We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Graph — Global Sea Level Rise Just Went off the Chart

From end 2014 through Fall of 2015 global sea levels surged. Building heat hitting +1 C above 1880s averages in the atmosphere-ocean system continued to set off a range of what appear to be ramping impacts. Thermal expansion grew more dramatic as oceans continued to heat up during what may be a record El Nino year. Rates of land ice melt continued to increase — providing a greater and greater fraction of overall global sea level rise. And global ocean currents showed signs of a melt-spurred change — which resulted in an uneven distribution of this overall rise.

We’re Going to Need A Bigger Graph

During that less than one year time, seas rose by fully 1 centimeter. That’s three times the ‘normal’ rate that’s been roughly ongoing since the early 1990s. A big bump that’s now part of a three-and-a-half-year, 3-centimeter surge. One more sign that global sea level rise is starting to really ramp up.

AVISO Sea level rise

(Global sea level rise since 1992 hits past the 8 centimeter mark in the AVISO altimetric graph. Image source: AVISO.)

This big, one-centimeter, jump topped the previous AVISO graph, which went up to 8 centimeters, forcing the measure to generate a new graph with a 9 centimeter top like. In other words, ‘we’re gonna need a bigger graph’ (See the old, smaller, graph here). Unfortunately, with some of the world’s top scientists predicting the potential for an exponentially increasing rate of sea level rise through this Century, it appears that ‘we’re gonna need a bigger graph’ may well become the scientific rallying cry of the age.

Possibility of Exponential Increase in Rate of Sea Level Rise

This year’s seemingly-staggering, 1 centimeter and counting, jump in sea level in less than one year, if maintained over the course of a century would result in a more than 1 meter global rise. Sadly, many new studies on the rate of glacier destabilization in Antarctica and Greenland hint that such a significant jump in sea level is not only likely, but may even be significantly exceeded under business as usual or even a moderately curtailed rate of fossil fuel burning.

A new study led by former NASA GISS head Dr. James Hansen points to the possibility of as much as 3 meters of sea level rise by mid Century and 7 meters or more of sea level rise by end Century even if the global economy somewhat steps off its current high trajectory of fossil fuel burning.


(Steadily ramping sea level rise that may be the start of an exponential curve. Image source: Research Conducted by Dr. James Hansen.)

Such massive rates of sea level rise would clearly be catastrophic.

In such cases, we’d start to see these kinds of exponential increases really begin to ramp up over the next 10, 20, and 30 years. And, given the rather large bumps we’re seeing in the AVISO measure for the past 3 and a half years, it’s possible we’re at the start of one of these potential step changes.


AVISO Sea Level Rise

Halfway to 2 C — World Approaching Dangerous Climate Milestone

Global Sea Level Rise Going Exponential?

Human-Warmed Southern Ocean Takes Aim at East Antarctica

Warning From Scientists: Age of Superstorms, Rapid Sea Level Rise Likely on the Way

Dr. James Hansen Columbia University



Climate Change Superstorm Redux? Joaquin Shows Some Eerie Similarities to Sandy in Forecast.

It’s an El Nino year. So that’s supposed to mean a quiet Atlantic Hurricane Season, right? But as the tenth storm of 2015 threatens intensification, very heavy rains, and broadening wind fields as it’s expected to cloak itself in a frontal storm along a track a little south of Sandy — it appears a climate change — riled ocean and atmospheric system have failed to get the message.

Anyone looking at today’s ocean-atmospheric conditions and the Global Forecast System model run predictions probably couldn’t shake off the shivers as a number of chilling similarities to Superstorm Sandy began to show up in the five day outlook. The forecast is very, very uncertain. But it appears we might have a developing Superstorm-like Joaquin on our hands.

According to Mike Smith of Accuweather:

“There is going to be catastrophic flooding from North Carolina to Massachusetts, and this is going to disrupt the economy regardless of whether or not Hurricane Joaquin makes landfall.”

All Eyes on Joaquin As Climate Change Pattern Dominates North Atlantic


(GFS water vapor and wind forecast for October 2 shows a category 2-3 Jaoquine interacting with a powerful trough stretching down across the US East Coast. A trough extending all the way from Norway. Though not a polar trough like the one that interacted with Sandy, and though Joaquin’s characteristics aren’t as likely to go extra-tropical like Sandy, the broadening wind field, the potential left turn and the superstorm combining of trough and hurricane are potentially similar features. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

A freakish ‘Storms of My Grandchildren‘ type cool pool dominates the northern Atlantic. The backed-up Gulf Stream off the US East Coast is super hot (1-6 degrees Celsius above average). A massive trough is digging in — telegraphing from Norway through Iceland on to Southern Greenland, extending yet southwest over Newfoundland and the Northeastern and Mid Atlantic US. Further south, a developing Hurricane Joaquin over the Bahamas is about to shake hands with this massive trough. Just south of Newfoundland, a blocking high pressure system appears ready to bar Joaquin’s passage to the north and east. Setting up the potential for Joaquin to embed in the trough, to develop a rapidly expanding wind field even as it strengthens, and to possibly make a sickening left turn into the US East Coast.

Sound familiar? If so, it’s because you heard a similar story back during late October of 2012.

