Arctic Sea Ice Melt Analysis: The Concerning Development of a Beaufort Warm Pool During Late June

During 2016-2017, the Arctic sea ice, overall, has been hammered by far warmer than normal temperatures. The result has been continued record low Arctic sea ice volume and record low or near record low extent throughout the present period stretching from October of 2016 to late June of 2017. Now, the development of a pool of warm water in the Beaufort Sea even as a strengthening ridge is poised to inject more heat into this key region threatens to increase sea ice melt pressure as we enter mid-summer.

(Far warmer than normal conditions greatly impacted Northern Hemisphere sea ice during 2016 and 2017. Due to this heat spike, the sea ice is presently far more susceptible to summer melt pressure. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Counter-Trend Cooling in May — But Sea Ice Still in Record Low Ranges

Cooler than normal temperatures in the High Arctic during May and near average temperatures over the Arctic Ocean during June resulted in somewhat less less late spring and early summer melt than some had feared.

This counter-trend cooling has set up conditions where sea ice measures in both volume and extent have bounced closer to the 2012 line with PIOMAS departures remaining in record low ranges and JAXA and NSIDC extent measures tracking near second or third lowest on record.

(Region of interest for Beaufort warm pool development and predicted warm air injection over the coming days. The above graphic by Zack Labe compares present Beaufort and CAA conditions with those of last year when melt in the region was rapidly progressing.)

But despite a brief May respite from the most extreme heat of human-forced climate change, the Arctic sea ice remains very fragile and any added warmth at this time from either the ocean, the atmosphere or both can have an out-sized impact on end melt season totals.

Beaufort Warm Pool Development

Moving into Arctic mid-summer, primary factors of concern include both land and ocean surface temperatures as well as the potential development of various weather features harmful to sea ice. Trough development on the Russian side with ridge development over the Beaufort region is generally viewed as harmful — forming warm surface waters that can considerably erode old ice in the Beaufort and near the Canadian Archipelago, while generating a dipole temperature and pressure feature that produces winds which tend to enhance sea ice export through the Fram Strait.

(Warm surface water pool development in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas represents a melt hazard to sea ice if it continues to grow and gather heat. Hot spots currently forming in the Beaufort at 5 C above average in the DMI measure is therefore cause for some concern. The predicted development of a strong high pressure ridge injecting much warmer than usual temperatures into the region will tend to feed energy into these already-warm surface waters. Image source: DMI.)

Throughout June, this form of dipole has tended to emerge — with weak highs forming consistently over the Beaufort and with moderate-to-strong lows gathering on the Russian side centering on the Laptev Sea, but ranging into the Kara, East Siberian Sea, and on into the Central Arctic. This persistent dipole has also aided in the production of warm surface waters in both the Beaufort Sea and in the Chukchi. Sea surface temperatures in this region have already formed into a considerable warm pool with anomalies ranging from 2-5 degrees Celsius above average over an expanding region.

Predicted Injection of Warm Air of the Beaufort

During the coming days, a ridge extending over Northern Canada is predicted to drag a surge of warm air across both the Canadian Archipelago and the Beaufort Sea. Over-ocean temperatures in the Beaufort are expected to considerably vary above the norm — hitting as high as 48.6 degrees Fahrenheit (9.2 C) in some regions. An over-ocean value that is around 7-9 C above average for this time of year.

(Ridge development is expected to inject much warmer than normal temperatures over the already warm Beaufort Sea by July 2nd. This predicted event presents increasing risks of sea ice melt for a key Arctic region. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Since oceans tend to moderate both summer heat and winter cold, these are considerable local extremes. And in conjunction with a developing warm pool of ocean surface waters, such above average atmospheric readings represent a melt hazard to sea ice in the critical Beaufort basin and in adjacent regions. Ice in the Canadian Archipelago will also come under melt stress in the event that such a forecast trend develops. Meanwhile, the greatly reduced subset of multi-year ice floating just to the north of the Archipelago will also be subject to the warm air injected by the ridge as well as to the warming of nearby surface waters.

Risks Worth Monitoring

During 2012, the persistent development of a warm water pool in the Beaufort contributed to record low sea ice readings by late summer. This warm pool ate away at the ice edge, wrecking the multi-year ice even as it was eventually thrust into the Central Arctic by a powerful storm emerging over the East Siberian Sea during August. Similar warm pool formation at this time and continuing through July is cause for some concern, which is why a nascent warm pool development during late June is worth continued monitoring.

Links:

NASA GISS

PIOMAS

JAXA

DMI

Earth Nullschool

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Hat tip to Zack Labe

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Wili

U.S. Climate of Troubles: Record Heat Out West, Severe Floods in the East

Yesterday a record heatwave affecting 40 million people cracked pavement, grounded flights, threatened power grids and risked serious injuries across the Southwestern U.S. Meanwhile, today, a heavily moisture laden tropical storm Cindy is threatening to dump 10 to 15 inches or more of rain on parts of the U.S. Southeast. A pair of opposite weather extremes of the kind we’ve come to expect more and more of in a world that’s warmed by about 1.2 C above 1880s averages.

(Very extreme weather conditions settled over the U.S. on June 20. Today, Cindy is expected to bring extraordinary rainfall totals to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Video source: ClimateState.)

Record-Shattering Western Heat

Yesterday, the mercury struck a scorching 127 degrees F in Death Valley California — the hottest June 20th ever recorded for that heat-blasted lowland. Meanwhile, Death Valley-like heat spilled out over a large swath of the southwest. Phoenix fell just shy of its daily record as temperatures struck 119 F. And Las Vegas tied its all-time record of 117 F (which was set just four years ago on June 30th). Needles, Daggett and Barstow in California joined Kingman in Arizona and Desert Rock in Nevada to also break previous heat records as temperatures soared to between 111 and 115 F across these cities and towns.

(Record heat hammered the U.S. West on Tuesday spiking fire hazards, grounding planes, causing power outages and increasing the risk of heat injury. Image source: National Weather Service.)

All these severe high temperatures took a serious toll as both cities and citizens fell under blast-furnace-like conditions. In Phoenix, 43 flights were grounded. Aircraft could not generate enough lift for a safe take-off in the thin, low-density hot air. Total number flights grounded since Monday now tops 50 for the city — with more expected Wednesday when temperatures are expected to hit 118 F.

As flights were grounded in Phoenix, fires began to spark across the Southwest. Several fires ignited in Southern California including a large 950 acre blaze near Big Bear. In Utah, hundreds of people were forced to evacuate a ski town when a weed-killing torch ignited a swiftly spreading fire. And in southwest Arizona, a wildfire burned 8 structures as more than 100 firefighters rushed to contain the blaze. Firefighters across the southwest struggled against some of the most difficult conditions imaginable — extreme heat, blustery southerly winds, and rapidly-drying vegetation.

Record heat also overwhelmed grids when customers cranked up air conditioning and high temperatures put a major strain on power lines and transformers. With California temperatures climbing to historic levels yesterday, power outages were reported across Central Valley and on into the Bay area. Extreme warming of road surfaces caused highways to buckle even as hospitals prepared for a surge of various heat-related injuries from burns, to heat exhaustion, to heat stroke.

(Recent warming of ocean surfaces to well above average ranges off the U.S. West Coast have likely boosted the development of the recent western heatwave. Ocean surface warming is a signature condition of human-caused climate change. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

A strong high pressure system and a large associated ridge aided by abnormally warm waters off the U.S. West Coast are the primary regional causes of the most recent heatwave. The pool of warm water in the Northeast Pacific — somewhat reminiscent of the Hot Blob that formed in the nearby ocean zones during 2014 and 2015 — appears to be boosting the development of upper level ridges and related surface heat over the region as temperatures climb to 10 to 25 F or more above normal for many locations. Despite recent record winter and spring rainfall for parts of the region, this new heatwave is starting to again advance drought conditions across the Southwest. Yet another hard shift in weather extremes from wet and cool to dry and hot that can likely be linked to climate change.

Cindy Ushers in Severe Flooding across the Gulf Coast

While the west scorches under extreme heat, the weather threat to the U.S. Southeast comes in the form of severe flooding. In the Gulf of Mexico, a sprawling Tropical Storm Cindy is interacting with a stalled frontal system to spike moisture levels in the atmosphere above the U.S. Gulf Coast. Already, between 3 and 9 inches of rain have fallen over parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama. But the slow-moving, heavy rain bearing Cindy is poised to dump still more.

(24 hour rainfall totals show that heavy precipitation in the range of 3 to 9 inches have already fallen across the Gulf Coast. Cindy is expected to bring even more over the coming days. Image source: NOAA.)

According to NOAA QPC predictions for the next week, as much as 8.5 additional inches of rainfall could impact already-flooded parts of SE Louisiana. And when all is said and done, the system is forecast to drop between 10 and 15 inches or more of rainfall over parts of the area. The storm is not presently expected to rival last year’s August rain event which dumped up to 30 inches over the same region. Of course, with climate change boosting rainfall potentials by warming the Gulf of Mexico and spiking atmospheric moisture and instability, the unexpected can certainly happen. Let’s just hope that’s not the case with Cindy. But 10-15 inch rainfall totals are certainly disruptive enough. And with some streets in New Orleans already seeing 2-3 feet of flooding as more storms rush in from the Gulf, this event is certainly far from finished.

Links/Credits:

National Weather Service

ClimateState

Earth Nullschool

NOAA

Tropical Storm Cindy Pushes Toward Central Gulf Coast

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Tigertown

Sweden Aims to be Carbon Neutral by 2045; Largest Pension Fund Ditches Climate Bad Actors

In a stunning victory for clean energy and climate progress, Sweden this week overwhelmingly passed a law that fully commits the country to carbon neutrality by 2045. Meanwhile, Sweden’s largest pension fund has divested from corporations it identifies as violators of the Paris Climate Accord. As a wise person recently said (see featured comment below) — this is “what real climate leadership looks like.”

Beating a Fast Path to Net Zero Emissions

Sweden’s most recent climate law, which flew through the Parliament by a 254 to 41 margin, aims to have the country producing net zero carbon emissions in less than three decades. This new measure moves the date for Sweden’s carbon neutrality forward by 5 years from 2050 to 2045.

Already a climate leader, Sweden presently gets about 85 percent of its electricity from hydropower, wind and nuclear energy. Across all sectors of its economy, Sweden has achieved the goal of 50 percent renewable energy fully 8 years ahead of schedule. The new measure doubles down on this already-powerful trend by further trimming carbon-based electrical generation while shifting larger focus to carbon emissions cuts from the transportation sector.

(Swedish electrical generation is dominated by hydro, nuclear, and wind power. Sweden aims to remove fossil fuels from electrical power generation while shifting transportation to EVs and biofuels by 2045. Image source: Electricity Production in Sweden.)

In order to achieve carbon neutrality, Sweden is pushing hard for rapid electrical vehicle adoption, switching remaining liquid fuels to biofuels, and to completely phase out its ever-dwindling margin of fossil fuel power generation. The result of these policies would be a country that primarily runs on renewable and nuclear power generation and that uses EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles for motorized transportation. Ultimately, Sweden aims to cut its presently low carbon emissions by a further 85 percent all while planting trees and developing carbon sinks to offset the rest by 2045.

