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Posts Tagged ‘Arctic ice melt’

Destroying What Remains: As The Arctic Dies & Melts Away, The US Navy Plans For War Games In The Arctic

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2015 at 8:53 pm
The USS Cowpens launches a Harpoon Missile from the aft missile deck as part of a live fire excercise, September 12, 2012.

The USS Cowpens launches a Harpoon Missile from the aft missile deck as part of a live-fire exercise, September 12, 2012. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paul Kelly/US Navy; Edited: JR/TO)

Oldspeak: “Given that the Navy has been making plans for “ice-free” operations in the Arctic since at least 2001, their June “Northern Edge” exercises may well prove to be just the opening salvo in the future northern climate wars, with whales, seals, and salmon being the first in the line of fire.

In April 2001, a Navy symposium entitled “Naval Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic” was mounted to begin to prepare the service for a climate-change-induced future. Fast forward to June 2015. In what the military refers to as Alaska’s “premier” joint training exercise, Alaskan Command aims to conduct “Northern Edge” over 8,429 nautical miles, which include critical habitat for all five wild Alaskan salmon species and 377 other species of marine life. The upcoming war games in the Gulf of Alaska will not be the first such exercises in the region — they have been conducted, on and off, for the last 30 years — but they will be the largest by far. In fact, a 360 percent rise in munitions use is expected, according to Emily Stolarcyk, the program manager for the Eyak Preservation Council (EPC).” -Dahr Jamail

“Another absurd example of the U.S. Climate/Environmental Policy. Bomb Baby Bomb. The U.S. Military is not content to be the single largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet. Fossil Fuels. The very thing that is hastening our march toward extinction. Nooooo, it must actually physically bomb, irradiate and destroy one of the most vitally important and ecologically sensitive regions on earth, 360% MORE than it has in the past at a critical time for wildlife upon which many people in the region depend on for survival. All in the name of being prepared for war over the toxic climate destroying resources to be yet to be plundered there. 2 Key cogs in the Military-Industrial Complex (“Defense” and Energy industries) are destroying whatever they deem necessary to meet their terminally short-sighted objectives. The madness continues unabated as Industrial Civilization grinds on.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

I lived in Anchorage for 10 years and spent much of that time climbing in and on the spine of the state, the Alaska Range. Three times I stood atop the mountain the Athabaskans call Denali, “the great one.” During that decade, I mountaineered for more than half a year on that magnificent state’s highest peaks.  It was there that I took in my own insignificance while living amid rock and ice, sleeping atop glaciers that creaked and moaned as they slowly ground their way toward lower elevations.

Alaska contains the largest coastal mountain range in the world and the highest peak in North America. It has more coastline than the entire contiguous 48 states combined and is big enough to hold the state of Texas two and a half times over. It has the largest population of bald eagles in the country. It has 430 kinds of birds along with the brown bear, the largest carnivorous land mammal in the world, and other species ranging from the pygmy shrew that weighs less than a penny to gray whales that come in at 45 tons. Species that are classified as “endangered” in other places are often found in abundance in Alaska.

Now, a dozen years after I left my home state and landed in Baghdad to begin life as a journalist and nine years after definitively abandoning Alaska, I find myself back. I wish it was to climb another mountain, but this time, unfortunately, it’s because I seem increasingly incapable of escaping the long and destructive reach of the US military.

That summer in 2003 when my life in Alaska ended was an unnerving one for me.  It followed a winter and spring in which I found myself protesting the coming invasion of Iraq in the streets of Anchorage, then impotently watching the televised spectacle of the Bush administration’s “shock and awe” assault on that country as Baghdad burned and Iraqis were slaughtered. While on Denali that summer I listened to news of the beginnings of what would be an occupation from hell and, in my tent on a glacier at 17 thousand feet, wondered what in the world I could do.

In this way, in a cloud of angst, I traveled to Iraq as an independent news team of one and found myself reporting on atrocities that were evident to anyone not embedded with the US military, which was then laying waste to the country. My early reporting, some of it for TomDispatch, warned of body counts on a trajectory toward one million, rampant torture in the military’s detention facilities, and the toxic legacy it had left in the city of Fallujah thanks to the use of depleted uranium munitions and white phosphorous.

As I learned, the US military is an industrial-scale killing machine and also the single largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet, which makes it a major source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. As it happens, distant lands like Iraq sitting atop vast reservoirs of oil and natural gas are by no means its only playing fields.

Take the place where I now live, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.  The US Navy already has plans to conduct electromagnetic warfare training in an area close to where I moved to once again seek solace in the mountains: Olympic National Forest and nearby Olympic National Park. And this June, it’s scheduling massive war games in the Gulf of Alaska, including live bombing runs that will mean the detonation of tens of thousands of pounds of toxic munitions, as well as the use of active sonar in the most pristine, economically valuable, and sustainable salmon fishery in the country (arguably in the world).  And all of this is to happen right in the middle of fishing season.

This time, in other words, the bombs will be falling far closer to home. Whether it’s war-torn Iraq or “peaceful” Alaska, Sunnis and Shi’ites or salmon and whales, to me the omnipresent “footprint” of the US military feels inescapable.

All of Southeast Alaska's pristine coastline would be impacted by the Navy's upcoming planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

All of Southeast Alaska’s pristine coastline would be impacted by the Navy’s upcoming planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

The War Comes Home

In 2013, US Navy researchers predicted ice-free summer Arctic waters by 2016 and it looks as if that prediction might come true. Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that there was less ice in the Arctic this winter than in any other winter of the satellite era. Given that the Navy has been making plans for “ice-free” operations in the Arctic since at least 2001, their June “Northern Edge” exercises may well prove to be just the opening salvo in the future northern climate wars, with whales, seals, and salmon being the first in the line of fire.

In April 2001, a Navy symposium entitled “Naval Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic” was mounted to begin to prepare the service for a climate-change-induced future. Fast forward to June 2015. In what the military refers to as Alaska’s “premier” joint training exercise, Alaskan Command aims to conduct “Northern Edge” over 8,429 nautical miles, which include critical habitat for all five wild Alaskan salmon species and 377 other species of marine life. The upcoming war games in the Gulf of Alaska will not be the first such exercises in the region — they have been conducted, on and off, for the last 30 years — but they will be the largest by far. In fact, a 360 percent rise in munitions use is expected, according to Emily Stolarcyk, the program manager for the Eyak Preservation Council (EPC).

Eyak Preservation Council’s Emily Stolarcyk in Cordova, Alaska, with the Navy's environmental impact statement for their planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

Eyak Preservation Council’s Emily Stolarcyk in Cordova, Alaska, with the Navy’s environmental impact statement for their planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

The waters in the Gulf of Alaska are some of the most pristine in the world, rivaled only by those in the Antarctic, and among the purest and most nutrient-rich waters anywhere. Northern Edge will take place in an Alaskan “marine protected area,” as well as in a NOAA-designated “fisheries protected area.” These war games will also coincide with the key breeding and migratory periods of the marine life in the region as they make their way toward Prince William Sound, as well as further north into the Arctic.

Species affected will include blue, fin, gray, humpback, minke, sei, sperm, and killer whales, the highly endangered North Pacific right whale (of which there are only approximately 30 left), as well as dolphins and sea lions. No fewer than a dozen native tribes including the Eskimo, Eyak, Athabascan, Tlingit, Sun’aq, and Aleut rely on the area for subsistence living, not to speak of their cultural and spiritual identities.

The Navy is already permitted to use live ordnance including bombs, missiles, and torpedoes, along with active and passive sonar in “realistic” war gaming that is expected to involve the release of as much as 352,000 pounds of “expended materials” every year. (The Navy’s EIS lists numerous things as “expended materials,” including missiles, bombs, torpedoes.) At present, the Navy is well into the process of securing the necessary permits for the next five years and has even mentioned making plans for the next 20. Large numbers of warships and submarines are slated to move into the area and the potential pollution from this has worried Alaskans who live nearby.

“We are concerned about expended materials in addition to the bombs, jet noise, and sonar,” the Eyak Preservation Council’s Emily Stolarcyk tells me as we sit in her office in Cordova, Alaska.  EPC is an environmental and social-justice-oriented nonprofit whose primary mission is to protect wild salmon habitat. “Chromium, lead, tungsten, nickel, cadmium, cyanide, ammonium perchlorate, the Navy’s own environmental impact statement says there is a high risk of chemical exposure to fish.”

Tiny Cordova, population 2,300, is home to the largest commercial fishing fleet in the state and consistently ranks among the top 10 busiest US fishing ports. Since September, when Stolarcyk first became aware of the Navy’s plans, she has been working tirelessly, calling local, state and federal officials and alerting virtually every fisherman she runs into about what she calls “the storm” looming on the horizon. “The propellants from the Navy’s missiles and some of their other weapons will release benzene, toluene, xylene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and naphthalene into the waters of twenty percent of the training area, according to their own EIS [environmental impact statement],” she explains as we look down on Cordova’s harbor with salmon fishing season rapidly approaching. As it happens, most of the chemicals she mentioned were part of BP’s disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which I covered for years, so as I listened to her I had an eerie sense of futuristic déjà vu.

Cordova, Alaska consistently ranks in the top-10 busiest US commercial fishing ports. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

Cordova, Alaska consistently ranks in the top-10 busiest US commercial fishing ports. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

Here’s just one example of the kinds of damage that will occur: the cyanide discharge from a Navy torpedo is in the range of 140-150 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency’s “allowable” limit on cyanide: one part per billion.

The Navy’s EIS estimates that, in the five-year period in which these war games are to be conducted, there will be more than 182,000 “takes” — direct deaths of a marine mammal, or the disruption of essential behaviors like breeding, nursing, or surfacing.  On the deaths of fish, it offers no estimates at all.  Nevertheless, the Navy will be permitted to use at least 352,000 pounds of expended materials in these games annually. The potential negative effects could be far-reaching, given species migration and the global current system in northern waters.

In the meantime, the Navy is giving Stolarcyk’s efforts the cold shoulder, showing what she calls “total disregard toward the people making their living from these waters.” She adds, “They say this is for national security. They are theoretically defending us, but if they destroy our food source and how we make our living, while polluting our air and water, what’s left to defend?”

Stolarcyk has been labeled an “activist” and “environmentalist,” perhaps because the main organizations she’s managed to sign on to her efforts are indeed environmental groups like the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, and the Alaskans First Coalition.

“Why does wanting to protect wild salmon habitat make me an activist?” she asks. “How has that caused me to be branded as an environmentalist?” Given that the Alaska commercial fishing industry could be decimated if its iconic “wild-caught” salmon turn up with traces of cyanide or any of the myriad chemicals the Navy will be using, Stolarcyk could as easily be seen as fighting for the well-being, if not the survival, of the fishing industry in her state.

All of the Native Tribes and Villages of Kodiak, Alaska are opposed to the Navy’s planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

All of the Native Tribes and Villages of Kodiak, Alaska are opposed to the Navy’s planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

War Gaming the Community

The clock is ticking in Cordova and others in Stolarcyk’s community are beginning to share her concerns. A few like Alexis Cooper, the executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU), a non-profit organization that represents the commercial fishermen in the area, have begun to speak out. “We’re already seeing reduced numbers of halibut without the Navy having expanded their operations in the GOA [Gulf of Alaska],” she says, “and we’re already seeing other decreases in harvestable species.”

CDFU represents more than 800 commercial salmon fishermen, an industry that accounts for an estimated 90 percent of Cordova’s economy. Without salmon, like many other towns along coastal southeastern Alaska, it would effectively cease to exist.

Teal Webber, a lifelong commercial fisherwoman and member of the Native Village of Eyak, gets visibly upset when the Navy’s plans come up. “You wouldn’t bomb a bunch of farmland,” she says, “and the salmon run comes right through this area, so why are they doing this now?” She adds, “When all of the fishing community in Cordova gets the news about how much impact the Navy’s war games could have, you’ll see them oppose it en masse.”

Over 100 fishing vessels participated in a flotilla in Cordova, Alaska on May 16, in opposition to the Navy’s war games. (Photo: Chelsea Tracy Photography)

Over 100 fishing vessels participated in a flotilla in Cordova, Alaska on May 16, in opposition to the Navy’s war games. (Photo: Chelsea Tracy Photography)

(Photo: Bob Martinson)

(Photo: Bob Martinson)

While I’m in town, Stolarcyk offers a public presentation of the case against Northern Edge in the elementary school auditorium.  As she shows a slide from the Navy’s environmental impact statement indicating that the areas affected will take decades to recover, several fishermen quietly shake their heads.

One of them, James Weiss, who also works for Alaska’s Fish and Game Department, pulls me aside and quietly says, “My son is growing up here, eating everything that comes out of the sea. I know fish travel through that area they plan to bomb and pollute, so of course I’m concerned. This is too important of a fishing area to put at risk.”

In the question-and-answer session that follows, Jim Kasch, the town’s mayor, assures Stolarcyk that he’ll ask the city council to become involved. “What’s disturbing is that there is no thought about the fish and marine life,” he tells me later. “It’s a sensitive area and we live off the ocean. This is just scary.” A Marine veteran, Kasch acknowledges the Navy’s need to train, then pauses and adds, “But dropping live ordnance in a sensitive fishery just isn’t a good idea. The entire coast of Alaska lives and breathes from our resources from the ocean.”

That evening, with the sun still high in the spring sky, I walk along the boat docks in the harbor and can’t help but wonder whether this small, scruffy town has a hope in hell of stopping or altering Northern Edge.  There have been examples of such unlikely victories in the past. A dozen years ago, the Navy was, for example, finally forced to stop using the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as its own private bombing and test range, but only after having done so since the 1940s. In the wake of those six decades of target practice, the island’s population has the highest cancer and asthma rates in the Caribbean, a phenomenon locals attribute to the Navy’s activities.

Similarly, earlier this year a federal court ruled that Navy war games off the coast of California violated the law. It deemed an estimated 9.6 million “harms” to whales and dolphins via high-intensity sonar and underwater detonations improperly assessed as “negligible” in that service’s EIS.

As a result of Stolarcyk’s work, on May 6th Cordova’s city council passed a resolution formally opposing the upcoming war games. Unfortunately, the largest seafood processor in Cordova (and Alaska), Trident Seafoods, has yet to offer a comment on Northern Edge.  Its representatives wouldn’t even return my phone call on the subject.  Nor, for instance, has Cordova’s Prince William Sound Science Center, whose president, Katrina Hoffman, wrote me that “as an organization, we have no position statement on the matter at this time.”  This, despite their stated aim of supporting “the ability of communities in this region to maintain socioeconomic resilience among healthy, functioning ecosystems.” (Of course, it should be noted that at least some of their funds come from the Navy.)

Government-to-Government Consultation

At Kodiak Island, my next stop, I find a stronger sense of the threat on the horizon in both the fishing and tribal communities and palpable anger about the Navy’s plans. Take J.J. Marsh, the CEO of the Sun’aq Tribe, the largest on the island.  “I think it’s horrible,” she says the minute I sit down in her office. “I grew up here. I was raised on subsistence living. I grew up caring about the environment and the animals and fishing in a native household living off the land and seeing my grandpa being a fisherman. So obviously, the need to protect this is clear.”

What, I ask, is her tribe going to do?

She responds instantly. “We are going to file for a government-to-government consultation and so are other Kodiak tribes so that hopefully we can get this stopped.”

The US government has a unique relationship with Alaska’s Native tribes, like all other American Indian tribes.  It treats each as if it were an autonomous government.  If a tribe requests a “consultation,” Washington must respond and Marsh hopes that such an intervention might help block Northern Edge. “It’s about the generations to come. We have an opportunity as a sovereign tribe to go to battle on this with the feds. If we aren’t going to do it, who is?”

