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Winter is Supposedly Coming; So Why is California Burning?

As forecasters expect a warming climate will make Santa Ana winds more frequent and faster, that Santa Ana blowtorch is likely to do a lot more damage to the developed parts of the state. — One of the conclusions of a recent climate study.

You can only imagine the impact this weather is having. — Los Angeles Fire Chief.

*****

The popular refrain these days is that ‘winter is coming.’ But for California and the North American West, this is clearly not the case.

(Four large wildfires burn across Los Angeles in this December 5 satellite shot. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Conditions across the West have been drier lately. Hotter lately. A lot less winter-like during the winter season lately. Add in the fact that climate change is expected to increase the strength of the wildfire-sparking Santa Ana winds and this trend of ebbing winter is a rather serious factor.

The very reason why we use the words — fire season — is due to the fact that fire is more prevalent when it is hotter, when it is drier, and when the dry winds blow more strongly. For California, fire season happens twice a year — once in early summer and again in autumn as the dry Santa Ana winds begin to howl.

(Consistent unseasonal heat and the development of powerful high pressure ridges over the North American West amplify the Santa Ana winds and set the stage for more severe wildfires. This week, a strong ridge and related abnormal warmth and drought helped to fan a historic Los Angeles outbreak. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

The Santa Ana season lasts from October through April. It notable due to the fact that it tends to threaten more heavily populated areas. Its primary mitigating factor — cooler winter weather — is receding. And, according to this research, the same factors that are warming the U.S. West are also making the Santa Ana winds blow stronger. So we have good reason to believe that the effects of human-caused climate change are making California’s fall and winter fire season considerably worse.

Today is December 6, just a little more than two weeks before the Winter Solstice. Seasonally, we are at the gates of winter. Winter should be coming. But, instead, we have drought in Southern California. Instead we have had consistently warmer than normal weather over the past 30 days. Instead we have 70 mile per hour Santa Ana winds raging over withering peaks and through the drying valleys. These are conditions consistent with a fire season amplified by climate change. Not with normal winter.

And today, in Los Angeles alone, we have four fires raging simultaneously.

The largest fire, the Ventura Fire, has now burned more than 65,000 acres. It threatens 12,000 buildings. And it is already estimated to have consumed at least 150 of these structures. The fire has cut off power to upwards of 250,000 people and has forced numerous closures and evacuations.

The Creek Fire, Rye Fire, and Skirball Fire have reportedly burned an additional 15,000 acres and forced more than 150,000 people to evacuate. The Skirball fire is threatening the Getty Museum even as it has forced the closure of a section of highway 405. This 150 acre fire is also encroaching upon a 28 million dollar home owned by right wing media mogul — Rupert Murdoch. Notably, Rupert has used his media empire to support the views of climate change deniers and has called rational concern over climate change related risks ‘nonsense.’ Today, one of his many homes may burn as a result of such ‘nonsense.’

(Present location and extent of Los Angeles wildfires. Image source: Google Maps.)

In total, more than 1,000 firefighters are presently battling these four fires around the Los Angeles region. And the risks to the city are now as high as they have ever been. For on Wednesday, weather forecasters are calling for Santa Ana winds to continue to gust as high as 70 miles per hour. With the strength of these powerful fire-inducing winds peaking on Thursday as gusts are predicted to hit as high as 80 miles per hour. The winds will loft sparks and burning material from the fires and drop it over the city — creating nightmare conditions for firefighters trying to contain the four blazes. Red flag warnings — indicating that conditions are ideal for fire combustion — are expected to remain in place over Southern California through Friday.

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El Nino Crosses Monstrous Event Threshold

What’s the worst sin of all? If you agree with the Greek playwrights it would have to be hubris — or pride so terrible that it results in blindness. For the fossil fuel industry and its sock puppets — like Anthony Watts and Bob Tisdale — hubris probably best describes their response to anything climate change related.

