Global Warming Spawned Blocking Pattern Keeps Weather Stuck in Extreme

Last year was the hottest on record for the US. This March was the coldest of the last 50 years for Europe. Last year’s heat spawned a 55 year drought in the US. This year’s cold and wet spawned massive storms that paraded through Europe and wracked the US northeast. What do these two seemingly opposite events have in common? Two words: global warming. Two more words: blocking pattern. And four final words: Arctic sea ice retreat.

Over the past decade, an increased prominence of blocking patterns has emerged. These events happen when the polar jet stream gets stuck in large meanders. These meanders result in a long persistence of weather for regions affected by these blocking patterns. New papers by Jennifer Francis and other polar researchers last year linked the increasing occurence of these new blocking patterns to an erosion of Arctic sea ice.

Ice acts as an insulator. As long as the ice is stable, it keeps cold air locked in the Arctic all while pushing warm air to the south. This strong temperature differential between hot southern air and cold northern air pushed the polar jet stream along at high rates of speed. The result was that weather systems carried along the jet stream tended to move rapidly, rather than staying in one place for a long time.

Enter the present day. We have an 80% loss of end summer sea ice volume, a 62% loss of end summer sea ice area and a 50% loss of end summer sea ice extent all occurring since 1980. The result is that the ice insulator is severely eroded. This allows large volumes of much warmer air to invade the Arctic from the south. It also results in greater cold air incursions from the Arctic into southern regions. This mixing of air, in turn, creates a more moderate temperature difference between polar regions and neighboring temperate regions. The final product is a jet stream that is both far slower and much wavier than previously observed.

Polarweather

(Polar Weather Map. Image source: here.)

To illustrate this point, we can look at the current polar weather map. At first glance it looks innocuous. But when we look at the position of high and low pressure systems and of warm and cold temperatures we will find that they are much the same as they were a week ago.

Low pressure systems keep forming over the Bering and Okhotsk seas. Warmer air temps keep invading the American and Canadian west. The eastern part of the North American continent sees a continuous colder air invasion from the Arctic. The Arctic remains much warmer than average with certain regions in Greenland experiencing average temperatures 10 degrees Celsius above normal for this time of year. And a pool of cold air has been spilling from the Arctic and into Europe throughout much of winter and spring.

This ongoing influx is, at the moment spawning an Easter snowstorm for much of Europe. Also feeding this strong storm is a persistent trough of low pressure to the south of Greenland that has cranked out an almost continuous stream of moisture even as it has pushed much warmer than usual air into Baffin Bay. Looking at a history of these maps, we can see that the position of the most recent low has remained in an almost constant position for five days. The past month shows a constant procession of lows into this region. They remain there for a while. Then they shift out only to be replaced by the next low. This North Atlantic Low has been an almost constant companion to the Greenland and Arctic highs. Yet one more element of the current blocking pattern.

It is the long duration of these weather events that makes them extreme. Europe experiencing a few days to a week of these conditions would be remarkable, but would not carry the same level of impact an entire month or more of cold, wet, snow-filled weather. And a persistent pattern of much warmer weather in the Arctic is likely to have its own extreme impacts, especially if the pattern remains until late spring and on into summer.

The common theme running through all these events is human caused global warming. Without human GHG emissions pushing ocean and air temperatures higher, without the resulting Arctic amplification of temperatures, and without the massive volumes of sea ice melted, these weather patterns wouldn’t be subject to such radical changes. We wouldn’t be seeing regions served large doses of extreme weather for such long periods of time.

Worth Reading:

Melting Ice and Cold Weather

How Global Warming Has Prevented Spring’s Arrival

From 2012 to 2013 March Blows Hot, Then Cold

Pace of Sea Level Rise Accelerates, Points Toward Increased Glacial Melt, Ocean Warming

MSL_Serie_MERGED_Global_IB_RWT_GIA_Adjust

(Image source: AVISO)

Since 1992, the average pace of sea level rise has remained constant at about 3 mm per year. This ongoing rise comes from a combination of thermal expansion of water as it warms due to human-caused global warming and contributions of melting ice in the form of glaciers.

Over the past decade, however, the pace of melt from glaciers in Greenland and West Antarctica have been on the rise. Their contribution to sea level and the overall pace of sea level rise is expected to grow as the glaciers continue to soften up and melt under the stress of human heating.

During the last two years, sea level rise tripled — jumping from an average rate of about 3mm per year to nearly one centimeter per year. So was this tripling due to increased glacial melt? The likelihood is that a moderate portion of this enhanced sea level rise came from jumps in glacial melt. But total volumes of melt are still not enough to account for the 2 cm of sea level rise over the past two years.

For the rest, we must look toward climate variability. In this case, volatility is probably a better word. During 2010-2011, more than half a centimeter of ocean water evaporated and ended up in the atmosphere. But the atmosphere couldn’t hold all of this extra moisture for long, so it ended up coming down in a series of unprecedented storms. This major event spawned epic floods and major rain events across the world. Over time, all this dumped water returned to the world’s oceans, re-contributing the more than half centimeter that was lost.

But even taking into account this half centimeter of water cycling in and out of the ocean, we still get a 5 mm annual rise in sea level since 2010. This, almost doubling, of sea level rise over the past three years is too early to count as an ongoing trend. But it may well be the result of enhanced glacial melt and steadily rising ocean heat content (and related thermal expansion) over this period.

Long Term Trend is Not Linear, Contains Risk of Outlier Events

Expectations are that sea level rise will drastically increase along with rising ocean temperatures and increasing glacial melt rates over the next century. The 3 mm per year rate of sea level rise would lead to a one foot increase were it to continue on until 2100. But this rate of rise is something we can hope for only if worldwide CO2 emissions stop now or very soon. Since this event is unlikely to happen, we can expect an amplification of sea level rise as ocean temperatures and glacial melt continue to increase.

At the 2010 to 2012 rate of sea level rise, oceans will have risen by more than 1 and a half feet come the end of this century. But, more likely, final sea level rise will be much closer to a meter by 2100 as glacial melt and thermal ocean expansion accelerate. This one meter rise would correspond closely to the one centimeter per year rise we’ve seen in 2011 and 2012, although greater than 1 centimeter per year averages will be more likely after 2040.

There is also, an outside potential for a major melt or ice sheet destabilization that will push sea levels much higher than 1 meter. Outside events of this nature are not taken into account in current climate models but are increasingly likely in worst-case scenarios produced by the IPCC (note, that IPCC does not model or predict for extreme responses like catastrophic ice sheet collapse). If such events were to occur, sea level rise could jump by 3 meters or more. The long-term likelihood of such events are difficult to predict. But they are worth noting, especially in the context of global temperature rises in the range of 2-6 degrees C over the next century.

Ocean Taking on More Heat Than Expected

With observations showing that more of the current GHG temperature forcing is going toward warming the oceans than previously anticipated, it is worth noting that, should this trend continue, sea level rise is at risk of being further amplified. Both thermal expansion and contact of warmer oceans with glaciers that lock in large ice shelves would be greater in such an event and would lead to higher rates of sea level rise.

Getting a better measure of how ocean and atmosphere heat balance changes in response to human caused forcings will be necessary if we are to have a more clear understanding of likely ocean changes and sea level rise over the next century.

Links:

Mean Sea Level Rise

New Oceans Study: Global Warming Accelerated in Last 15 Years

The Economist Gets Climate Sensitivity Mostly Wrong

Natural variability is a funny thing. And climate change deniers seem to have gotten all wrapped around the axle about it lately. After cherry picking 1998 as both the then hottest year on record and the strongest El Nino in decades, deniers have been desperately trying to claim that the Earth has been cooling down ever since. Of course their arguments are as bunk as bunk can be. The decade of 2000-2010 was the hottest decade on record. This despite falling solar activity (the deniers tried to claim solar activity was rising, but it wasn’t), increasing levels of sunlight reflecting SO2 in the stratosphere, and a long succession of La Nina events that sucked heat out of the atmosphere and dumped it in the ocean.

All things being equal, without human greenhouse gas emissions to keep pushing the climate hotter, 2000-2010 would have probably been amazingly cold. To the contrary, 2005 was the hottest year on record and then 2010 beat it by being the new hottest year on record. The stage is now set for another record hot year for the next El Nino year or even the next somewhat warm ENSO neutral year.

But climate change deniers are nothing if not persistent. Their endless parade of cherry picked data makes its march through every corner of the internet. Anthony Watts and Steve Goddard spam nonsense endlessly. Fox News provides special coverage of every snowstorm. The Examiner hosts about a thousand climate change deniers. And, lately, even The Economist appears to have gotten into the act by spuriously speculating that climate sensitivity is less than that estimated by the IPCC.

Given the actual temperature record and the current state of natural variability, anyone with a Google search engine and making an honest attempt to check the facts can find that global warming didn’t stop, the planet didn’t cool, and, sorry Economist, that scientists aren’t saying that climate sensitivity is less than they anticipated. In fact, we find that when accounting for natural variability global warming didn’t slow at all. Even worse, the deep ocean heated up at a rate far faster than was previously anticipated and the Arctic sea ice is disappearing 60-80 years ahead of schedule.

