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

Posts Tagged ‘Climate System’

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

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

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

 

Written by Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vanishing Arctic Ice Pack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Global Weather Patterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Have Been Warned

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

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

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

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

 

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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?

 

 

Climate Disruption Depression & Emissions Rising, Breaking & Setting New Records

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2014 at 1:17 pm

https://i0.wp.com/www.truth-out.org/images/images_2014_11/2014_1117dj_.jpg

Oldspeak: Hey kids. I took a break from the show to do  some volunteer work at a homeless shelter in Jamaica. The work was rewarding and much-needed. While I was there, I witnessed first hand the devastating impacts anthropogenic climate change and global warming are having in that land. Persistent and long-lasting drought in regions of the island historically rain-soaked. Yellowing, dead and dying trees and other fauna dotting the countryside. Reports from long time beach dwelling locals who’ve observed the seas advance, swallowing up their white sand beaches. When I got there in October, the beach where I was staying in Boston Bay was gorgeous, but even then the evidence of erosion was obvious. When I left in November, after several days of stormy rough and high seas, the beach was pretty much gone, as the ocean had encroached several feet on to the beach.  Buried under tons of seaweed, amounts which locals told me they’d never seen in the past. On the heels of a bizarre near 40 degree temperature swing in the New York area (on Monday it was near 70 degrees, today it is 34 and snowing, the Buffalo area recently got a years worth of snow in 36 hours), and the eve of Thanksgiving; America’s tribute to the beginning of the end of First Nations People here and orgy of excess and extinction inducing consumption; we take a moment to check in with Dahr Jamail and his monthly climate dispatch. Predictably, the news is not good. In fact, It’s getting worse by the day, and the destruction is getting more and more obvious to 1st worlders. Alas, The life consuming meat grinder that is Industrial Civilization drones on, relentless, oblivious, in a zombie-like trance state, growing larger and greedier by the moment. Throwing the Ecology ever more out of balance. Enjoy the fruits of our irreparably spoiled ecology while you can. Sooner than you think,  The Giving Tree that is our Great Mother will have nothing left to give but a place to be still and perish. Gobble, Gobble!!! ” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

“The impact of industrially packaged quanta of energy on the social environment tends to be degrading, exhausting, and enslaving, and these effects come into play even before those which threaten the pollution of the physical environment and the extinction of the (human) race.”

– Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich, 1973 article in Le Monde

 

This month’s dispatch surveys global calls for massive carbon dioxide cuts from the European Union (EU) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that are still not enough to truly mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) or stem the massive wildlife disruptions that are now occurring globally, and highlights other glaring signs of an increasingly unstable climate across the globe.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has concluded that, “Coal will nearly overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017 . . . without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change.”

A recently announced EU plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions 40 percent by 2030 was called “too weak” by IPCC Vice Chair Professor Jim Skea, who added that this goal will commit future governments to “extraordinary and unprecedented” emissions cuts.

China and the United States recently unveiled new pledges on greenhouse gas emissions. President Barack Obama claimed that the move was “historic” as he set a new goal of reducing US levels between 26 and 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. Meanwhile China did not set a specific target, but said its emissions would peak by 2030. Again, considering how far along the planet already is in terms of ACD impacts with every year continuing to see new emission records set globally, these gestures seem more symbolic than of a magnitude geared toward true mitigation.

Perhaps the same can be said of the recent IPCC statement, which announced that fossil fuel use must be completely eradicated by 2100.

And the warning signs of progressing ACD continue to mount.

The United Kingdom’s chief scientist recently warned that the planet’s oceans face a “serious and growing risk” from anthropogenic carbon emissions.

Earlier this year, the World Meteorological Organization reported that the world is roughly five times as prone to disaster as it was just 40 years ago.

Given what we’ve seen thus far, the warning is dire indeed.

Earth

This last month saw several ACD-related impacts across the earth.

Caribou feces found in a 700-year-old ice layer were found to contain a virus, which reminded us once again of unintended consequences from overheating the planet. According to the report published in New Scientist, potential threats to people and wildlife through melting caused by ACD are increasing. “The find confirms that virus particles are very good ‘time capsules’ that preserve their core genomic material, making it likely that many prehistoric viruses are still infectious to plants, animals or humans,” said Jean-Michel Claverie of the Aix-Marseille University School of Medicine in France, who was part of the team who found the virus.

Warmer winters in Alaska are causing increasing numbers of geese to forego their usual 3,300-mile migration, evidence of how climate disruptions are heavily impacting wildlife. Scientists have documented how increasing numbers of Pacific black brant are doing this. Prior to 1977, fewer than 3,000 of them wintered in Alaska. In recent years, however, more than 40,000 have remained, and as many as 50,000 stayed last year.

“The temperatures now in winter are much warmer,” said David Ward, a researcher at US Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center, who conducted the research along with scientists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “In years past you’d often have ice that would build up in these lagoons, and the eelgrass would be unavailable for the winter period. But now that’s changing. The change not only causes a disturbance in the natural rhythms of the geese, but will have unknown ramifications throughout the ecological system the geese are part of.”

Further south in California, sandhill cranes are finding their habitat squeezed by the ongoing drought in that state, as more and more of the birds are being forced into smaller areas, and farmers and scientists are pointing toward the ACD-exacerbated drought as the culprit.

Over in Europe, common birds like the sparrow and skylark are in decline across the continent, having decreased by more than 420 million in the last three decades, according to a recent study.

A recent report from a global analytics firm described ACD as a “threat multiplier” for 32 farming-dependent nations, which, it said, now face an “extreme risk” of conflict or civil unrest over the next 30 years.

ACD has been added to the list of causes for fewer bees in the United Kingdom, according to new research. The study showed that the increase in global temperature could be disrupting the “synchronization” that has evolved over millennia between bees and the plants they pollinate.

Long referred to as the “lungs of the planet,” a stunning new report by Brazil’s leading scientists revealed how the Amazon rainforest has been degraded to the point where it is actually losing its ability to regulate weather systems.

Speaking of degradation, over 50 percent of China’s arable land is now degraded, according to the official state news agency Xinhua. This means that the country now has a reduced capacity to produce food for the world’s largest population, and ACD is named as one of the leading causes.

Lastly on the earth front, if you are feeling down about all the bad news about ACD, there’s good reason. Professor Camille Parmesan, an ACD researcher who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for her work as a lead author of the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, is blaming her depression on ACD.

“I don’t know of a single scientist that’s not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost,” Parmesan said in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2012 report, “The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States: And Why the US Mental Health Care System is Not Adequately Prepared.” “It’s gotten to be so depressing that I’m not sure I’m going to go back to this particular site again,” she said in reference to an ocean reef she had studied since 2002, “because I just know I’m going to see more and more of it dead, and bleached, and covered with brown algae.”

Water

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission recently cancelled Maine’s shrimp season for the second straight year. A committee report said the 2014 spring shrimp survey showed the shrimp population for this year was at its lowest level in 31 years, and worse than last years, and attributed the dramatic decline in the shrimp population to rising ocean temperatures.

And these impacts aren’t just evident in the Northeast United States.

In the Northwest, bizarre sea life visitors are showing up as a result of historic warming occurring in the Northern Pacific Ocean. An ocean sunfish turned up in the net of some researchers in Alaskan waters. The ocean sunfish is usually found in the tropics or more temperate waters, and are incredibly rare in Alaska. A few days later, another showed up. “No one had ever talked about seeing one alive,” Wyatt Fournier, a research fish biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said. “Not only did we get two aboard in one week, but my commercial-fishing buddies started telling me they were bumping into them when fishing for salmon.”

The waters of Panama, which contain 290 square kilometers of coral reefs, are facing multiple threats, from increased marine traffic to pollution, but the worst is rising sea temperatures.

In the far north, a UK scientist has warned that melting Arctic ice is likely the cause of increasingly extreme weather in the United Kingdom, and that a more turbulent Arctic Ocean will impact currents like the Gulf Stream. This is particularly troubling when one considers the fact that the Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the global average.

Speaking of melting ice, scientist Jon Riedel, who has been studying glaciers there for more than 30 years, announced that North Cascades National Park has lost roughly 50 percent of its glacier area since 1900, and added, “That’s pretty typical for mountain ranges around the world.” Riedel said that in the last few decades, glaciers in the Northwest have melted faster than ever before.

“The glaciers now seem to have melted back up to positions they haven’t been in for 4,000 years or more,” Riedel said, and went on to explain how natural influences alone could not possibly account for glacial retreat on such a scale. “As a scientist, every time I come back here, this place has changed,” he said.

Up in Alaska, the massive Harding Icefield on the Kenai Peninsula is showing dramatic signs of melting. According to measurements taken by scientists this fall, nearly 28 vertical feet of ice was lost. The Exit Glacier, which spills out of the ice field, has retreated more than in any other single year since annual mapping of its terminus began.

Among scientists, it is common knowledge that the Arctic is the “canary in the coal mine” of ACD, as it is warming faster than the rest of the planet, as aforementioned. Evidence of this appeared this past summer when temperatures soared by 7 degrees Celsius in Barrow on the north slope of the state. Scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks attribute the rise to ACD and the loss of Arctic sea ice, and point toward how the 7-degree Celsius increase blows a hole in international efforts aimed at preventing global temperatures from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Gerd Wendler, the lead author of the study and a professor emeritus at the university’s International Arctic Research Center, said he was “astonished” at the findings, and told the Alaska Dispatch News: “I think I have never, anywhere, seen such a large increase in temperature over such a short period.”

As ACD continues to melt the Arctic sea ice and consistently pushes back its summertime boundaries to record-setting high latitudes, NASA has begun flying missions to study how these new developments will impact global weather.

Meanwhile down in the Southern Hemisphere, Sao Paulo in Brazil, Latin America’s largest metropolis, may soon run out of water. Given that this mega-city of 20 million residents and the country’s financial hub already is seeing many of its taps run dry, the future looks dire. At the time of this writing, the lakes that supply half of all the water to the city have been drained of 96 percent of their water capacity, as Brazil is in the midst of its worst drought in 80 years.

Looking eastward, the United Kingdom is on course to experience both one of the warmest and wettest years since record keeping began, generating fears that future droughts and flash floods will likely cost lives.

In the United States, with California now into the fourth year of its record-setting drought, the small farm town of Stratford is seeing its ground sink due to farmers having pumped so much water out of the ground that the water table below the town has fallen 100 feet in two years.

Adding insult to injury, NOAA recently released its Winter Outlook, which shows the drought in California to continue to intensify.

In fact, recent research by scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the US Geological Survey show that California’s future droughts will be deeper and longer than even the current drought that is wracking the state.

A collection of maps on the topic of water use provide a clear picture of why the entire western United States is in deep trouble when it comes to future freshwater supplies.

In fact, the situation has progressed far enough along already that scientists are predicting that Utah will no longer have a snow skiing industry, since ACD will prevent snow from falling there by the end of this century.

Across the globe, the groundwater supply crisis is becoming so severe that the depletion of groundwater is now driving many conflicts around the globe, according to a leading NASA scientist.

Meanwhile, the city of Boston is reconsidering its relationship with the sea, since sea levels are rising and the land there is kinking. Hence, people there are investigating the possibility of copying Venice and Amsterdam, and making Boston a city of canals.

Given that US coastal cities are now flooding regularly during high tides, thanks in large part to rising seas from ACD, little has actually been done to defend them against the continuation of rising seas, and recent reports show that “nobody is truly ready.”

That said, Jakarta, the most populous city in Java, is sinking. The city has begun building a massive wall to try to stave off the rising seas that are already flooding homes nearly two miles from the coast.

Speaking of flooding, nearly 10 billion gallons of sewer overflows poured into southeastern Michigan’s waters during record-setting flooding in August, which sounded alarms about the deteriorating water quality in the Great Lakes hydrological system.

And Michigan is not alone in struggling with this problem. As storms continue to intensify due to ACD, sanitation departments throughout the US Midwest are struggling to keep apace with more frequent and intense runoff.

Lastly for this section, oceanographers recently reported that larger “dead zones,” (oxygen-depleted water) in the oceans are expected to intensify and grow due to ACD. According to the study, 94 percent of places where dead zones have been shown to exist are located in areas where average temperatures are expected to rise by approximately 4 degrees Fahrenheit by the turn of the century.

Air

US government meteorologists published a study illustrating yet another trend toward increasingly extreme weather events emerging in recent years. Their study found that tornadoes in the United States are increasingly coming in “swarms,” rather than as isolated twisters.

Recently, the first “big heat event” smashed Australian temperature records, when that country’s first major heat wave came more than a month ahead of the official start of summer. The October heat wave set daily maximum temperature records at more than 20 stations, in addition to the fact that the duration of the warmth was also exceptional, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

As aforementioned, the Amazon is in big trouble, which means of course the planet is, when it comes to the crumbling ecosystems’ impact on the planet. But another report, this one in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that the forests there are drying out due to lack of rainfall, causing yet more carbon to be emitted into the atmosphere, in what is yet another positive feedback loop resulting from ACD.

Lastly in this section, according to scientists from NASA and NOAA, the Antarctic ozone hole reached its annual peak in September, and the size of this year’s hole was 9.3 million square miles, an area roughly the size of the entire continent of North America.

Denial and Reality

In the United States, ACD-denial tactics never cease to amaze.

A libertarian think tank sued the White House, not exactly the bastion of ACD-mitigation action itself, for a video that tied ACD to last year’s “polar vortex” that raked much of the country with extreme low temperatures.

If you haven’t noticed, the “I’m not a scientist” meme, or variations thereof, has been the primary talking point for Republicans when it comes to ACD. When any group of politicians, lobbyists or corporate spokespeople begins saying the exact same thing, you know they are being coached.

Rupert Murdoch’s company is now concerned about ACD. The parent company of Fox News lost millions of dollars due to Superstorm Sandy, so now they are warning that ACD will likely bring even more extreme weather.

Immediately following the US midterm elections, with their new majority, Senate Republicans are targeting the already feeble federal government’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) – the incoming Senate majority leader – said he feels a “deep responsibility” to stop power plant regulations, and that his top priority is “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”

A recent article in the Toronto Star reminds us that geo-engineering schemes that are proposed to mitigate ACD are more like something out of a third-rate science fiction novel than something that would actually work, according to climate scientists.

The South Miami City Commission recently voted in favor of allowing Florida’s 23 southern counties to secede and create a new state called “South Florida.” This is a result of growing frustration and concern over rising sea levels and lack of ACD mitigation actions by the ACD-denying state leaders.

Another factor related to ACD is overpopulation – which tends to be shied away from most of the time, despite the obvious fact that more people consuming greater amounts of resources on an already far overtaxed planet is an equation that does not provide a happy ending. Finally, more folks are beginning to address overpopulation as another important mitigation method.

Inter Press Service recently reminded us how those populations which are already taking it on the chin from ACD in the form of massive floods, intense heat waves and rising seas are those who are the most vulnerable.

Lastly this month, in the wake of recent news of global emissions rising 2.3 percent in 2013 to set yet another record and marking the largest year-to-year increase in 30 years, the IPCC announced that the world isn’t moving anywhere near fast enough to have a chance at mitigating the impacts of ACD in any real way.

______________________________________________________________________________


Dahr Jamail

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

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

 

 

Climate Scientists Consider Extinction: “Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things…” “There’s not much money in the end of civilization, and even less to be made in human extinction.”

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Oldspeak: “A growing cadre of impeccably credentialed and long time climate scientists are sounding more and more dire alarms about where our life support system is headed. Basically it’s headed to point where much of the planet we call home will become inhospitable to human and up to 80% of all other life-forms. it took a free thinking scientist to elucidate the root cause of our extinction. Greed. Greed for something that is nothing more than an abstact social contract. Money. This all-consuming mass delusion is now consuming our civilizations. Quietly, almost politely at first, swallowing small island nations no one really knows or cares about.  By the time our dying world consumes significant, highly populated parts of our civilization, there will be nothing left to do but survive as long as we can.  David Wasdel, director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and an expert on multiple feedback dynamics, says, “We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.” why are we acting as if this way of life is still valid? Why are we not questioning this utterly absurd, toxic and unsustainable existence? Why are we still scurrying about gluttonous, mindlessly consuming ever more resources, collecting things, destroying things, building things, moving shit that we don’t need around. We’re the dinobots. Robotic, technologically advanced, disproportionately strong and thought-limited. As were our dinosaur predecessors, we are largely oblivious to what madness is to come. Enjoy your remaining time in the Holocene Extinction!” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Tom’s Dispatch:

I grew up planning for my future, wondering which college I would attend, what to study, and later on, where to work, which articles to write, what my next book might be, how to pay a mortgage, and which mountaineering trip I might like to take next.

Now, I wonder about the future of our planet. During a recent visit with my eight-year-old niece and 10- and 12-year-old nephews, I stopped myself from asking them what they wanted to do when they grew up, or any of the future-oriented questions I used to ask myself. I did so because the reality of their generation may be that questions like where they will work could be replaced by: Where will they get their fresh water? What food will be available? And what parts of their country and the rest of the world will still be habitable?

The reason, of course, is climate change — and just how bad it might be came home to me in the summer of 2010.  I was climbing Mount Rainier in Washington State, taking the same route I had used in a 1994 ascent.  Instead of experiencing the metal tips of the crampons attached to my boots crunching into the ice of a glacier, I was aware that, at high altitudes, they were still scraping against exposed volcanic rock. In the pre-dawn night, sparks shot from my steps.

The route had changed dramatically enough to stun me. I paused at one point to glance down the steep cliffs at a glacier bathed in soft moonlight 100 meters below. It took my breath away when I realized that I was looking at what was left of the enormous glacier I’d climbed in 1994, the one that — right at this spot — had left those crampons crunching on ice. I stopped in my tracks, breathing the rarefied air of such altitudes, my mind working hard to grasp the climate-change-induced drama that had unfolded since I was last at that spot.

I haven’t returned to Mount Rainier to see just how much further that glacier has receded in the last few years, but recently I went on a search to find out just how bad it might turn out to be. I discovered a set of perfectly serious scientists — not the majority of all climate scientists by any means, but thoughtful outliers — who suggest that it isn’t just really, really bad; it’s catastrophic.  Some of them even think that, if the record ongoing releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels, are aided and abetted by massive releases of methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas, life as we humans have known it might be at an end on this planet. They fear that we may be at — and over — a climate change precipice hair-raisingly quickly.

Mind you, the more conservative climate science types, represented by the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), paint scenarios that are only modestly less hair-raising, but let’s spend a little time, as I’ve done, with what might be called scientists at the edge and hear just what they have to say.

“We’ve Never Been Here as a Species”

“We as a species have never experienced 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources, and ecology at the University of Arizona and a climate change expert of 25 years, told me. “We’ve never been on a planet with no Arctic ice, and we will hit the average of 400 ppm… within the next couple of years. At that time, we’ll also see the loss of Arctic ice in the summers… This planet has not experienced an ice-free Arctic for at least the last three million years.”

For the uninitiated, 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.

McPherson, who maintains the blog Nature Bats Last, added, “We’ve never been here as a species and the implications are truly dire and profound for our species and the rest of the living planet.”

While his perspective is more extreme than that of the mainstream scientific community, which sees true disaster many decades into our future, he’s far from the only scientist expressing such concerns. Professor Peter Wadhams, a leading Arctic expert at Cambridge University, has been measuring Arctic ice for 40 years, and his findings underscore McPherson’s fears.  “The fall-off in ice volume is so fast it is going to bring us to zero very quickly,” Wadhams told a reporter. According to current data, he estimates “with 95% confidence” that the Arctic will have completely ice-free summers by 2018.  (U.S. Navy researchers have predicted an ice-free Arctic even earlier — by 2016.)

British scientist John Nissen, chairman of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (of which Wadhams is a member), 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.”

McPherson, Wadham, and Nissen represent just the tip of a melting iceberg of scientists who are now warning us about looming disaster, especially involving Arctic methane releases. In the atmosphere, methane is a greenhouse gas that, on a relatively short-term time scale, is far more destructive than carbon dioxide (CO2).  It is 23 times as powerful as CO2 per molecule on a 100-year timescale, 105 times more potent when it comes to heating the planet on a 20-year timescale — and the Arctic permafrost, onshore and off, is packed with the stuff.  “The seabed,” says Wadham, “is offshore permafrost, but is now warming and melting. We are now seeing great plumes of methane bubbling up in the Siberian Sea… millions of square miles where methane cover is being released.”

According to a study just published in Nature Geoscience, twice as much methane as previously thought is being released from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a two million square kilometer area off the coast of Northern Siberia. Its researchers found that at least 17 teragrams (one 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.

The day after Nature Geoscience released its study, a group of scientists from Harvard and other leading academic institutions published a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that the amount of methane being emitted in the U.S. both from oil and agricultural operations could be 50% greater than previous estimates and 1.5 times higher than estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency.

How serious is the potential global methane build-up? Not all scientists think it’s an immediate threat or even the major threat we face, but Ira Leifer, an atmospheric and marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and one of the authors of the recent Arctic Methane study pointed out to me that “the Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago is related to methane and thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of most species on the planet.” In that extinction episode, it is estimated that 95% of all species were wiped out.

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 six 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 currently 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 being that ours is human caused, isn’t going to take 80,000 years, 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 — even in the course of just the next few decades.

The Sleeping Giant Stirs

According to a NASA research report, “Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?”: “Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon — an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That’s about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth’s soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850. Most of this carbon is located in thaw-vulnerable top soils within 10 feet (3 meters) of the surface.”

NASA scientists, along with others, are learning that the Arctic permafrost — and its stored carbon — may not be as permanently frosted as its name implies.  Research scientist Charles Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the principal investigator of the Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE), a five-year NASA-led field campaign to study how climate change is affecting the Arctic’s carbon cycle. He told NASA, “Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures — as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years. As heat from Earth’s surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic’s carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming.”

He fears the potential results should a full-scale permafrost melt take place. As he points out, “Changes in climate may trigger transformations that are simply not reversible within our lifetimes, potentially causing rapid changes in the Earth system that will require adaptations by people and ecosystems.”

The recent NASA study highlights the discovery of active and growing methane vents up to 150 kilometers across. A scientist on a research ship in the area described this as a bubbling as far as the eye can see in which the seawater looks like a vast pool of seltzer. Between the summers of 2010 and 2011, in fact, scientists found that in the course of a year methane vents only 30 centimeters across had grown a kilometer wide, a 333,333% increase and an example of the non-linear rapidity with which parts of the planet are responding to climate disruption.

Miller revealed another alarming finding: “Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we’ve measured have been large, and we’re seeing very different patterns from what models suggest,” he said of some of CARVE’s earlier findings. “We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher than normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze. To cite another example, in July 2012 we saw methane levels over swamps in the Innoko Wilderness that were 650 parts per billion higher than normal background levels. That’s similar to what you might find in a large city.”

Moving beneath the Arctic Ocean where methane hydrates — often described as methane gas surrounded by ice — exist, a March 2010 report in Science indicated that these cumulatively contain the equivalent of 1,000-10,000 gigatons of carbon. Compare this total to the 240 gigatons of carbon humanity has emitted into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began.

A study published in the prestigious journal Nature this July suggested 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.

Even the relatively staid 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 four to six degrees Celsius inevitable.

The ability of the human psyche to take in and grasp such information is being tested. And while that is happening, yet more data continues to pour in — and the news is not good.

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

Consider this timeline:

* Late 2007: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announces that the planet will see a one degree Celsius temperature increase due to climate change by 2100.

* Late 2008: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research predicts a 2C increase by 2100.

* Mid-2009: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts a 3.5C increase by 2100. Such an increase would remove habitat for human beings on this planet, as nearly all the plankton in the oceans would be destroyed, and associated temperature swings would kill off many land plants. Humans have never lived on a planet at 3.5C above baseline.

* October 2009: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research releases an updated prediction, suggesting a 4C temperature increase by 2060.

* November 2009: The Global Carbon Project, which monitors the global carbon cycle, and the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a climate science report, predict 6C and 7C temperature increases, respectively, by 2100.

* December 2010: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts up to a 5C increase by 2050.

* 2012: The conservative International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report for that year states that we are on track to reach a 2C increase by 2017.

* November 2013: The International Energy Agency predicts a 3.5C increase by 2035.

A briefing provided to the failed U.N. Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009 provided this summary: “The long-term sea level that corresponds to current CO2 concentration is about 23 meters above today’s levels, and the temperatures will be 6 degrees C or more higher. These estimates are based on real long-term climate records, not on models.”

On December 3rd, a study by 18 eminent scientists, including the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, showed that the long-held, internationally agreed upon target to limit rises in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius was in error and far above the 1C threshold that would need to be maintained in order to avoid the effects of catastrophic climate change.

And keep in mind that the various major assessments of future global temperatures seldom assume the worst about possible self-reinforcing climate feedback loops like the methane one.

“Things Are Looking Really Dire”

Climate-change-related deaths are already estimated at five million annually, and the process seems to be accelerating more rapidly than most climate models have suggested.  Even without taking into account the release of frozen methane in the Arctic, some scientists are already painting a truly bleak picture of the human future. Take Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Neil Dawe, who in August told a reporter that he wouldn’t be surprised if the generation after him witnessed the extinction of humanity. All around the estuary near his office on Vancouver Island, he has been witnessing the unraveling of “the web of life,” and “it’s happening very quickly.”

“Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology,” Dawe says. “Those people who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. If we don’t reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us.” And he isn’t hopeful humans will be able to save themselves. “Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things. Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don’t exact immediate punishment on the stupid.”

The University of Arizona’s Guy McPherson has similar fears. “We will have very few humans on the planet because of lack of habitat,” he says. Of recent studies showing the toll temperature increases will take on that habitat, he adds, “They are only looking at CO2 in the atmosphere.”

Here’s the question: Could some version of extinction or near-extinction overcome humanity, thanks to climate change — and possibly incredibly fast? Similar things have happened in the past. Fifty-five million years ago, a five degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures seems to have occurred in just 13 years, according to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A report in the August 2013 issue of Science revealed that in the near-term Earth’s climate will change 10 times faster than at any other moment in the last 65 million years.

“The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet,” climate scientist James Hansen has said. “There are potential irreversible effects of melting the Arctic sea ice. If it begins to allow the Arctic Ocean to warm up, and warm the ocean floor, then we’ll begin to release methane hydrates. And if we let that happen, that is a potential tipping point that we don’t want to happen. If we burn all the fossil fuels then we certainly will cause the methane hydrates, eventually, to come out and cause several degrees more warming, and it’s not clear that civilization could survive that extreme climate change.”

Yet, long before humanity has burned all fossil fuel reserves on the planet, massive amounts of methane will be released. While the human body is potentially capable of handling a six to nine degree Celsius rise in the planetary temperature, the crops and habitat we use for food production are not.  As McPherson put it, “If we see a 3.5 to 4C baseline increase, I see no way to have habitat. We are at .85C above baseline and we’ve already triggered all these self-reinforcing feedback loops.”

He adds: “All the evidence points to a locked-in 3.5 to 5 degree C global temperature rise above the 1850 ‘norm’ by mid-century, possibly much sooner. This guarantees a positive feedback, already underway, leading to 4.5 to 6 or more degrees above ‘norm’ and that is a level lethal to life. This is partly due to the fact that humans have to eat and plants can’t adapt fast enough to make that possible for the seven to nine billion of us — so we’ll die.”

If you think McPherson’s comment about lack of adaptability goes over the edge, consider that the rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. Furthermore, David Wasdel, director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and an expert on multiple feedback dynamics, says, “We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.”

Wasdel cites with particular alarm scientific reports showing that the oceans have already lost 40% of their phytoplankton, the base of the global oceanic food chain, because of climate-change-induced acidification and atmospheric temperature variations. (According to the Center for Ocean Solutions: “The oceans have absorbed almost one-half of human-released CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Although this has moderated the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, it is chemically altering marine ecosystems 100 times more rapidly than it has changed in at least the last 650,000 years.”)

“This is already a mass extinction event,” Wasdel adds. “The question is, how far is it going to go? How serious does it become? If we are not able to stop the rate of increase of temperature itself, and get that back under control, then a high temperature event, perhaps another 5-6 degrees [C], would obliterate at least 60% to 80% of the populations and species of life on Earth.”

What Comes Next?

In November 2012, even Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group (an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries), warned that “a 4C warmer world can, and must be, avoided. Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today.”

A World Bank-commissioned report warned that we are indeed on track to a “4C world” marked by extreme heat waves and life-threatening sea-level rise.

The three living diplomats who have led U.N. climate change talks claim there is little chance the next climate treaty, if it is ever approved, will prevent the world from overheating. “There is nothing that can be agreed in 2015 that would be consistent with the 2 degrees,” says Yvo de Boer, who was executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2009, when attempts to reach a deal at a summit in Copenhagen crumbled. “The only way that a 2015 agreement can achieve a 2-degree goal is to shut down the whole global economy.”

Atmospheric and marine scientist Ira Leifer is particularly concerned about the changing rainfall patterns a recently leaked IPCC draft report suggested for our future: “When I look at what the models predicted for a 4C world, I see very little rain over vast swaths of populations. If Spain becomes like Algeria, where do all the Spaniards get the water to survive? We have parts of the world which have high populations which have high rainfall and crops that exist there, and when that rainfall and those crops go away and the country starts looking more like some of North Africa, what keeps the people alive?”

The IPCC report suggests that we can expect a generalized shifting of global rain patterns further north, robbing areas that now get plentiful rain of future water supplies. History shows us that when food supplies collapse, wars begin, while famine and disease spread.  All of these things, scientists now fear, could happen on an unprecedented scale, especially given the interconnected nature of the global economy.

“Some scientists are indicating we should make plans to adapt to a 4C world,” Leifer comments. “While prudent, one wonders what portion of the living population now could adapt to such a world, and my view is that it’s just a few thousand people [seeking refuge] in the Arctic or Antarctica.”

Not surprisingly, scientists with such views are often not the most popular guys in the global room. McPherson, for instance, has often been labeled “Guy McStinction” — to which he responds, “I’m just reporting the results from other scientists. Nearly all of these results are published in established, esteemed literature. I don’t think anybody is taking issue with NASA, or Nature, or Science, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  [Those] and the others I report are reasonably well known and come from legitimate sources, like NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], for example. I’m not making this information up, I’m just connecting a couple of dots, and it’s something many people have difficulty with.”

McPherson does not hold out much hope for the future, nor for a governmental willingness to make anything close to the radical changes that would be necessary to quickly ease the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; nor does he expect the mainstream media to put much effort into reporting on all of this because, as he says, “There’s not much money in the end of civilization, and even less to be made in human extinction.” The destruction of the planet, on the other hand, is a good bet, he believes, “because there is money in this, and as long as that’s the case, it is going to continue.”

Leifer, however, is convinced that there is a moral obligation never to give up and that the path to global destruction could be altered. “In the short term, if you can make it in the economic interests of people to do the right thing, it’ll happen very fast.” He offers an analogy when it comes to whether humanity will be willing to act to mitigate the effects of climate change: “People do all sorts of things to lower their risk of cancer, not because you are guaranteed not to get it, but because you do what you can and take out the health protections and insurance you need in order to try to lower your risk of getting it.”

The signs of a worsening climate crisis are all around us, whether we allow ourselves to see them or not. Certainly, the scientific community gets it. As do countless communities across the globe where the effects of climate change are already being experienced in striking ways and local preparations for climatic disasters, including increasingly powerful floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, and storms are underway. Evacuations from low-lying South Pacific islands have already begun. People in such areas, out of necessity, are starting to try to teach their children how to adapt to, and live in, what we are causing our world to become.

My niece and nephews are doing something similar. They are growing vegetables in a backyard garden and their eight chickens provide more than enough eggs for the family.  Their parents are intent on teaching them how to be ever more self-sustaining.  But none of these heartfelt actions can mitigate what is already underway when it comes to the global climate.

I am 45 years old, and I often wonder how my generation will survive the impending climate crisis. What will happen to our world if the summer Arctic waters are indeed ice-free only a few years from now? What will my life look like if I live to experience a 3.5 Celsius global temperature increase?

Above all, I wonder how coming generations will survive.

Dahr Jamail has written extensively about climate change as well as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. He is the author of two books: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq and The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently works for al-Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar.

Copyright 2013 Dahr Jamail

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

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

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

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

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

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

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

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

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

The Tipping Point

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

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

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

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

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

The Tipping Point Controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barrow, Alaska Observatory – Monitoring Methane

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

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

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

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

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

Repercussions of Elevated Levels of Methane

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

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

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

Current Levels of Methane

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Risks

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Problem – Understanding and Believing

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

Yet, what if these scientists have got it right?

Then, what?

The future grows dim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Warming Slows 10 Years Ahead Of Scientists Predictions; Unable To Account For Heat “Lost” In Deep Sea

In Uncategorized on July 30, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Oldspeak: “The planet’s temperature has indeed been rising, but the attendant heat has been swallowed up in the deep sea: that somewhere below the 700 metre level, the oceans are warming. The oceans cover 70% of the planet, often to huge depths, and can easily “lose” the predicted increased heat of a decade or so….New data has continued to deliver telltale evidence of the dominant role of human influence on the climate system.  But the slowdown also tells scientists there are still things they don’t understand in detail about how that system works. There is as yet no clear answer as to why heat – which tends to rise rather than sink – has been submerged to such depths.” –Tim Radford

“Hmmm. How reassured should we be exactly that climate scientists are giving themselves an over 10 YEAR MARGIN OF ERROR  in predicting changes in the climate system?! Meanwhile, we’re constantly pumping trillions of cubic yards of toxins, radioactive elements, greenhouse gasses and hazardous chemicals into a climate system we’re pretty certain human activity is adversely impacting and a system we don’t really understand. Even as it is failing.  To the point where HEAT IS FALLING, NOT RISING. How do you think this story will turn out? Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick…..” -OSJ

By Tim Radford @ Climate News Network:

Here is an interim update on the uncertain future of climate change: it remains uncertain and all forecasts are, for the time being, interim. British scientists say that global warming has slowed down.

Their climate models predicted periods in which warming would slow before speeding up again, and this slowing down is within their calculated limits of uncertainty: they had not, however, expected the slowdown to happen for a decade or more.
But it is happening now.

Between 1970 and 1998, the planet warmed at an average of 0.17°C per decade because of human impact on the atmosphere in the form of fossil fuel burning, forest destruction and other human activity. Between 1998 and 2012, it warmed at an average rate of 0.04°C per decade.

This slowdown is not easily explained: greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere have continued to rise at 3.1% per year, and are now 30% higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years, and atmospheric physicists stand by their calculations about the impact of greenhouse gases on atmospheric temperatures.

So that leaves three options. One is that some of this slowdown can be explained by variations in solar radiation during the Sun’s natural 11-year cycle.

Another is that a certain amount of volcanic activity since 2003 has placed almost imperceptible levels of aerosols in the upper atmosphere to block the sun’s radiation – imperceptible in the sense that nobody has sensed any drop in temperature, as happened after the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, but still enough to slow the rise in the rate of warming.

Newly-discovered unknowns

A third is that the planet’s temperature has indeed been rising, but the attendant heat has been swallowed up in the deep sea: that somewhere below the 700 metre level, the oceans are warming. The oceans cover 70% of the planet, often to huge depths, and can easily “lose” the predicted increased heat of a decade or so.

A new system of robot buoys, first introduced in 2000, that descend 2 km  and rise again to report back their measurements, has confirmed that the upper 2,000 metres of the ocean have absorbed thermal energy in such quantities that, were it all to be suddenly released into the atmosphere, air temperatures would rise by a lethal 36°C.

None of this means that climate change is not a threat. Twelve of the 14 warmest years on record have been recorded since 2000.  The lower troposphere – the atmosphere above the surface – has continued to warm, says Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring at the British Met Office’s Hadley Centre.

Arctic sea ice has continued to retreat at the rate of 12.9% per decade since 1979, and this rate has accelerated over the last 15 years. Northern hemisphere snow cover between 1970 and 2010 declined at the rate of 0.8 million square kilometres per decade, a loss equivalent to one third of the area of Canada.

Glaciers have retreated worldwide: the loss of ice all told has been the equivalent of a 15 metre-thick slice off the top of the average glacier. The oceans have warmed, and sea levels have risen and continued to rise – 3.2mm per year since 1993.

New data has continued to deliver telltale evidence of the dominant role of human influence on the climate system.
But the slowdown also tells scientists there are still things they don’t understand in detail about how that system works.

A problem to solve

There is as yet no clear answer as to why heat – which tends to rise rather than sink – has been submerged to such depths:  it could be a consequence of changing patterns of ocean circulation; it could be that some of the ocean has become more saline (and saline water is denser, so it will sink, even if it is a little warmer); or it may be that smaller quantities of cold water are descending into the submarine depths.

“Where is that energy, if we are not seeing it in the surface temperature? It looks like it is being rearranged, hidden from view, if you like, deep in the ocean. There are some interesting science questions,” said Richard Allan, a climate scientist at the University of Reading.

“So what does this mean for future projections? The first obvious point is that the science of projections under greenhouse gas scenarios is developing science. We haven’t got there by any means yet. So it is a constant striving to improve things.

“The second thing to say is that the observations of the last decade do not lie outside the uncertainty bounds of previous projections.”

And Piers Forster, a climate scientist at the University of Leeds, said: “This is really exciting. We have got a problem to solve. We have things we don’t understand perfectly, and as a scientist, that’s really why I do what I do. I speak for all of us who are here.” – Climate News Network