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Did a January Hurricane Just Set off a Massive Greenland Melt Event in Winter?

This freakish Winter there’s something odd and ominous afoot.

We’ve seen unprecedented above-freezing temperatures at the North Pole coincident with record low daily sea ice extents. We’ve seen global temperatures hitting new, very extreme record highs. We’ve seen climate change related storms raging across the globe — flooding both the UK and the Central US, firing off record hurricanes during January in both the Pacific and the Atlantic — even as other regions swelter under record heat and drought.

Now, it appears that Greenland is also experiencing an unprecedented melt during wintertime.

image

(The remnants of hurricane Alex being pulled into a storm system just south of Greenland on Friday January 15, 2016. An event that then flooded both Baffin Bay and Western Greenland with warm, tropical air. At the same time, Greenland observers both noted what appears to be ice mass losses over Western Greenland as well as a possible large melt water outflow issuing from the Disko Bay area. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Greenland Melt During Winter

Greenland — the last bastion of major continental glacial ice in the Northern Hemisphere. An island archipelago dwarfed by great mountains of frozen water towering as high as two miles. Though the Arctic sea ice provides quite extensive coverage — in the range of millions of square miles — the great Greenland Ice Sheet contains the majority of the remaining frozen fresh water in the Northern Hemisphere. And though the extreme ongoing sea ice melt does not contribute to sea level rise, Greenland melt is another matter entirely. In total, if all of the Greenland Ice Sheet flooded into the world ocean, it would raise global sea levels by an average of 23 feet. Enough to inundate pretty much every coastal city in the world.

And Greenland is melting, pushing those sea levels higher. Contributing hundreds of cubic kilometers of melt water into the world ocean system every year since at least the middle of the first decade of the 21st Century. Creating an ominous ocean heat-conveyer that spreads fresh, cool water out at the surface even as it pulls deep, warmer water directly in toward the many glaciers whose towering faces plunge into the ocean itself.

During recent years, most of Greenland’s melt has occurred during the hot season of summer even as the ice sheet underwent re-freeze and a pseudo-recovery during Winter. Sure, net mass loss was in the range of hundreds of billions of tons each year. But we still had consistent and uninterrupted mass gain during Winter.

Unfortunately, with human-forced warming there was always a danger that, during Wintertime, we’d see an increase in melt pressure as well. At issue is the way in which greenhouse gasses fundamentally warm the atmosphere and oceans. Possessing the ability to re-radiate solar energy, greenhouse gasses have a greater impact on temperatures during times of darkness and during Winter. In other words, we’d expect nighttime temperatures to warm faster than daytime temperatures and we’d expect wintertime temperatures to warm faster than summertime temperatures. Perhaps more ominously, the oceans are very efficient holders of heat and are less impacted by seasonal variance than the lands. In other words, if the world’s oceans warm, they re-radiate much more heat back to the atmosphere and ice sheet during Winter than they do during Summer.

This kind of greenhouse gas warming is an assault on the winter season itself. It’s something we’ve seen in the frequent extreme polar warming episodes during recent years. One that this year generated a very odd and ominous period of above-freezing temperatures at the North Pole. But if there’s something even more odd than temperatures at the North Pole hitting above freezing during Winter, it’s an incident of substantial melt occurring over the Greenland ice sheets during what should be the coldest, darkest season.

January Hurricane Blows a Tropical Wind into the Arctic

Over the past few days, just such a major heat-up has been underway across a large section of Western Greenland. Warm winds flowing off the North Atlantic — driven by hurricane Alex’s merging with powerful lows south of Greenland — have roared up over the southern coastal ranges. Meanwhile, warm, tropical air has infiltrated northward over Baffin Bay. The net result is temperatures approaching 20-40 degrees Fahrenheit above average (16 to 22 C above average) over a broad region of Western Greenland.

Greenland Warm UpGreenland warm up temperature

(By Sunday, 15-36 F above average temperatures had come to dominate much of southern and western Greenland. This translated to near or above freezing temperatures over sections of the Jacobshavn Glacier. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Over the past few days, as indicated in this recent post by Jason Box, the region near Disko and Uummannaq Bays — both in Baffin Bay and along the coastal ranges — has felt the full force of this substantial warm-up. By today, a large section of the coastal offshore waters and a wedge of glacier-covered Western Greenland all experienced near or above-freezing temperatures. A very rare event for Greenland and Baffin Bay during wintertime and one that appears to have coincided with a possible large glacial melt water outflow from the Jackobshavn Glacier.

