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

Global Warming is Winning the Battle Against Arctic Sea Ice — Extent Drops to New Record Lows

Ever since human-forced climate change started to kick off dramatically worsening polar warming events in the 2000s, the Arctic has struggled to cool down to normal temperatures during fall and winter. However, for 2016, this failure of Arctic cooling appears to have grown even more pronounced.

Over the past few weeks, temperature anomalies for the entire region north of the 66th parallel have ranged between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above average. These are very extreme departures — ones we typically have only seen during winter when the poleward heat energy transfer effects of human-caused climate change are at their strongest. But this fall, high local ocean temperatures have combined with a north-bound flood of warmth to turn the Arctic into a glaring global hot spot — featuring the highest above normal temperature readings for any region of the Earth.

New Record Daily Lows for Arctic Sea Ice

So much added heat has had a marked effect on sea ice. Last week, Arctic sea ice again dipped into record low ranges. Edging sideways away from the usual rapid refreeze trend line, by today these record low readings have become rather prominent in measures like those produced by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

nsidc-sea-ice-record-low-october-24

(On October 23rd, 2016, Arctic sea ice hit a new record daily low extent of 6,434,000 square kilometers [pink line]. This beat out 2007’s previous record of 6,501,000 square kilometers [blue line] and is now trailing 2012’s October 23 measure of 6,785,000 square kilometers [dashed green line] by a substantial margin. 2016’s record low readings are now about 3 million square kilometers below same day readings for October 23 of 1981 [light orange line at top]. In other words, an area of sea ice approximately the size of one and a half Greenlands has disappeared over the intervening 35 year period.  Image source: NSIDC.)

As a result, sea ice extents are today ranging fully 3 million square kilometers below levels seen during the early 1980s. In other words, an area approximately one and one half times the size of Greenland has been lost over the last 35 years.

Arctic Temperature Anomalies to Worsen over the Coming Week

The anomalous heat build-up in the Arctic pushing sea ice levels to new all-time record low daily ranges is, unfortunately, expected to worsen over the coming week. Today’s beyond-normal temperature departures of around 4.35 degrees Celsius above average are predicted by GFS models to rise to around 6.45 C above average by Sunday.

These high temperature readings are expected to concentrate in regions near the sea ice edge. And so much heat focusing exactly in the region where sea ice is attempting to expand risks a continued lagging of seasonal ice accumulation. 15-20 C above average temperatures are predicted to stretch from the Beaufort through the Chukchi, into the East Siberian Sea, on through the Kara, down along the Northern Edge of the Barents and into an Arctic Ocean zone just north of Greenland.

global-warmings-heat-battles-sea-ice

(We’re currently witnessing a level of heat transfer into the Arctic that is probably unprecedented. So much heat heading north and building up at the pole due to local and global greenhouse gas buildup, ocean warming, loss of summer reflectivity, and increasingly powerful atmospheric gravity waves is now pushing Arctic sea ice into record low daily ranges. As October shifts toward November, this Arctic heat is likely to begin to produce some severe late fall and early winter weather conditions. In the above map, we begin to see a signature hot west, cool east dipole over the US. During past years, polar amplification has helped to generate this extreme weather pattern in the US where heat and drought is prevalent in the west while severe winter weather dominates the east. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

You can see these extraordinary predicted temperature anomalies in the form of a spiky red swirl surrounding the Central Arctic in the GFS temperature anomaly map provided by Climate Reanalyzer above. So much heat at the ice edge reveals a big battle taking place between powerful oceanic and atmospheric heat transfers into the Arctic and a seasonal sea ice expansion that is fading in the face of a human-forced warming of the world.

Links:

NSIDC

Climate Reanalyzer

NASA GISS

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

NOAA NCEP Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies

Scientific Hat tip to Dr. Jennifer Francis

Hat tip to Leslie Graham

Hat tip to Marcel Guldemond

“We are Suffocating from Smoke” — For Russia, Climate Change is Already Producing Fires that are Too Big to Fight

“For one month we are suffocating from the smoke. The weather is hot, and there is a strong smell of burning…” — Residents of Bratsk, northwest of Lake Baikal, in a petition to Vladimir Putin pleading him to fight the fires now raging there.

*****

Let’s take a snapshot of the current moment from the climate change perspective: This year, global temperatures will probably hit between 1.2 and 1.25 degrees Celsius hotter than 1880s averages. This new heat, in a range likely not seen for 115,000 years, is catapulting us into dangerous new climate states. We’re starting to see the hard changes happen. Weather is growing more extreme, wildfires are worsening, the seas are rising, the glaciers are melting, and ocean health is declining. Threats of destabilization and disruption are ramping up. But compared to what we will see in the future if the world continues to warm, if we continue to burn fossil fuels, the seemingly rough changes we are experiencing now are minor and easy to manage.

These are the early, easy outliers of human-forced climate change. But for some, even for a nation as powerful as Russia, certain events have already overwhelmed emergency response capabilities.

****

lake-baikal-wildfires-september-28-2016

(Fire season should have ended by late August around the region of Lake Baikal in Russia. However, due to climate change-related influences, massive fires continue to burn through September. The above image is from today, September 28. Bottom edge of frame represents approximately 600 miles. Lake Baikal is visible in the right side of frame. Smoke from large fires currently covering approximately 2.5 million acres is visible throughout the shot. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Climate Change Spikes Fire Incidence in Siberia

Over the past decade or so, a rapid warming of Siberia has resulted in a dramatic increase in fire incidence. The vast boreal forests were thrust into hotter, dryer conditions by a human-forced warming of the globe. Meanwhile, permafrost thaw added its own massive and growing volumes of peat-like fuel for burning. As the years progressed, very large fires have erupted with rising frequency. Mostly underreported, according to Greenpeace and independent satellite analysis by experts, these fires have covered millions of acres year after year after year:

“If you look at the whole area over the past 30 years, there’s a significant increase in burned area that is very clear by the early 2000s,” Susan Conrad, a former U.S. Forest Service scientist who has spent decades researching the impact of fire on Siberia, told ClimateWire.

Often, fighting such fires has required the effort of thousands of emergency responders supported by hundreds of pieces of equipment. As a result, the growing size of these fires and the lengthening of the season in which they burn has put a strain on the coffers of an already cash-strapped Russia. Firefighting has thus been cut or set aside for instances when a city, town or vital piece of infrastructure requires defending. More and more, these great fires have been abandoned to burn on, uncontrolled.

2016 Lake Baikal Fires Too Dangerous to Fight

This year around the region of Lake Baikal, an unrelenting (climate change-related) drought combined with abnormal heat to produce massive fires. The fires raged and flared throughout the summer. As the typical wildfire season came to an end during late August, the fires continued to burn and spread. According to Greenpeace, the fires burning during September in this region alone covered nearly 5 million acres. That’s an area about the size of Massachusetts. Satellite shots of the massive fires were dramatic, revealing plumes of dense smoke spewing out over hundreds or even thousands of miles. Residents of cities and towns around Lake Baikal experienced terrible conditions due to a suffocating pall of dense smoke covering the area.

Despite the risk to public health and increasing cases where schools, communities and infrastructure were threatened by the fires, the Russian Emergencies Ministry has claimed that such large fires are increasingly uncontrollable. Spokespeople with the agency note that the fires are so intense that they present a danger to firefighting personnel. According to Radio Free Europe:

Aleksandr Bruykhanov, senior researcher at the Forestry Institute in Krasnoyarsk, told the Siberian Times that massive wildfires have become more frequent and cannot be fully controlled by the government. He said they will only be extinguished when rain returns to the region. …”The Emergencies Ministry won’t be able to help here but will only cause some extra work for foresters, who will have to rescue rescuers.” [emphasis added]

For One Month We are Suffocating From Smoke

Hundreds of firefighters have been deployed throughout the region in isolated efforts to stem the more eminent blazes. Near the city of Bratsk, 600 firefighters and about 123 pieces of heavy equipment were reported to be engaged with the fires on September 23. Unfortunately the firefighting has, thus far, been mostly unsuccessful.

lake-baikal-carbon-monoxide-spike

(High carbon monoxide readings north and west of Lake Baikal, Russia on September 28. This expansive plume of carbon monoxide is coming from very large fires burning in the region. Residents in a nearby city recently complained of carbon monoxide poisoning in a petition to Vladimir Putin to fight the fires. Emergencies Ministry spokespersons have claimed that the fires are increasingly uncontainable and that the best hope for stopping the fires is when rains return to the area. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Failure to control the massive burning has resulted in abysmal air quality for the region. In some cases, life-threatening conditions have been reported, with adults and children hospitalized. In Bratsk, a city of 250,000 people, thousands of residents are complaining of stifling smoke and incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning. A heavy pall of dense smoke has hung over the city for more than a month. The conditions there are so bad that 3,000 people have signed a petition to Vladimir Putin, urging him to deploy more resources to fight the fires, and stating that:

For one month we are suffocating from the smoke. The weather is hot, and there is a strong smell of burning and smoke. It is not possible to open windows, we cannot go out because we soon feel dizziness… Some adults and children are in hospital with severe carbon monoxide poisoning. We are for clean air! We want to breathe. We have that right. Do not remain indifferent to our health and our future!

Signs of Exhaustion at the Start of a Rough Climate Future

Exhaustion of emergency response resources is one of the big threats posed by climate change. In instances where entire regions see extreme weather conditions that are far outside the norm for an extended period of time, such as as severe droughts, floods, and fires, instances of exhaustion are more likely to occur. Exhaustion also occurs when events appear that are too large or intense to manage. It appears that firefighting efforts in Russia are starting to show some signs of exhaustion. Not good, especially considering the fact that these conditions are tame compared to what will happen in future years without some very serious climate change mitigation and response efforts now.

