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

Posts Tagged ‘Underestimated Climate Sensitivity’

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.”

 

“We’re Already There…” Burnin’ And Lootin’: On The Occation Of Impending Ecosystem Collapse

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Oldspeak:

“(That’s why we gonna be)
Burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight;
(Say we gonna burn and loot)
Burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight;
(One more thing)
Burnin’ all pollution tonight;
(Oh, yeah, yeah)
Burnin’ all illusion tonight.

Oh, stop them!-Robert Nesta Marley

“As The World Burns, we loot Her endlessly. We can’t help it really. We know no other way. We’re pretty much locked in to this way of being. Many of us are very comfortable ensconced in the Ecocidal Perpetual Death Machine/Heat Engine that is Industrial Civilization. Eagerly consuming our daily rations of hopium laced infotainment through our telescreens and “Victory Gin” whenever possible. Labouring dutifully in our invisible prisons of “busyness|business”, conformity, and compliance. What follows is an unvarnished delineation of the ongoing and intensifying global ecological collapse, most of us are actively and aggressively ignoring. For me the most pertinent part of this piece is what  Dr Alex Rogers has to say:

Climate Change affects are going to be extremely serious, and it’s interesting when you think many people who talk about this in terms of what will happen in the future… our children will see the effects of this… Well, actually we’re seeing very severe impacts from climate change already… We’re already there…Most, if not all, of the five global mass extinctions in Earth’s history carry the fingerprints of the main symptoms of… global warming, ocean acidification and anoxia or lack of oxygen. It is these three factors — ‘the deadly trio’ — which are present in the ocean today. In fact, the [current] situation is unprecedented in the Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change.”

In that context, I struggle to comprehend the Hopium of the author. When he writes, right after that quote:

Maybe, in the near future, somebody who has solid political leadership skills will initiate a nationwide infrastructure project connecting major cities via electric-powered trains and construct solar panels and wind turbines along the right of ways, assuming there is enough time

“Why? Why this baseless faith in “The market” of Politics? That market, that political system, has helped bring us to where we stand today. What possible good could come from more of the ecological destruction, pollution, extractive mining for the minerals & materials required to construct this “green” infrastructure, that will in the long run be meaningless in mitigating that which is beyond mitigation? I don’t get it. When will we burn the illusion?” -OSJ

Written By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Climate change/global warming is the main protagonist on the worldwide stage of collapsing ecosystems.

The ecosystem is a combination of living organisms in harmony with nonliving elements like air, water, and mineral soil interacting as one whole. But, what if the living and nonliving elements stop interrelating as “one harmonized whole”? Then, what happens?

As things stand today, the planet’s future is decidedly in the camp of “then, what happens?”

Signals of planetary stress are literally off the charts.  Meanwhile the world continues spinning like always, as people go to work, drive cars, go out to dinner, and watch TV, some read books but not much these days.

Those routines of going to work, out to dinner, and so forth maintain an equilibrium, a daily pattern on the same freeways, the same faces, the same workplaces. By itself, life seems very normal, nothing much to worry about other than making monthly car payments.

Similarly, the natural world experiences its own rhythm, like the everyday cycle of people going to work, on the freeway, to dinner, watching TV. But, radically dissimilar to that everyday cycle that seems so dependable, so routine, the natural world is amiss, chaotic, crumbling apart, bursting at the seams. However, this deep trouble is not noticed, not recognized, not reported in accordance with severe levels of impending calamity. After all, as long as Wall Street goes up, all is well, isn’t it? Yet, all is not well, not by a long shot.

Ecosystem degradation happens in silence, not on freeways, not in theaters, not in malls. There is no ticker tape to watch or CNBC to listen to.

Consider this, what if tire blowouts occurred every day on the commute? What if the television set blacks-out every two minutes? What if faucets unexpectedly turn dry? Those situations could be metaphors for the ecosystem today, anomalous, irregular, variable, faltering!  Thus, climate change is very real, and people are already starting to experience ecosystem collapse.

The São Paulo water crisis, or “hydric collapse” as many are calling it, has left a city of 20 million teetering on the brink.1 Water is shut off in most parts of the city every day at 1:00 P.M. Scientists say this disaster, in large measure, is payback because of massive rain forest degradation, disrupting normal weather patterns.2

A shortage of water leads to various and sundry consequences, as for one example among many: “The financial hub of one of the world’s biggest economies is experiencing a water crisis so bad that experts say it could affect investors globally”.3

All of which may be a blessing in disguise because “affecting investors globally” may be the only way for “ecosystem collapse” to gain attention in today’s neoliberal “only-the-bottom-line-counts” world.

The ecosystem’s collapse knows no boundaries. Three million people will be without water in Taiwan, as the government drastically rations.4 The normal rainy season is now abnormally missing. Scientists say global warming has altered the jet streams and weather patterns. Thankfully, good news, as of July 10th, typhoon Chan-hom heads towards Taiwan for a little temporary relief.

California is haunted by and threatened with full-scale desertification as a powerful high-pressure system known as the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge hovers over the Pacific Ocean, blocking normal wintertime rainfall.5 Scientists (Princeton and Stanford) say climate change is a significant culprit.

Not only that, but with planetary heat; i.e., global warming increasing month-by-month for years on end, California’s main water tower, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range snow pack runs dry way too quickly.

In fact, worldwide, glacial water towers are rapidly diminishing from too much heat, threatening hydro-power, irrigation, and drinking water as well as commercial rivers in heavily populated areas of Asia and South America, akin to São Paulo.

Chinese scientists report significant glacial loss (up t0 70%) at the headwaters of major commercial rivers, like the Lancang River, the “Danube of the East.”

Based upon the past record of incessant temperature rise over the last few decades, glacial ice/snow will likely remain under heated attack: “March 2015 and first quarter of year warmest on record: Arctic sea ice extent smallest on record for the month of March.”6

Relentlessly, global temperatures continue setting new record highs, year after year. In the United States: “The June contiguous U.S. average temperature was 71.4°F, 2.9°F above the 20th century average, second only to June 1933 in the 121-year period of record,”7

Not only that: “A new study published online in the journal Science finds that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century. The study refutes the notion that there has been a slowdown or ‘hiatus’ in the rate of global warming in recent years.”8

Increasing levels of heat bring forth new problems. China suffers from major desertification with 27% of the country or 2.6 million sq km affected. Woefully, another 1.7 million sq km, or 65% additional land, is at risk of turning to desert for a grand total of 45% of China at risk of desertification. Proof that land degradation in combination with global warming takes a huge toll even though the government has been fighting back.9 Scientists say global warming accelerates worldwide desertification.

In turn, desertification contributes to global warming, a positive feedback loop (which is really a negative), as “warming is allowing the carbon that has been stored in dry land vegetation and soils to be released to the atmosphere as it dries out and dies.”10

Tipping Points of Irreversible Ecosystem Decay/Destruction/Collapse

A prestigious group of scientists from around the world is warning that population growth, widespread destruction of natural ecosystems, and climate change may be driving Earth toward an irreversible change in the biosphere, a planet-wide tipping point that would have destructive consequences… there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including, for example, fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations.11

As for planet-wide tipping points: “There are 30 self-reinforcing feedback loops that are irreversible.”12 Some are very tipsy, some already tipping.

For example, methane hydrates in the Arctic Ocean, harmlessly contained, so far, under the ice for millennia, are equivalent to 1,000 to 10,000 gigatons of carbon versus 226 gigatons in the atmosphere.13 Today the level is over 300 gigatons (McPherson). Because the Arctic is loosing so much ice cover, a 50-gigaton burp of methane is highly possible at any time, which is equivalent to an additional 1,000 gigatons of carbon.14  The results could be dire.

In the melting permafrost of Siberia:

Methane vents 30 centimeters (one foot) in diameter were lit on fire by scientists in 2010… by the summer of 2011, they were not lighting this on fire anymore because those methane vents were a kilometer (1/2 mile) across… a twenty-six-hundred-fold (2,600) increase in size in a year… it’s almost as if we’ve triggered rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses. (McPherson).

According to NASA, methane plumes that are kilometers wide have already been monitored in the Arctic.15

The plain fact is that “loss of Arctic ice” equals way too much methane released into the atmosphere. It’s a dastardly closed circuit of ruination prompted by the selection of fossil fuels over renewable energy sources. But, Germany (25% renewables) knows better.  China is aware and active. However, as for the derisory U.S., nobody knows where or how or when it comes into the picture.

