Tottering Totten and the Coming Multi-Meter Sea Level Rise

A new scientific study has found that the Totten Glacier is fundamentally unstable and could significantly contribute to a possible multi-meter sea level rise this Century under mid-range and worst case warming scenarios.

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408 Parts per million CO2. 490 parts per million CO2e. This is the amount of heat-trapping CO2 and total CO2 equivalent for all heat-trapping gasses now in the Earth’s atmosphere. Two measures representing numerous grave potential consequences.

We’re Locking in 120-190 Feet of Sea Level Rise Long Term

Looking at the first number — 408 parts per million CO2 — we find that the last time global levels of this potent heat-trapping gas were so high was during the Middle Miocene Climate Optimum of 15-17 million years ago. During this time, the Greenland Ice Sheet did not exist. East Antarctic glacial ice was similarly scarce. And the towering glaciers of West Antarctica were greatly reduced. Overall, global sea levels were 120 to 190 feet higher than they are today. Meanwhile, atmospheric temperatures were between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius hotter than those experienced during the late 19th Century.

Antarctica Below Sea Level

(Large sections of Antarctica rest below sea level. A physical feature that renders substantial portions of Antarctica’s glaciers very vulnerable to rising ocean temperatures. Since the latent heat content of water is substantially higher than that of air, even comparatively small ocean temperature increases can cause significant melt in sea-facing glaciers and in below sea level glacial basins. Image source: Potential Antarctic Ice Sheet Retreat Driven by Hydrofracturing and Ice Cliff Failure.)

Hitting the 408 ppm CO2 threshold this year catapults the current push for global climate transitions outside of the Pliocene context of 3 to 5 million years ago (topping out at 405 parts per million CO2) and places it in the bottom to mid-range of the Middle Miocene context (300 to 500 parts per million CO2). The 490 ppm CO2e number — due to added atmospheric heating contributions from human-emitted gasses like methane, chlorofluorocarbons, NOx compounds, and others — is enough to catapult our current climate context into the upper Middle Miocene range.

If global greenhouse gasses were to stabilize in this range long-term (for a period of hundreds of years), we would expect the Earth’s climate and ocean states to become more and more like those experienced 15-17 million years ago. Unfortunately, atmospheric concentrations of heat trapping gasses are still rapidly rising due to an increasingly dangerous emission coming from global fossil fuel burning. In addition, risks are rising that the Earth System will begin to contribute its own substantial amounts of carbon — possibly enough to raise the CO2e number by around 50 to 150 ppm over the next few centuries. Two contributions — one we control and another we do not — that risk swiftly pushing the global climate context into a 550 to 650 ppm CO2e range that is enough to eventually melt all the glacial ice on the planet.

Glacial Inertia vs Lightning Rates of Warming

It’s a tough climate state. A context that many scientists are still having difficulty coming to grips with. First, the global glacier research community is still looking at the world’s potential future ice melt in Pliocene and Eemian contexts. This makes some sense given the fact that current atmospheric warming in the range of 0.9 to 1.3 C above 1880s values is more in line with those two climate epochs (the Eemian saw seas 10-20 feet higher than today and the Pliocene saw seas at 25-75 feet higher). But it doesn’t take into account the underlying heat forcing and the likely climate end-state.

Second, we don’t really have a good grasp on how fast or slow glaciers will respond to the added heat we’re putting into the Earth System. We do know that at the end of the last ice age, melting glaciers contributed as much as 10 feet of sea level rise per Century. But this was during a time of comparatively slow global temperature increase at the rate of about 0.05 C per Century — not the current rate in the range of 1.5 to 2 C per Century, which is 30 to 40 times faster.

10 Feet of Sea Level Rise South Florida

(What 10 feet of sea level rise would do to South Florida. Given the increasing vulnerability of glaciers around the world to human-forced warming, there’s a rising risk that seas could rise by 10 feet before the end of this Century. Image source: Climate Central.)

In early studies, much weight has been given to glacial inertia. And older climate models did not include dynamic ice sheet vulnerabilities — like high latent-heat ocean water coming into contact with the submerged faces of sea-fronting glaciers, the ability of surface melt water to break up glaciers by pooling into cracks and forcing them apart (hydrofracturing), or the innate rigidity and frailty of steep ice cliffs which render them susceptible to rapid toppling. But now, new studies are starting to take these physical melt-amplifying processes into account and the emerging picture is one in which glacial melt and sea level rise may end up coming on at rates far more rapid than previously feared.

Overall, when taking a look at these newly realized ice-sheet weaknesses, it’s worth noting that the total heat forcing impacting the world’s ocean, air, and glacial systems is now rising into a range that is much more in line with Middle Miocene values. And that global temperatures are now increasing at a lightning rate that appears to be unprecedented in at least the past 60 million years.

Tottering Totten

It’s in this dynamic, rapidly changing, and arguably quite dangerous climate context that new revelations about the stability of one of East Antarctica’s largest glaciers have begun to emerge. In size, the Totten Glacier is immense — covering an area the size of California in mountains of ice stretching as high as two and a half miles. If all of Totten were to melt, it would be enough to raise seas by around 11 to 13 feet — or about as much as if half of the entire Greenland Ice Sheet went down.

Edge of the Totten Glacier

(The Totten Glacier, at lower edge of frame, faces a warming Southern Ocean. How rapidly this great mass of ice melts will, along with the destabilization of numerous other glaciers around the world due to a human-forced warming, determine the fates of numerous coastal cities and island nations during this Century and on into the future. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Last year, a study found that warm, deep circumpolar water was beginning to approach ice faces of the Totten Glacier plunging 1 mile below the surface of the Southern Ocean. The study observed a rapid thinning that appeared to have been driven by this new influx of warmer ocean water near the glacier base:

Totten Glacier… has the largest thinning rate in East Antarctica. Thinning may be driven by enhanced basal meltingWarm modified Circumpolar Deep Water, which has been linked to glacier retreat in West Antarctica, has been observed in summer and winter on the nearby continental shelf beneath 400 to 500 m of cool Antarctic Surface Water…We identify entrances to the ice-shelf cavity below depths of 400 to 500 m that could allow intrusions of warm water if the vertical structure of inflow is similar to nearby observations. Radar sounding reveals a previously unknown inland trough that connects the main ice-shelf cavity to the ocean. If thinning trends continue, a larger water body over the trough could potentially allow more warm water into the cavity, which may, eventually, lead to destabilization of the low-lying region between Totten Glacier and the similarly deep glacier flowing into the Reynolds Trough (emphasis added).

Observed increasing melt rates for such a huge slab of ice in Eastern Antarctica was generally seen as a pretty big deal among glacial scientists and a flurry of additional research soon followed. By last week, a model study had found that Totten alone could produce nearly a meter of sea level rise before the end of this Century if global warming forces ocean waters to heat up by 2 C or more near the Totten Glacier. The study also found that 5 C worth of local ocean warming would be enough to force nearly 3 meters worth of sea level rise from this single large glacier over a relatively short time-frame.

Donald D. Blankenship, lead principal investigator for the new ICECAP study noted:

“Totten Glacier’s catchment is covered by nearly 2½ miles of ice, filling a California-sized sub-ice basin that reaches depths of over one mile below sea level. This study shows that this system could have a large impact on sea level in a short period of time.”

Like many large glaciers around the world, a huge portion of Totten’s ice sits below sea level. This feature makes the glacier very vulnerable to ocean warming. Water carries far more latent heat than air and just a slight rise in local ocean water temperature can contribute to rapid ice loss. Totten itself rests in three large below sea level basins. And study authors found that 2 C to 5 C warming of local ocean waters with somewhat greater local air temperature increases was capable of flooding these basins in stages — forcing Totten’s glacial ice to flow out into the Southern Ocean and provide significant contributions to sea level rise.

Unfortunately, Totten is just one of many large glacial systems that are now destabilizing across Antarctica. And researchers are now beginning to identify significant potential sea level rise contributions from Antarctica alone (ranging from two feet to nearly two meters) before the end of this Century. In New Scientist, during March, Antarctic researcher Rob Deconto notes:

“Today we’re measuring global sea level rise in millimetres per year. We’re talking about the potential for centimetres per year just from [ice loss in] Antarctica.”

Centimeters per year sea level rise is about ten times faster than current rates and implies 100 year increases — once it gets going — in the range of 2 to 3 meters. Such increased melt does not include Greenland’s own potential sea level rise contribution. Nor does it include sea level rise from other glacial melt and ocean thermal expansion. As such, it appears that multi-meter sea level rise is becoming a more and more distinct possibility this Century. Furthermore, the paleoclimate context is now pointing toward catastrophic levels of overall melt and sea level rise if global greenhouse gasses aren’t somehow stabilized and then swiftly reduced.

Links:

Repeated Large-Scale Retreat and Advance of Totten Glacier Indicated by Inland Bed Erosion

The Totten Glacier

The Human-Warmed Southern Ocean Threatens Major Melt for East Antarctica

Fundamentally Unstable — Scientists Confirm Their Fears About East Antarctica’s Biggest Glacier

Potential Antarctic Ice Sheet Retreat Driven by Hydrofracturing and Ice Cliff Failure

Unstable East Antarctic Glacier Has Contributed to Sea Level Rise in the Past

Sea Levels Set to Rise Far More Rapidly Than Expected

Unexpected Antarctic Melt Could Trigger 2 Meter Sea Level Rise

Entering the Middle Miocene

The Middle Miocene

LANCE MODIS

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133 Comments

  1. Colorado Bob

     /  May 25, 2016

    Sweet Jesus..

    Reply
    • Happy belated birthday, Bob. Hope this year is a good one for you. Was at a family gathering (wedding) over the past few days. Had been working on this one in spare moments. My uncle has a beach house in Hatteras. He often talks about his first trips to the island — compares it to going to the moon at the time due to its isolation. Now, it’s counting the years til the ocean takes it all back.

      I learned to surf in that place. Good times and better memories. I’ll lose a part of me when it’s gone.

      Reply
    • Ryan in New England

       /  May 26, 2016

      I’ll join Robert in wishing you a happy belated birthday, Bob! I hope you celebrate many, many more.

      Reply
  2. – It doesn’t look good. That much glacial melt would accelerate SLR to a frightening degree.

    – A stellar post BTW.

    Reply
    • Thx, DT. Great reports coming in lately. You’ve become a web research machine.

      Reply
    • Mulga Mumblebrain

       /  May 26, 2016

      I saw some glaciologist say just this some time ago. That the predictions of the science community had greatly under-estimated the rate of ice-loss in the Antarctic because they had predicated their forecasts on previous paleo-climate evidence, and the evidence of recent centuries, particularly since the IGY of 1957 I suspect, rather than the situation now, where the rate of greenhouse emissions and global temperature rises have been, to all intents and purposes, not just ‘unprecedented’. but unprecedented by more than ten times. Meanwhile, total and absolute denialism still reigns in the Anglosphere. Poor feller our planet.

      Reply
  3. Ryan in New England

     /  May 25, 2016

    Robert, great job covering a troubling development in climate science. Again things seem to be worse than anybody suspected.The scale of the Totten Glacier is hard to get my head around. And thank you for bringing up the fact that we have enough CO2e to push us to where we are comparable to the Middle Miocene. This is often overlooked and things are made to seem not as bad as they truly are.

    Reply
    • I think that so much of science is hopefully focused on this Century that it sometimes tends to obliviate the larger context. The other bit is that without understanding the full context, we can’t get a very fine grasp on this Century when it comes to the big risks like glacial melt and carbon store/sink response. I think it’s a good exercise sometimes to work back from the likely end state and see what you come up with as opposed to setting up and artificial one Century encapsulation of a pretty dynamic event.

      Reply
  4. Ryan in New England

     /  May 25, 2016

    One question; did you mean to say East Antarctica in this sentence…
    Observed increasing melt rates for such a huge slab of ice in Western Antarctica was generally seen as a pretty big deal among glacial scientists and a flurry of additional research soon followed.
    Sorry if I’m just confused. It’s been a long, hard day😉

    Reply
  5. Reblogged this on GarryRogers Nature Conservation and commented:
    Readers should think about what this means: “408 Parts per million CO2. 490 parts per million CO2e. This is the amount of heat-trapping CO2 and total CO2 equivalent for all heat-trapping gasses now in the Earth’s atmosphere. Two measures representing numerous grave potential consequences.

    We’re Locking in 120-190 Feet of Sea Level Rise Long Term

    Looking at the first number — 408 parts per million CO2 — we find that the last time global levels of this potent heat-trapping gas were so high was during the Middle Miocene Climate Optimum of 15-17 million years ago. During this time, the Greenland Ice Sheet did not exist. East Antarctic glacial ice was similarly scarce. And the towering glaciers of West Antarctica were greatly reduced. Overall, global sea levels were 120 to 190 feet higher than they are today. Meanwhile, atmospheric temperatures were between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius hotter than those experienced during the late 19th Century.”

    Reply
  6. June

     /  May 25, 2016

    Maybe this will provide some momentum for other universities. Great work by the students.

    “Student Activism Pushes UMass to Become First Major Public University to Divest”

    http://commondreams.org/news/2016/05/25/student-activism-pushes-umass-become-first-major-public-university-divest

    Reply
  7. Kalypso

     /  May 25, 2016

    Unfortunately John Mercer was right. He warned us more than several decades ago about this issue (specifically the meltdown of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet) and nobody listened. According to Michael E. Mann, 405 ppm of CO2 is all that is needed to push the planet up to 2 degrees C. Rapid multi-meter sea level rise here we come, ready or not.

    Reply
    • Mulga Mumblebrain

       /  May 26, 2016

      And then there are the methane clathrates. Plenty down south, as well as in the Arctic. I wonder what the latest estimates of ‘climate sensitivity’ are. It does look like the global climate is a very thin-skinned creature. A ‘few’ insults and it turns very nasty.

      Reply
  8. Ocean Apocalypse Now Franklin & Marshall College Common Hour November 20, 2014, at 11:30 a.m. Mayser Gymnasium

    Jeremy Jackson Senior Scientist Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution and Professor of Oceanography, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

    MSL rise 13′-14′ (4 metres) in a couple of years when the WAIS breaks: @27:00 mins.

    Sent from my iPad 🙏🏻

    >

    Reply
    • Some further useful context on the recent West Antarctic Ice Sheet study can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/31/science/global-warming-antarctica-ice-sheet-sea-level-rise.html

      Reply
    • Keith Antonysen

       /  May 26, 2016

      Thanks Robindatta, good to see Jeremy openly talk about the corruption displayed around climate change. He provides good arguments about how economies will be stuffed if no mitigation or adaptation begins immediately, should have been done years ago.

      Reply
      • Mulga Mumblebrain

         /  May 26, 2016

        Keith, the ‘economy’ will be the least of our worries.

        Reply
    • Ryan in New England

       /  May 26, 2016

      Thank you for this. I have always loved Jeremy Jackson. He pulls no punches and describes things as they are without unnecessary optimism, rather than what people may want to hear. It can be upsetting and disturbing to hear just how bad things have become, but Jeremy isn’t afraid of upsetting people. Actually, I think he would appreciate if people get upset about this issue. They should.

      Reply
  9. Syd Bridges

     /  May 26, 2016

    Thanks again, Robert, for all your work. Yet another “inconvenient truth” for everybody to avoid. And who could have predicted it? BTW, last month was the 120th anniversary of the publication of Arrhenius’ paper on global warming due to CO2.

    See:http://www.rsc.org/images/Arrhenius1896_tcm18-173546.pdf

    Far, far too newfangled for our Republican brethren, and clearly part of Al Gore’s conspiracy. However, I do expect one industry to take note of this: the insurance industry. Premiums for beach front property may be rising very rapidly and much sooner than most homeowners expect.

    Reply
    • The more I look at it, the more obvious it becomes how oil money has basically wrecked the Republican Party. Big money influence in general, but oil money in largest part.

      Reply
      • DaveW

         /  May 26, 2016

        I think oil money has wrecked much more than just the Repubs – maybe even the planet – but more likely just modern civilization/society

        Reply
  10. climatehawk1

     /  May 26, 2016

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  11. Colorado Bob

     /  May 26, 2016

    This is the end for me.It takes 20 minutes to get off the floor.

    Reply
  12. Andy in SD

     /  May 26, 2016

    Other factors that are probably extremely tough to model would include the buoyancy delta on the submerged ice, as well as the increased pressure against the glacial front due to increases in the ocean level. As the ocean level increases, the pressure against the face and grounding line of the glacier increases, thus the glacier becomes less impervious to intrusion as well as the buoyancy potential increases. This increased pressure may accelerate fracturing as well.

    Other considerations include the Coefficient of thermal expansion (COE) for the ice in regards to fracturing. All materials have a COE, the lower, the less likely it is to shatter due to sudden temperature changes, high implies a higher affinity to expand / contract due to temperature changes (shrink / expand) as the temperature change is too quick.

    For example stick a piece of window glass in a 500 degree oven, it shatters (or stick a piece of 500 degree plate glass under your tap of cold water). This is due to a higher COE (COE 80) than pyrex (Borosilicate is COE 32). Pyrex doesn’t do that as it expands /contracts less due to temperature changes.

    Ice as a material has a COE as well. COE become an issue due to rate of change, not the absolute change itself.

    For example if we use the glass plate and slowly heat it up to 500 degrees (or cool it down slowly) it wont shatter as the heat has time to soak through the entire material.

    It is rapid change of temperature which play on the COE of materials and causes fracturing.

    I wonder if we’ve entered a period where the COE of water becomes a factor.

    Any of you folks doing science reading this…give this a thought, and if you do a paper give a shout out🙂 Or gimme a yell, I know COE quite well.

    Cheers.

    Reply
    • Good points, Andy. What is the COE of water/ice?

      Reply
      • Andy in SD

         /  May 26, 2016

        Material Linear
        coefficient α
        at 20 °C
        (10−6 K−1)
        Glass, borosilicate 3.3
        Glass 8.5
        Water 69

        Volumetric
        coefficient αV
        at 20 °C
        (10−6 K−1)
        Glass, borosilicate 9.9
        Glass 25.5
        Water 207

        Holy crap, what this tells me is that water is SUPER susceptible to fracturing due to temperature changes (rate of change).

        There is absolutely a paper in here (or a phd thesis for any students out there). Don;t forget that shout out though….

        Reply
    • Andy in SD

       /  May 26, 2016

      The reason this comes to mind is due to being the author of the only piece of software ever sold commercially which calculates all of this shit for glass manufacturing from small to huge, from COE 32 to COE 104, thick to thin, etc… As well as desired effects (bending / tempering and all that) for a multitude of furnaces and controllers.

      Pretty dry subject, but it is used by studios to factories on 4 continents.

      I find it tough to not see a connection here.

      Reply
    • Andy in SD

       /  May 26, 2016

      I don’t know Dr Alley nor have spoken to him, if you ping him, I’ld be glad to walk him through this. The fracture potential is immense. This would be like you are in a room at 70 F and putting the plate glass into 120F and it shatters (back of the napkin puts the COE way above 300, perhaps up to 600).

      It means the face of the ice doesn’t just melt, it shatters. As the heat changes (soaks) into the surface / subsurface the delta of the temperature to the middle of the ice causes a massive difference in expansion.

      Thus we get fissures.

      Reply
      • – Andy, you’re a whiz — absolutely.

        Reply
      • – Here’s something visual for reference:

        Reply
      • – Hail as atmospheric ice:

        Reply
      • Cate

         /  May 26, 2016

        Also, the way ice on ponds and lakes booms and warbles when the pressure cracks appear. The ice doesn’t crack all the way through—it’s often feet thick, and perfectly transparent, so you can see the depth of the crack down through the ice. Bit freaky.😀

        Reply
      • marcel_g

         /  May 26, 2016

        Ah, This is why ice cubes crack when you drop them in hot tea. Very interesting whether or not this will have a significant effect on ice sheet speed though, since the temp differential won’t be 90C, but probably less than 10C? As well, if the heat is entering the ice sheets via fissures and moulins, it would seem that the effect would be fairly dispersed.

        I’d guess the main effect would be an increase in the “softness” of the ice sheet, allowing faster flow towards outlets. but that this cracking effect might be a lesser factor compared to softness due to hydro fracturing and the actual temperature of the ice getting warmer due to meltwater draining into the ice, As well as lubricating the base.

        Reply
    • Ryan in New England

       /  May 26, 2016

      Thank you for all of the very relevant information, Andy! I picture towering cliffs of ice hundreds of feet high crumbling from exposure to warming temperatures…not a comforting thought. We have set in motion very powerful forces, and they will soon be completely out of control, I fear.

      Reply
    • Another factor that will increase SLR is that as the weight of 2.5 miles thick of ice is removed, the antartic continental plate will rise, further raising sea level.

      Reply
  13. Cate

     /  May 26, 2016

    Robert, this post is a stunner. You explain the situation so clearly and thoroughly, in a writing style that is truly gripping, yet it is still almost impossible to grasp the import of your words on first reading. Reading this blog is more like a process of contemplation for me now, a continuous feedback of reading and reflecting. Thank you so much for the important work you are doing here.

    Smoke from Fort Mac fires detected in Europe, and the possible darkening effect on the Greenland ice sheet.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/fort-mcmurray-fire-smoke-greenland-europe-1.3599812?cmp=rss

    Reply
    • Thanks for the thoughts, Cate. Looks like more dark snow for Greenland and more weird skies for Europe.

      Writing this stuff is kinda nuts. Read three papers trying to put the above together. It’s tough teasing implications out of the science. But once it sinks in, it hits pretty darn hard.

      Saw that they’re trying to get residents back to Fort Mac by June 1. Seems a bit premature considering the fact that the fire is still active and due to what appears to be pretty risky conditions on the ground. Also saw that Canada is pulling in 1,000 firefighters from other countries to try to help out. Based on the reports I’ve looked at over recent days, looks like the fire is still zero percent contained.

      Reply
      • Reply
      • Shawn Redmond

         /  May 26, 2016

        Robert, traditionally fires in the north are left to burn themselves out. The fight against them is only to protect human infrastructure as there are no roads to speak of for getting personnel to them on the ground or out of their way. So they are left to burn, usually till the cool of fall and snow puts them out. Hence my concern over toxic waste areas further east and north. The fire will in all likely hood have till September or so to move about as it sees fit.The prevailing winds of summer will push them north and east all season. Maybe La Nina will give us some large rain falls up north which would bring its own issues with run off from such a large freshly burnt landscape. The fix may be as bad as the problem. Yep hell has come to breakfast!

        Reply
        • Yeah. Well with 2,000 firefighters on this one, we can hardly say it’s being ‘left to burn.’ It’s pretty clear they’ve been trying to get this thing under control since it started threatening the city, towns, and infrastructure. They’ve just been unable to due to its size, extent and ferocity. So far actions appear to have been mainly aimed at protecting infrastructure/buildings/homes. But that’s because that’s all the firefighters have had the capability of achieving thus far.

      • Ryan in New England

         /  May 26, 2016

        My God that burn scar is enormous! How many years of this can our forests take before they are effectively a different ecosystem? Seriously, between disease, pine beetles, drought and forest fires there are so many challenges for forests to overcome, I can’t see them remaining as they are beyond this century. After what I saw last year in Colorado from the pine beetles, I was overcome with sadness and a sense of loss when I saw the scale and completeness of the dead/dying trees. Mountain after mountain, valley to valley, orange/red and gray/dead trees were everywhere. Some places were 100% affected. Others areas seemed healthy…until you looked closely and noticed pockets of affected trees. It was everywhere I looked. From the foothills outside of Denver to Breckenridge, to Keystone and Vail, in Glenwood Springs and all along I70. Every single place I went.

        Our forests are in the process of disappearing. And nobody knows or cares.

        Reply
      • Cate

         /  May 26, 2016

        Robert, the Fort Mac fire has now vanished from the news in Canada, as if it had never been. A phased and voluntary re-entry gets underway on June 1, with the airport not opening until June 10. People are being told not to expect to be able to sleep in their homes because everything will need to be deep-cleaned, the water supply is under a boil-order and may also contain toxic run-off, air quality ranges from crap to lethal, and services will be basic.

        The front line folks are skeptical too.
        http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/fort-mcmurray-return-date-june-1-safety-1.3598164

        Meanwhile, out here on the Rock, we are seeing lots of cars with Alberta plates, as Newfoundlanders return from the oil patch, probably at least for the summer.

