Exceptional Drought Blankets 58 Percent of California; Reservoirs Missing One Year’s Worth of Water

For California, the punishment just won’t stop.

Human warming and a climate change induced blocking pattern have withered California under record drought conditions for the better part of three years now. A vicious trend that worsened again in recent days with yet another jump in drought severity as exceptional drought conditions surged to cover a majority of the state.

Previous week’s values of 36 percent exceptional drought coverage rocketed to 58 percent in just one week. Exceptional drought is the highest drought category for the US Drought Monitor, representing the most extreme conditions in the measure. So most of the state is now sweltering under the nation’s worst drought category with the remainder covered by extreme and severe drought:

California Drought July 29

(US Drought Monitor map of California showing 58 percent of the state covered in exceptional drought [brick red], 23 percent covered in extreme drought [red], and the rest covered in severe drought [orange]. California is now entering its fourth month of 100% drought coverage after more than three years of abnormally dry conditions.)

One hundred percent drought coverage with worsening conditions has been the prevailing pattern ever since May when drought first surged to blanket the entire state. Since that time, conditions have been steadily worsening with agricultural regions drying out, farmers, communities and industries forced to further deplete limited ground water supplies, and with reservoirs dropping despite best efforts by federal and state officials to conserve.

As a result, state supplies are being hammered. For, according to a report released today by the National Drought Mitigation Center, the state is “short more than one year’s worth of reservoir water, or 11.6 million acre-feet, for this time of year.” In other words, if a year’s worth of rain fell over the state tomorrow, it would barely be enough to bring reservoir levels back to normal.

So far, drought effects have been mitigated, mostly through the above-mentioned reliance on ground water supplies. But it remains questionable how long such activities can continue. And despite even these efforts thousands of agricultural workers have been laid off amidst a 2 billion dollar loss for the state’s food industry.

As ground water and reservoir levels continue to drop, officials have grown more anxious to enforce conservation measures. To this point, fines in excess of 500 dollars have been levied for residents hosing sidewalks and driveways, for excessively watering their lawns, or for other water intensive practices. To this end, many municipalities have hired ‘water police’ to patrol neighborhoods and enforce water conservation measures.

Climate Change and A Mangled Jet Stream

Recent scientific studies have made a strong link between the historic California drought and ongoing changes to Earth’s climate resulting from human greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these changes involve heat-driven alterations to Earth’s atmospheric circulation. For as the Earth warms, it does so unevenly. In regions near the pole, and especially above 60 North, temperatures have risen by, on average, about 0.5 degrees Celsius per decade since the 1980s. This heating has pulled the Jet Stream along with prevailing weather patterns northward.

Sierra Nevada No Snow July 25

(A Sierra Nevada mountain range featuring glaciers turned brown and sweltering under temperatures as high as 70 degrees on July 25, 2014. For 2013 to 2014, the Sierra Nevadas have been mostly devoid of the reservoir-restoring snows that California typically relies upon. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

This more rapid heating of the far north has also resulted in a reduction of the north-south temperature differential. In the past, a high difference in temperature from north to south helped drive a prevailing wind pattern called the Jet Stream which kept weather systems moving across the Northern Hemisphere. But as the difference between north and south temperatures dropped, weather systems tended to stall. High amplitude waves tended to form in the Jet Stream and blocking patterns tended to emerge more often.

For California, the upshot has been the increasing prevalence of a ridge and blocking high pressure system deflecting storms away from the California coast. The pattern, which began to take hold three years ago, has been an almost constant feature for the past 16 months. And the result has been one of the worst droughts California has ever seen.

In May, a new scientific study linked the anomalous blocking pattern, the California Drought and human caused climate change stating:

The 2013–2014 California drought was initiated by an anomalous high-amplitude ridge system. The anomalous ridge was investigated using reanalysis data and the Community Earth System Model (CESM). It was found that the ridge emerged from continual sources of Rossby wave energy in the western North Pacific starting in late summer and subsequently intensified into winter. The ridge generated a surge of wave energy downwind and deepened further the trough over the northeast U.S., forming a dipole. The dipole and associated circulation pattern is not linked directly with either El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or Pacific Decadal Oscillation; instead, it is correlated with a type of ENSO precursor. The connection between the dipole and ENSO precursor has become stronger since the 1970s, and this is attributed to increased greenhouse gas loading as simulated by the CESM. (emphasis added)

This climate change induced blocking pattern has also been associated with numerous warm air invasions of the Northern Hemisphere polar region, the most recent of which occurred yesterday.

Models Show Worsening Drought Conditions Under Human-Caused Climate Change

Unfortunately for California, the US Southwest, and for a growing portion of the country, the most recent drought may be just one in a string of many increasingly worsening events to come. Climate models predict a wholesale drying out of the US Southwest and Central US under an intensifying regime that has already begun to take hold. By mid-century conditions are expected to be quite extreme indeed:

Advance of drought

(NCAR model study of global precipitation under moderate warming throughout the 21st Century. The scale is based on the Palmer Drought Severity index with values of -4 and lower at exceptional drought. Under this model run, most of the US is blanketed by exceptional drought conditions. Overall, drought is expected to originate in the south and central US and then expand north and eastward as human caused warming intensifies.)

For Californians suffering under a three year long drought, such long-range forecasts indicate that the worst may be yet to come. For the short-to-middle-term, the west coast blocking pattern remains in place and shows little sign of movement. For the long-term, unless human greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly reduced, droughts of this intensity grow more and more likely.

But Californians are not alone, as model predictions show most of the US coming under an increasing regime of drought as human-caused warming intensifies throughout the 21st Century. Drought emerging now in the US Southwest is expected to expand north and eastward, eventually taking root and reaching an extreme intensity in the Central US. The front of drought then rides into the US Southeast and Mid-Atlantic as, by mid-to-late century, it surges northward into Canada.

The lesson to take from this is that few in the US are spared a fate of worsening drought spurred by human-caused climate change. And with climate change clearly linked to the California drought, we may be getting a bit of the bitter taste of what’s still to come.

UPDATE: US Drought Monitor now reports that the California Drought is now the worst in state history and that soil moisture levels are nearing zero for much of the state.


California Drought Crisis Reaches Worst Level As it Spreads North

US Drought Monitor

National Drought Mitigation Center

Probable Causes of the Abnormal Ridge Accompanying the 2013-2014 California Drought



Jet Stream So Weak Winds are Running From Pacific to Atlantic Across the North Pole




Jet Stream So Weak Winds Are Running From Pacific to Atlantic Across the North Pole


(Winds flowing north from just west of Hawaii, through the Bering Strait, over the North Pole and on into the North Atlantic as seen by NOAA’s GFS model and imaged by Earth Nullschool.)

This is a very odd pattern for global surface winds.

In the central Pacific, along a band above 20 North Latitude and about 500 miles west of Hawaii, a broad stream of easterly winds yesterday took a turn toward the north. The wind field was then pulled into a long frontal boundary spinning out from a large low pressure system off Irkutsk, Russian and driven on toward the Western Aleutian Island Chain.

The winds continued their sprint northward through the Bering Strait before being again captured by a low, this time over the East Siberian Sea. Sped on by this second nudge, the winds, running at 15-25 mph, spilled over the North Pole and into a third low spinning just north of Svalbard. This system shoved the winds southward over the North Atlantic and finally into a cyclone just north of England where the winds finally turned eastward, returning to the prevailing west-east global flow.

This is an epic journey in defiance of typical and prevailing weather patterns spanning thousands of miles and three oceans. It is decidedly not normal.

A Ruptured Jet Stream and A Flood of Winds Across the Pole

Typically, cold air over the polar region will insulate the Arctic from these kinds of circumpolar flows. The cold air to the north, warm air to the south, drives winds faster around the pole, creating a kind of wind wall that keeps south-north flows out of the Arctic. It is a pattern that tends to isolate Arctic air from the rest of the global air circulation to the south.

Jet Stream 30 July 2014

(Mostly disassociated Jet Stream with large rupture running north through the Bering Strait and on over the polar zone. Image source: University of Maine.)

But, during recent years, temperatures in the far north have been rapidly rising by in some cases as much as 0.5 to 1.0 degrees Celsius per decade. This heating of the polar zone, together with land and sea ice loss, has resulted in a weakening of the circumpolar wind pattern called the Jet Stream. This weakening has collapsed the wall keeping southerly winds from rushing over the Arctic as we see today.

The current pattern involves an extreme weakness and high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream extending from the Central Pacific and into the Arctic, extending well above the 80 degree North Latitude line. What remains of the cold air pool has been split, with some of the cold air mass shoved toward Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago and the remainder shoved toward the Kara Sea. Driving through it all is a wedge of warmer air accompanied with the southerly winds, winds that originated in the tropics near Hawaii.


Earth Nullschool


University of Maine

The Arctic Methane Monster Exhales: Third Tundra Crater Found

Yamal Hole

(One of three massive holes found in Siberia. The prominent theory for the holes’ formation is a catastrophic destabilization of sub-surface methane under thawing tundra. Image source: The Moscow Times.)

Add salt, sand, and thawing methane pockets buried beneath scores of feet of warming permafrost together and what do you get? Massive explosions that rip 200-300 foot deep and 13-98 foot wide holes in the Siberian earth.

The name for the place where this strange event first happened, in Russian, is Yamal, which roughly translates to mean ‘the end of the Earth.’ Now, three holes of similar structure have appeared over a 700 mile wide expanse of Siberian tundra. The most likely culprit? Catastrophic destabilization of Arctic methane stores due to human-caused warming.

A Tale of Dragon’s Breath: How the Yamal Event Likely Unfolded

About 10,000 years ago, as the great glaciers of the last ice age gave up their waters in immense surges and outbursts into the world ocean, a broad section of Siberian tundra was temporarily submerged by rising seas. But with the loss of the great glaciers, pressures upon the crust in these zones subsided and, slowly, the newly flooded tundra rose, again liberating itself, over thousands of years of uplift, from the waters.

The land remained frozen throughout this time, covered in a layer of ice — solid permafrost hundreds of feet deep. But the oceanic flood left its mark. Salt water and sand found its way into cracks in the icy soil, depositing in pockets throughout the frozen region’s earth.

And there this chemical brew remained, waiting to be deep-frozen and sequestered as the glaciers of a new age of ice advanced over the Earth.

Arctic Warming Trend 1960 to 1990

(Arctic warming trend from 1960 to 1990. Image source: NOAA.)

But this event, foretold and anticipated in the bones of Earth, did not come to pass. Instead, human beings began dumping billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere. They dug up mountains of ancient carbon and burned it. And now those mountains of carbon lived in the air, thickening it, trapping heat.

For Siberia, this meant rising temperatures. At first, the increase was slow. Perhaps a tenth of a degree per decade. But by the time the 20th Century was closing and the 21st Century emerged, the pace of warming was greater than at any time even the Earth could remember — an increase of 0.5 degrees Celsius or more every ten years.

Now, the glaciers will probably not return for hundreds of thousands of years, if ever. And now, the brew that was waiting to be buried is instead thawing and mixing. A deep, heat-based cracking of the frozen soil that flash-bakes an alchemical mixture deposited over the ages. The result: dragon’s breath erupting from the very soil.

Explosive Eruptions From Smoking Earth

One Taz District local described the day the crater formed–

The earth was first observed to smoke. This continued for some time and then a bright flash followed by a loud bang exploded above the tundra. After the mists and smoke cleared, a large hole surrounded by mounds of ejected soil was visible. The hole tunneled like a cone more than 200 feet down. Its walls were frozen permafrost.

Siberian Craters Map

(Broad expanse of Siberia containing three massive holes, indications of explosive eruptions in the permafrost set off by thawing methane mixed with salt, water and sand. The holes are all in the range of 200-300 feet deep. Deep enough to contact subsoil methane pockets or, in some cases, frozen clathrate. Image source: The Daily Mail.)

A single event of this kind might be easy to overlook as an aberration. A freak case that might well be attributed to unique conditions. But over the past two weeks not one, not two, but three large holes, all retaining the same features, have appeared within the same region of Yamal, Russia.

A single event may well be easily marked off as a strange occurrence, but three look more like the start of a trend.

Weather Underground notes:

The holes may foreshadow bigger problems for our planet in the near future, scientists worry. Permafrost around the Arctic contains methane and carbon dioxide, and both could be dangerous to our environment if released, according to a report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. As long as the permafrost remains frozen, the report adds, this isn’t a concern, but climate models have painted a grim future for rising temperatures in the Arctic.

And with temperatures in the Arctic, and especially over Siberia, rising so fast, the permafrost is not remaining frozen. It is instead thawing. And together with this thaw comes a growing release of carbon stored there over the 2-3 million year period since the ice ages began their long reign. It is a release we can expect to continue together with human-caused warming. One that is critical to abate as much as possible, if we are to have much hope for a climate favorable for human beings and the continuing diversity of life on this world. How rapidly and violently the Arctic responds to our insults depends on how hard we push it. And right now, through an amazing human carbon emission, we are now pushing the Arctic very hard.

Jason Box, a prominent Arctic researcher and head of the Dark Snow Project, noted Sunday in his blog, Meltfactor:

What’s the take home message, if you ask me? Because elevated atmospheric carbon from fossil fuel burning is the trigger mechanism poking the climate dragon. The trajectory we’re on is to awaken a runaway climate heating that will ravage global agricultural systems leading to mass famine, conflict. Sea level rise will be a small problem by comparison. We simply MUST lower atmospheric carbon emissions. This should start with limiting the burning of fossil fuels from conventional sources; chiefly coal, followed by tar sands [block the pipeline]; reduce fossil fuel use elsewhere for example in liquid transportation fuels; engage in a massive reforestation program to have side benefits of sustainable timber, reduced desertification, animal habitat, aquaculture; and redirect fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy subsidies. This is an all hands on deck moment. We’re in the age of consequences.

If the warming trends continue and fossil fuel burning does not abate, these holes may be only minor explosive outbursts compared to what may follow. In any case, given current trends, it appears entirely possible that more and more of these strange holes will be appearing throughout the Arctic. An ugly sign of the danger inherent to our time.


Another Siberian Hole Discovered

Not So Mysterious Hole Found in Siberia

Two New Holes Appear in Siberia

Is the Climate Dragon Awakening?

Siberian Tundra Holes are a Mystery to Me

Is this the Compost Bomb’s Smoking Gun?

It’s All About Frozen Ground

Arctic Climate: A Perspective For Modeling


No Excuse Not To Transition: Denmark Wind at 5 Cents Per Kilowatt Hour

Running the world on renewable energy.

If you listen to the fossil fuel cheerleaders, the possibility is more remote than ever. Earlier this month, a few oil and natural gas fracking boosters in the EU derided the high cost of energy in Europe. They claimed that shifting to a policy of climate and groundwater threatening fracking could free them from both energy price shock and dependence on threatening overseas powers like Russia.

Unfortunately, such, unattached-to-reality, fossil fuel boosting by former industry professionals turned politician isn’t new. For these wayward ministers had missed recent developments in nearby Denmark providing a real long-term solution to both high energy prices and dependence on foreign suppliers, and all without the added hassle of threatening Europe’s water supplies or pushing the world one step closer to climate change game over.

Cheaper Than Other Forms of Energy

GE Wind Turbine with Battery Back-up

(GE wind turbine with battery backup in the turbine housing stores power for times of peak demand or when the wind is not blowing. Image source: Smart Planet.)

For according to a recent report from the government of Denmark, new wind power coming online in 2016 will cost half that of energy now provided from current coal and natural gas based power plants. The net price would be equal to 5.4 cents (US) per kilowatt hour.

Rasmus Petersen, Danish Minister for Energy, Climate and Buildings was far more sanguine than a number of his wayward peers regarding renewable’s prospects:

“Wind power today is cheaper than other forms of energy, not least because of a big commitment and professionalism in the field. This is true both for researchers, companies and politicians.”

“We need a long-term and stable energy policy to ensure that renewable energy, both today and in the future is the obvious choice.”

Not included in Rasmus’ statement is the amount of monetary damage and loss of life that would inevitably be prevented by shifting the energy base to renewables and away from climatologically harmful fossil fuels. Damage to crops, damage from extreme weather, loss of coastal infrastructure, loss of fisheries, loss of whole ecologies, and increasing risks of a runaway global warming feedback in the Arctic are all reduced or prevented under such a shift. Though there is currently no price mechanism to add these monumental costs inherent to fossil fuel use to the current energy marketplace, the effects are ongoing and born by all of broader society.

It’s a kind of tax fossil fuel use foists on us all. A tax that includes potential loss of life as an ultimate levy. And with each passing year, the pain and harm from that wreckage-inducing tax increases.

In addition to broadly preventing such harms, an ever-increasing energy independence comes with a majority reliance on renewables as base energy.

EU Still Pushing for Renewables Expansion

Despite the rather loud voices of a couple of fossil fuel cheerleaders, the EU is pressing hard for increasing renewable energy generation. In total, the EU commission is now recommending that member states, on aggregate, set a 30 percent renewable energy production target and a 40% emissions reduction goal. This would more than double the 14.1 % renewable energy use achieved throughout the EU during 2012 and rising through 2014.

The EU’s action comes on the back of a flurry of new reports showing that 100% reliance on renewable energy for electricity and base fuel is now possible given current technology and existing markets. These studies found complete replacement of fossil fuel infrastructure, including transportation, to be possible given current resources and technology for all new energy by 2020-2030 and for all energy by around 2050. Meanwhile, many of these studies found that costs for replacement were surprisingly low, especially when efficiency and the elimination of unnecessary consumption were added in.

Under the current situation of amplifying damages caused by human-induced climate change, such policies provide a means of escape from escalating harm and of a prevention of the worst effects of warming-related climate and biosphere shocks. Governments around the world should take a good, hard look at such policies going forward as the economic excuses for perpetrating such harm by continuing fossil fuel exploitation, given the availability of 5 cent per kilowatt wind energy, grow quite thin indeed.


Wind Power Undercuts Fossil Fuels to Become Cheapest in Denmark

Onshore Wind Now Cheapest Form of Electricity in Denmark

Providing All Global Energy With Wind, Water and Solar Power

Smart Planet

Fossil Fuel Cheerleaders Push ‘Shale Option’



Large Methane Plumes Discovered on Laptev Continental Slope Boundary: Evidence of Possible Methane Hydrate Release


(The Swedish Icebreaker Oden — now home to the 80 scientists and tons of equipment of the SWERUS 2014 research expedition aimed at measuring sea floor methane release throughout the Arctic this summer. Among the scientists leading the expedition is Igor Semiletov whose 2011 expedition discovered 1 kilometer wide plumes of methane issuing from the floor of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Image source: Commons.)

SWERUS-C3 researchers have on earlier expeditions documented extensive venting of methane from the subsea system to the atmosphere over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. On this Oden expedition we have gathered a strong team to assess these methane releases in greater detail than ever before to substantially improve our collective understanding of the methane sources and the functioning of the system. This is information that is crucial if we are to be able to provide scientific estimations of how these methane releases may develop in the future (emphasis added). — Örjan Gustafsson

*     *    *    *     *

Over the past few years, the Arctic has been experiencing an invasion.

Emerging from the Gulf Stream, a pulse of warmer than normal water propagated north past Iceland and into the Barents Sea. There, it dove beneath the surface fresh water and retreating sea ice, plunging to a depth of around 200-500 meters where it concentrated, lending heat to the entire water column. Taking a right hand turn along the Siberian Continental Shelf, it crossed through the mid water zones of the Kara. Finally, it entered the Laptev and there it abutted against the downward facing slopes of the submarine continental region.

As the water temperatures at these depths warmed, researchers began to wonder if they would trigger the destabilization of methane hydrate stores locked  in deeper waters along the shelf boundary. And, now, a new expedition may have uncovered evidence that just such an event is ongoing.

Methane Hydrates and Troubling Releases from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf

Oceanic methane hydrates form when methane upon or beneath the sea bed freeze into a crystalline ice lattice. It is a hybrid water-methane mixture that only remains stable at higher sub-sea pressures and lower temperatures. Normally, oceanic hydrates form at great depth (about 600 meters or deeper) where a combination of high pressure and low temperature are the prevailing environmental factor. But the colder Arctic is a sometimes exception to this general rule.

In recent years, deep ocean warming due to human caused climate change has accelerated. It is feared that this warming may unlock vast stores of methane laying frozen along the deep sea bed or in more vulnerable continental shelf slope zones.

This warming is also feared to have begun a process of methane release along a unique submarine feature called the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS). There rising temperatures are hypothesized to have sped the thaw of submarine permafrost.

Frozen permafrost stores biologically generate gaseous methane at depths of 10-80 meters. Methane hydrate stores are locked away at depths starting at around 100 meters. Submerged beneath only a couple hundred feet of water, these methane stores are much shallower and, therefore, are in a naturally unstable zone.

The East Siberian Sea zone is unique due to the fact that it was only recently flooded, in geological terms. The frozen permafrost has only rested beneath the Arctic Ocean waters since the end of the last ice age and much of it remained frozen due to chill Arctic conditions. But now, human-caused climate change is driving warmer and warmer waters into the Arctic environment.

Elevated Methane ESAS

(Elevated atmospheric methane levels over East Siberian and Laptev Seas during October of 2013. Image source: Arctic News via Methane Tracker)

As the warming progressed during the first decade of the 21st Century, researchers observed what appeared to be an increasing release of methane from these thawing permafrost stores. In 2011, plumes from the sea bed stretching 1 kilometer across were observed by an Arctic expedition headed by Igor Similetov and Natalia Shakova. It appeared that the 250 to 500 gigatons of carbon locked in the ice in that shallow ocean was destabilizing and releasing from the sea floor as methane.

