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

Posts Tagged ‘Greenhouse Gases’

Scientists Discover Hundreds Of Methane Leaks Bubbling From The Floor Of The Atlantic Ocean… Again.

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2014 at 8:16 pm

underwater-bubblesOldspeak: “Fast on the heels of news of a gigantic chasm of a methane blow hole opening in the permafrost in Siberia, we see this.  Not sure why this is surprising any more. We’ve gone from zero gas seeps in these areas off the U.S. east coast to the largest seeps in the atlantic since the mid 2000s. Methane hydrates are being released from countless, unknown numbers of leaks all over the planet.  The most disturbing lines in this article for me are “about 40 of the leaks they detected came from depths of over 3,300 feet, likely originating from deeper reservoirs below the initial sediments that make up the sea floor. If that’s the case, those reservoirs could be a target for extraction by fossil fuel companies…” Translation: the bottom of the deep dark ocean is too hot too keep methane hydrates frozen, and energy corporations are licking their chops. As ocean warming increases, we’ll see more and more and more of these leaks discovered. Climate scientists view them with concern. Energy conglomerates view them as profit. Meanwhile, we have no idea which of these deep reservoirs of gas will become the catastrophic release; The methane time bomb that will release 50 or more gigatons of methane in to the atmosphere & collapse human civilization. Only time will tell. And there’s nothing we can do to defuse it. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….” –OSJ

By Jeff Spross @ Climate Progress:

In what could be a clue to the future effects of climate change, scientists have discovered a huge collection of methane leaks from the ocean floor off the United States’ eastern seaboard.

Their work, published Sunday in Nature Geoscience, used a research vessel equipped with sonar to map a 94,000-square-kilometer area that arcs from North Carolina up to Massachusetts. Within that expanse, according to Scientific American, they discovered around 570 separate plumes of bubbles rising from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. And while the scientists haven’t yet collected samples, the bubbles’ sources suggest they contain methane.

The study is surprising, because such leaks are usually found atop known methane reservoirs — or above active tectonic regions — and scientists had previously thought very few such leaks were to be found in that area of the Atlantic shelf. “This is the first time anyone has systematically mapped an entire margin,” Christian Berndt, a marine geophysicist at GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany, who was not involved in the study, told Science Magazine. “They found that there was much more methane coming out than was suspected beforehand.”

Methane is a greenhouse gas, far more potent on a pound-for-pound basis than carbon dioxide. But at 90 metric tons per ear, the methane being released by the 570 leaks is dwarfed by the annual releases from human industrial and agricultural activity, as well as other natural sources. Still, the researchers estimate there could around 30,000 more of the leaks all over the world.

There’s also the possibility that climate change and alterations to ocean temperatures could lead to far bigger releases.

“These little bits of bubbling here or there will not make a memorable impact,” Jens Greinert, who heads the deep-sea monitoring unit at GEOMAR, told Science Magazine. “It becomes interesting only if you have a catastrophic release.”

Carolyn Ruppel of the United States Geological Survey, one of the study’s co-authors, told the New York Times that about 40 of the leaks they detected came from depths of over 3,300 feet, likely originating from deeper reservoirs below the initial sediments that make up the sea floor. If that’s the case, those reservoirs could be a target for extraction by fossil fuel companies, though more research will be needed to confirm. But most of the leaks came from 800 to 2,000 feet down, and pictures Ruppel and her colleagues were able to take with a submersible show that most of the methane is likely trapped in ice structures called hydrates in the initial sediments at the seabed.

That raises the possibility that the hydrates, which are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature, are being melted by warming waters. That heat could be brought by natural cycles and variability — or by climate change. Another twist is that most of the methane is absorbed by the ocean long before it breaches the surface. The process reacts with oxygen and releases carbon dioxide, which in turn increases the acidification of the ocean in the vicinity. So there’s the possibility that warming waters from climate change could release more methane, thus further speeding up the ocean acidification that is itself being driven largely by humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions.

But with the current evidence, what connection can be drawn to climate change — if any at all — remains unclear. The undersea pictures taken by the research team suggest at least some of the methane leaks have been active for hundreds of years or even a millennia.

“It highlights a really key area where we can test some of the more radical hypotheses about climate change,” John Kessler, a professor at the University of Rochester who was not involved in the research, told the New York Times. “How will those release rates accelerate as bottom temperature warms, or how will they decelerate if there are some cooling events?”

“We don’t really have all of the answers. But this is a great place to try to find them.”

 

Earth’s Poles Are Shifting Due To Climate Change

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

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

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

By Anil Ananthaswamy @ New Scientist:

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

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

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

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

Additional wobble

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

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

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

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

Greenland thaw

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

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

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

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

U.S. Atmospheric Methane Concentrations Are 50% Higher Than Previously Thought

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Oldspeak: “Tick, tick, tick, tick….. in the wake of recent news that there are multiple and one ginormous  methane seeps venting  from the bottom of the oceans off the coast of the U.S. into the atmosphere, of ponds in the Canadian arctic venting significant and previously unknown amounts methane into the atmosphere, and 2 times as much methane venting from the arctic methane time bomb a.k.a. the East Siberian Arctic Shelf that will affect the entire globe venting 20 million tons per year of methane into the atmosphere, this is not good news. This irreversible feedback loop is ACCELERATiNG as a result of human activity.” -OSJ

By Becky Orskin @ Live Science:

Thanks in large part to gas wells and cow farms, the United States is spewing 50 percent more methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than previous estimates have measured, according to a new study.

For the study, published Monday (Nov. 25) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from universities and government labs fanned out across the United States in 2007 and 2008 and measured levels of methane gas in the air. Though methane breaks down in the atmosphere after only 10 years, faster than carbon dioxide, it’s about 30 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat escaping the Earth — the greenhouse effect that leads to global warming.

Total methane emissions in the United States were 1.5 to 1.7 times higher than amounts previously estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency and by the International Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), respectively, the study found.

The difference between the estimates comes from ways the various groups calculate methane emissions, the researchers said in a statement. The U.S. EPA and EDGAR count total emissions from the source, such as each cow and each unit of coal and natural gas sold in the country. The new study tracked actual methane emissions in the air, the scientists said.

“The bottom-up and top-down approaches give us very different answers about the level of methane gas emissions,” lead study author Scot Miller, a graduate student at Harvard, said in the statement. “Most strikingly, our results are higher by a factor of 2.7 over the south-central United States, which we know is a key region for fossil-fuel extraction and refining. It will be important to resolve that discrepancy in order to fully understand the impact of these industries on methane emissions.”

Man-made sources contributed about 60 percent of the methane, and 40 percent of the gas was from natural sources such as wetlands, the study concluded. Nearly 25 percent of the total man-made methane emissions were from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. [Greenhouse Gases: The Biggest Emitters (Infographic)]

In California, a related study led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found the state’s total methane emissions are 1.3 to 1.8 times higher than the California Air Resources Board estimate. Those findings were published Oct. 3 in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

The air samples were collected by aircraft and from instruments stationed on telecommunications towers. The research team is now tracking present-day methane levels to measure changes related to the boom in U.S. oil and gas production.

Becky Oskin
Becky was a science reporter at The Pasadena Star-News. She has freelanced for New Scientist and the American Institute of Physics and interned at Discovery News. She earned a master’s degree in geology from Caltech, a bachelor’s degree from Washington State University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what her latest project is, you can follow Becky on

U.N. Weather Agency: “We need to act now… time is not on our side.”- Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Concentrations At Record High. Again.

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2013 at 1:18 pm

By absorbing much of the added heat trapped by atmospheric greenhouse gases, the oceans are delaying some of the impacts of climate change. Photo: WMO/Olga Khoroshunova

Oldspeak: “Heat-trapping gases from human activities have upset the natural balance of our atmosphere and are a major contribution to climate change… Our climate is changing, our weather is more extreme, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising.  We need to act now, otherwise we will jeopardise the future of our children, grandchildren and many future generations. Time is not on our side.-WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

“Translation: “We’re fucked. But our children and grandchildren are exponentially more fucked. ” No one in positions of power anywhere in the 1st world “advanced” nations  is interested in acting now. They’re interested in “extend and pretend”. “Delay and Pray.” They meet at ineffectual climate conferences to negotiate  incremental decades long rates of change, not the radical, revolutionary change necessary right now. There is no implementable global response to the existential threats that our current carbon-nuclear based systems are creating.  There’s no profit in it. The profit is in tar sands. Methane (a.k.a. “Natural”) gas. Coal.  Efforts are underway to expand their extraction and exploitation in previously inaccessible areas of the planet.  These systems require our destruction for its continued sustenance. We are hurtling headlong toward global ecological collapse.  So, enjoy what tolerable time we have left on this dying world, as in short order, life on earth will be come fully intolerable.  Expect the worst, because it’s coming. Sandy & Haiyan are just a primer. Our infinite growth based civilization incontrovertibly assure our destruction.” -OSJ

 

By U.N. News Center:

The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2012, continuing an upward trend which is driving climate change and which will shape the future of the planet for hundreds and thousands of years, according to the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The agency’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that between 1990 and 2012, there was a 32 per cent increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on the climate – because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping long-lived gases such as methane and nitrous oxide.

Carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuel-related emissions, accounted for 80 per cent of this increase, WMO stated in a news release. The atmospheric increase of CO2 from 2011 to 2012 was higher than its average growth rate over the past 10 years.

What is happening in the atmosphere, said the Geneva-based WMO, is “one part of a much wider picture.” Only about half of the CO2 emitted by human activities remains in the atmosphere, with the rest being absorbed in the biosphere and in the oceans.

The latest findings “highlight yet again how heat-trapping gases from human activities have upset the natural balance of our atmosphere and are a major contribution to climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

He recalled that the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stressed in its recent Fifth Assessment Report that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.

“As a result of this, our climate is changing, our weather is more extreme, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising,” said Mr. Jarraud.

He underscored that limiting climate change will require large and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. “We need to act now, otherwise we will jeopardize the future of our children, grandchildren and many future generations,” said Mr. Jarraud. “Time is not on our side,” he added.

The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports on atmospheric concentrations – and not emissions – of greenhouse gases. Emissions represent what goes into the atmosphere, the agency pointed out. Concentrations represent what remains in the atmosphere after the complex system of interactions between the atmosphere, biosphere and the oceans.

At the same time, the Emissions Gap Report 2013, involving 44 scientific groups coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), urges wide-ranging global action to close the emissions gap.

If the international community fails to take action, the report warned, the chances of remaining on the least-cost path to keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius this century will quickly diminish and open the door to a range of challenges.

Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), governments have agreed to limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The report, which was released yesterday as leaders prepare to meet for the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, finds that although pathways exist that could reach the 2-degree Celsius target with higher emissions, not narrowing the gap will exacerbate mitigation challenges after 2020.

This will mean much higher rates of global emission reductions in the medium term; greater lock-in of carbon-intensive infrastructure; greater dependence on often unproven technologies in the medium term; greater costs of mitigation in the medium and long term; and greater risks of failing to meet the 2-degree Celsius target.

“As the report highlights, delayed actions mean a higher rate of climate change in the near term and likely more near-term climate impacts, as well as the continued use of carbon-intensive and energy-intensive infrastructure,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“This ‘lock-in’ would slow down the introduction of climate-friendly technologies and narrow the developmental choices that would place the global community on the path to a sustainable, green future.

“However,” he added, “the stepping stone of the 2020 target can still be achieved by strengthening current pledges and by further action, including scaling up international cooperation initiatives in areas such as energy efficiency, fossil fuel subsidy reform and renewable energy.”

 

 

Last Hours of Humanity: Warming the World to Extinction

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2013 at 6:12 pm

(Image: <a href=" http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-106825397/stock-photo-refinery-with-smoke-and-global-warming-concept.html?src=NbITD5enX9lI4lerT943VQ-1-0"> via Shutterstock </a>)

Oldspeak:Will several centuries of burning fossil fuels release enough carbon into the atmosphere to mimic the effects of past volcanic and asteroid activity and provoke a mass extinction?

If our burning fossil fuels warms the oceans enough that that methane melts and is quickly released into the atmosphere, the Earth will be in its sixth mass extinction.

And make no mistake about it, the animals and plants that are most heavily hit by mass extinctions are those that are largest and at the top of the food chain.

That means us.

We must stop the carbon madness and move, worldwide, to renewable 21st century energy sources.” –Thom Hartmann

“The grim reality is, we’re ALREADY in earth’s sixth mass extinction. We’re witnessing its beginning. We’re losing 200 species PER  DAY. irreversible positive feedbacks have already begun.  Accelerated ocean acidification/warming/deoxygenation/mass extinctions , massive increases in methane releases globally  and permafrost melt have methane levels in the arctic higher than they’ve been in 400,000 years.  Phytoplankton, the organisms crucial to all life on earth, producers of half the worlds oxygen and sequestering carbon have decreased 40% since 1950. And there are no serious efforts to stop the extractive energy systems that are creating  these catastrophic positive feedbacks, in fact these systems are being EXPANDED.  The show is going on, whether we want to see it or not.” -OSJ

By Thom Hartmann @ Truthout:

If you were standing outdoors looking at the distant and reddening sky 250 million years ago as the Permian Mass Extinction was beginning, unless you were in the region that is known as Siberia you would have no idea that a tipping point had just been passed and soon 95% of all life on earth would be dead.

It’s almost impossible to identify tipping points, except in retrospect.

For example, we have almost certainly already past the tipping point to an ice-free Arctic. And we are just now realizing it, even though that tipping point was probably passed a decade or more ago.

This is critically important because in the history of our planet there have been five times when more than half of all life on Earth died. They’re referred to as “mass extinctions.”

One – the one that killed the dinosaurs – was initiated by a meteorite striking the Earth. The rest all appear to have been initiated by tectonic and volcanic activity.

In each case, however, what happened was that massive amounts of carbon-containing greenhouse gases – principally carbon dioxide, were released from beneath the Earth’s crust and up into the atmosphere.

This provoked global warming intense enough to melt billions of tons of frozen methane on the oceans floors. That pulse of methane – an intense greenhouse gas – then brought the extinction to its full of intensity.

While in the past it took continental movement or an asteroid to break up the crust of the earth enough to release ancient stores of carbon into the atmosphere, we humans have been doing this very aggressively for the past 150 years by drilling and mining fossil fuels.

So the question:

Will several centuries of burning fossil fuels release enough carbon into the atmosphere to mimic the effects of past volcanic and asteroid activity and provoke a mass extinction?

Geologists who study mass extinctions are becoming concerned. As more and more research is coming out about the massive stores of methane in the Arctic and around continental shelves, climate scientists are beginning to take notice, too.

The fossil fuel companies are sitting on roughly 2 trillion tons of underground carbon. That, in and of itself, is enough to warm the earth by 5 or 6°C, and is an amount of carbon consistent with tipping points during past mass extinctions.

There are an additional estimated 2 trillion tons of methane stored in the Arctic and probably 2 to 5 times that much around continental shelves all around the Earth.

If our burning fossil fuels warms the oceans enough that that methane melts and is quickly released into the atmosphere, the Earth will be in its sixth mass extinction.

And make no mistake about it, the animals and plants that are most heavily hit by mass extinctions are those that are largest and at the top of the food chain.

That means us.

We must stop the carbon madness and move, worldwide, to renewable 21st century energy sources.

This is why we’ve produced a short documentary on this topic, and a short e-book titled The Last Hours of Humanity: Warming the World to Extinction that you can find at www.lasthours.org.

Please check it out and share it with as many friends as possible.

The future of humanity is at stake.

Report: Top 50 Polluters Are Corporations; Produce 75% Of Greenhouse Gases

In Uncategorized on September 21, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Oldspeak: “The worst polluters are mostly energy, materials, and utilities companies… The big emitters are not doing enough to reduce emissions and the top 50 largest emitters have increased their emissions since 2009.” –Claudia Assis

“Exxon Mobil Corp. , Royal Dutch Shell Corp, BP Corp, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Corp , Wal-Mart Stores Inc., FedEx Corp.  , Dow Chemical Corp, AT&T Inc….  Mmm Hmm. The usual suspects. All part of the Transnational Corporate Network. Most bombarding us with self-congratulatory and cheery propaganda films about their continuing efforts to “go green” and how their efforts benefit people and the planet with things like educational opportunities and environmental conservation/protection. Don’t buy the Bullshit. The most extractive and polluting “corporate citizens” are most responsible for the destruction of our planet. Withdraw your support for corporations that are contributing to our destruction whenever you can…” –OSJ

By Claudia Assis @ The Wall Street Journal:

Fifty of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the world are responsible for nearly three quarters of the group’s greenhouse gas emissions, a report by CDP said Thursday.

CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, is an international nonprofit group that compiles data on climate change.

According to their latest report, the worst polluters are mostly energy, materials, and utilities companies.

Stateside companies on the top fifty list include oil majors such as Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM , Chevron Corp. CVX  and ConocoPhillips COP , and giants such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.  WMT , FedEx Corp.  FDX , Dow Chemical Co.  DOW , AT&T Inc. T  and Duke Energy Corp.  DUK .

Multinationals such as Arcelor Mittal  MT , Volkswagen AG  XE:VOW , and Carnival PLC UK:CCL  also made the list.

The big emitters are not doing enough to reduce emissions and the top 50 largest emitters have increased their emissions since 2009, CDP said.

The report, co-authored by consultant PwC, aims to spur companies to better manage their emissions.

Overall emissions of the 1o worst polluters among energy companies have increased by 53%, the CDP said. The sector also has the highest number of companies without emission reduction targets, or 24%.

Exxon, Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell PLC RDSA , South Africa’s Sasol Ltd. SSL , BP PLC BP , and Brazil’s Petroleo Brasileiro SA PBR , or Petrobras, are the top five biggest emitters in the energy sector.

Follow Claudia Assis on Twitter @ClaudiaAssisMW

 

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