Record Heat Predicted for Fort McMurray Wednesday as Fire Danger Spikes

Just a little more than one year after freakish global warming-spurred wildfires forced a near complete evacuation of the tar sands production town of Fort McMurray, Alberta, record heat and extreme fire hazard are again settling in over this subarctic region.

(Subarctic sections of Alberta are expected to experience temperatures in the upper 80s and lower 90s [F] tomorrow. Such heat is expected to spike fire dangers throughout the region. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The weather forecast for Wednesday, May 31, 2017 tells a story of predicted extreme heat for a typically cool region of Northwest Canada. High temperatures for the day are expected to range from 86 to 90 F (30 to 32 C). That’s a hot day anywhere. But it’s particularly impressive for a region that shares a common climate with places like historically cold Alaska and Hudson Bay.

Average high temperatures for Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada for this time of year typically top out at a rather cool 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 C) — closer to the expected Wednesday morning low of 62 F (17 C). Wednesday’s forecast high, meanwhile, is quite considerably outside the normal range and exceeds 30 year averages by fully 22 to 26 degrees F. If such heat does emerge, it will tie or break the 2007 all-time record for May 31 of 86 F (30 C).  Such record heat is now predicted to occur after today’s expected, well above average, high of 80 F (26 C).

(A spike in fire hazard early this week coincides with predicted record temperatures across Alberta. Image source: Alberta Fire.)

Unseasonable warmth — which deepened over the weekend and is expected to peak by Wednesday — is presently resulting in spiking fire dangers for the region. According to the government of Alberta, fire risk for Fort McMurray is now listed as very high through Wednesday due to above average to near record high temperatures and low humidity. Fire hazard for a large swath of Northern Alberta is now also rated very-high-to-extreme.

It is worth noting that the overall fire situation for Canada to-date is presently much-improved from 2016. Last year, outlandish warmth combined with high winds and dry conditions to fuel an unusually large fire outbreak over Central and Northwestern Canada during early May. This year, wetter than normal conditions have suppressed fire activity over much of Canada over the same seasonal period. And we have some regions in British Columbia that are now experiencing evacuations due flooding rivers.

(Wildfires are flaring over British Columbia even as rapidly rising temperatures are causing large snow packs to melt far more swiftly than normal. Such heat and rapid melt is producing a dual threat of flood and fire at the same time. Image source: BC Wildfire Service.)

Rising fire risks coinciding with hot and dry conditions are coming at the same time that this year’s moisture-engorged snow packs are melting at far faster than normal rates. Large fires are thus breaking out in British Columbia and along the Alberta border as heat and dryness spread northward even as creek and lake levels in places like Okanagan, BC are facing the highest flood stages ever recorded.

Overall, despite 2017’s rainy spring weather, the tale is still one of unusual warmth. May temperatures have ranged from 2 to 6 degrees Celsius above average over Northern and Central Canada during 2017. Such departures are in keeping with the ongoing trend of rapid warming in the upper Latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. A trend that has considerably worsened overall fire hazard by lengthening the fire season, by adding new fuels for fires, and by increasing the number of lightning strikes which help to provide ignition sources for wildfires. A warming that is directly caused by ongoing human fossil fuel burning and by related activities such as the tar sands extraction that continues unabated in Alberta.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Fort McMurray Weather

Weather Underground: Fort McMurray Climate

Alberta Fire

BC Wildfire Service

Thousands Forced to Evacuate Fort McMurray Due to Wildfires

Wildfires, Rising Water Levels Hamper Okanagan

Earth Observatory

“Too Huge to Manage” — New Studies Highlight Danger in Failing to Rapidly Cut Carbon Emissions Now

“If we continue burning coal and oil the way we do today and regret our inaction later, the amounts of greenhouse gas we would need to take out of the atmosphere in order to stabilize the climate would be too huge to manage,” — Lena Boysen from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Phys.org.

******

When it comes to dealing with global warming and human-forced climate change, the best options for response have always been rapid carbon emissions cuts and an equally rapid energy transition away from fossil fuel burning. And while swiftly transitioning energy systems away from fossil fuel burning, cutting carbon-based consumption, and aggressively increasing energy efficiency may all be seen as difficult or unsavory to the vocal and powerful special interests invested in continued burning of oil, gas, and coal, such cuts and transformations remain the safest path forward.

At issue is the fact that the two other chief climate change response ‘options’ are either inadequate on their own or, worse, can simply amount to so much reckless and harmful flailing about. Atmospheric geo-engineering and rapid removal of carbon from the Earth System — are either costly, difficult to scale to the level needed to remove carbon from the atmosphere fast enough to prevent serious harms under continuing fossil fuel burning, or, in the case of the solar radiation management version of geo-engineering, flat-out dangerous.

(New scientific studies highlight the fact that there is no substitute for a rapid halt to fossil fuel burning when it comes to preventing the worst impacts of human-caused climate change. Image source: The Sierra Club.)

Some of these basic facts were highlighted this week by a new study in the journal Science. The study — Rightsizing Carbon Dioxide Removal — found that under worst-case carbon emissions scenarios, there is practically not enough forested land area to grow the amount of switch grass and other biomass needed to recapture even half of the projected carbon emission. It also found that land mass dedicated to biomass production would need to equal roughly 1/3 of all forested lands under present emissions cuts goals under the Paris Climate Summit in order to prevent 2 C warming. A level of land use that would likely put global food security at risk.

Study Authors Katherine March and Christopher Field note that:

“The models generating possible trajectories of climate change mitigation bet on planetary-scale carbon removal in the second half of the century. For policymakers trying to limit the worst damages from climate change, that bet is reckless. This puts climate change mitigation, global food security and biodiversity protection on a collision course with no easy off-ramps.”

Only the most ambitious cuts to emissions combined with a moderate assist through considerable advances in atmospheric carbon capture provide a reasonable path to avoiding 2 C warming, according to the study.

A separate but similar study also published in May provides some confirmation to the Stanford study’s results. The co-author of that study, entitled The Limits to Global Warming Mitigation by Terrestrial Carbon Removal,Wolfgang Lucht from PIK notes in Phys.org:

“As scientists we are looking at all possible futures, not just the positive ones. What happens in the worst case, a widespread disruption and failure of mitigation policies? Would plants allow us to still stabilize climate in emergency mode? The answer is: no. There is no alternative for successful mitigation [cutting carbon emissions]. In that scenario plants can potentially play a limited, but important role, if managed well. [Emphasis Added]”

The issue is the fact that while methods like planting trees, changing the way we manage farmland, or even adding various carbon capturing biofuel plants and enhanced weathering materials to capture more carbon from the air is likely only capable of drawing down a fraction of the carbon we presently emit each year (and an even smaller fraction of carbon if emissions keep growing). At best, under practical considerations, we might be able to take down 1-3 billion tons of carbon every year compared to a present emission in excess of 10 billion tons and a BAU emission that could hit 20 billion tons of carbon per year or more.

 

(This graphic, produced by Greenpeace, provides a good illustration of basic carbon math. However, given the fact that warming will tend to push more carbon into the atmosphere from the Earth System and keep it there for a longer period, it’s likely that some assist by enhanced atmospheric carbon capture will be necessary even if carbon emissions are rapidly cut to zero. That said, atmospheric carbon capture at best provides an avenue for moderately enhancing atmospheric carbon draw-down. New studies warn that atmospheric carbon capture by itself and without coordinate rapid cuts to fossil fuel burning is not a practical solution. Image source: Greenpeace.)

