As France and Canada Plan to Phase Out Coal, Trump Backers Attack Tesla

Taking traditional coal power out of our energy mix and replacing it with cleaner technologies will significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, improve the health of Canadians, and benefit generations for years to come. —  Canada’s Environment Minister Kathleen McKenna

Make no mistake – Trump and his legion of doom cronies are a very real threat to the environment. Apart from the fact that they deny climate change actually exists, they are also quite big fans of coal. — IFL Science

Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost U.S. competitiveness. — 365 U.S. Companies in an open letter to Trump asking him not to back out of Paris Climate Summit.

Climate change is a hoax. — Myron Ebell, whom Trump tapped to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency transition team.

*****

The wide-ranging conflict over renewable energy, carbon emissions, and climate change rages on. And as Donald Trump prepares to enter the Oval Office, or stay within the gilded halls of Trump Tower to the tune of 1 million dollars a day from the U.S. taxpayer (not Trump), it appears that U.S. climate and renewable energy leadership are already starting to lag.

Canada and France to End Coal Burning

Yesterday, in stark contrast to the Trump Administration’s pledge to rebuild the bankrupt U.S. coal industry, Canada announced that it would phase out coal burning by 2030. In similar moves, France stated that it would shut down all of its coal plants by 2023. Both pledges by Canada and France are aimed at pursuing carbon emissions reductions agreed to at the Paris Climate Summit and to honor the spirit of a new climate summit — COP 22 — that is now underway.

France and Canada join with Britain, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark who have all announced near-term timetables for phasing out coal burning. And since coal is the worst of the three major fossil fuel sources of CO2 emissions, halting coal burning is a key to addressing the rapidly worsening crisis that is human forced climate change.

Trump’s own statements on global climate summits and carbon emissions reduction commitments are that he wants to back out. An action that has already harmed U.S. trade prospects with France — whose public officials are now signaling that they could slap a carbon tax on U.S. goods if the President-Elect carries through with his threats. But, perhaps even worse, it appears that Trump’s intention to cling to dirty, old industries is also endangering U.S. competitiveness in emerging markets.

Elon Musk Solarizes American Somao

As the world moves ahead with emissions reductions and looks for ways to manage a recalcitrant U.S. under Trump, backers of Trump’s Presidential bid are at this time preparing to attack a key emerging U.S. solar and electrical vehicles industry. This week, Elon Musk’s Tesla announced that it had succeeded in providing 100 percent solar powered electricity to the island territory of Samoa.

american-samoa

(Like many places in the world, American Samoa is threatened by climate change. Now, thanks to Tesla, the island will not contribute to the problem through electricity generation as all such energy is produced by 100 percent solar power. Image source: The Embassy of Samoa.)

And over the next few years, Tesla, a global leader in renewable energy products, promises to create whole new markets even as it helps the world greatly reduce carbon emissions by providing both zero emitting power sources and zero emitting electrical vehicles.

Trump Backers Smear Tesla While Subsidy Support for Fossil Fuels Continues

If there is one major avenue for U.S. growth into new industry and innovation — it comes in the form of renewables. And Tesla is on the cutting edge of renewable energy innovation. The Trump Administration has made big and risky bets on rapid U.S. economic growth to support its own economic policy stance. But Trump backers appear set to try to hobble Tesla and prevent its entry as a global energy leader fostering solutions to climate change, providing products that enable energy independence, and supporting thousands of American jobs.

Trump’s stance in this case is pretty outrageous. It would be like the Reagan Administration attacking personal computers and Microsoft in favor of companies that produced the typewriter after his election in 1980. But as ludicrous as such a policy would have been, it wouldn’t have risked the global calamity that a failure to transition to renewable energy sources results in today.

fossil-fuel-subsidies

(A vast amount of public money and support has gone to aid fossil fuel extraction. This extraction, in its turn, has contributed greatly to the problem of human-caused climate change. It’s worth noting that zero-emitting renewable energy, over its industry lifetime has received just 1 percent of the support that the fossil fuel industry has in this country. Image source: Clean Technica.)

Despite the plain fact that expansion of access to renewable energy is necessary to deal with the crisis of human-caused climate change, Trump backers continue to attack these helpful new industries. In the most recent salvo, according to Electrek, a right wing group that aided Trump’s Presidential bid is now spear-heading a PR campaign aimed at damaging Tesla. The group is trying to falsely portray Tesla and the solar industry as a ‘subsidy hog.’ But the group mentions nothing of the massive subsidies going to fossil fuel corporations and to related oil, gas, and coal extraction. The group’s leader, Laura Ingraham, is a Fox News host and is likely acting to protect oil, gas and coal subsidies from a more appealing and less environmentally harmful energy industry competitor. And because groups like the ones fronted by Ingraham have come to prominence by riding in on Trump’s coat-tails, we can expect more and more of the same.

Business Leaders Plead With Trump, But Policy Looks Bad as Bad Can Be

But it’s not just an issue of Trump and his backers targeting Tesla. It’s an issue of Trump vs the sentiment of a major subset of the U.S. business community.

Last week, 365 major U.S. businesses issued an open letter asking Trump to support policies that confront climate change like the Paris Climate Summit. Businesses that included icons like Mars Candy, Nike, IKEA, Intel, Dannon, Dupont, and Hilton were among the signatories. And these industries together represent a huge interest group. One that supports the low carbon and carbon nuetral economy that companies like Tesla are helping to build. So the question is — will Trump turn a deaf ear to a whole segment of the American business community just to defend the interests of the damaging and fading fossil fuel industry (supposing the alternative is the highly unlikely event in which Trump, like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, undergoes a miraculous change of heart).

Add in the fact that Trump’s cabinet is full of climate change deniers like Myron Ebell — who was the big voice supporting the fake argument that ‘global warming is a hoax’ — and we get the general picture of an Admistration that is hostile to both renewable energy and to the global effort to confront climate change. That is deaf to rational arguments by global political and industrial leaders. And such a brazen failure to engage on an issue that impacts pretty much everyone is the kind of lack of leadership that comes to the U.S. at the absolute worst possible time.

Links:

France to Halt Coal Burning

Canada to Halt Coal Burning

U.S. Companies to Trump — Don’t Abandon Global Climate Deal

IFL Science

Clean Technica

The Embassy of Samoa

Hat tip to Genomik

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to June

Hat tip to Greg

Key Hothouse Gas to Rise at Record Rate, Hit Near 408 Parts Per Million in 2016

For 2016 it appears that monthly concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) will hit a new peak near 408 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory in April or May. Not only is this the highest concentration of this key heat-trapping gas ever recorded at Mauna Loa, but it is also the high water mark of what is likely to be the most rapid rate of annual CO2 increase ever seen.

Atmospheric CO2 407-408 ppm

(Atmospheric CO2 keeps being pushed into record ranges by a massive ongoing fossil fuel emission. Global hothouse gas levels are now high enough to begin resulting in various catastrophic changes such as rapid sea level rise, glacial destabilization, increasing instances of droughts, floods and wildfires, and declining ocean health. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

By 2014, a Century and a half of global fossil fuel burning had dumped an egregious amount of carbon into the world’s airs — forcing atmospheric CO2 levels to rise from about 275 parts per million in the mid 19th Century to a peak of around 401.5 parts per million during that year. By May of 2015, atmospheric CO2 levels peaked at around 403.8 parts per million. And by April of 2016, the monthly average concentrations of this heat-trapping gas had rocketed to near 407.6 parts per million. As atmospheric CO2 readings typically peak in May, we can expect a final top monthly average this year to range between 407.6 to 408 ppm — or 3.8 to 4.2 parts per million higher than during the same time in 2015. A total overall increase of around 133 parts per million since the 19th Century. A level of atmospheric carbon that — if it is maintained — is enough to increase global temperatures by nearly 3 degrees Celsius over the coming decades and centuries.

On the Edge of 1.5 C

(Atmospheric CO2 levels now approaching 410 parts per million are pushing global temperatures dangerously close to the 1.5 C threshold identified by scientists as marking a the first series of civilization-endangering climate tipping points. Maintaining CO2 levels near 410 parts per million risks 3 C warming long term. Continuing carbon emissions makes an already bad situation dramatically worse. Image source: Climate Central.)

These are now the highest atmospheric CO2 levels seen in the last 23 million years. And an annual rate of CO2 increase approaching 4 parts per million is unheard of for any time period in any geological record — even during the Permian hothouse extinction event which wiped out about 90 percent of life in the oceans and 75 percent of life on land. This very rapid rate of atmospheric CO2 increase is being spurred on by a fossil fuel based carbon emission now in the range of 13 billion tons each year (of which CO2 is the vast majority). That’s a rate of carbon addition more than ten times faster than the carbon spike that set off the Paleocene-Eocene hothouse mass extinction about 55 million years ago. A very dangerous rate of carbon accumulation that will generate increasingly severe and harmful geophysical changes over the coming years, decades and centuries. An event that, if it continues, could well be termed the mother of all carbon spikes.

New Record Rate of Increase For Hothouse Gas Concentrations as CO2 Emissions Level Off

Peak-to-peak rates of increase do not capture the full annual average accumulation, but it is an indicator. And for 2016, it appears the annual measure will jump by at least 3.5 parts per million. Previous record rises occurred last year (in 2015) and in 1998 when atmospheric carbon dioxide jumped by about 3 parts per million. Over the past decade, carbon dioxide has accumulated by about 2.2 parts per million each year. So, by any context, 2016 is looking pretty bad in that we’ll almost certainly see a new record pace of greenhouse gas accumulation.

Totten Glacier Plug in Antarctic Bathtub

(A recent study in Nature Geoscience found that continued fossil fuel burning and accumulation of atmospheric greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide risks the irreversible destabilization of Totten Glacier which would result in rapid sea level rise this Century. In total, the Totten Glacier covers an area the size of the southeastern US, is more than a mile thick and, if melted, would raise sea levels by 11 feet. Researchers found that the mouth of the Totten Glacier — holding back this gigantic pile of ice — is rapidly melting now. Image source: Nature Geoscience and The Washington Post.)

The causes of this amazing and dangerous jump in atmospheric CO2 rest entirely at the feet of the global fossil fuel industry — which continues to push through its various political allies and media agencies for expanded and extended burning of coal, oil, and gas. But despite numerous attempts by that destructive industry to stifle the pace of renewable energy adoption and to stymie efforts to increase energy efficiency, both efficiency and renewables have advanced and rates of carbon emission leveled off during 2014 and 2015.

What the industry has achieved, however, is continued delay of a more rapid rate of renewable energy adoption which has resulted in global carbon emissions maintaining at current record high ranges. And such a huge dump of carbon into the atmosphere and oceans would have inevitably resulted in new record rates of atmospheric CO2 increase being hit eventually.

IEA global carbon emissions

(Global CO2 emissions leveled off in a record range near 32 billion tons per year during 2014 and 2015. Increasing rates of renewable energy adoption and improvements in energy efficiency helped to drive this trend. However, 32 billion tons of CO2 each year [approximately 8 billion tons of the total 13 billion tons of carbon hitting the air each year when the molecular weight of non-carbon atoms such as oxygen is removed] is likely the most rapid pace of atmospheric CO2 accumulation in all of the deep history of the Earth. A stark statistic that lends urgency to rapidly drawing such a high annual emission rate down. Image source: International Energy Agency — Decoupling of Global Emissions and Economic Growth Confirmed.)

This year, a strong El Nino reduced the ability of oceans to uptake such a massive volume of pollution belching from the world’s smokestack and tailpipes. A variable warming of waters that put a lid on what is an already fading ocean carbon sink. In addition, comparatively small but significant carbon contributions in the form of increasing global wildfires, ramping permafrost thaw and burning, and increasing methane seeps now provide a visible amplifying feedback to the massive and unprecedented human greenhouse gas emission. A feedback that is bound to rapidly worsen if the literally insane human fossil fuel emission does not stop soon.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

Entering the Middle Miocene

Ten Times Faster Than a Hothouse Extinction

Decoupling of Global Emissions and Economic Growth Confirmed

Climate Central

Hat tip to Meteorology Meg

Hat tip to DT Lange

Trudeau, Canadian Media Mum as Threat From Climate Change Induced Wildfires Grows

To say that this spring has produced an insane, unprecedented early start to wildfire season in Canada would be a monster understatement. In fact, the area of land burned over Canada is now 22 times greater than for the same period last year.

Nearly 2000 Square Miles Have Burned in Canada So Far — And It’s Not Even Summer Yet

By this time (May 16) last year (2015), during the start of what was then one of the worst fire seasons in Canadian history, a total of about 23,000 hectares of land had burned. This year (2016), a total of about 500,000 hectares (1930 square miles) had burned by the same day. That’s about 22 times more land burned than during the same period last year when fire season started abnormally early and ultimately burned much, much more than average.

wildfires burn across northwester Canada

(Wildfires burn across Central and Northwestern Canada on May 15 in this LANCE MODIS satellite shot. Hotspots , indicated by the red dots, in the image are visible in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Massive smoke plumes swirl over the region, drifting either north toward the thawing Arctic or south toward the United States. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 700 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

And this year, for the first time in Canadian History, a monster wildfire has forced the emptying of a city of 90,000 people — destroying 2,400 structures, damaging another 500 more, and threatening the infrastructure of the tar sands mines. An unconventional fossil fuel facility that Dr. James Hansen has called ‘one of the largest carbon bombs on the planet.’ A hothouse carbon extraction zone the size of Florida that has greatly contributed to the force of the fires that are now threatening the lives and livelihoods of people across Canada.

The massive extent and city-engulfing nature of these fires is evidence-in-plain-sight that a human-forced warming of the planet is taking a ridiculous toll on the forests and infrastructure of Canada. And the threatening of the tar sands facilities themselves by the new, uncanny fires has been called a black irony by those of us who’ve fought so hard to prevent global climate disasters that are now flaring up with increasing frequency and force. For evidence of ‘the arsonists of Fort McMurray’ sprawls as a ruination of a once-beautiful forested region just north of the burned city itself. There, the very fossil fuel industry that lit the fires of climate change now raging across the North, has constructed a vast carbon extraction and burning effort. Stripping the Earth bare in a great wasteland that is clearly visible in even the low resolution shots captured by satellites passing far overhead.

Stripped and barren lands of Canada's Tar Sands

(The stripped and barren lands of Canada’s tar sands as seen from the LANCE MODIS satellite on May 15th with the Fort McMurray Fire continuing to encroach from the south. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 55 miles.)

The fact that Canada, under Steven Harper and related governments for the past two decades, has cast its lot with this destructive industry is plainly visible — not only in the wasted landscapes and dying and burning forests — but in that country’s stunned and inadequate responses to a disaster that it has largely contributed to. In light of this fact, one would be hard-pressed to find the words ‘climate change’ printed in the mainstream Canadian media. And any statements exploring what is now an obvious link between the tar sands industry and what is an ongoing and increasing fire emergency are also notably absent.

In contrast, much has been said about rebuilding. About getting the climate-destroying tar sands production back on line. And Justin Trudeau — who was elected on a public mandate to do something about the increasing harms caused by human forced warming — has basically betrayed the trust of this broad constituency by first attempting to shame those concerned about climate change into silence and then refusing to answer questions on the issue of climate change over the past few weeks.

Trudeau, and much of the Canadian media at large, seem to be treating this disaster in isolation. To be pretending that this disaster is a fluke. And to be blithely ignoring a trend of worsening fires due to warming that is as clear as the blazing hot skies over the Canadian Northwest. A behavior that runs directly in line with climate change denial. And a behavior that is putting a growing number of Canadian citizens directly into harm’s way.

Fort McMurray Fires Resurgent

While morally-compromised Canadian politicians rest on their laurels and fail to commit to an energy transition that is imperative to the safety of global civilization, the Fort McMurray Fire itself has once again grown to new intensity. Over the weekend, temperatures in Alberta again spiked to record warm ranges as dryness set in. These conditions, combined with moderate winds to stoke the fires which once more erupted — filling the skies of the tar sands production region with the smokes of Nature enraged.

Fort McMurray Fire May 15

(The Beast again grows larger in this May 15 LANCE MODIS satellite shot. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 65 miles.)

Fires again drifted northward — expanding around the southern flank of the tar sands production facilities. And an ominous cloud of a tell-tale steely gray hangs over the fossil fuel production zone itself. Meanwhile, to the south, a broad fire-front continued to run out and away from the Lake Gregoire region. Further to the east, fires are expanding toward the Alberta border with Saskatchewan as the closest hot spot has flared within 11 kilometers of the demarcation line. And once more, large pyrocumulus clouds appear to be billowing up into the baked Alberta air.

In total, this immense fire is now about 250,000 hectares in size (965 square miles). Having grown 90,000 hectares (350 square miles) since last weekend, the blaze, which many now call The Beast, has over the past seven days expanded by 60 percent. The fire now shows every sign of exploding once again despite an intense effort by more than 1,000 firefighters.

Over the coming week, high temperatures in Alberta are expected range from the upper 60s to middle 80s. Meanwhile, extreme heat is predicted to expand over most of Northwestern Canada with 70 degree readings reaching the Arctic Ocean’s shores.

North America weather forecast

(Heat builds as fire danger for Canada again spikes during the week of May 16 to May 22. Readings in the 70s and 80s are expected to cover a broad swath of Central, Western, and Northern Canada with 70 degree readings stretching all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

There has been practically zero coverage in the broader Canadian Media — over the past two days — about what in the satellite analysis and in the coming forecast appears to be a fire situation that is again worsening and growing more dangerous. The Canadian Fire Agency and the weather forecasters have duly reported the risks. But the media response has been ominously and irresponsibly silent. In contrast, most sources continue to report as if the crisis is over and winding down. As if there aren’t still four months of fire season ahead. And as if human-forced climate change isn’t turning the boreal forests and permafrost zones of our world into a very dangerous fire-trap. Meanwhile, 2016 fire dangers are on the rise, not only for Alberta and Fort McMurray, but for almost all of Central and Northwestern Canada.

UPDATE 10:30 PM, May 16: As of Monday evening, news reports from Bloomberg indicated that the Fort McMurray Fire had again grown — this time swelling to 1,100 square miles (285,000 hectares) or about the size of Rhode Island. Winds from the south up to 25 miles per hour and abnormally hot temperatures caused fires to swell as they moved northward. By afternoon, one blaze had approached to within a kilometer of an Enbridge transportation hub, forcing the evacuation of another 4,000 workers from that tar sands facility. Firefighters worked to widen fire breaks protecting the terminal as emergency personnel considered spraying down equipment to keep the wildfire from spreading into it.

Fort McMurray Fires Monday

(Fort McMurray Fire expanding as it spread northward toward tar sands facilities on Monday, May 16. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Updated reports also indicate that nearly 2,000 personnel are now involved in combating Alberta wildfires. Heavy smoke emitting from the flames contributed to terrible air quality conditions (nearly four times worse than levels considered harmful) leading to recommendations from officials that people avoid the Fort McMurray and the surrounding area.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

Canada Interagency Fire Center

Climate Reanalyzer

NASA’s Hansen Explains Decision to Join Keystone XL Protests

The Arsonists of Fort McMurray Have a Name

Fort McMurray and the Fires of Climate Change

Can Justin Trudeau See the Forest Fire for the Trees?

Besieged by the Fires of Denial

Fort McMurray Fire Nears Enbridge Terminal Near Tar Sands Facilities

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to DT Lange

The Fires of Climate Change are Burning the Himalayas

It’s the highest mountain range in the world. Featuring peaks that scrape the sky, dwindling glaciers, and lush forests, these gentle giants are essential to the prosperity and stability of one of Asia’s greatest lands. For rainwater and glacial melt flowing out of the Himalayas feeds the rivers that are the very life-blood of India and her 1.25 billion people.

A major fire in the forests at Ahirikot in Srinagar, Uttarakhand state, India, Monday, May 2, 2016. Massive wildfires that have killed at least seven people in recent weeks were burning through pine forests in the mountains of northern India on Monday, including parts of two tiger reserves.(Press Trust of India via AP) INDIA OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO ARCHIVE

A major wildfire burns through the forests of Ahirikot in Srinagar, India on Monday, May 2, 2016. Massive wildfires that killed at least seven people over recent days burned through pine forests in the Himalaya mountains of northern India on Monday. (Image source: Press Trust of India)

But in 2016, amidst what is likely to be the most intense period of extreme heat to ever impact India, the Himalayas are burning.

Extreme Heat, Drought Kills Hundreds, Displaces Farmers, Puts Towns on Life Support

Throughout April and into early May temperatures have soared to well above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 C) and to sometimes higher than 122 F (50 C) all across the broad plains at the feet of the Himalayas. There, water stress now affects more than 330 million people. There, water trains are now necessary to keep whole towns from suffering dehydration. Farmers who have seen fields transformed into a baked white hard-pan are migrating to the cities in search of food, water and work. And armed guards now patrol the local water sources in regions hardest hit by the drought — preventing private farmers from stealing public water supplies for their crops.

The temperatures are so high that more than 300 people have now perished as a result of heat injuries. And Indian officials have now banned cooking during the day in an effort to reduce loss of life. But today the forests themselves are cooking as the air is filled with the smoke of more than 21,000 fires burning upon the flanks of India’s great mountain ranges.

21,000 Himalayan Wildfires

The fires began as early as February after a dry Winter and two years of depleted monsoonal rains. They continued to build through March and April. State firefighters were called up to combat the blazes, but to no avail. The fires kept growing and expanding. By last week the fires had begun to rage out of control — threatening 84 villages and enveloping more and more of the precious natural forest reserves that India has worked so hard to husband. By Monday, seven people had been killed by the fires and two endangered tiger preserves had been partially consumed.

Himalayas Burning

Massive plume of smoke from Himalayan wildfires becomes visible in the LANCE MODIS satellite shot on May 1, 2016. For reference, bottom edge of frame is about 600 miles.

Now conditions are so extreme that an army of 9,000 firefighters, including helicopter fire suppression craft, have been mobilized by the government of India in a desperate effort to beat back the flames. Blazes that are belching out thick clouds of smoke that now choke the airs over 1,000 miles of the Indian subcontinent, the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, Thailand and Cambodia. A thickening slate-gray pall that is clearly visible in the satellite picture above.

In total, more than 21 districts in two Indian states are now affected by the most intense fire situation to strike India since 2012 and what could well become the worst burning season India has ever experienced. Already, number of fires started in the first four months of 2016 exceed the total number of fires during all of 2015. And India’s hottest months — May and June — are still ahead. So despite a massive firefighting effort, weather conditions will only continue to worsen during the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, the monsoonal rains, if they do muster sufficient strength to alleviate the drought, will not arrive in the mountains until late June or early July.

A Context of Climate Change

Weak monsoonal rains over the past two years have contributed to 2016’s severe drought and related wildfires. And a strong El Nino has likely abetted this monsoonal weakening. However, increasing global temperatures set up an overarching trend of heating and drying throughout India. One that is, all-too-likely, the larger driver of this year’s drought and burning. For these days, atmospheric temperatures are high enough to weaken the Southeast Asian Monsoon even without the influence of El Nino. In addition, rising temperatures over India have their own localized drying effect. In the Himalayas, a warming of about 0.6 degrees C per decade since 1977 has generated a decline in glaciers. This decline causes mountain streams and rivers to dwindle — increasing both drought and fire risk. The added heat also increases the rate of evaporation — parching the soil.

As a result, the current drought, heatwaves, and wildfires in India occur in a context of human-caused climate change. Hitting an intensity we would not have seen in the world of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Thus, fossil fuel burning has, almost certainly, set the stage for the unprecedented conditions that India is now experiencing today. Conditions that will continue to worsen as more hothouse gas emissions hit the world’s airs. The current crisis in India should, therefore, not be viewed as temporary, but as part of an ongoing trend.

Links:

Wildfires Sweep Through Mountains in North India

With Climate Change, Himalayas Future is Warmer, Not Brighter

Wildfire Engulfs 3,000 Hectarces in Himachal

Thousands Sent to Fight Wildfires in Himalayan Foothills of India

LANCE-MODIS

More Than 300 Million People Now Suffer From the Worst Indian Drought in at Least 4 Decades

Armed Guards Now Patrol Dams in India

Press Trust of India

Hat tip to Redsky

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

NCAR: Global Temperature Increase To Lower Oxygen Content of Most Ocean Zones by the 2030s

A reduction in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans due to climate change is already discernible in some parts of the world and should be evident across large regions of the oceans between 2030 and 2040. — The National Center for Atmospheric Research in a press release on April 27th.

*****

Loss of oxygen in the world’s oceans. It’s one of those really, really bad effects of a human-forced warming of our Earth. One of the those climate monsters in the closet that Steve Pacala talks about. The kind of thing we really don’t want to set loose.

Deoxygenated Oceans as Major Killing Mechanism During Hothouse Extinctions

The damage caused by ocean oxygen loss is multi-variant and wide-ranging. The most obvious harm comes in the form of generating environments in which oxygen-dependent life in the oceans can no longer breathe. Any living creature that filters oxygen out of the water for respiration falls under threat due to lowered ocean oxygen levels. A group that includes pretty much all the advanced, multi-cellular life in the seas.

A press statement from the new NCAR study notes:

Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap the ocean of oxygen, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe.

namibia-hydrogen-sulfide-emission-2007

(Hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria blooms off the coast of Namibia during 2007. Hydrogen sulfide is a highly toxic gas. One that is produced by microbes that live in waters containing little or no oxygen. Image source: Earth Observatory.)

But a second, less immediately obvious hit comes in the form of generating expanding anoxic environments that favor the proliferation of toxin-producing microbes. Called dead zones, these oxygen-poor regions not only provide a suffocation threat to sea life, but they also form areas of water in which environmental toxins can build up. The result is a long-lasting negative impact to the health of life in the ocean and, in the most extreme cases, on land and in the airs as well.

The worst of these toxin-generating microbes are the hydrogen-sulfide producing bacteria. An ancient organism that is incompatible with oxygen-dependent life. A horror out of deep time that has tended to crop up again and again on the list of usual suspects of major hothouse extinction killers. A likely perpetrator of the big ocean and land die offs during pretty much all global warming based extinctions. An organism that dominated the world’s seas and likely vented its deadly gasses into the airs of the world of the Permian — during the worst die-off Earth has ever seen.

In short, hydrogen sulfide is deadly to almost all forms of life that currently dominate the world’s oceans, lands, and airs. And the bacteria that produces hydrogen sulfide requires oxygen-poor environments in which to grow and thrive. A world ocean high in oxygen keeps these little killers hidden away in the deep, dark corners of our Earth. But heat the world ocean up. Deprive it of oxygen. And they start to come out and become a threat (see more in Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse).

Oxygen Loss to Become Widespread by the 2030s

Already today we see regions of the world ocean that are experiencing oxygen loss. Some of this oxygen loss is due to a process called eutrophication. In eutrophication, nutrients overload the ecosystems of water-based environments. As nutrient content rises, large bacterial blooms emerge. Eventually, these blooms overpopulate the waters and devour all the food sources. When the microbes then die en masse, their decay robs the surrounding waters of oxygen — generating a dead zone.

Eutrophication has been sapping the world’s oceans of oxygen over wider and wider regions due to both agricultural run-off (fertilizers and top soils flushed into rivers, lakes and oceans that feed large microbial blooms and related dead zones) and due to nitrogen fall out from fossil fuel burning. But human forced global warming also plays a key roll in the loss of oxygen to the world ocean system.

Ocean Deoxygenation Map

(According to a new study from NCAR, ocean oxygen levels are already starting to fall in some regions due to global warming. If warming continues, NCAR finds that most of the world’s oceans will experience some level of oxygen loss due to this warming and due to a related increased stratification of surface waters. Image source: NCAR.)

The new NCAR study provides an excellent description of how warming the world’s surface waters can reduce ocean oxygen levels:

The entire ocean—from the depths to the shallows—gets its oxygen supply from the surface, either directly from the atmosphere or from phytoplankton, which release oxygen into the water through photosynthesis. Warming surface waters, however, absorb less oxygen. And in a double whammy, the oxygen that is absorbed has a more difficult time traveling deeper into the ocean. That’s because as water heats up, it expands, becoming lighter than the water below it and less likely to sink.

Waters that are less likely to sink are less likely to mix. And waters that are less likely to mix transfer less of the atmosphere’s oxygen to the global ocean. It’s a process called ocean stratification. A set of circumstances triggered by warming that can sap the world’s waters of their ability to support life even as it enhances their ability to generate environments favorable to toxin-producing microbes. And in the absolute worst cases, a stratified, oxygen-deprived ocean can transition into a dead, life-on-Earth-threatening Canfield Ocean.

Mobile Ocean Dead Zone

(Mobile ocean dead zones, like this one seen off the West African Coast during 2015, may grow more widespread as the world’s surface waters are depleted of oxygen due to a fossil fuel emission based warming. A new study from NCAR both explains how warming waters can hold less oxygen and notes that loss of oxygen to ocean surface waters becomes very widespread by the 2030s. Image source: Biogeosciences.)

In the NCAR study, which is well worth reading in full, scientists used model runs to determine when and where climate change would start to deprive the world ocean system of oxygen. The study found that regions off the coast of West Africa, regions west of South America, an area to the west of Australia, and a section of the Beaufort Sea were already experiencing lower levels of ocean oxygen due to global warming. West African seas were the first and hardest hit by warming in the models. This is interesting due to the fact that Namibia on the West Coast of Africa is one of the only regions of the world now observed to experience blooms of hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria that extend into the surface waters. West African waters have also generated a number of mobile, low-oxygen dead zones that have spiraled on off into the North Atlantic.

The fact that the NCAR study indicates that global warming has already reduced ocean oxygen levels in a region that is producing both dead zones and, in the case of Nambia, periods during which hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria appear at the surface, is cause for some concern. For by the 2030s, the NCAR model study indicates that global warming will be actively reducing ocean oxygen levels across the vast majority of the North Pacific, a majority of the South Pacific, most of the South Atlantic, and pretty much all of the Indian Ocean region covered in the new research. This raises the risk that open water dead zones like the ones seen off Africa and even hydrogen sulfide producing hot spots like Nambia may begin to creep into other regions of the world ocean — generating further threats to sea life, to fishing industry, and to human beings who depend on healthy oceans for livelihood and for life.

Links:

Widespread Loss of Ocean Oxygen (due to Climate Change) to Become Noticeable by the 2030s

Steve Pacala

Earth Observatory

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse

Biogeosciences

Mobile Ocean Dead Zones

Eutrophication

Ocean Stratification

Canfield Ocean

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to June

Climate Change Drives Half a Billion People to Suffer Hunger, Water Shortages as Droughts and Heatwaves Wreck Crops Across the Globe

At least 12 Indian states are believed to be facing famine and experts have warned that the water crisis could worsen if urgent action is not taken. — Greenpeace statement taken yesterday by The International Business Times.

******

A human-forced warming of the globe is a trigger for increasingly severe droughts, water shortages, food shortages, and heatwaves intense enough to cause mass casualties. As global temperatures during 2015 and 2016 have risen to more than 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial readings, we’ve seen more and more reports coming in of these kinds of climate-change driven disruptions.

A new study out this week from the European Commission has found that 240 million people across the world are now suffering from food stress. With Greenpeace now warning that 330 million people in India alone are faced with water shortages and threat of famine, and with millions more coming under both food and water stress in Vietnam as a record Southeast Asian heatwave ramps up to never-before-seen extreme temperatures — it appears now that more than half a billion people around the world are dealing with a climate change driven food and water crisis.

It’s a growing global crisis that has now come to affect more than 45 nations. One that has put at least 80 million of those now suffering from hunger at a food stress level just one step below famine. One whose primary trigger appears to be widespread and expanding drought and extreme weather due to global temperatures hitting new all-time record highs.

Food stress map

(Despite what is probably the best global system ever devised to prevent and reduce hunger, the European Commission now finds that 240 million people are at risk of food stress. A number that is likely incomplete as a newly emerging heatwave in Southeast Asia is drying up food and water supplies for millions. Image source: The European Commission.)

It’s a situation that international agencies appear to be scrambling to keep track of. For with each passing week there appears to be new information about another country falling under food and water stress or of one already affected seeing conditions among strained populaces worsen.

Hunger Expanding Across The Globe

In the Equatorial and near-Equatorial regions of the world, nations are particularly vulnerable to the stress of rising temperatures. There, soil moisture is already tenuous in many regions. As temperatures rise, rates of evaporation increase and marginal areas can rapidly fall into drought. In addition, many regions reliant on glacier and snow melt to provide water during summer are seeing mountain snows vanish and high elevation glaciers dwindle away as consistently above freezing temperatures invade further and further into the higher elevations.

Across Africa, Southern and Eastern Asia, The Middle East, and Central America this story has been writ large as new climate change driven heat and dryness appears to have hit a tipping point this year. Severe heatwaves, droughts, and dwindling rivers are setting off intense hunger crises in North Korea, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Central Africa, and Nigeria — countries that now each host more than 10 million people under acute food stress. These are grim figures. But the numbers, in many cases, fail to tell the whole story of how dire the situation has actually become.

In North Korea, for example, officials there are warning of another Arduous March — a period of famine during the late 1990s and coinciding with droughts and rising global temperatures that killed more than 3.5 million in that country. Aid to North Korea during the 2000s alleviated some of the endemic hunger. But by the then record warm year of 2010 the droughts had re-emerged, and reports of hunger, stunted growth among children, and famine had again cropped up. In 2015, amidst global temperatures that had risen still higher, North Korea experienced its worst drought in at least 100 years. By as early as March, drought and heat had once-more settled in over a broad swath of Asia. And late last month, the state-run news agency Rodong Sinmun issued the following statement alluding to a rising risk of famine conditions in the country:

We may have to go on an arduous march, during which we will have to chew the roots of plants once again.

India Drought Baked and Bleached Riverbeds

(A hothouse created by ongoing fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions has set off droughts and heatwaves around the world leaving riverbeds and farmlands baked and bleached. Image source: India Water Portal.)

More than a score of other nations now see between 1-10 million people in their countries facing hunger. Places like Cambodia, Madagascar, Iraq, Pakistan, Venezuela, Libya, Haiti, New Guinea, Chad, Mali, Somalia, and Zamibia. Earlier this week, the situation became very acute for Somalia as a group of 23 NGOs warned that the country was at high risk of falling into famine. There, water shortages, food shortages and livestock deaths have grown more and more widespread. Ever-deepening drought has pushed crops to fail and food prices to sky-rocket. An ongoing growing season disruption that has now pushed hundreds of thousands of people into hunger.

In Cambodia, a country suffering from a severe southeast Asian drought and heatwave that has left much of the region reeling, the EC identifies up to 5 million people threatened by hunger. Heat and drought there are now so severe that farmers cannot grow traditional crops. A local farmer describes the increasingly dire situation:

“Before it was not difficult, but now due to frequent drought even bananas don’t grow and other vegetables that we normally grow here are not doing well, not enough to eat. We cannot grow all the vegetables we need so sometimes I collect food from neighbours.”

A number of nations suffering from climate change related extreme weather events now triggering additional food and water stress are not currently listed in the recent EC report. Countries like India and Vietnam, which are both now confronting record drought, heat related mass casualties, heatwaves, water shortages, farmer suicides and crop losses. The severe drought and food shortage situation in Vietnam has come on with particular speed and intensity as local officials identified more than two million people at risk of hunger there just this week:

Vietnam is in urgent need of international aid worth US$48.5 million as a crippling drought threatens to create a shortage of food and water for two million people. Officials from the country’s agriculture ministry and the United Nations estimated at a meeting Tuesday that at least two million people in southern and central Vietnam lack clean water, with 1.1 million also in need of food support.

Record Asian Heatwave

(One of the most severe heatwaves on record settled in over Southeast Asia during April. The event has already killed 150 people due to heat alone in India — there sparking off such a severe water shortage that relief trains now move from town to town — providing people with emergency supplies as local wells and rivers dry up. In Vietnam and Cambodia, the severe heat has already lead to crop failures so widespread that millions are at risk of hunger. Image source: NASA and Voice of America.)

But perhaps hardest hit of all is India. There, so many towns have lost access to river or well water that a train filled with millions of gallons of the life-giving liquid now winds its way across India — providing people there with a water ration of between 4 and 10 liters per day meant to meet all daily drinking and bathing needs. Greenpeace has identified more than 330 million people who are now facing water shortages across the highly populated country. And according to that NGO 12 Indian states will face famine unless swift government action to alleviate the crisis takes place.

Indian officials have pinned hopes for refreshed water supplies on the Asian Monsoon which is scheduled to arrive by mid-to-late June. However, the human-driven warming of the globe has a tendency to reduce the amount of rainfall the annual Indian Monsoon provides. A fact hinted at in a recent statement to International Business Times by Greenpeace’s Ishteyaque Ahmad:

“Those who say that one or a few consecutive good monsoons will change the situation are either ignorant or are trying to hide the truth, which is very frightening. In fact, we are dehydrating our earth’s system by choice and not out of ignorance.”

Record High Global Temperatures as a Trigger

It is difficult to overstate the severity of droughts and heatwaves affecting many of these regions. For record-shattering high temperatures and moisture loss has been impacting these sections of the globe all throughout the 2015-2016 period. During this time, global temperatures have risen to never-before-seen levels. It’s a record spike of global heat that has been driven on by human-forced climate change. By levels of the heat trapping gas — carbon dioxide — rising to marks well above 405 parts per million this year. At the same time, El Nino has caused that heat to build up over the Equatorial and near-Equatorial regions of the world. Serving as a kind of human-forced warming amplifier for drought, heat, and water stress in these regions.

For the Summer of 2016, following one of the strongest El Ninos on record and entering a period when the world has never experienced such amazingly high global temperatures, the level of disruption is likely to be extraordinarily severe. Record heat will pull more moisture from soils and rivers than ever before, will take down the mountain snows that still exist faster than ever before, will dwindle the remaining glaciers to the lowest levels yet seen. In addition, consistent warm air invasions into the Arctic will tend to create high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream — setting up zones where droughts and heatwaves are further enhanced. So the crisis period for the Summer of 2016 has just begun.

In this context the expected onset of La Nina later in the year is far off. And though it may provide relief for some areas, this relief will be somewhat withdrawn by the climate change driven warming that is already in place and continues to steadily worsen. In addition, regions that tend to see dryness due to La Nina may see drought conditions further enhanced by the ongoing global heat build-up — places like California that should probably not let its guard down following a notably weak moisture flow off the record strong El Nino this past Winter.

Links:

Famine Early Warning System

The European Commission Report on Global Hunger

India Drought — Greenpeace Issues SOS, Famine Warnings

NASA GISS

Extreme Weather, Armed Conflict Affects Millions

NGOs Issue Famine Warning for Somalia

Vietnam Drought Threatens Millions

Punishing Heatwave Sets off Temperature Records Across Asia

India Water Portal

North Korean’s Arduous March

North Korea Experiences Worst Drought in at Least 100 Years

Chef Arrives in Cambodia to Draw Attention to Climate Change

The Keeling Curve

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Wili

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Republican Climate Change Denial is Blinding Our Ability to Observe the Arctic

Denial.

It’s all-too-often what happens to the powerful when they are confronted with the consequences of their own bad actions. It can best be said that denial is blindness — the willful inability to open one’s eyes to the tough reality of the world. In literature, we can see denial in the tragic sin of hubris and in the metaphor of Oedipus the King gouging his own eyes out as a result of his failure to come to terms with the warnings of prophecy.

In the psychological sense, denial involves the inability to cope with reality such that a person will act in an irrational fashion to the point of generating fantasies that the object of said denial does not exist. Behaviorally, this results in an increasing degradation of a person’s ability to confront or cope with the object of denial — to the point of ardent, irrational, and possibly destructive outbursts when faced with it.

Arctic sea ice loss.

Ever since 1979 an array of satellite sensors has allowed our scientists to directly observe the sea ice in the Arctic. Since that time, and as a human-forced warming of the world ramped up, the area which that ice covers has dramatically shrunken. So much so that by this year, 2016, there’s a risk that not only will a new all-time record low be reached, but that by the end of this summer almost all the ice in the Arctic Ocean will be melted out entirely. A risk that a new climate change related event will start to take shape in the Arctic. The blue ocean events.

Arctic Sea Ice Area

(Arctic sea ice area as measured by observational satellites and most recently by  F17. The bottom line of the graph measures days of the year. The left side of the graph measures sea ice area. The corresponding intersections determine sea ice area on any given day of a year in the record. The up and downward swoop of each line on the graph shows the seasonal variation of sea ice area for that given year. The blue line on the graph represents 1980 sea ice area. The dark gray line represents the 1979 to 2000 average. The red line represents the 2012 record low year. 2016, in black, shows a squiggle as F17 begins to fail in early March of this year — a year that could significantly beat 2012 as the worst melt year on record. The sensor is failing because it is old and needs replacement. A replacement that is now sitting in a warehouse due to republican-led satellite research funding cuts. Data source: NSIDC. Image source: Pogoda i Klimat.)

We will know whether or not such an event took place because there are satellites giving us an accurate picture of this critical and sensitive part of our world in real-time. In effect, these satellites grant us the gifts of sight, of foresight, and of forewarning too. They give us the ability to catch a glimpse of what waits over the horizon and affords us with the opportunity to act to avoid an ever-worsening catastrophe — should we have the wisdom to choose to do so.

Willful Blindness

Where does denial meet with Arctic sea ice loss? In the form of climate change denying republicans attempting again and again to cut and with-hold funding to NASA and NSIDC instruments that track what is an unprecedented and historic melt now ongoing. For ever since their coming to power in Congress in 2010, republicans have done everything they can to remove funding for the devices that provide a direct observation of the changes coming as a result of a human-forced warming of our world.

You can read about the recent history of republican attempts to blind the satellite eyes of science here in this comprehensive article by The Atlantic. Attempts that have finally played out in the increasing degradation of the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s ability to track sea ice area and extent during this crucial year. For as the critical Arctic sea ice observation sensor called F 17 begins to fail, a sensor that could replace it sits grounded — lacking funding to operate or launch it during a year in which the Arctic is likely to experience historic and wrenching changes. A year that has already experienced both record Arctic heat and record low sea ice coverage throughout both Winter and Spring with more records likely on the way.

What’s happened now, due to republican ties to fossil fuel industry and a related push to obliviate climate science that observes changes in the Earth, the atmosphere, the world’s ice and the oceans, is a degradation of climate and weather disaster preparedness. For the fossil fuel industry — which has come to completely dominate republican policy-making since at least the years of the Bush administration and which is the cause of pretty much all the harmful changes we now see in the world due to human-forced warming — the degradation of these sensors may help confuse the science and perhaps allow these dirty and dangerous interests to dump carbon into the atmosphere for a few more years or decades. Extending dirty industry profits and what has been a deleterious and corrupting political influence for a little while longer.

Beaufort Sea Ice Early Melt

(Beaufort sea ice in the Arctic is now melting and breaking up at least one month faster than it does during a typical year. Republicans and their fossil fuel allies may not want to hear or see this happening as it’s direct observational proof that the policies they’ve been pushing — drilling, fracking, coal burning, and suppression of renewable energy — are resulting in increasingly dramatic and dangerous changes to the Earth system and environment. So much so that they want to shut off the satellites that provide us with such critical observational data of what’s happening to our Earth and oceans in real time. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

For the rest of us, the loss of these sensors means the loss of a key piece of infrastructure — one that is critical to our climate resiliency. For if we cannot observe and predict trends in the Arctic, then we will come to be more and more at the mercy of dangerous changes now going on there. We will be increasingly caught by surprise by the changes that are now almost certainly bound to happen. And a growing number of us will fall into risk of being caught off guard. Of suffering from loss of property and, perhaps, injury or loss of life.

Willful and destructive blindness. That’s what happens when hubris rules in Washington. And for too long now we’ve suffered this republican climate change denial and its all-too-related fossil fuel based hubris. A plague that is now not only wrecking the world’s climate, but is degrading our ability to observe and respond to the dangerous and Earth-altering changes that are now taking place.

Links:

NOAA Says GOP Funding Cuts Would Halve The Performance of Severe Weather Forecasts

The Republican Push to Cut Climate Change Observational Research

The Arctic is Melting and Scientists Just Lost a Key Tool to Observe it

Republicans Slash Climate Funds

Satellite Data in Support of Climate Resilience

NSIDC

Pogoda i Klimat

Expanding Exxon Mobile Climate Change Denial Investigation

Hat Tip to Redsky

Melt Expanding into East Antarctica as Nansen Ice Shelf Crack Produces 20 Kilometer Long Iceberg

Ever since 1999 a gigantic crack has been growing in the Nansen Ice Shelf in East Antarctica. By 2014, expansion of the crack accelerated. As of early 2016, the crevice had grown to 40 kilometers in length. Flooded by melt along the Ice Shelf’s warming surface and weakened by the heating of ocean waters from below, on April 7th, according to ESA reports, this East Antarctic Ice Shelf produced an immense 20 kilometer long iceberg. A towering block of ice covering an area larger than Manhattan floating on out toward the world’s shipping lanes.

Nansen Ice Shelf Fracture

(Surface melt water flooding into a great crack along the Nansen Ice Shelf. Large volumes of melt water flooding into ice shelf cracks forces them to widen even as they dive toward union with the warming waters below. Image source. ESA.)

The Nansen Ice Shelf, before this most recent very large iceberg calving event, was a 10 mile wide and 30 mile long ice shelf that buttressed the Presley and Reeve Glaciers of East Antarctica. It abuts the north side of the Drygalski Ice Tongue, and runs out from Mount Nansen just inland of the coast of Victoria Land, Antarctica. And it’s yet another large shelf of ice that appears to be facing severe weakening as global average temperatures are driven above 1 C warmer than those experienced during the late 19th Century by an ongoing and reckless fossil fuel emission.

Nansen occupies a region of the world that has come under increasingly intense observation due to a number of scientific studies highlighting its accelerating rates of melt and a related risk of rapidly rising global sea levels.  Human-forced heating of the world’s ocean has caused waters warm enough to accelerate glacial melt to encroach upon Antarctica from the Southern Ocean. These warmer waters are drawn along beneath the floating ice shelves as fresh melt water flooding out along the ocean surface generates a landward-moving bottom current. These warmer waters eventually push beneath the ice shelves — eating away at their undersides.

Nansen Ice Shelf Fracture

(Massive ice berg breaks away from the Nansen Ice Shelf on April 7th in this ESA satellite shot.)

In West Antarctica, glaciers are seen as especially vulnerable. One region containing the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers — alone capable of increasing global sea levels by 3-6 feet — is experiencing 3-4 meters of melt along the undersides of ice shelves each year. Meanwhile, the Pine Island Glacier’s grounding line — the point upon which the floating ice shelf is anchored — has retreated more than 31 kilometers further into Antarctica.

As ice shelves and glaciers melt from below, more of the glacial mass is floated away from the main ice mass. And since West Antarctica has a retrograde slope, more warm ocean water comes flooding in beneath the glaciers. As more ice calves off the glacial faces, ice fronts along the ocean become taller. The brittle ice cannot retain structural integrity for long and ever taller ice faces produce swifter and swifter rates of collapse into the ocean. On the surface, warmer conditions cause rivers of melt water to flow into cracks. The extreme weight of the water flooding these cracks serves as a kind of wedge — widening the cracks and shoving sea-facing sections along the cracks into the ocean.

Antarctic glacial melt

(Though the most rapid rates of glacial melt dominate the Antarctic Peninsula and the region near the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers, increasing rates of volume loss from Antarctic ice shelves have been creeping into a section of East Antarctica near the Nansen Ice Shelf along the coastline of the Ross Sea [just below where the abbreviation DRY for Drygalski Ice Tongue appears on the map]. With global average temperatures now exceeding 1 C above pre-industrial, we can expect melt and net volume loss to expand along the Antarctic coastline. Image source: Science.)

East Antarctica, a region occupied by Nansen, has been seen as less vulnerable to melt from human-forced warming than West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula. That said, increasing melt rates have progressed on into much of the Ross Sea coastal region. Though the current very large calving event at Nansen appears to have taken place within the expected time-frame (once every 30 years), a context of melt is beginning to encroach. For almost all glaciers along this section of East Antarctica show increasing rates of ice loss.

Links:

Nansen Gives Birth to Two Icebergs

Widespread, Rapid Grounding Line Retreat at Pine Island Glacier

Volume Loss From Antarctic Ice Shelves is Accelerating

The Nansen Ice Shelf

The Drygalski Ice Tongue

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

 

Record Global Heat — Huge Springtime Arctic Warm-up to Crush Sea Ice, Drive Extreme Jet Stream Dip into Europe

We know now, as soon as the middle of April, that 2016 will be the hottest year on record. That not only will it be the hottest year, but that it will crush any other previous record hot year by a wide margin.

NASA GISS head — Gavin Schmidt — in a recent tweet estimated that 2016 would fall into a range near 1.32 C above the 1880-1899 average that NASA uses for its preindustrial baseline. By comparison, 2015 — which was the most recent hottest year on record after 2014 (three in a row!) — hit 1.07 C above the 1880-1899 average.

GISS Temperature Map First Quarter of 2016

(According to NASA, the first three months of 2016 were 1.25 C above the NASA 20th Century baseline and a ridiculous 1.47 C above the 1880 through 1899 preindustrial average. Image source: NASA GISS.)

As a result, 2016 will likely have jumped by about a quarter of a degree Celsius in a single year. If every year from 2016 on warmed up so fast the world would surpass the dreaded 2 C mark by 2019 and rocket to about +22 C above 19th Century averages by 2100. That’s not going to happen. Why? Because natural variability assisted greenhouse gas warming from fossil fuels to kick 2016 higher in the form of a serious heavyweight El Nino. But it’s a decent exercise to show how ridiculously fast the world is expected to warm from 2015 to 2016. And in the 2014-2016 string of three record warm years in a row we are basically expecting a 0.40 C jump above the then record warm year of 2010. Given that the world has warmed, on average by about 0.15 C to 0.20 C per decade since the late 1970s, what we’re expecting to see is about two decades worth of warming all cram-jammed into the past three years.

More Severe Arctic Heat is on the Way

But the Earth, as of this Earth Day, hasn’t warmed evenly. A far, far greater portion of that excess heat has stooped over the Arctic. During the first three months of 2016, the Arctic region above 66 degrees North Latitude has been fully 4.5 C hotter than the NASA 20th Century baseline. That’s a departure more than three times that of the rest of the Earth. And that’s bad news for anyone concerned about sea ice, or polar bears, or Arctic carbon feedbacks, or predictable seasons, or extreme droughts and floods, or the Jet Stream, or Greenland melt, or sea level rise, or … well, you get the picture.

One region, at the boundary between the Arctic Ocean and the Greenland Sea near Svalbard, has been particularly warm. So warm, in fact, that sea surfaces now devour slabs of Arctic Ocean ice blown into it by winds running out of the Arctic in a matter of days. It takes a lot of ocean warmth to have this kind of effect on sea ice. A particularly ferocious amount of heat for the ocean to exhibit so early on in the melt season.

Ice Devoured by Warm Greenland Sea

(Neven posted this excellent blog tracking a ferocious amount of heat in the region of the Greenland and Barents Sea. Arctic Sea Ice Forum commenter Andreas T provided this graphical representation of sea ice disintegration as it was blown into waters just to the north of Svalbard earlier this week.)

Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate how relatively hot the Arctic is now is the fact that sea ice in the region is melting fast. So fast that current extent measures by JAXA are at their lowest levels on record. It’s a precipitous rate of melt that’s about one week ahead of any of the previous fastest melt season. Or you could just look at the number of Arctic freezing degree days recorded at CIRES and find one more measure added to NASA or record low sea ice pointing toward the obvious fact that this year, for the Arctic, has been one of just absolutely ludicrous warmth.

As Winter progresses into Spring, temperatures typically moderate — closing in on baseline averages. And this year has been no exception. However, readings for the entire Arctic have tended to range between 1.5 and 2.5 C above average over the past two weeks. These are some seriously hot departures for Spring. Enough to keep Arctic heat in record ranges for 2016.

Three Powerful Warm Wind Events to Strike the Arctic in Concert

But over the coming five days, a series of south-to-north warm wind events is expected to push even these seasonally excessive readings higher.

Extreme Springtime warming in the Arctic

(GFS model forecasts predict Arctic temperatures to rise into a range between 3 and 5 C above normal for this time of year over the coming week. Such departures are in record ranges and will likely result in rapid snow and sea ice melt even as it drives a wedge of cold air out of the Arctic and over Europe — setting up a high risk of very severe weather events. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

The first event is predicted to originate over the Yamal Peninsula of Russia during Saturday and Sunday — lasting on into Monday and Tuesday. There, temperatures are expected to rise into the (scorching for the Arctic at this time of year) mid 30s (F) as strong, warm winds blow over about 1,000 miles of western Russia and on up into the Kara and Laptev seas which are predicted to, likewise, experience near or above freezing temperatures. Over the entire region, temperatures are expected to range between 18 and 36 degrees F (10-20 C) above typical daily averages for this time of year. Snow and sea ice melt melt rates in this already rapidly thawing region will almost certainly pick up pace in the face of these obnoxiously unseasonable readings.

A second warm wind event is predicted to heat up Greenland, Baffin Bay, the mouth of Hudson Bay and a chunk of the Canadian Archipelago on Monday and Tuesday. A 1,500 mile synoptic southeast to northwest air flow is expected to originate in the Central North Atlantic. Running along the back of a high pressure system rooted between Iceland and Southeastern Greenland, these winds will ram a broad front of above-freezing airs over a rapidly melting Baffin Bay, dramatically warm the southern 2/3 of Greenland, and flush a comparable warm air pulse into the outlets of Hudson Bay. Temperatures in this broad zone are also expected to hit 18-36 F (10-20 C) above average readings. And its effects will likely be strong enough to initiate another strong early season melt spike for Greenland in addition to aiding in driving a quickening pace of melt for Baffin and Hudson bays.

Shattered Ice Beaufort and Chukchi

(Shattered sea ice over the Beaufort and Chukchi looks as if it’s been fractured from a blow from Thor’s mythical hammer Mjolnir. Open water and very thin ice openings stretch as wide as 60 miles in some sections. A warm wind event later this week is expected to provide still more melt pressure to this already greatly weakened sea ice. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

A final warm wind event will be fed by a big warm up across Alaska predicted to settle in on Wednesday and Thursday. There, temperatures in Central Alaska are expected to rise into the lower 60s as two stalled out lows to the south pull warmer airs up from the Pacific Ocean. This heat is expected to invade the Chukchi and Beaufort seas driving temperatures to near or above freezing over Arctic Ocean surfaces that have already witnessed a great shattering of ice and an opening of dark, heat-venting open water holes. There the anomaly spike will be slightly milder — in the range of 15-32 F (8-18 C) above average. Such heat will provide melt stress to the fractured Beaufort, likely making more permanent the wide array of open water and thin ice spaces as the push toward Summer advances.

Mangled Jet Stream to Bring Storms to Europe

As all this heat bullies its way into the Arctic, a flood of cold air is expected to flee out of the region and on down a big dip in the Jet Stream — making a late-season invasion across the North Atlantic and into Europe. There, as we’ve seen previously during recent warm wind invasions of the Arctic during Fall, Winter and Spring, warm air from the south tends to cause cold to break out and then to dive down the trough lines. And there’s a huge trough predicted to dig in over Europe.

We should expect some rather severe weather to accompany this Springtime onrush of colder air — including potentially extreme thunderstorms, flooding, and even instances of late April snowfall over parts of Norway, Sweden, Scotland, the Alps, and sections of Germany.

Deep Trough Predicted for Europe

(A very deep Arctic trough is expected to dig into Europe and the Mediterranean this coming week bringing with it the likelihood of some very severe weather. Image source: ECMWF/Severe Weather EU.)

Likely increased rates of sea ice melt, a severe blow to record low snow packs around the Arctic and a likely freakish cold air and severe weather invasion of Europe are all a result of this extreme Arctic heat playing havoc with typical weather and seasonality. By the middle of next week, temperature anomalies for the entire Arctic may rise to as high as 5 C above the already much warmer than normal 1981 to 2010 average. In such a case, we could hardly expect weather or climate conditions to be normal and there appears to be a big helping of weirdness and extreme effects coming down the pipe over the next seven days.

Links:

We Already Know 2016 Will be the Hottest Year on Record

Gavin Schmidt’s Estimate for End 2016 Temperatures Crushes Previous Hottest Years

Neven Sea Ice

JAXA

CIRES

NASA GISS

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Climate Reanalyzer

LANCE MODIS

ECMWF/Severe Weather EU

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Andreas T

A Death of Beauty — Climate Change is Bleaching the Great Barrier Reef Out of Existence

Extinction.

It’s a hard, tough thing to consider. One of those possibilities people justifiably do not want to talk about. This notion that a creature we’re fond of and familiar with — a glorious living being along with all its near and distant relatives — could be entirely removed from the web of existence here on Earth.

Our aversion to the topic likely stems from our own fear of death. Or worse — the notion that the entire human race might eventually be faced with such an end. But extinction is a threat that we’ll see arising more and more as we force the world to rapidly warm. For species of the world now face existential crisis with increasing frequency as atmospheric and ocean temperatures have risen so fast that a growing number of them have simply become unable to cope with the heat.

The Great Barrier Reef of Australia — the world’s largest single structure made up of living organisms — is no exception. For this 1,440 mile long expanse of corals composed of more than 2,900 individual reefs that has existed in one form or another for 600,000 years has suffered a severe blow — one from which it may never be able to recover. One that appears likely to kill up to 90 percent of its corals along previously pristine regions in its northern half.

(Governments failed to listen to the warnings of scientists like Terry Hughes. Now, it appears that the Great Barrier Reef has been hit by a blow from coral bleaching from which it may never be able to recover. Video source: Australian Broadcasting on the Great Barrier Reef’s Worst Coral Bleaching Event on Record.)

The damage comes in the form of extreme ocean heat. Heat resulting from global temperatures that are now well in excess of 1 degree C above preindustrial times. Heat that has forced ocean temperature variability into a range that is now lethal for certain forms of sea life. Particularly for the world’s corals which are now suffering and dying through the worst global bleaching event ever experienced.

The Worst Global Coral Bleaching Event Ever Experienced

During 2014 the oceans began to heat up into never-before seen temperature ranges. This warming initiated a global coral bleaching event that worsened throughout 2015. By early 2016 global surface temperatures rocketed to about 1.5 C above 1880s averages for the months of February and March. These new record high temperatures came on the back of annual carbon emissions now in the range of 13 billion tons each year and at the hotter end of the global natural variability cycle called El Nino. Both the atmosphere near the land surface and the upper levels of the ocean experienced this extreme warming.

In the ocean, corals rely on symbiotic microbes to aid in the production of energy for their cellular bodies. These microbes are what give the corals their wild arrays of varied and brilliant colors. But if water temperatures rise high enough, the symbiotic microbes that the corals rely on begin to produce substances that are toxic to the corals. At this point, the corals expel the microbes and lose their brilliant coloration — reverting to a stark white.

Worst coral bleaching event on record

(A vast region of the world’s ocean system continues to experience coral bleaching. In area, extent, height of extreme temperature, and duration, the current global coral bleaching event is the worst ever experienced by a good margin. As global temperatures continue to warm due to ongoing fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions, widespread coral bleaching is likely to become an annual occurrence. Temperatures have risen far enough and will continue to rise for long enough to set about ocean conditions that will result in mass coral die-offs around the world. Image source: NOAA.)

Bleaching isn’t necessarily lethal to corals. However, once the microbes are gone, the corals have lost a key energy source and will eventually die without them. If ocean temperatures return to normal soon enough, the corals can begin to accept the symbiotic microbes back, return to a healthy cellular energy production, and survive — albeit in a weakened and more vulnerable state for some time to come. But if ocean temperatures remain too warm for an extended period, then the corals will be deprived of energy and nutrients for too long and they will inevitably perish.

The kind of coral bleaching event that we’re experiencing now is a mass killer of corals. Not simply due to the heat itself, but due to the long duration of the extreme temperature spike. By late February, many ocean scientists were very concerned about the already severe damage reports that were starting to come in. At that time, NOAA issued this warning:

“We are currently experiencing the longest global coral bleaching event ever observed. We may be looking at a 2- to 2½-year-long event. Some areas have already seen bleaching two years in a row.”

93 Percent of Great Barrier Reef Affected by Bleaching

By late February, the level of concern for the Great Barrier Reef was palpable. Stark reports were starting to come in from places like Fiji — which had experienced two years of severe bleaching — and Christmas Atoll about 1,300 miles south of Hawaii — whose reported losses were best described as staggering. So far, the worst of the hot water had stayed away from Australia’s great reef.

But by early March a plume of very extreme ocean heat began to appear over The Great Barrier Reef’s northern sections. Sea surface temperatures spiked to well above, a dangerous to corals, 30 degrees Celsius for days and weeks. This 30 C or greater heat extended deep — hitting as far as 50 meters below the ocean surface over the reef. And it rippled southward — hitting section after section until few parts of the reef were spared.

Terry Hughes, one of the world’s foremost experts on the Great Barrier Reef, on March 18th tweeted his fear and anguish over the situation:

Terry Hughes tweet

At this point, there was no stopping the tragedy. Fossil fuel emissions had already warmed the airs and waters to levels deadly to the living reef. It was all researchers could do to work frantically to assess the damage. Teams of the world’s top reef scientists swept out — performing an extensive survey of the losses. More than 911 reef systems were assessed and, in total, the teams found that fully 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef system had experienced some level of bleaching.

Final Death Toll for Some Sections Likely to Exceed 90 Percent

In extent, this was the worst bleaching event for the Great Barrier Reef by a long shot. Back during the previous most severe bleaching events of 1998 and 2002, 42 percent and 54 percent of the reef was affected. By any measure, the greatly expanded 2016 damage was catastrophic. “We’ve never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before. In the northern Great Barrier Reef, it’s like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once,”said Professor Terry Hughes in the ARC coral bleaching report.

Out of all the reefs surveyed in the report, just 7% escaped bleaching. Most of these reefs occupied the southern section — a region that was spared the worst of the current bleaching event due to cooler water upwelling provided by the powerful winds of Hurricane Winston. But impacts to the Northern section of the reef could best be described as stark. There, a section composing almost the entire northern half of the reef saw between 60 and 100% of corals experiencing severe bleaching. In the reports, Hughes notes that many of these corals are not likely to survive. In the hardest hit reefs — which were in the most remote sections least affected by Australia’s industrial run-off — algae has been observed growing over 50 percent of the corals affected — an indication that these corals are already dead:

“Tragically, this is the most remote part of the Reef, and its remoteness has protected it from most human pressures: but not climate change. North of Port Douglas, we’re already measuring an average of close to 50% mortality of bleached corals. At some reefs, the final death toll is likely to exceed 90%. When bleaching is this severe it affects almost all coral species, including old, slow-growing corals that once lost will take decades or longer to return (Emphasis added).”