Melissa Borton, the tribal administrator for the Native Village of Afognak, feels similarly. Like Marsh’s tribe, hers was, until recently, remarkably unaware of the Navy’s plans.  That’s hardly surprising since that service has essentially made no effort to publicize what it is going to do. “We are absolutely going to be part of this [attempt to stop the Navy],” she tells me. “I’m appalled.”

One reason she’s appalled: she lived through Alaska’s monster Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.  “We are still feeling its effects,” she says. “Every time they make these environmental decisions they affect us… We are already plagued with cancer and it comes from the military waste already in our ground or that our fish and deer eat and we eat those… I’ve lost family to cancer, as most around here have and at some point in time this has to stop.”

When I meet with Natasha Hayden, an Afognak tribal council member whose husband is a commercial fisherman, she puts the matter simply and bluntly. “This is a frontal attack by the Navy on our cultural identity.”

Gary Knagin, lifelong fisherman and member of the Sun’aq tribe, is busily preparing his boat and crew for the salmon season when we talk. “We aren’t going to be able to eat if they do this. It’s bullshit. It’ll be detrimental to us and it’s obvious why. In June, when we are out there, salmon are jumping [in the waters] where they want to bomb as far as you can see in any direction. That’s the salmon run. So why do they have to do it in June? If our fish are contaminated, the whole state’s economy is hit. The fishing industry here supports everyone and every other business here is reliant upon the fishing industry. So if you take out the fishing, you take out the town.”

The Navy’s Free Ride

I requested comment from the US military’s Alaskan Command office, and Captain Anastasia Wasem responded after I returned home from my trip north. In our email exchange, I asked her why the Navy had chosen the Gulf of Alaska, given that it was a critical habitat for all five of the state’s wild salmon.  She replied that the waters where the war games will occur, which the Navy refers to as the Temporary Maritime Activities Area, are “strategically significant” and claimed that a recent “Pacific command study” found that naval training opportunities are declining everywhere in the Pacific “except Alaska,” which she referred to as “a true national asset.”

“The Navy’s training activities,” she added, “are conducted with an extensive set of mitigation measures designed to minimize the potential risk to marine life.”

In its assessment of the Navy’s plans, however, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), one of the premier federal agencies tasked with protecting national fisheries, disagreed. “Potential stressors to managed species and EFH [essential fish habitat],” its report said, “include vessel movements (disturbance and collisions), aircraft overflights (disturbance), fuel spills, ship discharge, explosive ordnance, sonar training (disturbance), weapons firing/nonexplosive ordnance use (disturbance and strikes), and expended materials (ordnance-related materials, targets, sonobuoys, and marine markers). Navy activities could have direct and indirect impacts on individual species, modify their habitat, or alter water quality.” According to the NMFS, effects on habitats and communities from Northern Edge “may result in damage that could take years to decades from which to recover.”

Captain Wasem assured me that the Navy made its plans in consultation with the NMFS, but she failed to add that those consultations were found to be inadequate by the agency or to acknowledge that it expressed serious concerns about the coming war games.  In fact, in 2011 it made four conservation recommendations to avoid, mitigate, or otherwise offset possible adverse effects to essential fish habitat. Although such recommendations were non-binding, the Navy was supposed to consider the public interest in its planning.

One of the recommendations, for instance, was that it develop a plan to report on fish mortality during the exercises. The Navy rejected this, claiming that such reporting would “not provide much, if any, valuable data.”  As Stolarcyk told me, “The Navy declined to do three of their four recommendations, and NMFS just rolled over.”

I asked Captain Wasem why the Navy choose to hold the exercise in the middle of salmon fishing season.

“The Northern Edge exercise is scheduled when weather is most conducive for training,” she explained vaguely, pointing out that “the Northern Edge exercise is a big investment for DoD [the Department of Defense] in terms of funding, use of equipment/fuels, strategic transportation, and personnel.”

Arctic Nightmares

The bottom line on all this is simple, if brutal. The Navy is increasingly focused on possible future climate-change conflicts in the melting waters of the north and, in that context, has little or no intention of caretaking the environment when it comes to military exercises. In addition, the federal agencies tasked with overseeing any war-gaming plans have neither the legal ability nor the will to enforce environmental regulations when what’s at stake, at least according to the Pentagon, is “national security.”

Needless to say, when it comes to the safety of locals in the Navy’s expanding area of operation, there is no obvious recourse. Alaskans can’t turn to NMFS or the Environmental Protection Agency or NOAA.  If you want to stop the US military from dropping live munitions, or blasting electromagnetic radiation into national forests and marine sanctuaries, or poisoning your environment, you’d better figure out how to file a major lawsuit or, if you belong to a Native tribe, demand a government-to-government consultation and hope it works. And both of those are long shots, at best.

Meanwhile, as the race heats up for reserves of oil and gas in the melting Arctic that shouldn’t be extracted and burned in the first place, so do the Navy’s war games.  From southern California to Alaska, if you live in a coastal town or city, odds are that the Navy is coming your way, if it’s not already there.

Nevertheless, Emily Stolarcyk shows no signs of throwing in the towel, despite the way the deck is stacked against her efforts. “It’s supposedly our constitutional right that control of the military is in the hands of the citizens,” she told me in our last session together.  At one point, she paused and asked, “Haven’t we learned from our past mistakes around not protecting salmon? Look at California, Oregon, and Washington’s salmon. They’ve been decimated. We have the best and most pristine salmon left on the planet, and the Navy wants to do these exercises. You can’t have both.”

Stolarcyk and I share a bond common among people who have lived in our northernmost state, a place whose wilderness is so vast and beautiful as to make your head spin. Those of us who have experienced its rivers and mountains, have been awed by the northern lights, and are regularly reminded of our own insignificance (even as we gained a new appreciation for how precious life really is) tend to want to protect the place as well as share it with others.

“Everyone has been telling me from the start that I’m fighting a lost cause and I will not win,” Stolarcyk said as our time together wound down. “No other non-profit in Alaska will touch this. But I actually believe we can fight this and we can stop them. I believe in the power of one. If I can convince someone to join me, it spreads from there. It takes a spark to start a fire, and I refuse to believe that nothing can be done.”

Three decades ago, in his book Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez suggested that, when it came to exploiting the Arctic versus living sustainably in it, the ecosystems of the region were too vulnerable to absorb attempts to “accommodate both sides.” In the years since, whether it’s been the Navy, Big Energy, or the increasingly catastrophic impacts of human-caused climate disruption, only one side has been accommodated and the results have been dismal.

In Iraq in wartime, I saw what the US military was capable of in a distant ravaged land. In June, I’ll see what that military is capable of in what still passes for peacetime and close to home indeed. As I sit at my desk writing this story on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the roar of Navy jets periodically rumbles in from across Puget Sound, where a massive naval air station is located. I can’t help but wonder whether, years from now, I’ll still be writing pieces with titles like “Destroying What Remains,” as the Navy continues its war-gaming in an ice-free summer Arctic amid a sea of offshore oil drilling platforms.

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

Dahr Jamail

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

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

“Irresponsible & Reckless”: Environmentalists Decry Obama’s Approval For Shell Oil Drilling In Arctic

In Uncategorized on May 14, 2015 at 5:09 pm

Oldspeak: “Ignore all of Obama’s pledges to reduce U.S. carbon emissions, climate treaties with China and his yammering about the impacts of climate change on public health. They are meaningless drivel.  Instead, observe sociopathically ecocidal actions like this. In reality, plans are being implemented to increase production of one of the dirtiest energy sources on Earth. This is true U.S.climate & environmental policy. Allow an oil company, one of the most profitable and destructive on the planet, with a dismal safety record and criminal penalties for environmental pollution in the Arctic, to continue their environmentally devastating and extinction accelerating business in one of the most fragile, sensitive and ecologically vital regions on earth. Even though the oil company has no effective means to deal with oil spills and accidents. As conditions on Earth worsen, the extractive, unsustainable and inherently dangerous market-driven madness continues.The pathology of profit is DEEP.” -OSJ

Related Story:

U.S. Approves Shell’s Plan To Drill For Oil In The Arctic

By Amy Goodman & Nermeen Shaikh @ Democracy Now:

The Obama administration has tentatively approved Shell’s plans to begin oil extraction off the Alaskan coast this summer. Federal scientists estimate the Arctic region contains up to 15 billion barrels of oil, and Shell has long fought to drill in the icy waters of the Chukchi Sea. Environmentalists warn Arctic drilling will pose a risk to local wildlife and exacerbate climate change. They fear that a drilling accident in the icy Arctic Ocean waters could prove far more devastating than the deadly 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill since any rescue operations could be delayed for months by harsh weather conditions. We speak to Subhankar Banerjee. He is a renowned photographer, writer and activist who has spent the past 15 years working for the conservation of the Arctic and raising awareness about indigenous human rights and climate change. He is editor of the anthology, “Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The Obama administration has tentatively approved Shell’s plans to begin oil extraction off the Alaskan coast this summer. Federal scientists estimate the Arctic region contains up to 15 billion barrels of oil, and Shell has long fought to drill in the icy waters of the Chukchi Sea.

AMY GOODMAN: Environmentalists warn Arctic drilling will pose a risk to local wildlife and exacerbate climate change. They fear a drilling accident in the icy Arctic Ocean waters could prove far more devastating than the deadly 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill, since any rescue operations could be delayed for months by harsh weather conditions. Speaking to KTUU, Lois Epstein of The Wilderness Society denounced the government’s decision to greenlight oil exploration.

LOIS EPSTEIN: Their record from 2012 drilling in the Arctic Ocean was a disaster, by anyone’s measure. One of their of drill rigs grounded near Kodiak. There were fires. There were criminal penalties for air pollution violations.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Washington, D.C.—Washington state, where we’re joined by Subhankar Banerjee. He’s a renowned photographer, writer and activist who’s spent the past 15 years working for the conservation of the Arctic and raising awareness about indigenous human rights and climate change, editor of the anthology, Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point. His recent piece for TomDispatch is called “To Drill or Not to Drill, That is the Question.” In 2012, he won a Cultural Freedom Award from the Lannan Foundation.

Subhankar Banerjee, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the Obama administration decision and what this means for the Arctic?

SUBHANKAR BANERJEE: The decision is both irresponsible and reckless. But let me clarify something at the beginning. What the administration has approved now is the exploration plans for Shell to drill this summer, starting from July to October. But this is not the—this is the most significant permit that Shell needs, but not all of the permits. So Shell still needs more permits from, like, NOAA, Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies. So that’s why the activists are working very hard to make sure that some are—some of these permits are not granted, because it’s a reckless decision, as you mentioned, for multiple reasons, the primary ones being a spill in the Arctic Ocean would be far more devastating than what happened in the Gulf of Mexico. And the administration has finally acknowledged, after losing in two federal courts—one in 2010 and one in 2014—that there is a 75 percent chance of one or more major spills if exploration leads to production. So a spill is inevitable.

And if a spill does happen, as you mentioned, that, let’s say, a spill happens late in the season, like in October, then that oil will have to be left in place for like nine months, because the sea ice gets covered, covers the Arctic Sea, until the ice melts the following year, when effective cleanup can begin. But even if the spill happens in the summertime, it is a real problem, because the Arctic Sea always has constant dangers of large ice flows—and Shell already encountered that in their 2012 drilling season—as well as deep fog that severely restricts visibility, and the storms have become more violent and more intense. You combine that with the fact that there is absolutely no deep water port in U.S. Arctic—the nearest Coast Guard station is a thousand miles away—and there is no infrastructure in place. Like in your previous segment, you were talking about infrastructure. There is absolutely no infrastructure in place to respond to a large spill. So that’s the spill site.

The second site that we need to understand, that Arctic is what is called the integrator of world’s climate systems, both atmospheric and oceanic. Just to give you a couple of examples, what happens in the Arctic affects not just the Arctic, but the whole planet. The severe—recent years, severe winter weather in the Northeast of U.S. as well as the severe ongoing drought in California both have now been linked by recent scientific studies to slowing down of the Arctic jet stream, because the Arctic is warming at a much faster rate than the lower latitudes. And the second one is the Gulf Stream, where you have the warm water from the Gulf of Mexico and the southern latitudes go up to the Arctic, goes down into the deep ocean, gets cold and comes back. It’s called the Gulf Stream, that maintains, again, our oceanic and atmospheric process. That, too, is slowing down. And its impacts are not yet very well understood, but one thing is that it will further contribute to the increase of the sea level. So what happens in the Arctic affects us all, but also to the indigenous people up there. And you mentioned the ecology of the region. If the American public knew what is in those Arctic seas of America—Beaufort and the Chukchi—they will not allow drilling there, because it is truly a national and an international ecological treasure.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, according to this ad by Shell, the oil company has developed unprecedented Arctic oil spill response contingency plans.

SHELL AD: Shell’s Alaska exploration program is defined by its remoteness, and Shell has gone to great lengths to make sure a worst-case scenario, such as an oil spill, never takes place. But in the unlikely event that one did, Shell’s on-site oil spill response assets would be deployed and recovering oil within one hour. The recovery effort would be aided by nearshore response equipment and onshore oil spill response equipment. This kind of 24/7 response capability is unprecedented.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Subhankar, could you comment on what the Shell ad says and also tell us a little about Shell’s record in the Arctic region?

SUBHANKAR BANERJEE: What you just mentioned, Nermeen, is nothing new. It is sugarcoating on an old rhetoric that Shell has been peddling for the last few years. In 2010, Shell spent millions of dollars on an ad campaign called “Let’s Go” to pressure the Obama administration to grant them the various permits, and then towards the—and also another ad called “We have the technology—Let’s go.” So Shell has been saying this for the last at least five years now. Nothing has changed. All of the things I just mentioned previously has not changed. The government acknowledges it, that there would be a major spill. And if it does a spill happen, this whole idea of “We have the technology” is nothing but a PR campaign with no truth behind it, as industry and government would acknowledge, that if a spill does happen in the icy waters, the cleanup would be very ineffective compared to the Gulf of Mexico.

And then I forgot the second part of the question—oh, Shell’s record in the Arctic. So Shell went up there with, again, a conditional permit from the Obama administration in 2012, conditional because they were not allowed to drill all the way to the oil-bearing zone, only a top hole drilling to prepare for the following season. And what ended up happening? The very first day they started drilling, they encountered an ice flow the size of Manhattan, 30 miles by 10 miles long, and had to immediately halt operation and disconnect from the sea floor anchor. When they were coming—while they were going up to the Arctic, their drill ship, Noble Discoverer, almost ran aground off of the Dutch Harbor in Southwest Alaska. And then, while coming back, the Noble Discoverer caught fire, and the engine suffered damage, while the other drill ship, Kulluk, was grounded in the Gulf of Alaska, near Sitkalidak Island. And the reason they were bringing the Kulluk back was—actually, to the Seattle waters, Puget Sound water—is because Shell tried to avoid Alaska taxes. So it all goes back to the fact that right now the price of oil is low. And it is truly incredibly irresponsible, when price is—price of oil is low, and the technologies don’t exist, the infrastructure don’t exist, to send Shell up there, because Shell will try to cut costs, as they did in 2012. And the company and its subcontractor, Noble Drilling, was fined a total of $12 million, Noble Drilling, and $2 million to Shell, for violating numerous environment laws, including the Clean Air Act, as well as the Clean Water Act.

Climate Change Driving Decline In Arctic Sea Ice Coverage; Results In Record Low Extent For Winter. Ice Retreat Proceeding Faster Than Models Expect

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2015 at 2:19 pm
Melting sea ice off western Alaska, on February 4, 2014. Alaska lies to the east in this image, and Russia to the west. The Bering Strait, covered with ice, lies between to two. South of the Bering Strait, the waters are known as the Bering Sea. To the north lies the Chukchi Sea. Melting sea ice off western Alaska, on February 4, 2014

Melting sea ice off western Alaska. Photograph: MODIS/Aqua/NASA

Oldspeak: This seems to be a recurring theme in the scientific analysis of this ever-accelerating extinction event. The rate of change is underestimated by climate models. Probably due to the fact that the models don’t include all the factors that are contributing to the changes. In all probability, there are factors we have no idea about that are yielding impacts that are unknown to us. Considering this in the context that “We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.“, makes this reality all the more dire, uncertain and unpredictable. In my view, the Achilles Heel in our scientific analysis of this event is attempting to study everything separately. Failing to account for the interconnectedness of All. Using the same science and technology that created the problem in an attempt to understand it. An exercise in futility, when it all comes down to it.” -OSJ

Arctic sea ice has hit a record low for its maximum extent in winter, which scientists said was a result of climate change and abnormal weather patterns.

The US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) said on Thursday that at its peak the ice covered just over 14.5m sq km of the northern seas. This was 130,000 sq km smaller than the previous lowest maximum in 2011.

The peak occurred on 25 February, which the NSIDC’s senior research scientist Ted Scambos said was “very early but not unprecedented”.

Climate change is driving declining ice coverage in the Arctic, with a recent study finding it has also become significantly thinner, down 65% since 1975.

Scambos said northern oceans have progressively warmed because of climate change. This winter, the warmer seas combined with mild weather to create exceptionally poor conditions for the annual freeze.

“[The record low extent] is significant, in that it shows that the Arctic is being seriously impacted by our warming climate,” said Scambos. “In general, sea ice retreat has proceeded faster than modelling expects in the Arctic, although models are catching up.”

Bob Ward, at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE, said: “This is further evidence that global warming and its impacts have not stopped despite the inaccurate and misleading claims of climate change ‘sceptics’.

“Over the past few weeks, there has been an increase in the amount of misinformation from climate change ‘sceptics’ in the UK and elsewhere which is intended to mislead the public and policy-makers into believing that the effects of global warming on the polar regions are absent or negligible.”

The most pronounced deviation from the 1981-2010 average cover was in the Bering and Okhotsk seas in the northern Pacific. There, the ice edge was 100-200km further north than in a normal year.

After March the summer thaw will begin, with the ice retreating towards its summer minimum, which usually occurs in September. The summer ice cover in the Arctic is also on a long-term decline, although Scambos says a low winter maximum does not necessarily indicate a low minimum is on the way.

The loss of ice from the Arctic has raised questions over when the region will experience its first ice-free summer. Scambos said he expects the summer minimum to dip below 1m sq km (386,100 sq miles) within the next 15 years. At this stage, he said, the Arctic will be profoundly changed.

“A less than 1m sq km summer would mean that the north pole would be open water, that a broad seaway would exist north of Siberia and that major ecosystems and fauna would be severely impacted. My own guess is that we will reach this level around 2030.”

The absence of sea ice and abnormally mild weather affects communities and wildlife in the Arctic circle, which are adapted to extreme conditions.

In Svalbard, Kim Holmén, the international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, said the fjords there remained unfrozen and instead of the normal snowfall the island experienced rain which froze when it hit the ground.

“Much of Svalbard is covered with ice on land, which is a fatal state for the reindeer. When the landscape is covered by ice they can’t move around and they can’t eat.”

Too much ice on the land and none in the sea has also made life difficult for the 2,600 people who live on Svalbard.

“This iced landscape is miserable to travel across on your snowmobile and your skis,” said Holmén. “We can’t ride our snowmobiles across the fjord so there are places where people want to go that they can’t go. We have had tragic events with avalanches. Living in Svalbard we’ve always had avalanches but we’ve had one casualty this winter. Some of the risks are changing because we have more icing events.”

He said this type of weather is expected to become normal under a changing climate.

“This winter is an example of what we believe will become more common and has profound influence on the reindeer and the ptarmigan [a species of bird] and other creatures that roam the land,” he said.

This week, on the opposite side of the Arctic Ocean, Alaska’s Iditarod sled race was forced to shift its start 362km (225 miles) further north due to a lack of snow. This has only happened once before in the race’s 43-year history, in 2003.

Meanwhile, the NSIDC said ice floes surrounding Antarctica reached a relatively high summer minimum on 20 February. The extent of ice was 1.38m sq km, the fourth largest on record. Antarctic sea ice has confounded some scientific modelling by growing in recent years. There are several theories why the extent of the ice is growing despite a general warming trend across the southern continent.

“This is a matter of considerable debate,” said Scambos. “The important thing to say is that the Antarctic is most definitely seeing the effects of warming and circulation changes – it is participating in ‘global warming’ in its own way. There are several effects in play. Primarily it seems that increased strength in low-pressure areas near the Ross and Weddell seas are pushing ice outward from the continent.”

“More Like The Whole Enchilada”: Arctic Stratospheric Warming Event Pushes Entire Polar Vortex Down To Middle/Lower U.S.

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Oldspeak: “At the peak of the Arctic outbreak, temperatures may be between 20°F and 40°F below average in large parts of the continental U.S., with dangerous wind chills affecting cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston. The U.S. will have the dubious distinction of experiencing the largest cold temperature anomalies of any land area in the Northern Hemisphere during the height of the biting cold… The cause of the Arctic outbreak can be traced to northeastern Canada and Greenland, where an area of high pressure and relatively mild temperatures is set to block the eastward progression of weather systems, like an offensive lineman protecting the quarterback from the other team…  The atmospheric blocking is forcing a section of the polar vortex to break off and move south, into the U.S. The polar vortex is an area of cold low pressure that typically circulates around the Arctic during the winter, spreading tentacles of cold southward into Europe, Asia, and North America at times. Except this time, it’s not a small section of the vortex, but what one forecaster, Ryan Maue of WeatherBELL Analytics, called “more like the whole enchiladaAndrew Freeman

More than half the US population is under a wind chill warning as a blast of freezing Arctic air sweeps south and east across the country, bringing the coldest temperatures for decadesThe US saw colder temperatures than Almaty, Kazakhstan, where it was -22C (8F), Mongolia at -23C (-8F) and Irkutsk, in Siberia, at -33C (-27F)… The National Weather Service has issued life-threatening wind chill warnings for temperatures as low as -51C (-60F) in western and central Dakota and officials in Indiana – hit by high winds and more than a foot (30cm) of snow – urged residents to stay indoors. –Duncan Barkes

“When America is colder than fucking Siberia, something is terribly, terribly wrong.  Entire weather patterns are being drastically altered on a regular basis. The temperature dropped 50 degrees in 3 HOURS yesterday in New York.  Last year the polar vortex, that’s always supposed to stay in or near the arctic, was cleaved in two and moved south as a result of arctic warming via loss of sea ice. This year, the whole fucking thing moved south in one direction at once. As the climate warms the irreversible feedback loops currently in progress will accelerate. Weather will become less and less predictable and more and more extreme. Meanwhile, at the same time record cold grips North America, record heat is wilting Australia. This is the new normal. The era of stable climate has passed.” -OSJ

Related Story

Polar Vortex: 187 Million Hit By Big Freeze

By James S @ Daily Kos:

If the planet is warming — how can it be so damn cold out there, in the winter?

Well the connections are complex, but they are not unfathomable (to science and physics literates.)
‘Polar vortex’ to blast frigid air over much of US

by Carson Walker, Associated Press; boston.com — Jan 3, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The weather warnings are dire: Life threatening wind chills. Historic cold outbreak.Winter is normally cold, but starting Sunday tundra-like temperatures are poised to deliver a rare and potentially dangerous sledgehammer blow to much of the Midwest, driving temperatures so far below zero that records will shatter.

One reason?  A “polar vortex,” as one meteorologist calls it, which will send cold air piled up at the North Pole down to the U.S., funneling it as far south as the Gulf Coast.
[…]

Here’s what our current mid-latitude Jet Stream looks likes:

Weather ModelGlobal Jet Stream Wind and 250 mb Pressure (animated loop)


larger

Notice how it has those big ‘loopy waves’  (aka high-amplitude Rossby Waves).  It is the big swoop southward that is ushering in the current frigid polar air.
Arctic Outbreak:  When the North Pole Came to Ohio

by Andrew Freedman, climatecentral.org — Jan 2, 2014

[…]
At the peak of the Arctic outbreak, temperatures may be between 20°F and 40°F below average in large parts of the continental U.S., with dangerous wind chills affecting cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston. The U.S. will have the dubious distinction of experiencing the largest cold temperature anomalies of any land area in the Northern Hemisphere during the height of the biting cold.
[…]The cause of the Arctic outbreak can be traced to northeastern Canada and Greenland, where an area of high pressure and relatively mild temperatures is set to block the eastward progression of weather systems, like an offensive lineman protecting the quarterback from the other team.

The atmospheric blocking is forcing a section of the polar vortex to break off and move south, into the U.S. The polar vortex is an area of cold low pressure that typically circulates around the Arctic during the winter, spreading tentacles of cold southward into Europe, Asia, and North America at times. Except this time, it’s not a small section of the vortex, but what one forecaster, Ryan Maue of WeatherBELL Analytics, called “more like the whole enchilada” in a Twitter conversation on Thursday.
[…]

Computer model projection showing the location of the polar vortex (outlined in orange) and areas of below average temperatures (green and blue) and above average temperatures (orange and red), as indicated by the height of atmospheric pressure levels. The annotations show the cold temperature anomaly in the U.S. and mild anomalies across the Arctic. Credit: WeatherBELL Analytics.

The Arctic Vortex is supposed to stay in the Arctic.  It is supposed to form a tight circle, racing around the pole. It is not supposed to branch out and send frigid polar air to the temperate mid-latitudes.  At least not on a ‘regular basis’.

But then again, unusual stratospheric warming in the Arctic, is not supposed to be breaking that Polar Vortex up into smaller pieces, either.

Just because it’s out of sight, doesn’t mean it should be out of mind.

 

[Note:  most of what follows is analysis of last winter’s arctic events — which are looking remarkably similar to this winter’s arctic events.]


Who says all that record-breaking Arctic Ice Melt really doesn’t matter?

Certainly not well informed meteorologists, because they say it kind of does
Stratospheric Phenomenon Is Bringing Frigid Cold to U.S

by Andrew Freedman, climatecentral.org — Jan 21, 2013

[…]
Sudden stratospheric warming events take place in about half of all Northern Hemisphere winters, and they have been occurring with increasing frequency during the past decade, possibly related to the loss of Arctic sea ice due to global warming. Arctic sea ice declined to its smallest extent on record in September 2012.
[…]Sudden stratospheric warming events occur when large atmospheric waves, known as Rossby waves, extend beyond the troposphere where most weather occurs, and into the stratosphere. This vertical transport of energy can set a complex process into motion that leads to the breakdown of the high altitude cold low pressure area that typically spins above the North Pole during the winter, which is known as the polar vortex.

The polar vortex plays a major role in determining how much Arctic air spills southward toward the mid-latitudes. When there is a strong polar vortex, cold air tends to stay bottled up in the Arctic. However, when the vortex weakens or is disrupted, like a spinning top that suddenly starts wobbling, it can cause polar air masses to surge south, while the Arctic experiences milder-than-average temperatures.
[…]

Ok, what’s a Rossby Wave and how does global warming effect them?  (If you have a low threshold for watching videos, this is the best one of the bunch, imo.)
Jennifer Francis – Understanding the Jetstream (and Rossby Waves)

link to clip

Published on Feb 26, 2013 — by rustneversleeps3

A short review of how the jetstream and Rossby waves work, and some emerging indications that the dynamics may be changing in a warming world.

So, what’s a Polar Vortex, and what happens when it get displaced, by one of those unusually TALL bubbles of relatively warm atmosphere, surging northward?
Polar Vortex

link to clip

Published on Jan 18, 2013 — WTHI-TV
Here’s an meteorological map analysis of various Arctic Vortex splits, what causes them, and what they lead to (… record cold in the Mid-Latitudes).
Stratospheric Warming by The SI Weather

link to clip

Uploaded on Dec 16, 2011 — TheSIWeather
Here’s one meteorological speaker, who’s a bit eccentric, but does seem to have a good grasp on Stratospheric Warming events — going Polar, anyways.
Extreme Event  (Vortex Formation and Displacement)

link to clip

Published on Jan 18, 2013 — TurtleIslandNewsDaily.info

Sudden Stratospheric Warming Split the Polar Vortex in Two.the polar vortex was intact at 50 millibars(height in m) on January 1 to 3.

the polar vortex had broken in two (50millibar heights in m) on January 10 to 13

Finally, here’s a good old-fashioned science satellite composite (it’s a very short clip), that shows what happens when the Polar Vortex, gets nudged into going for ‘a power walk’.
GMAOGEOS-5 Stratospheric Sudden warming Event

link to clip

Published on Mar 4, 2013 —  Harold Saive

http://gmao.gsfc.nasa.gov/…http://gmao.gsfc.nasa.gov/…

And finally here’s an updated 2014 Winter forecast, once again ‘blaming that Polar Vortex’ for ‘deciding’ to go meandering somewhere — that we’d rather not see it go.
WRGX; wtvy.com — January 4, 2014

Short Range Forecast Discussion
NWS Weather Prediction Center College Park MD
Valid 12Z Sat Jan 04 2014 – 12Z Mon Jan 06 2014[…]
Forecast models remain consistent in carrying the polar vortex into the northern tier of the U.S. while carrying it eastward in time.

Many locations may see their temperature readings drop to near record values.
[…]

Incredibly, it may feel as cold as -50 to -60 on Sunday night over sections of the north-central states with the frigid air remaining in place into early next week.

As the vortex shifts eastward, the polar air will begin to affect the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley with temperatures plummeting rapidly.

While the air mass will modify, temperatures will remain downright cold with the forecast high in Chicago, IL being only -11 on Monday.

A strong frontal boundary surging eastward ahead of the polar air mass will become rather active as it intercepts increasing amounts of low-level moisture.
[…]

If only those record-melting Arctic ice packs would stay in place and not keep warming up their supposed-to-be Arctic neighborhoods by exposing all that open sea water — then maybe that Arctic Vortex might not have to ‘go wobbling around like a wildly spinning top — losing its fast-track momentum‘ … at such an ever increasing rate.

But then again, Who needs stable Jet Streams anyways?

Certainly not farmers, not foresters, not ranchers;  Certainly not suburban folks who hate all these crazy arctic deep freezes …  the ones who ask, “Why in the world, is it so damn cold, anyways?”

Now hopefully, you can tell them.

Earth’s Poles Are Shifting Due To Climate Change

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Tugged by our greenhouse gases <i>(Image: Andrew C. Revkin/eyevine)</i>Oldspeak: “Ice melting and sea level change can explain 90 per cent of the [eastward shift]. The driving force for the sudden change is climate change.” -Jinali Chen

“Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…..” -OSJ

By Anil Ananthaswamy @ New Scientist:

Climate change is causing the North Pole’s location to drift, owing to subtle changes in Earth’s rotation that result from the melting of glaciers and ice sheets. The finding suggests that monitoring the position of the pole could become a new tool for tracking global warming.

Computer simulations had suggested that the melting of ice sheets and the consequent rise in sea level could affect the distribution of mass on the Earth’s surface. This would in turn cause the Earth’s axis to shift, an effect that has been confirmed by measurements of the positions of the poles.

Now, Jianli Chen of the University of Texas at Austin and colleagues have shown that melting due to our greenhouse-gas emissions is making its own contribution to the shift.

The wobble in Earth’s axis of rotation is a combination of two major components, each with its own cause. One is called the Chandler wobble and is thought to arise because the Earth is not rigid. Another is the annual wobble, related to Earth’s orbit around the sun.

Additional wobble

Remove these wobbles, and you are left with an additional signal. Since observations began in 1899, the North Pole has been drifting southwards 10 centimetres per year along longitude 70° west – a line running through eastern Canada.

This drift is due to the changes in the distribution of Earth’s mass as the crust slowly rebounds after the end of the last ice age. But Chen’s team found something surprising. In 2005, this southward drift changed abruptly. The pole began moving eastwards and continues to do so, a shift that has amounted to about 1.2 metres since 2005.

To work out why the pole changed direction, Chen’s team used data from NASA’s GRACE satellite, which measures changes in Earth’s gravity field over time. The data allowed them to calculate the redistribution of mass on Earth’s surface due to the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and mountain glaciers, and the resulting rise in sea level. It correlated perfectly with the observed changes in the mean pole position (MPP).

“Ice melting and sea level change can explain 90 per cent of the [eastward shift],” says Chen. “The driving force for the sudden change is climate change.”

Greenland thaw

Chen’s team calculated that the biggest contribution is coming from the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which is losing about 250 gigatonnes of ice each year. Another big factor is the melting of mountain glaciers, which contributes about 194 gigatonnes per year. The contribution from Antarctica adds up to 180 gigatonnes per year, but there is considerable uncertainty here because changes in the gravity field due to Earth’s crust rebounding are less well understood over Antarctica than elsewhere.

Since the MPP can be accurately measured using multiple independent techniques, its position and drift can be used to gauge the extent of ice sheet melting, especially in between the end of the ageing GRACE mission and the launch of the next generation of gravity-field-measuring satellites, says Chen.

Jean Dickey of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who was not associated with the study, agrees. “It’s a way to monitor climate change by continuing to measure the deviation [of the MPP] from what we have seen in the past,” she says.

Chen presented his findings this week at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

“We do not like what we see. We do not like it at all.” Leading Climate Scientists Find Disturbing New Evidence Of Massive Arctic Methane Release

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2013 at 7:30 pm

https://i2.wp.com/www.finestdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/gazmetan-640x373.jpg

Oldspeak: “The most catastrophically dangerous methane source is Arctic sea floor methane hydrate… The largest source is the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), the largest continental shelf in the world… All the evidence indicates that an abrupt massive release of methane gas from Arctic hydrates could happen which most likely would be catastrophe to the global climate and our planet.  “Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, so the climatic implications of adding more of it to the atmosphere are grave. A massive methane release could also affect the atmosphere’s ability to cleanse itself.” Science (the world’s leading journal of original scientific research) carries an article by scientists that describes the methane situation: Current average methane concentrations in the Arctic are, “… the highest in 400,000 years… on par with previous estimates of methane venting from the entire World Oceans… Regarding recent observations of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf by Russian scientists, where, until now, it was thought the permafrost was cold enough to remain frozen, the recent observations found the methane venting into the atmosphere from this one region comparable to the amount of methane coming out of the entire world’s oceans” –Robert Hunziker

Amidst all the frantic politically and economically motivated hand wringing, saber-rattling and negotiations over Syria’s possession of chemical weapons, we’re all bearing witness to a globally catastrophic chemical release exponentially more devastating and destructive to the entire biosphere. Arctic sea floor methane hydrate, is beginning to steadily and increasingly release from what was previously known as “permafrost”. The planet’s climate is warming so extremely that ice thought to be permanently frozen is melting. Aside from methane hydrates, “warming in the Arctic is causing the release of toxic chemicals long trapped in the region’s snow, ice, ocean and soil… a wide range of Persistent Organic Pollutants have been remobilized into the Arctic atmosphere over the past two decades as a result of climate change, confirming that Arctic warming could undermine global efforts to reduce environmental and human exposure to these toxic chemical”. SO not only our are leaders pushing for actions that will require a significant increase in the extraction & burning of chemicals that will accelerate the onset of runaway irreversible climate change, very few are putting forth any policy to address this imminent global ecological disaster that will affect all life on this planet. For some reason all focus is on what’s going on in a country embroiled in a civil/proxy war and not on the ominous sequence of events leading up to fundamental and irreversible changes in life as we know it.  This will not end well.” –OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

How real, and imminent, is the danger of runaway global warming?

“Without stopping it, sooner, or later, one way or another, the loss of Arctic summer sea ice would lead to runaway global warming,” says Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG).

For runaway global warming to develop into an unstoppable worldwide disaster, first off a tipping point must occur. A tipping point is when there is no turning back, similar to the Titanic hitting the iceberg one hundred years ago.

The Tipping Point

As for the risk of a climatic tipping point event within current lifetimes, first-rate advice comes from Peter Wadhams (Professor of Ocean Physics and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group, Dept. of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge).

Here’s why Prof Wadhams’ advice is so keenly followed: Over the past 40 years, Dr. Wadhams has led 40 research trips to the poles, including 7 trips on nuclear submarines, conducting sonar readings (to accurately measure ice thickness), in order to study, analyze, and interpret the behaviour of sea ice. As such, he doesn’t rely upon scientific models; rather, he believes in “boots-on-the-ground” as the most thorough way to understand what is happening in nature.

Here is what Prof Wadhams says about a climatic tipping point, as expressed in the Abstract version of the article “Arctic Ice Cover, Ice Thickness and Tipping Points,”1: “We show results from some recent work from submarines, and speculate that the trend towards retreat and thinning will inevitably lead to an eventual loss of all ice in summer, which can be described as a ‘tipping point’ in that the former situation, of an Arctic covered with mainly multi-year ice, cannot be retrieved.”

In other words, Prof Wadhams’ tipping point appears to be when the Arctic is ice free, which he believes will occur around the year 2015. This, in turn, implies a runaway heating up of Earth over an indeterminate period of time because of positive feedback between an ice-less Arctic, thawing permafrost and melting hydrates (methane locked in ice) emitting increasingly massive quantities of methane into the atmosphere, or to put it another way, runaway global warming.

But, nobody can possibly know the timing of the sequence of events leading up to runaway global warming, nor, for sure, whether it will happen as expected; it could be better, or it could be worse than expectations. But, whichever result, it’s not good.

The Tipping Point Controversy

Though, there are respectable scientists at odds with Prof Wadhams, for example: A new paper, “Reducing Spread in Climate Model Projections of a September Ice-Free Arctic,”2 claims that the Arctic will be ice-free in September by around 2054-58, which is certainly a long way off from Prof Wadhams’ 2015 deadline.

In response to the PNAS paper, Prof Wadhams claims their projection departs significantly from his empirical observations of the rapid loss of Arctic summer sea ice, and here is how they differ: They use “scientific models,” i.e. computers; he uses “empirical evidence,” or boots-on-the-ground.

Along those lines, Prof Wadhams says, “The modelers did not pay sufficient regard to observation, especially of ice thickness… A very great physicist, Richard Feynmann, said that when a model comes up against measurements that contradict it, it is the measurements that must be preferred and the model must be abandoned or changed.”3

If Prof Wadhams is correct, the earthly consequences, over an indeterminate period of time, will most likely be:

  1. Sea levels will rise – probably a lot… for example, one-day Miami will be under water.
  2. Atmospheric jet stream displacement, because of a rapidly warming Arctic, will force ultra extreme weather events (this is already happening), especially in the Northern Hemisphere.
  3. Resulting in – catastrophic flooding, e.g. Central Europe 2013
  4. And, resulting in – severe droughts, e.g., China (2011- worst in 50 years & 2013), U.S. (2012- worst in 50 years), Russia (2010- worst in 50 years & 2012), Syria (2006-11- worst in history of Fertile Crescent), and on and on.
  5. Which equate to- decreased food production
  6. Leading to food riots, leading to political turmoil, leading to war

And, sooner or later, it is highly probable the geopolitical scene will witness hordes of people assembled in caravans (like the dystopian film Mad Max, Warner Bros. 1979) combing the planet in search of food and water and/or warlike behavior similar to the Huns, a nomadic people who ravaged and plundered Roman provinces in the 3rd & 4th centuries.

As such, personal wealth will be meaningless in this dystopian world overshadowed by hordes of desperate people as they crush totalitarian, and democratic, governments around the world, similar to how the almighty Roman army fell in the 3rd and 4th centuries to the hordes of Vandals and Huns in province after province after province.

Barrow, Alaska Observatory – Monitoring Methane

Barrow, Alaska is the furthest northern point in North America; it’s where the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea meet, and it is at Point Barrow, the Barrow, Alaska Observatory (“BRW”), est. in 1973, where scientists at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Earth System Research Laboratory, Global Monitoring Division keep a watchful eye on methane levels in the atmosphere. This is one of five methane-monitoring locations around the world.

According to R. Gates,4 “What’s worrisome to those who follow methane is the return to higher growth rates over the past few years… This is significant because it shows the underlying long-term growth rate. If you compare this year’s low point to last year’s, you get a sense of the upward turn in the atmospheric methane concentrations. The bottom line is: The trends should be of great concern.”

Methane (“CH4”) is already at unprecedented levels, since 646,000 BC:

Ice core records show global atmospheric conditions going back millions of years, but just since 646,000 BC global atmospheric concentrations of methane appear relatively subdued, and the atmospheric level varied within a couple hundred points of 500ppb.

Conversely, it has only taken a couple hundred years to break that 646,000-year trend. Nowadays, the CH4 level is at least 3xs higher @ 1750-1800ppb.5

Repercussions of Elevated Levels of Methane

Large releases of methane have occurred many times in the past and did not result in runaway global warming. Here is why: (a) in the past the trend was very gradual, over hundreds-to-thousands of years, allowing for a natural breakdown of the CH4 over time; whereas, as of today, we’ve already made a 3-fold move in only 200 years, and emissions are only now starting to increase in a serious way; as well, in the past, (b) when high CH4 levels trapped a lot of heat, the heat was counter-balanced by large buffers of ice that consumed the heat to prevent runaway temperature rises.6

Withal, conditions today are different because there are no huge Pleistocene glaciers to cool the Arctic Ocean if methane goes into overdrive this time around. In the Pleistocene Era, the Laurentide Ice Sheet alone was equivalent of twenty-five (25) Greenland ice sheets. This buffer to unchecked runaway global warming no longer exists.6

Therefore, as of today, Mother Earth has set the stage for runaway global warming without the checks-and-balances previously provided by nature.

Current Levels of Methane

Some of the world’s most accomplished climate scientists, similar to Prof Wadhams, have spent considerable time studying methane emissions with boots-on-the-ground in the Arctic.

Science (the world’s leading journal of original scientific research) carries an article by scientists7 that describes the methane situation: Current average methane concentrations in the Arctic are, “… the highest in 400,000 years… on par with previous estimates of methane venting from the entire World Ocean,” which is an incredible statement!

The previous statement is startling enough that it deserves to be repeated in a new context, as follows: Regarding recent observations of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf by Russian scientists, where, until now, it was thought the permafrost was cold enough to remain frozen, the recent observations found the methane venting into the atmosphere from this one region comparable to the amount of methane coming out of the entire world’s oceans.

Furthermore, in a recent live interview, Dr. Natalia Shakhova, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Arctic methane release, ended by saying, “We do not like what we see. We do not like it at all.”

“There are three huge reservoirs of Arctic methane till recently safely controlled by the Arctic freezing cold environment. They are now all releasing additional methane to the atmosphere as the Arctic rapidly warms.”8

And furthermore, “The most catastrophically dangerous methane source is Arctic sea floor methane hydrate… The largest source is the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), the largest continental shelf in the world… All the evidence indicates that an abrupt massive release of methane gas from Arctic hydrates could happen which most likely would be catastrophe to the global climate and our planet.”8

The Risks

According to the article “Methane, Good Gas, Bad Gas”9: “Burn natural gas and it warms your house. But let it leak, from fracked wells or the melting Arctic, and it warms the whole planet.”

“Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, so the climatic implications of adding more of it to the atmosphere are grave. A massive methane release could also affect the atmosphere’s ability to cleanse itself,” according to Arlene Fiore, a physical scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There is absolutely no doubt that Arctic sea ice is getting thinner, melting, and rupturing. For example, the largest single block of ice in the Arctic, the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, which has been around for over 3,000 years started cracking in the year 2000. Within two years it had split all the way through and is now broken into pieces.

The biggest worry, according to Dr. Ronald Prinn, TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science/MIT, in a lecture series entitled: “Arctic Warming: Risks for Methane Emissions (Aug. 2012)”: “… the polar regions, which are warming much faster than expected… if the ice goes, expect massive sea level rise.”10

In like manner, the most recent Arctic News is not comforting.11:
1) The Siberian permafrost is in particular danger. A large region called the Yedoma could undergo runaway decomposition once it starts to melt.
2) Global climates only slightly warmer than today are sufficient to thaw extensive regions of permafrost.
3) Evidence of melting of permafrost has also been reported form the dry valleys of Antarctica… reaching a rate about 10 times that of the last ~ 10,000 years.
4) Already, measurements along the Siberian shelf have discovered enhanced methane release… a Russian marine survey conducted more than 5,000 observations of dissolved methane showing that more than 80% of East Siberian shelf bottom waters and more than 50% of surface waters are supersaturated with methane.

The Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev, surveying 10,000 square miles of sea off the coast of eastern Siberia, made a terrifying discovery of “fountains” of methane one-half mile across erupting from Arctic sea ice, coming to surface like a boiling pot of water on a stovetop. The research team located more than 100 fountains, and they believe there could be thousands. These are methane fields on a scale never before seen by scientists. The resulting problem is multi-fold, in part, because methane releases from the seas can be larger, and much more abrupt, than land-based releases.

A Problem – Understanding and Believing

One major problem with trying to understand the potential of a methane outbreak is the false sense of security that “this really can’t happen.”

Yet, what if these scientists have got it right?

Then, what?

The future grows dim.

As a matter of assurance of survival, why not give the scientists the benefit of doubt and do what they suggest, which is remove CO2 emissions as much as possible by getting off fossil fuels?

As it goes, a worldwide conversion from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable sources of energy like solar and wind and tides and geothermal and biofuels would likely prompt an economic renaissance, with full employment, equivalent to the impressive secular economic growth cycle prompted by the invention of the Ford Model T.

And, such a worldwide conversion to renewable energy would rescue civilization, as we know it. In that event, the world’s ruling order of unparalleled wealth won’t have to worry about massive invasions by hordes of desperate people, similar to what the Roman Governors of the Provinces of the Empire experienced in the 3rd and 4th centuries.

Post Script:
On a positive note, a student movement at more than 300 university and college campuses is encouraging endowments to divest holdings of fossil fuel companies. As for one example, Divest Harvard says: “By sponsoring climate change through our investments, our university is threatening our generation’s future.”12

  1. AMBIO (Publisher: Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences), February 2012, Volume 41, Issue 1 []
  2. By Professor Jiping Liu, Dept. of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, UAlbany, Spring-2013, Phys.org in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences []
  3. Ice-free Arctic in two Years Heralds Methane Catastrophe – Scientist by Nafeez Ahmed, The Guardian, July 24, 2013. []
  4. Arctic Atmospheric Methane Trends, 2013, Arctic Sea Ice Blog, July 2013. []
  5. Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. []
  6. Source: “Mean Methane Levels Reach 1800 ppb,” Arctic News, June 28, 2013. [] []
  7. “Extensive Methane Venting to the Atmosphere from Sediments of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf,” Natalia Shakhova (International Arctic Research Centre, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK), Igor Semiletov (Russian Academy of Sciences, Far Eastern Branch, Pacific Oceanological Institute, Vladivostok, Russia), et al, Science, 327(5970), March 5, 2010. []
  8. Arctic Methane, Arctic Methane Emergency Group. [] []
  9. Marianne Lavelle, National Geographic, December 2012 []
  10. Source: Global Warming Puts the Arctic on Thin Ice,” Natural Resources Defense Council, Aug. 2012. []
  11. Andrew Glikson (Honorary Professor, Geothermal Energy Centre of Excellence, The University of Queensland), “Methane and the Risk of Runaway Global Warming,” Arctic News, July 26, 2013. []
  12. Randall Smith, A New Divestment Focus on Campus: Fossil Fuels, New York Times, Sept. 6, 2013. []

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.