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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

paris-emissions-chart-columbia (1)

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

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

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

(UPDATED)

Credits:

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Naturalfx

Hat tip to Timothy Thalen

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

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

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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

Warren Buffett’s Disaster Capitalism — Downplaying Climate Change Risks, Attacking Solar, Increasing Insurance Premiums

How bad is climate change related risk? Should investors be worried? Are investments safe from this risk?

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Warren Buffett’s recent letter to shareholders attempts to answer these questions — as they relate to his investment firm’s climate change mitigations as well as its insurance industry climate risk exposure. His statement, and related framing of climate change risk, is one coming from the point of view of one of the wealthiest men in the world. It’s an announcement that comes fresh off a battle with solar energy companies and renewable energy advocates in Nevada — where Buffett’s actions and lobbying essentially cost Nevada years of solar and renewable energy development. And it’s one that appears to be both flawed in its outlook and cynical in its application.

Save Rooftop Solar

(A number of big money investors like the Kochs and Buffett have been lobbying to squash a burgeoning rooftop solar industry that empowers individual homeowners to make the responsible choice to stop using fossil fuels for power generation. This action appears to be aimed at protecting legacy fossil fuel assets that are inflicting serious and ramping harms to the global climate system. Image source: Vote Solar.)

Buffett’s general view, as with numerous big-money investors of his generation, is to both downplay climate change and to cast it in the most narrow of market contexts. His particular point of reference, like those of many of his peers, is rather sadly deficient. One that urges the inflation of vulnerable insurance company assets during a period when damages and losses are expected to increase.

Downplaying Risks, Increasing Premiums

Here are a few highlights of his statement to shareholders:

“Last year, [Berkshire Hathaway Energy] BHE made major commitments to the future development of renewables in support of the Paris Climate Change Conference. Our fulfilling those promises will make great sense, both for the environment and for Berkshire’s economics… BHE has invested $16 billion in renewables and now owns 7 percent of the country’s wind generation and 6 percent of its solar generation. Indeed, the 4,423 megawatts of wind generation owned and operated by our regulated utilities is six times the generation of the runner-up utility. We’re not done.

I am writing this section because we have a proxy proposal regarding climate change to consider at this year’s annual meeting. The sponsor would like us to provide a report on the dangers that this change might present to our insurance operation and explain how we are responding to these threats.

It seems highly likely to me that climate change poses a major problem for the planet. I say ‘highly likely’ rather than ‘certain’ because I have no scientific aptitude and remember well the dire predictions of most ‘experts’ about Y2K. It would be foolish, however, for me or anyone to demand 100% proof of huge forthcoming damage to the world if that outcome seemed at all possible and if prompt action had even a small chance of thwarting the danger.

This issue bears a similarity to Pascal’s Wager on the Existence of God. Pascal, it may be recalled, argued that if there were only a tiny probability that God truly existed, it made sense to behave as if He did because the rewards could be infinite whereas the lack of belief risked eternal misery. Likewise, if there is only a 1% chance the planet is heading toward a truly major disaster and delay means passing a point of no return, inaction now is foolhardy. Call this Noah’s Law: If an ark may be essential for survival, begin building it today, no matter how cloudless the skies appear.

It’s understandable that the sponsor of the proxy proposal believes Berkshire is especially threatened by climate change because we are a huge insurer, covering all sorts of risks. The sponsor may worry that property losses will skyrocket because of weather changes. And such worries might, in fact, be warranted if we wrote ten- or twenty-year policies at fixed prices. But insurance policies are customarily written for one year and repriced annually to reflect changing exposures. Increased possibilities of loss translate promptly into increased premiums.

Think back to 1951 when I first became enthused about GEICO. The company’s average loss-per-policy was then about $30 annually. Imagine your reaction if I had predicted then that in 2015 the loss costs would increase to about $1,000 per policy. Wouldn’t such skyrocketing losses prove disastrous, you might ask? Well, no.

Over the years, inflation has caused a huge increase in the cost of repairing both the cars and the humans involved in accidents. But these increased costs have been promptly matched by increased premiums. So, paradoxically, the upward march in loss costs has made insurance companies far more valuable. If costs had remained unchanged, Berkshire would now own an auto insurer doing $600 million of business annually rather than one doing $23 billion.

As a citizen, you may understandably find climate change keeping you up nights. As a homeowner in a low-lying area, you may wish to consider moving. But when you are thinking only as a shareholder of a major insurer, climate change should not be on your list of worries.

A Failure to Understand the Nature of Systemic Risk

After reading this statement, it’s a bit perplexing why even monied investors like Warren Buffett aren’t convinced the impacts of a ramping, fossil fueled, climate change will be dangerous and disruptive to the bottom line. Perhaps it is due to an inherent flaw of a money-centric worldview. But even investors can be practical-minded and decide not to throw good money after bad — as is now the case with fossil fuels and climate change.

As such, we might be kind to say that Buffett’s statement here is more than a bit short-sighted. He fails to recognize the basic and inherent link between the stability of his wealth and the stability of the climate system. He falsely equates 97 percent of scientists identifying a high risk of damages due to climate change with a host of unrelated issues including Y2K, a 1 percent chance of climate change danger and damage being realized (the risk is far higher), the great flood, and a cynical man’s view of the probability of the existence God. That’s not just comparing apples and oranges. That’s comparing a sirloin to a fruit salad.

Climate Change is Everywhere

(The Environmental Defense Fund put together the above graphic based on the most recent 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report’s findings to illustrate the climate change related impacts that are already occurring around the world. For an increasing number of people, the damage has already happened and it’s steadily growing worse. Buffett’s comparison of an active crisis [which is already producing impacts] with Y2K [which was essentially a tempest in a teapot] is more than a little daft. Image source: EDF. Data Source: IPCC.)

Y2K was a human-based problem that impacted a limited, human-based system — computers. The fix was simple — change the dating mechanism. The potential impacts only affected that single system — how electronic devices functioned. And the transition was hyped in the media.

Climate change is a fossil fuel industry (and carbon emissions) caused problem that impacts broad and all-encompassing systems. It requires a tough fix — transitioning away from fossil fuel based energy, significant changes to land management, and a related and challenging draw-down of atmospheric carbon. And it is a problem that has been widely downplayed in the media.

And climate change has a much, much more widespread impact than Y2K. Everything from sea level, to weather, to the balance and health of life on the Earth is affected as the world warms. It impacts multiple systems upon which everyone relies. In the best case climate change generates weather that human civilization has never seen before (in the human context, these come in the form of the highest global temperatures ever experienced, highest peak storm potentials, worst droughts, fires and floods), it generates city-endangering sea level rise, and it generates or contributes to a decline in ocean health (a health that 1 billion people rely on for their food supply). In the worst case, if fossil fuel burning continues, it locks in multi-meter sea level rise, releases the permafrost and hydrate carbon, and kills most of the life in the ocean and on land in a hothouse mass extinction event. By comparison, the best case for Y2K was nada — no problem. The worst case was disruption in the use of electronic devices for a few years. Any threat analyst worth his salt would tell you — one of these things is not like the other.

As IPCC-identified warming-related damages and disruptions continue to unfold and worsen, people like Buffet should be seeing an inherent, long-term and ramping risk of instability within the markets. Climate change is not just about insurance risk. It’s about the loss of cities and the destabilization of the nations that global marketplace relies upon to remain viable. Markets can respond to these instances if the damage is limited and the pace of accumulated damage is slow. The problem is that when enough major instances occur rapidly, the viability of the markets and the related trade systems fail. Emergency action requires increasing state involvement. More and more of the productive capacity of nations goes to the effort of response, aid and dealing with conflict and instability. And traditional insurance systems in this case may suffer collapse or become non-viable.

If recent, and far milder than what we will be seeing in the future so long as fossil fuel burning doesn’t halt soon, events like the Syrian drought, the Russian fires, the Pakistan floods, mass migration from drowning Pacific Islands and drought stricken Middle Eastern countries, large increases in the frequency and intensity of wildfires, increasing rates of glacial melt, increasing rates of sea level rise, and an increasing inundation of the world’s delta regions on top of a 1 C jump in global temperatures since the 1880s, continue to expand and place strain on the developed world, then the threat to insurance market viability is all-too-real. Furthermore, if these instances haven’t convinced Buffett that the climate change threat is more real than a 1% probability of disruption, is already far more disruptive than Y2K, is entirely capable of producing great flood type catastrophes for many of the world’s coastal and flood-prone cities, and is worth responding to because one doesn’t want to take the chance that God does not coddle the destroyers of the Earth, then I don’t know what will.

Buffet’s Halfhearted Investments in Renewables Fail to Inspire Confidence

Buffett’s utility investments in wind and solar are certainly positive. However, he appears to be treating them as only a marginal hedge while still supporting a host of fossil fuel related investments. This is more a grown-up version of greenwash than anything else. To this point his fund’s rate of renewable energy and zero carbon fuels adoption is far too slow to meet even COP 21 commitments and far, far too slow to prevent seriously ramping harms. Furthermore, his actions in Nevada — which protected majority fossil fuel burning utilities from renewable energy adoption by citizens of that state in essentially crushing a burgeoning residential solar industry — were counter-productive to facing down the larger threat of climate change.

Buffett has failed to propose an alternative to fossil fuel dominated power generation in Nevada after playing what amounts to a cynical market dominance game there. Both his actions and his statements show a troubling lack of urgency and a larger failure to grasp the nature of the climate change threat. Even worse, his statement regarding insurance –‘the problem is solved in the market by just increasing rates and increasing the value of the major insurers’ — implies a short-sighted and amoral approach.

This proposal rings of the oft-derided disaster capitalism in that it seeks to profit from ramping harm. It also generates a market bubble in the form of over-capitalized insurers who are ever-more vulnerable to the large climate disruptions that will certainly be coming. For if the market essentially prices people out of insurance or if insurance companies do not make good on claims due to increasing damages, then faith in markets is eroded and market stability crumbles. Pretty quickly, it can get to every man for himself and that’s a level of volatility that is very tough for even the most cynical and money-minded of investors to game.

Effective leadership in markets, as in so many other fields, requires taking on the long view, providing constituents with security, and truthfully working to confront future risks. Buffett’s statements and actions are all sadly lacking in this regard.

Links:

Warren Buffet’s Quiet Bid to Kill Solar in the Western US

Vote Solar

EDF

IPCC

Warren Buffet’s Letter to Shareholders

Hat tip to Greg

Fossil Fuel Ecocide Forces Starving Polar Bear to Hold Breath For Three Minutes in Seal Hunt

(A starving polar bear is forced to hold breath for a record three minutes in a failed hunt for seals.)

Like so many other innocent creatures on this planet, polar bears are facing ever-worsening life-threatening conditions due to the fossil fuel industry’s insistence to keep burning, and to keep us dependent on their horrific energy sources. The bears’ Arctic home has been transformed in ways that are profound and terrible. The sea ice they used for hunting grounds is greatly depleted. The seals they hunted for prey have ever-more-numerous avenues of escape into dark and warming waters.

It’s a merciless and terrible burning. One that encompasses many genocides together. Ecocide, ecological shock, growth shock, the sixth great extinction. All words to describe what we now watch. What fossil fuel industry influence is preventing us from stopping. But to the bears themselves, it’s a wrenching torture. A forced orphaning and starvation combined as the bears grow increasingly emaciated, weak, and desperate. Transformed into walking skeletal beings, they’re ghosting off toward the obliteration fossil fuel interests are sentencing them to.

(Plunging Arctic sea ice driven by Northern Hemisphere polar amplification is the chief agent of habitat loss and extinction pressure for polar bears. As you can see in the superbly rendered video above by Andy Robinson, the fall has been merciless and precipitous.)

To a climate change denier, the plight of these poor creatures is a subject of ridicule and derision. ‘Who cares about stupid bears’ is the rallying cry of heartless ignoramuses everywhere. They’d rather us be worried about our own petty day-to-day existences. The back and forth, stuck in traffic, want more money, pay less taxes, fear of far off ISIS daily grind of the right wing soundtrack. Or when the tinny siren song of that ever-more-stuffed-with-straw appeal fails it’s back to the old — pretend it’s not happening — trick. Starving polar bears so desperate that they’re now forced to hibernate in summer to conserve energy must be photo-shopped by some imaginary government agency after all, right?

Deny as deniers do, for the bears it’s all too real. For one bear in particular, recently filmed in the above video, it was a life and death struggle. Not some narcissist’s thrill like the needless poaching of innocent wild lions for blood-sport in Africa. No, for this bear, success in the hunt meant a continuation of blessed life. A second chance to keep going, to keep living in the great world. Failure meant weakness, fading, pain and death.

The bear, in dire need of food, was forced to hunt in a way it was not adapted to — by stalking in the water. It was forced, in desperation to swim toward near-water seals. And it was forced to hold its breath underwater. Hold it for longer than any polar bear ever witnessed. Hold it for a full 3 minutes where a mere 72 seconds was the previous record. It was as if the starved bear had been forced to perform impossible feats — or die. That’s the situation the callous greed and disregard of some have put them in. Do the impossible, or just die.

Gaunt and Emaciated Polar Bear that Broke Diving Record

(The gaunt, emaciated and obviously starving polar bear that broke the recent diving record in a photo by Rinie van Meurs. Image source: Meurs Study and The Weather Network.)

This bear’s struggle is not one occurring in isolation. It’s not just the struggle of a single individual. But the struggle of an entire race that is now being torn from the fabric of existence.

The cliche phrase to say at this time is that we are all responsible. That we all share the guilt. But it’s not true. In fact to say such a thing is a terrible lie providing an out for the real perpetrators of this egregious harm. There are some of us who want to change the bear’s situation. Some of us who want to improve its chances. Some of us who want to cut the destructive fossil fuel threads that bind the bear and us all to a terrible and ever worsening ecocide. The ones who want to help are not the problem. The ones attempting again and again to stop the ongoing damage are not the guilty party.

