Arctic Entering Its Hottest Period in 2.5 Million Years as Last Remnants of Laurentide Melt Away

“This is the disappearance of a feature from the last glacial age, which would have probably survived without anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.” — Adrien Gilbert

*****

There are many ways to tell the Earth’s temperature. One is by measuring how warm the atmosphere is near the surface. Another is to track the heat content of the world’s oceans. Still another is by taking account of melting glaciers and comparing thaw lines with times in the geological past.

And according to new research, the present state of the Barnes Ice Cap — which is the last tiny remnant of the once vast Laurentide Ice Sheettells a tale of heat not seen in 2.5 million years.

(NASA satellite shot of the last melting remnant of the Laurentide Ice sheet on August 30 of 2016. Want to see a time lapse of Barnes Ice Cap melt from 1984 to 2015? Take a look at this GoogleEarth time lapse, zoom in on Baffin Island, find the ice cap, and watch the edge lines retreat. It’s a bit uncanny..)

Over the past 2.5 million years, the Laurentide Ice Sheet has swelled and shrunken as cold ice ages were followed by warm interglacials. During the height of each ice age, the glaciers of Laurentide expanded to cover most of present day Canada and parts of the Northern United States. And during warmer interglacials, the ice sheet retreated to its final stronghold of the Barnes Ice Cap on Baffin Island.

But now, scientists have found that the Barnes Ice Cap, and with it the last remains of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, is about to disappear. Projections indicate that the considerable warming the Arctic is now experiencing, due primarily to fossil fuel burning, will completely melt this half-a-kilometer tall mountain of ice in just 200 to 500 years.

Once that happens, the Laurentide Ice Sheet will be gone. And this will be the first time such a thing has happened in 2.5 million years.

(Recent decline of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the end of the last ice age to 1,000 years before present. Soon, this once great mass of ice will be completely lost. Yet one more casualty of human fossil fuel burning.)

Though the Barnes Ice Cap may now be rather small compared to the larger ice masses of Greenland and Antarctica, its melt serves as a further sign that glaciers in those regions are also at risk. Gifford Miller, the associate director of CU Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research who has conducted research on Baffin Island for many decades notes:

“I think the disappearance of the Barnes Ice Cap would be just a scientific curiosity if it were not so unusual. One implication derived from our results is that significant parts of the southern Greenland Ice Sheet also may be at risk of melting as the Arctic continues to warm.”

Which is why many researchers are now saying that the imminent loss of Barnes serves as a kind of glacial melt canary in a coal mine.

The study authors further note that even if fossil fuel burning were to stop now, the total loss of the Barnes Ice Cap would still occur. What this means is that some parts of the Arctic are now likely as hot or hotter than they were at any time in the last 2.5 million years — the time when Barnes first formed. And, as the World Meteorological Organization noted so cogently this week, it also means that we’re heading deeper and deeper into an uncharted climate.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Last Remnant of North American Ice Sheet Set to Vanish

Climate Change Has Pushed Earth Into Uncharted Territory

NASA

GoogleEarth time lapse

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Keith Antonysen

Hat tip to Kevin

New Study: Rapid Transition to Renewable Energy Helps Global Economy, Prevents Worst Climate Impacts

We may not be living in the belly of the beast just yet, but we are most certainly now caught up in its jaws. In this case — the jaws of a politically and economically powerful set of fossil fuel interests that, unless they release their death grip, will condemn the world to a catastrophic future.

Fossil Fuel Interests vs a Benevolent Climate

Global warming in the range of 1.1 to 1.2 C above 1880s temperatures is already starting to have a destabilizing effect on many of the world’s nations. Seas are rising, the ice caps are melting, droughts, floods and wildfires are worsening, impacts to crops are growing more acute and unrest and inequality are on the rise. A related conflict over what energy sources will supply the world’s nations in the future has resulted in a sea change in the global political dynamic — setting climate change deniers representing fossil fuel special interests against honest scientists, renewable energy advocates, environmentalists and concerned businesses and citizens alike.

(Increasing rates of sea level rise, as shown in the most recent World Meteorological Organization report on The State of the Global Climate, are on track to render numerous cities, regions and island nations uninhabitable by the middle of this Century. This is just one of the many impacts of global warming. And continuing to burn fossil fuels makes each of these problems worse.)

This crisis and its related power struggle is the defining moment of our time. For its outcome will determine whether or not global civilization collapses in a series of worsening conflicts and climate calamities or if a new age of equal access and cooperation arises as more democratic and beneficial energy systems emerge and as nations decide to cooperate to come to the aid of those most hurt by the coming difficulties.

New Study Urges Rapid Deployment of Renewable Energy as Best Path Forward

We should be very clear that doom to human civilization by climate catastrophe is not inevitable. We have a shot at getting out of that trap if we escape the death-grip some fossil fuel industry backers now have on the global political and economic system. We can make it through if we take an alternative path. We can cut carbon emissions, make the global economy more resilient, and prevent the worst effects of climate change all at the same time. It will take a lot of concerted investment and effort. But it’s basically the conclusion of a recent joint study published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) that pursuing a rapid deployment of renewable energy systems combined with ongoing efforts to increase energy efficiency can steer the world away from the worst impacts of climate change.

The study determined that rapidly adding renewable energy systems and pursuing increased efficiency would be enough to reduce global carbon emissions by a rate of 2.6 percent per year. It aimed to produce a best shot at limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius this Century. And though such a goal may still be overshot somewhat under the IEA/IRENA study’s recommended path, the overall results would be a dramatic departure from business as usual fossil fuel burning which would produce between 4 and 7 C (or more) warming this Century. This rapid transition to non carbon energy would reduce the severity of global warming consequences — giving space for people, cities and nations to adapt. Without this kind of transition, it is difficult to imagine how human civilization and large subsets of the vulnerable natural world could survive through 2100 or even through mid Century.

(IEA/IRENA report urges rapid cuts in carbon emissions by G-20 to prevent worst-case climate impacts.)

The study calls on the biggest global emitters and largest industrial nations to take responsibility for the bulk of this transition (represented by the G-20). And the heavy lift would come in the form of a 2.5 percent reduction in energy intensity per year to increase efficiency and a more than tenfold increase in renewable energy demand. The study calls for a 150 percent increase in renewable energy investments and a doubling of the present overall renewable energy adoption rate (120 to 150 gigawatt annual approx to 240 to 300 gigawatt annual approximate).

Energy Transition a Big Investment that Produces Major Benefits

Meanwhile, the industrial sector would need to lower its carbon intensity by 80 percent through 2050. Present global energy investments of 1.8 trillion per year would need to rise to 3.5 trillion per year to achieve these goals. Fossil fuel investment would decline while renewable energy investment would increase by 150 percent. Oil and coal use would fall as natural gas was used for lower emissions fuel switching before being phased out or entirely mated to carbon capture and storage (CCS) by mid century. The study notes that some investments in oil, gas and coal may be unrecoverable but that CCS could be deployed on a limited basis to strategically help soften the blow to certain market sectors even as overall use rates declined. The hard to access fossil fuels would be abandoned first while demand for the easier sources would be winnowed down later on in the period.

(Recommended policies would result in lower energy expenditures per household while both pollutants and emissions were dramatically reduced.)

By 2030, solar and wind energy combined, according to the report, would be the largest global provider of electricity. And by 2050, 95 percent of energy sources would need to be low carbon while 70 percent of automobiles would need to be electric. By 2060, the study envisions a zero carbon energy system.

Ironically, the economic benefits of this transition would be considerable. Such an energy transition alone would be expected to boost global GDP by 0.8 percent in 2050 (adding 1.6 trillion dollars to the global economy) and the total overall benefit to GDP would be 19 trillion. Overall, this is more than a 10 percent return on the 145 trillion invested over the period.

Serious Political Challenges Remain

It’s worth noting that the IEA/IRENA study presents its findings to a G-20 that is presently being strong-armed away from responses to climate change by the Trump Administration and Saudi Arabia. After apparent bullying by Trump, G-20 leaders are now afraid to even mention the term climate change. But Trump’s approach has not only spurred a backlash from scientists and environmentalists, a large subset of the business, civic and public policy leaders that often produce the basis for G-20 initiatives are speaking out against industrial nations moving in retrograde at the exact time that they should be moving forward. The leaders point out that leaving 19 trillion dollars on the table is nonsensical and that the climate crisis is already starting to harm both G-20 nations and the developing world (which has contributed comparatively little to the problem of climate change).

As a result, it appears that the fossil fuel interests backing Trump and that are the mainstay of petrostates like Saudi Arabia and Russia are producing a crisis of confidence among key G-20 constituents. It has become obvious to most of the non-fossil fuel world that an energy transition needs to happen and that it would be beneficial to pretty much everyone. But old interests are hanging tight on the reigns of power and delaying a necessary, helpful, and ultimately life-saving set of policy actions.

Links:

World Meteorological Organization Statement on Climate Change in 2016

Perspectives for the Renewable Energy Transition

Don’t Mention the C-Word

Business Leaders Urge G-20 to Put Climate Back on the Agenda

G-20 Urged to Return to Climate Agenda

First Ever IEA/IRENA Report

India Already Facing Water Shortages Ahead of Dry Season

Spring in India can be a rough time for farmers in a warming world.

The vast, flat lands that compose much of India depend on waters flowing down from snow melting in the Himalayas. And a reliable influx of moisture in the form of the Southeast Asian Monsoon is a much-needed backstop to the heat and dryness of April, May, and early June.

But the warming of our world through fossil fuel burning and related greenhouse gas emissions is causing the glaciers of the Himalayas to melt. It is causing temperatures during spring to increase — which more rapidly dries the rivers and wells of India’s plains. It is creating a hot, dry atmospheric barrier that increasingly delays the onset of India’s monsoon. And since the 1950s India’s rainfall rates have been decreasing.

(NOAA rainfall anomaly map for the past six months showing a severe deficit for southern India. With April, May, and June being India’s hottest, driest months, and with climate change producing a worsening water security situation for the state, the risk for yet one more serious water crisis emerging over the coming weeks is high. Image source: NOAA CPC.)

All of these effects are related to human-caused climate change. However, what since the mid-20th Century had been a steadily worsening state of affairs has, over recent years, tipped into a more difficult to manage set of events.

During 2015, a delayed monsoon resulted in India receiving about 14 percent less rain than expected. During 2016, severe heatwaves exacerbated a drought that put 330 million people under water rationing. The 2016 monsoons finally halted this severe water crisis. But underlying shortages persisted through March of 2017.

Today, sections of South India in a region with a combined population of about 145 million continue to see severe water stress. The state of Kerala is experiencing its worst drought in over a Century. Tamil Nadu, which slipped into drought on January 10th, now shows all 32 districts reporting water shortages. And in Karnataka, reservoir levels have now dipped below 20 percent as almost all districts were reporting drought conditions. Farmer suicides from these regions remained high throughout the year. And reports indicate that inability to grow staple crops in these regions has resulted in reports of people relying on eating rats for food.

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map by Earth Nullschool. Warm sea surface temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific can help to delay India’s monsoon — extending the hot, dry period of April, May and June. This year, NOAA predicts that a weak to moderate El Nino may form which would further exacerbate climate change driven water stresses in India.)

These are tough conditions. But the worst may be yet to come for 2017.

April, May and June is the hottest, driest period for India. And the state is entering this season with almost a 150 million people already facing water stress. Moreover, the warming of Equatorial waters in the Pacific as another El Nino is again expected to emerge increases the risk that the 2017 monsoon could be delayed or weakened. So with a water crisis now ongoing in the south, conditions are likely set to worsen soon.

