CO2, Earth’s Global Thermostat, Dials Up to Record 401.6 ppm Daily Value on March 12

NASA GISS, likely the world’s premier Earth atmospheric monitoring agency has dubbed CO2 “The Thermostat that Control’s Earth’s Temperature.” So when human fossil fuel emissions keep cranking that thermostat ever higher, it’s important sit up and take note. For, inexorably, we keep forcing atmospheric values of this critical heat-trapping gas up and up.

According to reports from The Mauna Loa Observatory and The Keeling Curve, daily CO2 values for March 12 rocketed to a record 401.6 parts per million. Hourly values rose briefly higher, touching 402 parts per million. Levels fell back to around 400 ppm on March 13. But the overall trend will continue upward through March, April and much of May when the height of annual atmospheric CO2 readings is typically reached.

By comparison, during May of last year, daily and weekly values hit just slightly higher than 400 parts per million while measures for the month hovered just below this number. We are now about two months away from the 2014 peak. So it appears possible that daily values could rise to 404 ppm or greater with highs for the month potentially exceeding 402 ppm (you can view a comparison graph for May 2013 here).

March CO2 401.6

(Daily and hourly atmospheric CO2 values from March 7 to 13. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

Such high levels of this gas have not been seen on Earth in over 3 million years. A time when temperatures were 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were 15-75 feet higher than today. And should CO2 levels merely remain at the level currently achieved, we can probably expect at least the same amount of warming long-term.

CO2 in Context

Annually, the average rate of CO2 increase now is an extraordinary 2.2 parts per million each year. This rate is about 6-7 times faster than at any time in geological history. None of the vast flood basalts of the ancient past, no period of natural vulcanism, can now rival the constant and massive injection of this powerful and long-lasting greenhouse gas by humans into the atmosphere.

Last year, the rate of increase spiked to around 2.5 parts per million and we can view this as mere prelude under a continuation of business as usual. For if human fossil fuel emissions are not radically brought into check, the ongoing economic inertia of existing fossil fuel based infrastructure and planned new projects will likely shove this rate of increase to 3, 4 even 7 parts per million each year by the end of this century. As a result, CO2 levels alone have the potential to reach catastrophic values of 550 parts per million by around 2050-2060 that, long term and without any of the added effects of other greenhouse gasses, would be enough to eventually melt all the ice on Earth and raise global temperatures to around 5-6 degrees Celsius above current levels. A level that, through acidification alone and not including damage through stratification and anoxia, could drive up to 1/3 of ocean species to extinction.

CO2 accounts for much of the greenhouse forcing when taking into account the feedbacks it produces on water vapor and clouds. NASA notes:

Because carbon dioxide accounts for 80% of the non-condensing GHG forcing in the current climate atmosphere, atmospheric carbon dioxide therefore qualifies as the principal control knob that governs the temperature of Earth.

All other greenhouse gasses pale in comparison to both its total effect and its current rate of increase. Methane, the next most potent greenhouse gas, accounts for about 15% of the forcing and is rising at a rate of 4 parts per billion (1/550 that of CO2), generating a net effect equal to, in the worst case, an additional .4 parts per million CO2 each year (.29 when aerosols drop out). A troubling and dangerous increase itself. But still a mere shadow compared to the overall rate of CO2 increase.

Only in the most catastrophic of scenarios, when added atmospheric heat, primarily generated through added CO2 and other greenhouse gas forcing, triggers methane emissions equal to 2 gigatons each year in the Arctic (a rate 25 times the current release), would the total methane forcing approach the predicted value for CO2 by the end of this century under current fossil fuel emissions scenarios. More likely, paleoclimate scenarios tend to suggest that the natural methane feedback, long-term, is roughly equal to 50% of the CO2 forcing and is largely governed by it. A dangerous amplifying feedback driven by a devastating and long-lasting CO2 forcing.

CO2 is also the longest lived of the major greenhouse gasses with one molecule of CO2 providing effective atmospheric warming for at least 500 years. By comparison, the oxidation time for a single molecule of methane is around 8 years. What this means is that it takes an ever increasing methane emission just to keep values constant while atmospheric CO2 takes much longer to level off given even a constant rate of emission.

The result is that heat forcing from CO2 tends to remain constant over long periods while methane heat forcing values have a tendency to spike due to rapid oxidation.

methane.rf_.11071836-300x150

(Radiative forcing from a 10 gigaton release of methane in red compared to expected end century CO2 values of 750 ppm. Note how the methane heat forcing spikes and then rapidly falls off. Image source: RealClimate.)

Current rates of CO2 increase, therefore, should be viewed as catastrophic to climates that are both livable and benevolent to humans. A rate of increase that puts at risk severe changes to Earth environments and which provides a trigger for setting off a series of powerful amplifying feedbacks through the medium and long term. These include both loss of ice albedo and the potential for spiking methane emissions from the widespread natural store.

UPDATE:

Most recent daily values from March 12 onward in relationship to the six month trend. Note the sharp spike upward at the end of the period as well as the overall volatility of the trend line. High volatility may well be an indication that the typical carbon cycle is suffering disruption with sinks, stores and sources experiencing larger than typical fluxes.

mlo_six_months

(Mauna Loa Observatory six month trend. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

Dr. Ralph Keeling today noted:

“We’re already seeing values over 400. Probably we’ll see values dwelling over 400 in April and May. It’s just a matter of time before it stays over 400 forever.”

Links:

The Keeling Curve

May 2013: CO2 Touches 400 ppm

The Thermostat that Control’s Earth’s Temperature

Atmospheric Composition, Radiative Forcing, and Climate Change as a Consequence from the Massive Release of Gas Hydrates

RealClimate

Hat Tip to Climate State

Kudos to Mark Archambault for Looking Sharp

Leave a comment

65 Comments

  1. The one caveat about the graph showing the effects of a large methane pulse – you’re quite right to identify that the effects spike and tail off – but our future could hold multiple such events even in the tamer scenarios. That’s particularly true in cases where the short spike in warming is sufficient and capable of triggering additional releases – and the atmospheric mechanism that breaks down methane is only capable of handling so much, theoretically allowing methane levels to accumulate for (a bit) longer if overloaded.

    It would seem reasonable to expect multiple abrupt releases of methane (though perhaps not on a 10GT scale per individual event) going by the craters previously mentioned (we’re not short of regions to do this if you keep in mind the multiple 1km wide emission sites already identified by Semiletov and Shakhova).

    Reply
    • Another point of minor curiosity for me – is to what extent large releases of methane would have a transient effect on regional temperatures, as it takes months for the gas to mix into the global atmosphere thoroughly. For example – could methane trap more heat in the Arctic in the winter if it was released there? It’s the outgoing longer wave radiation that is scattered back to earth more as a result of greenhouse gases after all…? How significant do we think this effect could be?

      It’s worth a minor note that modelling for the use of stratospheric sulphate aerosols shows either neutral or harmful outcomes for the Arctic in a similar vein as they are thought to be able to reflect more heat back down during the winter.

      Reply
      • Strong.

        But in my view this is implied in the projections already. For example, a 23F/14C warming of the Arctic by 2100 as seen in the recent NASA paper.

        Reply
        • I’m not sure how it could be in the projections already inasmuch as the models don’t really include methane eruptions? Arctic amplification is significant for plenty of other reasons.

          In any event I’m not suggesting it as a permanent effect – just a transient one following larger releases.

        • The models aren’t likely to include large eruptions. But they do include a feedback potential based on observed values. ECS runs through about 100 years without major ice sheet response which is also a large negative value. I’d expect large methane release to partly cancel that out. If you’re going to add slow feedbacks, you have to add them all — negative and positive.

      • Phil

         /  March 15, 2014

        One thing I have wondered about in the past was the extent to which current trends were replicated in the past – for example, situations where the key driving force is greenhouse gas emissions and both temperature, sea level rise (and ice sheet melts) are seriously lagging behing.

        The other issue is the extent of the rise in C02 since the industrial revolution – I have seen comments saying it is very fast compared to past trends over the time scale of a century or two.

        The past is only a good guide to the extent that current conditions were replicated in the past. Two issues then might emerge – one is how good and relevant is the ‘equilbirium dynamics’ underpinning fast and slow climate sensitivities determined from the past as a good guide to what might emerge in the future. This relates to whether the equilibirum conditions might have themselves changed.

        Second, is the transition path to the new equilibirum which also might be different from the past record if current conditions are not closely replicated in the past.

        I am just mentioning these issues because they do play a role at least academically in nonlinear dynamics – e.g. potential sensitivity to initial conditions, bifurication (changes to different attractors) and path dependency.

        Reply
        • The past 55 million years since the Eocene and PETM are a good oracle for both paleoclimate comparison and Earth Systems Sensitivity (long term changes). We know this because solar radiative forcing is very close and Earth’s orbit and continental disposition are very similar to the current day.

          So 550 ppm CO2 50 million years ago and 550 ppm CO2 now should have a similar effect.

          Now, there are a number of issues that are quite different. For example, we have large ice sheets sitting in the way of any kind of rapid warming. For the Earth to warm rapidly, the ice sheets have to melt and this makes prediction and climate/weather very messy.

          In addition, you have larger carbon stores due to the fact that carbon has been sequestered in ice and deep ocean as the Earth cooled down from the Eocene. This creates a nasty instability as well by providing stronger positive feedbacks in the short, medium or long term (the various monsters in the closet I’ve come to track out of fear and concern).

          OK. Now hold these two thoughts in mind…

          Going back to your earlier question, we know the pace of warming is much, much faster than at the end of the last ice age. It took about 10,000 years for the Earth to warm 5 degrees C. This much slower pace of warming was caused by only slight perturbations in the Earth’s orbit that heated the surface of the Earth unevenly, resulting in a slight positive forcing. Over time, greenhouse gasses emerged as an amplifying feedback and warmed the Earth up by about 5C to end the last ice age.

          The current pace of warming is much faster. Today we end up with warming comparable to 3 centuries of post ice age warming every decade. So the pace is very rapid.

          As for build up of CO2, the pace is at least 6 times faster than during any time in the past 250 million years.

          So we have this very fast forcing running headlong into the inertia posed by the so called slow feedbacks. And because this forcing is so fast, we will probably see the slow feedbacks come into play rather rapidly. Likely more rapidly than science expects, perhaps because science is unable to currently grasp all the factors involved. This is not to say science has failed. It is just that our current understanding has limits.

          So what happens?

          Well first the Arctic rapidly warms and we get amplifying feedbacks. This brings the Greenland ice sheet increasingly into play and we get negative feedbacks. The hot and cold forces go to war with the hot slowly winning out. In the back and forth we get increasing methane and CO2 release — likely as a gradual ramping up, but with the growing potential of nasty surprises in the form of large methane events and very large fires over thawing permafrost and other vulnerable regions, especially if the human forcing grows too large.

          Eventually, if the initial human forcing is strong enough (and we’re only within a few decades of setting up such a forcing now) the ice sheets all go. At that point, albedo and natural carbon forcing can really go to work doing some nasty business.

          My view is that the current forcing is enough to melt Greenland and west Antarctica and probably to take down a bit of Antarctica proper, should it remain in play. It is also probably enough to scare enough methane and CO2 out of the traditional traps to result in an end climate state around 3 C hotter than 1880. The weather during such an event is likely to be terrible, stretching current human systems beyond limits and causing a dire need for new resiliency. This particular forcing may also be enough to scare out a methane pulse or two in the low range of large 1gt to maybe five. But I still think the risk for this is low, on the order of less than 10%.

          Under BAU we get to a much uglier state by mid century and even worse by the end.

          It we get to 800 ppm CO2, then we’ve probably locked in a mini ghg runaway that includes a few rather bad methane incidents and a PETM or Permian type extinction. We have to maniacally keep burning past 2100 to get to a stage where we start setting up a wet stratosphere type runaway.

          So there you have it. Ice sheet inertia fighting with the carbon stores clawing their way out of the very ice. The one trying to warm the Earth more, the other fighting to keep the Earth cool. A back and forth that will make an exponential series of carbon releases very unlikely but may well feature a few nasty surprises. And, at last, when and if the ice finally goes, that’s when the fire giants have their final word.

      • Phil

         /  March 15, 2014

        Robert, thank you for your very detailed reply.

        Reply
    • This is the problem I have with AMEG. They list an endless number of such events. We have no evidence of this kind of series occurring in paleoclimate or in geological history. It appears that the Permian had three very large events, not scores the way AMEG portrays.

      I don’t think multiple 10 GT single event releases are a high likelihood scenario, especially under current forcing. Perhaps a few in the range of 1 to 10 over the course of a few hundred years as a moderate risk starting now.

      The scenario is not likely to be linear or exponential.

      Further, proxy evidence is that the amplifying feedback from methane is about 50% on top of the CO2 forcing. This gets us to the paleoclimate values observed when we add in albedo loss.

      The kind of TCS, ECS, and ESS such a multiple scale release would imply is many times greater than that observed. Getting to Venus by 2096 is a null hypothesis.

      Reply
      • I think it very much depends on what you’re calling “an event”. In this context I’d class an event as a series of eruptions – leaving multiple regions of seafloor cratering and not necessarily occurring literally simultaneously. The Shakhova estimate is 50GT, rather than 10GT – but either way I’m not sure it’s necessarily the main concern (in that I’m under the impression deep water clathrates played a role in the end Permian – and I’m assuming these don’t necessarily let go at lower temperature movements as experienced in glacial variations – unlike the ESS). The Wadhams paper seemed reasonable enough – estimating that a 50GT pulse (whether in a single year or decades) brought forwards the onset of 2C warming by 15-35 years (and cost the entire global economy under the model used by Stern). That’s serious but not instant and total doom.

        I’m not really sold on the AMEG line – arguing for certain total methane catastrophe with a convenient geoengineering silver bullet to fix all our problems and let life go on as usual… as time passes, I’m increasingly convinced they’re engaging in a form of denial (not to mention failing to look at the much bigger picture).

        Reply
        • ESS — Earth System Sensitivity (including slow feedbacks).

          I think you’d probably expect all the carbon to release from the ESAS over the course of centuries to millenia. The large pulse events would likely be rare and horrific punctuations of an ongoing collapse. A single 50 GT release would be terrible, but not Venus Syndrome material.

          The problem I have with AMEG is they project large scale events 1-10 GT + going on constantly. I don’t think this is likely at all. On the other hand, I’m not comfortable ruling out the risk of any large scale events over the next century. So put me somewhere between Archer and AMEG.

          In the larger context of climate sensitivity, a doubling of CO2 gets you 1.5 C warming almost immediately, another 1.5 C of warming over about 100 years and another 3 C of warming over centuries to millenia. Some of this is due to methane feedback along with albedo feedback that is likely baked in.

          The 3 C intermediate ECS measure in the models does not include methane response (slow feedback) nor does it include ice sheet or albedo response (slow feedback). Ice sheet melt is a powerful negative forcing (Hansen). So the transition from initial warming through ECS to long term warming wouldn’t be anywhere near so neat as shown above. You probably get ice sheet response, methane response, and albedo response all shoving back and forth along the ramp up. Methane response and/or albedo response shoves temps higher while ice sheet melt causes a strong negative feedback that temporarily suppresses warming. You don’t get the full heat load until first all the ice is gone and then all the amplifying ghg comes out. Even under human forcing, this will take a bit of time.

          I think it’s unwise to rule out large releases in the Arctic. I think it’s also unwise to take eyes off the CO2 ball or to assume an exponential release response is inevitable. There are no scientific papers that indicate such. AMEG is meta analysis based on extrapolation of an exponential curve with almost no trend as a base line. Unlike Arctic sea ice, where the base line is very clear. So the claims and assumptions are a big shot in the dark.

          I’d like to see some better research on this. Why aren’t others calling for more research?

          It’s worth noting that the ESS measure is based on observed past climate states. And though it’s true that, sometimes, temperatures rapidly changed, this often occurred in a world without the inertial barrier posed by ice sheets.

  2. Since 1/3 to 1/2 of anthropogenic CO2 emissions into the atmosphere are reabsorbed by the oceans, I tried to find some analysis indicating the point at which ocean acidification would begin to halt this process. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any such analysis.

    As this blog has demonstrated, ocean acidification has a detrimental affect on marine biology which fixates carbon through its metabolism (i.e. invertebrates, micro-organisms). Carbon absorption also looks to be reduced by the changes in oceanic currents caused by global warming (see: http://phys.org/news/2012-07-discovery-carbon-southern-ocean.html). Overfishing and chemical pollution are further stressing the overall biological health of the oceans (see: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/03/ocean-acidification-carbon-dioxide-emissions-levels).

    All these factors are coming to a head. We need better predictive modeling on oceanic CO2 absorption.

    Reply
  3. Jay M

     /  March 15, 2014

    We are so entrained to carbon based energy that the balance going cocku seems irresistble. The legacy of minerals that we exploit seem to dash our dreams on the rocks.

    Reply
  4. No doubt we are on track for some serious whiplash from the lag in earths response to this rapid warming, and although Robert’s +3C warming scenario sounds very plausible I am still wondering about the implications. First we know there will be serious ice melt and sea level rise, that is practically certain. We also know that during the period of most warming there will be bigger gradients between cold and warm resulting in spectacular weather and no doubt some serious storms.

    But then what happens? I believe earth has previously been in states where the winds slowed down seriously due to there being less of a temperature gradient between the poles and the mid latitudes? This again affected the ocean currents in such a way that we got several dead zones due to the lack of oxygen.

    I am not trolling here, its a genuine question. Is less winds and storms a possible outcome when a lot of the ice goes away in the Arctic? No doubt Greenland will become a new polar center so there will still be a lot of temperature difference for centuries though so the lack of ice in the Arctic might not change that difference much. Although I can ofc see there being a period of major difference as the warming ramps up in the start. And I can naturally see that the classical rules of how the jetstream previously controlled climate somewhat is completely messed up and we get very random outcomes unless some sort of new jetstream is formed around Greenland (even then it would be a very different world).