But with the oceans still warming, and with more and still worse coral bleaching events almost certainly on the way, the question has to be asked — will these corals ever be afforded the opportunity to recover?

A Context of Catastrophe with Worse Still to Come

As ocean surface temperatures are now entering a range of 1 C or more above 1880s levels, corals are expected to experience bleaching with greater and greater frequency. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 identified the time-frame of 2012 to 2040 as a period of rising and extreme risk to corals due to bleaching. IPCC also identified bleaching as the greatest threat to corals and related reef-dependent sea life.

When ocean surface temperatures warm into a range of 2 C above 1880s levels — the kind of severe global heating that could arise under worst-case fossil fuel emissions and related warming scenarios by the mid 2030s — corals in the Great Barrier Reef are expected to experience bleaching on an annual basis. Every year, in other words, would be a mass coral bleaching and die-off year.

image

(Sea surface temperatures and temperatures withing the top 50 meters of water over the Great Barrier Reef of Australia rose to 3-4 C above average during the austral Summer and Fall of 2016. These record temperatures lasted for weeks in some regions setting off the worst coral bleaching event the Great Barrier Reef has ever seen. By mid-Century, coral bleaching and mass die-offs are likely to occur on an annual basis as global temperatures surpass the 1.5 C and 2 C thresholds. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Globally, bleaching events under even moderate fossil fuel emissions scenarios would tend to take up much of the Equatorial region on an annual basis by mid-Century. Events that can, during single years, wipe out between 90 and 95 percent of corals at any given location. A handful of corals will likely survive these events — representing a remote and far-flung remnant who were simply a bit hardier, or lucky, or who had developed an ability to accept microbes that are tolerant to warmer temperatures. But these hardy or fortunate few would take hundreds to thousands of years to re-establish previous coral reef vitality even if other harmful ocean conditions did not arrive to provide still more damage.

As coral bleaching expands at the Equator due to increasing rates of ocean warming, increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes oceans to become more acidic. Cooler waters at the poles are better able to transfer gasses into the ocean’s waters. And higher levels of carbon dioxide in the world ocean results in a growing acidity that is harmful to corals. Increasing levels of ocean acidity thus creep down from the poles at the same time that bleaching events move up from the Equator.

If fossil fuel emissions continue, by mid-Century atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the range of 450 to 500 parts per million will have provided a never-before seen spike to ocean acidity. Such high ocean acidity would then provide a second severe blow to corals already devastated by bleaching events. It’s a 1-2 punch that represents a mass extinction threat for corals this Century. And we’re starting to see the severe impacts ramp up now.

ocean-acification-through-2050

(Coral bleaching is a severe threat to tropical coral reefs now. But CO2 potentially hitting above 500 parts per million, according to a 2014 study, risks a complete loss of equatorial coral reefs by 2050 to 2100. Between bleaching and acidification, there’s no way out for corals so long as fossil fuel burning continues. Image source: Threat to Coral Reefs From Ocean Acidification.)

The only hope for stopping this ever-expanding harm is a rapid cessation of fossil fuel emissions. And we owe it to the corals of the world, the millions of species that depend on them, and the hundreds of millions of people whose food sources and economic well being come from the corals.

“And Then We Wept”

When researchers told students of the extent of harm to corals upon the Great Barrier Reef, the students were reported to have wept. And with good reason. For our Earth had just experienced a profound death of beauty. A death of a vital and wondrous living treasure of our world. A priceless liquid gem of our Earth. A wonder that gives life to millions of species and one that grants both food and vitality to Australia herself. For if the reef goes, so does a huge portion of the living wealth of that Nation and our world.

Sadly, the tears will just keep coming and coming as these kinds of events are bound to worsen without the most dramatic and urgent global actions. The current and most recent catastrophe is thus yet one more in a litany of wake up calls to the world. But will we hear it loud and clear enough to act in ways that are necessary to ensure the corals survival? And what of the billions of creatures and of the millions of humans too that depend on the corals? Do we care about them enough to act?

Links:

Only Seven Percent of the Great Barrier Reef Has Avoided Coral Bleaching

And Then We Wept: 93 Percent of the Great Barrier Reef Now Bleached

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch

Earth Nullschool

Coral Reefs Hit by Worst Coral Bleaching Event

Terry Hughes Twitter Feed

Coral Bleaching

Threat to Coral Reefs From Ocean Acidification

Ocean Acidification: We are Looking at the Complete Loss of Tropical Coral Reefs by 2050 to 2100

Australian Broadcasting on the Great Barrier Reef’s Worst Coral Bleaching Event on Record

Hat tip to Caroline

Hat tip to Spike

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Griffon

(Please support public, non-special interest based science like the essential work that has been provided by Terry Hughes over so many years and decades. Scientists like Terry provide a vital public service. For years, they have given us a clear warning of a very real and ever more present danger. A warning that gives us a fleeting opportunity to respond to events before we lose the richest living treasures of our world. Before we are bereft of our ability to continue to make livelihoods as environmental abundance and the related regional and global life support systems are irreparably damaged.)

Canadian Fire Season Starts Far too Early as Fort St. John Residents are Forced to Flee the Flames

It’s been a ridiculously hot Winter and Spring for most of Western and Northern Canada. And in many locations, odd, Summer-like conditions are already starting to dominate. For these regions — areas sitting on piles of dry vegetation or thawing permafrost — a single hot day, thunderstorm, or even just the melting away of the Winter snow is now enough to spur the eruption of wildfires.

In Fort St. John, along the shores of Charlie Lake in Northeastern British Columbia and at about the same Latitude line as Ft. McMurray in Alberta, temperatures on Monday rocketed to 28 degrees Celsius (about 82 degrees Fahrenheit). These scorching readings were about 20 degrees C (36 degrees F) above average for the day. The excessive early-season heat sweltered an area that had seen extensive drying throughout a long, warm winter. And nearby grasses and crops became a ready fuel as Monday’s heat and winds sparked four sudden and severe blazes that swiftly leapt toward town.

Taylor Fire in Fort St John

(Taylor fire looms over fuel tanks on Monday evening. In total, excessive heat and dry conditions sparked 48 wildfires across Northern British Columbia on Monday — a number that had swelled to 53 by Wednesday morning. Image source: Destiny Ashdown/Facebook.)

By Monday evening, more than 48 fires had raged into existence throughout northeastern British Columbia — forcing the province to declare a state of emergency. By Wednesday morning, excess heat, thunderstorms and strong southerly winds had fanned a total of 96 wildfires across Canada.

In Fort St. John, two fires (The Taylor Fire and the Charlie Lake Fire) forced residents in the Baldonnel and Prince George communities to flee. The blazes cut power lines, generating outages for 2,700 customers, closed highway 29, consumed two homes, and threatened fuel storage tanks near Taylor. By early Wednesday (as of about two hours ago), these two fires had finally been contained and evacuation orders for Baldonnel and South Taylor were rescinded.

But as some fires came under control, other blazes swelled suddenly to more dangerous size. By Wednesday, the Beatton Airport Road Fire had grown to 4,500 hectares and a new evacuation alert had just been issued for that area. Meanwhile, the East Pine Fire, southwest of Fort St. John, had hit 500 acres even as it jumped the Pine River and continued to rage out of control.

Meanwhile, places along the thaw line in Northern Alberta began to erupt in plumes of smoke and flame.

Fire burning along the Freeze Thaw Line in Alberta April 19

(Satellite shot of fire burning along the freeze-thaw line in Northern Alberta on April 19th of 2016. During recent, and far warmer than normal, Northern Hemisphere Springs, Arctic wildfires have sprung up along thawing permafrost zones almost immediately after the snow line peels back. It appears that permafrost thaw provides a peat-like fuel that, in some places, continues to smolder throughout Winter, ready to erupt again during the increasingly early Spring thaw. A new Arctic fire hazard in a record hot world. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

So as of April 18th, fire season had already begun in Canada. With record global heat stooping over the region, it’s a fire season that is likely to be very severe as some of the worlds’ swiftest rates of warming are adding a growing volume of potential fuels. Thawing permafrost in drought zones can become a peat-like fuel for fires sparked by recent excess heat and by the new lightning storms that are now starting to invade Canada’s central and northern tiers. Adding to the trouble is a great swath of vegetation lacking in much-needed fire resiliency due to the fact that most plants there have never had to deal with flames. It’s just a simple fact that a human-forced warming of the world has generated a new threat of burning that plants in Canadian provinces have never faced before.

The new Canadian fire season, the one that climate change is bringing on, now starts in April. And it will likely continue on through September of this year. Nearly a half year of wildfires burning in what should have been one of the coldest climate zones in the world. A place now wracked by dangerous and difficult changes. A place where billions of sparks will fly this year over one of the world’s greatest piles of sequestered carbon.

Links:

Early Wildfires Near Fort St. John Force Evacuations

Firefighters Make Progress on South Taylor and Charlie Lake Fires

Evacuation Alert Isuued for Beatton Airport Road Fire

City of Fort St. John Twitter Feed

Canadian Interagency Fire Center

Temperature Averages for Fort St John

LANCE MODIS

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to Gordon Meacham

 

The Merciless Rains of Climate Change Hammer Houston, Southeast Texas — 12-18 Inches Accumulation, More Than 1,200 Water Rescues Reported

“I can hear your whisper and distant mutter. I can smell your damp on the breeze and in the sky I see the halo of your violence. Storm I know you are coming.”

*****

The atmospheric ingredients right now are ripe for some serious trouble. Globally, the world is just starting to back away from the hottest temperatures ever recorded. This never-before-seen heat plume, driven on by a fossil-fuel abetted warming not seen in at least 115,000 years and an extreme El Nino combined, has loaded an unprecedented amount of moisture into the Earth’s atmosphere. As El Nino shifts toward La Nina and the Earth marginally cools, a portion of this massive excess of water vapor is bound to fall out as rain — manifesting as terrible extreme precipitation episodes that can result in serious trouble. A seemingly endless procession of freak events that challenge the record books time and time again.

Across the world, we’re starting to see such episodes now. Over the past week, Iran, Yemen, Qatar Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have experienced flash floods resulting in loss of life. Severe floods spurred a major emergency response effort in Central and Northern Russia this weekend. And in Santiago Chile, streets turned into rivers as a sudden and extraordinary deluge both polluted the water supplies of 1 million people and transformed the world’s largest copper mine into a lake.

(Severe flooding around the world this week includes the Houston area — sections of which have essentially been crippled by 12-18 inches of rainfall over the past 24 hours. In total, more than 1,200 water rescues have been reported throughout the region. Many residents, like the gentleman above, appear to have been shocked and surprised by the flooding’s severity. Video source: Houston ABC News.)

Sudden, Extreme Flooding in Houston Area

In the US, the City of Houston and the region of southeastern Texas experienced its own extreme deluge. There, a stubborn and unyielding high pressure system over the US East Coast, an omega block in the Jet Stream, a cut off upper level low, and a nearly unprecedented amount of moisture streaming in from the Gulf of Mexico and regions to the Equatorial South all conspired to aim a train of powerful storms in the form of an eye-popping mesoscale convective system (MCS) at the Houston region. Since early this morning, between 12-18 inches of rainfall fell over the city’s western suburbs with 6-8 inches inundating the city center. In some places, rates of rainfall accumulation hit a crippling rate of nearly 4 inches per hour.

According to Bob Henson at Weather Underground:

… the Houston area was socked on Monday morning by a huge mesoscale convective system (MCS) that drifted southeast across the area, dumping eye-popping amounts of rain: 6” – 8” over central Houston, with 12” – 18” common over the far western suburbs… While individual thunderstorms often weaken after dark, the large mass of thunderstorms that makes up an MCS will often persist overnight and into the next morning, as the MCS cloud tops radiate heat to space and instability is enhanced.

The record single day rainfall total for Houston before today was 11.25 inches. It appears likely that 11.75 inches recorded at Houston International Airport today will mark a new daily high mark for a city that grew up out of fossil fuel burning but now appears to be drowning in the heat-intensified effluent. More to the point, most of Houston’s western suburbs experienced what amounts to an entire typical season’s worth of rainfall in just one 24 hour period.

Drainage systems, not designed to handle anywhere near so much water over so short a period, were rapidly overwhelmed. By midday, more than 70 subdivisions in the Houston region were reported flooded, more than 1,200 vehicle water rescue operations had been conducted along the inundated region’s streets and highways, and more than 1,000 homes were inundated. Seven hospitals were shut down, airport operations were crippled, and more than 100,000 people were reported to be without power. The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore, not known for understatement, may have hit a bit below the mark when he noted that “this is a mind boggling situation” earlier this afternoon. CNN, in its summation report of this, most recent, disaster declared that the entire city had been basically shut down.

Extreme Storms Houston Texas

(River of moisture flows up from the Equator and Gulf of Mexico and into the Houston region on Monday — spurring extreme rains that cripple the city. A pair of doggedly persistent weather systems — a blocking high to the east and an upper level low to the north contributed to the extreme weather over Houston. Climate change related features like record atmospheric moisture loading, and persistent ridge and trough generation due to Jet Stream changes likely linked to record low Arctic sea ice levels also likely influenced today’s severe storms. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

As of early this evening, a series of somewhat less intense storms still trailed through the Houston region as heavier rains marched off toward the east over Louisiana and Arkansas. A strong moisture flow is expected to persist over Eastern Texas and the southern Mississippi River Valley region through to at least Thursday as both the upper level low and blocking high complicit in Monday’s extreme flooding in Houston appear reluctant to budge from their current positions. As a result, NOAA is predicting another 4-5 inches of rainfall for areas near and just to the North and East of Houston over the next seven days. To this point, it’s worth noting that NOAA’s precipitation models had ‘only’ predicted about 4 inches of rainfall for the past 24 hour period in the near Houston area — a period that produced about five times that total for some locations. So it appears that weather models may be having a little bit of trouble managing the new and extremely dynamic atmospheric conditions now coming into play.

But One Extreme Event of Many in the Past Five Months

Houston’s likely record rainfall for this time of year comes on the back of hailstorms generating up to a billion dollars worth of damage over Northeastern Texas last week and follows a record March inundation of the Mississippi River region just to the North and East. An event that also followed a freak December flooding of Missouri and Illinois which likewise re-organized the record books. Overall, this represents an extreme spate of severe weather for one localized region.

Consistent trough generation in the Jet Stream over the area (likely influenced by record low Arctic sea ice coverage), consistent above average sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, a strong moisture flow from a record El Nino, and record global temperatures contributing to high atmospheric moisture loadings all influenced severe storm formation over this area during recent months. Sadly, it’s a spate of severe weather that is likely to continue at least until the end of Spring.

Links:

Widespread Flooding, More than 1,000 Water Rescues in Houston Area

Houston Largely Shut Down Amidst Severe Rainfall, Flooding

Massive Flood in Houston

Houston Texas Average Rainfall

Flash Floods Claim 18 Lives Across Saudia Arabia

Deadly Rains Pound the Middle East

Flash Floods in North Afghanistan Claim 38 Lives Overnight

World’s Largest Copper Mine Shut Down in Santiago Flood

As A Titanic El Nino Begins to Fade, What Fresh Trouble Will Record Warm World Bring?

NOAA Quantitative Predictive Forecasts

Punishing Four Season Storm Grips US

Mangled Jet Stream, River of Moisture Set to Deliver Severe Flooding to Mississippi River Valley

Houston ABC News

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Greg

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Daniel Hatem

Conditions Promoting Arctic Sea Ice Collapse Are Exceptionally Strong This Spring

It didn’t take long for Arctic sea ice to start to respond to a fossil-fuel based accumulation of hothouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere. For since the 1920s, that region of ocean ice along the northern polar zone has been in a steady, and increasingly rapid, retreat. Rachel Carson wrote about the start of the Northern Hemisphere ocean ice decline in her ground-breaking 1955 book — The Edge of the Sea.

