Stop The War to Silence Science, End Egregious Cuts To Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Now

Here we stand at the cusp. At the brink. At the precipice of the crisis that will certainly define this century. An extraordinarily dangerous human alteration of the climate that, at its end, could be far more destructive and deadly than any war. A growing and emerging monstrosity created by us. One which, should we continue to feed it, would plunge us into the heart of one of the blackest climatological eras ever experienced on this planet.

We know there is danger. And we have known it for some time due to the clarity and accuracy of our vision. A vision provided to us by a scientific understanding of our world that is the pinnacle of human progress. For if there is one thing that we should be proud of, that we could all share in as a great victory for our race, it would be the knowledge and understanding that we have gained in our long and tempestuous rise from darkness.

Global CO2 levels since 1700

Global temperatures since 1880

(Upper graph: Global CO2 concentrations since 1700. Lower graph: Global temperatures since 1880 as measured at the world’s meteorological stations. Image sources: The Keeling Curve and NASA GISS.)

And yet now, at the brink of crisis, we are at risk of having the new senses provided to us by science, senses we depend upon so much for that knowledge, that vision we need most desperately, begin to fade, to dim, to wink out. For the monitors we use to track the crisis are steadily being de-funded and are at risk of going dark.

Just this past Christmas Eve, Dr. Ralph Keeling, son of the renowned Dr. Charles David Keeling, made a public appeal for increased funding of the critical Mauna Loa Observatory’s CO2 Monitor. The funds, you see, after more than 40 years of cuts to critical scientific research, research often labeled by political opponents to be ‘wasteful government spending,’ were at risk of short-fall. So Dr. Keeling, a scientist in the crucial and much-needed field of atmospheric monitoring, was forced, by the most greedy and heartless among us, who only see the gift beyond price that is human science as a tax burden equivalent to ‘wasteful government spending,’ to pan handle for the continued funding of his, all-too-necessary and growing ever more important with each passing day, mission.

Dr Keeling’s appeal was the very modicum of dignity and candor. And it contained hardly a jot of the outrage which he, and the rest of us, should justifiably feel. Instead, he simply and candidly reminded us of the importance of his ongoing mission:

Friends,

I am writing as the director of the Scripps CO2 and O2 programs, which keep track of how these vital gases are changing in the atmosphere over time.  The CO2 measurements include the iconic Mauna Loa record, now commonly known as the “Keeling Curve”, which was started by my father in the late 1950s.

The O2 measurements, carried out on samples from Mauna Loa and many other stations, also provide critical information about how the planet is changing.  The measurements show that the world’s O2 supply is slowly decreasing, and have helped prove that the CO2 increase is caused by fossil fuel burning, but offset by natural sinks of CO2 in the land and oceans.

The need to continue these measurements has not diminished. The planet is undergoing dramatic changes, unprecedented for millions of years.  This past year, our group reported that CO2 topped 400 parts per million at Mauna Loa for the first time…

The Scripps CO2 and O2 measurements now face severe funding challenges.  The situation is most urgent for the O2 measurements.  These measurements have been supported for decades through proposals submitted every few years to the federal agencies.  The value of these measurements is not questioned, but federal funding for these programs has never been so tenuous.  This is the basis for this unusual to the public at large…

I have struggled throughout my career to cope with [funding challenges], and I will continue the struggle.  The quest for continued federal support will not end.

For now, I ask for your support so that we can keep up these activities and sustain our watch on the planet in this time of unprecedented global change.

Sincerely,

Ralph F. Keeling

(I’ve abbreviated Dr. Keeling’s appeal for this post. That said, I fully urge you to read the entire appeal at his blog The Keeling Curve, to help spread word of his appeal far and wide, and to donate generously.)

Now, as Dr. Keeling knows all too well, 400 ppm CO2 is a big deal. If the world were to remain at this level for an extended period, global temperatures would eventually stabilize between 2-3 degrees hotter than the 20th Century Average. Analysis of the dramatic changes, including a 15-75 foot sea level rise, massive expansion of deserts, a reduced productivity of lands and oceans, and dangerous changes to the world’s weather as it undergoes this temperature transition would put most if not all human civilizations at risk of collapse. Failure to heed this warning and rapidly stabilize and then reduce CO2 levels would risk these and far worse consequences. Yet despite this danger, we are rapidly heading on toward 450, 550, 650 ppm CO2 or more.

NASA has rightly labeled atmospheric CO2 concentration ‘the global thermostat’ and if you want to get a good idea of where the temperature is heading, you need to keep an eye on the thermostat needle. Dr. Keeling’s research gives us that needle. And without the measure his research provides, we are flying blindly into a world of worsening and ever more dangerous weather.

Methane Monitoring Cut as Well

Sadly, Dr. Keeling’s essential monitoring is not the only measure at risk of funding cuts. According to a recent report in Live Science, monitoring of another essential greenhouse gas, methane, has fallen by 25% due to ongoing cuts and is now at serious risk of collapsing. Ed Dlugokencky, an atmospheric chemist with NOAA’s Earth Sciences Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado noted:

“We’ve had about a 25 percent decrease in the number of air samples measured from the global cooperative network. If we want to understand what is happening [with methane], we’re going in the wrong direction to do that.”

While CO2 is the primary driver of current warming, methane is, increasingly, an indicator of one of the worst amplifying feedbacks due to human caused change. Massive volumes of methane lay stored in tundra and on the sea bed. Should these stores, which are sensitive to heating, be released into the atmosphere, they could add substantial additional warming on top of the warming already set in play by CO2 increases.

methane-concentration

(Global Methane Distribution Indicative of Large Arctic Emissions. Image source: NASA)

Recent reports and studies have found evidence of an increasing Arctic emission of methane, one that has possibly exceeded 90 megatons annually. Though not yet catastrophic, this increasing emission is a serious concern and we would be very unwise to stop taking measures of this very volatile and potentially dangerous atmospheric gas.

As is the case with Dr. Keeling, cuts in funding to scientific monitoring of these gases are as egregious as they are short sighted. The scientists and the research efforts they provide go to benefit us all. They work diligently to serve our interest and to give us the best information along with the means to make sound decisions, should we choose to. They are not wealthy and could have probably earned far more using their considerable intellects to game the stock market, for example, or to aid CEOs in determining how best to off shore US jobs to cheap, easily exploitable foreign labor.

There is no tax cut for the top 1 percent, no foreign oil war, no subsidy to the fossil fuel industry that is more important than funding this scientific effort and these selfless public servants who work so diligently on our behalf. So we should do everything necessary — increase taxes on the wealthy, stop fighting wasteful wars, and stop subsidizing dirty and dangerous industries — in order to provide the support needed to continue this vital service to humankind.

And as for those dark political and social forces that, as they did in Canada with the dismemberment, looting, and dissolution of scientific libraries, seek to suppress the accumulation of knowledge about how our world operates and, yes, responds to the harm we’ve inflicted upon it — they should be banished back to the dark ages from which they arose. They have no place here. Not at this time of clear and present danger. They are traitors to human progress, to our civilizations and, ultimately, to the vitality of life on this world. And they should be swept aside lest, one by one, we all, and not just the scientists, be silenced.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

NASA GISS

NASA’s Earth Observatory

NASA: CO2 Acts as Global Thermostat

Live Science

In Book-buring Like Episode, Conservatives in Canada Destroy Scientific Libraries

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

North Atlantic Ramping up to ‘Storms of My Grandchildren’ to set off Major Flood Event for Tempest-Tossed England?

Storms Reshape England's Coastline

(Storms Reshape England’s Coastline during Winter of 2013-2014. Image source: AGU)

Under the ongoing insults of human-caused climate change, the North Atlantic is ground zero for the potential development of the worst storms humankind has ever experienced. And indications are that the ramping up to this dangerous time may well be starting now.

The temperature related weather instabilities between the warming North Atlantic, the melting but still frigid ice packs of Greenland, the retreating polar sea ice, a continental North America enduring a series of polar vortex collapse events flushing cold air south as the Arctic experiences its warmest readings in an age, and an interior Europe and Asia that are also experiencing mass migrations of cold air fleeing the ever-warmer Arctic are just screaming.

A bite of warm air and related warm ocean water has flooded a large region between Scandinavia, Svalbard and Novaya Zemlya, making its home where winter sea ice once resided. The waters near Greenland are now melt-cooled by the 500 gigatons of average annual glacial outflow occurring there. And the never-ending influx and concentration of heat in the Arctic has set the Jet Stream into a fit of wild loops and whirls.

All these changes result in a high degree of weather instability, in a setting off of extreme weather events, of great switches from cool, to extreme hot, from record drought to record deluge. In the past few years we’ve seen these kinds of extreme weather events occur with increasing frequency. But now, a new kind of extreme event is beginning to emerge, a kind of event that may well be prelude to ‘The Storms of My Grandchildren’ Dr James Hansen alluded to in his prescient book examining the ultimate consequences of an ongoing and devastating human greenhouse gas emission.

The Breeder of Storms: Our Warming-Ravaged North Atlantic

Ever since winter began to settle in, and the extreme effects of Northern Hemisphere temperature imbalance and Jet Stream changes began to take hold, the North Atlantic has become a breeder of extraordinarily powerful storms. According to reports from NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center, the month of December alone featured 14 instances of hurricane wind events, 10 storms that experienced rapid intensification, and 5 storms that featured pressures of 950 mb or lower.

For comparison, a tropical storm that hits 950 mb is usually a category 5 hurricane. And for any ocean basin to show 14 instances of hurricane force winds let alone 5 950 mb and below storms over a one month period is extraordinary indeed. Imagine if the south Atlantic generated 10 hurricanes 5 of which were cat 5 in just one month and then you get a general comparison.

Two of these storms were particularly intense with one reaching 940 mb and another deepening to an exceptionally low 929 mb (the lowest reading ever recorded for the North Atlantic was 916 mb). By comparison, the freakish monster that was Hurricane Sandy bottomed out at 940 mb.

It is worth noting that the storms of the North Atlantic typically spread their energy out over larger areas than a tropical system. So though pressures are low enough to be comparible with the most intense tropical storms, the winds generated typically ranged from 75 to 100 mph while extending outward over hundreds of miles. By comparison, a typical tropical cyclone would have a very intense wind field within 20 to 100 miles of its center with intensity rapidly falling off beyond this zone.

Overall, the North Atlantic sees very few storms of 940 mb or lower, usually at the average rate of less than one every year. So for two to occur in the same month is exceptional indeed.

929 mb low raking the coast of England on Christmas Eve

(929 mb low rakes England with hurricane force winds on Christmas Eve, 2013. Image source: Lance-Modis.)

January also featured an almost endless cavalcade of intense storms rushing across the North Atlantic with numerous lows bottoming out below 950 mb (NOAA will issue a final tally sometime in February). Meanwhile, powerful storms developing in the North Atlantic continually pummeled Europe throughout most of the winter of 2012-2013 resulting in some of the worst rain and snowfall events ever recorded.

This recent climate-change driven shift of the North Atlantic into an increasingly stormy weather pattern may well be a prelude to even more extreme changes to come. Weather models produced by GISS and examined by premier climate scientist James Hansen indicate that very powerful storms arise in conjunction with increasing Greenland melt. Large pulses of fresh, cold water entering the North Atlantic were observed to create climate instabilities that resulted in very powerful storms with frontal systems the size of continents that packed the punch of hurricanes in the physical model runs. It was the likelihood that such storms could emerge by or before mid-century that, in part, spurred Dr. Hansen to write his prescient book — The Storms of My Grandchildren.

As noted above, the current Greenland melt outflow averages about 500 gigatons each year. This outflow is already large enough to weaken the Gulf Stream and set off severe weather instabilities. But with Arctic warming continuing to amplify and Jet Stream patterns bringing more and more warm air over Greenland, melt rates may triple or more over the coming decades, resulting in even more severe weather consequences. So the extreme storm patterns we see emerging in the North Atlantic now are likely just a minor prelude when compared to what we will witness as the years and decades progress.

England in the Firing Line: Windiest December Precedes Wettest January

Currently in the direct firing line of these powerful storms are the main islands of the United Kingdom. Throughout December, England suffered an almost constant assault of storms. In total, five storms, or more than one storm per week brought excessive rains and wind gusts in excess of hurricane force to the British Isles. The results were tens of thousands of power outages, major waves and storm surge events along the coastline resulting in damage to coastal structures and persons being swept out to sea, and increasing instances of flooding over saturated ground.

On record, December 2014 was one of the stormiest ever seen for the British Isles. According to weather data, the month was the windiest since record keeping began in 1969:

Wind Gust Measure Met

(Image source: UK Met Office)

In addition, December also ranked one of the rainiest with many locations seeing 3 times the normal level of rainfall for the month.

As the new year began, the series of severe storms impacting the UK continued unabated through late January. And as of the 28th, South England had experienced its wettest month since record keeping began in 1910. With a month and a half still remaining Southeast England had already experienced its 6th wettest winter season on record.

UK Rainfall

(Southeast UK Rainfall from 1910 to present with 2010 easily setting a new record. Image source: Met Office)

Dr Richard Dixon, director of FES Scotland when commenting in a Guardian interview about the most recent spate of anomalous UK weather noted:

“November and December were record breakers in Scotland, with storm after storm hitting around Christmas. Climate change is bringing chaos to our weather, not just increasing global temperatures but affecting ocean currents and global air currents. Scotland is caught between the changing influences of disappearing Arctic ice, the shifting jet stream and a weakening Gulf Stream. It is no wonder our weather is becoming less and less predictable. The consequences for us are more extreme weather, including more flooding.”

Very Dangerous Flood Situation for Southwesr England: Powerful Storm on the Way

The extreme rainfall, as of today, had resulted in a major flood event for Southeast England focusing on the Midlands and Somerset. The event inundated croplands, homes and farms throughout the rural region and spurred England to put its military on standby as forecasts show more rain and high winds are on the way. The anomalous event also spurred the 15th meeting of COBRA, the UK’s emergency response committee which has, increasingly, been called due to a continuous barrage of weather emergencies.

Somerset Floods

(Aerial photo showing homes, businesses and a vast area of land flooded in Somerset, England. Image Source: David Hedges)

In addition to the clearly visible inundation, numerous villages in the region have been cut off due to flooded roads for more than a week (with some areas being cut off for a month). The constant barrage of storms has resulted in both persistently high tides and almost continuous rainfall. The rainfall, trapped by high sea water, has nowhere to escape and simply pools, continuing to build up in the low-lying lands.

The UK’s conservative government’s response to the situation, thus far, has been anemic, waiting until today to declare the region a disaster area.

Unfortunately, another powerful storm is predicted to arrive by Saturday bringing with it yet one more spate of strong winds, heavy surf and driving rainfall to the already soaked region.

Saturday Forecast Map NOAA

(NOAA forecast map for Saturday. Note a powerful 953 mb storm forecast to impact the UK with 70+ mph winds and heavy rainfall. Image source: NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center)

So if you’re living in Southeast England please do your best to remain safe, to heed government warnings, and to urge your government officials to provide you with the level of response you deserve during this dangerous time (including policy changes to reduce the rapidly increasing degree of harm coming from human caused climate change).

Early Storms Minor by Comparison

It is worth noting that, though more intense than we’re used to, these storms are the early, weaker outliers of a very dangerous period that is to follow. Our best models and our best climate scientists report the likelihood of far more dangerous storms emerging from this region and from the set of conditions that includes a weakening Gulf Stream, a melting Greenland, an amped up hydrological cycle and rapidly warming zones first at the northern polar region and then in the tropics. The eventual size of these storms could expand to cover continents and involve multiple linked and powerful storm centers. As noted above, Hansen warned of frontal storms large enough to blanket continents and with areas of hurricane strength winds stretching thousands of miles. We haven’t seen anything like that yet. And so the freakish and extraordinary weather we’ve witnessed this winter, and in recent years, is merely prologue for worse events to follow.

Links:

AGU

NASA: Lance-Modis

NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center

UK Met Office: Winter Storms December 2013 to January 2014

Parts of England See Wettest January Since Records Began

UK Floods: January Rain Breaks Records in Parts of England

Colorado Bob’s Climate Feed

The Storms of My Grandchildren

Arctic Wildfires In Winter: Norway Experiences Freakish Historic Wildfires In January

Flatanger Fire

(Flatanger Fire during the long winter night in Norway. Image source: NRK)

Major wildfires in California in winter are bad enough… Unfortunately, now we must include the Arctic to the anomalous tally. For since December, three major wildfires have erupted in Arctic Norway, with two of these extraordinary fires blazing through coastal Nordic settlements just this week.

*    *    *    *    *

On Monday, a major wildfire erupted along the western coast of Norway near the city of Flatanger. The fire, fanned by winds ranging from 30-50 miles per hour and by a drought in which almost no precipitation has fallen since Christmas spread rapidly, rushing over the mountainous terrain to put both life and livelihood at risk.

As of Wednesday, the fire had exploded to the largest wildfire recorded in Norway since World War II. It had also consumed 139 homes as it raced down the rocky mountain sides of western Norway.

By late Wednesday, as firefighers struggled to bring the Flatanger fire under control, a second massive fire erupted on the island of Froya about 80 miles to the south and west. The fire exploded with such ferocity that 430 residents were forced to evacuate as flames and smoke rushed down along the hillsides. As of Thursday, the Froya fire still burned out of control, threatening to spur evacuations from other settlements in the path of the blaze.

Froya wildfire

(Aerial Photo of the Froya Wildfire. Image source: News in English)

The Flatanger and Froya fires mirrored another large blaze that erupted in Norway during early December, consuming 40 homes near the town of Laerdal. The Laerdal fire coincided with a period of excessive warmth and drought, with December marking one of Norway’s warmest winter months ever and Oslo experiencing its hottest Christmas since record keeping began in 1937.

Needless to say, it is not at all normal for Norway to experience wildfires of record intensity during winter time. A clear sign that climate change together with a mangled jet stream and extreme polar amplification are well in play to create dangerous and freakish conditions.

“Just a month ago, no one would have said there was a threat of brushfires in Trøndelag at this time of year,” noted Dagfinn Kalheim, director of the Norwegian fire prevention association. Now, they’ve experienced three of their worst fires on record during winter. Unfortunately, in the context of a warming globe and related human-caused changes to the atmosphere, land and sea, locations around the world and especially around the Arctic Circle are under the gun to experience ever-worsening fires.

Drought, Fuel, Wind, Ignition

Western Norway has been in the midst of an ongoing drought since late fall. The drought, spurred by a ridge in the polar Jet Stream has steered storms away from the usually wet Norway and slammed them over and over into the British Isles, France and Spain. The drought left mountain scrub and thawing tundra in the region very dry and vulnerable to fire. This anomalous period also included one of the hottest Decembers in Norway’s reckoning.

In recent years we have seen increased fire vulnerability in far northern regions due to thawing tundra, increasing periods of heat and drought, and, possibly, maritime emissions of flammable gasses. The tundra is full of organic material and, in certain regions, emits methane in high enough concentrations to burn. The Arctic seas have also been emitting high volumes of methane and related flammable gasses, but it has not been determined that these emissions come in high enough concentration to add a potential secondary ignition source. Though a cause has not yet been determined for the historical Flatanger fire, it is likely that a combination of drought, related dry scrub and the yearly advance of thawing tundra in the region contributed to the intensity of the blaze.

Strong winds over the drought-stricken coastal region enabled the fire, which would generally be suppressed by temperatures near freezing, to rapidly spread through the tinder-dry underbrush and sporadic regions of thawed tundra. Fire fighters have been unable to locate an ignition source at this time.

You can watch a video of this anomalous blaze racing down the Flatanger mountainsides here:

(Video source: Se Flammen Fra Luften)

Climate Change Context

Climate change drives both increasing heat, extended periods of drought in previously damp regions, and changes to the environment, especially in the Arctic, that provides more fuel for wildfires. In addition, more numerous Arctic thunderstorms provide an expanding ignition source for these blazes while the Arctic Ocean and adjacent tundra now emit prodigious volumes of methane.

It is also worth noting that both the World Meteorological Organization and UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres have both established an ‘absolute’ link between human caused warming and increasing numbers of wildfires. And the fact that we are seeing the eruptions of major wildfires throughout the Northern Hemisphere during winter, a time when wildfires hardly ever occur, is yet more evidence that the situation is growing ever more extreme.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast for Norway shows continued dry conditions for at least the next two weeks. In addition, a period of warming is expected to bring temperatures 7 degrees (Celsius) or more above seasonal averages over the coming days. With higher temperatures and dry, southerly winds continuing to blow, Norway remains under the gun for extreme winter wildfires.

Links:

Most Extensive Wildfire Since World War II

Fire Sweeps Across Peninsula in Northern Norway

Climate Change is Absolutely Linked to Wildfires

News in English

Northern Europe Experiencing one of its Mildest Decembers on Record

NRK

Colorado Bob’s Climate Feed

Mangled Jet Stream Sparks Drought, Winter Wildfires in Southern California

Hat tip to SeeMoreRocks

Arctic Heat Wave Sets off Hottest Ever Winter-Time Temperatures, Major Melt, Disasters for Coastal and Interior Alaska

Major melt in the midst of winter. Doesn’t sound quite right, does it? We tend to think of winter as the time of freezing, as the time of ice accumulation. Not the time of melt and thaw.

Now try this — major melt in Alaska in the midst of winter. Average temperatures 40 degrees hotter than normal in the midst of winter. Rainfall over snow and ice causing avalanches, major road blockages and ice dams to rivers in the midst of winter.

In this instance we have been transported from the somewhat odd into a reality that is completely outside of our previously ‘normal’ context. In this instance we are transported to a time that may well seem like the beginning of the end of the age of ice on planet Earth.

And yet this is exactly what is happening: one of the coldest regions on the planet is experiencing melt and related record heat in January.

For the state of Alaska, the consequences are a strange and freakish winter heat wave, one that features the extreme temperatures mentioned above. For the city of Valdez, as we shall see below, the situation is far more stark.

valdez-avalanche

(Massive Avalanche set off by rainfall, winter warmth, cutting off Richardson Highway to Valdez Alaska and forming a dangerous ice dam of the ironically named Keystone Canyon’s Lowe River. Image source: Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.)

Hottest ever Winter-time Temperatures for Alaska

On Sunday, a collapse event that flooded the Arctic with heat and ripped the polar vortex in half began. A freakish high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream that had been pumping warmth over Alaska and into the Arctic for ten months running strengthened. The result was that many regions throughout the state experienced their hottest temperatures ever recorded for that day, month, or season.

Global Temperature Anomaly Reanalyzer

(Global Temperature Anomaly Data vs 1979-2000 mean with focus on Arctic for January 29. Note the extreme Arctic deviation of +5.58 degrees Celsius and the pool of 36+ F high temperature deviations still lingering over Alaska. Also note that global anomalies are +.32 C above the 1979-2000 mean which is, itself, about +.5 C above average temperatures during the 1880s, for a total of about +.82 globally. The above measure is an excellent illustration of both extreme polar amplification and very rapid warming coinciding with a strong negative Arctic Oscillation, related warm air influx, and polar vortex separation. Source: Climate Change Institute.)

According to reports from Weather Underground, Homer Alaska, for example, experienced an all time record high for the day of 55 degrees Fahrenheit, 4 degrees hotter than the previous all-time high set just a few years earlier. And Homer was just one of the many cities sitting in a broad region of extraordinary, 40 degree hotter than normal temperatures. A region extending from the interior to the southern and western coasts. Bolio Lake Range, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks in central Alaska, saw temperatures rocket to 60 degrees, just 2 degrees short of the all-time record high for any part of the state during January (the previous record high of 62 was set in Petersburg, nearly 700 miles to the south and east).

Typically colder high mountain regions also experienced record warmth for the day. A zone 10,600 feet above Fairbanks hit 32 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, the highest temperature ever measured for this region during any winter-time period from November through February.

Even before the most recent extreme Arctic temperature spike, January saw numerous powerful heat influxes for Alaska with Nome, Denali Park, Palmer, Homer, Alyseka, Seward, and Talkeetna each setting all-time record high temperatures during the month.

These records come on the back of a long period of rapidly increasing Alaskan heat stretching all the way back to the 1970s. In many cases, we are seeing all-time record highs broken with 5-10 year frequency. In the most extreme cases, these records fall again after only standing for 1-5 years.

Taken in this context, what we are seeing is the freakish continuation of an ongoing period of inexorable Arctic warming providing yet one more major insult to the Alaskan climate during the winter of 2013-2014.

Rain and Melt Sets off Major, Spring-like, Outflows From Streams and Rivers

The same anomalous Jet Stream pattern that has acted as a conveyer belt continuously transporting heat into the high north over Alaska has brought with it an almost endless series of rain events to coastal Alaska. Storm after storm, fueled by heat and high rates of evaporation over the northern Pacific, slammed into the Alaskan coastline, disgorging record levels of precipitation.

With temperatures freakishly high, mirroring conditions typically present during late spring or early summer, much of this precipitation fell in the form of rain. Valdez, Alaska, for example, has likely experienced its wettest January ever with rainfall measures just 1.35 inches short of the record on Sunday and a series of strong storms rushing into the city on Monday and Tuesday. Given the nearly endless train of storms lining up to sweep over Valdez, it is possible that its previous record of 15.18 inches for January could easily be surpassed by an inch or two at month-end.

The storms and cloudiness make it difficult to peer down and get a good view of what all this heat and rainfall is doing to the Alaskan snow and ice pack. But, for brief respite, on January 25th, just ahead of the most recent influx of rain and warmth, the clouds cleared, revealing the land and sea surface. And what we witness is extraordinary:

Alaska Melt Rain Sediment January 25

(Southern Coast of Alaska with major sediment outflow from snow and ice melt, record heat and rainfall in January 2014. Image source: Lance-Modis)

The entire southern coast of Alaska from Prince William Sound to Cook Inlet are visibly experiencing major snow and ice melt along with flooded streams and rivers flushing out a massive volume of sediment into the Gulf Alaska. Clearly visible in the satellite shot, the sediment now streaming into the ocean is more reminiscent of a major late spring flood event than anything that should be ongoing for Alaska in the midst of winter.

Yet here we are. A situation of continuous, never-before seen heat for Alaska during winter time bringing on a flooding thaw that is far, far too early.

Rainfall over Glaciers, Snow Pack Triggers Massive Avalanche that Cuts off Valdez

The constant assault of heat and record temperatures combined with an almost endless flow of moisture riding up from the Gulf of Alaska set off a devastating and freakish event near Valdez on Saturday. Severe and record rainfall over the mountain regions have continuously softened glacial ice and snow packs above this major Alaskan city. On Monday, the continuous insults of heat and water passed a critical threshold.

As the warm water filtered down through the colder snow and ice, the anchoring base was lubricated even as the capping snow grew heavily burdened with water. Eventually, the insults of heat and rainfall became too great and a major snow and ice slope system above the main road linking Valdez to mainland Alaska collapsed. The immense volume of snow and ice unleashed, spilling down to fill the base of Keystone Canyon, blocking both the Lowe River and the Richardson Highway running through it.

This snow and ice dam rose as high as 100 feet above the Canyon floor, causing the Lowe River to rapidly flood, inundating the already snow-and ice buried road under an expanding pool 20 to 25 feet deep and filled with ice-choked water.

You can see the massive avalanche-created ice dam and related road inundation in the video provided by akiwiguy below:

(video source: akiwiguy)

Warming-related rainfall events of the kind that has now cut Valdez off from the mainland are just one of the extraordinarily dangerous consequences of human-caused climate change. They are a phenomena linked to the massive glacial outburst flood that killed thousands in India this year together with other dangerous snow and ice melt events. Should such major heating and rainfall events impact Greenland and West Antarctica, the consequences could be even more extreme than what we are currently witnessing in Alaska.

Conditions in Context

In the context of our present extreme Jet Stream pattern that is setting off warmest-ever conditions for Alaska during January together with dangerous melt-outburst related events while at the same time periodically flushing Arctic air and extreme winter weather south into the United States, it is important to remember a few things. The first is that the Arctic is now experiencing never-before observed warmth with stunning frequency. Scientific papers now show that the Arctic is hotter than it has been for at least 44,000 years and possibly 120,000 years.

By comparison, the cold snaps, that could very well be seen as the death gasps of the Arctic we know, impacting the eastern US are relatively minor when put into this larger, more ominous context. Similar cold events were last seen about 20 years ago in the US. And so there is simply no comparison that can generate a rational equivalency between the, hottest in an age, Arctic temperatures and the, coldest in a few handfuls of years, temperatures in the Eastern US.

And if you’re one of those sensitive, perceptive souls who feels that the weather events you’re seeing, the extreme swings from very hot to somewhat cool temperatures, the extreme swings from drought to record rainfall, and the extreme events now accelerating the melting of the world’s ice and snow, are freakish, strange, and terrifyingly abnormal, then you are absolutely correct. Don’t let anyone, be they friends or family, or journalists in the media, tell you otherwise. There is reason for your discomfort and there is very serious cause for concern.

Links:

Colorado Bob’s Climate Feed

Weather Underground

NASA: Lance-Modis

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

Climate Change Institute

Alaska All Time High For This Date, Warmer than Alabama

The Glacial Megaflood

Arctic Experiencing Hottest Temperatures in at Least 44,000 Years

Arctic Heat Wave to Rip Polar Vortex in Half

akiwiguy

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half by Anomalous Jet Stream, High Arctic Experiencing 32 Degree F Above Average Temperatures Over Broad Region

A dangerous and weather-wrecking polar heat amplification in the Arctic set off by human-caused global warming keeps kicking into higher and higher gear…

What models predicted earlier this week and what we reported on Thursday has finally happened. A major influx of record-breaking winter warmth has flooded into the high Arctic, disrupting the polar vortex to the point that it is currently ripped in twain.

Average temperatures over a broad area of the north polar region are now in excess of 20 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) above daily norms for this time of year. Areas from Alaska to Norway to Greenland to the North Pole are experiencing record or near record highs. Meanwhile, the circumpolar Jet Stream has been malformed into an extraordinarily exaggerated north-south Rossby Wave pattern. An extreme amplification of a blocking pattern that has been in place for more than 10 months, pumping a continual flow of heat into the Arctic, and which, this winter, has resulted in numerous North American cold snaps comparable to those that used to happen in the 1980s and 1990s.

Polar temperature anomaly Jan 26

(Global temperature anomaly vs the 1985 to 1996 mean. Note the large regions of the High Arctic experiencing temperatures that are 20 degrees C above average or higher. Image source: NOAA)

The result is a kind of north-south flip-flop in temperatures following a polar vortex that has been ripped in half by a surge of anomalous warmth and a periodic pulsing of the Arctic’s remnant cold southward over the continents.

Yesterday, the high temperature in Svalbard, for example, less than 600 miles from the North Pole peaked at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, near all-time record warmth for this frigid region. In contrast, the high for Bethesda Maryland, thousands of miles to the south, was nine degrees lower at 23 Fahrenheit.

Hottest or near hottest ever temperatures in the Arctic are, in this case, comparable to moderately colder than average weather over Siberia and the Eastern US (As seen in the NOAA temperature anomaly map above. It is also worth noting that the 1985-1996 base-line temperature for the above map is already about .5 C above the 1880 average. So this map doesn’t take into account the full extent and impact of human-caused warming.).

The Jet Stream anomaly that linked a very large and powerful flood of warm air from the Pacific with another less powerful warm air invasion riding up over Western Europe setting off such major polar temperature extremes is now plainly visible in the University of Washington upper air flow graphic below:

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half Jan 26

(Polar vortex ripped in half. Image source: University of Washington.)

On the Pacific side, we see a powerful ridge in the Jet Stream invading deep into the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas before again turning south. Some of the warmer air carried up by this extreme northward thrust of the Jet, however, bleeds further north, spilling up and over the North Pole. There it links with the second warm air thrust coming up from Europe. To the south, the polar vortex is now misaligned and severed. The two resulting, lesser, cold vortexes are now centered hundreds of miles to the south of their typical zones — with one over Hudson Bay and the other over the Yedoma region of Siberia.

Over the next week, model forecasts predict this severing of the polar vortex to continue with the current, anomalous, pattern remaining in play at least until February 2nd.

What we are observing is the start of the tumultuous and stormy throws of an imperiled winter in the Northern Hemisphere. A crisis that is bound to continue and worsen for at least some time. One that, if we don’t stop our greenhouse gas emissions soon, will certainly progress to a period in our not too distant future when winter no longer exists, perhaps a century or two from now. But make no mistake, these episodes of extreme polar warmth during wintertime that flush the cold air out and southward are no less than the palpitating heart of winter thrumming with the terrible arrhythmia of its eventual demise.

Links:

NOAA

University of Washington

Svalbard Weather Forecast, Weather Underground

Arctic Ice Graphs

Arctic Heat Wave to Rip Polar Vortex in Half

The Neverending Deluge: Pacific Heat + Fixed Jet Stream Parks Anomalous January Cyclone Lingling Over Philippines For Two Weeks

The vulnerable island chain that is the Philippines already sits on the firing line of tropical storm devastation. During a typical year, about 20 tropical cyclones roar ashore, wrecking all sorts of havoc. In a typical year, this amazing parade of such cyclones begins in June.

But now it appears that weather in the Philippines, which was already rather extreme, has gotten much worse. For so far, this island nation has been treated to a tropical storm season that hasn’t ended for at least 20 months. The storm season didn’t end in 2013, when January 1rst saw the formation of that year’s first tropical cyclone. And the season didn’t end with the winter of 2014 when the devastating rainmaker that was Tropical Storm Lingling formed on January 10th.

Lingling_2014_track

(Lingling Track. Image source: Commons)

Lingling developed to the east of the Philippines over a pool of abnormally hot and deep warm water. Temperature anomalies for this region ranged up to 2.5 C above average. Perhaps more importantly and more ominously, the depth of this abnormally warm water extended far below the surface.

In a Deepening Pool of Hot Water

Such strange and anomalous conditions are expected under a regime of intensifying human-caused warming. In the hottest regions of the ocean, evaporation is expected to intensify as warmth increases. Eventually, the surface water becomes saltier as it becomes hotter, causing it to sink. This mechanism transfers heat deeper and deeper into the world’s tropical oceans. This process is the start of a dangerous ocean turnover. One related to hypoxia, ocean current changes, and stratification. And it appears that just such a perilous heat transfer is beginning in a region of the Pacific east of the Philippines.

We won’t go too far into detail about the initial signs of tropical ocean warming and turnover or its other hazards and implications here. However, suffice it to say that a deepening hot water pool in this region of the world appears to, at this time, be having a profound impact on storm formation and strength. Namely, it has spawned the almost constant progression of storms mentioned above. A hurricane season without end for two years. It is also the mechanism that, according to NOAA fueled the extraordinarily powerful Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms on record, which devastated the Philippines in November of 2013.

Now the same zone has spawned the epic rainmaker that is Lingling to again harry the Philippines just two months later.

The Storm that Wouldn’t End Forces More Than a Million to Flee

Lingling formed over this anomalously deep, hot water then marched in through the southern reaches of the Philippines where it has been dumping copious amounts of rain over the islands ever since. You can note the almost zero movement of the cyclone from January 11 to January 23 in the MODIS image sequence below:

Lingling January 11

Lingling Janary 16

Lingling January 23

(Lingling January 11, 16 and 23. Image source: Lance-Modis)

By January 22nd, over the course of 11 days of near-biblical flooding, the storm had inundated some parts of the Philippines with an astonishing 52 inches of rainfall, more than the amount New York receives in an entire year. By today, the never-ending deluge had resulted in 1.14 million evacuated, 63 missing, and over 54 lost lives. Numerous bridges and dams were also destroyed by the flooding, along with hundreds of homes. This, just two months after the strongest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall struck the northern part of this vulnerable island chain.

And with the anomalous January formation of a devastatingly persistent Lingling, there is simply no respite.

Jet Stream Lag, Stalled Fronts, and Hot, Deep Water

Lingling’s persistence over the Philippines for so long can be attributed to numerous factors. First, the storm was caught up in a stalled frontal boundary whose tail end had snagged over the Philippines for about 15 days running. The front itself was caught up in a Jet Stream trough shoved south by a disrupted and collapsing polar vortex (one that currently appears to be in the process of getting ripped in half). So Lingling became indirectly linked with polar amplification related events further north.

The stalled frontal boundary and related Jet Stream lag also resulted in Lingling remaining parked over hot Pacific waters of great depth. Normally, the cyclonic action of the storm would pump cooler, deeper waters to the surface and result in the storm’s weakening. Unfortunately, the deeper waters were also quite warm, so Lingling maintained enough strength to continue dumping epic amounts of rain over the Philippines for two weeks straight.

Lingling front entagled 20 Jan

(Lingling, lower left, entangled in frontal system stretching all the way across the western Pacific on January 20, 2014. Front entanglement in a fixed Jet Stream pattern and related stalled frontal boundary helped result in Lingling’s 2 week persistence. Image source: Lance-Modis.)

This combination of conditions: hot, deep water, exceedingly early tropical storm formation (such that there is essentially no end to the Pacific cyclone season) and a lagging, persistent Jet Stream pattern resulting in an entirely abnormal storm event are unlikely to have occurred without the added weather forcing of human caused warming.

Unfortunately, the Philippines, at least for this year as in 2013, are likely to expect storm formation and impact to continue on throughout the year. Water conditions are certainly warm enough. So we will likely see the current 20 month storm season continue for another 11. A shift in winds, blowing the warmer waters east with an El Nino might bring some brief respite. But with human caused climate change pushing temperatures ever higher, we are likely to see the waters continue to warm, eventually over-riding such variability. In the end, the Philippines is indeed likely to see a never ending storm season.

Links:

Four Feet of Rain Floods the Philippines

More than a Million Forced From Their Homes by Lingling

NASA Lance-Modis

Commons

NOAA: Deep, Warm Water Fuels Haiyan Intensification

Through the Looking Glass of the Great Dying

190 mph Monster Cyclone Now the Strongest Hurricane Since 1980

Arctic ‘Heat Wave’ to Rip Polar Vortex in Half

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Arctic ‘Heat Wave’ to Rip Polar Vortex in Half, Shatter Alaska’s All-Time Record High for January?

62 Degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the all time record high for anywhere in the state of Alaska for the month of January. 57 Degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the temperature measured earlier this week in southern Alaska.

And forecasts call for warmer weather from Friday through Monday…

Across Alaska, temperatures are as much a 30 degrees above average for this time of year. This record winter warmth has pushed Alaska’s average temperature, according to reports from Anchorage, to 24 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, the lower 48, hundreds of miles to the south, is experiencing average temperatures of 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Though 24 degrees is not typically seen as a heat wave, readings in the upper 50s and lower 60s for Alaska in January may as well be. If these same temperature extremes were occurring during summer, some parts of Alaska would be experiencing a 90+ degree scorcher.

Mangled Jet Stream, Anomalous 10 Month Blocking Pattern to Blame

What we are witnessing is what amounts to a ten month long warm air invasion of the Arctic, with Alaska at ground zero. Human-caused global warming has resulted in an amplification of polar temperatures well above the typical average. Now the region is experiencing readings that range of 15-30 degrees warmer than normal.

This massive temperature increase (also associated with a reduction of land and sea ice) is causing a weakening in the polar Jet Stream which is allowing more warm air to invade the Arctic from the south. Early last spring, a weakness in the Jet resulted in a powerful and extraordinarily persistent blocking pattern forming over Alaska. Warm air flooded continuously up and over Alaska, occasionally penetrating deep into the Arctic Ocean region. Heat wave after heat wave impacted Alaska, which set numerous all-time record high temperatures during the summer of 2013.

This anomalous heat flooded in and spilled out around the Arctic Circle, disgorging so much hot air that the term ‘Arctic Heat Wave’ became common parlance. Now, this historic and extraordinary pattern has continued for 1o months running. A kind of persistence that may well give new meaning to the term blocking pattern.

south to north weather pattern Alaska

(Image source: NASA)

The wave pattern stretches so high into the upper latitudes that what we are seeing is weather systems more often rise up from the south and travel northward over Alaska and into the Arctic, than proceed in their typical east-west progression.
The west-east weather train is broken. And a strange south-north train from equator to Arctic is instead set in place.

In the above image sequence, provided by NASA, the heat and associated moisture flow all the way from the equatorial region near Hawaii, up over thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean waters before flooding on through Alaska and into the high Arctic. The extraordinarily powerful and persistent blocking pattern has linked the deep tropics to the high Arctic in unprecedented and anomalous fashion. Especially when one considers that the current pattern has lasted for almost an entire year.

This it the kind of extreme weather pattern that Dr. Jennifer Francis warned about. The kind of pattern Dr. Jeff Masters continues to point out in his cutting edge blog — Weather Underground. In my view, we ignore Dr. Francis and Dr. Masters at our risk. Their observations hold true to what is happening now and they are very useful tools for predicting the weather of a world in which human global warming has now become the primary driver of the world’s climate. Without the actual and ongoing context that is human warming, the few meteorologists still associated with climate change deniers scramble to find the increasingly rare analogs in past climate that match today’s extreme weather. But there is no analog to warmest ever temperatures in Alaska and polar temperatures that are now hotter than they were at any time over at least the past 44,000 years. And there is certainly no analog to CO2 levels higher than they’ve been at any time during the past 4.5 million years.

For this is the disrupted Jet Stream pattern not only directly responsible for the anomalous Arctic heat Alaska is now experiencing. It is also the cause of colder air being driven out of the Arctic and southward over the US, causing multiple cold snaps and extreme winter weather events in the lower 48. For the warm air influx, both at the surface and at the upper levels of the atmosphere, result in multiple polar vortex collapse events.

Polar Vortex to be Ripped in Half

And we are in the midst of just such a polar vortex collapse now. Over the past week, warmer air has flooded the high Arctic, weakening the polar vortex as the center of cold air began to split and streamed down over the continents. By Monday, these warm wedges of air, driving up over both Svalbard in the east and Alaska in the west, will have completely separated the polar vortex into two disassociated cold centers.

In essence, the polar vortex will have been ripped in half by a pincer style warm air invasion from the south. Who knew that atmospheric warming would come to mimic the battlefield tactics of Germans rumbling over the fields of France during World War II? But here we are:

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half

(Image source: University of Washington)

In the above image, we can plainly see the much warmer than normal air wedge driving up from the south and over Alaska in association with the now, ten month old, blocking pattern and related Rossby wave feature over the Pacific and North America. A second, albeit weaker, wedge drives in over Europe and across Svalbard. The net result is a ‘pincer’ of warm air invading the Arctic and cutting the polar vortex in half.

Note that one cold air vortex is predicted to be centered over Eastern Canada near Hudson Bay (Monday). The other is shown to be driven south to Russian Kamchatka near the Sea of Okhotsk. Perhaps coincidentally, this cold air core is very close to the Amur region of Russia and China that experienced a 150 year flood event just this summer. A flood event also associated with anomalous Jet Stream patterns linking polar, temperate, ocean and monsoonal storm patterns (see Song of Flood and Fire and Requiem for Flooded Cities).

Under this pattern the Arctic and especially Alaska will continue to experience record or near-record warmth, while the lower 48 continues to suffer the repeated blows of extreme winter weather as the conditions that are supposed to be affecting the Polar region are instead mercilessly driven southward by a human caused warming and polar vortex collapse event.

Links:

Jet Stream Flip Flop: Alaska is Warmer than Lower 48 Again

Sea Ice Loss Locks Jet Stream into Severe Winter Storm Pattern for Much of US

The Arctic Heatwave: Greenland, Siberia, Alaska Heat Domes and a Mangled Jet Stream

From Archangel to Alaska, Heat Waves Now Flank the Central Arctic

NASA

Dr. Jennifer Francis, Top Climatologists, Explain how Global Warming Wrecks the Jet Stream and Amps up the Hydrological Cycle to Produce Extreme Weather

Weather Underground

Arctic Temperatures Now Hottest Seen in at Least 44,000 Years

Cold Snap for the US? It’s the Collapsing Polar Vortex, Stupid.

University of Washington

A Song of Flood and Fire

A Requiem for Flooded Cities

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Growth Shock and How the Gods of Our Greed Continue to Fail Us

Number_of_Planet_Scenarios_2008

(Number of Planet Scenarios as Calculated by the World Foot Print Network. Note that according to current data, our pace of consumption currently overshoots Earth’s sustainable resource base by about 50% requiring about 1.5 Earths to meet our needs. By 2050, consumption will nearly demand the yearly productivity of three Earths. Overshoot causes irreparable harm to resources and ecosystems resulting in a collapse of the resource base. See image below.)

We are living in the age of limits, the age of consequences, the age when our quest for an endless expansion of the production of goods and services and the resulting endless concentration of wealth under pure capitalism has resulted in ever more intense degrees of Growth Shock even as it risks a devastating collapse of current day industrial civilizations.

It is a world where Western governments run by ultra-conservative political servants of the oil and gas industry engage in scientific book burning, as recently happened in Canada. A world where 85 people own more wealth than 3.5 billion of their fellow human beings. A world where it is possible for one individual to consume the same amount of resources as hundreds of thousands of his fellows.

In this world, hydrogen sulfide gas is building up in the deep ocean, a bleeding Earth is contributing its own increasing volumes of methane and CO2 to a human-caused global warming nightmare, a world where CO2 levels have passed 400 parts per million, a level not seen in 4.5 million years.

We live in a place where rock stars like Neil Young join with indigenous peoples and environmentalists in a rebellion against the fossil fuel giants who rule so much of our planet and who seek to enforce continued and increasing consumption of dirty, dangerous and depleting fossil fuels. A place where climate scientists are forced to become political activists, to risk prison sentences, to have any hope of keeping a shred of the bounty of Earth safe for their grandchildren. A world where bloggers and activists are increasingly threatened and imprisoned for expressing their previously inalienable right of free political speech.

We live in a world that is an ongoing and intensifying wreckage. A calamity caused by our worship of the failed gods of our greed, a disaster born of our turning away from our fellow man, of our loss of faith in our ability to work together through rational and representative governments, and of our dramatic failure to impose limits — both upon ourselves and upon the most criminally greedy among us.

We are living in the age of Growth Shock and on this unsustainable path the days of human civilization upon this Earth are numbered. There are no second or third Earths to which we can extend our madness that is an economic system designed to endlessly increase consumption of finite resources. There are no green fields of Mars or Venus for us to plunder. The worlds within our reach are barren and as far as even our great telescopic eyes can see across the vast expanse of space there is nothing, nothing even within an insurmountable gulf of light years, of which we could even have cause to dream of to slake our boundless want.

No. We are here. And of all the worlds within our reach fair Earth is Alone. And so we must set our task to live within our means here. To find ways to be happy that do not involve an attempt at endless, mad, and harmful expansion. That do not involve an attempt at burning all the fossil fuels and rapidly ruining our atmosphere and climate for ages and ages to come. Ours is the terrible and hopeful task of the Easter Islanders, of the residents of Tikopia — one group who succeeded in living happily and sustainably upon an island world of limited resources, and the other who desperately and miserably failed.

Our choices are as essential as they are dire and we are making them now, mostly for ill.

Environmentalists get it. Ecologists get it. Anthropologists get it. Druids get it. Scientists get it. Everyday people slaving away under minimum wage or worse get it. Those who live in the shanty towns get it. Those who live down wind of a coal plant get it. Those in West Virginia who had their water ruined get it. Those who live in fracking towns where their water is at risk or must be pumped in get it. Those in British Columbia protesting tar sands pipeline expansion get it. Some in the drying, burning west get it. Some in the storm-wracked east get it. The middle class of America who has been scape-goated and sacrificed on the alter of billionaire greed for the past 30 years should have gotten it by now. Muslims in the middle east who would have rather found water than oil get it. Christian monks who construct solar panel farms get it. South Pacific Islanders witnessing their nations being devoured by the waves get it. So many more who have been forgotten, abused, or who remain unnamed get it.

And now, an economic historian, who clearly gets it, has broken ranks from the mainstream to pen the extraordinarily brave and insightful work: Green Capitalism, the God that Failed. Consider:

We can’t shop our way to sustainability because the problems we face cannot be solved by individual choices in the marketplace. In the final analysis, the only way to align production with society’s interests and the needs of the environment is to do so directly. The huge global problems we face require the visible hand of direct economic planning to reorganize the world economy to meet the needs of humans and the environment, to enforce limits on consumption and pollution, to fairly ration and distribute the goods and services we produce for the benefit of each and every person on the planet and to conserve resources so that future generations of humans and other life forms also can live their lives to the full. All this is inconceivable without the abolition of capitalist private property in the means of production and the institution of collective bottom-up democratic control over the economy and society. And it will be impossible to build functioning democracies unless we also abolish global economic inequality. This is the greatest moral imperative of our time, and it is essential to winning worldwide popular support for the profound changes we must make to prevent the collapse of civilization. A tall order to be sure. But we will need even taller waterproof boots if we don’t make this happen. If Paul Hawken, Lester Brown, Francis Cairncross and Paul Krugman have a better plan, where is it?

In the niddling little details, Richard Smith may be wrong. You can make steel without coal, for example (biomass can provide the coking carbon and electric furnaces can smelt the metal) and total renewable energy production worldwide is now 20% of overall demand (not .6 percent as stated in Smith’s report), plug in electric vehicles, especially when run by renewable power sources, do result in an overall lowering of fossil fuel emissions, and, yes, you can eventually weed out all the carbon-producing fossil fuel inputs from a manufacturing chain (just not all waste and pollution).

But all that over-pessimism aside, Smith is correct in the broad brush. Steel production is limited by its coal or biomass coking base and overall mineral and energy inputs. If you use coal, it is also limited by long-term damage to the climate and to water supplies. Manufacturing, no matter how efficient, will always produce some waste and consume some resources that are not recyclable.

Overshoot_2

(Classic ecological overshoot and degraded carrying capacity. Image source: The Elephant in the Room)

And, most importantly, any economic model requiring endless exponential growth in the consumption of labor and resources is eventually doomed to fail especially when it is primarily based, as it is today, on a set of finite materials (fossil fuels) that through their ever increasing use cause untold damage to the world in which we live. When such a model is also based on an endless funneling of wealth to the top of the economic spectrum it is socially horrific as well. A Godzilla Zombie of a thing.

To survive the age of Growth Shock will require not just a transition away from dirty, dangerous and depleting fuels. It will also require economic systems that do not demand more materials and resources than our single Earth can provide. And, in this, Mr Smith is absolutely correct. We need to reverse the trend that has so undermined both our faith in and the direct effectiveness of our systems of government. Corporatism, commercialism, and laissez faire neoliberal globalized capitalism all must vastly recede. The zero sum game must be put back into its box. Governments must be enabled to impose effective rules and constraints even as it is also enabled to redistribute wealth to its people. It must be enabled to gap fill for the industries it will most certainly have to shut down by providing alternate jobs programs and livelihoods for those who will inevitably be put out of work. It can no longer be the ineffective baby-sitter for anarchic corporations who do what they want, when they want, however they want. Either through active responsibility or passive turning away and collapse, those days are coming to an end. Lastly, the world’s civilizations must learn to work together effectively, acquiescing to rules and constraints that benefit all people.

These are tall orders. But if we wish to retain some shade of our current wealth and Earth’s current richness and beauty, if we wish to establish a powerful, capable, and effective world civilization, if we wish to pursue justice for all peoples and not just the wealthy, then we must pursue these goals with passion and ardor. For the path we are currently on has no viable future.

2013 4th Hottest Year on Record, Deep Ocean Warming Fastest, NASA, NOAA Find No Pause in Long-Term Warming Trend

2013 4th Hottest On Record

(Global temperature anomalies for 2013. Image source: NOAA)

With the readings coming in for 2013 — atmosphere, ocean surface and the deep ocean — it becomes increasingly obvious that anyone saying planetary warming has slowed down is clearly misinformed.

Criticisms of the misinformed aside, according to reports from NOAA’s National Climate Data Center, 2013 was the world’s 4th hottest on record since temperature measures began in 1880. All this despite ENSO conditions remaining neutral in the Eastern Pacific and deep ocean heat content continuing to rapidly rise while sucking a portion of that heat out of the atmosphere.

The NCDC measure found numerous regions in which temperatures were the hottest ever recorded including a large swath of Australia, a broad stretch of the Pacific Ocean adjacent to New Guinea and the Philippines, an area larger than Texas at the heart of the Asian Continent, and multiple other locations ranging from south of Svalbard to East Africa to the Indian Ocean to the Northern and Southern Pacific. Aside from these record hot zones, over 70 percent of the land and ocean surface measured came up either hotter than average or much hotter than average while 28% of the globe experienced average temperatures and less than 2% of the Earth’s surface experienced cooler than average temperatures.

Notably, no regions of the globe saw record coldest temperatures and the only zone coming up cooler than normal cropped up in the Southern Ocean just north of Antarctica.

NASA found 2013 to be the 7th hottest on record and the 2nd hottest non El Nino year on record.

Helpfully, NASA also put together a graph of global temperature averages as measured since 1950 showing that atmospheric warming has continued unabated despite much false and inaccurate press coverage of a ‘global warming hiatus.’

gistemp_nino_s

(GISS temperature measurements with trend lines for El Nino, La Nina and all years. It’s worth noting that this temperature graph indicates no pause in warming since 1950. Instead, what we see are inexorable global surface temperature increases. Image source: NASA GISS)

Deep Ocean Warming Measures Far More Dire

Recent news reports have also falsely claimed that more heat going into the deep ocean, as measured by NASA, NOAA, the Trenberth study, and others, is an indication of lowered global climate sensitivity. To the contrary, a warming ocean contains two very dire consequences that, if set into play, could both enhance warming, and create an ecological nightmare for first the oceans and finally the surface world.

The first, a growing risk of subsea methane release, is greatly enhanced by a rapidly warming ocean. We have covered the risks and consequences of methane release (both seabed and terrestrial methane) in numerous posts over the past year. For your convenience I’ve linked them below. But, suffice it to say that a warming ocean puts at risk the more rapid release of hundreds of gigatons of methane, an amount that could greatly amplify the already powerful and ongoing signal of human warming. More worrisome, initial indications show that at least some of this methane is already destabilized and venting into the world ocean system and atmosphere.

The second consequence involves growing ocean hypoxia and anoxia as the oceans warm, become more stratified and as major ocean current systems are disrupted and altered. Growing ocean hypoxia and anoxia results in, among other terrible impacts, ocean sea bottoms that are less and less able to support a diversity of life and that, more and more, come to support dangerous hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria.

A third consequence includes the basal melting of ocean contacting ice sheets. Such melting has already destabilized the massive Pine Island Glacier which, according to a recent scientific study, is on the path to an inevitable collapse into the Southern Ocean.

Yet, according to these excellent graphs produced by Larry Hamilton for The Arctic Ice Blog, world ocean heat content has been rising by leaps and bounds over the past few years, especially in the deep ocean where warming puts at risk the most dangerous of outcomes — methane release and anoxia.

OHC_7an

OHC_2an

(Image source: L Hamilton. Image data: NOAA. Produced for The Arctic Ice Blog. Note the extraordinarily steep slope indicating deep ocean warming since 1985.)

The top graph shows ocean heat content increases in the first 700 meters of ocean water. The bottom graph shows ocean heat content in the first 2000 meters of ocean water. Note that ocean heat content gains for the deep ocean (2000 meter graph) are more rapid by 25% than heat content gains in the shallower ocean. Meanwhile, both graphs show a very rapid accumulation of heat, especially through recent years during which the so-called global warming hiatus was in effect.

If we could find a place to put the majority of heat from human-caused climate change, the deep ocean would be the last place any sane ecologist would look. Warming the deep ocean is a worst-case disaster in the making. It puts added stress on methane hydrate stores and it pushes the very dangerous consequences of ocean stratification and anoxia along at a much more rapid pace.

These are not optimistic measures. In my view, this is much closer to an absolute worst case.

Mixed Outlook for 2014

Early indications for 2014 show an increased chance of La Nina for the first three months of the year. That said, ocean surface heat in the Eastern equatorial Pacific appears to be on the rise, especially in areas closest to coastal South America.

sst.daily.anom

(Image source: NOAA)

Should ENSO tip the scale to El Nino, it is almost certain we will see a hottest year on record for surface temperatures during 2014. Should conditions remain neutral or tip to La Nina, we’ll still likely experience a top ten hottest year on record (atmosphere) even as ever more heat is transferred to the deep ocean.

Links:

NASA Finds 2013 Sustained Long-Term Warming Trend

National Climate Data Center Global Analysis

Larry Hamilton CA The Arctic Ice Blog

The Arctic Methane Monster Continues its Ominous Rumbling

Arctic Methane Monster Shortens Tail

The Arctic Methane Monster Stirs

Through the Looking Glass of the Great Dying

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

Warming Ocean, Upwelling to Make an End to Pine Island Glacier

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

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

“Dead Cthulu waits dreaming…” H.P. Lovecraft

In the 1930s, pulp horror writer H.P. Lovecraft penned tales of ancient monsters called Old Ones that, if awakened, would emerge to devour the world. One of these horrors, Cthulu, lay in death’s sleep in his house called R’lyeh at the bottom of the Baltic Sea (Charles Stross) awaiting some impetus to disturb him from necrotic slumber (ironically, the Baltic sea bed contains one of the world’s highest concentrations of the deadly hydrogen-sulfide producing bacteria that are a focus of this article).

Namibia Hydrogen Sulfide Emission 2007

(2007 Hydrogen Sulfide emission off the coast of Namibia. Such emissions tend to color the surface water green and, in extreme cases, black. Image source: Earth Observatory)

In the imaginary world of H.P. Lovecraft, terrible lore of these horrific Old Ones, among which, Cthulu was the worst, lay stored in ancient tomes. To learn of these mysteries was to risk madness. For the Old Ones were too awful for the human mind to conceive without succumbing to a hopeless darkness.

In researching the terrors that could emerge in a world destabilized by human warming, I am often reminded that human imagination is not without a sense of dramatic irony. But in this case, the irony invoked is that human imagining, in fiction, seems to sometimes possess a broader perception of potential real world risks and their implications for human thought, than the far more defined warning signal coming from the sciences.

Cthulu, in this case, may as well be a metaphor for one of the worst of the world’s ancient climate horrors — the oceanic production of hydrogen sulfide gas that occurred from time to time, during various hothouse events. A production implicated in many of the worst mass extinction events ever to mar the history of life on Earth.

Hydrogen Sulfide — Bi-product of Bacterial Metabolism in the Ancient Oceans

In understanding this ancient horror, we must first take a look at some of the world’s oldest and smallest creatures. Primordial bacteria.

About 3.5 billion years ago, the Earth was a hot, toxic place, bombarded by solar radiation. It was still cooling down after its initial formation. The oceans had spilled out over its surface, but the continents had yet to emerge. Atmospheric levels of CO2 were high and oxygen was virtually nonexistent.

676px-Dvulgaris_micrograph

(Desulfovibrio vulgaris, one of the most well-researched hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria. Image source: Commons)

But, in this world, small microbial organisms thrived. Deprived of oxygen, which is the now typical means of respiration for non plant organisms, the microbes required other sources for their simple cellular metabolism. Sulphate was common in the world’s emerging oceans and reacted well with hydrogen, which was also very common. The result was the emergence of some of the oldest known living organisms — the sulphate reducing bacteria.

Suphate reducing bacteria combined sulphate and hydrogen to produce hydrogen sulfide gas or H2S.

As a result, ancient oceans were cauldrons bubbling over with hydrogen sulfide which was the biproduct of these primordial organisms’ respiration in much the same way that oxygen is a biproduct of plant respiration and CO2 is a biproduct of animal respiration. Such an ocean state, called a Canfield Ocean by today’s scientists, was the common state for the world’s oceans until the emergence of more complex life around 2.5 billion years ago. By about 600 million years ago, the Canfield Ocean state only very rarely came into being and when it did, mass death tended to rapidly follow.

Changes Came With the Emergence of Oxygen

As the Earth system matured and new organisms came into being, CO2 reducing photosynthetic life emerged and began to produce an abundance of oxygen. Toxic to the ancient organisms, the abundance of oxygen pushed the sulphate reducing bacteria into the world’s low-oxygen corners. The deep ocean, or anaerobic mud became a haven for these tiny primordial monsters. Never again would they dominate as they once did. But, from time to time, when priomordial ocean states would infrequently emerge during various hot-house phases in Earth’s climate progression, these life forms would explode, producing prodigious volumes of what, to more complex life, was the very toxic hydrogen sulfide gas.

A Toxic, Volatile Gas

Hydrogen sulfide is directly toxic to most plant and animal based life. Its effects in animals are similar to that of hydrogen cyanide in that it eventually results in cardio-pulminary shock and then death. Lower levels of hydrogen sulfide are associated with loss of smell, blindness, respiratory infections, and loss of neurological and nervous system function. At very low levels, hydrogen sulfide is non toxic and is even produced in cells to perform various functions. Human lethality begins at around 600 parts per million. Smaller mammals with higher respiration rates begin to show lethality at around 450 ppm. Doses in the range of 10-20 parts per million have been known to cause eye irritation and damage over long periods of exposure. Levels over 50 ppm are generally considered harmful if exposure occurs for long durations. Doses between the irritation dose (10 ppm) and the lethality dose (600 ppm) over extended periods are shown to cause the eye damage and degenerative nerve and lung changes listed above.

In the environment, hydrogen sulfide causes numerous other damaging impacts. The gas reacts with hydroxyl and oxygen over the course of about 1 to 3 days to produce sulfur dioxide. Aside from providing a mechanism to draw down local oxygen levels, the sulfur dioxide product can end in the stratosphere where it substantially degrades the protective ozone layer.

Though hydrogen sulfide is slightly heavier than air, tending to pool at lower elevations, it is light enough to be born aloft by winds to various layers of the atmosphere and its even lighter sulfur dioxide products are quite a bit more mobile. At high enough atmospheric concentrations, both it and its sulfur products could begin to seriously degrade the Earth’s protective ozone layer. And evidence exists in the geological record of such events occurring on at least a couple of occasions during the last 250 million years. Notably, during the Permian extinction event, large numbers of fossils have been found with the characteristic UV damage that would occur in a world in which the ozone layer had been greatly degraded.

At high enough concentrations, hydrogen sulfide is volatile enough to burn. A 4.3 percent concentration is immediately combustible, producing a bluish flame. This extraordinarily high concentration would be almost immediately lethal to humans if inhaled and usually only presents a fire risk at highly concentrated sources.

In the current day, high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas are often associated with natural gas extraction. Natural gas, by volume, can contain as much as 90 percent hydrogen sulfide. The hydrogen sulfide, in this case, occurs due to catalytic reaction of the hydrocarbon with certain minerals present in the Earth. Though not produced by the same mechanisms as oceanic hydrogen sulfide, the gas in this form is just as dangerous and is a constant concern to workers of the oil and gas industry. Notably, risks of hydrogen sulfide exposure, leaks, and release into the environment have greatly increased with the widespread adoption of hydro-fracking practices that use high pressure liquids to rupture tight gas deposits and chaotically release the substance for its collection at one of the US’s 1 million well sites.

In general, the volatility, danger, and toxicity of the gas is difficult to overestimate. Notably, its lethality resulted in its use as a chemical weapon during World War I.

Culprit of Past Mass Extinctions

High concentrations of hydrogen sulfide, resulting both from its production in a Canfield type ocean state and, possibly, through its release in large methane pulses from the sea bed during catastrophic warming events, has been implicated in numerous mass extinction events both on land and in the ocean. Notably, the Permian-Triassic extinction, the Triassic-Jurassic extinction, and the PETM extinction in the deep oceans all show signs related to ocean anoxia and varying levels of hydrogen sulfide gas production. Earlier mass extinctions such as the Devonian and Ordovician extinctions were also likely caused by anoxia and related hydrogen sulfide production. Lesser extinctions in which ocean anoxia also probably played a part include  the Ireviken, Mulde, Lau, Toarcian and Cenomanian-Turonian events.

Prominent researchers such as Ward and Kump propose that hydrogen sulfide production by sulfate reducing bacteria is a primary extinction mechanism in stratified and anoxic oceans due to their inevitable multiplication in these environments which are, to them, far more favorable than oxygen-rich mixed oceans. In a Canfield Ocean world, large, episodic releases of hydrogen sulfide gas would cause local mass poisonings of land dwelling animals, especially of those living near large ocean-linked bodies of water. The ocean itself would be brimming full and spilling over with this nasty substance. This condition would be highly toxic to most life, requiring extreme adaptation to survive in naturally occurring havens.

Separate depletion of atmospheric oxygen through both the plant killing mechanism of hydrogen sulfide gas and its long-term reaction with oxygen would also make life far more difficult to terrestrial creatures. Finally, the massive amounts of sulfur dioxide produced in such a world would combine with the hydrogen sulfide pulsing into the atmosphere to create an ongoing, long-term degradation of the ozone layer, further harming surface dwelling plants and animals.

During the Permian Extinction, such conditions, together with other impacts of a global hothouse featuring a massive flood basalt, are thought to have wiped out more than 70% of terrestrial organisms and a total of more than 95% of all life on Earth.

Occurrence in Current Seas

Expanding Ocean Anoxia Hydrogen Sulfide in the Baltic Sea

(Expanding bottom anoxia, hypoxia and hydrogen sulfide production since 1960 in the bottom zone of the Baltic Sea. Red indicates region experiencing low or no oxygen content. Black indicates areas where H2S gas is detected. Image source: Baltic Sea Trends)

The world’s oceans, according to recent research, are rapidly becoming more stratified and less oxygen-rich. The result is that mixing between various layers of the ocean is beginning to shut down reducing oxygen content in the deep ocean and spurring the expansion of numerous oceanic dead zones.

Over the past 150 years, the Pacific Ocean was observed to become more stratified at a pace ten times that seen during the end of the last ice age about 12,000 years ago. Such a rapid pace of stratification is putting severe stress on the world’s oceans with numerous regions showing the effects of low oxygen (hypoxia) and some regions succumbing to increasingly anoxic states.

These low oxygen events have been associated with multiplying oceanic dead zones. Very large dead zones have been observed in the Pacific, specifically off the coast of Oregon. Other major dead zones continue to be observed at the mouth of major river systems, such as within the Gulf of Mexico, where the appearance of massive related toxic algae blooms is now an almost annual event. In general, almost all ocean dead zones are expanding leading to the dramatic reduction in habitat size of numerous fish species. And even the most cursory research provides ample evidence that ocean hypoxia is expanding concurrently with a rapidly expanding ocean stratification.

When combined with the jarring effects of rapid ocean warming and expanding acidification, it becomes plainly obvious to almost any ocean ecologist that the world’s ocean system is suffering the heavy bombardment of a new mass extinction event.

It is this kind of low or no oxygen environment that is a prime breeding ground for hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria. In numerous places around the world, such as off the coast of Namibia, in the Black Sea, in the Baltic Sea, in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Chesapeake Bay, and off the coast of Oregon, large and expanding zones of hydrogen sulfide have been observed in deep water environments. In some regions, this hydrogen sulfide occasionally penetrates to the surface layer resulting in major fish kills and a concordant rotten egg smell.

Off the Oregon coast, in perhaps one of the most extreme examples of ongoing ocean hypoxia, one of the world’s largest and most oxygen-starved dead zones continues to expand. The oxygen levels in this region are so low that local fisherman often bring back horrific tales of baby bottom dwelling creatures such as crabs and octopus climbing anchor ropes to escape the dangers of their oxygen-starved environment. In another, possibly related event, masses of starfish perished during 2013 and 2014 as they, over the course of a few weeks, turned to goo. The fact that this sci-fi esque mass death of starfish occurred near one of the world’s largest dead zones should not be lost on those concerned for world ocean health.

But perhaps even more concerning is the fact that this region off the Oregon coast is producing substantial volumes of hydrogen sulfide gas. Volumes high enough in concentration to occasionally cross the ocean-air boundary.

Oregon possesses numerous features that would aid in the transport of this gas to the surface. Primarily, the near Oregon ocean system frequently features strong up-welling currents. These currents can push bottom waters through stratified layers and cause them to contact the surface. If these oxygen starved bottom waters contain hydrogen sulfide gas, as they increasingly do, this harmful gas can be transported into the local atmosphere through mixing.

Such events, thus far, have been limited. However, since the Oregon dead zone’s discovery in 2001, its expansion has been both deeply concerning and well documented, showing a rapid and dangerous growth over the 13 years since its emergence. Despite the documented expansion of deep water hydrogen sulfide in numerous oceanic regions, the only other ocean zone on Earth observed to emit hydrogen sulfide gas to the atmosphere is in the region of coastal Namibia.

In Namibia, huge volumes of organic compounds fall into the sea after being flushed down ocean terminating streams and rivers. These organic compounds rain down into the deep ocean directly off Nambia’s coasts. There, the ocean bottom hosts both an anoxic environment and masses of hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria. As a result, toxic hydrogen sulfide gas periodically erupts from the ocean and into the atmosphere there.

The Very Real Threat That is Oceanic Hydrogen Sulfide Gas Production

There are few limiters to oceanic hydrogen sulfide production in the world’s increasingly stratified and oxygen starved oceans. Sulphate, which the bacteria require for respiration, is one of the most common ocean elements. In the current ocean, it is present in volumes greater than those seen during the Permian Extinction when these tiny monsters are thought to have done their worst.

Iron and manganese in the world ocean system aids in the development of less permeable boundary layers that help keep a lid on deep ocean concentrations of hydrogen sulfide. However, even in the anemic circulation of stratified and Canfield oceans, upwelling will bring the gas to the surface in certain regions. In addition, as the oceans contain greater and greater volumes of the toxic gas, it will push closer and closer to the surface, rendering metals that help reinforce the boundary layer a practically useless prophylactic (such high metal concentrations currently prevent hydrogen sulfide from penetrating the surface layer in the Black and Baltic Seas as well as in the Chesapeake Bay).

In addition, modern industrial farming practices provide extra nutrients upon which these dangerous microbes can feed. High levels of hydrogen sulfide in the deeper regions of the Chesapeake Bay, for example, owes its existence, in part, to massive farm run-off into the Bay and the dumping of mass volumes of nutrients upon which the sulphate reducing bacteria can feed.

It is important to note that we observe heightened levels of hydrogen sulfide gas in the world ocean system now. As hypoxia and anoxia progress with the human-caused warming of the oceans, and as glacial melt interrupts and alters the now strong ocean currents and related mixing, it is certain that hydrogen sulfide production in the deep ocean will continue to increase resulting in elevating levels of harm to ocean dwelling animals and ever more numerous instances of hydrogen sulfide gas contact with coastal and surface waters.

Dead Cthulu Rises

In the context of increasing ocean hypoxia and stratification, we might do well to remember that we are tiny, weak beings at the mercy of great natural forces which we can barely conceive or understand. Forces that we have unwittingly, callously and ignorantly set into motion.

*   *   *   *   *

Long ago, when I was a ten year old child, I was fortunate enough to meet an amazingly kind, adventurous and inquisitive man. The man, whom I will call Rick to keep safe his identity, was a bit of a local paramour in ocean and bay research. He was constantly in contact with both the ocean and adjacent Chesapeake bays, ever venturing out to explore and to conduct research on marine life. In later years, he would be the impetus behind annual summer marine science camps hosted by the Virginia Institutes of Marine Science, Norfolk Academy, and Old Dominion University. But this was later. Now, Rick was helping an elementary school student present on the issue of our then expanding understanding of marine science.

Living so close to the bay and ocean, I was intimately in contact with the living boundary of land and sea. In the more demanding and less stimulating forum that was public education, I seldom had the opportunity to indulge my passion for the oceans. But at age 10 I was given the opportunity to give a broad marine science presentation for my classmates. As part of my project, I constructed posters and models depicting the current state of world ocean research. I graphically illustrated the various known zones of the bathysphere, the light and life filled ones and the more mysterious and far less well understood depths. But Rick was the centerpiece of my presentation. He was my keynote. And he energetically answered all my own and fellow students’ questions, speaking in the kind and intriguing manner that would later draw so many into his charismatic orbit.

In later years, I would attend Rick’s summer marine science camps on two different occasions. In both cases, I observed what appeared to be an increasing concern about both the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the neighboring oceans. In later years, Rick’s attitude, once so full of optimism, bordered on cynicism. The world he loved so deeply was experiencing death on a scale that horrified him. And he harbored a deep sense of betrayal that we weren’t doing more to stop the senseless slaughter of so many of the living things he saw as both beautiful and wondrous.

In the mid 2000s, Rick committed suicide. To me, one of the great ocean pioneers of my developmental years had passed away by taking his own life. And I couldn’t help but wonder if the horrible ways in which the oceans that he so loved were changing was just too much for him. If the commercialization and cheapening of all the things he held most dear along with their subsequent damaging and putting at great risk of terrible harm had robbed his life of beauty and purpose.

Rick was, if anything, a very intelligent and sensitive man. He knew what was happening to the Bay and ocean on a personal level. When the Bay was harmed it was as if it hurt Rick too.

Rick also knew how temperature changes affected the depths. For he was on the front line studying it. He was hauling up the fish and the water samples. He was doing the measuring with his own hands.

Was the awakening of terrible Cthulu, in the form of hypoxia, anoxia and deadly hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria, too much for Rick to continue bearing mute witness? Did his pleas to those working in the marine science community fall only on deaf ears? Was it just too much for this sensitive, feeling, and intelligent man to bear?

*   *   *   *   *

If Rick taught me anything it was that our lives and the life of the ocean are deeply connected. One cannot remain healthy without the other. In contrast to this basic understanding, the damage our continued industrial emission of greenhouse gasses is doing to the world ocean system is a horrific travesty. And the damage we have already caused, have already done to those most sensitive creatures among us, have already set in play for future decades and centuries, is tremendous.

The ocean suffocates, bleeding deadly hydrogen sulfide gas. Cthulu rises from his ancient house in the depths. And yet we still continue down the wretched path in pursuit of more terrible things to come.

Links:

The Earth Observatory

Baltic Sea Trends

Commons

Through the Looking Glass of the Great Dying

Sulphate Reducing Bacteria

Impact From the Deep

Toxicological Profile for Hydrogen Sulfide

Positive Reinforcement, H2S and the Permo-Triassic Extinction

Massive Release of Hydrogen Sulfide to the Surface Ocean and Atmosphere During Intervals of Ocean Anoxia

Expanding Ocean Dead Zones are Shrinking Marlin, Tuna, and Billfish Habitats

Dead Zone Causing Wave of Death off Oregon Coast

Information about Hydrogen Sulfide in the Baltic Sea

Residence time for Hydrogen Sulfide in the Atmosphere

Dramatic Expansion of Ocean Dead Zones

Under a Green Sky

This is What Human-Caused Climate Change Looks Like: Arctic to Warm, West Coast to Bake, Polar Vortex to Collapse and Flood Eastern US With Arctic Air

Well, the forecast is in. And it appears we are about to receive yet another helping of winter weather extremes driven by human caused climate change.

ECMWF and NOAA models both show mid and upper level warmth increasing over the polar region. This warmth, over the next week, will invade toward the surface, collapsing the polar vortex and driving Arctic cold into both Siberia and North America. In the image below, you can see that mid level cold is cut in half by warmth flooding into the polar zone resulting in both the polar vortex collapse and ejection toward southern latitudes all while severely malforming the circumpolar Jet Stream.

ECMWF Jan 26

(ECMWF 850 hPa temperature and pressure gradient for the Northern Hemisphere. Image source ECMWF)

Note that mid level atmospheric temperatures are about the same over the Central Arctic as they are over Central Europe, a much lower latitude. Also note how the polar cold, typically centered over the Arctic is driven away and further south into two distinct zones — one over Siberia, the other over North America. Already, observations in the high Arctic show temperatures as much as 30 degrees F above average for this time of year and such anomalies are projected to expand as this second vortex collapse of the season progresses.

This new temperature flux will make the fixed Rossby wave ridge and trough pattern very intense, forming high velocity upper level wind flows over much of the US. To the north, the Jet will invade Alaska. To the south, it will dig deep into the Gulf of Mexico, bringing cold Arctic air into direct contact with moist, warm tropical air. The result may well be a spectacular and dangerous series of winter storms over the next two weeks for the Central and Eastern US.

So you may wish to stay abreast of local weather reports as this most recent collapse series could pack quite a punch while spawning a variety of very extreme weather conditions.

Jet Stream Flow January 22

(ECMWF upper level wind flow over the US for January 22. Note the deep low over southeastern Canada and the powerful associated Jet Stream flow riding along the U shaped trough in the current blocking pattern.)

The vortex disruption, collapse, and flushing of cold air out of the Arctic and further south is forecast to result in a strong cold snap for the Eastern and Central US. Negative anomalies are projected to reach as low as -47 degrees F below average in some locations near the Great Lakes. According to these forecasts the cold may be about as strong but last a bit longer than the previous cold snap spurred by the early January polar vortex collapse.

Meanwhile, strong positive temperature anomalies up to +26 F are expected to dominate the US southwest, a region already suffering some of its driest conditions in a century. Such record warmth is likely to further exacerbate what has come to be a freakish and anomalous period of winter wildfires in the most drought stricken zones along the US West Coast.

ECMWF Vortex Collapse and Cold Snap

(ECMWF temperature forecast for January 23, 2014. Note the vertical line of temperature anomalies almost perfectly bisecting the North American Continent.)

This kind of extreme weather pattern almost perfectly models predictions by prominent polar researchers like Dr. Jennifer Francis, who projected increasingly anomalous Jet Stream patterns, blocking patterns, meandering, and cut off flows due to the massive Arctic melt having occurred since 1979. The retreat of snow and ice, both on land and at sea, results in more warm air invasions into the high Arctic and can directly spur just the kind of weather disruption predicted in the forecast above.

In the trough zones, periodic and powerful cold snaps are far more likely as the polar vortex collapses and cold, Arctic air is flushed south. In these troughs, storms are more frequent and powerful, amped up by the extreme temperature differences and by higher atmospheric moisture content due to overall warming. In the ridge zones, anomalous warmth, drought, and fires are experienced as the over-riding warm, dry air floods up through these regions and into the Arctic.

This is exactly the kind of dynamic we would expect from a warming world. From a world experiencing a powerful amplification of warmth in the northern polar zone. Such a pattern will likely continue to intensify until it is disrupted by large melt outflows from Greenland and from Baffin Island.