But the deniers and the fossil fuel industry the deniers wittingly or unwittingly serve are entirely different. They don’t care one whit about bears suffering an all-too-real existential crisis. And it seems they don’t care about their own children’s rising existential crisis either. They are the ones who deserve blame. For they are the authors of this great harm.

Links/Credits:

This one’s for Colorado Bob

Polar Bear Forced to Hold Breath for a Record Three Minutes

Record Breaking Polar Bear Spurs Climate Concerns

Food Situation so Bad, Polar Bears now Hibernate During Summer

Sea Ice Volume Decline By Andy Robinson

An Army of Firefighters Battles 14 Blazes in Triple Digit Temps Across California — More than 1,000 People Displaced

It’s becoming all too clear that we’re rolling with some seriously loaded climate dice.

California, suffering through its second year of a desiccating 1,000 year drought, is now facing down a new set of related tragedies. Over the past few days temperatures rocketed into record triple digit heat. The Golden State, turning more and more into the withered Brown State, faced hot Santa Anna winds and a new eruption of dangerous fires.

(A rash of California wildfires has now displaced more than 1,000 people — adding to the long tally of forced displacement due to extreme weather conditions related to human caused climate change. Video Source ABC News.)

According to news reports, 14 major fires are now absorbing the efforts of an army of 7,000 firefighters and California National Guard members. In total, more than 1,000 people have been displaced by the fires raging throughout Northern  and Central California. Ten structures, including homes, along with boats and vehicles, have been destroyed even as more than 300 are now threatened.

Of the most intense and dangerous fires, the largest fire covered 13 square miles in Lake County. That single blaze alone forced 650 residents to evacuate and destroyed two homes. As of late Thursday night, this dangerous fire was only 5 percent contained. Nearby, Brenna Island saw a brush fire tear through a mobile home park destroying six structures along with numerous boats and vehicles. In Nappa Valley, a 12 square mile inferno spread beyond containment lines to threaten 136 structures — forcing another 200 people to evacuate. Over on the shores of Bass Lake a fourth fire nearly doubled in side — surging from 3 square miles to five square miles in just one 24 hour period. As the Bass Lake fire encroached upon the Cascadel Woods community another 400 persons residing in approximately 200 homes were forced to flee. By early this morning, the rapidly expanding fire was only 30 percent contained.

California Wildfire Smoke

(A pallor of wildfire smoke lingers over Northern California as blazes erupt under sweltering heat and gusty winds. At right of frame also note that the mountain snow pack is basically nonexistent. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

By yesterday afternoon, smoke from these wildfires was beginning to show up in the NASA/MODIS satellite shot. A dark pallor and haze that is all-too-likely to expand over coming days as temperatures in the middle 90s to lower 100s (Fahrenheit — 35 to 41 Celsius in the metric conversion) are expected to remain in place through next week.

California Continues to Suffer Through a Climate-Change Linked Drought

Off-shore, a massive pool of hot water continues to worsen California’s misery. The hot pool, also called The Blob, has maintained sea surface temperatures in the range of 3-5 degrees Celsius above average for the better part of two years now. These record hot Northeastern Pacific Sea surface temperatures, in turn, aided in the development of a persistent high pressure ridge. To the north, a recession of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has aided the ridge — allowing the Jet Stream to surge northward over Alaska, Canada and, at times, into the High Arctic itself. The result is a kind of hyper-ridge feature. An obnoxiously long-lasting and vast spike of hot, dry air driving deep into the polar zone itself (hear more about the ridge and other climate change related extreme weather features in a recent radio chat I had with Hal Ginsberg). For over two years, this ridge has warded off rainfall-granting storms all while baking California and the U.S. West Coast under month-after-month of record heat.

California Drought

(US Drought Monitor shows exceptional drought maintaining its grip over nearly half of California. Meanwhile, 97.5 percent of the state suffers moderate to exceptional drought. To this point, California has experienced more than 90 percent of its land mass under drought for nearly two years now. Image source: The US Drought Monitor.)

The result is that fully 59 million people across the US West alone now suffer from drought. But the epicenter of this historic and unprecedented event is California. There, 97.5 percent of the state is still sweltering under drought conditions with a huge swath through the central portion continuing to experience the most extreme conditions we have a measure for.

Can a Powerful El Nino Beat Down the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge?

The California drought is now so intense that the state has lagged one year behind in rainfall. In other words, for the drought to end, nearly two feet of rain would need to fall over every inch of this parched and burning state. Earlier this month, an anomalous monsoonal pattern dumped an inch of rain over sections of San Diego. But this odd storm only effected the extreme south while the rest of California continued to dry out. And so the epic drought continues with no real hope for relief until Fall.

Then, an El Nino, which is likely to be one of the top 3 strongest ever seen, may begin to send a series of powerful storms marching toward the US West Coast. But for that to happen the warm water zone off the California coast must fade, its associated high pressure systems must fail, and the Jet Stream which has tended to dive north into the Arctic, must flatten. That’s what we pin our hopes on now for California rains — an El Nino strong enough to smash the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge and to, for a short time, alleviate some of the more brutal impacts of human forced climate change. A respite that may not come at all. Or, perhaps just as bad, when it does come — dump that 2 feet of rain all at once.

Links:

California Wildfires Destroy Homes, Force Evacuations

California Wildfires Displace Hundreds

LANCE-MODIS

Climate Chat With Hal Ginsberg

The US Drought Monitor

Possible Strongest El Nino on Record

NOAA Shows June of 2015 Smashed All Prior Heat Records; El Nino Keeps Strengthening; Hothouse Mass Casualties Strike Europe, Japan

Under an oppressive human fossil fuel emission, the world just keeps getting hotter and hotter, the 2015-2016 El Nino just keeps looking ever more monstrous, and reports of tragic, heat-related, mass casualty events just keep rolling in.

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JULY 21, 2015: All the major climate monitors have now chimed in — NASA, Japan’s Meteorological Agency, NOAA. And June of 2015 is now marked as the hottest recorded in every single one. But of these, the NOAA measure, which provided its Global Analysis report yesterday, clearly is the starkest.

Showing extraordinary warming, June of 2015, according to NOAA, hit +0.88 C above the 20th Century average. That’s an excessive leap of +0.12 C over last year’s previous record June measure showing a +0.76 C global temperature departure and just 0.02 C behind the all-time monthly record values for any month hit just this year during February and March (+0.90 C).  When compared to 1880s averages, June was fully 1.08 C hotter. That’s more than halfway to the (not safe) 2 C threshold which IPCC has marked off as the point where catastrophic impacts from human caused climate change really start to hit high gear.

June anomaly

(On the up ramp to a hothouse. The NOAA global climate record for land and ocean temperatures over the last 136 years in which June of 2015 is now the all-time hottest. Image source: NOAA.)

We can clearly see the progress of rapid warming over the past 136 years in the above graph. Particularly since 1980 — when global temperatures really started to hit a rapid ramp up. Note that the mythological pause is not at all evident in the above graph. Global temperatures through June measures just kept driving on — higher and higher.

Back to Back Record Years on the Way — The Human Warming Escalator and The El Nino Jump

With all the June measures coming in so strongly on the hot side, and with the first half of this year already substantially warmer than the previous record warm year of 2014, it appears that we are locking in for back-to-back years of record heat. These new records are occurring in the context both of the larger, human-forced warming trend and as we hit the warm end of the global natural variability scale — El Nino.

It’s important to remember that the driver of these new records is the underlying accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Deke Arndt, chief of the monitoring branch of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), noted at a press conference last month:

“Climate change is a long-term driver, so that’s like standing on an escalator as it goes up. So, the longer that we go into history, we’re riding up the escalator. And now that we’re getting an El Niño event, we happen to be jumping up at the same time, and so they play together to produce outcomes like what is likely to be the warmest year on record.”

And propelled by that human warming escalator, the current El Nino jump is starting to look absolutely savage.

El Nino Just Keeps Growing Stronger

For today’s Australia Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) report showed the current El Nino striking down yet another 1997 record. According to BoM findings, all key Nino ocean zones have shown surface temperatures in excess of 1 C above average for 10 successive weeks. This shatters the previous record duration for such an event — occurring in 1997 at 8 weeks in length. Notably, the current record heat build for Nino zones is still ongoing. So the new, 2015 record could extend further.

Overall, BoM shows the entire Eastern Equatorial Pacific now at +2 C. To get an idea what this looks like, we can take a peek at the Earth Nullschool sea surface temperature anomaly measure:

image

 

(The entire Northern, Eastern and Equatorial Pacific is exceedingly hot — showing anomalies in the +1 to +4 C range practically everywhere. Meanwhile, temperatures in the Central Pacific are starting to approach Super El Nino ranges. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Taking in this shot, it’s worth pausing for a moment to appreciate the fact that not only is the Equatorial Pacific outrageously hot, the entire Northern and Eastern Pacific from the Arctic on south is just off-the-charts hot. If you ever wondered what the emerging face of a Godzilla El Nino looks like, well, just remember this shot.

NOAA, meanwhile, shows El Nino continuing to extend its foray into strong event range. The critical Nino 3.4 measure of Central Pacific Ocean temperatures jumped again in the July 20 weekly report — hitting a +1.7 C anomaly. This is jump up from last week’s +1.5 C measure and is now knocking on the door to a super El Nino threshold of +1.8 C. NOAA’s three weekly reports for July now average +1.53 C for the Central Pacific — solidly in strong El Nino range for the month.

NOAA also began to track a third warm Kelvin Wave running across the Pacific. This Kelvin Wave is propagating eastward as a result of a strong West Wind Backburst that has blown over the Western Pacific throughout much of July. These winds are pushing warm surface waters down and under the Equatorial region. Ocean heat that will resurface off South American. Recharging already hot waters with a new hot influx and further strengthening an already strong El Nino.

The signal of this new warm water flood is now really starting to show up in the model runs. Corrected seasonal models now show an event in the range of 1997-1998. Uncorrected runs, including the Euro ensemble, continue to show potentials for an event that would make the 1997 Super El Nino look tiny by comparison.

Monthly anomalies Nino 3.4 Monster El Nino

(NOAA’s CFSv2 models still picking up a heat impact murmur of a monster El Nino in our near future. Image source: NOAA.)

Typically, El Nino reaches peak strength during Northern Hemisphere Fall and Winter. So we’re in a ramp-up phase that could last through October and November and we are already starting to hit strong event values in July. The current El Nino is predicted to remain a feature until late Winter or early Spring of 2016. Strongest global temperature heightening impacts come during and slightly after peak ocean warming due to El Nino. So the temperature records we’ve seen so far in 2014 and 2015 may just be prelude to the main event.

Heat Related Mass Casualties in Europe and Japan

It really is the kind of global heat spike that you don’t want to see. The kind that enables heatwaves to put droves of people into hospitals with life-threatening heat ailments. Earlier this summer, both India and Pakistan suffered mass casualty heatwave events. Instances that filled hospitals with tens of thousands of patients. In India, 2,500 souls were lost. In Pakistan, the number hit 1,242. These represent the 5th and 8th most deadly heatwaves on record, respectively.

Now, reports are starting to trickle in that Europe and Japan are suffering similar, although still somewhat less acute mass casualty events due to record heat. According to Dr. Jeff Masters, excess mortality due to heat had claimed more than 1,200 lives across Western Europe through early July. Meanwhile, reports are also starting to trickle in from Japan of heat related mass casualties. A report last week from Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency found that 3,000 people had been admitted for heat stroke to hospitals across the island nation during the period of July 6 through 12.

Over the next few days, record-breaking heat is again expected to invade parts of southern Europe, setting the stage for more potential heat casualties.

Conditions in Context — Heat Breaking New Records Means More Extreme Weather

All time record high global temperatures for 2015 and likely at least a decent period during 2016 means we are also likely to continue to experience odd and severe weather conditions over many regions of the globe. A fact that was punctuated in Southern California earlier this week as the remnants of a tropical cyclone dumped 1.69 inches of rain — or more than ten times the amount of rainfall typical for July — over parts of San Diego through Monday. Possibly a taste of what’s to come for California should the currently building Godzilla-type El Nino — pumped up by a catastrophic rate of human greenhouse gas emission — crush the West Coast blocking pattern and hurl a barrage of powerful storms at the drought-parched state. A situation many may be hoping for at this time, but which they could easily come to regret as the extreme intensity of weather switches in the new climate age of 1 C warming start to become evident.

Links:

NOAA Global Analysis

June 2015: Earth’s Warmest on Record

2015 On Track to Be Hottest Year Yet

NOAA Press Conference Notes

Earth Nullschool

What The Weekend Rains Did to Southern California

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob and Ryan in New England

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego (How about that rain?)

Hat Tip to Matt

 

 

 

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths — Sea Surface Temperatures Hit Strong Event Threshold

Last year’s warnings from this blog of a possible extreme heat eruption in the Equatorial Pacific, unfortunately, appear to be bearing out. In other words, It’s really starting to look like a monster out there.

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Repeatedly over the past year and a half, noses of warm water have emerged from the heat overburdened Pacific. Massive, godzilla-like things delivering extraordinary warmth to thousands of miles of Equatorial Pacific surface waters. An epic ocean heat reflux that is now boosting human carbon emissions’ push to crack new record global high temperatures for 2014 and 2015. One that is resulting in far-flung extreme weather events around the globe and is, even now, injecting an obscene amount of record heat into the Arctic, setting off unprecedented wildfires and blasting plumes of permafrost burn smoke up and over the North Pole.

It’s a long succession of waves of Pacific warming that has continued in train since late winter of 2014. A trend of relentless ocean heating that has now driven Nino 3.4 values into the strong event range. A level of intense heat that models say will only grow stronger as the days, weeks and months progress on through Summer and into Fall.

El Nino Starting to Look Monstrous

(Extraordinary, high anomaly suface water heat now extends from the equator all the way to the polar zone. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

According to NOAA’s most recent El Nino Report, Nino 3.4 values hit the strong El Nino threshold for the second week of July, 2015. Rising to +1.5 C above decadal averages, this region of the Central Pacific warmed into a hot zone reserved only for the most intense of El Ninos. A level that must be maintained for three months for a strong event to be declared. But as of last week, we’d crossed into that ominous territory.

This crossing of the strong El Nino threshold occurred even as extreme hot water anomalies extended up from the Equator, along the US West Coast and up into the Arctic Ocean itself. A set of anomalies that helped push PDO values into an also strong range of +1.5 for June, a re-intensification that ocean surface temperature signatures indicate is likely to further heighten through July.

Third Strong Warm Kelvin Wave Likely on the Way

Though Nino 3.4 just tipped into the strong event threshold this week, heating along the Equator was most intense in regions closer to South America. Nino 1+2, just off the coast saw values hit a +3.3 C positive anomaly. And Nino 3 ranged into +2.1 C territory. Though not yet near the 1998 peak monthly thresholds (just above 4 C for Nino 1+2 and near 3.5 C for Nino 3), these values are rapidly closing the gap.

Third Warm Kelvin Wave

(Cool Kelvin Wave is crushed by June-July westerlies as a Third Warm Kelvin Wave begins to develop at depth in the region of 170 East Longitude. Image source: NOAA El Nino.)

Nudged by a still ongoing Westerly Wind Burst (WWB), it appears another warm Kelvin Wave is starting to gather steam. This after a ‘cool’ wave was crushed by powerful cyclone development in the Western and Central Pacific during the past two weeks. Wind anomaly potentials in this region have been quite strong and widespread — rivaling the intensity of the record WWB of March of 2015 and showing an even broader zonal coverage.

Models are Still Going Bonkers

Last week, forecast models began to pick up the signal of this new and implied potential third warm Kelvin Wave development. Now, these same models show a heightened risk for record El Nino development with El Nino, in many cases, predicted to remain in the monstrous to record monstrous range from now until the winter of 2015-2016. PDF corrected model runs indicate an event that peaks out in the range of 2 C positive seasonal anomaly in the Nino 3.4 zone (just shy of the record 1998 event). Uncorrected ensemble runs including the ECMWF model show a much more extreme El Nino peaking out at 2.9 C positive anomaly in the seasonal average.

 

Extreme El Nino

Monster El Nino

(NOAA model runs showing near record monster El Nino [top frame] and record monster El Nino [bottom frame] predicted to peak in October, November and December of 2015. Image source: NOAA CFS.)

An event of this kind would truly be a monster to settle all the record books. It’s an event we really, really don’t want to see. One that would likely push the already extraordinary +0.75 C above 20th Century temperatures we have for 2015 so far even higher. But it’s one that global forecast tools keep predicting with increasing certainty. It’s in the models constantly now. An endless litany week after week — deep ocean warming is coming back to haunt us.

Links:

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

NOAA El Nino

NOAA ESRL

NOAA CFS

 

 

 

“Massive” Arctic Heat Dome Sets Up to Bake Sea Ice

There’s a massive heat dome building over an Arctic sea ice pack that is looking increasingly fragile in both model forecasts and observations. In short, very bad weather for sea ice is rapidly settling in even as the ice pack, despite recent place gains in some measures, is looking increasingly weak.

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First the somewhat good news… Arctic sea ice extent has backed off to about 8th lowest on record. Arctic sea ice area is at about 4th lowest on record. And Arctic sea ice volume, according to DMI, is in the range of 3rd lowest on record (PIOMAS looks even better). This report may sound rather bad, but when compared with  late May and early June when sea ice extent measures were at or near new record lows the data could arguably be characterized as an improvement. Yeah, there’s been some big area drops recently, but all in all, not too terrible, right?

Probably wrong… Because the Arctic is gearing up for a very powerful heat wave over the coming week. One that is likely to spike maximum summer temperatures in the High Arctic, a region that seldom shows much variance on the side of hot or cold at this time of year, by 0.5 to 1.5 C above average. A heatwave my somewhat more reserved fellow ice observer, Neven, has called ‘HUGE’ (note that Neven seldom uses caps lock) and is characterizing as something he’s not seen in all of his five years of sea ice observation. From The Arctic Sea Ice Blog Today:

However, there is one big difference compared to last year and that’s heat. Despite a very cold start, there have been several outbreaks of warm air over the ice, slowly but radically shifting the balance between extent and area data. The impact is felt on the surface of the ice pack, but doesn’t translate directly into a decrease. Not yet. In theory, it should percolate through after a while, especially if the heat persists. And right now the Arctic sea ice pack is undergoing a massive heat wave which shows no signs of letting up.

I find myself in agreement with Neven. The massive heat build in the Arctic predicted for this week is likely to be a significant event with potentially wide-ranging impact. But to understand why, it helps to get an overall picture of the broader context in which this particular heatwave is occurring. And that context includes two other stories as well — the story of human-forced climate change and the story of a still developing and potentially monstrous El Nino.

Ocean Warming Injects Heat into the Arctic

To get an idea how warming in the Equatorial Pacific and over-all greenhouse gas based warming can have such a far-flung impact, particularly on the currently building Arctic heatwave, it always helps to take a look at the behavior of the circumpolar Jet Stream. Large areas of persistently warmed water, like the one we have seen now for two years over the Eastern Pacific, have a tendency to generate high amplitude ridges in the Jet. Ridges that serve as open avenues for heat transport into the Arctic. Specifically yesterday a huge pulse of heat was traveling north along just such a high amplitude and ocean-warmed ridge:

Jet Stream July 6 2015

(Amazing high amplitude Jet Stream wave punching all the way through to the High Arctic on the back of the Eastern Pacific’s Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Our particular heat transporter should by now be very familiar — a ridiculously resilient ridge (RRR) — extending northward and buttressed by multiple high pressure cells stubbornly entrenched over abnormally hot water in the Eastern Pacific. Yesterday (Monday, July 6) the ridge elongated. South to north winds over-riding northward flowing warm, salty ocean water. Running up through Alaska, the heat pulse set off all-time daily highs in places like Anchorage (81 degrees and breaking the record set in 1972). The heat then spilled into the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas where it met with adjoining, though lesser heat pulses over-riding Greenland and the Laptev. A gathering pocket of hot, thick air that is now pooling in the so-called sea ice ‘safe zone’ just north of Greenland.’ A precursor to the very intense high pressure cell we see developing now.

But before we go on to tell the tale of our gathering Arctic heatwave we should first take a closer look at ocean surface temperatures. As these give us a rather clear picture of the Arctic’s current vulnerability — providing for us a hint as to why heat will intensify most strongly to the north of the Canadian Archipelago and Greenland. For it is ocean surface heat that built the road that warm air followed:

Warm water plume invades Arctic

(Heat plume running all the way from Equator to Pole clearly reflected in this July 6 NOAA/ESRL SSTA anomaly map.)

Taking a look at NOAA’s July 6 Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly (SSTA) map, we find a massive plume of much warmer than normal (1971-2000) waters extending up from a plainly visible El Nino pattern, all throughout a large sweep of the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Moving northward, these steamy waters spill into two hot blobs off the Mexican, US, and Canadian coasts — a heat pool that again punches up through the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. An Equator to Pole expanse of ominously hot water that is enabling both sea ice melt in the regions directly impacted as well as a broader invasion of warmth into even the sea ice’s most secure haunts.

Heat Directly North of Greenland, Canadian Archipelago

Warmth that today aided in the formation of an Arctic high pressure ridge hitting significant heights of 1030 to 1035 mb directly between the Pole and Greenland. At 1245 Eastern Standard Time, the ridge had already intensified to 1032 mb. And for at least the next seven days both the GFS and the Euro model shows a 1025 to 1035 mb high pressure cell dominating the same region.

imageimage

(Left frame shows strong, 1032 mb high pressure system settling in to the region just north of Greenland on July 7. By July 10 [right frame], this ridge is predicted to have greatly warmed the Central Arctic zone between Greenland and the Pole. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This persistent ridge will remove cloud cover in a large area between North America and the Pole. Sunlight, at its seasonally most intense, will multiply already widespread melt ponds on the sea ice surface. The combined solar forcing and loss of albedo will push surface temperatures higher as the ridge remains in place. And by Friday a broad band of 2-4 C temperatures is predicted to form in a bulge over the Arctic Ocean north of Greenland and the Pole. Abnormally warm temperatures and direct sunlight that will, over the next week, increase melt pressure over the last remnant of thick sea ice left to the Arctic.

In addition to reducing cloud formation and enhancing the melt-forcing impact of sunlight on the sea ice, high pressure cells in this region will have a couple of further influences. First, they will tend to compact the sea ice overall — drawing in the fringe ice while generating warm water upwelling at the ice edge. And second, the clockwise motion of air circulating around a strong high pressure cell will nudge sea ice out of the Central Arctic toward the gateway of the Fram Strait. Add in the significant impact due to reduced cloud formation allowing sunlight to contact sea ice during a period of peak solar radiative forcing and we end up with a substantial overall blow to the sea ice.

Arctic temperature anomaly

(Extraordinary high temperature anomalies are predicted for the Arctic from July 7-17. A departure more typical for winter when human greenhouse gasses have the greatest heat-amplifying impact. Image Source: meteomodel.)

Taking a look at the meteomodel anomaly map above, we find a very extreme warming of the Central Arctic predicted over the next ten days. A heat pulse to rival 2012 for this period. A melt multiplying heatwave that is predicted to push anomalies for the entire Arctic above +1.5 C beyond the early July average. A polar amplification similar to what is typically a winter manifestation of human emissions-driven anomalous warmth — this time anomalously occurring during a period when heat for the region is approaching peak intensity.

Impacts to Sea Ice Could Be Substantial

In the face of this oncoming weather, ice pack strength would be a deciding factor lending resiliency during melt-promoting conditions or a shift to a much more rapid rate of decline. Though some indicators, including a seemingly slower rate of decline during late June, may point toward more ice resiliency, a growing number of satellite reports and model analysis hint at a general and overall weakness throughout the ice pack.

This weakness can best be described as model indication of thin or low concentration ice, already widespread melt ponding, and visual indication of ice weakness in the satellite shot.

GLBb Holy Shit Model

(The US Navy’s GLBb model has always been unfriendly to sea ice. But other models are now starting to agree. Image source: US Navy.)

For low concentration ice, no model is more stark than the US Navy’s experimental GLBb sea ice thickness ensemble. I colloquially think of this as the ‘holy crap’ sea ice model. This label due to the fact that if sea ice state is really as bad as the model indicates, then the ice is basically toast. Starting in June, this model displayed a great overall weakness in the sea ice and, according to its analysis, the situation has progressed from bad to worse with most of the remaining Arctic Ice possessing a thickness of 1.2 meters or less. Easily thin enough for any nudge by weather to really start rapidly bringing the ice down and opening up very large expanses of open ocean.

If the GLBb ‘holy crap’ model were the only sea ice model making us want to say ‘holy crap!’ then we could probably breathe a bit easier. Unfortunately, another US Navy model is now also tending to elicit this response in reaction to its predictions for the next 7 days and more specifically for the next 3 days:

Arctic Sea Ice Concentration TodayArctic sea ice concentration forecast

(The US Navy’s ARCc sea ice concentration model predicts a very rapid rate of sea ice decline over the next few days. Image source US Navy.)

The top image in this up and down comparison shows the US Navy’s ARCc model’s interpretation of sea ice concentration for July 6 of 2015. Note the extensive green regions showing a 40-50 percent sea ice concentration. It’s a huge swath of ice including large sections of the Chukchi, the Beaufort the ESS, the Laptev, as well as remaining ice in the Kara Sea, and Baffin and Hudson Bay. Now watch what happens to those large sections of lower concentration ice from July 7 to July 10 in the ARCc model 30 day history and forecast summary. Almost all that green is wiped off the map. It’s like losing about 1 million square kilometers of extent and 600,000 kilometers of area in just 72 hours. Or about 10,000 square kilometers of ice per hour. A precipitous fall that would mark an extraordinary and likely unprecedented rate of loss should it emerge as the Navy model predicts.

But you know what they say about models — no model is perfect and every model ends up wrong in some manner or another. So the question here is — how likely is it that the Navy models could be correct or incorrect this time?

To try and tease this answer out we could also look at other sea ice concentration maps. Notably all the major ones including Cryosphere Today, Uni Bremen, and NSIDC currently show sea ice looking either thin or very thin. Specifically, Uni Bremen has shown some amazing contrast over the past 48 hours:

Uni Bremen July 5Uni Bremen July 6

(AMSR2 model analysis of sea ice surface state shows very rapid thinning in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas during the past 24 hours. Image source: Uni Bremen)

The left image in the above comparison is from the AMSR2 model analysis for Arctic sea ice concentration on July 5. The right image is the same analysis but for July 6. Note the substantial change in the sea ice concentration for the Beaufort and Chukchi seas over just one day. A change that is consistent with the pulse of warm air and water riding up through the Eastern Pacific and through Alaska, the Bering and the Chukchi. Another holy crap moment, and not at all of the good variety. To say the least, a similar response north of Greenland and the CAA would be devastating.

Moving away from models and back to observations we find that from the satellite vantage the entire Arctic Ocean displays an ice pack in various shades of azure. By color analysis alone we can readily see that the 2015 ice (July 6 MODIS image) is far more melt pond embedded than 2014 or 2013. 2012 is a tough comparison due to NASA-MODIS’s format change from that year. But the widespread melt ponding alone hints at a reduced resiliency for the ice when compared with recent years.

Arctic Ice Pack July 6

(Arctic sea ice turns blue color characteristic of widespread proliferation of melt ponds on July 6. Also note very thin and diffuse sea ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Turning to the Chukchi and Beaufort, we see a visible confirmation of the weakness indicated in the US Navy and Uni Bremen models. Beneath the smoldering outflow of the Alaskan fires we can plainly see the decayed state of ice. The floes greatly disassociated with widening gaps appearing between diminishing ice clusters.

As satellite gives us an overall view of the Arctic from above, local observations can help provide a sense of the sea ice state at the surface. During recent years, cameras mounted on buoys throughout the Arctic have provided us with a first-hand account of the story of Northern Hemisphere sea ice decline. And during recent days almost every camera-based buoy has shown an extensive expansion of melt ponds and open water. (Extensive melt ponding extends as far north as the Pole).

In the swiftly thinning ice pack of the Beaufort even the contrast of a single day can be quite stark.

Beaufort Open WaterBeaufort Open Water Waves

(Warm storm kicks up under the gradient imposed by a building heat dome of the Arctic. Top and bottom frame provides a stark tale of impacts in just one 24-hour period. Image source: USIABP.)

In the above top-bottom comparison of RACS#2 ice buoy photos we find that wide but placid areas of sunlit open water in the Beaufort Sea on July 6th (top frame) have rapidly transformed to wind-driven 1-2 foot waves whipped up by 15-25 mile per hour winds on July 7th (bottom frame) in association with a tightening gradient around the strengthening high pressure in the Central Arctic. Waves of this kind can deliver a significant amount of melt forcing to the ice — mixing cooler surface waters with warmer waters below as well as rocking through the ice floes with a rain of incessant, ice-breaking blows.

Conditions in Context: Rapid Melt Likely On the Way

Increasing model agreement indicating rapid sea ice melt, observations of sea ice weakness via satellite and buoy based systems throughout the Arctic, and predictions of a substantial Arctic heatwave all point toward a high and rising risk of rapid sea ice melt. Larger global trends, particularly heat transport from the Equatorial Pacific all the way to the northern Polar zone through the mechanisms of El Nino, human based greenhouse gas heat forcing, and the associated Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, heighten this risk even further. Finally, a wide array of observations indicate that such rapid melt is already starting to set in. Given this increasing agreement and confluence, it appears that the late June ice dispersal is likely over and that serious trouble for Arctic sea ice has now set in and will remain in play for at least the next seven days.

Links:

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Cryosphere Today

Uni Bremen

NSIDC

The Polar Science Center

NOAA/ESRL

Earth Nullschool

US Navy

LANCE-MODIS

Hat Tip to Neven

Hat Tip to Frivolous

Hat Tip to Jim Hunt

Hat Tip to Climate Hawk

 

 

Climate Change Ratcheting Up: El Nino Strengthens in Equatorial Pacific Increasing Likelihood for Record Warm 2015

A powerful Kelvin Wave continued to ripple through the near-surface waters of the Equatorial Pacific this week — heightening sea surface temperatures, strengthening an ongoing El Nino, and pushing a wave of oceanic heat back into a human-warmed atmosphere that is hotter now than at any time in modern human reckoning.

High temperature anomalies in the Kelvin Wave plug have spread out across the ocean surface. Readings in the range of +1 to +2 C above average stretch along surface waters all the way from the Date Line through 120 West Longitude. East of the 120 line, surface waters have now hit readings of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius above average. And lurking just below the surface along thousands of miles of ocean is a dense zone of 5-6 degree above average water. A zone of extreme heat at the heart of the current intense Kelvin Wave:

NOAA Kelvin Wave April 23

(A strong Kelvin Wave shuts down atmospheric heat transfer into the Equatorial Pacific setting up conditions for an extended El Nino and possible new record heat for 2015. Image Source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

Heat that could well make 2015 yet another worsening of the human warming and extreme weather twilight zone we now find ourselves in.

Pushing into Moderate El Nino Range

According to NOAA’s weekly El Nino report, sea surface temperatures in the critical Nino 3.4 region hit a range of 1 degree C above average last week. A jump from the previous week’s measure of +0.7 C and a new push toward moderately strong El Nino levels off the back of the current warm Kelvin Wave. Atmospheric teleconnections that are signatures of a moderate El Nino also began to emerge over past weeks — with a strengthening of the subtropical Jet and related storm track setting off powerful tornadoes, thunderstorms and heavy rain events in states bordering the Gulf of Mexico over the past ten days.

Heat content from the current Kelvin Wave is enough to continue to keep Equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures in present ranges or to push for further warming over at least the next 1-2 months. A set of factors that will almost certainly lock near moderate El Nino conditions in through Summer and general El Nino conditions through early Autumn. The result is that the extra heat bleed off the Pacific Ocean will combine with the impressive human forcing to generate a high risk that 2015 atmospheric temperatures will beat out all-time record highs set in 2014.

Model Runs Still Showing Potential for Super El Nino

Nino 3.4 Monthly Anomalies

(Unweighted model ensemble runs show the current El Nino peaking out at extreme intensity. Long range model runs can be quite uncertain, but these are very high values. Image source: NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies.)

NOAA model runs also show a potential for El Nino strengthening through the end of 2015. Probability weighted CFS model ensembles (PDF) point toward a seasonal anomaly for Nino 3.4 in the range of 1998 Super El Nino values at 2.1 degrees Celsius above average by the end of 2015. Mean model runs (non-weighted) push the long range forecast heat values even higher at 2.6 C above seasonal averages or 2.75 C above monthly averages.

These unweighted long range forecasts are well outside the strength of even the monster event of nearly two decades ago. A new super El Nino that would have very serious consequences for global temperatures and result in far-reaching climate impacts should it emerge. Atmospheric temperatures that are now in the range of +0.7 C above 20th Century averages and +0.9 C above 1880s values could well push into a new range at +0.8 C and +1 C, or higher, respectively.

Super El Nino Late 2015

(Long range models show Equatorial Pacific has potential to hit near Super El Nino status by late 2015. At this time, such model runs are low certainty. Image source: NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies.)

Cranking up the Human Hothouse

Entering the range of 1-2 C above 1880s values is a zone of heat anomaly that will amplify already apparent ice sheet melt, sea level rise, droughts, wildfires, water stress, and ocean health impacts. At temperatures around +1.5 C we begin to enter a period of strong glacial outflows, weather instability, geophysical changes, and record related storm events in a ‘Storms of My Grandchildren‘ type scenario. At +2 C these very dangerous impacts will likely be in full swing.

It is worth noting that it took 10,000 years to warm the world 4 degrees Celsius at the end of the last ice age. Under current human fossil fuel burning scenarios, it is likely that we reach half that threshold in just 150 to 170 years — from 1880 to 2030-2050. A rapid reduction in fossil fuel emissions along a progression to a net carbon negative human society over the next few decades is absolutely necessary to prevent these outcomes. And while model forecasts indicating the potential for a Super El Nino type event for late 2015 may be somewhat uncertain, there is a much higher certainty that very dangerous climate impacts starting at the current level of human warming will ramp up here on out — with the 1.5 C threshold looking very bad and the 2.0 C threshold looking terrible.

As such, we should do all we can to prevent hitting those marks.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies

The Storms of My Grandchildren

Far Worse than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick

Big Warm-up Predicted for Northwest Territory as Pacific Side of Arctic Melts Out Early

The long-term trend for Arctic sea ice is inexorably down. Year-after-year, decade-after-decade, the human-driven accumulation of heat in the Arctic has taken a terrible toll. Recently, mid March through mid April showed record low sea ice extents for any period since record keeping began in 1979.

Over the past two weeks, extent levels bounced back to around 4th to 6th lowest on record as winds shifted to north-to-south through the broad region between Greenland and the Kara Sea. For this region, melt pressure had been quite strong throughout Winter as a powerful warm flow of air flooded up from the North Atlantic.

Sea ice concentration

(Ice in the Bering and the Sea of Okhotsk is rapidly melting. Warming and sea ice melt ramp-up may also be on tap for both the Hudson Bay and the Beaufort as south-to-north air flows associated with the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge intensify. Image source: NSIDC.)

The shift, which has occurred coincident with upper-level winds running up from the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge in the Eastern Pacific, over Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada, into the Beaufort and on past the pole, has been pushing sea ice southward toward the Barents and into the Fram Strait. The result has been minor sea ice expansion in the near Greenland region at the cost of much more rapid melt in the Bering Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk and a very earl season break up of ice in the Beaufort.

Pacific Side Warming and Beaufort Break-up

Overall, this Pacific-side warming of the Arctic has driven extent levels back down into the range of 3rd to 4th lowest on record for this time of year. And rapid melt in the Bering, the Sea of Okhost, together with warming in the Beaufort and Hudson Bay may result in new challenges to record lows over the coming days.

By late April, break-up of Beaufort Sea ice is particularly dramatic with very large polynyas forming in a broad region into and north of the Canadian Archipelago and extending on into the off-shore region of the Mackenzie Delta:

Beaufort Sea Ice April 26 2015

(The Beaufort Sea shows extensive break-up and lackadaisical re-freeze on April 26th 2015. Note the extensive dark cracks and polynyas [holes] in the MODIS satellite image above. Such late-spring proliferation of polynyas and cracks can critically reduce albedo as melt season progresses. The Beaufort’s location also makes it vulnerable to continued warm air influx over a very warm Northeastern Pacific Ocean. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Temperatures within the Beaufort Sea and near the Canadian Archipelago are still cold enough to support some re-freeze in the Polynya regions. However, closer to the Mackenzie Delta, temps have trended more and more toward near freezing or above freezing levels (sea water freezes at around 28 degrees Fahrenheit). The result is a rather large region with no new ice formation.

More Warm air on the Way

As of 5 PM Eastern Standard time, temperatures in the Mackenzie Delta on the shores of the Beaufort Sea were pushing 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, 50 degree temperatures dominated the region of Great Slave Lake further upstream and southward. These readings are in the range of 8-15 degrees above normal for this time of year, resulting in an early melt pressure for the Mackenzie River and for coastal regions near the post-thaw river outflow zones.

image

(Big warm-up near the Mackenzie River and through the Northwest Territory in April  28th’s GFS model prediction. Temperatures in the low 70s gather around Great Slave Lake as above freezing temperatures drift down the Mackenzie River reaching all the way to Arctic Ocean Shores. Note near and above sea water freezing temperatures [28 F] throughout the Bering, Beaufort, northwest sections of the Canadian Archipelago and Hudson Bay in the above image. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This warm pool is predicted to intensify through tomorrow with temperatures reaching the low 70s Fahrenheit (22 C) near Great Slave Lake and temperatures along Mackenzie Delta shores continuing to edge up over freezing. The warm pool will then linger for another few days before shifting east over Hudson Bay through early next week, pushing temperatures between 10 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit above normal there.

By late next week, long range forecasts show another warm ridge extension through the Mackenzie Delta and melt pressure on the near-shore Beaufort re-intensifying.

Overall, with Arctic Oscillation predicted to remain neutral, melt pressure in the Arctic would tend to reduce somewhat. However, with both Bering and Okhotsk rapidly melting out and with warmth predicted to persist and intensify for those seas as well as for the Beaufort and for Hudson Bay, it appears there’s an even shot that early melt season will proceed at a more brisk than typical pace — again challenging new record lows into early May.

Links:

National Snow and Ice Data Center

NASA’s LANCE-MODIS

Earth Nullschool

The Euro Model

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

 

 

Warm Storms Rage Through Barents as Arctic Sea Ice Enters 13th Day of Record Low Extent

On March 4, amidst a building polar heat amplification and a strong, thousands mile long, south to north wind and storm flow across the North Atlantic and into the Arctic, sea ice extent coverage for the northern polar region plunged to new record lows.

imageimage

(26 foot wave heights [left frame] and 50-60 mph sustained southerly winds [right frame] in conjunction with warm storm near the ice edge at Svalbard on March 15, 2015. Storms of this kind have been raging up through the Barents delivering powerful, warm southerly winds and immense swells to the ice edge region for at least the past half month. This strong melt pressure and warm air delivery has contributed to record low sea ice extent totals continuing for the past 13 days running. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data source: GFS.)

Human-forced heat continued to build throughout the Arctic as warm and intensely windy storms churned northward through the Barents, bringing with them powerful swells ranging from 15 to, at times, 40 feet in height. As these great swells ground away at the ice edge, temperatures hit daily anomalies greater than 4 C above the 1979-2000 average on Sunday, March 8 for the entire Arctic region. The next day, sea ice extent, according to NSIDC, plummeted to 14,273,000 square kilometers. A value 303,000 square kilometers, or an area about the size of Arizona, smaller than the previous record low value for the date set in 2006.

Ever since March 4, the Arctic has remained in new record low territory — a period that has now lasted 13 days. Though anomalous warmth has faded somewhat — dropping today to a range of 2.65 degrees Celsius above the 1979-2000 average — sea ice has only bounced back slightly. On March 15, the NSIDC extent measure had inched up to 14,333,000 square kilometers, still about 235,000 square kilometers below the previous record low for the date.

chart(3)

(Arctic sea ice extent as measured by NSIDC drops below previous record low values on March 4 of 2015 [bottom dark blue line] and has remained at record low levels ever since. For reference, previous record low years for March dates include 2006 [pink line], 2007 [light blue line], and 2011 [orange line]. The top dark blue line [1979] indicates how much sea ice extent has been lost during March over the past 36 years. Image source: NSIDC.)

Over the next week, however, these new record lows are more likely to continue to fade as warm Arctic surface temperature anomalies drop to around 1-2 C above average, the Arctic Oscillation shifts toward neutral or slightly negative, and the warm storm track through the Barents is interrupted by cold winds pushing south toward Scandinavia from the pole. Although mid-week warming forecast for Alaska and Baffin Bay may retard any potential rebound somewhat.

For the past two years, Arctic sea ice has experienced a bit of a rebound during the March through early April time-frame. This has appeared to coincide with a restrengthening of the polar Jet Stream as mid latitudes have warmed which, in turn, has weakened meridional patterns transporting heat into the Arctic during winter time. Low angle sunlight entering the Arctic at this time of year has also not yet gained enough momentum to significantly push the ice to melt. So we still have about a 2-3 week window for potential bounce-back before sunlight builds and begins to apply its steady heat forcing to the greatly diminished ice.