But it wasn’t until the late 1970s that consistent satellite observations began to provide an unbroken record telling the tale of Arctic sea ice decline. The National Snow and Ice Data Center, The Polar Science Center (PIOMAS), Japan’s JAXA, The Danish Meteorological Institute, and others have since that time provided a loyal recording of the stark impact human-forced warming has had on this sensitive and critical region.

(Severe sea ice volume losses since 1979 illustrated in the above video by Andy Lee Robinson.)

Perhaps the most poignant and direct telling of this tale has been provided in the form of Andy Lee Robinson’s tragic and resonant re-rendering of sea ice volume declines as measured by PIOMAS. Others, like Neven over at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog, have heroically and often thanklessly provided the essential week-to-week analysis of this tragic decline. Rising to the task of a necessary telling of a key chapter in the human tale that our mainstream media sources have all-too-often neglected. Before we go on to today’s update on an Arctic Ocean ice cap that is now in a critically weak condition, I want to add one last mention — these scientists, analysts, experts, and creative and artistically inclined laymen have done the right thing. They were the modern-day prophets providing the critical warning that has been oft-ignored.

A Tale of Devastating Losses

It’s a warning that has been written in the record of the ice itself. A decline that since 1979 has followed a steepening descent curve. An overall downward trend punctuated by the abrupt and severe loss years of 2007 and 2012. A trend that has, nonetheless, featured a few weak challenges in the form of pseudo-recovery years like 2008, 2013, and 2014. A precipitous loss that, all too soon, will likely terminate with abrupt finality in temporally-expanding blue ocean events. Periods when little or no sea ice is observed on the surface of oceans and seas within the Arctic.

JAXA sea ice

(After the warmest Winter and early Spring period on record, Arctic sea ice extent, area and volume are now at or near new record lows. With abnormal heat persisting and with the ice showing an extraordinary lack of resiliency, there appears to be a heightened risk that Arctic sea ice will hit new record all-time lows by September and October of 2016. Image source: JAXA.)

Why should we talk about blue ocean events now? Well, we have only to look at the sea ice record to find that substantial losses have occurred during single years. Years when Arctic heat hit new peaks — lining up with severe adverse weather conditions to take a terrible toll on the ice. Years like 2007 when nearly 2 million square kilometers of ice was lost over the previous year and 2012 which featured about 800,000 square kilometers of extent lost below the 2007 low mark. And if a blue ocean event does happen, it will be during one of these severe loss years.

Extremely Frail Sea Ice During the Spring of 2016

2016 and 2017 could be years when such precipitous declines occur. Heat from an extraordinarily powerful El Nino already skipped over the weakening atmospheric wall of the Jet Stream to invade the High Arctic during Winter of this year. As a result, Winter and Springtime Arctic temperatures are currently at their warmest levels ever recorded.

All this extra heat is doing a number on the ice. Sea ice extent, volume and area, which had experienced a false recovery during the years of 2013 and 2014, have again retreated to seasonally record low levels. In particular, the new near record low seasonal volume measure is disturbing. For while area and extent measure the expanse of surface ice as visible from above, volume measures the ice in three dimensions — giving a better idea of overall resiliency or lack thereof. It’s worth noting that the PIOMAS volume measure is based on a model of assimilated observational data. And, as with any model, there are a few assumptions built in. But overall, PIOMAS has tended to provide data that has matched with other observational findings.

Broken Beaufort

(Extreme fracturing of Beaufort sea ice over recent days has come after a record warm Arctic Spring and Winter and during a period when a powerful high pressure system has been breaking and compacting the ice. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Sea ice frailty seen in the measures is also verified by current satellite observations of the ice surface. This frailty is particularly visible in the region of the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska and Canada. There, extensive fracturing of the ice is clearly visible in yesterday’s MODIS satellite shot. Here we find huge regions of thin ice and open water as the torquing influence of a powerful high pressure system has turned the greatly weakened Beaufort ice into a sea of ice cubes.

During recent years in the post 2012 timeframe, Beaufort ice has shown a considerable lack of resiliency to fracturing. This is particularly disturbing as, historically, the Beaufort Sea has tended to house the thickest, toughest ice in the Arctic. If such a great former bastion for the ice can now be torn to ribbons by the slightest fluxes of wind and weather, then the sea ice is, indeed, in a rather wretched state. And last year, just this kind of early fracturing and warm up in the Beaufort greatly contributed to an overall return to the trend of an Arctic sea ice death spiral in 2015.

Neven notes in a recent blog at his Arctic sea ice portal:

Last year’s April cracking event caused a lot of fragmented multi-year ice to be transported all the way up to the Chukchi Sea (see here), leaving a vulnerable looking barrier on the Pacific side of the Arctic. When this was followed by an early heat wave in May (see here), the ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas received a beating it never really recovered from during the rest of the melting season. This was also because continental snow had melted out really quickly, making it possible for warm winds to blow in from the land.

Heating From Both Water and Land

Compared to last year, this year looks quite a bit worse. A wide-ranging Beaufort break-up is happening on the back of last year’s losses and is concurrent with new record and near record low sea ice extent, area and volume values and is happening during a period in which Arctic heat has hit new all-time highs. The result is a risk of compounding melt factors hitting the greatly weakened ice all at the same time.

Locally, the kind of widespread fracturing we now observe can result in a loss of protective reflectivity for the sea ice. As the Springtime sun rises and more of its direct rays fall upon the ice, darker thin ice patches and areas of open water will absorb more of the solar heat. That extra heat will then go to melting the islands of thicker ice that remain.

This situation can generate a compounding effect of ice losses if weather conditions and atmospheric temperatures line up. In addition, loss of the thicker sea ice cap during break-up can result in the ventilating of heat from the warmer waters beneath the ice. In fact, it is the heating of waters beneath the sea ice by means of current transport of warming ocean waters from around the world and into the Arctic that is one of the chief drivers of Arctic Ocean ice losses as the globe has been forced to warm by human fossil fuel emissions. So not only does an ice crack up in the Beaufort reduce the ice’s resiliency to the sun, it also tears the lid off the deeper ocean warming rising up from below.

Warmer Arctic Ocean Cooler Land

(Lower albedo due to ice fracturing results in more of the sun’s rays being absorbed into the ocean surface. A warmer Arctic Ocean surface then radiates more heat into the surrounding environment. Such conditions can result in periods when temperatures over the, previously colder and solidly frozen, Arctic Ocean are far warmer than even over land masses on the verge of tipping into a springtime thaw. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

During Arctic Spring, when land surfaces are now retaining snow cover even as the sea ice breaks up, the effect of lower albedo and ocean heat ventilation can be found in the form of warmer temperatures over thin ice, broken ice, and in open water regions when compared to nearby land masses. Such a condition of newly added heat over ocean zones can have substantial impacts come Summer if melt-favorable weather patterns continue to hold sway. The result is a kind of melt synergy developing between the land, the waters, and the sun. Early on, during Spring, the warmer ocean zone weakens ice and provides warm air pools that aid in the initiation of snow melt over adjacent land. Then, as land warming ramps up, the warm winds coming from regions of early snow withdrawal provide further pressure to the already greatly weakened ice.

A Big Burly High as the Final Ingredient

Weather patterns that favor melt during Spring and Summer include powerful high pressure systems dominating large regions of the Arctic. And for much of the past week, an extremely intense high in the range of 1040 to 1045 mb has stooped over the Beaufort, torqued the ice, and developed the kind of strong clockwise wind flow that has tended to result in fracturing, ice compaction, and the opening of darker ice and open water areas (please read Neven’s fantastic recent blog on this observation here).

This kind of weather system is the last ingredient necessary to trigger an early, rapid melt for the side of the Arctic where the last of the thick, old ice now remains. And it appears that, for at least two weeks, such conditions will hold strong sway over the Beaufort.

So overall, more and more conditions are lining up to deliver a ramping up of melt pressure on the Arctic sea ice. Record atmospheric heat, early break-up, record low or near record low area, extent, and volume, and a powerful high pressure system over the Beaufort do not at all bode well. In fact, this looks like a near perfect early season set-up for a record melt in 2016 should this clearly ominous trend continue.

Links:

Beaufort Under Early Pressure

The National Snow and Ice Data Center

The Polar Science Center (PIOMAS)

The Danish Meteorological Institute

JAXA

Andy Lee Robinson

The Edge of the Sea

CIRES1

LANCE-MODIS

Earth Nullschool

Too Close to Dangerous Climate Thresholds — Japan Meteorological Agency Shows First Three Months of 2016 Were About 1.5 C Above the IPCC Preindustrial Baseline

We should take a moment to appreciate how hot it’s actually been so far in 2016. To think about what it means to be in a world that’s already so damn hot. To think about how far behind the 8 ball we are on responses to human forced climate change. And to consider how urgent it is to swiftly stop burning coal, oil and gas. To stop adding more fuel to an already raging global fire.

******

Global policy makers, scientists, and many environmentalists have identified an annual average of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial marks as a level of heat we should try to avoid. The Paris Climate Summit made a verbal pledge to at least attempt to steer clear of such extreme high temperature ranges. But even the strongest emissions reduction commitments from the nations of the world now do not line up with that pledge. And it’s questionable that they ever could given the massive amount of greenhouse gas overburden that has already accumulated and is already rapidly heating the world’s airs, waters, ice, and carbon stores.

Current emission reduction pledges, though significant when taking into context the size and potential for growth of all of carbon-spewing industry, don’t even come close to the stated 1.5 C goal. Under our presently accepted understanding of climate sensitivity, and barring any response from the global carbon stores unforeseen by mainstream science, pledged reductions in fossil fuel use by the nations of the world under Paris would limit warming to around 3 C by the end of this Century. Rates of carbon emission reduction would necessarily have to significantly speed up beyond the pledged Paris NDC goals in order to hit below 3 C by 2100 — much less avoid 2 C.

As for 1.5 C above preindustrial averages — it already appears that this year, 2016, will see temperatures uncomfortably close to a level that mainstream scientists have identified as dangerous.

Global temperatures March Japan Meteorological Agency

(Japan’s Meteorological Agency shows that March of 2016 remained at global temperature levels above 1.5 C higher than the preindustrial baseline.)

The most recent warning came as the Japan Meteorological Agency today posted its March temperature values. In the measure, we again see a major jump in readings with the new March measure hitting a record of 1.07 C above the 20th Century average or about 1.55 C above temperatures last seen during the early 1890s. These temperatures compare to approximate 1.52 C above 1890s temperatures recorded by the same agency during February and a 1.35 C positive departure above 1890s levels during January. Averaging all these rough anomaly figures together, we find that the first three months of 2016 were about 1.47 C above the 1890s, or near 1.52 C above the IPCC 1850 to 1900 preindustrial baseline.

So for three months now, we’ve entered a harsh new world. One brought about by an atrocious captivity to fossil fuel burning. One that many scientists said it was imperative to avoid.

Due to the way the global climate system cycles, it is unlikely that the rest of 2016 will see such high global temperature marks and that the annual average will bend back from a near to, or slightly higher than, 1.5 C peak during early 2016. A La Nina appears to be on the way. And as the major driver of the cooler side of natural variability, La Nina taking hold should draw some of the sting out of these new record atmospheric temperature readings.

That said, overall ocean heat still looks quite extreme. Pacific Decadal Oscillation values hit their second highest ever monthly values during March of 2016. And a strongly positive PDO can tend to bleed a great amount of heat into the world’s airs even absent the influence of El Nino. In addition, Arctic warming this year has hit new record levels. Arctic sea ice is now at or near seasonal record low levels in most measures. Albedo is very low with many dark ice and open water regions forming throughout the Arctic Ocean. Snow cover levels are also low to record low — depending on the measure. Very early Greenland melt is already hampering the reflectivity of that great ice mass.

As summer advances, these factors may tend to continue to generate excess heat in Arctic or near Arctic regions as new dark surfaces absorb far more solar radiation than during a typical year. New evidence of increasing Arctic permafrost carbon store response may add to this potential additional heat contribution.

There is danger then, that an La Nina driven and natural variability related cooling later in the year may tend to lag — pulled back by a positive PDO and amplifying feedbacks in the Arctic. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels peaking between 407 and 409 parts per million during the months of March and April — the primary and increasingly dangerous driver of all this excess heat we are now experiencing — risk bending the upper end of that temperature threshold still higher and in ways that we probably haven’t yet completely pinned down. But the fact that March appears to have lingered near February’s record high anomaly values is cause for a bit of heightened concern. In other words, 2016 is setting up to be hot in ways that are surprising, freakish, and troubling.

Links:

Japan’s Meteorological Agency

Met Office — Measure From Which IPCC Preindustrial Baseline is Derived

NOAA’s Weekly ENSO Report

NSIDC’s Interactive Sea Ice Extent Graph

The Greenland Summer Melt Season Just Started in April

PDO Record Data

 

 

The Greenland Summer Melt Season Just Started in April

12 Percent. That’s how much of Greenland’s surface experienced melt yesterday according to a report from DMI’s Polar Portal  as an unprecedented flow of warm, wet air slammed into its great ice sheets. 10 Percent. That’s how much of Greenland’s ice sheet surface is required to melt in order to mark an official start to the Summer melt season. Late May or early June. That’s when Greenland melt season typically begins.

In other words, a Greenland melt season that usually starts as May rolls into June and has never initiated before May 5th just began on April 11th of 2016. That’s 24 days ahead of the previous record set only six years ago and more than a month and a half ahead of the typical melt start. In other words — way too early. But in a rapidly heating world where monthly temperatures have now exceeded a range of 1.5 C above 1880s levels, we could well expect Greenland melts to begin earlier, end later, and encompass more and more of the ice sheet surface at peak melt during July.

 

Record Early Start to Greenland Melt Season

(Record early start to Greenland’s ‘Summer’ melt season occurred on April 11, 2016 according to reports from DMI’s Polar Portal.)

Yesterday’s new record early melt start occurred as extraordinarily warm temperatures in the range of 20-40 degrees Fahrenheit above average swept over southern, central and western Greenland. This flood of extremely warm temperatures for Greenland was accompanied by heavy rains and strong winds — gusting to gale or even hurricane force in some locations. In some areas, rain fell over the ice sheet itself. As recently as midday Tuesday, Dr. Jason Box — a prominent Greenland researcher — tweeted a report from a friend in Nuuk that the city was “close to drowning in water caused by rain and snow melt.”

Today, temperatures for the whole of Greenland — a 1.7 million square kilometer island containing enough ice to raise sea levels by more than 20 feet should it all melt — were measuring as high as 10.17 C above average (more than 18 F above average) with readings over much of northern and central Greenland spiking over 20 C (36 F) above normal (1980-2010) ranges. So it’s likely that Monday’s record early 12 percent surface melt will extend and possibly expand on through today (April 12).

Greenland 10 C Above Average Temperatures

(Extreme warmth over much of Greenland on April 12th is continuing a new record early start to melt season for this up to two mile high pile of ice. Image source: Karsten’s Climate Maps. Data Source: NOAA/NCEP/GFS.)

Over the coming week, temperatures across Greenland are expected to steadily fall back toward more normal ranges. However, it’s worth noting that much of the heat from this year’s record early melt spike will be baked into the ice — adding a kind of internal heat pressure as Spring gradually progresses into Summer.

During July of 2012, an unprecedented 95 percent of Greenland’s surface experienced melt. For 2016, unprecedented Arctic warming during Winter appears to have set the stage for a serious challenge to both 2012 Greenland and 2012 Arctic sea ice melt records. And with seasonal sea ice at or near new record lows even as Greenland is off to an amazingly early melt start, it appears that 2016 is now in a race to set a number of new benchmarks as Arctic ice continues its ominous and disruptive longer-term decline.

Links:

Warm, Southerly Winds Gust to Hurricane Force in Staggering Early Season Greenland Heatwave

Unusually Early Greenland Melt

Greenland Melt Season Started Nearly Two Months Early

Karsten’s Climate Maps

Dr Jason Box’s Twitter Feed

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to Sidd

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

Warm, Southerly Winds Gust to Hurricane Force Over Greenland in Staggering Early Season Heatwave — Temperatures Now Hitting up to 41 Degrees (F) Above Average at Summit

The wavy, crazy Jet Stream.

Over the past few years, it’s become more and more clear that a human-forced heating of the Arctic has basically driven the Jet Stream mad. Big loops, omega blocks, and huge ridges and troughs have all become a feature of the new climate we’re experiencing. Related to these features have been a number of superstorms, severe droughts, ocean hot and cold pools, and extreme rainfall events.

Trough US East Coast Ridge Greenland

(The Jet Stream once again mangled. A strong trough shoved cool air over the US East Coast this weekend as a facing ridge prepared to hurl a bulge of extreme warmth up and over Greenland on Monday. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As we have  seen with Sandy, the Pacific Hot Blob, the UK floods, The California Drought, the record Alaska and Canadian Wildfire Seasons of 2015, the Russian Heatwave and Fires of 2011, the Pakistan Floods of 2011, and so, so many more extreme weather events, these new climate features present a risk of generating extraordinary or never before seen weather. Intense storms, extreme winds, and extreme cold flashes and heatwaves can all be generated as the result of such mangled weather patterns. And for much of the North Atlantic this past weekend, such abnormal conditions dominated. The US East Coast experienced a freak cold flash, the UK was pummeled by yet one more unseasonable gale, but perhaps worst of all — a head of extraordinarily warm air roared northward, riding upon gale to hurricane force winds, setting sights on Greenland.

Cool Flash for Eastern US, Extreme Heat for Greenland

This past weekend, the US weather news was all awash with comments on Winter-like conditions in April for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic US as a deep trough tore down from the Canadian Archipelago and Hudson Bay. The trough brought with it snow flurries, freeze warnings, and rather cold conditions for April to this region of the US. Temperatures ranged from 10-20 degrees (F) below average for this area. But compared to what was setting up to happen in the ridge zone over the Atlantic, the East Coast cool spell was quite mild considering the relative extreme heat readying for a Greenland invasion.

The warm wind pulse began in the North Atlantic in a tropical region near 26 North, 55 West. This warm air flooded in train over thousands of miles of open ocean. Running northward, it roared along the back of a high pressure system centered over the Mid Atlantic Ridge and in front of two strong lows — one centered near Newfoundland and a second over southwestern Baffin Bay.

In places, the pressure gradient between the lows and highs was so tightly packed that the northward flowing airs hit hurricane force. Off the southwest tip of Greenland, winds consistently achieved hurricane force gusts. And these winds flowed on northward, bringing with them a surge of above freezing temperatures to much of Baffin Bay and a large section of Western Greenland.

By 10:00 UTC, Monday, April 11th — Thule, on the Northwest Coast of Greenland near the Nares Strait was experiencing sustained southerly winds along the northern edge of this warm air pulse at 45 mph with gusts hitting a hurricane force 75 mph. Temperatures for Thule by that time had hit 34 degrees (F) or about 32 degrees (F ) above average.

Extreme Greenland Heatwave

(Extreme Arctic heat strikes Greenland on April 11, 2016. There readings for a large area hit a range 36 degrees Fahrenheit or more above average for a large region over Baffin Bay and Greenland. This extreme pulse of unseasonable warm air contributed to overall temperature departures of +4.75 C (8.55 F) above average for the Arctic. A very high departure for this region of the world at this time of year and an extension to a period of record Arctic warmth in 2016. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Further south, Nuuk was experiencing 45 F readings (or about 20 F above average) coordinate with heavy rain and strong southerly winds. Yet further south, in Kangerlussuaq near the southwest coast of Greenland, temperatures spiked to 61 F — or 36 F above the average April 11 reading of 25 F.

Perhaps more remarkable and disturbing were the predicted extreme readings at Summit Greenland — expected to hit 21 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday or about 41 degrees (F) above a typical daily high of -20 (F) for this time of year. It’s worth noting that in July average high temperatures for Summit Greenland usually range near 12 degrees (F). So current expected highs for April 11, 2016 are nearly 10 degrees warmer than a normal July day. By comparison, if such an extreme high temperature departure were to have occurred in my hometown of Gaithersburg, MD on the same date (April 11th), readings would have exceeded a remarkable 106 Degrees Fahrenheit.

Year of Record Arctic Warmth Continues

The recent warm, wet wind outbreak over Greenland is but one more odd event in a year of extreme warmth for the Arctic. Warm wind invasions over the North Atlantic, Barents, Baffin Bay, Greenland Sea, Western Europe, Alaska, Western Canada, the Barents, and sections of Central Asia have been a persistent feature throughout both Winter and Spring. Meanwhile, consistent temperature spikes to near freezing or above freezing over the Arctic Ocean and related waters have contributed to Arctic sea ice hitting new seasonal lows.

Freezing Degree Days NOAA

(Arctic heat has been literally off-the charts for the region above 80 degrees North during 2016. This area has now experienced nearly 1,000 fewer freezing degree days than during a typical year of the already warmer than normal 1980-2010 period. Extreme Arctic warmth of this kind has negative impacts both to the health of Arctic sea ice and to that of the various glacier systems in Greenland, Svalbard and Northern Canada. Image source: NOAA/CFSv2/CFSR.)

Overall, the Arctic has experienced unprecedented warmth for 2016. In reference to this fact, NOAA measures recording freezing degree days indicate that both the Arctic and the High Arctic above 80 degrees North Latitude are experiencing their warmest year ever recorded. These new extreme high temperatures are achieving an extraordinary departure above previous temperature measures and are a feature of the highest anomalies occurring over any portion of a record warm world. In other words, if you were to look for the region of the world that’s being hit hardest by a human-forced warming spurred on by rampant fossil fuel burning, the Arctic would light up like a fireworks display on the 4th of July.

Tropical heat, in the form of a record El Nino generated warmth, has tended to transfer pole-ward in the Northern Hemisphere during 2016 due to various weaknesses in the Jet Stream. A primary region for this transfer has occurred over the North Atlantic and Europe with secondary transfer zones over the Eastern Pacific, Western North America, and over a shifting zone throughout Northern Asia.

An extraordinary polar amplification of this kind — one that includes Equator-to-Pole heat transfers — risks hitting or increasing the intensity of a number of harmful climate tipping points. These include the amplifying feedbacks of increasing rates of sea ice melt and Arctic carbon store response. In addition, extreme warmth over Greenland risks further glacial destabilization, increasing rates of sea level rise, and increasing weather instability in the North Atlantic.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

Thule Air Base Weather Statistics

Thule Air Base Current Weather Conditions

Nuuk Greenland Weather

Nuuk Climatology

Kangerlussuaq Average Temperatures

Kangerlussuaq Weather

Summit Greenland Weather

Summit Greenland Climatology

NOAA/CFSv2/CFSR

Hat Tip to Kevin Jones

Scientific Hat Tip to Dr. James Hansen

Scientific Hat Tip to Dr. Jennifer Francis

Scientific Hat Tip to Dr. Jeff Masters

 

 

 

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

We have seen the enemy and he is us.

‘He,’ in this case, is those among us now fighting an all-out war against government programs aimed at reducing the damage caused by human-forced climate change. And in this present time of ramping climate catastrophe, there is no excuse at all for this morally reprehensible activity. Yet, excuse or no, the foul actions of these shameless ignoramuses continue. For all around the world conservatives (called [neo] liberals in Australia) with ties to fossil fuel based industry continue to scuttle programs that would result in the more rapid adoption of renewable energy systems even as they undermine related initiatives to increase energy efficiency.

At a time when the world faces down a growing climate crisis — one that will have dramatically worsening impacts as the decades progress — these failed and corruption-born policies represent the most abhorrent of political activities. And as the world convenes to consider how best to lessen the danger posed by an unfolding global tragedy, there are many in power who are now actively working to increase that danger.

More than anything else, this corrupt group is fighting to enforce ramping dangers, an ever-broadening harm, and untold future tragedy.

Shutting Down Coal to Build Natural Gas in The UK

This week, the conservative government of the United Kingdom made what seemed to be an optimistic announcement. It now plans to phase out all coal generation by 2025. Because coal power generation is the worst of the worst among carbon polluters, this news was rather good. Good, that is, when one doesn’t take a look at the broader context of current UK energy policy. And taking that look, we find what could best be described as an utterly abysmal state of affairs.

wind_power

(Wind power, produced by these and many other majestic towers turning over the UK countryside, is a critical solution to human-based fossil fuel emissions and a target of conservative energy policies. Image source: British Wind Energy Association.)

Ever since coming to power this summer, the conservative government has consistently cut subsidies for renewable energy while providing subsidies for some of the worst polluting facilities imaginable. Recently, UK Energy Secretary Rudd received stark criticism for this move along with pointed words over related backward policies like the provision of subsidies for expensive and polluting diesel-electric generators. Pointed words that came from both politicians and scientists alike. One such scientist was chief of the UN’s environmental programme Jacqueline McGlade who recently stated in the Financial Times:

“What’s disappointing is when we see countries such as the United Kingdom that have really been in the lead in terms of getting their renewable energy up and going — we see subsidies being withdrawn and the fossil fuel industry being enhanced.”

So even as conservatives in the UK are phasing out coal, they are replacing it with oil and natural gas. Fossil fuel replacements for fossil fuels at the expense of both zero-carbon renewables and a climate capable of supporting human civilization. For both oil and gas are still major carbon emitters. Especially when one considers the UK conservatives’ intention of fracking the countryside in search of these dangerous fuels. A method of extraction that has proven to increase emissions of volatile methane gas. And each new gas or oil plant built will continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere for decades even as it risks having its production lifespan cut short as the damages caused by carbon pollution become ever more obvious.

From the Financial Times:

Ms Rudd told the Today programme she wanted to rewrite the rules of the scheme to encourage gas instead. She said: “We have a capacity market auction coming up. We are going to review it carefully afterwards and ensure we do get the new gas we need.”

Conservatives, in this case, who have ideologically (and ludicrously) campaigned against all subsidies have instead decided to subsidize the bad climate outcomes all while cutting funding for solutions.

Fighting Renewable Energy Subsidies, Clean Power Plan in the US

In the US, the situation is only slightly better. Slightly better in that conservatives do not currently hold the Presidency. That said, conservatives are still doing their damnedest to kill off practically every renewable energy program the United States has to offer.

In May, House Republicans presented a bill (HR 1901) that would completely kill off the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy in the US. This in contrast to a permanent wind Production Tax Credit proposed by Obama. Meanwhile, the same Republican clowns who bring snowballs into the halls of Congress as supposed proof that global warming isn’t happening repeatedly try to de-fund the PTC for both wind and solar at each and every new budget session.

And it’s primarily due these efforts on behalf of fossil fuel backers by Republicans that the PTC is set to expire again by 2017. A move that will inject volatility into the renewable energy markets and bite into what has been an amazing period of growth by both Wind and Solar energy across the US. Growth that has happened despite Republicans’ apparent best efforts to halt it (see Paul Krugman’s Enemies of the Sun).

US Solar Energy Adoption rate

(US Solar energy adoption rates continued to soar in 2015, jumping to 40 percent of all new installed energy capacity for the first half of the year. These great gains have occurred despite broad based assaults on public policies supporting the rapid adoption of this critical renewable energy source. Image source: US Solar Market Summary.)

Though the PTC represents the Federal Government’s big support program for wind and solar energy development, any program that would reduce carbon emissions falls under attack. Republicans, who have hypocritically spoken in favor of US energy independence, mount repeated attacks on increases in Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency Standards. Republicans incessantly assault the EPA and its underlying Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. But more recently, Republican attacks against EPA have focused on the underpinnings of Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The plan, which sets modest goals to reduce US carbon emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels through 2030, would also greatly increase the rate of US renewable energy adoption, force the early retirement of the worst polluting power plants, and push for further increases in energy efficiency. Exactly the kind of progress against human forced climate change and toward US energy independence that Republicans apparently abhor.

By contrast, there hasn’t been a bit of legislation supporting fossil fuels that Republicans haven’t loved. Republicans constantly call for ending the oil export ban — a move that would greatly benefit US-based oil corporations. They wholeheartedly support the polluting and groundwater destroying process that is fracking. They’ve repeatedly called for increased drilling of all kinds everywhere including offshore drilling, Alaska National Wildlife Refuge Drilling, and Arctic Ocean Drilling. And they continuously support the dirtiest, highest carbon emitting fuel sources imaginable such as Canada’s Tar Sands and Coal. In fact, Republicans support for coal extends to the point that they frequently pass bills like this one which would allow toxic fly ash the enter groundwater supplies.

At the State level conservative republicans have repeatedly attempted to ram through ALEC and Koch funded bills to roll back net metering laws and renewable energy targets (see Koch Brothers, Big Utilities Attack Solar Energy). All while attempting to open public lands and waters to every variety of drilling and coal mining.

But despite these broad based attacks, renewable energy in the United States continues to make major gains even as energy efficiency measures advance. Sadly, the pace of carbon emission reduction and related renewable energy adoption has been greatly slowed by these continuous attacks by conservative Republicans.

Australia — From Terrible to Not Much Better

In the Southern Hemisphere, recent years have seen a wholesale gutting of renewable energy based policies by the Tony Abbott government in Australia. Time and time again, Abbott (which like northern conservatives foists laizzez faire markets and supports destructive industries like fossil fuels) pushed for a roll back in Australia’s previously aggressive renewable energy adoption rate all while trying to breathe new life into a zombie coal mining, export and power industry.

By Summer of 2015 the situation had gotten so dire that solar energy industry leaders were calling Abbott’s actions a ‘vindictive crusade’ against the renewable energy industry. John Grimes, head of the Australian Solar Council, this July launched an attack on the Abbott government after Australia’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation decided to stop funding new wind projects.

In a statement to the Saturday Paper, Grimes asserted:

“If Abbott continues this way, we’re [the solar industry] finished. We know that solar and other renewables are competing with coal, and Abbott is intent upon protecting that industry. So, this is our WorkChoices moment. We will be mobilising, and we’ll be campaigning in marginal seats. We’re starting to plan this now.”

RET cut

(During June of 2015, the Tony Abbott government cut Australia’s Renewable Energy Target [RET] from 41 gigawatts by 2020 to 33 gigawatts. Unfortunately, the new Prime Minister — Malcolm Turnbull — hasn’t moved to support previous, more aggressive targets. As such, Tony Abbott’s legacy of cutting renewable energy in favor of coal lives on. Image source: Renew Economy.)

By Fall, the Abbott government had fractured. This development likely in no small part due to campaigning by renewable energy supporters and those concerned about human caused climate change. The new head of the Australian Liberal Party (don’t let the name fool you, they’re just like conservatives everywhere else) Malcolm Turnbull, when considering past performance, might want to support cutting edge solar technology for Australia. However, in his first months as Prime Minister he appears to have done little but cowtow to his numerous coal industry supporting party colleagues.

As an example, Turnbull’s appointed Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel recently stated:

“My vision is for a country, a society, or world, where we don’t use any coal, oil, or natural gas, because we have zero-emissions electricity in huge abundance”.

But Turnbull, who is now being pushed by his political colleagues to make it illegal for environmentalists to sue coal companies if they open up new land to mining, felt the need to defend coal on the same stage by making the following and highly fallacious statement:

“If Australia were to stop all of its coal exports … it would not reduce global emissions one iota.”

Due to renewable energy’s popularity in Australia, due to Turnbull’s own likely affinity for the development of cutting edge wind and solar ventures, but also due to the terrible and intransigent institutional legacy of coal support in his party, the Turnbull government has come across as schizophrenic on the issues of renewable energy and climate change. On the one hand, some within Turnbull’s administration make statements like that of Dr. Finkel above. But when it comes to actual policy, Turnbull has continued to support many of the disastrous initiatives set forward by Tony Abbott. Which makes the Turnbull government look like it’s attempting to greenwash a facade over a rather ugly coal-ash face.

If Leaders Can’t Support Renewable Energy and Work to Halt Fossil Fuel Burning, Then They Need To Go

Though the UK, the US and Australia do not make up the entirety of the western world, the conservative anti-renewable energy and pro-fossil fuel sentiment represented in these three countries is wide-ranging. Such sentiment is common to conservative governing groups around the world — from Canada to Europe to New Zealand and beyond. In the western democracies of the world this crippling ideology is preventing a necessarily rapid push to adopt non-carbon energy and prevent the worst impacts of global climate change.

As we approach the Paris Climate Summit, we should be very clear on this one political issue of key importance. If these people continue to hold political power, we will not act rapidly or decisively enough. We will find ourselves overwhelmed by consequences as their delaying actions stymie any effective response. It is therefore crucial that the supporters of the fossil fuel industries of the world are removed from office. They have shown themselves for their true colors — they’ll continue to support these harmful and wretched fuels regardless of consequences, regardless of any, even the most extreme, risks to their own nations and to the nations of the world.

Links:

Top UN Scientist Criticizes UK Cuts To Renewable Subsidy

UK Coal Fired Plants to be Phased Out

Ministers Accused of Trying to Sneak Through New Fracking Rules

Methane Leaks Wipe Out any Benefit of Fracking

Republicans Fight to Repeal PTC for Wind

House Panel Passes Extenders Package Without PTC

Enemies of the Sun

The GOP Assault on Environmental Laws

The Clean Power Plan

GOP Attacks on Clean Power Plan Going Nowhere

163 Republicans Push for More Offshore Drilling

Republicans Push for Renewed Drilling in Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge

Republican House Passes Bill Forcing Keystone XL Approval for the 9th Time

Republican House Passes Bill That Would Allow Toxic Coal Ash to Enter Groundwater

Koch Brothers, Big Utilities Attack Solar Energy

US Solar Market Summary

Abbott’s Campaign to Kill the Renewable Energy Sector

Renew Economy

Australia Slashes its Renewable Energy Target by 20 Percent

 

 

Solar in the Desert — PV to Bury Fossil Energy on Price Before 2025

DCIM101GOPRO

(Sunlight in the Desert. Dubai solar park produces electricity at 5.98 cents per kilowatt hour, displacing a portion of the UAE’s natural gas generation. By 2025, solar systems that are less expensive than even this cutting-edge power plant will become common. By 2050, large scale solar, according to Agora, will cost less than 2 cents US per kilowatt in sun-blessed areas. Image source: International Construction News.)

*   *   *   *

Anyone tracking energy markets knows there’s a disruptive and transformational shift in the wind (or should we say sun?). For as of this year, solar has become cost-competitive with many energy sources — often beating natural gas on combined levelized costs and even edging out coal in a growing number of markets.

Perhaps the watershed event for the global energy paradigm was the construction of a solar plant in Dubai, UAE that priced electricity for sale at 5.98 cents (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour. Even in the US, where grid electricity regularly goes for 9-12 cents per kilowatt-hour, this price would have been a steal.

But the construction of this plant in a region that has traditionally relied on, what used to be, less expensive diesel and natural gas generation sources could well be a sign of things to come. For though solar can compete head-to-head with oil and gas generation in the Middle East now, its ability to threaten traditional, dirty and dangerous energy sources appears to be just starting to ramp up.

Solar’s Rapid Fall to Least Expensive Energy Source

A new report from Berlin-based Agora Energiewende finds that by 2025 solar PV prices will fall by another 1/3, cementing it as the least expensive energy source on the planet. Further, the report found that prices for solar energy fall by fully 2/3 through 2050:

Solar to be least expensive power source

(Solar is at price parity in the European Market now and set to fall by another 1/3 through 2025 according to a report by Berlin-Based Agora Energiewende.)

In Europe, solar energy already costs less than traditional electricity at 8 cents (Euro average) per kilowatt hour. And at 5-9 cents, it is currently posing severe competition to energy sources like coal and natural gas (5-10 cents) and nuclear (11 cents). But by 2025, the price of solar is expected to fall to between 3.8 and 6.2 cents per kilowatt-hour (Euro), making it the least expensive power source by any measure. By 2050, solar energy for the European market is expected to fall even further, hitting levels between 1.8 and 4.2 cents per kilowatt hour — or 1/4 to 1/2 the cost of fossil and nuclear power sources.

These predictions are for a combined market taking into account the far less sunny European continent. In regions where solar energy is more abundant, the report notes that prices will fall to less than 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s 2 cents (US) for solar in places like Arizona and the Middle East come 2050.

IEA Shows Solar Ready For Battle Against Carbon-Emitting Industry

Already, solar energy adoption is beginning a rapid surge. As of this year, it is expected that 52 gigawatts of solar capacity will be built. But as prices keep falling this rate of build-out could easily double, then double again. By 2025, the IEA expects that solar PV alone could be installing 200 or more gigawatts each year. And by 2050 IEA expects combined solar PV and Solar Thermal Plants (STE) to exceed 30 percent of global energy production, becoming the world’s largest single power source.

Solar Parking Lot

(Parking lots and rooftops provide nearly unlimited opportunities for urban and suburban solar panel installation. Image source: Benchmark Solar)

Considering the severe challenges posed to the global climate system, to species, and to human civilizations by rampant carbon emissions now in excess of 11 gigatons each year (nearly 50 gigatons CO2e each year), the new and increased availability of solar energy couldn’t come soon enough. We now have both an undeniable imperative to prevent future harm coupled with increasingly powerful tools for bringing down world fossil fuel use and an egregious dumping of carbon into the atmosphere and oceans. But we must implement these tools — wind, solar, EVs, efficiency, biomass, geothermal, biogas, tidal and others — as swiftly as possible if we are to have much hope for avoiding the worst impacts of human-caused climate change.

Links:

Solar Energy Emerging as Cheapest Power Source

Solar at 2 Cents per Kwh

Solar Seen as Unbeatable

Dubai Solar Bid Awes Energy Market Players

US Energy Experiences Natural Gas to Coal Whiplash; Natural Gas ‘Bridge to Sustainability’ Collapses Yet Again

Ugly Coal

(A Coal Plant Dumping its Toxic Brew into the Atmosphere. Image source: Climate Crocks)

Natural gas was supposed to act as a bridge to sustainability. Fracking and increased drilling were supposed to reduce US reliance on high-carbon coal. But in 2013, coal consumption is again rising. So what the hell happened?

In short, history repeated itself and energy markets have experienced yet another natural gas to coal whiplash….

Natural gas is an inherently volatile energy source. As prices rise, new sources are sought out, new technologies applied to its extraction and, if depletion barriers are overcome, a surge of new supplies are brought to market. Then, as the wave of new supplies comes to dominate, prices crash. Rushing in to take advantage of the falling prices, the utility companies engage in a generational shift to natural gas electricity production. This increasing consumption of natural gas has two effects. It puts a bottom on natural gas prices and it reduces coal-fired power generation by becoming more competitive on the basis of price. A result of these changes is that US CO2 emissions fall. But, due to the market whip-lash effect of natural gas, these reductions are only temporary.

On the supply side, as natural gas prices fall, less and less producers are able to make a profit. The rate of drilling that drove both the boom and the glut slows to a trickle. This happens even as utilities and other natural gas users demand more of the low cost substance. As a result, prices begin to rise. But since drilling rigs are now allocated elsewhere and natural gas producers are cautious to return to aggressive drilling, supply doesn’t keep pace with demand. Eventually prices rise to the point where natural gas is again, less competitive with coal. Utilities, to preserve their balance sheets, shift back to black rock fuel and carbon emissions again rise.

The 2013 Whiplash

In 2013, US energy markets and related CO2 emissions are now experiencing just this kind of whiplash. After falling to a low price of around $2.60 per million btu, natural gas has been trading in a range between $3.60 and $4.25 since May of this year. And the effect on energy markets has been profound. The result, as Joe Romm implied in his allegorical article ‘Bridge Out’ is that the entirely ephemeral natural gas bridge to sustainability has again disappeared. According to Romm’s excellent article:

Coal’s share of total domestic power generation in the first four months of 2013 averaged 39.5%, compared with 35.4% during the same period last year, according to the Energy Information Administration [EIA]…. By contrast, natural gas generation averaged about 25.8% this year, compared with 29.5% a year earlier.

In the words of another brand of popular fiction: what the frack?

The long touted bridge to sustainability has, yet again, failed. And we find ourselves increasing consumption, yet again, of the worst emitting fuel source — coal. As a result, US carbon emissions are, after about four years of decline, expected to rise in 2013. The US Energy Information Agency projects that the US will emit 2.4% more CO2 than it did last year. But, should the coal surge continue through end of year, this carbon emissions backslide could be even worse than predicted.

Natural Gas: Unreliable Bridge, Bad Help

Sadly, even the reduced CO2 emissions that came, in part, as a result of a temporary shift to natural gas generation also brought with it a terrible cost. Fracked wells drove the most recent boom and bust whip-lash cycle. They were a rapidly depleting, temporary measure to increase production, and these costly wells emit far more methane than their contemporary counter parts. Some studies have even noted that methane leaks via the fracking process make natural gas a more harmful than coal when net carbon emissions are taken into account.

Perhaps worse, the fracked wells also threaten underground and surface water sources from both cracks in the casing pipes and toxic effluent at the numerous and proliferating drill sites. Further, water use in fracking is voracious and, in many cases, adds another burden to fresh water supplies.

Water stress is rising across the United States with fossil water in the Ogallala rapidly depleting even as the US West suffers year after year from a widening climate-change induced drought. With fracking threatening the purity and safety of dwindling supplies, numerous cities and one New Mexico county have banned the enhanced extraction process in an effort to protect municipal water.

In the end, high cost natural gas fracking efforts have managed a temporary reduction in US CO2 emissions at the cost of rising methane emission and harm to water supplies. The flood of new gas also likely delayed or replaced some efforts to transition to the more effective pollution reducing sources of wind and solar. Finally, the price whip lash inherent to natural gas production has returned markets, yet again, to rising coal use.

The term for this is bad help. Very bad help. In short, no fossil fuels represent a solution to climate change or enhance sustainability. They are all dirty, dangerous, and depleting.

To this point, I’ll leave you with the trailer to the must-seem Gasland II:

Renewables to Replace Nat Gas as World’s Second Largest Electricity Source by 2016, Generate 25% by 2018

new-and-total-world-wind-power-570x380

(Image of rocketing wind power capacity growth since 1996. Source: Futurist)

A new report from the International Energy Agency reveals that total renewable energy sourced electricity generation is set to surge another 40% between now and 2018. This means that by 2016, renewables will have supplanted natural gas as the world’s second largest source of electrical power and that by 2018, renewables will generate fully one quarter of the world’s electricity.

Power generation from hydro, wind, solar and other renewable sources worldwide will exceed that from gas and be twice that from nuclear by 2016, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said today in its second annual Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report (MTRMR).

According to the MTRMR, despite a difficult economic context, renewable power is expected to increase by 40% in the next five years. Renewables are now the fastest-growing power generation sector and will make up almost a quarter of the global power mix by 2018, up from an estimated 20% in 2011. The share of non-hydro sources such as wind, solar, bioenergy and geothermal in total power generation will double, reaching 8% by 2018, up from 4% in 2011 and just 2% in 2006.

(Emphasis added to clarify the usual confusion between capacity and generation)

Et tu Brute?

Raging development of renewables has come on strong despite the fact that they receive just 1/6th the subsidy support (523 billion vs 80 billion in 2011) of fossil fuels and have been the whipping boy of carbon energy cheer leaders in blogs, the media, and in chat rooms for years.

Misinformation, a clear funding disadvantage, and a constant wave of negative press from vested interests, has been unsuccessful in keeping the pace of renewable energy growth from running rapidly ahead of any other set of fuels. Doubts about renewables’ energy return on energy invested (EROEI), intermittency, and the ever-arcane ‘lack of thermal capacity’ has been rendered moot by a vast and growing volume of electricity generated from these sources. Instead, IEA has found renewables to stand on their own merits:

“As their costs continue to fall, renewable power sources are increasingly standing on their own merits versus new fossil-fuel generation,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven as she presented the report at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum in New York. “This is good news for a global energy system that needs to become cleaner and more diversified, but it should not be an excuse for government complacency, especially among OECD countries.”

Further to this point, IEA noted:

in addition to the well-established competitiveness of hydropower, geothermal and bioenergy, renewables are becoming cost-competitive in a wider set of circumstances. For example, wind competes well with new fossil-fuel power plants in several markets, including Brazil, Turkey and New Zealand. Solar is attractive in markets with high peak prices for electricity, for instance, those resulting from oil-fired generation. Decentralised solar photovoltaic generation costs can be lower than retail electricity prices in a number of countries.

Impetus for this massive growth comes primarily from wind and solar power sources, which, as noted above, are set to double their capacity over the next five years.

It’s enough to make the fossil fuels, who still remained the funding babies of the world’s governments in 2011, feel a bit of betrayed consternation.

Et tu Brute?

Coal Funding to be Cut

Adding further insult to injury, funding of the most polluting fossil fuel source — coal — appears to be on the chopping block. In his recent Climate Action Plan announcement, Obama laid down a policy in which the United States would no longer support loan funding for coal-fired power plants overseas and where his administration would begin to strictly regulate carbon emissions from coal plants in the United States. Meanwhile, the World Bank has stated that it would drastically cut its funding for new coal plants, providing support for them only in the ‘most dire of economic circumstances.’

But it’s Not all Roses for Renewables Yet

Surging worldwide investment in renewables has, sadly, come at time of lagging renewables investment in Europe. Wide-ranging ‘austerity’ measures imposed by central banks and conservative governments in Europe have forced some countries in the Eurozone to cut funding for new renewable energy projects.

That said, despite government cut-backs, the pace of adoption in many countries remains high due to both public purchases and due to the fact that prices for new generation keep falling rapidly. So even though funding fell, these lower outlays were still able to purchase more renewable watts for each dollar (or in this case, Euro), spent.

Direct Replacement Necessary to Have any Hope of Mitigating Human Caused Climate Change

Policy measures to cut coal plant funding and regulate carbon emissions raise the possibility of a growing direct replacement of fossil fuel energy sources with renewable energy sources over the coming decade. A rapid pace of this kind of replacement will be necessary to deal with a growing set of difficulties imposed by human-caused climate change. What appears hopeful is that renewables seem poised to encompass ever-larger portions of the world’s energy mix. Let’s hope the pace at which this replacement occurs is fast enough and strong enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

To wit, it is important to note that global carbon emissions are still rising. As of 2012, the world had emitted 31.6 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere. And though the rate of increase slowed substantially from 2011 to 2012, this massive volume of CO2 was enough to set a new record high. So the sense of urgency and impetus for change could not be higher.

From this point forward, we’re in a race between the rate of fossil fuel burning and the rate of renewables adoption. Allowing too much more to be burned before the last coal plant, oil well, and natural gas plant are shuttered (or, more dubiously, have their carbon sequestered) puts in place a situation where we were ‘too late’ to prevent a climate nightmare.

And this is one situation where we really, really don’t want to be too late.

To this thought, I’ll leave you with a recent interview of climate activist and, in my opinion, hero of social and environmental justice, Tim DeChristopher by late night entertainer David Letterman:

Links:

International Energy Agency

Renewable Energy Closing in On Natural Gas

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