Emergency Climate Meeting: White House Officials Told Arctic Ocean Could Be Ice-Free Within Two Years

PIOMASexponential 2012

This week, a number of top scientists, experts, DoD and Homeland Security Department notables are convening an emergency meeting warning White House officials that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free during summertime within two years.

This A-Team (A for Arctic) includes NASA’s chief scientist Gale Allen, National Science Foundation Director Cora Marett, Director of the Oceans Institute of the University of Western Australia marine scientist Prof Carlos Duarte, and nine other top Arctic specialists together with key representatives from the US Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon.

The Washington meeting is the second major climate emergency meeting of its kind to occur within the past month. Just a few weeks ago, the UK held its own climate meeting in response to severe and unprecedented weather occurring throughout Europe this winter and spring.

Scientists and specialists descending on the White House are now echoing increasingly urgent warnings coming from Arctic experts such as Peter Wadhams and Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski that the Arctic Ocean could be essentially ice free by 2016 plus or minus three years. Trends analysis confirms these scientists’ predictions showing that current average volume melt rates put the Arctic in an ice-free state sometime around 2016. Even worse, an outlier melt year similar to 2007 or 2010 would result in ice-free conditions this year (2013) or in any year following. The result is that the two year warning, in the extreme worst case, could be too late.

We are in the zone of Maslowki’s melt. So any year from now to 2019, according to observed melt trends, could result in ice-free conditions at end of summer.

One of the current set of White House advisors, Prof Carlos Duarte, warned in early April that the ice was melting far faster than predicted and the Arctic could see ice free ocean conditions during summer by 2015. According to reports from The Guardian, Duarte noted:

“The Arctic situation is snowballing: dangerous changes in the Arctic derived from accumulated anthropogenic greenhouse gases lead to more activities conducive to further greenhouse gas emissions. This situation has the momentum of a runaway train.”

Duarte is also the lead author of a paper examining Arctic tipping points and how they are rapidly being passed, resulting in an ever-increasing polar warming. The three primary drivers of these changes include loss of ice reflectivity or albedo, increased release of greenhouse gasses from the Arctic geography and oceans as they warm, and increased release of biologically generated greenhouse gasses as new micro-organisms are able to enter the Arctic environment.

Duarte’s observations are similar to those of other scientists who have warned of amplifying feedbacks in the Arctic. Just last year, NOAA issued a warning that a number of key tipping points had been reached and would result in jarring changes to climates and weather around the globe. In 2011, a group of Russian and US scientists observed massive releases of climate change enhancing methane from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. NASA scientist James Hansen warned of the potential for a powerful Arctic methane release as a result of human forcing in his 2008 book “Storms of My Grandchildren.” And in 2012, NSIDC issued a paper showing that methane release from tundra could amplify human-caused global warming by an additions .4 to 1.5 degrees.

It was the sum total of these warnings and observations that lead to the formation by a group of scientists of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG). AMEG is headed by Peter Wadhams, a noted polar researcher, and is composed of a number of scientists very concerned that Arctic conditions could rapidly deteriorate as an amplifying pulse of methane emerges.

A simple explanation of these system changes can be found here.

Among other things, AMEG is very concerned about the implications of Arctic sea ice melt and methane release for global food security. According to AMEG:

“The weather extremes from last year are causing real problems for farmers, not only in the UK, but in the US and many grain-producing countries. World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue.”

AMEG’s observations are consistent with the biology inherent to many grains used for food. These grains evolved in conditions over the past 5 million years or so that required large ice sheets to stabilize the climate. Alterations to weather patterns causing extremes outside of these food crops biological thresholds put them at risk. And the current loss of sea ice is just beginning to kick off such unpredictable and difficult to adapt to extremes.

The sum total of this growing list of scientific observation is that warming and, therefore, sea ice loss in the Arctic kicking into very high gear results in serious and severe consequences.

A Catastrophic Decline

Overall, the Arctic has lost 80% of its sea ice by volume since 1979 and the rate of losses over the past ten years has been accelerating. In addition, strange and dangerous events are cropping up with increasing frequency. The polar jet stream is mangled — a result Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers attributes to loss of Arctic sea ice.

According to Francis:

“The loss of Arctic summer sea ice and the rapid warming of the Far North are altering the jet stream over North America, Europe, and Russia. Scientists are now just beginning to understand how these profound shifts may be increasing the likelihood of more persistent and extreme weather.”

In addition, this winter hosted a freakish and massive sea ice breakup throughout the Beaufort Sea during February and March, two of the Arctic’s coldest months. To say that such an event was unprecedented is almost an understatement. Never before had such a large cracking event been observed during winter. The event was kicked off by strong winds blowing over the Beaufort sea ice. The ice was so thin it couldn’t retain integrity and broke in a spectacular and disturbing series of massive cracks.

You can view this break-up sequence in the below series of images provided by NASA:

A wide and varying range of events can now be shown to have been amplified and worsened by Arctic sea ice loss. These include last year’s drought, 2011’s flooding, the Texas drought of 2011, Hurricane Sandy, this year’s extreme European winter, massive outbreaks of wildfires in the northern hemisphere since 2006, and record summer heatwaves and floods occurring throughout the northern hemisphere over the same period. It is the fact that these blocking pattern generated extreme weather events are now clearly linked to sea ice loss, that constitutes an ongoing and worsening weather emergency.

This past February, the US Department of Defense issued its own concerns. In its Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, the DOD warned of:

“… significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to greater competition for more limited and critical life-sustaining resources like food and water.”

… and that the impacts of climate change could:

“Act as accelerants of instability or conflict in parts of the world… [and] may also lead to increased demands for defense support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance or disaster response, both within the United States and overseas … DoD will need to adjust to the impacts of climate change on its facilities, infrastructure, training and testing activities, and military capabilities.”

Cause for Serious Response

Now, as this summer’s melt season proceeds, many scientists are increasingly concerned that ice free conditions will appear this summer, next summer, or sometime before 2020. As noted above, such events will have very serious implications for world-wide climate  and food security. And it is these results that the White House is in serious need of addressing. Given such a context, one would hope that US government officials take the clear warnings given by scientists and members of the defense community and begin the policy responses needed to start reigning in human greenhouse gas emissions. It is high time such efforts began. And we are in serious and urgent need that they ramp up rapidly.

According to Duarte, “We are facing the first clear evidence of dangerous climate change.” From here on, things only grow worse.

Links:

White House Warned of Imminent Arctic Ice Death Spiral

Public Statement by Arctic Methane Emergency Group

Professor Joins Fight to Save the Arctic

The Arctic is Already Suffering Dangerous Climate Change

Extreme Weather Events Are Driven By Arctic Melt

Arctic Sea Ice Melt, Methane Release Shows Amplifying Feedbacks from Human Caused Climate Change

DoD’s Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap

For Central US, Climate Change and a Mangled Jet Stream Means Drought Follows Flood Follows Drought

Human Climate Change is Wrecking the Jet Stream: UK Met Office Calls Emergency Meeting

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Half of Counties in US Declared Disaster Areas Due to Drought

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More than half of the United States has been declared a disaster area due to an ongoing record drought. Currently, 1584 counties, 50.3% of all counties in the US, are drought disaster areas.

Over much of July, record heat and dryness resulted in expanding and continuing drought conditions for much of the US. These record conditions are severely impacting the nation’s agricultural industry. According to the US drought monitor, 37% of the US soybean crop and 48% of the US corn crop were rated in poor to very poor condition. Livestock has also experienced severe impacts with 66% of the nation’s hay and 73% of the nation’s cattle acreage experiencing drought.

According to the US Drought Monitor, about 63% of the US landmass is currently undergoing drought conditions.

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For years, climate scientists have warned that human-caused global warming would result in intensified drought conditions for the US. With drought conditions occurring across wide swaths of the US for the past 7 years, it appears that this future is now. The current drought is one of the worst on record and threatens to intensify. It follows on the heels of a massive and debilitating drought in Texas last year. It is the second major drought to impact the southeast in five years. Unfortunately, weather forecasts show this drought is likely to continue through Halloween. If such an event materializes, the current severe impacts will grow far, far worse.

Though it is normal for extreme droughts to occur over long time-scales, it is not normal that they occur with such frequency and such recurring severity. Most climate scientists now agree the current drought was made worse by climate change. A more clear statement is that the current drought is a product of human-caused climate change. What would have likely been a hot, dry period, has become an extreme event due the effects of added atmospheric heating.

Stating this obvious fact should be something we encourage. It is impossible to deal with a problem unless it is first validated. But, considering our situation, it is only responsible to make a concerted call, not for panic, but for action.

Strong changes to energy policy, major support for alternative fuels for transportation and electricity (wind, solar, biofuels, plug in hybrid electric vehicles and pure electric vehicles), a dedicated program of cut-backs for fossil fuel use (coal, oil, natural gas, tar sands), and national funding for climate emergency mitigation will be necessary to deal with this crisis. The goal will be to prevent future, worse disasters while working to mitigate the disasters that are currently under way.

Given the current state of the world’s climate, without prevention and mitigation, we are likely to experience continued and worsening instances similar to this drought in the future. Regional and national droughts will continue to intensify, with more extreme events becoming more frequent and more intense. Even with prevention and mitigation, we can expect a period of difficulty, but with proper policy measures, these difficulties should be manageable.

It is worth noting the amazing degree of short-sightedness business and political leaders pushing for expanded fossil fuel use express. This complete lack of responsibility and leadership in pursuit of short-term profit and political gain, if continued, will result in nothing short of the United States losing its position as an agricultural superpower. It will also have severe and devastating impacts on both national and world-wide food security.

So let this be an appeal to these  leaders — the oil barons, the coal barons, the gas barons, and the politicians who support them — the time for change is well past. You may continue your attempts at dominance and short-sighted profit, but you do so by waging a campaign of devastation and degradation on the rest of us. This is unconscionable. It must stop now.

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Please help support our continuing efforts.

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