Hollow Laughter at Climate Monsters

A year and a half ago, these fossil fuel industry supported purveyors of climate change denial quackery derided this blog for reporting on the risk of a potential Monster El Nino emerging in 2014 and 2015. They claimed the researchers and experts here knew nothing about El Nino. They used the fact that I sometimes write fiction as a kind of flimsy ad-hominem support to this blatantly false claim. Lacking any creativity or freedom of expression, they continued to rattle off their authoritarian, scripted, boiled-down, Heartland-produced talking points.

Kelvin Wave Monster El Nino Emerging

(The warm Kelvin Wave that never really went away. Strong Westerlies during 2014 and 2015 shoved extremely warm Pacific Ocean waters eastward where they eventually backed up to the surface, setting off a series of record and near record ocean temperature events. Image source: NOAA.)

The misrepresentations they developed were as contrived as they were tortured — Pacific Ocean heat content was normal, they said. The underlying heat imbalance was not capable of resulting in a monster El Nino event, they claimed. Global warming didn’t exist to the point that it could have any impact on El Nino, they asserted. It was all just one more scam in their endless bid to de-inform the public and pretend the climate change elephant in the room doesn’t exist at all. Just one more fossil fuel industry cover-up at the tail of a nearly endless list.

They did this even as they continued to ignore and attack the relevant science and its scientific luminaries — both standard and climate change related. And so blinded, they laughed and laughed like fools drunk on their own special interest inspired logical fallacies as the potential for a monster event grew.

More than anything else, it’s a cautionary tale. If you listen to Bob Tisdale or Watts (a man who uses his last name to throw derision at our understanding of Earth’s Energy imbalance), more than likely you’re going to end up being surprised by what’s coming down the pipe. So better not to buy into their nonsense and end up as blind to future risks as they are, or worse, contribute to those risks by failing to support a rapid reduction of fossil fuel burning.

Hitting 5 C Positive Anomaly

In July of 2015, as we initially warned may happen, sea surface temperature anomalies hit above 5 C in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific. Though the first Kelvin waves failed to achieve this mark, the ocean and atmospheric heat imbalances remained and wave after warm wave just kept shoving more heat into the El Nino firing zone.

El Nino Starting to Look Monstrous

(On July 10, 2015, something that Anthony Watts and Bob Tisdale believed wouldn’t happen happened — sea surface temperatures in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific hit a +5.1 C positive anomaly. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

These waves were fed by an endless series of Westerlies in the Western Pacific pushing the hot surface waters down and eastward. Firing off throughout 2014 and 2015, some of these MJO related westerlies were so strong as to have hit record marks. A monstrous El Nino was fighting to break out and there wasn’t any kind of oceanic or atmospheric inertia that appeared to be able to hold it back.

Subsurface heat was skyrocketing. And by Spring of this year upper ocean heat anomalies had hit and were maintaining a range between 1.4 and 1.8 C above average. By August, a westerly wind burst that continued for more than 40 days running had shoved the upper ocean anomalies into the range of nearly 2 C above average.

The massive heat pulses hit the surface and then steadily rippled westward. The spiking temperature anomalies were so strong as to set off a record longest period for +1 C above ‘average’ temperatures for all El Nino zones. A period that finally ended with this week’s NOAA El Nino report as values again dipped to 0.9 C positive anomaly in the Nino 4 zone.

Central Pacific Heat Rockets into Monster El Nino Range

But in the critical Nino 3.4 zone, temperatures continued their steady climb. As of this week, readings had hit a +1.9 C anomaly in that benchmark. In other words, the current El Nino just rocketed past the 1.8 C monster event threshold without so much as a blink.

It’s a very high reading for August when we’re still supposed to be building toward an El Nino predicted to peak in October or November. A reading that is already in the range of a monster event in the weekly monitor. A reading that, even if it were to simply maintain, would mark one of the most intense El Ninos on record.

