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Warm Oceans, Displaced Polar Air: Why the Eastern U.S. is Likely to See Very Severe Rainfall During May

During recent years, warm ocean surfaces have loaded up the atmosphere with increasing levels of moisture. This moisture, in turn, has fueled more powerful rain storm events across the globe. Meanwhile, climate change is generating regions of increased instability by placing much warmer than normal air masses in confrontation with cold air displaced from a warming Arctic Ocean region.

(How climate change is impacting severe weather potentials across the U.S. East Coast during May. Data provided by Earth Nullschool, Climate Reanalyzer, and the National Weather Service.)

During the coming days, this kind of pattern will generate the potential for severe rainfall events across the U.S. East Coast. NOAA is predicting that between 3-7 inches of rain is likely to fall over the next 5-7 days. But due to the unusual situation, locally extreme and unexpected events may occur.

This severe weather potential has been fed by a combination of factors. A warmer than normal Arctic Ocean has shoved cold polar air south over the Hudson Bay region. The resulting trough is generating stormy conditions and atmospheric instability over much of Eastern North America. To the south and east, much warmer than normal sea surfaces have loaded up the atmosphere with extremely high moisture levels.

(NOAA shows that heavy rainfall is likely to dominate large portions of the Eastern U.S. over the coming weeks. With a number of climate change related influences at play, the potential for outsized severe weather events exists. Image source: NOAA.)

It’s the kind of pattern — within a highly charged atmosphere — that is capable of producing serious instances of severe weather. Heavy rainfall, hail, lightning and tornadoes are all more likely. Factors associated with climate change contributing to the situation include — much warmer than normal ocean surfaces off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast, a much warmer than normal Arctic Ocean region for this time of year, displaced polar air near Hudson Bay, and warmer than normal temperatures over much of the U.S.

As Greenland melt comes more into play, and as temperatures continue to spike higher over the Arctic Ocean in coming years, we can expect to see similar patterns producing greater instability and more intense storms. Particularly for the land zones near the North Atlantic. And so what we are seeing now is a likely prelude of events to come as the Earth continues to warm coordinate with continued fossil fuel burning — with mitigating factors primarily involving reduced carbon emissions.

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Global Sea Level Rise Accelerated to 4.6 mm Per Year After 2010

Human forced climate change through fossil fuel burning now presents a serious threat to the world’s coastal cities and island nations. Diverse regions of the world are now facing increased inundation at times of high tide and during storms. Unfortunately, this trend is only worsening. And depending on how much additional fossil fuel is burned, we could see between 2 to 10 feet or more of sea level rise this Century.

(Sea level rise analysis and update based on information provided by AVISO, Climate Reanalyzer, and the work of Dr. James Hansen.)

As the Earth has steadily warmed to 1.1 C above 1880s averages, the oceans of our world have risen. At first, the rate of rise was very mild — a mere 0.6 mm per year during the early 20th Century. However, as the rate of global warming increased and the oceans took in more heat, the middle 20th Century saw sea level rise increase to 1.4 mm per year. By the end of the 20th Century, the polar glaciers had begun to melt in earnest. And from 1990 to the present day, the rate of sea level rise has accelerated to 3.3 mm per year.

Due to more warm water invading the basal regions of glaciers and more ice bergs calving into the world ocean, the annual rate at which ocean levels increase continues to jump higher. And during recent years — from 2010 to 2018 — the world ocean has risen by nearly half a centimeter each year (4.6 mm).

Global Sea Level Rise 4.6 mm Per year

(Since 2010, the rate of sea level rise has again accelerated. And it appears that El Nino years have recently tended to produce strong upward swings in the annual rate of increase. This may be due to El Nino’s tendency to set up stronger cycles of energy transfer to the poles. NOAA presently indicates a 50 percent chance that a mild to moderate El Nino will emerge during the winter of 2018-2019. Will we see another sea level spike at that time should El Nino emerge? Image source: AVISO.)

Now both island nationals and coastal cities face the increasing danger of rising tides, of inundation, and of loss of lands and infrastructure. A rapid switch to renewable energy and away from fossil fuel burning is needed to save many regions. However, due to presently high greenhouse gas accumulation, it is likely that some zones will be lost over the coming decades.

Arctic Ocean Deep in the Grips of May Temperature Spike; Beastly Summer Melt Season on the Way?

The Arctic Ocean as it appeared from space on May 6, 2018. Image source: NASA Worldview.

The Arctic sea ice is presently at its second lowest extent ever recorded in most of the major monitors. However, May is shaping up to be far, far warmer than normal for the Arctic Ocean region. If such high temperatures over this typically-frozen part of our world continue for much longer than a couple of weeks at this key time of year, precipitous summer melt is sure to follow.

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During recent years there has been much speculation about when the Arctic Ocean will start to experience ice-free summers as fossil fuel related industries pump higher and higher volumes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. In the early-to-mid 2000s, scientific consensus was that melt would tend to be more gradual and ice-free summers would hold off until the final decades of the 21st Century when the world was around 3-4 C warmer than 19th Century averages.

But the Earth System is far more sensitive to temperature increases than the early forecasts expected. Major Arctic sea ice losses surprised the world during September of 2007 and subsequently in the same month of 2012. Now, it is obvious that a pattern of far more rapid sea ice melt has taken hold. And the scientific consensus appears to have settled on a more likely and much nearer date around the early 2030s — when the world will have warmed by about 1.6 degrees Celsius.

(An oddly warm pattern in which above freezing temperatures have come early to the High Arctic is setting up during May of 2018. Content Source: Climate Reanalyzer. Video source: Scribbler’s Youtube.)

However, when it comes to sea ice, nothing is certain at this time. Any single Arctic year in which temperatures spike — particularly during normal melt season — could result in the losses that we once expected to occur much later in time.

There are many factors that will ultimately determine when a summer ice free state occurs. Warm winters are a major one. And the past two years (2017 and 2018) have seen Arctic winters in which temperatures hit some ridiculous high extremes. But another major factor is the set-up to Arctic summer that takes place during the window months of May and June.

Neven, one of our best Arctic sea ice watchers (you can check his blog out here), notes:

May and June are very important for the rest of the melting season. Not only do we now see these warm air intrusions, but high pressure maintains its presence over parts of the Arctic as well (which means relatively cloudless skies -> insolation -> melt onset and melt pond formation -> preconditioning of the ice pack -> melting momentum that gets expressed during July and August, regardless of the weather)… We have to wait and see what happens, step by step, but this isn’t a good start for the ice.

If May and June are unusually warm, particularly over the Arctic Ocean, then the sea ice — which is already greatly weakened — is bound to face an extended period of above-freezing temperatures. If such a period stretches for 5 months from May through September rather than the typical 4 months (June to September), then we are more likely to see the Arctic Ocean briefly flip into an ice-free or near ice-free state for the first time in human history.

(The coming week is expected to feature between 1 and 10 C above average temperatures for locations across the Arctic Ocean. These are very strong warm departures during May. Last week saw similar extreme warm departures. And we are already starting to see sea ice losses pile up. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

This year, May is shaping up to be much, much warmer than normal for the High Arctic. Already, a large May temperature spike has occurred (see right image below). A temperature spike which is predicted to continue for at least the next ten days.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this severe warming trend might end up presenting a bit of a problem. The extended period of melt mentioned above may begin in force — setting off a chain of feedbacks that could tip the Arctic Ocean into a far less frozen or even an ice-free state (under absolute worst case scenarios) this year.

To be clear, this is not a forecast that such a condition is bound to occur during 2018. It is just an analysis of underlying trends and a statement that risks are higher if such trends as we now observe continue. Late May could flip to a cooler than normal regime. June could be cooler and cloudier than normal (as happened during 2016 and 2017). And if that happens again, we may be spared.

(Average Arctic temperatures for 2017 [left] and 2018 [right]. The red line depicts the yearly temperature trend. The green line depicts the Arctic climatological average for 1958-2002 [which was already warmer than normal]. Note the big temperature spike in the right hand graph. That’s where we are now. Image source: DMI. For further reference, see Zack Labe‘s composite temperature analysis for the 80 North region.)

However, we are already on a much higher ramp for spring temperatures in the northern polar region than during 2017. And though 2016 saw a slightly warmer than normal spring near the pole, the May 2018 spike already far exceeds anything we saw at that time. So much, in fact, that present temperatures for May 6 are comparable to those typically seen during early June from the 80 degree N Latitude line to the Pole.

This higher ramp and related record warmth is already accelerating melt. Sea ice losses over recent days have greatly picked up and we are getting closer to record low daily ranges. If melt accelerates to a point, the greatly expanded darker ocean surfaces will draw in more heat from the sun’s rays during June — potentially overcoming the impact of the increased early summer cloudiness we have seen during recent years. Such a scenario, if it continues to develop, would be a nightmare from the climate change perspective.

Worsening Prairie Fires: Exceptional Central Heat and Drought Spurs More Oklahoma Blazes

Today, as with many recent days, Oklahoma is experiencing hot, dry, critical fire hazard conditions. And over the past month, historically exceptional drought and hotter than normal weather have spurred a spate of very severe and seemingly unrelenting wildfires across the state.

(The Rhea Fire burned nearly 300,000 acres in Oklahoma during mid-April. This large fire is now 100 percent contained. But blazes continue to break out. Image source: Climate.gov.)

During mid-to-late April, the Rhea Fire scorched 286,000 acres destroying more than 50 homes and killing hundreds of cattle. At about the same time, the 34 Complex fire burned through 62,000 acres and forced many Oklahoma residents to evacuate. For reference, the massive Thomas Fire which burned hundreds of structures in California this past December was 240,000 acres in size.

Unfortunately, severe fire conditions continued through today with 500 acres going up in flames near Pawnee Oklahoma in just the past 24 hours. In total, about 350,000 acres have burned so far this year (an area half the size of Rhode Island), numerous structures have been destroyed and an estimated 2,000 cattle have likely been killed. With severe drought, heat, and extreme fire conditions expected to continue throughout at least the next month, there is little relief in sight.

 

(The U.S. Drought Monitor shows severe dry conditions expanding across the Central U.S. during early 2018. Long range forecasts show drought continuing or worsening over Central and Southwestern States over the coming months. Image source: Drought Monitor and NOAA.)

The causes of the present fire hazard are quite clear. Throughout fall, winter, and spring, the Central U.S. has experienced both hotter and drier than normal conditions. During recent weeks, drought in this region has become exceptional — the highest drought category provided by the National Drought Monitor. In addition, strong, warm south-to-north winds have tended to prevail over the region. These winds have rapidly fanned many recent Oklahoma fires to massive size.

Over the coming month, this drought is expected to dig in as temperatures warm. And, as a result, fire danger is expected to be quite high for a broad region of the U.S. South stretching from just west of the Mississippi all the way to California.

(Above normal wildfire potential is expected to remain in place for Oklahoma even as risks rise for neighboring states. Image source: NOAA.)

Though spring wildfires do occur across Oklahoma and parts of the plains states, the trend has been for an increasing large fire incidence. This trend, in turn, has been driven by human-caused climate change. For as the U.S. has warmed, the rate of evaporation from soils, vegetation and lakes has increased. This higher rate of moisture loss both intensifies drought and spikes fire risk.

Warming and worsening drought has been a particularly acute set of affairs for Central and Western states. The number of weeks when large fires are a risk has increased from 50 to 600 percent for most of these regions. In other words, if it seems like there are more large fires, it’s because there are. And what we see now are spring prairie fires that are far more intense than they were in the past.

Major Arctic Warming Event Predicted For the Coming Week

It’s been consistently, abnormally, warm in the Arctic for about as long as any of us can remember. But during recent years, the changes — caused by a massive and ongoing accumulation of heat-trapping gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere — appear to be speeding up.

(Far above normal temperatures are expected to invade the Arctic this week. The likely result will be an acceleration of sea ice melt and retreat. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

This week, two major warm air invasions — one issuing from Siberia and another rising up through the Fram Strait and extending north of Greenland are expected to bring locally 10-20 C above normal temperatures and accelerate early season sea ice melt in an already reeling Arctic.

Consistent Warmth, Record Low Sea Ice

The farthest north region of our world has just come out of a winter during which sea ice extents consistently entered never before seen daily low ranges. With the advent of spring, sea ice measures have rebounded somewhat from winter record lows. However, according to Japan’s Polar Research Division, we are presently experiencing the second lowest daily sea ice extents since consistent measurements began. Meanwhile, Greenland during April saw an odd early bump in surface melt.

Overall, the pattern has been one of consistent abnormal warmth. And over the coming week, a number of warm air invasions will infringe upon the typically cold early May Arctic — testing new boundaries yet again.

(An ice-free Bering Sea, open water invading the Chukchi, and fractured sea ice over the Beaufort are notable features for melt season start during May of 2018. Image source: NASA.)

Much of the heating action this year has occurred over the Bering and Chukchi seas — which have never seen so much ice lost. Already sea ice is greatly reduced through these regions. Open water extends far into the Chukchi — onward and north of Barrow, Alaska. Still further into regions in which sea ice is typically rock-solid during this time of year, the Beaufort is experiencing its own late April break-up. But the areas that are expected to see the greatest warming over the coming days run closer to Siberia and the Atlantic.

Major Spring Warm Air Invasion

Today, a wedge of above-freezing air is invading the Laptev Sea north of Central Siberia. Strong southerly winds issuing from Central Asia are running north into the Arctic Ocean. They bring with them 10 to 20 C above average temperatures for this time of year — which is enough to push readings as high as 35 degrees F (2 C) over what during the 20th Century would have been a solid fringe of the polar ice cap.

Over the next 24 hours, this leading edge of warm air will spiral on toward the East Siberian Sea — bringing above freezing temperatures and liquid precipitation with it.

(5-Day forecast maximum temperatures show considerable warm air invasions proceeding throughout the Arctic. In many cases, temperatures near the North Pole will be warmer than regions far to the south. An impact of the warming world ocean on the Arctic environment. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

But the main warming event for the Arctic this week will occur in the region of the Fram Strait east of Greenland. A strong low pressure system near Iceland is expected to drive wave after wave of much warmer than normal air north into the Arctic. This warm air thrust will bring with it temperatures in some places that exceed 20 C above average. Overall, Arctic Ocean basin temperatures are expected to average more than 2.3 C warmer than normal for the entire first week of May. Such high temperature departures are particularly notable for this time of year — as Arctic thermal variance tends to moderate during spring and summer.

The system will push above freezing temperatures deep into the Arctic — generating a repeat of the strange flip-flop that has become so common recently where temperatures near the North Pole are much warmer than readings further south. Warmer than freezing temperatures will also over-ride coastal portions of northeastern Greenland in yet another odd aspect of the event.

Warm storm effects including gale force winds and waves of 8-12 feet will provide added effect to above freezing temperatures in impacting the sea ice throughout the Fram Strait and northeast Greenland region. Increased insolation due to sunlight spreading over the region will also add to the overall potential for melt.

Why a 15 Percent Slow-Down in North Atlantic Ocean Circulation is Seriously Bad News

“We know somewhere out there is a tipping point where this current system is likely to break down. We still don’t know how far away or close to this tipping point we might be. … This is uncharted territory.” — Stefan Rahmstorf

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The North Atlantic ocean circulation (often called AMOC or the Great Ocean Conveyor) is now the weakest its been in sixteen centuries.

Increasing melt from Greenland due to human-forced warming of the atmosphere through the deep ocean is freshening the ocean surface of the far North Atlantic. To the south, higher ocean temperatures are increasing surface salt content through greater rates of evaporation. Fresh water prevents ocean water from sinking in the north and rising salt content generates increased sinking in the south. As a result, the rate at which waters move from the Equator toward the Pole is slowing down. Since the mid 20th Century, this critical ocean circulation has reduced in strength by 15 percent on decadal time-scales.

(Deep water formation in the North Atlantic is driven by the sinking of cold, salty water. Over recent years, this formation, which drives larger ocean circulation and atmospheric weather patterns, has been weakening due to increasing fresh water flows coming from a melting Greenland. Image source: Commons and the NASA Earth Observatory.)

Movement of warm Equatorial waters northward and their subsequent overturning and sinking in the North Atlantic drives a number of key weather and climate features. The first is that it tends to keep Europe warm during winter and to moderate European temperatures during summer. The second impact is that a fast moving current off the U.S. East Coast pulls water away from the shore keeping sea levels lower. The third is that warm water in the North Atlantic during winter time tends to keep the regional jet stream relatively flat. And the fourth is that a more rapid circulation keeps the ocean more highly oxygenated — allowing it to support more life.

A slowing down of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic therefore means that Europe will tend to cool during winter even as it heats up during summer. Sea level rise will accelerate faster for the U.S. East Coast relative to the rest of the world due to a slowing Gulf Stream combined with the effects of melting land glaciers and thermal ocean expansion. The North Atlantic jet stream will tend to become wavier — with deep troughs tending to form over Eastern North America and through parts of Europe. These trough zones will tend to generate far more intense fall and winter weather. Finally, a slowing ocean circulation will tend to increase the number of low-oxygen dead zones.

(Cool pool formation near Greenland juxtaposed by a warming and slowing of the Gulf Stream as it is forced southward is an early indication of ocean circulation slow-down. During recent years, this phenomena — which is related to larger human-forced climate change — has become a prevalent feature of North Atlantic Ocean climate and weather patterns. An indicator that climate change and ocean system changes for this region are already under way. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

A 15 percent slow down in ocean circulation is not yet a catastrophic event. It is, however, enough to produce odd weather and climate signals. We have tended to see higher rates of sea level rise off the U.S. East Coast, we have tended to see more extreme winter weather across the North Atlantic basin. The long term trend for increasing ocean dead zones is well established. And European weather has become more and more extreme — with hot summers and severe winters.

With rates of Greenland melt increasing, there is a risk that the historic observed North Atlantic circulation weakening will increase further and more radically — producing still more profound results than we see today. In the event of large melt outflows coming from Greenland during abnormally warm summers or due to warming deep water melting glaciers from below — a possibility that rises with each 0.1 C of global temperature increase — we could see a very rapid weakening of ocean circulation above and beyond that which has already been recorded.

(Like Antarctica, Greenland features a number of below sea level locations directly beneath its largest ice masses. This feature makes Greenland more vulnerable to rapid ice loss and large melt outflows. Image source: NASA JPL.)

If such a tipping point event is breached — and there is increased risk for it as global temperatures enter a range of 1.5 to 2.5 C above 1880s averages during the 2020s through the 2040s — then we can expect far more profound weather and climate disruptions than those we have already experienced.

Tesla Model 3 Production Keeps Ramping — Hitting Near 2,400 Per Week in Early April

Past behavior can often be predictive of future results. Sometimes, however, we are pleasantly surprised. Such is the case with Tesla’s Model 3 production ramp this week.

Tesla’s Big Surge Continues

According to reports from both Electrek and Bloomberg, Tesla appears to have sustained weekly rates of Model 3 production above 2,000 for more than 14 days. Indicators for this continued surge come in the form of record VIN number releases. For since late March, the number of Model 3 VINs ordered from the U.S. government has doubled from approximately 14,000 to around 28,000. Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s Model 3 production tracker has surged to 2,394 all-electric vehicles per week. A new record.

(Bloomberg’s Model 3 tracker has captured a big surge in Model 3 production translating through to early Q2. Image source: Bloomberg.)

The big jump in VINs comes along with Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s announcement that he planned to continue Model 3 production rates of over 2,000 vehicles per week into early April. This higher production rate is contrary to past production behavior by Tesla — which typically surges late in a financial quarter and then backs off at the start of a new quarter.

5,000 Per Week Model 3 Production Goal in Sight

And though it is still possible that we could see all-electric, zero-tailpipe emissions Model 3 production slackening a bit following this most recent, apparent much longer-running surge, there are indications that Tesla’s capability is rapidly expanding. First, it appears that two lines are now running for Tesla Model 3 and related battery production. Second, it appears that many of the Model 3 bottlenecks have been addressed. And, third, it looks like new Model 3 production infrastructure continues to spring up in the form of dedicated facilities at Tesla’s Fremont plant and Nevada Gigafactory.

(A drone fly-over of the Tesla Fremont factory shows new buildings that appear to be dedicated to Model 3 production efforts. Video source: Tesla Factory Flyover Drone.)

Tesla’s production legs are, therefore, growing longer. And, in light of this fact, it appears that our earlier estimate that Model 3 would produce between 17,000 and 27,000 during Q2 may fall a bit short. As a result, that estimate is now adjusted upward to 18,000-30,000. This steepening ramp is increasingly possible especially if Tesla is able to maintain production rates in excess of 2,000 Model 3s per week through April and May even as it attempts a surge to 5,000 Model 3s per week by June.

Diversification of Model Line Planned For July

Tesla presently still has around 470,000 reservation holders for the Model 3. However, it’s uncertain how many of these are waiting for the long-range, rear-wheel drive version that is now in production. Past indicators are that the number is around 100 to 120K. Most of the rest either appear to be holding out for the dual motor version or for the lower price version. A 5,000 vehicle per week production rate will quickly eat through remaining long range, rear wheel reservation holders. And it is likely for this reason that Elon Musk is planning to start looking at producing the dual motor Model 3 during July of 2018.

So not only is the pace of Model 3 production quickening, the advent of new Model 3 versions is on the horizon. All-in-all this is good news for Model 3 reservation holders and for renewable energy/climate change response backers in general. We’ll have to watch Tesla indicators closely. But it appears, more and more, that the company is able to put Model 3 production hell behind it. To step it out as an all clean energy mass producer.

The Increasingly Fragile Pine Island Glacier Just Calved Again

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

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

Back to Back Calving Events

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

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

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

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

Conditions in Context

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Automakers Shoot Their Future in the Foot by Attacking CAFE Standards

“Rolling back strong national fuel economy and emissions standards will undermine the global competitiveness of the U.S. auto industry. In the absence of federal leadership, states need to continue to lead on clean car standards.” — New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

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Notable news on the climate and clean energy fronts over the past couple of days. On one side, we have Tesla surging ahead with clean energy vehicle production (more later). Meanwhile, a legacy industry clinging to old, dirty, climate wrecking, fossil fuel driven combustion engines and a perception that such machines mean easy profits, is actively fighting to undermine its own future.

(Polluted skies, more respiratory illness, higher energy costs, less energy independence, ramping climate destruction, the loss of auto industry leadership. Reduce CAFE standards and that’s what you end up with.)

A Crooked Old Business Philosophy

The mainstream U.S. auto industry represented by legacy fossil fuel vehicle manufacturers continued in their decades-long campaign to roll back vehicle fuel efficiency standards (CAFE) this week. The campaign, which was born at about the same time the Environmental Protection Agency first attempted to cut back harmful vehicle based air pollution and related high fuel consumption at the same time, is a creature of purest short-sighted profit motive gone wrong.

Auto industry executives myopically looking at quarterly reports and not at the need for more desirable vehicles in the form of less polluting and non-polluting, more efficient cars have long seen these government standards not as enablers of innovation, but as an onerous constraint. In the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, automakers achieved numerous legislative and executive victories that allowed them to produce slightly modified versions of the same vehicle designs exhibiting only slow, marginal improvements. But these improvements, when achieved, were often used to increase vehicle size and acceleration — not to improve overall efficiency.

A Stated Commitment to Advance Clean Energy

(Increasing fuel economy standards produce massive benefits to the United States. Families save money on fuel, carbon dioxide pollution is greatly reduced, the U.S. becomes more energy independent, and the harmful impacts of climate change are blunted. What is not communicated in the above graphic, however, is the fact that fuel efficiency standards spur American business leadership by encouraging continuous innovation in the form of more attractive, cleaner, more advanced products. Image source: Obama Whitehouse Archives.)

