Climate Change + El Nino Brings Epic Floods to Texas

Texas Floods

(MODIS satellite shot of the epic storms that drenched Texas on Tuesday. Extreme rainfall events of this kind are more likely in a warming atmosphere. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

For the US, it (global warming +  El Nino) means an increasing likelihood of heavy precipitation events from the southern plains states through the desert southwest. Storm track intensification through the Pacific to North America means that extreme rainfall events are a distinct possibility for states like Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.  — robertscribbler blog’s El Nino + Global warming forecast posted on May 15, 2015.

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It’s a summer of El Nino. And it’s a summer when human-caused global warming is now hitting new record hot extremes. A combination that spells big trouble for severe weather in various regions around the globe, including in the center mass of the United States.

If it was only a summer El Nino, the Central US wouldn’t have too much to be concerned about. Sure, the added Pacific Ocean heat would amplify the subtropical jet stream and assist in trough development over the region. Both factors that would somewhat intensify rainfall events during a typical summer.

But this is not a typical summer El Nino.

This summer El Nino is happening in conjunction with record low sea ice extents in the Arctic (see Baked Alaska graphic below) and record hot global temperatures in the range of +1 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages. The record low sea ice levels aid in ridge and trough development — spurring the formation of hot-cool temperature dipoles that feed storms. Extreme weather firing off in an essentially changed atmosphere. An atmosphere heated to levels likely not seen in all of the current Holocene interglacial and probably at least since the Eemian 150,000 years ago. It’s an extra level of heat that loads the atmosphere with a substantially greater amount of moisture (amplifying the hydrological cycle by 7 percent for each 1 degree C of warming). So when the storms do fire, they are now likely to dump much higher volumes of rain than we are used to.

Dipole anomaly NASA

(Extraordinary hotter north, cooler south dipole anomaly pattern that helped to feed instability and storm development over the Central US this week. The extreme warming in the Northwest Territory, Alaska and near Arctic Ocean region is a signature of global warming related polar amplification and sea ice loss in the Northern Hemipshere polar zone. It also likely has a teleconnection with both the current El Nino and the warm ‘blob’ of abnormally hot water in the Northeast Pacific. Image source: Earth Observatory — Baked Alaska.)

Such was the case with Texas on Tuesday and Wednesday where hundreds of homes were flooded, numerous lives lost, and hundreds of water rescues performed. In some regions, all-time record rainfall amounts were shattered. In Houston on Tuesday, hourly rainfall accumulations exceed 4 inches per hour (11+ inches daily accumulation for that city) — an extraordinary rate of rainfall no drainage system is designed to accommodate. Residents were stranded in cars for hours due to washed out roads or watched on in horror as the first floors of their homes were turned into strange flood-fueled washing machines.

It was a deluge that many compared with past record rainfall events spurred by hurricanes. But this was no hurricane, just a wave of intense storms rippling down an extreme trough in the Jet Stream and encountering an equally extreme atmospheric moisture loading.

Make no mistake, it was climate change and related human heating of the atmosphere that provided the steroids that pumped what would have been garden variety moderate to strong storms into the monsters witnessed on Tuesday and Wednesday. A billion dollar flood that, without climate change, would almost certainly have just been another summer shower.

Most news coverage of the event was decidedly narrow — focusing only on the extreme instances of weather and not on the clear global warming context. On Tuesday, Bill Nye, who’s been acting as a climate gadfly to an otherwise climate-change mum media posted the following tweet:

Bill Nye Climate Change

Billion$$ in damage in Texas & Oklahoma. Still no weather-caster may utter the phrase Climate Change. — Bill Nye

And as we’ve come to see time and again, the related climate change deniosphere led by the likes of Fox News and National Review had an epic meltdown as a result. Either denying climate change is happening at all or, as was the case with National Review, denying that policy action could have any impact to help what is an already worsening situation.

But the critical elements of the current event appear to have been lost in all the fuzz. The first is that it was predictable, if we just look at current weather (El Nino, insane trough development, and atmospheric moisture loading) in a climate change context. And the second is that if we continue to ignore climate change, people will not be warned in advance of events like the one that occurred last week. Events that we have proven are indeed predictable see here if looked at in the climate context (and if weather forecasters simply do the same).

Whether we respond rapidly through responsible policy action (which will certainly help to reduce the harm we are now causing, but not prevent all of it), or whether we listen to the voices of nonsense that helped get us into this mess in the first place and continue to delay action, there is certainly a degree of far worse weather in the pipe. And failing to report on climate change, as the media has largely done, increases risks for loss of life, property damage, and overall disruption.

So far, the flood death count for this week is 30 souls. If you’re a weatherman who’s ignoring climate change, or if you’re a media organization that’s preventing weather forecasters from talking about climate change, this should weigh heavily on your conscience.

Links:

Bill Nye Says Climate Change a Factor in the Texas Floods

Texas Flooding a Preview of Future Extreme Weather Events

LANCE-MODIS

Earth Observatory — Baked Alaska

How Global Warming Wrecks the Jet Stream, Amps up the Hydrological Cycle to Cause Dangerous Weather

Hat-Tip to Bruce

Arctic Sea Ice Conditions Worsen, Nightmare Melt Scenario in the Works?

It’s the end of a bad week in a bad month in a bad season in the all-too-bad, human-heated, era for Arctic sea ice. As of the middle of this week, both the US measure — NSIDC — and Japan’s measure — JAXA — were showing record low daily sea ice extents. The lowest levels in the history of Arctic sea ice observation for this time of year and likely the lowest levels for hundreds, even thousands of years.

As charts go, the JAXA graphic looks pretty amazingly ominous. A 2015 sea ice extent line diving below all others, steadily plumbing an abyss that, if not this year or the next, could lead to a dreaded blue ocean event in the not-too-distant future. The kind of upshot from human greenhouse gas emissions we thought we might see by 2080 or later. One that has become increasingly more likely during recent years and that some researchers are expecting could emerge by before 2020.

Sea ice extent

(JAXA sea ice measure plunging to new record lows on May 22 and now hitting a very steep angle of decline. Image source: JAXA Polar Research.)

Above you can seen the 2015 red line taking its most recent plunge after hovering very near to record low levels. According to JAXA’s Polar Research Center, sea ice extent dropped like a stone to 11.44 million square kilometers yesterday, or about 200,000 square kilometers lower than the previous record low value set in 2006.

Divergence in May

The problem is not just one of a new record low. It’s one of timing and divergence. Accelerated melt in the May-to-June time-frame can have serious impacts on late season ice. The reason is that greatly reduced ice coverage also reduces albedo or reflectivity. The result can be compounded warming and increased heat absorption by darker surfaces under the 24 hour Arctic sunlight of June and July.

Large open stretches of ocean also enable swell formation, which can chew away the ice. And already we can see very large sections of dark, low albedo, ocean forming throughout many vulnerable regions.

Arctic ice visual May 22

(MODIS satellite shot shows widespread regions of open ocean and far northward melt advance for this time of year. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

For this time of year, we have very advanced sea ice loss and open ocean development in the regions of the Chukchi, the Beaufort, Northern Baffin Bay and the Kara. In addition, large open water areas are now becoming visible in the Laptev. A far northern extent of sea ice melt for May in addition to typical seasonal losses coming from Hudson Bay and southern Baffin Bay.

Such record low ice totals at this time of year can enable far greater melt advance by end season if the weather stacks up in all the wrong ways. And, at least for the next week, the weather forecast is tilting ever more heavily toward a melt-enhancing extreme warming of Arctic regions.

Arctic Warm Air Invasion Forecast to Continue

Over the next seven days, heat is predicted to continue to flood from south to north — goaded along by high amplitude ridges in the Jet Stream continuing to form over Northwestern North America and the Siberian region adjacent to the Kara Sea. The warm flux zones are forecast to deliver unseasonable, above average temperatures to the Arctic — resulting a general state of much warmer than normal conditions for the entire Arctic Ocean by late next week.

Air Temperature Anomaly ArcticAir Temperature Arctic May 29

(Side-by-side comparison of Arctic temperature anomaly forecast [left] and 2 meter temperature forecast [right] for May 29, 2015 in the GFS model run as provided and graphically displayed by Climate Reanalyzer. It’s worth noting that such extreme anomalies are very unusual for Arctic Ocean regions during late spring and summer.)

As a result, we see temperature anomalies for the entire Arctic Ocean zone hitting a range of between 5 and 15 degrees Celsius above average for next Friday (May 29, 2015). Such a warm air surge would push temperatures in the above freezing range for almost the entire Arctic Ocean area. These are temperatures more typical of late June and early July. Conditions that, should they emerge, would result in a multiplication of ice-threatening melt ponds, a further expansion and warming of already unseasonably large open water zones, and a forcing of more ice-eating, high heat content water vapor into the Arctic environment.

Any forecast is subject to uncertainty. Rapid May melt during 2013 and 2014 stalled out during June of those years. However, May melt is significantly more advanced this year than during those years. And, as opposed to 2013 and 2014, GFS model forecasts showing warmer than normal conditions have tended to be correct. The warm air slots over Northwest North American and Western Siberia are also very well established at this time.

Melt Ponds Barrow May 22

(Snow cover gone, melt ponds plainly visible at Barrow Alaska today. Proliferation of melt ponds during May and June can greatly enhance risk of record low totals come August and September. Image source: Barrow Sea Ice Cam.)

As a result, there’s high risk that the current record lows now appearing in the NSIDC and JAXA measures with continue to deepen over the coming week. It’s an utterly wretched situation for sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere. One that will bear very close watching as the risks now appear to be heading toward some unsettling markers.

Links:

NSIDC Arctic Sea Ice

JAXA Polar Research Center

LANCE-MODIS

Climate Reanalyzer

Barrow Sea Ice Cam

Summer El Nino on The Way; Long Range Models Are Still Freaking Out

Well, it’s official. According to NOAA’s May 14 update, we are now looking at a 90 percent chance that El Nino conditions prevail through Northern Hemisphere Summer and a greater than 80 percent chance El Nino will last throughout all of 2015:

El Nino Potential through 2015

(Climate Prediction Center’s ENSO probability forecast shows 90 percent chance of El Nino through June, July and August and a greater than 80 percent chance that El Nino continues on through to the end of this year. Image source: CPC/IRI.)

What this means, especially when we add in likely record warm global atmospheric temperatures (due to an excessive burning of fossil fuels by human beings) throughout the El Nino event period, is some rather odd, and probably extreme summer weather.

For the US, it means an increasing likelihood of heavy precipitation events from the southern plains states through the desert southwest. Storm track intensification through the Pacific to North America means that extreme rainfall events are a distinct possibility for states like Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. California may even see some abnormal summer rainfall, taking a bit of the edge off the current drought.

Moving southward, we find drier conditions for equatorial South America and warmer than normal conditions for much of Brazil and Chile. Northern Hemisphere Summer El Nino also enhances the risk of drought throughout Australia, Southeast Asia, and India. In particular, India is vulnerable to monsoonal disruption due to emergence of El Nino during summer time. Enhanced precipitation near the date line also can spur increased cyclone development for the Western Pacific.

Northern Hemisphere teleconnections

(A geographic representation of major prevailing summer El Nino teleconnections. Image source: Berkley.)

These sets of atmospheric changes are what we could generally expect from a typical El Nino emerging throughout Northern Hemisphere summer. But we’re not really dealing with normal conditions. We’re dealing with global temperatures in the range of +0.8 degrees C above 20th Century averages and + 1 C above 1880s averages. As such, we should probably look to the margins for potential added impact.

Two areas in particular come to mind when considering such outliers. The first region is a zone from Ukraine through to Western Russia. Under added human heat forcing and conditions prevalent during summer El Ninos, this region shows an increased likelihood of drought and heatwave. A vulnerability that became particularly apparent during the El Nino of 2009-2010. Drought conditions are somewhat widespread for that region already this year. In addition, atmospheric high pressure development in this vulnerable area would now, with the enhanced surface warming due to human heat forcing, telegraph into the Arctic through a vulnerable zone near Yamal and the Kara and Laptev Seas. This would particularly enhance snow melt, permafrost thaw, and sea ice melt throughout this region. So with El Nino now a summertime certainty, this broader area certainly bears watching.

El Nino Teleconnection

(El Nino teleconnection to warming in Northwestern North America through to the Arctic Ocean and in regions of Central, Western and Northern Asia are possible this summer. Above is a GFS model  forecast temperature anomaly summary provided by The University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer.)

The second region to look out for is the zone ranging from Northwest Canada through Alaska and on into the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Summer El Ninos tend to enhance warming for this region. When adding in an already persistent heating throughout 2015 winter and spring, the area will fall under greatly heightened risk of severe wildfires and extreme and early snow and sea ice melt. Early extreme wildfires in British Columbia combined with rapid sea ice recession already ongoing through the Beaufort and Chukchi may well be indications that such a trend has already asserted.

Some Long Range Models Are Still Freaking Out Over a Potential Monster El Nino Later This Year

Moving beyond summer, we find a wide range of model consensus estimates showing strong El Nino by fall and winter of this year. NINO 3.4 departures from an average of global model ensembles compiled by Weather Underground hit a value of +1.7 C by September. A level just below the so-called Super El Nino Threshold of +1.8 C.

NOAA CFSv2 ensembles have continued to ramp higher. Weighted seasonal means have now spiked to +2.75 C for the key NINO 3.4 region with unweighted ensembles hitting +3 C for October, November and December. Weighted monthly means have spiked to +3 C anomaly for November while unweighted anomaly values for the same month have proceeded off the charts to an implied +3.5 C:

Nino 3.4 Monthly Anomalies May 15

(Some El Nino forecast models, like the one above, are really freaking out about the potential for a monster event by the end of this year. This NOAA model is basically off the charts. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

Should these predicted values emerge, they will literally blow the 1998-1999 Super El Nino out of the water. A monster event to shatter all records.

It’s likely that the currently extreme subsurface temperatures due to a very strong warm Kelvin Wave as well as continued powerful west wind back-bursts have kicked these models into freak out mode. And it’s certainly an issue worth keeping an eye on.

But it’s also worthwhile to consider that global deep ocean and atmospheric dynamics will push to cool equatorial Pacific waters during September, which would tend to tamp down warming extremes. A factor that many models, which measure the shallow water zone primarily, tend to miss.

Dr. Kevin Treberth, a top expert on El Nino and Ocean Temperature dynamics, notes to Weather Underground in a recent interview that:

“What happens after this Kelvin wave response is all over the place. This El Niño is being fought by the annual cycle, which tries to make SSTs cold by Sept-Oct.  That tendency keeps the warmest waters back near the International Date Line and cuts off the Bjerknes feedback.  If the SSTs develop to be big enough to overcome the annual cycle tendencies, then the Bjerknes feedback can kick in.”

For reference, Bjerknes feedback involves storm formation and subsequent west wind backbursts east of the Date Line and on toward South America. A feedback that tends to trap and channel ocean surface heat into the relevant El Nino zones and generally enhance warm sea surface temperature anomalies:

Bjerknes Feedback

(Graphic illustration of Bjerknes feedback showing sea surface temperature anomalies in the color measure and direction of wind flow indicated by black lines. It’s feature influenced by a general shoving of the Walker Cell eastward [implied but not shown]. Image source: ENSO as an Integrating Concept of Earth Science.)

So, at this point, we have a lock on a weak to moderate El Nino event continuing through this summer. After that time, an unprecedentedly warm Kelvin Wave will do battle with a seasonal tendency for cooling in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific. And if it wins out, we may see something never before recorded in the whole of the Earth Sciences — which would be very bad news for rates of global surface temperature increase this year, along with a huge number of other issues.

If not, we likely have a mid ocean El Nino through Fall and Autumn. And that may be bad news for a California desperately in need of drought relief.

Links:

NOAA’s May 14 El Nino Update

CPC/IRI

Berkley

Climate Reanalyzer

Weather Underground

ENSO as an Integrating Concept of Earth Science

From Siberia to British Columbia Arctic Wildfires Begin an Ominous Ignition

It’s abnormally warm today near Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territory. And the smell of smoke from massive fires to the west lingers in the air.

Temperatures there yesterday afternoon read 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Where I sat typing this blog in Gaithersburg, Maryland, it was a somewhat cooler 67. A north-south temperature flip-flop that has become all-too-common in recent years. A warming in the Arctic that sets the stage for gargantuan summer wildfires burning through some of the world’s greatest carbon stores. Vast and thawing permafrost deposits stretching in a great arc from Siberia through Alaska and on into Northern Canada. Immense loads of fuel for a newly forming ring of fire that is now an entirely human invention.

image

(It was pretty darn hot near Great Slave Lake, NWT territory Wednesday. 80 degree readings in a polar region that, on average, should be in the mid 40s as a daily high for May 13. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Now, fires are starting to flare around this broad stretch of once-frozen lands rapidly warmed by an unprecedented belching of heat-trapping gasses into the Earth’s atmosphere. Though the fires are not yet widespread, many are rather large — erupting over a smattering of areas. It is not typical for large fires of this kind to appear at all in May. Nor is it usual to find them in regions girding the Arctic at this time.

Lake Baikal Fires Still Burn

The first set of blazes ignited during mid April of 2015 through a permafrost zone in the Lake Baikal region of Russia. Though the fires appear to have backed off from the towns and settlements they threatened at that time, they have continued to burn unabated — fading and flaring more than most of the past month.

Lake Baikal Wildfires

(In the above MODIS satellite shot from NASA we see numerous fires still burning near Lake Baikal in Russia. Note the multiple dark burn scars covering vast stretches of land near upper center frame. For reference, the larger, still burning fires in this shot range from about 3-8 miles wide. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

As the more southerly fires continued to burn through thawing permafrost zones, blazes began to erupt further and further north. As of this week, the fires have marched to the shores of Lake Baikal itself, scorching their black scars in the Earth like some great fire giant’s footprints.

Wildfires in Central Siberia

Leaping over Lake Baikal and moving north and westward we come to the great open spaces of Siberia. Here, in recent years, vast fires have burned through grass, forest and permafrost alike. Few settlements dot the wide expanses. So fire suppression efforts have only rallied when towns and cities were threatened. Meanwhile, the once frozen regions all about have increasingly caught fire. Turning the place into a land of summer flame.

Central Siberian Fires

(Fires igniting along valleys and ridge lines in Central Siberia. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

By Wednesday, a quartet of significant fires had erupted along a hilly region in Central Siberia. Tuesday, there was but a single blaze. Now four rage across a region that has felt an extraordinary warming not only this year, but for a long succession of years now stretching on for many decades.

Beyond these newly emerging fires, we begin a pass over the wide open plains of Siberia. There we note a tell-tale whiff of smoke or three. But no large burn points are visible in the moderate resolution satellite shot. Continuing on to just south of Yamal, Russia where the odd methane blow holes first appeared last summer we find a region still mostly frozen. But thaw is predicted to come quickly — coincident with a rapid warm up forecast for the next week.

Norman Lake Fires British Columbia

Shifting still westward we cross over Northern Europe, the Atlantic, a thawing Hudson Bay and return to where we started our narrative in Northwest Territory Canada. To near 80 degree Fahrenheit temperatures at Great Slave Lake. And to a thick cloud of smoke issuing up from the nearby valleys of Northern British Columbia.

Norman Lake Wildfire

(Norman Lake Fire in the MODIS satellite shot on Wednesday, May 13. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

There, near Prince George, at Norman Lake, a massive wildfire erupted earlier this week. Unable to contain it, more than 100 firefighters and numerous helicopter and heavy equipment crews quickly found themselves fighting a defensive battle against a rapidly expanding blaze. By this morning, the Norman Lake fire had more than quadrupled to 80 square kilometers in size. Indications from the above satellite shot are that the fire is still growing.

The massive blaze forced two regional districts to issue evacuation orders or alerts and more than 80 people to evacuate residences. Meanwhile, B.C. has closed its Dahl Lake and Bobtail Mountain provincial parks until further notice.

Conditions in Context

For wide stretches of the Arctic, especially in Central Siberia and Western Canada, winter heat and early spring melt are contributing to a very high risk of wildfires. In addition, the decadal warming forced by human-caused climate change is thawing ever greater portions of permafrost, which also adds near surface fuels to traditional brush and woodlands fires.

The early and intense fires we are seeing now represent just the beginning of what is likely to be an extreme fire event for these regions. At this point, we are looking at a worsening fire potential stretching from now through mid September for these vulnerable Arctic zones.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

Earth Nullschool

UPDATE: Wildfire South of Norman Lake Now 8000 Hectares in Size

Siberia’s Road to a Permaburn Hell

No Pause — NASA Shows Human Hothouse Maintaining Record High Temperatures for 2015

GISS Pulse

(What 2015 temperatures would look like on the annual graph if the +0.79 C departure maintained throughout the present year. Problem is, there’s at least some risk warming could intensify. Image from Tamino’s recent blog post which, justifiably, rips the fussy math of Anthony Watts and ‘friends’ into tiny little pieces.)

It’s an El Nino year. It’s a year in which global CO2 averages are hitting above 400 parts per million for the first time in at least 3 million years. And it’s a year in which CO2 equivalent values for all greenhouse gasses (including methane, nitrogen compounds and other exotic heat trapping gasses) that humans have emitted are nearing 485 parts per million.

Added together — the equatorial Pacific Ocean taking a break in its duties as atmospheric heat sink (El Nino) combined with the immense volume of heat trapping gasses human beings have now loaded into the atmosphere — it’s more than enough to force global temperatures into territory likely not seen since the Eemian interglacial period 150,000 years ago.

Temperatures Continue March into Eemian Ranges

And NASA GISS, in its monthly report, is showing global temperatures that are edging into the Eemian range. First, April of 2015 came in at 0.75 Celsius (C) hotter than NASA’s global 20th Century benchmark (0.95 C hotter than 1880). This represents the second hottest value for April on record in the entire 135 year climate record, coming in just a bit cooler than the 0.83 C departure for 2010. Meanwhile, hindsight adjustments have found that the January-through-March period was warmer than earlier indicated — with new departures hitting +0.76 (Jan), +0.80 (Feb), and +0.85 (Mar).

Combined, the average of these first four months is +0.79 C above 20th Century measures. Or about +0.99 C above 1880s values. This puts us well outside the context of the 10,000 year period beginning at the end of the last ice age (Holocene) and edges us into a range more typical to the Eemian. A time when sea levels were between 6 and 8 meters (20-25 feet) higher than today.

Polar Amplification and the Greenland Cool Pool

Looking at the global temperature anomaly map provided by NASA, we can see where much of this extra heat accumulated throughout April:

Global Temps NASA April 2015

(NASA GISS global temperature anomalies map for April of 2015. Image source: NASA.)

Here we find that polar amplification for the upper Northern Hemisphere latitudes was continuing to hit high marks. Broad south-to-north wind flows over central Asia drove a powerful warming spanning up from Lake Baikal in Russia, on through Central Siberia, up over the Yamal region and into the High Arctic. Average temperatures for the month in this zone ranged from 2 C to as high as 6.9 C above average. Another zone of extreme warmth sprawled out over Western North America and into the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea regions. There, temperatures ranged between 1-4 C above 20th Century averages.

Other notable warm regions included the Equatorial Pacific — showing a band of 1-2 C departures in association with a developing El Nino — and the West Antarctic Peninsula, which saw heating in the range of 2-4 degrees Celsius above average for most of the month.

Overall, most of the globe showed above average readings with cool pools relegated to isolated regions. In particular, the distribution of cool temperatures near Greenland is somewhat disturbing. It’s an indication of increased glacial melt outflows from Greenland ice sheets into the North Atlantic. It’s also a validation of climate model analysis of human-caused global warming — which indicated cooling near Greenland due to a combination of ice sheet and ocean responses to heating the Earth-Ocean System. The ocean response — a dangerous slowing of Atlantic thermo-haline circulation — was also identified in a recent paper by Rahmstorf.

Zonal anomalies April of 2015

(NASA Latitudinal temperature anomalies again shows strength of Northern Hemisphere polar amplification. Image source: NASA.)

NASA zonal anomalies also continue to validate climate model predictions for human-caused warming. Here we find the predicted extreme polar amplification — more rapid warming of the Northern Hemisphere polar zone than the rest of the world — clearly indicated. There, in the 60-90 North Latitude zone we find temperatures ranging from 1-3.5 Celsius above the 20th Century global average. A rate of warming far exceeding any other region.

All other Latitudinal zones show about a +0.75 C above average temperature departure. The first noted exception is the heat sink in the Southern Ocean (at -0.5 to +0.5 C in this measure) which continues to uptake atmospheric heat, transfer it to the middle ocean and, by Ekman pumping through storm action, deliver it exactly where it is least needed — along the basal regions of various melting Antarctic ice shelves. The second is marked by a zone of March-April storm intensification along the Antarctic Continent and Southern Ocean boundary centering at 75 degrees South (-0.5 to -1 C).

Conditions in Context

Overall, temperatures at +0.99 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages for the first four months of 2015 should be cause for concern. We still have El Nino ramping up in the Pacific. And with some models showing the event could be quite powerful, the added boost to global heating we are seeing now could well ramp higher later this year. In addition, we are entering an Arctic melt season that is showing some risk of pushing Arctic sea ice into new record lows — at least early in the melt season. Such an event would further tilt the globe toward record heat by reducing ice-based light and heat reflectivity in the Arctic at times of 24 hour sunlight (May through July).

As such, there is risk that already record warming seen since 2014 and into 2015 could continue and, potentially, ramp higher through the end of this year.

Links:

NASA GISS

Standing on the Shores of Disaster

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell

Catch 22 No 1

Steaming Equatorial Pacific Sees Winds Blowing Toward Monster El Nino

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

Sea Ice Testing New Record Lows as Heat Wave Invades Northwest Territories

For 2015, it looks as if Arctic sea ice is sitting in some rather hot water.

For from the Chukchi to the Beaufort to Hudson Bay to Baffin Bay and on into the Kara, the edge region of the Arctic Ocean is feeling a very strong melt pressure during early May of 2015. And, according to 7-10 day forecasts, that melt pressure will only intensify. As a result, we could see new record lows for Arctic sea ice extent over the next few days.

Early Melt for the Chukchi and Beaufort

Arctic warming is now particularly intense along a broad region running from coastal Alaska through to the Mackenzie Delta and on into the northwestern portion of the Canadian Archipelago. It’s an area that typically waits until at least June to melt. But, this year, sea ice recession, break-up and opening of large polynyas for this far northern area is occurring almost in tandem with melt in more southerly regions like Hudson Bay.

For both the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas are continuing an early melt that began in March and has proceeded on to this day.

Chukchi melt may 11

(Chukchi Sea north of the Bering Strait showing early melt and break-up on May 11, 2015. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

In the image above we can see the MODIS satellite shot for the Chukchi Sea region on May 11, 2015. Note both the fractured nature of sea ice, the ice edge retreat that has already progressed well past the Bering Strait (a retreat far beyond a steadily retreating average extent line), and the very large polynya advancing into the Chukchi along the northern edge of Alaska.

It’s a melt that has been spurred by powerful southerly air flows and wind-driven currents issuing from the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean to the south. There, a cluster of storms continued to back up and deflect northward toward the Arctic as powerful high pressure ridges remained entrenched over a pool of record warm water in the Northwestern Pacific.

Beaufort melt may 11

(Beaufort Sea ice near Mackenzie Delta showing advanced signs of break-up on May 11 of 2015. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

These same ridges are driving warm air up over the western region of the North American Continent. This flood of warm air has persistently invaded the Northwest Territory of Canada, forcing an early melt of the Mackenzie River. The heat has also frequently invaded the southern Beaufort Sea. The result is that the sea ice there is greatly fractured and that a large polynya dominates a wide area bordering Alaska, the Mackenzie Delta, and the Canadian Archipelago.

This polynya extends about 650 miles, has a width ranging from 15 to 80 miles and stretches 250 miles into the Canadian Archipelago between the Northwest Territory mainland and Banks and Victoria Islands. Many hundreds of miles to the north and east of this large polynya, is a mess of fractured ice rippling out through the Beaufort Sea. A massive disassociated ice flow that belies great general weakness for sea ice in the region.

Risk of Rapid Melt

As melt season progresses, these wide, dark areas of open ocean will serve to trap the radiant heat of 24 hour sunlight. The expansive stretches will generate swells that tear away at the surrounding ice. Already fractured ice flows will retain far less integrity than the contiguous, and far thicker, ice of years past. These combined factors set up conditions that can greatly enhance and speed the rate of ice loss as the spring advances into summer.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent May11

(NSIDC shows sea ice extent at second lowest on record for May 11, 2015. Rate of decline implies a plunge toward the 2006 record low line. Image source: NSIDC.)

This risk is particularly relevant when we consider that sea ice extent measures were at record low values throughout about half of March and for brief periods during early April. Currently, sea ice extent is at its second lowest level on record. A value that is now rapidly plunging toward the record low line set in 2006. Any continuation of the current rate of decline would bring the extent measure into new record low territory over the next few days.

A weekly continuation of this trend could push extent values far into record low territory, further worsening sea ice prospects for the broader 2015 melt season.

GFS 7 day Arctic Warmth

(7 day forecast shows Arctic heatwave building through the Northwest Territory. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

To this point, 7 day forecasts predict a massive warm-up building over Alaska and the Northwest Territory through May 19th. Temperatures over land in this area are expected to build into the 70s and low 80s. This extreme warmth, in the range of 10-20 Celsius above average (18 to 36 Fahrenheit), will stretch all the way to Arctic Ocean shores off the back of a ridiculously resilient ridge in the Jet Stream. A ridge that has persisted, off and on, for much of the past three years. Above freezing temps will pulse out from the ridge to cover most of the Chukchi and almost all of the Beaufort — adding melt pressure to already fragile sea ice conditions for that region.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

NSIDC

Climate Reanalyzer

California’s Great Wilting — Lake Mead Heading Toward Rationing Line, Extreme Fire Hazard as 12.5 Million Trees Stand Dead, Agriculture Under Threat

(Video provided by NASA Goddard)

According to the California Government, State snowpack levels are now at 1 percent of average. That’s not just the lowest ever recorded. That’s about as close to zero as one can get without actually hitting zero.

“I don’t think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen. We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California.” — Stephen Chu in a public press release six years ago.

*    *    *    *    *

Southwest megadrought. For more than 20 years now, climate models have been indicating rising risk of severe, multi-decade drought for this region of the US as a result of human-caused global warming. For years, we’ve watched the warnings mount. And for years we’ve watched as climates for that region grew drier and drier.

Warming seeped into the region, driving snow packs higher, or off the mountains entirely. Critical stores through dry summer months, these zones of mountain snow and ice serve as aquifers for human beings, shrubs and trees, and local animals alike. Their dwindling alone left the region more vulnerable to drought conditions.

But further-reaching changes — warming in the nearby ocean, and a recession of sea ice in the Arctic — also tilted the odds toward drought. Heating in the near shore waters of the Northeastern Pacific served as a kind of barrier to storm systems running across the wide ocean. Loss of sea ice in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas provided a heat stress to that Arctic region. The net result was conditions that preferentially enabled the development of dry high pressure systems along the North American West Coast. A condition many have come to call — the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.

As the climate continues to warm, these conditions — local, regional, and global — enforce a kind of tilting toward drier and drier conditions. Conditions that models show may result in worse droughts than even the one we are seeing now. Droughts that last, not for four years, but for ten years, twenty years, thirty years or more. It’s a problem we’re just starting to deal with now. But if you think this is bad, warm the world by another 0.5 C, or 1 C, or 2 C and you probably really don’t want to see what’s in store.

For according to a February article in National Geographic and based on studies published by NASA, Columbia University and Cornell:

The chances of a 35-year or longer “megadrought” striking the Southwest and central Great Plains by 2100 are above 80 percent if the world stays on its current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions.

California Hitting Water Limits

But the current drought, though not yet a ‘megadrought,’ is more than bad enough. Aptly called epic, the powerful and ongoing lock on California moisture has wrung out aquifers, pushed snowpacks to below 1 percent of usual levels for springtime, greatly depleted ground water supplies, and forced an additional 25 percent water rationing across the state.

Stresses to water supplies — not only for California, but for many other states as well — are mounting. Key Aquifers, like Lake Mead in Northern Arizona, are hitting levels where downstream rationing may be required. A shock that would send impacts rippling on through the entire US Southwestern water supply.

California Drought April 20 2014

(Nearly 50 percent of California is now under the most severe drought conditions we have a measure for. A total of more than 37 million people in California alone are impacted by drought at this time. Image source: US Drought Monitor.)

Expert climate spotter Andy in San Diego has been providing situation discussion in this forum on the drought there for weeks. Of particular concern are water levels at Lake Mead — which are fast approaching the line where water rationing to various locations across the Southwest goes into effect as a requirement by law.

Yesterday, Andy noted in discussion here that:

Lake Mead is at 1078.79. [Approximately] 4 ft from the start of cutoffs. It appears Arizona gets [rationed] first at 1075 in some documentation, Nevada in others. Outflows from Mead were … shut off Saturday & Sunday. Starting Saturday, outflows from Lake Powell were cranked up by about 1000 [cubic feet per second]. … At this point, inflows to Powell are being sent downstream to Mead immediately. I see a bit of gambling here hoping for decent inflows to Powell in Late May through early July. Unfortunately, snow pack above Powell is pretty much non existent. Powell is at ~44% full pool. Mead is at ~38%. This will be an interesting summer, it appears that all of the Hail Mary’s have been used for 2015 already. (some edits for clarity)

Since Andy’s update yesterday, Lake Mead levels had fallen further to 1078.55 feet — just 3.5 feet above levels where rationing requirements begin.

12.5 Million Dead Trees Could Fuel Epic Fire Season

As key US aquifers hover over mandatory rationing levels, impacts to wildlife across California are growing more and more extreme. Anyone having watched Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s amazing Cosmos series may have noted dessicated, browned grasses and fields in the background of some shots. The reason for this is that many of Tyson’s narrations were filmed on location in California. And, at the time — in 2014 — California’s epic drought was really starting to bite deep.

How deep had not yet become apparent. But new reports out yesterday began to shed light on what is an amazingly stark situation.

According features in the Washington Post and elsewhere, more than 12.5 million trees perished in California alone last year due to extreme drought conditions. Encompassing more than 1 million acres, it’s a swath of forest the size of Rhode Island — now filled with withered trees. Key plants necessary for a variety of life and land supports including moistening the air, anchoring the soil, and providing homes for communities of creatures.

tree-drought-death

(USDA photo shows swaths of dead trees in California pine forest. Image source USDA via CBS Local.)

Research indicated that not only did the heat and drought stress the trees. But the warm conditions favored the invasion of tree-devouring beetles. Wood-devouring insects that thrive in the hot, dry conditions put in place by the ongoing drought.

The dead trees are bad enough. But put them smack dab in the worst drought on record for California and they are an extreme fire hazard.

Since late 2013, fire season has never really ended for California. It’s flared and dwindled, but wildfire burning has continued regardless of season due to both extreme heat and drying. Summer months are the worst times, though, and this year’s very extreme conditions has California fire planners very worried.

At issue are all the millions and millions of dead trees. Sitting in the sun, dried and wrung of all moisture, they’re essentially large stacks of kindling. Fuels that could rapidly ignite given even the smallest spark.

A recent program on NPR highlights the hazard:

Cambria, Calif. is under an emergency fire declaration. There’s no actual fire, no smoke, but here’s the situation broken down by Cambria Fire Chief Mark Miller. If a fire started today under the circumstances that exist……In the first 20 minutes, it would be six acres, and there would be two houses involved.

US Agriculture Under Threat

But not only is California now a fire-vulnerable land of browned, snowless mountains, rapidly dwindling water supplies, and dessicated, dying, beetle devoured plant life. It is a place that hosts the heart of US produce production. A vital source of food for the US and for the world that is now under threat.

Central Valley California, according to a new report in Think Progress, is the production hub for more than 90 percent of the United States’ fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s a condition that arose from a combination of slick marketing, a host of unique micro-climates suited to practically every form of vegetable, and a domination of (mostly corn and soy) mono-cropping throughout the productive regions of the Central US. Essentially, mono-cropping in the plains drove the majority of produce farmers to the West Coast.

And, as result, most of the fresh vegetables Americans enjoy are all grown from one basket. A basket that is now baking under a merciless California sun. Everything from lettuce to avocados to tomatoes to almonds to oranges, and so many more, are now at risk.

California Aquaduct

(The majority of California agriculture is irrigation-based — supplied by aqueducts like the one shown above. Aqueducts like this one also add flood risk due to enhanced potential of extreme rainfall events due atmospheric heating combined with land subsidence due to ground water depletion. Image source: Public Herald.)

Fully 80 percent of California’s water supply goes to food growers. It’s a stream of vital water that proceeds from California aquifers to farmers and then directly to your dinner table. A stream that Governor Jerry Brown has refused to cut at any cost. But despite increasingly draconian water rationing to other sectors, farms are still feeling a hit. In 2014, nearly 500,000 acres of cropland lay fallow. A number that could more than double by the end of this year. With so much of California’s water evaporating, with so many wells running dry, even water protected for farm use takes a hit.

In this way, ongoing drought in California is a direct threat to US food security. A fact that hasn’t been missed by food experts like John Ikerd who recommend a widespread re-localization of produce production to add resiliency to the US food supply in the face of growing climate challenges.

But the fact that we may need such a reorganization, together with the fact that the current California drought is an early, easier outlier of what is to come, highlights our vulnerability. Warming of the Earth System is already shocking the US and global food system to such a degree that it is calling into question the future of US produce production.

Strong El Nino is No Cure

Among many, hopes are that a strong El Nino may deliver a drought-breaking flood of moisture by the end of this year. And while there is growing indication that a monster El Nino may be developing in the Pacific, such an event would be no cure for poor climate-changed California. In fact, such an event could produce floods that further impact agriculture — stripping denuded landscapes and flushing vital soil nutrients down streams and into a eutrophying ocean.

The ground there is baked, subsided. The pores in the earth closed up, creating a tablet effect for water ponding. The fires have stripped trees and brush from hillsides, resulting in landslide hazard.

And the kind of rainfall a 2.5 to 3 C anomaly event (that some models are indicating) could generate would be extraordinary (especially when we add in the extra atmospheric moisture loading from overall human heating of 0.9 to 1 C above 1880).

For California, it looks like the option for ending epic drought is epic flood. And, with human caused warming, more drought will almost certainly follow any flood.

Links:

Megadroughts Projected For the American West

Lake Mead Water Data

California Department of Water Resources

Megadrought Predicted for the American Southwest

Steaming Equatorial Pacific Sees Winds Blow Toward Monster El Nino

Cosmos

California Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System

California Races to Protect its Forests

US Drought Monitor

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to Spike

“Standing on the Shores of Disaster” Global Average CO2 Exceeds 400 PPM In March

“This may not be our climate rubicon, but we’re certainly standing on the shores of disaster, 400 ppm is well past the point of safety which many scientists put at 350 ppm.” Jamie Henn, co-founder and communications director of 350.org in an interview to Huffington Post on May 6.

*  *  *  *

New reports out from NOAA today showed that in March of this year global average CO2 levels broke the 400 parts per million monthly average for the first time in the climate record. These levels, which include a measure of all global readings, are the highest seen by the inhabitants of Earth in at least three million years.

NOAA CO2

(Global average CO2 levels exceed 400 parts per million for the first time in March. Image source: NOAA.)

The Mauna Loa measure, which we’ve been using for record keeping here, first exceeded the 400 ppm threshold back in 2013, with monthly averages hitting 401.8 ppm in May of 2014. This year, Mauna Loa daily measures began exceeding 400 parts per million in January and have hit as high as 404.8 parts per million in recent weeks.

Southern Hemisphere averages lag those in the Northern Hemisphere, which accounts for the global average delay.

This inauspicious milestone comes with a massive burning of fossil fuels that now dumps more than 10 billion tons of carbon (37 billion tons of CO2 equivalent) into the atmosphere every year. It’s a ridiculous rate of burning — likely one that is six times faster than at any time in the deep history of Earth.

“This marks the fact that humans burning fossil fuels have caused global carbon dioxide concentrations to rise more than 120ppm since pre-industrial times,” Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s greenhouse gas network, said in an interview to  The Guardian Wednesday. “Half of that rise has occurred since 1980.”

This is a level far exceeding the 350 parts per million safe limit recommended by scientists. A level that, if maintained, is enough to warm the world by 2-3 degrees Celsius long term and cause enough ice to destabilize and slide into the ocean to raise sea levels by 60 feet or more. And if you add in all the other greenhouse gasses, the problem looks even worse — with about 484 parts per million of CO2 equivalent gasses circulating and trapping heat in the Earth atmosphere.

The problem is that once the CO2 is in the atmosphere and oceans, it takes a long time to become sequestered. It generates extra heat for decades, centuries and millennia. Tackling this issue not only involves rapidly moving to a zero carbon civilization. It involves changing the way we do business in a manner that is less disruptive to Earth systems. In a way that allows for the carbon sinks to vitalize and take up a portion of the massive volumes of carbon we’ve emitted.

But we’re nowhere near achieving that goal. Though carbon emissions stabilized in 2014 due to rapid adoption of renewable energy sources, continuing to emit at current rates is a recipe for disaster. What we need is a very rapid draw down to zero emissions.

Links:

Global Carbon Dioxide Levels Topped 400 Parts Per Million in March

Carbon Dioxide Levels Break 400 Part Per Million Milestone

NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory

350.org

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell

Hat Tip to Greg

Steaming Equatorial Pacific Sees Winds Blowing Toward Monster El Nino

Last year, we raised a warning that the 2014-2015 El Nino could develop into a monster event. And, unfortunately, there is some indication that conditions may well be continuing in that direction.

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All across the broad belt of the Equatorial Pacific, sea surface temperatures are running in the hot-to-extraordinarily hot range. Starting just north and east of New Guinea, 1 C + above average temperature anomalies run uninterrupted to a zone near the date line where they encounter a hot pool in the range of +2.6 to +3.1 C above average. Running eastward, these high heat anomalies gradually taper off to +1.4 to +1.7 C along a 5,000 mile stretch before they again spike to +3 to +4 C above average just off the west coast of South America.

A massive zone of above average sea surface temperatures encompassing almost the entire width of the Equatorial Pacific:

image

(Pacific Ocean showing extreme heat anomalies across most regions. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Hot equatorial waters in a Pacific Ocean that, from Arctic north to Austral south, from East Asian shores to the west coasts of the Americas is a morass of record high temperatures. An ocean zone featuring few and dwindling pools of lower than average readings. Oceans undergoing rising rates of heat-related sea creature die offs in waters that, when they warm, lose vital oxygen and host toxin-producing microbes that thrive in hot water.

It’s a freakishly hot Pacific. A strange ocean. One that we aren’t quite accustomed to. One in the grips of what is already a moderate strength El Nino. An El Nino that, combined with an extraordinary human greenhouse gas heat forcing, has pushed global surface temperatures into record high range for 2014 and the first three months of 2015 thus far. An El Nino which is now threatening a new leap to monster status.

For a powerful Kelvin Wave is presently lending heat to equatorial surface waters after receiving a boost from gale force westerly winds associated with the strongest Madden Julian Oscillation on record this past March. An raging equatorial heat engine that is now drawing yet more energy from a second set of strong westerlies developing this week.

image

(Strong westerlies emerging in the Western Pacific on May 6 may provide yet another boost to the 2014-2015 El Nino. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In the above GFS summary, we find sustained winds in the range of 30 mph with gale force gusts in a region along and just north of the Equator near New Guinea. The winds are in association with a developing cyclone, one that models indicate will reach strong Typhoon status later this week. The westerlies stretch westward along the back of New Guinea and on toward the Philippines. There, they receive a boost from another cyclone — Tropical Storm Noul.

The result is a brisk set of westerlies running against the trades along hundreds of miles of open ocean. The kind of event with the potential to further strengthen an El Nino that is already at respectable intensity.

This week’s CFSv2 NOAA forecast models continued to indicate an extreme strength El Nino by later this year. Weighted models are now showing seasonal anomalies in the Nino 3.4 zone peaking out at +2.3 C. Weighted monthly models are showing peaks in the range of +2.5 C above average for Nino 3.4. And unweighted models are showing peak averages that now exceed +3.1 C. This is a jump from last week’s CFSv2 forecast. Another set in a continued trend for higher intensity.

Monster El Nino forecast

(NOAA’s forecast models show potential for extreme El Nino starting in June and extending into January. Image source: NOAA.)

Should such an event emerge it would truly be a monster. Something far worse than even the Super El Nino of 1998.

An extraordinary El Nino of this kind would have far-reaching climate and weather related impacts. It would push global temperatures into ever more dangerous ranges. It would strain global carbon sinks. And it would worsen drought and/or set off heavy precipitation events in various, already vulnerable regions of the globe. With model forecasts continuing to hit higher values, with so much available heat to fuel El Nino ranging the Pacific, and with strong westerlies continuing to reinforce the current El Nino, this is a situation that bears very serious continued monitoring.

Links:

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Earth Nullschool

March Shows Strongest Madden Julian Oscillation on Record

Starving Sea Lion Pups and Liquified Starfish

 

 

 

 

Ocean Dead Zones Swirl Off Africa, Threatening Coastlines with Mass Fish Kills

The world ocean is now a region of expanding oxygen-deprived dead zones.

It’s an upshot of a human-warmed ocean system filled with high nutrient run-off from mass, industrialized farming, rising atmospheric nitrogen levels, and increasing dust from wildfires, dust storms, and industrial aerosol emissions. Warming seas hold less oxygen in solution. And the nutrient seeding feeds giant algae blooms that, when they die and decompose, further rob ocean waters of oxygen. Combined, the two are an extreme hazard to ocean health — symptoms of a dangerous transition to stratified, or worse, Canfield Ocean states.

Coastal Dead Zones -- No Fish Left

(Geographical extent of more than 405 coastal dead zones worldwide. New dead zones discovered by scientists are now traversing mid-ocean regions. Image source: No Fish Left.)

In total, more than 405 dead zones now occupy mostly coastal waters worldwide. Covering an area of 95,000 square miles and expanding, these anoxic regions threaten marine species directly through suffocation or indirectly through the growth of toxin-producing bacteria which thrive in low-oxygen environments.

Mobile, Anoxic Underwater Cyclones

Now, according to new research published in Biogeosciences, it appears that some of these dead zones have gone mobile.

The report finds zones of very low oxygen covering swirls of surface water 100-150 kilometers in diameter and stretching to about 100 meters in depth. The zones churn like whirlpools or eddies. Encapsulated in their own current of water with oxygen levels low enough to induce fish kills, these ‘dead pools’ have been discovered swirling off the coast of Africa in recent satellite photos.

The ‘dead pools’ form as strong ocean eddies break off from West African ocean currents. The eddies create mixing environments near the surface which fuels algae blooms (seen as the light blue coloration in the image below). Large algae blooms are trapped in the eddy and as the algae die, they rob the water column of oxygen. The flows of the eddy form as a kind of wall to mixing with higher oxygen surrounding waters. As a result, the oxygen readings within the dead pool plummets.

Dead Pool Eddy 2

(Newly discovered ocean dead pools like the one shown above are propagating off the coast of West Africa. These eddies are mobile dead zones of low oxygen water. A new phenomena, they represent a unique threat to ocean health in addition to the 405 other, mostly stationary, dead zones in the world’s coastal waters. Image source: Biogeosciences.)

According to lead-author Johannes Karstensen, a researcher at GEOMAR, the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, in Kiel, Germany:

“The fast rotation of the eddies makes it very difficult to exchange oxygen across the boundary between the rotating current and the surrounding ocean. Moreover, the circulation creates a very shallow layer – of a few tens of meters – on top of the swirling water that supports intense plant growth. From our measurements, we estimated that the oxygen consumption within the eddies is some five times larger than in normal ocean conditions.”

Researchers found levels in these swirls to be less than 0.3 millilitres of oxygen per litre of seawater or about 1/100th the oxygen content of surrounding ocean. These are readings low enough to produce mass fish kills and to support production of toxin-producing bacteria harmful to oxygen dependent life.

Azores Downrange of Dead Pools

The zones were observed moving through the Tropical North Atlantic west of Africa. They propagated toward the north and west, finally petering out about 100 kilometers north of the Azores. This puts that East Atlantic archipelago directly in the line of fire of these new, low-oxygen eddies. A cause for concern. If one of these eddies were to enter the Azores the result could be a massive fish die off around the island chain.

Karstensen notes:

“…it is not unlikely that an open-ocean dead zone will hit the islands at some point. This could cause the coast to be flooded with low-oxygen water, which may put severe stress on the coastal ecosystems and may even provoke fish kills and the die-off of other marine life.”

Observations of these dead pools seems to indicate they are a new event. A possible result of nutrient enrichment of the surface waters in West African currents due to increased run-off or surface water nitrogen and dust seeding. As extreme rainfall events related to climate change wash more sediment down rivers and into the oceans, as more nitrogen compounds and particulate matter hit the atmosphere due to fossil fuel emissions, wildfire burning, and dust storms, and as sea level rise starts to flood nutrient-rich low lying areas, it is possible that the Tropical Atlantic dead pools represent an emerging ocean state that will grow more prevalent as time moves forward.

(UPDATED — 2037 EST, 5 May, 2015)

Links:

Dead Zones Moving West

Dead Zones Found in Atlantic Open Waters

VIMS: Dead Zones

No Fish Left

Ocean Dead Zones

Through the Looking Glass of the Great Dying

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Jeremy Beck

Global Sea Level Rise Going Exponential? New Study Records Big Jump in Ocean Surface Height

From about a thousand years ago through to the mid 19th Century, global sea levels remained remarkably stable. Together with overall global temperatures, sea surface heights stayed at about the same levels until the late 1800s. At that time, an initiation of large-scale burning of oil, gas and coal dumped heavy volumes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. The Earth System began to warm and seas began a slow upward climb.

Hansen sea level rise

(Global sea level rise since 1870. Image source: Dr. James Hansen.)

At first, the pace of sea level rise was minor — only hitting about 0.8 mm per year. But then, by around 1925, the rate of sea level rise more than doubled to 1.9 mm per year. The oceans, which at first only slowly accumulated heat, began a long term warming which eventually extended through almost every depth and region. This pace maintained until about 1992 when the oceans again hit a higher rate of rise at around 3.1 mm per year — a pace that then included a small but ominously growing portion of glacial melt.

Now, it appears that global warming is again pushing sea levels to rise even faster. As, over recent years, a number of ominous indicators pointed toward yet another surge in ocean surface levels.

In south Florida, the pace of  sea level rise at local tidal gauges, by last year, had gone exponential. Along the U.S. East Coast, a sudden jump in sea level during recent years was blamed on a slowing down of the Gulf Stream due to freshwater melt pulses hitting the North Atlantic.

All over the world’s frozen regions, the great land glaciers — especially in Greenland and Antarctica — have been destabilizing. Melting, cracking, and clamoring as their gargantuan, mountain-like forms assembled in an ever-speeding march to the seas. This great rush of freshwater melt and ice is already causing an ocean-threatening slow-down of Atlantic circulation. And in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica an ominous bulge of water near the southern polar zone became an indicator of an increasing rate of melt from some of the largest glaciers on Earth. A bulge that was 2 centimeters higher than the global average along melting and thawing Antarctic shores.

Global Sea Level Rise On Upward Curve?

Recently, the global sea level rise measure — AVISO — also took an unsettling leap. With satellite captures of the world ocean showing a strong surge in sea level rise throughout 2014 and into 2015. A spike that displays vividly as a hockey-stick like jog at the tail end of the measure below:

Aviso sea level rise

(Big spike in sea level rise plainly visible in the AVISO measure. Image source: AVISO.)

It’s an upward jump representing nearly a 1 centimeter spike in the rate of sea level rise over the past six months.

By itself, this jump in sea level would be something to worry over. But new findings paint an even starker picture. For a recent study, headed by Shuang Yi and published on April 30 in Geophysical Research Letters provides evidence that, since 2010, annual rates of global sea level rise have shown a strong uptick. The study, entitled An Increase in the Rate of Global Mean Sea Level Rise Since 2010, notes:

The global mean sea level (GMSL) was reported to have dropped 5 mm due to the 2010/11 La Niña and have recovered in one year. With longer observations, it is shown that the GMSL went further up to a total amount of 11.6 mm by the end of 2012, excluding the 3.0 mm/yr background trend. A reconciled sea level budget, based on observations by Argo project, altimeter and gravity satellites, reveals that the true GMSL rise has been masked by ENSO-related fluctuations and its rate has increased since 2010. After extracting the influence of land water storage, it is shown that the GMSL have been rising at a rate of 4.4 ± 0.5 mm/yr for more than three years, due to an increase in the rate of both land ice loss and steric change.

In short, the study finds an average rate of sea level rise of 4.4 mm per year, or 30% faster than the annual rate from 1992 to 2009, during the period of 2010 to 2013. For these, more rapidly rising, sea levels the study identifies clear causes. The first is an increasing rate of land ice loss. The second is what is termed as ‘steric change’ — a scientific phrase that both identifies ocean thermal expansion due to warming combined with changes in ocean salinity, which also impacts sea surface height.

The April 30 study did not include the more recent sea level rise spike now showing up in the AVISO measure. So, at least for now, sea levels do appear to be sliding up some rather dangerous curves.

Hitting the More Difficult Rates of Sea Level Increase

Such a jump has stark implications for sea level by end century. A 4.4 mm per year rate of rise would equal just less than half a meter of increased sea level within one Century. This compares to the previous rate of rise which would have resulted in a 1 foot global jump within a one hundred year span.

A jump of this kind was, however, predicted with sea level rise by end of this Century expected to hit between 0.5 and 1 meters of increase in the IPCC measure and between 5 and 6 feet in US Coast Guard studies (most studies find a range between 3-9 feet for this Century). The 4.4 mm per year increase is rather ominous in that it already puts annual rates of rise in the IPCC mid-range. An early ramp up with fully eight and a half decades left to go in a Century that will certainly see substantial further increases in global heat accumulation.

Composite

(South Florida 6 meters of sea level rise before [left frame] and after [right frame]. Note that second image is an artist’s rendering based on flood analysis showing what a 6 meter sea level rise would look like for South Florida, should it occur. Image source: Tropical Audobon Society.)

Many planners use the IPCC measure or even more conservative indicators to prepare for sea level rise at their city, county and state shores. And the fact is these indicators may fall well short of reality at the coastlines. A stark circumstance that will become more and more difficult to manage as time moves forward.

Overall, a 2010 ramping in the rate of sea level rise is a bit soon. Similar further jumps leading up to potential worst case 1-4 cm per year levels would initiate a combination of dangerous impacts including untenable rates of rise for coastal regions, severe shocks to ocean circulation systems and overall ocean health, and potentially very dangerous impacts to the world’s weather. To this point Hansen’s paper entitled ‘Greenland Ice Sheet Mass Loss, Exponential?‘ is well worth a (re)read.

Similar Climate Conditions Saw 20 Meter Surges in Sea Level Due to Glacial Melt

With current greenhouse gas levels now in the range of 400-405 parts per million coinciding with substantial jumps in glacial melt and sea level rise, it may be worth taking a look back at times in the geological past when atmospheric heating conditions were similar to those seen today. The last time heat trapping gasses were seen at such high concentrations was at the height of the Pliocene warming 3-5 million years ago. That time saw temperatures in the range of 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer than Holocene averages. It was also a geological period that saw Antarctic and Greenland melt events that pushed seas up to 20 meters higher.

We are exceeding maximum Pliocene atmospheric CO2 thresholds at this time (well exceeding if you count in a 485 CO2 equivalent forcing from all greenhouse gasses added by human beings). And we will almost certainly enter Pliocene warming levels this century. So the melt pressure we are putting on the world’s ice sheets is likely to at least be in the 20 meter range for the (hopefully) longer term.

Links:

An Increase in the Rate of Global Mean Sea Level Rise Since 2010

AVISO

Dr. James Hansen

For Miami, Sea Level Rise Has Already Gone Exponential

An Extreme Sea Level Rise Event Along the Northeast Coast of North America

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

Antarctic Sea Levels Rising Faster Than the Global Rate

IPCC Sea Level Rise

Tropical Audobon Society

Greenland Ice Sheet Mass Loss, Exponential?

20 Meter Sea Level Rise 5 Million Years Ago

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Wili

Tesla’s Powerwall Puts Huge Crack in Carbon-Based Energy Dominance

“I think we should collectively try to do this, and not win the Darwin Award.” — Elon Musk

*   *   *   *   *

This week, with much fanfare, Elon Musk’s Tesla launched a new venture — Tesla Energy.

It’s a move that propels Telsa into direct competition with giant fossil energy companies. One that promises to disrupt the global power markets and to free a vast number of consumers now held captive to home and transport based fossil fuel energy use. An offering that provides a glimmer of hope for an escape path out of our current nightmare of an ever-heating global climate.

(Elon Musk presents Powerwall together with a nice, succinct summary of our current carbon emissions crisis.)

Freeing the Fossil Fuel Energy Slaves

As with Tesla’s earlier electric vehicle offerings, its new energy product seems humble. But don’t let looks fool you, because this little beast packs one hell of a wallop. Dubbed Powerwall, the offering is a scalable battery storage system. In its home energy incarnation, it comes in trim dimensions — 7 inches thick in a 4×3 foot stack. For homeowners, it provides two options — 7 kwh of storage for 3,000 dollars or 10 kwh of storage for 3,500 dollars. A low-cost, high quality offering that will allow individual and family solar users to say to hell with the grid, contentious fossil fuel interest muddied utility politics, and any coal or gas fired powerplants if they so choose.

Both stacks provide more than enough storage to get the average homeowner through a night’s electricity usage, with the 10 kwh stack providing a bit more flex. The stacks also provide back-up for grid tied homes during power outages. It’s enough flexible storage to run virtually any home on solar + battery power alone. That’s the real, revolutionary aspect of this system — cheaply and seamlessly providing homeowners the means to run on all-renewable power, all the time.

Tesla Powerwall

(Tesla Powerwall [upper left] and Model S. Image source: Tesla Energy.)

When combined with the ever-less-expensive and more reliable home solar arrays now becoming more readily available, this combination now poses not only a threat to fossil fuel based grid and vehicular energy — it represents a superior option to energy users on practically every level. Energy costs go down, reliability during storms goes up, and environmental impacts — carbon emissions, water use, and energy use based air pollution — go down or are virtually eliminated.

Massive New Market for Tesla

From a business standpoint, this is a huge breakthrough for Tesla. Previously, the company competed in a market rife with rivals. Still, it managed to succeed and even dominate by offering some of the highest quality vehicles in the world. Vehicles that pushed sustainability for the automotive industry toward new frontiers and provided a threat to both internal combustion and fuel cell based autos all in one go. But now, Tesla enters the power storage market with practically no comparable rivals. Its Powerwall is both the lowest cost and the highest quality storage solution available and it breaks new ground in an established, multi-billion dollar home energy market.

In an article today in Scientific American Karl Brauer, a senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, noted:

“If Tesla can produce a cost-effective home energy storage system, it could prove far more valuable, and profitable, than anything the company is doing with automobiles.”

Intermittency Constraints Reduced, Hitting Renewable Economies of Scale

Tesla’s Powerwall shatters the myth that renewable energy can’t effectively function due to its intermittency. That renewables require high price storage options to provide energy 24/7. Tesla’s offering enables 24/7 renewable power at low cost. The option it provides is scalable to utility level, and its modular construction leverages renewable energy’s distributed power advantages. It’s a complete game changer that should have fossil fuel execs quaking in their boots and those of us concerned about climate catastrophe feeling a bit more optimistic.

Rendering of Tesla Gigafactory

(Rendering of Tesla Gigafactory due to be complete before 2020 — the first of possibly many such gigantic battery producing facilities. Image source: Tesla Motors/Chamber of Commerce.)

Recent statements by Musk indicate that the new energy industry wildcard is ready to go all out for both new homeowner and utility customers. The company mentions one major utility that is already interested in a 250 megawatt battery storage buy. And Tesla plans to work with partner Solar City in developing comprehensive home solar + storage options.

Finally, the synergy between the Powerwall and the electric vehicle battery should not be missed. Large scale production of Powerwall will serve to leverage economies of scale and drive down battery costs both across the energy storage and electric vehicle sectors. Tesla is planning for this through the construction of not just one but multiple gigafactories — assembly plants capable of producing hundreds of thousands of battery packs each (See Tesla Gigafactory May be First of Many). And, even more impressive, Tesla plans to provide its patents to other players looking to rapidly scale battery production. It’s a nightmare scenario for fossil fuel companies, but a much more hopeful one for the rest of us. A bit of much-needed good news in an otherwise grim present.

Links:

Tesla Energy

Elon Musk Unveils Stored Sunlight in Batteries

Tesla Gigafactory May be First of Many

Tesla Motors/Chamber of Commerce

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Robert in New Orleans

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