Worst Heatwave in 140 Years Turns Deadly After Scorching China for More than a Month; Forecast Predicts No Relief

Heatwaves — they’re a regular risk of summer. But this year has seen a rash of particularly vicious and anomalous instances. As the Arctic baked under numerous heatwaves in which temperatures shattered the 90 degree (Fahrenheit) mark, as the US experienced some of its worst southwestern heat ever recorded, as the UK experienced record summer heat and wildfires, and as Spain sweltered as temperatures soared above 40 degrees C (above 104 F), China was experiencing its own version of a global warming amplified scorcher.

The worst heatwave in 140 years smothered about 1/3 of China, a sprawling area covering about 3 million square miles. At the heat epicenter, Shanghai, a region inhabited by 23 million people, saw daytime temperatures above 35 degrees C (95 F) for more than 25 days during July of 2013. On July 26th, Shanghai experienced an all-time record high of 106 degrees Fahrenheit (42 C), a level not reached since record keeping began in 1873.

Shanghai also reported ten deaths and far more numerous heat injuries for the month, as the hot weather intensified this Wednesday, while dozens of deaths have been reported over a large, scorched area of south-coastal China.

Throughout this week, China has been issuing its second highest national heat alert. This level requires the establishment of a 24 hour emergency operations center in order to provide emergency response and support capabilities for the hardest hit areas. The highest alert level is so extreme that China has never used it. Unfortunately, as the human-caused warming trend continues, it seems ever more likely that such a high heat category will have to be put in use.

Those living in Hangzhou, a region located about 100 miles to the southwest of Shanghai, may have already thought officials should have used such a marker as temperatures soared to above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees C), for six out of seven days over the past week. Meanwhile, Xiaoshan saw a new all-time record high temperature of 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42.2 degrees C) on Tuesday. The coastal city of Ningbo saw temperatures hit 109 degrees F on July 26th, the highest temperature ever recorded for a coastal city in all of South-East Asia.

In what has become a kind of macabre ritual in widening areas of the world affected by extreme heat, Chinese residents laid out shrimp and eggs to fry over scorching road surfaces. More ominously, the extreme heat threatened crops even as it baked rivers and lakes setting off massive fish kills from heat and anoxia. In some regions, the fish kills were so extreme that an estimated 60 percent of all fish were lost (normal summer heat may result in 5-10 percent fish losses in affected regions).

In order to protect crops and fish, China has engaged in a cloud seeding effort in hopes of spurring rainfall over scorched areas while it is urging localities and fish farmers to pump new water into ponds and rivers to enhance oxygen levels and reduce fish losses.

Heat dome, coastal flow, very high wet bulb temperatures

Coastal region of China hardest hit by heat wave.

Coastal region of China hardest hit by heat wave.

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

A dome of hot, moist air has persisted over this region for nearly a month now. Though rainfall and even flooding events have occurred due to a flow of Pacific moisture over the area and the occasional onrush of tropical cyclones, these rainfall events have done little to alleviate a combination of oppressive heat and humidity.

Flows off the ocean would normally help to somewhat alleviate the heat, but an area of typically hot summer water is now showing readings 1-2 degrees Celsius above average. This broad region of hotter than normal surface ocean waters off China now show temperatures higher than 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). Windflows issuing off these extraordinarily hot ocean surface areas are not very helpful in cooling the baking land. Worse still, the heat dome conditions — stifling airflow, concentrating heat and locking in place a layer of heat amplifying haze and smog — have persisted for much of the past month. This combination of less effective ocean cooling and heat dome conditions has resulted in a terribly severe heatwave for this coastal region.

Coastal heatwaves are particularly oppressive and potentially lethal due to the fact that humidity tends to remain higher than in more arid regions. A wet bulb temperature above 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) is considered lethal for human beings. Those living in Southeast Asia are well used to living under sweltering conditions of high heat and humidity. But as temperatures approach this human threshold (25 C + wet bulb temperature), even those acclimated are at increased risk. So both extreme heat and high humidity likely contributed to the sad and tragic dozens of instances in which lives were lost during this particular event.

The forecast for Shanghai next week calls for continuing record heatwave conditions with high temperatures ranging from 99 to 102 degrees (Fahrenheit) from Sunday through Saturday. With humidity levels near 50% this means wet bulb temperatures will approach 29-30 degrees Celsius during the hottest portions of the day. This continuation of a scorching summer heat wave will result in high risk of both heat injury and loss of life for those living in this sweltering region. With little to no relief in the forecast, this section of China is likely to remain under the fire of human-caused heating as August advances.

Links:

People Crops and Fish Suffer in China’s Heat Wave

Dozens of Deaths Blamed on China’s Heat Wave

Heat Wave Blamed for Huge Pile of Dead Fish

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Nature’s Amplifying Methane Monster: Feedbacks, Risks, Costs, and Mitigation

Nature Methane Monster

Methane graphs show potential damages from a major methane release in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf over the next few decades as well as the potential to greatly reduce even these worst-case damage estimates through drastically reducing global carbon emissions.

(Image source: Nature)

The methane monster is an enormous, tricky beast of a thing. A number of past sudden climate change and mass extinction events are tied to methane pulses that appear to have happened over very brief geological spans. Massive carbon stores at risk of emitting methane in response to human warming have piled up over 2.5 million years of ice ages and 30 million years of glaciation. Now, a rapid human warming resulting from raging greenhouse gas emissions is starting to unlock these immense frozen carbon stores, prodding the methane monster and causing it to stir.

Not much is clearly known about natural methane releases during rapid warming events — both past or current. Tracking of human and Earth Systems methane emission has been far less detailed than direct CO2 forcing research and, due to the complex nature of methane in the atmosphere, far more difficult to put into context. So it is entirely understandable that a recent article in the scientific journal Nature, authored by Gail Whiteman, Chris Hope, and Peter Wadhams, has caused what can best be called a media implosion. Climate change deniers have buried their heads ever deeper into the sand, doomers are predicting the end of the world tomorrow no matter what we do, and finger pointing has erupted among members of the journalistic and scientific community who have deep professional knowledge but differing opinions as to how the methane problem will ultimately manifest.

It is important that we do our best to side-step the fuss and drill down to the critically important issues at hand: risks, costs, and the potential for mitigation.

Stark Findings

At issue is the Nature article’s warning that 50 gigatons of methane could rapidly release from a vulnerable region called the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. This area contains only a fraction of a massive Arctic carbon store. But its location in a thawing, shallow sea put it at risk of an extreme sudden release.

In the absolute worst case, the article notes that the entire 50 gigatons could emit within one year. In an intermediate worst case, the article shows that about 5 gigatons of methane could emit each year during a period from 2015 to 2025. And in the low-end worst case, the Nature article warns that the 50 gigaton volume in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf could all emit by 2035. The article also considers potential costs from a lesser, but still enormously damaging, 25 gigaton release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf over similar time periods.

The article states that such events would cause massive economic damage, on the order of 30 trillion to 70 trillion dollars over a period from now to 2100, adding substantially to the approximately $400 trillion in damage already projected from human caused global warming through 2100 (without rapid mitigation).

The article notes that such large emissions would result in a temperature increase of around 3 degrees Celsius by 2050, about a degree higher than predicted under base case emissions scenarios. Such a rapid increase in so short a period would, indeed, have devastating economic consequences (It is important to note that the only ‘slow feedbacks’ added to this model run include a methane pulse along with a portion of added Arctic carbon dioxide, but no related albedo change. So numbers here are likely lower than they would be under such circumstances.).

There is some reason to believe, due to a current lack of scientific consensus, that the large releases explored in the study are a low risk potential. But the lack of concerted and coordinated research on the subject creates an infuriating uncertainty over an issue critical to long-term human survival and prosperity.

A closer look at the East Siberian Arctic Shelf and the larger Arctic

The 50 gigatons in question rests in a submerged section of frozen tundra beneath the shallow waters of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. At the end of the last ice age, this tundra, locking in the 50 gigatons of methane along with other carbon stores was flooded due to sea level rise as glaciers melted. The Arctic sea ice covered this submerged, frozen tundra for most of this period, keeping water temperatures close to or below 0 degrees Celsius.

In recent years, summer ice cover has increasingly receded from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf as Arctic sea ice extent has rapidly declined. From 1979 to 2012, ice extent had shrunk by as much as 55%. From 2005 to 2013, this region of the Arctic Ocean lost the majority of its sea ice for as long 1-2 months at a time. During these periods, the shallow sea warmed by as much a 7 degrees Celsius above average — all the way to the sea floor — creating perforations in the submerged tundra through which the methane could bubble up. Due to the fact that this ocean region was so shallow, a majority of these methane emissions hit the atmosphere.