ENSO_Temps_500

(Image credit: Skeptical Science)

The Economist might have saved itself some embarrassment if it had taken a look at the above graph which takes into account some of the natural climate variables. It might also have further researched some of the climate sensitivity reports it mentions. One model it cited shows a sensitivity of 3.9 degrees after the strong El Nino decade of the 1990s even though it shows a 1.9 degree sensitivity after most recent strong La Nina series. Paleo climate indicates a climate sensitivity of about 4.5 degrees C long term. Climate scientists estimate this sensitivity to be 3 degrees C. Given how conservative estimates for Arctic sea ice melt have proven, it is possible that long-term sensitivity estimates may end up being conservative as well.

The primary drivers of sensitivity, water vapor increases and natural carbon feedbacks have yet to play their hands. So calling the decline of climate sensitivity at this early date and against the vast body of evidence already produced by climate science and which, as mentioned above, is likely to prove conservative, is very unwise at this point. It is also very likely to prove wrong in the end.

In fact, The Economist doesn’t even consider that the last 13 years have had 6 La Nina years, 5 neutral years, and only two El Nino years. One El Nino year — 2005 was the hottest on record. The fact that 2010 was the next new hottest year on record without even being an El Nino year should have raised a few eyebrows. Even the most recent La Nina year, 2012 ranks as the second hottest La Nina year on record. In any case, the above graph and the procession of these years shows no evidence of lowering climate sensitivity or a slowing of the overall warming trend.

The Economist would also do well reading Jeff Master’s recent blog: How to Abuse Statistics: Claim Global Warming Stopped in 1998. Jeff is a former Hurricane Hunter with a PhD in atmospheric sciences. So he knows what he’s talking about. As does the oft attacked and mis-quoted James Hansen. Notably, The Economist starts its own, seemingly unintentional, statistics abuse by coming very close to making the claim that global warming stopped in 1998.

Anyone writing on climate change can save themselves from future embarrassment and retractions by taking a good hard look at work by the above scientists. It also wouldn’t hurt for them to visit the website Skeptical Science.  It is one of the best researched sites examining broad issues surrounding climate change on the web. Many of their articles are written or contributed to by leaders in climate science. And they provide an excellent resource for anyone wishing to write credible articles on the subject of climate change. They also provide a wonderful resource for debunking climate change deniers. One that is sorely needed in this age of climate change misinformation.

Links:

http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21574461-climate-may-be-heating-up-less-response-greenhouse-gas-emissions

Understanding Climate Change is Simple. Want To Stop Temperature Increases? Halt Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

A new article published in Science shows just how effective the opponents of solutions to human-caused climate change have been at sewing confusion. According to Climate Central,

Damon Matthews of Concordia University in Montreal and Susan Solomon of MIT, make the case that policymakers, the media, and to some extent the public have misunderstood the implications of two key concepts — the “irreversibility” of climate change, and the amount of global warming already in the pipeline due to historical greenhouse gas emissions.

The confusion comes from misunderstanding and misrepresentations of a study produced in 2010 by the National Research Council. This study noted that human civilizations will be stuck with the impacts of CO2 already put into the atmosphere for the next 1,000 years. What this means is that once we emit the carbon, it will keep doing its work to impact the climate for at least the next ten centuries. What this means is that current and past emissions result in irreversible impact.

Unfortunately, this statement has been misunderstood. Lawmakers, the media and members of the public have used this statement to make the logically false claim that human caused climate change is unstoppable and, therefore, nothing can be done about it. They have used this argument to support expanding greenhouse gas emissions at exactly the time they should be cut. These false claims and bad policies push us further down a path toward increasing damage and danger. And it appears that even the authors of these bad policies don’t have an inkling what they’re pushing for.

So we will attempt to clear up some of the confusion by providing you with a few illustrations of what happens if we stop emitting CO2 and greenhouse gasses (GHGs) now, if we stop emitting them in the future, and if we never stop emitting until it wrecks us.

What is most import when it comes to GHGs is when and if human emissions stop.

What the World Looks Like if Greenhouse Gas Emissions Stop Now

The absolute best case scenario we could hope for is that human CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions stopped today. This best case probably won’t happen. But we can, at least in concept, bask in the glow of the good future that could be if we were wise and ambitious enough to halt the burning of fossil fuels now.

According to scientific models produced by the IPCC, if worldwide greenhouse gas emissions were to stop today, global temperature increases would be brought to a standstill. The reason is, that at current levels of carbon in the atmosphere, there are still enough carbon sinks — primarily the ocean, to suck up a good degree of the carbon dioxide we’ve already put into the atmosphere. So CO2 concentrations fall over the course of the next 200 years until they stabilize at around 340 ppm CO2 (the red line in the graph shows what happens when human CO2 emissions drop to zero).

Committed-concentrations-1024x337

(Image source: here)

Now let’s look at temperatures. Because there are already a number of feedbacks to current warming already at work pushing the world to warm even further, the uptake of CO2 by world-wide carbon sinks doesn’t result in temperature decreases as one might think. Instead, we have global uptake of carbon pushing temperature down balancing with worldwide feedbacks pushing temperature up. The result is, according to the models, a worldwide stabilization of temperatures at nearly 1 degree C above the 19th century average.

In other words, a halt in emissions, according to this research, means putting the breaks on warming (red line shows both CO2 emissions and global temperature through 2300).

CommittedWarming-1024x366

(Image source: here)

So according to this model projection, if human carbon emissions were to stop now, if all the automobiles, coal plants, natural gas plants, oil refineries, natural gas flaring, airplanes and every machine on Earth were to stop burning fossil fuels, then additional warming would probably stop now. But we’d be stuck with current temperature increases for a long, long time. Perhaps as long as 1,000 years. This cold turkey cutting of all CO2 emissions would, however, keep global temperatures in a range equal to the hottest averages during the Holocene, temperatures that would be far more easy for humans to adapt to than the additional warming that would come if human CO2 emissions continued, or worse, increased. (It is worth noting that some climate scientists and models show an increase in global warming of up to .8 degrees C even it emissions stop cold now. But even these models show further warming beyond the additional .8 degrees is halted.)

What this model data shows and the NRC paper confirms is that human caused temperature increases are stoppable but they are not reversible. A halt in CO2 emissions today stops temperature increases cold today. But we’re stuck with the warming we’ve already created.

The above scenario is the absolute best case we could hope for in our wildest dreams. For this reason, I’m going to call it the best case, least harm scenario. The reason being that if we halted CO2/GHG emissions now, we would only have to deal with the climate impacts we are dealing with now. That is, doubled number of intense storms, increased droughts in certain areas, increased water stress in certain regions, climate zones that are shifted 100 miles further north, reduced Arctic sea ice, and increased instances of wildfires in broad regions. These changes, though harmful, can probably be handled by world societies long-term without resulting in many reductions to human prosperity. On the other hand, such a massive, coodinated effort to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and transition to new energy supplies would have far-reaching economic benefits.

Such a good result, perhaps, could happen if the world realized the severe dangers our current dependence on fossil fuel represents and shifted to an emergency transition footing for the world’s economies. Such a transition would have amazing benefits to the livelihoods of many, many people. It would result in much higher rates of employment, and with would radically transform the world’s teetering infrastructures. It would also ask for a serious commitment of resources from the rich and well off. For this reason, such a good result is unlikely to happen. The interests of the wealthy are, at best, divided between a benevolent group of public service minded elites and those bent on pursuing an irrational self interest. And the deadlock between these two groups makes the above best-case scenario all but impossible.

What the World Looks Like if Greenhouse Gas Emissions Stop Soon

Since the above, best case, of CO2/GHG emissions stopping now and temperatures stabilizing is unlikely to happen given the current world political climate, let’s look at the most likely, good, scenario. In this case, what happens to the world if CO2/GHG emissions stop soon?

By soon, we’ll practically look at how soon we could possibly begin to reduce worldwide CO2/GHG emissions on an ultimate path toward halting CO2/GHG emissions altogether. In this scenario, we’ll look at a range of possibilities. As we go forward, it is important to note that worldwide CO2/GHG emissions are currently increasing. So this makes the ‘good’ scenario we’re examining here very challenging in the current world political climate. What it involves is canceling a large number of oil, gas and coal megaprojects that, if they go forward would lock in, as climate scientist James Hansen puts it, “climate change game over.” It also involves replacing current fossil fuel infrastructure with an all alternative/renewable (or carbon capture) energy infrastructure by 2060 to 2065. Also by this time agriculture, construction and industry processes would all have to shift to a carbon-neutral footing.

In this scenario we’ll assume that worldwide CO2/GHG emissions begin to decrease in either 2020 or 2025 and eventually fall to zero by around 2060 or 2065. In the event of an early start to a decline in worldwide CO2/GHG emissions by 2020 and a total phase out of all CO2/GHG emissions by 2060, there is a 75% chance that we could halt temperature increases at 2 degrees Celsius above the 19th century average by 2100. If worldwide CO2/GHG emissions begin to decline in 2025 and halt by 2065, there is a 50% that worldwide temperatures are kept beneath the 2 degree Celsius threshold.

Picture 4_2

(Image source: here)

So aggressively beginning to reduce total worldwide CO2/GHG emissions by 2020 to 2025 and completely phasing out all fossil fuel burning by 2060 to 2065 would likely put the breaks on human caused global warming at slightly less than a 2 degree Celsius increase in temperatures above the 19th century average. This temperature increase would be greater than anything experienced in the last 200,000 years and would result in major changes to the world’s environment. Humans would probably be able to adapt to these changes with some difficulty. But the changes, though difficult, will probably be survivable and tolerable.

