The Present Threat to Coastal Cities From Antarctic and Greenland Melt

Seas around the world are rising now at a rate of about 3.3 millimeters per year. This rate of rise is faster than at any time in the last 2,800 years. It’s accelerating. And already the impacts are being felt in the world’s most vulnerable coastal regions.

(Rates of global sea level rise continue to quicken. This has resulted in worsening tidal flooding for coastal cities like Miami, Charleston, New Orleans and Virginia Beach. Image source: Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms.)

Sea Level Rise and Worsening Extreme Rainfall are Already Causing Serious Problems

Last week, New Orleans saw pumps fail as a heavy thunderstorm inundated the city. This caused both serious concern and consternation among residents. Begging the question — if New Orleans pumps can’t handle the nascient variety of more powerful thunderstorms in the age of human-caused climate change, then what happens when a hurricane barrels in? The pumps, designed to handle 1.5 inch per hour rainfall amounts in the first hour and 1 inch per hour rainfall amounts thereafter were greatly over-matched when sections of the city received more than 2 inches of rainfall per hour over multiple hours.

Higher rates of precipitation from thunderstorms are becoming a more common event the world over as the hydrological cycle is amped up by the more than 1 degree Celsius of temperature increase that has already occurred since 1880. And when these heavy rainfall amounts hit coastal cities that are already facing rising seas, then pumps and drainage systems can be stressed well beyond their original design limits. The result, inevitably, is more flooding.

(Dr Eric Rignot, one of the world’s foremost glacial scientists, discusses the potential for multimeter sea level rise due to presently projected levels of warming in the range of 1.5 to 2 C by mid to late Century.)

New Orleans itself is already below sea level. And the land there is steadily subsiding into the Gulf of Mexico. Add sea level rise and worsening storms on top of that trend and the crisis New Orleans faces is greatly amplified.

All up and down the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts, climate change driven sea level rise and a weakening Gulf Stream are combining with other natural factors that can seriously amplify an ever-worsening trend toward more tidal flooding. It’s a situation that will continue to worsen as global rates of sea level rise keep ramping higher. And how fast seas rise will depend both on the amount of carbon that human beings ultimately dump into the Earth’s atmosphere and on how rapidly various glacial systems around the world respond to that insult (see discussion by Dr. Eric Rignot above).

Presently High and Rising Atmospheric Carbon Levels Imply Ultimately Catastrophic Sea Level Rise — How Soon? How Fast? Can We Mitigate Swiftly Enough to Prevent the Worst?

Presently, atmospheric carbon forcing is in the range of 490 parts per million CO2 equivalent. This heat forcing, using paleoclimate proxies from 5 to 30 million years ago, implies approximately 2 degrees Celsius of warming this Century and about 4 degrees Celsisus of warming long term. It also implies an ultimate sea level rise of between 60 and 180 feet over the long term. In other words, if atmospheric carbon levels are similar to those seen during the Miocene, then temperatures are also ultimately headed for those ranges. Soon to be followed by a similar range of sea level rise. In the nearer term, 1.5 to 2 C warming from the 2030s to late Century is enough to result in 20 to 30 feet of sea level rise.

Of course, various climate change mitigation actions could ultimately reduce that larger heat forcing and final related loss of glacial ice. But with carbon still accumulating in the atmosphere and with Trump and other politicians around the world seeking to slow or sabotage a transition away from fossil fuels, then it goes to follow that enacting such an aggressive mitigation will be very difficult to manage without an overwhelming resistance to such harmful policy stances.

(Antarctic ice loss through 2016. Video source: NASA.)

That said, warming and related sea level rise will tend to take some time to elapse. And the real question on many scientists’ minds is — how fast? Presently, we do see serious signs of glacial destabilization in both Greenland and West Antartica. These two very large piles of ice alone could contribute 34 feet of sea level rise if both were to melt entirely.

Meanwhile, East Antarctica has also recently shown some signs of movement toward glacial destabilization. Especially in the region of the Totten Glacier and the Cook Ice Shelf. But rates of progress toward glacial destabilization in these zones has, thus far, been slower than that seen in Greenland and West Antarctica. Present mass loss hot spots are in the area of the Thwaites Glacier of West Antarctica and around the western and southern margins of Greenland.

(Greenland ice loss through 2016. Video source: NASA.)

With global temperatures now exceeding 1 C and with these temperatures likely to exceed 1.5 C within the next two decades, it is certain that broader heat-based stresses to these various glacial systems will increase. And we are likely to see coincident melt rate acceleration as more glaciers become less stable. The result is that coastal flooding conditions will tend to follow a worsening trend — with the most vulnerable regions like the U.S. Gulf and East Coasts feeling the impact first. Unfortunately, there is risk that this trend will include the sudden acceleration of various glaciers into the ocean, which will coincide with rapid increases in global rates of sea level rise. In other words, the trend for sea level rise is less likely to be smooth and more likely to include a number of melt pulse spikes.

Such an overall trend including outlier risks paints a relatively rough picture for coastal city planners in the 1-3 decade timeframe. But on the multi-decade horizon there is a rising risk that sudden glacial destabilization — first in Greenland and West Antarctica and later in East Antarctica will put an increasing number of coastal cities permanently under water.

Rapid Mitigation Required to Reduce Risks

The only way to lower this risk is to rapidly reduce to zero the amount of carbon hitting the atmosphere from human sources while ultimately learning how to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. The present most rapid pathway for carbon emissions reductions involves an urgent build-out of renewable and non-carbon based energy systems to replace all fossil fuels with a focus on wind, solar, and electrical vehicle economies of scale and production chains. Added to various drives for sustainable cities and increasing efficiency, such a push could achieve an 80 percent or greater reduction in carbon emissions on the 2-3 decade timescale with net negative carbon emissions by mid Century. For cities on the coast, choosing whether or not to support such a set of actions is ultimately an existential one.

Links:

Fragmenting Prospects For Avoiding 2 C Warming

NASA Antarctic Ice Loss

Scientists Just Uncovered Another Troubling Fact About Antarctica’s Melting Ice

It Wasn’t Even a Hurricane, But Heavy Rains Flooded New Orleans as Pumps Faltered

Why Seas are Rising Faster in Miami

Miocene Relative Sea Level

Temperature on Planet Earth

Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms

Intensifying Equatorial Rains: 3.3 Million Afflicted by Flooding in India and Bangladesh as Hundreds Lose Lives to Landslides from Sierra Leone to Nepal

There’s something wrong with the rain these days. For many regions of the globe, when the rain does fall, it more and more often comes with an abnormally fierce intensity.

This increasing severity of heavy rainfall events is just one aspect of human-forced climate change through fossil fuel burning. For as the Earth warms, both the rate of evaporation and precipitation increases. And as atmospheric moisture loading and convection increase coordinate with rising temperatures, so do the potential peak intensities of the most powerful storms.

(Climate and extreme weather news August 13 through 15)

Sierra Leone — More than 300 Dead, 600 Missing After Deadly Mudslide

This past week, in Sierra Leone — already one of the wettest regions of the globe at this time of year — a very heavy rainfall event generated a severe mudslide that ripped a huge swath of devastation through Freetown. 3,000 people were immediately rendered homeless by the great rush of mud, rock, and soil. But more tragically in excess of 300 people are feared dead with 600 still missing.

This single event represents the deadliest natural disaster on record for Sierra Leone — which also suffered a flood that killed 103 people in 2009. According to news reports, the region in which this disaster occurred has experienced 20 inches more rain than usual over the 30 day period from July 15 through August 15. A total amount of rainfall in a single month period that’s now in the range of 50 inches. Clearly, the surrounding lands could not maintain integrity under the force of such a prolonged deluge. And unfortunately one of the succumbing hillsides let loose into a valley settlement.

(Heavy thunderstorms of Freetown on August 14th. Image source: NASA and Weather Underground.)

A statement by Weather Underground’s Bob Henson provides further climate context for this disaster:

The heaviest downpours in many parts of the globe have become heavier in recent decades, a trend attributed to human-produced climate change and expected to continue. A study led by Christopher Taylor (UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology), published this spring in the journal Nature, finds that the Sahel’s most intense mesoscale convective systems (organized clusters of thunderstorms) have tripled in frequency since 1982. The recovery of Sahel rainfall since the 1980s only explains a small part of this trend, according to the study authors. They argue that Saharan warming is helping to intensify convection within the MCSs through increased wind shear and changes to the Saharan air layer. “The meridional gradient is projected to strengthen throughout the twenty-first century, suggesting that the Sahel will experience particularly marked increases in extreme rain,” the study concludes.

Pradesh and Nepal Landslides and Floods Kill Over 100 More

Severe rains also on August 14th unleashed a mudslide in Pradesh India that knocked two buses off a cliff — resulting in the tragic loss of 46 lives. The resulting landslide also injured 5 other passengers even as it buried numerous homes along its path.

Across the Bay of Bengal in Nepal flooding and landslides resulted in the loss of 62 lives as 30 districts reported severe conditions. There, rains displaced 1,500 families, destroyed 305 homes, and damaged more than 15,000 other dwellings. Dozens of Nepali roads have been blocked, a school has collapsed, and an airport has been forced to close as severe storms inundated the region.

In India and Bangladesh, 3.3 Million People are Affected by Flooding

In the Indian state of Assam, 84 people have lost their lives due to a massive flood that has now affected 2 million people across 29 districts. 2,734 villages have flooded and 183,584 people have been forced to relocate to one of 700 refugee camps. Meanwhile, across the state, some 3,830 water rescues have occurred. Dozens of roads and bridges have been washed out as rivers rise from moderate to unprecedented flood stages.

(Assam floods on August 14. Image source: Government of India and Floodlist.)

Finally, in Bangladesh, record rainfall has pushed rivers to some of the highest levels ever recorded. The result has been the forced displacement of 368,000 people to 970 temporary shelters as 1.3 million are afflicted by flooding. Tragically, 27 Bangladeshis have also lost their lives due to the extreme flooding. Rainfall rates of up to ten inches per day are contributing to the severe flooding even as water from floods further upstream in India and Nepal are flowing into Bangladesh river systems.

Conditions in Context — Very Severe Equatorial Rains

Overall, these various events may appear to occur separately. However, they are all associated with a very severe Equatorial rain pattern developing from Africa through Southeast Asia and stretching into the Atlantic inter-tropical-convergence zone during 2017. The apparently increased thunderstorm activity is now impacting everything from the intensity of monsoonal rains over Southeast Asia, the severity of storms in the Sahel of Africa, and the early formation of tropical cyclones off Cape Verde during August.

These heavy rainfall features are arguably linked to the climate-change based intensification of the hydrological cycle and, particularly, to the increasing intensity of Equatorial thunderstorms. The overall climate and weather trend for the larger region should thus be noted and these various related events should not be viewed in isolation.

Links:

Weather Underground

Floodlist

NASA

Climate and Extreme Weather News

Hat tip to Shawn Redmond

Hat tip to Suzanne

No El Nino, But July of 2017 was the Hottest on Record. So What the Hell is Going on?

According to NASA’s GISS global temperature monitoring service, July of 2017 was 0.83 C hotter than the NASA 20th Century baseline (1.05 C hotter than 1880s). That’s the hottest July ever recorded in the 137 year global climate record.

In the Pacific, ENSO conditions remain neutral. And since 2014-2016 featured one of the strongest El Ninos on record, you’d expect global temperatures to back off a bit from what should have been a big spike in the larger warming trend. So what happened?

(Top image shows July of 2017 global temperature anomalies compared to July of 2016 global temperature anomalies [bottom image]. July of 2016 was cooling into a weak La Nina relative to one of the strongest El Ninos on record. This year, ENSO neutral conditions prevail coordinate with rather strong polar amplification in the Southern Hemisphere as temperatures in the Southern Ocean off West Antarctica hit an 8 C warm temperature anomaly [!!]. Images provided by NASA GISS.)

During July of 2016, the world was backing away from a very strong El Nino and heading into the mild global temperature trough of a weak La Nina. Cooler conditions in the Equatorial Pacific were starting to put a bit of a damper on the extreme global temperature departures that, earlier in the year, hit as high as 1.55 C above 1880s averages during February.

The La Nina lag during July of 2016 was enough to pull global surface temperatures down to 1.04 C above 1880s averages. However, the added heat pumped out into the system by both fossil fuel produced greenhouse gasses and the shift to strong El Nino appears to have generated a step change in the global temperature regime. So despite a weak La Nina dominating during fall of 2016, global temperatures remained in a range of 1.06 to 1.21 C above 1880s averages during August through December.

2017 Still Trending Toward Second Hottest on Record

Moving into 2017, overall global temperatures have backed off from the extreme heat seen during 2016. But only a little.

Adding in the record hot July at 1.05 C above 1880s averages, we find that 2017, so far is 1.16 C hotter than 1880s overall for the first seven months. That’s just 0.05 C shy of the record global heat that appeared in 2016. Not really much of a back-off at all.

July’s own record wasn’t a very impressive warm departure from 2016 — beating it by just 0.01 C. But what it does reveal is that there is an extraordinary amount of heat roaming the surface airs and waters of our world. And since all that extra heat will tend to resist cooling into Northern Hemisphere winter as it transfers poleward, we can probably expect that relative temperature anomalies will again rise as we move away from Northern Hemisphere summer. With departures likely continuing to exceed 1.05 or even 1.1 C above 1880s for most months going forward.

Already, early GFS model runs indicate that August of 2017 will likely be warmer than July. And this month might even come close to challenging the 1.21 C above 1880s averages achieved during 2016. However, using GFS global averages as an indicator is not a perfect oracle. So we wait on the August numbers from GISS and NOAA a month from now for final confirmation.

Furthermore, we do have a relatively weak cool Kelvin wave rippling along beneath the Equatorial Pacific at this time. This wave should shift the ENSO pattern to the cool side of neutral by Northern Hemisphere fall. A pattern that should also tend to nudge overall global temperatures downward. Recent falls in the north, though, have tended to exhibit very extreme polar warming. And a similar trend this year would tend to offset any Pacific Equatorial cooling. Lastly, the cooler ENSO neutral pattern is likely to still be a warmer general forcing than the weak La Nina that appeared during late 2016. So there is at least some potential that some months during fall of 2017 will be warmer than those during fall of 2016.

Considering these trends, the best available predictive analysis from NASA shows that 2017 is likely to be about 1.1 C warmer than 1880s or the second hottest year on record globally overall. NASA’s Gavin Schmidt gives this range a 77 percent likelihood of bearing out. But note the error bar in Gavin Schmidt’s above tweet. In other words, the presently far more unstable climate appears to be quite capable of serving up some relatively nasty surprises.

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA ENSO Forecast and Analysis

Global and Regional Climate Anomalies

Hat tip to Redsky

Hat tip to Joe Romm

Area Burned in Severe Northwest Territory Wildfires Doubles in Just One Day

In just one day, an area of land covering 1,860 square miles of the Northwest Territory has burned. That’s a zone 50 percent larger than the entire state of Rhode Island going up in smoke over just one 24 hour period. And as you can see from the GOES satellite animation below, the volume of smoke being produced by fires burning in a permafrost thaw region is quite extreme:

*****

Over the past week, the Arctic and sub-Arctic Northwest Territories (NWT) of Canada have been baking under an intense late-summer heatwave. At a time when NWT temperatures should be cooling down from July peaks, most days of the past seven have seen the mercury rise into the upper 80s and lower-to-middle 90s (Fahrenheit).

These 10-35 degree (F) above average temperatures sweltered coniferous forests, peat bogs and thawing permafrost. The high temperatures also unleashed Arctic and sub-Arctic thunderstorms. A new breed of weather for this typically cool zone. One that has been enabled by a human-forced warming of our world through fossil fuel burning — causing temperatures in the Arctic to warm twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

(Extreme heat in the range of 95 degrees F [35 C] blankets the Northwest Territories on August 11, 2017 — drying vegetation and promoting wildfire producing lightning strikes. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As lightning strikes rained down over forests and peatlands unprepared for such intense warmth and energy, large fires began to spark. These fires were not yet as visible from the satellite as their, at the time, larger British Columbia brethren (lower left in the image below). But they were in a far northern region that has a recent if rather anomalous history of rapid fire expansion. And already, wispy plumes of smoke were becoming visible even in the wider-angle satellite shots.

Up until August 7th, fires in the Northwest Territory region of Canada had been a bit moderate compared to recent years. In total, about 330,000 hectares had burned throughout 2017. This put the region slightly above the 25 year average for fires, but well behind the more intense rates of burning seen in recent years. As of yesterday (August 14th), this number had climbed to 442,000 acres — exceeding the 15 year average, but still behind the more intense 5 year average.

(Intense Northwest Territory Wildfires begin to spark on August 7th of 2017. These fires are visible near center frame. Note intense fires burning in British Columbia at lower left. For reference, bottom edge of frame is approx 1,200 miles. Image Source: NASA Worldview.)

At this time, however, the satellite imagery was starting to look quite ominous (see image below). Very large and intense rings of fire were starting to expand north of Uranium City. And these fires were casting vast thick and inky plumes of smoke up and over much of Northern Canada. Their visible size and intensity hinted that something pretty extreme was happening on the ground.

As the fires appeared to explode in size, the various wildfire monitors began to check in. In just one day, according to the most recent NWT Current Fire Situation Report, these massive fires more than doubled the total amount of land burned with 924,000 hectares now listed as consumed. This is roughly 3,565 square miles — or about the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. With an area fifty percent larger than the size of Rhode Island (1,860 square miles) being consumed in just one day.

(Very intense wildfires burning on August 14 rapidly expanded to consume a section of territory larger than Rhode Island in just one day. For reference, bottom edge of frame is approx. 1,000 miles. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Meanwhile, land area burned for the Northwest Territory is now above the 5 year average. With these fires burning so intensely, and with hot conditions still on tap for next 48 hours, this already large burn area could continue to rapidly expand.

Much of this burning is occurring along a vast line of wildfires stretching for 200 miles south of Great Slave Lake. In other words, this is a fire line long enough to stretch the distance between Norfolk, Virginia and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. And the very dense smoke plumes being emitted by these amazingly large fires are likely to ultimately encircle the globe.

(Two hundred mile line of fires south of Great Slave Lake has completely blocked out satellite visual of the lake from orbit. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Rainfall and cooler conditions by Friday might tamp down these blazes. But the situation at this time appears to be quite severe. Thankfully, unlike the terrible fires that have consumed hundreds of homes and forced tens of thousands to evacuate in British Columbia this summer or the Fort McMurray Fire of 2016 which forced the emptying of an entire city, these massive Northwest Territory fires are presently burning in remote areas.

However, the rapid expansion, large size and vast smoke plumes of these fires bear a grim testament to the fact that the fire regime has vastly changed for the worse in the Arctic nation of Canada. A situation that will continue to dramatically intensify so long as fossil fuels keep being burned.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Earth Nullschool

NASA Worldview

Canadian Interagency Fire Center Situation Report

NWT Current Fire Situation Report

Hat tip to Shawn Redmond

Hat tip to Spike

Nature — Plants Belched 3 Billion Tons of Carbon into Atmosphere During Monster El Nino of 2014-2016

El Nino. This periodic warming of the Equatorial Pacific has long been known to trigger droughts, wildfires, and higher temperatures throughout the tropics. And, according to a new satellite data based report out of the scientific journal Nature, these very same El Nino feedbacks combined with record global heat to squeeze a massive volume of carbon out of the world’s tropical forests during 2014-2016. From the report:

The monster El Niño weather pattern of 2014–16 caused tropical forests to burp up 3 billion tonnes of carbon, according to a new analysis. That’s equivalent to nearly 20% of the emissions produced during the same period by burning fossil fuels and making cement.

Global Warming + El Nino Sparked Massive Fires, Droughts and Heatwaves in the Tropics During 2014-2016…

The monster El Nino of 2014 to 2016 created serious disruptions to the world’s weather and climate patterns. Emerging during a time when human-forced global warming was rapidly ramping up, this strong natural variability feature generated a severe heat spike in the tropical regions. With the heat near the Equator already at high tide due to human-caused warming, this very strong El Nino produced some of the most severe heatwaves, droughts and wildfires ever experienced during modern times in places like Brazil, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

(Massive Southeast Asia wildfires during a record warm El Nino like these in Borneo during September of 2015 helped to squeeze 3 billion tons of carbon out of tropical forests. A feedback feature related to El Nino and human-caused climate change. Image source: Earth Observatory.)

The Amazon Rainforest, according to a seperate study, experienced record-breaking heat and drought — with the area of drought stretching 20 percent further than during past El Nino years. Temperatures in the Amazon were 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than during the extreme El Nino event of 1997-1998. Both signals that a climate change + El Nino interaction was amplifying the severity of impacts to this crucial tropical forest system.

In Africa and Southeast Asia, the heat was similarly intense — producing numerous 30-100 year or worse droughts, fires, and record high temperatures. Another signal that this harmful interaction was in full swing.

… This, in Turn, Generated a Major Release of Forest-Stored Carbon …

As the droughts and heatwaves were baking deep, and as the forests were stunting, burning, or exhaling more CO2, high overhead, one of Earth’s climate sentinel satellites — the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 — was dutifully taking measurements. And what it found was that all this extra tropical heat resulted in a severe loss of soil and vegetative carbon. That the heat and droughts were sparking forest fires, causing stress, and stunting forest growth. That these processes were dumping prodigious volumes of carbon back into the Earth’s atmosphere.

From the study:

Measurements taken by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite, which measures the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, suggest that El Niño boosted emissions in three ways. A combination of high temperatures and drought increased the number and severity of wildfires in southeast Asia, while drought stunted plant growth in the Amazon rainforest, reducing the amount of carbon it absorbed. And in Africa, a combination of warming temperatures and near-normal rainfall increased the rate at which forests exhaled CO2.

Overall, the Nature study notes that 3 billion tons of carbon were added to the atmosphere as a result of harm done to forests and soils during this particularly hot El Nino period.

… Which Helped to Spike Annual Rates of Atmospheric CO2 Accumulation

(Record rates of atmospheric CO2 accumulation during 2015 and 2016 correspond with large belches of carbon from tropical forests as a result of severe heat. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

Elsewhere, this added burst of carbon did not go unnoticed. And measurements from NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory indicates that rates of atmospheric carbon accumulation sped up as El Nino and global warming based heat baked the tropical lands. During 2015, rates of atmospheric carbon accumulation accelerated to their fastest pace on record — growing at 3.03 parts per million per year. And in 2016, the second fastest rate of atmospheric CO2 accumulation on record was recorded — 2.98 parts per million per year. This compares to an average 2.2 parts per million annual accumulation that’s primarily driven by fossil fuel burning.

So what we have here is evidence that a heat and El Nino based carbon feedback occurred in the tropics during 2014-2016 and that this feedback resulted in a significant spike in the rate of atmospheric CO2 accumulation even as human based carbon emissions were leveling off (at record high ranges). With El Nino fading, that tropical carbon feedback should abate. But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to breathe too easy. For with Earth now in the range of 1 to 1.25 C warmer than preindustrial times, carbon stored in soil, forests, permafrost and oceans is now being placed under increasing heat related stress. And continuing to burn fossil fuels keeps adding to the heat gain that further increases the risk of a warmth-amplifying release from all of these stores.

Links:

Massive El Nino Sent Greenhouse Gas Emissions Soaring

Record Heat and Drought Seen in Amazon During 2015-2016 El Nino

NASA’s Earth Observatory

NOAA ESRL

Hat tip to mlparrish

Hat tip to Spike

Bad Heat Rising: 4 C Global Warming Brings Super Heatwaves Packing 131 Degree (F) “Apparent Temperatures”

On the present emissions pathway, it’s likely that the world will hit 4 degrees Celsius warming by 2100. And this level of warming will be enough to bring on heatwaves so hot that staying outside for even brief periods will be deadly. Such unimaginably severe heatwaves will affect heavily populated regions such as Eastern Europe, the U.S. East Coast, coastal China, India, and South America with biennial frequency.

(Probability that summer heat index values will exceed 40 C [104 F] and 55 C [131 F] under 1.5, 2 and 4 C warming. Note that biennial frequency of 55 C heat indexes over large regions under 4 C warming implies that strong heatwaves would be considerably more severe. Image source: Superheatwaves of 55 C Emerge if Global Warming Continues.)

These were the findings of a ground-breaking new report produced by Europe’s Joint Research Center. The report notes that many of these heatwaves will combine very hot air and high humidity to produce deadly conditions — implying wet bulb readings in the range of 35 degrees Celsius or the threshold for human survivability over densely populated regions. Such high levels of heat would be both crippling and life-threatening — bringing activity in these areas to a grinding halt, spiking cooling based energy demand, and making it impossible to stay in non climate controlled environments for more than very brief periods.

The report predicts that the rising global temperatures, due to fossil fuel burning, will bring about this new brand of super heatwave afflicting many of today’s most populated cities:

However, if temperatures rise to 4°C a severe scenario is on the horizon. Scientists predict that a new super-heatwave will appear with apparent temperature peaking at above 55°C– a level critical for human survival.  It will affect densely populated areas such as USA’s East coast, coastal China, large parts of India and South America. Under this global warming scenario Europe is likely to suffer annual heatwaves with apparent temperature of above 40°C regularly while some regions of Eastern Europe may be hit by heatwaves of above 55°C.

55 degrees Celsius translates to 131 degrees Fahrenheit. Today’s Death Valley summer temperatures typically range between 115 and 120 F. By comparison, the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth, according to Christopher C. Burt from Weather Underground is presently 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit. But under continued fossil fuel regimes, apparent temperatures or heat indexes exceeding those very high values will occur with a very high regularity. That means it will feel like it’s hotter than Death Valley. Hotter than today’s highest ever recorded temperatures.

(Heatwaves like the one dubbed ‘Lucifer’ in Europe this year are just a mild foreshadowing of what’s to come if humans continue burning fossil fuels. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

Such heatwaves would regularly dwarf the impacts of today’s multi-billion dollar disasters like the heatwave dubbed Lucifer that impacted Europe this year. But the study authors note that even their worrying estimates may be conservative.

The report’s press release goes on to state that:

According to the study, the effect of relative humidity on heatwaves’ magnitude and peak might be underestimated in current research. The results of the study support the need for urgent mitigation and adaptation action to address the impacts of heatwaves, and indicate regions where new adaptation measures might be necessary to cope with heat stress.

Links:

Superheatwaves of 55 C Emerge if Global Warming Continues

Tropical Tidbits

India and China Building Solar Like Gangbusters, Electric Revolution Continues as GM Sells EV for $5,300 in China, Tesla Plans 700,000 Model 3s Per Year

If we’re going to halt destructive carbon emissions now hitting the atmosphere, then the world is going to have to swiftly stop burning oil, gas and coal. And the most effective and economic pathway for achieving this removal of harmful present and future atmospheric carbon emissions is a rapid renewable energy build-out to replace fossil fuel energy coupled by increases in energy efficiency.

(To halt and reverse climate change related damages, fossil fuel based greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere need to stop.)

This week, major advances in the present renewable energy build and introduction rate were reported. Chiefly, India and China are rapidly adding new solar panels to their grid, the monthly rate of global EV sales surpassed 100,000 in June, GM is offering a very inexpensive electrical vehicle in China, and Tesla has ramped up plans for Model 3 EV production from 500,000 vehicles per year to 700,000 vehicles per year.

India and China Solar Gangbusters

In the first half of 2017, India is reported to have built 4.8 gigawatts (GW) of new solar energy capacity. This construction has already exceeded all 2016 additions. The country is presently projected to build more than 10 GW of new solar energy capacity by year-end. Large solar additions are essential to India meeting its goal of having 100 GW of solar electrical generation available by 2022. It is also crucial for reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuel fired power plants (coal and gas).

(Total solar capacity in India could hit 30 GW by end 2018. India will need to add solar more rapidly if it is to achieve its goal of 100 GW by 2022. Image source: Clean Technica.)

Further east, China added 24.4 Gigawatts of new solar energy in just the first half of this year. This pushed China’s total solar energy generating capacity to a staggering 101 GW. It also puts China firmly in a position to surpass last year’s strong rate of solar growth of 34 GW. China’s previous goal was to achieve 105 GW of solar production by 2020. One it will hit three and a half years ahead of schedule. China now appears to be on track to overwhelm that goal by achieving between 190 and 230 GW of solar generation by decade’s end.

(China has already overwhelmed its 2020 target for added solar capacity. Recalculating based on present build rates finds that end 2020 solar generation levels are likely to hit between 190 and 230 GW for this global economic powerhouse. Image source: China National Energy Administration.)

Such strong solar growth numbers in traditional coal-burning regions provides some hope that carbon emissions growth rates in these countries will continue to level off or possibly start to fall in the near future. Adding in ambitious wind energy and electrical vehicle build-outs in these regions provides synergy to the larger trend. If an early carbon emissions plateau were to be achieved due to rapid renewable energy build-outs in China and India, it would be very helpful in reducing overall levels of global warming during the 21st Century.

GM’s $5,300 EV for the Chinese Market

Adding to the trend of growing movement toward an energy switch in Asia this week was GM’s introduction of a small, medium-range electrical vehicle for the Chinese auto market. GM is partnering with China’s Baojun to produce the E100. A small EV that’s about the size of the U.S. Smart Car. The E100 has about a 96 mile all-electric range, a 62 mph top speed, and goes for $14,000 dollars before China’s generous EV incentives. After incentives, a person in China can purchase the vehicle for $5,300. GM states that 5,000 buyers registered to purchase the first 200 E100s hitting the market last month, while a second batch of 500 vehicles will be made available soon.

100,000 Electrical Vehicle Sales Per Month by Mid 2017

Globally, electrical vehicle sales have ramped up to 100,000 per month during June of 2017. This growth is being driven primarily by increased sales volumes in China, India, Japan, Australia, Europe and the U.S. as more and more attractive EV models are becoming available and as governments seek to limit the sale of petroleum-burning vehicles in some regions.

(Projected growth rates for EV sales appear likely to surpass present projections through 2020. Image source: Cleantechnica.)

Meanwhile range, recharge rates, acceleration, and other capabilities for these vehicles continue to rapidly improve. This compares to fossil fuel vehicles which have been basically stuck in plateauing performance ranges for decades. 2017 will represent the first year when sales of all EV models globally surpass 1 million per year. With a possible doubling to tripling of EV production through 2020.

Telsa Aiming for 700,000 Per Year Model 3 Sales

2018 will likely see continued growth as new vehicles like the Model 3, the Chevy Bolt, and Toyota Prius Prime provide more competitive and attractive offerings. This past month, the Chevy Bolt logged more than 1,900 vehicles sold in the U.S. in one month. If GM continues to ramp production, marketing, and availability of this high-quality, long range electrical vehicle, the model could easily sell between 3,000 and 5,000 per month to the U.S. market. Another vehicle — the plug in electric hybrid Toyota Prius Prime — is also capable of achieving high sales rates in the range of 5,000 per month or more on the U.S. market due to a combined high quality and low price so long as production for this model also rapidly ramps up.

But the big outlier here is the Tesla Model 3. By end 2017, Tesla is aiming to ramp Model 3 production to 5,000 vehicles per week. It plans to hit more than 40,000 vehicles per month by end of 2018. And, according to Elon Musk’s recent announcement, will ultimately aim to achieve 700,000 Model 3 sales per year. If such a rapid ramp appears, the Model 3 along with other increasingly attractive EVs could hit close to 2 million per year annual combined sales in 2018 and surpass 3 million at some time between 2019 and 2020. This is well ahead of past projections of around 2.2 million EV sales per year by 2020. Representing yet another early opportunity to reduce massive global carbon emissions coming from oil, gas, and coal.

Links:

India Installs 4.8 GW of Solar During First Half of 2017

China’s New 190 GW Solar Guiding Opinion Wows

China Could Reach 230 GW Solar by end 2020

GM Should Bring Baojun E100 EV to USA

EV News for the Month

Joint Venture for Baojun E100

Model 3 Annual Demand Could Surpass 700,000

Fire in the Land of Ice: Massive Wildfires Rage Over Greenland and Siberia

Like never before, regions we typically associate with cold and ice are being over-run by wildfires. It’s a situation brought on by human-caused climate change. For our continued burning of fossil fuels is causing the Arctic to warm twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Under this oppressive influx of heat, the permafrost is thawing. And the fragile plants, frozen lands, and soils dependent on much cooler conditions simply cannot cope. Increasingly, and on greater and greater scales, they are burning.

(Large Greenland fire captured by NASA’s Earth Observatory on August 7th.)

This past week, an outlandish wildfire ignited about 100 miles southwest of Ilulissat near the western coast of Greenland. The fire, visible by satellite, cast a long smoke plume even as it exploded into fierce intensity. The odd blaze subsequently generated a rash of expert chatter among Arctic observers on twitter even as news sources like NPR scrambled for contextual information.

Due to typically very low fire incidence, Greenland lacks a national forest fire information center. However, widespread satellite reports and news based observation provide a pretty clear context for this odd event. According to news reports from NPR, the fire itself is a complex of multiple blazes — the largest of which has expanded to 3,000 acres. It’s a massive forest fire. And it’s exceptionally odd seeing such a blaze light up in typically-frozen Greenland.

(Time lapse of massive Greenland wildfire provided by Meteos.)

The fire ignited as temperatures rose to near 70 degrees (F) across the region. A range that is well above average for this Arctic zone. And brisk, down-sloping winds likely helped to speed the fire’s initial rapid expansion.

Fires do occur at times in Greenland. But they are usually rare and small. This year’s fires, on the other hand, have been exceptional. Preliminary satellite observation indicates that as much as 8 times the typical number of active fires have ignited so far in Greenland during 2017. And there is every indication that this particular fire complex is the largest ever recorded on an island that is mostly blanketed by thousands of feet of ice.

(Analysis of active wildfire pixels in Greenland satellite analysis indicates a substantially increased rate of burning in 2017.)

The fire itself is burning through peatlands — which contain deep, carbon-rich soils. In many regions, thawed permafrost ultimately becomes peat. In addition, peat itself is very sensitive to climate change related warming. For as exceptional heat dries the peat, it becomes a deep, dense fuel for fires. When the fires ultimately come, they can eat far into the peat soils — burning 3 feet or more beneath the ground.

Though not as bad as fossil fuel burning for the climate system, peat fires do provide a troubling amplifying feedback to human-caused climate change if they become widespread and if large permafrost zones thaw into peat and subsequently burn. One researcher noted to the New York Times last year that: “It’s carbon that has accumulated over several thousands of years. If it were to be released, the global CO2 concentration would be much higher.”

(Fires burning near the melting Greenland Ice Sheet are likely in a recently thawed permafrost zone. Permafrost contains a massive carbon store that if released will further exacerbate human-caused warming. Wildfires are one mechanism promoting that release. And as Arctic lands thaw and warm, more large fires are popping up across the Arctic. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Jessica L. McCarty, an Assistant Professor of Geography at Miami University provides further context regarding the massive Greenland fires:

“They are likely occurring in areas of degraded permafrost, which are predicted to have high thaw rates between now and 2050 with some evidence of current melt near Sisimiut. Fires in the High Northern Latitudes release significant CO2, CH4, N20, and black carbon. A fire this close to the Greenland Ice Shelf is likely to deposit additional black carbon on the ice, further speeding up the melt.”

Siberian Wildfires Now Extremely Intense

In many places throughout the Arctic, rapidly warmed and dried peatlands, forests and previously frozen permafrost zones are also burning. In Siberia the inky smoke plumes from massive fires today stretch for nearly 2,000 miles. Numerous fire complexes that dwarf the odd Greenland blaze are plainly visible in the satellite picture.

(The smoke plume in this image would blanket most of Greenland. Massive wildfires belch giant plumes of inky smoke over Siberia and the Arctic Ocean on August 9th. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 1,200 miles. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

The fires come with extreme heat along a high pressure ridge zone stretching from Lake Baikal all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Today, temperatures in this Arctic and near Arctic region are ranging from 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or as much as 35 degrees (F) above average.

With so much Arctic warming and thawing now ongoing, massive fires have become a frequent occurrence during summertime in Siberia recently. And this year, Russia has resorted to cloud seeding in an apparently fruitless attempt to suppress the enormous blazes.

Most of today’s fires are burning in Yakutia — which contains one of the largest global stores of permafrost carbon in the world. During recent years, permafrost has more and more rapidly thawed through this zone — providing a larger and larger store of peat-like fuels for the kinds of fires we are seeing today.

Links:

NASA Worldview

A Massive Wildfire is Now Burning in Greenland

Wildfire in Greenland

Wildfires are Burning in Greenland

Greenland Hit by Largest Wildfire on Record

Making Rain to Extinguish Wildfires

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to Greg

Denying the Storm: Climate Change Report Findings the Trump Administration Doesn’t Want You to Know About

Yesterday, the New York Times published the final draft of a broad-based U.S. climate change report. And given the fact that the Trump Administration, brimming with politically-contrived climate change denial, is still pushing full steam toward a reckless withdraw from the Paris Climate Summit, we’re pretty confident that it’s hot information they don’t want you to get your hands on.

The report carries with it a monumental scientific gravitas. A level of credibility that Trump, even in his wildest fantasies, couldn’t hope to achieve. It includes a culmination of research coming from thousands of peer-reviewed studies resulting in the accumulated work of tens of thousands of scientists. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) served as the lead government agency conducting the report. Representatives from three other federal agencies joined with NOAA along with a team of 54 scientist authors and reviewers drawing from both public and private sector institutional knowledge in compiling the report.

The 673 page report represents a massive body of the latest scientific findings on climate change. It includes numerous key advances in understanding which we will take a shot at briefly highlighting for you here.

Humans Are the Primary Cause of Warming by a Huge Margin

The key finding of the report is that humans are causing the Earth to warm very rapidly. The study noted a 95 to 100 percent likelihood that human activity produced the approximate 0.85 C warming since the mid 20th Century and the 0.7 C warming since 1986. For the U.S., the report finds that recent decades have been warmer than any time within the last 1500 years. Meanwhile, it forecasts that future decades will at least be the warmest experienced in tens of thousands to millions of years.

(Tens of thousands of climate scientists agree — the considerable warming trend we’ve seen since the 1880s has been caused by human emissions. Image source: Climate Report.)

The report goes on to state that there is no convincing line of scientific evidence that provides a cause for this warming other than human emissions. That the increasingly accurate observations of solar and volcanic activity reveal only very minor nudges to the climate system compared to the vast heat-trapping influence of human-emitted greenhouse gasses. Meanwhile, though natural variability influences like El Nino and La Nina have effects on climate over months and years, the global impact of these natural sources greatly diminish over the course of the decades long warming regime that is now well established.

Future Warming is Locked in, But it Can be Dramatically Reduced by Cutting Carbon Emissions

Overall, the future isn’t looking too good. Because of past and current human emissions (coal, oil, and gas burning), the report finds that global climate change is projected to continue throughout this Century and beyond. Rapid cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, according to the study, were needed to have a chance of limiting warming to 2 C this Century. But the study found that even an immediate stabilization at present levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses by ceasing present emissions would result in 0.6 C additional warming compared to recent decades. Longer term, the study points to a necessity that atmospheric CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gasses fall below present levels to meet the goals of preventing 2 C warming over the long term.

Continued emissions result in considerably more warming, according to the study, with temperatures hitting as high as 5 C or more above 1901 to 1960 averages if policies like Trump’s result in renewed increases in fossil fuel burning. What this means is that we can considerably limit the amount of damage caused by human-forced climate change if we rapidly cut emissions in the near term. But if we fail to do that, and Trump is leading us down this more dangerous path by killing the Clean Power Plan and backing out of the Paris Climate Summit, then temperatures will rise into extraordinarily hot and harmful ranges.

The study finds with high confidence that we presently remain on the higher emissions scenario pathways excepting a pause in emissions increases during 2014 and 2015. The study also finds that present rates of greenhouse gas emissions reductions are not yet in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Accord.

Extreme Weather is Becoming More Common and More Attributable to Human Caused Climate Change

Perhaps the most important new takeaway from the report is a developing clearer view of the impact of present warming on severe weather events. The report finds that many temperature and precipitation extremes are becoming more common. That the number of high temperature records over the past twenty years greatly exceeds the number of low temperature records. And that heavy precipitation events have increased in both frequency and intensity. Much evidence has been found for a human-caused influence on soil moisture deficits due to evaporation that leads to more rapid drought intensification. And the incidence of large fires in the Western United States has increased significantly since the 1980s and is expected to increase further.

The study also finds that Northern Hemisphere snow cover and water held in snow has declined. That there has been a decrease in snowstorm frequency along the southern margins of snowy areas. That the Arctic is losing more than 3.5 percent of its sea ice coverage every decade and that September sea ice extent is declining by more than 10 percent per decade. That Arctic land ice losses are also accelerating. It notes a contested scientific linkage between the increased severity of winter storms and a rapid observed warming in the Arctic. The study also identifies changes in tornado frequency and notes a possible linkage between thunderstorm wind intensity, increased convection, hail and climate change. Moreover, the study finds a global intensification of thunderstorms overall as the world has warmed. Tropical cyclone peak intensity is expected to ramp up even as typical cyclone formation regimes are altered.

Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that the study identifies an emerging understanding that human-caused climate change is starting to affect larger natural variability based systems like El Nino, the North Atlantic Oscillation, the North Pacific Oscillation, the Pacific North American Pattern, the Jet Stream, the size of the Tropics, atmospheric circulation patterns, rivers of moisture and storm tracks to varying degrees and with varying degrees of certainty or uncertainty. These systems not only play a major role in present global weather patterns, but our understanding of how they operate is also critical to our ability to predict weather. So climate change based alterations in these larger systems creates higher levels of uncertainty with regards to extreme weather risks.

The key takeaway of all this being that:

Some extremes have already become more frequent, intense, or of longer duration, and many extremes are expected to increase or worsen, presenting substantial challenges for built, agricultural, and natural systems.

Harmful Impacts to Oceans are on the Rise

Oceans, another key aspect of the health of the Earth’s life support system, according to the study, are warming, rising, becoming more acidic, and risk becoming stratified as they lose oxygen.

The study found that the oceans have absorbed 93 percent of the excess heat produced by human greenhouse gas emissions. That this added heat is having a number of serious effects. For one, the rate of sea level rise was found to be faster than at any time in the past 2,800 years. That end Century projections for sea level rise are heavily dependent on future emissions and range from 1 to 8 feet in the study.

The study finds that even present rates of sea level rise have resulted in significant increases in the incidence of coastal flooding. That tidal flooding events has multiplied by 5-10 times the rate observed in the 1960s overall and that the vulnerable Atlantic and Gulf coasts have seen an increase in tidal flooding that is now 25 times times 1960s values due to warming-related sea level rise. As sea level rise accelerates this Century, flooding is expected to considerably worsen — with the most damaging effects happening alongside the highest levels of possible future greenhouse gas emissions. The study also identified potentially compounding effects from possibly worsening Atlantic storms and heavier coastal rainfall events.

Ocean warming and increasing glacial outflows also have a potential to effect ocean overturning circulation in the upper middle latitudes. Of particular interest is the possible disruption of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) this Century. Recent unconfirmed scientific observation has already pointed to some impacts to AMOC due to warming during recent years. But the report notes that it is presently difficult to validate these observations. Disruption to AMOC would have a considerable impact on North Atlantic weather patterns. It would also reduce both ocean carbon and heat uptake due to a more stratified and less well mixed ocean system. The study identifies a weakening of AMOC of between 12 and 54 percent under worst-case greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.

As risks of ocean stratification mount, acidification of the world’s waters is rapidly increasing. Atmospheric carbon dioxide rising above 400 parts per million was found to worsen detrimental effects by increasing ocean acidity levels. The study found that the rate of ocean acidification increase was unparalleled in the past 66 million years at least. That higher rates of fossil fuel burning and greenhouse gas emissions would result in another doubling or more of ocean acidity by the end of this Century.

Heating, stratifying, and more acidic oceans are also steadily losing oxygen. The study finds that the amount of oxygen held in the oceans is falling coincident with warming. The study identifies a declining ocean oxygen content at intermediate depths and major losses in oxygen in inland seas, estuaries, along coasts, and in parts of the open ocean. Lower oxygen means more ocean dead zones and more toxic anaerobic microbial blooms. Overall ocean oxygen content is expected to fall by 3.5 percent under worst case warming and fossil fuel emissions scenarios by 2100.

Serious Risk of Unanticipated Changes

The level of evidence provided by the study that humans are changing the climate and that these changes are increasingly harmful is mountainous. And this base fact alone is reason enough for a climate change denying Trump Administration to try and bury its findings. But it is perhaps the study’s own admitted uncertainty over future risks that reveals how reckless Trump’s combined denial of climate change and doubling down on fossil fuel based emissions has ultimately become.

The study itself is based on physical model and consensus science findings. This lends weight to the evidence it has provided in that it is highly qualified. However, the study responsibly indicates the potential weak points of model based consensus studies. Models are notably less able to duplicate higher paleoclimate levels of warming — indicating an increased likelihood that rates of warming will be more intense than expected and a reduced likelihood that warming will be less intense than expected. The study also cautions that there is another limitation to the ultimate accuracy of model predictions in that models themselves are unable to capture what it calls critical threshold and compound events.

Compound events are described as multiple extreme climate change events occurring at the same time to generate an unanticipated level of harmful disruption. A good example of a compound event is extreme heat risking injury or loss of life, extreme drought harming crops and water supplies in the same region, and both coinciding with a severe or unprecedented wildfire outbreak. Critical threshold events occur when the climate system crosses a tipping point and then radically adjusts to a new climate state. A worrisome critical threshold event is crossing a tipping point in which significant carbon feedbacks from the Earth System occur — locking in more extreme warming and generating periods in which global temperatures more rapidly spike. Both of these kinds of events have the potential to produce consequences that are difficult or impossible to manage. And the chance of such catastrophic events occurring increases along with higher rates of fossil fuel burning and coinciding higher levels of warming.

The precautionary principle alone demands that we do our best to avoid increasing these uncertain risks even as we steer away from the much more certain harms like sea level rise and generally increasing extreme weather. The science has again given us a more clear, more refined, gift in the form of this very valuable provision of foresight. And yet the current U.S. executive leadership is bound and determined to obstinately ignore or it, cast doubt on it, and do everything possible to cloud the clear and priceless message being sent to us by an army of selfless and dedicated climate researchers.

Links:

Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Blunt Climate Report

Climate Science Special Report

Images taken directly from the report

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Wili

Smoke Blankets Western North America, 106 F Temps in Portland, Flash Northern Plains Drought Threatens U.S. Wheat Crop

The climate change related impacts from continued fossil fuel burning just keep on ramping up.

Last Thursday, the mercury struck 106 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland, Oregon. The reading, just one degree shy of the hottest temperature ever recorded for the city, came after the thermometer soared to the 103 F mark on Wednesday. The extreme heat prompted some locals to re-name the typically wet and cool city — ‘Hotlandia’ — even as a broader severe heatwave blanketed most of the U.S. West.

(Smoke covers large portions of the U.S. West following record heat in many locales. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

During the weekend, the heat shifted north and east — thrusting 90+ degree (F) temperatures into British Columbia where severe wildfires have been raging throughout the summer. As a result, fire intensity spiked once again and great plumes of smoke today blanketed hundreds of miles of western sky.

In total, more than 575,000 hectares have burned in British Columbia so far this year. This is about 6 six times the average rate of wildfire burning for a typically wet and cool region. An intensification of the fire regime that came on as temperatures warmed, climates changed, and indigenous plants found themselves thrust into conditions outside those they’re adapted to.

The extreme heat was brought on by the kind of combined Pacific Ocean warming and upper level high pressure ridge amplification that some researchers have linked to human-caused climate change. And the overall impacts of the system have been as outlandish as they are notable.

(Extreme heat blankets the U.S. on Thursday, August 3rd. Image source: The National Weather Service.)

Further east, the high plains have suffered from extraordinarily dry conditions throughout spring and summer. Since April, rainfall totals have been reduced by 50 percent or more. The drying began with the start of growing season and has continued on through early August. After a rapid intensification during recent weeks, 62 percent of North Dakota and 38 percent of Montana are now blanketed by severe drought conditions or worse.

The drought’s center mass is near the Missouri River Basin — a primary water shed for the northern plains states. Since April, these key regions have seen as little as one quarter the usual precipitation amount. This equals the driest growing season ever recorded for some locations. And overall conditions are about as bad as they have been at any time in the past 100 years.

The result has been the emergence of a very intense flash drought. One of a type that has become more common as atmospheric temperatures have increased and as evaporation from waters and soils has intensified. At Lodgepole Montana, the heat and drought were enough to ignite a 422 square mile wildfire. Covering an area 1/3 the size of Rhode Island, the fire is Montana’s largest blaze since 1910. The fire is now, thankfully, 98 percent contained. More worrisome, the massive blaze is now accompanied by 9 smaller sister fires throughout the state. And all before the peak of fire season.

(Flash drought — a new phenomenon brought on by human-forced climate change — emerges in Montana. Image source: The US Drought Monitor and Grist.)

But perhaps the worst of the drought-related damage has impacted the region’s wheat crops. And reports now indicate that fully half of the Northern Plains wheat crop is presently under threat. Overall current damage estimates for the Northern Plains drought alone are spiking above 1 billion dollars and states are now seeking emergency funding from a relief pool that the Trump Administration recently cut.

But regardless of Trump’s views on climate change or his related lack of preparedness, the damages and risks just continue mounting. Montana resident Sarah Swanson recently noted in Grist:

“The damage and the destruction is just unimaginable. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in decades.”

Sadly, with atmospheric carbon levels in the range of 407 ppm CO2 and 492 ppm CO2e, and with fossil fuel burning still continuing, these kinds of devastating droughts, heatwaves, and fires will just keep on getting worse.

Links:

NASA Worldview

The US Drought Monitor

The National Weather Service

The National Interagency Fire Center

Portland Heatwave

Flash Drought Could Devastate Half the U.S. Wheat Harvest

Drought Spreads Across U.S. Plains

Western Heatwave Breaks Records Across Oregon and Washington

Canada’s Interagency Fire Center

George Monbiot Just Attacked a Key Solution to Climate Change — Why?

In 2015, the Electric Power Research Institute partnered with NRDC in producing a report assessing the ability of electrical vehicles to reduce global carbon emissions. Their findings were as profound as they were simple:

Electric vehicles and a clean grid are essential to arresting climate change

(Adding electrical vehicles to the energy and transportation mix considerably reduced global carbon emissions. In addition, the batteries on which the vehicles are based provide essential, low-cost means to store renewable based electricity coming from wind and solar power. Image source: NRDC.)

The findings also represented basic common sense.

The start of major atmospheric increases in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses began with the burning of fossil fuels. Rapid global warming subsequently followed. Human burning of wood, cow-based agriculture, and destruction of forests prior to that time may or may not have marginally increased atmospheric greenhouse gasses and tweaked global temperatures. But the simple truth is that from the end ice age interval about ten thousand years ago until fossil fuel burning began in the 18th Century, the primary gas contributing to global warming — Carbon Dioxide — had remained in a tight range between 265 to 275 parts per million (methane concentrations increased by less than 100 parts per billion, and nitrous oxide levels only increased by about 10 parts per billion).

The big hit obviously came when humans began digging up coal, oil and gas, putting them into machines, and burning these materials en-masse. And today we are adding 10 parts per million of heat trapping carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every 3-5 years. An increase that possibly took all the plowing, burning, domesticating, and breaking of the Earth by humans ten thousand years to achieve by harmful land use activity alone. Meanwhile, methane and nitrous oxide levels since the commencement of fossil fuel burning around 1750 have rapidly risen by 1,200 and 60 parts per billion respectively.

(Levels of heat trapping carbon dioxide remained relatively stable for thousands of years until the commencement of fossil fuel burning by humans. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

And these dangerous carbon emissions in today’s energy, agriculture and manufacturing systems all ultimately come down to one chief source — fossil fuel burning. If there’s a carbon emission from the making of steel, for example, it mostly comes from burning fossil fuels. If there’s a long lasting and harmful carbon emission coming from industrial agriculture, it’s in large part coming from the burning of fossil fuels. And if there’s a carbon emission coming from our use of machines, it’s due entirely to the internal combustion engines within them that burn fossil fuels.

In all of the human system, the vast majority of carbon emissions come from oil, gas, and coal. And all of the most dangerous, old carbon emissions come from this source. In other words, if you want to stop climate change, you have to deal with the real elephant in the room. There is no bargaining. No dissembling. ERPI and NRDC are right. You’ve got to switch your energy sources and your engines if you’re to have any hope of dealing with human-caused climate change. Electric vehicles and a renewable grid are, therefore, essential. They’re our escape hatch. They’re our main path out of future climate change hell.

(It’s clear where the additional heat trapping gases are coming from — old fossil carbon sources. Video source: NASA.)

The big, heavy lift all just boils down to halting fossil fuel burning as soon as possible. This is our best hope, our best means, of removing future carbon from the atmosphere — never burning the fossil fuels at all. Leaving it all in the ground.

New Solutions vs the Old Gridlocked Dialectic 

Notably, there are many conceptual, if difficult to enact, ways that we as human beings could achieve this end. Over the past half century at least, wise environmentalists have been calling for a renewed focus on living simply. On public transport. On re-building close-knit communities fractured by rampant consumerism and marketeering. On using less to do more.

This goal was admirable, helpful. But, for various reasons, it has, so far, largely failed to address the larger climate crisis. This is not to downplay the helpful successes of a number of cities and communities around the world who have provided walkable communities, added bike lanes, advanced public transport, and helpfully re-strengthened local ties. Yet despite these helpful advances, about 80 million fossil fuel powered vehicles are produced each year. So we obviously have to address that larger issue as well.

One reason that this helpful environmental movement has not grown its influence more is due to the noted and powerful strength of the fossil fuel industry in manipulating governments and the public interest. If calls by greens for restraint were loud and compelling, they were often drowned out by fossil fuel advertising dollars and legislation that increasingly leaned toward protecting harmful economic interests. Another reason was that these goals, though noble, did not speak to the present economic reality in which many people lived their daily lives. Technology based on fossil fuels enabled many to do more, make more, raise their families up from poverty — but at a terrible long term external cost that was often invisible to the users.

The resource curse thus became ingrained in many regions outside the political reach of environmentalists as these consumers were captured in a new, generational, economic reality dominated by fossil fuel use. And there was much reason to lament and resist this ultimately harmful reality — even if the message of blaming a consumer that was essentially shackled to fossil fuel use and sometimes ineffectively pushing toward a less and less clear vision of efficiency and simplicity without also providing broader access to alternatives was a proposition destined for failure.

(The price of a solar panel from 1977 to 2013 had dropped from 77 dollars per watt to 74 cents per watt. In 2017, solar panels now regularly sell for between 25 and 35 cents per watt. This provides a significant escape hatch to present fossil fuel burning. Low cost wind and emerging electrical vehicles add to this escape route. Image source: Clean Technica.)

This dialectic itself described a systemic downward spiral from which there appeared to be no escape. But recently, the very technological and economic advantages represented by fossil fuels have begun to seriously erode. The cost of non-fossil-fuel based energy systems — wind and solar primarily — plunged to less than that of traditional coal, oil, and gas. Meanwhile, the desirable machines that burned the devil’s juice of oil, began to trade in their black internal combustion engine hearts for far cleaner electrical engines and batteries. Drive systems that could easily be mated to clean energy and remove fossil fuels from the energy picture entirely.

This new opportunity for clean energy to leverage the same strengths that led fossil fuels to prominence not only threatened fossil fuels. It threatened that old dialectic. And some purists were unable to reconcile the reality of far more benevolent new technologies able to replace fossil fuels with the older ideals and conflicts.

Public Transport and Bikes are Great. But why Attack Electrical Vehicles if They are also Helpful?

And it is for this reason that we can understand, a bit, where George Monbiot is coming from when he appears to falsely equate electrical vehicles with fossil fuel based vehicles. A car-less society has long been a big ideological push for George and other environmentalists. The car itself, his reviled icon of harmful consumerism. And, yes, removing cars would achieve a significant reduction in UK carbon emissions if such a thing were even remotely politically possible. Those driving on grid-locked Great Britain highways can certainly have sympathy for a generally helpful reduction in car use. In adding more widely available electrified, renewable-based public transportation. In making bike transport more widely available.

But ultimately, it appears to this observer that George is counter-productively attacking the wrong object. That George is unintentionally committing more harm than good. In other words, as a practical matter, Great Britain is highly unlikely to be able to achieve the goal of a car-less society any time soon. But if it does, eventually, reduce the number of its ‘iron chariots’ as Monbiot suggests, the electrical vehicle will probably have played its part in helping speed that transition.

(Increased adoption rates of electrical vehicles will reduce oil consumption and at the same time erode the power of industries that have for so long blocked green initiatives like public transportation, ride sharing, and walkable and bikeable cities. Why throw water on a much-needed energy revolution that would be very helpful by providing air in the room for green causes? Image source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance.)

Going back to the old dialectic, we find that the primary political opponents to societies with greatly reduced automobile use per person are both traditional automobile manufacturers and fossil fuel companies that rely on ICE based vehicle transportation to support oil demand. Add electrical vehicles to the mix and you reduce fossil fuel demand, thus eroding one pillar of that political power base.

This, by itself, might not be enough to break the larger environmental log jam. But consider the fact that the primary leaders of the electrical vehicle movement are companies like Telsa and countries like China. Tesla itself is more an energy company than a vehicle company. The company produces energy platforms and renewable energy applications. Batteries, solar, and electrical vehicles are its stock and trade. High quality vehicles that primarily do not rely on the same levels of mass production that traditional, single stream automakers have relied on. China, meanwhile, is mass-producing electrical vehicles in an effort to clean its air. Neither are as shackled to the notion of everyone owning a vehicle as traditional automakers now are. And to this point, Tesla itself has identified ride sharing as a strategic goal to enable people to access road transport without owning a vehicle — thus considerably reducing the number of cars per person and helping to enable Monbiot’s ultimate goals.

The net result in bringing EVs in to compete with ICEs will be not only reduced carbon emissions, but a change in the economic based power dynamic within the UK and in other countries. And the economic interests of disruptive new companies like Tesla will be divergent enough from those of traditional automakers to allow the breaking of the old grid-lock at the political level. In such a new dialectic, the voices of those like Monbiot could be even more poignant and helpful as we pursue a path to greater sustainability — so long as they do not shrilly attack the various forces that are enabling their empowerment to achieve those very ends.

Links:

NRDC

The Keeling Curve

NASA

Clean Technica

Bloomberg New Energy Finance

A Beautiful Machine to Change the World — Model 3 to Transform Global Automobile Markets, Open Pathway For Rapid Energy Transition

“The Tesla Model 3 is here, and it is the most important vehicle of the century. Yes, the hyperbole is necessary.” — Motor Trend

“The arrival of Tesla’s Model 3 signals a new chapter in automotive history, one that erases 100-plus years of the gas engine and replaces it with technology, design, and performance hot enough to make electric vehicles more than aspirational – to make [electric vehicles (EVs)] inspirational.” — Wired.

“[T]here isn’t anybody who’s going to sit in the driver’s seat of this car and not want it. The Model 3 stokes immediate desire, and the lust lingers. That truly changes everything.” — Business Insider.

(The Tesla Model 3 entered low rate initial production in July of 2017. There has likely never been a more anticipated, desired, or better reviewed automobile. Image source: Tesla. )

*****

More than half a million. 

That’s the number of pre-orders Tesla’s Model 3 has racked up since its 2016 product announcement and through its July 2017 launch. And it’s possible that there’s never been a car that’s so anticipated, so desired by the public. People are literally clamoring for this best-in-class, long-range, all-electric vehicle. Elon Musk is getting harassed on twitter by followers anxious to know when their Model 3 will be ready for purchase. And it’s questionable if Elon’s plan to go through ‘mass production hell’ to reach 500K per year annual production rates by end 2018 will ever come close to satiating demand for what is far more than just an amazing automobile (Tesla reports it is still accumulating reservations at a rate of 1,800 per day net, or more than 12,000 per week).

If we were to tap into what drives Model 3 customers, what fuels this particularly virulent brand of Tesla-mania, we’d probably find a dynamic combination of desire, aspiration, and fear. Desire for what is hands-down an absolutely awesome vehicle. Aspiration to contribute to a public good through a meaningful purchase. And a growing fear that we need to move very swiftly away from fossil fuels to confront the rising crisis that is human-caused climate change.

Beautiful Machines

The vehicle itself is just simply extraordinary. For 35,000 dollars you can get a car with a 220 mile all-electric range. For 44,000, the car’s renewable legs lengthen still further to 310 miles. This graceful beast can rocket from 0-60 in less than six seconds. And her interior is wrapped in the kind of bubble cockpit, due to glass roofing, that most fighter pilots would envy. She’s a vehicle that gives a nod to the simplicity of earlier times with her gadget-less dash board. Her liquid exterior a reflection-in-form of the plasma-producing energy of a futuristic, but quietly purring, all-electric drive train.

(Tesla’s beautiful machine launches. Top down view shows iconic glass roof. Image source: Tesla.)

Elon Musk has delivered to us the exact opposite of a clunky automobile made up of all the worst excesses of a stinking smokestack civilization. The Model 3 comes across as a bold and proud creature of air and light. A hopeful machine designed in the pursuit of a better future day, a better way forward.

Changing the World for the Better

And this is what brings us to the heart of the matter. The crux of the reason why hunger for the Model 3 is quite possibly without cure, without limit. People in advanced civilizations these days are tired of being the butt of blame. And they are more than a little worried about what may be coming down the Keystone XL pipeline of climate change. They don’t want to contribute to the great death and harm that is worsening climate disruption with their purchases. They no longer want to be consumers captive to the unforgiving, smog-belching yoke of fossil fuels. They want the vehicular equivalent of the paladin’s white horse. They want to buy into a liberation from an age of pain and heartbreak and endless bad choices with no visible way out. And with each Model 3 purchase — that’s exactly what they are doing.

(Tesla aims for 5,000 vehicle per week Model 3 production ramp by late fall. Image source: Tesla.)

For if Tesla is able to meet this visceral demand for a truly renewable vehicle, if the company is able to ramp up to 20,000 + vehicle per month production rates, it will, by itself, more than double the size of the U.S. Electrical vehicle market in just 1-2 years. The batteries the elegant Model 3 relies on will form a basis for extending the reach of already affordable wind and solar energy (as we are seeing this week in a new wind + battery deal off Massachusetts). And the seismic ground wave produced by the Model 3 will drive a major spike in demand for other, similar electrical vehicles from an expanding array of automakers.

The Model 3 is thus the tip of the spear for speeding an energy transition in the U.S. and in many other countries. And she couldn’t have come at a better time.

New Study Finds that Present CO2 Levels are Capable of Melting Large Portions of East and West Antarctica

If you’re a regular reader of this blog and its comments section, you’re probably more than a little worried about two bits of climate science in particular:

Our understanding of past climates (paleoclimate) and 5-6 C long term climate sensitivity.

And if you’re a frequent returner, you’ve probably figured out by now that the two go hand in glove.

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Looking back to a period of time called the Pliocene climate epoch of 2.6 to 5.3 million years ago, we find that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were somewhat lower than they are at present — ranging from 390 to 400 parts per million. We also find that global temperatures were between 2 to 3 degrees Celsius warmer than 1880s ranges, that glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland were significantly reduced, and that sea levels were about 25 meters (82 feet) higher than they are today.

(The Totten Glacier is one of many Antarctic land ice systems that are under threat of melt due to human-forced warming. A new paleoclimate study has recently found that levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses that are below those presently in our atmosphere caused substantial Antarctic melt 4.23 million years ago. Image source: antarctica.gov.)

Given that atmospheric CO2 levels during 2017 will average around 407 parts per million, given that these levels are above those when sea levels were considerably higher than today, and given that these levels of heat trapping gasses are rapidly rising due to continued fossil fuel burning, both the present level of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere and our understanding of past climates should give us substantial cause for concern.

This past week, even more fuel was thrown onto the fire as a paleoclimate-based model study led by Nick Golledge has found that under 400 parts per million CO2 heat forcing during the Pliocene, substantial portions of Antarctica melted over a rather brief period of decades and centuries.

Notably, the model found that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed in just 100-300 years under the steady 400 ppm CO2 forcing at 4.23 million years ago. In addition, the Wilkes Basin section of Antarctica collapsed within 1-2 thousand years under a similar heat forcing. In total, the study found that Antarctica contributed to 8.6 meters of sea level rise at the time due to the loss of these large formations of land ice.

From the study:

We conclude that the Antarctic ice sheet contributed 8.6 ± 2.8 m to global sea level at this time, under an atmospheric CO2concentration identical to present (400 ppm). Warmer-than-present ocean temperatures led to the collapse of West Antarctica over centuries, whereas higher air temperatures initiated surface melting in parts of East Antarctica that over one to two millennia led to lowering of the ice-sheet surface, flotation of grounded margins in some areas, and retreat of the ice sheet into the Wilkes Subglacial Basin. The results show that regional variations in climate, ice-sheet geometry, and topography produce long-term sea-level contributions that are non-linear with respect to the applied forcings, and which under certain conditions exhibit threshold behaviour associated with behavioural tipping points (emphasis added).

This study began the publication process in 2016 when year-end atmospheric CO2 averages hit around 405 parts per million. By end 2017, those averages will be in the range of 407 parts per million. Even more worrying is the fact that CO2 equivalent forcing from all the various greenhouse gasses that fossil fuel burning and related industrial activity has pumped into the atmosphere (methane, nitrogen oxides, CFCs and others) will, by end 2017 hit around 492 ppm.

As a result, though conditions in Antarctica are presently cooler than during 4.23 million years ago, the considerably higher atmospheric greenhouse gas loading implies that there’s quite a lot more warming in store for both Antarctica and the rest of the world. A warming that, even if atmospheric greenhouse gasses remain at present highly elevated levels and do not continue to rise, could bring about a substantially more significant and rapid melt than during the Pliocene.

Links:

Antarctic Climate and Ice Sheet Configuration During Early Pliocene Interglacial at 4.23 Ma

NOAA ESRL CO2 Trends

NOAA’s Greenhouse Gas Index

East Antarctic Ice Sheet More Vulnerable to Melting than We Thought

Pliocene Climate

antarctica.gov

Hat tip to Spike

Strange Summer Nor’Easter Drops 3 Inches of Rain in 45 Minutes Over Parts of D.C. Area

Climate change related hydrological events. Rain bombs. These are somewhat uncomfortable subjects. But it’s a basic fact that if you warm the Earth, you also crank up rates of evaporation and precipitation. And since we’ve warmed the Earth by about 1.2 C above preindustrial levels by burning fossil fuels and dumping so much carbon into the atmosphere, we’ve loaded the climate dice for producing both more extreme rainfall and more extreme drought events.

In the mid-Atlantic today, a strange summer Nor’easter is dropping multiple inches of rain over parts of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware in very short time periods. In an area just northwest of Silver Spring, M.D.,  an amazing 3.19 inches of rain fell in just 45 minutes.

A resident of Gaithersburg, M.D., I experienced a comparable deluge situation in which my hilltop residence and home office saw a river forming in its back yard. Just about an hour before, my phone was sending me warnings to avoid the valley regions. Considering the flooding we saw in the hills, it’s tough to imagine what the low-lands might have looked like.

(Extreme rainfall creates streams through the hilltop residences of Gaithersburg, MD on July 28 as a strange summer Nor’Easter taps very high atmospheric moisture levels over the region to produce 1-4 inch per hour rainfall rates.)

It’s worth noting that 1 inch per hour rainfall rates are considered to be extreme. But the short-period volumes of rain being produced by this system (1-4 inch per hour rates) are pretty much off the charts. It’s coming from a storm that has been fueled by an upper level trough dipping down over Canada. One that pushed a large frontal system over the Great Lakes region on Wednesday night. This front then moved across the Ohio Valley on Thursday and out over the Atlantic by Friday. Packed with cooler temperatures, the front ran over ocean waters that are ranging between 1 to 4 degrees Celsius above average. The extra ocean heat helped to create a very moisture-rich environment. A coastal low subsequently forming in this very wet column of air began cranking that moisture over the mid-Atlantic even as its associated instability produced some extraordinarily powerful rainstorms.

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map shows a hot blob of ocean water temperatures off the U.S. East Coast in the range of 1-4 C above average. A deep-digging trough has enabled a strong coastal low to form and feed on the amazing amount of moisture bleeding off this warm water to produce an odd summer nor’easter and related extreme rainfall over the U.S. East Coast. A number of the factors enabling the strength of this system are aspects of human-forced climate change. Notably — the deep summer trough and the very warm Atlantic Ocean surface waters. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Meanwhile, the Gulf of Mexico’s warmer than normal waters have throughout the spring and summer produced tropical levels of moisture over southern and central sections of the Eastern U.S. — fueling numerous extreme rainfall events and adding even more punch to this particular event.

Already warm summer waters produce a serious amount of water vapor. But punch up ocean temperatures to the above average ranges we see today and you get even more moisture bleeding out. If an odd, deep, cool summer trough runs through it, then it provides a big kick of atmospheric instability in a region where there’s already an abnormal amount of fuel for storms. Both the ability of troughs to dig deeper over the U.S. East Coast and the added ocean heat and moisture are arguably aspects related to human-caused climate change. So to talk about this particular event without adding that context would not really be looking at the whole weather and climate picture.

(UPDATES TO FOLLOW AS NEEDED)

Links: 

Summer Nor’easter Wallops Mid Atlantic

Earth Nullschool

National Weather Service — DC/Baltimore

Understanding the Jet Stream

Hat tip to Greg

More Fire and Anthrax for the Arctic: Study Finds 21 to 25 Percent of Northern Permafrost Will Thaw at Just 1.5 C of Warming

In the far north, the land is rippling, trembling, subsiding, and blowing up as greenhouse gasses are released from thawing frozen soil. Meanwhile, old diseases are being released from thawing carcasses and presenting a health hazard to locals. Strange processes that are likely to accelerate soon as global warming approaches 1.5 degrees Celsius and between 21 and 25.5 percent of all the vast region of Northern Permafrost thaws out.

(More methane blowholes like this one in Yamal are likely as permafrost thaw accelerates in the coming years and pockets of methane explosively remove the land above. How extensive permafrost thaw becomes is directly dependent on how much fossil fuel human societies decide to burn. Image source: The Siberian Times.)

Arctic Carbon Feedbacks Accelerating

Carbon feedbacks from the thawing permafrost are a serious concern. And they should be. There’s about 1,400 billion tons of carbon locked away in that massive region of frozen ground. More than twice the amount humans have already emitted into the atmosphere. And though frozen permafrost carbon stays locked away, thawed permafrost carbon tends to become biologically active — releasing into soils, the water and the air.

Already, this thawing has generated a worrying effect. During the 20th Century, it was estimated that about 500,000 tons of methane were released from the Siberian land-based permafrost region. By 2003, as this permafrost zone warmed, the annual rate of release was estimated to be 3.8 million tons per year. And by 2013, with still greater warming, the rate of release had grown to 17 million tons per year. This compares to a global emission of methane from all sources — both human and Earth System-based — of about 500 million tons per year.

(Megaslump craters like the one at Batagaika, formed by subsidence, are also a result of permafrost thaw. Such features are likely to grow and proliferate as the Earth warms and permafrost thaw expands.)

That’s a thirty-fold acceleration in the rate of Siberian permafrost methane emission over a little more than one generation. One that occurred as temperatures rose to about 1 C above 1880s averages and into a range not seen for about 150,000 years. It’s a warming that has produced visible and concerning geophysical changes throughout the Arctic permafrost environment. In Siberia, lands are subsiding even as more and more methane and carbon dioxide are leeching out. And in the Yamal region of Arctic Russia, temperatures warming into the upper 80s (30 C+) during summer appear to have set off a rash of methane eruptions from the soil even as ancient reindeer carcasses release anthrax spores into the environment as they thaw. From a report this week in The Guardian:

Long dormant spores of the highly infectious anthrax bacteria frozen in the carcass of an infected reindeer rejuvenated themselves and infected herds of reindeer and eventually local people. More recently, a huge explosion was heard in June in the Yamal Peninsula. Reindeer herders camped nearby saw flames shooting up with pillars of smoke and found a large crater left in the ground. Melting permafrost was again suspected, thawing out dead vegetation and erupting in a blowout of highly flammable methane gas.

21 to 25.5 Percent of Northern Permafrost Set to Thaw over Next Two Decades

In total, 14 methane blow out craters are now identified throughout the Yamal region. A testament to the growing carbon feedback coming from previously frozen and inactive stores.

(Permafrost losses are likely to be quite considerable over the coming decades — which is likely to produce serious knock-on effects for local and global environments. But continued fossil fuel burning through end Century produces more catastrophic results. Image source: Responses and changes in the permafrost and snow water equivalent in the Northern Hemisphere under a scenario of  1.5 C warming.)

But, unfortunately, these kinds of weird, disturbing, and often dangerous changes to northern environments are just a foreshadowing of more to come. For a recent scientific study has found that just 1.5 degrees Celsius worth of warming will force between 21 and 25.5 percent of the northern permafrost to thaw. A process that is already underway, but that will continue to accelerate with each 0.1 degree Celsius of additional warming. The study found that the faster human atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions build up, the more rapidly permafrost would thaw once the 1.5 C threshold was reached. Under a rapid human reduction of greenhouse gasses (RCP 2.6 scenario), permafrost thaw was reduced to 21 percent in the study. But under worst case human fossil fuel emissions (RCP 8.5 scenario), the accelerated rate of warming resulted in 25.5 percent permafrost thaw.

Perhaps more concerning was the fact that the study found that this 1.5 C temperature threshold was reached by as early as 2023 under the worst case fossil fuel burning scenario even as it was held off only to 2027 if rapid fossil fuel burning reductions were achieved. A broader sampling of studies and natural variability hold out some hope that 1.5 C might be pushed back to the early to mid 2030s in the absolute best case. However, considering the amount of human emissions already released and in the pipeline even under the best cases, it appears that crossing the 1.5 C threshold sometime in the near future is unavoidable at this time (barring some unforeseen massive global response and mobilization).

(Permafrost losses under different human emissions scenarios through 2100 show that continued fossil fuel burning results in between 47 and 87 percent loss of permafrost area by 2100 [RCP 4.5 and 8.5]. Image source: Responses and changes in the permafrost and snow water equivalent in the Northern Hemisphere under a scenario of  1.5 C warming.)

Overall, the study found that surface permafrost losses lagged the crossing of the 1.5 C threshold by only about 10 years. And that the lowest emissions scenarios (RCP 2.6) resulted in a leveling off of permafrost losses to 24 percent by 2100. Meanwhile, the worst case human greenhouse gas emissions scenarios (RCP 8.5) resulted in 87 percent permafrost area reductions by 2100.

Risk of Serious Carbon Feedback Far Worse With Fossil Fuel Burning

With so much carbon locked away in permafrost, heightened rates of thaw present a risk that longer term warming might eventually run away as millions and billions of tons of carbon are ultimately liberated. Under moderate to worst case human fossil fuel burning scenarios, it is estimated that permafrost carbon emissions could approach 1 billion tons per year or more. At about 10 percent or more of the present human emission, such a rate of release to the atmosphere is about equivalent to that achieved during the last hyper-thermal event of 55 million years ago (the PETM). Moreover, a heightened response by large methane stores could result in a more immediate warming effect as methane is 28 to 36 times more potent a heat trapping gas than carbon dioxide over Century time scales.

A risk of serious carbon feedbacks that accelerate rates of warming this Century and over the longer term is not inconsiderable even with a 24 percent loss of Permafrost under the best case scenario identified by this study. However, the likelihood of a much more serious feedback under continued fossil fuel burning is far more apparent.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Responses and changes in the permafrost and snow water equivalent in the Northern Hemisphere under a scenario of  1.5 C warming

All Hell Breaks Loose as Tundra Thaws

Permafrost Thaw to Blow Carbon Budget Faster Than We Would Expect

PETM Hyperthermal

Arctic Methane Emissions

RCP Scenarios

Hat tip to Spike

European Heat, Drought, Fires Bite Deep as 1 Million Impacted by Water Rationing in Rome

“This year was not bad, it was catastrophic. I can’t remember a year like this since 1992 when I was a little child,”Joaquin Antonio Pino, a cereal farmer in Sinlabajos, Avila.

“We will see a lot more surprises and fires burning in places that don’t have a fire history. We’ll see more fires and more intense fires in the Mediterranean and new fire situations in countries that don’t really expect it.” — Alexander Held, a senior expert at the European Forest Institute.

“Rome faces eight hours a day without running water after a halt was ordered on pumping water from a nearby lake.” — BBC.

(Europe — sweltering under heat and drought — is blanketed by triple the typical number of wildfires during July of 2017. Image date is July 17. Bottom edge of frame is approximately 2,500 miles. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Water Rationing in Rome

According to reports from BBC, Reuters, and The Guardian, about 1 million residents of Rome are now facing 8 hour periods without water supplies. Across the country, lake levels are at record lows after the driest spring in 60 years followed by a series of severe European heatwaves that recent scientific research indicates was made substantially more likely by human-caused climate change due to fossil fuel burning. Drought-related reductions of water withdrawals from drying lakes are spurring these major curtailments of public water access.

Severe Crop Damage

As Romans face water rationing for the first time in modern memory, across southern Europe, farmers are reeling as olive and wheat crops are severely stressed by both drought and by temperatures that in some places have hit in excess of 40 degrees Celsius (105 F). The cost of Spanish wheat has risen more than 40 percent even as prices for Italian olives have spiked by 50 percent. Cereal crop production in both states have fallen to the lowest level in 20 years. Meanwhile, damage estimates to crops from the widespread heat and drought in Italy alone has risen to between 1 and 2.3 billion dollars.

Warming temperatures spreading northward into Europe from the Sahara as climates warm have generated widespread stress for farmers over recent years. These growers, increasingly sensitive to climate change-based stresses are, more and more often, questioning the viability of farming as a livelihood.  From Reuters:

Some see rising temperatures as a long-term trend, which threatens the viability of farming in the region.

“In this situation … you realize it’s almost impossible to keep going. You think OK, this year I will try to manage, but if the harvest is like this next year you won’t be able to cope any more,” said farmer Tocchi, who is also the local head of farmers’ group Confagricoltura.

Triple the ‘Normal’ Rate of Wildfire Burning

Heat and drought hitting water supplies and crops was also accompanied by a severe spate of wildfires raging across Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, France, Portugal, and Spain during recent weeks. Thousands have been evacuated as tens of thousands of acres burned and armies of firefighters battled blazes across numerous states. Tragically, 64 people were killed by one swiftly-moving Portugal fire during early July.

(Rates of wildfire burning were already heightened as warming intensified through Europe during 2008 through 2016. The 2017 spike, however, is triple even that already elevated level. Image source: EFFIS.)

Overall, the 677 fires igniting across Europe during 2017 is about triple that of an average year for Continent. An increased rate of burning that experts are also blaming on climate change as temperatures increase and fire seasons lengthen. From EuroNews:

Alexander Held, a senior expert at the European Forest Institute, backed Curt’s claim saying fires were starting earlier and burning for longer.

“We will see a lot more surprises and fires burning in places that don’t have a fire history,” Held told Euronews. “Spain burns, yes, but it’s not a surprise. We’ll see more fires and more intense fires in the Mediterranean and new fire situations in countries that don’t really expect it.”

Links:

NASA Worldview

BBC

Reuters

The Guardian

The Atlantic

EuroNews

Hat tip to Plaza Red

 

Global Sea Ice Coverage Has Fallen Off a Cliff — Impacts Likely to Be Wide-Ranging

Frozen water.

It’s an important aspect of our world. One that is essential to maintaining a stable climate and, by extension, the health of modern civilizations. Today, due to a continued warming of the globe, every form of frozen water — be it frozen water locked in glaciers, snow, or sea ice — is under threat. And we are almost daily reminded of new losses coming from these needed collections of cold.

Recently, however, one of these subsets of global ice has taken a very serious blow. For this past year, as ocean and land surfaces warmed to above 1 C warmer than late 19th Century averages, has seen a precipitous fall in the coverage of global sea ice. And we are now in uncharted territory as the Earth’s sea ice extent, area, and volume have fallen to never before seen lows.

(Sea ice area [upper right], extent [upper left], and volume [lower graphs] have all seen very serious declines that have now lasted for a full year. Since reflective sea ice is an important regulator of global and regional climates, the impacts of such a considerable loss is likely to be both long-term and wide-ranging. Image source: Global Sea Ice.)

Total sea ice area and extent have now ranged between 2 and 3 million square kilometers below the 38 year average for about a year now. That’s a region of sea ice larger than Greenland which has been removed from the face of the Earth now for the better part of four seasons. Global sea ice volume losses are now in the range of 12,000 cubic kilometers — each cubic kilometer roughly equal to a moderate-sized mountain. These are very considerable losses. But perhaps more ominous than the losses themselves is the fact that they seem to be sticking around — locking in a permanent warming-related-change to the Earth System, its weather and environment.

To be clear, there are some things that sea ice loss does not directly impact. And the first of which is sea level rise. Because sea ice already floats on the surface of the ocean and because it already displaces water, melting sea ice does little to change the level of the ocean surface directly.

(A very informative video describing ice albedo feedback. We do not, however, support some of the video’s sponsors who, unfortunately, appear to be ubiquitous.)

That said, there are many things that sea ice loss does affect. And the first is global temperature balance. Sea ice serves as both a reflective shield that throws back the sun’s heat during summer and as an insulator that locks warmer ocean waters below during winter. Remove a significant portion of the global sea ice, as we have done, and you’ll end up with oceans that both draw in more heat during the warmer months and bleed out more stored ocean heat into the atmosphere during the winter.

Such heat will be both stored and delivered exactly where it can do the most harm — in the polar regions. And, as a result, recently ice-liberated oceans will warm more rapidly in areas that are directly adjacent or close to the very large glaciers covering Greenland and Antarctica. As such, though melting sea ice has no direct, immediate impact on sea level rise, it can create an added pressure for the loss of land-bound and sea-fronting glaciers that will raise ocean levels if they melt.

(Arctic sea ice loss feedbacks produce complex and far-reaching impacts to the entire Arctic system. Image source: National Science Foundation.)

Arctic regions also face considerable added heat pressure to permafrost, boreal forests, and other carbon stores as a result of Arctic Ocean albedo feedbacks due to sea ice loss. In addition, warm pools of ocean water in the far north will aid in further destabilizing already-altered weather patterns. So sea ice loss is likely to continue to result in a worsening of the Jet Stream excursions that have already contributed to extreme weather — particularly in the Northern Hemisphere.

But perhaps the most concerning impact of sea ice loss is an alteration to seasonal temperature exchange. More heat absorbed by oceans during summer and then ventilated back to the atmosphere during fall and winter will tend to result in a lag in global cooling into the fall season even as winter will tend to warm.

(A roll-back of sea ice results in much warmer temperatures over nearby permafrost zones. This week, 81.5 F [27.5 C] temperatures are predicted for parts of the Yamal Peninsula — a region that has recently drawn attention for its newly discovered methane blow-holes. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Such a lag enhanced by sea ice loss is arguably already in play in the Northern Hemisphere — where increasing rates of heat exchange between the tropics and middle latitudes and the pole have already been observed. However, if Southern Hemisphere sea ice remains reduced, a similar heat exchange and polar amplification pattern is likely to begin setting up there as well.

The upshot is that the observed considerable loss of global sea ice coverage is likely to produce harmful or disruptive feedbacks in the Earth’s climate system in the near term. Stresses to the other frozen systems of the world will tend to increase as a result. Extreme weather events are at risk of worsening. Rates of polar warming could escalate. And disruptions to traditional seasonality will tend to become more apparent.

June of 2017 Was Third Hottest on Record for Globe

According to NOAA, June of 2017 was the third hottest such month in the global climate record since temperature tracking began in 1880. For NASA, June was also the third hottest on record with June of 2016 settling in at 1st hottest, and 2015 and 1998 tied as second hottest. Overall, global temperatures were about 0.91 degrees Celsius warmer than late 19th Century averages in the NASA record and about 1.02 degrees Celsius warmer than the same time period in the NOAA record.

(NASA’s land-ocean temperature graphic showed most of the world blanketed in much warmer than normal conditions. Image source: NASA.)

Around the globe, various climate extremes were quite visible as a result of such considerable warmth. Arctic sea ice extent was 6th lowest on record according to NSIDC while Arctic sea ice volume was the lowest ever recorded according to PIOMAS. NSIDC also found that Antarctic sea ice extent was the second lowest on record. Combined, global sea ice area was the lowest ever recorded.

Weather disasters included severe hydrological events likely influenced by increasing atmospheric water vapor content and evaporation rates due to climate change. These comprised Bangladesh’s devastating June floods and a still ongoing African drought spurring worsening hunger and increasing instances of mass migration. Meanwhile, seven maximum temperature records were broken with the highest temperature ever recorded in Asia during June occurring at Ahwaz in Iran on June 29 and an all-time national June heat record set in the United Arab Emirates on June 16th. Notably, no new all-time cold temperature records were set across the globe during June.

If present trends continue, 2017 is now on track to be the second hottest year in the global climate record. This despite a noted lack of El Nino in the Pacific following a very weak La Nina during late 2016 and running into early 2017. Though not as warm as 2016, it appears that 2017 will range about 1.1 C above late 19th Century values in the NASA record (according to analysis by Gavin Schmidt) along the current path.

This is a very warm range that is likely to keep pushing the climate system into gradually more extreme conditions. Atmospheric CO2, which is rapidly rising due to rampant fossil fuel burning, is likely to average around 407 ppm in 2017. As a result, global atmospheric heat forcing is on the rise with the trend likely to continue upward pending a major reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Meteorologists, climate scientists, risk experts and climate journalists should therefore remain on heightened alert for dangerous trends related to global climate change.

(UPDATED)

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA’s Center For Environmental Information

NSIDC

The Polar Science Center

Category 6

Echoes of Fort McMurray — Massive Wildfire Forces the Emptying of Another Canadian City

A little more than a year after a massive wildfire forced the full evacuation of Fort McMurray in Alberta, another set of extreme wildfires in British Columbia is again forcing major population centers to empty. In the region of Williams Lake and Cariboo City, 17,400 people have been forced to flee as a wildfire is threatening the major highway exiting the area. As the fire expands, another 27,000 in the broader province may also be asked to leave. This mass evacuation has been enough to empty large urban centers — turning them into ghost towns as fires rage through the surrounding countryside.

On Saturday, 40 mph winds, hot temperatures in the 90s (F), and lightning strikes fanned flames in the region — considerably worsening the fire situation and spurring more comprehensive evacuation orders. Heavy rains earlier in the year caused rapid vegetation growth. But as much warmer than normal temperatures accompanied by dry, windy conditions entered the region in June and July, the new growth has turned into tinder — adding a serious fire hazard.

(Scores of very large wildfires rage across British Columbia on July 15 — casting smoke plumes that now stretch across most of Canada. For reference, bottom edge of this image frame covers roughly 550 miles. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Presently, 160 wildfires are now burning across British Columbia. This number is down from more than 200 fires earlier in the week. However, many of the larger fires have grown in size. The result is that the province is still under a very severe alert level 4 with a mass mobilization of firefighting resources underway. On July 15, the fires were clearly visible in NASA satellite imagery (see above).

Precipitation extremes and increasingly warm temperatures are a hallmark signal of human caused climate change resulting from continued fossil fuel burning. And it is these kinds of conditions that have dominated British Columbia over recent months. Both the strong swing from wet to dry conditions accompanied by much warmer than normal summer temperatures is climate change related and has likely served to increase the fire danger throughout British Columbia this year.

Links:

Winds Fan Flames in Fire-Stricken British Columbia

Entire City of Williams Lake Evacuated as Fire Threatens Last Highway Out

NASA Worldview

Canadian Interagency Fire Center

Massive Wildfires Burn From California to the Arctic Ocean as Temperature Records Shatter

Record heavy precipitation and cooler conditions across Western North America earlier this year have again given way to record warmth as a strong high pressure ridge and associated extreme Pacific and Arctic Ocean surface temperatures have ushered in blazing heat and multiplying wildfires.

In California, massive wildfires have forced nearly 5,000 people to evacuate. In British Columbia, 14,000 have fled as more than 1,000 firefighters battle numerous large blazes. And along coastal Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territory, large wildfires are burning near the shores of an, until recently frozen, Arctic Ocean.

(Large wildfires spill plumes of smoke over major sections of North America on July 11, 2017. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

In the U.S., the Whittier fire, which forced mandatory evacuations in southern California, is now 48 percent contained after having burned 12,000 acres. In the north of the state, near Oroville, the Alamo fire is 65 percent contained at 28,000 acres and evacuation orders have been lifted.

As large fires continue to burn across the west, the U.S. Interagency Fire Center now has a stated national preparedness level of 4 out of 5 — or the second highest alert rating. So far 2017 has seen 3,593,000 acres burned in the U.S. — which is above the 10 year average. An average that has already been pushed higher due to human-forced warming and an overall lengthening of the fire season.

Further north, British Columbia is suffering a rash of severe fires as extreme heat and high winds are blasting away at vegetation that vigorously regrew when drought conditions retreated earlier this year. Now, 215 active fires are reported as the province mobilizes national military forces and considers making calls for international aid. Presently, 21 large fires are causing considerable havoc throughout BC. Fire officials remain on heightened alert as strong winds, heat, and lightning threaten to make a bad fire situation even worse over the coming days.

Still further north and extending all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean, satellite photographs provided by NASA show large wildfires burning through typically frozen regions of Canada’s Northwest Territory and in northern Alaska. Many of these fires are quite vigorous — producing large smoke plumes that have blanked much of the region.

(Fires burning near the Arctic Ocean on July 10, 2017. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 280 miles. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Such widespread burning over such a large region of North America — extending from California to the Arctic Ocean — has been spurred primarily by record heat building beneath a massive high pressure ridge. In the far North, temperatures approached 90 degrees Fahrenheit just south of the Mackenzie Delta near the Arctic Ocean earlier this week. Over typically cool British Columbia, temperatures have consistently ranged in the 80s and 90s and are expected to continue to hit near the 90 degree mark this week. And in the U.S. Southwest, numerous temperature records were broken over recent days as readings rocketed into the 100s and 110s.

Both the heat and these massive fires have likely been made worse by human caused climate change. Overall, global temperatures have recently hit around 1.2 C above 1880s averages. As a result, over 80 percent of the globe, heatwaves are both more severe and more likely to occur. Meanwhile, due to climate change related factors, the western wildfire season in the U.S. is now 105 days longer than it was in 1970 — just 47 years ago. Arctic sea ice retreat in recent years has likely accompanied further warming of the far northern land masses which have also seen increasingly severe wildfires over permafrost zones.

Links:

Wildfires in Canada, California Force Thousands to Evacuate

BC Wildfire Status — All Eyes on the Weather

Canadian Interagency Fire Center

National Interagency Fire Center

NASA Worldview

Earth Nullschool

Climate Change is Tipping Scales Toward More Wildfires

Unprecedented Climate Extremes

Unprecedented Wildfires Over Canada and Siberia

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