Permafrost Thaw Feedback To Blow Carbon Budget ‘Faster Than We Would Expect’

“Permafrost carbon emissions are likely to be felt over decades to centuries as northern regions warm, making climate change happen faster than we would expect based on projected emissions from human activities alone.” — Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback

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Soil Organic Carbon Store

(Extent of Northern Hemisphere 1 meter soil organic carbon store in the now thawing and burning permafrost. At about 1,000 billion tons, it’s more than enough to put a hefty strain on the IPCC’s remaining 275 billion ton carbon budget. Image source: Stockholm University.)

For a moment, let’s consider some rather difficult to deal with numbers —

790 billion tons — that’s the so-called ‘carbon budget’ the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates we need to stay within to prevent 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming in just this Century (note that current stated fossil fuel reserves hold enough carbon to exceed this budget many times over). It’s the level IPCC says we need to stay below to prevent ‘bad outcomes.’ A rate of warming that does not including later temperature increases in following centuries — which would be about double the 21st Century’s amount if global greenhouse gas levels managed to plateau and the global carbon stores remained on good behavior.

515 billion tons — that’s the amount of carbon humans have already emitted into the atmosphere. It leaves us with less than 275 billion tons remaining.

About 24 years — that’s how long it will take for humans to burn enough fossil fuels and emit enough carbon (at current and projected rates) to use up that ‘carbon budget.’ A break-neck pace of burning and dumping of carbon that is now probably about six times faster than at any time in the geological record. Faster than the atmospheric carbon accumulation during the last hothouse extinction — the PETM. Faster than during the worst hothouse mass extinction of all — the Permian.

Hitting Carbon Limits

Sound like we’re up against some hard limits? Well, we are. Because the above basically implies that human emissions would need to start falling dramatically now and get to near zero by 2050 to meet IPCC’s goal. A limit that, by itself, may have built in too much slack and may not have taken into account other responses from the Earth climate system.

Now let’s consider these new numbers from a recent permafrost study released earlier this month in the context of IPCC’s ‘carbon budget…’

0.6 degrees Celsius — that’s the pace at which the Arctic is warming each and every decade. According to the new study:

This is causing normally frozen ground to thaw — exposing substantial quantities of organic carbon to decomposition by soil microbes. This permafrost carbon is the remnant of plants and animals accumulated in perennially frozen soil over thousands of years, and the permafrost region contains twice as much carbon as there is currently in the atmosphere.

This amounts to about 1400 billion tons and around 1,000 billion tons in the shallow carbon store alone. A massive fireplug of carbon stored in thawing (and burning) land-based permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere at a shallow depth of zero to 3 meters. The new study expects 40 to 170 billion tons of this carbon store to release over the next 85 years. A further 120 to 300 billion tons could hit the atmosphere by 2300 if the ongoing thaw in the north continues.

model estimates of potential carbon release from permafrost

(Model estimates of potential carbon release from permafrost. Note that Pg carbon is roughly equivalent to gigatons of carbon. Image source: Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback.)

So where does that leave our so-called carbon budget?

Averaging the report’s findings, we can add about 92 gigatons of baked-in feedback from the shallow permafrost zone alone and end up with 607 billion tons of carbon (human + expected permafrost). This leaves us with about 15 years before we are locked in to hit the ‘2 C limit’ of around 450 ppm CO2 by end Century (not considering a current 485 ppm CO2e level or end Century CO2e of 530 to 550 ppm when all other greenhouse gasses are added in).

In addition, the 120 to 300 billion additional tons from the shallow permafrost store expected to keep out-gassing through 2300 would ultimately result in a carbon pool that pushes atmospheric values up to 480-530 ppm CO2 (560 to 600 CO2e) and turns the ‘2 C limit’ into a 4-6 C (7.2 to 10.8 F) long term climate bake.

Carbon Debt With Compound Interest

Looking at the report’s numbers leaves us with the all-too-salient impression that we really don’t have a carbon budget at all. What we have is carbon bankruptcy. A carbon compounded debt shock enough to crack the whole of the Earth System carbon piggy bank and bleed out gigaton-sized carbon pennies for decades and centuries to come. And the new shallow permafrost carbon feedback estimate does not include the approximate 400 gigatons of carbon in the deep permafrost. Nor does it consider ocean carbon stores — which may provide their own carbon debt spiral. Nor does it include Antarctic carbon stores or a number of other possible stores that could be pushed out by heat stress.

Needless to say, some considered the news in the recent Nature Report ‘good.’ At least it didn’t identify a 50 gigaton methane release over one decade from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf as some other recent articles have considered. Some news reports even went so far as to call an approximate 92 gigaton release by 2100 (or a little more than 1 gigaton per year) from permafrost carbon ‘slow.’ The last hothouse extinction, the PETM, also saw similar ‘slow’ rates of release from the global carbon system. So, slow when compared to the raging 10 gigaton per year pace of current human emissions, but fast when compared to about practically anything else in geological history.

What the new report really means is that humans can’t afford to emit any more carbon. And what we need to be looking at now is a way to swiftly transition to a net carbon negative civilization — fast.

“This is not a minor feedback,” Kevin Schaefer, a prominent scientist from the National Snow and Ice Data Center said in a recent report on the new study’s findings. “… If you don’t account for it, you’ll overshoot this 2 degree target.”

Links:

Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback

Thawing Permafrost — The Arctic’s Giant Carbon Release

Earth’s Natural Fridge is Turning into a Greenhouse Gas Machine

Bacteria Warm up the Permafrost

Stockholm University

Permafrost Feedback Update — Good News or Bad?

Climate Change Ratcheting Up: El Nino Strengthens in Equatorial Pacific Increasing Likelihood for Record Warm 2015

A powerful Kelvin Wave continued to ripple through the near-surface waters of the Equatorial Pacific this week — heightening sea surface temperatures, strengthening an ongoing El Nino, and pushing a wave of oceanic heat back into a human-warmed atmosphere that is hotter now than at any time in modern human reckoning.

High temperature anomalies in the Kelvin Wave plug have spread out across the ocean surface. Readings in the range of +1 to +2 C above average stretch along surface waters all the way from the Date Line through 120 West Longitude. East of the 120 line, surface waters have now hit readings of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius above average. And lurking just below the surface along thousands of miles of ocean is a dense zone of 5-6 degree above average water. A zone of extreme heat at the heart of the current intense Kelvin Wave:

NOAA Kelvin Wave April 23

(A strong Kelvin Wave shuts down atmospheric heat transfer into the Equatorial Pacific setting up conditions for an extended El Nino and possible new record heat for 2015. Image Source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

Heat that could well make 2015 yet another worsening of the human warming and extreme weather twilight zone we now find ourselves in.

Pushing into Moderate El Nino Range

According to NOAA’s weekly El Nino report, sea surface temperatures in the critical Nino 3.4 region hit a range of 1 degree C above average last week. A jump from the previous week’s measure of +0.7 C and a new push toward moderately strong El Nino levels off the back of the current warm Kelvin Wave. Atmospheric teleconnections that are signatures of a moderate El Nino also began to emerge over past weeks — with a strengthening of the subtropical Jet and related storm track setting off powerful tornadoes, thunderstorms and heavy rain events in states bordering the Gulf of Mexico over the past ten days.

Heat content from the current Kelvin Wave is enough to continue to keep Equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures in present ranges or to push for further warming over at least the next 1-2 months. A set of factors that will almost certainly lock near moderate El Nino conditions in through Summer and general El Nino conditions through early Autumn. The result is that the extra heat bleed off the Pacific Ocean will combine with the impressive human forcing to generate a high risk that 2015 atmospheric temperatures will beat out all-time record highs set in 2014.

Model Runs Still Showing Potential for Super El Nino

Nino 3.4 Monthly Anomalies

(Unweighted model ensemble runs show the current El Nino peaking out at extreme intensity. Long range model runs can be quite uncertain, but these are very high values. Image source: NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies.)