There is, however, one caveat. As humans push world temperatures closer to the 2 degrees Celsius and 450-500 ppm CO2 thresholds, the likelihood that global feedbacks to human warming will ramp up increases. What this means is that, at some point near these thresholds, the global environment may contribute its own emissions and physical changes that result in powerful additional warming. So it is possible that the above scenario may not reduce and eliminate emissions fast enough to prevent environmental changes from pushing global warming into a more dangerous range of 2, 3 or even 4 degrees above the 19th century average.

In this case, halting CO2/GHG emissions by 2060 to 2065 stops human caused global warming and feedbacks from pushing temperatures above a range of about 1.8 to 4 degrees Celsius above the 19th Century average. Because temperature increases in this range would be far greater and more damaging than those in a cold-turkey cessation of human CO2 emissions, I will call this the best hope, high risk emissions scenario. Best hope, because it is the best we can probably hope for or achieve given current politics, high risk because there is still substantial risk (25-50%) that temperatures will not remain below the ‘safe range’ of 2 degrees Celsius increases and because this scenario includes increasingly severe weather, climate and environmental damage for at least the next four decades.

What the best hope/high risk scenario prevents, however, is certain, terrible global catastrophe.

What the World Looks Like if Business As Usual Greenhouse Gas Emissions Continue

The last scenario we will look at is what happens if human greenhouse gas emissions continue indefinitely. It is important to note that this scenario will eventually come to pass even if human greenhouse gas emissions are reduced and only partially replaced by renewables or portionally mitigated by carbon capture. For the purposes of this scenario, however, we will consider that some replacement of fossil fuels by alternative energy sources occurs and that even some carbon capture and storage facilities are built. However, these new energy sources and mitigation technologies, though reducing the overall speed at which temperatures increase, do not result in the all important cessation of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, because of overall growth in energy demand, greenhouse gas emissions continue to ramp up.

academy_of_sciences_fossil_fuel_chart

(Image source: The Australian Academy of Sciences)

In this scenario warming not only continues, it accelerates. By the end of the 21rst century, global average temperatures have increased by about 6 degrees Celsius. The result is that the world isn’t very livable for humankind. Even worse, feedbacks in the global climate render the world almost entirely uninhabitable with a 12 degree Celsius increase via feedback mechanisms by 2300.

Because failure to halt greenhouse gas emissions results in devastating warming we will call this scenario the catastrophic burn emissions scenario. In such a scenario, not only do climate conditions continue to worsen over the next four decades, as in the best hope/high risk scenario, they continue to worsen indefinitely and at a greater overall pace. Decade after decade sees increased damage and calamity. Eventually, civilizations will almost surely fail under a regime of increasingly harmful emergencies.

As such, the catastrophic burn scenario is an unconscionable consignment of posterity to a hellish world.

Understanding Greenhouse Gas Emissions is Simple: To Stop Warming, Stop Emitting

Though it is impossible to reverse the mild but still serious amount of warming already caused by past human greenhouse gas emissions, it is entirely possible to stop future warming. And in understanding this we also understand that:

1. The sooner we stop emissions, the less the world warms.

2. The sooner we stop emissions, the less in the way of dangerous climate change we will have to endure.

3. The sooner we stop emissions, the lower the risk that climate tipping points will be reached and the globe will contribute is own powerful warming mechanisms to the human warming brew.

4. If we don’t stop emissions, things will just keep getting worse and worse.

For these reasons, it should be imperative that we work as hard as we can to stop human greenhouse gas emissions as fast as we can. This is no longer just a matter of practicality and common sense. It is a matter of morality. For the sooner we stop greenhouse gas emissions, the more harm we prevent.

Links:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2013/03/27/science.1236372.full

http://www.climatecentral.org/news/two-key-climate-change-concepts-are-misunderstood-say-scientists-15792

http://desmog.ca/2013/01/22/approaching-point-no-return-worlds-dirtiest-megaprojects-we-must-avoid

http://www.science.org.au/reports/climatechange2010.pdf

Late Winter Arctic Cracking Event, Rapid Ice Motion Resulted in Loss of Thick Ice

AM2SI20130328RGB

(Image source: JAXA)

A major early season Arctic sea ice cracking event has mostly run its course. This unprecedented and much sooner than usual ice break-up left scars all over the Arctic. Scars that are likely to leave the ice in a much weaker condition as the current melt season ramps up. The most obvious are visible as cracks and leads through even the thickest ice. But equally concerning is a very rapid transport of thick ice out of the Fram Straight over the past few weeks.

Export of ice through Fram is usual, regardless of season. What is unusual is that this particular event occurred with such high velocity that it rapidly depleted a large region of the Arctic’s remaining thick ice. The acceleration of sea ice motion during the recent cracking event pushed enormous sections of ice to the north of Greenland, ice that had previously been part of the swiftly dwindling multi-year ice pack, out into the North Atlantic where it is destined to collide with warm ocean currents and melt out. Looking at an animation of sea ice since mid-February, it looks as if the thick ice is being squeezed out of the Arctic like toothpaste is squeezed out of its tube.

Multi-year ice (MYI) has been in rapid decline ever since the year 2000 and is now at lowest levels in any historic record. This ice is also the Arctic’s thickest, its freshest and its most resilient to melting. MYI decline, cracking and rapid export through the Fram Straight is leaving it more and more weakened for the upcoming melt season. This depleted state, combined with the fact that most of the remaining Arctic is now covered in first and second year ice means that the sea ice will be far more vulnerable to weather, wind, waves, sunlight and heat come summer.

It is the year after year decay of the thick, multi-year ice that is just one factor making ice ever more vulnerable. Ever increasing ocean heat content, decreasing spring snow cover, loss of Arctic reflectivity or albedo, increasing expanses of dark, sunlight and heat absorbing water, increasing Arctic greenhouse gas feedbacks, changes in the water column due to methane hydrate destabilization, and ever-increasing human greenhouse gas emissions are all factors pushing the Arctic toward more rapid transition.

Links:

http://www.ijis.iarc.uaf.edu/cgi-bin/seaice-monitor.cgi?lang=e

Arctic Calmer For Now, Slow Spring Melt Continues

The drama appears to have mostly subsided for now. An unprecedented cracking event that began in February and expanded through mid-March seems to have mostly paused. Brief openings revealing open water have mostly frozen over with thinner ice.

This is not to say that the Arctic is entirely quiet. Thick ice has continued to lift away from the CAA and Greenland, resulting in a spreading and thinning of ice in these regions. Ice shows rapid movement out the Fram Straight. Tantalizing hints of new cracks emerge. And a slow melt proceeds.

seaice.recent.arcticmar27

(Image Source: Cryosphere Today)

Cryosphere Today shows sea ice area dropping slowly to about 380,000 square kilometers below sea ice maximum. The current measure, 13.399 million square kilometers is the seventh lowest on record for this date and somewhat lower than the 2012 measure for today.

The smoothed NSIDC graph shows decline continuing in sea ice extent, with measurements of around 14.9 million square kilometers. This measure is now outside the -2 standard deviation range and shows continued slow decline. Sea ice extent has been hovering around 5th lowest on record for the past few days.

Cracks Mostly Stable, Though Fissures Appear More Pronounced Near North Pole

Major crack expansion seen in February and early March has abated over the past week. However, some features of interest do appear on recent satellite shots. A series of fissures can now be seen traversing the thick ice in a crescent moon pattern west of the North Pole and running up from Greenland and the CAA. These appear somewhat more pronounced than yesterday, though enhanced clarity may be from a better satellite shot. In any case, these fissures as well as the Beaufort cracks will bear watching over the coming days and weeks as spring season melt intensifies.

hrpt_dfo_ir_100mar27

(Image Source: Canadian Weather Office)

General Climate Conditions

Overall temperatures for the Arctic remain above average with warmer than normal temperatures concentrating around Greenland, Baffin Bay, and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA). A pool of above average temperatures also remains north of Siberia. Weather maps show high pressure continuing to dominate the central Arctic with a series of weak to moderate low pressure systems skirting the area of this high in the Bering, Northern Canada, and South of Svalbard. A strong low (970mb~) approaches Greenland, Iceland and England from the North Atlantic.

Though the central Arctic high still dominates, negative Arctic Oscillation values have fallen to around -3.8 from a peak of about -5.5 more than a week ago. Negative AO values are forecast to shift closer to zero come early April.

Overall, higher than average temps, what appears to be still fragile ice, still rapid ice mobility, and weather systems whittling away at the ice edge would still seem to favor slow ice melt over the next week. That said, we may experience a small bump in sea ice values as somewhat colder air briefly over-rides the current melting trend. Generally, though, seasonal forcing would tend to combine with the above factors to push for continued gradual melt.

Links:

http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/data/satellite/hrpt_dfo_ir_100.jpg

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/precip/CWlink/daily_ao_index/ao_index.html

http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/

http://www.uni-koeln.de/math-nat-fak/geomet/meteo/winfos/arcisoTTPPWW.gif

Global Heating Accelerates, Deep Ocean Warming Fastest; What Does it Mean For Methane Hydrates?

A new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, found that ocean heat content rose at its fastest rate ever recorded over the past 15 years. The study, written by Magdalena A. Balmaseda, Kevin E. Trenberth, and Erland Kallen, found that the deep ocean below 700 meters accounted for 30% of all global heat content increase over the past decade.

What this means is that total warming of the atmosphere-ocean system didn’t slow down as some global warming denier sources claim. Instead, total Earth warming accelerated.

According to the paper, the most recent period since 1999 was:

the most sustained warming trend in this record of OHC. Indeed, recent warming rates of the waters below 700m appear to be unprecedented. In the last decade, about 30% of the warming has occurred below 700 m, contributing significantly to an acceleration of the warming trend.

Over the past decade, La Nina events have predominated. And this, according to study authors, resulted in a large portion of global warming being retained in the oceans. The reason is that El Nino is a powerful mechanism of ocean heat transfer to the atmosphere. But over the past decade, El Nino events have been rare, keeping more human caused heating in the world’s oceans. Not only did upper levels of the ocean heat up, a massive amount of global warming telegraphed into the deepest regions of world ocean systems.

According to Keven Trenberth, one of the study’s authors and a leading climate scientist, “It means less short term warming at the surface but at the expense of a greater earlier long-term warming, and faster sea level rise.”

The reason is that rapidly warming oceans pump more water vapor into the atmosphere. Water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas and a major amplifying feedback to human caused warming. In addition, rapidly warming waters leads to greater thermal expansion of the world’s oceans, accelerating sea level rise.

Bad News For Methane Hydrates

More rapid ocean heating also has another impact not directly mentioned in the new study. What it does is put more of the world’s deposits of methane hydrates at risk of destabilization.

Methane hydrate is a volatile mixture of methane and frozen water that can be found on seabeds around the world. It is estimated that as much as 10,000 gigatons of carbon lay locked in methane hydrate deposits around the globe. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Over a century, it is 20 times more powerful by volume than CO2. Over ten years, it is 100 times more potent. Methane is also problematic because after it amplifies warming as methane, it then breaks down into CO2, adding to already high volumes of that gas. Were even a small fraction of this carbon to bubble up from the ocean bottom and reach the atmosphere, it would result in a powerful amplifying feedback to human caused climate change.

Over the past decade, instances of methane hydrate destabilization have been found in the Arctic, off the east coast of the United States, and in other regions around the globe. Many of these events appeared to be new. Of these, methane plumes found in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf were the most disturbing. There, plumes of methane a kilometer across were discovered. Though submerged tundra was also a likely contributor to massive methane plumes discovered on the shelf, hydrates are also known to have formed there.

Now, with oceans heating at a greater rate than the atmosphere, risks for large methane hydrate releases are also increasing.

Most Missing Heat Found, Look to Ice Sheets for Remainder

This new research finds most of the missing heat scientists have been looking for around the globe. And that heat, as previously suspected, ended up in the world’s oceans and, to great extent, in the deep oceans. That said, a much smaller measure of heat is still unaccounted for. It might not be a bad idea to look in the world’s ice sheets — which appear to be decaying at a much faster rate than expected. One speculates that the hearts of the great glaciers are more watery than anticipated and contain much of the remaining heat from human caused global warming not currently located.

Links:

In Hot Water: Global Warming Has Accelerated Over Past 15 Years, New Study of Oceans Confirms

Winter 2013 Shows Increasing Arctic Methane Feedback to Human Caused Warming

Oceans Sponging Up Warmth

Arctic Methane Release Sea Ice Melt Shows Amplifying Feedbacks to Human Caused Climate Change

 

Donald Trump’s Money Would Be Better Spent Building Wind Farms

Donald Trump isn’t happy. So, as usual, he’s making a big fuss.

The trouble this time? Not Barack Obama’s birth certificate. No. It’s windmills. In this case eleven wind turbine generators slated to be built in the ocean near a new golf course Trump constructed in Scotland.

The wind mills will provide power for a much as half of local residents and cost only about 400 million dollars. Trump’s golf course will cost 1.2 billion and suck up a goodly portion of its own energy while giving nothing back. One project produces a luxury that many residents of the Scotland coast will be unable to enjoy. Another produces renewable, zero GHG emission power that benefits everyone in the region and has much larger benefits around the globe.

Yet Donald Trump’s hoity-toity 1.2 billion golf course is too good for those helpful turbines. Trump, invoking the royal ‘we,’ says “We will spend whatever monies are necessary to see to it that these huge and unsightly industrial wind turbines are never constructed.”

To me, wind turbines don’t look industrial. They look majestic. And the future they represent makes them even more appealing. Yet the image Trump invokes is one of coal power plant smoke stacks. Is he even talking about the same windmills?

Offshore-wind-turbines-537x357

(Image source: Inhabitat)

What makes Trump’s tirade even worse is that he not only spends massive sums of money on a coastal development in danger of being wiped out by the climate change those windmills may help prevent, but he also plans to spend any sum necessary to stop the windmills from being built at all. Trump, a real estate mogul, should know better than to throw good money after bad goals. Yet here he is, doing just that.

I won’t invoke the royal ‘we.’ But I do think I could put the Don’s money to better use. If he had instead invested that 1.2 billion sum in wind energy, he could have powered as many as 150,000 homes and put a nice-sized dent in climate change. So, instead of spending money to defeat a good investment, I think the Don should reconsider. Better yet, he should become a partner.

Not likely to happen, as Trump seems to have developed the completely wrong-headed notion that any long-sighted investment in alternative energy is a bad idea. So, in the future, expect him to continue to behave like a big, over-funded, baby.

Links:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/26/scotland-wind-farm-approved-donald-trump_n_2956901.html?ir=Green&ref=topbar

80 Percent Decline in Sea Ice Leaves Europe, Eastern US Stuck With Extreme Weather

A warm Arctic, a meandering jet stream, Europe, eastern US cold, wet and stormy. What do all these things have in common? According to Jennifer Francis, loss of Arctic sea ice.

“The sea ice is going rapidly. It’s 80% less than it was just 30 years ago. There has been a dramatic loss. This is a symptom of global warming and it contributes to enhanced warming of the Arctic,” said Jennifer Francis, research professor with the Rutgers Institute of Coastal and Marine Science in an interview with the Guardian yesterday.

Francis noted that persistent cold weather in the US and Europe could be attributed to the polar jet stream forming abnormally large, persistent ridges and troughs over the same regions for long periods of time. These blocking patterns are events that Francis attributes to loss of sea ice in the Arctic.

“This is what is affecting the jet stream and leading to the extreme weather we are seeing in mid-latitudes,” Francis said in the Guardian’s report. “It allows the cold air from the Arctic to plunge much further south. The pattern can be slow to change because the [southern] wave of the jet stream is getting bigger. It’s now at a near record position, so whatever weather you have now is going to stick around,” she said.

Weather Stuck in Extreme

For much of the 2013 winter and early spring, temperature patterns in the Northern Hemisphere have been stuck. The eastern and northern US remain abnormally cold. The west, warm. Europe, cold. And central east Asia, warm. Notably, the Arctic has also been much warmer than usual. As a result, the global temperature map has looked much the same during this time period.

globaltempsmar25

(Image source: NOAA Earth Systems)

In the above image, we can see that most of the globe shows average or above average temperatures. But extreme cold has invaded the eastern US and Europe. As Francis notes, these extremes are caused by persistent waves in the jet stream called blocking patterns.

Last year, the US was stuck on the other side of this kind blocking pattern — the hot, drier side. Then, we saw conditions that led to a record 55 year drought. In the fall, a powerful blocking pattern helped to spawn the devastating hybrid superstorm Sandy. Now, the climate has switched to the opposite of the extremes we saw last year. Though February was the 9th hottest globally, weather remained stuck in a cold, wet pattern in Europe and the eastern US. The result was unprecedented winter storms for much of these regions.

It is not that we haven’t been warned of the increasing weather extremes sometimes referred to as global weirding. In fact, many scientists around the globe raised a loud alarm last year and continue to do so. Here is a statement from NOAA scientists who warned about the increasing tendency of weather patterns to switch from one extreme to the next in a recent paper:

“With more solar energy going into the Arctic Ocean because of lost ice, there is reason to expect more extreme weather events, such as heavy snowfall, heat waves, and flooding in North America and Europe.”

Extreme variation, in other words, now represents a new normal.

Former UK chief science adviser Sir John Beddingham notes that “The [current] variation we are seeing in temperature or rainfall is double the rate of the average. That suggests that we are going to have more droughts, we are going to have more floods, we are going to have more sea surges and we are going to have more storms. These are the sort of changes that are going to affect us in quite a short timescale.”

Extreme variations in climate were also warned of in a 2012 study conducted by James Hansen of NASA’s GISS division. The study paper noted that “Cool anomalies as extreme as -2σ still occur, because the anomaly distribution has broadened as well as moved to the right. In other words, our climate now encompasses greater extremes.” The paper found that extreme temperature events were ten times more likely than during the period of 1950-1981.

NASAextremeevents

NASA researchers noted extreme events also took place during times of persistent atmospheric blocking patterns — yet another validation to work done by Francis and others.

What to Expect?

