Irma’s Projected Path Shifts West; Storm Expected to Restrengthen to Category 5

As of the 5 PM advisory from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), dangerous Hurricane Irma was packing 155 mph maximum sustained winds and tracking just north of due west off the Cuba coast.

The new advisory provides a couple of surprises. One, Irma’s path has shifted more to the west. As a result, the West Coast of Florida and western South Florida is under more of a threat from Irma. That said, the NHC has not backed off its storm surge forecast of 5-10 feet for places like Miami. So, so far, that vulnerable city is not out of the woods — particularly for southern sections of the city.

(Official track shifts west for Irma as the Hurricane Center now predicts the storm will restrengthen to category 5 intensity over the Florida Straits after raking the coast of Cuba. Image source: The National Hurricane Center.)

This is likely due to the fact that Irma has a very large circulation with tropical storm force winds extending outward up to 160 miles from its center and hurricane force winds extending up to 60 miles from the storm’s center. So a west coast landfall in South Florida has the potential to still bring hurricane conditions to places like Miami. That said, if the track continues to shift west, Miami may dodge a bullet as our concerns shift to places like Fort Myers and possibly Tampa.

The NHC’s full statement on present storm surge potential is as follows:

SW Florida from Captiva to Cape Sable…8 to 12 ft
Cape Sable to Boca Raton including the Florida Key…5 to 10 ft
Venice to Captiva…5 to 8 ft
Anclote River to Venice including Tampa Bay…3 to 5 ft
Boca Raton to Flagler/Volusia County line…3 to 6 ft

So basically all of South Florida from Cape Coral to Boca Raton is looking at a 5-12 foot storm surge according to the present NHC forecast. That includes Miami, Ft Lauderdale, the Keys, and the Fort Myers area.

(The NHC’s 5 PM storm surge inundation map shows the potential for significant flooding from South Miami to the Cape Coral area and on out to the Florida Keys. For reference, blue regions are expected to see more than one foot of water above ground, yellow more than three feet, orange more than six feet, and red more than nine feet.)

The second surprise in the recent official forecast is that the NHC now briefly expects Irma to regain category 5 status as it crosses the Florida Straits. Projected 36 hour intensity from NHC is for a storm packing 160 mph winds at that time. This increase in strength now jibes with a number of model forecasts that show Irma tapping much warmer than normal Gulf Stream waters just prior to striking Florida.

It’s worth noting that intensity forecasts are sometimes tough to nail down and the NHC is quick to caution that fluctuations in storm strength are likely. In any case, this is a very dangerous storm that bears watching.

(UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

 

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Half a World Away From Harvey, Global Warming Fueled Deluges Now Impact 42 Million People

Rising sea surface temperatures in South Asia led to more moisture in the atmosphere, providing this year’s monsoon with its ammunition for torrential rainfall. — The Pacific Standard

While flooding is common in the region, climate change has spurred dramatic weather patterns, greatly exacerbating the damage. As sea temperatures warm, moisture increases, a dynamic also at play in the record-setting rainfall in Texas. — Think Progress

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With Harvey delivering its own hammer blow of worst-ever-seen rainfall to Texas, 42 million people are now impacted by record flooding half a world away. The one thing that links these two disparate disasters? Climate Change.

A Worsening Flood Disaster in South Asia

As Harvey was setting its sights on the Texas Coast this time last week, another major rainfall disaster was already ongoing. Thousands of miles away, South Asia was experiencing historic flooding that seven days ago had impacted 24 million people.

At the time, two tropical weather systems were developing over a very warm Pacific. They were angling in toward a considerably pumped up monsoonal moisture flow. And they appeared bound and determined to unleash yet more misery on an already suffering region.

As of Monday, the remnants of tropical cyclone Hato had entered the monsoonal flow and was unleashing its heavy rains upon Nepal. The most recent in a long chain of systems that just keeps looping more storms in over the region to disgorge they water loads on submerged lands.

By Wednesday, the number of people suffering from flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal had jumped by 18 million in just one week to more than 42 million. With 32 million impacted in India, 8.6 million in Bangladesh, and 1.7 million in Nepal. More tragically, 1,200 people have perished due to both landslides and floods as thousands of square miles have been submerged and whole regions have been crippled with roads, bridges, and airports washing out. Adding to this harsh toll are an estimated 3.5 million homes that have been damaged or destroyed in Bangladesh alone.

Worst impacts are likely to focus on Bangladesh which is down-stream of flooded regions in Nepal and India. As of last week, 1/3 of this low-lying country had been submerged by rising water. With intense rains persisting during recent days, this coverage is likely to have expanded.

Hundreds of thousands of people have now funneled into the country’s growing disaster shelters. A massive international aid effort is underway as food and water supplies are cut off and fears of disease are growing. The international Red Cross and Red Crescent and other relief agencies have deployed over 2,000 medical teams to the region. Meanwhile, calls for increased assistance are growing.

Warmer Oceans Fuel Tropical Climate Extremes

As with Harvey, this year’s South Asia floods have been fueled by much warmer than normal ocean surface temperatures. These warmer than normal ocean surfaces are evaporating copious amounts of moisture into the tropical atmosphere. This moisture, in turn, is intensifying the monsoonal rains.

(Very warm ocean surface temperatures related to global warming are contributing to catastrophic South Asian flooding in which 42 million people are now impacted. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In the Bay of Bengal, ocean surfaces have recently hit about 3 C above the three decade average. But ocean waters have been warming now for more than a Century following the initiation of widespread fossil fuel burning. So even the present baseline is above 20th Century temperature norms. At this point, such high levels of ocean heat are clearly having an impact on tropical weather.

In an interview with CNN, Reaz Ahmed, the director-general of Bangladesh’s Department of Disaster Management noted last week that:

“This is not normal. Floods this year were bigger and more intense than the previous years.”

Further exacerbating the situation is that fact that glaciers are melting and temperatures are rising in the Himalayas. This increases water flow into rivers during monsoon season even as glacial melt flow into rivers is reduced during the dry season. It’s kind of a flood-drought whammy in which the dry season is growing hotter and drier for places like India, but the wet season is conversely getting pushed toward worsening flood extremes.

Links:

The Pacific Standard

Think Progress

Earth Nullschool

Nepal, India, Bangladesh Floods Impact Millions

NASA Worldview

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

From Maryland to the Caribbean to Asia, Record-Hot Ocean Waters Give Extreme Weather Potentials a Big Boost

The forecasts began coming in this morning: Heavy rainfall expected over the next two days. Possible flash flooding. Turn around, don’t drown.

These advisories buzzed up from local news media for the DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia metro areas as a crazy, wavy Jet Stream spawned an upper-level low that’s predicted to gorge on an insane amount of moisture spewing up off the record-hot Atlantic Ocean.

Forecast GFS model guidance shows an upper-level low-pressure system situated over the Great Lakes region in association with a big trough dipping down from the Arctic. Over the next 24 to 48 hours, the low is expected to shift south and east. Becoming cut off from the upper-level flow, the low is then predicted to set up a persistent rainfall pattern over DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia.

noaa-extreme-rainfall-dc-metro-area

(NOAA’s precipitation forecast model shows extreme rainfall predicted for the DC area over the next seven days. Note that record global heat and, in particular, excessively hot sea-surface temperature anomalies off the U.S. east coast are providing an unprecedented amount of fuel for storms. Should such storms fire off, they could produce rainfall totals in excess of those currently predicted. Image source: NOAA.)

Easterly winds are expected to be drawn into the low from a record-hot Atlantic Ocean. These winds will bear upon them an extraordinary burden of atmospheric moisture which has been continuously evaporating up from a very warm Gulf Stream. Such moisture is fuel for powerful rainstorms. Given the destabilizing kick provided by the upper-level low, it is expected to deliver some pretty intense downpours on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

NOAA model guidance shows rainfall amounts of 3 to 6 inches over the area for the next five days. However, given the high atmospheric moisture content and the record atmospheric and ocean heat that’s spiking storm energy potentials, there is a possibility for locally higher amounts.

Extreme Ocean Heat Contributes to Severe Weather

As the DC area prepares for what could be another record or near-record rainfall event, various other regions over the Atlantic and on the other side of the world are also facing the possibility of intense weather. Very warm sea-surface temperatures are the common thread that links all these events.

atlantic-ocean-heat

(Hot sea surfaces are loading up the atmosphere with moisture and helping to produce convective updrafts that heighten storm tops. Such are the results of climate change, which has now dumped an extraordinary amount of heat energy into the Earth’s ocean and atmosphere — energy that now provides fuel for both extreme rainfall events and more-intense hurricanes. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In the Atlantic Ocean, just off Maryland and DC, sea-surface temperatures running at an amazing 5.7 degrees Celsius above average are helping fuel this week’s possible extreme rainfall event. For reference, ocean temperatures over the course of the 20th century tended to range between 2 C above average to 2 C below average. Any deviation beyond a 2 C departure for any significant length of time was considered pretty out of the ordinary. But off the U.S. east coast over the past couple of years and concurrent with record-hot global temperatures, sea surfaces have regularly hit such high ranges. The heat bleeding off those waters has contributed to a growing number of intense precipitation events.

Possible Strong Cyclone to Form in Caribbean, Track Toward U.S. Coast

Farther south, the Caribbean is also quite hot. Ranging from 1-2 C above average, this region of warmer-than-normal ocean water is about to receive a strong tropical wave running in from the east. Over the next week, this wave is expected to gorge on these hot waters, firing off intense thunderstorms with rising tops around a tightening center of circulation, and developing into a tropical cyclone that could reach hurricane strength by late this week or early next week. Long-range model runs predict all kinds of possible rough weather related to this potential storm for the U.S. east or Gulf coasts or even for the Canadian Maritimes.

florida-hurricane-october-7-ecmwf

(Most recent ECMWF model run shows an extremely powerful 938-millibar hurricane threatening southeast Florida on October 7. If such a storm does form, it will be fueled by hotter-than-normal ocean conditions brought about by human-caused climate change. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

One of the most accurate forecast models, the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF), is pointing toward the possibility of a major hurricane of 938-mb intensity threatening the southeast coast of Florida by October 7. Though such long-range forecasts are highly uncertain so far out, the underlying models are obviously picking up on the potential energy provided by all that ocean heat. The result is a kind of climate roulette — with a few extra bullets in the chambers. In other words, with all that ocean heat laying around, the potential for a big storm is just sitting there, waiting for something big to come along and suck it up. This ongoing, worsening situation could result in some serious added weather consequences over the next ten days or so.

Megi is Third Tropical Cyclone to Impact Taiwan

All across the world this year, big rainfall and related storm events have been popping up. Louisiana alone saw two 30-inch plus rainfall events while nearby Texas got hit again and again and again. This week, major floods in Iowa spurred officials to urge thousands to evacuate. Meanwhile, the recent Ellicott City, Maryland flood has people in the DC area on edge over this week’s potential for very heavy rainfall.

Half a world away today, Typhoon Megi roared ashore in Taiwan as a Category 4 tropical cyclone with top sustained winds of 132 miles per hour. Knocking out power for 3 million people across the island, the storm is now reported to have resulted in 250 injuries and the loss of 4 lives. Meanwhile, as much as 36 inches of rain has fallen over parts of the island.

It’s worth noting that rainfall hasn’t stopped over Taiwan yet, even as the massive circulation of Megi plows toward China — which is likely to receive heavy rainfall from the storm as well.

Like the possible extreme weather events related to very-hot surface waters in the North Atlantic and Caribbean, Megi formed over waters that are 1-3 C hotter than normal. But what’s a bit odd about Megi is that she followed almost in the exact tracks of two other cyclones — one which brushed by just to the north of Taiwan, and another which skirted the island’s south side. Typically, upwelling of cooler waters caused by hurricanes and tropical storms is enough to prevent an immediate follow-on by powerful systems, due to the fact that surface waters tend to be warmer than waters below the surface. But Megi followed these two systems and was able to tap enough ocean heat to reach Category 4 intensity even as it supported a massive outflow.

typhoon-megi-crosses-taiwan

(Typhoon Megi dwarfs Taiwan. Image source: Earth Observatory.)

How did this happen? Well, considering the fact that ocean surfaces in Megi’s path are still 1-2 C hotter than normal, it’s likely that the waters at depth were also much warmer than usual, meaning storm-related upwelling wasn’t able to limit the strength of follow-on storms. This possible new feature of the Western Pacific raises the strange potential for regions to be hit by a train of tropical storms and cyclones, as happened with Taiwan over the past couple of weeks.

Conditions in Context — Record-Hot Ocean, Atmosphere Fuels More Severe Storms

The common link between the forthcoming potential severe weather along the U.S. east coast and the intensity of Typhoon Megi upon following behind two other storms is increased ocean heat. Such heat acts as a kind of energy and moisture engine for more, and more powerful, storms, such as the aforementioned extreme rainfall events and powerful, peak-intensity cyclones. In short, these are aspects of a world undergoing fundamental climate shifts — shifts that continue to ramp up due to the great and ongoing emission of greenhouse gasses into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Links:

Heavy Rain, Flood Threat

GFS Model Guidance by Earth Nullschool

NOAA

Tropical Tidbits

Typhoon Megi Smashes into Taiwan on Path to China

Typhoon Megi Passes Taiwan

Thousands Urged to Evacuate Iowa Floods, Megi’s Threat to Taiwan Escalates

Scientific Hat tip to Dr. Jeff Masters

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

New Report: ‘Blowtorch’-Like Ocean Warming Advances Killer Seas, Shifts El Nino, Heats Hydrates

Tampering can be dangerous. Nature can be vengeful. We should have a great deal of respect for the planet on which we live. — Carl-Gustaf Rossby

But as the [IUCN] study points out, 90% of the extra heat that our greenhouse gases trap is actually absorbed by the oceans. That means that the upper few meters of the sea have been steadily warming more than a tenth of a degree celsius per decade, a figure that’s accelerating. When you think of the volume of water that represents, and then try to imagine the energy necessary to raise its temperature, you get an idea of the blowtorch that our civilization has become. — Bill McKibben

The scale of ocean warming is truly staggering with the numbers so large that it is difficult for most people to comprehend. — from the IUCN report Explaining Ocean Warming: Causes, scale, effects and consequences

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If there’s one simple fact about past Earth climates that should keep you awake at night, it’s this — warming the world ocean eventually produces a killing mechanism that is unrivaled by any other in Earth’s deep past. Great asteroids, gamma-ray bursters, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanism — none of these can rival the vast damage to life on planet Earth that is resulting from ocean warming.

As a study of the sciences, this assertion would be merely an academic one if the human race weren’t now involved in a great injection of an unprecedented volume of greenhouse gasses into the Earth’s airs. As a critical new ocean report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) points out, these gasses are trapping an extraordinary amount of heat at the top of the world’s atmosphere. In turn, the atmosphere is transferring the lion’s share of this heat — more than 90 percent — into the waters of our world.

The Extreme Amount of Heat Energy Piling up in Our Warming Ocean

As a result, the surface of the world ocean is warming by 0.1 degree Celsius per decade. That may not sound like much, but it takes about four times the amount of energy to warm one gram of water by 0.1 C as it does one gram of air. This property, called specific heat, is a defining aspect of water. Water has the highest specific heat of any common substance.

heat-accumulation-human-forced-zillions-of-joules

(Since the 1970s, about 300 zettajoules’ (ZJ) worth of heat energy has accumulated in the Earth System due to fossil-fuel burning and related greenhouse gas emissions. That’s about 5 Hiroshima bombs worth of heat accumulating every second. Most of that energy has gone into the world’s oceans. So much heat is bound to have consequences, and these impacts are starting to show up in the form of declining ocean health, melting sea ice and glaciers, shifting climate zones and weather patterns, worsening droughts and storms, and threats of Earth System carbon feedbacks. Image source: Explaining Ocean Warming.)

Liquid water is also far denser than air. And this density generates an even higher impact heat energy transfer multiplier. So not only does it take four times more energy to warm a similar weight of water vs air, once warmed, that water contains that higher level of specific heat energy in a much more tightly concentrated package. And when that high heat concentration liquid water comes into contact with other substances — like ice in the form of ocean contact, or air in the form of evaporation, or frozen hydrates on the sea bed — it can pack a serious heat punch.

The vast volume of water in our oceans, therefore, serves as a kind of heat and energy regulator. It takes a lot of energy to warm it up, but once it does, serious environmental changes start to happen as a result. In other words, the temperature of the global ocean could be viewed as the point on which the whole of the Earth climate system pivots. Once the oceans are set in thermal motion, serious changes to the rest of the world are going to take place. To get an idea how much energy the oceans now contain, of how much potential they now have to dramatically alter our world, consider that if these vast waters were not present, the atmosphere now would have already warmed by 36 degrees C due to the heat-trapping effect of greenhouse gasses already in our atmosphere.

Fossil-fuel blowtorch indeed.

Heating Seas Ultimately Become Killer Seas

There’s a starker message to convey here, one that focuses on this simple yet dire question — how do warming oceans kill? In basic terms, they become toxic and anoxic. Warming oceans melt ocean-contacting glaciers. The glacial melt forces seas to rise and forms a freshwater lid on the global ocean, breaking down ocean conveyor belts and preventing mixing. This freshwater lid also deflects heat toward the ocean bottom. This process in turn helps to thaw methane hydrates. Warm waters that don’t mix and that are filled with bubbling hydrates become very oxygen-poor.

barents-algae-bloom

(Massive algae bloom covers tens of thousands of square miles of open water in the Barents Sea during August of 2016. As glaciers melt, oceans stratify and warm; as water oxygen levels drop, and as hydrates vent due to warming, such blooms result in significant reductions to ocean health and a related global mass-extinction threat. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

As the land glaciers bleed out into the oceans, the stratified, oxygen-deprived waters become less and less able to support advanced life. The kinds of life warm, oxygen-deprived waters do support are poison-producing microbes. These microbes thrive in the warm, oxygen-poor waters. If ocean heating continues to progress, the warming seas will eventually fill up with their deadly byproducts. Among the most nasty of these is hydrogen sulfide. If enough of it is produced, it will spill out from the ocean into the nearby air, resulting in land animal mortality as well.

In microcosm, we saw a mild taste of some of these effects this past year in Florida as toxic algae blooms filled the warming state’s waterways and coastlines, even forcing some riverside marinas to close due to toxic gasses wafting up from the purple-green, oxygen-starved waters. These effects are a snapshot of a possible future for Earth’s oceans if we don’t get our act together yesterday.

El Niño Shifted, Ocean Hydrates Threatened

As alluded to earlier in this post, a new report, Explaining Ocean Warming, provides some pretty hard evidence that the oceans are on the move toward a much more harmful global climate state. The study, which has rightly received a great deal of media attention, issues a ‘shot across the bow’ warning to pretty much everyone living today. And it finds serious impacts to the ocean and linked climate systems due to a very rapid human-forced global warming.

These hard findings are worth reading directly:

  1. Sea-surface temperature, ocean heat content, sea-level rise, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations are increasing at an accelerating rate with significant consequences for humanity and the marine species and ecosystems of the ocean.
  2. There is likely to be an increase in mean global ocean temperature of 1-4 degrees C by 2100. The greatest ocean warming overall is occurring in the Southern Hemisphere and is contributing to the subsurface melting of Antarctic ice shelves. Since the 1990s the atmosphere in the polar regions has been warming at about twice the average rate of global warming.
  3. There is likely to be Arctic warming and ice loss, and possibly the essential removal, in some years, of the summer Arctic sea ice within the next few decades.
  4. Over the last 20 years there has been an intensification and distinct change in the El Niño events, with a shift of the mean location of sea-surface temperature anomalies towards the central Pacific.
  5. Currently 2.5 Gt of frozen methane hydrate are stored in the sea floor at water depths of 200 to 2000 m. Increasing water temperature could release this source of carbon into the ocean and ultimately into the atmosphere.

These are all Earth-shattering scientific statements. For those who frequent this blog, points 1 through 3 are probably pretty familiar. The last two, however, require more in-depth explanation.

global-warming-el-nino

(Some scientific studies have pointed out that warming the world ocean will result in a shift of El Niño toward the central Pacific. A new ocean report finds that it’s already happening. Image source: Global Warming May Dent El Niño’s Protective Hurricane Shield, Increase Droughts.)

For a long time now, scientists have believed that El Niño wouldn’t be affected by climate change until the end of this century. But as with sea ice, it appears that such impacts may well be advancing faster than expected. As we’ve alluded to here, there’s been an apparent shift in El Niño toward the central Pacific over recent decades. This may well be a climate change-related shift. The fact that the IUCN report highlights this change is a sign that the broader sciences are starting to tackle the notion of early alterations to El Niño due to climate change as well.

However, the most ominous language here centers around methane hydrate. For years, there’s been adamant push-back against potential risks to hydrates coming from well-respected sections of the climate sciences. Nonetheless, those downplaying the threat of warming to hydrates have yet to produce any conclusive proof as to why warming the ocean bottom and applying heat to hydrates won’t result in at least some feedback from these carbon stores (especially under the higher-range warming scenarios). The IUCN report reiterates this risk by identifying 2.5 billion tons of frozen seabed methane at shallow and mid-ocean depths that will ultimately be exposed to warming — risking both an ocean and an atmospheric release.

These last points serve to underline some pretty basic facts, the chief of which is that pushing Nature, and heating up her life-blood world ocean waters, is a very, very dangerous game. And if this poignant new report sends any message at all it could simply boil down to this — turn back before it’s too late.

Links:

IUCN Report: Explaining Ocean Warming

Specific Heat

Ocean Warming

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse

LANCE MODIS

Slimy Green Algae Invades Florida

The oceans are heating up. That’s a big problem on a blue planet.

Global Warming May Dent El Niño’s Protective Hurricane Shield, Increase Droughts

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to George Hayduke

NCAR: Global Temperature Increase To Lower Oxygen Content of Most Ocean Zones by the 2030s

A reduction in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans due to climate change is already discernible in some parts of the world and should be evident across large regions of the oceans between 2030 and 2040. — The National Center for Atmospheric Research in a press release on April 27th.

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Loss of oxygen in the world’s oceans. It’s one of those really, really bad effects of a human-forced warming of our Earth. One of the those climate monsters in the closet that Steve Pacala talks about. The kind of thing we really don’t want to set loose.

Deoxygenated Oceans as Major Killing Mechanism During Hothouse Extinctions

The damage caused by ocean oxygen loss is multi-variant and wide-ranging. The most obvious harm comes in the form of generating environments in which oxygen-dependent life in the oceans can no longer breathe. Any living creature that filters oxygen out of the water for respiration falls under threat due to lowered ocean oxygen levels. A group that includes pretty much all the advanced, multi-cellular life in the seas.

A press statement from the new NCAR study notes:

Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap the ocean of oxygen, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe.

namibia-hydrogen-sulfide-emission-2007

(Hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria blooms off the coast of Namibia during 2007. Hydrogen sulfide is a highly toxic gas. One that is produced by microbes that live in waters containing little or no oxygen. Image source: Earth Observatory.)

But a second, less immediately obvious hit comes in the form of generating expanding anoxic environments that favor the proliferation of toxin-producing microbes. Called dead zones, these oxygen-poor regions not only provide a suffocation threat to sea life, but they also form areas of water in which environmental toxins can build up. The result is a long-lasting negative impact to the health of life in the ocean and, in the most extreme cases, on land and in the airs as well.

The worst of these toxin-generating microbes are the hydrogen-sulfide producing bacteria. An ancient organism that is incompatible with oxygen-dependent life. A horror out of deep time that has tended to crop up again and again on the list of usual suspects of major hothouse extinction killers. A likely perpetrator of the big ocean and land die offs during pretty much all global warming based extinctions. An organism that dominated the world’s seas and likely vented its deadly gasses into the airs of the world of the Permian — during the worst die-off Earth has ever seen.

In short, hydrogen sulfide is deadly to almost all forms of life that currently dominate the world’s oceans, lands, and airs. And the bacteria that produces hydrogen sulfide requires oxygen-poor environments in which to grow and thrive. A world ocean high in oxygen keeps these little killers hidden away in the deep, dark corners of our Earth. But heat the world ocean up. Deprive it of oxygen. And they start to come out and become a threat (see more in Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse).

Oxygen Loss to Become Widespread by the 2030s

Already today we see regions of the world ocean that are experiencing oxygen loss. Some of this oxygen loss is due to a process called eutrophication. In eutrophication, nutrients overload the ecosystems of water-based environments. As nutrient content rises, large bacterial blooms emerge. Eventually, these blooms overpopulate the waters and devour all the food sources. When the microbes then die en masse, their decay robs the surrounding waters of oxygen — generating a dead zone.

Eutrophication has been sapping the world’s oceans of oxygen over wider and wider regions due to both agricultural run-off (fertilizers and top soils flushed into rivers, lakes and oceans that feed large microbial blooms and related dead zones) and due to nitrogen fall out from fossil fuel burning. But human forced global warming also plays a key roll in the loss of oxygen to the world ocean system.

Ocean Deoxygenation Map

(According to a new study from NCAR, ocean oxygen levels are already starting to fall in some regions due to global warming. If warming continues, NCAR finds that most of the world’s oceans will experience some level of oxygen loss due to this warming and due to a related increased stratification of surface waters. Image source: NCAR.)

The new NCAR study provides an excellent description of how warming the world’s surface waters can reduce ocean oxygen levels:

The entire ocean—from the depths to the shallows—gets its oxygen supply from the surface, either directly from the atmosphere or from phytoplankton, which release oxygen into the water through photosynthesis. Warming surface waters, however, absorb less oxygen. And in a double whammy, the oxygen that is absorbed has a more difficult time traveling deeper into the ocean. That’s because as water heats up, it expands, becoming lighter than the water below it and less likely to sink.

Waters that are less likely to sink are less likely to mix. And waters that are less likely to mix transfer less of the atmosphere’s oxygen to the global ocean. It’s a process called ocean stratification. A set of circumstances triggered by warming that can sap the world’s waters of their ability to support life even as it enhances their ability to generate environments favorable to toxin-producing microbes. And in the absolute worst cases, a stratified, oxygen-deprived ocean can transition into a dead, life-on-Earth-threatening Canfield Ocean.

Mobile Ocean Dead Zone

(Mobile ocean dead zones, like this one seen off the West African Coast during 2015, may grow more widespread as the world’s surface waters are depleted of oxygen due to a fossil fuel emission based warming. A new study from NCAR both explains how warming waters can hold less oxygen and notes that loss of oxygen to ocean surface waters becomes very widespread by the 2030s. Image source: Biogeosciences.)

In the NCAR study, which is well worth reading in full, scientists used model runs to determine when and where climate change would start to deprive the world ocean system of oxygen. The study found that regions off the coast of West Africa, regions west of South America, an area to the west of Australia, and a section of the Beaufort Sea were already experiencing lower levels of ocean oxygen due to global warming. West African seas were the first and hardest hit by warming in the models. This is interesting due to the fact that Namibia on the West Coast of Africa is one of the only regions of the world now observed to experience blooms of hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria that extend into the surface waters. West African waters have also generated a number of mobile, low-oxygen dead zones that have spiraled on off into the North Atlantic.

The fact that the NCAR study indicates that global warming has already reduced ocean oxygen levels in a region that is producing both dead zones and, in the case of Nambia, periods during which hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria appear at the surface, is cause for some concern. For by the 2030s, the NCAR model study indicates that global warming will be actively reducing ocean oxygen levels across the vast majority of the North Pacific, a majority of the South Pacific, most of the South Atlantic, and pretty much all of the Indian Ocean region covered in the new research. This raises the risk that open water dead zones like the ones seen off Africa and even hydrogen sulfide producing hot spots like Nambia may begin to creep into other regions of the world ocean — generating further threats to sea life, to fishing industry, and to human beings who depend on healthy oceans for livelihood and for life.

Links:

Widespread Loss of Ocean Oxygen (due to Climate Change) to Become Noticeable by the 2030s

Steve Pacala

Earth Observatory

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse

Biogeosciences

Mobile Ocean Dead Zones

Eutrophication

Ocean Stratification

Canfield Ocean

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to June

Is Human Warming Prodding A Sleeping Methane Monster off Oregon’s Coast?

We’ve talked quite a bit about the Arctic Methane Monster — the potential that a rapidly warming Arctic will force the release of disproportionately large volumes of methane from organic material locked in permafrost and in frozen sea bed hydrates composing volumes of this powerful greenhouse gas large enough to significantly increase the pace of human-forced global warming. But if we consider the globe as a whole, the Arctic isn’t the only place where large methane stores lurk — laying in wait for the heat we’ve already added to the world’s oceans and atmosphere to trigger their release. And a new study out of the University of Washington provides yet another indication that the continental shelf off Oregon and Washington may be one of many emerging methane release hot spots.

For all around the world, and beneath the broad, blue expanse of the world’s seas, rest billions and billions of tons of frozen methane hydrate.

A kind of methane and ice combination, frozen hydrate is one of the world’s most effective natural methods of trapping and sequestering carbon. Over long ages, organic material at the bottom of the oceans decompose into hydrocarbons, often breaking down into methane gas. At high pressure and low temperature, this methane gas can be locked away in a frozen water-ice hydrate lattice, which is then often buried beneath the sea bed where it can safely remain for thousands or even millions of years.

Plume2_nolabels_cropped

(Plume of methane bubbles rising from the sea floor off the Oregon Coast. This image shows methane bubbles originating from the sea bed about 515 meters below the surface before dissolving into the water column at about 180 meters depth. Image source: American Geophysical Union.)

Most of these deposits lay well beneath the sea bed or at extreme ocean depths of one mile or greater. And so far, human forced warming hasn’t been great enough to risk the destabilization of most of these deep ocean carbon stores. But some hydrate deposits rest in the shallower waters of continental slope systems and at depths where current warming may now be causing them to destabilize.

Scientists Think Methane Hydrates May be Destabilizing off Oregon

Enter a new study by University of Washington scientists which found “an unusually high number of bubble plumes at the depth where methane hydrate would decompose if seawater has warmed.” The scientists concluded that these bubble plumes were likely evidence of methane hydrate destabilization due to a human forced warming of the water column in the range of about 500 meters of depth.

The warm waters, ironically, come from a region off Siberia where the deep waters have, over recent decades, been heated to unprecedented temperatures. These waters have, in turn, through ocean current exchange, circulated to the off-shore region of Washington and Oregon where they appear to have gone to work destabilizing methane hydrate in the continental slope zone. A paper published during 2014 hypothesized that these warm waters would have an impact on hydrates. And the new paper is the first potential confirmation of these earlier predictions.

In total about 168 methane plumes are now observed to be bubbling out of the sea bed off the Washington and Oregon coasts. Of these, 14 are located in the 500 meter depth range where ocean warming has pushed temperatures to levels at which hydrate could begin to destabilize. University of Washington researchers noted that the number of plumes at this depth range was disproportionately high, which also served as an indirect indicator that human heating may be causing this methane to release.

PlumesMap

(Locations of methane plumes in the continental slope zone off Washington and Oregon. The location of a disproportionate number of these plumes in a zone now featuring a warming water column is an indication that the human-forced heating of ocean currents is starting to drive some methane hydrate structures to destabilize. Image source: AGU.)

Lead author H. Paul Johnson, a University of Washington professor of oceanography noted in AGU:

“So it is not likely to be just emitted from the sediments; this appears to be coming from the decomposition of methane that has been frozen for thousands of years… What we’re seeing is possible confirmation of what we predicted from the water temperatures: Methane hydrate appears to be decomposing and releasing a lot of gas. If you look systematically, the location on the margin where you’re getting the largest number of methane plumes per square meter, it is right at that critical depth of 500 meters.””

Implications For Ocean Health, Carbon Cycle

Most methane released at this depth never reaches the atmosphere. Instead, it either oxidizes to CO2 in the water column or is converted by ocean bacteria. That said, expanding zones of methane release can rob the surrounding ocean of vital oxygen even as it can saturate the water column with carbon — increasing ocean acidification and reducing the local ocean’s ability to draw carbon out of the atmosphere. Such a response can indirectly increase the volume of heat trapping gasses in the atmosphere by reducing the overall rate of ocean carbon uptake. In more extreme cases, methane bubbles reach the surface where they then vent directly into the atmosphere, proportionately adding to the human-produced greenhouse gasses that have already put the world into a regime of rapid warming.

It has been hypothesized that large methane releases from ocean hydrate stores contributed to past hothouse warming events and related mass extinctions like the Permian and the PETM (See A Deadly Climb From Glaciation to Hothouse). But the more immediate consequences of smaller scale releases are related to declining ocean health.

According to AGU and Dr. Johnson, the study author:

Marine microbes convert the methane into carbon dioxide, producing lower-oxygen, more-acidic conditions in the deeper offshore water, which eventually wells up along the coast and surges into coastal waterways. “Current environmental changes in Washington and Oregon are already impacting local biology and fisheries, and these changes would be amplified by the further release of methane,” Johnson said.

Instances of mass sea life die-off have already occurred at a very high frequency off the Washington and Oregon Coasts. And many of these instances have been associated with a combination of low oxygen content in the near and off shore waters, increasing ocean acidification, increasing dangerous algae blooms, and an overall warming ocean system. It’s important to note that ocean acidification, though often cited in the media, is just one of many threats to ocean life and health. In many cases, low oxygen dead zones and large microbial blooms can be even more deadly. And in the most extreme low oxygen regions, the water column can start to fill up with deadly hydrogen sulfide gas — a toxic substance that, at high enough concentrations, kills off pretty much all oxygen-based life (See Hydrogen Sulfide in the World’s Warming Oceans).

During recent years, mass sea life deaths have been linked to a ‘hot blob’ forming in nearby waters (See Mass Whale Death in Northeast Pacific — Hot Blob’s Record Algae Bloom to Blame?). However, indicators of low oxygen in the waters near Washington and Oregon have been growing in frequency since the early 2000s. Though the paper does not state this explicitly — increasing rates of methane release in the off-shore waters due to hydrate destabilization may already be contributing to declining ocean health in the region.

Slope Collapse, Conditions in Context

A final risk associated with methane hydrate destabilization in the continental slope zone is an increased prevalence of potential slope collapse. As methane hydrate releases, it can deform the sea bed structures within slope systems. Such systems become less stable, increasing the potential for large underwater landslides. Not only could these large landslides displace significant volumes of water or even set off tsunamis, slope collapse events also risk uncovering and exposing more hydrate systems to the warming ocean in a kind of amplifying feedback.

In context, the total volume of methane being released into the off-shore environment is currently estimated to be about 0.1 million metric tons each year. That’s about the same rate of hydrocarbon release seen from the Deepwater Horizon blowout. A locally large release but still rather small in size compared to the whopping 10+ billion tons of carbon being dumped into the atmosphere each year through human fossil fuel burning. However, this release is widespread, uncontrolled, un-cappable and, if scientists are correct in their indications of a human warming influence, likely to continue to increase as the oceans warm further.

Links:

Bubble Plumes off Washington and Oregon Suggest Warmer Ocean May be Releasing Frozen Methane

Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems

Warming Oceans May be Spewing Methane off US West Coast

Concern Over Catastrophic Methane Release

Hydrogen Sulfide in the World’s Warming Oceans

Mass Whale Death in Northeast Pacific — Hot Blob’s Record Algae Bloom to Blame?

A Deadly Climb From Glaciation to Hothouse

Hat tip to Humortra

Human-Baked Baffin Bay Takes Biggest Bite Yet out of The Greenland Ice Sheet

You wouldn’t generally think of ocean temperatures in the range of 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 10 degrees Celsius) as hot. But to the great sea-fronting glaciers of Greenland it may as well be boiling.

Greenland Ice Sheet in Hot Water

All it takes is 32 degree F (0 C) water to begin melting the ice. And for each 1 degree increase above that margin, melt rates will dramatically ramp higher. Though a typical summer will push ice to melt at the Greenland seafront ice edge, this year, especially near Baffin Bay, the melt pressure has been extraordinary.

Ever since late June, 40-50 degree F sea surface temperatures have dominated the ice edge zone. For most regions that’s temperatures in the range of 4-11 degrees Fahrenheit (2-6 C) above average. The kind of heat that really risks a rapid melt along the ice margin.

Above Normal Sea Surface Temperatures Near Greenland

(Sunday, August 16 sea surface temperature anomalies as provided by NOAA.)

A latent heat that sits at the surface, gnawing away at the ice, waiting for a fresh water flood. And when the fresh water does come, that hotter, saltier, heavier water is forced downward beneath the lighter fresh water outflow. At this point, the hotter waters are locked below the surface where they go to work eating away at the glacier base. Notably, the only region within Baffin Bay where we currently see cooler surface water is in the major glacier melt zone near Jakobshavn. It’s an indication that ice melt from a major glacier outflow there is cooling the surface waters even as it pulls the surface heat downward and toward the glacial base.

This glacial melt heat conveyor is the kind of process we are seeing more and more frequently near the great ice sheets as fossil fuel industry has continued its harmful emissions. And, it’s a process that, this week took a huge chunk out of one of the world’s fastest moving ice masses.

Huge Chunk of Jakobshavn Breaks Off

According to reports from The Arctic Ice Blog, the Jakobshavn glacier sent its biggest chunk of ice on record floating off into Baffin on August 16 of 2015. For a glacier that drains 6.5 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet and that has been known to release icebergs the size of Lower Manhattan, that’s really saying something.

You can see this amazing and rather chilling calving event in action in the August 14 to August 16 satellite imagery comparison developed by Espen Olsen below:

Espen Jakobshavn

(Jakobshavn experiences what is likely it’s largest calving event yet on Sunday, August 16, 2015. Image source: Espen Olson.)

Here we see the ice-choked Baffin Bay waters rapidly surging inland and taking up more of the Jakobshavn’s traditional outflow channel. What we do not see in this image, but what clearly happened, was that an ice mass hundreds of meters tall and covering an area of about 12.5 square kilometers was shattered into flinders as warming ocean waters invaded the Greenland Ice Sheet. Waters that will deliver still more heat to the ice. Waters that seek for the very heart of Greenland — a below sea level basin topped with 2-3 kilometer tall mountains of ice.

Back in the 19th Century, the Jakobshavn Fjord was half full of grounded Greenland ice. A long tongue of the glacier extended on outward through the channel. As of 2015, the Fjord is now completely full of water and ocean-bound ice bergs. The ocean itself has begun to invade the much larger ice masses beyond the Fjord. The broader inland mass of the Jakobshavn Glacier which is now directly in contact with the rising seas (indicated as Jakobshavn Isbrae on the maps above and below).

Jakobshavn Melt Progression

(Warming waters from Baffin Bay have driven through the ice in the Jakobshavn Fjord and are now boring into the thicker ice masses of Jakobshavn Ibrae. An impact that has serious implications for global sea level rise. Image source: The Arctic Sea Ice Blog and Espen Olsen.)

The inland-retreating Isbrae itself is a vast field of giant ice sheets. Massive tilting escarpments of luminous ice that, in the current age of fossil fuel forced warming, often cup great 1-3 kilometer long melt ponds in their wildly varied topography. It’s a single region that, in total, may hold about 1.5 feet of global sea level rise locked away in a rapidly melting ice pack. And Jakobshavn is just one of many regions (together containing about 15-20 feet worth of sea level rise) that are currently undergoing rapid melt due to the invasions of warming ocean waters.

Links:

NOAA

The Arctic Ice Blog

Espen Olson

A-Team

LANCE-MODIS

Warm Arctic Winds Rip Polar Vortex in Half, Blast East Face of Greenland Ice Sheet

Last night, at around 9 PM Eastern Time, a broad region just south of the North Pole was undergoing an extraordinary warm-up. Temperatures along the 37 W Longitude line just 80 miles south of the pole had surged to 33 degrees Fahrenheit. A reading warmer than a region of central Michigan thousands of miles to the south but running over an area of sea ice more accustomed to -5 F or lower temperatures during the great dark of the December night.

image

(Knife of warm air drives above freezing temperatures to within 80 miles of the North Pole on December 1 of 2014. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: UCAR, OSCAR, NCEP.)

It was the much warmer than normal core of an intense and anomalous Arctic heat surge. One that blasted up over Svalbard and flooded into the high Arctic. Meeting with a similar but weaker air surge to the south, both surface and upper layers of the Arctic Ocean atmosphere hosted a joining of rivers of warm air.

This warm air double envelopment neatly sliced the polar vortex in twain. The remnant cold air cores at the Jet Stream level slipped down over both the Canadian Archipelago and Central Asia. Leaving open the lane for warm, maritime air to surge over the Arctic Ocean region.

image

(Jet Stream level atmospheric circulation shows polar vortex cut in two with one circulation over the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and the other over Yamal, Siberia — scene to the freakish methane blowholes earlier this year. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: UCAR, OSCAR, NCEP.)

It is a pattern of negative phase Arctic Oscillation (AO) — featuring a warming in the central Arctic which flushes the cold air out. But this ripping of the polar vortex in half is also related to polar amplification due to the human heat forcing. In which the high Arctic has warmed dramatically in comparison with the rest of the globe. So the heat anomalies we see now are much higher than they would otherwise be, with abnormal warmth remaining even into a positive phase of the AO (which we may see a bit more of, should El Nino finally emerge).

It’s a feature also related to a warming of the upper atmosphere at stratospheric levels. Such Sudden Stratospheric Warming (SSW) events can often be associated with the kind of polar vortex split we are seeing now. And, from recent observations, we find temperatures over the Arctic Stratosphere are now in record range.

According to weather blogger, Matthew Holliday:

Even though I wouldn’t categorize this as a *sudden* stratospheric event as of yet, the warming that has already occurred will likely have effects by middle December. In fact, the warming that has occurred is currently at record levels for this time of year.

Recent scientific studies have also indicated an increasing prevalence of SSW events as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rise.

Extraordinary Arctic Warming

For much of November, readings in the Arctic as a whole have ranged from +1.5 to +2.5 degrees Celsius above the global average. A region featuring the highest global anomalies in a world that just saw its hottest ten months in the past 136 years, and probably its hottest ten months in many thousands of years. A region well known for its cold — but warming far faster than almost anywhere else.

Global anomaly Dec 1

(The Arctic hits an extraordinary early December +3.16 C positive anomaly on the first day of the month amidst a flood of warm air from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Image source: The University of Maine. Data Source: Global Forecast System Model.)

Today, beset by this abnormal heat, overall Arctic departures hit 3.16 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average. Regions within this warm zone showed readings well above 36 F higher than average. A kind of winter Arctic heatwave. One that will keep worsening as the human heat forcing continues its terrible advance.

Near Freezing Temperatures Over Zachariae Glacier During Meteorological Winter

Much of the added heat expanded through the region between the North Pole and Greenland, wrapping in a surface circulation that has tended more and more to envelop the frozen isle, Baffin Bay and the accompanying Canadian Archipelago.

image

(Warm front off Atlantic Ocean featuring blow torch like wind flow over the Zahcariae Glacier collides with Greenland, pushes far into Arctic Ocean. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data source: Data Source: UCAR, OSCAR, NCEP.)

This morning, some of that circulation and its entrapped warm air flow rode up over the East Coast of Greenland, surging over the ocean-facing cliffs of the Zachariae Glacier. Pushing temperatures to almost above freezing in a period where much deeper cold should be firmly established.

A great flood of abnormal winter warmth and moisture. The leading edge of a flow of ocean and atmospheric heat driven all too obviously by human warming.

Links:

UCAR

James Hansen: If It’s Warm, Why is it So Damned Cold?

Earth Nullschool

University of Maine

OSCAR

NCEP

Global Forecast System Model

National Climate Data Center

Changes in Northern Hemisphere Stratospheric Variability Under Increased CO2 Concentrations

Hat Tip to Wili

Arctic Warmth to Play the Spoiler? Ocean Surface, Atmosphere Show Anomalous Heat Spike in Advance of Predicted El Nino

Pacific Ocean monitoring stations around the world are now calling for a 50-67 percent chance of El Nino later this year. A warming of the Eastern Pacific that, should it emerge, is likely to result in record atmospheric and ocean temperatures as the human greenhouse gas heat forcing emerges, once more, from the oceans. But, so far, the Eastern Pacific remains in a somewhat cool ENSO-nuetral state. It is a trend that should lead to global atmospheric temperature averages somewhat hotter than the ocean surface. A trend that should not show ocean temperatures spiking, with atmospheric values rising at a slower rate.

But over the past week, according to both GFS model assessments and NOAA observational data, average global ocean surface temperatures have been surging.

sst.daily.anom1

(Sea surface temperature anomaly from the already warmer than normal 1971 to 2000 base period. Image source: NOAA.)

Large zones of well above average sea surface temperature now cover vast regions of the global ocean system so that anomalous heat now is plainly the dominant feature. Pools of hotter than typical water where averages range from 1 to 4 C above normal now appear off both coasts of South America, through the Indian Ocean between Africa and Australia, off the East Coast of the United States, south of Alaska and in a zone stretching from Norway to Svalbard. By contrast only small cool zones remain in the Eastern Pacific, in the passage between South America and Antarctica, in a swatch of the Tropical Atlantic near Africa, and in isolated regions of the Central and Western Pacific.

Arctic Warmth Drives Temperatures Higher

But the zone of hottest temperatures appear, according to GFS model data below, in the Arctic, where much of the surface waters and ice sheet are warmer than average by 4 C or more. This heat bleed from the Arctic Ocean tips Northern Hemisphere values far above average and is a primary contributor to Arctic atmospheric temperatures in the range of 3-4 C above average (1979-2000) for mid to late March.

During the past few days, the effect of this warm surface was enough to drive temperature anomalies for the oceans higher than .9 degrees Celsius above the 1979 to 2000 global average according to GFS observational data. Understanding that the 1979 to 2000 global sea surface temperature (SST) average was already about .28 C above the 1880s average, we are now seeing SST daily values in excess of 1.18 C above 1880s averages before El Nino comes into play.

TS_anom_satellite1

(Sea surface temperature anomaly for March 18, 2014 vs the, already warmer than normal, 1979-2000 average. Image source: University of Maine.)

Even more impressive are the sea surface temperature values seen during the past two days (March 17-18) — hitting a .99 C positive anomaly or +1.27 C above 1880s values.

For comparison, the global sea surface temperature average for 2013, according to the National Climate Data Center, was .42 degrees Celsius above the 1880s average and the hottest year for ocean surface temperatures, 2003, was .52 degrees Celsius hotter than the 1880s average. The average for the past two days, should the GFS observation stand, is +.75 above the highest annual average on record.

Daily values for even the entire ocean system can show rather large swings, but this high temperature trend is somewhat new and has been ongoing now for about a week.

Oceans dumping heat into the atmosphere without El Nino

By contrast, global atmospheric temperatures within the first two meters, according to the same GFS data, are, on March 18, .69 C above the 1979-2000 average. It is a reading .3 C below current sea surface temperature values. Yet it is also a reading about 1 C over 1880s values and about .3 C above annual global high temperature records set in 2010.

With ocean surface temperatures higher than 2 meter air temperatures, it appears the ocean is now dumping some of its latent heat back into the atmosphere through radiative transfer. This is a situation opposite of what has been observed for much of the past 13-14 years running when Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) went negative and the oceans underwent rapid warming as they sucked up atmospheric heat.

What we now observe in the preliminary GFS data is evidence that the ocean is dumping a bit of this stored and massive volume of heat back into the atmosphere. And we are seeing significant positive oceanic and atmospheric heat forcing well before any major level of Eastern Pacific Ocean warming and associated El Nino have come into play.

Links:

NOAA ESRL

University of Maine

National Climate Data Center

UCAR GFS

UCAR: El Nino or La Nada?

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