The Polar Circulation is So Wrecked That Surface Winds Now Rotate Around Greenland

In a normal world, during a normal late fall and winter, cold air would concentrate over a thick northern ice pack near the North Pole. The sea ice would be dense enough, unbroken enough, to lock a warmer ocean away beneath. The cold air core would be encircled by strong winds — both in the upper levels and at the surface. An atmospheric cold zone that would tend to be pretty steady, taking strong weather anomalies to drive it off a firm base of chill air.

In today’s world, the Arctic Ocean is warming. Connected to an also warming world ocean, the waters provide a launching platform for the added, human-driven heat. The surface sea ice is thus far thinner — containing less than 50 percent of the volume it boasted during the late 1970s. And, during this time of year, an extraordinary overburden of greenhouse gasses (primarily CO2 and Methane) continuously traps extra long wave heat radiation throughout the dark winter night.

All that extra heat gathering over the Arctic Ocean makes the cold air core far less stable. More and more frequently it is driven from its previous haunt near the North Pole. A climate change refugee looking for a cold air pool as temporary asylum from the inexorably building heat.

To the south, the still solid but increasingly endangered ice sheets of Greenland provide, perhaps, the most likely haven. So as the high Arctic heats up, the cold air re-centers over Greenland. And the result is a rather odd configuration in which atmospheric currents begin to displace southward, encircling Greenland rather than the polar regions. A disruption that results in a ripple of changes throughout the Northern Hemisphere — including serious alterations to the storm track and a far greater likelihood of the extreme weather producing planetary wave patterns.

Observational Support for Cutting-Edge Theories

The above described scenario draws from a number of cutting edge scientific theories. The first is Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren theory — in which a combination of polar amplification and enhanced Greenland melt drive severe changes to the Northern Hemisphere storm track, resulting in nightmarish weather. The second is the enhanced planetary wave theory, proffered by Dr. Jennifer Francis, in which Arctic warming drives severe changes and distentions in the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream. The two theories are related in that Arctic warming, in both cases, is a primary driver of extraordinary climate and weather changes.

Thus far, we have seen growing evidence to support these theories, especially Dr. Francis’ theory, as ever since the mid 2000s we have observed an increasing prevalence of weak Jet Streams, strong planetary waves, and powerful meridional flows driving warm air into the polar zone, but also driving cold air out. Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren theory got a boost last year as a southward shifting cold air circulation ignited a powerful North Atlantic storm track that set off the roughest winter on record for England and the UK.

This year, we see similar weather phenomena related to these theories. The inundation of Buffalo with one year’s worth of snowfall in just two days was driven by a powerful planetary wave pattern directly associated with polar warming. A similar planetary wave is, today, threatening to dump more than a foot of snow across regions of the US Mid-Atlantic through New England. A January type winter storm on Thanksgiving that was preceded by 70 degree temperatures.

Not What Our Weather Models are Used to — The Greenland-Centered Cold Air Core

Today, we have yet one more pattern emerging that was predicted by these theories — polar air circulation centering around Greenland:

image

(Surface air flow encirclements of Greenland similar to conditions observed above were highly anomalous during the 20th Century. During the 21st Century, such a storm enhancing pattern is likely to become much more prevalent as an up-shot of human-driven polar warming. In the above shot, note the low spinning off Spain and heading toward Morocco off an anomalous and persistent dip in the Jet resulting from this abnormal pattern. More floods potentially on the way for that already hard-hit region. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In the above image, provided by Earth Nullschool and collecting data from US based global climate observations and models, we find warm air from the subtropical Atlantic being driven northward by first a mid-ocean high pressure system and then by a powerful low raging away off the southern tip of Greenland. The warm air flow rises north then joins with a continental flow rising off of Europe to cross the North Atlantic and the Barents Sea. Traveling along a cold frontal boundary sweeping out from Greenland, the warm air current surges up over Svalbard and toward the North Pole.

This warm air flow drives temperatures in a region within a couple hundred miles of the North Pole to 30.5 degrees Fahrenheit — warmer than current temperatures in central Pennsylvania and well over 36 degrees above average for this time of year in the far, far north:

image

(Svalbard and regions near the North Pole heat up as an extraordinary warm air wedge drives far, far north. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This extraordinarily warm air then becomes entrained in another low north of Greenland before following a polar air flow driving down over the Canadian Archipelago and Hudson Bay. A powerful north-south flow drawing over Baffin Bay into the strong low south of Greenland closes the loop. Thus we find Greenland encircled by winds, its cold air core far offset from the pole as the region over the Arctic Ocean warms.

As we can see in the surface wind map (top map), the surface air flow is running a complete circuit ’round Greenland. The result is that the cold air core driving NH atmospheric circulation at the surface is now centered over Greenland and Baffin Bay. It is displaced many hundreds of miles south of the North Pole. And the North Pole itself has become over-run by a warm air flow at the periphery of the cold air circulation’s center.

Upper level wind patterns are similarly disrupted with a cold upper air low churning away over Baffin Bay and a second cold core circulating over Central Siberia. In both cases, in the upper levels near the Jet and at the surface, the region of the Arctic Ocean is disassociated from the cold air centers and related atmospheric circulation. A set of conditions that has come to very well resemble those predicted by Dr. Francis, or worse, look more like a precursor to Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren scenario.

In this case, for today, the weather observations match the warming-induced pattern just as predicted.

Mainstream Weather Coverage Abused by Changing Climates (I’m Looking at You, Weather Channel)

Mainstream meteorologists, including those at the Weather Channel, continue to cover current weather as if it is occurring under traditional conditions while only providing sideways references to cutting edge science related to observed atmospheric warming. A new subset of the science that provides much greater insight into what may actually be happening and is a very useful tool for weather prediction in the currently altered and radically changing climate state.

Unless such meteorologists begin paying attention to the anomalous changes that are plainly visible in the observational data (changes that I have no trouble finding and identifying after reading the science provided by Hansen and Francis) they will be left behind by events that are increasingly dissonant to their current institutional understanding. A cautionary tale that European meteorologists, baffled by failures of climate models to predict record floods from training of low pressure systems into Morrocco off a persistent and anomalous dip in the Jet Stream this week, can bear testament to.

Like geologists who failed to take into account for plate tectonics theory in the mid 20th Century, meteorologists adhering to old weather prediction methods risk becoming outmoded and less relevant to current, and rapidly evolving, climate realities. The new global warming science both bears out in the observational data and in its usefulness to predict extreme events — so, for the sake of accuracy, it needs to be included.

Links and Credits:

The University of Maine

Something Our Weather Models Aren’t Used To

Earth Nullschool

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Dr. Jennifer Francis

Dr. James Hansen

Hat Tip to Mark From New England

The Weather Channel’s Weather Geeks (Who Need to Wake up and Smell the Polar Amplification)

Big Arctic Warm-Up To Drive Freak Thanksgiving Snowstorm For US East Coast

If current trends continue, the eastern half of the US is in for one extraordinary winter.

Just last week, a strong late-fall Arctic warming flushed chill air out over the Great Lakes, setting off a lake effect snowstorm in Buffalo that buried the city in one year’s worth of snowfall in just two days.

This week’s extreme weather prelude brought a major warm snap that set off rainfall, sent temperatures surging to 62 degrees in Buffalo and pushed rivers in the area above flood stage. An odd northward hot air surge ahead of the next blow. One that will be fueled by a similar, out of the ordinary, Arctic heat-up that is predicted to fling a freakish Thanksgiving snowstorm at the US East Coast on Wednesday.

Maximum Snowfall Potentials Thanksgiving Storm

(Maximum snowfall potentials for the predicted Thanksgiving Snowstorm as provided by the National Weather Service.)

A storm that may dump more than a foot of snow along a swath from Virginia to Maine and set off blizzard-like conditions as a low pressure rapidly intensifies in a raging storm track torching away off the New England Coast.

Such major predicted and potential snowfall amounts are more reminiscent of a significant January event than what is typically seen for a Thanksgiving period which usually features cold placidity. But this Thanksgiving is predicted to be anything but placid as coastal gales and record-challenging snowfalls are likely to sock holidayers in and generate travel snarls throughout the Mid Atlantic and Northeast.

Mangled Jet Stream Thanksgiving

(Planetary wave pattern over Eastern US with intensified storm track in association with predicted strong winter storm for Thanksgiving in the Wednesday GFS model run. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

The spurs to this most recent Arctic invasion are two high amplitude Jet Stream Waves — one over Alaska and one near Svalbard. Together, these upper level flows are pulling yet more warm air into an already warmer than normal Arctic. These invasions coincide with yet another form of upper level warming — Sudden Stratosphere Warming (SSW). A kind of warm air catapult up from the troposphere and into the Arctic from over the Asian Continent.

A combined set of conditions that is generating a baked atmospheric cake set of warming for the Arctic and driving the southern edge of the polar vortex southward over the Eastern US.

Overall, Arctic heat anomalies are expected to spike as high as 3.5 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average by the wee hours of Sunday morning this week. A very strong warm departure for November even in the current age of human-driven climate change and polar heat amplification.

Polar Amplification on Sunday morning of Nov 20 2014

(Very strong early season polar warming and amplification during late November shoves cold air out over North America and Eastern Asia in the GFS model run. Note that average temperatures in this measure are based on the already warmer than normal 1979-2000 period. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Last year, similar events drove cold air invasions through the Eastern half of the US and greatly intensified the North Atlantic storm track. As a result, the UK experienced its stormiest winter on record. This year, warm waters in the equatorial Pacific and off the US East Coast may well keep the storm track oriented along the Gulf Stream. This would result in much stronger events for the Eastern US and potentially quite powerful Nor’easter type coastal storms should the current pattern persist.

Links:

The National Weather Service

Climate Reanalyzer

East Coast on Alert For Thanksgiving Storm

Buffalo’s Climate Change Driven Mega Snow-Flood

 

Buffalo’s Climate Change Driven Mega Snow-Flood

Earlier this week something rather interesting and disturbing happened to the Jet Stream.

In the extreme northwest, a large heat pool over Alaska and the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean kept temperatures in the range of 10 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit above average. To the south, a powerful super typhoon, gorged on Pacific Ocean waters ranging from 1-2 C hotter than normal, raced into the extratropical region of the Central and Northern Pacific. And to the north and east, the cold core that normally resides over the North Pole began slipping south.

Arctic Anomaly Map

(Massive warm air invasion of the Arctic earlier this week led to a major polar vortex disruption driving cold air out of the Arctic and setting off record snowfall in the region of Buffalo, New York. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

As the supertyphoon’s remnants hit the warm weakness in the Jet Stream near Alaska, it bombed out into a monster extra-tropical low. This kicked warm air even further north, causing a whiplash in the Jet and driving the cold air core south over Canada.

Cold air rocketed down over the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes. These waters, having soaked up the heat of yet another hotter than average American October and early November, squeezed an epic amount of moisture and storm feeding energy out into the air. Over the past two days, the result was as kind of thundersnow storm that parked itself in one location, dumping foot after foot of snow. By the time the final tally was counted this morning, as much as 8 feet had fallen over Buffalo New York. A record amount never before seen in so short a time span and yet so far ahead of winter.

More than seven deaths, multiple building collapses, a paralyzation of transportation, and extraordinary damages prompted the New York State governor to declare a state of emergency.

Yes, Climate Change Has Put the Weather on Steroids

All these events occurred in the context of a climate increasingly distorted by human-caused warming. The Northern Hemisphere during this week has averaged over 1 degree C hotter than normal. And the Arctic has averaged at around 2.5 degrees C hotter than normal.

In this mix of climate change driven extreme weather soup, that warming Arctic is critical. It provided the weakness in the Jet Stream for a supertyphoon’s remnants to exploit. It provided a wobbly polar vortex all too ready to make another charge south over North America. And the super-hot equatorial waters of the Pacific added yet more energy to this stoked and building climate fire.

Cold Snow to Turn to Warm Flood

But the tale of climate change driven extreme weather isn’t over by a long shot. The cold dipole which drove over the Great Lakes earlier this week was anything but stable. Now, warmth is surging north over the US heartland springing up from the hot pools of the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Pacific. It is producing a warm frontal boundary that is now driving across the US heartland. By Saturday and Sunday, it will dump a warming rain over Buffalo’s 7-8 feet of snowpack.

Temperatures are expected to climb into a much warmer than normal range of 50 degrees F by Saturday. By Sunday, the heat will build to 15-20 degrees above average reaching as high as 60 degrees F in the forecast.

Buffalo Warm Up

(Sunday GFS model forecast shows temperatures at +15 to +20 degrees Fahrenheit above average for the Buffalo region. The added high temperatures are expected to coincide with rainfall and potential major flooding from the melt of a massive 8 feet of snow in some areas. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer. Note that global temperatures in both maps are in the range of 0.39 to 0.51 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average.)