Jaoquin Forecast — Very Stormy Five Days for US East Coast

Currently, Jaoquine is a strengthening category category 2 hurricane packing 105 mile per hour (updated) winds as it drifts toward the southwest near the eastern Bahamas. Over the next two days Jaoquin is expected to strengthen, possibly into a powerful major hurricane, even as it begins to track toward the north and west. This track will result in its interacting with the large trough mentioned above. Even if Jaoquine does not make landfall, its interaction with the trough is expected to dump substantial and torrential amounts of rainfall from North Carolina on through New England even as it drives a broad tropical storm force wind field and related storm surge onto shore.

Jaoquine Rainfall

(NOAA five day rainfall forecast shows potential for significant related flooding for the Eastern Seaboard. Image source NOAA CPC.)

According to NOAA forecasts, 5 day rainfall totals are now expected to exceed 7 inches throughout large sections of North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland with measures in excess of 5 inches expected from South Carolina all the way to Nantucket.

Joaquin’s wind field is also expected to expand as it interacts with both the trough and large circulation of the blocking high to the north and east. This broad wind field will bring at least strong nor-easter like conditions to the US East Coast. But the broad clockwise circulation off the blocking high also heightens risks that Joaquine will be shoved onshore even as it strengthens.

Current model runs bring a powerful category 1-3 Joaquine, packing a broad wind field with maximum strength from 90-115 mph, on shore near the North Carolina/Virginia border at around 2 PM Eastern Time on Sunday, October 4:

Joaquin track

(The National Hurricane Center shows Joaquin following a course the brings it over the Outer Banks and up the Chesapeake Bay. A worst case track for many sections of the US East Coast. Image source: NHC.)

If such a forecast does play out, it’s bad news. Very very bad news. It would represent a potentially very severe category 1-3 storm embedded in a large wind field and an even larger rain shield. A storm bringing heavy rains for days and lashing the coast with gale force winds up to 24 hours in advance of landfall. Features that would greatly enhance storm surge and flooding impacts — which could be very far reaching. It’s a dangerous potential interaction between Joaquine, a persistently extensive trough stretching across the North Atlantic, and one of the new, heavyweight, blocking patterns that have become so prevalent in this age of human-forced warming. One that could again wrap a hurricane in a, this time very wet, nor’easter.

Like Sandy, it would also serve as a herald for the oncoming new, more intense climate-change driven storms of our present age. Storms that have greater north-south energy exchanges. Storms that may be more more likely to form embedded or hybridized systems and storms that tap both the higher potential pressure and temperature differentials as well as an atmosphere that is more heavily laden with moisture.


The National Hurricane Center (Please publicly support!)

Current NOAA Joaquin in motion Infrared Graphic

Saffir Simpson Hurricane Scale

NOAA Five Day Rainfall Estimates (Frequently Updated)

Earth Nullschool

Is Joaquin Another Superstorm Sandy?

How Will Joaquin Compare to Isabel/Sandy?

California in Losing Battle With Climate Change as Wildfires Devour 700 Homes, Force 23,000 to Flee

The oceans and airs of the world are warming. The waters of the Northeastern Pacific have concentrated that heat — resulting in the formation of powerful high pressure systems never seen in modern human memory. Highs that have warded off rainfall from the US West Coast for the better part of five years. Highs that have boosted already above average heat for the region so that now California snowpacks are at their lowest levels in at least 500 years. A lack of rainfall and water flow from snow melt setting off the worst drought in at least 1,200 years. One that has greatly contributed to the death of millions of trees across the state and increased fire risk to extreme and likely never before seen levels.

(Escaping the Valley Fire. Central Valley resident flees unprecedented and dangerous climate change spurred fires late Sunday night. Human forced warming is making these fires more common — creating a very dangerous situation for the US West.)

For decades now, researchers have identified drought in the southwestern US as one of the primary hazards of human-forced climate change. But this year, after five years of related drying, some of the worst wildfires in the Golden State’s history are threatening both Sacramento and the Central Valley.

“We Have Nothing”

Now, as of early morning on Tuesday, nearly 150,000 acres of wildfires in Central California have destroyed more than 700 homes and over 1,200 structures, endangered more than 9,000 more, resulted in the calling up of an army of 2,000 firefighters (For this region alone. Across the US West more than 18,000 firefighters are battling blazes), killed at least one person, and forced more than 23,000 to flee (see more here). It’s an egregious human toll. One in which more and more people are saying heart-wrenching words like these — “We have nothing.”

(Climate change refugees in the USA. Thousands of California residents have been displaced and hundreds have lost their homes due to a recent severe wildfire outbreak related to human-caused climate change. Video source: State of Emergency Declared.)

Perhaps the worst thing of all about these globally mounting tragedies is the fact that these increasing instances of extreme, climate change driven weather, were preventable. Now we are forced to live with the damage, danger, and tragic loss of lives and homes we’ve already locked in. Now we are forced to hope that wiser leaders than the ones we’ve had thus far will work as hard as possible to limit the degree of terrible harm that is all too certainly on the way.

There are harsh consequences to dumping 11 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere each and every year. A rate faster, as an initial forcing, than at any rate in geological history. Governor Jerry Brown, horrified by the severity of the situation this week stated

“We are really in a battle with nature, … nature is more powerful than we are.”