Such levels of carbon capture, even if they were achieved in as short a time as two decades, would not be enough to prevent 2 C warming under anything but the most modest future emissions pathways. As a result, the primary climate change response strategy should continue to focus on increasing and rapidly scaling the size of planned emissions cuts. Meanwhile, atmospheric carbon capture is a good potential option as a follow-on to rapid emissions cuts to zero as soon as possible — providing a means eventually, over many decades, to possibly start to claw atmospheric greenhouse gases down from very dangerous and harmful levels. But such an option alone should not be viewed as something that will magically swoop in to save us from climate destruction if we continue to burn fossil fuels willy-nilly.

Chris Field — professor of biology & Earth System science and director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment provides this urgent observation following his study’s publication:

“For any temperature limit, we’ve got a finite budget of how much heat-trapping gases we can put into the atmosphere. Relying on big future deployments of carbon removal technologies is like eating lots of dessert today, with great hopes for liposuction tomorrow.”

With the caveat being that eating lots of dessert today is likely to have far more limited and less disastrous consequences than continuing to burn oil, gas and coal.

Links:

Rightsizing Carbon Dioxide Removal

The Limits to Global Warming Mitigation by Terrestrial Carbon Removal

Assuming Easy Carbon Removal is High-Stakes Gamble

Planting Trees Cannot Replace Carbon Emissions Cuts

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

 

New Crack Found in Delaware-Sized Chunk of Larsen C Ice Shelf as it Heads Toward Southern Ocean

A 2,000 square mile section of the Larsen C Ice Shelf is hanging by a thread as it continues to drift toward the Weddell Sea.

(A second crack develops in Larsen C Ice Shelf. Image source: Project MIDAS.)

The break-off section represents fully 10 percent of all the ice contained in the Larsen C system. It has been divided from the larger ice shelf by a 180 kilometer long crack that began to develop in 2009 and that swiftly lengthened during recent years. Now only a 10 kilometer wide bridge links the breaking section to the larger ice shelf. And considering the enormous stresses now being placed on this break-off section it is expected to go at any time.

Since January, according to researchers at Project MIDAS, the large crack has been widening but its length growth has stalled. However, recent reports out this week from MIDAS found that a new crack had developed at the ice-bridge end of the break-off section. The new crack appears to be rounding the corner of the bridge to begin a quicker path to segmenting the massive ice berg away from Larsen C. A testament to the powerful forces that are inevitably forcing this enormous section of ice to relinquish its hold.

(Large section of Larsen C is moving far faster than the rest of the ice shelf toward the Southern Ocean. Image source: Project MIDAS.)

At issue is the fact that the break-off section is moving toward the Weddell Sea considerably faster than the rest of the Larsen C ice shelf. Much of this large section of ice is proceeding away from the Antarctic mainland at 3 meters per day. Surrounding sections of Larsen C are moving at only 1-2 meters per day. As a result, the toe end of the break-off mass is tipping out into Weddell’s waters and the crack separating it from Larsen C is widening.

It’s not really a question of if this massive block of ice will separate from Larsen C. More an issue of how soon.

Loss of so large a section of ice from Larsen C threatens the entire ice shelf’s stability. And some scientists are questioning whether the whole ice shelf will destabilize and eventually splinter — as happened to Larsen A and Larsen B during recent years.

(Rapid loss of buttressing ice shelves like Larsen C lock in higher and higher ranges for sea level rise. A worrying risk for rapid sea level rise occurs as global temperatures warm to between 1.5 and 2.5 C. A level we are fast approaching. Scientists like James Hansen identify a significant risk for multi-meter sea level rise this Century if 2 C warming thresholds are breached. Video Source: Carbon Freeze.)

Warming ocean waters due to human-forced climate change are the primary driver for loss of ice shelves around the world. These ice shelves hold back land glaciers — preventing them from more rapidly sliding into the world’s oceans. Larsen C alone holds back glaciers capable of lifting global ocean levels by 4 inches. But there are numerous such ice shelves and many are now facing thinning and increasing instability due to warming ocean waters. As a result, a growing number of scientists are concerned about the possibility for multi-meter sea level rise this Century if fossil fuel burning is not swiftly halted.

Links:

Project MIDAS

Carbon Freeze

Second Giant Crack Appears on Larsen C

Crack in Larsen C Forks

Larsen C Destabilization Could Trigger 4 Inch Sea Level Rise

Hat tip to June

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

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

No El Nino — But March of 2017 Was the Second Hottest Ever Recorded

According to today’s report from NASA’s global temperature monitor, March of 2017 was the second hottest such month recorded in the 137 year climate record.

Temperatures for the month were 1.12 C hotter than NASA’s 20th Century baseline and 1.34 C hotter than 1880s averages. These warm temperatures likely represent a climate state not seen on Earth since at least the Eemian climate epoch of 115,000 years ago. They are also now in a range that is producing serious geophysical changes such as glacial melt, sea level rise, sea ice melt, more extreme weather, and declining ocean health.

(Temperature anomaly distributions during March of 2017 is indicative of continued, global warming related polar amplification. Image source: NASA.)

Much of the excess heat during March, as has been the case with many recent months, has focused at the poles. The northern polar region in particular saw considerable above average temperatures with extreme +4-12 C anomalies focusing over Siberia and the Russian side of the Arctic Ocean. 2-4 C above average conditions, meanwhile, blanketed much of Antarctica.

A key benchmark — sea surface temperatures in the central Equatorial Pacific — remained near average. Typically, warmer than normal temperatures in this region associated with El Nino tend to help push the world to new high temperature marks as the warm side of natural variability combines with the considerable effects of 405 ppm CO2 levels (along with other greenhouse gasses).

(The highest global CO2 levels in 4-15 million years is the primary driver of the present global warming event. During April through May, seasonal atmospheric CO2 levels peak. But since the mid 19th Century global CO2 levels have risen from 280 parts per million to the present average of 405 parts per million — primarily due to fossil fuel burning. Image source: The Copernicus Observatory.)

But despite near average ocean temperatures in this zone and a lack of El Nino conditions, March of 2017 was just 0.16 C cooler than the record warm March of 2016 and fully 0.2 C warmer than the, now third warmest, March of 2010.

NOAA models still predict that El Nino is about 50 percent likely to form during late summer — which could help to push 2017 temps into an even warmer range. But high uncertainty remains in this forecast. All that said, even without El Nino, the first three months of 2017 have averaged 1.26 C hotter than 1880s averages — which is 0.06 C warmer than the 1.2 C departure for the whole of the record-hot year of 2016. In other words, the first three months of 2017 were a hair hotter than the record hot 2016 annual averages. And with no El Nino providing an assist to these temperatures, it’s pretty clear that the world has entered a new, hot territory and left the tamer past decades far behind.

Links:

NASA GISS

The Copernicus Observatory

NOAA’s El Nino Diagnostic Discussion

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Entropicman

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

New Study: What’s Scarier than the Permian Extinction? Burn All the Fossil Fuels to Find Out.

If we burn all the fossil fuels “not only will the resultant climate change be faster than anything Earth has seen for millions of years, the climate that will exist is likely to have no natural counterpart, as far as we can tell, in at least the last 420 million years.”  — Gavin Foster, Professor of Isotope Geochemistry at the University of Southampton

*****

Back in the 1780s as coal-fired smoke stacks sprouted across England to belch their black soot into the hitherto virgin skies of Earth, it’s likely we had not yet an inkling of the vast destruction these dark Satanic Mills were ultimately capable of unleashing:

(Scientists have now found that burning all the fossil fuels through about 2250 could result in conditions that are worse than those that occurred during the Permian Extinction of 252 million years ago. Video source: Catastrophe — The Permian Extinction.)

Svante Arrhenius, by the late 19th Century, had hinted that coal burning might warm the Earth by a tiny bit in a few thousand years. But the very fossils we were digging up and burning at an ever-more-rapid pace warned of a different and far more ominous story (see video above). They hinted of a time when massive volumes of ancient carbon stored in the Earth were released into the atmosphere over the course of thousands of years. And that this release created such hot and toxic conditions that, for most living things, the Earth was no longer habitable.

Unsafe Warming

The Permian-Triassic Extinction of 252 million years ago was the worst hothouse catastrophe that has ever occurred in all of the geological record. It wiped out 96 percent of marine species and more than 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrates. It was the worst of many such hothouse events sparked by rising levels of greenhouse gasses that now serve as a clear warning in the fossil record of the dangers we invite.

Today, after merely 230-odd years and following the emission, by fossil fuel burning, of hundreds of billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, the Earth has warmed by far more than just a tiny bit. The glaciers are melting, the seas are rising, the corals are bleaching from the heat of it all, and unprecedented (to modern humans) droughts, heatwaves, storms and wildfires are all being unleashed.

(Unsafe at any warming. As of 2014 the world was about 0.8 C hotter than NASA’s 20th Century baseline — which was already hotter than any previous time period in which human civilization existed. By 2016, that line had moved up to 0.98 C hotter than the NASA 20th Century range and 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages. Image source: Precarious Climate.)

And though climates have changed in the past, the new scientific evidence indicates that what is happening today is clearly unusual:

Scientists can seek to understand past climates by looking at the evidence locked away in rocks, sediments and fossils. What this tells us is that yes, the climate has changed in the past, but the current speed of change is highly unusual. For instance, carbon dioxide hasn’t been added to the atmosphere as rapidly as today for at least the past 66m years.

By burning fossil fuels, we have crossed the threshold into a new age of trouble. But all the present calamity is just a foretaste of how bad things could get if we fail to stop burning the fossil fuels and to halt a great and vastly harmful emission of carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere.

For, according to our best present knowledge, in the Earth there still remains enough fossil carbon to raise the current level of atmospheric CO2 (CO2e) from today’s highly elevated 405 parts per million (493 ppm CO2e) average to over 2,000 parts per million by around 2250. And a new scientific study now confirms that if all this fossilized carbon is burned by then, the amount of heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere will become greater than during the worst mass extinction event in the Earth’s deep past (rising by about 10-18 degrees Celsius above 1880s levels).

(The potential and likely global impacts of climate change are bad enough during the 21st Century with between 1.5 and 6 C + warming expected. But if we burn all the fossil fuels, new science indicates that about 10-18 C worth of warming is ultimately possible. Looking at these impacts, what sane person would recommend doing such a thing? Image source: Climate Impacts.)

Unprecedented in 420 Million Years

This new study shows that fossil fuel burning, if it continues, will be enough to produce a warming event that has never happened in all of the past 420 million years by the 23rd Century. From now to then is about the same passage of time that occurred between the 1780s and now. And though humankind and its civilizations are probably capable of surviving the first 230 years of this considerable fossil fuel burning, it is highly doubtful that the same can be said for the next 230 years.

From the study author Gavin Foster:

“It is well recognised that the climate today is changing at rates well above the geological norm. If humanity fails to tackle rising CO2 and burns all the readily available fossil fuel, by AD 2250 CO2 will be at around 2000 ppm — levels not seen since 200 million years ago. However, because the Sun was dimmer back then, the net climate forcing 200 million years ago was lower than we would experience in such a high CO2 future. So not only will the resultant climate change be faster than anything Earth has seen for millions of years, the climate that will exist is likely to have no natural counterpart, as far as we can tell, in at least the last 420 million years.”

(UPDATED)

Links:

Future Carbon Dioxide, Warming Potentially Unprecedented in 420 Million Years

We Are Heading Toward the Warmest Climate in Half a Billion Years

Precarious Climate

Catastrophe — The Permian Extinction

NOAA ESRL

And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time…

Hat tip to Wharf Rat

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat tip to Mark Oliver

Hat tip to Wili

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

The Fires of History Yet Rage — Climate Change and the Authoritarian Assault on Liberal Democracy

Some have said that history ended with the fall of Soviet Russia and the subsequent virtuous spread of liberal democracy. Now, with a fossil-fueled dictator at the Kremlin conducting information wars to topple western democracies and with the various and many-fanged monsters of climate change howling at the gates of a world besieged, that notion seems both ignorant and laughable.

Pshaw — history ended? Clearly not.

(The glaciers and snows of the Himalayas are dwindling — just one of the obvious impacts of human-forced climate change. Video source: Google Earth Engine.)

A good segment of the world now acts like their brains have been hacked. Bots and trolls masquerading as real people try to shout down valid out-crys for divestment-from and resistance-to worsening abuses. And Elon Musk has a point when he says we’re all cyborgs now.

But it is, perhaps, possible for us to sympathize with the now-faded false comfort of our brief fantasy that abusive powers were defeated — never to rise again. For, in 1989, the difficulties were seemingly more remote — walled off in perceived blocks of East vs West, segmented by large, set-piece armies and mostly impermeable spheres of influence. With the collapse of one sphere — the side of totalitarianism and the authoritarian state — it seemed that the advance of liberal western democracy and with it justice, freedom, and equality was inevitable.

Now, 28 years later, the trouble and chaos jumps right out at you through the screen of your computer, tablet, or smart phone. Authoritarianism splintered. But then its various shards metastasized, becoming smarter, more nimble, more in your face, and more linked to global monetary and information power centers. Meanwhile, the West, caught up in the illusions of conservative thought, failed to advance and was therefore unprepared when new threats inevitably emerged both from within and without (See how Trump’s actions boosted effectiveness of Russian information warfare against US).

(NASA shows Arctic rate of warming per decade through 2012. Putin hopes for an ice-free Arctic so he can drill for more oil. His assault on western democracy is also related to a climate change denial based attack on renewable energy. Image source: NASA.)

You may today be cajoled — through the internet — by none other than oil billionaire, petrostate dictator, former KGB agent, democracy saboteur, and Trump-supporter Vladimir Putin who’d try to use his supposedly legendary charm (or the merciless intimidation of his online agents and surrogates) to convince you of the false notion that the climate is changing but humans aren’t the cause (see — Putin Defends Climate Deniers and Looks Forward to Arctic Melting). If you’re one of those strong-willed enough to wrench your mind from the grasp of a man and his army of 15,000 information warfare trolls spreading misinformation aimed at the advancement of his destructive wealth and power, you could use the same powerful tool to actually directly contact real scientists — who’d tell you that about 100 percent or more of present warming is now being caused by human beings. So you could then give Putin a very justified big, fat middle finger salute.

And who knew that an honest man (or, in this case, seventeen honest women and men) would be so hard to come by in the age of mass and easy to access factual information? The differences between the false and the true and between the total lack of moral stature of those who will use any means available to grasp for more power (see — Follow the Trail of Dead Russians) and those who are now threatened if they selflessly choose to serve the public good (see — Climate Science Witch Hunts) is as stark as stark could be. Socrates, during his last days, couldn’t hold a candle to the injustices and truth mangling we face today.

(Back in December, a Russian military threat disrupted renewable energy production from wind turbines like these in the Baltic.  Unwilling to transition to renewable energy, Russia, under Putin, has staked its fate to oil and gas production. Historically, state economic reliance on fossil fuels has enabled autocratic dictatorships even as it has tended to produce crashes when market prices drop. The fall of the Soviet Union can be linked to low oil and gas prices, for example. Image source: Power Technology.)

But as moral thought-leaders continue to try to warn the public, and as those who have unjustly and immorally enriched themselves by polluting the atmosphere and wrecking the climate seek to cover up the serious risks and harms, the fossil fuel carbon that has been so irresponsibly dumped into our atmosphere for so long continues to create ever-worsening and more terrible effects.

No. History didn’t end. But the nature of conflict and power certainly changed in a way that rendered old responses obsolete and ineffective. We solved one global problem and by failing to improve ourselves and our societies enough, we invited another. And we are starting to see that we are in far more dire straits than we ever were before as a result.

Profiting from Wrongful Deception: Lamar Smith’s Attacks on Climate Science are Paid for by the Fossil Fuel Industry

George Orwell could not have dreamed up a more sinister and underhanded abuse of government and monetary power than the present brazen attempt by fossil fuel industry funded politicians to kill off today’s most important scientific messengers. But that’s exactly the intent Lamar Smith telegraphed last week in his most recent address to the anti-science Heritage Foundation when he said:

“Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists.”

A Non-Scientist Paid to Attack Real Scientists

Lamar Smith, the present head of the House Science Committee, is notably not a scientist. He is, however, famous for his various vicious hearings on climate science in which he has basically acted as a mouthpiece for fossil fuel company misinformation. And he’s just signaled that he’s revving up for a new set of industry-funded inquisitions this week.

To be very clear, Lamar Smith has a B.A. and a J.D. So he’s got no scientific credentials whatsoever, he’s a lawyer. But unlike many with B.A.s who can read and understand the science, Smith appears to be sadly lacking in any capacity or willingness to do so. He is, however, quite receptive to misinformation coming from the fossil fuel industry — especially when it’s attached to contributions to his political campaigns for re-election.

(Michael Mann, one of the world’s most recognized experts on climate change, joins NASA scientists, scientists from NOAA, scientists from the U.K. Met Office, Australian Climate Scientists and many, many others now in the cross-hairs of political hacks like Lamar Smith who appear to have ignored everything they learned in high school about the scientific method. Video source: The Real News.)

Fossil Fuel Industry Funded Legislative Deception Aimed at Defaming Real Science

In contrast to Lamar’s intentional fossil fuel company funded witch hunting and active legislative deceptions, honest climate scientists have for decades dutifully reported on the deteriorating state of the global climate in the least political fashion possible. They’ve argued passionately over various points of fact, recommended highly responsible policies, they’ve even tried to work with industry in a completely measured and reasonable manner. They have worked for wages ranging from that of the average school teacher to less than your typical IT professional (a starting salary of often less than 50,000 dollars per year). In other words, they didn’t, as some have so ridiculously claimed, do it for the money.

But the very industry that is dumping billions and billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere and making billions and billions of dollars in profits (oil company CEOs can make between 15 and 150 million dollars per year) doing it is paying politicians like Lamar Smith (who has a net worth of 4.5 million) to lead an entirely false and fact-free legislative attack against these scientists.

(People like Lamar Smith should be voted out of office. They are the very definition of legislative malpractice.)

This attack is not just a defamation of individuals — as happened to Climate Scientist Michael Mann a few years ago. It is a brazen attempt to use government power to tyrannically bury an accumulation of critical knowledge about a climate crisis that is now unfolding and that is, ever-more, representing an increasingly serious danger to the American public.

If Lamar Wins, We All Get Burned

To be very clear, Lamar Smith is being paid to lie. But his lies come in the form of a campaign to falsely discredit real science, to bury facts, to use ad-hominem arguments in an underhanded and vicious attempt to attack scientists, to put these benevolent public servants out of work, and to do all of this in a manner that will inflict vast harm on the American people. The fossil fuel industry is, through its agent, Lamar Smith engaged in a wrongful deception with the obvious intent to secure corporate and individual financial gain for the fossil fuel industry and its constituents. In other words, Lamar Smith is making every appearance of acting both fraudulently and in bad faith.

(Join us in supporting climate science on April 29.)

Adding to the problem is the fact that with Donald Trump in the White House (who falsely claimed that climate change was a Chinese hoax), with Scott Pruitt as head of EPA (who spent a big chunk of his professional life suing the EPA), and with fossil fuel company CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State (who spent years working with Russia to expand oil drilling in the Arctic), Lamar Smith’s witch hunting against scientists is capable of growing some real and very harmful teeth. Trump has proposed completely zeroing out or slashing funding for climate research at NASA, EPA and NOAA and he has actively gone after scientists jobs and Lamar Smith acts as a legislative enabler for such damaging policies.

If the scientists are going to get any help, it will come from more responsible members of Congress than Smith. But Smith and his climate change denier allies in the House are now attempting to bury these same scientists in another anti-factual witch hunt. Many have described Lamer’s actions as medieval — equating him to a new kind of Spanish Inquisition, but this time acting as an inquisitor for the fossil fuel industry. But it’s worse than medieval — because the harm perpetrated through Lamar’s willfully ignorant and brutish actions are not just in the form of political, social, or legal injustice. Lamar commits those things, but he also commits us all to an ever-worsening global harm.

Credits:

Hat tip to ClimateHawk

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Michael Mann

Hat tip to Citizen Servant

Hat tip to Greg

Increasingly Out of the Human Context: Atmospheric CO2 Likely to Hit Monthly Peak Near 410 ppm in 2017

“The rate of CO2 growth over the last decade is 100 to 200 times faster than what the Earth experienced during the transition from the last ice age. This is a real shock to the atmosphere.” — Pieter Tans, lead scientist at NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network

*****

It wasn’t too long ago that we were talking about atmospheric CO2 crossing the key 400 parts per million threshold. That was 2014. But now, just three years later, atmospheric levels of this key heat-trapping gas are climbing to within striking distance of another, and still more dangerous, atmospheric milestone. 410 ppm.

That’s an increase in the peak atmospheric CO2 value of around 3 ppm per year or more. One that gibes with record annual rates of atmospheric accumulation of this heat trapping gas during 2015 and 2016. And as we approach a new high water mark for atmospheric carbon, we’ve left the 400 ppm level so far behind that it’s likely that we’ll never see even a single day where values at the Mauna Loa Observatory fall below that threshold.

Approaching Another Milestone for Key Heat-Trapping Gas

Instead, primarily through our rampant and incessant burning of fossil fuels, we are racing head-long into an ever-more uncertain climate future:

(The world hasn’t seen such high levels of atmospheric carbon in millions of years. And all that extra carbon is sucking a considerable amount of Earth-altering heat into its atmosphere and oceans. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

Since late February, weekly and daily CO2 values have ranged between 405 and 409 parts per million. But as CO2 typically peaks during April and May before Northern Hemisphere vegetation begins to draw down carbon in the months of June through September, it appears that we are likely to see top monthly atmospheric CO2 values hit between 409 and 410 parts per million during 2017.

Out of Context Problem

Back in 2014, we were talking about how atmospheric CO2 levels hadn’t been so high in about 3 million years. But a near 410 ppm high water mark would push those comparative timeframes back to between 5 and 15 million years when the world was about 3-4 degrees Celsius hotter than today and atmospheric CO2 ranged from 400 to 500 parts per million (to this point it’s worth noting that atmospheric CO2 equivalent gasses like methane, when added to presently high CO2 levels, will produce a combined total forcing equal to around 493 ppm CO2e by end 2017).

Back then, ocean levels were meters to tens of meters higher than today, the glacial ice of Greenland and West Antarctica was gone or greatly reduced, and even East Antarctic Ice Sheets were smaller. It’s also worth noting that back then, the great apes had just begun to appear and that the first fully developed ancestors of modern humans were still far off.

(NASA provides a new 3-D visualization of carbon dioxide accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere. Video source: NASA and The Hindustan Times.)