Whether they realize it or not, the residents of Bratsk are living at the start of a much rougher climate future. And they are just now starting to see a hint of bad conditions that will get worse as the world continues to warm and Siberia becomes one of the places to see the worst of it. It’s a situation caused by the very fossil-fuel burning that Putin currently promotes. This crisis of warming will cause more forests to burn, the fires to continue to enlarge, and the peat-like permafrost to become a fuel as it thaws.

The only way to stop this trend is to halt global temperature rise. That requires a very heavy lift, an international effort on a scale which the world has not yet fully committed to — an effort that would result in the fossil fuels Putin seeks to exploit being left in the ground in favor of far more benevolent energy sources.

Links:

Wildfires Increasingly Consuming Siberian Forests, Scientists Warn

People in Bratsk Petition Kremlin over Pollution from Forest Fires

LANCE MODIS

Wildfires Scorch World’s Largest Freshwater Lake

Oil Pipelines Threatened by Wildfires Amid Disputes over the Scale of the Destruction

Earth Nullschool

Hat tip to mlparrish

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

 

New Report: ‘Blowtorch’-Like Ocean Warming Advances Killer Seas, Shifts El Nino, Heats Hydrates

Tampering can be dangerous. Nature can be vengeful. We should have a great deal of respect for the planet on which we live. — Carl-Gustaf Rossby

But as the [IUCN] study points out, 90% of the extra heat that our greenhouse gases trap is actually absorbed by the oceans. That means that the upper few meters of the sea have been steadily warming more than a tenth of a degree celsius per decade, a figure that’s accelerating. When you think of the volume of water that represents, and then try to imagine the energy necessary to raise its temperature, you get an idea of the blowtorch that our civilization has become. — Bill McKibben

The scale of ocean warming is truly staggering with the numbers so large that it is difficult for most people to comprehend. — from the IUCN report Explaining Ocean Warming: Causes, scale, effects and consequences

*****

If there’s one simple fact about past Earth climates that should keep you awake at night, it’s this — warming the world ocean eventually produces a killing mechanism that is unrivaled by any other in Earth’s deep past. Great asteroids, gamma-ray bursters, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanism — none of these can rival the vast damage to life on planet Earth that is resulting from ocean warming.

As a study of the sciences, this assertion would be merely an academic one if the human race weren’t now involved in a great injection of an unprecedented volume of greenhouse gasses into the Earth’s airs. As a critical new ocean report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) points out, these gasses are trapping an extraordinary amount of heat at the top of the world’s atmosphere. In turn, the atmosphere is transferring the lion’s share of this heat — more than 90 percent — into the waters of our world.

The Extreme Amount of Heat Energy Piling up in Our Warming Ocean

As a result, the surface of the world ocean is warming by 0.1 degree Celsius per decade. That may not sound like much, but it takes about four times the amount of energy to warm one gram of water by 0.1 C as it does one gram of air. This property, called specific heat, is a defining aspect of water. Water has the highest specific heat of any common substance.

heat-accumulation-human-forced-zillions-of-joules

(Since the 1970s, about 300 zettajoules’ (ZJ) worth of heat energy has accumulated in the Earth System due to fossil-fuel burning and related greenhouse gas emissions. That’s about 5 Hiroshima bombs worth of heat accumulating every second. Most of that energy has gone into the world’s oceans. So much heat is bound to have consequences, and these impacts are starting to show up in the form of declining ocean health, melting sea ice and glaciers, shifting climate zones and weather patterns, worsening droughts and storms, and threats of Earth System carbon feedbacks. Image source: Explaining Ocean Warming.)

Liquid water is also far denser than air. And this density generates an even higher impact heat energy transfer multiplier. So not only does it take four times more energy to warm a similar weight of water vs air, once warmed, that water contains that higher level of specific heat energy in a much more tightly concentrated package. And when that high heat concentration liquid water comes into contact with other substances — like ice in the form of ocean contact, or air in the form of evaporation, or frozen hydrates on the sea bed — it can pack a serious heat punch.

The vast volume of water in our oceans, therefore, serves as a kind of heat and energy regulator. It takes a lot of energy to warm it up, but once it does, serious environmental changes start to happen as a result. In other words, the temperature of the global ocean could be viewed as the point on which the whole of the Earth climate system pivots. Once the oceans are set in thermal motion, serious changes to the rest of the world are going to take place. To get an idea how much energy the oceans now contain, of how much potential they now have to dramatically alter our world, consider that if these vast waters were not present, the atmosphere now would have already warmed by 36 degrees C due to the heat-trapping effect of greenhouse gasses already in our atmosphere.

Fossil-fuel blowtorch indeed.

Heating Seas Ultimately Become Killer Seas

There’s a starker message to convey here, one that focuses on this simple yet dire question — how do warming oceans kill? In basic terms, they become toxic and anoxic. Warming oceans melt ocean-contacting glaciers. The glacial melt forces seas to rise and forms a freshwater lid on the global ocean, breaking down ocean conveyor belts and preventing mixing. This freshwater lid also deflects heat toward the ocean bottom. This process in turn helps to thaw methane hydrates. Warm waters that don’t mix and that are filled with bubbling hydrates become very oxygen-poor.

barents-algae-bloom

(Massive algae bloom covers tens of thousands of square miles of open water in the Barents Sea during August of 2016. As glaciers melt, oceans stratify and warm; as water oxygen levels drop, and as hydrates vent due to warming, such blooms result in significant reductions to ocean health and a related global mass-extinction threat. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

As the land glaciers bleed out into the oceans, the stratified, oxygen-deprived waters become less and less able to support advanced life. The kinds of life warm, oxygen-deprived waters do support are poison-producing microbes. These microbes thrive in the warm, oxygen-poor waters. If ocean heating continues to progress, the warming seas will eventually fill up with their deadly byproducts. Among the most nasty of these is hydrogen sulfide. If enough of it is produced, it will spill out from the ocean into the nearby air, resulting in land animal mortality as well.

In microcosm, we saw a mild taste of some of these effects this past year in Florida as toxic algae blooms filled the warming state’s waterways and coastlines, even forcing some riverside marinas to close due to toxic gasses wafting up from the purple-green, oxygen-starved waters. These effects are a snapshot of a possible future for Earth’s oceans if we don’t get our act together yesterday.

El Niño Shifted, Ocean Hydrates Threatened

As alluded to earlier in this post, a new report, Explaining Ocean Warming, provides some pretty hard evidence that the oceans are on the move toward a much more harmful global climate state. The study, which has rightly received a great deal of media attention, issues a ‘shot across the bow’ warning to pretty much everyone living today. And it finds serious impacts to the ocean and linked climate systems due to a very rapid human-forced global warming.

These hard findings are worth reading directly:

  1. Sea-surface temperature, ocean heat content, sea-level rise, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations are increasing at an accelerating rate with significant consequences for humanity and the marine species and ecosystems of the ocean.
  2. There is likely to be an increase in mean global ocean temperature of 1-4 degrees C by 2100. The greatest ocean warming overall is occurring in the Southern Hemisphere and is contributing to the subsurface melting of Antarctic ice shelves. Since the 1990s the atmosphere in the polar regions has been warming at about twice the average rate of global warming.
  3. There is likely to be Arctic warming and ice loss, and possibly the essential removal, in some years, of the summer Arctic sea ice within the next few decades.
  4. Over the last 20 years there has been an intensification and distinct change in the El Niño events, with a shift of the mean location of sea-surface temperature anomalies towards the central Pacific.
  5. Currently 2.5 Gt of frozen methane hydrate are stored in the sea floor at water depths of 200 to 2000 m. Increasing water temperature could release this source of carbon into the ocean and ultimately into the atmosphere.

These are all Earth-shattering scientific statements. For those who frequent this blog, points 1 through 3 are probably pretty familiar. The last two, however, require more in-depth explanation.

global-warming-el-nino

(Some scientific studies have pointed out that warming the world ocean will result in a shift of El Niño toward the central Pacific. A new ocean report finds that it’s already happening. Image source: Global Warming May Dent El Niño’s Protective Hurricane Shield, Increase Droughts.)

For a long time now, scientists have believed that El Niño wouldn’t be affected by climate change until the end of this century. But as with sea ice, it appears that such impacts may well be advancing faster than expected. As we’ve alluded to here, there’s been an apparent shift in El Niño toward the central Pacific over recent decades. This may well be a climate change-related shift. The fact that the IUCN report highlights this change is a sign that the broader sciences are starting to tackle the notion of early alterations to El Niño due to climate change as well.

However, the most ominous language here centers around methane hydrate. For years, there’s been adamant push-back against potential risks to hydrates coming from well-respected sections of the climate sciences. Nonetheless, those downplaying the threat of warming to hydrates have yet to produce any conclusive proof as to why warming the ocean bottom and applying heat to hydrates won’t result in at least some feedback from these carbon stores (especially under the higher-range warming scenarios). The IUCN report reiterates this risk by identifying 2.5 billion tons of frozen seabed methane at shallow and mid-ocean depths that will ultimately be exposed to warming — risking both an ocean and an atmospheric release.

These last points serve to underline some pretty basic facts, the chief of which is that pushing Nature, and heating up her life-blood world ocean waters, is a very, very dangerous game. And if this poignant new report sends any message at all it could simply boil down to this — turn back before it’s too late.

Links:

IUCN Report: Explaining Ocean Warming

Specific Heat

Ocean Warming

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse

LANCE MODIS

Slimy Green Algae Invades Florida

The oceans are heating up. That’s a big problem on a blue planet.

Global Warming May Dent El Niño’s Protective Hurricane Shield, Increase Droughts

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to George Hayduke

July was the Hottest Month Ever Recorded; 2016 Set to Make 1998 Look Cold by Comparison

July 2016 was the warmest July in 136 years of modern record-keeping, according to a monthly analysis of global temperatures by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. NASA GISS.

