NASA Data Shows the Rate of Global Warming is Accelerating — 2016 is Third Consecutive Hottest Year on Record

Over just the past three years, global temperatures have risen by about 0.4 degrees Celsius. This was an extreme acceleration in the rate of warming. One that is unmatched in all of the past 136 years of climate record keeping.

warming-since-1880-shows-acceleration-in-recent-years

During 2016, according to NASA, global temperatures hit 1.21 C above 1880s averages. This is a new record high to shatter all previous heat records. More to the point, the world’s atmosphere and oceans are now hotter than they’ve been in at least the past 100,000 years. This is considerable global warming. Enough to tip the world into a new climate age and bring about substantial geophysical changes.

The most glaring of these changes is the now impending rise of the world’s oceans. And as glaciers and ice shelves show signs of rapid melting in Greenland and Antarctica, we should consider the fact that the last time ocean surface and atmospheric temperatures were so warm, seas were 20 to 30 feet higher than they are today.

Warming across the world was not distributed evenly during 2016. And the Northern Hemisphere polar region, according to NASA, received the heaviest blow from rising atmospheric heat. Above the 80 degree North Latitude line, temperatures were fully 4.9 degrees Celsius above average for the period of an entire year.

hottest-year-on-record-2016

As a result, one of the most vulnerable areas of the world — the Arctic Ocean — was subjected to extraordinary warming. A warming that is now removing a considerable chunk of heat-deflecting sea ice from the Arctic environment and helping to set the stage for further rapid Arctic warming and worsening glacial melt in Greenland.

All this heat in the global system means that the world has crossed a number of critical climate thresholds. This is a bad situation. Coastal cities and island nations are now in peril due to sea level rise. Both stable growing seasons and the stability of regional weather are also now at risk as worsening glacial discharge and changes to ocean surface heat distribution appear to be ongoing and imminent.

These are hard consequences. But even worse consequences are on the way unless fossil fuel emissions are rapidly reduced.

Links:

NASA GISS

The Last Time the Oceans Got This Warm, Seas Were 20-30 Feet Higher Than They are Today

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Warm Atmospheric River Aims Parade of Storms at U.S. West During La Nina Year of 2017

A river of moisture arises from the Pacific Ocean and links up with a procession of enormous storms that bring heavy surf, flooding rains, and mountain snows to the U.S. West. It’s a weather narrative that one usually associates with a strong El Nino during winter time. But the powerful El Nino ended last year and it failed to bring the expected rains. Meanwhile, in early 2017, during a La Nina year in which typical trends would tend to point to drier conditions for the U.S. West, a procession of severe storms is now slamming into California.

El Nino Pattern During a La Nina Year

So what the heck happened? What could possibly cause such a crazy weather flip-flop in which record drought conditions extend through a time of El Nino but severe and extreme rains come with the onset of La Nina?

The answer appears to be that a record warm ocean combined with a strongly positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation to produce a powerful river of moisture aimed directly at California. And when the associated storms arrived it was with an extreme intensity — setting off numerous flash flood events.

atmospheric-river-pacific

(Water vapor models show an atmospheric river running out of the Western Pacific — crossing that vast ocean before engorging storms slamming into the U.S. West Coast on January 17 of 2017. This is a severe weather feature more typical of an El Nino year that is now occurring during a period of weak La Nina conditions. The difference being that rivers of moisture running into California typically issue over Hawaii. The present ‘Pineapple Express’ is coming all the way from the Philippines. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

An almost continuous spate of heavy downpours since the first week of January has now unloaded enough moisture to fully slake severe drought conditions over Northern California and to considerably reduce the drought in the south. Overall, precipitation totals for the past 30 days have been as much as 2.5 times above the normal amount for California.

Another Batch of Heavy Rain on the Way

This week, NOAA expects another batch of powerful storms to come blasting out of the Pacific. Sections of Southern California are predicted to get hit with around 9-13 inches of rain over the next seven days while the north receives another 10 to 15 inches. These are notably severe rainfall totals for California. And NOAA model predictions have tended to range higher over the past 24 hours.

 

noaa-extremely-heavy-precipitation

(NOAA 7-day precipitation forecast indicates a severe rainfall event for the U.S. West Coast with heaviest amounts hitting parts of Northern California. Image source: NOAA.)

According to Accuweather, the heavy rains are expected to spur flash flooding, increase the risk of mudslides and to possibly push some rivers over their banks. However, since many rivers are still at low levels following persistent drought during the last five years, over-topping is less of a risk than it otherwise would have been.

Storms tend to bring cooler weather to this region and the Western U.S. has cooled somewhat during 2017 compared to past years. However, the conditions in which these storms are firing are warmer than they have been in the past. As a result, mountain snowfall has occurred higher up on the slopes. Consistent with the warmer than normal storms, Accuweather predicts this week’s storm system will not produce big snowfall totals for the Cascades as snow levels are driven above 7,000 feet by the warmer than usual temperatures.

Very Warm, Moist Pacific; Positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation

There’s been very little weather and climate discussion as to why heavy rains are falling in California during a year when the odds stacked against such an event would tend to be higher due to La Nina. The elephant in the room at this time is a major excursion of global surface temperatures in the range of 1.2 C above normal during 2016. A notably severe climate change related insult to the Earth system. Such extreme atmospheric warmth will tend to hold more water vapor aloft in suspension. As a result, when the rains do fall, they will tend to be heavier and come more in the form of downpours and deluges than as moderate or lighter precipitation.

sea-surface-temperature-anomalies-pacific

(This sea surface temperature anomaly map shows that despite La Nina, the Pacific Ocean, on balance, is much warmer than normal. These warmer than normal sea surfaces are pumping out a considerable amount of moisture — which is helping to feed the powerful storm systems running into the U.S. West Coast. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

To this point, despite a La Nina blanketing the Pacific’s central Equatorial region in cooler than normal waters, most of the Northern Pacific is considerably warmer than normal. And all this extra warmth is helping to pump a lot of water vapor into the atmosphere above the ocean zone. A feature that is not typically consistent with La Nina, but one that is consistent with a considerably positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation acting in conjunction with overall global warming. Positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) values are associated with above normal sea surface temperatures in the Eastern and South-Central Pacific. Positive PDO tends to produce longer and strong El Nino events. And it is also associated with strong storm tracks running from west to east along the 40 N latitude line.

Storm Track Runs All the Way to U.S. West Coast

To this  point, it’s worth noting that PDO has been in a positive range for the past three years running. But it wasn’t until recently that a persistently strong storm track stretching all the way to the U.S. West Coast has developed. During past years, strong storms veered north into Alaska and Canada, deflected by powerful ridges over the U.S. West.

crazy-wavy-jet-stream-u-s-canada

(The crazy, wavy jet stream with a strong storm track hitting California and a ridge riding up into Central Canada is rather changed from the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge blocking pattern that helped to spark severe droughts along the U.S. West Coast during 2013-2015. Now, severe flooding rains are the rule of the day. Under human-caused climate change, we can expect weather patterns to tend more toward extremes. For the U.S. West Coast extreme drought has been replaced by heavy rains. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Assisting the process of storms running toward the U.S. West Coast was the removal of a hot blob of water off coastal Washington and Oregon as a zone of somewhat cooler than normal waters formed. These cooler waters extended from just off Northern Japan to south of the Aleutians and on toward the U.S. West Coast. This zone is providing a dipole temperature anomaly between the cooler than normal surface waters in the north and the warmer than normal waters in the south. As a result, the Jet Stream has a nice slot along which to produce a powerful, flat storm track. These two features — a strong temperature dipole between the 40 and 50 degree latitude lines and a very warm Pacific producing copious amounts of moisture south of the 40 degree latitude line — are the key ingredients that appear to be fueling the powerful West Coast storms in a counter-La Nina fashion.

In contrast to the 2013 to 2015 period, high pressure ridging along the U.S. West Coast is not now strong enough to deflect the storms running across the Northern Pacific. In other words, it appears that the influence of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge and hot Ocean blobs off Washington and Oregon during 2013 to 2015 is has now faded out. However, the new climate and weather trends driving this most recent influx of heavy rainfall to the U.S. West Coast are almost as odd and notable.

Links:

Threat of Flooding For U.S. West Coast

West Coast Storms Cause Dangerous Flooding in California

U.S. Drought Monitor

Climate Reanalyzer

GISS Temperature Data

Climate Reanalyzer

Pacific Decadal Oscillation

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

The Human World Has Never Experienced A Time When Global Sea Ice Was So Weak and Reduced

Neven — one of the world’s most beloved sea ice trackers — has again taken a break from his much-earned sabbatical to issue yet one more warning on the state of global sea ice.

His report, based on this month’s bombshell National Snow and Ice Data Center statement, can best be described as an urgent call for action on the part of the global community to redouble efforts aimed at reducing the wide-ranging and expanding harms caused by the terrible warming trend we have artificially forced upon our world.

Neven is a kind, honest, and open soul. He is also one of the smartest and decent fellow bloggers I have had the good fortune of encountering in my many travels during my last four years of covering the slow motion global train wreck caused by our widespread and vastly irresponsible burning of fossil fuels. In other words, the man, in my view, has the moral and intellectual authority that many lack. We should listen to him.

Before the World Warmed, This Would Have Been a 1 in 30 Billion Probability Event

For, sadly, on the crucial issue of sea ice, a general muting of the subject has tended to continue despite a jaw-dropping plunge in both the coverage and volume of a substance so crucial to maintaining a stable global climate:

global-sea-ice-extent-stunning-losses

(Global sea ice extent fell off a cliff during December of 2016. The measure has now bounced back a little. But the global average remains significantly below past record lows for this time of year. Loss of so much sea ice can be highly disruptive to the climate system and related atmospheric circulation and precipitation patterns. Image source: NSIDC.)

During December, global sea ice extent coverage fell to an amazing 4.4 million square kilometers below average. This is far, far outside the 2 standard deviation range — passing to fully 8 standard deviations beyond the typical yearly average.

Under past expectations of average, the statistical probability of such an event is approximately 1 in 30 billion. Of course, it’s pretty obvious at this time that a normal, natural variability is not the underlying cause of such a great loss of sea ice. That the warmth we added to the system has now greatly tipped the scales beyond anything representing what would have previously been considered a normal range. A range that since the year 2000 had already tended to dip below average more and more frequently. But one that has never seen so much ice lost.

Unprecedented Losses

This area of sea ice removed — enough to change how the face of our Earth looks from space — is approximately the size of two Greenlands (Note that sea ice loss does not directly contribute to sea level rise. But loss of protective sea ice can contribute to land ice melt — which does add to rates of sea level rise.). And it has been roughly split between the Arctic in the north and the Antarctic in the south.

If sea ice extent losses appear bleak, then sea ice volume losses seem even worse. Sea ice extent is a rough measure of the surface of the world covered by ice excluding gaps behind the leading ice edge. Sea ice volume, however, measures both the ice area — including gaps — and the ice thickness.

giomas-year-global

(Globally, we’ve lost about 1/3 of the total volume of sea ice since the 1980s. 2016’s record fall in the measure coincided with record hot global temperatures and an abnormal period of polar warming that continues on into 2017. Image source: Wipneus.)

Late 2016’s big drop included the approximate removal of 1/3 of the world’s sea ice volume when compared to 1981-2010 averages. In other words, 1/3 of all of the floating portion of the world’s cryosphere beyond the edge of anchored ice shelves had melted away during the period.

Record Global Temperatures as Prime Cause For North and South Pole Sea Ice Melt

In the north, extremely warm temperatures ranging from 2 to up to 7 degrees Celsius above average for the Arctic Ocean region have helped to drive these unprecedented fall and winter sea ice losses. In the south, warmer than normal surface conditions appear to have also helped to drive the amazing coordinate losses there. And overall, 2016 has shown warm to extremely warm conditions for both poles during a year in which global temperatures have spiked to around 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages.

2016-air-temperature-anomalies-north-and-south-pole

(Extremely strong polar amplification during 2016 is the likely primary contributor to sea ice loss in both the northern and southern polar regions. Image source: NSIDC.)

Under polar amplification — a condition associated with the human-forced warming of our world — scientists expected that the polar regions would tend to warm faster than the rest of the Earth surface. And during 2016, this global warming related condition presented effects writ large.  The damage to sea ice, so far, has been monumental. And these losses have continued into 2017 — even if they are somewhat less below the record low line than during their period of maximum departure this past December.

