Unprecedented Climate Extremes: One Year After Record Drought, Lake Oroville is Spilling Over

We know that climate change pushes the weather toward extremes, but this is getting ridiculous. In California, in less than a span of 24 months, water levels at a key reservoir have shifted from record drought to a flood that’s now endangering the state’s water supply system. Unfortunately, it’s these kinds of extreme shifts that we’ve come to expect from human-forced climate change.

Record California Drought

During 2015, California experienced its hottest winter on record. The same winter was also California’s driest in 65 years. It was an extremely dry season that occurred during one of the most intense droughts ever to strike California (2011 through 2016). A period that included the worst dry spell ever to affect the state (2011 through 2014).

driest-period-on-record-for-california

(2011 to 2016 included the driest period on record for California producing extreme water stress for the state. Image source: The US Drought Monitor.)

A 2015-2016 El Nino brought hopes of rain. It also brought concerns that when the rains did finally arrive, they would come as deluges. This concern was driven by the fact that the warming atmosphere now holds an unprecedented amount of moisture. With much of that extra moisture bleeding off of the Pacific Ocean and with El Nino producing a tendency to both intensify the Pacific storm track and to aim rivers of moisture at California, these concerns appeared to be at least somewhat valid.

But, for the most part, the rain held off — increasing concerns that a drought that had already lasted for five years could continue. That an odd weather pattern called the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge might be a semi-permanent feature spurred by warming in the Arctic and a related movement of the Jet Stream northward.

Followed By Record California Flooding

The Jet Stream did flatten and the rains did eventually come, however. And when they did, it was at the oddest of times — when El Nino had long since faded and a weak La Nina — which typically brings drier conditions to the U.S. West Coast — was in full bloom. By January of 2017, the pattern had switched. And when it switched, it switched hard.

A massive river of moisture began to flow from the Philippines all the way to California during December of 2016. The atmospheric river linked up with a raging storm track running 6,000 miles across the Pacific from Japan to the U.S. West Coast. And this combined moisture flow and vigorous storm pattern has pummeled the U.S. West Coast for the better part of six weeks.

river-of-moisture-2017

(Throughout the winter of 2016-2017, a powerful, 6,000 mile long, river of moisture has produced a succession of strong storms running into California. This weather/climate feature is occurring in a record warm/moist atmosphere. The result has been that conditions in California have shifted from extreme drought to extreme flood. Image source: TPW Version 2.)

Some regions of California experienced their wettest January on record. Sacramento was one of these. Throughout California, records for the top ten wettest comparable periods were shattered. According to the Washington Post:

…by one important measure, there’s been more rain and snowfall in the 2016-2017 water year than any other season on record, to date. The California-Nevada River Forecast Center uses an eight-station index in the North Sierra to quantify the region’s precipitation. As of Feb. 12, these eight stations have received 68 inches — 226 percent of normal.

In the region of Lake Oroville — a reservoir that as recently as 2015 had dropped to extreme low levels — the rainfall has been particularly consistent and heavy. And it now appears likely that the winter of 2016-2017 will be the wettest on record for that region at least.

Weather Extremes Damage Critical Water Infrastructure

The Lake Oroville Dam had never seen so much water flowing into its backing reservoir since its completion in 1968. By January, Dam operators were already releasing considerable flows of water through its primary spillway to reduce pressure off the 800 foot tall structure trapping water within the reservoir. By February, more than 55,000 cubic feet of water per second was sent raging down the spillway in an effort to keep water levels below the over-topping line. Unfortunately, the spillway structures supporting the Dam have likely never seen so much continued stress from strong water outflows related to record high water levels. And as of last week, the powerful floods of water released from the Dam had damaged the primary spillway. The spillway’s concrete apron had eroded and initially produced a 300 foot wide sink hole near the top of the spillway that later expanded.

(Lake Oroville forced to use emergency spillway resulting in severe stress to key California water infrastructure. Video source: KCRA.)

Concerns about how an expanding sink hole in the reservoir’s wall could, in the worst case, breach the Dam wall and result in a catastrophic failure spurred operators to shut down and reduce water flows through the primary spillway. The abatement resulted in water levels at Lake Oroville rising to above 901 feet. This triggered an automatic over-spill into a second emergency spillway (the first time this has happened in the Dam’s history). But over-topping water also produced severe erosion — igniting more concerns of structural failure. And on the weekend of February 10th -12th, nearly 200,000 people were evacuated from the Dam’s outflow zone as a potential catastrophic structural failure could cause a 30 foot wall of water to rush through numerous downstream communities.

Over recent days, rainfall in the Oroville region abated — providing a brief window for repairs and reducing stress to the Dam. Round-the-clock emergency repairs in the form of bags of boulders used to buttress the Dam appeared to have shored up the Dam. Meanwhile, water levels within the Dam earlier this week were dropping by 4 inches per hour. Mandatory evacuation orders were lifted. And downstream residents began to trickle back in.

noaa-7-day-precipitation-forecast-lake-oroville

(More heavy rain on the way is likely to continue to produce a touch and go situation for the Lake Oroville Dam. If heavy rain continues through spring melt, the Dam could face considerable additional challenges. Image source: NOAA.)

However, the underlying weather conditions that caused so much damage to the Lake Oroville Dam have not yet changed. February and March are typically California’s wettest periods. And the massive river of moisture feeding into a powerful Pacific storm track continues unabated. Over the next 7 days, NOAA predicts that as much as twelve and a half inches of rain could fall on the Lake Oroville region.

Harmed by Drought, Harmed by Flood

So much rainfall will again likely necessitate considerable water outflows from the Dam’s damaged spillways — producing more stress to the already burdened structure. In addition, the arrival of warmer weather come March and April will add snow melt to the already considerable rainfall inflows coming into the Oroville system. To be clear, most experts still think that the overall risk of losing Oroville due to a complete failure of the Dam remain low. However, such a loss would be catastrophic to California.

more-heat-more-heavy-precipitation

(As the climate warms, it produces more record hot weather — which spurs increasing instances of drought. In addition, when precipitation does fall, it tends to come in the form of more heavy precipitation events where the rain that does fall, tends to fall more intensely over a shorter period. As a result, the human forced warming of the Earth is producing a general tendency toward more extreme instances of drought and flooding. Image source: NOAA/UCAR.)

The Lake Oroville reservoir provides drinking water to 23 million residents in California and irrigates 750,000 acres of farmland. In the outside worst case event where the Dam does fail, it would produce a water crisis for numerous residents and communities in addition to any damage caused by severe downstream flooding. But even if the Dam holds through the Spring, extreme deposition of sediment from heavy water flows running into the reservoir will also likely pose challenges to water access.

It’s a case of too much or too little. From 2011 through 2016 drought threatened Lake Oroville’s water supplies. Now it’s flooding. And unfortunately, with climate change, we can expect the weather in many regions to take on extreme characteristics or switch hard from one extreme to the other — as has been the case with California.

Links:

Climate Central

The US Drought Monitor

TPW Version 2

Stress Test isn’t Over for Lake Oroville

Record Rain is Straining California’s Whole Flood Control Network

KCRA

NOAA

Lake Oroville Critical to California’s Complex Water System

NOAA/UCAR

The Permanent Global Coral Bleaching Event

Despite La Nina, Ocean surfaces have not cooled enough to end the worst global coral bleaching event on record. What this means is that many reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, are again under a rising risk of bleaching and mortality for the coming months. This is unheard of. Never before has a mass coral bleaching event lasted for so long or extended through the period of natural variability related ocean surface cooling called La Nina. Perhaps more ominously, the global coral bleaching and die off that began in 2014 may now be a practically permanent ocean feature of the presently destabilized world climate system.

Cool La Nina is Over

According to NOAA, the periodic cooling of ocean surfaces in the Pacific called La Nina is now over. And since La Nina brings with it a variable related low point of broader Earth surface temperatures, after a few months lag, we can expect the globe to start to warm up again.

sea-surface-temperature-anomalies-feb-9-pacific

(The above map shows sea surface temperature anomalies in the Pacific Ocean on February 9 of 2017. Presently SSTs over the entire Pacific range from about -1.5 C below average to +5 C above average. And as you can see, the Ocean is considerably warmer than normal, despite La Nina. Over the next 1-2 years, this is likely the coolest the Pacific will get. In just one decade’s time, under human-forced warming, it will take a very strong La Nina and a strongly negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation to produce similar sea surface temperatures. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Problem is, the Earth is still ridiculously warm, despite La Nina. Temperatures, driven inexorably higher by fossil fuel burning, have probably bottomed out at about 1 degrees Celsius hotter than 1880s averages during December, January and February of 2016-2017.

What this means is that the likely range for annual global temperatures over the next 5 years will be about 1 to 1.3 C above 1880s averages. These readings are so high (the warmest in 115,000 years) and have risen so much, in such a geologically short span of time, that many of the world’s more sensitive species are now being pushed out of their habitats and are undergoing considerable heat-related mortality events.

Great Barrier Reef Under Threat From Bleaching for Second Year in a Row

Perhaps the most obvious of these horrendous fossil-fuel burning spurred instances is the global coral bleaching event that began in 2014. More ominously, it now appears that surface temperatures in the range of 1 C hotter than 1880s and above may well be enough to push the world into a permanent or near-permanent state of global coral bleaching and mortality. What this means is that each year, from now on, there is a considerable risk of widespread coral bleaching. It also means that reefs impacted by bleaching will tend to have shorter cool periods in which to recover.

global-coral-bleaching-forecast

(NOAA’s 60 percent certainty map shows very widespread coral bleaching expected over the next few months. Presently, bleaching is predicted for the region of the Great Barrier Reef. But other reef systems [see below] fall under higher risks for considerable reef mortality events in the current forecast. Image source: NOAA.)

For February through May of 2017, very warm and warming sea surface temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere are expected to produce extraordinarily widespread risks of coral bleaching. Many areas are predicted to see the highest coral bleaching alert level NOAA has a measure for.

According to NOAA:

Multiple coral reef regions are already experiencing Alert Level 1 bleaching stress (associated with significant coral bleaching). Alert Level 2 bleaching stress (associated with widespread coral bleaching and significant mortality) is expected in the Northern Cook Islands, Southern Cook Islands, the Samoas, Wallis & Futuna, Northern Tonga, Southern Tonga, the Society Archipelago, and the Austral Islands in the next 1-4 weeks. Alert Level 1 bleaching conditions are also expected in the Tuamotu Archipelago in the next 1-4 weeks and in Tuvalu in the next 5-8 weeks.

The prediction map also includes the potential for high alert levels (level 1) for sections of the Great Barrier Reef which last year experienced its worst coral bleaching event on record. Needless to say, a second year of bleaching would be a devastating additional blow to a critical ocean life support system and one of Australia’s priceless national treasures.

Links:

Global Coral Bleaching Event Status

Earth Nullschool

NOAA: La Nina is Over

Hat tip to George Hayduke

 

January Arctic Sea Ice Volume is Lowest On Record by a Considerable Margin

Almost continuous warm, moist air invasions of the Arctic during fall and winter of 2016 and 2017 have resulted in the lowest sea ice refreeze rates on record. As a result, the amount of ice covering sections of the Northern Hemisphere ocean is now remarkably lower than during past comparable periods. In other words, we’ve never seen a winter in which Northern Hemisphere sea ice was so weak and reduced.

One key measure, sea ice volume, has shown particular losses when compared to past years. And even taking into account a long term trend of ice losses for the northern polar region that has been ongoing since the 20th Century, the 2016-2017 losses stand out like a flashing red indicator light. A trend directly related to the human-forced warming of our world through fossil fuel burning and related greenhouse gas emissions.

piomas-sea-ice-volume

(Significant sea ice losses during the winter of 2016-2017 show up clearly in the above PIOMAS graph. PIOMAS is a model measure of sea ice volume. And as you can well see when looking at the red line at the left hand side of the graph, the departure from past years is currently quite large. Image source: PIOMAS.)

In the above PIOMAS graph we find that January sea ice volume averaged around 14,000 cubic kilometers. This reading is roughly comparable to the early July average for the period of 1979 through 2016 — a time when the Arctic saw continuous declines in sea ice. The present reading is also about 1,500 cubic kilometers below the previous record low for the month of January set in 2013. And anyone looking at the above graph can well see that the departure is significantly below the trend line (about 8,000 cubic kilometers below the falling 38 year average for this time of year).

It’s worth reiterating that these are the lowest sea ice volumes ever seen for this time of year in the Arctic. A new record that comes after consistent new record lows occurring throughout the past 38 year period.

Presently, approximate 5 C above average temperatures are dominating the region above the 66 North Latitude. Over the coming days, a pair of warm air invasions of the North Pole region near 90 N are expected to push temperatures to more than 30 degrees Celsius above average and to near the melting point on two separate occasions. This pair of, not at all normal, events will likely produce additional sea ice losses in a polar region that is already seeing very unusual low sea ice concentrations, volumes and extents.

image

(Warm storm invasions of the northern polar region that inject high heat content, ice-melting moisture and far above average temperatures into the High Arctic have been a frequent occurrence over recent months. By February 10, GFS models predict that another such storm will push temperatures to more than 30 degrees Celsius above average for the North Pole and surrounding regions. This will produce yet one more powerful blow to sea ice attempting to rebuild in the region. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

After these events roar through, the Jet Stream is predicted to flatten somewhat — allowing cooler air to re-establish over the Central Arctic as warmer air invades the mid-latitudes. As a result, air temperature anomalies in the 66 N and above region are expected to fall back to a range of 1 to 2 C above average in the 7 to 14 day timeframe. Such a return to closer to normal conditions may allow for more short-term bounce-back toward previous record low ranges in the volume measure. But a much longer period of closer to average conditions would be required for a full recovery.

Overall, refreeze season tends to last until April. So some time does remain for a bit of recovery. And we have seen extent measures trend closer to past record lows over recent days. However, considering the massive losses experienced during fall-winter of 2016-2017, two months is unlikely enough time to produce a significant recovery even if cooling to more reasonable above average temperatures were to occur and remain in place for an extended period.

Links:

PIOMAS

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

Antarctic Sea Ice Likely to Hit New All-Time Record Lows Over Coming Days

Throughout the record global heat of 2016 and on into 2017, the world’s sea ice has taken a merciless pounding.

In the Northern Hemisphere, extreme warming of the polar region pushed Arctic sea ice extents to record low daily ranges throughout the winter, spring and fall of 2016. And even today, after many months of daily record lows, sea ice in the Arctic remains more reduced (in most measures) than it has ever been for this time of year.

On the other side of the world, the story is much the same. For it now appears that the ocean region around Antarctica is about to experience an all-time record annual low for sea ice:

antarctic-sea-ice-new-record-low

(JAXA Antarctic sea ice measure for all years since 1978 shows a strong challenge to the previous record low for extent set in 1997 [lower left hand corner of the graph]. With 2-4 weeks left in the melt season, the present measure is just about 170,000 square kilometers above the 1997 record low during Southern Hemisphere summer.)

Anomalous warmth, though less intense than in the Arctic zone, did finally begin to invade the austral polar region during Southern Hemisphere spring and summer (2016-2017). And since mid October, sea ice surrounding Antarctica has remained in record low daily ranges (see lower red line on the graph above). Wednesday, February 1st’s, JAXA measure of 2.42 million square kilometers of sea ice extent remaining is now just about 170,000 square kilometers above the previous record low sea ice extent set during mid-to-late February of 1997.

During this time of year, average drops in sea ice extent are around 50,000 square kilometers per day. So if all things were equal, we’d expect melt inertia to push the measure into new record low ranges over the next 3-5 days. Unfortunately, there appears to be an added impetus for melting as another blast of above average temperatures is being drawn into Antarctica underneath strong ridging features in the Southern Hemisphere Jet stream.

antarctic-warmth

(Warmth building into Antarctica over the next two weeks may be the final straw that tips the near ocean region into new all-time record lows for sea ice extent. The above GFS model prediction for February 9th rendered by Climate Reanalyzer shows temperature anomalies predicted for Antarctica and the surrounding regions. Red to orange is warmer than average, blue to purple is colder than average.)

As a result, over the next week, temperatures around Antarctica and in the nearby region of the Southern Ocean are expected to average between 1.2 and 1.8 C above the already warmer than normal 1979 through 2000 average. Meanwhile, parts of West Antarctica’s coastal zone are expected to hit as high as 5-20 C above that average.

With more warmth on the way, with measures already striking nearly half a million square kilometers below previous daily record lows, and with at least two weeks remaining in the melt season, it appears likely that we are in for a new all-time record low for sea ice extent in the ocean region surrounding Antarctica. If the new record does occur, it will happen during a time when the Arctic is also experiencing daily record lows for sea ice during Northern Hemisphere winter and as the world is experiencing global temperatures in the range of 1 to 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages.

Links:

JAXA Sea Ice

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Climate Reanalyzer

 

Chilean Wildfires are Worst to Ever Strike the Country

Drought in Chile has now lasted for more than a ten years.

Yearly precipitation deficits have ranged from 30-70% for most of central Chile for the last decade. But the ongoing drought’s intensity has increased since 2011. The result has been “an unprecedented drought in terms of intensity, spatial and temporal extent.”

Over recent days, the forests of Central Chile appear to have finally succumbed to the unprecedented and unrelenting punishment. One by one, massive wildfires ignited through Chile’s bone-dry woods — scorching hillsides, decimating more than 100 vineyards, and resulting in the tragic loss of four firefighters. As of today, more than 85 wildfires have burned approximately 190,000 hectares of land — or about 733 square miles.

This charred chunk of Chile more than half the size of Rhode Island represents the worst fire disaster in the state’s history. Now, nations are scrambling to help Chile respond to the crippling disaster as more than 35 large fires continue to rage out of control.

President Michelle Bachelet, visiting the hard-hit Maule region, stated to Reuters:

“We have never seen something of this size, never in Chile’s history. And the truth is the (firefighting) forces are doing everything that is humanly possible and will continue to do so until the fires are contained and controlled.”

chilean-wildfires-worst-to-ever-strike-country

(NASA satellite shot of massive wildfires burning in Central Chile on January 21 of 2017. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

These massive fires serve as the most recent book-end to a crippling climate change related situation that has been impacting Chile and larger South America for years. The fire situation has obviously been set in place by current ‘Mega Drought’ conditions. A drought period that “stands out not only in the historical record but also in precipitation and stream flow reconstructions for the last 1000 years.”

It’s a drought situation that’s replete with climate change related signals. Negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) values helped to push Chile into a dry phase through 2012 even as drying was considerably stronger than during past negative PDO periods. As PDO flipped to positive from 2013 onward, related El Nino conditions failed to bring expected rainfall to the state and drought conditions worsened. Due to these factors, climate researchers note: “there is an strong suggestion that anthropogenic climate change is [at least in part] responsible for the present Mega Drought.”

south-america-rainfall-deficits

(It’s not just wildfire-ravaged Chile. Large regions of South America are also experiencing severe drying which is helping to increase wildfire risk. Such drying is a feature of human-caused climate change in that human-forced warming due to fossil fuel burning increases evaporation rates and related stress to forests even as it drives fundamental alterations to precipitation patterns that can substantially worsen drought and wildfire intensity. Image source: NOAA.)

Climate change also appears to be driving drying in neighboring South American states like Brazil and Bolivia — where severe droughts and related warming are drying up massive lakes and helping to worsen the wildfire situation in the Amazon Rainforest. In Bolivia, drought has combined with a climate change driven removal of key mountain glaciers that has produced an endemic state of water scarcity. In Brazil, warming and deforestation are combining to remove a large portion of the atmospheric moisture plume that the great Amazon Rainforest provides. So the historic Chilean wildfires should also be considered in the larger context of ongoing South American droughts related to climate change.

Links:

The Current Mega-Drought in Chile — Is the Future Now?

NOAA

LANCE MODIS

Chile Battles Devastating Wildfires as International Help Pours In

More Than 100 Vineyards Decimated in Worst Wildfire Disaster in Chilean History

Four Firefighters Die in Chilean Wildfires

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Abnormal Antarctic Heat, Surface Melt, Giant Cracks in Ice Shelves — More Troubling Signs of a World Tipping Toward Climate Chaos

Around its edge zone, and from glacier top to ice shelf bottom, Antarctica is melting. Above-freezing surface temperatures during the austral summer of 2016-2017 have resulted in the formation of numerous surface-melt ponds around the Antarctic perimeter. Large cracks grow through Antarctic ice shelves as warmer ocean currents melt the towering glaciers from below. The overall picture is of a critical frozen region undergoing rapid change due to the human-forced heating of our world — a warming that has brought Antarctica to a tipping point, for such fundamental alterations to Antarctic ice are now likely to bring about a quickening rate of sea-level rise the world over.

Surface Melt Visible From Satellite

During 2016-2017, Antarctic surface temperatures ranged between 0.5 and 1 degree Celsius above the already warmer-than-normal 1979 to 2000 average for most of Southern Hemisphere summer. While these departures for this enormous frozen continent may not sound like much at face value, they’ve translated into periods of local temperatures up to 20 C above average. As a result, measures around Antarctica along and near the coastal zone have risen above the freezing mark on numerous occasions. These periods of much-warmer-than-normal weather have in turn precipitated widespread episodes of surface melt.

antarctica-ice-shelf-melt-rates

(This Antarctic volume-change melt map, which tracks thinning along various coastal ice shelves from 1994-2012, provides a good geographical reference for ice shelves experiencing surface melt or severe rifting. The Amery Ice Shelf [AME], King Baudouin Ice Shelf [BAU], and the Lazarev Ice Shelf [LAZ], stable through 2012, all showed extensive surface melt this summer. Meanwhile the Larsen C Ice Shelf [LAC] and Brunt Ice Shelf [BRU] both feature large rifts that threaten destabilization. Image source: Volume Loss from Antarctica’s Ice Shelves is Accelerating/Sciencemag.org.)

This year, one region in particular has seen temperatures hitting above 0 C consistently: the valley into which the Lambert, Mellor, and Fisher glaciers flow into the Amery Ice Shelf. There, warming has resulted in the formation of multiple large surface-melt ponds. The below image is a January 22nd NASA satellite shot of an approximate 100-by-40-mile section of this glacial outflow zone. The blue areas are melt ponds, some as large as 3 miles wide and 20 miles long.

The Amery Ice Shelf is one of East Antarctica’s largest. Like many of Antarctica’s ice shelves, Amery is melting, with about 46 billion tons of ice lost from this shelf alone each year. As with other Antarctic ice shelves, Amery’s melt is mostly below the surface, caused by warming ocean waters. However, in recent years, considerable surface melt on Amery’s feeder glaciers likely also contributed to significant volume losses in the shelf.

east-antarctic-surface-melt

(Large melt ponds up to 20 miles long cover glaciers flowing into the Amery Ice Shelf on January 22, 2017. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Surface melt for Amery has become an increasingly prevalent feature since 2013, with 2017 melt for January 22 the most widespread for any of the past five years in this region. East Antarctica rarely saw large surface melt events prior to the 2000s, and this year’s warming and large melt ponds are a considerable feature. While basal warming is often the cause of the greatest mass losses, surface melt can act like a giant wedge driven into ice shelves, helping to break them up. Melt wedging in glaciers can also increase their forward rate of movement as heat content rises and as the points at which glaciers contact the ground become lubricated.

Moving north toward Dronning Maud Land along the East Antarctic coast, we find another region of surface melt ponding on the King Baudouin Ice Shelf. Nearly as widespread and extensive as the melt on the Amery Shelf’s glaciers, the King Baudouin melt is no less impressive and concerning.

king-baudouin-ice-shelf-melt-summer-2017

(King Baudouin Ice Shelf shows extensive melt ponding along a 40-mile swath of its southwestern corner in January 2017. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

The largest melt zone shows nearly continuous ponding along a 40-mile-wide diagonal near the ice shelf’s southwestern contact point with East Antarctica’s mainland. A smaller section of melt appears as light blue splotches about 60 miles to the west of the larger melt zone in the image above (for reference, bottom edge of frame represents about 250 miles).

Unlike glacial surface ponding near Amery, melt on King Baudouin occurs directly over the floating ice shelf. This form of melt adds greater stresses as the heavy pools of water can act as wedges that drive gaps in the ice apart. Past instances of widespread surface ponding have occurred in conjunction with the rapid break-up of Larsen ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula. Taking a look at past years in the satellite record, we find that this region of King Baudouin has been susceptible to melt since at least 2013. However, the extent of 2017 melt is the greatest in the record for this time of year.

The next ice shelf to the west of King Baudouin, the Lazarev Ice Shelf, shows extensive melt along what appear to be various rifting features streaming out from an open ocean gap where the ice shelf contacts land:

lazarev-ice-shelf-melt-2017

(Ten-mile-long melt ponds visible on the surface of the Lazarev Ice Shelf. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Over recent years, the ocean gap — visible as a dark section in center-bottom frame of the image above — has slowly grown larger. There, open ocean water has gradually taken up a larger and larger section of Lazarev’s land-contact point. Meanwhile, from 2013 to 2017, melt ponds have tended to radiate out from this open gap region along rifts in the ice shelf structure during summer as air temperatures have risen above freezing.

This year, melt appears to be quite extensive with two parallel 10-mile-long melt ponds filling in rift features with many smaller melt ponds interspersed. The open ocean gap combined with rifts filling with what is now seasonal melt water gives the overall impression of a rather weak structure.

Ice Shelves Cracking Up

Though regions on or near the Amery, King Baudouin and Lazarev Ice Shelves show the most obvious surface melt features, large melt ponds also formed near the Fimbul Ice Shelf. Ponds also formed during a Föhn wind event near the Drygalski Ice Tongue. Even as such instances of surface melt became a more obvious feature across Antarctica, at least two large ice shelves were run through by growing rifts that threatened their stability.

One such rapidly-expanding rift forced the British Halley VI research team to evacuate their base of operations on the floating Brunt Ice Shelf. This rift, which had until late 2016 been growing only gradually, doubled in length in less than three months. Its gaping chasm threatened to cut the expedition off from the Antarctic mainland and set it adrift at sea — forcing an early evacuation as a precaution.

(Drone footage of Brunt Ice Shelf’s rapidly growing crack. From October through early January, the crack doubled in size from 22 kilometers in length to 44 kilometers. Video source: Antarctic Survey.)

Meanwhile, a large crack that will soon result in a 2,000-square-mile iceberg breaking from the Larsen C Ice Shelf recently grew by another six miles to 100 miles long. The Connecticut-sized ice chunk now only hangs by a 15 to 20 mile thread. With the loss of this very large segment of ice, researchers are concerned that Larsen C may destabilize and ultimately succumb to the fate of Larsen A and Larsen B — breaking into thousands of separate icebergs and floating away into the Southern Ocean.

Signs of Melt, Destabilization as More Above-Freezing Temperatures are on the Way

With so many large melt ponds and melt-related rifts forming in Antarctica’s ice shelves, it’s worth considering that these shelves serve as a kind of door jam holding large glaciers back from flooding into the ocean. And as more ice shelves melt and destabilize, the faster these glaciers will move and the faster the world’s oceans will rise.

So much widespread melt and rifting of Antarctica’s ice shelves is a clear warning sign. And if enough of the ice shelves go, then rates of sea-level rise could hit multiple meters this century.

antarctic-warming

(Many locations along the coast of Antarctica will see 5-15 C above-average surface temperatures this week, a continuation of a strong surface melt pressure for the austral summer of 2016-2017. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

This week, another spate of near- or above-freezing temperatures will run along the coastal regions of both east and west Antarctica, so the amazing atmospheric melt pressure that we are now seeing should continue to remain in play at least for the next seven days as austral summer continues. As for the melt pressure coming from the warming ocean beneath the ice shelves — that is now a year-round feature for many locations.

Links:

Climate Reanalyzer

Volume Loss from Antarctica’s Ice Shelves is Accelerating

LANCE MODIS

Antarctic Survey

Rapidly Growing Crack in Brunt Ice Shelf Forces Evacuation of Halley Research Station

Larsen C Ice Shelf Crack Just Grew By Another 6 Miles

Did Föhn Winds Just Melt 2 Miles of Antarctic Surface Ice in Just One Day?

Hat tip to Shawn Redmond

Hat tip to Jeremy in Wales

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Warm Atmospheric River Aims Parade of Storms at U.S. West During La Nina Year of 2017

A river of moisture arises from the Pacific Ocean and links up with a procession of enormous storms that bring heavy surf, flooding rains, and mountain snows to the U.S. West. It’s a weather narrative that one usually associates with a strong El Nino during winter time. But the powerful El Nino ended last year and it failed to bring the expected rains. Meanwhile, in early 2017, during a La Nina year in which typical trends would tend to point to drier conditions for the U.S. West, a procession of severe storms is now slamming into California.

El Nino Pattern During a La Nina Year

So what the heck happened? What could possibly cause such a crazy weather flip-flop in which record drought conditions extend through a time of El Nino but severe and extreme rains come with the onset of La Nina?

The answer appears to be that a record warm ocean combined with a strongly positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation to produce a powerful river of moisture aimed directly at California. And when the associated storms arrived it was with an extreme intensity — setting off numerous flash flood events.

atmospheric-river-pacific

(Water vapor models show an atmospheric river running out of the Western Pacific — crossing that vast ocean before engorging storms slamming into the U.S. West Coast on January 17 of 2017. This is a severe weather feature more typical of an El Nino year that is now occurring during a period of weak La Nina conditions. The difference being that rivers of moisture running into California typically issue over Hawaii. The present ‘Pineapple Express’ is coming all the way from the Philippines. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

An almost continuous spate of heavy downpours since the first week of January has now unloaded enough moisture to fully slake severe drought conditions over Northern California and to considerably reduce the drought in the south. Overall, precipitation totals for the past 30 days have been as much as 2.5 times above the normal amount for California.

Another Batch of Heavy Rain on the Way

This week, NOAA expects another batch of powerful storms to come blasting out of the Pacific. Sections of Southern California are predicted to get hit with around 9-13 inches of rain over the next seven days while the north receives another 10 to 15 inches. These are notably severe rainfall totals for California. And NOAA model predictions have tended to range higher over the past 24 hours.

 

noaa-extremely-heavy-precipitation

(NOAA 7-day precipitation forecast indicates a severe rainfall event for the U.S. West Coast with heaviest amounts hitting parts of Northern California. Image source: NOAA.)

According to Accuweather, the heavy rains are expected to spur flash flooding, increase the risk of mudslides and to possibly push some rivers over their banks. However, since many rivers are still at low levels following persistent drought during the last five years, over-topping is less of a risk than it otherwise would have been.

Storms tend to bring cooler weather to this region and the Western U.S. has cooled somewhat during 2017 compared to past years. However, the conditions in which these storms are firing are warmer than they have been in the past. As a result, mountain snowfall has occurred higher up on the slopes. Consistent with the warmer than normal storms, Accuweather predicts this week’s storm system will not produce big snowfall totals for the Cascades as snow levels are driven above 7,000 feet by the warmer than usual temperatures.

Very Warm, Moist Pacific; Positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation

There’s been very little weather and climate discussion as to why heavy rains are falling in California during a year when the odds stacked against such an event would tend to be higher due to La Nina. The elephant in the room at this time is a major excursion of global surface temperatures in the range of 1.2 C above normal during 2016. A notably severe climate change related insult to the Earth system. Such extreme atmospheric warmth will tend to hold more water vapor aloft in suspension. As a result, when the rains do fall, they will tend to be heavier and come more in the form of downpours and deluges than as moderate or lighter precipitation.

sea-surface-temperature-anomalies-pacific

(This sea surface temperature anomaly map shows that despite La Nina, the Pacific Ocean, on balance, is much warmer than normal. These warmer than normal sea surfaces are pumping out a considerable amount of moisture — which is helping to feed the powerful storm systems running into the U.S. West Coast. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

To this point, despite a La Nina blanketing the Pacific’s central Equatorial region in cooler than normal waters, most of the Northern Pacific is considerably warmer than normal. And all this extra warmth is helping to pump a lot of water vapor into the atmosphere above the ocean zone. A feature that is not typically consistent with La Nina, but one that is consistent with a considerably positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation acting in conjunction with overall global warming. Positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) values are associated with above normal sea surface temperatures in the Eastern and South-Central Pacific. Positive PDO tends to produce longer and strong El Nino events. And it is also associated with strong storm tracks running from west to east along the 40 N latitude line.

Storm Track Runs All the Way to U.S. West Coast

To this  point, it’s worth noting that PDO has been in a positive range for the past three years running. But it wasn’t until recently that a persistently strong storm track stretching all the way to the U.S. West Coast has developed. During past years, strong storms veered north into Alaska and Canada, deflected by powerful ridges over the U.S. West.

crazy-wavy-jet-stream-u-s-canada

(The crazy, wavy jet stream with a strong storm track hitting California and a ridge riding up into Central Canada is rather changed from the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge blocking pattern that helped to spark severe droughts along the U.S. West Coast during 2013-2015. Now, severe flooding rains are the rule of the day. Under human-caused climate change, we can expect weather patterns to tend more toward extremes. For the U.S. West Coast extreme drought has been replaced by heavy rains. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Assisting the process of storms running toward the U.S. West Coast was the removal of a hot blob of water off coastal Washington and Oregon as a zone of somewhat cooler than normal waters formed. These cooler waters extended from just off Northern Japan to south of the Aleutians and on toward the U.S. West Coast. This zone is providing a dipole temperature anomaly between the cooler than normal surface waters in the north and the warmer than normal waters in the south. As a result, the Jet Stream has a nice slot along which to produce a powerful, flat storm track. These two features — a strong temperature dipole between the 40 and 50 degree latitude lines and a very warm Pacific producing copious amounts of moisture south of the 40 degree latitude line — are the key ingredients that appear to be fueling the powerful West Coast storms in a counter-La Nina fashion.

In contrast to the 2013 to 2015 period, high pressure ridging along the U.S. West Coast is not now strong enough to deflect the storms running across the Northern Pacific. In other words, it appears that the influence of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge and hot Ocean blobs off Washington and Oregon during 2013 to 2015 is has now faded out. However, the new climate and weather trends driving this most recent influx of heavy rainfall to the U.S. West Coast are almost as odd and notable.

Links:

Threat of Flooding For U.S. West Coast

West Coast Storms Cause Dangerous Flooding in California

U.S. Drought Monitor

Climate Reanalyzer

GISS Temperature Data

Climate Reanalyzer

Pacific Decadal Oscillation

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

The Human World Has Never Experienced A Time When Global Sea Ice Was So Weak and Reduced

Neven — one of the world’s most beloved sea ice trackers — has again taken a break from his much-earned sabbatical to issue yet one more warning on the state of global sea ice.

His report, based on this month’s bombshell National Snow and Ice Data Center statement, can best be described as an urgent call for action on the part of the global community to redouble efforts aimed at reducing the wide-ranging and expanding harms caused by the terrible warming trend we have artificially forced upon our world.

Neven is a kind, honest, and open soul. He is also one of the smartest and decent fellow bloggers I have had the good fortune of encountering in my many travels during my last four years of covering the slow motion global train wreck caused by our widespread and vastly irresponsible burning of fossil fuels. In other words, the man, in my view, has the moral and intellectual authority that many lack. We should listen to him.

Before the World Warmed, This Would Have Been a 1 in 30 Billion Probability Event

For, sadly, on the crucial issue of sea ice, a general muting of the subject has tended to continue despite a jaw-dropping plunge in both the coverage and volume of a substance so crucial to maintaining a stable global climate:

global-sea-ice-extent-stunning-losses

(Global sea ice extent fell off a cliff during December of 2016. The measure has now bounced back a little. But the global average remains significantly below past record lows for this time of year. Loss of so much sea ice can be highly disruptive to the climate system and related atmospheric circulation and precipitation patterns. Image source: NSIDC.)

During December, global sea ice extent coverage fell to an amazing 4.4 million square kilometers below average. This is far, far outside the 2 standard deviation range — passing to fully 8 standard deviations beyond the typical yearly average.

Under past expectations of average, the statistical probability of such an event is approximately 1 in 30 billion. Of course, it’s pretty obvious at this time that a normal, natural variability is not the underlying cause of such a great loss of sea ice. That the warmth we added to the system has now greatly tipped the scales beyond anything representing what would have previously been considered a normal range. A range that since the year 2000 had already tended to dip below average more and more frequently. But one that has never seen so much ice lost.

Unprecedented Losses

This area of sea ice removed — enough to change how the face of our Earth looks from space — is approximately the size of two Greenlands (Note that sea ice loss does not directly contribute to sea level rise. But loss of protective sea ice can contribute to land ice melt — which does add to rates of sea level rise.). And it has been roughly split between the Arctic in the north and the Antarctic in the south.

If sea ice extent losses appear bleak, then sea ice volume losses seem even worse. Sea ice extent is a rough measure of the surface of the world covered by ice excluding gaps behind the leading ice edge. Sea ice volume, however, measures both the ice area — including gaps — and the ice thickness.

giomas-year-global

(Globally, we’ve lost about 1/3 of the total volume of sea ice since the 1980s. 2016’s record fall in the measure coincided with record hot global temperatures and an abnormal period of polar warming that continues on into 2017. Image source: Wipneus.)

Late 2016’s big drop included the approximate removal of 1/3 of the world’s sea ice volume when compared to 1981-2010 averages. In other words, 1/3 of all of the floating portion of the world’s cryosphere beyond the edge of anchored ice shelves had melted away during the period.

Record Global Temperatures as Prime Cause For North and South Pole Sea Ice Melt

In the north, extremely warm temperatures ranging from 2 to up to 7 degrees Celsius above average for the Arctic Ocean region have helped to drive these unprecedented fall and winter sea ice losses. In the south, warmer than normal surface conditions appear to have also helped to drive the amazing coordinate losses there. And overall, 2016 has shown warm to extremely warm conditions for both poles during a year in which global temperatures have spiked to around 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages.

2016-air-temperature-anomalies-north-and-south-pole

(Extremely strong polar amplification during 2016 is the likely primary contributor to sea ice loss in both the northern and southern polar regions. Image source: NSIDC.)

Under polar amplification — a condition associated with the human-forced warming of our world — scientists expected that the polar regions would tend to warm faster than the rest of the Earth surface. And during 2016, this global warming related condition presented effects writ large.  The damage to sea ice, so far, has been monumental. And these losses have continued into 2017 — even if they are somewhat less below the record low line than during their period of maximum departure this past December.

Albedo Losses and a Bad Set-up for Arctic Summer

Sea ice loss generates its own form of amplifying feedback — in which already prevalent polar warming can worsen further. Less ice coverage means that during summer more of the dark ocean surface is presented to absorb the sun’s rays. This replacement of a white, reflective surface with a dark blue, absorptive one means that still more heat will tend to be trapped in the polar environment. In addition, during winter, less ice cover means that the warmer ocean beneath will tend ventilate more heat and heat-trapping water vapor into the polar atmospheres. And it’s this kind of self-reinforcing cycle that can tend to lock in the dangerous changes like worsening severe weather, worsening heatwaves in the middle and lower latitudes, and the increasing rates of land glacier melt and sea level rise that scientists have been warning about for so long. And it’s this kind of disruptive longer term climate trend that we are being drawn into at this time.

freezing-degree-days-lag-during-freezing-seaons-80-n

(Freezing degree days for the crucial 80 N region have significantly departed into record low ranges. The less freezing degree days, the closer this region is to thawing. Image source: Tealight. Data Source: DMI.)

Nearer term, it appears that the polar heat which has already so greatly damaged the Arctic sea ice is set to stay. Over the next few days, the Arctic appears set to experience a powerful series of low pressure systems running in from the Barents side between Svalbard and Siberia. Neven warns that these storms will tend to push a considerable portion of the remaining thick ice out of the Arctic and through the Fram Strait. Over the next couple of weeks, global forecast models indicate that above freezing temperatures will tend to invade regions now covered by sea ice in Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, and in the Chukchi Sea. Though the ice is trying to grow, such repeated insults will tend to keep ice coverage in record low ranges.

If this trend of warmth, storms and ice export continues through February, March and April — as it has during October, November, December and January — then the set up for the 2017 melt season would be about the worst we have ever seen. And that would tend to increase the likelihood of new record minimums being reached during September all while hastening the day when the Arctic experiences near ice free conditions. Lets hope that doesn’t happen. But, so far, the trends for the winter of 2016-2017, from pole to pole, have followed along the lines of a near worst case scenario.

Links:

Global Sea Ice Records Broken Again

National Snow and Ice Data Center Sea Ice News

Wipneus Sea Ice Graphs

NASA GISS Temperature Data

Polar Amplification

Tealight

DMI

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

The Electric Vehicles are Coming — Global Sales Likely to Exceed 1 Million During 2017

Electric vehicle (EV) performance has been improving so quickly and prices have been falling so fast that the internal combustion engine (ICE) wouldn’t be able to compete for much longer. You will soon be able to get Porsche performance for Buick prices and when you get that, neither Porsche nor Buick are able to compete.Tony Seba

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We talk a lot here about tipping points. Often this is in the negative sense when it comes to climate change. But when it comes to electrical vehicles, which is one of the key renewable energy technologies that has the capacity to mitigate climate harms, it appears that the world is rapidly approaching a much more positive kind of economic tipping point.

Steadily, markets are opening up to a new wave of far more capable electric vehicles. And this is good news — because the combination of wind + solar + electrical vehicles + battery storage has the capacity to act as a market force that, on its own, will begin to dramatically cut the global carbon emissions now driving dangerous climate change the world over.

850,000 EV Sales for 2016, Possibly More than a Million During 2017

During 2015, as EV ranges extended, as charging networks expanded, as countries like China and India began to incentivize electric vehicles in an effort to fight choking air pollution, and as high value vehicles like Tesla’s model X became available, global EV sales jumped to over 500,000. This momentum continued during 2016 despite plummeting gas prices — a year when sales of electric vehicles are now expected to rise by more than 60 percent to 850,000.

By 2017, it is likely that global annual EV sales will lift still further — hitting over 1 million in the world market as lower cost, longer range electric vehicles like the Chevy Bolt, the Tesla Model 3, and an upgraded Nissan Leaf are expected make their entry.

ev-volumes

(Plug in vehicle sales including EVs and PHEVs are expected to jump about 60 percent during 2016. Rising vehicle quality and concerns about pollution and climate change are the primary drivers. Image source: Plug in Electric Vehicles Sales Growth.)

While climate and environmental policy is helping to spur this beneficial trend — with smog-choked cities and countries concerned about climate change pushing for fossil fuel based vehicle bans — it’s important to note that overall EV performance and quality now also appear to be a major underlying driver pushing EV adoption rates higher. In other words, a vehicle with a more powerful engine, faster acceleration, and a larger interior, one that produces less noise while driving, generates no toxic stink from a tail pipe and costs less to fuel and maintain, and one whose operation (when coupled with a renewable electricity supply) won’t contribute to all the nasty droughts, floods, heatwaves, animal deaths and rising tides that are becoming so pervasive due to fossil fuel burning, is looking increasingly attractive.

Rising EV Quality, Lower Cost Helps to Drive Adoption Rates

Rising rates of adoption, in essence, come both from various performance advantages as well as from an increasing societal awareness of EVs’ greatly lessened harmful impacts. Moreover, electric vehicles — like wind and solar — have the ability to produce great leaps in performance, capability, and cost reduction. As a result, they are increasingly narrowing the gap with fossil fuel based vehicles on range and price even as already superior power and efficiency expands.

chevy-bolt

(Higher capability electric vehicles like the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 will help to further increase global sales during 2017. On acceleration and torque, both of these vehicles will be able to outperform many ICE based sports cars for a lower price. But the larger point here is that EVs are advancing very rapidly and are likely to be able to outperform ICEs in almost every way by as soon as the 2020s. Image source: Chevy Bolt.)

Vehicle ranges across almost all model lines are rising. The Nissan Leaf, for example, now has a range of 107 miles — compared to 84 miles just two years before — even as the company is expected to provide a 200 mile capable model in the near future. Meanwhile, today’s Leaf’s range is less than half that of the comparatively priced Chevy Bolt whose late 2016 release model boasts a 238 mile capability (about 4 times that of typical electric vehicles from just 2-3 years ago). Well-selling higher end vehicles like Tesla’s model S and X still dominate the longer range category. The base Model S’s range is 210 miles with larger battery pack versions now extending the vehicle’s legs to up to 315 miles.

The Chevy Bolt is the first mass market, moderately priced, fully electric vehicle (starting at around 35,000 dollars) with a highway range in excess of 200 miles available for US buyers. A vehicle that Motor Trend Magazine has rated very favorably. Lower maintenance and fuel costs will further add to the vehicle’s economic value and overall appeal. In late 2017, the Tesla Model 3 will join the Bolt in this category. Both vehicles represent high quality and higher performance options for buyers. And these models should help to considerably increase the number of electrical vehicles sold in the U.S. and around the world as they become available.

Electric Buses Promise to Help Revitalize Urban Areas, Make Public Transport More Attractive

(Gothenburg is one of many cities around the world moving to electric bus based transportation. This form of transport is not only clean, it provides unique features that aid in city planning and urban renewal. Video source: Electric Buses Regenerate City Planning.)

Larger electric vehicles such as trucks and buses are also starting to become more widely represented. For example, Chinese EV manufacturer BYD recently received an order for 50 new all-electric buses from Argentina. Proterra, another electric bus manufacturer, just had an order from the city of Seattle for 73. King County, which includes Seattle, plans to have all its buses powered by electricity within 3 years. Electric buses have seen major advances in recent years and now feature ranges as long as 350 miles and charging times in as little as 3-30 minutes.

Better Access to Charging Infrastructure, Faster Charging, Superior Performance

Expanding EV charging networks are also making these vehicles more accessible to the public. Tesla has invested heavily in placing chargers along highways in the U.S. and around the world. And it is the only automaker presently making superchargers — capable of fully charging an electric vehicle in about an hour — available as a special service to its drivers. These networks are adding to EV ease of use and are helping to further reduce range anxiety. Meanwhile the ability to charge at home, at work, and at numerous destinations such as grocery stores, rest stops, and malls adds to EV versatility and ease of use — providing convenience that ICE vehicles lack.

tesla-superchargers-destination-chargers

(Tesla’s ever-expanding charging network includes both super-chargers and more conventional charging stations. Image source: Gas2.)

EVs now also provide superior performance when compared to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in a number of areas. Though gasoline is presently more energy dense than batteries (a situation that is changing as battery technology improves), electric motors are far and away superior to internal combustion engines. Smaller electric motors save weight and space — allowing for larger vehicle interiors and storage. Meanwhile, an electric motor’s ability to rapidly deliver energy to the drive train produces superior acceleration and torque compared to ICE based vehicles. It is this feature that allows the Tesla Model S to outperform even motorcycles in acceleration. Simplicity of design is also a superior feature of electrical vehicles — one that is enabling EV owners to dramatically reduce maintenance costs. Less moving parts and less complicated engines enable this benefit. Add in greatly reduced fuel costs and it becomes pretty clear why EVs are enjoying such rapidly rising rates of adoption.

Helping to Combat Global Climate Change

Increasing EV popularity and access helps to combat global climate change on a number of levels. First, EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions. Second, EV engines are more efficient than internal combustion engines — so they use less energy overall than fossil fuel based vehicles. Third, EVs mated to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar produce zero or near zero carbon emissions during operation. Finally, the batteries used to charge EVs can provide storage for intermittent sources like wind and solar energy. And this energy storage can occur both while the batteries are sitting in a stationary vehicle and after-market when batteries are removed following the end of the vehicle’s time of use.

EVs are also transformative in that they greatly reduce and provide the potential to eliminate emissions from large segments of the transportation sector. And this is a pretty big deal as global transport is presently one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. With EVs, supply chains for food delivery and manufacturing have the potential to be decarbonized — which also helps to reduce various material and food based carbon footprints.

So the EVs are coming. A liberating economic force that’s helping to drive an energy switch that the world, at this time, desperately needs.

Links:

Dramatic Plug in Vehicle Sales Growth During 2016

EVs Will Soon Be Cheaper Than Regular Cars

Norway to Ban Petrol Vehicle Sales

Chevy Bolt

New Nissan Leaf With 200 Mile Range is Coming

Tesla Model S

Chevy Bolt vs Model S

Electric Buses Regenerate City Planning

BYD Sells 50 Electric Buses to Argentina

Seattle Buses to be All-Electric

Gas2 — More Tesla Charging Stations

Hat tip to JPL

NOAA– Atmospheric CO2 Increased by 2.77 Parts Per Million During 2016

According to NOAA, carbon dioxide — a key heat trapping gas — increased its atmospheric concentration by 2.77 parts per million during 2016. This was the third fastest rate of increase in the NOAA record following 2015 at a 3.03 ppm annual increase and 1998 at a 2.93 annual increase.

Earlier trends had indicated that 2016 might be on track to beat 2015 as a new record year (and a month by month comparison for the first 11 months of 2016 pointed toward a record rate of rise). These concerns, thankfully, did not materialize as atmospheric rates of accumulation slowed down during December of 2016 — which helped to push the overall year to year comparison lower (NOAA’s year-on-year rate of growth is based on a December to January comparison). Nonetheless, the high rate of atmospheric increase for 2016 remains a matter of concern.

co2-annual-rate-of-increase

(2015 saw a record annual rate of atmospheric CO2 increase at 3.03 parts per million. 2016’s increase at 2.77 parts per million was the 3rd fastest on record. Overall, the decade of 2011-2016 is presently showing about a 20 percent faster rate of accumulation than the decade of 2000 to 2010. This should moderate somewhat post El Nino. However, Earth System feedbacks threaten to hamper the environment’s ability to take down excess carbon as the world begins to approach 1.5 C warmer than 1880s averages. Image source: NOAA.)

Overall, the average annual rate of increase for the first six years of the decade beginning in 2011 was 2.42 parts per million. This rate is approximately 20 percent faster than during the decade of 2001 to 2010 (analysis based on this NOAA data) at around a 2.05 parts per million annual increase. Prior to the most recent decade, the 2000 to 2010 period showed the fastest rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide accumulation on record.

El Nino, through ocean warming and related land impacts such as increased droughts and wildfires, can reduce the rate of CO2 uptake by the Earth System — thus forcing a higher rate of increase due to the human emission. And the 2015 to 2016 period featured a strong El Nino. All things being equal, we should expect atmospheric rates of increase to moderate somewhat during 2017. Possibly dropping to slightly below 2 ppm in the best case.

atmospheric-co2-increase-the-keeling-curve

(Extremely rapid rates of atmospheric CO2 increase since the mid 20th Century have been driven by ramping rates of fossil fuel burning. Now we are at a point where the Earth System will have more and more difficulty taking in the carbon spewed out by smokestacks and tail pipes. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

However, global carbon emissions from fossil fuels at near record levels will continue to push a very high rate of atmospheric accumulation of this climate change driving heat-trapping gas. And the added insult due to global warming now ranging above 1 C hotter than 1880s for most years will tend to put a cap on how effective the Earth is at taking in the very large excess human emission.

By comparison, rates of CO2 increase during the last hothouse extinction event — the PETM — were about 10 to 20 times slower than they are today. And it took hundreds of years for atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to equal the same 125 parts per million increase we’ve now experienced in the 136 years since 1880. So the insult to the Earth System produced by fossil fuel burning is currently extraordinarily high and the rate of heat trapping gas accumulation is probably unprecedented for at least the last 66 million years.

(CO2 is the primary gas driving global warming. But it is not the only one. Add in methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gasses and you end up with a total forcing that’s equivalent to 490 parts per million CO2. Video source: Climate One.)

NOAA is now showing that global atmospheric CO2 averages are hitting near 402.5 parts per million. This level will likely increase to around 404 to 405 parts per million by the end of 2017. The forcing from this CO2 alone (not including methane and other greenhouse gasses which has pushed CO2 equivalent forcing to around 490 parts per million) is enough to push global temperatures to nearly 2 C warmer than 1880s averages this Century (prediction based on ECS model analysis). Longer term, if atmospheric CO2 concentrations remain so high, overall warming could hit 3 C to as much as 4 C hotter than 1880s values when adding in the long-term impacts of other greenhouse gas emissions (prediction based on a meta-analysis of paleoclimate temperature and atmospheric carbon proxies).

With global temperatures already driven to about 1.2 C hotter than 1880s during 2016, it’s not an understatement to say that a period of more dangerous and harmful climate change — forced upon us by the world’s extremely high rate of carbon emissions — is already upon us. And we can see that in the various severe weather and geophysical events that are currently ranging the globe. The urgency for cutting carbon emissions, therefore, could not be greater.

Links:

NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Ten Times Faster Than the PETM

The Keeling Curve

Climate One

Hat tip to Shawn Redmond

Hat tip to Suzanne

(UPDATED)

Antarctica is About to Lose a 2,000 Square Mile Chunk of Ice — And it Could Mean the End of the Larsen C Ice Shelf

It’s happened before. Ice shelves on the northern Antarctic Peninsula released large chunks of ice into the Southern Ocean as the world warmed up. They developed a concave shape which became unstable. Then they collapsed.

The ultimate collapse of Larsen A occurred in 1995. In 2002, further up the Antarctic Peninsula, the larger Larsen B Ice Shelf succumbed to the same fate. And it is thought that such losses haven’t happened to this section of Antarctica in at least 11,000 years and possibly as long ago as 100,000 years.

(NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory provides this narrative describing the collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in 2002. Video source: JPL.)

But in the present world, one where human fossil fuel emissions have forced global temperatures above 1 C hotter than 1880s averages, the stability of many of the great great ice shelves is now endangered.

Larsen C Ice Shelf to Calve 2,000 Square Mile Ice Berg

Today, a huge rift has nearly bisected a large frontal section of the Larsen C Ice shelf — an ice system many times the size of its now deceased companions Larsen A and Larsen B. And during December — a period when Antarctica was warming into Austral Summer — this massive crack grew by 18 kilometers.

When, and not if, the crack reaches the ocean, a 2,000 square mile ice berg will float away from Larsen C. It will be one of the largest ice bergs ever to form in human memory. One the size of the state of Delaware. It will tower hundreds of feet above the ocean surface. And it will last for years before ultimately melting.

larsen-c-ice-rift-length-and-width

(The Larsen C is rift grew considerably — both lengthening and widening during December of 2016. It was an indication that a massive ice berg was about to break off. Image source: MIDAS.)

This event will change the geography of our world. And for this alteration alone, it has great consequence. But, as Chris Mooney notes in this excellent Washington Post article on the subject, it’s what happens afterward that really counts.

Event Could Presage Total Collapse

Of concern is the fact that once this massive ice berg calves off of Larsen C, the great ice sheet may become unstable. It will take on a concave form. This form will make it more vulnerable to further melt by warming waters running in toward the shelf. Furthermore, the large ice berg will take a chunk of Larsen C’s compressive arch with it. Such a compressive arch — like the arch of a flying buttress — helps to bear the weight of the shelf and keep it from smashing into thousands of tiny pieces. If too much of the arc is lost, the shelf can’t survive for long.

larsen-c-ice-rift-midas

(Researchers at The MIDAS Project have projected that a 2,000 square mile section of the Larsen C Ice Shelf is about to break off. This section represents 10 percent of the Larsen C system. Its loss risks destabilization of the entire ice shelf. If Larsen C does disintegrate, it will release glaciers capable of increasing global sea level by another 4 inches. Image source: MIDAS.)

Glaciologist Eric Rignot notes in The Washington Post:

“We studied the current rift in the past few years, it has been progressing rather ‘normally,’ the recent acceleration in the rift progression is ‘expected’ in my opinion. The consequences on the rest of the ice shelf are not clear at this point. If the calving continues and goes past the compressive arch … then the ice shelf will break up.”

Scientists are currently divided over the issue of whether or not Larsen C’s near-term demise is imminent. However, the loss of such a massive ice berg from Larsen C, the present human-forced warming of the Antarctic land and ocean environment, and the presently observed thinning of the ice shelf all point toward a rising risk of destabilization or disintegration.

As with most things geological, you can’t really say that such an event is certain until after the fact. But as for Larsen C’s prospects of long term survival, things aren’t looking too great at the moment.

Links/Credits

The MIDAS Project

Antarctica is Set to Lose an Enormous Piece of Ice

An Ice Berg the Size of Delaware is About to Break off From Antarctica

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

This is What The Resistance Looks Like — Cities, States and Nations Run on 100 Percent Renewable Power

The sparks of resistance to a harmful domination of energy supplies by the fossil fuel industry are out there. They are the lights of clean power generation blooming like stars across a world blackened by smokestack emissions and imperiled by climate change.

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In the U.S., backward-looking republicans like Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, James Inhofe and Mitch McConnell appear to be gearing up to fight against both a necessary and helpful science that provides us with a life-saving awareness of the threats posed by human caused climate change and a highly beneficial renewable energy renaissance that has now gone global. Trump’s presidential cabinet is filled to the brim with climate change deniers and fossil fuel pushers. Pledges to de-fund climate science, implied threats to fire employees at the Department of Energy who worked on climate and renewable energy related issues, and belligerent boasting about dismantling much-needed policies like the Clean Power Plan, EPA fuel efficiency standards, and the Paris Climate Summit abound.

It’s the great loud, sad, and ignorance-filled reaction against a better future. A political and legislative backlash funded by oil, gas, and coal company campaign donations, advertising dollars, and indirect media investments. One that seeks to remove the possibility for a time when energy does not pollute the air or water — resulting in 7 million premature deaths each year globally. For one when climates are not, by incessant fossil fuel burning, pushed ever-closer to the hothouse extinction states that killed so much of life on Earth in the great long ago.

(There used to be a number of forward-looking republicans who both stood as leaders of their party and provided strong support for clean power. What happened? Where are these clear and reasonable voices now? Arnold calls BS on politicians fighting against clean energy, who like Trump and many current-day republicans, are claiming it’s too costly or difficult to switch away from fossil fuels. Video source: Attn.)

But despite this surge of destructive reactionism on the part of U.S. republicans and in such varied legislative bodies as the UK and Australia, the hopeful movement toward a future which includes the potential for human civilization survival and long-term prosperity continues. It’s a movement powered by individuals, by sustainable industries, by cities, by states and by nations who recognize the need for a more hopeful, more beneficial path than the one the fossil fuel industry and their political cohorts, like Trump, are now seeking to force upon them. They are the base of a very necessary resistance to a malign and yet still powerful global influence. And they are resisting by simply finding a way to shine lights powered by clean energy in the darkness and smog of this dying hydrocarbon age.

Number of U.S. Cities Powered by 100 Percent Renewable Energy Grows

In Las Vegas, Nevada, a city on the brink of a climate change driven chaos of water shortages and worsening droughts, the clean energy lights have switched on. There, city officials have achieved 100 percent renewable power for municipal facilities fed by a 100 MW renewable energy generation source. To be clear, the entire city of Las Vegas isn’t run by renewable energy — yet. But the government buildings, traffic lights, street lights, and public parks are now powered by clean sources.

Las Vegas isn’t the only one. Greensburg, Kansas runs on 100 percent renewable power — including electricity provided to individual residences. Burlington, Vermont and Aspen, Colorado also provide 100 percent renewable energy for city infrastructure, industry and residences. The list of cities already achieving or close to achieving 100 percent renewable power goals goes on to include Columbia, Maryland; East Hampton, New York; Georgetown, Texas; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Greensburg, Kansas; Nassau, New York and Rochester, Minnesota.  In California — a state that governor Jerry Brown has pledged will continue its clean energy progress despite what appear to be a broad array of incoming attacks on renewables by Trump and republicans — Paolo Alto is joined by Lancaster, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Monica as cities that have all achieved or are pursuing 100 percent renewable power generation.

us-solar-energy-leadership

(President Obama is proud of U.S. solar energy and climate leadership. This support helped Obama to create 14 million jobs over the course of his Presidency. Donald Trump appears to be ready to attack one of the U.S.’s few remaining cutting edge industries and along with it middle class jobs. Image source: White House.)

But that’s not all. This week, a new power agreement committed 21 towns in Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod to energy provided by 100 percent renewable sources. These communities banded together with the goal in mind not just to switch to clean energy — but to negotiate favorable rates by leveraging the bargaining power of a large customer base. Such a strategic approach is especially important in regions where energy markets have been deregulated — as it provides the added protection of broad representation.

As with climate scientists, it’s likely that sustainable communities like these will fall on the target lists of republican party leaders allied to a fossil fuel industry that’s increasingly desperate to legislatively capture energy customers — providing them no option to escape from harmful power sources. But many city leaders are fed up and won’t have any of it. To this point, 48 mayors issued an open letter to Donald Trump stating:

The effects of climate change — extreme storms, wildfires and drought; sea level rise and storm surge; choking air pollution in cities; disruption of agricultural supply chains and jobs in rural heartlands; and coastal erosion, to name a few — are a clear and present danger to American interests at home and abroad… As Mayors, we have taken it upon ourselves to take bold action within our cities to tackle the climate crisis head-on. We write today to ask for your partnership in our work to clean our air, strengthen our economy, and ensure that our children inherit a nation healthier and better prepared for the future than it is today.

A Global Resistance to the Harmful Energy Sources that Cause Climate Change

Across the Atlantic, a Scottish golf course constructed by Donald Trump is now receiving power from renewable energy sources like the wind turbines he continues to oppose. Today Scotland generates 72 percent of its electrical energy from non carbon sources. A figure that the Scottish government is aiming to push to 100 percent by 2020. Meanwhile, the European island of Iceland has long received the bulk of its electricity and thermal energy from renewable hydro and geothermal sources.

In nearby mainland Europe, numerous cities now run on 100 percent renewable electrical power. These include Güssing, in Austria; Wildpoldsried, in Germany and Samsø, in Denmark. Germany’s states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, home to 1.6 million Germans, and Schleswig-Holstein with a population of 2.9 million are both renewable energy over-achievers — producing more clean power than they consume. These states instead often export their electricity to various other nearby regions.

In South America, Paraguay produces 10 times the electricity it requires from renewables and exports the excess to its neighbors — many of whom, like Bolivia and Brazil, are already seeing harmful climate impacts resulting from human fossil fuel burning. Further north, Central American Costa Rica has now seen a year pass without the need for further fossil fuel power generation even as it continues to install more renewables. And, finally, Pacific islands are starting to make the switch from expensive diesel power generation to increasingly affordable solar. There, the Pacific island nation of Tokelau had become the first country to be powered by 100 percent solar energy. Meanwhile, Solar City recently enabled an entire island in the American Samoa chain to flip from diesel to near 100 percent solar.

Solar Exceeds Wind For First Time as India Makes Commitment to Halt Coal Plant Construction

Stepping back, we find that this massive transition away from fossil fuel based energy sources is being driven in large part by two new energy providers combining with traditional hydro power generation as a dispatchable base load provider. These two — wind and solar — this year will add a combined approximate 130-140 gigawatts of new generation capacity. Solar, for the first time, is expected to exceed wind by providing 70-76 gigawatts of new capacity during 2016. Meanwhile, wind is expected to hit record or near record installations at around 60-65 gigawatts.

Low prices and superior energy return on energy investment vs traditional fossil fuels as well as much lower overall impacts to human health and the global climate appears to be the primary driver of what is shaping up to be an extraordinarily rapid shift in the world’s electricity markets. Wind has long been considered a low-cost energy source. But in 2016, it appears that solar prices have fallen below those of already inexpensive wind generation. And, according to Bloomberg, solar is now sometimes selling a prices half that of traditional coal. It is these low prices that are enabling cities, communities, states and some small to mid-sized nations to achieve 100 percent renewable power generation. Meanwhile, large states are now enabled to make big commitments to halt construction of the worst-polluting power stations.

On Tuesday, December 20, India — which will soon be the most highly populated country in the world — announced that it would completely halt new coal plant construction through 2027. India faces worsening droughts, glacial outburst floods in the Himalayas, killing heat, and a flood destabilized Bangladesh to its east so long as global temperatures continue to rise. The country is also seeing rapid economic growth and increases in prosperity. But this prosperity is threatened by climate change impacts. For a country faced with destabilization of nations on its borders, inundated coastlines, killing heat in its heartland, and rampant drought as rivers dry up and glaciers disappear finds aspirations for a prosperous future imperiled.

india-majority-renewable-power

(India plans a major revamp of policy by ambitiously pursuing renewables while completely curtailing new coal plant building. Under such a plan, and with Trump coming in as President, one wonders if the U.S. will fall far behind other nations leading the charge into a future powered by clean energy. Will Trump attack the very industries at home that would benefit from India’s drive to seek renewable energy partners? American mainstays like Tesla, Solar City, GE wind, SunPower, and First Solar would all benefit from such a potential relationship. But will Trump’s anti-renewables fossil fuel based ideology blind him to this obvious opportunity to help U.S. business interests abroad? Image provided by Renew Economy.)

India’s response is to rationally cap coal consumption by 2022 while undertaking a massive renewable energy build-out. By 2027, India plans to add 215 gigawatts of renewables, and 39 gigawatts of nuclear and hydro power. Coal plant construction will be limited to those plants that are currently under contract. But the state already predicts that the capacity will be under-utilized, resulting in stranded fossil fuel ‘assets’ — which could produce a drag on markets both at home and abroad.

Under the new plan, India will boast a majority renewable and zero emission power generation capacity by 2027. And this action appears to be laying the groundwork for a larger energy switch as India’s Energy Minister Piyush Goyal has stated a clear goal to “look at a world beyond fossil fuels” and to aim to cut fossil fuel imports.

Clean Power Resistance to Ideologies and Industries Destined for Dramatic Failure

In the end, what we see is a world in which renewable energy is making a great leap forward. A world where the considerable but waning fossil fuel powers are panicking and lashing out as they begin to enter decline. We see this reactionary backlash in climate change denial, in attacks on scientists, in an amoral pandering toward fears, bigotry and extremism, in brazen attempts to erode democratic institutions and attack the Constitutional integrity of the electoral process in the U.S., and in Trump’s and Republicans’ insistence on protecting fading industries destined to fail. We also see it in their attacks against the new and helpful industries and the agencies, like the EPA and NASA, that produce so many beneficial public goods.

What their actions and reactions will produce — by intentionally injecting authoritarianism, chaos and instability — is a delay to the entry of these helpful power sources. A delay that will lock in worse climate harms even as it hobbles the most innovative and helpful segment of emerging industry within the United States. A delay engineered by leveraging all the darker angels of the American psyche. And as with many of the other policies now being promoted by republicans, this subset is as ludicrously out of touch with present day politics, history, societies, and industry as it is brazenly harmful to pretty much everyone.

But the resistance to this darkness and retrenchment has arrived in the form of new opportunity and progressive movement. It has arrived in the form of a very real and clean enlightenment of the global energy production system. One that breaks the ancient ties to destructive extraction and burning. And there could be no better cause than supporting this resistance by doing your part to aid the transition to clean power.

Links:

NASA Climate Change Mitigation

Trump Cabinet Filled to the Brim With Climate Change Deniers

Cape Light Compact Goes 100 Percent Renewable Electricity

White House

Arnold Calls BS on Politicians Claiming Clean Energy is Too Expensive

Los Vegas Goes 100 Percent Renewable Power

Solar Now Produces a Better Energy Return on Investment than Oil

Renew Economy — No New Coal Fired Plants for India

Solar Less Expensive than Coal and Wind

Mayors Letter to Trump on Climate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

 

Solar Now Produces a Better Energy Return on Investment Than Oil

The future is not good for oil, no matter which way you look at it. — Motherboard

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Solar — it’s not just a clean power source producing zero emissions and almost no local water impact, it’s also now one of the best choices on the basis of how much energy you get back for your investment. And with climate change impacts rising, solar’s further potential to take some of the edge off the harm that’s coming down the pipe makes speeding its adoption a clear no-brainer.

In 2016, according to a trends analysis based on this report by the Royal Society of London, the energy return on energy investment (EROEI) for oil appears to have fallen below a ratio of 15 to 1 globally. In places like the United States, where extraction efforts increasingly rely on unconventional techniques like fracking, that EROEI has fallen to 10 or 11 to 1 or lower.

Meanwhile, according to a new study by the Imperial College of London, solar energy’s return on investment ratio as of 2015 was 14 to 1 and rising. What this means is that a global energy return on investment inflection point between oil and solar was likely reached at some time during the present year.

solar-energy-conversion-efficiencies

(Rising solar cell conversion efficiencies, expanding production bases, and better supply chains are helping to drive solar energy return on energy invested higher. Image source: Commons.)

How much energy you get back for each unit invested has often been seen as a viability factor for modern civilization. And returns higher than 5 to 1 were often thought of as essential for the maintenance and progression of present high standards of living in advanced societies. However, in the past, alternatives like wind and solar were at first criticized for perceived low rates of energy return. In the end, it appears that these criticisms have turned up false.

The higher energy returns for solar come as module efficiency, supply chain efficiency, and production and installation efficiency are all on the rise. And as solar is a technology-based energy source, we can expect these returns to continue to increase as production bases widen and as innovation drives modules to continue to improve their ability to collect power from the sun. For oil, the story is quite a bit more grim. Falling production in conventional wells has resulted in more reliance on hard to extract oil — and this makes pulling oil out of the ground much more expensive from an energy investment standpoint.

Record Rate of Solar Installation

Solar’s sharpening edge vs oil as an energy source came during a year when new installations boomed globally. Annual installations are expected to hit a record 70 gigawatts (GW) around the world in 2016 — ahead of early predictions for 65 GW of new installations earlier this year. China, the U.S. and India all likely saw record rates of solar adoption. Falling prices have helped to push the surge even as energy policies within many countries remain favorable to solar. In the Middle East and South America, new solar purchase agreements continued to break records for lowest cost. In Abu Dhabi, one solar project moved ahead with a 2.42 cent per kwh price tag. In Chile, a separate project broke ground at 2.91 cents per kwh. These prices are considerably lower than new oil or gas plants and are a primary driver for rising rates of adoption.

rate-of-solar-energy-installation-us

(Under Democratic President Barack Obama, solar energy expanded at a very rapid clip. This was partly due to a mostly positive policy environment at the national level and due to widespread support by various executive branch agencies like the EPA and the Department of Energy. That said, from 2013 onward, falling solar prices and better solar economics have become a larger driving force for market expansion. Reactive policies coming from the Trump Administration may put a wet blanket over this rate of solar growth. However, it is likely only to slow solar’s rise. In any case, given the amazing benefits provided by solar power, efforts made to slow this transition by Trump and others in his administration should be seen as a protectionist, nonsensical, and amoral top-down defense of the harmful fossil fuel industry. Image source: CleanEnergy.org.)

Higher energy return on investment ratios for solar is one of the primary drivers enabling such low overall power prices. And the impact is starting to ripple through global markets which are steadily embracing transformation (as in California) or are responding in a reactionary/protectionist manner in an attempt to slow solar’s advance (as in Nevada). Favorable energy economics are just one of solar’s many benefits — including less water use, lack of requirement for a centralized grid in undeveloped regions, low cost, zero air pollution, and in providing a mitigation for the rising problem of global climate change (which is primarily driven by human fossil fuel burning). And those seeking to remove policy support for continued rising rates of adoption for solar will not only be denying basic economic realities, they’ll be supporting the irrational continuation of an inherently harmful set of industries.

Links:

Implications of the Declining Energy Return on Energy Investment for Oil

PV Energy Payback and Net Energy

Solar is Already Producing More Energy Than Oil

CleanEnergy.org

World to Install 70 GW of Solar in 2016

World Record Breaking Price for Solar in Ahbu Dhabi

Hat tip to Climatehawk1

NOAA’s 2016 Report Card: The Arctic is Shouting Change

From winter to spring to summer to fall, it’s been an odd year for the Arctic. And according to Donald Perovich, one of the authors of NOAA’s 2016 Arctic Report Card, the Arctic isn’t just whispering change, it’s not foretelling change, “it’s shouting change.

(NOAA’s Arctic Report Card presented at the American Geophysical Union this morning. Video source: AGU.)

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Winter and spring of 2016 saw very warm temperatures in the northern polar region of our world. There, Arctic sea ice extent maximum hit its lowest values ever recorded in March. During summer, cooler, cloudier conditions prevented a complete meltdown by the time of sea ice minimum in September. However, sea ice extent bottomed out at second or third lowest on record in most of the major monitors. Moving into October, November and December, Arctic sea ice failed to refreeze at typical rates as extraordinarily warm temperatures were reinforced by pulses of air rising northward from the middle latitudes. At times, the gap between previous record low years and the new record lows seen during November of 2016 were as much as 1.1 million square kilometers. Now it is practically certain that average sea ice extents throughout 2016 will hit a new record low overall.

Arctic Warming at Least Twice as Fast as Rest of World

Much of this melt was almost certainly driven by the record warm Arctic temperatures seen during 2016. And according to NOAA, this year shattered all previous high marks for Arctic heat by a big margin — hitting 3.5 degrees Celsius warmer than 1900. Overall, this rate of warming is at least twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

arctic-warming-trend

(Arctic heat during 2016 centered over recently seasonal and annual ice free regions in the Chukchi and Barents seas. It’s an indicator that sea ice loss since 2007 and related loss of albedo [reflectivity] is starting to have the predicted heat-amplifying effect. Image source: NOAA.)

And all this extra heat has not only had a significant and substantial impact on sea ice — it is hammering the Greenland ice sheet, forcing the permafrost to rapidly thaw, and increasing the incidence of algae blooms related to ocean acidification.

Greenland Melt and Permafrost Thaw

In Greenland, the average annual rate of land ice loss is now 230 billion tons per year. This despite the fact that warming in the Greenland and Barents seas is helping to drive increased rates of precipitation in Eastern Greenland. So far, much of the precipitation is coming as snowfall. And this increase is helping to mitigate some of the mass losses due to melt across Greenland (see Marco Tedesco’s comments in the video above). However, as Greenland continues to experience surface warming, precipitation is likely to come more and more as rain — which will only further help to accelerate melt.

NOAA also notes that added Arctic heat has substantially altered the permafrost. Increasingly, this region of frozen soil is given over to thaw. As a result, profound changes to the Arctic landscape are ongoing. In wet regions, the permafrost is giving way to thermokarst lakes. In drier zones, the moisture that was locked into the soil and preserved by permafrost is being steadily lost — which is one of the primary drivers of drought and related wildfire hazards now being experienced in Canada, Siberia, and Alaska.

arctic-carbon-sink-to-source

(As permafrost thaws, microbes within the soil break down carbon and begin to emit methane and carbon dioxide. According to NOAA, “the warming tundra is now releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than it is taking up.” Image source: NOAA.)

Overall, the permafrost is emitting more and more methane and carbon dioxide as it melts and as microbes in the thawed soil activate. And consensus science now indicates that, on balance, this thawing ground is now emitting more carbon than it is taking in. This is a step change from its previous state — when the frozen land acted in concert with the boreal forests as one of the world’s primary carbon sinks (please also see: Beyond the Point of No Return).

Large Algae Blooms Indicator of Ocean Acidification

During 2016, the Arctic also saw a continuation of large algae blooms popping up in regions near the receding sea ice edge. This happens as high nutrient waters liberated by ice allow sunlight to produce a riot of plankton and algae growth. These minute life forms take in atmospheric carbon. But as they die, they transfer this carbon to the ocean. As a result, and as Jeremy Mathis noted in the press briefing this morning (see video above), Ocean acidification increases.

Conditions in Context — The Arctic Screams Change

The above indicators present a picture of an Arctic undergoing rapid climate destabilization. As a result, everything from weather patterns, to the rate of sea level rise, to Northern Hemisphere growing seasons are likely to see some impact from these Arctic changes over the coming years and decades. In addition, loss of sea ice and likely harms to life in the Arctic Ocean due to warming, habitat loss, and ocean acidification will remove food sources for local communities.

NOAA researchers identify some potential positive outcomes — such as increased commerce, ship traffic, tourism, and mineral extraction. But it is difficult to see how these supposed positives do not further exacerbate an already difficult to manage problem. Increased commerce, ship traffic and tourism threaten to harm already stressed habitats and animal populations. In addition, if new fossil fuel sources are exploited in the region, it will only add to the currently severe problems presented by warming. As a result, there is a high likelihood that the net impact to the region will be starkly negative as species are threatened or go extinct and numerous communities are lost to the rising seas, destruction of environmental resource bases or endangered by worsening fires.

Links:

AGU Fall Meeting

NOAA’s Arctic Report Card

Beyond the Point of No Return

Thermokarst Lakes

Hat tip to Vic

 

Rendered Uninhabitable by Heat — It’s Not Just Sudan, Parts From North Africa to the Middle East are Under the Gun

“North Africa is already hot and is strongly increasing in temperature. At some point in this century, part of the region will become uninhabitable.”Dr. Johannes Lilieveld

“The number of climate refugees could increase dramatically in future. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia have calculated that the Middle East and North Africa could become so hot that human habitability is compromised.”The Max Planck Institute

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Heatwaves so hot that it’s impossible to perform any activity outdoors without threat of injury or worse. Raging dust storms that make the very air unbreathable. Massive droughts that wreck agricultural productivity and biodiversity altogether. Sections of Africa and the Middle East are currently getting a taste of these new, dangerous climate conditions. But their frequency could increase by five fold or more over the next 30-40 years — threatening harm, government collapse, and the forced dislocation of millions.

Sudan Could be Made Uninhabitable by Climate Change

Due to human-caused warming, these kinds of events are already happening in places like Sudan with increasing frequency. And a recent report by CNN shows that this North African state is under threat of becoming uninhabitable to human beings due to climate change.

africa-areas-most-vulnerable-to-climate-change

(A new infertile crescent. Climate change increases desertification risks for semi-arid regions across Africa. Image source: Grid-Arendal, Columbia University and CNN.)

Drought has impacted agriculture to the extent that 1.9 million people in this nation of 40 million could face hunger over the next couple of years. A further 3.2 million face water shortages. And in the ironic juxtaposition that often comes with climate change — since 2013 about 600,000 people have been displaced due to the deluges that have more and more often come at the end of the long, dry periods.

For Sudan, the problems are just beginning. By mid-Century surface temperatures in the region could warm by between 1.1 and 3.1 degrees Celsius. And so much additional warming will multiply the occurrence of the kinds of harmful heatwaves, droughts, and dust storms that are happening today many times over. In the end, Sudan is at risk of being abandoned as its lands are taken in by a climate unfit for human habitation.

500 Million People Under Extreme Heat and Drought in Africa and Middle East by mid-Century

But it’s not just Sudan that’s facing a flip into nation-wrecking climate conditions. By 2050, extreme heat related events will be happening five times more frequently as the Earth warms up along a desiccating crescent in Africa and onward throughout a good chunk of the Middle East. During summers, by mid Century, temperatures throughout this vulnerable zone could be as much as 5 degrees Celsius hotter than they are today.

increased-warm-days

(Temperatures are set to rise to extreme levels across Africa and the Middle East due to fossil fuel burning and related Earth System warming. The impacts produce a high risk for mass migration away from these regions as hothouse conditions take hold. Image source: The Max-Planck Institute.)

Including Sudan, more than 500 million people live in this region. And according to the Max-Planck Institute, extremely hot days — of which there were 16 each year within this vulnerable area from 1986 to 2005 — will increase five-fold to 80 by 2050 and up to 118 to 200 by 2100.

Added extraordinary and persistent heat will bake moisture out of soils, ruin forests, and advance deserts. It will produce days when wet bulb temperatures approach or exceed the limit of human endurance (35 C) time and time again. Such a high prevalence and intensity of adverse conditions will make the current problems faced by the region seem mild and moderate by comparison. In the end, numerous places are likely to become basically unlivable.

Call For Action

Given the coming hardship and what is likely to be a preventable mass migration, scientists and environmentalists are calling for action. CNN and others have highlighted a need for aid to Africa and the Middle East. But as helpful as aid is to those desperate and struggling to survive, the primary driver of the whole problem is human-based fossil fuel emissions. And unless that stops, this region and its highly vulnerable peoples, among others around the world, will be very hard hit.

Michelle Yonetani, a senior advisor on disasters from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center noted that encouraging governments to increase commitments to act on climate is “perhaps one of the most indirect ways [to help], but [it is] globally the most important. Now really is the time to push governments to act…” Otherwise, vast regions within Africa and the Middle East face destabilization, collapse, and mass migration over rather short time horizons.

Links:

Climate Change Could Render Sudan Uninhabitable

The Max Planck Institute

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center

Grid-Arendal, Columbia University

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

For 2016, Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations are Rising at the Fastest Rate Ever Seen

“The MMCO [Middle Miocene Climate Optimum] was ushered in by CO2 levels jumping abruptly from around 400ppm to 500 ppm, with global temperatures warming by about 4°C  and sea levels rising about 40m (130 feet) as the Antarctic ice sheet declined substantially and suddenly. ” — Skeptical Science

fossil-fuel-emissions

(Fossil fuel carbon emissions are about 100 times that of volcanoes during any given year. And so much heat trapping carbon dumped into the atmosphere is forcing the world’s climate to rapidly change. Image source: The Union of Concerned Scientists.)

Human beings have never seen atmospheric CO2 values that are so high as they are today. They significantly predate our species — even preceding our distant relative Australopithecus by about 7 million years. And weather and climate conditions to which we are not adapted — either as individuals or as a civilizations — are well on the way as atmospheric CO2 levels are ramping up into the lower range of those last seen during the Middle Miocene of 14-16 million years ago at 404 parts per million during 2016.

Record Rate of CO2 Increase for 2016

As we reported in November, 2016 is on track to see a record rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) increase. A key heat-trapping gas, CO2 is the primary driver of the big temperature increases seen around the world recently. And with new figures out from NOAA for the month of November, we have a clearer picture than ever of just how unprecedented the jump will be.

For the first 11 months of the year, 2016 atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations exceeded those of 2015 by an average of 3.45 parts per million. With no sign evident that the pace of increase has slackened — despite a transition to La Nina during the fall — it now appears that the world is set to experience a 3.3 to 3.5 part per million jump in the atmospheric CO2 measure for this year.

Carbon Dioxide Trend Mauna Loa

(Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will rise by a record rate during 2016 to an annual average of around 404 parts per million. Levels during 2017 could peak at around 410 to 411 parts per million in April and May before averaging between 406 and 407 parts per million. Image source: NOAA.)

The past two record jumps were 2015 — with a 3.05 ppm annual increase and 1998 with a 2.93 ppm annual increase. But 2016 now appears set to exceed these two values by a pretty hefty margin.

More and More Toward the Middle Miocene Range of 400 to 500 Parts Per Million CO2

Such rapid rates of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase are primarily caused by global fossil fuel burning — which now produces an emission that is more than 100 times greater than all the volcanoes that erupt across the Earth during any given year. And recent reports have found that US automobile emissions alone equal the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the Mount St. Helens eruption every three days. This is a heavy insult to the Earth’s climate system. One that is unprecedented for millions of years.

All this fossil fuel burning has largely helped to push atmospheric CO2 values for 2016 into an average range of 404 parts per million. This is 124 parts per million higher than the pre-industrial value of 280 parts per million. Meanwhile, peak monthly values during April-May of 2017 could strike as high as 410 to 411 parts per million.

calvert-middle-miocene-15-ma-embayment

(15 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels in the range of 400-500 parts per million produced Antarctic melt resulting in substantial sea level rise. The above image shows the estimated location of the U.S. eastern coastline at the time. Image source: Colorado Geosystems.)

These atmospheric concentrations are now roughly equivalent to the lower range CO2 levels of the Middle Miocene climate epoch of 14-16 million years ago. Meanwhile, atmospheric CO2 equivalent concentrations, which include other greenhouse gasses like methane, averaged 485 parts per million in 2015 and likely were around 490 parts per million during 2016. These CO2e values approach the upper Middle Miocene range.

During the Miocene of 14-16 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels, which had hovered around 400 parts per million for about 10 million years jumped higher due to volcanic activity. Global temperatures rose from about 2-3 C hotter than Holocene values to around 4 C hotter. Antarctic ice melted and seas which were around 60 feet higher than today lifted to around 130 feet above present day levels.

By continuing to burn fossil fuels, this is the climate context we enter more and more. It is why, for example, we are seeing so many impacts from expanding droughts, to declining ocean health, to more extreme weather, to rapidly destabilizing glaciers in Antarctica. And it is this burning along with a related warming of the Earth System that is causing atmospheric carbon values to jump so rapidly into ranges to which we are unaccustomed.

Links:

NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Skeptical Science

2016 to See Record Rate of Atmospheric CO2 Increase

The Union of Concerned Scientists

US Auto Emissions Comparable to Mt. St. Helens Eruption Every Three Days

Arctic Air Temperatures are Set to Hit 35 to 55 F Above Average by Thursday — Out of Season Sea Ice Melt Possible, Again

“It looks like a triple whammy – a warm ocean, a warm atmosphere, and a wind pattern all working against the ice in the Arctic.”NSIDC director Mark Serreze.

“Unfortunately, Arctic sea ice extent growth has once again slowed this week…”Zack Labe

“Huge surface air temperature anomalies over the Arctic this working week… over 25C warmer than average in parts.” — James Warner

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This year, it’s a challenge to find a time when the Arctic Ocean has ever represented anything resembling normalcy. Record low sea ice extent values have occurred for more than 50 percent of days measured. And well above average temperatures have invaded the Arctic during winter, spring, and fall. With another huge wave of ridiculous warmth building up over eastern Siberia this week, the hits just keep on coming.

Major Warming Over Siberia, Chukchi and East Siberian Seas 

The present big warm air invasion has its origins in the Pacific Ocean. There, a large high pressure system over the Bering Sea is facing off with a strong low moving up across Kamchatka. Running between the two is a powerful south-to-north wind pattern.

image

(A major warm wind invasion of the Arctic on Thursday is originating in the subtropical Pacific. A ridge in the Jet Stream extending all the way to the North Pole is pulling this big bulge of warm air north. As a result, extreme temperature departures and out of season sea ice melt for the impacted zones are likely. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As we can see in the image above, the flood of warm air has its origin around the 30 north latitude line. It flows directly over hundreds of miles of ocean, at times reaching a storm-force intensity near 70 mph. As it crosses into Siberia, the wind slows down. But it inexorably continues north, ever north — driven on by a serious pulse of atmospheric steam. By early Thursday, the leading edge of this warm air outburst from the Pacific side will have crossed the Pole and led to a flushing of Central Arctic air out into the Barents Sea and North Atlantic (you can view an animation of the predicted warm air pulse here).

This strong northward flood of warmth from the Pacific is running up under an extreme high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream that is bellowing out into the Arctic Ocean through the Bering and Chukchi seas. At its peak northward extent, the big Jet Stream wave is predicted to look something like this. And it is this severe contortion in the upper level wind pattern that has enabled this most recent extreme warm wind event to occur.

This pattern is now in the process of injecting above-freezing air temperatures into Eastern Siberia. By tomorrow, the warm air mass will encounter the coastal regions of the Chukchi and East Siberian seas. There, it will push temperatures as high as 2.5 C  (37 F) over zones that typically see readings in the -20s to -30s (Celsius). As a result, temperatures will range between 20 and 30 C (35 to 55 F) or more above average for many locations.

severe-arctic-warming-again

(Climate Reanalyzer has added a new color — white — for tracking extreme departures in temperature. In the positive anomaly column, we find departures hitting 30 C, or 54 F, above average for regions of East Siberia and the local Arctic Ocean.)

To be clear, these temperatures are highly abnormal. If a similar temperature departure happened in Gaithersburg, Maryland on December 8, it would produce 80 to 100 degree (F) readings. Of course, this anomaly is not happening in Gaithersburg. Due to a global warming related process called polar amplification in which the poles are more sensitive to alterations in rising greenhouse gas levels (due to fossil fuel and related emissions), extreme temperature anomalies tend to occur at the poles as rates of relative warming are 2-3 times faster in those regions. And the factors that we observe associated with this new Arctic warm wind event — powerful south-to-north meridional air flows coupled with extreme high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream — are also evidence of a number of weird new atmospheric circulation patterns that can tend to pop up as polar amplification intensifies.

Warm Winds May Cause Unprecedented Back-to-Back Fall Sea Ice Melt

The Pacific side of the Arctic has already been gaining heat ahead of the oncoming warm wind event over the past few days. And what we have seen, as a result, is a pretty severe loss of ice in the Chukchi Sea during early December. To be very clear, Arctic sea ice should be advancing at this time of year. But what we see in the image below (provided by A-Team over at the Arctic Sea Ice Forum) is advance followed by retreat as the warm wind event starts to ramp up.

chukchi-20-nov-06-dec-2016-side-by-side-ice-amsr2-conc-and-smos-thickness

(Ice refreeze in the Chukchi advances until it is rolled back by the most recent onrush of warm air flowing in from the Pacific. Image provided by A-Team at Neven’s Arctic Sea Ice Forum.)

Of course, the retreat seen above has occurred before the main force of warm southerly winds — due to hit the Arctic Ocean region by tomorrow. So the risks for continued losses in the Chukchi extend for at least the next few days. Losses there could be offset by large enough gains elsewhere to continue an overall seasonal freeze trend. But so far, with abnormal warmth also periodically building in over the near-Svalbard region and with Hudson Bay refreeze continuing to lag, that does not appear to be happening.

Looking at the larger monitors, we also find that, as happened during October and November, the pace of overall sea ice growth has stalled. According to JAXA, over the past 4 days, sea ice extent has only grown by 50,000 square kilometers. During a typical similar four day period for this time of year, growth would tend to average around 400,000 to 500,000 square kilometers. And with values at current record low levels, the inertial impetus for ice growth would be higher. That is, unless the climate state of the Arctic has radically changed — which appears to be the case.

arctic-sea-ice-extent

(According to JAXA, Arctic sea ice extent has again hit a plateau when it should be freezing — this time at around 10 million square kilometers. As sea ice follows that line, record lows are again deepening — hitting near 750,000 square kilometers below previous lows for the day in 2006. Considering the fact that another major warming event is building into the Arctic Ocean, this plateau could again tip into melt as happened during the middle of November. Image source: JAXA.)

During mid November, a period of unprecedented warming produced an almost unprecedented period of fall melt. A similar November melt occurred during 2013. But the amount of melt then was smaller. And that melt did not occur at a time when Arctic sea ice values were at new record lows — as they were throughout the entire month during 2016. Similarly, during October, abnormally warm conditions produced an odd re-freeze plateau similar to the one we are now experiencing.

Given current conditions, there’s a risk that we could see a December melt event following the November melt event. For the amount of heat hitting the Pacific side of the Arctic is predicted to fall far outside of normal temperature ranges. And, barring major refreeze on the Atlantic side, we are at a rather higher risk of seeing the present plateau in sea ice values carry on for a number of days.

Links:

The National Snow and Ice Data Center

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

The Arctic Sea Ice Forum

JAXA

Sea Ice Extent Hit Record Lows in November

Dr Jennifer Francis on Jet Stream Changes

Hat tip to John Allen

Hat tip to Neven

Hat tip to A-Team

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

One By One, the Flood Gates of Antarctica are Breaking Open

“We have still time to avoid the worst of it, but we have already opened a number of flood gates, one in West Antarctica, and several in Greenland.”Dr Eric Rignot.

“This kind of rifting behavior provides another mechanism for rapid retreat of these glaciers, adding to the probability that we may see significant collapse of West Antarctica in our lifetimes.” Ian Howat, Earth Sciences associate Professor at Ohio State University.

“Burning all the world’s coal, oil and gas would melt the entire Antarctic ice-sheet and cause the oceans to rise by over 50m, a transformation unprecedented in human history. The conclusion of a new scientific study shows that, over the course of centuries, land currently inhabited by a billion people would be lost below water.” — The Guardian.

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Massive Rift Forming in Larsen C

Larsen C. It’s the next big ice shelf on the butcher’s block in West Antarctica. And now it appears the shelf may be well on its way to facing the same fate as its companions Larsen A and Larsen B. That fate — disintegration and the ultimate release of glaciers that have been held in check for thousands of years into the world ocean.

It was only about 150 years ago that the Larsen Ice shelves were discovered. And the Larsen shelf system is thought to have been mostly stable throughout the last 12,000 years. But in 1995 Larsen A splintered into a million icebergs. And in 2002 the larger portion of Larsen B broke apart. Warming Ocean waters heated by an atmosphere loaded with greenhouse gasses did the damage. And now the same warm water currents that shattered Larsen A and Larsen B are endangering their larger cousin — Larsen C.

larsen-c-ice-rift

(Ice shelves and sea fronting glaciers serve as the flood gates keeping West Antarctica’s glaciers from spilling into the ocean and raising sea levels by as much as 20 feet. But warm ocean waters are causing these flood gates to melt and crack wide open. The above image shows a massive abyssal rift forming in the Larsen C ice shelf. A similar rift formed in the center of the Pine Island Glacier last year. A signal that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could undergo a major collapse over the next 100 years. Image source: NASA.)

For today, a huge rift running through the ice shelf is about to break off a Delaware-sized iceberg into the Atlantic Ocean. The rift is broadening, deepening and extending. And it now measures 70 miles long, 300 feet wide, and a third of a mile deep. Once this enormous abyssal crack runs its course and causes about 10 percent of the ice shelf to break off, the big land-grounded glaciers sitting upon mountainous slopes behind the ice shelf will have less protection. They will increase their forward speed and contribute larger volumes of ice outflow to the growing problem of global sea level rise.

In this way, rifts in Antarctica’s sea fronting glaciers and ice shelves can be seen as giant cracks in the flood gates holding back enormous glaciers that, when released, will lift global sea levels by feet and meters.

Big Crack in the Pine Island Glacier

Closer to the center mass of West Antarctica, the Pine Island Glacier serves as one of the most important of these flood gates. In total, the large grounded glaciers in what could best be termed as an ice bottle neck hold back about 10 percent of all of West Antarctica’s interior ice mass. But just last year a huge rift that formed in this glacial buttress during 2013 cracked wide open — causing three massive icebergs totalling ten times the size of Manhattan to break off.

According to a new study, warm ocean water flooded far inland along the underside of the Pine Island Glacier. It ate away at its base and then spilled down-slope to cut out a melting hollow in the glacier’s heart. Ultimately, an enormous crack formed within the glacier 20 miles away from where the ice mass meets the ocean at the surface.

(Massive crack forms in the Pine Island Glacier, then causes three very large icebergs to break off during 2015. A new study finds that the Pine Island Glacier is melting from the inside out and an inland flood of warm ocean water is causing both the melt and the formation of large rifts in the ice. Scientists believe that these could be the first signs of a significant collapse of West Antarctica that could occur without our lifetimes. Video source: Ohio State.)

Then, in 2015, gigantic chunks of ice covering 225 square miles broke off from the Glacier and floated out into the Amundsen Sea. This was the second series of icebergs to break off from the Pine Island Glacier in as many years. And scientists were notably very concerned.

Pine Island Glacier is particularly vulnerable because it sits on a reverse slope. In other words, a below sea level bed slopes lower as you progress toward the center of the Continent. And, in fact, large portions of West Antarctica are below sea level (see topographic image below).

Pine Island Glacier itself rests upon an opening to one of the deepest valleys sloping inland. At the location of the Pine Island glacier a rift between 500 and 2,000 feet below sea level runs down toward a central region of West Antarctica that sits between 2,000 and 6,000 feet below sea level. And within this basin is a pile of glacial ice that from bedrock to its highest point above sea level towers two and a half miles high. The very valid concern for this glacier is that melt and rifting, once started, will tend to accelerate — taking out larger and larger chunks of the inland ice as it is exposed to the warming ocean and heating atmosphere.

The Larger Picture — Glacial Flood Gates are Cracking Open

Larsen C and Pine Island Glacier serve as but two of the many flood gates that run all along the coast of West Antarctica and East Antarctica. But the increasing flows of warm water coming in from the ocean and a related rise in the frequency of events where large masses of ice break off from buttressing glaciers and ice shelves has put West Antarctica in danger of facing a near term collapse.

west-antarctica-below-sea-level

(Islands encased in ice. Much West Antarctica, on the left side of this topographic image, sits between 0 to 6,000 feet below sea level. If the buttressing glaciers and ice shelves like Larsen C and Pine Island are lost, there is little to prevent the warming oceans from flooding inland and setting off a rapid cascade of melt and seaward outflow. Scientists now believe that such a collapse could happen within our lifetimes. Image source: Antarctic Bedrock.)

With information from new glacial stability assessments in hand, Antarctic ice specialists are warning that the western region of this frozen land may collapse in a major melt event that over the next 100 years could raise sea levels by 10 feet. And West Antarctica is but one of three global regions — including Greenland and East Antarctica — capable of contributing significant glacial outbursts during this period.

Links:

West Antarctica Ice Shelf is Melting From the Inside Out

With a Collapsing West Antarctica, Sea Levels Could Rise Twice as High as We Thought

Combustion of Available Fossil Fuel Reserves Sufficient to Eliminate Antarctic Ice Sheet

Burning all Fossil Fuels Will Melt Entire Antarctic Ice Sheet

Rift in Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf

The Larsen Ice Shelves

NASA Captures Disturbing Images of Antarctica Ice Rift

Antarctic Bedrock

Pine Island Glacier Topography

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to ClimateHawk

‘Everything is Burning Around Us’ — You Just Can’t Normalize Gatlinburg’s Freakish Fall Firestorm

There’s nothing normal about what happened to Gatlinburg, Tennessee on Monday.

Sitting at the epicenter of a freakish fall warmth and drought, the scores of fires that raged throughout the southeast into late November had, until recently, spared this sleepy tourist town resting on the slopes of the Great Smoky Mountains. But as winds roared out of the south at up to 87 miles per hour ahead of an approaching cold front on the 28th, the little city’s luck ran out.

gatlinburg-fire

(Fire on the mountains near Gatlinburg captured in this photo by a local resident. Image source: Twitter.)

Somewhere, a spark lit. And the bone-dry hillsides filled with ready fuels combined with hurricane force gusts to do the rest. By early evening, the skies over Gatlinburg had been painted orange. Ash and embers were carried aloft by the winds. And all around the city, mountains caught fire and burned.

As fires raged, 14,000 people were forced to flee. Home after home was consumed. Now, at least 400 residences are thought to have been lost. Smoke and swiftly moving flames injured 45 while taking the lives of seven people who were tragically unable to escape the rapid onrush. And as neighborhoods were reduced to their foundations, 2,000 residents have been left stranded in Red Cross evacuation shelters.

Rains on Tuesday and Wednesday have, blessedly, tamped down many of the fires around Gatlinburg. That said, reports from CBC and the National Interagency Fire Center show that the (Chimney 2) blaze remains mostly uncontained, if rather less intense. So risks from the fire remain. Even more sadly, it appears that the full extent of the tragic damage and loss, as of Thursday morning, had not yet been fully realized. Estimates for destroyed or damaged homes continues to climb even as the number of persons lost to the flames keeps rising.

Largest Tennesee Fire in 100 (+) Years, Hottest Year on Record Globally

The Gatlinburg Fire was the largest fire to strike Tennessee in one hundred years. And when records for fires only go back about 100 years, you have to wonder if this isn’t another one of those 500 or 1,000 year climate/weather events that have been sparking off with increasing frequency across the U.S. and the world during the recent warm period. For like the Fort McMurray wildfire that forced an entire Canadian city to empty this spring, the Gatlinburg fire cannot be separated from the larger context of human caused climate change.

The fire erupted during the hottest year, globally, on record. It happened at a time when the Southeast was experiencing its own very abnormal drought. It lit, not during the peak of annual heat that is summer, but during the fall. And it happened in conjunction with an equally unusual mass after-season wildfire outbreak in the Smoky Mountains.

(Everything is Burning Around Us. In an escape attempt that is eerily similar to the flight of Trans Baikal natives half a world away just last year, a Gatlinburg resident attempts to flee a freakish fall firestorm spurred by conditions related to human caused climate change. Video source: Here.)

Though this is the largest fire to strike Tennessee in one hundred years, it can practically be said that what locals affectionately call ‘the volunteer state’ has never experienced conditions like those that led up to the Gatlinburg Fire. The Smoky Mountains where the fire burned get their name from the moist mists and fogs that tend to hang in the air and above the tree tops. It is a place known and named for its wet environment. So fires are rare and typically only happen during summer time.

But the added heat from climate change has altered the mountains. It has dried the landscape — turning the entire region into a firetrap during recent months. This extreme dry period is part of a new set of weather potentials for the region that are not normal. And as human fossil fuel burning forces the atmosphere to warm further, the intensity of droughts and wildfires that do occur in the south will continue to worsen.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Tennessee Wildfire Unlike Anything We’ve Ever Seen

Surreal Southeast Wildfires Should Not Be Burning in Mid November

It Was Like Driving Through Hell

Everything is Burning Around Us

No End in Sight as Forest Fires Rage Through NC, Tennessee

Gatlinburg Fire — Four Dead, Crews Search for Missing

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

With Temperatures Hitting 1.2 C Hotter than Pre-Industrial, Drought Now Spans the Globe

Jeff Goodell, an American author and editor at Rolling Stone, is noted for saying this: “once we deliberately start messing with the climate, we could inadvertantly shift rainfall patterns (climate models have shown that the Amazon is particularly vulnerable) causing collapse of ecosystems, drought, famine and more.”

We are in the process of testing that theory. In the case of drought, which used to just be a regional affair but has now gone global, Goodell appears to have been right on the money.

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According to a recent report by the World Meteorological Organization, the Earth is on track to hit 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter than pre-industrial temperatures during 2016. From sea-level rise, to melting polar ice, to extreme weather, to increasing numbers of displaced persons, this temperature jump is producing steadily worsening impacts. Among the more vivid of these is the current extent of global drought.

The Four-Year Global Drought

During El Nino years, drought conditions tend to expand through various regions as ocean surfaces heat up. From 2015 to 2016, the world experienced a powerful El Nino. However, despite the noted influence of this warming of surface waters in the Equatorial Pacific, widely expansive global drought extends back through 2013 and farther.

four-year-precipitation-anomalies-updated

(The Global Drought Monitor finds that dry conditions have been prevalent over much of the globe throughout the past four years. For some regions, like the Colorado River area, drought has already extended for more than a decade. Image source: SPEI Global Drought Monitor.)

In the above image, we see soil moisture deficits over the past 48 months. What we find is that large sections of pretty much every major continent are undergoing at least a four-year drought. Drought conditions were predicted by climate models to intensify in the middle latitudes as the world heated up. It appears that this is already the case, but the Equatorial zone and the higher latitudes are also experiencing widespread drought. If there is a detectable pattern in present conditions, it is that few regions have avoided drying. Drought is so wide-ranging as to be practically global in its extent.

Widespread Severe Impacts

These drought conditions have noted impacts.

In California alone, more than 102 million trees have died due to rising temperatures and a drought that has lasted since 2010. Of those, 62 million have perished just this year. Drought’s relationship to tree mortality is pretty simple — the longer drought lasts, the more trees perish as water stores in roots are used up. California has, so far, lost 2.5 percent of its live trees due to what is now the worst tree mortality event in the state’s history.

world-vegetative-health-index

(It’s not just California. Numerous regions around the world show plants undergoing life-threatening levels of stress. In the above map, vegetative health is shown to be moderately stressed [yellow] to severely stressed [pink] over broad regions of the world. Image source: Global Drought Information System.)

The California drought is just an aspect of a larger drought that encompasses much of the North American West. For the Colorado River area, this includes a 16-year-long drought that has pushed Lake Mead to its lowest levels ever recorded. With rationing of the river’s water supplies looming if a miraculous break in the drought doesn’t suddenly appear, states are scrambling to figure out how to manage a worsening scarcity. Meanwhile, reports indicate that cities like Phoenix will require executive action on the part of the President to ensure water supplies to millions of residents over the coming years, should conditions fail to improve.

Further east, drought has flickered on and off in the central and southern U.S. In the southeast, a flash drought has recently helped to spur an unseasonable spate of wildfires over the Smoky Mountain region. Yesterday, at Gaitlinburg, TN, raging flames fed by winds ahead of a cold front forced 14,000 people to evacuate, damaged or destroyed 100 homes, and took three lives.

siberian-wildfires-july-2016

(Siberian wildfires burning on July 23, 2016 occur in the context of severe drought. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

In the upper northern latitudes, the primary upshot of drought has also been wildfires. Wildfires are often fanned by heat and drought in heavily forested regions that see reduced soil moisture levels. Thawing permafrost and reduced snow cover levels exacerbate the situation by further reducing moisture storage in dry regions and by adding peat-like fuels for fires.

From Alaska to Canada to Siberia, this has increasingly been the case. Last year, Alaska experienced one of its worst wildfire seasons on record. This year, both heat and drought contributed to the severe fires raging around the Fort McMurray region in Canada. And over recent years, wildfires running through a tremendously dry Siberia have been so extreme that satellites orbiting one million miles away could detect the smoke plumes.

Drought and wildfires in or near the Arctic justifiably seem odd, but when one considers the fact that many climate models had predicted that the higher northern latitudes would be one of the few major regions to experience increases in precipitation, that oddity turns ominous. If the present trend toward widespread Arctic drought is representative, then warming presents a drought issue from Equator to Pole.

A dwindling Lake Baikal — which feeds on water flowing in from rain and snow in Central Siberia — bears grim testament to an expanding drought over central and northern Russia. Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest and oldest lake, is threatened by climate change-related drying of the lands that drain into it. In 2015, water levels in Baikal hit record-low levels, and over the past few years, fires raging around the lake have increasingly endangered local communities and wildlife.

To the south and west, the Gansu province of China was placed under a level 4 drought alert this past summerThere, large swaths of crops were lost; half a billion dollars in damages mounted. The Chinese government rushed aid to 6.2 million affected residents, trucking potable water into regions rendered bereft of local supplies.

india-drought-baked-and-bleached-riverbeds

(Lakes and river beds dried up across India earlier this year as the monsoon was delayed for the third year in a row. Image source: India Water Portal.)

India this year experienced similar, but far more widespread, water shortages. In April, 330 million people within India experienced water stress. Water resupply trains wound through the countryside, delivering bottles of potable liquid to residents who’d lost access. A return of India’s monsoon provided some relief, but drought in India and Tibet’s highlands remains in place as glaciers shrink in the warming air.

Africa has recently seen various food crises crop up as wildfires raged through its equatorial forests. Stresses to humans, plants, and animals due to dryness, water and food shortage, and fires have been notably severe. Earlier this year, 36 million people across Africa faced hunger due to drought-related impacts. Nearer term, South Africa has been forced to cull hippo and buffalo herds as a multi-year drought continues there.

Shifting north into Europe, we also find widespread and expanding drought conditions. This situation is not unexpected for Southern Europe, where global climate models show incursions of desert climates from across the Mediterranean. But as with northern Russia and North America, Northern Europe is also experiencing drought. These droughts across Europe helped to spark severe wildfires in Portugal and Spain in the summer, as corn yields for the region are predicted to fall.

drought-wildfires-peru

(During November, drought spurred wildfires that erupted along the Amazon Rainforest’s boundary zone in Peru. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Finally finding our way back into the Americas, we see widespread drought conditions covering much of Brazil and Columbia, winding down the Andes Mountains through Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. In sections of the increasingly clear-cut and fire-stricken Amazon Rainforest and running on into northeastern Brazil, drought conditions have now lasted for five years. There, half of the region’s cities face water rationing and more than 20 million people are currently confronted with water stress. From September to November 2015, more than 100,000 acres of drought-stricken Amazonian rainforest has burned in Peru. Meanwhile, Bolivia has seen its second-largest lake dry up and critical water-supplying glaciers melt as hundreds of thousands of people fall under water rationing.

Impacts to Food

Ongoing drought and extreme weather have created local impacts to food supplies in various regions. However, these impacts have not yet seriously affected global food markets. Drought in Brazil and India, for example, has significantly impacted sugar production, which in turn is pushing global food prices higher. Cereal production is a bit off which is also resulting in higher prices, though not the big jumps we see in sugar. But a Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Index for October of 2016 (173 approx) at 9 percent higher than last year’s measure for this time of year is still quite a ways off the 229 peak value during 2011 that helped to set off so much unrest around the globe.

food-index

(Rising food prices during 2016 in the face of relatively low energy prices and significant climate-related challenges to farmers is some cause for concern. Image source: FAO.)

That said, with energy prices falling into comparatively low ranges, relatively high (and rising) food prices are some cause for concern. Traditionally, falling energy prices also push food prices lower as production costs drop, but it appears that these gains by farmers are being offset by various environmental and climate impacts. Furthermore, though very widespread, drought appears to have thus far avoided large grain-producing regions like the central U.S., and central and east Asia. So the global food picture, if not entirely rosy, isn’t as bad as it could be.

Conditions in Context — Increasing Evaporation, Melting Glaciers, Less Snow Cover, Shifting Climate Zones

With the world now likely to hit 1.5 C above pre-industrial temperatures over the next 15 to 20 years, overall drought conditions will likely worsen. Higher rates of evaporation are a primary feature of warming, meaning more rain must fall just to keep pace. In addition, loss of glacial ice in various mountain ranges and loss of snow cover in drier Arctic and near-Arctic environments will further reduce river levels and soil moisture. Increasing prevalence of extreme rainfall events versus steady rainfall events will further stress the vegetation that aids in soil moisture capture. Finally, changes to atmospheric circulation due to polar amplification will combine with a poleward movement of climate zones to generally confuse traditional growing seasons. As a result, everything that relies on steady water supplies and predictable weather patterns will face challenges as the world shifts into a state of more obvious climate change.

Links:

Global Drought Monitor

Global Drought Information System

LANCE MODIS

#ThankYouNASA 

India Water Portal

FAO

The World Meteorological Organization

Hat tip to ClimateHawk1

Hat tip to June

Hat tip to Ryan

Hat tip to Griffon

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Greg

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