emergency evacuations of coastal homes flooded by surging waters in this region. Given the 9 foot above normal tides combined with hurricane force wind gusts and 30 foot waves slamming into beaches, sand dunes and sea walls, it’s a situation that is, sadly, likely to worsen as the day progresses.

Many of the Worst Impacts Still to Come

To this point, it’s important to note that, with Jonas still centered off the Delmarva Peninsula, this major tidal flooding that regions are now currently experiencing is just the start. The head of water should continue to build on into late Saturday as it moves up the coastline and into New York City, Long Island, Coastal Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Furthermore, impacts to New Jersey and Delaware should remain dangerous or worsen over the coming hours as winds pile waves and waters on top of already record high tides.

Meanwhile, Jonas will continue to generate heavy snowfall over hundreds of miles on into Saturday evening. The situation, therefore, remains quite dangerous and all residents in the affected areas should keep tuned to local emergency officials for instruction. In other words, this climate change enhanced monster winter storm isn’t done yet. Not by a long shot.

UPDATE: 330 PM, 25-26 Inches, Everything is Getting Buried

The locals are calling this thing Snowzilla. And for the past 36 hours it feels like I’ve had the darn thing by the tail. It’s been a rough ride but now things are honestly starting to get weird. Howling winds and heavy snows at the rate of 1 inch or more per hour continue. And we’re just sitting here as all that moisture feeding in off the Atlantic hits that cold air and condenses out in the form of a merciless fall of snow.

In our most recent set of homebrew storm videos, filmed at 3:30, the world is taking on the features of an alien landscape. Everything familiar is being covered in massive piles that dwarf people, cars, trees and even make the buildings seem to blend into a blank background of mounded white. Snowfall accumulation, in our unofficial estimate, has now reached between 25 and 26 inches. But everywhere 3, 4, 5, 6 foot and larger piles and drifts can be found (if you want to view my complete video essay of this storm, now composing 10 live films of events as they unfolded in Gaithersbur, MD, it’s available here).

Offshore, Jonas is still strengthening, still hurling more snow our way. Now, forecasts are indicating the merciless accumulation won’t stop until around 8 PM this evening. National Weather Service radar analysis puts our region firmly under the pivot point of the storm and very heavy bands just keep spiraling in. Given the slow motion of the storm and the current visible conditions, I’m starting to think that the early forecasts were optimistic. We’re just getting socked here.

Links:

A Blizzard Roars out of Climate Change’s Heart

National Weather Service

Winter Storm Jonas Bringing Peak Impacts to Mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Saturday

Winter Storm Jonas Live Updates

Jonas Generates 40 Mile Long Traffic Snarl in Kentucky

Cindy Nevitt

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Greg

A Blizzard Roars Out of Climate Change’s Heart — Polar Warming and A Record Hot Atlantic Ocean Brew Up Nightmare Storm for US East Coast

There’s a historic blizzard in the form of Winter Storm Jonas setting its sights on the US East Coast. The storm is slowly coming together Thursday evening and now appears to be set to paralyze a 1,000 mile swath under 1 to 2.5 feet of snow even as it hurls a substantial storm surge and 40-60 mph winds at waterfront cities from Norfolk to Boston. A monster storm whose predicted formation has made headlines since Tuesday. But what you won’t hear most major news sources mention is the likelihood that this gathering storm has been dramatically impacted by a number of new climate features related to a human-forced warming of the globe.

Jonas Begins its Ocean-heat Fueled Rampage in Southeastern US

(Jonas begins its ocean-heat-fueled rampage on the evening of Thursday, January 21. Image source: NOAA.)

A Warming Arctic Shoves the Cold Air Out

To understand how climate change helped make Jonas so extreme, it’s best if we start our tale in the Arctic. For if we could mark an area on the Earth’s surface that is at the very heart of impacts for human-caused climate change it would be in that zone of the far north above the 66th parallel. It is there that we see the most dramatic, most rapid changes — to ice, to weather, to the thawing lands, to life itself. But unlike what might be said of an American city made famous by its penchant for sin — what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.

This is especially true when it comes to weather. If the Arctic cools, it influences the Jet Stream, strengthens the storm track and shuts more cold air away in the Arctic. But if the Arctic warms, as it has more and more frequently during recent years, then the flood-gates open and cold, Arctic air pours outward — filling the deep, inevitable dips in the Jet Stream that then develop.

And it is a massive accumulation of Arctic heat over the past few weeks that has forced Arctic temperatures, in places, to rocket to above 36 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees C) warmer than average. A heating up of the entire region to 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer than the already warmer than average 1979- 2000 baseline. An Arctic warm-up that muscled out a howling torrent of cold air that then raged on into a deep trough in the Jet Stream now forming over the eastern half of the United States.

Hot Arctic, Cold, Stormy Eastern USMangled Jet Stream, Raging Storm Track

(An Arctic that is, on average 2.02 C hotter than normal on Friday joins with a high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream and together drives a massive flood of cold air into eastern parts of the US on Friday. Cold air slamming head on into unprecedented heat and moisture bleeding of the Atlantic Ocean to form the historic weather event that is now in the pipe. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

CAPE — Storms Fueled by Cold Colliding With Hot

In weather parlance, a trough, or a big dip in the Jet Stream is a storm generation zone. The reason has to do with the nature of how extreme differences in temperature and moisture can provide fuel for strong storms. It’s this very temperature differential that sits as the cornerstone of our current understanding of how extreme storms are fueled in terms of Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE).

In the one case, cold air can’t hold as much water in suspension as warm air. So a big flood of cold air can often fuel major precipitation events when coming into collision with hot, moisture-laden air. As hot and cold air are sandwiched closer together, winds — at both the upper and lower levels — tend to increase in velocity. The higher the difference in temperature, the stronger the winds. When these winds run along a big dip in the Jet Stream — like the one now racing over the US East Coast — they can spin off twists and vortexes that can rapidly develop into powerful low pressure systems.

The lows then feed on the difference in temperatures between the two sides of the dividing air-mass — cold on the one side, and hot, wet on the other. The bigger the differential, the more heat and moisture on one side, and the more cold on the other side, the more potential that such low pressure centers will develop into monster storms. The more potential that the storms will develop these crazy atmospheric sandwiches of hot and cold air that really crank out the extreme weather.

Dulles International Airport 5 inch per hour thundersnow potential identified

(“Tremendous Vertical Motion.” Anthony Sagliani tweets about extreme CAPE for a blizzard zeroing in on the US East Coast. What’s important to mention is that human-forced climate change has CAPE written all over it. Image source: Anthony Sagliani.)

In terms of the current storm, some of the CAPE potentials coming in are just off the charts. The above graphic, posted in this recent tweet by Anthony Sagliani, identifies the potential for 5 inch per hour thundersnow at Dulles International Airport (AID) between 2 AM and 2 PM Saturday. To be very clear, a 1 inch per hour snowfall was once considered an extreme event. Now we are looking at possibly 5!

A Record Hot Atlantic Feeds it All

In the context of human-driven climate change, this is one of the reasons why our warming up of the world can generate extreme weather. It warms the Earth unevenly. It puts cold next to hot by driving cold out of the polar zones and by warming up huge areas of land and ocean. And it dumps more moisture into the atmosphere through an amplified evaporation from these greatly warmed Earth surfaces. Mix it all together and you get Anthony Sagliani’s ‘tremendous vertical motion.’

