Strange Summer Nor’Easter Drops 3 Inches of Rain in 45 Minutes Over Parts of D.C. Area

Climate change related hydrological events. Rain bombs. These are somewhat uncomfortable subjects. But it’s a basic fact that if you warm the Earth, you also crank up rates of evaporation and precipitation. And since we’ve warmed the Earth by about 1.2 C above preindustrial levels by burning fossil fuels and dumping so much carbon into the atmosphere, we’ve loaded the climate dice for producing both more extreme rainfall and more extreme drought events.

In the mid-Atlantic today, a strange summer Nor’easter is dropping multiple inches of rain over parts of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware in very short time periods. In an area just northwest of Silver Spring, M.D.,  an amazing 3.19 inches of rain fell in just 45 minutes.

A resident of Gaithersburg, M.D., I experienced a comparable deluge situation in which my hilltop residence and home office saw a river forming in its back yard. Just about an hour before, my phone was sending me warnings to avoid the valley regions. Considering the flooding we saw in the hills, it’s tough to imagine what the low-lands might have looked like.

(Extreme rainfall creates streams through the hilltop residences of Gaithersburg, MD on July 28 as a strange summer Nor’Easter taps very high atmospheric moisture levels over the region to produce 1-4 inch per hour rainfall rates.)

It’s worth noting that 1 inch per hour rainfall rates are considered to be extreme. But the short-period volumes of rain being produced by this system (1-4 inch per hour rates) are pretty much off the charts. It’s coming from a storm that has been fueled by an upper level trough dipping down over Canada. One that pushed a large frontal system over the Great Lakes region on Wednesday night. This front then moved across the Ohio Valley on Thursday and out over the Atlantic by Friday. Packed with cooler temperatures, the front ran over ocean waters that are ranging between 1 to 4 degrees Celsius above average. The extra ocean heat helped to create a very moisture-rich environment. A coastal low subsequently forming in this very wet column of air began cranking that moisture over the mid-Atlantic even as its associated instability produced some extraordinarily powerful rainstorms.

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map shows a hot blob of ocean water temperatures off the U.S. East Coast in the range of 1-4 C above average. A deep-digging trough has enabled a strong coastal low to form and feed on the amazing amount of moisture bleeding off this warm water to produce an odd summer nor’easter and related extreme rainfall over the U.S. East Coast. A number of the factors enabling the strength of this system are aspects of human-forced climate change. Notably — the deep summer trough and the very warm Atlantic Ocean surface waters. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Meanwhile, the Gulf of Mexico’s warmer than normal waters have throughout the spring and summer produced tropical levels of moisture over southern and central sections of the Eastern U.S. — fueling numerous extreme rainfall events and adding even more punch to this particular event.

Already warm summer waters produce a serious amount of water vapor. But punch up ocean temperatures to the above average ranges we see today and you get even more moisture bleeding out. If an odd, deep, cool summer trough runs through it, then it provides a big kick of atmospheric instability in a region where there’s already an abnormal amount of fuel for storms. Both the ability of troughs to dig deeper over the U.S. East Coast and the added ocean heat and moisture are arguably aspects related to human-caused climate change. So to talk about this particular event without adding that context would not really be looking at the whole weather and climate picture.

(UPDATES TO FOLLOW AS NEEDED)

Links: 

Summer Nor’easter Wallops Mid Atlantic

Earth Nullschool

National Weather Service — DC/Baltimore

Understanding the Jet Stream

Hat tip to Greg

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Oklahoma to Build World’s Second Largest Wind Farm as France + UK Pledge to Ban Fossil Fuel Vehicles

If we’re going to effectively deal with climate change while maintaining economic prosperity, then it’s absolutely essential to rapidly transition fossil fuel based energy to non-carbon emitting energy. And some of the best options for doing so presently involve leveraging economies of scale with three widely available technologies — wind, solar, and low cost storage and EV batteries.

Oklahoma Wind Capacity to Rise Above 30 Percent of Electrical Generation

Over the past week, serious advances continue to be made on these fronts. In the Oklahoma panhandle, Invenergy has partnered with GE Renewable Energy to build a 2 GW onshore wind farm. Once finished, the farm (named Wind Catcher) will be the largest U.S. wind farm and the second largest such farm in the world. The farm itself will be composed of 800 massive 2.5 megawatt wind turbines. This is GE’s largest wind turbine model and its size will help to lower the cost of producing electricity, some of the benefits of which will then be passed on to energy customers.

(According to the American Wind Energy Association, Oklahoma presently ranks as third in the U.S. for wind electrical generation capacity at 6,645 megawatts. Adding another 2,000 megawatts would considerably increase Oklahoma’s wind energy share by 30 percent. As a result, present Oklahoma wind generation of 25 percent of the state’s electrical supply would likely rise to 32.5 percent as a result of this single large project.)

Pete McCabe, President and CEO of GE’s Onshore Wind business noted in Clean Technica:

“GE is delighted to be a part of the groundbreaking Wind Catcher project with Invenergy and American Electric Power. We look forward to putting our teams to work in these communities as we continue to move toward our goal of ensuring that no one has to choose between sustainable, reliable and affordable energy.”

The project which will cost 4.5 billion dollars hits a pretty amazing price of around 2.25 cents per kilowatt hour installed. And with new wind energy projects costing as little as 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour on average in 2017, it appears that raw economic factors alone are likely to continue driving large and lucrative wind projects like the one now being pursued in Oklahoma. A single project that will increase Oklahoma’s wind energy generation capacity by 30 percent to 8,645 GW and push wind’s total share of state electrical generation to around 32.5 percent (see image and caption above).

France and UK Pledge to Ban Fossil Fuel Vehicles

Even as wind gains a larger share of energy production capacity in a red state, the UK and France have now joined a growing number of cities and nations in providing a responsible pledge to ban petrol and diesel based vehicles by 2040. These national moves match a recent initiative by Norway — which aims to sell only electrical vehicles in country by 2025. Meanwhile, India has also recently set a goal to sell only electrical vehicles in its own markets by 2030. Cities such as Madrid, Munich and Stuttgart are also considering diesel bans.

Concerns about worsening air quality, recent cheating by automakers on emissions standards, worries about climate change and a major threat to traditional automaker market share by all-electric manufacturers like Tesla appear to have reached a kind of critical mass.

From the New York Times:

Britain’s decision is, however, the latest indication of how swiftly governments and the public in Europe have turned against diesel and internal combustion engines in general. Automakers, though reluctant to abandon technologies that have served them well for more than a century, are increasingly resigned to the demise of engines that run on fossil fuels. They are investing heavily in battery-powered cars as they realize their traditional business is threatened by Tesla or emerging Chinese companies, which have a lead in electric car technology. The shift away from internal combustion engines is in large part a result of growing awareness of the health hazards of diesel.

According to reports from the BBC, France’s own July 6 decision to ban petrol and diesel vehicle sales by 2040 was spurred by the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. France has long aimed to reduce its carbon emissions and the 2040 vehicle ban is part of a larger plan for the country to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Links:

USA’s Largest and World’s Second Largest Wind Farm to be Built in Oklahoma

Britain to Ban New Diesel Cars by 2040

France to Ban Sale of Petrol and Diesel Vehicles

American Wind Energy Association

100 Fossil Fuel Companies Responsible for 71 Percent of Carbon Emissions Since 1988 — And They’re Being Sued For it

According to research from the Carbon Disclosure Project, since 1988, 100 fossil fuel producers have been responsible for 635 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions. This total represents 71 percent of human carbon emissions that have occurred over the past 29 years.

Companies involved in this massive carbon emission included such giants as ExxonMobil, Shell, BHP Billiton and Gazprom. The report also found that these 100 companies were responsible for fully 52 percent of all emissions since the industrial revolution began in 1751.

Report authors went on to point out that this relatively small group of companies is likely to have an outsized influence on responses to climate change — hopefully adding that positive action by such corporations could produce significant positive change. However, historically, such companies have tended to fight against global climate treaties, misinform the public on dangers related to human-caused climate change, and work to delay responses to climate change within their host nations. Due to this past bad-economic-actor behavior combined with rising climate change related damages, these corporations also are exposed to what may well be a historic and unprecedented corporate liability.

(If you were born in 2015, the estimate for your lifetime lost wealth from climate change, according to DEMOS, is between 581,000 and 764,000 dollars. With 100 companies responsible for 50 percent of that loss, it’s pretty obvious that liability will become a more and more serious impact as climate harms ramp up throughout the coming decades.)

A far-reaching liability that could well include various harms related to climate change coming from such diverse dangers as sea level rise, loss of water and food security, loss of habitability due to heat, and damage to valuable natural resources like forests, glaciers and reefs.

Already, a number of lawsuits are testing the legal waters in this regard. For example, in California this week, Imperial Beach, San Mateo and Marin counties are filing lawsuits to get some of the world’s largest fossil fuel producers to pay for sea level rise related damages. And if Imperial Beach and the two counties prevail, large corporations like Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell could be liable for billions of dollars in mitigation costs and punitive damages in coming decades even as direct damages from climate change ramp up.

According to the San Diego Union Tribune:

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they modeled their legal tactics after past efforts to hold accountable cigarette businesses, makers of cancer-causing agents and gas and chemical companies that used methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive that has contaminated groundwater across the country.

And though not all liability related lawsuits against major tobacco and chemical companies were successful, those that stuck resulted in major awards even as the lawsuits themselves produced a very harmful public relations impact for the companies involved.

More Fire and Anthrax for the Arctic: Study Finds 21 to 25 Percent of Northern Permafrost Will Thaw at Just 1.5 C of Warming

In the far north, the land is rippling, trembling, subsiding, and blowing up as greenhouse gasses are released from thawing frozen soil. Meanwhile, old diseases are being released from thawing carcasses and presenting a health hazard to locals. Strange processes that are likely to accelerate soon as global warming approaches 1.5 degrees Celsius and between 21 and 25.5 percent of all the vast region of Northern Permafrost thaws out.

(More methane blowholes like this one in Yamal are likely as permafrost thaw accelerates in the coming years and pockets of methane explosively remove the land above. How extensive permafrost thaw becomes is directly dependent on how much fossil fuel human societies decide to burn. Image source: The Siberian Times.)

Arctic Carbon Feedbacks Accelerating

Carbon feedbacks from the thawing permafrost are a serious concern. And they should be. There’s about 1,400 billion tons of carbon locked away in that massive region of frozen ground. More than twice the amount humans have already emitted into the atmosphere. And though frozen permafrost carbon stays locked away, thawed permafrost carbon tends to become biologically active — releasing into soils, the water and the air.

Already, this thawing has generated a worrying effect. During the 20th Century, it was estimated that about 500,000 tons of methane were released from the Siberian land-based permafrost region. By 2003, as this permafrost zone warmed, the annual rate of release was estimated to be 3.8 million tons per year. And by 2013, with still greater warming, the rate of release had grown to 17 million tons per year. This compares to a global emission of methane from all sources — both human and Earth System-based — of about 500 million tons per year.

(Megaslump craters like the one at Batagaika, formed by subsidence, are also a result of permafrost thaw. Such features are likely to grow and proliferate as the Earth warms and permafrost thaw expands.)

That’s a thirty-fold acceleration in the rate of Siberian permafrost methane emission over a little more than one generation. One that occurred as temperatures rose to about 1 C above 1880s averages and into a range not seen for about 150,000 years. It’s a warming that has produced visible and concerning geophysical changes throughout the Arctic permafrost environment. In Siberia, lands are subsiding even as more and more methane and carbon dioxide are leeching out. And in the Yamal region of Arctic Russia, temperatures warming into the upper 80s (30 C+) during summer appear to have set off a rash of methane eruptions from the soil even as ancient reindeer carcasses release anthrax spores into the environment as they thaw. From a report this week in The Guardian:

Long dormant spores of the highly infectious anthrax bacteria frozen in the carcass of an infected reindeer rejuvenated themselves and infected herds of reindeer and eventually local people. More recently, a huge explosion was heard in June in the Yamal Peninsula. Reindeer herders camped nearby saw flames shooting up with pillars of smoke and found a large crater left in the ground. Melting permafrost was again suspected, thawing out dead vegetation and erupting in a blowout of highly flammable methane gas.

21 to 25.5 Percent of Northern Permafrost Set to Thaw over Next Two Decades

In total, 14 methane blow out craters are now identified throughout the Yamal region. A testament to the growing carbon feedback coming from previously frozen and inactive stores.

(Permafrost losses are likely to be quite considerable over the coming decades — which is likely to produce serious knock-on effects for local and global environments. But continued fossil fuel burning through end Century produces more catastrophic results. Image source: Responses and changes in the permafrost and snow water equivalent in the Northern Hemisphere under a scenario of  1.5 C warming.)

But, unfortunately, these kinds of weird, disturbing, and often dangerous changes to northern environments are just a foreshadowing of more to come. For a recent scientific study has found that just 1.5 degrees Celsius worth of warming will force between 21 and 25.5 percent of the northern permafrost to thaw. A process that is already underway, but that will continue to accelerate with each 0.1 degree Celsius of additional warming. The study found that the faster human atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions build up, the more rapidly permafrost would thaw once the 1.5 C threshold was reached. Under a rapid human reduction of greenhouse gasses (RCP 2.6 scenario), permafrost thaw was reduced to 21 percent in the study. But under worst case human fossil fuel emissions (RCP 8.5 scenario), the accelerated rate of warming resulted in 25.5 percent permafrost thaw.

Perhaps more concerning was the fact that the study found that this 1.5 C temperature threshold was reached by as early as 2023 under the worst case fossil fuel burning scenario even as it was held off only to 2027 if rapid fossil fuel burning reductions were achieved. A broader sampling of studies and natural variability hold out some hope that 1.5 C might be pushed back to the early to mid 2030s in the absolute best case. However, considering the amount of human emissions already released and in the pipeline even under the best cases, it appears that crossing the 1.5 C threshold sometime in the near future is unavoidable at this time (barring some unforeseen massive global response and mobilization).

(Permafrost losses under different human emissions scenarios through 2100 show that continued fossil fuel burning results in between 47 and 87 percent loss of permafrost area by 2100 [RCP 4.5 and 8.5]. Image source: Responses and changes in the permafrost and snow water equivalent in the Northern Hemisphere under a scenario of  1.5 C warming.)

Overall, the study found that surface permafrost losses lagged the crossing of the 1.5 C threshold by only about 10 years. And that the lowest emissions scenarios (RCP 2.6) resulted in a leveling off of permafrost losses to 24 percent by 2100. Meanwhile, the worst case human greenhouse gas emissions scenarios (RCP 8.5) resulted in 87 percent permafrost area reductions by 2100.

Risk of Serious Carbon Feedback Far Worse With Fossil Fuel Burning

With so much carbon locked away in permafrost, heightened rates of thaw present a risk that longer term warming might eventually run away as millions and billions of tons of carbon are ultimately liberated. Under moderate to worst case human fossil fuel burning scenarios, it is estimated that permafrost carbon emissions could approach 1 billion tons per year or more. At about 10 percent or more of the present human emission, such a rate of release to the atmosphere is about equivalent to that achieved during the last hyper-thermal event of 55 million years ago (the PETM). Moreover, a heightened response by large methane stores could result in a more immediate warming effect as methane is 28 to 36 times more potent a heat trapping gas than carbon dioxide over Century time scales.

A risk of serious carbon feedbacks that accelerate rates of warming this Century and over the longer term is not inconsiderable even with a 24 percent loss of Permafrost under the best case scenario identified by this study. However, the likelihood of a much more serious feedback under continued fossil fuel burning is far more apparent.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Responses and changes in the permafrost and snow water equivalent in the Northern Hemisphere under a scenario of  1.5 C warming

All Hell Breaks Loose as Tundra Thaws

Permafrost Thaw to Blow Carbon Budget Faster Than We Would Expect

PETM Hyperthermal

Arctic Methane Emissions

RCP Scenarios

Hat tip to Spike

European Heat, Drought, Fires Bite Deep as 1 Million Impacted by Water Rationing in Rome

“This year was not bad, it was catastrophic. I can’t remember a year like this since 1992 when I was a little child,”Joaquin Antonio Pino, a cereal farmer in Sinlabajos, Avila.

“We will see a lot more surprises and fires burning in places that don’t have a fire history. We’ll see more fires and more intense fires in the Mediterranean and new fire situations in countries that don’t really expect it.” — Alexander Held, a senior expert at the European Forest Institute.

“Rome faces eight hours a day without running water after a halt was ordered on pumping water from a nearby lake.” — BBC.

(Europe — sweltering under heat and drought — is blanketed by triple the typical number of wildfires during July of 2017. Image date is July 17. Bottom edge of frame is approximately 2,500 miles. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Water Rationing in Rome

According to reports from BBC, Reuters, and The Guardian, about 1 million residents of Rome are now facing 8 hour periods without water supplies. Across the country, lake levels are at record lows after the driest spring in 60 years followed by a series of severe European heatwaves that recent scientific research indicates was made substantially more likely by human-caused climate change due to fossil fuel burning. Drought-related reductions of water withdrawals from drying lakes are spurring these major curtailments of public water access.

Severe Crop Damage

As Romans face water rationing for the first time in modern memory, across southern Europe, farmers are reeling as olive and wheat crops are severely stressed by both drought and by temperatures that in some places have hit in excess of 40 degrees Celsius (105 F). The cost of Spanish wheat has risen more than 40 percent even as prices for Italian olives have spiked by 50 percent. Cereal crop production in both states have fallen to the lowest level in 20 years. Meanwhile, damage estimates to crops from the widespread heat and drought in Italy alone has risen to between 1 and 2.3 billion dollars.

Warming temperatures spreading northward into Europe from the Sahara as climates warm have generated widespread stress for farmers over recent years. These growers, increasingly sensitive to climate change-based stresses are, more and more often, questioning the viability of farming as a livelihood.  From Reuters:

Some see rising temperatures as a long-term trend, which threatens the viability of farming in the region.

“In this situation … you realize it’s almost impossible to keep going. You think OK, this year I will try to manage, but if the harvest is like this next year you won’t be able to cope any more,” said farmer Tocchi, who is also the local head of farmers’ group Confagricoltura.

Triple the ‘Normal’ Rate of Wildfire Burning

Heat and drought hitting water supplies and crops was also accompanied by a severe spate of wildfires raging across Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, France, Portugal, and Spain during recent weeks. Thousands have been evacuated as tens of thousands of acres burned and armies of firefighters battled blazes across numerous states. Tragically, 64 people were killed by one swiftly-moving Portugal fire during early July.

(Rates of wildfire burning were already heightened as warming intensified through Europe during 2008 through 2016. The 2017 spike, however, is triple even that already elevated level. Image source: EFFIS.)

Overall, the 677 fires igniting across Europe during 2017 is about triple that of an average year for Continent. An increased rate of burning that experts are also blaming on climate change as temperatures increase and fire seasons lengthen. From EuroNews:

Alexander Held, a senior expert at the European Forest Institute, backed Curt’s claim saying fires were starting earlier and burning for longer.

“We will see a lot more surprises and fires burning in places that don’t have a fire history,” Held told Euronews. “Spain burns, yes, but it’s not a surprise. We’ll see more fires and more intense fires in the Mediterranean and new fire situations in countries that don’t really expect it.”

Links:

NASA Worldview

BBC

Reuters

The Guardian

The Atlantic

EuroNews

Hat tip to Plaza Red

 

China Cracks 100 Gigawatts of Solar Capacity as Musk Pitches More U.S. Gigafactories

When it comes to solar energy, China is on one hell of a roll.

In the first half of 2017, the massive country added a record 24.4 gigawatts of solar electrical generating capacity. This boosted its total solar capacity to 101.82 gigawatts. By comparison, China has about 900 gigawatts of coal generating capacity, but recent coal curtailments provide an opportunity for renewable energy to take up a larger portion of China’s energy market share. Such an event would provide a crucial opening for the world to begin a necessary early draw-down of global carbon emissions in the face of rising risks from climate change.

(The government of China proudly touts its clean energy advances. Trump Administration — not so much.)

This very rapid solar growth rate, if it continues, puts China on track to beat its 2016 record annual solar installation rate of 34 GW. And, already, it is 9 percent ahead of last year’s more than doubling of new annual solar capacity toward a likely 2017 build-out at around 40 GW. China is also adding new high voltage power cables and averaging about 25 GW of new wind energy capacity each year. A stunning combined wind and solar build rate that has led CNN to claim that China is crushing the U.S. when it comes to renewable energy production and adoption rates. With the Trump Administration still wallowing in climate change denial, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Summit, and courting dangerous deals with petro-states like Russia, it’s enough to make you wonder if American technology and climate leadership are a thing of the past.

Back in the states, more progressive American (it’s not tough to beat Trump in this regard) Elon Musk was trying to help prevent just such a slide into backward-looking regression. Addressing 30 state governors at the summer governor’s association meeting, Musk explained that only a 100 by 100 mile square region was needed to capture enough solar energy to power the U.S. and that the battery storage needed for such a system to provide energy 24/7 would only cover a region 1×1 mile in size.

(Elon Musk claims an area of solar panels the size of the blue square could power the U.S. The black square represents the size of the area needed for energy storage to provide 24/7 power. Image source: Tesla.)

This is less than the total rooftop and highway area of all buildings and roads in the U.S. Musk also soft-pitched the notion of new gigafactories to the 30 state governors in attendance. Hopefully, a few will take up what amounts to an amazing economic opportunity. With Nevada seeing major new growth surrounding Musk’s Gigafactory 1 site, you’d think that interest would be high.

Oddly enough, 20 governors were AWOL at the meeting. Primarily republicans, apparently they had “more important” work to attend to than helping America become energy independent while fighting to prevent the fat tail of global climate catastrophe from crashing down on their constituents like a 1960s Godzilla on a mad romp in Tokyo.

Steve Hanley of Clean Technica notes:

“Whether any of the governors will take Elon’s words to heart remains to be seen. Only 30 of them bothered to attend. Many Republicans stayed home so they could focus on challenging issues like how to discriminate against Muslims, slash Medicare rolls, promote more fracking on public lands, and prevent transgender people from using public bathrooms. When you are in government, it is important to keep your priorities straight.”

Links:

China Adds a Record 24.4 GW of Solar in First Half of 2017

CNN

Futurism

Clean Technica

Tesla

Global Sea Ice Coverage Has Fallen Off a Cliff — Impacts Likely to Be Wide-Ranging

Frozen water.

It’s an important aspect of our world. One that is essential to maintaining a stable climate and, by extension, the health of modern civilizations. Today, due to a continued warming of the globe, every form of frozen water — be it frozen water locked in glaciers, snow, or sea ice — is under threat. And we are almost daily reminded of new losses coming from these needed collections of cold.

Recently, however, one of these subsets of global ice has taken a very serious blow. For this past year, as ocean and land surfaces warmed to above 1 C warmer than late 19th Century averages, has seen a precipitous fall in the coverage of global sea ice. And we are now in uncharted territory as the Earth’s sea ice extent, area, and volume have fallen to never before seen lows.

(Sea ice area [upper right], extent [upper left], and volume [lower graphs] have all seen very serious declines that have now lasted for a full year. Since reflective sea ice is an important regulator of global and regional climates, the impacts of such a considerable loss is likely to be both long-term and wide-ranging. Image source: Global Sea Ice.)

Total sea ice area and extent have now ranged between 2 and 3 million square kilometers below the 38 year average for about a year now. That’s a region of sea ice larger than Greenland which has been removed from the face of the Earth now for the better part of four seasons. Global sea ice volume losses are now in the range of 12,000 cubic kilometers — each cubic kilometer roughly equal to a moderate-sized mountain. These are very considerable losses. But perhaps more ominous than the losses themselves is the fact that they seem to be sticking around — locking in a permanent warming-related-change to the Earth System, its weather and environment.

To be clear, there are some things that sea ice loss does not directly impact. And the first of which is sea level rise. Because sea ice already floats on the surface of the ocean and because it already displaces water, melting sea ice does little to change the level of the ocean surface directly.

(A very informative video describing ice albedo feedback. We do not, however, support some of the video’s sponsors who, unfortunately, appear to be ubiquitous.)

That said, there are many things that sea ice loss does affect. And the first is global temperature balance. Sea ice serves as both a reflective shield that throws back the sun’s heat during summer and as an insulator that locks warmer ocean waters below during winter. Remove a significant portion of the global sea ice, as we have done, and you’ll end up with oceans that both draw in more heat during the warmer months and bleed out more stored ocean heat into the atmosphere during the winter.

Such heat will be both stored and delivered exactly where it can do the most harm — in the polar regions. And, as a result, recently ice-liberated oceans will warm more rapidly in areas that are directly adjacent or close to the very large glaciers covering Greenland and Antarctica. As such, though melting sea ice has no direct, immediate impact on sea level rise, it can create an added pressure for the loss of land-bound and sea-fronting glaciers that will raise ocean levels if they melt.

(Arctic sea ice loss feedbacks produce complex and far-reaching impacts to the entire Arctic system. Image source: National Science Foundation.)

Arctic regions also face considerable added heat pressure to permafrost, boreal forests, and other carbon stores as a result of Arctic Ocean albedo feedbacks due to sea ice loss. In addition, warm pools of ocean water in the far north will aid in further destabilizing already-altered weather patterns. So sea ice loss is likely to continue to result in a worsening of the Jet Stream excursions that have already contributed to extreme weather — particularly in the Northern Hemisphere.

But perhaps the most concerning impact of sea ice loss is an alteration to seasonal temperature exchange. More heat absorbed by oceans during summer and then ventilated back to the atmosphere during fall and winter will tend to result in a lag in global cooling into the fall season even as winter will tend to warm.

(A roll-back of sea ice results in much warmer temperatures over nearby permafrost zones. This week, 81.5 F [27.5 C] temperatures are predicted for parts of the Yamal Peninsula — a region that has recently drawn attention for its newly discovered methane blow-holes. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Such a lag enhanced by sea ice loss is arguably already in play in the Northern Hemisphere — where increasing rates of heat exchange between the tropics and middle latitudes and the pole have already been observed. However, if Southern Hemisphere sea ice remains reduced, a similar heat exchange and polar amplification pattern is likely to begin setting up there as well.

The upshot is that the observed considerable loss of global sea ice coverage is likely to produce harmful or disruptive feedbacks in the Earth’s climate system in the near term. Stresses to the other frozen systems of the world will tend to increase as a result. Extreme weather events are at risk of worsening. Rates of polar warming could escalate. And disruptions to traditional seasonality will tend to become more apparent.

June of 2017 Was Third Hottest on Record for Globe

According to NOAA, June of 2017 was the third hottest such month in the global climate record since temperature tracking began in 1880. For NASA, June was also the third hottest on record with June of 2016 settling in at 1st hottest, and 2015 and 1998 tied as second hottest. Overall, global temperatures were about 0.91 degrees Celsius warmer than late 19th Century averages in the NASA record and about 1.02 degrees Celsius warmer than the same time period in the NOAA record.

(NASA’s land-ocean temperature graphic showed most of the world blanketed in much warmer than normal conditions. Image source: NASA.)

Around the globe, various climate extremes were quite visible as a result of such considerable warmth. Arctic sea ice extent was 6th lowest on record according to NSIDC while Arctic sea ice volume was the lowest ever recorded according to PIOMAS. NSIDC also found that Antarctic sea ice extent was the second lowest on record. Combined, global sea ice area was the lowest ever recorded.

Weather disasters included severe hydrological events likely influenced by increasing atmospheric water vapor content and evaporation rates due to climate change. These comprised Bangladesh’s devastating June floods and a still ongoing African drought spurring worsening hunger and increasing instances of mass migration. Meanwhile, seven maximum temperature records were broken with the highest temperature ever recorded in Asia during June occurring at Ahwaz in Iran on June 29 and an all-time national June heat record set in the United Arab Emirates on June 16th. Notably, no new all-time cold temperature records were set across the globe during June.

If present trends continue, 2017 is now on track to be the second hottest year in the global climate record. This despite a noted lack of El Nino in the Pacific following a very weak La Nina during late 2016 and running into early 2017. Though not as warm as 2016, it appears that 2017 will range about 1.1 C above late 19th Century values in the NASA record (according to analysis by Gavin Schmidt) along the current path.

This is a very warm range that is likely to keep pushing the climate system into gradually more extreme conditions. Atmospheric CO2, which is rapidly rising due to rampant fossil fuel burning, is likely to average around 407 ppm in 2017. As a result, global atmospheric heat forcing is on the rise with the trend likely to continue upward pending a major reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Meteorologists, climate scientists, risk experts and climate journalists should therefore remain on heightened alert for dangerous trends related to global climate change.

(UPDATED)

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA’s Center For Environmental Information

NSIDC

The Polar Science Center

Category 6

Vermont Utilities Answer to Climate Change — Profit From Discounting Electrical Vehicles

“Green Mountain Power, the largest utility in Vermont, is promoting another aggressive clean energy offer to its customers — a $10,000 rebate on the purchase of a new 2017 Nissan LEAF.” Clean Technica.

“Burlington Electric is committed to building a sustainable energy future that reduces carbon emissions and supports a growing economy and a thriving community. Our EV incentive program is an important component of our efforts to drive our strategic net zero vision in the transportation sector.” Burlington Electric General Manager.

*****

As citizens concerned about climate change, we often focus on the negative impacts of industry — which in the case of fossil fuels are presently many, varied, and growing. But we should be clear that a beneficial path forward exists for numerous clean energy industries in their ability to promote positive change through sustainability-focused technological innovation and expanding renewable energy access.

(In Vermont, tailpipe emissions account for about 50 percent of all harmful emissions in the state. Meanwhile, Vermont’s electricity grid is one of the cleanest in the nation. As a result, both utilities and government are providing incentives for increased electrical vehicle adoption as a means of shifting to cleaner renewable based electricity production and non-tailpipe-emitting electrical vehicles. Worth noting that EVs have no tailpipe emissions period — not just in Vermont. Image source: Drive Electric Vermont.)

This summer, Green Mountain Power announced its promotion of Nissan’s $10,000 dollar rebate program for Burlington-sold Nissan Leaf electrical vehicles (EVs) through September. Meanwhile, Burlington Electric, a municipal utility, is promoting similar incentives for new electrical vehicle purchases. To date, these are some of the most significant rebates for an electrical vehicle promoted by utilities and automakers — even eclipsing the Federal Government’s $7,500 tax incentive for EV purchases. Such aggressive rebates provide some clues as to where the utility industry may be headed in the near term as the number of electrical vehicles available on market continues to grow, as utilities take the opportunity to expand their demand base, and as various states ramp up their drives for cleaner air and net-zero emissions.

Clean Energy Transition Following in the Footsteps of the Information Age

Though not an exact allegory, we can find a number of corollaries between the presently emerging clean energy revolution, and the information revolution that has been ongoing for multiple decades now. Historically, those promoting the advancing information age did so, not just out of a desire to make money, but from a liberating drive to connect far-flung people and information sources. A process that many hoped would fuel the expansion of access to knowledge, speed innovation, spread democracy, socially leverage the power of thinking machines by creating equal access, and promote problem-solving on a mass scale.

(Green Mountain Power and other utilities are offering incentives for electrical vehicle purchases. Such incentives represent a decent opportunity for these companies to grow while also promoting responses to climate change. Image source: Nissan.)

This wave of technological innovation spreading information and growing social networking systems often relied on incentives for mass adoption which involved free or greatly reduced cost to access. This model drove waves of customers to new websites and services — taking a long view in which monetization and profit-making often occurred after a large number of subscribers was achieved. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and many other platforms and services used this model to great effect.

And while the information age probably produced at least as many new problems as it solved, it appears far more likely that a transition to a renewable energy based society will generate far flung and much broader overall benefits. Energy independence, increasingly clean air and water, improved pulmonary health, and net zero carbon emissions are all in the offing. For in the age of rapid energy transition, mass manufacturing processes are enabling rapidly falling prices for clean energy, electrical vehicles and related energy storage systems. An event that has created a paradigm-shift-type opportunity for utility-based renewable energy innovators like Vermont’s Green Mountain Power.

Utility-Driven Electrical Vehicle Incentives

This summer, Green Mountain Power, which supplies 71 percent of Vermont’s electricity primarily from renewable and non-carbon based energy sources, announced that it would promote a $10,000 Nissan rebate off the purchase price of a Nissan Leaf EVs to its Burlington customers. Burlington Electric is providing a similar promotion with added incentives. The base price of a Leaf is about $30,000. Add in the rebate, an additional $1,200 incentive from Burlington Electric, and a $7,500 tax credit from the U.S. government and a number of Vermonters will be able to purchase the 107 mile range EV (soon to be 200 + mile range) for around $11,000 dollars.

(At 7 percent of electricity from solar, 15 percent from wind, and a significant amount of hydro-electric generation access, Vermont has one of the highest penetration rates for renewable energy. Adding EVs to the grid is an excellent way to further reduce Vermont’s overall carbon emissions. Image source: US Wind Energy Association.)

Why does this make good business sense for utilities like Green Mountain Power and Burlington Electric? Because for each customer that purchases a Leaf, utilities like Green Mountain and Burlington are locking in a considerable amount of increased electrical power demand while also spurring a larger shift that is beneficial to its business. The present Nissan Leaf has a 30 kWh battery pack that might average about 5-15 kWh per day of recharge electricity — increasing home and EV charging station consumption for Green Mountain power customers by 15-50 percent. And more often than not, owners of all-electric vehicles that do not require inconvenient gas station refills, annoying oil changes and who considerably reduce overall travel carbon emissions when connected to Green Mountain Power and Burlington Electric’s renewable grid will tend to remain EV owners — resulting in a considerable increase in electricity demand.

The push by Burlington Electric and Green Mountain has also been promoted by local clean power coordinators:

“Mobile sources, primarily motor vehicles, are the largest cause of air pollutants in Vermont, making up 46 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions,” said Abby Bleything, Vermont Clean Cities Coordinator. “Burlington Electric’s partnership with Freedom Nissan, allowing customers to purchase a Leaf at $10,000 below MSRP, will help increase the number of zero-emission vehicles on the road, thereby taking a critical step towards reducing our state’s air pollution and dependence on petroleum.”

Green Mountain Power and Burlington Electric aren’t the only utilities to offer and promote incentives for electrical vehicle adoption. Southern California Edison, which serves 14 million customers, offers a $450 dollar clean fuel rebate. Meanwhile, Pacific Gas and Electric, serving 5.2 million, also provides a $500 rebate for EV purchases. But this is small change compared to the $10,000 rebates offered for Nissan Leaf EVs in Kansas last year and in Hawaii this year. Burlington Electric began offering a $1,200 EV rebate in May of 2017. It has since upped the ante by promoting a limited $10,000 Burlington Leaf incentive. With utilities, communities, and governments all looking to benefit from EV purchases, it appears that this emerging trend for power company based incentives and promotions has just gotten started.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Burlington Electric to Promote $10,000 Rebate on Leaf

Drive Electric Vermont

Green Mountain Power

PG&E Clean Fuel Rebate

Southern California Edison Clean Fuel Rewards

US Wind Energy Association

Hat tip to GingerBaker

Hat tip to Chris Burns of Burlington Electric

Echoes of Fort McMurray — Massive Wildfire Forces the Emptying of Another Canadian City

A little more than a year after a massive wildfire forced the full evacuation of Fort McMurray in Alberta, another set of extreme wildfires in British Columbia is again forcing major population centers to empty. In the region of Williams Lake and Cariboo City, 17,400 people have been forced to flee as a wildfire is threatening the major highway exiting the area. As the fire expands, another 27,000 in the broader province may also be asked to leave. This mass evacuation has been enough to empty large urban centers — turning them into ghost towns as fires rage through the surrounding countryside.

On Saturday, 40 mph winds, hot temperatures in the 90s (F), and lightning strikes fanned flames in the region — considerably worsening the fire situation and spurring more comprehensive evacuation orders. Heavy rains earlier in the year caused rapid vegetation growth. But as much warmer than normal temperatures accompanied by dry, windy conditions entered the region in June and July, the new growth has turned into tinder — adding a serious fire hazard.

(Scores of very large wildfires rage across British Columbia on July 15 — casting smoke plumes that now stretch across most of Canada. For reference, bottom edge of this image frame covers roughly 550 miles. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Presently, 160 wildfires are now burning across British Columbia. This number is down from more than 200 fires earlier in the week. However, many of the larger fires have grown in size. The result is that the province is still under a very severe alert level 4 with a mass mobilization of firefighting resources underway. On July 15, the fires were clearly visible in NASA satellite imagery (see above).

Precipitation extremes and increasingly warm temperatures are a hallmark signal of human caused climate change resulting from continued fossil fuel burning. And it is these kinds of conditions that have dominated British Columbia over recent months. Both the strong swing from wet to dry conditions accompanied by much warmer than normal summer temperatures is climate change related and has likely served to increase the fire danger throughout British Columbia this year.

Links:

Winds Fan Flames in Fire-Stricken British Columbia

Entire City of Williams Lake Evacuated as Fire Threatens Last Highway Out

NASA Worldview

Canadian Interagency Fire Center

Facing Down Climate Doom — Wallace-Wells’ Appropriate Alarm Earns Michael Mann’s Necessary Critiques

“Fear will NOT save us; however, fear is a prime motivator to promote new thinking and different action; to change an unsustainable status quo.” — unknown source.

“There are many things that motivate us. But the most powerful motivator of all is FEAR. “– Psychology Today.

“Both hope and fear are great motivators, and they both have the capacity to promote growth in us, but hope creates space in the mind and heart. Fear, more often than not, restricts it.” — Joyce McFadden.

******

When two parties seeking a good end passionately disagree over a crucial issue it is sometimes the case that one side is flat out right and the other side is dead wrong. But what is more often the case in an honest dialogue is that both sides are expressing a part of the truth and it is the duty of us, as observers, not to take sides, but to open our ears and learn as the necessary conflict unfolds.

Valid Warnings Against a Dark Future

This week, David Wallace Wells painted a scientifically imperfect, but truthful in broad-brush, picture of a bleak potential worst case scenario if human beings continue burning fossil fuels while dumping such massive volumes of carbon into the atmosphere.

Wells’ New York Magazine article was accurate in broad brush in that it depicted a possible worst case climate scenario where the atmosphere becomes choking and poisonous, heat becomes so great that it’s deadly to venture outside even in New York City, disease vectors multiply, breadbaskets are crushed by heat and extreme weather, and wars over dwindling resources escalate. In the larger scope, if missing the mark on a number of details, David Wallace Wells and NYMag get it right. If we don’t stop burning fossil fuels, this is basically what our future looks like. BAU fossil fuel burning ultimately looks so incredibly grim it is difficult to fathom or even talk about.

And this is the gift that Wallace-Wells has given us. The opportunity to talk about something hard and necessary. To learn and understand more both about the potential coming tragedy as well as the hope we now have in avoiding it. In other words, as science-based meta-analysis, speculation, and fiction often do — Wallace-Wells’ work helped to heighten a much-needed public discourse.

Adding the Scientific Process to the Discourse

Such a volcanic article eliciting such a powerful response was bound to draw some pretty strong critiques. And the article, in its more specific scientific failures, begged just such a reaction. Some of the best of these have come from Dr. Michael A Mann — one of the world’s best climate scientists and top advocates for rapid climate change mitigation.

Mann in today’s Washington Post notes:

The New York magazine article paints an overly bleak picture, arguing that climate change could render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century. Its opening story about the “flooding” of a seed vault in Norway leaves out that one of the vault’s creators told NPR “there was really no flood.” It exaggerates the near-term threat of climate “feedbacks” involving the release of frozen methane. It mischaracterizes one recent study as demonstrating that the globe is warming “more than twice as fast as scientists had thought,” when in fact the study in question simply showed that one dataset that had tended to show less warming than other datasets has now been brought in line with the others after some problems were corrected for. The warming of the globe is progressing as models predicted. And that is plenty bad enough.

And this criticism was absolutely necessary — pointing out some of the places where the New York magazine article had fallen down with regards to some of its factual basis. Wells mischaracterized the seed vault flood and a recent scientific study that basically matched satellite based temperature measures with land based temperature measures. Mann also claims that Wallace-Wells exaggerates the methane feedback issue — a very touchy subject in the present science and one that researchers have yet to convincingly nail down.

Massive methane burps are not inevitable. But they are certainly possible, and the risk grows the more the Earth warms. Loss of breathable oxygen to the extent that the article suggests is highly unlikely. But fossil fuel burning and anoxic oceans do reduce atmospheric oxygen on a smaller scale which is somewhat disturbing. And though deadly hydrogen sulfide burps from anoxic oceans are certainly possible under worst-case warming scenarios, the characterization of such events was probably a little overplayed to the minds of the more technically inclined. That said, Wallace Wells’ rolling clouds of death-inducing fog are entirely possible according to the scientific explorations of Dr. Peter Ward and Donald Canfield.

In other words, the article probably leans a bit more on the darker studies of paleoclimate as an allegory for potential future harm than is comfortable to the broader scientific community — which then led to assertions that his portrayal was closer to science fiction.  This despite the fact that some of the science does point to these kinds of worst case climate events that may look rather like what Wallace-Wells describes even if, as a technical matter, he’s somewhat off with regards to the present scientific consensus according to the well-informed opinion of Mann.

Wallace-Wells = Climate Change Denier is about Three Steps too Far

But aside from these much-needed critiques, Mann unintentionally does us a bit of a disservice here. By comparing Wallace-Wells with climate change deniers, Mann is creating a false equivalency argument. Moreover, Mann also generates false hope in the public sphere by appearing to down-play climate risks, even though that was clearly not his intention. In truth, Wallace-Wells falls far closer to the mark than any climate change denier. And if any of the consensus science that Mann relies on for his assertions happens to be wrong or too conservative, then a business as usual fossil fuel burning future could look a lot more like the one Wallace Wells describes than present scientific consensus expects.

In other words, Wallace Wells warnings may turn out to be more prophetic than an overly cautious science even if the various details of a climate disaster scenario play out in ways that few of us presently expect. The future is, in other words, murky. And you absolutely don’t want to be prodding the Cthulu that is climate change based mass extinction into full wakefullness by continuing to burn fossil fuels. Nor do you want to beg that potentially very bad future in giving ammo to climate change deniers by comparing a rather rational form of alarm with what amounts to an intentional deception that has been purposefully inflicted upon the public discourse.

Wallace-Wells and Mann Should be on the Same Team

All that unpleasantness aside, Mann’s most accurate and important statement follows a couple of paragraphs down:

It is important to communicate both the threat and the opportunity in the climate challenge. Those paying attention are worried, and should be, but there are also reasons for hope. The active engagement of many cities, states and corporations, and the commitments of virtually every nation (minus one) is a very hopeful sign.

And, ironically, I think it is here where Wallace-Wells and Mann probably agree. Unlike many of the Doomers that Mann rightly criticizes, Wells has recently spoken out as a staunch advocate for exactly the kind of clean energy and policy-based solutions that Mann so rightly and passionately stumps for. In other words, Mann was absolutely right to state that any fearsome climate message should also be tempered by the amazing hope and opportunity now available to us in the form of a renewable energy transition and a shift to less consumptive, more sustainable societies. And Wallace-Wells, while not shining a light on the various escape hatches available to us now in his article has appropriately used the platform given to him to talk about just these issues:

But, you know, there’s great news from green energy, there’s great news from renewables, the cost of wind and solar power is falling, not just dramatically but much more dramatically than even the biggest boosters would have predicted five or 10 years ago. A lot of that has to do with subsidies from the Obama administration and other similar, like-minded countries around the world. But there is really good news there. And there’ve also been some limited progress on what’s called “carbon capture,” which are devices to take carbon out of the atmosphere, which will almost certainly have to be one big part of the equation. With electric cars, etc. there’s a lot of tech innovation that should give people a lot of hope.

My hope is that readers will read the piece and feel motivated to think more about the choices they make, but also to this sort of consumption choices they make. And to agitate politically for policy options that will have a positive impact, and not think of climate change as a third or fourth order political priority, but as probably the most important issue we’re facing the world today, and one that should be at the top of our minds whenever we’re thinking about public policy at all.

Moving Forward with a Shared Vision of Avoiding Climate Catastrophe

In other words, Wallace-Wells is not our enemy here. He may have stepped on a number of his unqualified facts, but he’s gotten the overall message pretty much right. And if he’s gotten a bit carried away in being scared over bad climate outcomes, then he’s in good company ;). Moreover, he’s passionately advocating for exactly the kinds of climate solutions that are absolutely needed and that do provide us all with a good measure of hope — if we pursue them. In other words, Wells has talked about climate doom. But he doesn’t walk the path of doom itself.

Links:

The Uninhabitable Earth

Doomsday Scenarios

Are Humans Doomed?

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Rudy Sovinee

Featured Comments:

Thomas Grizzle Comment

 

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Massive Wildfires Burn From California to the Arctic Ocean as Temperature Records Shatter

Record heavy precipitation and cooler conditions across Western North America earlier this year have again given way to record warmth as a strong high pressure ridge and associated extreme Pacific and Arctic Ocean surface temperatures have ushered in blazing heat and multiplying wildfires.

In California, massive wildfires have forced nearly 5,000 people to evacuate. In British Columbia, 14,000 have fled as more than 1,000 firefighters battle numerous large blazes. And along coastal Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territory, large wildfires are burning near the shores of an, until recently frozen, Arctic Ocean.

(Large wildfires spill plumes of smoke over major sections of North America on July 11, 2017. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

In the U.S., the Whittier fire, which forced mandatory evacuations in southern California, is now 48 percent contained after having burned 12,000 acres. In the north of the state, near Oroville, the Alamo fire is 65 percent contained at 28,000 acres and evacuation orders have been lifted.

As large fires continue to burn across the west, the U.S. Interagency Fire Center now has a stated national preparedness level of 4 out of 5 — or the second highest alert rating. So far 2017 has seen 3,593,000 acres burned in the U.S. — which is above the 10 year average. An average that has already been pushed higher due to human-forced warming and an overall lengthening of the fire season.

Further north, British Columbia is suffering a rash of severe fires as extreme heat and high winds are blasting away at vegetation that vigorously regrew when drought conditions retreated earlier this year. Now, 215 active fires are reported as the province mobilizes national military forces and considers making calls for international aid. Presently, 21 large fires are causing considerable havoc throughout BC. Fire officials remain on heightened alert as strong winds, heat, and lightning threaten to make a bad fire situation even worse over the coming days.

Still further north and extending all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean, satellite photographs provided by NASA show large wildfires burning through typically frozen regions of Canada’s Northwest Territory and in northern Alaska. Many of these fires are quite vigorous — producing large smoke plumes that have blanked much of the region.

(Fires burning near the Arctic Ocean on July 10, 2017. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 280 miles. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Such widespread burning over such a large region of North America — extending from California to the Arctic Ocean — has been spurred primarily by record heat building beneath a massive high pressure ridge. In the far North, temperatures approached 90 degrees Fahrenheit just south of the Mackenzie Delta near the Arctic Ocean earlier this week. Over typically cool British Columbia, temperatures have consistently ranged in the 80s and 90s and are expected to continue to hit near the 90 degree mark this week. And in the U.S. Southwest, numerous temperature records were broken over recent days as readings rocketed into the 100s and 110s.

Both the heat and these massive fires have likely been made worse by human caused climate change. Overall, global temperatures have recently hit around 1.2 C above 1880s averages. As a result, over 80 percent of the globe, heatwaves are both more severe and more likely to occur. Meanwhile, due to climate change related factors, the western wildfire season in the U.S. is now 105 days longer than it was in 1970 — just 47 years ago. Arctic sea ice retreat in recent years has likely accompanied further warming of the far northern land masses which have also seen increasingly severe wildfires over permafrost zones.

Links:

Wildfires in Canada, California Force Thousands to Evacuate

BC Wildfire Status — All Eyes on the Weather

Canadian Interagency Fire Center

National Interagency Fire Center

NASA Worldview

Earth Nullschool

Climate Change is Tipping Scales Toward More Wildfires

Unprecedented Climate Extremes

Unprecedented Wildfires Over Canada and Siberia

Featured Comments:

 

Antarctica’s 4th Largest Ice Shelf is About to Melt Back to its Smallest Area Ever Recorded

These days, there’s a big debate raging in the sciences over the issue of Antarctic melt. On the one side, you have a growing flood of data indicating that many ice shelves are thinning, that surface melt is more prevalent than previously thought, and that glaciers are threatening to destabilize at faster than previously expected rates. On the other side, we still have a number of hold-outs who rightly claim that ice shelves have always calved and that many of the processes we now observe have always been in place.

The scientific messengers sending these various indicators of Antarctic destabilization are cautious not to draw too many conclusions. But the data itself is pretty stark — which has been enough to produce some qualified, if very appropriate, warnings that Antarctica could be tipping toward instability far faster than previously imagined.

(The northern end of a massive rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf is spawning numerous smaller ice bergs off a larger, Delaware-sized monstrosity. Now, only 3 miles of ice connect this emerging berg to the Larsen C ice mass. Once the berg separates, Larsen C will break back to its smallest area ever recorded. Image source: Project MIDAS.)

Of course the ice shelves named Larsen A and Larsen B existed throughout human times until they were only recently melted by warmth creeping up the along the Antarctic Peninsula in both the air and the water. Meanwhile, the Larsen C ice shelf is about to shatter off a very large 5,800 square kilometer ice berg even as several smaller ice bergs also appear ready to form. This event, which is now imminent in the coming days, weeks, or at most, months, will break the Larsen C ice shelf back to its smallest area ever recorded even as it marks a period of increased instability and risk of ice shelf loss.

For recent scientific assessments show that Larsen C is lowering in the water — an indication that the shelf is thinning. Furthermore, when the gigantic, Delaware-sized, ice berg and its smaller siblings break off they will take with them outer sections of a stabilizing compression arch. The compression arch, somewhat like the arch of a flying buttress, helps to balance structural stresses for the ice shelf. If it were to be compromised in total, according to glacier scientists like Dr. Eric Rignot, Larsen C would soon be adding its name to the list of various ice shelves around the world that have already fallen due to the warming airs and waters produced by human-caused climate change.

(The large ice berg that is presently breaking away from Larsen C appears to have bisected both southern and northern sections of the ice shelf’s stabilizing compression arch [indicated in the upper images by a solid gray line]. Loss of parts of the compression arch are an indication that Larsen C could become considerably less stable in the near future. However, some science indicates that the ice berg presently breaking off from Larsen C does not compromise key stability features. The nearer term future for the greatly reduced Larsen C Ice Shelf is therefore uncertain. Image source: Marine Ice Regulates Future Stability of Large Antarctic Ice Shelf.)

As with most predictive measures, however, the present trend isn’t perfectly clear with regards to the ultimate fate of Larsen C in the near future. Some studies have indicated that the section of ice breaking off is not crucial to the ice shelf’s stability. And the sections of the compression arch that are being taken out are closer to the outer edge of the ice shelf — not representing the key central arch region.

Overall, however, this story for Larsen C isn’t a good one. The shelf is thinning, it is about to reach its smallest area ever recorded, and even the loss of some outer sections of the compression arch are enough for a number scientists to express qualified concern. Larsen C didn’t show this level of instability back in the 90s or 2000s, so the overall trend here is more toward melt and instability for this 4th largest ice shelf in Antarctica.

UPDATE:

As of 7/10/2017 through 7/12/2017, rift formation had finally met open water and the large ice berg breaking away from Larsen C had finally calved. From the Project MIDAS website:

A one trillion tonne iceberg – one of the biggest ever recorded – has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica. The calving occurred sometime between Monday 10th July and Wednesday 12th July 2017, when a 5,800 square km section of Larsen C finally broke away. The iceberg, which is likely to be named A68, weighs more than a trillion tonnes.  Its volume is twice that of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes.

Links:

Project MIDAS (and associated scientists)

Antarctica is About to Lose an Enormous Piece of Ice

Marine Ice Regulates Future Stability of a Large Antarctic Ice Shelf

Maximum Buttressing of Larsen C Ice Shelf

Antarctica’s Ice Shelves Thin — Threaten Significant Sea Level Rise

Scientific Hat tip to Dr. Eric Rignot

Scientific Hat tip to Dr. Richard Alley

Racing to Catch Ludicrously Fast Model 3 Production Ramp, U.S. Automakers Grew EV Sales by 102 Percent in June 

Early on, Tesla recognized that responses to climate change were necessary — not just from individuals and governments, but also from industry. And Tesla realized that, when mated with wind and solar energy, electrical vehicles could become a powerful force for driving an energy transition capable of rapidly cutting global carbon emissions.

(Reduction in coal burning and lower than predicted demand for fossil fuels has helped to generate a carbon emissions plateau during 2014 to 2016. Rapid additions of renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and electrical vehicles provides a potential to begin to bend down the global emissions curve near term and reduce the damage that is now being locked in by fossil fuel based carbon emissions. Image source: IEA.)

Tesla’s Market-Driven Response to Climate Change

Electrical vehicles possess a number of key sustainability advantages that aren’t widely talked-about in the public discourse. Electrical motors are considerably more efficient than ICE engines — so broadening EV use lowers energy consumption in transportation while at the same time allowing EVs to draw power from traditional and newly emerging renewable sources. The massive batteries housed in EVs and sold after-market also have the capacity to become a major solar and wind energy storage asset that could ultimately enable the removal of peaking, high emissions, coal and gas plants.

In light of these opportunities, back in the mid 2000s, Tesla made a bold, necessary move. Its leadership decided that it would attempt to become a major automaker dedicated solely to electrical vehicle sales. This business plan would hitch Tesla’s economic future entirely to the success or failure of clean energy ventures. Unlike most present automakers, Tesla would not suffer from divided loyalties to harmful incentives linked directly to fossil fuel based economies. It decided to make its clean energy break by producing top of the market, high-quality electric-only vehicles and, then, by leveraging loyalty to a superior brand, move vertically down into broader market segments.

(If Tesla’s planned Model 3 production ramp to 5,000 vehicles per week by end of 2017 holds true, then the all-electric automaker’s quarterly deliveries are about to go exponential. Image source: EV Obsession.)

Such a disruptive end run on the world’s energy and vehicle markets was bound to encounter stiff resistance and loud detractors. However, if successful, Tesla would force traditional energy and transport players to make a tough choice — follow in Tesla’s footsteps and try to compete, or face dwindling customer bases as a massive wave of innovation completely upended markets. The automaker decided that the best way to goad a broader transition toward electrical vehicles in western markets was to lead it. And that’s exactly what Tesla has been doing.

Major EV Sales Growth on Tap for 2017 Due to Automaker Shift + Model 3 Sales

In the U.S., during 2017, the trend of an emerging industry reaction to Tesla is becoming quite clear. The major automakers are all in a scramble as the imminent arrival of the Model 3 nears. The vehicle, which begins production this month, aims to provide very high quality, Tesla’s trademark swift acceleration, top-notch tech, groundbreaking automation, and 215+ miles of all-electric range for a 35,000 dollar base price. An offering that is disruptive due to quality and accessibility alone. But add to it the 400,000 + preorders that Tesla has accumulated and you’ve got what basically amounts to a volcanic eruption in the global auto market.

In large part, as a response to Tesla’s market-transformation plan, a number of major automakers are deciding to provide their own competing offerings. This year, GM beat the Model 3 to the start line with the 200+ mile range, high-quality Chevy Bolt. Toyota, launched its competitively-priced Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. Nissan redoubled efforts to position its best-selling Leaf all electric vehicle even as it announced plans for a 200+ mile range version in 2018. Meanwhile, Volvo plans to electrify all its vehicles by 2019.

(Increasingly attractive EVs and plug in hybrids like the Chevy Bolt, the Prius Prime, and the Nissan Leaf helped to boost U.S. electrical vehicle sales in June as automakers gear up to compete with Tesla’s Model 3. Image source: InsideEVs.)

This activity has generated considerable growth in sales as customers discover electrical vehicles of ever-increasing variety, value and capability. During June of 2017, all-electric vehicle sales from major automakers in the U.S. market (excluding Tesla) increased by more than 100 percent over June of 2016 on the back of the entry of attractive, highly-capable models like the Bolt. Meanwhile, plug-in hybrid sales grew by 11.5 percent. Total U.S. EV and plug in hybrid sales for the month from major automakers + Tesla hit a new record in June of 17,182 on the back of major automaker sales growth (a total growth of about 16 percent for the entire U.S. market).

Tesla, on the other hand, showed slightly lower June 2017 sales vs June 2016 in U.S. markets as it experienced a hiccup in 100 kw battery pack production. But with the Model 3 nearing launch, an explosion of EV sales from Tesla is in the offing over the coming months. According to statements by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the ground-breaking vehicle is expected to trickle into the market by adding about 30 sales in July. By August, deliveries are expected to triple to 100. By September, another 1,500 or so Model 3s are expected to arrive. Production will then, according to Musk, swiftly ramp up to 20,000 per month by December.

If these ambitions bear out, and if about half of Model 3 sales are in the U.S., then the U.S. could see north of 40,000 EVs and plug in hybrids sold in the U.S. during December. This would represent a 60 percent + jump over the all-time record EV sales month of December 2016. But even if Tesla’s extraordinarily ambitious production ramp-up goals for the Model 3 aren’t reached by December, the excitement surrounding the vehicle is likely to continue to spur growth and competition in the larger EV market through the period. And that’s a bit of much-appreciated good news for those of us who are increasingly concerned about climate change.

Links:

Big Auto’s Fully Electric Car Sales Up 102% in USA

Plug-in Electric Sales Report Card

Next Generation Leaf to Have 215 to 340 Mile Range

Volvo Electrifying All Models By 2019

CO2 Emissions Flat for Third Straight Year

EV Obsession

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