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

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

Surface Melt Visible From Satellite

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

antarctica-ice-shelf-melt-rates

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

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

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

east-antarctic-surface-melt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lazarev-ice-shelf-melt-2017

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

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

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

Ice Shelves Cracking Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

antarctic-warming

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

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

Links:

Climate Reanalyzer

Volume Loss from Antarctica’s Ice Shelves is Accelerating

LANCE MODIS

Antarctic Survey

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

Larsen C Ice Shelf Crack Just Grew By Another 6 Miles

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

Hat tip to Shawn Redmond

Hat tip to Jeremy in Wales

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

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

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

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

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

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

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

hottest-year-on-record-2016

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

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

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

(UPDATED)

Links:

NASA GISS

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

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Joe T

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

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

Base Wind + Solar Now Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels, Nuclear

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

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

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

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

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

Facing Down Fears of Intermittency

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

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

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

Soft Limits

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

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

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

Solar + Battery Storage Becoming Cost Competitive

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

kuaui

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

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

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

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

Renewables + Storage to Beat Fossil Fuels in Near Future

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis

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

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory

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

The Lithium-Ion Megafactories Are Coming

AES Distributed Energy

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

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

El Nino Pattern During a La Nina Year

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

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

atmospheric-river-pacific

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

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

Another Batch of Heavy Rain on the Way

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

 

noaa-extremely-heavy-precipitation

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

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

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

Very Warm, Moist Pacific; Positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation

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

sea-surface-temperature-anomalies-pacific

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

Threat of Flooding For U.S. West Coast

West Coast Storms Cause Dangerous Flooding in California

U.S. Drought Monitor

Climate Reanalyzer

GISS Temperature Data

Climate Reanalyzer

Pacific Decadal Oscillation

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

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

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

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

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

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

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

global-sea-ice-extent-stunning-losses

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

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

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

Unprecedented Losses

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

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

giomas-year-global

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albedo Losses and a Bad Set-up for Arctic Summer

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

Global Sea Ice Records Broken Again

National Snow and Ice Data Center Sea Ice News

Wipneus Sea Ice Graphs

NASA GISS Temperature Data

Polar Amplification

Tealight

DMI

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ev-volumes

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

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

Rising EV Quality, Lower Cost Helps to Drive Adoption Rates

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

chevy-bolt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better Access to Charging Infrastructure, Faster Charging, Superior Performance

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

tesla-superchargers-destination-chargers

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

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

Helping to Combat Global Climate Change

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

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

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

Links:

Dramatic Plug in Vehicle Sales Growth During 2016

EVs Will Soon Be Cheaper Than Regular Cars

Norway to Ban Petrol Vehicle Sales

Chevy Bolt

New Nissan Leaf With 200 Mile Range is Coming

Tesla Model S

Chevy Bolt vs Model S

Electric Buses Regenerate City Planning

BYD Sells 50 Electric Buses to Argentina

Seattle Buses to be All-Electric

Gas2 — More Tesla Charging Stations

Hat tip to JPL

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

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

hudson-bay-above-freezing-january-11

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

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

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

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

extreme-warmth-over-hudson-bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Tropical Tidbits

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

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

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

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

co2-annual-rate-of-increase

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

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

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

atmospheric-co2-increase-the-keeling-curve

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Ten Times Faster Than the PETM

The Keeling Curve

Climate One

Hat tip to Shawn Redmond

Hat tip to Suzanne

(UPDATED)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Event Could Presage Total Collapse

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

larsen-c-ice-rift-midas

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

Glaciologist Eric Rignot notes in The Washington Post:

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

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

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

Links/Credits

The MIDAS Project

Antarctica is Set to Lose an Enormous Piece of Ice

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

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Imperiled Life Reaching Out to Help Others

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

david-lange

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

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

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

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

Links:

David T Lange 2

LANCE MODIS/RS Files

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

When April is the New July

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Cate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

us-solar-energy-leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

india-majority-renewable-power

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

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

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

Clean Power Resistance to Ideologies and Industries Destined for Dramatic Failure

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

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

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

Links:

NASA Climate Change Mitigation

Trump Cabinet Filled to the Brim With Climate Change Deniers

Cape Light Compact Goes 100 Percent Renewable Electricity

White House

Arnold Calls BS on Politicians Claiming Clean Energy is Too Expensive

Los Vegas Goes 100 Percent Renewable Power

Solar Now Produces a Better Energy Return on Investment than Oil

Renew Economy — No New Coal Fired Plants for India

Solar Less Expensive than Coal and Wind

Mayors Letter to Trump on Climate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

 

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

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

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

calving-front-of-the-totten-glacier

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

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

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

totten-glacier-basin

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

The study authors found that:

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

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

Links:

Ocean Heat Drives Rapid Basal Melt of Totten Ice Shelf

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

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

Tottering Totten and the Coming Multi-meter Sea Level Rise

Antarctica.gov

Hat tip to Robert in New Orleans

Solar Now Produces a Better Energy Return on Investment Than Oil

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

*****

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

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

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

solar-energy-conversion-efficiencies

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

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

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

Record Rate of Solar Installation

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

rate-of-solar-energy-installation-us

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

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

Links:

Implications of the Declining Energy Return on Energy Investment for Oil

PV Energy Payback and Net Energy

Solar is Already Producing More Energy Than Oil

CleanEnergy.org

World to Install 70 GW of Solar in 2016

World Record Breaking Price for Solar in Ahbu Dhabi

Hat tip to Climatehawk1

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

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

image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

Warm Arctic Storm to Unfreeze North Pole

Warm Arctic Storm Aims to Unfreeze North Pole Again

Has the Last Human Trekked to the North Pole?

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

stand-up-for-science

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eliminating NASA Funding, Death Threats on Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrying a Light in the Darkness

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

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

Links:

Jerry Brown’s Speech at the AGU Convention

The Union of Concerned Scientists

Fear Palpable Among US Climate Scientists

Climate Scientists Split Over How to Survive Trump

Hat tip to Josh

 

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

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

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

****

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

Arctic Warming at Least Twice as Fast as Rest of World

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

arctic-warming-trend

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

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

Greenland Melt and Permafrost Thaw

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

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

arctic-carbon-sink-to-source

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

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

Large Algae Blooms Indicator of Ocean Acidification

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

Conditions in Context — The Arctic Screams Change

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

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

Links:

AGU Fall Meeting

NOAA’s Arctic Report Card

Beyond the Point of No Return

Thermokarst Lakes

Hat tip to Vic

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

russia-oill-production

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sudan Could be Made Uninhabitable by Climate Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

increased-warm-days

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

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

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

Call For Action

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

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

Links:

Climate Change Could Render Sudan Uninhabitable

The Max Planck Institute

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center

Grid-Arendal, Columbia University

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

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

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

fossil-fuel-emissions

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

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

Record Rate of CO2 Increase for 2016

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

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

Carbon Dioxide Trend Mauna Loa

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

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

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

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

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

calvert-middle-miocene-15-ma-embayment

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

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

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

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

Links:

NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Skeptical Science

2016 to See Record Rate of Atmospheric CO2 Increase

The Union of Concerned Scientists

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major Warming Over Siberia, Chukchi and East Siberian Seas 

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

image

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

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

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

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

severe-arctic-warming-again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

arctic-sea-ice-extent

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

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

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

Links:

The National Snow and Ice Data Center

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

The Arctic Sea Ice Forum

JAXA

Sea Ice Extent Hit Record Lows in November

Dr Jennifer Francis on Jet Stream Changes

Hat tip to John Allen

Hat tip to Neven

Hat tip to A-Team

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

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