Ocean Temperature Anomaly Hits Extraordinary +1.12 C Above Average Reading on April 22, All Australian Weather Models Now Predict El Nino for 2014

With the ever-more certain approach of El Nino, the world ocean surface is starting to radiate more and more heat.

Over the past four days, GFS assessments have shown positive temperature anomaly values in excess of +1 degrees Celsius (C) above the, already hotter than normal, 1979 to 2000 average (which was, itself, about .5 C above the low averages seen during the period of 1880 to 1920). With each new dawn, readings ramped higher and, by today, those temperatures had spiked to an extraordinary +1.12 C hotter than ‘normal’ for the entire global ocean system.

TS_anom_satellite1 April 22

(Global oceans hit extreme +1.12 surface temperature anomaly. Data from NOAA’s Global Forecast Systems model visually depicted by the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer.)

The equatorial Pacific region hovered near El Nino values with readings of +.44 to +.45 C approaching the El Nino threshold of +.5 C. It is worth noting that the Eastern Equatorial Pacific has consistently shown below average temperatures during recent years as strong trade winds drove both upwelling of cooler waters and atmosphere-to-ocean heat transfer. Meanwhile, the Western Pacific spiked to much hotter than normal readings as heat content just kept piling up in a broad zone east of the Philippines.

Extraordinary high temperature departures have also cropped up across other regions. The Northern Hemisphere, for example, showed an extraordinary +1.56 temperature anomaly for April 22. This exceptional reading was fed by extreme northern ocean temperatures in the Barents Sea above the Arctic Circle at +4-5 C above the 1979 to 2000 average and a very warm pool in the Pacific Ocean south of Alaska ranging from 1.5 to 2.5 C hotter than normal.

Aside from these zones of extreme heat, almost all Northern Hemisphere waters now display hotter than average temperatures.

All Australian Models Now Show El Nino

These excessively high global ocean temperature readings come on the same day that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) issued new findings showing that every climate model run by that agency now predicts El Nino for 2014. The BOM notes:

The likelihood of El Niño remains high, with all climate models surveyed by the Bureau now indicating El Niño is likely to occur in 2014. Six of the seven models suggest El Niño thresholds may be exceeded as early as July.

At issue is the fact that reversals of the trade wind, known as west wind back-bursts (WWB), are currently ongoing both east of the Solomon Islands and in the Central Pacific Ocean. Real-time observation of western Pacific wind flow through composite weather model data shows a broad field of westerly winds of about 5-15 mph velocity centered at 1.7 degrees South, 156 degrees East. A second cyclonic circulation north of Tahiti at 2.9 North, 139 West in the mid Pacific Ocean has also generated a 5-15 mph west wind.

Overall, these counter trade wind flows help to push down-welling warm water in the Western Pacific eastward, spreading hot waters across the surface and amplifying the force of what, during March, was the most powerful Kelvin Wave on record. Factors that bring with them the potential for an extraordinarily powerful monster El Nino for 2014-2015, continued positive ocean surface temperature extremes, and major weather disruptions associated with both human warming and the global tilt toward the warm extreme that is El Nino.

Links:

Climate Reanalyzer

BOM ENSO Wrap-up

El Nino’s Arrival Seen by All Models

Real Time Global Surface Wind Data

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

Potential For El Nino Spikes as Record Pacific Ocean Heat Content Continues to Emerge

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

Heavy, Early-Season Blow to Arctic Ice Cap: Powerful, Warm Storm Disintegrates Barents Sea Ice

A vast swath of sea ice that painstakingly formed as somewhat cooler conditions had finally settled in near Svalbard and Frans Joseph Land in the Barents Sea was shattered yesterday as a powerful, heat-laden Arctic cyclone screamed up out of a rapidly warming extreme North Atlantic.

The storm originated west of the Norway coastline where, in recent years, a repository of exceptionally warm water has collected. This near-Arctic and Barents Sea warm pool has resulted in numerous effects including a forced recession of sea ice by hundreds of miles during winter time as well as providing impetus for various anomalous heat waves in Scandinavia in recent years.

This time, the heat pool was the genesis for a powerful storm that delivered an intense package of early season warmth to a section of sea ice drifting in the North Barents Sea region.

Warm Storm Impacts

April 16, pre-storm

In the above image, provided by NASA’s  LANCE-MODIS sensor, we can see a 250 mile section of sea ice that had extended out into the Barents Sea over the past few weeks during a cooler period as warmer conditions shifted to the Laptev, East Siberian, and Beaufort Seas. The date of this shot is April 16. To the lower left is the tip of Svalbard. Upper left is the far edge of Frans Joseph Land. Another few hundred miles to the right of far right frame is Northern Norway.

The storm, for now is off frame.

Storm April 17

Now on April 17, we can see the storm center in the far left frame near the tip of Svalbard. At this point, the storm has bombed out to an extraordinarily powerful 950 mb low, packing 60+ mph winds. In its upper quadrant, it carried with it temperatures ranging from 10 to 20 C above typical seasonal averages. Perhaps more importantly, through cyclonic forces it pumped waters that were up to 5 C above average temperature up from the depths and into the ice pack. This kind of cyclonic Ekman Pumping, in recent years, has had an increased potential to rapidly reduce sea ice due to warmer surrounding water conditions and warmer waters at depth.

Note that rapid sea ice disintegration is already involved in the wake of this severe Arctic Cyclone.

Aftermath -- Near Zero Contiguous Ice

Now, today, on April 18, we can see that in the aftermath of this powerful Arctic Cyclone there is very little contiguous sea ice left. What remains is what in sea ice parlance can be termed nilas — very thin and diffuse ice of 0-10 centimeters in thickness. Note that the entire 250 mile zone is completely involved in this very visible ice loss and that such losses continue on past Frans Joseph Land and into the Kara Sea.

Further Implications for the 2014 Melt Season

Melt season in the Arctic is now well involved. In addition, we have numerous weaknesses in the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream that continue to funnel much warmer than average air over the Arctic Sea Ice. Alaska, Siberia and the Barents all continue to see strong warm air impulses that progress well into the zone covered by sea ice.

Today, according to GFS model measures for the zero hour, average Arctic temperatures are 2.24 C above the, already warmer than normal, 1979 to 2000 average. This is a rather high spike for spring, when Arctic temperatures typically start to settle back down after seeing high levels of global warming associated heat amplification during winter time.

The excess heat had already pushed Arctic sea ice extent measures down to near record lows as of April 17. According to NSIDC, extent measures had fallen to 13.9 million square kilometers yesterday, the second lowest level in the measure. With full effect from the recent intense storm not yet fully realized, it is possible that impacts in this region alone could reduce total values by at least 100,000 square kilometers.

arcticice_nsidc apr 17

(Arctic Sea Ice Extent Second Lowest on Record for April 17. Data Source: NSIDC. Image Source: Pogoda i Klimat.)

Yet one more major blow to sea ice from a powerful warm storm type system. And, in this case, with melt season progressing rapidly and with so much heat already shifting into the Arctic, it is highly unlikely that this zone of newly dispersed ice will see much in the way of recovery over the coming weeks.

 

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

NSIDC

Pogoda i Klimat

Global Forecast Systems Model

Persistent Arctic Cyclone and the Warm Storm of 2013

 

Methane Monster Finding Cracks in Earth’s Defenses: Is the Global Methane Sink Starting to Fade?

Annually, humans emit about 13.5 gigatons of carbon, or about 50 gigatons of CO2 equivalent gasses into the atmosphere. The measures are essentially the same — one just counts carbon weight, the other counts out all the additional hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen or other atoms together with the carbon.

Of this massive volume, a volume at least six times the emission seen at any time in the geological past, even during the worst greenhouse gas extinction — the Permian — only a fraction remains in the atmosphere for any substantial period of time. This fraction continues to trap the heat and cause the effects we now see on a daily basis — extreme weather, record droughts, fires, floods, crop damage, sea ice loss, storms and an incessant rise in global temperatures.

The rest goes into what we call carbon sinks or stores.

Through the course of human-caused warming, scientists have been concerned that carbon sinks and stores will eventually fill up or, even worse, become emissions sources themselves. The result would be that a greater fraction of the human greenhouse gas emission would remain in the atmosphere longer and do even more damage through its now increased warming potential as natural sources began to emerge and multiply.

Atmospheric elevator

(Atmospheric elevator. Very large storms in the Pacific transport pollutants into the stratosphere. What impact is this having on one of the world’s major methane sinks — the hydroxyl shield? Image source: Alfred Wegener Institute.)

It is this kind of amplifying feedback that we’ve been sounding warnings on since 2012. And, according to new scientific research, there is serious reason for concern that another amplifying feedback in the form of erosion of the methane sink is now starting to develop coincidentally with rising rates of natural methane store emissions.

Methane — A Potent Heat Trapping Gas

And it is here in our chilling and cautionary tale that we come to the story of how methane acts to warm the atmosphere…

As a molecule, methane is an extraordinarily potent heat trapping gas. If CO2 were the tortoise — persisting for hundreds or thousands of years and gradually and inexorably building up a potent heating force, methane is the hare — providing a very intense burst of heating potential for a short period before being sucked out of the atmosphere by either the hydroxyl sink in the tropopause or through interaction with the soil.

The hydroxyl sink lives as a thin layer of a detergent-like molecule consisting of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom (HO). The layer exists along a boundary between the troposphere and the stratosphere called the tropopause. It forms when Nitrous Oxide (NO2) encounters Ozone (O3) and water vapor (H2O) at a height of about 8-10 miles where solar radiation is of a wavelength shorter than 315 nanometers. The radiation energy sets off a reaction between these three molecules producing a layer of hydroxyl, a reactive compound that breaks down all sorts of nasty chemicals floating around in our atmosphere. It also breaks down methane. A service that is quite valuable, especially when you consider that methane’s heat forcing, without the rapid oxidization powers of the hydroxyl layer, would be far, far greater.

The heat potential of a single methane molecule is 80 times that of a single CO2 molecule (in the presence of aerosols, it jumps to 105 times that of CO2, somewhat reducing the aerosol cooling effect). And so it’s probably a good thing that the lifespan of a methane molecule in the current atmosphere is only about 8 years. In contrast, CO2 lives about 500 years before weathering or the deep ocean finally knock it out.

As a fraction of total greenhouse gas forcing, scientists conservatively calculate that the total methane overburden represents about 60 parts per million of additional CO2 equivalent heat forcing or a little more than half the total additional heat forcing from CO2. But this calculation takes into account the notion that methane is short lived and will tend to drop out, resulting in relatively less methane heat forcing over time.

Earth’s Hydroxyl Shield Now Has a Gaping Hole

And so it is that today we encounter a bit of a problem. For it appears that a large hole has now been blown in the methane/hydroxyl sink over the Pacific Ocean.

Hydroxyl Hole

(A very large hole in the Earth’s protective Hydroxyl Layer discovered over the Western Pacific northeast of New Guinea during spring of 2014. Image source: Markus Rex, Alfred-Wegener-Institute.)

Though the cause of the current hole is unknown, what is known is that powerful thunderstorms in the region provide atmospheric lift and could have mixed in ozone destroying chemicals such as bromine and chlorine that significantly reduced one of the key constituents of hydroxyl formation.

The hole is quite large and while the initial paper by Markus Rex primarily noted concerns about additional volatile chemicals reaching the stratosphere through the hole, these major hydroxyl reductions over such a large area are also likely to lengthen the atmospheric lifespan of methane.

This feedback may well be a result of other human pollutants and have a possible negative effect on global warming by acting to significantly degrade a major carbon sink. If such an instance is confirmed, it may well be the first such case of its kind where two separate subsets of pollution create a kind of harmonic, but indirect, warming potential effect.

In any case, not a good outcome.

10 to 165% More Methane to be Released From Wetlands

A second very large methane sink/store is encompassed by the world’s vast swaths of wetlands. There, organic materials in the wetlands soil bind electrons needed by methane producing bacteria during regular wet-dry cycles, preventing a portion of the organic material from being broken down as methane. In essence, it’s a kind of indirect methane sink in that it prevents carbon-based materials from being converted to methane by already active methane producing bacteria.

But new research conducted by a team of Swiss and German researchers has found that as climate warms, wetlands are increasingly submerged, and large regions of tundra wetlands thaw, the electron binding process tends to run in reverse even as more wetlands become available for methane emission. In essence, warming both submerges more wetlands even as it generates more wetlands due to tundra thaw. It’s a kind of one, two punch that these researchers are saying could push global methane production radically higher.

As a result, the very large organic carbon store contained in wetlands would increasingly be emitted as methane and the wetlands would act less and less as a methane sink and more and more as a venting methane store. The new addition of wetlands from melting tundra only compounds the process. Researchers found that wetlands are likely to emit between 10 and 165% more methane due to these combined impacts.

It’s worth noting that global methane emissions from wetlands are currently about 165 teragrams (megatons metric) each year. So the new research estimates that annual emissions from these sources will increase by between 17 and 260 megatons annually. By comparison, the total annual methane emission from all sources (including the human addition) is about 600 megatons each year.

Pace of global atmospheric methane increases is tracked by NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa annual measures and trends can be seen here:

Global methane levels

(Global methane levels since 1983 as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory. Image source: NOAA.)

Fading Sinks, Releases From Stores

These new discoveries — the formation of a hydroxyl shield hole and the recent study finding that global warming will lead to a greater annual release of methane from the world’s wetlands — are likely to combine with ongoing human methane emissions that are now radically increased due to hydrolic fracturing for new gas deposits and with potentially increasing methane emissions from subsea sources such as worldwide stores of methane hydrates and the very vulnerable methane stores in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. The result is a much greater risk that current methane levels will rise and/or remain high for longer than expected. In total, it’s a significant risk of additional major warming on top of an already very powerful heat forcing coming from a rising human CO2 emission.

Links:

Markus Rex, Alfred-Wegener-Institute

Methane Climate Change Risk Suggested By Proof of Redox Cycling of Humic Substances

Sea Ice Melt, Methane Release Shows Amplifying Feedbacks to Human-Caused Climate Change

NOAA

Global Methane Emissions From Oil and Gas

Methane Emissions From Wetlands

Hole Found in Natural Protective Layer

Tropospheric Chemistry

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob!

 

Potential For El Nino Spikes As Record Pacific Ocean Heat Content Continues to Emerge

Monster Kelvin Wave April 13

(Very powerful Kelvin Wave still moving eastward even as it begins to sink in off the coast of South America. Image source: NOAA.)

Likelihood for a significant El Nino later this year continued to increase as the most powerful Kelvin Wave on record continued its progress into the Eastern Equatorial Pacific. According NOAA’s recent April 13 assessment, the massive slug of anomalously hot Pacific subsurface waters continued to surge eastward, to deepen the 20 C isotherm and to spread out on or just below the surface.

NOAA’s most recent CPC report finds, in a bald refutation to assertions by climate change deniers, that:

A significant downwelling oceanic Kelvin wave that was initiated in January greatly increased the oceanic heat content to the largest March value in the historical record back to 1979 and produced large positive subsurface temperature anomalies across the central and eastern Pacific.

Extraordinary temperature departures in the range of 4-6 C above average stretched from a zone from 180 West Longitude to 80 West Longitude and ranged in depth from 30 to 70 meters. This very large zone of above average heat shattered global records even as it slid into position to begin re-delivering that excess to the atmosphere.

Perhaps more importantly, the nose of this wave of far warmer than normal water had begun to sag, pushing the 20 C isotherm deeper into the Eastern Pacific even as cooler water from the depths began to punch into the tail of the record hot Kelvin Wave, raising the 20 C isotherm in the Western Pacific. This downwelling force of a monster Kelvin wave appears to just now be initiating the start to a global weather-altering El Nino.

Hot Water Downwelling, Weakening Trade Winds

In the East, from 12 February to 13 April, the 20 C isotherm had plunged from about 25 meters below to around 100 meters of depth. During the same period, the isotherm from about 150 East Longitude to 170 West had risen from about 210 meters to 170 meters. At the subsurface, a continued rising of the isotherm in the West and its continued fall in the East would complete the transfer of warm waters across the Pacific and open the flood gates to the start of what could be an extraordinarily strong El Nino event as what is now a record Pacific Ocean heat content starts bleeding back to the atmosphere.

Pacific Isotherm Tilts East

(20 C isotherm continues to rise in the Western Pacific [left side of graph] even as it rises in the East [right side]. Image source: NOAA.)

On the surface, trade wind weakening and reversals continued with a significant, though milder than those seen in January and February, backflow emerging in early April east of the Solomon Islands and coinciding with rather weak trade winds across the Equatorial Pacific. Such conditions continued to provide surface impetus to transfer warm waters  across the Pacific even as record subsurface heat continued its transition eastward.

Chances for El Nino Rise

Accordingly, predictive forecasts both by NOAA and Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology are showing increasing potentials that El Nino will emerge. NOAA’s forecast now indicates that the chance for El Nino has jumped to over 50% by this summer and to 66% by the end of the year. Australia’s forecast is now showing a greater than 70% chance of El Nino over the same period.

In addition, El Nino type influences are already beginning to appear in world weather systems. A recent report by Dr. Simon Wang found that precursor El Nino conditions combined with effects related to climate change such as Arctic sea ice loss to spur and enhance epic drought conditions in California. Southeast Asia is already experiencing heat and dryness that is typically associated with a developing El Nino. Northern Brazil is also seeing increasing levels of heat and drought. To the North, Siberia is experiencing an extraordinary April onset to fire season while the northeastern US is somewhat cooler than average due to the persistent and anomalous strength of a dipole of warm temperature extremes in western North America and cool temperature extremes in eastern North America.

Many of these impacts, though expected in a normal El Nino year appear to be enhanced by effects related to human caused climate change such as sea ice loss and an amplification of the hydrological cycle increasing the frequency of extreme rainfall, drought and fire events (as in the California drought and the southeast Asian and Siberian fires).

NOAA El Nino Potentials

(El Nino model runs by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center show 66% potential for El Nino Development by November, December and January of 2014-2015. Image source: CPC/IRI.)

During a typical strong El Nino year, global weather disruptions can cause severe damage resulting in reductions to world GDP by as much as 5%. But with the added and enhanced severe weather effects due to climate change interacting with El Nino, overall impacts could be far more destructive. In addition, a release of what is currently record Pacific Ocean heat content into the atmosphere will likely set off new high temperature extremes, further pushing the global climate system toward the very dangerous 2 C warming threshold.

Links:

NOAA

CPC/IRI

Climate scientists find link between sea ice loss, emerging El Nino, and record California Drought

Small Army of Firefighters Battles Siberian Blazes in April

Monster El Nino Rising From the Depths

Winter of 2013-2014 Sees Most Extreme Dipole on Record: How a Strong Emerging El Nino Conspired With Climate Change to Ignite Record Drought in California and Collapse the Polar Vortex

Dipole. It’s a word often used among meteorologists and climate scientists. But what does it mean?

In weather terms we can simply think of it as this: one side hot, one side cold. So, as a basic principle, it’s pretty direct. But in a world where extremes between hot and cold are becoming more intense, in North America which has just experienced its most extreme dipole anomaly since record keeping began in 1960, it’s also something that’s important to understand as it relates to ongoing human-caused climate change.

For a recent blockbuster scientific paper by Dr. Simon Wang and associates and published in Geophysical Research Letters has now linked this extreme temperature differential, related polar vortex collapse events, and the California drought with both ongoing physical changes to the Earth System due to human caused climate change and to the first rumblings of a monster El Nino in the Pacific.

Envisioning a Dipole Pushed into An Extreme Form by Climate Change

But to understand how an excessively extreme dipole relates to the historic events of the winter of 2013-2014, it helps to open up one’s imagination. It helps to describe the ground-breaking information provided by Dr. Wang’s new paper in descriptive terms. It helps to, at first, envision a wave. Then to imagine the up-slope of the wave forming a hot, red shape. Now imagine the down-slope forming a cold, blue shape. Now think of this wave growing more intense, extending further in both its up-slope and in its down-slope. Growing hotter on the up-slope side and comparatively colder on the down-slope side.

Polar Vortex Collapse January 19

(GFS Model summary of Polar Vortex Collapse event on January 19, 2014 shows 850 mb temperatures over the Eastern US colder than the same temperatures over parts of Greenland and the Arctic Ocean. 850 mb temperatures over St. Augustine, FL are the same as 850 mb temperatures over central Greenland. Anomalies on the hot side of the dipole in the Arctic hit +40 degrees Fahrenheit in some places.  Anomalies on the cold side of the dipole hit more than -35 degrees F in some places. Note the twin, dense high pressure systems sitting sentinel just off the California Coast and deflecting storms north into Alaska. Image source: NOAA/GFS.)

Having established the wave form and related temperature extremes, lay the shape over North America and adjacent Pacific Ocean. The up-slope covers the Eastern Pacific, Alaska, a section of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic, Western Canada and the Western US. The down-slope swings from the eastern side of the Beaufort, on in through Central and Eastern Canada and bisects the US diagonally from the Dakotas to the Gulf Coast east of Texas.

Now let’s envision this wave as a flow of upper level air called the Jet Stream and let’s think about the various atmospheric aspects that feed it. Looking west, we happen upon a very warm pool of water in the Western Pacific east of the Philippines. This warm pool is the source of an El Nino that will likely occur within one years time. A heat pocket given added intensity by both rising atmospheric temperatures and strong winds transferring that added energy into the vast Pacific Ocean. The heat waits, wanting to spread out across the Pacific surface in an energetic return to the air. But, for now, it simmers in its deep pool, providing energy for the powerful dipole we’ve just described.

The heat from this warm pool radiates into the atmosphere creating lift. Further north, a cold pocket is driven south by another strong atmospheric wave pattern over the Asian continent. The cold air pocket runs south over Japan. The hot and the cold difference generates a very strong upper level synoptic (horizontal form weather patterns stretching more than 1,000 kilometers) wind pattern that stretches all the way across the Pacific Ocean.

The winds run southwest to northeast until they encounter the hot bulge of our already described dipole over the Eastern Pacific near the US west coast and Canada. This warm current turned the already rapid winds due north where they rushed up over Alaska and into a sea ice pack far weaker than in decades past. A sea ice sheet gradually thinning, breaking up, and venting heat from a warming Arctic Ocean below. And so these, already strong, winds were not turned back by the now much weaker cold until they had driven far, far into the Arctic Ocean (and it is here that we must give a hat tip to Dr. Jennifer Francis, who finds her predictions regarding sea ice loss and high amplitude Jet Stream waves again validated).

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half

(Upper level wind pattern on January 23, 2014 shows a polar vortex that has essentially been ripped in half by the warm side of the west coast dipole and the high amplitude Jet Stream wave forming over top of it. Image source: University of Washington.)

Now imagine a strong dome of high pressure forming in the wake of this powerful and ongoing wind flow, sheltered and growing ever stronger on the hot side of the dipole. Imagine it blocking the path of storms, even as it concentrated heat and warmth. Imagine California receiving 1/4 or less of its typical winter rainfall as a result. A most recent and extreme insult to years of drought forcing authorities to ration water in many places.

Now return to that strong wind finally being turned south somewhere in the far, far north, in the Beaufort Sea just south of the North Pole. Then imagine these now cold-laden winds rushing south. Running over Hudson Bay and eastern Canada. Roaring over the Great Lakes and carrying with them a cyclone of cold Arctic air that should have remained in the far north. The polar vortex that should have stayed over places like Svalbard but instead collapsed under the warm wind flow and shifted far south to places like Toronto or Chicago or Detroit or Washington DC.

Now at last imagine another synoptic pattern as the Arctic air of the polar vortex encounters the warmth of the Gulf Stream. This pattern is laden with powerful storms that bomb out over the UK again and again, resulting in the stormiest winter for that island nation in over 200 years.

And here we have the dipole of the winter of 2013 and 2014. A west coast that was hot, hotter than usual all the way from California to the far north of Alaska and an East Coast that from Canada to the Gulf Coast became the repository for cold, cold Arctic air that was shoved south as the polar vortex collapsed down the steep face of the one of the largest and longest lasting Jet Stream waves on record.

(Dr. Francis explains how polar amplification results in higher amplitude Jet Stream wave patterns.)

Dipole. One side hot. One side cold. But, in this case, in the case of the winter of 2013-2014, it’s a historic and anomalous dipole. A freak born of the climate change we’ve caused mixing up with the Pacific Ocean heat of a rising El Nino. A record hot, dry winter for the US West that ignites wildfires in winter and forces the government to ration California water resources. A severe dry spell that closes farms and drives US food prices up by 15%. A record cold, stormy winter in the Eastern US and a series of super-intense storms screaming across the North Atlantic to submerge Somerset and rip massive chunks out of a rocky UK coastline.

This clear picture of a climate-change caused event was this week provided through the groundbreaking new research by Dr. Wang and fellows. These top scientists engaged climate models and analyzed past records to find the culprits of the weather extremes we witnessed during this past winter. And what they found was a very high correlation in the models with the extreme dipole over North America and the Arctic, an oncoming El Nino, and climate change driven impacts.

For not only was this year’s dipole the most extreme on record, it was also likely made far more extreme by an emerging Monster El Nino acting in concert with severe global-warming related reductions in Arctic sea ice cover, increases in Pacific Ocean heat and atmospheric moisture content, and related changes to the upper level air flows of the Northern Hemisphere polar Jet Stream.

Links:

Probable Causes of the Abnormal Ridge Accompanying the 2013-2014 California Drought, ENSO Precursor and Anthropogenic Warming Footprint

NOAA/GFS

University of Washington

Read Further Excellent Reporting on the Wang Report Here:

California Drought/Polar Vortex Jet Stream Pattern Linked to Global Warming

Bombshell Study Ties Epic California Drought ‘Frigid East’ To Manmade Climate Change

Large and Growing List of Scientific Studies Linking Human Climate Change to Current Weather Extremes (hat tip to Weather Underground)

Changing the Face of Mother Nature

The Seasonal Atmospheric Response to Projected Sea Ice Loss in the Late 21rst Century

Evidence Linking Arctic Amplification to Extreme Weather in the Mid Latitudes

Influence of Low Arctic Sea Ice Minima on Anomalously Cold Eurasian Winters

Impact of Sea Ice Cover Changes on the Northern Hemisphere Winter Circulation

Impact of Declining Arctic Sea Ice on Winter Snowfall

Large Scale Atmospheric Circulation Changes Associated with the Recent Loss of Arctic Sea Ice

A Link Between Reduced Kara-Barents Sea Ice and Cold Winter Extremes Over Northern Continents

Northern Hemisphere Winter Snow Anomalies

Impact of Projected Future Sea Ice Reduction on Extratropical Storminess and the NAO

Cold Winter Extremes in Northern Continents Linked to Arctic Sea Ice Loss

Precipitation Shifts Over Western North America as a Result of Declining Sea Ice Cover

Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice Reduces Available Water in the American West

Interdecadal Connection Between Arctic Temperature and Summer Precipitation Over the Yangtze River Valley in the CMIP5 Historical Simulations

Potential Impacts of the Arctic on Interannual and Interdecadal Summer Precipitation in China

Influence of Arctic Sea Ice on European Summer Precipitation

On the Relationship Between Winter Sea Ice and Summer Atmospheric Circulation over Eurasia

(Partial list, view the rest here)

 

 

Small Army Now Fighting Siberian Wildfires in April

Siberia. A land that, during the 20th Century, typically remained locked in ice well into early June. A land where a typical April was still more cold and harshly frozen than the rest of the world in winter.

But, over recent years, Siberia has been experiencing earlier and earlier thaws as average temperatures for the region jumped by about .4 degrees Celsius each decade. As the land’s permafrost began to draw back, it unlocked billions of tons of a peat-like under-layer. Organic material sequestered over hundreds of thousands of years of freezing conditions.

In moist areas, this carbon-rich layer produced methane gas as it thawed. In dry areas, its moisture steadily leeched out, creating a zone of highly combustible material beneath Siberia’s grasslands and forests.

By the mid-2000s enough of these flammable zones had been liberated to result in an increasingly severe fire hazard for much of Russian Siberia. At that time, a series of rather dangerous and intense fire seasons began to set up from late May to early June. Seasons that raged throughout summer and, in some years, produced clouds of smoke that blanketed large sections of the Northern Hemisphere.

2014 Fire Season Starts Far Too Soon

This year, the situation is markedly worse. A persistent high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream has funneled heat up from China and Central Asia on into Siberia all throughout late winter and into early spring. The result was summer-like temperatures for a large section of Siberia during late March and into early April. This abnormal warmth set off an early thaw for large sections of Siberia and with that thaw has come an intense, far too soon, ignition to fire season.

To the west, Russia may well be embroiled by the conflict in the Ukraine. But the real battle is likely to be with heat and fire. And it is a battle already joined a month and a half earlier than expected. For by April 1, more than 2,000 hectares had erupted into wildfires. By April 9, more than 61 fires and 18,300 hectares were involved before firefighters contained them.

The blazes by April 15 had re-emerged in more violent form on the outer edges of Siberia — in the southern Yakutia region of Russia and in the Amur region, which experienced both epic floods and fires last year. The massive burn scars in these zones and huge plumes of smoke are now plainly visible in MODIS satellite imagery below.

Large burn scars Amur

(Large fires and burn scars in the Amur region of Russia on April 15 of 2014. In the above NASA satellite shot, we can see burn scars ranging from 5-15 miles in length just north and east of the Amur River. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

These various fires are now quite extensive, a single region featuring burn zones that likely cover an area more widespread than all the fires of a week before. The blackened scar of the largest fire here appears to blanket a zone of about 55 square miles, a region the size of a large city, or a single fire that alone burned through another 14,000 hectares. Visible estimates of the size of fires in the region depicted above are around 20,000 hectares, enough to more than double the area burned last week, bringing the incomplete total to around 38,000 hectares.

Russian reports, so far, haven’t confirmed the extent of these blazes, but when combined with totals from last week’s outbreak, they appear to be about twice as widespread as fires during the early and epic season of 2012 which, by April 15 had seen about 19,000 hectares burn.

As of early April, the blazes were enough to have drawn the emergency response of a small army of fire fighters. And by April 9, about 500 firefighters, scores of vehicles and multiple aircraft were engaged. But this early firefighting force is likely to seem small compared to the numbers that will be needed to combat infernos as the already anomalously warm and dry season continues to progress.

Links:

March 2014 Third Hottest on Record as Siberian Heatwave Spurs Fire Season to Early Start

In Siberia, Forest Fires Come Early This Year

Siberia Experiencing Mid Summer Temperatures and Wildfires in April

Voice of Russia: 15,000 Hectares of Wildfires Contained by April 9

TASS: 19,000 Hectares Burning in Russia on April 15

Smoke From Massive Siberian Fires Seen in Canada

LANCE MODIS

 

World Food Security Slides into Red Zone as FAO Index Jumps to 213, Russian Special Forces Continue to Destabilize Breadbasket Ukraine, and Climate-Change Induced Extreme Weather Ravages Croplands

Feeling impacts from a broad range of stresses including widespread heat and drought from the US West, to South America, to Australia and Southeast Asia, the ongoing Russian invasion and destabilization of breadbasket Ukraine, and the growing threat of a strong El Nino emerging in the Pacific, world food prices made another significant jump during March of 2014.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global food index prices surged from a value of 208 in February to 212.8 in March. The 4.8 point increase from February to March followed on the heels of a 5.5 point increase between January and February.

Values above 210 are considered to result in enough stress to ignite conflict as an increasing number of regions begin to see scarcity from lack of ability to purchase or produce food. For the time being, these prices remain below the 2011 high water mark of 229 which was linked to a broad eruption of conflict and food riots from Libya to Egypt to Syria and throughout a smattering of other impoverished or vulnerable regions in Asia and around the globe.

But with the world climate situation worsening, with chances for a strong El Nino emerging later this year increasing, and with global conflict over dwindling and endangered stores of food-related wealth and resources intensifying, there remains a substantial risk that global food prices will continue to see strong upward pressure throughout 2014, pushing and maintaining levels high enough to continue to ignite instability, unrest and, in some cases, open warfare.

(The first episode of Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously” provides a close look at two regions suffering directly from crop losses, economic impacts and hunger due to extreme droughts related to climate change — Syria and the US Southwest. It provides a view, in close-up of what happens due to years-long droughts and related food and resource shortages. In the US, loss of grazing land resulted in the closing of meat packing plants supporting local workers and in severe stress to communities even as religion and political beliefs impeded an effective response to the rising crisis. In Syria, a ten year drought spurred armed revolution against a government that turned a blind eye to the needs of its suffering citizens.)

Global Hot Spots

Western US: March saw a brief weakening of the, now 13 month long, blocking high pressure system off the US west coast. This slight interlude unleashed an extraordinary surge of Pacific Ocean moisture that set off record floods and one-day rainfall events throughout Northern California, Washington and Oregon. Pulses of moisture did briefly touch the US Southwest, but the Jet Stream configuration had shifted somewhat northward, resulting in less water relief for the most drought stressed zones.

April-8-2014-US-Drought-Monitor-Map

(The April 8 US Drought Monitor shows drought continuing to intensify over the US despite some moisture reaching affected areas.)

As a result, the epic California drought is probably still the worst seen in 500 years and is now likely to intensify and/or persist on into late this fall. By April 1, snow cover had fallen to 25% of a typical average for the Sierra Nevada. Combined drought and water shortages have led to an unprecedented complete cut off of federal water supplies to many local farmers. In addition, Silicon Valley, has been forced to ration its drinking water supply.

Meanwhile, sections of Texas have experienced their driest 42 month period since record-keeping began in 1911. Regions near Lubbock received only 33 inches of rainfall in the three and a half year period since October of 2010. A normal rainfall for this zone would be around 64 inches for the same time-frame. This makes the current 4+ year Texas drought worse than any previous dry time during the 20th Century, including the Dust Bowl period of the 1930s.

With the emergence of spring, a typical post-winter dry period will likely be enhanced by a continued formation of a powerful dome high pressure system blocking moisture flow to California and the US Southwest. In addition, amplified heat in the up-slope of a high amplitude Jet Stream wave will likely drive drought conditions to rapidly worsen as spring runs into summer. Sadly, the primary hope for moisture comes from the emergence of El Nino, which is becoming more and more likely for later this year. However, if the El Nino comes on as strong as expected, rainfall events are likely to be extraordinarily intense, ripping away top soil from the likely fire-damaged zones and making it difficult for water planners to capture and store water due to its velocity. In the worst case, Ark Storm-like conditions could emerge due to a massive heat and moisture dump that could result in very intense rivers of moisture forming over western regions.

Brazil: Ever since 2005, Brazil has been suffering from a series of persistent drought episodes. By this year, the nine year long drought series reached an ominous peak. Like California, this drought series is now likely the worst seen in decades and possibly as far back as 500 years. The result was widespread fires and blackouts throughout Brazil together with extreme impacts to farm production. Particularly hard hit were coffee and sugar production, sending prices for both markets rocketing to record or near-record levels.

Brazil Drought Rainfall Anomalies

(South American rainfall anomalies from Jan 23 to February 24, 2014. Image source: CPC Unified.)

Indonesia and Southeast Asia: From Thailand to Malaysia to Indonesia, drought resulted in significant reductions in palm oil production, a main crop for the region. Throughout March and into April large fires were reported over a wide drought-stricken zone even as smoke choked both cities and countryside. Some of the fires were suspected to have been illegally set by large palm oil conglomerates seeking to clear new land for an ever-expanding set of palm oil plantations. But the plantations may now be in danger of a drought fed by both their destructive practices of land-clearing and by their overall contribution to an extraordinary and excessive global greenhouse gas overburden.

Fires Malacca Strait 2014

(MODIS shot of widespread fires near the Malacca Strait during March of 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Drought related heat and fires not only threatened crops but also resulted in multiple school closings, numerous dangerous air warnings, thousands of calls reporting peat fires and, in Indonesia alone, more than 20,000 people hospitalized for respiratory problems.

The Ukraine and Russia: An ever-more expansionist Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine also resulted in higher food prices as speculators purchased grain stores over projections that Russian forces could disrupt Urkaine’s food production and exports. First phase invasion into the Crimea did not block key grain ports. But tens of thousands of troops massed along the Ukraine border and likely continued incursions by Russian special forces units into Eastern Ukraine resulted in an ongoing destabilization of one of the world’s key grain producers.

In this context, it is worth noting that global harvest figures showed Russian wheat production falling from 61 million metric tons per year in 2009 to 38 million metric ton per year in 2012. Throughout this four-year period, Russia has been forced to curtail or cut off grain exports on numerous occasions as increasing periods of drought, fire and extreme weather resulted in loss of crops.

Meanwhile, wildfire season began early in Siberian Russia perhaps presaging a fire season that, when combined with the effects of an emerging El Nino, could be the worst seen since 2010 when Russia first cut off grain exports to the rest of the world.

Global Problem: Though the above list provides examples of where global food supply is most threatened by extreme weather related to climate change and/or a related set of conflicts over resources, it is important to note that the current food, resource, and climate crisis is now global in nature. Droughts and severe weather have left almost no region untouched and now result in substantial damage to crops at least once a year in even the most tranquil locations. Instances of ongoing and systemic drought are now common throughout various areas not mentioned above including: Australia, China, South America, Central America, The Middle East, Africa, India, and sections of Russia and Europe. So though blows to important “bread baskets” provide the most impact to overall food price and availability, a general state of agricultural disruption due to increasingly extreme climates blanketing the globe result in a far more challenging than usual base-line for food producers and consumers everywhere.

Links:

FAO: World Food Situation

US Drought Monitor

LANCE-MODIS

CPC Unified

El Nino Update: Monster Kelvin Wave Continues to Emerge in the Pacific

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

Thirsty West: Where’s the Snow?

Persistent Drought Still Reigns in Much of Texas

Arkstorm: California’s Other Big One

 

Hat-tip to Colorado Bob

Hat-tip to Miep

NASA GISS Shows March 2014 Was Third Hottest on Record as Arctic Heatwave Spurs Siberian Fire Season to Early Start

 

NASA March 3rd Hottest

(NASA GISS Global Land-Ocean Temperature Anomaly vs the, already hotter than normal, 1951 to 1980 mean. Image source: NASA.)

According to NASA’s Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index, overall average temperatures for the month of March, 2014 were .69 to .7 degrees Celsius hotter than the 1951 to 1980 average. As a result, last month was the third hottest March in the global record since 1880. 2002 was ranked first hottest with 2010 as second hottest.

Nine of the ten hottest Marches on record have occurred since 2001. Ten of ten have occurred since 1998.

A wide zone of extraordinary temperature anomalies ranged throughout Siberia and the Arctic during the month with 4-8 C above average readings stretching along an enormous swath from Germany in the west to Yakutia in the east and from China in the south and on up to the North Pole.

Summer-like temperatures in Siberia

Large warmer than normal air pulses progressed from China northward over broad sections of Russia and Siberia throughout the month. These pulses harmonized with persistent high amplitude Jet Stream ridges over Eastern Europe to draw much warmer than average temperatures northward.

By early April, these conditions had translated into 70 degree (Fahrenheit) values for some sections of Siberia, where the annual fire season had an ominous, very early start for the Amur and the Baikal — Russian regions that are typically still locked in ice this time of year. Overall, by April 6, more than 2,000 hectacres of fires had been reported by the, justifiably, very concerned Russian officials.

Isolated Siberian Wildfire April 4

(An ominous and early start to fire season. Isolated Siberian wildfire visible from Satellite in center of frame on April 4, 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

According to reports from Think Progress and The Siberian Times the heat coincided with extreme drought conditions:

“The forest fire situation is tense in Russia this year,” Russian Natural Resources Minister Sergei Donskoi said at a conference chaired by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. “Due to a shortage of precipitation the forest fire season has begun almost one and a half months ahead of the norm.”

Temperatures in the Baikal and Amur regions were particularly hot with measures in late March and early April shattering previous temperature records by 2-9 degrees Celsius for the cities of Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Kemerovo, Barnaul and Gorno-Altaysk. Overall, this region of Russia has shown a very rapid pace of temperature increase: about .4 C per decade, or more than double the global average.

Polar amplification in very high gear

NASA zonal anomaly maps also continued to show evidence of an extreme polar temperature amplification in the Northern Hemisphere. Such high degrees of heat amplification at upper latitudes were a predicted result of human greenhouse gas emissions. Yet one more climate science prognostication that has borne out.

Zonal anomalies NASA

(March Zonal Temperature Anomalies. Image source: NASA.)

 

Links:

NASA

The Siberian Times

Siberia Experiencing Mid Summer Temperatures and Wildfires in April

LANCE-MODIS

Hat Tip to James Cole

 

World CO2 Averages Touch 402.2 PPM Daily Values in Early April, 102 PPM Higher Than at Any Time in Last 800,000 Years

There’s a tale in the ice. A record of past atmospheres locked away as snowfall trapped air bubbles and then compressed them into thin layers age after age over tens of thousands of years. Over the last few decades, scientists have been drilling holes in the great ice packs of Greenland and Antarctica. Their quest? To unlock this tale and reveal a direct record of global greenhouse gas levels through the deep past.

What their drilling uncovered was both quite informative and rather chilling. First, it showed that, for more than 800,000 years, global CO2 levels had been relatively stable in a range of 180 to 300 parts per million. As the levels of heat trapping CO2 rose, temperatures peaked during brief interglacials. And as levels fell, temperatures plunged back into ice age conditions.

Global temperature flux during these swings from ice age to interglacial were just 4 degrees Celsius. A 100 ppm CO2 rise correlated roughly to a 250 foot rise in sea level and much warmer average conditions globally. A corresponding fall of about the same amount brought temperatures back down and piled ice two miles high over today’s temperate regions such as New York.

What the ice cores also revealed was that human CO2 emissions had pushed global levels of this potent greenhouse gas far out of any climate reckoning comparable to the context of human beings, who have only existed in current form for about 200,000 years.

In fact, what scientists found was that atmospheric CO2 levels were pushing more than 100 parts per million higher than at any time during this vast epochal span:

Ice Core CO2 record 800,000 years

(Antarctic ice core CO2 record and comparable temperature swings. Note that the difference between ice age and interglacial is about 8 C of local temperature and about 100 ppm of CO2. It is worth considering that, due to polar amplification, Antarctic temperature changes were about double the global average. Current CO2 levels are more than 100 parts per million higher than even the peak value over this 800,000 year period. If an average peak interglacial CO2 average of 275 ppm is considered, then current values are around 127 parts per million higher. Image credit: Havard/Jeremy Shakun.)

This record was a key contribution to climate science. One, it revealed how past CO2 levels compared to past temperatures. And since the data was directly derived from air bubbles trapped beneath hundreds of feet of ice, it also provided us with an exact measure for past atmospheres.

Secondly, and perhaps much more ominously, it showed us how very far beyond any climate comparable to that great span of time we’d already come.

102 ppm higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years

Humans have now pushed the CO2 boundary 102 parts per million higher than the context provided by the last 800,000 years. It’s kind of a big deal when you consider that a mere fluctuation of about 100 parts per million CO2 was enough, when combined with changes in orbital forcing, to set off feedbacks resulting in a 4 C temperature change globally (8 C change for the Antarctic environment) as ice age proceeded to interglacial and back.

Current human forcings through CO2 and other emissions have now entirely over-ridden the natural cycle, eliminating the possibility for future ice ages and putting us on a trajectory for catastrophe. With annual global carbon emissions now exceeding 12 gigatons, not only have we forced ourselves well outside of any past bounds to which we can easily relate, we have also generated an unprecedented velocity of change. For the current human carbon emission now exceeds, by at least six times, the most rapid past level of natural carbon emission.

No vast flood basalt could ever rival the volume and pace at which humans currently emit greenhouse gasses.

This enormous emission continues to have severe effect through an ever-higher ratcheting of global CO2 levels.

As of the past week, global daily CO2 values had rocketed to 402.2 parts per million, well outside anything seen in the ice core record:

aprmlo_six_months

(Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 measure for the last six months. Note that daily and weekly values have been mostly above 400 ppm since early March. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

This an extraordinary measure. One that has no context in direct records such as those available to us through ice core data. But paleoclimate proxy data does provide some corollary. According to isotopic carbon measures found through seabed samples, we can determine that the last time CO2 levels were above 400 parts per million was during the mid-Plieocene between 3 and 3.3 million years ago.

And during that time global average temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius warmer than they are today (with Antarctic values at least twice that). Both Greenland and West Antarctica were mostly ice free and sea levels were between 15-75 feet higher. These are, likely, the potential low end of the changes we’ve locked in due to human global greenhouse gas forcing long term, even if, somehow, global CO2 levels are brought to a plateau.

Mid-Pliocene Antarctica

(An graphic extrapolation of Antarctica’s ice cover and elevation based on paleoclimate data. Note that the Antarctic ice sheet is greatly diminished at a time when CO2 values remained constant around 400 ppm. Image source: Commons.)

480 CO2e…

Unfortunately, the global CO2 measure doesn’t tell quite the entire story. For atmospheric levels of gasses like methane, nitrous oxide, and a host of less common industrial chemicals have also all been on the rise in Earth’s atmosphere due to human emissions. As a result, according to research by the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gasses Center at MIT, total heat forcing equal to CO2 when all the other gasses were added in was about 478 ppm CO2e during the spring of 2013. Adding in the high-velocity human greenhouse gas contributions since that time gets us to around 480 ppm CO2e value. In the context of past climates and of near and long term climate changes due to human interference, 480 ppm CO2e is nothing short of fearsome.

The last time the world saw such a measure of comparable atmospheric greenhouse gas heat forcing was during the Miocene around 15-20 million years ago. At that time, global temperatures were 3-4 C warmer, the Antarctic ice sheet was even further diminished, and sea levels were 80-120 higher than today.

This combined forcing is enough to result in a state of current climate emergency. In just a few years, according to the recent work of climate scientist Michael Mann, we will likely lock in a 2 C short term warming this century and a probable 4 C warming long-term. If the current, high-velocity pace of emission continues, we will likely hit 2 C warming by 2036, setting off extraordinary and severe global changes over a very short period.

These are very dangerous and, likely, catastrophic levels. In such a context, the inexorably rising rate of atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gas forcings simply adds further insult to a very high risk situation.

Links:

Havard/Jeremy Shakun

The Keeling Curve

Advanced Global Atmospheric Gasses Center at MIT

Far Worse Than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick: Michael Mann, Our Terrifying Greenhouse Gas Overburden, and 2 C Warming by 2036

Commons

Pliocene Climate

Miocene Climate and CO2 Flux With Related Ecosystem Impacts

 

World Storm Surge Record Set to Fall? Aberrant Ita Prepares to Slam Queensland With 155+ mph Winds After Spurring Historic Solomon Islands Flooding

 

Super intense ITA off Australia

(Another Case of Near-Perfect Symmetry. Super-intense ITA strengthens to a super-intense 155 mph storm off Australia on April 10. Image source: NOAA)

The ghosts of record Pacific Ocean heat content may well be coming back to haunt us…

Very powerful near Category 5 Ita is now bearing down on the Australian Coastline. Regions near where the center makes landfall, projected to be near Cape Flattery, could experience 155 mph sustained winds with gusts in excess of 185 mph and storm surges in excess of 25 feet. Interests throughout North Queensland should remain abreast of what is a very powerful and dangerous storm capable of producing record or near record effects.

(For reference, a category 5 storm has a wind speed intensity of 156 mph or greater.)

*    *    *    *    *

An outrider of an El Nino pattern that appears to be gradually emerging and strengthening in the Tropical Pacific, Ita had her stormy beginnings near the archipelago of the Solomon Islands. There, what at first started as a tropical disturbance dumped three days of torrential rainfall over the island chain, setting off worst-ever floods on record, washing away hundreds of buildings, and leaving more than 50,000 people homeless.

Major rainfall events are not uncommon in the Solomons. But what occurred as a result of current and abnormally intense heat-spurred Pacific Ocean convection is. For the massive shield of thunderstorms that spawned Ita also dumped one meter (1000 mm or 39.4 inches) of rainfall during a three day period over some sections of this tropical island chain. The far-reaching floods ruined roads, bridges, buildings and forced the cessation of strip mining operations in interior sections.

Solomon Islands ITA

(Thunderstorms associated with the newly forming Ita boil over the Solomon Islands on April 3rd and 4th. Some locales received single-day rainfall totals in excess of 18 inches with three day measures topping 1 meter. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The Solomon Islands lie just east of New Guinea and are on the southern edge of what is currently a very deep, hot pool of water — one that appears to be in the process of rushing eastward. There, over waters ranging from 85 to 87 degrees Fahrenheit (29-30 degrees Celsius, or about 1-2 C above average), Ita had her genesis in a shield of convection forming along the hot pool’s southern flank.

Slow Westward Trek

After lingering for days over the Solomons, Ita gradually shifted southwestward, churning  on into the Coral Sea and reaching category 1 intensity by April 8th. Water temperatures throughout the region remained well in excess of 80 degrees, more than enough to fuel rapid intensification. By late April 9th, many models showed Ita potentially reaching category 4 or 5 intensity before roaring into northern Queensland.

Concerns were raised about both projected storm intensity and projected track. Clockwise circulation of a slow-moving but very powerful storm could pile a very significant storm surge along the Queensland cities of Port Douglas and Cairns. Northern locations could experience very intense and prolonged storm conditions including heavy rainfall, extreme coastal flooding, and winds in the range of 90 to 155+ mph over a tightly compact zone.

Cape Flattery, Cooktown and Port Douglas, sparsely populated towns of between 2,000 and 3,000 residents, respectively, are likely to bear the brunt of the storm. But Cairns lies only a little further south along the storm track and boasts fully 150,000 residents — a more densely populated region that could also see extreme impacts.

Bombification

By early April 10th, favorable environs and extremely warm water temperatures in the Coral Sea had resulted in the rapid intensification predicted. By 1600 Eastern Time in the US, Ita had bombed out to a 155 mph monster storm with a lowest central pressure around 921 mb, exploding from a Category 1 to a near Category 5 storm in less than 48 hours, as it headed toward the Australian coastline at an excruciatingly slow pace of 6 mph SSW forward motion.

It’s worth noting that a 921 mb reading is very low and may justify a new winds speed of closer to 165 mph or more considering how compact this storm. Early model runs had projected peak intensity at 920 mb and around 165 mph wind speeds. That said, ITA remains over open water and retains a very compact wind field, so further intensification is possible before land interference begins to disrupt circulation.

Even now, conditions may seem disturbingly tranquil along the coastline. Winds there are currently running in the range of about 20-30 mph. But gale force winds lurk about 100 miles offshore and the intense, hurricane force, winds are not fare behind. The most intense winds, of up to 155 mph sustained with 185 mph gusts, are in a tight band just about 10-20 miles from the center. It is regions within this band of clockwise onshore flow where most damaging effects are likely to be witnessed.

ITA projected path

(Most recent projected path of Ita. It’s worth noting that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology puts Ita at 907 mb and Category 5 status. This conflicts with NOAA’s 921 mb estimate. Image source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology.)

Ita is expected to maintain Category 4-5 intensity all the way through to land-fall sometime tomorrow. As such, storm surge flooding in excess of 25 feet is likely near where the center makes landfall. A storm of similar strength, Typhoon Mahina, brought a 45 foot storm surge ashore near Bathurst Bay in 1899. It is the same region where Ita is expected to make landfall sometime tomorrow.

This storm surge of 45 feet ties Bangladesh for the highest storm surge on record anywhere in the world.

Mahina made landfall with a minimum central pressure of 914 mb. Ita would only need to drop another 10 mb to exceed that mark. But, if it does, a world storm surge record could be set to fall.

UPDATE: Ita shows some slight weakening in both satellite and pressure estimates. Pressures (NOAA) as of about 7 PM were around 926 mb with maximum sustained winds still estimated in the range of 150 to 155 mph. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology maintains ITA at 907 mb and CAT 5. Still a very powerful storm.

UPDATE: As of 9 PM EST, US, Ita continued to show some signs of slight weakening. NOAA now shows Ita as a 931 mb storm, while Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology puts it at 914 mb. No cause for comfort, as yet, since these pressure estimates are well within the range of a strong CAT 4 or CAT 5 storm.

Perhaps more ominous, however, is a slight job to the south. Too early to call but if a more southerly track continues, locations such as Cairns may be in for more of an impact. Still too early to call.

ITA gale force winds on shore

As per the recent VMAX wind profile Ita’s gale force winds are now on shore. Measurements are in knots. In this measure maximum sustained winds are just into CAT 5 status (138 kts). Image source is NOAA.

UPDATE: Slow strength degradation continues pushing Ita into strong CAT 4 status. NOAA shows 937 mb and ABM shows 922 mb at 11 PM. Wind strength remains between 145 and 150 mph max sustained. Southward jog continues as it appears possible Ita may skirt the coast.

UPDATE: Ita came ashore as a Category 4 storm with effective one minute sustained winds in excess of 135 mph and a ten minute sustained wind of 120 mph near Cape Flattery in Queensland. Pressures at landfall were in the range of 935 to 948 mb. Ita has continued to track just inland and is now just west of Cooktown. Interaction with land has continued to degrade Ita, which as of 12 PM EST was estimated at Category 3 intensity.

 

Links:

Australian Bureau of Meteorology

LANCE-MODIS

NOAA

ITA Heads for Australian Landfall

ITA Public Advisory

ITA Wrecks Havoc in Solomon Islands

Beastly ITA

Monster Kelvin Wave Emerging in the Pacific

El Nino Update: Monster Kelvin Wave Continues to Emerge and Intensify

Monster Kelvin Wave

(Kevin Wave continues to strengthen and propagate across the Pacific Ocean. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

Record global temperatures, extraordinarily severe storms for the US West Coast and telegraphing on through the Central and Eastern US, a disruption of the Asian Monsoon and various regional growing seasons, record heat and drought in Northern Australia, severe drought and fires in the Amazon, the same throughout Eurasia and into the Siberian Arctic, another potential blow to Arctic sea ice. These and further extreme impacts are what could unfold if the extraordinarily powerful Kelvin Wave now racing toward the Pacific Ocean surface continues to disgorge its heat.

The most recent update from NOAA shows that the monster Kelvin Wave we reported on last week has continued to grow and intensify even as it shows no sign of slowing its rather ominous emergence from waters off the west coast of South America.

The pool of 4-6+ degree Celsius above average temperatures continues to widen and lengthen, now covering 85 degrees of longitude from 170 East to 105 West. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that the zone of extreme 6+ C temperature anomalies has both widened and extended, covering about 50 degrees of longitude and swelling to a relative depth of about 30-40 meters. This is an extraordinarily intense temperature extreme that well exceeds those observed during the ramp-up to the record 1997-98 El Nino event.

Meanwhile, a smaller, but still disturbing, zone of 3-6+ C above average temperatures has now developed just 100 feet below the surface along a line near 100 degrees West Longitude. It is a very strong heat pulse, the head of the Kelvin Wave that by late March had pushed its nose up in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific.

Kelvin Wave Side Graph

(Deep, hot Pacific Ocean water continues to shift east. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

In the above NOAA graph we can see the hot, deep pool in the Western Pacific gradually flowing eastward, spreading out and shallowing as it begins to dump its heat content back into the atmosphere. A return of stored ocean heat that will, likely, spike global atmospheric temperature values all while sparking off a series of very extreme weather events.

Warm Storms Continuing to Pull Heat Eastward and Upward

The west-to-east progression and upwelling of Pacific Ocean heat is currently facilitated by low pressure systems lining up along the equator. The lows are fed by heat and evaporation bleeding off the Pacific Ocean surface. This heat enhances the formation of thunderstorms that join into larger, heat-driven cyclonic systems. The countervailing circulations of these systems act to slow the trade winds while allowing the hot pool to spread further and further east.

It is a pattern that tends to emerge at the beginning of most El Nino events. A self-reinforcing cycle that draws energy from ocean surface heat even as its intensity is enhanced more and more by heat transfer from the depths.

GFS Model North Pacific

(GFS model guidance through April 13 shows a persistent cyclone off New Guinea interrupting the trade winds — lower left — even as a long trough is predicted to form over the Eastern Pacific just north of the Equator — lower right. This pattern would tend to enhance the formation of El Nino conditions throughout the forecast period. Image source: NOAA)

It is the kind of cycle in which the excess Ocean heat, amplified by human-caused global warming, and long stored in the Pacific, as Dr. Kevin Trenberth well observed, may now be coming back to haunt us.

Conditions of a Human-Altered ENSO Cycle Compared to the Most Recent Warming at the End of the Last Ice Age

The La Nina to El Nino cycle (ENSO) is part of a larger ocean and air energy transfer pattern in which heat is periodically stored in the vast equatorial waters of the Pacific before being returned again to the atmosphere. In a normal climate state, this dance of heat energy between the airs and the waters would result in simple periodic variation appearing at the peak of either La Nina (atmospheric cool extreme) or El Nino (atmospheric warm extreme). But because human warming has now added a very strong and rapid heat forcing to this natural cycle of variability, La Nina periods have displayed slower rates of atmospheric warming (where they should have showed cooling) and El Nino periods have often resulted in temperatures spiking to new global records.

Natural variation, in this case, rests on a curve that we are forcing to bend inexorably upward.

Of the .8 degrees Celsius worth of annual global warming experienced since the 1880s, about .15 C, or nearly 20 percent of this warming, occurred during the powerful 1997-98 El Nino event in which vast amounts of stored ocean heat returned to the atmosphere. Since 1998, the Pacific Ocean has undergone a long period of La Nina events in which a large store of atmospheric heat was transferred to the global ocean system. But despite this enormous heat transfer, global temperatures continued to climb with new records achieved in 2005 and 2010 during relatively weak to moderate El Nino events.

For the currently emerging El Nino, all indications point toward it being as strong or stronger than the extraordinarily powerful 1997-98 El Nino, perhaps readying to raise global temperatures by another .15 C or more.

April 1 sea surface temperature anomaly

(April 1 Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly Map shows a band of 1-3 C above average temperatures covering the Equatorial Pacific. It’s a marked difference from the slightly cooler than average conditions that have dominated for much of the past year. Given the current Pacific Ocean weather context and the very strong Kelvin Wave lurking just beneath the surface, it appears to be the start of a powerful El Nino phase. Image source: NOAA/ESRL)

For context, the difference between the 1880s and the last ice age was about 4 degrees Celsius. A temperature change that took about 10,000 years to complete. The total current warming of .8 C is equal to about 20% of the difference between the 19th Century and an ice age, but on the side of hot. This warming occurred at extraordinary velocity, over the course of little more than a century. An extreme pace of warming now between 30 and 40 times faster than that at the end of the last ice age. A pace of global heat accumulation that has not been seen in at least 65 million years.

Under business as usual fossil fuel emissions, even that very rapid pace of warming could more than triple over the coming decades, producing a warming equivalent to what occurred during the end of the last ice age over the course of 10,000 years in less than 200. A disastrous pace that will wreck untold harm on the world’s weather systems, climates, ocean systems, geographies and ecologies should it emerge. A pace of warming that likely has no corollary even in the Permian Hot House Extinction Event of 250 million years ago.

In the current cycle of human warming, a strong El Nino can push that measure by as much as 5% or more in just a single year. So we may well see global average temperatures of 1 C higher than 1880s values by the end of 2014-2015 should the current and very powerful El Nino continue to emerge.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Monster El Nino Emerging in the Pacific

NOAA/GFS

NOAA/ESRL

Global Heating Accelerates, Deep Ocean Warming the Fastest, What Does it Mean for Methane Hydrates?

A Deadly Climb From Glaciation to Hothouse — Why the Permian Extinction is Pertinent to Human Warming

NOAA: El Nino is Coming, Extreme Weather, New Global High Temperature Records Likely to Follow

Time to Start Thinking about Deposing Fossil Fuel Kings and Establishing a Global Climate Emergency Protocol

Gigatons Carbon in Fossil Fuel Reserves

(Gigatons of Carbon in various fossil fuel reserves vs amount of carbon already released into the atmosphere. Figure based on 2007 estimates. Wealth for fossil fuel companies, a terrible liability, or a vast threat to life on Earth? Image source: Atmospheric Chemistry, 2007.)

We live in a kind of sad age. An age of constraint by a kind of ideology that seems to believe there’s something wrong with the highest levels of human cooperation. Perhaps, we are justifiably suspicious, as the long history of humankind is filled with a broad wreckage of what could be termed the abuse of nations. But I think it’s fair to say we’ve gotten the calculus somewhat wrong and what we really should be suspicious of is the great accumulation of power by individuals without check or question and not the democratically elected public entities that form our representative government bodies.

For, in short, if the governments are warped, they are by a kind of endemic set of proxy powers, by bullies with big money bags, and by profit-seeking special interest groups. You know, the kind of corporate persons the conservative half of the US Supreme Court is so disturbingly cozy with these days.

If we were to take a classic example, we could look at Stalin. Here we have a man who, on the face of it, claimed to be dedicated to a benevolent equality. But he used that ideology to develop a kind of cult of personality in which he was made an absolute ruler. This was not the egalitarian ideal many envisioned and hoped for. It was, instead, simply a more intense form of the manipulation of political and idea-based systems for personal gain. In the case of Stalin, it resulted in a kind of kingship. A kingship where Stalin effectively twisted the ideals of the day into a kind of justification for his own elevation to the status of a Randian hyper-individual and the development of a kind of monopoly corporate superstate that was mother Russia.

In the case of Soviet Communism, the ideals served the man rather than the man serving the ideal. It is an ugly pattern we see on the large and small scale time and time again throughout human history. And, from a systems sustainability perspective, this is a huge problem. In particular, the problem arises when individualism all too readily teeters into an irresponsible narcissism that generates personal gain through the infliction of harm.

Modern Oligarchies, Dictators and Kings

In the current age, we suffer no less from our dictators. In the west, we have our oligarchs — the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdoch, various fossil fuel company CEOs and boards of directors along with a long list of narcissistic and destructive billionaires — whose endless search for ever-increasing personal power causes vast social upheaval and environmental destruction. Around the world, we can see a similar array of destructively self-interested characters from the leaders of increasingly rogue globalized corporations to various dictators who have finagled autocratic or dictatorial rule over entire nations.

Factory Billows Carcinogenic Smoke

(An image all-too familiar in our age: massive aerosol, toxin, and CO2e smokestack emission.)

In essence, it boils down to the old problem of kings the American and French revolutionaries were so passionate to expunge. The problem, now, is that the kings have different names and titles. They masquerade as things other than kings. But kings, in essence, they remain and their terms are often life-long investitures.

This is not to say that the good queen or king doesn’t pop up now and then. But the king that uses a phenomenal accumulation of wealth and power not in the service of his narrow personal interests, but in the pursuit of a broader good is a rare, rare kind of person. The kind of person who has already given up a share of their power to something other than themselves. Who understand that power is only worthwhile when it is not taken in service of the self, but of others. And today that definition could well be expanded to the service both of other, less fortunate humans, and of other life on this world.

The problem is that, all too often, waiting for these kinds of kings to emerge is a futile endeavor. Does the broader human population pin its hopes on the good king or queen? The one who will recognize problems and expend resources to solve them? Or does broader human population, having suffered a long series of insults and, now being pushed over the brink of environmental catastrophe, depose the bad kings and put in place cooperation-based laws and leadership that ensure a just progress and provide some hope of confronting what is, perhaps, the most enormous difficulty humans and life on this world has ever experienced?

What I am suggesting is a kind of democratic and legally justified overthrow of the greed-driven personal profit motive as it relates to the current and coming environmental harm. A setting in place of a new system of values that may (and this may is a very qualified may) save us from the catastrophe we can most certainly lay at the feet of our entirely irresponsible corporate and dictatorial kings…

The Climate Emergency Protocol — Legal Justification For Holding Fossil Fuel Companies, Corporate or National, as Liable for Large-Scale Harms Inflicted

At issue here is the niggling problem of combined profit motive, total global fossil fuel reserves, property rights and the strange notion that is limited liability.

For under Friedman we assume that the only moral value of a corporation is to pursue profit. In such a case, a corporation is morally justified in dumping poisons into rivers, oceans and atmospheres for the temporary benefit that is profit for share holders.

For in the understanding that is our current observation of proven, possible, and unproven fossil fuel reserves, and given that we’ve already dumped enough carbon into the atmosphere to set off catastrophic events, we know that the vast volume of these reserves if unleashed into the atmosphere would multiply our current catastrophe manifold. In such a case, most of these reserves need to remain in the ground if we are to have any hope of a livable climate.

For under property rights, we understand that these corporations and shareholders, who by their own twisted morality are bound to seek short-term individual profit by wrecking our climate, claim as legitimate their ownership and pursuit of the means of our destruction. In such a case, corporations claim moral rights to profit from a vast and ever-expanding harm that they inflict, unwittingly or cynically, upon themselves and the rest of us. Such a blatant twisting of morality is, possibly, without precedent in all of human history, especially when its end results are the impoverishment and extinction of individuals, groups, and entire species together with a kind of amplifying and wholesale global destruction.

And, finally, for understanding and assuming a limited liability, corporations deign that they have little or no responsibility to the broader national or global public, to creatures that are not human, or to the life systems of this planet for the broad and expanding harm inflicted upon them through the current and heinously vicious application of self-justified profit motive.

2-degrees-Climate-Action-Tracker_highres

(A 2013 graphic by Climate Action Tracker estimating action needed to keep ECS (fast feedback) warming below 2 C. The right side of the graph shows total annual CO2e emissions. Note that, according to this analysis, emissions need to fall to near zero by 2050 to have much hope of preventing a 2 C ECS warming. It is also worth noting that Michael Mann has provided a rational global climate model assessment showing that we will likely lock in 2 C ECS warming in the next couple of years and see that level of added heat by 2036.)

Here we identify the flimsy legal basis for continued destructive action. An institution that enables vast and expanding climate and environmental harm without any accountability. An institution whose subjective profit morality is vastly amoral in the broader context of human and overall life systems welfare. And since this institution has no true moral basis upon which these publics could view it as useful or just, it must be considered amoral overall and without any viable grounds for a continued assumption of legitimacy. And since these corporations have made little to no action to effectively combat the harms which they have set in place, instead actively seeking to erode and call doubt on the massive volume of scientific evidence pointing to amplifying harm, or in personally attacking the scientists themselves, they must be viewed as rogue entities operating under a state of self-declared anarchy and beholden to no motive other than their short-term profit seeking.

In this understanding, nations and communities of nations, therefore, would be entirely justified to act on behalf of their peoples and on behalf of the life-systems they, themselves, are obligated by inherent natural law to protect and to husband. In such an understanding, corporate assets may be declared forfeit and resources may be re-directed in pursuit of removing the harms generated and in preventing further harms over longer time-frames.

A Climate Emergency Protocol in Action

Based on this understanding of an illegitimate authority and rights by rogue profit-seeking entities engaging in acts of wholesale harm, a set of national and international frameworks may well be envisioned in the context of what is a rising global climate emergency.

Nations, recognizing their peril, may be forced to act in their own interest and in the interest of the various publics, both natural and human, to which they are morally obliged to protect. And in this recognition, nations would be provided with a legitimate authority to nationalize fossil fuel resources for the purpose of removing it from destructive and rapid exploitation through market driven profit motive, for enacting a rapid reduction in overall use and emissions, and in ultimately achieving a permanent sequestration.

Global-warming-2013-PIFL-meeting

(Marshall Islands battered by high tides, huge waves related to global sea level rise. Image source: Pacific Island Nation Conference on Climate Change.)

National action could unfold in a manner similar to which the United States nationalized assets for the conduct of World War II. Fossil fuel reserves would be declared national holdings, corporate apparatus would remain, for the most part, in tact. But the profit generating organs would be subsumed by the state and re-directed toward turning fossil fuel ventures into alternative energy and carbon capture and sequestration ventures. In this way, all profits from the sales of fossil fuels and, for a time, new energy would be aimed at a direct transition away from such a destructive set of resources. This structure would also allow for both the retention and retraining of skilled, hard-working individuals who, through no fault of their own, became engaged in the fossil fuel trade. Such a wealth of talent could, in this way, be shifted to direct problem solving.

In the end, once transition of fossil fuel companies was achieved, they could then again be released for public investment and ownership under more stringent rules of operation similar to that of public utility companies and with absolute bars against a return to fossil energy exploitation and atmospheric carbon release.

Nations already holding a wealth of fossil fuel resources as public assets could readily shift to a similar footing by redirecting profits into direct alternative energy investment and carbon sequestration. In such cases, however, these nations may require additional assistance from more diverse economies.

Importing nations would also be justified in adding a series of tariffs at the point of import that feed directly in to energy transition infrastructure deployment. Broad-based utility buy-in could be achieved by adding funds for distributed solar, wind, and other new renewable leasing programs in which utilities maintained ownership of generating assets but provided services for a reasonable price. Meanwhile, a market for various carbon sequestration services could be established and expanded.

For these reasons and others, nations would be well advised to form legal and financial pacts and treaties with other, similarly acting, nations so as to protect themselves from action by less responsible governments and by corporate entities seeking an unjust recourse for mitigating actions. Such a framework would also provide set rules by which overall global fossil fuel emissions would be reduced, provisions of aid and assistance would be distributed to speed the process, and by setting up a means to hold honest the various signatory powers. In addition, a large and powerful enough pact of nations could provide commercial leverage against bad-actor countries through financial and import-export sanctions while providing aid to those countries most in need of direct assistance for rapid transition away from fossil fuel use.

Samoa_Seals_Government_01

(The official government seal of Samoa, one of the many nations now facing an existential crisis due to human-caused climate change. It is worth noting that fully 1/3 of all residents in Samoa live within 10 feet of current sea level, that 5% of the island’s GDP is lost each year, currently, due to climate impacts, and that the island’s fresh water supply would be almost entirely disrupted by just a 3 foot rise in sea level. But Samoa’s mountainous interior provides it with some defense. Other island states are not so fortunate.)

A strong block of climate emergency protocol (CEP) nations could also set up structures by which new technology and practices could be exchanged more freely, creating a large and well funded incubator for solutions based research and action.

Since rapidly mitigating the current climate catastrophe is just one imperative of nations seeking to provide for the futures of their populaces, CEP nations would also work to standardize frameworks by which populations and consumption are rationally restrained. In such cases, a broad and multilateral re-invigoration of institutions supporting women’s reproductive liberty and health together with a broad and expanding access to all forms of birth control will be essential. Further incentive through national policy to provide tangible rewards for individuals who decide to have few or no children or for those in same-sex relations may also need to be put in place.

Controlling and reducing consumption may require a broad range of features that include both incentives and rationing when needed. To this point, meat-based agriculture may need to be greatly reduced to both rapidly bring down global methane emissions as well as reduce the total land burden of human agriculture, thus freeing more lands for forests and wetlands.

Lastly, CEP nations could join together to form new and more effective sustainability practices by improving sustainable farming, land use, cooperation with nature technologies and practices, establishing systems of kindness economics, and by husbanding and developing species sanctuaries and seed banks as the current climate catastrophe continues to push greater and greater numbers of life-forms toward extinction.

In this call, I join with a broad number of agencies and organizations already active in dealing with the current climate emergency and invite dissemination and improvement of the above, humbly submitted, proposal:

350.org

The Climate Emergency Institute

Climate Change Emergency Declaration

The Arctic Methane Emergency Group

 

Links:

Michael Mann, Our Terrifying Greenhouse Gas Overburden, and Heating the World by +2 C by 2036

Responding to Climate Change

Pacific Island Nation Conference on Climate Change

Atmospheric Chemistry, 2007

 

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths: Nose of Massive Kelvin Wave Breaks Surface in Eastern Pacific

Monster El Nino

(A monster Kelvin wave, possibly more powerful than the 1997-98 event, is now rushing toward the surface of the Eastern Pacific. Image source: NOAA/ESRL.)

We are observing an extraordinarily powerful Kelvin Wave, one that was likely intensified by factors related to human global warming, traveling across the Pacific. It appears to be an epic event in the making. One that may be hotter and stronger than even the record-shattering 1997-98 El Nino. What this means is that we may well be staring down the throat of a global warming riled monster.

*   *    *    *    *

Ever since the early 2000s very strong east to west trade winds have been blowing across the Pacific. By around 2010, the force of this wind pattern had risen to never before seen records. Over the years, these record winds piled very warm waters in a region of the world east of the Philippines and Australia. As the pool grew warmer, evaporation increased and salinity levels in the hot water pool spiked. Increasing salinity in the zone resulted in a down-welling current that transferred heat into the ocean’s depths.

By 2013, this hot water pool had grown into a vast abyss of heat. Cyclones forming over this zone experienced a kick in intensity as the typical upwelling force of their winds only dredged more hot water from the ocean deeps. It was a pattern that is contrary to typical tropical storm dynamics in which cooler waters drawn up by intense storms tend to limit their peak strength. Not so with mega-typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm ever to strike land. The cyclonic wind pattern only dredged more heat from the extraordinarily deep hot water. And so the storm only grew stronger and stronger, knowing little in the way of limits before it barreled into an already storm-battered Philippines.

After Haiyan’s passage, the heat pool remained, only growing deeper and more intense, waiting for a change in the wind. And by January of 2014, that wind change was already well on its way.

In Deep, Hot Water

Like an enormous bag waiting to burst eastward, the hot water pool contained temperatures of 29-30 degrees C or hotter and sagged deep, extending up to 150 meters below the ocean surface. A vast stretch of explosive heat that had been held in check from an equatorial surge only by the strongest trade winds on record. But by January, those trade winds had faded. The east-west flow first weakened, then it fluttered, then it died, allowing the wind direction to reverse.

Strong Trade Winds Hot Ocean

(Did strong trade winds intensify the current Kelvin Wave by piling hot water into the Western Pacific? Top graph shows ocean heat content rise, bottom graph shows zonal wind strength of the trade winds through 2011. Note that IPO — Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation — divergence roughly correlates with trade wind intensity fluctuation. Image source: England Study.)

This trade wind reversal has, since January, been facilitated by a string of explosive low pressure systems that developed in the vicinity of the Western Pacific both south and north of the equator. Northern hemisphere storms circulate in a counter-clockwise fashion while southern hemisphere storms circulate clockwise. When the storms line up, they kick storm winds out along the equator, providing strong reversals to the trade winds and further shoving our hot, monster Kelvin Wave to the east.

And as the trade winds fell and reversed due to this sporadic assault of countervailing storms, the hot, deep pool of water surged eastwards. To those on the surface, the motion was invisible. And but for a series of floats spread throughout the Pacific, we would never know a monster thing was rushing along toward the east at a depth of about 150 meters below.

But the floats did their work and by late February it looked like a rather strong heat pulse was on its way across the Pacific Ocean. Risks began to dramatically increase that the heat would breach the surface of the Eastern Equatorial Pacific and set in place the globe-altering weather pattern called El Nino. In a world where human warming was already having serious impacts, the emergence of a new, potentially strong El Nino was not at all a welcome sign. For one, it meant new global high temperature records were likely to soon follow.

It also meant that world food security may well be about to receive yet one more staggering blow.

First Warnings

As the signal for a new El Nino began to appear in the models during late February, NOAA started to issue watches and predictions. Initial estimates were for a 52% chance of El Nino by late 2014.

These warnings caused a ripple of concern through the global food markets. Already reeling under the insults of a series of severe, climate change induced, droughts from Brazil and Argentina, to California and Texas, to the Middle East, to China, the world’s growers were hardly prepared for another series of anomalous weather events. Russia rolling into bread-basket Ukraine further set anxieties alight. But the threat of even a moderate El Nino and its associated droughts and extreme weather seemed to be a rising perfect storm for what was already a terrible year.

Growers in Southeast Asia chided forecasters in the West, with some cautioning that El Nino trackers do their best to quiet down so as not to induce a panic.

Southeast Asia often experiences an interruption of the annual monsoon in association with El Nino. So the region, which was already suffering from ground water shortages, lowering glacial outflows and sporadic periods of intense drought — all conditions related to growth, over-consumption and climate change — could ill afford yet one more strike against it.

Still, the strike appeared to be gathering heat and steam.

A Rising Monster Pushing the Tip of Its Nose up in the Eastern Pacific

As growers and states with marginal or bad food security grew more anxious, the hot water surge intensified. Researchers independent of NOAA began to issue estimates for a 60, 70 even 80% probability for the emergence of El Nino. Others, tracking what now appeared to be the hottest Kelvin wave ever seen, began to issue warnings that a monster event may well be on the way.

Deep Hot Water

(Most recent NOAA Kelvin Wave assessment. Top panel shows deep water high temperature anomalies telegraphing across the Pacific and pushing toward the surface. Large, deep pool of hot water providing energy to for the wave is visible in the bottom panel. Image source: NOAA.)

At issue were deep ocean temperature anomalies that were now rushing across the Pacific and beginning to rise toward the surface. The zone in late February that had indicated temperature anomalies in the range of +4-6 C was over an area of approximately 48 degrees of longitude. By March 19, the hot zone of 4-6 C above normal temperatures had expanded to cover about 62 degrees of longitude, and contained a hotter 5-6 C anomaly zone that was now larger than the 4-6 C zone from late February. The deep, hot water pool in the Western Pacific was now beginning to set up a kind of bridge in which it could transfer east, dump its heat into the atmosphere and disrupt global weather. Perhaps, somewhat more disturbing, it was linking to a deep pool of warmer water off the coast of South America (also see animation at the top of this post).

By comparison, the monster El Nino of 1997 featured a Kelvin Wave covering about the same area but whose high temperature anomalies only peaked out at about 4.5 C above average. So the current Kelvin wave is of approximately the same size but, based on current observations, appears to contain more heat.

The Kelvin wave had also begun to tilt up in the front with its ‘nose’ just starting to break the Pacific Ocean surface at between 120 and 100 West Longitude. This put the tip of the rising heat spike almost due south of Baja California and almost due west of the Peru and Ecuador border as of yesterday, March 23.

Monster El Nino Shows Nose

(Monster El Nino pokes the tip of its nose through Pacific surface waters between 120 W longitude and 100 W longitude along the equator. Image source: NOAA/ESRL.)

In the above ocean temperature anomaly measure for March 23, 2014, we can see a hot pool in the range of 1 to 2 C above average beginning to emerge between 120 and 100 West Longitude. It is a heat pulse that has eliminated all but the closest near-shore cool upwelling along the west coast of South America.

Should the rest of the Kelvin wave follow, temperature anomalies in this region will spike well above 4 C and possibly has high as 5-6 C. Such an event would be even stronger than the one seen in 1997-98, drive global temperatures about .05 to .2 C hotter than previous records in a single year, and set off a series of extreme weather that, when combined with the already severe conditions set in place by human-caused warming, may well be far in excess of those seen during past events.

Links:

NOAA/ESRL

England Study

Abnormally Hot, Deep Pacific Ocean Waters Explode Haiyan into Monster Storm

NOAA El Nino Monitoring

Climate Change Pushing World to the Brink of Food Crisis

The Monsters of Growth Shock Rise: Conflict in the Ukraine, Global Food Crisis, and Spending 500 Billion Dollars to Wreck the Climate

India Times Chides Western Meteorologists about El Nino Predictions

Unusually Intense El Nino May Lie Ahead, Scientists Say

Disquieting Facts About El Nino

Washington Post: A Super El Nino May be on the Way

US Atmospheric Scientists Predict Intense El Nino

Weather Centre: Could the Next Super El Nino Be Forming?

Arctic Sea Ice Breaking Up as Heat Anomaly Spikes to 4.21 Degrees Celsius Above Average

The Siberian Heat Wave that began last week continues apace today. Far warmer than normal southerly winds continue to blow over a large region of Siberia bringing with them near freezing and occasionally above freezing temperatures. The combined influence of this off-shore flow and, what is for the Arctic, late spring and early summer-like weather is having a profound effect on Arctic sea ice in the regions of the Kara, Laptev, and East Siberian Seas.

Last week, we reported that an early break-up of sea ice was ongoing in the Kara Sea. Now, with the warm, off-shore flow shifting west, this break-up zone has expanded well into the Laptev and East Siberian. Satellite observations indicate that a very large section of ice pack, stretching from Severnaya Zemlya past the New Siberian Islands and on into the East Siberian Sea has been shoved northward by the strong south-north wind flow. The result is large gaps, ranging from 50-100 miles in width, forming along the boundary of the land fast ice and spreading through a zone of high impact for about 2,000 kilometers through the Kara and Laptev Seas before extending along a less involved fault zone another 1,000 kilometers into the East Siberian Sea.

Moving from west to east around the Arctic Basin, below is a summary of the ongoing break-up. Please note that some sections of these images are obscured by cloud cover:

Kara Sea March 9 v2Kara Sea March 24

(Kara sea before large scale breakup on March 9 in the top frame and after large-scale break up on March 24 in the lower frame. Image source: Lance-Modis)

Above, we have a continuation of the Kara Sea ice breakup we reported last week. Note that the break-up now extends all the way through sections of the land-fast ice to shore. Motion of the floe is still mostly south to north with sections of open water here ranging from 5-30 kilometers in width.

Moving east, we find that the eastward drift of the off-shore wind pattern and associated warm air temperatures that are closer to May and June norms have had a dramatic impact on Laptev sea ice as well:

Laptev March 9

Laptev March 24

(Laptev sea ice on March 9 with some large polynas prior to large scale break-up and extending of polynas on March 24. Image source: Lance-Modis)

Here we find the section of large openings and polynas spreading east from Severnaya Zemlya through the Laptev and on past the New Siberian Islands. Ice crack sizes are quite large with gaps stretching between 30-50 kilometers in width. Sea ice toward the central pack shows much more extensive cracks (leads) and breakage.

Still further east, the warm southerly winds have also widened and extended large cracks running through the East Siberian Sea, the region of water covering the shallow and sensitive East Siberian Arctic Shelf zone:

East Siberian Sea March 9

East Siberian Sea March 24

(East Siberian Sea ice on March 9 in the top frame and March 24 in the bottom frame. Image source: Lance-Modis.)

The crack structure appears to have shifted north, extended and widened even as the ice system became more crack-riddled.

Siberian Heat Wave Continues

Temperatures in the region continue to range between 5 and 20 or more degrees Celsius (9 to 36 F) above average for this time of year. This abnormal ‘heat’ translates into average temperatures ranging from -14 to 0 C (8 to 32 Fahrenheit). It is worth noting that salt water freezes at around -2 C (28 F, depending on salinity). So average temperatures in this range are enough to retard refreeze after breakage, to keep sea ice more disassociated and brittle, and to result in some areas where sporadic melt occurs.

As spring continues, warmer water beneath the ice pack, waters warmed by solar insolation, ice warmed by solar insolation, and warm water outflows from the Continents may well become involved to enhance early season sea ice break up and melt.

Overall, the Arctic is now experiencing an extraordinarily high temperature anomaly of +4.21 above the 1979-2000 average or about 5.7 C above the 1880s average. These excessive above average temperatures are high enough to initiate early melt, fragility and break-up in some zones (as observed above).

T2_anom_satellite2

(Very large Asian heat plume. Image source: University of Maine.)

This particular heat wave is in association with a very large Asian system in which much warmer than average temperatures extend south to north from Northern China, Mongolia, through the Yakutia region of Russia and on up into the Kara, Laptev, East Siberian, and Beaufort Seas of the Arctic Ocean. It is also worth noting the rather impressive hot pool forming over the Balkan States of Eastern Europe and the Ukraine which is, perhaps, a pattern settling in with the potentially oncoming El Nino.

GFS model runs show the current Arctic pulse spiking to around +5 C above 1979 to 2000 averages over the next 48 hours and then slowly fading through March 31 as anomalies return to a range of about +2-3 C above average. Hot zones continue to linger over China, Mongolia, Siberia and Eastern Europe as a somewhat troubling heat pulse develops over a large swath of western Greenland before riding up over Svalbard potentially bringing 30-40 degree (F) temperatures to both Western Greenland and this Arctic island by late in the forecast period.

Links:

Lance-Modis

University of Maine

Arctic Ice Graphs

 

Far Worse than Being Beaten with a Hockey Stick: Michael Mann, Our Terrifying Greenhouse Gas Overburden and Heating the Earth by + 2 C by 2036

I’m going to say something that will probably seem completely outrageous. But I want you to think about it, because it’s true.

You, where-ever you are now, are living through the first stages of a disaster in which there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no safe place on Earth for you to go to avoid it. The disaster you are now living through is a greenhouse emergency and with each ounce of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gasses you, I, or the rest of us, pump into the air, that emergency grows in the vast potential of damage and harm that it will inflict over the coming years, decades and centuries. The emergency is now unavoidable and the only thing we can hope to do through rational action is to reduce the degree of harm both short and long term, to rapidly stop making the problem worse, and to put human ingenuity toward solving the problem rather than continuing to intensify it.

But damage, severe, deadly and terrifying is unleashed, in effect and already happening, with more on the way.

*    *    *    *    *

Manns-hockey-stick

(Michael Mann’s famous Hockey Stick graph showing Northern Hemisphere temperatures over the past 1,000 years. The influences of human warming become readily apparent from the late 19th to early 21rst centuries. But human greenhouse gas forcing has much greater degrees of warming in store.)

This week, Michael Mann wrote an excellent piece describing the immediacy of our current emergency in the Scientific American. In typical, just the facts, fashion, he laid out a series of truths relevant to the current greenhouse catastrophe. These facts were told in a plain manner and, yet, in a way that laid out the problem but didn’t even begin to open the book on what that problem meant in broader context.

Michael Mann is an amazing scientist who has his hand on the pulse of human-caused climate change. He is a kind of modern Galileo of climate science in that he has born the brunt of some of the most severe and asinine attacks for simply telling the truth and for revealing the nature of our world as it stands. But though Mann’s facts are both brutal and hard-hitting for those of us who constantly read the climate science, who wade through the literature and analyze each new report. By simply stating the facts and not telling us what they mean he is hitting us with a somewhat nerfed version of his ground-breaking Hockey Stick. A pounding that may seem brutal when compared to the comfortable nonsense put out by climate change deniers and fossil fuel apologists but one that is still not yet a full revelation.

I will caveat what is a passionate interjection by simply saying that Michael Mann is one of my most beloved heroes. And so I will do my best to help him out by attempting to lend more potency to his already powerful message.

2 C by 2036 — Digging through the Ugly Guts of it

All that said, Michael Mann laid out some brutal, brutal facts in his Scientific American piece. Ones, that if you only take a few moments to think about are simply terrifying. For the simple truth is that the world has only a very, very slim hope of preventing a rapid warming to at least 2 C above 1880s levels in the near future and almost zero hope altogether of stopping such warming in the longer term.

The first set of figures Mann provides involves the current greenhouse gas forcing. Current CO2 levels are now at the very dangerous 400 parts per million threshold. Long term, and all by itself, this forcing is enough to raise global temperatures by between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius. But hold that thought you were just about to have, because we haven’t yet included all the other greenhouse gasses in that forcing.

Mann, in the supplemental material to his Scientific American paper, notes that the total forcing of all other greenhouse gasses currently in the atmosphere is about 20% of the total CO2 forcing. This gives us a total CO2 equivalent forcing of 480 ppm CO2e, which uncannily mirrors my own analysis here (the science may have under-counted a bit on the methane forcing, but this value is likely quite close to current reality for both the short and long term).

480 ppm CO2e is one hell of a forcing. It is nearly a 75% greater forcing than 1880s values and, all by itself, is enough to raise temperatures long-term by between 3.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius.

And it is at this point that it becomes worthwhile talking a bit about different climate sensitivity measures. The measure I am using to determine this number is what is called the Earth Systems Sensitivity measure (ESS). It is the measure that describes long term warming once all the so called slow feedbacks like ice sheet response (think the giant glaciers of Greenland and West Antarctica) and environmental carbon release (think methane release from thawing tundra and sea bed clathrates) come into the equation. Mann, uses a shorter term estimate called Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS). It’s a measure that tracks the fast warming response time once the fast feedbacks such as water vapor response and sea ice response are taken into account. ECS warming, therefore, is about half of ESS warming. But the catch is that ECS hits you much sooner.

At 480 ppm CO2e, we can expect between 1.75 and 2.25 degrees C of warming from ECS. In essence, we’ve locked about 2 C worth of short term warming in now. And this is kind of a big deal. I’d call it a BFD, but that would be swearing. And if there is ever an occasion for swearing then it would be now. So deal with it.

Mann, in his article, takes note of the immediacy of the problem by simply stating that we hit 2 C of shorter term ECS warming once we hit 405 ppm CO2 (485 CO2e), in about two to three years. And it’s important for us to know that this is the kind of heat forcing that is now hanging over our heads. That there’s enough greenhouse gas loading in the atmosphere to push warming 2 C higher almost immediately and 4 C higher long term. And that, all by itself, is a disaster unlike anything humans have ever encountered.

Global Fossil Fuel Emission

(Global annual fossil fuel emission is currently tracking faster than the worst-case IPCC scenario. Aerosols mask some of the heating effect of this enormous emission, what James Hansen calls ‘a Faustian Bargain.’ Image source: Hansen Paper.)

But there is a wrinkle to this equation. One that Dr. James Hansen likes to call the Faustian Bargain. And that wrinkle involves human produced aerosols. For by burning coal, humans pump fine particles into the atmosphere that reflect sunlight thereby masking the total effect of the greenhouse gasses we have already put into the atmosphere. The nasty little trick here is that if you stop burning coal, the aerosols fall out in only a few years and you then end up with the full heat forcing. Even worse, continuing to burn coal produces prodigious volumes of CO2 while mining coal pumps volatile methane into the atmosphere. It’s like taking a kind of poison that will eventually kill you but makes you feel better as you’re taking it. Kind of like the greenhouse gas version of heroin.

So the ghg heroin/coal has injected particles into the air that mask the total warming. And as a result we end up with a delayed effect with an extraordinarily severe hit at the end when we finally stop burning coal. Never stop burning coal and you end up reaching the same place eventually anyway. So it’s a rigged game that you either lose now or you lose in a far worse way later.

Mann wraps coal and other human aerosol emissions into his equation and, under business as usual, finds that we hit 2 C of ECS warming by 2036 as global CO2 levels approach 450 ppmv and global CO2e values approach 540 ppmv. At that point, were the aerosols to fall out we end up with an actual short term warming (ECS) response of 2.5 to 3 C and a long term response (ESS) of about 5 to 6 C. (Don’t believe me? Plug in the numbers for yourself in Mann’s climate model here.)

So ripping the bandaid off and looking at the nasty thing underneath, we find that even my earlier estimates were probably a bit too conservative and Mann, though we didn’t quite realize it at first, is hitting us very hard with his hockey stick.

What does a World That Warms So Rapidly to 2 C Look Like?

OK. That was rough. But what I am about to do is much worse. I’m going to take a look at actual effects of what, to this point, has simply been a clinical analysis of the numbers. I’m going to do my best to answer the question — what does a world rapidly warming by 2 C over the next 22 years look like?

Ugly. Even more ugly than the numbers, in fact.

First, let’s take a look at rates of evaporation and precipitation. We know that, based on past research, the hydrological cycle increases by about 6% for each degree Celsius of temperature increase. So far, with about .8 C worth of warming, we’ve had about a 5% increase in the hydrological cycle. What this means is that evaporation rates increase by 5% and precipitation events, on average, increase by about 5%. But because weather is uneven, what this does is radically increase the frequency and amplitude of extreme weather. Droughts are more frequent and more severe. Deluges are more frequent and more severe.

(Program in which top climate scientists explain how global warming increases the intensity of evaporation and precipitation all while causing dangerous changes to the Jet Stream.)

At 2 C warming we can change this loading from a 5% increase in the hydrological cycle of evaporation and precipitation to a 12% increase. You think the droughts and deluges are bad now? Just imagine what would happen if the driver of that intensity more than doubled. What do you end up with then?

Now let’s look at something that is directly related to extreme weather — sea ice loss. In the current world, about .8 C worth of warming has resulted in about 3.2 C worth of warming in the polar regions. And this warming has resulted in a massive and visible decline of sea ice in which end summer volume values are up to 80% less than those seen during the late 1970s. This loss of sea ice has had severe effects on the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream, both pulling it more toward the pole and resulting in high amplitude Jet Stream waves and local severe intensification of storm tracks. At 2 C worth of global warming, the Arctic heats up by around 7 C and the result is extended periods of ice free conditions during the summer and fall that last for weeks and months.

stroeve-barret-p-10-plus-2012

(Actual rate of sea ice loss vs IPCC model predictions. The most recent record low value achieved in 2012 is indicated by the dot. Image source: Assessment of Arctic Sea Ice/UCAR Report.)

The impacts to the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream are ever more severe as are the impacts to Greenland ice sheet melt. Under such a situation we rapidly get into a weather scenario where screaming temperature differentials between the North Atlantic near Greenland and the warming tropics generate storms the likes of which we have never seen. Add in a 12% boost to the hydrological cycle and we get the potential for what Dr. James Hansen describes as “frontal storms the size of continents with the intensity of hurricanes.”

Greenland melt itself is much faster under 2 C of added heat and the ice sheets are in dangerous and rapid destabilization. It’s possible that the kick will be enough to double, triple, quadruple or more the current pace of sea level rise. Half foot or more per decade sea level rise rapidly becomes possible.

All this severe weather, the intense rain, the powerful wind storms and the intense droughts aren’t kind to crops. IPCC projects a 2% net loss in crop yields each decade going forward. But this is likely to be the lower bound of a more realistic 2-10 percent figure. Modern agriculture is hit very, very hard in the context of a rapidly changing climate, increasing rates of moisture loss from soil and moisture delivery through brief and epically intense storms.

The rapid jump to 2 C is also enough to put at risk a growing list of horrors including rapid ocean stratification and anoxia (essentially initiating a mass die off in the oceans), large methane and additional CO2 release from carbon stores in the Arctic, and the unlocking of dangerous ancient microbes from thawing ice, microbes for which current plants and animals do not have adequate immune defenses.

How do we avoid this?

In short, it might not be possible to avoid some or even all of these effects. But we may as well try. And this is what trying would look like.

First, we would rapidly reduce human greenhouse gas emissions to near zero. As this happens, we would probably want a global fleet of aircraft that spray sulfate particles into the lower atmosphere to make up for the loss of aerosols once produced by coal plants. Finally, we would need an array of atmospheric carbon capture techniques including forest growth and cutting, then sequestration of the carbon stored by wood in lakes or in underground repositories, chemical atmospheric carbon capture, and carbon capture of biomass emissions.

For safety, we would need to eventually reduce CO2 to less than 350 ppm, methane to less than 1,000 ppb, and eliminate emissions from other greenhouse gasses. A very tall order that would require the sharing of resources, heroic sacrifices by every human being on this Earth, and a global coordination and cooperation of nations not yet before seen. Something that is possible in theory but has not yet been witnessed in practice. A test to see if humankind is mature enough to ensure its own survival and the continuation of life and diversity on the only world we know. A tall order, indeed, but one we must at least attempt.

Links:

Earth Will Cross Climate Danger Threshold by 2036

What does a World at 400 Parts per Million CO2 Look Like Long-Term?

One Scientist Argues 2036 Could be Point of No Return for Climate Disaster

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell

Doubling Down on our Faustian Bargain

Dr. Jennifer Francis, Top Climate Scientists Explain How Global Warming Aps the Hydrological Cycle and Wrecks the Jet Stream to Unleash Extreme Weather

Assessment of Arctic Sea Ice/UCAR Report

 

A Siberian Heat Wave is Breaking Kara Sea Ice In March, So is it Time to Start Thinking about Hot Arctic Rivers?

There’s a heatwave in Dickson, Russia today. But if you were standing on the shores of this port city on the Kara Sea in the far north, you might not realize it. The forecast high? 29 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dickson is located about 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 1,000 miles south of the North Pole. To its west is Novaya Zemlya, a sparely inhabited and typically frozen island between the Kara and Barents Seas. To its east is Siberian Khatanga and Severnaya Zemlya an island system that, until 2005, sat in a pack of Arctic sea ice so dense and resilient, it was once possible to ski from Severnaya all the way to the North Pole even at the height of Northern Hemisphere summer. No more. The sea ice is now but a thin and wrecked shadow of its former glory.

Ask any resident of this, typically frigid, coastal town and they’ll tell you that today it’s abnormally warm, even hot for this far-north locale. For the average high for this day in Dickson is about 1 degrees Fahrenheit. Typical daily highs of 29 degrees (F) don’t normally appear in Dickson until mid-to-late June.

So, in essence, summertime has arrived in Dickson in March and there we see temperatures that are a shocking 28 degrees Fahrenheit above average. Human caused climate change at its most brazen. But we haven’t seen a thing yet…

As we can see in the map below, Dickson is but one location sitting beneath a vast and spreading Siberian and Arctic heatwave:

Temp Anomaly March 20

(Global temperature anomaly map for March 20, 2014 shows world temps +.65 C above the, already hotter than normal, 1979-2000 baseline and Arctic temps at +3.12 C. Note the large heat pool over Siberia. Image source: University of Maine.)

A heatwave extending from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the borders of Mongolia and China in the south. From Surgut in the west and on deep into the Arctic Ocean’s Laptev and Kara Seas in the far north. And it is vast, covering an area roughly 2,000 by 2,000 miles at its widest points. But the heatwave is not disassociated from other high temperature anomalies. It flings a wide outrider over the Beaufort Sea and the Bering Strait. And it sits in a broad flood of warmer than average air riding over Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

This Jet Stream entrained warm air feeds the heatwave even as pulses of much warmer than normal air rise up from the deserts of Western China over Mongolia and up into Russia to give it an added kick. The connecting pattern is a high amplitude Jet Stream wave surging past the Arctic Circle and deep into the Arctic Ocean. It is the kind of high amplitude pattern that, over recent years, has been implicated in so many extreme Arctic heat invasions and related severe weather events.

Temperatures in the far north of this hot zone range from 10 to over 36 degrees Fahrenheit above average for this time of year. For Siberia and the Arctic Ocean it is a heatwave of just below freezing and slightly above freezing temperatures. In other words — what, until recently, used to be summer-like conditions.

Heat Wave Breaking up Ice in the Kara Sea

Such anomalous warmth is enough to put a heavy strain on sea ice. The ice freezes and melts at around 28 degrees F. So extended periods near or above this temperature can have an impact on ice integrity. The ice gets hit by warmer air even as it floats over warmer waters. It’s a kind of one-two punch that can be pretty devastating to sea ice integrity.

And we see just this kind of situation over the past two weeks in the region of the Kara Sea near Port Dickson.

Normally, this frigid ocean zone is covered in a stable sheet of ice called land fast ice. The ice is anchored to the land at various points and tends to remain solid due to reduced movement caused by grounding on the surrounding land features. When the land fast ice starts to go, it usually presages melt.

Kara Sea March 9Kara Sea March 17

(Break-up of Kara sea ice and land fast ice. Top frame shows the Kara on March 7, bottom frame shows break-up visible on March 17. Note that cloud covers a portion of both images and that the March 20 image — the most recent — is too obscured by cloud for detailed analysis. Image source: Lance-Modis)

With the recent influx of much warmer than normal air from the south, this is exactly what we see. A widespread breaking up of Kara sea ice and of even the more resilient features fixed to surrounding lands and islands. And as you can see in the lower frame image, the break-up is quite extensive and dramatic.

The current warm pulse is expected to last for the next few days before shifting back to Svalbard by early to mid next week. Meanwhile, overall Arctic temperatures are expected to remain between 2.5 and 5 C above the, already warmer than normal, 1979 to 2000 average all while a trend establishes that continues to feed warm air pulses up over Asia and into the Arctic Ocean zones of the Kara, Laptev and East Siberian Seas.

Abnormal warmth gathering over the continents in this way can cause both early melt and large flushes of warm meltwater into the Arctic Ocean. An issue that is specially relevant due to recent NASA studies of another section of the Arctic Ocean — the region north of Canada and the Mackenzie River Delta called the Beaufort Sea.

Warm Rivers Heat the Arctic Ocean, Melt Sea Ice

The NASA study found that large pulses of warm water from continental rivers are a strong mechanism for transporting heat into the Arctic and, over recent years, are one of many factors resulting in the sea ice’s rapid recession.

Warm Rivers NASA

(Heat flux from Canadian Mackenzie River into the Beaufort Sea during recent melt years. The first image shows sea surface temperatures on June 12 of 2012 before the Mackenzie River discharged and on July 5, 2012 after. Note the ocean surface water temps rising by as much as 10 C between frames. Image source: NASA.)

The NASA study found that large heatwaves warmed the continents and that this caused continental rivers to disgorge warm water into an already warming Arctic Ocean. The findings showed significant contributions from warm rivers to rising sea surface temperatures and sea ice melt during recent Arctic summers including the record melt year of 2012.

As the Arctic experiences increasing pulses of summertime temperatures during late winter and into spring, it is likely that warm water discharge and overall warmth will play a role at the transition between sea ice freeze and melt season. And this thought brings us back to Russia which appears to be stuck in the abnormally warm pattern covered above. A pattern that, should it continue to flicker and swell, may well bring a surge of warmer than usual water into the Kara, Laptev and East Siberian Seas come later this spring and on into summer. A blow to sea ice that may well emerge but that we can ill afford.

Links:

The University of Maine

Lance-Modis

NASA: Warm Rivers Play a Role in Arctic Melt

The Monsters of Growth Shock Rise: Conflict in the Ukraine, Global Food Crisis, and Spending 500 Billion Dollars to Permanently Wreck the World’s Climate

nasa_p1089035

(Immense Russian wildfires burning through the thawing tundra’s carbon pool during summer of 2012. The bar on the lower left denotes 50 kilometers. From end to end, the burning zone seen is about 500 miles in length. Image credit: NASA. Image source: Smoke From Massive Siberian Fires Seen in Canada.)

The radio and television today blares with the news but never the causes:

US meat, coffee, almond and milk prices to sky-rocket. Ukraine invaded by the Russian petro-state. Exxon Mobile to partner with Russian Rosneft and invest 500 billion dollars in extracting oil and gas from the increasingly ice-free Arctic.

What has caused all this? In a term — Growth Shock.

What is Growth Shock?

It’s what happens when any system grows outside of the boundaries of its sustainable limits. In the current, human case, its primary elements are overpopulation, renewable and nonrenewable resource depletion, climate change, poisoning the biosphere and wasting livable habitats, and a vicious system of inequality in which an amoral elite loots and pillages the lion’s share of planetary resources while driving increasing numbers of persons into poverty, hunger, and vulnerability to environmental/ecological collapse.

In the more immediate sense, human burning of fossil fuels is now intensifying droughts and extreme weather around the world. This is negatively impacting agricultural production. In addition, military aggression on the part of Russia has destabilized one of the world’s largest food producers — Ukraine. But these causes and effects are all a part of the larger structure of an ongoing Growth Shock crisis. The most recent and more intense iteration of a series of events that began in the 1970s and continues today.

In my own writing, I have described the forces of Growth Shock as four monsters (overpopulation, resource depletion, climate change, institutionalized human greed) and, like the Diakiaju of Pacific Rim, they continue to grow stronger and to devour increasingly large chunks of our world.

In the context of our intensifying Growth Shock, conflicts can rapidly escalate as resources grow scarce and various nations, powerful individuals and corporate entities jockey for dominance in the context of increasing limitation and peril. But it is important to note that unless the underlying condition that caused the crisis — what is now likely the most terrible manifestation of Growth Shock ever witnessed by humans — is addressed, then there are no winners. No dominators that survive to flourish in the end. No remnant that sees a prosperous future. Only an ongoing string of worsening conflicts, disasters and temporary victories leading to a terrible and bitter ultimate defeat.

*    *    *    *    *

The Special Interests of a Corporate Petro-State, its Dictator and its Oligarchs

So many of you are probably wondering why Russia suddenly invaded Ukraine? Why the West is taking an increasing stake in this country that, until recently, rarely showed on the international stage?

The reasons currently given by US officials certainly appear noble. We should not allow one country to simply invade, bully and rig the electoral process for another. We should not allow a single nation to flaunt international law and behave in a manner that better fits an age of anarchy and brutality. We should not permit these things from the member of the international community with broad responsibilities and obligations that is Russia.

These are moral and, indeed, appropriate frames for the current conflict. As they are appropriate rhetorical responses to international bullying. But we would also be wise not to ignore the underlying drivers — food crisis and overwhelming political power of fossil fuel special interests.

If anything Russia is now little more than a dictatorial, nuclear-armed petro-state, run by corporate oligarchs and a brutish strong man in the form of Vladimir Putin. A man who has ruled this country for a period now going on two decades through a combination of bullying, trickery, and poll fixing. The kind of character many conservatives these days seem to appreciate…

At 2.2 trillion dollars in GDP each year, its economy is comparable to that of the UK — sizable, but not an equal to economic powerhouses US, China, Germany or Japan. But what the Russian petro-state lacks in economic girth, it more than compensates for in two very destructive and destabilizing items — nuclear weapons and fossil fuels. It also retains a rather sizable and effective military — one whose forces are capable of projecting power and toppling governments throughout both Europe and Asia. One that retains its ability to rain nuclear Armageddon on any nation of peoples around the globe.

And this set of powers is increasingly being used to advance the special interests of the corporate, dictatorial state that is today’s Russia.

But it is Russia’s vast oil and natural gas wealth, the single-minded and narrow interests of its rulers, and the dark impetus that is global climate change that have likely combined to spur Russian’s current aggression.

Food, Fossil Fuels and the Compost Bomb

Burning Rings of Fire

(The tundra compost bomb explodes into burning rings of fire that illuminate the Russian night during 2012. The fire rings seen here are each between 10 and 100 kilometers across. Image credit: NASA. Image source: Burning Rings of Fire.)

For the very natural gas, oil and coal that Russia uses as a mainstay for its economy are now in the process of wrecking its future prospects and propelling it to ever more desperate and violent action.

To understand why, one simply has to think a little bit about permafrost and frozen ground.

A majority of Russia’s land mass sits on a pile of permafrost ranging from 1 to more than 10 meters in depth. In the past, this frozen substrata underlay many of Russia’s fields, cities and towns, forming a kind of frozen bedrock. But over the past few decades, the permafrost began to rapidly thaw under the radical and violent force that is human-caused warming. At first, this event was thought to weigh in Russia’s favor. The newly thawed permafrost would become more productive farmland, many assumed, and the added warmth would extend Russia’s growing season.

But few apparently accounted for the speed and violence of human-caused climate change. What happened instead was literally a firestorm. For the thawing peat retained a combustibility roughly equivalent to brown coal. Even worse, it contained pockets of highly flammable liquified organic carbon and methane. Over top this volatile layer were the great boreal forests and the vast grasslands of the Russian land mass. During the periods of summer drought that emerged as human caused climate change amplified at the end of the 2000s, these forests and grasses were, increasingly, simply piles of kindling growing atop a meters thick layer of volatile fuel.

By 2010, climate change brought on a series of record droughts and heatwaves extending far into the Arctic that set both permafrost thaw and lower latitude regions ablaze. As a result, Russia suffered agricultural losses unlike anything seen in its past. Fields and towns burned. The productive regions burned. Russia was forced to close its agricultural market for exports. World food prices hit all time record highs and the food riots that followed were enough to topple regimes and alight civil wars throughout the world’s most vulnerable states.

Through the summers of 2013, Russia suffered amazing fires in its thawing tundra lands. These blazes were, at times, intense enough to require the calling up of its military and the mobilization of up to 200,000 people simply to fight the fires. Heat and moisture from the thawing tundra spilled out into the Jet Stream and amplified the storm track. By 2013, record drying and burning in the tundra lands turned to record floods in the Amur region of both China and Russia. A tragic song of flood and fire.

Song of Flood and Fire

(Massive wildfires burn over Yakutia as an immense rainstorm begins to form over the Amur region of Russia and China. The fires and deluge would together ruin millions of acres of crops during 2014. Image credit: Lance-Modis. Image source: A Song of Flood and Fire.)

It was a string of climate change induced disasters that produced blow after telling blow to Russian agricultural production.

Meanwhile, around the world, similar droughts, floods and severe wind storms were ripping through the world’s croplands. By early 2014, the world food price index was again on the rise. By February, the index had climbed to 208, a very high level that would put those countries and populations at the margins at risk of increasing poverty and hunger all while potentially destabilizing any number of nations.

Ukraine — The Breadbasket of Europe

Perhaps the irony is lost on Russia that the very fuels — oil, gas and coal — that it views as an economic strength are also the source of its increasingly marginal food security and the ongoing and growing devastation of its lands. But Russia, its strongman, and its corporate oligarchs likely haven’t overlooked the fact that Ukraine is one of the world’s largest food producers. In a world where food is becoming increasingly costly and scarce, this particular commodity may well be more important than even oil, gas, or coal.

Ukraine possesses 30% of the world’s remaining richest black soil. It regularly ranks within the top ten producers of both wheat and corn. It is the world’s top producer of sunflower oil. The reach of its agricultural exports extends to the UK, Europe, Japan, China and into Russia itself. If Russia has a food crisis, it will be to the Ukraine that it turns to first. Moreover, the current Russian dictator must see an imperative not to rely overmuch on the US or its other economic rivals for food.

So it is in this context — a one in which climate change is causing Russia to flood and burn, in which climate change is now beginning to take down global agricultural productivity, and in which the Ukraine could well be seen as the Iraq of world food production (one of the only countries with the ability to radically increase production) — that we must also view both the Ukrainian revolution for independence and the Russian armed invasion as a response.

Russia Already Taking Hold of Some of Ukraine’s Most Productive Farmland

Centuries ago, during the dark ages, bad winters drove waves of tribes out of the frigid northern lands and into the then fertile fields of Rome and Europe. History, it seems, is not without its rhymes. For now, a fiery human-driven thaw and climate change appears to be having a similar impact on the Russia and Ukraine of today.

For the lands already under Russian occupation and threat of invasion (Eastern Ukraine primarily) are also some of Ukraine’s most productive wheat and corn growing zones. These lands under threat of additional Russian incursion, if added to the already occupied and planned to be annexed Crimea would compose the bulk of Ukraine’s agriculture.

Russia’s invasion, thus, must be seen as a direct looting of Ukraine’s lands and productive capacity for Russian and, by extension, Putin’s self interest. A set of interests likely inflamed by Russia’s own declining state of food security.

Climate Change and Why This Fight Must Be Against Fossil Energy, Not for It

Unfortunately, this conflict, like so many others, falls under the ominous shadow of the global fossil fuel trade. A shadow that grows ever darker as the crises imposed by human-caused climate change become more and more dire.

In the context of what could cynically be termed American interests, the fossil fuel giant Exxon recently partnered with Rosneft, an oil corporation Putin and his oligarchs essentially looted from a political rival, to invest 500 billion dollars in drilling and exploration in the Russian Arctic. The zones included in the deal involve the highly unstable clathrate and natural gas stores of the Arctic Ocean. And considering the massive sum invested, one cannot overlook the likelihood that the ESAS’s store of up to 1400 gigatons of natural gas clathrate have now been targeted by global fossil fuel interests for burning. Such an exploitation would result in the near tripling of the current human atmospheric carbon loading — all by itself and without the added inputs from coal, tar sands, or other oil and gas reserves. In other words — corporate insanity in the mad pursuit of profits for a few supremely wealthy and powerful individuals. In this case, a breed of greed-driven insanity that falls under the specter of an increasingly violent and expansionist Russia. One driven to hunger for resources by the land and crops destroying influences of the fossil fuels it continues to seek to exploit.

Here is Growth Shock in its most brazen form when wealthy oligarchs, dictators and corporations collude to profit while ruining the productivity of the lands upon which even they rely. And it is this terrible state that cannot be allowed to continue.

The US, therefore, could strike a blow against both Russian aggression and climate change game over by sanctioning Russian-backed Rosneft, disallowing any American corporation from conducting business with them or any other Russian petroleum entity and going further to say that they will sanction any other global corporation with ties to Rosneft. Use of the power of the dollar and of the global monetary system, in this way, could strike a blow against both the greed that underlies the current Growth Shock crisis and against the maniacal continued and expanding exploitation of extraordinarily destructive fuels.

If the US wishes to continue to bring Russia to heel, it will also use the carrot of access to US grain and food shipments as well as providing partnership arrangements with US alternative energy and sustainability-based corporations in exchange for a peaceful withdrawal from the Ukraine. To help Russia save face, it could provide these offers in a less public fashion or in a way that is not personally insulting to Putin.

Little to No Time Left, But the Crisis Presents a Fleeting Opportunity

In broader context, the deteriorating global food situation, the deteriorating global climate situation and the maniacal quest by fossil fuel companies to access and burn an ever-growing volume of oil, coal and natural gas has reached a critical stage that simply cannot continue for much longer without entirely ruining the prospects for human civilization and, likely, much of life on Earth. The Russia and Ukraine conflict is an opportunity to begin a full attempt to change course and to bring the, now very large and growing, forces of our Growth Shock crisis to bay. If we do not, the window of opportunity may well be closed and we may well have consigned ourselves to ever-worsening conflict under a situation of ongoing resource destruction, destruction of modern civilization’s food base, a situation where the powerful are ever more enabled to take from the weak, and a situation in which a hothouse extinction eventually snuffs out most or all of those that survive the ensuing collapse.

Links:

Growth Shock

Smoke From Massive Siberian Fires Seen in Canada

Burning Rings of Fire

Climate and Frozen Ground

Lance-Modis

A Song of Flood and Fire.

World Food Security in the Cross-hairs of Human-caused Climate Change

Climate Change Pushes FAO Food Price Index to 208 in February

The Economy of the Ukraine

Rosneft Warns West over Crimean Sanctions Woos Japan

Rosneft

Putin — the New Global Shah of Oil

Arctic Warmth to Play the Spoiler? Ocean Surface, Atmosphere Show Anomalous Heat Spike in Advance of Predicted El Nino

Pacific Ocean monitoring stations around the world are now calling for a 50-67 percent chance of El Nino later this year. A warming of the Eastern Pacific that, should it emerge, is likely to result in record atmospheric and ocean temperatures as the human greenhouse gas heat forcing emerges, once more, from the oceans. But, so far, the Eastern Pacific remains in a somewhat cool ENSO-nuetral state. It is a trend that should lead to global atmospheric temperature averages somewhat hotter than the ocean surface. A trend that should not show ocean temperatures spiking, with atmospheric values rising at a slower rate.

But over the past week, according to both GFS model assessments and NOAA observational data, average global ocean surface temperatures have been surging.

sst.daily.anom1

(Sea surface temperature anomaly from the already warmer than normal 1971 to 2000 base period. Image source: NOAA.)

Large zones of well above average sea surface temperature now cover vast regions of the global ocean system so that anomalous heat now is plainly the dominant feature. Pools of hotter than typical water where averages range from 1 to 4 C above normal now appear off both coasts of South America, through the Indian Ocean between Africa and Australia, off the East Coast of the United States, south of Alaska and in a zone stretching from Norway to Svalbard. By contrast only small cool zones remain in the Eastern Pacific, in the passage between South America and Antarctica, in a swatch of the Tropical Atlantic near Africa, and in isolated regions of the Central and Western Pacific.

Arctic Warmth Drives Temperatures Higher

But the zone of hottest temperatures appear, according to GFS model data below, in the Arctic, where much of the surface waters and ice sheet are warmer than average by 4 C or more. This heat bleed from the Arctic Ocean tips Northern Hemisphere values far above average and is a primary contributor to Arctic atmospheric temperatures in the range of 3-4 C above average (1979-2000) for mid to late March.

During the past few days, the effect of this warm surface was enough to drive temperature anomalies for the oceans higher than .9 degrees Celsius above the 1979 to 2000 global average according to GFS observational data. Understanding that the 1979 to 2000 global sea surface temperature (SST) average was already about .28 C above the 1880s average, we are now seeing SST daily values in excess of 1.18 C above 1880s averages before El Nino comes into play.

TS_anom_satellite1

(Sea surface temperature anomaly for March 18, 2014 vs the, already warmer than normal, 1979-2000 average. Image source: University of Maine.)

Even more impressive are the sea surface temperature values seen during the past two days (March 17-18) — hitting a .99 C positive anomaly or +1.27 C above 1880s values.

For comparison, the global sea surface temperature average for 2013, according to the National Climate Data Center, was .42 degrees Celsius above the 1880s average and the hottest year for ocean surface temperatures, 2003, was .52 degrees Celsius hotter than the 1880s average. The average for the past two days, should the GFS observation stand, is +.75 above the highest annual average on record.

Daily values for even the entire ocean system can show rather large swings, but this high temperature trend is somewhat new and has been ongoing now for about a week.

Oceans dumping heat into the atmosphere without El Nino

By contrast, global atmospheric temperatures within the first two meters, according to the same GFS data, are, on March 18, .69 C above the 1979-2000 average. It is a reading .3 C below current sea surface temperature values. Yet it is also a reading about 1 C over 1880s values and about .3 C above annual global high temperature records set in 2010.

With ocean surface temperatures higher than 2 meter air temperatures, it appears the ocean is now dumping some of its latent heat back into the atmosphere through radiative transfer. This is a situation opposite of what has been observed for much of the past 13-14 years running when Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) went negative and the oceans underwent rapid warming as they sucked up atmospheric heat.

What we now observe in the preliminary GFS data is evidence that the ocean is dumping a bit of this stored and massive volume of heat back into the atmosphere. And we are seeing significant positive oceanic and atmospheric heat forcing well before any major level of Eastern Pacific Ocean warming and associated El Nino have come into play.

Links:

NOAA ESRL

University of Maine

National Climate Data Center

UCAR GFS

UCAR: El Nino or La Nada?

Nature: Human Warming Now Pushing Entire Greenland Ice Sheet into the Ocean

Leading Edge of the Zacharie Ice Stream meets the ocean

(Leading edge of the accelerating Zachariae Ice Stream meets the warming and increasingly ice free ocean on August 20 of 2013. Satellite image source: Lance-Modis.)

Greenland — a vast store of ice three kilometers tall at its center and the final remnant of the Northern Hemisphere’s great glaciers of the last ice age has now begun what is likely an unstoppable rush to the sea. For according to a new report in Nature Climate Change, the last stable region of glacial ice along the Greenland coastline is now accelerating through one of the ice sheet’s largest and deepest outlets — the Zachariae Ice Stream.

Zachariae, the last domino to fall

The Zachariae Ice Stream is a vast river of ice in the northeast section of Greenland. It terminates in two outlets through a broad and deep ice-choked bay facing the Fram Strait.

Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, both warmer air and ocean water temperatures at the margins of Greenland began to speed up and destabilize glaciers all along Greenland’s southern, eastern and western coasts. But the northern glaciers remained relatively stalwart, continuing the rate of seaward motion observed over previous decades.

Then, starting in 2003, something ominous began to happen. A combination of sea ice loss, warming air and ocean temperatures began to affect the northern edge of the great ice sheet. Its speed of forward motion through its outlet bays began to increase. By 2012, the great glaciers were dumping 10-20 billion tons, or roughly 10-20 cubic kilometers of ice into the ocean every single year. In just nine years the Zachariae Ice Stream had retreated a total of 20 kilometers toward the heart of Greenland. By comparison, the Jakobshavn Ice Stream, known to be Greenland’s fastest and located in South Greenland, has retreated 35 kilometers over the past 150 years.

greenland_velocity-base

(Greenland Ice Sheet velocity map as of 2010. Measures in red are in the range of 1,000+ meters per year. Note that ice sheet velocity is fastest at the glacial outlet face and that rapid ice sheet velocity now extends far into interior Greenland. The Zacharie ice stream, the most recent to show rapid acceleration, is indicated by the letter Z in the upper right hand corner of the image. Note how this ice stream plunges deep into the heart of Northern Greenland and that a rapid flow is now established all the way to the ice sheet’s core. Image credit: Joughin, I., B. Smith, I. Howat, and T. Scambos.)

An ice stream drains an ice sheet the same way a river drains a watershed. So long as ice stream flow and rate of glacial recharge at the top of the glacier remains about equal, the ice sheet retains stability. But if the rate of ice stream flow and surface melt exceeds the rate of recharge, the glacier is said to have begun a difficult to reverse process called destabilization.

The initiation of the great Zachariae Ice Stream’s destabilization is ominous for a number of reasons. First, it means the entire Greenland Ice Sheet has, as of the early 2000s, begun a plunge into the ocean that is likely unstoppable. For once the great and massive glaciers of Greenland start to move, gravitational inertia sets in and even a radical cooling of the climate may not halt the surge. Furthermore, the Zachariae Ice Stream drains 16 percent of the entire Greenland ice sheet alone. And finally, Zachariae stretches deep into the heart of Greenland, extending seven hundred kilometers inland and taking hold of Greenland’s massive central glaciers in its now accelerating ocean-ward draw.

“Northeast Greenland is very cold. It used to be considered the last stable part of the Greenland ice sheet,” explained the study’s lead investigator Michael Bevis of The Ohio State University in a recent press release. “This study shows that ice loss in the northeast is now accelerating. So, now it seems that all of the margins of the Greenland ice sheet are unstable.”

nclimate2161-f1

(Greenland Ice Sheet ice surface elevation change in meters per year from 2003-2006, 2006-2009 and 2009-2012 respectively. Note the elevation loss of greater than 3 meters per year in Northeast Greenland near the Zachariae Ice Stream’s outlet in the final frame. Image source: Nature.)

Margin melt and increasing velocity is an important indicator of overall stability throughout Greenland. For, during much of Greenland’s history, a more solid, less mobile ice margin has kept the central ice locked in. But like the collapsing edge of a plastic swimming pool, Greenland’s drooping margins are starting to let the central ice flows surge toward the coast line. Now the ice margin is destabilized in all the major edge zones leading to the initiation of the ice sheet’s draining.

It is also worth noting that ice sheet motion is just one aspect of Greenland destabilization and a recent NASA paper shows that surface melt since 2009 has also rapidly accelerated. So the ice sheet is now a zone of accelerating glaciers and of annual surface melt all running more frequently and in ever greater volumes toward the swelling seas.

The recent study involved the use of GPS modules scattered over top of the Greenland ice sheet to measure glacial speed, mass and altitude loss. This finding is the most recent study provided by the group’s network dubbed GNET.

Greenland: An Archipelago with an Ice Sheet on Top

In understanding why Greenland’s ice sheets are likely to continue to flow into the ocean, it is useful to look at Greenland in its geological context. For Greenland is essentially an island archipelago with an enormous ice sheet sitting atop it. As such, great channels and fractures run deep into the heart of this frozen plcae. Many of these fractures are below sea level, providing ocean waters access further and further inland as Greenland melts. Furthermore, the high elevation of the ice sheet creates a kind of gravitational inertia that continuously drives glaciers toward the sea. Only friction from the anchoring ground beneath the glaciers, Greenland’s cold climate, and the chill of the surrounding airs and oceans provided Greenland with enough ice recharge while slowing the ice sheets enough to keep it stable during the last interglacial period (Holocene). Now, human warming is pulling that plug by flushing melt water to the ice sheet’s base, creating warmer ocean water invasions at the ice edge and creating conditions by which warm air increasingly both overrides the ice sheet edge and invades into the ice sheet interior.

It is in this context that we should consider the relative positions of ice stream fronts, grounding lines, and co-joining sea level as ice sheets continue their flow toward the ocean:

nclimate2161-f4

(Comparison of Northern Greenland ice face coming into contact with a floating glacier in transect 1 to the deep reaching Zacharie Ice Stream over-riding below sea level land masses in transect 2. Note that sub land elevation beneath the ice surface is below sea level for a stretch more than 150 kilometers inland along the base of the Zacharie Ice Stream. Meanwhile, the ice surface slope and elevation provide seaward momentum even in regions that are near or slightly above sea level. The change in velocity of various sections of ice flow are shown in the colored spaghetti lines. Image source: Nature.)

Conditions in the Context of Human-Caused Climate Change

Current atmospheric conditions now provide enough greenhouse gas forcing to destabilize ice sheets in both Greenland and West Antarctica. These levels, at around 400 ppm CO2 and at around at least 425 CO2e when taking into account all the additional negative and positive forcing from aerosols and other greenhouse gasses, were enough in past climates to send these immense regions of ice plunging into the world ocean and to raise sea levels by between 15 and 115 feet over the course of centuries (Greenland alone contains enough water locked in its ice sheets to raise sea levels by about 23 feet). All of the Greenland ice sheet and large sections of West Antarctica are now undergoing the first stages of a similar destabilization.

Topographic_map_of_Greenland_bedrock

(Topographical map of an archipelago-like Greenland without its overlaying ice sheet. Glacial outflows are likely to be most intense toward the northeast, northwest, southwest and southeast through lower lying zones in the ranging from below sea level to about 100 meters above sea level. From the point of view of surface melt hitting the oceans, it is worth noting that the center of the Greenland ice sheet is currently taller than even the highest surrounding mountains. Image source: Commons.)

Today’s pace of sea level rise is currently 3.2 millimeters each year or a little more than a foot each century. Of this total, fully 1/6th is now being contributed by Greenland. But with inertia and gravitational forces now taking hold as massive ice sheets destabilize, and with human-caused warming continuing to ramp up, it is likely that we can expect both the Greenland ice sheet’s contribution and the pace of sea level rise to rapidly accelerate.

As the great ice sheets sped toward the oceans at the end of the last ice age, the pace of sea level rise hit as high as 10 feet each century. With the pace of human warming now about 30 times faster than at the last ice age’s fall, we may well eventually witness something even outside this difficult to understand context.

Even more ominous is the fact that greenhouse gas forcing levels that are enough to destabilize and then melt all the world’s ice sheets, eventually raising seas by about 250 feet, arrive as soon as the next few decades once CO2 (or equivalent) forcing levels hit between 500 and 600 parts per million value. The current rate of emission gets us there within about 20 years. But, unfortunately, that rate of emission is still rising even as amplifying feedbacks from terrestrial carbon stores in both the Arctic and the tropics loom.

In essence, it looks more and more, from the point of ice sheet stability, like we’ve probably at least locked in a Heinrich type event and will be well on our way to initiating total ice sheet loss over the coming two decades.

Links:

Greenland Ice Impacted Further in Sea Level Rise

Northeast Greenland Ice Sheet Loss

Lance-Modis

Climate Monsters we Want to Keep in the Closet: Heinrich Events, Superstorms, and Warming the Deep Ocean

GNET/PoleNET

An Improvement in Mass Budget for the Greenland Ice Sheet

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Spike

CO2, Earth’s Global Thermostat, Dials Up to Record 401.6 ppm Daily Value on March 12

NASA GISS, likely the world’s premier Earth atmospheric monitoring agency has dubbed CO2 “The Thermostat that Control’s Earth’s Temperature.” So when human fossil fuel emissions keep cranking that thermostat ever higher, it’s important sit up and take note. For, inexorably, we keep forcing atmospheric values of this critical heat-trapping gas up and up.

According to reports from The Mauna Loa Observatory and The Keeling Curve, daily CO2 values for March 12 rocketed to a record 401.6 parts per million. Hourly values rose briefly higher, touching 402 parts per million. Levels fell back to around 400 ppm on March 13. But the overall trend will continue upward through March, April and much of May when the height of annual atmospheric CO2 readings is typically reached.

By comparison, during May of last year, daily and weekly values hit just slightly higher than 400 parts per million while measures for the month hovered just below this number. We are now about two months away from the 2014 peak. So it appears possible that daily values could rise to 404 ppm or greater with highs for the month potentially exceeding 402 ppm (you can view a comparison graph for May 2013 here).

March CO2 401.6

(Daily and hourly atmospheric CO2 values from March 7 to 13. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

Such high levels of this gas have not been seen on Earth in over 3 million years. A time when temperatures were 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were 15-75 feet higher than today. And should CO2 levels merely remain at the level currently achieved, we can probably expect at least the same amount of warming long-term.

CO2 in Context

Annually, the average rate of CO2 increase now is an extraordinary 2.2 parts per million each year. This rate is about 6-7 times faster than at any time in geological history. None of the vast flood basalts of the ancient past, no period of natural vulcanism, can now rival the constant and massive injection of this powerful and long-lasting greenhouse gas by humans into the atmosphere.

Last year, the rate of increase spiked to around 2.5 parts per million and we can view this as mere prelude under a continuation of business as usual. For if human fossil fuel emissions are not radically brought into check, the ongoing economic inertia of existing fossil fuel based infrastructure and planned new projects will likely shove this rate of increase to 3, 4 even 7 parts per million each year by the end of this century. As a result, CO2 levels alone have the potential to reach catastrophic values of 550 parts per million by around 2050-2060 that, long term and without any of the added effects of other greenhouse gasses, would be enough to eventually melt all the ice on Earth and raise global temperatures to around 5-6 degrees Celsius above current levels. A level that, through acidification alone and not including damage through stratification and anoxia, could drive up to 1/3 of ocean species to extinction.

CO2 accounts for much of the greenhouse forcing when taking into account the feedbacks it produces on water vapor and clouds. NASA notes:

Because carbon dioxide accounts for 80% of the non-condensing GHG forcing in the current climate atmosphere, atmospheric carbon dioxide therefore qualifies as the principal control knob that governs the temperature of Earth.

All other greenhouse gasses pale in comparison to both its total effect and its current rate of increase. Methane, the next most potent greenhouse gas, accounts for about 15% of the forcing and is rising at a rate of 4 parts per billion (1/550 that of CO2), generating a net effect equal to, in the worst case, an additional .4 parts per million CO2 each year (.29 when aerosols drop out). A troubling and dangerous increase itself. But still a mere shadow compared to the overall rate of CO2 increase.

Only in the most catastrophic of scenarios, when added atmospheric heat, primarily generated through added CO2 and other greenhouse gas forcing, triggers methane emissions equal to 2 gigatons each year in the Arctic (a rate 25 times the current release), would the total methane forcing approach the predicted value for CO2 by the end of this century under current fossil fuel emissions scenarios. More likely, paleoclimate scenarios tend to suggest that the natural methane feedback, long-term, is roughly equal to 50% of the CO2 forcing and is largely governed by it. A dangerous amplifying feedback driven by a devastating and long-lasting CO2 forcing.

CO2 is also the longest lived of the major greenhouse gasses with one molecule of CO2 providing effective atmospheric warming for at least 500 years. By comparison, the oxidation time for a single molecule of methane is around 8 years. What this means is that it takes an ever increasing methane emission just to keep values constant while atmospheric CO2 takes much longer to level off given even a constant rate of emission.

The result is that heat forcing from CO2 tends to remain constant over long periods while methane heat forcing values have a tendency to spike due to rapid oxidation.

methane.rf_.11071836-300x150

(Radiative forcing from a 10 gigaton release of methane in red compared to expected end century CO2 values of 750 ppm. Note how the methane heat forcing spikes and then rapidly falls off. Image source: RealClimate.)

Current rates of CO2 increase, therefore, should be viewed as catastrophic to climates that are both livable and benevolent to humans. A rate of increase that puts at risk severe changes to Earth environments and which provides a trigger for setting off a series of powerful amplifying feedbacks through the medium and long term. These include both loss of ice albedo and the potential for spiking methane emissions from the widespread natural store.

UPDATE:

Most recent daily values from March 12 onward in relationship to the six month trend. Note the sharp spike upward at the end of the period as well as the overall volatility of the trend line. High volatility may well be an indication that the typical carbon cycle is suffering disruption with sinks, stores and sources experiencing larger than typical fluxes.

mlo_six_months

(Mauna Loa Observatory six month trend. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

Dr. Ralph Keeling today noted:

“We’re already seeing values over 400. Probably we’ll see values dwelling over 400 in April and May. It’s just a matter of time before it stays over 400 forever.”

Links:

The Keeling Curve

May 2013: CO2 Touches 400 ppm

The Thermostat that Control’s Earth’s Temperature

Atmospheric Composition, Radiative Forcing, and Climate Change as a Consequence from the Massive Release of Gas Hydrates

RealClimate

Hat Tip to Climate State

Kudos to Mark Archambault for Looking Sharp

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