Chilean Wildfires are Worst to Ever Strike the Country

Drought in Chile has now lasted for more than a ten years.

Yearly precipitation deficits have ranged from 30-70% for most of central Chile for the last decade. But the ongoing drought’s intensity has increased since 2011. The result has been “an unprecedented drought in terms of intensity, spatial and temporal extent.”

Over recent days, the forests of Central Chile appear to have finally succumbed to the unprecedented and unrelenting punishment. One by one, massive wildfires ignited through Chile’s bone-dry woods — scorching hillsides, decimating more than 100 vineyards, and resulting in the tragic loss of four firefighters. As of today, more than 85 wildfires have burned approximately 190,000 hectares of land — or about 733 square miles.

This charred chunk of Chile more than half the size of Rhode Island represents the worst fire disaster in the state’s history. Now, nations are scrambling to help Chile respond to the crippling disaster as more than 35 large fires continue to rage out of control.

President Michelle Bachelet, visiting the hard-hit Maule region, stated to Reuters:

“We have never seen something of this size, never in Chile’s history. And the truth is the (firefighting) forces are doing everything that is humanly possible and will continue to do so until the fires are contained and controlled.”

chilean-wildfires-worst-to-ever-strike-country

(NASA satellite shot of massive wildfires burning in Central Chile on January 21 of 2017. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

These massive fires serve as the most recent book-end to a crippling climate change related situation that has been impacting Chile and larger South America for years. The fire situation has obviously been set in place by current ‘Mega Drought’ conditions. A drought period that “stands out not only in the historical record but also in precipitation and stream flow reconstructions for the last 1000 years.”

It’s a drought situation that’s replete with climate change related signals. Negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) values helped to push Chile into a dry phase through 2012 even as drying was considerably stronger than during past negative PDO periods. As PDO flipped to positive from 2013 onward, related El Nino conditions failed to bring expected rainfall to the state and drought conditions worsened. Due to these factors, climate researchers note: “there is an strong suggestion that anthropogenic climate change is [at least in part] responsible for the present Mega Drought.”

south-america-rainfall-deficits

(It’s not just wildfire-ravaged Chile. Large regions of South America are also experiencing severe drying which is helping to increase wildfire risk. Such drying is a feature of human-caused climate change in that human-forced warming due to fossil fuel burning increases evaporation rates and related stress to forests even as it drives fundamental alterations to precipitation patterns that can substantially worsen drought and wildfire intensity. Image source: NOAA.)

Climate change also appears to be driving drying in neighboring South American states like Brazil and Bolivia — where severe droughts and related warming are drying up massive lakes and helping to worsen the wildfire situation in the Amazon Rainforest. In Bolivia, drought has combined with a climate change driven removal of key mountain glaciers that has produced an endemic state of water scarcity. In Brazil, warming and deforestation are combining to remove a large portion of the atmospheric moisture plume that the great Amazon Rainforest provides. So the historic Chilean wildfires should also be considered in the larger context of ongoing South American droughts related to climate change.

Links:

The Current Mega-Drought in Chile — Is the Future Now?

NOAA

LANCE MODIS

Chile Battles Devastating Wildfires as International Help Pours In

More Than 100 Vineyards Decimated in Worst Wildfire Disaster in Chilean History

Four Firefighters Die in Chilean Wildfires

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

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Abnormal Antarctic Heat, Surface Melt, Giant Cracks in Ice Shelves — More Troubling Signs of a World Tipping Toward Climate Chaos

Around its edge zone, and from glacier top to ice shelf bottom, Antarctica is melting. Above-freezing surface temperatures during the austral summer of 2016-2017 have resulted in the formation of numerous surface-melt ponds around the Antarctic perimeter. Large cracks grow through Antarctic ice shelves as warmer ocean currents melt the towering glaciers from below. The overall picture is of a critical frozen region undergoing rapid change due to the human-forced heating of our world — a warming that has brought Antarctica to a tipping point, for such fundamental alterations to Antarctic ice are now likely to bring about a quickening rate of sea-level rise the world over.

Surface Melt Visible From Satellite

During 2016-2017, Antarctic surface temperatures ranged between 0.5 and 1 degree Celsius above the already warmer-than-normal 1979 to 2000 average for most of Southern Hemisphere summer. While these departures for this enormous frozen continent may not sound like much at face value, they’ve translated into periods of local temperatures up to 20 C above average. As a result, measures around Antarctica along and near the coastal zone have risen above the freezing mark on numerous occasions. These periods of much-warmer-than-normal weather have in turn precipitated widespread episodes of surface melt.

antarctica-ice-shelf-melt-rates

(This Antarctic volume-change melt map, which tracks thinning along various coastal ice shelves from 1994-2012, provides a good geographical reference for ice shelves experiencing surface melt or severe rifting. The Amery Ice Shelf [AME], King Baudouin Ice Shelf [BAU], and the Lazarev Ice Shelf [LAZ], stable through 2012, all showed extensive surface melt this summer. Meanwhile the Larsen C Ice Shelf [LAC] and Brunt Ice Shelf [BRU] both feature large rifts that threaten destabilization. Image source: Volume Loss from Antarctica’s Ice Shelves is Accelerating/Sciencemag.org.)

This year, one region in particular has seen temperatures hitting above 0 C consistently: the valley into which the Lambert, Mellor, and Fisher glaciers flow into the Amery Ice Shelf. There, warming has resulted in the formation of multiple large surface-melt ponds. The below image is a January 22nd NASA satellite shot of an approximate 100-by-40-mile section of this glacial outflow zone. The blue areas are melt ponds, some as large as 3 miles wide and 20 miles long.

The Amery Ice Shelf is one of East Antarctica’s largest. Like many of Antarctica’s ice shelves, Amery is melting, with about 46 billion tons of ice lost from this shelf alone each year. As with other Antarctic ice shelves, Amery’s melt is mostly below the surface, caused by warming ocean waters. However, in recent years, considerable surface melt on Amery’s feeder glaciers likely also contributed to significant volume losses in the shelf.

east-antarctic-surface-melt

(Large melt ponds up to 20 miles long cover glaciers flowing into the Amery Ice Shelf on January 22, 2017. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Surface melt for Amery has become an increasingly prevalent feature since 2013, with 2017 melt for January 22 the most widespread for any of the past five years in this region. East Antarctica rarely saw large surface melt events prior to the 2000s, and this year’s warming and large melt ponds are a considerable feature. While basal warming is often the cause of the greatest mass losses, surface melt can act like a giant wedge driven into ice shelves, helping to break them up. Melt wedging in glaciers can also increase their forward rate of movement as heat content rises and as the points at which glaciers contact the ground become lubricated.

Moving north toward Dronning Maud Land along the East Antarctic coast, we find another region of surface melt ponding on the King Baudouin Ice Shelf. Nearly as widespread and extensive as the melt on the Amery Shelf’s glaciers, the King Baudouin melt is no less impressive and concerning.

king-baudouin-ice-shelf-melt-summer-2017

(King Baudouin Ice Shelf shows extensive melt ponding along a 40-mile swath of its southwestern corner in January 2017. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

The largest melt zone shows nearly continuous ponding along a 40-mile-wide diagonal near the ice shelf’s southwestern contact point with East Antarctica’s mainland. A smaller section of melt appears as light blue splotches about 60 miles to the west of the larger melt zone in the image above (for reference, bottom edge of frame represents about 250 miles).

Unlike glacial surface ponding near Amery, melt on King Baudouin occurs directly over the floating ice shelf. This form of melt adds greater stresses as the heavy pools of water can act as wedges that drive gaps in the ice apart. Past instances of widespread surface ponding have occurred in conjunction with the rapid break-up of Larsen ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula. Taking a look at past years in the satellite record, we find that this region of King Baudouin has been susceptible to melt since at least 2013. However, the extent of 2017 melt is the greatest in the record for this time of year.

The next ice shelf to the west of King Baudouin, the Lazarev Ice Shelf, shows extensive melt along what appear to be various rifting features streaming out from an open ocean gap where the ice shelf contacts land:

lazarev-ice-shelf-melt-2017

(Ten-mile-long melt ponds visible on the surface of the Lazarev Ice Shelf. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Over recent years, the ocean gap — visible as a dark section in center-bottom frame of the image above — has slowly grown larger. There, open ocean water has gradually taken up a larger and larger section of Lazarev’s land-contact point. Meanwhile, from 2013 to 2017, melt ponds have tended to radiate out from this open gap region along rifts in the ice shelf structure during summer as air temperatures have risen above freezing.

This year, melt appears to be quite extensive with two parallel 10-mile-long melt ponds filling in rift features with many smaller melt ponds interspersed. The open ocean gap combined with rifts filling with what is now seasonal melt water gives the overall impression of a rather weak structure.

Ice Shelves Cracking Up

Though regions on or near the Amery, King Baudouin and Lazarev Ice Shelves show the most obvious surface melt features, large melt ponds also formed near the Fimbul Ice Shelf. Ponds also formed during a Föhn wind event near the Drygalski Ice Tongue. Even as such instances of surface melt became a more obvious feature across Antarctica, at least two large ice shelves were run through by growing rifts that threatened their stability.

One such rapidly-expanding rift forced the British Halley VI research team to evacuate their base of operations on the floating Brunt Ice Shelf. This rift, which had until late 2016 been growing only gradually, doubled in length in less than three months. Its gaping chasm threatened to cut the expedition off from the Antarctic mainland and set it adrift at sea — forcing an early evacuation as a precaution.

(Drone footage of Brunt Ice Shelf’s rapidly growing crack. From October through early January, the crack doubled in size from 22 kilometers in length to 44 kilometers. Video source: Antarctic Survey.)

Meanwhile, a large crack that will soon result in a 2,000-square-mile iceberg breaking from the Larsen C Ice Shelf recently grew by another six miles to 100 miles long. The Connecticut-sized ice chunk now only hangs by a 15 to 20 mile thread. With the loss of this very large segment of ice, researchers are concerned that Larsen C may destabilize and ultimately succumb to the fate of Larsen A and Larsen B — breaking into thousands of separate icebergs and floating away into the Southern Ocean.

Signs of Melt, Destabilization as More Above-Freezing Temperatures are on the Way

With so many large melt ponds and melt-related rifts forming in Antarctica’s ice shelves, it’s worth considering that these shelves serve as a kind of door jam holding large glaciers back from flooding into the ocean. And as more ice shelves melt and destabilize, the faster these glaciers will move and the faster the world’s oceans will rise.

So much widespread melt and rifting of Antarctica’s ice shelves is a clear warning sign. And if enough of the ice shelves go, then rates of sea-level rise could hit multiple meters this century.

antarctic-warming

(Many locations along the coast of Antarctica will see 5-15 C above-average surface temperatures this week, a continuation of a strong surface melt pressure for the austral summer of 2016-2017. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

This week, another spate of near- or above-freezing temperatures will run along the coastal regions of both east and west Antarctica, so the amazing atmospheric melt pressure that we are now seeing should continue to remain in play at least for the next seven days as austral summer continues. As for the melt pressure coming from the warming ocean beneath the ice shelves — that is now a year-round feature for many locations.

Links:

Climate Reanalyzer

Volume Loss from Antarctica’s Ice Shelves is Accelerating

LANCE MODIS

Antarctic Survey

Rapidly Growing Crack in Brunt Ice Shelf Forces Evacuation of Halley Research Station

Larsen C Ice Shelf Crack Just Grew By Another 6 Miles

Did Föhn Winds Just Melt 2 Miles of Antarctic Surface Ice in Just One Day?

Hat tip to Shawn Redmond

Hat tip to Jeremy in Wales

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

NASA Data Shows Big Spike For Global Temperatures — 2016 is Third Consecutive Hottest Year on Record

Over just the past three years, global temperatures have risen by about 0.4 degrees Celsius. This was an extreme spike in the rate of warming. One that is unmatched in all of the past 136 years of climate record keeping.

warming-since-1880-shows-acceleration-in-recent-years

During 2016, according to NASA, global temperatures hit 1.21 C above 1880s averages. This is a new record high to shatter all previous heat records. More to the point, the world’s atmosphere and oceans are now hotter than they’ve been in at least the past 100,000 years. This is considerable global warming. Enough to tip the world into a new climate age and bring about substantial geophysical changes.

The most glaring of these changes is the now impending rise of the world’s oceans. And as glaciers and ice shelves show signs of rapid melting in Greenland and Antarctica, we should consider the fact that the last time ocean surface and atmospheric temperatures were so warm, seas were 20 to 30 feet higher than they are today.

Warming across the world was not distributed evenly during 2016. And the Northern Hemisphere polar region, according to NASA, received the heaviest blow from rising atmospheric heat. Above the 80 degree North Latitude line, temperatures were fully 4.9 degrees Celsius above average for the period of an entire year.

hottest-year-on-record-2016

As a result, one of the most vulnerable areas of the world — the Arctic Ocean — was subjected to extraordinary warming. A warming that is now removing a considerable chunk of heat-deflecting sea ice from the Arctic environment and helping to set the stage for further rapid Arctic warming and worsening glacial melt in Greenland.

All this heat in the global system means that the world has crossed a number of critical climate thresholds. This is a bad situation. Coastal cities and island nations are now in peril due to sea level rise. Both stable growing seasons and the stability of regional weather are also now at risk as worsening glacial discharge and changes to ocean surface heat distribution appear to be ongoing and imminent.

These are hard consequences. But even worse consequences are on the way unless fossil fuel emissions are rapidly reduced.

(UPDATED)

Links:

NASA GISS

The Last Time the Oceans Got This Warm, Seas Were 20-30 Feet Higher Than They are Today

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Joe T

Kauai Shows Solar + Storage is Starting to Become Cost Competitive With Fossil Fuels, Nuclear

It wasn’t too long ago that the cost of an average solar energy power plant was above 10 cents per kilowatt hour and the world was raving at the low prices for Middle East solar generation in the range of 6 cents per kilowatt hour. At that time, to the shock, awe, and dismay of many, solar began to become earnestly competitive with traditional power plants based on price of energy alone.

Base Wind + Solar Now Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels, Nuclear

But it’s amazing what a difference just two years can make. Now solar prices have fallen into a range of around 4-6 cents per kilowatt hour with the least expensive solar plants now hitting as low as 2-3 cents per kilowatt hour. These prices are now far less than diesel and nuclear based generation (in many cases 1/2 to 1/4 the price of these systems) and today even out-compete coal and gas fired generation.

utility-solar-beats-fossil-fuels-and-nuclear

(Research by Lazard now shows that wind and solar are less expensive than all forms of fossil fuel and nuclear based energy. Image source: Lazard and Clean Technica.)

