Mauna Loa Hourly Averages Above 400 PPM CO2 For First Time in 4.5 Million Years

mlo_one_monthmar-apr2013

Over the past two weeks, hourly CO2 averages measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory have exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time. Over the next month, daily averages will likely exceed the 400 ppm milestone. By 2014, one or two months will show an excess of 400 ppm CO2 and by 2016 yearly averages will likely reach or exceed that extraordinarily high level.

To find comparable CO2 levels in Earth’s geological past, one has to venture back in time 2.2 to 4.5 million years to the Pliocene climate epoc. So long ago, humankind, as we know it, was merely a glimmer in Earth’s eye. And the world was filled with strange animals and plants, many of whom do not survive today. The grasses and grains which would become the basis for world agriculture were just beginning to emerge. But they were not as plentiful nor as prosperous as they are today.

During that time, sea levels averaged 75 feet higher than today, temperatures averaged 3-4 degrees Celsius warmer globally and 8-10 degrees hotter at the poles. Ellesmere Island, covered by glaciers today, hosted a forest. If CO2 remains above 400 ppm for any significant period, we can expect an eventual return to these conditions through a chaotic transition of glacial ice melt, major weather changes, major ocean changes, increasing air and ocean temperatures, and other dangerous and disruptive climate feedbacks as the Earth system seeks a new equilibrium. And this begs the question, will those same grasses and grains that developed into such abundance over this time survive and prosper through such a transition? The fate of human civilizations may well hang on the answer to this question.

*    *    *    *    *    *

In the past 150 years, worldwide CO2 has increased by about 120 parts per million. At the current rate of increase, it will take a little more than two decades to reach 450 parts per million. In the context of geological history, this pace of increase is blindingly fast. Usually, an increase of 10 parts per million CO2 may occur over the course of 1000 years. Even the most rapid increases estimated in the last 60 million years were half as fast as those ongoing today.

co2_800k

To get an idea of the immensity and rapidity of this pace of change, one need only look at the above graph. The graph starts 800,000 years ago. And, as you can see, CO2 concentrations regularly range between 300 ppm during interglacials and 175 ppm during ice ages. This progression continues unabated until we reach the present day when, at the very end of the graph, levels shoot like a rocket toward 400 ppm. In short, humans have pushed the Earth rapidly and radically toward a different climate. And we have yet to fully witness how this extremely radical pace of change will alter our world.

Even worse, the pace of change is increasing. Humans added about 1 ppm CO2 to the atmosphere during the 1950s. We are now adding more than twice that level each and every year. 2011, the most recent year of recorded carbon emissions, showed the highest amounts ever dumped into the atmosphere. This is a pace that can no longer be sustained without serious and severe consequences.

If fossil fuel emissions continue unabated over the next few decades, the changes due for 400+ ppm CO2 will be locked in for millenia. Even worse, if emissions continue to increase as they have and if climate feedbacks such as biosphere carbon and methane release begin to emerge, the world falls very rapidly onto the path of 600-1000 ppm CO2 by or before the end of this century. Following such a path would result in extraordinarily harmful and powerful changes to the Earth’s environment. Such changes would be so powerful and unprecedented that it is doubtful humans could effectively adapt to them.

Some have said that 400 ppm CO2 is an arbitrary number. And that may well be the case. However, it marks a threshold of increasing danger and risk of harm. It is a sign-post showing that we are running out of time to reign in the worst impacts of climate change. It is a clear signal that we need to seriously address, reduce and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the next few decades and that we must do so with a resolve not yet seen in the current crop of world leaders.

This is both our challenge and our peril. We simply must respond. We simply must reduce and eliminate carbon emissions. Otherwise we are headed for a very, very dangerous world climate. One which may well be impossible to adapt to.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

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

For Central US, Climate Change and a Mangled Jet Stream Means Drought Follows Flood Follows Drought

 

In 2011, a historic drought severely impacted Texas. Shortly after, record floods hit the central US, pushing the Mississippi and its tributaries to record high levels while ending the Texas drought. One year later, a 55 year drought hit the heartland of the US pushing the Mississippi back to record low levels in many regions.

Enter April 2013 and the weather has once more swung back to the flood extreme of what appears to be a new Drought, Flood, Drought paradigm. This winter, unusually heavy precipitation created a much larger than normal snowpack for the north-central US. Then, in April, warmer weather and a series of heavy rain events combined to push the Mississippi River and its tributaries from record low levels to record and near record high flood stage in many locations.

Now, along the Mississippi and its tributaries, flood gauges are recording moderate to severe flooding at over 60 stations. But this selective dump of large volumes of precipitation over the Mississippi River valley has still left much of the western US in the grips of drought. In fact, 47% of the contiguous US is still suffering from drought even as many places in the Heartland flood.

How can this happen? How can historic and opposite weather extremes such as severe drought and flood repeatedly affect the same region year after year? The answer lies in a re-currence of powerful blocking patterns that keep the polar jet stream in a fixed position for longer periods of time. The result is that weather in a given region tends to persist for longer and longer periods. So if weather gets stuck in a hot and dry pattern, as it did from April to December of 2012, then severe heat waves and drought conditions are most likely to follow. And if the jet stream switches back to a position where it plunges down from the Arctic, expect a long period of cooler and much wetter, stormier conditions, as the Central US experienced January to April of 2013 and which has resulted in the current major flood events.

Looking at the ECMWF weather model forecast for Friday, May 3rd, we can see a persistence of the cool, stormy, wet pattern continuing for the Central US.

Cold air jet

Notice that long tongue of colder air plunging down all the way from northern Canada, through the central US and down into Texas? Sweeping along the trough is a low which will likely bring even more rain to flood-stricken areas later this week. This is the basic pattern that has persisted for the central US all throughout 2013. And the result is more cool air, more storms, and more precipitation for that region persisting for weeks and months on end.

If we look to the west of this cold, wet trough zone, we can find its culprit. A blocking high pressure system that has parked itself just west of the US and Canadian Pacific coasts since this past January. This high is pulling warm, drier air up from the south. It is responsible for persisting drought conditions for the western US. And it is responsible for a big northward bulge in the polar jet stream running up over west-central Canada before an equally exaggerated southward swoop plunges down into the central US.

Classic blocking pattern.

Now, if we rewind to last year, we find an opposite jet stream configuration emerging as a result of a powerful blocking high pressure system forming directly over the central US and bringing record hot temperatures over a broad region. It is the increasingly frequent emergence of these powerful blocking systems that are keeping the weather in a drought-flood bipolarization for the central US.

A growing number of climate scientists led by Jennifer Francis are attributing the greater frequency of blocking patterns and associated extreme weather events to the massive loss of Arctic sea ice since 1979. Overall, 80% of Arctic sea ice volume has been lost at end of Summer over the last 33 years. These climate scientists make a compelling observation that this ice which once trapped cold air to the north and kept warmer air confined to the south, has lost its insulating properties. Now, more warm air invades the Arctic even as more of the Arctic’s colder air tends to seep out into the mid-latitudes. The result is that the polar jet stream, which is powered by north-south temperature differences, both moves slower and forms the large, persistent, blocking wave patterns.

Such a climate regime of more persistent patterns of either extreme wet, cold, stormy weather or extreme warm, dry, drought conditions is likely to amplify as sea ice continues to recede and melt out. These conditions will probably worsen until glacial melt from Greenland reaches a tipping point. Once this tipping point is reached, cold ice bergs will invade the North Atlantic, pushing the cold air pole south and concentrating much colder air around the region of Greenland and the North Atlantic. At the same time that the North Atlantic becomes colder, the tropics become warmer. The result is a rapid acceleration of the polar jet in the region of the Atlantic Ocean. The large temperature differentials caused by this new climate state are likely to drive very powerful storms. It was the potential for such conditions to emerge by or after the mid 21rst Century that inspired Dr. James Hansen to write his ground breaking book “The Storms of My Grandchildren.”

After the current blocking pattern regime switches to the rapid Greenland ice melt regime, Dr. Hansen warns of the potential for ‘continent size frontal storms that pack the strength of hurricanes.’ Such storms would make Sandy seem like kitten’s play.

How do we avoid a continued worsening and more extreme climate? Simple. Stop emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. The sooner CO2 emission reduction and elimination policies are put into place, the less likely the very worst weather changes will emerge. But, until we make the wise, rational choice of CO2 reduction and elimination, we consign ourselves to what is most likely to be a decadal period of worsening and more extreme weather.

Links:

ECMWF

Wild Weather Extremes May Be Sign of Climate Change

In Midwest, Drought Gives Way to Flood

Rain-soaked Midwest Braces for More Flooding

Pace of Sea Ice Melt Increasing, Numerous Regions Showing Rapid Decline

Jaxa sea ice

Last week saw a quickening pace of sea ice melt, with key regions displaying rapid loss of ice.

Most rapid melt occurred in the Barents Sea which saw major ice losses both to the north and south of Svalbard, north and south of Franz Joseph Land, with a large polyna opening to the north of the island and more gradual melt to the south and west of Novaya Zemlya.

Other regions showing rapid melt included the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. Most sea ice in the Okhotsk region has been driven shoreward with Bering ice rapidly melting in the southeast and the entire ice pack there showing thinning and opening polynas.

The Fram Straight and Baffin Bay showed more moderate rates of ice recession.

Sea_Ice_Extent Apr 26

Overall, sea ice extent, according to the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) is currently at 12.86 million square kilometers. This measure is tracking just below values for 2011 for this time of year. Sea ice area also showed more rapid melt this week with values falling by 400,000 square kilometers over the past seven days to reach 12.56 million square kilometers yesterday. Average rates of daily loss remain between 50,000 and 70,000 square kilometers for area with the pace picking up to around 90,000 square kilometers per day at week’s end.

The pace of loss for both area and extent remain above average for this time of year, matching the extreme rate of loss that began to emerge during 2012 at this time of year. Furthermore, all the latest measures show sea ice volume remaining at or near record low levels while multi-year ice coverage is at lowest levels ever.

arctic.seaice.color.000

Loss of Arctic snow cover and corresponding river melt for this time of year also accelerated. Areas near Hudson Bay, in northeastern Europe, and central Siberia showed the most rapid melt. As snow melt accelerates, rivers fill with warmer melt waters that then flush into estuaries and the ocean. This snow-melt flushing warmer water into the ocean usually pushes melt faster during May and June. This year, the process appears to be happening at least two to three weeks ahead of schedule.

Arctictemps27apr2013

Above-freezing air temperatures continue to advance northward. Air warm enough to facilitate large-scale melt has invaded most of Siberia and Northern Europe. This week also saw above freezing air temps regularly pushing north toward Svalbard and into the Barents sea. The Sea of Okhotsk has seen above freezing temps for much of the week, with the Bering Sea also experiencing above-freezing air temperatures. In Canada, the melt line has regularly advanced into Northern Quebec, covering southern portions of Hudson Bay. The southern tip of Greenland also shows consistently above-freezing temperatures. Colder air, however, remains entrenched over north-central Greenland and over the northern portion of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

meanT_2013

Average air temperatures in the high Arctic remain well above normal for this time of year with today’s values showing temps between 6 and 7 degrees Celsius above mean for most areas.

In the context of this report, it is worth noting that sea ice melts at around -1.9 degrees Celsius. So near freezing or above freezing air temperatures are usually enough to promote melt. Ocean temperatures beneath the ice hover at or above the freezing mark as well. So the ice is under stress not only from the surrounding air, but also from beneath as warm water upwelling events have become more frequent. Sunlight is also now a constant in the Arctic. So any open water areas, showing dark ocean, will tend to rapidly absorb heat. In addition, an unprecedented number of leads have shot through the ice this winter and spring. These crack are both darker and warmer than the surrounding ice. So weaknesses are likely to begin to appear as warming starts its more rapid cascade over the coming weeks.

color_sst_NPS_ophi0

As noted above, warmer than freezing sea surface temperatures compose one of the main forces promoting ice melt. The above graph, provided by NOAA, shows expanding regions of above freezing (sea water) surface water in Hudson Bay, The Canadian Arctic Archipelago, in a region of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska and Canada, the Bering Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, in multiple areas over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, and in a growing region of the Barents Sea.

Arctic_r03c05.2013117.terra.1km

The combined impact of constant sunlight, above-freezing water and rising air temperatures is starkly visible in this most recent Lance-Modis satellite shot of a region of the Barents and Kara Seas. This region shows rapidly fracturing ice with numerous expanding polynas as regions of open water creep northward. In large regions, newly open water shows no sign of surface refreeze and instead has rapidly invaded the weaker ice. Such conditions are now common in many regions near the ice edge.

Overall, the Arctic has now entered a phase which shows increasing risk of rapid to very rapid melt. High temperatures, warming and above average ocean temperatures, continued invasions of warm air, rapid snow melt in Siberia and expanding regions of dark, sunlight absorbing water all will likely conspire to speed melt in the coming weeks. So the forecast is for moderate to rapid (and possibly near-record) melt over the next 7-14 days. One caveat is that the Beaufort Sea has remained cold and that Arctic Oscillation has remained positive. The result is that risks for a rapid Beaufort melt appear to be lower at this time. However, ongoing moderate new re-cracking north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago may render this, somewhat comforting, observation premature.

Overall, sea ice melt appears to be on pace to hit or rival most recent record lows. Our forecast remains that there is a high (60%) likelihood that either sea ice area, extent, or volume will reach new record lows in 2013. There is a moderate risk that all measures will show a new record low by the end of this year (35%). And there remains a low but significant risk that the Arctic will be essentially ice-free by the end of this summer (20%).  Chances for total ice melt (an event that likely hasn’t occurred in the past 400,000 years), as noted in previous posts, remains low at 10%.

(Note: we define ‘essentially ice free’ as an Arctic showing less than 1 million square kilometers of surface ice area and/or extent by summer’s end. This ‘essentially ice free’ state is defined as a surface area of less than half that of Greenland.)

As the melt season progresses, we will continue to refine predictions and global risk analysis. It is worth noting that no year since sea ice record keeping began has ever shown risk of total or near ice free conditions. So the 2013 melt season is already a historic one in that respect. Finally, as noted in previous posts, risk for total melt or near ice free conditions continue to rise over the coming years.

Links:

The Japanese Space Agency

Cryosphere Today

Uni-Koeln

DMI Centre for Ocean and Ice

NASA Lance-Modis

Canadian Lawyer Pushes For Climate Change Warning Labels on Gasoline, Fossil Fuels

Our-Horizon-label

(Image source: Our Horizon)

According to reports from Triple Pundit, a Canadian Lawyer by the name of Robert Shirkey is pushing to have climate change warning labels placed on gas pumps throughout Canada. The campaign, available at its website ourhorizon.org, is lobbying for states and municipalities to place labels on gasoline and other fossil fuel based products to raise awareness and generate impetus for change.

Shirkey’s campaign is also driven by an awareness that only 16 years of the current pace of fossil fuel burning is necessary to put the world’s climate on an inevitable collision with a disastrous 2 degree or more temperature increase before the end of this century.

Shirkey’s campaign encourages people to send letters and emails to each of the 4,000 municipalities in Canada in a push to slap warning labels on fossil fuel products. The campaigns are market based and receives funding via crowd-sourcing. Each campaign states goals and provides the total funding needed to complete.

Our Horizon is a reference to the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill that damaged so much of the US Gulf Coast and Gulf of Mexico. As noted above, it is also an allegory to the rather brief period of time left to avoid the worst impacts of human caused climate change.

Warning labels were an effective means of reducing cigarette use in the US and Canada. The labels raised awareness, provided visible evidence of risk, and tended to reduce consumption of labeled items. Given the fact that worldwide human greenhouse gas emissions will likely result in a far greater risk to human life and health than even tobacco smoking, it is surprising that similar efforts haven’t already been pursued. Let’s hope similar campaigns spring up in the United States and other countries.

Links:

Triple Pundit

Our Horizon

 

March 2013 10th Hottest on Record, January-March 8th Hottest Globally

NOAA march 2013

(Image source: NOAA)

Despite an atmospheric train wreck that resulted in stormy weather and below average temperatures for much of Europe and some of the United States, global surface temperatures for March of 2013 were the 10th hottest on record. Large areas south of Australia and over central and northern China experienced their hottest month ever recorded. No monitoring regions experienced their lowest temperature on record.

ENSO neutral conditions remained in force throughout March of 2013. While La Nina conditions tend to cool global surface temperatures and transport atmospheric heat into the deeper ocean, El Nino produces an opposite effect, dumping ocean heat content into the atmosphere and causing surface temperatures to spike. By contrast, ENSO neutral conditions tend to result in more moderate temperatures.

With ENSO neutral conditions extending back to the start of 2013, the period of January through March was the 8th hottest on record. Global land and ocean surface temperatures pushed 1.04 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average for this time of year. As with March, no regions on the surface of Earth experienced record low temperatures. In contrast, a massive region south of Australia experienced their warmest temperatures since record-taking began.