The snow pack is first expected to ripen, then flood away under the rising heat and a half inch to two inches of rainfall. The impact to Buffalo’s infrastructure could again be quite extraordinary. Between 9 and 15 inches worth of liquid water are locked in all that snow. Its sudden release into a landscape of clogged storm drains and choked roads is expected to provide an extraordinary flood risk. And massive piles of snow over buildings collecting more water will increase further risk of building collapse.

As of now, the National Weather Service has posted a Flood Watch — which means extreme conditions may begin in as little as six hours.

Conditions in Context

Radical swings between weather extremes like those experienced by Buffalo this week are exactly the type of climate alterations we would expect as a result of human caused warming. These impacts occur in the context of a world that is now experiencing its hottest year on record globally. A place of increasingly intense droughts, rainfall, and snowfall events. A world in which the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream is increasingly distended as air over the Arctic warms much faster than the rest of the globe.

Such extremes in weather have been predicted by climate scientists to result from human-caused warming. And we are beginning to see the start, the milder outliers, of these predicted extremes set off by the human heat forcing now. Further heightening Arctic warming, or worse, increasing cold water outflows from melting ice sheets over Greenland, will almost certainly set off far more extreme weather than what we are seeing now.

Message to climate change deniers — this serves as a warning to you. Turn back.

Links:

Climate Reanalyzer

National Weather Service Flood Watch

Dr. Jennifer Francis on How Polar Amplification Mangles the Jet Stream

There’s Growing Evidence That Global Warming is Driving Crazy Winters

Flood, Roof Collapse Fears as Snows End for Buffalo

NOAA: First 10 Months of 2014 Were Hottest Recorded

First Ten Months of 2014

(As of mid-October, 2014 had edged out all other years as hottest in the global climate record. With two months still to go, 2014 poses a very strong challenge to previous years. Very warm temperatures continuing through mid November add further support for a potential record breaker for the twelve months ending in December. Image source: NOAA.)

Hot on the heels of NASA’s recent announcement that October of 2014 was tied for hottest on record in its global climate measure, NOAA today also made a two record-breaking announcements.

First, according to NOAA’s measure, global surface temperatures were 0.74 degrees Celsius above average for October. This makes the month the hottest in NOAA’s measure since record keeping began.

Second, as of the middle of October, global temperature averages for the year had edged out all the previous hottest years on record. This makes 2014 the hottest year on record so far with just two months left to go.

Hottest January through October on Record

The second announcement is a critical one. Crucial because it again brings light to the fact that the so-called global warming pause is little more an artifact of cherry picking and over-playing to the influences of decadal natural variability than it is any measure of challenge to an observed 136 year warming 15-20 times more rapid than the warm-up at the end of the last ice age.

Cause for serious concern as this year’s new and increasingly strong challenge to the 2010 record high is coming during a time in which El Nino has not yet developed.

For reference, almost all recent record warm years occurred during the massive ocean-to-atmosphere heat transfer event that is El Nino. Still not so for 2014. Perhaps even more importantly, the cherry of all cherries — the monster El Nino year of 1998 — is gradually getting edged out by ever wider high temperature margins.

Record Hot Year In the Forecast

Record Heat Predicted

(NOAA’s forecast model shows increasing likelihood that 2014 will be a new global high temperature record breaker. Image source: NOAA.)

NOAA forecast models show that it would take a rather substantial cool-down during November and December to keep 2014 off the record books. Any average at or above 0.65 C higher than the 20th Century would place 2014 as the new record holder. Temps at or near current measures showing 0.70 C or higher readings would cement a relatively significant departure of +0.03 to +0.04 C above 2010 and 0.05 to 0.06 C above 1998.

Such an event would be exceptionally significant when one considers that ENSO status has remained just to the warm side of neutral for most of the year.

 

Links:

NOAA’s National Climate Data Center

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

 

NASA: October 2014 Tied For Hottest on Record

October 2014 Hottest on Record

(October was again a global temperature record setter. Image source: NASA.)

NASA’s monthly global temperature analysis is in and the results are once again record-making. For according to NASA’s global monitor, world temperatures were 0.76 degrees Celsius above the Earth average for the mid 20th Century.

This high temperature departure ties 2005 for hottest in NASA’s 136 year record. A temperature level that global ice core data points toward being hotter than at any time in the past 400,000 years. A record hot month in a string of record hot months for 2014. A resurgence to record high marks amidst an unprecedented spate of rising temperatures that has lasted now for more than a century running.

Global land ocean temperature index

(Global temperatures have risen by more than 1 degree C above their low mark at the start of the 20th Century. It is a human-driven pace of warming 15-20 times faster than at the end of the last ice age. Image source: NASA)

Polar Amplification Again Prominent

As in recent months, hottest temperatures were again focused near the poles. The northern polar region in particular observed much hotter than normal readings with a very large zone experiencing +2 to +5.5 degrees C above average temperatures for the entire month. East Antarctica also saw much warmer than normal temperatures with monthly averages spiking from +2 C to more than 4 C above the 20th Century average.

Overall, much of the world showed hotter than normal temperatures with cooler than normal readings confined to sections of the Southern Ocean and Eastern Europe. Small and isolated pockets of cooler than normal readings were found in diminutive oceanic zones. Meanwhile, the rest of the world experienced warmer than normal to much warmer than normal readings.

zonal readings October

(Zonal temperature departures by latitude. Image source: NASA)

Zonal readings also showed very strong polar amplification in the Northern Hemisphere with surface temperatures averaging at 2.6 degrees Celsius above normal in the region above 75 degrees North Latitude. A spike in temperature to +1.3 C above average was also observed in the region of 80 degrees South Latitude.

The Southern Ocean again appears to be the primary zonal heat sink as the only region showing below average temperatures in the range of -0.38 C below average. As we have seen in previous analysis, this region is currently the principle atmosphere-to-ocean heat transfer band. Ocean heat uptake in this region has been shown through recent studies to have resulted in very rapid warming of the top 700 meters of Southern Hemisphere ocean waters. It has also played a role in the more rapid glacial destabilization observed among Antarctica’s increasingly fragile ice sheets and ice shelves.

Polar Amplification Sees Late Fall Vortex Disruption, Severe Dipole Anomalies

Northern Hemisphere polar amplification is a primary contributor to the polar vortex disruptions and extreme Jet Stream distension we’ve seen since about 2005. Current conditions also indicate an extraordinary dipole again developing with heat pooling in the Arctic near Alaska and in the maritime zone between the Kara Sea and Greenland. Already in November, this has caused an extreme meridonal avection of polar cold air over the continents even as warm air drives north toward the pole over Atlantic and Pacific Ocean regions.

Arctic Anomaly Map

(Warm air invasion of the Arctic forcing temperatures to 1.9 C above average drives polar air over Central Asia and Eastern North America on November 19 of 2014. Such displacements of cold air during Northern Hemisphere winter are directly tied to global-warming related polar amplification. Image source: GFS/University of Maine)

2014 Close to Hottest On Record

Currently, NASA’s global temperature average for the first ten months of 2014 puts the year at 0.664 C above the global average. 2010, the previous hottest year on record, stood between 0.66 and 0.67 degrees hotter than the 20th Century average. So we are now in record-making territory for 2014. Any further months with average temperatures above 0.67 C would continue to cement 2014 as a new record holder.

In any case, the excessive heat for 2014 is at least likely to place it among the top 1-4 hottest years even if November and December show less extreme warm temperature departures. An extraordinary degree of warmth for a year in which official El Nino status has yet to be declared.

With global political leaders retaining an overall laissez faire attitude to positive action on climate change and with powerful fossil fuel interests gaining power in the US Congress (Republicans), it is unfortunately very likely that ongoing massive greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 50 billion tons of CO2 equivalent each year will continue to add more heat to the world’s oceans, atmosphere, and glaciers. As time moves forward, this will vastly increase the risk of catastrophic weather and geophysical change events. We see such events now in Brazil, California and across an expanding range of regions. But these early outliers are mild compared to the potential extremity of events as time moves forward and catastrophic emission rates increase.

As with other brands of risk, including financial risk, the world’s current economic and political leaders have shown a terrible ineptitude in working to prevent catastrophic and destabilizing loss. One hopes that political and economic leaders will wise up. But, currently, there is very little to indicate that urgently needed changes will be forthcoming.

Links:

NASA GISS

GFS/University of Maine

IPCC 2014: Adaptation and Vulnerability

 

Late October Sees Strong Polar Amplification, Mangled Jet Stream Impacting Much of Antarctica

Globally speaking, it’s a rather hot day.

According to GFS model runs and observational data, the past 24 hour period has shown temperatures in the range of +0.72 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average. A hot day in a hot month that is likely to be among the hottest on record, if not an all-time record-breaker itself.

A couple of days ago, hourly CO2 levels rocketed from 396 ppm to 399.5 ppm. A rather odd and somewhat ominous jump back toward the 400 ppm level at a time of year when atmospheric CO2 should be just starting a slow rebound from lowest ebb. A bottom that this year hit about 395 ppm during mid September. A measure already more than 2.2 ppm above last year’s low. To say the least, an hourly upward swing of 3.5 ppm isn’t exactly normal, especially when one considers the fact that the world hasn’t seen near 400 ppm CO2 levels for about three million years (this year peaked near 403 ppm during late spring).

And all that extra CO2, when combined with other greenhouse gasses, is having an increasingly obvious impact on climate. We see it in the record global average temperatures. We see it in the rising oceans which have come more and more to threaten the cities, lands and isles upon which so many of us reside. We see it in increasing instances of extreme weather around the globe — in the extraordinary and often persistent droughts, floods, storms and wildfires. And we see it in the form of a rather strong temperature amplification at both poles.

Antarctic Amplification

(Global temperature anomaly maps provided by GFS and the University of Maine shows no regions of the world cooler than average with the highest abnormal warm temperature departures concentrated, as usual, at the poles.)

Greenhouse Gasses as Primary Driver of Polar Amplification

Today, the Arctic is 1.60 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average. Meanwhile, the Antarctic boasts the highest departures for any global region at +2.09 C. Taking a closer look at the Antarctic Continent, we find an angry red splotch featuring temperature anomalies in the range of +12 to +20 C above average. A region associated with a tropics-to-pole transfer of airs we’ll discuss more in depth later.

What causes such a powerful and visible polar amplification? In short, it can best be described as the general impact of added greenhouse gasses on the global climate system.

Because most of the sun’s radiation falls on the equatorial regions, temperatures there are governed to a greater degree by direct solar insolation. But move toward the poles where sunlight hits the earth at a much lower angle, if at all, then the impact of the greenhouse effect holds greater sway. There, the ability of a gas like CO2 to trap and re-radiate long wave solar heat radiation can have a rather extraordinary impact.

On an Earth with no atmosphere, the temperature differential between poles and equator, between night and day, would be even more extreme than the variance we see today. But as the atmosphere thickens and the greenhouse gas overburden intensifies, the temperature difference grows less. For Earth’s present climate the temperature difference between the Equator and the Arctic averages about 42 degrees C. For the Antarctic, the average is about 71 degrees C.

On a world like Venus, where a kind of super greenhouse is in force and much of the atmosphere is composed of CO2, there is practically no difference in temperature between the equator and the poles. The reason for this is that greenhouse gasses trap the sun’s long wave radiation and recirculate it around a planetary system. And on Venus, a ray of long wave sunlight that comes in has very little chance to get out. So its heat recirculates many times within Venus’s atmosphere before it finally escapes.

On a place like Earth, where greenhouse gas levels are increasing, we would expect the temperature difference between the equator and the poles to drop as the poles warm faster due to the added impact of the increased greenhouse gasses. And since about the mid 20th Century, this is exactly what we’ve seen.

North Pole to Equator Temperature Difference

South Pole to Equator temperature difference

(Top frame shows North Pole to Equator temperature difference since 1948. Bottom frame shows South Pole to Equator temperature difference from 1948 to 2011. Note the approximate 3 C temperature swing indicating a faster warming at the poles in both graphs. Data is from the NCAR-NCEP reanalysis model.)

Lowering differences in Equator to polar temperature on a warming world also denotes a much faster warming of the polar zones. Hence the term polar amplification.

Now, for the Arctic, polar amplification has also become synonymous with loss of sea ice, loss of snow cover, increased land darkening due to changes in vegetation, and local release of greenhouse gasses via feedbacks from the Arctic environment. Each of these changes has the potential to add increased warming on top of the warming already being driven by global greenhouse gas increase even as such changes likely also drive changes to local and Northern Hemisphere weather. But as important as these additional changes may be, the larger driver remains an increase in global greenhouse gases driven by human emissions.