    Reply
    • That’s an excellent question, how the changes in temperature differentials will change the jet stream(s), and thus the weather patterns, over time.

      Reply
    • jyyh

       /  March 15, 2014

      Yes the transition period is projected to have nastier weather than the steadier conditions that would be when the equilibrium in radiative balance is again reached, As the climate models do pretty well emulating the current climate there should be runs done with constant higher greenhouse forcings with the current location of continents. Also, as not all climate models emulate the meltdown of glaciers the ocean levels should be set according to paleoclimate evidence. Unfortunately, the paleoevidence gives good clues of this to only about 3 Mya, this is when americas connected and cut the tropical connection between the Pacific and Atlantic, that likely had a great effect on north Atlantic temperatures. Of course if it can be proven that a +30m of sea level rise occurs forcibly on some ghg-forcing the connection re-opens (along Panama Canal) and the Pacific warmer, less salty waters start to flow to Atlantic. After GIS, WAIS and 1/4 of the EAIS has melted, the ocean currents would likely shift to the Oligocene-Early Miocene type and the seal levels would fluctuate according to the snowfalls on EAIS between +50 – +30 ASL. Tethys Seaway (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oligocene#The_effects_of_oceanic_gateways_on_circulation) is of course not opening again but the opening of Suez Seaway will make Mediterranean less salty, possibly making the general area a bit less dry than otherwise. The same could happen with the remaining Florida and US Southeast wrt Panama opening. But these are effects that’ll happen in far future, though once GIS and WAIS are gone they’re likely. Generally it’d be more humid and warm, which would be ok if the soils in the north would support the same sort of agriculture as currently is possible. (isn’t it nice to try to predict what happens long after you’re dead (year 2600, earliest) In the nearer future, GIS and WAIS are melting, GIS from the top for the greater amplification in the arctic and WAIS from the bottom for general ocean warming. There’s a possibility of a stable sea level of +15-+20m, where these effects do not much come into play and late Miocene-early Pliocene are not proper analogs for the lack of Panama opening. I think it’s possible Greenland will still have some glaciers even though WAIS is almost gone and EAIS a 1/5 smaller than now. The ghg-concentrations required to make either scenario true are pretty easy to reach within 50-100 years from now. Of course the hotter Eocene concentrations of ghgs can also be reached with the current technology quite easily, if that’s the choice of people. this would mean the full, at least +80m to sea levels, and there could develop two or more subspecies of humans since migrating through tropics without aerial means would become impossible for the physiology of current human-type. Sauropods would redevelop in tropics and start to eat people, to end this rant on a lighter note. jyyh (at +25m ASL)

      Reply
      • Phil

         /  March 15, 2014

        Under this type of scenario, would people still be around? Conventional wisdom is that 3 to 4 degrees warming makes human habitation questionable and assuming that 3 to 4 degrees is only part of the way to where the average temperature is going over the next couple of hundred years, 5 to 6 degrees seems to make human habitation extremely questionable? The Sauropods might not have to many humans left to eat.

        Reply
      • jyyh

         /  March 15, 2014

        Humans are better at adapting than many animals so I’d guess some people would be living above 50 degrees latitudes on both hemispheres eating what (currently tropical) plants could be adapted to seasons still present. I don’t like to speculte what would it take of these people to survive through the Overturn (shamelessly snatching the term from Paul McAuleys scifi books), but if they do there’s no reason they couldn’t be living like some Berberss/nomadic Bedouins in the southernmost parts of the habitable zone (40 to 50 in latitudes) and like Pakistani tribes more north, the areas above 60 degrees latitude could consist of some Amish type villages with a bit more tech. My hangover starts to be over so I should think a bit more before writing, you catched me on a bit sensitive moment.

        Reply
      • I think the proxy data provides a good indicator out to the Eocene.

        Reply
      • jyyh

         /  March 16, 2014

        Could be that there is some record that’s applicable also to late miocene -. early pliocene, one that I don’t know of. Anyway the current 400ppm level of CO2 means likely +5m to sea levels in the long run.so keeping things as they are, already means that many harbours must be relocated in due time. There are rather sensible people arguing this relocation should happen in this century. I guess the reason why there are no projects, that I know of, planning this, is that people haven’t made up their mind what the proper sea level is, so the +5m might be +15 some time in the future (2050s.) Summit of Copenhagen was the last chance of keeping the current level, and that’s an opinion.

        Reply
      • jyyh

         /  March 17, 2014

        No argument here, we have pretty good records of this of times further back, but it’s the question of the place of continents and how they effect the ocean currents, When Central American Seaway (Panaman Seaway) was open it was likely to have weakened the Atlantic portion of the Thermohaline circulation, though at the same time keeping Atlantic a bit warmer. Until it opens again at ~+30 there’s no chance of similar effects than in late Mio-Early Pliocene.

        Reply
        • Continental disposition is not so dramatically different as to radically change ocean circulation patterns.

          In any case, ghg concentration is the primary driver of delta T.

    • With the eventual loss of polar temperature gradient the upper level winds that drive current weather radically weaken. Weather for the mid and upper latitudes would become slow moving and very persistent. With the loss of gradient, the driver for many of the violent storms would probably die out. Some regions of the tropics would expand. In those zones where storm formation was not inhibited by a likely increase in atmospheric dust, very strong tropical systems may well develop.

      This long-term scenario is well described in the book by Peter Ward: Under a Green Sky.

      But you’re right. After the ice caps go down you end up with an entirely new set of problems. In any case, current observation suggests that ocean anoxia and stratification advance along with warming. So though the Canfield Ocean of a mini runaway probably doesn’t emerge fully until most of the ice sheets go, the very changes that ice sheet melt brings about in the oceans begins to push the world closer to that state. So anoxia and stratification probably progress in degrees along with warming.

      In any case, an honest question is never trolling. What we were dealing with earlier was someone trying to, repeatedly, assert a very narrow, and unsupported in the sciences, view while selling a dubious set of ‘solutions.’

      Reply
      • mikkel

         /  March 15, 2014

        This is the gist of the recent study that suggests sulfur geoengineering will make things worse instead of better; although the gradient change would be along the height of the atmosphere instead of latitude differences.

        Reply
    • The name calling and ad hominem attacks didn’t help either.

      Trolls usually arrive with a closed mind and an agenda which they simply repeat again and again. It’s very disruptive to the flow of intelligent conversation and the honest sharing of ideas. I’ve never seen you act this way.

      Reply
  5. Tom

     /  March 15, 2014

    You don’t get it. The predictable range of temperatures, the strength and area of violent storms, low volcanic activity, very slow sea level rise and all the rest that we took for granted are now gone forever – we can’t get them back no matter what we do. All of it has demonstrably negative affects on our ability to grow enough food, causes crippling drought and ridiculous flooding, and over-all is causing us to lose the very habitat we need to survive. It isn’t just humanity! We’re killing all marine life (with Fukushima and ocean acidification) and slowing down the thermohaline circulation. We’re still spewing record amounts of CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere today – even though we know all the facts being presented here daily!

    We’re not changing any of our behavior, so what should we expect? It’s only going to get worse – steadily, with maybe fits and starts as noted above from methane release and other factors only making it worse. We aren’t going to get the sea ice back anytime soon, so look for the repercussions from that too – very soon. Fukushima hasn’t been turned off and we still have over 400 nuke plants on the planet to decommission, but we’re running out of the time and energy to do it. There are such an overwhelming list of irreversible feedbacks that we’ve triggered that there is little likelihood of anything but extinction for most of life on Earth.

    So talking about how humans can adapt is nonsense – you can’t adapt to a completely degraded environment that doesn’t support the various species of plants, birds, pollinators and food sources we once enjoyed while it also sprouts rampant diseases we aren’t prepared for, increasingly dumps mutation-causing radiation into the system (of our own making) and otherwise creates ever-worsening conditions to which adaptation is impossible.

    Reply
  6. Tom

     /  March 15, 2014

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/03/14/nasa-industrial-civilization-headed-for-irreversible-collapse/

    NASA: Industrial civilization headed for ‘irreversible collapse’

    Natural and social scientists develop new model of how ‘perfect storm’ of crises could unravel global system [read it]

    Reply
    • Good to see this sort of stuff coming out from more reputable sources than random crazy people in the wilderness like myself… but will it make anyone pay attention…?

      Reply
  7. Andy

     /  March 15, 2014

    I’ve been having a coffee and collating data a bit this morning regarding social and economic vulnerability of nations in response to commodity prices, weather pattern shifts and other inputs. At least until the household wakes up and performs the traditional segue such that my day is consumed in some manner.

    I’m only gathering information so far, however things look worse than I had originally thought on the surface. It’s only a 20,000 ft view looking at data so far noticing patterns.

    2014 may be difficult for a few areas. 2015 may be very difficult for some areas.