2016 — 99 Percent Likely to be the Hottest Year on Record by a Big Margin

In 1998, the world went through a big heat wave. In just one year, global temperatures jumped by about 0.15 degrees Celsius above previous record highs. Riding on the wave of an extraordinarily powerful El Nino, atmospheric CO2 that was then in the range of about 365 parts per million (and CO2e — CO2-equivalent greenhouse gasses — in the range of 415 ppm) pushed global temperatures to around 0.9 C above 1880s averages by year-end.

This extreme heat set off a rash of weather and climate disasters around the world. A global coral bleaching event sparked off. At that time it was only one of a few ever recorded and was seen by scientists as one of the early warning signs of global warming. Droughts, floods, and fires occurred with a then-unprecedented frequency. Some began to wonder if the bad effects of climate change were starting to take hold.

But 1998 was just a mild foretaste of what was to come. In the years that followed, new global temperature records were breached time and time again. 1998 was swiftly surpassed by 2005 which was again beaten out by 2010, then 2014 and finally 2015. Now, 2016 looks like it will end around 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages. It appears that in just three years, the world will have warmed by more than 0.2 C. In the 18-year period since 1998 the world’s long and worsening hot spell will have increased its top range by as much as 0.3 degrees C, or more than 30 percent.

Gavin Schmidt, NASA GISS head, tells this tale far more succinctly, stating:

July data are out, and what do you know, still 99% chance of a new annual record in 2016.

2016 Hottest Year on Record

(Can you pick out 1998 on this graph? Look hard. You might find it… Driven on by record levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses in the range of 490 ppm CO2e, global temperatures are in the process of spiking to around 1.2 C above 1880s averages in 2016. Climate scientists like Gavin Schmidt indicate that there’s a 99 percent chance that this year will be the hottest ever recorded. Image source: Gavin Schmidt.)

Another way to sum up how much the world has warmed since 1998 is the observation that the coolest months and years going forward are likely to be hotter than 1998 average temperatures. In other words, if we saw 1998 global temperatures now, it would be anomalously cold. The Earth’s natural cycling between La Nina and El Nino is, at this time, highly unlikely to produce a year as cool as 1998.

Hitting a New High Mark for Global Heat

As for 2016, the unbroken tally of record hot months has grown incredibly long. July itself, in NASA’s most recent announcement, has come in at about 1.06 C hotter than 1880s averages (and 0.84 C hotter than NASA’s 20th-century baseline). This makes the month we just went through the hottest month ever recorded in the global climate record by a substantial 0.1 C margin (beating out July of 2011 as the previous record-holder).

GISTEMP Anomaly

(Due to strong land-surface warming during summer in the Northern Hemisphere, July is typically the hottest month of the year. July 2016 was both the hottest July on record and the hottest ever month in the past 136 years of recordkeeping. Image source: NASA.)

At this point, you have to go all the way back to September of 2015 to find a month that isn’t now a new record-holder. And, as you can see in the month-to-month comparison graph above by NASA, many of the recent records have been very strong indeed.

Such heat has brought with it every manner of trouble. From droughts in the Amazon rainforest, to record-low sea ice levels, to worsening droughts, to a global rash of floods and wildfires, to the longest-running coral bleaching event ever recorded, to expanding ocean dead zones and lakes and riverways choked with algae, to tropical viruses like Zika marching northward as anthrax-carrying deer are coughed up out of the thawing permafrost, to the loss and destabilization of glacial ice around the planet, the picture of the world in 2016 is one of a place suffering far greater and wider-ranging climate disruptions than during 1998.

Now, given the considerable difference in impacts over just an 18-year time period and an approximate 0.3 C temperature increase, imagine what another 18 years and another 0.3 C or greater would unleash.

Portrait of the Hottest Month Ever — More Arctic Warming

July was just one part of this big upward jump in global temperatures and related extreme climate conditions. The distribution of that heat showed that climate-change-related polar amplification was still in full swing up north.

Above-average temperatures continued to concentrate near the vulnerable Arctic. NASA shows that temperatures in the region of 75 to 90° North Latitude ranged from around 1.4 to 2.1 C above normal. Such record-warm readings were likely due to loss of sea ice and consequent albedo reductions in the region of the Beaufort Sea and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (see Arctic map here). Peak temperature departures in this zone hit as high as 7.7 C above average for the month — pretty extreme for northern polar July.

Conversely, a small pool of slightly cooler-than-normal readings hovered over the East Siberian Sea. But this small region was far milder, achieving only a peak 2 C departure below 20th-century norms.

GISS Temperature Map July 2016

(The hottest month on record globally shows highest above-average temperatures exactly where we don’t need them — in the Arctic north of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, near the Yamal Peninsula and the Kara Sea, and in the south over West Antarctica. Image source: NASA.)

The broader region from Latitudes 35° S to 75° N saw temperatures ranging between 0.7 and 1.4 C above the NASA 20th-century baseline. This included the Equator at around 0.8 C above average despite the cooling effects of the Eastern Pacific which was starting to tilt toward La Nina conditions.

From 35° S to the pole, temperatures rapidly fall off for July with the region from 75° to 90° S seeing 1 to 1.6 C negative temperature departures. It’s worth noting that this Antarctic region was the only area to experience widespread below-average temperatures on the globe. Even so, West Antarctica stood as a noted warm outlier in this single large cool pool, with temperatures for most of the Antarctic Peninsula and adjacent inland regions hitting 4 C or more above normal.

Outlook — Predicted La Nina is Weak; Northern Polar Amplification is Strong

Cooler surface waters in the Equatorial Pacific are predicted to produce a weak, late La Nina for 2016 and early 2017. This event is not expected to be anywhere near as strong as the significant 2010 to 2012 La Nina. As a result, it will likely have a lesser overall downward effect on global surface temperatures.

GFS global temperature tracking

(GFS global temperature tracking indicates that August is likely to be as warm or slightly warmer than July, which puts this month within striking distance of another consecutive monthly global high temperature record. Image source: Karsten Haustein Climate Reanalysis.)

On the other hand, as August and September roll into October and November, Northern Hemisphere polar amplification is likely to intensify and this will tend to further buffer the downward temperature swing typically produced by La Nina. Therefore, it’s not likely that August to December temperatures will fall outside of the 0.95 to 1.15 C June-July temperature differential from 1880s ranges.

Current GFS model tracking for August (see image above) hints at a likely range between 1.05 and 1.15 C above 1880s values, which means that August is currently on track to challenge previous all-time temperature records for the month and that 2016 is continuing to solidify its extreme heat gains.

Links:

NASA GISS

Gavin Schmidt

Karsten Haustein Climate Reanalysis

BOM ENSO Forecast

NOAA ESRL

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Ridley Jack

It’s Not Just Subtropical Cornwall — Climate Zones Everywhere are on the March Poleward

A few weeks ago, the University of Exeter found that parts of Cornwall, England had become subtropical. The study stated that since average temperatures had risen to above 10 degrees Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) for periods of time longer than seven months, this part of England situated on a latitude line north of most of Newfoundland has become part of a climate zone that during the early 20th century extended as far south as the southern tip of Florida.

Seemingly oblivious to the new oddity and possible peril implied by such a significant climate shift, the study went on to cheerfully observe that:

Parts of Cornwall have become subtropical since 2000 and this could create opportunities to grow new, unusual plants. Sunflowers, maize, grapevines and tea are already grown in the Duchy.

The study also pointed out that the added heat might present a problem or two, instances that might be sorted out simply by getting scientists to work together with farmers:

While sub-tropical conditions may create opportunities to grow exotic crops, the lower frequency of frosts is also making Cornwall more susceptible to invasive species. As the temperatures continue to warm, we need to ensure we manage the risks carefully as well as capitalising on the opportunities. This will require scientists to continue to work hand-in-hand with the horticultural sector.

Subtropical Cornwall — Sahara Desert Marches North as Coastal Zones Flood

Unmentioned, however, was how bizarre the notion of a subtropical Cornwall actually is and what such a major climate shift may mean for the globe, Europe, and Cornwall itself — a shift that may put the odd notion of ‘capitalising on the opportunities’ practically out of reach.

Unfortunately, big climate-zone movements of the kind shown in the Exeter study risk an amazing range of ecological and geophysical damage. A short and incomplete list includes melting glaciers, shrinking sea ice, rising sea levels (a very real worry for the numerous coastal communities near or within Cornwall, including places like Falmouth, Penzance, St Ives, and Exeter itself), stratifying and increasingly anoxic oceans, mass coral bleaching, and habitat loss for species on a global scale risking mass extinction. Any such mention of this appropriately worrying context was notably and oddly absent from the Exeter study.

Subtropical climates

(The subtropical climate zones of the world as of the late 20th century. Image source: Commons.)

Of particular interest to Cornwall and regions nearby is that the northward expansion of the subtropical regions of the world has long been a concern among climate scientists due to its ability to enhance desertification in highly-populated regions like Europe. The issue is that as the tropics and subtropics drift poleward, they bring hot, dry weather along with them. Because the subtropical regions support conditions conducive for arid climates, there is a high likelihood that deserts will march northward into more densely-inhabited regions.

A 2010 study by UCAR found that under continued fossil-fuel burning, the Sahara Desert essentially leaps across the Mediterranean and fully expands into southern and central Europe. In other words, though Cornwall may be able to support subtropical plants now, the northward movement of the arid zone related to the incoming warmth would make growing such plants an increasingly difficult prospect as time moves forward.

Drought Zones Expand under global warming

(A 2010 UCAR study found that drought zones dramatically expand as the tropical and subtropical climate zones march northward due to human-forced warming. Image source: Drought Under Global Warming.)

It’s Not Just Cornwall — Climate Zones are Moving Everywhere

As we consider what the onset of intensified warming may mean for Cornwall — with deserts expanding and seas stratifying as they rise — it’s also worth thinking a little bit about the related warming-forced movement of the world’s isotherms. Isotherm is a meteorological term for a line connecting regions of the same temperature. Averaged over the coldest or warmest months of a year, these lines of temperature also mark the boundaries between climate zones.

The tropics, for example, are bounded in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres by a line of 18 C (64.4 F) average coldest-month temperatures. The edges of the two polar zones are bounded by a line of 10 degrees Celsius (50 F) average temperatures during the hottest months of the year (July in the Boreal region, January in the Austral region).

 

Isotherms

(NOAA global isotherm map. Image source: NOAA Climate Zones.)

Tucked between these two zones are the temperate and subtropical climates. Over the past 40 years, rapid warming has shoved these isotherms poleward. This shift has created a new climate reality for Cornwall and pretty much everywhere else.

At an average decadal march away from the Equator of about 35 miles, these respective climate boundaries have moved by around 140 miles over the last four decades, expanding the total reach of the tropic zone by 280 miles northward and southward. In the Northern Hemisphere, the polar climate zone has shrunken toward the continental edges by about 14o miles, while in the Southern Hemisphere, the polar zone is shrinking off the tip of South America and across the Southern Ocean toward Antarctica by a similar distance.

These changes in the isotherms are rough measures, of course. In some places, like Cornwall, climate zones are moving toward the poles at an even faster rate. And the Arctic climate zone is notably shrinking at a more rapid rate than the Southern Hemisphere polar zone.

Rapid Climate Zone Movement Risks Species Extinction

Movement of these climate zones is driven by a rate of global warming in the range 0.15 to 0.20 degrees C every ten years, a pace of warming about 30 times faster than the warming at the end of the last ice age. As a result, plants and animals are finding that the habitats to which they’ve adapted are swiftly and dramatically changing. Plant and animal ranges have moved behind these climate zones at a rate of only about four miles every decade. Basically, habitats are moving too quickly for the creatures they support to catch up.

Earth_Global_Circulation

(As the globe warms due to fossil-fuel burning, the tropical Hadley cell expands even as the top of the polar and mid-latitude cells rise. This combination results in severe climate shifts and more persistent weather patterns due to a weakened polar jet stream. Such change in climate results in loss of animal habitat and increasingly difficult and extreme weather conditions for human beings. Image source: NASA/Commons.)

Back in 2008, climate scientist James Hansen noted:

If emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase at the current rate—“business as usual”—then the rate of isotherm movement will double in this century to at least 70 miles per decade. If we continue on this path, a large fraction of the species on Earth, as many as 50 percent or more, may become extinct. The species most at risk are those in polar climates and the biologically diverse slopes of alpine regions. These animals, in effect, will be pushed off the planet—though some like the polar bear may be “rescued” and allowed to survive in zoos.

It is important to also consider that loss of plant habitat due to warming and drying is a primary driver of the mass tree death and increase in wildfire rates we have seen across the globe in recent years. Along with the mass exodus of fish from warming Equatorial oceans and the flipping-on of the global coral bleaching switch during 2014-2016, we can see these species-threatening impacts in heart-wrenching and terrifying effect today.

Given that the rapid poleward progression of the isotherms has continued since Hansen’s 2008 writing, and given that the pace of global warming appears to have accelerated through the 2014 to 2016 period, it appears that his statement is all the more salient today — especially now that we are starting to see some of the mass loss of animal and plant life due to warming that Hansen mentioned. And especially since parts of Cornwall in England are now considered subtropical.

Links:

Subtropical Cornwall Climate Could Mean Exotic New Crops (among other things)

Commons

Drought Under Global Warming

NOAA Climate Zones

Scientist James Hansen, “The 800 Pound Gorilla”

66 Million Trees Dead in California

This Global Coral Bleaching Event Just Won’t End

Tropical Fish Moving Toward Poles

NASA/Commons

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to DT Lange

Choosing Our Nation’s Course for the Next 40,000 Years — Democratic and Republican Party Platforms Show Extreme Contrast on Climate Change

According to our best understanding of the science, the Permian hothouse extinction event which wiped out more than 90 percent of life in the oceans and more than 70 percent of vertebrate life on land lasted between 48,000 and 60,000 years. Continued fossil-fuel burning through the end of this century could set off an event as bad or worse, proceeding with a speed far faster than the Permian and possibly having more harmful and longer-lasting impacts.

Keeping these sobering thoughts in mind, it has been rightly said that though we are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, we are likely the last generation with the opportunity to do anything about it. And in this election we will choose the path of our nation not only for the next four years, but over the course of at least the next 40,000. For when we vote, we will be choosing between leaders who have called for a global mobilization to attempt to prevent catastrophic changes to the Earth’s climate that will last for untold millennia and those who have promised to ignore these worsening harms until they have wholly swallowed us up.

Stark Climate Policy Contrasts

Never before has climate change been such an important issue in a national election. And never before have the two dominant party goals on the issue of climate change shown such stark contrast. On the one hand, you have a Republican party that downplays and denies the threats posed by rising seas, worsening droughts, oceans suffering expanding dead zones and acidification, stronger and more damaging storms, and deteriorating food and water security. On the other, you have a Democratic party committed to a response that does not ‘leave our children a planet that is profoundly damaged.’

In pursuit of these goals, Democrats are seeking to put policies in place to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent through 2050. Republicans pledge to stymie any progress in carbon emissions cuts by fighting the Kyoto and Paris climate summit provisions, in effect locking in more and more harmful warming over the short through long term.

2016 Climate Change Platforms Democrat Republican

(When it comes to climate change, ever-strengthening Democratic policy measures come into conflict with increasingly intransigent Republican climate change denial, support for continued fossil-fuel burning, and attacks on agencies like the EPA. Image source: InsideClimateNews.)

Democrats have pledged to implement President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (which would, among other things, allow the EPA to regulate carbon emissions), continue to increase fuel economy standards for light and heavy-duty vehicles, and continue to increase environmental and efficiency standards for building codes and appliances. Laughably calling coal — the dirtiest, most heavily polluting energy source — clean, Republicans pledge to do away with the Clean Power Plan altogether.

Democrats are planning to empower the EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing to protect water supplies. Such plans would necessarily result in limits placed on the destructive practice. The Republicans pledge to scrap the EPA, turning it into a bipartisan commission neutered of any real power to prevent bad-actor businesses from expanding fracking, ruining the environment or dumping toxins into the air, water and land.

(We are beginning to feel the first slings and arrows of climate change, but compared to what we could see if we continue fossil fuel burning, if we support the devastating climate and energy policies that Republicans are pushing, the current difficulties are minor and easy. Even though climate impacts will continue to worsen for some time, Republican policies will ensure that the absolute worst case climate impacts will be made real for our generation and for hundreds and perhaps thousands of generations to follow. Video source: Not Reality TV by James Cameron.)

Democrats support Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline (along with an associated expansion of tar sands extraction and burning) and state that no such pipeline will be constructed under Democratic governance. Democrats further pledge to support federal land, infrastructure and resource management decisions that do not further contribute to worsening climate change. Republicans pledge to complete the Keystone Pipeline, expand tar sands extraction, and to build numerous other such fossil fuel facilities.

Democrats support placing a price of some kind on carbon emissions in order to reflect their larger damage to the environment. Republicans pledge not to tax or price carbon and promise to push for expensive carbon capture and storage which has, thus far, primarily been used to further increase oil extraction resulting in yet more carbon emissions long term.

Moreover, the Democratic party has issued this global call to action on the issue of climate change:

We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis. We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis.

Such a statement elevates the threat of climate change to an appropriate level of national and international awareness and response. Wars are terrible, but the threat of climate change promises to multiply the root causes of war, destabilize entire regions, and — by risking the destruction of thousands of cities and communities, water and food supplies, and lands habitable by human beings — singly inflict more damage than any war or accumulation of wars throughout the history of humankind.

Strong Democratic Supports for Climate Action Apparently Open to Improvement

As such, the difference between the two major parties on this critical issue could not be more clear. The Democratic party pledges to act strongly to prevent catastrophic climate change by setting out policies that would rapidly reduce carbon emissions, rapidly adopt renewable energy systems, respond and adapt to climate threats as they emerge, and mobilize the international community to do the same. Republicans pledge to defend coal, expand fracking, increase drilling, dismantle the EPA, ignore the coming harmful global events that climate change will certainly produce, and to build more pipelines.

The Democratic policies would greatly reduce the long-term harm posed by human-forced climate change, whereas the Republican policies would basically work to lock in catastrophic levels of CO2 near 900 parts per million and around 4-5 degrees Celsius total global warming (since 1880) by the end of this century.

RCP 8.5 Nature

(Once the Earth heats up, it can take thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years for it to cool off again. Republican-supported climate policies would push toward worst-case global warming along an RCP 8.5 pathway resulting in 4-5 C warming by 2100, 6 C warming by 2150 and 9 C warming by 2300. Temperatures in this range would set off a dangerous hothouse environment likely lasting for tens to hundreds of thousands of years. Democratic policies would take us off the RCP 8.5 path and instead push for a still-harmful but more easy to manage RCP 4.5-range scenario. Note that permafrost and hydrate carbon feedbacks are not included in this analysis and that long-term warming in the 500 to 1,000 year range for RCP 4.5 under Earth System Sensitivity is likely to hit near 4 C. Image source: Nature.)

Although it’s true that Democrats could still do more to improve their climate policies, could act even more swiftly than they now pledge to, this is the strongest Democratic party platform on the issue of climate change yet, one that is clearly setting out the goal that Democrats are committed to leading a comprehensive fight against the harms posed by human-forced warming. Moreover, the Democrats have shown an appropriate escalation of responses to climate change that leaves open the door to further, more ardent action on the issue.

Republicans, on the other hand, fight for more fossil-fuel burning, more heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere. They commit to a rapidly worsening climate situation becoming so terrible by the middle to end of this century, that it’s questionable whether much of modern civilization could endure it without experiencing an ever-worsening series of collapses, losses and retractions.

The choice, therefore, is probably one of the most important voting choices you will ever make in any election. Voting for Republicans will help to lock in thousands upon thousands of years of catastrophic climate harm. Voting for Democrats is a vote for a party that is actively aware of the problem and promotes a national and global mobilization aimed at confronting it and lessening the damage.

Links:

InsideClimateNews

Democratic Platform Calls for Global Mobilization on Climate Change

Nature

Not Reality TV by James Cameron

Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Trump Calls Climate Change a Chinese Hoax

Stop Keystone XL

Under a Green Sky

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Siberian Heatwave Wrecks Sea Ice as Greenland High Settles In

We’ve never seen Arctic sea ice extents that are as low as they are now in early June. And with Arctic heatwaves, warm winds, warm storms, and a Greenland High all settling in, something had better change soon or otherwise the ice cap over the northern Polar Ocean is basically screwed.

*****

On the shores of the Arctic Ocean’s East Siberian Sea (ESS), near the town of Logashinko, temperatures today are expected to rise to near 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Readings that are about 40 to 50 degrees (F) above normal for this near-polar region during this time of year.

image

(Welcome to increasingly ludicrous climates. Temperatures near 80 F at Logashinko, Russia are at least 40 degrees F above average for this time of year. A place well north of the Arctic Circle, but whose temperatures are predicted today to match those of St. Martin Island in the tropics. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

We would have never expected temperatures to have risen so high near typically frozen Logashinko during early June sans the heating effect of atmospheric CO2 levels that have this year peaked near 407.5 parts per million. The highest levels seen on Earth in about 15 million years. These scorching polar temperatures were driven north by a powerful high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream that has dominated Eastern Russia for much of 2016 Spring. This expansive ridge enabled extreme wildfires popping up all over the region even as it today drives 80 degree weather all the way to Arctic Ocean shores — enforcing a regime of rapid sea ice melt over the East Siberian Sea.

ESS, Laptev Get Ripped Up

As the warm winds drive northward across ice-clogged Arctic Ocean waters, temperatures rapidly fall into 35 to 41 degree (F) ranges. And though that may sound cool to the casual observer, for the East Siberian Sea zone during early June, that’s scorching hot — topping out at more than 10 degrees above average for some areas. A pretty extreme variation for late Spring when temperatures over the Arctic Ocean only typically depart from average by about 3 or 4 degrees at most.

East Siberian Sea Melting

(The Laptev and East Siberian Sea Ice is getting ripped up by extreme Arctic warmth. The blue tint to ice in the above image indicates melt ponds, while dark blue indicates open water. Zooming in closer reveals the brown flush of warm waters issuing from heated Siberian rivers. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

All across this Arctic Ocean region, melt ponds and widening polynyas now abound in the ridiculously warm airs. In the satellite shot above, the tell-tale bluish tint of the ice reveals a plethora of these ponds expanding northward through the ESS and on toward the pole. A flush of hot water running into the Arctic Ocean from East Siberia’s rivers is melting the near shore ice. And a giant 80 mile wide gap of open water has now been torn into the ice of the Laptev Sea.

Record Extent Lows Continue to Worsen

The sudden Arctic heatwave and rapid related melt involvement of the ESS and Laptev is just the most recent melt spike in a polar ocean that sees ice extent levels hitting new record lows with each passing day. As of June 2nd, the expanse of Arctic Sea ice only measured 10.37 million square kilometers. This is about 430,000 square kilometers below the previous daily record low set just last year and fully ten days ahead of the record sea ice melt year of 2012.

Arctic sea ice extent new record lows

(Arctic sea ice extent record lows continue for this time of year and threaten to plunge deeply below the 2012 line in coming days. Image source: JAXA.)

A coverage of sea ice that is now 42 days and 2.1 million square kilometers of sea ice loss ahead of an average melt year during the 1980s.

Here Comes the Greenland High

Extreme heat building into the Siberian side of the Arctic and record low sea ice extent measures are today being joined by yet another disturbing Arctic feature. For as of yesterday, a strong ridge of high pressure began to form over Greenland, the Canadian Archipelago and Iceland.

Greenland highs tend to increase temperatures over the enormous glaciers of that frozen island even as the clockwise circulation pattern of an anticyclone tends to shove sea ice out into the Barents and North Atlantic. The dominance of a Greenland High during both 2012 and 2007 is thought to have heavily influenced record end season sea ice melts during those years as well as the extreme Greenland surface melt spike during 2012.

image

(A high pressure ridge emerging over Greenland, Iceland and the Canadian Archipelago today is expected to strengthen this week — generating a high pressure gradient between warm storms developing over the Arctic Ocean and winds that threaten to increase the rate of ice transport out of the High Arctic and into regions of warmer water. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This week’s predicted ridge formation is not expected to bring with it a severe surface melt of Greenland. However, the clockwise winds driving sea ice transport may serve as yet one more heavy blow to the already greatly weakened ocean ice. Pressures later this week are expected to rise to 1040 mb over Greenland. And strong winds running between powerful warm storms expected to form in the Kara and Central Arctic are predicted to rise to near gale force north of Greenland — generating a risk of a very vigorous ice loss from the near polar zone as floes are driven into warm Barents and North Atlantic waters.

In context, the combined severe record sea ice lows and emerging weather conditions represent a seriously bad state for Arctic sea ice. One with a high risk of continued further extreme losses and new daily record lows for at least the next seven days.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

LANCE MODIS

JAXA

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

The Arctic Ice Blog

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to DT Lange

New Extreme Climate to Hurl More Rain Bombs at Texas, Light off Another Record West Coast Heatwave

They call them rain bombs. A new breed of severe storm fueled by a record hot atmosphere. One capable of dumping 2-4 inches of rainfall an hour and generating voracious flash floods that can devour homes and cars in just minutes. And in southeast Texas, the rain bombs have been going off like gangbusters.

In this week’s most recent iteration of flaring, climate change induced, storms, a region north of Houston and south of Dallas saw flood after flood after flood. Now, hundreds of people have been forced to abandon inundated homes, thousands of cars have been submerged, and seven people are dead. Rainfall totals for the region over the past seven days have averaged between 7 and 10 inches. But local amounts in the most intense bombification zones have come in at 16, 19, and even as high as 30 inches in Washington County. All time record rainfall totals that might be associated with a powerful hurricane. Floods that would typically happen only once every 500 years. But in the new moisture-laden atmosphere of a record warm world, a garden variety thunderstorm now has enough atmospheric oomph to frequently set off what were once multi-century floods.

Rain bombs over Texas 3

(Rain bombs again explode over Texas in a huge complex of storms on Tuesday afternoon in this GOES enhanced satellite shot. It’s all part of the same stormy weather pattern — associated with a trough and an upper level low — that over the past five days produced another round of record flooding over Texas. And it’s expected to remain in place through the end of this week. With more severe storms firing and 4-8 inches of additional rainfall on the way for some sections of soggy Texas, it appears that still more extreme flooding is likely. Image source: NOAA.)

It’s under these new, freakish, conditions that the Brazos River is today expected to crest at 53.5 feet — its highest level ever recorded. And this crest is predicted to push a flood of 8-9 feet into neighboring communities. Extreme flooding that local officials say Texans are not at all prepared for. In total, more than 40,000 people have been urged to evacuate. But with the worst flooding still on the way, the situation is still very fluid.

In isolation, the current Texas floods would be an extreme record disaster worthy of the weather history books. But it is just one of three such severe rainfall events to strike southeastern Texas since April. And, unfortunately, more storms are on the way as a strong ridge of high pressure out west is expected to generate another deep Central US trough and related rain bomb inducing storm pattern over the next five days.

West Coast Turns up the Heat

As parts of Texas face never-before-seen flooding, the US West Coast is staring down the gullet of an extraordinary surge of heat. A gigantic blob of hot ocean water off that region of the world is feeding the growth of a powerful atmospheric wave. And once the ridge of this wave really starts to swell northward on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, record hot temperatures are bound to explode all over the US West Coast and on up into Canada.

image

(Sea surface temperature anomalies on May 31, 2016. Extremely hot sea surface temperatures over a vast area stretching from the Equator to Alaska and all along the US West Coast enhance the development of strong ridges in the Jet Stream that have tended to spur extreme heatwaves over the past few years. Ocean temperatures over this zone now range between 1 and 6 C above normal late 20th Century values. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In Fresno, the mercury is expected to rocket to 108 degrees Fahrenheit by Saturday — or about 18 degrees above normal for early June. Sacramento is expected to see 106 F readings at the same time — which is around 20 degrees above average for that Central California location. Further north, temperatures are also expected to skyrocket with Portland predicted to strike near 98 F on Sunday and Spokane calling for 96 F. In fire-ravaged Fort McMurray, the mercury is expected to top out at 85 F on the same day.

This expansive bulge of heat is expected to cover pretty much all of Western North American. Rising from the Desert Southwest, it is predicted to run through Oregon and Washington, rise up through Canada, and touch even the shores of the rapidly thawing Arctic Ocean.

Conditions in the Context of Human Caused Climate Change

The broader conditions fueling both record rain and potential record high temperatures over the North American West are the same. A record hot global atmosphere is one that is burdened with more heat and moisture than ever before. One that will inevitably produce more extreme rainfall and heatwaves than we are used to.