Partly true. What’s really happening is that we’ve riled nature into a climate change driven frenzy of heat and fire. And it’s becoming too violent for us to manage.


Nature: California Snowpacks are at Lowest Levels in at Least 500 Years

California Experiencing Worst Drought in at Least 1,200 Years

Escaping the Valley Fire

Climate Change Risks Southwest’s Dustbowlification

One Dead As California Wildfires Rage

Valley Fires Have Destroyed 700 Homes

State of Emergency Declared

California Wildfires Raging

NASA: World Just Saw its Hottest June, July and August on Record

The world is now well on its way to seeing back-to-back hottest years on record. Unprecedented and amoral burning of fossil fuels is now forcing the global temperature average to rise into the range of 1 degree Celsius above 1880s averages — or halfway to a catastrophic 2 C warming. A level at which scientists believe many climate change tipping points will be irrevocably crossed.

June, July, August Were Hottest On Record

According to NASA GISS, global temperatures for the June, July and August period of 2015 were 0.78 degrees Celsius (C) above the 20th Century benchmark or about 0.98 C above 1880s averages — when global record keeping began. The previous hottest three month period occurred during 1998 at +0.72 C. Notably, June, July and August were the hottest three months for 1998. But for 2015, December, January and February came in at +0.83 C and March, April and May came in at +0.81 C. These extreme temperature departures, when combined with the June, July and August readings, now put 2015 at +0.80 C above average for its first 9 months — or well above any previous record-breaking year. A significant single year margin above the previous hottest year — 2014 — of +0.05 C (a single year rate of warming about 150 times the average rate of warming at the end of the last ice age).

August Temperature departures

(NASA GISS spatial anomalies map for August of 2015. Image Source: NASA)

August of 2015 Comes in As Second Hottest Amidst Global Warming And El Nino Signature Temperature Anomalies

August itself came in at +0.81 C above NASA’s 20th Century benchmark average. This departure marked the second hottest August reading in the 135 year temperature record, falling just 0.01 C behind the previous hottest August reading hit just last year (2014).

Geographic distribution of temperature anomalies continue to show the signatures of both a strong El Nino and a growing climate change related signal. The August El Nino signature was particularly strong in the Eastern and Central Equatorial Pacific with 1-4 degree Celsius hotter than normal temperature departures dominating the region. This heat extended throughout the anomalous ‘Hot Blob’ or ‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge’ zone that has continued to be dominated by extreme sea surface temperature departures with 1-4 degree Celsius above normal temperatures pervading. Such extreme heat was linked to equally extreme drought and wildfire conditions dominating broad sections of the North American west throughout the month. Conditions that, for many areas, have been endemic for many months running.

Anomalous heat also dominated the land masses of South America, Europe, South Africa, and the Lake Baikal region of Russia. These areas experienced some or all of the following: extreme drought, wildfires, water resource stresses, extreme heat-related weather, and heatwaves. A cool pool in the Northern Atlantic between England and Newfoundland remained a prominent feature. This cool region is associated with climate change related conditions that are now in the process of weakening both the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic bottom water formation. It’s a set of conditions that weakens equator to mid-latitude heat transport and intensifies the North Atlantic storm track. An upshot of human-forced warming that has been predicted for decades by even the most rudimentary of global climate models but that now appears to be cropping up a bit earlier than previously expected (see World Ocean Heartbeat Fading?). Persistent troughs over Eastern North America and Western Russia also generated their own cool pools. Meanwhile, surface temperatures over Central Antarctica dipped into cooler values — likely associated with intensification of storm systems in the Southern Ocean.

Zonal Anomalies

(NASA zonal temperature anomalies show a signature consisted with strong El Nino and related equatorial warming. Image source: NASA GISS.)

NASA’s zonal anomalies map also displayed a strong El Nino signature with the global equatorial zone showing the highest above average temperature departures (in the range of +1.3 degrees Celsius). This extreme heat maintained throughout the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes all the way to 60 North before falling off to between +0.2 to +0.4 C near the pole. Progressing southward, anomalies steadily declined, even dipping into a range of 0 to -0.9 C anomalies in the region of 75 to 90 South.

Conditions in Context — Record High Temperatures and Related Extreme Weather in the Pipe

Consistent high temperature departures near the Equator, as we see now, tend to aid both in storm track intensification and a general flattening of the Jet Stream. Though these conditions have not yet dominated in the Northeastern Pacific, a continuation of the August temperature departure pattern and related strong El Nino will likely both intensify the Northeastern Pacific and North Atlantic storm tracks as Fall progresses. Such a shift, however, would have to be very extreme to bust the 3 year running California Drought.

Overall temperature departures for both August and for the June, July, August period are well outside the range of anything that could be considered normal and are swiftly rising to more and more unsafe and climate destabilizing levels. The emergence of the North Atlantic cool pool is a feature specifically related to storm intensification and regional and global weather destabilization. A feature predicted by global climate models due to human forced warming, related melting of Greenland ice, and the upshot slowing down of critical ocean currents. The recent unprecedented Hot Blob in the Northeastern Pacific was likewise predicted in the scientific research as a result of human forced warming — a feature that, it was warned, could result in much warmer and drier conditions for the North American West Coast. Climate change related heat signatures such as these clearly show in the NASA monitor even as the global measure keeps rising to new and more dangerous extremes.