For as you can see in the image above, the cost of new natural gas generation now ranges from 5 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour for the least expensive plants and the price for new coal generation ranges from 6 to 14 cents per kilowatt hour. Utility wind and solar, by comparison, now ranges from 3 to 6 cents per kilowatt hour in most cases.

These, far more competitive, prices for renewable energy based systems provide a very strong case for the base market competitiveness of renewables. One that supports a clear rational economic argument for rapid integration of renewable energy systems. A strong economic case that can now be made even when one doesn’t include the various harmful externalities coming from nuclear energy and fossil fuel based power or the related and continuously worsening climate crisis. Renewable energy detractors, therefore, can now no longer make an argument against clean energy sources based on price alone. As a result, the argument against more benevolent energy systems during recent months has tended to shift more and more to the issue of intermittency.

Facing Down Fears of Intermittency

As an example, in its most recent report on the cost of global energy, the typically pragmatic Lazard Consulting group recently noted:

Even though alternative energy is increasingly cost-competitive and storage technology holds great promise, alternative energy systems alone will not be capable of meeting the baseload generation needs of a developed economy for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the optimal solution for many regions of the world is to use complementary traditional and alternative energy resources in a diversified generation fleet.

It’s a statement that moves the consultancy group closer to reality. One that opens wide the door for a much needed rapid integration of clean energy supplies. But, as with the analysts who failed to predict the precipitous fall in solar prices and the related rapidly increased availability of renewable energy sources as a result, the Lazard report fails to understand the fundamental price and mass production supply dynamics now setting up. A dynamic that will likely transform the cost and availability of energy storage systems in a similar manner to those that acted to greatly reduce the price of solar energy systems during the period of 2011 through 2016. As a result, Lazard’s ‘not for the foreseeable future’ statement is likely to have a life expectancy of about 3-5 years.

Soft Limits

Wind and solar power generation systems do have the base limitation that they only produce energy when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. Often, these energy sources have to be widely distributed and interconnected to cover a significant portion of demands coming from power grids (30 to 50 percent or more). And in the present understanding of energy supply economies, standby power or power storage systems have to be made available for the periods when majority renewable energy systems go off-line. All too often, this standby power generation comes from conventional sources like coal, gas, or nuclear.

That said, the underlying flexibility of renewable energy is starting to overcome the soft limit that is intermittency. And a recent report by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that as much as 80-90 percent of grid electricity demand could be met by widely distributed renewable energy sources such as wind and solar as soon as 2050 so long as an advanced grid and related energy storage systems are developed.

In order to meet the challenge of transitioning most or all electricity based energy supply to renewables — not only does the cost of renewable energy need to be competitive with fossil fuels, but the cost of intermittent renewable energy + the systems that store them must be similarly competitive. Fortunately for those of us concerned about the growing risks posed by the global climate crisis, it appears that we are now entering a period in which exactly this kind of cost competitiveness for integrated renewable + storage systems is starting to emerge.

Solar + Battery Storage Becoming Cost Competitive

Last year, the Hawaiian Island of Kauai purchased a ground-breaking solar + battery storage system from Tesla and Solar City. The system paired solar panels with Tesla power packs to provide 17 megawatts of solar energy and 10 megawatts of battery storage in order to replace about 10 percent of the island’s expensive diesel electricity generation.

kuaui

(Tropical Kauai aims to be powered by the sun. In doing so, it’s starting to shift away from dirty and expensive energy derived from coal and diesel generating plants. Image source: Kuaui.com.)

On Kuaui, diesel generation costs about 22 cents per kilowatt hour. Expensive fuel and equally expensive heavy machinery must be shipped from far-flung locations to the remote island. And this adds to the overall cost of fossil fuel generation. During 2016, Solar City and Tesla significantly out-competed the price of diesel generation by offering its solar + storage generating system for 13.9 cents per kilowatt hour — a cost that was comparable to the more expensive versions of nuclear, coal, and gas fired generation plants the world over.

Fast forward to early 2017 and another solar + storage provider was being contracted to add still more renewable based electrical power to Kauai’s grid. AES Distributed Energy is now contracted to build 28 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels mated to 20 megawatts of battery based storage. The price? About half that of diesel-fired power generation at 11 cents per kilowatt hour.

This is about 20 percent less than the Solar City + Tesla offering just one year later. A system that hits a price comparable to mid-range coal and nuclear generation systems. And, more to the point, AES’s solar panels + battery packs will enable Kuaui to produce 50 percent of its electricity through renewable, non-carbon-emitting sources.

Renewables + Storage to Beat Fossil Fuels in Near Future

Compared to the cost of renewable energy, the price of batteries is still comparitively expensive — effectively doubling the price of base solar. However, widespread adoption of battery-based electrical vehicles is helping to both rapidly drive down the cost of batteries and to provide a large global after-market supply of batteries useful for storing energy. By 2017, it’s likely that about 50 gigawatts worth of energy storage will be sold on the world market in the form of electrical vehicle batteries. By the early 2020s, this number could easily grow to 150 gigawatts of storage produced by the world’s clean energy suppliers every year.

lithium-ion-battery-production-to-triple-by-2020

(Global lithium ion battery production is expected to hit more than 120 GW and possibly as high as 140 GW by 2020. This production spike is coming on the back of newly planned battery plants in China, the U.S., and Europe. Presently, the largest plant currently operating is LG Chem’s China facility which was completed in 2016. Tesla’s Gigafactory is already producing batteries and is expected to ramp up to 35-50 GW worth of annual production by 2018-2019. Volkswagen has recently announced its own large battery plant to rival Tesla’s Gigafactory [not included in chart above]. FoxConn, BYD, and Boston Power round out the large projects now planned or underway. Image source: The Lithium-Ion Megafactories Are Coming.)

As electrical vehicles are driven, the batteries they use lose some of their charge. However, by the time the life of the electrical vehicle is over, the batteries still retain enough juice to be used after-market as energy storage systems. Meanwhile, the same factories that produce batteries for electrical vehicles can co-produce batteries for grid and residential based energy storage systems. This mass production capacity and second use co-production and multipurpose versatility will help to drive down the cost of batteries while making energy storage systems more widely available.

Though mass produced batteries represent one avenue for rapidly reducing the cost of energy storage systems mated to renewables, other forms of energy storage including pumped hydro, molten salt thermal storage, flywheels, and compressed air storage also provide price-competitive options for extending the effectiveness of low-cost variable power sources like wind and solar. And with the price of solar + storage options falling into the 11 cent per kilowatt hour range, it appears likely that these varied mated systems have the potential to largely out-compete fossil fuels and nuclear based on price alone well within the foreseeable future and possibly as soon as the next 3-5 years.

Links:

The World’s Cheapest Solar Energy in January 2015 Was 6 Cents Per Kilowatt Hour

Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis

Cost of Solar and Wind Beats Coal, Nuclear and Natural Gas

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Kauai Solar Peaker Shows How Fast Solar + Storage Costs are Falling

The Lithium-Ion Megafactories Are Coming

AES Distributed Energy

Warm Atmospheric River Aims Parade of Storms at U.S. West During La Nina Year of 2017

A river of moisture arises from the Pacific Ocean and links up with a procession of enormous storms that bring heavy surf, flooding rains, and mountain snows to the U.S. West. It’s a weather narrative that one usually associates with a strong El Nino during winter time. But the powerful El Nino ended last year and it failed to bring the expected rains. Meanwhile, in early 2017, during a La Nina year in which typical trends would tend to point to drier conditions for the U.S. West, a procession of severe storms is now slamming into California.

El Nino Pattern During a La Nina Year

So what the heck happened? What could possibly cause such a crazy weather flip-flop in which record drought conditions extend through a time of El Nino but severe and extreme rains come with the onset of La Nina?

The answer appears to be that a record warm ocean combined with a strongly positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation to produce a powerful river of moisture aimed directly at California. And when the associated storms arrived it was with an extreme intensity — setting off numerous flash flood events.

atmospheric-river-pacific

(Water vapor models show an atmospheric river running out of the Western Pacific — crossing that vast ocean before engorging storms slamming into the U.S. West Coast on January 17 of 2017. This is a severe weather feature more typical of an El Nino year that is now occurring during a period of weak La Nina conditions. The difference being that rivers of moisture running into California typically issue over Hawaii. The present ‘Pineapple Express’ is coming all the way from the Philippines. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

An almost continuous spate of heavy downpours since the first week of January has now unloaded enough moisture to fully slake severe drought conditions over Northern California and to considerably reduce the drought in the south. Overall, precipitation totals for the past 30 days have been as much as 2.5 times above the normal amount for California.

Another Batch of Heavy Rain on the Way

This week, NOAA expects another batch of powerful storms to come blasting out of the Pacific. Sections of Southern California are predicted to get hit with around 9-13 inches of rain over the next seven days while the north receives another 10 to 15 inches. These are notably severe rainfall totals for California. And NOAA model predictions have tended to range higher over the past 24 hours.

 

noaa-extremely-heavy-precipitation

(NOAA 7-day precipitation forecast indicates a severe rainfall event for the U.S. West Coast with heaviest amounts hitting parts of Northern California. Image source: NOAA.)

According to Accuweather, the heavy rains are expected to spur flash flooding, increase the risk of mudslides and to possibly push some rivers over their banks. However, since many rivers are still at low levels following persistent drought during the last five years, over-topping is less of a risk than it otherwise would have been.

Storms tend to bring cooler weather to this region and the Western U.S. has cooled somewhat during 2017 compared to past years. However, the conditions in which these storms are firing are warmer than they have been in the past. As a result, mountain snowfall has occurred higher up on the slopes. Consistent with the warmer than normal storms, Accuweather predicts this week’s storm system will not produce big snowfall totals for the Cascades as snow levels are driven above 7,000 feet by the warmer than usual temperatures.

Very Warm, Moist Pacific; Positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation

There’s been very little weather and climate discussion as to why heavy rains are falling in California during a year when the odds stacked against such an event would tend to be higher due to La Nina. The elephant in the room at this time is a major excursion of global surface temperatures in the range of 1.2 C above normal during 2016. A notably severe climate change related insult to the Earth system. Such extreme atmospheric warmth will tend to hold more water vapor aloft in suspension. As a result, when the rains do fall, they will tend to be heavier and come more in the form of downpours and deluges than as moderate or lighter precipitation.

sea-surface-temperature-anomalies-pacific

(This sea surface temperature anomaly map shows that despite La Nina, the Pacific Ocean, on balance, is much warmer than normal. These warmer than normal sea surfaces are pumping out a considerable amount of moisture — which is helping to feed the powerful storm systems running into the U.S. West Coast. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

To this point, despite a La Nina blanketing the Pacific’s central Equatorial region in cooler than normal waters, most of the Northern Pacific is considerably warmer than normal. And all this extra warmth is helping to pump a lot of water vapor into the atmosphere above the ocean zone. A feature that is not typically consistent with La Nina, but one that is consistent with a considerably positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation acting in conjunction with overall global warming. Positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) values are associated with above normal sea surface temperatures in the Eastern and South-Central Pacific. Positive PDO tends to produce longer and strong El Nino events. And it is also associated with strong storm tracks running from west to east along the 40 N latitude line.

Storm Track Runs All the Way to U.S. West Coast

To this  point, it’s worth noting that PDO has been in a positive range for the past three years running. But it wasn’t until recently that a persistently strong storm track stretching all the way to the U.S. West Coast has developed. During past years, strong storms veered north into Alaska and Canada, deflected by powerful ridges over the U.S. West.

crazy-wavy-jet-stream-u-s-canada

(The crazy, wavy jet stream with a strong storm track hitting California and a ridge riding up into Central Canada is rather changed from the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge blocking pattern that helped to spark severe droughts along the U.S. West Coast during 2013-2015. Now, severe flooding rains are the rule of the day. Under human-caused climate change, we can expect weather patterns to tend more toward extremes. For the U.S. West Coast extreme drought has been replaced by heavy rains. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Assisting the process of storms running toward the U.S. West Coast was the removal of a hot blob of water off coastal Washington and Oregon as a zone of somewhat cooler than normal waters formed. These cooler waters extended from just off Northern Japan to south of the Aleutians and on toward the U.S. West Coast. This zone is providing a dipole temperature anomaly between the cooler than normal surface waters in the north and the warmer than normal waters in the south. As a result, the Jet Stream has a nice slot along which to produce a powerful, flat storm track. These two features — a strong temperature dipole between the 40 and 50 degree latitude lines and a very warm Pacific producing copious amounts of moisture south of the 40 degree latitude line — are the key ingredients that appear to be fueling the powerful West Coast storms in a counter-La Nina fashion.

In contrast to the 2013 to 2015 period, high pressure ridging along the U.S. West Coast is not now strong enough to deflect the storms running across the Northern Pacific. In other words, it appears that the influence of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge and hot Ocean blobs off Washington and Oregon during 2013 to 2015 is has now faded out. However, the new climate and weather trends driving this most recent influx of heavy rainfall to the U.S. West Coast are almost as odd and notable.

Links:

Threat of Flooding For U.S. West Coast

West Coast Storms Cause Dangerous Flooding in California

U.S. Drought Monitor

Climate Reanalyzer

GISS Temperature Data

Climate Reanalyzer

Pacific Decadal Oscillation

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

The Human World Has Never Experienced A Time When Global Sea Ice Was So Weak and Reduced

Neven — one of the world’s most beloved sea ice trackers — has again taken a break from his much-earned sabbatical to issue yet one more warning on the state of global sea ice.

His report, based on this month’s bombshell National Snow and Ice Data Center statement, can best be described as an urgent call for action on the part of the global community to redouble efforts aimed at reducing the wide-ranging and expanding harms caused by the terrible warming trend we have artificially forced upon our world.

Neven is a kind, honest, and open soul. He is also one of the smartest and decent fellow bloggers I have had the good fortune of encountering in my many travels during my last four years of covering the slow motion global train wreck caused by our widespread and vastly irresponsible burning of fossil fuels. In other words, the man, in my view, has the moral and intellectual authority that many lack. We should listen to him.

Before the World Warmed, This Would Have Been a 1 in 30 Billion Probability Event

For, sadly, on the crucial issue of sea ice, a general muting of the subject has tended to continue despite a jaw-dropping plunge in both the coverage and volume of a substance so crucial to maintaining a stable global climate:

global-sea-ice-extent-stunning-losses

(Global sea ice extent fell off a cliff during December of 2016. The measure has now bounced back a little. But the global average remains significantly below past record lows for this time of year. Loss of so much sea ice can be highly disruptive to the climate system and related atmospheric circulation and precipitation patterns. Image source: NSIDC.)

During December, global sea ice extent coverage fell to an amazing 4.4 million square kilometers below average. This is far, far outside the 2 standard deviation range — passing to fully 8 standard deviations beyond the typical yearly average.