Unfortunately, we can continue to expect extreme weather events as Arctic sea ice declines. Sea ice volume is currently near record lows. Extent and area are about 6th lowest for the winter of 2013. And thick, multiyear ice is at its lowest level ever. Large sea ice cracking events occurring 50 days ahead of schedule are just one more sign that sea ice may well be on its way to another record melt come 2013.

Since scientists are increasingly drawing a link between sea ice erosion and extreme weather events driven by blocking patterns, and since extreme heating events are becoming more common, we can expect weather to continue to worsen as sea ice erodes and global average temperatures inch ever higher.

Links:

Melting sea ice, exposing huge parts of the ocean to the atmosphere, explains extreme weather both hot and cold

The New Climate Dice: Public Perception of Climate Change

Earth System Research Laboratory

NSIDC Calls Sea Ice Maximum, Melt Continues, Thickest Ice Shows Rapid Motion

Quite a lot going on in the Arctic Today…

First off, NSIDC has officially called sea ice maximum (The tip off came from Neven. His sea ice blog is fantastic. Read it, comment on it, and stay informed.) From NSIDC:

On March 15, 2013, Arctic sea ice extent appears to have reached its annual maximum extent, marking the beginning of the sea ice melt season. This year’s maximum extent was the sixth lowest in the satellite record. NSIDC will release a detailed analysis of the 2012 to 2013 winter sea ice conditions in early April.

So here we are, 9 days into the melt season. Par for the course, we have sea ice melt continuing in most key measures today. Here is a visual of the sea ice extent data from NSIDC:

N_stddev_timeseriesmar25

As you can see, NSIDC extent measures take a rapid dive right to the edge of the -2 standard deviation line. This is a pretty steep decline rate so early in the year and we’d expect it to pause now and then. With current major ice sheet fracturing and storms churning up the ice edges in the Barents and Sea of Okhotsk, these measures will bear close watching.

Fracturing and Rapid Ice Motion

Speaking of fracturing, it is certainly worth taking another look at the very splintered mass of thick ice north of Greenland, the CAA, and Alaska. The most recent satellite shot from the Canadian Weather Office is almost tragic in its poetry. A view down through the clouds provides some stark contrast for all those cracks and leads that have opened up over the past month:

hrpt_dfo_ir_100mar25

This image provides a static shot of an Arctic in rapid transition. The cracks you can clearly see, however, provide a hint to how volatile even the early spring Arctic has become. What the US Navy CICE map shows (analysis provided by A4R) is that a broad section of thick, multi-year ice is now on the move. It is possible that this new motion will further crack an already fractured system, creating even more leads and melt avenues for spring and summer warming. The CICE motion forecast is below. Again, something that bears close watching:

arcticicespddrfnowcastMar25

Lots of features in this Navy ice motion model worth discussing. The first is the motion of thick ice moving away from Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA). This is the motion I mentioned above which may result in further fracturing of the thick ice. Other features show rapid movement of ice out the Fram Straight. Fram is, essentially, the graveyard of sea ice, so rapid transport out the Fram is not good for overall ice health. Moving further south, we can see a pretty rapid east-to-west flow in Hudson bay. At this time of year, Hudson is still ice clogged. But we might end up with thinner ice on the east end as a result.

Next come the low pressure systems. The first, rather weak, system appears just north of western Canada and eastern Alaska. This system seems to be combining with a high pressure near Greenland to lift thick ice away from Greenland and the CAA. The second appears in the Bering Sea and appears to be doing a decent job mixing the thin ice there. Finally, a strong low in the Sea of Okhotsk is turning thin ice in that region into a big blender.

Slight Cooling Continues, Temps Still a Bit Above Average

A gradual cooling trend that began a few days ago appears to have bottomed out today. That said, temps still remain mostly above average throughout the Arctic. Taking a look at the global temperature composite provided by NOAA shows much of the warmth concentrated over Greenland, Baffin Bay, and the CAA with other pools of warm air concentrating over the East Siberian, Laptev and Barents Seas.

globaltempsmar25

Overall, conditions still appear to favor slow, overall melting with erosion of sea ice in the Bering and Okhotsk Seas somewhat offset by ice attempting to expand east of Svalbard. Rapid ice transport out the Fram Straight and thick ice lifting away from Greenland and the CAA may create further weaknesses in the ice that could have greater impacts later in the season. We should have a better view of any possible impacts come tomorrow.

Solar Starting to Take Down Coal In Key Markets; Trend Needs to Expand to China, India, US to Dent Global Warming

In key markets around the world, clean solar energy appears poised to eat dirty coal’s lunch.

In Australia and Germany solar panel installation hit an extreme pace in the period of 2005-2013. The result is that, in some places, peak energy demand has fallen by as much as 15%. Utilities, in these areas, burdened with costly over-capacity are, in turn, looking to shut down some of their other peak energy providers. Namely coal plants.

This statement isn’t just anecdotal. In Central Europe, according to a recent UBS study, over 21 coal, gas, and oil-fired power plants are slated for closure by 2017. This represents over 7 gigawatts of fossil fuel generation capacity to be shut in. It positively compares to 6 gigawatts of nuclear facilities set for closure in Germany and Belgium over the same time-frame.

Even more impressive, a further 41 gigawatts of coal and gas plants may need to be closed in order for Central European utilities to remain profitable. Together, this could result in the closure of around 49 gigawatts of fossil fuel capacity over the next nine years, about a third of central European thermal capacity. This amount almost exactly matches the new renewable energy capacity coming online over the same period.

Because renewables are diffuse and dispersed, it negatively impacts centralized power generation systems. And most of these systems come in the form of coal and gas fired power plants. So in an irony to end all ironies, ‘liberal’ forms of green energy are empowering individuals to control their own energy destinies while central governments in Europe and Australia are helping them do it. This new energy autonomy is a renaissance of sorts, empowering to middle classes around the globe and resulting in a greater wealth diffusion likely to have strong long-term benefits to those economies in which energy transitions occur. New markets will emerge as access to a form of personal capital — energy capital — will take root.

Electricity grids in such systems will also be more resilient, as the sources of generation are more diffuse and, therefore, more difficult to disrupt.

What these new energy systems represent is a major opportunity to both fend off the worst impacts of climate change while creating new means for enabling economic development and prosperity. Which brings us to India, China and the US. Both India and China have plans to build a massive number of new coal fired power plants over the coming years. Both have serious needs to produce new energy to power burgeoning economies. Meanwhile, the US is still engaged in a series of alternative energy fits and re-starts — primarily due to legislative obstacles put in place by conservatives aligned with oil, gas and coal companies.

If these countries continue on the path of a massive build in dangerous energy (India and China), and stuttering adoption in the US, the transition of energy sources in Europe and Australia will not be enough. Total volumes of CO2 dumped into the atmosphere will still continue to rise for an unconscionable period. So it is imperative that the trend of rapid adoption and replacement seen in Europe and Australia must establish itself in the US, China and India as well.

Already, there is some hope that such a shift may be starting. China is adding large volumes of wind and solar capacity. India has plans for a multi-gigawatt solar build-out and, in the US, solar energy appears set to outpace all new energy installations except natural gas. But legal hurdles to the kind of individual adoption that spurred the replacement of dirty energy sources in Central Europe currently delay adoption in many US states. Arguably, without these adversarial laws and equally adversarial conservative politicians, US alternative energy adoption would be proceeding by leaps and bounds.

So, though challenges remain, there are certainly a few glimmers of hope. Power generation represents the lion’s share of CO2 emissions worldwide. So establishing the ongoing basis for a rapid transition to renewables would do much to lower the volume of CO2 emitted. But to stop global warming long-term we will have to also get a handle on transportation emissions (vehicle to grid and biofuels) as well as emissions from the way we use land. In any case, these ne

Links:

The Beginning of the End for Centralized Generation?

Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement?

Rising Solar Power Production in US Likely to Make it Second Largest New Source in 2013

Divide and Conquer: Sea Ice Under Assault From Top, Bottom and All Sides

2012 was the year sea ice wasn’t supposed to hit record melt, but did.

Winter of 2012 showed almost average sea ice area and extent. The summer that came was cloudy, reducing the amount of sunlight able to plunge down and melt the surface ice. And regions of the Arctic showed cooler than usual sea surface temperatures.

So what happened? Why did 2012 see record melt when it shouldn’t have? What does this anomalous record melt mean for the 2013 melt season and the seasons to follow?

A new paper from the Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory examines the causes of 2012’s odd record melt and makes some sobering conclusions. The underlying driver appears to be an ongoing rise in ocean heat content combined with an ever-weakening ice sheet. The study notes that, though a major storm moved through the Arctic and enhanced melt, increasing ocean heat content combined with a growing number of opportunities for ocean water mixing and warmer water invasion from below provided the force necessary to push 2012 into record low territory.

Further, the paper notes that the massive storm churning through the Arctic during early August ripped the ice apart, creating enhanced melting by cutting 400,000 square kilometers of sea ice from the main pack. This separated sea ice couldn’t withstand the elemental assault of summer and quickly melted away.

Storms have been strengthening in the Arctic during summer ever since major sea ice melt began in the early 80s, the paper notes. And open water created by the receding ice both adds heat to the Arctic environment even as it becomes a source for enhanced wave action assaulting the ice pack.