This trend changed with the oil shocks of the middle 2000s and the related establishment of new, more aggressive fuel efficiency standards during the Obama Administration. These stronger CAFE standards followed a massive public bailout of the U.S. auto industry after the Great Recession. A bailout that was predicated on the notion that automakers would improve. That they would innovate in order to become competitive. That they would be more forward-looking.

Promises along these lines were made by auto industry leaders at the time. The Obama Administration subsequently joined with clean energy promoters across the country like California in establishing an aggressive plan to reduce harmful carbon and particulate emissions by rapidly increasing vehicle fuel efficiency. In 2010, these new standards were set. The ultimate goal was to achieve an average fleet fuel efficiency of around 55 miles per gallon by the middle 2020s.

(Obama Administration fuel efficiency increases and targets. Image source: Obama Whitehouse Archives.)

Implied in this goal was a great deal of U.S. auto industry innovation and leadership. Such strong goals would enable automakers to produce world-leading vehicles by pushing them to rapidly improve their designs. In other words, they would develop vehicles that were outside of traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) based platforms. Since electrical vehicles were the lowest cost, easiest to mass produce, and easiest to support non-ICE technology, the 55 mpg standard implied that U.S. automakers would ultimately become electrical vehicle leaders. A new market would be produced. And because of responsible public policy, the U.S. auto industry would have a critical competitive advantage on a global level.

Backsliding and Backwards Thinking

But the old industry didn’t want to innovate. And it often resisted the production of electrical vehicles which were so foreign to its business models and more conservative, traditionally lazy way of thinking. For years, they resisted the increase in CAFE standards by every means imaginable. Instead of asking the government for added incentive and reward for progress achieved, the industry returned to its old tradition of flogging progress through lobbying. Mileage standards were watered down — reduced to 51 mpg by 2025. But the ultimate goal appeared to be to plateau fuel efficiency averages near 36 miles per gallon. A number of mainstream electrical vehicles were produced by these automakers. But many either appeared as token efforts or as reactionary responses to real EV innovators like Tesla.

By the time a backward-looking, corrupt, and autocratic Trump Administration wrested executive political power from the hands of the majority of the American people, these old industry players were ready for a change back to harmful business as usual. So through their ties and lobbying groups, they again pushed for reduced mileage standards.

As of yesterday, Trump’s EPA, hollowed out and corrupted by fossil fuel cheer leader Scott Pruitt, was aiming to roll back Obama’s clean vehicle standards and the potential for broader U.S. clean energy leadership along with it. In other words, a great leap backward — but one that will put Trump’s dirty-fuel-promoting executive branch directly in conflict with both EPA’s stated and lawful mission as well as make foes of state clean energy leaders spear-headed by California. From this against-the-future decision-making a battle will almost certainly ensue. One which will ultimately be fought in the courts.

Shooting Themselves in the Foot

If big auto wins this most recent push to pollute, will it really be winning? To be clear, none of the rest of us will. We’ll be treated to worse climate change and worse health-harming pollution combined. Higher gas prices, higher cost of living, less efficiency and ease in our daily lives. And much more risk and danger.

But what does big auto get out of it? Public ire? Less advanced vehicles that are less competitive in a world that is rapidly moving toward electrification? Lower competitiveness with emerging industries in China? And the inability to compete with the likes of Tesla at home? Taking these variables into account, the auto industry’s push to reduce CAFE standards looks a lot like a pathway to another set of bankruptcies five to ten years down the road. Are a few quarters of extra profits really worth all that?

Seven Inches of Snow Dumped on Northeast as Another Major Arctic Warm-Up is Underway

As an April snowstorm strikes the U.S. Northeast, major global weather stories related to climate change are unfolding in real time. For today, we again find that none of the key climate zones feature below average temperatures even as a ten-day-long Arctic warm spell appears to be on tap.

Very Warm Arctic in Early April

(Another big Arctic warm-up drives cold air southward. The result is snow over the U.S. Northeast even as parts of the Arctic Ocean are experiencing an early thaw. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Warm winds driving northward over eastern Siberia, on the back side of a high pressure ridge, are delivering yet one more big dose of near or above freezing temperatures to this Arctic region. From the Chukchi Sea through the Bering Strait and on into East Siberia, temperatures range from 10 to 22 degrees Celsius above average. The Bering itself has been mostly swept clean of sea ice — with severe record low ice extent readings for this zone during early April.

Throughout winter, the Bering and Chukchi have received wave after wave of much warmer than normal air from the ocean zone to the south. This tendency for warm air propagating northward through the Pacific is one that is often triggered by La Nina — a periodic pattern of Pacific Equatorial surface water cooling that became a dominant feature of 2018 winter weather. However, globally warmer than normal ocean waters and, in particular, much warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the Northeastern Pacific appear to have greatly enhanced the heat influx.

(Much warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the Northeastern Pacific this year have provided a pathway for warm air to invade the Arctic. Meanwhile, La Nina and Polar Amplification generate a combined influence that weakens the Jet Stream and facilitates atmospheric ridges in this zone. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

These warm waters at the middle to northern latitudes have developed a pathway that enhances the northward flow of tropical air masses over the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile La Nina’s Equatorial cooling combines with climate change’s amplified polar warming to slow down the Jet Stream — further enabling this south-to-north heat transfer. As we have seen time and time again, human-forced global warming generated chiefly by fossil fuel burning is developing an atmospheric and oceanic handshake with past understood synoptic trends to produce an out-sized Arctic warming.

Bering Sea Almost Completely Cleared of Ice

This severe warming is plainly visible as open water is driven by outlandish temperatures well north and through the Bering Strait during early April. A time when ocean ice typically extends more than 150 miles south of Ninivak — bridging the water zone from Bristol Bay to the Kamchatka Peninsula.

(The Bering Sea is typically ice-choked during April. And during a normal year all the water zones in the above image would be covered with ice. But this spring, sea ice extent there is at never-before-seen record low levels. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

The impact is quite dramatic. During February, Bering Sea Ice hit 100,000 square kilometers below previous record lows for the Month. These record low extents continued throughout March and into early April when, today, we find that Bering sea ice extent is between 150,000 to 200,000 square kilometers below the previous record lows for the day and about half a million square kilometers below the seasonal average.

Putting this loss into context, half a million square kilometers is a region that splits the difference in size between the land mass area of California and Texas.

According to GFS model runs, the present Bering-East Siberia warm spell should last for another 2-3 days even as larger Arctic warming in the range of 2.4 to 3.2 degrees Celsius above average for the entire 66 North Latitude zone and on poleward is expected to continue through the ten day horizon. These warmer than normal temperatures should retard typical seasonal sea ice thickening in the far northern regions even as edge ice zones like those in the Bering, Baffin Bay, and the Sea of Okhotsk experience early spring melt and erosion.

New England Spring Snow

As warm air invades the Arctic — a feature that has become more and more prevalent as the globe itself has heated up — it tends to drive cold air southward over the North American, Asian, and European Continents. In this case, the warm air invasion coming from the Siberian side is displacing Arctic air over North America. As a result, and much to the delight of myth-enraptured climate change deniers everywhere, we have been treated to a rare, if not unheard of, spring April snowstorm in New England.

(Increasingly, there have been indications that polar warming related to global warming is influencing storm tracks and ridge and trough patterns in the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream. The result is a stronger influence on Mid-Latitude Northern Hemisphere weather. Image source: Arctic Change and Possible Influence on Mid-Latitude Climate and Weather.)

According to local weather reports, as much as 7 inches of snow were dumped in intense 2-inch-per-hour bursts over parts of New England last night as a brief but intense storm roared through the region. The cold air, driven south by the recent warm polar air invasion, encountered high atmospheric moisture levels bleeding off a much warmer than normal Gulf Stream lurking just off-shore. The result, as has been the case during recent intense rain and snowstorms, was enhanced convection. This greater atmospheric uplift, in turn, produced an out-sized spring precipitation event. With below freezing temperatures driven far to the south by warm air entering the Arctic, the Northeast saw its first significant April snow event since 1982.

An April 6th to 7th Snowstorm for the U.S. South on the Way?

Further fodder for the climate change denial community supported by the anti-information campaigns of Fox News and others, may emerge by next weekend as another big push of cold air could help to develop a snow and ice storm stretching from Oklahoma through the Carolinas. Cold air driven out of the Arctic and southward over the Eastern and Central U.S. could result in 10 to 18 degree Celsius below average temperatures in that region. Moisture bleeding off the much warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean could be injected into this cold trough as a related storm develops. The result is a potentially unusual snow and ice storm. And an intense event off this kind, should it develop, would be a very odd weather event during U.S. spring-time.

(Another odd spring U.S. Snowstorm may be on the way for April 6th and 7th according to GFS model forecasts. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

Meanwhile, the U.S. tendency in the model forecasts is for warmer than normal temperatures in the West, cooler than normal temperatures in the East through the middle of April. It’s worth noting that the forecast also shows highly variable temperatures with strong swings between warm and cold throughout this period for most U.S. regions. As a result, as the Arctic remains much warmer than normal over the next ten days, the U.S. is likely to experience periods of both extreme warmth and extreme cold relative to climatological averages for this time of year.

Final Points — Intense U.S. Spring Snowfall Events a Likely Upshot of Polar Warming

Putting all these dynamics into context, we can sum up by making the following statements:

  1. April snow and even April blizzards are not unheard of for the U.S. East. That said, the recent events are odd and outside the context of regular U.S. weather patterns — particularly when it comes to precipitation intensity.
  2. Arctic warming and loss of regional sea ice, such as that seen in the Bering, is historically unprecedented during 2018. This is a continuation of an observed trend of polar amplification and severe warming seen during recent years.
  3. No major global climate zones show below normal temperatures on April 2, 2018. That said, a high variance in middle latitude northern hemisphere temperatures presently exists — with regions of intense cool and intense warmth interspersed.
  4. Snowstorms in the U.S. Northeast during April do not disprove global warming or a related shift to increasing climate extremes. In fact, they appear to be an aspect of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Totten Glacier is Floating on More Warming Water Than We Thought

It’s well known now that massive glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica are contributing to an accelerating global sea level rise. And while we first thought Greenland was primarily at risk of producing ocean-lifting melt this Century, we have now learned that both West and East Antarctica are becoming involved.

(A massive glacier the size of France is floating on more of a warming ocean than previously thought. Taking into account past reports of thinning along the glacier’s underside, and this is a rather concerning finding. Image source: Australian Antarctic Division.)

How much and how soon and under how much warming pressure is still a matter of some debate in the sciences. But the situation is now looking a bit worse for the Totten Glacier — an enormous sea-fronting slab of ice as big as France that if it melted in total would, by itself, raise sea levels by about 10-13 feet globally.

Previously thought to be more resilient to melt as a result of human-caused climate change and related fossil fuel burning, the Totten was once considered to be stable. However, over recent years, concerns were raised first when plumes of warm water were identified approaching the glacier’s base and later when it was confirmed that Totten was melting from below. Concerns that were heightened by new research identifying how winds associated with climate change were driving warmer waters closer and closer to the huge ice slab.

(Winds heated by climate change drove warmer waters toward Totten and accelerated the glacier during recent years. Video source: Science News.)

After follow-on expeditions to Totten, scientists (over the past two years) discovered that the glacier’s floating underside was losing about 10 meters of thickness annually even as its seaward motion was speeding up. Now, new research has found that more of the Totten Glacier is floating upon this warming flood of ocean water than previously thought. According to Professor Paul Winberry, from Central Washington University, who spent the austral summer of 2018 with a Tasmania-funded team of scientists taking measurements of Totten:

“A hammer-generated seismic wave was used to ‘see’ through a couple of kilometres of ice. In some locations we thought were grounded, we detected the ocean below indicating that the glacier is in fact floating (emphasis added).”

Beneath Totten lies a large ridge upon which most of the glacier is grounded as it flows toward the sea. But penetrating this ridge are numerous gateways that, if melted through, provide sea water access to the glacier’s interior. And recent studies have found that a number of these gateways have been thawed open, allowing warming ocean waters access to sections of the glacier that are hundreds of miles inland.

(Warm water invasion pathways have opened along Totten’s previous grounding line. These openings have allowed water to flood far inland beneath the glacier. The result is a less stable, more rapidly moving ice sheet. Image source: Jamin Greenbaum/University of Texas-Austin.)

This warm water breakthrough has contributed to Totten’s seaward movement. And the new study was aimed at discovering the extent of the inland water melt flood. According to lead researcher Dr Galton-Fenzi:

“These precise measurements of Totten Glacier are vital to monitoring changes and understanding them in the context of natural variations and the research is an important step in assessing the potential impact on sea-level under various future scenarios.”

The fact that the extent of inland flooding along Totten’s underside runs further than previously thought is a concern in light of recent findings that the glacier is losing a considerable amount of underbelly ice each year. In addition, the fact that we haven’t yet pinpointed the grounding line should add another note of worry. How much we should worry is unclear at this time. But the fact is that the scientific signs coming in from Totten continue to indicate that the glacier is suffering warming impacts that pose risks to its historic stability.

From Rimac’s Electric Hypercars to Volkswagen’s Big EV Spend, Everyone’s Racing to Catch up with Tesla

In a world where human-caused climate change is increasingly damaging and harmful, a global race to produce electric, zero tailpipe emissions vehicles is a positive development. And just such a global race appears to be in the offing.

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We’ve heard a lot recently about how traditional automakers are spending boatloads of cash on electrical vehicles. Every week, we see new concept cars and planned production vehicles floated to the public in an apparent effort to show competitiveness in a key emerging industry. And the vaunted term that appears to be the sought-after standard is ‘better than Tesla.’ Ironically, this is a tacit admission that Tesla is presently the first horse in what appears to be a ramping race in mass electrical vehicle production.

Rimac’s Concept Two vs the Tesla Roadster 2.0

A recent example of this trend came in the form of the electric start-up Rimac’s Concept Two. Fresh off a 30 million euro fundraising round, Rimac is planning to produce a clean electric hypercar that’s capable of edging out Tesla’s Roadster 2.0 in a number of performance parameters. To be clear, the Roadster 2.0 is a revolution in automotive engineering — leaving former ICE hypercars in the dust in practically every performance specification that matters. But typical to the presently irresistable lure to compete with (or to appear to compete with) Tesla, Rimac attempts a one-up.

(Rimac’s Concept Two is another all electric hypercar that leaves fossil fuel based vehicles in the dust. But can it outsell Tesla’s Roadster 2.0? Image source: Commons.)

Concept Two boasts a stupendous 1,914 horsepower. And its 1425 kWh battery pack can push the car from 0-60 in 1.85 seconds while achieving a top speed of 258 miles per hour. This acceleration and speed edges out Tesla’s Roadster 2.0. But only just.

Of course a big underlying question here — is how many will Rimac build and for how much of an asking price? Rimac produced another electric hyper car (with far less compelling capabilities) — the Concept One during 2013 to 2014. Eight were ultimately built. In contrast, the Roadster 2.0 is a hypercar that’s starting at around 200,000 dollars (which is rather inexpensive for a car that can blow the likes of Lamborghini out of the water) and will likely produce hundreds to thousands.

Can Legacy Diesel Volkswagen Catch Tesla by Spending Big?

Another automaker that’s trying to catch up to Tesla is Volkwagen. Globally, the world’s largest automaker, the company appears to be setting aside 50 percent of its slated investment capital in an effort to produce a massive line of electrical vehicles. Its stated goal is to have an electric version of every model and to sell 5 million EVs annually by 2025. And the company is apparently willing to spend 60 billion dollars to achieve it.

Volkswagen is also investing in not one but 16 battery production facilities. And it states that it will be producing one new hybrid, plug in hybrid, or all electrical vehicle per month by next year. These are major goals. One that is in stark contrast to the present reality in which Volkswagen currently produces just one all-electric mass market vehicle — the E-Golf. And that, admittedly capable, attractive and well-priced, EV is selling at rather lower rates than Nissan’s popular Leaf EV.

(Volkswagen’s E-Golf is presently its only all-electric model. But the company plans a big surge into the EV market over the next couple of years. Image source: Volkswagen.)

In other words, despite big investments and big stated plans, Volkswagen is presently just barely on the EV leader board, if that. This puts the company at a pole position in the EV race far behind Tesla in 2018. And major investments and innovations will be required for it to catch up.

We’ve heard big EV promises from other traditional automakers before. And those like Volvo and Ford appear to have struggled with legacy issues in their stated attempts to put EVs on a fast track. One such issue that could hamper Volkswagen is the fact that it invested heavy sums in diesel vehicle technology during the 70s and 80s. As a result, the carmaker will have to overcome a decent amount of institutional inertia to jump into an EV leadership position. Pollution and emissions scandals plaguing the company have helped to spur its EV drive. But a history of profit-making selling polluting cars may inject a degree of cynicism into the company’s leadership. So self-sabotage is something to look out for here.

If Volkswagen manages a major internal transformation and if its engineers are capable of producing market EVs with mass appeal, then it could take a huge share of the emerging EV market and surge to match Tesla sales during 2019-2021 while possibly surpassing it by 2022-2023. Perhaps. But there’s a lot of hurdles for Volkswagen to overcome before gets there, all promises and talking aside.

Why are So Many Powerful Nor’Easters Striking New England?

A major nor’easter is pummeling states from New York through Maine today with heavy snow, near hurricane force winds, and high surf. The storm is expected to dump 1-2 feet of snow over this region even as it pounds coastlines that have already been raked by two other major storms during the past two weeks.

It would be relatively unusual to see one storm of such intensity striking this region during any given March. But as the third in a two-week-long parade of extreme events, the presently intense storm pattern is starting to look more than a little outlandish.

So what the heck is going on? In a couple handfuls of words — influences related to human-caused climate change are spiking East Coast storm intensity while setting in place a general pattern that causes these storms to repeatedly fire.

(Over the past 11 days, three major nor’easters have struck the U.S. East Coast. Why have these storms been both so strong and such a persistent feature? Image source: RAMMB/CIRA. H/T to Chris Dolce.)

The Most Recent of Three Powerful Nor’Easters

Presently, the most recent strong storm has an intensity of 970 mb and features winds gusting to hurricane force just off-shore with gusts of up to 69 mph along the coast. Pressures are expected to drop into the upper 960s — making it about as powerful as the system that produced major flooding in parts of New England on March 2nd.

For reference, storm intensity measured by pressure in the range of 970 mb is about as strong as a category 2 hurricane. This is a rough comparison as hurricanes tend to be more intensely concentrated even as nor’easters tend to have broader if more diffuse impacts. But it’s a marker for the high level of atmospheric energy the system is now pumping out and how potentially damaging it could ultimately become.

The storm is thus strong enough to produce record and historic impacts. This is notable enough by itself. But the fact that we have had three systems of similar strength in just 11 days over what is practically the same region is concerning.

(Global warming fuels increased convection as lands waters pump out more heat and moisture. At times, this can result in some unexpected instances of atmospheric pyrotechnics.)

Specifically, on March 7 a 989 mb system raked the same region with gale force winds and instances of intense thundersnow (see above tweet by NOAA). And on March 2nd, a sprawling storm that dipped to around 975 mb generated massive waves and significant coastal flooding.

Atmospheric Train Wreck

Looking for causes, we need to go all the way back to February. At that time, a big polar warming event was taking place. In the upper levels of the atmosphere over the pole, the stratosphere was warming up. But at the same time, surface temperatures at the pole were rising to above freezing. In some locations near Northern Greenland, readings were pushing as high as 63 F above average.

High amplitude Jet Stream waves were eating away at the typically faster polar circulation patterns even as they were helping to inject much warmer than normal air into the Arctic and pull its resident cold air out. Eventually, all this heat running into the various layers of the Arctic atmosphere drove the polar vortex to collapse. This, in turn, resulted in cold Arctic air being ejected south and west into Europe. This massive jet stream dip, in eddy-like fashion produced a large, countervailing high pressure ridge over Greenland.

(A deep trough that has consistently lingered over the U.S. East Coast and helped to spawn storm after powerful storm, was initially generated by a very intense polar warming event linked to human-caused climate change. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The rippling upper level jumble of winds backed all the way to the U.S. East Coast — forming a deep and persistent trough. The trough funneled numerous disturbances slowly through the region. And it was both the trough’s persistence and depth that enabled strong storms to form repeatedly even as they set off such long-lasting and intense impacts (see Dr Jennifer Francis’s related work on how polar amplification impacts the Jet Stream here).

Much Warmer than Normal Ocean Waters

Though polar amplification — which is another term for how global warming spurs the poles to heat up faster than the rest of the world — helped to generate the upper level features in the atmosphere that would consistently generate storms running across the U.S. East Coast, widespread warmer than normal ocean waters helped to give these storms more fuel.

In the Gulf of Mexico, sea surface temperatures have consistently ranged between 0.5 and 3 C above normal since February. These warm ocean waters contributed to severe floods over the Ohio River Valley at that time by pumping record levels of atmospheric moisture into the storms running south.

(Much warmer than normal sea surface temperatures dominate throughout the Gulf of Mexico and just off the U.S. East Coast. These warmer than normal waters — warmed by climate change — are providing fuel for the powerful nor’easters of recent weeks. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As the Jet Stream dip became more oriented toward the East Coast during March, storms that would ultimately blow up over the Atlantic at first got a big plug of moisture from the extra evaporation flowing off that warmer than normal Gulf. But it was over the Atlantic Ocean that the storms would really start to fire. There, ocean temperatures were ranging between 0.5 and as high as 9 C above normal over parts of the Gulf Stream.

Such very warm sea surfaces provide a lot of fuel in the form of moisture and related convection. And, in particular, we saw some rather amazing instances of convective lift during the recent March 2nd and 7th storms as they tapped that incredible Atlantic Ocean heat and moisture.

Conditions in Context

So to sum up, an extreme polar warming event driven in large part by human-caused climate change set up conditions that generated a persistent trough over the U.S. East Coast. This trough was both deep and long-lasting. As low pressure systems moved into the trough zone, they were able to tap abnormal levels of heat and moisture rising off of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean near the coast in order to bloom to abnormally powerful intensity. Both of these factors — Arctic warming and warmer than normal sea surface temperatures — would not have been as acute or intense without the extra push to the climate system that human forced warming provides. As a result, we are seeing a very strong climate change related signal in the present severe storm pattern.

(UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

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

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

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

Global Context

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

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

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

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

Opportunity for Late Season Sea Ice Regrowth

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

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

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

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

Extreme Antarctic Warming

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

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

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

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

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

Sea Level Rise in the United States — From Nuisance to Trouble

As fossil fuel companies fight to keep cities and nations captive to harmful emissions, the effects of rising greenhouse gas concentrations are growing more and more pronounced.

A new study from NOAA finds that the incidence of flooding along U.S. coasts (primarily driven by fossil fuel burning) has increased considerably. This already-damaging situation, under present emissions scenarios, is expected to become much worse over the coming decades.

In the Southeast, high tide flooding days since 2000 have increased from an average of 1.5 per year to 3 per year. In the Northeast, similar flooding days have increased from about 3.5 per year to 6. Flooding is also becoming more common on the U.S. West Coast, though at a slower rate of growth. But hotspots for this region include San Francisco — which is seeing both land subsidence and rising oceans.

(New NOAA study reveals a staggering future for U.S. coastal flooding.)

For all coasts of the U.S. the future is looking increasingly grim. According to William Sweet, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

“The numbers are staggering. Today’s storm will be tomorrow’s high tide.”

By mid-Century the Western Gulf of Mexico is expected to face between 80 to 185 days of flooding per year, the coastal Northeast expects 45 to 130 days, and the Southeast and Eastern Gulf of Mexico is likely to see between 25 and 85 flooding days per year. By 2100, under expected fossil fuel burning scenarios, many locations will see at least minor flooding on most days.

In other words, already widespread flooding is about to get much worse. And the increasingly powerful storms we now see roaring out of an ocean riled by climate change will push their more intense storm surges up over already higher seas. Eventually, there will be no U.S. coastal zone that is untouched by this combined impact.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How might this work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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