The biggest worry amongst some scientists is the rapidity of past ecosystem collapse. According to Paul Beckwith, Laboratory for Paleoclimatology and Climatology, University of Ottawa: “55 million years ago… the temperature rose globally by 5C in 13 years, as shown in sediment samples.”16

Notice that it did not take hundreds (100s) or thousands (1,000s) or millions (1,000,000s) of years to increase 5C. In that particular case, once the tipping point was triggered, it occurred in a geological flash, within only 13 years.

If perchance the Arctic ice entirely melts away during the summer season, which some prominent scientists believe is due fairly soon, it is not out of the question that the release of methane buried under the ice for millennia will self-perpetuate into a global warming frenzy or super cycle, possibly repeating the experience of 55 million years ago. Who knows? Then, the lights go out, no more TV, and who needs Wall Street? According to Dr. Peter Wadhams, Cambridge University, humanity cannot tolerate a 5C increase.

Thirteen (13) years seems like a short time frame to kick into gear the potential of an earth-shattering ecosystem breakdown. All of which begs the question: How deadly might it be and how quickly does 5C turn into disaster?

Nobody really knows for sure that it will even happen, but on the other hand, it happened in the geological record, only recently discovered within the past two years by Rutgers scientists17

The Ocean’s “under the weather”

The ocean is the kingpin of the ecosystem and the single best barometer of the condition/health of the planet’s ecosystem.

Decidedly, problems are found throughout the marine food chain from the base, plankton, showing early signs of reproductive and maturation complications due to too much CO2 emitted by burning fossil fuels, to the largest fish species, the whale shark, which is on the endangered species list.

The ocean is not functioning properly. It’s a festering problem that will not go away. This is due to acidification, and, as long as fossil fuels predominate, it will methodically, and assuredly, over time, kill the ocean, which absorbs 30% of the CO2 from the atmosphere and has been absorbing 80-90% of the planet’s heat (NOAA).

Over 3,300 floating Argo probes strategically stationed in oceans worldwide measure heat content. The results show 90% of planetary heat is stored there (discussed in IPCC report d/d 2007). By way of comparison, the atmosphere stores only about 2% because of its small heat capacity.

The ocean heat build-up is potentially a big problem: Ocean heat, under certain conditions, can whiplash back up into the atmosphere causing rapid acceleration of global warming as Pacific trade winds potentially slacken in years ahead.18

Not only that, but problems stacked upon more problems, the rate of change of ocean pH (measure of acidity) is 10 times faster than 55 million years ago. That period of geologic history was directly linked to a mass extinction event as levels of CO2 mysteriously went off the charts.19

Zooming in on the Future, circa 2050 – Location: Castello Aragonese aka: “The Acid Sea”

Scientists have discovered a real life Petri dish of seawater conditions similar to what will likely occur ocean-wide by the year 2050, assuming fossil fuels continue to emit CO2 at current rates.

This real life Petri dish is located in the Tyrrhenian Sea at Castello Aragonese, which is a tiny island that rises straight up out of the sea like a tower. The island is located 17 miles west of Naples. Tourists like to visit Aragonese Castle (built 474 BC), which is on the island, to see the display of medieval torture devices.

But, the real commotion is offshore, under the water, where Castello Aragonese holds a very special secret, an underwater display that gives scientists a window 50 years into the future.  A quirk of geology is at work whereby volcanic vents on the seafloor surrounding the island are bubbling up large quantities of CO2. In turn, this replicates the level of CO2 scientists expect the ocean to absorb over the course of the next 50 years.

“When you get to the extremely high CO2 almost nothing can tolerate that,” according to Jason-Hall Spencer, PhD, professor of marine biology, School of Marine Science and Engineering, Plymouth University (UK), who studies the seawater around Castello Aragonese.20

The adverse effects of excessive CO2 are found everywhere in the immediate surroundings of the tiny island. Barnacles, one of the toughest of all sea life, are missing around the base of the island where seawater measurements show the heaviest concentration of CO2. And, within the water, limpets, which wander into the area seeking food, show severe shell dissolution. Their shells are almost completely transparent. The underwater sea grass is a vivid green, which is abnormal because tiny organisms usually coat the blades of sea grass and dull the color, but no such organisms exists. Sea urchins, which are commonplace further away from the vents, are nowhere to be seen around the island.

The only life forms found around Castello Aragonese are jellyfish, sea grass, and algae; whereas, an abundance of underwater sea life is found in more distant surrounding waters. Thus, the Castello Aragonese Petri dish is essentially a dead sea except for weeds, explaining why Jane Lubchenco, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, refers to ocean acidification, as global warming’s “equally evil twin.”

To that end, a slow motion death march leading to significant ecosystem collapse is churning away in the ocean in real time, and sadly, humans are witnesses to this extinction event, but it does not hit home. It happens in hiding, silent, within a vast expanse of water. Other than a few scientists, who really knows much about it?

Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of IPSO and professor of Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford:

Climate Change affects are going to be extremely serious, and it’s interesting when you think many people who talk about this in terms of what will happen in the future… our children will see the effects of this… Well, actually we’re seeing very severe impacts from climate change already… We’re already there.21

And:

Most, if not all, of the five global mass extinctions in Earth’s history carry the fingerprints of the main symptoms of… global warming, ocean acidification and anoxia or lack of oxygen. It is these three factors — ‘the deadly trio’ — which are present in the ocean today. In fact, the [current] situation is unprecedented in the Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change.22

The conspicuous issue is, according to Rogers: “The current situation is unprecedented in Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change”.

Maybe, in the near future, somebody who has solid political leadership skills will initiate a nationwide infrastructure project connecting major cities via electric-powered trains and construct solar panels and wind turbines along the right of ways, assuming there is enough time.

Postscript: On a quasi-positive, but still melancholic, note:

I don’t think we are going to become extinct. We’re very clever and extremely resourceful – and we will find ways of preserving ourselves, of that I’m sure. But whether our lives will be as rich as they are now is another question.

— Sir David Attenborough, English broadcaster and naturalist, Are We Changing Planet Earth, BBC, 2006

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

  1. The Guardian, February 2015 [↩]
  2. Dr. Antonio Donato Nobre, National Institute for Research in the Amazon: “The Magic of the Amazon: A River That Flows Invisibly All Around Us,” TED, November, 2010 [↩]
  3. “Worries Grow as Serious Drought Hits São Paulo, Brazil”, CNBC, July 2015 [↩]
  4. BBC, April 2015 [↩]
  5. Weather West, February 2015 [↩]
  6. Global Summary Information – March 2015, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA. [↩]
  7. State of the Climate, National Centers for Environmental Information, July 2015. [↩]
  8. “Science Publishes New NOAA Analysis: Data Show no Recent Slowdown in Global Warming”, NOAA, June 4, 2015. [↩]
  9. China Times, June 2015 [↩]
  10. Julie Kerr Casper, Ph.D., Earth scientist, Bureau of Land Mgmt., “Changing Ecosystems: Effects of Global Warming,” November 2009. [↩]
  11. UC Berkley, June 2012 [↩]
  12. Guy McPherson, Climate Change and Human Extinction [↩]
  13. Science, March 2010 [↩]
  14. Nature, July 2013 [↩]
  15. NASA, July 2013 [↩]
  16. COP20: Global Arctic Methane Emergency, December 2014 [↩]
  17. Ken Branson, “New Finding Shows Climate Change Can Happen in a Geological Instant”, Rutgers Today, October 6, 2013. [↩]
  18. National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth [↩]
  19. C.L. Dybas, “On a Collision Course: Oceans Plankton and Climate Change”, BioScience, 2006. [↩]
  20. Elizabeth Kolbert, “The Acid Sea”, National Geographic, April, 2011 [↩]
  21. State of the Ocean.org, Video Interview, Dr. Alex Rogers, 2011 [↩]
  22. Rogers, A.D., Laffoley, D. A. “International Earth System Expert Workshop on Ocean Stresses and Impacts”, Summary Report, IPSO Oxford, 2011. [↩]

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

The Perils of “Single Study Syndrome”: Overlooked Evidence – Global Warming May Proceed Faster Than Expected

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2015 at 7:31 pm
Lake Mead is seen in the distance behind boats in dry dock near the Lake Mead Marina in Nevada.

Lake Mead is seen in the distance behind boats in dry dock near the Lake Mead Marina in Nevada. Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Oldspeak: “My reaction? Duh, no shit. It’s not a question of “may” but “is proceeding faster than expected!” How is that not obvious at this point?! We have no idea of the total universe of factors impacting our climate, so of course all climate models are underestimating everything.” -OSJ

By Dana Nuccitelli @ The U.K. Guardian:

The inconvenient evidence for high climate sensitivity is often ignored

It’s known as “single study syndrome”. When a new scientific paper is published suggesting that the climate is relatively insensitive to the increased greenhouse effect, potentially modestly downgrading the associated climate change threats, that sort of paper will generally receive disproportionate media attention. Because of that media attention, people will tend to remember the results of that single paper, and neglect the many recent studies that have arrived at very different conclusions.

Clouds Point to a Sensitive Climate

For example, there have been several recent studies finding that the global climate models that most accurately simulate observed changes in clouds and humidity over the past 10–15 years also happen to be the ones that are the most sensitive to the increased greenhouse effect. For example, a 2012 paper by Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo concluded,

A 2014 paper led by Steven Sherwood took a similar approach with similar results. The paper concluded,

Figure (derived from Sherwood et al. 2014, Fig. 5c) showing the relationship between the models’ estimate of Lower Tropospheric Mixing (LTMI) and sensitivity, along with estimates of the same metric from radiosondes and the MERRA and ERA-Interim reanalyses. Source: RealClimate.

Another 2014 paper published by scientists from CalTech and UCLA arrived at a similar conclusion, as lead author Hui Su explains,

Clouds Hold the Key

Clouds are a key to determining the Earth’s climate sensitivity. We know that by itself, a doubling of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will cause about 1.2°C global warming. A warmer atmosphere will hold more water vapor, and as another greenhouse gas, we know that increase in water vapor will roughly double that carbon-caused warming (a “positive feedback”). We also know of some other significant positive feedbacks, like melting ice decreasing the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface, causing it to absorb more energy from the sun.

Those who argue that the Earth’s climate is relatively insensitive to the increased greenhouse effect need a big negative feedback to offset those factors we know amplify global warming. Clouds represent the only such plausible mechanism, because we don’t have a very good grasp on how different types of clouds will change in a hotter world.

For example, climate scientist contrarian Richard Lindzen came up with what’s known as the “iris hypothesis” in 2001, suggesting that in a warmer world, high cirrus clouds will contract like the iris on an eye to allow more heat to escape. That hypothesis has not withstood the test of time, however, with four studies published within a year of Lindzen’s paper effectively refuting the hypothesis. One recent paper found that even if the iris effect is real, it would reduce the Earth’s climate sensitivity by no more than 20%, still well within the range of possible values outlined by the IPCC.

Not only have the aforementioned studies found that changes in humidity and clouds are consistent with simulations from more sensitive climate models, but previous research led by Andrew Dessler and more recently by Kevin Trenberth and colleagues has shown that observed changes in water vapor amplifying global warming as expected, and that clouds are thus far acting to weakly amplify global warming. These observations are inconsistent with the strong cloud dampening effect contrarians need to justify arguments for low climate sensitivity.

Low Sensitivity Single Study Syndrome

There have been a few recent studies using what’s called an “energy balance model” approach, combining simple climate models with recent observational data, concluding that climate sensitivity is on the low end of IPCC estimates. However, subsequent research has identified some potentially serious flaws in this approach.

These types of studies have nevertheless been the focus of disproportionate attention. For example, in recent testimony before the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, contrarian climate scientist Judith Curry said,

Curry referenced just one paper (using the energy balance model approach) to support that argument – the very definition of single study syndrome – plus an interpretation of a second paper whose author objected, saying,

Real Skeptics Consider all the Evidence

True skepticism requires considering all available evidence. While some studies suggest that climate sensitivity is on the low end of the estimated range, other studies suggest it’s on the high end. As Andrew Dessler told me,

Andrew Dessler discusses climate sensitivity.

Ultimately when we consider all the available scientific evidence and risk management principles, there’s no case to be made for delaying action to curb global warming.

Update: yet another paper has just been published finding that the models that most accurately simulate the observed changes in the Earth’s atmosphere are the ones that are most sensitive to the increasing greenhouse effect.