April of 2017 was the Second Hottest in 137 Year Climate Record

According to measurements by NASA’s GISS global temperature monitoring service, April of 2017 was considerably warmer than all past Aprils in the climate record with the single exception of 2016.

The month came in at 0.88 degrees Celsius above NASA’s 20th Century baseline and fully 1.1 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages. This measure was just 0.01 C warmer than now third warmest 2010 and 0.18 C shy of last year’s record. All of the top ten hottest Aprils on record have occurred since 1998 and six of the top ten hottest Aprils have occurred since 2010.

(During April of 2017, and with only a few moderate exceptions, most of the world experienced above normal to considerably above normal surface temperatures. Image source: NASA GISS.)

The first four months of 2017 now average around 1.21 degrees Celsius warmer than 1880s ranges. This number is about tied with 2016’s overall record warmth which was spurred by a combined strong El Nino and the incredible buildup of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere that we have seen for over more than a century. It is also a warming that is now strong enough to start bringing on serious geophysical changes to the Earth System. The longer readings remain so warm or continue to increase, the more likely it is that instances of global harm in the form of glacial melt, sea level rise, ocean health decline, severe storms and other extreme weather will worsen or emerge.

This year, ENSO neutral conditions trending toward the cooler side of average during the first quarter should have helped to moderate global temperatures somewhat. As is, though a slight cooling vs the first quarter of 2016 is somewhat evident, the broader, more general counter-trend cooling that we would expect following a strong El Nino is practically non-apparent.

(A mildly warm Kelvin Wave forming in the Equatorial Pacific brings with it the chance of a weak El Nino by summer of 2017. This warming of such a broad region of surface waters may combine with atmospheric CO2 and CO2e in the range of 405 and 493 ppm respectively to keep global temperatures near record highs of around 1.2 C above 1880s averages during 2017. Image source: NOAA EL Nino.)

Very strong Northern Hemisphere polar warming during the winter months appears to be a primary driver pushing overall global temperatures higher during recent months. Meanwhile, southern hemisphere polar amplification is becoming more and more apparent over time.

In April, the trend of Northern Hemisphere polar amplification/warming was readily apparent in the NASA measure despite a seasonal relative cooling. Under global warming related heat forcing, we would expect to see the highest temperature departures during late fall through winter. And as 2016 transitioned into 2017, this kind of warming was amazingly evident.

(Only the very far north and the very far south saw below average temperatures in NASA’s zonal measure. Meanwhile, temperatures in the lower Arctic were particularly warm. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Anomalies during April in the higher latitudes did cool somewhat to 2 to 2.6 C above average in the key 65 to 75 N Latitude zone. Highest departures continued to be very considerable for April — ranging from 4 C to as much as 7.5 C above average over Northeastern Siberian, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, the Bering Sea and parts of Northwest Alaska. Meanwhile, temperatures over the Central Arctic dipped to slightly below average as polar amplification in the southern hemisphere appeared to take a break before warming again in March.

Globally, according to GFS model reanalysis data, temperatures appeared to cool through the end of April. However, by early May another warm-up was underway and, if the GFS measure is any guide, it appears that May will likely be about as warm as April overall. This track would tend to make it 1rst to 4th warmest on record if this trends analysis bears out.

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA EL Nino

Global and Regional Climate Anomalies

 

Record-Thin Sea Ice Faces Big Predicted Arctic Warm-up This Week

If you’re someone who tends to worry about Arctic sea ice losses, this coming week’s weather forecast looks like a bit of a doozy. And when you consider that the sea ice is both greatly weakened and thinned in a number of the major monitors, prospects don’t look very good, presently, for 2017’s summer melt season as whole.

Abnormal Warmth Over Greenland and Baffin and Hudson Bays

Over the next 48 hours, Baffin and Hudson Bays will experience the tail end of what an extreme warm-up that produced exceptional May surface melt over the Greenland Ice Sheet and then shifted westward.

(An extreme early May warming over Greenland this week produced considerable surface melt well outside the 2 standard deviation range. Today, the warmth has shifted west over Baffin and Hudson Bays. Later this week, a similar strong warm-up is predicted to impact the Pacific side of the Arctic Ocean. Image source: NSIDC.)

Temperatures for Hudson and Central and Southern Baffin, according to GFS model runs, will range above freezing over this time period — hitting as high as the low 40s (F) in Eastern sections of Hudson Bay. Over-ocean readings (which tend to moderate, but not, apparently, in this case) that will range from 5 to 15 degrees Celsius above average. These rather high surface temperatures will help to kick sea ice melt throughout these regions into higher gear.

Pacific Side of Arctic Ocean Predicted to Heat Up

Following the Baffin-Hudson warm-up, a large bulge of much warmer than normal air is predicted to extend northward from a broad region extending from Eastern Siberia through the Bering Sea and Alaska and on into Northwestern Canada. This bulge will, according to GFS model runs, by early next week inject periods of above freezing temperatures over a wide region of the Arctic Ocean that includes the East Siberian Sea, the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea. And by this time next week, these same model runs project that 10-16 C above average temperatures will dominate a large region of the Central Arctic — forcing above-freezing temperatures over a broad cross-section of the North Pole zone by May 17.

(The Arctic is expected to experience nearly 2 C above average temperatures with some regions over the Arctic Ocean hitting 16 C [28 F] above average. These are considerable departures for May when temperatures in the Arctic tend to moderate. So much warmth is likely to have an impact on the already greatly thinned Arctic sea ice. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

So much early season warmth is likely to further impact an already greatly weakened and thinned veil of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean. A cooling cap that even more conservative scientists estimate could be completely removed during a summer as soon as the early 2030s. But in the worst case scenario, and when considering how thin the ice is now, a nearly ice free summer could happen as soon as this year. Few scientists really want to talk about that now — given the likely controversy that would result. But we shouldn’t entirely ignore that possibility for fear of backlash or criticism. Nor should we ignore how such an event would tend to further distort an already disrupted Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation.

Indicators Show Very Thin Ice

Over recent weeks, sea ice area and extent measures have recovered somewhat as temperatures over the Arctic Ocean have moderated a bit from very warm conditions during October through March. However, a number of indicators including PIOMAS’s sea ice volume measure show that despite this mild surface extent recovery, the ice is very weak and significantly thinned.

(PIOMAS sea ice volume measure shows a considerable record low departure through mid April of 2017. Image source: PIOMAS.)

It’s worth noting that a significant portion of the extent recovery over recent weeks can be attributed to strong winds blowing ice out of the Arctic Ocean and into the Barents Sea as well as out through the Fram Strait. Such conditions are not normally considered to be healthy ones for ice retention through summer as ice in the Barents and Fram tends to melt far more swiftly than ice secured in the Central Arctic. And the Fram itself is often considered to be a graveyard for sea ice.

As for PIOMAS, the most recent measurement through the middle of April found that sea ice volume had topped out at 20,600 cubic kilometers. This measure was fully 1,800 cubic kilometers below the previous record low set for the month. It’s a tremendous negative departure that, if valid, shows that the state of the sea ice as of this time was terribly unhealthy. A situation that prompted the typically conservative Neven over at the Arctic Ice Blog to state that it’s:

Not looking good. Not looking good at all… with a maximum that was almost 2000 km3 lower than the previous record reached in 2011, it’s obvious that anything is possible this coming melting season.

(According to the EASE NSIDC sea ice age monitor, the multi-year sea ice is now almost entirely removed from the Pacific side of the Arctic. Strong, persistent winds have continued to push a good portion of the frail remainder of this ice out toward the Fram Strait — a graveyard for sea ice. And a big warm-up predicted for this week will begin to test the greatly thinned ice over the Beaufort, Chukchi and East Siberian Seas. Image source: NSIDC and The Arctic Ice Blog.)

Moreover, Neven last week pointed out that according a separate measure (see image above), typically thicker multi-year ice is presently absent from the Beaufort Sea. And, to this point, it’s worth noting that the amazing above normal temperatures that plagued the Arctic cold season for multiple years now have resulted in vast losses among this most healthy subset of sea ice.

Such considerably thinned ice presents practically no barrier to the effects of warming. It can melt quite rapidly and it is far more subject to the physical forces of wind and waves. With strong southerly winds and a big warm-up now in the pipe, it appears that this considerably thinned ice will get its first test in mid-May. Potentially creating large sections of permanently open water very early in the melt season and very close to the ever-more vulnerable High Arctic.

Links:

NSIDC

PIOMAS

Climate Reanalyzer

Earth Nullschool

Hat tip to Neven and…

to the researchers over at The Arctic Ice Blog

 

Early Season Russia-Siberia Wildfire Outbreak Expands Due to Heat

An early Siberian and Asian wildfire outbreak that became apparent last week has continued to flare just south of the swiftly retreating freeze line. And while wildfires near Lake Baikal and further south and east toward the Russia-China border continue to flicker, a considerable outbreak has now flared up in Western Russian and Siberia along a zone straddling the Urals and just south of the Yamal Peninsula.

(Wildfires and hotspots run west to east across Russia and Siberia in this May 3 NASA satellite shot. Note the storm system near Lake Baikal which has recently suppressed early season wildfire activity there. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

A trough dipping through Central Russia and Siberia has brought rain and cooler conditions — which has suppressed some of the previously extensive wildfire activity near and to the north of Lake Baikal. But temperatures in the range of 5-15 C above average along both the Russia-China border and in Western Russia have combined with warm, southerly winds to spur wildfire activity throughout these regions. In these zones, temperatures have been flaring into the 60s, 70s, and even lower 80s F (16-27 C) through sections. And such abnormal heat has helped to generate a high prevalence of newly-flaring early May wildfires.

Though wildfires in the east along the Russia-China border are still small and lack intensity, the region near the Urals is showing some significant flare-ups. Just west of the Urals near 56 north latitude burn scars as large as ten miles long by five miles wide appeared in the satellite imagery as fires ripped through the area on April 29 through May 3. These fires blanketed the region with 100 to 200 mile long smoke plumes even as the blazes steadily march northward.

(Wildfire flare up near 56 N just west of the Urals. For reference, north is left side of frame, south right side. Bottom edge of frame is approximately 80 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

In the east and near Lake Baikal permafrost often extends as far south as the Russia-China border. So many of the fires in this region are already burning in or near permafrost zones. In the west, permafrost is removed further north — becoming more common beyond the 60 degree north latitude line. Hotspots in the west are now approaching this zone, flaring as far north as the 59th parallel, but have yet to fully cross into it.

Over the coming days and weeks, wildfires in the permafrost zone will tend to become more extensive as spring advances. Such burning, during recent years, is now much more common than in the past. The increase is due to a considerable and rapid warming near the polar region that has averaged 2 times the larger global warming rate (about 0.15 to 0.2 C per decade for the world and 0.3 to 0.4 C per decade for the Arctic).

(Anomalous warmth is spurring wildfire flare-ups in both eastern and western Siberia and Russia today. Over the coming weak, abnormally warm temperatures are again predicted to flare again over the Lake Baikal region — which will likely reinvigorate the wildfires that have already begun burning there. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

This human-forced warming due to fossil fuel burning is producing considerable permafrost thaw and creating new fuels for fires in a previously-frozen region. In addition, the added heat has generated more thunderstorms — producing more lightning strikes and other ignition sources. As a result of this warming, the added fuels, and a multiplication of fire ignition sources, Siberian wildfire season now ranges from April through September and often produces fires of a terrible magnitude.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

Climate Reanalyzer

Hauntingly Freakish Siberian Wildfires Now Flicker to Life in April

Hat tip to MlParrish

Key Heat Trapping Gas Crosses 410 Parts Per Million Threshold — Highest Level in Past 5-20 Million Years

This past week, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels passed a new ominous milestone.

Clocking in at 410.7 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory, this key heat trapping gas hit a range not seen on Earth for many millions of years.

(The world crossed the 410 part per million milestone in the daily measure this week. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

These levels now correspond with the Miocene Climate Epoch when seas were 120 to 190 feet higher than today and when global temperatures ranged from 3 to 5 degrees Celsius hotter than preindustrial averages.

Record Rates of Accumulation

These new records come following two years of record rates of atmospheric CO2 accumulation. According to NOAA, carbon dioxide accumulated by 3.03 parts per million during 2015 and by 3.00 parts per million during 2016. These now represent the two fastest rates of carbon dioxide accumulation in the climate record to date. By comparison, the substantial warming at the end of the last ice age was accompanied by an approximate 0.01 part per million per year rate of CO2 increase averaged over 10,000 years.

2017 rates of atmospheric CO2 accumulation, according to NOAA, appear to have backed off somewhat in the first quarter. Comparative gains from Q1 2016 to Q1 2017 are about 2.8 parts per million. A weak La Nina in the Pacific during late 2016 probably helped ocean surfaces to cool and to draw down a bit more CO2. However, the rate of increase is still disturbingly rapid. A 2.8 ppm increase in 2017, should it emerge, would be the 4th highest annual rate of increase in the record and would be substantially above past decadal averages. Hopefully, this still-disturbingly-rapid rate of increase will continue to tail off a bit through the year. But it is increasingly clear that the time for urgent action to reduce carbon emissions and this very harmful related rate of accumulation is now upon us.

(The CO2 growth rate has recently been ramping higher due to record carbon emissions during the present decade. Rates of carbon emission will need to fall away from record high rates in order to tamp down the presently high rate of accumulation which will tend to trend higher even if such emissions remain at plateau due to various faltering carbon sinks and leaking natural carbon stores. Image source: NOAA.)

The total CO2 increase since major fossil fuel burning began in the 19th Century is now in the range of 130 parts per million from 280 (ppm) to today’s high of 410 (ppm). By comparison, during the end of the last ice age, levels of this heat trapping gas jumped by about 100 (ppm) from around 180 (ppm) to 280 (ppm). Atmospheric averages for 2017 should range about 3-4 ppm lower than the April-May high mark (which might still hit daily highs of 411 ppm or more). But at present rates of increase, we’ll be leaving the 410 ppm threshold level in even the lower average months behind in just a handful of years.

Depending on How You Look at it, We’re 5 to 30 Million Years Out of the Holocene Context

The primary driver of the present extreme rate of CO2 increase is global carbon emissions (primarily from fossil fuel burning) in a record range near 11 billion tons per year (or nearly 50 billion tons of CO2 equivalent gas each year). Though 2014 through 2016 saw a plateau in the rate of global carbon emission, the decadal average accumulation of this emission is still at record highs. Meanwhile, it appears that warming oceans, lands more susceptible to deluges and wildfires, increasingly deforested regions like the Amazon, and thawing Arctic permafrost are less able to take in this record excess. As a result of these factors, human fossil fuel emissions will need to fall for a number of years before we are likely to see an impact on the average annual rate of atmospheric accumulation of this potent heat-trapping gas.

(Past paleoclimate proxy records show that we are millions of years out of the Holocene context when it comes to present levels of atmospheric CO2 accumulation. Image source: Skeptical Science.)

Paleoclimate studies of past epochs are unable to provide 100 percent accuracy for past atmospheric CO2 levels. However, proxy data provides a good range of estimates. Based on these measures, it appears that the most recent likely time when atmospheric CO2 levels were comparable to those we now see today occurred around 5 million years ago. Meanwhile, it appears possible that the last time CO2 levels were so high extended as far back as 20 to 25 million years ago.

Unfortunately, carbon dioxide is not the only heat trapping gas humans have emitted into the atmosphere. Add in methane and other greenhouse gasses and you end up with a heat forcing roughly equivalent to 493 parts per million of CO2 (CO2e) during 2017 at present rates of increase. This level is very close to the maximum Miocene boundary level of 500 parts per million — a total amount of heat forcing that likely hasn’t been seen in 20-30 million years.

Serious, Concerted Action Required to Avoid Worsening Disasters

The only safe and reliable way to halt the rapid rise of heat trapping gasses and concurrent warming is to cease emitting carbon to the atmosphere. Such an undertaking would primarily involve a major shift away from fossil fuel burning machines and infrastructure. Present low-cost renewable energy provides a powerful option for just such a transition. In addition, various forms of atmospheric carbon capture from changes to land use, to biofuel-based carbon capture, to materials-based carbon capture will be necessary to draw down the extraordinarily high level of carbon overburden that has already been emitted. Failing such an undertaking, however ambitious, would consign the world to increasingly harmful temperature increases and related damaging geophysical changes for the foreseeable future.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

NOAA

Skeptical Science

Entering the Middle Miocene

Renewable Energy Technology is Now Powerful Enough to Significantly Soften the Climate Crisis

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Erik Frederickson

Duration of Indian Hot Season Nearly Doubles as Crushing Drought and Heat Expand Across the Subcontinent

“It is a drought we have not seen in 110 years. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and it is due to global climate change.” — S. Thirunavukkarasu, a retired Tamil Nadu Public Works official.

****

For India, the hot-season-like temperatures began in late February — two months earlier than usual. After a brief respite, they fired again in March, bringing April-like temperatures a month too soon. The hot season for this region typically begins in mid-April and extends through mid-June. In 2017, hot-season conditions sparked in late February. Today, life-threatening temperatures of between 100 and 115 F blanket much of this vast, densely populated land.

The early onset of heat comes after years of expanding drought, warming temperatures, melting glaciers and drying rivers, bringing with it a deepening hardship. Farmers across the country report a sense of deepening desperation as cries for help in the form of nationwide protests break out. Meanwhile, those working outdoors increasingly suffer from heat- and dehydration-related kidney failure. This year, conditions that threaten heat injury and loss of life have spurred schools across the country to close early.

(GFS model runs indicate temperatures in excess of 47 C or 115 F over parts of India tomorrow, April 22nd. Meanwhile, forecasters predict that 50 C or 122 F readings are possible in the coming days and weeks. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In two southern provinces, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the situation is one of extreme drought. In Kerala, water stress has now reached an intensity not seen in all of the past 115 years. Tamil Nadu’s own drought crisis is the worst in 110 years. And in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana, the situation is nearly as calamitous (see map of India’s provinces here).

Retired Tamil Nadu public works official S. Thirunavukkarasu recently noted:

“It is a drought we have not seen in 110 years. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and it is due to global climate change. We may see a repeat of 2015 [floods] next year or the rains may fail again like they did in 2016. We cannot figure the weather out. But we need to ensure that we are prepared.”

Throughout the region and over other parts of India, residents are relying on ground water or water supply trucks as lakes and rivers run dry. Ground water supplies are being drawn down at an alarming rate. Water depths that should comfortably sit at 2-3 meters underground have been driven back to 8-15 meters or more. In some locations, wells are being driven as deep as 80 to 90 meters in search of water.

(Though southern India and Sri Lanka are hardest hit, long-term drought is impacting nearly all of India. Image source: NOAA.)

It’s a water crisis that is wide-ranging — impacting both rural locales and population centers like Delhi. Public officials are being forced to divert water from construction and other industries in order to ensure that residents receive access to life-giving supplies.

As with last year, reports are trickling in that tens of millions of people across India are experiencing water stress. Two years of delayed monsoons and severe hot seasons have already left the country reeling. This year’s extended hot season adds insult to injury. And with Pacific Ocean surface temperatures in the Equatorial region tracking above average for this time of year, it is again uncertain that present assurances of a ‘normal monsoon season’ will bear out.

Cyclical droughts and heatwaves are normal for India. What is not normal is the present situation of continuously worsening conditions. These ever-intensifying droughts and heatwaves are being driven by a global warming primarily brought on by fossil fuel burning. And, in the end, relief for India will only come when the warming ceases.