Under past expectations of average, the statistical probability of such an event is approximately 1 in 30 billion. Of course, it’s pretty obvious at this time that a normal, natural variability is not the underlying cause of such a great loss of sea ice. That the warmth we added to the system has now greatly tipped the scales beyond anything representing what would have previously been considered a normal range. A range that since the year 2000 had already tended to dip below average more and more frequently. But one that has never seen so much ice lost.

Unprecedented Losses

This area of sea ice removed — enough to change how the face of our Earth looks from space — is approximately the size of two Greenlands (Note that sea ice loss does not directly contribute to sea level rise. But loss of protective sea ice can contribute to land ice melt — which does add to rates of sea level rise.). And it has been roughly split between the Arctic in the north and the Antarctic in the south.

If sea ice extent losses appear bleak, then sea ice volume losses seem even worse. Sea ice extent is a rough measure of the surface of the world covered by ice excluding gaps behind the leading ice edge. Sea ice volume, however, measures both the ice area — including gaps — and the ice thickness.

giomas-year-global

(Globally, we’ve lost about 1/3 of the total volume of sea ice since the 1980s. 2016’s record fall in the measure coincided with record hot global temperatures and an abnormal period of polar warming that continues on into 2017. Image source: Wipneus.)

Late 2016’s big drop included the approximate removal of 1/3 of the world’s sea ice volume when compared to 1981-2010 averages. In other words, 1/3 of all of the floating portion of the world’s cryosphere beyond the edge of anchored ice shelves had melted away during the period.

Record Global Temperatures as Prime Cause For North and South Pole Sea Ice Melt

In the north, extremely warm temperatures ranging from 2 to up to 7 degrees Celsius above average for the Arctic Ocean region have helped to drive these unprecedented fall and winter sea ice losses. In the south, warmer than normal surface conditions appear to have also helped to drive the amazing coordinate losses there. And overall, 2016 has shown warm to extremely warm conditions for both poles during a year in which global temperatures have spiked to around 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages.

2016-air-temperature-anomalies-north-and-south-pole

(Extremely strong polar amplification during 2016 is the likely primary contributor to sea ice loss in both the northern and southern polar regions. Image source: NSIDC.)

Under polar amplification — a condition associated with the human-forced warming of our world — scientists expected that the polar regions would tend to warm faster than the rest of the Earth surface. And during 2016, this global warming related condition presented effects writ large.  The damage to sea ice, so far, has been monumental. And these losses have continued into 2017 — even if they are somewhat less below the record low line than during their period of maximum departure this past December.

Albedo Losses and a Bad Set-up for Arctic Summer

Sea ice loss generates its own form of amplifying feedback — in which already prevalent polar warming can worsen further. Less ice coverage means that during summer more of the dark ocean surface is presented to absorb the sun’s rays. This replacement of a white, reflective surface with a dark blue, absorptive one means that still more heat will tend to be trapped in the polar environment. In addition, during winter, less ice cover means that the warmer ocean beneath will tend ventilate more heat and heat-trapping water vapor into the polar atmospheres. And it’s this kind of self-reinforcing cycle that can tend to lock in the dangerous changes like worsening severe weather, worsening heatwaves in the middle and lower latitudes, and the increasing rates of land glacier melt and sea level rise that scientists have been warning about for so long. And it’s this kind of disruptive longer term climate trend that we are being drawn into at this time.

freezing-degree-days-lag-during-freezing-seaons-80-n

(Freezing degree days for the crucial 80 N region have significantly departed into record low ranges. The less freezing degree days, the closer this region is to thawing. Image source: Tealight. Data Source: DMI.)

Nearer term, it appears that the polar heat which has already so greatly damaged the Arctic sea ice is set to stay. Over the next few days, the Arctic appears set to experience a powerful series of low pressure systems running in from the Barents side between Svalbard and Siberia. Neven warns that these storms will tend to push a considerable portion of the remaining thick ice out of the Arctic and through the Fram Strait. Over the next couple of weeks, global forecast models indicate that above freezing temperatures will tend to invade regions now covered by sea ice in Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, and in the Chukchi Sea. Though the ice is trying to grow, such repeated insults will tend to keep ice coverage in record low ranges.

If this trend of warmth, storms and ice export continues through February, March and April — as it has during October, November, December and January — then the set up for the 2017 melt season would be about the worst we have ever seen. And that would tend to increase the likelihood of new record minimums being reached during September all while hastening the day when the Arctic experiences near ice free conditions. Lets hope that doesn’t happen. But, so far, the trends for the winter of 2016-2017, from pole to pole, have followed along the lines of a near worst case scenario.

Links:

Global Sea Ice Records Broken Again

National Snow and Ice Data Center Sea Ice News

Wipneus Sea Ice Graphs

NASA GISS Temperature Data

Polar Amplification

Tealight

DMI

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

The Electric Vehicles are Coming — Global Sales Likely to Exceed 1 Million During 2017

Electric vehicle (EV) performance has been improving so quickly and prices have been falling so fast that the internal combustion engine (ICE) wouldn’t be able to compete for much longer. You will soon be able to get Porsche performance for Buick prices and when you get that, neither Porsche nor Buick are able to compete.Tony Seba

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We talk a lot here about tipping points. Often this is in the negative sense when it comes to climate change. But when it comes to electrical vehicles, which is one of the key renewable energy technologies that has the capacity to mitigate climate harms, it appears that the world is rapidly approaching a much more positive kind of economic tipping point.

Steadily, markets are opening up to a new wave of far more capable electric vehicles. And this is good news — because the combination of wind + solar + electrical vehicles + battery storage has the capacity to act as a market force that, on its own, will begin to dramatically cut the global carbon emissions now driving dangerous climate change the world over.

850,000 EV Sales for 2016, Possibly More than a Million During 2017

During 2015, as EV ranges extended, as charging networks expanded, as countries like China and India began to incentivize electric vehicles in an effort to fight choking air pollution, and as high value vehicles like Tesla’s model X became available, global EV sales jumped to over 500,000. This momentum continued during 2016 despite plummeting gas prices — a year when sales of electric vehicles are now expected to rise by more than 60 percent to 850,000.

By 2017, it is likely that global annual EV sales will lift still further — hitting over 1 million in the world market as lower cost, longer range electric vehicles like the Chevy Bolt, the Tesla Model 3, and an upgraded Nissan Leaf are expected make their entry.

ev-volumes

(Plug in vehicle sales including EVs and PHEVs are expected to jump about 60 percent during 2016. Rising vehicle quality and concerns about pollution and climate change are the primary drivers. Image source: Plug in Electric Vehicles Sales Growth.)

While climate and environmental policy is helping to spur this beneficial trend — with smog-choked cities and countries concerned about climate change pushing for fossil fuel based vehicle bans — it’s important to note that overall EV performance and quality now also appear to be a major underlying driver pushing EV adoption rates higher. In other words, a vehicle with a more powerful engine, faster acceleration, and a larger interior, one that produces less noise while driving, generates no toxic stink from a tail pipe and costs less to fuel and maintain, and one whose operation (when coupled with a renewable electricity supply) won’t contribute to all the nasty droughts, floods, heatwaves, animal deaths and rising tides that are becoming so pervasive due to fossil fuel burning, is looking increasingly attractive.