How Polar Amplification Drives Changes to the Jet Stream

In the end, such a polar amplification is a strong driver for changes to the world’s weather. Primarily, by reducing the difference in temperature between the poles and the Equator, we tend to see weaknesses forming in the circumpolar wind field known as the Jet Stream. At times, the Jet will slow and meander, allowing for the formation of ridges that extend far into polar zones and for troughs that dip deep into the middle and lower latitudes. Rather than a west-to-east flow of wind and weather, such a shift generates more of an Equator-to-pole flow:

image

(Triple tendrils — meridional flows converge on Antarctica. Note the massive highs sitting in the ridge systems driving the poleward wind flows. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

And today we see two large north to south flows issuing from the 20 degree south latitude region, traversing thousands of miles of ocean in a poleward flood and terminating at the great ice sheets of Antarctica in the region of 70 to 75 south latitude.

Note that the flow originating off the west coast of South America terminates at the vulnerable West Antarctic Ice Sheet — a region that has been warming at an extraordinary pace of 0.25 to 0.5 C each decade. The second flow, originating from the South Atlantic and terminating over East Antarctica is heavily involved in the +12-20 degree C temperature anomalies ongoing there today.

Looking at these massive flows of air and the related spikes in temperature anomalies, it is easy to become confused over the issue of cause and effect. But it is simple to recall if you understand that first, added greenhouse gasses warmed the pole which in turn weakened the Jet Stream, which in turn allowed an amplification of the north-south meridional flow transporting yet more heat into this southern polar region.

For the southern polar region, today, we see some extraordinary high temperature departures for mid-to-late spring. At this time, polar amplification should be fading as more sunlight streams in. And yet we have a still strong positive temperature anomaly.

And as for the northern polar zone with its numerous additional polar amplification vectors, we shall see to what degree, if any, a potentially emerging El Nino tamps down the extraordinary meridional flows and polar vortex disruptions seen during just this past year’s freakish winter of 2013-2014.

Links:

University of Maine

NCAR-NCEP reanalysis model

Earth Nullschool

The Keeling Curve

Polar Amplification

Rapid Arctic Warming and Wacky Weather — Are They Linked?

Ominous Arctic Methane Spikes Continue — 2666 Parts Per Billion on October 26th

Imagine, for a moment, the darkened and newly liberated ocean surface waters of the Kara, Laptev, and East Siberian Seas of the early 21st Century Anthropocene Summer.

Where white, reflective ice existed before, now only dark blue heat-absorbing ocean water remains. During summer time, these newly ice-free waters absorb a far greater portion of the sun’s energy as it contacts the ocean surface. This higher heat absorption rate is enough to push local sea surface temperature anomalies into the range of 4-7 C above average.

Remnant Arctic sea surface heat

(Remnant extreme heat at Arctic Ocean surface on October 8, 2014. Extraordinary warmth in the range 0f 4-7 C above average is due to recent loss of summer sea ice in the Kara, Laptev, East Siberian and Beaufort Seas. Newly exposed dark surface waters absorb more of the sun’s rays which results in a highly visible temperature anomaly. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer. Image archived by: Arctic News.)

Some of the excess heat penetrates deep into the water column — telegraphing abnormal warmth to as far as 50 meters below the surface. The extra heat is enough to contact near-shore and shallow water deposits of frozen methane on the sea-bed. These deposits — weakened during the long warmth of the Holocene — are now delivered a dose of heat they haven’t experienced in hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of years. Some of these deposits weaken, releasing a portion of their methane stores into the surrounding oceans which, in turn, disgorges a fraction of this load into the atmosphere.

The rate of release intensifies throughout summer. But during the Arctic Fall, it reaches a peak. Then, as sea ice begins to re-form over the surface waters, a kind of temperature inversion wedge develops. The surface cools and the ice solidifies — forming an insulating blanket, trapping heat. The insulating layer, in turn, pushes the anomalously hot mid level waters toward the bottom. This process delivers a final and powerful dose of heat to the Arctic Ocean bottom water and sea bed.

Methane release rates spike as the methane flooding up from the sea bed squeezes out through cracks in the newly forming ice or bubbles up through open waters just beyond the ice edge.

Observed Arctic Methane Over-Burden

During recent years, a troubling methane over-burden has been observed in the atmosphere above these regions during the months of September through November. Dr. Leonid Yurganov — a researcher at the University of Maryland — has been using the IASI sensor to record these events. Last year, he developed this map of September through November methane readings for the 2009-2012 period:

Arctic methane concentrations Sep-Nov 2009-2012

(Highest lower troposphere global atmospheric methane readings were found in the region of the East Siberian, Laptev and Kara seas during September through November of 2009 through 2012. Data provided by IASI. Image source: Dr. Leonid Yerganov via Arctic News.)

The readings above show near-surface averages over a three month period in the regions of highest release. Note that highest methane levels occur over coastal Siberia and in the above ocean zones of near-Russia Arctic Ocean waters.

These measurements have been ramping higher in recent years with near-surface readings in the range of 1950 to 2000 ppb now common for the months of September through November in the areas affected (for comparison, global surface averages are now in the range of 1840 ppm).

By themselves, these measurements are evidence of a substantial Arctic methane release. But further up in the troposphere — at the mid cloud level — even higher levels of methane have been recorded.

For as methane releases from the sea and land surface, it becomes trapped in the mid-cloud layer. There, a sandwich of cloud and moisture form a cap beneath which methane tends to concentrate. In this layer, readings can be quite a bit higher than surface measurements. Recent years have shown numerous instances where methane readings in the mid-cloud layer spiked above 2300 parts per billion.

Last year during September, the now annual plume of methane emitting from the Arctic Ocean pushed readings as high as 2571 parts per billion at this level of the atmosphere. It was a reading more than 700 parts per billion above the global surface average. A spike fueled by the anomalously high rates of methane emission from the Arctic surface waters and Siberian tundra during the Fall of 2013.

This year, despite extraordinarily spotty coverage due to cloud interference, the METOP sensor found Arctic methane concentrations in the range of 2666 parts per billion in the mid cloud layer. The spike occurred just this past Sunday and exceeds the September 2013 spike by 95 parts per billion — a level more than 800 parts per billion above current global surface averages.

Arctic methane spike 2666

(Arctic methane spikes to 2666 parts per billion in the mid-cloud layer on Sunday October 26. Image source: OSPO/METOP.)

In combination, observations of a rapidly warming Arctic Ocean and observations of Arctic methane readings between 6 and 60 percent above the global average in near surface regions and in the mid cloud layer are a clear signal that human-caused Arctic warming is forcing an ever-greater methane release. To a greater and greater extent, large carbon stores are being weakened and tapped by the various mechanisms that are an up-shot of human warming. The location of these large-scale releases, as observed in the satellite record, is confirmation of ground and ocean based observations conducted by Arctic researchers such as Dr. Semiletov and Shakhova. And the releases themselves may well be some validation of our more dire concerns.

This new spike is yet more evidence of a sizeable, anthropogenic-spurred, release that is impacting not only regional methane levels, but global levels as well. Whether this newly observed release is part of a slow global response to the initial human heat forcing — one that will take centuries to fully emerge — or is part of a much more rapid and dangerous response to an also very rapid human heat forcing is now unclear.

What is clear is that feedbacks to the human heat forcing are now starting to become plainly visible. That they are providing evidence of a stronger release from some sources on a yearly basis. A troubling amplifying feedback to the already dangerous and extraordinary human emission. One that should serve both as a warning and as a spur to reduce and eliminate human greenhouse gas emissions from all sources and to switch energy systems away from fossil fuels as swiftly as possible.

Links:

OSPO/METOP

Climate Reanalyzer

NOAA’s Office of Satellite Operations

Arctic News

Dr. Leonid Yurganov

Taking on the Giants: Skunk Works Aims for Commercial, Compact Fusion Reactor Within Ten Years

Ever since major industrialized nations learned how to fuse atoms in megabombs able to blast scores of square miles to smithereens, the quest has been on to harness the vast potential energy store that is nuclear fusion as a viable means to peacefully fuel modern civilization.

Unlike fission, which involves the splitting of atomic nuclei, fusion both produces more energy while generating no radio-active waste. The primary fuel — H2 — is abundant and non-radioactive. Because conventional fusion reactors involve containment fields that force these non-radioactive elements together, they do not operate under dangerous conditions similar to nuclear fission reactors. The fusion reaction bi-products are also common, non-polluting elements together with a heat source used for mechanical work.

Fusion reactors aren’t vulnerable to the same kinds of terrible melt-downs seen at Fukushima and Chernobyl. And the energy density of the fusion reaction itself is extraordinary, producing a potential for very high energy returns on energy invested.

A world where an energy source of this quality is compact, economic, and widely available, is one within reach of a progression of advances and wonders. A human civilization with a growing capability to solve emerging problems involving a number of difficult limits.

The Quest for Viable Hot Fusion

As such, viable fusion is seen as a kind of holy grail energy source. And ever since the 1950s, engineers have been pursuing technical and cost effective means to harness it. For part of the problem in harnessing fusion was the highly energetic nature of the energy source itself.

To contain massive, hot, fusion reactions, magnetic plasma bottles were needed. Doughnut-shaped containment fields engineered to trap substances as hot as a sun. And the magnetic bottles themselves were energy-hungry beasts requiring major investment in infrastructure and materials.

The reactor facilities necessary to produce such high-energy bottles were massive, involving megawatts of energy for the magnetic fields that would contain the super-hot fusion reaction and its resultant plasmas. Such tokamak fields were very expensive to erect and maintain.

Tokamak_fields_lg

(Tokamak fusion reaction containment field. Image source: Commons.)

In most cases, more energy was needed to keep the fusion reaction in check than could be gleaned from the reaction overall. But slow and steady advances continued — primarily aimed at building a large enough containment vessel to glean a useful return on the energy dumped into the tokamak fields.

As the massive tokamak projects entered the 21st Century, a coalition of countries including the EU, the US, Russia and China, pooled efforts to construct the 23,000 ton ITER project. At a cost of $50 billion dollars US and growing, the project aims to provide a 10 to 1 energy return on energy invested by converting 50 megawatts of containment field energy into 500 megawatts of commercial energy. Such provision of a viable fusion energy store would, indeed, be a breakthrough and likely result in spin-off reactor technology if such offerings could be reproduced at relatively low-cost.

ITER plans to begin testing in 2020 and hopes to be online and producing energy by 2027.

It is worth noting, though, that the massive size and cost of projects like ITER serve to limit the likelihood that fusion energy will become commercially viable on any time horizon sooner than 20 years even if the energy production efforts are successful (although, one can well compare the 50 billion over decades cost of ITER with the $650 billion or greater annual cost of current ongoing oil and gas exploration).

Unexplained Experimental Results

For much of the mainstream scientific community, the large fusion plasma containment field projects like ITER serve as the only hope for a viable fusion energy source. But ever since the late 1980s, an underground science has developed around what was, at first, called cold fusion.

This fringe field emerged onto the world stage as an off-spring of work conducted and announced by Pons and Fleischmann in 1989. The two scientists provided reports observing a positive energy fusion reaction of deuterium occurring at low temperature in the presence of a relatively low-energy electrical current and a catalyst (palladium).

It was also a continuation of previous work by Graham, Paneth, Peters, and Tandberg during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Most notably, Tandberg stated in 1927 that he had fused hydrogen into helium in an electrolytic cell with palladium electrodes. Ironically, this work was mostly unknown to Pons and Fleischmann at the time of their announcement.

Pons and Fleischmann’s paper rocked the scientific community — triggering an article about the researchers in Time Magazine and Congressional inquiries together with speculation that a dawn of a new energy era was at hand. Much of this speculation was fueled by the researchers, who provided extraordinary claims about the usefulness of the energy source they discovered.

But the Pons and Fleischmann experiment was a sketchy subject for observational proofs. For like Tandberg, who had a patent based on his experiment rejected on the notion that ‘he could not explain the physical process,’ Pons and Fleischmann found resistance due to the fact that their observations would upend most of what was currently understood about atomic physics — chiefly that it should take a massive amount of energy to fuse atomic particles.

Even more bedeviling, the experiment was difficult to reproduce. Sometimes, the positive heat energy reaction that Pons and Fleischmann reported was observed and sometimes it was not. This inconsistency continued to fuel doubt in the validity of this line of research.

Even worse, there was very little in the way of sound scientific theory that could explain what was actually going on inside the reaction chamber to produce the observed heat. Conventional atomic science couldn’t produce a mechanism for such a reaction. And so the observations hinged on convincing the gate keepers of conventional science that a loop-hole existed in atomic fusion theory. A rather high bar to cross.

Since no current accepted and peer-reviewed theory could explain the cold fusion reaction to make it viable, this lead to researchers in the field fighting off the label of ‘scientific pariah.’

Nonetheless, work continued on so-called cold fusion (now often labeled low energy nuclear reactions or LENR) at a number of government and commercial laboratories around the world. Japan, Italy, France, Israel, and the US all continued to conduct validation and observation experiments related to Pons and Fleischmann’s efforts. And a variety of commercial efforts also emerged — with some producing rather extraordinary but, as yet, still disputed claims.

Last year, a team of scientists produced an observational study of a controversial generator called the E-Cat which claimed to use LENR technology to produce excess energy. The study validated the claim, but, as with most LENR work, has received broad criticism.  A second potential paper, produced by the same authors, was listed on a blog earlier this month. The draft has yet to appear in any of the major scientific libraries.

Lockheed Martin’s Compact Fusion

LOCKHEED-FUSION_300

(Lockheed Martin working on experimental fusion design. Image source: Lockheed Martin.)

Until recently, commercial agencies working to develop fusion as a viable energy technology have split into two camps — the large corporations which have chiefly funded experimental efforts, and the small corporations like Rossi Energy which have been promising, but failing to deliver, viable LENR generators for the past few years.

Now, as of last week, Lockheed Martin has entered the fray by making an announcement that it aims to produce a commercially viable small fusion reactor within the next ten years.

Spear-headed by Skunk Works — the same group that produced the first stealth bomber and a number of other breakthrough technologies — the effort aims to have an experimental reactor off the ground within 5 years, military capable technology for ships, vehicles and aircraft within 10 years, and non-government/military reactors within less than 20 years.

The Lockheed Martin reactors are planned to be compact — small enough to fit in an 18 wheeler truck bed. These compact designs would produce a relatively large amount of energy — about 100 MW. Such a design could power a moderate sized city, allow an aircraft to fly indefinitely, be used to power larger vehicles, and serve as an energy source for ocean-going vessels. Such a small design would be less costly, more useful, and more easy to rapidly test, develop, and deploy.

Fusion-Graphic Magnetic Mirrors

(Lockheed Martin’s fusion reactor desing uses a layered plasma containment approach. Image source: Cosmos. Image credit: Anton Banulski.)

The key to Lockheed Martin’s smaller design is the creative use of older containment technologies. According to reports from lead Lockheed Martin scientists, the Skunk Works team is using a technique that involves a cusp confinement method — which uses ring-shaped electromagnets to contain the fusion plasma. The electromagnets generate a field that bulges in the middle. Magnetism pushes the fusion particles together. The further away from the fusion medium the particles stray, the greater the magnetic force pushing them back in.

In the 1970s, cusp confinement was found to be too leaky to produce a fusion reaction. Martin’s solution is to surround the cusp field with a second magnetic mirroring field — also a somewhat leaky field. However, another innovation by Lockheed Martin is to shunt escaped particles back into containment using a third field layer.

According to the, now anecdotal, reports from the initial research team, the experimental design features a viable  fusion containment field using only 1 kilowatt of power. A claim that, if it bears out, could put this new design onto the cutting edge for fusion development, but would require quite a bit more testing to reach full power loads.

From a recent article in Cosmos:

McGuire said he and five to 10 researchers have been working for four years and have built their first experimental device. They carried out 200 test shots while commissioning it. He declined to say what temperature, density or confinement time they had achieved but he said the plasma appeared stable and they had heated it with up to one kilowatt of power.

A Big Corp to Take on the Fossil Fuel Giants?

As of yet, the Lockheed Martin announcement provides no scientific proofs (Lockheed says it has a scientific paper pending). And given the history of past fusion innovation claims, this prestigious company may well be taking a substantial risk in its early and apparently confident announcement. Some publications have already pointed out that LM is putting its reputation on the line.

That said, perhaps the entry of the prestigious Lockheed Martin corporation into the fast track for attempting to provide viable fusion technologies is a sign that some of these energy sources — whether Tokamak or LENR based — are on the verge of a period of breakthrough.

If so, what I wrote last year about fusion energy in Growth Shock may well apply:

Even if the first high hurdle of commercial viability is crossed, whatever industries provide fusion systems will have to survive competition with the wealthy, influential, and politically powerful fossil fuel industry. One can expect a similar campaign of disinformation, undermining, delaying and detracting that has been waged against the world’s solar, wind and biofuel industries. Misinformation and fear mongering are most likely to arise as soon as any announcement of commercial viability goes widely public. This second hurdle may well prove to be even higher than the first and oil, coal, gas and, possibly, traditional nuclear special interest groups may well join to keep this option in its bottle.

Before becoming overly optimistic, we must remember that both wind and solar energy showed great promise early on and have taken many decades fighting both real world limitations and entrenched special interests to gain the minor foothold they have now established. And these are both proven technologies that are in a vicious competition with the established smoke-stack interests. One would not expect much difference with fusion. If viable, it poses a greater threat than any current renewable energy system, so the opposition media campaign, in the event of publicly proven viability, would likely be shrill in the extreme.

But fusion technology may have a few strikes in its favor. Though it may well be disruptive to traditional fuel suppliers, it may not be as disruptive as current alternatives to traditional utilities. Most of the applications that the new fusion producers are attempting to license would be plug and play… fusion generators could directly replace those in coal, gas, and nuclear plants. The new infrastructure, essentially, is limited to a reaction chamber or boiler. And should fusion prove viable, this ‘plug and play’ aspect of the technology may prove to be a crucial advantage.

The compact nature of Lockheed’s prospective offering — 100 MW scale truck-sized reactors — should they emerge, could well be a critical fossil fuel replacement desperately needed in an age of ramping anthropogenic climate change. So let’s hope this is not a miss-fire on Lockheed’s part.

Links:

Compact Fusion

Is Lockheed’s Fusion Project Breaking New Ground?

Lockheed Developing Truck-Sized Nuclear Fusion Reactor

Growth Shock

Could Ultra-Cheap Energy be Just Around the Corner?

Tokamak

ITER

Cold Fusion

Climate Change Plays Havoc With World’s Weather as Europe/UK Fear Storms This Fall and Winter

Today, as in recent years, we see ample evidence that extra heat in the atmosphere and oceans can severely alter weather around the world.

We are seeing the impacts in Brazil where Sao Paulo reservoirs are now at 4.5 percent capacity and millions are suffering from inadequate and dwindling water supplies. We see similar stress in California where the worst drought in decades is forcing some communities to truck in water. In Syria the situation is even more dire — on the scale of a humanitarian nightmare — where a multi-year drought has destabilized government and spurred violent extremism to surge through an already troubled region.

Eastern Brazil Oct 15

(Sao Paulo region of Eastern Brazil clearly visible through a mostly cloudless but smoke-filled satellite shot on October 15. Note both the dessicated, browned land of a normally green region together with the steely gray smoke funneling in from wildfires both near Sao Paulo and further north in the drying Amazon rainforest. Intense heat and lack of rainfall combines with fires to create a pallor of smog over much of Brazil also visible here. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

In a warming world, drought and deluge are far more common. The added heat increases the rate of evaporation and amplifies the hydrological cycle such that the atmosphere holds 6 to 7.5 percent more moisture per each degree Celsius of heating. This is roughly equal to an increase in the rate of evaporation and precipitation by 6 to 7.5 percent as well. So where droughts occur, they will tend to be more severe and where strong storms develop, they will tend to dump even heavier volumes of rainfall. And a warming of the polar regions coincident with snow and ice loss, plays havoc with both the Jet Stream and traditional storm tracks even as the increased instability generates ever-more-powerful storms.

For a Europe facing off against an Atlantic and Arctic undergoing these wrenching changes, the story is altogether related. Sections of Southern France over a recent six week period received enough rain for an entire year. The Mediterranean waters off this region had heated to between 3 and 4 C above average dumping an intense load of moisture into a hungry upper level low that delivered storm after storm to the beleaguered regions. One spate of deluge dumped a full six months of water from the skies in just three hours.

Meanwhile, the UK may now be staring down a fall and winter season that may bring with it a return to the terrible and historic storms witnessed just last year.

monster storm UK

(Monster storm that bombed out to 952 mb on Wednesday lashes the UK and Ireland with rain and gales on Friday and Hurricane Gonzalo threatens Bermuda. Gonzalo is set to make an eastward turn across the Atlantic and will possibly impact the UK as a tropical storm by Monday or Tuesday of next week. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

This week, one such storm swelled to extraordinary intensity in the North Atlantic. On Tuesday and Wednesday it bombed out to a powerful 952 mb monster, filling up most of the Ocean between Newfoundland, Greenland and Europe, casting gales on into the UK and Ireland. It sent storm surges up rivers — forcing them to top their banks, lashed the isles with rainstorms that flooded Belfast, damaged hundreds of homes and sent officials scrambling to assure an already storm-weary public that they were better prepared for such events than last year.

The current storm is expected to rake through the UK and Ireland throughout this weekend before fading off toward the north. As it lifts, hurricane Gonzalo — now packing 125 mph winds and threatening Bermuda — is forecast to surge into the UK with tropical storm intensity come Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Gonzalo path

(Forecast path for Gonzalo shows a tropical storm off Ireland by Monday morning. Image source: NOAA.)

The 1-2 punch is reminiscent of a relentless series of storms that battered the UK this past winter. A sequence spurred by extraordinary and unprecedented changes to the North Atlantic climate including a slowing of the Gulf Stream, a powerful warming of surface waters in the Arctic, major losses to sea ice in almost all Arctic seas, and increasing cold, fresh water outflows from Greenland. The net effect is to enhance storm track intensity across the Atlantic as warmer waters and airs surge northward coming increasingly into contact with cold polar air and generating powerful and intense storms during the winter, fall, and spring seasons.

With global temperatures flirting with new record highs and with El Nino possibly flaring to life in the Pacific, the end of 2014 and the start to 2015 is altogether likely to see a continuation of such intense, extreme weather. Weather that is severe enough to cause damage and disruption in some areas or even powerful enough to throw whole cities and regions into instability.

Just a few of the tragic results of a warming climate as we approach the 1 C above 1880s temperatures mark.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

NOAA

North Atlantic Ramping up to ‘Storms of My Grandchildren’

How Climate Change Wrecks the Jet Stream and Amps Up the Hydrological Cycle to Cause Dangerous Weather

How Climate Change Helped ISIS

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Bernard

 

Ignoring the Arctic Methane Monster: Royal Society Goes Dark on Arctic Observational Science

Back in 2011, a team of Arctic researchers shocked the world when they announced the observation of 1 kilometer across methane plumes issuing from regions of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Indications were that this shallow sea might be vulnerable to large-scale release. And in the flurry of observations that followed, it was discovered, according to lead scientists Shakhova and Semiletov, that about 17 teragrams of methane was being emitted each year from this region (which exceeds the total amount of methane currently leaking from all the US’s wells, coal beds, and pipelines combined[14 teragrams]).

The methane emission had not reached catastrophic levels, but the rate of release was far greater than expected. So there was some cause for concern. Concern that this larger than expected release was part of a ramp-up to something worse. A kind of climate nightmare scenario that no-one likes talking about.

Methane Oct 9 2014

(NOAA METOP data captured by Sam Carana on October 9 of 2014 shows a strong methane spike in the range of 2562 parts per billion — more than 700 parts per billion above the global average. Spikes of this kind are now rather common in the METOP data. Note that the origins of high atmospheric methane readings are mostly concentrated in the far north — an indication of a local methane overburden. Though not signs of catastrophic release, these spikes present a troubling trend in the observational record that is an indicator of an increasing Arctic methane release. Links: NOAA OSPO and Arctic News.)

There was no direct evidence, yet, that these fears were in the process of being realized. But there was certainly enough to sharply raise concerns, to increase the observational wing of the science, and to discuss and debate the observational results in the larger scientific bodies.

Questions arose and were addressed. One — citing that perhaps this much methane had been releasing from the ESAS for centuries — was answered when researchers discovered new methane plumes in only recently submerged tundra. An indication that at least a subset of the plumes were recent.

Broader Arctic methane science outside the bounds of specific ESAS release, which had for years identified a risk that rapidly thawing tundra would add new volumes of methane and CO2 to the Arctic atmosphere, provided additional cause for worry. Paper after paper found rising methane emissions from thawing tundra — in lakes and heating peat bogs and in any zone where the soil was anaerobic and warming. NASA’s CARVE study found 150 kilometer regions of terrestrial tundra emitting plumes of methane into the atmosphere and a subsequent study by CARVE found that current models combined with spotty observational evidence couldn’t even pin down total methane emissions for the Arctic region.

It was a clear sign that both the observational science and the model science was not yet mature enough to make decisive conclusions about rates of Arctic methane release. Much less accurately predict what would happen in a future that included the likelihood of Arctic warming at a pace 30 times that seen during the end of the last ice age and a global carbon emission (from human fossil-fuel based industry) that is six times faster than at any time in Earth’s geological past.

Ramping methane

(Steadily ramping atmospheric methane concentrations since 2008 indicate an additional methane release substantial enough to overwhelm the OH sink and result in strong annual increases. Conversely, from the late 1990s to the mid 2000s methane sinks and sources had reached a balance with atmospheric levels plateauing at around 1790 parts per billion. Notably, 2013 to 2014 has shown the most rapid rate of annual increase for many decades in this ESRL data. Was this methane spike at least in part spurred by major reductions in Arctic Sea Ice and coincidentally powerful polar amplification occurring since 2005? Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

That said, concerns that releases from the broader Arctic environment would increase due to human heat forcing abounded. In 2011, a group of 41 Arctic researchers projected that Arctic carbon release would equal ten percent of the total human emission if rapid reduction of carbon emissions was undertaken as soon as possible. Under business as usual carbon emissions through 2100, the researchers suggested that the Arctic feedback would amplify to a size equaling 35% or more of the human emission. Enough to set off a runaway to a hothouse state even if all human emissions were to cease.

This summer seemed to raise concerns even further with the SWERUS C3 mission discovering very large methane plumes in the Laptev Sea. Strange, anomalous, methane blow holes that no-one ever imagined or predicted appeared in the Yamal region of Russia. And though the methane release from the individual holes was small when compared to the global methane flux, they provided yet more contextual evidence of an increasingly unstable Arctic, one that is finding more and more pathways for carbon release — some of them catastrophically explosive.

methane bubbles near the Laptev sea surface

(Methane bubbles near Laptev Sea surface as observed by the SWERUS C3 mission. Image source: SWERUS C3.)

Royal Society Goes Dark on Arctic Methane Observation

Now, as the SWERUS C3 mission has come to a close, something rather odd has happened.

A part of the SWERUS C3 mission, perhaps the most important part, was to collect observational information about methane release from the sea bed. Initial reports from the mission indicated at least what appeared to be an important discovery in the Laptev. The mission also spent quite a period moving through regions of the ESAS — where earlier large releases were observed. It was expected that the lead researchers – Shakhova and Semiletov would present their findings. And what better place than the upcoming Royal Society meeting on ‘Arctic sea ice reduction: the evidence, models, and global impacts (emphasis added)?’

As a critical heat-trapping feedback in the Arctic, one would expect that observations on the release of methane — which is at least 25 times more potent a heat trapping gas by volume than CO2 — would be a matter of some importance to the issue of Arctic sea ice reduction. And it appears that the scientific forum was open enough to the issue to include a model-based discussion of the subject by Dr. Gavin Schmidt. But with the failure of the Royal Society to invite Shakhova and Semiletov, a good portion of the observational science was simply excluded.

Modelers, instead, could have a discussion with themselves. And though I assume such a discussion was somewhat enlightening and probably more than a little reassuring, one wonders how much realistic grounding such a discussion can have without including the most recent observational findings for debate and analysis.

To this point, earlier this month, Dr. Shakhova made the following statement on behalf of herself and the 30 other scientists involved in her research:

October 4th, 2014
By mail and email

Dear Sir Paul Nurse,

We are pleased that the Royal Society recognizes the value of Arctic science and hosted an important scientific meeting last week, organized by Dr D. Feltham, Dr S. Bacon, Dr M. Brandon, and Professor Emeritus J. Hunt (https://royalsociety.org/events/2014/arctic-sea-ice/).

Our colleagues and we have been studying the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) for more than 20 years and have detailed observational knowledge of changes occurring in this region, as documented by publications in leading journals such as Science, Nature, and Nature Geosciences. During these years, we performed more than 20 all-seasonal expeditions that allowed us to accumulate a large and comprehensive data set consisting of hydrological, biogeochemical, and geophysical data and providing a quality of coverage that is hard to achieve, even in more accessible areas of the World Ocean.

To date, we are the only scientists to have long-term observational data on methane in the ESAS. Despite peculiarities in regulation that limit access of foreign scientists to the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone, where the ESAS is located, over the years we have welcomed scientists from Sweden, the USA, The Netherlands, the UK, and other countries to work alongside us. A large international expedition performed in 2008 (ISSS-2008) was recognized as the best biogeochemical study of the IPY (2007-2008). The knowledge and experience we accumulated throughout these years of work laid the basis for an extensive Russian-Swedish expedition onboard I/B ODEN (SWERUS-3) that allowed more than 80 scientists from all over the world to collect more data from this unique area. The expedition was successfully concluded just a few days ago.

To our dismay, we were not invited to present our data at the Royal Society meeting. Furthermore, this week we discovered, via a twitter Storify summary (circulated by Dr. Brandon), that Dr. G. Schmidt was instead invited to discuss the methane issue and explicitly attacked our work using the model of another scholar, whose modelling effort is based on theoretical, untested assumptions having nothing to do with observations in the ESAS. While Dr. Schmidt has expertise in climate modelling, he is an expert neither on methane, nor on this region of the Arctic. Both scientists therefore have no observational knowledge on methane and associated processes in this area. Let us recall that your motto “Nullus in verba” was chosen by the founders of the Royal Society to express their resistance to the domination of authority; the principle so expressed requires all claims to be supported by facts that have been established by experiment. In our opinion, not only the words but also the actions of the organizers deliberately betrayed the principles of the Royal Society as expressed by the words “Nullus in verba.”

In addition, we would like to highlight the Anglo-American bias in the speaker list. It is worrisome that Russian scientific knowledge was missing, and therefore marginalized, despite a long history of outstanding Russian contributions to Arctic science. Being Russian scientists, we believe that prejudice against Russian science is currently growing due to political disagreements with the actions of the Russian government. This restricts our access to international scientific journals, which have become exceptionally demanding when it comes to publication of our work compared to the work of others on similar topics. We realize that the results of our work may interfere with the crucial interests of some powerful agencies and institutions; however, we believe that it was not the intent of the Royal Society to allow political considerations to override scientific integrity.

We understand that there can be scientific debate on this crucial topic as it relates to climate. However, it is biased to present only one side of the debate, the side based on theoretical assumptions and modelling. In our opinion, it was unfair to prevent us from presenting our more-than-decadal data, given that more than 200 scientists were invited to participate in debates. Furthermore, we are concerned that the Royal Society proceedings from this scientific meeting will be unbalanced to an unacceptable degree (which is what has happened on social media).

Consequently, we formally request the equal opportunity to present our data before you and other participants of this Royal Society meeting on the Arctic and that you as organizers refrain from producing any official proceedings before we are allowed to speak.

Sincerely,
On behalf of more than 30 scientists,
Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov

Which raises the question — if models aren’t being informed by current observation any longer, then what are they being informed by?

The exclusion also highlights a large and what appears to be growing rift between those who observe the Arctic system and some that model it. Concern for larger carbon release from the Arctic system appears to be steadily rising among Arctic observational specialists, while some modelers appear to have retreated into silos in an attempt to defend previous understandings that were based on earlier work. It would seem that the wiser move would be to attempt to incorporate new data into the models. But in some cases, this does not appear to be happening.

Sea ice vs model runs

(Arctic sea ice melt model runs were way off. Do we want to have a similar unpleasant surprise when it comes to methane release?)

In such cases, there is a high risk that a kind of institutional bias may form to delay the progress of the science. Such an instance would be tragic considering the dangers posed by the very rapid build-up of heat trapping gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere and the absolute necessity for swift and decisive action to prevent even broader-scale harm than we’ve already locked in. If we are misinformed of risk, even by those with the best of intentions, then we may grow complacent and fail to act soon enough on the basis of assurances that prove false at a later time.

Links:

Arctic News

The Distribution of Methane on Marine Arctic Shelves

Geophysical and Geochemical Evidence of Methane Release Over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf

Ebullition and Storm Induced Methane Release From East Siberian Arctic Shelf

High Risk of Permafrost Thaw

SWERUS C3

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

Arctic Methane Monster Shortens Tail: ESAS Emitting Methane at Twice Expected Rate

Arctic Methane Monster Stirs: NASA’s CARVE Finds Plumes as Large as 150 Kilometers Across

Tracking the Footprints of the Arctic Methane Monster

The Arctic Methane Monster Exhales: Third Tundra Hole Discovered

When it Comes to the Arctic Methane Monster What We Don’t Know Really Could Kill Us

Methane and Frozen Ground

NOAA OSPO

Current Sea Level Rise is Faster Than at Any Time in Last 6,000 Years

Antarctica October 14

(NASA satellite shot of Antarctica on October 13 of 2014. Recent scientific papers point toward a vicious cycle of Antarctic glacial melt. Expanding sea ice results from increased cold, fresh water outflows from melting land-anchored glaciers spreading out along the ocean surface and protecting the floating ice. Meanwhile, rapidly warming waters concentrate in a layer beneath the ice to further accelerate melting of the giant glaciers’ bases. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

With fewer and fewer logical straws to grasp for plausibly denying an obvious and inexorable warming of the global climate system, climate change deniers have resorted to pointing toward an expanding veil of sea ice near Antarctica as ‘proof positive’ that global warming really isn’t happening.

But recent scientific papers reveal that what may well appear to be a soothing light at the end of an imaginary cooling tunnel is more a freight train of global heat aimed directly at the ice sheets’ weak underbellies. For the last time the cool, fresh waters of an initial Antarctic melt expanded out along the surface, likely temporarily enhancing the range of sea ice as well, below-surface warmth ran beneath the ice and rapidly melted sea-fronting glaciers, leading to a sea level rise of about 14 feet in just one century.

In essence, the expanding skein of ice and fresh water concentrated warmth where it was needed least — at the bases of massive glaciers submerged in hundreds of feet of warming water. The heat melted the glacier from the bottom up, floated the glaciers and then flooding further inland beneath the ice to do still more damage.

And it is the start of just this process that we are witnessing now. How fast it proceeds will be critical to the rate of sea level rise going forward.

As for all that extra sea ice? Well, that’s merely the last gasp of coolness running along the surface waters — sent out by the dying glaciers.

Current Sea Level Rise Unprecedented in 6,000 Years

Past and future sea level rise WG 1 AR 5

(Past and future sea level rise as shown in this IPCC AR5 WG1 graphic. Note the steady rate of sea level increase beginning at around 1880 and continuing on through the 21st Century. Also note the recent uptick in observed sea level rise together with end 21st Century projections by the IPCC. It is also worth noting that many still consider the IPCC projections to be a bit too conservative, especially when considering business as usual projections of 3-5 C or greater warming by the end of this century. Image source: IPCC.)

It is likely that we are just in the first stages of such a catastrophic process of ice sheet decline. A process that will last for centuries, but one that is already having a profound impact on the world’s oceans and coastlines.

For a new study, published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found that sea level rise over the past century is the fastest it has been since the end of the last ice age — when vast surges of water erupted from the melting glaciers.

The study, which compiled over 1,000 measurements of sea level over the past 35,000 years from sediment samples, found that at no time during the most stable period of the Holocene have seas ever risen so fast as they are now rising. This 6,000 year period saw no increase or decrease in sea level exceeding 15-20 centimeters over 200 year time-frames. But during the 100 years from 1900 to 2000, seas rose by 20 centimeters, more than doubling highest rates of variance during the last 6,000 years.

Increasing Heat Melts Glaciers, Swells Seas

The increases to sea level are a result of added ocean and atmospheric heat. A warming pushed ever-higher by a rapidly expanding heat-trapping gas emission.

Such direct heating of the ocean causes water to thermally expand. The added atmospheric and ocean heat also goes to work melting glaciers at the surface and where the glaciers contact the warming seas. These glaciers, in turn, add great volumes of water to the world’s oceans. The upshot of a 0.6 degree Celsius warming of the atmosphere and near surface world ocean during the 20th Century.

But both this heating and melt were just the start. For the atmospheric warming hit 0.8 C by the early second decade of the 21st Century even as top 700 meter ocean heat content spiked to unexpectedly high levels. Meanwhile, forecast rates for rising seas and temperatures are even more extreme for the coming years and decades.

Sediment plumes from Greenland Sep 2014

(Tell-tale 100 km long plumes of sediment carried out from beneath Greenland’s glaciers by floods of melt water as seen in this NASA satellite shot from September of 2014. Surface melt from Greenland tunnels through the ice sheet base. Once there, it flows from beneath the ice sheet and out into the oceans — carrying with it loads of sediment flushed from beneath the glacier. Melt from both the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets has greatly increased during recent years. Image source: Earth Observatory.)

Current Rate of Sea Level Rise More than 60% Faster Than 20th Century Mean

If the average rate of sea level rise was 2 mm per year during the 20th Century, the past two decades have witnessed a more than 60% rate of increase over even that unprecedented rate. For current sea level rise measures show a 3.27 mm per year increase.

Most scientists expect an ever more extreme rate of atmospheric warming over the 21st Century to ramp this already rapid rate higher — with annual increases likely to exceed 1 cm before 2100 arrives. Such rates would push end 21st Century sea level rise well into the end ice age range of 1.2 meters every 100 years — with chances for even greater rates of increase going forward.

The IPCC has identified a likely sea level rise in the range of 2-3 feet by the end of this Century (60-100 cm), with many outside analysts identifying a range between 2-9 feet (60-300 cm) as possible given the potential for 3-5 C warming under business as usual fossil fuel emissions (Researchers at the Neils Bohr Institute recently established a range from 2-6 feet but note that sea level rises of 80 cm [2.5 feet] are most likely this century and increases of greater than 6 feet have a probability of less than 5% through 2100).

Sea level rise 1993 to 2014

(Current rate of sea level rise as measured by AVISO. Note the 3.27 mm per year rise that has been ongoing since 1992 with an increasing flux beginning around 2010. Image source: AVISO.)

For context, current global CO2e atmospheric heat forcing is in the range of 481 ppm CO2e. The last time CO2 equivalent heat forcing hit such levels, millions of years ago, oceans were 75-120 feet higher and temperatures were about 3.6 C warmer than they are today.

It is also worth noting that it took 10,000 years for the Earth to warm by about 5 C at the end of the last ice age. Current and expected human greenhouse gas emissions (without a rapid transition to renewable energy sources and zero carbon civilizations) could well achieve a similar level of warming in just 180 to 270 years (1880 to 2150) — a pace more than 30 times faster than what was witnessed then.

Links:

Sea Level and Global Ice Volumes From Last Glacial Maximum to the Holocene

New Study Finds 3-4 Meter Sea Level Rise May Be Imminent

It’s Worse Than We Thought — New Study Finds Earth is Warming Far Faster than Expected

LANCE-MODIS

Earth Observatory

AVISO

Reservoir at 5 Percent Capacity: Climate Change to Leave Sao Paulo’s 20 Million Without Water By November?

Suffering from its worst drought in over 84 years, the city of Sao Paulo is in the midst of a crisis. For as of this weekend the city’s primary reservoir — the Cantareira — had dropped to just 5 percent capacity putting millions at risk of losing access to water.

The fall prompted the city’s governor — Geraldo Alckmin — to again ask for permission to draw emergency water supplies from below flood gates to alleviate catastrophic losses from the Cantareira and ensure water supplies to the region’s 20 million residents. The move would tap a river system that feeds two other states also facing water shortages — Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.  But the draw is only a temporary stop gap and, without rain, the Cantareira will continue to fall — bottoming out sometime this November.

cantareira-reservoir-sadesp-sao-paulo-brazil-february-2014

(Dam and section of Cantareira Reservoir high and dry under incessant drought conditions. Image source: Linhas Populares.)

Don’t Use the ‘R’ Word

The Cantareira provides water to nearly 50 percent of Sao Paulo’s residents. But ever since February of 2014 the multi-year long drought, a drought that has featured less and less seasonal rainfall over time, has triggered reduced water access by city and state residents.

Those living within areas served by the Cantareira have been treated to increasing periods of dry taps — being forced to go for longer and longer without available water supply. The intermittent lack of water service has put a strain on businesses and residents alike with many people living in Sao Paulo being forced to abstain from washing, cooking and brewing. For now, water for drinking can be stored during times when the faucets flow. But that time could come to an end all too soon without a change in the weather.

“Sometimes I have no water for two days, then it comes back on the next day and the day after that, I have no water again,” said Zeina Reis da Cruz, a 55 year old resident of one of Sao Paulo’s lower income neighborhoods in a September 25 interview with The Globe and Mail.

Despite an ongoing and growing failure to provide water services, the city refuses to use the word ‘rationing.’ Such an admission of failure would have weighed heavily on Alckmin’s re-election campaign (Alckmin was just recently elected to a new term as governor). Instead, irate citizens and businesses making calls to utilities are simply told that there is nothing wrong with the water supply and to wait until the water comes back on.

Regardless of politically-motivated denials, water rationing is the most accurate way to describe what many Sao Paulo residents have been experiencing for 9 months now under a regime of systemic drought that just grows steadily worse with time.

Climate Change Spurred by Deforestation, Worsened By Atmospheric Heating

The great forest of the Amazon provides a rich source of water for both Brazil and surrounding countries. It captures as much as 80 percent of the tropical atmosphere’s heavy moisture load and re-circulates it locally – providing ongoing and consistent rains. A critical means of replenishing regional water sources.

But, over recent decades, a combination of clear cutting and human-spurred warming of the climate have been adding severe stresses to the Amazon. During the period of 2000 to 2010, the great rainforest lost 93,000 square miles of wooded land alone to clear cutting. By 2014, government restrictions had brought down the rate of loss to around 2,300 square miles per year, but by this time warming-related impacts to the Amazon were looking even more dire.

As the 2000s progressed, it was becoming ever-more-clear that a heating climate driven by human fossil fuel emissions was taking an increasing toll. For, during recent decades, the Amazon has been warming at a rate of around 0.25 C every ten years — about twice as fast as the global climate system. The added heat increased evaporation, pushing soil moisture levels below critical thresholds.

Drought Map South America

(It’s not just Sao Paulo, most of South America is showing ongoing rainfall deficits. Map provided by NOAA shows percent of normal precipitation received by South America this summer. Note the severe drying over much of the Amazon Rainforest and broader South America coupled with drought over Sao Paulo. Image source: Climate Prediction Center.)

This loss has, in turn, increased the prevalence of forest-destroying understory fires. And, according to a 2012 NASA study these understory fires have been burning away the Amazon at the rate of more than 30,000 square miles every ten years for nearly two decades. By late this Century, business as usual fossil fuel emissions and related warming of 4 degrees Celsius is expected to destroy about 85 percent of the Amazon, resulting in widespread desertification of a once-lush region.

Today, this period of initial drying caused by a human heating of the atmosphere appears to be putting the stability of Brazil’s most populous city at risk.

A Major Humanitarian Disaster

Typically for October, Sao Paulo receives between 80 and 100 mm of rainfall. So far this month, the number is approaching zero. Long range forecasts bring that total to just above 50 mm through the end of the month — about half the usual rainfall. Very dry for a month that is supposed to be the start of Sao Paulo’s rainy season, a period that usually runs from October through March. A rainy season once fed by a now greatly endangered and increasingly moisture-impoverished Amazon rainforest.

It would take a massive rainfall to replenish Sao Paulo’s reserves. The kind of rain event that would result in widespread devastation should it emerge. Now, city officials appear to be holding out for any rain to tip the scales on their swiftly shrinking water stores.

But if the worse happens. If this year is a repeat of last year which saw a parched rainy season. If the rains of October and November continue to delay or do not emerge at all, then Sao Paulo faces a terrible event. A complete drying out of its largest water store and a complete cut-off of water supplies for millions of residents.

It’s like Paulo Nobre, director of the Center for Weather Forecasting and Climate Studies at the National Institute for Space Research in Brasilia, recently noted:

“It will be a real humanitarian disaster if it happens. We are 20 million people: You can’t bring water on trucks for 20 million. So they are praying that rainfall will come – but it may not rain so much.”

Links:

Sao Paulo Water Supply at Risk in Extreme Drought

Unprecedented Drought Puts Sao Paulo Water Supply at Risk

Brazil Drought Crisis Deepens in Sao Paulo

Climate Conditions Determine Amazon Forest Fire Risk

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Reversal of Fortune: Amazon Deforestation Increased by 28 Percent Over Past Year

Amazon Could Shrink by 85% Due to Climate Change

Sao Paulo Weather Forecast

Linhas Populares

Impacts of Deforestation

(Hat tip to Andy)

(Hat tip to Colorado Bob)

Antarctic Heat Heralds Hottest September in the NASA Record

September 2014 Hottest on Record

(Global temperature anomaly map for September of 2014. Note extraordinary bands of very strong positive temperature anomaly ranging the globe with hottest zones at or near the poles. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Another hottest month on record for the global climate. And this one is a bit of a doozey.

According to NASA GISS, September of 2014 saw global surface temperatures that were 0.77 C hotter than the 20th Century average. This record beats out 2005 by a rather strong 0.04 C margin and represents the 3rd month in the GISS record for 2014 that was either the hottest or tied for the hottest (May, August and September).

Ocean surface heat and anomalous warmth at the poles were deciding factors for the new September record with very few regions of the global ocean surface showing cooler than average temps and with extraordinary heat at the poles, especially in Antarctica. This southern polar zone experienced average monthly temperatures as much as 8.7 above the global average across a relatively broad zone. Both East and West Antarctica observed this very strong polar amplification with East Antarctica experiencing the peak anomalies.

zonal anomalies map september 2014

(Zonal anomalies by Latitude in the NASA GISS measure. Image source: NASA GISS.)

The zonal anomalies map for September of 2014 showed no latitudinal zone experiencing cooler than 20th Century average conditions. A rather extraordinary feature considering most months show cooler than 20th Century average conditions along at least some latitudes.

Most extreme heating occurred at or near the poles with the 75-80 degree South Latitude zone showing an extraordinary +3.4 C departure from the global norm and the 80-90 degree North Latitude zone showing a strong +1.75 degree positive anomaly.

The only zone showing near 20th Century average temperatures was the heat sink region of 55 to 60 degrees South Latitude in the Southern Ocean. In this climate region a strong storm track combines with an expanding fresh water wedge issuing from melting Antarctic glaciers to force down-welling and atmosphere to ocean heat capture. A heat capture that was alluded to in a recent scientific paper which found the upper Southern Ocean contained between 24 and 55 percent more heat than expected.

This heat sink region, featuring an expanding fresh water wedge has been instrumental in somewhat higher than normal Antarctic sea ice totals. An impact that is, ironically, driven both by Antarctic continental ice melt together with an increasing storminess in the Southern Ocean and waters more heavily laden with salt issuing from the equatorial zone. A highly unstable confluence that results in local surface cooling as the ocean takes a heavy dose from the human riled heat engine.

Conditions in Context

No El Nino yet, despite two warm Kelvin waves and somewhat favorable atmospheric conditions throughout the months of August and September. But sea surface temperature in the Equatorial Pacific region remain somewhat hotter than normal — bending toward the warm side of ENSO neutral. Overall ocean surface warmth, however, was extraordinary throughout September, pushing well above the global average and ranging, in GFS models, from 0.7 C to 1.2 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average.

Overall, three more record or near record hot months would put 2014 in serious contention for hottest year on record (2014 is running 0.65 C hotter than average, the global record is 0.67 C above average for 2010). A rather odd result considering we still see no El Nino and almost every recent hottest year has been spurred on by this powerful atmospheric variability driver. A record hot year in 2014 with no El Nino could well be an indication that the human forcing is beginning to over-ride natural variability and that the ENSO signal, though still very powerful, is becoming more and more muted by an increasingly substantial human heat forcing.

Links:

NASA GISS

It’s Worse Than We Thought — New Study Finds that Earth is Warming Far Faster Than Expected

Ocean Acidification: We are Looking at the Complete Loss of Tropical Coral Reefs By 2050 to 2100

“Ecosystems that have thrived and developed over millions of years are being smashed down by human activities in just a few decades. It is a very sad state of affairs that hopefully we can turn around before it is too late.” — Ken Caldeira of Stanford University.

***

One trillion dollars. That’s the economic impact a new UN study found resulting from the world’s oceans becoming 170 percent more acidic by 2100 under an inexorable and ongoing human carbon emission.

It’s a rapidly ramping acidity that is being driven by an ever-rising level of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere. An emission that is already setting the stage for a first wave of mass extinction in the world ocean — starting now and hitting high gear once global CO2 levels reach about 500 parts per million (this year, global CO2 levels topped off at 401 parts per million and under current and planned emissions are likely to hit 500 ppm within about 30 years).

At issue is the vulnerability of coral reefs and many other species with calcareous skeletons and shells to rapid acidification. In the deep geological past, we’ve seen mass extinctions in many of these species due to rapid rises in ocean acidity. Events such as the Permian and PETM extinctions all showed terrible losses of species due to ocean acidification alone.

But the pace at which humans are increasing ocean acidification has never been seen before in the geological record. So the blow that is coming to many of the animals we rely on is worse than anything witnessed in Earth’s deep past.

Ocean Acification Through 2050

(Ocean acidification and related impacts to coral reefs through 2050 [500 ppm CO2]. Bands in the marginal and extremely marginal range represent acidity levels in which reefs struggle to survive. Image source: Threat to Coral Reefs From Ocean Acidification.)

Recent studies have provided numerous highlights to the extraordinary risks posed to coral reefs over the coming decades. One study, published in 2011, called into question the reefs’ ability to survive even through to the 2050 timeframe. A sudden loss that would be both staggering and unconscionable.

The reefs themselves are home to more than a million species — all of whom provide untold and priceless benefits to the Earth and to human beings alike. The reefs also provide broad support for worldwide fishing and tourism industries. Without the reefs both a critical life support and a key support to human civilization simply dissolves.

It’s callous to put a price on such an egregious loss. But behind the massive 1 trillion dollars in economic damages we can glimpse a world that has also lost a great portion of its beauty and vitality. Imagine a world barren and bereft of the living jeweled belt of coral reefs. Imagine desertified oceans, leeched of life as a result. Such a loss is unconscionable. Like witnessing a holocaust of wonder.

A stark example of the terrible life, wealth and beauty destruction engine that is human-driven climate change.

But that’s what we can look for as ocean PH levels spiral from 8.1 during the 1880s to 8.0 now to 7.9 by or before 2100.

The study did not assess the added damage also ongoing throughout the world due to rapid ocean warming, resulting in widespread coral bleaching. A major instance of which is now ongoing in Hawaii due to dangerous ocean temperatures in excess of 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

In order to prevent a rise of global CO2 levels to 500 parts per million, we must begin rapidly shutting down global fossil fuel infrastructure. This includes all emitting infrastructure — coal, oil, or natural gas. Shutting down coal plants is a good start, but building gas plants to replace them still results in an easy overshoot of the 500 ppm level.

Links:

An Updated Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Biodiversity

Acid Damage to Coral Reefs To Cost 1 Trillion Dollars

Threat to Coral Reefs From Ocean Acidification

The World’s Coral Reefs Could be Gone by 2050

Severe Coral Bleaching Near Hawaii

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob)

Arctic Warmth Melting Greenland In October

greenland_melt_nomelt oct 8

(Anomalous late season melt for Greenland along the coastal regions both north and south. Image source: NSIDC.)

It’s Fall in the Arctic. Temperatures are dropping. Sea ice is expanding. Snow and frigid weather slowly advance through these extreme northern lands.

But the pace of cooling this year — as in recent years — is far slower than what we would have typically seen just a few decades ago.

For in a crescent encircling the North Pole from the Laptev Sea through the Beaufort through the Canadian Archipelago and on into Greenland, temperatures are ranging between 5 and 12 degrees Celsius above average (9-20 degrees F). This extra atmospheric heat has tipped the entire Arctic into a +2.3 positive temperature anomaly — a rather high range for so early in the season. A strong polar amplification evident well in advance of a winter which is likely to see total positive anomalies reach between 3-6 C for the entire Arctic.

October 9 GFS Anomaly

(GFS temperature anomaly map for October 9 of 2014 shows the world at a very hot +0.69 positive anomaly above the already hotter than typical 1979-2000 average. Arctic anomalies now average +2.3 C with spikes in the range of +12 C for some locations. Note the +3-11 C hot spot over Greenland. Image source: University of Maine.)

The oceans are bleeding record or near record heat into the Arctic atmosphere. The thinned sea ice, in the range of 6th lowest on record, allows more of that heat to hit the air. High amplitude waves in the Jet Stream deliver more heat than ever before from the lower latitudes.  An a heavy overburden of greenhouse gasses — at even higher concentrations than in the rest of the world — traps more and more long wave radiation trying to escape into space as the sun’s angle lowers and the long winter night approaches.

For many regions of the Arctic, what this means is more Summer-like conditions continuing on into Fall. For Greenland, this has meant levels of melt that are more than two standard deviations outside the norm for the month of October.

Greenland Still Melting in October

Over Southern Greenland, we’ve seen temperatures in the range of 10 to -14 C from the coastline to the top of the ice sheet. And over Northeastern Greenland, we still see temperatures approaching freezing — an up shot of the warm air and water pool in the ocean zone between Greenland and Svalbard.

As a result of this lingering warmth, NSIDC measures are showing melt through substantial zones — one around the western coastal region near the Jackobshavn Glacier and another in Northeast Greenland in the Zachariae Glacier outflow region. Pushing melt totals more into the range of what is typical for either late May or early September.

greenland_melt_area_plot oct

(Greenland melt plot for 2014 showing 3-4 percent of the ice sheet melting during early October. A rate of melt outside the 2 standard deviation range and one that is highly atypical for this time of year. Image source: NSIDC.)

Throughout the next couple of days, unseasonal warmth is expected to build back into Southern Greenland and to possibly take root in the northwestern coastal region. With 5-18 C above average temps expected for many areas, it is likely that the abnormal Greenland melt will continue for at least the next couple of days.

As noted above, conditions remain in place for the Arctic to continue to experience highly abnormal warmth as Fall continues its advance into winter — with warmer than normal temperature departures likely to peak coincident with the deepest periods of Arctic darkness.

Links:

University of Maine

NSIDC

Hat Tip to Andy

“It’s Worse Than We Thought” — New Study Finds That Earth is Warming Far Faster Than Expected

Ocean Heat Map

(Upper ocean heat anomaly map for 2002 through 2011 shows extreme global heating of the upper ocean during the past decade. Image source: Quantifying Underestimates of Long-Term Upper Ocean Warming.)

2 Degrees Celsius. That’s the ‘safe limit’ for human warming now recommended by the IPCC. But under current human greenhouse gas heating of the atmosphere and oceans, 2 C is neither safe, nor the likely final upper limit of the warming we will probably eventually see.

In the push and pull between all the various political and scientific interests over setting these goals and limits, the glaring numbers really jump out at the wary analyst. One is the total heat forcing now being applied to the atmosphere by all the greenhouse gasses we’ve dumped into the air over the years and decades. That total, this year, rose to a stunning 481 parts per million CO2 equivalent. And if we look at paleoclimate temperature proxies, the last time the world’s atmosphere contained 481 parts per million CO2 was when temperatures were in the range of 3-4 degrees Celsius hotter than we see today.

It takes time for all that extra heat to settle in, though. Decades and centuries for ice to melt, oceans to warm and the Earth System to provide feedbacks. So what scientists are really concerned with when it comes to recommending policy is how much warming is likely to occur this century. And, for this measure, they’ve developed a broad science for determining what is called Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS).

ECS is sensitivity to a given heat forcing that does not include the so-called slow feedbacks of ice sheet and ocean responses. For this measure, 481 ppm CO2e gets us to around 1.8 degrees Celsius warming this Century — if the Earth System and related so-called slow feedbacks are as slow to respond as we hope they will be…

Earth System Warming Far Faster Than Expected

Earlier this week, a new study emerged showing that the world was indeed warming far faster than expected. The study, which aimed sensors at the top 700 meters of the World Ocean, found that waters had warmed to a far greater extent than our limited models, satellites, and sensors had captured. In particular, the Southern Ocean showed much greater warming than was previously anticipated.

Winds and a very active downwelling, likely driven by a combined freshening of water near Antarctica and an increased salinity due to warming near the equator, drove an extraordinary volume of heat into these waters. An extra heat in the oceans that was 24 to 58 percent higher than previous estimates. An extraordinary rate of uptake earlier measures had missed.

Upper Ocean Heat Content trends

(Upper ocean heat content trends from 1970 to 2004. Note the extraordinary amount of heat being forced into the Southern Ocean near the 50 degrees South Latitude line. This heat forcing is likely due to increased storminess and ocean circulation-driven down-welling related to effects driven by human caused climate change such as increased glacial melt in Antarctica and increased sea surface salinity near the equator. Image source: Quantifying Underestimates of Long-Term Upper Ocean Warming.)

This observation led New Scientist to make the following rather blunt statement:

It’s worse than we thought. Scientists may have hugely underestimated the extent of global warming because temperature readings from southern hemisphere seas were inaccurate.

The implications of finding this extra heat are rather significant. For one, it upends current Equilibrium Climate Science. Gavin Schimdt — Chief NASA GISS scientist — over at RealClimate, noted that the study’s findings would increase ECS ranges from 1.1 to 4.1 C to 1.1 to 4.7 C (a 15% percent increase by Gavin’s calculation). This increase shows that the Earth System may well be both far more sensitive to current human heat forcing and may well be likely to warm far faster this century than scientists had previously hoped. For broader context, it’s worth noting that the scientific community generally considers ECS to be in the range of 1.5 to 4.5 C (3 C average). And any analysis of the new findings is likely to push sensitivity to the higher range of these scales.

Dr Wenju Cai from CSIRO in Australia added by noting that the results mean the world is warming far faster than we thought:

“The implication is that the energy imbalance – the net heating of the earth – would have to be bigger,” he says.

Higher rates of Earth Systems responses to human heat forcing this century and a larger net energy imbalance in the global system together spell very bad news. What this means is that there is both more heat forcing now than we at first expected and that that heat forcing is likely to bring about more extreme climate consequences far sooner than we had initially hoped.

These findings are new and will take some time to ring through the scientific community. And though this study provides a more complete picture of how rapidly the Earth is warming and where that heat is going, we are still missing another big part of the puzzle — what is happening to the deep ocean. Recent studies by Trenberth hint that that region of the climate system is also taking up extra heat very rapidly. So, hopefully, more exact measures of the total ocean system can give us an even better idea of how the Earth System is responding to our insults.

Yet again, we have another study showing clearly that conditions are today worse than we previously expected. How we can continue to do things like build coal plants and plan to burn oil and natural gas throughout the 21st Century is beyond imagining. But here we are…

Links:

Quantifying Underestimates of Long-Term Upper Ocean Warming

The World is Warming Faster Than We Thought

Different Depths Reveal Ocean Warming Trends

Climate Responses From Lewis and Curry

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Bassman

Very Hot Pacific Hurls Super Typhoon Vongfong Toward Japan

Vongfong

(Perfect Storm Vongfong churns on a course toward a weekend collision with Japan. Image source: NOAA.)

Bombification…

On Monday afternoon, Typhoon Vongfong was a moderate strength category 2 storm churning through the open waters of the Western Pacific. These waters, warmed to 1-2 degrees Celsius above the 20th Century average by a merciless human heating of the world’s atmospheres and oceans provided extra fuel upon which the still growing storm could feed.

In the airs above, conditions grew more and more favorable, wind shear dropped and an upper level high pressure system built over the strengthening storm. These conditions allowed Vongfong to draw deep from the newly heightened pool of potential storm energy of the hotter than normal Western Pacific. The result was that Vongfong’s pressure rapidly dropped to 900 mb, just 5 mb shy of super typhoon Haiyan’s peak strength. Wind speeds surged by nearly 80 mph inflating Vongfong to a powerful 180 mph monster.

Vongfong is now the 6th Western Pacific storm to reach extreme category 5 intensity this year — the strongest tropical cyclone on record for all of 2014 thus far.

Forecast Track Brings Vongfong’s Heavy Rains Over Japan

Thankfully, this human-warming amplified monster storm still remains well away from the densely populated land masses of the Philippines and Japan as it explores the absolute upper limits of maximum storm intensity. But, by this weekend, Vongfong is expected to come slamming into the island chain near Okinawa as a strong category 3 storm and then to ride into Japan as a category 2 storm, bearing strong winds and dumping copious amounts of rain over the already water-logged archipelago.

Vongfong forecast strength and track

(Vongfong forecast strength and track. Image source: Joint Typhoon Warning Center.)

Japan, during the month of September, received extraordinary rainfall totals, in some places breaking all-time records. Now, during October, a 1-2 punch of Western Pacific storms threatens to bring more flooding to already saturated regions. As of today, official forecasts for locations along Vongfong’s track could receive more than 10 inches of rain by this weekend. A heavy addition to already record fall totals for the archipelago nation.

Conditions in Context

Overall, the Pacific Ocean has been far warmer and stormier than is typical. Today shows the broader Northern Pacific at an extraordinary +1.18 degrees Celsius above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average. And this extra heat seems to be heightening storm formation in regions where storm-feeding atmospheric instability and moist air abound. In total, the North Pacific Basin has seen 38 tropical cyclones this year, just shy of the annual average of 40-45 and with nearly three months left to go in the year. Some of these storms have been among the most intense on record with fully six super typhoons spawning in the Western Pacific and with the Eastern Pacific seeing its 4th strongest storm ever to form for that basin — category 5 Hurricane Marie.

NOAA sea surface temperature anomaly

(NOAA sea surface temperature anomaly for the Pacific Ocean between 40 N and 40 S Latitudes. Image source: NOAA/Ocean Surface Observation.)

Though most of the intense heat anomalies are to the north and east, almost all regions show above average water temperatures. The waters along the typical typhoon track running toward Japan, for example, range from 0.5 to 1.5 C above average just east of the Philippines to 1 to 3 C above average in a zone east of Taiwan and just south of Japan.

Links:

NOAA

Joint Typhoon Warning Center

NOAA/Ocean Surface Observation

Hurricane Marie

For Miami, Sea Level Rise Has Already Gone Exponential

(AP story showing the effects of 9 inches of sea level rise over the last 100 years. What the story doesn’t mention is that half of this sea level rise has occurred within the past 16 years and fully a third of it has occurred within the past 5 years. Video source: Associated Press.)

This week, Miami is scrambling to deal with a flooding emergency.

But the cause is not the looming approach of a major hurricane or even a powerful tropical storm. The flood emergency for the coming three days is simply a seasonal astronomical high tide. Something they are now calling a King Tide. A condition that arises due to solar and lunar alignment a few times every year. A gravitational flux that pushes high tides another foot or so above the normal range.

Decades or even years ago, astronomical high tide wasn’t so much of a problem for Miami. Now, it means flooded roads and runways. It means salt water backing up through city drainage and municipal water systems. It means sea walls over-topped. It means lawns, properties and businesses covered in water.

The crisis is so serious that the city has already allocated more than 400 million dollars to deal with the problem. And this week, crews and flood prevention planners are scrambling to face the rising seas.

Rapidly Rising Waters

 

Miami Sea Level Trend

(Peak high tide trend from 1998 through 2014 shows sea levels rose by 4.3 inches over the past 16 years with most of the rise occurring since 2008. Image source: Dr. Zhaohua Wu, FSU)

At issue is the fact that Miami is facing a climate change driven sea level rise that is in the process of going exponential. A ramping rate of water rise that is being driven by a combination of glacial melt, ocean expansion due to warming, a backing up of the Gulf Stream which is raising waters all along the Eastern Seaboard, and a continuation of land subsistence in South Florida due to a variety of factors.

From 1914 through 1998, sea levels rose by an average of 0.06 inches per year — a rate that was barely noticeable to residents and city planners alike. But from 1998 to 2009 the pace increased to a more troubling 0.14 inches per year. And from 2009 to the present year the pace again jumped to a terrifying 0.67 inches per year.

An exponential rate of sea level rise that, in the past year alone, raised Miami’s surrounding ocean waters by 0.86 inches. Should the observed sea level rise over recent years continue, Miami will be facing 6-9 feet of additional water by the end of this century and not the 3-4 feet currently predicted.

Vulnerable Miami, South Florida

Miami is particularly vulnerable to such rapid rates of sea level rise for a couple of reasons. First, most of Miami is less than four feet above 20th Century sea levels. So even moderate rates of sea level rise put major portions of the city under water. Second, the city sits on porous limestone. The rock, riddled with holes, leaks like a sieve. So building sea walls won’t help Miami much as water will simply rise up through the rocks themselves.

Because Miami is so low-lying and surrounded on almost all sides by water, it is often seen as one of the most vulnerable cities to human-driven climate change. However, the geological conditions are not unique to Miami and remain a problem for almost all Florida cities. The porous limestone is a feature of the entire Florida Peninsula. So the problems Miami is facing now will become problems for hundreds of cities and communities up the coast and in more central regions of the state as well.

At most immediate risk is all of South Flordia. Miami-Dade and Broward Counties have about half of their residents living below the 4 foot above sea level line. Collier and Monroe counties also boast very large populations within just 4 feet of already rapidly rising seas. Such a rise would generate inland water upwelling throughout much of south Florida and the Everglades even as many coastal regions faced inundation. Small, low-lying islands and barrier zones would be swallowed by the sea or broken by incursions through weak points. The mangroves, already in retreat, would be swiftly beaten back. Inland lakes, invaded by higher pressure salt water from below, would also rise.

FinalUnifiedSLRProjection

(Sea level rise observations and projections through 2060 for Key West. Note that observations end at 2009 and that the tidal gauges have recorded a 3 inch sea level rise from 2009 through 2014 for Miami — already hitting the bottom range of expected sea level rise by 2030. Image source: Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact Page.)

As an example, seasonal high tides are already having an effect on the Delray Beach region that is starkly similar to problems now plainly visible in Miami. In the historic Marina neighborhood, water bubbles up from storm drains and spills over the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway into streets.

Charle Dortch, a resident for 17 years said in a recent interview with the Sun Sentinel:

“It’s progressively getting worse. The water is coming up the roadway right into people’s front yards. It’s flooding the parking area. It’s coming up higher and higher every year.”

Links:

Water, Water Everywhere: Sea Level Rise in Miami

Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact Page

Southwest Florida Governments Not Planning For Sea Level Rise

The Ocean is Already Higher

In Miami, The King Tide is Coming

Associated Press

Sea Level Rise: Everglades

Florida and Rising Seas

Dr. Zhaohua Wu, FSU

(Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs)

100,000 Wells About to Go Dry? NASA Finds California Drought Removing 4 Trillion Gallons of Water Each Year

As of October 4, the State of California had entered its 4th year of a raging drought that shows no sign of abating. A drought that a growing number of studies are linking to human-caused climate change. A drought that appears to be readying to level a terrible blow at residents, communities and farmers living in the increasingly dessicated Central Valley region.

State reservoirs, despite ever-heightening restrictions on water use, were 43 percent lower than is typical for this time of year. And the state’s largest reservoir — Lake Oroville — had declined to 30% of capacity by early October (record lowest level is 27 percent capacity set in 1977).

All the while, NASA’s GRACE gravity sensor is providing a record of a historic drying that has been ongoing since at least 2002.

california-drying

(NASA/UC Urvine graphic showing California water loss through June of 2014.)

The above image is a visual representation of NASA gravity sensor measurements of California ground water losses over the past 12 years. What the sensors — a pair of minivan sized satellites that use microwave altimetry to measure changes in the planet’s gravity — have found is that California’s Central Valley has been losing 4 trillion gallons of water each year for the past three years running.

It is a massive loss of water with far-reaching impacts including greatly reducing the flows of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers.

The loss of ground water is primarily due to increasing rates at which both communities and farmers are tapping well water supplies to make up for the massive deficits of the ongoing drought. Overall, more than 600,000 wells feed individual homes, small communities and farms throughout the Central Valley. As wells dried up, residents and growers in the region turned to deeper and deeper drilling — tapping water further and further underground.

The result is a very rapid depletion of the aquifer water store. A depletion starkly visible to NASA satellite sensors. A race for the last remaining drops of an ever-shrinking pool of water.

Lake Oroville 2

(Lake Oroville at full in 2011 [top frame] and nearing bone dry during August of 2014 [bottom frame]. Image source: Paul Hames, California Department of Water Resources and Justin Sullican, Getty Images.)

100,000 Wells about To Go Dry

Such a massive and rapid depletion of the ground water supply can’t go on without having a severe impact. And it appears now that some communities, residents and growers with more tenuous links to California’s rapidly dwindling water are already starting to feel the effects. As of October, fruit and nut exports from California were down by 8% on the back of merciless drought conditions and dwindling ground water supplies.

More ominously, however, is the fact that many Central Valley residents are already at the point where wells won’t produce at all. By mid-September, towns like Porterville and Seville saw hundreds of residents without running water. In hardest hit Tulare County, 1,000 of the region’s 7,300 residents had lost access to running water due to well failure. In this most extreme of cases, victims of water shortage were forced to haul bottled water to homes from local stores or relief centers set up by firefighters and state emergency personnel.

Tulware may well be California’s canary in the drought coal mine as recent reports find that as many as 100,000 wells — about 1/6th of all the wells in the Central Valley — could go dry by mid October without a bout of well-replenishing rains. And with heatwaves rising under a powerful blocking high pressure system that has dominated the California climate for nearly two years now, the likelihood of such rains appears to be starkly low.

Blocking High California

(Blocking high keeping California dry is plainly visible in the October 12 European Model weather forecast. Image source: ECMWF.)

Weather forecasts continue to show the emergence of ridiculously resilient high pressure systems over California and the near shore Pacific. Rain-bearing low pressure systems continue to be deflected northward into Alaska and British Columbia. Such forecasts indicate that October may well be a very difficult month for the water-strapped State. And with ridging continuing to be the dominant influence, it appears California may be facing another water-poor late fall and early winter going forward.

Links:

Human Hothouse Found to Be California Drought Culprit

NASA Satellites Put California Drought into Shocking Perspective

NASA/UC Urvine

ECMWF

Crunch Time for California Drought

Drought Cuts California’s Food Exports Sharply

Not One Drop: How Long Will California Survive Without Water?

New Study Finds 3-4 Meter Sea Level Rise From Antarctica May be Imminent

Ocean stratification. A condition characterized by the separation of layers of water of different temperatures and chemical make-up. A condition that has serious impacts to the geophysical nature of the worlds oceans, to the ability of oceans to support life, and to the stability of the vast glaciers of Antarctica — whose faces plunge as deep as hundreds of feet into the Southern Ocean.

In the Antarctic, today, what we see is a cold surface layer and a heating bottom layer. The cold surface layer is fed by an expanding pulse of chill, fresh water issuing from the melting glaciers of Antarctica. Over the years it has become more uniform, sequestering cold near the surface as warmth builds up in the depths below. The deeper hot layer is fed by warmer water issuing in from the tropics and heated to temperatures not seen for tens of thousands of years. This hot water bears a heavy burden of salt. So it is denser and it dives beneath the expanding fresh water layer. The insulating fresh, cold water layer prevents mixing between the bottom layer and the surface. Such mixing would cool the bottom layer. But instead the heat builds and builds and builds.

Difference in Ice mass Between now and last glacial maximum

(Antarctica — visual difference in ice mass between now [right] and last glacial maximum [left]. By mid century, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations driven by humans could be high enough [550 ppm CO2e+] to melt all the remaining ice upon this now-frozen continent. Image source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.)

Ocean currents bring the deep, hot water in contact with the base of Antarctica’s massive glaciers. And this intensely focused heat engine goes to work to rapidly melt the ice.

It is this condition of ongoing and intense melting of the ice sheet’s bases that terminate in faces of ice cliffs, hundreds of feet high and deeply submerged in the sea, that is driving the irreversible collapse of many glaciers in Antarctica. Already, due to this irreversible fall, the entire flank of West Antarctica is under collapse — locking in at least three feet of sea level rise from this region alone going forward.

But now, a new study finds that these conditions — the same conditions we observe today — led to the release of enough glacial ice from Antarctica alone at the end of the last ice age to raise sea levels by 3-4 meters (10-13 feet) in just 1-3 centuries.

From Nature Communications:

“The reason for the layering is that global warming in parts of Antarctica is causing land-based ice to melt, adding massive amounts of freshwater to the ocean surface,” said ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science researcher Prof Matthew England an author of the paper.

“At the same time as the surface is cooling, the deeper ocean is warming, which has already accelerated the decline of glaciers on Pine Island and Totten. It appears global warming is replicating conditions that, in the past, triggered significant shifts in the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet.”

The last time this happened was 14,000 years ago as the Earth slowly warmed out of the end of the last ice age. But the result was anything but gradual:

“Our model simulations provide a new mechanism that reconciles geological evidence of past global sea level rise,” said researcher UNSW ARC Future Fellow Dr Chris Fogwill.

“The results demonstrate that while Antarctic ice sheets are remote, they may play a far bigger role in driving past and importantly future sea level rise than we previously suspected.”

“The big question is whether the ice sheet will react to these changing ocean conditions as rapidly as it did 14,000 years ago,” said lead author Dr Nick Golledge, a senior research fellow at Victoria’s Antarctic Research Centre.

These are critical questions. Ones that have serious impacts for the more than 700 million people now living within 10 meters of current sea level.

Antarctic Ice Shelf Thickness Changes

(Antarctic Ice Shelf thickness changes. Note the thinning of almost all the ice shelves along the margin of Antarctica. Ice shelves anchor interior ice, keeping it from rushing out through deep channels into the Southern Ocean. Rapidly thinning ice shelves is a precursor to glaciers rushing toward the sea. Image source: Nature Pritchard et al. 2012)

To this point it is worth noting that the pace of warming 14,000 years ago was on the order of 0.05 degrees Celsius each century. The current pace of human-driven warming over the past century was 20 times faster. This century, the warming is predicted to be as much as 500 times faster (3-5 C warming by 2100). So the question may we be — will Antarctica respond as ‘slowly’ as it did at the end of the last ice age? Slow as in ice outbursts that lead to sea levels rising by as much as 14 feet during one century.

Links:

Change Antarctic Conditions Could Trigger Steep Rise in Sea Levels

Antarctic Contribution to Meltwater Pulse 1A From Reduced Southern Ocean Overturning

Weighing Change in Antarctica

It’s All About Fresh Water — Rapid Sea Level Rise Points to Glacial Melt in Antarctica

Human-Destabilized Antarctica Capable of Glacial Outbursts Contributing to Sea Level Rise of 14+ Feet Per Century

Antarctic Ice Sheet Loss Driven by Basal Melting of Ice Shelves

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob)

 

 

 

 

 

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