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Early Warning Signs for James Hansen’s Superstorms Visible — North Atlantic Cool Pool As Harbinger to “All Hell Breaking Loose”

Extreme weather. It’s something that’s tough to predict 2 weeks out, much less 2 decades. But for more than twenty years Dr James Hansen has been warning that the out-flush of cold water from glaciers in Greenland and Canada into the North Atlantic could set up a storm-producing weather pattern the likes of which human civilization has never seen. An atmospheric wrecking ball in the form of an intense cold-hot dipole that, once firmly established over Atlantic Ocean waters between North American and Europe, would carry on in brutally destructive fashion for decades and decades. In other words, as Dr. Hansen says in the below video, “all hell would break loose.”

His recent and, what might well be called, earth-shattering paper on the subject — Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms — takes a good, hard look at both the potential for exponentially ramping rates of ice melt and sea level rise over the coming decades and the impact those thousands of cubic kilometers of fresh water ramming out into the North Atlantic would have in producing a barrage of increasingly intense superstorms.

(Hansen addresses his concerns about the potential for increasingly severe storms and rapid sea level rise if human fossil fuel emissions do not stop soon in the above video.)

Early Evidence That All Hell is Starting to Break Loose

How could this happen? And what might it look like?

These are questions Hansen valiantly attempts to tackle. And according to him, in addition to a growing number of top climate researchers like Dr. Jason Box and Dr. Stephan Ramhstorf (please see Dr. Jason Box’s very salient take on the new Hansen study here), we may already be starting to witness signs of the wrenching oceanic and atmospheric shift that would produce these terrible weather systems.

For what we see now is the visible formation of a large cool pool in the North Atlantic. One that appears to be developing due to an increasingly rapid rate of Greenland melt. One that may be setting up atmospheric conditions for the age of storms that Hansen has feared could arise. An event resulting from a rampant human fossil fuel emission and a related very rapid injection of heat into the Earth System.

North Atlantic Cool Pool

(Composite global temperature anomaly data from NOAA for 2013 through 2015 provides evidence of the early start to the formation of a possible superstorm-producing North Atlantic cool pool. Image source: Climate Crocks.)

How might this cool pool become such a powerful storm generator? It could well be thought of as an ironic matter of atmospheric and ocean physics. Ironic in the sense that overall global heating produces a severe weather hazard in the form of a large area of cool ocean surface water.

Increased warming of the Earth results in more rapid warming at the poles, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. In turn, this polar amplification sets off a number of feedback loops in which ice in Greenland and West Antarctica begin to melt faster and faster. The ironic atmospheric relationship to large slabs of ice sliding off the great ice sheets and into the ocean begins to come into play. For a thin veil of fresh water from these increasingly massive volumes of melting ice begin to lock more and more heat into the local ocean system.

Over hundreds of thousands of square kilometers, the fresh water begins to cut off the ocean’s ability to ventilate heat into the airs above. As a result, the surface of the ocean and the local atmosphere cools. More heat is shoved into the deeper waters — where it can melt the sea facing glaciers ever more rapidly even as it gets to doing the dangerous work destabilizing carbon stores on the sea bed. Dangerous — not only for its potential to add more greenhouse gasses to the world atmosphere, but also for its ability to develop anoxic dead zones in the ocean depths and to expand those life-killing layers toward the sea surface.

Climate Change’s War Between Hot and Cold — Understanding the Warning Signs

In scientific terms, we call this a stratified ocean state. But in plainer words, we could think of it as a big mechanism for heat exchange and ocean and atmospheric chemistry change.

Where Hot and Cold Collide

(Anyone who knows anything about ocean and atmospheric physics should be concerned about this picture. Here we see the April 8, 2016 ocean surface temperature anomaly reanalysis provided by Earth Nullschool and developed from data collected by NCEP and the National Weather Service. Here we see a large swath of Gulf Stream waters ranging from 5-8 C above average temperatures coming into collision with waters in a North Atlantic cool pool ranging from 1-10 C below average. It is the increasing difference in temperature, or thermal gradient, between these two ocean zones that Hansen and others identify as having a high potential for very severe storm generation.)

Changing the ocean’s heat relationship with the atmosphere is bound to alter the weather. And Hansen’s paper points toward a serious risk that this fundamentally altered relationship will result in much more powerful storms. A cooler North Atlantic will collide with all kinds of expanding heat from various regions. A backed up Gulf Stream will warm up — it already has. The tropics will begin to heat up, increasing the temperature gradient between the lower Latitudes and the cool pool in the North Atlantic. Such conditions amp up the atmospheric storm potential by producing an abundance of what storms feed on — very extreme differences in temperatures, related strong winds and atmospheric vortexes, strong south to north and north to south air flows that link the tropics to the pole, and an ever-growing abundance of moisture bleeding off the record warm waters that come into increasing collision with the expanding pool of cold to the north. Such conditions risk the development of extraordinarily powerful storms in this region. Storms the likes of which our civilizations have never seen before. Storms that may leap the boundaries of their formation zones to have far broader impacts.

Hansen, in his paper found evidence that such conditions may well have existed during the last warm period between ice ages around 115,000 years ago. Back then, a huge flush of ice bergs running out from a melting Greenland during the peak period of warmth appears to have produced terrible storms in the North Atlantic. Storms powerful enough to pluck 2,000 ton boulders up out of the sea bed and hurl them 100 feet above sea level before depositing them onto the hills of places like Bermuda and the Bahama islands.

During that period, the rate of warming was slower. So the pace of melt was likely also slower than what we would see due to human warming. The atmospheric changes were thus milder than those we are likely to experience if human warming continues along its current path and sets the dramatic melt and related atmospheric wrenching into motion. Already, we see storms the likes of which history has never seen running into the UK and Ireland, aiming their increasingly powerful winds and rains at Western Europe. Already we see climate change enhanced superstorms. New forms of severe weather. Hellacious mergings of devastating hurricanes with extraordinary nor’easters.

But what we see now is nothing compared to what we will see if Hansen’s research is anywhere near the mark and if human fossil fuel burning continues unabated. What we risk, and what Hansen has warned us about in what he considers to be his most important work of science, is setting off a severe chain of events that includes rapid sea level rise and powerful, powerful storms. In addition, the ocean stratification that is the cause of all this atmospheric and oceanic trouble would set off further consequences not touched on in Hansen’s work — hitting ocean health hard and, likely, liberating more carbon stores from the Earth System to add to the troubles that humans (and particularly the fossil fuel special interests) are already rapidly bringing to the fore.

One final point — the Hansen paper has and will continue to generate a huge controversy in the science. But from the point of view of this threat analyst, there is a high potential for dangerous outcomes similar to those the Hansen paper warns of together with a number of additional troubles so long as the human-forced warming continues. And we already see visible evidence of those kinds of dangerous atmospheric and ocean changes starting to happen now.

Links:

Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, Superstorms

The Storms of My Grandchildren

Human Warming Pushing Seas to Exponentially Rise

Dr Jason Box’s Take on the New Hansen Study

Earth Nullschool

NCEP

National Weather Service

Hurricane Sandy — the Storm that Climate Change Wrought

 

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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

A Blizzard Roars Out of Climate Change’s Heart — Polar Warming and A Record Hot Atlantic Ocean Brew Up Nightmare Storm for US East Coast

There’s a historic blizzard in the form of Winter Storm Jonas setting its sights on the US East Coast. The storm is slowly coming together Thursday evening and now appears to be set to paralyze a 1,000 mile swath under 1 to 2.5 feet of snow even as it hurls a substantial storm surge and 40-60 mph winds at waterfront cities from Norfolk to Boston. A monster storm whose predicted formation has made headlines since Tuesday. But what you won’t hear most major news sources mention is the likelihood that this gathering storm has been dramatically impacted by a number of new climate features related to a human-forced warming of the globe.

Jonas Begins its Ocean-heat Fueled Rampage in Southeastern US

(Jonas begins its ocean-heat-fueled rampage on the evening of Thursday, January 21. Image source: NOAA.)

A Warming Arctic Shoves the Cold Air Out

To understand how climate change helped make Jonas so extreme, it’s best if we start our tale in the Arctic. For if we could mark an area on the Earth’s surface that is at the very heart of impacts for human-caused climate change it would be in that zone of the far north above the 66th parallel. It is there that we see the most dramatic, most rapid changes — to ice, to weather, to the thawing lands, to life itself. But unlike what might be said of an American city made famous by its penchant for sin — what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.

This is especially true when it comes to weather. If the Arctic cools, it influences the Jet Stream, strengthens the storm track and shuts more cold air away in the Arctic. But if the Arctic warms, as it has more and more frequently during recent years, then the flood-gates open and cold, Arctic air pours outward — filling the deep, inevitable dips in the Jet Stream that then develop.

And it is a massive accumulation of Arctic heat over the past few weeks that has forced Arctic temperatures, in places, to rocket to above 36 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees C) warmer than average. A heating up of the entire region to 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer than the already warmer than average 1979- 2000 baseline. An Arctic warm-up that muscled out a howling torrent of cold air that then raged on into a deep trough in the Jet Stream now forming over the eastern half of the United States.

Hot Arctic, Cold, Stormy Eastern USMangled Jet Stream, Raging Storm Track

(An Arctic that is, on average 2.02 C hotter than normal on Friday joins with a high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream and together drives a massive flood of cold air into eastern parts of the US on Friday. Cold air slamming head on into unprecedented heat and moisture bleeding of the Atlantic Ocean to form the historic weather event that is now in the pipe. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

CAPE — Storms Fueled by Cold Colliding With Hot

In weather parlance, a trough, or a big dip in the Jet Stream is a storm generation zone. The reason has to do with the nature of how extreme differences in temperature and moisture can provide fuel for strong storms. It’s this very temperature differential that sits as the cornerstone of our current understanding of how extreme storms are fueled in terms of Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE).

In the one case, cold air can’t hold as much water in suspension as warm air. So a big flood of cold air can often fuel major precipitation events when coming into collision with hot, moisture-laden air. As hot and cold air are sandwiched closer together, winds — at both the upper and lower levels — tend to increase in velocity. The higher the difference in temperature, the stronger the winds. When these winds run along a big dip in the Jet Stream — like the one now racing over the US East Coast — they can spin off twists and vortexes that can rapidly develop into powerful low pressure systems.

The lows then feed on the difference in temperatures between the two sides of the dividing air-mass — cold on the one side, and hot, wet on the other. The bigger the differential, the more heat and moisture on one side, and the more cold on the other side, the more potential that such low pressure centers will develop into monster storms. The more potential that the storms will develop these crazy atmospheric sandwiches of hot and cold air that really crank out the extreme weather.

Dulles International Airport 5 inch per hour thundersnow potential identified

(“Tremendous Vertical Motion.” Anthony Sagliani tweets about extreme CAPE for a blizzard zeroing in on the US East Coast. What’s important to mention is that human-forced climate change has CAPE written all over it. Image source: Anthony Sagliani.)

In terms of the current storm, some of the CAPE potentials coming in are just off the charts. The above graphic, posted in this recent tweet by Anthony Sagliani, identifies the potential for 5 inch per hour thundersnow at Dulles International Airport (AID) between 2 AM and 2 PM Saturday. To be very clear, a 1 inch per hour snowfall was once considered an extreme event. Now we are looking at possibly 5!

A Record Hot Atlantic Feeds it All

In the context of human-driven climate change, this is one of the reasons why our warming up of the world can generate extreme weather. It warms the Earth unevenly. It puts cold next to hot by driving cold out of the polar zones and by warming up huge areas of land and ocean. And it dumps more moisture into the atmosphere through an amplified evaporation from these greatly warmed Earth surfaces. Mix it all together and you get Anthony Sagliani’s ‘tremendous vertical motion.’

How does this work? In two words — latent heat. More specifically the convective heat energy available in water vapor. And where does most of that latent heat energy come from? It comes, for the most part, in the form of warm waters evaporating into the air above the world’s oceans. More specifically to our current storm it comes in the form of record warm to near record warm temperatures in the waters of the Gulf Stream off the US East Coast (See Dr Jeff Master’s ‘The Future of Intense Winter Storms”).

image

(Sea surface temperatures off the US East Coast are more comparable to those seen during Summer than what would be typical for January. A 76 degree sea surface off Norfolk will provide a massive amount of heat and moisture to fuel the new kind of storm that is Jonas. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As Dr. Michael Mann noted in a tweet earlier this week, sea surface temperatures off the US East Coast are extraordinarily warm for this time of year. And Bill McKibben was absolutely astute in saying that these near record temperatures “should turbo-charge this weekend’s blizzard.”

And they’re absolutely ridiculously warm — in the range of 76 degrees Fahrenheit in a region about 150 miles due east of Norfolk, Virginia. A region of ocean over which the developing storm center will directly cross. An area of water that is now in the range of 7 degrees Celsius above average (13 degrees Fahrenheit). For the ocean surface, this is screaming hot — more typical to summer than anything one would expect to see in January, even in the Gulf Stream.

You just don’t see these kinds of temperature departures for the ocean — or at least you didn’t before human-caused climate change started to ramp up. But now we have them — an ocean surface hot enough to support a hurricane but one that will this weekend provide fuel for a blizzard. So the kind of blizzard we will have will not at all be like even the usual blizzards of the 20th Century. This is the new, worse variety that will sadly become more frequent. Destructive, heavy snowfall in the 4-5 inches per hour range, thundersnow and storm surges combined, swaths of hundreds of miles impacted and crippled. The kind for the new age of a human-heated atmosphere — destabilized to produce freak storms of a ferocity and frequency the likes of which we have never seen.

UPDATE — Snowfall Begins With Some Models Showing 4 Feet or More Possible (Average Guidance For Gaithersburg is 24-30 Inches)

Moderate snowfall began at 1:35 PM on Friday in my hometown of Gaithersburg, MD. Model guidance for our area is in the range of 24-30 inches, with as much as 4 feet coming up in some of the GFS ensembles.

Will be posting videos and related updates every 2-3 hours as conditions change.

UPDATE: 1-2 Inches on the Ground at Gaithersburg, MD as of 3:42 PM

(See Video of 3:42 PM snowfall here)

Wind and rates of snowfall have picked up somewhat over the past two hours. As of 3:42 PM, about 1-2 inches had fallen and the wind was visibly swaying some of the tree branches outside. Reports are coming in from regions to the south of a very heavy band of snow that should arrive in our area by later this evening.

Radar captures by the National Weather Service indicate this band setting up over much of Central and Eastern North Carolina — stretching northward through just west of Richmond. GFS model tracking and satellite confirmation indicate a coastal low developing in the region of Northern South Carolina. This low is beginning to transfer Atlantic moisture into the storm — pulling strong winds off that abnormally warm region of ocean just east of Norfolk and into the developing powerful snowfall band.

Jonas 420 PM NWS Radar

(Image source: National Weather Service.)

Sustained winds along the coast are now approaching gale force.  We should expect these winds to rapidly increase over the afternoon and evening hours even as the moisture feed and rate of snowfall intensifies.

UPDATE: Rate of Snowfall Still Picking up at 6:05 PM; Heavy Bands Expected by 10 PM

(See Video of 6:05 PM Snowfall Here)

Rates of snowfall continue to steadily increase for the Gaithersburg Area. As of 6:05 PM EST on Friday, 3-4 inches lay on the ground in Montgomery County Maryland. A heavy band of snow continued to gather to the south as the storm center went ongoing intensification near the border of South Carolina and North Carolina and just off-shore. Guidance provided by that National Weather Service indicates that heaviest rates of snowfall are still about 4 hours away. Radar indicates this band is forming just north of Richmond at this time.

UPDATE: At 10:30 PM, Heavy Snow Settles in with Six Inches Already on the Ground

(See 10:30 PM Video Here)

As of 1030 PM, heavy bands of snow had started to stream into the Gaithersburg area. Winds were picking up — in the range of 15-25 mph with some higher gusts. A healthy covering of about six inches of snowfall already lay on the ground. National weather service radar at this time indicated a series of stronger bands of precipitation just south of DC and moving northward. Meanwhile, atmospheric analysis indicates the center of Jonas now over Eastern North Carolina and strengthening. Over the next 6-12 hours Jonas is expected to intensify as it traverses toward the Chesapeake Bay. This should bring increasingly intense bands of snowfall over the area.

UPDATE: 1:35 AM Intense, Heavy Snow, 10-12 Inches on the Ground, Howling Gusts

By 1:35 AM, conditions again deteriorated for the region of Montgomery County. Snow accumulations had hit between 10 and 12 inches and the winds were really starting to howl and moan.

National Weather Service Radar indicated that the low pressure center had moved out over the Chesapeake Bay even as the wide-ranging storm really started to pull in substantial amounts of heat and moisture off the Atlantic. This kicked the storm into a higher intensity that will likely last, for the DC region, until around 1 PM tomorrow. We are entering the period of most intense storminess and snowfall now. Over the coming hours conditions could get quite extreme with 2-5 inch per hour snowfall rates and thundersnow in some areas. In other words — we’re starting to hit the height of this long-duration event.

Storm Really Starting to Crank Up Severe Snowfall over DC Area

National Weather Service Radar above shows very heavy snowfall bands moving directly over the DC Metro area at this time even as the Atlantic moisture feed grows more intense. Regional snowfall forecasts have remained quite extraordinary with most locations in the area now expecting between 18 and 40 inches. Still one heck of a night ahead!

Links:

NOAA (Please support public, non-special-interest based science, like the fantastic work done by the experts at NOAA)

Dr Jennifer Francis

Dr Michael E Mann

Bill McKibben

Anthony Sagliani

Dr. Jeff Masters: The Future of Intense Winter Storms

Jonas to Wallop 1,000 Mile Swath of US East Coast

Climate Reanalyzer

Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE)

Earth Nullschool

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

 

Warm Storm Brings Rain Over Arctic Sea Ice in Winter

The Starks were wrong. Winter isn’t coming. It’s dying.

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As The Atlantic so aptly notes, the hottest year in the global climate record is ending with a Storm that will Unfreeze the North Pole. A warm storm that is now predicted to bring never-before-seen above freezing temperatures in the range of 32 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit for the highest Latitude in the Northern Hemisphere by afternoon tomorrow. A storm expected to dump six inches of rain and bring 80 mile per hour winds to a Northern England already suffering the worst flooding events in all of its long history. A storm that will rage ashore in Iceland packing 90-100 mile per hour winds and hurl both heavy rains and snows across that volcanic isle.

Frank 4 lows

(Three of Frank’s multiple strong low pressure systems raging through the North Atlantic on Tuesday, December 29. At 956, 948, and 974 mb, two of these lows each pack the strength of a major hurricane — but with their energy spread out over a larger area. By late tonight two of these lows will have combined and tracked toward Iceland bombing out into a 920 mb class monster storm. Meanwhile, the far flung effects of these storms will have resulted in yet another round of high winds and very severe flooding for England. Image source: Ocean Prediction Center.)

It’s a storm with impacts stretching from just west of Spain and all the way to the North Pole itself. A sprawling monster of a thing covering the area the size of a small continent. The very precursor in fact of Dr. James Hansen’s ‘continent-sized frontal storms packing the strength of hurricanes.’ The dark beasts this visionary scientist feared might arise during an age in which the great glaciers of the world started to melt — the cool outflow of their waters conflicting with a raging human forced warming of the globe to radically destabilize the world’s weather (see Storms of My Grandchildren).

The impacts of this storm, which the UK Met Office is now calling Frank, could well be tremendous. Cumbria in Northern England may be set to experience yet another ‘worst flood on record’ — one of three occurring just this month. And the 920 mb range central low of this sprawling system is forecast to rip through the heart of Iceland itself. But the more visible risk of damages to England and Iceland may well pale in comparison to the quiet, yet drastic impacts taking place in the far north.

image

(Unprecedented doesn’t even begin to describe rain over Arctic sea ice above the 80 degree North Latitude line on the evening of Tuesday, December 29, 2015. It’s something we’d rarely see during summer time. But this rain is falling through the black of polar night during the coldest time of the year. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

There, over the Arctic sea ice today, the rains began in winter time.

As the first front of warm air proceeded over the ice pack to the north of Svalbard, the rains fell through 35-40 degree (F) air temperatures. It splattered upon Arctic Ocean ice that rarely even sees rain during summer-time. Its soft pitter-patter a whisper that may well be the sound to mark the end of a geological age.

For we just don’t see rain over Arctic sea ice north of Greenland during Winter time. Or we used to not. But the warmth that liquid water falling through the black of what should be a bone-cold polar night represents something ominous. Something ushered to our world by human fossil fuel industry’s tremendous emission of heat trapping gasses. Gasses that in the range of 400 ppm CO2 and 485 ppm CO2e are now strong enough to begin to roll back the grip of Winter. Gasses, that if they keep being burned until we hit a range between 550-650 ppm CO2 (or equivalent) will likely be powerful enough to wipe out Winter as we know it entirely over the course of long and tumultuous years of painful transition.

What does the beginning of the end of Winter sound like? It’s the soft splash of rain over Arctic Ocean sea ice during what should be its coldest season.

Links:

The Storm That Will Unfreeze The North Pole

Warm Arctic Storm to Bring Above Freezing Temps to North Pole

Storm Frank to Bring More Flood Misery

Climate Reanalyzer

Storms of My Grandchildren

NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center

Hat Tip to Neven’s Fantastic Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Spike

Hat Tip to Ryan in New England

More Signs of Gulf Stream Slowdown as Floods Devastate Cumbria, England

Back in 2009 heavy rains fell over the Northern UK. The rains, abnormally intense, pushed river levels to heights never before measured. A wall of water built-up. Surging over banks, it inundated the town of Carlisle, Cumbria, England — forcing many to flee to higher ground.

At the time, weather forecasters and climatologists wondered if there might have been a global warming link to the freak Cumbria floods. There was certainly risk. Risk that the North Atlantic would become a mess of storms as the Gulf Stream slowed down and cold air masses collided with warm — developing a raging storm track to the west of the UK. A climate situation with the potential to draw in never-before-seen rivers of moisture and set off flooding the likes of which the UK has never known. Flood defenses were shored up. New commitments were made to shift the country away from carbon emissions.

But in just six short years many of those commitments have lagged. Funding for flood defenses was cut by conservatives in the UK parliament even as similar funds for wind and solar energy were targeted in favor of fracking the countryside for natural gas. The usual litany of climate change denial spewed out of the regular conservative mouthpieces in the politics and the media. It was the height of hubris and mismanagement. And again we have a ‘never before seen’ rainstorm roaring up out of a greatly troubled North Atlantic.

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Sands Center Carlisle River Level

(On December 6 of 2015 river levels at Sands Centre in Carlisle hit 8 meters above the typical range. The previous record highest level for this river gauge was 4.5 meters — a level the new flood defense systems were designed to contain. But this week’s rainfall simply overwhelmed both flood defenses and previous expectations for the upper limits of extreme weather. Image source: Shoothill Gauge Map.)

On Saturday and Sunday of December 5th and 6th, 2015, Cumbria flooded again. An even higher flood surge than before overwhelmed the new defenses and forced residents to yet again flee. Then, just three days later on Wednesday more than two months worth of rain fell over the Cumbria region. The amount at 341 mm in just 24 hours was a new UK record and compares to average total rainfall for the month of December at 146 mm. The county was again overwhelmed by water. Human chains were formed to help bring those stranded to safety. After the waters began to subside — devastation. More than 6,000 homes were found to have been flooded with perhaps as many as 20,000 people displaced.

This was the flood UK parliamentarians swore they would fight to keep from happening again. The one conservative politicians said would never again happen in our lifetime. A flood that was worse than the terrible event of 2009 happening just six years after the first. And one that was almost certainly made worse by the dreadful alterations wrought by human forced climate change on the environment of the North Atlantic.

The Gulf Stream Slowdown and The Great New Storms of the North Atlantic

One doesn’t have to be a climatologist to see that sea surface temperature patterns in the North Atlantic are all topsy-turvy. The region of ocean to the west of the UK is cooler than normal. It’s a great cool pool once predicted by climate scientists and now made real by a human-forced warming of the world’s airs and waters. The result of an ever-increasing glacial melt outflow coming from Greenland.

image

(Temperature anomaly deltas in the region of the Gulf Stream are in the range of -5 C below average in the northern, Greenland melt-related, cool pool, and +9 C above average in a hot ribbon off the US East Coast. This overall new 14 C temperature variance from south to north is generating new atmospheric instabilities that intensify storm systems firing off in the North Atlantic. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Climate scientists have known for a long time that just such a cool pool of fresh glacial melt could play havok with weather across the North Atlantic and on to far-flung regions of the globe. And it’s just such a weather disruptor that we see developing there now. One that was originally dramatized in the film The Day After Tomorrow. But one that will all-too-likely represent centuries of catastrophic weather terminating in a new, much hotter, far more toxic, and far less life-sustaining world — rather than simply a week-long hemisphere-sized superstorm abruptly halted by a nonsensical new ice age (Please see World Ocean Heartbeat Fading).

To the south of our cool pool and on off the US East Coast we find that sea surface temperatures are screaming hot. Hot as in the range of 5-9 degrees Celsius (9-16 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal. Both the cool pool to the north and the hot pool to the south taken together are an ominous sign that the Gulf Stream is slowing down. The cool, fresh water outflow from glaciers near Greenland is interrupting a heat and salt driven over-turning there. The over-turning, which drives the Gulf Stream current, slows down. As a result, heat that would be transported northward instead backs up off the US East Coast.

What results is a kind of dipole temperature pattern that aids in storm generation over the North Atlantic. The cool pool tends to pull cold air southward from Greenland. The hot ribbon off the US East Coast tends to draw warm, moist, tropical air into collision with the trough zone south and east of Greenland. The result is a high potential for storm bombification in the region west of the UK. These storms, in turn, pull rivers of moisture up from the tropical airs to the south and over England, Ireland and Scotland. This confluence of weather sets off unprecedented storms and heavy rainfall for the UK.

Both the new North Atlantic sea surface temperature pattern and the resulting storms are not normal. They are an upshot of only recently emerging weather patterns resulting from a human-forced climate change. And, sadly, we can expect to see them continue to worsen. This year, in particular, could see some extraordinary trans-Atlantic storms as the El Nino-driven tendency for trough development and tropical air injection over the US East Coast comes into play. But overall, El Nino or no, the new dipole temperature anomaly pattern in the North Atlantic fed by Greenland melt and a related Gulf Stream slowdown will tend to keep pushing the region into a stormier and stormier pattern for the foreseeable future. The UK and its politicians should be made well aware of the consequences of their actions. Continuing to plan to burn fossil fuels is simply adding more fuel to an already raging climate fire.

Links:

The Story of the 2009 Cumbria Floods

More Rain and Flooding Expected in Northwest England

Toxic Interests: In Lead-up to Paris Summit, Conservatives Around the World are Fighting to Kill Renewable Energy

The Devastation in Cumbria

Shoothill Gauge Map

Earth Nullschool

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

Warning From Scientists – Halt Fossil Fuel Burning Fast or Age of Superstorms, 3-20 Foot Sea Level Rise is Coming Soon

Hat Tip to Dr. James Hansen

Hat Tip to Neven, Jeremy, and Miles

Climate Change Superstorm Redux? Joaquin Shows Some Eerie Similarities to Sandy in Forecast.

It’s an El Nino year. So that’s supposed to mean a quiet Atlantic Hurricane Season, right? But as the tenth storm of 2015 threatens intensification, very heavy rains, and broadening wind fields as it’s expected to cloak itself in a frontal storm along a track a little south of Sandy — it appears a climate change — riled ocean and atmospheric system have failed to get the message.

Anyone looking at today’s ocean-atmospheric conditions and the Global Forecast System model run predictions probably couldn’t shake off the shivers as a number of chilling similarities to Superstorm Sandy began to show up in the five day outlook. The forecast is very, very uncertain. But it appears we might have a developing Superstorm-like Joaquin on our hands.

According to Mike Smith of Accuweather:

“There is going to be catastrophic flooding from North Carolina to Massachusetts, and this is going to disrupt the economy regardless of whether or not Hurricane Joaquin makes landfall.”

All Eyes on Joaquin As Climate Change Pattern Dominates North Atlantic

image

(GFS water vapor and wind forecast for October 2 shows a category 2-3 Jaoquine interacting with a powerful trough stretching down across the US East Coast. A trough extending all the way from Norway. Though not a polar trough like the one that interacted with Sandy, and though Joaquin’s characteristics aren’t as likely to go extra-tropical like Sandy, the broadening wind field, the potential left turn and the superstorm combining of trough and hurricane are potentially similar features. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

A freakish ‘Storms of My Grandchildren‘ type cool pool dominates the northern Atlantic. The backed-up Gulf Stream off the US East Coast is super hot (1-6 degrees Celsius above average). A massive trough is digging in — telegraphing from Norway through Iceland on to Southern Greenland, extending yet southwest over Newfoundland and the Northeastern and Mid Atlantic US. Further south, a developing Hurricane Joaquin over the Bahamas is about to shake hands with this massive trough. Just south of Newfoundland, a blocking high pressure system appears ready to bar Joaquin’s passage to the north and east. Setting up the potential for Joaquin to embed in the trough, to develop a rapidly expanding wind field even as it strengthens, and to possibly make a sickening left turn into the US East Coast.

Sound familiar? If so, it’s because you heard a similar story back during late October of 2012.

Jaoquin Forecast — Very Stormy Five Days for US East Coast

Currently, Jaoquine is a strengthening category category 2 hurricane packing 105 mile per hour (updated) winds as it drifts toward the southwest near the eastern Bahamas. Over the next two days Jaoquin is expected to strengthen, possibly into a powerful major hurricane, even as it begins to track toward the north and west. This track will result in its interacting with the large trough mentioned above. Even if Jaoquine does not make landfall, its interaction with the trough is expected to dump substantial and torrential amounts of rainfall from North Carolina on through New England even as it drives a broad tropical storm force wind field and related storm surge onto shore.

Jaoquine Rainfall

(NOAA five day rainfall forecast shows potential for significant related flooding for the Eastern Seaboard. Image source NOAA CPC.)

According to NOAA forecasts, 5 day rainfall totals are now expected to exceed 7 inches throughout large sections of North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland with measures in excess of 5 inches expected from South Carolina all the way to Nantucket.

Joaquin’s wind field is also expected to expand as it interacts with both the trough and large circulation of the blocking high to the north and east. This broad wind field will bring at least strong nor-easter like conditions to the US East Coast. But the broad clockwise circulation off the blocking high also heightens risks that Joaquine will be shoved onshore even as it strengthens.

Current model runs bring a powerful category 1-3 Joaquine, packing a broad wind field with maximum strength from 90-115 mph, on shore near the North Carolina/Virginia border at around 2 PM Eastern Time on Sunday, October 4:

Joaquin track

(The National Hurricane Center shows Joaquin following a course the brings it over the Outer Banks and up the Chesapeake Bay. A worst case track for many sections of the US East Coast. Image source: NHC.)

If such a forecast does play out, it’s bad news. Very very bad news. It would represent a potentially very severe category 1-3 storm embedded in a large wind field and an even larger rain shield. A storm bringing heavy rains for days and lashing the coast with gale force winds up to 24 hours in advance of landfall. Features that would greatly enhance storm surge and flooding impacts — which could be very far reaching. It’s a dangerous potential interaction between Joaquine, a persistently extensive trough stretching across the North Atlantic, and one of the new, heavyweight, blocking patterns that have become so prevalent in this age of human-forced warming. One that could again wrap a hurricane in a, this time very wet, nor’easter.

Like Sandy, it would also serve as a herald for the oncoming new, more intense climate-change driven storms of our present age. Storms that have greater north-south energy exchanges. Storms that may be more more likely to form embedded or hybridized systems and storms that tap both the higher potential pressure and temperature differentials as well as an atmosphere that is more heavily laden with moisture.

Links:

The National Hurricane Center (Please publicly support!)

Current NOAA Joaquin in motion Infrared Graphic

Saffir Simpson Hurricane Scale

NOAA Five Day Rainfall Estimates (Frequently Updated)

Earth Nullschool

Is Joaquin Another Superstorm Sandy?

How Will Joaquin Compare to Isabel/Sandy?

Signs of Gulf Stream Slowdown — Sea Level More Than a Foot Higher off US East Coast

It’s the stuff that climate disaster movies are made of. But the events are all too real — happening now and not part of some dramatized script played out on the silver screen.

Signs abound that global ocean circulation is being profoundly altered by human-forced climate change. A pool of cold water has developed in the North Atlantic. England is getting slammed by anomalous winter-type rains and gales in August. And sea surface heights off the US East Coast are more than 30 centimeters (one foot) above the 1979 to 2015 average.

Sea level anomalies 30 cm off US east coast

(Global sea surface height anomalies off the US East Coast are more than a foot (30 cm) above the 1979 to 2015 average. A clear sign that the Gulf Stream is slowing down, perhaps by as much as 15-30 percent. Complete shut down of the Gulf Stream, though unlikely without extremely large melt outflows from Greenland, would result in a very dangerous 1 meter sea level rise. An impact that is primarily driven by ocean current change. Sea level rise by thermal expansion and glacial melt would, necessarily, pile on top of this bulge of backed up waters. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

This past March, after observations of rising sea levels off the US East Coast, extreme positive sea surface temperature anomalies in the same region, and a critical slowing down of North Atlantic over-turning recorded throughout the 20th Century, Professor Stefan Rahmstorf published this earth-shattering paper in the scientific journal Nature.

The paper meticulously recorded a slow-down of bottom water formation in a region of the Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland. The period studied included all of the 20th Century and the first one and one half decades of the 21st Century. Rahmstorf concluded that Greenland ice sheet melt — starting around 1900 and spiking after 1975 — was having a profound impact. Cold, fresh water issuing out from Greenland was cutting off the flow of heavier, salty water transported northward by the Gulf Stream. It was preventing larger portions of that water from sinking. And it was slowing down the Gulf Stream together with a host of other ocean circulation driving currents.

A system vital to both the life and health of the world ocean and global weather stability was entering an arrest. In other words, the world ocean heartbeat was fading.

The Gulf Stream Train Wreck

Since the publication of Rahmstorf’s paper, evidence of a bottom water formation interruption and a subsequent Gulf Stream train wreck continued to pile up. Sea surface temperatures off the US East Coast, during summer time spiked to as high as 85 Fahrenheit (29.3 C) off the coasts of New York and New Jersey. And regions off Nantucket hit as high as 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 C). That’s between 7-10 F (4-6 C) hotter than average for an already typically warm Gulf Stream.

imageimage

(Left frame image shows Gulf Stream waters spiking to 29.3 C or 85 F off New York and New Jersey. Temperatures in the range of 7-10 F [4-6 C] above average. Right frame image shows cool pool development in the typical bottom water formation zone between Greenland, England and Newfoundland. Combined with the ocean current overlay, which shows widespread meandering, this hot south, cold north ocean surface dipole is an indication that the Gulf Stream is slowing down and that bottom water formation is weakening. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Further north, the opposite is happening. In the region east of the Grand Banks where the Gulf Stream currents typically flow strongly, there’s only a weak, meandering, confluence. The Gulf Stream appears to have hit a barrier. It has bottled up off the Northeastern US Coast. And it appears reluctant or unable to flow past mid-ocean.

As a result, a broad zone between England, the Southeastern Coast of Greenland and Newfoundland lack the warm, salty inflow of a strong Gulf Stream. Sea surface temperatures range from 2-7 F (1 to 4 C) below average. The northward progress of heat from the Gulf Stream is tapering off. And this cut off of heat flow from Equator to mid latitudes shows more and more as the development of an anomalous cool pool continues throughout.

Taking in the entire North Atlantic, what we see is a weather-destabilizing hot-cold dipole. The warm waters are backed up off the US East Coast. This is evidenced by both the very warm sea surface temperatures and by an extreme increase in sea surface heights by 1 foot over a broad region. And to the north, we have the climate change signature cool pool.

Anomalous Storms Strike England During Summer

This Gulf Stream train wreck and related cool pool development has already done a bit of a number on UK weather this summer. A series of gales and heavy rainstorms have slammed into the UK Coast — bringing heavy seas and torrential rains. One months worth of rainfall fell over parts of the UK during the past week alone. And with more storms on the way it appears that August of 2015 may be the wettest ever recorded.

It’s a changed climate state that Dr. James Hansen warned of in a recent paper. One that means more powerful storms for the North Atlantic as the Greenland Ice Sheet spews out greater and greater volumes of water and ice. Ever since 2012, we’ve seen a tendency for these kinds of anomalously powerful storms. And more rough weather is certainly on the way.

storms-reshape-englands-coastline

(During the winter of 2013 and 2014, storms reshaped the coastlines of the British Isles. But this was just the start. For the North Atlantic is now in the process of firing up an age of storms. Image source: AGU.)

The Fall forecast is calling for the strong gales that we’ve already seen to continue to intensify through at least October and November. Strong storms that will draw energy by the high differences in sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic, but also, possibly, from an El Nino-amplified storm track causing powerful troughs to begin to dig in off the US East Coast. A situation that could set up a kind of trans-Atlantic storm firing line.

The long term forecast, however, is even worse. With Greenland just beginning to shed more and more of its ice, the cool pool off England will tend to intensify even as the hot pool off the US East Coast and within the Gulf of Mexico heightens. A screaming, storm-generating temperature differential that such melt will worsen as the decades wear on and if human fossil fuel burning continues to add more heat fuel to this already developing dangerous situation.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Rahmstorf– AMOC is Slowing Down

World Ocean Heartbeat is Fading

Earth Nullschool

Even Chances August Will Be Wettest on Record for The UK

Warning From Scientists — Halt Fossil Fuel Burning or Age of Storms, Rapid Sea Level Rise is Coming

North Atlantic Ramping up to “Storms of My Grandchildren?”

AGU

Fall Forecast: Storms Target UK, France

Hat tip to Spike

Warning From Scientists — Halt Fossil Fuel Burning Fast or Age of Superstorms, 3-20 Foot Sea Level Rise is Coming Soon

First the good news. James Hansen, one of the world’s most recognized climate scientists, along with 13 of his well-decorated fellows believe that there’s a way out of this hothouse mess we’re brewing for ourselves. It’s a point that’s often missed in media reports on their most recent paper — Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms. A paper that focuses on just two of the very serious troubles we’ll be visiting on ourselves in short order if we don’t heed their advice.

The way out? Reduce global carbon emissions by 6% each year and manage the biosphere such that it draws carbon down to 350 ppm levels or below through the early 22nd Century. To Hansen and colleagues this involves a scaling carbon fee and dividend or a similarly ramping carbon tax to rapidly dis-incentivize carbon use on a global scale. Do that and we might be relatively safe. Safe, at least in the sense of not setting off a catastrophe never before seen on the face of the Earth. That’s pretty good news. Pretty good news when we consider that some of the best climate scientists in the world see an exit window to a hothouse nightmare we’re already starting to visit upon ourselves.

The bad news? According to Hansen and colleagues, even if we just continue to burn fossil fuels and dump carbon into the atmosphere at a ‘moderate’ pace some of the terrifically catastrophic impacts of human caused climate change are not too far off.

A Moderate Pace of Burning

The new Hansen paper takes a look into both our geological past and our climate future in an attempt to give us an idea what may be in store. In this scenario, model, and paleoclimate based study, Hansen and colleagues assume two things about global human civilization. The first assumption is that we don’t follow the worst case, business as usual carbon emissions policies that lead to around 1000 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere by 2100. It is instead assumed that some effort is given to reducing coal, oil, and gas consumption. That some renewable energy, increased efficiency and behavior changes replace a significant portion of future fossil fuel emissions. But the most effective solution — a complete transition away from fossil fuel burning over the next few decades — fails.

A1B1

(A1B is a ‘moderate’ emissions scenario that, according to model essays, is likely to see between 2.5 and 3.5 C warming by the end of this Century and around 700 ppm of CO2 accumulation. That is, without the kind of major ice sheet response indicated in the new Hansen study. Image source: Knutti and Sedlacek.)

As a result, we end up with around 700 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 2100. In such a case we’ve followed what the IPCC community terms as the A1B or ‘moderate’ fossil fuel emissions scenario.

A Question of Melt Rate Doubling Time

It is in this context that the Hansen paper attempts to determine a key factor that will have wide-ranging impacts on ocean health, the continued existence and lifespan of coastal cities, and on the severity of the weather itself. That factor is captured by a single simple question — if we continue a moderate pace of fossil fuel burning, then how rapidly will ice sheet and ice shelf melt double?

To Hansen this is a critical question. One he has already done quite a bit of work to answer over recent years. And according to his findings it looks as if land ice melt rates for both Greenland and West Antarctica could now be doubling every 5-20 years. It’s a doubling rate that may find a historical allegory in the milder yet still intense glacial outflows of times long past. And it’s something that, according to Hansen, is being directly driven by an extreme pace of human-based greenhouse gas accumulation.

The Eemian — Significant Sea Level Rise and Terrible Storms Under Far Lower CO2 Forcing

To this point, Hansen’s new paper takes a dive into the paleoclimate study of an ice age interglacial that bears some stunning similarities to our own, human warmed, time period. He looks at the Eemian, a warm period that occurred 130,000 to 115,000 years ago. A period that featured temperatures in the range of 1-2 C above 1880s values (we’re in the process of hitting 1 C above 1880s values this year). A period in which CO2 levels were in the range of 285 parts per million (about 15 parts per million higher than the Holocene average before humans spiked that level to 400 parts per million during recent years). And a period that, according to Hansen’s broad study of past research, included numerous Heinrich type glacial outburst and melt events.

Back then, at 285 parts per million CO2 levels, seas were as much as 5-9 meters (16 to 30 feet) higher than they are today. The global climate, on the other hand, was much stormier. For two Heinrich type events that Hansen investigated were found to have dramatic impacts on severe storms in the North Atlantic during the Eemian. Hansen found large boulders propelled up onto the islands of Bermuda and the Bahamas by what appear to be powerful storm waves. Hansen also noted chevron shaped wave channels carved into the calcified sand beds in the Bahama Island Chain.

Heinrich Event

(Heinrich events included major glacial outflows like the one seen here at Jacobshavn, Greenland. Note the significant ice volume outflow through the channel at center frame. Also note the white dots in Baffin Bay indicating ice berg discharge. For reference, bottom edge of frame is about 100 miles. In past Heinrich Events outflows like the one seen above hit high gear as glaciers released armadas of ice bergs into the oceans which generated ocean and atmospheric changes. As the ice bergs melted, they deposited rocks on the sea bed. These piles of ice raft debris then became a signature geological feature of Heinrich events in the ancient past. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

It paints an overall picture of very stormy weather in the North Atlantic as a result of these Heinrich ice sheet melt episodes affecting Greenland and West Antarctica. These melt events drove fresh water out into the North Atlantic and the Southern Ocean at the rate of about 0.5 to 1 meters of sea level rise per century. The expanding cold, fresh water along the surface zones in the upper latitude waters shut off heat exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere by generating a stratified ocean state. This fresh water wedge interrupted the plunging of heavier, salt-laden waters in the North Atlantic and the Southern Ocean. A loss of heat exchange that resulted in the cooling of airs directly over the fresh water outflow pools.

Meanwhile, since heavy, saltier waters were no long diving to the ocean bottom in these regions — broader ocean circulation was interrupted. As a result, heat from the equator was no longer traveling poleward. The equator warmed. The cold, fresh water outflow regions cooled. And this high temperature gradient subsequently became a powerful storm generator — providing extreme baroclinic potential energies for the storms that likely reshaped the ocean bottom and deposited massive boulders upon islands throughout the North Atlantic.

It’s worth noting that the 5-9 meter sea level rise during the Eemian occurred in the context of global temperatures that are now similar to our own (1-2 C above 1880s values). But it’s also worth considering that the underlying CO2 and greenhouse gas conditions for the current age are far, far worse. Peak global CO2 during the Eemian never hit higher that 285 parts per million. For the Anthropocene age we are now leaving the 400 parts per million CO2 level in the dust. Meanwhile, the pace at which we are warming is also more than 10 times faster than the pace of warming to peak Eemian heat values. And it’s these two factors — an extreme greenhouse gas overburden combined with a very rapid pace of warming that has Hansen and colleagues very concerned about our climate situation over the next 10-80 years.

Land Ice Below Sea Level — Amplifying Feedback For Melt

Turning to the current day, there’s a growing number of reasons why we should be concerned that rapid land ice melt, large fresh water outflow to oceans, and resulting superstorms could be in our future. First, we’ve learned that the topography of Greenland and Antarctica include numerous channels that tunnel deep into its great glaciers at depths well below sea level. When oceans warm, and they’re warming as you read this, the submerged, sea-facing slopes of glaciers are confronted with more and more heat gnawing away at their under-bellies. Just a 0.1 C increase in water temperature can melt away a meter of ice over the course of a year. Multiply that by glaciers with faces that are submerged hundreds of feet deep whose sea fronting cliffs extend for many miles and you can end up with quite a lot of melt due to very little warming. As more of the undersides of glaciers melt, more of the water tunnels inland and large masses of ice are rafted away from the central ice exposing still more of the land anchored ice to a warming ocean flood.

image

(Image from Hansen Paper shows how land ice melt generates ocean stratification which is an amplifying feedback that enables ocean bottom warming and more land ice melt. Note — AABW stands for Antarctic bottom water, NADW — North Atlantic down welling. Image source: Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms)

As bad as this dynamic may sound, the process includes one more wrinkle that makes it even worse. As the undersides of ice shelves erode and more fresh water laden ice bergs are pulled out into the ocean, these ice bergs begin to melt en mass. This massive ice melt develops into an enormous and expanding pool of fresh water at the surface. And its this troublesome demon that traps heat in the deeper ocean levels. So, in other words, as the ice from the land glaciers floats away and melts it traps and focuses more heat at the base of these great glaciers. It’s an amplifying feedback. A very serious kind that doesn’t even require the human forced kick to create severe trouble. One that during the Eemian really wrecked the weather and caused massive surges in ocean height.

It’s a process that Hansen and his colleagues believe make both Greenland and West Antarctica very vulnerable. A process that could, when combined with the high velocity human heat forcing, produce melt rates that double every 20, 10 or even every 5 years. But of the two — Greenland or Antarctica — which is worst off?

Greenland topography

(Topographic map of Greenland sans its great ice sheet. Most of central Greenland’s mass is now below sea level. It’s a basin that now holds a miles high ice mountain. Various channels allow ocean water access to the central ice mass should the channel openings melt due to warming oceans. Such an invasion could set off a rapid sea level rise driven by Greenland melt. Image source: Livescience.)

Greenland, for its part, is little more than a great Archipelago held together by its stunning ice mass. Remove the ice and the interior of Greenland would flood, leaving a ring of islands as a final remnant. Though deep, most of these channels run up slope. And this feature, according to the Hansen study, may be one saving grace for potential Greenland ice melt pace. Up slope channels limit the impact of basal melt by serving to check rates of catastrophic destabilization. So though Greenland is certainly vulnerable to ice melt due to the fact that many channels cut hundreds of feet below sea level and into the island’s glacial heart, it is not as vulnerable as West Antarctica.

There, many channels cut deeper beneath the Antarctic ice mass. But not only are they below sea level by hundreds of feet as with Greenland, they slope down. They slope down and not for just a little ways under the ice sheet — some of these ocean heat skids extend in down-sloping fashion for hundreds of miles beneath the Antarctic ice. The result is a kind of skid, that once unlocked by initial melt, can continue to expose larger and large chunks of bottom ice to the warming ocean. Allowing, ultimately, the creation of new warming seas underneath the ice and floating it away in very rapid fashion.

In West Antarctica, ice shelves facing the Weddell and Ross seas both feature these dangerous retrograde slopes. In East Antarctica, the Totten Glacier is likewise vulnerable as are many other glaciers surrounding the vast periphery of Antarctica.

Retrograde slope Ross ice shelf

(Retrograde slopes behind ice sheet grounding lines are just one reason why Antarctic land ice is so unstable. Image source: Ice Sheet Mass Balance and Climate Change.)

Finally, in addition to being surrounded by the warming, deeper waters of the Southern Ocean, in addition to featuring dangerous retrograde slopes that channel warming sea water further and further inland and beneath the ice sheets, West Antarctica itself sits on a geological hot bed. Though not mentioned in the Hansen study, recent work also highlighted that West Antarctica rests atop a geologically active zone that had formed numerous sub-glacial lakes warmed by geological activity. This added geological heat makes West Antarctica that much less stable — an instability that when given the shove of human heated oceans is leading the Larsen B Ice Shelf to completely collapse by 2020. It makes Antarctic land ice that much more vulnerable to the added heat human beings are forcing into the oceans and opens up the ominous possibility that melt rate doubling times for West Antarctica could become quite extreme indeed.

Modeling Land Ice Melt’s Impact in the 21st Century — Facing A Coming Age of Superstorms

So what does all this mean? In the worst case (5-10 year melt rate doubling times), it’s possibly 3 meters of sea level rise by mid Century, perhaps 7 meters by end Century under business as usual fossil fuel emissions. Even in the more moderate cases (10-20 year melt rate doubling times), 1 meter of sea level rise by mid Century and 3 meters or more of sea level rise by end Century is not entirely out of the question, according to Hansen’s new research. These potentials are markedly different than the more conservative rates outlined by IPCC which is still calling for a less than 1 meter sea level rise under even the worst case human carbon emissions scenarios (1000 parts per million CO2, in the range of 1200 ppm CO2e).

So much fresh water hitting the oceans would cause a rapid stratification. A rapid loss of ocean to atmosphere heat exchange in the regions impacted. A train wreck of heat backing up at the equator. Such a train wreck would result in temperature extremes and gradient differences that would make the Eemian Heinrich events (mentioned above) seem moderate and slow by comparison.

Hansen has been working on global atmospheric models for tracking these events for a number of years now. And this new study is an improvement on his earlier, model-driven “Storms of My Grandchildren” work. Hansen’s new model runs are imperfect simulations of what may happen given large melt pulses from Greenland and Antarctica. The models, according to Hansen, mix the ocean water too much, reducing the overall impacts of stratification through the mechanism of the fresh water wedge. However, even with this imperfection, the temperature gradients displayed by these models are absolutely stunning. A clear warning to anyone who still wants to keep burning fossil fuels that they’re really grabbing the dragon by the tail.

image

(A mid range simulation including 10-20 year melt rate doubling times and 6 feet of sea level rise by 2080 — half Greenland, half Antarctica — shows enormous weather impacts in the form of a severe, superstorm generating, temperature gradient. Image source: Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, Superstorms.)

In the above image we can see just one of these model runs. The model assumes a 10-20 year doubling time for rate of land ice melt. It contributes equal portions of melt from Greenland in the north and Antarctica in the south. Greenhouse gas accumulation is considered to be along the moderate case A1B track. By 2080 we have about six feet of sea level rise globally and about 600 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere. The more rapid rate of melt has put a temporary damper on the rate of global atmospheric warming which has dipped to 1.11 C above 1880s values (just slightly higher than today). But much of this cooling is localized to the Southern Ocean and to an extreme cold pool in the North Atlantic between Northwestern Europe and Greenland.

There a massive outflow of fresh water has shut down the ocean’s ability to exchange heat with the atmosphere. AMOC has been vastly weakened. The Gulf Stream is backed up along the US East Coast and into the Gulf of Mexico. Heat is building in the Arctic opposite Greenland and all along the Equator. Temperature anomalies in the range of 17 degrees Celsius below average occur over the ocean fresh water pool. This drop is enough to generate year round winter like conditions in the cold pool region even as other sections of the atmosphere around it continue to warm or retain severe excess heat.

Energy imbalance at the top of the atmosphere rockets to between 2 and 4 Watts per meter squared. What this means is that, in failing to ventilate heat to the atmosphere in the North Atlantic and Southern Ocean, the world ocean system has continued to accumulate a massive amount of heat. Heat that is now going to work warming the ocean bottom and hitting the bases of the already rapidly melting land ice.

Sandy

(More superstorms in our future. If Hansen’s new research is correct storms like Sandy will grow both more powerful and more common as Greenland dumps ever increasing volumes of fresh water into the North Atlantic. Image Source: NASA.)

For the North Atlantic, it is the greatest of understatements to say that an area of perpetual winter surrounded by warming airs and sitting atop a warming deep ocean is a major storm generator. Summer time temperature deltas between the center of the cold pool will range from near zero C to 20s, 30s and 40s C over nearby ocean and continental land masses. It’s like taking the High Arctic and shifting it to Scotland while all the adjacent airs warm. Temperature gradient and baroclinic (pressure gradient) energy for storm generation will be on the order of something that modern humans have never experienced. The potential for superstorms in this model simulation will, notably be quite high.

Final Notes — Superstorm Conditions Could Emerge Sooner than Models Indicate

The point to consider here is that large scale land ice melt sets in place forces that result in a weather wip-lash of epic proportion. It’s been the heart of Hansen’s work for many decades and it’s an issue that we really need to consider as time goes forward. A dwindling time for response that may well be much shorter than even Hansen’s models indicate. First, ice sheet vulnerability may well be higher than IPCC officials imagine and we could well be on a slope of melt rate doublings in the range of 5-20 years now.

global sea level change

(Global sea level rise keeps hitting a steeper and steeper slope. Image source: Dr. James Hansen, Columbia University)

Second, Hansen’s models likely capture the atmospheric impact of such large-scale land ice melt later than would happen in the real world. This later capture is due to the fact that his low resolution models mix the ocean heat more with the atmosphere than would occur under the kinds of ocean stratification events that we are likely to see due to these doubling times. Third, and finally we return again to the paleoclimate time of the Eemian where there is ample evidence that a mere 0.5 to 1 meter per century rate of sea level rise due to melting Greenland and West Antarctic ice during that time set in place conditions to generate superstorms with high enough peak intensity to deposit massive boulders upon islands in the Atlantic and to carve the impression of gigantic, long-period waves into the sea bed.

Anyone reading this work and considering the notion that some of the greatest scientific minds this age has birthed could be right is immediately confronted with the realization that the gargantuan forces we are playing with are not to be trifled with. And yet, the trifling continues despite the wise and well considered scientific warning to relent.

Links:

Hansen Paper: Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms

Dr. James Hansen, Columbia University, Former NASA GISS Lead Scientist

Knutti and Sedlacek: Robustness and Uncertainties in Climate Model Projections

The Eemian

LANCE MODIS

Livescience — Topographic Map of Greenland Sans Ice Sheet

Ice Sheet Mass Balance and Climate Change

NASA: 10,000 Year Old Ice Shelf to Collapse by 2020

IPCC Sea Level Change

NASA Earth Data

Storms of My Grandchildren

 

Climate Refugees — Extreme Weather Displaced 157.8 Million People From 2008 to 2014

Does it seem to you that the weather is getting worse? Rainfall more intense, droughts drier, longer, more prolific, the strongest storms growing ever stronger? Well, in this case, seeming is all-too-real.

Four decades ago our climate was more placid. Global temperatures were about 0.5 C cooler than they are today. There was less available heat energy to pump up storms. The intensity of evaporation and precipitation was about 4 percent less than it is today and the pace of global warming due to an ongoing fossil fuel emission was slower. Our atmosphere has changed. It has become more dangerous. More capable of producing extreme and disrupting weather events.

Scale of displacement

Nearly 158 million people, or a number equivalent to just under half the population of the United States, were forced from their homes as a result of extreme weather over the past 7 years. It’s a number six times greater than those displaced by earthquakes, volcanoes or other geophysical causes. Individuals living on the Earth today are now at a 60 percent greater risk of being displaced — chiefly due to increases in extreme weather — than they were in 1975. Image source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

And it’s for these reasons that you and I are more vulnerable. More likely to become a casualty of worsening weather. For according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Agency, an agency that tracks the number of displaced persons globally, you and I are 60 percent more likely now to be forced from our homes by a natural disaster than we were in 1975.

The numbers at this point are pretty concerning. On average, over the past 7 years, 26 million people have been displaced by natural disasters in a single year during that period. For 2014, the count was 19.3 million, 17.5 million of which came from extreme weather events — a factor directly related to human-caused climate change. In total, weather disasters resulted in 157.8 million people being forced to flee their homes during the entire period from 2008 to 2014. Extreme weather — not warfare, volcanoes, or tsunami — is now the primary reason human beings are displaced. Droughts, wildfires, floods, powerful hurricanes, superstorms. A litany of self inflicted violence whose impacts we are continuing to worsen.

Displacement by hazard type

From 2008 to 2014, storms and floods resulted in 84% of natural disaster caused displacements. In 2014, storms and floods generated 91% of the total displacement. Image source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

The Impacts of Displacement Linger as Worsening Weather, Sea Level Rise Loom

Displacement caused by natural disasters is not an easy problem to fix. Anyone who suffered the loss of a home due to impacts related to Superstorm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina can attest to the fact that it often takes a long, long time to become re-established under a secure shelter. For this reason millions of people displaced by extreme weather disasters over the last few years have continued to live as a kind of climate refugee — forced to reside in tent villages or other temporary shelters. Reliant on government assistance because much of what they had, the storms destroyed. Often segregated from larger populations these groups suffer greater risk of falling into permanent poverty and contracting disease even as they are even more vulnerable to subsequent displacement from follow-on events.

As global warming intensifies and the risk of extreme weather events continues to increase, there is also an increasing risk that this expanding number of displaced persons will result in nation-destabilizing stresses in various regions of the world. Currently, the greatest number of displaced persons is centered in the high population density countries of Asia and the Caribbean. But as climate change begins to add another flood stress due to global sea level rise, it is likely that displacement will become ever more ubiquitous.

Even more concerning is the fact that the storms we see now are the early, easy outliers. The ‘small’ climate change weather demons that have already displaced more than 150 million people. Hansen’s Storms of our Grandchildren haven’t yet arrived in full force. And rates of sea level rise are just now starting to ramp up. Would that we had the wit, will, and wisdom to help prevent at least some of this unfolding tragedy. If we do not, there’s no fall back. We’re it.

Links:

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center

NOAA Temperature Graph

How Global Warming Wrecks the Jet Stream and Pumps up The Hydrological Cycle to Generate Extreme Weather

The Storms of My Grandchildren

 

 

The Polar Circulation is So Wrecked That Surface Winds Now Rotate Around Greenland

In a normal world, during a normal late fall and winter, cold air would concentrate over a thick northern ice pack near the North Pole. The sea ice would be dense enough, unbroken enough, to lock a warmer ocean away beneath. The cold air core would be encircled by strong winds — both in the upper levels and at the surface. An atmospheric cold zone that would tend to be pretty steady, taking strong weather anomalies to drive it off a firm base of chill air.

In today’s world, the Arctic Ocean is warming. Connected to an also warming world ocean, the waters provide a launching platform for the added, human-driven heat. The surface sea ice is thus far thinner — containing less than 50 percent of the volume it boasted during the late 1970s. And, during this time of year, an extraordinary overburden of greenhouse gasses (primarily CO2 and Methane) continuously traps extra long wave heat radiation throughout the dark winter night.

All that extra heat gathering over the Arctic Ocean makes the cold air core far less stable. More and more frequently it is driven from its previous haunt near the North Pole. A climate change refugee looking for a cold air pool as temporary asylum from the inexorably building heat.

To the south, the still solid but increasingly endangered ice sheets of Greenland provide, perhaps, the most likely haven. So as the high Arctic heats up, the cold air re-centers over Greenland. And the result is a rather odd configuration in which atmospheric currents begin to displace southward, encircling Greenland rather than the polar regions. A disruption that results in a ripple of changes throughout the Northern Hemisphere — including serious alterations to the storm track and a far greater likelihood of the extreme weather producing planetary wave patterns.

Observational Support for Cutting-Edge Theories

The above described scenario draws from a number of cutting edge scientific theories. The first is Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren theory — in which a combination of polar amplification and enhanced Greenland melt drive severe changes to the Northern Hemisphere storm track, resulting in nightmarish weather. The second is the enhanced planetary wave theory, proffered by Dr. Jennifer Francis, in which Arctic warming drives severe changes and distentions in the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream. The two theories are related in that Arctic warming, in both cases, is a primary driver of extraordinary climate and weather changes.

Thus far, we have seen growing evidence to support these theories, especially Dr. Francis’ theory, as ever since the mid 2000s we have observed an increasing prevalence of weak Jet Streams, strong planetary waves, and powerful meridional flows driving warm air into the polar zone, but also driving cold air out. Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren theory got a boost last year as a southward shifting cold air circulation ignited a powerful North Atlantic storm track that set off the roughest winter on record for England and the UK.

This year, we see similar weather phenomena related to these theories. The inundation of Buffalo with one year’s worth of snowfall in just two days was driven by a powerful planetary wave pattern directly associated with polar warming. A similar planetary wave is, today, threatening to dump more than a foot of snow across regions of the US Mid-Atlantic through New England. A January type winter storm on Thanksgiving that was preceded by 70 degree temperatures.

Not What Our Weather Models are Used to — The Greenland-Centered Cold Air Core

Today, we have yet one more pattern emerging that was predicted by these theories — polar air circulation centering around Greenland:

image

(Surface air flow encirclements of Greenland similar to conditions observed above were highly anomalous during the 20th Century. During the 21st Century, such a storm enhancing pattern is likely to become much more prevalent as an up-shot of human-driven polar warming. In the above shot, note the low spinning off Spain and heading toward Morocco off an anomalous and persistent dip in the Jet resulting from this abnormal pattern. More floods potentially on the way for that already hard-hit region. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In the above image, provided by Earth Nullschool and collecting data from US based global climate observations and models, we find warm air from the subtropical Atlantic being driven northward by first a mid-ocean high pressure system and then by a powerful low raging away off the southern tip of Greenland. The warm air flow rises north then joins with a continental flow rising off of Europe to cross the North Atlantic and the Barents Sea. Traveling along a cold frontal boundary sweeping out from Greenland, the warm air current surges up over Svalbard and toward the North Pole.

This warm air flow drives temperatures in a region within a couple hundred miles of the North Pole to 30.5 degrees Fahrenheit — warmer than current temperatures in central Pennsylvania and well over 36 degrees above average for this time of year in the far, far north:

image

(Svalbard and regions near the North Pole heat up as an extraordinary warm air wedge drives far, far north. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This extraordinarily warm air then becomes entrained in another low north of Greenland before following a polar air flow driving down over the Canadian Archipelago and Hudson Bay. A powerful north-south flow drawing over Baffin Bay into the strong low south of Greenland closes the loop. Thus we find Greenland encircled by winds, its cold air core far offset from the pole as the region over the Arctic Ocean warms.

As we can see in the surface wind map (top map), the surface air flow is running a complete circuit ’round Greenland. The result is that the cold air core driving NH atmospheric circulation at the surface is now centered over Greenland and Baffin Bay. It is displaced many hundreds of miles south of the North Pole. And the North Pole itself has become over-run by a warm air flow at the periphery of the cold air circulation’s center.

Upper level wind patterns are similarly disrupted with a cold upper air low churning away over Baffin Bay and a second cold core circulating over Central Siberia. In both cases, in the upper levels near the Jet and at the surface, the region of the Arctic Ocean is disassociated from the cold air centers and related atmospheric circulation. A set of conditions that has come to very well resemble those predicted by Dr. Francis, or worse, look more like a precursor to Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren scenario.

In this case, for today, the weather observations match the warming-induced pattern just as predicted.

Mainstream Weather Coverage Abused by Changing Climates (I’m Looking at You, Weather Channel)

Mainstream meteorologists, including those at the Weather Channel, continue to cover current weather as if it is occurring under traditional conditions while only providing sideways references to cutting edge science related to observed atmospheric warming. A new subset of the science that provides much greater insight into what may actually be happening and is a very useful tool for weather prediction in the currently altered and radically changing climate state.

Unless such meteorologists begin paying attention to the anomalous changes that are plainly visible in the observational data (changes that I have no trouble finding and identifying after reading the science provided by Hansen and Francis) they will be left behind by events that are increasingly dissonant to their current institutional understanding. A cautionary tale that European meteorologists, baffled by failures of climate models to predict record floods from training of low pressure systems into Morrocco off a persistent and anomalous dip in the Jet Stream this week, can bear testament to.

Like geologists who failed to take into account for plate tectonics theory in the mid 20th Century, meteorologists adhering to old weather prediction methods risk becoming outmoded and less relevant to current, and rapidly evolving, climate realities. The new global warming science both bears out in the observational data and in its usefulness to predict extreme events — so, for the sake of accuracy, it needs to be included.

Links and Credits:

The University of Maine

Something Our Weather Models Aren’t Used To

Earth Nullschool

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Dr. Jennifer Francis

Dr. James Hansen

Hat Tip to Mark From New England

The Weather Channel’s Weather Geeks (Who Need to Wake up and Smell the Polar Amplification)

Climate Change Plays Havoc With World’s Weather as Europe/UK Fear Storms This Fall and Winter

Today, as in recent years, we see ample evidence that extra heat in the atmosphere and oceans can severely alter weather around the world.

We are seeing the impacts in Brazil where Sao Paulo reservoirs are now at 4.5 percent capacity and millions are suffering from inadequate and dwindling water supplies. We see similar stress in California where the worst drought in decades is forcing some communities to truck in water. In Syria the situation is even more dire — on the scale of a humanitarian nightmare — where a multi-year drought has destabilized government and spurred violent extremism to surge through an already troubled region.

Eastern Brazil Oct 15

(Sao Paulo region of Eastern Brazil clearly visible through a mostly cloudless but smoke-filled satellite shot on October 15. Note both the dessicated, browned land of a normally green region together with the steely gray smoke funneling in from wildfires both near Sao Paulo and further north in the drying Amazon rainforest. Intense heat and lack of rainfall combines with fires to create a pallor of smog over much of Brazil also visible here. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

In a warming world, drought and deluge are far more common. The added heat increases the rate of evaporation and amplifies the hydrological cycle such that the atmosphere holds 6 to 7.5 percent more moisture per each degree Celsius of heating. This is roughly equal to an increase in the rate of evaporation and precipitation by 6 to 7.5 percent as well. So where droughts occur, they will tend to be more severe and where strong storms develop, they will tend to dump even heavier volumes of rainfall. And a warming of the polar regions coincident with snow and ice loss, plays havoc with both the Jet Stream and traditional storm tracks even as the increased instability generates ever-more-powerful storms.

For a Europe facing off against an Atlantic and Arctic undergoing these wrenching changes, the story is altogether related. Sections of Southern France over a recent six week period received enough rain for an entire year. The Mediterranean waters off this region had heated to between 3 and 4 C above average dumping an intense load of moisture into a hungry upper level low that delivered storm after storm to the beleaguered regions. One spate of deluge dumped a full six months of water from the skies in just three hours.

Meanwhile, the UK may now be staring down a fall and winter season that may bring with it a return to the terrible and historic storms witnessed just last year.

monster storm UK

(Monster storm that bombed out to 952 mb on Wednesday lashes the UK and Ireland with rain and gales on Friday and Hurricane Gonzalo threatens Bermuda. Gonzalo is set to make an eastward turn across the Atlantic and will possibly impact the UK as a tropical storm by Monday or Tuesday of next week. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

This week, one such storm swelled to extraordinary intensity in the North Atlantic. On Tuesday and Wednesday it bombed out to a powerful 952 mb monster, filling up most of the Ocean between Newfoundland, Greenland and Europe, casting gales on into the UK and Ireland. It sent storm surges up rivers — forcing them to top their banks, lashed the isles with rainstorms that flooded Belfast, damaged hundreds of homes and sent officials scrambling to assure an already storm-weary public that they were better prepared for such events than last year.

The current storm is expected to rake through the UK and Ireland throughout this weekend before fading off toward the north. As it lifts, hurricane Gonzalo — now packing 125 mph winds and threatening Bermuda — is forecast to surge into the UK with tropical storm intensity come Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Gonzalo path

(Forecast path for Gonzalo shows a tropical storm off Ireland by Monday morning. Image source: NOAA.)

The 1-2 punch is reminiscent of a relentless series of storms that battered the UK this past winter. A sequence spurred by extraordinary and unprecedented changes to the North Atlantic climate including a slowing of the Gulf Stream, a powerful warming of surface waters in the Arctic, major losses to sea ice in almost all Arctic seas, and increasing cold, fresh water outflows from Greenland. The net effect is to enhance storm track intensity across the Atlantic as warmer waters and airs surge northward coming increasingly into contact with cold polar air and generating powerful and intense storms during the winter, fall, and spring seasons.

With global temperatures flirting with new record highs and with El Nino possibly flaring to life in the Pacific, the end of 2014 and the start to 2015 is altogether likely to see a continuation of such intense, extreme weather. Weather that is severe enough to cause damage and disruption in some areas or even powerful enough to throw whole cities and regions into instability.

Just a few of the tragic results of a warming climate as we approach the 1 C above 1880s temperatures mark.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

NOAA

North Atlantic Ramping up to ‘Storms of My Grandchildren’

How Climate Change Wrecks the Jet Stream and Amps Up the Hydrological Cycle to Cause Dangerous Weather

How Climate Change Helped ISIS

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Bernard

 

British Isles Endure Endless Barrage of Storms: North Atlantic Riled By Human Warming Forecast to Assault UK With At Least Three More Powerful Cyclones Over Next 7 Days

British Isles Beset By Tempests on February 5, 2014

(The British Isles, upper right, beset by tempests on February 5, 2014. One storm is located over the western coasts of the UK as two convergent storms lurk to the northwest and southwest respectively. Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

Never-ending storms.

It’s been the litany for the United Kingdom ever since December unleashed her fury on the island nation’s rocky coasts. Then, the isles witnessed their windiest month ever in a series of storm events that threw about 100 ton boulders and reshaped coastal cliffs as if they were child’s toys. A month later, the wettest January on record cut off entire towns from road transport while flooding thousands of hectares of low-lying farmland. Now, with 23 straight days of rain occurring in January and with February hot on its heels, it appears that the UK may see its wettest winter in at least 100 years. 

The severe weather tally listed by the UK Met Office just goes on and on. Some highlights:

  • December was the 5th wettest month on record. January was the wettest. Combined, the January-December period was the wettest such period for at least 100 years.
  • There were more days of rain for January than for any month dating back 100 years.
  • For Southern England the period since December 12th was likely the wettest in 258 years.
  • Five months (153 days) worth of typical rainfall occurred in the 50 day period from December 12 to January 31.

This week, according to reports from BBC News, the most recent major storm of February 4-6 had cut off rail transport to a section of southwestern England even as coastal towns were besieged by mountainous surf and tens of thousands again lost power. The endless assault of wind, waves and rain also left buildings damaged, destroyed or undercut even as numerous coastal towns were left awash in the rising surf. Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, and Dawlish bore the heaviest blows as a massive sea wall protecting these coastal towns suffered severe damage. The rail line, riding along the back of the sea wall, was severed on Wednesday when a section of the wall was ripped out by battering waves and the overlaying rail buckled due to loss of support. A train, stranded on the tracks due to this damage, was battered by waves for nearly an hour before the passengers could be evacuated.

UK Coast Storm

(Massive waves over-top the sea wall to inundate Chesil Beach in Dorset, England. Image source: Paul McEvily.)

The ongoing assault of extreme weather has finally spurred an anemic UK government into action — calling up the military and releasing 230 million pounds in emergency funds. The aim is to provide effective response to the current disaster in a long string that has now extended to nearly two months and continues to serve up powerful storms delivering heavy rains and hurricane-force winds with almost bi-weekly frequency.

Conservatives, who had been ideologically opposed to responses to human-caused climate change (which they seem to believe they can wish away), appear to have been caught flat-fooded by the recent string of disasters as the government had cut funding to flood prevention efforts by more than 10% over 2013. These cuts took place at the same time that some of the wettest spring-time weather on record abruptly switched to extreme summer drought and wildfires and as climatologists were increasingly warning of severe weather risks for both the UK and Europe as the globe continued to warm. Climate change, on the other hand, suffered from no such lack of clarity — battering England with a two month period of record shattering weather that is likely to extend at least through February.

Three more strong storms on the way

After so long an intense period of storminess, one would expect a bit of respite. For what the UK has suffered amounts to the fury of a nearly two month long hurricane. But there is yet no rest for storm-ravaged England. NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center, the Euro, and the GFS models all predict a powerful 950 mb storm to rush into England on the 8th. This storm is expected to be at least as potent as the most recent disaster with a wide field of hurricane force winds and heavy rains:

A_48hrbw

(The 48 hour forecast from NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center hows a 950 mb low centered directly over the UK on February 8th. This storm is predicted to bring hurricane force winds and heavy rains to the already battered British Isles. Image source: Ocean Prediction Center/NOAA.)

Just 3 days later, on the 11th, the Euro model shows another 950 mb or stronger storm ravaging the English coast. And that storm has barely time to leave before a 958 mb tempest arrives hot on its heels by February 14th. So as far as the 10 day model runs extend, we are still in a situation of wall-to-wall storminess of hurricane intensity for England.

Greenland melt, warming tropics, a slowing Gulf Stream and a Mangled Jet

So what brought us to this pass? And what can we expect for the future?

For almost two decades, climate scientists have warned that a combination of Greenland melt, a relative cooling and freshening of the North Atlantic near Greenland and a slowing of the Gulf Stream would likely result in a number of increasingly severe storms. In the long-term model runs, these storms became even more intense as the tropics warmed and the ice-berg effect caused the area near Greenland to cool. The ever-increasing temperature differentials were predicted to cause major instability. It was the likelihood that massive storms would result from this interplay of increasing heat and increasing melt that, in part, spurred James Hansen to write his seminal work The Storms of My Grandchildren.

More recently, scientists such as Dr. Jennifer Francis have warned that polar sea ice retreat was causing in a weakening of the Jet Stream, creating the potential for very severe weather situations during the Fall, Winter, and Spring months as well as heightening the number of more persistent weather patterns called blocking patterns. In addition, since 2004, we have observed a slowing of the Gulf Stream by 10-15% even as Greenland melt rapidly intensified.

These changes, by 2012-2013 appeared to be, with increasing frequency, delivering severe weather to Europe. During this time, the region suffered one of its most severe Winter-Spring periods on record. And with the English storms, the Italian floods and the Balkan snows, 2013-2014 looks like a disastrous repeat.

Unfortunately, we are likely just at the start of a period of increasingly severe weather. Greenland melt will continue to ramp up, the Gulf Stream will continue to weaken, the Jet Stream will undergo radical change as the center of cold weakens and bounces around the Northern Hemisphere, trying to find a home. And human caused global warming will continue to add heat energy, increased rates of evaporation, and instability to the equation. So we are in the period where the storms grow worse and worse over time. And this is a fact we had better get used to. Something we had better prepare for and do our best to mitigate. For it is not something a comfortable denial can simply wish away.

Links:

NASA/Lance-Modis

The UK Witnesses its Stormiest Months on Record

UK Met Office Shows Record-Shattering Winter Weather

UK Storms Destroy Rail Line and Leave Thousands Without Power

Paul McEvily

Ocean Prediction Center/NOAA

How Global Warming Weakens the Jet Stream and Amps up the Hydrological Cycle to Cause Extreme Weather

Weakening Gulf Stream Causing East Coast Sea Level Rise

Greenland’s Record of Increasing Melt

Thousands Driven From Homes by European Floods

North Atlantic Ramping up to ‘Storms of My Grandchildren’ to set off Major Flood Event for Tempest-Tossed England?

Storms Reshape England's Coastline

(Storms Reshape England’s Coastline during Winter of 2013-2014. Image source: AGU)

Under the ongoing insults of human-caused climate change, the North Atlantic is ground zero for the potential development of the worst storms humankind has ever experienced. And indications are that the ramping up to this dangerous time may well be starting now.

The temperature related weather instabilities between the warming North Atlantic, the melting but still frigid ice packs of Greenland, the retreating polar sea ice, a continental North America enduring a series of polar vortex collapse events flushing cold air south as the Arctic experiences its warmest readings in an age, and an interior Europe and Asia that are also experiencing mass migrations of cold air fleeing the ever-warmer Arctic are just screaming.

A bite of warm air and related warm ocean water has flooded a large region between Scandinavia, Svalbard and Novaya Zemlya, making its home where winter sea ice once resided. The waters near Greenland are now melt-cooled by the 500 gigatons of average annual glacial outflow occurring there. And the never-ending influx and concentration of heat in the Arctic has set the Jet Stream into a fit of wild loops and whirls.

All these changes result in a high degree of weather instability, in a setting off of extreme weather events, of great switches from cool, to extreme hot, from record drought to record deluge. In the past few years we’ve seen these kinds of extreme weather events occur with increasing frequency. But now, a new kind of extreme event is beginning to emerge, a kind of event that may well be prelude to ‘The Storms of My Grandchildren’ Dr James Hansen alluded to in his prescient book examining the ultimate consequences of an ongoing and devastating human greenhouse gas emission.

The Breeder of Storms: Our Warming-Ravaged North Atlantic

Ever since winter began to settle in, and the extreme effects of Northern Hemisphere temperature imbalance and Jet Stream changes began to take hold, the North Atlantic has become a breeder of extraordinarily powerful storms. According to reports from NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center, the month of December alone featured 14 instances of hurricane wind events, 10 storms that experienced rapid intensification, and 5 storms that featured pressures of 950 mb or lower.

For comparison, a tropical storm that hits 950 mb is usually a category 5 hurricane. And for any ocean basin to show 14 instances of hurricane force winds let alone 5 950 mb and below storms over a one month period is extraordinary indeed. Imagine if the south Atlantic generated 10 hurricanes 5 of which were cat 5 in just one month and then you get a general comparison.

Two of these storms were particularly intense with one reaching 940 mb and another deepening to an exceptionally low 929 mb (the lowest reading ever recorded for the North Atlantic was 916 mb). By comparison, the freakish monster that was Hurricane Sandy bottomed out at 940 mb.

It is worth noting that the storms of the North Atlantic typically spread their energy out over larger areas than a tropical system. So though pressures are low enough to be comparible with the most intense tropical storms, the winds generated typically ranged from 75 to 100 mph while extending outward over hundreds of miles. By comparison, a typical tropical cyclone would have a very intense wind field within 20 to 100 miles of its center with intensity rapidly falling off beyond this zone.

Overall, the North Atlantic sees very few storms of 940 mb or lower, usually at the average rate of less than one every year. So for two to occur in the same month is exceptional indeed.

929 mb low raking the coast of England on Christmas Eve

(929 mb low rakes England with hurricane force winds on Christmas Eve, 2013. Image source: Lance-Modis.)

January also featured an almost endless cavalcade of intense storms rushing across the North Atlantic with numerous lows bottoming out below 950 mb (NOAA will issue a final tally sometime in February). Meanwhile, powerful storms developing in the North Atlantic continually pummeled Europe throughout most of the winter of 2012-2013 resulting in some of the worst rain and snowfall events ever recorded.

This recent climate-change driven shift of the North Atlantic into an increasingly stormy weather pattern may well be a prelude to even more extreme changes to come. Weather models produced by GISS and examined by premier climate scientist James Hansen indicate that very powerful storms arise in conjunction with increasing Greenland melt. Large pulses of fresh, cold water entering the North Atlantic were observed to create climate instabilities that resulted in very powerful storms with frontal systems the size of continents that packed the punch of hurricanes in the physical model runs. It was the likelihood that such storms could emerge by or before mid-century that, in part, spurred Dr. Hansen to write his prescient book — The Storms of My Grandchildren.

As noted above, the current Greenland melt outflow averages about 500 gigatons each year. This outflow is already large enough to weaken the Gulf Stream and set off severe weather instabilities. But with Arctic warming continuing to amplify and Jet Stream patterns bringing more and more warm air over Greenland, melt rates may triple or more over the coming decades, resulting in even more severe weather consequences. So the extreme storm patterns we see emerging in the North Atlantic now are likely just a minor prelude when compared to what we will witness as the years and decades progress.

England in the Firing Line: Windiest December Precedes Wettest January

Currently in the direct firing line of these powerful storms are the main islands of the United Kingdom. Throughout December, England suffered an almost constant assault of storms. In total, five storms, or more than one storm per week brought excessive rains and wind gusts in excess of hurricane force to the British Isles. The results were tens of thousands of power outages, major waves and storm surge events along the coastline resulting in damage to coastal structures and persons being swept out to sea, and increasing instances of flooding over saturated ground.

On record, December 2014 was one of the stormiest ever seen for the British Isles. According to weather data, the month was the windiest since record keeping began in 1969:

Wind Gust Measure Met

(Image source: UK Met Office)

In addition, December also ranked one of the rainiest with many locations seeing 3 times the normal level of rainfall for the month.

As the new year began, the series of severe storms impacting the UK continued unabated through late January. And as of the 28th, South England had experienced its wettest month since record keeping began in 1910. With a month and a half still remaining Southeast England had already experienced its 6th wettest winter season on record.

UK Rainfall

(Southeast UK Rainfall from 1910 to present with 2010 easily setting a new record. Image source: Met Office)

Dr Richard Dixon, director of FES Scotland when commenting in a Guardian interview about the most recent spate of anomalous UK weather noted:

“November and December were record breakers in Scotland, with storm after storm hitting around Christmas. Climate change is bringing chaos to our weather, not just increasing global temperatures but affecting ocean currents and global air currents. Scotland is caught between the changing influences of disappearing Arctic ice, the shifting jet stream and a weakening Gulf Stream. It is no wonder our weather is becoming less and less predictable. The consequences for us are more extreme weather, including more flooding.”

Very Dangerous Flood Situation for Southwesr England: Powerful Storm on the Way

The extreme rainfall, as of today, had resulted in a major flood event for Southeast England focusing on the Midlands and Somerset. The event inundated croplands, homes and farms throughout the rural region and spurred England to put its military on standby as forecasts show more rain and high winds are on the way. The anomalous event also spurred the 15th meeting of COBRA, the UK’s emergency response committee which has, increasingly, been called due to a continuous barrage of weather emergencies.

Somerset Floods

(Aerial photo showing homes, businesses and a vast area of land flooded in Somerset, England. Image Source: David Hedges)

In addition to the clearly visible inundation, numerous villages in the region have been cut off due to flooded roads for more than a week (with some areas being cut off for a month). The constant barrage of storms has resulted in both persistently high tides and almost continuous rainfall. The rainfall, trapped by high sea water, has nowhere to escape and simply pools, continuing to build up in the low-lying lands.

The UK’s conservative government’s response to the situation, thus far, has been anemic, waiting until today to declare the region a disaster area.

Unfortunately, another powerful storm is predicted to arrive by Saturday bringing with it yet one more spate of strong winds, heavy surf and driving rainfall to the already soaked region.

Saturday Forecast Map NOAA

(NOAA forecast map for Saturday. Note a powerful 953 mb storm forecast to impact the UK with 70+ mph winds and heavy rainfall. Image source: NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center)

So if you’re living in Southeast England please do your best to remain safe, to heed government warnings, and to urge your government officials to provide you with the level of response you deserve during this dangerous time (including policy changes to reduce the rapidly increasing degree of harm coming from human caused climate change).

Early Storms Minor by Comparison

It is worth noting that, though more intense than we’re used to, these storms are the early, weaker outliers of a very dangerous period that is to follow. Our best models and our best climate scientists report the likelihood of far more dangerous storms emerging from this region and from the set of conditions that includes a weakening Gulf Stream, a melting Greenland, an amped up hydrological cycle and rapidly warming zones first at the northern polar region and then in the tropics. The eventual size of these storms could expand to cover continents and involve multiple linked and powerful storm centers. As noted above, Hansen warned of frontal storms large enough to blanket continents and with areas of hurricane strength winds stretching thousands of miles. We haven’t seen anything like that yet. And so the freakish and extraordinary weather we’ve witnessed this winter, and in recent years, is merely prologue for worse events to follow.

Links:

AGU

NASA: Lance-Modis

NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center

UK Met Office: Winter Storms December 2013 to January 2014

Parts of England See Wettest January Since Records Began

UK Floods: January Rain Breaks Records in Parts of England

Colorado Bob’s Climate Feed

The Storms of My Grandchildren

Greenland Melt Exceeds Summer Maximum in Early June. “Storms of My Grandchildren” on the Horizon?

greenland_melt_area_plotJun11

(Image source: NSIDC)

According to reports from NSIDC, Greenland ice sheet melt had exceeded average summer maximum values by Tuesday, June 11th, about a month and a half earlier than normal.

On Tuesday, about 24% of the Greenland ice sheet had experienced melting. This value is about 1% higher than the usual summer maximum of 23% melt coverage.

2013’s early, widespread melt follows just one year after melt covered nearly all the Greenland ice sheet for days during July of 2012. 2012’s melt was the strongest for Greenland in at least 120 years. For 2013 melt values to approach or meet 2012 melt values would further reinforce a powerful increase in Greenland melt that has occurred since the 1990s. Since that time, the rate of Greenland melt has more than tripled.

June 2013 has established a trend of rapidly increasing melt that sets in place conditions for past record values to potentially be challenged. As such, it is well worth monitoring conditions as they develop.

greenland_melt_nomeltJun11

(Visual of Greenland melt coverage on June 12th. Image source: NSIDC)

Scientists now are at odds over how fast Greenland melt will increase. Some believe a linear increase in melt is most likely while others believe that exponential increases in Greenland ice sheet melt are not out of the question. Should the increasing pace of melt for Greenland continue, powerful changes in the weather, especially for Europe and North America are in store. This winter and spring’s extreme weather over much of Europe may just be a foretaste of what is to come.

Storms of My Grandchildren on the Horizon

Massive melt from Greenland by or before mid-century means large volumes of fresh water in the North Atlantic. These high volumes of fresh water could substantially slow or even halt the Gulf Stream. Present measures of Gulf Stream circulation already show the current slowing. If these trends continue, the replacement of this warm water stream with cold water from Greenland will radically alter northern hemisphere weather.

The Weather Channel provided a brief summary of some of the possible impacts of slowing Gulf Stream currents here.

Even worse, under human caused climate change, a cooling of the North Atlantic occurs at about the same time tropical and temperate region temperatures begin to rapidly rise. This creates a high gradient between cold air near Greenland and warm air directly to the south. The result, according to models, is powerful storms never seen before in human memory.

In “The Storms of My Grandchildren,” NASA scientist James Hansen warned of the potential for frontal storms large enough to span continents and packing the punch of hurricanes. Is is just these kinds of storms that rapid Greenland melt combined with intensified warming at the tropics could set off.

The conditions for these events appears to be ramping up now and could be present, in the worst case, by as soon as the 2030s. In the meantime, weather conditions are likely to continue to deteriorate as a combination of sea ice melt and Greenland ice sheet melt play havoc with traditional weather patterns.

Alterations to the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream as demonstrated by the work of Dr. Jennifer Francis is one such change that is already present. And this alteration has already resulted in several instances of enhanced severe weather.

Meanwhile, in more southerly regions, we find that the seasons for tropical storm development are lengthening. Dr. Jeff Masters of WeatherUnderground made the following statement in reference to the early June formation of Tropical Storm Andrea:

Andrea’s formation in June continues a pattern of an unusually large number of early-season Atlantic named storms we’ve seen in recent years. Climatologically, June is the second quietest month of the Atlantic hurricane season, behind November. During the period 1870 – 2012, we averaged one named storm every two years in June, and 0.7 named storms per year during May and June. In the nineteen years since the current active hurricane period began in 1995, there have been fifteen June named storms (if we include 2013′s Tropical Storm Andrea.) June activity has nearly doubled since 1995, and May activity has more than doubled (there were seventeen May storms in the 75-year period 1870 – 1994, compared to 6 in the 19-year period 1995 – 2013.) Some of this difference can be attributed to observation gaps, due to the lack of satellite data before 1966.

So storminess increases at the tropics and storminess increases at the poles. When these two conditions meet, the potential exists for amazingly powerful and freakish storms similar to, but even worse, than Hurricane Sandy. It is the potential of global warming to set in place conditions where powerful storms can combine, persist, and expand over vast areas that is a threat we must consider as Greenland melt continues to increase, Arctic sea ice melt progresses, and warming in the tropics and temperate zones continues to expand.

Links:

NSIDC

The Weather Channel Observes Slowing Gulf Stream

The Storms of My Grandchildren

WeatherUnderground

Masters: Hurricane Season Getting Longer

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