Albedo Losses and a Bad Set-up for Arctic Summer

Sea ice loss generates its own form of amplifying feedback — in which already prevalent polar warming can worsen further. Less ice coverage means that during summer more of the dark ocean surface is presented to absorb the sun’s rays. This replacement of a white, reflective surface with a dark blue, absorptive one means that still more heat will tend to be trapped in the polar environment. In addition, during winter, less ice cover means that the warmer ocean beneath will tend ventilate more heat and heat-trapping water vapor into the polar atmospheres. And it’s this kind of self-reinforcing cycle that can tend to lock in the dangerous changes like worsening severe weather, worsening heatwaves in the middle and lower latitudes, and the increasing rates of land glacier melt and sea level rise that scientists have been warning about for so long. And it’s this kind of disruptive longer term climate trend that we are being drawn into at this time.

freezing-degree-days-lag-during-freezing-seaons-80-n

(Freezing degree days for the crucial 80 N region have significantly departed into record low ranges. The less freezing degree days, the closer this region is to thawing. Image source: Tealight. Data Source: DMI.)

Nearer term, it appears that the polar heat which has already so greatly damaged the Arctic sea ice is set to stay. Over the next few days, the Arctic appears set to experience a powerful series of low pressure systems running in from the Barents side between Svalbard and Siberia. Neven warns that these storms will tend to push a considerable portion of the remaining thick ice out of the Arctic and through the Fram Strait. Over the next couple of weeks, global forecast models indicate that above freezing temperatures will tend to invade regions now covered by sea ice in Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, and in the Chukchi Sea. Though the ice is trying to grow, such repeated insults will tend to keep ice coverage in record low ranges.

If this trend of warmth, storms and ice export continues through February, March and April — as it has during October, November, December and January — then the set up for the 2017 melt season would be about the worst we have ever seen. And that would tend to increase the likelihood of new record minimums being reached during September all while hastening the day when the Arctic experiences near ice free conditions. Lets hope that doesn’t happen. But, so far, the trends for the winter of 2016-2017, from pole to pole, have followed along the lines of a near worst case scenario.

Links:

Global Sea Ice Records Broken Again

National Snow and Ice Data Center Sea Ice News

Wipneus Sea Ice Graphs

NASA GISS Temperature Data

Polar Amplification

Tealight

DMI

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hudson Bay to Experience Periods of Above Freezing Temperatures, Possible Rainfall During January of 2017

Earlier this morning, warm winds rushing in from the south ahead of an extensive frontal system draped across central and eastern North America pulled 32 + degree Fahrenheit (0 + C) temperatures into the southern coastal area of Hudson Bay. These temperatures were around 30 to 35 degrees (F) above normal. An odd event to say the least. One that would have been far less likely to happen without the added kick provided by global warming in the range of 1.2 C above 1880s averages.

hudson-bay-above-freezing-january-11

(Temperatures rose to above freezing at around 4 AM EST along the southern shores of Hudson Bay on January 11, 2017 according to this GFS model summary. Middle and long range forecasts indicate that at least two more such warming events will occur over this typically frigid region during January. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Such a kick has been pushing climate zones northward — sparking numerous instances of unseasonable weather. Meanwhile, some researchers have indicated that the Jet Stream has also tended to produce higher amplitude ridges and troughs as the Northern Hemisphere polar zone has warmed faster than the rest of the world. In these more extensive ridge zones, this climate change related alteration to atmospheric circulation provides big avenues for warm air to enter typically frozen regions during winter (please see Arctic Melt ‘Already Affecting Weather Patterns Where You Live Right Now’).

Today’s warming event was driven by a northward extending bulge in the Jet Stream running up over Alberta and on into the North Atlantic near Greenland. Similar ridging in the Jet Stream is expected to occur over Central Canada five to six days from now on Monday and Tuesday of January 16-17, again over extreme southern Hudson Bay on Wednesday, January 18, and once more over the southern half of Hudson Bay on Monday, January 23rd.

Warming during the 16th and 17th is expected to range from 30 to 38 Fahrenheit (17 to 21 C) above average. Meanwhile, the longer range forecast may see temperatures hit near 40 F (22 C) above average for some regions if the model guidance ends up being correct.

extreme-warmth-over-hudson-bay

(Numerous instances of above-freezing temperatures are predicted for Hudson Bay during mid-to-late January. The most intense warming is showing up in the long range forecast for January 23rd. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

It’s worth noting that the five day forecast is rather uncertain and the longer range forecast at this time is highly uncertain. That said, the models do indicate a particularly strong tendency for Jet Stream ridging and associated anomalous warming for this region.

Today’s warming occurred in association with strong frontal storm system anchored by a 976 mb low. This coming Monday’s warming is expected to come in conjunction with a much less stormy warm front. The long range model for January 23rd shows an odd event where another strong frontal storm pulls a curtain of rainfall over much of southern Hudson Bay (which typically receives only frozen precipitation at this time of year).

liquid-precipitation-over-hudson-bay-during-january

(Light to moderate rain could fall over a large portion of Hudson Bay during late January as a very extensive frontal system is predicted to pull moisture and warmth from the Gulf of Mexico. An odd winter climate/weather event to say the least. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

Over the past two years, large ridges have tended to drive warm air into the Arctic over the Bering Sea, through Alaska and Northwest Canada, and up through the North Atlantic and the Barents. But during early 2017, ridging appears to be setting up for Central and Northern North America — which is providing the warmer middle latitude air mass with an invasion route toward Hudson Bay. And such periods of anomalous warmth will tend to have a weakening effect on sea ice cover in this vulnerable near-Arctic region.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Tropical Tidbits

Arctic Melt ‘Already Affecting Weather Patterns Where You Live Right Now’

NOAA– Atmospheric CO2 Increased by 2.77 Parts Per Million During 2016

According to NOAA, carbon dioxide — a key heat trapping gas — increased its atmospheric concentration by 2.77 parts per million during 2016. This was the third fastest rate of increase in the NOAA record following 2015 at a 3.03 ppm annual increase and 1998 at a 2.93 annual increase.

Earlier trends had indicated that 2016 might be on track to beat 2015 as a new record year (and a month by month comparison for the first 11 months of 2016 pointed toward a record rate of rise). These concerns, thankfully, did not materialize as atmospheric rates of accumulation slowed down during December of 2016 — which helped to push the overall year to year comparison lower (NOAA’s year-on-year rate of growth is based on a December to January comparison). Nonetheless, the high rate of atmospheric increase for 2016 remains a matter of concern.

co2-annual-rate-of-increase

(2015 saw a record annual rate of atmospheric CO2 increase at 3.03 parts per million. 2016’s increase at 2.77 parts per million was the 3rd fastest on record. Overall, the decade of 2011-2016 is presently showing about a 20 percent faster rate of accumulation than the decade of 2000 to 2010. This should moderate somewhat post El Nino. However, Earth System feedbacks threaten to hamper the environment’s ability to take down excess carbon as the world begins to approach 1.5 C warmer than 1880s averages. Image source: NOAA.)

Overall, the average annual rate of increase for the first six years of the decade beginning in 2011 was 2.42 parts per million. This rate is approximately 20 percent faster than during the decade of 2001 to 2010 (analysis based on this NOAA data) at around a 2.05 parts per million annual increase. Prior to the most recent decade, the 2000 to 2010 period showed the fastest rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide accumulation on record.

El Nino, through ocean warming and related land impacts such as increased droughts and wildfires, can reduce the rate of CO2 uptake by the Earth System — thus forcing a higher rate of increase due to the human emission. And the 2015 to 2016 period featured a strong El Nino. All things being equal, we should expect atmospheric rates of increase to moderate somewhat during 2017. Possibly dropping to slightly below 2 ppm in the best case.

atmospheric-co2-increase-the-keeling-curve

(Extremely rapid rates of atmospheric CO2 increase since the mid 20th Century have been driven by ramping rates of fossil fuel burning. Now we are at a point where the Earth System will have more and more difficulty taking in the carbon spewed out by smokestacks and tail pipes. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

However, global carbon emissions from fossil fuels at near record levels will continue to push a very high rate of atmospheric accumulation of this climate change driving heat-trapping gas. And the added insult due to global warming now ranging above 1 C hotter than 1880s for most years will tend to put a cap on how effective the Earth is at taking in the very large excess human emission.

By comparison, rates of CO2 increase during the last hothouse extinction event — the PETM — were about 10 to 20 times slower than they are today. And it took hundreds of years for atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to equal the same 125 parts per million increase we’ve now experienced in the 136 years since 1880. So the insult to the Earth System produced by fossil fuel burning is currently extraordinarily high and the rate of heat trapping gas accumulation is probably unprecedented for at least the last 66 million years.

(CO2 is the primary gas driving global warming. But it is not the only one. Add in methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gasses and you end up with a total forcing that’s equivalent to 490 parts per million CO2. Video source: Climate One.)

NOAA is now showing that global atmospheric CO2 averages are hitting near 402.5 parts per million. This level will likely increase to around 404 to 405 parts per million by the end of 2017. The forcing from this CO2 alone (not including methane and other greenhouse gasses which has pushed CO2 equivalent forcing to around 490 parts per million) is enough to push global temperatures to nearly 2 C warmer than 1880s averages this Century (prediction based on ECS model analysis). Longer term, if atmospheric CO2 concentrations remain so high, overall warming could hit 3 C to as much as 4 C hotter than 1880s values when adding in the long-term impacts of other greenhouse gas emissions (prediction based on a meta-analysis of paleoclimate temperature and atmospheric carbon proxies).

With global temperatures already driven to about 1.2 C hotter than 1880s during 2016, it’s not an understatement to say that a period of more dangerous and harmful climate change — forced upon us by the world’s extremely high rate of carbon emissions — is already upon us. And we can see that in the various severe weather and geophysical events that are currently ranging the globe. The urgency for cutting carbon emissions, therefore, could not be greater.

Links:

NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Ten Times Faster Than the PETM

The Keeling Curve

Climate One

Hat tip to Shawn Redmond

Hat tip to Suzanne

(UPDATED)

This is What The Resistance Looks Like — Cities, States and Nations Run on 100 Percent Renewable Power

The sparks of resistance to a harmful domination of energy supplies by the fossil fuel industry are out there. They are the lights of clean power generation blooming like stars across a world blackened by smokestack emissions and imperiled by climate change.

****

In the U.S., backward-looking republicans like Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, James Inhofe and Mitch McConnell appear to be gearing up to fight against both a necessary and helpful science that provides us with a life-saving awareness of the threats posed by human caused climate change and a highly beneficial renewable energy renaissance that has now gone global. Trump’s presidential cabinet is filled to the brim with climate change deniers and fossil fuel pushers. Pledges to de-fund climate science, implied threats to fire employees at the Department of Energy who worked on climate and renewable energy related issues, and belligerent boasting about dismantling much-needed policies like the Clean Power Plan, EPA fuel efficiency standards, and the Paris Climate Summit abound.

It’s the great loud, sad, and ignorance-filled reaction against a better future. A political and legislative backlash funded by oil, gas, and coal company campaign donations, advertising dollars, and indirect media investments. One that seeks to remove the possibility for a time when energy does not pollute the air or water — resulting in 7 million premature deaths each year globally. For one when climates are not, by incessant fossil fuel burning, pushed ever-closer to the hothouse extinction states that killed so much of life on Earth in the great long ago.

(There used to be a number of forward-looking republicans who both stood as leaders of their party and provided strong support for clean power. What happened? Where are these clear and reasonable voices now? Arnold calls BS on politicians fighting against clean energy, who like Trump and many current-day republicans, are claiming it’s too costly or difficult to switch away from fossil fuels. Video source: Attn.)

But despite this surge of destructive reactionism on the part of U.S. republicans and in such varied legislative bodies as the UK and Australia, the hopeful movement toward a future which includes the potential for human civilization survival and long-term prosperity continues. It’s a movement powered by individuals, by sustainable industries, by cities, by states and by nations who recognize the need for a more hopeful, more beneficial path than the one the fossil fuel industry and their political cohorts, like Trump, are now seeking to force upon them. They are the base of a very necessary resistance to a malign and yet still powerful global influence. And they are resisting by simply finding a way to shine lights powered by clean energy in the darkness and smog of this dying hydrocarbon age.

Number of U.S. Cities Powered by 100 Percent Renewable Energy Grows

In Las Vegas, Nevada, a city on the brink of a climate change driven chaos of water shortages and worsening droughts, the clean energy lights have switched on. There, city officials have achieved 100 percent renewable power for municipal facilities fed by a 100 MW renewable energy generation source. To be clear, the entire city of Las Vegas isn’t run by renewable energy — yet. But the government buildings, traffic lights, street lights, and public parks are now powered by clean sources.

Las Vegas isn’t the only one. Greensburg, Kansas runs on 100 percent renewable power — including electricity provided to individual residences. Burlington, Vermont and Aspen, Colorado also provide 100 percent renewable energy for city infrastructure, industry and residences. The list of cities already achieving or close to achieving 100 percent renewable power goals goes on to include Columbia, Maryland; East Hampton, New York; Georgetown, Texas; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Greensburg, Kansas; Nassau, New York and Rochester, Minnesota.  In California — a state that governor Jerry Brown has pledged will continue its clean energy progress despite what appear to be a broad array of incoming attacks on renewables by Trump and republicans — Paolo Alto is joined by Lancaster, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Monica as cities that have all achieved or are pursuing 100 percent renewable power generation.

us-solar-energy-leadership

(President Obama is proud of U.S. solar energy and climate leadership. This support helped Obama to create 14 million jobs over the course of his Presidency. Donald Trump appears to be ready to attack one of the U.S.’s few remaining cutting edge industries and along with it middle class jobs. Image source: White House.)

But that’s not all. This week, a new power agreement committed 21 towns in Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod to energy provided by 100 percent renewable sources. These communities banded together with the goal in mind not just to switch to clean energy — but to negotiate favorable rates by leveraging the bargaining power of a large customer base. Such a strategic approach is especially important in regions where energy markets have been deregulated — as it provides the added protection of broad representation.

As with climate scientists, it’s likely that sustainable communities like these will fall on the target lists of republican party leaders allied to a fossil fuel industry that’s increasingly desperate to legislatively capture energy customers — providing them no option to escape from harmful power sources. But many city leaders are fed up and won’t have any of it. To this point, 48 mayors issued an open letter to Donald Trump stating:

The effects of climate change — extreme storms, wildfires and drought; sea level rise and storm surge; choking air pollution in cities; disruption of agricultural supply chains and jobs in rural heartlands; and coastal erosion, to name a few — are a clear and present danger to American interests at home and abroad… As Mayors, we have taken it upon ourselves to take bold action within our cities to tackle the climate crisis head-on. We write today to ask for your partnership in our work to clean our air, strengthen our economy, and ensure that our children inherit a nation healthier and better prepared for the future than it is today.

A Global Resistance to the Harmful Energy Sources that Cause Climate Change

Across the Atlantic, a Scottish golf course constructed by Donald Trump is now receiving power from renewable energy sources like the wind turbines he continues to oppose. Today Scotland generates 72 percent of its electrical energy from non carbon sources. A figure that the Scottish government is aiming to push to 100 percent by 2020. Meanwhile, the European island of Iceland has long received the bulk of its electricity and thermal energy from renewable hydro and geothermal sources.

In nearby mainland Europe, numerous cities now run on 100 percent renewable electrical power. These include Güssing, in Austria; Wildpoldsried, in Germany and Samsø, in Denmark. Germany’s states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, home to 1.6 million Germans, and Schleswig-Holstein with a population of 2.9 million are both renewable energy over-achievers — producing more clean power than they consume. These states instead often export their electricity to various other nearby regions.

In South America, Paraguay produces 10 times the electricity it requires from renewables and exports the excess to its neighbors — many of whom, like Bolivia and Brazil, are already seeing harmful climate impacts resulting from human fossil fuel burning. Further north, Central American Costa Rica has now seen a year pass without the need for further fossil fuel power generation even as it continues to install more renewables. And, finally, Pacific islands are starting to make the switch from expensive diesel power generation to increasingly affordable solar. There, the Pacific island nation of Tokelau had become the first country to be powered by 100 percent solar energy. Meanwhile, Solar City recently enabled an entire island in the American Samoa chain to flip from diesel to near 100 percent solar.

Solar Exceeds Wind For First Time as India Makes Commitment to Halt Coal Plant Construction

Stepping back, we find that this massive transition away from fossil fuel based energy sources is being driven in large part by two new energy providers combining with traditional hydro power generation as a dispatchable base load provider. These two — wind and solar — this year will add a combined approximate 130-140 gigawatts of new generation capacity. Solar, for the first time, is expected to exceed wind by providing 70-76 gigawatts of new capacity during 2016. Meanwhile, wind is expected to hit record or near record installations at around 60-65 gigawatts.

Low prices and superior energy return on energy investment vs traditional fossil fuels as well as much lower overall impacts to human health and the global climate appears to be the primary driver of what is shaping up to be an extraordinarily rapid shift in the world’s electricity markets. Wind has long been considered a low-cost energy source. But in 2016, it appears that solar prices have fallen below those of already inexpensive wind generation. And, according to Bloomberg, solar is now sometimes selling a prices half that of traditional coal. It is these low prices that are enabling cities, communities, states and some small to mid-sized nations to achieve 100 percent renewable power generation. Meanwhile, large states are now enabled to make big commitments to halt construction of the worst-polluting power stations.

On Tuesday, December 20, India — which will soon be the most highly populated country in the world — announced that it would completely halt new coal plant construction through 2027. India faces worsening droughts, glacial outburst floods in the Himalayas, killing heat, and a flood destabilized Bangladesh to its east so long as global temperatures continue to rise. The country is also seeing rapid economic growth and increases in prosperity. But this prosperity is threatened by climate change impacts. For a country faced with destabilization of nations on its borders, inundated coastlines, killing heat in its heartland, and rampant drought as rivers dry up and glaciers disappear finds aspirations for a prosperous future imperiled.

india-majority-renewable-power

(India plans a major revamp of policy by ambitiously pursuing renewables while completely curtailing new coal plant building. Under such a plan, and with Trump coming in as President, one wonders if the U.S. will fall far behind other nations leading the charge into a future powered by clean energy. Will Trump attack the very industries at home that would benefit from India’s drive to seek renewable energy partners? American mainstays like Tesla, Solar City, GE wind, SunPower, and First Solar would all benefit from such a potential relationship. But will Trump’s anti-renewables fossil fuel based ideology blind him to this obvious opportunity to help U.S. business interests abroad? Image provided by Renew Economy.)

India’s response is to rationally cap coal consumption by 2022 while undertaking a massive renewable energy build-out. By 2027, India plans to add 215 gigawatts of renewables, and 39 gigawatts of nuclear and hydro power. Coal plant construction will be limited to those plants that are currently under contract. But the state already predicts that the capacity will be under-utilized, resulting in stranded fossil fuel ‘assets’ — which could produce a drag on markets both at home and abroad.

Under the new plan, India will boast a majority renewable and zero emission power generation capacity by 2027. And this action appears to be laying the groundwork for a larger energy switch as India’s Energy Minister Piyush Goyal has stated a clear goal to “look at a world beyond fossil fuels” and to aim to cut fossil fuel imports.

Clean Power Resistance to Ideologies and Industries Destined for Dramatic Failure

In the end, what we see is a world in which renewable energy is making a great leap forward. A world where the considerable but waning fossil fuel powers are panicking and lashing out as they begin to enter decline. We see this reactionary backlash in climate change denial, in attacks on scientists, in an amoral pandering toward fears, bigotry and extremism, in brazen attempts to erode democratic institutions and attack the Constitutional integrity of the electoral process in the U.S., and in Trump’s and Republicans’ insistence on protecting fading industries destined to fail. We also see it in their attacks against the new and helpful industries and the agencies, like the EPA and NASA, that produce so many beneficial public goods.

What their actions and reactions will produce — by intentionally injecting authoritarianism, chaos and instability — is a delay to the entry of these helpful power sources. A delay that will lock in worse climate harms even as it hobbles the most innovative and helpful segment of emerging industry within the United States. A delay engineered by leveraging all the darker angels of the American psyche. And as with many of the other policies now being promoted by republicans, this subset is as ludicrously out of touch with present day politics, history, societies, and industry as it is brazenly harmful to pretty much everyone.

But the resistance to this darkness and retrenchment has arrived in the form of new opportunity and progressive movement. It has arrived in the form of a very real and clean enlightenment of the global energy production system. One that breaks the ancient ties to destructive extraction and burning. And there could be no better cause than supporting this resistance by doing your part to aid the transition to clean power.

Links:

NASA Climate Change Mitigation

Trump Cabinet Filled to the Brim With Climate Change Deniers

Cape Light Compact Goes 100 Percent Renewable Electricity

White House

Arnold Calls BS on Politicians Claiming Clean Energy is Too Expensive

Los Vegas Goes 100 Percent Renewable Power

Solar Now Produces a Better Energy Return on Investment than Oil

Renew Economy — No New Coal Fired Plants for India

Solar Less Expensive than Coal and Wind

Mayors Letter to Trump on Climate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

 

A Flood of Warm Water the Size of 30 Amazon Rivers is Melting One of East Antarctica’s Largest Glaciers

If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that few of Antarctica’s submerged coastal glaciers are safe from the warming ocean. Places that we once thought wouldn’t be vulnerable to melt for decades or centuries are now starting to feel the heat of rising water temperatures.

The heat comes in the form of great floods of warmer than normal waters running beneath the ocean surface and then eating away at the undersides of ice shelves and sea fronting glaciers. These floods are provided by the warmth forced into the world ocean by rising global greenhouse gas concentrations. And such invasions are happening around Antarctica’s perimeter with increasing frequency. But perhaps the most disturbing such event now ongoing is the present warm water flood running in from the Southern Ocean toward East Antarctica’s Totten Glacier.

calving-front-of-the-totten-glacier

(The melting edge of the Totten Glacier. Image source: Antarctica.gov.)

Totten is a truly gigantic glacier. By itself representing an ice mass equal to that contained in all of West Antarctica’s many glaciers. If large sections of Totten and the associated Aurora Basin were to melt, seas could rise by 12 feet or more. During recent years, researchers identified a great canyon running between 2,000 and 3,600 feet below sea level and stretching six miles wide as a weak point for Totten — whose glaciers sit in an enormous, below sea level rift within East Antarctica.

Researchers recently found that the floating ice shelf buttressing Totten was melting from below. As of 2015, they hadn’t identified a mechanism for this melt. But they had a pretty short suspect list. This year, a new study led by Dr. Stephen Rich Rintoul found that a river of warm water flowing at a rate of 220,000 cubic meters per second was flooding into the vulnerable canyon entrance to Totten’s weak underbelly. The researchers determined that this volume of warm water — equaling a flow rate more than 30 times that of the Amazon River — was enough to account for the observed ice shelf losses over recent years in the range of 60 to 80 billion tons per year.

totten-glacier-basin

(The Totten Glacier of East Antarctica contains about as much ice mass as all of West Antarctica. Its catchment basin is roughly the size of the U.S. Southeast. Much of it sits below sea level. And an ice shelf buttressing the glacier’s largest outlet in a 6 mile wide and 3,600 foot deep canyon is rapidly melting. Once this ice shelf breaks apart, ocean water will flood inland along a reverse slope and the Totten Glacier will increase its rate of movement toward the ocean — significantly speeding rates of global sea level rise. Image source: Australian Antarctic Division.)

The study authors found that:

…several lines of evidence support the conclusion that rapid basal melt of the [Totten Ice Shelf] is driven by the flux of warm [modified circumpolar deep water] into the cavity: the presence of warm water at the ice front, the existence of a deep trough providing access of this warm water to the cavity, direct measurements of mass and heat transport into the cavity, the signature of glacial meltwater in the outflow, and exchange rates inferred from the heat budget and satellite-derived basal melt rates.

Presently, because the ice shelf floats, this melt is not adding to global sea level rise. But the shelf acts like a cork that’s stopping the rest of Totten from flowing into the ocean. And when the ice shelf weakens enough, it will rift and break apart — leaving the massive glaciers behind it exposed to the inrush of warm waters and removing the last major barrier preventing them from bursting out.

Links:

Ocean Heat Drives Rapid Basal Melt of Totten Ice Shelf

Scientists Confirm that Warm Ocean Water is Melting one of East Antarctica’s Biggest Glaciers

One by One, the Flood Gates of Antarctica are Breaking Open

Tottering Totten and the Coming Multi-meter Sea Level Rise

Antarctica.gov

Hat tip to Robert in New Orleans

Regions Near North Pole to Hit Above Freezing Three Days Before Christmas

In our cultural mythology we consider the North Pole to be this permanently frozen wonderland. And, during the 20th Century, the depiction was mostly true. Explorers venturing into the Arctic at that time found towering floes of ice — often measuring 15 to 20 feet high. And, up until the mid 2000s, the Arctic Ocean was permanently frozen from Continent to Pole even during summer. So adventurous skiers could strike out from northern Siberian, and treck to the pole over ice in months like June and July. Now such expeditions require the use of a kayak — if they occur at all.

image

(A warm storm over Svalbard joins with a chain of systems running from the North Atlantic to the Pole to drive gale force winds and above freezing temperatures into the Arctic in this December 22nd GFS model prediction. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Back then, the polar zone in the north appeared to be mostly solid. And if ice moved or melted — it was a slow grind or a rare event. No more. Now, Arctic sea ice extent values have plummeted and the thinner ice that remains is often melting, cracking, and mobile. Now, increasingly, during late fall and early winter temperatures have been rising to near or above freezing. Last year a powerful storm system pulled warming air up out of the North Atlantic — pushing temperatures over the North Pole to above freezing on December 29th. One month later, during late January of 2016, a similar weather system drove temperatures at the North Pole to near freezing.

This year, GFS model runs again show the potential for extreme above average temperatures in the region of the North Pole three days before Christmas. A storm in the Greenland Sea is predicted to strengthen to 940 mb intensity on the 20th and 21st. This system is expected to dredge warm air from the tropical North Atlantic and then fling it all the way to the Pole.

temperatures-up-to-55-f-above-average-near-north-pole

(Temperatures may rise to as high as 55 F [31 C] above average on December 22nd over sections of the Arctic near the North Pole. Note that this dynamic will tend to drive colder air out over the Continents — especially, in this case, toward Siberia. Also note that global temperatures remain well above average even when compared to the warmer than normal 1979 to 2000 time-frame. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

As a result, temperatures in the polar region are expected to rise to near or above freezing. According to GFS model runs, the thermometer at 90 North is expected to hit around -0.3 C (31.5 F) at 0400 UTC on December 22. Meanwhile temperatures on the Siberian side of the Pole at 88 North, 109 East are predicted to hit 0.6 C or 33 F during the same time period. By comparison, temperatures in Southeast Texas at 27.9 N, 97.8 W — not far from from the U.S. Gulf Coast — were about -0.3 C on Monday morning following the passage of a cold front late Sunday.

This level of warmth during December for the Arctic is excessive and the expected readings are in the range of 25 to 31 degrees Celsius above average ( 45 to 55 Fahrenheit warmer than normal). These are near all-time record highs. But it is not just the extreme departures predicted for Wednesday that should be cause for concern, it’s the fact that such a high level of warmth for this region of the Arctic is occurring with a greater and greater frequency. For human-forced climate change — primarily driven by the burning of fossil fuels — is now in the process of radically changing the Arctic environment. And so much warming in the Arctic is a main driver of extreme Northern Hemisphere weather, of glacial melt contributing to sea level rise, and to severe loss of life among key Arctic species.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

Warm Arctic Storm to Unfreeze North Pole

Warm Arctic Storm Aims to Unfreeze North Pole Again

Has the Last Human Trekked to the North Pole?

To Carry a Light into Darkness — California Governor Jerry Brown Promises to Fight Like Hell Against Trump’s War on Science

“If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.” — Jerry Brown

“Creating lists of employees smacks of McCarthyism and should cease immediately.”The Union of Concerned Scientists

“Fear is palpable among U.S. climate scientists over Trump moves” — The Japan Times

“Assaults on science are characteristic of non-democratic, authoritarian, fascist governments. We worry it is going to get worse.” Dr Peter Gleick

“We’ve got more sun than you’ve got oil.” — Jerry Brown

*****

Donald Trump hasn’t even taken office yet. But the war on climate science that he promised on the campaign trail has already begun. And in response, the good and necessary resistance is starting to form.

Last week, PEOTUS sent a chill through the scientific community when his transition team delivered a 74 question document to the Department of Energy asking for the names of all personnel who’ve worked on climate change or who attended U.N. climate talks within the last five years.

stand-up-for-science

(Demonstrators protest in support of scientists outside the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on December 14. Attacks against climate scientists have hit a fever pitch since the election of Donald Trump. Image source: Buzzfeed.)

Almost immediately after the letter’s delivery, The Union of Concerned Scientists made the following response:

 “The Union of Concerned Scientists strongly condemns the effort by the President-elect’s transition team to seek the names of federal employees who have conducted climate research and worked on issues such as the social cost of carbon. We cannot imagine any legitimate purpose to this inquiry…

“This action should not be viewed in isolation. The Trump transition team is teeming with individuals with a proven history of attacking climate scientists and undermining climate science. Several transition team members now overseeing federal agencies have harassed scientists based on their research and have long signaled a desire to dismantle federal climate science research. Over the past few years, Congress has increasingly singled out specific government employees when their work is politically inconvenient.

Creating lists of employees smacks of McCarthyism and should cease immediately. And Department of Energy employees should resist complying with any demands that would compromise the independence of the agency’s experts.”

The Department of Energy subsequently refused to provide the names requested. But the impact of the circulated questionnaire was profound — prompting protests and a swell of outrage from scientists, journalists and concerned citizens. Workers and officials at DOE expressed fears that Trump was developing an enemies list. And, considering the purges and attacks on scientists that occurred in numerous countries around the world following the election of climate change deniers during recent years, these fears were sadly quite valid.

Eliminating NASA Funding, Death Threats on Twitter

In a separate but related instance, Trump Administration officials reportedly stated that they intended to eliminate NASA’s climate research funding. Not only would this result in a purge of climate scientists from U.S. government offices. It would also precipitate the loss of climate monitoring satellites and the potential loss of decades of scientific data collected by some of the top researchers in the world. Concerned that scientists would be suddenly expelled and that critical data would be lost, as happened during similar purges that occurred in Canada and Australia under climate change deniers Stephen Harper and Tony Abbott, workers for various agencies began frantically copying data in order to ensure its preservation.

Meanwhile, instances of politically motivated threats against climate scientists mounted. Peter Gleick, a hydro-climatologist and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, reported to the Japan Times that he received death threats in the form of pictures of guns posted to him after he tweeted critically about threats of violence to scientists made by Brietbart on Twitter.

Jerry Brown, Governor of California Vows to Fight Against Trump’s Anti-Science Agenda

Concern for scientists as a class increasingly victimized by political extremists like Trump hit a fever pitch this week at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco. There, hundreds of pro-science protesters marched outside as the meeting halls swelled with over 20,000 worried scientists and their supporters.

Among the attendees was Governor Jerry Brown of California who delivered this impassioned speech:

(Jerry Brown has pushed for pro-renewable energy, pro-climate response policies in California for decades. He has vowed to defend both science and progressive values from an impending assault by Donald Trump. Video source: YouTube.)

Brown highlighted the tremendous danger that human civilizations now face. The oceans are rising and acidifying, the weather is worsening, habitats, food and water sources are being destroyed. He also noted that in order to prevent climate harms, people would have to face down both “big oil” and “big financial structures that are at odds with the survivability of our world.”

Brown called on scientists and their ‘truth teller and truth seeker’ supporters to fight back.  And, in doing so, he pledged the aid of California’s scientific and legal communities saying: “We’ve got the scientists and we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight back. We’re ready to defend.”

Brown cited past major environmental achievements by California including 28 percent renewable power generation, a goal to hit 50 percent in the coming years, and zero emissions vehicle and mileage standards that became the benchmark for the nation. Unlike Trump, Brown pledged to fully support international climate agreements and to work with over 200 states to help to reduce harms from climate change. Touting California’s 2.1 trillion dollar economy, Brown stated — “We will persevere. We will prevail.”

But Brown’s highest points involved his pledge to launch satellites if Trump shuts down NASA climate monitoring systems and to pit California’s economic might as a renewable energy power against the old fossil fuel interests. Brown stated:

“Well, I remember back in 1978, I proposed a Landsat satellite for California. They called me Governor Moonbeam because of that. I didn’t get that moniker for nothing. And if Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite. We’re going to collect that data. …

“We’ve proved in California that the economy grows… in part because of the rules and the climate policy that we’ve adopted… and California is growing a whole hell of a lot faster than Texas and we’ve got more sun than you’ve got oil.”

Carrying a Light in the Darkness

Brown, in his support of the U.S. scientific community and in his pledge to continue progress for renewable energy sets an example for us all. His leadership serves as a light in a dark place and during a dark time. But many, many of us will have to follow his lead if we are to have much hope of making it through this difficult time. We need to all be ready to fight. To speak out. And to commit substantial resources to the effort.

The times of comfort are over. And if we are to prevent a worst case scenario for our climate we will have to face down the very real human monsters than have now been revealed to us. But we should console ourselves at least, in this. There is good in the world. There are the greatest causes in all of the vast arc of history to champion here and now. There are the good and innocent living among us that we now have the honor and the privilege to protect and defend. And there can be no better, more just thing, for us to do now than to unite in what is a very real fight to defend not only clean energy, not only the great enlightenment that has been gifted to us by the sciences, but to, in doing so, protect both the future of humankind and of life on Earth itself.

Links:

Jerry Brown’s Speech at the AGU Convention

The Union of Concerned Scientists

Fear Palpable Among US Climate Scientists

Climate Scientists Split Over How to Survive Trump

Hat tip to Josh

 

NOAA’s 2016 Report Card: The Arctic is Shouting Change

From winter to spring to summer to fall, it’s been an odd year for the Arctic. And according to Donald Perovich, one of the authors of NOAA’s 2016 Arctic Report Card, the Arctic isn’t just whispering change, it’s not foretelling change, “it’s shouting change.

(NOAA’s Arctic Report Card presented at the American Geophysical Union this morning. Video source: AGU.)

****

Winter and spring of 2016 saw very warm temperatures in the northern polar region of our world. There, Arctic sea ice extent maximum hit its lowest values ever recorded in March. During summer, cooler, cloudier conditions prevented a complete meltdown by the time of sea ice minimum in September. However, sea ice extent bottomed out at second or third lowest on record in most of the major monitors. Moving into October, November and December, Arctic sea ice failed to refreeze at typical rates as extraordinarily warm temperatures were reinforced by pulses of air rising northward from the middle latitudes. At times, the gap between previous record low years and the new record lows seen during November of 2016 were as much as 1.1 million square kilometers. Now it is practically certain that average sea ice extents throughout 2016 will hit a new record low overall.

Arctic Warming at Least Twice as Fast as Rest of World

Much of this melt was almost certainly driven by the record warm Arctic temperatures seen during 2016. And according to NOAA, this year shattered all previous high marks for Arctic heat by a big margin — hitting 3.5 degrees Celsius warmer than 1900. Overall, this rate of warming is at least twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

arctic-warming-trend

(Arctic heat during 2016 centered over recently seasonal and annual ice free regions in the Chukchi and Barents seas. It’s an indicator that sea ice loss since 2007 and related loss of albedo [reflectivity] is starting to have the predicted heat-amplifying effect. Image source: NOAA.)

And all this extra heat has not only had a significant and substantial impact on sea ice — it is hammering the Greenland ice sheet, forcing the permafrost to rapidly thaw, and increasing the incidence of algae blooms related to ocean acidification.

Greenland Melt and Permafrost Thaw

In Greenland, the average annual rate of land ice loss is now 230 billion tons per year. This despite the fact that warming in the Greenland and Barents seas is helping to drive increased rates of precipitation in Eastern Greenland. So far, much of the precipitation is coming as snowfall. And this increase is helping to mitigate some of the mass losses due to melt across Greenland (see Marco Tedesco’s comments in the video above). However, as Greenland continues to experience surface warming, precipitation is likely to come more and more as rain — which will only further help to accelerate melt.

NOAA also notes that added Arctic heat has substantially altered the permafrost. Increasingly, this region of frozen soil is given over to thaw. As a result, profound changes to the Arctic landscape are ongoing. In wet regions, the permafrost is giving way to thermokarst lakes. In drier zones, the moisture that was locked into the soil and preserved by permafrost is being steadily lost — which is one of the primary drivers of drought and related wildfire hazards now being experienced in Canada, Siberia, and Alaska.

arctic-carbon-sink-to-source

(As permafrost thaws, microbes within the soil break down carbon and begin to emit methane and carbon dioxide. According to NOAA, “the warming tundra is now releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than it is taking up.” Image source: NOAA.)

Overall, the permafrost is emitting more and more methane and carbon dioxide as it melts and as microbes in the thawed soil activate. And consensus science now indicates that, on balance, this thawing ground is now emitting more carbon than it is taking in. This is a step change from its previous state — when the frozen land acted in concert with the boreal forests as one of the world’s primary carbon sinks (please also see: Beyond the Point of No Return).

Large Algae Blooms Indicator of Ocean Acidification

During 2016, the Arctic also saw a continuation of large algae blooms popping up in regions near the receding sea ice edge. This happens as high nutrient waters liberated by ice allow sunlight to produce a riot of plankton and algae growth. These minute life forms take in atmospheric carbon. But as they die, they transfer this carbon to the ocean. As a result, and as Jeremy Mathis noted in the press briefing this morning (see video above), Ocean acidification increases.

Conditions in Context — The Arctic Screams Change

The above indicators present a picture of an Arctic undergoing rapid climate destabilization. As a result, everything from weather patterns, to the rate of sea level rise, to Northern Hemisphere growing seasons are likely to see some impact from these Arctic changes over the coming years and decades. In addition, loss of sea ice and likely harms to life in the Arctic Ocean due to warming, habitat loss, and ocean acidification will remove food sources for local communities.

NOAA researchers identify some potential positive outcomes — such as increased commerce, ship traffic, tourism, and mineral extraction. But it is difficult to see how these supposed positives do not further exacerbate an already difficult to manage problem. Increased commerce, ship traffic and tourism threaten to harm already stressed habitats and animal populations. In addition, if new fossil fuel sources are exploited in the region, it will only add to the currently severe problems presented by warming. As a result, there is a high likelihood that the net impact to the region will be starkly negative as species are threatened or go extinct and numerous communities are lost to the rising seas, destruction of environmental resource bases or endangered by worsening fires.

Links:

AGU Fall Meeting

NOAA’s Arctic Report Card

Beyond the Point of No Return

Thermokarst Lakes

Hat tip to Vic

 

Rendered Uninhabitable by Heat — It’s Not Just Sudan, Parts From North Africa to the Middle East are Under the Gun

“North Africa is already hot and is strongly increasing in temperature. At some point in this century, part of the region will become uninhabitable.”Dr. Johannes Lilieveld

“The number of climate refugees could increase dramatically in future. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia have calculated that the Middle East and North Africa could become so hot that human habitability is compromised.”The Max Planck Institute

****

Heatwaves so hot that it’s impossible to perform any activity outdoors without threat of injury or worse. Raging dust storms that make the very air unbreathable. Massive droughts that wreck agricultural productivity and biodiversity altogether. Sections of Africa and the Middle East are currently getting a taste of these new, dangerous climate conditions. But their frequency could increase by five fold or more over the next 30-40 years — threatening harm, government collapse, and the forced dislocation of millions.

Sudan Could be Made Uninhabitable by Climate Change

Due to human-caused warming, these kinds of events are already happening in places like Sudan with increasing frequency. And a recent report by CNN shows that this North African state is under threat of becoming uninhabitable to human beings due to climate change.

africa-areas-most-vulnerable-to-climate-change

(A new infertile crescent. Climate change increases desertification risks for semi-arid regions across Africa. Image source: Grid-Arendal, Columbia University and CNN.)

Drought has impacted agriculture to the extent that 1.9 million people in this nation of 40 million could face hunger over the next couple of years. A further 3.2 million face water shortages. And in the ironic juxtaposition that often comes with climate change — since 2013 about 600,000 people have been displaced due to the deluges that have more and more often come at the end of the long, dry periods.

For Sudan, the problems are just beginning. By mid-Century surface temperatures in the region could warm by between 1.1 and 3.1 degrees Celsius. And so much additional warming will multiply the occurrence of the kinds of harmful heatwaves, droughts, and dust storms that are happening today many times over. In the end, Sudan is at risk of being abandoned as its lands are taken in by a climate unfit for human habitation.

500 Million People Under Extreme Heat and Drought in Africa and Middle East by mid-Century

But it’s not just Sudan that’s facing a flip into nation-wrecking climate conditions. By 2050, extreme heat related events will be happening five times more frequently as the Earth warms up along a desiccating crescent in Africa and onward throughout a good chunk of the Middle East. During summers, by mid Century, temperatures throughout this vulnerable zone could be as much as 5 degrees Celsius hotter than they are today.

increased-warm-days

(Temperatures are set to rise to extreme levels across Africa and the Middle East due to fossil fuel burning and related Earth System warming. The impacts produce a high risk for mass migration away from these regions as hothouse conditions take hold. Image source: The Max-Planck Institute.)

Including Sudan, more than 500 million people live in this region. And according to the Max-Planck Institute, extremely hot days — of which there were 16 each year within this vulnerable area from 1986 to 2005 — will increase five-fold to 80 by 2050 and up to 118 to 200 by 2100.

Added extraordinary and persistent heat will bake moisture out of soils, ruin forests, and advance deserts. It will produce days when wet bulb temperatures approach or exceed the limit of human endurance (35 C) time and time again. Such a high prevalence and intensity of adverse conditions will make the current problems faced by the region seem mild and moderate by comparison. In the end, numerous places are likely to become basically unlivable.

Call For Action

Given the coming hardship and what is likely to be a preventable mass migration, scientists and environmentalists are calling for action. CNN and others have highlighted a need for aid to Africa and the Middle East. But as helpful as aid is to those desperate and struggling to survive, the primary driver of the whole problem is human-based fossil fuel emissions. And unless that stops, this region and its highly vulnerable peoples, among others around the world, will be very hard hit.

Michelle Yonetani, a senior advisor on disasters from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center noted that encouraging governments to increase commitments to act on climate is “perhaps one of the most indirect ways [to help], but [it is] globally the most important. Now really is the time to push governments to act…” Otherwise, vast regions within Africa and the Middle East face destabilization, collapse, and mass migration over rather short time horizons.

Links:

Climate Change Could Render Sudan Uninhabitable

The Max Planck Institute

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center

Grid-Arendal, Columbia University

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

For 2016, Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations are Rising at the Fastest Rate Ever Seen

“The MMCO [Middle Miocene Climate Optimum] was ushered in by CO2 levels jumping abruptly from around 400ppm to 500 ppm, with global temperatures warming by about 4°C  and sea levels rising about 40m (130 feet) as the Antarctic ice sheet declined substantially and suddenly. ” — Skeptical Science

fossil-fuel-emissions

(Fossil fuel carbon emissions are about 100 times that of volcanoes during any given year. And so much heat trapping carbon dumped into the atmosphere is forcing the world’s climate to rapidly change. Image source: The Union of Concerned Scientists.)

Human beings have never seen atmospheric CO2 values that are so high as they are today. They significantly predate our species — even preceding our distant relative Australopithecus by about 7 million years. And weather and climate conditions to which we are not adapted — either as individuals or as a civilizations — are well on the way as atmospheric CO2 levels are ramping up into the lower range of those last seen during the Middle Miocene of 14-16 million years ago at 404 parts per million during 2016.

Record Rate of CO2 Increase for 2016

As we reported in November, 2016 is on track to see a record rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) increase. A key heat-trapping gas, CO2 is the primary driver of the big temperature increases seen around the world recently. And with new figures out from NOAA for the month of November, we have a clearer picture than ever of just how unprecedented the jump will be.

For the first 11 months of the year, 2016 atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations exceeded those of 2015 by an average of 3.45 parts per million. With no sign evident that the pace of increase has slackened — despite a transition to La Nina during the fall — it now appears that the world is set to experience a 3.3 to 3.5 part per million jump in the atmospheric CO2 measure for this year.

Carbon Dioxide Trend Mauna Loa

(Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will rise by a record rate during 2016 to an annual average of around 404 parts per million. Levels during 2017 could peak at around 410 to 411 parts per million in April and May before averaging between 406 and 407 parts per million. Image source: NOAA.)

The past two record jumps were 2015 — with a 3.05 ppm annual increase and 1998 with a 2.93 ppm annual increase. But 2016 now appears set to exceed these two values by a pretty hefty margin.

More and More Toward the Middle Miocene Range of 400 to 500 Parts Per Million CO2

Such rapid rates of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase are primarily caused by global fossil fuel burning — which now produces an emission that is more than 100 times greater than all the volcanoes that erupt across the Earth during any given year. And recent reports have found that US automobile emissions alone equal the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the Mount St. Helens eruption every three days. This is a heavy insult to the Earth’s climate system. One that is unprecedented for millions of years.

All this fossil fuel burning has largely helped to push atmospheric CO2 values for 2016 into an average range of 404 parts per million. This is 124 parts per million higher than the pre-industrial value of 280 parts per million. Meanwhile, peak monthly values during April-May of 2017 could strike as high as 410 to 411 parts per million.

calvert-middle-miocene-15-ma-embayment

(15 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels in the range of 400-500 parts per million produced Antarctic melt resulting in substantial sea level rise. The above image shows the estimated location of the U.S. eastern coastline at the time. Image source: Colorado Geosystems.)

These atmospheric concentrations are now roughly equivalent to the lower range CO2 levels of the Middle Miocene climate epoch of 14-16 million years ago. Meanwhile, atmospheric CO2 equivalent concentrations, which include other greenhouse gasses like methane, averaged 485 parts per million in 2015 and likely were around 490 parts per million during 2016. These CO2e values approach the upper Middle Miocene range.

During the Miocene of 14-16 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels, which had hovered around 400 parts per million for about 10 million years jumped higher due to volcanic activity. Global temperatures rose from about 2-3 C hotter than Holocene values to around 4 C hotter. Antarctic ice melted and seas which were around 60 feet higher than today lifted to around 130 feet above present day levels.

By continuing to burn fossil fuels, this is the climate context we enter more and more. It is why, for example, we are seeing so many impacts from expanding droughts, to declining ocean health, to more extreme weather, to rapidly destabilizing glaciers in Antarctica. And it is this burning along with a related warming of the Earth System that is causing atmospheric carbon values to jump so rapidly into ranges to which we are unaccustomed.

Links:

NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Skeptical Science

2016 to See Record Rate of Atmospheric CO2 Increase

The Union of Concerned Scientists

US Auto Emissions Comparable to Mt. St. Helens Eruption Every Three Days

Arctic Air Temperatures are Set to Hit 35 to 55 F Above Average by Thursday — Out of Season Sea Ice Melt Possible, Again

“It looks like a triple whammy – a warm ocean, a warm atmosphere, and a wind pattern all working against the ice in the Arctic.”NSIDC director Mark Serreze.

“Unfortunately, Arctic sea ice extent growth has once again slowed this week…”Zack Labe

“Huge surface air temperature anomalies over the Arctic this working week… over 25C warmer than average in parts.” — James Warner

****

This year, it’s a challenge to find a time when the Arctic Ocean has ever represented anything resembling normalcy. Record low sea ice extent values have occurred for more than 50 percent of days measured. And well above average temperatures have invaded the Arctic during winter, spring, and fall. With another huge wave of ridiculous warmth building up over eastern Siberia this week, the hits just keep on coming.

Major Warming Over Siberia, Chukchi and East Siberian Seas 

The present big warm air invasion has its origins in the Pacific Ocean. There, a large high pressure system over the Bering Sea is facing off with a strong low moving up across Kamchatka. Running between the two is a powerful south-to-north wind pattern.

image

(A major warm wind invasion of the Arctic on Thursday is originating in the subtropical Pacific. A ridge in the Jet Stream extending all the way to the North Pole is pulling this big bulge of warm air north. As a result, extreme temperature departures and out of season sea ice melt for the impacted zones are likely. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As we can see in the image above, the flood of warm air has its origin around the 30 north latitude line. It flows directly over hundreds of miles of ocean, at times reaching a storm-force intensity near 70 mph. As it crosses into Siberia, the wind slows down. But it inexorably continues north, ever north — driven on by a serious pulse of atmospheric steam. By early Thursday, the leading edge of this warm air outburst from the Pacific side will have crossed the Pole and led to a flushing of Central Arctic air out into the Barents Sea and North Atlantic (you can view an animation of the predicted warm air pulse here).

This strong northward flood of warmth from the Pacific is running up under an extreme high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream that is bellowing out into the Arctic Ocean through the Bering and Chukchi seas. At its peak northward extent, the big Jet Stream wave is predicted to look something like this. And it is this severe contortion in the upper level wind pattern that has enabled this most recent extreme warm wind event to occur.

This pattern is now in the process of injecting above-freezing air temperatures into Eastern Siberia. By tomorrow, the warm air mass will encounter the coastal regions of the Chukchi and East Siberian seas. There, it will push temperatures as high as 2.5 C  (37 F) over zones that typically see readings in the -20s to -30s (Celsius). As a result, temperatures will range between 20 and 30 C (35 to 55 F) or more above average for many locations.

severe-arctic-warming-again

(Climate Reanalyzer has added a new color — white — for tracking extreme departures in temperature. In the positive anomaly column, we find departures hitting 30 C, or 54 F, above average for regions of East Siberia and the local Arctic Ocean.)

To be clear, these temperatures are highly abnormal. If a similar temperature departure happened in Gaithersburg, Maryland on December 8, it would produce 80 to 100 degree (F) readings. Of course, this anomaly is not happening in Gaithersburg. Due to a global warming related process called polar amplification in which the poles are more sensitive to alterations in rising greenhouse gas levels (due to fossil fuel and related emissions), extreme temperature anomalies tend to occur at the poles as rates of relative warming are 2-3 times faster in those regions. And the factors that we observe associated with this new Arctic warm wind event — powerful south-to-north meridional air flows coupled with extreme high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream — are also evidence of a number of weird new atmospheric circulation patterns that can tend to pop up as polar amplification intensifies.

Warm Winds May Cause Unprecedented Back-to-Back Fall Sea Ice Melt

The Pacific side of the Arctic has already been gaining heat ahead of the oncoming warm wind event over the past few days. And what we have seen, as a result, is a pretty severe loss of ice in the Chukchi Sea during early December. To be very clear, Arctic sea ice should be advancing at this time of year. But what we see in the image below (provided by A-Team over at the Arctic Sea Ice Forum) is advance followed by retreat as the warm wind event starts to ramp up.

chukchi-20-nov-06-dec-2016-side-by-side-ice-amsr2-conc-and-smos-thickness

(Ice refreeze in the Chukchi advances until it is rolled back by the most recent onrush of warm air flowing in from the Pacific. Image provided by A-Team at Neven’s Arctic Sea Ice Forum.)

Of course, the retreat seen above has occurred before the main force of warm southerly winds — due to hit the Arctic Ocean region by tomorrow. So the risks for continued losses in the Chukchi extend for at least the next few days. Losses there could be offset by large enough gains elsewhere to continue an overall seasonal freeze trend. But so far, with abnormal warmth also periodically building in over the near-Svalbard region and with Hudson Bay refreeze continuing to lag, that does not appear to be happening.

Looking at the larger monitors, we also find that, as happened during October and November, the pace of overall sea ice growth has stalled. According to JAXA, over the past 4 days, sea ice extent has only grown by 50,000 square kilometers. During a typical similar four day period for this time of year, growth would tend to average around 400,000 to 500,000 square kilometers. And with values at current record low levels, the inertial impetus for ice growth would be higher. That is, unless the climate state of the Arctic has radically changed — which appears to be the case.

arctic-sea-ice-extent

(According to JAXA, Arctic sea ice extent has again hit a plateau when it should be freezing — this time at around 10 million square kilometers. As sea ice follows that line, record lows are again deepening — hitting near 750,000 square kilometers below previous lows for the day in 2006. Considering the fact that another major warming event is building into the Arctic Ocean, this plateau could again tip into melt as happened during the middle of November. Image source: JAXA.)

During mid November, a period of unprecedented warming produced an almost unprecedented period of fall melt. A similar November melt occurred during 2013. But the amount of melt then was smaller. And that melt did not occur at a time when Arctic sea ice values were at new record lows — as they were throughout the entire month during 2016. Similarly, during October, abnormally warm conditions produced an odd re-freeze plateau similar to the one we are now experiencing.

Given current conditions, there’s a risk that we could see a December melt event following the November melt event. For the amount of heat hitting the Pacific side of the Arctic is predicted to fall far outside of normal temperature ranges. And, barring major refreeze on the Atlantic side, we are at a rather higher risk of seeing the present plateau in sea ice values carry on for a number of days.

Links:

The National Snow and Ice Data Center

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

The Arctic Sea Ice Forum

JAXA

Sea Ice Extent Hit Record Lows in November

Dr Jennifer Francis on Jet Stream Changes

Hat tip to John Allen

Hat tip to Neven

Hat tip to A-Team

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

‘Everything is Burning Around Us’ — You Just Can’t Normalize Gatlinburg’s Freakish Fall Firestorm

There’s nothing normal about what happened to Gatlinburg, Tennessee on Monday.

Sitting at the epicenter of a freakish fall warmth and drought, the scores of fires that raged throughout the southeast into late November had, until recently, spared this sleepy tourist town resting on the slopes of the Great Smoky Mountains. But as winds roared out of the south at up to 87 miles per hour ahead of an approaching cold front on the 28th, the little city’s luck ran out.

gatlinburg-fire

(Fire on the mountains near Gatlinburg captured in this photo by a local resident. Image source: Twitter.)

Somewhere, a spark lit. And the bone-dry hillsides filled with ready fuels combined with hurricane force gusts to do the rest. By early evening, the skies over Gatlinburg had been painted orange. Ash and embers were carried aloft by the winds. And all around the city, mountains caught fire and burned.

As fires raged, 14,000 people were forced to flee. Home after home was consumed. Now, at least 400 residences are thought to have been lost. Smoke and swiftly moving flames injured 45 while taking the lives of seven people who were tragically unable to escape the rapid onrush. And as neighborhoods were reduced to their foundations, 2,000 residents have been left stranded in Red Cross evacuation shelters.

Rains on Tuesday and Wednesday have, blessedly, tamped down many of the fires around Gatlinburg. That said, reports from CBC and the National Interagency Fire Center show that the (Chimney 2) blaze remains mostly uncontained, if rather less intense. So risks from the fire remain. Even more sadly, it appears that the full extent of the tragic damage and loss, as of Thursday morning, had not yet been fully realized. Estimates for destroyed or damaged homes continues to climb even as the number of persons lost to the flames keeps rising.

Largest Tennesee Fire in 100 (+) Years, Hottest Year on Record Globally

The Gatlinburg Fire was the largest fire to strike Tennessee in one hundred years. And when records for fires only go back about 100 years, you have to wonder if this isn’t another one of those 500 or 1,000 year climate/weather events that have been sparking off with increasing frequency across the U.S. and the world during the recent warm period. For like the Fort McMurray wildfire that forced an entire Canadian city to empty this spring, the Gatlinburg fire cannot be separated from the larger context of human caused climate change.

The fire erupted during the hottest year, globally, on record. It happened at a time when the Southeast was experiencing its own very abnormal drought. It lit, not during the peak of annual heat that is summer, but during the fall. And it happened in conjunction with an equally unusual mass after-season wildfire outbreak in the Smoky Mountains.

(Everything is Burning Around Us. In an escape attempt that is eerily similar to the flight of Trans Baikal natives half a world away just last year, a Gatlinburg resident attempts to flee a freakish fall firestorm spurred by conditions related to human caused climate change. Video source: Here.)

Though this is the largest fire to strike Tennessee in one hundred years, it can practically be said that what locals affectionately call ‘the volunteer state’ has never experienced conditions like those that led up to the Gatlinburg Fire. The Smoky Mountains where the fire burned get their name from the moist mists and fogs that tend to hang in the air and above the tree tops. It is a place known and named for its wet environment. So fires are rare and typically only happen during summer time.

But the added heat from climate change has altered the mountains. It has dried the landscape — turning the entire region into a firetrap during recent months. This extreme dry period is part of a new set of weather potentials for the region that are not normal. And as human fossil fuel burning forces the atmosphere to warm further, the intensity of droughts and wildfires that do occur in the south will continue to worsen.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Tennessee Wildfire Unlike Anything We’ve Ever Seen

Surreal Southeast Wildfires Should Not Be Burning in Mid November

It Was Like Driving Through Hell

Everything is Burning Around Us

No End in Sight as Forest Fires Rage Through NC, Tennessee

Gatlinburg Fire — Four Dead, Crews Search for Missing

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Did Föhn Winds Just Melt Two Miles of East Antarctic Surface Ice in One Day? 

UPDATE — Cloud Shadows and Bluish Coloration

Layer analysis of the November 27 MODIS satellite image in bands M  1-12 reveals two cloud shadows near the suspect melt pond (an issue that commentators Hendrick and Sammy raise in discussion below). The separate true color image provides comparison and generates the impression that the suspect melt pond is simply a remnant cloud shadow from the kidney-shaped cloud in the M 1-12 band image.

cloud-shadow-vs-suspect-melt-pondnon-corrected-radiance

The cloud shadows move from frame-to-frame providing a further negative confirmation.

Though it is now certain that the large blue blotch in this satellite image is not a melt pond, a bluish coloration appearing over a broad swath of the above region in both the November 27 and November 28 image frames appears to indicate the presence of surface melt. So the downsloping wind related warming may well have produced a more subtle surface melt for this region of East Antarctica.

UPDATE 2 — Small Melt Ponds Visible in Hi Res Satellite Imagery

High resolution satellite imagery confirms surface melt in the region of recent föhn wind activity on November 27 through 28. Note the ponding and bluing in this close-up shot from the S2A instrument.

small-melt-ponds-bluing

(Surface melt visible along the Scott Coast in East Antarctica. Edge of frame for the above image is approximately two miles. Hat tip to Darvince, Tealight and the Arctic Sea Ice Forum. )

So it appears that this abnormal weather/climate event did result in springtime melt in East Antarctica — if not at the scale initially feared. Still rather concerning.

*****

It’s right there in the satellite image. A swatch of blue that seems to indicate an approximate 2-mile long melt lake formed over the surface of East Antarctica in just one day. If confirmed, this event would be both odd and concerning. A part of the rising signal that melt stresses for the largest mass of land ice on the planet are rapidly increasing.

melt-pond-scott-coast-antarctica-november-27-2016

(Possible large melt lake on the surface of an ice shelf along the Scott Coast appears in this NASA satellite image. The melt lake seems to have formed after just one day during which föhn winds ran downslope from the Transantarctic Mountain Range — providing a potential period of rapid heating of the glacier surface.)

Surface Melt Now Showing Up in East Antarctica

While scientists and environmentalists are understandably concerned about ocean warming melting the undersides of sea-fronting West Antarctic glaciers — resulting in risks for rapid sea level rise for the near future, another consequence of global warming is also starting have a more visible impact on the frozen and now thawing continent. Surface melt, which was hitherto unheard of for most of East Antarctica, is now starting to pop up with increasing frequency.

East Antarctica, according to Stewart Jamieson, a glaciologist at Durham University in the U.K., is “the part of the continent where people have for quite a long time assumed that it’s relatively stable, there’s not a huge amount of change, it’s very, very cold, and so, it’s only very recently that the first supraglacial lakes, on top of the ice, were identified.”

But now, even in austral springtime, we find evidence of surface melt in the satellite record.

On November 27, 2016, what looks like an approximate 2 mile long melt pond appeared in a section of ice shelf along the Scott Coast and just North of the Drygalski Ice Tongue in the region of McMurdo Sound. The suspect lake — which is visible as a light blue swatch at center mass in the NASA-MODIS satellite image above — suddenly showed up in the November 27 satellite image along a region where only white ice was visible before. And it appears in a region of East Antarctica that, before human-forced warming altered the typically-stable Antarctic climate, had rarely, if ever, seen surface melt.

near-freezing-temps-scott-coast-fohn-winds

(Near melting point temperatures appear along the Scott Coast in conjunction with an apparent föhn wind event. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The pond shows up coordinate with recorded near 0 C surface temperatures in the GFS monitor for November 26-27 and along with evidence of downsloping (föhn) winds. GFS indicators show downsloping winds gusting to in excess of 50 mph over the period. Such winds have the potential in increase surface temperatures by as much as 14 degrees Celsius in a matter of minutes. And they have, increasingly, produced surface glacial melt events in regions of Greenland and Antarctica during recent years.

Surface Melt as a Feature of Glacial Destabilization

Supraglacial lake is just another word for a surface glacial melt lake. And these new lakes pose a big issue for ice sheet stability. Surface melt lakes are darker than white glacier surfaces. They act as lenses that focus sunlight. And the comparatively warm waters of these lakes can flood into the glacier itself — increasing the overall heat energy of the ice mass.

nasa-greenland-surface-melt

(A NASA researcher investigates a surface melt pond in Greenland. During recent years, these climate change related features have become more common in Antarctica. Image source: NASA.)

But water at the glacier surface doesn’t just sit there. It often bores down into the ice sheet — producing impacts for months and years after the surface lake’s formation. Sub surface lakes can form in the shadow of surface ponds. Transferring heat into the glacier year after year. In other cases, water from these lakes punches all the way to the glacier’s base. There the added lubrication of water speeds the glacier’s flow. All of these processes generate stresses and make glaciers less stable. And it is the presence of surface melt ponds that has been responsible for so much of Greenland’s speeding melt during recent years.

Now, a similar process is impacting the largest concentration of land ice on the planet. And while Greenland holds enough ice to raise sea levels by around 21 feet, East Antarctica contains enough to lift the world’s oceans by about 195 feet. Surface melt there, as a result, produces considerably more risk to the coastal cities of the world.

 

Links:

NASA-MODIS (#ThanksNASA)

These Stunning Blue Lakes Give us New Reason to Worry About Antarctica

Earth Nullschool

New Maps Chart Greenland Glaciers’ Melting Risk

Hat tip to Shawn Redmond (and a special thanks for being the first here to ID the rather odd apparent melt pond forming along the Scott Coast.)

Climate Change Has Left Bolivia Crippled by Drought

“Bolivians have to be prepared for the worst.”President Evo Morales.

*****

Like many countries, Bolivia relies on its glaciers and large lakes to supply water during the lean, dry times. But as Bolivia has heated with the rest of the world, those key stores of frozen and liquid water have dwindled and dried up. Warming has turned the country’s second largest lake into a parched bed of hardening soil. This heat has made the country’s largest lake a shadow of its former expanse and depth. It has forced Bolivia’s glaciers into a full retreat up the tips of its northern mountains — reducing the key Chacaltaya glacier to naught. Multiple reservoirs are now bone-dry. And, for hundreds of thousands of people, the only source of drinking water is from trucked-in shipments.

Drought Emergency Declared for Bolivia

After decades of worsening drought and following a strong 2014-2016 El Nino, Bolivia has declared a state of emergency. 125,000 families are under severe water rationing — receiving supplies only once every three days. The water allocation for these families is only enough for drinking. No more. Hundreds of thousands beyond this hardest hit group also suffer from some form of water curtailment. Schools have been closed. Businesses shut down. 60,000 cattle have perished. 149 million dollars in damages have racked up. And across the country, protests have broken out.

The city of La Paz, which is the seat of Bolivia’s government and home to about 800,000 people (circa 2001) has seen its three reservoirs almost completely dry up. The primary water reservior — Ajuan Kota — is at just 1 percent capacity. Two smaller reserviors stand at just 8 percent.

bolivia-drought

(Over the past year, drought in Bolivia has become extreme — sparking declarations of emergency and resulting in water rationing. It is the most recent severe dry period of many to affect the state over the past few decades. President Morales has stated that climate change is the cause. And the science, in large part, agrees with him. Image source: The Global Drought Monitor.)

In nearby El Alto, a city of 650,000 people (circa 2001), residents are also suffering from water shortages. The lack there has spurred unrest — with water officials briefly being held hostage by desperate citizens.

As emergency relief tankers wind through the streets and neighborhoods of La Paz and El Alto, the government has established an emergency water cabinet. Plans to build a more resilient system have been laid. And foreign governments and companies have been asked for assistance. But Bolivia’s larger problem stems from droughts that have been made worse and worse by climate change. And it’s unclear whether new infrastructure to manage water can deal with a situation that increasingly removes the water altogether.

Dried out Lakes, Dwindling Glaciers

Over the years, worsening factors related to climate change have made Bolivia vulnerable to any dry period that may come along. The added effect of warming is that more rain has to fall to make up for the resulting increased rate of evaporation. Meanwhile, glacial retreat means that less water melts and flows into streams and lakes during these hot, dry periods. In the end, this combined water loss creates a situation of drought prevalence for the state. And when a dry period is set off by other climate features — as happened with the strong El Nino that occurred during 2014 to 2016 — droughts in Bolivia become considerably more intense.

Ever since the late 1980s, Bolivia has been struggling through abnormal dry periods related to human caused climate change. Over time, these dry periods inflicted increasing water stress on the state. And despite numerous efforts on the part of Bolivia, the drought impacts have continued to worsen.

bolivia-satellite

(In this NASA satellite shot of northern Bolivia taken on November 6, 2016, we find very thin mountain snow and ice cover in upper center, a lake Titicaca that is both now very low and filled with sand bars at upper left, and a completely dried up lake Poopo at bottom-center. Bolivia relies on these three sources of water. One is gone, and two more have been greatly diminished. Scientists have found that global warming is melting Bolivia’s glaciers and has increased evaporation rates by as much as 200 percent near its key lakes. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

By 1994, added heat and loss of glaciers resulted in the country’s second largest lake — Poopo — drying up. The lake recovered somewhat in the late 1990s. But by early 2016, a lake that once measured 90 x 32 kilometers at its widest points had again been reduced to little more than a cracked bed littered with abandoned fishing hulls. Scientists researching the region found that the rate of evaporation in the area of lake Poopo had been increased by 200 percent by global warming.

Bolivia’s largest lake — Titicaca — is also under threat. From 2003 to 2010, the lake is reported to have lost 500 square miles of surface water area. During 2015 and 2016 drought near Titicaca intensified. In an act of desperation, the government of Bolivia allocated half a billion dollars to save the lake. But despite this move, the massive reservoir has continued to shrink. Now, the southern section of the lake is almost completely cut off by a sand bar from the north.

In the Andean mountains bordering Bolivia, temperatures have been increasing by 0.6 degrees Celsius each decade. This warming has forced the country’s glaciers into full retreat. In one example, the Chacaltaya glacier, which provided 30 percent of La Paz’s water supply, had disappeared entirely by 2009. But the losses to glaciers overall have been widespread and considerable — not just isolated to Chacaltaya.

Intense Drought Flares, With More to Come

By December, rains are expected to return and provide some relief for Bolivia. El Nino has faded and 2017 shouldn’t be as dry as 2015 or 2016. However, like many regions around the world, the Bolivian highlands are in a multi-year period of drought. And the over-riding factor causing these droughts is not the periodic El Nino, but the longer-term trend of warming that is melting Bolivia’s glaciers and increasing rates of evaporation across its lakes.

In context, the current drought emergency has taken place as global temperatures hit near 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter than 1880s averages. Current and expected future burning of fossil fuels will continue to warm the Earth and add worsening drought stress to places like Bolivia. So this particular emergency water shortage is likely to be just one of many to come. And only an intense effort to reduce fossil fuel emissions can substantially slake the worsening situation for Bolivia and for numerous other drought-affected regions around the world.

Links:

Bolivia Declares National Emergency Amid Drought

Bolivia Schools Close Early as Drought Empties Reservoirs

Is the World Running out of Water? Bolivia Declares National Emergency Due to Drought

Hothouse Turns Bolivia’s Second Largest Lake into Withered Wasteland

The Global Drought Monitor

LANCE MODIS

Climate Hot Map — Chacaltaya Glacier

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to ClimateHawk1

As France and Canada Plan to Phase Out Coal, Trump Backers Attack Tesla

Taking traditional coal power out of our energy mix and replacing it with cleaner technologies will significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, improve the health of Canadians, and benefit generations for years to come. —  Canada’s Environment Minister Kathleen McKenna

Make no mistake – Trump and his legion of doom cronies are a very real threat to the environment. Apart from the fact that they deny climate change actually exists, they are also quite big fans of coal. — IFL Science

Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost U.S. competitiveness. — 365 U.S. Companies in an open letter to Trump asking him not to back out of Paris Climate Summit.

Climate change is a hoax. — Myron Ebell, whom Trump tapped to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency transition team.

*****

The wide-ranging conflict over renewable energy, carbon emissions, and climate change rages on. And as Donald Trump prepares to enter the Oval Office, or stay within the gilded halls of Trump Tower to the tune of 1 million dollars a day from the U.S. taxpayer (not Trump), it appears that U.S. climate and renewable energy leadership are already starting to lag.

Canada and France to End Coal Burning

Yesterday, in stark contrast to the Trump Administration’s pledge to rebuild the bankrupt U.S. coal industry, Canada announced that it would phase out coal burning by 2030. In similar moves, France stated that it would shut down all of its coal plants by 2023. Both pledges by Canada and France are aimed at pursuing carbon emissions reductions agreed to at the Paris Climate Summit and to honor the spirit of a new climate summit — COP 22 — that is now underway.

France and Canada join with Britain, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark who have all announced near-term timetables for phasing out coal burning. And since coal is the worst of the three major fossil fuel sources of CO2 emissions, halting coal burning is a key to addressing the rapidly worsening crisis that is human forced climate change.

Trump’s own statements on global climate summits and carbon emissions reduction commitments are that he wants to back out. An action that has already harmed U.S. trade prospects with France — whose public officials are now signaling that they could slap a carbon tax on U.S. goods if the President-Elect carries through with his threats. But, perhaps even worse, it appears that Trump’s intention to cling to dirty, old industries is also endangering U.S. competitiveness in emerging markets.

Elon Musk Solarizes American Somao

As the world moves ahead with emissions reductions and looks for ways to manage a recalcitrant U.S. under Trump, backers of Trump’s Presidential bid are at this time preparing to attack a key emerging U.S. solar and electrical vehicles industry. This week, Elon Musk’s Tesla announced that it had succeeded in providing 100 percent solar powered electricity to the island territory of Samoa.

american-samoa

(Like many places in the world, American Samoa is threatened by climate change. Now, thanks to Tesla, the island will not contribute to the problem through electricity generation as all such energy is produced by 100 percent solar power. Image source: The Embassy of Samoa.)

And over the next few years, Tesla, a global leader in renewable energy products, promises to create whole new markets even as it helps the world greatly reduce carbon emissions by providing both zero emitting power sources and zero emitting electrical vehicles.

Trump Backers Smear Tesla While Subsidy Support for Fossil Fuels Continues

If there is one major avenue for U.S. growth into new industry and innovation — it comes in the form of renewables. And Tesla is on the cutting edge of renewable energy innovation. The Trump Administration has made big and risky bets on rapid U.S. economic growth to support its own economic policy stance. But Trump backers appear set to try to hobble Tesla and prevent its entry as a global energy leader fostering solutions to climate change, providing products that enable energy independence, and supporting thousands of American jobs.

Trump’s stance in this case is pretty outrageous. It would be like the Reagan Administration attacking personal computers and Microsoft in favor of companies that produced the typewriter after his election in 1980. But as ludicrous as such a policy would have been, it wouldn’t have risked the global calamity that a failure to transition to renewable energy sources results in today.

fossil-fuel-subsidies

(A vast amount of public money and support has gone to aid fossil fuel extraction. This extraction, in its turn, has contributed greatly to the problem of human-caused climate change. It’s worth noting that zero-emitting renewable energy, over its industry lifetime has received just 1 percent of the support that the fossil fuel industry has in this country. Image source: Clean Technica.)

Despite the plain fact that expansion of access to renewable energy is necessary to deal with the crisis of human-caused climate change, Trump backers continue to attack these helpful new industries. In the most recent salvo, according to Electrek, a right wing group that aided Trump’s Presidential bid is now spear-heading a PR campaign aimed at damaging Tesla. The group is trying to falsely portray Tesla and the solar industry as a ‘subsidy hog.’ But the group mentions nothing of the massive subsidies going to fossil fuel corporations and to related oil, gas, and coal extraction. The group’s leader, Laura Ingraham, is a Fox News host and is likely acting to protect oil, gas and coal subsidies from a more appealing and less environmentally harmful energy industry competitor. And because groups like the ones fronted by Ingraham have come to prominence by riding in on Trump’s coat-tails, we can expect more and more of the same.

Business Leaders Plead With Trump, But Policy Looks Bad as Bad Can Be

But it’s not just an issue of Trump and his backers targeting Tesla. It’s an issue of Trump vs the sentiment of a major subset of the U.S. business community.

Last week, 365 major U.S. businesses issued an open letter asking Trump to support policies that confront climate change like the Paris Climate Summit. Businesses that included icons like Mars Candy, Nike, IKEA, Intel, Dannon, Dupont, and Hilton were among the signatories. And these industries together represent a huge interest group. One that supports the low carbon and carbon nuetral economy that companies like Tesla are helping to build. So the question is — will Trump turn a deaf ear to a whole segment of the American business community just to defend the interests of the damaging and fading fossil fuel industry (supposing the alternative is the highly unlikely event in which Trump, like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, undergoes a miraculous change of heart).

Add in the fact that Trump’s cabinet is full of climate change deniers like Myron Ebell — who was the big voice supporting the fake argument that ‘global warming is a hoax’ — and we get the general picture of an Admistration that is hostile to both renewable energy and to the global effort to confront climate change. That is deaf to rational arguments by global political and industrial leaders. And such a brazen failure to engage on an issue that impacts pretty much everyone is the kind of lack of leadership that comes to the U.S. at the absolute worst possible time.

Links:

France to Halt Coal Burning

Canada to Halt Coal Burning

U.S. Companies to Trump — Don’t Abandon Global Climate Deal

IFL Science

Clean Technica

The Embassy of Samoa

Hat tip to Genomik

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to June

Hat tip to Greg

Why the Global Coral Bleaching Event That Began in 2014 May Just Keep Going and Going

From October of 2014 through June of 2016, the world was in the grips of a powerful El Nino. And throughout this event, the oceans spewed back some of the massive volume of heat they’ve been accumulating in their depths due to global warming. As a result, atmospheric and ocean surface temperatures hit new record highs. And during 2016, global surface temperatures will likely average 1.2 C hotter than 1880s levels. This amount of warming is as considerable as it is harmful.

current-coral-bleaching-status

(A global coral bleaching event that began in 2014 continues. It is the longest coral bleaching event on record. But unless oceans somehow cool off, it won’t really end. With only a weak La Nina emerging following a strong El Nino and a record spike in global temperatures, there is some risk that this ongoing event will ebb and flare on a nearly indefinite basis. Continued fossil fuel burning, meanwhile, will continue to add heat to the global climate system — presenting worsening medium and long term bleaching pressure for corals. Image source: Coral Reef Watch.)

The Worst Global Coral Bleaching Event Ever Recorded… 

This new record spike in global surface temperatures set off the worst coral bleaching event ever recorded. Around the world, reef systems came under severe stress as sea surface and near surface temperatures exceeded 28-30 degrees Celsius.

Among the hardest hit regions were the reefs of Kiribati. There, sea surface temperatures hit up to 31.4 C on an extended basis. Such hot waters are now expected to have wiped out all but 1 to 5 percent of Kiribati’s living corals. So, for all practical purposes, the reefs of that island republic have been wiped out.

Overall, the event was very wide ranging — impacting corals throughout the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans as well as in the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean, and Red Sea. As an example, 95 percent of corals in US territories from Florida to the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and Pacific experienced some level of bleaching.

sea-surface-temperature-anomalies

(A weak La Nina has probably already cooled ocean surfaces as much as they will be cooled during 2016 and 2017. But despite this cooling, ocean near-surface waters are still too hot for corals in many places. Relative, if mild, ocean surface warming should occur as ENSO is predicted to shift into neutral status. If coral bleaching is ongoing through La Nina, then it is unlikely to cease as the global ocean starts to warm again. Global sea surface temperature anomaly image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In Australia, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) also saw its worst bleaching event on record. There, 93 percent of corals are reported to have experienced bleaching. Meanwhile, about 50 percent of corals have died in the northern section of the GBR. In the media, a controversy has raged over whether or not this event is the start of the great reef’s swansong. To be clear, the GBR was not killed off by the most recent large bleaching event. But it was dealt a very severe blow. With the world continuing to warm as fossil fuel burning remains ongoing, a similar blow could occur as soon as the next El Nino or the one after. And the story for many of the world’s remaining reefs could well be the same.

…Is Still Ongoing…

For after about two years now, and as the world has settled into the periodic natural cooling of ocean surfaces called La Nina, the global coral bleaching event that has so damaged the vital species that build the world’s reefs is still ongoing. Though diminished, and as ocean surface heat backed off during late 2016, NOAA has still identified numerous regions that are high risk for coral bleaching through at least February.

coral-bleaching-risk-through-february

The austral summer is expected to bring bleaching over far-flung regions encircling the southern part of the globe. Thankfully, most of the GBR is only under a bleaching watch for now. But bleaching warnings and alerts abound and, unfortunately, many reefs are likely to see continued die-offs even after El Nino has long since faded.

… And May Just, For all Practical Purposes, Continue

As the current La Nina is rather weak, and as it is predicted to shallow into an ENSO neutral state by spring, it appears that sea surface temperatures may be in the process of bottoming out. Global fossil fuel emissions, meanwhile, continue to add heat to the ocean system. As a result, the coral bleaching pressure that we are seeing during the period of November 2016 through February of 2017, unless we see a resurgence to a stronger La Nina event over the next year or two, could be the minimum we will see over the coming years. And if that is the case, then the coral bleaching event that hasn’t ended for the past two years may not really end at all.

Links:

NOAA Coral Reef Watch

NOAA El Nino

Earth Nullschool

Dr Gavin Schmidt of NASA GISS

Pair of Arctic Storms Sparked Severe Polar Warming, Sea Ice Melt for November 2016

Folks — we’re in a climate emergency. Tell everyone you know.Eric Holthaus

There are weather and climate records, and then there are truly exceptional events that leave all others in the dust. Such has been the case across Earth’s high latitudes during this last quarter of 2016… — Bob Henson at WeatherUnderground

Global warming doesn’t care about the election.Dr Gavin Schmidt of NASA GISS

*****

The dramatic Arctic warmth and related damage to sea ice continued today. It’s a situation that Bob Henson at Weather Underground has aptly dubbed ‘the crazy cryosphere.’ But from this particular observer’s perspective, the situation is probably worse than simply crazy. It appears that we are now in the process of losing an element — Arctic sea ice — that is critical to the integrity of seasonality as we know it.

extreme-heat-arctic

(Extreme Arctic warmth was drawn in by two warm storms — one running north from the Barents on November 14. Another emerging from Kamchatka on November 16 and 17. Warm storms have, during recent years, run up along high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream and into the Arctic during both summer and winter — with apparent strong impacts to sea ice [see NASA video below]. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

On November 17, according to Arctic sea ice expert Zack Labe, the Arctic Ocean actually lost about 50,000 square kilometers of ice coverage. This would be odd on any given November day — which typically sees a trend of rapid freeze as the Arctic cools down into winter. But it is particularly strange considering that the Arctic Ocean is presently in a severe sea ice deficit of around 700,000 square kilometers below previous record lows. One that follows on the heels of both a very warm October and an exceptionally warm November for the Polar region of our world.

These losses occurred just one day before overall temperature anomalies for the climate zone above 66 degrees North Latitude went through the roof. For today, according to Climate Reanalyzer, temperatures for the entire Arctic spiked as high as 7.26 degrees Celsius above average. This occurred even as readings near the North Pole hit to near or above freezing in some locations.

image

(Warm Storm running up through the Fram Strait on November 14 — an event which flooded the high Arctic with abnormal late fall heat. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

And though these warming events have been widely reported in climate media, what has not been reported is the fact that a pair warm storms similar to the one that hammered sea ice and brought North Pole temperatures to above freezing during late December of 2015 were also the triggers for the present Arctic Ocean warming event.

Such intense warm air invasions can have a dramatic impact on sea ice. According to NASA, last year’s late December warm storm event resulted in considerable ice thinning and melt over the critical sea ice region surrounding the North Pole. Ice in the Barents was reduced by 10 percent. Sea surface temperatures in some locations jumped to 20 degrees (F) above average. And throughout the month of January, there was little rebuilding of sea ice into the recently melted regions.

(A recent NASA study found that warm storms can have a serious impact on sea ice. And for both 2015 and 2016, this appears to be the case.)

This year’s warming event was also accompanied by a storm running north out of the Barents. On November 14, a 955 mb storm ran directly up through the Fram Strait. It ushered in warm, moist winds from the south which then spread northward over the Central Arctic — bringing with them above freezing temperatures. On November 16, a 966 mb storm crossed over Kamchatka. It subsequently weakened. But it still possessed enough oomph to pull in a strong plume of warmth and moisture as it entered the Arctic Ocean near the region of the East Siberian Sea. And the result has been a flood of warm air coming in from the Beaufort and East Siberian Sea to meet with the similar onrush coming from the Barents. The result is the huge Polar heat spike that we see today.

Following a very warm October, this is a kind of insult to injury situation for the sea ice. And though temperatures are expected to fall back a bit over the coming week in the High Arctic, atmospheric and ocean conditions running into December seem to favor the potential for more warm air influxes to this fragile climate zone.

UPDATE: On November 19, it had become apparent that significant sea ice losses were ongoing in the Arctic. According to the JAXA sea ice monitor, about 140,000 square kilometers of sea ice had been lost over the period of November 16 through 18. As Arctic Ocean ice typically freezes quite rapidly during November, such counter trend losses are highly extraordinary. Now, sea ice in the Arctic, according to JAXA is 995,000 square kilometers below the previous record low set during 2012.

NSIDC shows similar losses in the sea ice extent monitor for the period of November 16-18. In total, 170,000 square kilometers of ice has been lost over the three day period and the total departure from the previous record low in 2012 is now 702,000 square kilometers.

These losses are quite extensive and, in many ways, are worse that those that occurred following the December 27, 2015 warm storm event.

FINAL UPDATE: On Sunday, November 20th, the JAXA monitor bottomed out at 1.1 million square kilometers below the previous record low set in 2012. This is one of the most extreme departures below previous record lows ever recorded. To put it in perspective, the maximum difference between 2007 and 2012 at end melt season was around 900,000 square kilometers. So the November loss is very, very significant — especially when one considers that, for five days, November basically behaved like summer melt season.

With high pressure taking hold over the Arctic, clear skies are allowing some of the excess heat to ventilate out into space. As a result, it is likely that we’ll see the tremendous gap start to close over the next 7 days. However, GFS model runs still show the Arctic ranging between 3 and 6 C warmer than average over the period. So this trend back toward baseline will tend to be flagged by all the extra heat in place. In the 7-10 day period it appears that more warm wind and moisture delivery to the Arctic Ocean will again set up through the Barents. But the next potential heat spike does not appear to be as extreme as the event which occurred on November 14-19.

Links:

Climate Reanalyzer

Earth Nullschool

NASA Goddard

NSIDC

JAXA

Warm Arctic Storm to Unfreeze North Pole

WeatherUnderground

Eric Holthaus

Dr Gavin Schmidt

Zack Labe

Hat tip to June

Rates of Hothouse Gas Accumulation Continue to Spike as the Amazon Rainforest Bleeds Carbon

Back in June, atmospheric carbon monitors indicated that the Amazon Rainforest was leeching out more carbon dioxide than it was taking in. This is kind of a big deal — because the vast expanse of trees and vegetation in the Amazon represents a gift nature has given to us. For all that lush vegetation draws in a considerable amount of carbon dioxide and stores it in leaves, wood, bark and soil. And this draw-down, in its turn, considerably reduces the overall rate of atmospheric carbon accumulation coming from human fossil fuel burning.

Over the years and decades, this great service has saved the world from an even more rapid warming than it is presently experiencing. But not even the great forests could stand for long against the unprecedented plume of carbon coming from human fossil fuel industry. For the great belching of heat-trapping gas by all the world’s engines, furnaces, and fires is equal to about 4 or 5 of the Siberian flood basalts that triggered the worst hothouse extinction event in Earth’s deep history.

And so the world has warmed very rapidly regardless of the mighty effort on the part of forests like the Amazon. And that very heat is now harming the trees and damaging the earth to which they are wed. For when soils warm, the carbon they take in is leached out. And along with the heat comes fires that can, in a matter of minutes, reduce trees to ash and return the captured heat-trapping carbon to the world’s airs.

Atmospheric CO2 Accumulation Increasing Despite Plateau in Human Carbon Emissions

Now such a destructive process appears to be well under way. And it seems that an apparent blow-back of greenhouse gasses from one of the world’s largest carbon sinks is presently ongoing even as rates of atmospheric carbon dioxide accumulation are spiking. For in 2016, the world is now on track to see a record annual rate of atmospheric CO2 increase in the range of 3.2 to 3.55 parts per million.

mlo_one_year

(During 2015, atmospheric CO2 increased by a record annual rate of 3.05 ppm. This happened during the build-up of one of the strongest El Ninos on record. But as a weak La Nina settled in during late 2016 and equatorial Pacific Ocean waters cooled, annual rates of carbon dioxide accumulation is again on track to hit a new record high. During mid-November, daily CO2 readings hit above 405 parts per million. An indication that rates of accumulation had not at all backed off from present record highs. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

This rapid build-up is occurring despite a shift to La Nina — in which somewhat cooler ocean surfaces tend to take in more atmospheric carbon — and despite a pause in the rate of carbon emissions increase from fossil fuel related industry around the world.

The Amazon as Surface Carbon Emissions Hot Spot

Large equatorial forests like the Amazon are now producing hothouse gasses rather than taking them in. In the Copernicus Observatory’s surface CO2 measure, we find areas over the Amazon Rainforest where concentrations range between 500 and 800 parts per million — or up to nearly double the present average global atmospheric concentration.

global-surface-carbon-dioxide

(Very high surface CO2 concentrations over the Amazon Rainforest and West Africa are an indication that key global carbon sinks aren’t functioning. Instead, at least for the period of June through November of 2016, they appear to be emitting very high volumes of stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Image source: The Copernicus Observatory.)

Desertifying and drying forested regions of West Africa also show rather high localized surface CO2 spikes. And both areas are among those displaying highest total column atmospheric CO2 concentrations. According to NASA thermal monitoring, wildfires are also quite extensive in these zones. Meanwhile, the global drought monitor indicates that both the Amazon and West Africa have experienced exceptional drought, not only for the most recent year, but over the past 4 years through October of 2016. And it’s the combined drying and burning that is likely pumping all that carbon out of soils and forests.

Carbon Sink Transitioning to Source

During both 2005 and 2010, scientific studies found that the Amazon briefly lost its ability to act as a carbon sink. Now, it appears that another period of a loss of functioning of the ‘world’s lungs’ has occurred. But in this case, the Amazon, and parts of West Africa, appear to be consistently emitting carbon dioxide rather than taking it in.

It has long been a concern among climate scientists that human carbon emissions at the rate of nearly 50 billion tons of CO2 equivalent gasses each year would eventually harm the world’s forests, oceans, lands, glaciers and permafrost zones’ ability to take in that unprecedented carbon spike. And here we have at least some indication that this has happened, at least during 2016 and hopefully not extending over a longer period.

Links:

The Copernicus Observatory

The Keeling Curve

NASA — EOSDIS

Siberian Traps

The Climate of Gavin

World’s Largest Rainforest is Starting to Bleed Greenhouse Gasses

2016 on Track for Record Rate of CO2 Increase

Hat tip to Umbrios

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

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