Rising EV Quality, Lower Cost Helps to Drive Adoption Rates

Rising rates of adoption, in essence, come both from various performance advantages as well as from an increasing societal awareness of EVs’ greatly lessened harmful impacts. Moreover, electric vehicles — like wind and solar — have the ability to produce great leaps in performance, capability, and cost reduction. As a result, they are increasingly narrowing the gap with fossil fuel based vehicles on range and price even as already superior power and efficiency expands.

chevy-bolt

(Higher capability electric vehicles like the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 will help to further increase global sales during 2017. On acceleration and torque, both of these vehicles will be able to outperform many ICE based sports cars for a lower price. But the larger point here is that EVs are advancing very rapidly and are likely to be able to outperform ICEs in almost every way by as soon as the 2020s. Image source: Chevy Bolt.)

Vehicle ranges across almost all model lines are rising. The Nissan Leaf, for example, now has a range of 107 miles — compared to 84 miles just two years before — even as the company is expected to provide a 200 mile capable model in the near future. Meanwhile, today’s Leaf’s range is less than half that of the comparatively priced Chevy Bolt whose late 2016 release model boasts a 238 mile capability (about 4 times that of typical electric vehicles from just 2-3 years ago). Well-selling higher end vehicles like Tesla’s model S and X still dominate the longer range category. The base Model S’s range is 210 miles with larger battery pack versions now extending the vehicle’s legs to up to 315 miles.

The Chevy Bolt is the first mass market, moderately priced, fully electric vehicle (starting at around 35,000 dollars) with a highway range in excess of 200 miles available for US buyers. A vehicle that Motor Trend Magazine has rated very favorably. Lower maintenance and fuel costs will further add to the vehicle’s economic value and overall appeal. In late 2017, the Tesla Model 3 will join the Bolt in this category. Both vehicles represent high quality and higher performance options for buyers. And these models should help to considerably increase the number of electrical vehicles sold in the U.S. and around the world as they become available.

Electric Buses Promise to Help Revitalize Urban Areas, Make Public Transport More Attractive

(Gothenburg is one of many cities around the world moving to electric bus based transportation. This form of transport is not only clean, it provides unique features that aid in city planning and urban renewal. Video source: Electric Buses Regenerate City Planning.)

Larger electric vehicles such as trucks and buses are also starting to become more widely represented. For example, Chinese EV manufacturer BYD recently received an order for 50 new all-electric buses from Argentina. Proterra, another electric bus manufacturer, just had an order from the city of Seattle for 73. King County, which includes Seattle, plans to have all its buses powered by electricity within 3 years. Electric buses have seen major advances in recent years and now feature ranges as long as 350 miles and charging times in as little as 3-30 minutes.

Better Access to Charging Infrastructure, Faster Charging, Superior Performance

Expanding EV charging networks are also making these vehicles more accessible to the public. Tesla has invested heavily in placing chargers along highways in the U.S. and around the world. And it is the only automaker presently making superchargers — capable of fully charging an electric vehicle in about an hour — available as a special service to its drivers. These networks are adding to EV ease of use and are helping to further reduce range anxiety. Meanwhile the ability to charge at home, at work, and at numerous destinations such as grocery stores, rest stops, and malls adds to EV versatility and ease of use — providing convenience that ICE vehicles lack.

tesla-superchargers-destination-chargers

(Tesla’s ever-expanding charging network includes both super-chargers and more conventional charging stations. Image source: Gas2.)

EVs now also provide superior performance when compared to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in a number of areas. Though gasoline is presently more energy dense than batteries (a situation that is changing as battery technology improves), electric motors are far and away superior to internal combustion engines. Smaller electric motors save weight and space — allowing for larger vehicle interiors and storage. Meanwhile, an electric motor’s ability to rapidly deliver energy to the drive train produces superior acceleration and torque compared to ICE based vehicles. It is this feature that allows the Tesla Model S to outperform even motorcycles in acceleration. Simplicity of design is also a superior feature of electrical vehicles — one that is enabling EV owners to dramatically reduce maintenance costs. Less moving parts and less complicated engines enable this benefit. Add in greatly reduced fuel costs and it becomes pretty clear why EVs are enjoying such rapidly rising rates of adoption.

Helping to Combat Global Climate Change

Increasing EV popularity and access helps to combat global climate change on a number of levels. First, EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions. Second, EV engines are more efficient than internal combustion engines — so they use less energy overall than fossil fuel based vehicles. Third, EVs mated to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar produce zero or near zero carbon emissions during operation. Finally, the batteries used to charge EVs can provide storage for intermittent sources like wind and solar energy. And this energy storage can occur both while the batteries are sitting in a stationary vehicle and after-market when batteries are removed following the end of the vehicle’s time of use.

EVs are also transformative in that they greatly reduce and provide the potential to eliminate emissions from large segments of the transportation sector. And this is a pretty big deal as global transport is presently one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. With EVs, supply chains for food delivery and manufacturing have the potential to be decarbonized — which also helps to reduce various material and food based carbon footprints.

So the EVs are coming. A liberating economic force that’s helping to drive an energy switch that the world, at this time, desperately needs.

Links:

Dramatic Plug in Vehicle Sales Growth During 2016

EVs Will Soon Be Cheaper Than Regular Cars

Norway to Ban Petrol Vehicle Sales

Chevy Bolt

New Nissan Leaf With 200 Mile Range is Coming

Tesla Model S

Chevy Bolt vs Model S

Electric Buses Regenerate City Planning

BYD Sells 50 Electric Buses to Argentina

Seattle Buses to be All-Electric

Gas2 — More Tesla Charging Stations

Hat tip to JPL

Hudson Bay to Experience Periods of Above Freezing Temperatures, Possible Rainfall During January of 2017

Earlier this morning, warm winds rushing in from the south ahead of an extensive frontal system draped across central and eastern North America pulled 32 + degree Fahrenheit (0 + C) temperatures into the southern coastal area of Hudson Bay. These temperatures were around 30 to 35 degrees (F) above normal. An odd event to say the least. One that would have been far less likely to happen without the added kick provided by global warming in the range of 1.2 C above 1880s averages.

hudson-bay-above-freezing-january-11

(Temperatures rose to above freezing at around 4 AM EST along the southern shores of Hudson Bay on January 11, 2017 according to this GFS model summary. Middle and long range forecasts indicate that at least two more such warming events will occur over this typically frigid region during January. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Such a kick has been pushing climate zones northward — sparking numerous instances of unseasonable weather. Meanwhile, some researchers have indicated that the Jet Stream has also tended to produce higher amplitude ridges and troughs as the Northern Hemisphere polar zone has warmed faster than the rest of the world. In these more extensive ridge zones, this climate change related alteration to atmospheric circulation provides big avenues for warm air to enter typically frozen regions during winter (please see Arctic Melt ‘Already Affecting Weather Patterns Where You Live Right Now’).

Today’s warming event was driven by a northward extending bulge in the Jet Stream running up over Alberta and on into the North Atlantic near Greenland. Similar ridging in the Jet Stream is expected to occur over Central Canada five to six days from now on Monday and Tuesday of January 16-17, again over extreme southern Hudson Bay on Wednesday, January 18, and once more over the southern half of Hudson Bay on Monday, January 23rd.

Warming during the 16th and 17th is expected to range from 30 to 38 Fahrenheit (17 to 21 C) above average. Meanwhile, the longer range forecast may see temperatures hit near 40 F (22 C) above average for some regions if the model guidance ends up being correct.

extreme-warmth-over-hudson-bay

(Numerous instances of above-freezing temperatures are predicted for Hudson Bay during mid-to-late January. The most intense warming is showing up in the long range forecast for January 23rd. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

It’s worth noting that the five day forecast is rather uncertain and the longer range forecast at this time is highly uncertain. That said, the models do indicate a particularly strong tendency for Jet Stream ridging and associated anomalous warming for this region.