How does this work? In two words — latent heat. More specifically the convective heat energy available in water vapor. And where does most of that latent heat energy come from? It comes, for the most part, in the form of warm waters evaporating into the air above the world’s oceans. More specifically to our current storm it comes in the form of record warm to near record warm temperatures in the waters of the Gulf Stream off the US East Coast (See Dr Jeff Master’s ‘The Future of Intense Winter Storms”).

image

(Sea surface temperatures off the US East Coast are more comparable to those seen during Summer than what would be typical for January. A 76 degree sea surface off Norfolk will provide a massive amount of heat and moisture to fuel the new kind of storm that is Jonas. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As Dr. Michael Mann noted in a tweet earlier this week, sea surface temperatures off the US East Coast are extraordinarily warm for this time of year. And Bill McKibben was absolutely astute in saying that these near record temperatures “should turbo-charge this weekend’s blizzard.”

And they’re absolutely ridiculously warm — in the range of 76 degrees Fahrenheit in a region about 150 miles due east of Norfolk, Virginia. A region of ocean over which the developing storm center will directly cross. An area of water that is now in the range of 7 degrees Celsius above average (13 degrees Fahrenheit). For the ocean surface, this is screaming hot — more typical to summer than anything one would expect to see in January, even in the Gulf Stream.

You just don’t see these kinds of temperature departures for the ocean — or at least you didn’t before human-caused climate change started to ramp up. But now we have them — an ocean surface hot enough to support a hurricane but one that will this weekend provide fuel for a blizzard. So the kind of blizzard we will have will not at all be like even the usual blizzards of the 20th Century. This is the new, worse variety that will sadly become more frequent. Destructive, heavy snowfall in the 4-5 inches per hour range, thundersnow and storm surges combined, swaths of hundreds of miles impacted and crippled. The kind for the new age of a human-heated atmosphere — destabilized to produce freak storms of a ferocity and frequency the likes of which we have never seen.

UPDATE — Snowfall Begins With Some Models Showing 4 Feet or More Possible (Average Guidance For Gaithersburg is 24-30 Inches)

Moderate snowfall began at 1:35 PM on Friday in my hometown of Gaithersburg, MD. Model guidance for our area is in the range of 24-30 inches, with as much as 4 feet coming up in some of the GFS ensembles.

Will be posting videos and related updates every 2-3 hours as conditions change.

UPDATE: 1-2 Inches on the Ground at Gaithersburg, MD as of 3:42 PM

(See Video of 3:42 PM snowfall here)

Wind and rates of snowfall have picked up somewhat over the past two hours. As of 3:42 PM, about 1-2 inches had fallen and the wind was visibly swaying some of the tree branches outside. Reports are coming in from regions to the south of a very heavy band of snow that should arrive in our area by later this evening.

Radar captures by the National Weather Service indicate this band setting up over much of Central and Eastern North Carolina — stretching northward through just west of Richmond. GFS model tracking and satellite confirmation indicate a coastal low developing in the region of Northern South Carolina. This low is beginning to transfer Atlantic moisture into the storm — pulling strong winds off that abnormally warm region of ocean just east of Norfolk and into the developing powerful snowfall band.

Jonas 420 PM NWS Radar

(Image source: National Weather Service.)

Sustained winds along the coast are now approaching gale force.  We should expect these winds to rapidly increase over the afternoon and evening hours even as the moisture feed and rate of snowfall intensifies.

UPDATE: Rate of Snowfall Still Picking up at 6:05 PM; Heavy Bands Expected by 10 PM

(See Video of 6:05 PM Snowfall Here)

Rates of snowfall continue to steadily increase for the Gaithersburg Area. As of 6:05 PM EST on Friday, 3-4 inches lay on the ground in Montgomery County Maryland. A heavy band of snow continued to gather to the south as the storm center went ongoing intensification near the border of South Carolina and North Carolina and just off-shore. Guidance provided by that National Weather Service indicates that heaviest rates of snowfall are still about 4 hours away. Radar indicates this band is forming just north of Richmond at this time.

UPDATE: At 10:30 PM, Heavy Snow Settles in with Six Inches Already on the Ground

(See 10:30 PM Video Here)

As of 1030 PM, heavy bands of snow had started to stream into the Gaithersburg area. Winds were picking up — in the range of 15-25 mph with some higher gusts. A healthy covering of about six inches of snowfall already lay on the ground. National weather service radar at this time indicated a series of stronger bands of precipitation just south of DC and moving northward. Meanwhile, atmospheric analysis indicates the center of Jonas now over Eastern North Carolina and strengthening. Over the next 6-12 hours Jonas is expected to intensify as it traverses toward the Chesapeake Bay. This should bring increasingly intense bands of snowfall over the area.

UPDATE: 1:35 AM Intense, Heavy Snow, 10-12 Inches on the Ground, Howling Gusts

By 1:35 AM, conditions again deteriorated for the region of Montgomery County. Snow accumulations had hit between 10 and 12 inches and the winds were really starting to howl and moan.

National Weather Service Radar indicated that the low pressure center had moved out over the Chesapeake Bay even as the wide-ranging storm really started to pull in substantial amounts of heat and moisture off the Atlantic. This kicked the storm into a higher intensity that will likely last, for the DC region, until around 1 PM tomorrow. We are entering the period of most intense storminess and snowfall now. Over the coming hours conditions could get quite extreme with 2-5 inch per hour snowfall rates and thundersnow in some areas. In other words — we’re starting to hit the height of this long-duration event.

Storm Really Starting to Crank Up Severe Snowfall over DC Area

National Weather Service Radar above shows very heavy snowfall bands moving directly over the DC Metro area at this time even as the Atlantic moisture feed grows more intense. Regional snowfall forecasts have remained quite extraordinary with most locations in the area now expecting between 18 and 40 inches. Still one heck of a night ahead!

Links:

NOAA (Please support public, non-special-interest based science, like the fantastic work done by the experts at NOAA)

Dr Jennifer Francis

Dr Michael E Mann

Bill McKibben

Anthony Sagliani

Dr. Jeff Masters: The Future of Intense Winter Storms

Jonas to Wallop 1,000 Mile Swath of US East Coast

Climate Reanalyzer

Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE)

Earth Nullschool

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

 

More Signs of Winter Arctic Melt — Icebergs are Showing up off Newfoundland in January

From pole to pole the ice is melting. Winter is retreating. And much of life and even the seasons themselves appear to have been thrown off-kilter. In the Southern Ocean near the Antarctic Peninsula, krill populations have dropped by more than 50 percent due to a shortening of the season in which sea ice forms. The North Pole now experiences near or above freezing temperature events during Winter with increasing frequency. Greenland appears to be undergoing melt episodes during Winter. And now, the iceberg season for Newfoundland is starting four months early.

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Iceberg spotted off Bonavista in January

(This iceberg was spotted off the coast of Bonavista, Newfoundland on January 20, 2016. It’s the first iceberg of the year for Newfoundland. One that is appearing four months earlier than the typical iceberg season for this part of the world. Image source: Iceberg Spotter.)

During any normal year in the 20th Century, Newfoundland was a prime spot for viewing icebergs. Locked away in the sea ice for much of the Winter, these behemoths became liberated with the spring thaw. By April or May, they could at first be seen off the coast of Newfoundland as they made their trek out into the Atlantic Ocean along the currents running away from Baffin Bay and the West Coast of Greenland.

During a normal year, the sea ice begins its thaw in Baffin Bay along Greenland’s western coastal boundary by early to late April. A milder air flow along the northward progressing warm water current is enough to unlock some of the icebergs stranded within the sea ice and to send them cycling southward toward Newfoundland.

major iceburg drift patterns

(Icebergs typically originate from Greenland’s west coast and then cycle around Baffin Bay. Icebergs sighted off Newfoundland typically break away from the Baffin ice pack during Spring. This year, one got free of the ice in January. Image source: The Atlas of Canada.)

But this year, something odd and rather strange happened. During mid January, following a December in which Arctic sea ice extents were their fourth lowest on record, a period of unseasonable warmth settled in over Western Greenland. Warm, wet winds blew up over Greenland’s coastal mountain ranges and into Baffin Bay. These winds were ushered northward by both a very powerful North Atlantic storm track and by an anomalously warm termination of the Gulf Stream Current just south and east of Newfoundland.

By late last week, the remnants of a January Atlantic hurricane had been pulled into this warm storm generation zone just south of Greenland where it eventually unspooled over the frozen isle’s mountains even as it vented the last remainder of its fury on the iceberg outlets of Baffin Bay.

(Warm, tropical moisture associated with Hurricane Alex is pulled northward into Greenland and Baffin Bay in mid January. This heat and moist air delivery, associated with northward propagating warm winds along Western Greenland, appears to have had multiple wintertime melt impacts for this region of the Arctic. Video source: Hurricane Alex Transitioning to Post-Tropical.)

And all this heat and tropical weather aimed at Greenland and Baffin Bay during January appears to have had a pretty far-ranging impact. For not only have melt monitors over the Greenland Ice Sheet picked up a Winter melt signal. Not only has Disko and Uummannaq Bay been flushed clear of sea ice during Winter. Now, just a few days later, we see the first iceberg of a four month early start to typical iceberg season for Newfoundland. Yet one more well out of season impact during a Winter that really isn’t like any Winter that could be considered normal — at least for what human beings or the living creatures of this world are used to.

Links:

Mystery Beneath the Ice

Newfoundland Labrador Iceberg Facts

Warm Arctic Storm Brings Above Freezing Temperatures to the North Pole During Winter

Major Greenland Melt Event During Winter

NSIDC

The Atlas of Canada

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Catherine Simpson

NASA, NOAA — 2015 Was Hottest Year on Record By a Significant Margin. 2016 May be Even Hotter.

“Even without El Niño, this would have been the warmest year on record.” Dr Gavin Schmidt, Director of NASA GISS, in a press conference today.

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2015 was a historic year for global temperatures. A massive accumulation of greenhouse gasses pushing above 400 parts per million CO2 (and hitting in the range of 485 ppm CO2e) combined with one of the strongest El Ninos on record to spike global temperatures in every major climate monitor well beyond the 1 C above 1880s threshold. This marks the first time in the history of human civilization that temperatures have been so hot globally. A severe departure that moves our current world decisively out of the Holocene context and into hitherto uncharted territory.

Global Land Ocean Temperature Index

(NASA Land-Ocean Temperature Index shows a historic record hot year for 2015. A trend line that speaks volumes for how much human-forced warming through fossil fuel burning has altered the world’s climate. Image source: NASA GISS.)

In the NASA monitor, 2015 beat out previous record hot year 2014 by a significant 0.13 C margin. A measure 0.87 C above the 1950-to-1981 NASA 20th Century base-line and fully 1.09 C above 1880s averages. Just one look at the graph above tells a stark story of raging global temperature increases — especially since 1980 where the average decadal increase is now solidly above 0.15 C every ten years.

NOAA’s own monitor tells a similar story with 2015 coming in at 0.90 C above the 20th Century average or about 1.12 C above 1880s averages. That’s just 0.38 C below the increasingly dangerous 1.5 C threshold and just 0.88 C below the very dangerous 2 C mark. If the current rapid warming trend in the global temperature graph were to merely continue, we’d pass the 1.5 C mark in less than two decades time and hit the 2 C mark within just 4-5 decades. That said, if an analysis by Dr. Michael Mann is correct, we could hit the 2 C mark by as early as the middle 2030s if we continue fossil fuel burning at such a ridiculously rapid rate.

Most Heat Concentrated Northward

Though 2015 was the hottest year on record, not all of that heat was evenly distributed. Though practically all of the globe experienced above average temperatures for the year, there were noted exceptions. Greatest above average temperature departures concentrated in the upper Latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Alaska, Western Canada, the Beaufort Sea, the High Arctic north of Svalbard, the Barents and Laptev Seas and most of Northern Continental Asia experienced extreme temperature departures in the range of 3 to 3.6 degrees Celsius above average. Exceptional heat in the range of 2-3 degrees Celsius above average also held sway over the Western United States and an area of warmth in the Northeastern Pacific dubbed the hot blob.

Geospatial Anomalies 2015

(2015 Showed a continued Northern Hemisphere Polar Amplification with regions near and within the Arctic showing the greatest above average temperature anomalies. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Though most of the world showed above average temperature readings, negative departures appeared in the region of the Southern Ocean just north of Antarctica and in the cool pool zone of the North Atlantic south of Greenland. During recent years, atmosphere to ocean heat transfer has been quite intense in the Southern Ocean — the upshot of increasingly powerful storms in the 50s and 60s South Latitude region. The North Atlantic cool pool has also been a persistent feature during recent years — one that is likely related to a weakening of the northward flow of the Gulf Stream, a weakening of overturning circulation in the North Atlantic, and an increased rate of glacial melt outflow from Greenland (as the current signal is stronger than traditional AMOC variability). So, ironically, both cool pools remain as ever more clear indicators that the global climate system is being driven out of balance by a rampant human emission of fossil fuels.

2016 — Third Hottest Year in a Row?

Looking ahead, it appears that 2016 may come in as yet one more hottest year on record. An event that, should it occur, would mark the first time in the global climate record that three back-to-back years set new global atmospheric temperature records (2014, 2015, and 2016).

Heat blowing off into the atmosphere from a record or near-record El Nino still likely hasn’t had its full impact. So the first 4 months or so of 2016 may see some very severe high temperature departures similar to or even higher than what we saw in December (1.42 C above 1880s for JMA, 1.34 C above 1880s for NASA, and 1.33 C above 1880s for NOAA). This probable early-year temperature spike for 2016 may be enough to carry the year forward as the new record holder given the fact that the current El Nino is expected to persist through late spring or early summer. So a record warm 2016 has better than even odds of occurring given the fact that the 2015-2016 El Nino was so strong and since it may hold on well into 2016.

More Warming in the Pipe

Longer term, the rate of greenhouse gas accumulation in the Earth atmosphere on the order of more than 2 parts per million CO2 each year and in the range of 3 parts per million CO2e does not at all bode well. As noted above, simply remaining on the current path of global temperature increase brings the world above 2 C in just 4-5 decades even as risks increase, given current levels of emissions, that the world could see 2 C worth of warming by the mid 2030s. And since greenhouse gasses are the driver in total of the current rampant global temperature increase, we should be very clear that rapid cuts to zero to net negative carbon emissions are necessary for the protection of human civilizations and for the protection of the life-sustaining capacity of the Earth itself.

Links:

NASA, NOAA Analyses Reveal Record Shattering Global Temperatures in 2015

NASA GISS

NOAA Global Analysis

Far Worse Than Being Beaten by a Hockey Stick

Exceptional Slowdown in North Atlantic Overturning Circulation

Observing the Atlantic Overturning Circulation

Arctic Report Card 2015

Did a January Hurricane Just Set off a Massive Greenland Melt Event in Winter?

This freakish Winter there’s something odd and ominous afoot.

We’ve seen unprecedented above-freezing temperatures at the North Pole coincident with record low daily sea ice extents. We’ve seen global temperatures hitting new, very extreme record highs. We’ve seen climate change related storms raging across the globe — flooding both the UK and the Central US, firing off record hurricanes during January in both the Pacific and the Atlantic — even as other regions swelter under record heat and drought.