NOAA January-March 2013

The above image provided by NOAA shows broad swaths of much warmer than average temperatures spreading over most of the world’s tropics, spilling out over Australia and down toward Antarctica. Most of the globe experienced some degree of warmer than average temperatures. In contrast, cooler than average areas were confined to isolated parts of Siberia, Europe, and the western Pacific.

In comparison with January through March of 2012, global temperatures for the same period during 2013 were about .3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer. This temperature increase was likely driven by a slow transition from La Nina to ENSO neutral conditions combined with the long-term upward forcing on temperatures resulting from human greenhouse gas emissions.

Links:

https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/2013/3

Uni Bremen, JAXA Show Sea Ice Extent in Rapid Early Season Decline

Uni Bremen Sea Ice Cliff

(Image source: Uni Bremen)

The most recent updates from the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) and Uni Bremen show Arctic sea ice extent in very rapid early season decline. The above graph, produced by Uni Bremen, shows a stunning loss of sea ice extent over the past week of more than 1 million square kilometers. Such extent losses are almost unheard of for this time of year, with retraction, at least according to Uni Bremen, even out-pacing what is usual for July and August.

Uni Bremen is not the only sea ice extent monitor and not all the others show such a rapid decline. Uni Bremen uses less smoothing, so we will expect to see whether these numbers bear out in the other measures over the coming days. Ominously, JAXA is also showing a rapid extent decline:

JAXAextent17April2013

(Image source: JAXA)

Though neither as extensive nor as sudden as Uni-Bremen losses, the JAXA graph does show a rapid decline of about 500,000 square kilometers over the past week. NSIDC and DMI, on the other hand, show declines to be much more gradual. The NSIDC area measurement also is currently showing a much more gradual decline.

As noted above, the discrepancy between these measures should wash out over the next week. But early indications from JAXA and Uni-Bremen are some cause for concern.

Conditions in Context

Arctic conditions in context show warmer than average air temperatures remaining over much of the region. These departures from normal high and low temperatures are not as great as they were a week ago. However, these warmer than normal air temperatures are also now riding on top of a seasonal increase and so more rapidly push the Arctic toward melting.

Warmer than average water temperatures also continue to pervade over most of the Arctic Ocean. Recent reports have confirmed sporadic warm water upwelling throughout the Arctic. These events contribute to bottom melt  and cracking of sea ice and are just one more mechanism pushing the Arctic sea ice into decline. Such warm water upwelling is likely linked to a rapid increase in ocean heat content. A portion of this newly sequestered heat energy appears to already have done quite a bit of work in reducing Arctic sea ice extent, area and volume. One such upwelling event occurred off Barrow Alaska in March of 2013. The event combined with off-shore winds to result in ice free waters for a short time off Barrow, one of the consistently coldest locations in the Northern hemisphere, in winter time. Such events have been known to occur. But the up-welling and wind driven melt this March was one of the largest such winter-time events yet witnessed and it coincided with an immense sea ice cracking event.

Arctic Weather 17apr2013

(Image source: Uni-Koeln)

Overall, we see warm air temperatures over Eastern Europe and Russia rapidly expanding northward with above freezing temperatures crossing the Arctic Circle in some areas. Even Siberia is seeing rapidly warming temperatures. Cooler air remains settled in over Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA). These conditions are somewhat the reverse of those seen earlier in the month when Greenland and Baffin Bay showed warmer temperatures while Europe and Russia shivered.

As the Arctic continues to warm, we are likely to see sea ice melt continue at a slow to moderate pace. That said, an increasing number of indicators show the potential (low to moderate) for a major pick-up in early season melt rates come late April/early May. Should these events emerge, the upshot would be the possible start to a summer of massive Arctic melt. A melt that would be the pre-cursor or possibly even the start of a new period of ice-free or near ice-free summers. It is still too soon to make this call. That said, it is possible we are seeing some foreshadowing in the Uni-Bremen and JAXA measures showing very rapid extent losses over the past week.

As a final note, it important to re-iterate that the Arctic sea ice remains extraordinarily thin, fractured and fragile for this time of year with continued rumblings that melt may begin to proceed rapidly and well ahead of schedule.

UPDATE:

Uni-Bremen has just posted a revised estimate of sea ice extent. This revision shows melt occurring at a somewhat more gradual pace. You can view the revised data here. JAXA estimates, however, remain the same as previously posted.

Portugal Runs On 70% Renewable Power in Q1 2013

(Portugal continues to expand its wind energy capacity via off-shore floating platforms)

Back in the early 2000s, Portugal decided to make a major change to its energy structure. It invested heavily in building wind, hydro, solar and vehicle to grid infrastructure. The government created a corporation that bought out the power infrastructure and invested money in creating a smart grid. By 2010, 45% of all of Portugal’s energy came from renewables. And, for the first time, Portugal ran 70% of its economy on entirely renewable energy during the first quarter of this year (the vast majority of which was provided by wind and hydro power).

Portugal has produced a stunning achievement. It has increased renewable energy capacity even as it heightened efficiency and constructed a large network of electric vehicle charging stations. Once mostly reliant on fossil fuel imports, Portugal now exports electricity — 6% of that produced so far this year. These innovations are providing Portugal with key economic advantages during what has been a very difficult time for the nation. These advantages will help it continue to trim its trade deficit and keep more of its own money in-country, reducing reliance on debt and fiat inflationary tools.

Many agencies and think tanks have said that such a level of renewable energy adoption is not possible. But Portugal, a small and economically challenged European country, has done it all in just one decade. With its smart grid and network of electric vehicle charging stations, Portugal is now able to continue to increase its renewable energy capacity on up to 100% — a goal that all nations should aspire to.

Portugal provides a good example of how economies can rapidly switch to renewable energy. Such switches will be entirely necessary as the next few decades proceed and the shocks of human-caused climate change intensify.

Links:

70 Percent Renewable Power Possible?

Portugal Gives Itself a Clean Energy Make-Over

 

NOAA: Nearly Ice Free Arctic Summers Likely To Come Sooner, Current Sea Ice Melt Models Too Slow, But Still Useful

In a recent press release, NOAA has revised its predictions for an ice-free or nearly ice free Arctic Ocean.

The statement publicizes work by two scientists, James Overland and Muyin Wang who have now incorporated three methods of determining when an ice free or nearly ice free Arctic is most likely to manifest. Their work recently published in Geophysical Research Letters and is available there.

Overland notes:

“Rapid Arctic sea ice loss is probably the most visible indicator of global climate change; it leads to shifts in ecosystems and economic access, and potentially impacts weather throughout the northern hemisphere. Increased physical understanding of rapid Arctic climate shifts and improved models are needed that give a more detailed picture and timing of what to expect so we can better prepare and adapt to such changes. Early loss of Arctic sea ice gives immediacy to the issue of climate change.”

Wang adds:

“There is no one perfect way to predict summer sea ice loss in the Arctic. So we looked at three approaches that result in widely different dates, but all three suggest nearly sea ice-free summers in the Arctic before the middle of this century.”

The three approaches Wang and Overland incorporated:

1. A trends analysis that predicts nearly ice free conditions by around 2020. This analysis takes into account past average rates of sea ice loss and extrapolates it forward in time. The analysis Wang and Overland put together establish a nearly ice free state by 2020.

2. A stochastic approach that incorporates a higher natural variability with large, somewhat random, melt events resulting in a near ice-free state by or before 2030.

3. A model approach which still shows nearly ice free summers occurring during a period between 2040 to 2080.

Wang and Overland note that the model predictions are likely to be much slower than actual melt. That said, they defended the models saying it was necessary to continue their development in order to better understand the Arctic climate.

Overall, this represents a rapid shift on the part of NOAA. Past official estimates were for near ice free conditions being most likely after the first half of the 21rst century. But with rapid melt trends pushing for a much sooner melt date, NOAA has adjusted its forecast. Given this most recent paper, Wang and Overland seem to indicate a most likely near ice free state in a time period of 2020-2050.

NOAA’s Predictions in Context

It is my opinion that the range NOAA gives of between 2020 to 2050, with caveats that model predictions are likely to be too slow, is still a bit too conservative in that it fails to give warning to the rising risk of an almost immediate melt. Just following current melt trends brings us to a completely ice-free Arctic by 2017. Any single melt year like 2007 or 2010 (volume) brings us to an ice free or nearly ice free state in one year.

Perhaps NOAA could add another set of circumstances to its analysis — the exponential melt trend analysis. Such a trend would incorporate the risk of a near immediate melt, warn the public and governments of the potential for such an event and give NOAA a more realistic near ice free range of 2015-2050.

In doing this, NOAA would acknowledge the potential for an ice-free or nearly ice-free state within the current decade. This acknowledgement is important from the standpoint of emergency preparedness. An ice free Arctic and the likely climate mayhem it would produce is not something we generally want to remain unaware of.

Risk assessment forecasts provided at this blog and incorporating sea ice volume data from PIOMAS show a 10% chance of an ice free or nearly ice free state this year, with a high risk (60% chance) of an ice free state by 2017. Some polar experts like Peter Wadhams believe that the Arctic will reach an ice-free state as soon as 2015-2016. Wadhams has spent thousands of hours researching the ice aboard navy submarines. So if there’s someone who knows sea ice, it’s Wadhams.

While negative feedbacks that slow the loss of sea ice may emerge, any prediction for a near ice free state after 2020 hangs its hopes on those, yet to emerge, melt inhibitors. More likely, the reduced resilience of the ice will compound with a warming climate to push melt to occur with a bang and not a long, drawn-out whimper. Further, the fact that the ocean upon which the ice rests is collecting a greater volume of human produced warming is likely to enhance bottom melt regardless of atmospheric temperatures, even in winter time. We can see this in the catastrophic volume losses observed even during the coldest months with current peak volumes comparable to those of the warmer months during the 1980s.

If current volume trends bear out, we see ice free winter states by 2040. Something neither the models, nor NOAA have on their public radar.

What is happening in the Arctic currently constitutes the beginning of a global climate and weather emergency. The UK Met recently called an emergency meeting due to a rapid shifting in the UK climate as a result of catastrophic sea ice melt. Such emergency sessions are likely to become more common as time goes forward. NOAA’s movement on this matter does represent an increased alertness to the scope of the problem and should be applauded. The work of their scientists and modelers has enabled a greater understanding of the Arctic than ever before. However, for scientists to remain on the cutting edge, they will have to adjust to events far more rapidly than in the past. They will also need to begin to acknowledge the potential for dangerous outlier events.

The current NOAA statement strikes a balance between the traditional conservatism of science and the need to acknowledge an Arctic undergoing catastrophic change far more rapidly than anyone expected. Thus, it represents progress. That said, if current trends bear out, these still somewhat conservative predictions of near ice free conditions via NOAA may soon be moot.

Human Climate Change Is Wrecking the Jet Stream; UK Met Office Calls Emergency Meeting

cloverleaf jet stream

(Weather model showing forecast temperature, high and low pressure for April 20. What this clover-leaf pattern roughly represents is the new ‘normal’ shape of the jet stream. Image source: here)

The UK Met recently called an emergency meeting with the world’s top climate scientists to discuss how melting polar ice is radically altering that country’s weather. A permanent blocking high pressure system has formed over Greenland. This high has, effectively, caused the Arctic to invade the UK with increasing ferocity. The state is now so extreme that the Met is calling a meeting of the world’s climate experts to discuss what the future may hold.

Dr. Slingo, Britain’s top climate scientist notes how persistent high pressure systems are blocking the polar wind pattern from moving. What this means is that the weather simply cannot change. Increasingly, the UK has become a part of the Arctic. Slingo noted to ITV News:

If this is how climate change could manifest itself, then we need to understand that as a matter of urgency.

This meeting’s discussion will likely focus on how melting polar ice is dramatically altering the north polar jet stream and what future changes we can expect as sea ice continues to erode. Over the past year, Dr. Jennifer Francis has issued increasingly clear warning about the potential for extreme weather events due to polar sea ice erosion. Her warnings were then punctuated by an amazing and freakish superstorm: Sandy.

This winter, the increasingly powerful blocking high pumped warmer air into the Arctic even as typical Arctic weather was flushed south into the UK and Europe.

The New Clover-Leaf Jet Stream

In understanding this phenomena, it is important, first, to understand what is normal. During the 20th century, the polar jet stream ran swiftly around the northern hemisphere. For the most part, it served as the border between temperate regions of relatively warmer, milder climates and the much colder Arctic environment. This rapid jet served to keep colder air trapped in the Arctic and warmer air confined primarily to the south. Ripples in this jet stream were mild, looking almost like the wavy pattern of a stylized upside down fruit bowl. Invasions of warm air to the north and cold air to the south were rare and often resulted in strong storms that were then noted as ‘extreme’ weather events.

Today, things are radically different. Looking at the image above, we can see that the jet stream looks more like a mangled clover leaf than a gracefully arching bowl. This increasing clover leaf pattern is a result of a number of atmospheric dynamics. The first is that sea ice and Greenland ice are dramatically melting. Sea ice volume is 80 percent lower than it was in 1980 and Greenland is losing water at the rate of 250 cubic kilometers every year. This ice has an amazing ability to keep cold air locked in place, keeping the Arctic colder and, importantly, driving the jet stream to faster speeds. But, with the loss of this ice, the temperature difference between the Arctic and the southern latitudes is lessened. With more warmth in the Arctic, the jet stream has tended to slow down, meandering in these great, clover-like dips and whirls.

As the jet stream dips and whirls it tends to get stuck, staying in the same shape over the same location for long periods of time. This shape change is the result of certain features that push the jet into this new pattern. One is that more cold, reflective ice is in Greenland now than over the north pole. The result is that high pressure systems tend to form over Greenland rather than the north pole itself. The formation of this Greenland high many hundreds of miles to the south has severe weather implications for the UK and the rest of Europe. What it means, primarily, is much colder, stormier winters for Europe.

In other regions, warm air floods northward creating heatwaves. This was particularly true for the US during winter/spring of 2012. But an area not often mentioned is the west coast of Greenland and Baffin Bay which has experienced temperature averages more than 3 degrees Celsius hotter than normal for the entire winter. Last summer was also extraordinarily hot for Greenland, resulting in a record 150 year melt. In the above image, you can see these warm air invasions in the form of yellow and orange fingers pushing into the space of the colder greens and blues.

The new clover-leaf jet stream will not be easy for humans to manage. It will mean more persistent weather in a given region. And, if conditions are extreme, they will stay extreme for longer periods. More heatwaves, more cold snaps. More storms in areas where storms have become more prevalent.

Ironically, the new clover leaf jet stream causes one more self-reinforcing impact. It transports more warmer air into the Arctic. As such, it enhances the melt of ice which was the initial driver of extreme weather patterns in the first place. So, in this case, extreme conditions have the potential to snowball with a mangled jet stream resulting in more ice melt and more ice melt resulting in more extreme weather.

One last word and one last thing to think about. More and more the weather patterns resemble those roughly described by scientists as a Heinrich Event. Such events were characterized by rapid Arctic ice melt and resulting extreme weather and climate shifts. So it might be useful for climate scientists and the UK to discuss these geological events in the context of potential future weather. Because the UK, Europe and the rest of the world appear to be at the start of just such an event. The difference between this event and past events in the geological past is that the human forcing driving it is much greater than the previous natural forces that caused such changes. So it would be naive of us to hope that the current event will not also be more extreme than those seen in the past.

Links:

UK Met Calls Emergency Meeting to Discuss Climate Change

On the Path to 400: Weekly CO2 Averages Above 398 PPM For First Time

co2_weekly_mlomar31

Worldwide CO2 averages inched slightly higher last week topping 398.08 ppm.  This measure is 2.87 parts per million higher than for the same week last year and 21.21 parts per million higher than the value recorded for the same week in 2003.

To find sustained levels of CO2 comparable to those measured during the week of March 31, we have to go back more than 2 million years into Earth’s geological past. This change has at a  remarkable and increasing pace over the past 130 years. In that period, world CO2 levels have risen from about 275 parts per million to the extraordinarily high levels we see today. This jump of about 120 parts per million CO2 was caused by rampant burning of fossil fuels in the period of 1880 through 2013.

Long term temperature averages in a world of 400 ppm CO2, according to paleoclimate, are between 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer than 20th century averages. Sea levels are 15-75 feet higher and both weather and climates are radically different.

But it is important to note that the human addition of 120 parts per million CO2 is just an initial forcing to the world’s climate system. This large forcing, occurring at about 10 times more rapidly than any comparable forcing in the geological past, presents a high risk of resulting in feedbacks from the Earth’s environment that pump even more CO2 and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Loss of glaciers and reduced overall albedo will also result in the removal of a key cooling feature. These responses, at best, are likely to keep worldwide CO2 levels at or just below current high marks for hundreds or thousands of years even if all emissions immediately cease. The result is that a long-term trend of warming and somewhat harmful climate change is mostly locked in. At the worst case, we enter a period of amplifying feedbacks where the Earth contributes large volumes of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses comparable to the amount humans have already pumped into the atmosphere.

Both of these scenarios are probably survivable. But both involve substantial increased risk of damaging Earth changes, altered and erratic weather patterns, and increased instances of damaging, extreme events. So it must be emphasized that we are at the threshold of a period of increasing harm now and that continuing to pump CO2 into the atmosphere at increasing rates is simply a devastating regime of self-inflicted harm. In such a case, we risk runaway climate change of a kind that would be impossible for humans and civilizations to adapt to long-term.

The only wise, sane choice would be to draw down CO2 and greenhouse gas emission as rapidly as possible. Sadly, the rate of CO2 emission is increasing.

2013 or 2014 will likely see world CO2 levels cross the 400 ppm threshold. But at the current rate at which the world continues to burn fossil fuels this marker will only serve as a milepost on a road toward increasingly damaging and catastrophic harm.

The World Oil Industry’s Mad Gamble For Profits: Gaming Peak Oil, Denying Climate Change, Wrecking the Alternatives

For the world’s international oil companies, what does a combination of energy scarcity, political dominance, and captive consumers mean? Enormous profits.

And, for the rest of us, what does it mean? Increasing transportation costs, increasing risk of future economic shocks, and increasing damage due to human-caused climate change.

Since the mid 2000s, year after year, top oil companies have raked in over one hundred billion dollars in net earnings. This influx of cash to corporations sitting on dirty, dangerous and depleting resources, came as a result of a world transportation system dependent on liquid fuels of which oil composed more than 70% and on a resource, itself, that, since the mid 2000s, became far more difficult to extract. This combination of a peak in lease condensate supplies and a monopolization of that supply sent both oil company profits (along with power and influence) to heights previously unattainable.

It also has resulted in an industry entirely incentivized to ‘dance with the devil’ in order to extend and maintain that profitability. This devil’s dance includes begging the risk of increased economic shocks due to oil depletion, the active undermining of any viable alternative to oil as a transportation fuel, and a related and ongoing campaign to halt and/or delay action on human caused climate change. In such cases never before has an industry been so incentivized to profit from wanton destruction.

Playing Games With Peak Oil

Any time an oil supply crunch arises, the oil industry makes immense profits. These profits occur on many fronts. First, as world oil production peaks or struggles along a plateau, prices rise as captive consumers compete for the scarce commodity. The result is that all oil assets held by these companies suddenly become far more valuable. Profits soar, providing monies for additional investments into marginal, dirty, and destructive supplies like tar sands, fractured oil, deep water oil or polar oil. This massive additional investment extends the life of all oil supplies by pushing the plateau peak out for years or even decades.

So while oil companies make a profit on the economic shocks oil dependency causes to the system, the lifespan of these companies are extended through the use of more costly and polluting marginal supplies. This new access provides oil companies with a ‘smoke screen’ behind which they can publicly claim that peak oil and, more importantly, oil depletion does not exist. It provides fodder for their arguments and it sets up the world’s consumers for another fleecing as prices ramp higher or, even worse, when the next oil shock emerges.

This gamesmanship has been publicly visible over the past few years as industry supporting think-tanks, ‘experts,’ and media sources have published numerous articles declaring the end of peak oil and predicting world liquids supplies will exceed 120 million barrels per day by 2020. These claims, of course, are completely false. Lease condensate supplies have been on a plateau of around 75 million barrels per day since 2005. Total liquids production, which includes biofuels and natural gas liquids (which are less fungible as a transportation fuel), have only grown from 84 million barrels per day to 89 million barrels per day over the past 8 years. This anemic rate of growth would have to increase by nearly an order of magnitude to reach the amazing 120 million barrels per year predicted by 2020.

But, as with much information published by oil industry cheerleaders, the ‘data’ is less designed to be factual than to create the impression of abundance. Under such a smoke-screen, the oil industry can go about its work of manipulating public policy to suppress alternatives and efficiency increases so as to set consumers/the public up for more fleecing via a combination of over-consumption, scarcity and, in due course, during another oil shock.

Sooner or later, the next shock will come. Sooner if the oil industry is mostly successful in its dominance campaigns, and only more slowly if all they are able to achieve is a stale-mate. But, rest assured, the shock will come unless a wholesale pursuit of alternative fuels and transportation technologies emerge to shake the foundation of the world’s current energy supply structure. The depletion rates for most new oil sources are too high, the costs too great, and the resource intensity too high for more shocks not to emerge.

In the boardrooms, the above set of circumstances is probably what oil company execs are banking on. So we can take the false predictions of abundance, for what they are: industry fluff.

As an example, we can take into account a claim by oil industry cheerleader Daniel Yergin, in 2005, that world oil production would reach 101 million barrels per day by 2010-2012. Peak oilers, by contrast, thought world oil production would stall at around 84 million barrels per day. For my part, I made a prediction of around 90 million barrels per day by this time (link here).

Between the peak oilers and industry cheerleaders, who was more correct? In the end, Yergin’s prediction was off by a stunning 12 million barrels per day. Peak oilers, by contrast, were off by 5 million barrels per day. And, when it comes to lease condensate production, the peak oilers are still 100% correct.

Yet, because of its influence over media, the oil industry has managed to create the impression that peak oil theory is debunked. And, in doing so, it has also managed to reduce urgency to provide transitional technologies thereby making another oil crisis all but certain.

Climate Nightmares

There is, of course, an alternative scenario between the oil industry cheerleaders and the peak oilers. It lies along a middle ground of continuously struggling world oil supply based on increasingly expensive fuels. This middle ground jumps from oil and gasoline price increase to oil and gasoline price increase as new supplies are slowly, arduously tortured from the ground.

In truth, despite all the mad media frenzy about oil depletion and scarcity being a myth, this particular scenario represents the oil industry’s best, most realistic hope. Prices remain high enough for excessive profits, oil maintains its death-grip monopoly over transportation fuels, and slowly, ever-so-painfully, new unconventional sources allow for slowly increasing overall supplies.

The glaring problem with this scenario is it consigns the world to an ever-increasing contribution to world greenhouse gas emissions. All the new, unconventional sources pollute more than traditional oil. Fractured shale leaks methane into the atmosphere as part of its production process. Large volumes of the natural gas produced as part of the oil fracturing process is flared off into the atmosphere, greatly contributing to world CO2 emissions. And tar sands, cynically trotted out as a means for North America to achieve oil independence, is as polluting as coal even as its production requires a greater and greater burning of Canada’s natural gas supplies (currently 8% of Canada’s natural gas production is simply wasted in the production of dirty tar sands).

With unconventional fuels like the ones mentioned above composing an ever-greater portion of total world oil production, oil’s contribution to climate change increases even if net oil production remains level or even declines slightly. Even worse, unconventional fuels may allow for a slow increase in world oil production, while, possibly, more than doubling oil’s contribution to climate change.

For this reason, the world’s oil companies are heavily invested in climate change denial. They fund stealth campaigns via agencies like ALEC and the Heartland Institute to block any effect to establish solutions to climate change via feed in tariffs, renewable energy standards (that require an increasing portion of energy to come from renewables), vehicle efficiency standards, a carbon tax, or any other effective policy driving toward speeding or even facilitating a transition from fossil fuels to renewables. And in order to have any semblance of moral justification to pursue such an insane and harmful set of policies, these agencies must actively deny the likely, very harmful, effects of  human caused climate change.

The result is that an immensely powerful, wealthy, and politically connected industry is hell-bent on increasing the likelihood that Earth becomes hellish.

 

Blindness, Cynicism, and Greed

That the world’s oil companies, which in the 19th century brought light, mobility, and greater economic prospects to an ever-expanding number of people, have come to this pass is just one more example of the human tragedy the Greeks playwrights were so adept at portraying. Like many past tragic villains, the world’s oil companies have chosen blindness, cynical pride, and greed in their most recent groping for wealth and power. This tragedy, if it is allowed to play itself out, will result in the terrible downfall of many of the world’s most powerful energy companies. But, sadly, even as this happens, the economic and environmental shocks created will challenge the adaptive capacity of all human civilizations, perhaps even resulting in their end.

