This is What The Resistance Looks Like — Cities, States and Nations Run on 100 Percent Renewable Power

The sparks of resistance to a harmful domination of energy supplies by the fossil fuel industry are out there. They are the lights of clean power generation blooming like stars across a world blackened by smokestack emissions and imperiled by climate change.

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In the U.S., backward-looking republicans like Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, James Inhofe and Mitch McConnell appear to be gearing up to fight against both a necessary and helpful science that provides us with a life-saving awareness of the threats posed by human caused climate change and a highly beneficial renewable energy renaissance that has now gone global. Trump’s presidential cabinet is filled to the brim with climate change deniers and fossil fuel pushers. Pledges to de-fund climate science, implied threats to fire employees at the Department of Energy who worked on climate and renewable energy related issues, and belligerent boasting about dismantling much-needed policies like the Clean Power Plan, EPA fuel efficiency standards, and the Paris Climate Summit abound.

It’s the great loud, sad, and ignorance-filled reaction against a better future. A political and legislative backlash funded by oil, gas, and coal company campaign donations, advertising dollars, and indirect media investments. One that seeks to remove the possibility for a time when energy does not pollute the air or water — resulting in 7 million premature deaths each year globally. For one when climates are not, by incessant fossil fuel burning, pushed ever-closer to the hothouse extinction states that killed so much of life on Earth in the great long ago.

(There used to be a number of forward-looking republicans who both stood as leaders of their party and provided strong support for clean power. What happened? Where are these clear and reasonable voices now? Arnold calls BS on politicians fighting against clean energy, who like Trump and many current-day republicans, are claiming it’s too costly or difficult to switch away from fossil fuels. Video source: Attn.)

But despite this surge of destructive reactionism on the part of U.S. republicans and in such varied legislative bodies as the UK and Australia, the hopeful movement toward a future which includes the potential for human civilization survival and long-term prosperity continues. It’s a movement powered by individuals, by sustainable industries, by cities, by states and by nations who recognize the need for a more hopeful, more beneficial path than the one the fossil fuel industry and their political cohorts, like Trump, are now seeking to force upon them. They are the base of a very necessary resistance to a malign and yet still powerful global influence. And they are resisting by simply finding a way to shine lights powered by clean energy in the darkness and smog of this dying hydrocarbon age.

Number of U.S. Cities Powered by 100 Percent Renewable Energy Grows

In Las Vegas, Nevada, a city on the brink of a climate change driven chaos of water shortages and worsening droughts, the clean energy lights have switched on. There, city officials have achieved 100 percent renewable power for municipal facilities fed by a 100 MW renewable energy generation source. To be clear, the entire city of Las Vegas isn’t run by renewable energy — yet. But the government buildings, traffic lights, street lights, and public parks are now powered by clean sources.

Las Vegas isn’t the only one. Greensburg, Kansas runs on 100 percent renewable power — including electricity provided to individual residences. Burlington, Vermont and Aspen, Colorado also provide 100 percent renewable energy for city infrastructure, industry and residences. The list of cities already achieving or close to achieving 100 percent renewable power goals goes on to include Columbia, Maryland; East Hampton, New York; Georgetown, Texas; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Greensburg, Kansas; Nassau, New York and Rochester, Minnesota.  In California — a state that governor Jerry Brown has pledged will continue its clean energy progress despite what appear to be a broad array of incoming attacks on renewables by Trump and republicans — Paolo Alto is joined by Lancaster, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Monica as cities that have all achieved or are pursuing 100 percent renewable power generation.

us-solar-energy-leadership

(President Obama is proud of U.S. solar energy and climate leadership. This support helped Obama to create 14 million jobs over the course of his Presidency. Donald Trump appears to be ready to attack one of the U.S.’s few remaining cutting edge industries and along with it middle class jobs. Image source: White House.)

But that’s not all. This week, a new power agreement committed 21 towns in Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod to energy provided by 100 percent renewable sources. These communities banded together with the goal in mind not just to switch to clean energy — but to negotiate favorable rates by leveraging the bargaining power of a large customer base. Such a strategic approach is especially important in regions where energy markets have been deregulated — as it provides the added protection of broad representation.

As with climate scientists, it’s likely that sustainable communities like these will fall on the target lists of republican party leaders allied to a fossil fuel industry that’s increasingly desperate to legislatively capture energy customers — providing them no option to escape from harmful power sources. But many city leaders are fed up and won’t have any of it. To this point, 48 mayors issued an open letter to Donald Trump stating:

The effects of climate change — extreme storms, wildfires and drought; sea level rise and storm surge; choking air pollution in cities; disruption of agricultural supply chains and jobs in rural heartlands; and coastal erosion, to name a few — are a clear and present danger to American interests at home and abroad… As Mayors, we have taken it upon ourselves to take bold action within our cities to tackle the climate crisis head-on. We write today to ask for your partnership in our work to clean our air, strengthen our economy, and ensure that our children inherit a nation healthier and better prepared for the future than it is today.

A Global Resistance to the Harmful Energy Sources that Cause Climate Change

Across the Atlantic, a Scottish golf course constructed by Donald Trump is now receiving power from renewable energy sources like the wind turbines he continues to oppose. Today Scotland generates 72 percent of its electrical energy from non carbon sources. A figure that the Scottish government is aiming to push to 100 percent by 2020. Meanwhile, the European island of Iceland has long received the bulk of its electricity and thermal energy from renewable hydro and geothermal sources.

In nearby mainland Europe, numerous cities now run on 100 percent renewable electrical power. These include Güssing, in Austria; Wildpoldsried, in Germany and Samsø, in Denmark. Germany’s states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, home to 1.6 million Germans, and Schleswig-Holstein with a population of 2.9 million are both renewable energy over-achievers — producing more clean power than they consume. These states instead often export their electricity to various other nearby regions.

In South America, Paraguay produces 10 times the electricity it requires from renewables and exports the excess to its neighbors — many of whom, like Bolivia and Brazil, are already seeing harmful climate impacts resulting from human fossil fuel burning. Further north, Central American Costa Rica has now seen a year pass without the need for further fossil fuel power generation even as it continues to install more renewables. And, finally, Pacific islands are starting to make the switch from expensive diesel power generation to increasingly affordable solar. There, the Pacific island nation of Tokelau had become the first country to be powered by 100 percent solar energy. Meanwhile, Solar City recently enabled an entire island in the American Samoa chain to flip from diesel to near 100 percent solar.

Solar Exceeds Wind For First Time as India Makes Commitment to Halt Coal Plant Construction

Stepping back, we find that this massive transition away from fossil fuel based energy sources is being driven in large part by two new energy providers combining with traditional hydro power generation as a dispatchable base load provider. These two — wind and solar — this year will add a combined approximate 130-140 gigawatts of new generation capacity. Solar, for the first time, is expected to exceed wind by providing 70-76 gigawatts of new capacity during 2016. Meanwhile, wind is expected to hit record or near record installations at around 60-65 gigawatts.

Low prices and superior energy return on energy investment vs traditional fossil fuels as well as much lower overall impacts to human health and the global climate appears to be the primary driver of what is shaping up to be an extraordinarily rapid shift in the world’s electricity markets. Wind has long been considered a low-cost energy source. But in 2016, it appears that solar prices have fallen below those of already inexpensive wind generation. And, according to Bloomberg, solar is now sometimes selling a prices half that of traditional coal. It is these low prices that are enabling cities, communities, states and some small to mid-sized nations to achieve 100 percent renewable power generation. Meanwhile, large states are now enabled to make big commitments to halt construction of the worst-polluting power stations.

On Tuesday, December 20, India — which will soon be the most highly populated country in the world — announced that it would completely halt new coal plant construction through 2027. India faces worsening droughts, glacial outburst floods in the Himalayas, killing heat, and a flood destabilized Bangladesh to its east so long as global temperatures continue to rise. The country is also seeing rapid economic growth and increases in prosperity. But this prosperity is threatened by climate change impacts. For a country faced with destabilization of nations on its borders, inundated coastlines, killing heat in its heartland, and rampant drought as rivers dry up and glaciers disappear finds aspirations for a prosperous future imperiled.

india-majority-renewable-power

(India plans a major revamp of policy by ambitiously pursuing renewables while completely curtailing new coal plant building. Under such a plan, and with Trump coming in as President, one wonders if the U.S. will fall far behind other nations leading the charge into a future powered by clean energy. Will Trump attack the very industries at home that would benefit from India’s drive to seek renewable energy partners? American mainstays like Tesla, Solar City, GE wind, SunPower, and First Solar would all benefit from such a potential relationship. But will Trump’s anti-renewables fossil fuel based ideology blind him to this obvious opportunity to help U.S. business interests abroad? Image provided by Renew Economy.)

India’s response is to rationally cap coal consumption by 2022 while undertaking a massive renewable energy build-out. By 2027, India plans to add 215 gigawatts of renewables, and 39 gigawatts of nuclear and hydro power. Coal plant construction will be limited to those plants that are currently under contract. But the state already predicts that the capacity will be under-utilized, resulting in stranded fossil fuel ‘assets’ — which could produce a drag on markets both at home and abroad.

Under the new plan, India will boast a majority renewable and zero emission power generation capacity by 2027. And this action appears to be laying the groundwork for a larger energy switch as India’s Energy Minister Piyush Goyal has stated a clear goal to “look at a world beyond fossil fuels” and to aim to cut fossil fuel imports.

Clean Power Resistance to Ideologies and Industries Destined for Dramatic Failure

In the end, what we see is a world in which renewable energy is making a great leap forward. A world where the considerable but waning fossil fuel powers are panicking and lashing out as they begin to enter decline. We see this reactionary backlash in climate change denial, in attacks on scientists, in an amoral pandering toward fears, bigotry and extremism, in brazen attempts to erode democratic institutions and attack the Constitutional integrity of the electoral process in the U.S., and in Trump’s and Republicans’ insistence on protecting fading industries destined to fail. We also see it in their attacks against the new and helpful industries and the agencies, like the EPA and NASA, that produce so many beneficial public goods.

What their actions and reactions will produce — by intentionally injecting authoritarianism, chaos and instability — is a delay to the entry of these helpful power sources. A delay that will lock in worse climate harms even as it hobbles the most innovative and helpful segment of emerging industry within the United States. A delay engineered by leveraging all the darker angels of the American psyche. And as with many of the other policies now being promoted by republicans, this subset is as ludicrously out of touch with present day politics, history, societies, and industry as it is brazenly harmful to pretty much everyone.

But the resistance to this darkness and retrenchment has arrived in the form of new opportunity and progressive movement. It has arrived in the form of a very real and clean enlightenment of the global energy production system. One that breaks the ancient ties to destructive extraction and burning. And there could be no better cause than supporting this resistance by doing your part to aid the transition to clean power.

Links:

NASA Climate Change Mitigation

Trump Cabinet Filled to the Brim With Climate Change Deniers

Cape Light Compact Goes 100 Percent Renewable Electricity

White House

Arnold Calls BS on Politicians Claiming Clean Energy is Too Expensive

Los Vegas Goes 100 Percent Renewable Power

Solar Now Produces a Better Energy Return on Investment than Oil

Renew Economy — No New Coal Fired Plants for India

Solar Less Expensive than Coal and Wind

Mayors Letter to Trump on Climate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

 

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A Flood of Warm Water the Size of 30 Amazon Rivers is Melting One of East Antarctica’s Largest Glaciers

If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that few of Antarctica’s submerged coastal glaciers are safe from the warming ocean. Places that we once thought wouldn’t be vulnerable to melt for decades or centuries are now starting to feel the heat of rising water temperatures.

The heat comes in the form of great floods of warmer than normal waters running beneath the ocean surface and then eating away at the undersides of ice shelves and sea fronting glaciers. These floods are provided by the warmth forced into the world ocean by rising global greenhouse gas concentrations. And such invasions are happening around Antarctica’s perimeter with increasing frequency. But perhaps the most disturbing such event now ongoing is the present warm water flood running in from the Southern Ocean toward East Antarctica’s Totten Glacier.

calving-front-of-the-totten-glacier

(The melting edge of the Totten Glacier. Image source: Antarctica.gov.)

Totten is a truly gigantic glacier. By itself representing an ice mass equal to that contained in all of West Antarctica’s many glaciers. If large sections of Totten and the associated Aurora Basin were to melt, seas could rise by 12 feet or more. During recent years, researchers identified a great canyon running between 2,000 and 3,600 feet below sea level and stretching six miles wide as a weak point for Totten — whose glaciers sit in an enormous, below sea level rift within East Antarctica.

Researchers recently found that the floating ice shelf buttressing Totten was melting from below. As of 2015, they hadn’t identified a mechanism for this melt. But they had a pretty short suspect list. This year, a new study led by Dr. Stephen Rich Rintoul found that a river of warm water flowing at a rate of 220,000 cubic meters per second was flooding into the vulnerable canyon entrance to Totten’s weak underbelly. The researchers determined that this volume of warm water — equaling a flow rate more than 30 times that of the Amazon River — was enough to account for the observed ice shelf losses over recent years in the range of 60 to 80 billion tons per year.

totten-glacier-basin

(The Totten Glacier of East Antarctica contains about as much ice mass as all of West Antarctica. Its catchment basin is roughly the size of the U.S. Southeast. Much of it sits below sea level. And an ice shelf buttressing the glacier’s largest outlet in a 6 mile wide and 3,600 foot deep canyon is rapidly melting. Once this ice shelf breaks apart, ocean water will flood inland along a reverse slope and the Totten Glacier will increase its rate of movement toward the ocean — significantly speeding rates of global sea level rise. Image source: Australian Antarctic Division.)

The study authors found that:

…several lines of evidence support the conclusion that rapid basal melt of the [Totten Ice Shelf] is driven by the flux of warm [modified circumpolar deep water] into the cavity: the presence of warm water at the ice front, the existence of a deep trough providing access of this warm water to the cavity, direct measurements of mass and heat transport into the cavity, the signature of glacial meltwater in the outflow, and exchange rates inferred from the heat budget and satellite-derived basal melt rates.

Presently, because the ice shelf floats, this melt is not adding to global sea level rise. But the shelf acts like a cork that’s stopping the rest of Totten from flowing into the ocean. And when the ice shelf weakens enough, it will rift and break apart — leaving the massive glaciers behind it exposed to the inrush of warm waters and removing the last major barrier preventing them from bursting out.

Links:

Ocean Heat Drives Rapid Basal Melt of Totten Ice Shelf

Scientists Confirm that Warm Ocean Water is Melting one of East Antarctica’s Biggest Glaciers

One by One, the Flood Gates of Antarctica are Breaking Open

Tottering Totten and the Coming Multi-meter Sea Level Rise

Antarctica.gov

Hat tip to Robert in New Orleans

Solar Now Produces a Better Energy Return on Investment Than Oil

The future is not good for oil, no matter which way you look at it. — Motherboard

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Solar — it’s not just a clean power source producing zero emissions and almost no local water impact, it’s also now one of the best choices on the basis of how much energy you get back for your investment. And with climate change impacts rising, solar’s further potential to take some of the edge off the harm that’s coming down the pipe makes speeding its adoption a clear no-brainer.

In 2016, according to a trends analysis based on this report by the Royal Society of London, the energy return on energy investment (EROEI) for oil appears to have fallen below a ratio of 15 to 1 globally. In places like the United States, where extraction efforts increasingly rely on unconventional techniques like fracking, that EROEI has fallen to 10 or 11 to 1 or lower.

Meanwhile, according to a new study by the Imperial College of London, solar energy’s return on investment ratio as of 2015 was 14 to 1 and rising. What this means is that a global energy return on investment inflection point between oil and solar was likely reached at some time during the present year.

solar-energy-conversion-efficiencies

(Rising solar cell conversion efficiencies, expanding production bases, and better supply chains are helping to drive solar energy return on energy invested higher. Image source: Commons.)

How much energy you get back for each unit invested has often been seen as a viability factor for modern civilization. And returns higher than 5 to 1 were often thought of as essential for the maintenance and progression of present high standards of living in advanced societies. However, in the past, alternatives like wind and solar were at first criticized for perceived low rates of energy return. In the end, it appears that these criticisms have turned up false.

The higher energy returns for solar come as module efficiency, supply chain efficiency, and production and installation efficiency are all on the rise. And as solar is a technology-based energy source, we can expect these returns to continue to increase as production bases widen and as innovation drives modules to continue to improve their ability to collect power from the sun. For oil, the story is quite a bit more grim. Falling production in conventional wells has resulted in more reliance on hard to extract oil — and this makes pulling oil out of the ground much more expensive from an energy investment standpoint.

Record Rate of Solar Installation

Solar’s sharpening edge vs oil as an energy source came during a year when new installations boomed globally. Annual installations are expected to hit a record 70 gigawatts (GW) around the world in 2016 — ahead of early predictions for 65 GW of new installations earlier this year. China, the U.S. and India all likely saw record rates of solar adoption. Falling prices have helped to push the surge even as energy policies within many countries remain favorable to solar. In the Middle East and South America, new solar purchase agreements continued to break records for lowest cost. In Abu Dhabi, one solar project moved ahead with a 2.42 cent per kwh price tag. In Chile, a separate project broke ground at 2.91 cents per kwh. These prices are considerably lower than new oil or gas plants and are a primary driver for rising rates of adoption.

rate-of-solar-energy-installation-us

(Under Democratic President Barack Obama, solar energy expanded at a very rapid clip. This was partly due to a mostly positive policy environment at the national level and due to widespread support by various executive branch agencies like the EPA and the Department of Energy. That said, from 2013 onward, falling solar prices and better solar economics have become a larger driving force for market expansion. Reactive policies coming from the Trump Administration may put a wet blanket over this rate of solar growth. However, it is likely only to slow solar’s rise. In any case, given the amazing benefits provided by solar power, efforts made to slow this transition by Trump and others in his administration should be seen as a protectionist, nonsensical, and amoral top-down defense of the harmful fossil fuel industry. Image source: CleanEnergy.org.)

Higher energy return on investment ratios for solar is one of the primary drivers enabling such low overall power prices. And the impact is starting to ripple through global markets which are steadily embracing transformation (as in California) or are responding in a reactionary/protectionist manner in an attempt to slow solar’s advance (as in Nevada). Favorable energy economics are just one of solar’s many benefits — including less water use, lack of requirement for a centralized grid in undeveloped regions, low cost, zero air pollution, and in providing a mitigation for the rising problem of global climate change (which is primarily driven by human fossil fuel burning). And those seeking to remove policy support for continued rising rates of adoption for solar will not only be denying basic economic realities, they’ll be supporting the irrational continuation of an inherently harmful set of industries.

Links:

Implications of the Declining Energy Return on Energy Investment for Oil

PV Energy Payback and Net Energy

Solar is Already Producing More Energy Than Oil

CleanEnergy.org

World to Install 70 GW of Solar in 2016

World Record Breaking Price for Solar in Ahbu Dhabi

Hat tip to Climatehawk1

Regions Near North Pole to Hit Above Freezing Three Days Before Christmas

In our cultural mythology we consider the North Pole to be this permanently frozen wonderland. And, during the 20th Century, the depiction was mostly true. Explorers venturing into the Arctic at that time found towering floes of ice — often measuring 15 to 20 feet high. And, up until the mid 2000s, the Arctic Ocean was permanently frozen from Continent to Pole even during summer. So adventurous skiers could strike out from northern Siberian, and treck to the pole over ice in months like June and July. Now such expeditions require the use of a kayak — if they occur at all.

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(A warm storm over Svalbard joins with a chain of systems running from the North Atlantic to the Pole to drive gale force winds and above freezing temperatures into the Arctic in this December 22nd GFS model prediction. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Back then, the polar zone in the north appeared to be mostly solid. And if ice moved or melted — it was a slow grind or a rare event. No more. Now, Arctic sea ice extent values have plummeted and the thinner ice that remains is often melting, cracking, and mobile. Now, increasingly, during late fall and early winter temperatures have been rising to near or above freezing. Last year a powerful storm system pulled warming air up out of the North Atlantic — pushing temperatures over the North Pole to above freezing on December 29th. One month later, during late January of 2016, a similar weather system drove temperatures at the North Pole to near freezing.

This year, GFS model runs again show the potential for extreme above average temperatures in the region of the North Pole three days before Christmas. A storm in the Greenland Sea is predicted to strengthen to 940 mb intensity on the 20th and 21st. This system is expected to dredge warm air from the tropical North Atlantic and then fling it all the way to the Pole.

temperatures-up-to-55-f-above-average-near-north-pole

(Temperatures may rise to as high as 55 F [31 C] above average on December 22nd over sections of the Arctic near the North Pole. Note that this dynamic will tend to drive colder air out over the Continents — especially, in this case, toward Siberia. Also note that global temperatures remain well above average even when compared to the warmer than normal 1979 to 2000 time-frame. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

As a result, temperatures in the polar region are expected to rise to near or above freezing. According to GFS model runs, the thermometer at 90 North is expected to hit around -0.3 C (31.5 F) at 0400 UTC on December 22. Meanwhile temperatures on the Siberian side of the Pole at 88 North, 109 East are predicted to hit 0.6 C or 33 F during the same time period. By comparison, temperatures in Southeast Texas at 27.9 N, 97.8 W — not far from from the U.S. Gulf Coast — were about -0.3 C on Monday morning following the passage of a cold front late Sunday.

This level of warmth during December for the Arctic is excessive and the expected readings are in the range of 25 to 31 degrees Celsius above average ( 45 to 55 Fahrenheit warmer than normal). These are near all-time record highs. But it is not just the extreme departures predicted for Wednesday that should be cause for concern, it’s the fact that such a high level of warmth for this region of the Arctic is occurring with a greater and greater frequency. For human-forced climate change — primarily driven by the burning of fossil fuels — is now in the process of radically changing the Arctic environment. And so much warming in the Arctic is a main driver of extreme Northern Hemisphere weather, of glacial melt contributing to sea level rise, and to severe loss of life among key Arctic species.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

Warm Arctic Storm to Unfreeze North Pole

Warm Arctic Storm Aims to Unfreeze North Pole Again

Has the Last Human Trekked to the North Pole?

To Carry a Light into Darkness — California Governor Jerry Brown Promises to Fight Like Hell Against Trump’s War on Science

“If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.” — Jerry Brown

“Creating lists of employees smacks of McCarthyism and should cease immediately.”The Union of Concerned Scientists

“Fear is palpable among U.S. climate scientists over Trump moves” — The Japan Times

“Assaults on science are characteristic of non-democratic, authoritarian, fascist governments. We worry it is going to get worse.” Dr Peter Gleick

“We’ve got more sun than you’ve got oil.” — Jerry Brown

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Donald Trump hasn’t even taken office yet. But the war on climate science that he promised on the campaign trail has already begun. And in response, the good and necessary resistance is starting to form.

Last week, PEOTUS sent a chill through the scientific community when his transition team delivered a 74 question document to the Department of Energy asking for the names of all personnel who’ve worked on climate change or who attended U.N. climate talks within the last five years.

stand-up-for-science

(Demonstrators protest in support of scientists outside the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on December 14. Attacks against climate scientists have hit a fever pitch since the election of Donald Trump. Image source: Buzzfeed.)

Almost immediately after the letter’s delivery, The Union of Concerned Scientists made the following response:

 “The Union of Concerned Scientists strongly condemns the effort by the President-elect’s transition team to seek the names of federal employees who have conducted climate research and worked on issues such as the social cost of carbon. We cannot imagine any legitimate purpose to this inquiry…

“This action should not be viewed in isolation. The Trump transition team is teeming with individuals with a proven history of attacking climate scientists and undermining climate science. Several transition team members now overseeing federal agencies have harassed scientists based on their research and have long signaled a desire to dismantle federal climate science research. Over the past few years, Congress has increasingly singled out specific government employees when their work is politically inconvenient.

Creating lists of employees smacks of McCarthyism and should cease immediately. And Department of Energy employees should resist complying with any demands that would compromise the independence of the agency’s experts.”

The Department of Energy subsequently refused to provide the names requested. But the impact of the circulated questionnaire was profound — prompting protests and a swell of outrage from scientists, journalists and concerned citizens. Workers and officials at DOE expressed fears that Trump was developing an enemies list. And, considering the purges and attacks on scientists that occurred in numerous countries around the world following the election of climate change deniers during recent years, these fears were sadly quite valid.

Eliminating NASA Funding, Death Threats on Twitter

In a separate but related instance, Trump Administration officials reportedly stated that they intended to eliminate NASA’s climate research funding. Not only would this result in a purge of climate scientists from U.S. government offices. It would also precipitate the loss of climate monitoring satellites and the potential loss of decades of scientific data collected by some of the top researchers in the world. Concerned that scientists would be suddenly expelled and that critical data would be lost, as happened during similar purges that occurred in Canada and Australia under climate change deniers Stephen Harper and Tony Abbott, workers for various agencies began frantically copying data in order to ensure its preservation.

Meanwhile, instances of politically motivated threats against climate scientists mounted. Peter Gleick, a hydro-climatologist and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, reported to the Japan Times that he received death threats in the form of pictures of guns posted to him after he tweeted critically about threats of violence to scientists made by Brietbart on Twitter.

Jerry Brown, Governor of California Vows to Fight Against Trump’s Anti-Science Agenda

Concern for scientists as a class increasingly victimized by political extremists like Trump hit a fever pitch this week at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco. There, hundreds of pro-science protesters marched outside as the meeting halls swelled with over 20,000 worried scientists and their supporters.

Among the attendees was Governor Jerry Brown of California who delivered this impassioned speech:

(Jerry Brown has pushed for pro-renewable energy, pro-climate response policies in California for decades. He has vowed to defend both science and progressive values from an impending assault by Donald Trump. Video source: YouTube.)

Brown highlighted the tremendous danger that human civilizations now face. The oceans are rising and acidifying, the weather is worsening, habitats, food and water sources are being destroyed. He also noted that in order to prevent climate harms, people would have to face down both “big oil” and “big financial structures that are at odds with the survivability of our world.”

Brown called on scientists and their ‘truth teller and truth seeker’ supporters to fight back.  And, in doing so, he pledged the aid of California’s scientific and legal communities saying: “We’ve got the scientists and we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight back. We’re ready to defend.”

Brown cited past major environmental achievements by California including 28 percent renewable power generation, a goal to hit 50 percent in the coming years, and zero emissions vehicle and mileage standards that became the benchmark for the nation. Unlike Trump, Brown pledged to fully support international climate agreements and to work with over 200 states to help to reduce harms from climate change. Touting California’s 2.1 trillion dollar economy, Brown stated — “We will persevere. We will prevail.”

But Brown’s highest points involved his pledge to launch satellites if Trump shuts down NASA climate monitoring systems and to pit California’s economic might as a renewable energy power against the old fossil fuel interests. Brown stated:

“Well, I remember back in 1978, I proposed a Landsat satellite for California. They called me Governor Moonbeam because of that. I didn’t get that moniker for nothing. And if Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite. We’re going to collect that data. …

“We’ve proved in California that the economy grows… in part because of the rules and the climate policy that we’ve adopted… and California is growing a whole hell of a lot faster than Texas and we’ve got more sun than you’ve got oil.”

Carrying a Light in the Darkness

Brown, in his support of the U.S. scientific community and in his pledge to continue progress for renewable energy sets an example for us all. His leadership serves as a light in a dark place and during a dark time. But many, many of us will have to follow his lead if we are to have much hope of making it through this difficult time. We need to all be ready to fight. To speak out. And to commit substantial resources to the effort.

The times of comfort are over. And if we are to prevent a worst case scenario for our climate we will have to face down the very real human monsters than have now been revealed to us. But we should console ourselves at least, in this. There is good in the world. There are the greatest causes in all of the vast arc of history to champion here and now. There are the good and innocent living among us that we now have the honor and the privilege to protect and defend. And there can be no better, more just thing, for us to do now than to unite in what is a very real fight to defend not only clean energy, not only the great enlightenment that has been gifted to us by the sciences, but to, in doing so, protect both the future of humankind and of life on Earth itself.

Links:

Jerry Brown’s Speech at the AGU Convention

The Union of Concerned Scientists

Fear Palpable Among US Climate Scientists

Climate Scientists Split Over How to Survive Trump

Hat tip to Josh

 

NOAA’s 2016 Report Card: The Arctic is Shouting Change

From winter to spring to summer to fall, it’s been an odd year for the Arctic. And according to Donald Perovich, one of the authors of NOAA’s 2016 Arctic Report Card, the Arctic isn’t just whispering change, it’s not foretelling change, “it’s shouting change.

(NOAA’s Arctic Report Card presented at the American Geophysical Union this morning. Video source: AGU.)

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Winter and spring of 2016 saw very warm temperatures in the northern polar region of our world. There, Arctic sea ice extent maximum hit its lowest values ever recorded in March. During summer, cooler, cloudier conditions prevented a complete meltdown by the time of sea ice minimum in September. However, sea ice extent bottomed out at second or third lowest on record in most of the major monitors. Moving into October, November and December, Arctic sea ice failed to refreeze at typical rates as extraordinarily warm temperatures were reinforced by pulses of air rising northward from the middle latitudes. At times, the gap between previous record low years and the new record lows seen during November of 2016 were as much as 1.1 million square kilometers. Now it is practically certain that average sea ice extents throughout 2016 will hit a new record low overall.

Arctic Warming at Least Twice as Fast as Rest of World

Much of this melt was almost certainly driven by the record warm Arctic temperatures seen during 2016. And according to NOAA, this year shattered all previous high marks for Arctic heat by a big margin — hitting 3.5 degrees Celsius warmer than 1900. Overall, this rate of warming is at least twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

arctic-warming-trend

(Arctic heat during 2016 centered over recently seasonal and annual ice free regions in the Chukchi and Barents seas. It’s an indicator that sea ice loss since 2007 and related loss of albedo [reflectivity] is starting to have the predicted heat-amplifying effect. Image source: NOAA.)

And all this extra heat has not only had a significant and substantial impact on sea ice — it is hammering the Greenland ice sheet, forcing the permafrost to rapidly thaw, and increasing the incidence of algae blooms related to ocean acidification.

Greenland Melt and Permafrost Thaw

In Greenland, the average annual rate of land ice loss is now 230 billion tons per year. This despite the fact that warming in the Greenland and Barents seas is helping to drive increased rates of precipitation in Eastern Greenland. So far, much of the precipitation is coming as snowfall. And this increase is helping to mitigate some of the mass losses due to melt across Greenland (see Marco Tedesco’s comments in the video above). However, as Greenland continues to experience surface warming, precipitation is likely to come more and more as rain — which will only further help to accelerate melt.

NOAA also notes that added Arctic heat has substantially altered the permafrost. Increasingly, this region of frozen soil is given over to thaw. As a result, profound changes to the Arctic landscape are ongoing. In wet regions, the permafrost is giving way to thermokarst lakes. In drier zones, the moisture that was locked into the soil and preserved by permafrost is being steadily lost — which is one of the primary drivers of drought and related wildfire hazards now being experienced in Canada, Siberia, and Alaska.

arctic-carbon-sink-to-source

(As permafrost thaws, microbes within the soil break down carbon and begin to emit methane and carbon dioxide. According to NOAA, “the warming tundra is now releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than it is taking up.” Image source: NOAA.)

Overall, the permafrost is emitting more and more methane and carbon dioxide as it melts and as microbes in the thawed soil activate. And consensus science now indicates that, on balance, this thawing ground is now emitting more carbon than it is taking in. This is a step change from its previous state — when the frozen land acted in concert with the boreal forests as one of the world’s primary carbon sinks (please also see: Beyond the Point of No Return).

Large Algae Blooms Indicator of Ocean Acidification

During 2016, the Arctic also saw a continuation of large algae blooms popping up in regions near the receding sea ice edge. This happens as high nutrient waters liberated by ice allow sunlight to produce a riot of plankton and algae growth. These minute life forms take in atmospheric carbon. But as they die, they transfer this carbon to the ocean. As a result, and as Jeremy Mathis noted in the press briefing this morning (see video above), Ocean acidification increases.

Conditions in Context — The Arctic Screams Change

The above indicators present a picture of an Arctic undergoing rapid climate destabilization. As a result, everything from weather patterns, to the rate of sea level rise, to Northern Hemisphere growing seasons are likely to see some impact from these Arctic changes over the coming years and decades. In addition, loss of sea ice and likely harms to life in the Arctic Ocean due to warming, habitat loss, and ocean acidification will remove food sources for local communities.

NOAA researchers identify some potential positive outcomes — such as increased commerce, ship traffic, tourism, and mineral extraction. But it is difficult to see how these supposed positives do not further exacerbate an already difficult to manage problem. Increased commerce, ship traffic and tourism threaten to harm already stressed habitats and animal populations. In addition, if new fossil fuel sources are exploited in the region, it will only add to the currently severe problems presented by warming. As a result, there is a high likelihood that the net impact to the region will be starkly negative as species are threatened or go extinct and numerous communities are lost to the rising seas, destruction of environmental resource bases or endangered by worsening fires.

Links:

AGU Fall Meeting

NOAA’s Arctic Report Card

Beyond the Point of No Return

Thermokarst Lakes

Hat tip to Vic

 

Rex Tillerson Named as Secretary of State Amidst CIA Report of Russian Attack on U.S. Election

For those saying that this is the first time they’ve heard of Russia’s attack on the US election or of the serious and harmful conflict of interest that occurs when a billionaire demagogue who’s aligned with fossil fuel special interests, couldn’t care less about the integrity of American democracy, and denies human-caused climate change takes office, then I have ‘news’ for you. We were writing about this back in July.

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Some have said that President-Elect Donald Trump’s stated support of Russian hacking and conduct of espionage operations against the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election while subsequently attacking the CIA is ‘on the verge of treason.’ Mind you, these charges come from a member the Tea Party — the musket-toting Joe Walsh — and not from the democrats or journalists who’ve been warning the U.S. electorate about Russian interference apparently aimed at placing Trump as President since the summer. A fact that has come into harsh focus now that a CIA report on Russian espionage has been brought to the attention of the press. A report that would have been discussed publicly prior to the election, and not after, if republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hadn’t voiced doubts or threatened to politicize the matter.

(Former CIA Counter-Terrorism official Phil Mudd expresses outrage at Trump’s attacks on one of the US’s top intelligence agencies.)

This week, notably after an election in which Russia, urged on or enabled by some republican party leaders, dug up emails in what for any rational observer was an obvious effort to smear the political opponents of republicans and in which republicans were largely found technically if not popularly victorious, Mitch McConnell is now singing a different tune. The Senate Leader strongly condemned any foreign breach of U.S. cyber-security and noted that “the Russians are not our friends.”

Bravo Mitch. But one has to ask the entirely pertinent question — where was your sense of patriotic concern three months ago??? 

Former CIA Director Michael Morell was pretty clear in his expert opinion on the matter:

“A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life. To me, and this is to me not an overstatement, this is the political equivalent of 9/11.”

Sadly, this political firestorm likely won’t end with the CIA report or with the Congressional inquiry. Trump will claim the FBI’s non-attribution of intent in Russia’s obvious espionage efforts as cover for his own harmful actions. Actions that first cheered-on Russian espionage and have, over the past week, produced an adversarial relationship between a President-elect and an agency — the CIA — whose chief mission it is to keep Americans safe from the kind foreign aggression we’ve apparently just experienced.

Oil CEO Friend of Russia as U.S. Secretary of State

Meanwhile, on Monday, the man who benefited the most from this CIA-reported Russian interference in the U.S. election — Donald Trump — was busily promoting ‘Friend of Russia’ Rex Tillerson into the office of the Secretary of State. In this case, the phrase — elections have consequences — has just produced a gigantic payoff for all those CIA-identified Russian email hacking and fake news dissemination efforts in the form of the man Russia lauded for helping its petroleum industry open new fossil fuel extraction and burning efforts in the Arctic.

Rex will come to head an agency whose stated goals include the promotion of human rights and the advancement of U.S. policy aimed at mitigating and reducing the harms produced by human-caused climate change. But what Rex has done — for his entire 41 year career at Exxon — is promote the kind of oil extraction efforts in Russia that will saddle the Earth with yet one more gigantic carbon bomb and broker business deals with some of the worst human rights abusers in modern history.

russia-oill-production

(Russian efforts to increase oil and gas production focus on Arctic regions of East and West Siberia. Exxon Mobile under Tillerson was slated to provide Russia with extraction assistance when plans were shut down by U.S. sanctions against Russia following its invasion of the Ukraine. Tillerson opposes sanctions and has, in the past, looked the other way when Russia has acted in an abusive fashion. Image source: EIA.)

For Rex and Exxon, in an admittedly risky courting of a Russian dictator well known for cynically turning against his ‘friends,’ a big deal with Russia promised to produce billions in profits by opening up Arctic oil exploration. Back in 2013, an arrangement was moving along in which Exxon would provide technical expertise for extracting a massive pile of hard to reach oil and gas reserves. Exxon didn’t seem concerned by the fact that Russia had betrayed a similar contract with British Petroleum, thrown one of the competitors to state-run Rosneft in jail, or forced a Total Oil CEO to flee Russia due to ‘sustained harassment.’

In 2014, the high-risk game that Exxon was playing with Russia went sour after Russia invaded the Ukraine. The U.S. under President Obama, decided to apply sanctions against Russia for its military occupation of Ukraine. And in subsequent years, Exxon lost at least 1 billion due to the combined sanctions and Russian military aggression. Russia, meanwhile, saw its Arctic oil extraction efforts slow due to lack of access to western technical expertise. Tillerson, at the time, used his position as Exxon CEO to put pressure on the U.S. to lift sanctions. Such efforts were arguably against the national interest — which focuses on containing and preventing aggression by foreign powers — and aimed at simply fattening Exxon’s and, by extension, Rex’s bottom line. In critiquing an Exxon CEO, we might lable these actions as amoral profit-seeking that runs counter to the national interest. But place Tillerson as Secretary of State and we end up with moral hazard writ large. For Tillerson, if he promotes similar goals while in office, would be wrongfully using a public appointment to pursue a personal monetary interest — in other words opening up the U.S. to corruption and enabling Tillerson to perpetrate graft.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Exxon was facing its own troubles due to its promotion of climate change denial after Exxon scientists warned the company that climate change would produce serious and wide-ranging impacts. Various attorney generals across the U.S. investigated the oil giant for misleading the U.S. public in its numerous climate change related communications and through political activities that supported climate change skeptics and deniers. Meanwhile, Exxon shareholders filed their own suit against the company claiming that the corporation’s stated oil reserves did not take into account planned responses to climate change. Overall, these wide-ranging legal entanglements paint a broad picture in which Exxon is consistently charged with misleading both the public and its shareholders on the critical emerging issue of climate change. And all of this happening while Rex Tillerson, the newly appointed Secretary of State, was at the helm.

In the end, it’s pretty obvious what will result from Tillerson’s appointment as Secretary of State. First, U.S. efforts to mitigate climate change by working with foreign powers will be stymied and/or sabotaged. Trump has stated that he wants to withdraw from the Paris Climate Summit — and who better to lead those efforts than climate change denial promoter Rex Tillerson? But more to the point, U.S. foreign policy under Tillerson is even more likely to roll back sanctions against Russia for its attack against the Ukraine. And not only would this embolden Russia to future aggression while opening up another major source of global carbon emissions, it may also produce personal profits for Rex Tillerson and short term corporate profits for Exxon — if Russia doesn’t screw him and the U.S. over. And after directly attacking the U.S. election to get what it wants in an act of international cyber-warfare aggression the likes of which has never been perpetrated against this country, it appears that Russia has all the worst of intentions at heart.

Rendered Uninhabitable by Heat — It’s Not Just Sudan, Parts From North Africa to the Middle East are Under the Gun

“North Africa is already hot and is strongly increasing in temperature. At some point in this century, part of the region will become uninhabitable.”Dr. Johannes Lilieveld

“The number of climate refugees could increase dramatically in future. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia have calculated that the Middle East and North Africa could become so hot that human habitability is compromised.”The Max Planck Institute

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Heatwaves so hot that it’s impossible to perform any activity outdoors without threat of injury or worse. Raging dust storms that make the very air unbreathable. Massive droughts that wreck agricultural productivity and biodiversity altogether. Sections of Africa and the Middle East are currently getting a taste of these new, dangerous climate conditions. But their frequency could increase by five fold or more over the next 30-40 years — threatening harm, government collapse, and the forced dislocation of millions.

Sudan Could be Made Uninhabitable by Climate Change

Due to human-caused warming, these kinds of events are already happening in places like Sudan with increasing frequency. And a recent report by CNN shows that this North African state is under threat of becoming uninhabitable to human beings due to climate change.

africa-areas-most-vulnerable-to-climate-change

(A new infertile crescent. Climate change increases desertification risks for semi-arid regions across Africa. Image source: Grid-Arendal, Columbia University and CNN.)

Drought has impacted agriculture to the extent that 1.9 million people in this nation of 40 million could face hunger over the next couple of years. A further 3.2 million face water shortages. And in the ironic juxtaposition that often comes with climate change — since 2013 about 600,000 people have been displaced due to the deluges that have more and more often come at the end of the long, dry periods.

For Sudan, the problems are just beginning. By mid-Century surface temperatures in the region could warm by between 1.1 and 3.1 degrees Celsius. And so much additional warming will multiply the occurrence of the kinds of harmful heatwaves, droughts, and dust storms that are happening today many times over. In the end, Sudan is at risk of being abandoned as its lands are taken in by a climate unfit for human habitation.

500 Million People Under Extreme Heat and Drought in Africa and Middle East by mid-Century

But it’s not just Sudan that’s facing a flip into nation-wrecking climate conditions. By 2050, extreme heat related events will be happening five times more frequently as the Earth warms up along a desiccating crescent in Africa and onward throughout a good chunk of the Middle East. During summers, by mid Century, temperatures throughout this vulnerable zone could be as much as 5 degrees Celsius hotter than they are today.

increased-warm-days

(Temperatures are set to rise to extreme levels across Africa and the Middle East due to fossil fuel burning and related Earth System warming. The impacts produce a high risk for mass migration away from these regions as hothouse conditions take hold. Image source: The Max-Planck Institute.)

Including Sudan, more than 500 million people live in this region. And according to the Max-Planck Institute, extremely hot days — of which there were 16 each year within this vulnerable area from 1986 to 2005 — will increase five-fold to 80 by 2050 and up to 118 to 200 by 2100.

Added extraordinary and persistent heat will bake moisture out of soils, ruin forests, and advance deserts. It will produce days when wet bulb temperatures approach or exceed the limit of human endurance (35 C) time and time again. Such a high prevalence and intensity of adverse conditions will make the current problems faced by the region seem mild and moderate by comparison. In the end, numerous places are likely to become basically unlivable.

Call For Action

Given the coming hardship and what is likely to be a preventable mass migration, scientists and environmentalists are calling for action. CNN and others have highlighted a need for aid to Africa and the Middle East. But as helpful as aid is to those desperate and struggling to survive, the primary driver of the whole problem is human-based fossil fuel emissions. And unless that stops, this region and its highly vulnerable peoples, among others around the world, will be very hard hit.

Michelle Yonetani, a senior advisor on disasters from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center noted that encouraging governments to increase commitments to act on climate is “perhaps one of the most indirect ways [to help], but [it is] globally the most important. Now really is the time to push governments to act…” Otherwise, vast regions within Africa and the Middle East face destabilization, collapse, and mass migration over rather short time horizons.

Links:

Climate Change Could Render Sudan Uninhabitable

The Max Planck Institute

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center

Grid-Arendal, Columbia University

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

For 2016, Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations are Rising at the Fastest Rate Ever Seen

“The MMCO [Middle Miocene Climate Optimum] was ushered in by CO2 levels jumping abruptly from around 400ppm to 500 ppm, with global temperatures warming by about 4°C  and sea levels rising about 40m (130 feet) as the Antarctic ice sheet declined substantially and suddenly. ” — Skeptical Science

fossil-fuel-emissions

(Fossil fuel carbon emissions are about 100 times that of volcanoes during any given year. And so much heat trapping carbon dumped into the atmosphere is forcing the world’s climate to rapidly change. Image source: The Union of Concerned Scientists.)

Human beings have never seen atmospheric CO2 values that are so high as they are today. They significantly predate our species — even preceding our distant relative Australopithecus by about 7 million years. And weather and climate conditions to which we are not adapted — either as individuals or as a civilizations — are well on the way as atmospheric CO2 levels are ramping up into the lower range of those last seen during the Middle Miocene of 14-16 million years ago at 404 parts per million during 2016.

Record Rate of CO2 Increase for 2016

As we reported in November, 2016 is on track to see a record rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) increase. A key heat-trapping gas, CO2 is the primary driver of the big temperature increases seen around the world recently. And with new figures out from NOAA for the month of November, we have a clearer picture than ever of just how unprecedented the jump will be.

For the first 11 months of the year, 2016 atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations exceeded those of 2015 by an average of 3.45 parts per million. With no sign evident that the pace of increase has slackened — despite a transition to La Nina during the fall — it now appears that the world is set to experience a 3.3 to 3.5 part per million jump in the atmospheric CO2 measure for this year.

Carbon Dioxide Trend Mauna Loa

(Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will rise by a record rate during 2016 to an annual average of around 404 parts per million. Levels during 2017 could peak at around 410 to 411 parts per million in April and May before averaging between 406 and 407 parts per million. Image source: NOAA.)

The past two record jumps were 2015 — with a 3.05 ppm annual increase and 1998 with a 2.93 ppm annual increase. But 2016 now appears set to exceed these two values by a pretty hefty margin.

More and More Toward the Middle Miocene Range of 400 to 500 Parts Per Million CO2

Such rapid rates of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase are primarily caused by global fossil fuel burning — which now produces an emission that is more than 100 times greater than all the volcanoes that erupt across the Earth during any given year. And recent reports have found that US automobile emissions alone equal the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the Mount St. Helens eruption every three days. This is a heavy insult to the Earth’s climate system. One that is unprecedented for millions of years.

All this fossil fuel burning has largely helped to push atmospheric CO2 values for 2016 into an average range of 404 parts per million. This is 124 parts per million higher than the pre-industrial value of 280 parts per million. Meanwhile, peak monthly values during April-May of 2017 could strike as high as 410 to 411 parts per million.

calvert-middle-miocene-15-ma-embayment

(15 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels in the range of 400-500 parts per million produced Antarctic melt resulting in substantial sea level rise. The above image shows the estimated location of the U.S. eastern coastline at the time. Image source: Colorado Geosystems.)

These atmospheric concentrations are now roughly equivalent to the lower range CO2 levels of the Middle Miocene climate epoch of 14-16 million years ago. Meanwhile, atmospheric CO2 equivalent concentrations, which include other greenhouse gasses like methane, averaged 485 parts per million in 2015 and likely were around 490 parts per million during 2016. These CO2e values approach the upper Middle Miocene range.

During the Miocene of 14-16 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels, which had hovered around 400 parts per million for about 10 million years jumped higher due to volcanic activity. Global temperatures rose from about 2-3 C hotter than Holocene values to around 4 C hotter. Antarctic ice melted and seas which were around 60 feet higher than today lifted to around 130 feet above present day levels.

By continuing to burn fossil fuels, this is the climate context we enter more and more. It is why, for example, we are seeing so many impacts from expanding droughts, to declining ocean health, to more extreme weather, to rapidly destabilizing glaciers in Antarctica. And it is this burning along with a related warming of the Earth System that is causing atmospheric carbon values to jump so rapidly into ranges to which we are unaccustomed.

Links:

NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Skeptical Science

2016 to See Record Rate of Atmospheric CO2 Increase

The Union of Concerned Scientists

US Auto Emissions Comparable to Mt. St. Helens Eruption Every Three Days

Arctic Air Temperatures are Set to Hit 35 to 55 F Above Average by Thursday — Out of Season Sea Ice Melt Possible, Again

“It looks like a triple whammy – a warm ocean, a warm atmosphere, and a wind pattern all working against the ice in the Arctic.”NSIDC director Mark Serreze.

“Unfortunately, Arctic sea ice extent growth has once again slowed this week…”Zack Labe

“Huge surface air temperature anomalies over the Arctic this working week… over 25C warmer than average in parts.” — James Warner

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This year, it’s a challenge to find a time when the Arctic Ocean has ever represented anything resembling normalcy. Record low sea ice extent values have occurred for more than 50 percent of days measured. And well above average temperatures have invaded the Arctic during winter, spring, and fall. With another huge wave of ridiculous warmth building up over eastern Siberia this week, the hits just keep on coming.

Major Warming Over Siberia, Chukchi and East Siberian Seas 

The present big warm air invasion has its origins in the Pacific Ocean. There, a large high pressure system over the Bering Sea is facing off with a strong low moving up across Kamchatka. Running between the two is a powerful south-to-north wind pattern.

image

(A major warm wind invasion of the Arctic on Thursday is originating in the subtropical Pacific. A ridge in the Jet Stream extending all the way to the North Pole is pulling this big bulge of warm air north. As a result, extreme temperature departures and out of season sea ice melt for the impacted zones are likely. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As we can see in the image above, the flood of warm air has its origin around the 30 north latitude line. It flows directly over hundreds of miles of ocean, at times reaching a storm-force intensity near 70 mph. As it crosses into Siberia, the wind slows down. But it inexorably continues north, ever north — driven on by a serious pulse of atmospheric steam. By early Thursday, the leading edge of this warm air outburst from the Pacific side will have crossed the Pole and led to a flushing of Central Arctic air out into the Barents Sea and North Atlantic (you can view an animation of the predicted warm air pulse here).