Links:

ECMWF

Premiering Next Week: Revenge of the Polar Vortex

Cold Snap for the US? It’s the Collapsing Polar Vortex, Stupid

Sea Ice Loss Locks Jet Stream into Severe Winter Storm Pattern for Most of US

The Polar Vortex is Probably Coming Back

Arctic Ice Graphs

Mangled Jet Stream Sparks Drought, Winter Wildfires…

Mangled Jet Stream Sparks Drought, Winter Wildfires in Southern California — Colby Fire Explodes to Nearly 2000 Acres in One Day

Colby Fire Jan 16

(The Colby Fire as seen from satellite. Image source: NASA)

Major wildfires in winter? It may sound odd, but that’s what’s happening in a California suffering under a climate-change spurred drought that is currently its 9th worst on record.

Yesterday, beneath a dry dome of high pressure and spurred by Santa Ana winds, the Colby fire sparked in a populated suburb of Los Angeles amid a deepening California drought. Today, the fires exploded into a nearly 2,000 acre monstrosity. The blaze, fueled by 30 to 50 mph winds was proving difficult to contain as over 500 firefighters rushed to the scene in an effort to keep it from leaping down into nearby population centers. Mandatory evacuations were in place for hundreds of residents as the fire aggressively advanced toward homes and places of work.

Colby fire photo

(Colby Fire threatens local businesses. Image credit: Julie Palagyi)

Red flag warnings are now in place for many LA counties, which are expected to experience continued strong winds, above average temperatures, and single-digit humidity over the next 24 hours. Such conditions are conducive for the further spread of the Colby fire as well as for the sparking of additional blazes throughout the LA region.

Abnormally Warm, Abnormally Dry

Wildfires are rare in California this time of year. During winter, the region typically experiences wetter, rainier  and cooler conditions as storms flow in off the Pacific Ocean. But this year, a powerful blocking pattern has forced warmer, drier air over the region. It is the other side of the same blocking pattern that is flooding the Arctic with above average temperatures while disrupting the polar vortex and resulting in episodes of extreme weather over the eastern and central US.

Jet Stream Pattern 16 Jan

(Jet Stream Pattern for Thursday and Friday. Image source: University of Washington.)

Note the very high amplitude ridge pushing up from California all the way into central Alaska and the corresponding trough digging down into the eastern US and pushing all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. This image is just a snap shot of the same blocking pattern that has persisted since late March of last year, resulting in wet, stormy conditions for the Eastern US and dry, hot, drought and fire conditions for the western US.

Blocking patterns of this kind have occurred in the past. But it is extraordinarily rare for such events to persist for ten months running. It is also the kind of event that climate experts such as Dr. Jennifer Francis warn is currently caused by a massive loss of sea ice cover in the Arctic and will become more common as sea ice continues its warming-induced retreat resulting in further Jet Stream weakening, meandering and retrenchment.

Weather Pattern Part of Trend Produced by Human-Caused Climate Change

This fixed weather pattern led to very severe conditions in California for December that, according to Dr. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground, resulted in a -4.67 reading on the Palmer drought severity index. This makes December of 2013 the 9th worst drought month on record for California (although anecdotal evidence coming in through January indicate that current conditions may be even worse). It is also worth noting that of the top ten worst drought months to occur since 1880 in California, five have now occurred since 1991 — a climate record that shows an increasing number of dry and record dry periods. Such increasingly extreme drying was predicted by numerous climate models for the US southwest as human warming continued to intensify and advance into the 21rst century.

Though such changes were anticipated by scientists, if not by politicians, business leaders, or the media, it was not clear that a strong fire hazard would emerge in even winter months. But this year has seen numerous intense west coast fires during winter time. Such new conditions are quite anomalous. And should the blocking pattern continue to persist, expect extreme heat, drought and fires to ramp up through spring and summer.

Links:

Plumes of Smoke Waft Through Colby Skies as Wildfire Rages

Historic Drought Intensifies in California

University of Washington

NASA

Scientists: Warming Ocean, Upwelling to Make an End to Antarctica’s Vast Pine Island Glacier

Southern Ocean Interface With Pine Island Glacier

(Southern Ocean interface with Pine Island Glacier as seen during the second week of January, 2014. Note the ocean has already invaded substantially land-ward pushing the glacial coastline back by between seven and ten miles. Image source: Lance-Modis)

Among Antarctica’s most vulnerable ice shelves, the Pine Island Glacier (PIG) is a massive feature. It rests on sloped terrain that is mostly below sea level even as it spills out into the southern ocean through a nearby bay, calving great icebergs that then slowly ride out, like floating ice faerie castles, into the stormy seas. In total, the shelf covers 160,000 square miles, an area two thirds the size of Great Britain.

The Pine Island Glacier is vulnerable for many reasons. It rests on sloped land that tilts it toward the warming seas. Much of it rests below sea level, making its underbelly open to the assaults of the upwelling currents of a rapidly warming ocean. As portions of the under-structure melt, the glacier becomes buoyant, floating on surface waters subject to waves, winds and currents which adds further stress to inland structures.

A few anchors held the great glacier in place over the millenia. The great pressure of ice pushing down shoved the glacier deep into the underlying Earth, for the most part, sticking it in place as it only slowly ground toward the sea.

But now these anchoring features are disintegrating, the warming waters rushing in from underneath, lubricating the ice bottom. The slope, the gravity, the long tongues of ice entering the ocean are all coming into play. The great ice sheet is in motion. A motion that scientists now conclude will not stop until the entire glacier collapses into the heating waters.

Rumors of Glacial Demise

That the Pine Island Glacier was one of Antarctica’s most sensitive to human warming has long been well known to scientists. The geographic features surrounding the glacier, the relatively high angle of slope tipping the glacier toward the ocean, and the large section of the ice shelf below sea level all attracted interest, questions and research.

By the mid 1990s, records of massive melt coming from the Pine Island Glacier began, with upwards of 10 cubic kilometers of ice observed to be lost each year. With ice loss rates continuing to increase, more efforts focused on determining the glacier’s ultimate fate. By the mid to late 2000s, average net ice loss rates were over 20 cubic kilometers per year.

Calving Pine Island

(The July 2013 calving of the Pine Island Glacier as shown in a Lance-Modis satellite shot.)

At about the same time, in 2001, 2007, and 2013, three great icebergs calved off of Pine Island. These were massive bergs, averaging over 2000 square kilometers in size. Though large iceberg calving from the Pine Island Glacier was historically typical, the size and frequency of these amazing events were enough to raise eyebrows and add to already rampant speculation that the Glacier may well be headed toward an inexorable collapse.

Ocean’s Impact on Basal Melt Discovered

By 2010, studies were beginning to come in showing that the Pine Island Glacier was experiencing a rapid melt from underneath. Warming deep ocean currents were upwelling from the Amundsen Sea to erode the glacier’s base. Ice loss from this basal melt was estimated to be even greater than that observed through the increasingly rapid motion of the glacier and related large ocean calving events.

PIG basal melt

(Image source: Nature)

Basal melt was also shown to be undermining the glacier, pushing deeper and deeper beneath the ice shelf and driving ocean water further into the continent. The mechanism for this increased basal melt came directly from a human warming of the deep ocean surrounding Antarctica. Accelerated deep ocean warming was coming more and more into play as human atmospheric heating transferred through the ocean surface and into the depths.

In the Antarctic, a massive pool of warm water developed in the depths surrounding the continent. The warmer water gathered beneath a fresher, colder layer that kept a lid on the warmth, forcing it toward the bottom. But near the continents, the dynamics of ocean currents and coastal mixing brought this warm water up to contact the coast and, in this case, the base of the Pine Island Glacier.

A Nature Geoscience study led by Dr. Adrian Jenkins found progressive basal melt due to the action and heat transfer of this warm, upwelling water (see image above). The evidence collected seemed grim. It appeared that the Pine Island Glacier may well be in the first stages of disintegration. But more comprehensive study was needed before conclusions could be drawn.

Prognosis: Irreversible Collapse

By 2013, enough information had been collected to start making model runs to determine the ice sheet’s ultimate fate. And, recently, three teams of scientists took up the task. The results of these model runs were stark. They showed that, no matter what, Pine Island’s Glacier was probably suffering from the early stages of an irreversible collapse.

Antarctica glacial velocity map

(Glacial velocity map of Antarctica. Note the very high velocity of the Pine Island and adjacent Thwaites glaciers. Image source: Antarctic Glaciers)

In the new Nature study entitled “Retreat of Pine Island Glacier Controlled by Marine Ice Sheet Instability” the authors applying these models found that the glacier had “been kicked and it’s just going to keep on rolling for the foreseeable future.”

Dr Hilmar Gudmundsson, one of the study’s authors in a recent interview with BBC noted:

“Even if you were to reduce melt rates, you would not stop the retreat. We did a number of model runs where we allowed PIG to retreat some distance back, and then we lowered the melt rates in our models. And despite doing that, the grounding line continued to retreat. You can talk about external forcing factors, such climate and ocean effects, and then there are internal factors which are the flow dynamics. What we find is that the internal dynamics of flow are such that the retreat is now self-sustaining.”

In other words, even if the climate somehow miraculously cooled or if the warming ocean somehow managed to melt less ice at the base of the Pine Island Glacier, the glacier would still ultimately destabilize and collapse.

This is hard news, as it has implications for the rest of West Antarctica and, ultimately, about 25 feet worth of sea level rise now locked in the ice. As noted above, the Pine Island Glacier is a massive section of West Antarctica. It is responsible for the draining of about 20% of this section of the continent’s Ice and is one of the primary barriers preventing rapid sea level rise. It is the first domino to start falling. But other dominoes sit in series behind it.

The beginning of PIG’s catastrophic collapse will also likely have major implications for Antarctica’s net ice loss. Gudmundsson’s group found that average melt rates from the Pine Island Glacier are expected to more than quadruple over the next 20 years, increasing to over 100 cubic kilometers of ice loss each year. Total sea level contribution from the Pine Island Glacier alone could be as much as 10 millimeters over the same period, according to model assessments.

This is a large contribution from just one ice sheet. A contribution that is not yet accounted for in global climate simulations for sea level rise. And we have yet to take into account potential additions from other Antarctic melt sources like the adjacent Thwaites glacier or the large glaciers that drain into the Ross Ice Shelf.

In short, if Pine Island has reached the point of no return, then the rest of West Antarctica may well be soon to follow.

Links:

Retreat of Pine Island Glacier Controlled by Marine Ice Sheet Instability

Observations Beneath Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica and Implications for its Retreat

Pine Island Glacier Retreat “Irreversible”

Ocean Warming Shown to Melt Ice Sheets From Below

Lance-Modis

Beneath the Cracking, Melting Ice, the Arctic Methane Monster Continues its Ominous Rumbling

Methane Concentration

(Large Northern Hemisphere methane overburden points to major Arctic emission. Image source: NASA)

“How am I going to be an optimist about this?” — excerpt from Pompey

*    *    *    *    *

In the high north, deep beneath the sea ice, sequestered within the sea bed, sleeps a monster. A massive store of methane that is the relic of ages past. A beast whose vast body is composed of hundreds of gigatons of this climatologically volatile gas.

Since times immemorial, the monster slumbered. Accumulating vast size and girth through a near constant rain and sequestration of biological material as the long ages passed. Until human time, that is, when an unprecedented warming began to prod the monster to waking. And so, during recent years, the monster has stirred, even as more and more of this gas has been observed escaping into the atmosphere.

What is happening can be compared to the, at this time, slow initial rumblings of a climate volcano. The gas, forced out of its icy traps in the sea bed, escapes into the ocean where it destabilizes the sea bed and wrecks jarring changes on the marine environment. It bubbles up beneath the ice, running along beneath the strong ice to find holes where the ice is weak, or escaping out from under the ice edge. And in these places, it runs out into the atmosphere. There, the gas is between 20 and 100 times as potent a warming agent as CO2 by volume. There, it inevitably adds to the human warming and emissions nightmare now underway.

In other places the tundra thaws, unleashing its own monstrous volumes of methane, adding to the giant emerging from the troubled seas.

We have seen the large and growing escape of methane in the great 1 kilometer plumes in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf and in other large releases off of Svalbard. We have seen them in the 150 kilometer atmospheric plumes observed by NASA’s CARVE study. We have seen them in ‘hot’ melt lakes that bubble with methane dense enough to burn. We have seen them in the explosive Arctic fires that burn the thawing and volatile land itself.

These all-too-obvious hints of steadily increasing emissions are ominous, not only for their current warming contribution, but for the potential of an even more rapid and violent release. For the eruption of the methane monster, though somewhat gradual now, could, in the build-up to an immense disaster rarely witnessed on Earth, evolve into an ever more deadly and rapid release.

There is evidence of such events in the geological past. Events that have left their black fingerprints splattered over most, if not all, of the climate mass extinctions. And there are a handful of leading scientists who are very concerned that such an event may well be in the offing.

The Methane Monster Continues its, For Now Gradual, Emergence

methane-jan21-31

(Image source: Dr. Yurganov)

Unfortunately, 2013-2014 marked the continuation of a dangerous trend where, once again, rates of Arctic methane emission were shown to increase markedly over those seen during previous years. In the above series of enhanced Aqua satellite images, provided by Dr. Leonid Yurganov you can see the steadily increasing volume of atmospheric methane in Arctic regions during a time of typical methane peaks in late January from 2009 to 2013.

A more comprehensive slide-show ensemble displays Arctic methane increases from 2003 through 2012 here. It is is worth noting that top scale values were 1870 ppb in this video series. In the more recent series (images above and below), the scale has been increased to a maximum value of 1920 to account for spiking atmospheric levels. So don’t let the moving goal posts fool you!

Though we are still about two weeks away from the start of 2014 Arctic methane peaks, early data throughout the fall and winter has shown a marked increase in methane values when compared to similar periods last year. The below image, as an example, compares January 1-10 of 2013 with the same period of 2014:

methane 2013 to 2014 January 1 to 10

(Image source: Dr. Yurganov and Sam Carana)

These images, also provided by Dr. Yurganov and composed by Sam Carana, show substantial levels of methane increase for the Arctic during early January of 2014 when compared to the same period in 2013. Especially of note was the significant increase in methane concentrations over the Barents Sea where values were consistently higher than 1920 parts per billion.

It is worth mentioning that during 2009, the same region saw methane levels in the range of 1870 parts per billion and that the jump of +50 ppb or more during this interval is roughly consistent with global average increases. What is more concerning, however, is that these maps clearly show this region of the Arctic as a primary methane hot spot, indicating the likelihood of a very large emission seeping out from under the ice and up from the depths of the ocean.

Overall methane spikes in the Arctic were very significant with, according to observations from Methane Tracker, values exceeding extraordinary levels of 2400 parts per billion in local spikes.

NOAA’s ERSL monitor at Barrow also found large local spikes in the range of 1995 parts per billion during late December:

Barrow Methane 2012 to 2013

(Image source: NOAA ERSL)

Note that local methane levels at Barrow, Alaska on the Arctic Circle have risen from an average of 1895 ppb during early 2012 to about 1920 ppb by early 2014, an increase of more than 12 parts per billion per year.

Globally, methane levels have also been on the rise. The record at the Mauna Loa Observatory is now closing in on 1840 parts per billion and shows a significant upward curve during the past two year interval. Though not rising as fast as regions close to the large Arctic emissions sources, the Mauna Loa measure shows a jump of about 15 parts per billion over the two year interval from early 2012 to early 2014.

Mauna Loa Methane 2001 to 2014

(Image source: NOAA ESRL)

Above we can see the global trend line for methane as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory. Note that methane increases had slowed during the period of 2001 to 2006. But in 2007, at about the time Arctic sea ice began its rapid retreat, methane levels commenced a rapid rise. Of particular concern is the gradual upturn in the global average methane curve leading into early 2014.

Very High Arctic Temperature Anomalies Coincide With Rising Methane Levels

As methane levels have continued to rise throughout the Arctic, so have winter temperatures. During 2013-2014, abnormal Arctic winter warmth, especially over the Arctic Ocean, the Barents Sea, and the Bering Sea, has played havoc with Northern Hemisphere weather. In early January, a spate of intense Arctic warmth collapsed the polar vortex, shoving a powerful remnant low southward and setting off a 20 year cold snap in the US. The same extreme winter weather pattern that has impacted much of the US also unloaded a fusillade of storms on the coastlines of the British isles, breaking thousand ton rock structures and reshaping seemingly impervious coastlines.

In this case, the added methane release contributes to polar warming amplification and, at this time, is setting in line a series of increasingly violent weather events likely to ramp up over the coming years and decades. In such cases, the methane monster’s contributions to warming cannot be detached from the changing climate as a whole. In fact, it is the kind of amplifying feedback that makes our situation far more dangerous.

Arctic 30 day anomaly a

(30 day Global Temperature Anomaly from 1981 to 2010 base line. Image source: NOAA)

Note the extreme temperature anomalies over the past 30 days throughout much of the high Arctic with extremes ranging from 2-6 degrees Celsius above the, already warmer than normal, 1981 to 2010 average. This is just the kind of heat, in conjunction with rising greenhouse gasses, that we would expect from an Arctic undergoing dangerous, if not yet catastrophic, change.

Is Optimism Rational?

Given the evidence showing an amplifying methane signal coming from the Arctic, a signal that becomes louder with each passing year, it becomes more difficult to cling to the comfort provided by a number of the more conservative scientists on the issue of methane release (hydrates, compost bomb or other). Though we have not yet seen major releases large enough to push global methane levels higher by 50, 100 or more parts per billion per year (as we would see during an exceptionally catastrophic event), what we have seen is a growing Arctic release that remains a serious cause for concern.

In such an instance, we might be wise to compare the Arctic Methane Monster to a massive volcano. One that continues to rumble even as it releases ever greater volumes of its climatologically volatile and heat-contributing gasses. As anyone living in the neighborhood of a volcano can attest, it’s generally not a good idea to ignore such things. In this case, the monstrous volcano is so large as to make all the Earth its neighborhood. So we should all be paying attention.

Links:

NASA

NOAA ESRL

Methane Tracker

Climate Change Driven Storms Reshape Coastlines of the British Isles

Arctic News

Arctic Ice Graphs

Playing with Global Fire

Amplifying Feedbacks

It’s The Collapsing Polar Vortex

Arctic Methane Monster Stirs

World CO2 Levels Dangerously High: January Sees 399.5 ppm in First Week, Could Crack 400 Before Month-End

In speeding toward a climate cliff unlike anything seen in geological history, we continue to slam the accelerator through the floor-boards of our metaphorical ‘world civilization’ automobile… One hopes we should apply the breaks, but, in the same thought, wonders if they have already started to give out…

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From 2012 to 2013 worldwide annual CO2 levels, as measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory, raced ahead by nearly 3 ppm. This break-neck pace was more than seven times faster than at any period in the observed geological record spanning hundreds of millions of years. As 2013 transitioned to 2014, the unprecedented pace of increase showed little sign of slackening with hourly average CO2 levels reaching 399.5 PPM on January 7th of this year.

Mauna Loa Early January

(Daily and hourly CO2 average readings as recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory from January 1 to January 7. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

These levels are similar to those seen last year during late April, near the peak of the annual atmospheric CO2 cycle that typically occurs during late May to early June. If this year’s pace of atmospheric CO2 increase continues, it is entirely possible that hourly, daily, or even weakly averages will exceed 403 ppm CO2 come late spring. Meanwhile, it appears possible that hourly CO2 averages will exceed 400 ppm before the end of this month.

Increasing Environmental Feedbacks Driving Higher Rate of CO2 Increase?

Though it is too early to conclude that the rate of CO2 increase has quickened, observations show rising contributions of both CO2 and methane from Earth Systems in addition to the inexorably increasing human emission. Thawing Arctic tundra, increasingly wide-spread forest fires, expanding drought zones, and ocean zones that appear to be reaching CO2 saturation points all hint at an Earth System that is both less able to absorb human CO2 emissions and more likely to release carbon (CO2 and methane) on its own.

The Arctic alone, in recent years, has been placed on the map as a major emitter of both CO2 and methane contributing enough volumes of these gasses to make it one of the world’s largest emission sources. If the Arctic were a country, it would probably rank around 4th in total global carbon emissions when compared to the world’s industrialized nations. And, unfortunately, the Arctic is likely just starting to ramp up as a carbon source (see Amplifying Feedbacks and Arctic Methane Monster Stirs).

With the human forcing so strong and the pace of Arctic warming so great, it is only a matter of time before the emissions signal coming from the Arctic becomes irrefutable to the rational observer. The question, at this point, is: has it already started to happen?

Racing Toward a Very Dangerous World

Both the quickening pace of global average CO2 increase and the observed increasing emission from the Arctic are cause for serious concern. A world that remains stable at 400 ppm is a world about 2-3 C hotter than today. Its seas are 15 to 75 feet higher. And its ability to support the kind of environments that humans are used to is radically reduced. But world CO2 levels are not stable at 400 ppm. They are racing higher at between 2.2 and, in recent years, close to 3 ppm (official average increase of 2.65 ppm for 2013) — six to seven times faster than ever before.

The Earth System has yet to fully respond to this rapid and very powerful insult.

Which brings me to this final thought as was so creatively illustrated over at the Arctic News blog:

IPCC-methane-monster

(Image source: Arctic News)

Links:

The Keeling Curve

Arctic News

 

Cold Snap For US? It’s the Global Warming-Induced COLLAPSING Polar Vortex, Stupid

Polar Jet Stream Configuration January 8

(Current Polar Jet Stream Configuration. Note the powerful Rossby-Wave zonal flow associated with the 9 month old Pacific Blocking Pattern continuing to flood the Arctic with warmer air and disrupting/collapsing the seasonal polar vortex while shoving Arctic air south over Canada and the US. Image source: University of Washington.)

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A massive rash of human-warming induced extreme weather sweeps across the US and, not surprisingly, the mainstream media has gotten its climate change messaging somewhat wrong again..

In a rather admirable attempt to show how human caused warming is creating and influencing the recent spate of extreme weather, numerous articles have all implicated the, now much renowned, polar vortex in a massive, 20-year, cold snap gripping much of the nation.

Over and over, media reports are the same: Polar Vortex Grips Nation!

Two Sides to The Polar Vortex Story: Human Warming and A Disrupted Arctic Cyclone

In all honesty, it’s hard not to chuckle at how the media has gotten the story somewhat wrong. A polar vortex is, in essence, a semi-permanent storm or cyclone that forms in the high Arctic during winter months. The existence of a polar vortex in the high Arctic is a normal condition. And the meteorological features it creates tend to trap colder air in its swiftly circling winds. Such a condition results in very cold temperatures in the far north, while warmer conditions tend to prevail much further south. The net result is keeping Arctic cold locked in the Arctic where it belongs as, usually, the storm centers in the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole.

But this winter, as in recent winters, something a bit out of the ordinary happened. The polar vortex shifted southward as it unraveled, causing the current US cold snap. And since these powerful Arctic cyclones pack quite a punch the related effects have been extraordinary and extreme — powerful winter storms, school and business closings due to the cold, and freak freezing episodes all over the US.

All that said, the anomalous movements and impacts of the polar vortex during 2014 are only half of the story. The other half involves how human-caused warming is directly influencing the vortex, altering its course and intensity, pushing it far beyond the limits of its typical Arctic confines.

Increasing Arctic heat resulting from loss of sea ice, worldwide ocean warming, and amplifying feedbacks to human warming have opened the door to more and more warm air invasions into the high Arctic. During winter time, the net effect of these warm air invasions is to disrupt the polar vortex, resulting in its more frequent weakening and collapse all while periodically shoving its storm center south.

In the current diversion and collapse, the polar vortex was severely disrupted while being shoved into the lower latitudes crossing Canada and the Continental US. The result was a rash of extremes not seen in the US in at least 20 years.

An Evolving Scientific Awareness of Human Warming’s Devastating Impacts

As early as 2001, scientific studies had found evidence for a correlation between weakening of the polar vortex and periodic cold conditions in the temperate latitudes (see NASA study here). Meanwhile, further studies (see links below) in recent years established a link between declining Arctic sea ice and Jet Stream configurations that brought on polar vortex weakening and collapse.

rossby wave 2

(Normal Jet Stream Pattern A vs disrupted Rossby-type pattern C. During winter, C is often the result of warmer air disrupting, weakening and/or collapsing the polar vortex. Image source: Commons.)

When the polar vortex weakens or collapses, warm air is drawn into its core. This causes an unwinding of the storm system and a displacement of its cold air and energy further south. The storm, as it unwinds, flings a powerful cold front to the south, driving bone-chilling Arctic air into some temperate regions even as the High Arctic takes on an unusual degree of heat (for the Arctic during winter time).

Current heat anomaly maps clearly display this condition:

Global anomaly temps

(Image source: NOAA)

Note the prevailing, much warmer than average conditions over much of the Arctic, with cooler than average conditions over the US due to collapse and anomalous movement of the polar vortex. This was the very severe winter storm and extreme weather producing pattern that we warned of earlier in December.

Disruptions of the polar vortex have been predicted by climate scientists such as Dr. Jennifer Francis, Dr. James Hansen, and Dr. Jeff Masters, among others, who have warned of more extreme weather caused by, among other things, loss of polar sea ice. Dr. Hansen, in particular, has warned of very intense storms as Arctic melt continues to ramp up and more of the Arctic’s cold is pushed episodically southward where it will inevitably confront the warming temperate and tropical zones. In the end, Hansen warns of frontal systems packing the strength of hurricanes large enough to span entire continents. These are the powerful effects of continued Arctic warming and of which the current polar vortex collapse is but a symptom.

Let us all hope we are not unwise enough to push the climate system far enough to generate the kinds of storms Hansen fears. To that dark and not so distant future, what we are seeing now is merely prelude.

Links:

Evidence Linking Arctic Amplification to Extreme Weather in the Mid-Latitudes

A Link Between Reduced Barents-Kara Sea Ice and Winter Extremes over Northern Continents

Arctic Ice Loss Amplified Superstorm Sandy Violence

Stratospheric Harbingers of Anomalous Weather

NOAA

University of Washington

Winter 2013-2014: Sea Ice Loss Locks Jet Stream into Severe Winter Storm Pattern For Most of US

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