Today’s warming occurred in association with strong frontal storm system anchored by a 976 mb low. This coming Monday’s warming is expected to come in conjunction with a much less stormy warm front. The long range model for January 23rd shows an odd event where another strong frontal storm pulls a curtain of rainfall over much of southern Hudson Bay (which typically receives only frozen precipitation at this time of year).

liquid-precipitation-over-hudson-bay-during-january

(Light to moderate rain could fall over a large portion of Hudson Bay during late January as a very extensive frontal system is predicted to pull moisture and warmth from the Gulf of Mexico. An odd winter climate/weather event to say the least. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

Over the past two years, large ridges have tended to drive warm air into the Arctic over the Bering Sea, through Alaska and Northwest Canada, and up through the North Atlantic and the Barents. But during early 2017, ridging appears to be setting up for Central and Northern North America — which is providing the warmer middle latitude air mass with an invasion route toward Hudson Bay. And such periods of anomalous warmth will tend to have a weakening effect on sea ice cover in this vulnerable near-Arctic region.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Tropical Tidbits

Arctic Melt ‘Already Affecting Weather Patterns Where You Live Right Now’

NOAA– Atmospheric CO2 Increased by 2.77 Parts Per Million During 2016

According to NOAA, carbon dioxide — a key heat trapping gas — increased its atmospheric concentration by 2.77 parts per million during 2016. This was the third fastest rate of increase in the NOAA record following 2015 at a 3.03 ppm annual increase and 1998 at a 2.93 annual increase.

Earlier trends had indicated that 2016 might be on track to beat 2015 as a new record year (and a month by month comparison for the first 11 months of 2016 pointed toward a record rate of rise). These concerns, thankfully, did not materialize as atmospheric rates of accumulation slowed down during December of 2016 — which helped to push the overall year to year comparison lower (NOAA’s year-on-year rate of growth is based on a December to January comparison). Nonetheless, the high rate of atmospheric increase for 2016 remains a matter of concern.

co2-annual-rate-of-increase

(2015 saw a record annual rate of atmospheric CO2 increase at 3.03 parts per million. 2016’s increase at 2.77 parts per million was the 3rd fastest on record. Overall, the decade of 2011-2016 is presently showing about a 20 percent faster rate of accumulation than the decade of 2000 to 2010. This should moderate somewhat post El Nino. However, Earth System feedbacks threaten to hamper the environment’s ability to take down excess carbon as the world begins to approach 1.5 C warmer than 1880s averages. Image source: NOAA.)

Overall, the average annual rate of increase for the first six years of the decade beginning in 2011 was 2.42 parts per million. This rate is approximately 20 percent faster than during the decade of 2001 to 2010 (analysis based on this NOAA data) at around a 2.05 parts per million annual increase. Prior to the most recent decade, the 2000 to 2010 period showed the fastest rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide accumulation on record.

El Nino, through ocean warming and related land impacts such as increased droughts and wildfires, can reduce the rate of CO2 uptake by the Earth System — thus forcing a higher rate of increase due to the human emission. And the 2015 to 2016 period featured a strong El Nino. All things being equal, we should expect atmospheric rates of increase to moderate somewhat during 2017. Possibly dropping to slightly below 2 ppm in the best case.

atmospheric-co2-increase-the-keeling-curve

(Extremely rapid rates of atmospheric CO2 increase since the mid 20th Century have been driven by ramping rates of fossil fuel burning. Now we are at a point where the Earth System will have more and more difficulty taking in the carbon spewed out by smokestacks and tail pipes. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

However, global carbon emissions from fossil fuels at near record levels will continue to push a very high rate of atmospheric accumulation of this climate change driving heat-trapping gas. And the added insult due to global warming now ranging above 1 C hotter than 1880s for most years will tend to put a cap on how effective the Earth is at taking in the very large excess human emission.

By comparison, rates of CO2 increase during the last hothouse extinction event — the PETM — were about 10 to 20 times slower than they are today. And it took hundreds of years for atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to equal the same 125 parts per million increase we’ve now experienced in the 136 years since 1880. So the insult to the Earth System produced by fossil fuel burning is currently extraordinarily high and the rate of heat trapping gas accumulation is probably unprecedented for at least the last 66 million years.

(CO2 is the primary gas driving global warming. But it is not the only one. Add in methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gasses and you end up with a total forcing that’s equivalent to 490 parts per million CO2. Video source: Climate One.)

NOAA is now showing that global atmospheric CO2 averages are hitting near 402.5 parts per million. This level will likely increase to around 404 to 405 parts per million by the end of 2017. The forcing from this CO2 alone (not including methane and other greenhouse gasses which has pushed CO2 equivalent forcing to around 490 parts per million) is enough to push global temperatures to nearly 2 C warmer than 1880s averages this Century (prediction based on ECS model analysis). Longer term, if atmospheric CO2 concentrations remain so high, overall warming could hit 3 C to as much as 4 C hotter than 1880s values when adding in the long-term impacts of other greenhouse gas emissions (prediction based on a meta-analysis of paleoclimate temperature and atmospheric carbon proxies).

With global temperatures already driven to about 1.2 C hotter than 1880s during 2016, it’s not an understatement to say that a period of more dangerous and harmful climate change — forced upon us by the world’s extremely high rate of carbon emissions — is already upon us. And we can see that in the various severe weather and geophysical events that are currently ranging the globe. The urgency for cutting carbon emissions, therefore, could not be greater.

Links:

NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Ten Times Faster Than the PETM

The Keeling Curve

Climate One

Hat tip to Shawn Redmond

Hat tip to Suzanne

(UPDATED)

Antarctica is About to Lose a 2,000 Square Mile Chunk of Ice — And it Could Mean the End of the Larsen C Ice Shelf

It’s happened before. Ice shelves on the northern Antarctic Peninsula released large chunks of ice into the Southern Ocean as the world warmed up. They developed a concave shape which became unstable. Then they collapsed.

The ultimate collapse of Larsen A occurred in 1995. In 2002, further up the Antarctic Peninsula, the larger Larsen B Ice Shelf succumbed to the same fate. And it is thought that such losses haven’t happened to this section of Antarctica in at least 11,000 years and possibly as long ago as 100,000 years.

(NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory provides this narrative describing the collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in 2002. Video source: JPL.)

But in the present world, one where human fossil fuel emissions have forced global temperatures above 1 C hotter than 1880s averages, the stability of many of the great great ice shelves is now endangered.

Larsen C Ice Shelf to Calve 2,000 Square Mile Ice Berg

Today, a huge rift has nearly bisected a large frontal section of the Larsen C Ice shelf — an ice system many times the size of its now deceased companions Larsen A and Larsen B. And during December — a period when Antarctica was warming into Austral Summer — this massive crack grew by 18 kilometers.

When, and not if, the crack reaches the ocean, a 2,000 square mile ice berg will float away from Larsen C. It will be one of the largest ice bergs ever to form in human memory. One the size of the state of Delaware. It will tower hundreds of feet above the ocean surface. And it will last for years before ultimately melting.

larsen-c-ice-rift-length-and-width

(The Larsen C is rift grew considerably — both lengthening and widening during December of 2016. It was an indication that a massive ice berg was about to break off. Image source: MIDAS.)

This event will change the geography of our world. And for this alteration alone, it has great consequence. But, as Chris Mooney notes in this excellent Washington Post article on the subject, it’s what happens afterward that really counts.

Event Could Presage Total Collapse

Of concern is the fact that once this massive ice berg calves off of Larsen C, the great ice sheet may become unstable. It will take on a concave form. This form will make it more vulnerable to further melt by warming waters running in toward the shelf. Furthermore, the large ice berg will take a chunk of Larsen C’s compressive arch with it. Such a compressive arch — like the arch of a flying buttress — helps to bear the weight of the shelf and keep it from smashing into thousands of tiny pieces. If too much of the arc is lost, the shelf can’t survive for long.

larsen-c-ice-rift-midas

(Researchers at The MIDAS Project have projected that a 2,000 square mile section of the Larsen C Ice Shelf is about to break off. This section represents 10 percent of the Larsen C system. Its loss risks destabilization of the entire ice shelf. If Larsen C does disintegrate, it will release glaciers capable of increasing global sea level by another 4 inches. Image source: MIDAS.)

Glaciologist Eric Rignot notes in The Washington Post:

“We studied the current rift in the past few years, it has been progressing rather ‘normally,’ the recent acceleration in the rift progression is ‘expected’ in my opinion. The consequences on the rest of the ice shelf are not clear at this point. If the calving continues and goes past the compressive arch … then the ice shelf will break up.”

Scientists are currently divided over the issue of whether or not Larsen C’s near-term demise is imminent. However, the loss of such a massive ice berg from Larsen C, the present human-forced warming of the Antarctic land and ocean environment, and the presently observed thinning of the ice shelf all point toward a rising risk of destabilization or disintegration.

As with most things geological, you can’t really say that such an event is certain until after the fact. But as for Larsen C’s prospects of long term survival, things aren’t looking too great at the moment.

Links/Credits

The MIDAS Project

Antarctica is Set to Lose an Enormous Piece of Ice

An Ice Berg the Size of Delaware is About to Break off From Antarctica

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Honoring the Spirit of the Wind — A Farewell to Fellow Climate Scribbler David T. Lange II

Over the following days everything in PDX dried out — the air, trees, soil. There was a snapping sensation as all moisture was expelled. Like … second crack (coffee roasting). I felt it. It smelled acrid… It’s no wonder the Pacific Northwest is burning in explosive wildfires.David T. Lange in his description of impacts caused by the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge during 2015.

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To say that climate change is a crisis intertwined with a vast, burning-driven damage to human, plant, and animal bodies caused by particulate air pollution and its related 7 million annual (human) deaths is the very epitome of understatement. No-one knew this better than my good friend and fellow scribbler David T Lange.

wildfire-smoke-portland-oregon-2015-dt-lange-under-the-dome

(David T Lange took this photo from beneath the hot dome of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge during the summer of 2015. At the time, wildfire smoke from blazes sparking off in nearby forests ranging from British Columbia and down into Washington, Oregon and California had painted the sky a pasty pink and gray. In posts to this blog, David often described the air quality due to anomalous wildfires, stifling heat, and local air pollution as acrid and choking. Image source: DT Lange 2.)

On November 9, 2016 this sensitive and perceptive soul passed away suddenly due to cardiac arrest and organ failure. To members of this blog, David’s loss was conspicuous. Up until the point of his jarring absence in late October, he had posted over 9,200 comments during his two-and-a-half year period as a contributing member.

David’s blog handle was Wind Spirit Keeper. But I think of him more as a benevolent spirit surfing the spectral winds of the internet. One who provided a seemingly endless stream of helpful information and discussion. The value of his thoughts and research to this community could well be described as immeasurable. And I did my best to highlight his concerns in the over 250 blog posts in which he received a citation for his valued thoughts and contributions. It is an understatement when I say that he will be sorely, sorely missed.

A Concerned, Sensitive Soul Suffering From a Lung Condition and Breathing Acrid Fumes Beneath the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

David (known affectionately as DT to his fellow scribblers) suffered from lung problems for years and had often said that his movement to Oregon was a quest for cleaner air. But during 2014 and 2015 a western drought featuring unprecedented tree deaths and associated with an odd climate change related Jet Stream feature called the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge (RRR) generated powerful heat domes and sparked numerous wildfires that conspired with already prevalent local emissions to take that coveted Oregon clean air away.

In one of DT’s first comments here (on April 29 of 2014), he noted:

The ‘interesting’ weather will commence here in Portland on Wednesday and Thursday with highs in the upper 80s… As I write, the whole western sky is half dome of gauzy Mylar haze that is likely from the fires and dust storms in Siberia and China — plus whatever is added the atmosphere in the Northwest.

Later that summer, the heat and dryness would spark an odd outbreak of wildfires throughout the Pacific Northwest (see image below). An event that validated DT’s concerns along with those of many fellow bloggers, commenters, weather/climate observers and scientists.

massive-fire-complexes-in-washington-oregon-and-bc

(Large wildfire complexes burning throughout Washington and Oregon during July of 2014. The extreme warmth and drought sparked fires on land — harming air quality. Meanwhile, the heat produced algae blooms, worsened low oxygen ocean environments, and greatly contributed to mortality among sea life in waters ranging from California to Alaska. Image source: LANCE MODIS/RS Files.)

The 2012 to 2015 RRR event appeared odd to DT. And like many climate researchers, he suspected that the RRR was induced by global warming. More to the point, I think the effects related to the RRR scared him on a visceral level. He could, after all, feel the damage being done to his sensitive and weakened lungs far more keenly than a healthier person would.

An Imperiled Life Reaching Out to Help Others

The above is just a small snap-shot of the various prophetic worries DT gave firm if wise voice to here. Others included the related death of trees due to a fossil fuel burning linked ozone pollution, the spurring of low oxygen dead zones in the ocean caused by combined warming and nutrient seeding, how polar amplification could be driving weather extremes in the middle latitudes, and the overall failure by the global community to move as strongly as possible to deal with the combined problems of pollution and climate change were the constant underlying themes of his work and expression.

david-lange

(David Lange was born in 1948 on December 30th and passed away on November 9 of 2016. He was a passionate and insightful climate observer and an articulate writer. A fellow surfer, David [known here as DT] possessed an intuitive understanding of the natural world. It could be better said that he lived his life ‘in the zone.’ We scribblers here will sorely miss his wit, candor and kindness. A bright light has been extinguished and the world is now the darker for his loss. Image source: David T Lange II.)

To my eye, DT’s passion for posting such thoughts was driven by compassion and concern related to his own life experience. Compassion for those who, like him, suffered from lung ailments that were likely worsened by particulate pollution. Concern that under climate change — the heat, the worsening wildfires, the loss of trees and the ramping up of environmental toxins would add to human emissions to substantially worsen today’s already lethal air quality problems.

It is difficult for me to express with words how selfless, noble and valuable such a form of expression is. A lesser voice would have collapsed — choked by a dwindling circle of fear and isolation as the ability to breathe waned. Instead, DT used his last years to speak out. To lift his voice not only in a cry for help, but to use the shout-out in most noble way imaginable — speaking up to help others. To send the very clear signal that all was not right — not just with his own lungs, but with the still living but now struggling atmospheric lungs of our world. The ones we all rely on.

That, I think, was the message he was sending us. And he used his final efforts and last breaths to do it. It was a gift beyond measure. The precious wisdom of his final words and actions given to us. Ones we will ever-after honor and treasure.

Links:

David T Lange 2

LANCE MODIS/RS Files

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

When April is the New July

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Cate

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