This strong northward flood of warmth from the Pacific is running up under an extreme high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream that is bellowing out into the Arctic Ocean through the Bering and Chukchi seas. At its peak northward extent, the big Jet Stream wave is predicted to look something like this. And it is this severe contortion in the upper level wind pattern that has enabled this most recent extreme warm wind event to occur.

This pattern is now in the process of injecting above-freezing air temperatures into Eastern Siberia. By tomorrow, the warm air mass will encounter the coastal regions of the Chukchi and East Siberian seas. There, it will push temperatures as high as 2.5 C  (37 F) over zones that typically see readings in the -20s to -30s (Celsius). As a result, temperatures will range between 20 and 30 C (35 to 55 F) or more above average for many locations.

severe-arctic-warming-again

(Climate Reanalyzer has added a new color — white — for tracking extreme departures in temperature. In the positive anomaly column, we find departures hitting 30 C, or 54 F, above average for regions of East Siberia and the local Arctic Ocean.)

To be clear, these temperatures are highly abnormal. If a similar temperature departure happened in Gaithersburg, Maryland on December 8, it would produce 80 to 100 degree (F) readings. Of course, this anomaly is not happening in Gaithersburg. Due to a global warming related process called polar amplification in which the poles are more sensitive to alterations in rising greenhouse gas levels (due to fossil fuel and related emissions), extreme temperature anomalies tend to occur at the poles as rates of relative warming are 2-3 times faster in those regions. And the factors that we observe associated with this new Arctic warm wind event — powerful south-to-north meridional air flows coupled with extreme high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream — are also evidence of a number of weird new atmospheric circulation patterns that can tend to pop up as polar amplification intensifies.

Warm Winds May Cause Unprecedented Back-to-Back Fall Sea Ice Melt

The Pacific side of the Arctic has already been gaining heat ahead of the oncoming warm wind event over the past few days. And what we have seen, as a result, is a pretty severe loss of ice in the Chukchi Sea during early December. To be very clear, Arctic sea ice should be advancing at this time of year. But what we see in the image below (provided by A-Team over at the Arctic Sea Ice Forum) is advance followed by retreat as the warm wind event starts to ramp up.

chukchi-20-nov-06-dec-2016-side-by-side-ice-amsr2-conc-and-smos-thickness

(Ice refreeze in the Chukchi advances until it is rolled back by the most recent onrush of warm air flowing in from the Pacific. Image provided by A-Team at Neven’s Arctic Sea Ice Forum.)

Of course, the retreat seen above has occurred before the main force of warm southerly winds — due to hit the Arctic Ocean region by tomorrow. So the risks for continued losses in the Chukchi extend for at least the next few days. Losses there could be offset by large enough gains elsewhere to continue an overall seasonal freeze trend. But so far, with abnormal warmth also periodically building in over the near-Svalbard region and with Hudson Bay refreeze continuing to lag, that does not appear to be happening.

Looking at the larger monitors, we also find that, as happened during October and November, the pace of overall sea ice growth has stalled. According to JAXA, over the past 4 days, sea ice extent has only grown by 50,000 square kilometers. During a typical similar four day period for this time of year, growth would tend to average around 400,000 to 500,000 square kilometers. And with values at current record low levels, the inertial impetus for ice growth would be higher. That is, unless the climate state of the Arctic has radically changed — which appears to be the case.

arctic-sea-ice-extent

(According to JAXA, Arctic sea ice extent has again hit a plateau when it should be freezing — this time at around 10 million square kilometers. As sea ice follows that line, record lows are again deepening — hitting near 750,000 square kilometers below previous lows for the day in 2006. Considering the fact that another major warming event is building into the Arctic Ocean, this plateau could again tip into melt as happened during the middle of November. Image source: JAXA.)

During mid November, a period of unprecedented warming produced an almost unprecedented period of fall melt. A similar November melt occurred during 2013. But the amount of melt then was smaller. And that melt did not occur at a time when Arctic sea ice values were at new record lows — as they were throughout the entire month during 2016. Similarly, during October, abnormally warm conditions produced an odd re-freeze plateau similar to the one we are now experiencing.

Given current conditions, there’s a risk that we could see a December melt event following the November melt event. For the amount of heat hitting the Pacific side of the Arctic is predicted to fall far outside of normal temperature ranges. And, barring major refreeze on the Atlantic side, we are at a rather higher risk of seeing the present plateau in sea ice values carry on for a number of days.

Links:

The National Snow and Ice Data Center

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

The Arctic Sea Ice Forum

JAXA

Sea Ice Extent Hit Record Lows in November

Dr Jennifer Francis on Jet Stream Changes

Hat tip to John Allen

Hat tip to Neven

Hat tip to A-Team

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

One By One, the Flood Gates of Antarctica are Breaking Open

“We have still time to avoid the worst of it, but we have already opened a number of flood gates, one in West Antarctica, and several in Greenland.”Dr Eric Rignot.

“This kind of rifting behavior provides another mechanism for rapid retreat of these glaciers, adding to the probability that we may see significant collapse of West Antarctica in our lifetimes.” Ian Howat, Earth Sciences associate Professor at Ohio State University.

“Burning all the world’s coal, oil and gas would melt the entire Antarctic ice-sheet and cause the oceans to rise by over 50m, a transformation unprecedented in human history. The conclusion of a new scientific study shows that, over the course of centuries, land currently inhabited by a billion people would be lost below water.” — The Guardian.

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Massive Rift Forming in Larsen C

Larsen C. It’s the next big ice shelf on the butcher’s block in West Antarctica. And now it appears the shelf may be well on its way to facing the same fate as its companions Larsen A and Larsen B. That fate — disintegration and the ultimate release of glaciers that have been held in check for thousands of years into the world ocean.

It was only about 150 years ago that the Larsen Ice shelves were discovered. And the Larsen shelf system is thought to have been mostly stable throughout the last 12,000 years. But in 1995 Larsen A splintered into a million icebergs. And in 2002 the larger portion of Larsen B broke apart. Warming Ocean waters heated by an atmosphere loaded with greenhouse gasses did the damage. And now the same warm water currents that shattered Larsen A and Larsen B are endangering their larger cousin — Larsen C.

larsen-c-ice-rift

(Ice shelves and sea fronting glaciers serve as the flood gates keeping West Antarctica’s glaciers from spilling into the ocean and raising sea levels by as much as 20 feet. But warm ocean waters are causing these flood gates to melt and crack wide open. The above image shows a massive abyssal rift forming in the Larsen C ice shelf. A similar rift formed in the center of the Pine Island Glacier last year. A signal that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could undergo a major collapse over the next 100 years. Image source: NASA.)

For today, a huge rift running through the ice shelf is about to break off a Delaware-sized iceberg into the Atlantic Ocean. The rift is broadening, deepening and extending. And it now measures 70 miles long, 300 feet wide, and a third of a mile deep. Once this enormous abyssal crack runs its course and causes about 10 percent of the ice shelf to break off, the big land-grounded glaciers sitting upon mountainous slopes behind the ice shelf will have less protection. They will increase their forward speed and contribute larger volumes of ice outflow to the growing problem of global sea level rise.

In this way, rifts in Antarctica’s sea fronting glaciers and ice shelves can be seen as giant cracks in the flood gates holding back enormous glaciers that, when released, will lift global sea levels by feet and meters.

Big Crack in the Pine Island Glacier

Closer to the center mass of West Antarctica, the Pine Island Glacier serves as one of the most important of these flood gates. In total, the large grounded glaciers in what could best be termed as an ice bottle neck hold back about 10 percent of all of West Antarctica’s interior ice mass. But just last year a huge rift that formed in this glacial buttress during 2013 cracked wide open — causing three massive icebergs totalling ten times the size of Manhattan to break off.

According to a new study, warm ocean water flooded far inland along the underside of the Pine Island Glacier. It ate away at its base and then spilled down-slope to cut out a melting hollow in the glacier’s heart. Ultimately, an enormous crack formed within the glacier 20 miles away from where the ice mass meets the ocean at the surface.

(Massive crack forms in the Pine Island Glacier, then causes three very large icebergs to break off during 2015. A new study finds that the Pine Island Glacier is melting from the inside out and an inland flood of warm ocean water is causing both the melt and the formation of large rifts in the ice. Scientists believe that these could be the first signs of a significant collapse of West Antarctica that could occur without our lifetimes. Video source: Ohio State.)