Expeditions to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf during the late 2000s and during 2011 found large plumes of methane venting from the warming tundra beneath the shallow sea. In 2011, plumes as large as 1 kilometer across were discovered. Scientific papers during this time announced findings that this region of the Arctic was emitting about 14 megatons of methane each year.

As time moves forward, continuing erosion of sea ice will result in longer warm periods that transfer more of the surface heat energy through the water column and down to the frozen methane stores, almost certainly causing a rising volume of emissions. Under current trends, sea ice may be mostly gone from Arctic waters year round by as early as 2040. Such an event would likely result in a number of severe consequences, just one of which is rising and potentially catastrophic ESAS emissions. (And the only event likely to provide enough negative feedback to shut down such a deadly occurrence is an equally dangerous large melt pulse from Greenland and Antarctica.)

The 50 gigatons of methane frozen in this section of tundra is likely trapped in ice and frozen sea bed representing between 100 and 500 cubic kilometers of total volume. The large volume of this frozen material makes it far less likely that stores will immediately release within a single summer and emit all 50 gigatons of the trapped methane. Nor is it highly likely that all 50 gigatons will release in 10 or even 40 years. A more probable range for total ESAS release is between 50 and 300 years. Even then, effects from the emission of this major store into the atmosphere would constitute a terrible event.

Around the Arctic, a much larger store of carbon will also likely contribute increasing methane emissions. As the Arctic Ocean warms, some of the estimated 1,000 gigatons of methane locked in sea bed deposits will almost certainly reach the surface. In addition, a portion of the estimated 1,500 gigatons of carbon trapped in tundra deposits will certainly release as methane as the Arctic warms. So the ESAS is just one, rather unstable, part of a larger methane beast. Instead of 30-50 megatons of annual methane emission coming from the Earth System (excluding typical wetlands emissions), it is entirely plausible that we could see emissions rising to 100, 200, 300 megatons or more (effectively doubling the human emission). Further, to entirely ignore the potential for catastrophic events of the kind Wadhams and Shakhova warn about, where yearly emission pulses of 1 gigaton or higher hit the atmosphere as a result of radically amplifying Earth System feedbacks, would be deeply irresponsible.

To these, rather stark, points, it is important to note that it is almost certain that releases from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf and other Arctic locations will rise by less if we rapidly reduce human forcings and by more if we continue to do little or nothing to reduce global human carbon emissions. The current human emission of methane is at least 350-400 megatons per year. This massive release is equivalent to a long-term natural methane pulse of devastating proportion and it is one key reason why we are in so much trouble. Even more damaging is a CO2 emission near 32 gigatons per year. There is no corollary for a CO2 emission of this yearly rate in all of the geological record and atmospheric concentrations of 400 parts per million CO2 are the highest level since major ice ages began about 2.5 million years ago. Instances where annual methane emissions have been this high are also very difficult to locate, with past rapid pulses being measured over the 1,000 to 10,000 year time-scale. To reduce and eliminate these vast and extraordinarily dangerous human emissions would be to take out a huge part of the problem before us. We are directly in control of these emissions, but it will be impossible for us to control Earth System emissions as they spontaneously emerge. Though some damage will likely still be in store due to our past dumping of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, it will be far less than if we continue to, immorally and insanely, add to what is already a very difficult problem.

In context of this major and damaging human emission on the order of a major geological event, it is also worth re-examining the broad disagreement among scientists about the potential rate of future Arctic methane emissions. Many have pointed to evidence in paleoclimate data that shows methane response generally occurs on the 1,000s to 10,000s of years time-frame. But paleoclimate seems to also indicate a slower sea ice, tundra, and ice sheet response than what we are currently seeing as a result of the very rapid human greenhouse gas forcing. Further, recent expeditions and monitoring studies have found anomalous and large methane emissions throughout the Earth System that are consistent to the initiation of a feedback response to human warming. That Dr. Wadhams, Shakhova and a handful of other Arctic experts have warned of the potential for single year emissions (somewhat remote, but great enough to be cause for worry) as large as 50 gigatons should serve as a chilling message best heeded. The still unlikely, but almost equally catastrophic, potential for emissions of 1-5 gigatons per year from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf are also cause for a high degree of concern. And though such large, single events remain less likely than slower releases, it is highly likely that Arctic methane emissions, in total, will greatly increase as polar amplification continues, resulting in a powerful feedback to human-caused warming.

Our best indications are that total Earth Systems responses will result in at least double the amount of warming shown in Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity models. What the Nature paper explores is just one instance of such a response. So even if Arctic methane release estimates are lower than the ‘catastrophic cases’ provided in the article, they will add to other global methane and CO2 release feedbacks, loss of albedo and Earth System changes to produce this likely doubling or more. So the sense of urgency for effective responses should be great, indeed.

More mitigation, adaptation, and monitoring necessary

The Nature Article is, therefore, an important warning. One that should be considered and discussed. More important than the scientific and media debate surrounding this article is its demonstration of a dire need for increased knowledge of Arctic methane systems to gain a better handle on potential risks. The clarity of science, right now between 50 gigaton potential emissions in one year and far, far slower emissions over the course of thousands of years, is too murky given the current state of overall climate risk in the context of break-neck human greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, the most important finding of this study has been mostly ignored by almost all media responses to it. The study found that mitigation, through the drastic reduction of human carbon emissions, was extraordinarily valuable in even the worst case scenarios.

The Nature article notes:

The WEF should also encourage innovative adaptation and mitigation plans. It will be difficult — perhaps impossible — to avoid large methane releases in the East Siberian Sea without major reductions in global emissions of CO2. Given that the methane originates in local seabed warming, then reducing black carbon deposits on snow and ice might [also] buy some precious time.

Model runs conducted in conjunction with the article showed that physical damage was halved when human emissions drastically fell in even the most dire of circumstances. This study, therefore, should come as a clear signal to any who would call for continued reliance on fossil fuels — either through the failed and anti-human arguments of denial that human climate change exists, through the equally mentally and morally bankrupt doomer calculus that falsely claims no response is effective, or through a continued intransigence by entrenched industries that have built their business models so as to profit from a vast harm to humankind.

If one believes that the very high damage events presented by these scientists are possible, they must also consider their findings that drastically cutting carbon emissions vastly enhances human prospects as we enter an age of fossil fuel inflicted climate crisis.

Links:

Climate Science: Vast Costs of Arctic Change

Supplementary Information

US Energy Experiences Natural Gas to Coal Whiplash; Natural Gas ‘Bridge to Sustainability’ Collapses Yet Again

Ugly Coal

(A Coal Plant Dumping its Toxic Brew into the Atmosphere. Image source: Climate Crocks)

Natural gas was supposed to act as a bridge to sustainability. Fracking and increased drilling were supposed to reduce US reliance on high-carbon coal. But in 2013, coal consumption is again rising. So what the hell happened?

In short, history repeated itself and energy markets have experienced yet another natural gas to coal whiplash….

Natural gas is an inherently volatile energy source. As prices rise, new sources are sought out, new technologies applied to its extraction and, if depletion barriers are overcome, a surge of new supplies are brought to market. Then, as the wave of new supplies comes to dominate, prices crash. Rushing in to take advantage of the falling prices, the utility companies engage in a generational shift to natural gas electricity production. This increasing consumption of natural gas has two effects. It puts a bottom on natural gas prices and it reduces coal-fired power generation by becoming more competitive on the basis of price. A result of these changes is that US CO2 emissions fall. But, due to the market whip-lash effect of natural gas, these reductions are only temporary.

On the supply side, as natural gas prices fall, less and less producers are able to make a profit. The rate of drilling that drove both the boom and the glut slows to a trickle. This happens even as utilities and other natural gas users demand more of the low cost substance. As a result, prices begin to rise. But since drilling rigs are now allocated elsewhere and natural gas producers are cautious to return to aggressive drilling, supply doesn’t keep pace with demand. Eventually prices rise to the point where natural gas is again, less competitive with coal. Utilities, to preserve their balance sheets, shift back to black rock fuel and carbon emissions again rise.

The 2013 Whiplash

In 2013, US energy markets and related CO2 emissions are now experiencing just this kind of whiplash. After falling to a low price of around $2.60 per million btu, natural gas has been trading in a range between $3.60 and $4.25 since May of this year. And the effect on energy markets has been profound. The result, as Joe Romm implied in his allegorical article ‘Bridge Out’ is that the entirely ephemeral natural gas bridge to sustainability has again disappeared. According to Romm’s excellent article:

Coal’s share of total domestic power generation in the first four months of 2013 averaged 39.5%, compared with 35.4% during the same period last year, according to the Energy Information Administration [EIA]…. By contrast, natural gas generation averaged about 25.8% this year, compared with 29.5% a year earlier.

In the words of another brand of popular fiction: what the frack?

The long touted bridge to sustainability has, yet again, failed. And we find ourselves increasing consumption, yet again, of the worst emitting fuel source — coal. As a result, US carbon emissions are, after about four years of decline, expected to rise in 2013. The US Energy Information Agency projects that the US will emit 2.4% more CO2 than it did last year. But, should the coal surge continue through end of year, this carbon emissions backslide could be even worse than predicted.

Natural Gas: Unreliable Bridge, Bad Help

Sadly, even the reduced CO2 emissions that came, in part, as a result of a temporary shift to natural gas generation also brought with it a terrible cost. Fracked wells drove the most recent boom and bust whip-lash cycle. They were a rapidly depleting, temporary measure to increase production, and these costly wells emit far more methane than their contemporary counter parts. Some studies have even noted that methane leaks via the fracking process make natural gas a more harmful than coal when net carbon emissions are taken into account.

Perhaps worse, the fracked wells also threaten underground and surface water sources from both cracks in the casing pipes and toxic effluent at the numerous and proliferating drill sites. Further, water use in fracking is voracious and, in many cases, adds another burden to fresh water supplies.

Water stress is rising across the United States with fossil water in the Ogallala rapidly depleting even as the US West suffers year after year from a widening climate-change induced drought. With fracking threatening the purity and safety of dwindling supplies, numerous cities and one New Mexico county have banned the enhanced extraction process in an effort to protect municipal water.

In the end, high cost natural gas fracking efforts have managed a temporary reduction in US CO2 emissions at the cost of rising methane emission and harm to water supplies. The flood of new gas also likely delayed or replaced some efforts to transition to the more effective pollution reducing sources of wind and solar. Finally, the price whip lash inherent to natural gas production has returned markets, yet again, to rising coal use.

The term for this is bad help. Very bad help. In short, no fossil fuels represent a solution to climate change or enhance sustainability. They are all dirty, dangerous, and depleting.

To this point, I’ll leave you with the trailer to the must-seem Gasland II:

Blocking Patterns: Rivers of Moisture to Converge in Major Rain Event For Eastern US?

Water Vapor July 2

(Image source: GOES/NOAA)

Today, a very muscular blocking high pressure system located over the Western US flexed. After having set off record fires and heat waves it reached deep into the Arctic and drew moisture and more unstable air down from over Hudson Bay across the Rockies and over top of Arizona and New Mexico, igniting powerful thunderstorms which blanketed large areas in hail, heavy rainfall and lightning. A second moisture stream drawn into the high’s circulation from the Pacific also fed these storms.

You can see the bright, high, cold cloud tops now firing over Arizona and New Mexico.

To the east, an upper level low pressure system is just now starting to draw this concentrated moisture into two other feeding, damp air flows. The largest draws straight up from the Caribbean over Florida and then rushes up the US East Coast. The second, pulls moisture from tropical storm Dalila in the Pacific, draws it over Mexico, then pulls it over Mississippi and up the back side of the Appalachians.

The action of this powerful blocking high over the US West and associated upper level  low over the East is likely to result in very moist, rainy conditions for a large section of the country east of the Mississippi River. On the Gulf Coast, as much as 5-8 inches of rain is expected. But a wide swath shows potentials for 1-5 inches over the coming week.

This persistent wet and extremely moist flow raises the risk of flash flood conditions where major storms light off. Record rainfall over many areas has already left the ground saturated and atmospheric conditions are very unstable, setting off the potential for powerful storms.

The broad sweep of these convergent moisture flows also sets up the possibility that even more violent conditions may emerge. Large blocking highs were associated in all the major flood events that have occurred around the world so far this year. In one example, noted by commenter Colorado Bob, Pakistan suffered 120 degree heat under a blocking high during May and June. The high then swept a massive flood of moisture up over India and into the Himalayas. The result there was devastating floods that left hundreds dead in a virtual tsunami of mud and water.

The strength of the current upper level pattern, drawing moisture from the Arctic, the Pacific, a tropical weather system, and from the Caribbean sets in place the components for major instability to meet with four rivers of moisture over the Eastern US. It’s a dangerous set of circumstances that may result in current rainfall forecasts under-shooting long-term totals. This week has already seen a number of torrential downpours over broad sections of the US East Coast. But this flow taps even more moisture than what was previously in place, drawing from multiple sources across an area spanning more than 4,000 miles to link rivers of moisture with unstable air. Let’s hope these convergent flows don’t set off flood events similar to those seen in Europe and India this year.

Fair warning: the mangled Jet Stream now has the Eastern US under the gun.

(Hat tip to X-Ray Mike for his comments on strange storms in Arizona today).

 

From Archangel to Alaska, Heatwaves, Extreme Weather Now Flank the Arctic

Arctic Heatwave June 26th

(Image source: Uni Koeln)

Yesterday in Alaska, as wildfires raged through interior regions, temperatures rose into the high 80s (Fahrenheit). Now, during relative night-time in the land of the midnight sun, lows are hovering around 70 in many places (near record daily highs for this time of year). Meanwhile, at the Arctic’s opposite end, temperatures in the region of Archangel, near the Arctic Ocean are in the range of 90 degrees. Nearby, Finland also sees temperatures rocketing up through the 80s as a Scandinavian heatwave that began in June reasserts itself.

The Arctic Heatwave: A Pervasive Feature for Summer 2013

The Arctic heatwave that started in Scandinavia then moved to Alaska and flared in Russia and Siberia has now become nearly ubiquitous. Record hot temperatures range the Arctic from shore to shore. These record heat invasions have been enabled by a combination of factors that include rising global greenhouse gasses, above average atmospheric methane and CO2 concentrations in the Arctic, and a rapid retreat of snow and sea ice cover that has enabled the Jet Stream to range further and further north, bringing temperatures from more southerly climates with it.

As a sample, atmospheric CO2 is now at about 403 parts per million at Barrow Alaska, while methane levels are around 1890 parts per billion. These levels are about 4 parts per million and 60 parts per billion above current global average CO2 and methane levels respectively. Higher levels of these heat trapping gasses in the Arctic are a direct result of environmental emissions sources including thawing tundra, melting permafrost, and destabilizing frozen methane on the Arctic sea bed. Together, these sources result in substantially higher levels of almost all greenhouse gasses over a broad range of the Arctic.

Extreme Jet Stream positions are also plainly visible today with a large, anomalous peak in the Jet Stream over Scandinavia and extending into Russia along with a fading, but still apparent, ‘heat dome’ high pressure system over central Alaska:

Extreme Jet Stream June 26

(Image source: California Regional Weather Service)

Both these features continue to bring much warmer than normal conditions in regions beneath their influence. The Scandinavian blocking pattern has been particularly persistent, with weather impacts stretching all the way back to early June. One last feature of note is a cut-off upper level low just off the Pacific coast of British Columbia. This particular low pressure system was the one that resulted in so much flooding over regions of Alberta and Calgary last week with rainy conditions persisting through today. A large band of clouds and rain storms continues to stream off this low, dumping more un-needed moisture over central Canada. Among today’s impacts was the flooding and shut-down of a meat-packing plant, yet one more ding to the world’s food supply.

ECMWF forecast models show this rough configuration of the Jet Stream remaining in place at least until July 6th when the Scandinavian blocking pattern begins to stage a major warm-air breakthrough to the Central Arctic. At the same time, a large trough of low pressure systems emerges again over regions of Alberta and northern Canada as a ridge of high pressure shoves what remains of PAC 2013 over Greenland and comes to take tenuous hold of the Central Arctic.

Forecast Model July 6

(Image source: ECMWF)

Note the above freezing 5,000 foot temperatures plunging all the way through the Central Arctic (which should translate to around 40-45 degree [F] surface temperatures). It is also worth noting the large pulse of warm air riding all the way up to the Canadian Archipelago ahead of the developing trough.

This forecast is still very far out, so we’ll have to keep watch for any changes. Yet given the history of summer 2013 Arctic weather, it appears likely that the ongoing extreme configuration of the Jet will result in more unusual events.

As a final, I’ll leave you with this picture of the expanding open water at Barrow, Alaska. Note that the off-shore ice has been gone since June 24th.

Open Water Barrow June 26

(Image source: Barrow Sea Ice Cam)

 

Links:

Uni Koeln

California Regional Weather Service

ECMWF

NOAA

CO2 Breaks 400 PPM Daily Average on May 13, Exceeding An Extraordinarily Dangerous Level

Mauna Loa 400 ppm Daily

(Image source: Keeling Curve)

Back in early March we began to warn that CO2 levels could break 400 PPM in 2013. In April, the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded hourly CO2 levels above 400 PPM for the first time in more than 4 million years. Then, two days ago, daily averages for 400 PPM CO2 were breached.

Whether May averages just below or slightly above 400 PPM CO2 remains to be seen. But it is certainly possible that weekly and even monthly averages of CO2 break this severely high threshold this year. Almost certainly, a month or two of 2014 will see CO2 averages over 400 PPM. By 2015 or 2016, yearly averages for CO2 will exceed that extraordinarily dangerous level.

This massive jump to 400 PPM CO2 from pre-industrial averages is disturbing and alarming for many reasons. The first of which is the heating impact CO2 has on the Earth’s atmosphere. According to Paleoclimate data, a world at 400 PPM CO2 is, on average, between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius hotter. Even worse, temperatures in the Arctic average about 14 degrees Fahrenheit hotter. This increase in temperatures results in radical alterations to the world’s climate, pushes major sea level rises, and results in massive volumes of ice melted. It is doubtful that most of the world’s glaciers and ice sheets could survive such a long-term assault of extreme high temperatures. And it is worth noting that human beings as we know them have never occupied a world without ice.

But even as bad as maintaining CO2 levels at 400 parts per million may sound, worse are the potential feedbacks such a high initial spike of atmospheric carbon may kick off. Vast stores of methane lay locked in the world’s tundra and oceans. Even a small fraction of these gasses liberated by human-caused warming would serve to add more greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, further increasing the warming already in store. In addition, as the ice sheets recede, more dark ocean and land features are exposed to sunlight. This loss of albedo results in increased solar heat absorption, further increasing global temperatures. So past climate may not be a perfect analogue to what we may be setting in place. Instead, it may be the launching point for even worse changes.

At 400 parts per million there is the danger that such terrible consequences may well become permanent features of the world in the coming decades and centuries. The current danger is somewhat low due to the fact that, if we were to rapidly reduce emissions now, we might be able to secure a livable climate and let the Earth’s natural processes reduce CO2 levels to 350 PPM or lower over the course of about a century. However, there is risk that the current human forcing is enough, even now, to generate a powerful response from the Earth’s climate and environment. One strong enough to result in CO2 levels stabilizing at the current level or even increasing somewhat due to these natural feedbacks. In order for this to happen, global climate would have to be much more sensitive than scientists currently estimate. But the fact is that, at current CO2 levels, such a dangerous feedback is possible, if not likely.

What is even more maddening, though, is the fact that human CO2 emissions and global CO2 levels are rising at a break-neck pace. Just last year, May CO2 levels peaked at an average of 396.8 PPM. This year’s levels are likely to be 3 PPM+ higher than last year. Global averages have been rising at a rate of 2.2 PPM per year or more. So at the current rate of CO2 rise and factoring in the rate of increased CO2 emissions, it is likely that 450 PPM could be breached in about 20 years. This pace of increase is faster than at any time visible in the geological past by at least a factor of 5. In short, it is likely that Earth has never undergone such a radically rapid increase of CO2.

At 450 PPM CO2, the world is far more likely to experience the kind of powerful global feedbacks noted above. And with world CO2 emissions continuing to increase, it is fair to say that we are in the era of this dangerous climate change now. Which it is why it is very important to recognize that with each passing year of CO2 emission increases and failure to reduce overall world carbon emissions, we pass deeper and deeper into an extraordinarily dangerous territory. Pushes to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels to the ‘safe range’ of 350 PPM must be pursued with great speed and effort if we are to preserve hope of a livable climate for human beings beyond the first half of this century.

Links:

350.org

Keeling Curve

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