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.

image

(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.”

UPDATE:

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:

image

(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.)

Links:

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

NASA/LANCE-MODIS

Earth Nullschool

NOAA GFS

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

 

Leave a comment

99 Comments

  1. Mark from New England

     /  July 17, 2014

    Welcome back Robert! Now I’ll read the article…

    Reply
    • Mike from Toronto area

       /  July 17, 2014

      Yes, I’ve missed you too. Thank you for continuing your writing. You are now my daily go-to page for keeping on top of what is going on. I was woried that you may have moved to somewhere cold with no internet or need of fossil fuels.

      Reply
  2. Thanks! It’s good to be back.

    Been walking through the halls of scientific academia. Seems the section of science more conservative than IPCC is bound and determined to seek me out😉.

    Reply
    • I grew up in BC & lived in the NWT. It is tough to get resources to some of these areas, tough terrain. A lot of fires are simply left to burn themselves out as it is nigh impossible to put a dent into it.

      Reply
  3. Mark from New England

     /  July 17, 2014

    As anyone who has hiked through them knows, spruce-fir forests can be very dense, and if they dry out it’s probably like stacking dead Christmas trees in a huge pile and lighting a match.

    And what an insidious positive feedback – the Dark Snow.

    Question: Can the dark, deposition layer persist for a few years, if the previous year’s snow layer melts off completely in a given summer? In that case dark snow might have an impact going beyond just one melt season. ?

    Reply
    • Like stacking Christmas trees on a huge pile of brown coal interspersed with pockets of methane and then lighting a match.

      This stuff scares the living day lights out of me…

      Reply
      • Mark from New England

         /  July 18, 2014

        Do you know if this year’s deposition of dark carbon on the arctic ice sheet and Greenland can persist to accelerate melting in the summer of 2015? Or do the burn residues dilute into meltwater after each season’s melt? I imagine it will take a few months for this year’s fire residues to (nearly) completely fall out. Is that correct? Thanks.

        Reply
        • To my knowledge, it will take weeks to months for dark carbon to fall out. The accumulation adds to that already locked in the ice and forms a layer that is covered by new fallen snow during winter. Melt that takes enough of this snow layer away during summer exposes the dark carbon particulate. In this way, the more the snow/ice melts the more of the particulate is exposed and the lower the ice sheet albedo.

          For this summer, the airborne black carbon will likely have the greatest potential local impact in the Arctic. For ice sheets, long term, the overall rate of accumulation is a major factor. If wildfires are to double or more, then the long term accumulation of dark carbon upon the ice looks like a rather important positive feedback. For sea ice, the accumulation is important for multi-year ice, but not as much of a factor for new ice.

      • Mark from New England

         /  July 18, 2014

        Robert,

        Thanks for the reply. That’s what I thought – but good to have it confirmed by you.

        Reply
    • The immediate impact is a “cooling” as the particulate is absorptive / reflective. Then the deposition occurs providing the lowered albedo. Even with the initial solar blockage, the arctic is getting chewed up (thus more aqua thermal melt?). I’ve lived through many giant forest fires in various areas, and the real big ones block out the sun for a large area (orange sky), and the temperatures are lower than normal.

      Reply
  4. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    If the bad news coming out of Ukraine and Palestine today wasn’t enough, here’s some more…. also man-made.

    Reply
  5. Robert – does the smoke from these fires mimic volcanic aerosols in that they will have a temporary cooling effect as they reach the upper atmosphere?

    Reply
    • Well, sulfur dioxide and other sulfates are the primary cooling aerosol coming from a volcanic eruption. We don’t see sulfates from forest fires. The primary aerosol is black carbon which produces a strong warming feedback. The fires also increase cloud formation, which may result in a negative feedback as well. However, the cloud feedback, overall is still very uncertain.

      Overall, increasing Arctic fires are very likely a moderate to strong positive feedback given our current understanding of the effect of black carbon as well as what appears to be an increasing release from the Arctic carbon store.

      Reply
  6. UK heat linked to Pacific storm

    A super typhoon in the Northwest Pacific started a ripple which is spreading across the globe, bringing record temperatures to North America and severe thunderstorms to the UK.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/feeds/28334771

    Reply
  7. Oregon, Washington Declare States Of Emergency As Wildfires Spread

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/07/17/3461159/state-of-emergency-wildfires-grow/

    Reply
  8. Loni

     /  July 17, 2014

    So as these forest fires abate due to fuel consumption, they will become peat bog fires………Dante’s Inferno…….sheesh, when we finally check outa this room, even the bathroom fixtures will be smashed and on the floor. We really are a piece o’ work.

    So, what’s the scoop on peat bog fires and gas emissions, anything good?

    Reply
    • The real research I see on this is still pretty sparse. My general opinion is they’re not quite yet seeing the tip of the iceberg. Almost all the field specialists are quite concerned about the issue. You have such a deep basement of fuel and, if it gets going over large and vulnerable enough areas, it can burn year-round. Haven’t seen reports of this yet.

      Reply
  9. Loni

     /  July 17, 2014

    p.s. Yes, by all means, Welcome back Robert, as you can see, we lit a few fires to guide you home.

    Reply
  10. ROBERT ENER(energy needs enervating recyclables) it is essential that all, that can look down the collapsing barrel of the conflagrating Northern hemisphere ecosphere and comprehend its potential to trigger life changing consequences for the earth , now lose their in built “civilising” inhibitions and start screaming(metaphorically speaking)

    Reply
  11. Joni

     /  July 18, 2014

    Worrisome.

    Reply
  12. P .S. above. It’s time for all those who have been up till now considering their options to actually motivate themselves to do something about it thru less personal carbon consumption and also to promote the take up and re use of any of any products which do not POLLUTE by their reusing. (Robert may i say it was great to see your presence back on line 16 days hurt) LOL

    Reply
    • It’s good to be back. Doing the research alone is like tip toeing around in a dark room filled with the aliens of movie fame. Never know when something’s going to jump out of a dark corner at you. Talked to some scientists during my hiatus and my view is that they were still trying to find the tail of the elephant, arguing that ECS sensitivity was 2 C rather than 3 C, for example. Had to try to break it to ’em gently that we see bad effects at 0.8 C and that ice melt probably masks current ECS signals (Paleoclimate was a new word, reinforcing my suspicion that specialists from one group don’t often communicate to the other). They need a new term — transient negative feedback.

      Reply
      • Tom

         /  July 18, 2014

        Yes indeed Robert – and welcome back! I like “transient negative feedback.”

        Reply
    • Tom

       /  July 18, 2014

      Too late. That time was decades (perhaps centuries) ago.

      Reply
  13. mark o dochartaigh

     /  July 18, 2014

    It is good to have you back. Have you heard about the “mysterious hole in Siberia”? Is it likely that instead of sinkholes ,melting tundra methane may produce “blowholes”? Also Texas and much of the southeast US have had cooler than normal temps since last winter. Without a strong jet stream, is cooler than normal our new normal?

    Reply
  14. LJR

     /  July 18, 2014

    Glad you’re back. Was a bit worried. Missed your scribbles!

    Reply
  15. Loni

     /  July 18, 2014

    I was looking at an article posted on Sam Caranas’ site regarding a 260 foot hole in the Siberian floor. Methane is suspected, so my questions are, do these boreal forests grow in areas where large pockets of methane reside in the earth, and if so, what would happen if one of these forest fires were to ignite something like that? How deep could that ignition possible penetrate into the earth?

    Reply
    • The large methane pockets are supposedly rather deep, but all the thawing shifting is bound to vent a few. Another potential culprit is that simple thaw collapses the higher-volume ice structures and ice caves that may reside beneath. I wouldn’t rule out the potential for methane pocket blow-outs, though. The fuel is there, the fire is there, the peat can burn quite deep once it gets going. So I’m wondering, where are the field researchers on this one? Has methane become the climate change problem which must not be mentioned?

      Reply
  16. james cole

     /  July 18, 2014

    I know from years of travel in the boreal forest that if not careful where you make your campfires you can set the ground afire. So the rule is always build your fire on an open rock face, or scrape the surface and find rock underlying. One time as a youth I very nearly paddled away from a lake side campsite where I had had an overnight campfire. Looking back I saw a wisp of smoke as I was climbing into the back of my canoe. I returned and found a very nasty ground fire was smouldering subsurface, and feeling the ground around it I found it hot as hell. Frankly it took me more than an hour of hauling water to the site before I felt sure all the underground fire had been checked. The point of this story is that not just the trees burn in a real boreal forest, in many places the ground itself, many feet deep is liable to burn and smoulder. I know this is common in Siberia, I assume Canada must be the same. These fires are worse than they look, because more than the trees are going up, the ground itself is burning. The great Boreal forests are some of earth’s greatest carbon sinks on land, now we watch them burn. In the long run this is a disaster for CO2 in the atmosphere.

    Reply
    • This.

      It’s tough to imagine a more intense potential burn scenario.

      Reply
    • 68.58 North on the Siberian side showing a temp of 35 C or 95 F. That is just insane and may be worth a post all on its own. Huge zone of 85 F + today there.

      Reply
      • Mark from New England

         /  July 18, 2014

        I second that thought. That would be a great article to show to ‘skeptics’ too.

        “Heh, you want global warming, I’ll show ya global warming, in SIBERIA!”

        Reply
      • Mark, the skeptics believe that Mobile, Ala is a proxy for the entire globe. If it’s chilly in Mobile today, than global warming is 100% debunked in their mind. And that can’t be changed with logic, numbers or evidence. I’m with you hoping that reason will prevail, but alas I see no reasonable evidence will sway them.

        Reply
  17. Mike Shouldice

     /  July 18, 2014

    Robert. You fill this niche so remarkably well, Thanks. Never fails to be shocked to an even greater degree as we travel down the path of time. While living through the time of Abrupt Climate Change. Fak.😦 There is more carbon than I can understand waiting to be released. New feedbacks activated. Older ones getting reinforced.

    Where are the fires in proximity to methane deposits in the land? Thanks.
    Mike The Father.

    Reply
    • The big methane deposits are deep — 100s of feet or more. Smaller ones reside near the surface and are likely accessed in some or most of these fires. We’d know it if one of them went off. Would leave a huge crater. Will have to take a closer look at Sam’s big sink hole.

      Reply
  18. Thanks Robert. Is there satellite monitoring of methane concentrations, so that we might be able to see a plume from these fires? Do we have instruments telling us just how bad methane from these fires is?

    Reply
  19. Spike

     /  July 18, 2014

    Good to see some scientists drawing the link in frank language in the press here

    “What we are seeing in the Northwest Territories this year is an indicator of what to expect with climate change,” says Mike Flannigan, a professor of Wildland Fire in the University of Alberta’s renewable resources department. “Expect more fires, larger fires, more intense fires.”

    Canada’s senior climatologist, Dave Phillips, says the southern Northwest Territories is experiencing the hottest, driest summer in some 50 years.

    The extremely hot dry weather in the interior and north of British Columbia is now contributing to the spread of a number of fires in that west coast province.

    Phillips adds the kind of weather seen this year is what global warming modelling predicted for 40 years from now.

    http://www.adn.com/article/20140717/worst-wildfire-season-decades-canada-s-northwest-territories

    Reply
    • Absolutely. Phillips provides an excellent assessment of the situation. The various observational specialists, the ones comparing current data with past data and future model projections are the ones on the cutting edge right now. I think there’s a bit of false security in some of the model assessments, though.

      Reply
  20. synaxis

     /  July 18, 2014

    Hi Robert, great to have you back … re: your comment above:

    “Talked to some scientists during my hiatus and my view is that they were still trying to find the tail of the elephant, arguing that ECS sensitivity was 2 C rather than 3 C, for example. Had to try to break it to ‘em gently that we see bad effects at 0.8 C and that ice melt probably masks current ECS signals (Paleoclimate was a new word, reinforcing my suspicion that specialists from one group don’t often communicate to the other). They need a new term — transient negative feedback.”

    I have been waiting for your return to suggest that it would be very interesting to have your perspective on David Wasdell’s May 2014 paper “Sensitivity and the Carbon Budget: The Ultimate Challenge of Climate Science” posted at the link below. I read this last May (lying down owing to the impact of Wasdell’s analysis) and only just now saw Dr. Peter Wadhams’ response (dated 6 June 2014) link following.

    Wadhams refers to Wasdell’s paper as “a completely staggering work, the most important thing in climate change research that I have ever seen. … What is very striking is the simplicity of your approach … you have followed a systematic, straightforward, mathematically correct development of the various amplification factors which is fully explained and which leaves no room for doubt that you have hit upon a correct analysis of the earth system response and its massive exceedance of the transient response espoused by IPCC (and not even correctly by them).”

    http://www.apollo-gaia.org/sensitivitycarbonbudget.html
    http://www.apollo-gaia.org/SCBContributions/Wadhams-140606.html

    Reply
    • My opinion is that we need to accept that the various climate sensitivity measures on the books only include an incomplete section of data from which to base their findings. My opinion is that paleoclimate data, as it compares with known previous levels of ghg, is a far more steady guide for potential future warming than the current model assessments.

      Some modelers will tell you that most of the science is done in modeling and not in observation. This is very disturbing to me because a model is a simulation based on a defined set of assumptions and an, by the very nature of it being a simulation, incomplete and imperfect set of data.

      Though proxy paleoclimate data is also likely imperfect, it does capture the range of past climate sensitivity as compared to previous levels of ghg forcing. So, to my view, this is a far better oracle.

      Based on our best understanding of past climate systems in which ice sheet feedbacks did not play a part, we end up with an average Earth Systems Sensitivity (ESS) of around 5-6 C for each doubling of CO2. This gets us to 2-3 C warming under current CO2 forcing alone at 402 ppm. (CO2e at 481 ppm is another beast entirely). Meanwhile, 550 ppm CO2 probably gets us to the 5-6 C ESS level.

      Transient Climate Sensitivity and Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity, in my view, are somewhat artificial measures that attempt to assess potential future warming over shorter time-frames or in the context of only the particular feedbacks and forcings we are now able to identify. The problem is that these measures attempt to track a system that is undergoing change — a set of dynamic alterations which we do not fully understand. So there is a huge problem with misidentifying forcings and feedbacks, with forcing and feedback error bars, and with failure to identify forcings and feedbacks altogether.

      The system is now unstable and will not be stable until the ESS level is reached many hundreds or thousands of years from now. As a benchmark, and entirely artificial one, I see TCS as about 1/4 ESS and ECS as about 1/2 ESS (due to large gaps). But when these values are reached are somewhat up in the air, which tends to render them rather less useful. As a very rough and imperfect measure, we may assume that TCS will be reached within about 20 years and that ECS levels will be reached in about 100 years with ESS composing the long tail. That said, I think we would be foolish to think that the temperature curve would be as neat or pretty as a thing we see drawn on a graph. Instead, we should expect quite a lot of noise as the transient negative feedbacks, especially the cooling effect from ice sheet melt response, come into play. My opinion is that large melts will result in ‘haitus’ decades in which the overall warming is greatly masked until the ice sheets come back into balance or until the ice sheets are gone entirely. Ice sheets, in this case, dump their inertia into the atmosphere and oceans as they melt, rather than retaining their solid structures for longer, as we initially assumed. The melt, in this case is likely to be faster, but the inertia is no less strong and comes in the form of a countervailing negative feedback. My view is that this also would have more effect on the atmosphere and on the ocean surface. But that deep ocean heat would continue to accumulate rapidly. This is a bad combination of circumstances for Ocean and overall Earth life support health.

      So we may see 6 feet of sea level rise coordinate with severe melt in Greenland and West Antarctica this century. We may also see 2-4 C warming this century rather than 4-8 C warming. But that doesn’t mean that end warming doesn’t hit 5-10 C or more ultimately. The oceans take a very heavy blow and we see terrible stratification and anoxia which is extraordinarily unhealthy and risks extreme extinction events both in the ocean and on land. If the current human forcing is enough to completely over-ride negative feedbacks associated with melt this century, then the implication would be that ESS is greater than what we’d assessed and closer to the 6-8 C in the Wasdell paper. For now, I wait pending more real-world evidence.

      Slow feedback and fast feedback… Given the difference between observed ESS and modeled ECS it’s pretty clear that a good number of both the slow and fast feedback responses have been missed. These are the unknown monsters in the closet we can add to the ones we know. They are the beasts that ESS implies.

      7.8 C ESS is on the high side of paleoclimate asessment. Is it possible? Yes. But the aggregate measures tend toward a range closer to 5-6. Is the aggregate always correct? No. Should we be worried that ESS is worse than the aggregate? Yes. Does a regressive analysis of ESS during the end of the last ice age have value as a climate proxy measure? Absolutely. And this should be cause for concern.

      For now, I’m sticking with the aggregate paleoclimate measures for my baseline, with the caveat that this measure may be conservative.

      As a final point, I find it frustrating talking to ECS and TCS modelers who come from the point of view that the error bars in the paleoclimate proxy data are too large to make them worthy of consideration, and who downplay the role of aerosols while also not considering the potential for other, as yet, unidentified, transient negative feedbacks in the climate system. In any case, even if ECS is 2-2.5 rather than 2.5 to 3 (implying an ESS of 4-5 rather than 5-6 or 7.8), the ultimate scope of damage from continuing to burn fossil fuels is still monumental. So there’s no rational value, in my view that justifies continued burning of ff.

      So I wholeheartedly agree that immediate response is necessary. And if I have an agenda, this is it: reduction of harm through responsible action. In this, I am in complete agreement with Wasdell. In that we need an immediate and rapid mitigation to prevent severe harm.

      Reply
  21. Colorado Bob

     /  July 18, 2014

    Arctic’s Boreal Forests Burning At ‘Unprecedented’ Rate

    Published: July 22nd, 2013

    In a sign of how swiftly and extensively climate change is reshaping the Arctic environment, a new study has found that the region’s mighty boreal forests — stands of mighty spruce, fir, and larch trees that serve as the gateway to the Arctic Circle — have been burning at an unprecedented rate during the past few decades. The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the boreal forests have not burned at today’s high rates for at least the past 10,000 years, and climate change projections show even more wildfire activity may be to come.

    http://www.climatecentral.org/news/arctics-boreal-forests-burning-at-unprecedented-rate-16278

    Reply
  22. Colorado Bob

     /  July 18, 2014

    Wildfires Found To Release A Previously Unidentified Type Of Soot

    The team noted the structural differences between common soot particles, like those emitted from cook stoves and vehicle tailpipes, and superaggregates. The newly discovered soot particle is, on average, 10 times longer while also having a more compact shape than its more familiar cousin. Despite the greater length, superaggregates have low effective densities. This, according to the study team, allows the wildfire-emitted soot to travel over long distances and more easily invade a human lung………………………… “We found that superaggregates contribute up to 90 percent more warming than spherical sub-micrometer soot particles, which current climate models use,” said Chakrabarty. “These preliminary findings warrant further research to quantify the significant impact these particles may have on climate, human health, and air pollution around the world.”

    These findings are especially salient in light of research presented earlier this year by scientists from Yale University who claimed particulate matter and smoke put off from wildfires during the Pliocene epoch effectively swung the radiation balance of the Earth resulting in an exceptionally hot era for the planet.

    Read more at http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1113186278/wildfire-soot-discovered-forest-fires-climate-health-070814/#KjdZ6ogwlt6Kz8Z9.99

    Reply
  23. james cole

     /  July 18, 2014

    A quick observation 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!

    Reply
  24. Joni

     /  July 18, 2014

    In light of recent events in Ukraine and increasing tensions in the Pacific, I wonder what this means for any future climate summits.

    Reply
    • Well, let’s hope there’s not a fragmentation of the international community. If there’s a time when we need to work together, it would be now.

      Reply
    • mark o dochartaigh

       /  July 18, 2014

      I guess this is a new explanation for the difference between climate and weather: the civilian airplane which was shot down over Ukraine apparently had changed its route because of bad weather; the war in Syria has been exacerbated because of drought which is a change in climate. Between drought and acidic and anoxic oceans I wonder how many hundreds of millions of human deaths correlate with even 2 degrees of increase.

      Reply
      • Well said.

        I think it speaks volumes that the pilots would rather risk flight over a war zone than through some of the storms that have been popping up lately.

        Reply
  25. islandraider

     /  July 18, 2014

    Then… there is this happy bit of news, released on a Friday (as they nearly always are) amidst copious other news stories (distractions) of Humans Behaving Badly:

    http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_OFFSHORE_DRILLING_AIR_CANNONS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2014-07-18-13-33-51

    What a shitty news week. We kill each other directly, we kill each other using proxies, we kill our life support. Seriously? The US government (on our behalf) has authorized private companies to kill animals for profit, including ESA-protected species, for the purposes of identifying extractable fossil fuels. The process of extracting the fossil fuels will poison & kill more animals and the burning of which will poison & kill more animals, including people. Meanwhile Ukraine (natural gas pipelines, GMOs), Gaza (natural gas fields off Gaza), Iraq (oil/gas)… resources are starting to get scarce, all wars are resource wars, & we are in for a doozy.

    In the immortal words of Kurt: “And, so it goes”.

    Reply
    • Sad. We should be banning fossil fuels and protecting vulnerable species. They are our partners in life on this world. I can’t believe we haven’t learned that yet.

      Reply
  26. So the oil companies and their proxies claim that there is no rise in temperature, and in fact it is dropping if anything. Then why are these same companies ordering and building vast fleets of LNG tankers in the Yamal class which is for the arctic? Should they be evacuating as it will freeze over any second? Is it just me or is this an oxymoron?

    http://barentsobserver.com/en/energy/30-arctic-lng-tankers-year-2020

    http://www3.energyintel.com/WebUploads/gei-moscow/media-files/iod-story-30-10-2.html

    And in this gem, you can see the year round route in the arctic for LNG. Yes! I said “Year Round”.

    http://gcaptain.com/mol-confirms-order-icebreaking-lng-carriers/

    I wonder if that goes hand in hand with the new fleet of Nuclear 75,000 bhp ice breakers the Russians are assembling.

    http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-09/russia-building-worlds-largest-nuclear-powered-icebreaker

    Robert, glad to see you back.

    Reply
    • Good to be back. And good to see you as well.

      RE the comment regarding temperature change. I think if the cloud is thick enough to block out short wave radiation then there might be local cooling. I’m observing rather high temperature spikes underneath most of the black/gray smoke cover, though.

      Reply
      • Yup, that was my conundrum in that comment. The surface temp + melt + outflow of melt (climate reanalyzer water temp map) all indicate as though there is no smoke cover, yet there is. There is a possibility that it is another Faustian bargain, in that the cover is masking a monster.

        It makes me wonder if there is a chance that extreme melt has been to some degree obfuscated by these smoke covers and in fact we are deliriously low for summer low extent. If that was in fact true, then it would be camouflaged under the smoke. I find it puzzling that we have this short temp cover (smoke), yet we are at -2 std dev on the melt extent.

        Sounds like you are heading into peer review-land. Fun but stressful, I spend 2+ yrs doing peer reviewed presentations in front of folks like Kari Mullis, Jorma Vertainen, Siegfried Krutzik + 30 other notable phd’s every 2 weeks (each presentation unique in various disciplines), and have spent the past 15+ yrs in various scientific fields. Now you know why I don’t state absolutes! When I do, it must be indisputable time 4.

        Reply
        • I’m getting 95 F readings in Siberia under the smoke and reports of heat dome expansion under the smoke. I’ve also got numerous studies showing black carbon aerosol increases local heating and is a powerful heat forcing. Aside from completely blocking out the sun, this is a positive feedback.

      • The smoke could be diluting quickly thus reducing a local cooling. Surface winds would tell that. If that occurs then a reverse reaction could occur possibly thereby causing a trapping effect? Not certain on the mechanics of that though if in fact it was possible. Either way, it appears that possibly larger areas are experiencing micro-environment changes and we may be entering feedback loop.

        Reply
        • 31 C on the shores of Hudson Bay 24 C in the Mackenzie Delta. No major response from sea ice visible. We are near record lows in extent but tracking near 2009 in area.

      • 95F in Siberia is insane. Not sure if you’ve noticed this one, but I’ve been watching the temp anomalies by Antarctica the past several months. There is tremendous noise in the surface / jet stream winds. What is puzzling is a huge persistent temp anomaly at the tip of S America + Antarctica. It has been persistent plus it has carried a large delta from the norm (5C to 20C). It is as though much hotter water is invading through the strait and being compressed, thereby exhaling surface temperature anomalies. The delta on the Antarctic sea ice extent is dropping, thereby tracking closer into the norm range (sub +2 std dev) while the Arctic is looking the other way. I find this fascinating if it holds and continues.

        Reply
        • Overall anomaly for Antarctica has been negative as has tended to happen during recent winters as the jet moved south and strengthened. Although positive anomalies near the ice edge have been interesting.

        • Arctic is still positive overall, but the anomaly is lower, as you would expect with summer time. You won’t see very strong positive atmospheric anomalies during the summer in the Arctic as a whole without something going seriously wrong. The overall +0.3 to +0.5 C we’ve been seeing this summer is pretty strong for the season, though above 80 has been near average to slightly below average.

          The Arctic will really heat up come winter as the heat trapping effect of ghg kicks in through the long Arctic winter.

  27. Griffin

     /  July 18, 2014

    I am on Cape Cod. This morning I noticed a faint (but noticeable) veil of thin gray smoke in the upper atmosphere. It was unmistakable as to the fact that it was smoke. That it stretched across the horizon was pretty freaky, since it originated on the other side of the continent. I looked at the MODIS shot and I can pick out a very thin strip of smoke that stretches across the area. Man, I was thinking of this post all day. Thank you for the update Robert.

    Reply
    • Cheers Griffin!

      Reply
    • Mark from New England

       /  July 18, 2014

      I noticed an odd looking sky in southern NH as well. It seemed very hazy for the first day of a Canadian cold front with less humid air. I was expecting a crystalline blue sky and it looked odd, especially in the mid-morning. I’ll be looking closely at it now that the smoke from out west and Canada is spreading.

      Reply
  28. Colorado Bob

     /  July 19, 2014

    Remarkable photos have been posted to the Nwtfire Facebook page.

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nwtfire/102519276560938?sk=photos_stream

    Reply
  29. RWood

     /  July 19, 2014

    Hello, Robert,
    Good to have you in “truth boots” as much as your perceptions are stunning, shocking, real.
    Your update on the coverage of the smoke plume leads me to submit this straw:
    http://climatestate.com/2014/07/17/tropospheric-ozone-in-the-anthropocene-are-we-creating-a-toxic-atmosphere/

    Reply
    • We very definitely have already created a toxic atmosphere. Ozone via NOx is a caustic beast much under appreciated as an existential threat. And to say nothing about the toxic aerosols we have saturated the atmosphere with. We must severely curtail our input via fossil fuels and attendant substances.

      Reply
    • Everyone should watch Dr. Fishman’s lecture and ponder the consequences, which range from wildfires to landslides, floods and much worse global impacts. Here was my comment at that link to his talk: Not only are annual crop yields reduced in both quantity and quality, but as the EPA has determined after assessing numerous studies, tropospheric ozone damage is cumulative. This means that following after following season of exposure to an increasingly toxic atmosphere, longer lived species sustain ever accumulating damage. This leads to shrunken roots, making trees more vulnerable to drought and windthrow. The most pernicious effect, well-documented in fumigation experiments, is that opportunistic biotic pathogens attack. Fungus, disease and insects are now epidemics all over the world on every species of tree and shrub you can imagine, from coffee to citrus, to coconut to palm, to ash and hemlock. The list is as long as the list of species. Climate scientists should take note even as foresters avoid the obvious conclusion – pollution is destroying forests, a major CO2 sink (and source of oxygen and clouds and rain). Climate models don’t take the rapidity of this decline into account, and so predictions of warming are overly optimistic. See http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2013/01/29/whispers-from-the-ghosting-trees/ for links to more research on this grotesquely underestimated existential threat to humanity and all other creatures that rely on trees for food, habitat, and a stable climate.

      Reply
  30. Kevin Jones

     /  July 19, 2014

    Thanks for your ‘straw’, RWood. In the infancy of my atmospheric chemistry interest, prompted by the news of the development of the Antarctic Ozone Hole and having discovered by accident John Gribbin’s The Hole In the Sky. I found myself in Bangor, Maine during NASA’s AASE ll interviewing the gracious James Anderson and chatting with dozens of others in a huge hangar with an ER-2 and it’s pilot in attendance. Al Gore was VP, the Cold War was over and I had this overwhelming sense that the USA’s government was allowing its’ premiere scientists to tell the people the truth and what things must be done to safeguard the children and their planet. 1994? I’m so nostalgic for that hope. Yet we must carry on. Thanks Robert & All for your efforts.

    Reply
  31. Bill H.

     /  July 19, 2014

    Robert, Thank you for these updates about events which the large circulation MSM don’t report. DO you have any feel for how the NWT and N. Siberian fires compare with typical blazes in, say, the U.S. Rockies. The existence of such a wide pall of smoke suggests that they are indeed of a different order of magnitude. The photos to which Colorado Bob linked suggest a fairly well organised effort to control them in NWT. Any idea as to the efforts being made in Siberia?

    I guess that these forests are a lot nearer to the natural state than the heavily managed and logged forests at lower latitudes, so there are fewer confounding factors for “skeptics” to use in an attempt to dismiss the link with AGW – for instance deliberate policies to encourage forest floor growth,etc., leading to (if you are a Morano, Watts, et al.) to increased forest fires.

    Reply
    • Based on satellite analysis and ground observation, the fires occurring in Siberia are many times the size of those we would typically see in the Rockies, for example. In addition, it’s worth noting that though fire coverage for Canada is now six times that seen in a typical year, the area burned in Siberia is still greater.

      We never saw anything like the burning that occurred in Siberia during 2012 before that year. To even approach those values just 2 years later is a sign that something is clearly wrong and off-kilter. Unfortunately, it appears likely that Siberia will see burn coverages in excess of 2012 values at some point in the future. Could be this year. Could be within the next 10. But it will probably happen.

      As for Canada, it is well on its way to seeing the worst fires for the NWT on record.

      As for efforts in Siberia to put out the fires… Russia has been calling up army-sized firefighting forces since 2010 to battle these extreme blazes. The fires, that were mere prelude, earlier this year spurred the calling up of hundreds of firefighters. The fires now have resulted in the evacuation of an entire province of Siberia and the imposition of 2,500 dollar (equivalent) fines on anyone entering the fire zone.

      Don’t have a count on manpower as yet, but it is bound to be substantial.

      For reference, MODIS satellite shots revealed multiple burn zones in Siberia that roughly measured 30X30 miles. Just one of these fires would nearly blanket Rhode Island and I count more than 30 in the range of approximately 10X10 to 30X30.

      Reply
  32. Dang! Nobody pulls it together like Robert. I’ve quoted about 3 paragraphs from this blog, with credits, in this week’s Radio Ecoshock show, coming out Wed 23rd July. These boreal fires, with the multiple feedbacks, sends us further down the path of no return.

    Reply
  33. Kevin Jones

     /  July 19, 2014

    I appreciate your fine work, Alex.

    Reply
  34. Steve

     /  July 20, 2014

    So much for the US president claiming to really being concerned and understanding that changes need to be made in regards to our planet & our climate. Big business owns both parties. Democrats act like they are more concerned, but their actions seem to indicate it is nothing but a show. Unbelievable!
    http://news.yahoo.com/feds-approve-oil-exploration-off-us-eastern-coast-041412302.html

    Reply
    • Monumentally bad idea.

      Dems are definitely better than the alternative when it comes to climate change. For one active denial of human warming and suppression of the science isn’t a part of the agenda, as it is on the other side of the isle. In addition, we have widespread efforts within the party to promote alternative energy, increase CAFE standards, and set a price on/regulate carbon.

      Republicans fight these efforts tooth and nail.

      The problem at this point is that we need concerted action to rapidly reduce/eliminate fossil fuel use. The old energy political and economic infrastructure still, unfortunately, carries quite a lot of weight when it comes to pushing this sort of thing through. And, unfortunately, no political party is immune.

      Reply
      • Steve

         /  July 20, 2014

        Robert, my expectations from politicians was extremely low, but this surprised even me. How can we trust that these people (as a whole, or even as a majority) really care about the direction things are going when they approve something like this. Based on everything we are seeing & have solid proof that things are only going to get worse, they want to proceed with something that hasn’t been done before? I was hoping that politicians did or didn’t do things out of short sightedness or ignorance. But there is absolutely no leg for them to stand on with this one. This is all about money. Money for their pockets & for those who back them to get into office.

        Reply
    • I agree with you, Steve. This is a terrible use of technology, chasing after an energy source that we should no longer be developing. In essence, a monumentally bad idea. And, yes, there’s no way to solve the climate crisis going forward if we keeping establishing these kinds of policies.

      The question in my mind is not whether Dems and republicans are different, it’s if Dems are different enough to get us through this mess. This news does make that prospect increasingly doubtful.

      I think I’ll be calling my congressperson tomorrow. You?

      Reply
  35. Incredible story, I did not realize these fires were that immense covering such a vast area and what you pointed out that it has been the largest fire in 10000 years. That is truly ominous. From what I have read about Black Carbon, it will cause a lot of warming in the region and melting of Arctic Ice.

    Reply
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