Locally, additional features related to a fossil fuel based warming of the world further contribute to the problem. Over the Northwestern Pacific, sea surface temperatures ranging from 1-6 degrees Celsius above average (2 to 10 F) generate a tendency for heatwaves and strong high pressure formation. These systems have often taken in all of the US West even as they’ve extended on up into Canada and Alaska. Adding to the problem is sea ice loss over the Arctic Ocean — which as of today is seeing the lowest ice extent ever recorded for this time of year. This sea ice loss tends to aid in Arctic warming which weakens the Jet Stream, which in turn tends to meander — creating these exaggerated trough and ridge patterns that have been associated with so much extreme weather recently.

image

(Earth Nullschool map of Jet Stream wind pattern predicted for early June 5, 2016. A powerful ridge expected to form over the US West Coast is predicted to drive record heatwave conditions there by this weekend even as a facing trough will again spike the risk for extreme rainfall events over Southeastern Texas. This Jet Stream feature and related severe weather conditions — ranging from severe heat to floods — is now influenced by numerous effects currently emerging as human-forced climate change worsens. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Large, hot ridges forming in one region tend to generate deep, stormy troughs in another. And the ridge over the US West has resulted in the formation of a related trough and unsettled weather pattern over the South-Central US centering on Southeast Texas. This trough has pulled cold, unstable air into the upper levels of the atmosphere over Texas even as it fed upon an uncanny volume of moisture streaming in off the abnormally hot waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean.

The results? Well, we’ve already experienced them in the form of record floods for Texas, periods of record heat for the Western US, and a never-before-seen May wildfire outbreak in Alberta, Canada. This week, the overall pattern is again expected to ramp into high gear — which is likely to produce possibly never-before seen June heat out west and more extreme flooding for Texas.

Links:

Texas Floods Force Evacuations

Texas Floods: More Rain is Coming

Death Toll Rises to Seven in Texas Floods

Hundreds of Homes Destroyed in Texas Floods

Observed Precipitation NOAA

NOAA/National Hurricane Center

Weather.com Local Forecasts

US Climate Data

Earth Nullschool

 

Polar Heatwave Digs in as Arctic Sea Ice Crashes — Blue Ocean Event Looking More and More Likely

We’ve never seen May heat like what’s being predicted in the Arctic over the next seven days. A shot of warm airs blowing northward over Siberia that are expected to generate a warm front that takes in nearly the entire Arctic Ocean. A weather pattern that, if it emerges, will completely compromise the central region of polar cold that has traditionally driven Northern Hemisphere weather patterns.

*****

This week, a huge pulse of warm air rose up over Northwest Canada and Alaska. Invading the Beaufort, it drove a broad warm front which forced near or above freezing temperatures over between 1/4 to 1/3 of the Arctic Ocean zone. Regions from the East Siberian Sea, through the Chukchi, into the Beaufort, and including a chunk of the polar zone above the 80th parallel all experienced these anomalously warm readings. By Friday, air temperature anomalies in the entire Arctic zone above 66 North were about 3 C above average and in a large section of the hot zone centered on the Beaufort temperatures ranged between 10-15 C above average. For the Arctic, it appeared that June had arrived a month early.

Arctic sea ice May 12 2016

(Abundant Arctic snow and sea ice melt on May 12 provides a visible record of a region compromised by the heat of human-forced climate change. Large land regions — such as Northwest Canada and Alaska — snow free when they should not be. And larger regions of open water appear in the zones that were traditionally covered by sea ice. A bluing over the Chukchi and Beaufort is also indicative of melt pond proliferation. Summer, it appears, has come to the Arctic far too early. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The effect of all this heat — just the latest hot flare during a record warm 2016 — on the sea ice has been tremendous. Huge areas of dark, ice-free water have opened up. The Bering is practically ice free. The Chukchi is plagued with thin ice, large polynyas, and melt ponds. Baffin Bay and the Barents are greatly reduced. And in the Beaufort a massive 120 to 200 mile wide region of open water continues to expand.

For Arctic Sea Ice Melt, Mid Summer is Happening in May

Pretty much all the major monitors now show Arctic sea ice plummeting deep into record low ranges. The JAXA extent measure yesterday rocketed past the 11.5 million square kilometer mark with barely a blink following multiple days of 100,000 square kilometer losses. DMI looks like the bottom dropped out of its own extent and volume measures. And NSIDC shows Arctic sea ice extent levels widening the gap from previous record lows for this time of year.

Arctic sea ice extent jaxa

(2016 Actic sea ice — indicated by the red line in the JAXA monitor above — continues its record plunge. Record Arctic heat during 2016 has driven a never-before-seen rate of melt for the first four and a half months of this year. If such melt rates continue, there will be very little sea ice left by melt season end in September. Image source: JAXA.)

Overall, not only is the sea ice less extensive and thinner than it has ever been for this time of year, but the rates of loss it is now experiencing are more similar to those that would typically be seen during June and July — not May. In such a context of record heat and melt, current new sea ice extent lows are about 9-10 days ahead of the previous record low, 22-24 days ahead of the 2000s average line, more than a month ahead of the 1990s average line, and fully a month and a half ahead of the 1980s average line. In other words, there is something seriously, seriously wrong with the polar region of our world.

Freakish Warm Front To Cross From Siberia to the Barents

As bad as the current situation is, the coming week looks like it’s setting up to be far worse. A second massive polar warm front is in the process of bulging northward from the region of Eastern Siberia near the East Siberian Sea. This warm front — driven on by an anomalous ridge in the Jet Stream and backed by warm winds flooding up from the East Asian heatwave and wildfire zone — is predicted to bow outward over the coming five days. It is expected to encompass all of the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev, traverse the 80th parallel, continue on past the North Pole, and then flood out into the Barents. Essentially, it’s a warm front that will cross the polar zone in total — completely ignoring the laws of Jet Stream dynamics and basically rupturing what is traditionally an area of cold centering on the Pole.

image

(Warm winds are predicted to be pulled up from Siberia as a high pressure system churns over the Beaufort and a warm front crosses the North Pole — flushing below freezing temperature out of a majority of the Arctic Ocean Basin on May 16th in the GFS model forecast. Note the very large extent of predicted above freezing temperatures in the graphic above. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In four years of unbroken Arctic observation and threat analysis related to human-caused climate change, I’ve never seen anything like this. And given the odd effects of fossil fuel emissions-forced climate change, I’ve definitely observed some pretty weird stuff. To say this really kinda takes the cake for Arctic weirdness would be an understatement.

Never-Before Seen Conditions Consistent With Human-Forced Climate Change

By May 20, most of the Arctic Ocean is predicted to see near-freezing or above-freezing temperatures. Readings warm enough to promote surface melt of the ice pretty much everywhere and across all basins. Readings that for the entire Arctic region above 66 North are predicted to be 5 C above average. That is one hell of an anomaly. Something that would be odd if we saw it during January (when climate change related seasonal warming has typically taken greater hold). But for May this is absolutely outlandishly hot.

May 20 Crazy Polar anomaly

(Temperatures in the Arctic are expected to hit a +5.04 C anomaly by May 20. Such an amazing amount of heat will generate rapid thaw conditions that were typically only experienced in the middle of summer during previous record warm years. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

These are conditions that even during the previously record warm period of the 2000s normally didn’t take come into play until late June or early July. Conditions that were practically unheard of for any single day at the peak of summer warmth during the 1980s. Conditions now predicted to happen in late May.

This is climate change, folks. Pure and simple. And if such a pattern of extreme heat continues, it may wipe out practically all the ice by the end of this melt season. This week, it looks like that dreaded event will grow still more likely if this predicted insane heat break-out into the Arctic emerges. An event many scientists thought wouldn’t be possible until the 2070s or 2080s as little as ten years ago. A Blue Ocean Event that is now a very real risk for 2016.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

JAXA

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

The Merciless Rains of Climate Change Hammer Houston, Southeast Texas — 12-18 Inches Accumulation, More Than 1,200 Water Rescues Reported

“I can hear your whisper and distant mutter. I can smell your damp on the breeze and in the sky I see the halo of your violence. Storm I know you are coming.”

*****

The atmospheric ingredients right now are ripe for some serious trouble. Globally, the world is just starting to back away from the hottest temperatures ever recorded. This never-before-seen heat plume, driven on by a fossil-fuel abetted warming not seen in at least 115,000 years and an extreme El Nino combined, has loaded an unprecedented amount of moisture into the Earth’s atmosphere. As El Nino shifts toward La Nina and the Earth marginally cools, a portion of this massive excess of water vapor is bound to fall out as rain — manifesting as terrible extreme precipitation episodes that can result in serious trouble. A seemingly endless procession of freak events that challenge the record books time and time again.

Across the world, we’re starting to see such episodes now. Over the past week, Iran, Yemen, Qatar Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have experienced flash floods resulting in loss of life. Severe floods spurred a major emergency response effort in Central and Northern Russia this weekend. And in Santiago Chile, streets turned into rivers as a sudden and extraordinary deluge both polluted the water supplies of 1 million people and transformed the world’s largest copper mine into a lake.

(Severe flooding around the world this week includes the Houston area — sections of which have essentially been crippled by 12-18 inches of rainfall over the past 24 hours. In total, more than 1,200 water rescues have been reported throughout the region. Many residents, like the gentleman above, appear to have been shocked and surprised by the flooding’s severity. Video source: Houston ABC News.)

Sudden, Extreme Flooding in Houston Area

In the US, the City of Houston and the region of southeastern Texas experienced its own extreme deluge. There, a stubborn and unyielding high pressure system over the US East Coast, an omega block in the Jet Stream, a cut off upper level low, and a nearly unprecedented amount of moisture streaming in from the Gulf of Mexico and regions to the Equatorial South all conspired to aim a train of powerful storms in the form of an eye-popping mesoscale convective system (MCS) at the Houston region. Since early this morning, between 12-18 inches of rainfall fell over the city’s western suburbs with 6-8 inches inundating the city center. In some places, rates of rainfall accumulation hit a crippling rate of nearly 4 inches per hour.

According to Bob Henson at Weather Underground:

… the Houston area was socked on Monday morning by a huge mesoscale convective system (MCS) that drifted southeast across the area, dumping eye-popping amounts of rain: 6” – 8” over central Houston, with 12” – 18” common over the far western suburbs… While individual thunderstorms often weaken after dark, the large mass of thunderstorms that makes up an MCS will often persist overnight and into the next morning, as the MCS cloud tops radiate heat to space and instability is enhanced.

The record single day rainfall total for Houston before today was 11.25 inches. It appears likely that 11.75 inches recorded at Houston International Airport today will mark a new daily high mark for a city that grew up out of fossil fuel burning but now appears to be drowning in the heat-intensified effluent. More to the point, most of Houston’s western suburbs experienced what amounts to an entire typical season’s worth of rainfall in just one 24 hour period.

Drainage systems, not designed to handle anywhere near so much water over so short a period, were rapidly overwhelmed. By midday, more than 70 subdivisions in the Houston region were reported flooded, more than 1,200 vehicle water rescue operations had been conducted along the inundated region’s streets and highways, and more than 1,000 homes were inundated. Seven hospitals were shut down, airport operations were crippled, and more than 100,000 people were reported to be without power. The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore, not known for understatement, may have hit a bit below the mark when he noted that “this is a mind boggling situation” earlier this afternoon. CNN, in its summation report of this, most recent, disaster declared that the entire city had been basically shut down.

Extreme Storms Houston Texas

(River of moisture flows up from the Equator and Gulf of Mexico and into the Houston region on Monday — spurring extreme rains that cripple the city. A pair of doggedly persistent weather systems — a blocking high to the east and an upper level low to the north contributed to the extreme weather over Houston. Climate change related features like record atmospheric moisture loading, and persistent ridge and trough generation due to Jet Stream changes likely linked to record low Arctic sea ice levels also likely influenced today’s severe storms. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

As of early this evening, a series of somewhat less intense storms still trailed through the Houston region as heavier rains marched off toward the east over Louisiana and Arkansas. A strong moisture flow is expected to persist over Eastern Texas and the southern Mississippi River Valley region through to at least Thursday as both the upper level low and blocking high complicit in Monday’s extreme flooding in Houston appear reluctant to budge from their current positions. As a result, NOAA is predicting another 4-5 inches of rainfall for areas near and just to the North and East of Houston over the next seven days. To this point, it’s worth noting that NOAA’s precipitation models had ‘only’ predicted about 4 inches of rainfall for the past 24 hour period in the near Houston area — a period that produced about five times that total for some locations. So it appears that weather models may be having a little bit of trouble managing the new and extremely dynamic atmospheric conditions now coming into play.

But One Extreme Event of Many in the Past Five Months

Houston’s likely record rainfall for this time of year comes on the back of hailstorms generating up to a billion dollars worth of damage over Northeastern Texas last week and follows a record March inundation of the Mississippi River region just to the North and East. An event that also followed a freak December flooding of Missouri and Illinois which likewise re-organized the record books. Overall, this represents an extreme spate of severe weather for one localized region.

Consistent trough generation in the Jet Stream over the area (likely influenced by record low Arctic sea ice coverage), consistent above average sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, a strong moisture flow from a record El Nino, and record global temperatures contributing to high atmospheric moisture loadings all influenced severe storm formation over this area during recent months. Sadly, it’s a spate of severe weather that is likely to continue at least until the end of Spring.

Links:

Widespread Flooding, More than 1,000 Water Rescues in Houston Area

Houston Largely Shut Down Amidst Severe Rainfall, Flooding

Massive Flood in Houston

Houston Texas Average Rainfall

Flash Floods Claim 18 Lives Across Saudia Arabia

Deadly Rains Pound the Middle East

Flash Floods in North Afghanistan Claim 38 Lives Overnight

World’s Largest Copper Mine Shut Down in Santiago Flood

As A Titanic El Nino Begins to Fade, What Fresh Trouble Will Record Warm World Bring?

NOAA Quantitative Predictive Forecasts

Punishing Four Season Storm Grips US

Mangled Jet Stream, River of Moisture Set to Deliver Severe Flooding to Mississippi River Valley

Houston ABC News

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Greg

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Daniel Hatem

Too Close to Dangerous Climate Thresholds — Japan Meteorological Agency Shows First Three Months of 2016 Were About 1.5 C Above the IPCC Preindustrial Baseline

We should take a moment to appreciate how hot it’s actually been so far in 2016. To think about what it means to be in a world that’s already so damn hot. To think about how far behind the 8 ball we are on responses to human forced climate change. And to consider how urgent it is to swiftly stop burning coal, oil and gas. To stop adding more fuel to an already raging global fire.

******

Global policy makers, scientists, and many environmentalists have identified an annual average of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial marks as a level of heat we should try to avoid. The Paris Climate Summit made a verbal pledge to at least attempt to steer clear of such extreme high temperature ranges. But even the strongest emissions reduction commitments from the nations of the world now do not line up with that pledge. And it’s questionable that they ever could given the massive amount of greenhouse gas overburden that has already accumulated and is already rapidly heating the world’s airs, waters, ice, and carbon stores.

Current emission reduction pledges, though significant when taking into context the size and potential for growth of all of carbon-spewing industry, don’t even come close to the stated 1.5 C goal. Under our presently accepted understanding of climate sensitivity, and barring any response from the global carbon stores unforeseen by mainstream science, pledged reductions in fossil fuel use by the nations of the world under Paris would limit warming to around 3 C by the end of this Century. Rates of carbon emission reduction would necessarily have to significantly speed up beyond the pledged Paris NDC goals in order to hit below 3 C by 2100 — much less avoid 2 C.

As for 1.5 C above preindustrial averages — it already appears that this year, 2016, will see temperatures uncomfortably close to a level that mainstream scientists have identified as dangerous.

Global temperatures March Japan Meteorological Agency

(Japan’s Meteorological Agency shows that March of 2016 remained at global temperature levels above 1.5 C higher than the preindustrial baseline.)

The most recent warning came as the Japan Meteorological Agency today posted its March temperature values. In the measure, we again see a major jump in readings with the new March measure hitting a record of 1.07 C above the 20th Century average or about 1.55 C above temperatures last seen during the early 1890s. These temperatures compare to approximate 1.52 C above 1890s temperatures recorded by the same agency during February and a 1.35 C positive departure above 1890s levels during January. Averaging all these rough anomaly figures together, we find that the first three months of 2016 were about 1.47 C above the 1890s, or near 1.52 C above the IPCC 1850 to 1900 preindustrial baseline.

So for three months now, we’ve entered a harsh new world. One brought about by an atrocious captivity to fossil fuel burning. One that many scientists said it was imperative to avoid.

Due to the way the global climate system cycles, it is unlikely that the rest of 2016 will see such high global temperature marks and that the annual average will bend back from a near to, or slightly higher than, 1.5 C peak during early 2016. A La Nina appears to be on the way. And as the major driver of the cooler side of natural variability, La Nina taking hold should draw some of the sting out of these new record atmospheric temperature readings.

That said, overall ocean heat still looks quite extreme. Pacific Decadal Oscillation values hit their second highest ever monthly values during March of 2016. And a strongly positive PDO can tend to bleed a great amount of heat into the world’s airs even absent the influence of El Nino. In addition, Arctic warming this year has hit new record levels. Arctic sea ice is now at or near seasonal record low levels in most measures. Albedo is very low with many dark ice and open water regions forming throughout the Arctic Ocean. Snow cover levels are also low to record low — depending on the measure. Very early Greenland melt is already hampering the reflectivity of that great ice mass.

As summer advances, these factors may tend to continue to generate excess heat in Arctic or near Arctic regions as new dark surfaces absorb far more solar radiation than during a typical year. New evidence of increasing Arctic permafrost carbon store response may add to this potential additional heat contribution.

There is danger then, that an La Nina driven and natural variability related cooling later in the year may tend to lag — pulled back by a positive PDO and amplifying feedbacks in the Arctic. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels peaking between 407 and 409 parts per million during the months of March and April — the primary and increasingly dangerous driver of all this excess heat we are now experiencing — risk bending the upper end of that temperature threshold still higher and in ways that we probably haven’t yet completely pinned down. But the fact that March appears to have lingered near February’s record high anomaly values is cause for a bit of heightened concern. In other words, 2016 is setting up to be hot in ways that are surprising, freakish, and troubling.

Links:

Japan’s Meteorological Agency

Met Office — Measure From Which IPCC Preindustrial Baseline is Derived

NOAA’s Weekly ENSO Report

NSIDC’s Interactive Sea Ice Extent Graph

The Greenland Summer Melt Season Just Started in April

PDO Record Data

 

 

The Greenland Summer Melt Season Just Started in April

12 Percent. That’s how much of Greenland’s surface experienced melt yesterday according to a report from DMI’s Polar Portal  as an unprecedented flow of warm, wet air slammed into its great ice sheets. 10 Percent. That’s how much of Greenland’s ice sheet surface is required to melt in order to mark an official start to the Summer melt season. Late May or early June. That’s when Greenland melt season typically begins.