Now it is estimated that about 17 megatons of methane from this store vents through the shallow waters into the atmosphere each year. But this may just be the start of a far larger emission.

Methane Hydrate Release During Past Hothouse Events

Though the ESAS carbon and methane store is arguably one of the most vulnerable to human-caused warming, a far greater store of methane hydrate is estimated to be locked in crystalline ice lattice structures along the world’s continental slope systems and in the world’s deep ocean environments. Since the Earth has been cooling for the better part of 55 million years, a huge store of carbon as methane is now thought to have accumulated there. In total, between 3,000 and 10,000 gigatons of carbon are estimated to be captured in this vast store.

methane bubbles near the Laptev sea surface

(Methane bubbles near the Laptev Sea surface as observed by the SWERUS expedition last week. These bubbles were issuing from what are thought to be destabilizing methane hydrates along the Outer Laptev Continental Slope zone. Image source: Stockholm University.)

Global warming science, especially the science related to paleoclimate, indicates that Earth Systems warming tends to dump a lot of heat into the deep ocean. The atmosphere ocean-interface along the equator warms and becomes salty due to enhanced evaporation. The warmer, saltier water sinks, driving heat into the deep ocean. At the poles, ice sheet melt sends out a wave of fresh water along the ocean surface. The fresh water acts as an insulator between atmosphere and water, locking the warm water beneath the surface and pushing it toward the bottom. This process, called ocean stratification, is, among other things, an ocean heat exchange machine that turns the ocean bottom into a warming-induced house of horrors.

We would expect a similar process to be set in motion through human warming.

Ultimately, this combination of forces results in a collision of warm water with frozen methane stores and serves as a mechanism for their destabilization. If even a portion of this deep ocean methane hits the air, it can further accelerate already rampant warming.

Today, we may be at the start of just this kind of process.

Large Methane Plumes Discovered Along The Laptev Slope Boundary

Last week, large plumes of methane were found to be issuing from the outer Laptev Sea floor at the border zone where the bottom climbs up to meet the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Researchers on the scientific study vessel Oden found:

elevated methane levels, about ten times higher than in background seawater, [that] were documented … as we climbed up the steep continental slope at stations in 500 and 250 m depth.

Expedition researchers noted:

This was somewhat of a surprise. While there has been much speculation of the vulnerability of regular marine hydrates (frozen methane formed due to high p [pressure] and low T [temperature]) along the Arctic rim, very few actual observations of methane releases due to collapsing Arctic upper slope marine hydrates have been made.

An Ice-Free Laptev Sea

(An ice-free Laptev Sea on July 28, 2014. Last week, researchers discovered a kilometers wide plume of methane bubbling up from the Continental Shelf sea bed in these typically-frozen waters. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Overall the size of the release zone was quite large, covering several kilometers of sea bed and including over 100 methane seepage sites:

Using the mid-water sonar, we mapped out an area of several kilometers where bubbles were filling the water column from depths of 200 to 500 m. During the preceding 48 h we have performed station work in two areas on the shallow shelf with depths of 60-70m where we discovered over 100 new methane seep sites.

Due to the depth and location of the methane above the continental slope zone, researchers hypothesize that the source of the methane is from hydrate stores in the region.

It is worth noting that though it is rare to observe methane releases from the upper slope zone, current science has found destabilizing hydrates in deep water off the US East Coast along the continental shelf slope zone and in deep waters off Svalbard among other places. In addition, satellite observation of the Arctic Ocean has recently shown periods of high and above normal methane readings in the Laptev, Kara and East Siberian Seas. Elevated atmospheric readings have also appeared over the Nares Strait near Greenland. These are all zones that have experienced substantial deep ocean warming over the past few decades.

SWERUS 2014 is now heading toward ESAS waters where so many large methane plumes were discovered in 2011. There, the expedition hopes to use its impressive array of sensors and expertise to better define and understand what appear to be large-scale but not yet catastrophic methane releases underway there.





Stockholm University

Arctic Methane Monster Shortens Tail

Arctic News


Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat tip to Colorado Bob









Big Arctic Warm-Up Predicted For This Week: Melt to Speed Up, Or Sea Ice to Show Resiliency Due to Variability, Strength of Negative Feedbacks?

Rate of Sea ice volume decline for all months

(Rate of Arctic sea ice volume decline with trend lines for all months in the PIOMAS measure. Updated through June of 2014. Image source: Wipneus.)

What it really all comes down to is heat energy balance. Beneath a warming, moistening Arctic atmosphere, sea ice loses resiliency due to slow attrition of the ice surface, due to loss of albedo as ice melts, and due to slower rates of refreeze during winter. Atop a warming Arctic Ocean, sea ice loses bottom resiliency, tends to be thinner and more broken, and shows greater vulnerability to anything that churns the ocean surface to mix it with the warming deeper layers — storms, strong winds, powerful high pressure systems.

It is this powerful set of dynamics under human caused climate change that has dragged the Arctic sea ice into what has been called a ‘Death Spiral.’ A seemingly inexorable plunge to zero or near zero ice coverage far sooner than was previously anticipated.

But in the backdrop of what are obviously massive Arctic sea ice declines and a trend line, that if followed, leads to near zero ice coverage sometime between next year and 2030, lurk a few little details throwing a bit of chaos into an otherwise clear and, rather chilling, picture of Arctic sea ice decline.

The Fresh Water Negative Feedback

One of these details involves the greatly increasing flow of fresh water into the Arctic Ocean. For as the Arctic heats, it moistens and rainfall rates over Arctic rivers increase. This results in much greater volumes of fresh river water flushing into the Arctic Ocean and freshening its surface. Another source of new fresh water flow for the Arctic is an increasing rate of Greenland melt outflow. The volumes, that in recent years, ranged from 300 to 600 cubic kilometers, can, year-on-year, add 1-2% to the total fresh water coverage in the Arctic Basin and North Atlantic. These combined flows mean that fresh water accumulates more rapidly at the surface, resulting in an overall increase in fresh water volume.

Change in salinity

(Change in Arctic Ocean Salinity between the mid 1990s and mid 2000s. Image source: Benjamin Rabe, Alfred Wegener Institute via Science Daily.)

Since 1990, we have observed just such an accumulation. For a recent study in 2011 showed that since 1992, Arctic Ocean surface fresh water content had increased by 20%. A remarkable increase due to the changing conditions that included greatly increased river outflows into the Arctic Ocean as well as a ramping ice melt from Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago Islands.

Fresh water is less dense than salt water and will tend to float at the surface. The physical properties of fresh water are such that it acts as a heat insulator, deflecting warmer, saltier ocean water toward the bottom. As such, it interrupts the heat flow from deeper, warmer Arctic Ocean waters to the sea surface and into the atmosphere.

As an added benefit to the ice, fresher water freezes at higher temperatures. So as the Arctic Ocean freshens, it creates a bit of wiggle room for the sea ice, giving it about a 0.5 to 1 C boost so it can sometimes even form during conditions that were warmer than those seen in the past.

In this manner, an expanding fresh water zone acts as a kind of last refuge for sea ice in a warming world. A zone in which sea ice may even periodically stage comebacks in the backdrop of rampant human warming. We may be seeing such a comeback in the Antarctic sea ice, which has shown anomalous growth and even contributed to an expanding cool atmospheric zone in the Southern Ocean, despite ongoing global warming. The freshwater and iceberg feeds from the vast Antarctic ice sheets have grown powerful indeed due to warm water rising up to melt the ice sheets from below, letting loose an expanding surface zone of ice and fresh water. This process will necessarily strengthen as more and more human heating hits the deep ocean and the submerged bases of ice sheets. An effect that will dramatically and dangerously reverberate through the ocean layers, setting the stage for a horrible stratification.

But today, we won’t talk about that. Today is for negative feedbacks due to fresh water flows from increasing polar precipitation and through ice sheet melt.

In the end, human warming dooms Arctic sea ice to an eventual final melt. But before that happens the increasing volume of fresh water from river flows and the potentially more powerful negative feedback coming from a growing ice and fresh water release from Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago will inevitably play their hands.

The Slower Than Terrible 2014 Melt Season

And so we arrive at the 2014 sea ice melt season for the Arctic. As with 2013, the melt got off to a relatively rapid start and then slowed through July as weather conditions grew less favorable for ice melt. Above freezing temperatures hit the ice above 80 degrees North about one week later than average, also providing some resiliency to the central ice — a condition that historically leads to higher end-season sea ice values in about 80 percent of the record.

The high pressure systems of early June gave way to weak storms and overall cloudy conditions. This shut down the cycle of strong melt, compaction, and transport of ice out of the Arctic that may have put 2014 on track for new records and another horrible slide down the Arctic sea ice death spiral. Instead, conditions set up for slower melt. Ice was retained and backed up through the Fram Strait, and the ice spread out, taking advantage of the thickened fresh water layer to slow its summer decline.

This is in marked contrast to the terrible 2007 and 2012 melt seasons which severely damaged the ice, making a total Arctic Basin ice melt all more likely in the near future. And it was also cutting against the 2010 to 2012 trend in which sea ice volume measures continued to plunge despite ambiguous numbers in sea ice area and extent (no new record lows) during 2010 and 2011. For this year, sea ice volume is now, merely, ‘only’ 4th lowest on record, according to the PIOMAS measure.

The fact that we are looking at a 4th lowest year as another bounce-back year is a clear indication of how terrible things became since 2010. And so far, this year’s melt has, like 2013, simply not been so terrible and terrifying. A wag back toward 2000s levels that is likely due to the inherent negative feedback of freshening surface water and to a swing in natural weather variability that, during any other year and in any other climate, would have pushed summer ice levels quite high indeed.

If the storms had been strong enough to draw a large enough pulse of warm water to the surface, the story might have been different. But, as it stands, this summer of weak Arctic weather hasn’t activated any major melt mechanism to push the ice into new record low territory. And so in many major monitors we are now above 2013 melt levels for this day.

Cryosphere Today shows sea ice area at 5.22 million square kilometers, above 2013 and just slightly above 2011 while ranging below 2008 for the date. Overall, the area measure is at 6th lowest on record for the date. Meanwhile, NSIDC shows sea ice extent at 7.74 million square kilometers or just above 2013 values for the same day but remaining below 2008 and 2009 by a substantial margin. Overall, also a sixth lowest value for the date:

Sea ice july 2014 v2

(NSIDC chart comparing sea ice melt years 2012 [dashed green line], 2008 [maroon line], the 1981 to 2010 average [solid line] and 2013 [pink line]. Image source NSIDC.)

So in the sea ice butcher board tally, with the negative feedback of fresh water floods and glacial melt moderately in play and with weather that is highly unfavorable for melt, we currently stand at 4th lowest in the volume record, 6th lowest in the extent record, and 6th lowest in the area record.

And now, things may just be about to get interesting…

Forecast Shows Arctic Heatwaves on the Way

GFS and ECMWF model runs show two warm ridges of high pressure developing over the Arctic this week. And the emergence of these warm and moist air flows into the Arctic may well have an impact by pushing the Arctic back toward melt-favorable conditions.

The first ridge is already expanding across the Canadian Archipelago. Yesterday it brought 80 degree temperatures to Victoria Island which still sits between wide channels clogged with sea ice. Smoke from wildfires is being entrained in this ridge and swept north and east over the remaining Archipelago sea ice and, today, the Greenland Ice Sheet.

While the smoke aerosol from fires blocks some of the incoming solar short wave radiation, it absorbs and re-radiates it as long-wave radiation. Many studies have shown this albedo-reducing darkening of the cloud layer by black and brown carbon aerosols has a net positive warming effect. In addition, the soot falls over both land and sea ice where it reduces reflectivity medium to long-term (Dark Snow).

Smoke streaming over Canadian Archipelago and Northwestern Greenland

(Smoke associated with record wildfires in the Northwest Territory streaming over the Canadian Archipelago, Northern Baffin Bay, and Northwestern Greenland beneath a dome of record heat. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The ridge is expected to expand east over the next few days until it finally settles in as a moderate-strength high pressure system over Greenland. There it is predicted to juxtapose a set of low pressure systems that will slowly slide south and east over Svalbard. The conjoined counterclockwise cyclonic wind pattern of the lows and the clockwise anti-cyclone of the high over Greenland in the models runs over the Fram Strait. And so, for at least 4-5 days, the models predict a situation where sea ice transport out of the Arctic may be enhanced.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Arctic, a series of high pressure systems are predicted to back up over the Pacific Ocean section of Irkutsk and Northeast Siberia. This ridge is expected to dominate coastal Siberia along the Laptev and East Siberian Seas. Temperatures along the coast are expected to reach 15-20 C above average, while temperatures over the waters are expected to rise to melt enhancing levels of 1 to 5 C.

Ahead of the ridge runs a warm frontal boundary that is heavily laden with moisture and storms. So a liquid and mixed precipitation band is likely to form over the East Siberian and Beaufort Sea ice as the ridge advances.

The ridge is projected to drive surface winds running from the south over the East Siberian Sea, across the polar region, and into the Greenland and Barents Seas. This cross-polar flow of warm, moist air will also enhance the potential for ice transport.

Melt Pattern

(Pattern more favorable for sea ice melt and transport emerging over the next seven days. This Climate Reanalyzer snapshot is at the 120 hour mark. Note Arctic positive temperature anomalies at +1.18 C. Will the pattern override potential negative feedbacks such as high fresh water content in the Arctic and unfavorable weather likely produced by the late emergence of temperatures above 0 C in the 80 North Latitude zone? Image source: University of Maine.)

Overall, it is a weather pattern that shows promise to increase melt, especially in the regions of the Canadian Archipelago and the East Siberia Sea, and to speed ice mobility and transport. Persistent lows near the central Arctic for the first half of this period and shifting toward Svalbard during the latter half will continue to disperse sea ice which may lend one potential ice resiliency feature to a pattern that is, otherwise, favorable for ice loss.

Negative Feedbacks and Weather Unfavorable For Melt

If the melt pattern described above comes to impact the ice and push greater rates of sea ice loss over the coming days and weeks, it’s likely that end season 2014 will end up with sea ice measures below those of 2013, but above the previous record lows seen during past years. This would likely put 2014 well within the range of the post 2007 era at 3rd to 5th lowest on record for most monitors. Not a new record year, but still well within the grips of the death spiral.

If, however, the weather predicted does not emerge or the sea ice retains resiliency through it, then 2014 stands a chance of pushing above final levels seen in 2013. In such an event, end season area and extent measures may challenge levels last seen during 2005 while sea ice volume maintains between 4th and 5th lowest.

If this happens, we may need to start asking this question:

Are negative feedbacks, in the form of greatly increased freshwater flows from rivers and glaciers, starting to pull the Arctic sea ice out of a high angle nose dive and are they beginning to soften the rate of decline? Or is this just a year when weather again wagged the dog as natural variability played a trump card for the summer of 2014 but further drives for new records will follow come 2015, 2016, or 2017?

In any case, near-term sea ice forecasts remain somewhat murky, as they should given the high instability of the current situation.


Science Daily

Now Melts the Arctic

The Arctic Ice Blog



University of Maine


Cryosphere Today

Dark Snow





Song of Flood and Fire Refrain: Epic Canadian Floods Wreck 5.5 Million Acres of Cropland

For the Northwest Territory of Canada, the story this summer has been one of record-setting wildfires. Fires casting away smoke plumes the size of thunderstorms, fires that burn regions of tundra the size of small states. Fires that just burn and burn and burn for weeks on end.

But to the south and east in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the story is drastically different. For over the past month, unprecedented flooding in this region has wrecked untold damage to Canada’s farmlands.

Canada floods

(Powerful storms over Manitoba and Saskatchewan on July 23rd, 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS)

This situation is the result of an odd and wreckage-inducing tangle in the Jet Stream. For hot air has been funneling up over the Northwest Territory for the better part of two months now, pushing temperatures in this Arctic region into an unprecedented range topping the 70s, 80s, and even 90s on some days. This high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream has been reinforced and locked in place, a result some scientists attribute to the loss of Arctic sea ice during recent years, setting up a hot weather pattern favorable to wildfires.

As the massive Arctic wildfires ignited and burned, they cast off giant streams of smoke, burdening the down-wind atmosphere with aerosol particles — an abundance of condensation nuclei for cloud formation. These smoke streams fell into a trough flowing down over Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The deep trough, often extending far into the Central US formed a kind of trap for storms and, like the fixed ridge over the Northwest Territory, it has remained in place for months on end.

Given this mangled positioning of atmospheric heat and moisture flows, it was only a matter of time before massive rainstorms erupted in the wake of the large-scale Canadian fires. And the result was an unprecedented flooding. The offspring of an unprecedentedly powerful and persistent atmospheric pattern set off by human warming.

Major Floods Wreck Canadian Crops

For some local farmers, the past couple of days have seen 48 hour rain totals in excess of 10 inches. A 100 year rain event at a scale few farmers in the region have ever seen. And the recent floods are just the latest in a series of heavy rainfalls that have been ongoing ever since early July. Flood follows flood follows flood. A progression that has left most farms swimming in inches to feet of water and mud.

In total, farmland encompassing 3 million acres in Saskatchewan and 2.5 million acres in Manitoba are now under water and are unlikely to produce any crops this year. As a result, wheat plantings are expected to decline by 9.8 percent from last year, canola is expected to decline by 5.8 percent from the June forecast, and oat is expected to decline by 6 percent, according to estimates from Bloomberg.

July flooding in these regions has so far resulted in over 1 billion dollars in damages to farmers. As much as half of these losses may not be covered as insurers are still reeling from severe moisture damages during 2011, just two years ago. As a result of the ongoing parade of storm casualties, insurers have also raised deductibles, leaving farmers more vulnerable to the odd and powerful new weather coming down the pipe.

The Part Played By Climate Change and a Mangled Jet Stream

We often hear of the expanding droughts of human-caused climate change wrecking croplands. But the upshot of expanding drought in one region is record downpours in another. And downpours, if they are intense enough, can have a negative impact on crops as well.

The cause of this is as simple as warming’s enhanced ability to evaporate water. For it is estimated by climate scientists that each degree C in temperature increase amplifies the global hydrological cycle by 7-8 percent. That means that current warming of about 0.8 C since the 1880s has resulted in about a 6% increase in both evaporation and precipitation. At the level of weather, this translates into more intense droughts under dry, hot weather, and more intense rainfall events under wetter, cooler weather.

High Amplitude Rossy Wave Over North America July 2014

(High amplitude Jet Stream wave pattern fueling wildfires in the Northwest Territory and record floods in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Note the extreme northward projection of the Jet over the Northwest Territory and the strong, deep, trough back-flowing from Hudson Bay into Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the northern tier of the Central US. Image source: University of Maine.)

One mechanism that has tended to amplify drought and rain events during recent years has been a weakening and intensifying waviness of the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream. This weakening has been attributed by some scientists to a large-scale recession of Arctic snow cover and sea ice. For since 2007, not one day has seen an average sea ice extent and the range has typically fallen into a zone between 20-50 percent below levels seen during the 1970s and 1980s. New major record low years in 2007 and 2012 have also fueled speculation that sea ice may completely melt away during one summer between now and 2030, 2025, or even 2020 — 50-100 years ahead of model predictions.

As the sea ice serves as a haven for cold air masses, its loss is bound to impact the resiliency of these systems and since a solid pool of cold air to the north is a major driver of Northern Hemisphere upper air currents, the weakening of this cold pool has had dramatic impacts on climates.

Dipole hot-cold pattern associated with mangled jet stream

(Extreme dipole hot/cold pattern associated with Jet Stream mangled by climate change. Image is for July 14, a match to the above Jet Stream shot. Note the extreme heat in the ridge and the much cooler air in the trough. This is exactly the kind of pattern we would associate with sea ice retreat and Jet Stream weakening. Image source: University of Maine)

For this year, the ridge over Canada’s Northwest territory was a direct upshot in a northward retreat of the Jet Stream over Canada and, at times, into the Arctic Ocean. This set the stage for severe wildfires in the zone of warmth underneath this ridge pattern. To the east, a powerful downsloping trough pulled cooler air into Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well as over the Central and Eastern US. This set the pattern up for cooler than average conditions as well as for strong rainstorms.

The crop-shattering events of July were a direct result of this climate change induced ‘Song of Flood and Fire.’ A pattern we’ve seen repeat again and again over the past few years and one that may well intensify as both time and human-caused warming advance.


Canada’s Record Rains Cut Wheat Averages to Three Year Low

Is Global Warming Causing Extreme Weather via Jet Stream Waves?

Top Climate Scientists Explain How Global Warming Amps Up the Hydrological Cycle, Wrecks the Jet Stream to Cause Dangerous Weather


University of Maine

A Song of Flood and Fire

Hat-tip to Colorado Bob



Is This the Compost Bomb’s Smoking Gun? Second Mysterious Hole Found in Yamal Russia

They call it ‘the end of the Earth.’

Yamal, Russia — a stretch of tundra flats and peat bogs stretching as far as the eye can see before terminating into the chill waters of the Kara. A rather stark and desolate place, one that was mostly unknown until a massive and strange hole appeared in the earth there last week. Since that time, the strange hole has been the butt of every kind of wild speculation and controversy.