Spot temperature readings along the southern reaches of the Jacobshavn Glacier hit 1 C or 34 F today according to GFS measures. Meanwhile near freezing temperatures have dominated Niaqornat on Uummannaq Bay (forecast to hit 32 F on Tuesday). Ilulissat on Disko Bay is showing 36 F temperatures at 12:00 AM Monday and is forecast to hit 41 F on Tuesday, even as Nuuk (about 200 miles south of Ilulissat) is showing 40 F temperatures at 12:00 AM Monday. These are all extremely warm readings for Greenland during Winter.

Greenland Glacial Melt During Winter

Disko and Uummannaq Bays are notable in that they are the outflow zone of the Jackobshavn Glacier — one of the swiftest-melting glaciers on Greenland. Over recent years, it has been one of the primary hot-spots for summer Greenland ice mass loss. But during recent days, mass loss also appears to have occurred in this area.

Western Greenland Melting in January

(Western Greenland has shown surface mass losses during recent days as in this January 17 mass balance data provided by DMI.)

Dr Jason Box notes that surface mass balance totals have consistently shown up as negative over the past week in the DMI measure. A record that continued today. Though Dr. Box states that such a negative mass balance could simply be chalked up to wintertime sublimation, the consistent losses showing up in the monitor over the past seven days have coincided temperatures in a melt-inducing range.

In addition, Dr Box also indicates a disturbing flushing of ice away from both Disko and Uummannaq Bays occurring on January 16th. In the satellite shot, both sea ice and ice burgs are moved en-mass from the bays and on out into the waters of Baffin.

Large Melt Water Pulse From Jacobshavn?

Offshore winds could be the cause. But, again, the ice movement coincides with indications of mass loss over Greenland’s Western glaciers as well as a period of much warmer than normal, above-freezing temperatures.

Large meltwater pulse from Jacobshavn

(Did a huge melt water pulse issue from the Jacobshavn Glacier on January 16, 2016? Dr Jason Box appears to be concerned that it has. Image source: Dr. Jason Box.)

Perhaps more ominously, this widespread clearing of ice from these Arctic bays occurs in concert with what appears to be a large ice-calving event along the ocean-facing front of the Jacobshavn Glacier. In the above graphic by Dr. Jason Box (see more here), we see a large retreat of the glacier together with what looks like a major sediment outflow. Sediment hitting water in this way would be a sign that a very large volume of water had been expelled along the basal zones of the Jacobshavn. In addition, the ice itself appears to have been forcibly ejected. This apparent sediment flush, the concave bowing of sea ice away from Disko and Uummannaq and the inland recession of the calving face are all indicators that something terrible is afoot in Western Greenland.

A large flush of melt water coming from Greenland during Winter would, indeed, be that terrible thing. Something that now may become a more and more common feature of our age as Winter continues its ongoing retreat against a relentless assault by human greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Links:

What is Up in Disko-Uummannaq Bay, Greenland January 9-16

Mauri Pelto @ Realglacier

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

DMI

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

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Climate Change Ratcheting Up: El Nino Strengthens in Equatorial Pacific Increasing Likelihood for Record Warm 2015

A powerful Kelvin Wave continued to ripple through the near-surface waters of the Equatorial Pacific this week — heightening sea surface temperatures, strengthening an ongoing El Nino, and pushing a wave of oceanic heat back into a human-warmed atmosphere that is hotter now than at any time in modern human reckoning.

High temperature anomalies in the Kelvin Wave plug have spread out across the ocean surface. Readings in the range of +1 to +2 C above average stretch along surface waters all the way from the Date Line through 120 West Longitude. East of the 120 line, surface waters have now hit readings of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius above average. And lurking just below the surface along thousands of miles of ocean is a dense zone of 5-6 degree above average water. A zone of extreme heat at the heart of the current intense Kelvin Wave:

NOAA Kelvin Wave April 23

(A strong Kelvin Wave shuts down atmospheric heat transfer into the Equatorial Pacific setting up conditions for an extended El Nino and possible new record heat for 2015. Image Source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

Heat that could well make 2015 yet another worsening of the human warming and extreme weather twilight zone we now find ourselves in.

Pushing into Moderate El Nino Range

According to NOAA’s weekly El Nino report, sea surface temperatures in the critical Nino 3.4 region hit a range of 1 degree C above average last week. A jump from the previous week’s measure of +0.7 C and a new push toward moderately strong El Nino levels off the back of the current warm Kelvin Wave. Atmospheric teleconnections that are signatures of a moderate El Nino also began to emerge over past weeks — with a strengthening of the subtropical Jet and related storm track setting off powerful tornadoes, thunderstorms and heavy rain events in states bordering the Gulf of Mexico over the past ten days.

Heat content from the current Kelvin Wave is enough to continue to keep Equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures in present ranges or to push for further warming over at least the next 1-2 months. A set of factors that will almost certainly lock near moderate El Nino conditions in through Summer and general El Nino conditions through early Autumn. The result is that the extra heat bleed off the Pacific Ocean will combine with the impressive human forcing to generate a high risk that 2015 atmospheric temperatures will beat out all-time record highs set in 2014.

Model Runs Still Showing Potential for Super El Nino

Nino 3.4 Monthly Anomalies

(Unweighted model ensemble runs show the current El Nino peaking out at extreme intensity. Long range model runs can be quite uncertain, but these are very high values. Image source: NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies.)

NOAA model runs also show a potential for El Nino strengthening through the end of 2015. Probability weighted CFS model ensembles (PDF) point toward a seasonal anomaly for Nino 3.4 in the range of 1998 Super El Nino values at 2.1 degrees Celsius above average by the end of 2015. Mean model runs (non-weighted) push the long range forecast heat values even higher at 2.6 C above seasonal averages or 2.75 C above monthly averages.

These unweighted long range forecasts are well outside the strength of even the monster event of nearly two decades ago. A new super El Nino that would have very serious consequences for global temperatures and result in far-reaching climate impacts should it emerge. Atmospheric temperatures that are now in the range of +0.7 C above 20th Century averages and +0.9 C above 1880s values could well push into a new range at +0.8 C and +1 C, or higher, respectively.

Super El Nino Late 2015

(Long range models show Equatorial Pacific has potential to hit near Super El Nino status by late 2015. At this time, such model runs are low certainty. Image source: NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies.)

Cranking up the Human Hothouse

Entering the range of 1-2 C above 1880s values is a zone of heat anomaly that will amplify already apparent ice sheet melt, sea level rise, droughts, wildfires, water stress, and ocean health impacts. At temperatures around +1.5 C we begin to enter a period of strong glacial outflows, weather instability, geophysical changes, and record related storm events in a ‘Storms of My Grandchildren‘ type scenario. At +2 C these very dangerous impacts will likely be in full swing.

It is worth noting that it took 10,000 years to warm the world 4 degrees Celsius at the end of the last ice age. Under current human fossil fuel burning scenarios, it is likely that we reach half that threshold in just 150 to 170 years — from 1880 to 2030-2050. A rapid reduction in fossil fuel emissions along a progression to a net carbon negative human society over the next few decades is absolutely necessary to prevent these outcomes. And while model forecasts indicating the potential for a Super El Nino type event for late 2015 may be somewhat uncertain, there is a much higher certainty that very dangerous climate impacts starting at the current level of human warming will ramp up here on out — with the 1.5 C threshold looking very bad and the 2.0 C threshold looking terrible.

As such, we should do all we can to prevent hitting those marks.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies

The Storms of My Grandchildren

Far Worse than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick

Dangerously Beyond 350: CO2 to Remain Above 400 PPM For Most of 2015

For 2015, CO2 levels will remain above the dangerous 400 parts per million level for almost 2/3 of the year. A perilous new record for a human-warmed world.

The last time global CO2 levels averaged above 400 parts per million was more than 3 million years ago during the Pliocene. A period that was just beginning to see the dawn of humankind (Australopithecus emerged about 2.5 million years ago). It was a world of 25-75 foot higher seas. A world where much of Greenland and West Antarctica was ice free. A world that took hundreds of thousands of years to settle into its climate patterns.

2014 Begins at 400 ppm +

(A bad start of 2015 — CO2 levels on January 1st exceeded 400 PPM. Most of the year will see levels in excess of this dangerously high atmospheric value. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

But the current human tool-using species that is now warming the Earth so drastically would have to wait for about 2.8 million more years and for far cooler climes to develop. And that species would set conditions for a rapid shift to climate states not seen for 3 million years in just decades through a hellish pace of fossil fuel burning.  For in just one century we’ve propelled ourselves back to that deep time. Back to a world climate state that is entirely alien to what we, and so many other animals, are accustomed to.

For this year, human fossil fuel emissions will push 2015 to reach or exceed those 400 ppm levels for around 7-8 months running. By 2016, it’s possible that 300 part per million levels — the ones that dominated our environment for most of the 20th Century — will be little more than a melancholy memory as humans face off against a series of increasingly dangerous  geophysical changes.

All set off by the inexorable burning of fossil fuels. A malpractice that simply must stop.

An All Too Steep Ramp-up Toward The Hothouse

Current human fossil fuel burning coupled with a few, still somewhat contained, environmental carbon feedbacks are enough to push an annual atmospheric CO2 increase of 2.2 parts per million each year. It’s a pace of initial greenhouse gas heat forcing never before seen in all of Earth’s geological past — even during the greatest global hothouse extinction events. The fruits of dumping 36 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each and every year.

petm_vs_modern_emissions

(Rate of carbon emission at more than 30 billion tons of CO2 each year vs the PETM [Note that WeatherUnderground has erroneously labeled CO2 as Carbon in the graph]– which was the most recent hothouse extinction 55 million years ago. It’s enough to push an atmospheric temperature rise on the scale of a mass extinction over the course of decades rather than millenia. It’s also worth noting that with CO2 emissions at 36 gigatons in 2013 [vs the above graph results from 2010] and CO2e emissions just shy of 50 gigatons this trajectory is even steeper than the graph depicts. Image source: WeatherUnderground.)

As a result, if current rates of burning continue or increase, we will see 450 parts per million levels well exceeded within about two decades. And that threshold will undeniably lock in at least 2 C worth of warming together with a growing carbon feedback from the Earth System itself.

484 PPM CO2e For 2015

But this drastic pace of atmospheric greenhouse gas additions doesn’t tell the whole story. For if you add up all the other gasses humans have dumped into the atmosphere, all the methane and HCFs, all the industrial chemicals, you end up with a CO2 equivalent number (CO2e) far greater than the present CO2 measure. And that CO2e measure is set to hit 484 parts per million this year (With a nearly 50 gigaton annual increase in CO2e gasses each year). A level that, if it correlates with past climates, will push warming by 1.9 C this century and 3.8 C after the entire Earth System responds. A level not seen in at least 13 million years.

A rather terrible situation to say the least. For at these levels, even the great ice sheets of Antarctica proper were much reduced and sea levels were 85-120 feet higher than they are today. And continuing to burn begs the very worst hothouse extinction consequences that come from wrecking the world’s oceans.

Very Hard Work to Get Back to 350 PPM

Near the end of the first decade of the 21st Century Dr. James Hansen, former head of GISS at NASA advised the world community that the likely safe level of global CO2 was below 350 parts per million. This assertion flew in the face of some in the international community who were pushing for an established ‘safe’ level of 450 parts per million and below. A level, of course, which would allow for the burning of quite a bit more of the world’s fossil fuel reserves.

But Hansen wouldn’t compromise. He felt it would be a betrayal to future generations. To his grandchildren. To all our grandchildren. So he set the safe limit at 350 parts per million with the caveat that we may need to reduce it further.

In 2008, during the year Hansen set the 350 parts per million level, CO2 levels peaked at around 386 parts per million. For 2015, just 7 years later, levels will peak at around 404 parts per million. A rampant increase directly in the wrong direction.

In order for rates of CO2 increase to begin to taper off, the world simply must stop burning so much in the way of fossil fuels. And even a full cessation of fossil fuel use would still result in some emissions unless both farming and construction were altered to reduce carbon emissions. Beyond this, atmospheric carbon capture through various methods to include fixing carbon capture and storage facilities to biomass generation and other land use and chemical based techniques are the most likely to be effective.

Such a transition and change is as difficult as it is necessary. For the world as we know it simply cannot continue along its current path. Hansen was right and we should have listened 7 years ago. We should have listened in 1988 at his first major climate hearing. But we didn’t. And so valuable time was wasted.

Let’s not make the same mistake in 2015.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

2015 Begins With CO2 Above the 400 PPM Mark

WeatherUnderground

2013 CO2 Emissions Will Set Record High

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell: Living in a World at 480 PPM CO2e

Scientific Hat Tip to Dr. James Hansen and Dr. Ralph Keeling

Reservoir at 5 Percent Capacity: Climate Change to Leave Sao Paulo’s 20 Million Without Water By November?

Suffering from its worst drought in over 84 years, the city of Sao Paulo is in the midst of a crisis. For as of this weekend the city’s primary reservoir — the Cantareira — had dropped to just 5 percent capacity putting millions at risk of losing access to water.

The fall prompted the city’s governor — Geraldo Alckmin — to again ask for permission to draw emergency water supplies from below flood gates to alleviate catastrophic losses from the Cantareira and ensure water supplies to the region’s 20 million residents. The move would tap a river system that feeds two other states also facing water shortages — Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.  But the draw is only a temporary stop gap and, without rain, the Cantareira will continue to fall — bottoming out sometime this November.

cantareira-reservoir-sadesp-sao-paulo-brazil-february-2014

(Dam and section of Cantareira Reservoir high and dry under incessant drought conditions. Image source: Linhas Populares.)

Don’t Use the ‘R’ Word

The Cantareira provides water to nearly 50 percent of Sao Paulo’s residents. But ever since February of 2014 the multi-year long drought, a drought that has featured less and less seasonal rainfall over time, has triggered reduced water access by city and state residents.

Those living within areas served by the Cantareira have been treated to increasing periods of dry taps — being forced to go for longer and longer without available water supply. The intermittent lack of water service has put a strain on businesses and residents alike with many people living in Sao Paulo being forced to abstain from washing, cooking and brewing. For now, water for drinking can be stored during times when the faucets flow. But that time could come to an end all too soon without a change in the weather.

“Sometimes I have no water for two days, then it comes back on the next day and the day after that, I have no water again,” said Zeina Reis da Cruz, a 55 year old resident of one of Sao Paulo’s lower income neighborhoods in a September 25 interview with The Globe and Mail.

Despite an ongoing and growing failure to provide water services, the city refuses to use the word ‘rationing.’ Such an admission of failure would have weighed heavily on Alckmin’s re-election campaign (Alckmin was just recently elected to a new term as governor). Instead, irate citizens and businesses making calls to utilities are simply told that there is nothing wrong with the water supply and to wait until the water comes back on.

Regardless of politically-motivated denials, water rationing is the most accurate way to describe what many Sao Paulo residents have been experiencing for 9 months now under a regime of systemic drought that just grows steadily worse with time.

Climate Change Spurred by Deforestation, Worsened By Atmospheric Heating

The great forest of the Amazon provides a rich source of water for both Brazil and surrounding countries. It captures as much as 80 percent of the tropical atmosphere’s heavy moisture load and re-circulates it locally – providing ongoing and consistent rains. A critical means of replenishing regional water sources.

But, over recent decades, a combination of clear cutting and human-spurred warming of the climate have been adding severe stresses to the Amazon. During the period of 2000 to 2010, the great rainforest lost 93,000 square miles of wooded land alone to clear cutting. By 2014, government restrictions had brought down the rate of loss to around 2,300 square miles per year, but by this time warming-related impacts to the Amazon were looking even more dire.

As the 2000s progressed, it was becoming ever-more-clear that a heating climate driven by human fossil fuel emissions was taking an increasing toll. For, during recent decades, the Amazon has been warming at a rate of around 0.25 C every ten years — about twice as fast as the global climate system. The added heat increased evaporation, pushing soil moisture levels below critical thresholds.

Drought Map South America

(It’s not just Sao Paulo, most of South America is showing ongoing rainfall deficits. Map provided by NOAA shows percent of normal precipitation received by South America this summer. Note the severe drying over much of the Amazon Rainforest and broader South America coupled with drought over Sao Paulo. Image source: Climate Prediction Center.)

This loss has, in turn, increased the prevalence of forest-destroying understory fires. And, according to a 2012 NASA study these understory fires have been burning away the Amazon at the rate of more than 30,000 square miles every ten years for nearly two decades. By late this Century, business as usual fossil fuel emissions and related warming of 4 degrees Celsius is expected to destroy about 85 percent of the Amazon, resulting in widespread desertification of a once-lush region.

Today, this period of initial drying caused by a human heating of the atmosphere appears to be putting the stability of Brazil’s most populous city at risk.

A Major Humanitarian Disaster

Typically for October, Sao Paulo receives between 80 and 100 mm of rainfall. So far this month, the number is approaching zero. Long range forecasts bring that total to just above 50 mm through the end of the month — about half the usual rainfall. Very dry for a month that is supposed to be the start of Sao Paulo’s rainy season, a period that usually runs from October through March. A rainy season once fed by a now greatly endangered and increasingly moisture-impoverished Amazon rainforest.

It would take a massive rainfall to replenish Sao Paulo’s reserves. The kind of rain event that would result in widespread devastation should it emerge. Now, city officials appear to be holding out for any rain to tip the scales on their swiftly shrinking water stores.

But if the worse happens. If this year is a repeat of last year which saw a parched rainy season. If the rains of October and November continue to delay or do not emerge at all, then Sao Paulo faces a terrible event. A complete drying out of its largest water store and a complete cut-off of water supplies for millions of residents.

It’s like Paulo Nobre, director of the Center for Weather Forecasting and Climate Studies at the National Institute for Space Research in Brasilia, recently noted:

“It will be a real humanitarian disaster if it happens. We are 20 million people: You can’t bring water on trucks for 20 million. So they are praying that rainfall will come – but it may not rain so much.”

Links:

Sao Paulo Water Supply at Risk in Extreme Drought

Unprecedented Drought Puts Sao Paulo Water Supply at Risk

Brazil Drought Crisis Deepens in Sao Paulo

Climate Conditions Determine Amazon Forest Fire Risk

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Reversal of Fortune: Amazon Deforestation Increased by 28 Percent Over Past Year

Amazon Could Shrink by 85% Due to Climate Change

Sao Paulo Weather Forecast

Linhas Populares

Impacts of Deforestation

(Hat tip to Andy)

(Hat tip to Colorado Bob)

Arctic Warmth Melting Greenland In October

greenland_melt_nomelt oct 8

(Anomalous late season melt for Greenland along the coastal regions both north and south. Image source: NSIDC.)

It’s Fall in the Arctic. Temperatures are dropping. Sea ice is expanding. Snow and frigid weather slowly advance through these extreme northern lands.

But the pace of cooling this year — as in recent years — is far slower than what we would have typically seen just a few decades ago.

For in a crescent encircling the North Pole from the Laptev Sea through the Beaufort through the Canadian Archipelago and on into Greenland, temperatures are ranging between 5 and 12 degrees Celsius above average (9-20 degrees F). This extra atmospheric heat has tipped the entire Arctic into a +2.3 positive temperature anomaly — a rather high range for so early in the season. A strong polar amplification evident well in advance of a winter which is likely to see total positive anomalies reach between 3-6 C for the entire Arctic.

October 9 GFS Anomaly

(GFS temperature anomaly map for October 9 of 2014 shows the world at a very hot +0.69 positive anomaly above the already hotter than typical 1979-2000 average. Arctic anomalies now average +2.3 C with spikes in the range of +12 C for some locations. Note the +3-11 C hot spot over Greenland. Image source: University of Maine.)

The oceans are bleeding record or near record heat into the Arctic atmosphere. The thinned sea ice, in the range of 6th lowest on record, allows more of that heat to hit the air. High amplitude waves in the Jet Stream deliver more heat than ever before from the lower latitudes.  An a heavy overburden of greenhouse gasses — at even higher concentrations than in the rest of the world — traps more and more long wave radiation trying to escape into space as the sun’s angle lowers and the long winter night approaches.

For many regions of the Arctic, what this means is more Summer-like conditions continuing on into Fall. For Greenland, this has meant levels of melt that are more than two standard deviations outside the norm for the month of October.

Greenland Still Melting in October

Over Southern Greenland, we’ve seen temperatures in the range of 10 to -14 C from the coastline to the top of the ice sheet. And over Northeastern Greenland, we still see temperatures approaching freezing — an up shot of the warm air and water pool in the ocean zone between Greenland and Svalbard.

As a result of this lingering warmth, NSIDC measures are showing melt through substantial zones — one around the western coastal region near the Jackobshavn Glacier and another in Northeast Greenland in the Zachariae Glacier outflow region. Pushing melt totals more into the range of what is typical for either late May or early September.

greenland_melt_area_plot oct

(Greenland melt plot for 2014 showing 3-4 percent of the ice sheet melting during early October. A rate of melt outside the 2 standard deviation range and one that is highly atypical for this time of year. Image source: NSIDC.)

Throughout the next couple of days, unseasonal warmth is expected to build back into Southern Greenland and to possibly take root in the northwestern coastal region. With 5-18 C above average temps expected for many areas, it is likely that the abnormal Greenland melt will continue for at least the next couple of days.

As noted above, conditions remain in place for the Arctic to continue to experience highly abnormal warmth as Fall continues its advance into winter — with warmer than normal temperature departures likely to peak coincident with the deepest periods of Arctic darkness.

Links:

University of Maine

NSIDC

Hat Tip to Andy

You Know There’s Something Wrong When Vast Expanses of Greenland Look Like A Blackened Volcanic Crater

Lowest albedo on record for Greenland.

That’s what data provided by NASA and processed by polar scientist Jason Box are showing for August of 2014.

But it doesn’t take a polar scientist to tell you something is dreadfully wrong with this:

(Swaths of Greenland’s Ice Sheet look more like a volcanic crater than mountains of frozen water. Video source: Dark Snow.)

The above video, provided by the Dark Snow Project and featured on Peter Sinclair’s fantastic Climate Crocks blog, shows a vast swath of the Greenland Ice Sheet from helicopter. Miles and miles of previously pristine ice now show a blackening similar in color to volcanic basalt. A color vastly uncharacteristic of Greenland and more suited to melting and salted snow in an urban parking lot.

Melt is a primary driver of such widespread blackening of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Compaction and removal of snow through melting of the surface layer uncovers dirt, dust and soot left over through the years and millennia, depositing it in a dense layer just beneath the newly melted and washed away snow.

Snow and ice darkening is also compounded by vastly expanding Arctic wildfires. And this year featured the most severe outbreak of wildfires on record for the Northwest Territory of Canada together with extreme and explosive fires throughout Arctic Siberia.The dark soot ejected in immense plumes from these fires is borne aloft by the winds, eventually falling together with rain and snow over the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Lastly, manmade sources of black and brown carbon are also implicated in the great ice sheet’s blackening. And, during recent years, with the explosion of dark particulate sources in developing countries and through global slash and burn agriculture, more and more dark particulate from human activities is finding its way to the great ice sheet.

The net effected is Greenland ice sheet albedo dropping like a rock.

Greenland Ice Sheet Albedo Loss

(Falling like a rock. Greenland Ice Sheet albedo hits record low for August of 2014. Data source: NASA MOD10A1. Data Processed by: Dr. Jason Box.)

Albedo is a measure of reflectivity. The less reflective an ice sheet is, the more vulnerable it is to melting through direct heating by solar radiation. The ice sheet surface absorbs more energy from the sun’s rays as reflectivity falls and this process, in turn, further hastens a melt that is already being amplified by human-caused atmospheric and ocean heating.

But charts and graphs do little justice to this ongoing tragedy. In looking at vast stretches of ice, now colored an ominous grey-black, blanketing Greenland, it becomes all-too-easy to realize that we are likely witnessing the start of the Great Ice Sheet’s demise.

Links:

Dark Snow Project

Dark Snow

Climate Crocks

NASA MOD10A1

Dr. Jason Box

Human Hothouse Found to be California Drought Culprit as Ridiculously Resilient Ridge Reasserts

This is an event that is more extreme than any in the observed record, and our research suggests that global warming is playing a role right now. — Stanford Scientist Noah Diffenbaugh

****

Last week, a strong storm over-rode a powerful high pressure ridge that has been deflecting moisture-loaded weather systems northward and away from the US West Coast for the better part of two years. Though some precipitation did grace the northern and mountain stretches of the drought-stricken state of California, it is no-where near enough to alleviate an epic 21+ month long drought. A drought borne of a blocking pattern that began during the winter of 2012-2013 and now threatens to extend to the end of 2014 and, possibly, beyond.

In the wake of the storm, the powerful ridge reasserted — again delaying hopes that a parched California would at last begin to receive at least a normal allotment of rain.

Blocking Ridge Oct 6, 2014

(Euro Model forecast shows the ridiculously resilient ridge [RRR] strongly in place off the US and Pacific Northwest coasts in the October 6 run. Image source: ECMWF.)

It is a high pressure ridge based blocking pattern that has become so persistent that researchers at Stanford University have given it a new name — the ridiculously resilient ridge or Triple R. And the Triple R, according to those same researchers has climate change based origins.

For this week, Stanford scientists published a new study that found:

The atmospheric conditions associated with the unprecedented drought currently afflicting California are “very likely” linked to human-caused climate change.

Researchers used a combination of climate models and statistical techniques to determine that large, persistent high pressure systems of the kind that have been locking California into perpetual drought are more likely in the presence of high concentrations of greenhouse gasses. They found that the ridge, which has generated year-round wildfires in California and at its peak intensity during January of 2014 stretched from Hawaii all the way to coast of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, was a kind of new species of extreme weather far more likely to occur in a human-warmed world.

south-to-north-weather-pattern-alaska

(January 23 of 2014 weather pattern showing a moisture flow diverted from Hawaii to Alaska by the Triple R west coast blocking pattern. Image source: NASA.)

The anomalous strength of the ridge also likely played a role in the powerful polar vortex disruptions that were commonplace throughout the winter of 2014. As the ridge shoved more warm air into the polar zone north of Alaska the cold core of the polar vortex was displaced south and eastward over the Canadian Archipelago and Hudson Bay — driving extreme weather events over the central and eastern US as well as across the Atlantic and on to the UK.

The Researchers found that ridging was the overall and anomalous tendency of the pattern in this region of the northeast Pacific. They observed that the ridge remained strong throughout the winter of 2013, weakened during the summer of that year, then flared into an extreme intensity by January of 2014. Since that time, the ridge has swelled and spluttered, occasionally letting a storm or two pass but still serving as a kind of brutal sentinel to weather systems that would typically make their way to California.

The results of such a human-caused disruption of the climate are all too visible in the most recent US Drought Monitor.

September 23 drought monitor

(Despite tropical storms and the occasional weakness in the Triple R allowing a brief influx of moisture, 100% of California is still suffering from drought conditions with 58% percent of the state under the most extreme level of drought. Image source: US Drought Monitor)

A drought event that is the most extreme in the observed record and that is now linked to climate change by at least three major studies.

From the Stanford Study’s authors:

“We’ve demonstrated with high statistical confidence that the large-scale atmospheric conditions, similar to those associated with the Triple R, are far more likely to occur now than in the climate before we emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases,” Rajaratnam said.

“In using these advanced statistical techniques to combine climate observations with model simulations, we’ve been able to better understand the ongoing drought in California,” Diffenbaugh added. “This isn’t a projection of 100 years in the future. This is an event that is more extreme than any in the observed record, and our research suggests that global warming is playing a role right now.”

Links:

Stanford Scientists: Causes of California Drought Linked to Climate Change

ECMWF

NASA

US Drought Monitor

The Good News — 56% of New Energy Installed For First Half of 2014 Was Renewable; The Bad News — 40% Was Natural Gas

New installed Capacity 2014

Good news and bad news. But first, the good news…

For the first half of 2014, a total of 56% percent of newly installed electricity generation capacity within the US came from wind and solar energy sources. In total, that’s more than 3,300 gigawatts of new power from non carbon emitting energy generation for the first six months of 2014 alone.

Solar energy, in particular, saw a major increase from 2013 — jumping 47% in new installed capacity over the same period last year. In total, the US now boasts more than 15 gigawatts of solar energy generation capacity — racing to catch up to US wind generating capacity that now stands at nearly 62 gigawatts.

A majority of new solar power generation came from utility-based projects. But strong new additions in residential solar power also buoyed total additions. The massive leap in new solar capacity was spurred by rapidly falling panel prices combined with much more robust avenues for those seeking to install solar — at the individual, agency, and utility scale. Municipal and institutional solar power generation also saw a substantial leap with government buildings, libraries, schools and churches taking the solar plunge.

Wind showed a substantial recovery from the first half of 2013, which only saw 2 megawatts of new wind after conservatives in Congress spear-headed an assault on the renewable energy production tax credit in an attempt to stymie new alternative energy sources. The blood-letting pushed wind off a track in which it was gaining between 5-10 gigawatts of new power generation annually during 2008 to 2012. Due to falling wind prices and rising gas and coal prices, however, wind appears to be staging a comeback to previous rates of adoption.

Overall, it’s an excellent start to a year that will almost certainly see more major new alternative energy resource additions.

Natural Gas — A Bridge to More Carbon Emissions

As for the bad news, 40% of the new generation capacity came from natural gas…

Natural gas has been promoted as a ‘bridge to clean energy.’ But the fact that each new natural gas plant installation extends the life-time of US carbon emissions is a black eye on this green-washed claim.

It’s true that natural gas emits less carbon when burned than coal. But the ground-water endangering fracking process also leaks a portion of the fracked gas into the atmosphere as methane. And methane is 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20 year time-frame. Adding in the effect of methane leakage makes fracked natural gas as bad or nearly as bad as coal when taking into account the total industrial cycle heat forcing.

In addition, as noted above, continuing to construct natural gas plants now locks the US into an economic commitment to keep burning natural gas far into the future. In this way, on this path, our economy will continue to emit large volumes of carbon well past mid century. And given an immediately imminent and dangerous hothouse warming crisis, we simply can’t afford to keep emitting for so long.

In essence, we should be pushing to have all new energy capacity come from renewables even as we work to shut down existing carbon-fired power plants as rapidly as possible. And the already existing carbon-based infrastructure is massive — composing nearly 430 gigawatts of generating capacity for natural gas and 304 gigawatts for coal. We should be looking at ways to rapidly reduce this massive, carbon-emitting monstrosity. Not continue to add more to it.

In fact, a new research study found that by adding new natural gas capacity, CO2 emissions were increased as the potential for new renewable energy additions were crowded out by competition and as the life-span of fossil fuel based infrastructure was extended. In essence, these common-sense findings are a strong argument for no new fossil fuel based additions at all.

Some of our more rational government officials have paid lip-service to the notion that the US should take a leading role on climate change. And this is a very valuable sentiment. However, real leadership does not involve adding new fossil fuel capacity or seeking new fossil fuel resources. True climate leadership is based in rapidly phasing out the burning of fossil fuels entirely, not locking them in for decades of continued use.

Links:

New US Power in 2014: More than Half Renewable So Far

Memo to Obama: Expanded Natural Gas Worsens Climate Change

US Power Generating Capacity Additions During First Half of 2014

Study: Effect of Natural Gas Supply on Renewable Energy and CO2 Emission

 

 

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