NOAA model runs also show a potential for El Nino strengthening through the end of 2015. Probability weighted CFS model ensembles (PDF) point toward a seasonal anomaly for Nino 3.4 in the range of 1998 Super El Nino values at 2.1 degrees Celsius above average by the end of 2015. Mean model runs (non-weighted) push the long range forecast heat values even higher at 2.6 C above seasonal averages or 2.75 C above monthly averages.

These unweighted long range forecasts are well outside the strength of even the monster event of nearly two decades ago. A new super El Nino that would have very serious consequences for global temperatures and result in far-reaching climate impacts should it emerge. Atmospheric temperatures that are now in the range of +0.7 C above 20th Century averages and +0.9 C above 1880s values could well push into a new range at +0.8 C and +1 C, or higher, respectively.

Super El Nino Late 2015

(Long range models show Equatorial Pacific has potential to hit near Super El Nino status by late 2015. At this time, such model runs are low certainty. Image source: NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies.)

Cranking up the Human Hothouse

Entering the range of 1-2 C above 1880s values is a zone of heat anomaly that will amplify already apparent ice sheet melt, sea level rise, droughts, wildfires, water stress, and ocean health impacts. At temperatures around +1.5 C we begin to enter a period of strong glacial outflows, weather instability, geophysical changes, and record related storm events in a ‘Storms of My Grandchildren‘ type scenario. At +2 C these very dangerous impacts will likely be in full swing.

It is worth noting that it took 10,000 years to warm the world 4 degrees Celsius at the end of the last ice age. Under current human fossil fuel burning scenarios, it is likely that we reach half that threshold in just 150 to 170 years — from 1880 to 2030-2050. A rapid reduction in fossil fuel emissions along a progression to a net carbon negative human society over the next few decades is absolutely necessary to prevent these outcomes. And while model forecasts indicating the potential for a Super El Nino type event for late 2015 may be somewhat uncertain, there is a much higher certainty that very dangerous climate impacts starting at the current level of human warming will ramp up here on out — with the 1.5 C threshold looking very bad and the 2.0 C threshold looking terrible.

As such, we should do all we can to prevent hitting those marks.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies

The Storms of My Grandchildren

Far Worse than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick

Peak Methane Spike to 2845 Parts Per Billion on April 25, 2015 is Just Uncanny

If you look at the annual methane fluctuations in the Arctic — the region where peak global values tend to crop up — highest readings typically occur during the September-through-October time-frame and then again in January.

Over the past few years, peak values have ranged as high as 2600 parts per billion during the fall of 2014 and then again during January of 2015. Typically, peak values then subside as Northern Hemisphere Winter locks in most of the emitting High Latitude sources and we wait for the Autumn and early Winter overburdens to again emerge. So those of us who keep track of methane kinda just sat tight, expecting at least a somewhat calm spring, and waited for the new peak values that would be most likely to pop up by late this year and early next.

But then, on Saturday, this popped up in the NOAA METOP measure:

Major Methane Spike April 25 2015

(NOAA METOP methane measure finds peak values as high as 2845 parts per billion. An extraordinarily high reading, especially for April. Image source: NOAA OPSO.)

A whopping peak value of 2845 parts per billion at the 14,000 foot level of the atmosphere where methane concentrations tend to top out — especially in higher level clouds that have tended to be associated with Arctic wildfires. A value more than 200 parts per billion higher than daily peaks during January of 2015. All-in-all, a huge and unexpected jump at a very odd time for it.

If we look at the above map we find that most of the peak values are in the region of Russia. With many peak values in areas where major wildfires have been ongoing (Lake Baikal region, Khakassia), where wildfires were just starting to flare up (Northern Ukraine), or above other recently thawing permafrost zones. We also find decent spikes over China, Europe, Iceland, spots of the High Arctic, Canada and Alaska, Central Africa, The Indian Ocean, and over Antarctica.

Daily Mean Values Pop as Well

Sam Carana over at Arctic News caught the spike earlier this week and provided this very informative graph cataloging 14,000 to 18,000 foot methane levels for 2015:

Daily Methane Highest Mean 2015

(Daily mean and peak values provided by Sam Carana show how much of an outlier the April 25 spike is. Image source: Arctic News.)

And what we find, from looking at the graph, is that not only did peak values spike to an extraordinary high level in late April, but mean values also took a big jump — rising from 1807 ppb on January 10 to a peak of 1829 ppb on April 22nd. A 12 parts per billion bump in the entire global measure over a four month period (average annual rates of increase have been in the range of 7 parts per billion each year recently). A raging pace of increase 5 times faster than the annual trend.

It’s worth noting that daily peak and mean values do tend to swing back and forth quite vigorously. As an example, a peak mean value of 1839 ppb was recorded on September 7 of 2014. But, as noted above, these are extraordinarily abnormal high values for April. A quite unsettling methane spike at a very odd time of year and happening on dates and over locations that may suggest permafrost zone fire involvement.

Conditions in Context

For context, methane is an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas with a global warming potential about 30-40 times that of CO2 over meaningful timescales. Global atmospheric averages for methane have jumped from around 725 parts per billion during the 18th Century to above 1820 parts per billion now. A major scientific controversy is now ongoing over the issue of how rapidly global carbon stores will respond to an extraordinary pace of human warming — with some observational specialists raising the possibility of a very large methane contribution from now activating carbon stores in the Arctic.

Links:

NOAA OPSO

Methane Levels as High as 2845 Parts Per Billion

Climate Change’s ‘Waking Giant’ to Set off Rash of Volcanic Eruptions, Tsunamis, Earthquakes?

Calbuco Volcano 2

(Last week’s Calbuco eruption in Chile spews massive cloud of ash and sets off a fireworks display of volcanic lightning. Image source: IFLScience.)

If you look at the geological record of the end of the last ice age, there’s something that crops up that’s more than a little bit disturbing. The approximate 10,000 year period in which 4 degrees Celsius of warming took place was also punctuated by a rash of intense volcanic activity, earthquakes and tsunamis.

It was a time of extraordinary geophysical changes that not only saw the, sometimes catastrophic, melting of massive ice sheets and extreme rises in sea level — it also saw severe geological upheaval. In one region alone — Iceland — instances of volcanic eruption increased 30-50 fold during a period starting about 12,000 years ago. Overall, global spikes in volcanism began near the start of major melt events at around 18,000 years ago and continued on through the Iceland spike at the 12,000 year time-frame, finally tapering off around 7,000 years ago. In the 12,000 to 7,000 year before present period, global volcanic activity was between 2 and 6 times today’s frequency.

Eruption Spikes at Two Volcanoes in Iceland

(A 2010 study found large spikes in volcanic activity at a number of Iceland volcanoes at the end of the last ice age. Image source: How Will Melting of Ice Affect Volcanic Hazards in the 21st Century?)

Geologically active regions around the world and especially in close proximity to melting ice and rising seas saw much greater volcanic eruption, earthquake and tsunami frequency. In particular, California, Europe, and Iceland saw intense volcanic activity spikes. A set of past events pointing toward 21rst Century risks explored in the book: Waking the Giant — How Climate Change Triggers Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tsunamis.

A leading theory, presented by Dr. Bill McGuire, Hugh Tuffin, J. Maclennan, Peter Huybers and many others is that changes in stress to the Earth’s crust caused by the loss of billions of tons of mass by ice sheets and the displacement of those billions of tons into the world’s ocean system spurred previously stable magma systems into a chaotic displacement. In addition, direct melting of glaciers on slope systems, rising seas and even changes in flood frequency at individual volcanoes, faults and zones of steep topography can result in heightened rates of eruption, earthquakes and instances of slope collapse.

This evidence is causing scientists to investigate feedbacks between warming and potential increases in volcanic activity, earthquakes and tsunamis. A set of events that may also risk the destabilization of undersea methane hydrate stores through the slope collapse and enhanced magma heating mechanisms as well.

Current Events, Raging Pace of Human Warming Bring old Concerns to Light

Though this line of research isn’t new — with modern studies stretching back to the 1950s and with end ice age upheaval research extending for nearly two centuries — recent events have served to underline old concerns. In 2013, the massive eruptions of Iceland’s volcanoes and related disruption of European air travel brought voices like those of Dr. Bill McGuire again to the fore. And, more recently, the massive Tibetan earthquake of this past weekend, resulting in the loss of 4,000 lives, has called into question current human climate change’s role in geological upheaval events.

Nepal Earthquake Dust Flies

(Dust flies through the air during the initial moments of last weekend’s catastrophic Tibet Earthquake. Image source: RT News.)

A report today out in Newsweek notes:

Evidence from the end of the last Ice Age has already shown that the planet’s uneasy web of seismic faults – cracks in the crust like the one that runs along the Himalayas – are very sensitive to the small pressure changes brought by change in the climate. And a sensitive volcano or seismic faultline is a very dangerous one.

Though the Tibetan earthquake was going to happen at some time, it is possible that changes in ice loading on Himalayan glaciers, changes in water volume outflows in the annual Asian monsoon, and sea level rise adding pressure to the geological plates below coastlines — especially in low-lying Bangladesh — had an impact. Such stresses can increase magma chamber production or trigger fault lines to release.

McGuire notes in Newsweek:

Climate change may play a critical role in triggering certain faults in certain places where they could kill a hell of a lot of people. These stress or strain variations – just the pressure of a handshake in geological terms – are perfectly capable of triggering a quake if that fault is ready to go (emphasis added).

One example of where relatively small changes to geological stress can have a big impact on volcanic activity is the Pavlov volcano in Alaska. As McGuire describes, this volcano only erupts during Autumn and Winter. At that time storms ride up into a nearby ocean zone, pushing an average 10cm or 15cm rise in sea level. The added weight of the water is enough to torque the crust and push magma out. Now imagine the kind of extra volcanic activity that could result from 1, 6, or 250 feet of global sea level rise under the raging rate of human-caused warming and you begin to understand the concern.

So the question that many geologists are asking is this: will the greatly exaggerated spike of human warming and related extreme pace of glacial melt, sea level rise, and rainfall changes also result in a greatly exaggerated spike in volcanism, earthquakes, and tsunami events?

Fault lines around the world will be under increased and ever-changing stress. Volcanoes around the world will see the same. The great Ring of Fire is in an ocean-spanning zone. Many, many volcanic, fault and slope systems encompassed in its arc will feel the added weight of sea level rise caused by human warming. In addition, as much or more than the 4 degrees Celsius worth of warming achieved at the end of the last ice age could be seen by the end of this Century.

It’s that kind of very rapid pace of change that has geologists worried with more than a handful thinking that the catastrophic geophysical changes may have already started.

Links:

More Fatal Earthquakes to Come Warn Climate Change Scientists

Could Changing Climates Set off Volcanoes and Quakes?

Waking the Giant: How Climate Change Triggers Earthquakes Tsunamis and Volcanoes

How Will Melting Ice Affect Volcanic Hazards in the 21st Century?

Feedback Between Deglaciation, Volcanism and Atmospheric CO2

The Link Between Volcanism and Deglaciation in Iceland

Avalanche of Dust

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Big Warm-up Predicted for Northwest Territory as Pacific Side of Arctic Melts Out Early

The long-term trend for Arctic sea ice is inexorably down. Year-after-year, decade-after-decade, the human-driven accumulation of heat in the Arctic has taken a terrible toll. Recently, mid March through mid April showed record low sea ice extents for any period since record keeping began in 1979.

Over the past two weeks, extent levels bounced back to around 4th to 6th lowest on record as winds shifted to north-to-south through the broad region between Greenland and the Kara Sea. For this region, melt pressure had been quite strong throughout Winter as a powerful warm flow of air flooded up from the North Atlantic.

Sea ice concentration

(Ice in the Bering and the Sea of Okhotsk is rapidly melting. Warming and sea ice melt ramp-up may also be on tap for both the Hudson Bay and the Beaufort as south-to-north air flows associated with the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge intensify. Image source: NSIDC.)

The shift, which has occurred coincident with upper-level winds running up from the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge in the Eastern Pacific, over Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada, into the Beaufort and on past the pole, has been pushing sea ice southward toward the Barents and into the Fram Strait. The result has been minor sea ice expansion in the near Greenland region at the cost of much more rapid melt in the Bering Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk and a very earl season break up of ice in the Beaufort.

Pacific Side Warming and Beaufort Break-up

Overall, this Pacific-side warming of the Arctic has driven extent levels back down into the range of 3rd to 4th lowest on record for this time of year. And rapid melt in the Bering, the Sea of Okhost, together with warming in the Beaufort and Hudson Bay may result in new challenges to record lows over the coming days.

By late April, break-up of Beaufort Sea ice is particularly dramatic with very large polynyas forming in a broad region into and north of the Canadian Archipelago and extending on into the off-shore region of the Mackenzie Delta:

Beaufort Sea Ice April 26 2015

(The Beaufort Sea shows extensive break-up and lackadaisical re-freeze on April 26th 2015. Note the extensive dark cracks and polynyas [holes] in the MODIS satellite image above. Such late-spring proliferation of polynyas and cracks can critically reduce albedo as melt season progresses. The Beaufort’s location also makes it vulnerable to continued warm air influx over a very warm Northeastern Pacific Ocean. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Temperatures within the Beaufort Sea and near the Canadian Archipelago are still cold enough to support some re-freeze in the Polynya regions. However, closer to the Mackenzie Delta, temps have trended more and more toward near freezing or above freezing levels (sea water freezes at around 28 degrees Fahrenheit). The result is a rather large region with no new ice formation.

More Warm air on the Way

As of 5 PM Eastern Standard time, temperatures in the Mackenzie Delta on the shores of the Beaufort Sea were pushing 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, 50 degree temperatures dominated the region of Great Slave Lake further upstream and southward. These readings are in the range of 8-15 degrees above normal for this time of year, resulting in an early melt pressure for the Mackenzie River and for coastal regions near the post-thaw river outflow zones.

image

(Big warm-up near the Mackenzie River and through the Northwest Territory in April  28th’s GFS model prediction. Temperatures in the low 70s gather around Great Slave Lake as above freezing temperatures drift down the Mackenzie River reaching all the way to Arctic Ocean Shores. Note near and above sea water freezing temperatures [28 F] throughout the Bering, Beaufort, northwest sections of the Canadian Archipelago and Hudson Bay in the above image. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This warm pool is predicted to intensify through tomorrow with temperatures reaching the low 70s Fahrenheit (22 C) near Great Slave Lake and temperatures along Mackenzie Delta shores continuing to edge up over freezing. The warm pool will then linger for another few days before shifting east over Hudson Bay through early next week, pushing temperatures between 10 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit above normal there.

By late next week, long range forecasts show another warm ridge extension through the Mackenzie Delta and melt pressure on the near-shore Beaufort re-intensifying.

Overall, with Arctic Oscillation predicted to remain neutral, melt pressure in the Arctic would tend to reduce somewhat. However, with both Bering and Okhotsk rapidly melting out and with warmth predicted to persist and intensify for those seas as well as for the Beaufort and for Hudson Bay, it appears there’s an even shot that early melt season will proceed at a more brisk than typical pace — again challenging new record lows into early May.

Links:

National Snow and Ice Data Center

NASA’s LANCE-MODIS

Earth Nullschool

The Euro Model

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

 

 

New Study Finds Clouds are Amplifying Human Warming

The mysterious clouds.

For decades, science has been unable to nail down how clouds might change with human warming of the climate. Sure, we knew that added water vapor through a heating-increased amplification of the rate of evaporation and precipitation would likely impact cloud formation. But how would those physical alterations impact climate? Would an added darkening of the Earth through increased cloud cover provide a cooling effect and slow down the rate of human-caused warming (also called a negative feedback)? Or would the added water vapor aloft, itself a powerful greenhouse gas, provide an extra boost to the human heating engine (also called an amplifying feedback)?

The mainstream climate models thus assumed a zero to slightly positive heat feedback from clouds and relied on decadal verification runs to help test for accuracy. A kind of backwards checking that excluded values from clouds due to a lack of needed information.

Pyrocumulonimbus

(From the global climate change perspective, some clouds are worse than others. The above image shows a thunderstorm set off by massive wildfires blazing through the permafrost zone near Great Slave Lake on August 5 of 2014. A pyrocumulonimbus cloud or, colloquially, a fire thunderstorm. Image source: NASA.)

Confusionists Take Advantage of Cloud Uncertainty

It was an uncertainty hanging in the very air above us. An uncertainty many climate confusionists used to sow doubt over a broad range of issues involving how sensitive the Earth is to the human heat forcing. They often argued, through this scientific dim spot, that climate sensitivity was, indeed, quite low and that we had very little to be concerned about regarding an immense dumping of heat trapping gasses into the atmosphere that is now at least 6 times faster than at any time in the deep history of life on Earth.

The shady clouds, in other words, would save us from ourselves.

Not so fast, said Dr. Andrew Dressler who in this paper and this paper recently defended consensus climate science from the cloudy claims of confusionists. Dressler, like mainstream climate science, assumed at least a small degree of positive feedback from changes to clouds and atmospheric water vapor loading. And his observational findings were consistent with an equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), or a one century rate of warming, in the range of 2.0 to 4.5 degrees Celsius for each doubling of CO2 (consistent with a multi-century warming [ESS] in the range of 4 to 9 C for each doubling of CO2 — or about a 6 C average).

New Study Finds Changes to Clouds are an Amplifying Feedback

But now, a new study has found that the picture is not quite so rosy as some claimed. The study, led by Dr. Kevin Trenberth, found that net changes to clouds and related additions of water vapor to the upper atmosphere is a positive or amplifying feedback to human caused warming. In other words, the way human heat alters clouds and the related hydrological cycle results in yet more heat being trapped by the Earth System.

This confirms Dr. Dressler’s work and raises a rather unpleasant question — if we have an added heat feedback from clouds under a regime of Earth Systems warming, then how strong is it?

Trenberth notes in an interview published today in The Guardian:

What we do find is that if one looks at tropospheric average temperature rather than surface temperature, then there is a much stronger relationship with energy flow at the top of the Earth’s atmosphere. We are able to find a water vapor signal that is clearly a positive feedback.

Climate Sensitivity Needle May Tilt Toward Upper Range of Estimates

This is somewhat unhappy news.

What it means is that the Earth System is at least as sensitive as climate models suggest. But, even worse, there is a chance that the Earth System may be closer to the upper range of climate sensitivity estimates. It means that accumulation of heat in the atmosphere, in glaciers and in the ocean may happen somewhat faster than consensus models predict and that geophysical changes may, consequently, be greater and more catastrophic.

Whether model simulation of climate sensitivity will need to be altered has not, as yet, been determined. The study is now very new and it will take some time for the more recent data to wash out in the model projections.

But what can be plainly stated is that fossil fuel industry funded voices of false comfort have again been proven dreadfully wrong and that there is some risk that the situation may be even more dangerous than current science anticipates. As such, there is absolutely no reason for further delays in policy action and a very rapid draw-down to zero human carbon emissions.

Links:

Climate Variability and Relationships Between Top of Atmosphere Radiation and Temperatures on Earth

Changes in Water Vapor and Clouds are Amplifying Global Warming

A Determination of the Cloud Feedback from Climate Variations Over the Past Decade

Clouds and The Earth’s Energy Budget

NASA

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

Water Conflict Starts as Climate Change Induced California Drought Expected to Worsen Through Summer, Autumn

From the West Coast perspective, climate change is a day-to-day, in-your-face affair.

The sunsets in Seattle are tinted red from massive Siberian permafrost fires belching immense smoke plumes in springtime. California snow packs and reservoirs are at historic low levels after a four-year-long drought that is the worst in 1200 years and the hottest winter on record. The Golden State, famous for its Central Valley fruits, vegetables and wines, is facing increasingly strict water rationing. Other water intensive industries from resorts, to computer chip makers, to nonrenewable power plants are all feeling the pinch.

Off the coast, a blocking high pressure system — so persistent it has earned the monicker Ridiculously Resilient Ridge (RRR) from weather experts — continues to expand. Wildfires for the region are burning at double their typical rate for Winter and Spring. And the only real hope for a break in the drought will come this winter with a potential strong and perhaps even more disruptive El Nino.

Dwindling Snow Packs and Failing Reservoirs

California Drought April 20 2014California Drought April 20 2015

(Comparison of California snow packs from water-poor 2014 [left frame] to water-poorer 2015 [right frame]. Under continued human-forced warming, snow packs in California may completely disappear during spring and summer by mid-Century. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

But even if a Monster El Nino does emerge to hurl a hellacious, storm-engorged Pineapple Express at California this coming Winter, the state is now facing off against a very water poor Summer and Autumn. April 20 snow packs have dwindled even from their amazingly depleted levels last year (see above comparison) and reservoir levels in many areas are at critical thresholds. At a time when water pools should be brimming full after winter rains, all major state water storage sites are well below historical averages as of April 20 with six out of eleven sites showing levels at less than 39 percent capacity. Exchequer Reservoir, in southern Central Valley, is the driest of a dry bunch — showing a 9 percent capacity.

These low levels come after major consumption reduction policies were put in place by Governor Brown and by numerous municipalities during 2014. Now, critical State water levels are resulting in additional reductions in urban water use of 25 percent statewide. A policy that is causing backlash from the wealthy, businesses, landowners, and other high-volume consumers together with calls for new desalination plants and pipelines to divert Seattle water into Lake Mead (a project that, by itself, would cost about 30 billion dollars). There water levels have gone through a multi-decade free-fall and Monday hit a new, all time, record low level of 1081.10 feet.

California Reservoir Conditions

(Current California reservoir situation map. Image source: The Pacific Institute’s California Drought Page.)

Drought to Worsen at Least Through Autumn

Long-range forecasts through mid-summer show continued extreme dry conditions on tap. The US Seasonal Drought Outlook shows drought worsening through July 31st for a six state section of the US Southwest. A section of increased and record drying which features California at center mass. For this region, strong south-to-north air flows beneath an expanding heat dome will continue to bring much hotter and drier than normal conditions. The heat dome will continue to feed on much hotter Northeastern Pacific water temperatures in the range of +3 to +5 warmer than normal. (A pool of hot water that is also implicated in various ocean creature mass die-offs over the past two years.)

With California already facing the hottest and driest conditions in two millennia, a continuation and intensification of historic heat and drought may well be seen as merciless. And what it means is imminent water shortages and likely conflict over a dwindling supply.

US Drought outlook

(The US Seasonal Drought Outlook provided by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center shows the ongoing 1200 year California Drought intensifying through at least mid-July.)

Already, businesses are up in arms over a ratcheting water use reduction policy. According to reports from the Los Angeles Times, farmers looking at water reductions in the range of 25 to 30 percent are questioning whether they can continue to produce. Water brokers to desert resorts in Coachella Valley are looking at losses exceeding 10 million dollars. Landscaping, intended to add to home values, is withering, drying up investments and home equity in one blow.

These deep cuts are rippling on down the line to threaten a wide variety of businesses, all dependent on water access. Business policy advocate Valerie Nera noted to the Times:

“Beverage manufacturers, bottlers, coffee shops, industries like micro chip processors and food processors for example would be put in jeopardy if 25 percent of their water usage were cut or if they had to pay significantly more for their water.”

All losses that will mount on top of an estimated 2.2 billion dollars in damages from the drought’s impact in 2014 alone. Losses that will, all too likely, continue into 2016 if a potential, very strong, El Nino doesn’t develop and deliver very heavy rains.

A Crisis Without End

But the issue isn’t just one of water impacts for this year and the possible impacts for next. It is an issue of ongoing and worsening water impacts throughout this Century. Impacts set off by an inexorable and ramping of human-caused climate change and highlighted in a new report earlier this month entitled: Risky Business — The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States.

Risky-Business

(Instances of extreme weather become ‘normal’ as global temperatures increase.  Graph from the Risky Business climate report.)

In short, for California, it’s not just an issue of making it through this drought. It’s an issue of making it through the many that will surely follow — decade after decade after decade. Making it through the more intense storms that will break droughts by delivering far more rain in a far shorter time than previously experienced. An issue of dealing with a diminishment and then a loss of snow pack. An issue of dealing with significant property losses from rising sea levels. An issue of dealing with harm to almost every food-producing sector from farming, through drought and increased storm intensity, to fishing, through a major blow to ocean health and vitality.

In such an instance we can read the words Climate Change writ large in the current California drought emergency. Not just because it is the worst drought to affect the state in two millennia. Not just because conflict over water resources is starting to ramp up now. But also because the current crisis is but one in a long succession of similar and worsening disruptions that will surely follow. The terrible result of a ramping heating of the atmosphere set off by human greenhouse gas emissions.

Links:

California Drought to Worsen

Smoke From Siberian Permafrost Fires Reaches West Coast

California Drought Worst in 1200 Years

California Experiences Hottest Winter on Record

LANCE-MODIS

Monster Kelvin Wave Redux

California Faces Fight Over Historic Water Rationing

Lake Mead Hits Record Low Levels

The Pacific Institute’s California Drought Page

The US Seasonal Drought Outlook

2014 California Drought Damages at 2.2 Billion

Starving Sea Lion Pups and Liquified Starfish

Risky Business — The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to DTLange

“The Dry Land Burned Like Grass” — Siberia’s Road to a Permaburn Hell

(Residents of the Trans Baikal region of Russia flee through a raging permafrost fire on April 13 of 2015. Video Source: The Road to Hell Recorded by: Vladislav Igorevich.)

The script reads like a scene from some post-apocalyptic disaster film.

Frigid Siberia begins an epic thaw — a thaw set off by an unstoppable dumping of heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere by human fossil fuel industry. Finally, after years of warming, the thawing land itself becomes fuel for fires. A thick layer of peat-like organic material that serves as kindling to the heat-dried trees and grasses atop it.

Immense blazes ignite in April — fully 100 days before the usual fire season in late July. The fires explode to enormous size, doubling in area in less than a day, covering scores to hundreds of square miles. Residents flee or face off against walls of raging flame in bucket and hose brigades. Military units descend on the regions affected to fight blazes and prevent looting. The fires are freakish, starting from nowhere at a moment’s notice. Eyewitnesses at the scene of one fire describe the surreal situation saying: “… the dry land burned like grass.”

inside_chita_fores

(A wall of fire confronts residents of Chita, Russia this week as local townsfolk prepared to defend their homes and livelihoods from the inferno. Image source: The Siberian Times.)

But for two regions of Russia, that’s exactly what happened this week.

In Khakassia, a region of southern Siberia bordering Kazakhstan and Mongolia, massive blazes ripped through a broad permafrost thaw zone, impacting 39 villages, killing 29 people and leaving thousands homeless. By Thursday, many of these massive fires were finally extinguished — leaving miles wide scars over a smoldering and blackened land.

Hundreds of miles away in Trans Baikal, the story was also one of hellish inferno. There, wildfires erupted from the thawing permafrost zone — engulfing forests, burning dry land, destroying hundreds of homes in more than 9 villages, and killing four people. One wildfire alone surged to nearly 400 square miles in size and threatened numerous settlements near the city of Chita. There, locals are still fighting the blaze in a desperate effort to preserve life and property.

Chita Fires April 17 2015

(Satellite image of fires and large burn scars in Chita, Russia on April 17 of 2015. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 120 miles. Note that some of the burn scars in this satellite shot stretch for 20 miles at their widest point. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

In total, nearly 50 villages and towns have now been affected, 33 lives have been lost, four more have gone missing, nearly 7,000 people are now homeless, and more than 6,000 domestic animals have been lost to the fires. These are the first, early casualties in a fire season stoked by climate change that will flare off and on for at least the next five months. A fire season that will likely see immense plumes of smoke covering broad sections of the Northern Hemisphere, involve Canadian and Alaskan permafrost zones, and see wildfires burning all the way through Siberia to the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

And so we are just at the start of a long road through another hellish Arctic fire season, one enabled and made far, far worse by a current and very rapid rate of human-forced warming.

Links:

Fire Rages on as Death Toll Reaches 33

LANCE MODIS

The Road to Hell

Vladislav Igorevich

Unprecedented Early Start to Perma-Burn Fire Season

Siberia Ravaged by Forest Fires

Hat tip to Alexander Ac

A Fearful Glance at the Global Carbon Stores — Weekly CO2 Values Hit 404 Parts Per Million a Little Too Soon

mlo two years April 15

(Big jump in weekly CO2 averages during second week of April bring 2015 concentrations into the range of 404 parts per million a month earlier than expected. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

Over the past decade, annual rates of atmospheric CO2 increase have remained in a range of around 2.2 parts per million (ppm) each year. It’s a geologically blinding pace of increase driven by a human carbon emission on the order of around 11 billion tons each and every year. Primarily driven by fossil fuel burning, this massive dumping of carbon into the atmosphere is steadily filling up a number of the world’s key carbon stores.

The oceans are brimming full with carbon — as we see in a rapidly rising rate of acidification.  The oceans are warming, steadily losing their ability to keep a higher fraction of greenhouse gasses stored in solution. The trees are lagging in their ability to draw carbon from the atmosphere — a symptom of a combined deforestation, wildfire proliferation, and endemic outbreaks of invasive species that prey on key trees. And the carbon store in the Arctic is showing signs that it may be actively venting higher volumes of greenhouse gasses back into the atmosphere and oceans.

As a leading indicator that some of these carbon stores are starting to fill up, or worse, dump a significant portion of their sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere, we would expect to see spiking levels of CO2 and CH4 in the global measures. Which is why when, starting on April 5 of 2015, Mauna Loa CO2 values shot up to around 404 to 405 parts per million in some of the hourly records, a few eyebrows were raised.

Implications of Hitting Expected Peak Values a Bit too Soon

Typically, atmospheric CO2 peaks around mid-May. And, for this year, following the 2.2 ppm increase trajectory, we would expect a May monthly value of around 404 parts per million. So readings in the range of 404 to 405 parts per million in early April are a significant jump well ahead of the expected marks. If this increase remained consistent and showed continued seasonal rise on through mid-May, it could skew April and May readings upward — well beyond a 2.2 ppm annual increase at peak.

mlo_one_month

(Consistently High CO2 values show up at the end of the monthly measure. Note the frequent hourly departures above 405 ppm. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

Typically, the difference between April and May monthly values is in the range of 0.5 to 1 ppm CO2. So an April Average near 404 ppm could yield a May average of 404.5 to 405 ppm or a 2.7 to 3.2 ppm increase over 2014 peak values. A significant high departure that could be a leading indicator of a bad response from the global carbon stores. This possibility was raised as daily Mauna Loa CO2 values ranged from 403.2 ppm through 404.9 ppm from April 5 to 14 and as weekly values for April 8-14 hit 403.9 ppm.

Signal or Noise?

Of course, these admittedly worrisome spikes could well be noise in the overall carbon system. CO2 values have tended to vary more wildly in the Mauna Loa measure recently. And average rates of increase from peak to peak could still fall into the standard range.

It is also worth noting that any major disruption in the global carbon system as it relates to CO2 would also show up as a trailing indicator in the CO2 airborne fraction measure. A higher level of emitted CO2 would remain in the atmosphere as sinks began to fail and as stores became sources. Such a carbon sink failure would eventually show up as a higher airborne CO2 fraction.

Overall, the airborne fraction measure is an indicator of how much of the carbon human beings emit into the atmosphere is being taken up by the global environment:

CO2 Airborne Fraction

(Airborne CO2 fraction showing global carbon dioxide emissions [as gigatons of carbon without oxygen molecular weight added] since 1960 through 2012 and amount of emitted CO2 that has remained in the atmosphere. Image source: James Hansen and The University of Columbia.)

Currently, the amount of carbon from CO2 remaining in the atmosphere is in the range of 45% of the human emission — or around 5 gigatons.

If carbon sinks are retaining their ability to uptake CO2, then the fraction will remain relatively low. If carbon sinks are over-topping and bleeding substantial volumes of their carbon back into the atmosphere, then the airborne fraction measure will tend to rise as a trailing indicator.

During recent decades, the airborne fraction has actually fallen as emissions ramped up — probably due to a combined increase in ocean surface exposure to CO2 and to an initial bump in the rate of CO2 respiratory uptake by photosynthetic life. But considering the very high volume of carbon being dumped into the global system coordinate with a wide variety of stresses to carbon stores resulting from both added heat and chemistry changes, these carbon sinks are under ever-increasing stress. A number of scientific studies have indicated a likely rise in CO2 airborne fraction, under business as usual fossil fuel emissions, to as much as 80 percent through 2100 — with start of carbon store failures during the current decade.

If carbon stores do begin to fail, we would first see atmospheric spikes in the global CO2 and CH4 measures. Then, as a trailing indicator, the CO2 airborne fraction measure would begin to ramp up. In this context, weekly CO2 spikes at Mauna Loa are some cause for concern, but we can’t make any strong calls of a larger carbon system response without a more consistent spike and, eventually, a jump in the airborne fraction.

To this final point, I’ll leave you with the somewhat related Mauna Loa CH4 measure which has, lately, also been showing an increasing rate of accumulation for that greenhouse gas:

Mauna Loa Methane Measure 2004 to 2015

(Mauna Loa Methane measure shows ramping up of atmospheric CH4 readings at that station. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

Links:

The Keeling Curve

Doubling Down on Our Faustian Bargain

Modeling The Atmospheric Airborne Fraction in a Simple Carbon Cycle Model

NOAA ESRL

Scientific Hat tip to Dr. James Hansen

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Kevin Jones

More Heat for the Human Hothouse: NASA Shows First Three Months of 2015 Were Warmest on Record

With El Nino firing off in the Pacific and polar amplification pushing to ever-greater extremes in the Arctic, 2015 is following hot on the heels of 2014’s record warmth. A situation that is increasing the likelihood that the 2014-2015 period will feature back-to-back record breaking years.

According to reports from NASA GISS, March of 2015 topped off at third hottest in the global climate record. The reading — at +0.84 C above the 20th Century average — fell just behind March of 2002 (+0.88 C) and March of 2010 (+0.87 C).

A very warm month in a trio of near record warm months that, when combined, exceeded the temperature departure for any January-through-March period in the global climate measure. The average for 2015’s first three months totaled +0.79 C above 20th Century climates, making it the hottest start for any year since 1880. The first three months of 2002 now come in as second hottest at +0.77 C — with 2007 and 2010 tied for the third hottest such period at +0.75 C.

These values are +0.99 C above 1880s averages and about +1.14 C above averages for the cool period at the start of the 20th Century. Ongoing and growing temperature departures representing a very rapid rate of temperature rise — one more than ten times faster than the warming that put an end to the last ice age.

A Heat Signature Consistent With Human-Forced Climate Change

Geographic Temperature Anomalies March NASA 2015

(Geographic disposition of temperature departures by NASA GISS.)

NASA’s geographic temperature anomalies map gives us a sense of the distribution of this extreme and record global heat.

Highest temperature departures occurred in an expansive zone from Northeastern Europe, through most of Siberia, and stretching on up into the high Arctic. This hot zone occurred in conjunction with persistent south to north air flows over the European and Asian Continents. These meridional patterns delivered substantial record heat to the Arctic, contributing to record low sea ice extent measures by end of month. This region also showed monthly anomalies in an extraordinary range of +4 to +7.5 degrees Celsius above average.

A second hot zone along the US and Canadian West Coast occurred in conjunction with a Ridiculously Resilient Ridge pattern and related south to north air flows. This region showed temperature departures in a range higher than 4 degrees Celsius above average and included extreme, 1,200 year, drought conditions for California combined with record heat and wildfires for this broader region.

Throughout the geographic temperature map provided by NASA, we find that most global regions experienced much warmer than normal temperatures — with the equatorial, tropical, and Northern Hemisphere zones showing the greatest departures.

Significant cool departures are either related to an apparent and ocean health threatening AMOC slow-down in the North Atlantic south of Greenland (Rahmstorf), include the Northeastern US and Canada, or involve the broader heat sink in the Southern Ocean. It is a distribution of broad, rapid warming and isolated localized cooling consistent with what global climate models have been predicting for human-forced climate change for many decades now.

These models predicted that the Northern Hemisphere Polar region would warm fastest and first, that the Southern Ocean would draw a greater portion of atmospheric heat into the ocean system, and that land ice melt near Greenland and West Antarctica would generate cold, fresh water flows into the nearby ocean zones and set off localized cooling. Atmospheric cooling, in this case, that would occur in isolation and in the context of a broader and rapidly warming global climate system together with a dangerous warming of the land ice sheets.

Zonal Anomalies Reveal Extraordinary Polar Amplification, Tell-Tale of Southern Ocean Heat Sink

Zonal Anomalies March

(NASA GISS zonal anomalies map for March of 2015)

The NASA zonal anomalies map is also consistent with an extraordinarily strong Northern Hemisphere polar amplification for March. One that jibes with predicted polar warming due to the human heat forcing. Here we find an extreme heat departure in the region of 85-90 North Latitude of +3.2 C for the month. Much of the Northern Hemisphere shows strong heat amplification with values above +1 C and rising in all the Latitudinal zones above 40 North.

All other zonal regions except the noted heat sink in the Southern Ocean show positive, though less extreme, temperature departures.

Overall, these are extraordinary and disturbing heat maps. Observations that validate many of the previous warming predictions. Maps that include the eerie tell-tale of an early Ocean Circulation slow-down in the North Atlantic. A set of observations that point toward a number of rather extreme weather and climate conditions for this year and for the years to follow.

Links:

GISS Surface Temperature Analysis

Atlantic Ocean Circulation Found to Slow Down

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading?

Hat Tip to Kevin Jones

Unprecedented Early Start to ‘Perma-Burn’ Fire Season — Deadly Wildfires Rage Through Siberia on April 12

Permafrost. Ground frozen for millennia. An enormous deposit of organic carbon forming a thick, peat-like under-layer.

Forced to warm at an unprecedented rate through the massive burning of heat-trapping gasses by human beings, this layer is now rapidly thawing, providing an amazing source of heat and fuel for wildfire ignition.

Joe Romm over at Climate Progress has long called this region ‘Permamelt.’ But, with a doubling of the number of wildfires for the high Arctic and an extension of the permafrost fire season into early April this year, we may well consider this to be a zone of now, near permanent, burning — Permaburn.

*   *   *   *  *

inside_burning_village_gv

(Massive outbreak of permafrost wildfires in Russia this week have left up to 34 villages in smoldering ruins. Image from Khakassia, Russia via The Siberian Times.)

For Khakassia, Russia the story this week has been one of unprecedented fire disaster.

Khakassia is located along a southern region of Siberia bordering northern Mongolia and Kazakhstan. It is an area that typically experiences cold temperatures — even in summer time. An area of frozen ground representing the southern boundary for Siberian permafrost. There, as with much of Siberia, temperatures have been forced to rapidly warm by human greenhouse gas emissions. And this added heat forcing has contributed to ever-more-powerful and extensive wildfires as the permafrost thawed — providing an ever-increasing volume of fuels for wildfires.

Last year, Siberian wildfires also came far too early — impacting a broad region near Lake Baikal, Russia during late April. But this year, the fires have come near the start of April. An extension of the burning season in Siberia inexorably toward the winter-spring boundary.

Khakassia Fires April 12 2015

(Extensive wildfires burn though Siberian Khakassia on April 12 of 2015. In the image, we can see down through a break in the cloud deck to view smoke plumes from scores of wildfires raging throughout the region. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 120 miles and the largest burn scars range from 3-5 miles across. As Siberian permafrost burn season progresses, we can expect fires that belch smoke plumes across the Northern Hemisphere emitting from burn scars as large as 30 miles or more across. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

This weekend, temperatures in Khakassia soared to 25 degrees Celsius — 15-20 degrees Celsius above average for daytime temperatures in this region even during recent warmer years (1979-2000). A near 80 degree Fahrenheit reading that would be warm in summertime — but one that cropped up in early April as a result of powerful and hot south to north air flows transporting heat across Asia and into the Arctic. These flows wound through Central Asia, warming Khakassia to record temperatures in their inexorable surge toward the pole.

The heat over Khakassia rapidly thawed surface vegetation, extending warmth deep into the thawing permafrost layer. The result was an outbreak of massive wildfires. Beginning this weekend the blazes have, so far, raged through 34 villages and been blamed for 1300 destroyed homes, the loss of nearly 4000 herd animals, 900 human injuries and 20 deaths. Such a fierce and destructive fire outbreak during summer would have been unprecedented. For this kind of event to occur in April, at the edge of Siberian winter, is nothing short of outlandishly strange.

Russian authorities have blamed the fires on a combination of hot weather and human burning. It is a tradition for Russian farmers to burn to clear fields during this time of year. And it is this practice that media is focusing on. However, traditional burning during spring did not historically result in the kinds of massive blazes that ripped through Khakassia earlier this week. Russian farmers, in this case, are unwittingly flinging matches into a tinderbed of rapidly thawing compost. A pile of warming and chemically volatile peat-like perma-burn that is providing more and more fuel for intense fires.

Links:

Siberian Wildfires — 17 Killed and Hundreds Injured as Blazes Sweep Through Siberia

Fire Death Toll Rises to 15 in Khakassia as Republic Mourns

Siberia Ravaged by Forest Fires

Permamelt — Climate Progress

When April is the New July — Siberia’s Epic Wildfires Come Far too Early

LANCE MODIS

At Start of 2015 Melt Season, Arctic Sea Ice is in a Terrible State

Strong Polar Amplification. With human-forced climate change, it’s normally something you’d tend to see during winter time. By spring, the increase in solar radiation in the Mid-Latitudes would tend to force a more rapid pace of warming there. The snow and ice cover, recently refreshed by winter, would be at highest annual albedo at winter’s end. That high albedo would create a warming lag from the upper Latitudes. The resulting increase in temperature differential would then tend to reinforce the Jet Stream — giving it a strengthening kick and providing the polar north with a kind of ephemeral haven. At least for a brief window during early spring time.

Not so with 2015. This Spring, the Jet has been a basketcase. A mess of meanders like a river finding its way through a wetland prior to joining the sea. Strong south to north flows have persisted over the North Atlantic and well into Western Siberia. These meridional patterns have repeatedly delivered heat into the Arctic — particularly through the oceanic gateway between Greenland and the Yamal region of Russia.

Unusually Warm Spring for The Arctic

For the past week, this pattern intensified and the result is a bulge of extreme heat extending on toward the North Pole in the broad zone between Greenland and Northwest Siberia:

21 h Thursday April 9 Arctic T Anomaly Map

In the above image, provided by Climate Reanalyzer, we find a classic polar vortex disruption type pattern (a rather odd event for April, as both polar amplification and vortex formation have both tended to fade by this seasonal period) in which the cold core is essentially ripped in half by warm air invading from the south. In this case, we see a massive warm air flood emerging from Eastern Europe, Western Russia and the North Atlantic riding up and over the polar zone across a warm frontal boundary. This greater warm air influx is joined with a lesser one emerging off the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge pattern off the US and Canadian West Coasts and flooding up over Alaska and the Mackenzie Delta region of Canada.

The cold cores are thus shoved aside. One has fled to a dubious haven over Eastern Siberia. The second has taken a stronger hold over Greenland. For the Greenland region, surface winds have encircled the new, displaced, cold pool, generating a temperature boundary that is sharply visible in the anomaly map. The dangerous weather-wrecking “Storms of My Grandchildren” Greenland melt and polar amplification pattern — featuring a Greenland cold pocket beside a meltwater-cooled North Atlantic zone surrounded by angrily warming regions.

High anomaly departures in the range of 15-20+ degrees C above average cover about 1/3 of the high Arctic region above 80 degrees North Latitude. Laptev, Kara, Barents and the Arctic Ocean proper are all included in the heat bulge. Temperatures in this zone today spiked to near or above the point at which sea ice melts at the surface (-2.5 C) with temperatures in the Kara in the 0 to -2 C range, temperatures in the Laptev in the -2 to -4 C range and temperatures within 100 miles of the pole hitting around -3.8 C. For this region, these are readings more typical to June or even July.

Record Low Start to Melt Season

The impacts to sea ice have been nothing short of unprecedented for early season melt.

In the extent measure we find that for the past month running we have been at or near new record lows. Over recent days, consistent with the strong surge of polar heat amplification, extent values have again plummeted past previous record low values. Dropping by more than 50,000 square kilometers for each day in the April 6-8 timeframe, the melt rate is exceedingly steep for this time of year. With April 8 achieving a new record low extent of 14,073,000 square kilometers — 95,000 square kilometers below the previous record low of 14,168,000 set in 2006.

Sea Ice Extent April 9

(Arctic Sea Ice Extent as recorded by NSIDC through April 9 of 2015. We are at the descending curve of the upper arc on the left in the image. The bottom dark blue line represents 2015 sea ice extent. The light blue and pink lines are 2007 and 2006 [previous record low years for springtime]. The upper dark blue line represents 1979 sea ice extent. The dotted green line represents 2012. Note how the 2015 line has consistently trended in record low range during the past month. Image source: NSIDC.)

As heat and sunlight build in this record low ice extent environment, greater stretches of dark, open water will trap more sunlight. This will tend to have a heat amplifying effect — pushing for greater ice losses as melt season gains traction. Weather trends will tend to have an impact as well. And Arctic Oscillation (AO) is expected to again hit a strongly positive level over the next couple of days — providing further melt pressure to sea ice already at record lows. Wind patterns have also tended to facilitate ice export through the Fram, Nares and Bering Straits this year. Given a predicted continuation of these conditions, the long term-trend seems to be melt-favorable through end of April.

Kara Melting Early, Beaufort Cracking Up

In the satellite shot the impacts of these much warmer than normal Arctic conditions are clearly visible. Particularly, the Kara Sea near Northwestern Siberia and the Beaufort are showing signs of melt stress and ice fragility.

For the Kara, melt is proceeding well in advance of typical seasonal thaw. Large polynyas have opened up even as the ice edge has retreated. Much of the ice in this zone appears broken, thin, and disassociated — making it vulnerable to both increasing solar radiation and to the periods of more intense warmth to come.

Kara Sea April 9

(The Kara Sea showing reduced sea ice coverage on April 9 of 2015. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

With 2015 showing a tendency for strong south to north air flows in this region, the Kara continues to be at risk of early melt through spring and into start of summer.

But perhaps more disturbing is an ongoing and widespread break-up of sea ice in the Beaufort. Starting in late March and continuing on through April, very large cracks have opened up throughout the Beaufort Sea. Given that air temperatures remain in a range cold enough to freeze surface water (-12 to -25 C), the resulting gaps have quickly frozen. However, this crack-up is occurring directly at melt season start. Warmth is building, the sun is at an ever higher angle, and the lower albedo cracks may well serve to capture more heat in an already vulnerable region. In addition, temperatures in the Mackenzie River Delta — a region that, when thawed, will dump above freezing water into the already broken Beaufort — are approaching the melt point (-4 C readings today and 0 C for widespread thaw).

Beaufort Breaking Up

(Large cracks and polynyas throughout the Beaufort Sea on April 10 of 2015. Left side of frame is somewhat covered by cloud, but a large polynya [partially frozen] is visible through the coverage. Image Source: LANCE MODIS.)

These cracks are very extensive and include multiple large breaks. A scene reminiscent of the winter 2013 break-up. But the current timing at melt season start is far more likely to enhance ice vulnerability as spring progresses toward summer. Also, the fragile behavior of this broad section of Beaufort ice illustrates how thin sea ice in this region has become even as it hints at the potential that warm water (which is increasingly prevalent at depth throughout the Arctic Ocean) may be upwelling to melt some of this sea ice from below.

Together, the warm air influx and very high temperature anomalies, the rapid melt at the edge zones, the record low extent levels, and the massive crack-up ongoing in the Beaufort all point to extreme sea ice weakness at the start of melt season. With weather patterns remaining neutral to melt-favorable over the next few weeks and with winds favoring export through the Fram, Bering and Nares, risks remain high that Arctic sea ice will remain in record low territory over the coming weeks. Sea ice fragility in certain regions, especially the Beaufort, also bear watching for possible unpleasant surprises.

Links:

Climate Reanalyzer

NSIDC

LANCE-MODIS

The Storms of My Grandchildren

The Arctic Ice Blog

Onrush of Second Monster Kelvin Wave Raises Specter of 2015 Super El Nino

And so it appears we are living in a time of Monster Kelvin Waves — powerful confluences of Pacific Ocean heat running just beneath the surface — bringing with them the potential for both record global temperature spikes and strong, climate-wracking El Nino events.

*   *   *   *   *

Last year, a powerful pulse of sub-surface heat called a Kelvin Wave rippled across the Equatorial Pacific. It shoved sub-surface temperature anomalies into an extreme range of 6 degrees Celsius above average at a depth of 90-130 meters over an equatorial zone stretching out for hundreds of miles. Overall, this heat surge pushed anomalies below the rippling waves of the vast Equatorial Pacific from New Guinea to the Central American Coastline above 1.8 degrees C hotter than average.

image

(Building heat in Pacific Equatorial Surface waters on April 9 of 2015 — a sign of a massive pulse of hotter than normal water running at about 100 meters depth. A heat pulse that may be setting in place conditions for a powerful El Nino later this year. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: Global Forecast System Model.)

This immense heat pulse was enough to shove the equatorial region inexorably toward El Nino status. By September, mid-ocean values were hot enough to have reached the critical threshold of 0.5 C above surface value average. Perhaps more importantly, the Winter/Spring 2014 Kelvin Wave also contributed to record positive PDO values for the Pacific by December of 2014. A surface heat departure that was unprecedented to modern climates. Block-busting ocean warmth that almost certainly spurred 2014 global atmospheric temperatures to new all-time record highs in the current age of human warming.

Monster Kelvin Wave Redux

Now, a second, and equally strong monster Kelvin Wave is again rippling across the Pacific Ocean subsurface zone. A powerful pulse of heat that will reinforce the current weak, mid-ocean El Nino, lend energy to ridiculously warm Pacific Ocean sea surface states, and pave the way for a long-duration equatorial heat spike.

monster kelvin wave redux

(Monster Kelvin Wave Redux. A second powerful Kelvin Wave is surging across the Pacific Equatorial Subsurface zones, strengthing prospects for both a continued El Nino and for a record hot year in 2015. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

As we can see in the NOAA CPC rendering above, the current Kelvin Wave is a massive and extraordinarily warm beast of a thing. It encompasses most of the thousands-miles broad Equatorial Pacific with its hottest zone peaking at 5-6 degrees Celsius above average temperatures — a region that stretches from near the Date Line all the way to just west of Central America. At +1.75 C for the entire below-surface equatorial region, the current Kelvin Wave is already approaching last year’s peak values. Values it may well exceed in the coming days.

Overall, the current Kelvin Wave seems to have more connection to the surface environment than last year’s powerful surge. A massive plug of Pacific Ocean heat readying to belch back into the atmosphere.

Some Models Show Potential For Super El Nino

Already, NOAA is upping its forecast chances for El Nino to continue through summer to 70 percent and is placing a greater than 60 percent chance that El Nino will stretch on through late autumn. An upshot from earlier predictions made just a little more than a month ago that El Nino formation for 2015 remained uncertain. Now, we have a rather high certainty that El Nino will continue throughout at least the next 4-6 months.

But perhaps more concerning is the fact that a strong El Nino is again starting to show up in some of the long range models. NOAA’s CFS ensemble shows El Nino continuing to steadily strengthen throughout 2015 reaching overall Nino 3.4 surface values above +2.1 C by October, November and December of this year:

nino34Sea

glbSSTSeaInd6

(Top frame shows predicted sea surface temperature anomalies in the critical Nino 3.4 zone exceeding 2.2 C by late 2015. Such an event would be a monster to rival or possibly exceed 1998. The lower frame shows sea surface temperature departures for the entire globe. Note the seasonal spike of 2-3+ C above average for the Eastern Equatorial Pacific. Image Source: NOAA’s Seasonal Climate Forecast.)

The departures we see in this long range forecast are extraordinary — rivaling or possibly exceeding the intensity of the 1998 Super El Nino. An event of this kind would result in powerful ocean and atmospheric surface temperature spikes, catapulting us well beyond the climate range previously established by the 1998 event. Globally, we would be entering new, record hot territory, possibly approaching 1 C above 1880s values for the 2015-2016 period.

Troubling Situation With High Uncertainty

As such, we should consider this to be a troubling situation, in need of close, continued monitoring. To this point, it is worth noting that El Nino prediction during Spring is highly uncertain. Last year’s very strong Kelvin Wave also set off predictions for a moderate-to-strong El Nino event by summer-through-fall. Though El Nino did eventually emerge, it was weaker and later in coming than expected. Now, a new set of conditions is setting up similar, and perhaps, even more intense ocean and atmosphere heat potentials.

Though still uncertain, what we observe now are ocean conditions that raise potentials for both extreme El Nino and human-warming related weather. Powerful ocean heat pulses of the kind we observe now, when combined with an extraordinary human greenhouse gas heat forcing, also increases the likelihood of another record warm year. El Nino associated droughts and heatwaves — particularly for South America, India, Australia and Europe through Central Asia are at rising risk. In the event of mid-ocean El Nino, the risk increases that the 1200 year California drought will continue or even intensify. If the heat pulse shifts eastward, a switch to much heavier rainfall (potentially terribly heavy) could coincide with a breaking of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge pattern that has warded moisture away from the US West Coast for nearly three years. Extra heat of this kind would also tend to enhance precipitation extremes — more rain when it does rain and far more intense drought in areas affected by heat and atmospheric ridging.

Given the patterns we have observed over the last year, we could expect worsening conditions for some regions (India, Australia, some sections of South America, Eastern Europe) and the potential for a shift from one extreme to the next for other regions (US West Coast). These potentials depend on the disposition and intensity of surface heat in the Pacific, which bears an even closer watch going forward.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

NOAA’s April 9 El Nino Statement

NOAA’s Seasonal Climate Forecast

Earth Nullschool

Global Forecast System Model

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths?

Atmospheric Warming to Ramp up as PDO Swings Positive?

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