AO index forecast

(Arctic Oscillation [AO] index forecast shows dip toward slightly negative or neutral AO status by end week after a rather extreme high in early March, with a return to mildly positive AO values by end month. Positive AO enhances edge melt of sea ice by encouraging storm formation at the ice edge and warm air invasions over the central ice. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

That said, the ice is quite frail now, even with potential volume rebounds to mid 2000s levels. So even the slight addition of solar insolation may be enough to keep ice coverage values depressed in the neutral or moderately positive Arctic Oscillation regime that is predicted through the end of March. Extent measures maintaining near record lows along the 2006, 2007 and 2011 tracks, or just below, would establish a very low launching pad for a melt season that, lately, has tended to include precipitous declines in ice during the summer months.

The ongoing record low extent status, despite a return to weather patterns that are more favorable for rebound or maintenance, therefore, should be closely monitored.

Links:

NSIDC

NOAA/CPC

Earth Nullschool

GFS

Climate Reanalyzer

2015 El Nino to Bring Back-to-Back Hottest Years on Record?

For the past six months, the Pacific Ocean has been very, very warm. A vast and unsettling expanse of record heat building from the tropics on through the mid lattitudes and into the Arctic.

Sea surface temperatures across a broad swath of ocean from the equator on north and eastward have consistently measured between 0.5 and 5 degrees Celsius above average. A lazy reverse C pattern of heat stretching from the equator running up along the west coast of North America and then re-curving westward just south of the polar zone.

It is a pattern that is indicative of a well developed positive phase Pacific Decadal Oscillation. A kind of pattern that results in very warm sea surface temperatures for much of the Pacific. And a pattern that tends to favor the formation of El Nino.

As of December 2014, PDO values had climbed to their highest on record. And with these high sea surface temperature values related to PDO, the Pacific also seemed to be quietly settling into what, at first, appeared to be a mild El Nino.

Chances For 2015 El Nino Rise

The key value for El Nino is a measurement for sea surface temperatures along a region of the Central Equatorial Pacific known as Nino 3.4. Stretching from about 160 West to 120 West Longitude, this expansive zone of ocean waters below Hawaii tends to warm with the onset of El Nino.

image

(Nino 3.4 zone in center of frame on the Earth Nullschool Sea Surface Temperature anomaly map for March 4, 2015 shows warm waters again building in the Central Pacific. Averages in the zone for this date are around +0.75 C above normal. Note the + 2 C hot pool just to the western edge of the zone [orange-yellow coloration] and the +4 C hot pools [yellow coloration] off the US West Coast. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: Global Forecast Systems Model.)

The threshold NOAA uses to determine El Nino is a sea surface temperature anomaly for this area of +0.5 degrees C above average. And ever since September of 2014, sea surface temperatures have been hovering above the +0.5 C line.

NOAA’s determination for El Nino requires 5 three month average periods in which Nino 3.4 exceeds this mark. And it looks like, so far, four out of five of those periods have met the El Nino requirement. September, October and November (SON) averaged +0.5 C. October, November and December (OND) averaged +0.7 C. And November, December and January (NDJ) averaged +0.7 C. With all weekly measures for February coming in near or above January values, it appears the DJF value will post somewhere near +0.6 C (please see NOAA’s Weekly ENSO Status Report).

Even if March values dropped to +0.4 C, a weak El Nino would emerge in the Pacific during Spring of 2015. However, sea surface temperatures for this zone are not falling as we enter March. They are instead ramping higher.

New Warm Kelvin Wave Forming

For beneath the Central Pacific a new pool of warm water is forming. It is rising to the surface, providing yet another shot of heat to an equatorial region teetering on the threshold of El Nino. A new Kelvin Wave that carries with it more than enough energy to tip the scales for a 2015 event:

El Nino Kelvin Wave

(Warm Kelvin Wave again forming in the Pacific. This event will likely be enough to push 2015 into El Nino. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

The Kelvin Wave will slowly rise to the surface, elongate and transfer some of its latent heat to the sea surface and atmosphere. Driving this Kelvin Wave along are west wind backbursts that today were in the range of 25 mph sustained with gusts to 35. These gusts are continuing to drive warm water eastward and downward, providing more energy for the Kelvin Wave as well as any emerging El Nino. A set of winds that could well grow stronger as a weather pattern know as the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is predicted to ramp up, bringing stormy weather and more counter trade wind air flows across the Western Pacific equatorial zone.

These combined factors have spurred Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology to post a renewed El Nino Watch. NOAA is also showing a heightened chance for El Nino, with a near 60% probability for the event emerging late winter or early spring.

Meanwhile, some models for the Nino 3.4 region show continued warming along with a heightening El Nino throughout 2015:

2015 El Nino

(BoM Nino 3.4 sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) prediction model shows El Nino building throughout 2015. Note that the Australia BoM SSTA threshold is +0.8 C for Nino 3.4 while NOAA’s threshold is SSTA in excess of +0.5 C for seven months running. Image source: Bureau of Meterology.)

Back-to-Back Record Hot Years?

The +1.9 C peak and rising prediction for Nino 3.4 in the above graphic is indicative of a relatively strong El Nino by mid November of this year (for reference, the 1998 Super El Nino peaked at around +2.3 C for this region while 2010 peaked at +1.5 C). But even a far milder El Nino would likely have far-ranging consequences, especially in a world that has been pushed to keep warming and warming by the massive human fossil fuel emission.

All that heat again building along the equatorial Pacific would likely shove the Earth’s oceans and atmospheres again above record thresholds. And that would mean that 2014’s record as the hottest year for the Earth’s surface may only stand for but a few seasons more.

The risks for another record hot year for 2015 are, therefore, again rising.

UPDATE:

As of March 5, 2014, NOAA has now officially declared weak El Nino conditions for the Equatorial Pacific. Please see this related discussion LINK.

Links:

Bad Climate Outcomes

NOAA’s Weekly ENSO Status Report

NOAA/CPC

Australia’s Bureau of Meterology

Earth Nullschool

Global Forecast Systems Model

Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO)

Hat Tips:

Colorado Bob

Phil

Scientific Hat tip to Kevin Trenberth and Michael Mann

Wili

Big Arctic Warm-Up To Drive Freak Thanksgiving Snowstorm For US East Coast

If current trends continue, the eastern half of the US is in for one extraordinary winter.

Just last week, a strong late-fall Arctic warming flushed chill air out over the Great Lakes, setting off a lake effect snowstorm in Buffalo that buried the city in one year’s worth of snowfall in just two days.

This week’s extreme weather prelude brought a major warm snap that set off rainfall, sent temperatures surging to 62 degrees in Buffalo and pushed rivers in the area above flood stage. An odd northward hot air surge ahead of the next blow. One that will be fueled by a similar, out of the ordinary, Arctic heat-up that is predicted to fling a freakish Thanksgiving snowstorm at the US East Coast on Wednesday.

Maximum Snowfall Potentials Thanksgiving Storm

(Maximum snowfall potentials for the predicted Thanksgiving Snowstorm as provided by the National Weather Service.)

A storm that may dump more than a foot of snow along a swath from Virginia to Maine and set off blizzard-like conditions as a low pressure rapidly intensifies in a raging storm track torching away off the New England Coast.

Such major predicted and potential snowfall amounts are more reminiscent of a significant January event than what is typically seen for a Thanksgiving period which usually features cold placidity. But this Thanksgiving is predicted to be anything but placid as coastal gales and record-challenging snowfalls are likely to sock holidayers in and generate travel snarls throughout the Mid Atlantic and Northeast.

Mangled Jet Stream Thanksgiving

(Planetary wave pattern over Eastern US with intensified storm track in association with predicted strong winter storm for Thanksgiving in the Wednesday GFS model run. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

The spurs to this most recent Arctic invasion are two high amplitude Jet Stream Waves — one over Alaska and one near Svalbard. Together, these upper level flows are pulling yet more warm air into an already warmer than normal Arctic. These invasions coincide with yet another form of upper level warming — Sudden Stratosphere Warming (SSW). A kind of warm air catapult up from the troposphere and into the Arctic from over the Asian Continent.

A combined set of conditions that is generating a baked atmospheric cake set of warming for the Arctic and driving the southern edge of the polar vortex southward over the Eastern US.

Overall, Arctic heat anomalies are expected to spike as high as 3.5 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average by the wee hours of Sunday morning this week. A very strong warm departure for November even in the current age of human-driven climate change and polar heat amplification.

Polar Amplification on Sunday morning of Nov 20 2014

(Very strong early season polar warming and amplification during late November shoves cold air out over North America and Eastern Asia in the GFS model run. Note that average temperatures in this measure are based on the already warmer than normal 1979-2000 period. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Last year, similar events drove cold air invasions through the Eastern half of the US and greatly intensified the North Atlantic storm track. As a result, the UK experienced its stormiest winter on record. This year, warm waters in the equatorial Pacific and off the US East Coast may well keep the storm track oriented along the Gulf Stream. This would result in much stronger events for the Eastern US and potentially quite powerful Nor’easter type coastal storms should the current pattern persist.

Links:

The National Weather Service

Climate Reanalyzer

East Coast on Alert For Thanksgiving Storm

Buffalo’s Climate Change Driven Mega Snow-Flood

 

Antarctic Heat Heralds Hottest September in the NASA Record

September 2014 Hottest on Record

(Global temperature anomaly map for September of 2014. Note extraordinary bands of very strong positive temperature anomaly ranging the globe with hottest zones at or near the poles. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Another hottest month on record for the global climate. And this one is a bit of a doozey.

According to NASA GISS, September of 2014 saw global surface temperatures that were 0.77 C hotter than the 20th Century average. This record beats out 2005 by a rather strong 0.04 C margin and represents the 3rd month in the GISS record for 2014 that was either the hottest or tied for the hottest (May, August and September).

Ocean surface heat and anomalous warmth at the poles were deciding factors for the new September record with very few regions of the global ocean surface showing cooler than average temps and with extraordinary heat at the poles, especially in Antarctica. This southern polar zone experienced average monthly temperatures as much as 8.7 above the global average across a relatively broad zone. Both East and West Antarctica observed this very strong polar amplification with East Antarctica experiencing the peak anomalies.

zonal anomalies map september 2014

(Zonal anomalies by Latitude in the NASA GISS measure. Image source: NASA GISS.)

The zonal anomalies map for September of 2014 showed no latitudinal zone experiencing cooler than 20th Century average conditions. A rather extraordinary feature considering most months show cooler than 20th Century average conditions along at least some latitudes.

Most extreme heating occurred at or near the poles with the 75-80 degree South Latitude zone showing an extraordinary +3.4 C departure from the global norm and the 80-90 degree North Latitude zone showing a strong +1.75 degree positive anomaly.

The only zone showing near 20th Century average temperatures was the heat sink region of 55 to 60 degrees South Latitude in the Southern Ocean. In this climate region a strong storm track combines with an expanding fresh water wedge issuing from melting Antarctic glaciers to force down-welling and atmosphere to ocean heat capture. A heat capture that was alluded to in a recent scientific paper which found the upper Southern Ocean contained between 24 and 55 percent more heat than expected.

This heat sink region, featuring an expanding fresh water wedge has been instrumental in somewhat higher than normal Antarctic sea ice totals. An impact that is, ironically, driven both by Antarctic continental ice melt together with an increasing storminess in the Southern Ocean and waters more heavily laden with salt issuing from the equatorial zone. A highly unstable confluence that results in local surface cooling as the ocean takes a heavy dose from the human riled heat engine.

Conditions in Context

No El Nino yet, despite two warm Kelvin waves and somewhat favorable atmospheric conditions throughout the months of August and September. But sea surface temperature in the Equatorial Pacific region remain somewhat hotter than normal — bending toward the warm side of ENSO neutral. Overall ocean surface warmth, however, was extraordinary throughout September, pushing well above the global average and ranging, in GFS models, from 0.7 C to 1.2 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average.

Overall, three more record or near record hot months would put 2014 in serious contention for hottest year on record (2014 is running 0.65 C hotter than average, the global record is 0.67 C above average for 2010). A rather odd result considering we still see no El Nino and almost every recent hottest year has been spurred on by this powerful atmospheric variability driver. A record hot year in 2014 with no El Nino could well be an indication that the human forcing is beginning to over-ride natural variability and that the ENSO signal, though still very powerful, is becoming more and more muted by an increasingly substantial human heat forcing.

Links:

NASA GISS

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

Sixth Lowest Sea Ice Extent on Record Leaves 35,000 Walruses Stranded

(FAA blocks flights over stranded walruses in order to prevent panic. US Fish and Wildlife Service considers adding protection to walruses as endangered species after late summer stranding due to loss of sea ice.)

35,000 thousand. That’s the number of climate change refugees left stranded upon a thin strip of land along the northern coast of Alaska. The refugees, driven from their summer resting place along floating rafts of summer sea ice, have been forced to concentrate en mass for safety and foraging upon a near-ocean stretch of beach and simply wait for the sea ice’s return.

The ice they have previously used for their summer homes is simply gone. Yet one more casualty of human-driven climate change.

These refugees, of course, are walruses, members of a growing group of climate orphans who’ve lost homes and haunts due to a vicious and rapid changing of the geophysical world. All across the media this week, we’ve been witness to pictures of the mass stranding. But one wonders if we really fully understand the impact of what we are seeing — yet one more vulnerable inhabitant of the natural world now dislocated by climate change:

Walrus Mass Stranding

(Aerial photo of Walrus mass stranding. Image source — NOAA.)

The mass beaching is directly linked to devasting losses of Arctic sea ice ongoing since 2007. The sea ice serves as a kind of summer shelter for Walruses, especially for nursing pups and mothers who use the ice floating over shallow water for both a resting place and a feeding platform.

But now, the new abnormal is that walruses are stranded. The sea ice is too far off shore for it to be useful to them. So they collect in a disease amplifying huddle, rapidly stripping resources along a thin swath of shore. A fearful and vulnerable concentration of animals facing an uncertain future as brown bears prowl threateningly about them. A present in which infant walruses are vulnerable to trampling by the larger adults. A new world starkly devoid of the gentle gray whales with whom they once shared these shallow waters. The whales went on to the edge of the ice — a place now too remote for the walruses to follow.

During six of the last eight years, we’ve witnessed such events. Masses of walruses along shore that are 80 fold larger than during similar periods just 30 years ago.

 

chart

(Arctic Sea Ice Extent as measured by the National Snow and Ice Data Center for the six lowest years on record including 2014. Record lowest extent occurred during 2012 [dotted green line]. Image source: NSIDC.)

And this year the sea ice retreated far into the Beaufort, well out of even the reach of strong swimmers like walruses. A sea ice extent for the entire Arctic was sixth lowest in the record. Part of an ongoing and brutal trend that, if it continues, will strip the late summer Arctic of all sea ice during the time-frame of 2017 to 2035. A decline that has implications for all living creatures — not just the walruses. For as humans continue to force a hothouse state upon the Earth, the risk is that we all, like the walruses, become refugees living in ever more difficult and dangerous environs.

Links:

NOAA

35,000 Walruses Left on Beach Due to Climate Change

Walrus Stranding — A New Phenomena And We Don’t Know How Bad it Will Get

NSIDC

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob)

Last Chance for 2014 El Nino: Second Kelvin Wave Strengthens in Pacific Amid Favorable Atmospheric Conditions

2014 has been a rough year for El Nino forecasting.

During Winter and Spring, an extraordinarily strong Kelvin wave rocketed across the Pacific. Containing heat anomalies in excess of 6 C above average, this flood of trans-Pacific warmth hit the ocean surface, dumping an extraordinary amount of heat into the atmosphere. The heat helped drive global sea surface temperatures for May, June, and July to all-time record values.

Many forecasters believed that this heat would lead to a moderate to strong El Nino event starting this summer. And, by June, NOAA was predicting that El Nino was 80% likely to emerge some time this year.

But the initial oceanic heat pulse was crushed by a failure of atmospheric feedbacks. The trans-Pacific trade winds, with a few visible exceptions, remained strong enough to suppress El Nino formation. And so it appeared that, by late July, the initial powerful heat pulse providing potential for El Nino had almost entirely fizzled.

Then, a second warm Kelvin Wave began to form even as Southern Oscillation values started to fall.

Second Warm Kelvin Wave Crosses Pacific

(Second warm Kelvin Wave running across Pacific has resurrected the potential for a weak to moderate late 2014 El Nino. Image source: Climate Prediction Center.)

This second Kelvin Wave contains a broad swath of +2 to +5 C anomaly values and is rapidly propagating toward the surface zones of the Central and Eastern Pacific. And though not as strong as the Kelvin Wave that formed earlier this year, the current Kelvin Wave is occurring in conjunction with what appears to be a somewhat more robust atmospheric feedback.

The Southern Oscillation Index, a measure of pressure differences between Tahiti and Darwin, is an indicator of Nino related atmospheric conditions. At consistent values below -8, weather variables tend to favor El Nino formation. And, for the past twelve days, 30 day averages have been below the -8 threshold. If these values extend for much longer, the coincident warm Kelvin Wave and atmospheric conditions favorable for El Nino may well set off this long-predicted event.

Model runs still show a 60-65% chance of El Nino formation before the end of this year and NOAA’s forecast continues to call for a weak El Nino forming some time in late 2014:

El Nino Forecast

(Model Forecast shows 60-65 percent chance of El Nino by November through January. Image source: CPC/IRI.)

It is worth noting that this second warm Kelvin Wave is providing the last chance for El Nino in 2014. So if atmospheric feedbacks fade and sea surface temperatures remain just on the high side of ENSO neutral, then 2014 will close without the incidence of this wide-scale Pacific Ocean and atmospheric warming event.

With weak El Nino, however, there is still a likelihood that 2014 will tie or exceed hottest ever global surface temperature values. A failure for El Nino to form will probably result in 2014 closing as one of the five hottest years on record, given current trends.

Links:

Climate Prediction Center

CPC/IRI

Southern Oscillation Index

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dangerous Dance of Frost and Flame: More Than 100 Wildfires Now Raging Along Siberian Melt-Freeze Line

Anomalous, global-warming-enhanced, fires continued to erupt across Eastern Russia this week, chasing a rapidly receding freeze line north and into zones still frozen, but starting to shake off ice cover far too soon for comfort.

According to reports from Radio Free Europe, more than 5,000 pieces of heavy equipment and many more firefighters are now battling blazes throughout Siberia this week. As of April 20th, more than 100 blazes were reported in numerous regions including: the Orenburg area around Lake Baikal, the Amur region, the Birobidzhan Autonomous Oblast, the Primorsky Krai, and the Far Eastern region of Russia.

Multiple Wildfires Raging in the Amur Region of Russia

(Multiple wildfires raging in the Amur region of Russia on April 23, 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The fires come as temperatures ranging from 5-18 C above average continued throughout a region that has experienced hotter than normal temperatures all winter and on into spring of 2014.

For example, the average April high temperature for the region of Lake Baikal is typically a frigid 28 F, while this week is expected to see highs in the lower to middle 40s. Further east, the temperature extremes are more radical. In Amur Blagoveshchensk, the average low is about 27 degrees F for this time of year, the average high, about 50. But today the low was 52 and the high is forecast to be 78 — 25 and 28 degrees above average respectively.

All across Eastern Russia, the story is the same: above average warmth, early thaw, summer-like temperatures in spring time. It has been this way day after day, month after month. Since 2010, the story has mostly been the same: early thaw, record or near record heat, amazing fire hazard. Even more concerning, the situation is steadily growing worse.

How Global Warming is Turning the Siberian Tundra into a Firetrap

Winters during cold regions are typically comparatively dry events. Though snows may pile up, the water content of the snows amount to much less moisture than it would seem. During spring, a gradual thaw ensures this moisture keeps the thin, top layer of soil above the permafrost (called the active layer) from drying out too rapidly. Typically only inches to a few feet in depth, this layer is far more susceptible to drying than a deeper layer with access to greater moisture sources at depth. But only frozen or melting permafrost currently rest below the active layer, creating a moisture barrier or worse — adding a potential fuel source for wildfires.

Eastern Russia in a Hot Zone

(Eastern Russia in a hot zone. Hot atmospheric ridge and coincident extreme temperature anomalies stretching from Southeast Asia, up through China and Eastern Russia and on up through the polar region. Information Source: NOAA Global Forecast Systems Model. Image source: University of Maine.)

In years of warmer than usual temperatures, as has happened more and more often under the current regime of human-caused warming, the thaw occurs rapidly and the active layer quickly dries out. This loss of moisture amplifies into a kind of tundra drought that can block atmospheric moisture flows and prevent rainfall, compounding the drying problem until the more energetic storms of summer arrive.

In addition, expanding zones of thawing permafrost provide two added fuel sources for wildfires. Tundra melt in high water content areas forms into wet thermokarsts, mires or melt ponds that vent methane gas in high enough concentration to burn. Tundra melt that rapidly dries after thaw forms into a peat-like basement layer that can burn and smolder for long periods once ignited.

On average, temperatures have been rising by about .4 C per decade throughout Siberia. So almost every spring now falls into what would typically be called a hot year. In addition, amplification of Jet Stream wave patterns deliver proportionately more heat to regions in the up-slope of these high amplitude atmospheric pulses, forming hot, high pressure ridges. And this year, the heat ridge has consistently formed over China, Mongolia and Eastern Siberia — the region of the current large fire outbreaks.

Russian wildfire burning on the shores of still frozen Lake Baikal April 23 2014

(Siberian wildfires burning on the shores of still-frozen Lake Baikal in southern Siberia on April 23, 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

As a result, what we are seeing is an extraordinary outbreak of intense wildfires directly adjacent to still melting snow and frozen lakes. A surreal event that reminds one of the ever-at-war frost and fire giants of ancient Viking legend. But these giants, the fire giants at least, are a direct result of an ongoing and ever increasing human-caused heating of our world.

Links:

Radio Free Europe

University of Maine

NOAA Global Forecast Systems Model

LANCE-MODIS

Melting Permafrost Switches to Nasty, High-Gear Methane Release

Blagoveshchensk Weather

Lake Baikal Weather

Earth Under Fire

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse — Hydrogen Sulfide in the World’s Warming Oceans

“Dead Cthulu waits dreaming…” H.P. Lovecraft

In the 1930s, pulp horror writer H.P. Lovecraft penned tales of ancient monsters called Old Ones that, if awakened, would emerge to devour the world. One of these horrors, Cthulu, lay in death’s sleep in his house called R’lyeh at the bottom of the Baltic Sea (Charles Stross) awaiting some impetus to disturb him from necrotic slumber (ironically, the Baltic sea bed contains one of the world’s highest concentrations of the deadly hydrogen-sulfide producing bacteria that are a focus of this article).

Namibia Hydrogen Sulfide Emission 2007

(2007 Hydrogen Sulfide emission off the coast of Namibia. Such emissions tend to color the surface water green and, in extreme cases, black. Image source: Earth Observatory)

In the imaginary world of H.P. Lovecraft, terrible lore of these horrific Old Ones, among which, Cthulu was the worst, lay stored in ancient tomes. To learn of these mysteries was to risk madness. For the Old Ones were too awful for the human mind to conceive without succumbing to a hopeless darkness.

In researching the terrors that could emerge in a world destabilized by human warming, I am often reminded that human imagination is not without a sense of dramatic irony. But in this case, the irony invoked is that human imagining, in fiction, seems to sometimes possess a broader perception of potential real world risks and their implications for human thought, than the far more defined warning signal coming from the sciences.

Cthulu, in this case, may as well be a metaphor for one of the worst of the world’s ancient climate horrors — the oceanic production of hydrogen sulfide gas that occurred from time to time, during various hothouse events. A production implicated in many of the worst mass extinction events ever to mar the history of life on Earth.

Hydrogen Sulfide — Bi-product of Bacterial Metabolism in the Ancient Oceans

In understanding this ancient horror, we must first take a look at some of the world’s oldest and smallest creatures. Primordial bacteria.

About 3.5 billion years ago, the Earth was a hot, toxic place, bombarded by solar radiation. It was still cooling down after its initial formation. The oceans had spilled out over its surface, but the continents had yet to emerge. Atmospheric levels of CO2 were high and oxygen was virtually nonexistent.

676px-Dvulgaris_micrograph

(Desulfovibrio vulgaris, one of the most well-researched hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria. Image source: Commons)

But, in this world, small microbial organisms thrived. Deprived of oxygen, which is the now typical means of respiration for non plant organisms, the microbes required other sources for their simple cellular metabolism. Sulphate was common in the world’s emerging oceans and reacted well with hydrogen, which was also very common. The result was the emergence of some of the oldest known living organisms — the sulphate reducing bacteria.

Suphate reducing bacteria combined sulphate and hydrogen to produce hydrogen sulfide gas or H2S.

As a result, ancient oceans were cauldrons bubbling over with hydrogen sulfide which was the biproduct of these primordial organisms’ respiration in much the same way that oxygen is a biproduct of plant respiration and CO2 is a biproduct of animal respiration. Such an ocean state, called a Canfield Ocean by today’s scientists, was the common state for the world’s oceans until the emergence of more complex life around 2.5 billion years ago. By about 600 million years ago, the Canfield Ocean state only very rarely came into being and when it did, mass death tended to rapidly follow.

Changes Came With the Emergence of Oxygen

As the Earth system matured and new organisms came into being, CO2 reducing photosynthetic life emerged and began to produce an abundance of oxygen. Toxic to the ancient organisms, the abundance of oxygen pushed the sulphate reducing bacteria into the world’s low-oxygen corners. The deep ocean, or anaerobic mud became a haven for these tiny primordial monsters. Never again would they dominate as they once did. But, from time to time, when priomordial ocean states would infrequently emerge during various hot-house phases in Earth’s climate progression, these life forms would explode, producing prodigious volumes of what, to more complex life, was the very toxic hydrogen sulfide gas.

A Toxic, Volatile Gas

Hydrogen sulfide is directly toxic to most plant and animal based life. Its effects in animals are similar to that of hydrogen cyanide in that it eventually results in cardio-pulminary shock and then death. Lower levels of hydrogen sulfide are associated with loss of smell, blindness, respiratory infections, and loss of neurological and nervous system function. At very low levels, hydrogen sulfide is non toxic and is even produced in cells to perform various functions. Human lethality begins at around 600 parts per million. Smaller mammals with higher respiration rates begin to show lethality at around 450 ppm. Doses in the range of 10-20 parts per million have been known to cause eye irritation and damage over long periods of exposure. Levels over 50 ppm are generally considered harmful if exposure occurs for long durations. Doses between the irritation dose (10 ppm) and the lethality dose (600 ppm) over extended periods are shown to cause the eye damage and degenerative nerve and lung changes listed above.

In the environment, hydrogen sulfide causes numerous other damaging impacts. The gas reacts with hydroxyl and oxygen over the course of about 1 to 3 days to produce sulfur dioxide. Aside from providing a mechanism to draw down local oxygen levels, the sulfur dioxide product can end in the stratosphere where it substantially degrades the protective ozone layer.

Though hydrogen sulfide is slightly heavier than air, tending to pool at lower elevations, it is light enough to be born aloft by winds to various layers of the atmosphere and its even lighter sulfur dioxide products are quite a bit more mobile. At high enough atmospheric concentrations, both it and its sulfur products could begin to seriously degrade the Earth’s protective ozone layer. And evidence exists in the geological record of such events occurring on at least a couple of occasions during the last 250 million years. Notably, during the Permian extinction event, large numbers of fossils have been found with the characteristic UV damage that would occur in a world in which the ozone layer had been greatly degraded.

At high enough concentrations, hydrogen sulfide is volatile enough to burn. A 4.3 percent concentration is immediately combustible, producing a bluish flame. This extraordinarily high concentration would be almost immediately lethal to humans if inhaled and usually only presents a fire risk at highly concentrated sources.

In the current day, high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas are often associated with natural gas extraction. Natural gas, by volume, can contain as much as 90 percent hydrogen sulfide. The hydrogen sulfide, in this case, occurs due to catalytic reaction of the hydrocarbon with certain minerals present in the Earth. Though not produced by the same mechanisms as oceanic hydrogen sulfide, the gas in this form is just as dangerous and is a constant concern to workers of the oil and gas industry. Notably, risks of hydrogen sulfide exposure, leaks, and release into the environment have greatly increased with the widespread adoption of hydro-fracking practices that use high pressure liquids to rupture tight gas deposits and chaotically release the substance for its collection at one of the US’s 1 million well sites.

In general, the volatility, danger, and toxicity of the gas is difficult to overestimate. Notably, its lethality resulted in its use as a chemical weapon during World War I.

Culprit of Past Mass Extinctions

High concentrations of hydrogen sulfide, resulting both from its production in a Canfield type ocean state and, possibly, through its release in large methane pulses from the sea bed during catastrophic warming events, has been implicated in numerous mass extinction events both on land and in the ocean. Notably, the Permian-Triassic extinction, the Triassic-Jurassic extinction, and the PETM extinction in the deep oceans all show signs related to ocean anoxia and varying levels of hydrogen sulfide gas production. Earlier mass extinctions such as the Devonian and Ordovician extinctions were also likely caused by anoxia and related hydrogen sulfide production. Lesser extinctions in which ocean anoxia also probably played a part include  the Ireviken, Mulde, Lau, Toarcian and Cenomanian-Turonian events.

Prominent researchers such as Ward and Kump propose that hydrogen sulfide production by sulfate reducing bacteria is a primary extinction mechanism in stratified and anoxic oceans due to their inevitable multiplication in these environments which are, to them, far more favorable than oxygen-rich mixed oceans. In a Canfield Ocean world, large, episodic releases of hydrogen sulfide gas would cause local mass poisonings of land dwelling animals, especially of those living near large ocean-linked bodies of water. The ocean itself would be brimming full and spilling over with this nasty substance. This condition would be highly toxic to most life, requiring extreme adaptation to survive in naturally occurring havens.

Separate depletion of atmospheric oxygen through both the plant killing mechanism of hydrogen sulfide gas and its long-term reaction with oxygen would also make life far more difficult to terrestrial creatures. Finally, the massive amounts of sulfur dioxide produced in such a world would combine with the hydrogen sulfide pulsing into the atmosphere to create an ongoing, long-term degradation of the ozone layer, further harming surface dwelling plants and animals.

During the Permian Extinction, such conditions, together with other impacts of a global hothouse featuring a massive flood basalt, are thought to have wiped out more than 70% of terrestrial organisms and a total of more than 95% of all life on Earth.

Occurrence in Current Seas

Expanding Ocean Anoxia Hydrogen Sulfide in the Baltic Sea

(Expanding bottom anoxia, hypoxia and hydrogen sulfide production since 1960 in the bottom zone of the Baltic Sea. Red indicates region experiencing low or no oxygen content. Black indicates areas where H2S gas is detected. Image source: Baltic Sea Trends)

The world’s oceans, according to recent research, are rapidly becoming more stratified and less oxygen-rich. The result is that mixing between various layers of the ocean is beginning to shut down reducing oxygen content in the deep ocean and spurring the expansion of numerous oceanic dead zones.

Over the past 150 years, the Pacific Ocean was observed to become more stratified at a pace ten times that seen during the end of the last ice age about 12,000 years ago. Such a rapid pace of stratification is putting severe stress on the world’s oceans with numerous regions showing the effects of low oxygen (hypoxia) and some regions succumbing to increasingly anoxic states.

These low oxygen events have been associated with multiplying oceanic dead zones. Very large dead zones have been observed in the Pacific, specifically off the coast of Oregon. Other major dead zones continue to be observed at the mouth of major river systems, such as within the Gulf of Mexico, where the appearance of massive related toxic algae blooms is now an almost annual event. In general, almost all ocean dead zones are expanding leading to the dramatic reduction in habitat size of numerous fish species. And even the most cursory research provides ample evidence that ocean hypoxia is expanding concurrently with a rapidly expanding ocean stratification.

When combined with the jarring effects of rapid ocean warming and expanding acidification, it becomes plainly obvious to almost any ocean ecologist that the world’s ocean system is suffering the heavy bombardment of a new mass extinction event.

It is this kind of low or no oxygen environment that is a prime breeding ground for hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria. In numerous places around the world, such as off the coast of Namibia, in the Black Sea, in the Baltic Sea, in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Chesapeake Bay, and off the coast of Oregon, large and expanding zones of hydrogen sulfide have been observed in deep water environments. In some regions, this hydrogen sulfide occasionally penetrates to the surface layer resulting in major fish kills and a concordant rotten egg smell.

Off the Oregon coast, in perhaps one of the most extreme examples of ongoing ocean hypoxia, one of the world’s largest and most oxygen-starved dead zones continues to expand. The oxygen levels in this region are so low that local fisherman often bring back horrific tales of baby bottom dwelling creatures such as crabs and octopus climbing anchor ropes to escape the dangers of their oxygen-starved environment. In another, possibly related event, masses of starfish perished during 2013 and 2014 as they, over the course of a few weeks, turned to goo. The fact that this sci-fi esque mass death of starfish occurred near one of the world’s largest dead zones should not be lost on those concerned for world ocean health.

But perhaps even more concerning is the fact that this region off the Oregon coast is producing substantial volumes of hydrogen sulfide gas. Volumes high enough in concentration to occasionally cross the ocean-air boundary.

Oregon possesses numerous features that would aid in the transport of this gas to the surface. Primarily, the near Oregon ocean system frequently features strong up-welling currents. These currents can push bottom waters through stratified layers and cause them to contact the surface. If these oxygen starved bottom waters contain hydrogen sulfide gas, as they increasingly do, this harmful gas can be transported into the local atmosphere through mixing.

Such events, thus far, have been limited. However, since the Oregon dead zone’s discovery in 2001, its expansion has been both deeply concerning and well documented, showing a rapid and dangerous growth over the 13 years since its emergence. Despite the documented expansion of deep water hydrogen sulfide in numerous oceanic regions, the only other ocean zone on Earth observed to emit hydrogen sulfide gas to the atmosphere is in the region of coastal Namibia.

In Namibia, huge volumes of organic compounds fall into the sea after being flushed down ocean terminating streams and rivers. These organic compounds rain down into the deep ocean directly off Nambia’s coasts. There, the ocean bottom hosts both an anoxic environment and masses of hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria. As a result, toxic hydrogen sulfide gas periodically erupts from the ocean and into the atmosphere there.

The Very Real Threat That is Oceanic Hydrogen Sulfide Gas Production

There are few limiters to oceanic hydrogen sulfide production in the world’s increasingly stratified and oxygen starved oceans. Sulphate, which the bacteria require for respiration, is one of the most common ocean elements. In the current ocean, it is present in volumes greater than those seen during the Permian Extinction when these tiny monsters are thought to have done their worst.

Iron and manganese in the world ocean system aids in the development of less permeable boundary layers that help keep a lid on deep ocean concentrations of hydrogen sulfide. However, even in the anemic circulation of stratified and Canfield oceans, upwelling will bring the gas to the surface in certain regions. In addition, as the oceans contain greater and greater volumes of the toxic gas, it will push closer and closer to the surface, rendering metals that help reinforce the boundary layer a practically useless prophylactic (such high metal concentrations currently prevent hydrogen sulfide from penetrating the surface layer in the Black and Baltic Seas as well as in the Chesapeake Bay).

In addition, modern industrial farming practices provide extra nutrients upon which these dangerous microbes can feed. High levels of hydrogen sulfide in the deeper regions of the Chesapeake Bay, for example, owes its existence, in part, to massive farm run-off into the Bay and the dumping of mass volumes of nutrients upon which the sulphate reducing bacteria can feed.

It is important to note that we observe heightened levels of hydrogen sulfide gas in the world ocean system now. As hypoxia and anoxia progress with the human-caused warming of the oceans, and as glacial melt interrupts and alters the now strong ocean currents and related mixing, it is certain that hydrogen sulfide production in the deep ocean will continue to increase resulting in elevating levels of harm to ocean dwelling animals and ever more numerous instances of hydrogen sulfide gas contact with coastal and surface waters.

Dead Cthulu Rises

In the context of increasing ocean hypoxia and stratification, we might do well to remember that we are tiny, weak beings at the mercy of great natural forces which we can barely conceive or understand. Forces that we have unwittingly, callously and ignorantly set into motion.

*   *   *   *   *

Long ago, when I was a ten year old child, I was fortunate enough to meet an amazingly kind, adventurous and inquisitive man. The man, whom I will call Rick to keep safe his identity, was a bit of a local paramour in ocean and bay research. He was constantly in contact with both the ocean and adjacent Chesapeake bays, ever venturing out to explore and to conduct research on marine life. In later years, he would be the impetus behind annual summer marine science camps hosted by the Virginia Institutes of Marine Science, Norfolk Academy, and Old Dominion University. But this was later. Now, Rick was helping an elementary school student present on the issue of our then expanding understanding of marine science.

Living so close to the bay and ocean, I was intimately in contact with the living boundary of land and sea. In the more demanding and less stimulating forum that was public education, I seldom had the opportunity to indulge my passion for the oceans. But at age 10 I was given the opportunity to give a broad marine science presentation for my classmates. As part of my project, I constructed posters and models depicting the current state of world ocean research. I graphically illustrated the various known zones of the bathysphere, the light and life filled ones and the more mysterious and far less well understood depths. But Rick was the centerpiece of my presentation. He was my keynote. And he energetically answered all my own and fellow students’ questions, speaking in the kind and intriguing manner that would later draw so many into his charismatic orbit.

In later years, I would attend Rick’s summer marine science camps on two different occasions. In both cases, I observed what appeared to be an increasing concern about both the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the neighboring oceans. In later years, Rick’s attitude, once so full of optimism, bordered on cynicism. The world he loved so deeply was experiencing death on a scale that horrified him. And he harbored a deep sense of betrayal that we weren’t doing more to stop the senseless slaughter of so many of the living things he saw as both beautiful and wondrous.

In the mid 2000s, Rick committed suicide. To me, one of the great ocean pioneers of my developmental years had passed away by taking his own life. And I couldn’t help but wonder if the horrible ways in which the oceans that he so loved were changing was just too much for him. If the commercialization and cheapening of all the things he held most dear along with their subsequent damaging and putting at great risk of terrible harm had robbed his life of beauty and purpose.

Rick was, if anything, a very intelligent and sensitive man. He knew what was happening to the Bay and ocean on a personal level. When the Bay was harmed it was as if it hurt Rick too.

Rick also knew how temperature changes affected the depths. For he was on the front line studying it. He was hauling up the fish and the water samples. He was doing the measuring with his own hands.

Was the awakening of terrible Cthulu, in the form of hypoxia, anoxia and deadly hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria, too much for Rick to continue bearing mute witness? Did his pleas to those working in the marine science community fall only on deaf ears? Was it just too much for this sensitive, feeling, and intelligent man to bear?

*   *   *   *   *

If Rick taught me anything it was that our lives and the life of the ocean are deeply connected. One cannot remain healthy without the other. In contrast to this basic understanding, the damage our continued industrial emission of greenhouse gasses is doing to the world ocean system is a horrific travesty. And the damage we have already caused, have already done to those most sensitive creatures among us, have already set in play for future decades and centuries, is tremendous.

The ocean suffocates, bleeding deadly hydrogen sulfide gas. Cthulu rises from his ancient house in the depths. And yet we still continue down the wretched path in pursuit of more terrible things to come.

Links:

The Earth Observatory

Baltic Sea Trends

Commons

Through the Looking Glass of the Great Dying

Sulphate Reducing Bacteria

Impact From the Deep

Toxicological Profile for Hydrogen Sulfide

Positive Reinforcement, H2S and the Permo-Triassic Extinction

Massive Release of Hydrogen Sulfide to the Surface Ocean and Atmosphere During Intervals of Ocean Anoxia

Expanding Ocean Dead Zones are Shrinking Marlin, Tuna, and Billfish Habitats

Dead Zone Causing Wave of Death off Oregon Coast

Information about Hydrogen Sulfide in the Baltic Sea

Residence time for Hydrogen Sulfide in the Atmosphere

Dramatic Expansion of Ocean Dead Zones

Under a Green Sky

World CO2 Levels Dangerously High: January Sees 399.5 ppm in First Week, Could Crack 400 Before Month-End

In speeding toward a climate cliff unlike anything seen in geological history, we continue to slam the accelerator through the floor-boards of our metaphorical ‘world civilization’ automobile… One hopes we should apply the breaks, but, in the same thought, wonders if they have already started to give out…

*    *    *    *    *    *

From 2012 to 2013 worldwide annual CO2 levels, as measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory, raced ahead by nearly 3 ppm. This break-neck pace was more than seven times faster than at any period in the observed geological record spanning hundreds of millions of years. As 2013 transitioned to 2014, the unprecedented pace of increase showed little sign of slackening with hourly average CO2 levels reaching 399.5 PPM on January 7th of this year.

Mauna Loa Early January

(Daily and hourly CO2 average readings as recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory from January 1 to January 7. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

These levels are similar to those seen last year during late April, near the peak of the annual atmospheric CO2 cycle that typically occurs during late May to early June. If this year’s pace of atmospheric CO2 increase continues, it is entirely possible that hourly, daily, or even weakly averages will exceed 403 ppm CO2 come late spring. Meanwhile, it appears possible that hourly CO2 averages will exceed 400 ppm before the end of this month.