Links:

Farmers Despair Amid Low Rainfall

Climate Change Key Suspect in Case of India’s Disappearing Ground Water

India Drought Affecting 330 Million People After Two Weak Monsoons

NOAA CPC

Earth Nullschool

Himalayan Glaciers are Melting More Rapidly

Frailest-Ever Winter Sea Ice Facing a Cruel, Cruel Summer

This past weekend, it rained over the ice of the late winter Kara Sea. Falling liquid drops that whispered of the far-reaching and fundamental changes now occurring at the roof of our world.

*****

For an Arctic suffering the slings and arrows of human-forced global warming, the winter ended just as it had begun — with an ice-crushing delivery of warm air from the south.

A burly high pressure system over Russia locked in an atmospheric embrace with a series of low pressure systems stretching from the Barents Sea down into Europe. Winds, originating from the Mediterranean rushed northward between these two opposing weather systems — crossing the Black Sea, the Ukraine, and swirling up over Eastern Europe. The winds wafted warm, above-freezing air over the thawing permafrost of the Yamal Peninsula. And the frontal system they shoved over the melting Arctic sea ice disgorged a volley of anomalous late-winter rain.

(Another ice-melting warm wind invasion rushes into the Arctic — this time through the Kara and Laptev Seas. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As this rain hissed over the ice, delivering a load of heat to its fractured and frail surface, temperatures above the Kara Sea rose to 1 to 2 C — or about 25 to 30 C warmer than average (42 to 54 F warmer than normal). Meanwhile, the frontal boundary lofted by the warm winds rushed on — pushing above-freezing temperatures all the way into the Laptev Sea north of Central Siberia.

This most recent rush of warm air to the ice edge region came as a kind of herald for the start of melt season. Melt season start is an event that takes place every year at about this time. But during 2017, the sea ice set to begin this annual melt has never been so weak. The fall and winter warmth has been merciless. Month after month of far warmer than normal temperatures have pounded the ice. And now both sea ice extents and volumes are lower than they have ever been before — or at least since we humans have been keeping track.

Third Consecutive Record Low Sea Ice Extent Maximum

Neven and the sea ice observers over at The Arctic Sea Ice blog produced the following graph depicting what is all-too-likely to be a 2017 in which the sea ice extent maximum just hit another annual record low:

(2015, 2016 and 2017 produced record low or near record low winter maximum years for sea ice extent consecutively. Image by Deeenngee and The Arctic Sea Ice Blog.)

Neven, who is one of the world’s top independent sea ice analysts, noted Sunday that:

After a drop of almost 262 thousand km2 in just three days, it looks highly likely that the maximum for sea ice extent was reached two weeks ago, according to the data provided by JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (via ADS-NiPR ; it used to be provided by IJIS).

As melt season starts, another record low for sea ice extent maximum raises some serious concerns. The less ice that covers the ocean, the more dark blue surface is left open to absorb the sun’s rays. And this loss of ice poses a problem in that a less ice covered Arctic Ocean can take in more heat during melt season — which can serve as an amplifier for melt rates.

During 2015, Arctic sea ice extent also hit a record low maximum, which was nearly beaten again in 2016. But these losses thankfully did not translate into new record lows by the end of the 2016 summer melt season. Weather, as ever, plays its part. And there is some evidence to indicate that increased cloud cover caused by higher levels of water vapor above the Arctic may help to shield the ice somewhat during warmer months. A feature, however, that did little to prevent severe sea ice losses during the record summer melt of 2012 in which a powerful Arctic cyclone also played a roll in ice melt.

Arctic Sea Ice Volume Looks Considerably Worse

Sea ice extent is the measure of how much ocean the ice covers to its furthest-reaching edge. But it’s not the only measure of ice. Volume, which is a measure of both sea ice area and thickness, probably provides a better overall picture of how much ice is left. And the picture of sea ice volume going into the melt season for 2017 isn’t looking very good at all.

 

(Arctic sea ice volume through late February was tracking well below trend. This considerable negative deviation presents considerable risk for record low sea ice measures by the end of 2017 melt season. Image source: PIOMAS.)

Sea ice volume is now tracking about 2,000 cubic kilometers below the previous record low trend line for this time of year. In other words, the trend line would have to recover considerably over the coming months in order to not hit new record lows by the end of this melt season (September of 2017).

What’s happened is that the ice has experienced three consecutive very warm winter periods in a row — 2015, 2016 and now 2017. And a resulting considerable damage to the ice increases the risk that new all-time record lows will be reached this year. If the present volume measure remains on track through end of summer, sea ice volume could well split the difference between 2012’s record low of approximately 4,000 cubic kilometers of sea ice volume and the zero sea ice volume measure that represents an ice-free Arctic.

Cruel Summer Ahead

(Warm winds, above freezing temperatures, and rain caused considerable sea ice retreat in the Kara Sea from March 14 [top frame] to March 20 [bottom frame]. This event may well have been the herald to a record spring and summer melt during 2017. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 300 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

This discussion is worth consideration given how much heat we’ve seen in the Arctic recently. However, we are unlikely to see such a neat progression. Spring and summer surface temperatures could track closer to normal ranges and cloudy (but not overly stormy) conditions could give Arctic albedo an assist — causing the melt rate to lag and pulling the volume measure closer to the trend line. But, it could also vary in the other direction. For post La Nina (we have just exited a weak La Nina) the ocean gyres tend to speed up — which enhances sea ice export — even as more heat tends to transport in the final post El Nino plume toward the poles.

If this particular form of inter-annual natural variability trend toward warmth and melt in the Arctic takes hold during 2017, then we will have less chance to see a spring and summer sea ice recovery toward the trend line. And this is one reason why we’ve been concerned since 2015 that 2017 or 2018 might see new record lows during the summer for Arctic sea ice.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Lowest Maximum Sea Ice on Record (Again)

Earth Nullschool

LANCE-MODIS

PIOMAS

The Great Arctic Cyclone Hangs On

NASA GISS Temperature Anomalies

Hat tip to Suzanne

March Climate Madness — Wildfires, Scorching Summer Heat Strike Central and Southwestern U.S. By Winter’s End

In Colorado today the news was one of fire. There, a wildfire just south of Boulder had forced emergency officials to evacuate 1,000 residents as more than 2,000 others were put on alert Sunday. Smoke poured into neighborhoods as dead trees killed by invasive beetles or a developing drought, exploded into flames. Depleted snowpacks along the front range of the Rockies combined with temperatures in the 80s and 90s on Sunday to increase the fire risk. Thankfully, so far, there have been no reports of injuries or property loss. A relieving contrast to the massive fires recently striking Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma — where farmers and communities are still recovering.

(The ignition source for the recent fire near Boulder appears to be due to human activity. But the on-the ground climate conditions enhancing tree deaths, reducing snow packs, and blanketing the region with record or near record heat increases the likelihood that a spark will turn into a dangerous fire.)

The record heat building into Colorado on Sunday and contributing to increased wildfire risk had spread up into the Central U.S. from the Desert Southwest. There, cities like Phoenix have experienced summer-like heat for at least the past week. On Sunday, the city saw a second day of record temperatures as the mercury hit 96 degrees (Fahrenheit). Saturday temperatures were almost as hot at 95 F. This was the 8th consecutive day of 90 degree (F) or hotter temperatures (the record stretch of 90 degree + readings for March was set in 1972 at 17 days). Meanwhile, forecast highs in the mid 90s for Phoenix today set the possibility for another record-breaker.

Much of the southwest also experienced record or near-record temperatures. Las Vegas broke new records Sunday as the thermometer struck past 90 (F). Meanwhile, Yuma broke its previous daily record high on Sunday as temperatures rocketed to 98 F.

(Extreme heat builds through the Central and Southwest U.S. on monday as a wildfire forces evacuations south of Boulder, Colorado. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Today, heat is also expected to again build into the central U.S. as parts of Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado are predicted to experience temperatures ranging from the upper 80s to well into the mid 90s. Pecos is expected to hit 96 F — which is about 20 degrees (F) above average for a typical March day. And in some regions, such as parts of Kansas, these temperature departures are as much as 25 F above normal. These extreme high temperatures are expected to break numerous records for the region as most of the previous record highs for this area range in the upper 80s.

The heat will bring with it more risk of wildfires and a front sweeping in on Tuesday could increase windspeeds and dry conditions for some regions. Record warm global temperatures, (spurred by human greenhouse gas emissions primarily coming from fossil fuel burning) which are aiding in the systemic, longer term, loss of ice and snow cover while increasing the rate at which drought sets in and spiking the top potential range of temperatures during heatwaves, appears to be combining with a post La Nina trend that typically favors heat and drying in the Central U.S. to set the stage for these extreme conditions.

Links:

Fire Near Boulder Forces Evacuations

Drought Monitor

Will Phoenix Break Heat Records for Three Days in a Row?

Record Heat: Hot Temperatures Continue Today

Climate Reanalyzer

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to Robert Prue

The Glowing Waters of the Arabian Sea are Killing off Ocean Life

“The fish are migrating. They can’t get enough air here.” — Saleh al-Mashari, captain of a researcher vessel in the Gulf of Oman

*****

They are an ancient, primordial race of tiny organisms called noctiluca scintillans. And for millenia they have lived undisturbed in the deep waters between Oman and India. But as human fossil fuel burning forced the world to warm, this 1.2 billion year old species was dredged up from the deep.

Growing atmospheric and ocean heat fed the great storms that make up India’s southern monsoon. And as these storms intensified, they churned the waters of the Gulf of Oman, drawing the ancient noctiluca scintillans up from below. As these dinoflaggelates reached the surface they encountered more food in the form of plankton even as they gained access to more sunlight. Meanwhile, the strengthening monsoons seeded surface waters with nutrients flushed down rivers and streams and into the ocean.

(Noctiluca blooms have become a common feature of the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. They have also recently appeared off New Zealand, Tasmania, and Hong Kong. Such blooms are a result of warmer waters, more intense storms, related increasing rates of soil nutrients flushing into the oceans due to more intense rainfall events, and other conditions consistent with human-caused climate change. Image source: FaHaD.)

In this newly favorable environment, noctiluca subsequently bloomed. Covering the ocean in a green mat by day and an oddly iridescent blue when disturbed by the waves at night.

Phytoplankton are the base of the marine food chain and noctiluca has been voraciously devouring this key nutrient source over a Mexico-sized stretch of ocean water during recent years. As the noctiluca blooms expanded, they emitted toxins and an ammonia smell that some in the region are calling sea stench. And as the great mats died and decayed, they have robbed the surrounding waters of oxygen.

As a result, mass fish kills have been reported and much of the local sea life has fled the region.

March 2, 2017, image from the NASA MODIS satellite,  shows a mass of noctiluca scintillans blooms in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Oman extending past Pakistan to India.  (Image source: NASA and USGS, via AP)

Earth’s environment usually changes slowly, over the course of thousands or tens of thousands of years. In the past, this has given life a chance to adjust. But the human-caused climate change that is spurring the massive noctiluca blooms in the Arabian Sea is bringing on these new conditions over the mere course of a few decades. Thirty years ago, there was no visible trace of noctiluca in the waters of the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea. Now, they have come to dominate.

The oceans beneath the noctiluca mats are now increasingly robbed of life. Oxygen levels are plummeting. The fish can’t breathe there. And one wonders if or when a dangerous and deadly follow-on of hydrogen sulfide producing microbes will begin to spread up from the bottom regions of these oxygen starved waters.

Links:

Growing Algae Bloom in the Arabian Sea Tied to Climate Change

FaHaD

Noctiluca Scintillans

NASA

Hydrogen Sulfide in the World’s Warming Waters

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to Mulga

Signals of Climate Change Visible as Record Fires Give Way to Massive Floods in Peru

“We’ve rarely seen this kind of rapid and quick change in climatic conditions.”Juber Ruiz, of Peru’s Civil Defense Institute

*****

During September through November, wildfires tore across parts of drought-stricken Peru.

Peru’s Amazon was then experiencing its worst dry period in 20 years. And, at the time, over 100,000 acres of rainforest and farmland was consumed by flash fires. Rainforest species, ill-adapted to fires, were caught unawares. And a tragic tale of charred remains of protected species littering a once-lush, but now smoldering, wood spread in the wake of the odd blazes.

(Last November, wildfires burned through the Amazon rainforest in Peru as  a record drought left the region bone-dry. From Drought Now Spans the Globe. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

At the time, scientists noted that the after-effects of El Nino had combined with a warmer world to help spur the drought and the fires. And they warned Peru to prepare for more extreme weather in the future as Earth continued to heat up.

Fast forward to 2017 and we find that the moisture regime has taken a hard turn in Peru as the droughts and fires of 2016 gave way to torrential rains. Since January, more than 62 souls have been lost and about 12,000 homes destroyed as flash floods ripped through Peru. Over the past three days, the rains have been particularly intense — turning streets into roaring rivers and causing streams to over-top — devouring roads, bridges and buildings. As of yesterday, 176 districts within the country have declared a state of emergency due to flooding.

(Flooding in Peru leaves tens of thousands homeless. Video source: TRT News.)

The rains come as coastal waters off Peru have seen sky-rocketing temperatures. Sea surface readings over recent months have climbed from an average of 24 degrees Celsius to 29 degrees Celsius. These extremely warm waters are pumping a huge plume of moisture into the local atmosphere. And it’s this extraordinarily heavy moisture loading that is spurring the massive rainstorms now plaguing the state.

Scientists call this phenomena a coastal El Nino. And the last time Peru experienced one was in 1925. Though the coastal El Nino probably helped to spur the extreme rains now plaguing Peru, the peak sea surface temperatures of the very warm waters off Peru have also been increased by the larger human-forced warming of the world (primarily through fossil fuel burning). So many scientists are also now saying that the severe rainfall events now occurring in Peru were likely contributed to by climate change.

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map shows that ocean surfaces are more than 5 C above average off coastal Peru. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

New Peru movement leader Verónika Mendoza noted earlier this week:

“We know the ‘coastal El Niño’ comes from time to time. We know we are a country that is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. We should have prepared ourselves better.”

The climate extremes Peru has experienced — flipping from flash drought and wildfires to flash flood in just 5-6 months is exactly the kind wrenched weather we can expect more and more from climate change. For as the Earth warms, the amount of moisture evaporated from lands, oceans, lakes and rivers increases. As a result, the hydrological cycle gets kicked into higher gear. And what this means it that droughts and fires will tend to become more intense even as rains, when they do fall, will tend to be heavier.

Links:

Deadly Flooding in Peru Sparks Criticism over Climate Change Preparedness

Wildfires Tear Across Drought-Stricken Peru

With Temperatures Hitting 1.2 C Hotter than Pre-Industrial, Drought Now Spans the Globe

LANCE-MODIS

Earth Nullschool

TRT News

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Weird Polar Warming Appears to Have Made February of 2017 the Second Hottest Ever Recorded 

I think the scientific consensus will be that February probably should not have been so darn hot. But it was. And that’s pretty amazingly weird.

****

Clocking in at 1.32 C above 1880s averages, the month was oddly and disturbingly warm. The strong equatorial Pacific Ocean surface warming that was the El Nino of 2015-2016 had long since passed. The effects of a weak La Nina cooling of the same waters during late 2016 still lingered. And the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) — a measure of ocean surface temperature oscillation in the Pacific that tends to help drive natural variability based warming and cooling cycles — showed a meager warming bias value of 0.08 (or barely positive).

All these factors pointed toward a climate system that should have been pulling the world into a cyclical short term cooling during 2017 and 2018 (relative to 2016 record warmth). Global temperatures under such conditions would have been expected to recede about 0.1 to 0.2 C off highs hit during 2016 of 1.2 C hotter than 1880s temperatures. Averaging in a still disturbingly warm range near 1 C above 1880s values but waiting for the next El Nino cycle for a run at new global record warmth.

Heat Heads Toward the Poles

But, so far, the expected cyclical cooling isn’t happening. Instead, January of 2017 showed up as 1.14 C hotter than 1880s while February was 1.32 C hotter. The combined average of these two months was 1.23 C warmer than the preindustrial baseline — or a hair warmer that the 2016 average. This shouldn’t have happened. But it did. And now there is some risk that 2017 may be yet another record hot year. The fourth in a row consecutively.

So what was the cause?

(February saw highest above average temperature readings centered near the poles — a signal that polar warming was the primary factor driving near record heat for the month. Image source: NASA.)

According to NASA, both polar zones experienced considerable above average temperatures during the month of February. Lower latitude temperatures were also well above average, but the highest temperature spikes appeared in the far north and the far south. At the 80 to 90 north and south latitude zones, temperatures were 4.5 and 2 C above average respectively. And the heat was particularly intense in the Northern Hemisphere Arctic and near Arctic between 60 and 90 north latitude with temperatures ranging from 3 to 4.5 C above average.

Polar Amplification Appears to Drive Weird 2017 Warmth

Such strong warming at the poles is indicative of a global warming related condition called polar amplification. The causes of polar amplification include increasing water vapor at the poles, high greenhouse gas overburdens in the Arctic, a darkening of the polar ice from particulates (wildfire and human-produced smoke), intensification of transport of heat from the lower and middle latitudes toward the poles, warming oceans and changes in ocean circulation, and loss of snow and ice cover at the poles. To this final point, sea ice coverage has been consistently at or near record lows for both the northern and southern polar regions.

(Global sea ice extent at record lows likely helped to contribute to extremely warm conditions at the poles during February of 2017. Less sea ice means more water vapor evaporating from oceans in the polar regions. Water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas. In addition, warmth from the ocean can more readily ventilate into local atmospheres which aids in heat transport to the polar regions as the skein of sea ice retracts. Image source: Wipneus. Data Source: NSIDC.)

Polar amplification is not typically cited as a climate event that can overcome the transient cooling signal of a post El Nino period. However, given a first look at the evidence, this appears to be exactly what happened during early 2017. If this is the case, it is cause for serious concern. It is an indicator that a global tipping point has been reached in that warming at the poles (which is an upshot of the ridiculously high greenhouse gas levels we now see globally) is strong enough to drown out some of the traditional ENSO and PDO signals.

Links:

NASA

NSIDC

Polar Amplification

Pacific Decadal Oscillation

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

An Agenda Harmful to the American People

Farmers in Iowa, Kansas, Texas and California’s Central Valley know that the weather is getting worse. They know that droughts are intensifying, floods are more severe, and wildfires are growing larger as the years steadily warm. Coastal dwellers in Nantucket, Virginia Beach, Cape Hatteras, Myrtle Beach, Miami and the lowlands of Louisiana know that the seas are rising. They know that tidal and storm flooding takes more land and property with each passing year. And those who live in the far north, in places like Barrow, Alaska, know that the glaciers and sea ice are melting.

(Harmful impacts to Americans from climate change are on the rise and the number of Americans concerned about climate change has never been higher. Image source: Gallup.)

Americans, in greater numbers than ever before, believe that climate change is real, that it is a threat to them, and that humans are the cause. The growing consensus on the matter from the U.S. populace does not match the 97 percent or more of climate scientists who are very concerned about the issue, but the 68 percent of Americans who believe that global warming is occurring and is caused by humans cuts a stark contrast with the person who is now the sitting President of the United States.

Obama’s Helpful Response

The world has already warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius since the 1880s. We see the effects of that warming all around us. All across this country, lives, property and livelihoods are under increasing threat from a climate fundamentally changed by fossil fuel burning. However, the warming we’ve already experienced is the early, easy warming. The warming that lies ahead is of a much more difficult caliber. In other words, a blow is coming at us all. We can’t completely stop it at this point — it’s too late for that, we’ve coddled the fossil-fuel special interests for far too long — but we can soften it.

President Barack Obama tried to help the American people do just that. He established fuel efficiency standards aimed at inspiring innovation among America’s corporations. Such innovation would put them at the forefront of new technology that could help wean our country off oil dependency. By 2025, most vehicles were to have average mileage standards of 54.5 mpg, the implication being that a large portion of U.S. vehicles would be electric by then. At the same time, Obama pushed to shift U.S. power generation away from coal, and more toward wind and solar. These combined efforts would have cut U.S. carbon emissions across the entire economy 26 percent by 2025. They would have generated a leaner, meaner U.S. economy better suited to compete in a world whose constituents increasingly demand clean energy, and better able to face the harms coming down the pipe from human-caused climate change.

Fossil Fuel, Petrostate Interference in Global Democracies

The fossil fuel interests of the world — including both corporations and states suffering from economic dependence on fossil fuel revenues — did not at all like the new policies coming out of the U.S. The United States, as a global leader promoting renewable energy and responses to climate change, was fully capable of spearheading a global energy transition. Under Obama, the beginning of such a transition happened. Solar cell production multiplied, wind farms proliferated, clean energy costs fell, electrical vehicles hit the markets in increasing numbers, and net energy use per person fell, all while economies grew. In part due to exceptional American leadership, the U.S. trend toward cleaner energy repeated itself around the world. Meanwhile, demand for dirty fossil fuels began to lag. People began to talk widely about leaving a large portion of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground, unused. Coal interests experienced mass bankruptcies. And oil and gas markets grew ever more uncertain.

(As government policies supporting renewable energy proliferated, prices dropped and production boomed. In other words, positive policy on the part of the world’s governments produced a renewable energy revolution — much to the ire of fossil-fuel special interests. Image source: Clean Technica.)

Powerful interests associated with fossil fuels, who already held amazing influence over the world’s political bodies, began to fight back. In Europe, this came in the form of right-wing politicians apparently backed by the espionage campaigns of an expansionist and resurgent Russia. Meanwhile, Russian aggression surged into Ukraine and even at times threatened wind production in the Baltic Sea. In the U.S., fossil-fuel-backing Republicans like James Inhofe and Scott Pruitt fought to remove key government policies promoting climate action. But consistent U.S. climate policy managed to hang on.

Now, with the election of Donald Trump — achieved in part through the Russian petrostate’s cyber-warfare campaign against the U.S. electoral system — all the progress achieved by the Obama Administration is in doubt.

A Cadre of Fossil Fuel Backers, Climate Change Deniers, and Ties to Russia 

Trump has placed Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as head of the State Department, fired top career diplomats, and placed political cronies into key roles. Tillerson has failed to recuse himself in the case of interests related to Exxon — a key element of which were Obama-era sanctions that prevented Exxon partnering with Russia in developing oil fields in the Arctic. Trump’s chief national security adviser Michael Flynn — now identified as being employed as a foreign agent for Turkey at the time (it is illegal for a foreign agent to hold a position as part of the U.S. government) — was found to be secretly conferring with Russia (allegedly about the removal of said sanctions) before he himself was forced out of the post.

(Former Bush ethics lawyer weighs in on Michael Flynn failing to register himself as a foreign agent. Video source: CNN.)

Over at the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, a politician who has for many years denied that the world is warming and that humans are the cause, now heads an agency he often sued. Pruitt is well-known for his attacks on government action to reduce the impacts of climate change and for receiving considerable campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. Almost immediately after coming to head the EPA, Pruitt stocked top offices at the agency with well-known climate change deniers, many of whom were once staffers of Congress’s chief climate change denier — James Inhofe.

Attack on CAFE Standards

As Trump fills key policy-making positions with fossil-fuel industry chiefs, climate change deniers, and people with odd ties to the Russian petrostate, he is moving to kill off Obama’s signature climate actions. This week, Trump appears ready to announce a rollback of Obama’s fuel efficiency standards. Such a move would put a damper on U.S. electric car production just as competitive foreign automakers are jumping into the EV market with both feet. The threatened rollbacks could also cost consumers an extra $2,600 in fuel over a vehicle’s lifetime, harm U.S. energy security, and result in more carbon dumped into the atmosphere. According to the New York Times:

[Obama’s] rules have been widely praised by environmentalists and energy economists for reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and its greenhouse pollution. If put fully into effect, the fuel efficiency standards would have cut oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels and reduced carbon dioxide pollution by about six billion tons over the lifetime of all the cars affected by the regulations (emphasis added).

Though it would take about a year to remove Obama’s policy, and though it is likely that states like California (along with nine other states pushing automakers to increase EV availability) will fight the measure, this change in direction comes at a critical time for the world’s climate, right when harmful impacts from climate change are hitting the American people harder and harder.

Removal of Clean Electricity Goals

Trump’s early moves against U.S. fuel efficiency standards (and by extension energy and climate security) are, unfortunately, just the first subset of a two-pronged effort. Trump is also expected to direct a denier-stacked EPA to dismantle Obama’s clean electrical power regulations — rules aimed at incentivizing wind, solar, and lower carbon forms of fossil fuels while shutting down highly polluting coal power plants. Obama’s actions would have sped renewable energy expansion while cutting U.S. carbon emissions by 26 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2025. But if Trump’s new proposals go through, an extra 2 billion tons of CO2-equivalent gasses could be coming from U.S. smokestacks and tailpipes by that time.

G20 Promotes ‘Market Magic’ as Solution to Climate Change

Trump’s policy moves also appear to be aimed at hollowing out international actions on climate change. A recent draft of the upcoming G-20 Summit, a meeting of finance ministers from the world’s top 20 industrialized nations, backed away from key commitments to combat climate change. The G-20’s preliminary policy statement removed language supporting the Paris Climate treaty (only 47 words address the treaty now as opposed to 163 words in 2016), appears to have reneged on $100 billion worth of commitments from wealthy nations to fund renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions cuts, and relies on “multilateral development banks to raise private funds to accomplish goals set under the 2015 Paris climate accord.”

John Kirton, director of the University of Toronto’s G-20 Research Group, in an interview with Bloomberg noted that the new policy statement “…basically says governments are irrelevant. It’s complete faith in the magic of the marketplace. That is very different from the existing commitments they have repeatedly made.”

It’s worth noting that Trump’s appointed treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin is the U.S. lead for G-20-related climate policy, so this new direction for the G-20 can’t entirely be separated from Trump or from his former Goldman Sachs employee Treasury Secretary.

Worsening Climate Situation

All these prospective national and global climate policy reversals come as the climate situation continues to worsen and damages from climate change related disasters escalate. We are currently in the process of warming from 1.2 C (present global temperature departure) above 1880s averages to 2 C above average. The amount of damage coming from this next degree of warming will be considerably more than the amount of damage that occurred as we warmed from 0.5 to 1.2 C above average from the 1980s to now.

(According to reinsurer Munich Re, the number of natural disasters has more than doubled since the early 1980s. Growth in the number of natural disasters all come from meteorological events, hydrological events, and climatological events — all which are influenced by warming global temperatures. Image source: Munich Re.)

The U.S. and every other nation in the world is now seeing a clear and present danger coming from climate change as natural disasters ramp up. In other words, the climate change related fire is already burning. And the Trump Administration appears set to throw more fuel on that fire. We can say with complete certainty that these policies represent a political agenda that is harmful to the American people. And we should resist this harmful agenda at every turn.

Let’s be Very Clear — 100 Percent (or More) of Recent Warming was Caused By Humans

“We actually have high confidence that the warming that is happening now is not natural cycle. If anything, over the past few decades, nature has tried to cool us off a little bit… The sun has dimmed just a little bit. We have blocked the sun with particles from our smokestacks just a little bit. And yet it has warmed. If you were to ask how much of the warming that we see recently has been caused by our greenhouse gasses, it’s a little more than all of it (emphasis added).” — Dr Richard Alley

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To say that scientists, as a group, tend to be cautious is probably the understatement of the Century. In most cases, this caution is beneficial — preventing outrageous assertions regarding key issues and providing a stable basis for developing rational policy.

(Dr. Richard Alley, Dr Michael Mann, and Dr Johnathan Brockopp discuss the extent of the global warming crisis without false equivalency given to climate change deniers. Video source: Conversations — Live Climate Change.)

But when it comes to confronting climate change deniers, such caution and reticence has often been exploited by the fossil fuel interests and their political backers who tend to make intentionally deceptive arguments aimed at casting doubt on scientific findings. Just as Scott Pruitt, a man who has fought helpful emissions regulations by EPA at the behest of the fossil fuel industry for most of his legal career, did last week on CNBC’s Squawk Box when he said:

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s [CO2] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Playing Disingenuous and Intentionally Deceptive Word Games

Pruitt’s statement was made with a pretty obvious intent to cast fallacious doubt on established scientific findings. It was deceptive. And it aimed at highlighting perceived, but not actual, uncertainties in the science. It ultimately perpetrated a logical fallacy of consistency (argument based on false equivalency). Such fallacies tend to exploit seeming gray areas in established understanding in order to cast doubt on solid evidence. In this case, to create a false sense that counter arguments against the scientific basis for CO2 as a heat trapping gas have equal weight to the actual science.

In the end, the perception of uncertainty is what false and fallacious arguments like Pruitt’s seek to generate. And these arguments often aim to exploit the fact that overarching scientific consensus statements seldom claim 100 percent certainty, even though findings, especially in the case of climate change, are highly accurate.

In one example, more than 97 percent of scientists agree that global warming is caused by humans. This consensus is among the strongest for any scientific finding. However, the most recent IPCC report found that:

“It is extremely likely [defined as 95-100% certainty] that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic [human-caused] increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.”

This statement, at its face value is a strong validation for the human warming consensus. However, it provides a bit of a linguistic loop-hole in the phrase — ‘more than half’ — which seems to imply that almost half of the warming Earth has experienced was caused by something other than human activity. This apparent but false uncertainty is the kind of statement that people like Pruitt, who use deceptive argumentation, tend to latch onto. And if a person were to make the conclusion that nearly 50 percent of warming was not caused by humans and that the ultimate cause of warming is therefore in doubt, then it would be a false one.

More Than 100 Percent of Recent Warming Caused By Humans, CO2 Earth’s Primary Temperature Control Knob

(Most recent warming attribution studies find that more than 100 percent of the atmospheric heat gain we’ve seen during the past 50-65 years was caused by human activity such as fossil fuel burning. Image source: Skeptical Science.)

The truth is that IPCC made a very cautious statement. It has 95 to 100 percent confidence that more than 50 percent of warming has been caused by human activity. And the basis for this statement is that most studies find that while natural factors like solar activity are pushing the world to cool, the human forcing is strong enough to overcome that natural cooling trend and to set in place a very strong and unnatural warming trend instead. The science finds that without the greenhouse gas emissions coming chiefly from fossil fuel burning, the Earth would have seen slowly falling temperatures over the past 50-150 years.

Moreover, studies for the past 50-65 years almost universally attribute 100 percent or more of warming to human produced heat forcing. The above graphic, by Skeptical Science, shows a sample of new studies in which 99 to 170 percent of recent warming was attributed to human causes.

(According to IPCC, carbon dioxide is the primary heat trapping gas emitted by humans and is responsible for the majority of atmospheric warming. Meanwhile, NASA scientists find that this gas is the chief control knob governing Earth’s temperature.)

In addition, the lion’s share of the heat trapping, according to the science, can be attributed to one greenhouse gas — CO2. For NASA, along with pretty much every other major scientific body studying climate, finds that CO2 is Earth’s primary temperature control knob.

So when Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier and Trump’s pick for head of the EPA says that there’s a lot of uncertainty about CO2 and it’s not the primary source of warming and that it’s uncertain whether humans are a factor — he’s telling a lie. The science is very clear that warming is human caused, that probably more than 100 percent of warming has been driven by human activity, and that CO2 from fossil fuel emissions has been the cause of the majority of that warming.

But in addition to telling a lie Pruitt, as head of EPA, is committing malfeasance. For he is the head of the agency responsible for regulating harmful gasses like CO2 and for preventing the severe damage that will surely be inflicted upon the American public if these gasses continue to be released into Earth’s atmosphere.

Links:

CNBC’s Squawk Box

Skeptical Science

IPCC Fifth Assessment

CO2: Principal Control Knob Governing Earth’s Temperature

Hat tip to Erik

Hat tip to Cate

 

“Climate Change in Your Face” — Great Barrier Reef Suffers Second Consecutive Mass Bleaching as Potential for Record Warm 2017 Looms

 

On March 2nd, 2017, the Great Barrier Reef was already starting to show signs of bleaching. After suffering a worst-ever coral bleaching event in 2016, concerns were high that warmer waters could again strike the reef — spurring a second consecutive mass die-off. Even worse, some scientists were concerned that 2017’s bleaching could exceed the intensity of the record 2016 event.

Now it appears that just such a catastrophe is underway. And scientists expect about 2/3 of the world’s largest reef to experience bleaching over the next couple of months.

According to reports from Eyewitness News in Australia — the Great Barrier Reef has been given a “terminal prognosis” by scientists unless the rate of global warming is slowed. The March 10 news report noted that “one of the world’s greatest natural treasures is losing its fight for life” as a second mass coral bleaching event impacts the reef in as many years. Richard Leck of the World Wildlife Fund expressed his shock stating “No scientists ever thought that we would have back-to-back mass coral bleaching events… This is climate change in your face.”

Aerial surveys found that 30 to 100 percent of corals visible from the air along large sections of the 2300 kilometer reef had experienced some level of bleaching.

Fourth Consecutive Hottest Year on Record?

Unfortunately for the reef and for the rest of world’s natural wonders, coastlines, biological diversity, cities and nations, the rate of global warming appears to be accelerating. A situation that will put most of life on Earth, including its corals and the crops human beings rely on for food, into a state of permanent heat stress.

A new scientific study showed that the rate of heat gain in the world’s oceans, due to heat trapping gasses like CO2 hitting the atmosphere at near record rates, is speeding up. Meanwhile a number of scientists are starting to worry that 2017 will be a fourth consecutive record hot year in a row.

(Fourth consecutive record hot year in a row? If it happens, it would be just one more unprecedented, unexpected event related to climate change to add to the a long and growing list. Image source: Zeke Hausfather.)

Zeke Hausfather of the Berkley Earth Surface Temperature group posted the above image on Twitter noting: “2017 has been weirdly warm so far despite a lack of El Nino conditions. If Jan/Feb temps were representative it would end up surpassing 2016.”

The team, which is ironically funded by the Koch Brothers (of climate change denial infamy) and was formed by climate skeptic Richard Muller, has done preliminary global temperature estimates and found that February of 2017 was the second hottest on record globally. If true, this would put the year on a very warm launching pad despite a recent weak La Nina event in the Pacific which should have resulted in considerably more cyclical global cooling. NOAA now shows the potential for a weak to moderate El Nino to form during the spring and summer. And the risk exists that warm surface waters in the Pacific will combine with an already very strong warming amplification in the polar regions brought on by climate change to spike global temperatures yet again.

We should note that such an occurrence would be very odd — flying in the face of traditional understanding of the El Nino/La Nina cycle. Usually, post El Nino years tend to cool somewhat (including the effect of follow-on La Nina events) even as the overall global warming trend has ramped higher. So if we do experience a record warm year post La Nina, then other factors are helping to drive the global climate system. And the chief suspects at this time appear to be positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a Polar Amplification associated with global warming, and spiking ocean temperatures associated with global warming.

Conditions in Context — Climate Tipping Points

To be very clear, what’s happening to the Great Barrier Reef at this time is terrible. But it is not an isolated event. Regions the world over are starting to feel increasingly worsening impacts from climate change. To name just a few of the major impacts now rippling across the globe: Parts of East Africa are getting pushed toward lower farm productivity and ultimate uninhabitability by the rising heat, Northern Hemisphere summer sea ice now has an expected lifespan of 1 to 15 years, growing seasons around the world are under assault from the rising temperatures, coastal cities are in peril from rising waters, and Antarctic and Greenland glaciers are lurching toward the sea.

 

(A graphic of potential climate tipping points produced by the University of East Anglia. We should probably now also add East Antarctic Ice Sheet, East Africa drought, and expanding ocean dead zones to the list. It’s worth noting that these identified climate tipping points included a degree of uncertainty — meaning that temperature levels needed to set off these events weren’t fully nailed down, nor were the timeframes under which such potential scenarios were likely to occur. But it was generally assumed that crossing any of these tipping points would result in very harmful and wide-ranging impacts. To this point, it appears that we are in the process of crossing the coral bleaching, Arctic sea ice loss, increasing crop stress, expanding ocean dead zones, increasing global wildfires, worsening floods and droughts, and glacial destabilization tipping points at this time.)

All these events are happening with the world at 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages and warming at what appears to be a rather swift rate. So we appear to be at a threshold now where dangerous and very harmful climate events are starting to occur. In other words, we’re starting to cross some of the forewarned climate tipping points. And these events can arise quite suddenly to produce wide-ranging impacts to human populations and the biodiversity of life on Earth.

The imperative to act by cutting human fossil fuel emissions as rapidly as possible couldn’t be more obvious or urgent. And as part of that imperative, it appears that the removal of fossil fuel backing politicians (like Trump, Scott Pruitt, James Inhoffe and other climate change denying republicans in the US) will be necessary to achieve any kind of rational response to this very real threat to pretty much everyone and everything living on Earth.

Links:

Eyewitness News in Australia

Zeke Hausfather

Widespread Coral Bleaching Strikes Great Barrier Reef Again in 2017

NOAA El Nino

Weirdly Warm 2017

University of East Anglia

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to BJ

The Oceans are Warming Faster than Previously Thought; Rate of Heat Build-up Accelerating

So we keep hearing this phrase in the sciences — faster than we thought. In the context of global warming, it’s not a phrase we want to hear. And when the world’s largest heat sink — the oceans — are warming up faster than we thought, that’s kind of a big deal.

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According to new research published today in Science Advances, the world’s oceans are warming up at an overall rate that is 13% faster than previously thought. Study authors used a new methodology to gain a more refined picture of overall ocean warming. And the results were unfortunately stark. For in addition to the oceans having gained more heat, the study also found that the rate of ocean warming is accelerating.

(Total ocean heat gain in the top 2000 meters as found in Improved estimates of ocean heat content from 1960 to 2015.)

This increased rate of warming is rather concerning — especially when you consider the fact that about 90 percent of the total extra heat absorbed by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses produced primarily by fossil fuel burning ends up in the world’s oceans. For this reason, ocean heat gain is probably a better determiner of overall global warming than atmospheric heat gain. And, as a result, what we’re looking at is a world that’s surprising us with the rate at which it is responding to the insults of human fossil fuel emissions.

Serious Systemic Impacts From Ocean Warming

Of course, heat in the oceans produces numerous added impacts to the Earth System. As we’ve seen in Antarctica and Greenland, that heat gain has caused a number of the world’s largest ice shelves and glaciers to start melting from below — increasing concerns about the future rate of global sea level rise. The accelerating heat gain in the world’s oceans is absolutely the primary driver of the ongoing global coral bleaching event that has continued uninterrupted since 2014. More ocean heat means less oxygen — which increases the extent of ocean dead zones. And various sea creatures from starfish to mollusks to walruses to puffins have all seen habitat loss and/or loss of key food sources due to ongoing warming.

Extra ocean heat also both reduces the ability of the ocean to absorb CO2 even as it puts stress on various carbon stores — increasing the risk that a carbon feedback response from the Earth System will emerge to further worsen the rate of global warming.

(This year’s global coral bleaching event is starting to kick into high gear. Famous reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef are now threatened. But coral bleaching is just one of many harmful impacts that result from ocean warming. Image source: Coral Reef Watch.)

Finally, warmer oceans can help to push hydrological events such as instances of heavy rainfall and severe drought to greater extremes. A press release by the study’s authors noted:

…we know the oceans are much warmer now and they contain the memory of climate change. Higher sea surface temperatures are continually reinforced by the extra heat beneath the ocean surface. The oceans are affecting weather and climate through more intense rains. This process is a major reason why 2016 was the hottest year ever recorded at the Earth’s surface, beating out 2015 which was the previous record. Additionally 2015 was a year with record hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, and wild-fires around the world.

Conditions in Context — We Need Rapid Reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Now

Ultimately what this accelerating and higher than expected ocean heat gain means is that we have less time. Less time to achieve a necessary reduction of emissions before various harmful and catastrophic effects from climate change get locked in. Less time to continue coddling a harmful fossil fuel industry, as the Trump Administration has determined to do. And less time to plan to help the populations of people that will inevitably be harmed by the warming that these vastly irresponsible political and economic powers have so far blocked us from preventing.

Links:

Improved Estimates of Ocean Heat Content From 1960 to 2015

Earth’s oceans are warming 13% faster than thought

Coral Reef Watch

Hat tip to Jeremy in Wales

New Research Shows Global Warming Could Turn Tropics Into a Sweltering Dead Zone

New research out of Purdue University finds that a global warming event called the PETM made parts of the tropics too hot for living organisms to survive. And though the PETM happened many millions of years ago, these new scientific revelations are pertinent to the present day. The reason is that human activity in the form of fossil fuel burning is now rapidly causing the globe to heat up. And such warming, if it continues, could well turn large sections of the tropics into a dead zone.

PETM — Warm-up Sparks Global Upheaval, Extinction

The PETM was a big global warm up that happened 56 million years ago as the Paleocene epoch passed into the Eocene. It is numbered as one of many hothouse extinctions occurring in the geological record. And it is generally thought to have been one of the milder such events — especially when compared to the biosphere wrecking ball that was the Permian.

(NASA tool shows that business as usual greenhouse gas emissions would force average maximum July temperatures over large sections of the world to warm to 40-45 C [104-113 F] by the 2090s. For many regions, such a high degree of heat is incompatible with crops and human habitability. In the deep past, hothouse events were found, in recent research, to render large sections of the tropics uninhabitable to most forms of life. Image source: NASA.)

During the PETM, global temperatures jumped by 5 degrees Celsius above an already warm base-line over the course of about 6,000 years. And research indicates that the resulting heat stress set off massive wildfires, forced land animal species to move pole-ward, and killed off a big chunk of the ocean’s bottom dwelling foraminifera.

Parts of the Tropical Biosphere Seem to Have Died

However, past scientific consensus held that the tropics still managed to support life during the PETM due to a kind of thermostat-like heat regulation preventing the equatorial region from becoming too warm. Temperatures were thought to have remained within a range that would have continued to support life in this lower latitude zone. So it was only thought that the tropics experienced die-offs during ancient and more intense warming events like the Permain of 250 million years ago.

The new research by Purdue scientists calls that theory into question. Their findings show that temperatures crossed a key threshold — becoming too hot to support life throughout sections of the tropics and rendering large areas uninhabitable.

Matthew Huber, professor in the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Department at Purdue University and study co-author notes:

“The records produced in this study indicate that when the tropics warmed that last little bit, a threshold was passed and parts of the tropical biosphere seems to have died. This is the first time that we’ve found really good information, in a very detailed way, where we saw major changes in the tropics directly associated with warming past a key threshold in the past 60 million years.”

Half of Human Population Lives and Farms in the Tropics

During the present day, about half the human population, a good chunk of the world’s life forms, and a considerable amount of global farming occupies the tropics. However, according to recent research by the Max Planck Institute, parts of the tropical zone could be rendered basically uninhabitable to human beings by mid Century as the Earth heats up due to fossil fuel burning. And already, the critical region of Equatorial Africa and the adjacent Middle East are experiencing record droughts, water stress, and instances of hunger, famine and related food insecurity as global temperatures rise to 1 C or more above 1880s averages.

(Climate zone habitability is a function of what forms of life can exist in a given region at a given range of temperatures. Warming in the tropics is expected to impact human habitability by mid Century. Warming, however, is also expected to impact crop yields well into the middle latitudes. U.S. food production is therefore likely to be negatively impacted by rising global temperatures. Video source: Peter Carter.)

The serious concern is that as the world warms up — a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scope could emerge as whole countries become unable to support their populations. As entire regions become too hot to live in. And as major swaths of global farmland become non-productive.

The present narrative hints that human civilization can somehow adapt by shifting farm zones northward. However, it’s worth noting that boreal regions do not support the same highly productive soils as the tropical and temperate zones that are now under threat due to rising temperatures. In addition, the nations of the world have thus far shown considerable reluctance to accepting refugee populations from destabilized zones. And as the world heats up, desperation will only increase as waves of refugees seek to remove themselves from what could well become a kind of global warming produced dead zone.

The Perdue research underscores a very real risk that we are now facing. It shows that the tropics did not self regulate temperature in a range conducive for life during the PETM. And these findings reinforce present temperature and soil moisture research trends placing human habitability and crop production under threat due to fossil fuel based warming this Century.

(UDATED)

Links:

Global Warming Can Breach Limits for Life

Climate Impacts of the PETM

NASA

Peter Carter

Hat tip to Suzzanne

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Largest Winter Wildfire in Kansas History Probably Linked to Climate Change

Over the past few days, a 1.5 million acre (2,350 square mile) swath of the Central U.S. has burned. The wildfires, stoked by warm winds, prodigious undergrowth, and a nascent mid-western drought exploded across Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Six people have perished, numerous structures have been destroyed, and thousands of people have been forced to evacuate. According to initial reports, the losses in the form of cropland burned and livestock consumed by the flames are expected to be significant.

(Large wildfires and massive burn scars are clearly visible in this March 7 NASA satellite shot of North Texas, the Oklahoma Pan-Handle and Southern Kansas. For reference, bottom edge of frame is approximately 120 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

For Kansas, a single blaze covering 1,000 square miles was likely the largest fire ever to strike the state. Meanwhile, similar enormous fires ripped through nearby Oklahoma and North Texas (see satellite image above). Though more favorable weather conditions for firefighting are on the way, concerns remain that the fires could continue to grow throughout the weekend.

It is not an unheard of event for wildfires to strike the plains states during winter. However, the rising frequency and intensity of large fires during recent years has been a cause for growing concern among climate researchers. And though humans and lightning strikes often provide the ignition sources for the wildfires that do occur, it is the underlying heat and drought conditions which can cause a wildfire to explode into an out of control monstrosity when such an ignition inevitably occurs. To this point, it’s worth noting that a similar large wildfire outbreak occurred during the winter of 2010-2011 — a time when near record warmth combined with drought to scorch 4,000 square miles in Texas and Arizona. And we should also note that global warming will tend to bring on these wildfire favorable conditions with increasing frequency and intensity.

(Near record warmth and below average precipitation over the past month set the stage for extreme wildfire risks this week. Increasingly, such anomalously warm temperatures and rapid onset drought conditions are driven by human-caused climate change. Image source: NOAA.)

This year, similar climate change related conditions set the stage for this past week’s dangerous outbreak. And though some researchers consider the fire regime in this region of the U.S. during this time of year to be cyclical in nature (possibly driven at least in part by the ENSO cycle), the added heat and increasing risk of intensifying drought periods due to climate change plays a role in the worsening fire regime as well.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, wildfire season in the Western U.S. has already grown from 5 months per year to 7+ months per year due to rising temperatures. This added heat and related expansion of the wildfire season has helped to increase the average number of large fires burning during any given year in this region from approximately 140 per year during the 1980s to 250 per year from the period of 2000 to 2012.

(Union of Concerned Scientists graphic shows stark wildfire trend for the Western U.S. A trend that is being repeated in many regions across the country due to climate change’s rising temperatures and increasingly intense precipitation extremes. See full infographic here: Union of Concerned Scientists.)

For the Central U.S. the story is much the same as researchers have warned that the frequency and intensity of wildfires likely would continue to increase in the coming years, given the confluence of climate change related factors such as higher temperatures and lower rainfall amounts. In Phys.org today, University of Illinois atmospheric sciences professor Don Wuebbles noted that increasingly intense wildfires are:

“…Probably… the new normal. Thirty years from now, we may look upon this as being a much better period than what we may be facing then.”

Links:

LANCE MODIS

NOAA

Union of Concerned Scientists

A Look at Questions About Current Wildfires

At Least 6 People Have Died in Plains Wildfires

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Warm Winds Take Aim at Chukchi as Arctic Sea Ice Volume Hits Record Lows

Temperatures over the Chukchi Sea are predicted to hit as high as 37 degrees Fahrenheit (2.9 C) on Wednesday and Thursday as a massive high pressure ridge building over Alaska pulls warm, moist Pacific air northward. These temperatures represent staggering warmth for this Arctic Ocean zone during March when temperatures are typically about 54 degrees F (30 degrees C) cooler.

Major Warm Wind Invasion for the Chukchi This Week

(Multi-day above freezing temperatures for the Chukchi sea predicted for later this week is not a normal event for early March. Unfortunately, warm wind invasions like this one have become more common as the globe has warmed up due to human fossil fuel emissions. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This recent warm wind invasion is one of many observed over the past five years in which enormous bulges in the Jet Stream have pierced deep into what was once a mostly impenetrable pall of winter chill hanging over the Arctic. It’s a new atmospheric condition associated with rampant fossil fuel burning. One that has produced considerable damage to the Arctic environment by reducing sea ice coverage, threatening key species, melting glaciers and thawing permafrost.

Such incursions of extreme warmth bear the obvious marks of a failing of Arctic cold brought on by human-forced climate change and have tended to generate significant spikes in overall Arctic surface temperatures during fall, winter, and spring. This week’s warm air invasion of the Chukchi is expected to help push readings for the entire region above the 66 degree north latitude line to 4.5 C (8 F) above average for this time of year. That’s a strong departure for this region during the month of March when the typically more uniform advance of warmth in the lower latitudes tends to strengthen the Jet Stream — locking in Polar winter conditions in the far north through about the middle of April.

(The warm wind invasion of the Chukchi Sea is expected to help push overall Arctic temperatures considerably higher. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Far above average Arctic surface temperatures extending from October of 2016 through March of 2017 have been triggered again and again by these floods of warm air rising up from the south. And the net effect on Arctic sea ice volume has been little short of devastating.

Arctic Sea Ice Volume Lowest Ever Recorded During Winter, Comparable to Summer Volumes of the Early 80s

Arctic sea ice volume for both January and February of 2017 are now far below past record low trend lines for this time of year. Present record low monthly values for this past February are around 17,000 cubic kilometers vs previous record lows for the month during 2013 at around 19,500 cubic kilometers. Last February’s sea ice volume average of 17,000 cubic kilometers is about the same sea ice volume measured at the end of melt season in September of 1981. In other words, sea ice volume in winter now is comparable to sea ice volumes during the summers of the early 1980s.

(Arctic sea ice volume has never been this low during winter time. Image source: PIOMAS.)

All the record warmth flooding into the Arctic during 2016 and 2017 has undoubtedly contributed to these new record lows for sea ice volume. And a cooling of the Arctic surface relative to recent record warmth during March and April could soften this worrying trend somewhat. To this point, it is worth noting that sea ice extent measures are now closer to past record low trend lines. So there has been some slightly more hopeful inching back to slightly less ridiculously abnormal measures. A more positive movement that will likely take a hit as Arctic temperatures are predicted to significantly warm again this week.

Weather is Variable, But the Underlying Trend Looks Pretty Bad

Weather, as we should note, can be quite variable and may bring a more pleasant surprise later in the month. However, despite this potential, sea ice states are looking as bad or worse than they ever have at the end of freeze season. And it is worth noting that less ice coverage and volume leaves more dark water open to absorb the sun’s springtime and summer rays and less ice to reflect it. Furthermore, post La Nina periods, as we are now experiencing, tend to flush more atmospheric and ocean heat into the Arctic. So, despite the variable nature of weather overall, we’re in a bit of a situation where the systemic trend odds of a noteworthy sea ice recovery toward more rational trend lines pre-summer 2017 aren’t looking very good.

Links:

NSIDC

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

PIOMAS

Wipneus

Tropical Tidbits

Chukchi Sea

Friday, March 3, 2017 Climate Change Open Discussion: Permafrost Decay, Ocean Acidification, Renewable Energy Advances, Trump Turning EPA into Fossil Fuel Vending Machine

Over the past week, it became clear that considerable changes were underway in the global climate system, in the realm of government policy, and in the world’s energy markets. This blog post will touch on as many of these issues as possible. More importantly, it will serve as an open forum for discussing these recent trends over the coming weekend.

52,000 Square Miles of Permafrost Decaying in Canada

This week, Inside Climate News produced a must-read report high-lighting the latest science on permafrost thaw. The report found that:

“Huge slabs of Arctic permafrost in northwest Canada are slumping and disintegrating, sending large amounts of carbon-rich mud and silt into streams and rivers. A new study that analyzed nearly a half-million square miles in northwest Canada found that this permafrost decay is affecting 52,000 square miles of that vast stretch of earth—an expanse the size of Alabama.”

The article linked various permafrost thaw studies and produced a broad overview of the many and wide-ranging local and regional impacts. It identified major geophysical changes due to permafrost subsidence and erosion along the Arctic coastline (which in places is losing as much as 70-80 feet per year). It covered large regions experiencing land deformation due to permafrost thaw — some of which were quite large. As an example, one permafrost thaw related sink hole in Russia was a quarter mile across and growing. And it also identified a threat to river and estuary health posed by soil outflows produced by the thaw:

According to researchers with the Northwest Territories Geological Survey, the permafrost collapse is intensifying and causing landslides into rivers and lakes that can choke off life downstream, all the way to where the rivers discharge into the Arctic Ocean.

But perhaps what is more concerning are the implications of the research highlighted by Inside Climate News. To this point, permafrost thaw isn’t just a local issue — it’s a geophysical change the produces global impacts.

permafrost_feedback

(Carbon and albedo feedback produced by permafrost thaw is a serious concern. However, impacts produced by permafrost thaw are even more wide-ranging. Image source: Carbon Brief.)

Permafrost thaw can add amplifying feedback carbon emissions to the Earth System at a time when atmospheric carbon levels are already the highest we’ve seen in about 5-15 million years. Frozen permafrost is a carbon sink –taking in more atmospheric carbon than it produces. Active, thawed permafrost generates the opposite effect. Microbes coming alive in the soil produce methane and carbon dioxide that contribute to the growing pools of carbon in the atmosphere and the world ocean. And with so much permafrost thawing as the world warms, the issue is one that simply will not go away.

Such amplifying feedbacks are a serious concern due to the fact that they make the need for global carbon emissions cuts more immediate and urgent. Carbon budgets, for example, become considerably more constrained when you can expect 50, 100, 250 billion tons or more of additional carbon emission coming from the thawing permafrost over timeframes relevant to human civilizations.

In addition, soil flushed down streams and into estuaries eventually deposits carbon into the world ocean system. As a result, you end up with still more carbon hitting an ocean that is already reeling from acidification stresses. The nutrients in the soil also feed algae blooms that speed acidification and potentially rob the ocean surface regions of vital oxygen when they decay. Considerable and rapid permafrost thaw has the potential, therefore, to also add to the larger and ongoing damages to ocean health due to fossil fuel emissions and to push the world to warm at a more rapid rate. So the Inside Climate News report is important, not just for the various regional impacts that it highlights, but for the larger implications due to the wide-ranging permafrost thaw that the research currently identifies.

Advancing Ocean Acidification

Recently, we highlighted threats to the world’s corals and, in particular, to the Great Barrier Reef as a result of a big warm-up in the world’s ocean system. One that is now producing a global coral bleaching event that could last for decades.

But warming ocean waters aren’t the only threat to corals and other marine species produced by human-caused climate change. Ocean acidification and ocean anoxia (in which warming combines with algae blooms and other factors to rob the oceans of oxygen) represent two of the other major threats to oceans related to climate change. Of these, ocean acidification has received a good deal of attention in the scientific press recently. In particular, this comprehensive piece in DW this week highlighted growing scientific concerns over ocean acidification.

The DW report shined a light on a new study:

in Nature Climate Change this week [that] says ocean acidification is spreading rapidly in the western Arctic Ocean in both area and depth. That means a much wider, deeper area than before is becoming so acidic that many marine organisms of key importance to the food chain will no longer be able to survive there.

The study found that the region in which the ocean is uptaking high levels of CO2 and coordinately increasing ocean acidification has enlarged and expanded northward by 5 degrees of latitude. In particular, the zone of ocean acidification in the Western Arctic Ocean has expanded considerably. As a result, the rate at which the Arctic Ocean is acidifying is increasing.

ocean-acification-through-2050

(As atmospheric CO2 levels increase, the oceans take up more carbon and become more acidic. Polar oceans become acidic first. Then acidified waters expand southward. With atmospheric CO2 levels hitting around 410 ppm this year [peak value] polar ocean species are now threatened by acidification. Eventually, at around 500 ppm CO2, levels of acidity are high enough to threaten key ocean species the world over. Image source: Threat to Coral Reefs From Ocean Acidification.)

The study sounds an alarm among ocean researchers and environmentalists concerned about key ocean species vulnerable to acidification. The threat to species posed by climate change in the Arctic is now expanding from walruses, whales, polar bears, puffins and various fishes to include calcareous creatures like star fish, mollusks, shrimps, sea snails, various crabs and others. Where warmth has robbed some species of habitats, acidification dissolves the shells that protect the bodies of these creatures or kills off the chief food source of other key ocean animals.

As the oceans take up more and more of the amazing overburden of carbon flooding into the atmosphere chiefly from fossil fuel emissions, the cooler polar waters acidify first. And that’s where ocean researchers are seeing the early warning signs of harm. But acidic waters at the poles don’t just stay there. They expand southward — bringing the damage they cause with them. In this way, the lower latitude corals that are already experiencing mass die-offs spurred by warming waters will soon face the threat of acidic oceans as well.

Renewable Energy — An Economic Force of Nature

Despite a rightward shift in various global economic dynamos like the U.S., the U.K, and Australia, the hope for rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels and related carbon emissions remains alive as renewable energy becomes an ever more powerful economic and political force.

In the U.S., 23 cities, townships and counties have now pledged to run their economies on 100 percent renewable electricity and California has just introduced legislation aiming at achieving 50 percent of its electricity generation from renewable sources by 2025 and 100 percent by 2045. More good news also came from the auto sector as electric vehicle sales in the U.S. jumped 59 percent year on year during the month of January.

us-unsubsidized-levelized-cost-of-energy

(In the US, the unsubsidized, levelized cost of wind and solar now beat out every other competing energy system. Image source: Clean Technica.)

Globally, even the Pope is going electric as solar cell production is expected to hit near 80 gigawatts in 2017 — another record year following 10 years of uninterrupted expansion. And wind energy is racing to catch up to solar by setting new record low prices near 5 cents per kilowatt hour at power purchase bids in India. At such low prices, wind and solar now boast the lowest levelized costs of all major power sources according to this research. Meanwhile, in a trend that’s fantastic enough to make even computer chip manufacturers jealous, clean energy prices just keep falling even as renewable energy capabilities keep on improving.

The good news continues in China where 110 gigawatts of solar energy capacity is expected to be installed by 2020 and where sales of zero oil electric buses are now exploding. The adds to clean tech are also contributing to China’s plans to cut coal burning by a further 30 percent in 2017. These cuts are helping to spur planned cuts of 1.8 million coal and steel jobs coordinate with a responsible (something republicans and Trump would never consider) 15 billion dollar effort to retrain and place these workers in the new, less dangerous, cleaner industries of the future.

Trump — the Chief Beneficiary of a Russian Cyberwarfare Campaign Against the U.S. Electoral System — is Trying to Turn EPA into a ‘Vending Machine for Fossil Fuel Companies’

All this great news on the renewable energy front is, of course, tempered by the terrible and rapidly deteriorating state of the global climate. In addition, the forces opposing responses to climate change and actively seeking to throw a wrench into the amazing works of the renewable energy revolution have taken power in the form of the corrupt and Russian-influenced Trump Administration in the U.S.

It’s worth noting that Donald Trump and his ilk in the form of republicans in the U.S. and various allied fossil fueled politicians around the world are unlikely to be able to completely sabotage the economic juggernaught that renewable energy has become unless they succeed in a campaign aimed at total political dominance. And as Trump and his Russian helpers have learned, total dominance in a country with considerable separation of powers, as in the U.S., is a very difficult thing to achieve. Especially when the opposition to the forces of that dominance are as invigorated and diverse as they are today.

(Scott Pruitt spent most of his career attacking the EPA. Now, under Trump, he heads it. It could well be said that the environmental version of Bizzaro superman now sits at the helm of the agency that, in the US, is responsible for protecting the environment. Video source: Youtube.)

Despite these difficulties, Trump and his allies can probably effectively slow the renewable energy revolution down — to the great harm of pretty much everything living on Earth. Despite this fact, it’s well worth noting that renewable energy grew up into the economic force it is today despite continued attempts to stymie its growth by fossil fuel special interest groups over at least the past half-century. The rise of Trump and of so many powerful fossil fuel connected politicians around the world today can well be seen as a reactionary outgrowth of the old and inherently autocratic economic power associated with fossil fuels. One that is arguably now suffering an existential crisis. For the threat to fossil fuels now posed by renewables has grown considerably. In the U.S., solar alone accounted for 1 in 50 new jobs in 2016. In other words, substantially rolling back the renewable industry at this time would be very harmful to the U.S. economy. The systemic forces now protecting renewables are stronger than ever before simply due to the fact that the U.S. economic system increasingly has come to rely and depend on them.

But this inherent system change hasn’t stopped the Trump administration and its allied republicans from trying to sabotage the very forces that threaten a big chunk of their power base. And their initial efforts to this end since the election have involved rolling back key environmental laws and practices (those helpful bits of government that republicans like to blanket-label ‘regulation’). An example of this is the recent removal of rules requiring fossil fuel companies to report methane emissions at the EPA. A move that Vera Pardee of the Center for Biological Diversity identified as an attempt to turn “the EPA into an oil industry vending machine.”

Where the Trump Administration isn’t withdrawing the EPA from its responsibilities to prevent environmental harms by applying publicly helpful government oversight to industry, it’s attempting to de-fund the EPA altogether. A recent budget proposal by Trump aimed at raising defense spending by 54 billion on the backs of cuts to domestic agencies would have slashed the EPA’s scientific workforce, removed funding for key protections like preventing lead from entering U.S. drinking water, and slashed the EPA climate change prevention program by 70 percent.

Thankfully, Trump’s draconian cuts to domestic spending, the EPA, and public health are unlikely to make it through even a republican controlled Congress. But his budget proposal is an excellent illustration of how a far-right government tries to govern in the US these days — leverage puffed up fears of outsiders and a hyper-focus on security and defense to force cuts in critical programs while always denying the necessity of actually raising revenues through taxation to fund beneficial public programs.

In a related reference, Steve Hanley, responding to Trump’s transport secretary’s cuts to electric rail funding succinctly noted today that:

Republicans hate high-speed rail. In fact, Republicans pretty much hate spending taxpayer dollars on anything that might benefit taxpayers. They would prefer to give the money to defense contractors, corporate executives, and Wall Street investment bankers. After all, those are the folks who paid to get them elected.

The same could be said for the Trump Admin overall which was a monstrosity that grew up out of Wall Street and that apparently got a huge assist from the Russian petrostate by hacking and cyber-warfaring their way to electoral success in the 2016 U.S. Presidential race. And to this final point it’s worth noting that the significant political headwinds those concerned about climate change now face issue from all the groups that have produced so much resistance to helpful climate action in the past. From corrupt smokestack industries and from even more corrupt petrostates headed by autocratic dictators with a penchant for funding right wing groups in an attempt destabilize the world’s democratic governments as apparently now happened (at least to some degree) to the Executive Branch in the United States.

(UPDATED)

Hat tips

Colorado Bob

Cate

Keith

Andy in San Diego

Ryan in New England

Redsky

Sean Redmond

Dave W

Mlparrish

Spike

Wharf Rat

Clean Technica

Gas2

DW

The Washington Post

The New York Times

The Huffington Post

Nature

 

 

Widespread Coral Bleaching Strikes Great Barrier Reef Again in 2017

During early 2017, the region over Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) experienced its hottest summer atmospheric temperatures on record. Peak water temperatures lag peak air temperatures by about a month. But already, sections of one of the world’s most vital marine sanctuaries are experiencing bleaching and disease. Worryingly, bleaching and heat stress is expanding over the reef at a faster rate than at the same time last year.

Coral Bleaching Great Barrier Reef

(The Great Barrier Reef is already experiencing extensive bleaching in 2017. With warmer waters headed toward the reef over the coming weeks, researchers fear that this year’s coral mortality event could match or exceed 2016’s severe damage and loss. Image source: Commons.)

A Precious Global Treasure Under Threat

During 2016, the GBR experienced its worst coral bleaching event on record. This severe event followed two years (2014-2015) in which the reef saw less widespread bleaching. A strong El Nino combined with the highest global temperatures ever measured to produce ocean conditions that were too hot to support living corals and many regions saw bleaching and high mortality. In the reef’s northern sections, more than 2/3 of the corals bleached and died out.

Scientists who’d long warned that global warming would put the fate of the great reef at risk, issued an alarm and a call for action. Global temperatures had now reached a threshold that threatened to put Australia’s natural wonder at risk with far greater frequency than ever before. Scientists warned that by the 2030s, ocean temperatures would be warm enough to produce a bleaching event similar to the 2016 die-off every 2-3 years. A separate study indicated that the reef could experience severe coral bleaching through at least 2040 (and well beyond if the world continued to burn fossil fuels and to warm up at such rapid rates).

frequency-of-coral-bleaching-events-projections

(Under human-forced warming the frequency of coral bleaching events and reef mortality is expected to dramatically increase over the coming decades. However, with global temperatures now 1.2 C warmer than 1880s levels, the amount of stress to corals is already remarkably high. Image source: The World Resources Institute.)

Some questioned if the reef could survive such a severe onslaught of global heat brought about by human fossil fuel emissions. Others pointing out that, unless those heat-trapping emissions were dramatically curbed, warming alone had the potential to kill off most of the reef within the next 20 years.

More Coral Bleaching as Ocean Near GBR Fails to Cool in 2017

Nearer-term concerns were also raised that risks to the reef remained high in the present abnormally warm ocean environment. For as 2017 followed 2016, the global coral bleaching event that began in 2014, and that had already claimed the lives of so many of the world’s corals, remained in force.

During the winter of 2016-2017, a weak La Nina event (NOAA) brought some hope that the GBR might get a chance to recover from this most recent spate of extreme ocean warmth. However, by February, La Nina (which was never strong enough to be officially recorded by Australia’s BoM) had faded even as indicators pointed toward a new El Nino beginning to gather. Meanwhile, global atmospheric carbon continued to increase — hitting 490 CO2e by late 2016.

coral-bleaching-affects-gbr

(NOAA predicts another bad year for the world’s corals as a new El Nino threatens to emerge and as global temperatures remain near record highs set in 2016. Image source: NOAA.)

Ocean temperatures in the 30 C + range that typically produce bleaching began to spread over parts of the reef. These conditions were warmer than during the same period of 2016 — raising the awful potential that impacts to the reef during 2017 could be as bad or even worse than last year’s record event.

Worse than 2016 So Far

As of this week, new reports of bleaching were starting to emerge in six GBR reefs in the region of Mission Beach. According to Queensland’s Environment Minister Steve Miles:

“Queensland has just experienced its hottest summer on record and above average temperatures are predicted until the end of March. Some corals were still under stress from last year’s bleaching event and that was exacerbated by a warmer than average winter. The next four weeks will be critical and we can only hope that water temperatures will be cooler than the forecast.’’

The six reefs in question, stretching from Cairns to Townsville, already showed 60 percent bleaching — primarily among the more heat-sensitive corals. And the extent of bleaching was more advanced than during the same time in 2016. Over the coming weeks, the pulse of warm water is expected to spread, putting still more corals at risk as the unprecedented ocean heat moves southward through the marine sanctuary.

So it appears that the GBR is in for another rough summer — one with the potential to see impacts similar to or exceeding those of 2016. Moreover, with global oceans continuing to warm, with world governments still dragging heels on carbon emissions reductions, and with Trump and others vowing to reinvigorate coal, the plight of the GBR is now quite dire.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Great Barrier Reef Faces New Coral Bleaching Threat

Ecologists Steel For More Coral Bleaching on Great Barrier Reef

Large Scale Projections of Coral Reef Futures

Reef Authority Reveals More Coral Bleaching

Global Coral Bleaching Event

The World Resources Institute

BBC

Hat tip to Keith

Famine Warning Issued in Four Countries Following Worst African Droughts in Decades

Abnormally warm West Pacific sea surface temperatures — in part driven by a weak La Nina, in part driven by global warming — produced changes in atmospheric circulation that considerably reduced rainfall over Eastern and Southern Africa during 2016. As a result, places like Rwanda, Kenya, Eithiopia, South Sudan, and Somalia experienced some of their worst droughts in decades.

global-food-crisis-70-million-people

(According to the Famine Early Warning Network,  more than 70 million people are facing hunger around the world in 2017. The primary causes include drought, military conflict, and lack of ability of nations to access food on the international market. Four countries — Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria — now face famine. And drought and conflict stricken Africa is the primary hot-spot for global hunger. Climate change has likely worsened this situation by adding to the intensity of droughts and heatwaves now affecting the region. In addition, past year droughts in places like Yemen and Nigeria helped to inflame present conflict and instability. Image source: Famine Early Warning Network.)

Additionally, conflict combined with the after effect of a 2014-2015 drought has disrupted food and water access in Yemen. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s falling purchasing power following a 2015 drought has rendered it unable to reliably procure food locally or on the international market.

These synergistic factors have forced plummeting food production and food security throughout Africa and nearby Middle Eastern countries. And now four nations — Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria — have been placed under a famine alert. In these countries alone, 20 million people face starvation and the world-over more than 70 million people are under threat from hunger.

The Climate Connection: Very Warm West Pacific = Drought in East Africa

La Nina is often identified as a period when rainfall in East Africa abates — producing an increased risk of drought. This cyclical African weather pattern is primarily produced by a pooling of warm water in the West Pacific that, in turn, alters atmospheric circulation patterns the world over.

abnormally-warm-west-pacific-waters-late-2016

(Very warm sea surface temperatures helped to produce a severe 2016 drought in East Africa. Somalia, which was particularly hard-hit, is now facing famine. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

During 2016-2017, the La Nina was comparatively weak. However, sea surface temperature anomalies in the Western Pacific hit rather high readings over large ocean regions. The net effect to East Africa appeared similar to what would typically be experienced during a stronger La Nina event.

This cyclical climate event also occurred during a year when overall global temperatures were around 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than 1880s averages. For 2016, overall temperatures in the drought impacted regions averaged between 0.5 and 2 C warmer than normal. And this added heat would have amplified any droughts that did form by increasing the rate at which moisture was evaporated out of soils and rivers. Furthermore, temperatures over the Western Pacific teleconnection zone also deviated by +0.5 to +2 C above average ranges. As a result of these prevalent warmer conditions, impacts related to human-caused climate change cannot be entirely ignored as part of the overall drought and food-stress signal.

Somalia Hit Hard

Among the four countries now facing famine alerts, the various climate and climate change related impacts appear most acute for Somalia. Back in 2011, another La Nina and associated warm western Pacific surface waters helped to produce a famine that killed 260,000 people. Now, just six years later, a record warm world and La Nina are serving up these severe conditions again.

october-through-december-rainfall-somalia

Two rainy seasons failed back to back in the water stressed nation during 2015 and 2016. And from October through December of 2016, large parts of Somalia received less than 30 percent of the typical rainfall for the period. Now a national disaster has been declared as 6.2 million people (or about half the country’s population) is at risk from hunger.

This week, Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo issued an urgent call for aid:

“We must provide immediate and potential assistance to avert widespread starvation and death. I appeal to all donors to provide the necessary fund for immediate and emergency assistance.”

Conditions in Context — Climate Change Proliferates Drought, Food Insecurity

2017’s famine alert is Somalia’s second in six years and its third in 25. And the various famine alerts that are presently ongoing all occur in states that have suffered from drought and water stress in the past five years. Instability and conflict are often identified as the cause of food stress. But drought is a trigger condition under which multi-year instability and conflict can emerge (as we have so vividly and tragically seen in Syria). In this way, drought and conflict interact in a chicken and egg relationship to produce reduced food security. And it’s a situation that’s exacerbated by warming global surface temperatures.

Unfortunately, with global temperatures likely to increase by another 0.3 to 0.6 C over the next two decades, food stress and related instability are a rising risk for this and other regions of the world. More intense drought, shifting climate zones, and changing precipitation patterns all help to increase that risk. And, at this point, the various food crises the world is presently experiencing are difficult to divorce from it.

Links:

Famine Early Warning Network

Earth Nullschool

NASA GISS

Global Drought Map

Somalia Declares National Disaster Over Drought

Somalia President Declares Drought a National Emergency

Earth Observatory: Drought in East Africa

With New El Nino Predicted, 3rd Hottest January on Record May be Cool Mark for 2017

Last month was pretty darn hot as global temperature measures go.

According to NASA, the world’s thermometer averaged 1.14 C warmer than 1880s temperatures or about 0.92 C warmer than NASA’s 20th Century baseline. These readings were the third warmest for January since NASA record keeping began in 1880.

janaury-2017-3rd-hottest-on-record-nasa

(A record hot world cools a little during January of 2017 relative to 2016. Unfortunately, with La Nina fading and a new El Nino predicted and with atmospheric CO2 measures continuing to climb, more record breaking or near record breaking global heat appears to be on the way. Image source: NASA GISS.)

2016-2017 La Nina — Not Very Cool

For a temperature measure that has consistently been producing ‘hottest months on record’ throughout 2016, the dip back to top 3 during January represents an ephemeral respite. More to the point, the fact that this third hottest ever reading occurred during the cool phase of natural variability called La Nina presents little cause for reassurance.

The Pacific Ocean has merely been drawing in more atmospheric heat on balance, as its periodic cycles dictate, during the months of September 2016 through January 2017. But despite a heat draw-down due to this variable cool ocean phase, the period produced consistent second and third hottest months on record globally. In particular, warming at the poles (and especially in the Arctic) appeared to substantially counter the cooling influence of the weak La Nina.

nasa-global-temperature-record

(With a weak La Nina fading, a weak to moderate El Nino apparently on the way, and with atmospheric greenhouse gasses at record high levels, it appears that 2017 temperatures will range close to the record global warmth that occurred during 2016. Image source: NASA.)

Overall, the average temperature of these five cooler La Nina months was 0.876 C above NASA’s 20th Century average (1.096 C above 1880s). A reading considerably warmer than the 1998 super El Nino year average of 0.63 C above 20th Century baselines (0.85 C above 1880s). An average unsettlingly close to the 0.98 C above baseline (1.2 C above 1880s) measure for 2016 as a whole.

Predicted 2017 El Nino Would Push us Back to Near Record Hot Too Soon

With a La Nina period so greatly exceeding 1998 El Nino averages, we can confidently say at this time that the old cherry previously used by climate change deniers for so many frequent misrepresentations has now been left in the dust and ash of the great global burning of fossil fuels continuing unabated since that time and that this year will push CO2 and CO2e levels to above 410 ppm (peak) and 493 ppm respectively.

warm-kelvin-wave-forming

(Warm Kelvin Wave now propagating across the Pacific indicates that a weak-to-moderate El Nino may form by Summer of 2017. Such an event, when combined with record levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses, would tend to keep 2017 temperatures closer to record warm ranges established during 2016. Image source: NOAA.)

For the coming months, we can say with some confidence that global temperatures again appear likely to start rising. NOAA model guidance now points toward a likelihood of a new weak El Nino forming by May or June. An event that will possibly expand into a moderate strength event come the Fall of 2017. Already, a plug of warmer than normal water is propagating from west to east just beneath the Equatorial Pacific’s sea surface. And this warm water is expected to expand off South America and then spread westward along the Equator in a classic El Nino scenario for the coming months.

El Nino forecasts for this time of year can be rather uncertain. However, if NOAA models are correct, the added warmth over so much surface water in the Equatorial Pacific will also tend to push an atmosphere already loaded with an abundance of heat-trapping gasses to again warm.

beginning-to-look-a-lot-like-el-nino

(NOAA CFSv2 model runs show a moderate El Nino forming by late Summer or early Fall. Image source: NOAA.)

So the La Nina range of 0.95 to 1.15 C above 1880s will tend to tip toward 1.05 to 1.25 C above 1880s during a weak to moderate El Nino event. A range very close to what we recently saw during the record warm year of 2016.

Risks for Heat Related Climate Disruptions to Remain Heightened

So much re-warming so soon on the tails of 2016 is not very good short or medium-term news for the global climate system. It means that issues such as severe droughts and floods, disruption of monsoonal weather patterns, increasingly prevalent wildfires, climate related stresses to crops, global coral bleaching, and immediate melt stresses to polar zones are likely to fail to abate during 2017. The one silver lining being that 2017 is less likely to hit a new record global high temperature mark than 2016 was. But global temperatures hitting so high already at the tail end of three record warm years in a row is little cause for comfort.

Links:

NASA GISS

The Climate Prediction Center

NOAA

Antarctic Sea Ice Hits New All-Time Record Low

During late February, Antarctic sea ice breached the previous all-time record low for extent coverage since measurements began in 1978. And in the following days, sea ice extent measures near the South Pole have continued to creep lower, gradually extending into unprecedented ranges.

Record Melt During a Period of Considerable Global Heat

antarctic-sea-ice-new-all-time-record-low

(This February, according to JAXA, the Antarctic sea ice extent measure hit a new all time record low. Image source: JAXA.)

Hitherto unseen global heat — driven primarily by human fossil fuel emissions — appears to be the chief contributor to this melting. During 2016, global average surface temperatures rose to 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s ranges. This global reading likely represents the warmest surface temperatures the world has experienced in the last 115,000 years. At the same time, the global ocean system has been rapidly accumulating warmth and transferring it through the surface and deep layers of the world’s waters.

Such pervasive heat is producing an ongoing trend of considerable sea ice melt in the Arctic — a trend that has been in place since record-keeping began in 1978. One that, all by itself, is strong enough to drag global sea ice measures lower and lower. The warmth is also producing land ice melt around the world — including glaciers in Antarctica, Greenland and across numerous mountain ranges.

global-sea-ice-anomaly-strongly-negative

(Global warming produced an identifiable global sea ice melt trend during the post year 2000 period. By 2016, that trend had become glaringly obvious. See final paragraph for further discussion. Image source: Wipneus.)

Mild Antarctic Ice Growth Trend Reversed

Sea ice melt in the Antarctic, however, is a possible new feature. In the past, it is thought that fresh water outflow from glaciers in Antarctica and strong winds encircling the Southern Hemisphere sea ice helped to protect it from the initial pulse of human-forced warming. And as recently as 2014 and 2015, Antarctic sea ice experienced new record high readings even as the long-term trend hinted at a possible slow expansion of sea ice near the South Pole. Researchers had indicated that the protection for Southern Hemisphere sea ice might only last as long as fragile wind patterns around the South Pole remained.

For 2016 and 2017, however, that thin veil of protection appears to have fallen. Previous record lows for Antarctic sea ice extent set in 1997 at 2.26 million square kilometers sea ice coverage during the austral summer month of February have now been exceeded by 100,000 square kilometers. As of yesterday, according to JAXA, the new record low stood at 2.16 million square kilometers.

arctic-above-normal

(More above average temperatures predicted this week for Antarctica may extend sea ice record lows somewhat before refreeze sets in. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Antarctic refreeze typically starts during mid-February as seasonal cooling sets in. However, 2017’s warmth has driven an extension of late season melt with Antarctic sea ice continuing to decline through the end of February. At some point during the next week or two, however, refreeze is likely to finally kick in. But this return to rising ice coverage may be still be delayed somewhat by very warm Antarctic temperatures predicted to range as high as 2.9 C above average through the next five days.

Global Sea Ice Coverage Falling Rapidly

This year’s all time record low for Antarctic sea ice extent also comes at a time when the Arctic has been experiencing daily, monthly and seasonal record lows. Highly unseasonable temperatures have dominated Arctic Fall and Winter during 2016 and 2017 — producing never before see low extent coverage during the period. As a result of record lows occurring at the same time in the north and in the south, overall global sea ice coverage has taken a considerable beating and the larger global sea ice trend is now strongly negative.

Links:

JAXA

Climate Reanalyzer

Wipneus

NASA GISS

IPCC Ocean Heat Gain

Global Sea Ice Diminishing Despite Antarctic Gains

What’s Going on With Antarctic Sea Ice?

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