Divesting From Climate Bad Actors

In a related move, Sweden’s largest pension fund, which manages the pensions of 3.5 million Swedish citizens, decided to divest money from various climate bad actors. The fund, AP 7, announced last week that it would pull investments from six corporations that it identified as being engaged in various violations of the Paris Climate Summit. These companies included: ExxonMobil, Westar, Southern Corp, and Entergy for fighting against climate legislation in the United States, Gazprom for oil exploration in the vulnerable Arctic, and TransCanada for building pipelines across North America despite widespread local opposition and obvious long-term climate impacts.

(AP 7’s divestment from climate bad actors is a major win for climate action advocacy groups like 350.org which nobly aim to leverage mass social, political and protest action to help spur a transition to 100 percent renewable energy in an effort to prevent serious global harm from climate change. Image source: 350.org.)

These moves were praised by climate action advocacy group 350.org’s Jamie Henn, Strategic Communications Director for the global grassroots climate movement, who stated:

“Sweden divesting its largest pension from Exxon proves you can’t claim to support climate action while funding and perpetuating climate change. Exxon knew about climate change half a century ago, and continues to sow doubt and bankroll climate deniers. With its core business model dependent on exploiting people and planet for profit, Exxon is in direct violation of the Paris agreement.”

Responsible Climate Action by Sweden

Sweden’s latest moves cast light on various agencies who have done so much to slow the pace of a much-needed response to climate change and a related energy transition while putting serious legislative muscle behind carbon emissions reductions. It’s a major win for the divestment and climate action movements — further calling into doubt the viability of a number of businesses who’ve predicated their future profitability on wholesale global harm. Sweden, by both moving forward its date for carbon neutrality and by moving large pension funds away from direct capital support of the fossil fuel industry continues to set an example for all by vividly underlining how decisively the rest of the world needs to act to catch up.

Links:

Sweden Commits to Becoming Carbon Neutral by 2045 With New Law

Sweden’s Largest Pension Divests From Paris Accord Violators Including ExxonMobil and TransCanada

Electricity Production in Sweden

350.org (Please Support)

Featured Comment:

World Climate Stays in Uncharted Territory as May of 2017 Hits Second Hottest on Record

We’re currently in what should be a relatively considerable temperature trough following a strong 2015-2016 El Nino. But the globe hasn’t really cooled off that much.

In contrast, during the two year period following the 1998 super El Nino, annual global temperature averages subsequently cooled by around 0.2 C to about 0.64 C warmer than 1880s averages as a strong La Nina swept in. This post El Nino cooling provided some respite from harmful global conditions like increasingly prevalent droughts, floods, fires and coral bleaching events set off by the 1998 temperature spike. It did not, however, return the world to anything close to average or normal temperature conditions.

Warming Out of Context

(So far, 2017 temperature averages for the first five months have remained disturbingly close to what should have been an El Nino driven peak in 2016. Temperatures remaining so warm post El Nino are providing little respite from this peak warming. Meanwhile, the longer significant La Nina conditions hold off, the more extreme and out of context the post-2013 period looks from a global weather/climate perspective even relative to the significant warming occurring from the late 1970s through the early 2010s. Note the steep temperature spike following 2013 in the graph above. This should flatten out, step-wise, as La Nina conditions ultimately push against the larger surface warming trend [driven primarily by fossil fuel burning]. We thus await a La Nina stronger than the very weak late 2016 through early 2017 event with bated breath… Image source: NASA.)

During 2015 and 2016, the world was forced to warm much more intensely than during the 1998 event as very high and rising greenhouse gas concentrations (400 ppm CO2 +) met with another strong El Nino and what appeared to be a very widespread ocean surface warming event. Temperatures peaked to a troubling 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages during 2016. An annual peak nearly 0.4 C warmer than the 1998 temperature spike. But unlike the period following the 1998 event, it appears that 2017 will probably only back off by about 0.1 degrees Celsius at most.

This counter-trend cooling delay is cause for some concern because a larger portion of the global surface heat added in during the 2015-2016 El Nino appears to be remaining in the climate system — which is lengthening some of the impacts of the 2015-2016 temperature spike and putting the world more firmly outside of the weather and climate contexts of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

(2017 temperatures aren’t trailing too far behind 2016’s record spike. A trend that is, so far, considerably warmer than 2015, which was the second hottest year on record. Image source: NASA.)

Record heat, drought, rainfall events, unusual storms, coral bleaching, glacial melt, wildfires, sea ice melt and other effects related to extreme global temperature will, therefore, not abate as much as some would have hoped. Furthermore, though current science does not appear to identify a present perturbation in the ENSO cycle (which may produce more El Ninos as the world warms), monitoring of that cycle for warming-related change at this time seems at least somewhat appropriate.

Second Hottest May on Record

According to NASA, May of 2017 was 0.88 degrees Celsius hotter than its 20th Century baseline — or 1.1 C warmer than 1880s averages when the world first began a considerable warming trend clearly attributable to fossil fuel burning and related human carbon emissions. This reading is just 0.05 C shy of the record warmest May of 2016. It’s also slightly warmer than the now third warmest May (0.01 C warmer) of 2014. And all of the top four warmest Mays in the present NASA record have now occurred since 2014.

(NASA’s second hottest May on record brought above normal temperatures to much of the globe. Disturbingly, the most extreme temperature departures above average occurred in the vulnerable Coastal regions of Antarctica. Small regions including parts of the North Pacific, the Northern Polar Region, the extreme South Atlantic, and the Central U.S. experienced below average temperatures. But these outliers were few and far between. Image source: NASA.)

Add May of 2017 into the present 2017 running average and you get a total of 1.19 C warmer than 1880s conditions. This is the second warmest first five months on record following 2016 at a very considerable 1.38 C above 1880s. It is, however, just about 0.01 C behind 2016’s annual average of 1.2 C above late 19th Century global temperatures.

It’s worth noting that most of the temperature spike attributable to the 2015-2016 El Nino occurred beginning in October of 2015 and ending in April of 2016. Somewhat milder months comparable to April and May 2017 averages followed from June through December of 2016 as a very weak La Nina followed. Since about February, Pacific Ocean conditions warmed into an ENSO neutral state where neither El Nino or La Nina dominated. NOAA’s present forecast calls for ENSO neutral conditions to continue as the Equatorial Pacific slowly cools again. So a continuation of present trends could leave 2017 rather close to the 2016 spike.

Forecast Trends

GFS model guidance for June shows somewhat cooler global conditions than in May. If this trend continues we will likely see the month range from 0.7 to 0.82 C above NASA’s baseline. If the GFS summary is accurate and this meta-analysis is correct, then June of 2017 will likely range between 1st and 4th warmest on record. Meanwhile, ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) neutral conditions should tend to keep 2017 as a whole in the range of 1 C to 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages — likely beating out 2015 as the second hottest year on record and keeping the globe in what basically amounts to uncharted climate territory.

(UPDATED)

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA’s Weekly ENSO Report

The Rains of Antarctica are Coming — Warm Summer Storms Melted Texas-Sized Section of Ross Ice Shelf Surface During 2016

“In West Antarctica, we have a tug-of-war going on between the influence of El Niños and the westerly winds, and it looks like the El Niños are winning. It’s a pattern that is emerging. And because we expect stronger, more frequent El Niños in the future with a warming climate, we can expect more major surface melt events in West Antarctica (emphasis added).” — David Bromwhich, co-author of a recent study identifying massive summer surface melt in West Antarctica during 2016.

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If you’re concerned about human-caused global warming, then you should also be concerned about ice. In particular — how warming might melt a miles-high pile of the frozen stuff covering the massive continent of Antarctica.

During recent years, scientists have become more and more worried as they’ve observed warming oceans eating away at the undersides of floating ice sheets. This particular process threatens numerous cities and coastal regions with swiftening sea level rise as ice margins melt and glaciers the size of mountain ranges clamor for release into the world’s oceans.

Major Antarctic Surface Melt Event During 2016

But another potential process in a still warmer world threatens to compound the impact of the heating waters that are already melting so many of the world’s glaciers from the bottom up — large scale surface melt.

(A major warming event during January of 2016 turned a Texas-sized section of Antarctica’s surface into slush. This occurred as a storm running in from the Southern Ocean delivered warm air and rainfall to sections of West Antarctica. Scientists are concerned that more major surface melt is on the way for Antarctica as the Earth’s climate heats up and that repeated warming and rainfall events in this typically-frozen region may further quicken rates of sea level rise. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

During January of 2016, as a very strong El Nino was combining with human-caused global warming to spike atmospheric temperatures to 1.2 C above 1880s levels, something pretty strange and concerning happened. Over the course of about 15 days, a 300,000 square mile section of the Ross Ice Shelf surface and nearby lands over West Antarctica experienced melting. This mass slushing across Antarctica’s surface occurred as a warm storm swept in from the Southern Ocean (see image above) to deliver an unheard of rainfall event to the region.

West Antarctica is typically too cold for such weather. It is also often too dry. The region is well know by climate researchers as a frozen desert. But as human-forced climate change has warmed the nearby ocean, warm, moist winds blowing in from these heating waters have become more frequent.

Westerlies Interrupted by Warming Ocean

Antarctica is typically protected by strong westerly winds that keep both heat and moisture out. But a warming ocean environment, according to Ohio State researchers, is enabling El Nino to interrupt these westerlies and hurl increasing volumes of heat and moisture over the glaciers of Antarctica. In 2016, countervailing winds pushing against the typically prevailing westerlies bore with them an odd rainstorm that set off a massive surface melt event.

(Surface melt over a large section of West Antarctica lasted for as much as 15 days as heat and moisture from the surrounding ocean beat back a protective barrier of westerly winds and invaded the frozen continent. According to scientists, these events are likely to become more frequent and long-lasting as the climate warms. Image source: Ohio State University.)

When combined with already-active melt from ocean warming, surface melt could further serve to destabilize ice sheets and swiften sea level rise. This was exactly the concern that David Bromwich, an Antarctic researcher at Ohio State and co-author of the paper that identified this strange event highlighted in this statement (please see related Washington Post article here):

“It provides us with a possible glimpse of the future. You probably have read these analyses of West Antarctica, many people think it’s slowly disintegrating right now, and it’s mostly thought to be from the warm water eating away at the bottom of critical ice shelves. Well, that’s today. In the future, we could see action at the surface of these ice shelves as well from surface melting. So that makes them potentially much more unstable (emphasis added).”

It’s worth noting that this particular storm, though unusual and noteworthy, did not produce too much in the way of surface melt ponding. Instead, the storm turned a large section of the Antarctic surface to a slurpee-like slush. But this event did deliver a considerable amount of heat to the Ross Ice Shelf region. And repeated instances could serve to seriously soften this massive ice formation.

Eventually, as warming worsens, significant surface melt and flooding could help to shatter large buttressing ice shelves like Ross or even generate risks of surface glacial outburst flooding in instances where permanent surface melt lakes form behind an ice dam. But the primary concern at this time is that these warm rain events provide a compounding melt influence that adds to risks for more rapid sea level rise this Century.

Links:

Widespread Snowmelt in Antarctica During Unusually Warm Summer

Scientists Stunned by Antarctic Rainfall and Melt Area Bigger Than Texas

Scientists Report Large Scale Surface Melting Event in Antarctica During 2015-2016 El Nino

The Ross Ice Shelf

Earth Nullschool

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

New Study: Ice Sheet Retreat Led to Rapid Methane Hydrate Release at End of Last Ice Age

Andreassen et al. found evidence of large craters embedded within methane-leaking subglacial sediments in the Barents Sea, Norway. They propose that the thinning of the ice sheet at the end of recent glacial cycles decreased the pressure on pockets of hydrates buried in the seafloor, resulting in explosive blow-outs. This created the giant craters and released large quantities of methane into the water above. — Science

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At the end of the last ice age, a warming world released a portion of its carbon stores into the atmosphere. The result was, ultimately, an increase in atmospheric CO2 by around 100 parts per million and in increase in atmospheric methane by around 300 parts per billion.

This increase in greenhouse gasses was a direct response to the Earth warming by approximately 4 degrees Celsius over the course of about 10,000 years. Under a present human-forced warming that is currently 1.2 C above late 19th Century averages and that is predicted to reach between 3.3 and 7 C warming this Century if fossil fuel burning continues, it is important to consider what additional carbon forcing the Earth System will produce under such an extreme and short-term temperature departure.

A new study recently published in Science indicates that these massive craters in the sea bed off Svalbard formed as methane hydrate erupted from the sea bed when ice sheets retreated at the end of the last ice age. Many of these craters are over a kilometer wide. Image source: K. Andreassen/CAGE.

One subject of concern is the behavior of methane hydrate deposits under warming conditions. It is estimated that upward of trillions of tons of hydrate exist in various frozen deposits around the world. And that even a fractional release from these deposits could contribute to the increasing greenhouse gas overburden in our atmosphere and further exacerbate warming. A potential for such a release in the short term would add risk of increased warming this Century on top of planned emissions from human fossil fuel burning — adding urgency to already necessary rapid emissions cuts (and a related swift transition to renewable energy based economies).

Paleoclimate Evidence of Massive Hydrate Release

This past week, a new study entitled — Massive blow-out craters formed by hydrate-controlled methane expulsion from the Arctic seafloor — lends credence to concerns regarding hydrate release as a potential amplifier to human warming. The study found that as ice sheets retreated and as pressure was relieved from the sea floor near Svalbard 12,000 years ago, pockets of methane hydrate rapidly migrated toward the surface as they turned to gas. This newly gasified methane formed large, high-pressure, mounds on the sea floor. Such mounds were unstable. Sensitive to changes in the local environment, they generated explosive outbursts which released considerable volumes of methane into the ocean and ultimately also added heat-trapping carbon to the Earth’s atmosphere.

The lead author of the study, Karin Andreasson, a professor at the CAGE Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate noted in Phys.org last week that:

As [the] climate warmed, and the ice sheet collapsed, enormous amounts of methane were abruptly released. This created massive craters that are still actively seeping methane.

Though the methane craters formed off Svalbard around 12,000 years ago as the ice sheet retreated, they are linked to deeper methane pockets and are still leaking gas into the ocean today. Image source: Andreia Plaza Faverola/CAGE.

The researchers characterized these blow-out mounds as similar to those that have recently been forming in the Russian permafrost in places like Yamal and Yakutia. And their research indicates that a process like the one that occurred off Svalbard at the end of the last ice age may be at play as permafrost thins and as gas beneath this cap of frozen soil more rapidly migrates toward the surface — creating unstable blow-out mounds. Researchers also indicated that places presently locked in surface ice — like Greenland and Antarctica — could generate further methane blow out risk as ice sheets melt, withdraw and remove pressure from the methane deposits beneath them.

Conditions in Context

These are important findings due to the fact that paleoclimate evidence of past large-scale hydrate release provides a study-identified mechanism for how permafrost hydrates and gas deposits are being liberated due to present warming, how such warming may increase their rate of liberation in the future, and how ice sheet withdrawal could contribute to this hydrate liberation trend. What remains highly uncertain is the ultimate volume of hydrate response to a given level of warming over a given period and how significantly such releases would contribute to the already very considerable heat forcing provided by human emissions. That said, the new study does add to serious concerns regarding the potential for future warming and greenhouse gas levels — which will tend to be higher than present model studies indicate due to generally not accounting for these kinds of Earth System carbon feedbacks.

Links:

Massive blow-out craters formed by hydrate-controlled methane expulsion from the Arctic seafloor

Massive Craters Formed by Methane Blow-outs on Arctic Sea Floor

Massive Craters From Methane Explosions Found in Arctic

Paleoclimate Record of Atmospheric Greenhouse Gasses

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Record Heat Predicted for Fort McMurray Wednesday as Fire Danger Spikes

Just a little more than one year after freakish global warming-spurred wildfires forced a near complete evacuation of the tar sands production town of Fort McMurray, Alberta, record heat and extreme fire hazard are again settling in over this subarctic region.

(Subarctic sections of Alberta are expected to experience temperatures in the upper 80s and lower 90s [F] tomorrow. Such heat is expected to spike fire dangers throughout the region. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The weather forecast for Wednesday, May 31, 2017 tells a story of predicted extreme heat for a typically cool region of Northwest Canada. High temperatures for the day are expected to range from 86 to 90 F (30 to 32 C). That’s a hot day anywhere. But it’s particularly impressive for a region that shares a common climate with places like historically cold Alaska and Hudson Bay.

Average high temperatures for Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada for this time of year typically top out at a rather cool 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 C) — closer to the expected Wednesday morning low of 62 F (17 C). Wednesday’s forecast high, meanwhile, is quite considerably outside the normal range and exceeds 30 year averages by fully 22 to 26 degrees F. If such heat does emerge, it will tie or break the 2007 all-time record for May 31 of 86 F (30 C).  Such record heat is now predicted to occur after today’s expected, well above average, high of 80 F (26 C).

(A spike in fire hazard early this week coincides with predicted record temperatures across Alberta. Image source: Alberta Fire.)

Unseasonable warmth — which deepened over the weekend and is expected to peak by Wednesday — is presently resulting in spiking fire dangers for the region. According to the government of Alberta, fire risk for Fort McMurray is now listed as very high through Wednesday due to above average to near record high temperatures and low humidity. Fire hazard for a large swath of Northern Alberta is now also rated very-high-to-extreme.

It is worth noting that the overall fire situation for Canada to-date is presently much-improved from 2016. Last year, outlandish warmth combined with high winds and dry conditions to fuel an unusually large fire outbreak over Central and Northwestern Canada during early May. This year, wetter than normal conditions have suppressed fire activity over much of Canada over the same seasonal period. And we have some regions in British Columbia that are now experiencing evacuations due flooding rivers.

(Wildfires are flaring over British Columbia even as rapidly rising temperatures are causing large snow packs to melt far more swiftly than normal. Such heat and rapid melt is producing a dual threat of flood and fire at the same time. Image source: BC Wildfire Service.)

Rising fire risks coinciding with hot and dry conditions are coming at the same time that this year’s moisture-engorged snow packs are melting at far faster than normal rates. Large fires are thus breaking out in British Columbia and along the Alberta border as heat and dryness spread northward even as creek and lake levels in places like Okanagan, BC are facing the highest flood stages ever recorded.

Overall, despite 2017’s rainy spring weather, the tale is still one of unusual warmth. May temperatures have ranged from 2 to 6 degrees Celsius above average over Northern and Central Canada during 2017. Such departures are in keeping with the ongoing trend of rapid warming in the upper Latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. A trend that has considerably worsened overall fire hazard by lengthening the fire season, by adding new fuels for fires, and by increasing the number of lightning strikes which help to provide ignition sources for wildfires. A warming that is directly caused by ongoing human fossil fuel burning and by related activities such as the tar sands extraction that continues unabated in Alberta.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Fort McMurray Weather

Weather Underground: Fort McMurray Climate

Alberta Fire

BC Wildfire Service

Thousands Forced to Evacuate Fort McMurray Due to Wildfires

Wildfires, Rising Water Levels Hamper Okanagan

Earth Observatory

“Too Huge to Manage” — New Studies Highlight Danger in Failing to Rapidly Cut Carbon Emissions Now

“If we continue burning coal and oil the way we do today and regret our inaction later, the amounts of greenhouse gas we would need to take out of the atmosphere in order to stabilize the climate would be too huge to manage,” — Lena Boysen from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Phys.org.

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When it comes to dealing with global warming and human-forced climate change, the best options for response have always been rapid carbon emissions cuts and an equally rapid energy transition away from fossil fuel burning. And while swiftly transitioning energy systems away from fossil fuel burning, cutting carbon-based consumption, and aggressively increasing energy efficiency may all be seen as difficult or unsavory to the vocal and powerful special interests invested in continued burning of oil, gas, and coal, such cuts and transformations remain the safest path forward.

At issue is the fact that the two other chief climate change response ‘options’ are either inadequate on their own or, worse, can simply amount to so much reckless and harmful flailing about. Atmospheric geo-engineering and rapid removal of carbon from the Earth System — are either costly, difficult to scale to the level needed to remove carbon from the atmosphere fast enough to prevent serious harms under continuing fossil fuel burning, or, in the case of the solar radiation management version of geo-engineering, flat-out dangerous.

(New scientific studies highlight the fact that there is no substitute for a rapid halt to fossil fuel burning when it comes to preventing the worst impacts of human-caused climate change. Image source: The Sierra Club.)

Some of these basic facts were highlighted this week by a new study in the journal Science. The study — Rightsizing Carbon Dioxide Removal — found that under worst-case carbon emissions scenarios, there is practically not enough forested land area to grow the amount of switch grass and other biomass needed to recapture even half of the projected carbon emission. It also found that land mass dedicated to biomass production would need to equal roughly 1/3 of all forested lands under present emissions cuts goals under the Paris Climate Summit in order to prevent 2 C warming. A level of land use that would likely put global food security at risk.

Study Authors Katherine March and Christopher Field note that:

“The models generating possible trajectories of climate change mitigation bet on planetary-scale carbon removal in the second half of the century. For policymakers trying to limit the worst damages from climate change, that bet is reckless. This puts climate change mitigation, global food security and biodiversity protection on a collision course with no easy off-ramps.”

Only the most ambitious cuts to emissions combined with a moderate assist through considerable advances in atmospheric carbon capture provide a reasonable path to avoiding 2 C warming, according to the study.

A separate but similar study also published in May provides some confirmation to the Stanford study’s results. The co-author of that study, entitled The Limits to Global Warming Mitigation by Terrestrial Carbon Removal,Wolfgang Lucht from PIK notes in Phys.org:

“As scientists we are looking at all possible futures, not just the positive ones. What happens in the worst case, a widespread disruption and failure of mitigation policies? Would plants allow us to still stabilize climate in emergency mode? The answer is: no. There is no alternative for successful mitigation [cutting carbon emissions]. In that scenario plants can potentially play a limited, but important role, if managed well. [Emphasis Added]”

The issue is the fact that while methods like planting trees, changing the way we manage farmland, or even adding various carbon capturing biofuel plants and enhanced weathering materials to capture more carbon from the air is likely only capable of drawing down a fraction of the carbon we presently emit each year (and an even smaller fraction of carbon if emissions keep growing). At best, under practical considerations, we might be able to take down 1-3 billion tons of carbon every year compared to a present emission in excess of 10 billion tons and a BAU emission that could hit 20 billion tons of carbon per year or more.

 

(This graphic, produced by Greenpeace, provides a good illustration of basic carbon math. However, given the fact that warming will tend to push more carbon into the atmosphere from the Earth System and keep it there for a longer period, it’s likely that some assist by enhanced atmospheric carbon capture will be necessary even if carbon emissions are rapidly cut to zero. That said, atmospheric carbon capture at best provides an avenue for moderately enhancing atmospheric carbon draw-down. New studies warn that atmospheric carbon capture by itself and without coordinate rapid cuts to fossil fuel burning is not a practical solution. Image source: Greenpeace.)

Such levels of carbon capture, even if they were achieved in as short a time as two decades, would not be enough to prevent 2 C warming under anything but the most modest future emissions pathways. As a result, the primary climate change response strategy should continue to focus on increasing and rapidly scaling the size of planned emissions cuts. Meanwhile, atmospheric carbon capture is a good potential option as a follow-on to rapid emissions cuts to zero as soon as possible — providing a means eventually, over many decades, to possibly start to claw atmospheric greenhouse gases down from very dangerous and harmful levels. But such an option alone should not be viewed as something that will magically swoop in to save us from climate destruction if we continue to burn fossil fuels willy-nilly.

Chris Field — professor of biology & Earth System science and director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment provides this urgent observation following his study’s publication:

“For any temperature limit, we’ve got a finite budget of how much heat-trapping gases we can put into the atmosphere. Relying on big future deployments of carbon removal technologies is like eating lots of dessert today, with great hopes for liposuction tomorrow.”

With the caveat being that eating lots of dessert today is likely to have far more limited and less disastrous consequences than continuing to burn oil, gas and coal.

Links:

Rightsizing Carbon Dioxide Removal

The Limits to Global Warming Mitigation by Terrestrial Carbon Removal

Assuming Easy Carbon Removal is High-Stakes Gamble

Planting Trees Cannot Replace Carbon Emissions Cuts

April of 2017 was the Second Hottest in 137 Year Climate Record

According to measurements by NASA’s GISS global temperature monitoring service, April of 2017 was warmer than all past Aprils in the climate record with the single exception of 2016.

The month came in at 0.88 degrees Celsius above NASA’s 20th Century baseline and fully 1.1 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages. This measure was just 0.01 C warmer than now third warmest 2010 and 0.18 C shy of last year’s record. All of the top ten hottest Aprils on record have occurred since 1998 and six of the top ten hottest Aprils have occurred since 2010.

(During April of 2017, and with only a few moderate exceptions, most of the world experienced above normal to considerably above normal surface temperatures. Image source: NASA GISS.)

The first four months of 2017 now average around 1.21 degrees Celsius warmer than 1880s ranges. This number is about tied with 2016’s overall record warmth which was spurred by a combined strong El Nino and the incredible buildup of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere that we have seen for over more than a century. It is also a warming that is now strong enough to start bringing on serious geophysical changes to the Earth System. The longer readings remain so warm or continue to increase, the more likely it is that instances of global harm in the form of glacial melt, sea level rise, ocean health decline, severe storms and other extreme weather will worsen or emerge.

This year, ENSO neutral conditions trending toward the cooler side of average during the first quarter should have helped to moderate global temperatures somewhat. As is, though a slight cooling vs the first quarter of 2016 is somewhat evident, the broader, more general counter-trend cooling that we would expect following a strong El Nino is practically non-apparent.

(A mildly warm Kelvin Wave forming in the Equatorial Pacific brings with it the chance of a weak El Nino by summer of 2017. This warming of such a broad region of surface waters may combine with atmospheric CO2 and CO2e in the range of 405 and 493 ppm respectively to keep global temperatures near record highs of around 1.2 C above 1880s averages during 2017. Image source: NOAA EL Nino.)

Very strong Northern Hemisphere polar warming during the winter months appears to be a primary driver pushing overall global temperatures higher during recent months. Meanwhile, southern hemisphere polar amplification is becoming more and more apparent over time.

In April, the trend of Northern Hemisphere polar amplification/warming was readily apparent in the NASA measure despite a seasonal relative cooling. Under global warming related heat forcing, we would expect to see the highest temperature departures during late fall through winter. And as 2016 transitioned into 2017, this kind of warming was amazingly evident.

(Only the very far north and the very far south saw below average temperatures in NASA’s zonal measure. Meanwhile, temperatures in the lower Arctic were particularly warm. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Anomalies during April in the higher latitudes did cool somewhat to 2 to 2.6 C above average in the key 65 to 75 N Latitude zone. Highest departures continued to be very considerable for April — ranging from 4 C to as much as 7.5 C above average over Northeastern Siberian, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, the Bering Sea and parts of Northwest Alaska. Meanwhile, temperatures over the Central Arctic dipped to slightly below average as polar amplification in the southern hemisphere appeared to take a break before warming again in March.

Globally, according to GFS model reanalysis data, temperatures appeared to cool through the end of April. However, by early May another warm-up was underway and, if the GFS measure is any guide, it appears that May will likely be about as warm as April overall. This track would tend to make May of 2017 the 1rst to 4th warmest on record if the trends analysis bears out.

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA EL Nino

Global and Regional Climate Anomalies

 

Record-Thin Sea Ice Faces Big Predicted Arctic Warm-up This Week

If you’re someone who tends to worry about Arctic sea ice losses, this coming week’s weather forecast looks like a bit of a doozy. And when you consider that the sea ice is both greatly weakened and thinned in a number of the major monitors, prospects don’t look very good, presently, for 2017’s summer melt season as whole.

Abnormal Warmth Over Greenland and Baffin and Hudson Bays

Over the next 48 hours, Baffin and Hudson Bays will experience the tail end of what an extreme warm-up that produced exceptional May surface melt over the Greenland Ice Sheet and then shifted westward.

(An extreme early May warming over Greenland this week produced considerable surface melt well outside the 2 standard deviation range. Today, the warmth has shifted west over Baffin and Hudson Bays. Later this week, a similar strong warm-up is predicted to impact the Pacific side of the Arctic Ocean. Image source: NSIDC.)

Temperatures for Hudson and Central and Southern Baffin, according to GFS model runs, will range above freezing over this time period — hitting as high as the low 40s (F) in Eastern sections of Hudson Bay. Over-ocean readings (which tend to moderate, but not, apparently, in this case) that will range from 5 to 15 degrees Celsius above average. These rather high surface temperatures will help to kick sea ice melt throughout these regions into higher gear.

Pacific Side of Arctic Ocean Predicted to Heat Up

Following the Baffin-Hudson warm-up, a large bulge of much warmer than normal air is predicted to extend northward from a broad region extending from Eastern Siberia through the Bering Sea and Alaska and on into Northwestern Canada. This bulge will, according to GFS model runs, by early next week inject periods of above freezing temperatures over a wide region of the Arctic Ocean that includes the East Siberian Sea, the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea. And by this time next week, these same model runs project that 10-16 C above average temperatures will dominate a large region of the Central Arctic — forcing above-freezing temperatures over a broad cross-section of the North Pole zone by May 17.

(The Arctic is expected to experience nearly 2 C above average temperatures with some regions over the Arctic Ocean hitting 16 C [28 F] above average. These are considerable departures for May when temperatures in the Arctic tend to moderate. So much warmth is likely to have an impact on the already greatly thinned Arctic sea ice. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

So much early season warmth is likely to further impact an already greatly weakened and thinned veil of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean. A cooling cap that even more conservative scientists estimate could be completely removed during a summer as soon as the early 2030s. But in the worst case scenario, and when considering how thin the ice is now, a nearly ice free summer could happen as soon as this year. Few scientists really want to talk about that now — given the likely controversy that would result. But we shouldn’t entirely ignore that possibility for fear of backlash or criticism. Nor should we ignore how such an event would tend to further distort an already disrupted Northern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation.

Indicators Show Very Thin Ice

Over recent weeks, sea ice area and extent measures have recovered somewhat as temperatures over the Arctic Ocean have moderated a bit from very warm conditions during October through March. However, a number of indicators including PIOMAS’s sea ice volume measure show that despite this mild surface extent recovery, the ice is very weak and significantly thinned.

(PIOMAS sea ice volume measure shows a considerable record low departure through mid April of 2017. Image source: PIOMAS.)

It’s worth noting that a significant portion of the extent recovery over recent weeks can be attributed to strong winds blowing ice out of the Arctic Ocean and into the Barents Sea as well as out through the Fram Strait. Such conditions are not normally considered to be healthy ones for ice retention through summer as ice in the Barents and Fram tends to melt far more swiftly than ice secured in the Central Arctic. And the Fram itself is often considered to be a graveyard for sea ice.

As for PIOMAS, the most recent measurement through the middle of April found that sea ice volume had topped out at 20,600 cubic kilometers. This measure was fully 1,800 cubic kilometers below the previous record low set for the month. It’s a tremendous negative departure that, if valid, shows that the state of the sea ice as of this time was terribly unhealthy. A situation that prompted the typically conservative Neven over at the Arctic Ice Blog to state that it’s:

Not looking good. Not looking good at all… with a maximum that was almost 2000 km3 lower than the previous record reached in 2011, it’s obvious that anything is possible this coming melting season.

(According to the EASE NSIDC sea ice age monitor, the multi-year sea ice is now almost entirely removed from the Pacific side of the Arctic. Strong, persistent winds have continued to push a good portion of the frail remainder of this ice out toward the Fram Strait — a graveyard for sea ice. And a big warm-up predicted for this week will begin to test the greatly thinned ice over the Beaufort, Chukchi and East Siberian Seas. Image source: NSIDC and The Arctic Ice Blog.)

Moreover, Neven last week pointed out that according a separate measure (see image above), typically thicker multi-year ice is presently absent from the Beaufort Sea. And, to this point, it’s worth noting that the amazing above normal temperatures that plagued the Arctic cold season for multiple years now have resulted in vast losses among this most healthy subset of sea ice.

Such considerably thinned ice presents practically no barrier to the effects of warming. It can melt quite rapidly and it is far more subject to the physical forces of wind and waves. With strong southerly winds and a big warm-up now in the pipe, it appears that this considerably thinned ice will get its first test in mid-May. Potentially creating large sections of permanently open water very early in the melt season and very close to the ever-more vulnerable High Arctic.

Links:

NSIDC

PIOMAS

Climate Reanalyzer

Earth Nullschool

Hat tip to Neven and…

to the researchers over at The Arctic Ice Blog

 

Early Season Russia-Siberia Wildfire Outbreak Expands Due to Heat

An early Siberian and Asian wildfire outbreak that became apparent last week has continued to flare just south of the swiftly retreating freeze line. And while wildfires near Lake Baikal and further south and east toward the Russia-China border continue to flicker, a considerable outbreak has now flared up in Western Russian and Siberia along a zone straddling the Urals and just south of the Yamal Peninsula.

(Wildfires and hotspots run west to east across Russia and Siberia in this May 3 NASA satellite shot. Note the storm system near Lake Baikal which has recently suppressed early season wildfire activity there. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

A trough dipping through Central Russia and Siberia has brought rain and cooler conditions — which has suppressed some of the previously extensive wildfire activity near and to the north of Lake Baikal. But temperatures in the range of 5-15 C above average along both the Russia-China border and in Western Russia have combined with warm, southerly winds to spur wildfire activity throughout these regions. In these zones, temperatures have been flaring into the 60s, 70s, and even lower 80s F (16-27 C) through sections. And such abnormal heat has helped to generate a high prevalence of newly-flaring early May wildfires.

Though wildfires in the east along the Russia-China border are still small and lack intensity, the region near the Urals is showing some significant flare-ups. Just west of the Urals near 56 north latitude burn scars as large as ten miles long by five miles wide appeared in the satellite imagery as fires ripped through the area on April 29 through May 3. These fires blanketed the region with 100 to 200 mile long smoke plumes even as the blazes steadily march northward.

(Wildfire flare up near 56 N just west of the Urals. For reference, north is left side of frame, south right side. Bottom edge of frame is approximately 80 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

In the east and near Lake Baikal permafrost often extends as far south as the Russia-China border. So many of the fires in this region are already burning in or near permafrost zones. In the west, permafrost is removed further north — becoming more common beyond the 60 degree north latitude line. Hotspots in the west are now approaching this zone, flaring as far north as the 59th parallel, but have yet to fully cross into it.

Over the coming days and weeks, wildfires in the permafrost zone will tend to become more extensive as spring advances. Such burning, during recent years, is now much more common than in the past. The increase is due to a considerable and rapid warming near the polar region that has averaged 2 times the larger global warming rate (about 0.15 to 0.2 C per decade for the world and 0.3 to 0.4 C per decade for the Arctic).

(Anomalous warmth is spurring wildfire flare-ups in both eastern and western Siberia and Russia today. Over the coming weak, abnormally warm temperatures are again predicted to flare again over the Lake Baikal region — which will likely reinvigorate the wildfires that have already begun burning there. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

This human-forced warming due to fossil fuel burning is producing considerable permafrost thaw and creating new fuels for fires in a previously-frozen region. In addition, the added heat has generated more thunderstorms — producing more lightning strikes and other ignition sources. As a result of this warming, the added fuels, and a multiplication of fire ignition sources, Siberian wildfire season now ranges from April through September and often produces fires of a terrible magnitude.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

Climate Reanalyzer

Hauntingly Freakish Siberian Wildfires Now Flicker to Life in April

Hat tip to MlParrish

Key Heat Trapping Gas Crosses 410 Parts Per Million Threshold — Highest Level in Past 5-20 Million Years

This past week, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels passed a new ominous milestone.

Clocking in at 410.7 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory, this key heat trapping gas hit a range not seen on Earth for many millions of years.

(The world crossed the 410 part per million milestone in the daily measure this week. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

These levels now correspond with the Miocene Climate Epoch when seas were 120 to 190 feet higher than today and when global temperatures ranged from 3 to 5 degrees Celsius hotter than preindustrial averages.

Record Rates of Accumulation

These new records come following two years of record rates of atmospheric CO2 accumulation. According to NOAA, carbon dioxide accumulated by 3.03 parts per million during 2015 and by 3.00 parts per million during 2016. These now represent the two fastest rates of carbon dioxide accumulation in the climate record to date. By comparison, the substantial warming at the end of the last ice age was accompanied by an approximate 0.01 part per million per year rate of CO2 increase averaged over 10,000 years.

2017 rates of atmospheric CO2 accumulation, according to NOAA, appear to have backed off somewhat in the first quarter. Comparative gains from Q1 2016 to Q1 2017 are about 2.8 parts per million. A weak La Nina in the Pacific during late 2016 probably helped ocean surfaces to cool and to draw down a bit more CO2. However, the rate of increase is still disturbingly rapid. A 2.8 ppm increase in 2017, should it emerge, would be the 4th highest annual rate of increase in the record and would be substantially above past decadal averages. Hopefully, this still-disturbingly-rapid rate of increase will continue to tail off a bit through the year. But it is increasingly clear that the time for urgent action to reduce carbon emissions and this very harmful related rate of accumulation is now upon us.

(The CO2 growth rate has recently been ramping higher due to record carbon emissions during the present decade. Rates of carbon emission will need to fall away from record high rates in order to tamp down the presently high rate of accumulation which will tend to trend higher even if such emissions remain at plateau due to various faltering carbon sinks and leaking natural carbon stores. Image source: NOAA.)

The total CO2 increase since major fossil fuel burning began in the 19th Century is now in the range of 130 parts per million from 280 (ppm) to today’s high of 410 (ppm). By comparison, during the end of the last ice age, levels of this heat trapping gas jumped by about 100 (ppm) from around 180 (ppm) to 280 (ppm). Atmospheric averages for 2017 should range about 3-4 ppm lower than the April-May high mark (which might still hit daily highs of 411 ppm or more). But at present rates of increase, we’ll be leaving the 410 ppm threshold level in even the lower average months behind in just a handful of years.

Depending on How You Look at it, We’re 5 to 30 Million Years Out of the Holocene Context

The primary driver of the present extreme rate of CO2 increase is global carbon emissions (primarily from fossil fuel burning) in a record range near 11 billion tons per year (or nearly 50 billion tons of CO2 equivalent gas each year). Though 2014 through 2016 saw a plateau in the rate of global carbon emission, the decadal average accumulation of this emission is still at record highs. Meanwhile, it appears that warming oceans, lands more susceptible to deluges and wildfires, increasingly deforested regions like the Amazon, and thawing Arctic permafrost are less able to take in this record excess. As a result of these factors, human fossil fuel emissions will need to fall for a number of years before we are likely to see an impact on the average annual rate of atmospheric accumulation of this potent heat-trapping gas.

(Past paleoclimate proxy records show that we are millions of years out of the Holocene context when it comes to present levels of atmospheric CO2 accumulation. Image source: Skeptical Science.)

Paleoclimate studies of past epochs are unable to provide 100 percent accuracy for past atmospheric CO2 levels. However, proxy data provides a good range of estimates. Based on these measures, it appears that the most recent likely time when atmospheric CO2 levels were comparable to those we now see today occurred around 5 million years ago. Meanwhile, it appears possible that the last time CO2 levels were so high extended as far back as 20 to 25 million years ago.

Unfortunately, carbon dioxide is not the only heat trapping gas humans have emitted into the atmosphere. Add in methane and other greenhouse gasses and you end up with a heat forcing roughly equivalent to 493 parts per million of CO2 (CO2e) during 2017 at present rates of increase. This level is very close to the maximum Miocene boundary level of 500 parts per million — a total amount of heat forcing that likely hasn’t been seen in 20-30 million years.

Serious, Concerted Action Required to Avoid Worsening Disasters

The only safe and reliable way to halt the rapid rise of heat trapping gasses and concurrent warming is to cease emitting carbon to the atmosphere. Such an undertaking would primarily involve a major shift away from fossil fuel burning machines and infrastructure. Present low-cost renewable energy provides a powerful option for just such a transition. In addition, various forms of atmospheric carbon capture from changes to land use, to biofuel-based carbon capture, to materials-based carbon capture will be necessary to draw down the extraordinarily high level of carbon overburden that has already been emitted. Failing such an undertaking, however ambitious, would consign the world to increasingly harmful temperature increases and related damaging geophysical changes for the foreseeable future.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

NOAA

Skeptical Science

Entering the Middle Miocene

Renewable Energy Technology is Now Powerful Enough to Significantly Soften the Climate Crisis

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Erik Frederickson

Broadcast Media’s Deafening Silence as Hundreds of Thousands March in Defense of Science

I just want to remind the administration that science is political. It is inherently political like everything else … It’s in the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, to promote the progress of science and useful arts. That’s what enables innovation, and if our country stops innovating, it will not be able to compete worldwide. —  Bill Nye

*****

Scientists — from luminaries like Michael Mann, Bill Nye, Richard Alley, Gavin Schmidt, Stefan Rahmstorf and Neil deGrasse Tyson, to thousands of humbly toiling researchers for the public good whom you’ve probably never heard of — need our help now more than ever.

(Earth Day’s 2017 March for Science produced an unprecedented outpouring of support for public, non-special-interest-based scientific advancement and research around the world. Unfortunately, despite widespread internet and print coverage, broadcast media barely mentioned the historic event.)

Around the world and in the United States, science budgets are under threat, politically motivated individuals attempt to delete factual information related to public health and safety from science websites, individual scientists are subject to politically motivated attacks by quacks and climate change deniers in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Congress, and the person elected president is willfully scientifically illiterate while openly expressing opinions and pursuing policies that are hostile to fact-based science.

Public Rallies in Support of Scientists Under Threat

On Saturday, April 22nd, in honor of Earth Day, hundreds of thousands of people around the world marched in solidarity with scientists. Their essential jobs, often health, safety, and national security-related, are under threat of expungement by individuals and industries now empowered to attack the very basis of scientific truth. Though spearheaded by anti-science climate change deniers and those who harmfully attack public vaccination programs, the gamut of attacks on scientific understanding extends to research on toxic substances, water quality and security, endangered species, food safety and sustainability, forest resiliency, earth and weather observation and many, many more helpful endeavors.

 

(Saturday’s March for Science drew amazing support from around the globe.)

Weather Underground’s Bob Henson, in his own poignant and heartfelt call to join the march, noted:

For many of us, a prime motivation for marching on Saturday is to express our dismay and anger at the proposed slashing of U.S. federal funding of science that’s now on the table… These proposals run the gamut from medical to atmospheric research; in many areas, they would be the deepest cutbacks in decades. Cuts to ongoing scientific research can be especially problematic. It can take years to gather the people and resources needed for a major study. Once the momentum is disrupted and people scatter, a project may never fully recover. In the world of atmospheric science, satellites and other critical observing tools are especially vulnerable to funding-related problems. We only have one global atmosphere, and there is no substitute for monitoring it as closely as possible—including the effects that human-produced greenhouse gases are having on it. [emphasis added]

The public outpouring in support of these scientists — who often work for modest salaries and generate considerable public good for years and decades following the completion of their work — was tremendous. 610 demonstrations blanketed not just the U.S. but scores of countries and hundreds of cities around the world. Washington, New York, Sydney, London, Denver, L.A. and even Antarctica got involved. Never before in modern history has such an amazing show of support for scientific endeavors by climate scientists and others occurred.

Broadcast Media’s Increasingly Irresponsible Coverage — Or Lack Thereof

And though print media outlets like The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Washington Post provided almost continuous coverage of this historic event, television broadcast news media on Sunday morning following the protest was deafeningly silent. According to Media Matters:

Sunday news shows generally ignored the events that attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters. ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press failed to mention the March for Science at all, according to a Media Matters review. CNN’s State of the Union only had a brief headline about the demonstrations, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday only dedicated about one and a half minutes to the story.

Such failure to cover follows a long-running pattern of apparently oblivious or even anti-science-based activity in TV news media. For example, the Presidential debates hosted by big TV networks included zero questions on the key scientific issue of climate change. Broadcast media sources often host climate change deniers — giving quackery, politicization, and long-disproven claims equal time to actual established science. Meanwhile, TV coverage of climate change-related science and events has plummeted even as climate change-related impacts have steadily worsened. At a time when the Earth is the warmest it has ever been since the dawn of human civilization (and probably in at least 115,000 years), when ice caps are melting, seas are rising, the Great Barrier Reef is dying, crops are endangered and cities like Miami are slowly succumbing to the rising tides, such a dearth of coverage is both unconscionable and amoral.

(My father-in-law, a retired rocket scientist for the U.S. Navy, braves the rain to show his support for the Science March. Mainstream broadcast media, however, was sadly mostly AWOL.)

Over the weekend, many of the same networks that have failed to cover the climate crisis also failed to report on the issue of special-interest-based attacks on science, as well as the public protest and outrage over such attacks. This neglectful non-reporting serves to enable climate bad actors and provides cover for those who attack scientists. Even worse, many of these same broadcast news organizations, in the few rare instances when it was mentioned, used the March to provide a platform for climate-change deniers to level attacks against those who support science. Such actions make these broadcast news organizations (of which Fox News is almost always first and worst) at least partially complicit in the assault on science that spurred the Marches in the first place.

At the start of the Science March this past Saturday, Bill Nye so eloquently reminded us that science and its underlying and ever-expanding quest for fact-based truth is a critical cornerstone of our democracy. However, in order for a healthy democracy supportive of the public good to exist, broadcast media’s silence over or denial of critical scientific issues needs to stop. A large subset of the fourth estate of government in the form of independent internet media and various mainstream print media sources have stepped up to the plate when it comes to providing more responsible coverage of climate change and other key science-based issues. It’s time for broadcast media to pull the gigantic plank out of its own eye, wash its mouth out with a large dollop of soap, and follow suit.

(Broadcast media’s failure to adequately or responsibly cover the Science March follows a longer-term trend of reduced science and climate coverage by major TV outlets. In addition, networks like Fox often host climate-change skeptics or deniers, providing a false balance to actual mainstream scientists. Image source: Media Matters.)

The science, along with the foundations of a healthily functioning democracy, is under attack by politically motivated anti-science interests at the exact time that dangers to public health and safety in the form of climate change and increasingly virulent diseases are on the rise. This is a story that needs to be covered. And it is arguably the biggest, most important story in the history of our nation and our race. So to broadcast media we say — pitch in, or get the hell out of the way.

Links:

The March for Science

Why We are Taking Part in the March for Science

March for Science on Earth Day

Sunday Shows Mostly Silent on the March for Science

Historians Say March for Science is Pretty Unprecedented

Every Continent Turned out For Science March

Networks Providing Coverage of Science March Gave Platform to Climate Change Deniers

Why Has Climate Change Been Ignored in U.S. Electoral Debates?

Trump Presses Control+Alt+Delete on Science

Lamar Smith’s Attacks on Science are Funded by the Fossil Fuel Industry

Hat tip to Suzzanne

Hat tip to Robert in New Orleans

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Scientific hat tip to Bob Henson

Special thanks to everyone here and elsewhere who showed up this weekend in support of science

Duration of Indian Hot Season Nearly Doubles as Crushing Drought and Heat Expand Across the Subcontinent

“It is a drought we have not seen in 110 years. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and it is due to global climate change.” — S. Thirunavukkarasu, a retired Tamil Nadu Public Works official.

****

For India, the hot-season-like temperatures began in late February — two months earlier than usual. After a brief respite, they fired again in March, bringing April-like temperatures a month too soon. The hot season for this region typically begins in mid-April and extends through mid-June. In 2017, hot-season conditions sparked in late February. Today, life-threatening temperatures of between 100 and 115 F blanket much of this vast, densely populated land.

The early onset of heat comes after years of expanding drought, warming temperatures, melting glaciers and drying rivers, bringing with it a deepening hardship. Farmers across the country report a sense of deepening desperation as cries for help in the form of nationwide protests break out. Meanwhile, those working outdoors increasingly suffer from heat- and dehydration-related kidney failure. This year, conditions that threaten heat injury and loss of life have spurred schools across the country to close early.

(GFS model runs indicate temperatures in excess of 47 C or 115 F over parts of India tomorrow, April 22nd. Meanwhile, forecasters predict that 50 C or 122 F readings are possible in the coming days and weeks. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In two southern provinces, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the situation is one of extreme drought. In Kerala, water stress has now reached an intensity not seen in all of the past 115 years. Tamil Nadu’s own drought crisis is the worst in 110 years. And in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana, the situation is nearly as calamitous (see map of India’s provinces here).

Retired Tamil Nadu public works official S. Thirunavukkarasu recently noted:

“It is a drought we have not seen in 110 years. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and it is due to global climate change. We may see a repeat of 2015 [floods] next year or the rains may fail again like they did in 2016. We cannot figure the weather out. But we need to ensure that we are prepared.”

Throughout the region and over other parts of India, residents are relying on ground water or water supply trucks as lakes and rivers run dry. Ground water supplies are being drawn down at an alarming rate. Water depths that should comfortably sit at 2-3 meters underground have been driven back to 8-15 meters or more. In some locations, wells are being driven as deep as 80 to 90 meters in search of water.

(Though southern India and Sri Lanka are hardest hit, long-term drought is impacting nearly all of India. Image source: NOAA.)

It’s a water crisis that is wide-ranging — impacting both rural locales and population centers like Delhi. Public officials are being forced to divert water from construction and other industries in order to ensure that residents receive access to life-giving supplies.

As with last year, reports are trickling in that tens of millions of people across India are experiencing water stress. Two years of delayed monsoons and severe hot seasons have already left the country reeling. This year’s extended hot season adds insult to injury. And with Pacific Ocean surface temperatures in the Equatorial region tracking above average for this time of year, it is again uncertain that present assurances of a ‘normal monsoon season’ will bear out.

Cyclical droughts and heatwaves are normal for India. What is not normal is the present situation of continuously worsening conditions. These ever-intensifying droughts and heatwaves are being driven by a global warming primarily brought on by fossil fuel burning. And, in the end, relief for India will only come when the warming ceases.

Links:

Five States Face Drought Made Worse by Early Onset of Summer

NOAA

Earth Nullschool

One-Third of Indian Population Stares at Drought This Summer

Delhi on the Verge of Groundwater Crisis

Capital City Reels Under Severe Water Shortage

Heatwave Across North, Central and Western India

The Indian Hot Season Began Two Months Early This Year

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Renewable Energy Technology is Now Powerful Enough to Significantly Soften the Climate Crisis

In order for the world to begin to solve the climate crisis, one critical thing has to happen. Global carbon emissions need to start falling. And they need to start falling soon before the serious impacts that we are already seeing considerably worsen and begin to overwhelm us.

Carbon Emissions Plateau For Last Three Years

Over the past three years, countries around the world have been engaged in a major switch away from the biggest carbon emitter — coal. China is shutting down hundreds of its worst polluting coal plants, India is following suit, the U.S. is shuttering many of its own facilities, and in Europe the trend is much the same. Around the world, investment in new coal fired plants continues to fall even as the old plants are pressured more and more to halt operations.

(It’s starting to look like cheap renewable energy and the drive to reduce pollution and to solve the climate crisis are a stronger factor in the present carbon emissions plateau than a cyclical switch to natural gas fired power generation. Image source: The International Energy Agency.)

In many places, coal generation is being replaced by natural gas. This fuel emits about 30-50 percent less carbon than coal, but it’s still a big source. In the past, a switch to natural gas due to lower prices has driven a cyclical but temporary reduction in global carbon emissions. And falling coal prices have often driven a price-forced switch back to coal and a return to rising emissions rates. But after years of rock-bottom coal prices due to continuously falling demand this, today, is not the case.

Low-Cost, More Desirable Renewable Energy Blocks a Cyclical Switch back to Coal

And the primary reason for this break in traditional energy cycling is that renewable energy in the form of wind and solar are now less expensive than coal and gas fired power generation in many places. Add that wind and solar are considerably more desirable due to the fact that they produce practically zero negative health impacts from pollution and that such zero-emitting sources are critical to solving an ever-worsening climate crisis and you end up with something seldom seen in markets anywhere. A rare synergy between a public interest based drive for a more moral energy industry and a, typically callous to such concerns, market-based profit motive.

(In Western Europe basic economics and a desire for cleaner power sources has resulted in both wind and solar overtaking coal fired power generation capacity. Image source: Bloomberg.)

Consider the fact that now, in Western Europe, both solar and wind energy have higher installed capacities than coal. Combined, the two sources have more than double the present energy producing capacity of this dirty fuel. Coal just can’t compete any longer. And an increasing glut of low-cost, non-polluting renewable energy is forcing even the largest, most economically viable, coal fired power plants such as the 2.2 gigawatt facility in  Voerde, Germany to shut down.

In Australia, despite the mad-hatter attempts by coal cheerleader politicians to supply more of this dirty carbon to a dwindling world market, renewable energy just keeps on advancing. This week, Queensland announced a new solar + storage project that would at first supply 350 megawatts of renewable energy and would ultimately expand to 800 megawatts. The drive for the project comes as solar prices in Australia are now beating out gas fired power generation. Meanwhile, market analysts are saying that solar+storage will soon be in the same position. And, even more ironically, many of the new solar and battery storage promoters in Queensland are past coal industry investors.

Simple Technologies Leverage Economies of Scale

The technologies driving this fundamental energy market transformation — wind, solar, batteries — are not new silver bullet advances. They are older technologies that are simple and easy to reproduce, improve, and that readily benefit from increasing economies of scale. This combination of simplicity, improvability and scaling is a very powerful transformational force. It enables companies like Tesla to spin core products like mass produced batteries into multiple offerings like electrical automobiles, trucks, and residential, commercial and industry scale energy storage systems. A new capability and advantage that is now beginning to significantly disrupt traditional fossil fuel based markets world-wide.

A fact that was underscored by the shockwaves sent through combustion engine manufacturers recently after Tesla’s simple announcement that it would begin producing electric long-haul trucks.

The announcement almost immediately prompted downgrades in conventional truck engine manufacturer stock values. In the past, competition by electric vehicle manufacturers like Tesla have forced traditional, fossil fuel based vehicle and engine manufacturers to produce their own electric products in order to protect market share. But since these companies are heavily invested in older, more polluting technology it is more difficult for them to produce electric vehicles at a profit than it is for pure electric manufacturers like Tesla.

Renewable Energy Technology Capable of Removing Lion’s Share of Global Carbon Emissions

In light of these positive trends, we should consider the larger goals of the energy transition with regards to climate change.

  1. To slow and plateau the rate of carbon emissions increases.
  2. To begin to reduce global carbon emissions on an annual basis.
  3. To bring carbon emissions to net zero globally.
  4. To bring carbon emission to net negative globally.

By itself, market based energy switches to renewable energy systems can cut global carbon emissions from their present rate of approximately 33 billion tons of CO2 each year to 1-5 billion tons of CO2 each year through full removal of fossil fuels from thermal, power, fuel, manufacturing, materials production and other uses. In other words, by itself, this now rapidly scaling set of technologies is capable of removing the lion’s share of the human carbon emission problem. And given the rapid cost reductions and increasing competitiveness of these systems, these kinds of needed reductions in emissions are now possible on much shorter timescales than previously envisioned.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Europe’s Coal Power is Going up in Smoke — Fast

The International Energy Agency

Plans Laid for 800 MW Solar + Storage Facility in Queensland

Tesla Semi Announcement Causes Analysts to Start Downgrading Traditional Truck Stocks

Coal Plants are in Decline

Hat tip to Phil

Hat tip to Spike

Hat tip to Brian

North Atlantic May Cough up Another Out of Season Tropical Cyclone this Week

Like pretty much everywhere else in the world ocean these days, and due primarily to a rampant injection of greenhouse gasses into the Earth’s atmosphere through fossil fuel burning, the North Atlantic is now considerably warmer than during the 19th and 20th Centuries…

Warming Waters and An Angry Jet Stream

That extra heat provides more available fuel for tropical storm and hurricane formation. It increases the top potential peak intensity of the most powerful storms. And it extends the period in which such tropical cyclones are capable of forming — for sea surface temperatures of at least 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit are often necessary to fuel such systems (please also see the present science on how climate change is impacting tropical cyclones).

(Sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic now range between 1 and 7 degrees Celsius above average for most regions. These warmer than normal sea surfaces provide more fuel for storms even as they extend the period during which tropical storm and hurricane formation is possible. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

But it’s worth noting that warm ocean waters are not the only ingredient that add to the potential for the formation and strengthening of these powerful storms. Instability and cloud formation are often necessary to seed such systems. And the more extreme warm and cold temperature anomalies associated with wavier Jet Stream patterns inject exactly this form of instability into the middle latitudes at a higher rate than was witnessed during past decades.

Due to its proximity both to a melting Greenland and to a rapidly warming Arctic, the North Atlantic is particularly vulnerable to the production of powerful swirls of warm and cold air. Warming tropics collide with the cold air producing pools of glacial freshwater melt and the enlarging meanders of the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream. And it’s the proliferation of these unstable vortices forming over warming waters throughout the North Atlantic that may start to generate a more and more noticeable higher incidence of both out of season cyclones and stronger storm systems.

(A persistent swirl of disorganized clouds in the Central North Atlantic — continuously re-charged by frontal systems sweeping down from Baffin Bay and feeding on warmer than normal sea surface temperatures may become the first tropical cyclone of 2017. If it later forms into a tropical storm, it will become the third out-of-season named storm to form in the Atlantic over the last 15 months. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Last year, extremely warm sea surface temperatures combined with this kind of observed instability to spur the formation of Hurricane Alex during January. Tropical storm Bonnie also formed out of season during May. Similar very warm ocean conditions then helped to kick-start the late November formation of Category 3 Hurricane Otto (though November is still technically hurricane season, it’s supposed to be very rare to see so strong a storm form so late in the year).

Possible April Cyclone Underlines Recent High Incidence of Out of Season Storms

Fast forward to April of 2017. According to the National Hurricane Center, there’s now a 30 percent chance that a tropical depression may form in the Central Atlantic over the next 48 hours. Ultimately, such a system could gather into the first Atlantic named storm of 2017 — Arlene. Such an event would mark the third time in just 15 months that the Atlantic basin had produced an out-of-season tropical storm or hurricane.

(A vast majority — 97 percent — of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic form during hurricane season from June 1 to November 30. That said, human forced climate change may now be in the process of providing more fuel for the formation of out-of-season storms. Image source: North Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Climatology.)

Incidence of out-of-season tropical storms or hurricanes in the Atlantic is rather rare. Over 158 years from 1851 to 2009, perhaps one such system formed, on average, each year. Moreover, these storms primarily formed during May — which by itself produced more out-of-season storms than December through April combined. And a vast majority of these systems were tropical storms — not hurricanes or major hurricanes.

In 2016 and 2017, Alex formed as a hurricane during January — which is practically unheard of. Bonnie formed during late May, which was less unusual but still out-of-season. Otto formed as a category 3 major hurricane during late November — another anomalous event. Meanwhile, if Arlene forms this April it will represent 1 out of only about 20 such systems that formed during the month in the period of 1851 through 2009.

But even if we don’t get a tropical cyclone in the middle of the North Atlantic during April of 2017, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that conditions have changed. That forecasters now need to be more alert for out-of-season tropical cyclones and to the various new weather phenomena that are now being precipitated by a warming climate.

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Hurricanes and Climate Change

Earth Nullschool

LANCE MODIS

Extreme Weather Events Linked to Climate Change Impact on Jet Stream

North Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Climatology

Hat tip to Vaughn

Hat tip to Hilary

The Permafrost is Thawing 20 Percent Faster Than Previously Thought

Even in a world at 1 to 1.2 C warmer than 19th Century averages the permafrost is in trouble.

Already, vast thawed lands are starting to release carbon dioxide and methane. Thermokarst lakes bubble with the stuff. And pingos are now starting to erupt as the ice relinquishes the soils of Siberia. Russians, ironically concerned about the safety of an oil and gas infrastructure that helped to precipitate the warming in the first place, are starting to install seismographs to detect these new warming-induced eruptions from the thawed lands. Meanwhile, each new summer brings with it ridiculously warm temperatures, never before seen Arctic thunderstorms, and epic wildfires that rage over these growing piles of peat-like carbon laid down during the course of millions of years of glaciation — but now unlocked in just years and decades by an unnatural thaw.

Permafrost Thawing at 20 Percent Faster Rate Than We Previously Thought

Back in the late 1800s, permafrost covered about 17 million square kilometers of the Northern Hemisphere. In less than 150 years, that extent has been reduced by 2 million square kilometers due to the warming that has, to date, been produced by fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions. Even worse, according to the new research, present temperatures alone are enough to, this Century, push permafrost coverage back to 12.5 million square kilometers.

That’s about 1/4 of the world’s permafrost gone due to just 1 to 1.2 degrees Celsius of global warming.

(A new study shows that 2 C worth of warming nearly cuts preindustrial permafrost extent in half to around 9 million square kilometers. Warming to 6 C above 1880s averages, which will occur so long as fossil fuel burning continues, will wipe out nearly all of the Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost. These thaw rates are about 20 percent more than previously estimated. Image source: An observation-based constraint on permafrost loss as a function of global warming.)

Warm the world by just another degree Celsius to 2 C above 1880s averages and, according to the new research, we’ll end up thawing another 3.5 million square kilometers of frozen ground to an ultimately reduced area of around 9 million square kilometers — cutting the Northern Hemisphere’s original permafrost coverage nearly in half.

Still More Urgency For Rapid Cuts to Fossil Fuel Burning

This newly identified permafrost thaw rate in response to human-forced warming is much faster than previously expected — representing a 20 percent acceleration compared to past permafrost thaw model estimates. And since the frozen ground of the world contains 1.2 to 1.4 trillion tons of carbon locked away over the course of millions of years, so rapid a thaw has big implications in a world warmed by fossil fuel burning.

(Wildfires burn through Siberia during August of 2014. Thawing permafrost lays bare billions of tons of carbon that can then be subject to release by microbes and the warming elements. Bacteria can break down the carbon — releasing methane and CO2. Thawed permafrost also forms a peat-like layer that can burn as more extensive fires rage across the heating Arctic. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Back in 2015, scientists estimated that about 100 billion tons of permafrost carbon would hit the atmosphere over the course of the 21st Century due to human-forced warming. This warming feedback is equivalent to about 10 years of present fossil fuel emissions. Add an estimated 20 percent extrapolated from a faster than expected thaw to that rate and you end up with roughly 120 billion tons of carbon — or 12 years of present emissions bubbling and bursting up out of that previously frozen ground (approximately 40 ppm of CO2e heat forcing as feedback to the present warming).

It’s just another scientific finding of warming-related geophysical impacts occurring on timescales that were faster than previously expected. Still more added proof, as if we required any, that the need for cutting human fossil fuel emissions couldn’t be greater or more urgent. And when seismographs are now being constructed to detect permafrost methane bursts due to pingo detonations, it’s becoming more and more clear that we do not want to precipitate any more volatile Arctic thaw than we’ve already locked in.

Links:

An observation-based constraint on permafrost loss as a function of global warming

Climate Change and the Permafrost Carbon Feedback

LANCE-MODIS

First Seismic Sensor Installed to Detect New Risk of Exploding Pingos

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Unnaturalfx

Powerful Storms in a Warming World — Cook is Strongest Cyclone to Strike New Zealand in Nearly 50 Years

About 12 hours ago, at 18:30 local time (06:30 GMT) on Thursday, Cyclone Cook roared out of an ocean that has now been considerably warmed by human-forced climate change to made landfall in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand. Packing wind gusts of up 90 miles per hour and lashing the region with 1/2 to 1 inch per hour rainfall rates, the storm is the most powerful cyclone to strike New Zealand since 1968.

Most Powerful New Zealand Cyclone in Nearly 50 Years

(New Zealand under a swirl of clouds as Cook makes landfall. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

The storm raked a region that had already seen saturating, long-lasting, rainfall from the remnants of Cyclone Debbie just one week before. As a result, trees unable to gain purchase in the weakened soils uprooted en-masse. Power was knocked out in Whakatane and in numerous other locations along Cook’s path — cutting off at least 11,000 residences. Locals described gusts like freight trains as hundreds huddled in evacuation shelters. Flights out of Rotorua, Tauranga, Napier and Hamilton in the North Island, and Nelson and Blenheim in the South Island were all canceled.

The 30 foot swells and a resulting storm surge in the Bay of Plenty region were expected to result in serious coastal flooding and damage to shore-front structures. But the chief worry from the system, after Debbie’s devastating rains, was more precipitation-related flooding.

(GFS 7 day rainfall forecast for New Zealand shows considerably above average precipitation from Cook. See also GFS rainfall model runs.)

GFS model runs indicated the potential for 4-8 inches of rainfall or more near New Zealand population centers along the path of Cyclone Cook. And for many regions, these totals equal about 1-2 months worth of rainfall at this time of year. Last week, 7.5 inches of rainfall over just two days resulted in a levee breach at Edgecumbe on North Island — flooding the entire town and forcing nearly all the residents to evacuate. And there is some concern that Cook’s follow-on to Debbie will produce similar trouble.

Warming Ocean Waters and High Amplitude Waves in the Jet Stream Feed Storm Pattern

Cook is interacting with a trough to the west of New Zealand in a manner that is broadening the storm — spreading its wind field and rainfall over a larger region than a purely tropical system would typically impact. The trough had dipped down from the Southern Ocean through an extended Jet Stream wave before it became cut-off and linked up with Cook.

(Cook is presently centered between New Zealand’s North and South Islands [roughly under the green circle]. The swirl of clouds and wind to the west of Cook is a second low pressure system that was cut off from a trough sweeping south and west of New Zealand on Tuesday and Wednesday. Cook is interacting with this trough in a manner than is broadening its wind field and enhancing rainfall potentials. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The far northward extent of this trough is indicative of higher amplitude Jet Stream waves that have been associated with warming temperatures at the polar regions due to climate change. And the zone south of New Zealand over Antarctica has featured a strong dipole — with well above normal temperatures facing off against a wall of cold air. This dipole has facilitated troughs and facing ridges that extended well into the middle latitudes.

(Cyclone Cook fed on far warmer than normal waters which enabled it maintain intensity as it moved into higher latitudes. Interaction with a trough remnant left over from a high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream also contributed to this extreme weather event. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Meanwhile, Cyclone Cook itself fed on 1-2 C warmer than normal sea surface temperatures surrounding New Zealand. These warmer than normal waters allowed Cook to retain strength and to interact with the polar originating trough in a manner that arguably intensified and broadened the scope of this severe weather event.

Links:

Cyclone Cook: Evacuations as Storm Lashes New Zealand

Concerns Increase as Cook’s Path Shifts Toward Population Centers

Cyclone Cook vs Cyclone Debbie

LANCE MODIS

GFS rainfall model runs

Earth Nullschool

Hat tip to LeslieGraham (please stay safe!)

Hat tip to wili

Cruel Intentions — Opposition to Climate Change Response is Swiftly Becoming Illegal

“From 1957 onward, there is no doubt that Humble Oil, which is now Exxon, was clearly on notice” about rising CO2 in the atmosphere and the prospect that it was likely to cause global warming… — Environmental Law Center’s Director Carroll Muffett in The New York Times

*****

We’ve known for some time that failing to respond to climate change is a callous cruelty of the worst kind imaginable. That continuing to burn fossil fuels and to delay a necessary transition to renewable energy will not only melt ice caps, provoke extreme weather the likes of which none of us have seen, flood coastlines and island nations, and threaten global food production, but it will also ultimately set off a hothouse mass extinction that is likely to be as bad or worse than the Permian.

We’ve known for decades now that the best, most moral, choice for human civilization is to keep those harmful fuels in the ground. To find a better way for conducting our national and global affairs and not to continue along the catastrophic business as usual emissions path. To listen to the increasingly urgent warnings posed by scientists — not the all-too-harmful dissembling of climate change deniers.

(Nature will surely grant no quarter if we do not hold the climate bad actors to account.)

And because continuing to burn fossil fuels commits so many harms on individuals, on nations, on the world, on children who are now growing up or who have yet to be born, and on the vital skein of nature itself, this activity is increasingly being viewed in the context of liability and criminality.

Corporate Support of Climate Change Denial Invites Accusations of Fraud, Consumer Protection, Environmental Law, and Securities Violations

For its actions as a leader in misinforming the public and promoting climate change denial, Exxon Mobil has found itself at the center of a maelstrom of lawsuits and investigations. The oil and gas company opposed regulations to curtail global warming. It funded organizations critical of global climate treaties and actively sought to undermine public opinion about the scientific consensus that global warming is caused by burning fossil fuels. And, in a move reminiscent of the Orwellian nightmare, the company helped to found and lead a misinformation engine called the Global Climate Coalition of businesses opposed to regulating greenhouse gas emissions. All this despite the fact that Exxon’s own scientists had previously confirmed that fossil fuel burning was indeed the cause of the warming.

By 2015, after numerous failures to respond to letters by Congressional Lawmakers and concerned citizens, Exxon was the subject of increasing scrutiny. In October of the same year, the company became the focus of a formal request from more than 40 social justice and environmental organizations to the United States Attorney General that an investigation be opened into its public deception and climate change denial campaigns. Vice President Al Gore, among other national leaders, then called for the revocation of Exxon’s articles of incorporation.

(Exxon’s own scientists told the corporation that human-caused climate change was a threat as early as the late 1950s. Exxon then spent millions of dollars to misinform the public. Image source: The Guardian.)

The outcry built as New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman opened an investigation into Exxon’s activities. At issue was whether or not Exxon committed fraud or violated consumer protection and securities laws. Subsequently, the California Attorney General opened his own investigation into whether Exxon misinformed its shareholders, committed securities fraud, or violated environmental laws. And by mid summer of 2016, seventeen state attorney generals were involved in the growing legal action.

After various Congressional wranglings and court hearings, the case against Exxon is now headed for a New York state trial. It now appears that Exxon is likely to be found guilty of some or all of these charges. A decision that the company is likely to attempt to appeal.

Children Sue National Governments Over Human Rights and Welfare

Also in August of 2015, a group of children in Juliana vs the United States sued the federal government — arguing that its actions have endangered future generations’ rights to the degree that it threatened their survival. The government is argued to have endangered these children and to have failed in its duty to protect their access to crucial natural resources — to include a stable atmosphere and a natural world capable of sustaining the people of the United States.

(In the U.S., a variety of climate impacts ranging from sea level rise devouring coastlines, to worsening droughts, heatwaves, fires, and floods, to increasingly intense storms, to declining ocean health, air and water quality, to harm to the U.S. food and water security all threaten our children’s future well-being and survival. Their lawsuit — compelling the federal government to act decisively on climate change — continues to move forward in federal court. Image source: Common Dreams.)

The lawsuit has named President Donald Trump as a party to be held accountable. But the legal action’s overall aim is to compel the U.S. federal government to act in a decisive manner to respond to climate change in order to protect the survival and well being of future generations. The lawsuit continues to advance in federal court despite numerous calls by the fossil fuel industry and by the Trump Administration to have the case thrown out or delayed (you can read the legal argument of the plaintiffs here). At this point, the case appears likely to receive a hearing this year.

On April 1 of 2017, a similar lawsuit was also filed by 9 year old Ridhima Pandey against the government of India. Ridhima’s lawsuit argues that India, which is also the world’s third largest carbon emitter, has failed to put into action the promises it made by signing the Paris Agreement on climate change. The case also alleges that India has violated its public trust doctrine, its implied promise to provide inter-generational equality, and a number of national environmental laws. Ridhima’s lawsuit comes as India has increasingly succumbed to dangerous heatwaves, droughts, and floods which have harmed food production, provoked mass suicides by farmers, and put the water security of a number of provinces into increasing jeopardy.

UK Government Faces Lawsuit in 21 Days if it Fails to Act on Carbon Budget

In the UK, promises to cut carbon emissions are now legally binding. Britain’s Climate Change Act required the government to find a way to reduce the amount of carbon hitting the atmosphere by 57 per cent through 2032. And considerable progress has been made toward this goal as a shift away from coal precipitated a 33 percent drop from 1992 through 2014. However, the government’s reliance on fracking, its sand-bagging of renewable energy adoption policies, and its failure to more fully incentivize electric vehicles has now put it in a position where the 57 percent goal is falling out of reach.

In response, environmental law firm ClientEarth is giving the UK government 21 days to make good by producing a policy that puts emissions reductions back on track to meet 2032 goals. Failure to do so, says the firm, will result in a lawsuit against the government for not meeting its legal obligations to the public.

(Climate change denial may make you want to laugh or cry. But it’s a deadly serious matter.)

James Thornton, chief executive at ClientEarth, noted:

“We want to work with the government on a strong, effective emissions reduction plan, but all we get is never-ending delays. Government must publish the plan, and must consult with industry and civil society. If it continues to kick this can down the road, we will have no option but to consider legal action.”

Paradigm Shift Running Throughout Civil Society

Legal actions holding powerful corporations accountable for climate harms, holding governments to account for failing to provide for the welfare of future generations, and legally compelling governments to adhere to climate policy obligations represents a pivotal shift in the rules and standards governing western civil societies. It provides an institution that enables citizens and environmental watch-dogs to shape climate policy while holding bad climate actors to account. And this critical social advancement in the presently perilous age when climate impacts are now starting to be realized could not have come soon enough.

Links:

Pressure on Exxon Intensifies

What’s Scarier than the Permian Extinction? Burn all the Fossil Fuels to Find Out.

350.org

Business as Usual Emissions Path

Professor Calls Out Writer Who Misleads on Climate Change

Exxon Mobil Climate Change Contraversy

Exxon Spear-Headed Misinformation Campaign Against its Own Scientists

Children’s Climate Lawsuit Names Trump

Small Children Take on Big Oil

Kids Sue U.S. Government over Climate Change

9-Year-Old Sues Indian Government over Climate Change

UK Government Threatened with Legal Action Over Failure to Cut Emissions

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Erik

Florida Emergency Declared as More Than 100 Wildfires Burn Across the State

The effects of global warming on temperature, precipitation levels, and soil moisture are turning many of our forests into kindling during wildfire season.The Union of Concerned Scientists

*****

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency yesterday as a deepening drought and above average temperatures sparked a large wildfire outbreak.

(Florida is now under a state of emergency due to widespread wildfires.)

Over 100 wildfires across the state have now burned 20,000 acres, destroyed 19 homes, and blanketed dense population centers like Orlando with smoke. Moderate to severe drought conditions cover 42 percent of the state. And the result is the worst fire season since 2011 — a record outbreak for Florida which burned over 200,000 acres during the year.

So far for 2017, about 2.5 times the area of land that burns during a usual wildfire season by mid April has already been consumed.  Fires are now burning from one end of Florida to the other:

“From St. George Island in the Panhandle to a wildfire just north of one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions in Orlando, we’re seeing that every area of our state is susceptible to wildfire,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said.

(Moderate to severe drought across 42 percent of Florida is increasing fire risk. The dry season for this region typically lasts until June when Atlantic moisture arrives — bringing with it more frequent thunderstorms. Image source: The U.S. Drought Monitor.)

Florida wildfire season typically runs year-round. However, January to June sees higher fire risk as drier conditions settle in. Summer rains tend to tamp down fires during the hotter months as oceanic and gulf moisture flows increase.

This year, record to near record warm sea surface conditions in the Gulf of Mexico have helped to lock in warmer to much warmer than average temperatures over Florida from January to April. These warmer than normal temperatures have helped to promote drought onset during the dry season.

(As global temperatures have increased, so too have the number of acres burned by wildfires. Image source: US EPA.)

Climate change also plays a role by increasing rates of drought onset, by pushing average temperatures higher, and by generally amplifying wildfire risk. Like many places, Florida has probably been rendered more vulnerable to wildfires by a warming primarily brought on by fossil fuel burning. And it is also a sad irony that the present Governor has outlawed the use of the words climate change in government communications due to a harmful political ideology which has decided to deny the basic science of human-caused warming (Trump has issued similar gag orders). A backward and reactionary policy that renders Florida less able to mitigate and respond to disasters related to human-caused climate change.

Presently, drought conditions are not as intense as those that contributed to the severe 2011 wildfire outbreak. However, forecasters are calling for little rain over the coming week and continued warm to warmer than normal weather. If this weather continues, the present Florida drought is likely to worsen — along with the fire risk.

(UPDATED)

Links:

The U.S. Drought Monitor

Florida Governor Declares State of Emergency as Destructive Wildfires Rage Across State

Polk County Emergency Management

Florida Wildfire State of Emergency

Is Global Warming Fueling Increased Fire Risks?

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