In other words, a Greenland melt season that usually starts as May rolls into June and has never initiated before May 5th just began on April 11th of 2016. That’s 24 days ahead of the previous record set only six years ago and more than a month and a half ahead of the typical melt start. In other words — way too early. But in a rapidly heating world where monthly temperatures have now exceeded a range of 1.5 C above 1880s levels, we could well expect Greenland melts to begin earlier, end later, and encompass more and more of the ice sheet surface at peak melt during July.

 

Record Early Start to Greenland Melt Season

(Record early start to Greenland’s ‘Summer’ melt season occurred on April 11, 2016 according to reports from DMI’s Polar Portal.)

Yesterday’s new record early melt start occurred as extraordinarily warm temperatures in the range of 20-40 degrees Fahrenheit above average swept over southern, central and western Greenland. This flood of extremely warm temperatures for Greenland was accompanied by heavy rains and strong winds — gusting to gale or even hurricane force in some locations. In some areas, rain fell over the ice sheet itself. As recently as midday Tuesday, Dr. Jason Box — a prominent Greenland researcher — tweeted a report from a friend in Nuuk that the city was “close to drowning in water caused by rain and snow melt.”

Today, temperatures for the whole of Greenland — a 1.7 million square kilometer island containing enough ice to raise sea levels by more than 20 feet should it all melt — were measuring as high as 10.17 C above average (more than 18 F above average) with readings over much of northern and central Greenland spiking over 20 C (36 F) above normal (1980-2010) ranges. So it’s likely that Monday’s record early 12 percent surface melt will extend and possibly expand on through today (April 12).

Greenland 10 C Above Average Temperatures

(Extreme warmth over much of Greenland on April 12th is continuing a new record early start to melt season for this up to two mile high pile of ice. Image source: Karsten’s Climate Maps. Data Source: NOAA/NCEP/GFS.)

Over the coming week, temperatures across Greenland are expected to steadily fall back toward more normal ranges. However, it’s worth noting that much of the heat from this year’s record early melt spike will be baked into the ice — adding a kind of internal heat pressure as Spring gradually progresses into Summer.

During July of 2012, an unprecedented 95 percent of Greenland’s surface experienced melt. For 2016, unprecedented Arctic warming during Winter appears to have set the stage for a serious challenge to both 2012 Greenland and 2012 Arctic sea ice melt records. And with seasonal sea ice at or near new record lows even as Greenland is off to an amazingly early melt start, it appears that 2016 is now in a race to set a number of new benchmarks as Arctic ice continues its ominous and disruptive longer-term decline.

Links:

Warm, Southerly Winds Gust to Hurricane Force in Staggering Early Season Greenland Heatwave

Unusually Early Greenland Melt

Greenland Melt Season Started Nearly Two Months Early

Karsten’s Climate Maps

Dr Jason Box’s Twitter Feed

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to Sidd

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

Warm, Southerly Winds Gust to Hurricane Force Over Greenland in Staggering Early Season Heatwave — Temperatures Now Hitting up to 41 Degrees (F) Above Average at Summit

The wavy, crazy Jet Stream.

Over the past few years, it’s become more and more clear that a human-forced heating of the Arctic has basically driven the Jet Stream mad. Big loops, omega blocks, and huge ridges and troughs have all become a feature of the new climate we’re experiencing. Related to these features have been a number of superstorms, severe droughts, ocean hot and cold pools, and extreme rainfall events.

Trough US East Coast Ridge Greenland

(The Jet Stream once again mangled. A strong trough shoved cool air over the US East Coast this weekend as a facing ridge prepared to hurl a bulge of extreme warmth up and over Greenland on Monday. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As we have  seen with Sandy, the Pacific Hot Blob, the UK floods, The California Drought, the record Alaska and Canadian Wildfire Seasons of 2015, the Russian Heatwave and Fires of 2011, the Pakistan Floods of 2011, and so, so many more extreme weather events, these new climate features present a risk of generating extraordinary or never before seen weather. Intense storms, extreme winds, and extreme cold flashes and heatwaves can all be generated as the result of such mangled weather patterns. And for much of the North Atlantic this past weekend, such abnormal conditions dominated. The US East Coast experienced a freak cold flash, the UK was pummeled by yet one more unseasonable gale, but perhaps worst of all — a head of extraordinarily warm air roared northward, riding upon gale to hurricane force winds, setting sights on Greenland.

Cool Flash for Eastern US, Extreme Heat for Greenland

This past weekend, the US weather news was all awash with comments on Winter-like conditions in April for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic US as a deep trough tore down from the Canadian Archipelago and Hudson Bay. The trough brought with it snow flurries, freeze warnings, and rather cold conditions for April to this region of the US. Temperatures ranged from 10-20 degrees (F) below average for this area. But compared to what was setting up to happen in the ridge zone over the Atlantic, the East Coast cool spell was quite mild considering the relative extreme heat readying for a Greenland invasion.

The warm wind pulse began in the North Atlantic in a tropical region near 26 North, 55 West. This warm air flooded in train over thousands of miles of open ocean. Running northward, it roared along the back of a high pressure system centered over the Mid Atlantic Ridge and in front of two strong lows — one centered near Newfoundland and a second over southwestern Baffin Bay.

In places, the pressure gradient between the lows and highs was so tightly packed that the northward flowing airs hit hurricane force. Off the southwest tip of Greenland, winds consistently achieved hurricane force gusts. And these winds flowed on northward, bringing with them a surge of above freezing temperatures to much of Baffin Bay and a large section of Western Greenland.

By 10:00 UTC, Monday, April 11th — Thule, on the Northwest Coast of Greenland near the Nares Strait was experiencing sustained southerly winds along the northern edge of this warm air pulse at 45 mph with gusts hitting a hurricane force 75 mph. Temperatures for Thule by that time had hit 34 degrees (F) or about 32 degrees (F ) above average.

Extreme Greenland Heatwave

(Extreme Arctic heat strikes Greenland on April 11, 2016. There readings for a large area hit a range 36 degrees Fahrenheit or more above average for a large region over Baffin Bay and Greenland. This extreme pulse of unseasonable warm air contributed to overall temperature departures of +4.75 C (8.55 F) above average for the Arctic. A very high departure for this region of the world at this time of year and an extension to a period of record Arctic warmth in 2016. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Further south, Nuuk was experiencing 45 F readings (or about 20 F above average) coordinate with heavy rain and strong southerly winds. Yet further south, in Kangerlussuaq near the southwest coast of Greenland, temperatures spiked to 61 F — or 36 F above the average April 11 reading of 25 F.

Perhaps more remarkable and disturbing were the predicted extreme readings at Summit Greenland — expected to hit 21 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday or about 41 degrees (F) above a typical daily high of -20 (F) for this time of year. It’s worth noting that in July average high temperatures for Summit Greenland usually range near 12 degrees (F). So current expected highs for April 11, 2016 are nearly 10 degrees warmer than a normal July day. By comparison, if such an extreme high temperature departure were to have occurred in my hometown of Gaithersburg, MD on the same date (April 11th), readings would have exceeded a remarkable 106 Degrees Fahrenheit.

Year of Record Arctic Warmth Continues

The recent warm, wet wind outbreak over Greenland is but one more odd event in a year of extreme warmth for the Arctic. Warm wind invasions over the North Atlantic, Barents, Baffin Bay, Greenland Sea, Western Europe, Alaska, Western Canada, the Barents, and sections of Central Asia have been a persistent feature throughout both Winter and Spring. Meanwhile, consistent temperature spikes to near freezing or above freezing over the Arctic Ocean and related waters have contributed to Arctic sea ice hitting new seasonal lows.

Freezing Degree Days NOAA

(Arctic heat has been literally off-the charts for the region above 80 degrees North during 2016. This area has now experienced nearly 1,000 fewer freezing degree days than during a typical year of the already warmer than normal 1980-2010 period. Extreme Arctic warmth of this kind has negative impacts both to the health of Arctic sea ice and to that of the various glacier systems in Greenland, Svalbard and Northern Canada. Image source: NOAA/CFSv2/CFSR.)

Overall, the Arctic has experienced unprecedented warmth for 2016. In reference to this fact, NOAA measures recording freezing degree days indicate that both the Arctic and the High Arctic above 80 degrees North Latitude are experiencing their warmest year ever recorded. These new extreme high temperatures are achieving an extraordinary departure above previous temperature measures and are a feature of the highest anomalies occurring over any portion of a record warm world. In other words, if you were to look for the region of the world that’s being hit hardest by a human-forced warming spurred on by rampant fossil fuel burning, the Arctic would light up like a fireworks display on the 4th of July.

Tropical heat, in the form of a record El Nino generated warmth, has tended to transfer pole-ward in the Northern Hemisphere during 2016 due to various weaknesses in the Jet Stream. A primary region for this transfer has occurred over the North Atlantic and Europe with secondary transfer zones over the Eastern Pacific, Western North America, and over a shifting zone throughout Northern Asia.

An extraordinary polar amplification of this kind — one that includes Equator-to-Pole heat transfers — risks hitting or increasing the intensity of a number of harmful climate tipping points. These include the amplifying feedbacks of increasing rates of sea ice melt and Arctic carbon store response. In addition, extreme warmth over Greenland risks further glacial destabilization, increasing rates of sea level rise, and increasing weather instability in the North Atlantic.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

Thule Air Base Weather Statistics

Thule Air Base Current Weather Conditions

Nuuk Greenland Weather

Nuuk Climatology

Kangerlussuaq Average Temperatures

Kangerlussuaq Weather

Summit Greenland Weather

Summit Greenland Climatology

NOAA/CFSv2/CFSR

Hat Tip to Kevin Jones

Scientific Hat Tip to Dr. James Hansen

Scientific Hat Tip to Dr. Jennifer Francis

Scientific Hat Tip to Dr. Jeff Masters

 

 

 

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