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The Increasingly Fragile Pine Island Glacier Just Calved Again

The point where the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers meet the sea serve as a back-stop restraining most of the great ice flows of West Antarctica. If those backstops were to fail, ocean water would flood inland along a reverse slope and generate a massive and swift out-rush of ice that would ultimately raise the world’s oceans by about 3 meters. And, lately, the evidence is mounting that the backstops are failing.

At Thwaites, just south of the neighboring Pine Island Glacier (PIG), recent research found that the ocean was flooding inland beneath that enormous ice sheet at a rate of up to 400 meters per year. But to the north, there is indication of trouble at the ice surface.

Back to Back Calving Events

Just last September, a massive 100 square mile ice berg calved off the Pine Island Glacier. The event was significant in that it marked the first major retreat of the glacial front in the face of an advancing ocean. Pine Island had already sped up. But the calving face withdrawal inland appeared to mark a new phase for the large glacier.

(Sentinel 1 satellite observations show a rapidly moving Pine Island Glacier calving off another large ice berg. Meanwhile, considerable damage appears to have been done to the glacial front.)

Now, just 7 months later, PIG is calving again. A large, approximately 6 kilometer long, 1 kilometer wide, chunk appears to have broken off into the Southern Ocean and shattered. Meanwhile, to the north and south along the glacial front, rifts appear to have formed.

This recent calving event is significant for a number of reasons. The first is that it’s happening just months after a recent large break-off during 2017. Other recent calving events at Pine Island occurred during 2001, 2007, and 2013. The present 2017-2018 events are back-to-back. The second reason is that the splintering appears to indicate a more fragile ice face. An impression reinforced by the concordant formation of rifts spreading away from the calving zone. The third is that the satellite imagery suggests Pine Island Glacier is moving quite rapidly (Recently, this rate of motion has been 1-2 km per year. However, it’s reasonable to question whether the glacier is continuing to speed up).

Conditions in Context

Present global warming due to fossil fuel burning has now forced the world into a range of temperatures between 1.0 and 1.21 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages. This boundary is similar to that of the lower range of the Eemian 120,000 years ago when oceans where 10-20 feet higher than they are today.

(The tall ice cliffs composing the Pine Island Glacial front have become increasingly fragile and fast moving as they enter the warming Southern Ocean and as that warming water continues to invade inland. Image source: Commons, Pine Island Glacier Calving Front, NASA.)

Under present greenhouse gas forcing and planned emissions, additional warming is in store. Climate models produced by Dr. Michael E Mann indicate that we are likely to hit the 1.5 C global temperature boundary some time between 2027 and 2031 on the current emissions pathway. This predicted warming is significant because analysis of past climates appears to indicate a risk of more rapid rates of sea level rise when global temperatures rise to a range between 1.5 to 2.5 C above past base line averages (see meltwater pulse 1 A).

Since the 1990s, the global rate of sea level rise has proceeded at roughly 3.3 mm per year with an apparent acceleration to around 3.6 to 4.1 mm per year during the 2010 to present time period. Given observed ice sheet instability in West Antarctica, in East Antartica, and in Greenland, there is a serious risk that this rate of rise will continue to accelerate over the coming years and decades. The key question of concern is how much and how soon.

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Rapid Sea Level Rise Possible as Ocean Floods into Antarctica at up to 400 Meters Per Year

From west to east and in a growing number of places, a warming ocean is cutting its way deep into Antarctica. Grounding lines — the bases upon which mile-high glaciers come to rest as they meet the water — are in rapid retreat. And this ocean, heated by human fossil fuel burning, is beginning to flood chasms that tunnel for hundreds of miles beneath great mountains of ice.

Such an immense flood has the effect of speeding up glaciers as far away as 500 miles from the point of invasion. It does this by generating a kind of abyssal pit that the glacier more swiftly falls into. And as these watery pits widen, they risk pumping sea level rise to catastrophic levels of ten feet or more by the end of this Century.

(A new study in Nature is the first to survey the rate of grounding line movement around Antarctica’s entire perimeter. What it found was disturbing. A large number of major glaciers are seeing historically rapid rates of grounding line retreat [red arrows] as only a few glaciers show very slow rates of grounding line advance [blue arrows]. Image source: Hannes Konrad et al, Nature, University of Leeds.)

The great ocean invasion is clearly on the march. Not yet proceeding everywhere, the advance is happening in enough places to cause major worry. In West Antarctica, 22 percent of its glaciers are seeing their grounding lines move inland by more than 25 meters per year. In the Antarctic Peninsula, 10 percent of glaciers are experiencing this retreat. And in East Antarctica, where the ice is piled thickest, 3 percent of glaciers are affected by the swift invasion.

The most rapid retreat — at up to 400 meters per year — is presently happening at Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. Thwaites alone encompasses enough ice to lift the world’s oceans by 3 meters. And the rate of inland ocean water invasion at this single location is a very serious concern.

(Grounding line retreat is just one of many factors that increase the risk of rapid sea level rise. Ice cliff instability, increased rainfall over glaciers, large floods of water into glaciers from melt ponds that then refreeze and fracture the ice, and a number of other factors all compound as the Earth is heated up by fossil fuel burning. Video source: International Business Times.)

But the issue is not one of single glaciers. It’s one where many very large mounds of ice all around Antarctica are under threat. And in much the same way that a dike risks breaking apart when it is punched through by a growing number of holes, Antarctica’s own flood gates to rapid sea level rise are threatened by each grounding line in quickening retreat. Another such ‘hole’ has formed at the Totten Glacier where the grounding line is retreating at around 150 to 175 meters per year. And Totten could produce another 3.4 meters of sea level rise if it collapsed into the Southern Ocean.

Continuing the dike anology, Antarctica holds back enough water as ice, in total, to lift the world’s ocean levels by an average of 200 feet. By greater or lesser degrees, each retreating glacier contains a portion of the potentially massive flood. And the overall rate of loss in the form of new glaciers going into retreat together with the pace of inland ocean invasion is speeding up.

This new set of research provides a more complete if fearsome picture of Antarctic melt. And though models aren’t yet able to pinpoint how fast sea level rise will be, a growing body of evidence points to greater than previously expected risk for rapid sea level rise this Century. So for the sake of our coastlines and of so many cities around the world, the time to act as swiftly as possible to reduce carbon emissions and their terrible related impacts is now.

Unusually Warm Early Arctic Spring Predicted Following Second Lowest Sea Ice Maximum on Record

After a brief Arctic cool-down late during a much warmer than usual freeze season, sea ice extents tortuously rose out of record low daily ranges during mid-March. This feeble climb was enough to barely hit above 2017’s record low maximum extent. It did not, however, push the Arctic out of its present trend of long term declines. Moreover, we are again set on a very low platform for sea ice as we enter what is predicted to be a warmer than normal start to melt season.

(Arctic sea ice losses are a long term trend that has been in place since the early to mid 20th Century. The recent satellite record captures this ongoing loss due to polar warming and triggered primarily by fossil fuel burning. In keeping with this trend, 2018 saw the second lowest sea ice extent maximum on record. Image source: Zack Labe. Data Source: JAXA.)

Arctic sea ice extent measured by JAXA and depicted above by Arctic observer Zack Labe, hit 13.89 million square kilometers on March 17th. Given the fact that warmer Arctic temperatures are now on the way, this is likely the furthest sea ice will extend in the northern polar region during 2018. By comparison, 2017 sea ice extent maxed out at 13.88 million square kilometers on March 6th of that year. As a result, 2017 just barely beat out 2018 as the lowest maximum extent in the satellite record according to JAXA.

A brief spate of cooler than average temperatures contributed to a short period of expanding sea ice late during freeze season. This cool snap in a much warmer than normal winter overall, has now ended. And the forecast shows that warmer to much warmer weather for late March may well be on tap.

Over the next week and a half, Arctic temperatures are expected to range between 0.2 to 0.8 C above average. This may not sound like much compared to the past winter which experienced long periods of 3-5 C above normal temperatures. However, the transition to spring and summer typically shows a regression toward baseline averages. In other words, since winter is where we are seeing most of the climate change related warming at present, even slightly warmer than normal temperatures during spring and summer can have an outsized impact. Especially following a very warm winter like the one we have just seen.

(The ten day forecast is presently predicting a very substantial Arctic warm-up. If this forecast is correct, it could result in a fast start to melt season. With sea ice extents already near record low levels, this potential is rather concerning. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Keeping this thought in mind, we are more likely to see slowly mounting sea ice losses over the coming days in various regions. Especially on the Pacific side of the Arctic — which is presently seeing above freezing temperatures running up through the Bering and well into the Chukchi seas. Given such a strong warm wind invasion over a key region of ice, we are very unlikely to see sea ice expansion beyond the present maximum.

Looking at the long term forecast, we find that the Arctic is expected to experience substantial warming — especially for spring. And this warming may serve to accelerate melt beyond typical rates for this time of year. The tendency for Pacific emerging warm winds appears to be in place. And by April 1st, a large plume of abnormal warmth is expected to run up from the Pacific and Eastern Siberian side of the Arctic. This plume is forecast to spread deep into the High Arctic — driving overall temperatures for the zone to 4.1 C above average with local temperatures between 20 and 25 C above average. If the present forecast holds, this unseasonal flow will also result in large regions of the East Siberian Sea experiencing above freezing temperatures for brief periods.

Taken in the greater context, if the predicted warm pattern of the next ten days becomes more of a trend for spring of 2018, then the near record low maximum of 2018 could well be followed by significant losses during melt season. Definitely a trend to keep an eye on.

Big Auto Freaks Out as Tesla Model 3 Deliveries for Q1 Track Toward 8,000 to 10,000

The major automakers are increasingly in a bind. They’re faced with a choice — keep investing in dirty energy vehicles that pollute the air, the water and wreck the climate, jump feet first into the EV revolution, or play both sides. And it’s this dichotomy that’s producing some rather freaky behavior.

(GM has often talked big about its EVs like the Volt and the Bolt. But its policy positions are contradictory to a rapid clean energy vehicle ramp.)

We’ve heard a lot of talk from some major automakers about how many electrical vehicles they’ll be producing in one year, two years, three years or more. And even as these companies have been beating the drum about ‘Tesla killers,’ how they have enough capital to own the EV revolution, some of them keep lobbying for dirty energy vehicles by attacking U.S. fuel efficiency standards.

It’s an inherent contradiction between communication and dedicated action. One that has generated a degree of legitimate distrust in the notion that some big auto manufacturers will follow up on their clean energy promises. Whether the talk is little more than a PR campaign aimed at tamping down public loyalty to those like Tesla who operate under a 100 percent clean energy business model. At the very least, it shows that auto industry focus is starting to fragment between traditionals (which include many backward-looking CEOs) who still support harmful legacy combustion engine production while hiding behind token ‘compliance cars,’ and the progressive-minded within the industry who want to rapidly jump into the EV market and compete.

(Not a compliance car. Nissan and a handful of like-minded major auto manufacturers produce and market seriously competitive EVs. Others appear to be dithering and dissembling.)

As uncertainty over auto industry intent expands due to various contradictory behaviors, here in the U.S., Tesla has been consistently ramping its production of 100 percent clean energy vehicles. And this has generated an equally predictable gnashing of teeth from the usual suspects in the financial media.

During the fourth quarter of 2017, Tesla’s factories pumped out a record number of electrical vehicles. In total, it delivered 29,870 zero tailpipe emissions cars. These included 15,200 Model S, 13,120 Model X, and 1,550 of the new Model 3s. This was the highest production quarter for Tesla and it was enough to propel its total sales for the year to over 101,000.

(Tesla Model 3 is one of the major spear-heads of a clean energy revolution. And it’s helping to goad other western automakers into a larger and expanding EV market. Image source: Tesla.)

Q1 of 2018, however, is likely to see even more. Present delivery estimates for Model S and X alone range from 22,000 to 30,000. Meanwhile the Model 3 is likely to have expanded deliveries more than fivefold to between 8,000 and 10,000. So a total of 30,000 to 40,000 Teslas will likely have hit the road by the time March elapses.

This is particularly significant when one considers that the first quarter is typically a lower selling point for most automakers even as sales have tended to peak for Tesla during Q4. During Q1 of 2017, Tesla sold 25,418 EVs. A number that will likely grow by 20 to 60 percent during 2018.

Moreover, recent reports indicate that Model 3 production is surging.

On March 19th, it was found that Tesla had ordered a large new batch of VINS. As a result, the total Tesla Model 3 VIN count had jumped to nearly 16,000. An indicator that Tesla Model 3 production — which has ranged between 700 and 900 per week since January is also likely expanding.

So it seems that the Tesla production bottle necks are starting to clear and that its ramp is jumping yet again. What this represents is a major call on the traditional auto-manufacturers. The time has come to ante up the EVs, or get out of the way for new clean energy leaders. Bluff time is over.

Polar Warming Spawns More Severe Winter Storms

So there’s a lot of groundbreaking work going on in the climate sciences right now. And a major focus is evidence that winter polar warming events are increasingly connected to blizzards and storms in places like Europe and North America. Storms that are both historically powerful and that occur with greater frequency.

(A historic nor’easter produces major flooding on the U.S. East Coast even as a blizzard pounds the UK in early March. Were these extreme storms linked to human-caused climate change and related rapid polar warming? A new scientific study says — yes. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

A new study led by pioneers in the emerging field of climate change attribution for extreme weather events (including the notable Dr. Jennifer Francis), finds:

Recent boreal winters have exhibited a large-scale seesaw temperature pattern characterized by an unusually warm Arctic and cold continents… Using a recently developed index of severe winter weather, we show that the occurrence of severe winter weather in the United States is significantly related to anomalies in pan-Arctic geopotential heights and temperatures.

In particular, the authors discovered thatwinter storms were two to four times more likely when the Arctic is abnormally warm, compared to when it was abnormally cold (emphasis added).”

Stronger, More Frequent Storms

This is a rather big deal for a number of reasons. First, it’s an observational confirmation of earlier scientific work predicting just these kinds of extreme weather instances due to polar warming and related climate change. Second, it’s another indicator that human-caused climate change is pushing us into a period of much stormier weather for the North Atlantic region during fall and winter.

(A new study in the journal Nature finds that winter storms in the U.S. are two to four times more likely when the Arctic is abnormally warm than when it is abnormally cold. Due to human-caused climate change, the Arctic is now warming up at a rate two times faster than the rest of the globe (emphasis added). Image source: Atmospheric and Environmental Research.)

With the new NASA global temperature data set out, I thought we’d take this opportunity to apply a bit of context to apparent stormy changes we see at present in winter weather patterns.

The first bit that I’d like to be crystal clear about is that the Arctic, overall, has become much, much warmer than usual during winter. That this warming spike occurs in the context overall global warming. And that this polar warming is increasingly associated with severe weather events in the middle latitudes and especially over the land and North Atlantic mid latitude zones.

The above graph shows polar temperature anomalies from the surface (1000 mb/2 meter) of the Earth to the top regions of the atmosphere (10 mb/25 kilometers). Along the bottom of the graph, we have a list of extreme weather events. Analyzing the graph we find that major polar warming associated with extreme temperature increases at the bottom of the atmosphere all the way through to the stratosphere correlate with recently more frequent historic blizzards and nor’easters in the regions mentioned.

Polar Warming Flushing Cooler Air into the Middle Latitudes

In previous posts, I used the ground-breaking scientific research of Dr. Jennifer Francis and others as a basis to analyze how energy transfer into the polar zone in the form of heat build-up has generated these extraordinary temperature extremes. How this ramping heat is associated with polar amplification — an aspect of human-caused climate change. And how these warming events can have upstream (Jet Stream) impacts that increase storminess in the middle latitudes.

(From January [top] to February [bottom] the pole heats up and extreme weather events ensue. Image source: NASA.)

But let’s take this analysis a step further to look at, as January progressed into February, where it got warmer, where it got colder, and where the big storms fired off.

The maps above show global temperature anomalies (NASA) for January (top) and February (bottom). And looking at those maps we find that the polar region heated up significantly from already warm ranges of 4 to 6.9 degrees Celsius above average during January to an amazing 4 to 12.3 C above average during February.

As this relative polar warming increased during February, the NASA maps show that colder than normal temperatures expanded over North America through Canada and parts of the Northern U.S. even as a cold spell began to blossom in Europe. Cold pools that were fed by Arctic air shunting southward as the Polar Vortex collapsed and remnant continental troughs emerged.

NASA’s zonal anomaly measures provide further evidence for this trend.

(Major northern polar warming from January [top] to February [bottom] is clearly visible in NASA’s zonal anomalies maps. Note that despite cold air excursions into North America and Europe, most zonal regions are warmer to much warmer than average.)

For here we find that as temperatures spiked from 4.5 degrees Celsius above average in the polar region of 80 to 90 degrees north latitude during January to an amazing 11 degrees above average during February, the region of 45 to 70 N dipped from 1 to 3 C warmer than average to 0.8 to 2.5 C warmer than average.

Note that the zonal middle latitude continental cooling is moderated by both the relatively warmer oceans and by very strong ridge zones running through these regions. But that the trough regions over both Europe and North America produced locally frigid temperatures and related instances of extreme weather.

Putting all these maps together from top to bottom we find that the polar warming events coincided both with mid latitude cooling even as we saw extreme snowfall in Canada and Montana, historic cold and snowfall in Europe and the UK, record flooding in the Central U.S., and record heat along the U.S. East Coast. We also find that the developing deep trough over Canada due to the expulsion of polar air southward in turn produced the succession of instabilities that would later spawn 3 very severe nor’easters off the U.S. East Coast during March.

Of course, all of these severe weather events are happening in the context of months that are around 1 degree Celsius warmer than 1880s averages globally. That January was the fifth hottest on record and that February was the sixth hottest on record during a La Nina that, all things being equal, should cause the world to be cooler than average.

But as we can see clearly here, all things are not equal — human-caused climate change is a big spoiler.

Intensifying Drought Shifts Toward Central U.S.

Last week saw a major increase in drought intensity in the Central U.S. as flash wildfires sparked across Oklahoma. Meanwhile, longer term drought trends remained strong even as the U.S. West Coast saw breaks in the dryness in the form of late winter precipitation.

(Drought expanded across the Central U.S. last week as precipitation deficits there increased. Image source: Drought Monitor.)

A return to severe to exceptional drought across the Western and Central U.S. was one of the hallmarks of the overall warm winter of 2017-2018. Historic drought, which had been suppressed by substantial rains during 2016-2017, appears to have returned — with threat of worsening conditions through spring, summer and fall.

In the Central U.S., the dry pattern reinforced this week which added to already serious conditions. During mid-week, Oklahoma saw the eruption of seven large brush fires as a result of both drought and strong winds sweeping across the plains states. Dry springs can result in fires for this region. However, the recent intensification of droughts brought on by human-caused climate change is spiking fire hazards from the Central U.S. through the West Coast and beyond.

(California snow pack totals remain well below average despite a recent increase in the number of storms affecting the state. Image source: CDEC.)

In California, snow packs are still running well below average, despite a recent wave of storms sweeping through the region. But it’s worth noting that though still much diminished from typical snow depth totals, the present range is now higher than the driest years — 2014-2015 and 1976-1977. So the situation isn’t looking quite so bad as it was a few weeks ago.

In addition, the blocking ridge that had dominated the West for much of the winter has mostly collapsed — allowing more rain and snow-bearing storms to cycle through. Some relatively intense precipitation is expected to fall over central and northern parts of the state later this this week. However, with widespread drought reasserting and with warmer than normal temperatures likely this spring, the increasingly drought-prone state is far from out of the woods.

(Temperatures have tended to remain above average across most of the U.S. this winter even as abnormally dry conditions impacted the Southwest. Image source: NOAA.)

Under human-caused climate change increasingly warm temperatures result in higher rates of evaporation from lakes and soils. This increases drought intensity for many locations around the world. In keeping with this longer-term trend, the winter of 2018 can still be characterized as both warmer and drier than normal for most of the U.S. But the overall drought pattern has shifted more toward the Central U.S. and away from the West Coast with the approach of spring.

 

Polar Anomaly Flip in an Abnormally Warm World: Arctic to Cool as Antarctica Heats Up

Interesting and concerning climate-change influenced weather in the global forecast for the next ten days.

As the Arctic is projected to cool down, it will open a brief window for sea ice to grow above its present track toward a record low maximum. However, any new edge ice will likely be weak and thin relative to past years. Meanwhile, sections of western Antarctica are predicted to see above freezing temperatures over the next week. And all of these various swings are occurring in a world that is considerably warmer than normal.

Global Context

Today, as with practically every day since I began tracking global weather and climate back in 2012, the world’s temperature averages are warmer than normal. An odd and increasingly harmful warmth that is driven by atmospheric CO2 levels ranging above 405 ppm (490 ppm CO2e). High heat-trapping gas levels that are, in turn, primarily the result of human fossil fuel burning.

(Despite an building cool-down relative to typical temperatures in the Arctic, the globe remains much warmer than average. The most intense hot spots for today hover over Canada, Southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, India through China, and Parts of Antarctica. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

The world, overall today, is about 0.7 C warmer than the 1979 to 2000 average. Compared to 1880s, that’s about 1.2 C warmer than a typical late 19th Century day. This warming is considerable. A long term average that is in a range comparable to the Eemian of about 120,000 years ago. In other words, the world we live in today is the hottest its been in more than a thousand centuries.

Looking at the various climate zones, we find that every major region except the Arctic is warmer than average. This is happening as Northern Hemisphere Winter transitions to Spring and as the polar jet stream appears to be reasserting itself a bit after a major polar vortex collapse event during February. A new integral cold air vortex is gathering over Northwest Siberia — which is allowing cooler conditions to again reassert in the Arctic.

Opportunity for Late Season Sea Ice Regrowth

Over the next week, temperatures in the High Arctic are expected to plummet. And for the first time since practically the start of Winter, readings over the Arctic Ocean zone are expected to range below average.

As noted above, the cold pole appears to be asserting in the region of Northwest Siberia. But cold air pushing out into the Barents, North Bering, North Baffin, and Irkutsk regions will afford some opportunity for a sea ice rebound.

This cold air retrenchment is expected to be juxtaposed by significant warming through Northern Canada, Alaska, the Southern Bering, Southern Baffin Bay, Southern Greenland and in a zone just north of Svalbard. This warm pole will likely help retard any sea ice bounce coming from cooler air asserting on the Siberian side — constraining ice growth in a number of edge zones and possibly asserting some counter-cooling melt. We may even see a polynya open up in the Beaufort as temperatures over Alberta rise to above freezing and warm winds drive northward.

As a result of this warm-cold dipole, and the related warmth in certain key ice edge zones, it remains uncertain whether sea ice will bounce enough to overcome an otherwise strongly asserted trend toward a record low Arctic sea ice maximum for 2018. But if such a bounce back were to happen, the opportunity for it to occur will be during this week or next.

Extreme Antarctic Warming

As the Arctic is predicted to cool down this week, the Antarctic is expected to heat up. By late this week through next weekend, a powerful plume of warm air is expected to drive above freezing temperatures across Marie Byrd Land and the Ross Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. As with recent Northern Hemisphere Events, a high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream will drive much warmer than typical temperatures far into what should be a frigid polar zone.

(A major warm-up predicted for sections of West Antarctica will likely produce surface melt as temperatures rise to above freezing. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

This warming event is predicted to be rather intense and last for 2-3 days, with temperatures rising to 25-30 degrees Celsius above average in certain zones.

Such a warm-up would push surface temperatures in some locations to 2-4 C or warmer (up to 40 degrees F) and would likely produce periods of surface melt. These kinds of melt events have been a more frequent occurrence for Antarctica recently. They’re a part of the larger trend of ice mass loss both at the surface and on the underside of sea facing ice sheets as the local ocean has warmed. A primary driver of a noted acceleration in the rate of global sea level rise.

Looking on into next week, a subsequent warming in East Antarctica is expected to push temperatures for the whole Continent into a range approximately 3.5 C above average. This event, however, is not expected to drive significant above freezing temperatures inland, though some coastal areas may see brief departures into these ranges.

Delving Further into Uncharted Territory: Arctic Sea Ice Greatly Weakened at Start of Spring 2018

The story of Arctic sea ice is one of short term complexity overlying an inexorable long term trend of decline. It has thus been difficult for sea ice monitors to forecast seasonal ice growth and retreat, despite a larger and significant warming of the Arctic.

(New ice has formed north of Greenland following a massive polar warming event last week. This ice is thin and faces the warm up of spring and summer with uncertainty. Sitting over a region that is typically filled with thick ice, it could provide a back-door for melt into the Central Arctic come summer. As usual, weather will play a key role in this year’s melt, despite the undeniable longer term trend of loss. Image source: NASA.)

Undeterred by these facts, a number of key factors stand out in 2018 — following a winter in which the Arctic has suffered considerable warming and related impacts to the ice.

Lowest Sea Ice Extent; Warmest Freeze Season

Today, Arctic sea ice extent is at its lowest levels on record. Volume, is at the second lowest levels ever measured. And this year’s freeze season (October through February of 2017-2018) was the warmest ever recorded (see link below). Taken at face value, these are pretty stark statistics. But they don’t tell the whole story. Not by a long shot.

The Arctic is warming up twice as fast as the rest of the world. It has been doing so since around 2000 when Polar Amplification — the science-based expectation that the poles will warm faster than the globe as greenhouse gas levels rise — really began to kick in. So the present warm peak in the Arctic is on top of a record spate of accelerated warming. In the graphs it looks like a rocket ship taking off.

We should be clear that most of this warming has occurred during winter time. It’s warmth that has softened the ice, thinned it. Produced a big push toward thaw. But like a cup of water with a single cube of melting ice in it will resist surface temperatures above freezing, this thinning and melting has yet to have have a significant impact on summer-time temperatures in the high Arctic. That thinning skein of ice is still doing its duty keeping the Arctic summer close to freezing. But it’s a realistic question to ask — how much longer can it? What happens when the majority of the summer ice is gone?

Such radical warming has also had a number of environmental effects. It is pushing fisheries that rely on cold water northward. It is stressing key species like the Wright Whale, the Polar Bear, and the Puffin. It is causing the permafrost to thaw, which produces a number of environmental feedbacks. Not the least of which includes land subsidence, the release of mercury into the Arctic environment and global ocean, and the slow but rising expulsion of greenhouse gasses long locked away.

Multiyear Ice Has Pulled Away From Shore

The thicker ice floes of yore are now mostly a bare memory. A recollection of past cold blasted away by fossil fuel burning and inexorable thaw. This year, an LNG tanker crossed the thinning ice during winter time. Bearing with it a great load of climate change quickening gas destined to be burned in some nation still entangled by a heat-producing web of gas plants, coal mines, and diesel and gasoline cars.

The thick, multiyear ice is reduced to a phantom of its former girth and extent. It has drawn back, pulling away from shore. Increasingly sequestered to more and more remote regions. And on the run from the ocean swells, warmer storms, and increasing instances of liquid rain that fall across an Arctic that is facing violent transition.

Increasingly, it huddles closer to Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago. But as we can see in the image at the top of this post, even this region is no longer a reliable sanctuary.

Cold Pole Shift in Forecast — Canada/Alaska Predicted to See Abnormal Warmth

As late winter transitions into early spring, we enter the less certain time of melt and thaw season. During recent years, as warming bloomed in the lower latitudes, the Jet Stream which had slowed and meandered more during winter due to polar warming, snapped back into place. This seasonal flattening and speeding up of the upper level winds tended to harden and deepen the cold pole at the north of our world. Reducing relative temperature variance above normal averages even as melt season advanced.

This created a kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde relationship between winter and summer in which high Arctic winter temps seemed outrageously warmer than normal even as summer snapped back to more typical Arctic averages in the furthest north locations.

(As we enter spring and summer, high Arctic temperatures tend to regress back toward the mean following winter warming. This is largely due to the inertial cooling influence of ocean ice which will tend to keep temperatures closer to the freezing line even as net energy gain is ongoing. Loss of ice would result in the removal of this insulating effect and likely push summer anomalies for the region into the +1 to +5 C range. Image source: Zachary Labe. Data Source: DMI.)

But all is not well. The loss of winter climate norms have done their damage. And the summers, on balance, saw the edge ice retreat a bit further. Saw the boundaries of Arctic cold pull a bit tighter and saw the open, warmer, sunlight-capturing waters advance ever northward.

We don’t know if this return to more normal temperatures for the high Arctic during summer will save the ice from new record lows this year during melt season. But we can track how thaw season is predicted to advance against a greatly weakened Arctic sea ice pack. And this year, the cold pole appears to be expected to shift over the land mass of western Siberia during early March.

(A warm North America, cool west Siberia dipole appears to be developing during early March in the forecast models. If this trend reinforces, it could leave large areas of ice open to early thaw from the Alaskan and Canadian maritime to the Central Arctic. Note that residual energy transfer along ocean zones remains in play in this forecast. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Meanwhile, on the North American side, abnormal warmth is predicted to advance through Alaska, Western Canada, and the Hudson Bay region.

If this trending location of warm and cool extremes reinforces and holds through melt season start, we can expect the front of melt advance to begin on the North American side as the region near the Kara and Laptev seas resist melt advance longer. Meanwhile, latent warmth over the Bering Sea and Svalbard appear to be set to hold back late season refreeze in these two key zones.

How this weather dynamic plays out will determine if melt season 2018 begins on a record low ramp and how resilient the ice will be to the seasonal thaw that is on the way. We are presently in a situation where a record low start is possible even as reasonable concerns about a potential rapid summer melt progression are presently heightened.

East Coast Still Experiencing Heavy Seas as Another Storm Looms

Large swells and high tides continued to batter the U.S. East Coast today as a storm that is predicted to become yet another nor’easter began to gather over the Central U.S.

A broad low pressure system that slammed the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. this weekend with flooding, massive waves, and wind gusts of up to 93 mph was still hurling rough seas and storm tides at the U.S. East Coast on Monday. Such widely-varied locations as coastal Florida and New Jersey were experiencing high water, beach erosion, raging surf and minor coastal flooding. Officials were warning people to stay off the beach and away from riled seas as crews rushed to clear debris.

The storm gained extreme intensity that was likely peaked by a number of climate change related factors including warmer than normal sea surface temperatures, a blocking high over Greenland that was likely impacted by a recent polar warming event, and higher sea levels resulting increasingly severe tidal flooding during the storm’s peak.

(A massive low pressure system that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands and flooded the Northeast coastline this weekend still churned off the U.S. East Coast on Monday — lashing shores with rough surf and minor flooding. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Inland, nearly a quarter million people were still without power from Virginia through Maine — down from a high of around two million at the weekend storm’s peak. However, utilities are saying that it may take days to fully restore power to some locations. As repair crews were scrambling, another major storm was starting to gather over the Great Plains — with a high pressure system across Florida drawing very moist air from over a much warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico and into the developing storm’s circulation.

Over the next 24 hours, the new storm is projected to track eastward — crossing to the Ohio River Valley region by late Tuesday. On Wednesday, the low will transition energy into a developing storm off Virginia and the Outer Banks. This low is then expected to rapidly intensify as it moves northward — developing strong onshore winds with gusts of 45-65 mph crossing coastal Delaware, New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts by late Wednesday and into early Thursday.

(Models show another powerful low pressure system battering the Northeast Coast with 45-65 mph winds by early Thursday. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

The storm is also predicted to bring heavy coastal rains and up to 1-2 feet of snow across parts of the Northeast.

Presently, the storm is not expected to be as strong as the massive system that slammed the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic this weekend. However, gale force to storm force gusts are presently predicted, and forecast storm strength has been trending toward higher intensity in recent model runs.

In addition, climate change related factors like a warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico, much warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the Gulf Stream, higher sea levels, and a large blocking high over Greenland are contributing to this most recent storm’s expected intensity. With hundreds of thousands still recovering from this weekend’s historic storm, and with so many factors now in play that could serve to further spike a new storm’s intensity above those presently expected, this is a developing situation that bears watching.

U.S. Northeast Battered by Second ‘Once in a Generation’ Storm This Year

A major nor’easter is lashing the Eastern U.S. today. Reports of moderate to severe tidal flooding are racking up as hurricane force gusts are pushing mounds of water inland and raking the coastline with tremendously powerful waves.

This storm blew up to extreme intensity over the night-time and early morning hours on Friday as two low pressure cells converged off the U.S. coast. By afternoon, the storm had bombed out to 970 mb and was still intensifying.

A broad region across the northeast from D.C. to Maine are now experiencing wind gusts of 50 to 80 mph or more with local power outages and downed lines reported over a broad region. The gusts are so strong and widespread that diverse locations all throughout the Northeast are seeing instances of toppled trees, damage to structures and falling limbs. In Chambersburg, PA, the raging gusts tipped over a school bus.

On the coast, extremely strong winds for a nor’easter and conditions more akin to a hurricane are driving directly in to shore from Chatham and Nantucket northward. As a result, weather authorities are predicting a historic coastal flood event for metropolitan areas like Boston. There, record high tides may be exceeded as winds there are now blowing at a vicious 80 mph.

(A broadening storm is lashing most of the Northeastern U.S. with gale and hurricane force winds even as a places like Boston face massive waves and record storm surge flooding. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

But what is, perhaps, more concerning is the fact that this storm is still gathering strength. And due to a blocking high over Greenland, the storm — dubbed Riley — is likely to only slowly move off-shore. So its impacts will tend to persist for multiple high tide cycles even as its circulation broadens and it generates an east-to-west fetch of gale to hurricane force winds stretching over a 400 to 600 mile region of ocean and driving directly toward the Northeast and East Coasts.

This will enable a long-lasting storm surge that will generate serious flooding for hundreds of miles of coastline. And on top of that surge, towering waves will relentlessly batter the coast throughout Friday and Saturday. Already the flooding has become quite severe for a number of locations. But the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. With the worst impacts expected at high tide late tonight.

Scenes like these bring back recollections of Sandy. And like Sandy, the present cyclone has been influenced in a number of ways by human-caused climate change.

The storm’s historic intensity was first fed by a large plume of moisture issuing off a much warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico. Instability, driven by a deep diving trough, formed a low sweeping over the north-central U.S. that then tapped this high volume of moisture. The latent heat in the moisture enabled stronger than normal convection which helped to spike the storm’s early intensity.

(Extremely warm sea surface temperatures both in the Gulf of Mexico and off the U.S. East Coast are helping to fuel the present storm’s record intensity. This is just one of the climate change associated factors contributing to the present storm. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Off shore, the Gulf Stream waters are also far warmer than normal. Ranging as high as 9 degrees Celsius above average, this abnormal heat helped to fuel a second plume of moisture and instability. And as these two areas of storminess merged, they rapidly bombed out to high intensity even as their area of storm wind circulation broadened.

To the north, a recent (climate change driven) polar warming event has generated a kind of train wreck in the upper level winds that typically hurry storm systems along. As a result of this train wreck, a blocking high over Greenland is preventing this heat-amplified storm from tracking eastward. Over the next 48 hours, this block will allow a massive pile of water and towering waves to relentlessly hammer the Northeastern and Eastern Coasts of the U.S.

(Large waves and long fetch which is predicted to be generated by this storm on Saturday could produce serious and wide-ranging impacts all up and down the Eastern Seaboard from Hatteras to Portland and points northward. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Presently, this storm is expected to produce the second 1 in 100 year flood event that the Boston area has seen in the past year. Under typical climate variability, the likelihood of seeing back-to-back events of this kind would be 1 in 10,000. However, due to the influences of human-caused climate change, the potential for extreme weather events like the one we are presently enduring are greatly enhanced.

(UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

This Week’s Climate and Clean Energy Brief: Amazon on the Brink, Tesla Competitors Emerge, Civilization Collapse Report, Trump Trashed on Environment, Utilities Partner with EVs

There was quite a lot that we missed in the climate and clean energy world this week. So, in an effort to catch up, we’re going to provide you with a handful of the major highlights. But before we continue, I’d like to also mention that a major and potentially weather event with climate change related influences is now starting to slam the U.S. Northeast with high winds, waves and heavy surf.

We’re compiling a report for later this afternoon on yet one more extreme weather event in a long procession. So watch this space.

The Amazon Rainforest is on the brink of collapseFor a number of years now, we’ve been covering the dual impacts of human-caused climate change and deforestation on the Amazon Rainforest. One of our expert commenters, Umbrios, is a Brazil native and regularly provides updates in the threads below. So those who’ve followed along here have known for a while now that the Amazon is in serious trouble.

Rising temperatures are increasing instances of wildfires within the typically wet forest. Meanwhile, encroaching farms and settlements have cut and burned through the lush jungle, invading it with roads and threatening to choke off what is one of the great ecological treasures of our world.

(A combination of slash and burn deforestation, droughts, rising temperatures and wildfires are pushing the Amazon Rainforest to the brink. A new study finds that human encroachment and climate change are on the verge of transforming half of the Amazon into less productive grasslands. Image source: The Union of Concerned Scientists.)

The concern is that the Amazon, which is under increasing threat like so many other key environments around the world, reaches a tipping point where much of it is transformed into less productive and less helpful Savannah. Where that point rests on the temporal and spatial scale has long been a subject of debate. But a new study finds that it’s much closer than many had feared.

In total, about 17 percent of the Amazon has been deforested. And what the study found was that, due to continued rising temperatures associated with human caused climate change, only another 3 percent deforestation would be enough to transform fully half of the Amazon into Savannah. In this case, global warming is acting in concert with local clear-cutting to provide a dual threat to this great forest that is home to 14 million species and is one of the largest remaining carbon sinks on the planet.

Tesla competitors emergeOn the sustainability side of our ongoing story of tragedy, hope and crisis, we find that a number of automakers are emerging to challenge Tesla’s all-renewable business model. Unfortunately, so far, most automakers are confronting Tesla with single model designs rather than a full transformation of business strategies. But what is encouraging is the rising quality of EVs entering the production fleet.

A good example is this week’s announcement by Jaguar that its I-PACE EV can out accelerate some versions of the Tesla Model X. I-PACE is an EV sporting a 90 KW battery pack and a 240 mile range. It’s priced between 87,000 and 102,000 dollars (US) and it has a stated acceleration of 4.5 seconds from 0-60 mph. This makes it a peer or a near peer to the Tesla Model X which starts at 85,000 dollars, has an all electric range of between 257 and 289 miles, and can accelerate from 0-60 in 4.9 to 2.9 seconds (P100D).

(Jaguar promotes smaller, long-range, high performance, high-price I-PACE electric vehicle as competitor to the Tesla Model X. But is Jaguar really serious about transformational EV production? Or is it just trying to slow Tesla’s all-renewable Juggernaut down? Image source: Jaguar.)

The I-PACE is, however, smaller than the X. Weighing less, it likely relies on this lower mass to match Model X acceleration and range due to Tesla’s superior battery energy density. But what is clear is that Jaguar is trying to compete with Tesla on turf that the all-electric automaker has long dominated.

Jaguar claims that the I-PACE is part of a transformational strategy. But a single EV entry is hardly tranformational compared to Tesla’s larger EV-only production chain and design path. So the question for renewable energy supporters is — does this Janguar really help to speed the clean energy transition, or is it just another rock a primarily fossil fuel based motor company is throwing into the road to delay Tesla? Time, and the number of EVs Jaguar produces (both as models and as single model production) will tell.

Scientists are concerned about the risk of civilization collapse due to climate change and how harmful political ideologies are making matters worse. So my background is one of emerging threats. I worked in the U.S. military, as a member of the U.S. Navy’s DOD force protection group, and as Editor for Emerging Threats at Jane’s Information Group. And it has long been my goal here to analyze climate change impacts in the frame of a systemic threat that increases civilization collapse pressure.

In the military context, climate change is often described as a Threat Multiplier. Rising global temperatures and associated sea level rise, growing season disruption, and increasingly severe weather events can severely damage infrastructure or tear at the fabric of societies — generating conditions of mass desperation the world over. Those focused both on humanitarian relief efforts, often a military mission, and on combating rising instances of extremism (which are often fueled by economic desperation or inability to access shelter, food, and water) are now very concerned about the impact of climate change disruptions on global stability.

(Illustration of instances where climate change has multiplied instability. Note that effects range well outside the regions indicated in the above graphic. Image source: Climate Change as a Problem of National and International Security.)

Unfortunately, these disruptions do not always occur far from home. And no nation has a viable defense against harms associated with climate change. Over the past year, the U.S. has seen some of the most damaging extreme weather events in its history. And most of these have been scientifically linked to climate change. One instance — Maria’s strike to Puerto Rico — resulted in a systemic collapse that has yet to be fully repaired. Part of this failure is due to the severe nature of the climate change enhanced storm. But another aspect of the U.S.’s failure to support Puerto Rico was the fact that the Republican Party was held in the grips of the harmful ideology of climate change denial, jingoism, and anti-government thinking.

This ideology, which has captured so much of the political state of play of one of the world’s greatest nations, cripples responses to the growing existential threat of climate change. It denies both mitigation in the form of renewable energy funding even as it denies the necessary level of support in response to the disasters that climate change produces in ever-greater numbers and on increasingly destructive scales.

The new climate change collapse threat study discussed above is being conducted to examine the societal risks of climate change in light of political capture by harmful ideologies that fail to recognize realities on the ground as they emerge. We’ll be following it here with interest.

Trump trashed on terrible, disjointed, reckless environmental policies. Pretty much every thinking, rational person in the free world has now been woke to the fact that Trump cares little for the safety and security of the American people and sees the office of the Presidency primarily as a means to advance the personal interests of himself, his family, and his close associates. Never before has an Administration acted in so corrupt a fashion or courted so many nefarious entities in a brazen effort at self-promotion, damn all public consequences.

“Over and over again, the Trump administration has put the profits of multinational polluters over the health and well-being of everyday Americans,” — Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general.

One of Trump’s first harmful and self-serving actions was raise Scott Pruitt to head of the Environmental Protection Agency. An unprecedented assault of critical safety-related protections of the American citizenry soon followed. An assault led by policies promoted, through Pruitt, not just by his allies in the coal, oil, and gas industry; but by practically every harmful polluting industry.

(The Center For Biological Diversity has filed 57 lawsuits against the Trump Administration. And it just just one of many agencies leveling an all out response to Trump’s assault on the environment.)

The Trump Administration has tried to enable the dumping of dental mercury into water systems, to allow the use of a substance harmful to child brain development, to enable the environmental release of such dangerous toxins as lead, to let gas companies leak poisonous and climate change enhancing methane plumes into the local environment, to allow trucks and automobiles that spew smog, to halt the protection of key species like bumblebees, and to roll back the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act.

Such harmful and irresponsible actions have resulted in the Administration being hit by scores of court cases. Rick Sniedermann, the New York Attorney General, alone has produced 50 environmental lawsuits aimed at preventing the roll-back of key protections. And in many instances, the Administration’s pro-polluter policies are suffering serious losses in court.

Utilities partner with EV manufacturers. There’s an amazing clean energy synergy that’s yet to be fully leveraged. It’s a case where wind, solar, other clean energy sources, EVs and EV batteries are capable both of reducing emissions and of creating valuable new energy markets. PG&E apparently recognizes this opportunity and is more than willing to partner with automakers to incentivize it.

BMW and PG&E are offering a 10,000 dollar rebate for the BMW i3 to utility customers. The offer is beneficial to those purchasing an EV because it can reduce the cost of a 44,000 dollar EV to 24,000 after all state, federal, and utility/automaker rebates.

(PG&E power mix shows potential for substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions for EV owners who purchase electricity from the utility vs those who own a gasoline or diesel-burning vehicle. At some point, PG&E may well considering changing its name to Pacific Electric. As the gas portion is increasingly less relevant to its energy portfolio. Image source: PG&E.)

The utility benefits due to increased electricity demand coming from the EV user. And BMW benefits from the marketing provided by PG&E which helps it to clear old models from its inventory and pave the way for more advanced electrical cars.

It’s also worth noting that PG&E generates more than 70 percent of its electricity from non-carbon-emitting sources and it has a goal for continuing to expand its clean energy allotment. So EV owners who are PG&E customers are engaged in substantially reducing their transportation based carbon emissions over time.

Sudden Stratospheric Warming and Polar Amplification: How Climate Change Interacts With the Polar Vortex

Over the past few years, the term Polar Vortex has dominated the broadcast weather media — gaining recent notoriety due to increasingly extreme weather events associated with a number of disruptions to Arctic atmospheric circulation patterns. In short, this swirl of cold air over the furthest north regions is being intensely disrupted by warm air invasions — both at the surface and in the upper levels of the atmosphere. A subject that we’ll explore further as part of this analysis.

Take the recent extreme February warming at the North Pole in which temperatures there rose to above freezing even as a major cold snap slammed into Europe this week. We’ve seen such varied headlines as Yes the North Pole is Warmer than Europe Right Now and Arctic Warm Event Stuns Scientists.

When it’s warmer at the pole than in Europe, it’s a sign that the weather is clearly out of whack. Especially when temperatures in a region spanning tens of thousands of square miles over the Arctic rocket to between 40 and 63 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Scientists are notably concerned. Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world’s foremost experts on climate change characterized the polar warming event as:

…an anomaly among anomalies. It is far enough outside the historical range that it is worrying — it is a suggestion that there are further surprises in store as we continue to poke the angry beast that is our climate.

But what’s driving all this? Dr. Mann gives us a bit of a hint by describing our climate as an angry beast that’s being poked.

(Polar Amplification writ large. The entire region of the Arctic above the 80 degree North Latitude line has been 8.64 degrees Celsius warmer than normal for all of 2018 thus far. This is an extraordinary departure for a region that plays a critical role in how the Earth’s climate system functions. Image source: DMI.)

Perhaps another way to say it is that it’s a warming atmosphere that’s prodding the Jet Stream to take a chunk out of the Polar Vortex.

How might this work?

First, surface warming in the Arctic caused by increased radiative forcing from rising greenhouse gas levels and by follow-on reductions of Arctic sea ice and snow result in less temperature difference between the Pole and the Equator. This surface warming translates into higher levels of the atmosphere through convection.

Temperature difference is what drives the upper level winds. So a lower difference in temperature causes these winds to slow. When the Jet Stream winds slow, they tend to meander — forming large ridges and deep troughs. The elongated ridges and troughs eventually break like waves — pushing against the circulation of the Polar Vortex.

(NOAA graphic shows how a weak jet stream results in changes in atmospheric circulation and increased disruption of the Polar Vortex.)

When this happens, the speed of the winds that make up the Polar Vortex slow down and sometimes reverse. This results in the collapse of the column of upper level air held aloft by the Vortex’s winds. When the air collapses, it compresses, causing the stratosphere to warm. This falling column of warm air then can end up acting like an atmospheric wedge — driving the Polar Vortex apart and causing it to split.

The split then tends to generate smaller funnels that capture polar air and pull it south. Beneath the funnels, it can be quite cold as Arctic air invades places like North America or the UK (as happened this week). But at the Pole, where the cold air should typically reside, it warms up enormously.

That’s how, under a regime of human-forced climate change, you can end up with periods where temperatures are warmer at the Pole than they are in Europe.

It’s worth noting that Polar Vortex collapse events did occur in the past. But not in such a way that generated the kinds of historically extreme Arctic temperatures we see today. The primary driver for the recently increased extremity of weather driven by Polar Vortex collapse events being human-caused climate change, Polar Amplification, and related influences on the Jet Stream.

Warmed, Wet and Blocked: Another Storm Taking Aim at the Flooded Central U.S. is Expected to Transition into a Stalled Nor’Easter

The Ohio River Valley is now reeling from the worst flooding event of the past 20 years. Yet one more major event fueled by disruptions to the Earth’s atmosphere facilitated by human-caused climate change. But with another serious plume of moisture issuing from the warmer than normal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, more heavy rains are heading toward a storm-battered Central U.S.

(One more big moisture plume arises from a warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico. It will help to fuel a major storm system that is expected to impact a large swath of the U.S. for most of this week. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The set-up is similar to previous events of the past two weeks. A strong high pressure system over the Northeast is pulling a heavy load of moisture from a much warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico. Sea surface temperatures there, according to Earth Nullschool reanalysis, range from less than 1 C warmer than normal in the southern Gulf to as much as 5 C warmer than normal in the northern Gulf. Last week, these warmer than normal sea surfaces helped to fuel record atmospheric moisture levels along with historically heavy rains.

This week’s atmospheric moisture pulse will be picked up by a trough sweeping into the Central U.S. over the next couple of days. There, it will help to pump up a series of heavy storms that are predicted to dump another 3-7 inches of rain over the Mississippi River Valley this week. Note that this is on top of the 5-15 inches of rain that has already been dumped over the region during the last two weeks.

(NOAA composite radar imagery shows observed precipitation totals for the U.S. during the past 14 days. Note that another batch of heavy rains is headed directly for the region that has already been hit the hardest.)

Persistent extreme weather patterns of this kind are an aspect of human-forced climate change in that polar warming can result in Jet Stream blocking patterns that cause weather systems to stick around or repeat for long periods of time. This is particularly the case with the storm system now developing in the Central U.S. For as the storm strengthens and moves slowly eastward, it is expected to deepen into a powerful coastal low. This low is predicted to then rake the Northeast U.S. coast with 60 mph winds, heavy rain, high surf and coastal flooding.

As the storm’s eastward passage is blocked by the same weather system that so recently warmed the far north to such extreme winter temperatures, it is expected to linger off the U.S. East Coast even as it intensifies. Due to this predicted stall, the Northeast U.S. is facing the potential of multiple storm tides in which wind-driven water piles up — exacerbating coastal flooding.

(Very strong northeasterly winds are expected to rake the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts by March 2 according to GFS model forecasts. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Though the shape of the present storm is still a bit unclear, it is likely to both further exacerbate already severe flooding over the Central U.S. even as it generates some serious coastal flooding potentials for the Northeast by the end of this week. What is also clear is that a warming polar environment is contributing to these upstream severe weather events by increasing their persistence even as warming ocean surfaces are helping to feed them with larger moisture loads which generates higher potential storm and rainfall intensity.

A Hole in Winter’s Heart: Temperatures Rise to Above Freezing at the North Pole in February

“Weather is not Climate.”

But when a warm air influx carves a wide-ranging above-freezing hole into the heart of what should typically be ice-solid Arctic winter, then maybe it’s time to start re-evaluating the gist of the statement.

(Today, on Sunday February 25, 2018 at 0900 UTC — temperatures rose to above freezing at the North Pole. This event, which is probably unprecedented or, at the very least, an extreme instance in the polar record, is an exemplar — or a good example — of the kinds of wrenching weather changes we can expect as a result of human-caused climate change. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data source: Global Forecast System Model.)

Weather and climate are inexorably married one to the other. Though weather is often variable and tied to locality, climate is broader-ranging and roughly characterized as average weather over 30 years. When climate changes, it ultimately changes average weather. It thus changes the rules in which weather occurs. So you can end up with weather events that are typically not common or have never been seen before — like category six hurricanes, much more heavy rainfall events, historic and unprecedented droughts, and above freezing temperatures at the North Pole during February even as Arctic air is driven south over Europe.

In the context of climate change, what we’re talking about is average global weather across the span of multiple decades. In some locations, this ongoing climate change has resulted in very little perceptible weather change. In other locations, and this is more and more-so the case, the changes to weather are both disruptive and profound.

We could say that they are, as Dr. Sarah Myhre noted in our little climate and weather chat yesterday, exemplars — or good examples of alterations that are characteristic of human-caused climate change.

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Since late January, we’ve been tracking the potential for just such an exemplar extreme weather event — temperatures rising to above freezing at the North Pole during February.

The persistent weather patterns necessary for such an event were already well in play. At the surface, warm air was continuously running northward just east of Greenland — born pole-ward by powerful storms and frontal systems. At the upper levels of the atmosphere, a huge plug of warm air was developing. One that invaded the stratospheric levels of the atmosphere by the week of February 4-11. This plug, in synergy with surface warming, tore apart the heart of cold at the roof of our world that we call the Polar Vortex.

 

(Daily mean temperatures for the entire region of the Arctic above the 80 degree north latitude line rocketed upward to new records over recent weeks. Most recent temperatures are comparable to those typically seen during late May. Image source: Zachary Labe, Arctic Temperatures.)

Nodes of cold air from the remnant Polar Vortex spiraled south — bearing with them regional packets of Arctic air and setting off extreme cold weather in the middle latitudes. Meanwhile, the polar zone just kept warming up into ranges that were increasingly uncharacteristic of Arctic winter.

An extreme wave in the Jet Stream was developing and elongating over the North Atlantic, delivering more and more warm air northward.

By February 21st, the wave had extended into a knife-like extension east of Greenland and through the Barents Sea. Beneath this abnormal Jet Stream wave, which was starting to look more and more like a trans-polar river (of a kind predicted by Dr. Jennifer Francis as a result of human-caused Polar Amplification), was an intensifying thrust of outlandishly warm surface air.

(Jet stream wave originating near Spain extends northward past the North Pole on Sunday, January 25, 2018. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Over the past 72 hours, gale force warm, southerly winds gathered in the Atlantic, then blasted north.

At this point, we were starting to see some seriously outlandish temperatures in the higher latitude regions. Cape Morris Jesup, which is the furthest north location on Greenland, by Friday the 23rd experienced 6 C or 43 F temperatures on the shores of what should be a frozen solid Arctic Ocean just 400 miles from the North Pole.

The average high temperature in Cape Morris Jesup is -20 degrees Fahrenheit during February — making Friday’s reading a whopping 63 degrees F warmer than average. For reference, a similar departure for Washington, DC would produce a 105 degree day in February.

But it wasn’t just Cape Morris Jesup that was experiencing July-like conditions for the Arctic during February. For the expanding front of that ridiculously warm winter air by Sunday had expanded into a plume stretching tens of thousands of square miles and including a vast zone of temperatures spiking from 45 to 54+ degrees F above normal.

(The zone of pink-to-white in the above anomaly map shows temperatures ranging from 45 to 54 F [25 to 30 C] above average directly over a broad Arctic region centering on the North Pole. To this weather and climate observer, it looks like a hole in the heart of winter. Also note the region of cold air pushed south over Europe and the present above average [1981-2010] global reading. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

And at the center of the warm air pulse was today’s earlier reading of 1.1 C or 34 F at the North Pole (see image at top of post). What would typically be a summer-time temperature for this furthest north location of our world happening during February. A highlight warm point in the midst of a vast plug of far warmer than normal air. A hole in the heart of winter.

We’ll wait for confirmation from experts like Chris Burt, Bob Henson, and Dr. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground, but it appears that this particular warming event — the highlight of an ongoing polar warming of the past few weeks — is without precedent in the Arctic during February. It is also an exemplar — a good example — of the kind of weather we can expect to frequent the Arctic more and more often as the global crisis that is human-forced climate change deepens and as its primary cause — fossil fuel burning — continues.

(Please also see Neven’s related excellent expert analysis of this unprecedented polar warming event at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog here. More to follow on impacts to sea ice in a developing post.)

Climate Change Driven Record Atmospheric Moisture Produces Major Flooding in Central U.S.

Ten inches. That’s how much rain has fallen over parts of the Central U.S. over the past week. Five-to-ten inches more. That’s how much additional rain could again fall across the same region during the next seven days according to NOAA’s forecast (see below image).

(The Central U.S. is already experiencing severe flooding. But record atmospheric moisture levels driven by extreme ocean warming is setting up conditions for even more intense weather. Image source: NOAA.)

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Warnings of potentially life-threatening flooding were issued today from Michigan to the Ohio Valley and on through a large swath stretching from Texas into Arkansas as severe rainfall again inundated the Central U.S.

A massive double-barrel high pressure system sitting off the U.S. East Coast generated strong south-to-north winds running over sea surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico ranging from 1 to 5 C warmer than average. These winds reaped the waters of a much larger than normal load of water vapor and then pumped it over the Central U.S. The result was record atmospheric moisture levels running over the region producing significant and abnormally intense rain storms. Now, many areas are under flood warnings with moderate-to-major flooding expected.

(Much warmer than normal sea surfaces over the Gulf of Mexico resulted in increased atmospheric moisture loading. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

1-5 C warmer than normal ocean surfaces, as we see in the Gulf of Mexico today, is an extraordinary anomaly. In the past, 2 C warmer than normal readings would have been considered significant. But with human-caused climate change, sea surface temperature anomalies have tended to become more and more extreme.

Though warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico waters are contributing to the presently severe precipitation now falling over the Central U.S., they are not the only waters seeing such high temperatures. In fact, the global ocean is now much warmer than it was in the past and, from region-to-region, produces abnormally high surface temperatures with increasing regularity. These warmer waters have pumped more moisture into the Earth’s atmosphere which has led to an increase in the number of extreme rainfall events both in the U.S. and across the globe. A signal of human forced climate change.

(Large east coast high pressure systems, seen in right of frame as two clockwise swirls, hit a record intensity this week beneath an unusually intense ridge in the Jet Stream. The highs also served to pump that intense Gulf moisture into the Central U.S. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The large high pressure system driving such a significant moisture flow over the Central U.S. today is also climate change related. Earlier this week, the high hit a record intensity — spurring a never-before-seen spate of record warm temperatures across the U.S. northeast. The high, in its turn was fueled by a warming-driven polar vortex collapse in the Arctic which generated the intense ridge pattern that allowed it to bloom and sprawl.

What we are seeing, therefore, is a kind of climate change related synergy between severe polar warming and more intense ridge and trough patterns in the middle latitudes. Add in the factor of warmer sea surfaces and this changed atmospheric circulation is enabled to more efficiently tap related higher atmospheric moisture levels to fuel the more intense storms we’re seeing today.

This Week’s Climate and Clean Energy Brief: Category Six Hurricanes, 8,000 Model 3s Produced, Bering Sea Ice Crushed, Electric Semi Savings, and California’s 2018 Snow Crash

While we were focused on extreme warming events and off-kilter weather related to polar amplification this week, there were quite a lot of other developments worth taking note of in both the clean energy and climate news sphere. This post will explore a number of highlights for those interested in the ongoing climate disruption and related responses through renewable energy development.

But before we continue, I’d like to send off a big thanks to Sarah Myhre — an ocean scientist who, unlike a number of broadcast meteorologists, isn’t afraid to tell the climate story like it is (in reference to a the major East Coast warming event this week). Kudos for your clarity, Sarah.

Human-Caused Climate Change is Causing the Most Powerful Hurricanes to Grow Stronger. That’s why scientists are now mulling over adding a new category to define the world’s most destructive storms: Category 6. Advanced by scientists meeting with Dr. Michael Mann in New Zealand and alluded to for the past few years in cutting edge blogs like Weather Underground, a 6th Category would be used to define storms with top sustained wind speeds that exceed 200 mph.

(Hurricane and named storm trend for the Atlantic basin. Note that 2017 was the most destructive year on record for hurricanes [not shown on chart]. Image source: National Hurricane Center and Phys.org.)

Global warming, driven by fossil fuel burning, is increasing both atmospheric convection and ocean surface temperatures. These provide energy to tropical cyclones. As a result, storms are forming out of season more often, they are ranging further into the higher latitudes, they tend to last longer, and the strongest storms (major hurricanes) are becoming both stronger and more frequent. 2017 marked the most destructive hurricane season on record for the Atlantic basin. And, unfortunately, with fossil fuel burning still ongoing, the potential for damage is likely to continue to increase with the advent of Category 6 storms.

The clean energy revolution intensifies as Model 3 Production hit an estimated 8,000 this week. According to Bloomberg, Tesla Model 3 production is presently at 1,052 vehicles per week. This is an estimate based on a computer model tracking VIN numbers and internet reports of Model 3 sightings. Overall, the number of this all-electric, clean energy vehicle produced crossed the 8,000 mark on Thursday in the Bloomberg estimate and has now climbed to 8,219. Bloomberg tracking indicates that the 1,052 per week production rate has remained steady for about two weeks.

(Tesla Model 3 production is significantly increasing, but lags earlier and present ambitious targets. Trajectory indicates that end Q1 is likely to be closer to 1,750 to 2,000 vehicles produced per week unless a major ramp in volume occurs soon. Image source: Bloomberg.)

Tesla is struggling to rapidly ramp production amidst amazing demand for its Model 3 vehicle — at approximately 500,000 pre-orders. And it is aiming to hit the 2,500 vehicle per week mark by the end of March. Given past delays in the production ramp, it’s uncertain if Tesla can hit this target (though Tesla says it is presently on track). But what is certain is that Tesla is putting in one heck of an effort. And one optimistic sign that the target may be within reach is the fact that Tesla recently opened Model 3 order configurations to non-Tesla owners.

Tesla isn’t the only clean energy vehicle leader in the world. Nissan, Renault, GM, and a number of Chinese automakers also produce EVs at high quality and in significant volumes. However, its all renewable business model, high quality products, large battery and solar production infrastructure, penchant for producing cutting-edge innovations, and dominance of a number of EV markets distinguishes it as a crucial player. Given the rising volume of Model 3s produced, it appears likely that Tesla will sell between 150,000 and 250,000 all electric vehicles during 2018.

Bering Sea Ice Crushed. We’ve extensively covered polar warming and sea ice losses this week. However, one highlight in the overall story continues to be record low ice coverage in the Bering Sea. Earlier this week, warm winds swept much of the ice out of this near Arctic Ocean zone. Though a return to somewhat cooler temperatures is predicted, it is so late in the season that any ice that does form will likely be very thin and vulnerable to melt come late March or early April.

A similar story is unfolding on the Atlantic side near the Barents Sea and the Greenland Strait. With a major warm wind event predicted for this weekend, a clearing of vulnerable sea ice on that side of the Arctic may well be in the offing. If this does occur, it will reinforce the trend of see-sawing ice losses shifting from Pacific to Atlantic zones that we’ve seen for much of the winter of 2017-2018.

Tesla Semi Promises Major Savings (and it’s scary-fast, see video). Major shipping companies are chomping at the bit for access to the new Tesla Semi. And the reason is that they’re seeing dollar signs. According to a new report out from Electrek, DHL — one of the largest logistics firms in the world — expects that a single electrical truck like the Semi would enable it to save tens of thousands of dollars per year. These savings come due to the fact that though the Semi, at a price starting at 150,000 dollars, is more expensive than your standard long-haul truck, is much less expensive to operate and maintain. Primary costs for trucking include both fuel and vehicle maintenance. Charging costs for EVs range from 30 to 60 percent or more less than refueling costs. Meanwhile, much simpler engine design results in far fewer mechanical failures or parts that could require replacing.

These prospects are generating serious interest and excitement from major shippers like DHL. Tesla has already received well over 500 pre-orders for its all-electrical truck which it plans to begin mass producing in 2019. As with other electrical vehicles, replacement of ICE based trucking with electrical trucking not only produces lower fuel and maintenance costs, it also substantially reduces net carbon emissions from transportation as adoption rates rise.

California’s Snow Crash is as Bad as 2015. Throughout most of fall and winter of 2017-2018, the U.S. West Coast has experienced incredibly warm and dry conditions. And despite a recent switch to cooler, wetter weather, it may be too late in the season for California’s snowpack to see any substantial recovery.

(California’s snow pack is tracking near record low levels. Snow melt and a longer term trend toward hot, dry weather in California is a key indicator of human caused global warming. It is also creating water security issues for the state. Image source: CDEC.)

Present snow pack levels are comparable to those experienced during 2015 — which was one of the worst water years ever in California history. The majority of snow will have already fallen by this date in any given year. So even if normal conditions were to prevail over the next few weeks, it appears that the damage is already done.

California relies on its snow pack to provide water to farms, industry, and cities. Summer of 2015 saw serious water shortages with some municipalities forced to make major cuts in supplies. It appears that a similar situation may be setting up for 2018. And human-caused climate change is the primary contributor to California’s water woes as well as its related longer-term drying trend.

 

Polar Warming Translates South as June-Like High Pressure Ridge Brings Record-Smashing Temperatures to Eastern U.S. in February

The North Atlantic and Arctic weather pattern is a real mess. Frequent episodes of severe polar warmth relative to normal conditions for this time of year have been a persistent feature. Arctic sea ice extents are at record lows. Meanwhile, the upstream atmosphere generated a record-smashing high pressure system and related abnormal warmth over the U.S. East on Wednesday.

(Severe warming, both at the surface and in the upper atmosphere over the Arctic helped to generate a polar vortex collapse during recent days. This collapse, in turn, generated a number of high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream — one of which produced a record high pressure ridge over the U.S. East Coast on Wednesday, February 21. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

All these severe weather elements have ties to a climate change related condition called polar amplification. A condition that generates mass sea ice loss and extreme warmth at the northern pole, especially during winter. One that translates into more extreme ridge and trough patterns over the middle latitudes. And due to these features, the weather for both the Arctic and the North Atlantic doesn’t appear to be set to return to anything approximating normal for at least the next five days.

Forecast for More Extreme Warmth…

Far to the north, a long, thin extension in the Jet Stream is setting up to bring predicted above freezing temperatures to the North Pole by Sunday. The surface system anchoring that warm air invasion is a powerful low predicted to bomb out around 930 mb just off the coast of Greenland on Saturday. It will fling hurricane force winds and near to above freezing temperatures over coastal and northeastern sections of this frozen archipelago before translating that significant energy northward into the Arctic by early Sunday.

(Extreme warmth struck both the Arctic and the U.S. East on Wednesday, February 21st. A similar pattern is predicted to repeat by this weekend — pushing temperatures to near or above freezing at the North Pole even as the US southeast swelters. Image source: GFS/Climate Reanalyzer.)

Temperatures over central and northern Greenland are predicted to range between 10 and 25 C above average even as parts of the high Arctic spike to 30 C above average.

… Following Wednesday’s Record-Breaking Ridge

Though much of the recently most extreme weather action has been focused on the Arctic, the mid-latitudes have seen there fair share of climate change wrenched extremes.

Yesterday, a slot of warm air rushing northward built into a powerful ridge over the U.S. East Coast. This ridge was not any typical pulse of warm air at the surface running counter to a much cooler winter time atmosphere. It was heavy and it was tall — translating from the ground and well into the stratosphere.

So much heat generated summer-like conditions across the U.S. East. From the mid Atlantic to the northeast, temperature records last set as far back as the late 1800s were shattered. Washington DC saw 82 degree (F) temps. Vermont shattered several of its all-time record highs for February. Massachusetts saw temps hit 80 in Fitchburg. While New York’s Central Park also broke its all-time record of 68 F as the mercury struck 78 degrees yesterday. It was the strongest outbreak of heat ever to strike the northeastern section of the U.S. since record-keeping began back in the late 19th Century. Temperatures there were more typical of June and far less so of February.

All that extra heat translating so far into the upper atmosphere also generated convection and cloud formations more typical of summer — with cumulus clouds piling up over places like Atlanta.

And it wasn’t just temperatures and clouds that were increasingly trekking into outlandish parameters for February, it was the state of the atmosphere itself. For the central peak of the high pressure system provoking such powerful atmospheric anomalies was a stunning 595 dm at the 500 millibar level. This was the highest pressure ever recorded at the 18,000 foot level of the atmosphere. And the earliest time we’ve ever seen such a strong high pressure system off the U.S. East Coast previously was during June.

By the weekend, another warm air push is expected to invade the U.S. East. This time, it appears that temperatures in the Southeast will be most intense with highs hitting around 85 F across parts of Georgia and Florida even as a broad region of 75 to 80+ degree readings sweeps from the Gulf Coast on up through Virginia Sunday.

In the Context of Human-Caused Climate Change

We would be remiss if we didn’t note that increasing atmospheric thickness and powerful high pressure ridges are noted features of a warming global environment. New record high temperatures are also a climate change indicator — especially when they occur with such high prevalence and frequency. And this is the case even over the continental U.S. as a rapidly warming Arctic is helping to drive increasing hot and cold temperature extremes in the middle latitudes.

North Pole Region Predicted to Experience Another Instance of Above Freezing Temperatures as the Bering Sea Ice is Blasted Away

Those previously rare instances of above freezing temperatures in the Arctic north during winter time are happening more and more often.

(February 20 NASA satellite imagery shows Bering Sea with mostly open water as highly atypical above freezing temperatures drive far north. Note that patches of open water extend well into the Chukchi Sea. Image source: NASA.)

Just Monday and Tuesday of this week, Cape Jessup, Greenland — a mere 400 miles away from the North Pole — experienced above freezing temperatures for two days in a row. This following a February 5 warm air invasion that drove above 32 F temperatures to within 150 miles of this furthest northerly point in our Hemisphere even as, by February 20th, a warm air invasion relentlessly melted the Bering Sea’s typically frozen surface (see image above).

Far Above Average Temperatures Over Our Pole

It’s not just a case of warming near the pole itself. It’s the entire Arctic region above the 66 degree North Latitude line. Over the past few days, Arctic temperature anomalies have exceeded 6 degrees Celsius above the 1981 to 2010 baseline. A period that was already showing a serious warming trend.

(Insane levels of warmth relentlessly invade the Arctic during February — hammering the sea ice and wrecking havoc on local environments. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

For reference, 6 C warmer than normal daily readings for any large region of the Earth’s surface is a very serious temperature departure. And the Arctic is clearly feeling it as it suffers the lowest sea ice extent in our record keeping. The heat is meanwhile wreaking out of control harm on the Arctic environment — endangering key species like seals, walrus, puffins, and polar bears, setting off very rapid coastal erosion as storm waves grow taller, triggering far more extensive and powerful Arctic wildfires, and causing mass land subsidence and various harmful environmental feedbacks from permafrost thaw. It’s also causing Greenland’s massive glaciers to melt faster — contributing to an acceleration in the rate of global sea level rise.

The warm air has been invading primarily from the ocean zones in the Atlantic and the Pacific. Warm storms have frequently roared north through the Barents Sea and up the Greenland Strait near Svalbard. Massive blocking high pressure systems have shoved outlandishly warm temperatures through the Bering Sea on the Pacific side day after day, month after month.

Warm Air Invasions Clear Sea Ice During Winter

A recent warm air invasion has practically cleared the Bering Sea of ice. And the ice edge there is further withdrawn than it has ever been in its history. As we can see from the below animation, this crazy and rapid clearing of ice continues to drive further and further north — ushered in by a relentless invasion of warm air — during February. A time when Bering ice should be expanding, not contracting.

What’s causing such extreme polar weather? In two words — climate change. But drilling down, the details can actually get pretty complicated.

During recent winters, human-caused climate change has been driving temperatures into never-before-seen ranges over our northern pole. Increasingly, Sudden Stratospheric Warming events have been propelling warm air into the upper layers of the atmosphere. The Polar Vortex, which during winter relies on a column of sequestered cold air to maintain stability, is blown off-kilter as these upper level layers heat up. This, in turn, has generated extreme wave patterns in the winter Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream — enabling much warmer than usual temperatures to rocket northward.

An Ongoing Series of Warming Events

On December 30 of 2015, and enabled by a high amplitude Jet Stream wave, a powerful warm storm event pushed a strong wedge of warm, above freezing, air all the way across the 90 North Latitude line. Meanwhile, Jessup Greenland hit above freezing for what was likely the first time ever over the past two winters. Last year’s Arctic sea ice hit the lowest levels ever seen during March due to all the extra heat. And the warm temperature extremes appear to be deepening.

Now, as of mid February, a powerful Sudden Stratospheric Warming Event has again blown the Polar Vortex off kilter — weakening it and enabling warm air to flood into the Arctic even as colder air is displaced southward over Canada, the Western U.S. and Europe. Translating to the surface, this train wreck in the upper level winds has driven the extreme polar warming events of the past 8-10 days even as cold air invasions have overtaken Europe and the U.S. East experiences record-breaking heat.

The polar warming event is still ongoing. And it is expected to deliver another blow to an Arctic environment that typically experiences -30 degree Celsius temperatures this time of year. For another major warm wind invasion is forecast to drive above freezing temperatures over the North Pole by this weekend. Strong south to north winds along an extreme ridge in the Jet Stream are predicted to push 1-2 C temperatures (or approximately 55 F above average temps) over the North Pole on Saturday and Sunday.

(High amplitude Jet Stream wave predicted to drive North Pole temperatures to above freezing by Sunday. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Though rare during December, above freezing temperatures at the North Pole during February are practically unheard of. The period of February through April should be a time of strengthening and thickening ice ahead of melt season. But during 2018 this appears not to be the case. The ice instead, in key regions, is being delivered with serious setbacks which is greatly retarding this year’s typical Arctic Ocean ice formation.

If this most recent polar warming event emerges as predicted, it will provide yet one more powerful blow to an already greatly weakened Arctic sea ice pack during a time of year when extents and areas should be reaching their peak. And that’s bad news for both the Arctic and global environments.

Despite Stronger La Nina, January of 2018 was the Fifth Hottest in the 138 Year Climate Record

Major signals of on an ongoing and inexorable global warming trend continued to be apparent during January of 2018, according to NASA records.

The first month of this year saw global temperatures in the range of 0.78 degrees Celsius above NASA’s 20th Century baseline — or about 1 C warmer than 1880s averages when NASA record-keeping began.

Despite the influence of La Nina — which during 2018 is stronger than a similar 2017 Pacific Ocean cooling event — January was the 5th hottest such month in all of the 138 year global climate record. According to NASA, all of the top five hottest Januaries ever recorded have occurred since 2007, with four of those five occurring during the last five years.

(Arctic warming is the primary feature of the fifth hottest January in NASA’s 138 year climate record. Image source: NASA.)

Warm temperature departures for the month were most extreme over the Arctic, over western North America, and through North and Western Europe. This outlier warmth contributed to record low sea ice extent measures in the Arctic and helped to rapidly expand drought conditions across the U.S. In the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctica — recently seeing a series of glacial calving events in the west which hint at a quickening pulse of ice entering the world’s rising oceans — saw an abnormally warm austral summer month. Meanwhile, Australia experienced its own third hottest January even as concerns over renewed mass coral bleaching across the Great Barrier Reef were again on the rise.

During La Nina, movement of warm air and water toward the polar region is enhanced. To this point, global sea ice extent measures are again in record low ranges even after receiving a serious hammering during the winter of 2017. In January, record to near record polar warmth helped to drive a rapid fall in global sea ice extent to today’s record low values in the range of 16 million square kilometers.

Record low sea ice coverage is a climate change amplifier in that it uncovers dark ocean surfaces that capture more of the sun’s rays than white, reflective ice. In addition, open ocean ventilates more heat into the polar atmosphere. Heat that would typically be sequestered beneath the ice. This warming amplification (polar amplification) can also have an impact on the polar circulation of the Jet Stream — causing it to meander more which results in increasing instances of extreme weather (hot, cold, wet, dry, stormy) in the middle latitudes.

(Global sea ice extent is again in record low ranges. This is a primary signal of a warming polar environment — which can have far-ranging harmful impacts. Image source: Global Sea Ice and NSIDC.)

Over the coming months, we should expect some continued stress to both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice — with the caveat being that cloudier late springs and early summers have tended to retard warm season ice loss during recent years in the Northern Hemisphere. That said, continued movement into record low ranges for the Arctic hint that rapid advance of melt during winter may eventually translate to summer.

The primary driver of these serious changes to the global environment is continued fossil fuel burning. And with atmospheric CO2 likely to hit between 411 and 412 parts per million this year (with CO2e ranging toward 493 ppm adding in all greenhouse gasses) the amount of warming already being locked in is starting to look quite dangerous in a number respects. That said, damage can still be greatly limited if the world works to rapidly transition toward renewable energy and keeps harmful fuels where they belong — in the ground.

 

Arctic Sea Ice Extent at Record Lows as Winter Temperatures Soar

Five point five degrees Celsius above average.

That’s how much warmer than ‘normal’ the entire region of the Arctic above the 66 degree North Latitude Line was earlier today. Areas within this large warm pool saw temperatures spike to a range of 15 to 25 C warmer than the already warmer than normal 1981-2010 base period. And broad regions saw temperature between 10 and 20 C above that 30-year average.

(The entire Arctic is an incredible 5.5 C warmer than normal today. Meanwhile, Arctic sea ice extent has plunged, once-more, into record low ranges. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

It’s just a snapshot. But day after day, week after week, month after month, the story has been much the same throughout Fall and Winter of 2017-2018.

And as during last year’s ridiculously warm Arctic winter, the sea ice has taken a considerable pounding. Yesterday dropping to a new record low extent of 13.774 million square kilometers. Beating out the previous record low for the day set just last year. And dipping more than 1.8 million square kilometers below the 1979-1990 average. A period that already featured greatly reduced Arctic sea ice cover when compared to extents seen in the early 20th Century.

(Arctic sea ice extent for 2018 [lower pink line above] dipped into new record low ranges during recent days. Note that the 1979 – 1990 extent average is indicated by the green line at top. Image source: NSIDC.)

The primary cause of these ice losses is warming both of the ocean and of the air. And, as we can see in the ongoing trend, the Arctic is getting more than its fair share of both. Such polar amplification is a direct upshot of the massive volume of harmful greenhouse gasses being injected into the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning. And we are seeing the dark fruits of that burning now in the massive and ongoing winter losses of sea ice, the harm to various Arctic life forms like puffins and polar bears, and the risk of increasing sea level rise, ocean circulation destabilization, and increasingly extreme weather events that all result from the heating-up of polar environments.

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