Now, it appears that Greenland is also experiencing an unprecedented melt during wintertime.

image

(The remnants of hurricane Alex being pulled into a storm system just south of Greenland on Friday January 15, 2016. An event that then flooded both Baffin Bay and Western Greenland with warm, tropical air. At the same time, Greenland observers both noted what appears to be ice mass losses over Western Greenland as well as a possible large melt water outflow issuing from the Disko Bay area. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Greenland Melt During Winter

Greenland — the last bastion of major continental glacial ice in the Northern Hemisphere. An island archipelago dwarfed by great mountains of frozen water towering as high as two miles. Though the Arctic sea ice provides quite extensive coverage — in the range of millions of square miles — the great Greenland Ice Sheet contains the majority of the remaining frozen fresh water in the Northern Hemisphere. And though the extreme ongoing sea ice melt does not contribute to sea level rise, Greenland melt is another matter entirely. In total, if all of the Greenland Ice Sheet flooded into the world ocean, it would raise global sea levels by an average of 23 feet. Enough to inundate pretty much every coastal city in the world.

And Greenland is melting, pushing those sea levels higher. Contributing hundreds of cubic kilometers of melt water into the world ocean system every year since at least the middle of the first decade of the 21st Century. Creating an ominous ocean heat-conveyer that spreads fresh, cool water out at the surface even as it pulls deep, warmer water directly in toward the many glaciers whose towering faces plunge into the ocean itself.

During recent years, most of Greenland’s melt has occurred during the hot season of summer even as the ice sheet underwent re-freeze and a pseudo-recovery during Winter. Sure, net mass loss was in the range of hundreds of billions of tons each year. But we still had consistent and uninterrupted mass gain during Winter.

Unfortunately, with human-forced warming there was always a danger that, during Wintertime, we’d see an increase in melt pressure as well. At issue is the way in which greenhouse gasses fundamentally warm the atmosphere and oceans. Possessing the ability to re-radiate solar energy, greenhouse gasses have a greater impact on temperatures during times of darkness and during Winter. In other words, we’d expect nighttime temperatures to warm faster than daytime temperatures and we’d expect wintertime temperatures to warm faster than summertime temperatures. Perhaps more ominously, the oceans are very efficient holders of heat and are less impacted by seasonal variance than the lands. In other words, if the world’s oceans warm, they re-radiate much more heat back to the atmosphere and ice sheet during Winter than they do during Summer.

This kind of greenhouse gas warming is an assault on the winter season itself. It’s something we’ve seen in the frequent extreme polar warming episodes during recent years. One that this year generated a very odd and ominous period of above-freezing temperatures at the North Pole. But if there’s something even more odd than temperatures at the North Pole hitting above freezing during Winter, it’s an incident of substantial melt occurring over the Greenland ice sheets during what should be the coldest, darkest season.

January Hurricane Blows a Tropical Wind into the Arctic

Over the past few days, just such a major heat-up has been underway across a large section of Western Greenland. Warm winds flowing off the North Atlantic — driven by hurricane Alex’s merging with powerful lows south of Greenland — have roared up over the southern coastal ranges. Meanwhile, warm, tropical air has infiltrated northward over Baffin Bay. The net result is temperatures approaching 20-40 degrees Fahrenheit above average (16 to 22 C above average) over a broad region of Western Greenland.

Greenland Warm UpGreenland warm up temperature

(By Sunday, 15-36 F above average temperatures had come to dominate much of southern and western Greenland. This translated to near or above freezing temperatures over sections of the Jacobshavn Glacier. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Over the past few days, as indicated in this recent post by Jason Box, the region near Disko and Uummannaq Bays — both in Baffin Bay and along the coastal ranges — has felt the full force of this substantial warm-up. By today, a large section of the coastal offshore waters and a wedge of glacier-covered Western Greenland all experienced near or above-freezing temperatures. A very rare event for Greenland and Baffin Bay during wintertime and one that appears to have coincided with a possible large glacial melt water outflow from the Jackobshavn Glacier.

Spot temperature readings along the southern reaches of the Jacobshavn Glacier hit 1 C or 34 F today according to GFS measures. Meanwhile near freezing temperatures have dominated Niaqornat on Uummannaq Bay (forecast to hit 32 F on Tuesday). Ilulissat on Disko Bay is showing 36 F temperatures at 12:00 AM Monday and is forecast to hit 41 F on Tuesday, even as Nuuk (about 200 miles south of Ilulissat) is showing 40 F temperatures at 12:00 AM Monday. These are all extremely warm readings for Greenland during Winter.

Greenland Glacial Melt During Winter

Disko and Uummannaq Bays are notable in that they are the outflow zone of the Jackobshavn Glacier — one of the swiftest-melting glaciers on Greenland. Over recent years, it has been one of the primary hot-spots for summer Greenland ice mass loss. But during recent days, mass loss also appears to have occurred in this area.

Western Greenland Melting in January

(Western Greenland has shown surface mass losses during recent days as in this January 17 mass balance data provided by DMI.)

Dr Jason Box notes that surface mass balance totals have consistently shown up as negative over the past week in the DMI measure. A record that continued today. Though Dr. Box states that such a negative mass balance could simply be chalked up to wintertime sublimation, the consistent losses showing up in the monitor over the past seven days have coincided temperatures in a melt-inducing range.

In addition, Dr Box also indicates a disturbing flushing of ice away from both Disko and Uummannaq Bays occurring on January 16th. In the satellite shot, both sea ice and ice burgs are moved en-mass from the bays and on out into the waters of Baffin.

Large Melt Water Pulse From Jacobshavn?

Offshore winds could be the cause. But, again, the ice movement coincides with indications of mass loss over Greenland’s Western glaciers as well as a period of much warmer than normal, above-freezing temperatures.

Large meltwater pulse from Jacobshavn

(Did a huge melt water pulse issue from the Jacobshavn Glacier on January 16, 2016? Dr Jason Box appears to be concerned that it has. Image source: Dr. Jason Box.)

Perhaps more ominously, this widespread clearing of ice from these Arctic bays occurs in concert with what appears to be a large ice-calving event along the ocean-facing front of the Jacobshavn Glacier. In the above graphic by Dr. Jason Box (see more here), we see a large retreat of the glacier together with what looks like a major sediment outflow. Sediment hitting water in this way would be a sign that a very large volume of water had been expelled along the basal zones of the Jacobshavn. In addition, the ice itself appears to have been forcibly ejected. This apparent sediment flush, the concave bowing of sea ice away from Disko and Uummannaq and the inland recession of the calving face are all indicators that something terrible is afoot in Western Greenland.

A large flush of melt water coming from Greenland during Winter would, indeed, be that terrible thing. Something that now may become a more and more common feature of our age as Winter continues its ongoing retreat against a relentless assault by human greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Links:

What is Up in Disko-Uummannaq Bay, Greenland January 9-16

Mauri Pelto @ Realglacier

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

DMI

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Did The Human-Warmed Ocean Just Kill 8,000 Murres?

Around the world, mass sea creature die-offs have been occurring at an alarming rate. Off the US West Coast alone, the past three years have seen severe losses along almost ever link of the marine food chain from sea stars, to salps, to crabs, to sea lions. Many of these deaths have been linked directly or indirectly to impacts caused by a chronic warming of the region’s ocean surface dubbed ‘the hot blob.’

Now, a tragic and heart-wrenching new die-off has been recorded in the region of Prince William Sound. There, according to recent reports in the Washington Post, more than 8,000 murres — a kind of deep-swimming sea bird — were found dead. Washed up on shore, the mures bodies were shrunken and emaciated. Their stomachs completely empty of food.

Researchers noted that the mass death was likely due to starvation. But the potential cause given for the starvation was rather more ominous.

