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

A Flood of Warm Water the Size of 30 Amazon Rivers is Melting One of East Antarctica’s Largest Glaciers

If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that few of Antarctica’s submerged coastal glaciers are safe from the warming ocean. Places that we once thought wouldn’t be vulnerable to melt for decades or centuries are now starting to feel the heat of rising water temperatures.

The heat comes in the form of great floods of warmer than normal waters running beneath the ocean surface and then eating away at the undersides of ice shelves and sea fronting glaciers. These floods are provided by the warmth forced into the world ocean by rising global greenhouse gas concentrations. And such invasions are happening around Antarctica’s perimeter with increasing frequency. But perhaps the most disturbing such event now ongoing is the present warm water flood running in from the Southern Ocean toward East Antarctica’s Totten Glacier.

calving-front-of-the-totten-glacier

(The melting edge of the Totten Glacier. Image source: Antarctica.gov.)

Totten is a truly gigantic glacier. By itself representing an ice mass equal to that contained in all of West Antarctica’s many glaciers. If large sections of Totten and the associated Aurora Basin were to melt, seas could rise by 12 feet or more. During recent years, researchers identified a great canyon running between 2,000 and 3,600 feet below sea level and stretching six miles wide as a weak point for Totten — whose glaciers sit in an enormous, below sea level rift within East Antarctica.

Researchers recently found that the floating ice shelf buttressing Totten was melting from below. As of 2015, they hadn’t identified a mechanism for this melt. But they had a pretty short suspect list. This year, a new study led by Dr. Stephen Rich Rintoul found that a river of warm water flowing at a rate of 220,000 cubic meters per second was flooding into the vulnerable canyon entrance to Totten’s weak underbelly. The researchers determined that this volume of warm water — equaling a flow rate more than 30 times that of the Amazon River — was enough to account for the observed ice shelf losses over recent years in the range of 60 to 80 billion tons per year.

totten-glacier-basin

(The Totten Glacier of East Antarctica contains about as much ice mass as all of West Antarctica. Its catchment basin is roughly the size of the U.S. Southeast. Much of it sits below sea level. And an ice shelf buttressing the glacier’s largest outlet in a 6 mile wide and 3,600 foot deep canyon is rapidly melting. Once this ice shelf breaks apart, ocean water will flood inland along a reverse slope and the Totten Glacier will increase its rate of movement toward the ocean — significantly speeding rates of global sea level rise. Image source: Australian Antarctic Division.)

The study authors found that:

…several lines of evidence support the conclusion that rapid basal melt of the [Totten Ice Shelf] is driven by the flux of warm [modified circumpolar deep water] into the cavity: the presence of warm water at the ice front, the existence of a deep trough providing access of this warm water to the cavity, direct measurements of mass and heat transport into the cavity, the signature of glacial meltwater in the outflow, and exchange rates inferred from the heat budget and satellite-derived basal melt rates.

Presently, because the ice shelf floats, this melt is not adding to global sea level rise. But the shelf acts like a cork that’s stopping the rest of Totten from flowing into the ocean. And when the ice shelf weakens enough, it will rift and break apart — leaving the massive glaciers behind it exposed to the inrush of warm waters and removing the last major barrier preventing them from bursting out.

Links:

Ocean Heat Drives Rapid Basal Melt of Totten Ice Shelf

Scientists Confirm that Warm Ocean Water is Melting one of East Antarctica’s Biggest Glaciers

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

Tottering Totten and the Coming Multi-meter Sea Level Rise

Antarctica.gov

Hat tip to Robert in New Orleans

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

Florida’s Existential Choice For 2016 — Renewables and Climate Responses or Death by Fossil Fuels

People living in the state of Florida have a big problem — their homeland, as it is today, cannot exist for very long if we double down on fossil fuel burning as Donald Trump has proposed. And this situation, in turn, creates a big problem for Trump — he can’t win the 2016 election without Florida’s support. Trump’s vicious combination of climate change denial, anti-renewables policy stances, and attacks on immigrants whose family members may also be displaced by climate change have considerably damaged his chances of capturing the state’s 29 electoral votes. He’s now in a situation where he’s basically reliant on smoke screens and misinformation to convince the voters of Florida to commit what amounts to an electoral suicide.

us-coal-production

(U.S. coal production has been falling since Obama’s election in 2008. As a result, US carbon emissions have plateaued. The kinds of renewable energy that the American people want can continue to generate reductions in greenhouse gasses flooding the environment and give the people living in Florida a fighting chance. But that won’t happen if we elect Donald Trump as President. Image source: Vox and The Energy Information Administration.)

Trump’s Dirty Energy Pledges Would Mean Certain Devastation For Florida

About a week ago, Trump pledged to, in effect, zero out all spending on renewable energy and climate change related science while pushing hard for an expansion of coal, oil, and gas burning if he is elected. Meanwhile, Trump’s energy team is little more than a covey of climate change deniers hand picked directly from the fossil fuel industry. Trump has pledged to kill the EPA, to roll back Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and to drop out of U.S. emissions reductions pledges to the Paris Climate Summit (COP 21).

If you were looking for an example of a perfect storm of the absolute worst climate change and renewable energy related policies, policies that were guaranteed to put the world back on a track toward a devastating business as usual carbon emission — then Trump fits the bill. And to large parts of Florida, Trump’s policy pledges are starting to look a lot like a promise to inflict climate Armageddon on the low-lying state.

(This year, surface melt was observed for the first time in East Antarctica. This new observation points to increased risk of glacial melt from a region that is capable of dramatically raising global sea levels. The people living in low-lying Florida are becoming more and more concerned. And they should be. Video source: Climate State.)

Miami-Dade County sits on the front lines of this rising climate crisis. Already, the city has pledged 400 million dollars to raise streets and upgrade the city’s drainage system. Why? The oceans in Miami have now risen to the point that tides frequently disrupt transportation, flood neighborhoods, and swamp businesses. These upgrades may buy Miami a decade or two or three. But there’s absolutely no way Miami can survive for any longer than this if Trump commits to his policy choices as-is. Even the rosiest rational predictions for sea level rise by the end of this Century put Miami mostly under water well before the year 2100 under the kinds of emission scenarios that a Trump Presidency would commit us to.

Further up the coast, Jacksonville is still reeling from damages inflicted by Hurricane Matthew — a storm made worse both by the record hot Atlantic Ocean and by the added effect sea level rise had on the height of its wind-driven surge of flooding water. Like Miami, Jacksonville is starting to feel the effects of sea level rise. And its likelihood for continued existence this Century would be quite low if Trump’s fossil fuel burning policies were enacted. The story is much the same for pretty much all of Florida’s coastal cities as well as the southern tip of Florida stretching on north to the Everglades. Sea level rise is an existential threat to these regions now. One that will be made far worse if we continue to burn the fossil fuels that Trump is committed to.

Trump Seeks to Kill Renewables While Amendment 1 Attempts to Stymie Solar

Even as Trump is moving to crush renewable energy progress and responses to climate change at the federal level, hurting Florida’s chances of facing down climate threats, the fossil fuel industry and a number of aligned utilities are attempting to stymie solar energy development across the state. Like much of America, residents within Florida are attracted by renewable energy. In fact, a recent poll showed that four out of five voters supported increasing levels of renewable energy development. Home and business owners alike want access to new, clean, independent energy choices. People rightly concerned about the impacts of climate change want more clean energy.

clean-energy-costs

(As the effects of climate change worsened, clean energy costs have been falling. Now costs are so low that financial benefits to individual energy users abound. Fossil fuel industry is acting in increasingly aggressive ways to stifle access by using laws to prevent people from using clean energy sources. Trump is fighting to help these corporations prevent you and your family members from taking advantage of the multiple benefits clean energy provides. Image source: The Whitehouse.)

Since renewable energy is so popular among voters, and even among republicans, fossil fuel special interests often resort to deceptive tactics in order to keep people captive to harmful energy consumption. And this election, utilities have attempted to protect their monopoly power interests by forcing anti-solar Amendment 1 on the state. Amendment 1 aims to open a loop-hole for utilities to charge independent renewable power generators exorbitant fees and to suppress the rate of solar adoption in the state. Amendment 1’s language has been called deceitful by the Union of Concerned Scientists. It’s a proposal that has been put forward by a collection of fossil fuel special interests including Exxon Mobile, Duke Power, The Koch Brothers, Florida Power and Light and others. And if the Amendment passes, it will help to lock Florida in a fossil fueled climate change nightmare. One that is, even now, starting to nibble away at the vital cities that enable the state to function.

Yuge Wave of Climate/Renewable Energy Voters?

With both the future existence of Florida’s cities and access to renewable energy under threat, voters in Florida are turning out like never before. Nationalized Hispanic and Caribbean immigrants whose families may also be forced to seek refuge in the U.S. due to climate change are voting in droves. And the people of the increasingly swamped Miami Dade County are flooding the polls. There, fully 55 percent of registered voters had cast a ballot before election day.

The record turnout in places like Miami-Dade helped bouy the Florida early vote to 6.4 million — more than the total post election day count for the year 2000. This large turnout has come as registered democratic voters lead republicans by 92,000 coming into election day. But first and second generation citizens may well be generating even more of a democratic edge. According to Vice, 86.9 percent more Latinos voted early than during 2012. And a good portion of that 455,000 total are registered as independents and even republicans. Meanwhile, there is some indication that well less than 90 percent of republicans are voting for Trump.

While Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric may have helped to generate some of this shift, it is likely that rising climate and energy concerns are also affecting the Florida vote. A poll from earlier this year found that concerns about climate change from Florida residents was on the rise. Fully 81.3 percent of Florida peninsular residents expressed moderate to serious concern about climate change as an issue. And though debate moderators and their mainstream media sponsors failed to raise the critical issues of climate change and renewable energy in the televised match-ups between Clinton and Trump, Clinton frequently harangued Trump for his noted extreme degree of climate change denial. Furthermore, Trump’s own statements and policy choices have produced enough ripples in the media to generate a general understanding that Trump is fighting against popular advances in renewable energy while stifling responses to climate change in a state where people are becoming increasingly aware that they’re under the gun. Together, these underlying political forces are likely to sap voters away from Trump in a state he must win to secure the 2016 election.

Let’s hope that happens. The future of Florida and so many other important things hangs in the balance.

Links:

Vox

The Energy Information Administration

Trump to Zero Out Clean Energy Funding

Climate State

U.S. Voters Want Renewable Energy

The Whitehouse

Four Reasons to Vote No on Anti-Solar Amendment 1

Florida Early Vote Beats Entire 2000 Turnout

Floridians are More Concerned About Climate Change

Half a Kilometer of Ice Gone in Just 7 Years — West Antarctica’s Smith Glacier Points To Nightmare Melt Scenario

The nightmare global warming melt scenario for West Antarctica goes something like this —

First, ocean waters warmed by climate change approach the vast frozen continent. Melt already running out from the continent forms a fresh water lens that pushes these warmer waters toward the ocean bottom. The waters then get caught up in currents surrounding Antarctica that draw them in toward numerous submerged glacial faces. The added ocean heat combines with falling melting points at depth to produce rapid melt along sea fronting glacier bases. Since many of these glaciers sit on below sea level beds that slope downward toward the interior of Antarctica, a small amount of initial melt sets off an inland flood of these warmer waters that then produces a cascade of melt. This glacial melt chain reaction ultimately generates a Heinrich Event in which armadas of icebergs burst out from Antarctica — forcing global sea levels to rapidly rise.

This is Why We Worry So Much About Multi-Meter Sea Level Rise

Ultimately, seas rising by multiple meters this Century are a very real possibility under current warming scenarios in which such a series of cascading melt events occurs in West Antarctica.

(NASA video narrated by Dr. Eric Rignot, a prominent glacial scientist. Concerns about the origin of melt water pulse 1A during the end of the last ice age led to investigation of large Antarctic melt pulses as a potential source. Subsequent investigation identified melt vulnerabilities at the bases of large sea fronting glaciers in West Antarctica to present and predicted levels of ocean warming. At issue was the fact that bottom waters were warming and that because many glaciers rested on sea beds that sloped inland, melt rates had the potential to very rapidly accelerate.)

Though such a nightmare melt scenario was recently theoretical, it represented a very real potential near-future event as global temperatures rose into the 1-2 degrees Celsius above 1880s range during recent years. For times in the geological past around 115,000 years ago also produced large glacial melt pulses and related sea level rises of 15-25 feet during periods of similar warmth.

However, direct evidence of such a powerful melt dynamic had not yet been directly observed in Antarctica’s glaciers. Fresh water lenses were developing, rates of glacial loss were quickening. Basal melt rates looked bad. But the kind of tremendous losses necessary to produce rapid sea level rise were not yet fully in evidence.

Smith Glacier Loses Half a Kilometer of Ice in Seven Years

That situation changed during recent weeks when two scientific papers broke the news that some of West Antarctica’s glaciers had lost upwards of a half a kilometer of ice thickness due to contact with warm ocean waters over the past decade.

The studies, entitled Rapid Submarine Ice Melting in the Grounding Zones of Ice Shelves in West Antarctica and Grounding Line Retreat of Pope, Smith and Kohler Glaciers took a comprehensive look at both surface and underside melt of three major west Antarctic glaciers near the Thwaites and Pine Island Glacier systems. These glaciers included Pope, Smith and Kohler — which have seen increasing instability and rates of seaward movement during recent years. Using multiple instruments, the scientists found evidence of massive ice losses and speeding ice flows.

pope-smith-and-kholer-glacial-flow-velocities

(Surface velocity of Kohler, Smith and Pope Glaciers provided by NASA. More rapid seaward movement of glaciers = faster rates of sea level rise.)

The losses occurred at a time when an influx of warmer water (warming circumpolar deep water) was heating the ice shelves and grounding lines buttressing these three partially submerged glaciers. This warming was found to have produced melt along the grounding zones of these glaciers in the range of 300 to 490 meters from 2002 to 2009. In other words, about 1/3 to 1/2 a kilometer of ice thickness at the grounding line was lost in just seven years. Melted away from below by warming deep ocean conditions at the rate of up to 70 meters or around 230 feet per annum.

The studies found that the Pope and Kohler glaciers, which rested on up-sloping sea beds, produced slower rates of melt. While Smith, which sat on a retrograde (or down-sloping bed) produced very rapid rates of melt. According to the Nature study:

We attribute the different evolution of Smith Glacier to the retreat of its grounding line deeper allowing warmer waters to flood its grounding zone, and increasing ocean thermal forcing due to the lowering of the in situ melting point; as well as to the exposure of the glacier bottom to ocean water as the grounding line retreated rapidly.

A Context of Worsening Risks

Unfortunately, numerous glaciers in the Amundsen Sea region including parts of the Thwaites system and the massive Pine Island Glacier also sit on retrograde slopes. These glaciers are seeing increasing fluxes of warm, deep water. By themselves they represent multiple feet of sea level rise (4-7 feet). Furthermore, Thwaites and Pine Island Glacier currently buttress a number of massive inland glaciers that become vulnerable to melt if inland-running retrograde slopes become flooded with warming ocean waters.

The very real concern is that Smith Glacier serves as a harbinger for near future events to come. As a result, coastal regions around the world are now under a heightened risk of swiftly rising seas and rapid coastal inundation over the coming years and decades.

Links:

Rapid Submarine Ice Melting in the Grounding Zones of Ice Shelves in West Antarctica

Grounding Line Retreat of Pope, Smith and Kholer Glaciers

Heinrich Event

Dr. Eric Rignot

Studies Offer Glimpse of Melting Under Antarctic Glaciers

Thwaites Glacier

Pine Island Glacier

Hat tip to Zack Labe

Hat tip to Miles h

“We Have Nowhere to Go” — Sea Level Rise is Devouring the Coast of West Africa

“I am very afraid for the future of this place. Sooner or later we will have to leave, but we have nowhere to go.” — Buabasah a resident of Fuvemeh, a West African town being swallowed by the sea as reported by Matteo Fagotto.

*****

A new, must read, report out in Foreign Policy by Matteo Fagotto highlights a widespread ongoing disruption due to sea level rise to the vulnerable coastal region of West Africa. And, for years now, scientists at the IPCC have been warning that just such an event could occur.

The coastal zone of West Africa stretches for 4,000 miles from Mauritania to the Congo. It includes highly populated regions surrounding low elevation cities and towns in such African nations as Gabon, Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea, The Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Liberia, and Ghana. Most industrial activity and food-growing is located near the coast of these nations — accounting for 56 percent of GDP for the region according to the World Bank. And coastal population concentrations in regions vulnerable to sea level rise are very high. In all about 31 percent of the 245 million people dwelling in West Africa live in this fragile land.

global-sea-level-rise

(Due to global warming and glacial melt spurred by fossil fuel burning, oceans are now rising at their fastest rates in 10,000 years. As a result, many coastal towns and cities around the world are under increasing threat of flooding. In West Africa, a recent report by Foreign Policy paints a picture of broadening inundation. Unfortunately, current rates of ocean rise are far slower than what human-caused climate change may set off over the coming decades. Image source: AVISO.)

Most of the coastline features a lagoonal geography that is very low-lying. Meanwhile, funds for coastal defenses like planting mangrove forests and pumping in sand to re-nourish beaches are difficult to procure. As a result, these large cities and population centers are highly vulnerable to impacts from human-forced climate change related to sea level rise.

The Great Flooding Begins

Ever since the early 1990s, scientific reports have highlighted the vulnerability of West Africa to inundation, flooding and loss of key industries, food growing and infrastructure due to glacial melt, thermal expansion of ocean waters set off by warming, and an increase in storm strength in the North Atlantic. All impacts that scientists feared would be coming due to a human-forced warming of the world. Now, just such an inundation and loss appears to be underway.

According to the recent report out in Foreign Policy, and according to other eyewitness accounts and news reports coming in from coastal West Africa during recent years, sea level rise and increasing erosion due to powerful storms continue to produce worsening impacts for the region. In one of the most glaring instances, the swelling surf is now in the process of destroying a Ghana fishing village (Fuvemeh) that recently housed 2,500 people. Homes, coconut plantations, and fishing wharfs have all been taken by the seas and swirling sands. But Fuvemeh is just one of thousands of like communities now confronting an onrush of waves that each year bites off as much as 80-120 feet of coastline.

(House destroyed by waves in Fuvemeh, Ghana. Sadly, sea level rise related impacts like this are now being seen all up and down West Africa’s 4,000 mile long coastline.)

Moreover, Foreigh Policy finds that megacities like Lagos (population 5.6 million) and large cities like Accra (population 1.6 million) are increasingly threatened by the encroaching waters. In Accra, the rainy season now causes an annual inundation of sections of the city — a new impact that resulted in 25 people losing their lives last year. Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania and home to approximately 1 million people, now sees the loss of 80 feet of coastline along its Atlantic shore every year. Meanwhile, parts of Togo lost 118 feet of shore line last year alone. Along the coast from Gambia to Senegal and including communities like Cotonou and Lome, growing numbers of houses, hotels, restaurants, roads, and even water treatment plants are now little more than washed out husks and crumbling bits of infrastructure — lapped by a rising tide.

Heartbreak, Loss of Homes, Dislocation

As the waters rise, residents are forced to move inland. Younger, more mobile residents have often fled the region entirely. Others have rebuilt their homes further inland only to have them flooded again. Ocean productivity is on the decline in the region. Fish and other animals that supported coastal industries have migrated northward or succumbed to worsening ocean conditions. The combined losses have produced economic hardships as coastal cities see increasing gang activity, drug use, theft and violence.

Overall, the United Nations estimates that 5-10 percent of West Africa’s GDP will ultimately be lost due to impacts related to sea level rise. And the recent report by Foreign Policy points to growing evidence that the crisis is starting now. But the ever-more-human toll is nothing less than heart-wrenching.

West Africa Just One of Many Vulnerable Regions

Reports by Foreign Policy and others on the plight of coastal West Africa shines a light on sea level rise related hardships and losses throughout that region. However, numerous low-lying stretches of coastline are now facing similar problems. Bangladesh is currently seeing a wave of mass migration inland due to sea level rise related flooding. The Mi Cong Delta region is seeing its rice farms threatened by an influx of salt water. The Indus River Delta region in Pakistan is also experiencing mass migration away from coastlines. Coastal Pacific Islands are facing an existential threat due to sea level rise now. And the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coasts are facing their own problems from worsening storm surge flooding and more widespread nuisance flooding due to sea level rise. So what we’re seeing in West Africa is part of a much larger overall global context.

Links:

West Africa is Being Swallowed by the Sea

West Africa Map

AVISO Sea Level Rise

IPCC: The Regional Impacts of Climate Change

Ghana’s Coastal Erosion — The Village Buried in Sand

Ghana Accra Floods

How The World’s Oceans Could be Running out of Fish

Drugs and Crime Mobilise International Support For West Africa Coast Initiative

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Wili

Climate Change — Seas Are Now So High it Only Takes a King Tide to Flood the US East Coast

“It gets higher every year. I imagine it will be worse next year.” Guido Pena, Miami marina employee commenting on water levels during king tides.

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King tide. It’s a new term for an old phenomena. One that few people noticed before human-forced climate change began to push the world’s oceans higher and higher.

During spring and fall, the sun lines up with the moon and other astronomical bodies to produce a stronger gravitational pull on the Earth. This pull, in its turn, affects the tides — generating higher and lower tides over certain regions of the world.

(Rising ocean levels due to human-forced climate change is resulting in worsening instances of tidal flooding at times of high tide. In this video, a simple seasonal high tide is enough to flood major roads in Fort Lauderdale on October 17.)

King Tides — Turned into Flooding Events by Climate Change

During past years, these events were called astronomical high and low tides. They weren’t typically a news item because such tides often did not produce flooding. Past construction had placed buildings and key infrastructure above the typical annual range of even the astronomical high tides.

However, during the past century and, ever more-so during recent years, seas have been rising more and more rapidly due to human-caused climate change. A warming of the Earth due to fossil fuel burning that has melted glacial ice — flooding the oceans and causing its waters to thermally expand. As a result, parts of the U.S. East Coast now see ocean levels that are 1.5 feet or more higher than they were at the start of the 20th Century.

This rise, though modest compared to what will happen if global temperatures and greenhouse gas levels remain at currently elevated levels or continue to ramp higher, is now enough to turn astronomical high tides into a notable flooding event. An event that we have begun to call a king tide.

miami-sea-level-trend

(In places like Miami along the US East Coast, sea levels are rising at a swifter and swifter rate due to human-caused climate change. Note the acceleration in the rate of water rise since 2008 indicated in the above graph. Image source: FSU.)

A Climate Change Enabled Tidal Flooding Event Impacting Most of the U.S. East Coast

And over the past few days, from Florida to Boston, the US East Coast has been feeling the effects of just such a climate change caused sea level rise. In Florida, a debate between climate change denier republican Marco Rubio and his democratic opponent Patrick Murphy was held at a site where the local street was flooding due to salt water incursion. Murphy, responding to his opponent’s doubts that seas were actually rising stated:

“Look out your window, right? There’s two or three inches of saltwater on the roads right now. They were not built underwater. Go down to the Florida Keys. The reefs are dying from acidification and bleaching.”

All across Florida, residents were posting pictures on twitter of the rising ocean waters and commenting on the intensification of coastal flooding due to sea level rise during recent years. “It gets higher every year,” said Guido Peña, a Miami Marina employee where the water was shin deep Monday morning, in a statement to the Miami Herald. “I imagine it will be worse next year.”

All up and down the coastline, communities reeling after a raking blow from Hurricane Matthew were again seeing waters rushing up and past the dune line or invading low-lying streets and neighborhoods. But this flooding was due to no hurricane, just the added rise of waters caused by a fossil-fueled warming of the Earth, a melting of her glaciers, and the thermal expansion of her seas.

(King tide flooding enhanced by climate change is now able to completely submerge Long Wharf in Boston.)

In Boston, residents took pictures of a completely submerged Long Wharf yesterday. Mentions of climate change came along with the observations of flooding waters. These included some ominous notes for a future in which scientists are projecting at least another 2 feet of sea level rise for the US East Coast by mid-century (and possibly quite a bit more).

High Vulnerability for U.S. East Coast

Overall, the US East Coast is particularly vulnerable to climate change induced sea level rise. Much of the southeast is subsiding due to crustal rebound following the last ice age which compounds any overall ocean rise. In addition, changes in North Atlantic Ocean currents and wind patterns due to climate change will tend to cause water previously pulled north by the Gulf Stream to rebound against the coastline. An effect that could also add another 1-3 feet of water rise to any baseline total provided by glacial melt and thermal expansion.

Larger news sources like The Weather Channel have provided little context with regards to the impact of climate change on current king tides — simply stating that climate change may affect king tides in the future. However, we should be very clear that without climate change we would not see the flooding from these tides that is now apparent today.

Links:

When the Ocean Rolls onto the Roads, King Tide Sends a Message

What’s a King Tide and Why is it Flooding Boston’s Waterfront?

Marco Rubio Denies Climate Change as King Tides Flood Miami Streets

FSU

Hat tip to Jack Ridley

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Jean Nagy

Hat tip to Ben Kennedy

Record-Hot 2016 Marks the Start of Bad Climate Consequences, Provides “Fierce Urgency” to Halt Worse Harms to Come

“…there is now strong evidence linking specific [extreme] events or an increase in their numbers to the human influence on climate.” — Coumou and Rahmstorf 2012.

“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. …We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.'” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [emphasis added]

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2016 is on track to be a record-hot year for the history books. Accumulations of heat-trapping gasses in the range of 402 ppm CO2 and 490 ppm CO2e have pushed the global temperature trend into an inexorable upward rise. Meanwhile, increasingly severe climate change-related events ranging from mass coral bleaching, to glacial and sea ice melt, to tree death, to ocean health decline, to the expanding ranges of tropical infectious diseases, to worsening extreme weather events have occurred the world over. This global temperature spike and related ramp-up of extreme events continued throughout a year that is setting up to follow 2014 and 2015 as the third record-hot year in a row.

(2015 saw a substantial jump in global temperatures. 2016 is also on track to hit new record highs. The above graph, by Gavin Schmidt of NASA GISS, provides a vivid illustration of an inexorable warming trend with 2016 as the hottest year yet. According to Gavin, a strong new record for 2016 appears to be a lock. Image source: Climate of Gavin.)

Now, after NASA’s report showing that September 2016 was 1.13 C hotter than 1880s averages (or 0.91 C hotter than NASA’s 20th-century baseline measure), this year is setting up to be the warmest ever recorded by a wide margin. Overall, the first nine months of 2016 have averaged 1.25 C above 1880s temperatures. Meanwhile, the climate year — which runs from December through November — is tracking 1.26 C above 1880s temperatures during the ten-month period of December to September.

2016 as much as 1.25 C Hotter than 1880s Averages

As a result, it appears likely that 2016 will see temperatures in the range of 1.19 C to 1.25 C hotter than 1880s averages. That’s about 0.1 C hotter than 2015 — which is pretty significant considering the fact that the average rate of decadal warming (the rounded rate of global warming every 10 years) has been in the range of 0.15 C since the late 1970s. This year’s temperatures now appear set to exceed 1998’s values by around 0.35 C — or about one-third of the entire warming total seen since large-scale human greenhouse gas emissions began during the late 19th century. This excession should permanently put to rest previous widely circulated false notions that global warming somehow stopped following the strong El Nino year of 1998.

Many responsible sources are now warning that current temperatures are uncomfortably close to two major climate thresholds — 1.5 C global warming and 2.0 C global warming. At the current rate of warming, we appear set to exceed the 1.5 C mark in the annual measure in just one to two decades. Hitting 2 C by or before mid-century has become a very real possibility. Scientists have been urging the global community to avoid 2 C warming before 2100 (and 1.5 C if at all possible), but the current path brings us to that level of warming in just over 30-50 years, not over the 84 years remaining in this century. And just maintaining current rates of warming without significant added feedbacks from the Earth System would result in Earth hitting close to 3 C warming by 2100 — a level that would inflict severe harm to life on Earth, including human civilizations.

september-of-2016

(According to NASA, September 2016 edged out September 2014 as the hottest September in the 136-year climate record. This occurred while the Equatorial Pacific was flipped into a cool phase, which tends to lower global temperatures. Despite this natural variability-related switch pulling global temperatures down, NASA shows a globe in which few regions experienced below-average temperatures and where the highest concentration of record-warm temperatures are centered near the northern polar region. This display of counter-trend warming and strong polar amplification are both signature effects of human-caused climate change. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Focusing back on 2016, it appears the La Nina that struggled throughout August and early September is again making a decent attempt to form, at least as a weak event. This should tend to pull October, November and December temperatures into the 1 to 1.1 C above 1880s departure range. As a result, final averages for 2016 should be slightly lower than averages for the period running from December to September. But, as noted above, we are still on track to see a very significant jump above the 2015 end atmospheric temperature totals.

Climate Impacts from Added Global Heat Continue to Worsen

All this extra heat in the system will work to worsen the already extreme climate and weather events we are seeing. Potentials for droughts, floods, heatwaves and wildfires will increase. High atmospheric moisture loading will continue to pump up peak storm potentials when storms do form. Added heat will tend to accumulate at the poles more than in the tropics or middle latitudes. As a result, upper-level wind patterns will likely continue to see more anomalous features along a worsening trend line. Ice in all forms will see stronger heat forcings overall, adding risk that both land and sea ice melt rates will increase.

impacts-to-the-cryosphere

(In the mid-2010s, Earth entered a temperature range averaging 1 C above pre-industrial levels. Such temperatures begin to threaten key climate impacts like permafrost thaw, 3-4 meters of sea-level rise from West Antarctic Ice Sheet melt, risk of up to 80 percent mountain glacier loss, complete Arctic sea ice loss during summer, and 6-7 meters of sea level rise from Greenland melt. In the near 1 C range, risks of these impacts, though a possibility, remain somewhat lower. But as temperatures approach 1.5 and 2 C above pre-industrial levels, risks rise even as West Antarctic glacial melt and polar ocean acidification start to become serious factors. Image source: Solving the Climate Stalemate.)

At 1 to 1.3 C above 1880s levels, we should see a quickening in the rate of sea-level rise. How much is uncertain. However, this temperature range is very close to peak Eemian Stage levels when oceans were around 15 to 25 feet higher than they are today. The current rapid rate of temperature change will also continue to have worsening impacts on creatures who are adapted to inhabit specific climate zones. The rapid rise in global temperatures is forcing an equally rapid movement of climate zones toward the poles and up mountains. This affects pretty much all life on Earth and unfortunately some species will be hard-pressed to handle the insult as certain habitats basically move off-planet. This impact is particularly true for corals, trees and other species that are unable to match the rapid pace of climate zone motion. We have already seen very severe impacts in the form of mass coral and tree death the world over. Warming in the 1 to 1.3 C range also provides an increasing ocean stratification pressure — one that has already been observed to increase the prevalence of ocean dead zones and one that will tend to shrink overall ocean vitality and productivity.

Fierce Urgency For Climate Action

Despite all these negative impacts, we are still currently outside the boundary of the worst potential results of climate change. Stresses are on the rise from various related factors, but these stresses have probably not yet reached a point of no return for human civilization and many of the reefs, forests, and living creatures we have grown to cherish. Rapid mitigation through a swift transition away from fossil fuels is still possible. Such a response now has a high likelihood of successfully protecting numerous civilizations while saving plant and animal species across the planet. That said, at this point, some damage is, sadly, unavoidable. But the simple fact that we are now starting to face the harmful consequences of a century and a half of fossil fuel burning is no excuse for inaction. To the contrary, the beginning of these harms should serve as a clarion call for our redoubled efforts.

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA ESRL

NOAA El Nino

Climate of Gavin

The Truth About Climate Change

COP 21: Why 2 C?

Solving the Climate Stalemate

Hat tip to Kevin Jones

Hat tip to Florifulgurator

NASA Map Shows Large Portions of Greenland are Melting from Below

During recent years, as human fossil-fuel emissions have forced the Earth to warm, observations of Greenland’s surface has indicated a rising rate of melt. What has been less well-observed is melt rates beneath the ice and near the ice base. This is important because the pooling of water beneath the great ice sheet can help speed its movement toward ocean outlets, along with accumulating heat at the base of the ice — which can also quicken the pace of overall melt.

A new scientific study headed by NASA researchers has developed one of the first comprehensive maps of melt along Greenland’s basal zone, where the ice contacts the ground surface. What they have found is that large portions of Greenland are melting from below:

Greenland basal thaw map

(New, first-of-its-kind map shows extensive melt along the Greenland ice sheet base. Melt in this region is a sign that heat is building up beneath the ice as well as on top. Image source: NASA.)

This mapping study found that wide expanses of northern Greenland and pretty much all of southern Greenland are now experiencing melt at the ice sheet base. As the interior of Greenland has a cracked-bowl topography — with land bowing down into a central trough and numerous furrows connecting the ice sheet with the ocean — understanding where liquid water and heat are pooling at the bottom of the ice sheet will help scientists to get a better idea of how Greenland’s glaciers will respond to human-forced warming.

Joe MacGregor, lead study author and glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland recently noted:

“We’re ultimately interested in understanding how the ice sheet flows and how it will behave in the future. If the ice at its bottom is at the melting-point temperature, or thawed, then there could be enough liquid water there for the ice to flow faster and affect how quickly it responds to climate change.”

Geothermal Melt, Ice Sheet Heat Accumulation, and Climate Change

Melt along the base of the Greenland ice sheet has long been influenced by heat welling up from or trapped near the Earth’s surface. The heavy, thick ice sheet densely packs the ground and rocks under it, which generates and amplifies geothermal hot-spots beneath Greenland. In addition, the ice creates a kind of insulating layer which locks that ground heat in. As a result, the bottom of the ice sheet is often tens of degrees warmer than its top.

Alone, this blanketing effect is enough to generate some melt along the bottom of Greenland. But now that the surface is melting more and more, heat transport from the ice surface to the bottom via liquid water funneling down to pool below is a more common occurrence.

Subglacial lake recharges due to surface melt Greenland

(Recharge of subglacial lake by surface melt near the Flade Isblink ice cap is an example of how surface melt can interact with basal melt, driving the formation of water at the ice sheet base. Image source: Nature.)

The way this heat transfer works is that rising temperatures over Greenland form more extensive surface lakes and melt ponds during the increasingly warm summers (and sometimes briefly during other periods). Often, the meltwater will find a crack in the ice and flow down to the ice interior. Sometimes the water remains suspended in the middle layers between the surface and the ice sheet base as a kind of heat bubble. At other times, the water will bore all the way down to the ground where it can form into pools or subglacial lakes.

At Flade Isblink in northeastern Greenland, such a filling of a subglacial lake was observed during the 2011 and 2012 melt years. As Greenland warms, such instances are likely to become more common. In this way, melt at the surface can add to the amount of heat trapped below the ice sheet — forming a kind of synergistic melt process.

The new NASA study helps our understanding of how such a process might unfold by showing the current extent of subsurface melt. The study combined physical models with observations to create this larger picture of bottom melt, telling a dramatic story of the opening period of human-forced Greenland melt, in which sub-surface melt is already very extensive.

Conditions in Context — The Level of Atmospheric Greenhouse Gasses is Now About Equal to Where They Were When the Greenland Ice Sheet First Formed

In context, the Greenland ice sheet is the largest repository of land ice remaining in the Northern Hemisphere. Covering a vast region of 1,710,000 square kilometers and rising up to 3 kilometers high at its tallest point, this ice sheet contains fully 2,850,000 cubic kilometers of ice. If all this ice melted, it would raise the world’s sea levels by around 7.2 meters (nearly 24 feet).

This enormous mountain of ice astride Greenland began to form about 11 to 18 million years ago during the Middle Miocene climate epoch. Back then, atmospheric carbon dioxide ranged from 405 to 500 parts per million. This decline from earlier, higher CO2 concentrations was allowing the world to cool enough to begin to support glacial ice in this region (around 4 C warmer than 1880s values).

Greenland_Mass_Balance

(Losses of Greenland mass from the surface zone have been accelerating during recent years. This loss has primarily been driven by human-forced warming of the Arctic. Though the North Atlantic Oscillation can generate melt variability by driving warm air flows toward or away from Greenland, the overall long-term driver has been a rapid warming of the Arctic region due to fossil-fuel emissions. Though we have a pretty good understanding of surface melt, our understanding of melt at the base of the ice sheet and heat accumulation there is less complete. Such an understanding may help us to predict future ice sheet behavior. Image source: Skeptical Science.)

Back then, Greenland’s ice was far smaller, far less extensive. It was a baby ice sheet that would grow into a behemoth as the Miocene cooled into the Pliocene — when CO2 levels fell to around 390 to 405 ppm — and then into the various ice ages and interglacials that followed (featuring atmospheric CO2 in the range of around 180 ppm during ice ages and around 275 ppm during interglacials).

Now, human fossil-fuel burning has put the ice sheet in a great global-warming time machine. With atmospheric CO2 levels hitting Middle Miocene ranges of 407.5 ppm at Mauna Loa this year, an accumulation of enough heat to significantly melt large portions of Greenland’s ice is a very real and growing concern. Exactly how that melt may unfold is still a big scientific mystery, but the risks are growing along with the heat and the new NASA basal melt study helps to shed a little light.

Links:

First Map of Thawed Areas Under Greenland Ice Sheet

NASA Maps Thawed Areas Under the Greenland Ice Sheet

Recharge of Subglacial Lake by Surface Melt Water in Northeast Greenland

Pliocene

Middle Miocene

Greenland Ice Sheet

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Large Sections of Greenland Covered in Melt Ponds, Dark Snow

Over the past couple of days, temperatures across the Greenland Ice Sheet have really ramped up. The result has been a pretty significant mid-to-late season melt pulse. According to NSIDC, nearly 40 percent of the ice sheet surface has been affected by surface melt during recent days. And Greenland ice mass balance appears to have also taken a hit.

This surface melt pulse is, arguably, best portrayed in the satellite imagery:

Greenland Melt July 20

(Large section of Western Greenland near the Jackobshavn Glacier experiencing significant surface melt on July 20, 2016. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

On July 20th, this approximate 300 x 70 mile swath of Western Greenland shows a number of distinct strong melt features. Near the interior edge of the melt zone we notice the light blue coloration indicative of widespread and general surface melt. From the satellite, this bluing gives the impression of a thin layer of surface water covering a widespread area of the ice sheet. But it is more likely that the blue tint comes from a plethora of small melt ponds and rivers that blend together in the lower resolution satellite shot to lend the impression of ubiquitous water coverage.

Large Melt Ponds, Dark Snow Over Western Greenland

Further in, we notice the darker blue swatches that indicate large melt ponds. Some of these ponds are quite extensive — measuring 1/4 to up to 1 mile in length. Ponds of this size tend to put a lot of pressure on the Greenland surface and can pretty quickly bore down into the ice sheet’s depths and interior. The water then either becomes locked in the ice — forming a kind of subglacial lake — or flows to base regions of the glacier where it can lubricate the ice — causing it to speed up.

Large Melt Ponds Dark Snow Western Greenland

(Close up satellite shot shows 1/4 to 1 mile long melt ponds, general melt ponding and a darkened Greenland Ice Sheet. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Still closer to the ice edge we find greatly darkened patches of ice. Darkening occurs when ice melt reveals and thickens past layers of ice sheet dust and soot accumulation. Each year, winds carry dust from land masses and soot from fires — which now, due to rapid Earth warming, burn more frequently over the Arctic and near-Arctic — to the ice sheet where it accumulates. This darker material is then covered by the annual layers of snowfall. If enough snow and ice melts, the yearly layers of dust and soot accumulation can concentrate into a gray-black covering. Such a covering is clearly visible in the July 20 satellite imagery above.

According to Dr. Jason Box, as much as 5.6 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet was covered by this darkening, which he calls Dark Snow, as recently as 2014. Darkening of the Greenland ice sheet can accelerate melt as it reduces the ice sheet’s ability to reflect the sun’s rays — resulting in more overall heat absorption.

Substantial Northeastern Greenland Melt Also Visible

Zachariae Surface Melt Darkening

(Zacharie Isstrom Glacier in Northeastern Greenland shows significant melt in July 20 satellite shot. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Though surface melt and darkening is quite extensive along the southwestern flank of Greenland, toward the north and east, widespread surface melt, ponding and ice darkening is also visible over sections of the Zachariae Glacier. Here, in a far northern section of Greenland that borders the Arctic Ocean, we find an approximate 100 x 20 mile region of melting and darkening ice. Note the tell-tale bluing and dark gray patches visible in the above image.

For this region, ice has tended to experience more melt during recent years as sea ice within the Fram Strait and Greenland Sea has receded. This has revealed more darker ocean surfaces which, in turn, has absorbed more incoming solar radiation resulting in increased warming for this section of Greenland.

Conditions in Context — Human-Forced Warming Pushing Greenland to Melt Faster

Overall, Greenland melt is this year less extensive than the record 2012 melt season. However, the current mid-to-late season pulse has forced a big melt acceleration that may result in melt that exceeds 250 billion tons of ice loss for 2016 (or the average over recent years). In the pretty near future, continued high global temperatures and additional warming due to human fossil fuel emissions will almost certainly push Greenland to melt at a faster pace.

To this point, the Earth has now warmed by more than 1 C above Preindustrial temperatures. And a range of 1-2 C warming from this baseline in past climate eras such as the Eemian resulted in a 10-20 foot rise in world ocean levels. We’re in this temperature range now. So that’s pretty bad news for sea level rise — to which Greenland now contributes enough melt to lift seas by about 0.75 mm every year. The only real questions at this point are how fast will that already substantial melt accelerate, and will we halt fossil fuel burning swiftly enough to slow it down.

Links/Attribution/Statements

LANCE MODIS

The National Snow and Ice Data Center

Greenland Surface Mass Budget

These Stunning Photos of Greenland’s Dark Snow Should Worry You

The Dark Snow Project (please support)

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to DT Lange

Scribbler-sponsored note on Trump:

Trump Chooses Climate Change Denier as Energy Advisor

Greenland’s Contribution to Sea Level Rise Doubled During 2011-2014 — Larger Melt Pulses on the Horizon

According to a new report, the Greenland Ice Sheet lost one trillion tons of water due to melt during the four-year period from 2011 through 2014. That’s about double the typical rate of loss during the 1990s through mid-2000s. Subsequently, Greenland’s contribution to sea-level rise also doubled. As a result, Greenland alone contributed 0.75 mm of sea-level rise every year during the 2011 to 2014 period.

(The above video briefly explains the findings of a new scientific study indicating a doubling in the rate of Greenland melt during 2011 through 2014.)

Bear in mind, the study focuses on Greenland only. Those numbers don’t include thermal expansion from the world’s warming oceans. Nor do they include an increasing amount of melt from Antarctica. Nor do they include large volumes of melt coming from the world’s rapidly disappearing mountain glaciers. Together, all of these in total are pushing sea levels higher by around 4 mm per year during the 2011 through 2016 period. That’s about 1 mm more per year than the 1993 to 2009 period. But the greater additional contribution appears to be coming from melting glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica.

The new Greenland Study found that melt averaged around 250 billion tons per year over the four-year period. This included a single melt year, 2012, in which Greenland contributed about half a trillion tons of melt water. The massive 2012 melt was spurred by high Greenland surface temperatures during summer which resulted in spiking surface melt rates during June, July, and August. At the time, a powerful high pressure system focused heat across the ice sheet which caused most of the surface area of Greenland’s glaciers to experience melt.

According to the study:

During 2011–2014, Greenland mass loss averaged 269 ± 51 Gt/yr. Atmospherically driven losses were widespread, with surface melt variability driving large fluctuations in the annual mass deficit. Terminus regions of five dynamically thinning glaciers, which constitute less than 1% of Greenland’s area, contributed more than 12% of the net ice loss. This high-resolution record demonstrates that mass deficits extending over small spatial and temporal scales have made a relatively large contribution to recent ice sheet imbalance.

In other words, melt at the margins of the ice sheet and large surface melt pulses during brief periods were the primary contributors to increasing melt rated during the study period.

Annual Mass Loss from Greenland and Antarctica

(Annual mass losses from Greenland and Antarctica are accelerating. This results in increasing rates of global sea level rise. While mass loss in Antarctica has recently primarily been driven by basal melt, surface melt has been the chief contributor to Greenland mass loss. In addition, the highly variable nature of surface mass loss along with its tendency to create brief, intense melt pulses is some cause for concern. Image source: Charting Ice Sheet Contributions to Global Sea Level Rise.)

The study found that surface melt rates were highly variable and dependent upon weather — with a strongly negative North Atlantic Oscillation contributing to conditions that enhanced melt during 2012. In this case, it appears that natural variability is beginning to be pushed by human-forced warming into a phase where certain years will preferentially further enhance Greenland melt. To this point, the tendency for large surface melt spikes was found to have increased during recent years. In contrast to Antarctica, where warming oceans contact glacial cliff faces and ice shelf undersides to accelerate melt, in Greenland, surface melt appears to currently be playing a bigger role in driving melt acceleration.

Surface melt can produce odd and unstable patterns of melt ponding and runoff over large ice sheets like Greenland. And as Greenland continues to warm due to human-forced climate change, an increasing risk of glacial outburst floods can be the result. The highly variable nature of surface melt is also a concern. In other words, overall warming can produce extreme, if brief, periods of warmth over Greenland that produce disproportionately large melt spikes. In this case, 2012 should not be seen as an outlier, but as the first of many future strong surface melt years — ones that will almost certainly surpass that year in melt intensity unless human-forced warming is somehow brought to a halt.

Links/Attribution/Statements

A High Resolution Record of Greenland Mass Balance

Excellent Comment on the Paper By Slate writer Phil Plait

Charting Ice Sheet Contributions to Global Sea Level Rise

Glacial Outburst Flood

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Coastal Cities, Critical Infrastructure Unprepared to Face the Rising Tides of Climate Change

Civitasthe latin word for city and the root word for civilization. Civilization, in other words, is a collection of component cities. And, by extension, any major threat to a large number of cities is a threat to civilization itself. Such is the case with human-forced climate change.

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It’s a sad fact that many of the hundreds of coastal cities around the world are living on borrowed time. Current greenhouse gas levels — topping out near 408 parts per million CO2 (and 490 parts per million CO2e) this year — will need to fall in order to prevent 1-3 C of additional warming and 25 to 60 feet or more of sea level rise over the coming decades and centuries. And even if we somehow dialed atmospheric CO2 and CO2e levels back to 350 ppm, it’s likely that we’d still see seas eventually rise by 10-20 feet over the long term due to already destabilized glaciers in places like Greenland or West Antarctica.

But with fossil fuel burning continuing at near record levels globally, and with many corporations and political bodies around the world dragging feet on greenhouse gas emissions cuts, the level of heat-trapping carbon held aloft in our airs will continue to rise for some time. These vastly irresponsible actions will further heat the atmosphere and ocean — melting a greater share of the world’s land ice and forcing seas to ultimately rise even more. If CO2e exceeds a range of 550 to 650 parts per million — which could easily happen even under so-called moderate rates of fossil fuel burning before the middle of the 21st Century — then all the land ice on Earth will be placed under melt pressure. And that vast sum of ice melt represents about 220 feet of sea level rise long term so long as the greenhouse gas melt and heat pressure remains.

Sea level rise AVISO July 2016

(Seas have been rising in concert with ocean warming and fossil fuel burning since the start of the 20th Century. At first, during the first half of the 20th Century, rates of rise were less than 1 mm per year. By the 1993 through 2016 period, sea level rise averaged 3.39 mm per year. And since 2011, the rate of rise appears to have steepened into the range of 4 to 6 milimeters per year. Image source: AVISO.)

Even more disturbing is the fact that in the geological past, glacial melt has not tended to process in a gradual, orderly fashion. Instead, initial gradual melt has, in deep history, often been punctuated by very large melt pulses as glacial systems rapidly succumbed to warming environments. And with human warming now proceeding at a pace about 20 times faster than the end of the last ice age, the risk for rapid melt has been greatly enhanced.

Despite continued snide claims by climate change deniers to the contrary — it really is a global emergency. One that includes difficult impacts now and a rising risk of far worse impacts to come. A very real kind of long emergency for human civilization and the natural world combined. One made no less worse by its current deceptively slow, if massive and inexorable, advance.

Hundreds of Cities Under Threat

Due to this threat posed by human-forced warming of the global climate system, cities that have lasted for hundreds or thousands of years now face a serious risk that they will ultimately be devoured by rising tides. Around the world, nearly half of the world’s approximate 4,000 cities with populations of greater than 100,000 people sit on or near the coastline, at elevations below 220 feet, or near bodies of water that are vulnerable to sea level rise. Under the continued pressure of human-forced warming on global ocean levels, a good number (5-10 percent) of these cities may begin to succumb to rising tides in as little as a 10-30 years. And, long term, over 30-300 year time frames, pretty much all are threatened if the world continues burning fossil fuels.

Greenland Glacial Melt

(Glacial melt, like from this pond-riddled and melt-darkened section of Greenland as seen on July 8 of 2016, threatens many coastal cities this Century. With human warming of the Earth atmosphere approaching 2 C, the threat of large glacial outburst flood events that rapidly push sea levels higher is rising. But even gradual sea level rise is already disrupting cities and the infrastructure that supports them. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

New Orleans, London, Sydney, Shanghai, Los Angeles, New York, Alexandria, Amsterdam, Miami, Norfolk, Washington DC, and Toyko are just a handful of the major cities that are mostly low-lying or that contain large low-lying sections. And all are below the 220 foot sea level rise line that current levels of fossil fuel burning will begin to put into long-term play before mid-Century.

Infrastructure is the First Vulnerability

While complete inundation by rising tides is the ultimate issue, cities do not have to face such drowning to fall under threat. Water supplies, transportation nodes and arteries, food supplies, and energy production and distribution facilities all represent lynch-pins that, if disrupted, can take down a city’s ability to effectively function. And sea level rise often threatens many or all of these critical supports well before the problem of total inundation becomes an issue.

Miami, for example, now faces a combination of these threats due to the presently emerging early outlier effects of human-forced sea level rise. There, just one foot of rising tides since the early 1870s has now put 2.4 million of Miami’s residents and 1.3 million homes within 4 feet of the high tide mark. By 2015, that relatively minor sea level rise had increased tidal flooding by 50 percent. Roadways and neighborhoods were more frequently cut off by the rising waters — which prompted the election of Philip Levine as Mayor of Miami Beach and the implementation of his 400 million dollar project to elevate roads and add pumps.

The city’s water supply, provided by a fresh water aquifer running through porous limestone, is protected from ocean salt water intrusion by a fresh water barrier of canals. A mere six additional inches of sea level rise will render the current system both ineffective and vulnerable to over-topping due to heavy rainfall events.

Power Stations, Roads, and Airports

By 2030, Miami is expected to see between 6-10 more inches of sea level rise. By the end of this Century, it will probably see at least 6 feet — and that’s if we don’t pursue business as usual fossil fuel burning and if the world’s glaciers mostly behave themselves by not giving us a big, angry melt pulse in response to our insults. The result is that not only Miami, but the far-flung critical infrastructure that supports it is also under threat.

In this context, Miami’s airport is just 8 feet above the high tide line. The nearby Turkey Point Nuclear facility which provides energy to the city and a big chunk of South Florida is about 6 feet above the high tide line. And though its reactors are elevated by another 20 feet of concrete buttressing, this Century’s predicted sea level rise would flood its grounds and surrounding roadways — likely rendering it inoperable.

Nuclear Stations Sea Level Rise

(Long term inland extent of sea level rise under 2 C and 4 C warming scenarios for US East and Gulf Coasts puts 13 nuclear facilities in the firing line. And an unexpected melt pulse or powerful storms riding on the top of sea level rise present a risk of flooded reactors. Such an inland rush of waters would also drown scores of coastal US cities, cut off roadways, flood aquifers, inundate crops, submerge airports, and sink conventional power stations. Image source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission, National Geographic, Climate Central.)

In the US, nine nuclear power stations are located on the coast. Another 13 are vulnerable to sea level rise. These sites are located near the ocean or along ocean fed rivers. They are ultimately vulnerable to sea level rise spurred by 2 or 4 degrees Celsius worth of warming. Without a herculean effort to not only reduce greenhouse gasses, but to recapture them from the atmosphere, 2 C warming is already locked in (this Century or longer term). The 4 C number is possible by late this Century under business as usual fossil fuel burning and is possible long term (500 year time scales) under the continuous 490 ppm CO2e forcing now in place.

Many large coal and gas power plants which also require heavy flows of water to support their operations are located near the coast. Oil refineries, which rely on shipping are often very close to sea level. Many major roadways are vulnerable to cut-off from sea level rise. And an amazingly large number of key airports are below a 20 foot elevation.  A small sampling includes San Diego International Airport at 13ft in elevation, Santa Barbara — 10 feet, Vancouver –14 feet, Portland 20 feet, JFK — 13 feet, La Guardia — runway elevations between 7 and 21 feet, Reagan National — 13 feet.

New York Also Armoring Against Rising Tides

In the northeastern US, another city has recently had a harsh global warming wake-up call. About a foot of east coast sea level rise added to the approximate 13 foot storm surge of Hurricane Sandy to flood Staten Island and large sections of lower Manhattan. The local power station flooded — propelling the city into darkness even as the subway system drowned and one neighborhood filled with water and burned at the same time.

Post Sandy responses have resulted in a flurry of activity. Fully 60 billion dollars has been spent to rebuild and a good chunk of that has gone to making the city more protected against both storms and rising sea levels. High rises are now required to lift critical infrastructure such as water pumps and spare generators into the upper stories should lower levels flood. A big flood resiliency effort, starting with the 3 billion dollar construction of a 10 foot high, two mile long flood barrier in 2017, is underway. One that may buttress much of lower Manhattan behind a U shaped wall meant to deflect both rising tides and worsening storms.  And a new park now features hills up to 70 feet above sea level.

Post-Glacial_Sea_Level

(At the end of the last ice age, as global temperatures approached 2 degrees Celsius above previous averages, large melt pulses from Antarctica and Northern Hemisphere Ice Sheets forced seas to rise by as much as 10 feet per Century. Human-forced warming is currently about 20 times faster than warming at the end of the last ice age. Current rates of warming and greenhouse gas emissions threaten to generate a 2 C warming by or even before the middle of this Century. Large melt pulses forced by such conditions would put cities like New York under risk of rapid inundation. Image source: Post-Glacial Sea Level Rise.)

These efforts appear to be aimed at facing off against another 1 foot of sea level rise for Manhattan by 2030 and a North Atlantic Ocean that is increasingly riled by powerful storms due to warming related climate instabilities. New York is digging in for the fight of its life. And for good reason. 10 percent of US gross domestic product funnels through this city of 8.5 million and over 100 billion dollars worth of real estate now sits in a high risk flood zone.

But build and buttress as it might, New York is hopeless in the long term if we can’t somehow stop human carbon emissions soon. If we can’t somehow start to draw carbon out of the air. If we can’t do these things, then New York, Miami and thousands of other coastal cities will ultimately face 25 feet of sea level rise or much, much worse. And the far flung infrastructures that they rely on will all, increasingly, need more and more costly and involved protections before they too succumb to the rising tides.

Links/Attribution/Statements:

Rising Seas Threat to Miami

Miami Nuisance Flooding Up by 50 Percent

As Waters Rise, Miami Beach Builds Higher Streets

Miami Herald — Sea Level Rise

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Sea Level Rise — Are Coastal Nuke Plants Ready?

Sea Level Rise Risk to Coastal Nuclear Plants

Can New York Be Saved in the Era of Global Warming?

Post-Glacial Sea Level Rise

New Park Built to Withstand Epic Storms

Global Cities Map

Ancient Civilization

Scientific hat tip to Dr. James Hansen

Scientific hat tip to Dr. Eric Rignot

Scientific hat tip to Dr. Jason Box

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Scott

Hat tip to Genomik

Hat tip to Cate

Tottering Totten and the Coming Multi-Meter Sea Level Rise

A new scientific study has found that the Totten Glacier is fundamentally unstable and could significantly contribute to a possible multi-meter sea level rise this Century under mid-range and worst case warming scenarios.

*****

408 Parts per million CO2. 490 parts per million CO2e. This is the amount of heat-trapping CO2 and total CO2 equivalent for all heat-trapping gasses now in the Earth’s atmosphere. Two measures representing numerous grave potential consequences.

We’re Locking in 120-190 Feet of Sea Level Rise Long Term

Looking at the first number — 408 parts per million CO2 — we find that the last time global levels of this potent heat-trapping gas were so high was during the Middle Miocene Climate Optimum of 15-17 million years ago. During this time, the Greenland Ice Sheet did not exist. East Antarctic glacial ice was similarly scarce. And the towering glaciers of West Antarctica were greatly reduced. Overall, global sea levels were 120 to 190 feet higher than they are today. Meanwhile, atmospheric temperatures were between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius hotter than those experienced during the late 19th Century.

Antarctica Below Sea Level

(Large sections of Antarctica rest below sea level. A physical feature that renders substantial portions of Antarctica’s glaciers very vulnerable to rising ocean temperatures. Since the latent heat content of water is substantially higher than that of air, even comparatively small ocean temperature increases can cause significant melt in sea-facing glaciers and in below sea level glacial basins. Image source: Potential Antarctic Ice Sheet Retreat Driven by Hydrofracturing and Ice Cliff Failure.)

Hitting the 408 ppm CO2 threshold this year catapults the current push for global climate transitions outside of the Pliocene context of 3 to 5 million years ago (topping out at 405 parts per million CO2) and places it in the bottom to mid-range of the Middle Miocene context (300 to 500 parts per million CO2). The 490 ppm CO2e number — due to added atmospheric heating contributions from human-emitted gasses like methane, chlorofluorocarbons, NOx compounds, and others — is enough to catapult our current climate context into the upper Middle Miocene range.

If global greenhouse gasses were to stabilize in this range long-term (for a period of hundreds of years), we would expect the Earth’s climate and ocean states to become more and more like those experienced 15-17 million years ago. Unfortunately, atmospheric concentrations of heat trapping gasses are still rapidly rising due to an increasingly dangerous emission coming from global fossil fuel burning. In addition, risks are rising that the Earth System will begin to contribute its own substantial amounts of carbon — possibly enough to raise the CO2e number by around 50 to 150 ppm over the next few centuries. Two contributions — one we control and another we do not — that risk swiftly pushing the global climate context into a 550 to 650 ppm CO2e range that is enough to eventually melt all the glacial ice on the planet.

Glacial Inertia vs Lightning Rates of Warming

It’s a tough climate state. A context that many scientists are still having difficulty coming to grips with. First, the global glacier research community is still looking at the world’s potential future ice melt in Pliocene and Eemian contexts. This makes some sense given the fact that current atmospheric warming in the range of 0.9 to 1.3 C above 1880s values is more in line with those two climate epochs (the Eemian saw seas 10-20 feet higher than today and the Pliocene saw seas at 25-75 feet higher). But it doesn’t take into account the underlying heat forcing and the likely climate end-state.

Second, we don’t really have a good grasp on how fast or slow glaciers will respond to the added heat we’re putting into the Earth System. We do know that at the end of the last ice age, melting glaciers contributed as much as 10 feet of sea level rise per Century. But this was during a time of comparatively slow global temperature increase at the rate of about 0.05 C per Century — not the current rate in the range of 1.5 to 2 C per Century, which is 30 to 40 times faster.

10 Feet of Sea Level Rise South Florida

(What 10 feet of sea level rise would do to South Florida. Given the increasing vulnerability of glaciers around the world to human-forced warming, there’s a rising risk that seas could rise by 10 feet before the end of this Century. Image source: Climate Central.)

In early studies, much weight has been given to glacial inertia. And older climate models did not include dynamic ice sheet vulnerabilities — like high latent-heat ocean water coming into contact with the submerged faces of sea-fronting glaciers, the ability of surface melt water to break up glaciers by pooling into cracks and forcing them apart (hydrofracturing), or the innate rigidity and frailty of steep ice cliffs which render them susceptible to rapid toppling. But now, new studies are starting to take these physical melt-amplifying processes into account and the emerging picture is one in which glacial melt and sea level rise may end up coming on at rates far more rapid than previously feared.

Overall, when taking a look at these newly realized ice-sheet weaknesses, it’s worth noting that the total heat forcing impacting the world’s ocean, air, and glacial systems is now rising into a range that is much more in line with Middle Miocene values. And that global temperatures are now increasing at a lightning rate that appears to be unprecedented in at least the past 60 million years.

Tottering Totten

It’s in this dynamic, rapidly changing, and arguably quite dangerous climate context that new revelations about the stability of one of East Antarctica’s largest glaciers have begun to emerge. In size, the Totten Glacier is immense — covering an area the size of California in mountains of ice stretching as high as two and a half miles. If all of Totten were to melt, it would be enough to raise seas by around 11 to 13 feet — or about as much as if half of the entire Greenland Ice Sheet went down.

Edge of the Totten Glacier

(The Totten Glacier, at lower edge of frame, faces a warming Southern Ocean. How rapidly this great mass of ice melts will, along with the destabilization of numerous other glaciers around the world due to a human-forced warming, determine the fates of numerous coastal cities and island nations during this Century and on into the future. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Last year, a study found that warm, deep circumpolar water was beginning to approach ice faces of the Totten Glacier plunging 1 mile below the surface of the Southern Ocean. The study observed a rapid thinning that appeared to have been driven by this new influx of warmer ocean water near the glacier base:

Totten Glacier… has the largest thinning rate in East Antarctica. Thinning may be driven by enhanced basal meltingWarm modified Circumpolar Deep Water, which has been linked to glacier retreat in West Antarctica, has been observed in summer and winter on the nearby continental shelf beneath 400 to 500 m of cool Antarctic Surface Water…We identify entrances to the ice-shelf cavity below depths of 400 to 500 m that could allow intrusions of warm water if the vertical structure of inflow is similar to nearby observations. Radar sounding reveals a previously unknown inland trough that connects the main ice-shelf cavity to the ocean. If thinning trends continue, a larger water body over the trough could potentially allow more warm water into the cavity, which may, eventually, lead to destabilization of the low-lying region between Totten Glacier and the similarly deep glacier flowing into the Reynolds Trough (emphasis added).

Observed increasing melt rates for such a huge slab of ice in Eastern Antarctica was generally seen as a pretty big deal among glacial scientists and a flurry of additional research soon followed. By last week, a model study had found that Totten alone could produce nearly a meter of sea level rise before the end of this Century if global warming forces ocean waters to heat up by 2 C or more near the Totten Glacier. The study also found that 5 C worth of local ocean warming would be enough to force nearly 3 meters worth of sea level rise from this single large glacier over a relatively short time-frame.

Donald D. Blankenship, lead principal investigator for the new ICECAP study noted:

“Totten Glacier’s catchment is covered by nearly 2½ miles of ice, filling a California-sized sub-ice basin that reaches depths of over one mile below sea level. This study shows that this system could have a large impact on sea level in a short period of time.”

Like many large glaciers around the world, a huge portion of Totten’s ice sits below sea level. This feature makes the glacier very vulnerable to ocean warming. Water carries far more latent heat than air and just a slight rise in local ocean water temperature can contribute to rapid ice loss. Totten itself rests in three large below sea level basins. And study authors found that 2 C to 5 C warming of local ocean waters with somewhat greater local air temperature increases was capable of flooding these basins in stages — forcing Totten’s glacial ice to flow out into the Southern Ocean and provide significant contributions to sea level rise.

Unfortunately, Totten is just one of many large glacial systems that are now destabilizing across Antarctica. And researchers are now beginning to identify significant potential sea level rise contributions from Antarctica alone (ranging from two feet to nearly two meters) before the end of this Century. In New Scientist, during March, Antarctic researcher Rob Deconto notes:

“Today we’re measuring global sea level rise in millimetres per year. We’re talking about the potential for centimetres per year just from [ice loss in] Antarctica.”

Centimeters per year sea level rise is about ten times faster than current rates and implies 100 year increases — once it gets going — in the range of 2 to 3 meters. Such increased melt does not include Greenland’s own potential sea level rise contribution. Nor does it include sea level rise from other glacial melt and ocean thermal expansion. As such, it appears that multi-meter sea level rise is becoming a more and more distinct possibility this Century. Furthermore, the paleoclimate context is now pointing toward catastrophic levels of overall melt and sea level rise if global greenhouse gasses aren’t somehow stabilized and then swiftly reduced.

Links:

Repeated Large-Scale Retreat and Advance of Totten Glacier Indicated by Inland Bed Erosion

The Totten Glacier

The Human-Warmed Southern Ocean Threatens Major Melt for East Antarctica

Fundamentally Unstable — Scientists Confirm Their Fears About East Antarctica’s Biggest Glacier

Potential Antarctic Ice Sheet Retreat Driven by Hydrofracturing and Ice Cliff Failure

Unstable East Antarctic Glacier Has Contributed to Sea Level Rise in the Past

Sea Levels Set to Rise Far More Rapidly Than Expected

Unexpected Antarctic Melt Could Trigger 2 Meter Sea Level Rise

Entering the Middle Miocene

The Middle Miocene

LANCE MODIS

The Slow Drowning of the Jersey Coast — Seas Have Risen So High That it Just Takes a Tide to Flood Atlantis(c) City These Days

Around the world seas are rising. Fed by human warming, the great waters have been pushed to thermally expand. The added heat is melting the glaciers as well. And from the high mountains to the Arctic and on into the Antarctic there are few ice masses now that have been untouched by the rising temperatures.

The rise in ocean heights began as human fossil fuel emissions spread into the airs of the early 20th Century — warming both the atmosphere and the waters. The rate of rise was, at first, slow — less than 1 mm per year. But as the greenhouse gasses built up and rates of global heating increased, so did the annual rate of sea level rise. By the end of the 20th Century, sea level rise had more than tripled to about 2.9 mm per year. And by today that annual rate of increase has accelerated to nearly 3.4 mm per year.

AVISO sea level rise May 2016

(AVISO sea level rise graph shows rate of ocean rise again increasing in the 2010 to 2016 timeframe. It is very likely that glacial destabilization will result in ever-more-rapidly rising ocean waters as the 21st Century progresses. Image source: AVISO.)

The slow sea level rise rates during the 20th Century were manageable. Coastal communities were mostly built on high enough ground to give them some protective margin against the gradually rising tides. But now, for many cities along the US coast and upon its bays and estuaries, a kind of tipping point has been reached. Where it took a moderate-to-strong storm to generate flooding in the past, now only a high tide and a bit of onshore wind will suffice.

This issue is not just a problem for places like Miami and South Florida or New Orleans and the Louisiana Delta. It’s a problem for the entire coastline. And though the lowest-lying areas were affected first, more and more regions are starting to fall below the line of the rising tide.

A Seasonal High Tide Now is Enough to Flood Atlantic City

Such was the situation today in Atlantic City, New Jersey. There, a weak off-shore low pressure system pushed an equally weak wind toward shore. The meager flux of water driven by this mild fetch combined with a seasonal high tide. Together, these entirely normal events were enough to flood streets throughout Atlantic City.

Atlantic City Flooding

(Arizona avenue floods this morning  in Atlantic City. By evening, water levels are expected to have risen even higher. Image source: City of Atlantic.)

The flood began as storm drains dumping into local estuaries started to back up. The rising tide ran up the drains and inundated streets and neighborhoods, causing 1-3 feet of flooding in some areas. Cindy Nevitt — an award-winning Cape May reporter tweeted: “I haven’t seen my street for three days… Forecast for tonight is even worse.”

The flooding was extreme enough to cause road closures and to spark a flurry of social media comments on Twitter. Particularly hard-hit were the neighborhoods of West End and North Wildwood. To be very clear, this is no hurricane, no Superstorm Sandy, just a normal high tide riding on the back of an entirely abnormal sea level rise due to human-caused climate change.

This kind of flooding is not enough to cause major damage. But it is cause for concern. For now, Atlantic City is far more vulnerable to storms and to flooding than it has ever been in the past. And with human warming due to fossil fuel burning continuing to push seas higher, Atlantic City, like so many other US Coastal communities will, sooner or later, face the threat of total inundation.

City Could be Lost by 2030 to 2050, Unlikely to Remain Viable to 2100

For in the far south, the glaciers of Antarctica are starting to rapidly destabilize. And, in the north, Greenland melt is also rapidly accelerating. Due to the way gravity affects the world’s oceans, Antarctic melt will have the greatest effect on base sea level rise in the North Atlantic. Meanwhile, Greenland melt risks backing up the Gulf Stream and contributing to up to 3 feet of additional sea level rise on the US East Coast as water rebounds toward shore.

Atlantic City Sea Level Rise Projections

(Possible sea level rise scenarios as envisioned by a recent Rutgers study. A number of scientists, including Dr. James Hansen, points to even more extreme potentials. Image source: Sea Level Rise in New Jersey Fact Sheet.)

By as soon as 2030, seas could be as much as 1.4 feet higher than they are today in the Atlantic City region. And if the worst case scenario that scientists like James Hansen have warned us about come to pass, then by 2100 seas will have completely covered Atlantic City with a multimeter ocean rise. Put in context, by 2030 seasonal tidal flooding seen today is likely to become monthly tidal flooding by 2030. And between 2030 and 2050, such flooding will become a daily event rending most infrastructure useless and likely resulting in a complete loss of the City’s ability to function.

But even before then, one large storm may complete what hundreds of tides would eventually accomplish. For garden variety nor’easters will grow more and more capable of producing the kind of catastrophic flooding seen during Superstorm Sandy as the years progress.

It’s probably true that we’ve already burned enough fossil fuels to generate sea levels high enough to inundate many cities near or on the coastline. But continuing to burn fossil fuels makes the situation worse and far more immediate. Stopping that continued bleed of heat trapping gasses into the Earth’s atmosphere gives communities like Atlantic City a chance — if not to survive long-term against an inevitably rising tide, then to figure out a way to orderly retreat inland and to at least preserve some of the heritage that is now falling under threat from the inexorably rising waters. And such a necessary cessation would give communities still further inland a reasonable hope that they, unlike Atlantic City, will not share the fate of Atlantis.

Links:

AVISO

Coastal Flood Advisory

Sea Level Rise in New Jersey Fact Sheet

City of Atlantic

Cindy Nevitt

Hat tip to Griffin

The Race to End Fossil Fuel Based Vehicle Emissions is On — Tesla Model 3 to hit 500,000 Preorders, Dutch Motions to Ban Petrol, and Shell’s Shilling for Biofuels

This week Shell and Volkswagon banded together in a big EU lobbying push. Their goal — to promote biofuels as a ‘bridge fuel’ to EVs in what some say has become a rather obvious bid to delay the entry of electric vehicles in large numbers to fleets across Europe. An effort that some analysts are concerned may represent yet one more push to kill the electric car.

(Unofficial Tesla advertisement streamed over a famous speech by Nikola Tesla. A combination of increasingly accessible electric vehicles and renewable energy sources like wind and solar provide hope that human beings can rapidly reduce carbon emissions over the coming years. But the still powerful and established fossil fuel industry continues to attempt to delay progress through its vast monetary power and equally vast legislative, advertising, and public relations based influence. Can we free the captive fossil fuel consumer? Video source: Not a Dream.)

According to analyst for the Transport and Environment’s Carlos Calvo Ambel:

Carmakers, oil companies and biofuels producers are making a desperate bid to dissuade Europe from undertaking fuel efficiency standards for cars, vans and trucks, a push for electric vehicles and many of the other badly needed actions in the transport sector.

Shell recently acquired an interest in Brazil based biofuels industries and it appears that Shell may be using its new biofuels interests as leverage to divide support for a rapidly expanding access to zero-carbon emitting electrical vehicles. If this is true, it wouldn’t be the first time that the fossil fuel industry has lobbied against renewables, attempted to play divide and conquer with renewable energy supporters, or conducted deceptive advertising and public relations campaigns in an effort to retain energy market dominance — negative climate consequences be damned.

In what has become an ever-expanding context of industry deception and manipulation, Exxon Mobile is now under increasingly intense investigation over its active funding of climate change denial organizations in an effort to confuse the public even after its own scientists identified threats posed by fossil fuel emissions as far back as the 1960s. The Koch Brothers, who are heavily invested in oil pipelines, are identified as funding yet one more multi-million dollar advertising attack on renewables — this time against electric vehicles. And in the legislative bodies throughout the western world, politicians receiving the highest levels of campaign funding support from fossil fuel industry sources are the ones most likely to deny the existence of human caused climate change and to oppose legislative efforts promoting renewable energy expansion and related carbon emissions reductions.

Nethernlands Motion to Ban Petrol and Diesel, Germany Promises 1 Billion Euros For Electric Vehicles

The new Shell/Volkswagon effort comes as the lower house of Parliament in the Netherlands is pushing a measure to ban both petrol and diesel use in that country by 2025. The measure would rely on a rapid transition to electric vehicles and would basically outlaw fossil fuel based automobile use by that time.

A low-lying nation, the Netherlands stands to lose much if sea level rise due to a human-forced warming of the globe starts to rapidly ramp up. A risk that grows as more carbon is emitted into the atmosphere. And with about 50 percent of household carbon emissions coming from vehicle use, a transition to electric vehicles powered by renewable energy could help to dramatically curb both individual and national emissions totals. Currently, the Netherlands is one of the regions of the world featuring the highest rates of EV sales — with ten percent of all automobile sales taken up by electric cars in early 2016.

In Germany, a country to which Netherlanders displaced by sea level rise may be forced to migrate, news was much the same as Parliament approved a 1 billion euro subsidy to support increased sales of electric vehicles there. An ambitious effort that it is hoped will push Germany’s current 50,000 car EV fleet to more than 1 million by 2020.

Tesla Model 3 Preorders Expected to hit 500,000 This Year

Among the world’s big car producers, there’s only one major automaker that sells only all-electric vehicles and that’s Elon Musk’s Tesla. A company that is now known not only for its ability to field cutting-edge electric automobiles, but also for its track-record in producing some of the highest quality, highest performance vehicles in the world. Not only do all Tesla cars require no oil, gas or other fossil fuels to run, not only do they produce zero tailpipe emissions or provide the opportunity to produce zero driving emissions when their batteries are charged by renewables like wind and solar, but Tesla autos are also some of the fastest, most luxurious vehicles in the world.

And until now this seemingly contradictory combo of sustainable systems and consumer oriented products has been very pricey. The Model S, Tesla’s flagship offering, starts at $70,000 — a price that puts it in competition with top of the lines Mercedes, BMWs, and Audis. Include all the frills, and a Tesla Model S could sell for well over $100,000.

Tesla's supercharging network

(Tesla’s charging station network provides free EV charging to Tesla owners. It’s a network that continues to expand along major travel routes in North America. Image source: Tesla Supercharger.)

Sales for Tesla’s high-price, high-quality electric cars have been very respectable. Last year, Tesla sold more than 50,000 EVs worldwide. And while these sales rates are enough to make any luxury vehicle manufacturer envious, Tesla is driving for a huge market expansion over the coming years. Its strategy for triggering this expansion hinges on the success of the economically more accessible Model 3. A vehicle that’s half the starting price of the S at around $35,000. That’s still not a cheap car. But with Tesla providing all the vehicle fuel for free in the form of an increasingly widespread network of EV charging stations, with many nations around the world providing EV incentives in an effort to reduce both emissions and oil dependency, and with Tesla as one of the highest quality and performance vehicles around, the price often presents a very tempting offer.

Use of direct sales allows Tesla to gauge customer interest by offering its models for pre-order. And at the time of the Model 3’s launch in early April, CEO Elon Musk is reported to have expected about 100,000 pre-orders (requiring 1,000 dollars to hold a Model 3 reservation) in total. But the enthusiasm surrounding the Model 3 defied all expectations. The 100,000 pre-order mark was breached in just one day and by now Model 3 preorders are estimated to have hit about 400,000. Overall, Musk now expects pre-orders to easily reach 500,000 by later this year. That’s half a million expected sales of just one single electric vehicle model.

The Race Against Catastrophic Climate Change is Now On

Though Tesla is not the only major manufacturer of electric vehicles, it is the notable leader. That said, a number of other manufacturers are entering increasingly competitive options into the race. Chevy, for example, is producing the 200 mile range Bolt EV for sale this year and its Volt plug in electric hybrid now gets more than 50 miles on a single change before switching to gasoline. Nissan will be again upgrading its Leaf to exceed a 200 mile range in the next two years. And along with the 215 mile range Model 3 there are an expanding number of additional high quality, long range EV options now becoming available. Taking the expanse of new offerings into account, it appears that a tipping point in EV quality and access will be reached during the period of 2017-2019.

As a synergy exists between low cost, high power and efficiency batteries used to run electric vehicles and energy storage options used for renewable energy sources like wind and solar, there is growing hope that these energy sources can be used to more and more rapidly replace current fossil fuel based energy systems. Wind, solar, and battery systems have all been shown to improve in price and efficiency with economies of scale. So expanding use of these energy systems makes it easier and easier for more and more people to access them. A synergy that has a potential to snowball renewable energy access during a time in which rapid reductions in carbon emissions are now desperately needed.

With the effects of catastrophic climate change now starting to ramp up, it appears that the world is in a very real and dire race between the crucial mitigating influences of renewable energy systems and the expanding and worsening impacts of global warming. Any delays to a necessarily swift energy transition that are achieved by the fossil fuel special interests will result in more and more climate harm being locked in. So action by Shell and Volkswagon this week to delay European EV expansion efforts are very counter-productive to any push to fully and swiftly address the problem of human-forced warming.

Links:

Shell and Volkswagon Try to Block Push for Cleaner Cars

Netherlands Lower Parliament Pushing for Petrol and Diesel Ban by 2025

Germany Pushing for 1 Million Electric Vehicles by 2020

Tesla has Received 400,000 Model 3 Preorders So Far

DCI Group Subpeonaed in Expanding Exxon Mobile Climate Change Denial Investigation

CO2’s Role in Global Warming Has Been on the Oil Industry’s Radar Since the 1960s

The Kochs are Plotting a Multi-Million Dollar Assault on Electric Vehicles

Non-Official Tesla Ad Crosses Mad Max with 1984

The Tesla Model S

The Tesla Model 3

The Chevy Bolt

The Chevy Volt

Nissan Leaf to have 200 Mile Range in 2017

200 Mile Electric Cars We’re Looking Forward to

Hat Tip to Cate

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

The Greenland Summer Melt Season Just Started in April

12 Percent. That’s how much of Greenland’s surface experienced melt yesterday according to a report from DMI’s Polar Portal  as an unprecedented flow of warm, wet air slammed into its great ice sheets. 10 Percent. That’s how much of Greenland’s ice sheet surface is required to melt in order to mark an official start to the Summer melt season. Late May or early June. That’s when Greenland melt season typically begins.

In other words, a Greenland melt season that usually starts as May rolls into June and has never initiated before May 5th just began on April 11th of 2016. That’s 24 days ahead of the previous record set only six years ago and more than a month and a half ahead of the typical melt start. In other words — way too early. But in a rapidly heating world where monthly temperatures have now exceeded a range of 1.5 C above 1880s levels, we could well expect Greenland melts to begin earlier, end later, and encompass more and more of the ice sheet surface at peak melt during July.

 

Record Early Start to Greenland Melt Season

(Record early start to Greenland’s ‘Summer’ melt season occurred on April 11, 2016 according to reports from DMI’s Polar Portal.)

Yesterday’s new record early melt start occurred as extraordinarily warm temperatures in the range of 20-40 degrees Fahrenheit above average swept over southern, central and western Greenland. This flood of extremely warm temperatures for Greenland was accompanied by heavy rains and strong winds — gusting to gale or even hurricane force in some locations. In some areas, rain fell over the ice sheet itself. As recently as midday Tuesday, Dr. Jason Box — a prominent Greenland researcher — tweeted a report from a friend in Nuuk that the city was “close to drowning in water caused by rain and snow melt.”

Today, temperatures for the whole of Greenland — a 1.7 million square kilometer island containing enough ice to raise sea levels by more than 20 feet should it all melt — were measuring as high as 10.17 C above average (more than 18 F above average) with readings over much of northern and central Greenland spiking over 20 C (36 F) above normal (1980-2010) ranges. So it’s likely that Monday’s record early 12 percent surface melt will extend and possibly expand on through today (April 12).

Greenland 10 C Above Average Temperatures

(Extreme warmth over much of Greenland on April 12th is continuing a new record early start to melt season for this up to two mile high pile of ice. Image source: Karsten’s Climate Maps. Data Source: NOAA/NCEP/GFS.)

Over the coming week, temperatures across Greenland are expected to steadily fall back toward more normal ranges. However, it’s worth noting that much of the heat from this year’s record early melt spike will be baked into the ice — adding a kind of internal heat pressure as Spring gradually progresses into Summer.

During July of 2012, an unprecedented 95 percent of Greenland’s surface experienced melt. For 2016, unprecedented Arctic warming during Winter appears to have set the stage for a serious challenge to both 2012 Greenland and 2012 Arctic sea ice melt records. And with seasonal sea ice at or near new record lows even as Greenland is off to an amazingly early melt start, it appears that 2016 is now in a race to set a number of new benchmarks as Arctic ice continues its ominous and disruptive longer-term decline.

Links:

Warm, Southerly Winds Gust to Hurricane Force in Staggering Early Season Greenland Heatwave

Unusually Early Greenland Melt

Greenland Melt Season Started Nearly Two Months Early

Karsten’s Climate Maps

Dr Jason Box’s Twitter Feed

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to Sidd

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

Dr James Hansen — Human Warming Pushing Seas Toward Exponential Rise of Several Meters This Century

Continued high fossil fuel emissions this century are predicted to yield … nonlinearly growing sea level rise, reaching several meters over a timescale of 50–150 years. Statement from a new scientific study led by Dr James Hansen entitled Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms.

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This week, Dr James Hansen and colleagues published one hell of a groundbreaking bit of scientific research. It’s a multi-disciplinary study incorporating the work of 19 top climate scientists, glaciologists, paleoclimatologists, and other Earth Systems researchers. Scientists from NASA, GEOMAR, JPL, and other top research agencies including recognized names like Dr Eric Rignot and Dr Makiko Sato all appear on the contributors list.

Global mean sea level change

(Rates of sea level rise since 1900 and associated with a 1.1 C jump in global temperatures have already shown a non-linear progression. Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms attempts to pin down just how fast glacial melt rates will increase over the coming decades.)

The paper covers three topics related to the rapid accumulation of fossil fuel driven greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and related rapid warming — Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms. In other words, the paper looks into what will likely be the initiation of a Heinrich Event during the 21st Century so long as high levels of human greenhouse gas emissions continue.

A Heinrich Event for the 21st Century

For those not familiar with a Heinrich Event — it’s one of those disastrous climate change related incidents that you really don’t want to see emerge. One that drives rapid sea level rise, wrenching climate dislocations, and is likely also a trigger for regional and possibly hemispheric superstorms. Something that’s occurred numerous times in the geological past when the great Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets warmed enough to disgorge armadas of ice bergs into the North Atlantic and/or Southern Ocean. The kind of thing that scientist Steve Pacala called a Climate Monster in the Closet. And Dr. James Hansen and colleagues’ new study is the first of its kind to scientifically explore the potential occurrence of just such a freak and dangerous event during the 21st Century.

Because the paper covers such a broad range of topics related to Heinrich Events, I’ve decided to write a two-blog post covering it. This post will focus on the ice melt and sea level rise issues. The superstorm-generating aspect of Heinrich Events — which Dr Hansen and colleagues found was capable of producing waves powerful enough to pluck 1,000 ton boulders from the sea floor and deposit them upon hillsides in the Bahamas 130 feet above sea level 115,000 years ago — is something we’ll cover in a second related post over the next few days.

Warm Ocean Waters Attacking Weak Glacial Underbellies

The chief driver of Heinrich Events is spiking rates of glacial melt issuing from the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets and related outflow of ice bergs and fresh water into the North Atlantic or the Southern Ocean. Hansen and colleagues’ paper builds on recent work by Eric Rignot and others who’ve found that the contact of warming ocean waters with the submerged sea faces of glacial cliffs and undersides of floating ice shelves is a primary driver for melt and ice berg release during periods of local and global temperature increase.

Heinrich Event Amplifying Feedbacks

(Illustration from Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms shows how ocean stratification acts as an amplifying feedback to glacial melt. Cool, fresh surface waters generated by the initial ice release set up a kind of ocean heat conveyor belt that delivers more and more warm water to the submerged underbellies of the great ice sheets. In Greenland, prograde beds limit the amount of ice that can be released in sudden events. In Antarctica, retrograde beds below sea level set up a situation where the amplifying melt feedback is further enhanced.)

Grounding glaciers and ice shelves are, at first, weakened by slow but ramping melt rates. Eventually, the glaciers and shelves collapse due to the weakening process of melt which leads to a surge of previously buttressed ice sliding out into the oceans. As more fresh melt water expands over the ocean surface, it traps heat into deeper layers of the water column near the submerged glacial faces. So initial melt produces an amplifying feedback that delivers more ocean heat to the ice and, in turn, results in more ice rushing out into the North Atlantic or the Southern Ocean.

Exponential Rates of Glacial Melt and Sea Level Rise

It is this mechanism that Hansen and colleagues fear will come into play over the course of the 21st Century. Their paper identifies a risk that such a mechanism could set up 5, 10, or 20 year melt doubling times for Greenland, West Antarctica or both this Century. A new perspective from some of the world’s top scientists that assumes the risk of non linear melt is high enough to present a major concern. As an example, under a 10 year doubling time, the current approximate 3 mm per year sea level rise would double to 6 mm per year by 2026, 12 mm per year by 2036, 2.4 cm per year by 2046, and nearly 5 cm per year by 2056.

Doubling times in non linear events often don’t fit a pure exponential curve — instead tending to follow a series of spikes and recessions with major transitional events coming at the end of any ‘curve.’ But Hansen’s particular perspective is useful given the fact that current rates of sea level rise do not appear to be following a linear pattern and due to the fact that the mechanism for large, Heinrich Event type glacial melt spikes is becoming more supported in the observational science.

Rate of Greenland Antarctica Mass Change

(It’s still early days for Greenland and Antarctic melt. However, current trend lines do point toward a potential for multi-meter sea level rise this Century. Image source: Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms.)

Early measures of Greenland and Antarctica ice mass loss imply 8-19 year melt doubling times for Greenland and 5-10 year melt doubling times for Antarctica. For reference, if both these ice systems continued to double mass loss on a roughly 10 year basis, total sea level rise by the 2090s would equal 5 meters or 16.4 feet. By contrast, a 5 year doubling time would result in 5 meters of sea level rise by the late 2050s and a 20 year doubling time would result in nearly a meter of sea level rise by the end of this Century and 5 meters worth of sea level rise by 2160.

Hansen notes that these are still early days and it is unlikely that ice sheet response trends have become clear at this stage. However, initial trend lines, though likely to be less accurate, appear to pose some cause for concern. In addition, Hansen points out that rates of sea level rise are less likely to be constrained by ice sheet inertia during periods when global temperatures are rapidly rising. Projected rates of global temperature increase in the range of 1-5 C this Century is on the order 20-100 times faster than during the end of the last ice age — at the upper end covering all of the 10,000 years worth of ice age warming in just one Century. And Hansen notes that this potentially extreme rate of temperature increase poses a much greater risk of rapid glacial destabilization than is indicated by current IPCC glacial melt models.

Hansen’s research also points to the likelihood that rapid glacial melt would temporarily put a break on rates of global atmospheric warming by cooling local ocean surfaces and increasing the rate of heat transfer into middle ocean layers. And it’s this energy flip-flop and related heightened imbalance that provides a pretty severe potential storm set-up as rates of glacial melt ramp up.

Links:

Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms

Climate Guru James Hansen Warns of Much Worse Than Expected Sea Level Rise

Dr James Hansen

Dr Eric Rignot

Dr Makiko Sato

Heinrich Event

Climate Monsters We Want to Keep in the Closet

Melting in West Antarctica Could Raise Seas By 3 Meters

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

World Meteorological Organization — Dangerous Climate Future Has Arrived

The alarming rate of change we are now witnessing in our climate as a result of greenhouse gas emissions is unprecedented in modern records. — Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization

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It would be a bit of an understatement to say that the global scientific community is reeling. Sure, the various scientists and researchers knew that a massive accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans was beginning to take a serious toll. They knew that ocean heat content in the top 2,000 meters of the world ocean system (accounting for 93 percent of Earth System warming) was going through the roof. And they knew that this warmth was going to bleed out in a seriously big and bad way as a record El Nino swept through the global climate system during 2014, 2015 and 2016.

2016 Blowing Records Away

(Temperature averages for 2016 are so far about 1.22 C above the 1951 to 1980 baseline or about 1.44 C above 1880s averages. Though temperatures should fall somewhat as El Nino cools off in the Pacific, it’s likely that 2016 comes in well hotter than the previous three record warm years. Current guidance indicates a likely range of 1 to 1.13 C above the 1950 to 1981 baseline or 1.22 to 1.35 C above 1880s averages. This is uncomfortably close to 1.5 C warming levels the Paris Climate Conference has stated a desire to avoid by the end of this Century. Image source: Climate Central.)

But I’m pretty sure if you told these same scientists a year ago that February of 2016 would see temperatures in the range of 1.43 to 1.57 degrees Celsius above averages seen during the 1880s, as we see now in the three major global climate monitors (here, here and here), they’d have responded with not just a little incredulity.

“The startlingly high temperatures so far in 2016 have sent shockwaves around the climate science community,” said David Carlson, Director of the World Climate Research Programme, in a recent World Meteorological Organization press release. Dr Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State echoed these sentiments — “I think we all knew this would be a warm year due to the major El Niño event. But I don’t think any of us expected such remarkable and persistent record-breaking warmth.”

It’s a new extreme record warmth that comes immediately following a major global temperature ramp-up during 2015 — a period that the World Meteorological Organization is calling alarming due to an increasing number of severe climate impacts. “Our planet is sending a powerful message to world leaders to sign and implement the Paris Agreement on climate change and cut greenhouse gases now before we pass the point of no return,” said Mr Taalas, the WMO’s Secretary General in a press release announcing its most recent State of the Climate annual report.

World Meteorological Organization — Dangerous Climate Change is Here

The new report entitled — Hotter, Drier, Wetter; Face the Future — is scheduled to be released on March 23rd. It highlights a world undergoing a fundamental and wrenching shift in its once-stable climates. A shift that became all the more vivid during 2015 as the pace of major climate change related events rapidly ramped up.

The report highlights observations of record global surface temperatures, record ocean temperatures within the top 2,000 meters of the worlds’ waters, and the highest sea levels ever recorded on a global basis. The report also noted that Winter Arctic sea ice during 2015 and 2016 were at the lowest extent levels ever observed in the satellite record. WMO also highlights major heat, wildfire and hydrological events during 2015. Devastating heatwaves swept through India and Pakistan, exceptional heatwaves scorched Western and Central Europe, and more than 2 million hectares of Arctic forest burned in Alaska. WMO points to a number of very extreme rainfall events around the globe — particularly highlighting a West African monsoon that in some places dumped 13 months worth of rainfall in just one hour. Severe drought was also an issue for 2015 with Southern Africa experiencing its worst drought since 1933 and Northern South America and the Caribbean also seeing record dry conditions.

Significant climate anomalies and events February of 2016

(The WMO notes a number of extreme and significant climate change related events in its most recent annual report. A series of events that, according to monthly monitoring by NOAA, continued on into a record hot February of 2016. Image source: NOAA.)

According to WMO, 2015 also saw some of the most intense tropical cyclones ever recorded with Pam, a category 5 storm, making landfall near Vanatu, Mexico and Patricia reaching a peak intensity of 346 kilometers per hour — the strongest storm ever to emerge in either the Eastern Pacific or the Atlantic basin. A very rare hurricane Chapala also churned ashore in Yemen. An event that was immediately followed by a second similar cyclone — Megh.

Overall, WMO notes that:

The year 2015 made history, with shattered temperature records, intense heatwaves, exceptional rainfall, devastating drought and unusual tropical cyclone activity… That record-breaking trend has continued in 2016. The theme Hotter, Drier, Wetter. Face the Future highlights the challenges of climate change and the path towards climate-resilient societies.

In confronting that challenge, WMO calls for a redoubled effort to rapidly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent runaway global warming. However, WMO realistically notes that current national pledges will likely result in about 3 C worth of warming this Century unless even more aggressive action causes fossil fuel based emissions to peak soon and swiftly decline.

WMO recognizes that increasingly intense droughts, heatwaves and wildfires will inevitably emerge due to the amount of warming that is already locked in. WMO recommends a set of climate resiliency enhancements to aid in climate change related disaster response. However, it is unclear if even the WMO realizes the level of threat and difficulty a rapidly warming world is now facing from an increasingly dangerous and destabilized global climate system.

In other words — that disorienting sensation scientists got from looking at these terrifying temperature jumps during February is about to become a lot more common for pretty much everyone. For from the weather to the ice to the oceans to the very complexion of the sky — things are about to get pretty darn weird. Worse and weirder if we don’t shut down fossil fuel based carbon emissions soon.

Links:

State of the Climate: Record Heat and Weather Extremes

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

NASA: February Warmth Crushed All Previous Records

Climate Central

NOAA

GISS NASA

Japan Meteorological Organization

Hat tip to Wili

(Note: RS estimated temperature departures for 2016 have been revised upward to 1.22 to 1.35 above 1880s averages [1 to 1.13 above the NASA 20th Century baseline] in light of very high January, February and March global temperature anomalies.)

Rapid Acceleration in Sea Level Rise — From 2009 Through October 2015, Global Oceans Have Risen by 5 Millimeters Per Year

The evidence that a human-forced warming of the globe is hitting a much higher gear in terms of both added heat and ramping impacts just keeps streaming on in. Today, an update in the satellite monitor tracking global sea level rise provides yet one more ominous marker. The world’s oceans are rising at an unprecedented rate not seen since the end of the last Ice Age. A rate that appears to be rapidly accelerating.

Greenland Melt Zachariae Isstrom

(Surface melt visible across the Zachariae Isstrom Glacier in Greenland on July 20th of 2015. Melt like that occurring on this glacier has become more and more widespread over Antarctica and Greenland. It’s an ongoing heat accumulation in the world’s great ice mountains that is contributing to increasing melt water outflows into the rising world ocean system. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

It’s a tough bit of evidence that the world is swiftly accumulating heat. For aside from atmospheric temperature readings, the rate of sea level rise is probably the best marker for how fast the world is warming. It’s a sign of heat build-up that’s thermally expanding the ocean. And, far more ominously, it’s a sign that the great glaciers of the world are starting to accumulate enough heat to go into a more and more widespread melt and destabilization.

Ocean Rise Begins with Ramp-up in CO2 Emissions

Ever since the Holocene climate era began about 10,000 years ago, ocean levels and shorelines have remained remarkably stable. At the close of the 19th Century, and in conjunction with a build-up of heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere through the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, sea levels began a rise that would start to mark a departure from the stable coastlines human civilizations had enjoyed for so long.

hansen-sea-level-rise

(Global sea level rise has ramped higher and higher — an upward curve that follows increasing volumes of CO2 in the atmosphere and rising global temperatures. Image source: Dr. James Hansen.)

At first the rise in global waters, driven by a then slow accumulation of heat in the world ocean system, was slight and gradual. Beginning in 1870, and continuing on through 1925, sea levels across the world increased by about 0.8 millimeters per year. The increase was likely driven by heat accumulating in the atmosphere and then transferring to the surface waters of the oceans. From 1870 through 1925, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had increased from around 280 parts per million to 305 parts per million — into a range about 25 parts per million above the typical interglacial peak CO2 level of the last 2 million years. A volume of heat trapping gasses that began to slowly upset the Holocene’s relative stability.

If scientists and researchers at the time were paying closer attention, they would have noted this mild but consistent increase in the height of global surface waters as the first hint that the human emission of greenhouse gasses was starting to alter the Earth environment. Sadly, it took many more decades to begin to understand the profound changes that were starting to take place.

The First Acceleration — 1925 to 1992

While climate science was still in its infancy during 1925, a human forced warming of the globe was starting to kick into higher gear. A signal of atmospheric warming since the 1880s was beginning to develop. Though unclear, it was becoming apparent that the airs of the world were building up heat. But the waters of the world were providing a strong signal that the Earth was accumulating that heat more and more rapidly.

Sea level rise, at that time driven by thermal expansion and by a later small but growing contribution from glacial melt, took its first leap higher. And from 1925 through 1992, the average rate of sea level rise more than doubled to 1.9 millimeters per year. It was a sign that the Earth was warming more and more rapidly and that the heat was showing up in still more thermal expansion of the world’s waters.

The Keeling Curve

(Globally, CO2 began to increase in the atmosphere starting with the widespread burning of coal in England during the 17th and 18th Century. As new fossil fuels like natural gas and oil were added to the mix and as fossil fuel based burning greatly expanded during the 19th, 20th, and 21st Centuries, concentrations of this key greenhouse gas sky-rocketed. By the decade of the 2010s, the rate of atmospheric greenhouse gas accumulation was about 6 times faster than at any time in the geological record. A human emission that, if it continues for just a blink in geological timescales, is the equivalent to multiple clathrate guns firing off at the same time. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

During the same period, atmospheric greenhouse gasses increased from 305 parts per million in 1925 to around 350 parts per million (entering the bottom range of the Pliocene 2-5 million years ago) by 1992. This jump by 45 parts per million in just 67 years pushed the Earth’s climate well outside the range of past interglacials — exceeding the previous peak of 280 parts per million CO2 by more than 70 parts per million overall. Atmospheric temperatures, by 1992, had also increased into a range about 0.5 C above 1880s values.

We had started to enter a period where the context of the human-driven warming (primarily enforced by a monopolization of energy markets by fossil fuels) was being pushed far outside the range of the Holocene and into time periods tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years in the geological past. The Earth System, in other words, was entering a period of increasingly dangerous imbalance.

The Second Acceleration 1992 to 2009

During the 17 years from 1992 through 2009, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose by 40 parts per million to about 390 parts per million in total. That’s a rate of accumulation nearly four times faster than the entire period from 1925 through 1992. An accumulation that by 2009 had pushed the world into a climate context more similar to the warmest periods of the Pliocene of 2-5 million years ago, than of the geological epoch in which human civilization emerged and thrived. For the Holocene was then starting to look like some fond memory fading off into an increasingly murky and smoke-filled far horizon.

Rate of ocean heat uptake has doubled since 1997

(The amount of heat contained in the world ocean system has doubled since 1997. This raging ocean heat uptake has been fueled by a heat accumulation at the top of the atmosphere that is now equivalent to lighting off 5 hiroshima type bombs on the surface of the Earth every single second of every single day. 90-95 percent of this heat goes into the world ocean system. Image source: Dr PJ Gleckler — Industrial Era Ocean Heat Uptake Doubles. See Also: Skeptical Science.)

Rates of sea level rise again increased — hitting a ramp up to around 3 millimeters per year. More ominously, scientific studies were beginning to indicate that the Greenland Ice Sheet and West Antarctica were starting to significantly contribute to the rising waters. The great glaciers were showing their first signs of a mass seaward movement called a Heinrich Event. And with the world hitting 0.8 degrees Celsius above 1880s temperature values and rising, such an event was starting to look more and more likely.

Sea Level Rise at 5 Millimeters Per Year Since 2009

Now, by early 2016, with the world at 1.1 C warmer than 1880s averages and with CO2 levels likely to peak at around 407 parts per million this year, it appears that rates of sea level rise have again jumped markedly higher. For according to satellite altimetry data from AVISO, global sea levels rose by 36 millimeters from the end of 2009 through October of 2015. That’s an annual rate of around 5 millimeters per year and one far above the longer term range of 3.1 mm per year established from 1992 through 2012.

Sea level rise AVISO

(Global sea level rise as measured by satellite altimetry hits a noticeably higher ramp from 2009 through late 2015. Image source: AVISO.)

We can clearly see the departure from the trend line starting post 2011 in the above graph. And if we were to cherry pick that particular departure zone, the rate from trough-to-peak would be 7 millimeters per year. However, since a La Nina occurred during 2011-2012 and a record strong El Nino is occurring now, that particular trend line is probably a bit exaggerated. The reason being that La Nina tends to dampen rates of sea level rise through variable cooling and El Nino tends to spike rates of sea level rise as world surface waters warm during such events.

However, even when correcting for La Nina and El Nino variation, it appears that sea level rise since 2009 is tracking in a range of 4 to 5 millimeters each year — which is yet another significant departure from the trend. A rate that, if it were to further solidify, would be 5 to 6 times faster than initial rates of sea level rise at the start of the 20th Century or two and a half times faster than the sea level rise rates from 1925 through 1992.

Open water and no snow in south Greenland on February 2, 2016

(Open water and no snow in Southern Greenland on February 2 of 2016. Zero sea ice and no snow in southern Greenland during Winter is a strong sign that the island is falling deeper and deeper into the grips of a severe warming event. Image source: Greenland Today.)

Spiking rates of heat accumulation and related thermal expansion of the world’s oceans is likely playing a part in the current increase. But, all-too-likely, the numerous destabilized glaciers now rushing seaward — which in total contain at least enough water to raise seas by 15-20 feet — are also starting to add greater and great contributions. And, unfortunately, with global temperatures now pushing into a very dangerous range between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages, we are likely to see more and more of these glaciers go into a rapid seaward plunge. It looks like we’ve already locked in a ramping rate of sea level rise for decades to come and at least 15-20 feet long term. But that pales in comparison to what happens if we keep burning fossil fuels.

Links:

AVISO Sea Level Rise

Climate Monsters We Want to Keep in the Closet

Greenland Glacier Rapidly Losing Mass

Dr PJ Gleckler — Industrial Era Ocean Heat Uptake Doubles

Skeptical Science

Collapsing Greenland Glacier Could Raise Seas by 1/2 Meter

Dr. James Hansen

Contribution of the Cryosphere To Changes in Sea Level

The Keeling Curve

LANCE MODIS

Greenland Today

Hat Tip to Catherine Simpson

Hat Tip to Wili

 

Northeast Greenland Begins Ominous Collapse — Giant Zachariae Isstrom Most Recent to Destabilize

November 12, 2015:

North, south, east, and west. At all points of the compass, the entire outer edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet is flooding into the oceans with increasing velocity. For NASA it’s the absolute worst kind of OMG realization. For the world’s warming oceans and airs are clearly worsening an already visible Greenland melt. And a new report just out of the University of California (Irvine) today shows that a massive glacier containing enough water to raise seas by more than 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) is the most recent of a growing number of these ice giants to initiate a swift rush into the ocean.

Called Zachariæ Isstrøm, this enormous glacier dominates a large section of the northeast-facing shores of Greenland. The glacier, hundreds of feet tall and plunging hundreds more feet below the ocean surface, like many in our world, now faces the combined threat of warming airs and waters. A double insult that, according to researchers, over the past 15 years has led to first destabilization and then a rapid seaward acceleration.

Zachariae Isstrom Surges Toward Ocean

(1975 to 2015 time lapse shows recent rapid retreat of the Zachariæ Isstrøm glacier’s front. The dark green line marks the 2003 extent of the glacial front. Note the rapid retreat through 2015 in lighter shades blending toward white. Image source: Jeremie Mouginot/UCI via Climate Central.)

According to the new study — Fast retreat of Zachariæ Isstrøm, northeast Greenland — published today in Science, the glacier’s rate of seaward movement has tripled in velocity even as the pace of ice thinning along its grounding line doubled:

Warmer air and ocean temperatures have caused the glacier to detach from a stabilizing sill and retreat rapidly along a downward-sloping, marine-based bed… After 8 years of decay of its ice shelf, Zachariæ Isstrøm, a major glacier of northeast Greenland that holds a 0.5-meter sea-level rise equivalent, entered a phase of accelerated retreat in fall 2012. The acceleration rate of its ice velocity tripled, melting of its residual ice shelf and thinning of its grounded portion doubled, and calving is now occurring at its grounding line.

In total, more than 4.5 billion tons of ice is now estimated to be flooding out from this glacier and into the ocean each year. That’s a mountain of ice about 4.5 cubic kilometers in size hitting the world’s waters from just this single glacier every time the Earth completes one circuit around the sun. In other words, Greenland just opened a new floodgate to the North Atlantic. Researchers publishing the study estimate that it will take between 20 and 30 years for the glacier to melt back to an underwater ridge line that should somewhat slow its melt. But the real news here is that a human-forced warming of the globe has set a monstrous pile of ice, once thought stable, into a motion that will result in yet more global sea level rise.

To the north of Zachariæ Isstrøm sits the also melting Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden. A giant of ice in equal volume to that of Zachariæ. Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden sits on an upward sloping bed and so is not as subject to rapid destabilization as Zachariæ. However, the study found that the combined total ice mass of both glaciers in the range of 1 meter worth of sea level rise was now involved in a significant melt that would “increase sea-level rise from the Greenland Ice Sheet for decades to come.”

greenland-topography

(Map of Greenland topography showing large sections of the interior resting near or below sea level. As a result, warming waters have numerous avenues for invasion into the Greenland Ice Sheet. Numerous ways to melt Greenland ice from below. Zachariæ Isstrøm covers the upper right hand section of this image — sitting astride a low elevation channel the plunges deep into the heart of the current ice mass. Image source: Livescience.)

Greenland is the last major remaining bastion of glacial ice in the Northern Hemisphere. Surrounded on all sides by warming airs and waters, it is the most vulnerable large ice mass to the forces set in play by a human warming of the global environment. In total, Greenland holds enough ice to raise seas by 23 feet. And, in the geological past, just 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius worth of temperature increase above Holocene averages was enough to melt much or all of it.

Currently, human warming by Greenhouse gasses has pushed global average surface temperatures into a range about 1 degree Celsius hotter than the 1880s. It’s a temperature running into ranges that are now comparable with the Eemian — the interglacial period that occurred between 115,000 to 130,000 years ago. A period when oceans were about 13 to 20 feet higher than they are today.

But perhaps even more concerning is the fact that global greenhouse gas concentrations in the range of 400 ppm CO2 and 485 ppm CO2e are enough now to warm the Earth by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius long-term. It’s a heat forcing that would likely spell the end for Greenland’s ice if it remained in place for any significant period. A heat forcing more comparable with Pliocene and Miocene ranges when the world’s glaciers were even more greatly reduced and seas were 30 to 130+ feet higher than they are presently.

Unfortunately, what the building global heat and currently very high greenhouse gas heat forcing means is that the Earth System will continue to accumulate warmth for some time. And as this happens more and more glaciers — both in Greenland and Antarctica — are going to destabilize, speed up, and contribute increasing melt volumes to the world ocean. Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions at this time and pushing to return to atmospheric levels in ranges below 350 ppm CO2 is therefore absolutely necessary if we are to have much hope of preventing ever-worsening rates of glacier destabilization and related contributions to sea level rise.

Links:

Collapsing Greenland Glacier Could Raise Seas by Half a Meter

Fast retreat of Zachariæ Isstrøm, northeast Greenland

Once Stable Glacier Facing Melt

NASA Science Missions — Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG)

Greenland Just Opened a Major New Floodgate to the Ocean

Livescience

Pliocene Climate

Miocene Climate

Departures in Pliocene Sea Level Record

Greenland Weather Underground

Hat tip to Todaysguestis

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

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