    Reply
  8. mikkel

     /  March 16, 2014

    Don’t think the water will be there to actually do this, but tar sands/oil shale are trying to come to the US in a big way.

    http://www.democracynow.org/2014/3/14/utahs_carbon_bomb_state_plots_massive

    Reply
  9. Mark Archambault

     /  March 16, 2014

    Robert,

    Your post above that starts with “The past 55 million years since the Eocene and PETM are a good oracle for both paleoclimate comparison and Earth Systems Sensitivity (long term changes). We know this because solar radiative forcing is very close and Earth’s orbit and continental disposition are very similar to the current day.

    So 550 ppm CO2 50 million years ago and 550 ppm CO2 now should have a similar effect. …”

    would make a fantastic major post in and of itself. I love pondering the long sweeps of paleo-climatological time and the way you compare and contrast it with today’s situation is easy to understand and very compelling.

    When I encounter people who have trouble believing climate modeling, I want to say to if you have problems with modeling, just look at what has already occurred in the past 55 million years when Co2 and GHG levels were comparable to today’s and where we’re headed in a hundred or a few hundred years. I don’t think many people, even climate activists, are aware of the very long term consequences of such a degree of warming. Certainly I don’t see how a complex global civilization can survive that, even if it remains somewhat intact just past the year 2100.

    Reply
    • mikkel

       /  March 17, 2014

      That’s the irony about the refrain “but the climate has always changed!”

      YES! That’s how we know what to expect! If it hadn’t changed then we would be flying much more in the dark.

      Reply
    • Even if the gods are kind, we’re in serious, serious trouble.

      Reply
  10. In yet another voice, Prof. Michael Jennings published a paper in 2012 showing we are already beyond the worst case scenario envisaged by the IPCC. I interviewed him this week for Radio Ecoshock. You can listen to/download that here:
    [audio src="http://www.ecoshock.org/downloads/climate2014/ES_Jennings.mp3" /]

    Reply
    • Mark Archambault

       /  March 16, 2014

      Alex, fantastic interview. It took a while for the Professor to realize you wanted to know the worst case temp. increase for this century, but otherwise a very sobering interview.

      If we were a sane species, this would be THE news that is screamed constantly from the roof tops of our news media, instead of being relegated to a spot below Justin Bieber’s problems.

      So many people don’t know the seriousness of where we’re headed unless we make a major course correction. They think we’ll just have a few more heat waves and people with ocean front property might have to move, that’s it.

      I hope I can play a small role in ‘translating’ Robert’s blog posts for the masses in letters to the editor and other writings that may help inform people. And, by converting my front lawn of crabgrass to a series of raised bed and permaculture gardens, hopefully I can inspire my chemlawn neighbors.

      Reply
    • Spike

       /  March 16, 2014

      Fantastic interview, getting a scientist to speak frankly and honestly in phrases anyone could understand. Thanks for the link.

      Reply
    • Fantastic interview. Couldn’t agree more with Dr. Jennings on this one. We simply must act and we really, really don’t have much time left.

      Reply
  11. While the northwest and southeast section of Greenland have dramatically lost ice, researchers believed the northeast section was holding its ground. From 1978-2003, that was true, but ice loss has accelerated rapidly since mid-2003…

    By 2012, the snout of the Zachariae glacier had receded more than 12.4 miles from its 2003 position. In comparison, the Jakobshavn glacier, located in southeast Greenland and long considered one of the fastest-changing glaciers on the island, has retreated 21.7 miles over the past 150 years.

    http://www.climatecentral.org/news/new-greenland-ice-melt-fuels-sea-level-rise-concerns-17187

    Study coauthor Shfaqat A. Khan of the Technical University of Denmark told Mashable he was surprised to find such significant ice loss in northeast Greenland, considering how cold and dry that region is. Previous studies of sea level rise had not included the prospect of melting there, he said.

    “Nature is changing faster than expected and seems to respond much stronger than expected to small fluctuations,” he said. “This also means that predictions of future sea level rise need to be revised.”

    More worrisome, Khan and his coauthors said, is that these glaciers help hold back a nearly 370-mile long ice stream that extends deep into Greenland’s interior. This ice stream accounts for about 16% of the total ice sheet, and if it destabilizes, it could have severe consequences for low-lying coastal cities worldwide.

    http://mashable.com/2014/03/16/greenland-ice-melt-sea-level-rise/

    Reply
  12. Spike

     /  March 16, 2014

    My view of this is that impacts will be felt sooner than we expect and discussions about longer term temperature and sea level rise, although crucial and interesting, rather neglect the short term impact of extreme weather and heat. Another report I have just seen about impact on crops being adverse and early is here. http://phys.org/news/2014-03-climate-crop-yields-sooner-thought.html

    Reply
    • Mark Archambault

       /  March 16, 2014

      And hopefully the greater than expected near future impacts will also wake society up to the potential long-term implications.

