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Archive for April, 2015|Monthly archive page

World On Fire: Experts Warn of “Cataclysmic Changes” & “Unimaginable Consequences For Human Civilization” As Planetary Temperatures Rise

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2015 at 7:47 pm
Two unprecedentedly high temperatures were recorded in Antarctica, providing an ominous sign of accelerating ACD as one of the readings came in at just over 63 degrees Fahrenheit. (Photo: Iceberg via Shutterstock)

Two unprecedentedly high temperatures were recorded in Antarctica, providing an ominous sign of accelerating climate change as one of the readings came in at just more than 63 degrees Fahrenheit.

Oldspeak: “As the “faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity…” grow ever fainter, the planet burns. Global temperatures are rising, ice is melting faster, seas are dying and rising, freshwater is vanishing, forrests & untold variety of lifeforms are dying off, fields are fallow and anthropogenic emissions are increasing. Conditions are steadily deteriorating, usually faster that predicted. Dahr Jamail is back with his latest dispatch from the end of the world. All the news is bad, and it’s gettin late, early. Though if you payed attention to the corporate infotainment streams, you’d believe that Civil Unrest, Gay Marriage, Terrorism, Mayweather vs Pacquiao, Hillary, & Iran are most worthy of your attention. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program “Our Dying World”, already in progress.” OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

This month’s anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) dispatch begins with the fact that recently released National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data show that this March was, by far, the hottest planetary March ever recorded, and the hottest January to March period on record as well.

We are watching unprecedented melting of glaciers across the planet, increasingly high temperature records and epic-level droughts that are now becoming the new normal: Planetary distress signals are increasing in volume.

One of these took place recently in Antarctica, of all places, where two unprecedentedly high temperatures were recorded, providing an ominous sign of accelerating ACD as one of the readings came in at just over 63 degrees Fahrenheit.

A fascinating recent report shows that approximately 12 million people living in coastal areas will be displaced during the next 85 years, with areas along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States seeing some of the most dramatic impacts.

In the US, another report shows that the Navajo Nation is literally dying of thirst, with one of the nation’s leaders flatly sounding the alarm by stating, “We’re going to be out of water.”

A study just published in Geophysical Research Letters bolsters the case that a period of much faster ACD is imminent, if it hasn’t already begun.

On that note, leading climate researchers recently said there is a possibility that the world will see a 6-degree Celsius temperature increase by 2100, which would lead to “cataclysmic changes” and “unimaginable consequences for human civilization.”

With these developments in mind, let us take a look at recent developments across the planet since the last dispatch.

Earth

Signs of ACD’s impact across this sector of the planet are once again plentiful, and the fact that the Amazon is suffering is always a very loud alarm buzzer, given that every year the world’s largest rainforest cycles through 18 billion tons of carbon when its 6 million square kilometers of trees breathe in carbon dioxide and then release it back into the atmosphere when they die. This is twice the amount of carbon that fossil fuel burning emits in an entire year. A recent report shows that while the Amazon is continuing to absorb more carbon than it is releasing, a tipping point is coming, and likely soon, as deforestation, drought and fires there continue to remove precious trees at a frightful rate. With 1.5 acres of rainforest lost every single second, somewhere around the world, the situation in the Amazon does not bode well for our future.

In the United States, in Harvard Forest, located 70 miles west of the university’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, hemlock trees are dying at an alarming rate. Harvard Forest is a case study, as it is part of a network of 60 forests around the world called the Center for Tropical Forest Science-Forest Global Earth Observatories, where they are being studied for their response to ACD and other anthropogenic issues. Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, an ecologist with the network, said its forests are “being impacted by a number of different global change factors. We do expect more of this, be it pests or pathogens or droughts or heat waves or thawing permafrost.”

Another report from April revealed that Russia has been losing an amount of forest the size of Switzerland (16,600 square miles of tree cover) every year, for three years running.

Terrestrial animals continue to struggle to survive in many areas. It should come as no surprise that in the Arctic, a recent study shows that the theory that polar bears will be able to adapt to ice-free seas in the summer by eating on land has been debunked. Without ice in the summer, polar bears will starve and die off.

Another study shows that ACD is threatening mountain goats, due to the warming that is occurring even at the higher elevations where the goats live, as the rate of warming there is two to three times faster than the rest of the planet. According to the study, due to the warming, the goats’ future is now uncertain.

In California, sea lion strandings have already reached more than 2,250 for this year alone, which is a record. The worsening phenomenon is being blamed on warming seas that are disrupting the food supply of marine mammals.

Across the United States, hunters are seeing their traditions being changed by ACD. “I could point you to a million different forums online where hunters are complaining about the season and how hunting is terrible,” said one hunter in a recent report. “At the end of the day, it’s changing weather patterns. Winters around here are not as cold as they used to be.”

A March report from a researcher in Rhode Island showed that the growth and molting rates of juvenile lobsters are decreasing “significantly” due to oceans becoming increasingly acidic from ACD. This makes the animals more vulnerable to predations, thus leading to fewer adult lobsters and an overall rapidly declining population.

Air

There have been a few major developments recently in this sector of our analysis.

Interestingly, some of the more commonly used anesthetics are apparently accumulating in the planet’s atmosphere, thus contributing to warming of the climate, according to a report in April. It is a small amount, mind you, but the volume is increasing.

Bad news on the mitigation front comes in the form of a study that revealed that ongoing urban sprawl and auto exhaust is hampering cities’ best efforts toward lowering carbon dioxide emissions. If people continue to drive as much as they are, and development continues apace, the push to build more dense housing, better transit systems and more bike lanes in urban centers will be for naught.

Speaking of lack of mitigation, the US Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that US greenhouse gas pollution increased 2 percent over the previous year in 2013.

Drought plagued California gets more bad news in this sector, as recently released data shows that the state continues to have its warmest year ever recorded, with statewide temperatures coming in nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the previous record, which was set in 2014. The state is quite literally baking.

Another study showed that the frozen soil (permafrost) of the planets’ northern polar regions that holds billions of tons of organic carbon is melting and that melting is being sped up by ACD, hence releasing even more carbon into our already carbon dioxide-supersaturated atmosphere.

Lastly in this section, those who believe in technological fixes for our predicament received some bad news in April, which came in the form of a report that shows that any attempts to geoengineer the climate are likely to result in “different” climate disruption, rather than an elimination of the problem. The most popular proposed idea of solar radiation management that would utilize stratospheric sulfate aerosols to dim the sun has been proven to be, well, destructive. Using a variety of climate models, Ken Caldeira from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, has investigated the likely consequences of such geoengineering on agriculture across the globe.

According to a report on the matter:

His research showed that while dimming could rapidly decrease global temperatures, high carbon dioxide levels would be expected to persist, and it is the balance between temperature, carbon dioxide, and sunlight that affects plant growth and agriculture. Exploring the regional effects, he finds that a stratospherically dimmed world would show increased plant productivity in the tropics, but lessened plant growth across the northerly latitudes of America, Europe and Asia. It is easy to see how there might be geopolitical shifts associated with changes in regional food production across the globe. “It’s probably the poor tropics that stand to benefit and the rich north that stands to lose,” said Prof Caldeira.

Hence, given that the results would be detrimental to the “rich north,” which by far and away has pumped more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the “poor tropics,” the results of geoengineering would indeed be karmic.

Water

In the United States, California’s epic drought continues to lead in the water sector of analysis.

For the first time in California’s history, mandatory water use reductions have been imposed on residents after a winter of record-low snowfalls, and hence a record-low snowpack. “People should realize we are in a new era,” Gov. Jerry Brown said at a news conference there in April, standing on a patch of brown and green grass that would normally be thick with snow that time of year. “The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”

Climate scientists also recently announced, disconcertingly, that California’s record-breaking drought is merely a preview of future ACD-generated megadroughts.

Shortly after Brown announced the mandatory water restrictions for his state, another study was released showing that California will also be facing more extreme heat waves, along with rising seas, caused by increasingly intense impacts from ACD. According to the study, the average number of days with temperatures reaching 95 degrees will double or even triple by the end of this century. Simultaneously, at least $19 billion worth of coastal property will literally disappear as sea levels continue to rise.

Experts also announced in April that in “drought-era” California, “every day” should now be considered “fire season.” NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist Bill Patzert said of California, “We are in an incendiary situation.”

California’s state climatologist, Michael Anderson, issued a very stark warning in April when he said the state faces dust bowl-like conditions, as he compared the water crisis in California to the legendary US dustbowl. “You’re looking on numbers that are right on par with what was the Dust Bowl,” he said.

As aforementioned, this year’s dry, warm winter has left the entire western United States snowpack at record-low levels. Given that this is a critical source of fresh surface water for the entire region, this will only exacerbate the already critical water shortages that are plaguing the region.

One ramification of this is exampled by how the once-powerful Rio Grande River has been reduced to a mere trickle still hundreds of miles from its destination at the end of its 1,900-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to the increasing impacts of ACD. Farmers and residents who rely on it for water are in deep trouble.

And it’s not just California and the US Southwest that are dealing with major water shortages. The Government Accountability Office recently released a report showing that 40 out of the 50 US states will face a water shortage within the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, up in Alaska, that state’s iconic Iditarod sled dog race has been reduced to having mushers have their dogs drag their sleds across large swaths of mud that spanned over 100 miles in some areas, due to warmer temperatures there melting snow and ice that used to cover the course. “I love the challenge, being able to overcome anything on the trail,” said four-time winner Martin Buser of the new conditions. “But if this is a new normal, I’m not sure I can sustain it.”

In this writer’s backyard, glaciers are melting away at dramatic rates in Olympic National Park. Pictures tell the story, which was also addressed in detail recently at a talk given at the park by University of Washington research professor Michelle Koutnik, who was part of a team monitoring the park’s Blue Glacier. By way of example, an entire section of the lower Blue Glacier that existed in 1989 was completely gone by 2008, and melt rates are increasing. A sobering “before and after” look at the photographic evidence should not be missed.

A recent study gave another grim report on glaciers, this one focusing on Canada where glaciers in British Columbia and Alberta are projected to shrink by at least 70 percent by the end of this century, and of course ACD was noted as the main driving force behind the change. “Most of that is going to go,” one of the researchers said of Canada’s glaciers. “And most seems to be on its way out.”

A study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that as the Arctic Ocean warms and loses its sea ice cover, phytoplankton populations will explode. This creates another positive feedback loop for ACD, as it further amplifies warming in a region that is already heating up twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

On the other end of the water spectrum, rising seas continue to afflict Venice, where the city is seeing dramatic changes. According to a recent report: “In the 1920s, there were about 400 incidents of acqua alta, or high water, when the right mix of tides and winds drives the liquid streets up into homes and shops in the lowers parts of the city. By the 1990s, there were 2,400 incidents – and new records are set every year.”

Fire

An April report shows that ACD is predicted to bring more fires and less snow to the iconic Yellowstone National Park. These changes will likely fuel catastrophic wildfires, cause declines in mountain snows and threaten the survival of animals and plants, according to the scientists who authored the report. It shows that expected warming over the US West over the next three decades will transform the land in and around Yellowstone from a wetter, mostly forested Rocky Mountain ecosystem into a more open landscape, more akin to the arid US Southwest.

“Ecological Implications of Climate Change on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” compiled by more than 20 university and government scientists, said that such dry conditions in that area have not been seen for the last 10,000 years, and extremely destructive wildfires like the one in 1988 that burned thousands of acres of the park are going to become more common, while years without major fires will become rare.

Denial and Reality

The climate disruption deniers have been barking loudly over the last month, which should be expected as irrefutable evidence of ACD continues in an avalanche.

Following Florida’s lead, Wisconsin officially became the next state to censor its employees’ work regarding climate disruption. Wisconsin has banned its employees from working on ACD, after Florida banned the use of the terms “climate change” and “global warming.”

Perhaps this is what played a role in inspiring acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to proclaim that politicians denying science is “the beginning of the end of an informed democracy.”

Facing a loss of high-profile corporate sponsors, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), now tired of being accused of ACD denial, has threatened action against activist groups that accuse it of denying ACD. This “action” could come in the form of lawsuits.

The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released very interesting county-by-county maps of the United States, which show the various levels of ACD denial across the country and are worth examining.

Not to be outdone by fellow Republican ACD-denying presidential candidates, Marco Rubio voluntarily donned the dunce cap by stating that scientists have not determined what percentage of ACD is due to human activities compared to natural climate variability, and added brilliantly, “climate is always changing.”

This year has seen us cross yet another milestone in the Arctic – this one being that sea ice covering the top of the world reached the lowest maximum extent yet observed during the winter. This means, ominously, that in just the last four years Arctic sea ice has seen a new low both for its seasonal winter peak (2015) and for its summer minimum (2012). While most sane people would see this as a gut-wrenching fact to have to process emotionally, Robert Molnar, the CEO of the Sailing the Arctic Race, is busily planning an “extreme yacht race” for the summer and fall of 2017 there. “The more ice that’s being melted, the more free water is there for us to be sailing,” he said.

In stark contrast, US Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting the Arctic amid concerns over the melting ice, and some of the mainstream media, in this case The Washington Post, are running op-eds claiming that ACD deniers are actually now in retreat due to their own outlandish comments.

In a historic move, even oil giant BP’s shareholders voted overwhelmingly to support a resolution that would force the company to disclose some of its ACD-related risks.

Also on the reality front, recently released analysis shows that densely populated Asian islands and countries like Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines are likely to face even more intense climatic events in the future.

Another report, this one titled “An Era of Extreme Weather” by the Center for American Progress, shows that major weather events across the United States in 2014 cost an estimated $19 billion and caused at least 65 human fatalities. The report also shows that over the last four years, extreme weather events in the US caused 1,286 fatalities and $227 billion in economic losses spanning 44 states.

US President Barack Obama formally submitted to the UN a commitment to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Critics believe this is far too little, too late, but at least it is a move in the right direction.

In an interesting twist of fate, while many Florida Republican lawmakers are busily denying ACD, other Florida Republicans are busy working to protect their state’s coastal areas from rising seas resulting from advancing ACD.

Lastly in this month’s dispatch, a recently published study shows that acidic oceans helped fuel the largest mass extinction event in the history of the planet, which wiped out approximately 90 percent of all life on earth.

The carbon released that was one of the primary drivers of that extinction event was found to have been released at a similar rate to modern emissions. Dr. Matthew Clarkson, one of the authors of the study, commented: “Scientists have long suspected that an ocean acidification event occurred during the greatest mass extinction of all time, but direct evidence has been lacking until now. This is a worrying finding, considering that we can already see an increase in ocean acidity today that is the result of human carbon emissions.”

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Global Temperatures And Atmospheric CO2: Hottest March Ever; CO2 Hits All-Time High Of 404 ppb. Last 12 Months On Earth Hottest In Recorded History

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2015 at 6:29 pm

Oldspeak:March 2015 was Earth’s warmest March since global record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) on Friday. NASA rated March 2015 as the 3rd warmest March on record (small differences in analysis techniques can lead to slightly different rankings from agency to agency, and the two estimates were quite close to each other.) March 2015’s warmth makes the year to date period (January – March) the warmest such period on record, and the past twelve months the warmest twelve-month period in recorded history. By NOAA’s reckoning, seven of the past eleven months (May, June, August, September, October, and December 2014, along with March 2015) have tied or set new record high monthly temperatures. According to NASA, March 2015 had the 5th largest departure from average for warmth of any month in recorded history. Out of the ten months with the largest departures from average in the NASA database, five have occurred in the past year.” -Dr. Jeff Masters

“As temperatures and CO2 rise, our chances of survival dwindles. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick tick….” -OSJ

By Jon Plotkin @ Decoded Science:

The map of March land and sea temperatures shows warmth over much of the globe, with a cold pocket over eastern Canada and New England. Analysis courtesy of NOAA.

NOAA published its report on global land and sea temperatures for March on Friday, April 17. Inasmuch as five of the previous seven months set new records, it was not surprising that March’s land and sea temperatures were the highest ever recorded for that month.

The three months of January through March, and the most recent calendar year are also the warmest ever recorded for those periods of time.

Separately, but not coincidentally, the instruments on Mount Mauna Loa in Hawaii found atmospheric CO2 concentrations to be above 404 parts per billion for the first time on April 14. That was the first of four consecutive days above 400.

An Overview Of March Worldwide Land And Sea Temperatures

Most of the Earth was warmer than normal in March – let’s look at some specifics:

      • Very much above normal temperatures stretched across all of northern Europe and Asia.
      • The United Sates and Canada were split down the middle, with very cold temperatures in the east and very warm temperatures in the west.
      • All of South America, except for the northern tip, was warm.
      • Most of Africa was warm, but the northwest was cold.
      • Northern and eastern Australia were very warm.
      • All of India was colder than normal.
      • The largest ocean temperature anomaly continues to be off the west coast of the US and Canada, with the maximum in the Gulf of Alaska.
      • Overall, warmth was spread evenly between land and sea: The land surface temperatures were second highest for March, and ocean temperatures were third highest.
      • Warmth was also spread uniformly between the northern and southern hemispheres: The northern hemisphere had its second warmest March and the southern hemisphere tied its third warmest.

The map of precipitation anomaly for March shows that much of the US and western Europe were dry, while Turkey and the Balkans were very wet. Analysis courtesy of NOAA.

March Precipitation

Though precipitation varies greatly from month to month, some trends continued in March:

  • The drought goes on in California and the American west.
  • Most of Europe continued to be dry.
  • Heavy rains inundated the Balkans and Turkey.
  • Australia and the southern part of South America were dry.
  • India was wetter than normal.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent

Arctic sea ice extent has been measured by satellite since 1979.

The March measurement was 7.9% below the 1981-2010 average — the lowest Arctic sea ice extent ever measured for the month of March.

Atmospheric CO2 Reaches New High

The plot of daily CO2 readings on Mount Mauna Loa shows that the atmospheric concentration has been over 404 ppb for the last four days, something that never happened before. Graph courtesy of NOAA.

Since pre-industrial times, the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide (CO2) has risen from 280 to over 400 parts per billion (ppb). In the past week, the value of this greenhouse gas concentration, as measured on Mount Mauna Loa in Hawaii surpassed, 404 ppb for the first time.

The highest reading of 404.83 came on April 14, and the concentration was over 404 for four consecutive days before falling to 403.44 yesteday.

The weekly average for the week starting April 12 was 404.02, surpassing the old record of 403.42 set the previous week.

Carbon dioxide concentration normally peaks in May, so new daily and weekly records are likely to be set in the next few weeks.

Where Is The CO2 Coming From?

Though some of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide may be coming from other sources, the majority comes from power plants and automobile tailpipes.

The process of energy production from hydrocarbons is not a complicated one: A single carbon atom combines with a molecule of oxygen (consisting of two atoms) to make a carbon dioxide molecule (CO2). This chemical reaction releases energy, which is used to power our modern world. The CO2 produced by the combustion process is normally released into the air by power plants and cars.

Carbon dioxide has a natural atmospheric cycle in which the gas is expelled from volcanic sources and washed out of the atmosphere by precipitation. However, this process is a long one; the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide in the last 150 years is unprecedented except for times of very high volcanic activity.

Stemming The Tide Of CO2 Increase

Though the production of greenhouse gases in general, and carbon dioxide in particular, has leveled off in the United States in recent years, the production of energy from fossil fuel burning continues to increase in developing countries. India and China are building coal-fired power plants — the worst of the fossil fuel power sources in terms of CO2 emissions — at a rate of about one plant per week.

The basic facts of the intransigent problem of increasing energy use hasn’t changed: Developed countries want to retain their lavish lifestyle; and developing countries want to acquire that lifestyle. A new UN-sponsored climate conference will convene in Paris in December. Representatives of the two sides will try again to reach a compromise that will actually reduce worldwide carbon dioxide emissions.

Decoded Science wishes them luck.

U.S. West Coast Sardine Population Collapses, 91% Decline Prompting Ban On Commercial Fishing 2 Months Early

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2015 at 8:32 pm

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Oldspeak:”This is a huge step,this is one of the most lucrative fisheries in California, so to completely shut it down is a huge deal… We believe the harm has been irreparable and will already have ramifications for decades to come… We’ve basically reduced the carrying capacity of the ecosystem to support the populations of other species that depend on sardines. The more fish we take, the more it is going to make that situation even worse.” Geoffrey Shester, California campaign director for Oceana

The collapse this year is the latest in a series of alarming die-offs, sicknesses and population declines in the ocean ecosystem along the West Coast. Anchovies, which thrive in cold water, have also declined over the past decade due largely to fluctuating ocean temperatures and a lack of zooplankton, their food of choice…The number of herring seen in San Francisco Bay has fluctuated wildly, reaching a historic low in 2009….Record numbers of starving sea lions have recently been washing up on beaches in California because there aren’t enough sardines and anchovies for pups to eat. Fisheries scientists estimate that 70 percent of sea lion pups will die this year due to a lack of food…Brown pelicans, too, have suffered from mass reproductive failures and are turning up sick and dead in California and Oregon. A 2010 study by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Geological Survey and other scientific organizations found that many of the starving and emaciated pelicans are eating worms and other prey inconsistent with their normal diet of anchovies and sardines.” -Peter Fimrite

“Utterly unsurprising, given the reality:Phytoplankton — which form the base of ocean food chains — have declined 40 percent since 1950..The trend is linked to warming of the surface of the oceans….The die-off could affect climate, fisheries and ocean health…In oceans around the world, there has been a surprisingly large and extensive decline in phytoplankton — the tiny algae that keep marine food webs afloat. So when the most abundant and essential part of the ocean food wed starts dying off, you’re gonna see things like this. The fact that humans are overfishing is just accelerating the inevitable. The real story here is the entire marine food web is in the process of collapse. Expect to see more stories like this as time passes and conditions worsen.” -OSJ

By Peter Fimrite @ The San Francisco Gate:

The sardine population along the West Coast has collapsed due to changing ocean conditions and other factors, including allegations of overfishing, prompting regulators Monday to cancel fishing next season and schedule a vote this week on an immediate emergency ban.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council agreed to close the fishery from Mexico to the Canadian border starting July 1, when the 2015 season begins, after federal scientists documented a 91 percent decline in sardine numbers along the West Coast since 2007.

The council, a 19-member policymaking organization made up of fishery representatives from California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, scheduled a vote Wednesday on whether to take the bigger step of immediately halting sardine fishing. The current season would go until June 30 or until between 3,000 and 4,000 metric tons of the schooling fish are hauled out of the water, fulfilling this season’s quota.

“This is a huge step,” said Geoffrey Shester, the California campaign director for Oceana, an international conservation organization that has been fighting for eight years to lower the annual sardine take and implement stricter regulations. “This is one of the most lucrative fisheries in California, so to completely shut it down is a huge deal.”

Causes of crisis

A lack of spawning caused by unfavorable ocean conditions was blamed for the decline, but fishery biologists say faulty abundance estimates contributed by allowing regulators to set sardine fishing limits too high. It was a problem that scientists have been warning fishery managers about since 2012, Shester said.

“There’s a management failure here,” said Shester, whose group filed a lawsuit in 2011 demanding action. A judge refused to hear the case on grounds that it was not filed in a timely fashion, but the case is now on appeal.

“They didn’t respond fast enough to the decline,” said Shester, who blamed overfishing for worsening an already bad situation. “Now we find ourselves in a crisis situation.”

Don McIsaac, the management council executive director, said sardine populations often fluctuate, and cold water over the past three or four years has lowered the birth rate.

“Sardines like warm water,” McIsaac said, adding that staff biologists ruled out overfishing as a cause. “Their spawning plummets when it gets cold.”

The dilemma harkens back to the mid-1950s when the Monterey Bay canneries of author John Steinbeck fame began failing, mostly as a result of overfishing. Stiff quotas and catch limits required by the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act helped save the sardines. The population of the tiny epipelagic fish increased throughout the 1990s.

Monterey Bay is once again the Bay Area hub of sardine fishing, but the oily pilchards can also be caught off the coast of San Francisco. Huge quantities of the nutrient-rich fish are hauled up at the Channel Islands in Southern California and along the Oregon coast, where fishermen are now catching as much as 65 tons a day of the schooling pescados. The only spot where sardines are known to be currently spawning is off the coast of Oregon.

The sardine fleet has been known to bring in between $10 million and $20 million in annual revenue from sales in recent decades, Shester said.

Sardines are mostly sold for bait. The fish are generally frozen in big blocks for use in commercial long-line fishing and for feed at Australian and Japanese blue fin tuna farms. There are some efforts, including among local Indian tribes, to promote it as a healthy local delicacy.

Severe downturn

The sardine population peaked in about 2007, according to a March 19 report issued by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But things recently took a turn for the worse. This season’s quota was set at 23,293 metric tons based on biomass estimates calculated last year, but the National Marine Fisheries Service report concluded the estimates were “unrealistically high.” The sardine population, it said, is about 26 percent lower than the estimates because of a lack of spawning due to poor ocean conditions in 2014.

Sardine numbers — which can only be measured using their collective weight — have dropped from 1,037,000 metric tons in 2007 to 96,688 metric tons, a 91 percent decline, the report said.

“We believe the harm has been irreparable and will already have ramifications for decades to come,” Shester said. “We’ve basically reduced the carrying capacity of the ecosystem to support the populations of other species that depend on sardines. The more fish we take, the more it is going to make that situation even worse.”

The collapse this year is the latest in a series of alarming die-offs, sicknesses and population declines in the ocean ecosystem along the West Coast. Anchovies, which thrive in cold water, have also declined over the past decade due largely to fluctuating ocean temperatures and a lack of zooplankton, their food of choice.

The number of herring seen in San Francisco Bay has fluctuated wildly, reaching a historic low in 2009.

Record numbers of starving sea lions have recently been washing up on beaches in California because there aren’t enough sardines and anchovies for pups to eat. Fisheries scientists estimate that 70 percent of sea lion pups will die this year due to a lack of food.

Sick pelicans

Brown pelicans, too, have suffered from mass reproductive failures and are turning up sick and dead in California and Oregon. A 2010 study by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Geological Survey and other scientific organizations found that many of the starving and emaciated pelicans are eating worms and other prey inconsistent with their normal diet of anchovies and sardines.

Strange diseases have also been proliferating in the sea. Large numbers of sea lions have recently been found convulsing with seizures caused by a neurotoxin found in algae blooms or red tides. The blooms suddenly proliferate for unknown reasons, cover large areas and infuse shellfish, mussels, anchovies, sardines and other filter feeders with toxins that are then consumed by sea lions.

The number of epileptic sea lions has been growing for at least a decade, according to researchers.

The fishery management council, which is required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act to close ocean fishing if the number of fish do not reach conservation objectives, did not place limits on the sardine trade that supplies recreational fishers with bait. Nor are there additional limits on the quota for anchovies, which are also in decline, Shester said.

The council allows up to 7,000 metric tons of sardines to be caught annually as bycatch, meaning it is not the targeted fish. That includes 1,000 metric tons granted to the Quinault Indian Nation, along the port of Washington. Mistakenly netted sardines cannot make up more than 40 percent of a single catch, according to the rules.

“It’s a serious situation,” McIsaac said of the closure. “It’s a great disappointment and financial hardship on many ports up and down the coast, but this is being done to try to make things better.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: pfimrite@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @pfimrite

5 Years Later: The Monumental Clusterfuck That Is The BP Gulf Oil Disaster Is Ongoing

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2015 at 12:45 pm
Oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico is burned in an attempt to quell its spread, June 16, 2010. (Photo: Kris Krüg)

Oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico is burned in an attempt to quell its spread, June 16, 2010. (Photo: Kris Krüg)

Oldspeak:”I had the privilege of performing in a show yesterday commemorating the 5 year anniversary of the BP Gulf Oil Disaster, “Voices From The Gulf“. A group of NYC based artists and performers from the Gulf shared their work documenting the calamity. Tragic stories in the form of letters from residents suffering the effects of the poisoning from the deadly oil and correxit cocktail were shared. This is an ongoing and incalculable ecological catastrophe. In all probability, oil is still leaking from the supposedly shut Macondo well. People and environment alike are still suffering and dying as a result of this crime. Livelihoods that depend on fishing have been decimated. And BP has aggressively and consistently demonstrated that it has little intention of fixing the clusterfuck its willful neglect and greed begot. In fact it’s actually denying 61 percent of damages and compensation claims filed by residents, and forced an unconscionable 81% of claimants to sign a  ‘Release and Covenant Not to Sue’ in which the claimant agreed not to sue BP and all other potentially liable parties. Yet, the despite the fact that this practice is INHERENTLY UNSAFE drilling continues unabated. There is literally nothing to stop this from happening again. The once bountiful and beautiful Gulf Of Mexico has been transformed in to one big Sacrifice Zone, of death and destruction.”“We’re paying the price for their greed and irresponsible exploration…They went ‘balls to the wall’ with their drilling because they didn’t care. It was just money, money, money.”George Barisich, Lifelong Commercial Shrimper. Profit Is Paramount. All else, gets fucked.” -OSJ

By Julie Dermansky @ DeSmogBlog:

Cat Island, off the Gulf Coast in Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish, was home to a vibrant bird rookery inhabited by brown pelicans, seagulls, spoonbills, and egrets before BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Five years after the largest oil spill in American history, the barrier island has just about disappeared.

Despite ongoing efforts by former Plaquemines Parish coastal zone manager PJ Hahn to restore the island, only the needed building permits and an engineering plan have been completed.

“Cat Island was ground zero of the oil spill,” Hahn told DeSmogBlog.

Dead bird on Cat Island five years after the BP oil spill. March 31, 2015. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

He thought that the restoration of the island was a no-brainer since, while much of the oil spill’s damage was underwater and invisible, the damage to Cat Island was easy to prove. According to Hahn, not only would the island’s restoration be necessary for the birds, but it would provide a great public relations move for anyone who helped in the process.

At the time of the spill, Cat Island was approximately five and a half acres, covered by a dense forest of black mangrove trees which were occupied by nesting birds. All that remains now are two small strips of land — less than an acre combined. Mangrove stumps jut out from the broken, shell-covered sandy remains of the island, at times fully submerged during high tide.

“The island was a treasure and it deserves to be restored,” Hahn told DeSmogBlog. He continues to advocate for the restoration project he spearheaded.

“It’s a hard sell for many since the island doesn’t serve as storm protection like other barrier islands that are in the process of being restored since the spill,” Hahn said.

But Cat Island and other small barrier islands, some of which have completely eroded since the spill, were perfect bird habitats because they were free of predators. Hahn believes the $6 million restoration price tag is a good investment, one that will pay for itself in dollars generated by the tourism industry. “Bird watchers from all over will come to visit the island,” he said.

Brown Pelicans and Spoonbills on Cat Island. © 2015 Julie Dermansky 

Media and Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition at Cat Island, March 31, 2015. © 2015 Julie Dermansky 

So far, the parish has raised $3 million of the $6 million needed before the rebuilding process can begin.

Shell, the only oil company to contribute, donated $1 million. Other contributors include the American Bird Conservancy and the federal Coastal Impact Assistance Program. The parish hopes to get the rest of the needed funds from the state’s “Restore Act Fund,” made up of money from that part of the BP settlement that has already been paid.

Billy Nungesser on Cat Island holding a pelican bone three years after the BP oil spill, April 18, 2013© 2013 Julie Dermansky

Billy Nungesser, Plaquemines Parish president during the spill who is now running for lieutenant governor, had been famous for his fierce criticism of BP. But now it seems he’s changed his tune.

During a town hall meeting hosted by Rush Radio in St. Tammany Parish, where residents turned out to express their concerns about the possibility of the first fracking project in their area, Nungesser gushed over the great relationship Plaquemines Parish has with the oil industry, no longer singling out BP as a bad player as he had in the past.

Though he believes residents should have a say regarding what type of industry is welcomed in their community, he said oil companies that operate in his parish “do the right thing.”

Referencing the “horrible pictures of the pelicans covered in oil,” Nungesser claimed that in the case of “a safety incident or something spilling from a platform, every company has gone beyond the call of duty in our parish to make it right. Oil companies are rebuilding those islands.”

But Cat Island is a perfect example that Plaquemines Parish “has not been made whole,” according to Hahn. “BP was asked to contribute to rebuilding Cat Island multiple times,” Hahn said, “but they haven’t given anything to help the project.”

PJ Hahn photographing nesting pelicans on Cat Island two year after the BP oil spill. © 2012 Julie Dermansky

Cat Island was not mentioned in a BP report on the condition of the Gulf issued in March which paints a picture of the Gulf Coast on the mend. According to the report, “Available data does not indicate the spill caused any significant long-term population-level impact to species in the Gulf,” and “affected areas are recovering faster than predicted.”

State and federal agencies involved in the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) took issue with BP’s report.

“It is inappropriate as well as premature for BP to reach conclusions about impacts from the spill before the completion of the assessment,” an NRDA report states. NRDA will determine how much BP and its subcontractors owe for the environmental damages.

When asked what specifically BP has done to restore Cat Island, BP media spokesperson Jason Ryan sent out a statement about other coastal restoration projects the company has contributed to. BP agreed to pay for restoration projects in advance of NRDA’s assessment, which it was not required to do. Several of the projects are underway, but rebuilding Cat Island is not one of them.

The statement from BP points out: “The state loses about a football field worth of wetlands every hour,” and that “with regard to Cat Island specifically, it was rapidly eroding before the spill, primarily due to the impacts of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”

Though BP wouldn’t give a “Yes” or “ No” as to whether it has contributed to rebuilding Cat Island, the company wrote: “We are studying shoreline erosion on marshes and barrier islands, including Cat Island, to determine if there was any acceleration due to the spill.”

The BP spill “totally accelerated” the erosion of Cat Island,” Linda Hooper Bui, an entomologist at Louisiana State University, told DeSmogBlog.

Bui has been working on studies of insect life in Barataria Bay that she began prior to the BP oil spill, making her a witness to the ongoing erosion process impacting the island. When plants are stressed they can’t hold on to sediment, she explained. And that is what happened when the oil covered the plant life on Cat Island. “You lose the mangrove, you lose the sediment,” Bui said.

“Heavily-oiled marshes erode at double the rate of a non-oiled marsh,” Melanie Driscoll, Director of Bird Conservation for the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi flyway for the Audubon Society, told DeSmogBlog, citing a scientific peer-reviewed study done after the BP spill.

“Every year there is a delay restoring the island, there is less area for nesting,” Driscoll said. ” We need restoration to proceed as soon as possible.”

David Muth, Gulf Coast Restoration Director for the National Wildlife Federation holds up a photo of what Cat Island looked like before the BP oil spill, while standing in front of the island on March 31, 2015. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

On March 31, a trip arranged by Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition gave members of the media a chance to document what little remains of Cat Island. The National Wildlife Federation, a key player in the coalition, released a report about the health of the Gulf five years after the spill that paints a completely different picture than BP’s.

The NWF report cites several scientific studies that document the negative impact the spill had on 20 different species, including the brown pelican, which were Cat Island’s main inhabitants.

“The tragedy is brown pelicans were taken off the endangered species list the year before the spill,” Hahn said. “If there is no habitat, there are no birds. Who knows if they will come back when we finally get the island rebuilt?”

Long-Awaited ‘Jump’ In Global Warming Now Appears ‘Imminent’

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2015 at 9:20 pm
NASA temperature data.

NASA temperature data dispel the myth of a recent slow-down in long-term warming trend. But there was a big jump in temps during the mid-1990s. Many scientists believe another jump is “imminent.

Oldspeak:One way of thinking about global warming from the human influences is that it’s not just a gradual increase, but perhaps it’s more like a staircase, and we’re about to go up an extra step to a new level…” Dr. Kevin Trenberth, National Center for Atmospheric Research

“What kind of temperature increase are we talking about? Trenberth says it could mean a rise of two- or three-tenths-of-a-degree Celsius, or up to half a degree Fahrenheit. The change could occur “relatively abruptly,” but then stick around for five or 10 years… While those numbers may seem small, in the context of global climate, a shift of that magnitude could have devastating consequences….. “With that kind of an increase, there is about 2 percent increase in moisture in the atmosphere, which feeds into all the weather systems that occur, and it gets concentrated and magnified by all of the storms, so you can get double or quadruple the effects,” Trenberth says. ” –Jared Goyette

When I read this, the sentiment that seemed apropos was this one: Our Great Mother Earth as Carlito Brigante, Al Pacino’s aging gangster character in the brilliant film “Calito’s Way”:

I’m reloaded! Okay? Come on in here, you motherfuckers! Come on, I’m waitin’ for ya! What, you ain’t comin’ in? Okay, I’m comin’ out! Oh, you up against me now, motherfuckers! I’m gonna blow your fuckin’ brains out! You think you’re big time? You gonna fuckin’ die big time! You ready? HERE COMES THE PAIN!-OSJ

By Joe Romm @ Climate Progress:

NASA temperature data dispel the myth of a recent slow-down in long-term warming trend. But there was a big jump in temps during the mid-1990s. Many scientists believe another jump is “imminent.’

We may be witnessing the start of the long-awaited jump in global temperatures. There is “a vast and growing body of research,” as Climate Central explained in February. “Humanity is about to experience a historically unprecedented spike in temperatures.”

A March study, “Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change,” makes clear that an actual acceleration in the rate of global warming is imminent — with Arctic warming rising a stunning 1°F per decade by the 2020s.

Scientists note that some 90 percent of global heating goes into the oceans — and ocean warming has accelerated in recent years. Leading climatologist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research explained here in 2013 that “a global temperature increase occurs in the latter stages of an El Niño event, as heat comes out of the ocean and warms the atmosphere.”

In March, NOAA announced the arrival of an El Niño, a multi-month weather pattern “characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.”

How much of a temperature jump should we expect? Last month, Trenberth explained to Living on Earth:

Trenberth says it could mean a rise of two- or three-tenths-of-a-degree Celsius, or up to half a degree Fahrenheit. The change could occur “relatively abruptly,” but then stick around for five or 10 years.

I interviewed Trenberth this week, and he told me that he thinks “a jump is imminent.” When I asked whether he considers that “likely,” he answered, “I am going to say yes. Somewhat cautiously because this is sticking my neck out.”

Trenberth explained that it’s significant the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) “seems to have gone strongly positive” because that is “perhaps the best single indicator to me that a jump is imminent.” During a PDO, he explains, “the distribution of heat in the oceans changes along with some ocean currents.”

The PDO is a “pattern of Pacific climate variability similar to ENSO [El Niño Southern Oscillation] in character, but which varies over a much longer time scale.” While El Niños and La Niñas tend to last only 6 to 18 months, the PDO can remain primarily in one phase for a decade or even longer, as this figure from NOAA’s March “Global Ocean Monitoring” report shows:

Pacific Decadal Oscillation

“The positive phase of PDO [Pacific Decadal Oscillation] index has persisted 8 months since Jul 2014 with PDO index = + 1.6 in Feb 2015.” Via NOAA.

If you compare the PDO chart with the NASA global temp chart at the top, you’ll see that a negative PDO appears to temporarily offset the long-term global warming trend, whereas a positive PDO corresponds to a “catch up” phase (see discussion here). That is one reason, Trenberth explains, that global temperatures seem to look more like a staircase than a ramp (a steadily-rising straight-line or linear trend).

Making things even more confusing, the staircase-shaped rise in temperatures is further modulated by El Niños, which tend to set the record for the hottest years (since the regional warming adds to the underlying global warming trend) and by La Niña years, which tend to be cooler than normal years.

The fact that NOAA projects that the current El Niño could last most of 2015 means we are still on track for what is likely to be the hottest calendar year on record — very possibly beating 2014 by a wide margin (0.1°C).

And record global temps mean extreme temperatures and weather locally. So far this year, “five nations or territories have tied or set all-time records for their hottest temperature in recorded history,” explains meteorologist Jeff Masters.

Antarctica appears to have set its all-time temperature record — 63.5°F (17.5°C) — on March 24 at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. That is “more than 30°F (17°C) above average.” This was actually part of a heat wave since the Antarctic record it broke was set the day before (63.3°F). Also in March, the Chilean desert was deluged by “over fourteen years of rain in one day.”

It was the hottest February on record in California, a full 1°F higher than the second-warmest February on record. And that followed California’s driest January ever recorded. These type of records are not good news.

“So it is a bad year for the Earth and an equally bad year for the politicians, talk show radio ‘scientists’, climate-denial funders, and second rate scientists who told us not to worry,” as climate expert Professor John Abraham told me. “They told us global warming had stopped nearly two decades ago. The problem is, science and climate change marched forward. Perhaps next time we will believe the real scientists.”

Indeed it will be a very bad year for the Earth and for climate science deniers if 2015 proves to be the beginning of the long-awaited temperature jump.

The last time global temps jumped sharply (see top chart), it was during an extended period of positive PDO, from 1992 and 1998. The super El Niño in 1998 at the end of that period set a new global temperature record by a wide margin. That was a high bar for subsequent years to match, which cherry-picking climate science deniers used — with some success — to persuade conservative politicians and media outlets that global warming had paused or slowed down. In fact we have merely been in an extended period of the PDO negative phase, with only occasional switches to a mild positive phase. And that, coupled with some recent La Niñas, gave an appearance of a short-term slowdown in warming in some datasets.

But the NASA chart at the top makes clear there has in fact been no slowdown in warming. Indeed the March study, “Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change” makes clear the only “pause” there has been was in the long-expected speed-up of global warming. The rate of surface warming should have started to accelerate in the past decade, rather than stay fairly constant.

The authors warned that, by 2020, human-caused warming will move the Earth’s climate system into a regime of rapid multi-decadal rates of warming. It projected that within the next few years, “there is an increased likelihood of accelerated global warming associated with release of heat from the sub-surface ocean and a reversal of the phase of decadal variability in the Pacific Ocean.”

That would be Trenberth’s imminent jump. And it may be starting now.

Siberia’s Permafrost Is Exploding. Is Alaska’s Next?

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2015 at 8:15 pm

One of the dozens of newly discovered craters on the Yamal Peninsula in northern Siberia, as seen on August 25, 2014. Photo by VASILY BOGOYAVLENSKY/AFP/Getty Images

Oldspeak: “The warming has started to decompose the gas hydrates. The pressure increased so high that it actually erupted the material out of the hole…. It’s still much more questions than answers at this point. For all my 40 years of studying permafrost, I’ve never read about these kinds of things. Nobody knows any examples of these happening in the past… At this point, I would say it is possible. There are several candidate places in Alaska or in Northwest Canada.” –Dr. Vladimir Romanovsky

“Short answer? Probably. Scientists are seeing very similar conditions in Alaska and northern Canada as they have in Siberia. And with northern Canada hotter than it’s been in the last 44,000 fucking years, it’s not a matter of if, but when methane starts blowing up and venting in large quantities in North America. The hotter those regions get, the faster the permafrost will thaw, the greater methane releases we’ll see. Also found it interesting that the methane blowholes found in Siberia are in areas of methane gas extraction. Could these blowholes be something like the sinkhole effect we’re seeing in areas of groundwater extraction? The warming and the extraction can’t be a good combination for hydrate stability. In the midwestern U.S. where methane gas extraction occurs  there have been reports of earthquakes in places where there usually aren’t. The most disturbing sentence in this piece for me is “It’s still much more questions than answers at this point.” At this late stage, scientists are still trying to figure out what’s goin on. Not good. Not good ATAL. Stay tuned Boppers.” -OSJ

By Eric Holthaus @ Slate:

Temperatures are warming faster in the Arctic than anywhere else on Earth, at twice the rate of the global average. In northern Canada, it hasn’t been this warm in at least 44,000 years, according to our best estimates.

That means weird things are starting to happen. Last summer, giant mysterious craters discovered by reindeer herders in a remote section of northern Siberia captured the world’s attention. Upon closer inspection, it was obvious these craters formed recently with some explosive force behind them. Since then, there have been further scientific excursions to the craters, including this one in November:

According to measurements made by Russian scientists, methane concentration at the bottom of one of the holes was thousands of times higher than in the regular atmosphere. A more thorough recent expedition identified “dozens” of new holes, all of which apparently formed in the last year or two.

The Siberian holes draw into question the near-term stability of Arctic permafrost, which traps enough carbon, if fully unleashed, to double atmospheric concentrations and potentially push global warming into a frightening new phase. Scientists are quite certain it will take at least a century for that to happen in a worst-case scenario, but it’s clear that the release has already begun.

A recent study estimated continued warming would produce an additional 35-205 billon tons of carbon emissions (about 2-10 percent of current global totals) from permafrost by 2100. The wide range reflects how little we still know about the response of permafrost to increased temperatures. Since the permafrost thaw is already in progress, it could be difficult to slow down: Even a sharp cutback in emissions from cities and cars may only be able to cut those numbers in half. With the atmosphere only able to hold another 400 billion tons or so before we’re committed to a rise in global temperatures of more than 2 degree Celsius, the point after which “dangerous” impacts become much more likely.

Katey Walter Anthony, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has been measuring methane seeps in Arctic lakes in Alaska, Canada, and Russia for about a decade. Her estimates show that global atmospheric methane concentrations could increase tenfold in the coming years. She explained her research in a 2010 video, in which she ignited a few of the bubbles, resulting in an impressive ball of flame.

I spoke with her colleague, Vladimir Romanovsky, who was a co-author on the study that quantified the amount of carbon that may be released from permafrost this century. Romanovsky believes the Siberian holes are an example of a new type of Arctic landform that has never been seen before.

“The warming has started to decompose the gas hydrates,” Romanovsky told Slate. “The pressure increased so high that it actually erupted the material out of the hole.” The Siberian craters are found in a primary area of industrial natural gas extraction. “It’s still much more questions than answers at this point,” he said. “For all my 40 years of studying permafrost, I’ve never read about these kinds of things. Nobody knows any examples of these happening in the past.”

Could the same thing happen in Alaska? Romanovsky says yes. “At this point, I would say it is possible. There are several candidate places in Alaska or in Northwest Canada.”

Charles Miller, a permafrost scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, disagrees slightly with Romanovsky. According to Miller, whose work has focused on collecting aircraft measurements of the amount of methane currently being released from North American permafrost, the Siberian holes are more likely to be formed as a result of a more well-established landform called a pingo. “If one looks back at the older [satellite] images of the same locations, these pingos were at the exact same locations.”

But Miller does agree they could happen in Alaska. On his flights over the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic, Miller says the landscape is littered with pingos. “In principle, the same mechanisms [as the exploding Siberian holes] might be able to operate in Alaska.”

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Melting Accelerates In Antarctica: So Far, 2015 Is Hottest Year Yet

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Iceberg melt

Oldspeak: “Intrepid reporter Dahr Jamail returns with his monthly update of the ongoing global ecological collapse. Unsurprisingly, shit is getting worse, and it’s getting worse faster and more unpredictably non-linear than projected. Earth’s air conditioners at the poles are melting faster than ever, earth’s lungs are dying at faster rates than previously thought expelling more carbon than they sequester, freshwater is rapidly depleting, and global temperatures are set to jump. “Buckle your seatbelt Dorothy, ’cause Kansas is going bye-bye.” –Cipher, “The Matrix”. Only Love remains.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

The dramatically rapid melting of the earth’s poles is the biggest news in this month’s climate dispatch.

Increasingly fast melting in Antarctica, which will be discussed in more detail below, is now expected to increase sea levels by 10 feet worldwide in less than 100 years, according to recent NASA satellite calculations.

This will “recurve” heavily populated coastlines and reshape the world in which we live, according to one geophysicist with whom Truthout spoke. In addition, a second geophysicist, from Harvard, said that parts of Antarctica are thawing out so quickly that the icy continent has become “ground zero of global climate change, without a doubt.”

According to NASA, every year for the last decade alone, 130 billion tons of ice have melted in Antarctica. For context, that is the weight of more than 356,000 Empire State Buildings and enough ice melt to fill more than 1.3 million Olympic swimming pools. And the melting is accelerating at a pace that is making scientists’ heads spin.

To make matters worse, recent research casts doubt on other studies that have oversold the role of the natural climate’s ability to halt anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) during the next 15 years. Climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann, one of the authors of the study said, “Our work reinforces the notion that there is no pause in human-caused global warming. If anything, we’ve been lulled into a false complacency by the fact that internal oscillations in the climate system temporarily masked some of that warming. That may come back to bite us as these oscillations swing back in the other direction and add to global warming in the decades ahead.”

Another study published in Nature Climate Change revealed how, as bad as things already are, we are actually standing on the precipice of a new planet where warming is likely to accelerate at rates not seen for at least 1,000 years (that is, abrupt ACD is upon us).

A story that has recently been covered in this series is worth mentioning again now, given the dramatic events covered in this month’s dispatch relating to the poles, temperature records and droughts. A resiliency scientist recently showed how the planet has already passed through four of the nine limits for hospitable life, and is racing quickly toward those that have not yet been crossed. Take a look at his chart.

The National Climatic Data Center released its statistics recently, which showed the following:

– Globally, this was the hottest winter on record. The previous record was 2007.

– This was the 19th warmest winter in US history.

– Globally this was, by far, the hottest start to any year (January-February).

Buckle up as we go through the sectors of the planet, as this last month has seen a dramatic ramping-up of climate disruption.

Earth

This month, this sector is facing a whole lot of bad news.

Tropical forests are now vanishing at rates much faster than previously thought. This is disastrous news, given that the plant life in these areas sequesters massive amounts of carbon. When the plant life is removed, carbon is released back into the atmosphere, which is the last thing we need right now. A recent study shows that the rate of loss has increased by 62 percent from the 1990s to the 2000s.

Adding insult to injury, scientists have warned that now ongoing droughts in the Amazon are speeding up ACD. The forests there, dubbed the “lungs of the planet,” are now emitting more carbon dioxide than they are capturing. A 2010 drought there released more than 8 billion tons of carbon dioxide, which is as much as China and Russia’s annual emissions, combined.

Scientists have also warned that ACD now threatens to kill off more aspen forests by 2050, with the possibility of all of them in North America being gone by then.

Another recent report warned that ongoing deforestation, which is occurring largely to expand agricultural lands, may well be exposing more people to diseases like the Black Death, which wiped out more than one-third of Europe’s population during the Middle Ages.

On a similar front, Brazil’s drought-stricken Sao Paulo is now battling an outbreak of dengue fever, as hundreds have been infected with the mosquito-borne virus. Scientists have been warning for a long time how diseases are guaranteed to increase in frequency and intensity of outbreaks as the impacts of ACD progress.

More bad news for forests comes in the form of a pine beetle epidemic in North America, where the warming climate has allowed the beetles to ravage western forests. Now they are rapidly spreading east across much of Canada.

A US-based climate study showed that ACD will cause deserts in Australia to expand to the south, as droughts and record high temperatures continue to plague that country.

Another study has shown that spring is “shifting” in trees: The season is now coming earlier because of ongoing temperature increases, causing changes in plants’ growing patterns. The study predicts that ACD will alter the order in which trees begin to grow their leaves, which entails long-term implications for the survival of several plants that grow in woodlands.

The size of the massive cyclone that pummeled the South Pacific country of Vanuatu has been linked to ACD, according to the country’s president and several climate scientists. One of the aid workers who arrived on the scene to help survivors said, “It looks like the town center has been hit by a bomb.” Oxfam executive director Helen Szoke said of the situation: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that we are now dealing with worse than the worst case scenario in Vanuatu.”

The impacts of climate disruption on nature continue to escalate. A recent study by Florida Institute of Technology confirmed that ACD is fueling a disease that has now almost completely wiped out all of the coral reefs in the Caribbean. In just 40 years, the disease has caused a 90 percent decline in coral reefs there.

Meanwhile, a study by the University of British Columbia revealed a 50 percent drop in seabird populations in the Pacific Northwest, and showed that it is primarily because the birds are starving to death. “It’s a pretty strong message that the marine ecosystem has changed,” said the study’s lead author. “And not for the better.”

A recent report by US Geological Survey experts revealed a “significant” drop in seabird populations in the Gulf of Alaska and northeast Bering Sea, and they blame warmer waters.

Other disconcerting news comes in the form of a whale showing up on the wrong side of the world: A gray whale, a species that has never been seen outside of the Pacific, showed up off the coast of Israel. Plus, Europe’s bees are now threatened with extinction, and ACD is one of the primary factors.

A study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that ACD may well lead to disturbances in marine life that will take, literally, thousands of years to recover from, not hundreds of years, as was previously thought.

Another recent study has shown how ACD played a critical role in sparking the horrific war in Syria, by causing a dramatic increase in the odds that a terrible drought in the Fertile Crescent would occur just before the fighting began.

Scientists also recently warned that as populations continue to increase around the world, cities will become much more vulnerable to both droughts and floods.

Lastly in this section, an article published by Slate, titled, “Baked Alaska: If the Last Frontier is the canary in the climate coal mine, we’re in trouble,” provides a stark view of both how rapidly and severely Alaska is being impacted by ACD. There, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Alaska said, “Homer, Alaska, keeps setting record after record, and I keep looking at the data like, ‘Has the temperature sensor gone out or something?'”

“A new report shows that warming in Alaska, along with the rest of the Arctic, is accelerating as the loss of snow and ice cover begins to set off a feedback loop of further warming,” according to the Slate article. “Warming in wintertime has been the most dramatic – more than 6 degrees in the past 50 years. And this is just a fraction of the warming that’s expected to come over just the next few decades.”

Water

This month has seen a range of dire water-related crises around the world.

In the United States, lack of water continues to grow as a major issue in the Southwest and Western states. A 2012 federal supply-and-demand study of the Colorado River predicts that by 2060, the demand shortfall for the Colorado River could likely reach 1 trillion gallons, which is enough water to supply 6 million homes in the Southwest for one full year.

An excellent series of articles published in The Republic focused on the profound crisis that besets the Colorado River and thus the US Southwest. With every single drop of that river already guarded and being squeezed further, cities like Las Vegas, which gets 90 percent of its water from the Colorado, are facing deep trouble.

With 30 million people and billions of dollars of farm production reliant upon the dwindling Colorado River, the likelihood that younger generations will witness massive Southwest cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas becoming largely unlivable is high. The Republic series outlines how residents in some areas already fear they will no longer be able to remain where they currently live.

On that note, a recent study showed that California is likely to face droughts nearly every single year from now on.

As though to drive home that point, NASA recently warned that California only has one year of water left at current usage levels.

And the Southwest is not the only region with water woes.

In the Pacific Northwest, this winter saw a record-low snowpack across Washington State. That state’s Olympic Peninsula’s snowpack is a stunning 90 percent below normal levels. Several ski areas across the state never opened this year, and preparations for an impending summer drought are already underway.

Internationally, lack of water is becoming an increasingly urgent issue. A recent report showed how fresh water shortages will likely cause the next global crisis. By way of example, the drought in Sao Paulo has gotten bad enough that residents have attempted to drill through their basement floors in search of groundwater. As reservoirs continue to dry up across the globe, more than 1 billion people already lack access to safe drinking water. Water rationing and battles to control supply will only increase and worsen.

In fact, the UN recently warned that the entire planet will likely experience a 40 percent shortfall of water by 2030. Let that sink in for a moment; 2030 is a mere 15 years from now.

As warming continues to increase, in Alaska, the famous Iditarod annual sled dog race had to move its official starting point all the way to Fairbanks due to lack of adequate snow cover. For the first time in over a decade, a different course had to be used due to lack of snow, warm weather, the melting of previously frozen rivers and thawing permafrost.

Also in that state, the newest artist-in-residence at Denali National Park, photographer Camille Seaman, spoke to the media about her deep worries about ACD, since she has been photographing the Arctic for over a decade. Seeing Alaska as on the front lines of ACD, Seaman said, “No one can deny what Alaskans are experiencing and witnessing first hand.”

In neighboring Canada, experts are predicting a “foreseeable end” to outdoor hockey, due to warming temperatures and less ice cover.

As sea levels continue to rise, California’s iconic surfing business is in jeopardy. For example, in Monterey Bay, new climate modeling by the US Geological Survey shows that waves are getting larger, but then are falling flat as sea levels continue their inevitable rise.

On the other side of the country, in Florida, rising sea levels and invasive species, both obviously due to ACD, are threatening rare plants in Everglades National Park.

Finally in this section, the melting ice caps are again making the news. A recent report from a Nobel Prize-winning scientist showed, yet again, how increasing temperatures are rising even faster in the Arctic, and predicted that that region’s temperature will rise by at least 7 degrees Celsius within a century, and that the Arctic could be completely ice free within 35 years. However, some predict that we will begin seeing an ice-free Arctic much sooner – even this coming summer.

Giving credence to the predictions that this will happen very soon, US scientists recently announced that the Arctic sea ice has fallen to its lowest level for the winter season ever.

The melting in the Antarctic, which has already been profound, just worsened dramatically. A recent study showed that the Totten Glacier in East Antarctica is being melted from warm seawater underneath it, which is now the world’s fastest thinning area of the world’s largest ice sheet. Losing the Totten means that at least 10 feet of sea level rise just got added to the equation of rising seas.
The current ice loss of the Totten, a floating ice shelf, is now equivalent to 100 times the volume of Australia’s Sydney Harbor for every year of water released from its melting.

In just the last 10 years, ice sheets in Western Antarctica are reported to be melting at least 70 percent faster, according to another study – and this is a low-end estimate.

Fire

A report from late 2014 showed us that lightning strikes around the world will significantly increase with a warming planet. This means a dramatic increase in wildfires caused by said lightning, because ACD is causing an increase of up to 8 million lightning strikes every single day.

The entire country of Chile recently declared a national fire alert due to major wildfires in three of its national parks and reserves that are threatening trees that are a thousand years old. In one region that has been suffering from several years of drought, firefighters have been struggling for weeks to try to contain the fires.

In California, tiny bark beetles are ravaging the drought-weakened pine trees throughout the state in what scientists are calling a fast spreading epidemic that they fear could very soon turn catastrophic.

Air

A recent study has revealed that the Gulf Stream system is most likely already weakening. This is very, very bad news: It means that the current fueling the ocean pattern that transports warm water from the tropics to the North Atlantic has now weakened to its lowest level in 1,100 years, likely due to an influx of freshwater from Greenland’s melting ice sheet. In short, this means that ACD is slowing down the Gulf Stream system much sooner than anyone expected it would, essentially locking in far harsher winters across Europe and dramatically faster sea level rise along the East Coast.

German researchers recently announced that the United States, Europe and Russia will face longer heat waves, since summer winds that previously brought in cool ocean air have now been weakened by ACD.

Recent research revealed how winds that are being changed in velocity by ACD patterns are rendering several airstrips across the Arctic less safe.

NASA announced that the vast methane cloud that has been hovering over the US Southwest is real. There was debate about its existence only because it was so large (the size of Delaware) and the methane readings were so unusually high, that at first it was believed to be an instrument error. The methane cloud is from massive coal mines in the region.

Seven massive craters that began appearing in Siberia last summer, now known to have resulted from melting permafrost and succeeding methane explosions, continue to garner media attention as more people begin to realize the dire impacts. As an increasing amount of methane is released into the atmosphere, the rapidity of ACD’s impact rises, since methane is 100 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the short term. Hence, these craters are yet another runaway feedback loop caused by ACD. Russian scientists have unequivocally tied the methane crater phenomenon to climate disruption.

More research continues to link the wild weather patterns that have been wracking the United States (deep freezes in the Midwest, record low temperatures and high snowfalls in the Northeast, warm winters in the West) to ACD. A NASA-generated image gives a clear picture of the dramatic US weather patterns, revealing the stark difference in temperature anomalies (temperature variations outside the norm) across the country.

At the same time, other scientific reports have linked large Pacific Ocean cycles with warming temperatures on the planet’s surface, which means that as Pacific trade winds slacken in the coming years, as they are expected to do, seas will begin absorbing less of ACD’s energy, and some of the heat they are already holding will be released into the atmosphere, hence speeding up ACD even more.

Denial and Reality

Certainly the top of the barrel of denial dung from this last month comes from the denier-in-chief, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma). His latest antic found him bringing a snowball to the US Senate floor, because in his world, holding a snowball apparently proves that ACD is a “hoax.”

Willie Soon, a “scientist” who works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, whose funding sources – oil and coal interests – were recently revealed, told the media he was “saddened and appalled” by the “attacks” against him. “Deniers” is the perfect term to describe people like Soon.

It also came out recently that Florida Department of Environmental Protection employees were ordered not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails or reports.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, another outspoken denier, compared himself to Galileo and called those who believe in ACD “flat-earthers.” Cruz told the Texas Tribune that contemporary “global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers,” and added, “You know it used to be accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.”

Famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently shot back at the ACD denier camp. During a March lecture he said, “I don’t blame the politicians for a damn thing because we vote for the politicians. I blame the electorate.” Tyson went on to add, “Now we have a time where people are cherry-picking science. The science is not political. That’s like repealing gravity because you gained 10 pounds last week.”

Using the church segue from the Galileo reference, the US Episcopal Church announced that addressing ACD is on par morally with the civil rights movement, and that ACD denial is “immoral.”

A recently released “must-see” documentary called Merchants of Doubt, based on the must-read book with the same title, exposes the dirty tricks the spin doctors from the fossil fuel industry use to fuel the “denial” movement.

Confirming how effective this film is at exposing the denial machine, ACD denier Fred Singer started lobbying fellow skeptics to generate backlash and legal action against the filmmakers.

Also on the reality front, climate scientists at leading universities around the world are now joining forces in order to formulate a plan that will govern investment (read – divestment) in fossil fuels.

Cruz and other denier politicians are now getting schooled by 12-year-olds on ACD. Given that 90 percent of eighth graders accept the reality of human-caused climate change, an event organized by the advocacy group Avaaz brought a group of kids to climate-denying lawmakers’ offices and asked them to take a simple elementary school quiz on the science behind ACD.

As ACD progresses and accelerates, population growth, growing demands for all resources, ACD impacts and lack of potable water have already combined to cause many countries to fall into a state of chronic emergency, as a world made more violent by ACD is upon us.

Lastly, in March, right-wing Tea Party Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was rebuffed in a Senate subcommittee hearing while trying to criticize NASA’s recent decision toward an increase in funding for studying earth-based phenomena, along with a slight decrease in money for space exploration.

Cruz questioned NASA’s aiming funding toward studying ACD, said he felt it was more important to explore space, and while talking to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “I would suggest that almost any American would agree that the core function of NASA is to explore space. That’s what inspires little boys and little girls across this country. It’s what sets NASA apart from any agency in the country.”

To which Bolden replied, “We can’t go anywhere if the Kennedy Space Center goes underwater and we don’t know it – and that’s understanding our environment. It is absolutely critical that we understand Earth’s environment because this is the only place we have to live.”

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Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last ten years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.

His third book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with William Rivers Pitt, is available now on Amazon. He lives and works in Washington State.