NINO zones SSTA

(Nino 3.4 hits Monster event threshold in the NOAA monitor as of this week’s most recent update. Image source: NOAA.)

But the heat build into Nino 3.4 appears to be steadily ramping up. The warm Kelvin wave and powerful upper ocean heat anomalies continue along their path of rebound to mid ocean. An upper ocean heat pulse as strong as it’s ever been throughout 2014 and 2015. All of it on a rendezvous with the Central Pacific over the next 4-12 weeks.

Heat Pulse Ahead of Most Models

The jump to 1.9 C thresholds this week came as a bit of a surprise as the corrected consensus models NOAA uses point toward only 1.5 C to 1.7 C departures for August steadily warming to around 1.9 to 2.1 C above average readings by October and November. Such predictions are still enough to put the 2014-2015 El Nino in the range of top 3 events on record. But the jump to 1.9 C follows more along the pathways predicted by the UKMO to ECMWF ensembles — whose guidance shows mid ocean warming hitting 2.2 to even 3 C above average readings. Temperatures hitting such high marks in the Equatorial Pacific would exceed the maximum values seen during even the record 1997-1998 event.

image

(It’s getting very warm in the Central Equatorial Pacific. Sea surface temperature anomalies, which this map tracks, are at 3 C hotter than average in many regions of the Nino 3.4 zone ranging from 180 to 120 East Longitude. A level of heat that’s well ahead of some of the more conservative model guidance. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Overall, it looks as though the most likely 3 month average for the 2014 to 2015 event is in the range of +1.6 to +2.5 C putting the current El Nino tracking in the strong-to-monstrous range that we’ve been highlighting as a possibility for the past year and a half.

Conditions in Context

In the context of human-caused climate change such a powerful El Nino occurring during 2015 means that global average temperatures are likely to continue to hit new record high marks. The heat bleed off the Pacific Ocean is, for lack of a better word, massive. And not just in the Equatorial regions. The vast majority of the North Pacific features above average temperatures. The hot blob in the Northeastern Pacific remains firmly entrenched and a related south to north heat transport over Alaska and into the Pacific side of the Arctic remains firmly in place.

With these conditions so dug in, there is rising risk that the heat plume coming off a near record El Nino may be headed north. This could have severe implications for an already terrible set of polar amplification related conditions in the Arctic. Such a powerful heat plume would also reinforce storminess along a broad band from the south and eastern US and on across the North Atlantic where a climate change related cool pool (associated with Gulf Stream slowdown, AMOC weakening, and Greenland melt) is already in the process of intensifying the storm track. The result is a potential teleconnection between El Nino and a number of already well established climate change related patterns.

Climate Change Denial vs Active Event Tracking Aimed at Informing the Public

As for the fossil fuel industry funded deniers — I’m sure they’ll have a number of derisive things to say about this science-based analysis. For though I’m not a scientist (I’m an emerging threats expert), I do read the science (over 1,000 reports and papers so far on climate change alone). I listen to what scientists have to say rather than constantly attacking and attempting to undermine their positions. And to help me, I have scores of other experts and laypersons who often post their own fantastic analysis and reports in the comments section here. So what you find here is an honest effort by concerned people to keep track of a growing climate crisis and what you have over at Watts and Tisdale is, conversely, an active industry-based cover-up.

Since jump, those fossil fuel industry serfs have been attacking the pillars of climate science and the great scientists who’ve advanced our understanding of human caused climate change. Luminaries like Hansen, Mann, Schmidt, Francis, Trenberth, Wadhams, Shakhova, and Archer. They’ve attacked even the conservative reports of the IPCC. And they’ve attacked the people here — in some way thinking that we quail at the over-used term ‘alarmist.’

But we need not worry about them. Their endless quibbling represents little more than a constantly running and vicious commercial for the fossil fuel industry. Just as slanted, inaccurate, manipulative, and special interest focused. And as with any other annoying commercial the best thing to do is to simply hit the off button. We have far more important things to do than to overly concern ourselves with such shallow corporate mercenaries. We have threats to identify, policies to support, and lives to save. Them we’ll leave to their foundering and increasingly amoral corporate masters.

Links:

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

NOAA Climate Prediction Center

Earth Nullschool

Record MJO During Spring of 2015

(Please support public, non-special interest based science like the fantastic work done by NOAA and without which this report would not have been possible.)

Pause? What a Joke. The Reality is Global Temperatures are Skyrocketing.

News out from NASA today — the first five months of 2015 are the hottest ever recorded in the global climate record. Global temperatures hotter than any comparable period by a very significant margin.

According to NASA’s GISS division, May of 2015 came in at 0.71 C hotter than the 20th Century average. That ties 2012 for the second hottest May since record keeping began in 1880. But, more importantly, when averaged — January (+0.75 C), February (+0.82 C), March (+0.84 C), April (+0.71 C) and now May — the first five months of 2015 come in at 0.766 C above 20th Century baselines. That’s about 0.96 C above 1880s values — a level fast approaching the 1 C threshold and the far more dangerous climate impacts that come after.

GISS Temp

(NASA GISS Graph with modification [star] provided to emphasize global warming extremes for first five months of 2015. See also here.)

If 2015 were to remain at such hot levels, the final measure would appear as the star on the above chart. And with the first half of June already seeing +0.7 to +0.85 C warmer than 20th Century conditions amidst a growing El Nino in the Equatorial Pacific, it appears highly possible, even likely, that current atmospheric warming levels could be maintained or even exceeded through end of year.

NOAA Shows Warming Kept Pace or Accelerated — Climate Change Deniers Proven Wrong for the 1 Millionth Time

For reference, +0.76 C is fully 0.15 C hotter than the Super El Nino year of 1998 — the cherry of all cherries for global warming deniers. A fossil fueled group that has used this particular atmospheric and ocean cherry as a basis for arguing that greenhouse gas forced global warming ‘paused’ after the 1998 El Nino. A claim that has also been used as a platform to advance a raft of other nonsense including the false notion that climate sensitivity is far less than consensus ranges of 3 C ECS and 6 C ESS (basically meaning that each doubling of atmospheric CO2 brings 3 C warming short term and 6 C warming over many centuries). A claim that was recently also destroyed in a fantastic paper released earlier this month by NOAA.

From the press release to the June 4 NOAA paper:

A new study published online today in the journal Science finds that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century. The study refutes the notion that there has been a slowdown or “hiatus” in the rate of global warming in recent years.

There were numerous related and predictable meltdowns from climate change denial media and political personalities not worth specific notice at this time (AW and BT, I have something for you later this year, but not now.). But the NOAA data is pretty amazingly clear as seen in the chart below which notably does not include the new 2015 records:

no slow down in global warming

(NOAA study finds pace of global warming has kept steady or even accelerated over the past 35 years.)

Ocean Heat Accumulation Accelerating

Of course, any rational observer paying attention to heat accumulation in the top 2000 meters of the world ocean or the ever more rapidly destabilizing glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica already knew that talk of hiatus was probably most likely at best a sick joke. The ocean ends up taking in a far greater portion of the greenhouse gas heat forcing than the atmosphere ever could. As a result, more than 93.4 percent of the heat accumulated by human fossil fuel emissions ends up in the ocean. That’s an enormous amount of heat destined to come back and impact both glaciers and atmosphere even if rates of warming in either of those smaller systems had paused (which NOAA indicates they haven’t).

Ocean heat content

(Global Ocean heat content since 1958 as provided by NOAA NODC showing an extraordinary heat accumulation and a disturbing upward curve at the end of the graph.)

Instead, we see a clearly accelerating rate of ocean warming. A slope that makes one of those sick upward curves we’ve become so used to when dealing with a human-spurred greenhouse gas accumulation at least 6 times faster than at any time in all of Earth’s deep history.

It thus now appears that the atmosphere is in the process of catching up to the ocean. And the strong heat bleed off a ramping El Nino in the Pacific now combines with human greenhouse gasses in the range of 400 ppm CO2 and 480 ppm CO2e to enable this ominous heat increase.

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA: No Slowdown in Global Warming

The Latest Global Temperature Data are Breaking Records

Climate Change + El Nino Brings Epic Floods to Texas

Texas Floods

(MODIS satellite shot of the epic storms that drenched Texas on Tuesday. Extreme rainfall events of this kind are more likely in a warming atmosphere. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

For the US, it (global warming +  El Nino) means an increasing likelihood of heavy precipitation events from the southern plains states through the desert southwest. Storm track intensification through the Pacific to North America means that extreme rainfall events are a distinct possibility for states like Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.  — robertscribbler blog’s El Nino + Global warming forecast posted on May 15, 2015.

*   *   *   *   *

It’s a summer of El Nino. And it’s a summer when human-caused global warming is now hitting new record hot extremes. A combination that spells big trouble for severe weather in various regions around the globe, including in the center mass of the United States.

If it was only a summer El Nino, the Central US wouldn’t have too much to be concerned about. Sure, the added Pacific Ocean heat would amplify the subtropical jet stream and assist in trough development over the region. Both factors that would somewhat intensify rainfall events during a typical summer.

But this is not a typical summer El Nino.

This summer El Nino is happening in conjunction with record low sea ice extents in the Arctic (see Baked Alaska graphic below) and record hot global temperatures in the range of +1 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages. The record low sea ice levels aid in ridge and trough development — spurring the formation of hot-cool temperature dipoles that feed storms. Extreme weather firing off in an essentially changed atmosphere. An atmosphere heated to levels likely not seen in all of the current Holocene interglacial and probably at least since the Eemian 150,000 years ago. It’s an extra level of heat that loads the atmosphere with a substantially greater amount of moisture (amplifying the hydrological cycle by 7 percent for each 1 degree C of warming). So when the storms do fire, they are now likely to dump much higher volumes of rain than we are used to.

Dipole anomaly NASA

(Extraordinary hotter north, cooler south dipole anomaly pattern that helped to feed instability and storm development over the Central US this week. The extreme warming in the Northwest Territory, Alaska and near Arctic Ocean region is a signature of global warming related polar amplification and sea ice loss in the Northern Hemipshere polar zone. It also likely has a teleconnection with both the current El Nino and the warm ‘blob’ of abnormally hot water in the Northeast Pacific. Image source: Earth Observatory — Baked Alaska.)

Such was the case with Texas on Tuesday and Wednesday where hundreds of homes were flooded, numerous lives lost, and hundreds of water rescues performed. In some regions, all-time record rainfall amounts were shattered. In Houston on Tuesday, hourly rainfall accumulations exceed 4 inches per hour (11+ inches daily accumulation for that city) — an extraordinary rate of rainfall no drainage system is designed to accommodate. Residents were stranded in cars for hours due to washed out roads or watched on in horror as the first floors of their homes were turned into strange flood-fueled washing machines.

It was a deluge that many compared with past record rainfall events spurred by hurricanes. But this was no hurricane, just a wave of intense storms rippling down an extreme trough in the Jet Stream and encountering an equally extreme atmospheric moisture loading.

Make no mistake, it was climate change and related human heating of the atmosphere that provided the steroids that pumped what would have been garden variety moderate to strong storms into the monsters witnessed on Tuesday and Wednesday. A billion dollar flood that, without climate change, would almost certainly have just been another summer shower.

Most news coverage of the event was decidedly narrow — focusing only on the extreme instances of weather and not on the clear global warming context. On Tuesday, Bill Nye, who’s been acting as a climate gadfly to an otherwise climate-change mum media posted the following tweet:

Bill Nye Climate Change

Billion$$ in damage in Texas & Oklahoma. Still no weather-caster may utter the phrase Climate Change. — Bill Nye

And as we’ve come to see time and again, the related climate change deniosphere led by the likes of Fox News and National Review had an epic meltdown as a result. Either denying climate change is happening at all or, as was the case with National Review, denying that policy action could have any impact to help what is an already worsening situation.

But the critical elements of the current event appear to have been lost in all the fuzz. The first is that it was predictable, if we just look at current weather (El Nino, insane trough development, and atmospheric moisture loading) in a climate change context. And the second is that if we continue to ignore climate change, people will not be warned in advance of events like the one that occurred last week. Events that we have proven are indeed predictable see here if looked at in the climate context (and if weather forecasters simply do the same).

Whether we respond rapidly through responsible policy action (which will certainly help to reduce the harm we are now causing, but not prevent all of it), or whether we listen to the voices of nonsense that helped get us into this mess in the first place and continue to delay action, there is certainly a degree of far worse weather in the pipe. And failing to report on climate change, as the media has largely done, increases risks for loss of life, property damage, and overall disruption.

So far, the flood death count for this week is 30 souls. If you’re a weatherman who’s ignoring climate change, or if you’re a media organization that’s preventing weather forecasters from talking about climate change, this should weigh heavily on your conscience.

Links:

Bill Nye Says Climate Change a Factor in the Texas Floods

Texas Flooding a Preview of Future Extreme Weather Events

LANCE-MODIS

Earth Observatory — Baked Alaska

How Global Warming Wrecks the Jet Stream, Amps up the Hydrological Cycle to Cause Dangerous Weather

Hat-Tip to Bruce

Current Sea Level Rise is Faster Than at Any Time in Last 6,000 Years

Antarctica October 14

(NASA satellite shot of Antarctica on October 13 of 2014. Recent scientific papers point toward a vicious cycle of Antarctic glacial melt. Expanding sea ice results from increased cold, fresh water outflows from melting land-anchored glaciers spreading out along the ocean surface and protecting the floating ice. Meanwhile, rapidly warming waters concentrate in a layer beneath the ice to further accelerate melting of the giant glaciers’ bases. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

With fewer and fewer logical straws to grasp for plausibly denying an obvious and inexorable warming of the global climate system, climate change deniers have resorted to pointing toward an expanding veil of sea ice near Antarctica as ‘proof positive’ that global warming really isn’t happening.

But recent scientific papers reveal that what may well appear to be a soothing light at the end of an imaginary cooling tunnel is more a freight train of global heat aimed directly at the ice sheets’ weak underbellies. For the last time the cool, fresh waters of an initial Antarctic melt expanded out along the surface, likely temporarily enhancing the range of sea ice as well, below-surface warmth ran beneath the ice and rapidly melted sea-fronting glaciers, leading to a sea level rise of about 14 feet in just one century.

In essence, the expanding skein of ice and fresh water concentrated warmth where it was needed least — at the bases of massive glaciers submerged in hundreds of feet of warming water. The heat melted the glacier from the bottom up, floated the glaciers and then flooding further inland beneath the ice to do still more damage.

And it is the start of just this process that we are witnessing now. How fast it proceeds will be critical to the rate of sea level rise going forward.

As for all that extra sea ice? Well, that’s merely the last gasp of coolness running along the surface waters — sent out by the dying glaciers.

Current Sea Level Rise Unprecedented in 6,000 Years

Past and future sea level rise WG 1 AR 5

(Past and future sea level rise as shown in this IPCC AR5 WG1 graphic. Note the steady rate of sea level increase beginning at around 1880 and continuing on through the 21st Century. Also note the recent uptick in observed sea level rise together with end 21st Century projections by the IPCC. It is also worth noting that many still consider the IPCC projections to be a bit too conservative, especially when considering business as usual projections of 3-5 C or greater warming by the end of this century. Image source: IPCC.)