NASA GISS Global Temperature Analysis

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

(Please support public, non special interest based, science like the fantastic work done by NASA’s GISS division and without which this report and related analysis would not have been possible.)




New Study — Risk of Significant Methane Release From East Siberian Arctic Shelf Still Growing

Large plumes of methane bubbling up from the Arctic Ocean sea-bed, saturating the water column, venting into the air, adding significantly more heat forcing to an already dangerous, fossil fuel-based, accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s a nightmare scenario. One in which human-forced warming, already at 1 C above 1880s levels, is further amplified through the feedback release of ancient carbon stored over the past 8 million years of Northern Hemisphere glaciation. And a recent study by the now famous Semiletov and Shakhova team provides still more reason for appropriate concern that such an event may be in the works.

ESAS methane release organic carbon store

(Shakhova and Semiletov’s new study produces an increasingly clear picture of a destabilizing organic carbon store beneath thawing permafrost in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf region. The above images show organic carbon concentration [left frame] and rate of release of methane in grams per square meter per day over observed regions. Image source: The Royal Society.)

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By now, many of us are familiar with the controversy over the potential risks of significant-to-catastrophic methane release due to human-forced warming of the ArcticAn increasing number of observational specialists are pointing toward a risk that rapid human warming will set off the release of still more carbon in the Arctic. For some, this release is expected to be gradual. Others believe there’s enough risk of a rapid release to warrant an equally rapid emergency response.

But regardless of where you stand on the issue, new research coming to light from some of the Arctic’s top observational scientists more clearly describes what appears to be an increasingly dangerous situation.

Disintegrating Permafrost Cap in ESAS

At issue is the fact that, at the end of the last ice age, a great store of permafrost carbon was submerged as the Arctic Ocean rose. A low lying region containing about 500 billion tons of carbon as methane became inundated by the shallow sea that is the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS). The waters of this sea remained cold — below the freezing point of non-salt water in its lower reaches for most of the year. But, in some places, warmth invaded, and it is thought that small portions of the permafrost cap deteriorated.

In the near shore zones and in geologically active zones, methane conduits called taliks developed. And from these expanding taliks an increasing amount of methane bubbled to the surface.

Submerged Thermokarst Lake

(Ivashkina Lagoon was once a thermokarst lake. It has since been flooded by the Laptev Sea. For much of the time of inundation, the fresh water lake surface remained frozen. It is now thawing and releasing its organic carbon store as methane. Image source: The Royal Society.)

However, for the most part, the permafrost cap over the methane stores remained in tact — waiting to be rejuvenated by a new ice age. That is, until human industry belched billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, removing the possibility of a new ice age and forcing the world ocean and connecting Arctic Ocean to begin to warm in excess of peak Holocene temperatures. This warming, twice as fast in the Arctic as in the rest of the world, added still more heat pressure to the permafrost cap locking methane within the ESAS sea floor.

Now, more and more permafrost beneath the shallow ESAS waters is starting to thaw. And this, much more rapid than normal thaw is resulting in an increasing risk that methane stores beneath the permafrost cap will destabilize.

Shallow Waters, Geothermal Hot Spots, Taliks

Recent observational records by Dr. Natalia Shakhova and Dr. Igor Semiletov have found what they hypothesize to be an expanding array of methane vents in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf sea bed. According to their recent research, the vents appear to be growing more robust — bubbling up greater volumes of methane from a more vigorous and inter-connected network of channel beneath the thawing sea floor.

Atmospheric Methane September 6 2015

(Ever since 2005, atmospheric methane levels have again been on the rise. Much of this increase may be due to human emissions. However, an overburden of atmospheric methane and carbon dioxide in the Arctic zone hints that destabilizing carbon stores may also be adding substantial volumes of greenhouse gasses to the world’s airs. Image source: NOAA OSPO.)

Currently, according to Shakhova and Semiletov, methane emissions are most vigorous in the near-shore region of the ESAS and in the offshore slope region. Shakhova and Semiletov believe that near shore emissions are increasingly active due to rapid warming occurring there. Not only are the regional waters impacted by a rapidly warming Siberian land mass. They also see the flux of hotter waters from rivers issuing from the continent. As a result, the near shore region is most vulnerable to permafrost thaw and destabilization. In the slope zone, however, geological features are more active. These features provide a natural heat for the formation of taliks. And though most of this region was once frozen to the point that even geological activity did not result in methane venting, the now warming permafrost cap is generating weaker regions that natural geological heat can exploit to greater and greater degrees.

Sea Ice Melt, Storms, Heighten Methane Emissions

Ever since the mid 2000s Shakhova and Semiletov have observed what appears to be a generally heightened methane emission coming from the ESAS. Estimates for total release rates have doubled and then doubled again. By 2013, the scientists were estimating that 17 million tons of methane was venting from the ESAS sea surface each year.

The increased rate of methane release is not only due to permafrost thaw on the sea floor. It is also due to an increase in large polynyas in the ESAS during winter time as well as an overall increase in the area of open water that can be impacted by storms. An ice locked ESAS keeps more of its methane in the water column and gives the methane a longer period to be absorbed by the water or consumed by microbes. But as the ice recedes, more of the methane is able to break the surface and reach the airs above. In addition, ice free seas are more susceptible to the action of storms. Storms increase wave heights, increase the rate of breaking waves, and reduces ocean surface stratification. As a result methane moves more rapidly through the upper level water column and encounters a larger surface area from which to transfer from water to air.

An ice free ESAS is not only warmer, generating more destabilization forcing to the permafrost cap which locks in methane, it is also more and more devoid of the surface ice cap which acts as a secondary barrier to methane to air transfer.

Shakhova, Semiletov Recommend Adding ESAS Methane Release to Global Climate Models

Shakhova and Semiletov’s findings continue to compel them to issue warnings over the prospect of continuing increases in methane emissions from the ESAS and nearby seas. They conclude:

The observed range in CH4 emissions associated with different degrees of subsea permafrost disintegration implies substantial and potent emission enhancement in the ESAS as the process of subsea permafrost thawing progresses with time. While it is still unclear how quickly CH4 flux rates will change, the current process of Arctic warming and associated sea ice loss will accelerate this process. The potential for the release of substantial amounts of CH4 from the ESAS region has important implications not only for atmospheric CH4 concentrations but also, given CH4‘s potency as a greenhouse gas, for the global climate. Because the ESAS contains the largest and arguably most vulnerable stores of subsea CH4, inclusion of the ESAS source in global climate models should be considered a high priority.


The East Siberian Arctic Shelf: Further Assessment of Permafrost Related Fluxes and the Role of Sea Ice

Double the Rate of Methane Release From the Arctic Sea Floor


Concern Over Arctic Methane Release

Threat of Permafrost Destabilization is ‘Real and Imminent’


Hothouse Monsters Clash: Godzilla El Nino Pummels Pacific’s Hot Blob

Two climate change spawned monsters are duking it out over thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean waters. And in a human heated world its an epic battle between these two warming fueled atmospheric and oceanic goliaths — the Godzilla El Nino versus the Pacific Ocean’s Hot Blob.

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Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. RRR. Blocking high pressure system. All names given to a sprawling heat dome that has plagued the U.S. West Coast for the better part of two years running. It’s a weather system largely responsible for the California drought — the worst in at least 1200 years. A weather system implicated in an extraordinarily intense outbreak of wildfires across the North American West from Alaska through British Columbia and all along the US West Coast — including within the usually moist rain forests of Washington and Oregon.


(The RRR is shrinking and increasingly besieged by storms. A sign that the El Nino related Pacific Storm track intensification is beginning to assert. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

It’s a system connected to a climate change-enforced melting of Arctic sea ice and a similarly forced warming of the Northeastern Pacific Sea surface far above typical temperatures (see here, here, and here). An unprecedented and extreme heating of waters into a ‘Hot Blob’ stretching for thousands of miles. A related drying of airs. Oceanic and atmospheric heat energy generating an implacable atmospheric bully. A high pressure system so powerful it typically flung Pacific Ocean storms far off course — as far north as the High Arctic.

But now the RRR is starting to weaken. Its great northward extending ridge has retreated from Alaska. Intense storms exploding out from a system that is likely to rival the strongest El Nino on record (1997-1998) are now surrounding the ridge, nibbling away at its edges, cooling the waters of the hot blob through Ekman pumping, and raging on through Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.


(Storm-based upwelling is starting to cool Northeastern Pacific Ocean waters in a region that has been dominated by the Hot Blob during recent years. A condition that is undermining some of the RRR’s support. El Nino based storm generation to the south will likely continue to aim blows at this oceanic heat base. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

It’s early sign of RRR collapse. That the Hot Blob is starting to fail. With some of the precursors to likely far more intense Fall and Winter storms starting to get caught up into its spiraling decline. And as sea surface temperature anomalies are likely to hit 2.0 to 2.3 C above average in the Niño 3.4 zone in this week’s NOAA El Niño report, more RRR-challenging storms are likely on the way.

As Ricky Rood over at Weather Underground said this week it’s Godzilla vs the Blob. And Godzilla, at this point, appears to have the upper hand. And once the Blob goes down there’s nothing to keep what are likely to be some seriously epic storms slamming into the west coast of North America this Fall and Winter. But according to recent science, there’s a high risk that the Blob will creep on back as the Godzilla El Nino retreats during mid to late 2016. And for the West Coast that means high risk of a pretty vicious cycle of drought to flood to drought. A dangerous weather pattern intrinsically related to human-forced climate change.


Earth Nullschool

Godzilla Versus the Blob

California Drought Worst in 1200 Years

Climatologist Who Predicted California Drought Says it May Soon be Even More Dire

Dr. Jennifer Francis: Arctic Sea Ice, the Jet Stream and Climate Change

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

“Everything I was Dreaming of is Gone” — How Climate Change is Spurring a Global Refugee Crisis to Rapidly Worsen

Over the past two weeks, news of the plight of a swelling wave of refugees fleeing to Europe has filled the mainstream media. We looked on in horror at reports of innocent human beings fleeing destabilized countries in the Middle East, of people suffocating while stuffed into the backs of trucks, of drowned children washed up on the shores of nations their families had hoped would care for them.

It’s all a part of a growing global mass migration. A tragic dislocation and diaspora. But this time it’s not only birds, or polar bears, or fish, or walruses, or insects, or plants that are being forced to move by habitat and food loss, by toxified environments or by increasingly dangerous weather. It’s human beings too.

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“Everything I was Dreaming of is Gone”

(Dead Syrian toddler is not only a victim of conflict. He is a victim of a destabilized climate. Video source: Here)

In the above video we are rightfully compelled to compassion for a drowned boy and his family. A family suffering in a country ripped apart by conflict. A country fractured by insurgent forces that will use any form of brutality to gain and secure power. And in this very narrow frame we are provided with a perpetrator — ISIS — and an-all-too innocent victim. The call for warfare against the human monsters that make up ISIS is clear. But the conditions that created the monster in the first place, as happens all too often with climate change, are completely ignored.

Climate Change as Threat Multiplier in Syria

Syria was never a stable country. At least not so long as colonial and post colonial powers inhibited its development as a functional state. There was always a reason for interference in Syria’s affairs and for a related exploitation of its resources. As the fossil fuel age dawned, such interference became even more intense. Powerful nations and empires wanted Syria’s oil. And when Syria’s oil was gone and the country left suffering from the bitter after-effects of that resource’s deleterious curse, those same powers wanted Syria to remain both stable and weak. To remain sidelined so as not to influence the flow of oil from nearby countries. Countries like Iraq where the West has conducted an ongoing war since the early 1990s.

We justified this under such international relations terms as the realism-based ‘rational self interest of nations.’ And it was this self interest paradigm that national and international businesses — primarily oil companies — used to justify an ongoing exploitation of an increasingly fractured land, its people, and of a resource itself whose continued burning would make an ugly situation far, far worse.

On October 13 of 2014, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called human-forced climate change, through the fossil fuel based dumping of carbon into the atmosphere, a ‘threat multiplier’ saying:

“Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.”

What he failed to mention, however, was that for Syria and ISIS it had already happened.

The Drought that Forged ISIS

Before there was ISIS, there was drought. A three year long drought beginning in 2007 and finally ending in 2010. A drought so severe and intense that it basically wiped out Syria’s farming industry. The farmers, mostly family farmers, were faced with a situation in which water use was terribly constrained (due to the combined drought severity and the short-sighted policies of the Syrian government). Farm after farm failed. By 2011, more than 1.5 million people had migrated from the ruined and desiccated rural farms to the cities. Cities that, in turn, became hot-beds of unrest and insurgency.

NOAA Syria worst drought on record

(Map published by NOAA in its 2011 report on Mediterranean drought during 2005 to 2010. In a related finding, Syria experienced its worst drought on record during 2007 to 2010 resulting in the mass loss of farmland and the displacement of 1.5 million people to urban centers. Image source: NOAA — Climate Change Probably A Factor in Syria’s Civil War.)

A scientific report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March found that Syria’s epic 2007-2010 drought had been developing over the course of a century of warming. That the drought was both spurred and made more severe by human forced climate change. And that the increased intensity of drought added by human forced warming likely pushed Syria’s rural farms past the breaking point. The report noted:

There is evidence that the 2007−2010 drought contributed to the conflict in Syria. It was the worst drought in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers. Century-long observed trends in precipitation, temperature, and sea-level pressure, supported by climate model results, strongly suggest that anthropogenic forcing has increased the probability of severe and persistent droughts in this region, and made the occurrence of a 3-year drought as severe as that of 2007−2010 2 to 3 times more likely than by natural variability alone. We conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict.

The drought, therefore, led to desperation, hunger, anger, and unrest. It provided a mass of displaced persons who had lost the means to provide for themselves and their families. It provided both the trigger and the means for the development of what would later become ISIS (for more on how the Syrian drought helped destabilize the country you can read this brief, but very informative, comic strip). Threat multiplier indeed.

Worst Heatwave in 130 Years Forces Russian Crop Failures, Spurs Arab Spring

As is well known, the flood of refugees coming to European shores are not solely Syrian. Libya, Egypt and a broad number of African and Middle Eastern countries now face destabilizing unrest, violence, and growing numbers of internally displaced persons seeking asylum in other countries. It is this now endemic instability and displacement that can be primarily linked back to two events — drought-spurred crop failures in 2010 and the related food riots that ignited what is now known as the Arab Spring.

For as Syria was experiencing its worst drought in a century, the most intense heatwave in at least 130 years was in the process of also crippling Russia’s agriculture. This terrible heatwave spurred fires, wrecked crops and resulted in the hothouse mass casualty deaths of over 50,000 Russian people. It was an unprecedented event that climate scientist Stephan Rahmstorf identified as 80 percent more likely due to human-forced warming of the atmosphere and oceans. An event that put Russia, typically a major grain exporter, in such a terrible food security situation that it was forced to halt grain exports entirely.

Wildfires and Pyrocumulous Clouds over Russia During the Great Heatwave of 2010

(Wildfires and pyrocumulous clouds over Russia during the great heatwave of 2010. A heatwave that killed 50,000 people and crippled Russia’s agricultural industry. Image source: Earth Observatory and Discovery News.)