Increasing Environmental Feedbacks Driving Higher Rate of CO2 Increase?

Though it is too early to conclude that the rate of CO2 increase has quickened, observations show rising contributions of both CO2 and methane from Earth Systems in addition to the inexorably increasing human emission. Thawing Arctic tundra, increasingly wide-spread forest fires, expanding drought zones, and ocean zones that appear to be reaching CO2 saturation points all hint at an Earth System that is both less able to absorb human CO2 emissions and more likely to release carbon (CO2 and methane) on its own.

The Arctic alone, in recent years, has been placed on the map as a major emitter of both CO2 and methane contributing enough volumes of these gasses to make it one of the world’s largest emission sources. If the Arctic were a country, it would probably rank around 4th in total global carbon emissions when compared to the world’s industrialized nations. And, unfortunately, the Arctic is likely just starting to ramp up as a carbon source (see Amplifying Feedbacks and Arctic Methane Monster Stirs).

With the human forcing so strong and the pace of Arctic warming so great, it is only a matter of time before the emissions signal coming from the Arctic becomes irrefutable to the rational observer. The question, at this point, is: has it already started to happen?

Racing Toward a Very Dangerous World

Both the quickening pace of global average CO2 increase and the observed increasing emission from the Arctic are cause for serious concern. A world that remains stable at 400 ppm is a world about 2-3 C hotter than today. Its seas are 15 to 75 feet higher. And its ability to support the kind of environments that humans are used to is radically reduced. But world CO2 levels are not stable at 400 ppm. They are racing higher at between 2.2 and, in recent years, close to 3 ppm (official average increase of 2.65 ppm for 2013) — six to seven times faster than ever before.

The Earth System has yet to fully respond to this rapid and very powerful insult.

Which brings me to this final thought as was so creatively illustrated over at the Arctic News blog:

IPCC-methane-monster

(Image source: Arctic News)

Links:

The Keeling Curve

Arctic News

 

Amplifying Feedbacks: Climate Model to Test Projections of Zero Sea Ice By Summer 2016, Stark Predictions by Wadhams, Duarte

Ever since 1995 and especially since 2007 Arctic sea ice area, volume and extent have been in rapid free-fall. By 2012 both sea ice area and extent had suffered losses greater than 55% when compared to end summer measures in 1979. Sea ice volume, meanwhile had shown a stunning loss of nearly 80% from 1979 volume observations. This staggering trend of losses means that any melt year comparable to 2007, 2010 (volume) or 2012 would result in the total or near total loss of all sea ice within the Arctic by end of summer.

The summer of 2013 was exceptional in that it was the first year that statistical averages indicated a potential for total summer sea ice loss. The risk at the time was considered to be low, only 10%. But the figure was historic in that, never before, had a statistical risk of total sea ice loss been identified. Following more typical trends, the 2013 melt season showed a bounce-back from 2012’s record melt year with levels roughly correlating with those seen in 2009. That said, even 2013’s pseudo-recovery did little to disturb an extraordinarily powerful melt trend:

Sea Ice Volume Exponential Trend Wipneus

(Sea Ice Volume Measurements For All Months as Observed By PIOMAS With Exponential Trend. Image source: Wipneus. Note that the exponential trend shows monthly volume measures for July, August, September and October reach zero sea ice volume all before 2019.)

Taken into context, the 2013 melt season was little more than a counter-trend year in a period of ongoing and apparently inexorable decline. In context to these massive losses, the heat forcing in the Arctic continues to grow with most regions showing at least a doubled rate of temperature increase when compared to the global norm. Total temperature change in the Arctic is now about 2 degrees Celsius hotter than the 1950 to 1980 global average. A recent study of the regions around Baffin Island showed temperatures are now hotter than at any time within at least the last 44,000 years and probably the last 120,000 years. And with temperatures rising by about .4 degrees Celsius each decade, the Arctic continues to rapidly transition toward ever more hot and unfamiliar territory.

A High Resolution Climate Model For An Arctic in Rapid Transition

These rapid and massive changes appear to have left conventional global climate models (GCMs) in the dust. Earlier global climate model runs of the Arctic assumed slow responses to temperature increases by the world’s ice sheets resulting in predictions for ice free Arctic Ocean conditions at much higher temperatures than those currently being observed. The result of these assumptions that Arctic sea ice generated high inertia and was more resilient to human caused climate change were predictions for ice free Arctic summers to hold off until at least 2100.

But, as we have seen in the above analysis, recent events have put the possibility for ice free Arctic conditions on a much shorter time-scale. And, until recently, only statistical analysis, exponential trends fitting, and direct observation were able to provide any direct guide that more closely fit the stark and ongoing changes in the Arctic. In a world where simulative models seemed to take precedence over even observed reality, the dearth of models describing what all could plainly see was a catastrophic and rapid melt trend cast doubt on the all-too-stark observations.

Now, a new tool to place these much more rapid than expected melt conditions into context appears to be coming together. The high resolution Regional Arctic Systems Model (RASM) constructed by US Navy Scientist Professor Wieslaw Maslowski finds its basis in a 2012 paper showing the potential for the Arctic to be ice free come 2016 +/- 3 years. This new model takes into account a more detailed summary of Arctic conditions including a more highly resolved interpretation of the impacts of warming-driven changes to:

“… sea ice deformation, ocean eddies, and associated ice-ocean boundary layer mixing, multiphase clouds as well as land-atmosphere-ice-ocean interactions.”

Dr. Maslowski notes that while no climate model simulation is perfectly accurate, the RASM simulation is likely to be much closer to what is actually happening in the Arctic environment. Maslowski notes:

“Given the estimated trend and the volume estimate for October–November of 2007 at less than 9,000 km3, one can project that at this rate it would take only 9 more years or until 2016 ± 3 years to reach a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer. Regardless of high uncertainty associated with such an estimate, it does provide a lower bound of the time range for projections of seasonal sea ice cover.”

It is important to note that RASM hasn’t yet run or provided projections. But the fact that it is taking into account the visibly rapid loss of sea ice as well as a more refined view of the Arctic environs means that such a tool could well generate more accurate measures or at least help explain the apparently very rapid melt trend. According to Maslowski:

“We do expect to compare sea ice volume results [from the RASM model] with our earlier model for the same period … possibly next year or so…”

Confirmation of the Most Pessimistic Predictions?

2012 and 2007 record minimum overlay

(2007 and 2012 record sea ice minimums — overlay. Image source: NSIDC)

Dr. Maslowki’s paper and RASM model runs may provide single source confirmation for some of the most pessimistic predictions by Arctic sea ice experts. Dr. Peter Wadhams, a world renown sea ice expert who has spent about 30 years monitoring the state of sea ice aboard British Navy submarines has projected that the Arctic could reach an ice-free state by the end of summer during 2015 or 2016.

Another climate expert, Dr. Carlos Duarte, head of the Ocean Institute at the University of Australia, has projected that the Arctic will reach an ice free state by 2015.

More moderate projections place total sea ice loss during summer at between 2025 and 2040.

IPCC Global Climate Model Sea Ice Melt Projections For Extent (Trend in Black)

(IPCC Global Climate Model Sea Ice Melt Projections. Figures are in Sea Ice Extent (not Volume as seen Above). It is worth noting that the Volume and Area melt trends are much more pronounced than the extent measure that fails to count holes in the ice (area) or add in the measure of ice thickness (volume). The above image, produced by Overland and Wang, also appears to be off the 2012 minimum extent measure by about 200,000 square kilometers.)

Meanwhile, global climate models (GCMs), provided above, continue to lag real time observation, and projections by noted experts. Even taking into account models that have gotten the current trend mostly correct show ice free conditions by around 2050 (mean). Meanwhile, the GCM overall mean continues to show near ice-free conditions by 2100.

These projections are questionable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they only take into account the very low resolution of sea ice extent and not the higher resolution figures of sea ice area or volume. Sea ice area, for example, fell to a stunning record low of 2.1 million square kilometers during 2012, a total loss of about 3.6 million square kilometers since 1979 and a loss of about 1 million square kilometers off the previous record low (area) set in 2011. Such a low figure could already, arguably, be called ‘nearly ice free when compared to average area lows of nearly 6 million square kilometers during summers four decades ago.

sea ice area

(Sea Ice Area Measures Provided by NSIDC via Cryosphere Today. Note the extreme record low set in 2012, a measure well below comparable sea ice extent figures which fail to account for holes in the ice. See also: Arctic Ice Graphs.)

It is this lack of GCM resolution, combined with an ongoing trend of stunning losses that has resulted in serious changes in predictions by even somewhat conservative scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Professor Mark Serreze of Colorado’s branch of NSIDC, who is skeptical that ice free conditions could be reached as early as 2016, notes:

“I am on record stating that we may lose the summer ice cover as early as 2030, and I stand behind that statement. This is in itself much earlier than projections from nearly all climate model simulations. I would agree with Dr. Maslowski that the IPCC models have shortcomings.”

The question, then, is will higher resolution climate models like Maslowski’s RASM provide a better understanding of what appear to be chaotic, powerful and rapid changes to the Arctic environment well ahead of the previously predicted time-frame?

Loss of Summer Sea Ice to Unleash Amplifying Feedbacks

Because it covers such a large stretch of ocean with a white, reflective surface, sea ice is a primary governor of Arctic and global weather. It keeps the Arctic cool by insulating millions of square kilometers of dark Arctic Ocean waters from the near constant radiation of the polar summer sun.

As the sea ice retreats, more of this dark water becomes exposed to the sun’s rays. Because the ocean surface is dark, it traps most of this light. The result is far greater warming of the Arctic during the summer time.

The loss of sea ice and related ocean warming has a number of knock-on effects. The first is that increasing ocean heat delivers far more energy to the sea bed. In the case of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, the warming shallow sea is one filled with carbon deposits from a massive expanse of submerged tundra. An estimated 1500 gigatons of methane lay sequestered in thawing permafrost beneath this rapidly warming sea. According to Wadhams, loss of sea ice can add up to 7 degrees Celsius of additional warming to this vulnerable sea bed.

Current estimates provided by Dr. Natalia Shakhova show that around 17 megatons of methane are being released from the ESAS each year. This emission is more than twice that of the entire global ocean system and accounts for about 2.8 percent of the current global methane emission. Given the massive volume of methane stored in the ESAS and the rapid pace of sea ice loss and related ocean warming, this region of the world is more than capable of providing significant additional volumes of this potent greenhouse gas.

ESAS methane froth and sea ice

(A frothy mixture of methane and sea ice near the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Image source: Igor Semiletov, The University of Alaska)

Meanwhile, ship based observations show that methane levels at the surface of ESAS waters are a stunning 3800 ppb, about twice the global average:

“Ship-based observations show that methane concentrations in the air above the East Siberian Sea Shelf are nearly twice as high as the global average… Layers of sediment below the permafrost slowly emit methane gas, and this gas has been trapped for millennia beneath the permafrost. As sea levels rose at the end of the ice age, the shelf was once again covered by relatively warm ocean water, thawing the permafrost and releasing the trapped methane… In the short-term… methane has a global warming potential 86 times that of carbon dioxide. (NSIDC)”

More rapid Arctic Ocean warming during summer times also results in more rapid warming of nearby land masses. And recent years have seen a number of extraordinary Arctic heatwaves driving 80+ degree temperatures all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Rapid warming of this region also results in a rapid thaw of massive volumes of permafrost. The permafrost stores organic material that breaks down into both CO2 and methane, providing additional emissions that enhance an already very rapid human warming. Current emissions from the Arctic tundra system are estimated to be around 17 megatons of methane and hundreds of megatons of CO2. Like the emissions coming from the ESAS, these emissions provide a significant added contributor to the human GHG forcing and will likely continue to provide increasing emissions as the sea ice retreats further.

In addition to the combined amplifying feedback of loss of sea ice albedo and amplifying greenhouse gas emissions from the Arctic, sea ice erosion has now also been shown to have profound effects on the circumpolar Jet Stream. Research by Dr. Jennifer Francis, Dr. Quihang Tang, a number of other scientists, and confirming analysis by Dr. Jeff Masters, has noted a weakening in the Jet Stream caused by a lowering of the temperature differential between the lower latitudes and the poles. The Jet is driven by such high temperature extremes between north and south. But as the higher latitudes warm faster than the temperate zones this temperature differential drops and the Jet Stream weakens. The end result is higher amplitude Jet Stream waves that tend to get stuck, resulting in more persistent, extreme weather. Dr Quihang, in a recent paper, notes:

“As the high latitudes warm faster than the mid-latitudes because of amplifying effects of melting ice, the west-to-east jet-stream wind is weakened. Consequently, the atmospheric circulation change tends to favour more persistent weather systems and a higher likelihood of summer weather extremes.”

The end result of these alterations brought on by a very rapid loss of Arctic sea ice are chaotic changes to the Arctic Ocean and surrounding lands along with a severe disruption to Northern Hemisphere weather patterns. These changes also combine in a self-reinforcing pattern to further amplify the pace of human caused warming both in the Arctic and around the globe. And should the summer Arctic sea ice completely melt in the time-frame of now to 2019 as Maslowski, Wadhams and Duarte have projected as a ‘most rapid’ estimate, then the already stark changes we are seeing will become much more extreme and pronounced.

Links:

The Future of Sea Ice

US Navy Predicts Summer Ice Free Arctic by 2016 (Note, the Guardian article appears to be somewhat misinformed, conflating a 2012 paper by Maslowski with RASM model runs.)

NSIDC

Extreme Summer Weather Linked To Vanishing Cryosphere

Colorado Bob’s Climate Feed

Wipneus

Could Arctic Summers be Ice-Free Within Three Year’s Time?

When Will the Arctic Summer be Nearly Ice Free?

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Hat Tip to Aaron

(Updated December 17)

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