It is likely that we are just in the first stages of such a catastrophic process of ice sheet decline. A process that will last for centuries, but one that is already having a profound impact on the world’s oceans and coastlines.

For a new study, published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found that sea level rise over the past century is the fastest it has been since the end of the last ice age — when vast surges of water erupted from the melting glaciers.

The study, which compiled over 1,000 measurements of sea level over the past 35,000 years from sediment samples, found that at no time during the most stable period of the Holocene have seas ever risen so fast as they are now rising. This 6,000 year period saw no increase or decrease in sea level exceeding 15-20 centimeters over 200 year time-frames. But during the 100 years from 1900 to 2000, seas rose by 20 centimeters, more than doubling highest rates of variance during the last 6,000 years.

Increasing Heat Melts Glaciers, Swells Seas

The increases to sea level are a result of added ocean and atmospheric heat. A warming pushed ever-higher by a rapidly expanding heat-trapping gas emission.

Such direct heating of the ocean causes water to thermally expand. The added atmospheric and ocean heat also goes to work melting glaciers at the surface and where the glaciers contact the warming seas. These glaciers, in turn, add great volumes of water to the world’s oceans. The upshot of a 0.6 degree Celsius warming of the atmosphere and near surface world ocean during the 20th Century.

But both this heating and melt were just the start. For the atmospheric warming hit 0.8 C by the early second decade of the 21st Century even as top 700 meter ocean heat content spiked to unexpectedly high levels. Meanwhile, forecast rates for rising seas and temperatures are even more extreme for the coming years and decades.

Sediment plumes from Greenland Sep 2014

(Tell-tale 100 km long plumes of sediment carried out from beneath Greenland’s glaciers by floods of melt water as seen in this NASA satellite shot from September of 2014. Surface melt from Greenland tunnels through the ice sheet base. Once there, it flows from beneath the ice sheet and out into the oceans — carrying with it loads of sediment flushed from beneath the glacier. Melt from both the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets has greatly increased during recent years. Image source: Earth Observatory.)

Current Rate of Sea Level Rise More than 60% Faster Than 20th Century Mean

If the average rate of sea level rise was 2 mm per year during the 20th Century, the past two decades have witnessed a more than 60% rate of increase over even that unprecedented rate. For current sea level rise measures show a 3.27 mm per year increase.

Most scientists expect an ever more extreme rate of atmospheric warming over the 21st Century to ramp this already rapid rate higher — with annual increases likely to exceed 1 cm before 2100 arrives. Such rates would push end 21st Century sea level rise well into the end ice age range of 1.2 meters every 100 years — with chances for even greater rates of increase going forward.

The IPCC has identified a likely sea level rise in the range of 2-3 feet by the end of this Century (60-100 cm), with many outside analysts identifying a range between 2-9 feet (60-300 cm) as possible given the potential for 3-5 C warming under business as usual fossil fuel emissions (Researchers at the Neils Bohr Institute recently established a range from 2-6 feet but note that sea level rises of 80 cm [2.5 feet] are most likely this century and increases of greater than 6 feet have a probability of less than 5% through 2100).

Sea level rise 1993 to 2014

(Current rate of sea level rise as measured by AVISO. Note the 3.27 mm per year rise that has been ongoing since 1992 with an increasing flux beginning around 2010. Image source: AVISO.)

For context, current global CO2e atmospheric heat forcing is in the range of 481 ppm CO2e. The last time CO2 equivalent heat forcing hit such levels, millions of years ago, oceans were 75-120 feet higher and temperatures were about 3.6 C warmer than they are today.

It is also worth noting that it took 10,000 years for the Earth to warm by about 5 C at the end of the last ice age. Current and expected human greenhouse gas emissions (without a rapid transition to renewable energy sources and zero carbon civilizations) could well achieve a similar level of warming in just 180 to 270 years (1880 to 2150) — a pace more than 30 times faster than what was witnessed then.

Links:

Sea Level and Global Ice Volumes From Last Glacial Maximum to the Holocene

New Study Finds 3-4 Meter Sea Level Rise May Be Imminent

It’s Worse Than We Thought — New Study Finds Earth is Warming Far Faster than Expected

LANCE-MODIS

Earth Observatory

AVISO

This Isn’t What Sea Ice Recovery Looks Like: Extent Falls to 3.74 Million Square Kilometers

Back in early August, I began posting warnings that sea ice extent and area might reach new record lows by the end of summer. I noted that a large area of sea ice had grown very thin and was vulnerable to rapid melt. But I didn’t imagine anything like what we’ve seen over the past month.

On August 1rst, this is what Arctic sea ice looked like:

And today this is what Arctic sea ice looks like:

Hundreds of thousands of square kilometers have melted away and we are now, according to JAXA, at 3,740,000 square kilometers of sea ice extent, about half a million square kilometers below the record set in 2007. That year saw a massive 27% loss in sea ice coverage. This year’s 12% fall from that immense low is another devastating contraction.

Back in 2007, a number of climate change deniers, many of them paid by political organizations like Heartland claimed that sea ice would begin to recover. Yet the period of 2007 to 2011 showed the lowest five years of sea ice extent and area in the satellite record. 2011 was particular in that sea ice area reached a new record low, but the extent record for 2007 held.

What was even more concerning during this time was that measurements for sea ice volume, though less detailed than sea ice extent and area, showed declines year after year since 2009. These declines were so impressive that it lead some, like Joe Romm, to begin to call the decline in sea ice a ‘death spiral.’ Others, like Neven over at the Arctic Ice Blog, put together curve fitting functions for sea ice volume that showed a potential for ice free summers within the next ten years.

The combination of thinning ice, a devastating trend in volume, and an extended period of record low sea ice area and extent did make it look like the Arctic was experiencing the ‘death spiral’ Romm warned of. All these features and trends were enough to cast serious doubt on the assertions of climate change deniers, even to the untrained observer.

Enter 2012 and we come to new record lows for sea ice area and extent. These new records are not marginal in the least. In fact, they are substantial. Adding 2007 and 2012 together, we have lost 39% of Arctic sea ice in just five years. This is a huge and precipitous fall. And for the season of 2012 it is not finished.

Such a vast decline has left climate change deniers scrambling for their tin foil hats. Oil-funded Anthony Watts, well known for his assault on the nation’s premier climate science body — NOAA — is once again bringing up questions as to whether or not NOAA data is accurate. A few years back, Anthony used his oil company money to declare that NOAA was a fraud and was forced to step back from his false allegations. Others will likely follow suit, blaming or attacking scientists, or pointing toward Antarctica in order to distract from the epic melt going on much closer to home.

Antarctica, by the way, is experiencing a ‘normal’ sea ice season. This, despite the fact that ocean temperatures have warmed there over past decades. Scientific reasons for Antarctica’s slower melt abound. The most prevalent is that rising water temperatures have not accumulated enough energy to push sea ice back from the band they’ve occupied since 1979. But under a regime of rising global temperatures, this state will not continue indefinitely. What climate change deniers have failed to recognize, in their myopic obsession with ‘normal’ southern hemisphere sea ice is the fact that the massive Antarctic ice sheet has been losing mass since 2006. In short, like Greenland, Antarctica is melting.

But stepping away from the unsavory topic of climate change deniers, many of which are paid by fossil fuel interests to misinform the public, we can return to the rather uncomfortable reality of this year’s melt on top of the unprecedented melt that has occurred over the last 5 years. Since 2006, we have lost 39% of Arctic sea ice. Since mid-century, we have lost 63%. Precipitous ice loss are the best words to describe what is happening, not ‘ice recovery.’

Links:

http://www.ijis.iarc.uaf.edu/en/home/seaice_extent.htm

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