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

Posts Tagged ‘Abrupt Climate Impacts’

We Have Been Warned: The Melting Arctic’s Dramatic Impact On Global Weather Patterns

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2016 at 12:55 pm

(Photo: Melting Glacier via Shutterstock)Oldspeak: “Yep. It’s plain to see. Weather is frickin weird. And the rapidly melting Arctic is a major driver of weather related madness. Unprecedented floods, unending droughts, ginormous hurricanes, 70 degrees on christmas, the north pole above freezing in the middle of winter, weakening jet stream, ocean currents slowing down, the melting of polar ice sheets is quite literally affecting the rotation of the planet. The basic fact is “everything in the planet’s climate system is linked together, and when one part of it changes, all the other parts will respond.” The climate system’s responses so far are not pretty atal. Expect this climactic chaos to intensify and species extinctions to accelerate as temperatures rise and conditions worsen.” -OSJ

 

Written by Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

Arctic sea ice is melting at a record pace – and every summer looks grimmer. This past summer saw the ice pack at its fourth-lowest level on record, and the overall trend in recent decades suggests this will only continue.

“Using satellites, scientists have found that the area of sea ice coverage each September has declined by more than 40 percent since the late 1970s, a trend that has accelerated since 2007,” according to the recent report “Arctic Matters: The Global Connection to Changes in the Arctic” by the National Research Council of the National Academies.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

The report added that by the end of each of the eight summers from 2007 to 2014, Arctic sea ice extent was over less area than at any time in the preceding three decades.

In addition to rapid melting of the sea and land ice in the Arctic, temperatures there are warming at least twice as fast as those of the rest of the planet – provoking other dramatic changes.

“Eventually we should see an Arctic Ocean ice free in summers as global temperatures continue to warm.”

Massive wildfires on frozen ground, resulting from increasingly dry conditions caused by anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), are becoming common; this phenomenon is unprecedented over at least the last 10,000 years.

These and other recent changes across the Arctic are making the weather and climate patterns there – and across the rest of the planet – more difficult to predict.

As Arctic Matters reports, “Changes in the Arctic have the potential to affect weather thousands of miles away. Because temperatures are increasing faster in the Arctic than at the tropics, the temperature gradient that drives the jet stream is becoming less intense.”

This causes the jet stream to weaken and shift away from its typical patterns, which then leads to weather patterns becoming more persistent and lasting longer in the mid-latitudes. This then results in longer droughts, more intense heat waves, and far longer and deeper cold snaps, such as those witnessed in the Northeastern United States and Europe during the last two winters.

Truthout interviewed several leading scientists on these issues, seeking a consistent expectation for what the dramatic changes in the Arctic mean. The verdict? If there’s one thing that all the scientists’ predictions have in common, it is significant change.

The Vanishing Arctic Ice Pack

Dr. Julienne Stroeve is a senior research scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. She specializes in the remote sensing of snow and ice, and works in the Arctic measuring changes in the sea ice.

“Eventually we should see an Arctic Ocean ice free in summers as global temperatures continue to warm,” Stroeve told Truthout. She expects us to begin seeing summer periods of an ice-free Arctic ice pack around the year 2040.

Bob Henson is a meteorologist with the Weather Underground, and author of The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change.

He believes that while there will most likely be some small areas of year-round ice clinging to far northern Canada for decades to come, “I would expect a summer in the next 20 to 30 years in which sea ice covers as little as 10 percent of the Arctic for at least a few days in August or September,” he said.

Everything in the planet’s climate system is linked, and when one part of it changes, all the other parts will respond.

Henson pointed out that if we extrapolate data and make predictions from more recent conditions in the Arctic, the timeline for seeing a total loss of sea ice seems faster, but he said we will most likely see summer sea ice declining “in a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process, with record ice loss in some years (as in 2007 and 2012) and a temporary, partial ‘recovery’ in other years (as in 2009 and 2013).”

Regardless of the specifics of the timeline, many agree that an ice-free Arctic will appear before the next century begins.

Dr. Steven Vavrus at the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison focuses on the Arctic and serves on the science steering committee for the Study of Environmental Arctic Change. “The precise timing is nearly impossible to pin down, but most estimates range from around 2040 until the end of this century,” he told Truthout. “I would be very surprised if seasonally ice-free conditions during summer do not emerge by 2100.”

Dr. David Klein is the director of the climate science program at California State University, Northridge. Like others, he pointed out how the Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the planet, and pointed out how ice loss there is “proceeding more rapidly than models have predicted.”

“The loss of sea ice decreases albedo [reflectivity] and results in greater absorption of energy in the water, and the warm water then heats the air above it,” Klein told Truthout. “NASA’s CERES satellites have observed an increase of 10 watts per square meter of solar radiation absorbed by the Arctic Ocean from 2000 to 2014.”

By way of comparison, overall net planetwide warming from greenhouse gases thus far is only one-twentieth that amount of heating.

While that might not sound like very much, as James Hansen has pointed out, cumulatively that amount corresponds to 400,000 Hiroshima atom bombs per day, 365 days a year, across the planet.

Changing Global Weather Patterns

Stroeve explained why the Arctic is vitally important in terms of its impact on the global climate system.

“The Arctic is typically covered by snow and ice year around,” she said. “Snow and ice have a high albedo, meaning they reflect most of the sun’s energy back out to space, helping to keep the region, and the planet, cooler than [they] otherwise would be. As the sea ice melts, or snow [and] glaciers melt, it lowers the albedo, allowing more of the sun’s energy to be absorbed by the ocean and land surfaces, further warming the region.”

Hence, all of our large-scale weather and ocean patterns are tied to the temperature difference between the poles, which receive less solar input, Stroeve said, and the equator, which receives most of the solar input.

“If that temperature difference changes, we would expect the large-scale weather patterns, i.e. the jet stream pattern, to respond,” she added. “This would then [have an] impact on precipitation patterns, perhaps frequency of extreme weather events etc.”

Henson warned that we are entering “uncharted territory” when it comes to the loss of Arctic sea ice.

“The ice loss in recent years has been unprecedented since satellite coverage began in the 1970s, and all signals point to a continued decline in summer sea ice over the next few decades,” he said. “We may already be seeing the effects of Arctic sea ice loss in mid-latitude weather patterns.”

Henson warned that in the coming decades, an Arctic Ocean that is completely open for even a few days or weeks per year, could well shape the atmosphere “in ways that are not yet fully understood.”

“The ‘climate system’ is a complex interconnection of air, land, plants, sea and ice,” he said. “Any transformation to this system as large as the loss of summertime Arctic sea ice should concern all of us, especially since it could reverberate in yet-unknown ways.”

Vavrus explained how the Arctic is the “refrigerator” of the global climate system, acting as the cold region that balances out the hot tropics.

“In this role, the Arctic helps to regulate the energy balance of the climate system and the weather circulation patterns both within high latitudes and elsewhere,” he said.

He went on to point out that the most common expectation among scientists about the impact that the loss of summer sea ice will have on global climate patterns is that more solar energy will be absorbed by the Arctic Ocean and land, and the added heat from the earth’s surface will then be released back into the atmosphere during autumn and winter.

“That will then make the region much warmer during those seasons than in the current climate,” Vavrus said. “That will likely lead to a weakening of jet-stream winds and probably a wavier jet-stream flow pattern.”

This will then result in shifting jet-stream winds, and lead to more persistent and extreme weather patterns both within and outside of the Arctic, he added.

Extreme weather patterns don’t necessarily mean a universal trend toward hot weather. Henson pointed out that research by some scientists is showing that sea ice loss may be helping to cause colder mid-latitude winters like those seen recently in the Northeastern United States. Why? According to Henson, this could be because “the heat released from the newly opened ocean may be helping to slow and weaken the polar jet stream.”

Another mechanism Henson mentioned is how open water in the Barents and Kara Seas may be moistening the autumn atmosphere over Siberia, leading to heavier autumn snows and triggering a chain of events leading to midwinter Arctic outbreaks.

Stroeve said that while exact ramifications of an ice-free Arctic continue to remain unclear, “There is some thought that the warming Arctic has already led to a slowing down of the zonal wind speeds, and perhaps also causing a wavier jet-stream pattern, which would allow for more extreme (or ‘stuck’) weather patterns to persist.”

Klein pointed to how the melting Arctic sea ice “can disrupt normal ocean circulation because of the influx of freshwater from the melted ice, and rising air heated by the water can change wind patterns and even perturb the jet stream, which in turn might alter weather patterns thousands of miles away.”

Some current research states that this contributes to the extreme “polar vortex” weather events we’ve seen in recent years, in addition to the extreme drought plaguing much of the western United States.

Klein also pointed out another dramatic impact the loss of ice is having within the Arctic itself.

“With ice no longer stabilizing land along coasts, erosion will increase and fragile permafrost areas will release more greenhouse gases,” he said. “Permafrost coasts [permanently frozen soil next to open water bodies] comprise a third of the world’s coastline. This is another positive feedback leading to further warming.”

We Have Been Warned

Stroeve pointed out that people should be concerned about the upcoming summer periods of an ice-free Arctic Ocean due to the fact that everything in the planet’s climate system is linked together, and when one part of it changes, all the other parts will respond.

“It also causes our planet to warm further, changes [in] species’ habitat/range, perhaps leading to extinction for some species,” she explained. “A change in our precipitation patterns will impact food and water security. Then, of course, there are people who live in the Arctic and are being directly impacted by these changes.”

Dr. Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University’s Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences whose research is focused on the Arctic, pointed out how the Arctic sea ice plays a critical role in the region’s climate system and marine ecosystem. And as we’re learning, its disappearance “is having broad effects well beyond the Arctic.”

Impacts range “from weather patterns to animal migrations to ocean current systems to food webs,” Francis told Truthout. “Its loss will be felt directly and indirectly by billions of people.”

 

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Nations’ Pledges To Cut Carbon Emissions Insufficient To Avoid Catastrophic Climate Change; Set Course for Disastrous Warming: Analysis

In Uncategorized on September 11, 2015 at 8:14 pm

Oldspeak: “Here’s what we know: “Everyday politics is therefore dominated not by evidence-based policy-making but by attempts at ‘policy-based evidence-making‘ and global warming is likely to surpass the 2c “guardrail“, this news is a logical outcome. As we’ve seen from my last post, scientists are actually being discouraged from reporting facts. Is it any surprise then, that our policies are utterly incompatible with the reality we face? The reality is this: We’re currently on track for 3.2 to 5c of warming a.k.a extinction. The longer policy makers continue to pretend that 2c of warming is achievable at the same time that entirely too much carbon continues to be emitted by the day, while dirty energy producers keep on with “drill baby drill” and far too little is being done to reduce emissions the more certain our fate is sealed. It’s not difficult to understand. Technology that does not exist is being relied upon to make 2c warming scenarios plausible.  And by the way we’re destroying many of the life-forms that remove carbon from the atmosphere at breakneck speed. It’s time to accept that the 2c “guardrail” is no longer feasible. This is the awful truth about climate change that no one wants to admit. This delusional policy can only be countenanced for so much longer.  We’re fucked. “Ignorance Is Strength.” -OSJ

 

Written By Andrea Germanos @ Common Dreams:

Greenhouse gas reduction pledges countries have submitted to the United Nations in advance of global climate talks set the planet on a path that keeps critical climate goals out of reach.

That’s according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a project of four research organizations that assesses nations’ climate pledges and actions. It released its findings Wednesday as talks are underway in Bonn, Germany, where global delegates are working to streamline the draft text for the UN climate change summit in Paris in December, known as COP21.

“One would have expected all the new Government climate targets combined to put the world on a lower emissions pathway, but they haven’t,” said Louise Jeffery of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

CAT analyzed what are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted by 15 governments, which together cover 64.5% of global emissions. Taken collectively, their plans would fail to avert a potentially disastrous level of warming, the analysis found.

“It is clear that if the Paris meeting locks in present climate commitments for 2030, holding warming below 2 degrees C could essentially become infeasible, and 1.5°C beyond reach,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, which joins the Potsdam Institute as one of the four organizations comprising CAT.

It classified seven of the INDCs as inadequate, six as medium, and two as sufficient.

The United States was among those given the medium rating. That status, CAT states, “indicates that the U.S. climate plans are at the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution.”

CAT states that its “analysis shows that in order to hold global warming below 2°C, governments need to significantly strengthen the INDCs they have submitted to date.”

Regardless of pledges, some climate activists expect little progress from the Paris meeting.

As Alex Scrivener, policy officer at Global Justice Now, wrote at Common Dreams last month, COP21 won’t be the answer to climate change. That’s because “it will not be dealing with the underlying problem—the unfair economic system that puts the interest of fossil fuel addicted corporations above those of the people,” he wrote.

“So instead of being distracted by the false hope of a summit breakthrough, we should concentrate on putting pressure on our politicians to reduce emissions at home and building a broad and diverse movement to change the political context of climate policy. This means fighting trade deals that bestow rights on fossil fuel corporations. It means fighting the politics of austerity that forces us to accept ‘cheap’ coal instead of investing in clean, democratically controlled energy systems. And it also means fighting against the privatization of energy globally,” Scrivener writes.

The need for mass popular mobilizations to effect such change was also stressed in a joint statement recently issued by key leaders from the global climate justice movement.

“For more than 20 years, governments have been meeting, yet greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased and the climate keeps changing. The forces of inertia and obstruction prevail, even as scientific warnings become ever more dire,” the statement reads.

Yet “our actions are much more powerful than we think.”

“In the past, determined women and men have resisted and overcome the crimes of slavery, totalitarianism, colonialism or apartheid. They decided to fight for justice and solidarity and knew no one would do it for them. Climate change is a similar challenge, and we are nurturing a similar uprising,” they write.

 

“We are underestimating the speed at which these things are beginning to happen.”: Prominent Climate Scientist Warns Sea Levels Are Rising Faster Than We Thought

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Half the world’s population lives within 60 km of the ocean.

Oldspeak:High emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century, It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization….The research explains that there is an “amplifying feedback” as polar ice melts, because as more freshwater enters the ocean, it traps warmer sea water, which melts more ice. The effect is not included in the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) modeling but “extensive data indicate [it] is already occurring…-Samantha Page

“There goes that phrase again. “faster than we thought.” my response? No shit. In the context of news like this, this, and this. This is entirely predictable. Yes sea level is rising faster than predicted, because polar melting has gone non-linear and unpredictable.  Conflicts, forced migrations, economic collapses, portions of the planet that are ungovernable; in progress. But even this esteemed and well-regarded climate scientist in the face of all this dire evidence of the current state of affairs, believes this “problem” can be solved with market based “solutions” like a “carbon tax”. As if the utter futility and duplicity of that “fix” has not been understood by Hansen himself years ago!!! This man is literally on record saying “Because cap and trade is enforced through the selling and trading of permits, it actually perpetuates the pollution it is supposed to eliminate. If every polluter’s emissions fell below the incrementally lowered cap, then the price of pollution credits would collapse and the economic rationale to keep reducing pollution would disappear…. It merely allows polluters and Wall Street traders to fleece the public out of billions of dollars.” I wonder who got to him to get him to change his tune? Profit Is Paramount. Meanwhile, half the world lives within 60km of a sea.” -OSJ

 

Written By Samantha Page @ Think Progress:

Limiting climate change to 2°C is not going to protect us from devastating sea level rise, a new report has found.

According to the research, freshwater from land-based ice sheets melting into the oceans is inducing feedback that is accelerating the melting of ice shelves — a loop that indicates sea level rise will continue and could be devastating at much lower temperature changes than previously thought.

The study, authored by well-known climate scientist James Hansen and 16 other researchers, will be published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics this week. The research explains that there is an “amplifying feedback” as polar ice melts, because as more freshwater enters the ocean, it traps warmer sea water, which melts more ice. The effect is not included in the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) modeling but “extensive data indicate [it] is already occurring,” according to the report.

“We are underestimating the speed at which these things are beginning to happen,” Hansen, head of the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions Program at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said Monday on a call with reporters.

This feedback loop is separate from other accepted science, such as the ice-albedo feedback loop, in which dark-colored water and exposed ground absorb more heat than the white, reflective ice and snow they have replaced.

The implications of this feedback loop are significant, Hansen said.

“This is substantially more persuasive than anything previously published about just how dangerous 2°C will be,” Hansen said on the call Monday.

The study has not been peer-reviewed. Instead, it is being published in a discussion journal, which means will be published in full and made available to the public. Peer review and revisions will be made publicly. The scientific community is sure to weigh in.

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, told ThinkProgress that he was “skeptical about some of the specifics” of the paper — for instance, the ocean current modeling and meltwater assumptions. But, overall, Mann supported the discussion the article will prompt.

“Hansen and colleagues make a plausible case that even 2°C planetary warming (something we commit to in just a few years given business as usual fossil fuel burning) could indeed be very bad,” Mann wrote in an email. He pointed to the predicted collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet and the substantial rise in sea level that would result.

“On that basis alone, the article serves as a sobering wake-up call to those who still dispute the threat posed by our ongoing burning of fossil fuels,” Mann wrote.

In fact, Hansen said it’s the urgency of the issue that prompted him to submit the study to a discussion journal, rather than undergoing peer review, which might have taken too long.

Instead, the study is appearing months in advance of the United Nations’ climate talks in Paris at the end of the year. Governments have already begun outlining their potential commitments to carbon emissions reductions, but Hansen suggested that current goals may not be sufficient to adequately address sea level rise. Other scientists have also criticized the 2°C limit, saying that it will not be sufficient to avoid catastrophic drought, flooding, and other climate impacts.

And the stakes could not be higher, according to the authors. “High emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century,” they write. “It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”

Three-quarters of large cities worldwide are located on the coast, making sea level rise a significant climate change risk. In order to prevent this process, we need to curb carbon emissions by 3 percent a year and increase carbon capture through agricultural and forestry practices, Hansen said. Putting a price on carbon is the most effective — and likely only effective — way to address climate change and sea level rise, Hansen told reporters.

“The situation is more urgent than many politicians seem to realize,” he said. “What is really needed to happen requires that the major power decide we want to do this and we want to solve the problem and not just fiddle around the edges.”

At a meeting last month, leaders of the Group of Seven — a coalition of the world’s largest economies — agreed to limit warming to 2°C, but they did not announce a plan or mechanism for reducing emissions. China recently pledged to cut its carbon intensity — its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP — by 60-65 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The negotiations of the Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris later this year are broadly structured around an attempt to limit global warming to 2°C through voluntary, agreed-upon carbon emission reductions. Hansen and his colleagues believe that goal is a chimera.

“We conclude that 2°C global warming above the preindustrial level, instead of being a safe ‘guardrail’, is highly dangerous,” the authors write.

“We’re Already There…” Burnin’ And Lootin’: On The Occation Of Impending Ecosystem Collapse

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Oldspeak:

“(That’s why we gonna be)
Burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight;
(Say we gonna burn and loot)
Burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight;
(One more thing)
Burnin’ all pollution tonight;
(Oh, yeah, yeah)
Burnin’ all illusion tonight.

Oh, stop them!-Robert Nesta Marley

“As The World Burns, we loot Her endlessly. We can’t help it really. We know no other way. We’re pretty much locked in to this way of being. Many of us are very comfortable ensconced in the Ecocidal Perpetual Death Machine/Heat Engine that is Industrial Civilization. Eagerly consuming our daily rations of hopium laced infotainment through our telescreens and “Victory Gin” whenever possible. Labouring dutifully in our invisible prisons of “busyness|business”, conformity, and compliance. What follows is an unvarnished delineation of the ongoing and intensifying global ecological collapse, most of us are actively and aggressively ignoring. For me the most pertinent part of this piece is what  Dr Alex Rogers has to say:

Climate Change affects are going to be extremely serious, and it’s interesting when you think many people who talk about this in terms of what will happen in the future… our children will see the effects of this… Well, actually we’re seeing very severe impacts from climate change already… We’re already there…Most, if not all, of the five global mass extinctions in Earth’s history carry the fingerprints of the main symptoms of… global warming, ocean acidification and anoxia or lack of oxygen. It is these three factors — ‘the deadly trio’ — which are present in the ocean today. In fact, the [current] situation is unprecedented in the Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change.”

In that context, I struggle to comprehend the Hopium of the author. When he writes, right after that quote:

Maybe, in the near future, somebody who has solid political leadership skills will initiate a nationwide infrastructure project connecting major cities via electric-powered trains and construct solar panels and wind turbines along the right of ways, assuming there is enough time

“Why? Why this baseless faith in “The market” of Politics? That market, that political system, has helped bring us to where we stand today. What possible good could come from more of the ecological destruction, pollution, extractive mining for the minerals & materials required to construct this “green” infrastructure, that will in the long run be meaningless in mitigating that which is beyond mitigation? I don’t get it. When will we burn the illusion?” -OSJ

Written By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Climate change/global warming is the main protagonist on the worldwide stage of collapsing ecosystems.

The ecosystem is a combination of living organisms in harmony with nonliving elements like air, water, and mineral soil interacting as one whole. But, what if the living and nonliving elements stop interrelating as “one harmonized whole”? Then, what happens?

As things stand today, the planet’s future is decidedly in the camp of “then, what happens?”

Signals of planetary stress are literally off the charts.  Meanwhile the world continues spinning like always, as people go to work, drive cars, go out to dinner, and watch TV, some read books but not much these days.

Those routines of going to work, out to dinner, and so forth maintain an equilibrium, a daily pattern on the same freeways, the same faces, the same workplaces. By itself, life seems very normal, nothing much to worry about other than making monthly car payments.

Similarly, the natural world experiences its own rhythm, like the everyday cycle of people going to work, on the freeway, to dinner, watching TV. But, radically dissimilar to that everyday cycle that seems so dependable, so routine, the natural world is amiss, chaotic, crumbling apart, bursting at the seams. However, this deep trouble is not noticed, not recognized, not reported in accordance with severe levels of impending calamity. After all, as long as Wall Street goes up, all is well, isn’t it? Yet, all is not well, not by a long shot.

Ecosystem degradation happens in silence, not on freeways, not in theaters, not in malls. There is no ticker tape to watch or CNBC to listen to.

Consider this, what if tire blowouts occurred every day on the commute? What if the television set blacks-out every two minutes? What if faucets unexpectedly turn dry? Those situations could be metaphors for the ecosystem today, anomalous, irregular, variable, faltering!  Thus, climate change is very real, and people are already starting to experience ecosystem collapse.

The São Paulo water crisis, or “hydric collapse” as many are calling it, has left a city of 20 million teetering on the brink.1 Water is shut off in most parts of the city every day at 1:00 P.M. Scientists say this disaster, in large measure, is payback because of massive rain forest degradation, disrupting normal weather patterns.2

A shortage of water leads to various and sundry consequences, as for one example among many: “The financial hub of one of the world’s biggest economies is experiencing a water crisis so bad that experts say it could affect investors globally”.3

All of which may be a blessing in disguise because “affecting investors globally” may be the only way for “ecosystem collapse” to gain attention in today’s neoliberal “only-the-bottom-line-counts” world.

The ecosystem’s collapse knows no boundaries. Three million people will be without water in Taiwan, as the government drastically rations.4 The normal rainy season is now abnormally missing. Scientists say global warming has altered the jet streams and weather patterns. Thankfully, good news, as of July 10th, typhoon Chan-hom heads towards Taiwan for a little temporary relief.

California is haunted by and threatened with full-scale desertification as a powerful high-pressure system known as the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge hovers over the Pacific Ocean, blocking normal wintertime rainfall.5 Scientists (Princeton and Stanford) say climate change is a significant culprit.

Not only that, but with planetary heat; i.e., global warming increasing month-by-month for years on end, California’s main water tower, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range snow pack runs dry way too quickly.

In fact, worldwide, glacial water towers are rapidly diminishing from too much heat, threatening hydro-power, irrigation, and drinking water as well as commercial rivers in heavily populated areas of Asia and South America, akin to São Paulo.

Chinese scientists report significant glacial loss (up t0 70%) at the headwaters of major commercial rivers, like the Lancang River, the “Danube of the East.”

Based upon the past record of incessant temperature rise over the last few decades, glacial ice/snow will likely remain under heated attack: “March 2015 and first quarter of year warmest on record: Arctic sea ice extent smallest on record for the month of March.”6

Relentlessly, global temperatures continue setting new record highs, year after year. In the United States: “The June contiguous U.S. average temperature was 71.4°F, 2.9°F above the 20th century average, second only to June 1933 in the 121-year period of record,”7

Not only that: “A new study published online in the journal Science finds that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century. The study refutes the notion that there has been a slowdown or ‘hiatus’ in the rate of global warming in recent years.”8

Increasing levels of heat bring forth new problems. China suffers from major desertification with 27% of the country or 2.6 million sq km affected. Woefully, another 1.7 million sq km, or 65% additional land, is at risk of turning to desert for a grand total of 45% of China at risk of desertification. Proof that land degradation in combination with global warming takes a huge toll even though the government has been fighting back.9 Scientists say global warming accelerates worldwide desertification.

In turn, desertification contributes to global warming, a positive feedback loop (which is really a negative), as “warming is allowing the carbon that has been stored in dry land vegetation and soils to be released to the atmosphere as it dries out and dies.”10

Tipping Points of Irreversible Ecosystem Decay/Destruction/Collapse

A prestigious group of scientists from around the world is warning that population growth, widespread destruction of natural ecosystems, and climate change may be driving Earth toward an irreversible change in the biosphere, a planet-wide tipping point that would have destructive consequences… there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including, for example, fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations.11

As for planet-wide tipping points: “There are 30 self-reinforcing feedback loops that are irreversible.”12 Some are very tipsy, some already tipping.

For example, methane hydrates in the Arctic Ocean, harmlessly contained, so far, under the ice for millennia, are equivalent to 1,000 to 10,000 gigatons of carbon versus 226 gigatons in the atmosphere.13 Today the level is over 300 gigatons (McPherson). Because the Arctic is loosing so much ice cover, a 50-gigaton burp of methane is highly possible at any time, which is equivalent to an additional 1,000 gigatons of carbon.14  The results could be dire.

In the melting permafrost of Siberia:

Methane vents 30 centimeters (one foot) in diameter were lit on fire by scientists in 2010… by the summer of 2011, they were not lighting this on fire anymore because those methane vents were a kilometer (1/2 mile) across… a twenty-six-hundred-fold (2,600) increase in size in a year… it’s almost as if we’ve triggered rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses. (McPherson).

According to NASA, methane plumes that are kilometers wide have already been monitored in the Arctic.15

The plain fact is that “loss of Arctic ice” equals way too much methane released into the atmosphere. It’s a dastardly closed circuit of ruination prompted by the selection of fossil fuels over renewable energy sources. But, Germany (25% renewables) knows better.  China is aware and active. However, as for the derisory U.S., nobody knows where or how or when it comes into the picture.

The biggest worry amongst some scientists is the rapidity of past ecosystem collapse. According to Paul Beckwith, Laboratory for Paleoclimatology and Climatology, University of Ottawa: “55 million years ago… the temperature rose globally by 5C in 13 years, as shown in sediment samples.”16

Notice that it did not take hundreds (100s) or thousands (1,000s) or millions (1,000,000s) of years to increase 5C. In that particular case, once the tipping point was triggered, it occurred in a geological flash, within only 13 years.

If perchance the Arctic ice entirely melts away during the summer season, which some prominent scientists believe is due fairly soon, it is not out of the question that the release of methane buried under the ice for millennia will self-perpetuate into a global warming frenzy or super cycle, possibly repeating the experience of 55 million years ago. Who knows? Then, the lights go out, no more TV, and who needs Wall Street? According to Dr. Peter Wadhams, Cambridge University, humanity cannot tolerate a 5C increase.

Thirteen (13) years seems like a short time frame to kick into gear the potential of an earth-shattering ecosystem breakdown. All of which begs the question: How deadly might it be and how quickly does 5C turn into disaster?

Nobody really knows for sure that it will even happen, but on the other hand, it happened in the geological record, only recently discovered within the past two years by Rutgers scientists17

The Ocean’s “under the weather”

The ocean is the kingpin of the ecosystem and the single best barometer of the condition/health of the planet’s ecosystem.

Decidedly, problems are found throughout the marine food chain from the base, plankton, showing early signs of reproductive and maturation complications due to too much CO2 emitted by burning fossil fuels, to the largest fish species, the whale shark, which is on the endangered species list.

The ocean is not functioning properly. It’s a festering problem that will not go away. This is due to acidification, and, as long as fossil fuels predominate, it will methodically, and assuredly, over time, kill the ocean, which absorbs 30% of the CO2 from the atmosphere and has been absorbing 80-90% of the planet’s heat (NOAA).

Over 3,300 floating Argo probes strategically stationed in oceans worldwide measure heat content. The results show 90% of planetary heat is stored there (discussed in IPCC report d/d 2007). By way of comparison, the atmosphere stores only about 2% because of its small heat capacity.

The ocean heat build-up is potentially a big problem: Ocean heat, under certain conditions, can whiplash back up into the atmosphere causing rapid acceleration of global warming as Pacific trade winds potentially slacken in years ahead.18

Not only that, but problems stacked upon more problems, the rate of change of ocean pH (measure of acidity) is 10 times faster than 55 million years ago. That period of geologic history was directly linked to a mass extinction event as levels of CO2 mysteriously went off the charts.19

Zooming in on the Future, circa 2050 – Location: Castello Aragonese aka: “The Acid Sea”

Scientists have discovered a real life Petri dish of seawater conditions similar to what will likely occur ocean-wide by the year 2050, assuming fossil fuels continue to emit CO2 at current rates.

This real life Petri dish is located in the Tyrrhenian Sea at Castello Aragonese, which is a tiny island that rises straight up out of the sea like a tower. The island is located 17 miles west of Naples. Tourists like to visit Aragonese Castle (built 474 BC), which is on the island, to see the display of medieval torture devices.

But, the real commotion is offshore, under the water, where Castello Aragonese holds a very special secret, an underwater display that gives scientists a window 50 years into the future.  A quirk of geology is at work whereby volcanic vents on the seafloor surrounding the island are bubbling up large quantities of CO2. In turn, this replicates the level of CO2 scientists expect the ocean to absorb over the course of the next 50 years.

“When you get to the extremely high CO2 almost nothing can tolerate that,” according to Jason-Hall Spencer, PhD, professor of marine biology, School of Marine Science and Engineering, Plymouth University (UK), who studies the seawater around Castello Aragonese.20

The adverse effects of excessive CO2 are found everywhere in the immediate surroundings of the tiny island. Barnacles, one of the toughest of all sea life, are missing around the base of the island where seawater measurements show the heaviest concentration of CO2. And, within the water, limpets, which wander into the area seeking food, show severe shell dissolution. Their shells are almost completely transparent. The underwater sea grass is a vivid green, which is abnormal because tiny organisms usually coat the blades of sea grass and dull the color, but no such organisms exists. Sea urchins, which are commonplace further away from the vents, are nowhere to be seen around the island.

The only life forms found around Castello Aragonese are jellyfish, sea grass, and algae; whereas, an abundance of underwater sea life is found in more distant surrounding waters. Thus, the Castello Aragonese Petri dish is essentially a dead sea except for weeds, explaining why Jane Lubchenco, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, refers to ocean acidification, as global warming’s “equally evil twin.”

To that end, a slow motion death march leading to significant ecosystem collapse is churning away in the ocean in real time, and sadly, humans are witnesses to this extinction event, but it does not hit home. It happens in hiding, silent, within a vast expanse of water. Other than a few scientists, who really knows much about it?

Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of IPSO and professor of Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford:

Climate Change affects are going to be extremely serious, and it’s interesting when you think many people who talk about this in terms of what will happen in the future… our children will see the effects of this… Well, actually we’re seeing very severe impacts from climate change already… We’re already there.21

And:

Most, if not all, of the five global mass extinctions in Earth’s history carry the fingerprints of the main symptoms of… global warming, ocean acidification and anoxia or lack of oxygen. It is these three factors — ‘the deadly trio’ — which are present in the ocean today. In fact, the [current] situation is unprecedented in the Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change.22

The conspicuous issue is, according to Rogers: “The current situation is unprecedented in Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change”.

Maybe, in the near future, somebody who has solid political leadership skills will initiate a nationwide infrastructure project connecting major cities via electric-powered trains and construct solar panels and wind turbines along the right of ways, assuming there is enough time.

Postscript: On a quasi-positive, but still melancholic, note:

I don’t think we are going to become extinct. We’re very clever and extremely resourceful – and we will find ways of preserving ourselves, of that I’m sure. But whether our lives will be as rich as they are now is another question.

— Sir David Attenborough, English broadcaster and naturalist, Are We Changing Planet Earth, BBC, 2006

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–

  1. The Guardian, February 2015 [↩]
  2. Dr. Antonio Donato Nobre, National Institute for Research in the Amazon: “The Magic of the Amazon: A River That Flows Invisibly All Around Us,” TED, November, 2010 [↩]
  3. “Worries Grow as Serious Drought Hits São Paulo, Brazil”, CNBC, July 2015 [↩]
  4. BBC, April 2015 [↩]
  5. Weather West, February 2015 [↩]
  6. Global Summary Information – March 2015, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA. [↩]
  7. State of the Climate, National Centers for Environmental Information, July 2015. [↩]
  8. “Science Publishes New NOAA Analysis: Data Show no Recent Slowdown in Global Warming”, NOAA, June 4, 2015. [↩]
  9. China Times, June 2015 [↩]
  10. Julie Kerr Casper, Ph.D., Earth scientist, Bureau of Land Mgmt., “Changing Ecosystems: Effects of Global Warming,” November 2009. [↩]
  11. UC Berkley, June 2012 [↩]
  12. Guy McPherson, Climate Change and Human Extinction [↩]
  13. Science, March 2010 [↩]
  14. Nature, July 2013 [↩]
  15. NASA, July 2013 [↩]
  16. COP20: Global Arctic Methane Emergency, December 2014 [↩]
  17. Ken Branson, “New Finding Shows Climate Change Can Happen in a Geological Instant”, Rutgers Today, October 6, 2013. [↩]
  18. National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth [↩]
  19. C.L. Dybas, “On a Collision Course: Oceans Plankton and Climate Change”, BioScience, 2006. [↩]
  20. Elizabeth Kolbert, “The Acid Sea”, National Geographic, April, 2011 [↩]
  21. State of the Ocean.org, Video Interview, Dr. Alex Rogers, 2011 [↩]
  22. Rogers, A.D., Laffoley, D. A. “International Earth System Expert Workshop on Ocean Stresses and Impacts”, Summary Report, IPSO Oxford, 2011. [↩]

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

“It’s, um… bad. Really nasty.” : When The End Of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job

In Uncategorized on July 9, 2015 at 8:17 pm
Glaciologist Jason Box, left, at work on the Petermann Glacier on Greenland's northwest coast, which has lost mass at an accelerated pace in recent years. Box and his family left Ohio State for Europe a couple years ago, and he is relieved to have escaped America's culture of climate-change denial.

Glaciologist Jason Box, left, at work on the Petermann Glacier on Greenland’s northwest coast, which has lost mass at an accelerated pace in recent years. Box and his family left Ohio State for Europe a couple years ago, and he is relieved to have escaped America’s culture of climate-change denial

Oldspeak:” Boy I tell ya, Hopium is a helluva drug. Fascinating to see the thought process and disposition that informs the majority of the climate scientists interviewed for this piece. Even in the face of steadily mounting data, evidence, and dire conditions observed, they still cling to the fantastical notions like: “We can solve this problem in a way that doesn’t disrupt our lifestyle” or “I don’t think we’re fucked. There is time to build sustainable solutions to a lot of these things.” or “If I spend my energy on despair, I won’t be thinking about opportunities to minimize the problem.’ /O_o\When you read those thoughts in the context of the reality that civilization is a heat engine, not likely to  de-grow, slow down or stop until all natural resources and capital required for its operation are exhausted and it collapses; at which point lethal clouds of radioactivity from some 400 melted down nuclear power plants will envelop the earth, you understand that hopes for “solving the problem” “sustainable solutions” and “opportunities to minimize the problem” are quite absurd. One went so far as to cite the change in attitudes and acceptance of gay marriage to justify a possible quick change in attitudes and acceptance of mass extinction. As if it’s at all appropriate to compare the impending end of most all life on earth to the socially agreed upon business contract that is Marriage. SMDH… Also found it interesting that some climate scientists express contempt, frustration, disgust and annoyance with climate change deniers, while harboring their own brands of denial.  Sigh… What we are witnessing is an intractably catastrophic calamity that is beyond human scale and ability to affect in any meaningful way. The sooner we accept this, let go of what was, recognize what is and get on with living the rest of our short ass lives, the better off we will be.-OSJ

Written By John H. Richardson @ Esquire:

The incident was small, but Jason Box doesn’t want to talk about it. He’s been skittish about the media since it happened. This was last summer, as he was reading the cheery blog posts transmitted by the chief scientist on the Swedish icebreaker Oden, which was exploring the Arctic for an international expedition led by Stockholm University. “Our first observations of elevated methane levels, about ten times higher than in background seawater, were documented . . . we discovered over 100 new methane seep sites…. The weather Gods are still on our side as we steam through a now ice-free Laptev Sea….”

As a leading climatologist who spent many years studying the Arctic at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at Ohio State, Box knew that this breezy scientific detachment described one of the nightmare long-shot climate scenarios: a feedback loop where warming seas release methane that causes warming that releases more methane that causes more warming, on and on until the planet is incompatible with human life. And he knew there were similar methane releases occurring in the area. On impulse, he sent out a tweet.

“If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we’re f’d.”

The tweet immediately went viral, inspiring a series of headlines:

CLIMATOLOGIST SAYS ARCTIC CARBON RELEASE COULD MEAN “WE’RE FUCKED.”

CLIMATE SCIENTIST DROPS THE F-BOMB AFTER STARTLING ARCTIC DISCOVERY.

CLIMATOLOGIST: METHANE PLUMES FROM THE ARCTIC MEAN WE’RE SCREWED.

Box has been outspoken for years. He’s done science projects with Greenpeace, and he participated in the 2011 mass protest at the White House organized by 350.org. In 2013, he made headlines when a magazine reported his conclusion that a seventy-foot rise in sea levels over the next few centuries was probably already “baked into the system.” Now, with one word, Box had ventured into two particularly dangerous areas. First, the dirty secret of climate science and government climate policies is that they’re all based on probabilities, which means that the effects of standard CO2 targets like an 80 percent reduction by 2050 are based on the middle of the probability curve. Box had ventured to the darker possibilities on the curve’s tail, where few scientists and zero politicians are willing to go.

Worse, he showed emotion, a subject ringed with taboos in all science but especially in climate science. As a recent study from the University of Bristol documented, climate scientists have been so distracted and intimidated by the relentless campaign against them that they tend to avoid any statements that might get them labeled “alarmists,” retreating into a world of charts and data. But Box had been able to resist all that. He even chased the media splash in interviews with the Danish press, where they translated “we’re fucked” into its more decorous Danish equivalent, “on our ass,” plastering those dispiriting words in large-type headlines all across the country.

The problem was that Box was now working for the Danish government, and even though Denmark may be the most progressive nation in the world on climate issues, its leaders still did not take kindly to one of its scientists distressing the populace with visions of global destruction. Convinced his job was in jeopardy only a year after he uprooted his young family and moved to a distant country, Box was summoned before the entire board of directors at his research institute. So now, when he gets an e-mail asking for a phone call to discuss his “recent gloomy statements,” he doesn’t answer it.

Five days later: “Dr. Box—trying you again in case the message below went into your junk file. Please get in touch.”

This time he responds briefly. “I think most scientists must be burying overt recognition of the awful truths of climate change in a protective layer of denial (not the same kind of denial coming from conservatives, of course). I’m still amazed how few climatologists have taken an advocacy message to the streets, demonstrating for some policy action.” But he ignores the request for a phone call.

A week later, another try: “Dr. Box—I watched your speech at The Economist’s Arctic Summit. Wow. I would like to come see you.”

But gloom is the one subject he doesn’t want to discuss. “Crawling under a rock isn’t an option,” he responds, “so becoming overcome with PTSD-like symptoms is useless.” He quotes a Norse proverb:

“The unwise man is awake all night, worries over and again. When morning rises he is restless still.”

Most people don’t have a proverb like that readily at hand. So, a final try: “I do think I should come to see you, meet your family, and make this story personal and vivid.”

I wanted to meet Box to find out how this outspoken American is holding up. He has left his country and moved his family to witness and study the melting of Greenland up close. How does being the one to look at the grim facts of climate change most intimately, day in and day out, affect a person? Is Box representative of all of the scientists most directly involved in this defining issue of the new century? How are they being affected by the burden of their chosen work in the face of changes to the earth that could render it a different planet?

Finally, Box gives in. Come to Copenhagen, he says. And he even promises a family dinner.

***

For more than thirty years, climate scientists have been living a surreal existence. A vast and ever-growing body of research shows that warming is tracking the rise of greenhouse gases exactly as their models predicted. The physical evidence becomes more dramatic every year: forests retreating, animals moving north, glaciers melting, wildfire seasons getting longer, higher rates of droughts, floods, and storms—five times as many in the 2000s as in the 1970s. In the blunt words of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, conducted by three hundred of America’s most distinguished experts at the request of the U. S. government, human-induced climate change is real—U. S. temperatures have gone up between 1.3 and 1.9 degrees, mostly since 1970—and the change is already affecting “agriculture, water, human health, energy, transportation, forests, and ecosystems.” But that’s not the worst of it. Arctic air temperatures are increasing at twice the rate of the rest of the world—a study by the U. S. Navy says that the Arctic could lose its summer sea ice by next year, eighty-four years ahead of the models—and evidence little more than a year old suggests the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is doomed, which will add between twenty and twenty-five feet to ocean levels. The one hundred million people in Bangladesh will need another place to live and coastal cities globally will be forced to relocate, a task complicated by economic crisis and famine—with continental interiors drying out, the chief scientist at the U. S. State Department in 2009 predicted a billion people will suffer famine within twenty or thirty years. And yet, despite some encouraging developments in renewable energy and some breakthroughs in international leadership, carbon emissions continue to rise at a steady rate, and for their pains the scientists themselves—the cruelest blow of all—have been the targets of an unrelenting and well-organized attack that includes death threats, summonses from a hostile Congress, attempts to get them fired, legal harassment, and intrusive discovery demands so severe they had to start their own legal-defense fund, all amplified by a relentless propaganda campaign nakedly financed by the fossil-fuel companies. Shortly before a pivotal climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, thousands of their e-mail streams were hacked in a sophisticated espionage operation that has never been solved—although the official police investigation revealed nothing, an analysis by forensics experts traced its path through servers in Turkey and two of the world’s largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
No scientist has come in for more threats and abuse than Michael Mann, whose “hockey stick” graph (so named because the temperature and emissions lines for recent decades curve straight up) has become the target of the most powerful deniers in the world.

Among climate activists, gloom is building. Jim Driscoll of the National Institute for Peer Support just finished a study of a group of longtime activists whose most frequently reported feeling was sadness, followed by fear and anger. Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a practicing psychiatrist and graduate of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth slide-show training, calls this “pretraumatic” stress. “So many of us are exhibiting all the signs and symptoms of posttraumatic disorder—the anger, the panic, the obsessive intrusive thoughts.” Leading activist Gillian Caldwell went public with her “climate trauma,” as she called it, quitting the group she helped build and posting an article called “16 Tips for Avoiding Climate Burnout,” in which she suggests compartmentalization: “Reinforce boundaries between professional work and personal life. It is very hard to switch from the riveting force of apocalyptic predictions at work to home, where the problems are petty by comparison.”

Most of the dozens of scientists and activists I spoke to date the rise of the melancholy mood to the failure of the 2009 climate conference and the gradual shift from hope of prevention to plans for adaptation: Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth is a manual for survival on an earth so different he doesn’t think we should even spell it the same, and James Lovelock delivers the same message in A Rough Ride to the Future. In Australia, Clive Hamilton writes articles and books with titles like Requiem for a Species. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, the melancholy Jonathan Franzen argued that, since earth now “resembles a patient whose terminal cancer we can choose to treat either with disfiguring aggression or with palliation and sympathy,” we should stop trying to avoid the inevitable and spend our money on new nature preserves, where birds can go extinct a little more slowly.

At the darkest end of the spectrum are groups like Deep Green Resistance, which openly advocates sabotage to “industrial infrastructure,” and the thousands who visit the Web site and attend the speeches of Guy McPherson, a biology professor at the University of Arizona who concluded that renewables would do no good, left his job, and moved to an off-grid homestead to prepare for abrupt climate change. “Civilization is a heat engine,” he says. “There’s no escaping the trap we’ve landed ourselves into.”

The most influential is Paul Kingsnorth, a longtime climate activist and novelist who abandoned hope for political change in 2009. Retreating to the woods of western Ireland, he helped launch a group called Dark Mountain with a stirring, gloomy manifesto calling for “a network of writers, artists, and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself.” Among those stories: progress, growth, and the superiority of man. The idea quickly spread, and there are now fifty Dark Mountain chapters around the world. Fans have written plays and songs and a Ph.D. thesis about them. On the phone from Ireland, he explains the appeal.

“You have to be careful about hope. If that hope is based on an unrealistic foundation, it just crumbles and then you end up with people who are despairing. I saw that in Copenhagen—there was a lot of despair and giving up after that.”

Personally, though he considers them feeble gestures, he’s planting a lot of trees, growing his own vegetables, avoiding plastic. He stopped flying. “It seems like an ethical obligation. All you can do is what you think is right.” The odd thing is that he’s much more forgiving than activists still in the struggle, even with oil-purchased politicians. “We all love the fruits of what we’re given—the cars and computers and iPhones. What politician is going to try to sell people a future where they can’t update their iPhones ever?”

He laughs.

Does he think it would be wrong to take a transatlantic airplane trip to interview a climate scientist?

He laughs again. “You have to answer that yourself.”

***

All this leaves climate scientists in an awkward position. At NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which early in the year was threatened with 30 percent budget cuts by Republicans who resent its reports on climate change, Gavin Schmidt occupies the seventh-floor corner office once occupied by the legendary James Hansen, the scientist who first laid out the facts for Congress in 1988 and grew so impassioned he got himself arrested protesting coal mines. Although Schmidt was one of the victims of the 2009 computer hacks, which he admits tipped him into an episode of serious depression, he now focuses relentlessly on the bright side. “It’s not that nothing has been done. There’s a lot of things. In terms of per capita emissions, most of the developed world is stable. So we are doing something.”

Box’s tweet sets his teeth on edge. “I don’t agree. I don’t think we’re fucked. There is time to build sustainable solutions to a lot of these things. You don’t have to close down all the coal-powered stations tomorrow. You can transition. It sounds cute to say, ‘Oh, we’re fucked and there’s nothing we can do,’ but it’s a bit of a nihilistic attitude. We always have the choice. We can continue to make worse decisions, or we can try to make ever better decisions. ‘Oh, we’re fucked! Just give up now, just kill me now,’ that’s just stupid.”
Gavin Schmidt in his office at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Box’s dire forecast annoyed him. ‘You don’t run around saying, ‘We’re fucked! We’re fucked! We’re fucked!’ It doesn’t incentivize anybody to do anything.’

Schmidt, who is expecting his first child and tries to live a low-carbon existence, insists that the hacks and investigations and budget threats have not intimidated him. He also shrugs off the abrupt-climate-change scenarios. “The methane thing is actually something I work on a lot, and most of the headlines are crap. There’s no actual evidence that anything dramatically different is going on in the Arctic, other than the fact that it’s melting pretty much everywhere.”

But climate change happens gradually and we’ve already gone up almost 1 degree centigrade and seen eight inches of ocean rise. Barring unthinkably radical change, we’ll hit 2 degrees in thirty or forty years and that’s been described as a catastrophe—melting ice, rising waters, drought, famine, and massive economic turmoil. And many scientists now think we’re on track to 4 or 5 degrees—even Shell oil said that it anticipates a world 4 degrees hotter because it doesn’t see “governments taking the steps now that are consistent with the 2 degrees C scenario.” That would mean a world racked by economic and social and environmental collapse.

“Oh yeah,” Schmidt says, almost casually. “The business-as-usual world that we project is really a totally different planet. There’s going to be huge dislocations if that comes about.”

But things can change much quicker than people think, he says. Look at attitudes on gay marriage.

And the glaciers?

“The glaciers are going to melt, they’re all going to melt,” he says. “But my reaction to Jason Box’s comments is—what is the point of saying that? It doesn’t help anybody.”

As it happens, Schmidt was the first winner of the Climate Communication Prize from the American Geophysical Union, and various recent studies in the growing field of climate communications find that frank talk about the grim realities turns people off—it’s simply too much to take in. But strategy is one thing and truth is another. Aren’t those glaciers water sources for hundreds of millions of people?

“Particularly in the Indian subcontinent, that’s a real issue,” he says. “There’s going to be dislocation there, no question.”

And the rising oceans? Bangladesh is almost underwater now. Do a hundred million people have to move?

“Well, yeah. Under business as usual. But I don’t think we’re fucked.”

Resource wars, starvation, mass migrations . . .

“Bad things are going to happen. What can you do as a person? You write stories. I do science. You don’t run around saying, ‘We’re fucked! We’re fucked! We’re fucked!’ It doesn’t—it doesn’t incentivize anybody to do anything.”

***

Scientists are problem solvers by nature, trained to cherish detachment as a moral ideal. Jeffrey Kiehl was a senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research when he became so concerned about the way the brain resists climate science, he took a break and got a psychology degree. Ten years of research later, he’s concluded that consumption and growth have become so central to our sense of personal identity and the fear of economic loss creates such numbing anxiety, we literally cannot imagine making the necessary changes. Worse, accepting the facts threatens us with a loss of faith in the fundamental order of the universe. Climate scientists are different only because they have a professional excuse for detachment, and usually it’s not until they get older that they admit how much it’s affecting them—which is also when they tend to get more outspoken, Kiehl says. “You reach a point where you feel—and that’s the word, not think, feel—’I have to do something.’ ”

This accounts for the startled reaction when Camille Parmesan of the University of Texas—who was a member of the group that shared a Nobel prize with Al Gore for their climate work—announced that she’d become “professionally depressed” and was leaving the United States for England. A plainspoken Texan who grew up in Houston as the daughter of an oil geologist, Parmesan now says it was more about the politics than the science. “To be honest, I panicked fifteen years ago—that was when the first studies came out showing that Arctic tundras were shifting from being a net sink to being a net source of CO2. That along with the fact this butterfly I was studying shifted its entire range across half a continent—I said this is big, this is big. Everything since then has just confirmed it.”

But she’s not optimistic. “Do I think it likely that the nations of the world will take sufficient action to stabilize climate in the next fifty years? No, I don’t think it likely.”

She was living in Texas after the climate summit failed in 2009, when media coverage of climate issues plunged by two thirds—the subject wasn’t mentioned once in the 2012 presidential debates—and Governor Rick Perry cut the sections relating to sea-level rise in a report on Galveston Bay, kicking off a trend of state officials who ban all use of the term “climate change.” “There are excellent climate scientists in Texas,” Parmesan says firmly. “Every university in the state has people working on impacts. To have the governor’s office ignore it is just very upsetting.”

The politics took its toll. Her butterfly study got her a spot on the UN climate panel, where she got “a quick and hard lesson on the politics” when policy makers killed the words “high confidence” in the crucial passage that said scientists had high confidence species were responding to climate change. Then the personal attacks started on right-wing Web sites and blogs. “They just flat-out lie. It’s one reason I live in the UK now. It’s not just been climate change, there’s a growing, ever-stronger antiscience sentiment in the U. S. A. People get really angry and really nasty. It was a huge relief simply not to have to deal with it.” She now advises her graduate students to look for jobs outside the U. S.

No one has experienced that hostility more vividly than Michael Mann, who was a young Ph.D. researcher when he helped come up with the historical data that came to be known as the hockey stick—the most incendiary display graph in human history, with its temperature and emissions lines going straight up at the end like the blade of a hockey stick. He was investigated, was denounced in Congress, got death threats, was accused of fraud, received white powder in the mail, and got thousands of e-mails with suggestions like, You should be “shot, quartered, and fed to the pigs along with your whole damn families.” Conservative legal foundations pressured his university, a British journalist suggested the electric chair. In 2003, Senator James Inhofe’s committee called him to testify, flanking him with two professional climate-change deniers, and in 2011 the committee threatened him with federal prosecution, along with sixteen other scientists.

Now, sitting behind his desk in his office at Penn State, he goes back to his swirl of emotions. “You find yourself in the center of this political theater, in this chess match that’s being played out by very powerful figures—you feel anger, befuddlement, disillusionment, disgust.”

The intimidating effect is undeniable, he says. Some of his colleagues were so demoralized by the accusations and investigations that they withdrew from public life. One came close to suicide. Mann decided to fight back, devoting more of his time to press interviews and public speaking, and discovered that contact with other concerned people always cheered him up. But the sense of potential danger never leaves. “You’re careful with what you say and do because you know that there’s the equivalent of somebody with a movie camera following you around,” he says.

Meanwhile, his sense of personal alarm has only grown. “I know you’ve spoken with Jason Box—a number of us have had these experiences where it’s become clear to us that in many respects, climate change is unfolding faster than we expected it to. Maybe it is true what the ice-sheet modelers have been telling us, that it will take a thousand years or more to melt the Greenland Ice Sheet. But maybe they’re wrong; maybe it could play out in a century or two. And then it’s a whole different ballgame—it’s the difference between human civilization and living things being able to adapt and not being able to adapt.”

As Mann sees it, scientists like Schmidt who choose to focus on the middle of the curve aren’t really being scientific. Worse are pseudo-sympathizers like Bjorn Lomborg who always focus on the gentlest possibilities. Because we’re supposed to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, and a real scientific response would also give serious weight to the dark side of the curve.

And yet, like Schmidt, Mann tries very hard to look on the bright side. We can solve this problem in a way that doesn’t disrupt our lifestyle, he says. Public awareness seems to be increasing, and there are a lot of good things happening at the executive level: tighter fuel-efficiency standards, the carbon-pricing initiatives by the New England and West Coast states, the recent agreement between the U. S. and China on emissions. Last year we saw global economic growth without an increase in carbon emissions, which suggests it’s possible to “decouple” oil and economic growth. And social change can happen very fast—look at gay marriage.

But he knows that gay marriage had no huge economic downside, and the most powerful companies in the world are fighting to stop any change in the fossil-fuel economy. So yes, he struggles with doubt. And he admits that some of his colleagues are very depressed, convinced there’s no way the international community will rise to the challenge. He gets into that conversation in bars after climate conferences, always pushing the side of hope.

Dealing with all of this has been a long emotional journey. As a young scientist, Mann was very traditional: “I felt that scientists should take an entirely dispassionate view when discussing matters of science,” he wrote in a book called The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. “We should do our best to divorce ourselves from all of our typically human inclinations—emotion, empathy, concern.” But even when he decided that detachment was a mistake in this case and began becoming publicly active, he was usually able to put the implication of all the hockey-stick trend lines out of his mind. “Part of being a scientist is you don’t want to believe there is a problem you can’t solve.”

Might that be just another form of denial?

The question seems to affect him. He takes a deep breath and answers in the carefully measured words of a scientist. “It’s hard to say,” he says. “It’s a denial of futility if there is futility. But I don’t know that there is futility, so it would only be denial per se if there were unassailable evidence.”

There are moments, he admits, flashes that come and go as fast as a blinking light, when he sees news reports about some new development in the field and it hits him—Wait a second, they’re saying that we’ve melted a lot. Then he does a peculiar thing: He disassociates a little bit and asks himself, How would I feel about that headline if I were a member of the public? I’d be scared out of my mind.

Right after Hurricane Sandy, he was in the classroom showing The Day After Tomorrow with the plan of critiquing its ridiculous story about the Atlantic conveyor belt slowing down so fast that it freezes England—except a recent study he worked on shows that the Atlantic conveyor belt actually is slowing down, another thing that’s happening decades ahead of schedule. “And some of the scenes in the wake of Hurricane Sandy—the flooding of the New York City subway system, cars submerged—they really didn’t look that different. The cartoon suddenly looked less like a cartoon. And it’s like, Now why is it that we can completely dismiss this movie?”

He was talking to students, so it got to him. They’re young, it’s their future more than his. He choked up and had to struggle to get ahold of himself. “You don’t want to choke up in front of your class,” he says.

About once a year, he says, he has nightmares of earth becoming a very alien planet.

The worst time was when he was reading his daughter Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, the story of a society destroyed by greed. He saw it as an optimistic story because it ends with the challenge of building a new society, but she burst into tears and refused to read the book again. “It was almost traumatic for her.”

His voice cracks. “I’m having one of those moments now.”

Why?

“I don’t want her to have to be sad,” he says. “And I almost have to believe we’re not yet there, where we are resigned to this future.”

***

The spring day is glorious, sunny and cool, and the avenues of Copenhagen are alive with tourists. Trying to make the best of things, Jason Box says we should blow off the getting-to-know-you lunch and go for a bike ride. Thirty minutes later he locks up the bikes at the entrance to Freetown, a local anarchist community that has improbably become one of Copenhagen’s most popular tourist destinations. Grabbing a couple beers at a restaurant, he leads the way to a winding lake and a small dock. The wind is blowing, swans flap their wings just off the beach, and Box sits with the sun on his face and his feet dangling over the sand.

“There’s a lot that’s scary,” he says, running down the list—the melting sea ice, the slowing of the conveyor belt. Only in the last few years were they able to conclude that Greenland is warmer than it was in the twenties, and the unpublished data looks very hockey-stick-ish. He figures there’s a 50 percent chance we’re already committed to going beyond 2 degrees centigrade and agrees with the growing consensus that the business-as-usual trajectory is 4 or 5 degrees. “It’s, um… bad. Really nasty.”

The big question is, What amount of warming puts Greenland into irreversible loss? That’s what will destroy all the coastal cities on earth. The answer is between 2 and 3 degrees. “Then it just thins and thins enough and you can’t regrow it without an ice age. And a small fraction of that is already a huge problem—Florida’s already installing all these expensive pumps.” (According to a recent report by a group spearheaded by Hank Paulson and Robert Rubin, secretaries of the Treasury under Bush Jr. and Bill Clinton, respectively, $23 billion worth of property in Florida may be destroyed by flooding within thirty-five years.)

Box is only forty-two, but his pointed Danish beard makes him look like a count in an old novel, someone who’d wear a frock coat and say something droll about the woman question. He seems detached from the sunny day, like a tourist trying to relax in a strange city. He also seems oddly detached from the things he’s saying, laying out one horrible prediction after another without emotion, as if he were an anthropologist regarding the life cycle of a distant civilization. But he can’t keep his anger in check for long and keeps obsessively returning to two topics:

“We need the deniers to get out of the way. They are risking everyone’s future…. The Koch Brothers are criminals…. They should be charged with criminal activity because they’re putting the profits of their business ahead of the livelihoods of millions of people, and even life on earth.”

Like Parmesan, Box was hugely relieved to be out of the toxic atmosphere of the U. S. “I remember thinking, What a relief, I don’t have to bother with this bullshit anymore.” In Denmark, his research is supported through the efforts of conservative politicians. “But Danish conservatives are not climate-change deniers,” he says.

The other topic he is obsessed with is the human suffering to come. Long before the rising waters from Greenland’s glaciers displace the desperate millions, he says more than once, we will face drought-triggered agricultural failures and water-security issues—in fact, it’s already happening. Think back to the 2010 Russian heat wave. Moscow halted grain exports. At the peak of the Australian drought, food prices spiked. The Arab Spring started with food protests, the self-immolation of the vegetable vendor in Tunisia. The Syrian conflict was preceded by four years of drought. Same with Darfur. The migrants are already starting to stream north across the sea—just yesterday, eight hundred of them died when their boat capsized—and the Europeans are arguing about what to do with them. “As the Pentagon says, climate change is a conflict multiplier.”

His home state of Colorado isn’t doing so great, either. “The forests are dying, and they will not return. The trees won’t return to a warming climate. We’re going to see megafires even more, that’ll be the new one—megafires until those forests are cleared.”

However dispassionately delivered, all of this amounts to a lament, the scientist’s version of the mothers who stand on hillsides and keen over the death of their sons. In fact, Box adds, he too is a climate refugee. His daughter is three and a half, and Denmark is a great place to be in an uncertain world—there’s plenty of water, a high-tech agriculture system, increasing adoption of wind power, and plenty of geographic distance from the coming upheavals. “Especially when you consider the beginning of the flood of desperate people from conflict and drought,” he says, returning to his obsession with how profoundly changed our civilization will be.

Despite all this, he insists that he approaches climate mostly as an intellectual problem. For the first decade of his career, even though he’s part of the generation of climate scientists who went to college after Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance, he stuck to teaching and research. He only began taking professional risks by working with Greenpeace and by joining the protest against Keystone when he came to the intellectual conclusion that climate change is a moral issue. “It’s unethical to bankrupt the environment of this planet,” he says. “That’s a tragedy, right?” Even now, he insists, the horror of what is happening rarely touches him on an emotional level… although it has been hitting him more often recently. “But I—I—I’m not letting it get to me. If I spend my energy on despair, I won’t be thinking about opportunities to minimize the problem.”

His insistence on this point is very unconvincing, especially given the solemnity that shrouds him like a dark coat. But the most interesting part is the insistence itself—the desperate need not to be disturbed by something so disturbing. Suddenly, a welcome distraction. A man appears on the beach in nothing but jockey shorts, his skin bluish. He says he’s Greek and he’s been sleeping on this beach for seven months and will swim across the lake for a small tip. A passing tourist asks if he can swim all the way.

“Of course.”

“Let me see.”

“How much money?”

“I give you when you get back.”

“Give me one hundred.”

“Yeah, yeah. When you get back.”

The Greek man splashes into the water and Box seems amused, laughing for the first time. It’s the relief of normal goofy human life, so distant from the dark themes that make up his life’s work.

Usually it’s a scientific development that smacks him, he says. The first was in 2002, when they discovered that meltwater was getting into the bed of the Greenland Ice Sheet and lubricating its flow. Oh, you say, it can be a wet bed, and then the implications sunk in: The
whole damn thing is destabilizing. Then in 2006, all of the glaciers in the southern half of Greenland began to retreat at two and three times their previous speed. Good Lord, it’s happening so fast. Two years later, they realized the retreat was fueled by warm water eroding the marine base ice—which is also what’s happening to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Just thinking about it makes him gloomy. “That’s unstoppable,” he says. “Abrupt sea-level rise is upon us.”

The Greek man returns with surprising speed, emerging from the sea like a god in a myth, laughing and boasting. The Greeks are masters of the waters! Pay me!

“I’m gonna give this guy a hundred kroner,” Box says.

He makes sure the tourists pay, too, and comes back smiling. He knows a Greek guy who’s just like that, he says, very proud and jolly. He envies him sometimes.

He leads the way to a quieter spot on the lakeside, passing through little hippie villages woven together by narrow dirt lanes—by consensus vote, there are no cars in Freetown, which makes it feel pleasantly medieval, intimate, and human-scaled. He lifts a beer to his lips and gazes over the lake and the happy people lazing in the afternoon sun. “The question of despair is not very nice to think about,” he says. “I’ve just disengaged that to a large degree. It’s kind of like a half-denial.”

He mentions the Norse proverb again, but a bulwark against despair so often cited becomes its own form of despair. You don’t dredge up proverbs like that unless you’re staying awake at night.

He nods, sighing. This work often disturbs his sleep, driving him from his bed to do something, anything. “Yeah, the shit that’s going down has been testing my ability to block it.”

He goes quiet for a moment. “It certainly does creep in, as a parent,” he says quietly, his eyes to the ground.

But let’s get real, he says, fossil fuels are the dominant industry on earth, and you can’t expect meaningful political change with them in control. “There’s a growing consensus that there must be a shock to the system.”

So the darker hopes arise—maybe a particularly furious El Niño or a “carbon bubble” where the financial markets realize that renewables have become more scalable and economical, leading to a run on fossil-fuel assets and a “generational crash” of the global economy that, through great suffering, buys us more time and forces change.

***

The Box family dinner isn’t going to happen after all, he says. When it comes to climate change at the very late date of 2015, there are just too many uncomfortable things to say, and his wife, Klara, resents any notion that she is a “climate migrant.”

This is the first hint that his brashness has caused tension at home.

“Well, she…” He takes a moment, considering. “I’ll say something like, ‘Man, the next twenty years are going to be a hell of a ride,’ or ‘These poor North African refugees flooding to Europe,’ and how I anticipate that flux of people to double and triple, and will the open borders of Europe change? And she’ll acknowledge it… but she’s not bringing it up like I am.”

Later, she sends a note responding to a few questions. She didn’t want to compare herself to the truly desperate refugees who are drowning, she says, and the move to Denmark really was for the quality of life. “Lastly, the most difficult question to answer is about Jason’s mental health. I’d say climate change, and more broadly the whole host of environmental and social problems the world faces, does affect his psyche. He feels deeply about these issues, but he is a scientist and a very pragmatic, goal-oriented person. His style is not to lie awake at night worrying about them but to get up in the morning (or the middle of the night) and do something about it. I love the guy for it :)”

So even when you are driven to your desk in the middle of the night, quoting Norse proverbs, when you are among the most informed and most concerned, the ordinary tender mercies of the home conspire in our denial. We pour our energy into doing our jobs the best we can, avoid unpleasant topics, keep up a brave face, make compromises with even the best societies, and little by little the compartmentalization we need to survive the day adds one more bit of distance between the comfortable now and the horrors ahead. So Box turns out to be a representative figure after all. It’s not enough to understand the changes that are coming. We have to find a way to live with them.

“In Denmark,” Box says, “we have the resilience, so I’m not that worried about my daughter’s livelihood going forward. But that doesn’t stop me from strategizing about how to safeguard her future—I’ve been looking at property in Greenland. As a possible bug-out scenario.”

Turns out a person can’t own land in Greenland, just a house on top of land. It’s a nice thought, a comforting thought—no matter what happens, the house will be there, safely hidden at the top of the world.

East Siberian Heatwave Begins; 98.78 Degree Temperature Recorded Well Within Arctic Circle

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2015 at 7:10 pm

Oldspeak:” While the media gives wide coverage to the heatwaves that have been hitting populous countries such as India, Pakistan, the U.S., Spain and France recently, less attention is given to heatwaves hitting the Arctic.” -Sam Carana

“Mere months following reports of record heat recorded in Antarctica near the South fucking Pole, we see this. Seems as though corporate media’s sensationally reported disaster porn is focused only the mid-latitudes, while the region where the stakes are highest and the heatwave is most life-threateningly unusual, is ignored. By way of reference, it was 80 degrees in New York on July 2nd when this insane temperature was recorded near the North fucking Pole!!! This syncs up with current movement of the ever slowing and destabilized jet stream where as you can see in Sam’s illustrations its cooler than normal around that area of the U.S. east coast, as arctic air creeps further south. It’s only broken 90 once or twice so far this summer in New York, following a brutally cold and snowy winter/fall. This is a dire situation, it affects all life on earth, and it is not being reported. I imagine business will continue as usual and it won’t be reported until it’s impossible to ignore. Only Love Remains.” -OSJ

Written By Sam Carana @ Arctic News:

The image below illustrates the intensity of the heatwave over western Europe, with temperatures forecast to keep hitting the top end of the scale for days to come.

Global warming is strengthening heatwaves. The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world, so the temperature difference between the North Pole and the Equator is getting smaller. It is this temperature difference that powers the jet stream. The result is that the speed at which the jet stream circumnavigates the globe is falling. Furthermore, the path of the jet stream is changing, sometimes extending far to the north, then deeper to the south, just like a river will meander more where the land is flatter.

Above image illustrates that these changes to the jet stream make that warm air from the south can more easily move up north, to higher latitudes, while cold air from the Arctic can more easily move down to lower latitudes, in both cases further decreasing the temperature difference between the North Pole and the Equator, which makes these changes to the jet stream a self-reinforcing feedback loop that is rapidly making the situation worse.

While such developments have been documented for years, e.g. see this feedbacks page, the media rarely inform people about them. And while the media do cover the suffering caused by the heatwaves that have been hitting populous countries such as India, Pakistan, the U.S., Spain and France recently, less attention is given to heatwaves hitting the Arctic.

High temperatures close to the Arctic Ocean are very worrying, for a number of reasons, including:

  • They are examples of heatwaves that can increasingly extend far to the north, all the way into the Arctic Ocean, speeding up warming of the Arctic Ocean seabed and threatening to unleash huge methane eruptions.
  • They set the scene for wildfires that emit not only greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, but also pollutants such as carbon monoxide (that depletes hydroxyl that could otherwise break down methane) and black carbon (that when settling on ice causes it to absorb more sunlight).
  • They cause warming of the water of rivers that end up in the Arctic Ocean, thus resulting in additional sea ice decline and warming of the Arctic Ocean seabed.
June 24, 2015 – Smoke from wildfires in Alaska – from: wunderground.com

The image below shows a location well inside the Arctic Circle where temperatures as high as 37.1°C (98.78°F) were recorded on July 2, 2015. The top panel shows temperatures, while the bottom panel also shows the depth of the Arctic Ocean and the location of the Gakkel Ridge, in between the northern tip of Greenland and the Laptev Sea.

As the image below shows, the jet stream is forecast to move up high into the Arctic north of Siberia over the next few days. The image shows the jet stream as at July 8, 2015.

The image below shows a forecast of temperature anomalies for July 7, 2015.

The four images below illustrate how the heatwave is forecast to develop over the next few days (hat tip to Mark Richardson).

Rain close to the North Pole (forecast July 7, 2015)

The image on the right, also created with a Climate Reanalyzer image, shows rain over the Arctic, over the EastSiberian Sea and over an area close to the North Pole.

Rain over sea ice will create melt ponds with associated loss in albedo (reflectivity), making that light that was previously reflected back into space by the sea ice will instead be absorbed by the water, further speeding up the demise of the sea ice.

The picture below was taken July 2, 2015, by WebCam#1, mounted on a satellite-reporting buoy. The camera provides a wide-angle 120° horizontal field of view and was installed in April 2015, about 1.5 m above the ice surface, at a location some 25 miles from the North Pole. The buoy has meanwhile drifted some distance away from the North Pole, see map at this page.

WebCam#1 showing water on July 2, 2015

The presence of water can indicate that the sea ice has completely disappeared in the respective area, which could in turn be caused by sea ice melting and/or bubbling up of methane, so it’s important to keep monitoring this. More likely though, the water is probably surface water on top of the ice, caused by melting and/or rain. Anyway, water reflects less sunlight back into space than sea ice, so the result will be that more sunlight is instead absorbed by the water and/or the sea ice.

With temperatures as high as the 37.1°C (98.78°F) recorded on July 2, 2015 (image further above), huge melting can be expected where there still is sea ice in the waters off the coast of Siberia, while the waters where the sea ice has already gone will warm up rapidly.

Note that the waters off the coast of Siberia are less than 50 m (164 ft) deep, so warming can quickly extend all the way down to the seabed, that can contain enormous amounts of methane in the form of free gas and hydrates.

The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as discussed at the Climate Plan.

20 Smaller Methane Blowholes Appear Around Giant Methane Blowhole-Turned-Lake In Siberian “Permafrost”. 7 More Giant Holes Discovered.

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2015 at 8:44 pm

B1 – famous Yamal hole in 30 kilometres from Bovanenkovo, spotted in 2014 by helicopter pilots. Pictures: Marya Zulinova, Yamal regional government’s press service

Oldspeak: “Since the area of geological disjunctives (fault zones, tectonically and seismically active areas) within the Siberian Arctic shelf composes not less than 1-2% of the total area and area of open taliks (area of melt through permafrost), acting as a pathway for methane escape within the Siberian Arctic shelf reaches up to 5-10% of the total area, we consider release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage as highly possible for abrupt release at any time. That may cause ∼12-times increase of modern atmospheric methane burden with consequent catastrophic greenhouse warming.Dr Natalie Shakhova of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Dr Igor Semiletov from the Pacific Oceanological Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences

“So, the arctic is melting, Rapidly. De-gassing massive not recorded in millions of years amounts of methane gas from areas previously thought of as “permafrost”.  And the process seems to be accelerating and expanding, making more likely the 50 megaton burp of methane referenced above catastrophically altering life as we know it on earth. But the news being reported in U.S. media is ISIS, Bibi Netanyahu’s controversial speech to the U.S. Congress, And an unarmed homeless man being shot dead by trigger happy cops. The methane time bomb is ticking away, and only a brave few are listening. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.” -OSJ

By Anna Liesowska @ The Siberian Times:

Respected Moscow scientist Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky has called for ‘urgent’ investigation of the new phenomenon amid safety fears.

Until now, only three large craters were known about in northern Russia with several scientific sources speculating last year that heating from above the surface due to unusually warm climatic conditions, and from below, due to geological fault lines, led to a huge release of gas hydrates, so causing the formation of these craters in Arctic regions.

Two of the newly-discovered large craters – also known as funnels to scientists – have turned into lakes, revealed Professor Bogoyavlensky, deputy director of the Moscow-based Oil and Gas Research Institute, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Examination using satellite images has helped Russian experts understand that the craters are more widespread than was first realised, with one large hole surrounded by as many as 20 mini-craters, The Siberian Times can reveal.

Four arctic craters: B1 – famous Yamal hole in 30 kilometres from Bovanenkovo, B2 – recently detected crater in 10 kilometres to the south from Bovanenkovo, B3 – crater located in 90 kilometres from Antipayuta village, B4 – crater located near Nosok village, on the north of Krasnoyarsk region, near Taimyr Peninsula. Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

‘We know now of seven craters in the Arctic area,’ he said. ‘Five are directly on the Yamal peninsula, one in Yamal Autonomous district, and one is on the north of the Krasnoyarsk region, near the Taimyr peninsula.

‘We have exact locations for only four of them. The other three were spotted by reindeer herders. But I am sure that there are more craters on Yamal, we just need to search for them.

‘I would compare this with mushrooms: when you find one mushroom, be sure there are few more around. I suppose there could be 20 to 30 craters more.’

He is anxious to investigate the craters further because of serious concerns for safety in these regions.

The study of satellite images showed that near the famous hole, located in 30 kilometres from Bovanenkovo are two potentially dangerous objects, where the gas emission can occur at any moment.

Satellite image of the site before the forming of the Yamal hole (B1). K1 and the red outline show the hillock (pingo) formed before the gas emission. Yellow outlines show the potentially dangerous objects. Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

He warned: ‘These objects need to be studied, but it is rather dangerous for the researchers. We know that there can occur a series of gas emissions over an extended period of time, but we do not know exactly when they might happen.

‘For example, you all remember the magnificent shots of the Yamal crater in winter, made during the latest expedition in Novomber 2014. But do you know that Vladimir Pushkarev, director of the Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration, was the first man in the world who went down the crater of gas emission?

‘More than this, it was very risky, because no one could guarantee there would not be new emissions.’

Professor Bogoyavlensky told The Siberian Times: ‘One of the most interesting objects here is the crater that we mark as B2, located 10 kilometres to the south of Bovanenkovo. On the satellite image you can see that it is one big lake surrounded by more than 20 small craters filled with water.

‘Studying the satellite images we found out that initially there were no craters nor a lake. Some craters appeared, then more. Then, I suppose that the craters filled with water and turned to several lakes, then merged into one large lake, 50 by 100 metres in diameter.

‘This big lake is surrounded by the network of  more than 20 ‘baby’ craters now filled with water and I suppose that new ones could appear last summer or even now. We now counting them and making a catalogue. Some of them are very small, no more than 2 metres in diameter.’

Satellite images showing pingo before the gas emission on the object B2 (top). Lake formed here at the place of the number of craters and the network of more than 20 ‘baby’ craters around (bottom). Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

‘We have not been at the spot yet,’ he said. ‘Probably some local reindeer herders were there, but so far no scientists.’

He explained: ‘After studying this object I am pretty sure that there was a series of gas emissions over an extended period of time. Sadly, we do not know, when exactly these emissions occur, i.e. mostly in summer, or in winter too. We see only the results of this emissions.’

The object B2 is now attracting special attention from the researchers as they seek to understand and explain the phenomenon. This is only 10km from Bovanenkovo, a major gas field, developed by Gazprom, in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Yet older satellite images do not show the existence of a lake, nor any craters, in this location.

Not only the new craters constantly forming on Yamal show that the process of gas emission is ongoing actively.

Professor Bogoyavlensky shows the picture of one of the Yamal lakes, taken by him from the helicopter and points on the whitish haze on its surface.

Yamal lake with traces of gas emissions. Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

He commented: ‘This haze that you see on the surface shows that gas seeps that go from the bottom of the lake to the surface. We call this process ‘degassing’.

‘We do not know, if there was a crater previously and then turned to lake, or the lake formed during some other process. More important is that the gases from within are actively seeping through this lake.

‘Degassing was revealed on the territory of Yamal Autonomous District about 45 years ago, but now we think that it can give us some clues about the formation of the craters and gas emissions. Anyway, we must research this phenomenon urgently, to prevent possible disasters.’

Professor Bogoyavlensky stressed: ‘For now, we can speak only about the results of our work in the laboratory, using the images from space.

‘No one knows what is happening in these craters at the moment. We plan a new expedition. Also we want to put not less than four seismic stations in Yamal district, so they can fix small earthquakes, that occur when the crater appears.

‘In two cases locals told us that they felt earth tremors. The nearest seismic station was yet too far to register these tremors.


Crater B3 located in 90 kilometres from Antipayuta village, Yamal district (top). Crater B4 located near Nosok village, on the north of Krasnoyarsk region, near Taimyr Peninsula. Pictures: Local residents

‘I think that at the moment we know enough about the crater B1. There were several expeditions, we took probes and made measurements. I believe that we need to visit the other craters, namely B2, B3 and B4, and then visit the rest three craters, when we will know their exact location. It will give us more information and will bring us closer to understanding the phenomenon.’

He urged: ‘It is important not to scare people, but to understand that it is a very serious problem and we must research this.’

In an article for Drilling and Oil magazine, Professor Bogoyavlensky said the parapet of these craters suggests an underground explosion.

‘The absence of charred rock and traces of  significant erosion due to possible water leaks speaks in favour of mighty eruption (pneumatic exhaust) of gas from a shallow underground reservoir, which left no traces on soil which contained a high percentage of ice,’ he wrote.

‘In other words, it was a gas-explosive mechanism that worked there. A concentration of 5-to-16% of methane is explosive. The most explosive concentration is 9.5%.’


‘The parapet of these craters suggests an underground explosion.’ Pictures of Yamal crater taken by Vasily Bogoyavlensky

Gas probably concentrated underground in a cavity ‘which formed due to the gradual melting of buried ice’. Then ‘gas was replacing ice and water’.

‘Years of experience has shown that gas emissions can cause serious damage to drilling rigs, oil and gas fields and offshore pipelines,’ he said. ‘Yamal craters are inherently similar to pockmarks.

‘We cannot rule out new gas emissions in the Arctic and in some cases they can ignite.’

This was possible in the case of the crater found at Antipayuta, on the Yamal peninsula.

‘The Antipayuta residents told how they saw some flash. Probably the gas ignited when appeared the crater B4, near Taimyr peninsula. This shows us, that such explosion could be rather dangerous and destructive.

‘We need to answer now the basic questions: what areas and under what conditions are the most dangerous? These questions are important for safe operation of the northern cities and infrastructure of oil and gas complexes.’






The latest expedition to Yamal crater was initiated by the Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration in early November 2014. The researchers were first in the world who went down the crater of gas emission. Pictures: Vladimir Pushkarev/Russian Centre of Arctic Exploration

Pingos are mounds with an ice core found in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions.

They can reach up to 70 metres (230 ft) in height and up to 600 m (2,000 ft) in diameter. They usually appear when groundwaters penetrate between permafrost and the top layer, which melts in summer season. They usually form in drained lakes or river channels.

However, gas is not a factor in their creation.

Sea Level Rise Is Accelerating Faster Than Projections: Drinking Water Supply Threatened In South Florida

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2015 at 7:51 pm
Map of the Miami area, where colors indicate the depth to the water table. A lot of area is covered by 0-4 feet, including all of Miami Beach.

Map of the Miami area, where colors indicate the depth to the water table. A lot of area is covered by 0-4 feet, including all of Miami Beach. Keren Bolter, Florida Atlantic University

Oldspeak: “Given that as Guy McPherson so eloquently stated “In the past 30 years, we haven’t done SHIT about climate change. NOTHING.”; this news is pretty unsurprising. When you consider, the international body that is influencing climate policy is working from data that is often years old and doing nothing but kicking the can down the road, as though that were an option, news like this will become more common, and more devastating to human industrial civilization. Meanwhile, playgrounds and condos and malls are being built in coastal areas right now, as though they won’t be under water in a few years. The popular opinion of abrupt climate change seems at this time to be as New Jersey’s Bloviator-In-Chief Chris Christie bellowed “We’re stronger than the storm.”
Leisure cruise and global shipping routes are being plotted through the soon to be ice free arctic. As though there will be a life sustaining climate and sufficient resources to support an ever growing industrial civilization. Major countries are staking claims to fossil fuel resources under the ice. As though the disappearance of the ice and drilling in the sea bed won’t cause unknown disruptions, melting and off-gassing of the methane clathrates in the sea bed that will lead to catastrophic warming and extinction at any time. We’re living and breathing denial and it’s terminal. Our time is short. In that time lets be present to what is going on in the world today.” -OSJ

By Neel V. Patel @ Wired:

You don’t have to look 85 years into the future to see what a sinking world looks like—you only need to look as far as Miami.

Climate scientists have been warning the world about sea level rise for years, pleading with governments to cut back on carbon lest all our coastal cities go the way of Venice. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its fifth Assessment Report, predicting that oceans would rise more than 3 feet by 2100. Those projections make for some alarming visions of the future—cities water-logged, monuments submerged, islands created.

But the flooding is already happening in Florida. At the University of Miami’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Brian McNoldy and other researchers have been accumulating sea level data from Virginia Key (a small island just south of Miami Beach) since 1996. Over those nineteen years, sea levels around the Miami coast have already gone up 3.7 inches. In a post updated yesterday, McNoldy highlights three big problems that follow from those numbers—and they should worry all of us.

First: Sea level rise is accelerating—perhaps faster than the IPCC has projected. When McNoldy tracked the average daily high water mark, when flooding events are most likely to occur, he saw it increase over time—but he also saw the rate of that increase go up. The last five years saw an average increase of 1.27 inches of water per year. If that rate holds steady for the next 50 years (and if McNoldy is right, it will only get worse), high tide levels in Miami would go up over five feet.

Second: Predictions about day-to-day tide levels are less accurate than ever, threatening the city’s ability to plan for weather events. Tidal predictions are made through what’s called “astronomical factors”—essentially the moon’s orbit around the earth. But these don’t take into account factors like weather or sea level rise—so as climate change exacerbates sea level rise, tidal predictions will be more and more unreliable. While water levels in May 1996 typically were close to predicted values, McNoldy observed that the same values in May 2014 were consistently higher than predicted. That kind of discrepancy can’t be caused by weather alone.

Third: Besides creating higher risks of flooding, sea level rise is creating an unexpected danger: saltwater intrusion into aquifers used to extract freshwater. Almost 90 percent of south Florida’s drinking water is supplied by porous limestone aquifers. As sea levels rise, the saltwater exerts more pressure on the fresh water in the aquifer, and fresh water is pushed off further from the coast. Already, some cities have shut down wells because of saltwater contamination.

Based on what scientists can glean from sea level data from the past 20,000 years, McNoldy estimates that the world could still have up to 100 feet of sea level rise to go. He believes even if humans were to slow down or stop the man-made factors contributing to climate change, “we’re already pretty well committed to significant sea level rise. We would be more prudent to consider how to adapt to those conditions.”

Warming Oceans Speeding Up Cycle of Climate Change

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2015 at 12:09 am
https://i1.wp.com/www.truthdig.com/images/eartothegrounduploads/CROP-Arctic_ice_floe.jpg

Sun on the water, as Arctic ice increasingly melts, is part of the “positive feedback” process warming the oceans and reducing CO2 storage. Photo by Paul Gierszewski via Wikimedia Commons

 

Oldspeak: “Yep. The worlds oceans are locked into an irreversible non-linear positive feedback loop. It is accelerating. As the oceans warm, their ability to sequester CO2 diminishes and more and more of the potent greenhouse gas methane bubbles towards the surface as the deep water begins to warm. Human actions cannot reverse or decrease what has been started. These are observable, ongoing, and ever increasing impacts. They will continue to worsen. As time passes the changes will become impossible to ignore. We would do well to acknowledge and accept our fate. Only the Love remains…” -OSJ

By Tim Radford @ Climate News Network:

LONDON—The warming oceans could start to return more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as the planet warms, according to new research.

And since 70% of the planet is covered by clear blue water, anything that reduces the oceans’ capacity to soak up and sequester carbon could only make climate change more certain and more swift.

It is a process that engineers call “positive feedback”. And under such a cycle of feedback, the world will continue to get even warmer, accelerating the process yet again.

Many such studies are, in essence, computer simulations. But Chris Marsay—a marine biochemist at the UK’s National Oceanography Centre in Southampton—and colleagues based their results on experiments at sea.

Sediment traps

They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they examined sediment traps in the North Atlantic to work out what happens to organic carbon—the tissue of the living things that exploit photosynthesis, directly or indirectly, to convert carbon dioxide—as it sinks to the depths.

Sooner or later, much of this stuff gets released into the sea water as carbon dioxide. This is sometimes called the ocean’s biological carbon pump. In deep, cold waters, the process is slow. In warmer, shallower waters, it accelerates.

And as there is evidence that the ocean is responding to atmospheric changes in temperature, both at the surface and at depth, the study suggests that “predicted future increases in ocean temperatures will result in reduced CO2 storage by the oceans”.

The research was conducted on a small scale, in a limited stretch of ocean, so the conclusion is still provisional—and, like all good science, will be confirmed by replication. But it is yet another instance of the self-sustaining momentum of global warming.

Such positive feedbacks are already at work in high latitudes. Ice reflects sunlight, and therefore the sun’s heat. So as the Arctic ice sheet steadily diminishes over the decades, more and more blue water is available to absorb heat—and accelerate warming.

“The world is at a crossroads in terms of climate health and climate change”

The same gradual warming has started to release another greenhouse gas trapped at the ocean’s edge. Natural “marsh gas”, or methane, is stored in huge masses, “frozen” as methane hydrate in cold continental shelves.

Methane exists in much smaller quantities than carbon dioxide, and has a shorter life in the atmosphere, but is far more potent, volume for volume, as a greenhouse gas.

Researchers at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromso reported last month in Geophysical Research Letters that once-frozen methane gas was leaking from thawing ocean floor off Siberia. Some of this thaw is natural, and perhaps inevitable. But some is connected with human influence and could accelerate.

Alexei Portnov, a geophysicists at the university’s Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Climate and Environment  says: “If the temperature of the oceans increases by two degrees, as suggested by some reports, it will accelerate the thawing to the extreme. A warming climate could lead to an explosive gas release from the shallow areas.”

Biological origin

Arctic methane, like ocean organic carbon, has a biological origin. It is released by decaying vegetation under marshy conditions and tends to form as a kind of ice at low temperatures and high pressures, much of it along continental shelves that, at the height of the Ice Ages, were above sea level.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature also reminded the world last month that the ocean plays a vital role in climate, and that plankton, fish and crustaceans could be considered as “mobile carbon units”.

In this sense, the fish in the sea are not just suppers waiting to be caught, but are important parts of the planetary climate system. The healthier the oceans, and the richer they are in living things, the more effective they become at soaking up atmospheric carbon.

“The world is at a crossroads in terms of climate health and climate change,” said Dan Laffoley, vice-chairman of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, introducing a new report on the marine role in the carbon cycle.

“Neglect the ocean and wonder why our actions are not effective, or manage and restore the ocean to boost food security and reduce the impact of climate change. The choice should be an easy one.”

 

2014 Was The Hottest Year On Record Globally By Far

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2015 at 1:29 am
JMA2014

Oldspeak: “It’s official. 2014 was hot as fuck. Like, Siberian permafrost melting hot. My question is, if it’s already record-shattering hot, what happens when El Nino, that usually accounts for abnormally hot periods arrives?!?!? I’m gonna the proverbial hell of all breaks loose. It’s my feeling that this is extinction event is happening far faster than even our most learned scientists realize. It is gaining speed in a non-linear fashion. Every single update and revision of the latest science and data speaks of underestimation. This is happening faster and far more unpredictably than even the most advanced climate models can predict. Given these facts, the likelihood of even more abrupt changes and effects, increases daily. Still, something close to silence on this, the only thing that is news, in corporate media. There has been more reporting on NYPD cops turning their backs on the mayor. We need a truth and reconciliation commission on the fate of our Great Mother.” -OSJ 

By Joe Romm @ Think Progress:

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has announced that 2014 was the hottest year in more than 120 years of record-keeping — by far. NOAA is expected to make a similar call in a couple of weeks and so is NASA.

As the JMA graph shows, there has been no “hiatus” or “pause” in warming. In fact, there has not even been a slowdown. Yes, in JMA’s ranking of hottest years, 1998 is in (a distant) second place — but 1998 was an outlier as the graph shows. In fact, 1998 was boosted above the trendline by an unusual super-El Niño. It is usually the combination of the underlying long-term warming trend and the regional El Niño warming pattern that leads to new global temperature records.

What makes setting the record for hottest year in 2014 doubly impressive is that it occurred despite the fact we’re still waiting for the start of El Niño. But this is what happens when a species keeps spewing record amounts of heat-trapping carbon pollution into the air, driving CO2 to levels in the air not seen for millions of years, when the planet was far hotter and sea levels tens of feet higher.

The JMA is a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Regional Climate Center of excellence. The WMO had announced a month ago that 2014 was on track to be hottest year on record. Different climate-tracking groups around the world use different data sets, so they can show different results for 2014 depending on how warm December turns out to be.

But in mid-December, NOAA said it’s all but certain 2014 will be a record setter. It released this figure showing that

NOAA-YTD-11-14

all plausible scenarios for December still leave last year as the hottest ever (click to enlarge):

If you were wondering how 2014 could be the hottest year on record when it wasn’t particularly hot in the United States (if we ignore California and Alaska), NBC News has the story. It turns out there’s like a whole planet out there that has been getting very toasty:

Some of the hottest places in the world in 2014 included:

          • Europe was the hottest it’s been in 500 years. One new analysis concluded “global warming has made a temperature anomaly like the one observed in 2014 in Europe at least 80 times more likely.”
          • California had record-smashing heat, which helped create its “most severe drought in the last 1200 years.”
          • Australia broke heat records across the continent (for the second year running). Back in January, “temperatures soared higher than 120°F (49°C).”
          • Much of Siberia “defrosted in spring and early summer under temperatures more than 9°F (5°C) above its 1981 to 2010 average,” as Live Science noted. This is the second exceptionally hot summer in a row for the region, and scientists now think the huge crater discovered this year in the area “was probably caused by thawing permafrost.”
            • The permafrost (soon to be renamed the permamelt) contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere. If we don’t reverse emissions trends sharply and soon, then the carbon released from it this century alone could boost global warming as much as 1.5F