The Link to Human Warming of the World Ocean

Mures feed on small fish that swim within the top 300 feet of the ocean surface. The graceful murres ride the airs above the water until they catch sight of a school of these fish. Swooping in from above, the mures plunge toward their prey, snaring them with rapier-quick thrusts of their beaks.

Such fish usually swim close to the coast — thriving in the cold, nutrient-rich waters off Prince William Sound. But warm the waters up by just a little and the fish may leave — following their own food supply into colder regions.

sea surface temperature anomaly map

(The hot blob still holds sway over the Northeastern Pacific. This despite a series of strong El Nino storms and a somewhat flattening of the Jet Stream. It’s an extreme ocean warming that has been ongoing for more than two years. One that’s been linked to the mass deaths of numerous marine creatures. Image source: The National Weather Service.)

And the waters near and around Prince William Sound have been much warmer than normal during recent years. As of January 14th, 2016, sea surface temperatures in the region have ranged from 1 to 4 degrees Celsius above average. Extremely high differentials for an ocean surface that, during the Holocene, rarely varied by more than 1 or 2 degrees from typical ranges.

This extreme Northeastern Pacific warming is but an aspect of a larger heating trend ongoing in the global ocean system due to a rampant human emission of greenhouse gasses. This massive burning of fossil fuel has dumped hundreds of billions of tons of carbon into the world’s atmospheres and oceans — setting off a raging greenhouse effect and causing the Earth surface to warm by more than 1 degree Celsius above 1880s levels. It may not sound like much, but 1 C is just 1/4 the difference between now and the last ice age — but on the side of hot. And this 1 C warming happened in just 130 years where at the end of the last ice age the same amount of warming would have taken 25 centuries.

A Hothouse Dead Zone For Prince William Sound?

To the oceans and to the innocent creatures that live within, upon and above it, such a rapid accumulation of heat is a brutal insult. It removes whole habitats. It forces sea creatures to change their patterns of migration. It makes the surface waters more suitable for the kinds of dangerous algae blooms that produce ocean dead zones. Zones of low or zero oxygen in which very few forms of life can survive.

Prince William Sound Dead Zone

(Prince William Sound dead zone visible in this December 6, 2015 satellite shot? Tell-tale greens and blues hint that a large algae bloom may be robbing the waters around the sound of much needed nutrients and oxygen. A kind of new deadly ocean environment that is proliferating as sea surface temperatures warm into ranges in which dead zone producing microbes can thrive. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

And it’s this kind of generation of an ocean killing field that is perhaps the most brutal and terrifying aspect of what we’ve already done to our planet. What the legacy of our fossil fuel carbon emissions will continue to do for decades to centuries to, perhaps, millennia.

And sadly, looking at the NASA MODIS satellite data, we do see an indication of the kind of algae bloom that may be depleting the waters near Prince William Sound of that life-giving oxygen. We see the tell-tale greens and blues of a large bloom of the kind that can rob waters both of nutrients to support fish life and of oxygen itself. Visual analysis alone cannot positively identify this kind of bloom with 100 percent certainty. Water samples must be taken in the area and analyzed. But scientists asking the very pertinent question — did global warming cause this? — may only need to take a look at the composition of this bloom to get their answer.

An answer that won’t save the thousands of already dead murres, but that might help us build the resolve to prevent more catastrophes like this one. To stop burning fossil fuels and halt the accumulation of a terrible build-up of heat forcing that is ripping the very underpinnings of life in the oceans asunder.

UPDATE — MODIS Chlorophyll Sensor Yet Another Indicator of Dangerous Algae Bloom in the Region of Prince William Sound

Further analysis of NASA satellite data provides yet more evidence that a dangerous algae bloom began showing up in the waters near Prince William Sound at the start of December.

December 6 MODIS Shot of Prince William Sound With Chlorophyll Layer

(December 6, 2015 NASA MODIS satellite shot of Prince William Sound with chlorophyll production overlay. Chlorophyll production in all ocean regions near the sound show up as elevated with some areas hitting the top of the graph at 20 mg per cubic meter [indicated in red]. Link: LANCE MODIS.)

High levels of chlorophyll in the waters near Prince William Sound provide yet one more instrumental indication of a large algae bloom in the region. As noted above, major algae blooms can rapidly remove nutrients from the water, creating a population crash as the algae starve themselves off. In the mass die-off of algae that follows, microbial decomposition can rob large areas of surface waters of oxygen — killing fish and other sea life or driving it away.

Warm waters provide an environment that tends to support these kinds of large algae blooms and is a primary reason why human heating of the world ocean is dangerous to ocean health. In addition, warmer waters hold less oxygen in suspension even as changes to ocean currents tend to generate more stratified oceans — preventing the kind of mixing that keeps oceans both oxygen and life-rich.

In any case, the added chlorophyll signal coming from Prince William Sound and the nearby ocean region are yet one more indicator that initial suspicions among ocean researchers may well be correct — abnormally warm waters related to human-forced climate change was probably a key trigger involved in the mass death of sea birds there.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

The National Weather Service

Mysterious Mass Death of Seabirds Baffles Scientists

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Leland Palmer

A Terrifying Jump in Global Temperatures — December of 2015 at 1.4 C Above 1890

A monster El Nino firing off in the Pacific. A massive fossil fuel driven accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere pushing CO2 levels well above 400 parts per million. The contribution of other greenhouse gasses pushing the total global heat forcing into the range of 485 parts per million CO2e. Given this stark context, we knew the numbers were probably going to be bad. We just didn’t know how bad. And, looking at the initial measures coming in, we can definitely say that this is serious.

According to today’s report from Japan’s Meteorological Agency, global temperatures jumped by a ridiculous 0.36 degrees Celsius from the period of December 2014 — the previous hottest December in the global climate record — through December 2015 — the new hottest December by one heck of a long shot. To put such an amazing year-on-year monthly jump in global temperatures into context, the average decadal rate of global temperature increase has been in the range of 0.15 C every ten years for the past three and a half decades. It’s as if you lumped 20 years of human forced warming all into one 12 month differential.

December 2015 Global Temperature Record Hottest Month

(Japan’s Meteorological Agency shows a terrifyingly sharp jump in global temperatures for the month of December, 2015. Image Source: JMA.)

Taking a look at this amazing monthly jump in global temperatures in terms of longer timeframes, we find that December of 2015 came in at 1.05 C above the 20th Century Average and a terrifying (yes, no other word can describe) 1.42 C departure from average temperatures at the start of the record during 1890.

The world is now exploring monthly global temperature averages that are hitting very close to a dangerous 1.5 C above preindustrial levels. And though these numbers do not reflect yearly averages that will probably be much lower — in the range of 1 to 1.2 C above 1880 for 2015 and 2016 — we should be very clear that such high readings remain cause for serious concern. Concern for the potential that 2016 may also see continued new record hot annual temperatures on top of previous record hot years 2014 and and 2015. And concern that we may well be just one more strong El Nino away from breaking through or coming dangerously close to the 1.5 C annual average temperature threshold.

There is cause here for concern and there is certainly some cause for alarm. Alarm in the sense that the world really needs to be ever-more serious about reducing global fossil fuel emissions to near zero as rapidly as possible. Otherwise, we might well break 2 C — not before 2100, but before 2050.

Links:

Japan Meteorological Agency Global Temperature Analysis

(NASA and NOAA Analysis to soon follow)

 

Alex Now An Unprecedented January Atlantic Hurricane — Joins Pali in Two Storm Tale For the Record Books

“It is rather surreal to be saying this in January… but the satellite presentation of Pali has continued to improve today…” Hurricane Forecaster R. Ballard on January 11th.

“It is flat-out ridiculous that NHC & CPHC are writing advisories at the same time in January- first time on record!” National Hurricane Center’s Richard Blake in a tweet on January 13.

“Remarkably, Alex has undergone transformation into a hurricane.” National Hurricane Center forecaster Richard Pasch in a statement this morning.

*****

The rising latent heat energy contained in this world’s water. That’s one of the big stories about how a human-forced climate change driven by fossil fuel emissions can essentially alter the geophysical nature of our Earth. Alter it in ways we’ve never before seen. Ways that produce all kinds of hazards from rapid glacial melt, to rising sea levels, to increasingly intense droughts, to flash wildfires, and to new, never-before seen storms.

This morning, at the same time a similarly freakish tropical cyclone Pali raged through the Pacific, another unprecedented thing happened. A thing related to the rising potential storm energy of the North Atlantic during Winter time due, in large part, to warming ocean waters and how the energy wafting off those waters tends to generate storms, strengthen storms and push their ability to develop outside of the typical ranges to which we are accustomed.

(Alex fed on warm water as it moved from a screaming hot region of ocean off the US East Coast, across above normal water temperatures in the Central North Atlantic, to a much warmer than normal region off the coast of Africa. As a result, Alex is now the strongest of two hurricanes ever to have formed in the North Atlantic during January since records began in 1771. Video Source: GOES Composite by wisc.edu.)

This morning, according to the National Hurricane Center, subtropical storm Alex made a full conversion to an Atlantic hurricane. Its maximum sustained winds, fed by all that extra heat bleeding off Atlantic waters, hit 85 miles per hour making it the strongest of only two hurricanes ever to form in January since record-keeping began in 1771. A December-forming Alice hit 90 miles per hour intensity on January 2 of 1955, which makes Alex the second-strongest storm to have hit the North Atlantic during the month. But Alex is the only storm to have formed during January to have generated such an intense wind field in an Atlantic tropical cyclone. This makes Alex an unprecedented event for two reasons — its occurrence at the same time as another January hurricane in the Pacific and due to its intensity as a January-forming storm.

And it’s also forming in an odd location and in an odd manner. Alex originated off the US East Coast. It fed on ridiculously warm waters there even as it made this odd, eastward path toward Africa. It formed near the Azores, in a zone which, according to hurricane specialist Eric Blake, would be a rare spot even for September. Most storms typically form off of Africa much closer to the Equator and then churn westward toward the Caribbean. And though storms do sometimes form outside of that climatological hurricane hotspot, Alex appears to have done just about everything backwards.

image

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map by Earth Nullschool. From the ridiculously hot and backed up Gulf Stream off the US East Coast through to the 1 C hotter than normal waters near the Azores, Alex has had nothing but hotter than normal ocean waters to draw energy from throughout its transformation into the strongest January-forming hurricane on record. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

A Surreal Category 2 Hurricane in January?

Alex also still appears to be strengthening. According to National Hurricane Center reports, it may peak out at or near category 2 hurricane strength (82 knots maximum wind speed or topping out near 96 mph) by later this afternoon (NHC predicts an 80 knot or near 95 mph maximum intensity at this time) . By early tomorrow morning, the storm’s projected path brings it directly over the Azores. So it appears that this Atlantic island chain may be set to experience a CAT 2 storm during January. It’s a situation that invokes a sense of the surreal, as R. Ballard noted about Pali on the 11th. One in which it’s pretty clear that the world we’re living in now is one that has been dramatically altered by an incessant and growing rate of fossil fuel burning since the end of the 19th Century.

After roaring through the Azores, Alex is predicted to set a path toward the far North Atlantic and Greenland. A storm that’s expected to last through to at least Saturday as it transitions from a warm-core Winter tropical system to a mixed or cold core extratropical storm.

The rarity of this particular event in the context of other concurrent events cannot be overstated. We have never had a hurricane of this strength form in the Atlantic during January. We have never had a tropical cyclone, during the same period, form so early in the Central Pacific. And we have never had two storms of this intensity raging during this period of what is supposed to be deep Winter in both the Pacific and Atlantic.

As Dr. Jeff Masters stated so poignantly yesterday — it’s unprecedented. Just absolutely unprecedented.

UPDATE: The forecast strength for Alex has since been revised to 75 knots in the most recent NHC briefing. It therefore appears unlikely that Alex will reach CAT 2 strength this afternoon. Alex remains the strongest hurricane to have formed during January and the second strongest storm to hit the Atlantic basin at any time during January since record-keeping began in 1771.

Links:

Unprecedented Simultaneous Named Storms in the Atlantic and Pacific in January

Alex GOES Composite

The National Hurricane Center

Out of Season Tropical Cyclones

Hurricane Specialist Eric Blake

Earth Nullschool

Central Pacific Hurricane Center Statement on Hurricane Pali

Hat Tip to Kevin Jones

Hat Tip to Greg

Scientific Hat Tip to Dr. Jeff Masters

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to GiantSquid2

 

Subtropical Storm Alex Forms in the Atlantic — Sets Path Toward Greenland

“We must begin to move now toward the era beyond fossil fuels. Continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions for just another decade practically eliminates the possibility of near-term return of atmospheric composition beneath the tipping level for catastrophic effect.”

— Dr James Hansen in Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim back in 2008

*****

We should have listened to Dr. James Hansen back in 2008. Now, nearly 8 years later, human greenhouse gas emissions have continued to grow even as freakish extreme weather events have multiplied across the globe. It’s all too clear now that atmospheric composition is well within the range that produces freakish, and even catastrophic effects of the kind Hansen alluded to.

On Friday, we wrote about the potential for just such an unprecedented event. National Hurricane Center Forecasts at the time indicated a potential that two named tropical cyclones may form in both the Pacific and the Atlantic during January. Today, on January 13 of 2016, it happened. As of 5:00 PM Eastern Standard time, we have a named subtropical storm Alex raging in the North Atlantic just west of the Azores. In the Central Pacific, Pali has reached hurricane strength and is now setting a course that will bring it very close to the Equator.

Alex is only the fourth named storm ever to have formed during January in the North Atlantic (since record keeping began in 1771). But Alex is an odd event for a number of other reasons — not the least of which being that it formed at the same time that another unprecedented storm — Pali — had hit hurricane status in the Central Pacific.

Dr. Jeff Masters over at Weather Underground sums it up very well:

As we ring in the New Year with record to near-record warm temperatures over much of Earth’s oceans, we are confronted with something that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago: simultaneous January named storms in both the Atlantic and Central Pacific. The earliest named storm on record in the Central Pacific, Hurricane Pali, formed on January 7, and now the Atlantic has joined the early-season hurricane party, with Subtropical Storm Alex spinning up into history with 50 mph winds in the waters about 785 miles south-southwest of the Azores Islands. The average date of the first named storm in the Atlantic is July 9; the Central Pacific also typically sees its first named storm in July.

Alex projected path

(Alex’s projected path brings it just off Greenland by Saturday. A winter subtropical cyclone aiming its heat-engine fury directly at the Arctic. You couldn’t write science fiction that was more bizzarre. Image source: NOAA.)

Like a cold-seeking missile of atmospheric heat, Alex is predicted to aim itself directly at the Arctic. A summer-time storm forming in Winter and projected to deliver its heat energy to the environment of the far North Atlantic just south of Greenland by this weekend. The storm is predicted to retain subtropical characteristics even as it approaches Greenland by late Friday. Another extraordinary projection of tropical heat and moisture into the Northern Latitudes during a Winter in which the season seems to be anything but.

Instead, we seem to have this strange hybrid of winter, spring and summer. In which hurricanes form during January in the Northern Hemisphere. In which the North Pole sees above freezing temperatures. And in which many regions keep flashing between warm and cold conditions even as the threat for extreme storms abounds. As Hansen warned nearly a decade ago — we are tipping into more and more catastrophic conditions. And we should listen to Hansen and put every policy in place possible to “to move now toward the era beyond fossil fuels.”

Sadly, we didn’t move fast enough 8 years ago to prevent some of the catastrophic effects of human-forced climate change from being locked in. But we can at least now move decisively to prevent the very worst impacts. All too sadly, though, it appears the storms that Hansen predicted for our grandchildren may well have started to arrive early.

Links:

This is What the Anthropocene Looks Like

NOAA

Hurricane Pali Sets Pacific Record

Unprecedented: Simultaneous Named Storms in Atlantic and Pacific During January

Off-Season North Atlantic Hurricanes

Hat Tip to Redsky

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Griffin

The Ominous Greenhouse Gas Accumulation Continues: Peak Methane Approaches 3,000 Parts Per Billion as CO2 Growth Rate Jumps Higher

The world finally appears like it’s slowly starting to wake up from the grips of a fossil fuel influence-induced fever dream. Slowly, despite endemic political meddling by these powerful entities, some changes are starting to happen. Global carbon emissions growth remained flat during 2014 and likely 2015. Renewable energy adoption ramped up. Some major international commitments to reducing global carbon emissions were made.

But the very pertinent question must be asked — are we waking up fast enough? And the still rapidly growing concentrations of gasses that heat the Earth’s atmosphere would seem to supply the answer in the form of a resounding, thunderous — “NO!”

Another Troubling Methane Spike

On January 8th of 2016, we saw another record methane reading for the global atmosphere. The most recent single point peak for NOAA’s METOP measure hit a new all-time atmospheric high of 2,963 parts per billion or just 37 parts per billion shy of the milestone 3,000 parts per billion threshold.

Peak Atmospheric Methane Levels Approach 3,000 Parts Per Billion

(Another record methane spike rockets its way toward the ominous 3,000 parts per billion milestone in the NOAA METOP satellite array. The location of the current spike appears to be in the region of the Arctic where a number of very large carbon stores are now starting to warm up. Image source: NOAA OSPO.)

As has been typical of this particular sensor array, peak methane readings appear directly over the upper Latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere — hinting that this particular spike may have been generated by some Arctic amplifying feedback related carbon source. It’s also worth noting that the array continues to pick up the overall methane overburden pattern centered atop the Arctic. A troubling overburden that has showed up in a number of sensor arrays over recent years and has been one key bit of evidence pointing toward a potential new trend of amplifying carbon feedbacks in the Arctic.

Atmospheric Methane Averages Continue Measured Upward Trend

In the broader context, we continue to see rising average global methane concentrations after a pause in atmospheric increases during the 1990s through the mid 2000s. This rate of increase is a sign that either new human sources, new global feedbacks from methane sources, or a combination of the two are pushing global totals higher. It is worth noting that the lower Latitude measures like Mauna Loa, however, did not pick up a signal that some kind of major-to-catastrophic environmental methane emission was underway. A situation some observational scientists fear may be possible, but that other, more well-established specialists tend to consider far, far less likely. Regardless of the current scientific conjecture, heightened and rising methane readings in the Arctic remain rather troubling.

To these points, methane readings at Mauna Loa by end of 2015 had hit a range of around 1855 parts per billion even as peak atmospheric averages for the year had hit around 1840 parts per billion. Continuing a general trend of rapid atmospheric methane accumulation of about 7-8 parts per billion per year that started in 2008.

Mauna Loa Methane

(Significant rates of atmospheric methane increase that began during 2008 continue in the ESRL/Mauna Loa measure. Though these rates of increase are troubling, they do not at this time indicate that a major or catastrophic release from the global environment has taken place. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

Next to CO2, methane generates the second strongest atmospheric heat forcing. Its accumulation in the Earth’s atmosphere since the beginning of major industrialization at the end of the 19th Century has primarily been driven by a number of human sources — chiefly through the activities of coal, oil and gas extraction, industrial agriculture (meat farming), and waste accumulating in landfills. During recent years, there has been some signal that global wetlands — including the thawing permafrost zones of the world — are also starting to contribute to the overall methane load as the world warms up and the carbon cycle starts kicking into higher gear.

Rates of Atmospheric CO2 Accumulation are Also Ramping Higher with El Nino

To this point, rates of atmospheric CO2 accumulation (the primary heat trapping gas in the atmosphere) also appear to be ramping higher coincident with the influence of a monster El Nino now taking place in the Pacific acting together with global greenhouse gas emissions from human fossil fuel burning that remain near all-time record highs. As large regions of the global ocean warm, the ocean’s ability to act as a carbon sink becomes inhibited. In more extreme cases, where the sea surface temperatures of an ocean that’s already saturated with human-emitted carbon become too warm, then CO2 starts to vent back into the atmosphere. And with what is possibly the strongest El Nino on record occurring coincident with a period of massive fossil fuel based carbon emissions, impacts to the rate of atmospheric CO2 accumulation can become quite dramatic.

It’s for this reason that El Nino years in the context of massive, human-based burning can see spiking global CO2 readings. And it appears that just such an event may now be underway.

Mauna Loa 3 ppm CO2 increase december to december

(Atmospheric CO2 levels pushing rapidly above 400 parts per million is the ugly legacy of human-based fossil fuel burning. Most recent two-year section of the Keeling Curve shows a substantial accumulation of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere that is well above the current and already very rapid average annual accumulation of 2.2 parts per million each year. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

According observations taken by Dr Ralph Keeling and fellow researchers at the Mauna Loa Observatory, atmospheric CO2 concentrations jumped by more than 3 parts per million from December of 2014 through December of 2015. This jump in concentration is pretty far in excess of average annual rates of increase in the range of 2.2 parts per million CO2 each year that have been ongoing since the early-to-mid 2000s.

With El Nino still ongoing, we should continue to see such ocean-warming related impacts on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue into 2016. Impacts that may be further enhanced as another strong westerly wind burst along the Equatorial Pacific will likely serve to reinvigorate the current El Nino — making its already substantial influence more long-lasting.

Links:

NOAA OSPO

NOAA ESRL

The Keeling Curve

CO2: The Principle Control Nob Governing Earth’s Temperature

A4R Global Methane Tracking

Hat Tip to mlparrish

Hat Tip to islandraider

 

 

The Carbon Bubble is Bursting

I admit it. I felt sorry for those poor, duped oil, gas and coal company investors back during the early part of 2015. Many of these guys, fed a constant stream of bad information from the financial news sources, at the time were still enraptured by the notion that fossil fuel stocks were then cheap and that the situation was nothing more than some kind of golden buying opportunity.

Now, six months later, 41 US oil and gas companies have gone bankrupt, powerful major oil companies like Exxon and BP are in the range of 20-40 percent losses in stock price year-on-year, most gas companies have seen even more severe losses, and most coal companies have been reduced to junk stock status (see Arch Coal declares bankruptcy). TransCanada, the parent company of the canceled Keystone XL Pipeline, is challenging United States sovereignty with its 15 billion dollar lawsuit. But it’s questionable if the company will even exist long enough to see the results of its NAFTA-based legal challenge.

Arch Coal stock price

(Arch Coal, one of the largest coal companies in the US, filed for bankruptcy today. The company’s stock price has plunged from 300 dollars per share in 2011 to 58 cents per share today. A total loss to investors of 99.88 percent. The dirtiest burning fossil fuel — coal energy faces headwinds from increasing competition by renewable energy, stronger national policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions, as well as a strong push for fossil fuel divestment by environmentalists and those who have increasing concerns about the impact of human-forced climate change. Image source: CNN Money.)

It’s as if All of Fossil Fuels Were Solyndra

It’s like the curse of Solyndra has been revisited on the entire fossil fuel industry. But while the renewable energy industry is undergoing its biggest boom ever, the fossil fuel industry’s own bad investments, bad performance, bad decisions, and overall bad impacts on pretty much everything from the increasingly wrecked global climate, to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, to Oklahoma fracking earthquakes, to the debacle that is the Porter Ranch gas leak, are sinking it even faster than its carbon emissions are melting the Arctic sea ice.

Back during 2013 and 2014 we warned that continued investment in oil, gas and coal companies was a really bad idea — one that probably represented the worst malinvestment in the history of finance. A carbon bubble that was worse even than the bad real estate investments that led up to the financial collapse of 2008. Trillions-upon-trillions of dollars encouraged by more than 500 billion dollars worth of subsidy support globally from the world’s governments each year. And to what end? Producing fuels which, contrary to wind and solar, increase in price the more you use them even as they wreck the very natural wealth that is the basis for healthy economic systems the world over.

And now the markets are being driven to the brink by just such a terrible malinvestment. Now major fossil fuel supporters are crying crocodile tears to their friends in Congress — asking them to shore up these big, polluting, malinvesting fossil fuel special interests. In other other words — the fossil fuel industry has now gone panhandling to the US government for a bailout after a risky and speculative oil and gas production binge. The fruits of drill-baby-drill thinking resulting in both economic and environmental collapse.

The Cheap Energy Age and Saudi Arabia’s Use of the Cheap Oil Lever

How did this all happen? Well, much talk-talk has appropriately centered around the topic of Saudia Arabia. But, as with many issues covered in the news today, the current conversation over Saudi’s move to turn on the oil taps lacks the full and appropriate context. It’s probably true that Saudi Arabia opened up the spigots in an effort to tamp down competition from US fracking interests and from other high-price but high volume competitors overseas. An issue that short-sighted conservatives and Wall Street vs Main-Street blow-hards like Trump have used to drum up much misplaced rage.

BLOG-Trump-Probably-Hates-This-News-About-Wind-Energy-0722-2015

(Fossil fuel cheerleaders like Donald Trump seem both outraged and perplexed by the fall in fossil fuel fortunes even as wind, solar and electric vehicles make new gains. Image source: Donald Trump Probably Hates This Wind Energy News.)

But the story often not told is the one where wind energy, solar energy, and efficiencies have now become an increasingly competitive player in the energy sector. If one considers jobs growth alone, a single US renewable energy sector — solar — added 35,000 jobs during 2015 growing to more than 208,000. By comparison, the entire US oil and gas extraction industry composed just 199,000 jobs at the start of 2015 and by its end had contracted by 14,000 to 185,000. This point is worth reconsidering for a few moments — just one renewable energy industry now supports more US jobs than the entirety of all the oil and gas extraction interests combined.

What’s going on in the US is part of a growing global trend. In many regions now, wind and solar are competitive with natural gas and coal as well as with diesel electric generation. In total, more than 106 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity from wind and solar alone was likely installed globally over the course of 2015 (see wind capacity forecast here and solar capacity forecast here). Since over 3 million barrels of oil go to diesel electricity generation around the world, this new generation directly competes with that source. In addition, natural gas, which is fungible with oil in many markets, is also being increasingly crowded out by cheap renewables. With coal also under price pressure, the world was flooded with a glut — not only of oil, but of cheap energy sources of all kinds.

Perhaps even more of a threat to the fossil fuel industry was a growing shift within the auto industry toward renewable and high fuel efficiency vehicles. This shift was driven in large part by major countries and influential regions like the US, EU, and China providing ever-higher fuel efficiency standards for their vehicle fleets. The tip of the spear to this effort, of course, is in the growing expansion of electrical vehicle access. And despite ever-lower oil prices around the world, electric vehicle sales continue along at a rather substantial rate of growth — jumping from 320,000 total global EV sales during 2014 to 447,000 total EV sales during 2015. Marking the first time a major oil glut has not dramatically reduced the rate of electric vehicle sales growth.

In this global context of both fossil fuel glut and ramping renewable energy adoption, it was impossible for Saudi Arabia to defend the price of oil without losing much of its market share. And with so many new energy systems coming to the fore, it was all-too-likely that the kingdom would eventually see that market share whittled away entirely. Saudi’s only recourse to defend its markets was to open the pumps and flood the world with cheap crude. But as it did, the move shifted the burden of fossil fuel market erosion back to the highest price, and often dirtiest, producers. In other words — fracking, tar sands and the various marginal mines and fields around the world.

Deepwater Horizon

(Major disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Porter Ranch gas leak have aided in the fall of fossil fuel industry fortunes. But the pervasive and growing concern over human-forced climate change is likely to have an even broader impact. Image source: NOAA.)

So who’s really to blame? In all honesty, those currently seeking the bailout by Congress deserve at least as much of it as the Saudis. They were the ones who over-invested in oil, gas and coal and who failed to see a world in which even heavily subsidized fossil fuels couldn’t compete on the margins with emerging renewable energy and efficiencies. And they were the same fools who also denied climate change. A generation-spanning crisis that is now about to make the 2015 blow to the fossil fuel industry look like the proverbial tempest in a tea-pot.

COP 21’s Ongoing Influence

To this point, we should also be very clear that human-forced climate change is starting to have a serious impact on global policy-making. The storms, floods, droughts, sea level rise, glacial decline, ocean health decline, and mass displacements of human beings and wildlife related to climate change just keep getting worse and worse. So pressure on policy-makers from all corners for comprehensive actions to reduce the harm caused by human forced climate change is growing quite intense.

It is due to this increasingly urgent call to action that the recent stated COP 21 goals were the strongest yet coming from any climate conference. And though they are not yet enough to provide much hope for avoiding a very dangerous and deadly 2 C warming this Century, the goals, if applied, do shift the world solidly away from the ridiculously catastrophic business as usual fossil fuel burning path.

In total, the conference committed to a 40 percent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2030. Further emissions reductions commitments continue on through 2050 at 75 percent. The conference also aimed to increase the renewable energy share of the global energy market to 32 percent by 2030 even as it aimed to reduce total energy consumption by 50 percent by 2050. Adding in even a mild carbon pricing or carbon tax regime and what this means is that the fossil fuel industry is looking at decades of recession and retraction. And since most scientists are now saying that COP21 isn’t enough, that more stringent policy measures will be needed to rapidly reduce carbon emissions, it appears that the harmful practice of burning fossil fuels is being set on a path toward ending this Century.

So once again, as we warned before — the carbon bubble is bursting. The end of the age of fossil fuels is at hand. Fossil fuel investor — beware.

Links:

Arch Coal Declares Bankruptcy

TransCanada Sues US For 15 Billion Dollars

Go Fossil Fuel Free

41 US Oil and Gas Companies Have Gone Bankrupt

CNN Money

The Oklahoma Fracking Earthquakes

The Porter Ranch Gas Leak

Bankrupt Fossil Fuel Industry Seeks Bailout From Congress

59 Gigawatts of New Wind Energy Capacity for 2015

57 Gigawatts of New Solar Energy Capacity for 2015

Electric Vehicles See Major Sales Growth Through 2015

NOAA

COP 21 Success or Failure?

National Solar Jobs Census

Bureau of Labor Statistics — Oil and Gas Extraction Jobs

Hat tip to Greg

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