Wildfires Rage in Mexico — Smoke May Move into U.S., Fueling Storms

Climate change impacts the water cycle in a number of rough ways. First, at its most basic, for each 1 degree C of global temperature increase you roughly increase the rate of evaporation by 6-8 percent. This loads more moisture into the atmosphere — which can lead to more extreme rainfall events. It also causes lands to dry out more rapidly — which can drive more intense droughts and wildfires.

Wildfire outbreak southern Mexico

(Major wildfire outbreak in Mexico fills the Central American skies with smoke. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Today we have major news of two hydrological events that were likely impacted by climate change. The first is a large wildfire outbreak in Mexico that threatens to send smoke over the U.S. this week. The second — that the past 12 months were the wettest such period for the contiguous U.S. in recorded history — is for a follow-on post.

This weekend, a state of emergency was declared for 11 counties in Mexico due to furiously raging wildfires. The wildfires have spurred hundreds of firefighters to action even as they blanketed much of Mexico in ash-filled smoke. The smoke has traveled as far north as Mexico City — where officials are urging residents to cover windows with damp rags in an effort to keep indoor air clear.

(The climate state contributing to Mexico wildfires and U.S. severe storms analyzed.)

The wildfires come following hotter than normal temperatures and a long period of drought across Southern Mexico. Persistent high pressure and a stagnant air mass has contributed to the overall heat, drought, and fire regime.

Over the coming days, a warm front moving northward from the Bay of Campeche is likely to push smoke gathering over the Gulf of Mexico into the U.S. These smoke particles could get entangled in a predicted severe storm outbreak later this week. For recent research indicates that smoke particles can contribute to major U.S. tornado outbreaks.

(Want to help fight climate change by trading in your CO2 spewing gas guzzler for a clean energy vehicle? Get 1,000 to 5,000 free supercharger miles through this link.)

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Smoke From Peat Bog Fires Blankets Europe and Russia Amidst Record Heat and Drought

According to reports in the Associated Press, on September 1 of 2015, Kiev shattered its all-time record high temperature as readings rocketed to 35.5 C (96 F) in a city stifling under the pall of bog-fire smoke. The city ordered school cancellations and urged restraint in the use of fossil fuel burning vehicles as gray smog choked the city pushing air pollution levels to between 2 and 18 times normal.

For Kiev, it was just one more hot, dry day among many. A heat dome high pressure system has dominated the region for much of late July through early September. And rainfall totals for the past month were just 4 percent of average. Now bogs across a wide swath of Ukraine and Russia are drying out, issuing tell-tale plumes of smoke, and filling the region with a choking smog.

Peat Bog Fires

(Drought and heat induced bog fires blanket Ukraine and Western Russia in a dense cloud of smoke on September 3 of 2015. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

The record heat, drought, and fire outbreaks for this region come during a year in which record hot global temperatures are hitting 1 degree C above 1880s averages. A year in which a monster El Nino is firing off. And a year in which Arctic sea ice extent measures are in the range of second lowest ever recorded. All these factors likely played a part in the formation of a persistent heat dome high pressure system over Eastern Europe during July and August. In the setting off of the kinds of wildfires that have now become all-too-common in a rapidly warming world.

For Europe, in general, there were numerous related impacts throughout mid-to-late summer. According to a related report from DW:

The impact of the lack of rain and high temperatures could be felt across many sectors. Agricultural production was reduced, and forests dried out and became more susceptible to insect attacks. Hydropower production decreased, rivers fell to record low levels, and inland water transport was completely shut down in some places.

By today, temperatures across Ukraine and extreme Southwestern Russia had risen to an amazing 12-14 degrees Celsius above average (21 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than normal for this time of year). It’s a ridiculous extreme temperature departure for a mid-latitude region. The scorching center of a stifling dome of hot air that extends from the Caspian Sea all the way to Poland and Italy.

Ukraine Heatwave

(Temperatures in Russia and the Ukraine today hit 12-14 C above the already hotter than normal 1979-2000 baseline in the GFS model summary by Climate Reanalyzer.)

This record heat, drought and fire danger is expected to linger over the impacted regions for at least until Sunday. Then, a trough digging in through Eastern Ukraine is expected to shove the hot pool eastward into Russia and Kazakhstan. Setting the stage for record hot conditions running along a ridge extending from the Middle East through Russia and Siberia and on into the Arctic.

Links:

Kiev Cancels School Amid Record Heat, Bog Fires

LANCE MODIS

Climate Reanalyzer

Arctic Sea Ice at Second Lowest on Record

Monster El Nino Hurls Record Barrage of Hurricanes at Hot Blob

Halfway to 2 C

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Smokey Greenland Sees Another Summer of Substantial Melt

Smoke From Canadian Wildfires Near Greenland

(Smoke from Record Northwest Territory Wildfires on August 1, 2014 crossing Baffin Bay and the West Coast of Greenland. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

According to our best understanding of paleoclimate, at current greenhouse gas levels of 402 parts per million CO2 and 481 parts per million CO2e, the Greenland Ice Sheet eventually melts out entirely. It’s a level of atmospheric heat forcing we’ve already set in place, a level that keeps rising at a rate of about 2.2 parts per million CO2 and 3 parts per million CO2e each and every year due to our ongoing and reckless carbon emissions. And it’s a level that is already starting to receive substantial additions from destabilizing permafrost carbon together with likely increasing releases from sea bed methane stores.

In this, rather stark, geological, climatological and physical context, we ask the question — is it possible for us to stop a wholesale collapse of Greenland’s ice? And we wonder, how long can the ice sheet last as human greenhouse gas forcings together with ongoing releases from some of Earth’s largest carbon stores continue to rise?

Greenland Jacobshavn July 30 2014

(Extensive melt ponds, Dark Snow on West Face of Greenland Ice Sheet near the Jakobshavn Glacier on July 30, 2014. Extensive darkening of the ice sheet surface, especially near the ice sheet edge, is resulting in more solar energy being absorbed by the ice sheet. Recent studies have shown that edge melt results in rapid destabilization and speeds glacier flows due to the fact that edge ice traditionally acts like a wall holding the more central and denser ice pack back. Notably, the Jakobshavn is currently Greenland’s fastest glacier. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

For ultimately, our ability or inability to rapidly mitigate and then draw down extreme levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses will provide an answer these key questions. And whether we realize it or not, we are already in a race against a growing Earth Systems response that may eventually overwhelm our efforts, if we continue to delay for too long.

But there’s a lot of inertia in the ice. It represents aeons and aeons of ancient cold locked in great, mountain-high blocks. And its eventual release, which is likely to continue to ramp higher and higher this century, is bound to result in a temporary and weather-wrecking outrush of that cold causing dramatic swings in temperature and climate states to be the rule of the day for Greenland as time moves forward.

Melt Ponds Zachariae Glacier July 25, 2014

(Large melt ponds, extensive surface water over Zachariae Glacier in Northeast Greenland on July 25 of 2014. For reference, the larger melt ponds in this image range from 1 to 4 kilometers at their widest points. The Zachariae Glacier sits atop a deep, below sea level channel that runs all the way to a massive below sea level basin at the center of the Greenland Ice Sheet. This Glacier is now one of more than 13 massive ice blocks that are moving at ever increasing velocity toward the ocean. Image source: LANCE-MODIS)

So we should not expect any melt to follow a neat or smooth trend, but to instead include large variations along an incline toward greater losses. In short, we’ve likely locked in centuries of great instability and variability during which the great ice sheets are softened up and eventually wither away.

Another Year of Strong Greenland Melt

In the context of the past two decades, the 2014 summer melt has trended well above the 30 year average in both melt extent and surface mass losses. Though somewhat behind melt during 2012, 2014 may rank in the top 10 melt years with continued strong melt in various regions and an overall substantial loss of ice mass.

Surface melt extent appears to be overall above 2013 values, ranging well above the 1981-2010 average, but significantly below extents seen during the record 2012 melt:

Greenland Melt Summer 2014Greenland melt 2013

Greenland Melt 2012

(Last three years of surface melt extent with the most current melt graph for the 2014 melt season at the top and the preceeding years 2013 and 2012 following chronologically. Dotted blue line indicates 1981-2010 average. Top three surface melt years in the record are 2012, 2010 and 2007, respectively. Image source: NSIDC.)

Overall, 2014 showed four melt spikes above 35% melt coverage with three spikes nearing the 40% melt extent coverage mark. By contrast, 2013 only showed two such melt spikes, though the later spike was slightly more intense than those seen during 2014. 2012’s 150 year melt, on the other hand, showed melt extents ranging above 40 percent from mid June to early August with two spikes above 60% and one spike above 80%.

Losses of mass at the surface also showed above average melt trends, but with net melt still below both 2013 and 2012:

Greenland Surface Mass Balance 2014

(Greenland surface mass balance trend for 2014 [blue line] compared to mean for 1990 to 2011 [gray line] and record melt year of 2012 [red line]. Image source: DMI.)

2012 was a strong record year and, on average, we’d expect to see the record jump back to lower levels after such a severe event. However, there’s little to indicate that either 2013 or 2014 have bucked the trend of ongoing and increasing surface melt over Greenland. To the contrary, that trend is now well established with yearly surface mass losses now taking place during all but one of the last 13 years. And there is every indication that 2014 will be a continuation of this trend.

Basal, Interior Melt Not Taken Into Account in the Surface Measure

While surface measures are a good measure of melt on the top of the ice sheet, it doesn’t give much of an idea of what’s happening below the first few feet. There, during recent years, sub surface melt lakes have been forming even as warming ocean waters have eaten away at the ice sheet’s base. And since more than 90% of human-caused warming ends up in the world’s oceans even as many of Greenland’s glaciers plunge hundreds of feet into these warming waters, one might expect an additional significant melt to be coming from the ocean-contacting ice faces.

We can see an indication of the severe combined impact of basal, interior and surface melt in the GRACE mass measurements of the Greenland Ice Sheet since 2002. A record that finds a precipitous and increasing rate of decline:

Greenland Cumulative Mass Loss Through Late 2013

(Greenland cumulative mass loss through mid 2013. Data provided by the GRACE satellite gravity sensor. Image source: NOAA.)

It is this ongoing overall mass loss that tells the ice sheet’s full tale. One that now includes an ever-increasing number of destabilized glaciers speeding more and more rapidly seaward.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

NSIDC

DMI

NOAA

Nature: Human Warming Now Pushing Entire Greenland Ice Sheet Into the Ocean

Dark Snow

The Arctic Methane Monster Exhales

Large Methane Plumes Discovered on Laptev Continental Slope Boundary

 

 

 

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