The reason for this is that despite oil company assurances, more economic shocks from oil depletion are on the way. At the same time, only a small window to start reducing world-wide fossil fuel consumption in order to prevent the worst shocks of climate change exists. Among scientists, the pessimists believe CO2 emissions must peak by 2015 to preserve a livable climate. The optimistic scientists believe this date is closer to 2028. Any average of these cases doesn’t give us much time and any continued burning of fossil fuels and increasing carbon emissions into the atmosphere comes at serious and terrible risk. In light of these two contexts, political and media sand bagging by the world’s oil (and related gas and coal) companies is very, very, very destructive.

A Call to Make A Stand On Keystone XL

It is for the above reasons that forcing the cancellation of Keystone XL is so important. Its cancellation will result in a slowed development of tar sands and, possibly, in reduced flows of tar sands to market. Such a cancellation will also require serious and rapid energy policy on the part of the United States to transition to much higher efficiency vehicles and vehicles based on alternate fuels — like electric vehicles and plug-in electric hybrids. It will also establish a strong precedent for beginning to reduce net carbon emissions — not just in the US, but worldwide. The reason is that by demonstrating the ability to turn away from tar sands, the US will have displayed leadership on a key issue of our time.

Keystone XL won’t be the only fossil fuel megaproject the US must turn its back on. But it would be the first. And setting a precedent now will make future contentious choices more easy to make.

It may seem a hard choice now. But, if we look at it rationally, it really is the only choice that includes a prosperous future.

Links:

Please be one of the one million public comments against the Keystone XL Pipeline

 

 

Video Chronicle of an Arctic in Catastrophic Transition

Kenneth Dunton, Professor of Marine Sciences at the University of Texas, Austin, in the above video describes what he calles “The New Arctic.” It is a sobering video describing a landscape at the beginning of a difficult transition. He talks about adaptation. And, to a certain degree, we will all have to adapt to changes we are now causing to the world’s environments. How difficult these changes will be will, ultimately hinge upon how soon we can reduce then cease the burning of all fossil fuels.

What Dr. Dunton describes is the start of a difficult situation. One that will be with us for many years, decades, and perhaps centuries to come.

Links:

Arctic Death Spiral The Video

The Collapse of Arctic Sea Ice: Will Beaufort Break-up and Melt Proceed a Month or More Ahead of Schedule?

The scientists are worried. The Arctic is responding to human-caused climate change much faster than expected. As little as a year ago, scientists weren’t predicting an ice free summer Arctic Ocean until around 2060 to 2080. Then the 2012 melt season erased all hope that melt would proceed at such a gradual pace.

Now, most scientists predict that summers will see an ice-free Arctic Ocean by 2030. Unfortunately even this, much earlier, date may be too conservative for the Arctic sea ice, which appears to currently be shattering under a death blow of global proportion. And it is, for this reason, why we should seriously listen to one scientist who has spent much of his career listening to the sea ice.

Peter Wadhams, a polar researcher for most of his life, spent more than 40,000 hours on naval submarines, taking an intimate account of sea ice health and thickness. And Dr. Wadhams doesn’t think the summer sea ice has much longer to live. He predicts an ice-free or near ice free state for the Arctic Ocean come 2015 or 2016. In a recent interview to The Guardian, Wadhams stated:

This collapse I predicted would occur in 2015-16 at which time the summer Arctic (August to September) would become ice-free. The final collapse towards that state is now happening and will probably be complete by those dates.

Wadhams’ prediction comes very close to fitting the current trend of sea ice volume losses which will result, if trends continue, in an ice free Arctic come summer by 2017. However, as noted in a previous analysis here, any single melt year comparable to 2007 or 2011 would be enough to take down all or most of the remaining sea ice in just one year.

So the critical question is this: is such an event occurring now? Are we experiencing the final collapse that Wadhams mentions? If so, how would we know? Given that we have no precedent for what is happening to the sea ice, it is far more difficult to predict what may happen than, say, in a weather forecast. Regardless, there may well be a number of clues that are showing us a very big melt season and, with it, the last days of Arctic sea ice is well on the way.

Enter the Beaufort sea ice. The Beaufort sea contains ice that protects the rear of the remaining thick ice. Beaufort ice acts as both wall and insulator to the dwindling last bastion of multi-year ice now huddled protectively next to Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Should that protection disappear too rapidly or too early, much of that remaining ice may not be able to make it through the Arctic summer.

Unfortunately, Beaufort sea ice underwent a major cracking event from February to March. Such events usually don’t occur until April or May. But this year’s cracking event came 40-50 days sooner. It also came with a vengeance. The cracks, usually contained within the Beaufort Sea, spread to cover much of the Arctic, invading even the remaining thick, multi-year ice. Not only did this cracking event rupture the thick ice, it also appears to have taken it off its anchor point.

This combined impact is likely to leave the multi-year ice both more fragmented and mobile come summer. And it could spell disaster for the remaining sea ice.

How will we know if this sea ice doomsday scenario is proceeding? One hint that it is occurring will be seeing something like the below image progression appearing in the vicinity of Banks Island in early May:

ModisFinalBigIndexSmallBB2_zps8f64a49d

(Image source: Ice Blog/A-Team)

What you are seeing in the above image is a break up of sea ice that occurred from March 30th to June 15th of 2012. This event bears striking similarities to this year’s February break-up. It contains the same network of ring fractures and it resulted in radically reduced resilience of Beaufort sea ice come mid-summer. The difference is that last year’s break-up began about 45 days later and was much smaller. It did not include the thick sea ice, nor did it pull that ice from its anchor points. This year’s break-up did both.

For comparison to this image sequence here is a picture of the sea ice in the same region today:

beaufort05Apr13_zps1df4b93c

(Image source: MODIS)

The state of sea ice in the same region now roughly corresponds to the state of sea ice in the same region during early May of last year. Arctic Ice Blog commenter A-Team notes:

Comparing 2012 visible imagery to 2013 infrared is somewhat problematic but the best match to today’s date 05 Apr 13 is approximately 10 May 12, or 35 days later. The southern coastline in the vicinity of Banks Island provides the best diagnostic region.

Recall 2012 was a record melt year with a very similar arc fracturing pattern developing in the Beaufort. However this developed much later in the spring and did not extend past the Prince Patrick Island leverage point.

In summary, the rapid acceleration of Beaufort Gyre rotation in early June 2012 and the breakup of icepack into floes can be expected in early May for 2013. This will contribute to a vastly more extensive melt-out expected in late summer 2013.

So what is setting up to happen next, should this worst case estimate proceed, is that the Beaufort Gyre will rapidly accelerate come early May, resulting in a disintegration of sea ice similar to what is seen in the above picture, but about 30-40 days ahead of schedule. The Gyre is a surface current that circles the Beaufort Sea. Ice on the water tends to retard the flow of this current. But as the ice becomes less solid, the Gyre speeds up, aiding in the breaking and mixing of sea ice with warmer waters. This process, as seen in the image sequences above, can lead to a rapid collapse and melt-out of sea ice.

If such an event does occur at such an early date, it will be one more indication that summer 2013 melt is proceeding at a much faster and more dangerous pace than even 2012. The early break-up was a strong indication that melt may be much worse for this year. If an early melt and speed up of the Beaufort Gyre occurs in this region, it will be one more sign that the summer of 2013 could be one in which further dramatic and dangerous melt occurs. One which may spell out the last days of Arctic sea ice.

Links:

The Arctic Ice Blog

Total Meltdown Warning

Sea Ice Monitors Confirm Pace of Arctic Melt Picking Up, PIOMAS Shows Volume Remains at Record Low Levels

Yesterday, we reported a preliminary observation that the pace of Arctic spring sea ice melt was picking up. Today, most sea ice monitors now confirm this observation.

According to Cryosphere Today, sea ice area has fallen to 13.31 million square kilometers. This measure is about 55,000 square kilometers lower than yesterday and about 490,000 square kilometers below its peak last month. This daily pace of melt is a rather steep rate of loss for April and remains about 150,000 square kilometers below values for this date last year.

You can see the Cryosphere Today graph below:

arcticice

NSIDC is also showing a steep rate of decline for sea ice extent. In this case, a steeper decline than the area measure over the past day, but about the same pace of decline over the last five days. Currently, we see NSIDC’s extent measure falling to 14.62 million square kilometers, about 80,000 square kilometers below yesterday’s value. This extent measure shows current year sea ice falling well below 2012 values and now at around the 4th lowest on record for this time of year. You can see this measurement in the graph below:

arcticice_nsidc

Finally, PIOMAS recently updated its sea ice volume monitor today. It’s currently showing sea ice volume on par with record low levels set last year and in 2011. These levels show sea ice volume currently in the range of 21,500 cubic kilometers. Though at around the same values as 2011 and 2012 overall, what this volume measure does not show is the degree to which multi-year ice (MYI) has receded and thinned. MYI is currently also near record low values. Unfortunately, the sea ice is now thicker at its edge and in regions that are almost certain to melt out as the spring and summer seasons progress and thinner near Greenland, where ice has typically sheltered from summer melt. If this observation holds, volume appears set to challenge the record low established just last year.

BPIOMASIceVolumeAnomalyCurrentV2_CY

Various specific regions of the Arctic are currently undergoing visible thinning and breakage. In the Sea of Okhotsk, thinning and breakage of sea ice appears to be rapid, especially in the sea’s southern regions. The Bering Sea is also showing signs of thinning, with polynas opening throughout the region. North of Alaska, the sea ice is again thinning, with open water occasionally visible in the distant off-shore from Barrow Alaska over the past couple of days. Across the Arctic, polynas are also visible in the Kara and Barents Seas. Nearer to Greenland and Canada, polynas are showing up near Thule and Cape Dorset.

AM2SI20130405IC0

Overall, the Arctic remains much warmer than average for this time of year. Averages are about 5-7 degrees hotter than usual over most of the region. The hot spot, near Nuuk and Baffin Bay exceeds 15 degrees above average with Nuuk showing its second 52 degree Fahrenheit day in a row. Despite temperatures remaining above average for much of the Arctic, most of the Arctic remains under weather conditions that are below the -1.9 degree C freezing point of ocean water. That said, invasions of warmer air from the south are increasing, especially in the region near Greenland, which has been affected by much warmer temperatures than usual for almost the entire winter.

Warmer sea surface temperatures are also expanding, with most of the Arctic sea surface at around .5 degrees Celsius above average with localized hot spots. Most sea surface temps remain below the fresh water freezing point. But large and expanding areas show water temperatures above -1.9 degrees C, the freezing temperatures of ocean water.

Lastly, warmer than usual air temperatures appear to finally be having their effect on Greenland, with a small region of the extreme southern glacier showing surface melt. Melt doesn’t usually begin until mid to late May for Greenland. So we’ll have to see if this report is just sporadic or the beginning of a trend.

Overall, these conditions favor continued melt with a higher risk of melt proceeding at a more rapid pace than usual for this time of year.

Links:

NSIDC

Cryosphere Today

JAXA

Uni-Koeln

NOAA’s Marine Monitoring and Analysis Branch

Arctic Shows Very Rapid Sea Ice Motion, Hints of Quickening Melt

Ateam sea ice motion

(Image source: Sea Ice Blog/A-Team)

Last month’s Arctic sea ice cracking event has left the Beaufort ice pack particularly vulnerable to rapid transport. This mobility can be seen in the above image sequence provided by Arctic Sea Ice blog poster: A-Team.

The sequence reveals very rapid motion in the freshly broken ice by tracking the largest crack’s rate of movement. According to A-Team’s back of the napkin analysis, this crack is moving at a rate of 11.7 kilometers per day. Buoy measurement of sea ice motion also shows very rapid movement of Beaufort ice, especially at the ice edge.

Rapid ice motion is yet one more indicator of the Arctic’s current fragile state. Record low or near record low sea ice volume, area and extent, nearly constant above average air temperatures, above average ocean temperatures, more volatile Arctic weather, and the continued transport of warmer, stormier air masses into the Arctic via blocking patterns completes a context of rapid change. You can read more about this ongoing climate phenomena here.

Signs of increasing melt

Spring sea ice melt also showed signs of picking up pace today with both the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) and Cryopshere Today showing drops in both sea ice extent and area. Sea ice area showed a daily drop of about 50,000 square kilometers. This rate of loss is a bit faster than usual for this time of year which tends to show mostly gradual melt. But the big loser, according to JAXA, was sea ice extent which appears to have fallen by about 100,000 square kilometers in one day. This new JAXA estimate is preliminary. So validation will have to be made for such an apparently precipitous fall so early in the season. If validated, this will show a very significant loss of sea ice for a date so early in the year. And, if such a trend were to continue, it would be nothing short of devastating. As noted before, the figure is preliminary and subject to correction. So let’s not get too worried yet.

JAXA sea ice april3

(Image source: JAXA)

Weather conditions in the Arctic remain far warmer than average for this time of year. Temps throughout most of the region range between 2 and 10 degrees Celsius above average with local spikes at 15 degrees C above normal. Our favorite weather spot — Nuuk, Greenland — showed a high temperature today of 54 degrees Fahrenheit. This is 28 degrees Fahrenheit above average and likely at or near a record high for today.

Strong negative arctic oscillation (AO) has, once more, taken hold. AO values have returned to the negative 3.5 range with a strong area of high pressure forming over the Beaufort. This high is expected to promote rapid sea ice motion over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf as well as in the region of the Fram Straight. The North Atlantic Low has backed up over eastern Canada and remains locked into position near Hudson Bay. This low continues to pump warm air up into Baffin Bay and a region surround Nuuk.

Overall, slow to gradual melt should continue throughout the Arctic. However, as April proceeds there is some increased risk of anomalous events as the potential for disruptive weather rises toward mid-month. April is usually a slow melt month. But the continued fragile state of the Arctic sea ice must also be taken into account. We’ll also keep an eye on those strong melt numbers coming from JAXA. Should they validate, April could turn out to be a very volatile month.

Human Greenhouse Gas Emissions Following Path of Worst Case Climate Change

TimeBombFig16

(Image Source: James Hansen)

In 2011, the world emitted more than 10 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere and the amount for 2012 is likely to exceed 11 billion tons. This massive pace of carbon emissions puts the world directly on the worst-case path of human-caused climate change. This path, modeled by IPCC as the A1FI is the highest CO2 emissions scenario resulting in the most global temperature increase and/or the most drastic alterations to the global environment.

A1FI model range starts in 2000 and, as you can see, the pace of CO2 emission increase follows directly along this worst-case path through 2011. What this also shows is that the world, overall, has neither pursued a balance (A1B) between fossil fuels and renewables or a transition (A1T) from fossil fuel to renewable energy. Instead, the rate of global carbon emissions increase since 2000 shows that the world has chosen to emphasize fossil fuel use and chosen not to invest in alternative energy to the degree that it replaces carbon-based fuels.

This is not to say that certain countries haven’t made great strides. But it does show that, overall, the world has failed to put in place the investments and technologies that will allow it to transition away from fossil fuels that dump massive volumes of dangerous CO2 into the atmosphere. One can see the preference the world has placed on continued fossil fuel burning by looking at the discrepancy between worldwide subsidies of oil vs worldwide renewable energy subsidies. On the one hand, oil subsidies are in the range of 500 billion dollars each year while worldwide renewable energy subsidies are less than 1/5 that number.

And what does all this emphasis on fossil fuels buy us, in the end? According to A1FI climate models, world temperatures increase by an average of 6.4 degrees Celsius by 2100 to devastating and terrible effect. This ‘catastrophic high burn’ scenario would leave posterity with a hellish world, one that grows steadily more hellish until global temperature increases top 12 degrees Celsius by 2300.

My view, is that this future is not worth one cent, much less the 500 billion dollars plus we pay each year to subsidize it.

 

On the Path to 400 PPM: Last Week Sees CO2 Just Shy of 398 PPM

co2_weekly_mlo

(Image source: NOAA)

According to reports from the Mauna Loa Observatory, worldwide CO2 averages for last week were 397.92 ppm. Daily measurements showed CO2 levels exceeding 398 ppm. And it appears likely that monthly CO2 averages for March will be in the range of 397.5 ppm. At this pace, it appears that worldwide CO2 will come very close to touching 400 ppm averages in May of this year and will certainly exceed the 400 ppm threshold by 2014.

Scientists have set the safe limit for worldwide CO2 levels at 350 ppm. We are currently far in excess of that number.

The last time CO2 was 400 ppm was between 2-3 million years ago. So a sustained CO2 of this level over long periods would continue to drive radical environmental changes. A world with average CO2 of 400 ppm, according to paleoclimate, eventually becomes 2-3 degrees hotter than today. Sea levels in such a world rise, over time, and eventually stabilize between 15 and 75 feet higher than today.

The average pace of CO2 increase over the past ten years is more than 2 ppm each year. This pace of increase is many times faster than any period in the geological record. At 400 ppm, worldwide CO2 will be about 125 ppm higher than in 1880. During the ice age, worldwide CO2 averaged around 190 ppm. The jump from 190 ppm to 275 ppm set off changes in Earth’s heat balance that increased global temperatures by more than 5 degrees Celsius, melted the great Laurentide ice sheet, and caused sea levels to rise by scores of feet.

Under business as usual fossil fuel burning, scientists expect world CO2 levels to reach between 600 and 850 ppm by the end of this century. Such high levels of CO2 have not been seen for 6 million years or more. Further, the massive forcing a jump to 600 to 850 ppm would induce would likely result in feedbacks that continue to push worldwide greenhouse gasses even higher. Many scientists believe that this would result in enough heat increases to make the world very hostile to life.

Links:

Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Too Hot For Life by 2300, That’s Where Current Emissions Path Leads

Blocking Patterns: Cool Air Down South Means a Heatwave in Greenland

Global warming has mangled the Northern hemisphere’s weather. No clearer indication of this is the fact that currently, where I’m sitting in Gaithersburg, MD it’s 48 degrees Fahrenheit. Now let’s jump northward. Way north. North of the Arctic Circle north. So far north that only tens of miles away rests a glacier hundreds of meters thick.

That’s right, we’re talking about Greenland. Nuuk, Greenland to be specific. What’s the temperature there currently at 3:51 PM, Gaithersburg time?

48 degrees Fahrenheit.

The fact that two places separated so far north and south can experience practically the same weather is a perfect illustration of what global warming combined with Arctic sea ice melt has done to our weather patterns. Currently, a powerful blocking pattern and a very wavy jet stream is plunging far to the south and into the eastern United States. That jet stream has origins in the Arctic, so it is currently involved in cooling down Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The jet currently running down over the eastern US drinks deep of warmer temperate and tropical air before making a hairpin turn to the north, it travels up over the Atlantic Ocean, keeps making its way north until, at last, it comes to Greenland, depositing 48 degree Gaitherburg air directly over where it should be freezing in Nuuk.

That 48 degree temperature is a veritable heatwave for Nuuk at this time of year. The average daily high for this date is 26 degrees Fahrenheit. Nuuk’s high for today is 22 degrees warmer than it should be. And it’s not just today. For much of the winter Greenland has been far, far hotter than usual. The below graph, provided by NSIDC shows average temperatures for the Nuuk region of Greenland being about 5 degrees Fahrenheit or 3.3 degrees Celsius above average for the entire period.

Greenland temps NSIDC

(Image source: NSIDC)

Persistent warmer temperatures for Greenland have been a typical result of the new, global warming spawned weather pattern. It is this weather pattern that resulted in a major melt event for Greenland last summer. One that wrecked infrastructure there and contributed mightily to a 1 cm rise in sea level in just one year. Well, that blocking pattern is still in place. Going into the spring/summer of 2013, the weather is still stuck in a much hotter than usual mode for Greenland. If it continues, it will likely mean both more glacial melt and more extreme weather.

Models Show 975 Mb Low Forming in Arctic by April 13. Could This Potential Cyclone Enhance Early Season Melt?

April13ECMF

(Image source: ECMWF)

It’s a long way out, but current weather model forecasts show a strong storm forming over central Russia and moving north into the Arctic Ocean by mid-April. Models show a major storm tearing up through Russia, gaining strength as it comes to the sea ice edge on April 13th.

The storm drops down to around 975 mb by this time, a pressure comparable to a weak to moderate strength hurricane. However, the effects of such a system would be spread over a broader area, so peak wind speeds probably wouldn’t approach that of a comparable tropical system.

Nonethelss, such a storm has the potential to drive strong winds into the region, possibly disrupting an area of historically thin sea ice. The back side of the storm also digs deep into the mid-latitudes, pulling up warmer air from the south. Such processes could enhance early season sea ice melt and breakage, especially given the demonstrated fragility of sea ice during both the summer of 2012 and the winter of 2013.

There isn’t too much precedent for strong storms disrupting spring ice so early in the year. But the Great Arctic Cyclone of the summer of 2012 and brisk winds offshore setting off a major sea ice cracking event from February to March of 2013 provide evidence of the severely fragile state of Arctic sea ice. So it can’t be entirely ruled out that a strong storm system such as the one predicted could have a major impact.

The date, April 13, is still a long way off. But if the storm emerges as predicted, we may see yet one more major Arctic ice event in the coming weeks. One with the potential to accelerate early season melt and break-up. Definitely something to keep a watchful eye on.

How Global Warming Enhanced Glacial Melt to Expand Sea Ice in Antarctica

antarctica

Overall, worldwide sea ice totals have been declining over the past few decades. This trend has been led by a massive summer collapse of sea ice in the Arctic. But, on the other side of the world, in Antarctica, sea ice area and extent have been slowly expanding. This seeming contradiction recently spurred researchers to take a closer look at Antarctica to determine why sea ice would be expanding even though worldwide atmospheric and ocean temperatures are on the rise.

What they found was an amazing and complex combination of forces driving a moderate sea ice expansion in the southern hemisphere. Warmer waters coming into contact with submerged glaciers slowly melts the ice. In addition, a warming Antarctic continent disgorges large volumes of water each year. This fresh melt water, flushing into the ocean at a rate of 250 gigatons each year, then expands, covering the ocean surface in a thin layer surrounding Antarctica. Not only does this fresher water freeze at higher temperatures, it keeps warmer waters from rising up to melt the sea ice from below. The result is that sea ice is both insulated and made of fresher water. So until atmospheric and ocean temperatures rise enough to overwhelm this dynamic, Antarctic sea ice will remain protected by insulating processes coming from melting glaciers.

Warmer water trapped in the ocean depths surrounding Antarctica has also played a role in heating the world’s deep oceans. This heating was recently detected in a new study conducted by Kevin Trenberth and colleagues. The study found that a significant portion of the last decade’s heating had been sequestered in the deep ocean. Now it’s apparent that glacial melt in Antarctica may have played a role.

The Arctic sea ice, thus far, hasn’t benefited from a similar insulating process. The result was an 80 percent sea ice volume loss since 1979 and a high risk that sea ice will completely melt one summer between now and 2020. It’s possible that Greenland melt may continue to increase, freshening the Arctic’s waters, and providing a similar benefit at the cost of enhanced sea level rise and more extreme weather. But ocean currents, geography, and salinity dynamics for the Arctic are different from that of the Antarctic. So it is uncertain if melt will play as large a role in insulating northern hemisphere sea ice as it has in the southern hemisphere.

It is worth noting that rapid glacial melt, though it drives more extreme weather events even as it more rapidly increases sea level, tends to put a powerful damper on global temperature increases once glacial melt reaches the 1 meter mark. The heat energy goes more into melting the ice and less into warming the atmosphere and oceans. The negative feedback of fresher ocean waters in the polar regions as well as iceburgs floating in rapid glacial melt zones also has a net cooling effect. The result is that a degree or more of global temperature increases may be ‘held in check’ as the ice melts. Rapid ice melt decades may result in brief periods of relative cooling (where temperature increases back off from 1.5 or 2 degrees above average to around .9 to 1.3 degrees above average).

It’s a balancing effect and trade-off where you end up with more changes to the Earth’s environment and less overall heating in the short-term. This delayed heating effect of ice melt should not be seen as a good sign, however. As mentioned above, it comes at the severe cost of increased weather extremes and more rapid ocean level increases. In the end, once the messy transition decades are passed, a more liquid ocean results in more water vapor in the atmosphere, warmer Arctic and Antarctic environments that pump more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, receding glaciers and snow cover reducing the Earth’s reflectivity and adding further warming, and a warmer deep ocean resulting in more ocean methane release.

To get an idea how Greenland and Antarctic melt might dramatically impact world weather while putting a short-term dampening on global warming over the coming decades, take a look at this paper by James Hansen:

Update of Greenland Ice Sheet Mass Loss: Exponential?

It is worth noting that the scenarios examined in the paper come as a result of a relatively moderate increase in human greenhouse gas emissions: the A1B scenario. However, current emissions have increased more along the A1FI scenario which would likely result in even more climate volatility than the Hansen paper suggests.

The thing to take away from this new study is that both the Arctic sea ice collapse and the slower expansion of Antarctic sea ice are caused by the same forcing — human caused global warming — and that the glacial melt now resulting in localized cooling is also driving enhanced sea level rise and more extreme weather.

Please find more information on these new, ground-breaking studies here:

Global Warming Expands Antarctic Sea Ice

Oceans Continue to Warm, Especially in the Deeps

%d bloggers like this: