Trump’s Attack on Clean Power Threatens Livable Climate, Public Health, and Hundreds of Thousands of Energy Jobs

Decades of progress on cleaning up our dirty air took a significant hit on Tuesday, along with hopes for a livable future climate, when President Trump issued his Energy Independence Executive Order. Most seriously, the order attacks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan, which requires a 32 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from existing power plants by 2030 (compared to 2005 emission rates.)  — Dr Jeff Masters

*****

Yesterday, Donald Trump, much like that famous Luddite Don Quixote, decided to go to war with clean energy. But unlike Don Quixote, Trump did so with full knowledge that he was also fighting to rob us of our best hopes of putting millions of Americans to work for clean air and a livable climate.

(Where would you want to live? Downwind of a toxin spewing coal plant, or near solar panels and wind turbines? Poor coal miners basically a set piece in Trump’s effort to save coal profits at the cost of the environment. Coal company CEOs have already signaled that the coal jobs aren’t coming back due to automation.)

With executive order #18 from his administration, he began to lay the groundwork to start to unravel Obama’s Clean Power Plan — which made a decent first shot at removing the worst U.S. polluters, prevented about 4,500 premature deaths each year (which is like preventing a pollution 9/11 every six months), promoted a jobs-growing renewable energy revolution, and put the U.S. on track to become a global leader in the fight to prevent some of the worst impacts of climate change.

Trump’s latest move, yet one more promotion of policies harmful to the American people, drew fierce opposition. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) called Trump’s actions “a declaration of war on American leadership on climate change and our clean energy future.” The states of California and New York, representing 20 percent of the U.S. population and more than 20 percent of the U.S. economy, have vowed to oppose Trump’s order even as they provide more funds for clean energy development. Ten senators from various states immediately asked Trump to rescind the order on account that it would do substantial harm to their constituent economies (which are rapidly moving to adopt clean energy). And the National Resources Defense Council and others have vowed to oppose Trump’s measure every step of the way in court.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said of Trump’s move:

“Today Donald Trump is shirking our nation’s responsibilities, disregarding clear science and undoing the significant progress that we’ve made to ensure we leave a better, more sustainable planet for generations to come with the stroke of his pen. Despite all the rhetoric, this order clearly proves that this administration is not serious about protecting jobs or the environment.”

And though Trump claimed that his attack on The Clean Power Plan was meant to help save jobs, the numbers just don’t add up.

(If you want to grow jobs in the U.S., replacing dirty energy with clean energy is a good way to do it. But Trump is doing just the opposite. Source: Political Economy Research Institute.)

As Trump favors coal over renewable energy, and since every dollar spent on renewable energy creates twice the number of jobs for every dollar spent on fossil fuels, his action will almost certainly result in job losses across the energy sector. In West Virginia, for example, many coal jobs have already been replaced by automation and even coal executives now say those jobs aren’t coming back.

Meanwhile, the Clean Power Plan would have provided West Virginia with the opportunity to diversify its economy, to shift away from dependence on dwindling coal jobs, and to add renewable energy jobs if it were to pursue building wind turbines or solar farms, for example. Replacing coal jobs with renewable energy jobs would add about 70,000 jobs to the U.S. economy as a whole. And switching fossil fuel generation to renewable energy provides a prospect of almost doubling the 2.2 million jobs in today’s energy sector. Attack clean power, as Trump has, and we risk losing that jobs growth.

(The cost of utility scale renewable energy is now dramatically lower than utility scale fossil fuels. Considering both cost and jobs growth potential, it’s nonsensical to attack renewable energy — as Trump just did. Image source: Solar and Wind Crush Coal and Natural Gas on Price.)

Attempting to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, therefore, threatens renewable energy jobs across America even as it promotes the continuation of dirty coal burning which is so harmful to both the health of American citizens and to the stability of our climate. If Trump were truly serious about helping West Virginia coal miners he would, as the Chinese have for their own ailing coal workers, provide substantial funds for training and assistance to miners who have lost their jobs. Trump has pushed no such bill.

Ultimately, the only people with the potential to substantially benefit from Trump’s attacks on the Clean Power Plan are the owners of coal mines and coal-burning power plants. But this action is little more than an anti-competitive, anti-capitalist policy of wealthcare for the wealthy industry investors and execs on the losing side of the energy transition. Trump’s action would, in effect, extend the life of these dirty plants and mines — securing profits for a few wealthy individuals for a few more years to come. But even this paltry ‘benefit’ would tend to fade as the superior economics of renewable energy out-compete coal as time moves forward. Already, solar is less expensive than existing coal-fired power plants. And wind energy has long been a competitive source on the basis of price.

paris-emissions-chart-columbia (1)

(The Trump Administration shows every intent of trying to put the U.S. back on a business as usual carbon emissions path. The Clean Power Plan would dramatically reduce U.S. emissions thereby also reducing catastrophic climate outcomes. Image source: Weather Underground and The Earth Institute.)

But the worst impact of the Clean Power Plan’s removal will probably be the locking in of an ever-worsening climate catastrophe for U.S. citizens and the people of the world. Already sea level rise is threatening key cities like Miami even as worsening droughts, wildfires, floods and storms are causing substantial harm from the Washington D.C. area through the heartland and on to the U.S. West Coast. But the climate change related impacts that we see now are minor and easy in comparison to the harm that is coming in the future if we fail to rapidly reduce carbon emissions now. And Trump’s policy is a set-back to those necessary carbon reductions that we can ill-afford.

So the obvious choice is clear. The Clean Power Plan is a big benefit to the U.S. economy and to the health and well-being of the people who live in this great nation. And fighting to remove it basically boils down to a madman tilting at the very windmills that will help to save us from a terrible future.

(UPDATED)

Credits:

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Naturalfx

Hat tip to Timothy Thalen

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Record Low Sea Ice Maximum a Lock as Arctic Continues Trend of Ridiculous Warmth

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the Arctic knows that it’s seen a ridiculously warm fall and winter during 2016 and 2017. And, unfortunately, new predicted temperature spikes appear to be on tap for the coming days in one of the more climate-sensitive regions of our world.

(Another big Arctic temperature spike is predicted for later this week with readings expected to hit as high as 5.1 C above average for the entire Arctic. So much warmth in this region will continue to put melt press on sea ice, snow packs, permafrost and glaciers. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

High amplitude waves in the Jet Stream, according to the Global Forecast System Model, are set to drive dual warm air invasions into the Arctic. The first warm air invasion is taking place over North-Central Siberia and is the continuation of a general pattern of warm air delivery that has now lasted for about two weeks through the region of the Kara, Laptev, and East Siberian seas. The second, and albeit weaker, warm air delivery is set to run northward through the Northwest Territories of Canada and on into the Beaufort Sea and Canadian Archipelago.

Temperatures in these warm air invasion zones are expected to rise to between 10 and 30 degrees Celsius above average (18 to 54 F above average). In some places covering these warm wind invasion zones, we are also expected to see sporadic above freezing readings and, in the case of the Laptev — periods of liquid precipitation over the sea ice.

(The record low maximum sea ice extent for 2017 looks more and more like a lock as another big temperature spike rushes into the Arctic.)

Overall, Arctic average temperatures above the 66 degree north latitude line are expected to range between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above average over the next seven days. As anomaly departures tend to tamp down a bit as spring emerges, these are very high temperature deltas for this time of year.

These continued very high temperature anomalies and what is a trend of extreme and extraordinary warmth for the Arctic has kept sea ice extent measures in record low ranges throughout much of late March. Over the coming days, the most recent warm spate will likely produce an ongoing weakening of ice on the Russian side even as the warmer readings across the Beaufort and Canadian Archipelago will tend to tamp down late season ice thickness building (as typically occurs during late March through April) over the last remnants of multi-year sea ice.

(NASA satellite shot of sea ice shows considerable early melt along the Russian side of the Arctic Ocean.)

In the image above, we find that the ice on the Russian side is already broken, thinning, and opening up into numerous polynyas. Ice is particularly reduced in the Kara (lower right) for this time of year. And the break-ups and mobility of the non-fast ice in the Laptev and East Siberian seas are considerably advanced.

As we reported last week, Arctic sea ice volume trends are now in considerable record low ranges and the excess heat on the Canadian and Russian sides will continue to put pressure on those values. Another instance of the ongoing downfall of global sea ice that kicked into high gear during 2016 and 2017 as human forced warming of the climate system through fossil fuel burning took another step toward ever-warmer conditions.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

Climate Reanalyzer

NSIDC

PIOMAS

Hat tip to Zack Labe

Profiting from Wrongful Deception: Lamar Smith’s Attacks on Climate Science are Paid for by the Fossil Fuel Industry

George Orwell could not have dreamed up a more sinister and underhanded abuse of government and monetary power than the present brazen attempt by fossil fuel industry funded politicians to kill off today’s most important scientific messengers. But that’s exactly the intent Lamar Smith telegraphed last week in his most recent address to the anti-science Heritage Foundation when he said:

“Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists.”

A Non-Scientist Paid to Attack Real Scientists

Lamar Smith, the present head of the House Science Committee, is notably not a scientist. He is, however, famous for his various vicious hearings on climate science in which he has basically acted as a mouthpiece for fossil fuel company misinformation. And he’s just signaled that he’s revving up for a new set of industry-funded inquisitions this week.

To be very clear, Lamar Smith has a B.A. and a J.D. So he’s got no scientific credentials whatsoever, he’s a lawyer. But unlike many with B.A.s who can read and understand the science, Smith appears to be sadly lacking in any capacity or willingness to do so. He is, however, quite receptive to misinformation coming from the fossil fuel industry — especially when it’s attached to contributions to his political campaigns for re-election.

(Michael Mann, one of the world’s most recognized experts on climate change, joins NASA scientists, scientists from NOAA, scientists from the U.K. Met Office, Australian Climate Scientists and many, many others now in the cross-hairs of political hacks like Lamar Smith who appear to have ignored everything they learned in high school about the scientific method. Video source: The Real News.)

Fossil Fuel Industry Funded Legislative Deception Aimed at Defaming Real Science

In contrast to Lamar’s intentional fossil fuel company funded witch hunting and active legislative deceptions, honest climate scientists have for decades dutifully reported on the deteriorating state of the global climate in the least political fashion possible. They’ve argued passionately over various points of fact, recommended highly responsible policies, they’ve even tried to work with industry in a completely measured and reasonable manner. They have worked for wages ranging from that of the average school teacher to less than your typical IT professional (a starting salary of often less than 50,000 dollars per year). In other words, they didn’t, as some have so ridiculously claimed, do it for the money.

But the very industry that is dumping billions and billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere and making billions and billions of dollars in profits (oil company CEOs can make between 15 and 150 million dollars per year) doing it is paying politicians like Lamar Smith (who has a net worth of 4.5 million) to lead an entirely false and fact-free legislative attack against these scientists.

(People like Lamar Smith should be voted out of office. They are the very definition of legislative malpractice.)

This attack is not just a defamation of individuals — as happened to Climate Scientist Michael Mann a few years ago. It is a brazen attempt to use government power to tyrannically bury an accumulation of critical knowledge about a climate crisis that is now unfolding and that is, ever-more, representing an increasingly serious danger to the American public.

If Lamar Wins, We All Get Burned

To be very clear, Lamar Smith is being paid to lie. But his lies come in the form of a campaign to falsely discredit real science, to bury facts, to use ad-hominem arguments in an underhanded and vicious attempt to attack scientists, to put these benevolent public servants out of work, and to do all of this in a manner that will inflict vast harm on the American people. The fossil fuel industry is, through its agent, Lamar Smith engaged in a wrongful deception with the obvious intent to secure corporate and individual financial gain for the fossil fuel industry and its constituents. In other words, Lamar Smith is making every appearance of acting both fraudulently and in bad faith.

(Join us in supporting climate science on April 29.)

Adding to the problem is the fact that with Donald Trump in the White House (who falsely claimed that climate change was a Chinese hoax), with Scott Pruitt as head of EPA (who spent a big chunk of his professional life suing the EPA), and with fossil fuel company CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State (who spent years working with Russia to expand oil drilling in the Arctic), Lamar Smith’s witch hunting against scientists is capable of growing some real and very harmful teeth. Trump has proposed completely zeroing out or slashing funding for climate research at NASA, EPA and NOAA and he has actively gone after scientists jobs and Lamar Smith acts as a legislative enabler for such damaging policies.

If the scientists are going to get any help, it will come from more responsible members of Congress than Smith. But Smith and his climate change denier allies in the House are now attempting to bury these same scientists in another anti-factual witch hunt. Many have described Lamer’s actions as medieval — equating him to a new kind of Spanish Inquisition, but this time acting as an inquisitor for the fossil fuel industry. But it’s worse than medieval — because the harm perpetrated through Lamar’s willfully ignorant and brutish actions are not just in the form of political, social, or legal injustice. Lamar commits those things, but he also commits us all to an ever-worsening global harm.

Credits:

Hat tip to ClimateHawk

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Michael Mann

Hat tip to Citizen Servant

Hat tip to Greg

Increasingly Out of the Human Context: Atmospheric CO2 Likely to Hit Monthly Peak Near 410 ppm in 2017

“The rate of CO2 growth over the last decade is 100 to 200 times faster than what the Earth experienced during the transition from the last ice age. This is a real shock to the atmosphere.” — Pieter Tans, lead scientist at NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network

*****

It wasn’t too long ago that we were talking about atmospheric CO2 crossing the key 400 parts per million threshold. That was 2014. But now, just three years later, atmospheric levels of this key heat-trapping gas are climbing to within striking distance of another, and still more dangerous, atmospheric milestone. 410 ppm.

That’s an increase in the peak atmospheric CO2 value of around 3 ppm per year or more. One that gibes with record annual rates of atmospheric accumulation of this heat trapping gas during 2015 and 2016. And as we approach a new high water mark for atmospheric carbon, we’ve left the 400 ppm level so far behind that it’s likely that we’ll never see even a single day where values at the Mauna Loa Observatory fall below that threshold.

Approaching Another Milestone for Key Heat-Trapping Gas

Instead, primarily through our rampant and incessant burning of fossil fuels, we are racing head-long into an ever-more uncertain climate future:

(The world hasn’t seen such high levels of atmospheric carbon in millions of years. And all that extra carbon is sucking a considerable amount of Earth-altering heat into its atmosphere and oceans. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

Since late February, weekly and daily CO2 values have ranged between 405 and 409 parts per million. But as CO2 typically peaks during April and May before Northern Hemisphere vegetation begins to draw down carbon in the months of June through September, it appears that we are likely to see top monthly atmospheric CO2 values hit between 409 and 410 parts per million during 2017.

Out of Context Problem

Back in 2014, we were talking about how atmospheric CO2 levels hadn’t been so high in about 3 million years. But a near 410 ppm high water mark would push those comparative timeframes back to between 5 and 15 million years when the world was about 3-4 degrees Celsius hotter than today and atmospheric CO2 ranged from 400 to 500 parts per million (to this point it’s worth noting that atmospheric CO2 equivalent gasses like methane, when added to presently high CO2 levels, will produce a combined total forcing equal to around 493 ppm CO2e by end 2017).

Back then, ocean levels were meters to tens of meters higher than today, the glacial ice of Greenland and West Antarctica was gone or greatly reduced, and even East Antarctic Ice Sheets were smaller. It’s also worth noting that back then, the great apes had just begun to appear and that the first fully developed ancestors of modern humans were still far off.

(NASA provides a new 3-D visualization of carbon dioxide accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere. Video source: NASA and The Hindustan Times.)

Human beings, and even our furthest distant ancestors, have not experienced climates of the kind we are locking in now.

But as increasingly tough as our present climate situation may seem, there’s another wrinkle to the tale. For from 5-15 million years ago to now, billions of tons of carbon in the form of plant and animal remains has been sequestered in the world’s forests, peatlands, permafrost and oceans. And as the heat-trapping gasses that we have now placed into the atmosphere, primarily through fossil fuel burning, stresses those stores, we risk creating a further warming response coming from the Earth System. Such high atmospheric thresholds should, therefore, be viewed as in a range that produces considerable risk of crossing key climate tipping points and of locking in harmful Earth System changes for very long time periods. And we continue to add to that risk by burning more fossil fuels.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

NOAA ESRL

Following Carbon Dioxide Through the Atmosphere

Human Evolution

Climate Epochs: Miocene

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Hits Record Levels

From Canada to Siberia, Permafrost Thaw Produces ‘Hell’s Mouth’ Craters, Sinking Lands, and 7,000 Methane Pockets Waiting to Blow 

In places like Canada and Siberia, a memory of ice ages long past is locked away in the very soil. There, dig about three feet down, and you’ll encounter a layer of frozen earth running from 200 feet to almost a mile deep in some places. It’s like a great glacier secreted away underground and covering about 19 million square kilometers of the Northern Hemisphere. We call this frozen ground permafrost.

An Enormous Pile of Sequestered Carbon

Permafrost generally forms in regions where the mean annual temperature is below zero degrees Celsius. And the presently large expanse of permafrost has formed over the past 2-3 million years in which long, cold ice ages and short, and somewhat warmer interglacial periods have dominated.

(Recent research indicates that up to 120 billion tons of carbon could release from thawing permafrost this Century due to the warming that is now being caused by human fossil fuel burning. Such a release would roughly equate to 12 years of present fossil fuel burning adding approximately 40 ppm of CO2 equivalent gasses to the Earth’s Atmosphere [adding about 0.4 C to medium term warming and 0.8 C to long term warming]. The risk posed by this additional carbon feedback coming from the Earth System highlights the need to halt fossil fuel burning as swiftly as possible. Image source: The Impact of Permafrost Carbon Feedback on Global Climate.)

Locked away in all that permafrost is a massive store of carbon. Including peat, methane and methane hydrates, permafrost is estimated to have sequestered some 1,400 to 1,700 billion tons of a material that, if released as gas, could considerably contribute to the volume of heat trapping substances (like CO2 and CH4) already held aloft in the Earth’s atmosphere in a process that scientists call an amplifying climate feedback.

Evidence of Thaw and a Building Carbon Feedback

But now, human fossil fuel burning is causing the Arctic to rapidly warm — at about 3 times faster than the rate of warming for the rest of the globe (0.6 C per decade in the Arctic). And with atmospheric CO2 concentrations presently above 400 parts per million (and CO2e concentrations above 490 parts per million), the world is now starting to thaw out of the icy period of the last 2-3 million years. As a result, the permafrost is melting.

 

(Thermokarst lakes near Hudson Bay. Image source: Commons.)

When permafrost melts it changes the land around it. Often times, land subsides and deforms as the icy permafrost below collapses when it thaws. The resulting underground cavities can also telegraph to the surface in the form of sink holes. In places where microbes or hydrates are present, the cavities can fill with gas — which can sometimes erupt in a methane blow hole or ‘hell’s mouth’ crater. In Canada, a new study recently discovered that 52,000 square miles of northwestern permafrost is already thawing. The thaw is producing large sink holes, causing coastlines to rapidly erode, and proliferating the round ponds known as thermokarst lakes.

But it’s not just Canada that’s feeling the thaw. In Siberia, warming is also eating away at the permafrost. And what is happening there is arguably on a much grander and more disturbing scale than what we presently see in Canada. In East Siberia, for example, a 100 meter deep, 1 kilometer long crater has formed in the sagging Permafrost. It is officially called the Batagaika craterBut the locals know it as the Gateway to the Underworld. The crater began as a small deformation during the 1960s when permafrost thaw in the region initiated. It has, over the decades, grown considerably larger — with the growth rate accelerating along with permafrost melt during recent years.

(Time lapse of Batagaika Crater expansion from 1984 to 2016 as provided by Google’s Earth Engine.)

Further west, the Yamal region of Russia is seeing strange bulges dispersing across the land. The bulges, according to Russian scientists and to reports in the Siberian Times, are being caused by bubbles of methane gas beneath the surface. The scientists state that these formations are likely being triggered by warming — in which either methane hydrates trapped within the permafrost are thawing or where microbes have come in contact with thawed permafrost carbon to break it down and produce methane. And in recent years, this region of Arctic Siberia has seen some very warm temperatures — with readings hitting as high as 35 C (95 F) during the summer of 2016.

These same researchers now note that some 7,000 underground methane bubbles exist in this region and that warming is pushing them to erupt. When the pressure below the land surface reaches a critical point, the Siberian Times report suggests that the land above can be displaced — bursting outward. The Siberian Times went on to note that large holes forming in the Yamal region during 2014 and 2015 were caused by just this kind of methane eruption.

(The Yamal Crater was one of the first indications that methane pockets forming beneath the Siberian Tundra were starting to erupt due to human-forced warming. Image source: The Siberian Times.)

Touchy Subject Scientifically and Politically

Permafrost thaw producing high volumes of feedback carbon release can be a touchy subject in the sciences and politically. The reason is that rational responses to this threat moves decision points forward on human carbon emissions cuts and it adds to the concern that atmospheric carbon capture will be needed later this century and on through many centuries to follow in order to prevent a scenario in which carbon feedbacks cause a form of warming runaway.

It doesn’t help that the science on permafrost carbon feedback is also new and rife with uncertainty — generating a kind of gray area in which rumors and misinformation can multiply. And there also appears to be some indication that the fossil fuel industry is attempting to use the issue to push gas extraction and burning in the Arctic — falsely claiming that all of the gas is going to release anyway. Which is not true — a portion of the permafrost carbon and related methane would remain sequestered even as human extraction efforts, if they continued indefinitely, would ultimately result in the release of a much larger portion of this carbon to the atmosphere than mere feedbacks alone.

It is worth noting that presently accepted science indicates that the present rate of atmospheric carbon release due to fossil fuel burning is likely many times that of the potential annual carbon release coming from the permafrost even under the worst case warming scenarios. And because that realized rate of permafrost carbon release is directly tied to how much fossil fuel we ultimately burn, we should be very clear that the urgency to cut these emissions couldn’t be higher.

Links:

Permafrost

The Impact of Permafrost Carbon Feedback on Global Climate

The Siberian Times

Massive Permafrost Thaw Documented in Canada

Time lapse of Batagaika Crater expansion

Batagaika Crater

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Arctic Entering Its Hottest Period in 2.5 Million Years as Last Remnants of Laurentide Melt Away

“This is the disappearance of a feature from the last glacial age, which would have probably survived without anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.” — Adrien Gilbert

*****

There are many ways to tell the Earth’s temperature. One is by measuring how warm the atmosphere is near the surface. Another is to track the heat content of the world’s oceans. Still another is by taking account of melting glaciers and comparing thaw lines with times in the geological past.

And according to new research, the present state of the Barnes Ice Cap — which is the last tiny remnant of the once vast Laurentide Ice Sheettells a tale of heat not seen in 2.5 million years.

(NASA satellite shot of the last melting remnant of the Laurentide Ice sheet on August 30 of 2016. Want to see a time lapse of Barnes Ice Cap melt from 1984 to 2015? Take a look at this GoogleEarth time lapse, zoom in on Baffin Island, find the ice cap, and watch the edge lines retreat. It’s a bit uncanny..)

Over the past 2.5 million years, the Laurentide Ice Sheet has swelled and shrunken as cold ice ages were followed by warm interglacials. During the height of each ice age, the glaciers of Laurentide expanded to cover most of present day Canada and parts of the Northern United States. And during warmer interglacials, the ice sheet retreated to its final stronghold of the Barnes Ice Cap on Baffin Island.

But now, scientists have found that the Barnes Ice Cap, and with it the last remains of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, is about to disappear. Projections indicate that the considerable warming the Arctic is now experiencing, due primarily to fossil fuel burning, will completely melt this half-a-kilometer tall mountain of ice in just 200 to 500 years.

Once that happens, the Laurentide Ice Sheet will be gone. And this will be the first time such a thing has happened in 2.5 million years.

(Recent decline of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the end of the last ice age to 1,000 years before present. Soon, this once great mass of ice will be completely lost. Yet one more casualty of human fossil fuel burning.)

Though the Barnes Ice Cap may now be rather small compared to the larger ice masses of Greenland and Antarctica, its melt serves as a further sign that glaciers in those regions are also at risk. Gifford Miller, the associate director of CU Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research who has conducted research on Baffin Island for many decades notes:

“I think the disappearance of the Barnes Ice Cap would be just a scientific curiosity if it were not so unusual. One implication derived from our results is that significant parts of the southern Greenland Ice Sheet also may be at risk of melting as the Arctic continues to warm.”

Which is why many researchers are now saying that the imminent loss of Barnes serves as a kind of glacial melt canary in a coal mine.

The study authors further note that even if fossil fuel burning were to stop now, the total loss of the Barnes Ice Cap would still occur. What this means is that some parts of the Arctic are now likely as hot or hotter than they were at any time in the last 2.5 million years — the time when Barnes first formed. And, as the World Meteorological Organization noted so cogently this week, it also means that we’re heading deeper and deeper into an uncharted climate.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Last Remnant of North American Ice Sheet Set to Vanish

Climate Change Has Pushed Earth Into Uncharted Territory

NASA

GoogleEarth time lapse

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Keith Antonysen

Hat tip to Kevin

New Study: Rapid Transition to Renewable Energy Helps Global Economy, Prevents Worst Climate Impacts

We may not be living in the belly of the beast just yet, but we are most certainly now caught up in its jaws. In this case — the jaws of a politically and economically powerful set of fossil fuel interests that, unless they release their death grip, will condemn the world to a catastrophic future.

Fossil Fuel Interests vs a Benevolent Climate

Global warming in the range of 1.1 to 1.2 C above 1880s temperatures is already starting to have a destabilizing effect on many of the world’s nations. Seas are rising, the ice caps are melting, droughts, floods and wildfires are worsening, impacts to crops are growing more acute and unrest and inequality are on the rise. A related conflict over what energy sources will supply the world’s nations in the future has resulted in a sea change in the global political dynamic — setting climate change deniers representing fossil fuel special interests against honest scientists, renewable energy advocates, environmentalists and concerned businesses and citizens alike.

(Increasing rates of sea level rise, as shown in the most recent World Meteorological Organization report on The State of the Global Climate, are on track to render numerous cities, regions and island nations uninhabitable by the middle of this Century. This is just one of the many impacts of global warming. And continuing to burn fossil fuels makes each of these problems worse.)

This crisis and its related power struggle is the defining moment of our time. For its outcome will determine whether or not global civilization collapses in a series of worsening conflicts and climate calamities or if a new age of equal access and cooperation arises as more democratic and beneficial energy systems emerge and as nations decide to cooperate to come to the aid of those most hurt by the coming difficulties.

New Study Urges Rapid Deployment of Renewable Energy as Best Path Forward

We should be very clear that doom to human civilization by climate catastrophe is not inevitable. We have a shot at getting out of that trap if we escape the death-grip some fossil fuel industry backers now have on the global political and economic system. We can make it through if we take an alternative path. We can cut carbon emissions, make the global economy more resilient, and prevent the worst effects of climate change all at the same time. It will take a lot of concerted investment and effort. But it’s basically the conclusion of a recent joint study published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) that pursuing a rapid deployment of renewable energy systems combined with ongoing efforts to increase energy efficiency can steer the world away from the worst impacts of climate change.

The study determined that rapidly adding renewable energy systems and pursuing increased efficiency would be enough to reduce global carbon emissions by a rate of 2.6 percent per year. It aimed to produce a best shot at limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius this Century. And though such a goal may still be overshot somewhat under the IEA/IRENA study’s recommended path, the overall results would be a dramatic departure from business as usual fossil fuel burning which would produce between 4 and 7 C (or more) warming this Century. This rapid transition to non carbon energy would reduce the severity of global warming consequences — giving space for people, cities and nations to adapt. Without this kind of transition, it is difficult to imagine how human civilization and large subsets of the vulnerable natural world could survive through 2100 or even through mid Century.

(IEA/IRENA report urges rapid cuts in carbon emissions by G-20 to prevent worst-case climate impacts.)

The study calls on the biggest global emitters and largest industrial nations to take responsibility for the bulk of this transition (represented by the G-20). And the heavy lift would come in the form of a 2.5 percent reduction in energy intensity per year to increase efficiency and a more than tenfold increase in renewable energy demand. The study calls for a 150 percent increase in renewable energy investments and a doubling of the present overall renewable energy adoption rate (120 to 150 gigawatt annual approx to 240 to 300 gigawatt annual approximate).

Energy Transition a Big Investment that Produces Major Benefits

Meanwhile, the industrial sector would need to lower its carbon intensity by 80 percent through 2050. Present global energy investments of 1.8 trillion per year would need to rise to 3.5 trillion per year to achieve these goals. Fossil fuel investment would decline while renewable energy investment would increase by 150 percent. Oil and coal use would fall as natural gas was used for lower emissions fuel switching before being phased out or entirely mated to carbon capture and storage (CCS) by mid century. The study notes that some investments in oil, gas and coal may be unrecoverable but that CCS could be deployed on a limited basis to strategically help soften the blow to certain market sectors even as overall use rates declined. The hard to access fossil fuels would be abandoned first while demand for the easier sources would be winnowed down later on in the period.

(Recommended policies would result in lower energy expenditures per household while both pollutants and emissions were dramatically reduced.)

By 2030, solar and wind energy combined, according to the report, would be the largest global provider of electricity. And by 2050, 95 percent of energy sources would need to be low carbon while 70 percent of automobiles would need to be electric. By 2060, the study envisions a zero carbon energy system.

Ironically, the economic benefits of this transition would be considerable. Such an energy transition alone would be expected to boost global GDP by 0.8 percent in 2050 (adding 1.6 trillion dollars to the global economy) and the total overall benefit to GDP would be 19 trillion. Overall, this is more than a 10 percent return on the 145 trillion invested over the period.

Serious Political Challenges Remain

It’s worth noting that the IEA/IRENA study presents its findings to a G-20 that is presently being strong-armed away from responses to climate change by the Trump Administration and Saudi Arabia. After apparent bullying by Trump, G-20 leaders are now afraid to even mention the term climate change. But Trump’s approach has not only spurred a backlash from scientists and environmentalists, a large subset of the business, civic and public policy leaders that often produce the basis for G-20 initiatives are speaking out against industrial nations moving in retrograde at the exact time that they should be moving forward. The leaders point out that leaving 19 trillion dollars on the table is nonsensical and that the climate crisis is already starting to harm both G-20 nations and the developing world (which has contributed comparatively little to the problem of climate change).

As a result, it appears that the fossil fuel interests backing Trump and that are the mainstay of petrostates like Saudi Arabia and Russia are producing a crisis of confidence among key G-20 constituents. It has become obvious to most of the non-fossil fuel world that an energy transition needs to happen and that it would be beneficial to pretty much everyone. But old interests are hanging tight on the reigns of power and delaying a necessary, helpful, and ultimately life-saving set of policy actions.

Links:

World Meteorological Organization Statement on Climate Change in 2016

Perspectives for the Renewable Energy Transition

Don’t Mention the C-Word

Business Leaders Urge G-20 to Put Climate Back on the Agenda

G-20 Urged to Return to Climate Agenda

First Ever IEA/IRENA Report

India Already Facing Water Shortages Ahead of Dry Season

Spring in India can be a rough time for farmers in a warming world.

The vast, flat lands that compose much of India depend on waters flowing down from snow melting in the Himalayas. And a reliable influx of moisture in the form of the Southeast Asian Monsoon is a much-needed backstop to the heat and dryness of April, May, and early June.

But the warming of our world through fossil fuel burning and related greenhouse gas emissions is causing the glaciers of the Himalayas to melt. It is causing temperatures during spring to increase — which more rapidly dries the rivers and wells of India’s plains. It is creating a hot, dry atmospheric barrier that increasingly delays the onset of India’s monsoon. And since the 1950s India’s rainfall rates have been decreasing.

(NOAA rainfall anomaly map for the past six months showing a severe deficit for southern India. With April, May, and June being India’s hottest, driest months, and with climate change producing a worsening water security situation for the state, the risk for yet one more serious water crisis emerging over the coming weeks is high. Image source: NOAA CPC.)

All of these effects are related to human-caused climate change. However, what since the mid-20th Century had been a steadily worsening state of affairs has, over recent years, tipped into a more difficult to manage set of events.

During 2015, a delayed monsoon resulted in India receiving about 14 percent less rain than expected. During 2016, severe heatwaves exacerbated a drought that put 330 million people under water rationing. The 2016 monsoons finally halted this severe water crisis. But underlying shortages persisted through March of 2017.

Today, sections of South India in a region with a combined population of about 145 million continue to see severe water stress. The state of Kerala is experiencing its worst drought in over a Century. Tamil Nadu, which slipped into drought on January 10th, now shows all 32 districts reporting water shortages. And in Karnataka, reservoir levels have now dipped below 20 percent as almost all districts were reporting drought conditions. Farmer suicides from these regions remained high throughout the year. And reports indicate that inability to grow staple crops in these regions has resulted in reports of people relying on eating rats for food.

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map by Earth Nullschool. Warm sea surface temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific can help to delay India’s monsoon — extending the hot, dry period of April, May and June. This year, NOAA predicts that a weak to moderate El Nino may form which would further exacerbate climate change driven water stresses in India.)

These are tough conditions. But the worst may be yet to come for 2017.

April, May and June is the hottest, driest period for India. And the state is entering this season with almost a 150 million people already facing water stress. Moreover, the warming of Equatorial waters in the Pacific as another El Nino is again expected to emerge increases the risk that the 2017 monsoon could be delayed or weakened. So with a water crisis now ongoing in the south, conditions are likely set to worsen soon.

Links:

Farmers Despair Amid Low Rainfall

Climate Change Key Suspect in Case of India’s Disappearing Ground Water

India Drought Affecting 330 Million People After Two Weak Monsoons

NOAA CPC

Earth Nullschool

Himalayan Glaciers are Melting More Rapidly

Frailest-Ever Winter Sea Ice Facing a Cruel, Cruel Summer

This past weekend, it rained over the ice of the late winter Kara Sea. Falling liquid drops that whispered of the far-reaching and fundamental changes now occurring at the roof of our world.

*****

For an Arctic suffering the slings and arrows of human-forced global warming, the winter ended just as it had begun — with an ice-crushing delivery of warm air from the south.

A burly high pressure system over Russia locked in an atmospheric embrace with a series of low pressure systems stretching from the Barents Sea down into Europe. Winds, originating from the Mediterranean rushed northward between these two opposing weather systems — crossing the Black Sea, the Ukraine, and swirling up over Eastern Europe. The winds wafted warm, above-freezing air over the thawing permafrost of the Yamal Peninsula. And the frontal system they shoved over the melting Arctic sea ice disgorged a volley of anomalous late-winter rain.

(Another ice-melting warm wind invasion rushes into the Arctic — this time through the Kara and Laptev Seas. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As this rain hissed over the ice, delivering a load of heat to its fractured and frail surface, temperatures above the Kara Sea rose to 1 to 2 C — or about 25 to 30 C warmer than average (42 to 54 F warmer than normal). Meanwhile, the frontal boundary lofted by the warm winds rushed on — pushing above-freezing temperatures all the way into the Laptev Sea north of Central Siberia.

This most recent rush of warm air to the ice edge region came as a kind of herald for the start of melt season. Melt season start is an event that takes place every year at about this time. But during 2017, the sea ice set to begin this annual melt has never been so weak. The fall and winter warmth has been merciless. Month after month of far warmer than normal temperatures have pounded the ice. And now both sea ice extents and volumes are lower than they have ever been before — or at least since we humans have been keeping track.

Third Consecutive Record Low Sea Ice Extent Maximum

Neven and the sea ice observers over at The Arctic Sea Ice blog produced the following graph depicting what is all-too-likely to be a 2017 in which the sea ice extent maximum just hit another annual record low:

(2015, 2016 and 2017 produced record low or near record low winter maximum years for sea ice extent consecutively. Image by Deeenngee and The Arctic Sea Ice Blog.)

Neven, who is one of the world’s top independent sea ice analysts, noted Sunday that:

After a drop of almost 262 thousand km2 in just three days, it looks highly likely that the maximum for sea ice extent was reached two weeks ago, according to the data provided by JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (via ADS-NiPR ; it used to be provided by IJIS).

As melt season starts, another record low for sea ice extent maximum raises some serious concerns. The less ice that covers the ocean, the more dark blue surface is left open to absorb the sun’s rays. And this loss of ice poses a problem in that a less ice covered Arctic Ocean can take in more heat during melt season — which can serve as an amplifier for melt rates.

During 2015, Arctic sea ice extent also hit a record low maximum, which was nearly beaten again in 2016. But these losses thankfully did not translate into new record lows by the end of the 2016 summer melt season. Weather, as ever, plays its part. And there is some evidence to indicate that increased cloud cover caused by higher levels of water vapor above the Arctic may help to shield the ice somewhat during warmer months. A feature, however, that did little to prevent severe sea ice losses during the record summer melt of 2012 in which a powerful Arctic cyclone also played a roll in ice melt.

Arctic Sea Ice Volume Looks Considerably Worse

Sea ice extent is the measure of how much ocean the ice covers to its furthest-reaching edge. But it’s not the only measure of ice. Volume, which is a measure of both sea ice area and thickness, probably provides a better overall picture of how much ice is left. And the picture of sea ice volume going into the melt season for 2017 isn’t looking very good at all.

 

(Arctic sea ice volume through late February was tracking well below trend. This considerable negative deviation presents considerable risk for record low sea ice measures by the end of 2017 melt season. Image source: PIOMAS.)

Sea ice volume is now tracking about 2,000 cubic kilometers below the previous record low trend line for this time of year. In other words, the trend line would have to recover considerably over the coming months in order to not hit new record lows by the end of this melt season (September of 2017).

What’s happened is that the ice has experienced three consecutive very warm winter periods in a row — 2015, 2016 and now 2017. And a resulting considerable damage to the ice increases the risk that new all-time record lows will be reached this year. If the present volume measure remains on track through end of summer, sea ice volume could well split the difference between 2012’s record low of approximately 4,000 cubic kilometers of sea ice volume and the zero sea ice volume measure that represents an ice-free Arctic.

Cruel Summer Ahead

(Warm winds, above freezing temperatures, and rain caused considerable sea ice retreat in the Kara Sea from March 14 [top frame] to March 20 [bottom frame]. This event may well have been the herald to a record spring and summer melt during 2017. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 300 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

This discussion is worth consideration given how much heat we’ve seen in the Arctic recently. However, we are unlikely to see such a neat progression. Spring and summer surface temperatures could track closer to normal ranges and cloudy (but not overly stormy) conditions could give Arctic albedo an assist — causing the melt rate to lag and pulling the volume measure closer to the trend line. But, it could also vary in the other direction. For post La Nina (we have just exited a weak La Nina) the ocean gyres tend to speed up — which enhances sea ice export — even as more heat tends to transport in the final post El Nino plume toward the poles.

If this particular form of inter-annual natural variability trend toward warmth and melt in the Arctic takes hold during 2017, then we will have less chance to see a spring and summer sea ice recovery toward the trend line. And this is one reason why we’ve been concerned since 2015 that 2017 or 2018 might see new record lows during the summer for Arctic sea ice.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Lowest Maximum Sea Ice on Record (Again)

Earth Nullschool

LANCE-MODIS

PIOMAS

The Great Arctic Cyclone Hangs On

NASA GISS Temperature Anomalies

Hat tip to Suzanne

March Climate Madness — Wildfires, Scorching Summer Heat Strike Central and Southwestern U.S. By Winter’s End

In Colorado today the news was one of fire. There, a wildfire just south of Boulder had forced emergency officials to evacuate 1,000 residents as more than 2,000 others were put on alert Sunday. Smoke poured into neighborhoods as dead trees killed by invasive beetles or a developing drought, exploded into flames. Depleted snowpacks along the front range of the Rockies combined with temperatures in the 80s and 90s on Sunday to increase the fire risk. Thankfully, so far, there have been no reports of injuries or property loss. A relieving contrast to the massive fires recently striking Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma — where farmers and communities are still recovering.

(The ignition source for the recent fire near Boulder appears to be due to human activity. But the on-the ground climate conditions enhancing tree deaths, reducing snow packs, and blanketing the region with record or near record heat increases the likelihood that a spark will turn into a dangerous fire.)

The record heat building into Colorado on Sunday and contributing to increased wildfire risk had spread up into the Central U.S. from the Desert Southwest. There, cities like Phoenix have experienced summer-like heat for at least the past week. On Sunday, the city saw a second day of record temperatures as the mercury hit 96 degrees (Fahrenheit). Saturday temperatures were almost as hot at 95 F. This was the 8th consecutive day of 90 degree (F) or hotter temperatures (the record stretch of 90 degree + readings for March was set in 1972 at 17 days). Meanwhile, forecast highs in the mid 90s for Phoenix today set the possibility for another record-breaker.

Much of the southwest also experienced record or near-record temperatures. Las Vegas broke new records Sunday as the thermometer struck past 90 (F). Meanwhile, Yuma broke its previous daily record high on Sunday as temperatures rocketed to 98 F.

(Extreme heat builds through the Central and Southwest U.S. on monday as a wildfire forces evacuations south of Boulder, Colorado. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Today, heat is also expected to again build into the central U.S. as parts of Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado are predicted to experience temperatures ranging from the upper 80s to well into the mid 90s. Pecos is expected to hit 96 F — which is about 20 degrees (F) above average for a typical March day. And in some regions, such as parts of Kansas, these temperature departures are as much as 25 F above normal. These extreme high temperatures are expected to break numerous records for the region as most of the previous record highs for this area range in the upper 80s.

The heat will bring with it more risk of wildfires and a front sweeping in on Tuesday could increase windspeeds and dry conditions for some regions. Record warm global temperatures, (spurred by human greenhouse gas emissions primarily coming from fossil fuel burning) which are aiding in the systemic, longer term, loss of ice and snow cover while increasing the rate at which drought sets in and spiking the top potential range of temperatures during heatwaves, appears to be combining with a post La Nina trend that typically favors heat and drying in the Central U.S. to set the stage for these extreme conditions.

Links:

Fire Near Boulder Forces Evacuations

Drought Monitor

Will Phoenix Break Heat Records for Three Days in a Row?

Record Heat: Hot Temperatures Continue Today

Climate Reanalyzer

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to Robert Prue

The Glowing Waters of the Arabian Sea are Killing off Ocean Life

“The fish are migrating. They can’t get enough air here.” — Saleh al-Mashari, captain of a researcher vessel in the Gulf of Oman

*****

They are an ancient, primordial race of tiny organisms called noctiluca scintillans. And for millenia they have lived undisturbed in the deep waters between Oman and India. But as human fossil fuel burning forced the world to warm, this 1.2 billion year old species was dredged up from the deep.

Growing atmospheric and ocean heat fed the great storms that make up India’s southern monsoon. And as these storms intensified, they churned the waters of the Gulf of Oman, drawing the ancient noctiluca scintillans up from below. As these dinoflaggelates reached the surface they encountered more food in the form of plankton even as they gained access to more sunlight. Meanwhile, the strengthening monsoons seeded surface waters with nutrients flushed down rivers and streams and into the ocean.

(Noctiluca blooms have become a common feature of the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. They have also recently appeared off New Zealand, Tasmania, and Hong Kong. Such blooms are a result of warmer waters, more intense storms, related increasing rates of soil nutrients flushing into the oceans due to more intense rainfall events, and other conditions consistent with human-caused climate change. Image source: FaHaD.)

In this newly favorable environment, noctiluca subsequently bloomed. Covering the ocean in a green mat by day and an oddly iridescent blue when disturbed by the waves at night.

Phytoplankton are the base of the marine food chain and noctiluca has been voraciously devouring this key nutrient source over a Mexico-sized stretch of ocean water during recent years. As the noctiluca blooms expanded, they emitted toxins and an ammonia smell that some in the region are calling sea stench. And as the great mats died and decayed, they have robbed the surrounding waters of oxygen.

As a result, mass fish kills have been reported and much of the local sea life has fled the region.

March 2, 2017, image from the NASA MODIS satellite,  shows a mass of noctiluca scintillans blooms in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Oman extending past Pakistan to India.  (Image source: NASA and USGS, via AP)

Earth’s environment usually changes slowly, over the course of thousands or tens of thousands of years. In the past, this has given life a chance to adjust. But the human-caused climate change that is spurring the massive noctiluca blooms in the Arabian Sea is bringing on these new conditions over the mere course of a few decades. Thirty years ago, there was no visible trace of noctiluca in the waters of the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea. Now, they have come to dominate.

The oceans beneath the noctiluca mats are now increasingly robbed of life. Oxygen levels are plummeting. The fish can’t breathe there. And one wonders if or when a dangerous and deadly follow-on of hydrogen sulfide producing microbes will begin to spread up from the bottom regions of these oxygen starved waters.

Links:

Growing Algae Bloom in the Arabian Sea Tied to Climate Change

FaHaD

Noctiluca Scintillans

NASA

Hydrogen Sulfide in the World’s Warming Waters

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to Mulga

Signals of Climate Change Visible as Record Fires Give Way to Massive Floods in Peru

“We’ve rarely seen this kind of rapid and quick change in climatic conditions.”Juber Ruiz, of Peru’s Civil Defense Institute

*****

During September through November, wildfires tore across parts of drought-stricken Peru.

Peru’s Amazon was then experiencing its worst dry period in 20 years. And, at the time, over 100,000 acres of rainforest and farmland was consumed by flash fires. Rainforest species, ill-adapted to fires, were caught unawares. And a tragic tale of charred remains of protected species littering a once-lush, but now smoldering, wood spread in the wake of the odd blazes.

(Last November, wildfires burned through the Amazon rainforest in Peru as  a record drought left the region bone-dry. From Drought Now Spans the Globe. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

At the time, scientists noted that the after-effects of El Nino had combined with a warmer world to help spur the drought and the fires. And they warned Peru to prepare for more extreme weather in the future as Earth continued to heat up.

Fast forward to 2017 and we find that the moisture regime has taken a hard turn in Peru as the droughts and fires of 2016 gave way to torrential rains. Since January, more than 62 souls have been lost and about 12,000 homes destroyed as flash floods ripped through Peru. Over the past three days, the rains have been particularly intense — turning streets into roaring rivers and causing streams to over-top — devouring roads, bridges and buildings. As of yesterday, 176 districts within the country have declared a state of emergency due to flooding.

(Flooding in Peru leaves tens of thousands homeless. Video source: TRT News.)

The rains come as coastal waters off Peru have seen sky-rocketing temperatures. Sea surface readings over recent months have climbed from an average of 24 degrees Celsius to 29 degrees Celsius. These extremely warm waters are pumping a huge plume of moisture into the local atmosphere. And it’s this extraordinarily heavy moisture loading that is spurring the massive rainstorms now plaguing the state.

Scientists call this phenomena a coastal El Nino. And the last time Peru experienced one was in 1925. Though the coastal El Nino probably helped to spur the extreme rains now plaguing Peru, the peak sea surface temperatures of the very warm waters off Peru have also been increased by the larger human-forced warming of the world (primarily through fossil fuel burning). So many scientists are also now saying that the severe rainfall events now occurring in Peru were likely contributed to by climate change.

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map shows that ocean surfaces are more than 5 C above average off coastal Peru. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

New Peru movement leader Verónika Mendoza noted earlier this week:

“We know the ‘coastal El Niño’ comes from time to time. We know we are a country that is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. We should have prepared ourselves better.”

The climate extremes Peru has experienced — flipping from flash drought and wildfires to flash flood in just 5-6 months is exactly the kind wrenched weather we can expect more and more from climate change. For as the Earth warms, the amount of moisture evaporated from lands, oceans, lakes and rivers increases. As a result, the hydrological cycle gets kicked into higher gear. And what this means it that droughts and fires will tend to become more intense even as rains, when they do fall, will tend to be heavier.

Links:

Deadly Flooding in Peru Sparks Criticism over Climate Change Preparedness

Wildfires Tear Across Drought-Stricken Peru

With Temperatures Hitting 1.2 C Hotter than Pre-Industrial, Drought Now Spans the Globe

LANCE-MODIS

Earth Nullschool

TRT News

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Weird Polar Warming Appears to Have Made February of 2017 the Second Hottest Ever Recorded 

I think the scientific consensus will be that February probably should not have been so darn hot. But it was. And that’s pretty amazingly weird.

****

Clocking in at 1.32 C above 1880s averages, the month was oddly and disturbingly warm. The strong equatorial Pacific Ocean surface warming that was the El Nino of 2015-2016 had long since passed. The effects of a weak La Nina cooling of the same waters during late 2016 still lingered. And the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) — a measure of ocean surface temperature oscillation in the Pacific that tends to help drive natural variability based warming and cooling cycles — showed a meager warming bias value of 0.08 (or barely positive).

All these factors pointed toward a climate system that should have been pulling the world into a cyclical short term cooling during 2017 and 2018 (relative to 2016 record warmth). Global temperatures under such conditions would have been expected to recede about 0.1 to 0.2 C off highs hit during 2016 of 1.2 C hotter than 1880s temperatures. Averaging in a still disturbingly warm range near 1 C above 1880s values but waiting for the next El Nino cycle for a run at new global record warmth.

Heat Heads Toward the Poles

But, so far, the expected cyclical cooling isn’t happening. Instead, January of 2017 showed up as 1.14 C hotter than 1880s while February was 1.32 C hotter. The combined average of these two months was 1.23 C warmer than the preindustrial baseline — or a hair warmer that the 2016 average. This shouldn’t have happened. But it did. And now there is some risk that 2017 may be yet another record hot year. The fourth in a row consecutively.

So what was the cause?

(February saw highest above average temperature readings centered near the poles — a signal that polar warming was the primary factor driving near record heat for the month. Image source: NASA.)

According to NASA, both polar zones experienced considerable above average temperatures during the month of February. Lower latitude temperatures were also well above average, but the highest temperature spikes appeared in the far north and the far south. At the 80 to 90 north and south latitude zones, temperatures were 4.5 and 2 C above average respectively. And the heat was particularly intense in the Northern Hemisphere Arctic and near Arctic between 60 and 90 north latitude with temperatures ranging from 3 to 4.5 C above average.

Polar Amplification Appears to Drive Weird 2017 Warmth

Such strong warming at the poles is indicative of a global warming related condition called polar amplification. The causes of polar amplification include increasing water vapor at the poles, high greenhouse gas overburdens in the Arctic, a darkening of the polar ice from particulates (wildfire and human-produced smoke), intensification of transport of heat from the lower and middle latitudes toward the poles, warming oceans and changes in ocean circulation, and loss of snow and ice cover at the poles. To this final point, sea ice coverage has been consistently at or near record lows for both the northern and southern polar regions.

(Global sea ice extent at record lows likely helped to contribute to extremely warm conditions at the poles during February of 2017. Less sea ice means more water vapor evaporating from oceans in the polar regions. Water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas. In addition, warmth from the ocean can more readily ventilate into local atmospheres which aids in heat transport to the polar regions as the skein of sea ice retracts. Image source: Wipneus. Data Source: NSIDC.)

Polar amplification is not typically cited as a climate event that can overcome the transient cooling signal of a post El Nino period. However, given a first look at the evidence, this appears to be exactly what happened during early 2017. If this is the case, it is cause for serious concern. It is an indicator that a global tipping point has been reached in that warming at the poles (which is an upshot of the ridiculously high greenhouse gas levels we now see globally) is strong enough to drown out some of the traditional ENSO and PDO signals.

Links:

NASA

NSIDC

Polar Amplification

Pacific Decadal Oscillation

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

An Agenda Harmful to the American People

Farmers in Iowa, Kansas, Texas and California’s Central Valley know that the weather is getting worse. They know that droughts are intensifying, floods are more severe, and wildfires are growing larger as the years steadily warm. Coastal dwellers in Nantucket, Virginia Beach, Cape Hatteras, Myrtle Beach, Miami and the lowlands of Louisiana know that the seas are rising. They know that tidal and storm flooding takes more land and property with each passing year. And those who live in the far north, in places like Barrow, Alaska, know that the glaciers and sea ice are melting.

(Harmful impacts to Americans from climate change are on the rise and the number of Americans concerned about climate change has never been higher. Image source: Gallup.)

Americans, in greater numbers than ever before, believe that climate change is real, that it is a threat to them, and that humans are the cause. The growing consensus on the matter from the U.S. populace does not match the 97 percent or more of climate scientists who are very concerned about the issue, but the 68 percent of Americans who believe that global warming is occurring and is caused by humans cuts a stark contrast with the person who is now the sitting President of the United States.

Obama’s Helpful Response

The world has already warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius since the 1880s. We see the effects of that warming all around us. All across this country, lives, property and livelihoods are under increasing threat from a climate fundamentally changed by fossil fuel burning. However, the warming we’ve already experienced is the early, easy warming. The warming that lies ahead is of a much more difficult caliber. In other words, a blow is coming at us all. We can’t completely stop it at this point — it’s too late for that, we’ve coddled the fossil-fuel special interests for far too long — but we can soften it.

President Barack Obama tried to help the American people do just that. He established fuel efficiency standards aimed at inspiring innovation among America’s corporations. Such innovation would put them at the forefront of new technology that could help wean our country off oil dependency. By 2025, most vehicles were to have average mileage standards of 54.5 mpg, the implication being that a large portion of U.S. vehicles would be electric by then. At the same time, Obama pushed to shift U.S. power generation away from coal, and more toward wind and solar. These combined efforts would have cut U.S. carbon emissions across the entire economy 26 percent by 2025. They would have generated a leaner, meaner U.S. economy better suited to compete in a world whose constituents increasingly demand clean energy, and better able to face the harms coming down the pipe from human-caused climate change.

Fossil Fuel, Petrostate Interference in Global Democracies

The fossil fuel interests of the world — including both corporations and states suffering from economic dependence on fossil fuel revenues — did not at all like the new policies coming out of the U.S. The United States, as a global leader promoting renewable energy and responses to climate change, was fully capable of spearheading a global energy transition. Under Obama, the beginning of such a transition happened. Solar cell production multiplied, wind farms proliferated, clean energy costs fell, electrical vehicles hit the markets in increasing numbers, and net energy use per person fell, all while economies grew. In part due to exceptional American leadership, the U.S. trend toward cleaner energy repeated itself around the world. Meanwhile, demand for dirty fossil fuels began to lag. People began to talk widely about leaving a large portion of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground, unused. Coal interests experienced mass bankruptcies. And oil and gas markets grew ever more uncertain.

(As government policies supporting renewable energy proliferated, prices dropped and production boomed. In other words, positive policy on the part of the world’s governments produced a renewable energy revolution — much to the ire of fossil-fuel special interests. Image source: Clean Technica.)

Powerful interests associated with fossil fuels, who already held amazing influence over the world’s political bodies, began to fight back. In Europe, this came in the form of right-wing politicians apparently backed by the espionage campaigns of an expansionist and resurgent Russia. Meanwhile, Russian aggression surged into Ukraine and even at times threatened wind production in the Baltic Sea. In the U.S., fossil-fuel-backing Republicans like James Inhofe and Scott Pruitt fought to remove key government policies promoting climate action. But consistent U.S. climate policy managed to hang on.

Now, with the election of Donald Trump — achieved in part through the Russian petrostate’s cyber-warfare campaign against the U.S. electoral system — all the progress achieved by the Obama Administration is in doubt.

A Cadre of Fossil Fuel Backers, Climate Change Deniers, and Ties to Russia 

Trump has placed Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as head of the State Department, fired top career diplomats, and placed political cronies into key roles. Tillerson has failed to recuse himself in the case of interests related to Exxon — a key element of which were Obama-era sanctions that prevented Exxon partnering with Russia in developing oil fields in the Arctic. Trump’s chief national security adviser Michael Flynn — now identified as being employed as a foreign agent for Turkey at the time (it is illegal for a foreign agent to hold a position as part of the U.S. government) — was found to be secretly conferring with Russia (allegedly about the removal of said sanctions) before he himself was forced out of the post.

(Former Bush ethics lawyer weighs in on Michael Flynn failing to register himself as a foreign agent. Video source: CNN.)

Over at the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, a politician who has for many years denied that the world is warming and that humans are the cause, now heads an agency he often sued. Pruitt is well-known for his attacks on government action to reduce the impacts of climate change and for receiving considerable campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. Almost immediately after coming to head the EPA, Pruitt stocked top offices at the agency with well-known climate change deniers, many of whom were once staffers of Congress’s chief climate change denier — James Inhofe.

Attack on CAFE Standards

As Trump fills key policy-making positions with fossil-fuel industry chiefs, climate change deniers, and people with odd ties to the Russian petrostate, he is moving to kill off Obama’s signature climate actions. This week, Trump appears ready to announce a rollback of Obama’s fuel efficiency standards. Such a move would put a damper on U.S. electric car production just as competitive foreign automakers are jumping into the EV market with both feet. The threatened rollbacks could also cost consumers an extra $2,600 in fuel over a vehicle’s lifetime, harm U.S. energy security, and result in more carbon dumped into the atmosphere. According to the New York Times:

[Obama’s] rules have been widely praised by environmentalists and energy economists for reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and its greenhouse pollution. If put fully into effect, the fuel efficiency standards would have cut oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels and reduced carbon dioxide pollution by about six billion tons over the lifetime of all the cars affected by the regulations (emphasis added).

Though it would take about a year to remove Obama’s policy, and though it is likely that states like California (along with nine other states pushing automakers to increase EV availability) will fight the measure, this change in direction comes at a critical time for the world’s climate, right when harmful impacts from climate change are hitting the American people harder and harder.

Removal of Clean Electricity Goals

Trump’s early moves against U.S. fuel efficiency standards (and by extension energy and climate security) are, unfortunately, just the first subset of a two-pronged effort. Trump is also expected to direct a denier-stacked EPA to dismantle Obama’s clean electrical power regulations — rules aimed at incentivizing wind, solar, and lower carbon forms of fossil fuels while shutting down highly polluting coal power plants. Obama’s actions would have sped renewable energy expansion while cutting U.S. carbon emissions by 26 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2025. But if Trump’s new proposals go through, an extra 2 billion tons of CO2-equivalent gasses could be coming from U.S. smokestacks and tailpipes by that time.

G20 Promotes ‘Market Magic’ as Solution to Climate Change

Trump’s policy moves also appear to be aimed at hollowing out international actions on climate change. A recent draft of the upcoming G-20 Summit, a meeting of finance ministers from the world’s top 20 industrialized nations, backed away from key commitments to combat climate change. The G-20’s preliminary policy statement removed language supporting the Paris Climate treaty (only 47 words address the treaty now as opposed to 163 words in 2016), appears to have reneged on $100 billion worth of commitments from wealthy nations to fund renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions cuts, and relies on “multilateral development banks to raise private funds to accomplish goals set under the 2015 Paris climate accord.”

John Kirton, director of the University of Toronto’s G-20 Research Group, in an interview with Bloomberg noted that the new policy statement “…basically says governments are irrelevant. It’s complete faith in the magic of the marketplace. That is very different from the existing commitments they have repeatedly made.”

It’s worth noting that Trump’s appointed treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin is the U.S. lead for G-20-related climate policy, so this new direction for the G-20 can’t entirely be separated from Trump or from his former Goldman Sachs employee Treasury Secretary.

Worsening Climate Situation

All these prospective national and global climate policy reversals come as the climate situation continues to worsen and damages from climate change related disasters escalate. We are currently in the process of warming from 1.2 C (present global temperature departure) above 1880s averages to 2 C above average. The amount of damage coming from this next degree of warming will be considerably more than the amount of damage that occurred as we warmed from 0.5 to 1.2 C above average from the 1980s to now.

(According to reinsurer Munich Re, the number of natural disasters has more than doubled since the early 1980s. Growth in the number of natural disasters all come from meteorological events, hydrological events, and climatological events — all which are influenced by warming global temperatures. Image source: Munich Re.)

The U.S. and every other nation in the world is now seeing a clear and present danger coming from climate change as natural disasters ramp up. In other words, the climate change related fire is already burning. And the Trump Administration appears set to throw more fuel on that fire. We can say with complete certainty that these policies represent a political agenda that is harmful to the American people. And we should resist this harmful agenda at every turn.

Let’s be Very Clear — 100 Percent (or More) of Recent Warming was Caused By Humans

“We actually have high confidence that the warming that is happening now is not natural cycle. If anything, over the past few decades, nature has tried to cool us off a little bit… The sun has dimmed just a little bit. We have blocked the sun with particles from our smokestacks just a little bit. And yet it has warmed. If you were to ask how much of the warming that we see recently has been caused by our greenhouse gasses, it’s a little more than all of it (emphasis added).” — Dr Richard Alley

*****

To say that scientists, as a group, tend to be cautious is probably the understatement of the Century. In most cases, this caution is beneficial — preventing outrageous assertions regarding key issues and providing a stable basis for developing rational policy.

(Dr. Richard Alley, Dr Michael Mann, and Dr Johnathan Brockopp discuss the extent of the global warming crisis without false equivalency given to climate change deniers. Video source: Conversations — Live Climate Change.)

But when it comes to confronting climate change deniers, such caution and reticence has often been exploited by the fossil fuel interests and their political backers who tend to make intentionally deceptive arguments aimed at casting doubt on scientific findings. Just as Scott Pruitt, a man who has fought helpful emissions regulations by EPA at the behest of the fossil fuel industry for most of his legal career, did last week on CNBC’s Squawk Box when he said:

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s [CO2] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Playing Disingenuous and Intentionally Deceptive Word Games

Pruitt’s statement was made with a pretty obvious intent to cast fallacious doubt on established scientific findings. It was deceptive. And it aimed at highlighting perceived, but not actual, uncertainties in the science. It ultimately perpetrated a logical fallacy of consistency (argument based on false equivalency). Such fallacies tend to exploit seeming gray areas in established understanding in order to cast doubt on solid evidence. In this case, to create a false sense that counter arguments against the scientific basis for CO2 as a heat trapping gas have equal weight to the actual science.

In the end, the perception of uncertainty is what false and fallacious arguments like Pruitt’s seek to generate. And these arguments often aim to exploit the fact that overarching scientific consensus statements seldom claim 100 percent certainty, even though findings, especially in the case of climate change, are highly accurate.

In one example, more than 97 percent of scientists agree that global warming is caused by humans. This consensus is among the strongest for any scientific finding. However, the most recent IPCC report found that:

“It is extremely likely [defined as 95-100% certainty] that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic [human-caused] increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.”

This statement, at its face value is a strong validation for the human warming consensus. However, it provides a bit of a linguistic loop-hole in the phrase — ‘more than half’ — which seems to imply that almost half of the warming Earth has experienced was caused by something other than human activity. This apparent but false uncertainty is the kind of statement that people like Pruitt, who use deceptive argumentation, tend to latch onto. And if a person were to make the conclusion that nearly 50 percent of warming was not caused by humans and that the ultimate cause of warming is therefore in doubt, then it would be a false one.

More Than 100 Percent of Recent Warming Caused By Humans, CO2 Earth’s Primary Temperature Control Knob

(Most recent warming attribution studies find that more than 100 percent of the atmospheric heat gain we’ve seen during the past 50-65 years was caused by human activity such as fossil fuel burning. Image source: Skeptical Science.)

The truth is that IPCC made a very cautious statement. It has 95 to 100 percent confidence that more than 50 percent of warming has been caused by human activity. And the basis for this statement is that most studies find that while natural factors like solar activity are pushing the world to cool, the human forcing is strong enough to overcome that natural cooling trend and to set in place a very strong and unnatural warming trend instead. The science finds that without the greenhouse gas emissions coming chiefly from fossil fuel burning, the Earth would have seen slowly falling temperatures over the past 50-150 years.

Moreover, studies for the past 50-65 years almost universally attribute 100 percent or more of warming to human produced heat forcing. The above graphic, by Skeptical Science, shows a sample of new studies in which 99 to 170 percent of recent warming was attributed to human causes.

(According to IPCC, carbon dioxide is the primary heat trapping gas emitted by humans and is responsible for the majority of atmospheric warming. Meanwhile, NASA scientists find that this gas is the chief control knob governing Earth’s temperature.)

In addition, the lion’s share of the heat trapping, according to the science, can be attributed to one greenhouse gas — CO2. For NASA, along with pretty much every other major scientific body studying climate, finds that CO2 is Earth’s primary temperature control knob.

So when Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier and Trump’s pick for head of the EPA says that there’s a lot of uncertainty about CO2 and it’s not the primary source of warming and that it’s uncertain whether humans are a factor — he’s telling a lie. The science is very clear that warming is human caused, that probably more than 100 percent of warming has been driven by human activity, and that CO2 from fossil fuel emissions has been the cause of the majority of that warming.

But in addition to telling a lie Pruitt, as head of EPA, is committing malfeasance. For he is the head of the agency responsible for regulating harmful gasses like CO2 and for preventing the severe damage that will surely be inflicted upon the American public if these gasses continue to be released into Earth’s atmosphere.

Links:

CNBC’s Squawk Box

Skeptical Science

IPCC Fifth Assessment

CO2: Principal Control Knob Governing Earth’s Temperature

Hat tip to Erik

Hat tip to Cate

 

“Climate Change in Your Face” — Great Barrier Reef Suffers Second Consecutive Mass Bleaching as Potential for Record Warm 2017 Looms

 

On March 2nd, 2017, the Great Barrier Reef was already starting to show signs of bleaching. After suffering a worst-ever coral bleaching event in 2016, concerns were high that warmer waters could again strike the reef — spurring a second consecutive mass die-off. Even worse, some scientists were concerned that 2017’s bleaching could exceed the intensity of the record 2016 event.

Now it appears that just such a catastrophe is underway. And scientists expect about 2/3 of the world’s largest reef to experience bleaching over the next couple of months.

According to reports from Eyewitness News in Australia — the Great Barrier Reef has been given a “terminal prognosis” by scientists unless the rate of global warming is slowed. The March 10 news report noted that “one of the world’s greatest natural treasures is losing its fight for life” as a second mass coral bleaching event impacts the reef in as many years. Richard Leck of the World Wildlife Fund expressed his shock stating “No scientists ever thought that we would have back-to-back mass coral bleaching events… This is climate change in your face.”

Aerial surveys found that 30 to 100 percent of corals visible from the air along large sections of the 2300 kilometer reef had experienced some level of bleaching.

Fourth Consecutive Hottest Year on Record?

Unfortunately for the reef and for the rest of world’s natural wonders, coastlines, biological diversity, cities and nations, the rate of global warming appears to be accelerating. A situation that will put most of life on Earth, including its corals and the crops human beings rely on for food, into a state of permanent heat stress.

A new scientific study showed that the rate of heat gain in the world’s oceans, due to heat trapping gasses like CO2 hitting the atmosphere at near record rates, is speeding up. Meanwhile a number of scientists are starting to worry that 2017 will be a fourth consecutive record hot year in a row.

(Fourth consecutive record hot year in a row? If it happens, it would be just one more unprecedented, unexpected event related to climate change to add to the a long and growing list. Image source: Zeke Hausfather.)

Zeke Hausfather of the Berkley Earth Surface Temperature group posted the above image on Twitter noting: “2017 has been weirdly warm so far despite a lack of El Nino conditions. If Jan/Feb temps were representative it would end up surpassing 2016.”

The team, which is ironically funded by the Koch Brothers (of climate change denial infamy) and was formed by climate skeptic Richard Muller, has done preliminary global temperature estimates and found that February of 2017 was the second hottest on record globally. If true, this would put the year on a very warm launching pad despite a recent weak La Nina event in the Pacific which should have resulted in considerably more cyclical global cooling. NOAA now shows the potential for a weak to moderate El Nino to form during the spring and summer. And the risk exists that warm surface waters in the Pacific will combine with an already very strong warming amplification in the polar regions brought on by climate change to spike global temperatures yet again.

We should note that such an occurrence would be very odd — flying in the face of traditional understanding of the El Nino/La Nina cycle. Usually, post El Nino years tend to cool somewhat (including the effect of follow-on La Nina events) even as the overall global warming trend has ramped higher. So if we do experience a record warm year post La Nina, then other factors are helping to drive the global climate system. And the chief suspects at this time appear to be positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a Polar Amplification associated with global warming, and spiking ocean temperatures associated with global warming.

Conditions in Context — Climate Tipping Points

To be very clear, what’s happening to the Great Barrier Reef at this time is terrible. But it is not an isolated event. Regions the world over are starting to feel increasingly worsening impacts from climate change. To name just a few of the major impacts now rippling across the globe: Parts of East Africa are getting pushed toward lower farm productivity and ultimate uninhabitability by the rising heat, Northern Hemisphere summer sea ice now has an expected lifespan of 1 to 15 years, growing seasons around the world are under assault from the rising temperatures, coastal cities are in peril from rising waters, and Antarctic and Greenland glaciers are lurching toward the sea.

 

(A graphic of potential climate tipping points produced by the University of East Anglia. We should probably now also add East Antarctic Ice Sheet, East Africa drought, and expanding ocean dead zones to the list. It’s worth noting that these identified climate tipping points included a degree of uncertainty — meaning that temperature levels needed to set off these events weren’t fully nailed down, nor were the timeframes under which such potential scenarios were likely to occur. But it was generally assumed that crossing any of these tipping points would result in very harmful and wide-ranging impacts. To this point, it appears that we are in the process of crossing the coral bleaching, Arctic sea ice loss, increasing crop stress, expanding ocean dead zones, increasing global wildfires, worsening floods and droughts, and glacial destabilization tipping points at this time.)

All these events are happening with the world at 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages and warming at what appears to be a rather swift rate. So we appear to be at a threshold now where dangerous and very harmful climate events are starting to occur. In other words, we’re starting to cross some of the forewarned climate tipping points. And these events can arise quite suddenly to produce wide-ranging impacts to human populations and the biodiversity of life on Earth.

The imperative to act by cutting human fossil fuel emissions as rapidly as possible couldn’t be more obvious or urgent. And as part of that imperative, it appears that the removal of fossil fuel backing politicians (like Trump, Scott Pruitt, James Inhoffe and other climate change denying republicans in the US) will be necessary to achieve any kind of rational response to this very real threat to pretty much everyone and everything living on Earth.

Links:

Eyewitness News in Australia

Zeke Hausfather

Widespread Coral Bleaching Strikes Great Barrier Reef Again in 2017

NOAA El Nino

Weirdly Warm 2017

University of East Anglia

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to BJ

The Oceans are Warming Faster than Previously Thought; Rate of Heat Build-up Accelerating

So we keep hearing this phrase in the sciences — faster than we thought. In the context of global warming, it’s not a phrase we want to hear. And when the world’s largest heat sink — the oceans — are warming up faster than we thought, that’s kind of a big deal.

******

According to new research published today in Science Advances, the world’s oceans are warming up at an overall rate that is 13% faster than previously thought. Study authors used a new methodology to gain a more refined picture of overall ocean warming. And the results were unfortunately stark. For in addition to the oceans having gained more heat, the study also found that the rate of ocean warming is accelerating.

(Total ocean heat gain in the top 2000 meters as found in Improved estimates of ocean heat content from 1960 to 2015.)

This increased rate of warming is rather concerning — especially when you consider the fact that about 90 percent of the total extra heat absorbed by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses produced primarily by fossil fuel burning ends up in the world’s oceans. For this reason, ocean heat gain is probably a better determiner of overall global warming than atmospheric heat gain. And, as a result, what we’re looking at is a world that’s surprising us with the rate at which it is responding to the insults of human fossil fuel emissions.

Serious Systemic Impacts From Ocean Warming

Of course, heat in the oceans produces numerous added impacts to the Earth System. As we’ve seen in Antarctica and Greenland, that heat gain has caused a number of the world’s largest ice shelves and glaciers to start melting from below — increasing concerns about the future rate of global sea level rise. The accelerating heat gain in the world’s oceans is absolutely the primary driver of the ongoing global coral bleaching event that has continued uninterrupted since 2014. More ocean heat means less oxygen — which increases the extent of ocean dead zones. And various sea creatures from starfish to mollusks to walruses to puffins have all seen habitat loss and/or loss of key food sources due to ongoing warming.

Extra ocean heat also both reduces the ability of the ocean to absorb CO2 even as it puts stress on various carbon stores — increasing the risk that a carbon feedback response from the Earth System will emerge to further worsen the rate of global warming.

(This year’s global coral bleaching event is starting to kick into high gear. Famous reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef are now threatened. But coral bleaching is just one of many harmful impacts that result from ocean warming. Image source: Coral Reef Watch.)

Finally, warmer oceans can help to push hydrological events such as instances of heavy rainfall and severe drought to greater extremes. A press release by the study’s authors noted:

…we know the oceans are much warmer now and they contain the memory of climate change. Higher sea surface temperatures are continually reinforced by the extra heat beneath the ocean surface. The oceans are affecting weather and climate through more intense rains. This process is a major reason why 2016 was the hottest year ever recorded at the Earth’s surface, beating out 2015 which was the previous record. Additionally 2015 was a year with record hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, and wild-fires around the world.

Conditions in Context — We Need Rapid Reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Now

Ultimately what this accelerating and higher than expected ocean heat gain means is that we have less time. Less time to achieve a necessary reduction of emissions before various harmful and catastrophic effects from climate change get locked in. Less time to continue coddling a harmful fossil fuel industry, as the Trump Administration has determined to do. And less time to plan to help the populations of people that will inevitably be harmed by the warming that these vastly irresponsible political and economic powers have so far blocked us from preventing.

Links:

Improved Estimates of Ocean Heat Content From 1960 to 2015

Earth’s oceans are warming 13% faster than thought

Coral Reef Watch

Hat tip to Jeremy in Wales

New Research Shows Global Warming Could Turn Tropics Into a Sweltering Dead Zone

New research out of Purdue University finds that a global warming event called the PETM made parts of the tropics too hot for living organisms to survive. And though the PETM happened many millions of years ago, these new scientific revelations are pertinent to the present day. The reason is that human activity in the form of fossil fuel burning is now rapidly causing the globe to heat up. And such warming, if it continues, could well turn large sections of the tropics into a dead zone.

PETM — Warm-up Sparks Global Upheaval, Extinction

The PETM was a big global warm up that happened 56 million years ago as the Paleocene epoch passed into the Eocene. It is numbered as one of many hothouse extinctions occurring in the geological record. And it is generally thought to have been one of the milder such events — especially when compared to the biosphere wrecking ball that was the Permian.

(NASA tool shows that business as usual greenhouse gas emissions would force average maximum July temperatures over large sections of the world to warm to 40-45 C [104-113 F] by the 2090s. For many regions, such a high degree of heat is incompatible with crops and human habitability. In the deep past, hothouse events were found, in recent research, to render large sections of the tropics uninhabitable to most forms of life. Image source: NASA.)

During the PETM, global temperatures jumped by 5 degrees Celsius above an already warm base-line over the course of about 6,000 years. And research indicates that the resulting heat stress set off massive wildfires, forced land animal species to move pole-ward, and killed off a big chunk of the ocean’s bottom dwelling foraminifera.

Parts of the Tropical Biosphere Seem to Have Died

However, past scientific consensus held that the tropics still managed to support life during the PETM due to a kind of thermostat-like heat regulation preventing the equatorial region from becoming too warm. Temperatures were thought to have remained within a range that would have continued to support life in this lower latitude zone. So it was only thought that the tropics experienced die-offs during ancient and more intense warming events like the Permain of 250 million years ago.

The new research by Purdue scientists calls that theory into question. Their findings show that temperatures crossed a key threshold — becoming too hot to support life throughout sections of the tropics and rendering large areas uninhabitable.

Matthew Huber, professor in the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Department at Purdue University and study co-author notes:

“The records produced in this study indicate that when the tropics warmed that last little bit, a threshold was passed and parts of the tropical biosphere seems to have died. This is the first time that we’ve found really good information, in a very detailed way, where we saw major changes in the tropics directly associated with warming past a key threshold in the past 60 million years.”

Half of Human Population Lives and Farms in the Tropics

During the present day, about half the human population, a good chunk of the world’s life forms, and a considerable amount of global farming occupies the tropics. However, according to recent research by the Max Planck Institute, parts of the tropical zone could be rendered basically uninhabitable to human beings by mid Century as the Earth heats up due to fossil fuel burning. And already, the critical region of Equatorial Africa and the adjacent Middle East are experiencing record droughts, water stress, and instances of hunger, famine and related food insecurity as global temperatures rise to 1 C or more above 1880s averages.

(Climate zone habitability is a function of what forms of life can exist in a given region at a given range of temperatures. Warming in the tropics is expected to impact human habitability by mid Century. Warming, however, is also expected to impact crop yields well into the middle latitudes. U.S. food production is therefore likely to be negatively impacted by rising global temperatures. Video source: Peter Carter.)

The serious concern is that as the world warms up — a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scope could emerge as whole countries become unable to support their populations. As entire regions become too hot to live in. And as major swaths of global farmland become non-productive.

The present narrative hints that human civilization can somehow adapt by shifting farm zones northward. However, it’s worth noting that boreal regions do not support the same highly productive soils as the tropical and temperate zones that are now under threat due to rising temperatures. In addition, the nations of the world have thus far shown considerable reluctance to accepting refugee populations from destabilized zones. And as the world heats up, desperation will only increase as waves of refugees seek to remove themselves from what could well become a kind of global warming produced dead zone.

The Perdue research underscores a very real risk that we are now facing. It shows that the tropics did not self regulate temperature in a range conducive for life during the PETM. And these findings reinforce present temperature and soil moisture research trends placing human habitability and crop production under threat due to fossil fuel based warming this Century.

(UDATED)

Links:

Global Warming Can Breach Limits for Life

Climate Impacts of the PETM

NASA

Peter Carter

Hat tip to Suzzanne

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Largest Winter Wildfire in Kansas History Probably Linked to Climate Change

Over the past few days, a 1.5 million acre (2,350 square mile) swath of the Central U.S. has burned. The wildfires, stoked by warm winds, prodigious undergrowth, and a nascent mid-western drought exploded across Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Six people have perished, numerous structures have been destroyed, and thousands of people have been forced to evacuate. According to initial reports, the losses in the form of cropland burned and livestock consumed by the flames are expected to be significant.

(Large wildfires and massive burn scars are clearly visible in this March 7 NASA satellite shot of North Texas, the Oklahoma Pan-Handle and Southern Kansas. For reference, bottom edge of frame is approximately 120 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

For Kansas, a single blaze covering 1,000 square miles was likely the largest fire ever to strike the state. Meanwhile, similar enormous fires ripped through nearby Oklahoma and North Texas (see satellite image above). Though more favorable weather conditions for firefighting are on the way, concerns remain that the fires could continue to grow throughout the weekend.

It is not an unheard of event for wildfires to strike the plains states during winter. However, the rising frequency and intensity of large fires during recent years has been a cause for growing concern among climate researchers. And though humans and lightning strikes often provide the ignition sources for the wildfires that do occur, it is the underlying heat and drought conditions which can cause a wildfire to explode into an out of control monstrosity when such an ignition inevitably occurs. To this point, it’s worth noting that a similar large wildfire outbreak occurred during the winter of 2010-2011 — a time when near record warmth combined with drought to scorch 4,000 square miles in Texas and Arizona. And we should also note that global warming will tend to bring on these wildfire favorable conditions with increasing frequency and intensity.

(Near record warmth and below average precipitation over the past month set the stage for extreme wildfire risks this week. Increasingly, such anomalously warm temperatures and rapid onset drought conditions are driven by human-caused climate change. Image source: NOAA.)

This year, similar climate change related conditions set the stage for this past week’s dangerous outbreak. And though some researchers consider the fire regime in this region of the U.S. during this time of year to be cyclical in nature (possibly driven at least in part by the ENSO cycle), the added heat and increasing risk of intensifying drought periods due to climate change plays a role in the worsening fire regime as well.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, wildfire season in the Western U.S. has already grown from 5 months per year to 7+ months per year due to rising temperatures. This added heat and related expansion of the wildfire season has helped to increase the average number of large fires burning during any given year in this region from approximately 140 per year during the 1980s to 250 per year from the period of 2000 to 2012.

(Union of Concerned Scientists graphic shows stark wildfire trend for the Western U.S. A trend that is being repeated in many regions across the country due to climate change’s rising temperatures and increasingly intense precipitation extremes. See full infographic here: Union of Concerned Scientists.)

For the Central U.S. the story is much the same as researchers have warned that the frequency and intensity of wildfires likely would continue to increase in the coming years, given the confluence of climate change related factors such as higher temperatures and lower rainfall amounts. In Phys.org today, University of Illinois atmospheric sciences professor Don Wuebbles noted that increasingly intense wildfires are:

“…Probably… the new normal. Thirty years from now, we may look upon this as being a much better period than what we may be facing then.”

Links:

LANCE MODIS

NOAA

Union of Concerned Scientists

A Look at Questions About Current Wildfires

At Least 6 People Have Died in Plains Wildfires

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Warm Winds Take Aim at Chukchi as Arctic Sea Ice Volume Hits Record Lows

Temperatures over the Chukchi Sea are predicted to hit as high as 37 degrees Fahrenheit (2.9 C) on Wednesday and Thursday as a massive high pressure ridge building over Alaska pulls warm, moist Pacific air northward. These temperatures represent staggering warmth for this Arctic Ocean zone during March when temperatures are typically about 54 degrees F (30 degrees C) cooler.

Major Warm Wind Invasion for the Chukchi This Week

(Multi-day above freezing temperatures for the Chukchi sea predicted for later this week is not a normal event for early March. Unfortunately, warm wind invasions like this one have become more common as the globe has warmed up due to human fossil fuel emissions. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This recent warm wind invasion is one of many observed over the past five years in which enormous bulges in the Jet Stream have pierced deep into what was once a mostly impenetrable pall of winter chill hanging over the Arctic. It’s a new atmospheric condition associated with rampant fossil fuel burning. One that has produced considerable damage to the Arctic environment by reducing sea ice coverage, threatening key species, melting glaciers and thawing permafrost.

Such incursions of extreme warmth bear the obvious marks of a failing of Arctic cold brought on by human-forced climate change and have tended to generate significant spikes in overall Arctic surface temperatures during fall, winter, and spring. This week’s warm air invasion of the Chukchi is expected to help push readings for the entire region above the 66 degree north latitude line to 4.5 C (8 F) above average for this time of year. That’s a strong departure for this region during the month of March when the typically more uniform advance of warmth in the lower latitudes tends to strengthen the Jet Stream — locking in Polar winter conditions in the far north through about the middle of April.

(The warm wind invasion of the Chukchi Sea is expected to help push overall Arctic temperatures considerably higher. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Far above average Arctic surface temperatures extending from October of 2016 through March of 2017 have been triggered again and again by these floods of warm air rising up from the south. And the net effect on Arctic sea ice volume has been little short of devastating.

Arctic Sea Ice Volume Lowest Ever Recorded During Winter, Comparable to Summer Volumes of the Early 80s

Arctic sea ice volume for both January and February of 2017 are now far below past record low trend lines for this time of year. Present record low monthly values for this past February are around 17,000 cubic kilometers vs previous record lows for the month during 2013 at around 19,500 cubic kilometers. Last February’s sea ice volume average of 17,000 cubic kilometers is about the same sea ice volume measured at the end of melt season in September of 1981. In other words, sea ice volume in winter now is comparable to sea ice volumes during the summers of the early 1980s.

(Arctic sea ice volume has never been this low during winter time. Image source: PIOMAS.)

All the record warmth flooding into the Arctic during 2016 and 2017 has undoubtedly contributed to these new record lows for sea ice volume. And a cooling of the Arctic surface relative to recent record warmth during March and April could soften this worrying trend somewhat. To this point, it is worth noting that sea ice extent measures are now closer to past record low trend lines. So there has been some slightly more hopeful inching back to slightly less ridiculously abnormal measures. A more positive movement that will likely take a hit as Arctic temperatures are predicted to significantly warm again this week.

Weather is Variable, But the Underlying Trend Looks Pretty Bad

Weather, as we should note, can be quite variable and may bring a more pleasant surprise later in the month. However, despite this potential, sea ice states are looking as bad or worse than they ever have at the end of freeze season. And it is worth noting that less ice coverage and volume leaves more dark water open to absorb the sun’s springtime and summer rays and less ice to reflect it. Furthermore, post La Nina periods, as we are now experiencing, tend to flush more atmospheric and ocean heat into the Arctic. So, despite the variable nature of weather overall, we’re in a bit of a situation where the systemic trend odds of a noteworthy sea ice recovery toward more rational trend lines pre-summer 2017 aren’t looking very good.

Links:

NSIDC

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

PIOMAS

Wipneus

Tropical Tidbits

Chukchi Sea

%d bloggers like this: