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North Atlantic Warm Pool as a Signal of Gulf Stream Slowdown

Over the past few years we’ve seen very warm sea surface temperatures in the Gulf Stream off the U.S. East Coast. This heat traffic jam is an indicator of reduced energy transfer into the North Atlantic. In other words, there’s a strong observational signal that the Gulf Stream is slowing down.

(A much warmer than normal pool of water off the U.S. East Coast juxtaposed to an intense cool pool south of Greenland is a climate indicator of Gulf Stream slowdown.)

The development of a cool pool near Greenland, and associated with Greenland melt, is a further indicator of this trend. Recently, the near East Coast warm pool has enlarged and intensified. Meanwhile, the strength of the Greenland cool pool has also increased even as cold water currents issuing from Greenland appear to have sped up.

As noted above, Greenland melt is a major apparent driver. As glaciers like Svalbard speed up and calve more and more ice bergs, more fresh water enters the region around Greenland. This fresh water acts as a lens which cools off the ocean surface. It also serves as a cap, pushing down-welling water further south.

(Floods of ice bergs from melting Greenland glaciers like Jacobshavn have the potential to produce a climate and ocean circulation train wreck in the North Atlantic. Some indicators show that we are in the early stages of this disruptive process. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

The net effect is that the North Atlantic Ocean Conveyor acts as if a great wrench has been thrown into the works. The region around Greenland cools as areas further south heat up. A scenario that is also likely to generate more intense storms across the North Atlantic and over adjacent lands in Europe, North America and Greenland.

Recent scientific studies indicate that the North Atlantic circulation has slowed down by about 15 percent on decadal time scales. And it appears that this slow-down is showing up clearly in the North Atlantic sea surface temperature profile.

(A severe dipole anomaly for sea surface temperatures has developed in the North Atlantic. This is an observational indicator that Greenland melt is impacting North Atlantic Ocean circulation. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The combined indicators point toward serious systemic changes taking place in the region of the North Atlantic. Changes that are having knock-on effects to local climates — like enhancing the deepness of troughs over Eastern North America and lending higher atmospheric potentials that spike storm intensity. Meanwhile, considerable ocean conveyor slow-down risks a serious degradation of global ocean health.

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Potential Historic Arctic Warming Scenario in the GFS Model Forecast for Late May

For years, Arctic watchers have been concerned that if May and June ran much warmer than average following an equally severe winter, we could see substantial sea ice losses, severe Arctic fires, and related knock-on global weather effects. This May, temperatures over the Arctic Ocean have run much warmer than average. And in the GFS model forecast, we see a prediction for a historic Arctic temperature spike during late May.

(Discussion of a potentially historic Arctic warming event for late May of 2018. Information for this analysis provided by Climate Reanalyzer, Global and Regional Climate Anomalies, and DMI.)

According to GFS model analysis, temperatures for the entire Arctic region could spike to as high as 3.5 degrees Celsius above average from Saturday, May 26 through Tuesday, May 29th. So much warming, if it does occur, would shatter temperature records around the Arctic and accelerate the summer melt season by 2-4 weeks. It would also elevate Arctic fire potentials while likely increasing upstream severe weather risks to include higher potentials for droughts, heatwaves and severe rainfall events (as we have seen recently across the Eastern U.S.).

The model run indicates three ridge zones feeding much warmer than normal air into the Arctic. The zones hover over Eastern Siberia, Western North America, and Central Europe through the North Atlantic and Barents Sea — pushing wave after wave of warmth into the Arctic Ocean region.

(Three ridges transferring heat into the Arctic are feeding the potential for a major polar temperature spike over the next ten days. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Over the coming days, this three-pronged flood of warm air could push temperatures over the Arctic Ocean to 2-10 C above average temperatures while Western North America, Eastern Siberia, and the Scandinavian countries could see the mercury climb to 5 to 20 degrees Celsius above average. This translates to 70 to 80 degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures for Eastern Siberia above the Arctic Circle, mid 70s to mid 80s for near Arctic Circle Alaska, and temperatures in the 70s to 80s for Scandinavia. For the Arctic Ocean, it means above freezing temperatures for most zones. Zones that are likely to see more rapid sea ice melt as a result.

Upstream effects include the potential continuation and emergence of fixed severe weather patterns. Extreme heat will tend to intensify for Western North America, while a pattern that favors severe rainfall is likely to remain in place for the Eastern U.S. Meanwhile, South-Central Asia through the Middle East are likely to see very extreme daytime high temperatures. Fire risks will tend to rise from Alberta to the Northwest Territory into Alaska and on through Central and Western Siberia as much warmer than normal temperatures take hold and Arctic lightning storms proliferate.

(Forecast Northern Hemisphere temperature anomaly patterns hint at a hot or unstable late spring pattern for many regions as the pole inters record warm territory. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

It’s worth noting that should such an event occur during late May, it would represent yet another major and historic temperature departure for an Arctic zone that has thus far seen severe winter warming and related loss of sea ice. The concern is that eventually such heating would result in ice free conditions during summer — although when is a subject of some debate.

To this point, it is also worth noting that we should take the present GFS forecast with a bit of a grain of salt. Such amazingly warm temperatures are still 6-10 days away. Forecasts beyond the 3 day are notably fickle. And this particular model has run a bit hot of late. However, it is worth noting that the model has been correct in predicting a much warmer than normal May. And that we have already experienced one historic temperature spike during early May. So a pattern that demonstrates the potential for such extreme warming has clearly taken hold.

 

Globe Just Experienced its Third Hottest April on Record

According to reports from NASA GISS, the world just experienced its third hottest April on record. Topping out at 0.86 degrees Celsius above NASA’s 20th Century baseline, April of 2018 edged out 2010 as third in the record books despite the ongoing natural variability based cooling influence of La Nina.

(Analysis of present global temperature anomalies with information provided by NASA, NOAA and Earth Nullschool.)

The warmest regions of the world included large sections of the lower Arctic — encompassing Eastern Siberia, the East Siberian Sea, and the Chukchi Sea. In addition, Central Europe experienced much warmer than normal conditions. Notable cool pools included North-Central North America, the High Arctic, and the Weddell Sea region of Antarctica.

A seasonal reinforcement of the Jet Stream helped to keep cold air sequestered in the High Arctic during April. However, this sequestration appears to be weaker compared to recent April-through-June periods as record warm spikes returned to the High Arctic during early May. The result of strong south-to-north heat transfer through various ridge zones in the Jet Stream.

(Third warmest April on record despite La Nina. Image source: NASA.)

La Nina remained the prominent natural variability related feature during April. And the cooling influence of La Nina has tamped global temperatures down a bit following the recent record hot year of 2016. Overall, it appears that global temperatures are on track to average between 1.04 C and 1.08 C above 1880s averages during 2018. These rather high excessions are, of course, caused by atmospheric greenhouse gasses peaking in the range of 410 ppm CO2 (around 491 ppm CO2e) during April, May and June. Representing the greatest concentration of heat trapping gasses on Earth in about 15 million years.

With La Nina fading, its cooling influence is likely to become less acute and global temperatures may again begin to ramp higher by mid to late 2018. NOAA has indicated a 50 percent chance for El Nino formation during late 2018. If 2018-2019 does see an El Nino emerge, global temperatures will likely again exceed the 1.15 C threshold and potentially challenge 1.2 C.

(A warm Kelvin Wave crossing beneath the Equatorial Pacific brings with it the potential for El Nino formation during 2018-2019. If El Nino does form, and with atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations so high, it is likely that we would see temperatures comparable to the record global warmth of 2016 re-emerge. Image source: NOAA.)

However, it is unlikely that the weaker predicted El Nino, if it does emerge, will force temperatures considerably higher than levels achieved during the strong El Nino of 2016. For that, we will likely have to wait until the early 2020s. But with carbon emissions continuing near record high ranges, temperatures are bound to rise — with the 1.5 C threshold likely to be breached by the late 2020s or early 2030s.

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.

Climate Change Ignores all Borders as Rain Bombs Fall on Kauai and the Middle East Alike

The weaponization of weather language has long been a topic of some controversy in the meteorological press. Peace-loving people the world over rightly try to communicate in a manner that discourages violent conflict. And the term ‘rain bomb’ has taken quite a lot of flak from those with thus-stated good intentions.

However, whether or not the language itself bristles with perceived warlike phrases, the weather itself is steadily being weaponized against everyone and everything living on the face of planet Earth by the greenhouse gasses fossil fuel related industries and technologies continue pumping into the air.

(Bruce Haffner snapped this photo of an extreme heavy rainfall event over Phoenix, AZ during 2016. Climate change has been increasing the intensity of the most severe storms. So we see historic an unusually strong events more and more frequently.)

So I’ll add this brief appeal before going into another climate change related extreme weather analysis — fight climate change, not wars. The opportunity for a peaceful, hopeful, prosperous future for basically everyone depends on it.

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Whether you like the phrase or not, more rain-bombs — or extreme heavy rainfall events far outside the range of usual weather norms — keep falling. And most recently the all-time record for the most rain to fall within a 24 hour period was shattered on April 14-15 as nearly 50 inches inundated Kauai, Hawaii. In a separate instance half a world away, late April and early May has seen extreme drought giving way to extreme flooding over parts of the Middle East. Both increasingly extreme drought events and much heavier than usual precipitation events are signals of human-caused climate change. And, lately, these signals have been proliferating.

Rainfall Records Shattered in the World’s Rainiest Place

For the Kauai event, the Washington Post reports that 49.69 inches of rain accumulated at the Waipa rain gauge on Kauai in just one 24-hour period. Though Kauai is the rainiest place on Earth — receiving some 400 inches per year with rain on most days — this single day rainfall was far in excess of even that soggy norm. In total, it amounted to about one and a half months of precipitation for the world’s wettest location falling in just one day.

The previous all-time record for single day rainfall in the U.S. occurred in 1979 in Alvin, Texas during Tropical Storm Claudette. This storm dumped 43 inches over a 24-hour period. The recent Kauai event shattered this record. And it involved no tropical cyclone — just historically high moisture levels over the Pacific colliding with unstable air masses streaming down from the north. In this case, warming ocean surfaces are generating higher levels of evaporation which in turn are feeding extreme thunderstorms all across the Pacific and over adjacent land masses.

(Historically heavy rains flip cars and wreck structures in Kauai on April 14-15. Image source: Lace Anderson and Hawaii News Now.)

Chip Fletcher, an expert on the impact of climate change on Pacific island communities, told the Los Angeles Times:

“The flooding on Kauai is consistent with an extreme rainfall that comes with a warmer atmosphere. Just recognize that we’re moving into a new climate, and our communities are scaled and built for a climate that no longer exists.”

The present record Kauai event has been classified as a 1 in 100 year instance in the context of past climatology. But given present conditions and ever-increasing Earth surface temperatures, this new record may fall within a decade or less as the atmosphere continues to load more moisture and as evaporation and extreme precipitation events steadily increase.

Middle East Hammered by Extremes of Drought and Storm

Half a world away, the Middle East is seeing its own series of weather and climate shocks. The nations of Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia have been experiencing widespread and long term drought. This drought has, as with the recent Central U.S. event, in large part been driven by rising temperatures. Evaporation plays its role here too as lands dry out more swiftly when temperatures rise.

(A storm sweeping in from the Med brings heavy rains and havoc to a drought-stricken Middle East. Image source: Tropical Tidbits and The Washington Post.)

However, with climate change, you can never discount the hard swing back to heavy rain despite prolonged drying as weather chaos ensues. Such was the situation during the recent week as an intense weather disturbance crossed the Mediterranean and entered the Middle East on April 26th and 27th. The colder air mass tapped high levels of moisture bleeding off the, again, much warmer than normal sea surfaces in the Med. It then dumped this moisture in the form of extreme precipitation over the Middle East.

In Israel, the resulting flash floods swept away ten teenagers as street flooding that was described as ‘epic’ ran through the country’s cities. Waters over-topped sidewalks and rushed into homes and businesses as the heavens unleashed. One to two inch per hour rainfall rates were reported. Meanwhile, in Syria, heavy hail pelted down. Jordan and Egypt were also inundated — with many streets described as impassable due to flood waters. The leading edge of cooler air kicked up a massive haboob — which spread its immense cloud of dust over Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Over recent days, the stormy pattern continued. Heavy rains overtook parts of Yemen — forcing a dam to burst and washing away dozens of homes and farms.

Two More in a Lengthening Tally

These two events are just the most recent affairs in a much larger and far more widespread pattern of ramping extreme global weather events. Events that will continue to proliferate so long as the world continues to warm. This is the state of affairs that continued fossil fuel burning has brought about. The rain bombs are hanging, enlarging, above us. They are waiting to fall. And the politically-charged denials of their chief manufacturers — oil, gas, and coal — only make the situation worse for us all.

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.

CO2 is Regularly Exceeding 410 Parts Per Million for First Time in Human History

During May of 2018, average monthly CO2 values will likely range between 411 and 412 parts per million. A new record for a heat-trapping gas that is causing serious damage to both the Earth’s environment and human civilizations.

(Atmospheric CO2 accumulation since 2007 as depicted by this animation of Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 measurements by Robbie Andrew, of the CICERO Center for International Climate Research.)

There’s one word that best describes this — trouble. And in the most simple terms it means that more unprecedented severe weather, ocean health impacts, and sea level rise is on the way.

Exceeding the 410 PPM Threshold

Last year, atmospheric CO2 levels peaked at around 409.7 parts per million during May of 2018. Hitting just shy of the 410 ppm threshold which will be consistently exceeded this year during the annual peak.

This peak comes during April and May following Northern Hemisphere winter due to seasonal loss of tree leaf photosynthesis that converts a large volume of CO2 into oxygen during summer and fall. As trees return to bloom across the large northern land masses, CO2 concentrations periodically drop.

However, due to human fossil fuel burning, the natural CO2 cycle has, since the 18th Century been significantly thrown out of balance. And as a result, the atmospheric concentrations of this key heat trapping gas rapidly ramped higher and are now in a range not seen in 15-17 million years.

(The CO2 measure at the Mauna Loa Observatory shows a hockey stick like spike in CO2 following a relatively stable period of glaciation and deglaciation over the last 800,000 years. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

As you can see in the image above, the present period has shown an unprecedented and dangerous rate of atmospheric CO2 increase. One that has no corollary in the past 800,000 years. One that is probably unique in its velocity.

High Levels of Heat Trapping Gases Pose Serious Consequences

Such a great accumulation of heat trapping gases results in serious consequences. Present atmospheric CO2 concentrations, if maintained over multiple Centuries are likely enough to warm the Earth by more than 3 degrees Celsius (significantly more than present warming in the range of 1 to 1.2 C). And such high levels of heat trapping gases — ranging above 410 parts per million — are likely enough to melt significant portions of the world’s ice sheets over Century to multi-Century time scales. During the last climate epoch when atmospheric CO2 exceeded 410 parts per million, the Middle Miocene, sea levels were 100 to 170 feet higher than they are today.

(Atmospheric CO2 levels are now the highest since the Middle Miocene of 15 to 17 million years ago. Image source: Skeptical Science.)

Sea level is not the only system influenced by high atmospheric CO2 levels. And everything from storms to drought intensity, to ocean health, to growing seasons, to typical seasonality, to coral bleaching, and including the Earth’s net ability to support life will ultimately be impacted.

Fossil Fuel Burning is the Primary Cause, Renewable Energy the Primary Solution

As mentioned above, record CO2 emissions brought on by fossil fuel burning is driving the unprecedented atmospheric accumulation we see today. During recent years, very rapid rates of annual accumulation near 3 parts per million (ppm) were achieved as a strong El Nino rippled through the Pacific and reduced the ocean’s ability to draw down carbon. The La Nina years of 2017 and 2018 are seeing these rates of accumulation dip back to near 2 ppm or slightly less as ocean drawdowns have periodically recovered. But more El Nino years are on the way and atmospheric CO2 levels will keep rising so long as mass fossil fuel extraction and burning continues.

(CO2 annual growth rates have proceeded in lock step with increasing rates of fossil fuel burning on decadal time scales. Shorter term fluctuations are driven by the ENSO cycle and large volcanic eruptions. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

The advance of renewable energy and the reduced use of coal has enabled the world to achieve a slower rate of atmospheric CO2 release growth that appears to be reaching a plateau near 11-12 billion tons of carbon per year. This is still an insane rate of release. However, if the world resolves itself, it can begin to rapidly reduce this severely harmful annual belching of greenhouse gasses. Emergent clean energy technologies like wind, solar, battery storage, and electrical vehicles are providing this hope for response. However, rates of adoption will need to be quite rapid if serious and ever-ramping climate harms are to be avoided. Presently high atmospheric CO2 levels exceeding 410 ppm this year represent a serious hazard. One that we fail to fully address at our peril.

Notes:

  1. Human emissions of heat trapping gases is not limited to CO2. Methane and other greenhouse gasses produced by industry have resulted in a net CO2 equivalent forcing near 491 parts per million (CO2e). Though CO2 gain is the primary driver of human forced warming, these other gases have an accumulative impact.
  2. I have used the Middle Miocene as a corollary in this analysis due to the fact that present CO2 levels at 410 parts per million and CO2e levels at 491 parts per million (end 2017) generate a rough boundary for both the top and bottom ranges for this climate epoch. It is worth noting that the human forcing is probably more dangerous than that which occurred during the Middle Miocene due to the velocity at which heat trapping gases are accumulating.

March of 2018 Was the Sixth Hottest on Record

The surface region of the globe continues to cool relative to the record hot year of 2016. Equatorial Pacific ocean surface temperatures have remained near or within La Nina states for much of 2017-2018. And the result has been a slight dip as a part of the longer term warming trend.

But as you can see in the graphic below, post 2016 cooling doesn’t look very cool at all. In contrast, most of the world is still in the grips of record heat. And so long as atmospheric greenhouse gas levels remain so high and continue to rise, this state is unlikely to change. Inevitably, unless the build-up of greenhouse gasses through fossil fuel burning slackens, more global record hot years are on the way.

(March of 2018 was 0.89 C warmer than NASA’s 20th Century baseline or 1.11 C warmer than 1880s averages. Image source: NASA.)

Much of the world experienced warmer than normal temperatures during March despite the relative cool-down — with peak heating hitting as high as 7.4 C above average over the Bering and Chukchi seas of the Arctic. Central through East Asia was also far warmer than normal, as was most of Antarctica. A backing up of the Jet Stream generated cooler than normal conditions over Europe and a persistent trough across the U.S. East Coast produced cooler and stormier weather as well. A cool pool over the Equatorial Pacific was a signature of La Nina — a period of natural variability that tends to drive cooler surface temperatures. But a world at sixth hottest on record despite La Nina isn’t really cool at all.

Extending into Record Warm Territory

Overall, we are still in the process of entering new, record warm territory globally. Ever since 2016, global temperatures have not dipped below the 1 C above 1880s averages range on an annual basis. And it is unlikely that they will ever do so again. At least not until the world’s governments resolve themselves to stop burning fossil fuels and to draw down carbon from the atmosphere.

Presently, in the 2016 to 2020 period, it appears that we are exploring a global temperature range between 1 and 1.2 C above 1880s averages. This is comparable to the lower range of the Eemian climate period (around 120,000 years ago) when the North Atlantic was much stormier than we’re used to and when oceans were between 10 and 20 feet higher than they are today. It is a temperature range that supports both stronger droughts and more severe rainfall. A range that is increasing the peak intensity of the most intense thunderstorms and hurricanes. One that is causing serious damage to corals, that threatens ice free Arctic summers, that is increasing Antarctic and Greenland melt rates, that is threatening water supplies for major cities, and that is causing disruptions to crops — from flooding deltas to less predictable growing seasons.

(2018 may become the coolest year of the late 2010s. However, despite a second consecutive La Nina in the Pacific, it will still be far warmer than the super El Nino year of 1998 — which has been left in the dust as a global marker. Image source: NASA.)

At some point during a coming El Nino — possibly as early as fall of 2018, but more likely by the early 2020s — the 1.2 C threshold range will again be tested. By the late 2020s to early 2030s, it is likely that the 1.5 C line will be crossed. The result will be even more climate damage and disruption than we presently experience.

March of 2018, as the sixth hottest March on record, is just one point in time. One dot on the graph that measures the larger trend of human-forced warming. A dot in a world that is facing down increasing damages due to climate change. A world that is now morally called to act with far greater resolve than we have ever displayed before. We have seen far too many delays. And the hard pass is upon us. Those who rise to the occasion will be the heroes of our age. Those who fail — its villains.

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

*****

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.

*****

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?

Fossil-Fuel Spear-Headed Fake News Attacks on Electrical Vehicles Intensify as Sales Ramp

In China, the world’s largest automobile market, something amazing is starting to happen. A swarm of electrical vehicles is hitting the streets. The smoggy, smoke-choked air is starting to clear. And oil demand is slowly starting to slacken.

Ramping electrical vehicle production in China takes a bit out of oil demand. Image source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Fossil fuel profit-addicted investors are starting to panic as oil’s very real carbon-spewing death-grip ’round the neck of what is now the world’s largest economy is slowly being pried off.

But big oil is nothing if not a tricky and resourceful beast. So as electrical transportation leaders are marching the world away from dirty energy sources, the fossil-fueled monstrosity is fighting back tooth and nail with its primary weapon of choice…

Fake News 

It’s one of those blanket terms that has been dramatically mis-used by those like Trump to generate a million false impressions of late. To attack credible, public-serving media sources and to generate an assault on freedom of the press in total. But the term has its origins in a very real problem that each of us have to deal with every day. That problem being that some news sources can and often do, intentionally or unintentionally, get the story wrong.

Why?

Well, it can happen for a hundred different reasons not the least of which is social and individual bias. But a key issue for the present day is news generated by special-interest related media aimed at creating an impression that serves that particular interest’s goals. In other words — media that sells to or pushes from a particular political, ideological, or business-related frame of reference.

Public relations campaigns aimed at misinforming the public about harmful products or to tamp down competition by more benevolent industries have long been funded by fossil fuel interests. Image source: Smoke and Fumes.

If, for example, you’re a Fox News viewer, then your information comes with such a heavy conservative and pro-established industry bias that you tend to believe fallacies like ‘climate change isn’t real or dangerous,’ ‘Hillary Clinton sold Uranium to the Russians,’ ‘giving more money to rich people by cutting taxes pays off the national debt,’ ‘Russian interference didn’t alter the outcome of the 2016 election,’ ‘social security is an entitlement and not a government run savings program that you pay into so you have a cushion for retirement,’ and ‘all real energy comes from fossil fuels.’

These media objects and impressions could well be considered fake news.

Fossil Fuel Special Interest Fake News

In the climate and clean energy sphere, we are confronted with these kinds of targeted messages every day. More specifically, what we see is a proliferation of messages aimed at delaying a transition to clean energy and enabling the continued dominance of fossil fuel based energy sources on and on into the future.

The primary messaging issues that we deal with here are smears, doubt promotion, distractions, and myth propagation.

Lately, for anyone that’s been paying attention, we’ve seen an amazing amount of smear-based hyperbole aimed at clean energy leaders like Tesla. Not a single day goes by when we don’t have some ‘journalist’ who holds a short position in Tesla as a company beating the old hackneyed drum over which terrible demise Tesla is ‘destined’ to suffer this day or that. And this short interest is not focused on predicting so much as it is on manufacturing reality.

‘Short EV Interest’

If we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that short interest in clean industry leaders like Tesla is primarily propagated by pro-fossil fuel sources. Most of the short ‘journalists’ have some association with the fossil fuel industry. And practically all take a negative view of the prominent and most widely available clean energy sources of the day.

Some will even promote a prospective clean energy source, like hydrogen, as a distraction from the larger mega-trend represented by wind, solar and batteries. But this is more as a shiny object in the form of systems that are 5-15 years or longer from actual realization. A kind of vapor-ware competition in impression vs the real trends.

Taking this week’s penchant to proffer the hydrogen economy distraction as an example, we find that during 2017 more than 1.2 million electrical vehicles sold worldwide. Hydrogen based vehicles sold far less well — at approximately 3,500 units in 2017 or about 1 hydrogen fueled vehicle to every 350 EVs hitting the roads. Moreover, global EV sales could hit as high as 2 million in 2018 and 4-5 million by 2020. Though hydrogen might get off its laurels and start to show real gains by the early 2020s or later, electrified transport is taking flight now.

Moreover, hydrogen presents its own emissions problems as it is presently 90 percent produced from reformed natural gas in a high-carbon emitting process. The promise of mass-electrolysis based hydrogen from renewables and other low carbon processes are, you guessed it, 5-15 years off. And, even more concerning, major oil companies like Shell are heavily invested in hydrogen — which increases the likelihood that it will serve as a spoiler and not as an enabler of the clean energy transition.

Just as electrical vehicles reach their moment of realization, major media attacks against the clean energy trend emerge. Image source: EV Volumes.

This week the flavor is hydrogen. Next week it will be nuclear. Next it will be something else that can be slow-walked. Anything to distract from the actual electrical, solar, wind revolution that is now in progress and achieving rapid advancements.

It’s at these critical times when the pro fossil fuel and anti renewable energy messaging tends to proliferate on a mass scale. And today is just such a time. For right now, global EV sales are surging. Spear-headed by industry leaders like Tesla and countries like China, the electrification revolution is on. And the oil companies know it. In rather short order, as occurred recently with coal, global oil demand could drop. And those magical, marginal profits that fossil fuel investors have been addicted to for so many years and decades could go up in one final puff of CO2 laden smoke.

Will Tesla Survive The Assault?

So it is at this crucial time that all of the major media guns associated with the fossil fuel industry are now unleashing a furious, focus-fire barrage on Tesla. We’ve hinted at some of the reasons above. But looking deeper we find that Tesla’s all-clean-industry business model is the exact antithesis to that produced by traditional industry.

From its lock to its stock to its barrel, Tesla is clean tech through and through. It builds battery plants, it builds solar panels, it builds battery storage for homes, it builds all clean energy vehicles, it builds EV charging networks. And it works to integrate them all. Not one dollar of Tesla capital is wasted on fossil fuel extraction or machinery that burns fossil fuels. Not one iota. Not one cent.

The Tesla model is the model of a pure path away from carbon emissions and if it gets duplicated in one subset or another by companies the world over, then big fossil fuel is finished. If Tesla generates competition by example, as it is doing, then the clean energy revolution takes flight and there’s nothing that the oil, coal, or gas industry can do to stop it.

So from the fossil fuel point of view, Tesla must die. And that is the primary reason why we are seeing so many negative news stories lately about Tesla. Not because of Tesla’s intrinsic weaknesses. Not due to some puffed up accident investigation. These are the facts — the negative bias against Tesla comes from fossil fuel industry based sources. Fin.

Facing such a massive wall of media, political, and industry opposition isn’t easy. In all honesty, it’s amazing that Tesla has made it as far as it has. And under the present barrage, Tesla’s survival is again somewhat in doubt. I think it will pull through this relatively difficult period to emerge as both a major automaker and a global clean industry leader. But if the shorts win and Tesla goes down it will be due to direct sabotage by fossil fuel special interests — not due to some other failure. And that’s not fake news.

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.

Atmospheric River Pummels West Coast as East is Slammed by Yet Another Nor’Easter

Today the alerts were sounding in California. Areas recently denuded by extreme wildfires such as Santa Barbara are threatened by debris flows as rainfall amounts of 1-6 inches (up to ten inches locally) are predicted. Meanwhile, the U.S. East Coast braces for the fourth strong nor’easter in three weeks.

Welcome to your weather screwed up by human-caused climate change.

Atmospheric River Brings Landslide Risk to California

Warmer than normal ocean surfaces in the range of 0.5 to 2.5 C hotter than average are bleeding off an excessive volume of moisture across the Northeastern Pacific today. These elevated moisture levels are, in turn, forming into a train of rain-bearing systems aimed fire-hose like at California. This atmospheric river is expected to produce storm after storm after storm. Systems that are predicted to dump between 1 and locally 10 inches of rain over sections of Southwestern California and parts of the Sierra Nevada Range over the next few days.

(An atmospheric river takes aim at California. Image source: MIMIC-TWP.)

These heavier than normal rains are expected to fall over regions hard hit by last summer’s unusually intense wildfires. These fires were both larger and burned hotter than is typical. And, as a result, they have denuded entire regions of trees that previously anchored the soil. Now, with such heavy rains approaching, California is again facing a serious risk of landslides and debris flows.

Fourth Nor’Easter in Three Weeks

As flood and debris flow alerts pop across California, the fourth strong nor’easter to form in three weeks is gathering off the U.S. East Coast. Like the atmospheric river presently taking aim at the West Coast, the nor’easter is gathering over waters that are much warmer than normal — ranging as warm as 9 C above climatological averages in parts of the Gulf Stream off Maine. And it’s also gathering energy from an upper level pattern that has been in place since a major polar warming event rocked the Arctic during February.

(Extremely warm sea surfaces off the U.S. East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico are providing an extra intensity boost to nor’easters forming across the region. Storms that according to recent science were made two to four times more likely by climate change associated polar warming events. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Yesterday, the building storm sparked severe weather across Alabama, Missippi and Georgia — producing large hail, tornadoes and heavy rains. Today, the system is flinging frozen precipitation across the I 95 corridor even as it prepares the batter the East Coast with yet one more bout of gale force winds and heavy seas.

Conditions in Context — The Increasing influence of Climate Change on U.S. Severe Weather

High sea surface temperatures, high atmospheric moisture levels, and a polar-warming linked procession of nor’easters striking the U.S. East Coast are signature influences of human-caused climate change. And each is playing a role, to one degree or another, in the pair of major weather events that are presently developing or underway across the U.S. To wit, the increasingly frequent large fires across the Western U.S. have deforested many hillsides in California and led to the increased risk of debris flows following heavy precipitation events in parts of the state.

 

 

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.

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