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

Posts Tagged ‘Abrupt ice Shelf Collapse’

Abrupt Climate Change: Happening Now, Impacts Visible, Likely To Be More Extreme Than Projected & Beyond Lifeforms’ Ability To Adapt

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2014 at 3:22 am

The Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica disintegrated between January and March of 2002. This was a floating ice shelf the size of the state of Massachusetts and 700 feet thick. Melt water, heavier than ice, squeezed its way into cracks and penetrated to the bottom of the ice shelf causing the disintegration.

Oldspeak: “…What we know now is that Earth’s climate normally changes through abrupt shifts. Climate change is mostly not a slow, glacially paced thing. The changes are fast and violent and leave ecosystems shredded in their wake. They start out slowly, but then a threshold is crossed, and the temperature jumps up or down far more radically than the slow and modest warming projected by almost all climate change models today. Universally, these abrupt climate changes dwarf climate change projected by our world’s scientific institutions in their summaries of climate change projections… With this new knowledge about abrupt climate change and the galactically large risks posed by abrupt climate change, the discussion about climate in our society today has become misplaced. Emission and eventual climate change are important, but they are fundamentally not in the same ballpark as abrupt change…abrupt changes in ecosystems, weather and climate extremes and groundwater supplies critical for agriculture are not only more likely than previously understood, but also, impacts are more likely to be more extreme… some abrupt changes have already begun – like the crash of Arctic sea ice…..Other possible abrupt climate impacts include ocean extinction events where hot spikes of weather chaos create widespread conditions beyond the evolution of ocean creatures. It’s the extremes that kill. We’ve seen previews in coral bleaching events across the world already. Seventy-five percent of complex coral reefs in the Caribbean have already been decimated…. Another worrisome abrupt climate impact that is currently taking place has happened to 64 million acres of forest in the Rockies and billions of trees in the Amazon…. Across the American West, the average temperature has been 70 percent greater than the global average… The resulting stress from drought, along with the absence of extreme beetle-killing cold, has allowed a natural pine bark beetle to kill 20 times more trees than any attack ever recorded.  Drought alone killed “several” billion trees in the Amazon and now the Amazon is a net source of CO2, not a sink.  In Texas, the drought has been perpetuated for nearly a decade with greater than average rainfall – more rain and the drought still continues because of increased evaporation. It killed over 300 million mature trees in the 2011 heat wave...” -Bruce Melton

“Our planets’ thermostats and air conditioners are failing. Not 50 or 100 years in the future. Now. Rapidly. We are aggressively and ever faster depleting and poisoning the resources we need to survive and have no viable plans to replace them, while exacerbating the conditions causing our thermostats (ice caps)  and air conditioners (forests) to fail…. We will need 2 to 3 earths to support our current levels of consumption. This is not sustainable. There isn’t much doubt that We are racing headlong to extinction. Our pathological anthropocentricity will be our undoing, as it has overridden our powers of self-preservation.  Globalized inverted corptalitarian kleptocracy trumps Survival.  At some point we’ll have no choice but to recognize and accept what we’ve wrought; the non-human scale devastation to come. The risks are too great to ignore.” -OSJ

By Bruce Melton @ Truthout:

Pine beetle kill in Rocky Mountain National Park. Over 64 million acres have been killed across the Rockies of North America by a native pine beetle gone berserk because of warming. (Photo: Bruce Melton)

Today, we are burning fossil carbon one million times faster than it was naturally put in the ground, and carbon dioxide is increasing 14,000 times faster than anytime in the last 610,000 years (1,2). Climate is now changing faster than it has during any other time in 65 million years – 100 times faster than the Paleocene/Eocene extinction event 56 million years ago see here.(3) However, “climate change” is not the most critical issue facing society today; abrupt climate change is. Climate scientists now have the knowledge necessary to guide us beyond existing climate pollution policy. New policy needs to focus on abrupt climate change, not the relatively slow changes we see in climate models of our future. The social, economic and biological disruptive potential of abrupt climate change is far greater than that of the gradual climate change present policy is predicated upon.

Over about the last 100,000 years, the world has seen about 20 abrupt climate changes, averaging 9 to 14 degrees, including in Greenland, where the temperature changed up to 25 to 35 degrees. These abrupt climate changes happen 10 to 100 times faster than the climate change projections we have all come to know and love. Mostly they happened in several decades or less, but one of the biggest changes happened in just a few years. (4)

The evidence of these abrupt changes is clear in the highly accurate findings from ancient preserved air in ice sheets. They were likely all related to feedbacks and thresholds or tipping points. There are many different kinds of feedbacks and tipping points and the science is still unclear on many of them. Feedbacks are things like the snow and ice feedback loop: snow and ice reflect up to 90 percent of the sun’s energy back into space harmlessly as light, while ocean, rocks, soil, vegetation and etc. reflect only 10 percent back into space, and the rest is absorbed and turned into heat energy that gets trapped by the greenhouse effect. The trapped energy creates more warming, that melts more snow and ice, that absorbs even more energy, changing it into heat, and the loop continues until all the snow and ice are gone.

Tipping points are a little bit more difficult to describe in environmental systems, but can easily be described in other ways. A canoe has a tipping point, beyond which a dry lovely day on the water turns into something quite different. Environmental systems behave in a similar manner. We can dump a lot of water pollution into our lakes and rivers, and nothing major seems to happen. Degradation occurs, but the lake or river generally continues to behave like a lake or river until the pollution levels reach a critical point. Then, as when one leans over just a little too far in a canoe, an algae bloom happens and the lake or river turns green or brown overnight and gets really smelly and bad tasting. This is an ecosystem tipping point. Pollution levels (nutrients from wastewater treatment plants, urban stormwater runoff agriculture, etc.) accumulate over time to a sufficiently high level that finally, an algae population explosion occurs. Then a really devastating thing sometimes occurs if the tipping point is really critical. All the algae die, sink to the bottom and decompose simultaneously. The decomposition uses up all the oxygen in the water and there is a big fish kill on top of the stinky smelly unsightly algal bloom.

Our global environment is no different from a lake or river or even a canoe. Some of these 20 or so abrupt changes happened in direct response to tipping points that preceded them, like a shutdown of the North Atlantic portion of the Gulf Stream. Some of them happened because one or more feedbacks went out of control. Pinning down exact causes of the abrupt changes, however, remains a difficult task.

Unearthing the Evidence

Abrupt climate change wasn’t really a recognized phenomenon until about 20 years ago. Strong evidence of abrupt temperature changes had been found in the 1960s in Greenland ice cores, but they were poorly understood and considered anomalies at the time. Climate change science was dominated by sediment cores from oceans and lakes and slow, glacially paced changes of the 100,000-year cycles of our climate as Earth’s tilt and orbit changed around the sun. As time passed, the early evidence of abrupt change was found again and again in subsequent ice cores. Even in Antarctica, these same abrupt signals were found.

Bubbles of ancient air preserved in Greenland ice. (Photo: Bruce Melton)

Those first records of abrupt climate change from the 1960s at Camp Century were found in ice cores from a WWII nuclear base in the middle of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Camp Century was chosen as one of the first places to drill ice because it was an existing station in a very hostile environment. The Greenland Ice Sheet is over two miles thick and 11,000 feet high. The ice cores seemed to show radical climate jumps in the clearly visible annual layers of snow, in oxygen and methane in the preserved ancient air and dust that increased and decreased dramatically according to temperature.

Over the next two decades and continued ice core drilling, the same signs of abrupt changes were seen, and some confidence began to emerge about the validity of this amazing storehouse of evidence. It was not until the early 1990s, though, that the story became clear. Two identical ice cores were drilled in one of the most stable parts of the ice sheet. The cores were identical down to 100,000 years ago, then close to bedrock, the annual layers became warped and folded. Above the level of ice at 100,000 years ago, the ice cores matched identically. The same volcanic eruptions from across the world were represented by characteristic ash from the different eruptions. Even the same dust from Siberia during really cold dry periods was found in the different ice cores. These abrupt changes were real and they were radical. Why then did sediment cores not reveal abrupt changes?

The reason was biopertubation. Bioperturbation is what happens to sediments when worms eat through organic material on the bottom of a lake or ocean. Dozens and even hundreds of years of sediment deposition per inch are mixed and remixed by the worms. It happens to almost all sediments everywhere. The best resolution in sediments at the time was really a century or more or even thousands of years. The abrupt nature of actual changes in the annual sediment layers was simply wiped out, or eaten up. Then we began to learn of areas of the globe where biopertubation did not exist.

A few areas of the ocean were identified that were stagnant and devoid of oxygen. Worms can’t live without oxygen and in these areas there is no bioperturbation. The same abrupt climate jumps as were found in Greenland were now plain to see. We have also found the same evidence in the annual layers of stalagmites and other cave formations.

It took another decade for science to catch up, but what we know now is that Earth’s climate normally changes through abrupt shifts. Climate change is mostly not a slow, glacially paced thing. The changes are fast and violent and leave ecosystems shredded in their wake. They start out slowly, but then a threshold is crossed, and the temperature jumps up or down far more radically than the slow and modest warming projected by almost all climate change models today. Universally, these abrupt climate changes dwarf climate change projected by our world’s scientific institutions in their summaries of climate change projections.

Extreme Impacts

With this new knowledge about abrupt climate change and the galactically large risks posed by abrupt climate change, the discussion about climate in our society today has become misplaced. Emission and eventual climate change are important, but they are fundamentally not in the same ballpark as abrupt change.

A new National Academy of Sciences mega-report takes on the prospect of future abrupt climate changes, asking whether changes may take place “so fast that the time between when a problem is recognized and when action is required shrinks to the point where orderly adaptation is not possible?”

The good news is that some of the more popular abrupt climate change scenarios are not likely, according to the report. Popularized and wildly exaggerated in movies like The Day After Tomorrow, a shutdown of ocean currents seems less likely in time frames that matter. Likewise, concern of serious trouble from methane outgassing from melting clathrates on the ocean floor and in permafrost seems unlikely. However, we do need to realize that the climate science consensus process is not flawless. That process told us in 2007 that Antarctica would not begin to lose ice until after 2100, but now tells us in the 2013 IPCC report that Antarctic ice loss has already caught up with Greenland’s. So, when climate change consensus opinion now tells us ocean current shutdown and clathrate off gassing are not very likely, we must understand that this opinion cannot be counted as fact.

Moreover, the mega-report notes that abrupt changes in ecosystems, weather and climate extremes and groundwater supplies critical for agriculture are not only more likely than previously understood, but also, impacts are more likely to be more extreme.(5) The report tells us that there are many more types of abrupt change than temperature and that science is now becoming good enough to help us anticipate some of them, but not all of them. It also tells us that some abrupt changes have already begun – like the crash of Arctic sea ice: “More open water conditions during summer would have potentially large and irreversible effects . . . because the Arctic region interacts with large-scale circulation systems of the oceans and atmosphere, changes in the extent of sea ice could cause shifts in climate and weather around the Northern Hemisphere.”

We have already seen how increasing energy in the Arctic has increased the magnitude of jet stream loops and the speed of those loops across the planet. These loops carry more intense storms (the polar vortex) and because of their retarded movement across the globe, these more intense weather systems stall out, increasing the dry, wet or otherwise extreme conditions associated with them.

New discoveries have shown that it is likely that one of the most abrupt of all climate changes in the last 100,000 years happened 12,000 years ago. It was called the Younger Dryas, and the temperature in Greenland jumped 25 degrees in three years. Some 1,000 years later, it fell 25 degrees in a few decades. This abrupt tipping point is now a prime candidate in the extinction of 72 percent of North American mammals, including large mammals like the saber-toothed cat and mastodon.

There are other types of abrupt changes that can be triggered by slow climate change. They are called abrupt climate impacts. The report gives the example of the mountain pika, one of my favorite alpine animals. (7) The pika is a bunny-sized, rabbit-like mammal with short little mouse-like ears and a peculiar little squeaky nasally call. It gathers grass and wildflowers in its home in the high mountains, mostly above treeline during the short high altitude summer, and stores this “pika hay” in caches in the rocks of scree slopes high on mountainsides.

As temperatures rise, the alpine meadows that the pika evolved with rise up the mountainside in response to warming. The alpine vegetation follows the cool zone up the mountain. At some point this process ends abruptly as the top of the mountain is reached and no place remains for the pika’s hay to grow. The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned California and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the pika as endangered because of climate change, but has been turned down by both. Their reasoning is that the pika’s range is not in danger of disappearing in the next several decades. That is exactly what this article is about. Current policy simply does not take abrupt climate change into consideration. The consensus reports all mention it sooner or later, but then they caveat their way out of doing anything about it because too little is known about how these things actually happen. From the summary of “Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises”:

Although many projections of future climatic conditions have predicted steadily changing conditions giving the impression that communities have time to gradually adapt, for example, by adopting new agricultural practices to maintain productivity in hotter and drier conditions, or by organizing the relocation of coastal communities as sea level rises, the scientific community has been paying increasing attention to the possibility that at least some changes will be abrupt, perhaps crossing a threshold or ‘tipping point’ to change so quickly that there will be little time to react. This concern is reasonable because such abrupt changes – which can occur over periods as short as decades, or even years – have been a natural part of the climate system throughout Earth’s history.

The Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica disintegrated between January and March of 2002. This was a floating ice shelf the size of the state of Massachusetts and 700 feet thick. Melt water, heavier than ice, squeezed its way into cracks and penetrated to the bottom of the ice shelf causing the disintegration.

A much quicker example is the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The last time it happened 120,000 years ago, Earth was about the same temperature as it is today. We saw a similar collapse in 2003 when the Larsen B ice shelf, the size of Massachusetts, disintegrated in two months. Slow warming had created more and more melt on top of the Larsen B. Then a peculiar thing happened. The melt pools on top of the ice sheet became large enough and heavy enough (water is heavier than ice) to force cracks in the ice open. The cracks catastrophically opened all the way to the bottom of the floating ice sheet a thousand or more feet below and the entire thing broke into little bergy bits. We don’t know when this will happen to the Mexico-sized West Antarctic Ice Sheet (the largest remaining marine ice sheet), but we didn’t know a year ahead of time that collapse was going to happen to the Larsen B either. (8)

The current assumption as to how fast the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could collapse is a hundred years minimum. But the similarities in the Larsen B and the West Antarctic are high, and the consensus has wildly underestimated ice processes in Antarctica before.

Other possible abrupt climate impacts include ocean extinction events where hot spikes of weather chaos create widespread conditions beyond the evolution of ocean creatures. It’s the extremes that kill. We’ve seen previews in coral bleaching events across the world already. Seventy-five percent of complex coral reefs in the Caribbean have already been decimated. (9) Polar bears are at risk because their main prey, the ringed seal, rears its young on sea ice. The young ringed seals cannot swim until they mature – creating a large challenge for the perpetuation of that species with the absence of sea ice during the reproduction season. (10)

Another worrisome abrupt climate impact that is currently taking place has happened to 64 million acres of forest in the Rockies and billions of trees in the Amazon. In the Rockies, prolonged drought has been caused by warmer temperatures. Across the American West, the average temperature has been 70 percent greater than the global average and the increase is even greater at elevations where the forests are. This is a long-term shift in relative wetness, shown in the climate models and now being realized. (11) The growing season has increased by 30 days or more in the spring, which is relatively easy to measure because of the onset of snowmelt. (12) In the fall, it is more difficult to measure, but the longer growing season and the hotter temperatures both add to the warming feedback that has perpetuated drought even as normal rainfall has returned to some areas. The resulting stress from drought, along with the absence of extreme beetle-killing cold, has allowed a natural pine bark beetle to kill 20 times more trees than any attack ever recorded. (13)

Drought alone killed “several” billion trees in the Amazon and now the Amazon is a net source of CO2, not a sink. (14) In Texas, the drought has been perpetuated for nearly a decade with greater than average rainfall – more rain and the drought still continues because of increased evaporation. It killed over 300 million mature trees in the 2011 heat wave. (15)

Making Climate Science Real

So, what can we do to prepare for possible abrupt changes in the near future? The mega-report suggests setting up an Abrupt Change Early Warning System (ACEWS). Environmental systems often send out signals that a change of state is near. When weather flickers from cold to hot or wet to dry, it may be a sign that abrupt changes are to come. The ACEWS system would be integrated with a risk management system that takes into consideration the ultimate costs of an abrupt change. Example: coral bleaching events are certainly costly to some ocean systems and economies dependent on those ocean systems. An abrupt sea level jump, however, may not have near the impact on ocean systems, but have much more devastating impacts on global socio-economic factors.

Barring the creation of a full-blown abrupt change early warning system, scientists will continue to monitor ongoing changes and increase the accuracy of their measurements and their modeling efforts to simulate and recreate future and past change events. But as more knowledge on abrupt changes is discovered, one thing is becoming crystal clear: Climate change policy today has become severely dated, and we need to catch up.

Just a few years ago, when the Kyoto Protocol was still a valid way of preventing dangerous climate change, emission reduction strategies were appropriate. We did not know nearly as much about abrupt climate change and abrupt impacts as we do today. The IPCC had not pronounced that greater than 100 percent emissions reductions for a sustained period are required to prevent dangerous climate change. (16) Now we know these things, and now we know we must begin to remove CO2 directly from our atmosphere because no amount of emissions reductions can remove greater than 100 percent of annual emissions.

We also know that once fully industrialized, air capture of CO2 can be done for $25 per ton. This means the removal of 50 ppm of CO2 from the atmosphere can be done for what the US paid for healthcare in 2005 ($2.1 trillion). (17)

Why are we not yet implementing these changes? A large part of the answer is that the perceived debate has masked the facts. Climate science is not real to most people. It doesn’t really affect many of us yet; it’s not a priority, so it is not reported. Humanity needs to be brought up to speed. Once the knowledge is spread around – as crucial scientific facts, not politics – we will make the correct decisions. One only hopes we can spread that crucial knowledge before abrupt changes begin.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Notes

1. We are using fossil fuels one million times faster than Mother Nature saved them for us . . . Richard Alley, Earth: The Operators’ Manual, Norton Publishing and PBS documentary.

2. 14,000 times faster… Zeebe and Caldeira, Close mass balance of long-term carbon fluxes from ice-core CO2 and ocean chemistry records, Nature Geoscience, Advance Online Publication, April 27, 2008.

3. 100 times faster than anytime in 65 million years . . . Diffenbaugh and Field, “Changes in Ecologically Critical Terrestrial Climate Conditions, Natural Systems in Changing Climates,” Science, Special Climate Edition, Volume 341, August 2, 2013, page 490, first paragraph: “The Pleistocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) encompassed warming of 5 degrees C in less than 10,000 years, a rate of change that is 100-fold slower than that projected by RCP8.5.”

4. Abrupt climate change as fast as a few years. Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council of the National Academies of Science, December 2013, Preface, page vii, second paragraph.

9 to 15 degrees across the globe . . . Alley, The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future, Princeton University Press, 2000, page 119, Figure 12.2.

Data for figure 12.2 is from Cuffey and Clow, “Temperature, accumulation, and ice sheet elevation in central Greenland through the last deglacial Transition,” Journal of Geophysical Research, volume 102(C12), pp 26,383 to 26,396.

Greenland temperature change is twice that of the global average. Chylek and Lohmann, “Ratio of Greenland to global temperature change – comparison of observations and climate models,” Geophysical Research Letters, July 2005. Chylek and Lohmann say the Greenland temperature change is 2.2 times greater than the global average. From Alley’s Figure 12.2 (Cuffey and Clow), the 25 to 35 degree F abrupt changes in Greenland would equal 9 to 15 degrees average across the globe.

Also see: 25 to 35 degrees in “Greenland, National Research Council, Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises,” Committee on Abrupt Climate Change, 2002. Figure 2.5, page 37.

5. More extreme than previously understood. Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council, preface, third paragraph.

6. Extinction of 72 percent of North American Mammals, ibid. page 1, second paragraph

7. Pika, ibid. page 118.

8. West Antarctic Ice Sheet, ibid., pages 7, 13, 33, 34, 59, 61, 62, 150, 161.

9. Seventy-five percent of Caribbean reefs destroyed. Alvarez-Philip, Dulvey, et. al., “Flattening of Caribbean coral reefs: Region-wide decline in architectural complexity,” Proceedings of the Royal Society-B, June 2009.

10. “Polar Bears,” Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council, page 118.

11. The American West has warmed 70 percent more than the global average. Hotter and Drier, “The West’s Changed Climate,” Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, 2008, Executive Summary, page iv, paragraph 1.

12. Spring is coming 30 days sooner in the American West; 10–30 days over the 1948–2000 period. I. Stewart, D. Cayan, and M. Dettinger, “Changes in snowmelt runoff timing in western North America under a ‘business as usual’ climate change scenario,” Climatic Change 62 (2004): 217-232. Page 223, 4. Results, second paragraph.

13. “Bark Beetle Outbreaks,” Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises, National Research Council, page 21.

14. The Amazon has flipped from a carbon sink to a carbon source; Lewis et al., “The 2010 Amazon Drought,” Science, February 4, 2011.

15. 301 million trees killed in Texas in the drought of 2011; Texas A&M Forest Service.

16. IPCC 2013: Greater than 100 percent emissions reductions; IPCC 2013, Summary for Policy Makers, E.8 “Climate Stabilization, Climate Change Commitment and Irreversibility,” p 20, fourth bullet.

17. Lower Limit for Air Capture Costs: $25 per ton CO2 or slightly lower than the suggested minimum price for flue capture; Lackner et al., “The urgency of the development of CO2 capture from ambient air,” PNAS, August 14, 2012, page 13159, paragraph 6.

Bruce Melton

Bruce Melton is a professional engineer, environmental researcher, filmmaker, and author in Austin, Texas. Information on Melton’s new book, Climate Discovery Chronicles can be found along with more climate change writing, climate science outreach and critical environmental issue documentary films on his web sites and http://www.climatediscovery.com Images copyright Bruce Melton 2012, except where referenced otherwise.

 

Global CIimate Going From Bad To Worse: U.S. National Research Council Report Confirms Abrupt Climate Change Underway Now

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2014 at 8:48 pm

Oldspeak:”Levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are exceeding levels recorded in the past millions of years, and thus climate is being forced beyond the range of the recent geological era. Lacking concerted action by the world’s nations, it is clear that the future climate will be warmer, sea levels will rise, global rainfall patterns will change, and ecosystems will be altered….Recent dramatic changes in the extent and thickness of the ice that covers the Arctic sea have been well documented…This rapid reduction in Arctic sea ice already qualifies as an abrupt change with substantial decreases in ice extent occurring within the past several decades. Projections from climate models suggest that ice loss will continue in the future…The impacts of rapid decreases in Arctic sea ice are likely to be considerable.  More open water conditions during summer would have potentially large and irreversible effects on various components of the Arctic ecosystem, including disruptions in the marine food web, shifts in the habitats of some marine mammals, and erosion of vulnerable coastlines. Because the Arctic region interacts with the large-scale circulation systems of the ocean and atmosphere, changes in the extent of sea ice could cause shifts in climate and weather around the northern hemisphere…. The rate of climate change now underway is probably as fast as any warming event in the past 65 million years, and it is projected that its pace over the next 30 to 80 years will continue to be faster and more intense. These rapidly changing conditions make survival difficult for many species. Biologically important climatic attributes—such as number of frost-free days, length and timing of growing seasons, and the frequency and intensity of extreme events (such as number of extremely hot days or severe storms)—are changing so rapidly that some species can neither move nor adapt fast enough.. The distinct risks of climate change exacerbate other widely recognized and severe extinction pressures, especially habitat destruction, competition from invasive species, and unsustainable exploitation of species for economic gain, which have already elevated extinction rates to many times above background rates. If unchecked, habitat destruction, fragmentation, and over-exploitation, even without climate change, could result in a mass extinction within the next few centuries equivalent in magnitude to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs… a large part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), representing 3–4 m of potential sea-level rise, is capable of flowing rapidly into deep ocean basins. Because the full suite of physical processes occurring where ice meets ocean is not included in comprehensive ice-sheet models, it remains possible that future rates of sea-level rise from the WAIS are underestimated, perhaps substantially. Improved understanding of key physical processes and inclusion of them in models, together with improved projections of changes in the surrounding ocean, are required to notably reduce uncertainties and to better quantify worst-case scenarios. Because large uncertainties remain, the Committee judges an abrupt change in the WAIS within this century to be plausible, with an unknown although probably low probability….According to current scientific understanding, Arctic carbon stores are poised to play a significant amplifying role in the century-scale buildup of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, but are unlikely to do so abruptly, i.e., on a timescale of one or a few decades. Although comforting, this conclusion is based on immature science and sparse monitoring capabilities. Basic research is required to assess the long-term stability of currently frozen Arctic and sub-Arctic soil stocks, and of the possibility of increasing the release of methane gas bubbles from currently frozen marine and terrestrial sediments, as temperatures rise… However, concerns over the likelihood of other potential abrupt impacts of climate change—such as destabilization of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and rapid increases in already-high rates of species extinctions— have intensified. It is important to note that such abrupt impacts can be suddenly triggered simply by continuing the present climate-change trajectory that humans are driving until “tipping points” are reached, as opposed to an abrupt change in the climate system itself.

NRC Report: Abrupt Impacts Of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises (2013)

———————————————————————————————————————

” 1st issue for me is, how in the shit do you anticipate a surprise?!?!?! i mean, if you anticipate it, it’s not a surprise. it’s something you were expecting, the opposite of surprise. The title of this report is Orwellian doublespeak par excellence! Took the liberty of emphasizing the parts of the report i found most interesting. Understand first and foremost the sponsors of this report: the US intelligence community, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the National Academies.  Given that, one can understand the  soft-shoe absurdity of the findings in the face of obvious truths and present realities.  I’ll go through one by one with my analysis.

Because the Arctic region interacts with the large-scale circulation systems of the ocean and atmosphere, changes in the extent of sea ice could cause shifts in climate and weather around the northern hemisphere….”

We’re seeing this right now and have been for some time now in the Northern Hemisphere. 500 year floods, The strongest storms in recorded history, Prolonged and widespread droughts, you know, end of days type shit.

These rapidly changing conditions make survival difficult for many species. Biologically important climatic attributes—such as number of frost-free days, length and timing of growing seasons, and the frequency and intensity of extreme events (such as number of extremely hot days or severe storms)—are changing so rapidly that some species can neither move nor adapt fast enough…”

We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.  Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day…” –Center for Biological Diversity. Earth’s 6 extinction event is happening faster than most species, including humans, are able to adapt. We’re rebuilding on the coasts after super-storms, peddling propaganda boasting “We’re Stronger Than Sandy” for fucks sake! Our pathological anthropocentricity, outsized arrogance and illusory civilization has overridden our survival instincts. That’s not good for anything that lives here.

Because the full suite of physical processes occurring where ice meets ocean is not included in comprehensive ice-sheet models, it remains possible that future rates of sea-level rise from the WAIS are underestimated, perhaps substantially. Improved understanding of key physical processes and inclusion of them in models, together with improved projections of changes in the surrounding ocean, are required to notably reduce uncertainties and to better quantify worst-case scenarios. Because large uncertainties remain, the Committee judges an abrupt change inthe WAIS within this century to be plausible, with an unknown although probably low
probability….

Basically what these esteemed scientists are trying to say in the most polite and least alarming way is ” Ummm we don’t know all the possible variables affecting the rapidly melting and fucking GiNORMOUS West Antarctic ice Sheet, so we can’t plug them into our “comprehensive” but really incomplete ice sheet  models. As a result, future rates of sea-level rise have been  SUBSTANTiALLY UNDERESTiMATED…. So basically, WE DON’T KNOW THE WORST CASE SCENARiO, though we do know the WAiS could collapse this century, but we’re guessin it’s probably not gonna happen.” My answer is WHAT THE FUCK!? I’d appreciate it if you just said “we’re fucked” and be done with it.

According to current scientific understanding, Arctic carbon stores are poised to play a significant amplifying role in the century-scale buildup of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, but are unlikely to do so abruptly, i.e., on a timescale of one or a few decades. Although comforting, this conclusion is based on immature science and sparse monitoring capabilities. Basic research is required to assess the long-term stability of currently frozen Arctic and sub-Arctic soil stocks, and of the possibility of increasing the release of methane gas bubbles from currently frozen marine and terrestrial sediments, as temperatures rise…”

Translation: “Arctic Methane and CO2 deposits are going to make climate change and global warming significantly WORSE. We don’t think it’ll be really bad anytime soon, but we’re basing that pulled out our ass conclusion on unreliable science and not alot of field data. We need to do basic research to start to really figure out what the fuck is going on. We don’t really know right now, sorry.”

It is important to note that such abrupt impacts can be suddenly triggered simply by continuing the present climate-change trajectory that humans are driving until “tipping points” are reached, as opposed to an abrupt change in the climate system itself.

Translation: “At the present unaltered,  expanding and accelerating human caused carbon emission rates, these abrupt impacts could be triggered at any time. But when we irreversible tipping points are reached, we and most life on earth is fucked.” -OSJ

By Matt Owens @ Speaking Truth To Power:

Less terrifying, more horrifying. That, more or less, was the between-the-lines takeaway from Friday’s National Research Council (NRC) briefing on abrupt climate change.

The event was part of an announcement of the NRC’s newly released and finalized report, “Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises.”

Several of the scientists involved in the report were present, including James White from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Anthony Barnosky from the University of California at Berkeley, and Richard Alley from Penn State University.

In one of the most shocking statements, Barnosky said the world’s oceans are now undergoing a change in pH and temperature that is so rapid and severe, that if we stay on our business-as-usual emissions pathway, then we will see the most significant degradation in the world’s oceans since 250 million years ago when there was the “end-Permian extinction event.” That was possibly the most extreme extinction event in Earth’s entire history. Over 90% of marine species in the fossil record went extinct.

“Just in the next five or six decades we will see some very major problems,” Barnosky said.

Today, the change in temperature of the ocean is primarily being caused by the growing global energy imbalance resulting from the thickening blanket of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide.

The change in pH of the ocean is primarily being caused by the growing global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, which becomes an acid, carbonic acid, when it dissolves in water. As the methane clathrates increasingly thaw, they will also acidify the water.

On extinction more broadly, Barnosky said that tropical coral reefs and land species in the tropics are first in line for extinction. And coral reefs will disappear in decades on our current emissions path as well. “These are not small effects and again – we’re already starting to see them happen.”

All participants, even Barnosky himself, seemed to be stunned by the details and implications being presented.

Richard Alley made an effort to shore up morale by pointing to some of the massive and abrupt catastrophes we can essentially rule out now. “North Atlantic [ocean circulation] probably will not change abruptly,” he said, and there is “fairly high” confidence in that outlook. However, he added, circulation will change, and probably already is changing – but it just won’t “shut down” like some had worried. At least not this century.

On the topic of amplifying feedbacks, Alley said that “if we warm the world, nature will amplify what we do.” And he added that “often long-term feedbacks are ignored – and so you get optimistic projections of how much carbon we can emit.”

Asked about the feasibility of “going back” after crossing tipping points, Alley said that it depends on the tipping point. In the case of the Arctic sea ice, if we cool the planet back down to temperatures a little below today’s, then we can probably regrow the sea ice he said, adding that on the other hand, if West Antarctica collapses, then the temperature would have to drop much further to start the ice sheet growing again. As for Greenland, the ability “to return” depends on how long the climate remains in a warm state. The longer it’s warm, the harder it will be to “return” he said.

Alley didn’t get into how we might cool the planet back down, although in previous public statements, he has referred to carbon dioxide as being something like a global temperature dial. Also in reference to “returning,” he mentioned hysteresis loops, a trait of some complex systems where returning to the previous state requires following a different path back. Sometimes the return path can be more difficult too.

In other less-terrifying but still-horrifying news, Alley described how – as best he can tell – there do seem to be enough “safety valves” on sea floor methane clathrate deposits to limit its release – but it will still be a chronic problem – rather than the massive “clathrate gun” possibility (where the methane erupts from the oceans so fast that global temperatures spike and essentially a massive ecological upheaval ensues with wildfires, famines, and so on).

Unfortunately, both the clathrates and thawing Arctic permafrost will become significant sources of ongoing greenhouse gases, at least if we stay on our current emissions path. That means to stabilize climate in the future, we’ll need to do more than just stop burning fossil fuels. We’ll also need to mop up the permafrost and clathrate emissions. And, with elevated chronic bubbling of methane from the sea floor, it will also acidify the ocean from the bottom up.

Regarding a possible collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, Alley said he’s inclined to say it’s not terribly likely this century. And, if it does happen, he’s leaning towards it being a somewhat slow process. But there are still processes involved where there just isn’t enough information yet – and so he won’t fully rule out something more rapid.

Jim White highlighted that a previous NRC report (2004) on abrupt climate change was the first time anyone had even looked at the issue in a systematic way. And he added that “calls to action” from that 2004 report have largely gone unheeded thus far.

Early in his presentation, White alluded to food storage as one possible safeguard against increasingly hostile weather and crop shortfalls, but he didn’t go into much detail. The global food system is quite remarkable in how little reserve is stored at any given time. Even without climate change, it seems like a significant crop shortage could put many countries, even developed ones, into a world of hurt.

In response to a question on tipping points in our built systems, White answered that there has been no comprehensive assessment to see how our infrastructure will hold up to climate change. The first step he said, is to identify “what you have at risk,” but that has generally not been done. For example, he cited how it took Hurricane Sandy hitting New York and New Jersey before there was a serious evaluation of what could be done to safeguard against such an event.

He also cited Florida, which hasn’t had a major storm surge disaster yet – that is, one where the elevated (and rising) sea level makes the surge potentially worse than ever before.

And White also pointed out that low topographical relief makes it easy for storm surge to push far inland along much of the US Southeast coast.

Fundamentally, the feeling from the conference was that some very decent and hardworking people have identified a very bad set of circumstances headed towards mankind, and the general reaction has been a human one: shoot the messenger and/or ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

In the context of this report, that strategy of denial and rejection has sort of worked so far (by a certain logic anyway). After all, a lot of sudden apocalyptic climate change events have been ruled very unlikely with high confidence, at least for another 100 years or so. But the horror of the situation is that very real chronic problems are growing worse. The odds of those chronic problems going away, unfortunately, is about as close to zero as you can get.

The basic truth between the lines of this press event was that we are facing a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to humankind.

We are literally making the planet into a wasteland like this is some post-apocalyptic science fiction story. It is just shocking. And the most horrifying aspect of it all is that we’ve waited to reduce emissions so long that we’re exiting the win-win field of possible climate responses. We’re now headed into a world of lose-lose. That’s the news nobody wants to convey – or hear. But there it is.

Massive, Abrupt Acrtic Ice Shelf Collapses Happening Faster Than Ever Seen; West Antarctic Ice Sheet Irreversibly Unstable

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2014 at 3:41 pm

https://i2.wp.com/pigiceshelf.nasa.gov/img/poster-lg.jpg

Oldspeak:” Pine Island Glacier (two-thirds the size of the UK), 1.2 miles thick, represents 10% of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet… Scientists have an especially keen eye on Pine Island Glacier because it has a greater net contribution of ice to the sea of any other ice drainage basin in the world. Alone, the loss of Pine Island might raise sea levels by less than half an inch, but if the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreated, this would raise sea levels by more than 10 feet… Here’s the problem: Scientists fear a cascading Pine Island Glacier could lead to eventual destabilization of the entire West Antarctic Sheet… On the other hand, the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet, which covers an area bigger than the continental U.S. contains 85%-90% of the world’s ice and could raise sea levels by over 200 feet, which (fortunately) would likely take centuries to collapse….According to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Pine Island has “…reached a point of no return….all models suggest Pine Island Glacier has become unstable and even irreversible. The unstable condition is driven, not by higher air temperatures, but rather by a warming ocean at the bottom-waters, eroding the ice shelf.” –Robert Hunziker

Things that normally happen in geologic time are happening during the span of a human lifetime… From the Arctic to Peru, from Switzerland to the equatorial glaciers of Man Jaya in Indonesia, massive ice fields, monstrous glaciers, and sea ice are disappearing, fast.” -Daniel Fagre, U.S. Geological Survey Global Change Research Program

“Short version = WE’RE SOOO  FUCKED.  The thing i don’t get about this piece, is how the author could write something saying an enormous glacier in Antarctica is melting, has reached the point of no return, is irreversibly unstable, that it is feared it will lead to the disintegration of the ENTiRE west antarctic ice sheet which will raise sea level by 1o feet globally; and then spend the last part of the piece talking about “realistic and practical solutions to stopping climate change.”  “Hopeful signs on the horizon worldwide, principally because of human ingenuity combined with science and technology…” There are NO realistic nor practical solutions! They needed to be implemented 30 to 40 years ago.  Irreversible means IRREVERSIBLE! Human ingenuity, science and technology (and I would add sociopathy) are what brought us to Earths 6th mass extinction!!! This shit is happening whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. 10 feet of sea level rise, in addition to the already predicted 3 feet of sea level rise from already emitted human fossil fuel expenditure and another 23 FEET of sea level rise expected from our EVER INCREASING global carbon emmissions means all present day coastlines will be under will be underwater.  Human activity has caused  Multiple, IRREVERSIBLE non-linear positive feedback loops to begin and human activity will no longer mitigate them. Geoengineering is only making things worse. Earth will become uninhabitable by humans and most other forms of life. This is a certainty. There is no fixing this. Our mother is melting, and there is nothing we can do about it.” -OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Imagine a 1,160 square mile ice sheet (equivalent in size to Los Angeles, Dallas plus Chicago), which had been stable for thousands of years, suddenly collapsing and crumbling into thousands of icebergs within weeks.

It happened in Antarctica, and the message therein challenges humankind to beware of its own devices, i.e., burning fossil fuels for energy.

A team of researchers from the University of Chicago and Princeton lead by Alison Banwell,1 may have cracked the code to what happened over a decade ago.

It was “like the smashing of glasses at the throw of a stone,” said University of Chicago geophysicist Douglas MacAyeal, co-researcher of the project, at an International Glaciological Society meeting in Beijing.2

What happened at Larsen B Ice Shelf is the warming atmosphere formed thousands of lakes on the surface, and as a result, here’s what the Banwell/MacAyeal’s study found: The disappearance (drainage) of one lake (only one lake) resulted in fractures under all the others: “An effect that can spread rapidly throughout the ice shelf.” Boom! Collapse! All of a Sudden! Abrupt climate change.

Their study begs numerous serious, daunting questions about abrupt climate change as a threat to major coastal cities of the world, if only because 85%+ of the world’s ice resides at the South Pole in Antarctica. And, as for starters: Is the Larsen B Ice Shelf collapse a renegade circumstance, or is it a nasty, threatening harbinger of more to come?

According to NASA, Earth Observatory, World of Change/larsenb: “The collapse of the Larsen appears to have been due to a series of warm summers on the Antarctic Peninsula… nor was the Larsen B the last Antarctic ice shelf to disappear. Farther down the peninsula to the southwest, the Wilkins Ice Shelf disintegrated in a series of break up events that began in February 2008 (late summer) and continued throughout Southern Hemisphere winter… It was the tenth major ice shelf to collapse in recent tines.”

So, it does not appear Larsen B was a renegade at all. It was just stupendously large, as “scientists monitoring daily satellite images… watched in amazement as almost the entire Larsen B Ice Shelf splintered and collapsed in just over one month. They had never witnessed such a large area… disintegrate so rapidly,” Ibid.

Pine Island Glacier

There’s a new kid on the block.

Pine Island Glacier (two-thirds the size of the UK), 1.2 miles thick, represents 10% of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet. It is the most closely watched glacier in the world and also the most treacherous with crevasses underfoot throughout.

Scientists have an especially keen eye on Pine Island Glacier because it has a greater net contribution of ice to the sea of any other ice drainage basin in the world. Alone, the loss of Pine Island might raise sea levels by less than half an inch, but if the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreated, this would raise sea levels by more than 10 feet.

Here’s the problem: Scientists fear a cascading Pine Island Glacier could lead to eventual destabilization of the entire West Antarctic Sheet.

On the other hand, the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet, which covers an area bigger than the continental U.S. contains 85%-90% of the world’s ice and could raise sea levels by over 200 feet, which (fortunately) would likely take centuries to collapse.

According to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Pine Island has “…reached a point of no return. The Pine Island Glacier, if it is unstable may have implications for the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet.”3

Dr. Gael Durand (glaciologist at Grenoble Alps University, Fr.) warns that all models suggest Pine Island Glacier has become unstable and even irreversible. The unstable condition is driven, not by higher air temperatures, but rather by a warming ocean at the bottom-waters, eroding the ice shelf.

As such, the ocean has been absorbing 90% of the planet’s heat.

By its very nature, it is important to digest the horrid consideration behind the unannounced crumbling of the Larsen B glacier within a few weeks, an abrupt climate change in real time. Nobody saw it coming!

Worldwide Glacier Melt

The glaciers of the world are under severe attack.

According to Daniel Fagre, U.S. Geological Survey Global Change Research Program, “Things that normally happen in geologic time are happening during the span of a human lifetime.”4

“From the Arctic to Peru, from Switzerland to the equatorial glaciers of Man Jaya in Indonesia, massive ice fields, monstrous glaciers, and sea ice are disappearing, fast.”4

Peru’s Quelccaya is the largest ice cap in the tropics, and if its current rate of melt continues, 600 feet per year, it will be gone by 2100. In turn, the Quelccaya provides large regions of South America with drinking water, irrigation for crops, and hydropower.

Speaking of large population centers with a dependence upon glaciers, the famed Garhwal Himalaya in India is retreating so fast that researchers are concerned about the disappearance of most of the central and eastern Himalayan glaciers.

Stopping Global Warming/Climate Change

The only realistic solutions to stopping climate change are practical solutions, meaning courses of action that can be initiated within the framework of society. Along these lines, Greenpeace has an initiative:

Greenpeace suggests people join local community organizations to shut down dirty coal plants all across the U.S., applying local pressure from coast-to-coast to switch to renewables. This is a practicable, yet challenging, solution, assuming enough community organizers can push enough hot buttons, and the Greenpeace initiative would include advocating strong laws to curb global warming as well as exposing climate deniers by holding them publicly accountable, and resulting in an Energy Revolution, advocating solar, wind power, and the full panoply of renewables.

But, hold on for one minute, the probability of gathering enough dedicated souls required for the Greenpeace initiative is about as probable as the U.S. Congress passing a bill requiring all coal-burning plants convert to solar power. No additional commentary necessary.

Hopeful Signs Abound Worldwide

Nevertheless, there are hopeful signs on the horizon, principally because of human ingenuity combined with science and technology. Here are a few examples from around the world:

In Seville, Spain, as of a few months ago, 27,000 homes started receiving electricity 24/7 from a remarkable new Concentrated Solar Power facility, Gemasolar, which utilizes molten salt to store heat to run the plant when the sun does not shine, whilst omitting 30,000 tons/year of CO2.

And, in green California, as of September 2013, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert flipped the ‘on switch’, providing electricity from Concentrated Solar Power to 140,000 homes (mostly in San Francisco), omitting 400,000 tons/year of CO2 emissions.

New York announced (January 2014) a $1 billion plan to install enough solar-electric panels to power 465,000 homes. And, in Maine, a bill is under consideration to promote solar energy.

Regarding solar costs in general, since 2008, the price of photovoltaic modules fell 60%, which for the first time puts solar power on a Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) competitive basis with conventional energy.5 This remarkable achievement over such a short period of time brings solar to the forefront of an expanding list of locations around the world.

Solar Energizing the World

Solar produces electricity in latitudes as far north as British Columbia, Canada.  For example, ultra overcast, cloudy Germany (in the same latitude as British Columbia) currently produces more solar-powered electricity than 20 nuclear power plants, thanks to enlightened political leadership.

Also, in Germany the price of solar panels has fallen 66% in recent years, and its cost of solar-generated power is projected to be less than coal within the next few years. Already, twenty-two percent (22%) of Germany’s power is from renewables of which twenty-five percent (25%) comes from solar. By way of comparison, solar power accounts for less than one percent (1%) of total U.S. electricity.

As an aside, and as for one more sorry example of America’s embarrassing problem of naiveté of all-things-science, Fox News, in a February 2013 broadcast, discussed Germany’s solar success, when it occurred to host Gretchen Carlson to ask her expert guest, Fox business reporter Shibani Joshi, why Germany’s solar-power sector is doing so well.

Carlson asked, “What was Germany doing correct? Are they just a smaller country, and that made it more feasible?”

Expert Joshi replied, “They’re a smaller country, and they’ve got lots of sun. Right? They’ve got a lot more sun than we do… sure, California might get sun now and then…but here on the East Coast, it’s just not going to work.”

Fact: Germany’s direct solar energy is equal to Canada’s, which is far and away lower direct solar energy than the U.S. Furthermore, the New York/Boston/Washington, D.C. corridor is a sunny tropical isle compared to Germany, which is north of Newfoundland.

Henceforth, over time, solar will likely slam the door shut on the 150-year ordeal with fossil fuel, which has drained hundreds of millions of years of decomposed plant and animal ooze as feedstock for a revolution, the industrial revolution, which unleashed a massive capitalistic heist of every resource imaginable, as well as politically undermining socio/economic progression/development of rugged individualism by a throwback to the day of serfs, peasants, villeins, servants, and yeomen… with a smattering of nobles. Sound complicated? It is, but on second thought, it really isn’t.

  1. Alison Banwell, et al., Breakup of the Larsen B Ice Shelf Triggered by Chain Reaction Drainage of Supraglacial Lakes, Geophysics Research Letters, 40, 5872-5876, DOI: 10.1002/2013GLO57694. []
  2. “Chain Reaction Shattered Huge Antarctica Ice Shelf,” Nature, August 9, 2013. []
  3. G. Durand, et al., “Retreat of Pine Island Glacier Controlled by Marine Ice-Sheet Instability,” Nature Climate Change, doi: 10.1038/nclimagte2094, Jan. 12, 2014. []
  4. Daniel Glick, “Signs From Earth: The Big Thaw,” National Geographic, June 2007. [] []
  5. Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.