Arctic Heat: Wildfire Smoke Blankets Siberia, Alaska Shatters Temperature Records, Arctic Ocean Heat Sets off Large Algae Bloom

Siberian Wildfires July 31

Smoke from Siberian Wildfires now covers most of Arctic Russia. Image source: Lance-Modis.

There’s a lot of noise these days over the issue of global warming and human caused climate change. The static includes the intransigence of industry supported climate change deniers, a great confusion over climate context within some wings of the media, a number of increasingly personal attacks on the messengers — scientists, journalists, bloggers, and emerging threats experts — who communicate critical information related to climate change, and even a degree of professional disagreement within the sciences and among experts over key issues such as the potential rate of global methane release due to human warming.

(Read an excellent Guardian article about this debate here)

Despite all the vitriol, controversy and confusion, the signal coming from the Earth System couldn’t be clearer — the Arctic is showing every sign of rapid heat amplification and related emerging feedbacks and environmental changes.

The Arctic ring of fire

Over the continents circling the warming Arctic Ocean, a band from about 70 degrees north to about 55 degrees north, has increasingly erupted into heatwaves and massive wildfires. This year, huge fires blanketed both Canada and Russia, with a recent very large outbreak spreading over Siberia.

Over the past two weeks, numerous wildfires roared through Arctic tundra and boreal forests alike over a sprawling swath of northern Russia. These blazes rapidly multiplied to nearly 200 fires, covering most of Arctic Russia in a pallor of thick, soupy, smoke. The smog cloud blanketing Siberia now stretches nearly 3,000 miles in length and 1,500 miles in width, covering an immense slice of the Arctic and adjacent regions. The fires coincided with a large methane pulse that sent local readings to nearly 2,000 ppb, almost 200 ppb above the global average. Whether these higher methane levels were set off by a prolonged Arctic heatwave that has settled over Siberia since June or were tapped by the fires’ direct contact with thawing tundra remains unclear. But tundra melt and related carbon release, almost certainly set off by far above average temperatures for this Arctic region, clearly resulted in conditions that favored a heightened level of emission (You can track current global methane emissions through the excellent site: Methane Tracker.)

These massive blazes continued today with the most recent Modis shot showing a rash of red hotspots beneath a thickening ceiling of smoke:

Russia Fires July 31

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

Hat tip to the ever vigilant Colorado Bob for the new fire shot.

Arctic wildfires are an important and dangerous feedback to a warming polar climate. The fires produce soot that traps additional heat in the air while aloft and through reduction in the albedo of the surfaces it rains down upon. If the soot ends up on ice sheets, it can greatly amplify the summer sun, chewing large holes and accelerating melt (the Dark Snow Project is studying this highly worrisome dynamic). The fires also render carbon stocks locked in both the forest and the tundras through direct burning. As such, the fires result in a major extra CO2 emission source. The current fire in Siberia also appears to be exaggerating methane release from thawing tundra as large methane spikes appeared in the fire affected regions.

The result is that more heat is locked into an already vulnerable Arctic and global environment.

Alaska shatters temperature records

Meanwhile, across the Arctic, Fairbanks reported its 14th straight day of above 70 degree temperatures, shattering the previous record of 13 days running back in 2004. The Arctic location has also seen 80+ degree weather (Fahrenheit) for 29 days so far this summer and 85+ degree weather for 12 days this summer. The record for 80+ degree days is 30 during a summer and the previous record for 85 + degree days was 10 days. A ‘usual’ Alaskan summer only saw 11 80 degree days, with the current number for 2013 nearly tripling that mark.

So Fairbanks has shattered two summer high temperature duration records and is now closing in on a third. Since predictions call for high 70 to low 80 degree weather for at least the next few days, it appears likely that this final mark will fall as well. The Alaskan heat is expected to continue through at least this weekend after which temperatures are expected to fall into, the still above average, lower 70s.

Given these record hot conditions in Alaska, one has to wonder at the potential for fires to erupt in this region as well. An outbreak of large fires spread through the region in June. But compared to Canada and Russia, which have both seen major fire outbreaks, Alaska has been relatively quiet. Methane Tracker shows little in the way of 1950 ppb or higher readings over Alaska at the moment. But this is an uncertain indication to say the least.

The current Arctic Weather Map shows broad regions of warm to hot daytime conditions throughout much of the Arctic. Areas of highest temperatures are located in Alaska, Northwestern Canada, Siberia and Northern Europe. These Arctic heatwave conditions have persisted throughout the summer of 2013, drifting in a slow circle along with their related heat domes and high amplitude Jet Stream pulses.  So far, these conditions have shown little evidence of abating.

Alaska Canada Daytime Aug 1 Russia Europe Daytime August 1

The above images show respective daytime temperature forecasts provided by Arctic Weather Maps. Areas in red indicate temperatures ranging from 77 to 86 degrees. The first image shows daytime in Alaska and Canada for Thursday, August 1. The second image shows predicted daytime temperatures for Siberia and Europe for the same date.

Arctic Ocean heat anomaly soars

In addition to an immense rash of wildfires belching enormous plumes of smoke that now cover most of Northern Russia and record-smashing high temperature streaks in Alaska, we continue to see a rising heat temperature anomaly over a vast region of the Arctic Ocean. A broad stretch of sea area shows .5 to 1 degree Celsius above average sea surface temperatures. This region includes the Central Arctic Basin which has seen broad, anomalous areas of much thinner, more dispersed sea ice coverage. Isolated regions are showing temperatures in the range of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius warmer than average with the hottest region over the Barents and the Kara Seas near Norway and northern Russia.

sst.daily.anom

(Image source: NOAA)

The region where the highest heat anomaly measures have appeared also shows a very large green algae bloom. This oil slick like region is clearly visible in a freakish neon off-set to the typically dark Arctic waters. Higher ocean heat content and added nutrients increasingly fuel these kinds of blooms which can lead to fish kills and ocean anoxia in the regions affected. This particular bloom is very large, stretching about 700 miles in length and 200 miles in width along a region near the northern coast of Scandinavia.

Algae Bloom North of Scandinavia

Very large algae bloom north of Scandinavia. Image source Lance Modis.

As the oceans warm due to human caused climate forcing, there is increasing risk that large algae blooms and increasing regions of ocean anoxia will continue to spread and grow through the world ocean system. In the more extreme case, the current mixed ocean environment can turn into a dangerous stratified anoxic ocean environment. Past instances of such events occurred during the Paleocene and during ages prior. Oceans moving toward a more anoxic state put severe stress on numerous creatures inhabiting various ocean levels and is yet one more stress to add to heat-caused coral bleaching and ocean acidification due to increasing CO2 dissolution.

Ocean mixing is driven by the massive ocean heat and salt conveyors known as the thermohaline circulation. Slowing and changing circulation patterns can result in switches from a mixed, oxygenated ocean environment, to a stratified, anoxic state. Currently, a number of the major ocean conveyors, including the Gulf Stream and the warm water current near Antarctica, have slowed somewhat due to added fresh water melting as a result of human caused climate change.

Movement toward a more anoxic ocean state is an added stress on the world climate system and another of the myriad impacts set off by human warming. Though a complete switch from a mixed ocean to an anoxic ocean is still far off, it is an important long-term risk to consider. Perhaps one of the absolute worst effects of an unabated burning of fossil fuels and related carbon emissions by humans would be the emergence of a terrible primordial ocean state called a Canfield Ocean. But this is another, rather unsavory topic, likely worth exploring in another blog (nod to prokaryotes who has been fearfully hinting about risks associated with this particularly nasty climate mechanism on internet boards and in blogs and comments for years).

In the meantime, it’s worth considering the clear and visible effects of Arctic amplification currently in train: massive Siberian wildfires along with immense smoke plumes and troubling methane pulses, an ongoing Arctic heat wave that continues to break temperature records, and very high Arctic ocean temperature anomalies that are setting off massive algae blooms north of the Arctic circle.

A letter from Edward Snowden’s father and his lawyer, Bruce Fein, to President Obama:

Edward in his concern for and defense of human rights is a patriot, not only to America, but to all the meek, innocent, and powerless members of our race.

Some have named Edward a traitor in taint of treason. But this act is only to bully those people of conscience, who would stand with Edward, in support of basic human justice. And so it is all the more necessary that we stand in solidarity with him in defiance of unjust action through a secret government.

A blanket surveillance of its populace is ever the terrible right hand of tyrannical rule. We, as a people who lust for justice, should never accept so shameful a power.

misebogland

 

Bruce Fein & Associates, Inc.
722 12th Street, N.W., 4th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20005
Phone: 703-963-4968
bruce@thelichfieldgroup.com

July 26, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Re: Civil Disobedience, Edward J. Snowden, and the Constitution

Dear Mr. President:

You are acutely aware that the history of liberty is a history of civil disobedience to unjust laws or practices. As Edmund Burke sermonized, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Civil disobedience is not the first, but the last option. Henry David Thoreau wrote with profound restraint in Civil Disobedience: “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank…

View original post 1,192 more words

Playing Games With Global Fire — Putting Scientific Arguments over Arctic Methane Emissions into Context

A pool of hydrates destabilizes on the ocean floor.

A pool of hydrates destabilizes on the ocean floor.

UPDATED ON AUGUST 3 DUE TO NEW INFORMATION
This week, the scientific journal Nature issued a bombshell article in which Peter Wadhams and a number of Arctic specialists warned that very large methane pulses, on the order of 1-50 gigatons in a single year, are likely to begin to appear soon in the Arctic. Other specialists, including Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at NASA’s GISS division, have noted that such an event is very unlikely.

Schmidt, in his argument, points toward past periods — 8,000 and 125,000 years ago — when the summer Arctic was mostly ice free and notes that there is no geological evidence of rapid release during these times. Wadhams, on the other hand, points toward large methane plumes that are already rising from a region of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf — a region vulnerable to rapid warming. Joining the mix is a NASA scientist, Ed Dlugokencky, who claimed in a recent Live Science article, that there has been no detectable change in Arctic methane emissions over the past two decades.

Critics of Wadhams have also made an interesting claim that, for the methane to have a ‘significant impact’ most of it would need to release rapidly. David Archer, a climate scientist at the University of Chicago noted in the Live Science interview:

“It [methane] has to be released within a few years to have much impact on climate, but the mechanisms for release operate on time scales of centuries and longer.”

There’s no indication what Archer is referring to, the ESAS stores (composing about 500 gigatons) or the much larger Arctic tundra and hydrate stores, composing hundreds to thousands of gigatons or global methane stores which are about double that of the Arctic (I’ll respond to this more in my assessment below).

What these arguments present is a veritable scientific fur-ball. One that will be very difficult for the casual observer to unravel and one we had better damn well get right soon as the Arctic begins to enter a new ice-free state not seen in over 800,000 years.

My assessment

Bubbles of Methane Locked in Sea Ice

Bubbles of Methane Locked in Sea Ice. Image source: The Alaska Dispatch.

It’s basically accepted science that release from the vast Arctic methane stores will increase as the planet warms, and sea ice, ice sheets, and tundra continue to melt. The argument, right now, basically hinges over how fast this process will occur — years, decades, centuries or millennia. As to whether the amount of methane coming from the Arctic is increasing or not, I’d like to see the data Ed Dlugokencky is looking at. Because, to my knowledge there is no complete survey of annual Arctic methane emissions. If he would like to provide them, they would be very helpful. And if we don’t have means to provide such information, then I think it is urgent we develop it.

What is available, at least in open source data, shows that atmospheric methane levels in the Arctic are higher than the global average, which would indicate a local emission of large volume (melting tundra, peat bogs, ocean emissions, thawing ESAS stores, environmental fire releases etc). And numerous studies — CARVE, the ESAS study, and others — have found very large local emissions sources in the Arctic in the megaton range and at levels far higher than previously anticipated. Wadhams joins a group of experts who believe a more rapid emission is possible (on the order of 1-50 gigatons per year in the case of the ESAS). Schmidt seems to believe there is no possibility for a release on a scale of anything less than 1,000 years or more.

My own opinion is that there is no possible means by which the Arctic’s methane stores can remain locked in their various traps so long as human greenhouse gas emissions continue along a business as usual path. In my view, it is entirely likely, that along this path, nearly all these stores will have released within a 500-1000 year time-frame, with Arctic methane emissions beginning to steadily increase now. The human greenhouse gas forcing will be enough to render the Arctic Ocean ice free during summer within the next few decades at the longest. And, without a major interrupting melt pulse from Greenland, this ice free state will continue to advance until winters show no ice as well. The last time this happened was likely in the Pliocene, around 2.5 million years ago. But the Pliocene oceans were settling down into a glacial period and not emerging from one. Such a set of rather disturbing circumstances will almost certainly result in large methane releases from the Arctic that are significant and contribute markedly to warming — even if such events don’t happen as fast as Wadhams warns.

Yet the gap between the two estimates from professional scientists is wide and no-one (except, apparently, me) seems to be occupying any middle ground in this particular discussion. Schmidt uses past interglacials where sea ice mostly vanished during summer time as a flimsy reassurance. But Schmidt does not acknowledge that we are out of reckoning of these time periods due to the clear and obvious fact that the current CO2 levels of 400 ppm puts us in the context of the Pliocene, nearly 2.5 million years ago, when the Arctic Ocean likely saw no sea ice and, as mentioned above, the newly emerging Arctic Ocean is one charged with carbon stores. So the situation may well be worse than the Pliocene. Sadly, this imperfect corollary is a moving target because the human emission that is currently nearly 32 gigatons drives CO2 levels higher by 2-3 ppm each year. Such an emission is at least ten times faster than any comparable emission in geological history — even that seen from the massive Siberian flood basalts during the Permian. This rate of emission, unless rapidly halted, will hit the Earth System like a 10 kilometer boloid — only potentially locking in catastrophic conditions that last for tens of thousands of years, not decades.

Wadhams, in contrast to Schmidt uses the Shakhova study and his own observations to support a claim that rapid methane release on the order of 1-50 gigatons is likely over the next 30 years. It is worth noting that a study conducted by Carolyn Ruppel refuted Shakhova’s findings for rapid methane hydrate release. This refutation may or may not stand as disproof. It’s too early in the scientific process, at this point, to be certain. So, though I agree with Schmidt and Archer that a slower release is more likely, I’m not assured enough by a single refutation to agree with them in their complete dismissal of Wadhams concerns.

The assertion that a slower rate of methane release would have little effect is also incorrect. Global methane stores are on the order of thousands of gigatons. And there are many ways by which such stores could hit the atmosphere — action by bacteria on thawing tundra, direct warming of anoxic carbon stores in shallow sea beds, heat forcing directly to hydrate locations, and potential for slope collapse and large release during destabilization. Some of these mechanisms remain unproven in the science. But all remain on the table. Should just 500 megatons of this vast store release each year (less than 1/10000th the total amount), global methane emissions will have doubled, putting at risk sinks and creating a very strong additional forcing to add to CO2 emissions. Global methane levels are increasing at a rate of around 4 ppb each year, some of this increase comes from the approximately 350-400 megaton human release, the rest comes from an Earth Systems release totaling around 130 megatons of which the Arctic is a portion. Yet the sinks are limited and there is good reason to believe that they will be saturated soon if current methane emissions double or more.

As I’ve noted before, I think that methane release is a part of a total Earth Systems response to a given forcing, in this case, human warming. And that total, given our best views of paleoclimate, is somewhere between 4-7 degrees Celsius of warming for each doubling of CO2 once all the ‘slow feedbacks’ come in. A 50 gigaton release in a single year would be far outside this usual range — a truly catastrophic event. So, in this case, Schmidt is probably right. But, as during the Permian, we sit at the end of a rather long glacial period in which global carbon stocks represent a very large charge and, potential, though unproven, larger than expected climate response. This is a disturbing circumstance and, in addition to the still accepted in broader scientific literature, Shakhova study, provides a strong reason to not entirely dismiss Wadhams concerns. In addition to these risks and considerations, lower levels of still significant methane release are likely still a significant and non-dismissible part of the total Earth System response. Responses we may start to see now and of which we have point source, though not broader, evidence for at this time.

The controversy, therefore, is in no small part caused by a lack of clarity and context. It is also due to the transient and amplifying nature of our current climate crisis. This is not an attack on the science, but a direct call for more effort, study, and proofs — from both sides of the argument. We need more context, not broad claims and flat dismissals. Such effort, I believe, would make the science stronger and provide a better tool for human resilience. So this is also an appeal for more direct support from policy makers — for all those who investigate Earth Systems responses to climate change.

To this point, I’d like to add Charles Miller’s own statement regarding the NASA CARVE mission with which he is involved:

“Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures — as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years. As heat from Earth’s surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic’s carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming.”

To this last point made by a scientist outside of the current controversy, I continue to believe that a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is a necessary and urgent response. To Schmidt and others who would cite past interglacials, I would add that unless human carbon emissions stop soon, the only set of geological events that will be worth looking at for long-term corollaries are the PETM and the P-T, especially after the ice goes. And it will surely go unless said soon human emissions halting actually happens.

Global Warming Rolls Climate Dice Yet Again: High Amplitude Jet Stream Wave Brings Late July Melt Surge to Greenland

The old cliche is that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. In weather and climate terms, natural variability makes it highly unlikely that record year will follow record year, even when a forcing, such as human global warming, tends to push in that direction.

In the context of Greenland, it was very unlikely that record melt on the order of around 700 gigatons of ice lost during 2012 would repeat in 2013.  That said, even in a year like 2013, where climate attempts a return to the average trend line, it’s entirely clear that conditions are anything but normal.

Throughout late June and much of July, a downward dip in the Jet Stream dominated weather patterns over Greenland. Cold, Arctic air was locked over the massive island, pushing melt rates closer to ‘normal’ for a summer season. The term to use is definitely ‘closer,’ because even during weather conditions that would normally bring colder than average conditions to Greenland, warmth and melt were still above average.

Global warming adds a roll

A metaphor we can use to describe this phenomena of implied variability in a warming system is James Hansen’s climate dice. Imagine that a basic roll of a d10 gives us a typical weather pattern for Greenland. 1 on the dice represents record cold, 10 record warmth, 2 and 3 are colder than average, with 2 being near record lows and 3 being closer to average, 4, 5, 6 and 7 are average, 8 and 9 are hotter than average, and 10 is record heat.

This set of weather and climate possibilities is a basic representation of ‘normal’ for Greenland. But when we add in human climate change and global warming, we are essentially adding a new player to the mix, with its own set of dice. In this case, let’s add a 1d3 to the global warming hand. Now, with the extra dice roll for global warming, the potential for extreme hot, melting years just got far, far more likely and we begin to experience never seen before heat and melt events. But we still end up with colder than average years and normal years, just less of them.

The situation is probably worse than the simulation described above because on the typical 1 to 10 scale we can label 2012 about a 13 (with freakish never seen before record heat and melt) and 2013 through about July 26th a 7.1 — slightly hotter than average with ever so slightly above average melt.

The problem is that June and July were average when they should have been cold. I say this because a high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream flowed down over Greenland, pushing relatively colder air over the sea ice and into the freezer that is still Greenland. Such conditions usually push for colder than average Greenland temperatures and lower than average melt. This period of what should have been colder than average conditions instead resulted only in an abatement of record melt and a return to slightly above average melt.

Mangled Jet Stream switches back to ‘hot’

But now, even this brief respite appears to have evaporated. Over the past couple of weeks, the deep, cooler trough over Greenland eroded, weakening as warmer air pushed into southern Greenland. Now, the trough has completely reversed — becoming a ridge and somewhat mimicking the freakish conditions that occurred during 2012. So slightly above average melt conditions are now starting to swing back toward record melt conditions for this time of year.

You can see the large, high amplitude bulge riding from south to north, carrying air from the south-eastern US all the way north to Baffin Bay and southwestern Greenland, in the Jet Stream map for July 30th below:

Greenland Jet

(Image source: California Regional Weather Service)

This sudden Jet Stream switch brings back a weather pattern that caused such major melt conditions during summer of 2012 and such warm winter conditions for Greenland as 2012 turned to 2013. And the results, as far as ice melt goes, have been almost immediate. Earlier melt peaks at around 34% of the ice sheet during July were obliterated in one fell switch of atmospheric air flow that, once again, drew warm, temperate air into the Arctic.

Over the past two days, this extra warmth has increased Greenland melt area to above 40%, peaking at near 45% just a couple of days ago. This peak, though not as anomalous as the 90% + melt coverage experienced during early July of 2012, is still about 80% higher than the average melt peak observed for the period of 1981-2010 and more than double the average for melt in late July. It also puts Greenland further into above average melt year territory, possibly shifting the 2013 score from 7.1 to around 8.5.

You can see the melt coverages graph, provided by NSIDC, for the current year below:

Greenland Melt 2013 Late July

(Image source: NSIDC)

The warm air pulse that drove these anomalously high late season melt rates in Greenland appears to have settled in for at least the time being. Temperatures along the Greenland coast range from the upper 30s to the lower 60s — quite warm for this time of year — while summit Greenland is experiencing warmer than average temperatures in the lower 20s (Fahrenheit).

Above average melt when it should have been cold

So what is freakish about 2013 when compared to 2012 is not that it matched a major melt event that will likely stand as a record for the next five years or so, but that in a year where weather conditions would have pushed Greenland to be mostly colder than normal, above average warmth and melt were still experienced. In this case, it becomes very clear that we are rolling with loaded climate dice or, as the illustration above shows, human global warming is adding its own wicked set of rolls.

Links:

California Regional Weather Service

NSIDC

James Hansen’s Climate Dice

Learn about Dark Snow

Heat Dome Wildfires, Methane Pulse Expand, Blanketing Arctic Siberia in Cloud of Dense Smoke

Heat Dome Fires Siberia

An immense cloud of smoke covers Arctic Siberia. Image source: Lance-Modis.

 

Add sea ice near record low levels, a mangled, wavy jet stream, heat dome high pressure systems that increasingly emerge in a thickening atmosphere, a global warming induced increasing of the hydrological cycle and warmth-amplifying methane seeps from the tundra and what do you get? Summer Arctic heatwaves that persist over days and weeks setting off temperatures in the 80s and 90s and sparking massive and terrifying fires that belch enormous clouds of methane-laced smoke larger than most countries.

***

Last week, a persistent Arctic heatwave re-intensified over Central Siberia, setting off a rash of wildfires while at the same time apparently forcing some of this region’s vast tundra methane stores to erupt. Throughout the weekend, these fires grew, expanding and multiplying, spurring Russia to call up nearly a thousand firefighters and a score of aircraft to combat these raging blazes. Fires continued to erupt throughout the weekend, growing in number to more than 170 separate blazes. This massive region of fires fed a vast cloud of smoke that has now expanded to cover an area about 2000 miles in length and 1200 miles in width.

NASA’s Aqua satellite has provided a recent image focusing in on the area featuring the densest cluster of these fires. The approximately 130 fires shown (but not including all the fires involved) are indicated in red. (Hat tip to Colorado Bob for the head’s up).

Massive wildfires, Russia

More than 130 wildfires, indicated in red, erupt across Siberia. Image source: Aqua/Modis.

Much hotter than average conditions persisted over most of this smog-covered region on Monday as the heat dome high pressure system associated with the scorching Arctic temperatures and wildfires moved retrograde to a feeble Jet Stream and on toward Europe. Daytime temperatures over much of this Arctic region ranged from the mid 70s to the upper 80s with some locations showing highs in the lower 90s.

Arctic temperatures, Daytime, Siberia

Monday daytime temperatures for Central Siberia. Red indicates 77-86 degrees Fahrenheit. Image source: Arctic Weather Maps.

 

These Arctic heatwave conditions are expected to first shift toward Europe then move back over Siberia, eventually settling upon Kamchatka by late this week. According to these model forecasts, heatwave conditions will continue to persist for sections of Siberia at least until the end of this week. So Russia will likely continue to be under the gun for wildfires as the week progresses.

Methane spikes continue

Perhaps the most troubling event to occur in conjunction with Arctic heatwave conditions and a very large wildfire eruption over Central Siberia’s tundras and arboreal forest land is a disturbing methane pulse, also indicated by the Aqua satellite. This methane pulse emerged in conjunction with the heatwave that began last week and appears to have intensified somewhat in recent days. According the Methane Tracker’s A4R, the large clouds of smoke associated with the massive spate of wildfires show heightened methane levels even greater than those first observed last week. In some cases, the methane in the smoke clouds is around 2,000 parts per billion, nearly 200 parts per billion higher than the atmospheric average.

Given these dramatically elevated methane levels, one has to wonder if the fires are enhancing methane emissions from the thawing Siberian tundra and peat bogs.

This particular methane pulse also comes at a time when scientists are increasingly concerned about the potential for enormous methane pulses in the gigaton or tens of gigatons range coming from thawing submerged tundra in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. A recent Nature article examined the subject in depth and caused broad controversy within the climate community. A NASA mission investigating Arctic methane emissions called CARVE is also seeking to clarify risks involved with the immense methane stores now being unlocked as the Arctic Ocean warms and as the tundra thaws.

The current massive spate of Siberian wildfires now appears to be at least as large those that occurred during June of 2012. In that event, massive blazes sent smoke across the Pacific Ocean to fill valleys on the West Coast of North America. With another week of heatwave conditions set for this region, it is possible that these already extreme conditions will intensify. So we’ll be keeping a close eye on what appears to be a still developing extreme event.

 

 

Nature’s Amplifying Methane Monster: Feedbacks, Risks, Costs, and Mitigation

Nature Methane Monster

Methane graphs show potential damages from a major methane release in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf over the next few decades as well as the potential to greatly reduce even these worst-case damage estimates through drastically reducing global carbon emissions.

(Image source: Nature)

The methane monster is an enormous, tricky beast of a thing. A number of past sudden climate change and mass extinction events are tied to methane pulses that appear to have happened over very brief geological spans. Massive carbon stores at risk of emitting methane in response to human warming have piled up over 2.5 million years of ice ages and 30 million years of glaciation. Now, a rapid human warming resulting from raging greenhouse gas emissions is starting to unlock these immense frozen carbon stores, prodding the methane monster and causing it to stir.

Not much is clearly known about natural methane releases during rapid warming events — both past or current. Tracking of human and Earth Systems methane emission has been far less detailed than direct CO2 forcing research and, due to the complex nature of methane in the atmosphere, far more difficult to put into context. So it is entirely understandable that a recent article in the scientific journal Nature, authored by Gail Whiteman, Chris Hope, and Peter Wadhams, has caused what can best be called a media implosion. Climate change deniers have buried their heads ever deeper into the sand, doomers are predicting the end of the world tomorrow no matter what we do, and finger pointing has erupted among members of the journalistic and scientific community who have deep professional knowledge but differing opinions as to how the methane problem will ultimately manifest.

It is important that we do our best to side-step the fuss and drill down to the critically important issues at hand: risks, costs, and the potential for mitigation.

Stark Findings

At issue is the Nature article’s warning that 50 gigatons of methane could rapidly release from a vulnerable region called the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. This area contains only a fraction of a massive Arctic carbon store. But its location in a thawing, shallow sea put it at risk of an extreme sudden release.

In the absolute worst case, the article notes that the entire 50 gigatons could emit within one year. In an intermediate worst case, the article shows that about 5 gigatons of methane could emit each year during a period from 2015 to 2025. And in the low-end worst case, the Nature article warns that the 50 gigaton volume in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf could all emit by 2035. The article also considers potential costs from a lesser, but still enormously damaging, 25 gigaton release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf over similar time periods.

The article states that such events would cause massive economic damage, on the order of 30 trillion to 70 trillion dollars over a period from now to 2100, adding substantially to the approximately $400 trillion in damage already projected from human caused global warming through 2100 (without rapid mitigation).

The article notes that such large emissions would result in a temperature increase of around 3 degrees Celsius by 2050, about a degree higher than predicted under base case emissions scenarios. Such a rapid increase in so short a period would, indeed, have devastating economic consequences (It is important to note that the only ‘slow feedbacks’ added to this model run include a methane pulse along with a portion of added Arctic carbon dioxide, but no related albedo change. So numbers here are likely lower than they would be under such circumstances.).

There is some reason to believe, due to a current lack of scientific consensus, that the large releases explored in the study are a low risk potential. But the lack of concerted and coordinated research on the subject creates an infuriating uncertainty over an issue critical to long-term human survival and prosperity.

A closer look at the East Siberian Arctic Shelf and the larger Arctic

The 50 gigatons in question rests in a submerged section of frozen tundra beneath the shallow waters of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. At the end of the last ice age, this tundra, locking in the 50 gigatons of methane along with other carbon stores was flooded due to sea level rise as glaciers melted. The Arctic sea ice covered this submerged, frozen tundra for most of this period, keeping water temperatures close to or below 0 degrees Celsius.

In recent years, summer ice cover has increasingly receded from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf as Arctic sea ice extent has rapidly declined. From 1979 to 2012, ice extent had shrunk by as much as 55%. From 2005 to 2013, this region of the Arctic Ocean lost the majority of its sea ice for as long 1-2 months at a time. During these periods, the shallow sea warmed by as much a 7 degrees Celsius above average — all the way to the sea floor — creating perforations in the submerged tundra through which the methane could bubble up. Due to the fact that this ocean region was so shallow, a majority of these methane emissions hit the atmosphere.

Expeditions to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf during the late 2000s and during 2011 found large plumes of methane venting from the warming tundra beneath the shallow sea. In 2011, plumes as large as 1 kilometer across were discovered. Scientific papers during this time announced findings that this region of the Arctic was emitting about 14 megatons of methane each year.

As time moves forward, continuing erosion of sea ice will result in longer warm periods that transfer more of the surface heat energy through the water column and down to the frozen methane stores, almost certainly causing a rising volume of emissions. Under current trends, sea ice may be mostly gone from Arctic waters year round by as early as 2040. Such an event would likely result in a number of severe consequences, just one of which is rising and potentially catastrophic ESAS emissions. (And the only event likely to provide enough negative feedback to shut down such a deadly occurrence is an equally dangerous large melt pulse from Greenland and Antarctica.)

The 50 gigatons of methane frozen in this section of tundra is likely trapped in ice and frozen sea bed representing between 100 and 500 cubic kilometers of total volume. The large volume of this frozen material makes it far less likely that stores will immediately release within a single summer and emit all 50 gigatons of the trapped methane. Nor is it highly likely that all 50 gigatons will release in 10 or even 40 years. A more probable range for total ESAS release is between 50 and 300 years. Even then, effects from the emission of this major store into the atmosphere would constitute a terrible event.

Around the Arctic, a much larger store of carbon will also likely contribute increasing methane emissions. As the Arctic Ocean warms, some of the estimated 1,000 gigatons of methane locked in sea bed deposits will almost certainly reach the surface. In addition, a portion of the estimated 1,500 gigatons of carbon trapped in tundra deposits will certainly release as methane as the Arctic warms. So the ESAS is just one, rather unstable, part of a larger methane beast. Instead of 30-50 megatons of annual methane emission coming from the Earth System (excluding typical wetlands emissions), it is entirely plausible that we could see emissions rising to 100, 200, 300 megatons or more (effectively doubling the human emission). Further, to entirely ignore the potential for catastrophic events of the kind Wadhams and Shakhova warn about, where yearly emission pulses of 1 gigaton or higher hit the atmosphere as a result of radically amplifying Earth System feedbacks, would be deeply irresponsible.

To these, rather stark, points, it is important to note that it is almost certain that releases from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf and other Arctic locations will rise by less if we rapidly reduce human forcings and by more if we continue to do little or nothing to reduce global human carbon emissions. The current human emission of methane is at least 350-400 megatons per year. This massive release is equivalent to a long-term natural methane pulse of devastating proportion and it is one key reason why we are in so much trouble. Even more damaging is a CO2 emission near 32 gigatons per year. There is no corollary for a CO2 emission of this yearly rate in all of the geological record and atmospheric concentrations of 400 parts per million CO2 are the highest level since major ice ages began about 2.5 million years ago. Instances where annual methane emissions have been this high are also very difficult to locate, with past rapid pulses being measured over the 1,000 to 10,000 year time-scale. To reduce and eliminate these vast and extraordinarily dangerous human emissions would be to take out a huge part of the problem before us. We are directly in control of these emissions, but it will be impossible for us to control Earth System emissions as they spontaneously emerge. Though some damage will likely still be in store due to our past dumping of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, it will be far less than if we continue to, immorally and insanely, add to what is already a very difficult problem.

In context of this major and damaging human emission on the order of a major geological event, it is also worth re-examining the broad disagreement among scientists about the potential rate of future Arctic methane emissions. Many have pointed to evidence in paleoclimate data that shows methane response generally occurs on the 1,000s to 10,000s of years time-frame. But paleoclimate seems to also indicate a slower sea ice, tundra, and ice sheet response than what we are currently seeing as a result of the very rapid human greenhouse gas forcing. Further, recent expeditions and monitoring studies have found anomalous and large methane emissions throughout the Earth System that are consistent to the initiation of a feedback response to human warming. That Dr. Wadhams, Shakhova and a handful of other Arctic experts have warned of the potential for single year emissions (somewhat remote, but great enough to be cause for worry) as large as 50 gigatons should serve as a chilling message best heeded. The still unlikely, but almost equally catastrophic, potential for emissions of 1-5 gigatons per year from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf are also cause for a high degree of concern. And though such large, single events remain less likely than slower releases, it is highly likely that Arctic methane emissions, in total, will greatly increase as polar amplification continues, resulting in a powerful feedback to human-caused warming.

Our best indications are that total Earth Systems responses will result in at least double the amount of warming shown in Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity models. What the Nature paper explores is just one instance of such a response. So even if Arctic methane release estimates are lower than the ‘catastrophic cases’ provided in the article, they will add to other global methane and CO2 release feedbacks, loss of albedo and Earth System changes to produce this likely doubling or more. So the sense of urgency for effective responses should be great, indeed.

More mitigation, adaptation, and monitoring necessary

The Nature Article is, therefore, an important warning. One that should be considered and discussed. More important than the scientific and media debate surrounding this article is its demonstration of a dire need for increased knowledge of Arctic methane systems to gain a better handle on potential risks. The clarity of science, right now between 50 gigaton potential emissions in one year and far, far slower emissions over the course of thousands of years, is too murky given the current state of overall climate risk in the context of break-neck human greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, the most important finding of this study has been mostly ignored by almost all media responses to it. The study found that mitigation, through the drastic reduction of human carbon emissions, was extraordinarily valuable in even the worst case scenarios.

The Nature article notes:

The WEF should also encourage innovative adaptation and mitigation plans. It will be difficult — perhaps impossible — to avoid large methane releases in the East Siberian Sea without major reductions in global emissions of CO2. Given that the methane originates in local seabed warming, then reducing black carbon deposits on snow and ice might [also] buy some precious time.

Model runs conducted in conjunction with the article showed that physical damage was halved when human emissions drastically fell in even the most dire of circumstances. This study, therefore, should come as a clear signal to any who would call for continued reliance on fossil fuels — either through the failed and anti-human arguments of denial that human climate change exists, through the equally mentally and morally bankrupt doomer calculus that falsely claims no response is effective, or through a continued intransigence by entrenched industries that have built their business models so as to profit from a vast harm to humankind.

If one believes that the very high damage events presented by these scientists are possible, they must also consider their findings that drastically cutting carbon emissions vastly enhances human prospects as we enter an age of fossil fuel inflicted climate crisis.

Links:

Climate Science: Vast Costs of Arctic Change

Supplementary Information

North Pole Melting: Ice Camera 2 Swims as Camera 1 Gets its Feet Wet

Camera 2 in deep water at North Pole.

Camera 2 in deep water at North Pole. Image sourc: APL

This summer has seen a great number of extraordinary events resulting from human caused climate change. These include massive heat dome high pressure systems setting off record droughts, fires and heat waves, Arctic temperatures rocketing into the 80s and 90s, Europe and Canada suffering some of their worst flooding events in history and a crazy US weather system moving backwards against the prevailing weather pattern for more than 3,000 miles. Add to these record events a substantial melting of ice in the Arctic’s most central regions, and you end up with rather strong proofs that our greenhouse gas emissions have permanently altered the word’s weather.

From late May to early July, a persistent Arctic cylone (PAC 2013) first fractured ice near the North Pole, then consistently widened and melted the gap it created. Now a large triangle of very thin ice extends from the North Pole south and eastward toward the Laptev Sea. The section of meter or less thickness keeps widening even as gaps continue opening in the ice and melt ponds form over many of the remaining flows.

Further north and on toward the western side of the North Pole, two cameras supplied by the Applied Physics Lab and funded through a National Science Foundation grant are performing their own daily recording if this major melt event. The melting, which from the satellite, appears to have turned the sea ice near the North Pole into swiss cheese has had a marked effect on visible surface conditions as well.

Sea Ice swiss cheese

Sea ice swiss chees as seen through the clouds near the North Pole. Image source: NASA/Lance Modis

Of the two ice cameras, #2 so far has seen the most action.  On about July 13th, melt puddles began to form in the region of Camera #2. By earlier this week, the camera was deep in a growing pool of ice melt. By today, the water had deepened further covering all the markers surrounding both the camera and its related sensor buoy. Water now appears to be about 3 feet deep and the pond just keeps growing and growing (you can read more about the saga of Ice Camera #2 here).

But now, Ice Camera #1 appears to be about to suffer the same fate. Over the past couple of days, melt ponds have now also been forming in the vicinity of Camera #1. You can see this new set of melt puddles here:

Puddles North Pole Camera 1

Puddles form near North Pole Camera 1. Image source: APL

Note the melt puddle snaking its way behind the wind vane visible in the camera’s field of view and on toward Camera #1 itself. If conditions at this camera are similar to those near Camera #2, then we can expect Carema #1 to be swimming in about ten days time.

With temperatures remaining above freezing for much of the Central Arctic, melt conditions have tended to dominate. Now, most of the remaining ice is rather weak, with a thickness of about 2 meters or less. And with so much of this thin ice in areas near the North Pole, a possibility exists that much of this region will melt out over the next 6 weeks or so.

As for the Ice Cams? It appears that #1 may soon join #2 in the drink.

Sudden Arctic Cyclone Churns Through Beaufort Sea Ice

Sudden Arctic Cyclone 2013

Sudden Arctic Cyclone 2013 over Beaufort Sea. Image source: DMI

In a new incarnation of the Warm Storm event that has increasingly come to impact summer Arctic sea ice, a rapidly intensifying low pressure system formed Tuesday over the Beaufort, tracking directly through a large section of vulnerable ice and moving on toward the Canadian Archipelago. At its most intense the storm dropped to 977 millibars but has weakened slightly today to 980 millibars. The storm is expected to continue slowly weakening through today and tomorrow until finally fading by late Saturday or early Sunday.

Though strong, this storm is expected to be brief and is likely to not have the same impacts seen during the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012. That storm approached the Arctic as an already well-developed system. Packing winds in excess of 60 miles per hour, it had the opportunity to rile a large section of open water and then fling waves as high as 10 feet up against the ice pack. Though this particular storm has hosted gale force winds, they have mostly blown parallel to the ice edge and did not have the same opportunity to develop a longer fetch over open water. It is also worth noting that the Great Arctic Cyclone lasted for about two weeks while this most recent Sudden Arctic Cyclone is likely to last for only about four to five days. So ongoing effects are likely to be limited.

All that said, this storm should have some impact. Already, an increasing number of slats of open water are visible through large sections of the Beaufort and the ice edge appears to have been torn at like a large swatch of tissue paper might act when forcibly twisted. The ice this year is particularly thin and slushy, making it subject to much more rapid motion and deformation. So we are already seeing such effects.

The below image shows a section of central Beaufort sea ice just after the storm center passed. Note the cracked and more diffuse condition of the ice.

Traumatized Sea Ice 80N 150W

Sea ice traumatized by Sudden Arctic Cyclone at 80N and 150W. Image source: NASA

In addition to the impacts described above, warmer air and constant sunlight over the Beaufort have likely provided a number of reservoirs of heat energy for the storm to tap to melt and thin the ice. Cyclonic pumping will be able to dredge warmer, saltier waters from the bottom layer even as surface churning will mix both ice and water warmed by these cyclonic forces. Brine channels within the ice are more likely to activate now that summer has had the opportunity to soften up the ice, pushing an increasing number of patches above the critical -5 C threshold.

CICE model runs do show a substantial thinning of Beaufort sea ice over the next few days even as the thick sea ice remaining near the Canadian Archipelago is both shoved into narrow island channels and ablated toward the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard. Note the shift of light blue to dark blue, and yellow and red to green in many regions indicating significant predicted thinning in response to storm conditions. The two meter ice line is seen to rapidly retreat into the Beaufort from near the Canada/Alaska coast and also from the Chukchi, East Siberian, and Laptev Seas. Meanwhile, the four meter ice line is slammed directly against the Canadian Archipelago as thicker ice is slammed against shores or jammed into the island channels:

Sudden Arctic Cyclone Effects CICE

CICE model run. Image source: US Navy.

In summary, we can expect these effects from this, rather strong, storm. Not likely to be as pronounced as GAC 2012 nor as ongoing as PAC 2013 (whose scars are still visible in the large region of melt in a wide triangle from the Laptev toward the North Pole). But this Sudden Arctic Cyclone will certainly leave its own mark on the 2013 melt season.

Large, Troubling Methane Pulse Coincides With Arctic Heatwave, Tundra Fires

Siberian Heatwave July 23

Temperature color graphic. Areas in red indicate temperatures in the range of 77-86 degrees (Fahrenheit) but may not fully capture daily maximum temperatures.

(Image source: Arctic Weather Maps)

During a murder investigation, sometimes you find traces of smoke from a gun fired in relation to the crime. In other cases, sometimes you find the gun itself. Even more rarely, do you find a smoking gun dropped at a still fresh crime scene. Such was the case with the Arctic today.

The crime scene: another anomalous Arctic heat wave. The suspect: human caused climate change. The accessory: Arctic amplification. The smoking gun: major methane emission in the Arctic.

****

Yesterday, I reported that a large Arctic heat wave had settled over Siberia, once again setting off tundra fires. The heat wave was so intense that it pushed temperatures in a range of 77 to 86 degrees all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean even as it caused numerous massive blazes to emerge both on open tundra and throughout Siberia’s boreal forests. Atmospheric conditions — a Jet Stream mangled by human caused climate change and a large heat dome had enabled the formation of this heat wave.

But now we find something even more ominous than evidence that human global warming is moving the Jet Stream about all while pushing polar amplification into such a high gear that the terms ‘Arctic Heat Wave’ and ‘Tundra Fire’ have now become common meteorological parlance. And that thing is a large and disturbing methane pulse.

Methanesiberia7-23-13_zps5be4f30e

(Image source: Methane Tracker)

On July 21-23, a large methane emission in which numerous sources caused atmospheric spikes to greater than 1950 parts per billion flared over a wide region of Arctic Russia and the Kara Sea. This event was so massive that an area of about 500 x 500 miles was nearly completely filled with these higher readings even as a much broader region, stretching about 2,000 miles in length and about 800 miles at its widest, experienced scores of large pulses. You can see a visual representation of these emissions in yellow on the image above, provided by Methane Tracker which compiles data provided by NASA’s Aqua Satellite.

As noted above, this major event coincided with a large Arctic heat wave and numerous tundra fires that raged throughout the region. Another unprecedented occurrence in a summer of strange weather and mangled climate.

Conditions in Context

Average global methane levels are currently around 1830 parts per billion (Mauna Loa surface data). This level, about 1130 parts per billion higher than the pre-industrial average of 700 parts per billion represents an additional global warming forcing equal to at least 28% of the added CO2 forcing provided by humans. It has long been a concern among scientists that the Arctic environment, as it is forced to warm by human-caused climate change, would emit an additional significant volume of methane from carbon stocks locked in tundra and in methane stores sequestered on the sea bed. Since methane has between 25 and 105 times the heating potential of CO2, the possible added additional warming is quite substantial.

In the 2000s, a number of Arctic researchers found disturbing evidence of methane emissions coming directly from the Arctic environment. In 2013, NASA began its CARVE mission to more clearly define the Arctic’s response to human-caused warming. Its preliminary research has found methane plumes as large as 150 miles across.

Overall, the Arctic environment is already clearly adding its own methane to the global mix. We can see this in local Arctic methane measurements that average around 1900 parts per billion and above in many Arctic locations. These readings are about 70 parts per billion above the global average. This week’s large methane pulse where a broad region experienced methane levels of 1950 to 1980 parts per billion is yet more evidence that the Arctic is beginning to provide a dangerous and troubling amplifying feedback to the already break-neck pace of human warming. In total, around 2,500 gigatons of methane are thought to be locked in carbon stores both in the Arctic tundra and in hydrates (frozen methane and water) on the Arctic Ocean floor.

Though a dangerous and troubling addition to a human-caused warming that is already changing the world’s weather in harmful and damaging ways, this particular methane pulse is not yet evidence of runaway global warming. In a runaway, Arctic methane emissions would likely exceed 500 megatons per year, which would be enough to raise global levels by about 150 parts per billion or more annually. Such a runaway would be a global nightmare requiring an unprecedented human response if Earth’s life support systems were to be preserved in any rough corollary to what we enjoy today. Though such an event is probably still low-risk (but perhaps as high as 10-20 percent), it cannot be entirely ruled out due to the speed and violence at which human greenhouse gas emissions are altering Earth systems.

So the prudent course would be for a rapid response as if such an event were imminent. The reason is that a runaway methane emission in the Arctic would cause severe and untold damage and harm.

To this point, Peter Wadhams is warning that about 50 gigatons of methane are at risk of rapidly destabilizing should the Arctic sea ice melt in the next two years. The region in which these methane stores are locked is the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a shallow sea that is very vulnerable to rapid warming and methane release. Wadhams notes:

The loss of sea ice leads to seabed warming, which leads to offshore permafrost melt , which leads to methane release, which leads to enhanced warming, which leads to even more rapid uncovering of seabed. If a large release has not occurred by 2016 the danger will be continuously increasing. It is thought that at 2-3C of global warming, which means 6-8C of Arctic warming, methane release from permafrost on land will be greatly increased.

Those who understand Arctic seabed geology and the oceanography of water column warming from ice retreat do not say that this is a low probability event. I think one should trust those who know about a subject rather than those who don’t. As far as I’m concerned, the experts in this area are the people who have been actively working on the seabed conditions in the East Siberian Sea in summer during the past few summers where the ice cover has disappeared and the water has warmed. The rapid disappearance of offshore permafrost through water heating is a unique phenomenon, so clearly no “expert” would have found a mechanism elsewhere to compare with this.

Perhaps, equally troubling, is that large regions of permafrost are now also thawing. In the Hudson Bay region, an area that saw unprecedented heat, dry conditions and wildfires this year, permafrost temperatures have risen by .45 degrees Celsius. Peter Kershaw, an adjunct professor of earth sciences at the University of Alberta, who was in Churchill recently on a research project noted:

“It’s a big concern and so far not well-quantified. That organic material is being made available for decomposition. It’s out of the freezer and sitting on the counter.”

Though most climate scientists do not currently believe that such a rapid release of methane is possible over such a short period, we do have to ask ourselves — what if Wadhams and others like him are right? In such a case we could see a catastrophic warming of up to 5 degrees C by 2050, far beyond anything mainstream models or paleoclimate would suggest. But the human rate of climate forcing that is now more than ten times anything seen during the geological record puts us in a context that is entirely out of previous reckoning. So these warnings by Wadhams should be listened to, heeded, and taken into account. (Hat Tip to commenter Colorado Bob for the head’s up on these articles).

More likely, however, is that a combination of methane release from the tundra and the ocean floor and a loss of albedo (reflectivity) due to ice sheet loss will result in an effective doubling or more of the initial human greenhouse gas forcing over the coming decades and centuries. Such a response is still very dangerous in that it risks locking in, long term, already damaging changes to the world’s environments. Should the Earth System fully respond to the 400 ppm CO2 and 1830 ppb methane we’ve already achieved through our emissions , we can expect at least a 3 degree Celsius global temperature increase and long-term sea level rise of between 25 and 75 feet. Such changes would severely damage both human infrastructure and the environments upon which human-based agriculture depend for its now vast food production. In addition, a 24% increase in the hydrological cycle and a number of destabilizing changes to the world’s weather systems would cause severe added damage.

A rapid Earth Systems feedback response risks these changes at current greenhouse gas levels. And since we are now seeing both methane release and ice sheet response, a level of these feedbacks are already in play, showing a far greater risk than initial forecasts indicated. Further greenhouse gas emissions risk even more damaging potentials, possibly locking in ever-greater consequences. For this reason, any global policy that does not seek to fully mitigate such new and over-riding risks by planning a complete phase out of carbon emissions is an unconscionable policy to open the door to immeasurable harm to human lives and the living systems of our world upon which we depend.

These first methane burps are a warning for us to act now, before our capacity to act is seriously degraded and before events start to spiral beyond the point of rational control. We have had other warnings which we have, so far, mostly ignored. And though the responses by the Obama Administration and World Bank to de-fund new coal plants are encouraging, we should redouble our efforts now, lest we enter an age of bitter regret as the consequences of our carbon emission form a trap that is difficult or impossible to escape.

Arctic Heat Wave Re-Intensifies Over Central Siberia Setting off Rash of Tundra Fires

Siberian Fires July 23

Large fires break out over Siberia during renewed Arctic heat wave.

(Image source: NASA)

 

UPDATE: LARGE METHANE PULSE OCCURS IN CONJUNCTION WITH ARCTIC HEATWAVE

 

Over the past week, temperatures have been building throughout Central Siberia. A broad swath of heat pushed thermometers into the upper 70s to upper 80s (with isolated spots showing 90+ degree readings, Fahrenheit) in a broad region stretching from Siberia’s forests all the way to the Arctic Coast. These heatwave conditions set off more than a score of large fires that raged through both Arctic forest and across broad areas of tundra. The largest of these fires covered areas up to 1000 square miles and numerous smoke plumes were visible from satellite, some of which stretched more than 800 miles in length. A larger pall of smoke from this region covered areas of North-Central Russia, the Arctic Coast and sections of Europe more than 2,000 miles away.

You can view these fires and related smoke plumes in the NASA Aqua Satellite image provided by Lance-Modis above.

The scorching Arctic heat wave and massive burning has been set off, once again, by a high amplitude northward bulge in the polar Jet Stream and related ‘heat dome’ high pressure system resting just beneath the bulge. As you can see in the below image, provided by the California Regional Weather Service, this particular heat bulge extends past the 80 degree North Latitude line, nearly reaching the North Pole. This extraordinary upward sweep in the Jet has completely compromised the polar vortex, allowing hot air to build far north and pass deep into the Arctic Ocean environs.

jetstream_northern July 23

(Image source: California Regional Weather Service)

Arctic coastal temperatures usually average less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit at this time of year, but the region beneath this Arctic heat dome has averaged about 15-20 degrees hotter over the past week. Further south, where the tundra fields and arboreal forests of Siberia lay, temperatures have been even warmer with highs stretching into the middle and upper 80s and even lower 90s in some isolated locations. The added heat and the occasional thunderstorm that will typically form under such highly unusual Arctic conditions enhances the chance of wildfires. Now, after a week of such conditions, more than a score of large fires rage.

Siberian Heatwave July 23

Tuesday daytime temperatures for Siberia. Red indicates temperatures ranging from 77-86 degrees Fahrenheit. Note the broad swath of these temperatures riding up from Russia all the way to the Arctic coastline. These measures represent daytime temperatures at the point recorded and do not necessarily record daily maximum temperatures for a given location.

(Image source: Arctic Weather Maps)

Unfortunately, forecasts call for hot conditions to persist over this region of the Arctic at least until Saturday. Then, the heat dome and related Jet Stream bulge is predicted to slowly shift toward Europe, bringing heat, dryness and related risk of wildfires along with it.

This particular heat wave is the most recent of many to plague the Arctic during 2013. Large Arctic regions from Siberia, to Europe, to Canada to Alaska experienced periods of extreme heat where temperatures rose 10, 15, 20 degrees or more (Fahrenheit) above average. The added heat and evaporation in one region appeared to aid in the formation of record floods in another with both Europe and Canada experiencing some of their worst floods on record.

Strange changes to the Jet Stream and the water cycle driving these extreme events are directly related to human-caused global warming. In the first instance, human-caused warming has set off a series of events that have caused a major erosion of Northern Hemisphere sea ice. Since 1979, more about 50% of sea ice extent and 80% of sea ice volume has been lost. Since the 1900s, more than 60% of sea ice extent has melted away. The sea ice, which tends to lock cold air in the Arctic, is thus dramatically weakened. The result is that more warm air tends to pool in the Arctic. As this happens, the temperature difference between the North Pole and temperate regions lessens. This loss of differential causes the Jet Stream to slow down. As the Jet Stream slows, it tends to move more like a lazy river, creating big loops, large high amplitude waves and numerous cut off flows. The net result is that weather systems move more slowly, causing weather patterns to persist over longer periods.

The high amplitude waves that have tended to form in the Jet Stream also result in warmer air being transported toward the North Polar region. In the case of the current Siberian heatwave and wildfires, this is exactly what is happening. What we have seen, this summer, is a ring of very hot conditions developing in the higher Latitude regions from about 60 degrees North to about 80 degrees North. This is the zone where much of the extreme Arctic heating has emerged.

This second factor, added atmospheric heat, causes greater evaporation to occur, especially in regions where the heat is most intense. On average, the global hydrological cycle, which is the net rate at which water evaporates and then comes back to the Earth in some form of precipitation, increases its intensity by 8% for each degree Celsius of warming. Currently, average global temperatures are about .8 degrees Celsius hotter than the 1880s average. So the rate at which water evaporates and the rate at which it falls from the skies as rain and snow has increased by more than 6%. In the hot regions under the Jet Stream bulges and related heat dome high pressure systems this means far more intense soil drying and risk of wildfires. In the wet regions of cut off lows and down-slopes in the polar Jet Stream this means more intense rainfall events.

In essence, this is how human caused global warming is helping to drive extreme weather events now. And the current Siberian heatwave and related wildfires is just one case in point.

Links:

NASA

California Regional Weather Service

Arctic Weather Maps

The Arctic Heat Wave, Heat Domes, and a Mangled Jet Stream

Low to Ride Mangled Jet Stream From the Ohio River Valley to California and Back

GOES Retrograde California

Retrograde low now centered just west of California trailing a long string of rain and thunderstorms across California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and on down into Mexico.

(Image source: NOAA)

On about July 11th, I began to report on a strange weather phenomena involving an upper level low moving backwards against the Jet Stream. At that time, there were a few reports among meteorologists that such an event was possible and could affect the weather in the central and western US, causing more rainfall and storms for a longer period of time. There was some discussion that the low might end up in Mexico before moving back east.

All this prediction was strange enough. Retrograde systems do happen now and then, but their motion is normally truncated, only progressing a few hundred miles west at most then returning to the typical pattern of west to east movement. But this retrograde acted differently, traveling almost directly against the Jet Stream flow for hundreds and then, ultimately, for about 3,000 miles. As of last week, the motion was so abnormal that climate scientists began to comment on its likelihood. In general, there’s about a 1 in 300 chance of such an event happening in July, making this retrograde system a 1 in 300 year event.

So the low did move backwards into Arizona, New Mexico and eventually California where it dumped rain day after day, alleviating drought conditions there while also setting off flash floods. Today, flooding in Phoenix was so intense that numerous motorists had to be rescued as their vehicles were inundated under flash floods no current infrastructure could handle. Up to two inches of rain fell within about a half an hour in numerous locations. Large storms also doused fires even as they set off localized flooding events in California. Some areas of New Mexico experienced their first rainfall in over 100 days.

The flood event in Phoenix today is described in the following video:

Over the next few days, the low is expected to slowly move northward, drifting into northern California then Oregon before being picked up by the Jet and lazily pushed eastward by its feeble flow. Over the next 7-10 days it will transition once more to the place it started — the Ohio river valley. Models are too uncertain, at this time, to determine if the low will again get sucked into the eddy that drew it all the way to the west coast. But with the Jet Stream so weak odd weather events such as this one are now becoming the norm.

Links:

Jet Stream so Weak Weather Systems are Moving Backwards

DC Superior Court Finds Indication of ‘Actual Malice’ in Climate Change Deniers’ Repeated Attacks on Michael Mann

Manns-hockey-stick

The story began with a Hockey Stick.

In 1998, Michael Mann and fellow researchers developed what was then a revolutionary study of proxy climate data to determine that warming seen during the 20th Century was unprecedented. Subsequently, Mann came under attack by a number of agencies invested in the denial of the existence of human caused global warming and related climate change.

Over the course of the next 15 years multiple agencies and individuals leveled increasingly vicious attacks against Mann for his pivotal contribution to the atmospheric sciences. In one instance, Mann’s emails were taken out of context in the fake scandal drummed up by deniers and misleaders known as Climate Gate. In other instances, Mann was repeatedly investigated for fraud after false accusations were, again and again,leveled against him by these same groups. Time after time, Mann was exonerated.

Meanwhile, study after study began to validate Michael Mann’s work. Now, numerous proxy studies within the body of climate science have shown similar temperature trends to those displayed in Mann’s findings. Mann’s study used tree rings, but more recent studies have found the same evidence in ice cores, sediment depositions and other measures — all with the same Hockey-Stick like temperature signature.

The evidence that temperatures were rocketing higher at an unprecedented rate would mean that certain agencies — primarily fossil fuel special interest groups — would bear the brunt of responsibility for any damages caused by rapid warming. And rather than live up to this responsibility by using current assets to rapidly transition to other, less polluting, energy sources and to work to mitigate the damage, they instead decided to attack the messenger — Michael Mann.

One such agency, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, involved itself in numerous coordinated attempts to character assassinate Mann. But Mann, armed with knowledge from previous attempts to defame his character and with funding via a crowd sourced program called The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, could now begin to fight back. Mann began a number of defamation lawsuits in an attempt to find legal restitution for the harm done to his professional reputation during these egregious attempts to assassinate his character and defame his person.

This week, a major damn broke when a DC Superior Court affirmed Mann’s right to proceed in his defamation suit against both National Review and CEI  (Hat Tip to Joe Romm for the report). The court found:

There is sufficient evidence presented that is indicative of “actual malice. The CEI Defendants have consistently accused Plaintiff of fraud and inaccurate theories, despite Plaintiff’s work having been investigated several times and found to be proper. The CEI Defendants’ persistence despite the EPA and other investigative bodies’ conclusion that Plaintiff’s work is accurate (or that there is no evidence of data manipulation) is equal to a blatant disregard for the falsity of their statements. Thus, given the evidence presented the Court finds that Plaintiff could prove “actual malice.”

The court provided two decisions in Mann’s cases against CEI and National Review. Both agencies had falsely and repeatedly accused Mann of data manipulation and fraud, even after Mann had been repeatedly investigated and proven innocent of such claims. The legal defense of these agencies was based on first Amendement freedoms that protect speech that is merely opinion, rhetorical hyperbole, and fair comment. But, in citing malice, the court found evidence that CEI’s and National Review’s actions went far beyond what is normal rhetorical controversy, directly and consistently targeting Mann’s livelihood, person and character. Key to this finding is that CEI and National Journal engaged in these personal attacks against Mann while undertaking a “reckless disregard for the truth:”

Plaintiff has been investigated several times and his work has been found to be accurate. In fact, some of these investigations have been due to the accusations made by the CEI Defendants. It follows that if anyone should be aware of the accuracy (or findings that the work of Plaintiff is sound), it would be the CEI Defendants. Thus, it is fair to say that the CEI Defendants continue to criticize Plaintiff due to a reckless disregard for truth. Criticism of Plaintiff’s work may be fair and he and his work may be put to the test. Where, however the CEI Defendants consistently claim that Plaintiff’s work is inaccurate (despite being proven as accurate) then there is a strong probability that the CEI Defendants disregarded the falsity of their statements and did so with reckless disregard.”

The court concluded that it was CEI and National Review who, instead, repeatedly engaged in fraud:

“Having been investigated by almost one dozen bodies due to accusations of fraud, and none of those investigations having found Plaintiff’s work to be fraudulent, it must be concluded that the accusations are provably false. Reference to Plaintiff, as a fraud is a misstatement of fact.”

The record demonstrates that the CEI Defendants have criticized Plaintiff harshly for years; some might say, the name calling, accusations and jeering have amounted to a witchhunt, particularly because the CEI Defendants appear to take any opportunity to question Plaintiff’s integrity and the accuracy of his work despite the numerous findings that Plaintiff’s work is sound. At this stage, the evidence before the Court does not amount to a showing of clear and convincing as to “actual malice,” however there is sufficient evidence to find that further discovery may uncover evidence of “actual malice.”

It is worth noting that it is very difficult to prove a defamation case in US court due to the protection of political speech. The finding that Mann has valid legal claims that CEI and National Review’s attacks were indicative of actual malice may not only halt the ongoing fusillade of personal attacks against Mann, but also those against other climate scientists by other agencies such as Fox News, Watts up With That, and a broad spectrum of climate change denial media whose typical tactic has been both to attack the messenger and then to make false, misleading claims about the science. It is possible that Mann’s case may unravel a vast web of misstatement of truth that has been perpetrated, not just on Mann, but on the rest of us as well.

As climate scientist Jennifer Francis noted last week during her Congressional testimony — the climate science misleaders are a big part of the problem inherent to human caused global warming and climate change. They have prevented us from understanding the threat and, thus far, have considerably slowed our efforts in response. The fact that this damaging effort is based in an active campaign to misrepresent the science and to conduct a witch hunt against scientists is yet one more sign to how caustic and harmful a social force it has become. If there is to be any responsible and effective action on climate change, then witch hunting of scientists and a continuous effort to publicly undermine the science by climate change deniers must be swept aside.

This is as much a civil rights issue as a scientific one. For we are all endowed with a right to a living, breathing planet, and the creatures of this Earth are also endowed with the right not be rendered extinct by our callous actions.

So let us all hope for Mann’s success in dealing a blow against the insidious agency that is climate change denial. For ourselves, our children, and for the innocent creatures of this world as well.

Why Global Warming Should Keep You Awake at Night: Dr. Jennifer Francis Gives Chilling Testimony to Congress

 

In a July 18 testimony to Congress, Dr. Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric scientist from Rutgers and key innovator to understanding how climate change has brought about dangerous alterations to the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream, provides five compelling reasons why we should all be quite concerned about human caused global warming.

They include:

1. CO2 levels are higher than they’ve been in probably 2.5 million years.

2. The northern polar sea ice has lost more than 3/4 (80% ) of its volume since 1979.

3. The pace of sea level rise is accelerating.

4. The Arctic has warmed 2-3 times faster than the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.

5. Climate misleaders deliberately ignore and misconstrue the science.

The video is well worth the five minutes it takes to watch. A more in depth PDF was also provided for those looking to dig deeper.

Hat tip to Peter Sinclair for the heads up.

First Named Arctic Cyclone to Deliver Powerful Blow to Sea Ice?

The weather models are all in agreement, an Arctic Cyclone is predicted to form over the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas tonight and tomorrow, then strengthen to around 980 millibars as it churns through a section of thin and broken sea ice. The storm is predicted to last at least until Saturday and is expected to deliver gale force winds over a broad swath of thinning sea ice throughout much of its duration.

Arctic.wind.60.cc23

Gale force winds predicted for Beaufort, Chukchi and East Siberia Seas.

(Image source: Arctic Weather Maps)

The fact that this particular storm is forming in late summer is some cause for concern. The sea ice has been subjected to above freezing temperatures for some time. Melt ponds have increasingly formed over much of the Arctic and, since late June, most of the precipitation falling on the Arctic has been in the form of rain. The central ice pack is in complete chaos, with extensive thinning and fracturing surrounding a wide arc near the North Pole and a broad melt triangle full of broken ice and patches of open water extending far into the Laptev Sea. Further, the long duration of sunlight falling on the ice surface and penetrating into the ocean layer just beneath has likely warmed waters below the cold, fresh layer near the ice.

As the storm passes, its strong winds and cyclonic circulation have the potential to dredge up this warmer water and bring it in contact with the ice bottom. Such action can rapidly enhance melt, as we saw during the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012. Since the brine channels are all mostly activated (with much ice in the region now above -5 degrees Celsius) Cyclonic pumping during storm events like this one can transport sea water directly through the ice to increase the size of melt ponds, to break, or to even disintegrate ice flows.

It is important to add the caveat that this particular storm in not predicted to be quite as long or as strong as the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012 which, in its first week, coincided with a loss of 800,000 square kilometers of ice. But Arctic weather is nothing if not unpredictable and this particular event could just as easily fizzle as turn into an unprecedented monster.

That said, a number of concerning conditions have emerged just prior to this storm that may result in an enhanced effect on the ice. The first condition is that large sections of the Beaufort, East Siberian and Chukchi Seas are covered in thin, diffuse and mobile sea ice. These conditions are clearly visible in the surface shots provided by NASA/Lance-Modis:

Ice and Open Water North of Wrangel Island

In this section, as in other broad stretches of the Beaufort, the ice is reduced to a kind of slurry in which, as Neven over at the Arctic Ice Blog notes, the individual flows are completely degraded and difficult to make out. This slushy region is in direct contact with a region of mostly open water. Such areas of de-differentiated ice are likely to show greater mobility and enhanced wave action during storms, which puts them at risk of more rapid melt.

Another somewhat ominous note in advance of this storm is a rise in Arctic Ocean temperature anomalies over the past couple of days. NOAA’s surface temperature measure indicates a spreading pool of warmer than normal surface ocean conditions throughout the Arctic. In the region this storm is predicted to most greatly affect, the storm will have the potential to bring such warmer than normal surface waters into more consistent contact with the ice through the mechanical action of waves and by activating the brine channels in the ice. Further, a large pool of much warmer than normal surface water in the Chukchi Sea is likely to be driven deeper into the ice pack where it also may enhance melt.

sst.daily.anomCyclone

(Image source: NOAA)

In general, there’s quite a bit of atmospheric and ocean heat energy for this storm to tap and fling about. Not only is the surface ocean warmer than 1971-2000 base temperatures, but most continental land masses surrounding the Arctic are showing highs between the mid 60s to upper 80s and lows between the 40s and upper 60s.

ECMWF model forecasts show the storm tapping some of this energy in advance of intensification, with a tongue of warm Alaskan and Canadian air being drawn into the storm at the 5,000 foot level late Monday and early Tuesday. Directly opposite, Siberia and Eastern Europe have hosted very warm air masses with daytime surface temperatures above the Arctic Circle reaching the upper 80s consistently over the past week. This warmth also encroaches just prior to storm intensification.

ECMWF warm air advance

(Image source: ECMWF)

Added heat energy injected at the surface and at the upper levels will ensure that the vast majority of precipitation during this event emerges as rainfall.

Broader effects of this storm could be quite significant. The US Navy’s CICE models are showing a greatly enhanced ice motion throughout the duration of this storm as its counter-clockwise circulation is predicted to dramatically increase the movement of the Arctic’s remaining thick ice toward the Fram Strait. The Navy’s thickness monitor also shows a jump in ice thinning and dispersal throughout the ice pack over the duration of this event. In particular, the back end of remaining thick ice north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago is mashed like a tube of tooth paste in the model run, pushing a broad head of ice toward the Fram. At the same time, a large section of Central ice, earlier thinned by PAC 2013, is projected to rapidly expand and further thin under the influence of this storm.

Note the rapidly expanding melt wave from the North Pole to the Laptev that appears in the final frames of the run below:

 

Arctic Cyclone Daly

(Image source: US Navy)

So it appears we have a short duration but relatively high intensity Warm Storm event predicted to have broad-ranging effects from the Beaufort to the Central Arctic. An event that could have impacts similar to those of the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012. Should such circumstances arise, it begs the question — is the Beaufort a region that is more likely to spawn these kinds of storms come late July through early to mid August? The region is now surrounded by increasingly warm continents. The observed weakening of the polar Jet Stream by 14% has resulted in a much greater transport of heat to the high continental boundary, as evidenced by a broad swath of heat-waves ringing the Arctic above the 60 degree North Latitude line. The increasingly thin Beaufort ice jutting out into this crescent of continental heat may well be the ignition point for major atmospheric instability, powerful storms and related heat transfer. Something to consider should these kinds of late season ice melters recur on a more frequent basis.

To this point, a new naming convention has been proposed over at the Arctic Sea Ice blog for summer storms that greatly impact the ice. Preliminary standards have been set for storms with a central pressure lower than 985 mb (at peak intensity) and a duration longer than 4 days. Suggestions for storm titles include traditional Inupiat names from this region or even the use of the names of prominent climate change deniers (My opinion is that both calling attention to major Arctic melt events and how climate change deniers have attempted to cover such events up would be an excellent use of such a convention, but I may be out-voted).

You can take part in the naming convention discussion on the Arctic Ice Blog by following this link here.

In conclusion, the potential arises for the first named Arctic Cyclone to result in dramatic melt and weakening of sea ice throughout the upcoming week. This potential heightens the risk for 2013 to be another record melt year and so we will continue monitoring the storm’s development closely for you.

 

 

 

How Ice Cam #2 Learned to Swim as the North Pole Melted

Swimming Arctic Ice Cam #2

This was what our hero, APL’s North Pole Ice Camera #2, looked like about two weeks ago. The only open water was a far-off leed barely visible in the upper left hand corner of the image.

Then, about a week ago, melt began to set in on the ice sheet surface near the North Pole. Things started to look bad for North Pole Camera #2 as small puddles of very cold water began to appear.

Melt Puddles North Pole Camera 2

Was there much hope our Camera #2 might stay dry? It was, after all, just July 13th. And there was still more than a month and half of melt season left. What was a North Pole Camera to do?

And as the water continued to advance, the answer became clear: start learning to swim.

North Pole Camera 2 in Melt Pool

In this image, taken on July 18th, we see North Pole Camera #2 just starting to get its feet wet.

North Pole water is quite cold! But not so cold as Arctic ice or wind or snow. These the North Pole Camera was very used to. In fact, it was built to handle such harsh weather. So North Pole Camera #2 had some reason to hope for staying warm if it got wet. But could it stay afloat?

Camera 2 now in icy water.

Camera 2 now in icy water.

Then, just one day later, Camera #2 found itself standing alone in the icy water. It was now in the midst of a large melt lake with very little snow cover left. Our Camera #2 now knew what was coming. And it was ready.

North Pole Camera 2 immersed in Melt Lake

A good thing, because North Pole Camera #2 soon found itself with more than 1 foot of melt lake water splashing around its base.

It was a miserable, windy cloudy day and our camera sat alone, tethered to a stake, in a giant, expanding melt lake. It couldn’t help but wonder if soon it would have to face the open ocean. Clouds mounded all around it, and weather reports called for a massive storm. Our North Pole Camera #2 knew that in recent years such Cyclones increasingly broke, cracked and flooded the thinning ice it was sent to observe.

So North Pole Camera #2 waited in its melt lake for the storm that was, even now, forming. Would the North Pole melt entirely and send our camera out into the raging Arctic seas? We wait and watch:

Ice Cam Rainbow

Links:

Take a look at this animation of our swimming North Pole Camera provided by A-Team over at the Arctic Ice Blog

APL

NASA’s Brown Ocean Hurricane: Global Warming Amps Up Hydrological Cycle to Produce Cyclones that Strengthen over Land

New Cyclone Dynamics

(Image source: NASA)

A new report produced by NASA raises the possibility that global warming may be enhancing the potential for what it’s calling Brown Ocean Cyclones. In such events, record rainfall and heat over land produce hot, moist conditions that may give rise to Cyclones that increase in strength even after they make landfall.

A typical hurricane or tropical weather system usually rapidly loses strength once it comes into contact with land. The storms are fueled by a kind of heat and moisture engine. Warm, moist air over oceans hotter than 75 degrees provide big kicks to these storms as they roar across large stretches of ocean. Drier land masses provide less heat and moisture content to feed storms so they usually fade after crossing the coast.

But, over the past three decades, researchers noticed a strange phenomenon — storms that strengthened over land. In one example a 2007 tropical storm named Erin crossed over Texas and Oklahoma. As she turned north into a region that had recently encountered record flooding and rainfall, Erin strengthened, maintaining tropical storm intensity for far longer than meteorologists had predicted.

Erin 2007

Tropical Storm Erin in 2007 was a warm-core TCMI, which can deliver much more rainfall than their extratropical counterparts. The newly described storm type derives energy over land from the evaporation of abundant soil moisture.
Image Credit:
NASA Goddard/Hal Pierce, SSAI

 

(Image source: NASA)

 

Researchers later found that Erin had derived its energy from a high rate of soil evaporation in the regions it traversed after it made land-fall.

According to the NASA press release:

Andersen and Shepherd [the report’s authors] show that a brown ocean environment consists of three observable conditions. First, the lower level of the atmosphere mimics a tropical atmosphere with minimal variation in temperature. Second, soils in the vicinity of the storms need to contain ample moisture. Finally, evaporation of the soil moisture releases latent heat, which the team found must measure at least 70 watts averaged per square meter. For comparison, the latent heat flux from the ocean averages about 200 watts per square meter.

The new research found that of 45 storms that maintained or increased strength after they made landfall, 16 did so under the conditions described above. These conditions resulted in a new category for inland storms — tropical cyclone maintenance and intensification events or TCMIs.

Added Cyclone Intensity, Duration and Frequency from Human Caused Warming

Though NASA scientists do not mention the potential for global warming to create and enhance the occurrence of such storms, it is important to examine if the forces set in place by human caused warming and climate change will result in greater instances of such storms. To this point, global warming increases the evaporation and rainfall driven hydrological cycle by 8% for each degree Celsius of atmospheric warming (Lawrence Livermore). And as this new type of inland cyclone is driven by the intensity of evaporation and heat forcing (70 watts per meter squared or more) over land, then meta analysis would seem to indicate a greater risk for such events as Earth heats up and churns more moisture into the atmosphere.

Doing some, rather basic, math we find that a 4 degree Celsius warming creates a 32% intensification in the hydrological cycle, resulting in a greatly increased likelihood that tropical systems moving over land will encounter conditions consistent with TCMIs. This new risk adds to the likely increased frequency of storm hybridization events, like Sandy, where meandering flows in the Jet Stream (caused by Northern Hemisphere sea ice loss) encounter tropical systems to create monstrous Frankenstorms.

So we have not one, but two indirect methods where global warming may intensify or extend the duration of tropical cyclones.

Perhaps more ominous, global warming also provides a direct means through which storms are both induced to form over longer periods during the year and are given added fuel for intensification. This amplification of the ocean heat engine that drives powerful storms comes from the increasing temperature of the ocean surface through human-caused warming. In such cases, both the added atmospheric and ocean warmth and the increased hydrological cycle come directly into play resulting both in the potential for stronger storms and for an increased period of time in which tropical cyclones can form throughout the year.

The end result may be hurricane seasons that last from April or May to November or December in which storms with access to added fuel to feed their intensity may increasingly link up with Arctic weather systems to blow up into massive storms or persist or even strengthen for long periods over land.

These are important risks to consider as the Earth warms and the heat and moisture engine that drives these powerful storms continues to intensify.

Links:

 

Mangled Jet Stream Swings to Hot Over UK: New Weather Emergency Brings Killer Heatwave, Wildfires

This winter the UK weather news was snow, storms and cold. This spring the news was cold, rain and flooding. Now, the news is deadly record heatwave.

Over the past week, the UK has baked under record high temperatures ranging from the high 80’s and into the low 90’s (Fahrenheit). These record temperatures, the highest since 2006 (which was the hottest in 350 years), are implicated in the deaths of nearly 800 persons, have buckled roads and tennis courts alike, set off dozens of wildfires that have taken hundreds of firefighters to contain, and threatened thousands of square miles of UK croplands.

The heat is expected to continue for portions of England, Scotland and Ireland this week with some forecasters calling for the potential of 100 degree (F) temperatures across the region. Forecasts also show the potential for severe thunderstorms with an increased threat of lightning and localized flash floods emerging.

Though other regions of the world often experience temperatures hotter than those seen over the UK throughout the past week, the UK has very few buildings equipped with air conditioning, as daytime temperatures only rarely rise into the 80s. So the young, the elderly and this sick are more vulnerable when high temperatures do arrive as they are both not acclimated to heat and lack access to indoor cooling systems that, in cases like these, can be life-savers.

Mangled Jet Stream Delivers Extremes Yet Again

Mangled Jet Stream UK Heat Wave

(Image source: California Regional Weather Service)

A deep Rossy-Wave type dip in the Jet Stream that had extended from Greenland, across the North Atlantic and into the UK and Western Europe this winter and spring, bringing cold weather, record snow and rainfall, and extraordinarily stormy conditions, slowly collapsed over late June and early July. Then, last week, a large bulge and related heat dome high pressure system began to form. As the bulge extended far north toward Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard, temperatures over the UK built until a record heatwave began to scorch the region.

So, in this area, the cold and wet winter extremes that caused the UK Met Office to call an emergency meeting on climate change has been replaced by deadly heat, dryness and wildfires.

The underlying causes of these extremes is likely a great weakening of the Jet Stream’s flow over the Northern Hemisphere. According to researchers, the Jet Stream has slowed down by at least 14% since the 1990s. This slowing down has caused the Jet Stream to act like a lazily flowing river creating great north-to -outh and south-to-north loops and meanders. These large meanders bring cold, wet and stormy conditions when they flow from north to south, as happened over Europe for much of this winter and spring. The south-to-north flows, conversely, bring hot, dry conditions that increase the risk of droughts, wildfires and heatwaves.

Driving these new extremes, according to the research of climatologists like Dr. Jennifer Francis at Rutgers, is a massive, global warming driven erosion of snow cover and sea ice in the Arctic. Since 1979 sea ice volume has dropped 80% while sea ice extent has fallen 50%. Over past years, summer snow cover has also hit new record lows. The loss of ice creates Arctic weather conditions that are many degrees warmer than average. This response, is a result of the elimination of cold, reflective snow and ice cover that turns back the sun’s heating rays. Areas devoid of ice and snow cover instead absorb more of the sun’s light and heat. The result is that the difference in temperature between high lattitudes and lower lattitudes is much lower.

Since large differences between hot and cold temperatures are the primary driver for Earth’s Jet Stream, the speed of air flow is now slowing down as the north pole warms faster than the temperate and tropical regions. And these changes help to drive increasing instances of extreme weather. In the UK, it resulted in an extreme winter and spring (cold rain and snow) followed by an extreme July (heatwaves, hot temperatures, dryness, fires).

Dr. Jennifer Francis provides an excellent explanation of these conditions in the following video:

Sadly, the UK is not the only location to have experienced deadly and extreme weather this year. Weather Underground provides a long and growing list of damaging weather events for 2013. And this list includes many events such as floods, extreme winter conditions, and heat waves that can all be tied to new extreme patterns of the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream.

Here is the long and growing list provided by Weather Underground:

1) Flooding, Central Europe, 5/30 – 6/6, $22 billion
2) Drought, Brazil, 1/1 – 5/31, $8.3 billion
3) Tornado, Moore, OK, and associated U.S. severe weather, 5/18 – 5/22, $4.5 billion
4) Drought, Central and Eastern China, 1/1 – 4/30, $4.2 billion
5) Flooding, Calgary, Alberta Canada, 6/19 – 6/24, $3.8 billion
6) Flooding, Indonesia, 1/20 – 1/27, $3.31 billion
7) Flooding, Australia, 1/21 – 1/30, $2.5 billion
8) Tornadoes and severe weather, U.S., 5/26 – 6/2, $2 billion
9) Severe weather, Midwest U.S., 3/18 – 3/20, $2 billion
10) Winter weather, Europe, 3/12 – 3/31, $1.8 billion
11) Drought, New Zealand, 1/1 – 5/10, $1.6 billion
12) Flooding, Sichuan Province, China, 7/7 – 7/11, $1.6 billion
13) Flooding, China, 6/29 – 7/3, $1.4 billion
14) Flooding, Argentina, 4/2 – 4/4, $1.3 billion
15) Flooding, India and Nepal, 6/14 – 6/18, $1.1 billion
16) Winter weather, Plains, Midwest, Northeast U.S., 2/24 – 2/27, $1.0 billion

And now we can tentatively add:

17) Heatwave, drought UK 7/13-?, $xxxx?

The UK swing from extreme cold, snow, rain and flooding to extreme heat and dryness over the course of about 7 months is a perfect example of the new types of weather extremes human caused climate change is driving. We are just at the beginning of these changes so, unfortunately, conditions should continue to worsen, especially if we fail to provide proper mitigation rapidly cutting human greenhouse gas emissions.

Links:

Heatwave Continues as Storms Threaten

Met Office Issues Flood Warning as Heat Wave Death Toll Continues to Rise

100 Degree F Temperatures Possible Next Week For UK

Heatwave Causing Deaths in UK

California Regional Weather Service

The Economist Continues its Wallow Through Climate Sensitivity Denial

Good News...

Delaying action on climate change is suicidal. Yet the Economist wants you to believe it’s not such a big deal.

(Image source: League of Conservation Voters)

In desperately scanning through the IPCC’s preliminary 4th assessment report for any shred of good news, perhaps in hopes of delaying a transition away from fossil fuels that needs to begin now and complete by 2030-40 if we’re to have much hope of ensuring a climate in which human civilization won’t face catastrophe, The Economist found a bright little cherry. It reproduced a preliminary graph from a non-physical sciences group showing lower than scientific consensus estimates for temperature increase through 2100 and conflated it with an entirely Economist-manufactured news item erroneously stating scientists are finding climate sensitivity is lower than previously expected (Hint: it’s not).

I’m not going to re-publish the graph, as it’s entirely misleading, but I will re-publish what The Economist says about it:

Still, over the past year, several other papers have suggested that views on climate sensitivity are changing. Both the 2007 IPCC report and a previous draft of the new assessment reflected earlier views on the matter by saying that the standard measure of climate sensitivity (the likely rise in equilibrium temperature in response to a doubling of CO2 concentration) was between 2°C and 4.5°C, with 3°C the most probable figure. In the new draft, the lower end of the range has been reduced to 1.5°C and the “most likely” figure has been scrapped. That seems to reflect a growing sense that climate sensitivity may have been overestimated in the past and that the science is too uncertain to justify a single estimate of future rises.

Note the Economist’s highly speculative use of the words ‘suggest’ and ‘seemed.’ And ‘scientists,’ in this case, apparently include only those on the low end of climate sensitivity estimates, rather than the more likely to be accurate consensus range. Research on the middle or high end, likewise, is completely ignored.

Quibbling Over Equilibrium Sensitivity

The Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) The Economist refers to is how much Earth temperatures are expected to rise when one includes fast feedbacks such as atmospheric water vapor increase and the initial greenhouse gas forcing provided by CO2. Consensus science, despite The Economist misinforming us to the contrary, finds Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity to be about 3 degrees Celsius for each doubling of CO2. So we get around 3 degrees Celsius of rapid warming at 550 parts per million, according to mainstream science. The Economist’s misleading quibble is trying to suggest that this level is closer to 2 degrees Celsius or the ludicrously unsupportable 1.5 degrees Celsius. Measures that, even if it were true (it’s not), would buy us, at most, another decade or two of business as usual emissions.

As unfortunate as the Economist’s cherry picking has become, it doesn’t even melt the tip of the iceberg or permafrost, for that matter. Because if you include the ‘slow feedbacks’ that ECS leaves out you end up with double the amount of warming long-term. So 550 parts per million gets us to a scorching 6 degrees Celsius Earth Systems Sensitivity (ESS) once melting ice sheets, methane release, and permafrost thaw are included (consensus estimates, not what The Economist cherry picked). The Economist also seems to ignore the blatant fact that such feedbacks are emerging now. Amplifying methane release in the Arctic has been visible since the mid 2000s and Greenland and West Antarctic melt rates have been increasing at an exponential rate since about 1995.

Confirming these observations is a new paper showing Greenland ice sheet response is happening faster than scientists expected. With the Greenland ice sheet melting like butter now and not 100 years from now as IPCC originally expected, the Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity measure and its inherent assumption that ice sheet and tundra response will be slow, seems to be shaping up as too conservative. Yet, The Economist remains enchanted with the notion of warping these already conservative estimates to pad its own, more comfortable, view of reality.

How’s the sand you’ve got your head buried in, Economist? Soft and white? Watch out, heads buried in the sand tend to bake these days.

What should be the news all responsible mags are reporting is that the ‘slow feedbacks’ aren’t really so slow after all. Under the very rapid pace of human forcing of at least 10 times anything we can find in the geological record Greenland melt, Antarctic melt, tundra melt and methane release are coming into play now. All taken together, they will more than double the human forcing. Terrifying news that should have all responsible persons and governments pushing for a rapid response, not grasping for the lowest hanging cherries in the science reports.

So the real measure we should be concerned about now is the one that includes all or most of the feedbacks — the Earth Systems Sensitivity (ESS) we noted above. The real total estimate of warming that is at least twice the academic ECS estimate The Economist so desperately tried to water down.

Yet the magazine behaves well contrary to prudent logic as it merrily runs with its false claim that climate scientists are saying ‘we’re sorry we scared you, climate sensitivity is less than we previously expected.’ Sad to say, The Economist is entirely involved in the now too common journalistic sin of climate science misinformation via massaged data.

Joe Romm notes:

The good news is that The Economist article might be less dreadful than it could have been. For instance, I didn’t find any typos…

The Economist seems blissfully unaware that while the Thawing Permafrost Could Cause 2.5 Times the Warming of Deforestation (!) and add up to 1.5°F to warming in 2100 by itself, “Participating modeling teams have completed their climate projections in support of the [IPCC’s] Fifth Assessment Report, but these projections do not include the permafrost carbon feedback.

The Economist also seems blissfully unaware of the fact that we are currently close to the 1000 ppm emissions pathway. And The Economist also seems blissfully unaware that stabilizing anywhere near 450 ppm atmospheric concentration of CO2 would require immediate and sustained action to replace the world’s fossil fuel system with one based on carbon-free energy — precisely the kind of aggressive action this piece seems designed to undercut.

For my part, I’d prefer more typos and less misleading information on the science.

Perhaps The Economist should take a look at the best of the best among climate scientists — notably James Hansen who warns that Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity is at least 3 degrees Celsius and that this estimate is probably conservative. Hansen finds that under business as usual greenhouse gas emissions we reach a scorching 7 degrees Celsius warming and very catastrophic 1,000 parts per million CO2 by the end of this century (if we somehow manage to hold industrial civilization together after we blow through 2, 4 and 6 degrees Celsius worth of warming, which is highly unlikely). The final warming in such a case, Hansen shows, would be between 10 and 14 degrees Celsius — enough to trap the climate in a PETM-type warming in less than one century, and blast humans with large areas of lethal 35 degree Celsius or greater wet bulb temperatures. A mass extinction event for us humans and all other life too.

Michael Mann, another top climate scientist The Economist ignores by sticking its fingers in its ears and chanting ‘nanananana’ notes:

Among other things, the author [of the Economist’s report] hopelessly confuses transient warming (the warming observed at any particularly time) with committed warming (the total warming that you’ve committed to, which includes warming in the pipeline due to historical carbon emissions). even in the best case scenario, business as usual fossil fuel burning will almost certainly commit us to more than 2C (3.6 F) warming, an amount of warming that scientists who study climate change impacts tell us will lead to truly dangerous and potentially irreversible climate change. the article does a disservice to Economist readers by obscuring this critical fact. Sadly, it is hardly the first time in recent history that the Economist has published flawed and misleading stories about climate change.

Mann shows that The Economist clearly misses some very basic principles of climate science by confusing projected warming at a particular point in time with final warming. And that’s a big problem. Because temperatures will continue to move higher for decades, even if we were to halt emissions immediately, which is clearly not in the Economist’s plans. The Economist’s plans, instead, seem to include locking in more dangerous exploitation of fossil fuels.

Since the Economist clearly can’t handle ECS, it should stick with Paleoclimate, which is much less murky. And by looking back into Earth’s geological history we find temperature increases at these ranges for these levels of carbon dioxide:

350-400 parts per million: 3 degrees (C) worth of temperature increase long-term (Greenland and West Antarctica melt).

400-450 parts per million: 4 degrees (C) worth of temperature increase long-term.

450-500 parts per million: 5 degrees (C) worth of temperature increase long-term.

500-600 parts per million: 6 degrees (C) worth of temperature increase long-term (No major glacial ice left).

600-700 parts per million: 7 degrees (C)…

700-800 parts per million: 8 degrees (C)…

800-1200 parts per million: 9-12 degrees (C)…

Add to these observed past warming levels the fact that the rate of forcing was much slower than the human rate of forcing. So if more forcing means more feedback, even the harsh Paleoclimate evidence is too conservative a measure. Hansen and others warn of ‘unexpected consequences’ from the rapid pace of human forcing. And it would ‘seem’ that one of these nasty surprises is an already observed faster than usual rate of ice sheet and methane response.

Climatologist Kevin Trenberth is another scientist The Economist seems to be happy to ignore. But, perhaps, they should listen and learn something. In a letter to Joe Romm, Kevin stated:

The Working Group III IPCC report [on mitigation which the Economist used in its most recent attempt to misinform on climate sensitivity] is no where near final, the final draft has not even been produced yet. Moreover WG III is not responsible for making any statements about climate sensitivity and have no business doing so. The IPCC parallel process hinders exchanges among WGs and the WG I results [on the physical science basis]may not be available to WG III, but will be in due course as there is some staggering of the reports. In the meantime, the Economist report is irresponsible.

So The Economist is, in essence, bending over backwards to manufacture its own data. And after past media mistreatment of the last IPCC report, should we be surprised?

To this point, I would add that the responsible action would be to err on the side of caution, not on the side of laissez faire. In markets, laissez faire often leads to monetary collapses the consequences of which are often recessions. In the case of climate change, laissez faire leads to your civilization, species and large swaths of the natural world in complete wreckage.

We know what the long-term consequences of a certain level of CO2 are. And we know that slow feedbacks might not be so slow under the fast forcing regime we’ve subjected the Earth’s climate to. We also know that we have very little wiggle room for human comfort and prospertity — at best 2 degrees Celsius of warming. So why would we want to, as The Economist does, downplay the problem and risk a dangerous delay of action?

With dangerous and difficult consequences emerging now, we would be insane to follow The Economist’s implicit and falsely comforting advice. Trenberth is right. The report is dreadfully irresponsible as it weakens the case for a necessary and urgently needed response to the harm that is surely coming.

PAC 2013 Redux? Warm Storm Returns to Haunt Central Arctic

It's back. New Persistent Arctic Cyclone forms over Laptev Sea.

It’s back. New Persistent Arctic Cyclone forms over Laptev Sea.

(Image source: DMI)

Earlier this week, a moderate-strength Arctic Cyclone formed near Svalbard. Since that time it has persisted even as it drifted into the Laptev sea as a 1000 mb low today. Now, according to forecasts, the storm threatens to remain in the region for at least the next ten days, deepening to as strong as 980 mb and chewing into a region of sea ice that has been consistently weakened by storms since late May.

If you’ve followed this blog and feel you’ve heard this story before, it’s because you have. PAC#1 formed in late May and churned through the central sea ice all throughout June, creating anomalous thinning of a region near the North Pole and on toward the Laptev sea. By early July, the storm had finally petered out, but not after leaving behind a wreckage of thinned and broken sea ice.

Now, it appears a second storm (PAC 2013 #2) is set to churn through the same regions so drastically impacted by PAC 2013 #1, this time lasting for at least two weeks.

So here we go again:

PAC 2013 #2 Over Beaufort Sea

PAC 2013 #2 Over Beaufort Sea as 980 mb low on July 24th.

(Image source: ECMWF)

The above image shows a strong 980 mb PAC 2013 #2 over the Beaufort Sea on July 24th. Current model runs show the storm moving back and forth over the Central Arctic, Beaufort and East Siberian Seas until at least July 29th.

Warm Storm Takes Hold

As sea ice is much thinner and as atmospheric and ocean temperatures are much warmer, it is likely that a new Persistent Arctic Cyclone will have even more obvious and far-reaching effects than the one we witnessed in June. Average surface atmospheric temperatures throughout the Arctic are above the temperature at which ocean water freezes and almost all regions show temperatures above 0 degrees Celsius. So precipitation in these storm events is more and more likely to fall as rain.

You can view how much the Arctic has warmed in the composite weather map below:

Arctic Temperatures July 19

(Image source: Uni Koeln)

Note the large pulse of 78-86 degree (Fahrenheit) weather (24-30 degree Celsius) pushing all the way to the Kara Sea near Archangel and points eastward. Meanwhile, 40-50 degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures have become common in areas near Svalbard, the extreme north coast of Greenland, and even during the daytime over some sections of the Beaufort (not visible in the current shot above). We can also see a number of wildfires raging in the heatwave stricken region of Arctic Russia (fire sites on the map are indicated by vertical black lines with squiggles on top).

Overall, temperatures over the Arctic Ocean have averaged 1-3 degrees Celsius above normal. With most of the summer spent in cloudy, stormy conditions that usually lead to cooler weather, this year is highly, highly anomalous. What we have, instead, are warm storm conditions.

With all this heat in place, wet, rainy precipitation is much more likely to fall over areas of the Central Arctic underneath the new storm. As water carries more heat energy than air, a warmer than freezing rainfall over the ice sheet is a powerful melt enhancer. In addition, associated winds are likely to further shatter and disassociate ice beneath it. Eckman pumping forces will also be more likely to access warmer waters beneath the colder, fresher layer that tends to protect the ice. This is due to the fact that a constant sunlight has now streamed through the ice for two and half months running. This long duration sunlight is likely to create a warmer water layer in a range of 40-70 feet beneath the surface. A passing storm of moderate to strong intensity will likely be able to access this warmer layer and transport it to the surface where it can do work melting ice.

I took a look at a worst case warm storm scenario back in June that may provide a helpful, if extreme, example of these forces at work.

A somewhat stark example of what a warm storm can do to thin, fragile sea ice is also now plainly visible via APL’s North Pole Camera #2. Even since yesterday we can see that melting has rapidly advanced around the camera as it now rests in a deepening and expanding melt lake stretching far about in all directions:

Camera 2 now in icy water.

Camera 2 now in icy water.

(Image source: APL)

From this shot, only a small band of remaining snow cover now surrounds the buoy in the foreground. It also appears that the camera itself is now sitting in the water. It is worth noting that this melt lake currently rests on ice that is probably between 1 and 2 meters in thickness. But the waters now covering the ice are darker, absorbing more direct and indirect sunlight even as the above-freezing melt lake slowly bores down into the ice. If the Eckman pumping forces engaged by this storm are also bringing warmer waters up from the depths, the ice near this camera is suffering melt from both above and below.

Though the current picture shows somewhat sunny weather, conditions near the camera have been mostly stormy for the past three days. It is likely that storm conditions will soon return as this region is mostly engulfed in cloud.

Sea Ice Measures Near Record Lows

Sea ice area takes a vertical nose dive losing 400,000 square kilometers over the past two days.

Sea ice area takes a vertical nose dive losing 400,000 square kilometers over the past two days.

(Data Source: NSIDC, Image source: Pogoda i Klimat)

Major sea ice monitors now show ice area, extent and volume all falling rapidly. Sea ice extent, according to NSIDC is at about 7.8 million square kilometers — or 4th lowest on record. Cryosphere Today also shows sea ice area tied for 4th lowest on record with about 5.5 million square kilometers of sea ice area remaining. Area losses in this measure have been particularly cliff-like with nearly 400,000 square kilometers lost in just two days. Similar losses over the next 5-6 days would bring the monitor into new record low territory. By mid June, PIOMAS showed the sea ice volume measure running at about 3rd lowest on record with rapid losses ongoing since late May.

Though these values still remain above record lows, there is a huge amount of heat energy moving around in the Arctic. Earlier this year, the sudden amplification of the heat in May led to the fastest snow melt on record. Snow cover at the end of April was 9th highest. By the end of May, snow cover levels had plummeted to 3rd lowest. The fact that the Arctic is capable of such dramatic swings is clear proof that the heat balance there has reached highly unstable levels. It is for these reasons that we must remain alert for the potential of rapid ice loss as July transitions into August.

Despite a slow early May sea ice melt (in contrast to a racing snow melt), rates of loss have been near record levels throughout June and July of 2013. Given this break-neck melt pace and a state of continued fragility throughout the ice pack, risk remains high that one or more measures will see new record lows come September. Sea ice is now also very highly dispersed making it even more vulnerable to melt and disruption. The most recent Crysophere Today shot shows broad regions where sea ice concentration is now 60% or less.

Cryosphere Today

(Image source. Cryosphere Today)

With such broad areas of ice so vulnerable and exposed, any further thinning, melt and dispersal caused by the re-emergence of a warm storm is likely have strong impacts with the potential to dramatically affect final melt totals.

Links:

Persistent Arctic Cyclone and the ‘Warm Storm’ of 2013

DMI

ECMWF

Uni Koeln

APL

Cryosphere Today

NSA Domestic Spying Program a Deep Betrayal of Government’s Essential Promise of Liberty Endowed in the Fourth Amendment

The Liberty Bell rang until it cracked and could no longer sound. Is the same true of the American liberty against unjust search endowed in the 4th Amendment?

The Liberty Bell rang until she cracked and could no longer sound. Is the same true of the American liberty against unjust search endowed in the 4th Amendment?

(Image source: Commons)

War is a process of violence in which two combatants dehumanize each other and themselves in an ongoing effort to do harm to one another. War is physically and spiritually toxic, an ongoing degradation that inflicts terrible injury on both the victor and the vanquished. Sadly, sometimes war is justifiable as a means of self defense, as a choice between the lesser of two evils. But war is always an evil. It is never just, right, or virtuous — no matter how virtuous those who fight it may be.

In the United States’ never-ending War on Terror, a war against an ephemeral enemy who is as often the result of our imagined fears as of actual forces that actively seek to harm us, we have done great damage to our very real enemies, to enemies we imagine or wrongly identify as such, and, perhaps most tragically, to ourselves.

This assertion does not degrade the terrible losses that were inflicted upon us during 9/11, nor does it deny the right we were endowed with, as a nation and a people, to defend ourselves and to seek out those enemies who inflicted such grievous wounds upon our nation, its peoples, its children, women, men and families. But it is entirely appropriate to say, at this time, that though immense effort has been undertaken to fight off our enemies and bring the terrible war that they inflicted upon us to their doorsteps, and though much of this effort has been successful, we have not taken equal efforts to ensure the very American values we hold dear and seek to protect are not also destroyed by our own rash action.

Often times, it has been said that the ends do not justify the means. So it is also worth asking the essential question: by what means have we achieved security? It has also been said, by monsters themselves, that the danger in fighting monsters is that one risks becoming a monster. So we must ask ourselves — have we become the very mirror image of the thing we most fear? Have we taken up the tools and weapons of the very dictators and despots we have said we despise?

In answering this question, we must ask ourselves — what is tyranny? Is it absolute rule? Is it the ability of government, through its own laws and practices, to inflict violence on any people, even its own, to achieve the goals of the day without check or consequence? Or is it the ability of government and its agents to create a state of constant fearful surveillance in which even its own citizens are under permanent suspicion of the most heinous thoughts and acts? A form of continental prison in which we, the prisoners, must constantly prove our innocence of conforming to the fluid definition of what is a ‘terrorist?’

As for absolute rule, we seem, thankfully, somewhat departed from that terrible state, but not so far as we were before the War on Terror began. As for our government’s uniliteral application of violence, there are many peoples around the world that have just grievances against our government — for its use of drones to conduct what might be called an assassin’s war and for the terrible collateral damage such actions inflict. And as for the third, we have only to look at NSA’s PRISM program and the Patriot Act upon which it stands for its flimsy justification.

American citizens are endowed with essential liberties by our Constitution. It was a Constitution developed by founders who justly feared tyranny and, though quite flawed themselves, went about setting down values that were beyond the confines of the flawed human sphere they inhabited. They permitted themselves to dream of a better world inhabited by better people. A world in which governments did not act in a predatory manner against its peoples as the English had against them. They were still blind to their own deep and abiding flaws, yet they could come together to set down a noble precedent and to hold themselves and their offspring accountable to a high ideal.

That ideal endowed, in part, in the Fourth Amendment, included a guarantee that Government would not conduct searches without a legal warrant of suspicion, determined by lawful process through the conduct of careful investigation in limited instances. Now, the entire US populous is subject to constant search of their conversations, internet and phone records without any prior determination of fault. Such a massive, a-priori and all encompassing action is a vast and a direct violation of the essential freedom guaranteed to us by the Constitution.

So our government, in the seemingly rational pursuit of security for its people, has chosen the unjust and unlawful course of expansive power, constant surveillance, and endless suspicion over one of the most basic human rights precedents upon which the legitimacy of that government stands. And in this conduct, our own government, born to high ideals and yet struggling to achieve those lofty goals since the day of its inception, has inflicted upon its own people a near constant state of fear, suspicion, and phantom warfare.

For one must ask the very reasonable question — when does a war against a thing so nebulous as terrorism end? Is anyone who commits violence or plans to commit violence against US political interests a terrorist? If so, then the war and related surveillance will likely never end. And do even minor instances of such violence continue to justify that we, as a people, give up one of the critical freedoms that lends such value to being an American?

In short, do we destroy the very things we hold most dear for fear of what may happen? And must we be forced to constantly imagine that each of us, one day, could be a ‘terrorist?’

There is, indeed, a dire, deep and abiding need for peace. But such peace cannot be achieved through an endless state of violence. Responsible de-escalation and disarmament — of all parties — is the difficult but entirely worthy path to a lasting peace.

And what do we achieve through this endless war but degredation and corrosion of the very things we hold most dear? For in the end, no civilization can continue to effectively function under a constant state of fear, warfare, and the related policies of endless suspicion and surveillance. Such policies will only lead to a government that increasingly fears and views as enemies the citizenry it is sworn to protect.

It is for this reason that the constant surveillance must stop and that we must wholeheartedly return to protecting the rights Americans most deeply value. Life, liberty, equality, happiness — none of which are possible without peace or in the presence of a paranoid tyranny of constant government surveillance.

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