Warm Arctic Storm Tearing Sea Ice to Shreds amidst Big 2016 Heat Spike

Abnormal. Unprecedented. Remarkable. Extreme. These words are supposed to describe unusual events, but in the weird world we’re now entering, the extreme has become commonplace. Some people call this emerging state of affairs ‘the new normal.’ A more direct descriptor is ‘spiraling into climate chaos.’

Chaos is an apt word to describe the scene in the Arctic this week as one of the most powerful summer cyclones ever to form rages in a place that has just experienced a record-shattering influx of atmospheric heat. This storm is hammering the sea ice, pushing it nearly to the second-lowest extent on record. But worse may be still to come as a very weak and diffuse ice pack is predicted to face off against a storm that’s expected to significantly reintensify on both Friday and Tuesday.

Record Arctic Heat

The Arctic. It’s a place we typically associate with frozen things. Due to the billions and billions of tons of heat-trapping gasses dumped into the atmosphere each year by burning fossil fuels, now it’s a place that’s thawing at a disturbingly fast pace. The region could best be described in these few words — record abnormal warmth in 2016.

(This graphic from University of California, Irvine Ph.D. candidate Zack Labe is a visual measure of a stunning jump in Arctic temperatures for 2016. So much heat in the Arctic has profound implications, not just for the Arctic ice and environment, but for the rest of the world as well. In other words — warming that happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.)

So far, 2016 has seen temperatures in the Arctic that are well above the warmest previous year ever recorded. This big spike in a decades-long trend includes, for this single year, about 35 percent of all the temperature rise experienced there since the late 1940s. It’s like taking more than a third of all the warming in the Arctic seen over the past 68 years and cramming it into just one year. It’s insane.

The Warm Storm Generator

Heat in the Arctic doesn’t just emerge there. It comes, largely, in the form of energy transfer.

Heat-trapping gasses warm the atmosphere in an uneven fashion. The way these gasses absorb solar radiation results in more heat trapping during the dark of night. And the Arctic experiences a thing called polar night which lasts for months.

As a result, the Arctic already gets a slightly more powerful nudge from global warming than the rest of the world. As the cold begins to fail in the Arctic, a number of amplifying feedbacks come into play that further multiply the warmth.

image

(A dance of cyclones. GFS model rendering by Earth Nullschool shows a strong influx of heat from the Eurasian Continent and the Barents and Kara Seas feeding into a bombing low-pressure system on Monday at 12:00 UTC. The low is predicted to meet up with the currently raging Arctic cyclone by late Monday or early Tuesday. Combined, these lows are expected to drop into the 960s to 970s mb level, extending the scope of the strong event and possibly resulting in the most powerful cyclone ever to have formed this time of year in the Arctic Basin. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As the Arctic heats up, its natural barriers to heat coming up from the ocean or from the south begin to fail. The more evenly-warmed surface of the ocean transfers some of its heat north and pumps this added energy into the Arctic air. The lower sea-ice levels cause this water to warm even more, its dark surface trapping more of the summer sun’s warmth than the white ice ever could.

The polar Jet Stream begins to weaken as the relative difference between Arctic and lower-latitude temperatures drops. In the Jet Stream’s meanders, strong warm winds blow in from the ever-hotter continents and ocean surfaces of the mid and upper latitudes.

It’s a simple physical property of the atmosphere that burgeoning heat often seeks out the cold. It rises as it flows toward the Pole, and when it collides with these chilly pockets, the result can be an atmospheric maelstrom.

The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2016 Smashes Sea Ice

Such was the case earlier this week as a warm tongue of air flowed up into area of the Laptev Sea from Siberia. This warm flow tapped moisture from the Kara and Barents Seas and fed into a developing storm system (see article here). Pressures at the storm’s center rapidly fell and by late Monday, August 15th, had dropped to 966.5 millibars. The result was one of the strongest cyclones ever to form over the Arctic Ocean during August.

(We’ve probably never seen the ice so thin near the Pole during August. Zack Labe‘s rendering of SSMIS sea ice concentration measures from late July to August 17 shows a stunning degree of thinning and loss. Note the large, low-concentration holes opening up near the Pole in the final few frames.)

The storm rampaged through the Arctic. Pulling in strong winds and heavy surf, it smashed the sea ice, driving daily extent losses to 110,000 square kilometers on Tuesday and greatly thinning a vulnerable tongue of ice running out toward the Chukchi Sea. Meanwhile, near the Pole, great gaps 50 to 100 miles wide have opened up, revealing water that is 80 percent clear of ice.

The storm subsequently weakened, with pressures rising today into the 985 mb range. But over the next few days, the system is predicted to reintensify — first on Friday to around 971 to 978 mb as it approaches the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and then again on Tuesday to around 963 to 976 mb when it loops back toward the Laptev.

Central Arctic Basin Sea Ice lowest Ever Recorded

(AMSR2 and SSMIS sensor reanalysis shows that 2016 Arctic sea ice area [black line] in the Central Arctic Basin — a key region for indicating sea ice health — hit new record lows over recent days. A signal pointing to risk that a challenge to 2012 records may emerge in some measures over the coming days as the 2016 cyclone is expected to re-intensify. Image source: The Great White Con.)

In each case, the storm is predicted to draw on heat, moisture, and low-pressure cells riding up from the south, with the first stream of energy feeding into this low from over the Beaufort and Bering Seas and northeastern Siberia, and the second running up from the Barents and Kara Seas, western Siberia and northeastern Europe (you can see the succession of lows and moisture here in this model run by Climate Reanalyzer).

If this happens, we’ll be coming out of a situation where a warmth-fueled Arctic cyclone will have bombed to record or near-record strength on two to three separate occasions, all the while applying its buzz-saw winds, waves and Coriolis forces to the sea ice — a full-blown nightmare Arctic sea-ice melt scenario in the midst of a record-hot year.

UPDATE (8/19):

A recent report by expert ice observer Neven over at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog (which is very informative) finds that storm impacts thus far have been significant, if not yet quite as extraordinary as the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012. Overall sea ice area measures (not just those in the Central Arctic Basin indicated above) according to Wipneus have dropped into second lowest on record just below the 2007 line. Extent, meanwhile, in the JAXA measure after falling an average of 90,000 square kilometers per day, is today at third lowest on record — trailing 2007 by just 30,000 kilometers. Tracking for end of year now appears most likely to fall into a range near 2007 in many measures. But the current storm appears to have provided a potential for a stronger downward trend for the ice in which some measures (particularly various regional measures) have the potential to approach or exceed 2012.

Arctic Sea ice Chukchi

(Peering through the clouds on August 19 in this LANCE MODIS satellite shot we find that sea ice in the Chukchi appears to have been greatly reduced and thinned by the current cyclone. Loss and thinning of the ice bridge with the main pack means that this ice may have also suffered separation. Toward the Laptev, sea ice in the pack between that Arctic sea and the Pole is extraordinarily mobile and becoming more diffuse. These observed conditions still present a potential for large daily losses and further reductions in total sea ice coverage. So current tracking comes with a ‘risk of downside’ caveat. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

One final point is that we are entering La Nina and such events tend to increase heat transport toward the Arctic and particularly into the Arctic Ocean. For this reason El Nino year +1 or El Nino year +2  can tend to present higher risk for greater sea ice melt totals. As such, and dramatic as the heat and melt in the Arctic has been for this year, it’s worth noting that what we may be watching is a set-up for 2017 or 2018 to see worsening conditions. La Nina is currently expected to be weak, so the related North Atlantic influence (NAO) that has been so devastating to the ice during the recent record warm years may be somewhat muted. We’ll have to see.

2016, however, is not entirely out of the woods. Thin ice in the Chukchi and an increasingly thin and diffuse pack extending from the Pole toward the Laptev remain very vulnerable to late season flash melt and compaction. Model runs today indicate the current set of storms tending to restrengthen on one or two occasions back to the 970s or 960s before finally ebbing on Wednesday. After this, some models show a tendency to flip toward a strong high pressure influence which would again wrench the ice (this time toward compaction). So the troubling 2016 Arctic melt drama is still far from over.

Links:

Powerful Arctic Cyclone to Blow Hole in Thinning Sea Ice

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Arctic Cyclone Update 1

Arctic Cyclone Update 2

NASA: Implications of a Warming Arctic

Zack Labe

Tropical Tidbits

JAXA Sea Ice

Earth Nullschool

The Great White Con

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Bill h

Zero Percent Contained — Blue Cut Fire Explodes to 30,000 Acres, Forces 82,000 People to Flee

Rising temperatures. Deepening drought. Worsening wildfires. Such are the new climate realities for the State of California in a record-hot world.

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Yesterday, amid 100-degree heat and blustery winds, and on the back of a devastating drought nearing the close of its fifth year, a dangerous wildfire sparked in the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County. Originating near Interstate 15 at 10:30 AM Tuesday, the blaze fed on the heat, strong winds, and bone-dry brush. In just two hours, the fire had exploded to 1,500 acres in size. Fanning out, it began to threaten homes and buildings within this well-known section of southern California.

(Tuesday feed tracking the early hours of the Blue Cut Fire provided by CBS News on Youtube.)

By early afternoon, emergency officials were scrambling to get ahead of the fire. More than 750 firefighters were mobilized as neighborhood after neighborhood emptied before the gigantic walls of smoke and flame. Sheriffs hurried from door to door, urging people to leave or notify next of kin. Residents spilled onto roadways shrouded by darkness as towering pillars of black burst into the skies above them. Joining together in long trains of cars, they formed a press of 82,000 fleeing the fire. By evening, homes along Highway 138 were engulfed, a local McDonald’s burned, and the famous Summit Inn on historic Route 66 was consumed to its foundations.

As of late Tuesday, the fire had swelled to 15,000 acres; Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency. Numerous structures including multiple ranches and communities had been surrounded or invaded by fire. Tracey Martinez, Public Information Officer for the San Bernardino County Fire Department, made this announcement:

“We know that we’ve lost structures, it’s unknown how many at this time. This fire is still raging out of control.”

Blue Cut Fire Train

(Train passes in front of a section of the Blue Cut Fire in San Bernardino County, California on Tuesday. Image source: CALFIRE.)

Throughout the night, the fire continued to engorge even as more emergency personnel rushed to the scene. Burning embers, lofted on the updraft created by the fire, rained down upon the region. Spot fires ignited as the main body of the blaze expanded. As of early morning on Wednesday the fire had spread to 30,000 acres. At least 1,300 firefighters, 152 engines, 18 fire crews and ten air tankers were involved in fighting the blaze by that time. Despite this enormous effort on the part of emergency personnel, the fire was still zero percent contained.

Extreme Weather Worsens Risk, Produces Multiple Fires

On Wednesday, the weather forecast called for near-100 degree temperatures, very low humidity, and light winds in the San Bernardino area. Such conditions represent continued risk for fire expansion, though lighter winds may provide some slight aid to the hundreds of firefighters now on the ground.

West Coast Heatwave Brings Wildfire Risk

(Predicted west coast temperatures for Friday afternoon show readings in the upper 90s and 100s stretching into northern California, Oregon, and Washington. It’s exactly the kind of heat and dryness that can increase fire danger. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This weather pattern is part of a larger heatwave sprawling up and down the U.S. west coast. The heat and dryness have fanned two additional large fires in California over the past few days. In Clayton, a fire scorched 4,000 acres on Tuesday, burning 100 homes. As of Wednesday morning, this fire was listed as only five percent contained. A third fire, the 6,900-acre Chimney fire, is only 25 percent contained after consuming 40 structures.

Over the next few days, this heatwave is expected to expand northward along the U.S. west coast, bringing with it heat and the kind of bone-dry weather conditions that can worsen fire hazards. In Portland, Oregon, for example, temperatures are expected to challenge the 100-degree mark over the coming three days as humidity plummets.

Conditions in Context — Climate Change Increases Temperatures, Worsens Western Drought, Increases Fire Hazard

“It hit hard, it hit fast, it hit with an intensity that we haven’t seen before.” — Mark Hartwig, San Bernardino Fire Chief.

The Blue Cut Fire erupted during a five-year-long drought that is the worst in California history. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 33 million people in California are currently afflicted by drought conditions. This drought has been worsened by a human-forced warming of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. Under such warming, scientists have long warned, the risk of heat, drought, and fires increases. This stark condition is illustrated by the great unevenness of precipitation falling on the U.S. — in just the past seven days, more rain has fallen over parts of Louisiana than the total of all the precipitation for the past five years in San Bernardino.

Now, with global temperatures hitting near 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages, the pattern of persistent and worsening drought over the U.S. west has become clear. The Blue Cut Fire emerged in this context. And though this region of San Bernardino County has long faced fire risks, the danger, along with the heat, is on the rise.

(UPDATES to follow)

Links:

More than 80,000 People Flee Out-of-Control Blue Cut Fire

CBS News Feed Blue Cut Fire

Historic Summit Inn Gutted

The Clayton Fire

The Chimney Fire

Earth Nullschool

CALFIRE

The National Interagency Fire Center

The U.S. Drought Monitor

San Bernardino Precipitation Record

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Greg

July was the Hottest Month Ever Recorded; 2016 Set to Make 1998 Look Cold by Comparison

July 2016 was the warmest July in 136 years of modern record-keeping, according to a monthly analysis of global temperatures by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. NASA GISS.

2016 — 99 Percent Likely to be the Hottest Year on Record by a Big Margin

In 1998, the world went through a big heat wave. In just one year, global temperatures jumped by about 0.15 degrees Celsius above previous record highs. Riding on the wave of an extraordinarily powerful El Nino, atmospheric CO2 that was then in the range of about 365 parts per million (and CO2e — CO2-equivalent greenhouse gasses — in the range of 415 ppm) pushed global temperatures to around 0.9 C above 1880s averages by year-end.

This extreme heat set off a rash of weather and climate disasters around the world. A global coral bleaching event sparked off. At that time it was only one of a few ever recorded and was seen by scientists as one of the early warning signs of global warming. Droughts, floods, and fires occurred with a then-unprecedented frequency. Some began to wonder if the bad effects of climate change were starting to take hold.

But 1998 was just a mild foretaste of what was to come. In the years that followed, new global temperature records were breached time and time again. 1998 was swiftly surpassed by 2005 which was again beaten out by 2010, then 2014 and finally 2015. Now, 2016 looks like it will end around 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages. It appears that in just three years, the world will have warmed by more than 0.2 C. In the 18-year period since 1998 the world’s long and worsening hot spell will have increased its top range by as much as 0.3 degrees C, or more than 30 percent.

Gavin Schmidt, NASA GISS head, tells this tale far more succinctly, stating:

July data are out, and what do you know, still 99% chance of a new annual record in 2016.

2016 Hottest Year on Record

(Can you pick out 1998 on this graph? Look hard. You might find it… Driven on by record levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses in the range of 490 ppm CO2e, global temperatures are in the process of spiking to around 1.2 C above 1880s averages in 2016. Climate scientists like Gavin Schmidt indicate that there’s a 99 percent chance that this year will be the hottest ever recorded. Image source: Gavin Schmidt.)

Another way to sum up how much the world has warmed since 1998 is the observation that the coolest months and years going forward are likely to be hotter than 1998 average temperatures. In other words, if we saw 1998 global temperatures now, it would be anomalously cold. The Earth’s natural cycling between La Nina and El Nino is, at this time, highly unlikely to produce a year as cool as 1998.

Hitting a New High Mark for Global Heat

As for 2016, the unbroken tally of record hot months has grown incredibly long. July itself, in NASA’s most recent announcement, has come in at about 1.06 C hotter than 1880s averages (and 0.84 C hotter than NASA’s 20th-century baseline). This makes the month we just went through the hottest month ever recorded in the global climate record by a substantial 0.1 C margin (beating out July of 2011 as the previous record-holder).

GISTEMP Anomaly

(Due to strong land-surface warming during summer in the Northern Hemisphere, July is typically the hottest month of the year. July 2016 was both the hottest July on record and the hottest ever month in the past 136 years of recordkeeping. Image source: NASA.)

At this point, you have to go all the way back to September of 2015 to find a month that isn’t now a new record-holder. And, as you can see in the month-to-month comparison graph above by NASA, many of the recent records have been very strong indeed.

Such heat has brought with it every manner of trouble. From droughts in the Amazon rainforest, to record-low sea ice levels, to worsening droughts, to a global rash of floods and wildfires, to the longest-running coral bleaching event ever recorded, to expanding ocean dead zones and lakes and riverways choked with algae, to tropical viruses like Zika marching northward as anthrax-carrying deer are coughed up out of the thawing permafrost, to the loss and destabilization of glacial ice around the planet, the picture of the world in 2016 is one of a place suffering far greater and wider-ranging climate disruptions than during 1998.

Now, given the considerable difference in impacts over just an 18-year time period and an approximate 0.3 C temperature increase, imagine what another 18 years and another 0.3 C or greater would unleash.

Portrait of the Hottest Month Ever — More Arctic Warming

July was just one part of this big upward jump in global temperatures and related extreme climate conditions. The distribution of that heat showed that climate-change-related polar amplification was still in full swing up north.

Above-average temperatures continued to concentrate near the vulnerable Arctic. NASA shows that temperatures in the region of 75 to 90° North Latitude ranged from around 1.4 to 2.1 C above normal. Such record-warm readings were likely due to loss of sea ice and consequent albedo reductions in the region of the Beaufort Sea and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (see Arctic map here). Peak temperature departures in this zone hit as high as 7.7 C above average for the month — pretty extreme for northern polar July.

Conversely, a small pool of slightly cooler-than-normal readings hovered over the East Siberian Sea. But this small region was far milder, achieving only a peak 2 C departure below 20th-century norms.

GISS Temperature Map July 2016

(The hottest month on record globally shows highest above-average temperatures exactly where we don’t need them — in the Arctic north of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, near the Yamal Peninsula and the Kara Sea, and in the south over West Antarctica. Image source: NASA.)

The broader region from Latitudes 35° S to 75° N saw temperatures ranging between 0.7 and 1.4 C above the NASA 20th-century baseline. This included the Equator at around 0.8 C above average despite the cooling effects of the Eastern Pacific which was starting to tilt toward La Nina conditions.

From 35° S to the pole, temperatures rapidly fall off for July with the region from 75° to 90° S seeing 1 to 1.6 C negative temperature departures. It’s worth noting that this Antarctic region was the only area to experience widespread below-average temperatures on the globe. Even so, West Antarctica stood as a noted warm outlier in this single large cool pool, with temperatures for most of the Antarctic Peninsula and adjacent inland regions hitting 4 C or more above normal.

Outlook — Predicted La Nina is Weak; Northern Polar Amplification is Strong

Cooler surface waters in the Equatorial Pacific are predicted to produce a weak, late La Nina for 2016 and early 2017. This event is not expected to be anywhere near as strong as the significant 2010 to 2012 La Nina. As a result, it will likely have a lesser overall downward effect on global surface temperatures.

GFS global temperature tracking

(GFS global temperature tracking indicates that August is likely to be as warm or slightly warmer than July, which puts this month within striking distance of another consecutive monthly global high temperature record. Image source: Karsten Haustein Climate Reanalysis.)

On the other hand, as August and September roll into October and November, Northern Hemisphere polar amplification is likely to intensify and this will tend to further buffer the downward temperature swing typically produced by La Nina. Therefore, it’s not likely that August to December temperatures will fall outside of the 0.95 to 1.15 C June-July temperature differential from 1880s ranges.

Current GFS model tracking for August (see image above) hints at a likely range between 1.05 and 1.15 C above 1880s values, which means that August is currently on track to challenge previous all-time temperature records for the month and that 2016 is continuing to solidify its extreme heat gains.

Links:

NASA GISS

Gavin Schmidt

Karsten Haustein Climate Reanalysis

BOM ENSO Forecast

NOAA ESRL

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Ridley Jack

Powerful Cyclone to Blow Hole in Thinning Arctic Sea Ice

Back in 2012, a powerful Arctic cyclone smashed the sea ice with days of wind and waves. This year, a storm that’s nearly as strong threatens to make a similar mark on late-season melt. With a very unstable Arctic weather pattern in play, there’s an outlier possibility the dynamic is setting up for something even more dramatic by late August.

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Earlier today, a strong gale roared up out of the Laptev Sea north of central Siberia. Feeding on the abnormally warm, moist air over the Barents Sea and the hot air over northwestern Siberia, the storm collided with comparatively cold air over the central Arctic. The differences between hot/cold and damp/dry air can really bomb out a storm system.

Arctic Cyclone

(Storms, heat and moisture feed up through a high-amplitude wave in the Jet Stream over northern Europe and Siberia and into a developing Arctic cyclone over the Laptev Sea during the early hours of August 15, 2016. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Central pressures in the storm fell to 969 millibars and the winds whipping out over the Laptev, East Siberian, and central Arctic waters gusted at 45 to 55 miles per hour. Waves of 6 to 10 feet or higher roared through the newly-opened waters filled with increasingly dispersed ice floes.

The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2016?

This powerful storm is pulling these strong winds over some of the weakest and thinnest sections of Arctic sea ice. During July and August a huge section of ice running along the 80° North Latitude line and stretching from the Laptev, through the East Siberian Sea, and into the Beaufort Sea grew ever more thin and eventually dispersed. Now 25 to 60 percent ice concentrations in this region abound — a tongue of thinning which stretches nearly to the North Pole itself.

Powerful Arctic Cyclone

(A powerful storm running out of the Laptev Sea and into the central Arctic is threatening sea ice with strong winds, large waves, and the motion of abnormally warm surface waters. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The storm is generating waves, mixing warmer-than-normal surface waters with even higher temperature waters just below. These sea surfaces are between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius above average over much of the area, with pockets of 3 or even 4 C above normal surface water temperatures interspersed. The storm’s Coriolis Effect will spin chunks of ice out from the pack to float lonely in these warmer-than-normal waters as they are churned by the raging swells.

Storm Raging Over Warm Waters, Thin Ice

Currently, the storm’s strongest winds and waves are running through a big melt wedge that extends from the Laptev and East Siberian Seas toward the 85th parallel. The motion and force produced by the storm’s winds and waves will eject the ice currently located over the northern East Siberian and Chukchi Seas even as waves eat into it. Upwelling of warm water in the seas beneath the center of the storm will open and disperse the ice, generating holes and polynya as it tracks north of the 85th parallel and toward the Pole.

Thin Arctic Sea Ice

(Very low concentrations of ice, like those seen in this Uni Bremen image, are vulnerable to disruption and melting by storms during August and early September. Current ice thinning and dispersal are among the worst seen for any year. With a powerful storm now raging over the ice, impacts to end-season totals could be significant. Image source: Universität Bremen.)

Compared to the Great Arctic Cyclone (GAC) of 2012 — an event that helped to tip that year into the strongest late-season melt on record — this storm is a bit weaker. The GAC bottomed out at 963 mb and carried on for about four days. The current storm, by comparison, is expected to remain in place for quite some time even as it slowly weakens over the coming days.

Arctic sea-ice extent values are now tracking at around third lowest on record, or just above the 2007 line. Such a strong storm certainly has the potential to knock a big hole in the ice, possibly propelling 2016 closer to 2007 ranges or even beyond them. Surface waters in the Laptev, East Siberian, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas aren’t quite as warm as they were in 2012, but there’s still a lot of potential here for storm-associated melt. Meanwhile, the very warm waters over the Kara and Barents Seas remain a disturbing feature.

Arctic in hot water

(Above-average sea-surface temperatures during late summer have more potential to rapidly melt sea ice when they are churned up and put into motion by powerful storms. Image source: NOAA NCEP.)

Models predict that lows will continue to feed in from the Atlantic and northeastern Siberia along various high-amplitude waves in the Jet Stream to combine in a triangular bite between the East Siberian Sea, the Laptev Sea and the Pole. Such continued reinvigoration will tend to enforce a generally stormy and unstable atmosphere. And there’s some risk (small, but worth considering) that the current storm could refire into something more powerful on the fuel provided by one of these lows.

Troubling Atmospheric Instability Loads the Dice for Future Bombification

Already, a few of the long-range models are popping with amazing predictions of storm-center intensity in the range of 950 to 960 mb. Both the GFS model and CMC models separately produced these results for the nine to 12 day timeframe. GFS had backed off its own high-intensity forecast when this odd CMC run popped up (see below).

CMC Arctic Megacyclone

(CMC 10-day forecast model run showing an extremely powerful 955-mb low just north of Svalbard on August 25th. Such a storm is low-probability at this time, but its formation would likely result in serious impacts to sea ice. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

Though these are long-range outliers, there is quite a lot of fuel for strong storms in the region this year due to conditions related to human-caused climate change. In particular, ocean surfaces in the Barents and Kara Seas are in record-hot ranges. And the heat and moisture coming off those waters is fuel for some serious atmospheric instability as the Polar region attempts to cool. Any significant cooling in the 80-90° North Latitude region would help to generate a strong dipole between this zone and the Kara-Barents. Such a dipole would create strong instability for storm generation.

A low bombing out at 953 to 955 mb in ten days, as the CMC model currently indicates, would represent an Arctic megacyclone with serious potential to wreck sea ice. The location predicted would generate a strong push of warm water from the Barents and Laptev and on toward the ice-clogged polar waters. The resulting Ekman pumping and powerful swell generation would have the potential to generate severe ice losses in the late August timeframe.

Probabilities for such a storm this far out are low, but given the underlying conditions, it’s worth putting a marker out. This is, therefore, a situation to watch. We’ve already got one strong storm blowing away at the ice. A one-two punch would hurt even more. In other words, the situation in the Arctic just got really interesting. Let’s just hope it doesn’t tilt into scary…

Links:

Big Cyclone

LANCE MODIS

Earth Nullschool

Universität Bremen

Ice vs. Storm

NOAA NCEP

Tropical Tidbits

For Louisiana, the Rains of Climate Change Fall Hard — More Heavy Storms Expected to Hit Central U.S.

Imagine, for a moment, that the Earth’s atmosphere is simply a big storm-generating engine. Imagine that the ignition trigger for this engine comes in the form of heat rising off the land and ocean surface. And imagine that the engine’s fuel is water vapor evaporated by that heat.

Keep the level of heat and water vapor constant, and you’ll get a continuous, steady stream of storms firing off. But increase the heat and water vapor content, as we have over the past 137 or so years, and the storms that engine produces become a whole hell of a lot more powerful.

In this context, in the last few days record atmospheric and ocean-surface heat helped to produce some of the highest water vapor levels ever recorded over Louisiana. This extreme moisture content, in turn, sparked some of the worst flooding ever seen for the state. From the Pacific Standard:

As the atmosphere warms thanks to greenhouse gas emissions, it can hold more water vapor — and this effect makes it exponentially more likely that extreme rainfall events will occur. The weather balloon released on Friday morning from the New Orleans office of the NWS measured near all-time record levels of atmospheric moisture, higher than some measurements taken during past hurricanes. The NWS meteorologist who reported this morning’s reading remarked simply, “obviously we are in record territory.”

By burning fossil fuels in such high volumes for so long, that’s what we’ve done. We’ve added heat and moisture fuel to the atmospheric engine such that historic, unprecedented rain events now seem to be a weekly occurrence. And the strength of storms hasn’t increased by only a bit: the strongest storms are now exceptionally more powerful than they were back before so much CO2 and other greenhouse gasses turned the Earth’s atmosphere into something the structures of human civilization aren’t really engineered to handle.

Amite River

(The Amite River hits highest crest ever recorded as sections of Louisiana see 20-30 inches of rain. Image source: NOAA.)

Today, the Earth’s atmosphere also has a bit more kick due to another contributing factor: The Earth is now cooling down from a strong El Nino that helped push the world to record-hot temperatures in 2015 and 2016. To be clear, this El Nino is not the cause of the record-hot global temperatures (nor of all the added extreme rainfall potential) — it’s the warm side of the natural variability cycle. However, when you add in human greenhouse gasses, each El Nino brings with it the risk of hitting new hottest temperatures ever. As those new hot temperatures are reached, the atmosphere gets another kick into a higher, more damaging storm-firing gear.

As El Nino cools toward La Nina, that heavy volume of extra moisture loses a bit of its atmospheric support. Imagine tons and tons of moisture held up only by the heat rising from below. Take some of that heat away, and a big portion of that huge volume of moisture is going to fall out somewhere as a big rain bomb. Over the past few days, these huge dumps of rain set their sights on Louisiana.

Louisiana Floods Worst Ever Recorded

About a week ago, a powerful flood of atmospheric moisture emerged from the record-hot surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Almost immediately, extremely strong storms bloomed, producing very heavy rainfall totals in the range of one foot or more along sections of coastal Florida and just offshore.

Over the course of the next few days, this big swirl of moisture, which in many ways resembled a tropical cyclone without the strong center of circulation, drifted west. By late Thursday, it began to move inland over sections of coastal Louisiana. It was then that the real inundation started. By Friday, reports were coming in that one foot of rain had already fallen in southeastern portions of the state. Throughout Saturday and Sunday, the rains just kept coming.

Historic Rainfall Louisiana

(Areas in blue on the precipitation map show regions that have received greater than one foot of rainfall over the past 72 hours. Note the huge swath in central southern Louisiana. Heavy storms have also hammered the central Mississippi River states and southeastern Texas. Image source: iWeatherNet.com.)

By early Monday, 72-hour rainfall totals showed that fully one-third of Louisiana had received more than one foot of rainfall (see map above). Local spikes within this huge swath have now exceeded two feet with total amounts as high as 30 inches reported.

As the heavy rains fell like never before, they pushed a historic flood of water down local rivers, many of which hit their highest levels ever recorded at various locations Sunday and Monday. As of Monday morning, the Amite River had crested six feet above the previous record high level at Magnolia and more than four feet above the all-time high at Denham Springs.

Currently, most of the eastern half of Baton Rouge and numerous adjacent communities are experiencing very severe flooding. There, 125 vehicles are reported stranded on Interstate 7 even as more than 1,000 homes have flooded. In Livingston, St. Helena Parish, and Tangipahoa Parish another 1,700 homes are reported to have flooded. With floods affecting operations, hospitals such as Ochsner Medical Center in Baton Rouge are being forced to transfer patients. Rail lines have been flooded out, telephone service cut off, and seven people are reported to have lost their lives with more missing.

Louisiana Homes Flooded

(Residents must use motor boats to access homes in southeastern Louisiana as around 20,000 residents have been forced to evacuate. Image source: KVEW.)

Throughout the region, more than 3,500 emergency personnel have been helping to evacuate those in the flood zone and hundreds have been plucked from the rising waters including a well-known college sports commentator and his wife. In total, more than 20,000 people and thousands of companion animals have now been rescued. Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards, who declared a state of emergency on Friday, watched aghast as his mansion’s basement flooded this morning, forcing him to join the displaced.

Unfortunately, storms continue to rumble over Louisiana, with one of these tossing out a lightning bolt that sparked a fire at a local oil refinery this morning (which was subsequently extinguished).

More Big Storms Predicted from Texas to the Great Lakes

Much of the moisture from the system that generated unprecedented flooding in Louisiana has since been pulled into a big trough stretching from Texas diagonally across the Mississippi into northeastern Ohio. Big storms are predicted to erupt along this frontal boundary today and tomorrow, with significant heavy rainfall expected.

Precipitation Map

(NOAA’s seven-day forecast shows very heavy storms from Texas to the Great Lakes. Image source: NOAA QPC.)

This precipitation pattern is predicted to remain mostly in place over the coming week as the frontal boundary stalls and then sags toward Tennessee. Areas expected to see heaviest precipitation totals range from Texas through northern Louisiana and into the Great Lakes region.

It’s worth noting that there’s still a huge amount of moisture in this system. So far, NOAA-predicted precipitation amounts have come up short of the heaviest amounts hitting local regions by as much as 50 percent or more, so unfortunately we’re likely to see more flash-flooding events over a broad area as the week progresses. With so much heavy precipitation falling along the Mississippi, it’s likely that a number of significant flood pulses will be headed toward portions of that large waterway.

Links:

Death Toll Rises in Historic Louisiana Floods — 20,000 Rescued

Historic Flood Event in Louisiana From 20-30 Inches of Rain

America’s Latest 500-Year Rainstorm

Total Rainfall Over Past 3 Days

Rain Bombs Set Sights on U.S. Gulf Coast

KVEW

NOAA QPC

NOAA Doppler Radar

iWeatherNet Weather Map

NOAA River Gauges

Hat tip to Bill McKibben

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Jay M

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Darvince

Smashing Through 490 — Fragmenting Prospects for Avoiding 2 C Warming

“The IPCC indicated in its fourth assessment report that achieving a 2 C target would mean stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at around 445 to 490 ppm CO2 equivalent or lower. Higher levels would substantially increase the risks of harmful and irreversible climate change.” –Johan Eliasch

NOAA's Greenhouse Gas Index

(NOAA’s greenhouse gas index shows that CO2e concentration for 2015 averaged 485 ppm. Given recent rates of rise, the 2016 average should be near 490 ppm CO2e. At the latest, this key threshold will be crossed some time during 2017. Image source: NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory.)

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There are a few things we know about climate change that should really keep us up at night. The first is that the world is warming, and this warming of the Earth, in so many ways, is dangerous to human beings and all the other innocent creatures living here.

The second is that, over recent years, this warming has been very rapid. In the three years from 2014 through 2016, the Earth’s atmospheric temperature is likely to have increased by 0.2 degrees Celsius or more to around 1.2 C above 1880s levels. When thinking about this in absolute terms, it doesn’t sound like much. But in geological terms, this is very rapid warming, especially when you consider that, at the end of the last ice age, it took about 400 years to produce a similar amount of atmospheric temperature gain.

What all this boils down to is that as global temperatures have spiked, we’ve rapidly crossed an established climate threshold into a far more geophysically dangerous time.

Surging Levels of Heat-Trapping Gasses

405 parts per million carbon dioxide. That’s about the average level of CO2 accumulation the Earth’s atmosphere will see by the end of 2016, due primarily to fossil-fuel burning. It’s a big number. The Earth hasn’t seen a number like that in millions of years. But 405 ppm CO2 doesn’t tell the whole story of heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere. To do that, we have to look at another number — carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2e.

The Keeling Curve August

(During a typical September and October, daily or weekly values may briefly dip below 400 ppm CO2, as detected at the Mauna Loa Observatory. But after September-October 2016, it’s unlikely that you or I will ever see such low levels of CO2 from that measure again in our lifetimes. Image source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography.)

490 ppm CO2e. That’s about the total amount of CO2-equivalent heat forcing from all the human-added greenhouse gasses like CO2, methane, various nitrogen compounds, and other gaseous chemical waste that the Earth’s atmosphere will see by late 2016 to early 2017.

Why is this a big deal?

Four reasons —

First, hitting 490 CO2e crosses the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘s (IPCC) lowest climate threshold. If this were a highway, and climate change were a collision, we’d now be careening through the first guardrail.

Second, 490 CO2e represents significant current and future warming (and there’s good reason to believe that IPCC’s estimates of that warming may be a bit conservative).

Third, it signifies that we have now fully entered the era of catastrophic climate change, with some bad climate outcomes almost certainly locked in as a result. We see a number of these instances now in the form of extreme rainfall events, extreme drought, coral bleaching, sea ice and glacial melt, threatened crops, ocean anoxia and dead zones, widespread harmful algae blooms, ocean acidification, and expanding infectious disease ranges. However, what we are experiencing now is just the tip of the (melting) climate change iceberg if we do not rapidly respond.

Fourth, if we were never really aware before that we very urgently need to get serious about swiftly cutting fossil-fuel emissions, protecting and regrowing forests, and working to help people to adapt to climate change, then this is our wake-up call.

Crossing the First Climate Threshold — 490 ppm CO2e

How did 490 ppm CO2e become a climate milestone? In short, it represents the threshold at which the first of four global-warming scenarios is basically locked in.

To understand this more, we need to take a closer look at these four scenarios, which were established by the IPCC in 2007. The IPCC calls these scenarios Representative Concentration Paths or RCPs. The four potential pathways are informed by the amount of fossil fuels potentially burned through the year 2100, the levels of CO2e heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere as a result, and how much the world consequently warms over this timeframe.

RCPs range from 2.6 to 8.5 watts per meter squared, with these measurements indicating the amount of added heat from the greenhouse gas additions trapped at the top of the atmosphere. A more direct measure is to look at the total greenhouse gas thresholds for each scenario. Broken down, the four RCP pathways represent 490 ppm CO2e (RCP 2.6), 650 ppm CO2e (RCP 4.5), 850 ppm CO2e (RCP 6.0), and 1370 ppm CO2e (RCP 8.5). For reference, atmospheric CO2e levels just prior to the start of large-scale fossil fuel burning were around 300 ppm. By comparison, 1370 ppm CO2e is about equivalent to the levels during some of the worst hothouse mass extinctions the Earth has experienced.

In a nutshell, RCPs represent potential warming scenarios. A middle-range temperature increase estimate by the year 2100 for each scenario can be seen below in this table provided by Skeptical Science:

rcp pathways

Developed at the IPCC’s 2007 meeting, these RCPs also describe a range of potential human civilization responses to global warming. RCP 2.6 allows for fast emissions cuts beginning at the time of the 2007 meeting. These cuts would swiftly level off and then reduce fossil-fuel emissions and ultimately generate one of the milder warming scenarios. The IPCC envisioned that warming would remain near 1.5 C this century under these emissions cuts. Scientists hoped this scenario would allow the avoidance of most of climate change’s bad outcomes.

RCP 4.5 assumes somewhat less aggressive emissions cuts, with fossil-fuel burning and related carbon emissions peaking near 15 billion tons per year by the mid-2040s. Stronger warming is locked in with this scenario — about 2.4 C according to IPCC — and scientists were doubtful that serious climate impacts could be avoided.

emissions-graph-rpc-small

(We’ve pretty much missed the window for the IPCC’s mildest possible climate scenario, RCP 2.6, which would have required strong policies and policy support almost immediately following the IPCC’s 2007 meeting. Image source: Skeptical Science.)

RCP 6.0 shows emissions cuts that are slow to unfold. Global carbon emissions would peak around 19 billion tons per year by 2060 and then rapidly drop off. Warming under this scenario is considerable, hitting 3 C by the end of this century. So much warming and such high levels of greenhouse gasses would result in some seriously bad outcomes.

The final pathway, RCP 8.5, represents an absolute nightmare climate scenario. Under this path, real emissions cuts are not achieved. Despite growth in renewable energy, all energy use continues to grow as well, including fossil fuels. As a result, in this scenario, the IPCC expects the Earth to warm by a catastrophic 4.9 C by 2100.

In the context of understanding climate change, particularly for someone interested and patient enough to read the IPCC reports, the various RCP scenarios were a real help in exploring climate change options and outcomes. They helped many scientists and policymakers provide clear warnings and rewards for action by governments, the public, and business leaders.

projected impacts of climate change

(Climate change produces multiple difficult-to-predict impacts. As temperatures rise, conditions grow ever more extreme. In the graph above, it’s worth noting that sea-level rise is already an issue for many cities and regions including numerous Pacific islands, Bangladesh, the Indus Delta region, South Florida, New Orleans, New York, and the various low-lying coastal and river delta regions around the world. Image source: Federal Highway Administration.)

But despite very clear communication and activism from scientists like Dr. James Hansen, policy bloggers like Joe Romm, and climate activists like Bill McKibben, overall global emissions policy has not moved swiftly enough to stay within the RCP 2.6 pathway in the 9 years since its creation. In fact, decent global emissions reduction policies didn’t begin to universally take hold until recently, in 2014 and 2015, and those implemented were often ardently opposed by fossil fuel-related political interests in countries like Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Canada, and the United States.

As a result, emissions stayed near or just below worst-case pathway ranges (RCP 8.5). As of this year, the window for achieving the RCP 2.6 scenario — or the mildest and most optimistic warming scenario — appears to have closed.

Possibly More Warming From 490 CO2e Than We Feared

Hitting 490 CO2e in 2016 means that the 1.5 C warming IPCC predicted for this amount by 2100 is almost certainly locked in. With the world hitting near 1.2 C above 1880s temperature averages in 2016, some reasonable questions have been raised, the most relevant being if 490 ppm CO2e will result in more warming than IPCC predicted.

To be fair, the 1.5 C figure above is a simplification of model predictions ranging from about 0.9 C to around 2.3 C during this century under a 490 ppm CO2e forcing. However, since we’ve already surpassed the lower portion of this range, and we’re barely into the beginning of this century, it appears that some of the lower sensitivity model runs were rather far off the mark. Moreover, paleoclimate proxy temperature data indicates that 490 ppm CO2 during the Middle Miocene produced warming in the range of 4 C long-term (over hundreds of years). Given this implied long-term impact, and coupled with annual readings that are already in the 1.2 C range, it’s possible to infer an ultimate warming closer to 2 C by 2100 from a maintained 490 ppm CO2e. Hitting such a mark would only require about 0.11 C warming per decade — a rate of decadal warming about 40 percent slower than the temperature rise seen from the late 1970s through the 2010s.

Arctic Sea Ice August 9 2016

(Amplifying feedbacks due to loss of sea ice reflectivity in the Arctic and Antarctic, reduced carbon-store uptake and carbon-store emissions can result in an overall greater sensitivity to an initial heat forcing such as the current 490 ppm CO2e. Paleoclimate proxies hint that these feedbacks may cause the Earth System to be more sensitive than IPCC models currently indicate. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

The paleoclimate-implied warming from the other climate scenarios is likely higher as well. RCP 4.5 probably hits closer to 3 C under such a climate sensitivity range. RCP 6.0 probably sees 4 to 4.5 C warming by 2100. And the worst-case RCP 8.5 probably achieves closer to 6 C warming.

It’s for these and other reasons that some scientists say that avoiding 1.5 C at this time is probably impossible. Meanwhile, it’s pretty reasonable to say that avoiding 2 C presents a huge challenge requiring a very rapid response, a goal that will probably require reducing the atmospheric CO2e levels below their current ranges.

CO2e Increasing by 3 ppm Per Year

Human beings are still dumping massive volumes of carbon into the atmosphere. Carbon emissions are still near record-high levels. As a result, atmospheric CO2e levels are rising by about 3 ppm or more each year. For 2016, CO2 alone may rise by 3.4 ppm or more, and CO2e may jump by more than 4 ppm — to hit near 490 ppm CO2e. This is due in part to the 2015-2016 El Nino’s cyclical warming of the Equatorial oceans, forests, and lands on top of the already-strengthening heat of human warming. And this added heat reduces the ability of these carbon sinks to take in CO2.

Even if this rate of CO2e rise is just maintained, it’s possible that we’ll see 1.5 C warming not by the end of this century, but by the early 2030s. And as the world heats up, it’s likely we’ll see additional emissions coming as carbon sinks become stressed and stop taking in such high volumes of greenhouse gasses or even turn into sources.

The result is that the challenge presented to us now is far greater, far more urgent than that of 2007. We risk, over the next few decades, locking in not just 2 C warming, but 3 C warming or more if we do not act swiftly and seriously. And with 1.5 C warming coming with almost 100 percent certainty, we need to ramp up climate-change mitigation strategies as well as provide aid and succor for the increasing harms, dislocations, and inequalities that will likely emerge.

Links:

NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory

The Keeling Curve

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Hansen and Sato Estimated Paleoclimate Temperatures

Skeptical Science — Beginner’s Guide to RCP Scenarios

Transportation’s Role in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

LANCE MODIS

Carbon Sinks in Crisis

Climate Change — Financing Global Forests

Sahara-Like Heat Marches North, Sparks Scores of Massive Wildfires Across Portugal

Over the past week, Sahara Desert-like weather conditions marched north into Spain and Portugal. This extreme, abnormal heat brought with it a rash of severe wildfires. And, unfortunately, these are exactly the kinds of conditions we should expect to see more and more of as a result of human-forced climate change.

(Wildfire consumes homes, businesses and vehicles on Madeira Island, Portugal on August 10, 2016. Meanwhile, scores of wildfires are also burning over the mainland. Video Source: CV.)

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Yesterday, the temperature hit a hot, dry 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) just west of Lisbon, Portugal — temperatures more typical to the Sahara desert hundreds of miles to the south. On any normal August day, this Atlantic coastal town would expect to see readings around 28 C (83 F).

To the north, a sprawling heat dome of high pressure has tucked beneath a big jet stream wave for much of the past week. Pulled poleward by near record-low sea ice extents, this atmospheric brute — one of a new breed made stronger and thicker by human-forced warming of the atmosphere — funneled in brisk winds even as it baked Portugal’s lands and islands day after day.

4,200 Firefighters Mobilized

Fires, already sparking in the extreme heat, expanded and multiplied. By Wednesday, more than 180 of these blazes raged over both Portugal and its island archipelago of Madeira.

Portugal Spain Wildfires August 10 2016 NASA

(NASA satellite shot shows large wildfires burning over Portugal and Spain on August 10, 2016. For reference, width of bottom edge of frame represents 250 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

On mainland Portugal scores of fires cut roads and power lines. Whole villages were emptied as the blazes encroached, numerous homes were destroyed and one life was tragically lost. Everywhere, firefighters scrambled to get a toehold in containing multiple out-of-control fires with a massive mobilization that included more than 4,200 emergency personnel from across the country.

This abnormally tough-to-control fire situation spurred Portuguese officials to seek aid from the EU. The request drew a swift response from Spain as well as Italy, which immediately sent three fire suppression aircraft to aid in the massive effort.

Madeira Burns

Southwest across the Atlantic, the Portuguese island of Madeira, one of several islands in the Madeira Archipelago, was also burning. Abnormally hot conditions over the past week with 35 C (95 F) temperatures and strong, dry winds had fanned large fires running across the island. By Tuesday, Archipelago capital city Fuchal saw numerous fires rushing toward town. Both firefighters and the military mobilized, but this combined effort was unable to prevent the fire from entering the town. Three people were tragically caught up in the blazes as 40 homes burned and a famous five-star hotel was consumed to its foundations.

Madeira fires August 10 2016 NASA

(Fires cover large sections of Madeira, a Portuguese island, on August 10, 2016. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Across town, two hospitals shut down operations as fires encroached. As a result the 379 people injured by the blaze were forced to flood into the few remaining medical facilities.

As of this afternoon, fires still rage around Madeira. One thousand people have been evacuated from the island and emergency officials are still scrambling to deal with a difficult-to-control fire situation. Many visitors not already evacuated were reported to be sheltering in a local sports stadium.

An ‘Abnormal Fire Situation’ in the Context of Climate Change

Like many regions of the world, Portugal experiences an annual fire season. However, this year’s fires are far more extensive, they rage under hotter-than-normal temperatures, and they are being fanned by strong, dry winds. In short, 35-40 C readings are not normal for any time of year in Portugal. The fire conditions, therefore, are far worse than what Portugal typically experiences. But in the new world forced to warm by human greenhouse gas emissions, such conditions, along with a much more extreme wildfire potential, are far more likely to occur.

Europe temp anomaly Summer 2015

(During 2003, Europe experienced a massive heat wave that produced thousands of heat-related deaths. In 2015 another strong, but somewhat less intense, heat wave hit Europe in July. This year, abnormal heat is sparking wildfires across Portugal. These are the kinds of new extremes that Europe can expect to see more and more of as human-forced climate change causes Sahara Desert-like weather conditions to march northward. Image source: NOAA.)

Fires happen almost every summer in Portugal — just not fires like these. It is obvious from Portugal’s requests for assistance that the large number and extreme intensity of the fires has saturated Portugal’s emergency firefighting capability. Prime Minister Antonio Costa, in a news conference earlier today, starkly stated: “This abnormal situation surpasses the normal response capacity of our forces.”

It is worth noting that these fires have not yet reached the extent of the 2003 blazes. Back then, a massive European heatwave that many scientists have attributed to human-forced climate change helped to spark wildfires that killed 19 people and burned fully 10 percent of Portugal’s forests. But it’s clear the 2016 fires are already among the worst Portugal has ever experienced — and this fire event isn’t yet finished. Over the coming week, temperatures are expected to range from 35 to 42 C, providing no hint of relief in an already dangerous fire situation.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

NOAA

Madeira Wildfires — Three Dead as Flames Reach Funchal

Three Dead and Hundred Hospitalized as Flames Sweep Through Portugal

Hundreds Flee Forest Fires in Portugal

Earth Nullschool

Climate Makes European Heatwaves 10x More Likely

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat tip to Plaza Red

NASA Map Shows Large Portions of Greenland are Melting from Below

During recent years, as human fossil-fuel emissions have forced the Earth to warm, observations of Greenland’s surface has indicated a rising rate of melt. What has been less well-observed is melt rates beneath the ice and near the ice base. This is important because the pooling of water beneath the great ice sheet can help speed its movement toward ocean outlets, along with accumulating heat at the base of the ice — which can also quicken the pace of overall melt.

A new scientific study headed by NASA researchers has developed one of the first comprehensive maps of melt along Greenland’s basal zone, where the ice contacts the ground surface. What they have found is that large portions of Greenland are melting from below:

Greenland basal thaw map

(New, first-of-its-kind map shows extensive melt along the Greenland ice sheet base. Melt in this region is a sign that heat is building up beneath the ice as well as on top. Image source: NASA.)

This mapping study found that wide expanses of northern Greenland and pretty much all of southern Greenland are now experiencing melt at the ice sheet base. As the interior of Greenland has a cracked-bowl topography — with land bowing down into a central trough and numerous furrows connecting the ice sheet with the ocean — understanding where liquid water and heat are pooling at the bottom of the ice sheet will help scientists to get a better idea of how Greenland’s glaciers will respond to human-forced warming.

Joe MacGregor, lead study author and glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland recently noted:

“We’re ultimately interested in understanding how the ice sheet flows and how it will behave in the future. If the ice at its bottom is at the melting-point temperature, or thawed, then there could be enough liquid water there for the ice to flow faster and affect how quickly it responds to climate change.”

Geothermal Melt, Ice Sheet Heat Accumulation, and Climate Change

Melt along the base of the Greenland ice sheet has long been influenced by heat welling up from or trapped near the Earth’s surface. The heavy, thick ice sheet densely packs the ground and rocks under it, which generates and amplifies geothermal hot-spots beneath Greenland. In addition, the ice creates a kind of insulating layer which locks that ground heat in. As a result, the bottom of the ice sheet is often tens of degrees warmer than its top.

Alone, this blanketing effect is enough to generate some melt along the bottom of Greenland. But now that the surface is melting more and more, heat transport from the ice surface to the bottom via liquid water funneling down to pool below is a more common occurrence.

Subglacial lake recharges due to surface melt Greenland

(Recharge of subglacial lake by surface melt near the Flade Isblink ice cap is an example of how surface melt can interact with basal melt, driving the formation of water at the ice sheet base. Image source: Nature.)

The way this heat transfer works is that rising temperatures over Greenland form more extensive surface lakes and melt ponds during the increasingly warm summers (and sometimes briefly during other periods). Often, the meltwater will find a crack in the ice and flow down to the ice interior. Sometimes the water remains suspended in the middle layers between the surface and the ice sheet base as a kind of heat bubble. At other times, the water will bore all the way down to the ground where it can form into pools or subglacial lakes.

At Flade Isblink in northeastern Greenland, such a filling of a subglacial lake was observed during the 2011 and 2012 melt years. As Greenland warms, such instances are likely to become more common. In this way, melt at the surface can add to the amount of heat trapped below the ice sheet — forming a kind of synergistic melt process.

The new NASA study helps our understanding of how such a process might unfold by showing the current extent of subsurface melt. The study combined physical models with observations to create this larger picture of bottom melt, telling a dramatic story of the opening period of human-forced Greenland melt, in which sub-surface melt is already very extensive.

Conditions in Context — The Level of Atmospheric Greenhouse Gasses is Now About Equal to Where They Were When the Greenland Ice Sheet First Formed

In context, the Greenland ice sheet is the largest repository of land ice remaining in the Northern Hemisphere. Covering a vast region of 1,710,000 square kilometers and rising up to 3 kilometers high at its tallest point, this ice sheet contains fully 2,850,000 cubic kilometers of ice. If all this ice melted, it would raise the world’s sea levels by around 7.2 meters (nearly 24 feet).

This enormous mountain of ice astride Greenland began to form about 11 to 18 million years ago during the Middle Miocene climate epoch. Back then, atmospheric carbon dioxide ranged from 405 to 500 parts per million. This decline from earlier, higher CO2 concentrations was allowing the world to cool enough to begin to support glacial ice in this region (around 4 C warmer than 1880s values).

Greenland_Mass_Balance

(Losses of Greenland mass from the surface zone have been accelerating during recent years. This loss has primarily been driven by human-forced warming of the Arctic. Though the North Atlantic Oscillation can generate melt variability by driving warm air flows toward or away from Greenland, the overall long-term driver has been a rapid warming of the Arctic region due to fossil-fuel emissions. Though we have a pretty good understanding of surface melt, our understanding of melt at the base of the ice sheet and heat accumulation there is less complete. Such an understanding may help us to predict future ice sheet behavior. Image source: Skeptical Science.)

Back then, Greenland’s ice was far smaller, far less extensive. It was a baby ice sheet that would grow into a behemoth as the Miocene cooled into the Pliocene — when CO2 levels fell to around 390 to 405 ppm — and then into the various ice ages and interglacials that followed (featuring atmospheric CO2 in the range of around 180 ppm during ice ages and around 275 ppm during interglacials).

Now, human fossil-fuel burning has put the ice sheet in a great global-warming time machine. With atmospheric CO2 levels hitting Middle Miocene ranges of 407.5 ppm at Mauna Loa this year, an accumulation of enough heat to significantly melt large portions of Greenland’s ice is a very real and growing concern. Exactly how that melt may unfold is still a big scientific mystery, but the risks are growing along with the heat and the new NASA basal melt study helps to shed a little light.

Links:

First Map of Thawed Areas Under Greenland Ice Sheet

NASA Maps Thawed Areas Under the Greenland Ice Sheet

Recharge of Subglacial Lake by Surface Melt Water in Northeast Greenland

Pliocene

Middle Miocene

Greenland Ice Sheet

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hot Gulf of Mexico Hurls Rain Bombs at Florida and the U.S. Gulf Coast

Rain bomb. It’s a new kind of severe rainstorm that’s capable of overwhelming a city’s flood-handling capabilities in just an hour or two. Of generating 2-inch-plus per hour rainfall events in odd places and at unexpected times. A type of severe storm that’s been enabled by all the added heat and atmospheric moisture loading resulting from human-forced climate change.

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High Atmospheric Water Vapor NE Gulf

(High levels of atmospheric water vapor over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico is fueling the potential for severe, damaging and life-threatening rainfall events across the Gulf Coast this week even as numerous severe flood events occur across the globe. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Lately, due in large part to an atmosphere and ocean surface that’s about 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter than 1880s values and related added atmospheric moisture, the powerful, damaging, and life-threatening rain bombs have been going off hard and heavy across the globe. Last week, Ellicott City was hit, killing one and generating damage that will likely take years to repair. Yesterday, about 21 people lost their lives in a freak flood that dumped 20 inches of rain over part of Macedonia. In Sudan on Saturday, the Nile reached its highest levels in 100 years as thousands of homes were destroyed and more than 75 people lost their lives. In Karachi, Pakistan this weekend, 50 percent of the city is without power and ten people have lost their lives due to flooding. In India over the past two weeks, more than one million people have been displaced and 100 killed in devastating floods. And now, a very hot Gulf of Mexico appears to be hurling a number of similarly powerful storms at the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Severe Gulf Rainstorms Begin

There’s a hell of a lot of heat and moisture available to fuel storms over the Gulf of Mexico right now. And this region where ocean surfaces exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit (running from 30 to 33 C, or 1 to 3 C above average) over a broad swath is just now starting to toss some extremely powerful rain bombs at nearby states.

Rain Bomb over Gulf of Mexico

(26 inches of rain fell over a portion of the Gulf of Mexico in one 24-hour period just west of northern Florida. Over the coming week, this moisture is expected to shift northward over Lousiana, Mississippi, and the Florida Panhandle. Image source: Jesse Ferrell at Accuweather.)

Strong convection is blowing up from the hot surface of these waters and exploding into thunderstorms. Already, big rain bombs are starting to fall out over the Gulf or streaming onto shore. As of yesterday, one of these systems produced more than 26 inches of rain in just one 12-hour period. That’s an average of about 2.2 inches of rainfall per hour for 12 hours running, an amount of water that would cause extremely severe flooding if it fell on a U.S. city.

Today, these rain bombs began roaring ashore over the Florida Panhandle. A series of such systems dumped 20 inches of rain near Dekle Beach, Florida even as powerful storms firing near Pinland and Perry dropped 16 inches.

20 Inches of Rain Dekle Beach

(Earlier today, 20 inches of rain fell near Dekle Beach, Florida even as totals near 16 inches fell between Pinland and Perry. Image source: Jesse Ferrell at Accuweather.)

To be clear, these are just thunderstorms associated with a very hot and moist weather pattern over the Gulf — but they’re producing rainfall amounts usually seen in strong tropical cyclones. Meanwhile, National Weather Service radar shows strong storms continuing to cycle into this region of Florida even as south Florida is hammered by heavy storms and intense squalls swirl over the western Panhandle, Alabama, and Mississippi.

More Severe Rain on the Way, but the Rain Bombs Themselves are Tough to Predict

Over the coming week, the potential for continued heavy storms is high. NOAA’s precipitation forecast model shows rainfall potentials for the region in the range of 5-10 inches for some locations over the coming week. It’s worth noting, however, that NOAA model runs have often not captured the full potential peak rainfall totals in some recent severe events. To this point, it’s also worth noting that forecasting rain bombs can be difficult, particularly so during recent years. Monitors like NOAA can track the underlying conditions, but it’s generally tough to see exactly where the big precipitation spike will occur until perhaps a few hours before the rain starts falling.

Part of this prediction difficulty is likely due to the fact that the added atmospheric moisture loading — 8 percent since the 1880s and 5 percent since the late 1970s — due to global warming has increased instability to the point where new, and less well understood, types of weather are being generated. These days, there are new kinds of thunderstorms ranging the globe, and there’s a lot we don’t understand about them.

Links:

Jesse Ferrell at Accuweather

NOAA Rainfall Prediction

Earth Nullschool

The Macedonia Flood

Four Major Floods Taking Place Right This Second

20 Inches of Rain in One Day

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

 

Carbon Sinks in Crisis — It Looks Like the World’s Largest Rainforest is Starting to Bleed Greenhouse Gasses

Back in 2005, and again in 2010, the vast Amazon rainforest, which has been aptly described as the world’s lungs, briefly lost its ability to take in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Its drought-stressed trees were not growing and respiring enough to, on balance, draw carbon out of the air. Fires roared through the forest, transforming trees into kindling and releasing the carbon stored in their wood back into the air.

These episodes were the first times that the Amazon was documented to have lost its ability to take in atmospheric carbon on a net basis. The rainforest had become what’s called carbon-neutral. In other words, it released as much carbon as it took in. Scientists saw this as kind of a big deal.

This summer, a similar switch-off appears to be happening again in the Amazon. A severe drought is again stressing trees even as it is fanning wildfires to greater intensity than during 2005 and 2010. Early satellite measures seem to indicate that something even worse may be happening — the rainforest and the lands it inhabits are now being hit so hard by a combination of drought and fire that the forest is starting to bleed carbon back. This gigantic and ancient repository of atmospheric carbon appears to have, at least over the past two months, turned into a carbon source.

Amazon carbon dioxide

(High levels of carbon dioxide, in the range of 410 to 412 parts per million, and methane in the atmosphere over the Amazon rainforest during July and August of 2016 is a preliminary indicator that the great forest may be, for this period, acting as a carbon source. Image source: The Copernicus Observatory.)

Carbon Sinks Can’t Keep Up

Though the story of human-forced climate change starts with fossil-fuel burning, which belches heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, sadly, it doesn’t end there. As that burning causes the Earth to heat up, it puts stress on the places that would, under normal circumstances, draw carbon out of the atmosphere. The carbon-absorbing oceans, boreal forests, and great equatorial rainforests all feel the sting of that heat. This warming causes the oceans to be able to hold less carbon in their near-surface waters and sets off droughts and fires that can reduce a forest’s ability to take in that carbon.

In the context of the global cycle of carbon entering and being removed from the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and large, healthy forests serve to take in greenhouse gasses. We call these carbon sinks, and throughout the past 10,000 years of our current epoch, the Holocene, they’ve helped to keep these gasses, and by extension, Earth’s temperatures, relatively stable.

carbon sinks

(Without the ability of forests, soils and oceans to take in carbon — to act as carbon sinks — global atmospheric CO2 would have already risen well above 500 parts per million by 2009 due to fossil-fuel burning. These sinks are a helpful mitigating factor to the insult of human carbon emissions, but if they become too stressed, they can become sources of carbon instead. Image source: IPCC/CEF.)

However, for a long time now human fossil-fuel emissions have far exceeded the ability of the world’s carbon sinks to draw in excess carbon and keep greenhouse gas levels stable. Though these sinks have taken in more than half of the great volume of carbon emitted from fossil-fuel burning, the total portion of heat-trapping CO2 has risen from 280 ppm to more than 400 ppm. The oceans acidified as they strained beneath the new carbon overburden. And the forests took in this carbon even as they fought off expanding deforestation. As a result of all the excess carbon now in the atmosphere, the Earth has warmed by more than 1 degree Celsius above 1880s levels. And combined with the already strong stress imposed by clear-cutting and slash and burn agriculture, the added heat is a great strain on an essential global resource.

Global Warming Causes Carbon Sinks to Switch Off, or Worse, Turn into Sources

In this tragic context of heat, drought, ocean acidification and deforestation, it appears that the grace period that the Earth’s carbon sinks have given us to get our act together on global warming is coming to an end. Heating the Earth as significantly as we have is causing these sinks to start to break down — to be able to draw in less carbon, as was the case with the Amazon rainforest in 2005 and 2010. At these points in time, the sink was carbon-neutral. It was no longer providing us with the helpful service of drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it in trees or soil. But, more ominously, in 2016, it appears that the Amazon may also to be starting to contribute carbon back to the atmosphere.

High Surface Methane Amazon August 4

(High surface methane readings over the Amazon in excess of 2,000 parts per billion is a drought and wildfire signature. It is also a signal that the rainforest during this period was emitting more carbon than it was taking in. Image source: The Copernicus Observatory.)

After each of these brief periods of failing to draw down carbon in 2005 and 2010, the Amazon carbon sink switched back on and began to function again for a time. But by 2015 and 2016, record global temperatures had again sparked a terrible drought in the Amazon region. According to NASA officials, the new drought was the worst seen since at least 2002 and was sparking worse fire conditions than during 2005 and 2010 — the last times the Amazon’s carbon sink switched off. In July of 2016, the Guardian reported:

“Severe drought conditions at the start of the dry season have set the stage for extreme fire risk in 2016 across the southern Amazon,” Morton said in a statement. The Brazilian states of Amazonas, Mato Grosso, and Pará are reportedly at the highest risk.

Per NASA’s Amazon fire forecast, the wildfire risk for July to October now exceeds the risk in 2005 and 2010 — the last time the region experienced severe drought and wildfires raged across large swaths of the rainforest. So far, the Amazon has seen more fires through June 2016 than in previous years, which NASA scientists said was another indicator of a potentially rough wildfire season.

Extensive Wildfires Over Brazil and Amazon on August 5 2016

(Extensive wildfires over the southern Amazon and Brazil coincide with apparent atmospheric methane and CO2 spikes. Indicator that the Amazon carbon sink is experiencing another period of failure. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

At the same time that drought and related wildfires were starting to tear through the Amazon, atmospheric carbon monitors like the The Copernicus Observatory were picking up the signal of a carbon spike above the Amazon with methane levels higher than 2,000 ppb (which is often a drought and wildfire signature) and carbon dioxide levels in the range of 41o to 412 ppm. It was a spike comparable to those over industrial regions of the world like eastern China, the U.S. and Europe.

In context, these Amazon carbon spikes are occurring at a time of record atmospheric CO2 increases. For the first seven months of 2016, the average increase in CO2 versus 2015 was 3.52 ppm. 2015’s overall rate of CO2 increase in the range of 3.1 ppm year-on-year was the fastest annual increase ever recorded by NOAA and the Mauna Loa Observatory. So far this year, the rate of atmospheric gain in this key greenhouse gas is continuing to rise — this in the context of carbon spikes over a region that should be drawing in CO2, not spewing it out.

Links:

Drought Shuts Down Amazon’s Carbon Sink

Amazon Could Face Intense Wildfire Season This Year, NASA Warns

The Keeling Curve

The Copernicus Observatory

NOAA ESRL

IPCC/CEF

LANCE MODIS

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

It’s Not Just Subtropical Cornwall — Climate Zones Everywhere are on the March Poleward

A few weeks ago, the University of Exeter found that parts of Cornwall, England had become subtropical. The study stated that since average temperatures had risen to above 10 degrees Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) for periods of time longer than seven months, this part of England situated on a latitude line north of most of Newfoundland has become part of a climate zone that during the early 20th century extended as far south as the southern tip of Florida.

Seemingly oblivious to the new oddity and possible peril implied by such a significant climate shift, the study went on to cheerfully observe that:

Parts of Cornwall have become subtropical since 2000 and this could create opportunities to grow new, unusual plants. Sunflowers, maize, grapevines and tea are already grown in the Duchy.

The study also pointed out that the added heat might present a problem or two, instances that might be sorted out simply by getting scientists to work together with farmers:

While sub-tropical conditions may create opportunities to grow exotic crops, the lower frequency of frosts is also making Cornwall more susceptible to invasive species. As the temperatures continue to warm, we need to ensure we manage the risks carefully as well as capitalising on the opportunities. This will require scientists to continue to work hand-in-hand with the horticultural sector.

Subtropical Cornwall — Sahara Desert Marches North as Coastal Zones Flood

Unmentioned, however, was how bizarre the notion of a subtropical Cornwall actually is and what such a major climate shift may mean for the globe, Europe, and Cornwall itself — a shift that may put the odd notion of ‘capitalising on the opportunities’ practically out of reach.

Unfortunately, big climate-zone movements of the kind shown in the Exeter study risk an amazing range of ecological and geophysical damage. A short and incomplete list includes melting glaciers, shrinking sea ice, rising sea levels (a very real worry for the numerous coastal communities near or within Cornwall, including places like Falmouth, Penzance, St Ives, and Exeter itself), stratifying and increasingly anoxic oceans, mass coral bleaching, and habitat loss for species on a global scale risking mass extinction. Any such mention of this appropriately worrying context was notably and oddly absent from the Exeter study.

Subtropical climates

(The subtropical climate zones of the world as of the late 20th century. Image source: Commons.)

Of particular interest to Cornwall and regions nearby is that the northward expansion of the subtropical regions of the world has long been a concern among climate scientists due to its ability to enhance desertification in highly-populated regions like Europe. The issue is that as the tropics and subtropics drift poleward, they bring hot, dry weather along with them. Because the subtropical regions support conditions conducive for arid climates, there is a high likelihood that deserts will march northward into more densely-inhabited regions.

A 2010 study by UCAR found that under continued fossil-fuel burning, the Sahara Desert essentially leaps across the Mediterranean and fully expands into southern and central Europe. In other words, though Cornwall may be able to support subtropical plants now, the northward movement of the arid zone related to the incoming warmth would make growing such plants an increasingly difficult prospect as time moves forward.

Drought Zones Expand under global warming

(A 2010 UCAR study found that drought zones dramatically expand as the tropical and subtropical climate zones march northward due to human-forced warming. Image source: Drought Under Global Warming.)

It’s Not Just Cornwall — Climate Zones are Moving Everywhere

As we consider what the onset of intensified warming may mean for Cornwall — with deserts expanding and seas stratifying as they rise — it’s also worth thinking a little bit about the related warming-forced movement of the world’s isotherms. Isotherm is a meteorological term for a line connecting regions of the same temperature. Averaged over the coldest or warmest months of a year, these lines of temperature also mark the boundaries between climate zones.

The tropics, for example, are bounded in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres by a line of 18 C (64.4 F) average coldest-month temperatures. The edges of the two polar zones are bounded by a line of 10 degrees Celsius (50 F) average temperatures during the hottest months of the year (July in the Boreal region, January in the Austral region).

 

Isotherms

(NOAA global isotherm map. Image source: NOAA Climate Zones.)

Tucked between these two zones are the temperate and subtropical climates. Over the past 40 years, rapid warming has shoved these isotherms poleward. This shift has created a new climate reality for Cornwall and pretty much everywhere else.

At an average decadal march away from the Equator of about 35 miles, these respective climate boundaries have moved by around 140 miles over the last four decades, expanding the total reach of the tropic zone by 280 miles northward and southward. In the Northern Hemisphere, the polar climate zone has shrunken toward the continental edges by about 14o miles, while in the Southern Hemisphere, the polar zone is shrinking off the tip of South America and across the Southern Ocean toward Antarctica by a similar distance.

These changes in the isotherms are rough measures, of course. In some places, like Cornwall, climate zones are moving toward the poles at an even faster rate. And the Arctic climate zone is notably shrinking at a more rapid rate than the Southern Hemisphere polar zone.

Rapid Climate Zone Movement Risks Species Extinction

Movement of these climate zones is driven by a rate of global warming in the range 0.15 to 0.20 degrees C every ten years, a pace of warming about 30 times faster than the warming at the end of the last ice age. As a result, plants and animals are finding that the habitats to which they’ve adapted are swiftly and dramatically changing. Plant and animal ranges have moved behind these climate zones at a rate of only about four miles every decade. Basically, habitats are moving too quickly for the creatures they support to catch up.

Earth_Global_Circulation

(As the globe warms due to fossil-fuel burning, the tropical Hadley cell expands even as the top of the polar and mid-latitude cells rise. This combination results in severe climate shifts and more persistent weather patterns due to a weakened polar jet stream. Such change in climate results in loss of animal habitat and increasingly difficult and extreme weather conditions for human beings. Image source: NASA/Commons.)

Back in 2008, climate scientist James Hansen noted:

If emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase at the current rate—“business as usual”—then the rate of isotherm movement will double in this century to at least 70 miles per decade. If we continue on this path, a large fraction of the species on Earth, as many as 50 percent or more, may become extinct. The species most at risk are those in polar climates and the biologically diverse slopes of alpine regions. These animals, in effect, will be pushed off the planet—though some like the polar bear may be “rescued” and allowed to survive in zoos.

It is important to also consider that loss of plant habitat due to warming and drying is a primary driver of the mass tree death and increase in wildfire rates we have seen across the globe in recent years. Along with the mass exodus of fish from warming Equatorial oceans and the flipping-on of the global coral bleaching switch during 2014-2016, we can see these species-threatening impacts in heart-wrenching and terrifying effect today.

Given that the rapid poleward progression of the isotherms has continued since Hansen’s 2008 writing, and given that the pace of global warming appears to have accelerated through the 2014 to 2016 period, it appears that his statement is all the more salient today — especially now that we are starting to see some of the mass loss of animal and plant life due to warming that Hansen mentioned. And especially since parts of Cornwall in England are now considered subtropical.

Links:

Subtropical Cornwall Climate Could Mean Exotic New Crops (among other things)

Commons

Drought Under Global Warming

NOAA Climate Zones

Scientist James Hansen, “The 800 Pound Gorilla”

66 Million Trees Dead in California

This Global Coral Bleaching Event Just Won’t End

Tropical Fish Moving Toward Poles

NASA/Commons

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to DT Lange

Permafrost Thaw Triggers Anthrax Outbreak, Wrecks Roads, Generates Carbon-Spewing Peat Primed to Burn in the Heat of Human Warming

About 75 years ago, a reindeer fell sick to anthrax. Laying down to die upon the frozen ground of Siberia, the poor creature’s carcass froze in the Arctic climate. With it, the deadly infectious bacteria teeming in the deer’s body were stilled into an inert latency.

In the decades after, billions of tons of carbon bellowed out into the world’s air from fossil-fuel burning and carbon-spewing machines spreading around the globe. The heat-trapping properties of these carbon gasses subsequently warmed the Arctic and the frozen permafrost that was this ill-fated deer’s — and the anthrax’s — tomb.

Extent of Permafrost NSIDC

(Extent of Northern Hemisphere permafrost. Due to human-forced climate change, this permafrost zone is starting to thaw. At about 2 C worth of warming, a majority of this region will be under thaw pressure. Thawing permafrost releases carbon dioxide and methane, unearths ancient diseases, and causes the ground overlaying the permafrost to collapse. Image source: NSIDC and Google Earth.)

For the deer, there would be no second life, as rising temperatures bring decomposition 75 years after its death. But as the flesh of that deer warmed, the long-frozen anthrax bacteria began to revive. Over the past week, this climate-change-released anthrax spread back into the deer population, killing about 2,300 reindeer. It also leapt into humans, resulting in dozens of hospitalizations, with half the victims as children — and so far, one human death.

The Permafrost Tomb Opens to Release Undead Microbes

Permafrost, when boiled down to its basics, is primarily composed of frozen dead things. Much of the material is leaf litter, grass, wood, bark, flowers, or other frozen plant matter. But interspersed among what amounts to a many-meters-thick pile of frozen peat stretching for thousands of miles around the northern continental boundaries of our world, are millions and millions of entombed animal carcasses. Many of these are thousands of years old. Some have been there for almost two million years. And each of them may carry latent viruses or infectious bacteria.

Thawing Permafrost causes land to buckle and collapse

(Thawing permafrost causes the land to buckle and crack even as it releases ancient microbes long entombed in ice. Image source: NSIDC.)

Cold does not always kill these microbes, which are often resilient to harsh conditions. Viruses are famous for their ability to remain dormant in far-flung biological reservoirs for geological time periods. Meanwhile, bacteria are capable of sporification, the generation of a tough protective shell to ward off extreme conditions. As permafrost thaws due to human-forced climate change, these ancient, long-dormant pathogens can become active.

To this point, LiveScience states that:

Anthrax isn’t the only pathogen potentially biding its time in the permafrost. In 2015, researchers announced that a giant virus they’d discovered in the Siberian permafrost was still infectious — after 30,000 years. Fortunately, that virus infects only amoebas and isn’t dangerous to humans, but its existence raised concerns that deadlier pathogens such as smallpox, or unknown viruses thought extinct, might be lurking in permafrost.

Human activities such as oil drilling and mining in formerly frozen Siberia could disturb microbes that have been dormant for millennia (emphasis added).

As Bloomberg recently noted, the surprises coming from climate change can be similar to those hidden in a box of chocolates. But in this case, the nasty center happened to be anthrax.

Permafrost Thaw Crumples the Alaskan Highway

Thaw of the frozen, carbon-rich permafrost as the world is forced to warm not only poses an increasing risk for dangerous infectious disease outbreaks, it also results in weird changes to the land itself. Thaw causes permafrost to sag — sinking into pits, holes and bogs as the crystalline lattice of the old, melting ice collapses. Anything on top — be it buildings, highways, runways, animal paths, pipelines or telephone poles — can find its foundations undermined.

Such is the case with the Alaska Highway running from central Alaska southward through northwestern Canada. Constructed during World War II, this road has long been a critical 1,387-mile artery through which goods and traffic were delivered to the far north. With human-forced climate change causing the permafrost to thaw, the Highway and the communities it supports are in jeopardy. Every year, large cracks form in the road’s supporting structure — some of them wide enough for a grown man to walk in — as the permafrost beneath the road thaws and deflates.

Permafrost thaw causes roads to crack sag and buckle

(Permafrost thaw is causing northern roads like the Alaska Highway to crack, sag and buckle. Image source: NSIDC.)

Jeff Currey, materials engineer for the northern region of Alaska’s Department of Transportation, recently noted:

“The Romans built roads 2,000 years ago that people are still using. On the other hand, we have built roads that within a year or two, without any maintenance, look like a roller coaster because they are built over thaw-unstable permafrost.”

It now costs more than 50 million dollars every year just to maintain the Alaska Highway. That’s about seven times the average maintenance cost of a road of comparable length. Climate change’s impact on the permafrost is responsible for this increased cost. With so few roads running through the far north, the Alaska Highway is critical to the communities it feeds into. However, as climate change causes the road to break and buckle, the future stability of these communities is called into question.

About 1,800 Billion Tons of Flammable Carbon in the Thawing Permafrost

As if thawing, unearthing of disease-carrying carcasses, and sagging lands causing infrastructure to buckle and collapse weren’t enough, the permafrost itself contains enough carbon to significantly amplify human-forced warming. Some of this carbon will be released due to the process of warming-induced decay. In other cases, since much of that thawed permafrost is flammable peat-like material, direct burning becomes an even more rapid carbon-release mechanism. The vicious cycle can be summed up like this: warming = permafrost thaw = more fires = warming.

“You have this climate and fire interaction, and all of a sudden permafrost can thaw really rapidly,” Jon O’Donnell, an ecologist with the National Park Service’s Arctic Network, recently noted in Mother Jones.

In total, it’s estimated that between 1,300 and 1,600 billion tons of carbon is sequestered in just the top three meters of permafrost. Another 400 billion tons of carbon is estimated to be contained in the deep permafrost. To put these numbers in perspective, the atmosphere today holds about 850 billion tons of carbon. So if all the carbon in the permafrost were to hit the atmosphere as CO2, for example, we’d be sitting near 1,000 ppm of that heat-trapping gas, a truly catastrophic number. Thankfully, various inertia keep such a thing from happening all at once. Permafrost thaw takes time, and the process of transforming permafrost to atmospheric carbon does not occur instantly or completely even after the permafrost thaws. Nonetheless, the amount of heat-trapping gasses coming out of these thawing lands is expected to be significant.

As the Arctic is warming by about 0.6 degrees Celsius each decade, the permafrost thaws and some of the carbon that’s entombed there enters the Earth’s carbon cycle. This happens as the frozen lands heat up and are transformed into peat bogs or piles of dry, peat-like material. Methane and CO2 bubbles or wafts up from the newly-formed lakes and the decaying material below. The thawed peat starts to decay. If the decay is dry, then the carbon is released as CO2. If wet, it tends to release more as methane. At times, this gas blasts great holes in the surface or causes the topsoil and grass to ripple as a methane-filled blister rises beneath it. All that newly-thawed material becomes fuel added to the ever more numerous fires that continue to bloom and rage throughout the northern parts of the world.

Permafrost Burning

(Alaskan wildfire burns through a permafrost zone near a frozen river. Image source: National Park Service.)

In total, it’s estimated that around 160 billion tons of this carbon could hit the atmosphere by 2100. That would be like adding nearly two billion tons to the carbon emission from fossil-fuel burning every year. All told, such an emission would be enough to increase atmospheric CO2 concentrations by around 35-75 ppm (depending on the state of carbon sinks), if it all emitted as CO2.  The extra carbon in the air would then trap more heat, generating a self-reinforcing cycle that we call an amplifying feedback.

The frozen land therefore releases disease as it thaws, it crumbles infrastructure, and as it dries and melts and wettens and burns it releases still more heat-trapping gasses. All reasons why we should be very trepedacious about the now-thawing permafrost — embedded as it is with zombie anthrax — as well as the various and multiple other surprises human-forced climate change continues to serve up.

Links:

Anthrax Spewing Zombie Deer are The Least of Your Warming Planet Worries

NSIDC

The Alaskan Highway is Literally Melting

Alaska Sinks as Climate Change Thaws Permafrost

Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback

The National Park Service

More Wildfires = More Warming = More Wildfires

5 Deadly Diseases Emerging From Global Warming

Hat tip to Colorado Bob (who has been warning about diseases due to thawing permafrost for some time now)

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to DT Lange

(UPDATED)

Choosing Our Nation’s Course for the Next 40,000 Years — Democratic and Republican Party Platforms Show Extreme Contrast on Climate Change

According to our best understanding of the science, the Permian hothouse extinction event which wiped out more than 90 percent of life in the oceans and more than 70 percent of vertebrate life on land lasted between 48,000 and 60,000 years. Continued fossil-fuel burning through the end of this century could set off an event as bad or worse, proceeding with a speed far faster than the Permian and possibly having more harmful and longer-lasting impacts.

Keeping these sobering thoughts in mind, it has been rightly said that though we are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, we are likely the last generation with the opportunity to do anything about it. And in this election we will choose the path of our nation not only for the next four years, but over the course of at least the next 40,000. For when we vote, we will be choosing between leaders who have called for a global mobilization to attempt to prevent catastrophic changes to the Earth’s climate that will last for untold millennia and those who have promised to ignore these worsening harms until they have wholly swallowed us up.

Stark Climate Policy Contrasts

Never before has climate change been such an important issue in a national election. And never before have the two dominant party goals on the issue of climate change shown such stark contrast. On the one hand, you have a Republican party that downplays and denies the threats posed by rising seas, worsening droughts, oceans suffering expanding dead zones and acidification, stronger and more damaging storms, and deteriorating food and water security. On the other, you have a Democratic party committed to a response that does not ‘leave our children a planet that is profoundly damaged.’

In pursuit of these goals, Democrats are seeking to put policies in place to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent through 2050. Republicans pledge to stymie any progress in carbon emissions cuts by fighting the Kyoto and Paris climate summit provisions, in effect locking in more and more harmful warming over the short through long term.

2016 Climate Change Platforms Democrat Republican

(When it comes to climate change, ever-strengthening Democratic policy measures come into conflict with increasingly intransigent Republican climate change denial, support for continued fossil-fuel burning, and attacks on agencies like the EPA. Image source: InsideClimateNews.)

Democrats have pledged to implement President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (which would, among other things, allow the EPA to regulate carbon emissions), continue to increase fuel economy standards for light and heavy-duty vehicles, and continue to increase environmental and efficiency standards for building codes and appliances. Laughably calling coal — the dirtiest, most heavily polluting energy source — clean, Republicans pledge to do away with the Clean Power Plan altogether.

Democrats are planning to empower the EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing to protect water supplies. Such plans would necessarily result in limits placed on the destructive practice. The Republicans pledge to scrap the EPA, turning it into a bipartisan commission neutered of any real power to prevent bad-actor businesses from expanding fracking, ruining the environment or dumping toxins into the air, water and land.

(We are beginning to feel the first slings and arrows of climate change, but compared to what we could see if we continue fossil fuel burning, if we support the devastating climate and energy policies that Republicans are pushing, the current difficulties are minor and easy. Even though climate impacts will continue to worsen for some time, Republican policies will ensure that the absolute worst case climate impacts will be made real for our generation and for hundreds and perhaps thousands of generations to follow. Video source: Not Reality TV by James Cameron.)

Democrats support Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline (along with an associated expansion of tar sands extraction and burning) and state that no such pipeline will be constructed under Democratic governance. Democrats further pledge to support federal land, infrastructure and resource management decisions that do not further contribute to worsening climate change. Republicans pledge to complete the Keystone Pipeline, expand tar sands extraction, and to build numerous other such fossil fuel facilities.

Democrats support placing a price of some kind on carbon emissions in order to reflect their larger damage to the environment. Republicans pledge not to tax or price carbon and promise to push for expensive carbon capture and storage which has, thus far, primarily been used to further increase oil extraction resulting in yet more carbon emissions long term.

Moreover, the Democratic party has issued this global call to action on the issue of climate change:

We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis. We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis.

Such a statement elevates the threat of climate change to an appropriate level of national and international awareness and response. Wars are terrible, but the threat of climate change promises to multiply the root causes of war, destabilize entire regions, and — by risking the destruction of thousands of cities and communities, water and food supplies, and lands habitable by human beings — singly inflict more damage than any war or accumulation of wars throughout the history of humankind.

Strong Democratic Supports for Climate Action Apparently Open to Improvement

As such, the difference between the two major parties on this critical issue could not be more clear. The Democratic party pledges to act strongly to prevent catastrophic climate change by setting out policies that would rapidly reduce carbon emissions, rapidly adopt renewable energy systems, respond and adapt to climate threats as they emerge, and mobilize the international community to do the same. Republicans pledge to defend coal, expand fracking, increase drilling, dismantle the EPA, ignore the coming harmful global events that climate change will certainly produce, and to build more pipelines.

The Democratic policies would greatly reduce the long-term harm posed by human-forced climate change, whereas the Republican policies would basically work to lock in catastrophic levels of CO2 near 900 parts per million and around 4-5 degrees Celsius total global warming (since 1880) by the end of this century.

RCP 8.5 Nature

(Once the Earth heats up, it can take thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years for it to cool off again. Republican-supported climate policies would push toward worst-case global warming along an RCP 8.5 pathway resulting in 4-5 C warming by 2100, 6 C warming by 2150 and 9 C warming by 2300. Temperatures in this range would set off a dangerous hothouse environment likely lasting for tens to hundreds of thousands of years. Democratic policies would take us off the RCP 8.5 path and instead push for a still-harmful but more easy to manage RCP 4.5-range scenario. Note that permafrost and hydrate carbon feedbacks are not included in this analysis and that long-term warming in the 500 to 1,000 year range for RCP 4.5 under Earth System Sensitivity is likely to hit near 4 C. Image source: Nature.)

Although it’s true that Democrats could still do more to improve their climate policies, could act even more swiftly than they now pledge to, this is the strongest Democratic party platform on the issue of climate change yet, one that is clearly setting out the goal that Democrats are committed to leading a comprehensive fight against the harms posed by human-forced warming. Moreover, the Democrats have shown an appropriate escalation of responses to climate change that leaves open the door to further, more ardent action on the issue.

Republicans, on the other hand, fight for more fossil-fuel burning, more heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere. They commit to a rapidly worsening climate situation becoming so terrible by the middle to end of this century, that it’s questionable whether much of modern civilization could endure it without experiencing an ever-worsening series of collapses, losses and retractions.

The choice, therefore, is probably one of the most important voting choices you will ever make in any election. Voting for Republicans will help to lock in thousands upon thousands of years of catastrophic climate harm. Voting for Democrats is a vote for a party that is actively aware of the problem and promotes a national and global mobilization aimed at confronting it and lessening the damage.

Links:

InsideClimateNews

Democratic Platform Calls for Global Mobilization on Climate Change

Nature

Not Reality TV by James Cameron

Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Trump Calls Climate Change a Chinese Hoax

Stop Keystone XL

Under a Green Sky

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Ellicott City Flood — 1,000 Year Event Looks a Lot Like One of the Rain Bombs of Climate Change

We live in a strange new world, one in which the familiar is all mixed up with the radically altered. Such was the case this weekend when a weather pattern that was pretty normal for summer spawned a single thunderstorm that produced a once-in-a-thousand-years flood event in Ellicott City.

Normal Weekend, Typical Weather Pattern, Abnormal Conditions

On Saturday, my wife and I readied to trek out to Shenandoah National Park for a happily-anticipated summer camping trip. As we headed out the door, the weather pattern looked mostly normal for summer, if a little stormy. A high-pressure system out over the ocean was pulling in moisture off its waters and drawing warm air up from the south. A low over western Pennsylvania and a warm frontal boundary over Maryland created instability in a big zone of convection from Northern Virginia on through to Connecticut. Overall, it was a pretty typical pattern that would probably have produced some moderate-to-strong late-afternoon thunderstorms back in the 20th century. Back then, it was far less likely that a similar pattern would have produced a 1,000 year flood event.

Extreme Ocean Heat 2

(Extremely warm sea surface temperatures on the weekend of July 30-31 helped to fuel the record rainfall event over Elicott City, Maryland. Sea surface temperature anomaly map provided by: Earth Nullschool.)

However, conditions were not normal, not the same as they were back during a time when human fossil-fuel emissions hadn’t forced the world to warm by 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s levels. In the new world in 2016, the ocean high-pressure system was circulating over record warm sea surfaces that were 3-5 C hotter than late 20th-century averages. And because of this, the ocean was bleeding off a whole hell of a lot more moisture than it typically would. Any storms that fired in that very wet air mass would, as a result, tend to pump out a lot more rain than is typical.

A Wet Atmosphere Crackling with Unusual Energy

As my wife and I made our way toward the Blue Ridge Mountains and down Interstate 66 and Route 211, large, energetic cumulus clouds sprouted all around us. Wafted in the hot, unstable air, many tops punched up through the troposphere, spreading out into the characteristic anvil shapes of thunderstorms.

Light streamed down between these big, wet beasts. For a while, as we made our way up to the campground, set up our gear, and took a hike along a local rock scramble, we were fortunate — able to enjoy our day despite the loud rumbles and roars of thunder echoing up from the valleys or off the nearby mountainsides in the steamy, moisture-choked air.

Available Rainfall Saturday

(A massive amount of atmospheric moisture fueled powerful thunderstorms on Saturday, July 30 from the Appalachians of northwestern Virginia to the Baltimore City region. One of these storms dumped more than 4.5 inches of rain on Ellicott City, Maryland Saturday in just one hour. Image source: Terp Weather.)

At about 3,000 feet in elevation, these conditions were a bit odd for Shenandoah National Park which typically experiences milder weather. Temperatures were around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (about 5-6 F hotter than average), and the level of atmospheric moisture was amazing. Great, steamy clouds kept rolling up the mountainsides. They made the air heavy and full of shapes dancing with light and shadow, seeming to give it the character of some alive thing sprouting a thousand wet heads and arms.

The big thermals and thunderstorms were supported by hotter temperatures into the 90s (F) down in the valleys. And the storms were taller, bearing more moisture, engorged by a hot atmosphere whose temperatures and water vapor levels are now probably unlike anything seen in at least the past 115,000 years — conditions that would have devastating effect just a couple of hours later and about 100 miles to the east in Ellicott City.

Returning to camp, as we prepared for a hearty dinner of tempeh and veggie pasta, thunder from the southwest grew ever closer and a rolling wave of cloud seemed to spill in through the trees, spreading mist and heavy rain over everything nearby. In just a few minutes, we were scrambling into our vehicle and watching as torrents of rain streamed down, transforming the mountaintop campground into a world of rushing water.

Thunderstorm Dumps More Rain on Ellicott City than Any of the Past Deluges or Hurricanes in its History

At about the same time that my wife and I were scrambling for cover, another massive thunderstorm was bearing down on Ellicott City, Maryland. The storm hit one of the densest pockets of atmospheric moisture in that big bleed off the record-hot Atlantic Ocean and just exploded. Packed with all that unusual and heat-fueled moisture, the storm then began to dump its amazing and unprecedented torrents on this historic town of 65,000 just 20 miles to the west of Baltimore. In only 60 minutes this massive thunderstorm managed to unload 4.5 inches of rainfall. Two-hour rainfall totals approached six inches.

(Restaurant-goers in Ellicott City watch in shock as the street below floods and sends vehicles hurtling past. Video source: Ellicott City Flash Flood.)

Streets were rapidly flooded as the Patapsco River rose to a record 14 feet and leaped over its banks. The main road running through the center of town became a four-to-six-foot-deep torrent that hurtled vehicles along its path or into buildings. First responders scrambled to rescue more than a hundred motorists who were suddenly stranded in the flash flood. Tragically, two people lost their lives.

The force of the flood was so energetic that not only were many of the historic buildings in town damaged, but some had their very foundations torqued off-center, twisted by the great energy of the sudden flood waters churning through town. The Maryland government has declared a state of emergency, but it is uncertain how long it will take to make repairs or how much that is irreplaceable has been lost in the flood.

Two 100+ Year Flood Events For Ellicott City in the Past Five Years

The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang appropriately notes that Ellicott City is a pretty vulnerable place for floods:

It’s a highly vulnerable spot, an urbanized strip along the bottom of a deep valley through which the Patapsco River flows. This place, historic Ellicott City, Md., has seen plenty of serious floods: 1868, 1923, 1952. More recently, the remnants of Hurricane Agnes (1972) left an extreme high-water mark, measured in many feet. The Great Mid-Atlantic Flood of June 2006, once again drowned parts of the town.

And another big flood back in 2011 pushed the Patapsco River to 11 feet, prompting a local art gallery to build a 20-inch-high flood barrier. But the unforeseen flood that roared into Ellicott this past Saturday was the worst among all of these. As a result, most protections and flood barriers previously erected were quickly overwhelmed.

Phoenix Macroburst 2

(Dramatic microburst over Phoenix, Arizona on July 21, 2016. Each degree Celsius of warming increases the atmosphere’s water vapor content by about seven percent. This increase, along with other factors such as intensified convection and rising cloud tops, escalates the frequency of extreme rainfall events like the July 30, 2016 Ellicott City flood. Image source: GGferg.)

Two-inch-per-hour rainfall amounts are usually enough to completely overwhelm most drainage infrastructure, overtop banks, and turn streets into rivers. Ellicott City saw nearly six inches of rainfall in two hours and 4.56 inches of rainfall in just one. Such events are typically seen as quite rare (100-year events or more) and building codes do not often account for them. Managing so much water is a major engineering challenge and requires a great deal of investment. Spending so much money on flood defense systems for a storm that might happen in 100 years or 1,000 years can sometimes seem like a waste at the time.

However, in a world warmed by climate change, such floods are happening with greater frequency. A 100 to 1,000 year flood may happen every five years or so in some locations (as has been the case with Ellicott for 2011 and 2016). The atmosphere is loaded more and more with both heat and moisture. The troposphere is taller due to the heat. The oceans are warmer and bleed more moisture. All these factors combine to make even pop-up storms more intense and to generate the 100 and 1,000 year events with a higher frequency in the present day. And as the world continues to warm, such severe storms will become ever more common.

Links:

Ellicott City Gets Rainfall Expected Only Once in a Millenium

Two Dead, 100 Rescued as Ellicott City Flood Causes Tremendous Devastation

Ellicott City Flash Flood

Earth Nullschool

How an Off-the-Charts Flood Ravaged Ellicott City

NASA GISS

Terp Weather

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Griffin

Hothouse 2090: Category 6 Hurricane A Grey Swansong For Tampa

Tampa. 2090. Late September.

The stiff wind running off the Gulf of Mexico felt like a blast furnace. Ocean surface temperatures near 100 degrees Fahrenheit; air temperatures of 113 F, high humidity, and a smell like rotten eggs added to the overall insufferability. Unpleasant was a better word from a better time. Mere unpleasantness had long since fallen away before the new deadly edge that Nature had adopted.

Tampa’s streets were packed with vehicles but featured only the rare transient foot and bike traffic. Just 15 minutes’ exposure to the brutal four p.m. heat and humidity could swiftly result in heat stroke as a body’s natural cooling systems were overwhelmed by conditions no human physiology could for long endure. The city had long since grown accustomed to the warnings. Anyone wanting to stay healthy remained indoors, huddling close to the blessed vents blasting machine-cooled, filtered air.

In the heat-scorched streets, elevated many times over to keep above the rising seas, a few diehards still roamed. They sported the latest in cooling accessories — thermal-bleeding fashions were all the rage and had been for at least three decades now. So too were the thin-film sulfur filtration masks, totem-like in their branding and individually styled in patterns of iridescent colors. These were the stylized provisional responses to the gigantic dead zones that regularly painted the Gulf’s waters purple-black with stinking, toxic-gas-spewing bacteria. But today, the waters were sickly green. The stink was merely unbearable and only somewhat unhealthy, thanks to the large and powerful storm now pushing in the bluer off-shore waters and flushing out some of the seaside dead zone.

RCP 8.5

(Under RCP 8.5 warming scenarios, the Earth is transformed into a hotter, more deadly place, capable of supporting storms of never-before-seen intensity. Image source: The European Environmental Agency.)

Great swells churned away – covered in gooey sludge. Some residents thought fondly of the December- to-February tourist season when temperatures fell, the waters cleared and, at times, swimming was safe. But such thoughts were quickly blasted away by the constant warnings now blaring through the local radio. Hot waves capped with frothy green foam were already roaring over the shoals of the old seaside districts and barrier islands before slamming into the defensive ring of sea walls. Ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica had long since forced a retreat from the bay and ocean, pushing an eight-foot rise in sea levels over the 90 years. The near-water residences, once premium real estate, had long since been relegated to tourist homes or the odd air and ocean monitoring station

Tampa Reeling in a Dangerous Climate Zone

Tampa had fared badly, but not so badly as Miami, or the huge chunk of South Florida now covered up by the Gulf and Atlantic Ocean. In the 2030s, large numbers of South Floridians and coastal residents began an exodus northbound and inland. Some stopped in Tampa, staking a claim on the increasingly-expensive higher elevations, but most just kept heading north — past drought-stricken Georgia, through the drying Mid-Atlantic states, and on north, even into Canada. But anywhere they went, there were problems. A big zone from the Mid-Atlantic on south and west was turning into desert. The Mississippi was becoming more and more an intermittent river –practically drying up most summers and then flooding like the dickens during February through April as gigantic storms cycle south out of the Arctic, driving massive swaths of hurricane-force winds before them. The West was even worse, with a large section of four states now experiencing temperatures that make early-century conditions at Death Valley seem tame.

It was tough to find a place of safety and security, much less comfort. Lives were shorter, harder than ever before. People scrambled from place to place. They hoarded food. Most were thin — Renaissance-era voluptuousness was making a comeback. Indoor and underground farming had exploded — saving the lives of millions in the parts of the world that adopted these methods — but the dead oceans, lost farmlands, and increasingly scarce fresh water sources resulted in a cascade of regional and global crises. Needless to say, there were less people. There was basically less of anything living anywhere. All the heating and burning and storming and putrefying had seen to that — the results of two centuries of fossil-fuel emissions that ebbed and flowed but never really stopped growing.

Tampa, like every other city still functioning, had seen her fair share of all this trouble. She was one of the lucky ones — still around, clinging to the higher elevations, still building up her sea walls, making and importing what food she could, finally casting off the corrupt fossil-fuel industries and enabling what economy that remained through all-renewable energy. You couldn’t call it sustainable — that ship had long since sailed. Some day, a big glacial outburst flood somewhere in Antarctica would push seas high enough to devour Tampa whole. Or some day, a giant city-killing storm could scour enough of Tampa from the face of the Earth that the resources and effort necessary to recover would simply become a mountain too high to climb.

Haiyan enhanced

(Under the hothouse-warming scenario that is RCP 8.5, hurricanes will have the potential to substantially exceed the strength of supertyphoons like Haiyan [enhanced satellite image above] which devastated the Philippines. Image source: NOAA.)

Category 6 Hurricane Raptor Sets Sights on Tampa

For Tampa, that day may well be the day after tomorrow, for monster storm Raptor now tore through the blue, green, and purple-black waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Gorging on sea-surface temperatures near 100 F, this enormous stack of lightning-wracked clouds reached 80,000 feet into the atmosphere. It ripped that hot air and moisture up from the surface, casting it in an enormous bellow toward space. In the wall of the resulting funnel, winds howled at 230 miles per hour. Minimum central pressures measured 835 millibars. Wave-height measures from some buoys — those whose sensors hadn’t been slammed into inoperability — were coming in at 100 feet.

A 20-mile-wide swath of these conditions formed an atmospheric axe along the right front quadrant of the storm as it turned toward Tampa. Crossing land, it would produce a 35-foot storm surge topped by 20- to 40-foot breaking waves. In areas not submerged by these churning, toxic waters, the winds would blow as strong as an EF 5 tornado — enough to strip the bark from trees. This combination of conditions would demolish any above-ground structures. The cone of destruction centering at the coast, then ripping 60 to 100 miles inland before the storm finally slaked its rage.

Taller Storms Climate Change

(Increasing global temperatures enlarges the zone in which storms can form, heightening cloud tops. Taller warm-air updrafts more heavily laden with moisture increases storm potential energy. In this way, climate change increases top potential storm intensity. Overshooting cloud top image provided by: Commons/NOAA.)

Similar nasty storms had helped to render the Persian Gulf region uninhabitable. Cairns, Australia had been ripped apart by such a beast five years earlier. The Phillipines, Taiwan, coastal China and Japan were visited ever more frequently by the monster category 4, 5, and 6 systems. And the thing barreling toward Tampa was among the strongest of a deadly new breed that meteorologists were now calling city killers.

The threat was not lost on residents. Those unresponsive to storms and extreme weather didn’t have a very high life expectancy. Roadways leading out of Tampa became packed with traffic. Inbound lanes were designated outbound. Trains, planes, hyperloops, and buses were all packed to the gills with those fleeing the path of Raptor. Lower populations after the migrations and mid-to-late Century crashes, in part, made the flight easier. As did the increased responsiveness. But the size of the storm swath, lower road and track resiliency due to the heat ahead of the storm, the more toxic air blowing off the ocean, and the increased population densities due to suburban abandonment created its own evacuation nightmares.

Higher populations of older persons suffering from increased rates of dementia and frailer organ systems due to toxin accumulation and disease proliferation were also less mobile. Moving this vulnerable group required a major effort on the part of Tampa volunteers and emergency responders. But after suffering decades of increased losses, lives and personal relationships were often considered all-the-more precious as people nostalgically clung to what connections remained or fought a crushing sense of fear and isolation by increasingly working to help others. The great ages of excess that preceded this period had left deep and enduring marks on the psyches of the people who’d survived through those times. And a quiet, defiant, never-again mentality had begun to emerge. In the face of such loss of beauty and safety, people were not only determined to live, they were determined to make the most of what meager lives remained to them by caring. By adding art and color to a world increasingly denuded of beauty. And by, most of all, attempting to preserve life.

The flight of Tampa’s populace from before the storm was, therefore, far more responsive, far more vigorous, than the responses of previous generations. And a vast majority heeded the warnings and left. As a result, the city became an empty shell with only about a hundred thousand die-hards and emergency personnel remaining.

With the big evacuation pulse now running inland and northbound, and with sections of Orlando evacuating while other portions hunkered down, the first outliers of Raptor began to encounter the coast. The green-white froth on the swells grew more vivid — almost looking neon in the light of dawn. Off-shore, an angry black stack of clouds thrown off from Raptor’s outer bands rushed toward shore. Gale-force gusts and a large accompanying swell pummeled Tampa’s seawalls and streets. The down-drafts and the first falling rain drove temperatures lower — into 90s (F). But the sensation was still one of oppressive heat due to the near 100 percent humidity.

The Storm Rushes In

Winds continued to rise and, over the next few hours, hot, driving rain steadily wrapped the Tampa region in a kind of stinking, hissing, steam. The continuously lifted sea walls and dikes never quite kept up with sea level rise. So even the early outliers of Raptor were enough to generate floods of putrid, green waters rushing through the lower-lying streets. Bridges and roads were quickly cut off and those remaining in town, and especially those on the newly dubbed Petersburg Island, were quickly cut off. Those poor souls remaining would have to face Raptor on their own and without the aid and comfort of an increasingly necessary emergency response force.

Current Tampa Bay Topographical Map

(Current Tampa Bay topographical map provided by the US Geological Survey. Under the 8 feet of sea level rise by 2090, most of the green sections would be below sea level. 8 feet of sea level rise plus 35 feet of storm surge plus 30-40 foot breaking waves would generate flooding in event some of the higher elevation areas [orange to brown]. Note that elevations in the map above are listed in meters. Image source: USGS.)

Raptor was moving rather swiftly and by early evening the storm’s eye wall was beginning to approach the coast. Off-shore, a great mound of water like a tsunami ran up from the waters of the shallow Gulf. Still taller waves rose atop it. Some of the rogue peaks stretched 150 feet above the base sea level. The net effect was one of an intense green-white mass taller than the tops of most buildings roaring in from the Ocean. The mass drowned St. Petersburg in a foundering break-water. It roared into Tampa Bay, and there it lifted the remaining ships and boats and hurled them bodily into buildings, across the shore line, and into rapidly flooding streets. Waters rushed into Tampa and on inland — in some places continuing for 10-20 miles before the great pulse of water was finally slaked by elevation.

Southwest winds rose up into a sound like a freight train. Debris was hurled into a great cloud over the flooded city. Everything from bits of sand and dirt, to paint chips, to flinders of bark from the few hardy trees remaining, to as large as vehicles and wall sections was lifted and hurled with lethal force. The churning vortex of 150 to 230 mph winds created a wall of moving air full of this shrapnel. Tampa was engulfed in a loud and angry blackness full of giant waves and flying teeth. In the above-water sections, it was impossible to see more than 10 feet outside clearly. And tens of thousands of structures were quickly ground down to their foundations by the combination of violent water and air.

These conditions covered a region stretching for 20 miles along the coast. With Raptor making landfall near Largo, this swath covered the mouth of Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, Lealman, and Pinellas Park. With the storm running across the northern bay to make a second landfall about ten miles south and east of Safety Harbor, most of Tampa proper was affected by this zone. The raging storm surge, concentrated by the Bay and pulled along the arch of the storm’s vortex peaked to extreme heights where the bay narrowed into Tampa. And large sections of the nearby city simply drowned.

Then the storm passed inland, dumping torrential rain and cutting an 80 mile long, 20 mile wide swath of destruction through Central Florida. The wall of airborne shrapnel picked up more and more debris as it went. A few travelers on the road were forced to hunker down at a nearby recharging station’s convenience store — which subsequently collapsed. Their ordeal, recorded by portable devices which caught the hours-long images of flying cars, bits of transmission towers and other debris so damaged as to be rendered into an unrecognizable black grit across the sky, became a part of one more ‘new most violent’ storm record. A testimony to the worsening hazards and losses of the time.

As the next day dawned and rescue and disaster relief aircraft entered the storm zone, the epic destruction was more fully revealed. Observers from airplanes pointed out the swirling impressions upon the stripped land. One pilot noted that it looked like a thousand tornadoes had all gotten into a line 20 miles long and then run north and east inland. Another simply stated that it looked like the land had been pounded barren by the vast fists an angry god. Over a million structures had suffered at least moderate damage. Over 200,000 had been blown or knocked by waves down to their foundations. Despite the effective evacuation, the death count was tremendous. More than 35,000 in the Tampa region and points inland immediately lost their lives to the storm. Another 60,000 were estimated to have perished in the aftermath as a failure to restore power in time resulted in exposure to killing heat and near-shore airborne toxins. Considering comparable storm, fire or drought losses in three other US cities that year and the inevitable coming multi-meter sea level rise, government officials decided to add Tampa to the growing list of communities that would never be rebuilt.

Conditions in Context – Global Warming Increases the Top Potential Strength of the Most Powerful Storms

In 2016, Earth’s atmosphere isn’t yet capable of producing a storm like Raptor. But in a not-too-distant future, a 5-degree (Celsius) rise in global temperatures pushed on by 900 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 would result in heightened levels of heat and moisture fueling a great deal of instability. The Earth’s atmosphere would still be taking in huge amounts of heat at its top. The glaciers would likely be unzipping and sending out hordes of icebergs riding a pulse of cold surface water. As ever-more-dominant heat goes to war with dying cold, the amazing temperature differentials spawn equally terrible storms.

Seventy-four years from now, under business as usual warming scenarios, the tropics and subtropics are likely to be hundreds of miles to the north of their current geography. Rising troposphere heights will bring ever-taller thunderstorms. When these storms manage to organize into hurricanes, the results have the potential to be dramatically more powerful than today’s comparatively tame storms. Category 3, 4, and 5 storms would be more frequent. And a new category — 6 – may be needed for storms whose maximum sustained winds exceed a range near 200 miles per hour and whose minimum central pressure hits lower than around 880 mb (a range that starts out a bit more powerful, on balance, than the strongest storms that are capable of forming today).

Links/Statements/Attribution

The above scenario is a climate fiction portrayal of a potential category 6 hurricane impacting Tampa in the 2090s. The scenario incorporates recent scientific studies pointing toward projected increases in hurricane intensity due to human-forced warming of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere. In particular, the work of Dr. Jeff Masters on emerging Grey Swan hurricanes driven by climate change proved very helpful in providing a groundline basis for potential category 6 hurricane strength and impacts. And it is worth noting that Dr. Masters is highlighting scientific work showing that under business as usual human warming it is possible that storms of never-before-seen intensity will hit the Tampa region.

The storm in this scenario, Raptor, is nearly as strong as the storm produced by one of the climate models Dr. Masters references. This extremely powerful storm hit Tampa in a physical computer model assessing hurricane strength under business as usual warming. The modeled storm achieved 235 mph maximum sustained winds and an 830 mb minimum pressure. It’s worth noting that we have no record of a storm of this strength ever forming on Earth. But, under greenhouse gas loads and temperatures that continued fossil fuel burning will establish by the end of this century, the Earth atmosphere becomes capable of supporting such extreme events.

To this point, it is absolutely also worth referencing Dr. James Hansen’s seminal Storms of My Grandchildren while making the very clear statement that the atmospheric brew we are pumping out will make never before seen monster storms a terrible and dangerous aspect of the world our children and grandchildren will inherit and try to survive in.

Tampa Bay Florida LANCE MODIS

(Tampa, Florida, seen in the center of this July 2016 satellite image, is currently one of many cities facing serious threats posed by human-caused climate change. Whether Tampa or any of these other cities survive depends on how well human beings respond and on how much we lessen the coming damage by reducing fossil fuel emissions now. RCP 8.5 is a bad climate scenario. The only problem is that all we have to do to get there is simply continue to burn oil, gas, and coal. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

The scenario also takes into account various broader Earth System changes such as potential sea level rise due to melting glaciers, increased disruption of food and water supplies, loss of ocean health and increased anoxia and related water and local air toxicity (due to warming and increased nutrient run-off into the world ocean), model simulations and understandings of the increasing prevalence of extreme land and ocean surface heat and 2 meter humidity (wet bulb temperatures increasing into the lethal range of 35 C+), and expanding drought, disease and extreme weather zones.

This particular event and context follows closely to conditions projected under the IPCC’s business as usual fossil fuel emissions or RCP 8.5 warming scenario. For the purpose of this exercise, I have added climate conditions to the business as usual case that I see as plausible given that level of warming. Some of these additions are based on my own interpretation of scientific efforts that are currently not fully settled. However, I feel the overall portrayal is likely at least relatively accurate given various model projections and how the Earth System appears to have changed in response to past warming events.

It’s worth noting that RCP 8.5 does not assume zero renewable energy adoption. It simply assumes that fossil fuels will remain the dominant source of energy with consumption growing through the end of the 21st Century. As such it results in a catastrophic warming scenario over a less than one century time-frame. But such a warming would be achieved over longer time-frames so long as human carbon emissions are not rather swiftly brought to zero, Earth System feedbacks are strong enough, or elevated atmospheric greenhouse gas levels are not drawn down. Conditions similar to RCP 8.5 at 2100 could be achieved by approximately 500 ppm CO2 by around 2500. A reality that increases the necessary urgency of our current mitigation responses. Lower level warming and emissions scenarios are still dangerous, but do not result in the higher levels of harm evident in RCP 8.5.

Human impacts in the scenario such as loss of lives and lifespan reduction are based on my own understanding of how human beings are likely to adapt to such situations and how multiplied environmental stresses are likely to start to overwhelm human population growth in net by middle-to-end Century under the RCP 8.5 scenario. The writing above assumes that the civil system surrounding Tampa and this section of the United States remains at least partially intact due to cooperative effort on the part of individuals living in society at the time. Such a response is hopeful, but it is not guaranteed.

From Russia With #HateTrumpsLove — Is Putin’s Petrostate Attempting to Tilt US Election Toward Republicans?

As the Democratic National Convention continues its week-long stay in Philadelphia, accusations of Russian hacking continue to cloud the proceedings. At this point, it seems likely that Russia is responsible. What’s less clear is what that will mean going forward.Wired

****

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, for a long time now, have aligned their statements and political actions. As it becomes more and more certain that Russia hacked into Democratic National Committee emails in what appears to be a weaponized information warfare attack on the U.S. electoral process, one has to seriously consider the notion that Trump stands to substantially benefit from such an act of international cyber-aggression.

When asked in December about the killing of journalists under Vladimir Putin, the Republican presidential candidate, who just the day before had called Putin “brilliant” and “a strong leader”, reluctantly admitted that such atrocities under Putin might possibly be a bad thing.

Russia Petrostate

(Russia is one of the largest oil and gas producers in the world. As a state, it has put very little effort into developing renewable energy. Instead, it has focused an amazing attempt to militarily control and exploit an expanding range of Arctic oil and gas sources. Russia’s claimed greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals are rife with distortions and cherry picking, and the state is a well-known persecutor of environmentalists and climate change action advocates. What could a climate-change denier and fossil-fuel energy dominance advocate like Trump possibly have in common with Putin’s Russia? Image source: EIA.)

Trump went on to backhandedly defend Putin’s alleged poll-rigging and positively compared Russia, which is rated worse than Sudan and Iraq when it comes to press freedoms, to the United States. Implied was not only a kind of admiration in Trump of Putin, but for the kinds of oppressive political activities that denigrate the foundations of democracy itself.

This noted tendency to defend the political strongman is especially salient when you consider the fact that Putin has held growing autocratic power over a Russia now falling down the dark hole of ever-worsening human rights abuses and political persecution by various means for the past 16 years and shown all of the worst kinds of contempt for the electoral process. All of this served to highlight Trump’s callous disregard for a free press — one of the foundations of democracy here in the U.S.

Various astounded and befuddled Republicans, including the likes of George Will and Mitt Romney, showed a modicum of morality and quickly condemned Trump’s admiration for Putin. And CNN, though not as tonally taken aback as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, noted the existence of a strange “bromance” between Trump and Putin.

Russian Petro-State Authoritarian and Trump Have a Lot in Common

Whether it’s an autocrat profiting from draconian laws, intimidation and human rights abuses in Russia or a corrupt billionaire rigging the game against struggling students for monetary gain in the U.S., it would appear that both Trump and Putin have quite a lot in common. And though political and economic bullying may seem the most obvious, there’s a deeper alignment here that we should not entirely ignore.

Fracking Wasteland

(Fracking wastelands like these would be expanded by a Trump energy policy which would broaden and extend fossil fuel dependence, setting us on a path toward increasingly more violent and harmful changes to the global climate. Russian fossil-fuel development policies run along similar lines. Trump fails to acknowledge climate change as a threat and has nominated a climate-change denier to sit as his energy adviser. Image source: Greenpeace.)

At issue is the fact that Russia is a state that has unwisely and irresponsibly bet a large share of its economic fortune on fossil fuel exploration and extraction. U.S. policies aimed at mitigating human-caused climate change by reducing fossil-fuel burning and increasing renewable energy access would, by extension, erode Russia’s fossil-fuel based economic model. Russian plans for using oil and gas as a lever to exert political influence over Europe and China also fades in a world that rapidly adopts renewable energy.

Hillary Clinton and a Democratic Party invigorated by Bernie Sanders have come to, more and more strongly, support the kind of needed action in the face of rapidly worsening human-caused warming. Donald Trump and the Republicans who support him are climate-change skeptics or deniers. Trump’s policies call for vastly expanded fracking, removal of supports for renewable energy like Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and an increasing dependence on and production of oil and gas. Such retrograde policies would set the U.S. back on a terribly damaging business-as-usual carbon-emissions path and secure the dominance of the kinds of polluting fuels that Putin’s Russia has irresponsibly bet its economic future upon.

Russian Hacking of the DNC in Context

Such an alignment of interests cannot be ignored, and nor should Trump’s and Putin’s mutual overtures or Trump’s defense of Putin’s various and noted abuses of power. It is in this context that the hacking of DNC emails, much like the hacking and misrepresentation of climate scientist emails over recent years, has occurred.

NOAA Red Marble

(NOAA’s red marble view of what business-as-usual fossil-fuel emissions looks like: a world sweltering beneath devastating global heat. Under energy policies supported by those like Trump and Putin, the world is bound to get to that wretched and wrecked state. Image source: NOAA.)

In this case, Trump’s alignment with Putin is concurrent with what appears to be an active effort of information warfare against the United States. Wired Magazine notes:

If the allegations do prove correct, this is an unprecedented step for Russia. Hacking is nothing new, but publicizing documents to attempt to sway an election certainly is. Putin would clearly prefer a Trump presidency. The billionaire Republican candidate is a longtime admirer of Putin’s, and has publicly stated that he wouldn’t necessarily defend NATO allies against a Russian invasion. To top it all off, Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, formerly worked as an advisor to Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian-backed President of Ukraine before he was ousted in 2014.

In addition, Trump’s own belligerence on the subject may well be crossing the line into an ongoing association with, and support of, an entity conducting harmful espionage operations against the U.S. government and its political leaders, and against the integrity of the process of establishing such a government. Wired, in a recent update:

In a press conference Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump invited Russia to retrieve “missing” emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and release them. Cybersecurity experts described the remarks as “unprecedented” and “possibly illegal.”

If even only some of this bears out and if the obvious alignments and motivations between Trump and the international fossil fuel establishment prove to be part of the motivator (pretty clear motive and pattern of behavior here folks), then it looks like the climate wars — which have been a vicious political and media undercurrent for years now — just went hot.

Links/Attribution/Statements

Putin Election Fraud

Trump University Fraud

Here’s What We Know about the Russia DNC Hack

Spy Agency Consensus Grows — It Looks Like the Russians Hacked the DNC

Think of Russia as a Petrostate

NOAA

Obama’s Clean Power Plan

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

Climate Change, Drought Fan Massive Sand Fire, Forcing 20,000 Californians to Flee

On Friday, amidst temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and at a time when California is now entering its fifth year of drought in a decade when seven out of the last ten years have been drought years, a rapidly growing and dangerous wildfire erupted in the hills north of Los Angeles.

(Sand Fire looms over Santa Clarita, California. Video source: Sand Fire Time Lapse.)

The Sand Fire, which some firefighters are calling practically unprecedented, sparked before typical wildfire season peak and began a rapid spread that consumed 10,000 acres per day from Friday through early Monday. Nearly 3,000 firefighters scrambled to gain a foothold against the blaze, but were somewhat unprepared as contracted water-bomb aircraft from Canada won’t be available until next month, during what is usually the worst part of fire season. The aircraft assistance was planned as extra fire-suppression capability for Santa Clarita, but typical fire threat and risk assessments no longer hold much water in an era where human-forced climate change is pushing temperatures and drought conditions to new extremes across California.

By Monday, the fire had exploded to 33,000 acres (51 square miles). In total, 18 buildings are now reported to have burned and more than 10,000 others have been evacuated. A population the size of a small city, 20,000 people, have now been displaced by this rapidly expanding wildfire. Due to heroic efforts by firefighters, an estimated 2,000 homes have been saved so far. Sadly, the fire has also now claimed a life.

California Wildfires July 24

(Smoke plumes from large wildfires burning over southern and western California, framed by a warming Pacific Ocean, a drying Central Valley, and what appear to be snow-free and bone-dry Sierra Nevada Mountains in this July 24 LANCE MODIS satellite shot.)

Continued hot temperatures and 30-mile-per-hour winds are expected to continue to fan the fire today, which as of this writing is just 10 percent contained. If the worst case is realized and this fire continues to expand out of control, as many as 45,000 homes may ultimately be forced to evacuate. Such an evacuation would be comparable in scale to the Fort McMurray Fire which raged through Alberta during May and forced more than 90,000 people to flee.

Conditions in Context — Living in a Fire Age

There is widespread geological evidence of voracious fires burning through large regions of the globe during past hothouse warming events. At the Paleocene-Eocene boundary 56 million years ago, a warming rate that was about ten times slower than what we are experiencing now set off immense blazes that ripped through the world’s peatlands and forests. In other words, evidence points to past instances of Earth warming into hothouse conditions generating periods of intense fires that may well be called fire ages. Today, the Earth is about 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than during the late 19th century. This high temperature departure combines with a very rapid rate of continued warming to dramatically increase wildfire risks around the globe.

Drought Climate Change

(Conditions related to climate change continue to increase drought frequency across the U.S. West. For the past five years, California has seen the brunt of this predicted increasing drought trend as a result of human-forced warming. Image source: US Drought Monitor.)

More local to the Sand Fire, California is in a zone that global climate models have long predicted would suffer from severe heat and drought as a result of fossil-fuel burning and related human-forced warming. This year’s persistent above-average temperatures on the back of five years of drought have greatly increased wildfire risk for the state. Millions of trees now stand dead, surrounded by withered vegetation in a heating and drying land — a vast range of additional fuel that is ever more vulnerable to ignition.

Not only do these conditions generate a higher risk of extreme fires during fire season — sparking blazes like June’s Erskine Fire which burned 200 homes and was the most destructive fire in this California county’s history — but they also increasingly spark large wildfires out of season. It’s a set of conditions that basically generates a year-round fire season for the state, even as it also sparks winter wildfires at far-flung locations around the world.

Links/Attribution/Statements

10,000 Homes Evacuated Due to Wildfire

Sand Fire Map

Sand Fire Time Lapse

Omens of a Fiery Future

US Drought Monitor

29 Million Trees Died in California this Year

Climate Models Predict US Megadrought

Hat tip to DT Lange

From the Arctic to Africa to the Amazon, More Troubling Signs of Earth Carbon Store Instability

The time for debate is over. The time for rapid response is now. The Earth System just can’t take our fossil-fueled insults to her any longer.

*****

Arctic Wildfires

(These Arctic and Siberian wildfires just keep getting worse and worse, but what’s really concerning is they’re burning a big hole through one of the Earth’s largest carbon sinks, and as they do it, they’re belching out huge plumes of greenhouse gasses. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Carbon Spikes over the Arctic, Africa, and the Amazon

Today, climate change-enhanced wildfires in Siberia and Africa are belching out two hellaciously huge smoke clouds (see images below). They’re also spewing large plumes of methane and carbon dioxide, plainly visible in the global atmospheric monitors. Surface methane readings in these zones exceed 2,000 parts per billion, well above the global atmospheric average.

Even as the fires rage, bubbles of methane and carbon dioxide are reportedly seeping up from beneath the tundra — generating big blisters of these heat-trapping gasses that are causing sections of the Arctic soil to jiggle like jelly. Greenhouse gas content in the blisters is, according to this Siberian Times report, 7,500 parts per million CO2 and 375 parts per million methane. That’s about 19 times current atmospheric CO2 levels and 200 times current atmospheric methane levels. Overall, these carbon jiggle mats add to reports of methane bubbling up from Arctic lakes, methane blowholes, and methane bubbling up from the Arctic Ocean in a context of very rapid Arctic warming.

Surface Methane

(Methane spikes over Siberia, Africa and the Amazon correlate with wildfires and extreme drought conditions associated with human-forced climate change. Add in carbon dioxide spikes over the same regions of Africa and the Amazon and it begins to look like a visible amplifying feedback signal. Image source: The Copernicus Observatory.)

Meanwhile, a global warming-enhanced drying of the Amazon rainforest appears to be squeezing a substantial amount of these hothouse gasses into the Earth’s atmosphere. Copernicus Observatory surface monitors indicate pools of 600 to 800 parts per million CO2 concentrations near and around the Amazon rainforest. These 100- to 200-mile-wide spikes in CO2 concentration are 1.5 to 2 times current atmospheric concentrations. These very high CO2 levels occur even as methane readings over the Amazon are also abnormally high, a possible precursor signal that the NASA-predicted Amazon rainforest wildfires this summer may be starting to ignite.

Any one of these instances might be cause for some concern. Taking all these various observations together looks like a clear signal that the Earth is starting to produce an increasingly strong carbon feedback response to human-forced warming. If true, that’s some pretty terrible news.

Human-Forced Warming Warps the Carbon Cycle

Each summer, the boreal forests of the Northern Hemisphere take a big breath. In the warmer airs, leaves unfurl, grasses grow, and all kinds of CO2-respiring organisms take hold. Together, they produce a frenzy of activity, a riot of life gathering great stores of energy for the next plunge into winter. Over time, this natural capture of CO2 stores this atmospheric carbon in plant matter that ultimately becomes soil, permafrost, or is buried in the Earth in the form of various hydrocarbon stores.

It’s this annual great growth and greening that, in large part, drives the seasonal up-and-down swings of the global carbon cycle — a cycle that, under stable conditions, would generate an annual wave in atmospheric CO2 concentrations running over a long-term flat line.

Surface carbon dioxide

(Surface CO2 readings show boreal forest uptake of CO2 over Siberia, Scandinavia, and parts of North America. Note the CO2 surface hot-spots over the fire zones in Central Africa and over the drought-stricken Amazon rainforest. Image source: Copernicus Observatory.)

Ever since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, human fossil-fuel burning has been adding carbon to the atmosphere. The result is that these seasonal swings, driven by plant respiration, have overlaid a significant upward trend in atmospheric carbon, one that this year pushed peak atmospheric CO2 values to near 408 parts per million. This is a level not seen in about 15 million years.

That increase in its turn has dramatically warmed the Earth — a result that has its own larger impact on plants, on the cycles that influence their ability to take in carbon, and even on the older carbon that was long ago stored in plants but is now sequestered in the soil, permafrost and oceans.

Amazon Drought Africa and Siberia Burning

(LANCE MODIS satellite shot shows extensive wildfires spewing large plumes of smoke over Siberia and Africa. Meanwhile, very dry conditions in the Amazon appear to be generating understory fires even as carbon is baked out of the Equatorial soil. Click image to zoom in.)

Warm the world up, as humans have, and you generate what, in scientific parlance, is a carbon feedback. Overall, the ocean can take in less atmospheric carbon and increasingly bubbles with thawing methane, the soils can store less carbon even as more is baked out in the heat, the plants and peats on balance burn more than grow, permafrost thaws and releases its own carbon. It is this carbon-cycle response to warming that is expected to add more carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere on top of that already being released through the harmful processes of fossil-fuel extraction and burning.

Warming Forces More Carbon Out of Lands and Seas, Keeps More in the Atmosphere — But How Much is Still Pretty Uncertain

How much heat-trapping carbon the Earth System will ultimately add to human fossil-fuel emissions is kind of a big scientific question, which is answered in large part by how much fossil fuels humans ultimately burn and how much heat is ultimately added to the Earth’s oceans, glaciers, and atmosphere.

Climate Change Impact on CO2 Simulations

(A sampling of climate model-projected Earth System CO2 feedbacks to human-forced climate change. Note the high level of variation in the model projections. It’s also worth noting that these model projections did not include difficult-to-assess permafrost and hydrate responses to warming over the period through 2100. Image source: IPCC AR 4 — Coupled Climate-Carbon Cycle Projections.)

Back in 2007, the IPCC estimated that around 87 parts per million of additional CO2 would be added to the world’s airs by 2100 (under an apparent assumed final human-driven CO2 accumulation of 700 ppm) as a result of this kind of carbon feedback to human warming. This implied about a 20-percent positive CO2 feedback to warming. However, the model projections were wide-ranging (from 4 to 44 percent) and the overall assessment drew criticism due to a lack of inclusion of permafrost and hydrate feedback estimates.

In 2012, the IPCC produced a more uncertain, complex, and unclear set of projections that notably didn’t include permafrost carbon feedback or methane hydrate feedback model projections, the scientific understanding of which is apparently still developing. But despite a good deal of specific-issue uncertainty, the consensus appeared to state that over the medium- (21st century) and long-terms (multi-century), we’d have a significant amount of extra carbon coming from the Earth System as a result of responses to a human-warmed atmosphere and ocean.

Smoke From African Wildfires

(African wildfires, whose smoke plumes are visible here, are just one of many sources of carbon spikes around the globe triggered by human-forced climate change. Amazon rainforest next? NASA seems to think so. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Overall, there’s a decent amount of support for the notion that the Earth System is pretty sensitive to warming, that it tends to respond to even a relatively small amount of initial incoming heat in ways that produce a good deal of extra carbon in the atmosphere. After all, only a small change in the way sunlight hits the Earth is enough to end an ice age and pump an additional 100 parts per million of CO2 out of the Earth’s carbon stores as a result. The added heat forcing provided by the current human fossil-fuel emission is far, far greater than the one that ended the last ice age.

It is in this understanding and context that we should consider what appears to be an increasing number of Earth System responses to a human-forced warming that has currently exceeded 1 degree Celsius above 1880s averages. It’s easy to envision that these responses would grow in number and intensity as the Earth continues to warm toward 2 C above 19th-century averages.

Links/Attribution/Statements

LANCE MODIS

Coupled Carbon Climate Cycle Projections

Carbon and Other Biogeochemical Cycles

Arctic Methane Bubbles are Leaking 200 Times Above Normal

The Copernicus Observatory

The Keeling Curve

Hat tip to TodaysGuestis

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

El Nino is Basically Over — But this Global Coral Bleaching Event Just Won’t End

Back in 2014, an unsuspecting world was on the verge of a major global temperature increase. But despite warnings from scientists like Dr. Kevin Trenberth that deep ocean warming had sped up and would eventually result in rapid surface warming, the big media meme at the time was that global warming had ‘paused.’ Originating in The Economist, and swiftly spreading to numerous other news outlets, this particular blast of bad information fed the public a big helping of false sense of security.

In 2014 through 2016, maximum global temperatures jumped from around 0.65 degrees Celsius to around 1 C above the 20th-century average. In just three years’ time, the whole of the Earth’s surface had warmed by about 0.35 C. This is like cramming all of the warming from 1880 to 1980 into the three-year 2014-to-2016 period. Never before in all of the global climate record starting in the late 19th century has the Earth warmed so much in so short a time.

Leaving 20th Century Climate Behind

(Huge jump in global temperatures over the past three years has probably passed a number of climate thresholds — including temperature thresholds for key sea creatures like corals. Data Source: NOAA. Image source: Mashable.)

Global warming hadn’t paused at all. It was just getting ready to hit the accelerator.

Global Heat Spurs Bleaching, Mass Coral Mortality

All this newly-added surface heat represents a big step up into much warmer conditions for the global climate. What this means is that even the coolest months now will probably approximate the warmest months during the big super El Niño of 1998. Such a large temperature increase in so short a period means that the world has likely hit a number of tipping points for geophysical and ecological harm. One of the most visible of these tipping points involves an ongoing ecological crisis — a global coral bleaching event.

Perhaps the most vivid and heart-wrenching example of what is a very wide-ranging coral mortality situation is the bleaching-related damage to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In a terrible blow to one of the world’s most stunning natural wonders, about a quarter of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals have already been killed off — an event that some scientists say may eventually lead to 100 percent mortality of the Reef’s corals. (see a related report in The Guardian).

American Samoa Bleaching

(Coral bleaching events like this one in American Samoa during 2015 have been happening around the world since 2014. It’s a global event that’s still ongoing despite a turn toward La Niña conditions in the Pacific. This is the longest global coral bleaching event ever recorded, and one that could continue into 2017 or beyond. Image source: Nature.)

The Great Barrier Reef is not the only reef system to suffer. In fact, the added heat due to human-forced warming of the atmosphere and oceans has generated bleaching-induced heat stress and mass coral mortality the world over. And some of the world’s other great reef systems, including Kiribati, which lost 80 percent of its live corals in 10 months, have been hit so hard it’s doubtful they’ll ever recover.

The Seemingly Never-Ending Global Coral Bleaching Event

At issue is the fact that all this added global heat is creating a situation where reefs bleach year after year and, in some cases (as was the case with parts of the Great Barrier Reef this year) even bleach during winter. It’s a coral mass mortality that falls under the definition of a global bleaching event. But it’s also happening with an intensity, persistence, and duration that we’ve never seen before.

Beginning in 2014 with the big warm-up that preceded the 2015-2016 El Niño, the present global coral bleaching event is now, according to NOAA, the longest-running and the most extensive such event to have occurred in the modern record. NOAA notes:

…the current global coral bleaching event is the longest ever recorded. It has affected more reefs than any previous global bleaching event and has been worse in some locales (e.g., Great Barrier Reef, Kiribati). Thermal stress during this event also has caused mass bleaching in several reefs that never bleached before (e.g., northernmost Great Barrier Reef).

Global coral bleaching event continues

(Global coral bleaching event extent as of July 20 according to NOAA. Note that sections of bleaching watch and warning conditions now extend across the northern edges of NOAA’s map, an indication that latitudinal extent of bleaching is expanding beyond typical ranges even as bleaching due to rising ocean temperatures appears to be becoming a near-constant issue for world corals. Image source: NOAA.)

NOAA had initially forecast that this very-long-duration bleaching event would end sometime in 2016 as El Niño faded out. However, with sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific hitting the cool side of natural climate variability in the form of La Niña-like conditions during recent weeks, and the current global coral bleaching event still going strong, one has to wonder if oceans have now become hot enough to spur widespread bleaching at almost any time.

NOAA now predicts a possible end to the current global bleaching event in 2017, giving the event a four-year duration. But with global temperatures continuing to warm, what we may be seeing is the start of an unbroken or nearly unbroken period of expanding coral bleaching, a time when global stress to corals due to high ocean temperatures is practically continuous.

Links/Attribution/Statements

NOAA

NOAA El Nino

Sections of the Great Barrier Reef Suffering Complete Ecosystem Collapse

Kirubuti Loses Almost all its Corals Due to Bleaching

Nature

Great Barrier Reef Catastrophe Laid Bare

Leaving 20th Century Climate Far Behind

Hat tip to June

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Large Sections of Greenland Covered in Melt Ponds, Dark Snow

Over the past couple of days, temperatures across the Greenland Ice Sheet have really ramped up. The result has been a pretty significant mid-to-late season melt pulse. According to NSIDC, nearly 40 percent of the ice sheet surface has been affected by surface melt during recent days. And Greenland ice mass balance appears to have also taken a hit.

This surface melt pulse is, arguably, best portrayed in the satellite imagery:

Greenland Melt July 20

(Large section of Western Greenland near the Jackobshavn Glacier experiencing significant surface melt on July 20, 2016. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

On July 20th, this approximate 300 x 70 mile swath of Western Greenland shows a number of distinct strong melt features. Near the interior edge of the melt zone we notice the light blue coloration indicative of widespread and general surface melt. From the satellite, this bluing gives the impression of a thin layer of surface water covering a widespread area of the ice sheet. But it is more likely that the blue tint comes from a plethora of small melt ponds and rivers that blend together in the lower resolution satellite shot to lend the impression of ubiquitous water coverage.

Large Melt Ponds, Dark Snow Over Western Greenland

Further in, we notice the darker blue swatches that indicate large melt ponds. Some of these ponds are quite extensive — measuring 1/4 to up to 1 mile in length. Ponds of this size tend to put a lot of pressure on the Greenland surface and can pretty quickly bore down into the ice sheet’s depths and interior. The water then either becomes locked in the ice — forming a kind of subglacial lake — or flows to base regions of the glacier where it can lubricate the ice — causing it to speed up.

Large Melt Ponds Dark Snow Western Greenland

(Close up satellite shot shows 1/4 to 1 mile long melt ponds, general melt ponding and a darkened Greenland Ice Sheet. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Still closer to the ice edge we find greatly darkened patches of ice. Darkening occurs when ice melt reveals and thickens past layers of ice sheet dust and soot accumulation. Each year, winds carry dust from land masses and soot from fires — which now, due to rapid Earth warming, burn more frequently over the Arctic and near-Arctic — to the ice sheet where it accumulates. This darker material is then covered by the annual layers of snowfall. If enough snow and ice melts, the yearly layers of dust and soot accumulation can concentrate into a gray-black covering. Such a covering is clearly visible in the July 20 satellite imagery above.

According to Dr. Jason Box, as much as 5.6 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet was covered by this darkening, which he calls Dark Snow, as recently as 2014. Darkening of the Greenland ice sheet can accelerate melt as it reduces the ice sheet’s ability to reflect the sun’s rays — resulting in more overall heat absorption.

Substantial Northeastern Greenland Melt Also Visible

Zachariae Surface Melt Darkening

(Zacharie Isstrom Glacier in Northeastern Greenland shows significant melt in July 20 satellite shot. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Though surface melt and darkening is quite extensive along the southwestern flank of Greenland, toward the north and east, widespread surface melt, ponding and ice darkening is also visible over sections of the Zachariae Glacier. Here, in a far northern section of Greenland that borders the Arctic Ocean, we find an approximate 100 x 20 mile region of melting and darkening ice. Note the tell-tale bluing and dark gray patches visible in the above image.

For this region, ice has tended to experience more melt during recent years as sea ice within the Fram Strait and Greenland Sea has receded. This has revealed more darker ocean surfaces which, in turn, has absorbed more incoming solar radiation resulting in increased warming for this section of Greenland.

Conditions in Context — Human-Forced Warming Pushing Greenland to Melt Faster

Overall, Greenland melt is this year less extensive than the record 2012 melt season. However, the current mid-to-late season pulse has forced a big melt acceleration that may result in melt that exceeds 250 billion tons of ice loss for 2016 (or the average over recent years). In the pretty near future, continued high global temperatures and additional warming due to human fossil fuel emissions will almost certainly push Greenland to melt at a faster pace.

To this point, the Earth has now warmed by more than 1 C above Preindustrial temperatures. And a range of 1-2 C warming from this baseline in past climate eras such as the Eemian resulted in a 10-20 foot rise in world ocean levels. We’re in this temperature range now. So that’s pretty bad news for sea level rise — to which Greenland now contributes enough melt to lift seas by about 0.75 mm every year. The only real questions at this point are how fast will that already substantial melt accelerate, and will we halt fossil fuel burning swiftly enough to slow it down.

Links/Attribution/Statements

LANCE MODIS

The National Snow and Ice Data Center

Greenland Surface Mass Budget

These Stunning Photos of Greenland’s Dark Snow Should Worry You

The Dark Snow Project (please support)

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to DT Lange

Scribbler-sponsored note on Trump:

Trump Chooses Climate Change Denier as Energy Advisor

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