Links:

Five States Face Drought Made Worse by Early Onset of Summer

NOAA

Earth Nullschool

One-Third of Indian Population Stares at Drought This Summer

Delhi on the Verge of Groundwater Crisis

Capital City Reels Under Severe Water Shortage

Heatwave Across North, Central and Western India

The Indian Hot Season Began Two Months Early This Year

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Renewable Energy Technology is Now Powerful Enough to Significantly Soften the Climate Crisis

In order for the world to begin to solve the climate crisis, one critical thing has to happen. Global carbon emissions need to start falling. And they need to start falling soon before the serious impacts that we are already seeing considerably worsen and begin to overwhelm us.

Carbon Emissions Plateau For Last Three Years

Over the past three years, countries around the world have been engaged in a major switch away from the biggest carbon emitter — coal. China is shutting down hundreds of its worst polluting coal plants, India is following suit, the U.S. is shuttering many of its own facilities, and in Europe the trend is much the same. Around the world, investment in new coal fired plants continues to fall even as the old plants are pressured more and more to halt operations.

(It’s starting to look like cheap renewable energy and the drive to reduce pollution and to solve the climate crisis are a stronger factor in the present carbon emissions plateau than a cyclical switch to natural gas fired power generation. Image source: The International Energy Agency.)

In many places, coal generation is being replaced by natural gas. This fuel emits about 30-50 percent less carbon than coal, but it’s still a big source. In the past, a switch to natural gas due to lower prices has driven a cyclical but temporary reduction in global carbon emissions. And falling coal prices have often driven a price-forced switch back to coal and a return to rising emissions rates. But after years of rock-bottom coal prices due to continuously falling demand this, today, is not the case.

Low-Cost, More Desirable Renewable Energy Blocks a Cyclical Switch back to Coal

And the primary reason for this break in traditional energy cycling is that renewable energy in the form of wind and solar are now less expensive than coal and gas fired power generation in many places. Add that wind and solar are considerably more desirable due to the fact that they produce practically zero negative health impacts from pollution and that such zero-emitting sources are critical to solving an ever-worsening climate crisis and you end up with something seldom seen in markets anywhere. A rare synergy between a public interest based drive for a more moral energy industry and a, typically callous to such concerns, market-based profit motive.

(In Western Europe basic economics and a desire for cleaner power sources has resulted in both wind and solar overtaking coal fired power generation capacity. Image source: Bloomberg.)

Consider the fact that now, in Western Europe, both solar and wind energy have higher installed capacities than coal. Combined, the two sources have more than double the present energy producing capacity of this dirty fuel. Coal just can’t compete any longer. And an increasing glut of low-cost, non-polluting renewable energy is forcing even the largest, most economically viable, coal fired power plants such as the 2.2 gigawatt facility in  Voerde, Germany to shut down.

In Australia, despite the mad-hatter attempts by coal cheerleader politicians to supply more of this dirty carbon to a dwindling world market, renewable energy just keeps on advancing. This week, Queensland announced a new solar + storage project that would at first supply 350 megawatts of renewable energy and would ultimately expand to 800 megawatts. The drive for the project comes as solar prices in Australia are now beating out gas fired power generation. Meanwhile, market analysts are saying that solar+storage will soon be in the same position. And, even more ironically, many of the new solar and battery storage promoters in Queensland are past coal industry investors.

Simple Technologies Leverage Economies of Scale

The technologies driving this fundamental energy market transformation — wind, solar, batteries — are not new silver bullet advances. They are older technologies that are simple and easy to reproduce, improve, and that readily benefit from increasing economies of scale. This combination of simplicity, improvability and scaling is a very powerful transformational force. It enables companies like Tesla to spin core products like mass produced batteries into multiple offerings like electrical automobiles, trucks, and residential, commercial and industry scale energy storage systems. A new capability and advantage that is now beginning to significantly disrupt traditional fossil fuel based markets world-wide.

A fact that was underscored by the shockwaves sent through combustion engine manufacturers recently after Tesla’s simple announcement that it would begin producing electric long-haul trucks.

The announcement almost immediately prompted downgrades in conventional truck engine manufacturer stock values. In the past, competition by electric vehicle manufacturers like Tesla have forced traditional, fossil fuel based vehicle and engine manufacturers to produce their own electric products in order to protect market share. But since these companies are heavily invested in older, more polluting technology it is more difficult for them to produce electric vehicles at a profit than it is for pure electric manufacturers like Tesla.

Renewable Energy Technology Capable of Removing Lion’s Share of Global Carbon Emissions

In light of these positive trends, we should consider the larger goals of the energy transition with regards to climate change.

  1. To slow and plateau the rate of carbon emissions increases.
  2. To begin to reduce global carbon emissions on an annual basis.
  3. To bring carbon emissions to net zero globally.
  4. To bring carbon emission to net negative globally.

By itself, market based energy switches to renewable energy systems can cut global carbon emissions from their present rate of approximately 33 billion tons of CO2 each year to 1-5 billion tons of CO2 each year through full removal of fossil fuels from thermal, power, fuel, manufacturing, materials production and other uses. In other words, by itself, this now rapidly scaling set of technologies is capable of removing the lion’s share of the human carbon emission problem. And given the rapid cost reductions and increasing competitiveness of these systems, these kinds of needed reductions in emissions are now possible on much shorter timescales than previously envisioned.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Europe’s Coal Power is Going up in Smoke — Fast

The International Energy Agency

Plans Laid for 800 MW Solar + Storage Facility in Queensland

Tesla Semi Announcement Causes Analysts to Start Downgrading Traditional Truck Stocks

Coal Plants are in Decline

Hat tip to Phil

Hat tip to Spike

Hat tip to Brian

North Atlantic May Cough up Another Out of Season Tropical Cyclone this Week

Like pretty much everywhere else in the world ocean these days, and due primarily to a rampant injection of greenhouse gasses into the Earth’s atmosphere through fossil fuel burning, the North Atlantic is now considerably warmer than during the 19th and 20th Centuries…

Warming Waters and An Angry Jet Stream

That extra heat provides more available fuel for tropical storm and hurricane formation. It increases the top potential peak intensity of the most powerful storms. And it extends the period in which such tropical cyclones are capable of forming — for sea surface temperatures of at least 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit are often necessary to fuel such systems (please also see the present science on how climate change is impacting tropical cyclones).

(Sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic now range between 1 and 7 degrees Celsius above average for most regions. These warmer than normal sea surfaces provide more fuel for storms even as they extend the period during which tropical storm and hurricane formation is possible. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

But it’s worth noting that warm ocean waters are not the only ingredient that add to the potential for the formation and strengthening of these powerful storms. Instability and cloud formation are often necessary to seed such systems. And the more extreme warm and cold temperature anomalies associated with wavier Jet Stream patterns inject exactly this form of instability into the middle latitudes at a higher rate than was witnessed during past decades.

Due to its proximity both to a melting Greenland and to a rapidly warming Arctic, the North Atlantic is particularly vulnerable to the production of powerful swirls of warm and cold air. Warming tropics collide with the cold air producing pools of glacial freshwater melt and the enlarging meanders of the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream. And it’s the proliferation of these unstable vortices forming over warming waters throughout the North Atlantic that may start to generate a more and more noticeable higher incidence of both out of season cyclones and stronger storm systems.

(A persistent swirl of disorganized clouds in the Central North Atlantic — continuously re-charged by frontal systems sweeping down from Baffin Bay and feeding on warmer than normal sea surface temperatures may become the first tropical cyclone of 2017. If it later forms into a tropical storm, it will become the third out-of-season named storm to form in the Atlantic over the last 15 months. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Last year, extremely warm sea surface temperatures combined with this kind of observed instability to spur the formation of Hurricane Alex during January. Tropical storm Bonnie also formed out of season during May. Similar very warm ocean conditions then helped to kick-start the late November formation of Category 3 Hurricane Otto (though November is still technically hurricane season, it’s supposed to be very rare to see so strong a storm form so late in the year).

Possible April Cyclone Underlines Recent High Incidence of Out of Season Storms

Fast forward to April of 2017. According to the National Hurricane Center, there’s now a 30 percent chance that a tropical depression may form in the Central Atlantic over the next 48 hours. Ultimately, such a system could gather into the first Atlantic named storm of 2017 — Arlene. Such an event would mark the third time in just 15 months that the Atlantic basin had produced an out-of-season tropical storm or hurricane.

(A vast majority — 97 percent — of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic form during hurricane season from June 1 to November 30. That said, human forced climate change may now be in the process of providing more fuel for the formation of out-of-season storms. Image source: North Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Climatology.)

Incidence of out-of-season tropical storms or hurricanes in the Atlantic is rather rare. Over 158 years from 1851 to 2009, perhaps one such system formed, on average, each year. Moreover, these storms primarily formed during May — which by itself produced more out-of-season storms than December through April combined. And a vast majority of these systems were tropical storms — not hurricanes or major hurricanes.

In 2016 and 2017, Alex formed as a hurricane during January — which is practically unheard of. Bonnie formed during late May, which was less unusual but still out-of-season. Otto formed as a category 3 major hurricane during late November — another anomalous event. Meanwhile, if Arlene forms this April it will represent 1 out of only about 20 such systems that formed during the month in the period of 1851 through 2009.

But even if we don’t get a tropical cyclone in the middle of the North Atlantic during April of 2017, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that conditions have changed. That forecasters now need to be more alert for out-of-season tropical cyclones and to the various new weather phenomena that are now being precipitated by a warming climate.

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Hurricanes and Climate Change

Earth Nullschool

LANCE MODIS

Extreme Weather Events Linked to Climate Change Impact on Jet Stream

North Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Climatology

Hat tip to Vaughn

Hat tip to Hilary

The Permafrost is Thawing 20 Percent Faster Than Previously Thought

Even in a world at 1 to 1.2 C warmer than 19th Century averages the permafrost is in trouble.

Already, vast thawed lands are starting to release carbon dioxide and methane. Thermokarst lakes bubble with the stuff. And pingos are now starting to erupt as the ice relinquishes the soils of Siberia. Russians, ironically concerned about the safety of an oil and gas infrastructure that helped to precipitate the warming in the first place, are starting to install seismographs to detect these new warming-induced eruptions from the thawed lands. Meanwhile, each new summer brings with it ridiculously warm temperatures, never before seen Arctic thunderstorms, and epic wildfires that rage over these growing piles of peat-like carbon laid down during the course of millions of years of glaciation — but now unlocked in just years and decades by an unnatural thaw.

Permafrost Thawing at 20 Percent Faster Rate Than We Previously Thought

Back in the late 1800s, permafrost covered about 17 million square kilometers of the Northern Hemisphere. In less than 150 years, that extent has been reduced by 2 million square kilometers due to the warming that has, to date, been produced by fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions. Even worse, according to the new research, present temperatures alone are enough to, this Century, push permafrost coverage back to 12.5 million square kilometers.

That’s about 1/4 of the world’s permafrost gone due to just 1 to 1.2 degrees Celsius of global warming.

(A new study shows that 2 C worth of warming nearly cuts preindustrial permafrost extent in half to around 9 million square kilometers. Warming to 6 C above 1880s averages, which will occur so long as fossil fuel burning continues, will wipe out nearly all of the Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost. These thaw rates are about 20 percent more than previously estimated. Image source: An observation-based constraint on permafrost loss as a function of global warming.)

Warm the world by just another degree Celsius to 2 C above 1880s averages and, according to the new research, we’ll end up thawing another 3.5 million square kilometers of frozen ground to an ultimately reduced area of around 9 million square kilometers — cutting the Northern Hemisphere’s original permafrost coverage nearly in half.

Still More Urgency For Rapid Cuts to Fossil Fuel Burning

This newly identified permafrost thaw rate in response to human-forced warming is much faster than previously expected — representing a 20 percent acceleration compared to past permafrost thaw model estimates. And since the frozen ground of the world contains 1.2 to 1.4 trillion tons of carbon locked away over the course of millions of years, so rapid a thaw has big implications in a world warmed by fossil fuel burning.

(Wildfires burn through Siberia during August of 2014. Thawing permafrost lays bare billions of tons of carbon that can then be subject to release by microbes and the warming elements. Bacteria can break down the carbon — releasing methane and CO2. Thawed permafrost also forms a peat-like layer that can burn as more extensive fires rage across the heating Arctic. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Back in 2015, scientists estimated that about 100 billion tons of permafrost carbon would hit the atmosphere over the course of the 21st Century due to human-forced warming. This warming feedback is equivalent to about 10 years of present fossil fuel emissions. Add an estimated 20 percent extrapolated from a faster than expected thaw to that rate and you end up with roughly 120 billion tons of carbon — or 12 years of present emissions bubbling and bursting up out of that previously frozen ground (approximately 40 ppm of CO2e heat forcing as feedback to the present warming).

It’s just another scientific finding of warming-related geophysical impacts occurring on timescales that were faster than previously expected. Still more added proof, as if we required any, that the need for cutting human fossil fuel emissions couldn’t be greater or more urgent. And when seismographs are now being constructed to detect permafrost methane bursts due to pingo detonations, it’s becoming more and more clear that we do not want to precipitate any more volatile Arctic thaw than we’ve already locked in.

Links:

An observation-based constraint on permafrost loss as a function of global warming

Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback

LANCE-MODIS

First Seismic Sensor Installed to Detect New Risk of Exploding Pingos

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Unnaturalfx

Powerful Storms in a Warming World — Cook is Strongest Cyclone to Strike New Zealand in Nearly 50 Years

About 12 hours ago, at 18:30 local time (06:30 GMT) on Thursday, Cyclone Cook roared out of an ocean that has now been considerably warmed by human-forced climate change to made landfall in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand. Packing wind gusts of up 90 miles per hour and lashing the region with 1/2 to 1 inch per hour rainfall rates, the storm is the most powerful cyclone to strike New Zealand since 1968.

Most Powerful New Zealand Cyclone in Nearly 50 Years

(New Zealand under a swirl of clouds as Cook makes landfall. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

The storm raked a region that had already seen saturating, long-lasting, rainfall from the remnants of Cyclone Debbie just one week before. As a result, trees unable to gain purchase in the weakened soils uprooted en-masse. Power was knocked out in Whakatane and in numerous other locations along Cook’s path — cutting off at least 11,000 residences. Locals described gusts like freight trains as hundreds huddled in evacuation shelters. Flights out of Rotorua, Tauranga, Napier and Hamilton in the North Island, and Nelson and Blenheim in the South Island were all canceled.

The 30 foot swells and a resulting storm surge in the Bay of Plenty region were expected to result in serious coastal flooding and damage to shore-front structures. But the chief worry from the system, after Debbie’s devastating rains, was more precipitation-related flooding.

(GFS 7 day rainfall forecast for New Zealand shows considerably above average precipitation from Cook. See also GFS rainfall model runs.)

GFS model runs indicated the potential for 4-8 inches of rainfall or more near New Zealand population centers along the path of Cyclone Cook. And for many regions, these totals equal about 1-2 months worth of rainfall at this time of year. Last week, 7.5 inches of rainfall over just two days resulted in a levee breach at Edgecumbe on North Island — flooding the entire town and forcing nearly all the residents to evacuate. And there is some concern that Cook’s follow-on to Debbie will produce similar trouble.

Warming Ocean Waters and High Amplitude Waves in the Jet Stream Feed Storm Pattern

Cook is interacting with a trough to the west of New Zealand in a manner that is broadening the storm — spreading its wind field and rainfall over a larger region than a purely tropical system would typically impact. The trough had dipped down from the Southern Ocean through an extended Jet Stream wave before it became cut-off and linked up with Cook.

(Cook is presently centered between New Zealand’s North and South Islands [roughly under the green circle]. The swirl of clouds and wind to the west of Cook is a second low pressure system that was cut off from a trough sweeping south and west of New Zealand on Tuesday and Wednesday. Cook is interacting with this trough in a manner than is broadening its wind field and enhancing rainfall potentials. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The far northward extent of this trough is indicative of higher amplitude Jet Stream waves that have been associated with warming temperatures at the polar regions due to climate change. And the zone south of New Zealand over Antarctica has featured a strong dipole — with well above normal temperatures facing off against a wall of cold air. This dipole has facilitated troughs and facing ridges that extended well into the middle latitudes.

(Cyclone Cook fed on far warmer than normal waters which enabled it maintain intensity as it moved into higher latitudes. Interaction with a trough remnant left over from a high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream also contributed to this extreme weather event. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Meanwhile, Cyclone Cook itself fed on 1-2 C warmer than normal sea surface temperatures surrounding New Zealand. These warmer than normal waters allowed Cook to retain strength and to interact with the polar originating trough in a manner that arguably intensified and broadened the scope of this severe weather event.

Links:

Cyclone Cook: Evacuations as Storm Lashes New Zealand

Concerns Increase as Cook’s Path Shifts Toward Population Centers

Cyclone Cook vs Cyclone Debbie

LANCE MODIS

GFS rainfall model runs

Earth Nullschool

Hat tip to LeslieGraham (please stay safe!)

Hat tip to wili

Cruel Intentions — Opposition to Climate Change Response is Swiftly Becoming Illegal

“From 1957 onward, there is no doubt that Humble Oil, which is now Exxon, was clearly on notice” about rising CO2 in the atmosphere and the prospect that it was likely to cause global warming… — Environmental Law Center’s Director Carroll Muffett in The New York Times

*****

We’ve known for some time that failing to respond to climate change is a callous cruelty of the worst kind imaginable. That continuing to burn fossil fuels and to delay a necessary transition to renewable energy will not only melt ice caps, provoke extreme weather the likes of which none of us have seen, flood coastlines and island nations, and threaten global food production, but it will also ultimately set off a hothouse mass extinction that is likely to be as bad or worse than the Permian.

We’ve known for decades now that the best, most moral, choice for human civilization is to keep those harmful fuels in the ground. To find a better way for conducting our national and global affairs and not to continue along the catastrophic business as usual emissions path. To listen to the increasingly urgent warnings posed by scientists — not the all-too-harmful dissembling of climate change deniers.

(Nature will surely grant no quarter if we do not hold the climate bad actors to account.)

And because continuing to burn fossil fuels commits so many harms on individuals, on nations, on the world, on children who are now growing up or who have yet to be born, and on the vital skein of nature itself, this activity is increasingly being viewed in the context of liability and criminality.

Corporate Support of Climate Change Denial Invites Accusations of Fraud, Consumer Protection, Environmental Law, and Securities Violations

For its actions as a leader in misinforming the public and promoting climate change denial, Exxon Mobil has found itself at the center of a maelstrom of lawsuits and investigations. The oil and gas company opposed regulations to curtail global warming. It funded organizations critical of global climate treaties and actively sought to undermine public opinion about the scientific consensus that global warming is caused by burning fossil fuels. And, in a move reminiscent of the Orwellian nightmare, the company helped to found and lead a misinformation engine called the Global Climate Coalition of businesses opposed to regulating greenhouse gas emissions. All this despite the fact that Exxon’s own scientists had previously confirmed that fossil fuel burning was indeed the cause of the warming.

By 2015, after numerous failures to respond to letters by Congressional Lawmakers and concerned citizens, Exxon was the subject of increasing scrutiny. In October of the same year, the company became the focus of a formal request from more than 40 social justice and environmental organizations to the United States Attorney General that an investigation be opened into its public deception and climate change denial campaigns. Vice President Al Gore, among other national leaders, then called for the revocation of Exxon’s articles of incorporation.

(Exxon’s own scientists told the corporation that human-caused climate change was a threat as early as the late 1950s. Exxon then spent millions of dollars to misinform the public. Image source: The Guardian.)

The outcry built as New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman opened an investigation into Exxon’s activities. At issue was whether or not Exxon committed fraud or violated consumer protection and securities laws. Subsequently, the California Attorney General opened his own investigation into whether Exxon misinformed its shareholders, committed securities fraud, or violated environmental laws. And by mid summer of 2016, seventeen state attorney generals were involved in the growing legal action.

After various Congressional wranglings and court hearings, the case against Exxon is now headed for a New York state trial. It now appears that Exxon is likely to be found guilty of some or all of these charges. A decision that the company is likely to attempt to appeal.

Children Sue National Governments Over Human Rights and Welfare

Also in August of 2015, a group of children in Juliana vs the United States sued the federal government — arguing that its actions have endangered future generations’ rights to the degree that it threatened their survival. The government is argued to have endangered these children and to have failed in its duty to protect their access to crucial natural resources — to include a stable atmosphere and a natural world capable of sustaining the people of the United States.

(In the U.S., a variety of climate impacts ranging from sea level rise devouring coastlines, to worsening droughts, heatwaves, fires, and floods, to increasingly intense storms, to declining ocean health, air and water quality, to harm to the U.S. food and water security all threaten our children’s future well-being and survival. Their lawsuit — compelling the federal government to act decisively on climate change — continues to move forward in federal court. Image source: Common Dreams.)

The lawsuit has named President Donald Trump as a party to be held accountable. But the legal action’s overall aim is to compel the U.S. federal government to act in a decisive manner to respond to climate change in order to protect the survival and well being of future generations. The lawsuit continues to advance in federal court despite numerous calls by the fossil fuel industry and by the Trump Administration to have the case thrown out or delayed (you can read the legal argument of the plaintiffs here). At this point, the case appears likely to receive a hearing this year.

On April 1 of 2017, a similar lawsuit was also filed by 9 year old Ridhima Pandey against the government of India. Ridhima’s lawsuit argues that India, which is also the world’s third largest carbon emitter, has failed to put into action the promises it made by signing the Paris Agreement on climate change. The case also alleges that India has violated its public trust doctrine, its implied promise to provide inter-generational equality, and a number of national environmental laws. Ridhima’s lawsuit comes as India has increasingly succumbed to dangerous heatwaves, droughts, and floods which have harmed food production, provoked mass suicides by farmers, and put the water security of a number of provinces into increasing jeopardy.

UK Government Faces Lawsuit in 21 Days if it Fails to Act on Carbon Budget

In the UK, promises to cut carbon emissions are now legally binding. Britain’s Climate Change Act required the government to find a way to reduce the amount of carbon hitting the atmosphere by 57 per cent through 2032. And considerable progress has been made toward this goal as a shift away from coal precipitated a 33 percent drop from 1992 through 2014. However, the government’s reliance on fracking, its sand-bagging of renewable energy adoption policies, and its failure to more fully incentivize electric vehicles has now put it in a position where the 57 percent goal is falling out of reach.

In response, environmental law firm ClientEarth is giving the UK government 21 days to make good by producing a policy that puts emissions reductions back on track to meet 2032 goals. Failure to do so, says the firm, will result in a lawsuit against the government for not meeting its legal obligations to the public.

(Climate change denial may make you want to laugh or cry. But it’s a deadly serious matter.)

James Thornton, chief executive at ClientEarth, noted:

“We want to work with the government on a strong, effective emissions reduction plan, but all we get is never-ending delays. Government must publish the plan, and must consult with industry and civil society. If it continues to kick this can down the road, we will have no option but to consider legal action.”

Paradigm Shift Running Throughout Civil Society

Legal actions holding powerful corporations accountable for climate harms, holding governments to account for failing to provide for the welfare of future generations, and legally compelling governments to adhere to climate policy obligations represents a pivotal shift in the rules and standards governing western civil societies. It provides an institution that enables citizens and environmental watch-dogs to shape climate policy while holding bad climate actors to account. And this critical social advancement in the presently perilous age when climate impacts are now starting to be realized could not have come soon enough.

Links:

Pressure on Exxon Intensifies

What’s Scarier than the Permian Extinction? Burn all the Fossil Fuels to Find Out.

350.org

Business as Usual Emissions Path

Professor Calls Out Writer Who Misleads on Climate Change

Exxon Mobil Climate Change Contraversy

Exxon Spear-Headed Misinformation Campaign Against its Own Scientists

Children’s Climate Lawsuit Names Trump

Small Children Take on Big Oil

Kids Sue U.S. Government over Climate Change

9-Year-Old Sues Indian Government over Climate Change

UK Government Threatened with Legal Action Over Failure to Cut Emissions

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Erik

Florida Emergency Declared as More Than 100 Wildfires Burn Across the State

The effects of global warming on temperature, precipitation levels, and soil moisture are turning many of our forests into kindling during wildfire season.The Union of Concerned Scientists

*****

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency yesterday as a deepening drought and above average temperatures sparked a large wildfire outbreak.

(Florida is now under a state of emergency due to widespread wildfires.)

Over 100 wildfires across the state have now burned 20,000 acres, destroyed 19 homes, and blanketed dense population centers like Orlando with smoke. Moderate to severe drought conditions cover 42 percent of the state. And the result is the worst fire season since 2011 — a record outbreak for Florida which burned over 200,000 acres during the year.

So far for 2017, about 2.5 times the area of land that burns during a usual wildfire season by mid April has already been consumed.  Fires are now burning from one end of Florida to the other:

“From St. George Island in the Panhandle to a wildfire just north of one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions in Orlando, we’re seeing that every area of our state is susceptible to wildfire,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said.

(Moderate to severe drought across 42 percent of Florida is increasing fire risk. The dry season for this region typically lasts until June when Atlantic moisture arrives — bringing with it more frequent thunderstorms. Image source: The U.S. Drought Monitor.)

Florida wildfire season typically runs year-round. However, January to June sees higher fire risk as drier conditions settle in. Summer rains tend to tamp down fires during the hotter months as oceanic and gulf moisture flows increase.

This year, record to near record warm sea surface conditions in the Gulf of Mexico have helped to lock in warmer to much warmer than average temperatures over Florida from January to April. These warmer than normal temperatures have helped to promote drought onset during the dry season.

(As global temperatures have increased, so too have the number of acres burned by wildfires. Image source: US EPA.)

Climate change also plays a role by increasing rates of drought onset, by pushing average temperatures higher, and by generally amplifying wildfire risk. Like many places, Florida has probably been rendered more vulnerable to wildfires by a warming primarily brought on by fossil fuel burning. And it is also a sad irony that the present Governor has outlawed the use of the words climate change in government communications due to a harmful political ideology which has decided to deny the basic science of human-caused warming (Trump has issued similar gag orders). A backward and reactionary policy that renders Florida less able to mitigate and respond to disasters related to human-caused climate change.

Presently, drought conditions are not as intense as those that contributed to the severe 2011 wildfire outbreak. However, forecasters are calling for little rain over the coming week and continued warm to warmer than normal weather. If this weather continues, the present Florida drought is likely to worsen — along with the fire risk.

(UPDATED)

Links:

The U.S. Drought Monitor

Florida Governor Declares State of Emergency as Destructive Wildfires Rage Across State

Polk County Emergency Management

Florida Wildfire State of Emergency

Is Global Warming Fueling Increased Fire Risks?

2017’s Warming Climate Produces Unprecedented Floods Across the Globe

“A robust result, consistent across climate model projections, is that higher precipitation extremes in warmer climates are very likely to occur.” — IPCC

“As the climate has warmed… heat waves are longer and hotter. Heavy rains and flooding are more frequent. In a wide swing between extremes, drought, too, is more intense and more widespread.” — Climate Communications

*****

It’s a tough fact to get one’s head around. But a warming climate means that many regions will both experience more extreme droughts and more extreme floods. The cause for this new weather severity is that a warming planet produces higher rates of evaporation together with more intense atmospheric convection. Warmer air over land means that the moisture gets baked out of terrain, lakes and rivers faster. And this warming effect causes droughts to settle in more rapidly, to become more intense than we are used to, and to often last for longer periods.

(As the climate warms, instances of extreme weather — both droughts and floods — increase. Image source: NOAA/UCAR.)

On the flip side of this severe weather coin, more moisture evaporating from the world’s lands and oceans means that the atmosphere contains a greater volume of moisture overall. This heavier moisture load enters a hotter, thicker, taller lower atmosphere (troposphere). One that is becoming increasingly stingy about giving up that moisture in the form of precipitation much of the time. All that heat and added convective energy just serves as a big moisture trap. So the load of moisture has to be heavier, overall, to fall out. When the atmospheric moisture hoarding finally relents, it does so with a vengeance. Thicker clouds with higher tops drench lands and seas with heavier volumes of rain and snow. And when the rain does fall from these larger storms, it tends to come, more and more often, in torrents.

California Record Drought to Record Flood in Just 4 Years

A set of facts that were drawn into stark relief recently in California which over the past few years experienced one of its driest periods on record but, in 2017, is on tap to see its wettest year ever recorded for broad regions. In a section of hard-hit Northern California, the cumulative 2017 rainfall average had, as of yesterday (April 9), hit 87.5 inches. The record for the region in all of the past 122 years is 88.5 inches for the entire year.

(Cumulative precipitation in Northern California set to beat all time record during 2017. Data Source: California Department of Water Resources. Image source: The Sacramento Bee.)

It is just early April. But the region tends to receive most of its moisture from January through March. However, all it would take is a relatively minor storm system to tip the scales into record territory. And it now appears likely that this region will see in excess of 90 inches for the present year.

Infrastructure damage from this year’s flood for the state is likely to considerably exceed $1 billion. Damage to roads alone is nearly $700 million. And that does not include stresses to dams — like the one at Lake Oroville where an eroded spillway threatened structural integrity and forced 200,000 people to evacuate. Overall, the cost of the repairs combined with the cost of hardening California’s infrastructure to these new extreme weather events could top $50 billion.

New Zealand — Debbie Brings 500 Year Flood Event with More to Follow

In New Zealand, a Tropical Storm Debbie (which struck Australia as a Category 4 Hurricane and flooded 1,800 homes in the town of Rockhampton) engorged with the extraordinarily high volume of moisture evaporating from the very warm waters of the Pacific Ocean produced a rain event that, under normal climate conditions, would have occurred only once every 500 years. The storm blanketed much of New Zealand with strong winds and heavy rains — sparking flooding and power outages. On North Island, the system hit a new extreme as it dumped a record two months worth of rain (7.5 inches) in just two days upon the town of Edgecumbe. The torrent swelled the nearby Rangitaiki River, forced a levee breach, flooded the city, and spurred thousands of residents to evacuate.

(Cyclone Cook takes aim at New Zealand and a link-up with a trough dipping through the region. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Across New Zealand, flooding damage estimates from the event are expected to considerably exceed 1 billion dollars and could track into the billions.

Meanwhile, Cyclone Cook, similarly engorged with moisture, is in the process of combining with a large trough extending down from the Southern Ocean and over New Zealand. Cook is predicted to track toward New Zealand across ocean waters that are 1-2 C warmer than normal over the next few days. It is expected to feed energy into a long frontal system extending up from the ocean region just north of Antarctica. Present model predictions indicate the potential for extremely high cloud moisture loading in the range of 3.5 kilograms of water per square meter over parts of North Island near Tauranga in the 26-30 hour time-frame. A worrisome potential extreme precipitation hot spot in a mated system that is expected to again blanket New Zealand with flooding rains over the next three days.

Peru, Colombia, Ecuador Floods

In isolation, each of these extreme events would be odd enough. But right now the issue is that the heightened frequency and widespread geographic dispersal of extreme flooding is a considerable concern. And to this trend of more widespread incidents, we can add the extraordinarily severe flooding that has impacted several South American nations during early 2017.

(Strong El Nino events are often associated with flooding in western South America. Though an El Nino is expected during 2017, it is predicted to be weak-to-moderate in intensity. So it is likely that the very warm waters feeding extreme rains in the region were given an assist by human-forced climate change. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Very warm sea surface temperatures off South America this winter and spring have fed into record rains across Peru, Ecuador and Columbia. In Peru, what was arguably the worst flooding ever recorded for the state during March destroyed tens of thousands of buildings, rendered 700,000 people homeless, resulted in the loss of about 100 souls, and wrecked 6,000 miles of highway and scores of bridges. The number of people made homeless by this single series of extreme weather events is particularly staggering — amounting to about 1 out of every 40 people living in the state. For Peru alone, an estimated 9 billion dollars is now needed to recover.

Nearby Ecuador also experienced record rains. Tens of thousands of acres flooded as 20 people lost their lives and thousands of people were forced to evacuate. And in the Colombian town of Macoa near the Ecuador border, a severe, rain-bomb type, thunderstorm associated with this extraordinarily moist weather pattern unleashed mudslides and torrents of water so violent that 254 victims were unable to escape.

Conditions in Context

(Atmospheric rivers are often associated with extreme rainfall events as was the case with California this winter and spring. Global water vapor tracking enables us to track these atmospheric rivers streaming out from the moisture-rich Equatorial region. Image source: CIMSS.)

It is worth noting that each of these instances of severe rainfall around the globe rank as either the worst on record or nearly the worst on record for the impacted regions. They occur in a similar temporal space but over a widely varied geographical extent. In the instance of apparent cyclone flooding amplification in Australia and New Zealand — very warm and above average sea surface temperatures appear to have been involved. This is also the case with the severe rains seen in South America. In California, a shift in the weather pattern from extremely dry to extremely wet followed a receding of hot ocean conditions and an associated blocking pattern. The warm Pacific waters which pushed storms north into Alaska and Canada instead shifted to a cool-north, warm-south pattern that intensified the storm track and enabled the direction of record high atmospheric moisture plumes near the Equator toward California. All of these various patterns are consistent with what we would expect from a human-forced warming of our climate.

Links:

IPCC

NOAA/UCAR

California Drought Area

The Sacramento Bee

California Flood Damage Likely to Exceed $1 Billion

California Flood Control Price Tag $50 Billion

Catastrophic Floods From Debbie Force Thousands to Evacuate

LANCE-MODIS

Earth Nullschool

Cyclone Cook Could Bring Further Floods to New Zealand

Peru Floods

Peru Floods to Cost 9 Billion

Ecuador Floods Force Thousands to Evacuate

For Colombia, the Rain Bombs of Climate Change Fell in the Dark of Night

CIMSS

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to Climatehawk

Global Coral Bleaching Update — Pacific Corals, Seychelles in Danger as Great Barrier Reef Cools

The last global coral bleaching event that inflicted a degree of damage comparable to the one we are now experiencing occurred during 1997 through 1999. Back then, global annual surface temperatures hit a peak of 0.85 degrees Celsius hotter than 1880s averages and ocean temperatures in many regions hit a range of 29-30 C or more. This warming-spurred event generated never-before seen wreckage among the world’s corals.

(Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures are again warming as the Equatorial region progresses toward a predicted 2017 El Nino. Sea surface temperature anomalies of 1-2 C above average are now very widespread with embedded hot spots that contain 2-4 C above average temperatures [see above map]. These anomalies are enough to continue a global coral bleaching event that has now lasted for four years. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The 2014 to 2017 Global Coral Bleaching Event

In 2014, annual average global temperatures began to exceed 0.9 C above 1880s values before climbing to a 1.06 C departure in 2015 and a 1.2 C departure in 2016. This surface warming — spurred in part by increasingly warm surface waters — set off a coral bleaching event the world over that has now lasted four years. An event that presently has no end in sight. One that is now considerably worse than the 1997-1999 bleaching in a number of key measures.

During 2017, ocean surface temperatures are again expected to warm as a weak-to-moderate El Nino is predicted to form. Meanwhile, global atmospheric 2 meter temperatures will likely remain in a range of 1.1 to 1.3 C above 1880s values for the year. As a result, global coral bleaching is still very widespread and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

(Considerable coral bleaching is predicted for the next four months in NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch report.)

According to NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch:

…in the central equatorial Pacific, bleaching heat stress continues to build. The Austral Islands are now at Alert Level 2 bleaching stress (associated with widespread coral bleaching and significant mortality), and the Southern Cook Islands are at Alert Level 1 (associated with significant coral bleaching) – with an expected escalation to Alert Level 2 stress in the next 1-4 weeks. Alert Level 2 conditions are also expected in the Northern Cook Islands, the Samoas, Wallis & Futuna, Northern Tonga, Southern Tonga, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Society Archipelago, the Pitcairne Islands, and Easter Island, Chile in the next 1-4 weeks. Alert Level 1 bleaching stress is anticipated in the Southern Line Islands, Tuvalu, and the Marquesas Islands in the next 5-8 weeks.

For reference, an Alert Level 1 means that bleaching is likely and an Alert Level 2 means that coral mortality is likely.

Back-to-Back Bleaching for Great Barrier Reef Somewhat Mitigated by Debbie, Seychelles Concerns Increase

Australia’s national treasure — Great Barrier Reef — was, this year, undergoing a second extreme coral bleaching event comparable to the 2016 bleaching which wiped out an estimated 22 percent of the reef’s living corals. That’s 1 in 5 corals gone in just one year. And with a second mass coral bleaching now underway, anxieties over the staggering impacts to this precious living system are running high. That said, recent reports indicate that Hurricane Debbie has delivered somewhat cooler waters to sections of the reef — raising some hopes that the 2017 event may be less harmful than predicted.

Professor Terry Hughes, a world-renowned coral reef expect, continues to offer notes of concern stating that “Cyclone Debbie has come a month too late and in the wrong place to prevent mass bleaching.”  Sea surface temperature maps indicate that while some sections of the reef have seen cooler waters, other sections continue to see water temperatures in a range warm enough to cause bleaching. In addition, many reefs had already bleached prior to the arrival of Debbie. What can be said is that though bleaching has been considerable during 2017, and probably comparable to 2016 for many regions, it would have been worse had Debbie not delivered cooling to some sections.

(Consensus models predict a moderate-strength El Nino during 2017. Such an event would likely continue to keep ocean surfaces warm enough to generate widespread bleaching. Image source: NOAA.)

In addition to noted mass bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef and in numerous other Pacific reefs as indicated by NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch report, anxieties are now running high in the Seychelles. This Indian Ocean island chain is currently seeing mass bleaching among many corals. Now, only  3-5 percent of corals remain alive at a widespread number of locations following 2016’s extreme ocean warming. Experts suggest that many Seychelles reefs will require about 15 years to recover. Unfortunately, human-forced global warming through fossil fuel burning is likely to deliver continued bleaching stress to the Seychelles and a rather wide range of other reefs during multiple years to follow.

The issue is that global temperatures have now reached a threshold that is likely to produce mass bleaching during most years and that these temperatures continue to rise. It is unlikely that we will ever see another year that is even as cool as the 1997-1999 El Nino that produced the last major global coral bleaching event. And so we are entering a time of continuous peril for the world’s reefs.

(UPDATED)

Links:

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch report

NOAA

NASA GISS

Earth Nullschool

Hat tip to Unaturalfx

Arctic Sea Ice Volume Continues to Crater

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”John Adams

*****

 

(March sea ice volume hit a new record low in the PIOMAS measure during 2017. Image source: Oren and the Arctic Sea Ice Blog.)

This week, measurements from PIOMAS indicate that Arctic sea ice volume for the month of March hit new, all-time record lows during 2017. March 2017 volume, according to the Polar Science Center, dropped about 1,800 cubic kilometers from the previous record low set during the same month in 2011. In total, more than a third of March sea ice volume has been lost since 1979.

The Polar Science Center notes:

Arctic sea ice volume through March 2017 continued substantially below prior years. March 2017 sea ice  volume was 19,600 km3 ,  1800 km3 below the previous record from March in 2011. This record is in part the result of anomalously high temperatures throughout the Arctic for November through January discussed here and here [and here]. February volume was 39% below the maximum March ice volume in 1979,  27% below the 1979-2016 mean, and more than 1.7 standard deviations below the long term trend line.

This increasingly thin ice cover should continue to grow a little more to reach a seasonal peak during the first or second week of April. And as you can see when looking at the graph below, the trend line following that peak does not paint a very optimistic picture for sea ice resiliency during the 2017 melt season.

(The rate of sea ice refreeze this year has been very slow. As a result, the trend line points toward the potential for a melt season that exceeds even the record low year of 2012. Image source: PIOMAS.)

Merely transposing the present gap between March 2017 and the last record low to the end of melt season in September would about split the difference between 2012’s record melt and a completely ice-free Arctic Ocean — leaving about 1,700 km3 sea ice remaining by September of 2017.

A more detailed meta-analysis of this rather ominous-looking trend line finds that after hitting a peak of around 20745 km3 of sea ice sometime this month, an average of 18270 km3 of this ice will tend to melt out during the spring and summer so long as the past 10 melt seasons are a reliable predictor of future results. If this happens, sea ice volume will hit a new record low of around 2,530 km3 by September — which would be about 1/3 smaller than the amount of ice remaining in the Arctic Ocean following the tremendous 2012 melt season. And a very strong melt season — similar to conditions seen in 2010 — could reduce the ice to less than 1,000 km3 which is well into the range of a near-ice-free state.

(The Arctic has never been so warm in winter as the number of freezing degree days hit a new record low during 2016-2017. For context, the less freezing degree days the Arctic Ocean sees, the closer it is to melting. Image source: Cryosphere Computing.)

Of course, April through June could see cooler conditions — which would tend to preserve more ice and tamp down the ultimate rate of loss. But the present record low sea ice volume and near record low extent sets up a situation where darker seas will absorb more sunlight and stack the odds in favor of warmer than typical conditions and higher overall rates of melt. Meanwhile, presently strong sea ice export through the Nares and Fram Straits appears to be continuing a trend of relative sea ice volume loss through early April.

(UPDATED)

Links:

PIOMAS

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Cryosphere Computing

Pair of Arctic Storms Sparked Severe Polar Warming, Sea Ice Melt For November of 2016

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Yvan

So Far, 2017 is in the Running to be the 4th Consecutive Hottest Year on Record

We haven’t quite gotten to the global ‘year without a winter’ yet. But it sure looks like we’re heading in that direction –fast.

Due to the highest volume of heat-trapping gasses hitting the Earth’s atmosphere in all of the past 4-15 million years combining with a warming of Pacific Ocean surface waters, the period of 2014 through 2016 saw an unprecedented three consecutive record hot years. With Pacific Ocean waters cooling during late 2016, it appeared that 2017 would become ‘just’ the 2nd to 5th hottest year ever recorded. But that was before the waters off South America’s west coast began to blaze with unexpected heat during early 2017 even as temperatures at the poles climbed to surprisingly warm levels.

(Due to the combined effects of extremely high levels of heat trapping gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere and a switch to the warmer phase of natural variability, the global rate of temperature increase has rocketed over the past three years. 2017 was not expected to continue this trend. But it might. Image source: Karsten Haustein. Data Source: NASA GISS.)

These two sources of unexpected added heat have left their mark. And though it’s still early in the global warming game for 2017, there appears to be an odd, but not entirely outlandish, chance that this year could beat out 2016 as the hottest year ever recorded.

The month of January 2017 came in at 1.14 C hotter than 1880s averages. Meanwhile February measured 1.32 C hotter than this 19th Century benchmark. In total, the first two months of 2017 averaged about 1.23 C hotter than 1880s — which is a hair hotter than 2016’s never-before-seen by modern humans annual average temperature.

(Extreme warmth over parts of Siberia and the Arctic appear to have helped push March of 2017 into the range of second hottest on record. The first three months of 2017 currently appear to be running in a range that’s ahead of 2016 annual record hot average.)

Looking ahead, early indications are that March was also around 1.3 C hotter than 1880s. If a first or second hottest March on record pans out as indicated by early NCEP and GFS model reanalysis, then the first three months of 2017 will come in nearly 0.1 C hotter than all of last year.

During the present human-forced warming trend, it has tended to take about ten years for a global temperature increase of 0.15 degrees Celsius to occur. And that rate of warming is about 30 times faster than the warming that occurred at the end of the last ice age. Since 2013, the world has warmed 0.25 C — which could jump to 0.3 to 0.35 C in the period of 2013 to 2017 if the present trend for this year continues.

There are many months still to go in 2017. So this potential isn’t at all certain at this time. However, with the Pacific Ocean heating up again, it appears that 2017 is going to give 2016 a real run for its ‘hottest ever’ title.

Links:

NASA GISS

Karsten Haustein

NCAR Reanalysis by Moyhu

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

For Colombia, The Rain Bombs of Climate Change Fell in the Dark of Night

As the lower atmosphere becomes warmer, evaporation rates will increase, resulting in an increase in the amount of moisture circulating throughout the troposphere (lower atmosphere). An observed consequence of higher water vapor concentrations is the increased frequency of intense precipitation events… — NASA’s Earth Observatory

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Just off the coasts of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, the Pacific Ocean has been abnormally warm of-late. For the past month, sea surface temperatures have ranged between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above average. This excess heating of the ocean surface, facilitated by human-forced climate change, has pumped a prodigious volume of moisture into the atmosphere of this coastal region. Southerly winds running along the western edge of South America have drawn this moisture north and eastward — feeding into the prevailing storms that originate on the Atlantic side of South America and track eastwards.

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map from Earth Nullschool shows 4 degree Celsius above average ocean surfaces just off-shore of Ecuadore and Colombia. These extremely warm waters have helped to fuel very severe storms over Peru and Colombia during recent weeks. Such warm ocean waters are not normal and their highest peak temperatures are being increased by a human-forced warming of the Earth, primarily through fossil fuel burning. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Lately, these systems have blown up to enormous size as they’ve run across the Andes or collided with pop-up storms along the coast. And the amount of rainfall coming out of the resulting monster thunderstorms has been devastating. In Peru, hundreds of thousands of people have been rendered homeless by these deluges which have caused the tragic loss of 100 souls, destroyed thousands of buildings, 200 bridges, and 2,000 miles of highway. For the state, the estimated damage toll from this ongoing climate disaster is now 6 billion dollars.

Friday night, a member of this new breed of monster thunderstorms, pumped to greater intensity by the moisture bleed off the record warm ocean waters, unloaded a total of a half-month’s worth of rainfall in just a few hours upon the small Colombian city of Mocoa. More than five inches fell in 1-2 hours on a region where three rivers run out of the mountains toward this community of 40,000. The deluge arrived in the darkness. Its ferocious intensity unleashed a massive flood of boulders, mud, and water as the combined rivers leapt their banks and invaded the town. A nearby hillside, unable to retain integrity beneath this merciless assault of the elements, gave way — burying a large section of Macoa in rubble.

(Extremely high atmospheric moisture loading in the thunderstorm system approaching the Macoa region on Friday, March 31 is indicative of global warming’s impact on the Earth’s hydrological cycle. As oceans and lands warm, the rate of evaporation and precipitation increases. This change generates more extreme versions of storms and droughts by increasing the highest peak intensity for such events. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Residents caught unawares were forced to immediately flee homes with little more than the clothes on their backs — carrying infants or dragging children in tow as the flood waters swirled around them and as a wall of moving earth, uprooted trees and large rocks tore through town. Many escaped, but an estimated 254 residents were not so lucky and are now counted among those lost to the raging torrent and landslides.

President Juan Manuel Santos declared the city a disaster zone Saturday even as relief workers searched for survivors in the rubble and as make-shift shelters and hospitals were set up to aid the injured and displaced. According to CBC:

Santos blamed climate change for triggering the avalanche, saying that the accumulated rainfall in one night was almost half the amount Mocoa normally receives in the entire month of March. With the rainy season in much of Colombia just beginning, he said local and national authorities need to redouble their efforts to prevent a similar tragedy (emphasis added).

(UPDATED)

Links:

More Than 200 Killed in Colombia Flood — Swept Away as They Slept

Desperation Sets in as Flood Death Toll Tops 200

Damages Mount in Peru Floods

Earth Nullschool

NASA’s Earth Observatory

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Zeebra Designs

A Halo of Storms and Heatwaves — New Study Confirms that Global Warming is Wrecking the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream

“We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events.”Michael Mann

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The Earth is warming, the weather is growing more extreme, and from the observational perspective, it appears that the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream has undergone some seriously disturbing changes. Over the past five years, this subject has been one that’s spurred heated debate among scientists, meteorologists, and global climate and weather watchers. Now, a new model study finds that it’s likely that the Jet Stream is being significantly altered by human-forced climate change and that this alteration is helping to drive extreme weather events like the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Pakistan flood and Russian heat wave, the 2011 Texas heat wave and recent floods in Europe.

(More extreme variation in upper level wind speeds is an upshot of polar warming during boreal summer. The result is that risks of severe heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and floods increases as the Earth warms. Image source: Michael Mann, Penn State.)

From the study:

… our analysis of both historical model simulations and observational surface temperature data, strongly suggests that anthropogenic warming is impacting the zonal mean temperature profile in a manner conducive to wave resonance and a consequent increase in persistent weather extremes in the boreal summer.

What this means is that the new study provides still more evidence that the Jet Stream’s north to south variance is increasing during summer. As a result, it is enabling powerful heat domes to form in regions where winds run from south to north. In regions where the upper level winds run from north to south, it creates cooler zones in which powerful storms can flood large swaths of countryside. In other words, increasingly juxtapposed zones of extreme temperature anomalies and higher atmospheric instability and moisture loading tend to form more and more often. And this results in weather patterns that we have never really seen before.

(An Inconvenient Sequel is a call for action on climate change like we’ve never seen before. And the imperative to act on climate is now stronger than it ever was.)

The fact that the Mann study uses observational and model assessments to find that such changes are likely to very likely now being caused by human-forced warming and related polar amplification is a highly significant scientific finding. It adds one more attribution tie to the extreme weather events that we’ve been seeing with increasing frequency. A tie directly to global warming. And it does so through model studies that identify the underlying physical mechanisms at work. It’s a pivotal moment in the atmospheric sciences. And everyone needs to sit up and pay attention.

Credits: 

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Cate

Scientific hat tip to Dr Michael Mann

(Please support publicly-funded, non-special interest based science that is now under assault by the climate change denying Trump Administration)

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

paris-emissions-chart-columbia (1)

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

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

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

(UPDATED)

Credits:

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Naturalfx

Hat tip to Timothy Thalen

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Record Low Sea Ice Maximum a Lock as Arctic Continues Trend of Ridiculous Warmth

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the Arctic knows that it’s seen a ridiculously warm fall and winter during 2016 and 2017. And, unfortunately, new predicted temperature spikes appear to be on tap for the coming days in one of the more climate-sensitive regions of our world.

(Another big Arctic temperature spike is predicted for later this week with readings expected to hit as high as 5.1 C above average for the entire Arctic. So much warmth in this region will continue to put melt press on sea ice, snow packs, permafrost and glaciers. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

High amplitude waves in the Jet Stream, according to the Global Forecast System Model, are set to drive dual warm air invasions into the Arctic. The first warm air invasion is taking place over North-Central Siberia and is the continuation of a general pattern of warm air delivery that has now lasted for about two weeks through the region of the Kara, Laptev, and East Siberian seas. The second, and albeit weaker, warm air delivery is set to run northward through the Northwest Territories of Canada and on into the Beaufort Sea and Canadian Archipelago.

Temperatures in these warm air invasion zones are expected to rise to between 10 and 30 degrees Celsius above average (18 to 54 F above average). In some places covering these warm wind invasion zones, we are also expected to see sporadic above freezing readings and, in the case of the Laptev — periods of liquid precipitation over the sea ice.

(The record low maximum sea ice extent for 2017 looks more and more like a lock as another big temperature spike rushes into the Arctic.)

Overall, Arctic average temperatures above the 66 degree north latitude line are expected to range between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above average over the next seven days. As anomaly departures tend to tamp down a bit as spring emerges, these are very high temperature deltas for this time of year.

These continued very high temperature anomalies and what is a trend of extreme and extraordinary warmth for the Arctic has kept sea ice extent measures in record low ranges throughout much of late March. Over the coming days, the most recent warm spate will likely produce an ongoing weakening of ice on the Russian side even as the warmer readings across the Beaufort and Canadian Archipelago will tend to tamp down late season ice thickness building (as typically occurs during late March through April) over the last remnants of multi-year sea ice.

(NASA satellite shot of sea ice shows considerable early melt along the Russian side of the Arctic Ocean.)

In the image above, we find that the ice on the Russian side is already broken, thinning, and opening up into numerous polynyas. Ice is particularly reduced in the Kara (lower right) for this time of year. And the break-ups and mobility of the non-fast ice in the Laptev and East Siberian seas are considerably advanced.

As we reported last week, Arctic sea ice volume trends are now in considerable record low ranges and the excess heat on the Canadian and Russian sides will continue to put pressure on those values. Another instance of the ongoing downfall of global sea ice that kicked into high gear during 2016 and 2017 as human forced warming of the climate system through fossil fuel burning took another step toward ever-warmer conditions.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

Climate Reanalyzer

NSIDC

PIOMAS

Hat tip to Zack Labe

From Canada to Siberia, Permafrost Thaw Produces ‘Hell’s Mouth’ Craters, Sinking Lands, and 7,000 Methane Pockets Waiting to Blow 

In places like Canada and Siberia, a memory of ice ages long past is locked away in the very soil. There, dig about three feet down, and you’ll encounter a layer of frozen earth running from 200 feet to almost a mile deep in some places. It’s like a great glacier secreted away underground and covering about 19 million square kilometers of the Northern Hemisphere. We call this frozen ground permafrost.

An Enormous Pile of Sequestered Carbon

Permafrost generally forms in regions where the mean annual temperature is below zero degrees Celsius. And the presently large expanse of permafrost has formed over the past 2-3 million years in which long, cold ice ages and short, and somewhat warmer interglacial periods have dominated.

(Recent research indicates that up to 120 billion tons of carbon could release from thawing permafrost this Century due to the warming that is now being caused by human fossil fuel burning. Such a release would roughly equate to 12 years of present fossil fuel burning adding approximately 40 ppm of CO2 equivalent gasses to the Earth’s Atmosphere [adding about 0.4 C to medium term warming and 0.8 C to long term warming]. The risk posed by this additional carbon feedback coming from the Earth System highlights the need to halt fossil fuel burning as swiftly as possible. Image source: The Impact of Permafrost Carbon Feedback on Global Climate.)

Locked away in all that permafrost is a massive store of carbon. Including peat, methane and methane hydrates, permafrost is estimated to have sequestered some 1,400 to 1,700 billion tons of a material that, if released as gas, could considerably contribute to the volume of heat trapping substances (like CO2 and CH4) already held aloft in the Earth’s atmosphere in a process that scientists call an amplifying climate feedback.

Evidence of Thaw and a Building Carbon Feedback

But now, human fossil fuel burning is causing the Arctic to rapidly warm — at about 3 times faster than the rate of warming for the rest of the globe (0.6 C per decade in the Arctic). And with atmospheric CO2 concentrations presently above 400 parts per million (and CO2e concentrations above 490 parts per million), the world is now starting to thaw out of the icy period of the last 2-3 million years. As a result, the permafrost is melting.

 

(Thermokarst lakes near Hudson Bay. Image source: Commons.)

When permafrost melts it changes the land around it. Often times, land subsides and deforms as the icy permafrost below collapses when it thaws. The resulting underground cavities can also telegraph to the surface in the form of sink holes. In places where microbes or hydrates are present, the cavities can fill with gas — which can sometimes erupt in a methane blow hole or ‘hell’s mouth’ crater. In Canada, a new study recently discovered that 52,000 square miles of northwestern permafrost is already thawing. The thaw is producing large sink holes, causing coastlines to rapidly erode, and proliferating the round ponds known as thermokarst lakes.

But it’s not just Canada that’s feeling the thaw. In Siberia, warming is also eating away at the permafrost. And what is happening there is arguably on a much grander and more disturbing scale than what we presently see in Canada. In East Siberia, for example, a 100 meter deep, 1 kilometer long crater has formed in the sagging Permafrost. It is officially called the Batagaika craterBut the locals know it as the Gateway to the Underworld. The crater began as a small deformation during the 1960s when permafrost thaw in the region initiated. It has, over the decades, grown considerably larger — with the growth rate accelerating along with permafrost melt during recent years.

(Time lapse of Batagaika Crater expansion from 1984 to 2016 as provided by Google’s Earth Engine.)

Further west, the Yamal region of Russia is seeing strange bulges dispersing across the land. The bulges, according to Russian scientists and to reports in the Siberian Times, are being caused by bubbles of methane gas beneath the surface. The scientists state that these formations are likely being triggered by warming — in which either methane hydrates trapped within the permafrost are thawing or where microbes have come in contact with thawed permafrost carbon to break it down and produce methane. And in recent years, this region of Arctic Siberia has seen some very warm temperatures — with readings hitting as high as 35 C (95 F) during the summer of 2016.

These same researchers now note that some 7,000 underground methane bubbles exist in this region and that warming is pushing them to erupt. When the pressure below the land surface reaches a critical point, the Siberian Times report suggests that the land above can be displaced — bursting outward. The Siberian Times went on to note that large holes forming in the Yamal region during 2014 and 2015 were caused by just this kind of methane eruption.

(The Yamal Crater was one of the first indications that methane pockets forming beneath the Siberian Tundra were starting to erupt due to human-forced warming. Image source: The Siberian Times.)

Touchy Subject Scientifically and Politically

Permafrost thaw producing high volumes of feedback carbon release can be a touchy subject in the sciences and politically. The reason is that rational responses to this threat moves decision points forward on human carbon emissions cuts and it adds to the concern that atmospheric carbon capture will be needed later this century and on through many centuries to follow in order to prevent a scenario in which carbon feedbacks cause a form of warming runaway.

It doesn’t help that the science on permafrost carbon feedback is also new and rife with uncertainty — generating a kind of gray area in which rumors and misinformation can multiply. And there also appears to be some indication that the fossil fuel industry is attempting to use the issue to push gas extraction and burning in the Arctic — falsely claiming that all of the gas is going to release anyway. Which is not true — a portion of the permafrost carbon and related methane would remain sequestered even as human extraction efforts, if they continued indefinitely, would ultimately result in the release of a much larger portion of this carbon to the atmosphere than mere feedbacks alone.

It is worth noting that presently accepted science indicates that the present rate of atmospheric carbon release due to fossil fuel burning is likely many times that of the potential annual carbon release coming from the permafrost even under the worst case warming scenarios. And because that realized rate of permafrost carbon release is directly tied to how much fossil fuel we ultimately burn, we should be very clear that the urgency to cut these emissions couldn’t be higher.

Links:

Permafrost

The Impact of Permafrost Carbon Feedback on Global Climate

The Siberian Times

Massive Permafrost Thaw Documented in Canada

Time lapse of Batagaika Crater expansion

Batagaika Crater

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

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