Yamal Siberia

(MODIS satellite shot of Yamal Siberia — the peninsula located in center frame and recent site of mysterious holes that may have been caused by the catastrophic destabilization of thawing methane gas embedded in the permafrost. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The hole itself was an alien feature. “We haven’t seen anything like this before,” would be an entirely accurate statement. All about the hole was a large pile of debris — overturned earth, huge chunks of soil piled up in a signature very familiar to the ejecta of a meteor impact crater.

Approaching the hole edge, we came to a gradual slope that proceeded downward for about 40 feet at about a 35 degree incline. Along the surface of this incline, both the unfrozen soil cap and the frozen permafrost were visible.

But it wasn’t until we hit the bottom edge of this incline that we encountered the strangest feature of all — a sheer cliff, rounded in a shape like the smooth bore of a gun, and plunging straight down through icy permafrost for about another hundred and twenty feet before revealing a basement cavern slowly filling with melt.

It’s a combination of features that appears to be one half impact crater and one half sink hole.

Russia Siberia Crater

(The freakish combination of features including apparent ejecta piled around a crater with a sheer tunnel coring 220 feet down. Image source: The Siberian Times)

One theory on the feature is that it might be a pingo — a melting of a permafrost water pocket left over by an ancient lake that was long ago buried by sediment. But a pingo would typically form in a manner similar to a sinkhole and would probably not have apparent ejected material piled around its mouth.

Another theory, advanced by Russian Arctic scientists, is that a pocket of gas beneath the permafrost spontaneously destabilized — either through chemical or physical processes. The destabilized gas then is thought to have violently blown away the surface layer “like the popping of a cork in a champagne bottle.”

The Compost Bomb

Key to the second theory is that thawing permafrost contains vast stores of volatile methane at various depths. The methane is either trapped in pockets encased in ice and soil or locked in a water lattice structure forming what is called methane hydrate. Both forms are unstable, though they are often buried beneath tens to hundreds of meters of permafrost. Researchers have remained unsure how rapidly this methane would release and its rate of release is key to how fast the world will warm this century in response to human-caused greenhouse gas heat forcing.

Over 1,400 gigatons of carbon are sequestered in the permafrost. Much of this immense store is biological material buried over the 2 million year span of below-freezing conditions dominating much of the Arctic region of our planet. During this time, gradual glacial advance and retreat froze and refroze the earth in layers entombing a vast load of the stuff. Now, human warming is beginning to unlock it.

Permafrost spans much of the Arctic, under-girding Siberia, far Northern Europe, the northern tiers of Canada, and most of Alaska. It also rests beneath a flooded zone called the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Initial reports and research from these regions indicate an ongoing release of millions of tons of methane and CO2 annually. Bubbling seabed stores from the shallow East Siberian Arctic Shelf have caused some to speculate that releases of 1 billion tons to 50 billion tons of methane could be possible during the coming years and decades.

Tundra map NASA

(Is a sleeping dragon awakening in the Arctic? Map of wide expanse of permafrost containing 1,400 gigatons of carbon. Image provided by NASA’s CARVE methane research experiment which is now under the aegis of ABOVE.

Peter Wadhams, in an article for Nature last year, attempted to bracket the potential impacts of such large releases. In the article, Wadhams estimated that a 50 gigaton emission from the Arctic methane store over the next two decades would increase global temperatures by about 0.6 C above the current rate of warming and force temperatures through the 2 C barrier by 2035 (ironically, Michael Mann comes to the same conclusion without implicit inclusion of a powerful methane release). The costs in human lives and economic damage from such a release would be immense and it would risk further outbursts from the large and vulnerable carbon store.

And though the potential for such very large releases remain highly controversial among scientists, the massive pile of thawing permafrost carbon is an ominously large and unstable store facing off against an initial human warming that is more than six times faster than at any time during the geological past.

In the shadow of this emerging and hard to gauge threat, a term emerged to encapsulate the vast warming potential stored in permafrost, should it release and hit the atmosphere. The term — compost bomb — alludes to the risk involved in pushing the two-million-year-old Northern Hemisphere permafrost stores into rapid thaw.

Mystery Hole — A Smoking Gun?

With the spontaneous emergence of a strange hole that Russian scientists are linking to destabilized gas pockets within the permafrost due to thaw, it became possible that, yet one more, explosive mechanism for release had presented itself. And now, today, a second and similar hole has been discovered:

According to the Moscow Times:

“Global warming, causing an alarming melt in the ice under the soil, released gas causing an effect like the popping of a Champagne cork,” the news report said, citing an expert at the Subarctic Scientific Research Center.

The first hole is estimated to be about 50 meters wide and 70 meters deep, with water from melting permafrost cascading down its sides into the icy deposit below.

The second hole is “exactly” like the first one, but “much smaller,” local lawmaker Mikhail Lapsui told the Interfax-Ural news agency. “Inside the crater itself, snow can be seen. (emphasis added)”

And so, in the course of just one week, we have two very strange holes that Russian scientists are linking to destabilizing gas pockets beneath the thawing tundra. Smoking barrel of the compost bomb? Or as a commenter here called Colorado Bob puts it:

We’re going to see the tundra breaking out in these things like zits on a teenager.

Let’s hope these are mere sink-holes from collapsing ice pockets in the permafrost. Let’s hope there’s another explanation for what appears to be ejecta piled around these holes. Let’s hope that these ‘zits’ showing up in the Yamal permafrost remain local to the area. And let’s hope we don’t start seeing similar explosive outbursts from tundra in other regions, or worse, along the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

Lastly, let’s hope that any outbursts remain small in size and do not lift very large sections of land or submerged sea bed.

In any case, these initial reports are not promising and it appears we may both have a compost bomb smoking gun and a potential mechanism for rapid destabilization and explosive release of gas pockets deeply embedded in the frozen tundra all wrapped into one. Not very reassuring to say the least.


Mystery Behind Giant Hole Clearer as Second Hole Discovered

Now There Are Two Weird Holes in Siberia


The Siberian Times



Impacts of Large Releases from Monstrous Arctic Methane Stores

Far Worse Than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick

Hat tip to todaysguestis

Hat tip to Colorado Bob




Northern Hemisphere On Fire: Large Smoke Clouds Still Blanketing World’s Roof

After days and, in some cases, weeks of ongoing burning, immense fires still raged over the Northwest Territory, the US Northwest and Russia today as massive clouds of smoke continued to spread over the Northern Hemisphere.

In Washington, the state’s largest fire on record — The Carlton Complex Fire — was declared a federal disaster area by President Obama today as more than 2,000 firefighters continued to struggle to get the blaze under control. As of this afternoon, the 400 square mile fire was just 16% contained, though a bout of rain and moisture were aiding firefighters in their efforts.

About the fires, Obama noted:

A lot of it has to do with drought, a lot of it has to do with changing precipitation patterns, and a lot of that has to do with climate change.

More than 200 homes have been consumed by the fire and the loss of one life is attributed to it. With many residences still at risk, the situation remains very dangerous. The Carlton blaze was just one of scores of fires igniting over the US Northwest this week, scorching nearly a million acres and spurring the call-up of nearly 10,000 firefighting personnel.

Major Northwest Territory Fires Still Ongoing

Meanwhile, in Canada, fires still raged over the Northwest Territory, casting 1,000 mile streams of smoke into an atmosphere already heavily laden from the ongoing burning. It is a kind of smoke soup hanging in the air that has become all too common for this Arctic region:

NWT fires July 23

(1,000 + mile stream of smoke issuing from very large fires still raging over the Northwest Territory in Canada on July 23, 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Provinces remained at a level 4 alert status (out of a range of 1-5) indicating a high-to-extreme risk of continued fires. In total, 904,000 hectares (2,334,000 acres) have burned in the Northwest Territory so far this year compared to the typical ten-year average at 142,000 hectares. Throughout Canada, a total of 2,914 fires have been reported with 1,404,000 hectares burned. Over 800 fire fighters, more than 50 helicopters, and 5 fixed wing aircraft were involved in the ongoing response to these extraordinary blazes.

Epic Russian Fires The Worst of the Lot

In Russia, states of emergency remained in place along with continued travel restrictions over broad sections of Yakutia as a very large swath of Siberian tundra continued to belch immense billows of smoke. Numerous fires of over 400 square miles in size are plainly visible in the satellite shot. Massive streams of smoke continue to issue from these blazes blanketing more than 2,000 miles of sky.

Siberian Fires July 23

(Very large fires burning in Yakutia on July 23, 2014. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 2,000 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Yakutia is a region of Russia sitting atop a massive pile of thawing permafrost, perhaps the most carbon-rich zone in all of the Arctic Northern Hemisphere. The fires there seem to burn both woodlands and ground, lingering for many weeks and are only extinguished by the most powerful of downpours. Wildfires in these shots appear to rival the massive blazes ripping through a nearby region during Russia’s worst fire season — 2012. The massive plumes of very dense smoke and explosive blazes — reminiscent of a record-setting year.

Very Intense fires burning in Yakutia

(Close up of very intense fires beneath dense pallor of smoke in Yakutia. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 120 miles. Together, these fires easily cover an area rivaling that of a moderate-sized state. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Warming for this region of the world is among the fastest for the globe, proceeding at a pace of 0.5 C per decade or more than double the average. Due to its very large carbon store – both in boreal forest stock as well as thawing tundra — Yakutia remains one of the locations on watch for severe CO2 and methane releases as an amplifying feedback due to human-caused climate change. Inefficient burning during the current blazes appears to have unlocked some of the methane stored in soils there, lacing cloud tops with CH4 readings of 200-300 ppb higher than the global average.

Northern Hemisphere ‘On Fire,’ Wind Blows Smoke Away From Sea Ice, For Now

University of Maryland physicist Dr. Raymond Hoffman seemed stunned by the scope of the fires burning over the roof of the world this week saying: “The Northern Hemisphere is on fire,” in a blog post on Sunday. Dr. Hoffman described the scene as a “hazy, smokey mess” and seemed taken aback by the sheer scale of the area affected remarking that it is rare to see so much smoke painting the northern skies. The kind of smoke stew that we’ve seen all too much of in recent years.

Fortunately, winds out of the north in both Canada and Russia blew the smoke plumes southward over the past couple of days, sparing both sea ice and ice sheets a rain of melt-inducing black carbon. Over the next few days, winds are forecast to return to a south-originating direction, putting the ice once again in the firing line.



National Interagency Fire Center

Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center

The Northern Hemisphere is on Fire

State of Emergency in Siberia’s Largest Permafrost Region Due to Wildfires

Obama Declares Washington Wildfire Emergency




With No Relief in Sight, Extreme to Exceptional Drought Now Covers Over 80 Percent of California

It’s no longer a question of 100% drought coverage for the stricken state of California. That barrier was crossed months ago. Today, it’s how severe that drought coverage has become. And in a state that is sitting just east of what appears to be a years-long impenetrable barrier of blocking high pressure systems, the situation just grows worse and worse.

California drought Map July 17

(California drought map as of July 15, 2014. Areas in orange indicate severe drought, red indicates extreme drought, and brick indicates exceptional drought. Image source: US Drought Monitor)

For Californians now used to watching storm systems veer far to the north, carrying their precious load of moisture away from the state, the water scarcity situation grew more dire last week as nearly 82 percent of the state slipped into extreme and exceptional drought. These two aridity ratings are the highest levels provided by the US drought monitor. The other 18% of the state not covered by these two extremes merely sweltered under severe drought conditions.

To the east and north, other states quietly slipped into total or near total drought coverage as well. Nevada shows 100 percent drought coverage with Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Oregon not far behind at 90% + coverage.

It’s a situation that will continue to deepen so long as a climate-change induced long-term blocking pattern remains in place. And as of mid summer, there appears to be little to over-ride a freakishly persistent weather pattern that has now lasted into its second year.

Impacts for California Deepen

Throughout the state, signs of aridity abound. Hydroelectric power supplies are in jeopardy, cities are hiring water police to ensure restrictions on use are enforced, the state’s agriculture has lost more than 2.2 billion dollars so far this year, and drilling into the limited supply of ground water has reached a record pace.

Snow pack stores in the state’s Sierra Nevada Mountain range are long since melted. Exposed glaciers are now dissipating at record rates with some glaciers seeing 70 degree (F) temperatures on their lofty perches atop 12,000 foot high mountains. Overall, current rates of glacier loss, if sustained, will render the entire Sierra Nevada Range in California ice-free within just 60 years, according to recent estimates.

Recent satellite imagery from NASA vividly shows this ominous loss of snow pack over the past three years in which the powerful and persistent west coast blocking pattern increasingly dominated:

california drought june 24 2014california july 2 2011

(Top frame: California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range as of June 24, 2014 showing zero snow pack coverage. Bottom frame: same region of California showing much more widespread snow pack during early July of 2011. Image source: NASA’s Earth Observatory)

Note that as of June 24 of 2014 the Sierra Nevada showed no snow coverage in the satellite picture. This compares to recent years during the 2000s and 2010s when snow pack, though greatly diminished from past decades, typically remained on some peaks throughout the summer. Now all regions are devoid of white, cooling, water-providing snow and even the glaciers have taken on a dirty gray and brown pallor.

Human-caused Climate Change’s Role in the California Drought

Central to the story of the years-long loss of California rainfall is a large, high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream that has tended to dominate over the US and Canadian West Coast and a broad section of the Northeastern Pacific. This ridge has involved a powerful south to north flow of air up over the Northeastern Pacific and North American West Coast. This flood of air often invaded the Arctic before swooping down to deliver cooler air to the Eastern United States even as the US West Coast sweltered and dried out.

This high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream is thought to have been facilitated by a general loss of snow and sea ice cover that has only intensified since 2007. For over the past seven years, not one day has seen average sea ice coverage in the Arctic with typical sea ice extent and area values ranging between 20 and 50 percent below levels seen during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Such a major loss of ice coverage is thought to be pulling the Jet Stream north even as it makes it more wavy. These large waves, called Rossby Wave patterns, tend to get stuck, as has been the case with the Pacific Ocean ridge. This sticking weather pattern has lead to hot and dry conditions persisting over California for more than two years now.

El Nino Strong Enough to Break the Block Increasingly In Doubt

Earlier this year, a major warming event in the surface and subsurface waters of the Equatorial Pacific raised the possibility of a potential strong El Nino later this year. But atmospheric conditions have continued to remain unfavorable for strong El Nino formation. Ironically, the very same powerful high pressure systems enforcing heat and drought over the US West may also be strengthening the equatorial trade winds and inhibiting El Nino formation.

Kelvin Wave July 22

(The strong Kelvin Wave that formed this winter and spring has now delivered most of its heat to the surface, aiding in the record global temperatures of May and June. Atmospheric feedback reinforcing this powerful Kelvin Wave has been sporadic at best, calling into doubt the potential for El Nino formation. A second warm, down-welling wave appears to be forming between 180 and 160 East Longitude. If this second wave appears it may only be enough to establish a weak to moderate El Nino. If it does not, the prospects for El Nino may fade. This is bad news for those hoping for drought relief in California but, perhaps, short-term good news for a globe already reeling under the impacts of human-caused climate change as record atmospheric temperatures, globally, may not be so extreme for 2014. Image source: Climate Prediction Center.)

A strong El Nino may have broken the blocking pattern and delivered an epic surge of moisture to the US West Coast (one that may well have set off extraordinarily powerful storms for the region). But now, NOAA only forecasts a weak-to-moderate event and the potential exists that no El Nino will form at all.

This is bad news for Californians suffering under one of the worst droughts ever recorded for the state. It raises the potential that the West Coast blocking pattern will remain in place for another year or more. And with highs continuing to form and deepen off the US West Coast, as the potential for a strong El Nino fades, there appears to be little hope for relief for an already hard-hit area.


US Drought Monitor

NASA’s Earth Observatory

California Drought Fuels Unusual Mountain Events

Drought to Cost California 2.2 Billion

California Dryin

Climate Prediction Center

World In Hot Water: Screaming Sea Surface Temperatures Push Globe To Hottest June Yet

June 2014 Hottest on Record

(Graphic of 135 year temperature record by NOAA. Image source: NCDC.)

According to reports from NOAA, human-caused warming continued unabated into June of 2014 as land and ocean surface temperatures spiked to 0.72 C above the 20th Century average and about 0.92 C above 1880s norms.

These new records were shoved higher by a broad warming of the ocean surface, not just an Equatorial Pacific approaching El Nino warmth, but also through an extreme warming of almost every major world ocean zone. This hot water warmed local air masses and had a far-reaching impact on global climate for the month, likely delaying the Indian Monsoon, worsening the western US Drought and intensifying the record wildfire outbreak in the Northwest Territory of Canada.

Widespread Above Average to Record Heat, Few Cool Areas

2014’s June rating beat out the previous hottest June, 2010, by about 0.03 C and showed an increase over the 1998 spike by about 0.05 C.

As global temperatures exceeded record levels, few regions experienced below average temperatures. These zones were primarily isolated to a region of the Pacific Ocean off the east coast of Japan and an isolated region in the southern Ocean between South America and Antarctica. Conversely, much of the globe experienced warmer than average or much warmer than average readings.

Widespread regions also experienced warmest on record temperatures with the largest of these zones stretching east of the Philippines across a broad swath of the Pacific, over a large patch of the Indian Ocean, and pooling off the East Coast of South America. Other smaller, but still extensive, regions of record warmest temperature emerged off the US and Canadian West Coasts, in a zone between the UK and Iceland, and over East Africa.


(Land and Ocean temperature graphic for June of 2014 shows most of the world sweltering under warmer than average to record warmest temperatures. Image source: NCDC.)

Other monitors also showed record or near record global heat for the month. NASA GISS marking the 3rd hottest June while Japan’s Meteorological Agency also put June as #1 hottest. Both May and June have now broken global temperature records in at least one of the major monitors and NASA shows that the first quarter of 2014 was also the hottest quarter since record-keeping began 135 years ago.

Record Temperatures in Context

Overall, atmospheric warming has continued at a pace between 0.15 C and 0.30 C per decade over the past three decades. Current warming of 0.92 C since the 1880s represents about 20% of the difference between now and the last ice age, but on the side of hot. Present atmospheric greenhouse gas loading of 400 ppm CO2 and 481 ppm CO2e, according to paleoclimate data, contains enough heat energy to raise temperatures between 2 and 3 C for the CO2 forcing alone, and 3 and 4 C for the aggregate forcing, over the long term.

Near 2 C or greater global increases will likely be achieved during this century even if greenhouse gasses are somehow stabilized. But rates of human carbon emission is now in excess of 30 gigatons of CO2 and approaches 50 gigatons of CO2e each year (when adding in all the other human-emitted greenhouse gasses). At this pace, we hit enough forcing to raise global temperatures by 5-6 C long-term and by about 2.5 to 3 C this Century within the next 20-30 years. Potential global temperature increases grow greater if humans continue to emit greenhouse gasses beyond this timeframe and if Earth Systems response to human warming is greater than expected (large CO2 and methane release from stores).

No El Nino Yet Despite Record Warmest Ocean Surface

The June record high readings occurred despite the Pacific Ocean remaining in an ENSO nuetral state. That said, sea surface temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific for the month of June did enter values typical to El Nino, so some ocean to atmosphere heat transfer likely occurred over this broad region and aided in the establishment of new records.

Globally, ocean surfaces were very warm through the month, at times hitting a +1.25 C positive anomaly above the 1979 to 2000 average. These were the hottest ocean surface values ever seen — a primary factor pushing over-all June temperatures to new highs.

NOAA has adjusted its El Nino forecast to show a higher likelihood that any declared El Nino is likely to be either weak or moderate. This is due to an overall weak atmospheric feedback (only intermittent westerly winds) to the initial ocean and near surface equatorial temperature spike associated with a strong Kelvin wave this winter and spring. Without continued atmospheric feedback, it appears possible that the predicted El Nino may well fizzle. That said, the NOAA forecast is still calling for an 80% chance of El Nino developing sometime this year.

Given raging sea surface temperature values outside of the Nino zones, even a weak El Nino would likely set the stage for a new record high global temperature for the year of 2014.


National Climate Data Center


Japan Meteorological Agency

Driven by Ocean Heat, World Sets Mark for Hottest June

World’s Oceans Were Hotter in June Than At Any Time Since Humans Started Keeping Track






Tracking the Footprints of the Arctic Methane Monster: Black Craters in the Siberian Tundra, Methane Lacing 2,500 Mile Wide Smoke Plumes Over Gigantic Arctic Wildfires.

Massive plume of smoke from Siberian Wildfires expands to cover more than 2,500 miles

(Are massive fires spurred by human-caused warming tapping basement methane pockets within the Arctic Tundra? Massive smoke plume from unprecedented Siberian wildfires expands to blanket more than 2,500 miles of Russian Siberia and Arctic Ocean shores. METOP sensors show high levels of methane ranging from 2,000 to 2,200 parts per billion or 150 to 350 ppb above the global average, at 18,000 feet within the smokey overburden. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)


Is the Arctic Methane Monster climate science’s version of he who must not be named?

For apparently, Arctic Methane, in all its various permutations, has become the gas that mainstream media and climate media now no longer mentions.

NASA’s CARVE study has been silent for a year, the University of Maryland has stopped putting out publicly available AIRS methane data measures, the NOAA ESRL methane flask measures, possibly due to lack of funding, haven’t updated since mid-May, and even Gavin Schmidt over at NASA GISS appears to have become somewhat mum on a subject that, of late, has generated so much uncomfortable controversy.

Despite this fading out of the topic and related publicly available data, likely due to an overall discomfort with the potential nasty implications of an expanding Arctic methane release combined with efforts by conservative political forces to de-fund observational climate science, large Arctic carbon and related methane stores remain vulnerable to the various forces set in motion by human-caused warming. In essence, it’s a problem that won’t go away no matter how much you ignore it.

The subsea permafrost, methane clathrates locked in mud and sediment on and beneath the sea bed, methane generated from wet, thawing tundra, and methane locked in pockets far beneath the boreal forests and tundra all remain in stores of untold gigatons and gigatons. A massive volume that represents an extraordinary potential amplifying feedback to the unprecedentedly rapid human-caused warming of Arctic lands and oceans risking a very dangerous release.

Did Explosive Methane Release Gouge a Black Crater in Siberian Tundra?

This week, Arctic methane cognitive dissonance reached a new extreme as the discovery of a large, 100-foot-wide hole in a section of tundra along Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula set mainstream media abuzz. The new discovery fueled speculation that a large pocket of thawing subsurface methane may have undergone explosive release. The resultant explosion is thought to have violently ejected soil and scorched the crater leaving a black hole in the tundra:

(Images from expedition sent to survey strange hole in Yamal, Siberia. Note the exposed and still frozen tundra along the steep edge. If the embed code isn’t working on your browser you can view the video here.)

Other potential culprits include a meteor impact or tundra collapse due to subsurface ice melt. But the ejecta signature appears to be one of a crater that underwent a violent explosion and Russian scientists seem certain that a meteor was not involved. Anna Kurchatova of the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre believes the most likely suspects are the explosion of thawing methane due to a volatile mixture of water, methane and salt triggering an eruption or the building up of pressure due to the venting and expansion of the thawed gas causing the overlying land feature to be violently ejected like a champagne cork.

The large sub-surface methane stores are certainly there and we’ve known for some time that risks of explosive out-gassing of this material, due to human caused warming and thaw of frozen methane stores, was possible given a chemical or thermal release and ignition mechanism. If the Yamal (which unhappily translates to mean ‘end of the world’) crater is the result of a violent explosion of thawing methane and ejection of the overlying earth strata, it will have implications not only for tundra permafrost thaw but for sea-bed permafrost thaw and ocean methane clathrate thaw as well.

So the question remains — how many more explosions ripping apartment building-sized or larger holes in the Earth are we in for if thawing and exploding methane was, indeed, the culprit of this, admittedly odd and disturbing, event? And what impact will this have on an atmosphere already well overburdened with human greenhouse gasses?

Methane Spikes in Smoke above Siberian and Canadian Tundra Fires

Meanwhile, investigation of 18,000 foot methane readings reveals high levels of methane gas lacing the large clouds of smoke spreading from massive wildfires over Canada and especially Siberia. NOAA’s METOP sensor shows atmospheric methane in the smoke/cloud layer at and above 18,000 feet ranging in excess of 2,000 parts per billion over sections of Canada and North America as well as over a broad swath covering Central and Northeastern Siberia. Highest atmospheric methane readings at this altitude were in smoke clouds over Siberia at levels near 2,200 parts per billion.

For reference, the current atmospheric average is around 1860 parts per billion at the surface.

High Methane Readings Coincident with Large Smoke Plumes at 18,000 Feet

(High atmospheric methane readings coincident with large smoke plumes from tundra fires over Siberia and Canada. Data from METOP provided by NOAA.)

Absent other research provided by scientists, both the very large hole in the tundra in Russia’s Yamal Peninsula (that some scientists are saying was the result of a very large methane pocket erupting to the surface) together with coincident measures of high methane readings in smoke plumes over Arctic wildfires provide evidence of an ongoing and hazardous Arctic methane release. Though overall emissions rates have, likely, not yet reached catastrophic levels, the potential for moderate to catastrophically strong feedback from this very large and volatile carbon store should be serious cause for concern and the focus of concerted national and international investigation. Given the risk, the current silence and apparent scientific withdrawal from broader Arctic methane research is entirely inappropriate and short-sighted.


Apparently, CARVE’s Arctic methane observation mission is still underway and will be posting updates based on currently ongoing research soon.

According to Peter Griffith:

CARVE is fully funded and flying in Alaska and Canada this year. Expect first results at the AGU meeting in December… NASA is doubling down on Arctic research having just announced a $100 million decade-long field campaign, the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment. http://above.nasa.gov or follow me on twitter @NASA_ABoVE.

Notably, Chip Miller is still heading the project at JPL as well.

Continued funding for both CARVE and expanded funding for the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment are certainly reassuring. No word on satellite methane sensors providing publicly available and detailed information (other than METOP, as the more refined AIRS data is difficult to access publicly). ESRL flask measures, as noted above, have also been slow to update, possibly due to funding constraint.


Bizzare Crater in Siberia Baffles Scientists

A Mysterious Crater in Siberia has Scientists Seeking Answers

Eerie Crater at The End of the World




Polar Jet Stream Wrecked By Climate Change Fuels Unprecedented Wildfires Over Canada and Siberia

This year, the warm air invasion started early. A high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream stretching for thousands of miles over the temperate Pacific and on up into Alaska and the Chukchi Sea slowly drifted eastward. Reinforced by a powerful bank of blocking high pressure systems over the northeastern Pacific, this ridge settled over Canada’s Northwest Territory in a zone from the Mackenzie Delta and over a broad region east and south. From mid June onward, temperatures in the 70s, 80s and even low 90s dominated sections of this Arctic region.

The heat built and built, drying the shallow soil zone over the thawing permafrost creating a tinder-dry bed layer waiting for the lightning strikes that were bound to follow in the abnormal Arctic heat.

By late June, major fire complexes had erupted over the region. Through early and mid July, these massive systems expanded even as the anomalous heat dome tightened its grip. Today, the fires in Northwestern Canada have reached a horrific intensity and one, the Birch Complex fire, alone has now consumed more than a quarter of a million acres.

According to reports from Canada’s Interagency Fire Center, total acres burned to date are more than six times that of a typical year. A rate of burning that, according to a recent scientific study, is unprecedented not just for this century, but for any period in Canada’s basement forest record over the last 10,000 years.

Birch Creek Fire Complex Aerial close-up of Birch Creek Fire complex

(Thunderstorm? No. Smoke from a major volcanic eruption injecting ash into the stratosphere? No. The upper frame shot is an aerial photo taken of the Birch Creek Fire Complex on July 14, 2014 from a distance of about 30 miles away. It is just one of the massive fires now raging in the Northwest Territory region of Canada. A closer picture, taken from a few miles out, reveals the flaming base of a massive smoke plume. Image source: NWT Fire Facebook.)

From helicopter and airplane, the volume of smoke pouring out of these massive tundra and boreal forest fires is amazing, appearing to mimic major thunderstorm complexes or volcanic eruptions. Closer shots reveal towering walls of flame casting billows of smoke thousands of feet into the air above.

The smoke from these fires, now numbering in excess of 186 separate blazes, is becoming entrained in the weakening circumpolar Jet Stream. The steely gray billows now trail in a massive cloud of heat-trapping black carbon that stretches more than 2000 miles south and east. Its southern-most reaches have left residents of the northwestern and north-central US smelling smoke for weeks, now. Meanwhile, the cloud’s eastern-most reaches approach Baffin Bay and the increasingly vulnerable ice sheets of Greenland.

Smoke from Canadian Wildfires drifts toward Greenland

(Satellite shot of smoke from massive fire complexes over Canada spreading eastward. Black carbon and related CO2 emissions from forest fires can serve as a powerful amplifying feedback to already dangerous human-caused climate change. Image source: NASA/LANCE-MODIS.)

Across the Arctic, Siberia Also Burns

As media attention focuses on the admittedly horrific fires of unprecedented magnitude raging over Canada, a second region of less well covered but possibly even more extensive blazes burns on the other side of the Arctic Ocean throughout the boreal forest and tundra zones of Central Siberia in Russia.

There, record heat that settled in during winter time never left, remaining in place throughout summer and peaking in the range of 80-90 degree Arctic temperatures over the past couple of weeks. Over the last seven days, massive fires have erupted which, from the satellite vantage, appear about as energetic as the very intense blazes that ripped through Siberia during the record summer fire year of 2012. It is a set of extreme conditions we’ve been warning could break out ever since March and April when intense early season fires ripped through the Lake Baikal and Southern Yedoma regions.

Now, what appears to be more than 200 fires are belching out very thick plumes of smoke stretching for more than 2000 miles over North-Central Siberia and on into the recently ice-free zone of the Laptev Sea:

Sea of Smoke and Fire From Lake Baikal to Arctic Ocean

(Massive sea of smoke and fire stretching from Lake Baikal and northeast over Central Siberia and on into the Arctic Ocean. Image source: NASA/LANCE-MODIS.)

As with the other set of fires in Canada, the smoke from these massive blazes is entraining in the Jet Stream and stretching across Arctic regions. An ominous blanket of steely gray for the roof of the world and yet one more potential amplifying heat feedback the Arctic certainly does not need.

Potential Amplifying Feedbacks in Context

During recent years, scientists have been concerned by what appears to be an increased waviness and northward retreat of the northern hemisphere Jet Stream. This retreat and proliferation of ridge and trough patterns is thought to be a result of a combined loss of snow and sea ice coverage over the past century and increasing over the past few decades. In 2012, sea ice coverage fell to as low as 55% below 1979 levels with volume dropping as low as 80% below previous values. Over the past seven years, not one day has seen sea ice at average levels for the late 20th Century in the north.

Meanwhile, northern polar temperatures have risen very rapidly under the rapidly rising human greenhouse gas heat forcing, increasing by 0.5 C per decade or about double the global average. It is this combination of conditions that set the stage for fixed ridges over both Russia and Canada creating extreme risk for extraordinary fires.


(Weak and wavy polar jet stream on July 17, 2014 shows fixed ridges over the Northwest Territory, Central and Eastern Siberia, Northern Europe and the adjacent North Atlantic and Arctic. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: NOAA GFS and various.)

Should both the current sets of fires continue to rage under anomalous high amplitude jet stream waves setting off extreme heat in these Arctic regions, it is possible that large clouds of heat absorbing black carbon could ring the Arctic in a kind of hot halo. The dark smoke particles in the atmosphere would trap more heat locally even as they rained down to cover both sea ice and ice sheets. With the Canadian fires, deposition and snow darkening are a likely result, especially along the western regions of the Greenland Ice Sheet — zones that have already seen a multiplication of melt ponds and increasing glacial destabilization over recent years.

Recent scientific studies have also highlighted the possibility that human-caused climate change is increasing high amplitude jet stream ridge patterns that are transporting more and more heat into Arctic tundra and boreal forest regions. These regions are more vulnerable to fires due to the fact that trees in boreal forest have uniform characteristics that favor burning and tend to rapidly ignite and spread once the upper branches become involved. The unfrozen soil features a narrow basement layer above tundra which dries more rapidly than the soils of more temperate areas, providing tinder fuel to aid in the initial ignition by lightning strike. Thawing, deeper tundra, when dried, is a meters-deep pile of fuel that has accumulated for thousands of years — a kind of peat-like layer that can smolder and re-ignite fires that burn over very long periods. It is this volatile and expanding basement zone that is cause for serious concern and greatly increases the potential fire hazard for thousands of miles of thawing tundra going forward.

Overall, both boreal forest and thawing tundra provide an extraordinary potential fuel for very large fire complexes as the Arctic continues to warm under the human greenhouse gas forcing. And though climate models are in general agreement that the frequency of fires in tundra regions will increase, doubling or more by the end of this century, it is uncertain how extensive and explosive such an increase would be given the high volume of fuel available. Direct and large-scale burning of these stores, which in tundra alone house about 1,500 gigatons of carbon, could provide a major climate and Earth System response to the already powerful human heat forcing.

Though the science at this point is uncertain, we observe very large and unprecedented fire outbreaks with increasing frequency:

“I think it’s really important for us to take advantage of studying these big disturbance events,” noted Dr. Jill Johnstone in a recent interview. “Because, if we can say anything, we can say that we think they’re going to be more common.”


The smoke plume over North America has now expanded to cover a large section of the continental land mass. As you can see in the image below provided by NOAA, the smoke plume now stretches from the fire zones in the Northwest Territory (fires indicated by red dots), British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California across much of the North American continent extending as far to the north and east as the southern tip of Greenland and as far to the south and east as Maryland, West Virgina and Tennessee:

Smoke Plume

(Massive North American Smoke Plume fed by Tundra and Western Forest Fires. Image source NOAA.)

As of today and yesterday (17 and 18 July) major wildfires continued to burn over much of the Northwest Territory of Canada even as these very large and unprecedented fire complexes were joined by massive outbreaks in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Fire outbreaks were so extreme in both Washington and Oregon that state officials there were forced to declare states of emergency and seek federal assistance for dealing with the ongoing disasters.

You can see the large, steely-gray smoke plumes from these fires in the LANCE MODIS image taken by NASA yesterday in the satellite shot below:

Massive fire complexes in Washington, Oregon and BC

(Massive wildfires in Washington and Oregon prompt officials to issue disaster warnings. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The smoke has become so pervasive that commenter James Cole has made some rather stark observations from Northern Minnesota:

A sky filled with grey haze, you can hardly tell there is a sun up there. No clouds in the sky, but the haze is incredible. Surely from the great Canadian fires!

Due to black carbon loading, such a large cloud of smoke may result in substantial temperature spikes over regions affected. The heat dome over the US West is expected to expand into the central and northern US this weekend with some readings there predicted to reach the 100s. Already, the southwestern heat is spreading north and eastward under the dome of heat-intensifying smoke with a broad area of upper 80s and lower 90s stretching all the way to the southern shores of Hudson Bay.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Arctic, the expanse of wildfires continued to widen with the smoke plume now covering over 2,500 miles and with multiple very large blazes continuing over Central and Northeastern Siberia. Atmospheric black carbon and methane loading (more in a new post) likely contributed to temperatures in the range of 95 degrees F (35 C) near the shores of the Arctic Ocean’s Laptev Sea yesterday as recorded in the following screen capture from Earth Nullschool/GFS:


(35 C temperature [95 F]  recorded in northeastern Siberia near the Laptev Sea at about 12:30 AM EST on July 18. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: NOAA/GFS.)


Fires in Northwest Territories in Line with Unprecedented Burn

What Fires in the Northwest Territories Say About Climate Change

Recent Burning of Boreal Forest Exceeds Fire Regime Limits of Past 10,000 Years (PNAS)

NWT Fire Facebook


Earth Nullschool


Arctic’s Boreal Forests Burning at Unprecedented Rate

Large Particles From Wildfire Soot Found to Trap 90 Percent More Heat Than Small Particles

North American Smoke Plume Tracking by NOAA

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to James Cole


Second Monster Kelvin Wave Forming? West Wind Back Bursts North of New Guinea Rival Intensities Last Seen in January.

This January, a powerful period of west wind bursts tapped a very hot, deep pool of Pacific Ocean water and shoved it eastward along the equator. The hot water was driven downward by Eckman pumping forces even as it began to propagate across the Pacific. The resulting Kelvin Wave was, by March, among the most intense sub-sea warming events ever seen for the Equatorial Pacific during this time of year.

By late May and through June, this heat had transferred to surface waters and the Equatorial Pacific, overall, had greatly warmed.

This initial warming prepped the ocean surface for continued atmospheric feedbacks and the emergence of an El Nino by sometime during the summer and fall of 2014. A monster event that, should it form on top of human-caused warming, could push both global temperature and weather extremes to record levels never before seen. But for El Nino to continue to emerge, more strong west wind back bursts are required to keep shoving the hot pool of Pacific Ocean water eastward, spreading it out across the Pacific and dumping its warmth into the atmosphere.

Now, during early July, just that appears to be happening.


(Strong west wind back burst visible in the Western Pacific north of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and just north of the Equator. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: Numerous Including NOAA GFS.)

For along a synoptic band ranging from the Philippines to north of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands a powerful zone of west winds has emerged between two double-barrel low pressure systems. The first set of lows form a broad counter-clockwise circulation along the 10 degree North Latitude line. The second set hovers just south of the equator, forming a clockwise wind flow. These two wind patterns merge in a significant back-burst pushing against the traditional flow of the east-to-west trades.

Wind speeds in the anomaly zone are in the range of 30-40 kilometers per hour with higher gusts, or currently just shy of the wind strength observed during the very strong January west wind back burst.

Strong West Winds Tapping Pool of Very Hot Water

Hot Water Western Pacific

(Very hot water in the Western Pacific hitting 32 C [90 F] in some spots. Image source: NOAA/National Weather Service.)

It is worth noting that winds in this region have been slowly intensifying over the past few days. So any further increase in strength would make this event easily comparable to the January event that spawned such a powerful Kelvin Wave.

Surface waters in this west wind zone range from 86 to upwards of 90 degrees Fahrenheit over a broad zone along the equator and northward to a very hot pool just east of the Philippines. Eastward and downward propagation of such intensely hot water, driven by these strong west winds has the potential to generate a second strong Kelvin Wave. The back-burst winds we are seeing now are strong enough to generate such a wave and the sea surface temperatures in the region are at very high positive anomalies, especially in the region east of the Philippines. Propagation of a second strong Kelvin Wave would spike 0-300 meter temperatures again and would lock in the formation of the expected El Nino later this year.



Earth Nullschool

NOAA/National Weather Service

Climate Prediction Center ENSO Monitoring

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths


Hot Arctic Water, High Pressure Domes Pushing Sea Ice Toward New Record Lows

It doesn’t take much to shove Arctic sea ice toward new record low values these days. Human caused climate change has made it easy for all kinds of weather systems to bully the ice.

In the case of the past seven days, three moderate strength high pressure cells churned away over the central Arctic, bringing with them clear skies, air temperatures in the range of average for 1979-2000 above the 70 North Latitude line, and a clockwise circulation favoring sea ice compaction and warm water upwelling at the ice edge.

The highs measured in the range of 1020 to 1025 hPa barometric pressure. Moderate-strength weather conditions that during a typical year of the last century would have been almost completely non-noteworthy. Today, instead, we have sea ice extent testing new record lows in the Japanese Space Agency’s monitor:


(Arctic sea ice extent as recorded by JAXA. Image source: IJIS Sea Ice Monitor.)

On June 30, JAXA showed Arctic Sea Ice extent totals in the range of 9,058,000 square kilometers or approximately tied with previous all-time record lows for the date set in 2011 and 2012. By comparison, NSIDC showed extent plunging to 3rd lowest in the record on June 29th and remaining in the same range on June 30th.

Weak Ice Facing Warm Winters, Hot Water

So how can moderate weather systems have such a powerful effect on sea ice? One need only look back to this winter when Arctic temperatures surged to 5-7 C above average for months on end with large areas experiencing extended periods of + 20 C above average readings. An extraordinary and abnormal warmth in winter that harms sea ice resiliency during summer periods of above freezing temperatures and 24 hour daylight.

In addition, sea surface temperatures in the Arctic are very warm. Much, much warmer than during similar periods of the 20th Century. The ice edge is surrounded on all sides by water that is much hotter than normal and even warmer waters lurk in the Arctic depths, waiting for only the slightest weather disturbance to dredge it to the surface. In this case, Arctic high pressure systems result in warm water upwelling at the ice edge, exactly where the ice is weakest.

Arctic SST Heat Anomaly For June 30

(Arctic Sea Surface temperature Anomaly showing much hotter than normal water temperatures throughout the Arctic on June 30, 2014. Image source: NOAA/National Weather Service.)

The above graphic provides a stark view of how hot Arctic Ocean waters have now become with most ice edge zones seeing temperatures in the range of 2.25 to even 8+ C values. This heat pressure combines with the ongoing ocean mixing and clear skies influence of even moderate high pressure systems to challenge sea ice record lows set just 2-3 years ago.

GFS model runs show high pressure systems continuing to dominate the Central Arctic for at least the next 144 hours. After that time, warm storms are shown to encroach over the Chukchi and East Siberian Seas. Throughout that time, solar insolation will continue to proliferate melt ponds over the sea ice even as warm water up-wells at the ice edge and the moderate strength high pressure domes continue to compact the ice.

Arctic Sea Ice June 30

(Arctic sea ice on June 30, 2014 as viewed from NASA’s LANCE MODIS sensor array showing a sea ice extent that is, in some measures, currently tied with record lows set in 2011 and 2012. Note the very large open areas of dark water in the Laptev, the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. These regions have been particularly vulnerable to rapid recession in 2014. In addition, note the characteristic blue tint of some ice sections in the image, indicating melt pond formation over large regions under the influence of high pressure and related clear skies.)

Given current trends, it appears we have about a 50-50 shot of seeing new record lows in some measures by the end of this melt season. Under the massive overall stress delivered to the Arctic sea ice by a combination of factors directly attributable to human-caused warming, it appears possible that near zero sea ice conditions may emerge one summer between now and 2020. Finally, with sea ice measures falling between 50-80 percent below 1979 levels over recent years, the overall stress to global and Northern Hemisphere weather systems has become quite extreme. A trend, unfortunately, that is bound to continue so long as human carbon emissions and related amplifying feedbacks remain at extraordinarily dangerous levels.


The Japanese Space Agency’s Sea Ice Monitor


NOAA/The National Weather Service

The National Snow and Ice Data Center


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