Then, in 2015, gigantic chunks of ice covering 225 square miles broke off from the Glacier and floated out into the Amundsen Sea. This was the second series of icebergs to break off from the Pine Island Glacier in as many years. And scientists were notably very concerned.

Pine Island Glacier is particularly vulnerable because it sits on a reverse slope. In other words, a below sea level bed slopes lower as you progress toward the center of the Continent. And, in fact, large portions of West Antarctica are below sea level (see topographic image below).

Pine Island Glacier itself rests upon an opening to one of the deepest valleys sloping inland. At the location of the Pine Island glacier a rift between 500 and 2,000 feet below sea level runs down toward a central region of West Antarctica that sits between 2,000 and 6,000 feet below sea level. And within this basin is a pile of glacial ice that from bedrock to its highest point above sea level towers two and a half miles high. The very valid concern for this glacier is that melt and rifting, once started, will tend to accelerate — taking out larger and larger chunks of the inland ice as it is exposed to the warming ocean and heating atmosphere.

The Larger Picture — Glacial Flood Gates are Cracking Open

Larsen C and Pine Island Glacier serve as but two of the many flood gates that run all along the coast of West Antarctica and East Antarctica. But the increasing flows of warm water coming in from the ocean and a related rise in the frequency of events where large masses of ice break off from buttressing glaciers and ice shelves has put West Antarctica in danger of facing a near term collapse.

west-antarctica-below-sea-level

(Islands encased in ice. Much West Antarctica, on the left side of this topographic image, sits between 0 to 6,000 feet below sea level. If the buttressing glaciers and ice shelves like Larsen C and Pine Island are lost, there is little to prevent the warming oceans from flooding inland and setting off a rapid cascade of melt and seaward outflow. Scientists now believe that such a collapse could happen within our lifetimes. Image source: Antarctic Bedrock.)

With information from new glacial stability assessments in hand, Antarctic ice specialists are warning that the western region of this frozen land may collapse in a major melt event that over the next 100 years could raise sea levels by 10 feet. And West Antarctica is but one of three global regions — including Greenland and East Antarctica — capable of contributing significant glacial outbursts during this period.

Links:

West Antarctica Ice Shelf is Melting From the Inside Out

With a Collapsing West Antarctica, Sea Levels Could Rise Twice as High as We Thought

Combustion of Available Fossil Fuel Reserves Sufficient to Eliminate Antarctic Ice Sheet

Burning all Fossil Fuels Will Melt Entire Antarctic Ice Sheet

Rift in Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf

The Larsen Ice Shelves

NASA Captures Disturbing Images of Antarctica Ice Rift

Antarctic Bedrock

Pine Island Glacier Topography

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to ClimateHawk

Beyond the Point of No Return — Imminent Carbon Feedbacks Just Made the Stakes for Global Warming a Hell of a Lot Higher

“It’s fair to say we have passed the point of no return on global warming and we can’t reverse the effects, but certainly we can dampen them,” said biodiversity expert Dr. Thomas Crowther.

“I’m an optimist and still believe that it is not too late, but we urgently need to develop a global economy driven by sustainable energy sources and start using CO2, as a substrate, instead of a waste product.” — Prof Ivan Janssens, recognized as a godfather of the global ecology field.

“…we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it… we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.” — Professor Stephen Hawking yesterday in The Guardian.

*****

The pathway for preventing catastrophic climate change just got a whole hell of a lot narrower.

For according to new, conservative estimates in a scientific study led by Dr. Thomas Crowther, increasing soil respiration alone is about to add between 0.45 and 0.71 parts per million of CO2 to the atmosphere every year between now and 2050.

(Thomas Crowther explains why rapidly reducing human greenhouse gas emissions is so important. Namely, you want to do everything you can to avoid a runaway into a hothouse environment that essentially occurs over just one Century. Video source: Netherlands Institute of Ecology.)

What this means is that even if all of human fossil fuel emissions stop, the Earth environment, from this single source, will generate about the same carbon emission as all of the world’s fossil fuel industry did during the middle of the 20th Century. And that, if human emissions do not stop, then the pace of global warming of the oceans, ice sheets, and atmosphere is set to accelerate in a runaway warming event over the next 85 years.

Global Warming Activates Soil Respiration Which Produces More CO2

This happens because as the world warms, carbon is baked out of previously inactive soils through a process known as respiration. As a basic explanation, micro-organisms called heterotrophs consume carbon in the soil and produce carbon dioxide as a bi-product. Warmth is required to fuel this process. And large sections of the world that were previously too cold to support large scale respiration and CO2 production by heterotrophs and other organisms are now warming up. The result is that places like Siberian Russia, Northern Europe, Canada, and Alaska are about to contribute a whole hell of a lot more CO2 (and methane) to the atmosphere than they did during the 20th Century.

When initial warming caused by fossil fuel burning pumps more carbon out of the global environment, we call this an amplifying feedback. It’s a critical climate tipping point when the global carbon system in the natural environment starts to run away from us.

Sadly, soil respiration is just one potential feedback mechanism that can produce added greenhouse gasses as the Earth warms. Warming oceans take in less carbon and are capable of producing their own carbon sources as they acidify and as methane seeps proliferate. Forests that burn due to heat and drought produce their own carbon sources. But increasing soil respiration, which has also been called the compost bomb, represents what is probably one of the most immediate and likely large sources of carbon feedback.

increase-in-carbon-dioxide-from-soils

(A new study finds that warming of 1 to 2 C by 2050 will increase soil respiration. The result is that between 30 and 55 billion tons of additional CO2 is likely to hit the Earth’s atmosphere over the next 35 years. Image source: Nature.)

And it is also worth noting that the study categorizes its own findings as conservative estimates. That the world could, as an outside risk, see as much as four times the amount of carbon feedback (or as much as 2.7 ppm of CO2 per year) coming from soil if respiration is more efficient and wide-ranging than expected. If a larger portion of the surface soil carbon in newly warmed regions becomes a part of the climate system as microbes activate.

Amplifying Feedbacks Starting to Happen Now

The study notes that it is most likely that about 0.45 parts per million of CO2 per year will be leached from mostly northern soils from the period of 2016 to 2050 under 1 C worth of global warming during the period. To this point, it’s worth noting that the world has already warmed by more than 1 C above preindustrial levels. So this amount of carbon feedback can already be considered locked in. The study finds that if the world continues to warm to 2 C by 2050 — which is likely to happen — then an average of around 0.71 parts per million of CO2 will be leached out of soils by respiration every year through 2050.

rates-of-soil-carbon-loss

(When soils lose carbon, it ends up in the atmosphere. According to a new study, soils around the world are starting to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is caused by increased soil respiration as the Earth warms. Over the next 35 years, the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped out by the world’s soils is expected to dramatically increase. How much is determined by how warm the world becomes over the next 35 years. Image source: Nature.)

The upshot of this study is that amplifying carbon feedbacks from the Earth environment are probably starting to happen on a large scale now. And we may be seeing some evidence for this effect during 2016 as rates of atmospheric carbon dioxide accumulation are hitting above 3 parts per million per year for the second year in a row even as global rates of human emissions plateaued.

Beyond the Point of No Return

What this means is that the stakes for cutting human carbon emissions to zero as swiftly as possible just got a whole hell of a lot higher. If we fail to do this, we will easily be on track for 5-7 C or worse warming by the end of this Century. And this level of warming happening so soon and over so short a timeframe is an event that few, if any, current human civilizations are likely to survive. Furthermore, if we are to avoid terribly harmful warming over longer periods, we must not only rapidly transition to renewable energy sources. We must also somehow learn to pull carbon, on net, out of the atmosphere in rather high volumes.

Today, Professor Ivan Janssens of the University of Antwerp noted:

“This study is very important, because the response of soil carbon stocks to the ongoing warming, is one of the largest sources of uncertainty in our climate models. I’m an optimist and still believe that it is not too late, but we urgently need to develop a global economy driven by sustainable energy sources and start using CO2, as a substrate, instead of a waste product. If this happens by 2050, then we can avoid warming above 2C. If not, we will reach a point of no return and will probably exceed 5C.”

In other words, even the optimists at this time think that we are on the cusp of runaway catastrophic global warming. That the time to urgently act is now.

Links:

Quantifying Soil Carbon Losses in Response to Warming

Netherlands Institute of Ecology

Earth Warming to Climate Tipping Point

This is the Most Dangerous Time for Our Planet

Climate Change Escalating So Fast it is Beyond the Point of No Return

NOAA ESRL

Soil Respiration

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Wili

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