Human beings, and even our furthest distant ancestors, have not experienced climates of the kind we are locking in now.

But as increasingly tough as our present climate situation may seem, there’s another wrinkle to the tale. For from 5-15 million years ago to now, billions of tons of carbon in the form of plant and animal remains has been sequestered in the world’s forests, peatlands, permafrost and oceans. And as the heat-trapping gasses that we have now placed into the atmosphere, primarily through fossil fuel burning, stresses those stores, we risk creating a further warming response coming from the Earth System. Such high atmospheric thresholds should, therefore, be viewed as in a range that produces considerable risk of crossing key climate tipping points and of locking in harmful Earth System changes for very long time periods. And we continue to add to that risk by burning more fossil fuels.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

NOAA ESRL

Following Carbon Dioxide Through the Atmosphere

Human Evolution

Climate Epochs: Miocene

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Hits Record Levels

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

Third Consecutive Record Low Sea Ice Extent Maximum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arctic Sea Ice Volume Looks Considerably Worse

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

 

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

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

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

Cruel Summer Ahead

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

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

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

(UPDATED)

Links:

Lowest Maximum Sea Ice on Record (Again)

Earth Nullschool

LANCE-MODIS

PIOMAS

The Great Arctic Cyclone Hangs On

NASA GISS Temperature Anomalies

Hat tip to Suzanne

Chilean Wildfires are Worst to Ever Strike the Country

Drought in Chile has now lasted for more than a ten years.

Yearly precipitation deficits have ranged from 30-70% for most of central Chile for the last decade. But the ongoing drought’s intensity has increased since 2011. The result has been “an unprecedented drought in terms of intensity, spatial and temporal extent.”

Over recent days, the forests of Central Chile appear to have finally succumbed to the unprecedented and unrelenting punishment. One by one, massive wildfires ignited through Chile’s bone-dry woods — scorching hillsides, decimating more than 100 vineyards, and resulting in the tragic loss of four firefighters. As of today, more than 85 wildfires have burned approximately 190,000 hectares of land — or about 733 square miles.

This charred chunk of Chile more than half the size of Rhode Island represents the worst fire disaster in the state’s history. Now, nations are scrambling to help Chile respond to the crippling disaster as more than 35 large fires continue to rage out of control.

President Michelle Bachelet, visiting the hard-hit Maule region, stated to Reuters:

“We have never seen something of this size, never in Chile’s history. And the truth is the (firefighting) forces are doing everything that is humanly possible and will continue to do so until the fires are contained and controlled.”

chilean-wildfires-worst-to-ever-strike-country

(NASA satellite shot of massive wildfires burning in Central Chile on January 21 of 2017. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

These massive fires serve as the most recent book-end to a crippling climate change related situation that has been impacting Chile and larger South America for years. The fire situation has obviously been set in place by current ‘Mega Drought’ conditions. A drought period that “stands out not only in the historical record but also in precipitation and stream flow reconstructions for the last 1000 years.”

It’s a drought situation that’s replete with climate change related signals. Negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) values helped to push Chile into a dry phase through 2012 even as drying was considerably stronger than during past negative PDO periods. As PDO flipped to positive from 2013 onward, related El Nino conditions failed to bring expected rainfall to the state and drought conditions worsened. Due to these factors, climate researchers note: “there is an strong suggestion that anthropogenic climate change is [at least in part] responsible for the present Mega Drought.”

south-america-rainfall-deficits

(It’s not just wildfire-ravaged Chile. Large regions of South America are also experiencing severe drying which is helping to increase wildfire risk. Such drying is a feature of human-caused climate change in that human-forced warming due to fossil fuel burning increases evaporation rates and related stress to forests even as it drives fundamental alterations to precipitation patterns that can substantially worsen drought and wildfire intensity. Image source: NOAA.)

Climate change also appears to be driving drying in neighboring South American states like Brazil and Bolivia — where severe droughts and related warming are drying up massive lakes and helping to worsen the wildfire situation in the Amazon Rainforest. In Bolivia, drought has combined with a climate change driven removal of key mountain glaciers that has produced an endemic state of water scarcity. In Brazil, warming and deforestation are combining to remove a large portion of the atmospheric moisture plume that the great Amazon Rainforest provides. So the historic Chilean wildfires should also be considered in the larger context of ongoing South American droughts related to climate change.

Links:

The Current Mega-Drought in Chile — Is the Future Now?

NOAA

LANCE MODIS

Chile Battles Devastating Wildfires as International Help Pours In

More Than 100 Vineyards Decimated in Worst Wildfire Disaster in Chilean History

Four Firefighters Die in Chilean Wildfires

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Canada and France to End Coal Burning

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

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

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

Elon Musk Solarizes American Somao

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

american-samoa

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

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

Trump Backers Smear Tesla While Subsidy Support for Fossil Fuels Continues

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

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

fossil-fuel-subsidies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

France to Halt Coal Burning

Canada to Halt Coal Burning

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

IFL Science

Clean Technica

The Embassy of Samoa

Hat tip to Genomik

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to June

Hat tip to Greg

Why the Global Coral Bleaching Event That Began in 2014 May Just Keep Going and Going

From October of 2014 through June of 2016, the world was in the grips of a powerful El Nino. And throughout this event, the oceans spewed back some of the massive volume of heat they’ve been accumulating in their depths due to global warming. As a result, atmospheric and ocean surface temperatures hit new record highs. And during 2016, global surface temperatures will likely average 1.2 C hotter than 1880s levels. This amount of warming is as considerable as it is harmful.

current-coral-bleaching-status

(A global coral bleaching event that began in 2014 continues. It is the longest coral bleaching event on record. But unless oceans somehow cool off, it won’t really end. With only a weak La Nina emerging following a strong El Nino and a record spike in global temperatures, there is some risk that this ongoing event will ebb and flare on a nearly indefinite basis. Continued fossil fuel burning, meanwhile, will continue to add heat to the global climate system — presenting worsening medium and long term bleaching pressure for corals. Image source: Coral Reef Watch.)

The Worst Global Coral Bleaching Event Ever Recorded… 

This new record spike in global surface temperatures set off the worst coral bleaching event ever recorded. Around the world, reef systems came under severe stress as sea surface and near surface temperatures exceeded 28-30 degrees Celsius.

Among the hardest hit regions were the reefs of Kiribati. There, sea surface temperatures hit up to 31.4 C on an extended basis. Such hot waters are now expected to have wiped out all but 1 to 5 percent of Kiribati’s living corals. So, for all practical purposes, the reefs of that island republic have been wiped out.

Overall, the event was very wide ranging — impacting corals throughout the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans as well as in the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean, and Red Sea. As an example, 95 percent of corals in US territories from Florida to the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and Pacific experienced some level of bleaching.

sea-surface-temperature-anomalies

(A weak La Nina has probably already cooled ocean surfaces as much as they will be cooled during 2016 and 2017. But despite this cooling, ocean near-surface waters are still too hot for corals in many places. Relative, if mild, ocean surface warming should occur as ENSO is predicted to shift into neutral status. If coral bleaching is ongoing through La Nina, then it is unlikely to cease as the global ocean starts to warm again. Global sea surface temperature anomaly image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In Australia, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) also saw its worst bleaching event on record. There, 93 percent of corals are reported to have experienced bleaching. Meanwhile, about 50 percent of corals have died in the northern section of the GBR. In the media, a controversy has raged over whether or not this event is the start of the great reef’s swansong. To be clear, the GBR was not killed off by the most recent large bleaching event. But it was dealt a very severe blow. With the world continuing to warm as fossil fuel burning remains ongoing, a similar blow could occur as soon as the next El Nino or the one after. And the story for many of the world’s remaining reefs could well be the same.

…Is Still Ongoing…

For after about two years now, and as the world has settled into the periodic natural cooling of ocean surfaces called La Nina, the global coral bleaching event that has so damaged the vital species that build the world’s reefs is still ongoing. Though diminished, and as ocean surface heat backed off during late 2016, NOAA has still identified numerous regions that are high risk for coral bleaching through at least February.

coral-bleaching-risk-through-february

The austral summer is expected to bring bleaching over far-flung regions encircling the southern part of the globe. Thankfully, most of the GBR is only under a bleaching watch for now. But bleaching warnings and alerts abound and, unfortunately, many reefs are likely to see continued die-offs even after El Nino has long since faded.

… And May Just, For all Practical Purposes, Continue

As the current La Nina is rather weak, and as it is predicted to shallow into an ENSO neutral state by spring, it appears that sea surface temperatures may be in the process of bottoming out. Global fossil fuel emissions, meanwhile, continue to add heat to the ocean system. As a result, the coral bleaching pressure that we are seeing during the period of November 2016 through February of 2017, unless we see a resurgence to a stronger La Nina event over the next year or two, could be the minimum we will see over the coming years. And if that is the case, then the coral bleaching event that hasn’t ended for the past two years may not really end at all.

Links:

NOAA Coral Reef Watch

NOAA El Nino

Earth Nullschool

Dr Gavin Schmidt of NASA GISS

There’s a La Nina Developing — So Why is the World Still Heating Up?

Long term, there’s no doubt what’s in control of the world’s temperature trend. The vast belching of greenhouse gasses by fossil fuel industry and related non-renewable based machinery has caused atmospheric carbon levels to hit 405 ppm CO2 and 490 ppm CO2e this year. All this added carbon has caused the world to warm by a record 1.22 C since 1880s levels during 2016 (approx). But superimposed over this long term warming trend is the natural variability based ebb and flow of atmospheric and surface ocean heat that is the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle.

ENSO — A Wave Pattern Overlying the Long Term Warming Trend

Think of it as a smaller wave pattern that overlaps the current global upswing in temperatures. As El Nino builds and comes into the fore, natural forcings caused by periodic ocean surface warming in the Equatorial Pacific push global temperatures higher. This tends to add to the human forced global warming trend. So, often, El Nino years are also record warm years.

global-temperatures-enso

(El Nino to La Nina temperature variations create a wavy pattern in the overall global warming trend. Note — the record warm year of 2016 is not included in this graph. Image source: NOAA.)

Conversely, La Nina, which generates a periodic cooling in the Equatorial Pacific tends to pull a bit against the long term warming trend. So periods of La Nina tend to show average global atmospheric temperatures in the annual measure drop off by about 0.2 to 0.4 C from the peak periods of atmospheric heating during El Nino. Of course, since the ENSO variability typically follows a range of +0.2 C to -0.2 C but does not affect long term temperature trends, it only takes about a decade for La Nina years to be about as warm as recent El Nino years.

Slight Warming During Fall of 2016 Despite La Nina

During fall of 2015 and the winter and spring of 2016 a powerful El Nino helped to push global surface temperatures into new record high ranges. This happened because greenhouse gasses the world over had been loading heat into the Earth System for some time and the strong El Nino served as a kind of trip wire that opened the flood gates for a surge of atmospheric heat. Which is why 2016 will be about 1.22 C hotter than 1880s temperatures (1 C hotter than NASA 20th Century baseline temps) and why the years from 2011 to 2016 will average above 1 C hotter than 1880s values overall (0.8 C hotter than 20th Century baselines).

But now, with the 2016 El Nino in the rear view mirror and with a La Nina forming in the Pacific, we would expect global temperatures to cool down somewhat. For the most part, this has happened. Back in January and February, monthly average temperatures were as much as 1.5 C above 1880s averages. Since summer, the averages have dipped to around 1 to 1.1 C above 1880s values.

gfs_anomaly_timeseries_global

(Global temperatures bottomed out at around 1 C above 1880s or 0.4 C above the 1981 to 2010 average in this GFS based graph by Karsten Haustein during June then began to slowly climb through fall even as a weak La Nina began to develope.)

With La Nina continuing to form, we would expect these monthly values to continue to fall for a bit as La Nina strengthened. But that doesn’t appear to be happening. Instead, global atmospheric temperatures bottomed out at around 1 to 1.1 C above 1880s levels in June, July, August and September and now they appear to be rebounding.

Polar Amplification Signal Shows Up as a Blip in the Global Measure

In other words, we see a rise in the global temperature trend when we should see a steady counter-trend decline forced by natural variability.

Why is this happening?

The climate evidence points to a rather obvious set of suspects. First, the long term Pacific Decadal Oscillation value has continued to push into the positive range. And this state would tend to favor more heat radiating back into the atmosphere from the ocean surface.

However, if you look at the global climate maps, the major anomaly drivers are not coming from the Pacific, but from the poles. For this fall saw extreme warming both in the northern and southern polar regions of the world. Today, temperature anomalies in both the Arctic and the Antarctic were 5.84 and 4.19 C above average respectively. A rough average between the two poles of +5 C for these high latitude regions. As we’ve mentioned many times before, such severe warming is an obvious signal of climate change based polar amplification where temperatures at the poles warm faster relative to the rest of the Earth during the first phase of greenhouse gas forced warming.

extreme-polar-amplification-november-4

(Extreme warming of the polar regions continued on November 4 of 2016. This warming is pushing against the La Nina trend which would tend to cool the world temporarily. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

By themselves, these abnormally high temperatures at the poles would be odd enough. But when taking into account that La Nina should still be cooling the globe off, it starts to look like this severe polar warming has jostled the La Nina cooling signal a bit — turning it back toward warming by late fall. And if that is what’s really happening, then it would imply that the natural variability signal that is produced by ENSO is starting to be over-ridden by polar amplification based influences. In other words, there appears to be another signal that’s starting to intrude as a polar amplification based temperature spike.

It’s something that has popped up from time to time as a blip in the observational data over the past few years. But fall of 2016 provides one of the stronger signals so far. And it’s a signal related to a set of feedbacks that have the potential to affect the overall pace of planetary warming. Something to definitely keep an eye on.

Links:

NOAA

Karsten Haustein

Climate Reanalyzer

NOAA El Nino

Hat tip to June

Hat tip to ClimateHawk1

Hat tip to JCH

Half a Kilometer of Ice Gone in Just 7 Years — West Antarctica’s Smith Glacier Points To Nightmare Melt Scenario

The nightmare global warming melt scenario for West Antarctica goes something like this —

First, ocean waters warmed by climate change approach the vast frozen continent. Melt already running out from the continent forms a fresh water lens that pushes these warmer waters toward the ocean bottom. The waters then get caught up in currents surrounding Antarctica that draw them in toward numerous submerged glacial faces. The added ocean heat combines with falling melting points at depth to produce rapid melt along sea fronting glacier bases. Since many of these glaciers sit on below sea level beds that slope downward toward the interior of Antarctica, a small amount of initial melt sets off an inland flood of these warmer waters that then produces a cascade of melt. This glacial melt chain reaction ultimately generates a Heinrich Event in which armadas of icebergs burst out from Antarctica — forcing global sea levels to rapidly rise.

This is Why We Worry So Much About Multi-Meter Sea Level Rise

Ultimately, seas rising by multiple meters this Century are a very real possibility under current warming scenarios in which such a series of cascading melt events occurs in West Antarctica.

(NASA video narrated by Dr. Eric Rignot, a prominent glacial scientist. Concerns about the origin of melt water pulse 1A during the end of the last ice age led to investigation of large Antarctic melt pulses as a potential source. Subsequent investigation identified melt vulnerabilities at the bases of large sea fronting glaciers in West Antarctica to present and predicted levels of ocean warming. At issue was the fact that bottom waters were warming and that because many glaciers rested on sea beds that sloped inland, melt rates had the potential to very rapidly accelerate.)

Though such a nightmare melt scenario was recently theoretical, it represented a very real potential near-future event as global temperatures rose into the 1-2 degrees Celsius above 1880s range during recent years. For times in the geological past around 115,000 years ago also produced large glacial melt pulses and related sea level rises of 15-25 feet during periods of similar warmth.

However, direct evidence of such a powerful melt dynamic had not yet been directly observed in Antarctica’s glaciers. Fresh water lenses were developing, rates of glacial loss were quickening. Basal melt rates looked bad. But the kind of tremendous losses necessary to produce rapid sea level rise were not yet fully in evidence.

Smith Glacier Loses Half a Kilometer of Ice in Seven Years

That situation changed during recent weeks when two scientific papers broke the news that some of West Antarctica’s glaciers had lost upwards of a half a kilometer of ice thickness due to contact with warm ocean waters over the past decade.

The studies, entitled Rapid Submarine Ice Melting in the Grounding Zones of Ice Shelves in West Antarctica and Grounding Line Retreat of Pope, Smith and Kohler Glaciers took a comprehensive look at both surface and underside melt of three major west Antarctic glaciers near the Thwaites and Pine Island Glacier systems. These glaciers included Pope, Smith and Kohler — which have seen increasing instability and rates of seaward movement during recent years. Using multiple instruments, the scientists found evidence of massive ice losses and speeding ice flows.

pope-smith-and-kholer-glacial-flow-velocities

(Surface velocity of Kohler, Smith and Pope Glaciers provided by NASA. More rapid seaward movement of glaciers = faster rates of sea level rise.)

The losses occurred at a time when an influx of warmer water (warming circumpolar deep water) was heating the ice shelves and grounding lines buttressing these three partially submerged glaciers. This warming was found to have produced melt along the grounding zones of these glaciers in the range of 300 to 490 meters from 2002 to 2009. In other words, about 1/3 to 1/2 a kilometer of ice thickness at the grounding line was lost in just seven years. Melted away from below by warming deep ocean conditions at the rate of up to 70 meters or around 230 feet per annum.

The studies found that the Pope and Kohler glaciers, which rested on up-sloping sea beds, produced slower rates of melt. While Smith, which sat on a retrograde (or down-sloping bed) produced very rapid rates of melt. According to the Nature study:

We attribute the different evolution of Smith Glacier to the retreat of its grounding line deeper allowing warmer waters to flood its grounding zone, and increasing ocean thermal forcing due to the lowering of the in situ melting point; as well as to the exposure of the glacier bottom to ocean water as the grounding line retreated rapidly.

A Context of Worsening Risks

Unfortunately, numerous glaciers in the Amundsen Sea region including parts of the Thwaites system and the massive Pine Island Glacier also sit on retrograde slopes. These glaciers are seeing increasing fluxes of warm, deep water. By themselves they represent multiple feet of sea level rise (4-7 feet). Furthermore, Thwaites and Pine Island Glacier currently buttress a number of massive inland glaciers that become vulnerable to melt if inland-running retrograde slopes become flooded with warming ocean waters.

The very real concern is that Smith Glacier serves as a harbinger for near future events to come. As a result, coastal regions around the world are now under a heightened risk of swiftly rising seas and rapid coastal inundation over the coming years and decades.

Links:

Rapid Submarine Ice Melting in the Grounding Zones of Ice Shelves in West Antarctica

Grounding Line Retreat of Pope, Smith and Kholer Glaciers

Heinrich Event

Dr. Eric Rignot

Studies Offer Glimpse of Melting Under Antarctic Glaciers

Thwaites Glacier

Pine Island Glacier

Hat tip to Zack Labe

Hat tip to Miles h

“We Have Nowhere to Go” — Sea Level Rise is Devouring the Coast of West Africa

“I am very afraid for the future of this place. Sooner or later we will have to leave, but we have nowhere to go.” — Buabasah a resident of Fuvemeh, a West African town being swallowed by the sea as reported by Matteo Fagotto.

*****

A new, must read, report out in Foreign Policy by Matteo Fagotto highlights a widespread ongoing disruption due to sea level rise to the vulnerable coastal region of West Africa. And, for years now, scientists at the IPCC have been warning that just such an event could occur.

The coastal zone of West Africa stretches for 4,000 miles from Mauritania to the Congo. It includes highly populated regions surrounding low elevation cities and towns in such African nations as Gabon, Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea, The Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Liberia, and Ghana. Most industrial activity and food-growing is located near the coast of these nations — accounting for 56 percent of GDP for the region according to the World Bank. And coastal population concentrations in regions vulnerable to sea level rise are very high. In all about 31 percent of the 245 million people dwelling in West Africa live in this fragile land.

global-sea-level-rise

(Due to global warming and glacial melt spurred by fossil fuel burning, oceans are now rising at their fastest rates in 10,000 years. As a result, many coastal towns and cities around the world are under increasing threat of flooding. In West Africa, a recent report by Foreign Policy paints a picture of broadening inundation. Unfortunately, current rates of ocean rise are far slower than what human-caused climate change may set off over the coming decades. Image source: AVISO.)

Most of the coastline features a lagoonal geography that is very low-lying. Meanwhile, funds for coastal defenses like planting mangrove forests and pumping in sand to re-nourish beaches are difficult to procure. As a result, these large cities and population centers are highly vulnerable to impacts from human-forced climate change related to sea level rise.

The Great Flooding Begins

Ever since the early 1990s, scientific reports have highlighted the vulnerability of West Africa to inundation, flooding and loss of key industries, food growing and infrastructure due to glacial melt, thermal expansion of ocean waters set off by warming, and an increase in storm strength in the North Atlantic. All impacts that scientists feared would be coming due to a human-forced warming of the world. Now, just such an inundation and loss appears to be underway.

According to the recent report out in Foreign Policy, and according to other eyewitness accounts and news reports coming in from coastal West Africa during recent years, sea level rise and increasing erosion due to powerful storms continue to produce worsening impacts for the region. In one of the most glaring instances, the swelling surf is now in the process of destroying a Ghana fishing village (Fuvemeh) that recently housed 2,500 people. Homes, coconut plantations, and fishing wharfs have all been taken by the seas and swirling sands. But Fuvemeh is just one of thousands of like communities now confronting an onrush of waves that each year bites off as much as 80-120 feet of coastline.

(House destroyed by waves in Fuvemeh, Ghana. Sadly, sea level rise related impacts like this are now being seen all up and down West Africa’s 4,000 mile long coastline.)

Moreover, Foreigh Policy finds that megacities like Lagos (population 5.6 million) and large cities like Accra (population 1.6 million) are increasingly threatened by the encroaching waters. In Accra, the rainy season now causes an annual inundation of sections of the city — a new impact that resulted in 25 people losing their lives last year. Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania and home to approximately 1 million people, now sees the loss of 80 feet of coastline along its Atlantic shore every year. Meanwhile, parts of Togo lost 118 feet of shore line last year alone. Along the coast from Gambia to Senegal and including communities like Cotonou and Lome, growing numbers of houses, hotels, restaurants, roads, and even water treatment plants are now little more than washed out husks and crumbling bits of infrastructure — lapped by a rising tide.

Heartbreak, Loss of Homes, Dislocation

As the waters rise, residents are forced to move inland. Younger, more mobile residents have often fled the region entirely. Others have rebuilt their homes further inland only to have them flooded again. Ocean productivity is on the decline in the region. Fish and other animals that supported coastal industries have migrated northward or succumbed to worsening ocean conditions. The combined losses have produced economic hardships as coastal cities see increasing gang activity, drug use, theft and violence.

Overall, the United Nations estimates that 5-10 percent of West Africa’s GDP will ultimately be lost due to impacts related to sea level rise. And the recent report by Foreign Policy points to growing evidence that the crisis is starting now. But the ever-more-human toll is nothing less than heart-wrenching.

West Africa Just One of Many Vulnerable Regions

Reports by Foreign Policy and others on the plight of coastal West Africa shines a light on sea level rise related hardships and losses throughout that region. However, numerous low-lying stretches of coastline are now facing similar problems. Bangladesh is currently seeing a wave of mass migration inland due to sea level rise related flooding. The Mi Cong Delta region is seeing its rice farms threatened by an influx of salt water. The Indus River Delta region in Pakistan is also experiencing mass migration away from coastlines. Coastal Pacific Islands are facing an existential threat due to sea level rise now. And the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coasts are facing their own problems from worsening storm surge flooding and more widespread nuisance flooding due to sea level rise. So what we’re seeing in West Africa is part of a much larger overall global context.

Links:

West Africa is Being Swallowed by the Sea

West Africa Map

AVISO Sea Level Rise

IPCC: The Regional Impacts of Climate Change

Ghana’s Coastal Erosion — The Village Buried in Sand

Ghana Accra Floods

How The World’s Oceans Could be Running out of Fish

Drugs and Crime Mobilise International Support For West Africa Coast Initiative

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Wili

How Goliath Might Fall — Fossil Fuel Industry to Experience Market Crashes Over Next 10 Years

There’s a very real David vs Goliath conflict now underway in the global energy markets. On one side is a loose coalition made up of renewable energy producers and advocates, individuals who are increasingly concerned about global warming, environmentalists, technophiles, people promoting a democratization of the energy markets, and energy efficiency advocates. On the other side is a vast and powerful global fossil fuel industry backed by wealthy billionaires like the Koch Brothers and various national and nationally supported corporations around the world.

Up to 3.4 Trillion Dollars in Bad Fossil Fuel Investments

By the end of the next 1-3 decades, one set of these two forces will have won out — which will, in turn, decide whether the world continues along the path of climate devastation that is business as usual fossil fuel burning, or sees a rapid reduction in burning-related emissions to near zero which will help to mitigate climate harms while effectively crashing the 3.4 trillion dollar global fossil fuel market.

At issue is the fact that wind, solar, and electric vehicles together have the potential to rapidly take over energy markets that were traditionally monopolized by the fossil fuel industry. Earlier this year, a report out from Bloomberg vividly illustrated the stakes of this currently-raging conflict as it relates to oil and a burgeoning electric vehicles industry.

bloomberg-oil-crash

(Electrical vehicles provide hopes for keeping massive volumes of fossil fuels in the ground and similarly huge volumes of carbon out of the atmosphere. This is achieved by greatly reducing oil demand which could crash the oil markets by as soon as the 2020s. Image source: Bloomberg.)

According to Bloomberg, present rates of electrical vehicle (EV) growth in the range of 60 percent per year would be enough to, on their own, produce an oil glut in the range of 2 million barrels of oil per day by the early to middle 2020s. Continued rapid electric vehicle adoption rates would then swiftly shrink the oil market, resulting in a very large pool of stranded assets held by oil producers, investors and associated industries. Bloomberg noted that even if EV growth rates lagged, continued expansion would eventually result in an oil market crash:

“One thing is certain: Whenever the oil crash comes, it will be only the beginning. Every year that follows will bring more electric cars to the road, and less demand for oil. Someone will be left holding the barrel.”

Bloomberg also noted that LED light bulbs are increasing market penetration by 140 percent each year all while the global solar market is growing at a rate of 50 percent per year. And when technologies like LEDs, solar, wind, and increasingly low cost batteries combine, they generate a market synergy that has the capacity to displace all fossil fuels — coal, oil, and gas.

Coal Already Seeing Severe Declines — Oil and Gas are Next

During 2010 to 2016, we’ve already seen a severe disruption of the coal markets globally and this was due in part to strong wind and solar adoption rates. Coal capacity factors are falling, coal demand is anemic and the coal industry has suffered the worst series of bankruptcies in its history. “The coal industry fundamentals remain very bleak in my opinion,” noted Matthew Miller, a coal industry analyst with S&P Global Market Intelligence in a recent report by the Sierra Club. “If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we can’t see it yet.”

But as bad as things are for the coal industry now, in the timeframe of 2017 through the early to middle 2020s we have a reasonable expectation that renewable energy and efficiencies will produce even stronger market impacts through competition with fossil fuels. Though not as bad off as coal, natural gas has now entered an unenviable market position where rising fuel costs would cause a ramping rate of renewable energy encroachment. A feature that has tended to check natural gas price increases. Meanwhile, presently rising oil prices will only serve to incentivize the current wave of electrical vehicle adoption.

rapidly-falling-battery-prices

(Rapidly falling battery prices along with falling solar and wind energy prices will eventually make fossil fuels non-competitive on the basis of cost. Meanwhile, ramping climate harms produce strong incentives for switching energy sources now. Image source: Bloomberg.)

During this time, first cheap renewables and then cheap batteries will increasingly flood the energy markets. Applications that directly replace fossil fuels in core markets will expand. Meanwhile polices like the Clean Power Plan in the US and COP 21 on the global level will continue to erode policy supports for traditionally dominant but dirty fuels.

Coal, Oil and Gas — Noncompetitive Bad Energy Actors

The choices for fossil fuel industry will tend to be winnowed down. Competition will be less and less of an option. Meanwhile, direct attempts to dominate markets through regulatory capture by placing aligned politicians in positions of power in order to strong-arm energy policy will tend to take place more and more often. But such attempts require the expense of political capital and can quickly turn sour — resulting in public backlash. As we have seen in Nevada, Hawaii, Australia and the UK, such actions have only served to slow renewable energy advances in markets — not to halt them entirely. Furthermore, reprisals against agencies promoting fossil fuels have gained a good deal of sting — as we saw in Nevada this year when a major casino and big utility customer decided to pull the plug on its fossil fueled electricity and switch to off-grid solar in the wake of increasing net metering costs.

All that said, we should be very clear that the outcome of this fight over market dominance and for effective climate change mitigation isn’t certain. The fossil fuel industry is one of the most powerful political and economic forces in the world. And even though they are now bad actors on the issue of climate change — which threatens both human civilization and many of the species now living on Earth with collapse and mass extinction — they still, in 2016, retain a great deal of economic and political clout. And this clout endows these industries with an ability to enforce monopolies that effectively capture various markets and delay or halt renewable energy development in certain regions.

Trends Still Favor Renewables

Nonetheless, the trends for renewable energy currently remain pretty strong, despite widespread fossil fuel industry attempts to freeze out development of these alternative sources. And collapsing economic power through expanding competition by renewables would ultimately result in a loss of political power as well. In such cases, we wouldn’t expect a crash in economic power and political influence by fossil fuel interests to occur in a linear fashion — but instead to reach tipping points after which radical change occurs. And over the next 10 years there’s a high likelihood that a number of these energy market tipping points will be reached.

Links:

Here’s How Electric Cars Will Cause the Next Oil Crisis

Vegas Casino Plans to Leave Warren Buffet’s Nevada Utility

The Coal Industry is Bankrupt

Clean Power Plan

COP 21

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