Advertisements

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

ev-volumes

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

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

Rising EV Quality, Lower Cost Helps to Drive Adoption Rates

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

chevy-bolt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better Access to Charging Infrastructure, Faster Charging, Superior Performance

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

tesla-superchargers-destination-chargers

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

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

Helping to Combat Global Climate Change

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

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

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

Links:

Dramatic Plug in Vehicle Sales Growth During 2016

EVs Will Soon Be Cheaper Than Regular Cars

Norway to Ban Petrol Vehicle Sales

Chevy Bolt

New Nissan Leaf With 200 Mile Range is Coming

Tesla Model S

Chevy Bolt vs Model S

Electric Buses Regenerate City Planning

BYD Sells 50 Electric Buses to Argentina

Seattle Buses to be All-Electric

Gas2 — More Tesla Charging Stations

Hat tip to JPL

Advertisements

The Methane Bomb, Clathrates, and Arctic Tundra. Life in a World at 1830 Parts Per Billion and Rising.

As the world hit a new and ominous CO2 record of 400 parts per million and rising, just one milestone on the road toward ever greater harm from damage via human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, another record was quietly reached. At the Mauna Loa Observatory, world-wide methane levels hit a new record average of 1830 parts per billion in April of 2013 even as they continued to ramp higher.

Methane 2003-2013

(Image source: NOAA ESRL)

The new record follows a short-term rise in atmospheric methane that began in 2007 and has continued to this day. It also caps a long-term rise in methane that began at the start of the industrial revolution and, through a long ramp-up, has resulted in atmospheric methane levels rising from about 750 parts per billion to the record high level of 1830 parts per billion today.

You can view this long-term rise in atmospheric methane in the second chart, provided by NASA, below. Note that atmospheric levels given are only updated through 2008, just at the start of the most recent jump in atmospheric methane concentrations:

greenhouse_gases_1750-2008

(Image source: NASA)

This ramping up of atmospheric methane that began in 1750 and has continued to this day has, so far, been mostly caused by humans. Primary sources for human methane emissions include landfills, coal mining, leaks from oil and gas infrastructure, and the digestive generation of methane in the guts of livestock animals such as cattle. An explosion in the volume of methane coming from these sources pushed world methane levels about 1080 parts per billion higher over the last 250 years.

This increase has had a powerful impact on global warming caused by humans. It is estimated that, at current concentrations, methane’s contribution to global warming is about 28% that of CO2. The reason for this, even though atmospheric levels for methane are more than 200 times lower than CO2, is that methane is at least 25 times as potent a heat absorber by volume (and as much as 105 times during the short term). What this means is that atmospheric methane increases are a huge contributor to climate change.

Now, I want to stop here before going any further. And the reason is that some oil industry cheer leaders have made the false argument that reducing human methane emissions is more important to mitigating the impact of climate change than reducing CO2 levels. The short answer to this false claim is that they’re both important and there’s no way to address human climate change without reducing both CO2 and methane emissions. And, since there’s at least 500 parts per million worth of CO2 in the remaining fossil fuel reserves, for us to maintain much hope of a livable future climate will necessitate that most of these fuels remain unburned or that the carbon from these fuels is captured and permanently sequestered.

Human-caused warming results in increasing methane release from Earth’s environment

Unfortunately, humans are no longer the only contributor to rising levels of atmospheric methane. New research being conducted by NSIDC, NASA, and a number of scientists around the world show that organic material stored in the world’s permafrost and methane clathrates at the bottom of the ocean are showing signs of stirring.

Permafrost is a region of frozen soil that dominates large sections of the Northern Hemisphere and the entire continent of Antarctica. This image, provided as part of NASA’s CARVE research project, shows the Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost zones.

Northern Hemisphere Permafrost NASA CARVE

(Image source: NASA)

As humans have driven the climate to warm, larger and larger sections of the northern permafrost have been subject to thaw. As the permafrost thaws, it opens organic material, sequestered for tens of thousands of years, to decay. If the region where the permafrost melts is predominantly wet, the organic material breaks down into methane. If the region is primarily dry, carbon dioxide is produced.

The volume of organic material locked in permafrost is massive. In fact, NSIDC shows that there are about 1,400 gigatons of carbon locked up in the world’s permafrost. This is nearly twice the volume of all the carbon currently contained in the atmosphere. For even a small fraction of this carbon to be released via human warming would have dramatic consequences. And, since many regions in the Arctic are predominantly wet, a large portion of any future release is likely to be methane.

Already, research is beginning to indicate that carbon stores in the Arctic are being set free by human-caused warming. In NASA’s most recent press release describing its CARVE research mission, entitled “Is a Sleeping Giant Stirring in the Arctic,” NASA scientists were said to have found large methane emission sources comparable to major cities.

“Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we’ve measured have been large, and we’re seeing very different patterns from what models suggest,” Charles Miller, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said. “We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze. To cite another example, in July 2012 we saw methane levels over swamps in the Innoko Wilderness that were 650 parts per billion higher than normal background levels. That’s similar to what you might find in a large city.”

If methane emissions from the Arctic permafrost via human-caused warming are beginning to rival those of major human sources, then we could be in for some rather serious trouble. CARVE’s mission is to find out if such a threat is emerging. Early observations are, as one NASA researcher put it, “both amazing and potentially troubling.”

The Clathrate Gun

Potentially even more troubling is the possibility that seabed methane stores locked in ice, known as clathrates, may also be starting to destabilize.

Worldwide, there is estimated to be between 1,600 and 2,000 gigatons of carbon locked in clathrates (or methane hydrates) on the bottom of the ocean. This is a massive store of carbon is at least two times the amount currently in the atmosphere. As with permafrost, if even a small amount of this methane reached the atmosphere, it would have powerful global warming impacts.

The problem is that human warming, via CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, is currently causing the world’s oceans to heat up. In fact, the oceans are accumulating heat faster than expected. You can see the pace of this increasing heat content in the graph below:

Trenberthstudy

(Image source: Trenberth study)

And since clathrates are ice structures that are only stable in a narrow range of temperatures, any warming of the oceans, especially the deep oceans where clathrates are primarily stored, results in risk that the clathrates will melt, releasing their methane.

Unfortunately, we have emerging evidence showing that sea-bed clathrates are starting to destabilize. One set of evidence, produced by Shakhova, began to emerge in 2007. Shakhova’s study: Methane Release and Coastal Environment in The East Siberian Arctic Shelf illustrated how sea-bed methane in the region of the East Siberian Sea was venting into the ocean and even up through the thawing permafrost. A later survey of sea-bed methane releases, also conducted by Shakhova, found stunning one kilometer wide plumes of methane bubbling up from the ocean in the region of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. In thhe report, published in The Independent, Igor Semiletov, Shakhova’s co-author, noted:

Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr Semiletov said.

“I was most impressed by the sheer scale and the high density of the plumes.  Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them,” he said.

Another study, this one conducted off the US East Coast, found that methane depositions on the Continental Shelf were also starting to destabilize. The study, published in Nature, showed that changes in the Gulf Stream and an unusual level of warming off the eastern seaboard of the United States was destabilizing a 10,000 square kilometer region rich in sea-bed methane. The study warned:

A changing Gulf Stream has the potential to thaw and convert hundreds of gigatonnes of frozen methane hydrate trapped below the sea floor into methane gas, increasing the risk of slope failure and methane release…

Evidence of Growing Trouble

Though not yet conclusive, the current permafrost studies by NASA and others combine with growing scientific evidence of sea-bed methane destabilization to provide a rather stark warning. Human warming via greenhouse gas emissions is beginning to push Earth to release some of her carbon stocks. These stocks, contained in tundra and sea-bed methane, are now showing signs of disturbance and are visibly starting to contribute to atmospheric carbon. It is worth noting that tipping points may be fast approaching and could run away from us rather rapidly.

As such, all efforts should be made to reduce worldwide human CO2 and methane emissions as rapidly as possible. Over the past 250 years, humans have contributed a large and growing forcing to the world’s climate. Now, emissions have grown to vast and dangerous levels even as Earth’s systems are reaching their carbon storage limits. Major feedbacks and threatening changes are likely in store if we don’t dramatically draw down emissions soon.

Evidence of methane coming from the Earth system should, therefore, serve as a warning, one we would well be wise to heed.

Links:

Recent Changes to the Gulf Stream Causing Widespread Gas Hydrate Destabilization

NOAA ESRL

NASA

Distinctive Climate Signals in Reanalysis of Global Ocean Heat Content

Vast Methane Plumes Seen In Arctic Ocean as Sea Ice Retreats

Human CO2 Emissions Continue to Play Russian Roulette With Clathrate Gun

CO2 Levels Rose 6 Parts Per Million in Two Years. Are the Earth’s Carbon Sinks Starting to Fill Up?

mlo_two_years

(Image source: Keeling Curve)

In May of 2011, worldwide CO2 levels hit a yearly maximum of 394 parts per million. At the most recent average rate of CO2 increase (about 2 parts per million each year), the world would have hit 400 parts per million by 2014. Instead, that number was reached 1 year sooner.

It was a faster rate of atmospheric carbon increase — about 3 parts per million rise each year — that resulted in the world rocketing to the new milestone sooner than expected.

Pace of Rise Accelerating

The pace of atmospheric CO2 increase, at the time measurements began in the late 1950s, was about 1 part per million each year. This pace of increase steadily rose to an average of 2 parts per million each year during the late 1990s. By the end of the first decade of the 21rst Century, average rates of increase were about 2.2 parts per million.

This accelerating pace of CO2 accumulation has been driven, largely, by a vast increase in the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. In the late 1950s, the world dumped about 8 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. By 2012, that number had nearly quadrupled to 31.6 gigatons.

IEA World Carbon Emissions

(Image Source: IEA Report: Re-Drawing the Energy/Climate Map) (And a Hat-Tip to Climate Progress for digging it up)

But Carbon Sinks Keep Pace with Rising Emissions

You’ll notice that though carbon emissions nearly quadrupled, the average pace of atmospheric carbon increases only slightly more than doubled. The reason for this is that as global emissions rose, the amount of carbon absorbed by the oceans and the land also dramatically increased. So both the oceans and land together continued to absorb about 50% of all the carbon our factories and automobiles spat out.

The remaining fraction still ended up in the atmosphere. And so we still saw a rapid increase in global CO2 levels. But not so rapid as we would have if carbon sinks weren’t helping us by drawing down half of the CO2 we were dumping.

CO2 Sinks Graph

(Image source: NOAA)

…Until They Become Exhausted

Unfortunately, carbon sinks are a finite resource. As such, scientists expect them to eventually lag in their ability to uptake ever greater volumes of our greenhouse gas emissions. This is especially true with the oceans which a number of scientific reports show are starting to reach their saturation point.

According to a recent NOAA report:

“The uptake of carbon dioxide by the oceans and by ecosystems is expected to slow down gradually,” Tans [one of the report’s authors] said. Oceans, for example, are already becoming more acidic as they absorb about a quarter of the carbon dioxide pumped into the air by human activities. “As the oceans acidify, we know it becomes harder to stuff even more CO2 into the oceans,” Tans said. “We just don’t see a letup, globally, yet.”

In fact, a related research paper found that a large swath of the southern ocean, which absorbs 15% of the world’s CO2 emissions, had become completely saturated and could no longer absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

A New, Very Dangerous Pace of Increase Going Forward?

So all this begs the question: are the world’s CO2 sinks starting to become exhausted?

A six parts per million CO2 increase over two years is a much more rapid rate than the world is used to. At such a rate, we reach 450 parts per million by 2030. And if the world’s carbon sinks are, indeed, starting to exhaust even as world CO2 emissions remain high or continue to climb, then we may see annual increases of 4 parts per million or more over the coming decades.

We won’t know if the 3 parts per million annual increase is established for a few years yet. But if it is, it is yet one more sign that the world is starting to reach a number of very dangerous tipping points and we should do our best to reduce the potential harm by as much as possible.

Links:

Keeling Curve

IEA Report: Re-Drawing the Energy/Climate Map

NOAA

The Southern Ocean is CO2 Saturated

Very Bad or Terrible? What a Reality-Based Climate Change Debate Would Look Like

We are already experiencing bad climate change impacts: sea ice melt, blocking patterns that bring one hundred year storms once or twice a year, expanding drought zones, acidifying oceans, tightening world food production, and devastating heat waves and fire seasons. Four hundred thousand people are dying each year as a result of climate change. More than 1.2 trillion dollars are lost.

That’s what’s happening now. Bad.

And things are bound to get worse. But if you were listening to climate change deniers, you’d still hear them whistling merrily past the graveyard. To them, climate change still isn’t real and certainly doesn’t require a response.

But if you take these people, who clearly are living in a world of someone else’s invention and not the real one, out of the equation, then what do you have?

Two sets of scientists. One set who’re saying things will likely continue to grow slowly worse until they become very bad or those pointing toward growing evidence that what human greenhouse gas emissions are causing is bound to be downright terrible. And both appear to be saying that carbon emissions should be reduced as rapidly and as soon as is reasonably possible.

These are the two rational sides of the climate debate. And, therefore, these are the definitions we should be arguing over:

1. Will climate change impacts be very bad or terrible?

2. How fast can we reduce worldwide carbon emissions?

3. How soon can we impose a carbon tax?

4. What actions should we take to begin adapting to the very bad or terrible changes in store?

That’s what a rational climate debate would look like. Not this, as weird as our carbon emissions make the weather, debate between rational scientists and quacks who can’t even stick their finger in the air to tell which way the wind is blowing. Between Congressmen like Inholfe, who’s turning oil company campaign contributions into a political war waged against the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon, and NASA Scientist James Hansen who, daily, works to create policies that will prevent a terrible global condition called “Venus Syndrome.”

Take a recent article in the New Scientist as an example. In the article, entitled Climate Change: It’s Even Worse Than We Thought New Scientist states:

Five years ago, the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change painted a gloomy picture of our planet’s future. As climate scientists gather evidence for the next report, due in 2014, Michael Le Page gives seven reasons why things are looking even grimmer.

These seven reasons include:

1. The Arctic is warming far faster than expected. Sea ice could be gone within the next decade, seventy years faster than IPCC 2007 predicted. Even worse, the Arctic is setting off a series of amplifying feedbacks that are bound to make the world hotter faster.

2. Scientists knew climate change would make the weather worse. But the weather is even worse than expected.

3. Some scientists had predicted that global warming would increase food production. Extreme droughts and severe weather are instead causing massive crop damages and an increasingly severe food crisis.

4. Greenland’s rapid loss of ice means we’re in for at least 1 meter of sea level rise by end of century. (For my part, I think this number is also still too conservative. I would put the number, more likely, at more than 3 meters by century’s end without rapid reductions in carbon emissions.)

5. Half of human CO2 emissions are absorbed by Earth’s carbon sinks. But this absorption is ending as the sinks are beginning to become sources. Most notably, the 2007 IPCC report did not include carbon contributions now emerging in larger and larger volumes from the Arctic permafrost and methane hydrates on sea beds throughout the world.

6. We could avoid climate disaster by very rapidly reducing carbon emissions to zero. Instead, we are increasing carbon emissions.

7. If the worst climate predictions are realized, vast sections of the globe will become too hot for human life.

(Hat tip to Joe Romm for his own excellent analysis of this article.)

These assertions come alongside a former UN climate chief’s statement that the most recent IPCC report (due by 2014) will scare the wits out of everyone and on the heels of a New York Times piece entitled “Is This The End?” which, in its first paragraph, quoted T.S. Eliot’s epic poem “The Wasteland” saying “Fear death by water.”

It seems there’s a growing awareness emerging among mainstream media sources that climate change is, indeed, a dire emergency we need to deal with now. Let’s hope the policy makers, who still have the ship pointed headlong toward disaster, are listening. Let’s hope the debate shifts to ‘how bad is the problem?’ ‘how swiftly can we respond?’ and away from this silly counterpoint between highly rational scientists and the professional deniers and opportunistic politicians puffed up on donations and funds proffered by fossil fuel special interests.

We really, really don’t have much time. And it will be absolutely necessary to make changes with all due urgency.

Links:

http://www.newscientist.com/special/worse-climate

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/opinion/sunday/is-this-the-end.html?hp

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/11/27/1241161/senator-inhofe-and-the-heartland-institute-roll-out-underwhelming-campaign-to-slash-the-epa/

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/11/26/1219981/new-scientist-7-reasons-climate-change-is-even-worse-than-we-thought/

NOAA’s Global Warning: Arctic Tipping Point Reached, Extreme Weather, Rapid Melt, Ecological Damage to Follow

For years now, scientists have been concerned that a global warming tipping point would soon be reached in the Arctic. The worry was that heat would eventually erode the Arctic’s ability to self-insulate. Once this happened, a number of feedbacks would come into play that not only more rapidly increase warming in the Arctic, but that accelerate warming on a global scale.

Now, in a study that can only be called a bombshell, NOAA is saying that we are past the tipping point and an age of unprecedented global change is to follow. The study, entitled “The Recent Shift in Early Summer Arctic Atmospheric Circulation,” examines how wind patterns have changed in the Arctic. It shows that winds which once blew from east to west have now consistently altered to a north-south orientation.

The study notes that these wind changes have been brought on by an erosion of Arctic sea ice. This loss results in a climate impact that pushes the polar jet stream into its new orientation. That new orientation transports warm air into the Arctic environment from the south accelerating the loss of sea ice and creating a dangerous situation of amplifying Greenland ice melt and rapidly accelerating changes to the Arctic environment.

The NOAA press release stated:

“Our research reveals a change in the summer Arctic wind pattern over the past six years. This shift demonstrates a physical connection between reduced Arctic sea ice in the summer, loss of Greenland ice, and potentially, weather in North America and Europe,” said Overland, a NOAA research oceanographer.

The shift provides additional evidence that changes in the Arctic are not only directly because of global warming, as shown by warmer air and sea temperatures, but are also part of an “Arctic amplification” through which multiple Arctic-specific physical processes interact to accelerate temperature change, ice variability, and ecological impacts.

The bolded line is very word and detail dense. In short, what it amounts to is a sort of scientific primal scream.

I’ll do my best to summarize for you.

The first point is that the Arctic is being impacted by global warming, which is increasing Arctic melt. This results in hotter sea and air temperatures.

But the second and most critical point is that the Arctic changes are also part of what is called Arctic amplification. Arctic amplification is a kind of tipping point that, when reached, the physical nature of the Arctic is such that it creates a heating feedback loop. The qualities of the Arctic that cause such a feedback include: the change in wind patterns dredging hot air up from the south, the loss of ice and snow reflectivity or albedo, and the increased production of methane from melting tundra and warming seas.

In short, what NOAA is saying is that now not only will the melt rates in the Arctic increase, but the rates of temperature rise in the Arctic and around the world will likely start to increase as well. Further, these changes are likely to result in severe weather extremes the likes of which we are completely unaccustomed to. I’ll repeat the relevant part of the bolded line by restating that changes in the Arctic, according to NOAA, will accelerate temperature change, ice variability, and ecological impacts.

This is NOAA’s way of saying it’s likely going to get hotter faster, the ice will likely melt faster, and more of Earth’s life, including humans, will be impacted.

NOAA’s research follows a ground-breaking study recently published by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers which identified the changes in wind patterns and noted that these changes created a high risk of extreme weather in the temperate zones. To this point, Francis noted:

“What we’re seeing is stark evidence that the gradual temperature increase is not the important story related to climate change; it’s the rapid regional changes and increased frequency of extreme weather that global warming is causing. As the Arctic warms at twice the global rate, we expect an increased probability of extreme weather events across the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere, where billions of people live,” said Jennifer Francis, Ph.D, of Rutgers.

The pace of change is increasing and with each new study stark revelations are being made about how the Arctic is falling into a phase of rapid warming and radical change. The results of this transition will be that humans will experience changes with a speed not seen since the first days of civilization. These changes were preventable. But we did not reduce our use of fossil fuels fast enough. Now, the best response will be a rapid transition to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels lest we further aggravate a situation that is already very dangerous.

Links:

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2012/20121010_arcticwinds.html

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/10/11/989231/noaa-bombshell-warming-driven-arctic-ice-loss-is-boosting-chance-of-extreme-us-weather/

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: