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Early Warning Signs for James Hansen’s Superstorms Visible — North Atlantic Cool Pool As Harbinger to “All Hell Breaking Loose”

Extreme weather. It’s something that’s tough to predict 2 weeks out, much less 2 decades. But for more than twenty years Dr James Hansen has been warning that the out-flush of cold water from glaciers in Greenland and Canada into the North Atlantic could set up a storm-producing weather pattern the likes of which human civilization has never seen. An atmospheric wrecking ball in the form of an intense cold-hot dipole that, once firmly established over Atlantic Ocean waters between North American and Europe, would carry on in brutally destructive fashion for decades and decades. In other words, as Dr. Hansen says in the below video, “all hell would break loose.”

His recent and, what might well be called, earth-shattering paper on the subject — Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms — takes a good, hard look at both the potential for exponentially ramping rates of ice melt and sea level rise over the coming decades and the impact those thousands of cubic kilometers of fresh water ramming out into the North Atlantic would have in producing a barrage of increasingly intense superstorms.

(Hansen addresses his concerns about the potential for increasingly severe storms and rapid sea level rise if human fossil fuel emissions do not stop soon in the above video.)

Early Evidence That All Hell is Starting to Break Loose

How could this happen? And what might it look like?

These are questions Hansen valiantly attempts to tackle. And according to him, in addition to a growing number of top climate researchers like Dr. Jason Box and Dr. Stephan Ramhstorf (please see Dr. Jason Box’s very salient take on the new Hansen study here), we may already be starting to witness signs of the wrenching oceanic and atmospheric shift that would produce these terrible weather systems.

For what we see now is the visible formation of a large cool pool in the North Atlantic. One that appears to be developing due to an increasingly rapid rate of Greenland melt. One that may be setting up atmospheric conditions for the age of storms that Hansen has feared could arise. An event resulting from a rampant human fossil fuel emission and a related very rapid injection of heat into the Earth System.

North Atlantic Cool Pool

(Composite global temperature anomaly data from NOAA for 2013 through 2015 provides evidence of the early start to the formation of a possible superstorm-producing North Atlantic cool pool. Image source: Climate Crocks.)

How might this cool pool become such a powerful storm generator? It could well be thought of as an ironic matter of atmospheric and ocean physics. Ironic in the sense that overall global heating produces a severe weather hazard in the form of a large area of cool ocean surface water.

Increased warming of the Earth results in more rapid warming at the poles, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. In turn, this polar amplification sets off a number of feedback loops in which ice in Greenland and West Antarctica begin to melt faster and faster. The ironic atmospheric relationship to large slabs of ice sliding off the great ice sheets and into the ocean begins to come into play. For a thin veil of fresh water from these increasingly massive volumes of melting ice begin to lock more and more heat into the local ocean system.

Over hundreds of thousands of square kilometers, the fresh water begins to cut off the ocean’s ability to ventilate heat into the airs above. As a result, the surface of the ocean and the local atmosphere cools. More heat is shoved into the deeper waters — where it can melt the sea facing glaciers ever more rapidly even as it gets to doing the dangerous work destabilizing carbon stores on the sea bed. Dangerous — not only for its potential to add more greenhouse gasses to the world atmosphere, but also for its ability to develop anoxic dead zones in the ocean depths and to expand those life-killing layers toward the sea surface.

Climate Change’s War Between Hot and Cold — Understanding the Warning Signs

In scientific terms, we call this a stratified ocean state. But in plainer words, we could think of it as a big mechanism for heat exchange and ocean and atmospheric chemistry change.

Where Hot and Cold Collide

(Anyone who knows anything about ocean and atmospheric physics should be concerned about this picture. Here we see the April 8, 2016 ocean surface temperature anomaly reanalysis provided by Earth Nullschool and developed from data collected by NCEP and the National Weather Service. Here we see a large swath of Gulf Stream waters ranging from 5-8 C above average temperatures coming into collision with waters in a North Atlantic cool pool ranging from 1-10 C below average. It is the increasing difference in temperature, or thermal gradient, between these two ocean zones that Hansen and others identify as having a high potential for very severe storm generation.)

Changing the ocean’s heat relationship with the atmosphere is bound to alter the weather. And Hansen’s paper points toward a serious risk that this fundamentally altered relationship will result in much more powerful storms. A cooler North Atlantic will collide with all kinds of expanding heat from various regions. A backed up Gulf Stream will warm up — it already has. The tropics will begin to heat up, increasing the temperature gradient between the lower Latitudes and the cool pool in the North Atlantic. Such conditions amp up the atmospheric storm potential by producing an abundance of what storms feed on — very extreme differences in temperatures, related strong winds and atmospheric vortexes, strong south to north and north to south air flows that link the tropics to the pole, and an ever-growing abundance of moisture bleeding off the record warm waters that come into increasing collision with the expanding pool of cold to the north. Such conditions risk the development of extraordinarily powerful storms in this region. Storms the likes of which our civilizations have never seen before. Storms that may leap the boundaries of their formation zones to have far broader impacts.

Hansen, in his paper found evidence that such conditions may well have existed during the last warm period between ice ages around 115,000 years ago. Back then, a huge flush of ice bergs running out from a melting Greenland during the peak period of warmth appears to have produced terrible storms in the North Atlantic. Storms powerful enough to pluck 2,000 ton boulders up out of the sea bed and hurl them 100 feet above sea level before depositing them onto the hills of places like Bermuda and the Bahama islands.

During that period, the rate of warming was slower. So the pace of melt was likely also slower than what we would see due to human warming. The atmospheric changes were thus milder than those we are likely to experience if human warming continues along its current path and sets the dramatic melt and related atmospheric wrenching into motion. Already, we see storms the likes of which history has never seen running into the UK and Ireland, aiming their increasingly powerful winds and rains at Western Europe. Already we see climate change enhanced superstorms. New forms of severe weather. Hellacious mergings of devastating hurricanes with extraordinary nor’easters.

But what we see now is nothing compared to what we will see if Hansen’s research is anywhere near the mark and if human fossil fuel burning continues unabated. What we risk, and what Hansen has warned us about in what he considers to be his most important work of science, is setting off a severe chain of events that includes rapid sea level rise and powerful, powerful storms. In addition, the ocean stratification that is the cause of all this atmospheric and oceanic trouble would set off further consequences not touched on in Hansen’s work — hitting ocean health hard and, likely, liberating more carbon stores from the Earth System to add to the troubles that humans (and particularly the fossil fuel special interests) are already rapidly bringing to the fore.

One final point — the Hansen paper has and will continue to generate a huge controversy in the science. But from the point of view of this threat analyst, there is a high potential for dangerous outcomes similar to those the Hansen paper warns of together with a number of additional troubles so long as the human-forced warming continues. And we already see visible evidence of those kinds of dangerous atmospheric and ocean changes starting to happen now.

Links:

Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, Superstorms

The Storms of My Grandchildren

Human Warming Pushing Seas to Exponentially Rise

Dr Jason Box’s Take on the New Hansen Study

Earth Nullschool

NCEP

National Weather Service

Hurricane Sandy — the Storm that Climate Change Wrought

 

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More Signs of Gulf Stream Slowdown as Floods Devastate Cumbria, England

Back in 2009 heavy rains fell over the Northern UK. The rains, abnormally intense, pushed river levels to heights never before measured. A wall of water built-up. Surging over banks, it inundated the town of Carlisle, Cumbria, England — forcing many to flee to higher ground.

At the time, weather forecasters and climatologists wondered if there might have been a global warming link to the freak Cumbria floods. There was certainly risk. Risk that the North Atlantic would become a mess of storms as the Gulf Stream slowed down and cold air masses collided with warm — developing a raging storm track to the west of the UK. A climate situation with the potential to draw in never-before-seen rivers of moisture and set off flooding the likes of which the UK has never known. Flood defenses were shored up. New commitments were made to shift the country away from carbon emissions.

But in just six short years many of those commitments have lagged. Funding for flood defenses was cut by conservatives in the UK parliament even as similar funds for wind and solar energy were targeted in favor of fracking the countryside for natural gas. The usual litany of climate change denial spewed out of the regular conservative mouthpieces in the politics and the media. It was the height of hubris and mismanagement. And again we have a ‘never before seen’ rainstorm roaring up out of a greatly troubled North Atlantic.

*****

Sands Center Carlisle River Level

(On December 6 of 2015 river levels at Sands Centre in Carlisle hit 8 meters above the typical range. The previous record highest level for this river gauge was 4.5 meters — a level the new flood defense systems were designed to contain. But this week’s rainfall simply overwhelmed both flood defenses and previous expectations for the upper limits of extreme weather. Image source: Shoothill Gauge Map.)

On Saturday and Sunday of December 5th and 6th, 2015, Cumbria flooded again. An even higher flood surge than before overwhelmed the new defenses and forced residents to yet again flee. Then, just three days later on Wednesday more than two months worth of rain fell over the Cumbria region. The amount at 341 mm in just 24 hours was a new UK record and compares to average total rainfall for the month of December at 146 mm. The county was again overwhelmed by water. Human chains were formed to help bring those stranded to safety. After the waters began to subside — devastation. More than 6,000 homes were found to have been flooded with perhaps as many as 20,000 people displaced.

This was the flood UK parliamentarians swore they would fight to keep from happening again. The one conservative politicians said would never again happen in our lifetime. A flood that was worse than the terrible event of 2009 happening just six years after the first. And one that was almost certainly made worse by the dreadful alterations wrought by human forced climate change on the environment of the North Atlantic.

The Gulf Stream Slowdown and The Great New Storms of the North Atlantic

One doesn’t have to be a climatologist to see that sea surface temperature patterns in the North Atlantic are all topsy-turvy. The region of ocean to the west of the UK is cooler than normal. It’s a great cool pool once predicted by climate scientists and now made real by a human-forced warming of the world’s airs and waters. The result of an ever-increasing glacial melt outflow coming from Greenland.

image

(Temperature anomaly deltas in the region of the Gulf Stream are in the range of -5 C below average in the northern, Greenland melt-related, cool pool, and +9 C above average in a hot ribbon off the US East Coast. This overall new 14 C temperature variance from south to north is generating new atmospheric instabilities that intensify storm systems firing off in the North Atlantic. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Climate scientists have known for a long time that just such a cool pool of fresh glacial melt could play havok with weather across the North Atlantic and on to far-flung regions of the globe. And it’s just such a weather disruptor that we see developing there now. One that was originally dramatized in the film The Day After Tomorrow. But one that will all-too-likely represent centuries of catastrophic weather terminating in a new, much hotter, far more toxic, and far less life-sustaining world — rather than simply a week-long hemisphere-sized superstorm abruptly halted by a nonsensical new ice age (Please see World Ocean Heartbeat Fading).

To the south of our cool pool and on off the US East Coast we find that sea surface temperatures are screaming hot. Hot as in the range of 5-9 degrees Celsius (9-16 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal. Both the cool pool to the north and the hot pool to the south taken together are an ominous sign that the Gulf Stream is slowing down. The cool, fresh water outflow from glaciers near Greenland is interrupting a heat and salt driven over-turning there. The over-turning, which drives the Gulf Stream current, slows down. As a result, heat that would be transported northward instead backs up off the US East Coast.

What results is a kind of dipole temperature pattern that aids in storm generation over the North Atlantic. The cool pool tends to pull cold air southward from Greenland. The hot ribbon off the US East Coast tends to draw warm, moist, tropical air into collision with the trough zone south and east of Greenland. The result is a high potential for storm bombification in the region west of the UK. These storms, in turn, pull rivers of moisture up from the tropical airs to the south and over England, Ireland and Scotland. This confluence of weather sets off unprecedented storms and heavy rainfall for the UK.

Both the new North Atlantic sea surface temperature pattern and the resulting storms are not normal. They are an upshot of only recently emerging weather patterns resulting from a human-forced climate change. And, sadly, we can expect to see them continue to worsen. This year, in particular, could see some extraordinary trans-Atlantic storms as the El Nino-driven tendency for trough development and tropical air injection over the US East Coast comes into play. But overall, El Nino or no, the new dipole temperature anomaly pattern in the North Atlantic fed by Greenland melt and a related Gulf Stream slowdown will tend to keep pushing the region into a stormier and stormier pattern for the foreseeable future. The UK and its politicians should be made well aware of the consequences of their actions. Continuing to plan to burn fossil fuels is simply adding more fuel to an already raging climate fire.

Links:

The Story of the 2009 Cumbria Floods

More Rain and Flooding Expected in Northwest England

Toxic Interests: In Lead-up to Paris Summit, Conservatives Around the World are Fighting to Kill Renewable Energy

The Devastation in Cumbria

Shoothill Gauge Map

Earth Nullschool

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

Warning From Scientists – Halt Fossil Fuel Burning Fast or Age of Superstorms, 3-20 Foot Sea Level Rise is Coming Soon

Hat Tip to Dr. James Hansen

Hat Tip to Neven, Jeremy, and Miles

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