Cause For Concern in 2013

In addition to the elements contributing to melt listed above, the paper notes that loss of thick, multiyear ice was also played a central role in 2012’s outlandish melt. This weak ice state set conditions whereby other factors could play a greater role. By winter 2013, multiyear ice is at its lowest values ever. Even worse, a major cracking event in February and March 2013 created numerous weaknesses and fractures spanning even the thickest ice.

The leads (cracks) are covered in thinner, weaker ice. They are more easy to melt from top, bottom or sides. Once they do melt, the amazingly fractured state of even the thickest ice means that much of this ice may well drift in a loose assembly rather than remaining a part of a contiguous sheet. Such fragments of sea ice are subject to being blown about by the wind and pushed around by waves, making separation from the larger pack much more likely.

Separation during summertime is a death sentence to sea ice because it has lost the heat reflecting capacity of neighboring ice and is, instead, surrounded by a dark, sun-absorbing ocean.

So, it would seem, given the current fragile state of ice, that only a cloudy, cool, calm summer would keep a new record melt event from occurring. Since these conditions appear unlikely in an increasingly stormy, windy, warm, and wavy Arctic composed of an expanding dark ocean, the most likely outcome is for another record year. Even worse, the cracking of remaining thick ice during the past month adds another element of fragility to an already vulnerable system.

ENSO, Arctic Oscillation to Play A Role?

In the past, Arctic researchers have attempted to correlate positive or negative phases of Arctic Oscillation (AO) and/or the ENSO cycle to major melt events. However, it appears that, over the past five years, neither ENSO nor AO was the deciding factor in melt. During the 2007 record melt, a weak La Nina appeared during summer and the Arctic Oscillation was in a slightly negative phase. During 2010’s record volume melt, El Nino dominated and AO was strongly negative. And during 2012, the summer period was ENSO neutral with AO in a slightly positive phase.

Varied ENSO and AO conditions during major melt events hint that neither of these was the primary driver of melt. Instead, the most likely drivers are an ever-rising ocean heat content and an increasingly fragile ice sheet. Coupled with a stormier Arctic and you have a state where major melt events become more and more likely with each passing year. Only a reversal of this underlying trend or the introduction of a powerful negative feedback (large influx of fresh water, for example) would result in longer term ice recovery. But with human-caused climate change driving ever-greater ocean heat uptake, it appears likely that record Arctic melt seasons will continue or even increase in frequency (increasing Greenland melt may alter this trend, but current melt does not appear to be enough).

As noted in a previous blog, there also appears to be a high likelihood, given current melt trends, that one summer during the period of 2013-2017 will see complete melt and, therefore, a completely ice free Arctic.

These are all conditions to consider as we enter the 2013 melt season.

Links:

Arctic Melt Continues, CAA Shows Cracks, Negative AO, Warming Subside a Bit

arcticice_nsidcmar24

(Image Source: NSIDC, Pogoda i Klimat)

Arctic sea ice melt continued over the past two days with both NSIDC and Cryosphere Today showing continued lower area and extent values. The Japanese Space Agency sea ice monitor (JAXA), showed slightly higher extent values but didn’t buck the overall melt trend. Overall, sea ice area measures are about 370,000 square kilometers below maximum. So a melt trend is pretty well established as the 500,000 square kilometer threshold approaches.

Historic Cracking Event

A very large cracking event that is unprecedented for its size so early in the season seemed to pause this weekend. That said, cracks did continue to appear in somewhat unlikely places. Poster Espen over at the Arctic Ice Blog pointed out a series of cracks from a NASA shot of Lancaster Sound. Located in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Lancaster Sound is a part of the network of seaways that make up the Northwest Passage. Early breakage in this region may, but does not conclusively, point toward an early opening of the Northwest Passage for this year. Will have to keep an eye on events as new conditions emerge.

NASAshotLancasterSound

(Image source: NASA Earth Data)

For an excellent overview of this major ongoing cracking event, take a look at this article written by Neven and re-posted both in Skeptical Science and Climate Progress.

Negative AO, Warming Subside

The extraordinarily powerful high pressure system contributing to a strong negative Arctic Oscillation (AO) has diffused into a larger ridge stretching from northern Russia to Baffin Bay. Pressures within the ridge have been slowly falling. As a result, negative AO phase has weakened somewhat, falling to a value of negative 4.5.

The Arctic has also cooled a little from earlier high temperatures. That said, temperatures remain above average for this time of year.

ArcticmeantempsMar24

(Image source: DMI)

All that said, the overall blocking pattern transporting heat into the Arctic over Greenland and Eastern Siberia appears to remain intact. Further, the polar jet stream is very wavy, with lots of warm air intrusions from the south and cold air influxes from the north. Looking at weather models covering the next 10 days, this waviness in the jet stream appears to intensify as spring continues to emerge. This pattern is likely to drive warm air repeatedly into the Arctic’s heart while forcing colder air out and onto the continents.

Notable Weather Events

A low pressure system forming just east of Kamchatka disrupted thin sea ice in the region. This energetic low swirled the ice to such an extent that its effect was visible on the Navy sea ice thickness composite below. This mixing led to some loss of sea ice in the region. According to ECMWF model forecasts, the low is expected to strengthen and move toward the Barents Sea over the next couple of days. So areas of Barents sea ice may also see disruption as the low deepens and churn through the region. Later, another low is set to emerge again over The Sea of Okhotsk.

Navyseaicemar24

Overall, melt appears to be eroding ice in Baffin Bay (likely due to warmer than average conditions), in the region of The Sea of Okhotsk (storminess appears to be playing a role here), and in the fast ice just east of Greenland and on the south side of Svalbard. Spreading areas of thinner ice continue to emerge or remain north of Barrow Alaska and Northern Canada. A large fissure between the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and the thick ice that usually anchors there this time time of year continues to stress and disrupt the multi-year ice.

Weather conditions, though slightly less favorable than a couple of days ago, would seem to still contribute melt on the back of an over-all slow warming, erosion of the ice edge, record thin ice values, and a slow increase in sunlight typical for this time of year.

I’ll leave you with this image from the Canadian Weather Office. As you can see, some of the leads from this past month’s cracking event appear to have snowed over a bit. A view that appears serene and calm, for now.

Arctic ice mar 24

New NASA Video: Sea Ice Appears to Be Disintegrating

The above NASA video (good catch by Paul) shows a stunning and massive sea ice break up over the entire Beaufort region. Ice break up began in early February and has continued to cover much of the area between Svalbard and Alaska. As the video shows, what appears to be happening is an unprecedented disintegration of sea ice. (The caption isn’t technically correct, though. Clear skies and brisk winds have dominated this region throughout the cracking period).

Recent sea ice thickness composites from the US Navy take another look at the break-up. Below, we can see areas north of Alaska, Canada and Greenland converting to thin and broken ice.

arcticictn_nowcast_anim30dmar23

Melt season has just barely started. For such powerful break-ups to have occurred so early is not a good sign. Not a good sign at all.

US Senate Makes Shameful, Symbolic Decision to Support Keystone XL

“Big Oil may have bought themselves this meaningless vote, but the decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline remains where it’s been all along — with Secretary Kerry and President Obama.” LCV President Gene Karpinski

In a cowardly decision today, 62 US Senators decided to side with big oil and support a pipeline that has practically no benefit to offer the American people. On the other hand, a massive corporation stands to make billions exporting the dirtiest oil on the planet to China all while exploding an immense carbon bomb in our atmosphere.

Keystone creates all of 35 permanent jobs of which 10 percent would be local. Since much of the oil will be sold on the international market, it will likely push North American oil prices up. And, since oil from Keystone is slated to be exported, it does little, if anything to increase US energy security.

On the other hand, it severely erodes world climate security by “sticking a fuse into the largest carbon bomb on the planet.” All the while, Canada strip mines and poisons one of the largest arboreal forests on the planet to get at the expensive, sticky stuff and uses up more than 8% of their natural gas supplies to refine it.

It’s boondoggle to make even the most cynical politician blush. And 62 were certainly blushing today.

Fortunately, big oil’s demonstrated dominance of the US Senate (of by and for the oil companies) and its lobbyist forced symbolic vote isn’t the last word on Keystone. True authority still rests with the President and John Kerry’s State Department. Clearly the corporate pressure is on. So we’ll see if the President has the integrity to stand up to the special interests and strike a victory for our children’s future.

Come on Mr. President, step away from that carbon bomb.

Links:

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/03/22/1765651/senate-gone-wild-vote-to-approve-keystone-passes-decision-still-lies-with-white-house/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/22/keystone-xl-pipeline-john-hoeven_n_2935921.html?utm_hp_ref=green

When Burning is No Longer Moral: A Call For Fossil Fuel Abolition

CO2kills

(Image source: Here)

Science has provided more than enough evidence to show that burning fossil fuels is an increasingly dangerous activity. Recent reports reveal that we are 565 gigatons of fossil fuel carbon away from crossing the dangerous climate tipping point of 2 degrees warming. Burning all current, proven, fossil fuels would result in dramatically more carbon entering the atmosphere. Five times the number needed to keep the very worst climate impacts in check: 2,795 gigatons.

But the oil, gas and coal companies keep seeking ways to expand that, already dangerously over-sized, base of fossil fuels resources. They tap expensive and dirty energy like the tar sands. They break the ground via fracking to bring more high-carbon oil and gas to the surface. They attempt to make economical the exploitation of billions of tons of methane hydrates. Pushing endlessly to exploit more, more, more.

