Advertisements

“Massive” Arctic Heat Dome Sets Up to Bake Sea Ice

There’s a massive heat dome building over an Arctic sea ice pack that is looking increasingly fragile in both model forecasts and observations. In short, very bad weather for sea ice is rapidly settling in even as the ice pack, despite recent place gains in some measures, is looking increasingly weak.

*   *   *   *   *   *

First the somewhat good news… Arctic sea ice extent has backed off to about 8th lowest on record. Arctic sea ice area is at about 4th lowest on record. And Arctic sea ice volume, according to DMI, is in the range of 3rd lowest on record (PIOMAS looks even better). This report may sound rather bad, but when compared with  late May and early June when sea ice extent measures were at or near new record lows the data could arguably be characterized as an improvement. Yeah, there’s been some big area drops recently, but all in all, not too terrible, right?

Probably wrong… Because the Arctic is gearing up for a very powerful heat wave over the coming week. One that is likely to spike maximum summer temperatures in the High Arctic, a region that seldom shows much variance on the side of hot or cold at this time of year, by 0.5 to 1.5 C above average. A heatwave my somewhat more reserved fellow ice observer, Neven, has called ‘HUGE’ (note that Neven seldom uses caps lock) and is characterizing as something he’s not seen in all of his five years of sea ice observation. From The Arctic Sea Ice Blog Today:

However, there is one big difference compared to last year and that’s heat. Despite a very cold start, there have been several outbreaks of warm air over the ice, slowly but radically shifting the balance between extent and area data. The impact is felt on the surface of the ice pack, but doesn’t translate directly into a decrease. Not yet. In theory, it should percolate through after a while, especially if the heat persists. And right now the Arctic sea ice pack is undergoing a massive heat wave which shows no signs of letting up.

I find myself in agreement with Neven. The massive heat build in the Arctic predicted for this week is likely to be a significant event with potentially wide-ranging impact. But to understand why, it helps to get an overall picture of the broader context in which this particular heatwave is occurring. And that context includes two other stories as well — the story of human-forced climate change and the story of a still developing and potentially monstrous El Nino.

Ocean Warming Injects Heat into the Arctic

To get an idea how warming in the Equatorial Pacific and over-all greenhouse gas based warming can have such a far-flung impact, particularly on the currently building Arctic heatwave, it always helps to take a look at the behavior of the circumpolar Jet Stream. Large areas of persistently warmed water, like the one we have seen now for two years over the Eastern Pacific, have a tendency to generate high amplitude ridges in the Jet. Ridges that serve as open avenues for heat transport into the Arctic. Specifically yesterday a huge pulse of heat was traveling north along just such a high amplitude and ocean-warmed ridge:

Jet Stream July 6 2015

(Amazing high amplitude Jet Stream wave punching all the way through to the High Arctic on the back of the Eastern Pacific’s Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Our particular heat transporter should by now be very familiar — a ridiculously resilient ridge (RRR) — extending northward and buttressed by multiple high pressure cells stubbornly entrenched over abnormally hot water in the Eastern Pacific. Yesterday (Monday, July 6) the ridge elongated. South to north winds over-riding northward flowing warm, salty ocean water. Running up through Alaska, the heat pulse set off all-time daily highs in places like Anchorage (81 degrees and breaking the record set in 1972). The heat then spilled into the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas where it met with adjoining, though lesser heat pulses over-riding Greenland and the Laptev. A gathering pocket of hot, thick air that is now pooling in the so-called sea ice ‘safe zone’ just north of Greenland.’ A precursor to the very intense high pressure cell we see developing now.

But before we go on to tell the tale of our gathering Arctic heatwave we should first take a closer look at ocean surface temperatures. As these give us a rather clear picture of the Arctic’s current vulnerability — providing for us a hint as to why heat will intensify most strongly to the north of the Canadian Archipelago and Greenland. For it is ocean surface heat that built the road that warm air followed:

Warm water plume invades Arctic

(Heat plume running all the way from Equator to Pole clearly reflected in this July 6 NOAA/ESRL SSTA anomaly map.)

Taking a look at NOAA’s July 6 Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly (SSTA) map, we find a massive plume of much warmer than normal (1971-2000) waters extending up from a plainly visible El Nino pattern, all throughout a large sweep of the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Moving northward, these steamy waters spill into two hot blobs off the Mexican, US, and Canadian coasts — a heat pool that again punches up through the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. An Equator to Pole expanse of ominously hot water that is enabling both sea ice melt in the regions directly impacted as well as a broader invasion of warmth into even the sea ice’s most secure haunts.

Heat Directly North of Greenland, Canadian Archipelago

Warmth that today aided in the formation of an Arctic high pressure ridge hitting significant heights of 1030 to 1035 mb directly between the Pole and Greenland. At 1245 Eastern Standard Time, the ridge had already intensified to 1032 mb. And for at least the next seven days both the GFS and the Euro model shows a 1025 to 1035 mb high pressure cell dominating the same region.

imageimage

(Left frame shows strong, 1032 mb high pressure system settling in to the region just north of Greenland on July 7. By July 10 [right frame], this ridge is predicted to have greatly warmed the Central Arctic zone between Greenland and the Pole. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This persistent ridge will remove cloud cover in a large area between North America and the Pole. Sunlight, at its seasonally most intense, will multiply already widespread melt ponds on the sea ice surface. The combined solar forcing and loss of albedo will push surface temperatures higher as the ridge remains in place. And by Friday a broad band of 2-4 C temperatures is predicted to form in a bulge over the Arctic Ocean north of Greenland and the Pole. Abnormally warm temperatures and direct sunlight that will, over the next week, increase melt pressure over the last remnant of thick sea ice left to the Arctic.

In addition to reducing cloud formation and enhancing the melt-forcing impact of sunlight on the sea ice, high pressure cells in this region will have a couple of further influences. First, they will tend to compact the sea ice overall — drawing in the fringe ice while generating warm water upwelling at the ice edge. And second, the clockwise motion of air circulating around a strong high pressure cell will nudge sea ice out of the Central Arctic toward the gateway of the Fram Strait. Add in the significant impact due to reduced cloud formation allowing sunlight to contact sea ice during a period of peak solar radiative forcing and we end up with a substantial overall blow to the sea ice.

Arctic temperature anomaly

(Extraordinary high temperature anomalies are predicted for the Arctic from July 7-17. A departure more typical for winter when human greenhouse gasses have the greatest heat-amplifying impact. Image Source: meteomodel.)

Taking a look at the meteomodel anomaly map above, we find a very extreme warming of the Central Arctic predicted over the next ten days. A heat pulse to rival 2012 for this period. A melt multiplying heatwave that is predicted to push anomalies for the entire Arctic above +1.5 C beyond the early July average. A polar amplification similar to what is typically a winter manifestation of human emissions-driven anomalous warmth — this time anomalously occurring during a period when heat for the region is approaching peak intensity.

Impacts to Sea Ice Could Be Substantial

In the face of this oncoming weather, ice pack strength would be a deciding factor lending resiliency during melt-promoting conditions or a shift to a much more rapid rate of decline. Though some indicators, including a seemingly slower rate of decline during late June, may point toward more ice resiliency, a growing number of satellite reports and model analysis hint at a general and overall weakness throughout the ice pack.

This weakness can best be described as model indication of thin or low concentration ice, already widespread melt ponding, and visual indication of ice weakness in the satellite shot.

GLBb Holy Shit Model

(The US Navy’s GLBb model has always been unfriendly to sea ice. But other models are now starting to agree. Image source: US Navy.)

For low concentration ice, no model is more stark than the US Navy’s experimental GLBb sea ice thickness ensemble. I colloquially think of this as the ‘holy crap’ sea ice model. This label due to the fact that if sea ice state is really as bad as the model indicates, then the ice is basically toast. Starting in June, this model displayed a great overall weakness in the sea ice and, according to its analysis, the situation has progressed from bad to worse with most of the remaining Arctic Ice possessing a thickness of 1.2 meters or less. Easily thin enough for any nudge by weather to really start rapidly bringing the ice down and opening up very large expanses of open ocean.

If the GLBb ‘holy crap’ model were the only sea ice model making us want to say ‘holy crap!’ then we could probably breathe a bit easier. Unfortunately, another US Navy model is now also tending to elicit this response in reaction to its predictions for the next 7 days and more specifically for the next 3 days:

Arctic Sea Ice Concentration TodayArctic sea ice concentration forecast

(The US Navy’s ARCc sea ice concentration model predicts a very rapid rate of sea ice decline over the next few days. Image source US Navy.)

The top image in this up and down comparison shows the US Navy’s ARCc model’s interpretation of sea ice concentration for July 6 of 2015. Note the extensive green regions showing a 40-50 percent sea ice concentration. It’s a huge swath of ice including large sections of the Chukchi, the Beaufort the ESS, the Laptev, as well as remaining ice in the Kara Sea, and Baffin and Hudson Bay. Now watch what happens to those large sections of lower concentration ice from July 7 to July 10 in the ARCc model 30 day history and forecast summary. Almost all that green is wiped off the map. It’s like losing about 1 million square kilometers of extent and 600,000 kilometers of area in just 72 hours. Or about 10,000 square kilometers of ice per hour. A precipitous fall that would mark an extraordinary and likely unprecedented rate of loss should it emerge as the Navy model predicts.

But you know what they say about models — no model is perfect and every model ends up wrong in some manner or another. So the question here is — how likely is it that the Navy models could be correct or incorrect this time?

To try and tease this answer out we could also look at other sea ice concentration maps. Notably all the major ones including Cryosphere Today, Uni Bremen, and NSIDC currently show sea ice looking either thin or very thin. Specifically, Uni Bremen has shown some amazing contrast over the past 48 hours:

Uni Bremen July 5Uni Bremen July 6

(AMSR2 model analysis of sea ice surface state shows very rapid thinning in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas during the past 24 hours. Image source: Uni Bremen)

The left image in the above comparison is from the AMSR2 model analysis for Arctic sea ice concentration on July 5. The right image is the same analysis but for July 6. Note the substantial change in the sea ice concentration for the Beaufort and Chukchi seas over just one day. A change that is consistent with the pulse of warm air and water riding up through the Eastern Pacific and through Alaska, the Bering and the Chukchi. Another holy crap moment, and not at all of the good variety. To say the least, a similar response north of Greenland and the CAA would be devastating.

Moving away from models and back to observations we find that from the satellite vantage the entire Arctic Ocean displays an ice pack in various shades of azure. By color analysis alone we can readily see that the 2015 ice (July 6 MODIS image) is far more melt pond embedded than 2014 or 2013. 2012 is a tough comparison due to NASA-MODIS’s format change from that year. But the widespread melt ponding alone hints at a reduced resiliency for the ice when compared with recent years.

Arctic Ice Pack July 6

(Arctic sea ice turns blue color characteristic of widespread proliferation of melt ponds on July 6. Also note very thin and diffuse sea ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Turning to the Chukchi and Beaufort, we see a visible confirmation of the weakness indicated in the US Navy and Uni Bremen models. Beneath the smoldering outflow of the Alaskan fires we can plainly see the decayed state of ice. The floes greatly disassociated with widening gaps appearing between diminishing ice clusters.

As satellite gives us an overall view of the Arctic from above, local observations can help provide a sense of the sea ice state at the surface. During recent years, cameras mounted on buoys throughout the Arctic have provided us with a first-hand account of the story of Northern Hemisphere sea ice decline. And during recent days almost every camera-based buoy has shown an extensive expansion of melt ponds and open water. (Extensive melt ponding extends as far north as the Pole).

In the swiftly thinning ice pack of the Beaufort even the contrast of a single day can be quite stark.

Beaufort Open WaterBeaufort Open Water Waves

(Warm storm kicks up under the gradient imposed by a building heat dome of the Arctic. Top and bottom frame provides a stark tale of impacts in just one 24-hour period. Image source: USIABP.)

In the above top-bottom comparison of RACS#2 ice buoy photos we find that wide but placid areas of sunlit open water in the Beaufort Sea on July 6th (top frame) have rapidly transformed to wind-driven 1-2 foot waves whipped up by 15-25 mile per hour winds on July 7th (bottom frame) in association with a tightening gradient around the strengthening high pressure in the Central Arctic. Waves of this kind can deliver a significant amount of melt forcing to the ice — mixing cooler surface waters with warmer waters below as well as rocking through the ice floes with a rain of incessant, ice-breaking blows.

Conditions in Context: Rapid Melt Likely On the Way

Increasing model agreement indicating rapid sea ice melt, observations of sea ice weakness via satellite and buoy based systems throughout the Arctic, and predictions of a substantial Arctic heatwave all point toward a high and rising risk of rapid sea ice melt. Larger global trends, particularly heat transport from the Equatorial Pacific all the way to the northern Polar zone through the mechanisms of El Nino, human based greenhouse gas heat forcing, and the associated Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, heighten this risk even further. Finally, a wide array of observations indicate that such rapid melt is already starting to set in. Given this increasing agreement and confluence, it appears that the late June ice dispersal is likely over and that serious trouble for Arctic sea ice has now set in and will remain in play for at least the next seven days.

Links:

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Cryosphere Today

Uni Bremen

NSIDC

The Polar Science Center

NOAA/ESRL

Earth Nullschool

US Navy

LANCE-MODIS

Hat Tip to Neven

Hat Tip to Frivolous

Hat Tip to Jim Hunt

Hat Tip to Climate Hawk

 

 

Advertisements

At Start of 2015 Melt Season, Arctic Sea Ice is in a Terrible State

Strong Polar Amplification. With human-forced climate change, it’s normally something you’d tend to see during winter time. By spring, the increase in solar radiation in the Mid-Latitudes would tend to force a more rapid pace of warming there. The snow and ice cover, recently refreshed by winter, would be at highest annual albedo at winter’s end. That high albedo would create a warming lag from the upper Latitudes. The resulting increase in temperature differential would then tend to reinforce the Jet Stream — giving it a strengthening kick and providing the polar north with a kind of ephemeral haven. At least for a brief window during early spring time.

Not so with 2015. This Spring, the Jet has been a basketcase. A mess of meanders like a river finding its way through a wetland prior to joining the sea. Strong south to north flows have persisted over the North Atlantic and well into Western Siberia. These meridional patterns have repeatedly delivered heat into the Arctic — particularly through the oceanic gateway between Greenland and the Yamal region of Russia.

Unusually Warm Spring for The Arctic

For the past week, this pattern intensified and the result is a bulge of extreme heat extending on toward the North Pole in the broad zone between Greenland and Northwest Siberia:

21 h Thursday April 9 Arctic T Anomaly Map

In the above image, provided by Climate Reanalyzer, we find a classic polar vortex disruption type pattern (a rather odd event for April, as both polar amplification and vortex formation have both tended to fade by this seasonal period) in which the cold core is essentially ripped in half by warm air invading from the south. In this case, we see a massive warm air flood emerging from Eastern Europe, Western Russia and the North Atlantic riding up and over the polar zone across a warm frontal boundary. This greater warm air influx is joined with a lesser one emerging off the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge pattern off the US and Canadian West Coasts and flooding up over Alaska and the Mackenzie Delta region of Canada.

The cold cores are thus shoved aside. One has fled to a dubious haven over Eastern Siberia. The second has taken a stronger hold over Greenland. For the Greenland region, surface winds have encircled the new, displaced, cold pool, generating a temperature boundary that is sharply visible in the anomaly map. The dangerous weather-wrecking “Storms of My Grandchildren” Greenland melt and polar amplification pattern — featuring a Greenland cold pocket beside a meltwater-cooled North Atlantic zone surrounded by angrily warming regions.

High anomaly departures in the range of 15-20+ degrees C above average cover about 1/3 of the high Arctic region above 80 degrees North Latitude. Laptev, Kara, Barents and the Arctic Ocean proper are all included in the heat bulge. Temperatures in this zone today spiked to near or above the point at which sea ice melts at the surface (-2.5 C) with temperatures in the Kara in the 0 to -2 C range, temperatures in the Laptev in the -2 to -4 C range and temperatures within 100 miles of the pole hitting around -3.8 C. For this region, these are readings more typical to June or even July.

Record Low Start to Melt Season

The impacts to sea ice have been nothing short of unprecedented for early season melt.

In the extent measure we find that for the past month running we have been at or near new record lows. Over recent days, consistent with the strong surge of polar heat amplification, extent values have again plummeted past previous record low values. Dropping by more than 50,000 square kilometers for each day in the April 6-8 timeframe, the melt rate is exceedingly steep for this time of year. With April 8 achieving a new record low extent of 14,073,000 square kilometers — 95,000 square kilometers below the previous record low of 14,168,000 set in 2006.

Sea Ice Extent April 9

(Arctic Sea Ice Extent as recorded by NSIDC through April 9 of 2015. We are at the descending curve of the upper arc on the left in the image. The bottom dark blue line represents 2015 sea ice extent. The light blue and pink lines are 2007 and 2006 [previous record low years for springtime]. The upper dark blue line represents 1979 sea ice extent. The dotted green line represents 2012. Note how the 2015 line has consistently trended in record low range during the past month. Image source: NSIDC.)

As heat and sunlight build in this record low ice extent environment, greater stretches of dark, open water will trap more sunlight. This will tend to have a heat amplifying effect — pushing for greater ice losses as melt season gains traction. Weather trends will tend to have an impact as well. And Arctic Oscillation (AO) is expected to again hit a strongly positive level over the next couple of days — providing further melt pressure to sea ice already at record lows. Wind patterns have also tended to facilitate ice export through the Fram, Nares and Bering Straits this year. Given a predicted continuation of these conditions, the long term-trend seems to be melt-favorable through end of April.

Kara Melting Early, Beaufort Cracking Up

In the satellite shot the impacts of these much warmer than normal Arctic conditions are clearly visible. Particularly, the Kara Sea near Northwestern Siberia and the Beaufort are showing signs of melt stress and ice fragility.

For the Kara, melt is proceeding well in advance of typical seasonal thaw. Large polynyas have opened up even as the ice edge has retreated. Much of the ice in this zone appears broken, thin, and disassociated — making it vulnerable to both increasing solar radiation and to the periods of more intense warmth to come.

Kara Sea April 9

(The Kara Sea showing reduced sea ice coverage on April 9 of 2015. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

With 2015 showing a tendency for strong south to north air flows in this region, the Kara continues to be at risk of early melt through spring and into start of summer.

But perhaps more disturbing is an ongoing and widespread break-up of sea ice in the Beaufort. Starting in late March and continuing on through April, very large cracks have opened up throughout the Beaufort Sea. Given that air temperatures remain in a range cold enough to freeze surface water (-12 to -25 C), the resulting gaps have quickly frozen. However, this crack-up is occurring directly at melt season start. Warmth is building, the sun is at an ever higher angle, and the lower albedo cracks may well serve to capture more heat in an already vulnerable region. In addition, temperatures in the Mackenzie River Delta — a region that, when thawed, will dump above freezing water into the already broken Beaufort — are approaching the melt point (-4 C readings today and 0 C for widespread thaw).

Beaufort Breaking Up

(Large cracks and polynyas throughout the Beaufort Sea on April 10 of 2015. Left side of frame is somewhat covered by cloud, but a large polynya [partially frozen] is visible through the coverage. Image Source: LANCE MODIS.)

These cracks are very extensive and include multiple large breaks. A scene reminiscent of the winter 2013 break-up. But the current timing at melt season start is far more likely to enhance ice vulnerability as spring progresses toward summer. Also, the fragile behavior of this broad section of Beaufort ice illustrates how thin sea ice in this region has become even as it hints at the potential that warm water (which is increasingly prevalent at depth throughout the Arctic Ocean) may be upwelling to melt some of this sea ice from below.

Together, the warm air influx and very high temperature anomalies, the rapid melt at the edge zones, the record low extent levels, and the massive crack-up ongoing in the Beaufort all point to extreme sea ice weakness at the start of melt season. With weather patterns remaining neutral to melt-favorable over the next few weeks and with winds favoring export through the Fram, Bering and Nares, risks remain high that Arctic sea ice will remain in record low territory over the coming weeks. Sea ice fragility in certain regions, especially the Beaufort, also bear watching for possible unpleasant surprises.

Links:

Climate Reanalyzer

NSIDC

LANCE-MODIS

The Storms of My Grandchildren

The Arctic Ice Blog

NASA: Melting, Darkening Arctic Ocean Turns Up Solar Heat by 5 Percent

Atop the world lies a thinning veil of ice. A gossamer lid covering a deep, dark Arctic Ocean. It is a reflector screen for incoming solar radiation during the months-long-day of Polar Summer. And a recent NASA study shows that this heat shield is starting to fail.

Ever since the late 1970s an Arctic warming at 2-3 times the rate of the rest of the globe has set off a 13.3 percent decline of sea ice at end summer during each and every following decade. And that cumulative loss is having an extraordinary impact. For the white, reflective ice cover by September has now, on average, fallen by nearly 50%. What remains is a thinner ice cover. One full of holes and interspersed with great and widening expanses of dark water.

Dark water and thinner, less contiguous, ice absorbs more of the sun’s heat. NASA notes that this added absorption can have far-flung impacts:

While sea ice is mostly white and reflects the sun’s rays, ocean water is dark and absorbs the sun’s energy at a higher rate. A decline in the region’s albedo – its reflectivity, in effect – has been a key concern among scientists since the summer Arctic sea ice cover began shrinking in recent decades. As more of the sun’s energy is absorbed by the climate system, it enhances ongoing warming in the region, which is more pronounced than anywhere else on the planet.

For years, polar scientists have been warning of signs this powerful amplifying feedback was speeding an already drastic warming for the Arctic environment. Now, a 15 year satellite survey conducted by NASA provides direct evidence that this is indeed the case — with the Arctic now absorbing 5% more incoming solar energy than it did in the year 2000.

Arctic Sea Ice Changes

(Click Image to Enlarge. Left frame shows summer sea ice fraction change with measures in dark blue showing a greater than 50% loss on average. Right frame shows changes in absorbed solar radiation with most of the Arctic showing a 5 watt per meter squared or greater increase in solar radiation absorption and sections of the Beaufort Sea peaking at 50 watts per meter squared additional solar radiation absorption. Image source: NASA.)

Averaged over the Arctic, the failing summer sea ice and newly revealed dark waters absorb an extra 10 watts per meter squared of solar heat radiation. That extra heat is equivalent to having a 10 watt light bulb burning on every square meter of the Arctic Ocean surface throughout the entire polar summer. Twenty four hours per day, seven days a week for the seasonal period.

In some regions, like the Beaufort Sea near Northern Canada and Alaska, the extra heat absorption is as much as 50 watts per meter squared greater than year 2000 levels. An extraordinary increase in Arctic Ocean heat uptake and, perhaps, one of the chief reasons why higher Latitude ocean surface temperatures have tended to range so high in recent years.

It’s a massive realignment of the Earth’s radiative balance and one that has occurred in only a relatively short period.

NASA scientists are quick to caution that to fully take into account climate variability, the study will need to continue for another 15 years. But when taking into account the massive 35 year drop off in sea ice since 1979, it appears likely that radiative balance changes are even greater than the 15 year NASA study indicates.

September Arctic Sea Ice Loss 1979-2014

(NSIDC sea ice extent losses for Arctic since 1979 showing a 13.3% decadal rate of decline. Image source: NSIDC. Note NSIDC adds a linear trend line. However, historic rates likely show a more rapidly down curving melt progression — see image below.)

Overall, this loss of sea ice and related increased heat absorption has pushed melt season onset times a full week sooner than 1982 onsets 32 years ago. Earlier melt season starts lead to more heat absorption — a classic feedback cycle also recognized in the new NASA report.

In addition, the report links added Arctic Ocean summer heat absorption to loss of older, thicker ice observed throughout the Arctic region. Since 2000, more than 1.4 million square kilometers of 3 meter or thicker ice has melted out of the Arctic Ocean system. That ice has been replaced by coverages of less than 2 meters in thickness — another aspect of amplifying warming feedbacks at play in the Arctic.

Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt Maryland, notes:

Having younger and thus thinner ice during winter makes the system more vulnerable to ice loss during the summer melt season.

Whether these amplifying feedbacks will result in ice free summer conditions sooner rather than later is still a matter of some discussion among scientists. Following the 13.3 percent per decade trend puts us at ice free summers sometime around 2030-2035. But the large swings in annual variability could result in an earlier year in which ice free conditions occur. In addition, some scientists assert that amplifying heat feedbacks in the Arctic are enough to result in ice free summers as soon as 2017 to 2020.

To this point it may be worth considering that the 13.3 percent per decade rate may be steepening as is hinted at in the below long term graph:

2014_sea_ice_NSIDC_extended

(Long term melt trend compiled by Larry Hamilton. Image source: Here.)

Regardless of timing, the historic loss of Arctic sea ice is already resulting in dramatic impacts to the Earth’s radiative balance and to the distribution of global surface heat absorption. A circumstance that a number of studies have implicated in changing Jet Stream patterns and enhanced meridional (north to south and south to north) air flows.

Links:

Satellites Measure Increase of Sun’s Energy Absorbed in the Arctic

2014 Melt Season in Review

Arctic Melt Trends

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

Mauna Loa Methane Measure Shows Rising Rates of Increase Through End 2014

Mauna Loa Methane early December

(Atmospheric methane levels as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory. Image source: NOAA/ESRL.)

Atmospheric methane levels as measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory (MLO) showed a continued steepening rate of increase through late 2014 — featuring one rather troubling spike late last month.

The measure, which has been recording atmospheric methane levels since the middle of the 20th Century, continued to ramp higher with readings hitting an average of 1850 parts per billion by late November.

Notably, this increase is at a faster pace than yearly averages for all of the last decade.

In addition, a single spike to 1910 parts per billion took place last month. This large departure of 60 parts per billion above the average was somewhat unusual for the Mauna Loa measure. The collection site is rather far from human or Arctic emissions sources which makes it less likely to feature anomalous spikes due to local influences. This particular spike also represents the largest single departure from the base line measure since 1984 (when the ESRL record begins).

Overall drivers of the more recent increase in global methane levels beginning around 2007 come from an increase in human emissions (likely due to rising rates of fossil fuel exploitation — primarily through hydrofracking and coal mining) as well as what appears to also be an increase in Arctic emissions. Large methane sources in Siberia, over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, in the Laptev Sea, the Nares Strait, and west of Svalbard have been observed in both satellite monitors and through observations taken by scientists and researchers on the ground. Overall, a significant overburden of greenhouse gasses centers on the Arctic and appears to be enhanced by local carbon (methane and CO2) sources in the region.

More comprehensive measurements of methane releases over Alaska (according to NASA JPL), on the other hand, have not yet shown methane release departures above the global norm for land areas. But the observational record for Alaska composes just one year (2012), so there is no way to yet determine if permafrost carbon and methane releases from the tundra in that region increased to achieve their current rates. It is worth noting generally that the terrestrial zone for Alaska and its off shore region are not, as yet, major carbon release hot spots.

Global Warming Potential at Least 20 Times CO2

Methane (CH4) is an important greenhouse gas due to the fact that its global warming potential (GWP) over short periods is much higher when compared to a similar volume of CO2 (most measures consider the GWP of methane to be 20 times that of a similar volume of CO2). That said, methane’s residence time in the atmosphere is much shorter than CO2 and CO2 volumes are much larger. So CO2 is considered to be a more important gas when it comes to long term climate change. Nonetheless, CH4 increases since the start of the industrial revolution put it as the #2 gas now forcing the world to warm.

Very large outbursts of CH4 from the global carbon store (including terrestrial and ocean stores) during the Permian and PETM are hypothesized to have set off very rapid increases in global temperature. For some prominent researchers, this potential hazard is seen to be very low under current warming conditions. Others, however, seem very concerned that a rapid methane outburst under the very fast rate of human warming could be a tipping point we are fast approaching.

Observations in a Murky Scientific Context

It is important to note that the current profile of atmospheric methane increase does not yet look like one of catastrophic release. Instead, what we see is an overall ramping up of atmospheric levels.

The issue of catastrophic release potential — raised by Peter Wadhams, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, and Dr. Simeletov and Shakhova among others — is not one that is certain or settled in the science.

As an example, Dr. Shakhova identifies a substantial but non-catastrophic 17 megaton atmospheric release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (equal to about 8 percent of the human emission and a substantial increase from a previous estimate of 8 megatons per year in 2010) as currently ongoing. However, both Simeletov and Shakhova have been the object of criticism due to their identification of a risk of a 3.5 gigaton per year methane release should all the East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane hot spots become active. Such a release would, in one year, nearly double the amount of all methane currently in the atmosphere (5 gigatons).

Dr. Peter Wadhams, another Arctic expert, has also received criticism for his assessment that a 50 gigaton release from the large subsea Arctic methane stores could be possible as sea ice retreat spurs Arctic Ocean sea floors to warm.

Other scientists such as GISS lead Gavin Schmidt and prominent Earth Systems modeler David Archer have noted that such very large releases aren’t currently likely. They point to natural traps that tend to tamp down sea based release rates (sometimes stopping as much as 90 percent of a destabilized methane source from hitting the atmosphere). They also note that current warming has probably not yet exceeded levels seen during the Eemian (130,000 years ago) and no large methane releases were observed at that time from Arctic carbon stores like the ESAS. They tend to take the view that any increasing rate of release coming from Arctic methane stores in particular and Arctic carbon stores in general will be very slow — so slow as to not be a significant amplifier of human warming (less than 5 percent) this century.

In general, between these two rather extreme and increasingly polarized views on Arctic methane, there appears to be very little in the way of middle ground. Although, a loosely related survey of permafrost carbon experts found a consensus opinion that the total carbon emission (including CO2 and methane) from land based tundra alone would equal between 10 and 35 percent of the current annual human emission by the end of this Century. It’s worth noting that this survey assessment does not include potential releases from the submerged permafrost in the ESAS or releases from other global carbon stores as a result of human warming.

The current rapid pace of human-caused warming — heating some regions of the Arctic as fast as 0.5 to 1 C per decade — also caused some of Archer and Schmidt’s scientific forebears, particularly James Hansen, to be rather less dismissive of the potential for a significant release from global methane stores, especially those in the Arctic. In any case, current human greenhouse gas emissions of nearly 50 gigatons CO2e each year are now in the process of pushing global temperatures past Eemian thresholds. An excession likely to elevate Anthropocene temperatures beyond all Eemian estimates before the mid 2030s under current rates of global greenhouse gas emissions and expected increases in fossil fuel burning.

So it is in this murky scientific context that we must interpret risks involving a continuing and apparently ramping rate of atmospheric methane increase. And what we can say with certainty is that there is little evidence that we are now hitting an exponential rise in global atmospheric methane levels. But that there is some evidence that a risk for such an event is real and requires much more detailed research and public dissemination of information to put what are some very valid concerns to rest.

Links:

NOAA ESRL

Alaska Methane Survey by JPL

Last Chance for 2014 El Nino: Second Kelvin Wave Strengthens in Pacific Amid Favorable Atmospheric Conditions

2014 has been a rough year for El Nino forecasting.

During Winter and Spring, an extraordinarily strong Kelvin wave rocketed across the Pacific. Containing heat anomalies in excess of 6 C above average, this flood of trans-Pacific warmth hit the ocean surface, dumping an extraordinary amount of heat into the atmosphere. The heat helped drive global sea surface temperatures for May, June, and July to all-time record values.

Many forecasters believed that this heat would lead to a moderate to strong El Nino event starting this summer. And, by June, NOAA was predicting that El Nino was 80% likely to emerge some time this year.

But the initial oceanic heat pulse was crushed by a failure of atmospheric feedbacks. The trans-Pacific trade winds, with a few visible exceptions, remained strong enough to suppress El Nino formation. And so it appeared that, by late July, the initial powerful heat pulse providing potential for El Nino had almost entirely fizzled.

Then, a second warm Kelvin Wave began to form even as Southern Oscillation values started to fall.

Second Warm Kelvin Wave Crosses Pacific

(Second warm Kelvin Wave running across Pacific has resurrected the potential for a weak to moderate late 2014 El Nino. Image source: Climate Prediction Center.)

This second Kelvin Wave contains a broad swath of +2 to +5 C anomaly values and is rapidly propagating toward the surface zones of the Central and Eastern Pacific. And though not as strong as the Kelvin Wave that formed earlier this year, the current Kelvin Wave is occurring in conjunction with what appears to be a somewhat more robust atmospheric feedback.

The Southern Oscillation Index, a measure of pressure differences between Tahiti and Darwin, is an indicator of Nino related atmospheric conditions. At consistent values below -8, weather variables tend to favor El Nino formation. And, for the past twelve days, 30 day averages have been below the -8 threshold. If these values extend for much longer, the coincident warm Kelvin Wave and atmospheric conditions favorable for El Nino may well set off this long-predicted event.

Model runs still show a 60-65% chance of El Nino formation before the end of this year and NOAA’s forecast continues to call for a weak El Nino forming some time in late 2014:

El Nino Forecast

(Model Forecast shows 60-65 percent chance of El Nino by November through January. Image source: CPC/IRI.)

It is worth noting that this second warm Kelvin Wave is providing the last chance for El Nino in 2014. So if atmospheric feedbacks fade and sea surface temperatures remain just on the high side of ENSO neutral, then 2014 will close without the incidence of this wide-scale Pacific Ocean and atmospheric warming event.

With weak El Nino, however, there is still a likelihood that 2014 will tie or exceed hottest ever global surface temperature values. A failure for El Nino to form will probably result in 2014 closing as one of the five hottest years on record, given current trends.

Links:

Climate Prediction Center

CPC/IRI

Southern Oscillation Index

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 2014 Shows Hottest Ocean Surface Temperatures on Record as New Warm Kelvin Wave Forms

According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, July of 2014 was the 4th hottest in the 135 year global temperature record. Land surface temperatures measured 10th hottest in the global record while ocean surface temperatures remained extraordinarily hot, tying July of 2009 as the hottest on record for all years on measure over the past two centuries.

Overall, land temperatures were 0.74 C above the 1950 to 1981 average and ocean surface temperatures were 0.59 C above the same average.

These new record or near record highs come after the hottest second quarter year in the global temperature record where combined land and ocean temperatures exceeded all previous global high temperatures in the measure.

Much Hotter Than Normal July

Few regions around the globe showed cooler than average temperatures during July with zones over the east-central US, in the Atlantic just south of Greenland, and off South America in the Southern Ocean as the only regions showing cooler than normal temperatures. Record warmest temperatures ranged from Scandinavia to Iceland to Northeast Siberia, from California to Alaska to the Northeast Pacific, along a broad stretch of Pacific Ocean waters east of the Philippines and New Guinea, in pools in the North and South Atlantic Oceans off the coasts of North and South America, and in spots from Australia through the Indian Ocean to South Africa.

Land Ocean Temperature Percentiles July 2014

(Land and Ocean temperature anomalies for July of 2014. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

Overall, most of the surface of the Earth featured above average to record warmest conditions, while a minority of the Earth’s surface showed average or below average temperatures.

These new global heat records were reached even as slightly cooler than average waters began to up-well in the critical Eastern Equatorial Pacific region. A powerful Kelvin Wave that initiated during late winter and spring of 2014 failed to set off a summer El Nino and finally faded out, reducing heat transfer from Pacific Ocean waters to atmosphere. Even so, the ocean to atmosphere heat dump was enough to set off two record hot months for May and June and a record hot ocean surface month for July as ocean surface waters remained extraordinarily warm across many regions.

Hot Water August 18, 2014

(Ocean surface temperatures remained at or near record hot levels during July and August of 2014 despite a failed El Nino development in the Equatorial Pacific. The above graphic shows global water temperatures for August 18 at an extraordinary +1.13 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average. Image source: University of Maine.)

New Warm Kelvin Wave Begins to Form

Though the atmosphere failed to respond to a powerful Kelvin Wave issuing across the Pacific earlier this year, stifling the development of a predicted El Nino, it appears a new warm Kelvin Wave is now beginning to form. Moderate west wind back bursts near New Guinea initiated warm water down-welling and propagation across the Pacific Ocean during July and early August. The down-welling warmth appeared to link up with warm water upwelling west of New Guinea and began a thrust across the Pacific over the past week.

As of the most recent sub-sea float analysis, anomalies in the new Kelvin Wave ranged as warm as 4-5 C above average:

Kelvin Wave August 14, 2014

(New warm Kelvin Wave forming in the Equatorial Pacific. Image source: Climate Prediction Center.)

These sub-sea temps are rather warm for an early phase Kelvin Wave and may indicate another ocean to atmosphere heat delivery is on its way, despite a broader failure of El Nino to form by this summer.

Typically, strong Kelvin Waves provide the energy necessary for El Nino to form. The heating of surface waters due to warm water upwelling in the Equatorial Pacific tends to set off atmospheric feedbacks that perpetuate an El Nino pattern in which waters remain warmer than average in the Central and Eastern Equatorial Pacific for many months. Without these atmospheric responses, El Nino cannot form.

During 2013 and 2014, strong Kelvin Waves forming during spring time were not enough to over-ride prevailing and historically strong trade wind patterns thereby allowing El Nino to emerge.

Atmospheric ‘Hiatus’ is No Halt to Global Warming

During recent years, scientific analysis has confirmed that a negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation together with record strength trade winds has suppressed El Nino formation and ocean to atmosphere heat transfer, leading to a temporary slow down in atmospheric temperature increases even as world ocean temperatures spiked.

heat_content2000m

(Global ocean heat content for 0-2000 meters of depth shows inexorable upward trend despite the so-called atmospheric warming hiatus. Image source: NOAA Ocean Heat Content.)

This natural variability, which typically lasts for 20-30 years began around the year 2000 and has continued through 2014. During such periods of negative PDO, we would expect rates of atmospheric warming to cease or even to go slightly negative. Unfortunately, even though PDO has been negative for nearly 15 years, a phase which during the 1940s to 1970s drove 0.35 C of transient atmospheric cooling against an overall larger warming trend, we have still seen atmospheric warming in the range of 0.1 C per decade.

This is bad news. For as ocean heat content is spiking, the transfer from atmosphere to ocean has not been enough to even briefly cut off atmospheric warming. And at some point, the oceans will deliver a portion of their latent heat back to the atmosphere, causing an even more rapid pace of temperature increase than was seen during the 1980s through 2000s period.

In other words, we’ve bent the cycle of natural variability to the point where we see warming, albeit slower warming, during times when we should have seen atmospheric cooling. And all indicators — radiative balance measured by satellite, deep ocean water temperatures, glacial melt, and atmosphere — show ongoing and inexorable warming.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

University of Maine

NASA: ‘Haitus’ in Global Surface Temperatures Likely Temporary

NOAA Ocean Heat Content

 

 

Winds Interrupted — El Nino is Tearing a Hole Through the Trades

Trade winds. The east-to-west flow of airs across more than ten thousand miles of Pacific waters. Starting just off the coast of Ecuador, these winds typically blow in the range of 15 to 25 miles-per-hour uninterrupted across the vast Pacific before terminating in the South China Sea. The winds are a normal condition in the Equatorial Pacific. So constant that sailors relied on them as a kind of ocean conveyor during the days when sailing ships still ruled the waves. Year in, year out, the trade winds blow. Usually only subject to minor insults and brief interruptions from the massive and powerful weather phenomena that is El Nino.

But, starting yesterday, something rather odd began to happen. A six thousand mile stretch of the trades simply went dead.

image

(Pacific Ocean wind pattern as of 1 PM EST, June 4. The brighter the green, the higher the intensity, the deeper the blue, the weaker the winds. Direction of flow indicated by tapering lines. Note the large dead zone in the Pacific equatorial wind belt. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data source: NOAA, GFS, MMAB, EMC, NCEP, OSCAR, UCAR.)

Draw a line due south of Kauai to the equator and there you will find a cyclone hovering just to its north.

Cyclones here usually have their wind fields dilated by the ongoing pressure of the east-to-west trade winds. As such, typical circular wind flow around a normal cyclone near the Pacific equator is distorted, turning instead into a kind of wind hump where the trades slow at the base and speed up at the top. West winds generally never completely wrap around these small storms.

But our cyclone is a bit unusual. For not only is it featuring a west wind flow of about 10 mph over about a 500 mile stretch of water, it also pushes ahead of it a trade wind killing frontal boundary. A sinking and rolling in the atmosphere that is acting like a kind of wall to the trades — keeping them from further progress.

The storm is the tip of a spear aimed at the heart of the trades and around it they bisect, shifting above the 10 degree North Latitude line in the north and below the 10 degree South Latitude line in the south. This wide gap features only weak and confused airflows. North-to-south they meander with the occasional weak east wind and numerous anomalous west winds filling in this rift. A broad, nearly 1,000 mile wide hole, that continues on west past the Solomons, past New Guinea, and on all the way to the Philippines.

To the East, a second 2,000 mile stretch of west winds running from south of California and on to the South American coast crowds out the trades. Together with the great wind gap to the west, these two patterns combine to cut off the trades from much of the Equator. What is left is only about 3,000 miles of uninterrupted flow. A mere 30% of the pattern’s typical range.

The El Nino Feedback

So why all the drama? What’s so important about trade winds anyway? Well, from the point of view of the developing monster weather event that is El Nino — almost everything.

For El Nino to grow and progress, in essence, for the massive pile of warm water that has accumulated in the Western Pacific to keep flowing east, the trade winds have to fail. They do this either through strong west wind events that open the gates to warm surface water flow eastward. Or they do it through a kind of trade wind collapse.

TS_anom_satellite2 jun 4

(Equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures warmed to near +0.70 this week as global sea surface temperatures remained in an extraordinarily hot range near +1 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average. A rising El Nino combined with global warming pushed April of 2014 to its hottest temperatures on record and likely had the same effect on May. Any further intensification of El Nino is likely to push this dire trend into even more extreme territory. Image source: University of Maine. Data Source: GFS.)

It is this kind of event that climate experts call an El Nino feedback — an atmospheric condition that sets in place the features that allow Pacific Ocean surface warming to intensify along a strengthening El Nino path. As of yesterday, and continuing on through today, that feedback is readily visible in what appears to be a mass trade wind die-off. A great hole punched through the heart of equatorial air flow.

Such a condition, according to past weather observations, should give what is already a strengthening El Nino a boost. So it appears the potential for a monster El Nino today again ramped higher.

UPDATE: The most recent NOAA/CPC official forecast calls for  a 70% chance of El Niño by this summer with the overall intensity forecast to be moderate. However, CPC El Niño forecast discussion shows a rough historic potential of 60% for a strong El Niño and a 20% chance for a very strong event due to very rapid Pacific Equatorial warming during May.

Links:

University of Maine

GFS

Earth Nullschool

NOAA

GFS

MMAB

EMC

NCEP

OSCAR

UCAR

 

 

 

Global CO2 to Reach Extremely Dangerous Peak Near 402 PPM for 2014, Methane Levels Ramp Ominously Higher

During 2014, human CO2 forcing continued its long march toward ever-more dangerous and climate-damaging levels. By the peak month of May, global CO2 had ranged well above the 400 parts per million threshold, catapulting Earth at raging velocity toward climate and atmospheric states not seen in at least 3 million years.

According to May readings from the Mauna Loa Observatory, the more volatile hourly measures jumped as high as 404 parts per million while daily and weekly averages tended to settle between 401.4 and 402.3 parts per million. Given these trends, overall CO2 levels for May of 2014 are likely to peak at near or just below the astronomical 402 ppm threshold.

Atmospheric CO2 Late May 2014

(Atmospheric CO2 levels measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory over the past two years. Peak values for 2012 hit near 397 ppm, peak for 2013 hit near 400 ppm, and peak for 2014 is likely to hit near 402 ppm. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

CO2 levels near 400 parts per million are enough, according to our developed understanding of paleoclimates, to increase global temperatures by between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius, to melt Greenland, West Antarctica and a portion of East Antarctica, and to raise sea levels by 75 feet if sustained over a long term. According to recent glacial research, these very high levels, when combined with additional greenhouse gas forcing and concurrent ocean and atmospheric warming have already been enough to destabilize or push large portions of these major ice systems into irreversible collapse.

(A history of atmospheric carbon dioxide through early this year provided by CIRES and compared to the entire ice core record of the past 800,000 years. Video source: CIRES.)

36 Billion Tons of CO2 Emission per Year and Counting

Measured from peak to peak, the rate of atmospheric increase is likely near 2.5 to 3.0 parts per million per year over the two year period. Averages over the whole range of the past two years show increases on the order of 2.4 parts per million per year — a challenge to recent rates of increase near 2.2 parts per million a year since 2000.

Steadily ramping rates of atmospheric CO2 accumulation are driven by extreme global industrial, agricultural, and land-use emissions. According to the Global Carbon Project, 2013 saw total global CO2 emissions in the range of 36 billion metric tons. This emission was 2.1 percent higher than the 2012 level and about 60 percent higher than the 1990 level at around 22 billion metric tons of CO2. Such an extraordinary pace of emissions puts severe strain on both atmospheric carbon levels and on carbon sinks around the globe. The resulting risk of such a strong continued emission is that global sinks and stores may soon become sources (see methane monster below). An issue of amplifying feedbacks that grows ever more perilous with each passing year.

Rapidly Increasing CO2 Acting in Concert With Ramping Methane, other Greenhouse Gasses

Unfortunately, CO2 is not the only human emission forcing global temperatures rapidly higher. In addition, methane, nitrous oxide, and numerous other greenhouse gasses also make their way into the atmosphere each year through industrial sources. If we combine all these other greenhouse gasses, the total CO2 equivalent carbon emission is now at around 50 billion metric tons each year. A veritable mountain of greenhouse gasses dumped at a pace more than 150 times that of volcanic emissions each and every year.

Overall, the total greenhouse gas forcing from all these sources is now likely in the range of 481 parts per million of CO2 equivalent. This immense heat forcing, were it to remain in the atmosphere long-term, is enough to raise global temperatures by 3-4 C and to melt enough ice to raise sea levels by at least 120 feet. It is also enough, with only two more years of current emissions, to likely lock in an inevitable, irreversible and extraordinarily disruptive increase of 2 C in global temperatures for this century alone.

First Glimpses of the Methane Monster

The most potent and troubling of these additional greenhouse gasses is methane. Over the course of 20 years, methane is about 80 times as powerful a heat trapping gas as CO2 by volume. And though atmospheric methane levels are far less than comparable CO2 levels (at around 1.8 parts per million, or 1/3 the total atmospheric heat forcing of CO2), there is cause for serious concern.

For not only is the industrial emission of methane increasing, primarily through the use of very damaging hydraulic fracturing technologies (fracking), the global emission of methane from the Earth System also appears to be ramping higher. Over recent years, rapidly thawing permafrost and warming oceans both around the world and, particularly, in the Arctic show signs of venting an increasing volume of methane into the atmosphere from terrestrial sources. Though annual official tracking of total Arctic methane emissions at this point is practically non-existent, recent research allows for rational estimation.

Taking into account known emissions from permafrost and the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, and adding in expected emissions from the rest of the thawing Arctic, methane emissions for the entire region are likely around 40 teragrams per year, or about 7% of the global total. This emission is equivalent to that of a major industrial nation and initial indications are that it is growing.

Mauna Loa Methane 2007 to 2014

(Atmospheric methane increase since 2007 as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory. Note the more rapid pace of increase from 2013 through the first quarter of 2014. Image source: NOAA/ESRL.)

The result of combined increases in the human methane emission and in the Earth System emission has been enough to continue to push global levels higher with Mauna Loa readings breaching the 1840 part per billion average by early 2014. What is even more troubling is that the Earth System methane store, composed of both permafrost methane and methane hydrate at the bottom of the world ocean system, is immense.

In total, more than 3,000 gigatons of carbon in the form of methane may be at risk to eventually hit the atmosphere as the Earth continues to warm under the current human forcing. A very large store that could easily multiply the current rate of Earth System methane release many times over. One that represents a clear and present danger for a potentially very powerful amplifying heat feedback to an equally extraordinary initial human forcing.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

NOAA/ESRL

What Does a World at 400 PPM CO2 Look Like Long-term?

Grim News From NASA: West Antarctica’s Entire Flank is Collapsing Toward the Southern Ocean

Global Carbon Budget 2013

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell: Living in a World at 480 CO2e

Far Worse Than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick: Michael Mann and Our Terrifying Greenhouse Gas Overburden

Beneath the Cracking, Melting Ice, Arctic Methane Monster Continues its Ominous Rumblings

CIRES

 

 

 

Global Sea Surface Temperatures Increase to Extraordinary +1.25 C Anomaly as El Nino Tightens Grip on Pacific

On May 22nd, 2014, global sea surface temperature anomalies spiked to an amazing +1.25 degrees Celsius above the, already warmer than normal, 1979 to 2000 average. This departure is about 1.7 degrees C above 1880 levels — an extraordinary reading that signals the world may well be entering a rapid warming phase.

SST anomaly May 22

(Global Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies per GFS Model on May 22, 2014. Image source: University of Maine.)

It is very rare that land or ocean surface temperatures spike to values above a +1 C anomaly in NOAA’s Global Forecast System model summary. Historically, both measures have slowly risen to about +.35 C above the 1979 to 2000 average and about +.8 C above 1880s values (land +1 C, ocean +.6 C). But since late April, sea surface temperatures have remained in a range of +1 C above 1979 to 2000 values — likely contributing to NOAA and NASA’s temperature indexes hitting first and second hottest in the climate record for the month. During May, ocean surface heating entrenched and expanded, progressing to a new high of +1.17 C last week. As of this week, values had exceeded +1.2 C and then rocketed on to a new extreme of +1.25 C (See Deep Ocean Warming is Coming Back to Haunt Us).

Should such trends continue, and with little more than a week left for this month, May of 2014 is likely to set a new record for global surface temperatures. And with El Nino continuing to tighten its grip on the Pacific, potentials for new all-time record high global temperatures for 2014 keep increasing.

April-2014-Global-Land-and-Ocean-Temperature-Percentiles

(NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center found that April of 2014 tied April of 2010 as the hottest in the climate record. During this month, very few regions showed cooler than average conditions for the month while broad swaths of the globe were covered in warmer than average or record warmest temperatures. It is worth noting that 2010 was also an El Nino year. Image source: NCDC.)

Regions currently showing much warmer than normal sea surface temperatures include a broad swath of extreme +1 to +4 C readings from Baja California northwest toward the Bering Sea, an expansive zone of +1 to +3 C readings from the coast of southern South America and across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand and Australia, almost the entire far South Atlantic between the East Coast of South America and the West Coast of Africa with very hot +1 to +4 C anomalies, almost the entire sea ice edge region in the Arctic with +1 to +4 C readings including a hot spot near the Nares Strait showing extraordinary +3 to +4 C departures, and two large areas of the Equatorial Pacific — one west of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and the other off the West Coast of South America — showing +1 to +3.5 C departures.

Significant cooler than normal areas are confined to the Northwest Pacific and a stretch of the Gulf of Mexico off Texas. Another cool zone off of Greenland is likely the result of regional surface water cooling due to ongoing and increasing glacial melt, north wind bursts pushing sea ice out of Baffin Bay, and an expanding zone of fresh surface waters flowing from West Greenland into the North Atlantic.

Overall, the global ocean surface is very, very hot, likely near or above all-time record high temperature departures.

El Nino Continues to Tighten Grip on Pacific

Trends toward El Nino continued in the Pacific with the current strong, high-temperature Kelvin Wave persisting through its upwelling phase. By May 18, +3 C or higher temperatures had reached the surface off Western South America with +4, +5 and +6 C readings only about 25-60 meters below. Upwelling from 140 East Longitude to 130 West Longitude and down-welling off the coast of South America also continued to flatten the 20 C isotherm, providing a west-to-east pathway for warm water propagation.

Kelvin Wave May 18

(May 18 Kelvin Wave Monitoring by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

Over the past week, Nino zones showed either maintained temperatures, very slight cooling, or surface temperature increases. The Nino 4 zone in the Central Pacific remained at +0.8 C even as the key Nino 3.4 zone in the East-Central Pacific showed slight cooling to +0.4 C. Nino 3 in the Eastern Pacific continued to warm, hitting a +0.6 C positive anomaly. Meanwhile, readings directly off the coast of South America rose to a rather high value of +1.3 C.

Trade winds remained weak or ran west-to-east along the equator. Though no strong counter-trade west winds were visible over the past seven days, numerous areas of weak west winds emerged. Overall, the trades in this large zone were confused and erratic, harried by the development of low pressure system after low pressure system along the equator.

These conditions show an ongoing trend toward an ever-more-likely El Nino by Summer-to-Fall of this year. Sea surface and near surface heat content at high to very high levels during the ‘cool’ upwelling phase of the current Kelvin Wave hint at a Pacific Ocean prepping for a strong El Nino event should favorable weather conditions continue. Extraordinary global sea surface temperature departures in the draw up to this potentially severe event show how sensitive the global system is to any El Nino type warming or movement toward a change in Pacific Ocean temperature states.

In short, global temperatures appear to be on a hair trigger to rise.

Links:

University of Maine

Climate Prediction Center

Deep Ocean Warming is Coming Back to Haunt Us

NOAA’s National Climate Data Center

Grim News From NASA: West Antarctica’s Entire Flank Collapsing Toward Southern Ocean, At Least 15 Feet of Sea Level Rise Already Locked-in Worldwide

(Must-watch NASA presentation finding six Antarctic Glaciers in irreversible collapse.)

Human-caused heat forcing. From the top of the atmosphere to the bottom of the world’s oceans, there’s no safe place to put it. For where-ever it goes it sets in place conditions with the potential to unleash gargantuan forces.

481. Minus aerosols, that’s the equivalent CO2 heat forcing humans have now built up in the atmosphere due to a constant and rapidly rising greenhouse gas emission. By itself, this heat forcing, were it to remain in the world’s atmosphere and ocean system, is enough to melt all of West Antarctica, all of Greenland, and part of East Antarctica pushing sea levels higher by between 30 and 120 feet or more.

Inertia. Namely, the massive inertia in the Earth climate system creating a perceived ability to resist rapid destabilization due to the human insult. It’s the one hope scientists and policy-makers alike pinned on the possibility of bringing human greenhouse gas emissions down in time to prevent radical and damaging change.

Rapid glacier and ice sheet destabilization. What, by 2014, became understood as the new reality, as an ever-increasing number of the world’s glaciers displayed far less resilience than previously anticipated and were set in motion to an unstoppable and catastrophic reunion with the world’s oceans by human warming.

Now, a new NASA study finds that six of West Antarctica’s largest glaciers are in a state of irreversible collapse. These add to a growing tally of destabilized glaciers from Greenland to Svalbard to Baffin Island to Antarctica and beyond which, all together, show that at least a 15 foot sea level rise from human-spurred glacial release is now inevitable.

Their names were Pine Island, Thwaites, Haynes, Pope, Smith and Kohler

antarctica_screen_grab1_2

(The locations of West Antarctica’s ‘butcher board’ glaciers — those that are doomed to an inevitable embrace with the Amundsen Sea. Image source: NASA.)

At issue are six massive glaciers representing more than 1/3 of total the ice mass of West Antarctica and what could well be called its entire weak flank.

As early as 1968, this massive section of West Antarctica was listed as unstable. Since that time, human heat forcing has pumped higher and higher volumes of warmth deep into the Pacific Ocean. The warmth pooled in the depths, building, even as it rose up beneath Antarctica. Ocean circulation and Ekman pumping along the coast of Antarctica brought this warm water up from the depths where it traveled along the continental shelf zone to encounter Antarctica’s mile-high glaciers. The warm water did its work, unseen, for a time. Eating away at the bottoms of these glaciers and speeding their slide to the sea. The increased glacial melt and related fresh water outflow put a kind of cold water cap on the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. This cold cap gave the ever-warming bottom waters no outlet to the surface and so the heat concentrated where it was needed least — at the bases of massive ocean-fronting glaciers.

One section of West Antarctica, composed of the six glaciers now listed as undergoing irreversible collapse, was particularly vulnerable to this basalt melt and ocean upwelling heat forcing. For the glaciers there rested on a section of continental shelf well below sea level — extending scores of miles beneath the ice and on into interior Antarctica. As a result, newly undercut glaciers are flooded until they float, creating lift, reducing friction and rapidly speeding the glacier’s plunge seaward. Even worse, few sub-glacier ridges — speed bumps that glaciologists call grounding points — interrupt the more rapid flow of these glaciers once initiated.

(NASA slide-show illustrating the process of basal melt and grounding line retreat)

By earlier this year, a separate NASA study found that the Pine Island Glacier (PIG), one of the world’s largest glaciers and the most vulnerable ice sheet in West Antarctica, had entered a state of irreversible collapse. Now, the most recent study, led by glaciologist Eric Rignot at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, finds that five of its fellows — Thwaites, Haynes, Pope, Smith, and Kohler — are following PIG’s lead.

Rignot’s findings could not be more stark:

“The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears to be unstoppable. The fact that the retreat is happening simultaneously over a large sector suggests it was triggered by a common cause, such as an increase in the amount of ocean heat beneath the floating sections of the glaciers. At this point, the end of this sector appears to be inevitable.”

In other words, over the course of decades-to-centuries, these glaciers will disintegrate and slide into the sea until they are no more. Years from now, their names will be a distant memory, reminders of a faded and far better time.

At Least 15 Feet of Sea Level Rise From Glacial Melt Now Locked-in

This year, the pace of new announcements for massive glaciers undergoing destabilization or irreversible collapse could best be described as terrifying and unprecedented. And each new announcement brings with it starker implications for both the ultimate pace and scope of global sea level rise.

Global sea level rise

(Current pace of global sea level rise at 3.26 mm per year is likely now set to rapidly accelerate coincident with the rapid acceleration and melt of an ever-increasing number of the world’s glaciers. Image source: AVISO.)

The amount of sea level rise to result from just the loss of the disintegrating section of West Antarctica described in the most recent NASA study amounts to at least four feet. But looking around the world we also find rapid destabilization of more than 13 glaciers encircling all of Greenland with one, the Zacharie Glacier, featuring an ice flow that stretches all the way to the center of the Greenland ice mass. Recent studies also find that the massive glaciers of Baffin Island and the world’s largest ice cap — the Austfonna glacier on Svalbard’s island of Nordaustlandet — are all locked in an inevitable seaward rush.

The total water composed in the moving and destabilized glaciers worldwide is now at least enough to raise world ocean levels by a total of 15 feet. But the inevitable loss of these glaciers tells a darker tale, one that hints that the 23 feet worth of sea level rise in all of Greenland’s ice and the 11-13 feet of sea level rise in all of West Antarctica’s ice may well be locked in to what is a growing daisy chain of explosive destabilization if human greenhouse gas levels aren’t radically drawn down.

In continuing to emit greenhouse gasses, we make the situation ever worse by imposing a heightening heat pressure on glacial systems that will both speed their release and ensure that an ever growing portion of the Earth’s ice ultimately melts. The current forcing though both extreme and dangerous is small compared to the potential forcing should we not rapidly reign in the human emission.

Links:

Must-Read NASA Study Showing Six of West Antarctica’s Glaciers in Irreversible Collapse

NASA Video: Antarctic Collapse Explained

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

Constant Arctic Heatwave Sends World’s Largest Ice Cap Hurtling Seaward

Doomed Pine Island Glacier Releases Guam-Sized Iceberg into Southern Ocean

Scientists: Warming Ocean, Upwelling to Make an End to Antarctica’s Vast Pine Island Glacier

NASA/UC Study: Warming Ocean Found to Melt Ice Sheets From Below

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell: Living in a World at 480 CO2e

Hat tip to Peter Sinclair and Colorado Bob

 

High Velocity Human Warming Coaxes Arctic Methane Monster’s Rapid Rise From Fens

Fens. A word that brings with it the mystic imagery of witch lights, Beowulfian countrysides, trolls, swamp gas, dragons. A sight of crumbling towers overlooking black waters. Now, it’s a word we can add to our already long list of amplifying Arctic feedbacks to human-caused warming. For the rapid formation of Arctic fens over the past decade has now been linked in a recent scientific study, at least in part, to a return to atmospheric methane increases since 2007.

Ribbed Fen

(A Ribbed Fen in Arctic Canada. Image source: The Government of Canada.)

The Role of Methane in Past Climate Change

Over the past 800,000 years, ice core records show atmospheric methane levels fluctuating between about 800 parts per billion during warm interglacial periods and about 400 parts per billion during the cold ice age periods. These fluctuations, in addition to atmospheric CO2 flux between 180 and 280 parts per million value were due to Earth Systems feedbacks driven by periods of increased solar heat forcing in the northern hemisphere polar region and back-swings due to periods of reduced solar heat forcing.

Apparently, added solar forcing at the poles during periodic changes in Earth’s orbit (called Milankovitch Cycles) resulted in a flood of greenhouse gasses from previously frozen lands and seas. This new flood amplified the small heat forcing applied by orbital changes to eventually break Earth out of cold ice age periods and push it back into warm interglacials.

Compared to current human warming, the pace of change at the time was slow, driving 4-6 degrees Celsius of global atmospheric heating over periods of around 8 to 20 thousand years. A small added amount of solar heat gradually leached out a significant volume of heat trapping gasses which, over the course of many centuries, undid the great grip of ice on our world.

Ice core record of Greenhouse Gas Flux

(Ice core record of greenhouse gas flux over the last 650,000 years. Methane flux is shown in the blue line that is second from the bottom. It is worth noting that current atmospheric methane values according to measures from the Mauna Loa Observatory are now in excess of 1840 parts per billion value. Temperature change is indicated in the lowest portion of the graph in the form of proxy measurements of atmospheric deuterium which provide a good correlation with surface temperature values. The gray shaded areas indicate the last 5 interglacial periods. Temperature year 0 is 1950. GHG year zero is 2006 in this graph. Image source: IPCC.)

By comparison, under business as usual human fossil fuel emissions combined with amplifying feedbacks from the Earth climate system (such as those seen in the fens now forming over thawing Arctic tundra), total warming could spike to an extraordinarily damaging level between 5 and 9 degrees Celsius just by the end of this century.

Methane — Comparatively Small Volume = Powerful Feedback

A combination of observation of past climates and tracking the ongoing alterations to our own world driven by human greenhouse gas emissions has given us an ever-clearer picture of how past climates might have changed. As Earth warmed, tundra thawed and ice sheets retreated releasing both CO2 and methane as ancient organic carbon stores, trapped in ice for thousands to millions of years, were partly liberated from the ice. In addition, warming seas likely liberated a portion of the sea bed methane store even as warming brought on a generally more active carbon cycle from the wider biosphere.

Overall, the added heat feedback from the increases in atmospheric methane to due these processes was about 50% that of the overall CO2 feedback, even though the volume of methane was about 200 times less. This disproportionately large share of heat forcing by volume is due to the fact that methane is about 80 times more efficient at trapping heat than CO2 over the course of 20 years.

A Problem of High Velocity Thaw

In the foreground of this comparatively rosy picture of gradual climate change driven by small changes in solar heat forcing setting off relatively more powerful amplifying greenhouse gas feedbacks, we run into a number of rather difficult problems.

The first is that the rate at which humans are adding greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere as an initial heat forcing is unprecedented in the geological record. Even the great tar basalts of the end Permian Extinction were no equal to the rate at which humans are now adding heat trapping gasses to the atmosphere. In just a short time, from 1880 to now, we’ve increased atmospheric CO2 by 120 parts per million to around 400 ppm and atmospheric methane by more than 1100 parts per billion to around 1840 parts per billion. The result is an atmospheric heat forcing not seen in at least the past 3 million years and possibly as far back as 10 million years (due to the radical increase in methane and other non CO2 heat trapping gasses).

This extraordinary pace of heat trapping gas increase has led to a very rapid pace of global atmospheric temperature increase of about .15 degrees Celsius per decade or about 30 times that of the end of the last ice age. As atmospheric heat increases are amplified at the poles and, in particular in the northern polar region, the areas with the greatest stores of previously frozen carbon are the ones seeing the fastest pace of warming. Siberia, for example, is warming at the rate of .4 C per decade. Overall, the Arctic has warmed by about 3 degrees Celsius since 1880 or nearly 4 times the pace of overall global warming.

arctic temperature increase since 1880 NASA

(Pace of Arctic warming since 1880 in degrees Fahrenheit based on reports from 137 Arctic observation stations over the period. Image source: Tamino. Data source: NOAA’s Global Historical Climatology Network.)

The result is that, over the past two decades, the Arctic has been warming at the pace of about .6 C (1 F)every ten years. And what we are seeing in conjunction with very rapid warming is an extraordinary high-velocity thaw. A thaw that is rapidly liberating stored organic carbon locked in tundra at a rate that may well have no rational geological corollary.

The Arctic Methane Monster and a Multiplication of Fens

So it is in this rather stark set of contexts that a study released in early May examining 71 wetlands around the globe found rapidly melting permafrost was resulting in the formation of an immense number of fens along the permafrost thaw boundary zone. Tundra melt in lowlands became both sources and traps for water. Such traps gained added water as atmospheric temperature increases held greater levels of humidity resulting in increased heavy rainfall events such as thunderstorms. These newly thawed and flooded fens, the study found, were emitting unexpectedly high volumes of methane gas.

From the methane standpoint, fens are a problem due to the fact that they are constantly wet. Whereas bogs may be wet, then dry, fens remain wet year-round. And since bacteria that break down the recently thawed organic carbon stores into methane thrive in a constantly wet environment the fens were found to be veritable methane factories. A powerful amplifying feedback loop that threatens to liberate a substantial portion of the approximately 1,500 gigatons of carbon stored in now melting tundra as the powerful heat trapper that is methane.

Mauna Loa Methane 1985 to 2014

(Mauna Loa methane levels 1985 to 2014. A return to rising atmospheric levels post 2007 is, in part, attributed to rapid tundra thaw and the formation of methane producing fens. Other significant new methane sources likely include sea bed methane from Arctic stores and rising human methane emissions due to expanding coal use and hydraulic fracturing. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

By comparison, drier environments would result in the release of stored carbon as CO2, which would still provide a strong heat feedback, but no-where near as powerful as the rapid environmental forcing from a substantial methane release.

Lead study author Merritt Turetsky noted:

“Methane emissions are one example of a positive feedback between ecosystems and the climate system. The permafrost carbon feedback is one of the important and likely consequences of climate change, and it is certain to trigger additional warming. Even if we ceased all human emissions, permafrost would continue to thaw and release carbon into the atmosphere. Instead of reducing emissions, we currently are on track with the most dire scenario considered by the IPCC. There is no way to capture emissions from thawing permafrost as this carbon is released from soils across large regions of land in very remote spaces.”

 

Links:

A Synthesis of Methane Emissions From 71 Wetlands

Arctic Methane Emissions Certain to Trigger Warming

The Government of Canada

IPCC

NOAA’s Global Historical Climatology Network

More Cold Cherries

NOAA ESRL

Doomed Pine Island Glacier Releases Guam-Sized Iceberg into Southern Ocean

Science has confirmed it. Human-caused warming is killing Antarctica’s massive Pine Island Glacier (PIG). And this week’s release of a chunk of ice larger than Guam into the southern ocean is just one of the many major losses that will occur as part of what is now an inevitable demise of one of the world’s greatest glaciers.

(CNN provides this stunning NASA imagery sequence of the break-off of B-31, a 12×24 mile iceberg from the, now doomed, Pine Island Glacier.)

Heat-Charged Blow to The Soft Underbelly of Antarctic Ice Shelves

As human greenhouse gas emissions caused the world’s oceans to warm, upwelling currents delivered a portion of that heat to the continental shelf zone surrounding Antarctica. A fortress of ice, numerous glacial ice shelves thrust out from this frozen land and drove deep into the sea floor. Ocean-fronting glaciers featured submerged sections hundreds of feet below the sea surface.

The warming currents encountered these massive ice faces, eroding their undersides and providing pathways for ocean waters to invade many miles beneath the glaciers. These invasions subjected the vulnerable ice shelves not only to the heat forcing of an ever-warming ocean, but also to wave and tidal stresses. The reduction in grounding and the constant variable stresses set the glaciers into a rapid seaward motion.

Antarctica’s most vulnerable glaciers lie along its western out-thrust. Two, Thwaites and the Pine Island Glacier, have recently seen very rapid increases in forward speed. Of these, the Pine Island Glacier, according to a recent study, is undergoing the process of an irreversible collapse. What this means is that the glacier’s speed of forward motion is now too great to be halted. Inevitably, even if the climate were to cool, the entire giant glacier will be launched into the world’s oceans where it will entirely melt out.

PIG basal melt

(Pine Island Glacier underwater melt dynamics. Image source: Nature)

Guam-Sized Chunk of Ice to be One of Many

The Pine Island Glacier is massive, covering a total area of 68,000 square miles and, in some locations, rising to over 2,000 feet in height. It represents 10% of all the ice in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, holding enough liquid water to raise sea levels by between 1 and 2.5 feet all on its own. And the now destabilized PIG is bound to put added stresses on the adjacent Thwaites glacier together with almost the entire West Antarctic ice system.

Over recent years, PIG’s forward speed has accelerated. Increasing forward velocity by 73 percent from 1974 to 2007. Surveys made since that time show an even more rapid pace. By January of this year, studies were finding that PIG had entered a sate of irreversible collapse. So it is little wonder that enormous chunks of ice are breaking off from this massive glacier and drifting on out into the Southern Ocean.

As of early this week, the immense ice island dubbed B31 measuring 12×24 miles in size (nearly 290 square miles), slid off its temporary grounding on the sea bottom and began its journey out into the Southern Ocean. There it will remain for years, plaguing the world’s shipping lanes as it slowly disintegrates into a flotilla of icebergs. It is just the most recent event in the now ongoing decline of PIG. And we can expect many, many more major ice releases as this vast Antarctic glacier continues its dive to the sea.

Links:

Humongous Iceberg Slowly Drifts Away From Antarctica

Scientists: Warming Ocean, Upwelling Make an End to Antarctica’s Vast Pine Island Glacier

Nature

Retreat of Pine Island Glacier Controlled by Marine Ice Sheet Instability

The Pine Island Glacier

The Thwaites Glacier

Hat tip to Colorado Bob who’s been tracking PIG since 1994

 

 

World CO2 Averages Touch 402.2 PPM Daily Values in Early April, 102 PPM Higher Than at Any Time in Last 800,000 Years

There’s a tale in the ice. A record of past atmospheres locked away as snowfall trapped air bubbles and then compressed them into thin layers age after age over tens of thousands of years. Over the last few decades, scientists have been drilling holes in the great ice packs of Greenland and Antarctica. Their quest? To unlock this tale and reveal a direct record of global greenhouse gas levels through the deep past.

What their drilling uncovered was both quite informative and rather chilling. First, it showed that, for more than 800,000 years, global CO2 levels had been relatively stable in a range of 180 to 300 parts per million. As the levels of heat trapping CO2 rose, temperatures peaked during brief interglacials. And as levels fell, temperatures plunged back into ice age conditions.

Global temperature flux during these swings from ice age to interglacial were just 4 degrees Celsius. A 100 ppm CO2 rise correlated roughly to a 250 foot rise in sea level and much warmer average conditions globally. A corresponding fall of about the same amount brought temperatures back down and piled ice two miles high over today’s temperate regions such as New York.

What the ice cores also revealed was that human CO2 emissions had pushed global levels of this potent greenhouse gas far out of any climate reckoning comparable to the context of human beings, who have only existed in current form for about 200,000 years.

In fact, what scientists found was that atmospheric CO2 levels were pushing more than 100 parts per million higher than at any time during this vast epochal span:

Ice Core CO2 record 800,000 years

(Antarctic ice core CO2 record and comparable temperature swings. Note that the difference between ice age and interglacial is about 8 C of local temperature and about 100 ppm of CO2. It is worth considering that, due to polar amplification, Antarctic temperature changes were about double the global average. Current CO2 levels are more than 100 parts per million higher than even the peak value over this 800,000 year period. If an average peak interglacial CO2 average of 275 ppm is considered, then current values are around 127 parts per million higher. Image credit: Havard/Jeremy Shakun.)

This record was a key contribution to climate science. One, it revealed how past CO2 levels compared to past temperatures. And since the data was directly derived from air bubbles trapped beneath hundreds of feet of ice, it also provided us with an exact measure for past atmospheres.

Secondly, and perhaps much more ominously, it showed us how very far beyond any climate comparable to that great span of time we’d already come.

102 ppm higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years

Humans have now pushed the CO2 boundary 102 parts per million higher than the context provided by the last 800,000 years. It’s kind of a big deal when you consider that a mere fluctuation of about 100 parts per million CO2 was enough, when combined with changes in orbital forcing, to set off feedbacks resulting in a 4 C temperature change globally (8 C change for the Antarctic environment) as ice age proceeded to interglacial and back.

Current human forcings through CO2 and other emissions have now entirely over-ridden the natural cycle, eliminating the possibility for future ice ages and putting us on a trajectory for catastrophe. With annual global carbon emissions now exceeding 12 gigatons, not only have we forced ourselves well outside of any past bounds to which we can easily relate, we have also generated an unprecedented velocity of change. For the current human carbon emission now exceeds, by at least six times, the most rapid past level of natural carbon emission.

No vast flood basalt could ever rival the volume and pace at which humans currently emit greenhouse gasses.

This enormous emission continues to have severe effect through an ever-higher ratcheting of global CO2 levels.

As of the past week, global daily CO2 values had rocketed to 402.2 parts per million, well outside anything seen in the ice core record:

aprmlo_six_months

(Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 measure for the last six months. Note that daily and weekly values have been mostly above 400 ppm since early March. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

This an extraordinary measure. One that has no context in direct records such as those available to us through ice core data. But paleoclimate proxy data does provide some corollary. According to isotopic carbon measures found through seabed samples, we can determine that the last time CO2 levels were above 400 parts per million was during the mid-Plieocene between 3 and 3.3 million years ago.

And during that time global average temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius warmer than they are today (with Antarctic values at least twice that). Both Greenland and West Antarctica were mostly ice free and sea levels were between 15-75 feet higher. These are, likely, the potential low end of the changes we’ve locked in due to human global greenhouse gas forcing long term, even if, somehow, global CO2 levels are brought to a plateau.

Mid-Pliocene Antarctica

(An graphic extrapolation of Antarctica’s ice cover and elevation based on paleoclimate data. Note that the Antarctic ice sheet is greatly diminished at a time when CO2 values remained constant around 400 ppm. Image source: Commons.)

480 CO2e…

Unfortunately, the global CO2 measure doesn’t tell quite the entire story. For atmospheric levels of gasses like methane, nitrous oxide, and a host of less common industrial chemicals have also all been on the rise in Earth’s atmosphere due to human emissions. As a result, according to research by the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gasses Center at MIT, total heat forcing equal to CO2 when all the other gasses were added in was about 478 ppm CO2e during the spring of 2013. Adding in the high-velocity human greenhouse gas contributions since that time gets us to around 480 ppm CO2e value. In the context of past climates and of near and long term climate changes due to human interference, 480 ppm CO2e is nothing short of fearsome.

The last time the world saw such a measure of comparable atmospheric greenhouse gas heat forcing was during the Miocene around 15-20 million years ago. At that time, global temperatures were 3-4 C warmer, the Antarctic ice sheet was even further diminished, and sea levels were 80-120 higher than today.

This combined forcing is enough to result in a state of current climate emergency. In just a few years, according to the recent work of climate scientist Michael Mann, we will likely lock in a 2 C short term warming this century and a probable 4 C warming long-term. If the current, high-velocity pace of emission continues, we will likely hit 2 C warming by 2036, setting off extraordinary and severe global changes over a very short period.

These are very dangerous and, likely, catastrophic levels. In such a context, the inexorably rising rate of atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gas forcings simply adds further insult to a very high risk situation.

Links:

Havard/Jeremy Shakun

The Keeling Curve

Advanced Global Atmospheric Gasses Center at MIT

Far Worse Than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick: Michael Mann, Our Terrifying Greenhouse Gas Overburden, and 2 C Warming by 2036

Commons

Pliocene Climate

Miocene Climate and CO2 Flux With Related Ecosystem Impacts

 

CO2, Earth’s Global Thermostat, Dials Up to Record 401.6 ppm Daily Value on March 12

NASA GISS, likely the world’s premier Earth atmospheric monitoring agency has dubbed CO2 “The Thermostat that Control’s Earth’s Temperature.” So when human fossil fuel emissions keep cranking that thermostat ever higher, it’s important sit up and take note. For, inexorably, we keep forcing atmospheric values of this critical heat-trapping gas up and up.

According to reports from The Mauna Loa Observatory and The Keeling Curve, daily CO2 values for March 12 rocketed to a record 401.6 parts per million. Hourly values rose briefly higher, touching 402 parts per million. Levels fell back to around 400 ppm on March 13. But the overall trend will continue upward through March, April and much of May when the height of annual atmospheric CO2 readings is typically reached.

By comparison, during May of last year, daily and weekly values hit just slightly higher than 400 parts per million while measures for the month hovered just below this number. We are now about two months away from the 2014 peak. So it appears possible that daily values could rise to 404 ppm or greater with highs for the month potentially exceeding 402 ppm (you can view a comparison graph for May 2013 here).

March CO2 401.6

(Daily and hourly atmospheric CO2 values from March 7 to 13. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

Such high levels of this gas have not been seen on Earth in over 3 million years. A time when temperatures were 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were 15-75 feet higher than today. And should CO2 levels merely remain at the level currently achieved, we can probably expect at least the same amount of warming long-term.

CO2 in Context

Annually, the average rate of CO2 increase now is an extraordinary 2.2 parts per million each year. This rate is about 6-7 times faster than at any time in geological history. None of the vast flood basalts of the ancient past, no period of natural vulcanism, can now rival the constant and massive injection of this powerful and long-lasting greenhouse gas by humans into the atmosphere.

Last year, the rate of increase spiked to around 2.5 parts per million and we can view this as mere prelude under a continuation of business as usual. For if human fossil fuel emissions are not radically brought into check, the ongoing economic inertia of existing fossil fuel based infrastructure and planned new projects will likely shove this rate of increase to 3, 4 even 7 parts per million each year by the end of this century. As a result, CO2 levels alone have the potential to reach catastrophic values of 550 parts per million by around 2050-2060 that, long term and without any of the added effects of other greenhouse gasses, would be enough to eventually melt all the ice on Earth and raise global temperatures to around 5-6 degrees Celsius above current levels. A level that, through acidification alone and not including damage through stratification and anoxia, could drive up to 1/3 of ocean species to extinction.

CO2 accounts for much of the greenhouse forcing when taking into account the feedbacks it produces on water vapor and clouds. NASA notes:

Because carbon dioxide accounts for 80% of the non-condensing GHG forcing in the current climate atmosphere, atmospheric carbon dioxide therefore qualifies as the principal control knob that governs the temperature of Earth.

All other greenhouse gasses pale in comparison to both its total effect and its current rate of increase. Methane, the next most potent greenhouse gas, accounts for about 15% of the forcing and is rising at a rate of 4 parts per billion (1/550 that of CO2), generating a net effect equal to, in the worst case, an additional .4 parts per million CO2 each year (.29 when aerosols drop out). A troubling and dangerous increase itself. But still a mere shadow compared to the overall rate of CO2 increase.

Only in the most catastrophic of scenarios, when added atmospheric heat, primarily generated through added CO2 and other greenhouse gas forcing, triggers methane emissions equal to 2 gigatons each year in the Arctic (a rate 25 times the current release), would the total methane forcing approach the predicted value for CO2 by the end of this century under current fossil fuel emissions scenarios. More likely, paleoclimate scenarios tend to suggest that the natural methane feedback, long-term, is roughly equal to 50% of the CO2 forcing and is largely governed by it. A dangerous amplifying feedback driven by a devastating and long-lasting CO2 forcing.

CO2 is also the longest lived of the major greenhouse gasses with one molecule of CO2 providing effective atmospheric warming for at least 500 years. By comparison, the oxidation time for a single molecule of methane is around 8 years. What this means is that it takes an ever increasing methane emission just to keep values constant while atmospheric CO2 takes much longer to level off given even a constant rate of emission.

The result is that heat forcing from CO2 tends to remain constant over long periods while methane heat forcing values have a tendency to spike due to rapid oxidation.

methane.rf_.11071836-300x150

(Radiative forcing from a 10 gigaton release of methane in red compared to expected end century CO2 values of 750 ppm. Note how the methane heat forcing spikes and then rapidly falls off. Image source: RealClimate.)

Current rates of CO2 increase, therefore, should be viewed as catastrophic to climates that are both livable and benevolent to humans. A rate of increase that puts at risk severe changes to Earth environments and which provides a trigger for setting off a series of powerful amplifying feedbacks through the medium and long term. These include both loss of ice albedo and the potential for spiking methane emissions from the widespread natural store.

UPDATE:

Most recent daily values from March 12 onward in relationship to the six month trend. Note the sharp spike upward at the end of the period as well as the overall volatility of the trend line. High volatility may well be an indication that the typical carbon cycle is suffering disruption with sinks, stores and sources experiencing larger than typical fluxes.

mlo_six_months

(Mauna Loa Observatory six month trend. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

Dr. Ralph Keeling today noted:

“We’re already seeing values over 400. Probably we’ll see values dwelling over 400 in April and May. It’s just a matter of time before it stays over 400 forever.”

Links:

The Keeling Curve

May 2013: CO2 Touches 400 ppm

The Thermostat that Control’s Earth’s Temperature

Atmospheric Composition, Radiative Forcing, and Climate Change as a Consequence from the Massive Release of Gas Hydrates

RealClimate

Hat Tip to Climate State

Kudos to Mark Archambault for Looking Sharp

Sea Ice Loss, Human Warming Places Earth Under Ongoing Fire of Severe Weather Events Through Early 2014, Likelihood of Extremes For Some Regions Increases by 500%

Heat overburden at the roof of our world. It’s a dangerous signal that the first, worst effects of human-caused climate change are starting to ramp up. And it’s a signal we are receiving now. A strong message coinciding with a world-wide barrage of some of the worst January and February weather extremes ever experienced in human reckoning.

An Ongoing Arctic Heat Amplification

Ever since December, the Arctic has been experiencing what could well be called a heat wave during winter-time. Average temperatures have ranged between 2 and 7 degrees Celsius above normal winter time readings (1979-2000) over the entire Arctic basin. Local readings frequently exceed 20 degrees Celsius above average over large zones that shift and swell, circulating in a great cloud of abnormal warmth around the roof of the world.

Today is no different.

Global Temp amomaly March 4

(Global Temperature Anomaly on March 4, 2014 showing a warmer than normal world sitting beneath an ominously hot Arctic. Image source: University of Maine.)

Average temperatures for the entire Arctic are 4.16 degrees Celsius above the, already warmer than normal, 1979 to 2000 base line, putting these readings in a range about 6 degrees Celsius above Arctic temperatures during the 1880s. When compared to global average warming of about .8 C above 1880s norms, this is an extreme heat departure that places the Arctic region well out of balance with both its traditional climate and with global climate at large.

Local large hot zones with temperatures ranging between 10 and 20 degrees Celsius above average appear east of Svalbard, in the Arctic Ocean north of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, and over a broad swath of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. These zones of warmth are as odd as they are somewhat horrific, creating regions where temperatures are higher than they would otherwise be in April or, in some cases, late May.

Sea Ice Melt Over a Warming Arctic Ocean

This ongoing condition of extreme Arctic heat is a symptom of overall Arctic amplification set off by a number of strong feedbacks now underway. These include sea ice measures that are currently at or near record low values (February saw new record lows in both extent and area measures) as well as a large and growing local emission of greenhouse gasses from polar stores long locked away by the boreal cold. Arctic geography also contributes to the problem as a thinning layer of sea ice rests atop an ocean that is swiftly soaking up the heat resulting from human warming.

During winter time, the combination of thin sea ice, warm ocean, and higher concentrations of greenhouse gasses generates excess warmth over and near the Arctic Ocean basin. The warmer waters, having trapped solar heat all summer long, now vent the warmth into the polar atmosphere through the sparse, cracked, and greatly diminished sea ice. And while this increasing heat imbalance has been shown to be lengthening the melt season by 5 days per decade, it is also stretching its influence well into winter time as ocean heat now continually bleeds through a thinning and ever more perforated layer of sea ice.

Other effects include an overburden of greenhouse gasses trapping long wave radiation to a greater extent in the polar zone while the already warmer than usual condition creates weaknesses in the Jet Stream that generate large atmospheric waves. The south-north protrusions of these waves invade far into the Arctic Ocean basin over Svalbard and Alaska, transporting yet more heat into the Arctic from lower latitudes.

The net effect is the extraordinary Arctic warming we are now seeing.

Earth Under Continuous Fire of Extreme Weather

This rapidly increasing warmth at the Arctic pole generates a variety of weather instabilities that ripple on through the Northern Hemisphere. Meanwhile, the ongoing impacts of equatorial warming or such warming in concert with the far-flung effects of polar amplification and an increase in the hydrological cycle of about 6% are causing a number of extraordinary events over the Southern Hemisphere.

In short, the barrage of extreme weather is now entirely global in nature. A brutal if amazing phenomena directly associated with a human-heated climate system.

Extreme weather map

(Map of extreme weather events throughout the world from January 1 through February 14. Note that it is now difficult to find a region that is currently not experiencing exceptional weather. Image source: Japanese Meteorological Agency.)

Over the western US, Canada, and Alaska, a Jet Stream ridge that has persisted for a year has generated both abnormally warm conditions for this region, with Alaska experiencing its third hottest January on record, and an extreme drought for California that is among the worst in its history. This drought is now poised to push US food prices up by between 10-15 percent as California officials are forced to cut off water flows to farmers.

Only the most powerful of storm systems are able to penetrate the ridge. And the result, for the US West Coast, is a condition that either includes drought or heavy precipitation and flooding events. A condition that became plainly apparent as winter storm Titan dumped as much as 5 inches of rainfall over drought-stricken southern California, setting off landslides and flash floods that sent enormous waves of water and topsoil rushing down roads and gullies alike. And though the storms came, the drought still remains.

Added to the list of extremes for the Western US are a number of early starts and/or late ends to fire seasons with California, Arizona and New Mexico all experiencing wildfires during the period of December through February.

Moving east, we encounter the down-sloping trough that is the flip side of the ridge bringing warmth and drought to deluge conditions to the west. So, for the Eastern and Central United States, we see the transport of chill air down from the Arctic Ocean, over Canada and deep into a zone from The Dakotas to Texas to Maine. As a result, we have seen winter storm after winter storm surge down into these regions, dumping snow, ice, and heavy rain while occasionally coming into conflict with Gulf warmth and moisture to spark tornadoes and thunderstorms over snow-covered regions.

One cannot separate the warm air invasion over Alaska and the heat radiating out of the perforated sea ice from the numerous polar vortex collapse events that have led to this extreme winter weather over Central and Eastern parts of the US. And so, it is also impossible to ignore the warping and deleterious impacts of human-caused climate change on the world’s weather.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), in its latest extreme weather assessment notes:

In the winter a deep reservoir of cold air becomes established through the atmosphere over the Arctic because of the lack of sunlight. This is usually held over high latitudes by the Jet Stream, a fast moving band of air 10 km up in the atmosphere which drives weather. This year, a “kink” in the jet stream allowed the reservoir of cold air to move southwards across the USA. A blocking pattern meant it was locked into place, keeping severe weather systems over much of the Eastern United States extending down to northeast Mexico.

This ‘kink’ and related blocking pattern the WMO mentions is also the leading edge of the advance of cold Arctic air over the North Atlantic which combined with ocean heat and moisture to aim intense storms at Western Europe. In essence, a powerful planetary wave or Rossby Wave type feature:

Planetary Wave

(The Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream takes on Planetary Wave pattern with an extreme high amplitude ridge over the Western US, Canada, Alaska and the Beaufort Sea and a deep, cold trough digging into the Eastern US and spreading out over the North Atlantic on February 26th. Image source: University of Washington.)

For as we look yet further East we come to a North Atlantic Ocean that has been little more than the barrel of a gun firing a two and a half month long barrage of storms at England and Western Europe. For the Jet Stream, at this point, is intensified by Arctic air fleeing from a warming north coming into contact with the also warming waters of the North Atlantic. In this region, the planetary wave feature developed with severe and lasting consequences for England, France, Portugal and Venice.

The upshot was the wettest period in over 250 years for England as well as the windiest period since at least the 1960s. During February, two of these storms generated 80-100 mph winds and waves off Ireland and the UK that were the highest ever recorded for this region. Meanwhile, the powerful storm surges associated with these storms reshaped the English coastline, uncovered bombs dropped during World War II and unearthed the stumps of an ancient forest that spread from England to France before it was buried in the floods of glacial melt at the end of the last ice age. The battering continues through early March with England suffering losses in excess of 1 billion dollars.

The storms ripping across the Atlantic also resulted in the loss of over 21,000 sea birds and have heavily impacted France, Spain and Portugal with record rains, gales and tidal flooding. During early February, a series of gales also drove high tides along the coast of Italy and spurred flooding in Venice.

As storms slammed into coastal western Europe, strange fires were also burning along Arctic shores as a very dry and windy winter sparked blazes along the coastlines of Norway. These fires, some of the worst in Norway’s history, occurred during January and February, months that have never seen wildfires before. So the strange story of flood and fire that tends to come with climate change may seem yet more radical and extreme when we include what has happened over this section of Europe during 2014.

By the time we enter Eastern Europe, Turkey, Jordan, Israel and Russia we again encounter an up-slope in the Jet Stream along with related periods of heat and drought. Record highs were set throughout a zone from Germany to Slovenia to Russia. Germany experienced January temperatures that were 2.8 degrees Celsius above the 20th Century average while Russia experienced heat anomalies approaching 10 degrees Celsius hotter than normal that persisted for up to a week in length. In Turkey, farmers frantically drilled into drying lake-beds for water as both warmer and drier than normal conditions combined with ground water depletion to generate severe agricultural stress.

But the strain for Israel, which experienced lowest ever winter rainfalls and one of the worst droughts in its history, was far worse. According to the Israeli Water Agency’s March 4 Statement, water supplies across the country were now at record low levels:

“Such low supply during this period has never before been documented and is unprecedented in Water Authority records,” the agency said. “The negative records broken in February are much more dramatic and significant than those of January.”

Drought-stressed Jordan has also been forced to ration water supplies, with rainfall levels now only 34 percent of that received during a typical January and February.

Abnormal warmth and drought also extended into China as most parts of the ancient empire received between 50-80 percent below average rainfall. Temperatures averaged over the entire country were the warmest seen since at least 1961. The warmth and dryness resulted in record low river and lake levels across the country with China’s largest lake turning into a sea of cracked mud and grasses.

In Singapore and nearby Malaysia, a two month-long heatwave is now among the worst ever recorded for this region. The situation has been worsened as nearby forest fires have combined with industrial pollution to produce a kind of all-encompassing smog. A nasty brew that cut visibility in the region to less than one kilometer.

Smoke Smog Singapore Maylaysia

(Smoke and smog from fires and industrial activity visible over Singapore and Malaysia. Image source: Lance-Modis.)

One would think that, with major heat anomalies occurring over the Arctic, the far removed Southern Hemisphere would be somehow insulated from impacts. But whether from far-reaching Arctic influence or simply from other factors related to human-caused climate change, austral regions were among the hardest hit by the, now global, spate of extreme weather events.

Australia’s record 2013 heatwave didn’t miss a beat as a hottest ever summer continued on through January and February. A period in the middle of January showed exceptionally severe high temperatures with World Meteorological Agency reports noting:

One of the most significant multi-day heatwaves on record affected southeast Australia over the period from 13 to 18 January 2014. The major area affected by the heatwave consisted of Victoria, Tasmania (particularly the western half), southern New South Wales away from the coast, and the southern half of South Australia. Over most parts of this region, it ranked alongside the heatwaves of January-February 2009, January 1939 and (from the limited information available) January 1908 as the most significant multi-day heatwaves on record.

A number of site records were set during the summer, including:

• Melbourne had seven 40ºC days; annual average is one day

• Adelaide had 11 days of 42ºC or above; annual average is one day

• Canberra had 19 days of 35ºC or above; annual average is 5.4 days

While Australia was sweltering under its hottest summer on record, south-central Brazil was suffering its worst-ever drought. By mid February, Brazil had been forced to ration water in over 140 of its cities. The result is that neighborhoods in some of Brazil’s largest cities only receive water once every three days. During this, extraordinarily intense, period of heat and dryness, untold damage was done to Brazil’s crops. But, by early March, a doubling of prices for coffee coming out of Brazil gave some scope to the damage. January was also Brazil’s hottest on record and the combination of extreme heat and dryness pushed the nation’s water reservoirs for southeastern and west-central regions to below 41 percent of capacity driving utility water storage levels to a critically low 19 percent.

In near mirror to the US weather flip-flop, northern Brazil experienced exceptionally heavy rainfall, apparently gaining back the lion’s share of moisture lost in the south and stalling a two year drought affecting north-eastern regions.

In combination, these crazy weather extremes are thought to have done nearly $5 billion in damages to Brazil’s crops so far this year, on top of $9 billion in losses last year. Losses run the gambit from coffee to beef, soy, citrus, and sugarcane. It is worth noting that Brazil is the largest producer of all these foodstuffs with the one exception being soy.

The same drought impacting Brazil also damaged crops in Paraguay and Argentina with soybeans among the hardest hit.

Given the ongoing extreme weather impacts, it is worth noting that world soybean prices are now up by more than 9 percent over the 2012-2013 period with almost all foodstuffs seeing price increases in the global marketplace. The UN FAO food index remained over 200 through late January, a dangerously high indicator that shows numerous countries having difficulty supplying affordable food to their populations.

Extremes Cover the Globe

The above list does little justice to the depth and scope of extremes experienced, merely serving to highlight some of the most notable or severe instances. In general, it could well be said that the world climate crisis is rapidly turning into a world severe weather crisis. January and February are usually rather calm months for the globe, weather-wise. So the fact that we are seeing record storms, rainfall, snowfall, floods, fires, droughts, winds, and heatwaves in every corner of the globe during what should be a relatively mild period is cause for serious concern.

And many scientists are taking notice. For example, Omar Baddour, Chief of the WMO’s data division observes an amazing ramping up of extreme weather events worldwide, citing preliminary model assessments in an interview with The Guardian, he notes:

“We need more time to assess whether this is unusual [on a global level] but if you look at the events in individual regions, like the heatwave in Australia or the cold in the US, it looks very unusual indeed. Next month we will publish a major report showing the likelihood of extreme heatwaves is increased 500% [with climate change].”

The shadow climate change casts has grown very long and there is little that has not now been touched by it. But, sadly and unfortunately, even under a regime of full mitigation and adaptation, the worst effects are yet to come. If we are wise, we will do our best to mitigate as much as we can and work together to adapt to the rest.

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Links:

The World Meteorological Organization

University of Maine

University of Washington

Japan Meteorological Agency

Lance-Modis

UK Endures Endless Barrage of Storms

Ice-free Season Getting Longer by Five Days Per Decade

Mangled Jet Stream Sparks Drought, Winter Wildfires in California

For Arizona and New Mexico, Climate Change and a Mangled Jet Stream Means Fire Season Now Starts in February

World Food Security in the Cross Hairs of Human-Caused Climate Change

Arctic Wildfires in Winter

California Storms Didn’t End Drought

The Biggest Disaster You’ve Never Heard of

Haze Shrouds Malaysia

Brazil Rations Water in Over 140 Cities

World Begins 2014 With Unusual Number of Extreme Weather Events

Brazil Loses Billions as Crops Reduced By Wacky Weather

Amplifying Feedbacks and the Arctic Heat Scream: Study Finds Polar Albedo Falling at Twice Expected Rate, Added Heat Equal to 25% CO2 Forcing Globally, 4 Times Human Forcing Locally

What’s the difference between a majestic layer of white sea ice and an ominous dark blue open ocean?

For the Arctic, it means about a 30 to 50% loss in reflectivity (or albedo). And when seasonal sea ice states are between 30 and 80 percent below 1979 measures (depending on the method used to gauge remaining sea ice and relative time of year), that means very, very concerning additional heating impacts to an already dangerous human-caused warming.

Arctic Ocean September 1, 2012

(A dark and mostly ice-free Arctic Ocean beneath a tempestuous swirl of clouds on September 1, 2012, a time when sea ice coverage had declined to an area roughly equal to the land mass of Greenland. Image source: Lance-Modis/NASA AQUA.)

How concerning, however, remained somewhat unclear until recently.

In the past, idealized climate simulations and physical model runs had produced about a 2% overall loss in Arctic Albedo based on observed sea ice losses. This decline, though minor sounding, was enough, on its own, to add a little more than a 10% amplifying feedback to the, already powerful, human atmospheric CO2 forcing during recent years. Such an addition was already cause for serious concern and with sea ice totals continuing to fall rapidly, speculation abounded that just this single mechanism could severely tip the scales toward a more rapid warming.

But, as has been the case with a number of Arctic model simulations related to sea ice, these computer projections failed to measure up to direct observation. In this case, direct satellite observation. The situation is, therefore, once more, worse than expected.

A new study produced by University of San Diego Scientists now shows that loss of albedo for the Arctic Ocean due to rapidly declining sea ice was 4% during the period of 1979 to 2011. This amazing loss of reflectivity, on its own, created a powerful enough heat trap to produce an amplifying feedback to human warming equal to 25% of the heat captured by CO2 emitted during that time — when spread out over the entire globe. A feedback double what we were led to expect from climate model simulations. Perhaps more importantly, the local feedback in the Arctic — a region containing gigatons and gigatons of additional carbon waiting to be released during a period of rapid warming — is not 25% greater, but 4 times greater than the total human CO2 forcing since the start of the industrial revolution.

It is important to step back for a moment and consider the implication of this new information. If you took all the emissions from cars in the world, all the buses, all the aircraft, all the land use CO2 emissions, all the agriculture, and all the amazing extra atmospheric heat capture that an emission equal to 160 times that of all the volcanoes on Earth would entail and added it all together, just one insult to our natural world in the form of Arctic sea ice loss has now equaled a 25% addition to that amazing total. Or just add enough extra heat equal to 40 times the CO2 emitted by Earth’s volcanoes (for a total of x 200). And the burden of all that extra heat is directly over a region of the world that contains a number of very large ice sheets which, if rapidly warmed, result in catastrophic land change and sea level rise, and a number of outrageously enormous carbon deposits that, if rapidly warmed and released make the current albedo loss feedback look like child’s play.

In short, the game just got a lot uglier. Such an increase is a very big deal and will have strong implications going forward that affect the overall pace of human caused warming, the pace of Earth and Earth Systems changes, and the degree to which we might contain ultimate temperature rises under a scenario of full mitigation.

From the study contents:

We find that the Arctic planetary albedo has decreased from 0.52 to 0.48 between 1979 and 2011, corresponding to an additional 6.4 ± 0.9 W/m2 of solar energy input into the Arctic Ocean region since 1979. Averaged over the globe, this albedo decrease corresponds to a forcing that is 25% as large as that due to the change in CO2 during this period, considerably larger than expectations from models and other less direct recent estimates.

It is worth noting that the period measured by the study did not include the unprecedented sea ice area, extent and volume losses seen during 2012. So it is likely that albedo loss and related Arctic additions to human warming are somewhat worse than even this study suggests. It is also worth noting that the total additional radiative forcing from all human CO2 emissions since the industrial age began is estimated to be about 1.5 W/m2.

No Way Out Through Increasing Cloud Cover

The study also found that:

Changes in cloudiness appear to play a negligible role in observed Arctic darkening, thus reducing the possibility of Arctic cloud albedo feedbacks mitigating future Arctic warming.

Though seemingly innocuous, this statement is a death knell for one proposed method of Geo-engineering — namely cloud generation via spray ships deployed throughout the Arctic basin. The proposal had suggested that numerous ships could be spread about the Arctic during summer. These ships would be equipped with large machines that would dip into the ocean and spray sea water into the atmosphere to form clouds. The notion was that this would somehow increase albedo. Proponents of the plan neglected to provide scientific evidence that such a scheme would actually work or wouldn’t make matters worse by increasing atmospheric water vapor content — a substance with known heat-trapping properties.

Arctic Cloud Ship

(Conceptual drawing of an Arctic cloud-producing ship. Image source: Geo-engineering Watch.)

Others had hoped a cloudier Arctic would take care of itself by producing a negative feedback naturally. Numerous studies have found that an Arctic with less sea ice is a much stormier, cloudier Arctic. And a number of specialists and enthusiasts hinted that the extra clouds would provide some cooling.

Not so according to the San Diego study. And this makes sense as clouds, while reflective of direct radiation contain large quantities of heat-trapping water vapor and tend to also trap long-wave radiation — which is more prevalent in the Arctic due to low angle of light or extended periods of darkness.

Extraordinarily Rapid Arctic Amplification

Despite the various hollow conjectures and reassurances, what we have seen over the past seven years or so is an extraordinarily rapid amplification of heat within the Arctic. Arctic sea ice continues its death spiral, hitting new record lows at various times at least once a year. Heat keeps funneling into the Arctic, resulting in heatwaves that bring 90 degree temperatures to Arctic Ocean shores during summer and unprecedented Alaskan melts during January. We have seen freakish fires in regions previously covered by tundra. Fires that are the size of states in the Yakutia region of Russia, Alaska and Canada. Fires in Arctic Norway during winter time. And we see periods during winter when sea ice goes through extended stretches of melt, as we did just last week in the region of Svalbard.

One need only look at the temperature anomaly map for the last 30 days to know that something is dreadfully, dreadfully wrong with the Arctic:

30 day anomaly

(Global temperature anomaly vs the, already warmer than normal, 1981 to 2010 baseline. Image source: NOAA/Earth Systems Research Laboratory.)

And one need only begin to add the number of amplifying feedbacks in the Arctic together to start to understand how much trouble we’ve set for ourselves:

  1. Arctic albedo decrease due to sea ice loss.
  2. Arctic CO2 release due to thawing tundra.
  3. Arctic methane release due to thawing land tundra.
  4. Arctic methane release due to thawing subsea tundra and venting seabed methane.
  5. Arctic albedo loss due to black carbon deposition.
  6. Arctic albedo loss due to land vegetation changes.
  7. Warming Arctic seas due to runoff from warming lands.
  8. Arctic albedo decrease due to land snow and ice sheet melt.
  9. South to north heat transfer to the Arctic due to a weakening, retreating Jet Stream and increasing prevalence of high amplitude atmospheric waves.

We all know, intuitively what an amplifying feedback sounds like. Just hold a microphone closer to a speaker and listen to the rising wail of sound. And it is becoming ever more obvious with each passing day, with each new report that the Arctic is simply screaming to us.

How deaf are we? How deaf are those of us who continue to fail to listen?

Links:

Lance-Modis/NASA AQUA

Observational Determination of Albedo Decrease Caused by Vanishing Sea Ice

Warming From Arctic Sea Ice Melt More Dramatic than Thought

NOAA/Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Arctic Sea Ice Melt, Methane Release Shows Amplifying Feedbacks to Human-Caused Climate Change

The Arctic Ice Blog

Colorado Bob’s Climate Feed

Geo-engineering Watch

Hat Tip to Mikkel

Arctic Methane Monster Continues Ominous Rumbling

Arctic Methane From Tundra Could add .4 to 1.5 Degrees Fahrenheit to Human Caused Warming

World CO2 Levels Dangerously High: January Sees 399.5 ppm in First Week, Could Crack 400 Before Month-End

In speeding toward a climate cliff unlike anything seen in geological history, we continue to slam the accelerator through the floor-boards of our metaphorical ‘world civilization’ automobile… One hopes we should apply the breaks, but, in the same thought, wonders if they have already started to give out…

*    *    *    *    *    *

From 2012 to 2013 worldwide annual CO2 levels, as measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory, raced ahead by nearly 3 ppm. This break-neck pace was more than seven times faster than at any period in the observed geological record spanning hundreds of millions of years. As 2013 transitioned to 2014, the unprecedented pace of increase showed little sign of slackening with hourly average CO2 levels reaching 399.5 PPM on January 7th of this year.

Mauna Loa Early January

(Daily and hourly CO2 average readings as recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory from January 1 to January 7. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

These levels are similar to those seen last year during late April, near the peak of the annual atmospheric CO2 cycle that typically occurs during late May to early June. If this year’s pace of atmospheric CO2 increase continues, it is entirely possible that hourly, daily, or even weakly averages will exceed 403 ppm CO2 come late spring. Meanwhile, it appears possible that hourly CO2 averages will exceed 400 ppm before the end of this month.

Increasing Environmental Feedbacks Driving Higher Rate of CO2 Increase?

Though it is too early to conclude that the rate of CO2 increase has quickened, observations show rising contributions of both CO2 and methane from Earth Systems in addition to the inexorably increasing human emission. Thawing Arctic tundra, increasingly wide-spread forest fires, expanding drought zones, and ocean zones that appear to be reaching CO2 saturation points all hint at an Earth System that is both less able to absorb human CO2 emissions and more likely to release carbon (CO2 and methane) on its own.

The Arctic alone, in recent years, has been placed on the map as a major emitter of both CO2 and methane contributing enough volumes of these gasses to make it one of the world’s largest emission sources. If the Arctic were a country, it would probably rank around 4th in total global carbon emissions when compared to the world’s industrialized nations. And, unfortunately, the Arctic is likely just starting to ramp up as a carbon source (see Amplifying Feedbacks and Arctic Methane Monster Stirs).

With the human forcing so strong and the pace of Arctic warming so great, it is only a matter of time before the emissions signal coming from the Arctic becomes irrefutable to the rational observer. The question, at this point, is: has it already started to happen?

Racing Toward a Very Dangerous World

Both the quickening pace of global average CO2 increase and the observed increasing emission from the Arctic are cause for serious concern. A world that remains stable at 400 ppm is a world about 2-3 C hotter than today. Its seas are 15 to 75 feet higher. And its ability to support the kind of environments that humans are used to is radically reduced. But world CO2 levels are not stable at 400 ppm. They are racing higher at between 2.2 and, in recent years, close to 3 ppm (official average increase of 2.65 ppm for 2013) — six to seven times faster than ever before.

The Earth System has yet to fully respond to this rapid and very powerful insult.

Which brings me to this final thought as was so creatively illustrated over at the Arctic News blog:

IPCC-methane-monster

(Image source: Arctic News)

Links:

The Keeling Curve

Arctic News

 

Tropical Storm and Monsoonal Flow Collide Over Super-Heated Pacific to Dump Two Feet of Rain on Manila

Yesterday, tropical storm Trami churned through an abnormally hot Pacific Ocean toward an inevitable date with downpour over Taiwan and Southeastern China. There, a procession of tropical storms and monsoonal moisture had set off record floods which, by Tuesday, had resulted in the deaths of over 200 people. The now saturated region expects the arrival of Trami today, but not after the tropical monster, loaded with megatons of moisture, clashed with an already amped monsoonal flow to drench the Philippines as it emerged from a broiling Pacific Ocean.

Throughout the past month, an ocean heat dome had caused surface water temperatures to soar above 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) over a vast swath of the Pacific Ocean just to the east of China and to the south of Japan and Korea. This powerful pool of latent Pacific heat was a major factor in the delivery of record heatwaves to China, Korea and Japan which resulted in thousands of hospitalizations and at least 100 lives lost. But yesterday, the heat and moisture rising off the Pacific would play its highly energetic part in an entirely different anomalous weather event — the inundation of the Philippine capital city of Manila.

Trami Collides with Monsoonal Flow to Produce Record Rainfall over Phillippines

Trami Collides with Monsoonal Flow to Produce Record Rainfall over Philippines

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

As Trami made her way over these hot and moisture rich waters, she grew in size until her cloud area covered a width of more than one thousand miles. Ocean temperatures soaring between 2 and 4 degrees (Fahrenheit) above average helped to pump its immense bulk full of moisture even as it became wrapped in a dense flow of monsoonal moisture proceeding from west to east off the continent.

By Monday, Trami was moving in from the east, lashing the Philippines with her dense, thunderstorm laden, spiral bands even as monsoonal storms came into collision with these bands from the west. The combination of a moisture rich tropical storm colliding with an equally rain dense monsoonal flow over a Philippines surrounded by anomalously hot water set off an extraordinarily intense rain event in which the capital of Manila was inundated by a powerful deluge.

Rainfall rates for this sprawling city hit a stunning 2 inches per hour and maintained that record shattering pace for almost twelve hours running. In total, more than 23.5 inches of rainfall was recorded at rain gauges across the capital. Many residents, whose homes were flooded in a rising rush of water, were forced to evacuate and initial reports indicate that at least 100,000 of Manila’s 12 million residents have now relocated to emergency shelters. So far, at least 8 deaths and millions of dollars in damages have been attributed to the storm. But with local levees and damns under threat of over-topping and collapse, the initial reports and estimates may just be the beginning.

Satellite and water vapor imagery taken on Tuesday showed rains continuing over the Philippines, albeit at a less intense rate, as Trami turned her great bulk of moisture northwestward toward the already soaked regions of Taiwan and southeastern China. Trami is expected to intensify into a category 1 Typhoon this afternoon and is likely to deliver severe rains and flooding to already soaked regions.

Trami Rakes Taiwan and Philippines

Trami Rakes Taiwan and Philippines

(Image source: NOAA)

You can see Trami raking both Taiwan and the Philippines with massive and rain-dense cloud bands in the most recent NOAA water vapor imagery. In this image, the storm appears to intensify as it bears down on the already storm-soaked shores of China and Taiwan.

Conditions in Context

The Philippines is hit by a total of 20 tropical cyclones each year. So heavy rainfall and floods are a regular aspect of life there. However, the nearly 24 inches of rainfall during a 12 hour period experienced yesterday is unprecedented, breaking even a number of Manila’s very high record rainfall totals. The conditions that led to these records, just one year after another severe rainfall event, include anomalous heating of the Pacific Ocean under a powerful Ocean Heat Dome during late July and early August, a rather strong and thick monsoonal flow that has tended to meander a bit further north than is usual, and a very large tropical cyclone fed by both the anomalous heat and added moisture.

Climate research has shown that we can expect more intense rainfall events worldwide as the hydrological cycle increases by 6% with a .8 degree Celsius temperature rise. Similar research has found evidence of more frequent tropical cyclones as oceans warm and seasons in which hurricanes may develop continue to lengthen. This region of the Pacific Ocean, in particular, has shown an increasing number of cyclones as Earth has continued its human-driven warming trend, with temperatures increasing by .2 degrees Celsius per decade over the last 30 years. Since the vast Pacific Ocean forms a kind of moisture trap in this steamy region, it is likely the area will experience some of the worst flooding and storm effects coming down the pipe due to human-caused warming.

Trami’s expected delivery of powerful storms to China and Taiwan will also, unfortunately, probably not be the last for this season. Water temperatures are still stunningly high and moisture flows from both the Indian Ocean and the Pacific are likely to churn out many more storms before the tropical cyclone season ends months from now.

Links, Credits and Hat Tips:

NASA/Lance-Modis

NOAA

Tropical Storm Trami Threatens Taiwan, China as the Philippines Floods

Commenter Steve

 

 

 

The Glacial Megaflood: Global Warming Poses Growing Glacial Outburst Flood Hazard From Himalayas to Greenland and West Antarctica

Large Melt Lake, Greenland

Large Melt Lake, Greenland

(Image source: Marco Tedesco)

It’s been yet one more summer of anomalous weather events resulting from human-caused warming. Massive floods have spanned the globe, shattering records that have stood for 50, 100, or even 500 years. In other regions, record droughts and heatwaves have resulted in thousands of heat injuries and hundreds of deaths with the southeast Asian heat dome alone reported to have hospitalized tens of thousands and resulted in at least 100 deaths in China, Japan and Korea. These droughts and heatwaves created hazardous water shortages putting communities from the American Southwest to Eastern China at risk of severe damage and loss of ability to supply growing water demands. They also sparked massive and freakish wildfire complexes that damaged or destroyed hundreds of buildings or left enormous burn scars over landscapes from tropical regions to the Arctic tundra — some of which have now born the excessive insults of major fires for ten years running. The term Arctic heatwave has become common parlance. And the combination of extreme weather has resulted in widespread damage to crops and related livestock industries.

All these extreme events, in concert, are visible proofs of a climate emergency that is just starting to ramp up. Few have received the attention they warrant in the mainstream press — either singly, or together as an overall dangerous alteration to the world’s climate and weather.

But of all these, rather ominous, events, one stands out as a warning of a new, out of context, threat — a set of freakish floods in the Himalayan highlands. Floods set off by a combination of high altitude rainfall and the collapse of damns formed around growing glacial melt lakes in a region undergoing very rapid melt and warming.

(Aftermath of Glacial Outburst Flood at Kedarnath, India)

Glacial Outburst Flooding in Kedarnath

Since the early 2000s, average temperatures in the Himalayan Mountains in northern India have increased by about 1 degree Celsius, around 4 times the global average. This steady temperature rise has resulted in a gradually increasing melt of the massive glaciers along this major mountain chain featuring the tallest peaks in the world.

Over the past decade, immense glaciers along this range have witnessed unprecedented melt with many glaciers losing up to 30% of their mass. Predictions show total melt for most glaciers likely to occur under current rates of warming and fossil fuel emission by around the end of this century. The massive and unprecedented rate of melt has fueled the formation of numerous very large and growing glacial melt lakes throughout the Himalayan region. So far, about 200 of these amazing 20,000 melt lakes have outburst in flood events that are a direct result of human caused warming and related glacial melt in the Himalayas.

One such melt lake developed and filled over the past few years in a region just 4 kilometers to the north of the Indian village of Kedarnath. It was just one of the hundreds of newly formed lakes that developed and steadily grew in size over the past five years. By June of 2013, the lake had filled to capacity. Its high altitude waters held back only by a thin damn of sediment pushed out by the now, mostly melted, glacier. Then came the rains.

In the days leading up to June 17, a massive rainfall event inundated the Kedarnath region, spilling waters into an already over-filled glacial melt lake north of Kedarnath. By June 17, a tipping point was reached and the sediment damn holding back the brimming glacial melt waters erupted, unleashing what amounted to a mountain tidal wave upon Kedarnath and a massive area stretching 40 miles downstream from the glacial outburst.

This immense flood swept away more than 6,000 people who are now presumed dead after one of the worst flood events in Indian history, an event that would almost certainly have never happened without human-caused warming.

From India Today:

“The Kedarnath floods may be only a small precursor to never-seen-before mega floods,” says Maharaj K. Pandit, director, Centre for Inter-disciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environment, Delhi University. Scientists like him believe that the high precipitation on June 16 rapidly filled up Chorabari Tal, a glacial lake less than 4 km upstream from Kedarnath, and the continuing downpour the next morning caused the lake to overflow and possibly burst out from its loosely packed rim of moraines (glacial sediments).

Increasing Rainfall Over Himalayan Glaciers and Growing Risk of Megafloods

Himalayas Melting

Himalayas Melting

(Image source: India Today)

According to reports by Indian scientists, rainfall rates over the Himalayan mountain chain are increasing even as rates of snowfall events are falling. Overall, precipitation is increasing by 30 percent, but more and more of this greater volume of precipitation is coming down as rain. The rain provides a double stress to glaciers in that it delivers more heat to already rapidly melting ice masses and the added run-off creates large pulses that both erode ice sheets and sediment deposits that keep both ice and water locked in. Eventually, water erosion and heat stress is too great, melt rates are too high and sediment and ice damns can no longer hold. The result is a massive and very dangerous flood event called a Glacial Outburst Flood (GLOF).

The Himalayans have seen increasingly severe GLOFS since 1929 when the first major such event emerged. Overall, 200 GLOFS have inundated various regions surrounding the Himalayans with major resultant damage to infrastructure and loss of human life. But with hundreds of new lakes forming over the past five years and with rates of glacial melt spiking, the risk for increasingly catastrophic GLOFS is growing.

As noted above, there are currently 20,000 large melt lakes throughout the Himalayan chain and, with temperatures in the region expected to increase by another 1-2 degrees Celsius before 2050, the number and size of glacial melt lakes is bound to grow. More rainfall will occur at higher and higher elevations, pushing glacial melt lake levels higher and higher. In the end, millions of downstream residents are at increasing risk of Glacial Outburst Floods.

With human climate change pushing warming at such a rapid and unprecedented rate, it is only a matter of time before more of these amazingly dangerous events take place. Global carbon emissions hit a new high in 2012 and a start to global greenhouse gas reductions, without serious and immediate global policy measures, is years to decades away. So it is highly likely that risks for large GLOFS will continue to increase in India and in other nations bordering the Himalayan mountain chain.

Stark Implications for Greenland, West Antarctica

Anywhere in the world where major ice sheets and glaciers exist, the threat of large Glacial Outburst Floods is growing. Perhaps the starkest manifestation of this risk is visible upon the now, rapidly melting, ice sheet of Greenland.

Since the mid 2000s, Greenland has been melting at a rate of 500 cubic kilometers every year. And due to polar amplification, rates of temperature increase over the Greenland ice sheet have been about double the global average. A recent report published in Nature found that just another .8 degree Celsius rise in global temperature would be enough to push the Greenland ice sheet to the point of no return. In this case, a long-term melting of all the Greenland ice sheet will have been set off by human warming.

But with very rapid melt starting to occur now, it is likely that we are already at the point of large-scale destabilization of the Greenland ice sheet even as we stare down the face of setting in place a total melt scenario over the next few decades (setting off a chain of chaotic events that would likely take centuries to complete). With temperatures continuing to rise over Greenland and with human greenhouse gas forcing and Earth System feedbacks also on the increase, it is highly likely that pace of ice sheet destabilization will continue to accelerate.

Greenland melt lakes, dark snow, August 4, 2013.

Greenland melt lakes, dark snow, August 4, 2013.

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

The problem with Greenland melt, however, is in many ways far worse than the melt of the massive, though comparatively smaller, Himalayan Glaciers. The Greenland ice sheet is entirely contiguous and has massive depth and a towering elevation of two miles at its center. Glacial Outburst Flood events from such a large source will, therefore, be far, far more catastrophic.

In the Greenland melt dynamic, multiple glacial melt lakes will increasingly form over the surface of the Greenland ice sheet. We can already see such events beginning during current summers. The above shot provided by NASA shows numerous melt lakes forming in the western border of the Greenland Ice Sheet on August 4 of 2013. These melt lakes are many times larger than those seen in the Himalayas with some of them stretching six kilometers in length. In the future, we can expect the size and number of the glacial melt lakes to greatly increase.

Risk of a Greenland Megaflood Arises

With such a large region of ice covered by numerous melt lakes, a kind of ominous tipping point may be reached. During warm summer months, weather systems may pull warmth and moisture over a large section of the Greenland Ice Sheet which is already covered with numerous melt ponds. Temperatures above freezing and a constant flow of moisture emerging from the southern latitudes through a locked in place Jet Stream pattern may ensure that the rain event over these Greenland melt lakes lasts for days or weeks.

Eventually, some of these melt lakes begin to over-top, spilling waters into the already filled lakes lower down on the ice sheet. These lakes then also over-top, contributing ever greater volumes of water to the growing flood.

Depending on how far melt lakes penetrate into the ice sheet, this chain reaction over-topping can proceed for tens or even hundreds of kilometers. By the time the massive flood has reached the lower ice sheet edge, perhaps a kilometer or more below the initial flood source, a massive glacier-originating wave has developed, one that is, perhaps, tens or hundreds of feet in height and with a front covering tens or even hundreds of miles.

Such a powerful outburst megaflood would contain both freezing water and large fragments of ice ripped from the ice sheet as the outburst wave proceeded down the ice sheet. And, like the Kedarnath megaflood, it will also likely contain boulders pulled from adjacent mountains and lands. But this particular event would be far, far worse than any Himalayan outburst flood. It would proceed for hundreds and, perhaps, thousands of miles from the outburst site, leaving a swath of destruction similar to that seen in the worst global ocean tsunami events of recent years.

Melt Lakes Forming Among Terrace-Like Structures on the Greenland Ice Sheet

Melt Lakes Forming Among Terrace-Like Structures on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Set up for Future Large Outburst Megaflood?

We see evidence of such events occurring at the end of the last ice age, with petrified trees imbedded in rock strata up to 500 feet above sea level in the cliffs and mountainsides of Pacific Islands bordering the Arctic. It is thought that these trees were carried by massive glacial outburst floods from the melting Laurentide Ice Sheet which, at the end of the last Ice Age, was thousands of miles away from this tree deposition. The trees found in these deposits are natives to Canada and Alaska and the character of their deposition is indicative of a catastrophic outburst flood event or series of events.

Glacial Outburst Megafloods are among the most dangerous risks posed by rapid Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheet melting, warming and destabilization. And Greenland is most likely to see its first manifestations, though Antarctica may follow soon after, over the course of years or decades. Such ice sheet decline will be both chaotic and destructive — with moments of almost unthinkable outburst events proceeding once certain tipping points are reached. Some of these events may already be locked in due to current human forcing and related natural feedbacks. Let us hope that it is possible to prevent their very worst manifestations.

Greenland Outburst Flood of 2012 to be Seen as Minor by Comparison

Should such events occur, a massive outflow of water near the Greenland Ice Sheet during 2012 that washed out a bridge and threatened a local airport will be seen as minor. For comparison, I’ve added the following video:

A major outburst flood issuing from a large section of the Greenland ice sheet would render miniscule even this, very energetic event.

Extensive Dark Snow, Very Large Melt Lakes Visible Over West Slope of Greenland as Late Season Melt Pulse Continues

Late Season Greenland Melt Pulse Continues.

Late Season Greenland Melt Pulse Continues.

(Image source: NSIDC)

A strong, late-season melt pulse continued over the Greenland ice sheet this weekend as melt covered a much greater portion of the ice sheet than is typical for this time of year. As of late July, the area of the Greenland ice sheet subject to melt had spiked to nearly 45%. Soon after, a second melt spike to around 38% followed. Over the past two weeks, melt area coverage has fluctuated between 5 and 25 percentage points above the seasonal average for this time of year, maintaining at or above the typical melt season maximum of around 25% for almost all of this time.

This late-season melt surge was driven by a switch in the polar Jet Stream. A trough which had dominated through much of summer, bringing near average temperatures and melt conditions, had eroded and by late July a broad ridge began to form. This high amplitude wave dredged warm air up from as far south as the south-eastern US, then dumped it on the west facing coast of Greenland. There, last week, a new record all time high temperature of 78.6 degrees (Fahrenheit) shattered Greenland’s previous highest temperature of 77.9 degrees.

And this record heat is beginning to have a very visible affect on the ice. Aqua satellite passes this weekend recorded a visible darkening of ice cover in the region most greatly impacted by high temperatures last week. The snow and ice cover there has taken on a sooty appearance with darker gray tendrils finding their way deep into the ice pack. At the same time, large melt lakes expanded over the region with some of these lakes measuring more than  three kilometers across.

In this first Modis shot we see a broad region of darkened, melt-pond speckled ice forming over a very large swath of Greenland’s western ice sheet:

Greenland west coast melt, August 4.

Greenland west coast melt, August 4.

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

For reference, Baffin Bay is toward the left of the image, the southern tip of Greenland, toward the bottom, and the far right frame of the image runs about down the center-line of the south Greenland ice spur. Note the swatch of dark ice that appears much like dirty snow running down western side of the ice sheet. This major melt region, at its widest, appears to dive as much as 100 miles into the ice sheet. Even at this level of resolution, we can see the large melt lakes speckling the inland border of this darkened region.

Zooming in to a region where melt appears to have penetrated deepest into the ice pack, we find even more dramatic features.

Greenland melt lakes, dark snow, August 4, 2013.

Greenland melt lakes, dark snow, August 4, 2013.

(Image source: Lance Modis)

The orientation of this particular image is the same as the larger image above, but we have just zoomed in to a large, central melt region. Toward the coast, we can see melt and ice flowing into channels and fjords. Adjacent to this rocky coastal zone is a region of more rapidly mobile and fractured ice flows. Few melt ponds are visible in this region and this is, likely, due to the large fissures and steep vertical faces that cover most of the ice surface in this area. It is beyond this boundary margin and inward toward the ice sheet’s center that we find a second region of very dark snow and ice. This area shows some large melt ponds, but its prominent feature is an almost complete loss of reflective snow cover with lower layers of soot deposition and darker sediment now exposed. Still further in, we find the third, and arguably most dramatic, melt zone. This particular area is coated, not in dark gray, but in blue. It is a feature primarily caused by a very extensive surface melt covering much of this region. In this single picture, we can count over a hundred large melt lakes mostly dominating this region. They range in size from about a half kilometer to over three kilometers across. Connecting these lakes is what appears to be a web of melt rivers, some of which terminate in moulins that core into the glacier’s heart, delivering warm melt water the frigid ice’s center and base. The general bluish color of this region indicates a very high degree of melt with puddles and pools below the 250 meter resolution of this particular satellite shot lending an azure tint to the ice.

Conditions in Context

Over the past two decades, Greenland has shown a very disturbing and rapid melt response to human-caused warming. During the mid 1990s, Greenland began to show a net loss of ice mass. Through the 2000s, this melt rate accelerated, growing generally, but rapidly peaking in rather disturbing melt surges as warm weather conditions grew more extreme during certain years. By 2012, a very extreme melt year had occurred, resulting in ice sheet losses on the order of 700 cubic kilometers in just one year. These peak melt years appeared to re-cur at a rate of once every 2-5 years even as overall average melt from Greenland grew to a disturbing 500 cubic kilometers by the early 2010s.

Even worse, sensors deep within the ice sheet indicated that the ice sheet had become more mobile, increasing in velocity by about 2-3 percent each year since 2010.

Though 2013 does not appear to be a peak melt year, as weather conditions have favored less melt than in 2012, the continued softening of the Greenland ice sheet remains a very disturbing summer feature. This year’s west coast melt has been particularly dramatic, with the most recent shots shown above featuring some of the worst melts I have yet witnessed.

UPDATE:

Prokaryotes (think about the name) was kind enough to produce the following video of this blog on his own platform: Climate State. I’ve linked the YouTube version here:

Links:

Greenland Ice Sheet Slipping Under Hottest Temperatures Ever Recorded

Keep up with Greenland Melt by Reading Jason Box’s Website

The Dark Snow Project

NSIDC’s Review of the Record 2012 Greenland Melt Season

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: