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

Posts Tagged ‘Arctic Melting’

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

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

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

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

By Neel V. Patel @ Wired:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Methane Monster Roars; Abrupt Catastrophic Methane Releases Growing More Likely As Earth Warms

In Uncategorized on January 14, 2015 at 12:28 am

Methane monster roars

Oldspeak:It is my view that our climate system is in early stages of abrupt climate change that, unchecked, will lead to a temperature rise of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius within a decade or two. Obviously, such a large change in the climate system will have unprecedented effects on the health and well-being of every plant and animal on our planetAs the methane concentrations increase in the Arctic from the large warming rates there in both the atmosphere and ocean, the jet streams will be greatly disrupted even more than now…. Physics dictates that this will continue to increase the frequency, severity and duration of extreme weather events like torrential rains leading to widespread flooding in some regions and droughts in other regions. Needless to say, this causes enormous economic losses and poses a severe and grave threat to our global food supply. Thus, the Arctic can be considered the Achilles heel in our climate system… There will be continuing disruption and fracturing of our weather and climate systems… Further acceleration of these processes is very likely to lead to a ‘abrupt climate change’ system reorganization from a cold, snowy, ice-covered Arctic Ocean to a ‘blue Arctic Ocean’ regime… The final state could have a global temperature average being 5 or 6 degrees Celsius warmer and the transition to this state could occur in one to two decades… Recently, it has been announced that 2014 is the warmest year ever in the instrumental records…. A large preponderance of the heat added to the climate system over the last decade or so has gone into heating the oceans and when this heat balance cycles back to the atmosphere we will see a very rapid rise in global average temperatures.” -Dr. Paul Beckwith, Professor of Climatology & Meteorology, University of Ottawa

“Yep. What he said. Some serious volume of toxic gas is getting passed world wide. It’s not gonna stop. It’s getting worse. Seems the madness will truly begin when the worlds oceans start expelling the massive amounts heat they’ve been sequestering the past decade or so.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

During a recent hike in Washington State’s Olympic National Park, I marveled at the delicate geometry of frost-covered ferns. White crystalline structures seemed to grow from the green leaves, encasing them in a frozen frame of temporary beauty.

Progressing further up into the mountains, I stopped to lunch and sip hot coffee from a thermos while gazing across a river valley at a snow-covered mountainside, sizing up a frozen waterfall for a possible ice climb in the future. Yet I found myself beginning to wonder how many more winters ice would continue to form there.

The disparity of the beauty before me with my troubled thoughts about the planet has found no reconciliation. I had been collecting data and conducting interviews for articles about methane releases in the Arctic for weeks, and pondering the information through the holidays only led me into depression. Going out into the mountains helped, but also provoked grave concerns for our collective future.

To consider the possibility that humans have altered the atmosphere of the earth so drastically as to put our own lives in danger seems, at least emotionally, unfathomable. Given the scale of the planet, one would think, logically, it might not even be possible. Yet the majestic snow-covered peaks near where I live may no longer have glaciers (or even snow) within my lifetime, according to some of the scientists I’ve interviewed.

Paul Beckwith, a climatology and meteorology professor at the University of Ottawa, Canada, is an engineer and physicist who researches abrupt climate change in both the present day and in the paleoclimatology records of the deep past.

“It is my view that our climate system is in early stages of abrupt climate change that, unchecked, will lead to a temperature rise of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius within a decade or two,” Beckwith told me. “Obviously, such a large change in the climate system will have unprecedented effects on the health and well-being of every plant and animal on our planet.”
A Very Different Planet

Vast amounts of methane lie frozen in the Arctic. It’s not news that the Arctic sea ice is melting rapidly, and that it will likely be gone for short periods during the summers starting as early as next year. Losing that ice means releasing larger amounts of previously trapped methane into the atmosphere.

Additionally, lying along the Arctic’s subsea continental margins and beneath Arctic permafrost are methane hydrates, often described as methane gas surrounded by ice. In March 2010, a report in Science indicated that these cumulatively contain the equivalent of 1,000 to 10,000 gigatons of carbon.

For perspective, humans have released approximately 1,475 gigatons in total carbon dioxide since the year 1850.

Beckwith warns that losing the Arctic sea ice will create a state that “will represent a very different planet, with a much higher global average temperature, in which snow and ice in the northern hemisphere becomes very rare or even vanishes year round.”

In the simplest terms, here’s what an ice-free Arctic would mean when it comes to heating the planet: Minus the reflective ice cover on Arctic waters, solar radiation would be absorbed, not reflected, by the Arctic Ocean. That would heat those waters, and hence the planet, further. This effect has the potential to change global weather patterns, vary the flow of winds and even someday possibly alter the position of the jet stream. Polar jet streams are fast-flowing rivers of wind positioned high in the earth’s atmosphere that push cold and warm air masses around, playing a critical role in determining the weather of our planet.

“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” Beckwith explained. “The rapidly warming Arctic relative to the rest of the planet (five to eight times global average temperature rise) is decreasing the temperature gradient between the Arctic and the equator.”

This decreased gradient is disrupting the jet stream, leading to further warming in the Arctic, forming a runaway feedback loop, which in turn is causing the release of more methane in the Arctic.

And on land, it’s already happening as well. On Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula, mysterious holes in the ground drew international attention before they became not-so-mysterious when Russian researchers found significant amounts of methane inside them. Now, that same area is making news again as researchers have found increasing amounts of methane emissions coming from thawing permafrost there.

“As the methane concentrations increase in the Arctic from the large warming rates there in both the atmosphere and ocean, the jet streams will be greatly disrupted even more than now,” Beckwith said. “Physics dictates that this will continue to increase the frequency, severity and duration of extreme weather events like torrential rains leading to widespread flooding in some regions and droughts in other regions. Needless to say, this causes enormous economic losses and poses a severe and grave threat to our global food supply. Thus, the Arctic can be considered the Achilles heel in our climate system.”

US Navy researchers have predicted periods of an ice-free Arctic ocean in the summer by 2016.

British scientist John Nissen, chairman of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, suggests that if the summer sea ice loss passes “the point of no return” and “catastrophic Arctic methane feedbacks” kick in, we’ll be in an “instant planetary emergency.”

Why should we be so concerned about methane, when all of the talk around climate disruption seems to focus on carbon dioxide levels?

In the atmosphere, methane is a greenhouse gas that, on a relatively short-term time scale, is far more destructive than carbon dioxide. When it comes to heating the planet, methane is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, per molecule, on a 100-year timescale, and 105 times more potent on a 20-year timescale – and the Arctic permafrost, onshore and off, is packed with the stuff.

According to a study published in Nature Geoscience, twice as much methane as previously thought is being released from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a 2 million square kilometer area off the coast of northern Siberia. The recent study’s researchers found that at least 17 teragrams (17 million tons) of methane are being released into the atmosphere each year, whereas a 2010 study had found only seven teragrams heading into the atmosphere.

To gain a better understanding of the implications of Arctic warming, I interviewed some of the scientists conducting the most cutting edge and current methane studies in the Arctic.

Dr. Leonid Yurganov is a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland Physics Department and the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology, and his current research expertise is connected with remote sensing of tropospheric composition and Arctic methane levels. He is a co-author of an upcoming research paper that will show how recent Arctic warming has stimulated speculations about the release of methane from the seabed there and kicked off a new climatic positive feedback loop. Using remote sensing technology, his team has detected long-term increases of methane over large areas of the Arctic.

Yurganov warns of the consequences of a rapidly warming Arctic.

“The difference in temperatures between the poles and the equator drives our air currents from [the] west to [the] east,” he told Truthout. “If this difference diminishes, the west to east transport becomes slower, and north-south currents become stronger. This results in frequent changes in weather in mid-latitudes.”

While Yurganov isn’t seeing “fast and immediate liberation of methane from hydrates” at this very moment, he warned of what would happen if and when it does occur.

“Increased methane would influence air temperature near the surface,” he said. “This would accelerate the Arctic warming and change the climate everywhere in the world.”

Yurganov does not foresee an immediate global collapse within a decade. In his view, the summer Arctic sea ice will continue to shrink in a more linear fashion, but the frequency of extreme weather events and rising sea levels will continue to accelerate. “People should accommodate to climate change and be prepared to a decline in life-level caused by it,” he warned.

Yurganov sees population reduction via people not having as many babies as one answer to our predicament.

“Depopulation, that resolves all the problems,” he said. “The earth with [a] lower global population, say, twice as low, would emit less carbon dioxide.”

Another Russian scientist who has been studying methane releases in the Arctic, however, had even more worrying news.

The Looming Specter of Abrupt Methane Release

Natalia Shakhova is a research associate professor of the University Alaska Fairbanks, International Arctic Research Center, where she focuses on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS). Shakhova believes we should be concerned about her group’s findings from the ESAS, specifically, because that area differs significantly from methane emissions happening elsewhere around the world.

The ESAS is the largest shelf in the world, encompassing more than 2 million square kilometers, or 8 percent of the world’s continental shelf. Shakhova believes it holds an area-weighted contribution to the global hydrate inventory of “at least 10 to 15 percent.”

“These emissions are prone to be non-gradual (massive, abrupt) for a variety of reasons,” she told Truthout. “The main reason is that the nature of major processes associated with methane releases from subsea permafrost is non-gradual.”

This means that methane releases from decaying frozen hydrates could result in emission rates that “could change in order of magnitude in a matter of minutes,” and that there would be nothing “smooth, gradual or controlled” about it; we could be looking at non-linear releases of methane in amounts that are difficult to fathom.

She explained that the transition from the methane being frozen in the permafrost, either on land or in the shallow northern shores of the East Siberian Arctic, “is not gradual. When it comes to phase transition, it appears to be a relatively short, jump-like transformation from one state of the process to another state. The difference between the two states is like the difference between a closed valve and an open valve. This kind of a release is like the unsealing of an over-pressurized pipeline.”

These immediate methane releases in the ESAS could be triggered at any moment by seismic or tectonic events, the subsiding of sediments caused by hydrate decay or sediment sliding due to permafrost degradation and thaw. The ESAS is particularly prone to these immediate shifts because it is three times shallower than the mean depth of the continental shelf of the world ocean.

“This means that probability of dissolved methane to escape from the water column to the atmosphere is from three to 10 times greater than anywhere in the world’s oceans,” Shakhova said. “In the ESAS, methane is predominantly transported as bubbles. Methane bubbles rise to the surface at a speed from 10 to 40 cm s-1; this means that it only takes minutes for methane to reach the water surface and escape to the atmosphere.”

Including all factors, Shakhova estimates that the carbon pool of the ESAS is in orders of magnitude greater than 180 gigatons, and added that “its role will increase over time.”

A study published in the prestigious journal Nature in July 2013 confirmed what Shakhova has been warning us about for years: that a 50-gigaton “burp” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea is “highly possible at anytime.” That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide. (Remember, for perspective, humans have released approximately 1,475 gigatons in total carbon dioxide since the year 1850.)

Even the relatively staid Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned of such a scenario: “The possibility of abrupt climate change and/or abrupt changes in the earth system triggered by climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences, cannot be ruled out. Positive feedback from warming may cause the release of carbon or methane from the terrestrial biosphere and oceans.”

In the last two centuries, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has increased from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7 parts per million. The introduction of methane in such quantities into the atmosphere may, some climate scientists fear, make increases in the global temperature of 4 to 6 degrees Celsius inevitable.

Yet some of the scientists I spoke with warned of even worse consequences.

Global Implications

Ira Leifer, an atmospheric and marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of several Arctic methane studies, told Truthout that the scientific community has learned that methane emissions from the Arctic are already larger than previously thought, and said, “The warming trend in the Arctic is clear.”

The dangers of methane-related warning are staggering, according to Leifer.

“The amount of methane trapped in submerged permafrost is vast, and if even a small fraction reaches the atmosphere on the time scale of a few decades, it would lead to a dramatic increase in warming on a global scale,” he warned. “Furthermore, it could lead to a positive feedback where warming oceans release more methane which warms the Arctic more and leads to more methane release. Worse, the warming only slowly percolates to lower latitudes – and therefore it contributes to the enhanced Arctic warming.”

Just as Beckwith, Yurganov and Shakhova noted, Leifer warned that a warming Arctic has “global implications.”

Earth’s weather is controlled in three cells: the tropics, mid-latitude and polar. So a weakening of the difference in temperature between the pole-equator areas causes an expansion of the tropical cell, which drives desertification in some places and increased flooding in others. All the while, polar weather is expanding, as we’ve been seeing in the United States during recent winters.

While humans can adapt to these new fluctuations in the weather, agriculture and ecosystems cannot.

Like Shakhova, Leifer also expressed concern about the ESAS.

“The potential is there for hydrate emissions to increase with warming oceans due to increased dissociation,” he warned. He also confirmed that his recent studies of methane emissions in the Arctic even found the gas hundreds of miles from the coast. This means that the methane cannot be coming from land sources; Leifer has concluded that his recent studies “confirm a local marine source.”

Meaning, the subsea hydrates are already releasing their methane very far from shore. Beckwith notes that the increasing methane releases in the Arctic and the massive impact they will have on the planetary weather system mean “there will be continuing disruption and fracturing of our weather and climate systems.”

He went on to issue a stark warning. “Further acceleration of these processes is very likely to lead to an ‘abrupt climate change’ system reorganization from a cold, snowy, ice-covered Arctic Ocean to a ‘blue Arctic Ocean’ regime,” he said. “The final state could have a global temperature average being 5 or 6 degrees Celsius warmer and the transition to this state could occur in one to two decades, as has occurred many times in the past as recorded in paleorecords.”

The advent of the “blue Arctic Ocean” Beckwith warns us of is only a matter of time, and will most likely happen before 2020, considering that exponential decline in Arctic summer sea ice volume has already been determined by the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System data and models, which have been corroborated with recent CryoSat measurements, as well as modeling by the Naval Graduate School Regional Climate Models.

Beckwith believes the first of these “blue ocean” events will likely last a few weeks to one month the first time it happens, but then extend to several months just a few years later.

Meanwhile, the IPCC has not addressed Arctic methane releases as a runaway feedback loop, nor has the mainstream media across the political spectrum.

“Then, the greatly increased Arctic warming from albedo collapse would likely result in a year round ‘Arctic blue ocean’ within a decade or two, completing the regime shift to a much warmer climate,” he said.

Thus, Beckwith, like Shakhova, warns of the 50-gigaton methane burst, and fears it is only a matter of time before it occurs.

I asked Leifer if he believed we have already triggered a rapid increase in global temperatures that could lead to the kind of abrupt climate shifts of which Beckwith warns.

“Recently, it has been announced that 2014 is the warmest year ever in the instrumental records,” he said. “A large preponderance of the heat added to the climate system over the last decade or so has gone into heating the oceans and when this heat balance cycles back to the atmosphere we will see a very rapid rise in global average temperatures.”

Another “Great Dying?”

The Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago was related to methane – in fact, the gas is thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of approximately 95 percent of all species on the planet.

Also known as “The Great Dying,” it was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of 6 degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas. Released into the atmosphere, it caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years.

We are already in the midst of what scientists consider the sixth mass extinction in planetary history, with between 150 and 200 species going extinct daily, a pace 1,000 times greater than the “natural” or “background” extinction rate. This event may already be comparable to, or even exceed, both the speed and intensity of the Permian mass extinction. The difference: Ours is human caused. (Plus, it probably isn’t going to take 80,000 years; it has so far lasted just a few centuries, and is now gaining speed in a non-linear fashion.)

It is possible that, on top of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that continue to enter the atmosphere in record amounts yearly, an increased release of methane could signal the beginning of the sort of process that led to the Great Dying.

Some scientists fear that the situation is already so serious and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play that we are in the process of causing our own extinction. Worse yet, some are convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible – in the course of just the next few decades – or, as Beckwith believes, possibly even sooner than that.

Back in Olympic National Park, when I was returning from my hike, I happened upon a small herd of elk. I watched them as they watched me, before they slowly began to retreat further into the forest. As I continued along, I wondered how they are responding to what is happening to the planet. Their habitat is shifting dramatically, as are their food and water sources. Approaching the trailhead, I marveled at green moss-covered trees – and contemplated how the magnificent natural landscape of Olympic National Park will respond as the climate is rapidly disrupted. The Olympic Mountains support the third largest glacier system in the 48 contiguous United States and are rapidly losing their glaciers. And with at least four already endangered species living within the park the impacts are already clear, and are guaranteed to worsen.

I went on to wonder how humanity will respond, but then checked myself with the fact that the Arctic methane feedback loops are most likely already well underway, only an international emergency immediate response to cease all global carbon emissions might slightly mitigate the crisis, and yet most world governments’ responses are laughable.

Naturally, what was left was to ask myself: How am I responding?

How are you?

 

 

Smoke & Mirrors Will Not Save Us From Anthropogenic Climate Disruption

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2015 at 1:27 am

(Photo: papadont)

Oldspeak: “Flashback to 2009. From the mouths of over 60 International Polar Year study scientists from the World Meteorological Organization who were speaking not for attributionally to the one reporter who showed up to their conference. …These scientists who had previously sworn that a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas reduction by 2020 was the only way to save the world, acknowledged that the figure was bogus. They continued by revealing that …the warnings which had been issued in the IPCCs fourth assessment must be seen as merely the minimal – least disturbing – assessment. The scientists painted a far different, and… far more realistic picture of what is happening…Asked what, then, a realistic prescription for survival would be, they were categorical: greenhouse gases must be reduced by 80 percent – by 2015. That was 6 years ago. So. there’s that. It’s 2015. Greenhouse gasses have not been reduced. They’ve steadily increased. Warming has continued unabated. The prescription for survival is not possible. Scientists are being compelled to publicize the least disturbing assessments of the situation. However, denial does not make the truth any less true.” -OSJ
By Robert James Parsons @ Truthout:

With 2015 billed as the make-it-or-break-it year for climate control, in anticipation of next December’s Paris conference, and in the midst of much vehement – if not downright virulent – controversy, it is worth proposing some perspective beyond what most of the media deign to serve up to us.

In an article that appeared in mid-November in the French online journal A l’encontre, Daniel Tanuro analyzed the “unprecedented” and “historic” agreement between the United States and China resulting from Barack Obama’s encounter with Xi Jinping just before the November G20 conference in Brisbane.

The insufficiency – to put it mildly – of this agreement, in comparison with the warnings issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its most recent report, is unbridgeable, he points out.

Citing the reduction of 26% promised by Obama for 2025, which ought to lower United States emissions to 5.368 gigatonnes (Gt), he notes: “According to the Kyoto Protocol (which the United States signed but never ratified), Uncle Sam should have reduced his emissions by 8% by 2012, relative to 1990. That means that the emissions should have dropped from 6.233 Gt (1990 figure) to 5.734 Gt – instead of which, they increased 0.2% per year, on average, to reach 6.526 Gt. In other words, Obama has committed the United States to reaching by 2025 a target that is almost no better than than the one that the United States was supposed to have reached two years ago.”

For China, it is similar: “Xi Jinping stipulated that China would begin to reduce its absolute emissions at the latest in 2030 and that ‘zero-carbon’ sources would then cover 20% of its energy needs. To take the full measure of this promise, one must bear in mind that these ‘zero-carbon’ energy sources, already in 2013, represented in China 9% of the primary consumption of energy and that the twelfth five-year plan has set a target of 15% for 2020. Given the current amounts being invested, an increase of a further 5% in over ten years is anything but a ‘performance’: US$ 65 billion have already been invested in ‘non-fossil’ energy.”

According to the Kyoto Protocol, the ratifying countries committed themselves to reducing their green house gas emissions between 8% and 20% relative to 1990. As these emissions have continued to increase, the reductions since then have been completely canceled out.

In 2007, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the International Council for Science undertook the third International Polar Year (IPY) study, with the intention of exploring the role played by the polar regions in the world’s climate configurations. It was to be one of the biggest scientific studies ever undertaken, if not the biggest outright. More than 1,500 scientists took part during two years, thus completely covering the north and south polar cycles.

In March 2009, to present the IPY’s preliminary conclusions, the WMO organized a conference at its headquarters in Geneva involving some 60 of the IPY scientists, several of whom participated through video teleconference from the four corners of the earth. The Geneva media representatives – multitudinous, to say the least – had been invited (through several announcements), and a major section of the auditorium was reserved for them. In the end, this journalist – with an intern in tow – was the only one to turn up.

In view of the Copenhagen conference (considered “crucial”) scheduled for the following December, a succession of prep conferences had been held (with more planned) without ever coming anywhere near a tentative text to be presented in Copenhagen to replace the Kyoto Protocol. The target consistently sought in the new document, repeatedly proposed and scuttled, was a 40 percent greenhouse gas reduction by 2020 – a target that the scientists at the Geneva gathering insisted was the only one capable of averting a cataclysmic warming of the planet.

However . . .

That evening, during the reception (with the superb Geneva wines ubiquitously and abundantly in attendance) following the closing of the conference, as is often the case in such situations, people relaxed, chatted amiably and even openly – some would say indiscreetly. The same scientists who that afternoon had sworn that a 40 percent reduction was the only way to save the world, acknowledged that the figure was bogus.

It is worth noting that there is a golden rule within governmental organizations, and it is that no official document may ever contain anything that displeases a member state. Thus, the conclusions made public there, just like those of the IPCC reports and any other report on a controversial subject, represented the least common denominator. In other words, it was the least that could be stated without losing credibility.

An example of how this works, regarding the first installment of the four-part series of the most recent fifth assessment report, was discussed by Justin Gillis, in his New York Times article “Climate Alarm, Too Muted for Some.” He mentioned two areas where the IPCC went “a little bit conservative on a couple of issues related to both sea level and temperature.”

The estimates ranged from three to five feet for the rise in the oceans by 2100. The IPCC chose to use the lower estimate, he pointed out, even though the higher, although not endorsed by the majority of scientists, would be the more realistic one in view of the way that all estimates so far have been far below the reality (in keeping with the whole process of minimizing the message).

He continued. The majority of scientists say that the continued burning of fossil fuels, with a doubling of the amount of carbon in the atmosphere from the estimated preindustrial level (280 p.p.m.) will result in a temperature rise of 3.6° F. to 5°F., with the higher temperature likely. The minority are saying that the temperature rise could be well below 3°F. Here the IPCC chose to use the minority figure.

Thus, the warnings issued by the IPCC in the November fourth installment that has garnered so much attention must be seen as merely the minimal – least disturbing – assessment. The answers given this journalist that evening at the WMO – all most emphatically NOT for attribution – painted a far different, and, according to the scientists, a far more realistic picture of what is happening.

Asked what, then, a realistic prescription for survival would be, they were categorical: greenhouse gases must be reduced by 80 percent – by 2015.

That was almost six years ago. Everything seems to be on schedule for the worst, including the denial from most of those on the top on down to most of the grassroots. While climatologists making candid public assessments have been decried as “doom-and-gloom” people, they more and more appear to be the lucid voices of reality in a fantasy world.

Among them, Guy McPherson could be said to have one of the most reasonable approaches: Make the most, imperatively, of what we have and can do now, with an emphasis on excellence in every endeavor, all while accepting that everything is telling us that we are on our way to extinction (soon rather than later), and prepare to take leave of the good earth without losing our humanity – graciously, with dignity.

______________________________________________________________________________

Robert James Parsons, a freelance journalist based in Geneva, writes regularly on international affairs (among other things) for the Geneva newspaper Le Courrier, and Le Courrier has turned 147 years old and is the last independent daily in Switzlerland, supported, like Truthout, by its readers.

 

World’s Largest Ice Sheets Melting At Fastest Rates In Recorded History

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Oldspeak: “Our planetary thermostats are melting. This trend is irreversible. And with sociopathic corporocratic governments jockeying for position and engaging in all varieties of proxy and direct resource wars to secure and exploit any and all remaining fossil fuels; we can expect warming and melting to increase.  The more ice melts, the more climate refugees are created. The more coastal cities and islands go underwater. The more and more catastrophic damage will be done by ever more powerful and extreme weather events. The more life extinguishing, climate altering greenhouse gasses are released. Sooner rather than later, the conditions necessary for sustaining life will be no more.  We are bearing witness to earths 6th and quickest developing mass extinction. Enjoy the show! Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…” -OSJ

By John Queally @ Common Dreams:

The world’s two largest ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting at the fastest rates ever recorded, according to a new study based on detailed satellite imagery.

Presented by scientists at the Germany-based Alfred Wegener Institute, the new research was conducted with the help of sophisticated mapping technology and the use of an ESA satellite (called CryoSat-2) which used radar technology to generate highly accurate elevation measurements of the ice sheets.

What the detailed look at the ice shows is devastating.

“The volume loss in Greenland has doubled since the [year 2000],” explained AWI glaciologist and co-author of the report Prof. Dr. Angelika Humbert. “The loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has in the same time span increased by a factor of three. Combined the two ice sheets are thinning at a rate of 500 cubic kilometres per year. That is the highest speed observed since altimetry satellite records began about 20 years ago.”

Speaking with the BBC, Humbert went further, stating: “The contribution of both ice sheets together to sea level rise has doubled since 2009,” she said. “To us, that’s an incredible number.”

The Huffington Post reports:

The glacier melting the fastest among those measured was the Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland and the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica. The Jakobshavn Glacier is descending into the ocean at a rate of 46 meters — or half a football field — each day. Last year, a chunk of ice twice the size of Detroit broke off the tip of the Pine Island Glacier.

Robert Bindschadler of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center recently contributed to a similar study for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Rising sea level is widely regarded as a current and ongoing result of climate change that directly affects hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers around the world and indirectly affects billions more that share its financial costs,” he said in a press release. By 2100, ice melt from Antarctica alone could add up to 37 centimeters, or more than 14 inches, to global sea levels.

Another study published in the journal Science this month shows that in the last 20 years, human-caused climate change has become the primary driver of glacial melt.

 

 

 

 

Arctic Warming & Increased Weather Extremes: The National Research Council Speaks

In Uncategorized on July 17, 2014 at 7:51 pm

https://i0.wp.com/www.carbontalks.ca/images/blog/Amy-Anthropocene1.png

 

Oldspeak: “New news in the melting of the Arctic, none of it good. As industrial civilization plunders on, our great mother grows hotter with the intractable virus that is humanity… We’ve passed in to a new and completely unpredictable climate era where “the baseline physics have changed”  and we don’t have tests, methods or approaches to account for the changes underway that are happening faster than all old climate models predicted.  Tipping points could be reached at any time, and we don’t know when. Extremes will continue to be what we’ve never experienced.  Buckle up kids its gonna be a bumpy ride to extinction… Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…”  -OSJ

“It is possible that recent Arctic changes have pushed the atmosphere into a new state with different variability. The strong Arctic forcing [warming] has emerged only in the past few years, and development of new methods and approaches may be required to test or account for it.

In a rapidly changing climate this is a given. In our old climate, we sort-of knew how it behaved. We had decades and even centuries of records to use to project changes into the future. But all of this historical data may be of much less use in the future as the baseline physics have now changed. Even more critical, the short term is now very important as tipping points may appear at any time.

Because of 20 years of delay in controlling climate pollution, we are experiencing more warming faster than we would have if we had of begun to address climate pollutants as was suggested decades ago. Because we are warming faster, the risk of climate tipping points is higher. This discussion point states that recent Arctic changes may have “pushed the atmosphere into a new state with different variability.” What they mean by variability is that the extremes get more extreme. This includes more extreme droughts, floods and winter weather. An example is that in the southeastern United States, droughts and floods have doubled over the last 30 years. -Bruce Melton

By Bruce Melton @ Truthout:

Arctic warming is happening at twice the average level of global warming in a process called arctic amplification, where more warming occurs as ice is lost because less of the sun’s energy is reflected back into space.

A new report from the National Research Council (NRC) details the findings of recent Arctic research: Arctic sea ice in all seasons is declining and the rate of loss is increasing. Multiple lines of study show this is impacting weather outside of the Arctic. Increased energy (heat) in the Arctic is slowing the progress of the jet stream around globe, allowing weather systems to linger, increasing the risk of severe weather happening more often in any one place. Increased warmth also means increased moisture in the Arctic – which increases the amount of snow, which in turn causes the jet stream to concentrate winter weather in North America and Eurasia.

The tone of the NRC report is embodied in the lead workshop presentation by Dr. James Screen of Exeter University in the UK. Because of the uncertainties associated with research in this rapidly evolving field, Screen proposed an “ACID” test to validate research findings. The test asks if research findings are: “Attributable to Arctic forcing; Corroborated by multiple lines of evidence; Informed by mechanistic understanding; and Detectable in the real world.”

Screen said the current state of science is in its infancy, and few if any of the lines of research pass the test, but the workshop summary adds: “Other participants noted that the ACID test approach is sound, but, given the limitations of available information, there are inherent limitations to the analyses that can be conducted.” (1) In other words, to be absolutely certain, more research is needed.

Science is a conservative industry that classically understates fact. One of the big reasons is that old maxim, “Publish or perish.” If a scientist is wrong in his or her published findings, the scholarly journals will think twice about publishing that scientist’s work again. Science therefore systematically understates evidence.

The consensus process, like that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is even more conservative (underestimating) in their statements because of the large number of individual scientists who must agree on the consensus position.

This consensus opinion on climate is generally not a thing of fact. It is a thing of acceptance by the broad scientific community. (2) Scientists are specialists. Almost all of them specialize in minute sectors of science as a whole. For large numbers of climate scientists to agree on a statement, they must be familiar with the leading edge of science that that statement discusses. In the highly compartmentalized world of research science, details of all disciplines are seldom understood by all.

The kind of familiarity it takes to bring new knowledge into the consensus can take years and even decades. The consensus opinion is therefore constantly behind the leading edge of science. With a rapidly changing climate, this can be a problem. A profound example of how the climate science consensus understates the current state of the science comes from the IPCC reports.

The 2007 IPCC report said that Antarctica was not supposed to begin losing ice until after 2100. The 2013 IPCC report however says that Antarctic ice loss has now nearly caught up with Greenland’s. Published findings dating back to the 1990s have always shown Antarctica to be losing ice. It is not as if Antarctica has suddenly started losing ice. But because the IPCC is a consensus driven organization, it takes time for “new” knowledge to infiltrate the entire industry. This is one of the main reasons why the IPCC systematically underestimates the current state of climate science. (3)

Some of the details of this National Research Council publication are:

• A panel discussion led by a researcher at the University of Alaska relayed that there has been a decrease in wind speed in that part of our atmosphere that moves storm systems around the world from 1979 to the present. This is one of the results of decreasing Artic sea ice in computer models. This speaker also notes that an increase in wind speeds in the 1950s was not found to be associated with an increase in Arctic sea ice. (4)

• Work by Atmospheric and Environmental Research (a commercial climate consultant working mostly for organizations like NOAA, NASA , the Department of Defense, insurance corporations and investment and energy companies) was presented that shows that: “Siberian snow cover has also been shown to influence mid-latitude winter weather . . . and [this]correctly predicted the cold winter in 2013 across Northern Eurasia and the United States.” (5)

• A researcher from Rutgers discussed seven things that “connect observed rapid warming of the Arctic with changing weather patterns in the mid-latitude Northern Hemisphere.” These items were mostly related to a decrease in the speed of the progression of storm systems caused by weakening steering winds. The seventh item states: “Slower moving upper level [winds] cause more persistent weather patterns, which increase the likelihood of extreme weather events associated with [these] prolonged weather conditions.” (6)

• Research from Penn State shows that stronger tropical weather activity in the South Seas enhances the flow of heat and moisture into the Arctic. (7) This fascinating phenomenon is called a teleconnection, and it has been found to exist in numerous places, causing numerous things to happen literally on the other side of the planet. A good example is the known connection between El Nino in the South Pacific and decreased hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin. El Nino increases upper level winds in the Atlantic. Increased upper level winds decrease important factors that allow hurricanes to develop.

• A review of research given by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory says: “Loss of Arctic sea ice, record negative values of the winter Arctic Oscillation atmospheric circulation index, earlier summer snow melt, and increasing extreme weather events at mid-latitudes – both heat waves and cold snowstorms – have been observed over the last decade.” Shifts in the wind patterns that move storms across the planet have resulted in more extreme early winter weather in 2009, 2010 and 2012 in North America, northern Europe and far eastern Asia (the research did not evaluate the 2013 season). (8)

• A workshop talk titled “Warm Arctic – Cold Continents” describes how decreased sea ice extents, decreased storm steering winds and early Siberian snow cover enhanced the winter weather extremes in 2012/2013. The summary for this discussion “suggests that the dramatic decrease in sea ice contributed to extreme weather events observed during that [2012/2013 winter] period.” (9)

• More discussion from Rutgers University addresses snow cover across the Northern Hemisphere. The last four Mays have been four of the five lowest on record. The last six Junes had the lowest snow cover coverage over the Northern Hemisphere and Eurasia with five of the last six in North America. (10)

• Modeling out of the University of California, Irvine has some unexpected results compared to what we have become accustomed to. Generally, the models tell us that Arctic warming spreads south, but historic modelling is based on long-term patterns. These researchers looked at the last six years of Arctic sea ice decline (2007 through 2012) and extended this short-term trend into the future. What they found was quite similar to what we have been experiencing. Winter weather over land areas in the Northern Hemisphere becomes more extreme with less Arctic sea ice. (11)

• More modeling from NOAA and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamic Laboratory shows that Arctic sea ice models cannot predict what these researchers call “very rare occurrence” of record low Arctic sea ice coverage of the 21st century. (12)

• Another modeling exercise, this one from the University of California at San Diego, looks at changes in rainfall and snowfall globally and at high latitudes, with and without sea ice in the Arctic. Ice and snow reflects up to 90 percent of the sun’s light energy back into space without warming the planet, but open water absorbs up to 90 percent of that energy where it stays on Earth, creating warming. A warmer planet is able to have more moisture in the atmosphere and this means that more precipitation could possibly be the result. This report says that many studies have found that overall precipitation will increase (and has already increased in some areas) but this is the first effort to look at the problem as these researchers did. What they found was that their modeling predicted more precipitation in cold areas but no change in warmer areas. The changes begin with global conditions very similar to what they are today. (13)

• Research from Niigata University in Japan that compares sea ice conditions between 2005-2009 and 1979-1983 shows significant cooling in eastern Siberia with lesser cooling in Eastern Europe and northeastern North America. (14) Work from the University of Alaska shows that most climate models underestimate actual detailed conditions of daily sea ice movement in the Arctic. Modeling with actual sea ice movements shows increased occurrences of winter weather outbreaks in northeastern North America – an impact that current modeling does not reproduce. (15)

• One of the breakout groups at this workshop discussed a point that seems particularly poignant to this discussion: “It is possible that recent Arctic changes have pushed the atmosphere into a new state with different variability. The strong Arctic forcing [warming] has emerged only in the past few years, and development of new methods and approaches may be required to test or account for it.”

In a rapidly changing climate this is a given. In our old climate, we sort-of knew how it behaved. We had decades and even centuries of records to use to project changes into the future. But all of this historical data may be of much less use in the future as the baseline physics have now changed. Even more critical, the short term is now very important as tipping points may appear at any time.

Because of 20 years of delay in controlling climate pollution, we are experiencing more warming faster than we would have if we had of begun to address climate pollutants as was suggested decades ago. Because we are warming faster, the risk of climate tipping points is higher. This discussion point states that recent Arctic changes may have “pushed the atmosphere into a new state with different variability.” What they mean by variability is that the extremes get more extreme. This includes more extreme droughts, floods and winter weather. An example is that in the southeastern United States, droughts and floods have doubled over the last 30 years. (16)

Much of the challenge with evaluating climate change is based on modeling. We know how to operate climate models based on our old climate, and they work quite well reproducing our old climate. Arctic climate though has likely advanced to a state that is not represented by our old climate.

The reality of science also tells us that because our baseline conditions are now rapidly changing, we may never be able to project future changes with accuracy – it’s difficult to hit a moving target. This is another reason why the IPCC and other consensus-based climate reporting often underestimates the speed and extremeness of climate change.

Into the future we must rely more on history. Since the mid-1990s we have been discovering highly accurate evidence that shows ancient abrupt climate changes have happened repeatedly across our planet in ways that dwarf current modeling projections. But this evidence lacks many details about why these changes occurred – only that they occurred.

A running theme in this report is that we must develop new techniques that can better deal with our new climate. Prehistory evidence is one of these tools. Over 20 times in the last 100,000 years, highly accurate evidence from ice cores in Greenland and Antarctica have shown abrupt climate changes of 9 to 14 degrees F across the globe in as little as a few decades and astonishingly, in as little as a few years. In Greenland these changes were 25 to 35 degrees F. (17)

We know that massive abrupt climate changes are a regular occurrence on earth, and we are finding that arctic amplification is changing our climate faster than has previously been projected by the consensus opinion. At some point, the scientific tendency to conservatively wait until enough evidence has accumulated must acquiesce to expert opinion and logic.

Expert opinion in the late 1990s said that Antarctica was losing ice 100 years ahead of the consensus opinion. But the main voice of climate policy on this planet, the IPCC consensus, did not agree until 2013. Today, expert opinion exists to say that arctic amplification is causing our weather to become more extreme and that these extremes will become even more profound as our climate continues to warm.

Time is short. Environmental tipping points tend to be more extreme if the environmental system is pushed harder. We have already delayed addressing climate pollution 20 years or more and the Arctic has just begun to lose ice. The extreme weather events that are “likely” caused by Arctic warming today have the capacity to become much, much worse as the Arctic has a lot of warming yet to come even if we ceased all greenhouse gas emissions today. Climate policy should be driven by logic and expert opinion, not the consensus.

Notes:

National Research Council Report:
Thomas et al., “Linkages between Arctic Warming and Mid-latitude Weather Patterns,” National Research Council, June 2014.

1. ACID approach is sound…
Thomas et al., “Linkages between Arctic Warming and Mid-latitude Weather Patterns,” National Research Council, June 2014, page 34, paragraphs four and five.

2. The climate science consensus is conservative and understates the latest knowledge of climate science . . .

From the University of Alberta: Universities of California at San Diego and St. Benedict/St. Johns and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public affairs tells us; “Over the past two decades, skeptics of the reality and significance of anthropogenic climate change have frequently accused climate scientists of ‘alarmism’ . . . However, the available evidence suggests that scientists have in fact been conservative in their projections of the impacts of climate change. … We suggest, therefore, that scientists are biased not toward alarmism but rather the reverse: toward cautious estimates, where we define caution as erring on the side of less rather than more alarming predictions.” Scientific American: “Checking 20 years of projections shows that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has consistently underestimated the pace and impacts of global warming.”

Brysse et al., Climate change prediction: Erring on the side of least drama?, Global Environmental Change, February 2013, abstract.

From the University of California, Santa Barbara: “Mass media in the U.S. continue to suggest that scientific consensus estimates of global climate disruption, such as those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), are ‘exaggerated’ and overly pessimistic. By contrast, work on the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge (ASC) suggests that such consensus assessments are likely to understate climate disruptions.” A National Research Council report prepared by the Committee on Strategic Advice on the U.S. Climate Change Science Program: Brysse and team reports in section 2.3: “IPCC projections have systematically underestimated key climate change drivers and impacts. This committee found that ‘The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections may have been too conservative in several areas, including CO2 emissions by various countries, increases in surface temperatures, and sea level rise.”

Freudenburg and Muselli, “Global warming estimates, media expectations, and the asymmetry of scientific challenge,” Global Environmental Change, August 2010. see abstract.

Scientific American: “Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent, say a growing number of studies on the topic.”Climate Science Predictions Prove Too Conservative,” Scientific American, December 6, 2012, first sentence.

3. Antarctica has begun to lose ice 100 years or more ahead of IPCC predictions . . . Antarctic surface mass balance (SMB) in the 2007 IPCC Report was supposed to increase, not decrease, for all scenarios, through 2100. This means that snow accumulation was supposed to be more than melt, evaporation and iceberg discharge combined: “All studies for the 21st century project that Antarctic SMB changes will contribute negatively to sea level, owing to increasing accumulation exceeding any ablation increase (see Table 10.6).”

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fourth Assessment Report, “Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis,” 10.6.4.1, Surface Mass Balance, fifth paragraph.

The 2013 IPCC report tells us that Antarctic ice loss has almost caught up with Greenland. Summary for Policy Makers, E.3 Cryosphere, page 9, third bullet. “The average rate of ice loss from the Antarctic ice sheet has likely increased from 30 [–37 to 97] Gt yr–1 over the period 1992–2001 to 147 [72 to 221] Gt yr–1 over the period 2002 to 2011.” Greenland, second bullet: “The average rate of ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet has very likely substantially increased from 34 [–6 to 74] Gt yr–1 over the period 1992 to 2001 to 215 [157 to 274] Gt yr–1 over the period 2002 to 2011.”

4. Decrease in winds 1979 to present . . . Thomas et al., Linkages between Arctic Warming and Mid-latitude Weather Patterns, National Research Council, June 2014, page 47, paragraph five.

5. Siberian snow cover and the cold winter or 2013… ibid. page 48, paragraph two.

6. Seven things that point to Arctic Warming increasing Northern Hemisphere extreme weather . . . ibid. page 48, paragraph six.

7. Stronger weather systems in the South Seas enhance warming in the Arctic… ibid. page 49, paragraph two.

8. More extreme early winter weather and its association with changing storm steering wind patterns…
ibid., page 49, paragraph five.

9. Warm Arctic – Cold Continents…ibid., page 52, paragraph one.

10. Record low snow cover…ibid., page 53, paragraph four.

11. Lower Arctic Sea ice coverage and more extreme winter weather over land areas in the northern Hemisphere…
ibid., page 54, paragraph one and two.

12. Very rare occurrence of record low Arctic sea ice coverage…
ibid., page 55, paragraph 4.

13. More rain and snow in cold areas with less sea ice…ibid., page 56 paragraph two.

14. Research from Niigata university in Japan…ibid., page 56, third paragraph.

15. Comparing models to actual; models underestimate cold winter outbreaks in the northeastern U.S…
ibid., page 57, paragraph 2.

16. Floods and drought have doubled in the U.S. southeast in the last 30 years…
Li, et. al., “Changes to the North Atlantic Subtropical High and Its Role in the Intensification of Summer Rainfall Variability in the Southeastern United States,” Journal of Climate, October 2010, abstract.

17.  Abrupt climate change 23 times in the last 100,000 years . . . Alley, Wally Was Right – Predictive ability of the North Atlantic Conveyor Belt Hypothesis for Abrupt Climate Change, “Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Science,” February 2007, Figure 1 shows the 23 abrupt climate changes.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

The Climate Change Now Initiative is a nonprofit outreach organization reporting the latest discoveries in climate science in plain English.

 

Return Of The Polar Vortex: Coldest Of The Cold En Route To U.S.; Warmer In Alaska Than South Carolina

In Uncategorized on January 28, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Visualization of surface winds (lines and black arrows) and temperatures (shaded colors) on Monday morning, as the latest Arctic blast swept from the Midwest to the South and East.

Click image to enlarge. Credit: earth.nullschool.net.

 

Oldspeak: “While the lower 48 states freeze — every state in the contiguous U.S. is expected to see a low temperature at or below 32°F on Tuesday morning — this weather pattern also has a flipside, with unusually mild conditions affecting Alaska and the Western U.S. At 10 p.m. local time on Sunday, it was warmer in Homer, Alaska than anywhere in the contiguous U.S., except for Southern Florida and Southern California. The high temperature in Homer of 55°F broke their all-time monthly high temperature record…” -Andrew Freedman

“Sooooo its pushing 60 in some parts of the arctic, while its negative 40 in the Midwest of the U.S. Again. And expected to be so, through February…. While record heat bakes Australia. AGAIN.  Yeahhhhh, that’s normal. SMDH… We’re sooo fucked. :-O ” -OSJ

By Andrew Freedman @ Climate Central:

The polar vortex is back, and for many suffering through an already frigid winter, the Arctic air barreling into the lower 48 states may be the coldest of the cold yet.

Temperatures may plunge well below zero in the Upper Midwest, and could potentially last as long as three days in some areas. Cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and Madison are already enduring extreme cold, with two consecutive days of subzero high temperatures expected. In addition, a rare snow and ice storm is slated to develop along the Gulf Coast on Tuesday and Wednesday. Computer model projections show the potential for more than 6 inches of snow to fall in parts of the Southeast, particularly in Southeast South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina, areas that are not accustomed to such heavy snowfall and ice.

The frigid temperatures in the Central and Eastern U.S. come courtesy of a jet stream pattern that has kept the door to the Arctic, which is the Northern Hemisphere’s freezer, wide open, allowing dangerously cold air to repeatedly move southward into the lower 48 states in distinct waves.

As happened in early January, the now infamous polar vortex has something to do with the latest cold snap, with its southernmost extent clipping the northern tier of the U.S.

The persistence of the cold during January has set the month on course to be the second coldest winter month in the contiguous U.S. since December 2000, coming up about a degree shy of the monthly average temperature in January 2011, according to Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Analytics, a private weather forecasting firm.

 

Of course, blaming this all on the polar vortex isn’t entirely accurate. The true polar vortex exists at upper levels of the atmosphere, and what’s been causing January’s bitter cold — and soon to be February’s — is a result of the interaction between the vortex and events in the more chaotic lower atmosphere.

The polar vortex exists at the upper levels of the atmosphere at and above the typical cruising altitude of commercial jetliners, and is an area of frigid air and relatively low air pressure surrounded by a strong west-to-east jet stream that circles the Arctic during the winter.

When the upper level winds encircling the vortex are strong, the cold air tends to stay locked in the Arctic. But when those winds slow, as has occurred this winter, the polar vortex can wobble and split, with pockets of extremely cold air getting pinched off and shunted southward, into the U.S., Europe, and Asia. According to many computer models, this is likely to happen throughout much of February.

Visualization of wind speed and direction in the lower stratosphere, looking from the top of the Northern Hemisphere down. The polar vortex is highlighted within the black rectangle, with its circulation extending south above the U.S.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: earth.nullschool.net.

Ultimately, the distinction between the upper level vortex and its lower level reflections is of interest mainly to meteorologists, since most Americans are more concerned with staying warm than with looking up “polar vortex” in a textbook.

Charts of the middle of the troposphere, which is the layer of the atmosphere where most weather occurs, show that several areas of unusually cold temperatures are currently affecting the U.S. and parts of Europe and Asia, while an unusually mild region stretches from Alaska across the Arctic and extending into northern Siberia.

While the lower 48 states freeze — every state in the contiguous U.S. is expected to see a low temperature at or below 32°F on Tuesday morning — this weather pattern also has a flipside, with unusually mild conditions affecting Alaska and the Western U.S. At 10 p.m. local time on Sunday, it was warmer in Homer, Alaska than anywhere in the contiguous U.S., except for Southern Florida and Southern California. The high temperature in Homer of 55°F broke their all-time monthly high temperature record, according to Weather Underground.

On Jan. 27, the temperature in Nome, Alaska reached 51°F, which was not only the warmest temperature on record there for January, but was also the warmest temperature observed at that location between the dates of Oct. 17 and April 9, according to Weather Underground’s Chris Burt.

On Jan. 25, the headquarters of Denali National Park, Alaska, where Mt. McKinley is located, reached a high temperature of 51°F, which tied the record high temperature for the month of January, according to the National Weather Service.

In Nome, the temperature climbed to 45°F on Jan. 26, which was the second warmest January day there since recordkeeping began in 1907. Numerous daily high temperature marks and records for highest overnight low temperatures have also been set in Alaska, and computer model projections show continued unusual warmth is likely to affect the state for much of February.

Unusually mild conditions have also affected the Western U.S., as the jet stream has steered storms well north of the area into Canada, pumping warm air into the region from the southwest.

For example, Sacramento, Calif., reached 79°F on Jan. 25, breaking the high temperature mark there for the month of January. A monthly temperature record was also broken at Sacramento Executive Airport on the same day.

For the lower 48 states during the period from Dec. 28 to Jan. 26, 32 monthly high temperature records were set or tied along with 12 monthly records for highest overnight low temperature. That compares to 24 monthly records for coldest high temperature, and zero monthly records for the lowest overnight low temperature. There were, however, eight records set or tied for the coldest daytime high temperature.

This data suggests that the extreme cold in the Midwest and East, while noteworthy, may not be as unusual from a historical standpoint as the warmth in the West and Alaska.

Of course, for those in the path of this current Arctic outbreak, that’s of little consolation.

“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.

Climate Change 2013: Where We Are Now – Not What You Think

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2013 at 7:54 pm

The flats.Oldspeak: “The intensity of climate heat extremes across the Northern Hemisphere has already increased 10 to 100 times since the 1951 to 1981 period…Cold weather extremes can even intensify on a warmer planet as the range of volatile weather increases with more energy in the atmosphere. Cold weather extremes in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 in the eastern United States and Europe, including Snowmeggedon in the Northeast US in 2010, validate modeling that increases these extremes because of Arctic warming… National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth, two-time lead scientist for the IPCC, has spelled out a fundamental truth when answering the question: “Was this weather event caused by climate change?” His response, published in Climatic Change in March 2012: “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.” (Emphasis added) -Bruce Melton

” Translation = WE’RE FUCKED.  As long as things hum along status quo, we and much of the life on this planet will become extinct. Even if we start removing more carbon from the atmosphere than we put in it from now on, we’re fucked. i rather resent the author’s implication that there are solutions that just require ‘political and financial will’. NO. Those solutions needed to be implemented 20 years ago. We are losing 200 species per day. The time for solutions have long passed. WE ARE FUCKED.  irreversible non-linear feedback loops have been triggered and will continue unpredictably and ever more violently. Enjoy your remaining time in our relatively stable and predictable ecology. it will soon be no more. Happy New Year!” :-/OSJ

By Bruce Melton @ Truthout:

We are in the midst of an era of frightening contradictions, when it comes to public understandings of climate change. While climate changes are occurring more quickly than scientists have ever predicted, most people’s knowledge of these realities remains hazy and clouded by political overtones. Because of both the counter-intuitive nature of climate change and the massive misinformation campaigns created by the fossil fuel industry, the general population is 20 years behind most climate scientists when it comes to the straightforward fact of “believing in” climate change. This is an ominous statistic: Now that scientists are predicting that even worse impacts than previously understood will happen significantly sooner, a rapid global response will be necessary for any attempt to stave them off. We are likely closer to irreversible dangerous climate change – if it has not begun already – and to take action, there must be a basic public consensus. There is, however, some hopeful news on the technological front if action is taken soon.

In 1976, Wallace Broeker was one of the first to suggest climate change could alter our planet harmfully within our lifetimes. Even though a few scientists said in the ’70s we could be headed for an ice age, Broeker had already made the connection, and those few climate scientists have not talked about a coming ice age in nearly 40 years. Broeker is arguably the grandfather of climate science: He’s been at it for 55 years.

One of his first jobs was under Willard Libby, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1949 for discovering carbon-14 dating. This rare but predictable form of carbon is radioactive, and it completely decays in about 55,000 years. It is because of carbon-14 dating that we know for absolutely certain that the extra carbon dioxide in our atmosphere came from burning fossil fuels.

There are many other ways that we know for sure. The physics of the greenhouse effect are easily demonstrated in the lab, and even the simplest models from the early 1980s prove their effect. Surprisingly, the complicated high resolution climate models of today yield results that are quite similar to those of the simplest models of the early 1980s.

2013 1226-5aBut how are we supposed to trust the models when weather people can’t even get the seven-day forecast correct? Weather models predict what you need to wear to work or school this week. They are built out of the most recent weather data, and by the time they run off five or six days into the future, they are often wrong.

One can load a climate model up with any old weather data; this week’s, last month’s or last year’s. It doesn’t matter where the models start in time. Climate scientists create scores and hundreds of model runs and then average all of those wrong forecasts together to get average weather. Average weather is climate. Climate is not the seven-day forecast. The chaos that makes weather models wrong so quickly is actually what makes climate modeling work so well.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2013

Climate measurements continue to become both more precise and more reliable – and thus, more terrifying. A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which combines the work of 2,000 scientists from 154 countries, drawing from millions of observations from more than 9,000 scientific publications, confirms and strengthens previous predictions and adds one new and very important observation. Even 100 percent emissions reductions will no longer keep our climate from changing dangerously.

2013 1226-5bThese volunteer scientists also did something they normally don’t do this time. They debunked a climate myth. This is the “temperature flattening myth” that is so present in this perceived debate and that has become so prevalent in our society. Their story goes that earth’s temperature stopped warming in 1998, therefore climate change is not real. In 1998, we had the largest El Nino ever recorded. This massive warming of surface waters in the southern Pacific raised the temperature of Earth in that one year by about 0.15 degrees, or as much as it rose because of global warming in the previous decade.

The IPCC 2013 prominently sinks this myth as the fifth statement of fact in their Summary for Policy Makers (SPM): “Trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends.” (SPM, Page 3) The mythmakers chose 1998 as the beginning of their myth.  This is plain and simple cherry picking. If one looks at the trend beginning in 1997, the temperature rise is anything but flat. If one begins in 1994, the annual rise rivals the fastest rise in the instrumental record from 1976 to 1997.

Since 1998, the global temperature record has been broken three times and tied once. The new IPCC report tells us that half of warming (57%) that should have already occurred has been masked by aerosols mostly emitted since the turn of the century in rapidly developing Asian nations (yes, warming would double if cooling smog pollutants were suddenly cleaned up in Asia). (SPM, Page 9) The new IPCC report also tells us the deep oceans are now warming, whereas before they were not, and 90 percent of actual warming has gone into the oceans (SPM, Page 4).

There is also new work, post IPCC 2013, that shows that warming since the turn of the century has been significantly greater than we thought. The reason is that the United Kingdom’s temperature record simply ignores the Arctic. The Arctic is the most rapidly warming place on Earth, but there are no thermometers there. Using advanced statistics, this new work adds Arctic temperatures back in.

A Brave New Proclamation

The brave new proclamation in the new IPCC report was saved as the next to the last statement of fact in the SPM :”A large fraction of anthropogenic climate change resulting from CO2 emissions is irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale, except in the case of a large net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere over a sustained period.” A large “net” removal . . . this means greater than 100 percent annual emissions reductions . . . In other words, we have to take more out than we are putting in every year. We must begin to remove some of the long-lived carbon pollution that we have already placed in our skies. (SPM, E.8, Page 20)

If we would have reduced our emissions to 1987 levels by 2012 – as was suggested prudent by the Kyoto Protocol – that would have been all that was needed. In the last 28 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gas pollutants as we emitted in the previous 236 years. (10) Somehow, we must begin to remove some of the load of long-lived greenhouse gases that have been accumulating in our sky.

Good News: The Solutions are Within our Grasp 

The economic evaluations of the solutions to climate change show that 1 percent of global gross domestic product ($540 billion in 2012) is what we need to spend to control climate pollution every year – using existing technologies, techniques and policy.

This $540 billion may sound like a lot, but it’s no more than we spend on either the Clean Water Act or the Clean Air Act in the US every year. It is no more than we spend on the military in the United States every year – not counting wars. It’s twice what we spend disposing of urban garbage across the planet every year. It’s no more than what we lose to normal weather losses and delays every year in the US – not counting climate change enhanced weather extremes. It’s no more than we spend on advertising across the globe every year. It’s only 25 percent of what we spend on health care in the United States every year – before Obamacare.

The scale is large and the amount of work immense, but treating climate pollution is not unlike many other things that have been accomplished across this planet over decades past for amounts of money that are relatively small. Another reference: Exxon Mobile has a market capitalization of $417 billion alone.

Extraordinary Urgency and New Climate Paradigm

Now that I have put you at ease with the simplicity of the solutions, the hard truth is that this global greenhouse gas experiment has gone horribly wrong. There are discoveries that are extraordinarily important to the discussion of appropriate policy and behavior that are unknown by all but a few.

The new paradigm of climate science states that oil is responsible for 2.5 times more warming than coal in short-term climate time frames (20 years or less). The reason is because coal emits an enormous amount of sulfur dioxide when it burns. Sulfur dioxide is a global cooling pollutant – it cools instead of warms.

Up until recently, science has not known much about cooling pollutants and the chemical reactions that take place in the atmosphere and clouds, water vapor and indirect effects. Now we know. We used to only understand global warming gases by their test tube signatures on warming. Now we know these complicated things about how everything behaves in the atmosphere, and when the math is done, oil is responsible for 2.5 times more warming in the short term than coal. The cooling pollutants are short-lived though, so after 20 years, carbon dioxide becomes the king of the warming gases once again.

But it is the short term that is crucial. If we cross an abrupt change threshold in the short term, or an irreversible threshold, our goose is cooked. In the long-term, we are far more likely to be able to develop solutions to mitigate for greenhouse gas warming. But if we fail to control radical climate change in the short term, we are toast.

Abrupt Change

Professor Broeker’s primary focus has been abrupt climate change. From his bio at the Columbia Earth Institute: “The climate system has jumped from one mode of operation to another in the past [warm to cold, cold to warm]. We are trying to understand how the earth’s climate system is engineered, so we can understand what it takes to trigger mode switches. Until we do, we cannot make good predictions about future climate change. . . ” Over the past six or eight hundred thousand years, our climate has almost always changed in radical jumps from one mode to another. In the last 110,000 years, Greenland ice cores show 23 of these events where the average global temperature jumped 9 to 14 degrees globally in time frames of as little as a few decades to as short as a few years.

Then there is the climate lag. It takes 30 or 40 years for greenhouse warming to catch up to atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases because of the great capacity of our oceans to cool the planet. This means that today we are operating on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the 1970s. In the last 29 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gases as we emitted in the previous 236 years. Because of the great cooling effect of the oceans, we have not yet begun to see the warming that this recent doubling of greenhouse gases will bring.

The Life of Carbon Dioxide

And carbon dioxide lasts a lot longer in the atmosphere than we have understood previously. This is largely because as it warms, less carbon dioxide can dissolve into the oceans or stay in the soils. We once understood that the life of carbon dioxide in our sky was 100 to 200 years. Now we know that 75 percent of CO2 stays in the sky for 300 years and the quarter stays there forever (in relevant time frames of 10,000 years or more).

This is all happening with only a very slight amount of warming and our climate is a long, long way from catching up to greenhouse gas concentrations. Climate change projected by the IPCC 2013 report under the business-as-usual scenario projects warming in the next 80 to 90 years to be bigger than the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum extinction event 56 million years ago, only changes today are happening 100 times faster than then.

Way More than Climate Weirding

There are many more new climate science discoveries than the IPCC reports. Climate change is and has in the past manifested itself in ways that are completely foreign to mankind’s existence on this planet.

Icequakes appeared in the seismic record for the first time in early 1993, but it took seismologists another decade to determine they were coming from Greenland. They have a different signature from earthquakes, so some sophisticated filtering was required to pinpoint the locations of these quakes. About 184 of them happened between 1993 and 2007 when this research was completed. These icequakes are 1,000 times more powerful than any ice seismic event ever recorded. They register between 4.6 and 5.1 on the Richter scale and can last 30 to 150 seconds. Normal ice seismic events register 2.7 and last only a second or less. There is a time lapse movie of one of these icequakes.

Evidence of climate change-caused Tsunamis a half-mile high (mega tsunamis) was discovered in Hawaii and they happened about 120,000 years ago, when it was only a degree or two warmer than today, in between our last ice age and the one before. They were likely caused as rising sea level destabilized the steep volcanic slopes of the Hawaiian Islands, resulting in mega underwater landslides. Blocks of earth a mile wide moved intact 100 miles across the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The evidence is earth material stripped away from the sides of the Hawaiian Islands in a way that would not have happened with a landslide, and coral debris deposited in its place.

The Amazon has already flipped from a carbon sink to a carbon source because a 100-year drought in 2005 and another drought in 2010 that was half-again more extreme have killed over 2 billion trees in the Amazon. As a result, the decaying trees are releasing more greenhouse gases than the entire Amazon normally absorbs every year in a nondrought year.

2013 1226-5cThe West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed 122,000 years ago, and it is quite likely that we saw 10 to 20 feet of sea-level rise occur in a century to as little as a decade. Separate records from reefs across the world tell us this tale. It happened about the same time as the mega tsunamis in Hawaii and was caused by what are referred to as dynamical ice sheet changes in the 2007 IPCC report.

However, the IPCC tells us that sea levels will rise only 7 to 23 inches, in its 2007 report, and 14 to 59 inches, in its 2013 report. The IPCC also tells us in its reports that those dynamical ice sheet changes are not considered in their evaluation. The research is there, but it is too new or the scant 100 century old evidence is too tenuous for a consensus process such as the IPCC’s.

IPCC Underestimates: Conservative Consensus Syndrome

2013 1226-5dScientific American tells us very succinctly in the first sentence of a 2012 article how 20 years of IPCC reports underestimate climate change: “Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent.”  A few examples:

* Antarctica is losing ice 100 years ahead of schedule. As recently as the 2007 IPCC report, the consensus opinion said that Antarctica would not begin to lose ice until 2100 or later. The recent 2013 IPCC report, however, tells us that not only has Antarctica already started to lose ice, but it has almost caught up with Greenland.

* Arctic sea ice is declining 70 years ahead of schedule as of a record-smashing year in 2007, according to work from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. In 2012, the record-smashing 2007 record was itself smashed by an even greater decline in Arctic sea ice.

* The IPCC predicted an annual sea-level rise of less than 2 millimeters per year in 2001. But over the last 15 years, the oceans have actually risen 3.4 millimeters per year, about 80 percent more than projected.

* Carbon dioxide emissions are worse than the IPCC’s worst-case scenario. Instead of reducing emissions across the planet, total emissions since 1987 have increased 81 percent. In the last 28 years, we emitted as many greenhouse gas pollutants as we had emitted in the previous 236 years.

It’s not just the IPCC that underestimates. Even though global emissions are way up, US carbon dioxide emissions appear to be way down; down 16 percent since the peak in 2007. This would be good, but it’s a mirage. In 2011, 1.5 gigatons of CO2 were offshored in China (mostly) through goods produced there and shipped to the United States. This leaves the United States with an increasing, not decreasing, inventory in 2011. Our emissions have actually increased 11 percent since the “peak” year before the decline began in 2007.

Aerosols from the East Have Cooled the Planet – A LOT!

2013 1226-5eRapidly developing Asian nations are emitting far more greenhouse gases and other air pollutants than ever before. China just exceeded the US in emissions in 2006. Just six years later in 2012, they are emitting nearly twice as much as the United States (88 percent more). These greenhouse gases are emitted along with other air pollutants like sulfur dioxide. In developing nations, air pollution regulations are not as stringent and a lot more sulfur dioxide is emitted.

The sulfur pollutants (aerosols) are cooling pollutants, not warming pollutants like carbon dioxide. The air pollution is so bad in Asia that it is having a global impact on temperature. Remember, the IPCC says that aerosols are masking half of the warming (57%) that we should have experienced. When the masked warming is added back in, global temperature is right at the upper edge of the worst-case scenario, as is carbon dioxide.

Extremes Caused or Enhanced by Climate Change

2013 1226-5fThe intensity of climate heat extremes across the Northern Hemisphere has already increased 10 to 100 times since the 1951 to 1981 period. Specifically mentioned in a paper from NASA are the Texas/Oklahoma heat wave of 2011 and the Moscow Heat wave of 2010 that killed 11,000, and we shouldn’t forget the European heat wave of 2003. A European Union Health Program study now shows 70,000 to 80,000 excess deaths beyond what would have occurred normally for that summer.

Cold weather extremes can even intensify on a warmer planet as the range of volatile weather increases with more energy in the atmosphere. Cold weather extremes in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 in the eastern United States and Europe, including Snowmeggedon in the Northeast US in 2010, validate modeling that increases these extremes because of Arctic warming.

National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth, two-time lead scientist for the IPCC, has spelled out a fundamental truth when answering the question: “Was this weather event caused by climate change?” His response, published in Climatic Change in March 2012: “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.”

The Fairness Bias

2013 1226-5gSo why in the world is all this stuff not being reported? For one, the public is 20 years behind climate science. In 1990, 60 percent of climate scientists believed in climate change. Today, about 60 percent of the public believes in climate change and 97 percent of climate scientists believe.

Even more important is the “fairness bias.” This has been well documented in the literature and it concerns the great perceived debate. The media are not climate scientists and do not know whom to believe. Almost no climate scientists trust the media’s coverage of climate change. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists say that climate change is real, but the three percent who do not are reported with very loud, well-funded and persistent voices, and the mainstream media reports both sides “fairly.”

This “fairness bias” thing goes back a long way. It’s based in the Fairness Act and the Equal time Act and even the Journalistic Creed. It’s only fair to be fair. It’s a moral thing; give both sides a say. This works great when we are talking about issues. But science is not an “issue.”

2013 1226-5hThe wealthiest and most powerful industry in the world perceives itself to be at risk of extinction and has invested literally hundreds of millions of dollars in campaigns to discredit climate science (propaganda campaigns). The propaganda created by these industries uses some of the same exact propaganda people and firms as were used in the smoking debate, the acid rain regulations debate and the ozone depleting chemical regulation debate. They take the 3 percent opinion and promote it endlessly, regardless of how many times these few scientists have been disproven in the literature.

By giving the 3 percent equal time to the 97 percent, the media bias their reporting. That and maybe they simply don’t understand the scientists’ press releases when they refer to dendrochronologists, oxygen isotopes and precession.

The Scandal of the Scandals

The media has also played a role in furthering the discrediting of climate science because of sensationalistic reporting of supposed climate scandals. The big three:

* Climate Gate Email Scandal: Wording taken out of context in stolen emails was widely reported as proving climate scientists were dishonest in their work. Six independent reviews cleared all scientists involved.

* Himalayan Glaciers: A few errors in tens of thousands of facts are reported in the media ruthlessly, but the reason for the error is not. The 2007 IPCC report said that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. There was a simple Scribner’s error. The date should have been 2350. The error was in a short discussion of Himalayan glaciers in Volume 2 of the report Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Volume 1, The Physical Science Basis, had a 45-page discussion of global ice that was all correct, including the parts about the Himalaya.

* Amazongate: The United Kingdom’s Sunday Times erroneously posted a story about how badly the 2007 IPCC report misrepresented climate change impacts on the Amazon rainforest that made headlines across the world. Five months later – with almost no press whatsoever – the Times retracted the entire article and published a 400-word apology.

Sky Mining: Really Good News

Broeker, like a few others, has recognized the likelihood that our global society will not be able to end the burning of fossil fuels and strongly advocates, along with emissions reductions, the collection and disposal of climate pollution in very similar ways that we collect and dispose of garbage. We can take it out of coal plant smokestacks, but that is less than half. There is no magic bullet to get the rest from transportation and buildings, and the IPCC says we need to remove more than 100 percent of emissions.

We can do this. But there is an academic hurdle to overcome. Using traditional calculations of the heat required for a chemical reaction to occur, CO2 capture from coal burning power plants works because flue gasses are 10 to 15 percent CO2. The typical air concentration is 0.3 percent or about 33 to 50 times less. When the math is done and the pilot flue gas capture tests are costed, it takes $60 a ton to remove CO2 from flue gas and $500 or more per ton for air capture. (63) This argument is very pervasive in industry. They say you can’t beat physics, so air capture is a bust. While valid, this argument is displaced.

We need to focus on energy generation, not energy (heat) requirements. The flue gas removal process takes about 700 degrees or 1,300 degrees F. The new air capture techniques happen from near-room temperature to less than 100 degrees C. The cost to remove a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere in a full-scale pilot plant is expected to be $200 per ton. Once fully industrialized, it is expected to be $30 per ton.

Broeker puts it this way in his biography Fixing Climate: “If you extract a certain amount of CO2 from the air, you could replace that same amount by burning a fossil fuel without harming the planet.”  It takes 170 times more energy to make electricity from the wind as it does from fossil fuels.  It is much more efficient to make electricity from coal and then extract carbon dioxide from the wind. Moreover, the new technologies are simply cheaper because they operate at far cooler temperatures.

Sky mining is a promising solution to our climate pollution needs. We took it out of the ground and put it in the sky; now we must take it out of the sky and return it to the ground.

At $200 per ton of CO2, we can remove 50 ppm CO2 from the atmosphere for $21 trillion. This is $13 trillion less than US military and health care spending from 2000 to 2009 ($34 trillion). Worth repeating an endless number of times: Once fully industrialized, the price drops to $20 or $30 per ton.

Because half of the CO2 we emit stays in our sky in time frames that matter, once the new solutions are fully industrialized, we can remove 27 years worth of climate pollution from our sky for what the US spends on health care in less than two years.

This is $3 or $4 trillion to basically fix climate change – remove 50 ppm CO2 from the sky for no more than the cost of a couple of years of health care . . . We might have to do this a few or even several times, but the cost would still be something similar to what the US alone has spent on its military and wars since the turn of the century.

Please tell your friends. To prevent dangerous climate change, we must now convince the public and our leaders to act decisively and robustly. Simple emissions reductions will no longer prevent dangerous climate change.

See also “Climate Change 2013: Where We Are Now,” a detailed reference with critical passages from firewalled papers and additional supplementary information.

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.

The Climate Change Now Initiative is a nonprofit outreach organization reporting the latest discoveries in climate science in plain English.