By 2011, global food prices — spurred ever-higher by wide-ranging droughts and extreme weather — put millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa in a desperate situation. Food became less and less accessible. In Egypt, the plight of a child set off mass food riots. These food riots spread across the Middle East resulting in the collapse of Egyptian, Syrian, and Libyan governments. Setting in place the severe refugee situation we see today.

Climate Change as Trigger to Europe’s Refugee Crisis

In emerging threats terminology, given the scientific basis for climate change’s influence on extreme weather events related to the refugee crisis, related to the destabilization and collapse of nations, we can identify the Syrian and Russian droughts and heatwaves as precursor crisis influencing and trigger events. What the US Department of Defense terms threat multipliers. Climate change, in this instance, made the Syrian drought and the Russian heatwave worse. These impacts in turn increased desperation, displacement, and hunger in numerous countries spurring unrest and, in some cases, societal collapse.

In Syria, 1.5 million people were directly displaced as the result of a climate change worsened drought. In the Middle East as a whole, nations were indirectly destabilized due to a crop-destroying and climate change worsened heatwave in Russia which set off a wide-ranging food crisis. This destabilization, in its turn, led to still more internally displaced persons in places like Libya and Egypt. Many of whom eventually joined the rising flood of human traffic to the still greener shores of Europe.

And it is in this way that climate change is a root cause to Europe’s refugee crisis. For without climate change we remove the extreme weather amplifier which is a trigger to the whole growing disaster.

Refugee Crisis is Massive, Global, and Growing

Unfortunately, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East are not the only regions seeing growing bodies of internally and internationally displaced persons. This week, President Obama in a recent visit highlighted the plight of tens of thousands of Alaskan coastal dwellers whose 31 communities are being devoured by an increasingly stormy and rising Arctic Ocean. In Pakistan coastal farmers are fleeing inland as the fertile lands in the Indus River Delta are being tainted with salt. So far, the count of migrant climate change refugees due to farmland loss is 150,000 Pakistanis. But as seas continue to rise, the situation only worsens. In Bangladesh, cities are already overcrowded with tens of thousand fleeing a rapidly receding coastline. And in the Pacific, low lying island dwellers in the Maldives, Kirubati, and hundreds of other shrinking atolls are seeking homes in far-flung countries possessing lands well above the rising tides.

Kivalina Alaska Washed Away

(Kivalina, Alaska is one of 31 communities now being devoured by the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea due to a combination of sea level rise, permafrost thaw, and increased wave action due to loss of sea ice. Image source: The Union of Concerned Scientists.)

In total, around the world, 158 million people were displaced by extreme weather events related to climate change since 2008. The fires, floods, hurricanes, extreme droughts, heatwaves and other storms are all growing worse, more violent, more likely to destroy homes and livelihoods. And it’s due to the heat we’ve added into the Earth’s climate system that extreme weather is now a greater direct cause of displacement than even the terrible scourge of warfare.

Some of the persons driven from their homes by such worsening events are able to eventually return to their livelihoods. But some are bereft of necessary aid — living in regions or nations which lack the resources to help. Such persons eventually become tent dwellers or add to the ever-growing tide of people seeking refuge in other, more seemingly stable, countries.

Climate change, extreme weather, human displacement and related political instability are thus now linked in a broad web that spans the globe. And the situation keeps getting worse and worse. It’s a situation that won’t change anytime soon. And one that can only be abated by a concerted response by nations — all of which are now under threat — to both help those people put in this terrible situation and to stop worsening the damage through a rapid cessation of fossil fuel based carbon emissions. Otherwise, by failing to rapidly act, by focusing instead on broadening warfare and conflict rather than root causes, more and more nations and regions will fall under the threat of destabilization, mass impoverishment and collapse as this climate change spurred crisis grows in scope, breadth and intensity.


Everything I was Dreaming of is Gone

US Secretary of Defense: Climate Change is a Threat Multiplier

Climate Change in the Fertile Crescent and Implications of the Recent Syrian Drought

Russia, Crippled by Drought, Bans Grain Exports

Climate Change Increased Likelihood of Crippling Russian Heatwave by 80%

Obama Visits US Climate Change Refugees

Sea Level Rise Sets off Mass Migration in Pakistan

Bangladesh: Borrowed Time on Disappearing Land

Has the Great Climate Change Migration Already Begun?

Climate Change Refugees — Extreme Weather Displaced 157.8 Million People From 2008 to 2014

Climate Change a Factor in Syria Civil War

The Great Russian Heatwave of 2010

Native Alaskan Villagers Among First US Climate Change Refugees

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

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

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

Peat Bog Fires

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

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

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

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

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

Ukraine Heatwave

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

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


Kiev Cancels School Amid Record Heat, Bog Fires


Climate Reanalyzer

Arctic Sea Ice at Second Lowest on Record

Monster El Nino Hurls Record Barrage of Hurricanes at Hot Blob

Halfway to 2 C

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Laptev Storm

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

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




To Compact or Not to Compact?

Cryosphere Today


Gulf Stream Slowing Down

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

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

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


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

Trichodesmium — A Mostly Helpful Bacteria Essential to Ocean Life

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

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

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

Human Fossil Fuel Burning is Projected to Drive Trichodesmium Haywire

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

Trichodesium Nitrogen Fixation before and after

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

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

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

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

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

Uncontrolled Blooms, Population Crashes, Biotoxin Production, Dead Zones

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


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

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

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

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

No Return to Normal

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


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

Climate Change Will Irreversibly Force Key Ocean Bacteria into Overdrive


Earth Observatory

Red Tide Algae Bloom off San Diego

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse

Trichodesmium: A Widespread Marine Cyanobacteria with Unusual Nitrogen Fixation Properties

Nitrogen Fixation

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

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

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

*   *   *   *   *

A Record-Shattering Barrage of Pacific Cyclones

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


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

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

Strong Bjerknes Feedback to Crush RRR?

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

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

Bjerknes Feedback

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

California missing two years of rain

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

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


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

Earth Nullschool

National Hurricane Center

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

NOAA: Bjerknes Feedback

NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

CFSv2 Model SST Predicted Departures in Nino 3.4

Steve Gregory: El Nino Stronger!

Climate Change Could Double the Likelihood of Super El Ninos

National Weather Service, Phoenix

Hat Tip to Ray Duray

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

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

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

Purple Waves

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

A Dangerous Beauty

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

Eyewitness photographer Jeanine Sbisa described the scene at Neskowin:

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

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

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

Purple Sulfur Bacteria

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

Purple Canfield Ocean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*  *  *  *  *

Pigmented Salps — An Indicator of Bio-Magnification?

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

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

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

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

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


Purple Waves Puzzle Oregon Coastal Scientists

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

Purple Sulfur Bacteria

Canfield Ocean

Under a Green Sky


Hat Tip to Wharf Rat

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

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


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

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

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


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

Top Woods Hole Scientist Calls for Tipping Points Investigation

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

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

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

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

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


US Scientists Warn Leaders of the Dangers of Thawing Permafrost

Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback

World Meteorological Organization

Appropriate Concern Over Catastrophic Methane Release


Hat tip to Redskylite








10-15 Foot Waves Break Seawall at Barrow, Alaska

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

Barrow Flooding

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

*    *    *    *    *

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

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


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

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

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

Coastlines Newly Vulnerable to Open Water Storms

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

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


Barrow Sea Ice Webcam

Earth Nullschool

High Surf Advisory For Barrow Alaska

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Griffin

Hat tip to Timothy Chase (fetch discussion)

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

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

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

Sea level anomalies 30 cm off US east coast

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

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

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

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

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

The Gulf Stream Train Wreck

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


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

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

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

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

Anomalous Storms Strike England During Summer

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

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


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

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

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


NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Rahmstorf– AMOC is Slowing Down

World Ocean Heartbeat is Fading

Earth Nullschool

Even Chances August Will Be Wettest on Record for The UK

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

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


Fall Forecast: Storms Target UK, France

Hat tip to Spike

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

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

*  *  *  *  *  *

Bears consuming whale carcass

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

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

According to an official statement from NOAA:

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

Hot Blob’s Record Algae Bloom Suspected

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

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

Hot Blob

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

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

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

Whale stranding locations

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

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

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

Conditions in Context — Deadly Waters

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

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


NOAA: Alaska Fisheries


Scientists Baffled by Mass Whale Death

Whales are Mysteriously Dying in Northeastern Pacific

Starving Sea Lion Pups and Liquified Starfish

Hot Pacific Ocean Runs Bloody

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

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



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

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

Lake Baikal Burning

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

*    *    *    *    *

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

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

A Russian Emergency

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

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

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

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

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

A Threat to the Lake’s Water Supply

Lake Baikal Burning shores

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

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

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

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


Lake Baikal Burning

Prime Minister Rages Over Lake Baikal Wildfires

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

Drying Lake Baikal Threatens New Era of Water Wars


Hat Tip to RedSky







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

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

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

Astronaught Photo Wildfires August 18

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

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

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

Massive Smoke Plume from Out of Control Northwest Wildfires

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

Worst US Fire Season on Record Through Late August

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

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


National Interagency Fire Center

Worst Fire Conditions on Record


Astronaut’s View of Northwest Widlfires

Resources Scarce as Northwest Fires Grow in Number

Hat Tip to Ray Duray

Monster El Nino Turns Typhoon Eyes Toward Arctic

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

The 2015 Monster

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

El Nino Hurls Twin Typhoons at the Arctic

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


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

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

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

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

RRR meets Atsani With Sights on Arctic

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

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

A Very Odd Storm Track

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

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


NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

Earth Nullschool

Frequency of Strong El Ninos Doubles Under Human Heat Forcing

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

The Hot Blob Strengthens

Climate Reanalyzer

Wrecked Pacific Storm Track Now Runs from Equator to Arctic Ocean




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

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


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

*   *   *   *   *

A Legend of the Ancient Mariners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ocean Sargassum Fertilization in a Warming World

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

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

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

Caribbean Beaches, Ocean Life Under Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sargassum Seaweed Single Greatest Threat to Caribbean Tourism

Beautiful Caribbean Beaches Now a Smelly Mess After Seaweed Invasion

Sargassum Seaweed Turns Caribbean Waters Murky

Stinking Seaweed Causes Tourists to Cancel Caribbean Holidays

NOAA — Teachers at Sea

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

How Global Warming Produces Increasing Instances of Extreme Weather

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego


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