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How Greenland Melt Can Kick off A Warm “Ill Wind” Near Antarctica

Sixteen thousand years ago, Greenland melt set off a cascade of impacts to the world ocean and atmosphere that led to the dredging of carbon rich waters from deep below the Pacific surface. These waters then disgorged enough carbon into the atmosphere to ultimately raise CO2 levels by 40 parts per million.

(Related: Bad Climate Wind Rises.)

A recent report in Nature Communications found that:

“During this earlier period, known as Heinrich stadial 1, atmospheric CO2 increased by a total of ~40ppm, Antarctic surface atmospheric temperatures increased by around 5°C and Southern Ocean temperatures increased by 3°C.”

How did it all happen? According to the science, Greenland melt slowed down North Atlantic Deep Water formation. This, in turn, caused the North Atlantic to cool and the South Atlantic to warm. The resulting change in temperature then shoved the band of stormy weather called the Inter-Tropical-Convergence-Zone southward. Subsequently, the westerlies in the Southern Hemisphere were shifted poleward and strengthened. Stronger, more southward running winds around the southern pole dredged up carbon rich deep water near the pole and on into the Pacific. This carbon then transferred to the atmosphere.

It’s an interesting bit of science. But it has a good degree of relevance to the present day. That’s because Greenland is again melting greater volumes of water into the North Atlantic. The North Atlantic is again cooling. And the Southern Ocean winds are again being driven south as they strengthen.

(How Greenland melt pulled carbon from the Southern Ocean. A process that is being driven to repeat by present human-forced climate change. Image source: Nature Communications.)

According to lead author Dr. Laurie Menviel:

“With this in mind, the contraction and strengthening of westerly winds today could have significant implications for atmospheric CO2 concentrations and our future climate.”

This is a kind of feedback that results from the warming humans have caused that can result in more carbon being wrung from the ocean. And it’s a concern because it shortens the available time-frame in which to respond to the crisis that is climate change.

(Greenland melt, the North Atlantic cool pool, and strengthening, southward moving Southern Ocean winds. These dynamics set off a carbon feedback about 16,000 years ago. Similar dynamics are coming into play today due to human caused climate change. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

To be clear, present rates of fossil fuel burning are dumping an amount of carbon into the atmosphere at a much higher rate than this identified Earth System response could ever match. But, as the study authors note, the Southern Ocean has already sequestered 10 percent of carbon emitted by humans. If that sequestration halts and then reverses, then the rate of atmospheric CO2 accumulation, even if emissions stay stable, will rise by about 0.2 to 0.4 ppm per year.

This report lends further urgency to global efforts by responsible institutions and individuals to reduce global carbon emissions and transition to clean energy. Bringing the more difficult outcomes of rising heat trapping gasses closer and closer to the present day.

Please read more here.

Hat tip to mlp in NC.

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20 Comments

  1. Today’s climate change related video blogs:

    Drought analysis for U.S.

    Arctic temperature and sea ice volume trends analysis:

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  2. wili

     /  July 12, 2018

    Thanks for this and for all your coverage. This one is particularly stunning to me.

    Looking on the somewhat brighter side (I know, that’s rare for me! 🙂 ) :

    “California reports it’s greenhouse gas emissions target of 2020 was reached by the end of 2016, four years early.”

    “In a major win for California’s fight against global warming, the state appears to have hit its first target for cutting greenhouse gases — and it reached the goal four years early.

    Data released by the California Air Resource Board on Wednesday show that the state’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped 2.7 percent in 2016 — the latest year available — to 429.4 million metric tonnes.

    That’s slightly better than the 431 million metric tonnes the state produced in 1990. And California law requires that the state’s emissions, which peaked in 2004, return to 1990 levels by 2020.

    Since the peak, emissions have dropped 13 percent. And they have continued falling in recent years even as the state’s economy surged.

    California is not done. State law also mandates that emissions drop another 40 percent by 2030. And while analysts were confident the state would hit its 2020 target, they aren’t as certain about 2030.

    “In California we see the impacts of climate change all around us, but our efforts to curb its worst impacts are on track,” said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the Air Resources Board.”

    https://www.sfchronicle.com/business/amp/California-hits-2020-greenhouse-gas-reduction-13066821.php

    Liked by 2 people

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    • So it’s worth noting that Australia is also on track to hit a big target (percent of renewable energy penetration in the power sector) two years early.

      I had someone ask me about Europe and US carbon emissions. And both have been tracking downward despite economic growth for some time now.

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  3. Abel Adamski

     /  July 12, 2018

    Robert with your OK may I just add another aspect to the pro Fossil Fuel war.

    [RS statement — I’m ambivalent. The argument is one based on a great variety of fallacies and a failure to see the world in its present context. It’s an old one that has made the rounds for some time. However, since a lot of folks seem to believe in a mythologized need for the U.S. to maintain the petro-dollar to maintain its economy, I’ll entertain it for now.]

    The POV came up in a comment on the Guardian re the Iraq war (The Subject was the Tariffs ) – intimating the main reason for that war was not what people think, but actually because Saddam had decreed that payment for oil HAD to be in any currency EXCEPT $US.

    [This is clearly debatable. As a former U.S. Army Intel guy, I can tell you that the U.S. was very, very interested in keeping the oil trade routes open prior to the Gulf War. In addition, there was a good degree of ‘great game’ thinking in which various interests wanted better access to Middle East oil (trade deals, development, pipelines, extraction etc.). No one really talked about oil as a reserve currency being a rationale (and there were lots of talks about rationale). It was something in the background related to trade policy (imports, exports, inflation, etc). That said, during the early 1990s, 1980s thinking dominated. And with the removal of Bretton Woods, some did think that the petro-dollar was essential to U.S. economic strength. In all honesty, If Saddam was allowed to hold Kuwait and threaten Saudi, it would have completely destabilized OPEC and US influence over OPEC, of which the petro dollar was just a part. It would have disrupted global trade (which we saw as essential to U.S. security at the time), and it would have given Saddam a lever to use against the western alliance in the form of cutting off the oil taps. All of this was seen as unacceptable and a direct threat. If anything, the petro-dollar was a secondary consideration to the larger picture.]

    The $US status as the world reserve currency and trading currency is all based on the Petrodollar – which came into being when the US debt re the Vietnam War was getting obscene and the US did a deal with OPEC that meant all payments for Oil and Gas could only be in $US .

    [Not correct. The US status as reserve currency was first established following World War II and Bretton Woods. The subsequent slow decline of the British Empire brought the U.S. more gradually into the fore. By the time Vietnam ended, the U.S. was the premier leading economy. This established the U.S. as a reserve currency more than the petro-dollar. The petro-dollar was the result of a deal cut with Saudi Arabia that guaranteed that U.S. inflation would not spiral out of control due to oil prices. It also strengthened the dollar. But the primary aim was to reduce stagflation and bring stability to the oil markets. It guaranteed OPEC a stable currency for trade. And it loosely guaranteed the West and the U.S. a more stable flow of oil.]

    This meant every country and corporation in the world had to hold $US and hold US Treasuries thus supporting the $US, meaning that debt levels that would bankrupt other countries are meaningless, the US can just print more money.

    [This is a myth. The petro dollar was not the reason for the dollar’s strength. It was the overall strength of the U.S. economy. It’s not the egg, for example, the petro-dollar is just one chicken that arose for U.S. economic and political strength.]

    Leaving the Trade issues out of it at the moment (basically what goes around comes around), there have been movements to create a New Global Currency to replace the $US which are gaining greater credibility at this time. However the Petrodollar still supports the whole US economic Ponzi Scheme and massive tax cuts.

    [Why is this happening? I’d argue that it has nothing to do with the petro-dollar and far more to do with China’s emerging economic might. If China is seen as the pre-eminnent global economic and political leader and it projects more stability than the U.S., then people will invest using Yuan. If China is seen even as a near equal to the U.S. and is seen as maintaining a stable and high-value currency, then it will draw investment away from the dollar, it’s as simple as that. Compared to this larger trend of a resurgent China, the petro-dollar is a side show and a red herring. However, it is worth noting that the U.S. currency still has numerous advantages that the Yuan does not. Primarily, the U.S. is not seen as a currency manipulator. And the U.S. has the benefit of western institutions and alliances that support the strength of its government and by extension its economy and currency. Of course, Trump is shaking that system to its foundations.]

    This is where renewables and storage slowly killing off Oil is a threat to the World financial system – or at least the US economy, especially with the tax cuts. It is a existential threat to the Petrodollar.

    [Meh. The petrodollar is not the cornerstone of the U.S. economy. It is an aspect of economic policy like Bretton Woods. And like Bretton Woods, it has become a bit of a relic. The world economy is moving on from the petro-dollar. New mechanisms will be needed in the age of renewables. Chaining the U.S. to the petro-dollar would be the equivalent to clinging to a sinking ship. If the U.S. wishes to lead it with support renewable energy investment and trade mechanisms that enable U.S. economic strength while learning how to decouple from stranded oil assets.

    What is true is that we are at a point of monetary and economic transition. China’s emerging strength is driving this in part. But the renewable energy transition is also driving this. And the renewable game is not something that the U.S. can simply opt out of. If it tries to do so, it will suffer shocks and decline. As it did in moving from Bretton Woods based policy to monetary policies like the petro-dollar, the U.S. must firmly establish a new relationship with the emerging renewable energy economy. In some respects, currency policy can help it adapt to this role as a leader. But it must first lead the western based institutions like the Paris Climate agreement to do so. The present retraction is a sign of defeat and a lack of ability on the part of U.S. government (Trump and republicans) to adapt to the reality of the time.]

    So it is not just the fossil fuel interests who are looking after their own interests, but the whole US Financial and economic system based on unbridled capitalism and debt that is under threat. The potential with US debt with loss of reserve currency status would be Greece on super steroids.
    Why the relentless attacks on Tesla
    It is a battle for survival on so many levels

    [Nope. It’s just the fossil fuel interests trying to claim that everyone relies on their dying system. The truth is, they don’t.]

    Liked by 4 people

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    • Jim

       /  July 12, 2018

      Abel,

      Your analysis is spot on. The 1970’s US deal with Saudi Arabia (and I guess by extension OPEC), did place virtually all of the oil trade in USD. Countries that have threatened this system, like Libya who proposed a gold-backed Dinar oil payment scheme, have been isolated or attacked.

      This year China and Russia developed an oil settlement system using Chinese RMB, or even Russian rubles to settle oil trade debts effectively bypassing the US dollar. It’ll take some time to see how much of the trade moves in this direction, but it is a significant start. While it may seem straightforward to most observers, the change requires robust commodity futures markets in the host currencies to be viable, so it’s best left to the big producers and purchasers.

      As to the effect on the USD. No doubt it is significant as dollar reserves make up a big portion of most countries foreign reserves. Add on the large presence of the fossil fuel majors in the US and it becomes clear that what is in play is not just gasoline vs. electric vehicles, but it’s also dollar denomination in world trade vs. other currencies. To say that is a significant issue is an understatement. While the change will not occur overnight, it’s likely we will see continued movement away from dollar-denominated energy trade in the coming decades. To sense the importance of this just look at President Trump’s attack on Germany for agreeing to buy NatGas from the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline upon its completion.

      Ultimately the transition to renewable power is going to lead to lower energy cost intensity of GDP (currently about 14%) – a really good thing – but it’s also going to undermine the strength of the dollar and the number of dollars that flow through US/EU banks. Further, it’s going to dramatically alter global geopolitics. Simultaneously it’s also going to expose huge risks of stranded fossil fuel assets on the order of $12T dollars or more as it becomes clear that more economical renewables are superior to old fossil fuels. This has the potential to make the 2008 financial crisis look like a cake walk.

      So the forces against Tesla are substantial, but once the horse was out of the barn and other suppliers moved in the same direction change was inevitable. Now the strategy seems to be on slowing the rate of change through smear campaigns, PR, and legislation. Typical, predictable and deplorable as some forces choose profit over people.

      Jim

      Liked by 4 people

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      • Abel Adamski

         /  July 12, 2018

        You are being optimistic comparing to the GFC.
        It will make the great Depression seem like a cake walk and last longer. Global Debt is a MULTIPLE of the value of Global assets and so much is tied up in derivatives and other debt funded Ponzi Schemes. Tariffs were a major factor in the GD
        The World bank is considering a blockchain Gold backed currency for international trade.
        (The blockchains are issued not mined and are energy and time efficient in fact more efficient than the usual checks and balances and processes and transactions with currency transactions).
        However that is a maybe that may be brought on by this Trade conflict and the Trumpian attempt to destroy the EU and NATO leaving the US as the undisputed major world player that calls all the shots and as such can run debt levels of ridiculous levels to fund their tax cuts for the Wealthy funded by the rest of the world who will have no choice in the matter
        Add in the consequences of AGW on infrastructure, business, mining and agriculture, there are a lot of dangerous factors all coming together at once and they are all multipliers and interacting and centered on the US

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        • If you’re concerned about the U.S. debt, that tax cut for the rich just put us in a really, really bad position. If you look a history, deficits tend to explode under Republicans due to this policy tendency. Bush II put us in a similar negative position prior to the Great Recession. Now Trump is exploding the debt and sabotaging trade. Another bad combination that increases the risk of terrible economic consequences.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Troutbum52

         /  July 12, 2018

        In addition to being able to buy/sell oil in Chinese RMB or Russian Rubles, that same exchange in China is now trading Gold contracts as well so you could buy oil in Rubles and the seller could exchange those Rubles for Gold. So the decision is do you want to hold paper, oil or gold?

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        • If people lose faith in America as a power (this includes as a moral power), then people will stop buying in dollars. Period. The strength of the dollar hinges on whether or not people believe that America is powerful and stable and whether or not people trust America. It’s as simple as that. Immoral, disruptive, regimes like Trump’s that pursue imbecilic policies will do far more damage to the dollar than any transition to renewable energy. And, with good policy, U.S. leadership in renewables can reassert U.S. strength both as an economic and moral leader.

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      • Actually, this is a low information argument… A theory that has been relentlessly bandwagoned and supported by various forms of fallacy. The strength of the dollar and euro are not directly tied to oil (see below). The renewable energy transition no more predetermines the loss of dollar strength than any other past economic revolution. It’s countries who are dependent on oil, gas and coal production for large portions of GDP which will suffer the most (Russia, Saudi etc). Though the U.S. is a big fossil fuel producer, the portion of U.S. GDP consumed by fossil fuel production is comparatively small. It is one of the more diverse economies that will fare better so long as Trump/Republicans do not sink it.

        Liked by 1 person

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    • Actually, this is an oft perpetuated myth that circulates the web these days. And your statement is, unfortunately, devoid of facts and present, more recent history.

      The strength of the dollar is won or lost based on the value and productivity of the U.S. economy. The petro dollar is now as outmoded as Bretton Woods as a rationale for foreign countries keeping US dollars as reserve currency. There is no rule set in stone that says oil must be traded in dollars. It’s simply due to the basis of a trade agreement with the largest oil producer of the 1980s (Saudi Arabia).

      https://www.forbes.com/sites/douglasbulloch/2018/04/26/the-petro-dollar-is-a-myth-the-petro-yuan-mere-fantasy/#79e875d66a14

      “The myth of the Petro-dollar comes from efforts in the 1970s to prevent the U.S. suffering severe negative effects in its balance of payments from rising oil prices. Until the late 1960s the U.S. had been an oil-exporter, but by also being an oil consumer they had never sought to maximize the rent from oil production by driving prices upwards. OPEC countries, however, never had such qualms and when the opportunity arose as the U.S. became an importer, happily restrained supply to drive prices, and their own national incomes, higher. The U.S. was worried about the resultant trade deficit caused by suddenly having to pay vast amounts for necessary imports, and so secured the agreement of Saudi Arabia to only trade oil in U.S. dollars, meaning the U.S. could pay for oil in their own currency. Saudi Arabia, for their part, accumulated huge reserves of U.S. dollars, investing some of them back into the U.S. economy.”

      Since the role of Saudi as the primary producer has slackened with the re-emergence of Russia and, ironically, the surge in U.S. production, the petro dollar is less of a cornerstone to the dollar’s strength.

      Two factors dominate the strength of the dollar at this time. The first was the decision by Asian countries to trade in dollars based on the strength of the U.S. economy and based on their desire to export. Asian markets held reserve dollars, therefore, both for their value and to help support their manufacturing economies.

      https://www.forbes.com/sites/douglasbulloch/2018/04/26/the-petro-dollar-is-a-myth-the-petro-yuan-mere-fantasy/#79e875d66a14

      “Bringing this up to date, it was a long time ago when the link between oil and the dollar mattered much at all beyond the financial returns of non-dollar based oil companies. Since the 1980s, the dollar has been consolidated as the global reserve currency because of the strength and dynamism of the U.S. economy, and oil exporters have demanded to be paid in U.S. dollars because that’s the currency they prefer to hold on to. To do otherwise is to take on exchange risk. Exporters can, and routinely do, accept payment in whatever exchange medium they wish — tanks, planes and construction services — but their central banks demand dollars for reasons entirely unconnected to oil. Because the U.S. dollar is a hard currency, easily exchangeable, underwritten by the U.S. taxpayer, and founded upon decades of broadly consistent macro-economic policy management.

      Those who believe that oil being traded in U.S. dollars gives the U.S. economy a unique advantage in the global economy have it exactly the wrong way around. The U.S. economy is the central economy in the global system because it is the most open, innovative, and productive economy in the world, and because of this, the U.S. dollar is the most convenient, liquid and reliable medium of exchange. One can imagine another currency challenging it at some point in the future, but only on the basis of the openness of its underlying economy, and the depth of the capital markets denominated in it. And if the euro can’t do it yet, why does anyone imagine the yuan is up to the job?”

      The second factor is the fact that the U.S. economy is still the most productive, or among the most productive and innovative in the world. If we lose that innovation and productivity edge (in large part by failing to lead the renewable revolution), then we lose far more that we would due to shifting interest from petroleum to renewables.

      In other words, use of the petro-dollar during the 80s was in the context of relative valuation of oil, due to the need for the U.S. to import large quantities of oil, due to the desire by U.S. policy-makers to reduce inflation, and due to the desire, by some, to prop up the value of the dollar. Though it was a cornerstone of U.S. economic policy in the 70s and 80s, it is far less so now. The world has changed, the context has changed, and failure to adapt to that new context will do serious harm.

      In addition, the high value of the dollar is a two edged sword. Though dollars do help to leverage borrowing on the part of the U.S. government when dollar value is high, it also suppresses manufacturing growth and exports in the U.S. Ironically, both the Obama and Trump Administrations have recently had a schizophrenic attitude toward dollar valuation and demand due to various efforts to support industry at home (ham handed by Trump, I might add).

      So, in the end, people operating under low information can often fall prey to the myth that the U.S. economy is now dependent on the petro dollar. And it does fall into the whole oil centric or fossil fuel centric worldview perpetuated by oil companies. If oil fails, the U.S. will continue. The dollar will continue. What the U.S. can’t do is continue in prosperity as it isolates itself. That isolation (now being pushed by Trump), will ultimately do far more harm than any minor shift away from dollars traded in oil by Saudi Arabia. If the U.S. wishes to do well in the present energy transition landscape it will support dollar based investments in renewable energy and home based renewable energy leaders like Tesla. It’s as simple as that.

      Liked by 1 person

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      • Jim

         /  July 14, 2018

        As I enter my 6th decade on this planet, I don’t think I have ever been accused of being party to a “low information argument” before.,,,,,,,, OK, I’m human, but wow!

        Sure, petrodollars have decreased as a portion of the international trade for the US since the 1970″s, but dollars associated with oil-trade still represent a significant amount of liquidity flowing from oil-rich states into the US. For evidence of this, you can simply look at the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) reports on the matter. Liquidty flows into US + European market are significant and have exceeded $1T in recent years. These liquidity flows have helped both the US stock market and the exchange rate for the US dollar + EU since 2000.

        Of course, as oil prices decreased, dollar investment in the US+ Europe also decreased as expected. This in itself doesn’t indicate a move from dollar-denominated investment as much as it indicates a need for oil-rich countries to invest revenue in local economies (look to Saudi Arabia as an example).

        If your point is that renewables are best – of course, you are correct. If your argument is that we should not worry about financial markets, you are wrong. We all want renewables to succeed, but dismissing the economic side of the argument is counterproductive and short-sided as massive liquidity flows into the US provide benefits ranging from lower interest rates to higher stock prices.

        As Abel pointed out, we should consider the rather significant role that the financial market will play in this transition. If you’re serious about climate change it’s a point not easily dismissed and it is a rather significant point.

        Jim

        https://www.bis.org/publ/qtrpdf/r_qt0512b.pdf

        Robert — I’m pretty sure this won’t be posted. Godspeed on your climate change quest. Please accept my goodbye and my wish that you become accepting of viewpoints that might differ with yours, as nobody knows it all.

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  4. Greg

     /  July 12, 2018

    Thank you Robert. The urgency is clear. We need to get off our butts fast or we will be forced to do so:

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Brian

       /  July 12, 2018

      >We need to get off our butts fast or we will be forced to do so

      Can you please define what you mean by “we will be forced to do so”?

      It appears that the window for max +1.5C is rapidly-closing, and that we’ll soon be unable to limit the max to below +2.0C. However, I’m not observing a neutral or negative emissions slope yet, and until that happens, there’s no upper bounds (unless you’re limiting the timeline of what you care about to only the year 2100).

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      • I’ll repeat this because it’s a useful graphic:

        A very aggressive timetable will be needed for 1.5 C. I think it’s doable. But the present U.S. government is impetuously doing everything it can to make the crisis worse.

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        • Brian

           /  July 13, 2018

          I was not aware of this info. Thank you. Are China, USA, and India the 3 largest by country then? And by proxy, USA largest per capita? (I know that us Canadians are way high up on the per-capita list too.)

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        • I think that’s the case at this time. If not, it will be in the near future. Also note that EU represented as a block that’s committed to emissions reductions is a useful article.

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  5. mlp in nc

     /  July 12, 2018

    Robert, appreciate the hat tip.

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. mlp in nc

     /  July 12, 2018

    More teleconnections from North Atlantic freshening near the end of the last ice age, 16,000 and 38,000 years ago.

    How ocean warmth triggers glacial melting far away. Jul 12, 2018. Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research ..
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180712114458.htm

    But 16,000 and 38,500 years ago, the global “pumping system” was seriously disrupted by the decreased salinity of the North Atlantic. Consequently, only little warm water flowed out of the Pacific, causing the tropical Pacific to get warmer. In turn, more warm water reached the western coasts of Canada and Alaska. The inflow of warmer water destabilized the ice sheet covering the coastal areas which resulted in a discharge of the continental ice into the ocean and a drop in surface salinity.

    To validate this scenario, Edith Maier asked the AWI’s climate modellers, led by Gerrit Lohmann, whether such a complex, global chain of events could be simulated using computer models. The results were unequivocal: if the oxygen isotopes are taken into account, the models clearly show that the phenomenon occurs. The model results also show that meltwater pulses in the Atlantic caused the changes in the Pacific — and not the other way round. “Our findings are also relevant for the future, because they highlight that climate effects on one side of the Earth can significantly impact regions on the opposite side,” summarises Edith Maier. “The AWI is currently exploring how similar phenomena involving the inflow of warmer water are now affecting the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet. There is increasing evidence suggesting that further ocean warming will jeopardise both the stability and volume of the Antarctic ice.”

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