      People will realize they should be asking, “well just how hot and dry is it going to get anyhow?” after say, most of the reservoirs in the US south and west have dried up… or food costs 4 times as much. So in this case I agree with you, and hope that the “hotter, faster, worser” as Joe Romm put it serves as a wake-up call in time to allow humanity to limit the future scenario to less than a mass extinction.

      Reply
      • We are in the process of locking in what is, perhaps, the worst geological crisis in Earth’s history. We would be absolutely insane not to respond now.

        Reply
    • The issue is that extreme weather and rate of ice sheet melt are related. I’ve covered the issue of crop yields extensively and, yes, there are certainly likely to be increasingly severe impacts going forward. Many of the grain belts are hit hard by extremes in addition, moving from now to mid century the oceans experience a severe decline in their ability to support life (and feed human beings).

      All impacts of global warming are important to human civilization. If the crop yields are hit hard enough, you have severe economic disruption increasing poverty and conflict and, potentially, long term population decline in the worst case. If the oceans rise rapidly, you have mass migration to add to hunger. If the oceans stratify and become anoxic, you have the remnant humans trying to survive in a world where poisonous H2S belches from the oceans, rivers, lakes and wetlands.

      The timelines these impacts are short (now to 30 years), medium (30-80 years), and long (80+ years), respectively. Ignoring any one is rather foolish. And, in any case, reducing ghg emission reduces the scope and impact of the problem long-term. IF the world’s governments moved to the emergency footing we need to be on right now, so much the better. Perhaps, if profit motive were taken out of the equation, we might actually be able to work together to solve these problems and come up with some viable solutions. For now, we are racing headlong to an increasingly worsening series of difficult to manage events.

      Finally, anyone trying to profit from the food crisis is an ignoramus who should be tried for crimes against humanity. And, if you want to help humankind or life on this world, you can make the conscientious choice and switch to an all vegetable or mostly vegetable diet, reduce your fossil fuel consumption to as close to zero as possible, and demand that governments take responsible action to prevent harm.

      Reply
  13. The finding, which will likely boost estimates of expected global sea level rise in the future, appears in the March 16 issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.

    The new result focuses on ice loss due to a major retreat of an outlet glacier connected to a long “river” of ice – known as an ice stream – that drains ice from the interior of the ice sheet. The Zachariae ice stream retreated about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) over the last decade, the researchers concluded. For comparison, one of the fastest moving glaciers, the Jakobshavn ice stream in southwest Greenland, has retreated 35 kilometers (21.7 miles) over the last 150 years.

    Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-03-greenland-implicated-sea-level.html#jCp

    Reply
  14. Climate change will reduce crop yields sooner than thought

    Summary:

    Global warming of only 2 degrees Celsius will be detrimental to crops in temperate and tropical regions, researchers have determined, with reduced yields from the 2030s onwards. In the study, the researchers created a new data set by combining and comparing results from 1,700 published assessments of the response that climate change will have on the yields of rice, maize and wheat. Due to increased interest in climate change research, the new study was able to create the largest dataset to date on crop responses.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140316153322.htm

    Reply
    • About crop yields, Richard Alley had a bit about this in his AGU Chapman Conference presentation. It surely looks like a rather nasty future ahead:

      I really enjoy his presentations as he has both the scientific angle and the environmentalist view about the predicament. It must be hard to be a researcher and see the trajectory we are heading and try to remain cool. Alley has found a nice balance to alert the viewer that this is serious business and the science is pretty solid on what we can expect if we don’t act.

      Reply
      • We need radical shifts in consumption, land use, population restraint and a massive decoupling and shutting down of the fossil fuel infrastructure to keep some degree of resilience. Changes in farming practices will help as well, but we’ll probably have to use every tool in the box to put together an effective response as time moves forward.

        Reply
      • It’s a good presentation. That said, I think there’s a strong case to show that things pre 2050 are rather bad. It’s just that post 2050 looks absolutely nasty.

        Reply
  15. Ancient Moss Revived After Ages on Ice

    On an island called Signy, amid the rolling waves off Antarctica, lies a moss bank as old as the Roman Empire.

    Buried deep within its frozen, brown remains, scientists have revived a spark of life that has endured for well more than a thousand years.

    The discovery made by researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Reading, Berkshire, U.K., pushes back by many centuries the time span over which frozen ancient plants are able survive, to be revived by nothing more complex than exposure to light.

    Link

    Reply

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