As this mad effort to continue burning fossil fuels indefinitely into the future expands, a political war is waged to suppress any alternative energy source. Republican political lackeys to the oil, gas, and coal giants, at every turn, attempt to limit, reduce, or deny the development of non-carbon or low carbon energy. They fight to keep companies from paying the costs for externalizing the damage caused by fossil fuel extraction and the resulting carbon emission. They fight any limit to carbon exploitation — be it a carbon tax or a cap and trade policy.

Perhaps worst of all, is the ongoing effort by oil, gas and coal companies to deny that carbon emission causes any harm whatsoever. Efforts that have included attacks on scientists who have raised the warning of an increasingly dangerous climate change. The mad logic behind these attacks is simple. The fossil fuel companies obviously care nothing for humanity’s future. Instead, they care only for their immediate profits.

An Insane, Amoral Path Toward Harm

Cigarettes and tobacco killed my grandfather. Will fossil fuel burning and resulting climate change kill my grandchildren?

Exploiting all current fossil fuel reserves is enough to raise world temperatures 6 degrees Celsius or more by the end of this century. Amplifying feedbacks from the environment will push that temperature increase to 12 degrees Celsius by 2300. There is a high likelihood that a 6 degree Celsius temperature increase will do in my grandchildren. And 12 degrees Celsius removes the possibility of a habitable world.

2,795 gigatons of carbon locked in current reserves, while enough to push Earth out of the habitable zone, isn’t all the potential carbon locked in unconventional reserves of fossil fuel around the world. In fact, as much as 10,000 gigatons of carbon reside in unproven, but possible reserves. Even worse, at the current rate of burning we pass the ‘safe’ 565 gigaton threshold sometime around 2028. Unfortunately, carbon emissions aren’t level. They are increasing.

All these factors — the huge and increasing rate of burning, the amount of carbon currently on the books of the world’s fossil companies, the comparatively small amount we can still burn to maintain reasonable hope for a safe climate, and the massive volume of potential fuels that could be exploited — represent a terrible crisis. Yet every policy, every media effort, every campaign by the fossil fuel giants pushes us ever more rapidly into trouble.

They have us on an unconscionable, amoral path toward certain and ever-increasing harm.

Exploitation, Slavery, And Profit-driven Monstrosities

A blogger recently described a conversation he had with an oil executive. In this conversation, the oil executive claimed that if we didn’t have oil we would instead have slavery.

It’s worth taking a few moments to let this concept sink in. It’s also worth considering what it reveals about the person from which it came.

Slavery is, perhaps, the greatest injustice humankind has ever inflicted upon itself. It takes many forms from serfdom to outright trading of human beings for profit. Many of the most advanced civilizations have existed and boasted strong economies without the exploitation of human beings as slaves. And the notion that slavery doesn’t exist today because of oil, gas and coal is equally asinine. Human rights groups have increasingly warned of a growing trade in human beings since the 1990s. And we have also witnessed a ‘soft’ form of slavery in the exploitation of very low wage workers forced to live in shanty towns by mega-corporations around the globe.

Slavery isn’t something that strengthens economies. Conversely, it weakens them. In the 1860s US, the North boasted a highly developed economic system primarily devoid of slave labor. Meanwhile, the south was mostly a poorly developed slave-labor based agrarian economy designed to support the affluence of a tiny number of land-owner elite. The North won the war, largely due to its highly developed economy. The south lost, not because of battlefield failures, but because of an inability to match the North’s superior logistics, innovation, and industry. And though northern industry may have been fueled, in part, by coal, current forms of alternative energy are far more powerful and efficient than US coal and wood burning in the 1860s.

The notion that slavery would be necessary in the absence of oil, gas, and coal is one that comes from a mind that elevates the concept of exploitation and denies the notion of sustainability. In both slavery and fossil fuel use exploitation is a critical component. Extracting fossil fuels exploits the Earth’s resources. Burning fossil fuel externalizes damage by exploiting the Earth’s atmosphere and, in doing so, exploits the prospects of future generations. And slavery is a simple and extreme form of exploiting human beings. But exploitation isn’t necessary for prosperity or economic development. Instead, it can often ruin both.

What exploitation does do very well is maximize profits while relying less on effort or innovation. And this is where the hard truth comes in. Exploitation all too often serves to fuel the advancement and acquisition requirements of greedy, narcissistic individuals who lack the capacity to see beyond the confines their own tiny orbits or to gain much sense of the harm they may be causing.

Finally, oil, gas, and coal executives too often pretend that the energy sources they supply are the only viable forms available. In 2013, a time of expanding access to renewable forms of energy, this notion is as wretched and antiquated as the 19th century assertion that slavery was necessary for American prosperity.

Alternatives, Equality Necessary For Human Advancement

If the world can run on 100 dollar per barrel oil, then the world can certainly run on far less expensive sources of wind, solar and biofuels. Contrary to what some doomers say, these new sources could very well result in greater economic development and prosperity than the fossil sources of energy that tend to cause so much costly external harm. Further, the diffuse nature of these energy sources leads to more equal economic structures. Profits concentrate less and tend to be more spread out. In such cases, history shows that prosperity tends to spring up in a virtuous self-sustaining cycle.

This truth has already born out in many of the most advanced corporations and economies around the globe. Apple runs on 75% renewable energy. Ironically, Apple also often competes with oil companies for highest profits. But Apple’s methods of profit generation — innovation and diligence — contrasts with the oil company model of exploitation and political manipulation. One company represents a promising future, the others a catastrophe. Germany powers itself on 25% renewable energy. Denmark has reached over 30%. California, the largest economy in the United States, generates 33% of its electricity from renewables. Even China seems to understand the stakes. After years of suffering from water scarcity due to coal pollution, in 2012 China produced more new energy capacity from wind than it did from fossil fuels.

This ongoing and growing trend is not slavery, it is an opportunity for liberation.

The Time For Abolition is Now

With renewable energy achieving economic viability at the same time fossil fuels threaten to wreck the climate, now is the time for a strong movement to abolish the use of fossil fuels and to hasten transition to sustainable energy. The small carbon budget remaining to us is cause for urgency and the continued expansion of dangerous fossil fuel use is reason enough to act now.

In the 18th and 19th centuries brave abolitionists stood against those still supporting slavery. They paved the way to freedom and dignity for millions and they set in place the conditions for which a nation would be liberated from its own terrible legacy. In this day, we need a new form of abolitionist. One brave enough to stand against the might of the fossil fuel giants and to fight for a future in which the hope of a livable world remains. A world that husbands the prosperity of future generations rather than sacrificing them on the alter of fossil fuel company profits.

The time for abolition of these dirty, dangerous and depleting fuels is now.

Links:

350.org

Worth Reading: March 22, 2013

In the news today, the GOP has renewed broad-reaching efforts to limit alternative energy development and expand carbon pollution. NOAA forecasts a warm spring with half the country likely to see flooding while the other half experiences drought. Renewable energy production gets a boost from Apple as wind energy begins to bounce back after a legislative assault by Republicans. And China shows slowing increases in oil consumption (likely due to high prices) even as it remains on track to increase coal consumption 10% by 2015.

Warnings from the OECD on emissions ramped up as it sought carbon taxes from big polluters like China and the US. And 4th graders show the world that, yes, a transition to renewable energy is possible with just a little crowd-sourcing gumption.

Joe Romm exposes Theda Skocpol for double speak, misanalysis and blaming the victim in the legislative failure of Cap-and-Trade: Theda Skocpol Doubles Down With Self-Contradictory, Blame-The-Victim Misanalysis of Cap-And-Trade Failure.

Ryan Koronowski exposes the GOP’s ongoing and deliberate anti-reality climate change denial efforts in a piece that makes the movie Space Balls seem more factually plausible than the current republican narrative on human-caused global warming: When Reality is Biased, Get New Facts.

Dr. Snow produces an excellent analysis of sea ice conditions past, present and future: Arctic Sea Ice Melt: Looking Forward, Looking Back.

NOAA’s spring outlook is for a mix of drought, floods and above average temperatures: Drought and Floods in NOAA’s ‘Mixed Bag’ Spring Outlook.

Blogger Fish out of Water produces this excellent analysis of The Winter the Polar Vortex Collapsed.

Nice, sarcastic, article on why we ‘should’ approve the Keystone XL Pipeline: Let Us Count The Ways Keystone Approval Helps Us: Memo From Houston.

Republicans want to turn the budget plan from Senate Democrats into a “legislative sledgehammer” against President Obama’s green agenda, Organizing for Action warned Thursday: Pro-Obama group signals more emphasis on climate, green policies.

Members of GOP House that voted for big money giveaways for oil companies received over $38 million dollars from these big carbon polluters: GOP Voting For House Budget’s Big Oil Giveaway Receive $38 Million In Oil Cash.

GOP Senator Roy Blunt seeks to use Carbon Tax vote as a vehicle for attacking those concerned about climate change. But will this move blow up in his face? GOP Lawmaker wants Senate on record about carbon taxes.

Chinese lust for growth no match for high oil prices: For oil markets, China isn’t what it used to be.

China on track to increase dirty coal consumption another 10% by 2015. Not good news for climate change. Not at all. The Beijing Syndrome.

Canadian and US citizen efforts to block pipelines linking to Alberta’s Tar Sands expand: Canadian and U.S. natives vow to block oil pipelines.

Wind Energy installations picking up in US: Renewed Tax Credit Buoys Wind-Power Projects.

Fourth Grade class raises 5,800 dollars to fund solar energy projects: Fourth Grade Class Uses Kickstarter to Finance a Solar Array Multiple Times Over.

GOP seeks to exclude exports from efforts aimed at limiting carbon emissions: Senate budget measure would forbid considering emissions from exports.

Zero carbon economy not possible? Tell that to Apple, which now runs 75% on renewables: Apple makes renewable energy push with solar, fuel cells.

OECD urges big polluters to put a price on carbon. Push includes China, US: China is urged to use carbon tax to tackle pollution.

Arctic Sea Ice Conditions: Thin, Melting, Cracking, Mobile

N_stddev_timeseriesMar20

(Image source: NSIDC)

Arctic melt for the season of 2013 appears to be under way. For almost a week now, sea ice area and extent numbers have been on the decline. The above measurement, produced by NSIDC, shows current sea ice extent inching lower and ever closer to the two standard deviation boundary.

Though both sea ice area and extent remain a little above record lows, a number of factors have come to dominate that may point toward a rapid melt once the season gets under way. These include cracking, rapid ice movement, thin ice, warmer than average air temps, and negative Arctic Oscillation.

Extensive Cracking

Ever since February, a growing portion of the sea ice has suffered an ever expanding and widening series of cracks. These cracks began just north and east of Alaska and have now expanded to cover almost all the ice on the North American/Greenland side of the Arctic. Today’s satellite shot from the Canadian Weather Office provides a vivid image of the broken ice:

hrpt_dfo_ir_100

From Alaska to the Fram Straight, almost every break in the clouds shows fractured sea ice below.

Broken ice melts much more easily than solid ice. The gaps are darker and therefore absorb more heat. The broken chunks are more exposed to the elements and mechanical forces that tend to enhance melt. Even worse, much of the Arctic’s last remaining thick, multi-year ice is shot through with cracks. This ice is supposed to be the Arctic’s most resilient. But its succumbing to cracking so early may well show that even this remnant is now involved in what appears to be an amplifying decline.

Sea Ice Motion

Likely aiding in this massive break-up of sea ice is rather rapid ice motion for the winter/spring of 2013. It appears that brisk winds pushed a large section of ice off Alaska and precipitated a clockwise shifting of the thinner ice. This ice, still connected to the denser, less mobile ice north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and Greenland, likely created the expanding ring of stress fractures as it moved.

These brisk winds appear to be the result of an ongoing Arctic weather system set up by two blocking ridges — one near Eastern Siberia and the other near Greenland. These ridges both facilitated a clockwise field of winds while pumping warmer air into the Arctic. Over the past week, a powerful Arctic high pressure system formed and positioned itself near the North Pole. This high reinforced the clockwise wind pattern as it pushed the Arctic Oscillation into a strong negative phase (-5.5).

You can view sea ice motion and stress fracturing on this ASCAT radar sequence provided by anonymous poster A-Team over at the Arctic Ice Blog:

ASCATradarwinter2013

Thin Ice

With sea ice volume hovering just a hair above record low values and with multi-year ice reduced to the lowest levels ever seen, Arctic sea ice is as thin as it has ever been. The below thickness graph from PIOMAS shows that current ice thickness is even lower than last year’s record values.

Piomass thickness febmar2013

Thin ice is more at the mercy of wind, warmth and weather. So it is likely a primary factor in the current ongoing cracking event. It also presents serious risk for large melt events as the spring and summer season ramp up.

Arctic Weather in Context

In the current Arctic weather pattern, a powerful negative Arctic Oscillation continues to dominate. The strong high pressure system that developed over the Arctic last week has drifted into Baffin bay, reinforcing the ridge/blocking pattern over Greenland. Forecasts seem to indicate a gradual weakening of the negative oscillation over the next seven days.

mslp_latest.big

(Image source: DMI)

Heat transport into the Arctic remains high with continued warm air influx over Greenland and Eastern Siberia. The result is temperatures well above average for much of the Arctic.

These conditions: persistent warmer than average air temperatures, continued negative Arctic Oscillation, and cracking, mobile ice would seem to favor continued slow melt over the coming week.

Too Hot For Life By 2300, That’s Where Current CO2 Emission Path Leads

A1_F1

(Worst Case/Business As Usual Carbon Emissions Temperature Scenario A1F1)

According to numerous scientific papers, the current path of CO2 emissions will lead to a 6 degree Celsius warming by the end of this century. These studies have been produced by various agencies including the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (World Bank) and Price Waterhouse Coopers.

A 6 degree Celsius average global average temperature increase would have devastating climate impacts. Regions where average land temperatures are 80 degrees today would see average temperatures climb to about 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Large regions, about 60% of land currently inhabited by humans, becomes desert. And initial sea level rise by 2100 is in the range of 3 to 10 feet. The weather and climate shocks that result makes it questionable that human civilization could survive such a catastrophe.

But a study conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that 6 degrees of average temperature increase by 2100 would be just the start. At such a rapid heating the global environment would contribute a growing number of feedbacks — methane emission, CO2 from burning biomass, and water vapor from heating oceans that produce an additional 6 degrees Celsius warming by 2300.

At 12 degrees Celsius most of the world is entirely unlivable. Fifty percent of the land mass becomes too hot to survive outdoors. Heat stress becomes an outright killer in these conditions. Regions where average temperatures are 80 degrees today experience average temperatures of 170 degrees Fahrenheit. By 2300-2500 major heatwaves in isolated equatorial regions may be enough to produce air temperatures that boil surface water.

Six and twelve degrees Celsius may not seem like much. But consider this, the difference in average global temperature between now and the last ice age is about 5 degrees Celsius. 5 degrees Celsius on the side of cold means two mile high glaciers bury New York. And we’re headed, under the current CO2 emissions path, to more than that much temperature change on the side of hot by 2100.

Or think of it this way. Average global temperature is now 14 degrees Celsius. So a six degree warming by 2100 would be a nearly 50% increase in world average temperatures. Imagine that for a moment. Image that summers and winters are 50% hotter. What would that world look like? Now consider the 12 degree C warming by 2300. That’s nearly double current temperatures. Can you imagine living through a summer when temperatures for your area are at least twice as hot (surface feedbacks produce greater warming in equatorial and temperate regions at this point, so averages for these areas more than double)?

So many people just don’t get global warming. They don’t understand that the path we’re on right now is nothing more than a short, hot road to hell. Let’s hope we get off it soon. The trouble we’re brewing up by the warming we’ve locked in now is bad enough. But God forbid we ever reach 6 degrees C and the 12 degree C of eventual warming that would unleash.

Related video that is absolutely worth your time to watch:

Is Coal Just One Enormous Malinvestment?

This world hosts 50,000 coal plants. China alone boasts more than 650 gigawatts worth of coal electricity capacity. And, if recent reports bear out, countries around the globe still plan to construct 1,700 more.

Coal is the world’s dirtiest form of energy. It is also the world’s greatest contributor to global warming, water pollution, lead and mercury poisoning. So what happens when, as climate scientists now predict, the weather and environmental impacts of human caused climate change rapidly ramp up over the next few decades? What happens to all the hundreds of billions of dollars invested in coal energy sources and in the new projects now planned?

For all practical purposes, coal doesn’t have much life left to it. Civilizations can’t continue to use coal as a viable energy source for much longer. All over the world, massive political and environmental movements stand against coal, pushing for the closure of plants, the leaving of dirty coal in the ground. And the movement can only grow. Soon, entire nations will be displaced by global warming. Soon, Greenland will begin a dangerous death spiral of increasingly rapid melt.

Once the impacts of climate change grow to harm ever greater numbers of people, the political impetus to stop using coal will rise in a vast backlash against an energy source that caused so much harm, that would cause worse harm if its use continues.

And so, what does this make coal to the people who currently own it? One enormous liability. A dead albatross hung around the necks of the world’s energy investors. That the pain to these investors will be great is a given. But how much worse will it be if massive investments in coal continue? How much more good money will be spent chasing this bad end, further shifting these investors and their capital out onto an already unsteady branch?

When I talk about investors, to a certain degree I’m talking about all of us. World bank loans funded through the international banking system still go to support new coal plants. Tax monies in various countries go to a wide range of projects that either artificially cheapen the cost of coal or directly fund new power plants. Civilizations have engaged in a massive long-term commitment to coal. But with climate change rapidly rising into an ongoing crisis and with new, alternative forms of energy becoming ever more competitive, the old policies that encouraged coal exploitation are now untenable.

They are nothing short of a massive malinvestment. A combined climate and energy bubble that will, over the coming years, burst in a way that will be quite painful to the world’s markets. Sunk costs in these systems will not be recuperated and ongoing profits from such sources will be cut short.

We can reduce the pain of coal’s imminent collapse now. We can stop investing in a dead man walking energy source now. And we can shift to the alternatives that represent a real energy future for our civilizations. Or, as with the financial crisis, we can continue to unwisely spend our money. To take risks on investments that we know are almost certain to fail in a mad pursuit of very ephemeral gains.

For my part, I know where my money would be. It would be on the energy sources of the future — wind, solar, and vehicle to grid. Not dirty, dangerous, and depleting coal.

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