"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Climate Scientist: “There’s a substantial loss of ice going on…It’s not a good prescription.”: Scientists Saw Nearly Unheard Of Antarctic Meltdown

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2017 at 10:51 am
1

Surface melt became widespread over West Antarctica in January 2016. Credit: Nicolas et al,. 2017

Oldspeak:”Earth’s polar regions and planetary air conditioners are continuing to disintegrate at a fairly rapid clip. Annnnd as an added bonus, thanks to hordes of human activities, they’re turning green and moldy too- well, mossy and full of flies and other invasive species of plants and insects. Leading one scientist to say “The sensitivity of moss growth to past temperature rises suggests that ecosystems will alter rapidly under future warming, leading to major changes in the biology and landscape of the region. In short, we could see Antarctic greening to parallel well-established observations in the Arctic.” Green land,  near the south pole. How bout that.  Did you think you’d see any of this in your life time? The greening of polar regions? The loss of Polar Bears and likely the rest of the lifeforms in that food chain? The rapid melting of “Permafrost”? The disintegration of eons old ice shelves? I didn’t. It’s pretty breathtaking when you think about it. We’re bearing witness to loss of life and habitat on a pace and scale that is unparalleled in the geologic record. And the scores of other natural feedbacks to the monumental disruption of ecological balance brought about in a significant way by the activities of this hellacious, human generated, life-grinding gristmill, relentlessly and insatiably grinding the life out of all that Is. Monetizing and quantifying all activity. “warehousing wealth“. Disregarding and dismembering primordial biogeophysical cycles. Homogenizing and monoculturing Earth’s biodiversity. This omnicidal gristmill that is Industrial Civilization will likely grind on, until our Great Mother has nothing left to give.” -OSJ

Written By Brian Kahn @ Climate Central:

Antarctica is unfreezing. In the past few months alone, researchers have chronicled a seasonal waterfall, widespread networks of rivers and melt ponds and an iceberg the size of Delaware on the brink of breaking away from the thawing landscape.

A new study published in Nature Communications only adds to the disturbing trend of change afoot in Antarctica. Researchers have documented rain on a continent more known for snow and widespread surface melt in West Antarctica last summer, one of the most unstable parts of a continent that’s already being eaten away by warm waters below the ice.

The findings, published Thursday, indicate that last year’s super El Niño played a large role in driving the meltdown, but researchers are concerned that overlaying natural climate patterns onto the long-term warming driven by carbon pollution could put Antarctica’s ice in an even more precarious position.

“There’s a substantial loss of ice going on from warm water eating away at the bottom of some critical ice shelves,” David Bromwich, a climate modeler at Ohio State, said. “If we move into the future and we’ve got a lot of melting from the top as well, that means things would proceed even faster. It’s not a good prescription.”

The research, which Bromwich helped produced, stemmed from a series of coincidences starting at the top of the West Antarctic ice sheet, nearly 6,000 feet above sea level. Researchers stationed there in January 2016 noticed surface melt starting in the middle of the month and even reported seeing rain as warm, moist air poured into the region.

Bromwich said he had never heard of rain falling on that region of the ice sheet, though the Antarctic Peninsula further north will occasionally get a few showers. His and other researchers’ curiosity was piqued and using satellite imagery and high altitude balloon data, they were able to confirm the melt not just at the top of the ice sheet but across much of West Antarctica.

About 300,000 square miles of the ice sheet near the Ross Sea experienced melt, making it the second-largest surface melt ever documented in that region of Antarctica. The meltdown was caused by incredibly mild air. Temperatures spiked 27°F (15°C) above where they were at in early January in some locations, pushing them above freezing for a two-week period at lower elevations of the ice sheet.

The biggest driver of the Antarctic heat wave was the super El Niño, then at its peak in the tropical Pacific. It helped rearrange the atmosphere so a high pressure system off Chile’s coast could steer abnormally balmy weather toward West Antarctica. The pattern has played out in other El Niño years, causing similar widespread melt events.

Ted Scambos, a researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said the study did a good job of explaining the mechanisms behind the meltdown and could be helpful in further understanding the forces at play in the region’s climate.

The rain that preceded the major melt also may have also played a role in preconditioning the surface melt that Bromwich said was essentially a thick layer of slush covering the ice sheet.

What happened in West Antarctica last January was driven by natural climate shifts, but overlaying it on climate change is bad news for the region where ice shelves are melting from below.

Research has shown that those disappearing ice shelves could trigger “unstoppable” melt as warm water eventually pushes up under parts of the marine ice sheet itself, sending sea levels at least 10 feet higher. Surface melt events like the one Bromwich and his colleagues documented will only compound the speed at which the ice sheet melts.

Previous research has shown that the odds of a super El Niño like the one that boiled the ocean in 2015-16 are likely to double as the climate warms, further compounding the risk. There were also strong winds out of the west that helped blunt some of the melting in January 2016, but if the meteorological odds don’t line up in the future, the region could be in even deeper trouble.

“What this particular event reported in this paper means is that regardless of how strong the westerlies are, we’re likely to get widespread melting,” Bromwich said. “And if they’re weak, we’ll get extreme melting.”

Hotbox Earth: ” A death zone is creeping over the surface of Earth, gaining a little more ground each year.” As Heatwaves Persist & Proliferate, 3/4ths Of Humanity To Be Exposed To Lethal Heat By 2100

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2017 at 7:30 pm
1

Keeping cool will get more difficult as heatwaves soar. Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty

Oldspeak: As news breaks of extreme heat gripping the northern hemisphere, dangerously hellish 120 F heat grounding aircraft in Arizona, a heatwave in the UK creating conditions for dangerous air quality, California bracing for more brutal heat, and drought driven climate refugees being displaced by the ever swelling millions across Africa, the author summed the global heat situation up nicely: “The world is cooking and we should anticipate more of the same.” –OSJ

Written By Editor @ Nature:

Scott Pruitt achieved something of a political first last week. The controversial head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was grilled by the officials who control his budget and told that he had asked for too little cash. In fact, the officials insisted, they were determined to give his agency more than he had requested.

“I can assure you, you’re going to be the first EPA administrator that’s come before this committee in eight years that actually gets more money than they asked for,” said Oklahoma congressman Tom Cole, a member of the US House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations who, as a Republican, is nominally on the same side as Pruitt. In a gruelling session, Pruitt was left in no doubt of what the committee members thought of proposals from Donald Trump’s administration to slash both the spending and the remit of the EPA.

“I’ll get straight to it. The fiscal year 2018 budget request for EPA is a disaster,” said Nita Lowey, a Democratic representative for New York who sits on the committee. The intended cuts of US$2.4 billion to the agency budget, she said, would “surely impact EPA’s ability to fulfil its critical mission of protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink”.

Not so, Pruitt stated. With less money and fewer staff, the agency would do a better job and be able to focus more on its core mission. What’s more, President Trump’s high-profile exit from the Paris agreement on climate change, he has promised, does not undermine US leadership on and engagement with the problem.

Meanwhile on planet Earth the heat is rising. Britain was hit by a heatwave at the weekend that forecasters say could last for weeks, and temperatures in California are predicted to reach record levels in a few days’ time. The world is cooking and we should anticipate more of the same.

From extreme rainfall to rising sea levels, global warming is expected to wreak havoc on human lives. Sometimes, the most straightforward impact — the warming itself — is overlooked. Yet heat kills. The body, after all, has evolved to work in a fairly narrow temperature range. Our sweat-based cooling mechanism is crude; beyond a certain combination of high temperature and humidity, it fails. To be outside and exposed to such an environment for any length of time soon becomes a death sentence.

And that environment is spreading. A death zone is creeping over the surface of Earth, gaining a little more ground each year. As an analysis published this week in Nature Climate Change shows, since 1980, these temporary hells on Earth have opened up hundreds of times to take life (C. Mora et al. Nature Clim. Change http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3322; 2017). At present, roughly one-third of the world’s population lives for about three weeks a year under such conditions. If greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise unchecked, that figure could climb, exposing almost three-quarters of the population by the end of the century.

The analysis also reveals that even aggressive reductions in emissions will lead the number of deadly heatwaves to soar in the coming decades. Cities including London, New York, Tokyo and Sydney have all seen citizens die from the effects of excessive heat. By 2100, people in the tropics could be living in these death zones for entire summers. It’s true that warmer winters will save lives further north. And those living in urban environments may find ways to adapt to the new norm of extreme heat. But, if the researchers are correct, the politics of Pruitt and those who try to hold him to account will seem quaint and anachronistic to our grandchildren. For they will live in a world in which most will see the environment less as something to protect, and more as something to protect themselves and their families from.

 

Climatologist: “It’s a scale we haven’t seen in recent history and it’s very concerning.” Forest Fires Worldwide Burning Longer At Greater Frequency & Intensity Across Wider Areas

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Portugal forest fire (Reuters/R. Marchante)

Oldspeak: “In recent years, there have been big fires in Siberia and various other places around the world where we typically don’t see large-scale wildfires… The areas where wildfires are taking place are always areas that [have become] drier and hotter, and where spring has come earlier…They really take off and get out of control more frequently than in the past… We know that… pest outbreaks have been caused by climate change, because there hasn’t been anything like that in the past 500 years, perhaps even 1,000 years… We can link those effects to the warmer temperatures that we’ve seen in the places where wildfires have been taking place… It creates a feedback loop: the fires create more emissions, which in turn contribute to more global warming, which will then cause more fires… We’re likely to see more wildfires in more places than just the boreal forest in the future.” –Dr. Jason Funk, Senior Climate Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists

“This irreversible, non-linear positive feedback loop is not going to do anything but get more destructive as temperatures rise. It brings with it a whole host of deleterious effects. Decreasing air quality, decreased biodiversity, increased flooding, habitat destruction, polar melt, greater greenhouse gas emissions…. Add to that acute human activity threats like logging and mining, and things are not looking good for Earth’s lungs atal. Since the advent of human “civilization” Earth has lost half of her forest cover. With humanity forecast to balloon to 10 billion in 30 years, expect Earth’s ravaged and overworked lungs to collapse sooner than later.” –OSJ

Written By Anne-Sophie Brändlin @ Deutsche Welle:

Have wildfires increased globally over recent years? And if so, is global warming to blame? Research has illuminated this, along with what wildfires do to us and our environment, and which areas are most vulnerable.

Are wildfires increasing around the world?

Unusually large wildfires ravaged Alaska and Indonesia in 2015. The following year, Canada, California and Spain were devastated by uncontrolled flames. In 2017, massive fires devastated regions of Chile – and now, a deadly blaze in Portugal has claimed dozens of lives.

So, have wildfires actually increased globally, or does it just seem that way because we’re tuned in more to bad news and social media?

Science suggests that over the past few decades, the number of wildfires has indeed increased, especially in the western United States. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), every state in the western US has experienced an increase in the average annual number of large wildfires over past decades.

Extensive studies have found that large forest fires in the western US have been occurring nearly five times more often since the 1970s and 80s. Such fires are burning more than six times the land area as before, and lasting almost five times longer.

A fire blazes at Les Pennes-Mirabeau, near Marseille, southern France (Photo: Getty Images/AFP/B. Horvat) A wildfire has hit southern France in 2016 forced more than a thousand people to flee their homes

 

What’s more, wildfire season – meaning seasons with higher wildfire potential – has universally become longer over the past 40 years.

This trend is something Jason Funk, senior climate scientist with UCS, is very worried about.

“2015 was a record-breaking year in the US, with more than 10 million acres burned,” he told DW in an interview. “That’s about 4 million hectares, or an area of the size of the Netherlands or Switzerland.”

“It’s a scale we haven’t seen in recent history and it’s very concerning.”

According to Funk, not only US forests are endangered by increasing wildfires – the trend has been that wildfires are burning more area around the world.

“In recent years, there have been big fires in Siberia and various other places around the world where we typically don’t see large-scale wildfires,” he said.

Projections by the UCS suggest that wildfires could get four, five and even six times as bad as they currently are within this century.

Forest fire in Funchal, Madeira Island, Portugal, 09 August 2016 (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Cunha) Portugal was on high alert after a wave of wildfires swept the country in 2016, with around 350 isolated fires

 

What is the main reason wildfires are increasing?

Funk has been researching the impact of climate change on landscapes in the US, and says there is very well documented scientific evidence that climate change has been increasing the length of the fire season, the size of the area burned each year and the number of wildfires.

Wildfires are typically either started accidentally by humans – such as a burning cigarette carelessly tossed out of a window – or by natural causes like lightning.

Portugal Waldbrand (REUTERS)

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa has described raging forest fires in central Portugal as “the greatest tragedy of human lives that we’ve witnessed in our country in years.

These “ignition events” don’t have a major effect on the scale of the fire, says Funk. But what does affect scale are prevailing climate conditions. And these have become warmer and drier – due to climate change.

Greenhouse gas emissions, via the greenhouse effect, are causing the global temperature to increase and the climate to change. This enhances the likelihood of wildfires.

Why? Because warmer temperatures increase evaporation, which means the atmosphere draws more moisture from soils, making the land drier.

A warmer climate also leads to earlier snowmelt, which causes soils to be drier for longer. And dry soils become more susceptible to fire.

“The areas where wildfires are taking place are always areas that [have become] drier and hotter, and where spring has come earlier,” said Funk.

Drier conditions and higher temperatures increase not only the likelihood of a wildfire to occur, but also the duration and the severity of the wildfire.

A helicopter drops water on a wildfire burning in Artana, near Castellon, eastern Spain, on July 26, 2016 (Photo: Getty Images/AFP/J. Jordan) Climate change has increased the length of the fire season, the size of the area burned and the number of wildfires

 

That means when wildfires break out, they expand faster and burn more area as they move in unpredictable ways. “They really take off and get out of control more frequently than in the past,” said Funk.

What else is increasing wildfires?

A less direct climate-driven effect is pest outbreaks that have killed a lot of trees. Pests make forests more susceptible to wildfire, according to Funk.

“We know that these pest outbreaks have been caused by climate change, because there hasn’t been anything like that in the past 500 years, perhaps even 1,000 years,” he said.

Insects are responding to warmer conditions, Funk explained, taking advantage of the longer summer season which grants them longer breeding circles and faster reproduction. “We can link those effects to the warmer temperatures that we’ve seen in the places where wildfires have been taking place.”

While human activities such as logging and mining are known to influence the likelihood of wildfires as well, many of the areas that have seen recent increases in wildfires are relatively unaffected by human land use.

This suggests that climate change is a major factor driving the increase in fires, according to UCS.

A firefighter hoses down burning pipes near a water tank at the Sand Fire on July 23 2016 near Santa Clarita, California (Photo: Getty Images/AFP/D. Mcnew) Fires can be beneficial for ecosystems – but changes in climatic conditions are allowing them to burn out of control

 

What threats do these wildfires pose?

Forest fires aren’t necessarily bad. In fact, fire is a natural and beneficial part of many forest ecosystems, and we need to allow some fires to burn, as they are necessary for the ecosystems to stay healthy.

Over the decades, undergrowth builds up on the forest floor – so when a fire burns through, that provides space for larger, more mature trees that are more fire-resistant.

But the unnatural increase in wildfires is causing entire forests to burn down uncontrollably. This is bad for the environment – and for us.

Wildfires pose risks to human life, property and infrastructure – recent wildfires have already caused significant human health impacts across southeast Asia, says Funk.

Forest fires directly kill plants and animals, also causing a loss of habitat.

Sunlight shines through pine forest in Germany (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul) Humid boreal forest faces greater threats from wildfires

 

But the biggest problem is that the scale of these fires has increased to the degree that they themselves have become significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions.

After all, trees absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere – so the more trees that burn down, the harder it is to combat climate change in the future. And this is dangerous, Funk said.

“It creates a feedback loop: the fires create more emissions, which in turn contribute to more global warming, which will then cause more fires,” Funk said.

“Fires are not the enemy – they are an effect of an underlying process, so we need to address the problem rather than the symptoms of that problem.”

What areas are most affected by wildfire?

According to US federal research, humid, forested areas are most likely to face greater threats from wildfires, as conditions there grow drier and hotter due to global warming.

Forests increasingly affected by fire and climate change, and which are thus the most vulnerable, are in the boreal region. This stretches across the northern hemisphere through Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and Russia.

Wildfire rages through the town of Fort McMurray, Canada, in May 2016 (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/Twitter.com/Jeromegarot) Wildfire raged through the Canadian town of Fort McMurray in 2016, forcing the evacuation of some 90,000 people

 

Boreal forest comprises almost a third of forested land in the world, and plays an important role in absorbing and storing carbon dioxide.

Studies show that especially the Russian and Canadian boreal forests are increasingly threatened by wildfire, as temperatures are rising faster in these northern regions than in other areas of the planet.

Funk warns that since rising temperatures are transforming many landscapes, “we’re likely to see more wildfires in more places than just the boreal forest in the future.”