        Reply
      • Carbon monoxide plume reported by earth.nullschool is still pretty big and intense. It was bigger, especially on the 15th of May. Peak carbon monoxide intensities were up to around 35,000 ppb on the 15th, but are hovering around 5,000 ppb now.

        https://earth.nullschool.net/#current/chem/surface/level/overlay=cosc/orthographic=-105.98,55.71,3000/loc=-110.547,56.437

        Of course, this is only a rough indication because peak intensities depend on wind speed, too.

        So Fort Mac is still a huge fire, looks like. They’ve got something like 1,200 fire fighters working on it at any one time, and are adding up to 1,000 more. They have lots of helicopters working on it, and something like 80 pieces of heavy equipment like bulldozers working on it. They are lighting backfires to try to starve the fire of fuel. But it is still going.

        Reply
      • mlparrish

         /  May 26, 2016

        There is talk about the forests regenerating themselves, but it is almost a mirage. After almost 15 years the regrowth pines in Yellowstone were barely 6-8 ft tall the year I saw them, or about 3 years growth here in NC, depending on the year. Given the rapidity of climate change, a lot can happen before one of those trees has a chance to get beyond adolescence.

        Reply
      • DaveW

         /  May 26, 2016

        Found this interesting article though DesiDespair’s blog:
        http://www.desdemonadespair.net/2016/05/wildfires-in-us-west-have-gotten-bigger.html

        Direct link to full article:
        “Wildfires in West have gotten bigger, more frequent and longer since the 1980s”

        Gives some meaningful information for use on those irritating people who are saying that “it’s normal for these forests to burn” – which was true in the (recent) past, but not with the scale and intensity we see today.

        Reply
      • DaveW

         /  May 26, 2016

        Found this interesting article through DesiDespair’s blog – www dot desdemonadespair dot net.

        Direct link to the Conversation:
        “Wildfires in West have gotten bigger, more frequent and longer since the 1980s”

        Gives some interesting information for dealing with those irritating people who have been saying about FortMac – “It’s normal for these forests to burn” – which was true in the (recent) past, but not with the present intensity and scale.

        Reply
    • Mulga Mumblebrain

       /  May 26, 2016

      Cate, they are making a new radio adaptation of ‘The Kraken Wakes’ on Scottish radio, and changing the post-apocalyptic venue, after the invading aliens melt the ice-caps, from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands. Spooky synchronicity, if you ask me. East coast of Scotland could be in the sights of mega-tsunamis, as a few thousand years ago, too, if melting clathrates off the Norway coast cause submarine landslips, too. Need I repeat that all this is virtually unreported in Australia, and most of what there is consists of denialism.

      Reply
      • Cate

         /  May 26, 2016

        I think there’s might be a bit more awareness of undersea landslides in Scotland, at least since a few years ago, when the BBC did a documentary on the inundation of Doggerland. The theory, as you know, is that the land was flooded by a tsunami caused by the so-called Storegga slide, on the continental shelf off the coast of Norway. What caused that slide is still up for debate, but the fact that a current multi-year collaborative study by several British agencies and unis is investigating possible links between climate change, undersea landslides in the Arctic, and tsunamis in the northern Atlantic and North Sea lends credence to the general theory.

        Reply
  14. wili

     /  May 26, 2016

    I want to echo the praise others are heaping on this achievement.

    The mismatch between where we are wrt current global temperatures versus where we are going based on even current CO2 and CO2eq levels is something that I think even people who follow these issues closely have trouble wrapping their heads around. This piece really helped. I’m trying to think of a metaphor for this mismatch, but am coming up blank so far.

    A couple minor niggles. Not everyone knows where exactly Totten is, so maybe just a little labeled arrow on the first map would be nice.

    Also, in the paragraph before the nicely alliterative “Tottering Totten” title (see, I got two more ‘t’s in! : P), “Overall, when taking looking” should be either “…taking a look” or just “looking”.

    I found the map of Southern Florida particularly stunning. That may be just decades away. We have to stop all further building there and start at least planning evacuation and resettlement…NOW! It takes a very long time to move multiple cities in any kind of orderly fashion in the best circumstances, I would think. But really no one is talking in these terms yet, are they? When do real estate panics or some such start to kick in, I wonder…

    Reply
  15. marcel_g

     /  May 26, 2016

    Bloody hell. My place in Ottawa is going to be oceanfront. A long time from now, hopefully, but still.

    Reply
  16. Mulga Mumblebrain

     /  May 26, 2016

    Given the inertia built into the global climate system, the absence of an interest in reducing emissions evidenced by the ruling global capitalist elite, their continuing hostility to renewable energy, the lunatic reliance on ‘Market Mechanisms’ ie hocus-pocus designed to enrich the few, to address this catastrophe, and the positive feed-backs (among many) of mega-fires and methane releases from rotting vegetation in thawing permafrost and from frozen submarine clathrates, surely this melting of the entire global cryosphere is already irreversible. And judging by experience over the last twenty years, in a time-frame much more rapid than the most ‘alarmist’ predictions.

    Reply
    • So I think it’s fair to say that with the G7 mostly committed to a coal phase out, with China committed to a terawatt of new renewable capacity by 2030, and with global divestment of fossil fuel capital hitting 2.6 trillion in 2015, that there’s a pretty huge shift underway. There are monied interests that are clearly in opposition to this shift. But there is a clash ongoing between increasing renewable capital interests and a existentially challenged fossil fuel capital interest. There’s a renaissance underway and the real question at this point is — can it move fast enough and can the fossil fuel interests stop it. Let’s hope the answer to these questions ends up being yes to 1 and no to 2.

      Reply
      • dnem

         /  May 26, 2016

        I often describe our predicament as a race. The curve of environmental “goods” including renewable energy and other sustainability initiatives is certainly rising quickly. The curve of environmental bads is not falling fast enough. These curves need to cross very soon and the gap between goods and bads needs to grow rapidly in favor of the goods. Jeremy Grantham recently puts the odds of it happening fast enough at “fifty-fifty.” Optimistic?
        http://fortune.com/2016/05/16/is-mankind-reaching-the-end/

        Reply
      • Mulga Mumblebrain

         /  May 27, 2016

        dnem, I understand and appreciate optimism, because it is positive. We will not get out of this bottle-neck in human history without the optimists being proved correct. But I am a pessimist. I won’t claim that is the realistic position, but I do believe we need a good dose of scare-mongering, because the ‘bad case’ let alone the ‘worst-case’ scenarios are unthinkable. But we must think them, if only to drive us onwards to defeat the monsters. If they win, and they have proved so unbelievably successful so far as to almost defy belief, we won’t fulfill our destiny or potential. But if we do defeat them, then in winning that victory humanity will ensure a long posterity, not the least because we escaped a Near Death Experience and learned from it. The next twenty years are the most important in all human history.

        Reply
  17. Mark from OZ

     /  May 26, 2016

    Great read and info!
    Many thanks!

    At the Strayan coalface:

    “French energy giant Engie has flagged the potential closure of the Hazelwood brown coal generator in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley – widely recognised as the most polluting power plant in the world.”

    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2016/engie-flags-potential-closure-of-hazelwood-worlds-most-polluting-power-plant-26484

    Je suis content!

    Reply
  18. Thank you for your easy to understand telling of our situation, Robert.
    It’s not the easiest information to read but Iwould rather have some of idea of what’s happening than not know. I have been accused of looking too deeply into the abyss all my life but it hasn’t stopped me from contnuing to look often.

    I have decided after following climate change for about 15 yrs that 2 thngs have to happen to really make Americans realize whag is happening: 1) When property values drop at lot someplace due to climate change, maybe Vegas or California, when the water supply reallyhits them, or 2) when the produce part of the groceries anywhere in the USA have a big shortage of everything.
    Sheri

    Reply
    • Cate

       /  May 26, 2016

      Sheri, I agree, I’m in Canada and people are very much BAU. I have always thought that the impact of climate change won’t hit home until it really hits home—on the dinner table, on the supermarket shelves, at eateries and fast food outlets. There will be shortages first, then “sorry, can’t get that anymore”, as our huge and lovely array of food choices becomes totally unaffordable.

      Reply
    • I should be sayingNorth Americans not just Americans in that comment, Cate.
      Sheri

      Reply
  19. Andy in SD

     /  May 26, 2016

    My father warned Exxon about climate change in the 1970s. They didn’t listen

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/25/exxon-climate-change-greenhouse-gasses

    Reply
  20. – Trees – atmospheric chemistry – SO2 CO2:

    Cloud-seeding surprise could improve climate predictions

    A molecule made by trees can seed clouds, suggesting that pre-industrial skies were less sunny than thought.

    Molecules released by trees can seed clouds, two experiments have revealed. The findings, published on 25 May in Nature1, 2 and Science3, run contrary to an assumption that the pollutant sulphuric acid is required for a certain type of cloud formation — and suggest that climate predictions may have underestimated the role that clouds had in shaping the pre-industrial climate.

    If the results of the experiments hold up, predictions of future climate change should take them into account, says Reto Knutti, a climate modeller at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich). For 20 or more years, clouds have been the largest source of uncertainty in understanding how manmade emissions affect the atmosphere, he says.

    In addition to releasing carbon dioxide, burning fossil fuels indirectly produces sulphuric acid, which is known to seed clouds. So, climate scientists have assumed that since pre-industrial times, there has been a large increase in cloud cover, which is thought to have an overall cooling effect by reflecting sunlight back into space. And they have assumed that this overall cooling effect has partially masked the climate’s underlying sensitivity to rising carbon dioxide levels.
    http://www.nature.com/news/cloud-seeding-surprise-could-improve-climate-predictions-1.19971

    Reply
  21. 408 Parts per million CO2. 490 parts per million CO2e.
    Should that read
    408 Parts per million CO2. PLUS 490 parts per million CO2e. (which I think it is?)
    Thanks

    Reply
    • dnem

       /  May 26, 2016

      No. The contribution of anthropogenic methane and other heat trapping gases makes it “as if” CO2 was at 490. The additive component is, in this example, 82 ppm of CO2.

      Reply
  22. Phil

     /  May 26, 2016

    The bad news keeps coming in. Things seem to be progressing at a much faster rate than expected. Arctic beginning to look dicey again as well.

    And in the election campaign here is Australia, next to nothing on climate change issues. Politicians, big business and main stream media including our public broadcaster (ABC) all caught up in trying to bury climate change as an issue.

    Hopefully, environment groups will get together and try to raise the prominence given to climate change and begin campaigning on it.

    Reply
  23. Ryan in New England

     /  May 26, 2016

    Exxon CEO says humanity can’t stop oil production. This is the mindset we are fighting against…and their millions in propaganda to convince American and the world we don’t need to change anything.

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/may/25/exxonmobil-ceo-oil-climate-change-oil-production

    Reply
    • Wharf Rat

       /  May 26, 2016

      “Exxon CEO says humanity can’t stop oil production”

      So does Obama…

      Top Obama Energy Official Says Administration Rejects “Keep It In The Ground” As Climate Strategy
      http://www.desmogblog.com/2016/05/26/top-obama-energy-official-says-administration-rejects-keep-it-ground-climate-strategy

      Reply
      • Wharf — that’s not Obama saying it. It’s some guy who worked for Chevron and Texaco saying it. However, what this does expose is a link between bad energy policy on the part of nations and fossil fuel industry execs ending up in public policy forming institutions like the energy cabinets of presidents. To my knowledge Obama hasn’t made a definitive statement RE ‘keep it in the ground.’ But clearly it’s the best policy and really the only way to deal with climate change.

        Reply
  24. Ryan in New England

     /  May 26, 2016

    Hey DT, I thought of you when I saw this…

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/05/24/3781243/how-air-pollution-causes-heart-disease/

    All we know about the harms of air pollution, and still we seem to simply accept it. A damn shame!

    Reply
  25. redskylite

     /  May 26, 2016

    Echoing other readers remarks many thanks for this detailed and easy to read report on the state of the Totten Glacier; much appreciated. Glad there are people like you and the regular audience here who care and keep an eye on the latest information, otherwise it would be easy to get lost.

    Here’s a bit of cheer of what can be achieved, I feel it’s more likely to be achieved by richer rather than poorer folks but never the less we need templates for when we are displaced by sea level rise and a hostile alien climate.

    Let’s hope it is achieved starting this summer and not a fancy dream, that we never hear about again.

    Danish architectural firm EFFEKT envisioned a future where self-sustaining communities could grow their own food and produce their own energy. They incorporated that vision into the ReGen Village, a planned off-grid community that addresses issues ranging from climate change to food security through sustainable design. They plan to start building these utopian communities this summer.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    The concept is exciting, and EFFEKT already has plans to take the design to the next level in their first community to be built in the Netherlands this summer. They’re also planning pilot projects in Sweden, Germany, Norway, and Denmark, with plans in the early stages for communities in China, Africa, and the United Arab Emirates.

    http://inhabitat.com/utopian-off-grid-village-grows-own-food-in-shared-local-eco-system/

    Reply
  26. Cate

     /  May 26, 2016

    Premier Notley claims “aggressive” “leadership” on the climate front in Canada with her new Bill 20 which will introduce a carbon tax.

    The goal is to get Alberta off coal by 2030.

    The government estimates the carbon tax will reduce greenhouse gases by 30 megatonnes in the first few years, moving up to 50 megatonnes over today’s numbers in 2030.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-introduces-bill-to-implement-carbon-tax-1.3598183

    Reply
    • Cate

       /  May 26, 2016

      Meanwhile, in Ontario, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s govt is sitting on a confidential “Climate Change Action Plan” which was leaked to the Globe and Mail and therefore received almost no notice apart from this newspaper report, 16 May 2016.

      http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ontario-to-spend-7-billion-in-sweeping-climate-change-plan/article30029081/

      >>>The many new programs will be paid for out of revenue from the province’s upcoming cap-and-trade system, which is expected to be approved by the legislature this week and come into effect at the start of next year. Together, the cap-and-trade system and the action plan are the backbone of the province’s strategy to cut emissions to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, 37 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050.

      “We are on the cusp of a once-in-a-lifetime transformation. It’s a transformation of how we look at our planet and the impact we have on it,” reads a preamble to the plan signed by Ms. Wynne. “It’s a transformation that will forever change how we live, work, play and move.”<<<

      For comparison on possible impact:
      Ontario population 12,850,000 (over one-third of Canada's total)
      Alberta population 3,600,000
      Canada population 34,300,000

      Reply
      • esuttor

         /  May 26, 2016

        Minot update: Cate’s population figures reflect 2011 census. Current 2016 estimates (see Stats Can) are
        Ontario: 13,873,000
        Alberta: 4,232,000
        Canada: 36,049,000

        Reply
  27. Abel Adamski

     /  May 26, 2016

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/05/25/3781600/zika-clean-water-act/

    House Passes Zika Bill That Won’t Fight The Virus But May Put More Pesticides In Your Water

    Despite the fact that Congress has yet to pass a fully-funded Zika emergency bill, the House of Representatives passed the Zika Vector Control Act Tuesday evening, a bill ostensibly aimed at helping to fight the potential spread of the Zika virus throughout the United States.

    But House Democrats and environmental organizations are crying foul, arguing that the bill uses the threat of Zika as a cover for rolling back crucial EPA regulations that protect bodies of water from pesticides.

    “The reality is that the majority has been pushing this legislation for years under whatever name is convenient at the time,” Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) said during the floor debate Tuesday. “This bill has nothing to do with combating Zika.”

    Opponents of the bill noted that it would do nothing to help emergency responders have more flexibility with regard to pesticides and Zika, arguing that vector control agencies already have the authority to apply pesticides in emergency situations to prevent the spread of infectious diseases without the need to apply for a permit.

    Reply
  28. Abel Adamski

     /  May 26, 2016

    http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2016/05/25/3781705/thiel-gawker-trump/

    Billionaires Eager To Sue Outlets That Criticize Them Would Thrive In A Trump Presidency

    Reply
  29. Abel Adamski

     /  May 26, 2016

    Living in OZ I have been considering Hansens work, the melting in Antarctica and growing freshwater skin in the Southern ocean along with the warming in Pacific and Indian oceans.
    Australia and NZ are stuck bang square in the middle, is it going to be super storm alley. ?

    Reply
  30. Abel Adamski

     /  May 26, 2016

    http://grist.org/food/climate-change-is-making-food-more-toxic/

    Climate change is making food more toxic

    oming soon to a cereal bowl near you: Mycotoxins!

    Mycotoxins are much scarier than a horror movie. They are poisons produced by fungi and can cause cancer, suppress immune systems, and straight up kill you. They’re already in a quarter of the world’s cereals, but mycotoxins mostly affect people living in the tropics, where warmer weather allows for fungal growth. They haven’t posed a major problem in the cooler latitudes of the northern grain belt. But if you are reading this you’ve probably already guessed: Climate change could change that.

    Reply
  31. Reply
  32. Greg

     /  May 26, 2016

    Do you like apples? How do you like them apples?

    via Peter Sinclair

    Reply
    • And Donald Trump wants to put the kibosh on this? It’ll be his recession if he pulls the sort of cr@p Warren Buffet and the GOP did in Nevada.

      Reply
  33. Greg

     /  May 26, 2016

    We aren’t in Kansas anymore. Yesterday, via Dr. Jeff Masters, “veteran storm chaser and damage expert Tim Marshall, who has filmed more than 200 twisters, called “the longest-lasting tornado of my chase career.” This twister, apparently more than half a wide at times, lasted for roughly 90 minutes; if confirmed, this would be among the longest reliably documented tornado durations in U.S. records. Almost miraculously, the tornado avoided any direct hits on large communities. Towering to 70,000 feet at one point, this all-alone storm generated 12 of the 14 preliminary tornado reports on SPC’s daily storm log by early Thursday.

    Reply
  34. Russia Wildfire Is Size of Vermont and Delaware: Greenpeace

    the country could suffer its worst wildfire season in more than 100 years.

    The season is still in its early stages, but wildfires blazing across the country’s far east have already scorched through more than 11,500 square miles…

    http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/russia-wildfire-size-vermont-delaware-greenpeace-says-n579311

    Reply
    • Interesting. I wonder if this is another case where Greenpeace is more accurate than official reports. The satellite imagery coming in for this region has been quite intense — with massive fires visible recently. I wonder if there’s a possibility that previous fire seasons were under-reported as well.

      That final statement — ‘more forest is burning than is growing back, we’re losing our forests’ — is pretty telling.

      Reply
    • Ryan in New England

       /  May 26, 2016

      Like I said upstream in a previous comment, our forests are in the process of changing into something completely different. The mega-fires are becoming too frequent and too large, and burn things too completely (scorched Earth which nothing survives) for the forests to grow back like they used to. And they are trying to grow back in an environment that is different than the one they originally formed in.

      Reply
    • These carbon monoxide images from earth.nullschool have been showing the widespread nature of these fires, for weeks now. Around April 10th, there was a big increase, and since the first week in May, the carbon monoxide plumes from these fires have been really huge.

      https://earth.nullschool.net/#2016/05/26/0000Z/chem/surface/level/overlay=cosc/orthographic=105.00,47.66,1979/loc=115.432,37.822

      It’s possible to manually edit the date in the above url, and skip back in time by weeks or months.

      Mainland China appears to be covered by a permanent carbon monoxide plume, that is huge every day. In its own way, that is at least as scary as these Siberian fires, I think.

      Reply
  35. – FILE UNDER ALL: THINGS REFUGEE

    Reply
  36. – This ridge seems rather large too.
    Ben Nauman ‏@bencnauman 6h6 hours ago

    This looks a little bit too hot for me #cawx

    Reply
  37. – Iconic Figs – Ficus:

    Reply
    • – Then there are times of air pollution and toxic aerosol fallout in 2012 USA. I have over 40 years of familiarity with this location. Never before had I seen anything remotely like this mass deadfall.

      Reply
      • – Denial? Acceptance? In 21st century USA? I saw and photographed many instances of the sort of phytotoxic evidence.
        Incredible.

        Reply
  38. Reply
  39. Air pollution in North Pole worse than Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Detroit combined

    FAIRBANKS — The highest counts of episodic PM 2.5 particulate pollution reported in the country are coming from a pollution monitor on Hurst Road in North Pole.

    The counts are not just high. They are outrageously high — almost twice as high as the next highest community in the nation, according to data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    “This level of pollution is rarely experienced in the United States,” said Claudia Vaupel, EPA air planning team leader.
    http://www.newsminer.com/news/local_news/air-pollution-in-north-pole-worse-than-los-angeles-milwaukee/article_a797d390-2315-11e6-a864-4714d8ec1790.html

    Reply
  40. Africa’s Most Vulnerable Face an Even Hotter Future

    Extreme heat that would be considered unusual today could become a yearly occurrence there by mid-century, one new study suggests

    “They don’t have the capacity to respond to such heat waves,” lacking the kind of warning systems and regular access to health care that help those in wealthier countries cope, said Jana Sillman, a co-author of the first study, and a climate researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway.

    “The threat to Africa is multi-faceted. Threats to human health via heat waves is but one of them,” Michael Wehner, a climate researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said. “Disruptions to agriculture, combined with a rapidly growing population in some countries is also of great concern.”

    http://www.climatecentral.org/news/the-hotter-future-africa-is-facing-20383

    Reply
    • EUROPE should be very, very concerned with this. We should too but with Latin America — it’ll get atrociously hot, too, particularly in the South American interior, like the Amazon.

      Reply
  41. Yet another scarey article on our global warming and another manifestation of the Fossil Fuels Derivatives Beast! And I reblogged it at Fin des Voies Rapides.

    Reply
  42. Mblanc

     /  May 27, 2016

    Great subject to scribble about, I figured you would pick this up. Great stuff RS

    Reply
  43. mlparrish

     /  May 27, 2016

    peka,
    I have been having considerable trouble with the methane figures, too. I think I have gotten a couple of things straight. First, the breakdown of one methane molecule yields one CO2 molecule. Since CH4 is in ppb and CO2 in ppm, this contribution to CO2 levels is relatively small. Second, the most accepted figures (I am a layman) appear to be 86 -100X CO2 warming for methane short term, which is what it would be if methane levels are stable or rising (which they are), but this is on a weight for weight basis, and not a molecule for molecule basis. Since CH4 is lighter than CO2, the CO2e is less than if it were calculated on a molecule for molecule basis. I did run the figures and the CO2e Robert gives are in the ball park.
    There are other concerning aspects about the CO2e I have not been able to reconcile, but these two have helped me in following the conversations. Leland Palmer, please feel free to chime in.

    Reply
  44. Lennart van der Linde

     /  May 27, 2016

    Robert, nice piece, thank you.

    You write:
    “By last week, a model study had found that Totten alone could produce as much as 1 meter of sea level rise before the end of this Century if global temperatures warm by 2 degrees Celsius or more above 1880s values.”

    I quickly checked Aitken et al 2016, but couldn’t find this exact conclusion. Did I miss it?

    You also write:
    “ICECAP researchers now note that Antarctica alone could contribute to as much as 2 meters worth of sea level rise before the end of this Century.”

    I must have missed this too. As far as I know DeConto & Pollard 2016 think 1.5m by 2100 from Antarctica alone could be possible.

    It woud be helpful if you could provide quotes from the scientists themselves supporting the above two quotes from your piece.

    Reply
    • Thanks Lennart —

      The first reference of 1 meter comes from the Aitken Paper analysis noting that 2 C worth of local ocean warming would be enough to melt the basin 1 region of the Totten. This roughly corresponds with a 2 C atmospheric warming which I extrapolated for this writing. I’ve since clarified the language somewhat.

      As for the second reference, on reviewing my notes, I found that I had indeed used to Deconto for the anecdote and have since revised accordingly.

      Deconto notes:

      “Today we’re measuring global sea level rise in millimetres per year,” DeConto says. “We’re talking about the potential for centimetres per year just from [ice loss in] Antarctica.”

      Thanks for the comment. And warmest regards.

      Reply
    • Updates and clarifications in.

      Reply
  45. A meter here, a meter there and pretty soon you’re in for some wicked serious sea-level rise!

    Reply
  46. Reblogged at Fin des Voies Rapides, ending with the above comment.

    Reply
  1. Tottering Totten and the Coming Multi-Meter Sea Level Rise | 2rhoeas3

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