No Excuse Not To Transition: Denmark Wind at 5 Cents Per Kilowatt Hour

Running the world on renewable energy.

If you listen to the fossil fuel cheerleaders, the possibility is more remote than ever. Earlier this month, a few oil and natural gas fracking boosters in the EU derided the high cost of energy in Europe. They claimed that shifting to a policy of climate and groundwater threatening fracking could free them from both energy price shock and dependence on threatening overseas powers like Russia.

Unfortunately, such, unattached-to-reality, fossil fuel boosting by former industry professionals turned politician isn’t new. For these wayward ministers had missed recent developments in nearby Denmark providing a real long-term solution to both high energy prices and dependence on foreign suppliers, and all without the added hassle of threatening Europe’s water supplies or pushing the world one step closer to climate change game over.

Cheaper Than Other Forms of Energy

GE Wind Turbine with Battery Back-up

(GE wind turbine with battery backup in the turbine housing stores power for times of peak demand or when the wind is not blowing. Image source: Smart Planet.)

For according to a recent report from the government of Denmark, new wind power coming online in 2016 will cost half that of energy now provided from current coal and natural gas based power plants. The net price would be equal to 5.4 cents (US) per kilowatt hour.

Rasmus Petersen, Danish Minister for Energy, Climate and Buildings was far more sanguine than a number of his wayward peers regarding renewable’s prospects:

“Wind power today is cheaper than other forms of energy, not least because of a big commitment and professionalism in the field. This is true both for researchers, companies and politicians.”

“We need a long-term and stable energy policy to ensure that renewable energy, both today and in the future is the obvious choice.”

Not included in Rasmus’ statement is the amount of monetary damage and loss of life that would inevitably be prevented by shifting the energy base to renewables and away from climatologically harmful fossil fuels. Damage to crops, damage from extreme weather, loss of coastal infrastructure, loss of fisheries, loss of whole ecologies, and increasing risks of a runaway global warming feedback in the Arctic are all reduced or prevented under such a shift. Though there is currently no price mechanism to add these monumental costs inherent to fossil fuel use to the current energy marketplace, the effects are ongoing and born by all of broader society.

It’s a kind of tax fossil fuel use foists on us all. A tax that includes potential loss of life as an ultimate levy. And with each passing year, the pain and harm from that wreckage-inducing tax increases.

In addition to broadly preventing such harms, an ever-increasing energy independence comes with a majority reliance on renewables as base energy.

EU Still Pushing for Renewables Expansion

Despite the rather loud voices of a couple of fossil fuel cheerleaders, the EU is pressing hard for increasing renewable energy generation. In total, the EU commission is now recommending that member states, on aggregate, set a 30 percent renewable energy production target and a 40% emissions reduction goal. This would more than double the 14.1 % renewable energy use achieved throughout the EU during 2012 and rising through 2014.

The EU’s action comes on the back of a flurry of new reports showing that 100% reliance on renewable energy for electricity and base fuel is now possible given current technology and existing markets. These studies found complete replacement of fossil fuel infrastructure, including transportation, to be possible given current resources and technology for all new energy by 2020-2030 and for all energy by around 2050. Meanwhile, many of these studies found that costs for replacement were surprisingly low, especially when efficiency and the elimination of unnecessary consumption were added in.

Under the current situation of amplifying damages caused by human-induced climate change, such policies provide a means of escape from escalating harm and of a prevention of the worst effects of warming-related climate and biosphere shocks. Governments around the world should take a good, hard look at such policies going forward as the economic excuses for perpetrating such harm by continuing fossil fuel exploitation, given the availability of 5 cent per kilowatt wind energy, grow quite thin indeed.

Links:

Wind Power Undercuts Fossil Fuels to Become Cheapest in Denmark

Onshore Wind Now Cheapest Form of Electricity in Denmark

Providing All Global Energy With Wind, Water and Solar Power

Smart Planet

Fossil Fuel Cheerleaders Push ‘Shale Option’

 

 

Large Methane Plumes Discovered on Laptev Continental Slope Boundary: Evidence of Possible Methane Hydrate Release

080407-O-xxxxX-004

(The Swedish Icebreaker Oden — now home to the 80 scientists and tons of equipment of the SWERUS 2014 research expedition aimed at measuring sea floor methane release throughout the Arctic this summer. Among the scientists leading the expedition is Igor Semiletov whose 2011 expedition discovered 1 kilometer wide plumes of methane issuing from the floor of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Image source: Commons.)

SWERUS-C3 researchers have on earlier expeditions documented extensive venting of methane from the subsea system to the atmosphere over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. On this Oden expedition we have gathered a strong team to assess these methane releases in greater detail than ever before to substantially improve our collective understanding of the methane sources and the functioning of the system. This is information that is crucial if we are to be able to provide scientific estimations of how these methane releases may develop in the future (emphasis added). — Örjan Gustafsson

*     *    *    *     *

Over the past few years, the Arctic has been experiencing an invasion.

Emerging from the Gulf Stream, a pulse of warmer than normal water propagated north past Iceland and into the Barents Sea. There, it dove beneath the surface fresh water and retreating sea ice, plunging to a depth of around 200-500 meters where it concentrated, lending heat to the entire water column. Taking a right hand turn along the Siberian Continental Shelf, it crossed through the mid water zones of the Kara. Finally, it entered the Laptev and there it abutted against the downward facing slopes of the submarine continental region.

As the water temperatures at these depths warmed, researchers began to wonder if they would trigger the destabilization of methane hydrate stores locked  in deeper waters along the shelf boundary. And, now, a new expedition may have uncovered evidence that just such an event is ongoing.

Methane Hydrates and Troubling Releases from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf

Oceanic methane hydrates form when methane upon or beneath the sea bed freeze into a crystalline ice lattice. It is a hybrid water-methane mixture that only remains stable at higher sub-sea pressures and lower temperatures. Normally, oceanic hydrates form at great depth (about 600 meters or deeper) where a combination of high pressure and low temperature are the prevailing environmental factor. But the colder Arctic is a sometimes exception to this general rule.

In recent years, deep ocean warming due to human caused climate change has accelerated. It is feared that this warming may unlock vast stores of methane laying frozen along the deep sea bed or in more vulnerable continental shelf slope zones.

This warming is also feared to have begun a process of methane release along a unique submarine feature called the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS). There rising temperatures are hypothesized to have sped the thaw of submarine permafrost.

Frozen permafrost stores biologically generate gaseous methane at depths of 10-80 meters. Methane hydrate stores are locked away at depths starting at around 100 meters. Submerged beneath only a couple hundred feet of water, these methane stores are much shallower and, therefore, are in a naturally unstable zone.

The East Siberian Sea zone is unique due to the fact that it was only recently flooded, in geological terms. The frozen permafrost has only rested beneath the Arctic Ocean waters since the end of the last ice age and much of it remained frozen due to chill Arctic conditions. But now, human-caused climate change is driving warmer and warmer waters into the Arctic environment.

Elevated Methane ESAS

(Elevated atmospheric methane levels over East Siberian and Laptev Seas during October of 2013. Image source: Arctic News via Methane Tracker)

As the warming progressed during the first decade of the 21st Century, researchers observed what appeared to be an increasing release of methane from these thawing permafrost stores. In 2011, plumes from the sea bed stretching 1 kilometer across were observed by an Arctic expedition headed by Igor Similetov and Natalia Shakova. It appeared that the 250 to 500 gigatons of carbon locked in the ice in that shallow ocean was destabilizing and releasing from the sea floor as methane.

Now it is estimated that about 17 megatons of methane from this store vents through the shallow waters into the atmosphere each year. But this may just be the start of a far larger emission.

Methane Hydrate Release During Past Hothouse Events

Though the ESAS carbon and methane store is arguably one of the most vulnerable to human-caused warming, a far greater store of methane hydrate is estimated to be locked in crystalline ice lattice structures along the world’s continental slope systems and in the world’s deep ocean environments. Since the Earth has been cooling for the better part of 55 million years, a huge store of carbon as methane is now thought to have accumulated there. In total, between 3,000 and 10,000 gigatons of carbon are estimated to be captured in this vast store.

methane bubbles near the Laptev sea surface

(Methane bubbles near the Laptev Sea surface as observed by the SWERUS expedition last week. These bubbles were issuing from what are thought to be destabilizing methane hydrates along the Outer Laptev Continental Slope zone. Image source: Stockholm University.)

Global warming science, especially the science related to paleoclimate, indicates that Earth Systems warming tends to dump a lot of heat into the deep ocean. The atmosphere ocean-interface along the equator warms and becomes salty due to enhanced evaporation. The warmer, saltier water sinks, driving heat into the deep ocean. At the poles, ice sheet melt sends out a wave of fresh water along the ocean surface. The fresh water acts as an insulator between atmosphere and water, locking the warm water beneath the surface and pushing it toward the bottom. This process, called ocean stratification, is, among other things, an ocean heat exchange machine that turns the ocean bottom into a warming-induced house of horrors.

We would expect a similar process to be set in motion through human warming.

Ultimately, this combination of forces results in a collision of warm water with frozen methane stores and serves as a mechanism for their destabilization. If even a portion of this deep ocean methane hits the air, it can further accelerate already rampant warming.

Today, we may be at the start of just this kind of process.

Large Methane Plumes Discovered Along The Laptev Slope Boundary

Last week, large plumes of methane were found to be issuing from the outer Laptev Sea floor at the border zone where the bottom climbs up to meet the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Researchers on the scientific study vessel Oden found:

elevated methane levels, about ten times higher than in background seawater, [that] were documented … as we climbed up the steep continental slope at stations in 500 and 250 m depth.

Expedition researchers noted:

This was somewhat of a surprise. While there has been much speculation of the vulnerability of regular marine hydrates (frozen methane formed due to high p [pressure] and low T [temperature]) along the Arctic rim, very few actual observations of methane releases due to collapsing Arctic upper slope marine hydrates have been made.

An Ice-Free Laptev Sea

(An ice-free Laptev Sea on July 28, 2014. Last week, researchers discovered a kilometers wide plume of methane bubbling up from the Continental Shelf sea bed in these typically-frozen waters. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Overall the size of the release zone was quite large, covering several kilometers of sea bed and including over 100 methane seepage sites:

Using the mid-water sonar, we mapped out an area of several kilometers where bubbles were filling the water column from depths of 200 to 500 m. During the preceding 48 h we have performed station work in two areas on the shallow shelf with depths of 60-70m where we discovered over 100 new methane seep sites.

Due to the depth and location of the methane above the continental slope zone, researchers hypothesize that the source of the methane is from hydrate stores in the region.

It is worth noting that though it is rare to observe methane releases from the upper slope zone, current science has found destabilizing hydrates in deep water off the US East Coast along the continental shelf slope zone and in deep waters off Svalbard among other places. In addition, satellite observation of the Arctic Ocean has recently shown periods of high and above normal methane readings in the Laptev, Kara and East Siberian Seas. Elevated atmospheric readings have also appeared over the Nares Strait near Greenland. These are all zones that have experienced substantial deep ocean warming over the past few decades.

SWERUS 2014 is now heading toward ESAS waters where so many large methane plumes were discovered in 2011. There, the expedition hopes to use its impressive array of sensors and expertise to better define and understand what appear to be large-scale but not yet catastrophic methane releases underway there.

Links:

SWERUS 2014

SWERUS-C3

LANCE-MODIS

Stockholm University

Arctic Methane Monster Shortens Tail

Arctic News

Commons

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Arctic Warm-Up Predicted For This Week: Melt to Speed Up, Or Sea Ice to Show Resiliency Due to Variability, Strength of Negative Feedbacks?

Rate of Sea ice volume decline for all months

(Rate of Arctic sea ice volume decline with trend lines for all months in the PIOMAS measure. Updated through June of 2014. Image source: Wipneus.)

What it really all comes down to is heat energy balance. Beneath a warming, moistening Arctic atmosphere, sea ice loses resiliency due to slow attrition of the ice surface, due to loss of albedo as ice melts, and due to slower rates of refreeze during winter. Atop a warming Arctic Ocean, sea ice loses bottom resiliency, tends to be thinner and more broken, and shows greater vulnerability to anything that churns the ocean surface to mix it with the warming deeper layers — storms, strong winds, powerful high pressure systems.

It is this powerful set of dynamics under human caused climate change that has dragged the Arctic sea ice into what has been called a ‘Death Spiral.’ A seemingly inexorable plunge to zero or near zero ice coverage far sooner than was previously anticipated.

But in the backdrop of what are obviously massive Arctic sea ice declines and a trend line, that if followed, leads to near zero ice coverage sometime between next year and 2030, lurk a few little details throwing a bit of chaos into an otherwise clear and, rather chilling, picture of Arctic sea ice decline.

The Fresh Water Negative Feedback

One of these details involves the greatly increasing flow of fresh water into the Arctic Ocean. For as the Arctic heats, it moistens and rainfall rates over Arctic rivers increase. This results in much greater volumes of fresh river water flushing into the Arctic Ocean and freshening its surface. Another source of new fresh water flow for the Arctic is an increasing rate of Greenland melt outflow. The volumes, that in recent years, ranged from 300 to 600 cubic kilometers, can, year-on-year, add 1-2% to the total fresh water coverage in the Arctic Basin and North Atlantic. These combined flows mean that fresh water accumulates more rapidly at the surface, resulting in an overall increase in fresh water volume.

Change in salinity

(Change in Arctic Ocean Salinity between the mid 1990s and mid 2000s. Image source: Benjamin Rabe, Alfred Wegener Institute via Science Daily.)

Since 1990, we have observed just such an accumulation. For a recent study in 2011 showed that since 1992, Arctic Ocean surface fresh water content had increased by 20%. A remarkable increase due to the changing conditions that included greatly increased river outflows into the Arctic Ocean as well as a ramping ice melt from Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago Islands.

Fresh water is less dense than salt water and will tend to float at the surface. The physical properties of fresh water are such that it acts as a heat insulator, deflecting warmer, saltier ocean water toward the bottom. As such, it interrupts the heat flow from deeper, warmer Arctic Ocean waters to the sea surface and into the atmosphere.

As an added benefit to the ice, fresher water freezes at higher temperatures. So as the Arctic Ocean freshens, it creates a bit of wiggle room for the sea ice, giving it about a 0.5 to 1 C boost so it can sometimes even form during conditions that were warmer than those seen in the past.

In this manner, an expanding fresh water zone acts as a kind of last refuge for sea ice in a warming world. A zone in which sea ice may even periodically stage comebacks in the backdrop of rampant human warming. We may be seeing such a comeback in the Antarctic sea ice, which has shown anomalous growth and even contributed to an expanding cool atmospheric zone in the Southern Ocean, despite ongoing global warming. The freshwater and iceberg feeds from the vast Antarctic ice sheets have grown powerful indeed due to warm water rising up to melt the ice sheets from below, letting loose an expanding surface zone of ice and fresh water. This process will necessarily strengthen as more and more human heating hits the deep ocean and the submerged bases of ice sheets. An effect that will dramatically and dangerously reverberate through the ocean layers, setting the stage for a horrible stratification.

But today, we won’t talk about that. Today is for negative feedbacks due to fresh water flows from increasing polar precipitation and through ice sheet melt.

In the end, human warming dooms Arctic sea ice to an eventual final melt. But before that happens the increasing volume of fresh water from river flows and the potentially more powerful negative feedback coming from a growing ice and fresh water release from Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago will inevitably play their hands.

The Slower Than Terrible 2014 Melt Season

And so we arrive at the 2014 sea ice melt season for the Arctic. As with 2013, the melt got off to a relatively rapid start and then slowed through July as weather conditions grew less favorable for ice melt. Above freezing temperatures hit the ice above 80 degrees North about one week later than average, also providing some resiliency to the central ice — a condition that historically leads to higher end-season sea ice values in about 80 percent of the record.

The high pressure systems of early June gave way to weak storms and overall cloudy conditions. This shut down the cycle of strong melt, compaction, and transport of ice out of the Arctic that may have put 2014 on track for new records and another horrible slide down the Arctic sea ice death spiral. Instead, conditions set up for slower melt. Ice was retained and backed up through the Fram Strait, and the ice spread out, taking advantage of the thickened fresh water layer to slow its summer decline.

This is in marked contrast to the terrible 2007 and 2012 melt seasons which severely damaged the ice, making a total Arctic Basin ice melt all more likely in the near future. And it was also cutting against the 2010 to 2012 trend in which sea ice volume measures continued to plunge despite ambiguous numbers in sea ice area and extent (no new record lows) during 2010 and 2011. For this year, sea ice volume is now, merely, ‘only’ 4th lowest on record, according to the PIOMAS measure.

The fact that we are looking at a 4th lowest year as another bounce-back year is a clear indication of how terrible things became since 2010. And so far, this year’s melt has, like 2013, simply not been so terrible and terrifying. A wag back toward 2000s levels that is likely due to the inherent negative feedback of freshening surface water and to a swing in natural weather variability that, during any other year and in any other climate, would have pushed summer ice levels quite high indeed.

If the storms had been strong enough to draw a large enough pulse of warm water to the surface, the story might have been different. But, as it stands, this summer of weak Arctic weather hasn’t activated any major melt mechanism to push the ice into new record low territory. And so in many major monitors we are now above 2013 melt levels for this day.

Cryosphere Today shows sea ice area at 5.22 million square kilometers, above 2013 and just slightly above 2011 while ranging below 2008 for the date. Overall, the area measure is at 6th lowest on record for the date. Meanwhile, NSIDC shows sea ice extent at 7.74 million square kilometers or just above 2013 values for the same day but remaining below 2008 and 2009 by a substantial margin. Overall, also a sixth lowest value for the date:

Sea ice july 2014 v2

(NSIDC chart comparing sea ice melt years 2012 [dashed green line], 2008 [maroon line], the 1981 to 2010 average [solid line] and 2013 [pink line]. Image source NSIDC.)

So in the sea ice butcher board tally, with the negative feedback of fresh water floods and glacial melt moderately in play and with weather that is highly unfavorable for melt, we currently stand at 4th lowest in the volume record, 6th lowest in the extent record, and 6th lowest in the area record.

And now, things may just be about to get interesting…

Forecast Shows Arctic Heatwaves on the Way

GFS and ECMWF model runs show two warm ridges of high pressure developing over the Arctic this week. And the emergence of these warm and moist air flows into the Arctic may well have an impact by pushing the Arctic back toward melt-favorable conditions.

The first ridge is already expanding across the Canadian Archipelago. Yesterday it brought 80 degree temperatures to Victoria Island which still sits between wide channels clogged with sea ice. Smoke from wildfires is being entrained in this ridge and swept north and east over the remaining Archipelago sea ice and, today, the Greenland Ice Sheet.

While the smoke aerosol from fires blocks some of the incoming solar short wave radiation, it absorbs and re-radiates it as long-wave radiation. Many studies have shown this albedo-reducing darkening of the cloud layer by black and brown carbon aerosols has a net positive warming effect. In addition, the soot falls over both land and sea ice where it reduces reflectivity medium to long-term (Dark Snow).

Smoke streaming over Canadian Archipelago and Northwestern Greenland

(Smoke associated with record wildfires in the Northwest Territory streaming over the Canadian Archipelago, Northern Baffin Bay, and Northwestern Greenland beneath a dome of record heat. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The ridge is expected to expand east over the next few days until it finally settles in as a moderate-strength high pressure system over Greenland. There it is predicted to juxtapose a set of low pressure systems that will slowly slide south and east over Svalbard. The conjoined counterclockwise cyclonic wind pattern of the lows and the clockwise anti-cyclone of the high over Greenland in the models runs over the Fram Strait. And so, for at least 4-5 days, the models predict a situation where sea ice transport out of the Arctic may be enhanced.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Arctic, a series of high pressure systems are predicted to back up over the Pacific Ocean section of Irkutsk and Northeast Siberia. This ridge is expected to dominate coastal Siberia along the Laptev and East Siberian Seas. Temperatures along the coast are expected to reach 15-20 C above average, while temperatures over the waters are expected to rise to melt enhancing levels of 1 to 5 C.

Ahead of the ridge runs a warm frontal boundary that is heavily laden with moisture and storms. So a liquid and mixed precipitation band is likely to form over the East Siberian and Beaufort Sea ice as the ridge advances.

The ridge is projected to drive surface winds running from the south over the East Siberian Sea, across the polar region, and into the Greenland and Barents Seas. This cross-polar flow of warm, moist air will also enhance the potential for ice transport.

Melt Pattern

(Pattern more favorable for sea ice melt and transport emerging over the next seven days. This Climate Reanalyzer snapshot is at the 120 hour mark. Note Arctic positive temperature anomalies at +1.18 C. Will the pattern override potential negative feedbacks such as high fresh water content in the Arctic and unfavorable weather likely produced by the late emergence of temperatures above 0 C in the 80 North Latitude zone? Image source: University of Maine.)

Overall, it is a weather pattern that shows promise to increase melt, especially in the regions of the Canadian Archipelago and the East Siberia Sea, and to speed ice mobility and transport. Persistent lows near the central Arctic for the first half of this period and shifting toward Svalbard during the latter half will continue to disperse sea ice which may lend one potential ice resiliency feature to a pattern that is, otherwise, favorable for ice loss.

Negative Feedbacks and Weather Unfavorable For Melt

If the melt pattern described above comes to impact the ice and push greater rates of sea ice loss over the coming days and weeks, it’s likely that end season 2014 will end up with sea ice measures below those of 2013, but above the previous record lows seen during past years. This would likely put 2014 well within the range of the post 2007 era at 3rd to 5th lowest on record for most monitors. Not a new record year, but still well within the grips of the death spiral.

If, however, the weather predicted does not emerge or the sea ice retains resiliency through it, then 2014 stands a chance of pushing above final levels seen in 2013. In such an event, end season area and extent measures may challenge levels last seen during 2005 while sea ice volume maintains between 4th and 5th lowest.

If this happens, we may need to start asking this question:

Are negative feedbacks, in the form of greatly increased freshwater flows from rivers and glaciers, starting to pull the Arctic sea ice out of a high angle nose dive and are they beginning to soften the rate of decline? Or is this just a year when weather again wagged the dog as natural variability played a trump card for the summer of 2014 but further drives for new records will follow come 2015, 2016, or 2017?

In any case, near-term sea ice forecasts remain somewhat murky, as they should given the high instability of the current situation.

Links:

Science Daily

Now Melts the Arctic

The Arctic Ice Blog

NSIDC

LANCE-MODIS

University of Maine

PIOMAS

Cryosphere Today

Dark Snow

 

 

 

 

Song of Flood and Fire Refrain: Epic Canadian Floods Wreck 5.5 Million Acres of Cropland

For the Northwest Territory of Canada, the story this summer has been one of record-setting wildfires. Fires casting away smoke plumes the size of thunderstorms, fires that burn regions of tundra the size of small states. Fires that just burn and burn and burn for weeks on end.

But to the south and east in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the story is drastically different. For over the past month, unprecedented flooding in this region has wrecked untold damage to Canada’s farmlands.

Canada floods

(Powerful storms over Manitoba and Saskatchewan on July 23rd, 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS)

This situation is the result of an odd and wreckage-inducing tangle in the Jet Stream. For hot air has been funneling up over the Northwest Territory for the better part of two months now, pushing temperatures in this Arctic region into an unprecedented range topping the 70s, 80s, and even 90s on some days. This high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream has been reinforced and locked in place, a result some scientists attribute to the loss of Arctic sea ice during recent years, setting up a hot weather pattern favorable to wildfires.

As the massive Arctic wildfires ignited and burned, they cast off giant streams of smoke, burdening the down-wind atmosphere with aerosol particles — an abundance of condensation nuclei for cloud formation. These smoke streams fell into a trough flowing down over Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The deep trough, often extending far into the Central US formed a kind of trap for storms and, like the fixed ridge over the Northwest Territory, it has remained in place for months on end.

Given this mangled positioning of atmospheric heat and moisture flows, it was only a matter of time before massive rainstorms erupted in the wake of the large-scale Canadian fires. And the result was an unprecedented flooding. The offspring of an unprecedentedly powerful and persistent atmospheric pattern set off by human warming.

Major Floods Wreck Canadian Crops

For some local farmers, the past couple of days have seen 48 hour rain totals in excess of 10 inches. A 100 year rain event at a scale few farmers in the region have ever seen. And the recent floods are just the latest in a series of heavy rainfalls that have been ongoing ever since early July. Flood follows flood follows flood. A progression that has left most farms swimming in inches to feet of water and mud.

In total, farmland encompassing 3 million acres in Saskatchewan and 2.5 million acres in Manitoba are now under water and are unlikely to produce any crops this year. As a result, wheat plantings are expected to decline by 9.8 percent from last year, canola is expected to decline by 5.8 percent from the June forecast, and oat is expected to decline by 6 percent, according to estimates from Bloomberg.

July flooding in these regions has so far resulted in over 1 billion dollars in damages to farmers. As much as half of these losses may not be covered as insurers are still reeling from severe moisture damages during 2011, just two years ago. As a result of the ongoing parade of storm casualties, insurers have also raised deductibles, leaving farmers more vulnerable to the odd and powerful new weather coming down the pipe.

The Part Played By Climate Change and a Mangled Jet Stream

We often hear of the expanding droughts of human-caused climate change wrecking croplands. But the upshot of expanding drought in one region is record downpours in another. And downpours, if they are intense enough, can have a negative impact on crops as well.

The cause of this is as simple as warming’s enhanced ability to evaporate water. For it is estimated by climate scientists that each degree C in temperature increase amplifies the global hydrological cycle by 7-8 percent. That means that current warming of about 0.8 C since the 1880s has resulted in about a 6% increase in both evaporation and precipitation. At the level of weather, this translates into more intense droughts under dry, hot weather, and more intense rainfall events under wetter, cooler weather.

High Amplitude Rossy Wave Over North America July 2014

(High amplitude Jet Stream wave pattern fueling wildfires in the Northwest Territory and record floods in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Note the extreme northward projection of the Jet over the Northwest Territory and the strong, deep, trough back-flowing from Hudson Bay into Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the northern tier of the Central US. Image source: University of Maine.)

One mechanism that has tended to amplify drought and rain events during recent years has been a weakening and intensifying waviness of the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream. This weakening has been attributed by some scientists to a large-scale recession of Arctic snow cover and sea ice. For since 2007, not one day has seen an average sea ice extent and the range has typically fallen into a zone between 20-50 percent below levels seen during the 1970s and 1980s. New major record low years in 2007 and 2012 have also fueled speculation that sea ice may completely melt away during one summer between now and 2030, 2025, or even 2020 — 50-100 years ahead of model predictions.

As the sea ice serves as a haven for cold air masses, its loss is bound to impact the resiliency of these systems and since a solid pool of cold air to the north is a major driver of Northern Hemisphere upper air currents, the weakening of this cold pool has had dramatic impacts on climates.

Dipole hot-cold pattern associated with mangled jet stream

(Extreme dipole hot/cold pattern associated with Jet Stream mangled by climate change. Image is for July 14, a match to the above Jet Stream shot. Note the extreme heat in the ridge and the much cooler air in the trough. This is exactly the kind of pattern we would associate with sea ice retreat and Jet Stream weakening. Image source: University of Maine)

For this year, the ridge over Canada’s Northwest territory was a direct upshot in a northward retreat of the Jet Stream over Canada and, at times, into the Arctic Ocean. This set the stage for severe wildfires in the zone of warmth underneath this ridge pattern. To the east, a powerful downsloping trough pulled cooler air into Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well as over the Central and Eastern US. This set the pattern up for cooler than average conditions as well as for strong rainstorms.

The crop-shattering events of July were a direct result of this climate change induced ‘Song of Flood and Fire.’ A pattern we’ve seen repeat again and again over the past few years and one that may well intensify as both time and human-caused warming advance.

Links:

Canada’s Record Rains Cut Wheat Averages to Three Year Low

Is Global Warming Causing Extreme Weather via Jet Stream Waves?

Top Climate Scientists Explain How Global Warming Amps Up the Hydrological Cycle, Wrecks the Jet Stream to Cause Dangerous Weather

LANCE-MODIS

University of Maine

A Song of Flood and Fire

Hat-tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

Is This the Compost Bomb’s Smoking Gun? Second Mysterious Hole Found in Yamal Russia

They call it ‘the end of the Earth.’

Yamal, Russia — a stretch of tundra flats and peat bogs stretching as far as the eye can see before terminating into the chill waters of the Kara. A rather stark and desolate place, one that was mostly unknown until a massive and strange hole appeared in the earth there last week. Since that time, the strange hole has been the butt of every kind of wild speculation and controversy.

Yamal Siberia

(MODIS satellite shot of Yamal Siberia — the peninsula located in center frame and recent site of mysterious holes that may have been caused by the catastrophic destabilization of thawing methane gas embedded in the permafrost. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The hole itself was an alien feature. “We haven’t seen anything like this before,” would be an entirely accurate statement. All about the hole was a large pile of debris — overturned earth, huge chunks of soil piled up in a signature very familiar to the ejecta of a meteor impact crater.

Approaching the hole edge, we came to a gradual slope that proceeded downward for about 40 feet at about a 35 degree incline. Along the surface of this incline, both the unfrozen soil cap and the frozen permafrost were visible.

But it wasn’t until we hit the bottom edge of this incline that we encountered the strangest feature of all — a sheer cliff, rounded in a shape like the smooth bore of a gun, and plunging straight down through icy permafrost for about another hundred and twenty feet before revealing a basement cavern slowly filling with melt.

It’s a combination of features that appears to be one half impact crater and one half sink hole.

Russia Siberia Crater

(The freakish combination of features including apparent ejecta piled around a crater with a sheer tunnel coring 220 feet down. Image source: The Siberian Times)

One theory on the feature is that it might be a pingo — a melting of a permafrost water pocket left over by an ancient lake that was long ago buried by sediment. But a pingo would typically form in a manner similar to a sinkhole and would probably not have apparent ejected material piled around its mouth.

Another theory, advanced by Russian Arctic scientists, is that a pocket of gas beneath the permafrost spontaneously destabilized — either through chemical or physical processes. The destabilized gas then is thought to have violently blown away the surface layer “like the popping of a cork in a champagne bottle.”

The Compost Bomb

Key to the second theory is that thawing permafrost contains vast stores of volatile methane at various depths. The methane is either trapped in pockets encased in ice and soil or locked in a water lattice structure forming what is called methane hydrate. Both forms are unstable, though they are often buried beneath tens to hundreds of meters of permafrost. Researchers have remained unsure how rapidly this methane would release and its rate of release is key to how fast the world will warm this century in response to human-caused greenhouse gas heat forcing.

Over 1,400 gigatons of carbon are sequestered in the permafrost. Much of this immense store is biological material buried over the 2 million year span of below-freezing conditions dominating much of the Arctic region of our planet. During this time, gradual glacial advance and retreat froze and refroze the earth in layers entombing a vast load of the stuff. Now, human warming is beginning to unlock it.

Permafrost spans much of the Arctic, under-girding Siberia, far Northern Europe, the northern tiers of Canada, and most of Alaska. It also rests beneath a flooded zone called the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Initial reports and research from these regions indicate an ongoing release of millions of tons of methane and CO2 annually. Bubbling seabed stores from the shallow East Siberian Arctic Shelf have caused some to speculate that releases of 1 billion tons to 50 billion tons of methane could be possible during the coming years and decades.

Tundra map NASA

(Is a sleeping dragon awakening in the Arctic? Map of wide expanse of permafrost containing 1,400 gigatons of carbon. Image provided by NASA’s CARVE methane research experiment which is now under the aegis of ABOVE.

Peter Wadhams, in an article for Nature last year, attempted to bracket the potential impacts of such large releases. In the article, Wadhams estimated that a 50 gigaton emission from the Arctic methane store over the next two decades would increase global temperatures by about 0.6 C above the current rate of warming and force temperatures through the 2 C barrier by 2035 (ironically, Michael Mann comes to the same conclusion without implicit inclusion of a powerful methane release). The costs in human lives and economic damage from such a release would be immense and it would risk further outbursts from the large and vulnerable carbon store.

And though the potential for such very large releases remain highly controversial among scientists, the massive pile of thawing permafrost carbon is an ominously large and unstable store facing off against an initial human warming that is more than six times faster than at any time during the geological past.

In the shadow of this emerging and hard to gauge threat, a term emerged to encapsulate the vast warming potential stored in permafrost, should it release and hit the atmosphere. The term — compost bomb — alludes to the risk involved in pushing the two-million-year-old Northern Hemisphere permafrost stores into rapid thaw.

Mystery Hole — A Smoking Gun?

With the spontaneous emergence of a strange hole that Russian scientists are linking to destabilized gas pockets within the permafrost due to thaw, it became possible that, yet one more, explosive mechanism for release had presented itself. And now, today, a second and similar hole has been discovered:

According to the Moscow Times:

“Global warming, causing an alarming melt in the ice under the soil, released gas causing an effect like the popping of a Champagne cork,” the news report said, citing an expert at the Subarctic Scientific Research Center.

The first hole is estimated to be about 50 meters wide and 70 meters deep, with water from melting permafrost cascading down its sides into the icy deposit below.

The second hole is “exactly” like the first one, but “much smaller,” local lawmaker Mikhail Lapsui told the Interfax-Ural news agency. “Inside the crater itself, snow can be seen. (emphasis added)”

And so, in the course of just one week, we have two very strange holes that Russian scientists are linking to destabilizing gas pockets beneath the thawing tundra. Smoking barrel of the compost bomb? Or as a commenter here called Colorado Bob puts it:

We’re going to see the tundra breaking out in these things like zits on a teenager.

Let’s hope these are mere sink-holes from collapsing ice pockets in the permafrost. Let’s hope there’s another explanation for what appears to be ejecta piled around these holes. Let’s hope that these ‘zits’ showing up in the Yamal permafrost remain local to the area. And let’s hope we don’t start seeing similar explosive outbursts from tundra in other regions, or worse, along the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

Lastly, let’s hope that any outbursts remain small in size and do not lift very large sections of land or submerged sea bed.

In any case, these initial reports are not promising and it appears we may both have a compost bomb smoking gun and a potential mechanism for rapid destabilization and explosive release of gas pockets deeply embedded in the frozen tundra all wrapped into one. Not very reassuring to say the least.

Links:

Mystery Behind Giant Hole Clearer as Second Hole Discovered

Now There Are Two Weird Holes in Siberia

LANCE-MODIS

The Siberian Times

NASA/CARVE

ABOVE

Impacts of Large Releases from Monstrous Arctic Methane Stores

Far Worse Than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick

Hat tip to todaysguestis

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

 

Northern Hemisphere On Fire: Large Smoke Clouds Still Blanketing World’s Roof

After days and, in some cases, weeks of ongoing burning, immense fires still raged over the Northwest Territory, the US Northwest and Russia today as massive clouds of smoke continued to spread over the Northern Hemisphere.

In Washington, the state’s largest fire on record — The Carlton Complex Fire — was declared a federal disaster area by President Obama today as more than 2,000 firefighters continued to struggle to get the blaze under control. As of this afternoon, the 400 square mile fire was just 16% contained, though a bout of rain and moisture were aiding firefighters in their efforts.

About the fires, Obama noted:

A lot of it has to do with drought, a lot of it has to do with changing precipitation patterns, and a lot of that has to do with climate change.

More than 200 homes have been consumed by the fire and the loss of one life is attributed to it. With many residences still at risk, the situation remains very dangerous. The Carlton blaze was just one of scores of fires igniting over the US Northwest this week, scorching nearly a million acres and spurring the call-up of nearly 10,000 firefighting personnel.

Major Northwest Territory Fires Still Ongoing

Meanwhile, in Canada, fires still raged over the Northwest Territory, casting 1,000 mile streams of smoke into an atmosphere already heavily laden from the ongoing burning. It is a kind of smoke soup hanging in the air that has become all too common for this Arctic region:

NWT fires July 23

(1,000 + mile stream of smoke issuing from very large fires still raging over the Northwest Territory in Canada on July 23, 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Provinces remained at a level 4 alert status (out of a range of 1-5) indicating a high-to-extreme risk of continued fires. In total, 904,000 hectares (2,334,000 acres) have burned in the Northwest Territory so far this year compared to the typical ten-year average at 142,000 hectares. Throughout Canada, a total of 2,914 fires have been reported with 1,404,000 hectares burned. Over 800 fire fighters, more than 50 helicopters, and 5 fixed wing aircraft were involved in the ongoing response to these extraordinary blazes.

Epic Russian Fires The Worst of the Lot

In Russia, states of emergency remained in place along with continued travel restrictions over broad sections of Yakutia as a very large swath of Siberian tundra continued to belch immense billows of smoke. Numerous fires of over 400 square miles in size are plainly visible in the satellite shot. Massive streams of smoke continue to issue from these blazes blanketing more than 2,000 miles of sky.

Siberian Fires July 23

(Very large fires burning in Yakutia on July 23, 2014. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 2,000 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Yakutia is a region of Russia sitting atop a massive pile of thawing permafrost, perhaps the most carbon-rich zone in all of the Arctic Northern Hemisphere. The fires there seem to burn both woodlands and ground, lingering for many weeks and are only extinguished by the most powerful of downpours. Wildfires in these shots appear to rival the massive blazes ripping through a nearby region during Russia’s worst fire season — 2012. The massive plumes of very dense smoke and explosive blazes — reminiscent of a record-setting year.

Very Intense fires burning in Yakutia

(Close up of very intense fires beneath dense pallor of smoke in Yakutia. For reference, bottom edge of frame is 120 miles. Together, these fires easily cover an area rivaling that of a moderate-sized state. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Warming for this region of the world is among the fastest for the globe, proceeding at a pace of 0.5 C per decade or more than double the average. Due to its very large carbon store – both in boreal forest stock as well as thawing tundra — Yakutia remains one of the locations on watch for severe CO2 and methane releases as an amplifying feedback due to human-caused climate change. Inefficient burning during the current blazes appears to have unlocked some of the methane stored in soils there, lacing cloud tops with CH4 readings of 200-300 ppb higher than the global average.

Northern Hemisphere ‘On Fire,’ Wind Blows Smoke Away From Sea Ice, For Now

University of Maryland physicist Dr. Raymond Hoffman seemed stunned by the scope of the fires burning over the roof of the world this week saying: “The Northern Hemisphere is on fire,” in a blog post on Sunday. Dr. Hoffman described the scene as a “hazy, smokey mess” and seemed taken aback by the sheer scale of the area affected remarking that it is rare to see so much smoke painting the northern skies. The kind of smoke stew that we’ve seen all too much of in recent years.

Fortunately, winds out of the north in both Canada and Russia blew the smoke plumes southward over the past couple of days, sparing both sea ice and ice sheets a rain of melt-inducing black carbon. Over the next few days, winds are forecast to return to a south-originating direction, putting the ice once again in the firing line.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

National Interagency Fire Center

Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center

The Northern Hemisphere is on Fire

State of Emergency in Siberia’s Largest Permafrost Region Due to Wildfires

Obama Declares Washington Wildfire Emergency

 

 

 

With No Relief in Sight, Extreme to Exceptional Drought Now Covers Over 80 Percent of California

It’s no longer a question of 100% drought coverage for the stricken state of California. That barrier was crossed months ago. Today, it’s how severe that drought coverage has become. And in a state that is sitting just east of what appears to be a years-long impenetrable barrier of blocking high pressure systems, the situation just grows worse and worse.

California drought Map July 17

(California drought map as of July 15, 2014. Areas in orange indicate severe drought, red indicates extreme drought, and brick indicates exceptional drought. Image source: US Drought Monitor)

For Californians now used to watching storm systems veer far to the north, carrying their precious load of moisture away from the state, the water scarcity situation grew more dire last week as nearly 82 percent of the state slipped into extreme and exceptional drought. These two aridity ratings are the highest levels provided by the US drought monitor. The other 18% of the state not covered by these two extremes merely sweltered under severe drought conditions.

To the east and north, other states quietly slipped into total or near total drought coverage as well. Nevada shows 100 percent drought coverage with Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Oregon not far behind at 90% + coverage.

It’s a situation that will continue to deepen so long as a climate-change induced long-term blocking pattern remains in place. And as of mid summer, there appears to be little to over-ride a freakishly persistent weather pattern that has now lasted into its second year.

Impacts for California Deepen

Throughout the state, signs of aridity abound. Hydroelectric power supplies are in jeopardy, cities are hiring water police to ensure restrictions on use are enforced, the state’s agriculture has lost more than 2.2 billion dollars so far this year, and drilling into the limited supply of ground water has reached a record pace.

Snow pack stores in the state’s Sierra Nevada Mountain range are long since melted. Exposed glaciers are now dissipating at record rates with some glaciers seeing 70 degree (F) temperatures on their lofty perches atop 12,000 foot high mountains. Overall, current rates of glacier loss, if sustained, will render the entire Sierra Nevada Range in California ice-free within just 60 years, according to recent estimates.

Recent satellite imagery from NASA vividly shows this ominous loss of snow pack over the past three years in which the powerful and persistent west coast blocking pattern increasingly dominated:

california drought june 24 2014california july 2 2011

(Top frame: California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range as of June 24, 2014 showing zero snow pack coverage. Bottom frame: same region of California showing much more widespread snow pack during early July of 2011. Image source: NASA’s Earth Observatory)

Note that as of June 24 of 2014 the Sierra Nevada showed no snow coverage in the satellite picture. This compares to recent years during the 2000s and 2010s when snow pack, though greatly diminished from past decades, typically remained on some peaks throughout the summer. Now all regions are devoid of white, cooling, water-providing snow and even the glaciers have taken on a dirty gray and brown pallor.

Human-caused Climate Change’s Role in the California Drought

Central to the story of the years-long loss of California rainfall is a large, high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream that has tended to dominate over the US and Canadian West Coast and a broad section of the Northeastern Pacific. This ridge has involved a powerful south to north flow of air up over the Northeastern Pacific and North American West Coast. This flood of air often invaded the Arctic before swooping down to deliver cooler air to the Eastern United States even as the US West Coast sweltered and dried out.

This high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream is thought to have been facilitated by a general loss of snow and sea ice cover that has only intensified since 2007. For over the past seven years, not one day has seen average sea ice coverage in the Arctic with typical sea ice extent and area values ranging between 20 and 50 percent below levels seen during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Such a major loss of ice coverage is thought to be pulling the Jet Stream north even as it makes it more wavy. These large waves, called Rossby Wave patterns, tend to get stuck, as has been the case with the Pacific Ocean ridge. This sticking weather pattern has lead to hot and dry conditions persisting over California for more than two years now.

El Nino Strong Enough to Break the Block Increasingly In Doubt

Earlier this year, a major warming event in the surface and subsurface waters of the Equatorial Pacific raised the possibility of a potential strong El Nino later this year. But atmospheric conditions have continued to remain unfavorable for strong El Nino formation. Ironically, the very same powerful high pressure systems enforcing heat and drought over the US West may also be strengthening the equatorial trade winds and inhibiting El Nino formation.

Kelvin Wave July 22

(The strong Kelvin Wave that formed this winter and spring has now delivered most of its heat to the surface, aiding in the record global temperatures of May and June. Atmospheric feedback reinforcing this powerful Kelvin Wave has been sporadic at best, calling into doubt the potential for El Nino formation. A second warm, down-welling wave appears to be forming between 180 and 160 East Longitude. If this second wave appears it may only be enough to establish a weak to moderate El Nino. If it does not, the prospects for El Nino may fade. This is bad news for those hoping for drought relief in California but, perhaps, short-term good news for a globe already reeling under the impacts of human-caused climate change as record atmospheric temperatures, globally, may not be so extreme for 2014. Image source: Climate Prediction Center.)

A strong El Nino may have broken the blocking pattern and delivered an epic surge of moisture to the US West Coast (one that may well have set off extraordinarily powerful storms for the region). But now, NOAA only forecasts a weak-to-moderate event and the potential exists that no El Nino will form at all.

This is bad news for Californians suffering under one of the worst droughts ever recorded for the state. It raises the potential that the West Coast blocking pattern will remain in place for another year or more. And with highs continuing to form and deepen off the US West Coast, as the potential for a strong El Nino fades, there appears to be little hope for relief for an already hard-hit area.

Links:

US Drought Monitor

NASA’s Earth Observatory

California Drought Fuels Unusual Mountain Events

Drought to Cost California 2.2 Billion

California Dryin

Climate Prediction Center

World In Hot Water: Screaming Sea Surface Temperatures Push Globe To Hottest June Yet

June 2014 Hottest on Record

(Graphic of 135 year temperature record by NOAA. Image source: NCDC.)

According to reports from NOAA, human-caused warming continued unabated into June of 2014 as land and ocean surface temperatures spiked to 0.72 C above the 20th Century average and about 0.92 C above 1880s norms.

These new records were shoved higher by a broad warming of the ocean surface, not just an Equatorial Pacific approaching El Nino warmth, but also through an extreme warming of almost every major world ocean zone. This hot water warmed local air masses and had a far-reaching impact on global climate for the month, likely delaying the Indian Monsoon, worsening the western US Drought and intensifying the record wildfire outbreak in the Northwest Territory of Canada.

Widespread Above Average to Record Heat, Few Cool Areas

2014’s June rating beat out the previous hottest June, 2010, by about 0.03 C and showed an increase over the 1998 spike by about 0.05 C.

As global temperatures exceeded record levels, few regions experienced below average temperatures. These zones were primarily isolated to a region of the Pacific Ocean off the east coast of Japan and an isolated region in the southern Ocean between South America and Antarctica. Conversely, much of the globe experienced warmer than average or much warmer than average readings.

Widespread regions also experienced warmest on record temperatures with the largest of these zones stretching east of the Philippines across a broad swath of the Pacific, over a large patch of the Indian Ocean, and pooling off the East Coast of South America. Other smaller, but still extensive, regions of record warmest temperature emerged off the US and Canadian West Coasts, in a zone between the UK and Iceland, and over East Africa.

June-2014-Blended-Land-and-Ocean-Temperature-Percentiles-Map

(Land and Ocean temperature graphic for June of 2014 shows most of the world sweltering under warmer than average to record warmest temperatures. Image source: NCDC.)

Other monitors also showed record or near record global heat for the month. NASA GISS marking the 3rd hottest June while Japan’s Meteorological Agency also put June as #1 hottest. Both May and June have now broken global temperature records in at least one of the major monitors and NASA shows that the first quarter of 2014 was also the hottest quarter since record-keeping began 135 years ago.

Record Temperatures in Context

Overall, atmospheric warming has continued at a pace between 0.15 C and 0.30 C per decade over the past three decades. Current warming of 0.92 C since the 1880s represents about 20% of the difference between now and the last ice age, but on the side of hot. Present atmospheric greenhouse gas loading of 400 ppm CO2 and 481 ppm CO2e, according to paleoclimate data, contains enough heat energy to raise temperatures between 2 and 3 C for the CO2 forcing alone, and 3 and 4 C for the aggregate forcing, over the long term.

Near 2 C or greater global increases will likely be achieved during this century even if greenhouse gasses are somehow stabilized. But rates of human carbon emission is now in excess of 30 gigatons of CO2 and approaches 50 gigatons of CO2e each year (when adding in all the other human-emitted greenhouse gasses). At this pace, we hit enough forcing to raise global temperatures by 5-6 C long-term and by about 2.5 to 3 C this Century within the next 20-30 years. Potential global temperature increases grow greater if humans continue to emit greenhouse gasses beyond this timeframe and if Earth Systems response to human warming is greater than expected (large CO2 and methane release from stores).

No El Nino Yet Despite Record Warmest Ocean Surface

The June record high readings occurred despite the Pacific Ocean remaining in an ENSO nuetral state. That said, sea surface temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific for the month of June did enter values typical to El Nino, so some ocean to atmosphere heat transfer likely occurred over this broad region and aided in the establishment of new records.

Globally, ocean surfaces were very warm through the month, at times hitting a +1.25 C positive anomaly above the 1979 to 2000 average. These were the hottest ocean surface values ever seen — a primary factor pushing over-all June temperatures to new highs.

NOAA has adjusted its El Nino forecast to show a higher likelihood that any declared El Nino is likely to be either weak or moderate. This is due to an overall weak atmospheric feedback (only intermittent westerly winds) to the initial ocean and near surface equatorial temperature spike associated with a strong Kelvin wave this winter and spring. Without continued atmospheric feedback, it appears possible that the predicted El Nino may well fizzle. That said, the NOAA forecast is still calling for an 80% chance of El Nino developing sometime this year.

Given raging sea surface temperature values outside of the Nino zones, even a weak El Nino would likely set the stage for a new record high global temperature for the year of 2014.

Links:

National Climate Data Center

NASA GISS

Japan Meteorological Agency

Driven by Ocean Heat, World Sets Mark for Hottest June

World’s Oceans Were Hotter in June Than At Any Time Since Humans Started Keeping Track

 

 

 

 

 

Tracking the Footprints of the Arctic Methane Monster: Black Craters in the Siberian Tundra, Methane Lacing 2,500 Mile Wide Smoke Plumes Over Gigantic Arctic Wildfires.

Massive plume of smoke from Siberian Wildfires expands to cover more than 2,500 miles

(Are massive fires spurred by human-caused warming tapping basement methane pockets within the Arctic Tundra? Massive smoke plume from unprecedented Siberian wildfires expands to blanket more than 2,500 miles of Russian Siberia and Arctic Ocean shores. METOP sensors show high levels of methane ranging from 2,000 to 2,200 parts per billion or 150 to 350 ppb above the global average, at 18,000 feet within the smokey overburden. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

 

Is the Arctic Methane Monster climate science’s version of he who must not be named?

For apparently, Arctic Methane, in all its various permutations, has become the gas that mainstream media and climate media now no longer mentions.

NASA’s CARVE study has been silent for a year, the University of Maryland has stopped putting out publicly available AIRS methane data measures, the NOAA ESRL methane flask measures, possibly due to lack of funding, haven’t updated since mid-May, and even Gavin Schmidt over at NASA GISS appears to have become somewhat mum on a subject that, of late, has generated so much uncomfortable controversy.

Despite this fading out of the topic and related publicly available data, likely due to an overall discomfort with the potential nasty implications of an expanding Arctic methane release combined with efforts by conservative political forces to de-fund observational climate science, large Arctic carbon and related methane stores remain vulnerable to the various forces set in motion by human-caused warming. In essence, it’s a problem that won’t go away no matter how much you ignore it.

The subsea permafrost, methane clathrates locked in mud and sediment on and beneath the sea bed, methane generated from wet, thawing tundra, and methane locked in pockets far beneath the boreal forests and tundra all remain in stores of untold gigatons and gigatons. A massive volume that represents an extraordinary potential amplifying feedback to the unprecedentedly rapid human-caused warming of Arctic lands and oceans risking a very dangerous release.

Did Explosive Methane Release Gouge a Black Crater in Siberian Tundra?

This week, Arctic methane cognitive dissonance reached a new extreme as the discovery of a large, 100-foot-wide hole in a section of tundra along Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula set mainstream media abuzz. The new discovery fueled speculation that a large pocket of thawing subsurface methane may have undergone explosive release. The resultant explosion is thought to have violently ejected soil and scorched the crater leaving a black hole in the tundra:

(Images from expedition sent to survey strange hole in Yamal, Siberia. Note the exposed and still frozen tundra along the steep edge. If the embed code isn’t working on your browser you can view the video here.)

Other potential culprits include a meteor impact or tundra collapse due to subsurface ice melt. But the ejecta signature appears to be one of a crater that underwent a violent explosion and Russian scientists seem certain that a meteor was not involved. Anna Kurchatova of the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre believes the most likely suspects are the explosion of thawing methane due to a volatile mixture of water, methane and salt triggering an eruption or the building up of pressure due to the venting and expansion of the thawed gas causing the overlying land feature to be violently ejected like a champagne cork.

The large sub-surface methane stores are certainly there and we’ve known for some time that risks of explosive out-gassing of this material, due to human caused warming and thaw of frozen methane stores, was possible given a chemical or thermal release and ignition mechanism. If the Yamal (which unhappily translates to mean ‘end of the world’) crater is the result of a violent explosion of thawing methane and ejection of the overlying earth strata, it will have implications not only for tundra permafrost thaw but for sea-bed permafrost thaw and ocean methane clathrate thaw as well.

So the question remains — how many more explosions ripping apartment building-sized or larger holes in the Earth are we in for if thawing and exploding methane was, indeed, the culprit of this, admittedly odd and disturbing, event? And what impact will this have on an atmosphere already well overburdened with human greenhouse gasses?

Methane Spikes in Smoke above Siberian and Canadian Tundra Fires

Meanwhile, investigation of 18,000 foot methane readings reveals high levels of methane gas lacing the large clouds of smoke spreading from massive wildfires over Canada and especially Siberia. NOAA’s METOP sensor shows atmospheric methane in the smoke/cloud layer at and above 18,000 feet ranging in excess of 2,000 parts per billion over sections of Canada and North America as well as over a broad swath covering Central and Northeastern Siberia. Highest atmospheric methane readings at this altitude were in smoke clouds over Siberia at levels near 2,200 parts per billion.

For reference, the current atmospheric average is around 1860 parts per billion at the surface.

High Methane Readings Coincident with Large Smoke Plumes at 18,000 Feet

(High atmospheric methane readings coincident with large smoke plumes from tundra fires over Siberia and Canada. Data from METOP provided by NOAA.)

Absent other research provided by scientists, both the very large hole in the tundra in Russia’s Yamal Peninsula (that some scientists are saying was the result of a very large methane pocket erupting to the surface) together with coincident measures of high methane readings in smoke plumes over Arctic wildfires provide evidence of an ongoing and hazardous Arctic methane release. Though overall emissions rates have, likely, not yet reached catastrophic levels, the potential for moderate to catastrophically strong feedback from this very large and volatile carbon store should be serious cause for concern and the focus of concerted national and international investigation. Given the risk, the current silence and apparent scientific withdrawal from broader Arctic methane research is entirely inappropriate and short-sighted.

UPDATE:

Apparently, CARVE’s Arctic methane observation mission is still underway and will be posting updates based on currently ongoing research soon.

According to Peter Griffith:

CARVE is fully funded and flying in Alaska and Canada this year. Expect first results at the AGU meeting in December… NASA is doubling down on Arctic research having just announced a $100 million decade-long field campaign, the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment. http://above.nasa.gov or follow me on twitter @NASA_ABoVE.

Notably, Chip Miller is still heading the project at JPL as well.

Continued funding for both CARVE and expanded funding for the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment are certainly reassuring. No word on satellite methane sensors providing publicly available and detailed information (other than METOP, as the more refined AIRS data is difficult to access publicly). ESRL flask measures, as noted above, have also been slow to update, possibly due to funding constraint.

Links:

Bizzare Crater in Siberia Baffles Scientists

A Mysterious Crater in Siberia has Scientists Seeking Answers

Eerie Crater at The End of the World

LANCE-MODIS

NOAA/METOP

 

Polar Jet Stream Wrecked By Climate Change Fuels Unprecedented Wildfires Over Canada and Siberia

This year, the warm air invasion started early. A high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream stretching for thousands of miles over the temperate Pacific and on up into Alaska and the Chukchi Sea slowly drifted eastward. Reinforced by a powerful bank of blocking high pressure systems over the northeastern Pacific, this ridge settled over Canada’s Northwest Territory in a zone from the Mackenzie Delta and over a broad region east and south. From mid June onward, temperatures in the 70s, 80s and even low 90s dominated sections of this Arctic region.

The heat built and built, drying the shallow soil zone over the thawing permafrost creating a tinder-dry bed layer waiting for the lightning strikes that were bound to follow in the abnormal Arctic heat.

By late June, major fire complexes had erupted over the region. Through early and mid July, these massive systems expanded even as the anomalous heat dome tightened its grip. Today, the fires in Northwestern Canada have reached a horrific intensity and one, the Birch Complex fire, alone has now consumed more than a quarter of a million acres.

According to reports from Canada’s Interagency Fire Center, total acres burned to date are more than six times that of a typical year. A rate of burning that, according to a recent scientific study, is unprecedented not just for this century, but for any period in Canada’s basement forest record over the last 10,000 years.

Birch Creek Fire Complex Aerial close-up of Birch Creek Fire complex

(Thunderstorm? No. Smoke from a major volcanic eruption injecting ash into the stratosphere? No. The upper frame shot is an aerial photo taken of the Birch Creek Fire Complex on July 14, 2014 from a distance of about 30 miles away. It is just one of the massive fires now raging in the Northwest Territory region of Canada. A closer picture, taken from a few miles out, reveals the flaming base of a massive smoke plume. Image source: NWT Fire Facebook.)

From helicopter and airplane, the volume of smoke pouring out of these massive tundra and boreal forest fires is amazing, appearing to mimic major thunderstorm complexes or volcanic eruptions. Closer shots reveal towering walls of flame casting billows of smoke thousands of feet into the air above.

The smoke from these fires, now numbering in excess of 186 separate blazes, is becoming entrained in the weakening circumpolar Jet Stream. The steely gray billows now trail in a massive cloud of heat-trapping black carbon that stretches more than 2000 miles south and east. Its southern-most reaches have left residents of the northwestern and north-central US smelling smoke for weeks, now. Meanwhile, the cloud’s eastern-most reaches approach Baffin Bay and the increasingly vulnerable ice sheets of Greenland.

Smoke from Canadian Wildfires drifts toward Greenland

(Satellite shot of smoke from massive fire complexes over Canada spreading eastward. Black carbon and related CO2 emissions from forest fires can serve as a powerful amplifying feedback to already dangerous human-caused climate change. Image source: NASA/LANCE-MODIS.)

Across the Arctic, Siberia Also Burns

As media attention focuses on the admittedly horrific fires of unprecedented magnitude raging over Canada, a second region of less well covered but possibly even more extensive blazes burns on the other side of the Arctic Ocean throughout the boreal forest and tundra zones of Central Siberia in Russia.

There, record heat that settled in during winter time never left, remaining in place throughout summer and peaking in the range of 80-90 degree Arctic temperatures over the past couple of weeks. Over the last seven days, massive fires have erupted which, from the satellite vantage, appear about as energetic as the very intense blazes that ripped through Siberia during the record summer fire year of 2012. It is a set of extreme conditions we’ve been warning could break out ever since March and April when intense early season fires ripped through the Lake Baikal and Southern Yedoma regions.

Now, what appears to be more than 200 fires are belching out very thick plumes of smoke stretching for more than 2000 miles over North-Central Siberia and on into the recently ice-free zone of the Laptev Sea:

Sea of Smoke and Fire From Lake Baikal to Arctic Ocean

(Massive sea of smoke and fire stretching from Lake Baikal and northeast over Central Siberia and on into the Arctic Ocean. Image source: NASA/LANCE-MODIS.)

As with the other set of fires in Canada, the smoke from these massive blazes is entraining in the Jet Stream and stretching across Arctic regions. An ominous blanket of steely gray for the roof of the world and yet one more potential amplifying heat feedback the Arctic certainly does not need.

Potential Amplifying Feedbacks in Context

During recent years, scientists have been concerned by what appears to be an increased waviness and northward retreat of the northern hemisphere Jet Stream. This retreat and proliferation of ridge and trough patterns is thought to be a result of a combined loss of snow and sea ice coverage over the past century and increasing over the past few decades. In 2012, sea ice coverage fell to as low as 55% below 1979 levels with volume dropping as low as 80% below previous values. Over the past seven years, not one day has seen sea ice at average levels for the late 20th Century in the north.

Meanwhile, northern polar temperatures have risen very rapidly under the rapidly rising human greenhouse gas heat forcing, increasing by 0.5 C per decade or about double the global average. It is this combination of conditions that set the stage for fixed ridges over both Russia and Canada creating extreme risk for extraordinary fires.

image

(Weak and wavy polar jet stream on July 17, 2014 shows fixed ridges over the Northwest Territory, Central and Eastern Siberia, Northern Europe and the adjacent North Atlantic and Arctic. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: NOAA GFS and various.)

Should both the current sets of fires continue to rage under anomalous high amplitude jet stream waves setting off extreme heat in these Arctic regions, it is possible that large clouds of heat absorbing black carbon could ring the Arctic in a kind of hot halo. The dark smoke particles in the atmosphere would trap more heat locally even as they rained down to cover both sea ice and ice sheets. With the Canadian fires, deposition and snow darkening are a likely result, especially along the western regions of the Greenland Ice Sheet — zones that have already seen a multiplication of melt ponds and increasing glacial destabilization over recent years.

Recent scientific studies have also highlighted the possibility that human-caused climate change is increasing high amplitude jet stream ridge patterns that are transporting more and more heat into Arctic tundra and boreal forest regions. These regions are more vulnerable to fires due to the fact that trees in boreal forest have uniform characteristics that favor burning and tend to rapidly ignite and spread once the upper branches become involved. The unfrozen soil features a narrow basement layer above tundra which dries more rapidly than the soils of more temperate areas, providing tinder fuel to aid in the initial ignition by lightning strike. Thawing, deeper tundra, when dried, is a meters-deep pile of fuel that has accumulated for thousands of years — a kind of peat-like layer that can smolder and re-ignite fires that burn over very long periods. It is this volatile and expanding basement zone that is cause for serious concern and greatly increases the potential fire hazard for thousands of miles of thawing tundra going forward.

Overall, both boreal forest and thawing tundra provide an extraordinary potential fuel for very large fire complexes as the Arctic continues to warm under the human greenhouse gas forcing. And though climate models are in general agreement that the frequency of fires in tundra regions will increase, doubling or more by the end of this century, it is uncertain how extensive and explosive such an increase would be given the high volume of fuel available. Direct and large-scale burning of these stores, which in tundra alone house about 1,500 gigatons of carbon, could provide a major climate and Earth System response to the already powerful human heat forcing.

Though the science at this point is uncertain, we observe very large and unprecedented fire outbreaks with increasing frequency:

“I think it’s really important for us to take advantage of studying these big disturbance events,” noted Dr. Jill Johnstone in a recent interview. “Because, if we can say anything, we can say that we think they’re going to be more common.”

UPDATE:

The smoke plume over North America has now expanded to cover a large section of the continental land mass. As you can see in the image below provided by NOAA, the smoke plume now stretches from the fire zones in the Northwest Territory (fires indicated by red dots), British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California across much of the North American continent extending as far to the north and east as the southern tip of Greenland and as far to the south and east as Maryland, West Virgina and Tennessee:

Smoke Plume

(Massive North American Smoke Plume fed by Tundra and Western Forest Fires. Image source NOAA.)

As of today and yesterday (17 and 18 July) major wildfires continued to burn over much of the Northwest Territory of Canada even as these very large and unprecedented fire complexes were joined by massive outbreaks in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Fire outbreaks were so extreme in both Washington and Oregon that state officials there were forced to declare states of emergency and seek federal assistance for dealing with the ongoing disasters.

You can see the large, steely-gray smoke plumes from these fires in the LANCE MODIS image taken by NASA yesterday in the satellite shot below:

Massive fire complexes in Washington, Oregon and BC

(Massive wildfires in Washington and Oregon prompt officials to issue disaster warnings. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The smoke has become so pervasive that commenter James Cole has made some rather stark observations from Northern Minnesota:

A sky filled with grey haze, you can hardly tell there is a sun up there. No clouds in the sky, but the haze is incredible. Surely from the great Canadian fires!

Due to black carbon loading, such a large cloud of smoke may result in substantial temperature spikes over regions affected. The heat dome over the US West is expected to expand into the central and northern US this weekend with some readings there predicted to reach the 100s. Already, the southwestern heat is spreading north and eastward under the dome of heat-intensifying smoke with a broad area of upper 80s and lower 90s stretching all the way to the southern shores of Hudson Bay.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Arctic, the expanse of wildfires continued to widen with the smoke plume now covering over 2,500 miles and with multiple very large blazes continuing over Central and Northeastern Siberia. Atmospheric black carbon and methane loading (more in a new post) likely contributed to temperatures in the range of 95 degrees F (35 C) near the shores of the Arctic Ocean’s Laptev Sea yesterday as recorded in the following screen capture from Earth Nullschool/GFS:

image

(35 C temperature [95 F]  recorded in northeastern Siberia near the Laptev Sea at about 12:30 AM EST on July 18. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: NOAA/GFS.)

Links:

Fires in Northwest Territories in Line with Unprecedented Burn

What Fires in the Northwest Territories Say About Climate Change

Recent Burning of Boreal Forest Exceeds Fire Regime Limits of Past 10,000 Years (PNAS)

NWT Fire Facebook

NASA/LANCE-MODIS

Earth Nullschool

NOAA GFS

Arctic’s Boreal Forests Burning at Unprecedented Rate

Large Particles From Wildfire Soot Found to Trap 90 Percent More Heat Than Small Particles

North American Smoke Plume Tracking by NOAA

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to James Cole

 

Second Monster Kelvin Wave Forming? West Wind Back Bursts North of New Guinea Rival Intensities Last Seen in January.

This January, a powerful period of west wind bursts tapped a very hot, deep pool of Pacific Ocean water and shoved it eastward along the equator. The hot water was driven downward by Eckman pumping forces even as it began to propagate across the Pacific. The resulting Kelvin Wave was, by March, among the most intense sub-sea warming events ever seen for the Equatorial Pacific during this time of year.

By late May and through June, this heat had transferred to surface waters and the Equatorial Pacific, overall, had greatly warmed.

This initial warming prepped the ocean surface for continued atmospheric feedbacks and the emergence of an El Nino by sometime during the summer and fall of 2014. A monster event that, should it form on top of human-caused warming, could push both global temperature and weather extremes to record levels never before seen. But for El Nino to continue to emerge, more strong west wind back bursts are required to keep shoving the hot pool of Pacific Ocean water eastward, spreading it out across the Pacific and dumping its warmth into the atmosphere.

Now, during early July, just that appears to be happening.

image

(Strong west wind back burst visible in the Western Pacific north of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and just north of the Equator. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: Numerous Including NOAA GFS.)

For along a synoptic band ranging from the Philippines to north of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands a powerful zone of west winds has emerged between two double-barrel low pressure systems. The first set of lows form a broad counter-clockwise circulation along the 10 degree North Latitude line. The second set hovers just south of the equator, forming a clockwise wind flow. These two wind patterns merge in a significant back-burst pushing against the traditional flow of the east-to-west trades.

Wind speeds in the anomaly zone are in the range of 30-40 kilometers per hour with higher gusts, or currently just shy of the wind strength observed during the very strong January west wind back burst.

Strong West Winds Tapping Pool of Very Hot Water

Hot Water Western Pacific

(Very hot water in the Western Pacific hitting 32 C [90 F] in some spots. Image source: NOAA/National Weather Service.)

It is worth noting that winds in this region have been slowly intensifying over the past few days. So any further increase in strength would make this event easily comparable to the January event that spawned such a powerful Kelvin Wave.

Surface waters in this west wind zone range from 86 to upwards of 90 degrees Fahrenheit over a broad zone along the equator and northward to a very hot pool just east of the Philippines. Eastward and downward propagation of such intensely hot water, driven by these strong west winds has the potential to generate a second strong Kelvin Wave. The back-burst winds we are seeing now are strong enough to generate such a wave and the sea surface temperatures in the region are at very high positive anomalies, especially in the region east of the Philippines. Propagation of a second strong Kelvin Wave would spike 0-300 meter temperatures again and would lock in the formation of the expected El Nino later this year.

Links:

NOAA GFS

Earth Nullschool

NOAA/National Weather Service

Climate Prediction Center ENSO Monitoring

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

 

Hot Arctic Water, High Pressure Domes Pushing Sea Ice Toward New Record Lows

It doesn’t take much to shove Arctic sea ice toward new record low values these days. Human caused climate change has made it easy for all kinds of weather systems to bully the ice.

In the case of the past seven days, three moderate strength high pressure cells churned away over the central Arctic, bringing with them clear skies, air temperatures in the range of average for 1979-2000 above the 70 North Latitude line, and a clockwise circulation favoring sea ice compaction and warm water upwelling at the ice edge.

The highs measured in the range of 1020 to 1025 hPa barometric pressure. Moderate-strength weather conditions that during a typical year of the last century would have been almost completely non-noteworthy. Today, instead, we have sea ice extent testing new record lows in the Japanese Space Agency’s monitor:

Sea_Ice_Extent_v2

(Arctic sea ice extent as recorded by JAXA. Image source: IJIS Sea Ice Monitor.)

On June 30, JAXA showed Arctic Sea Ice extent totals in the range of 9,058,000 square kilometers or approximately tied with previous all-time record lows for the date set in 2011 and 2012. By comparison, NSIDC showed extent plunging to 3rd lowest in the record on June 29th and remaining in the same range on June 30th.

Weak Ice Facing Warm Winters, Hot Water

So how can moderate weather systems have such a powerful effect on sea ice? One need only look back to this winter when Arctic temperatures surged to 5-7 C above average for months on end with large areas experiencing extended periods of + 20 C above average readings. An extraordinary and abnormal warmth in winter that harms sea ice resiliency during summer periods of above freezing temperatures and 24 hour daylight.

In addition, sea surface temperatures in the Arctic are very warm. Much, much warmer than during similar periods of the 20th Century. The ice edge is surrounded on all sides by water that is much hotter than normal and even warmer waters lurk in the Arctic depths, waiting for only the slightest weather disturbance to dredge it to the surface. In this case, Arctic high pressure systems result in warm water upwelling at the ice edge, exactly where the ice is weakest.

Arctic SST Heat Anomaly For June 30

(Arctic Sea Surface temperature Anomaly showing much hotter than normal water temperatures throughout the Arctic on June 30, 2014. Image source: NOAA/National Weather Service.)

The above graphic provides a stark view of how hot Arctic Ocean waters have now become with most ice edge zones seeing temperatures in the range of 2.25 to even 8+ C values. This heat pressure combines with the ongoing ocean mixing and clear skies influence of even moderate high pressure systems to challenge sea ice record lows set just 2-3 years ago.

GFS model runs show high pressure systems continuing to dominate the Central Arctic for at least the next 144 hours. After that time, warm storms are shown to encroach over the Chukchi and East Siberian Seas. Throughout that time, solar insolation will continue to proliferate melt ponds over the sea ice even as warm water up-wells at the ice edge and the moderate strength high pressure domes continue to compact the ice.

Arctic Sea Ice June 30

(Arctic sea ice on June 30, 2014 as viewed from NASA’s LANCE MODIS sensor array showing a sea ice extent that is, in some measures, currently tied with record lows set in 2011 and 2012. Note the very large open areas of dark water in the Laptev, the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. These regions have been particularly vulnerable to rapid recession in 2014. In addition, note the characteristic blue tint of some ice sections in the image, indicating melt pond formation over large regions under the influence of high pressure and related clear skies.)

Given current trends, it appears we have about a 50-50 shot of seeing new record lows in some measures by the end of this melt season. Under the massive overall stress delivered to the Arctic sea ice by a combination of factors directly attributable to human-caused warming, it appears possible that near zero sea ice conditions may emerge one summer between now and 2020. Finally, with sea ice measures falling between 50-80 percent below 1979 levels over recent years, the overall stress to global and Northern Hemisphere weather systems has become quite extreme. A trend, unfortunately, that is bound to continue so long as human carbon emissions and related amplifying feedbacks remain at extraordinarily dangerous levels.

Links:

The Japanese Space Agency’s Sea Ice Monitor

NASA/LANCE MODIS

NOAA/The National Weather Service

The National Snow and Ice Data Center

 

Dozens of Massive Wildfires in Central Siberia Belch 1,200 Mile Smoke Plume Over Hot Tundra

1,200 mile smoke plume

(Dozens of monstrous fires belch a 1,200 mile plume of dark smoke over Central Siberia. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Let’s just cut to the chase, it’s been hot in Siberia.

This winter, temperatures throughout large swaths of this typically frigid land of tundra and boreal forest ranged between 5 and 7 degrees Celsius above average. For brief periods spikes in the very extreme range of 20 degrees Celsius warmer than normal were not uncommon.

The unusual heat continued into spring igniting a mass of anomalous wildfires in April, a time when most of Siberia remains frozen. By May, more than a million acres had burned, all well before the typical peak of fire season in July and early August. But that was mere prelude to peak fire season, which we are starting to enter now.

Siberian Heatwave Spurs Massive Fires

The record heat this winter was simply the continuation of a long warming trend fueled by human greenhouse gas emissions. Each decade now has seen Siberia warm at a pace double the global average — more than 0.5 degrees Celsius every ten years. And this extra heat is fueling a terrifying intensification of wildfires, a trend that is expected to show at least a doubling of the annual acres burned in this far northern region by the end of this century.

This year’s early start to fire season may be setting the stage for a record or near record burning this year. And today we have a massive flare up of fires in Central Siberia under a broad heat dome over the region.

Temperatures beneath the dome earlier today were in the upper 80s and lower 90s, departures between 5 and 15 degrees Celsius above average for this time of year. This heat spike hit already warmed and dried lands. Lands filled with the added fuel of thawing tundra and the organic carbon and methane pockets beneath. Lands whose shallow surface layer is a tinder bed for flash fires.

Siberian Heat Dome

(Heat dome over Central Siberia in the upper right hand corner of this GFS based-temperature and weather graphic. Image source: University of Maine. Data source: NOAA/GFS.)

The result was the massive wildfire eruption seen in the satellite shot at the top of the page. A very intense set of enormous fires with fronts ranging from 3 to 34 miles burning through boreal forest and tundra land. This set of blazes is even more intense than those seen at this time during the record 2012 Siberian fire season, although it is worth noting that those fires hit extraordinary strength and size by early July and continued in a series of episodes through mid August. The result was massive smoke plumes eventually encircling the Arctic.

Typically, the fires fill the air with particulate and the moisture loading under the heat dome grows ever more intense. Often, and sooner rather than later, a frontal storm accompanied with intense rains sweeps in, catching up the smoke in its cloud mass even as the towering storms douse the raging fires. A song of flood and flame that has become all too common throughout the very rapidly changing Arctic.

In years of very extreme burning, the smoke-laden clouds darken, losing their white, reflective tops. This further amplifies warming over fire-prone areas, setting the stage for more fires. On the ground, the fires plunge ever deeper into the thawing tundra, seeking more and more fuel. In some cases, the fires are reported to have burned the ground to a depth of 3 feet or more, turning both Earth and Tundra into blackened soot while pumping heightening volumes of CO2 into the atmosphere. The dark smoke aloft lifts away, eventually finding a resting place on sea ice or glaciers. There the heating feedback continues over ominously Dark Snow.

The whole terrible process continues until the globe at last tilts away from the summer sun, shutting the whole dreadful feedback down. But each year, we fuel it more through our burning of fossil fuels. Each year, the global greenhouse gas heat forcing ratchets higher and more and more tundra land thaws as the burn line creeps north, providing ever more fuel for the Arctic flames.

Links:

Support the Dark Snow Project

A Song of Flood And Fire

Support and defend our scientists at:

NASA/LANCE MODIS

The University of Maine

NOAA/GFS

 

Temperatures over Greenland Fast Approaching 400,000 Year High, Risk 15-19 Feet of Additional Sea Level Rise

It’s getting hot over Greenland. Not the kind of hot we think of as each summer rolls along. But the kind of hot that melts massive two-mile-high slabs of ice. How hot? Within a decade or two, Greenland temps could reach their highest levels in at least 400,000 years. And that’s a problem. A big fracking problem.

Why?

Because a mere 1 degree Celsius of warming separates Greenland from temperatures last seen during the warmest interglacial of the last million years. During that time, sea levels were 6-13 meters higher than today — a staggering 19-44 feet. Melt came from both West Antarctica and Greenland, but until this week we didn’t know what melt portion came from which glacier system. For a study published Wednesday in Nature has pinned down the extent of the Greenland ice sheet of 400,000 years ago. And this new knowledge gave researchers the ability to estimate Greenland’s contribution to the swelling seas of that time.

The study took sediment cores from regions surrounding Greenland and, in doing so, was able to establish that enough ice melted from Greenland during a time when ice sheet temperatures were just 1 degree Celsius warmer than today to raise sea levels by between 4.5 and 6 meters (15 to 19 feet).

Southern Tip of Greenland

(The southern tip of Greenland, as seen in this June 26, 2014 LANCE MODIS satellite shot, was ground zero for a major ice melt during a warm interglacial period 400,000 years ago when Greenland was just 1 degree C hotter than it is today. Melt likely first issued from the low-lying and ocean exposed glaciers along the west coast of Greenland adjacent to Baffin Bay. Today, this region hosts Greenland’s fastest glaciers as well as its most extensive proliferation of surface melt ponds.)

A large portion of this ice came from the very vulnerable southern tip of Greenland. According to the ice core measures, two mile high ice mountains flooded away under the Arctic heat of 400,000 years ago, retreating to a meager central dome separated from a northern ice sheet which was also greatly reduced. In total, about two thirds of the ice from greater Greenland was lost (total loss of the Greenland ice sheet would raise sea levels by 24 feet).

Study co-author Anders Carlson noted in a recent press release — “…the threshold for ice sheet collapse is pretty low. We could be nearing the tipping point.”

Staring Rapid Greenland Melt in the Face

One degree Celsius, that’s all that separates all of the southern Greenland ice and a portion of the rest from a likely irreversible slide into the world ocean. And that’s also a rather pressing problem. Because the Arctic is now warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, at least two times faster than the global average. But for Greenland the recent pace of warming has been even faster. For since 1979 the surface of the Greenland ice sheet has warmed by 1 degree Celsius every decade.

This gives us just one more decade under the current pace of Greenland warming before we hit a threshold in which 15 to 19 feet of additional sea level rise is locked in and added to the already locked-in losses of about 4 feet from West Antarctica and about 5 feet from the other permanently destabilized and irreversibly collapsing glaciers and ice caps around the world.

That may just be the start. For the current CO2e heat forcing of 481 ppm is sufficient, if maintained long-term, to melt enough ice to raise sea levels by at least 75 feet overall. Unfortunately, ghg levels aren’t anywhere near stabilizing, but are instead rising faster than ever before. The human emission is so rapid that we hit atmospheric forcing levels high enough to melt all ice on Earth (if maintained over the long term) within 23 years. It’s a vicious threat to the world’s coastal communities. One that is difficult to overstate.

Simply put, the longer high and rising global greenhouse gas levels are maintained the more ice sheets we are likely to see going into irreversible decline.

Links:

Nature: Southern Greenland Ice Sheet Collapse

LANCE MODIS

Greenland Ice Sheet May Face Tipping Point Sooner Than Expected

Greenland Ice Sheet Warmed by 1 C per Decade, Half Attributed to Climate Variability

 

Rains Failing Over India: Feeble 2014 Monsoon Heightens Concerns That Climate Change is Turning A Once-Green Land into Desert

El Nino has yet to be declared. Though signs of the Pacific Ocean warming event abound, they are still in the early stages. But for all the impact on the current Indian Monsoon — the rains this vast sub-continent depends on each year for a majority of its crops — the current pre-El Nino may as well be a monster event comparable to 1998.

For the rains that have come so far have been feeble. By June 18, precipitation totals were more than 50% below the typical amount by this time of year for northern and central India and 45% below average for the country as a whole. A stunted Monsoon that many are saying is about as weak as the devastatingly feeble 2009 summer rains. And with Pacific Ocean conditions continuing to trend toward El Nino, there is concern that this year’s already diminished rains will snuff out entirely by mid-to-late summer, leaving an already drought-wracked India with even less water than before.

Through June 25th, the trend of abnormally frail monsoonal rains continued unabated:

India Monsoon June 25, 2013India Monsoon June 25, 2014

(India cloud cover on June 25, 2013 [left frame] compared to India cloud cover on June 25 of 2014 [right frame]. Note the almost complete lack of storms over India for this year compared to 2013 when almost the entire country was blanketed by rains. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

India’s Rain Pattern Has Changed

It’s not just that 2014 is a bad year for India. It’s that the current weakened monsoon comes at the tail end of a long period in which the rains have increasingly failed. Where in the past it took a strong El Nino to stall the rains, ever-increasing human atmospheric and ocean warming have pushed the threshold for Monsoonal failure ever lower. Now even the hint of El Nino is enough to set off a dry spell. A growing trend of moisture loss that is bound to have more and more severe consequences.

A new study by Stanford University bears out these observations in stark detail. For the yearly monsoon that delivers fully 80 percent of India’s rains has fallen in intensity by more than 10% since 1951. And though a 10% loss may seem relatively minor, year on year, the effects are cumulative. Overall, the prevalence of dry years increased from 1981 to 2011 by 27% and the number of years experiencing 3 or more dry spells doubled.

Meanwhile, though a general drying trend has taken hold, rain that does occur happens in more intense bursts, with more rain falling over shorter periods. These newly intensified storms are more damaging to lands and homes, resulting in both increasing destruction of property while also greatly degrading the land through more intense erosion.

25 Percent of India’s Land is Turning to Desert

Loss of annual monsoonal rains is coming along with a dwindling of water flows from the melting Himalayan glaciers. These two climate change induced drying effects are already having stark impacts.

For according to the Indian Government’s Fifth National Report on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought, a quarter of India’s land mass is now experiencing desertification even as 32 percent is suffering significant degradation due to heightening dryness and erosion. This amounts to more than 80 million hectares of land facing desertification while more than 100 million hectares are steadily degrading. The report also noted that areas vulnerable to drought had expanded to cover 68% of the Indian subcontinent.

From the report:

Desertification and loss of biological potential will restrict the transformation of dry lands into productive ecosystems. Climate change will further challenge the livelihood of those living in these sensitive ecosystems and may result in higher levels of resource scarcity.

Monsoonal Delay, Weakening Continues

India daily rainfall

(India daily rainfall as of June 26, 2014. Image source: India Monsoon.)

By today, June 26, the long disrupted and weakened monsoon continues to sputter. Moisture flow remains delayed by 1-2 weeks even as the overall volume of rainfall is greatly reduced. Though storms have exploded over some provinces, resulting in flash flooding, much of the country remained abnormally dry. Overall, preliminary negative rainfall departures remained at greater than 40% below average for most of the nation with only five provinces receiving normal rainfall and the remaining 31 receiving either deficient or scant totals.

 

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

National Drought Fears Loom as India Receives Deficient Rainfall

India’s Rain Pattern Has Changed: Researchers Warming of Future of Extreme Weather

A Quarter of India’s Land is Turning Into Desert

India Monsoon

Monsoon at Dead Halt

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

Late June 2014: Arctic in Hot Water as Sea Ice Thins and Tundra Fires Erupt

Atmospheric warming due to human-caused climate change. It’s the general measure we’ve used to track a devastating and ongoing heat amplification due to a terrible greenhouse gas emission. But if we were to look for where the greatest amount of that heat has accumulated, it would be in the world’s oceans. For from its air-contacting surface to its depths thousands of meters below, the World Ocean has captured 93.4% of the total heat forcing humans have already unleashed. The remainder is almost evenly divided between the atmosphere, the continents, and the ice.

We rely on floats and deep-plunging sensors to keep track of total ocean heat content. But on any given day we can see well enough what is happening at the surface. And today ocean surface heat is screaming through the world’s satellite sensors. Overall global anomalies are spiking higher than +1 C above the 1979 to 2000 average. In the Equatorial Pacific, an El Nino that looks to be far stronger than the one that occurred in 2009-2010 is building, heating a massive wedge of the Eastern Equatorial Pacific to +2 to +4 C above average. And in the far north, we see extraordinary high surface water temperature departures exactly where we need them least — bordering Greenland and the remaining Arctic sea ice.

Arctic Sea surface temperature Anomaly on Jun 24

(Arctic sea surface temperature anomaly on June 24, 2014. Image source: NOAA/NWS.)

For encircling the Arctic from the West Coast of Greenland, to Iceland, to Svalbard, to the Barents and Kara Seas, to the Chukchi and on to the Beaufort we see surface water temperatures ranging from 2.25 to 4 C or more above average. And just west of Svalbard, we have water temperatures ranging in a zone exceeding a terrifying 8 C above average. When a sea surface temperature departure of 0.5 to 1 C above average is considered significant, these values represent extremes that are far outside what was once considered normal.

Melt Pressure to Ice Sheets

Such high surface water temperatures have numerous effects. The first is that adjacent submerged ice sheets, such as the calving faces of Greenland’s great glaciers plunging into the ocean, are faced with a far greater melt pressure than before. The glacial fronts in many cases expose 500 or more feet of ice directly to these much warmer waters. And on almost every side of Greenland, but especially in the west, along Baffin Bay, these great ice masses are confronting extraordinary warmth. The heating is without respite. It occurs at all hours of the day and since it is delivered by water, it is many times more energy intensive than a similar volume of equally heated air.

Widespread Sea Ice Thinning and Melt

In the sea ice edge zone, the warmth also provides added heat pressure to the vulnerable and already greatly thinned ice floes. This heating is especially apparent in areas where continental rivers disgorge their waters into the Arctic Ocean. Warmer than normal water temperatures have coincided with much warmer than normal land temperatures, particularly over tundra regions like Canada’s Northwest Territory and the Yakutia region of Russia. These warmer lands result in warmer river flows. And the hot rivers spill into an already hotter than usual Arctic Ocean.

The result, as we can see in today’s MODIS satellite shots are numerous zones of greatly thinned ice.

Beaufort Thin Ice

(Ice melt, thin ice and melt ponds in the Beaufort Sea on June 25 of 2014. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

A Beaufort Sea confronted with warm water outflow from the Mackenzie River, sea surface temperatures in the range of +1 to +4.5 C above average, and a broad swath of above freezing air temperatures, is now starting to show major melt effects. The sea ice has already withdrawn by as much as 150 miles from a broad section of the Canadian and Alaskan coasts. The off-shore ice features numerous very large polynyas and leads. And, overall, the ice has taken on a bluish tint indicative of widespread melt pond formation.

Russian Arctic Ocean sea ice june 25

(Arctic Sea Ice over the Laptev and East Siberian Seas. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Meanwhile on the far side of the Arctic, effects appear to be even more widespread. Though sea surface temperature values are somewhat lower than those seen in the Beaufort, at +0.5 to +1.25 in most open water areas, the entire region is rife with 150-200 mile wide polynyas, shattered and broken floes, and thinning (blue in the satellite picture) ice covered in melt ponds. The ice in this region is so frail that even the mildest storms, featuring 15-20 mph winds, are enough to rip through and splinter previously contiguous ice. And the storms in the region this year have been quite mild, ranging from 990 to 1000 mb in strength.

Sea ice measures show current area and extent at between 3rd and 5th lowest on record. That said, observed ice response to even the mildest high and low pressure weather systems reveals a startling vulnerability with much warmer than normal sea surface temperatures surely a contributing factor.

Wildfire Eruptions From The Northwest Territory to Siberia

In net, much warmer water temperatures and retreating sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere trigger both Jet Stream erosion and increasing south to north air flow. Over the continents, where lands are far more susceptible to rapid warming, this can result in Arctic regions seeing summer time temperatures comparable to those in latitudes much further south.

Over the past week, temperatures in the upper 70s to upper 80s (Fahrenheit) covered a broad region of Canada’s Northwest Territory including Alberta and the Mackenzie Delta region along the Beaufort Sea. These temperatures, in the range of 20-25 F above average rapidly dried out the shallow topsoil zone over the frozen and thawing tundra. Such rapidly dried soil and newly liberated tundra is a volatile fuel for fires. The human-thawed tundra itself contains burnable organic material and hosts pockets of methane while the dry soil bed is suffused with tinder-like grasses and shrubs. Any ignition can set off extraordinary fires of almost unimaginable scope and intensity.

Great Slave Lake Fires NWT

(Massive fires rage near Great Slave Lake in Canada on June 24, 2014. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

By June 24, four massive fires, each with a front ranging from 20-30 miles in breadth, raged along the shores of Great Slave Lake in Northwest Canada. Four smaller, though still significant fires also burned nearby. The fires are plainly visible as white, comet-like plumes of smoke in the satellite picture above. For reference, Great Slave Lake is more than 200 miles across at its widest point. Bottom edge of frame is about 300 miles.

To the south and east by about 250 miles lies the Fort McMurray tar sands operation. A smaller, though still intense, tundra fire raged within 20 kilometers of that sprawling site but did not yet encroach on one of the most powerful and dangerous means of carbon-to-atmosphere delivery on the planet.

On the other side of the Arctic in Siberian, Russia, the situation was, once again, more dire. There a region very vulnerable to mid summer wildfires during recent years erupted into numerous blazes belching smoke into a swirling cloud caught up in the heat dome overhead:

Lake Baikal Fires Re-Ignite

(Massive region of wildfires North of Lake Baikal, Russia. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

These fires were sparked by temperatures that, during recent days, ranged in the 80s and even 90s. An extraordinary heat forcing for rapidly melting tundra regions that also saw far warmer than typical temperatures this past winter.

This area, about 800 miles to the north of Lake Baikal, Russia, is a region of rapidly thawing tundra that has burned again and again during recent summers. For scope, the satellite shot frame, above, is 750 miles on an edge. In the picture are about 50 fires with fronts ranging from 4-35 miles.

This spring, a broad area to the south of the current fire zone and just north of Lake Baikal saw massive fire activity prompting Russia to dispatch an army of hundreds of firefighters to the region. Such intense fire activity so early was unprecedented for Russia. But the real fire season typically peaks from mid July to August. And, in the above picture, we see what is likely the opening salvo for the summer fire season in earnest.

Smoke and soot from these massive fires are swept up in the circumpolar Jet Stream. There they are born aloft for hundreds of miles, often traveling northward to find a final resting place upon the sea ice or atop Greenland’s glaciers. This ultimate darkening of the snow further enhances glacial melt even as it completes the cycle of warmth, finishing a dance of heat that rises up from the oceans, assaults the ice, and heats the once frozen lands to erupt in flame.

 

Links:

Support the Dark Snow Project

Where is Global Warming Going?

NOAA/NWS

LANCE MODIS

When April is the New July: Siberia’s Epic Wildfires Come Far Too Early

Global Warming Pushing Canadian Wildfires to Spike

 

 

Human-Caused Climate Change and Desperately Drilling For Water: The Deepening Dust Bowlification of California

There is no relief for poor California.

To the west, a heat dome high pressure system sits its dry and desiccating watch, deflecting storm systems northward toward Canada, Alaska, and, recently, even the Arctic Ocean. It is a weather system that drinks deep of Northwestern Pacific waters heated to 2-4+ C above average by humankind’s extraordinary greenhouse gas overburden. A mountain of dense and far hotter than normal air that is shoving the storm-laden Jet Stream at a right angle away from the US west coast and on up into an Arctic Ocean unprepared for the delivery of such a high intensity heat and moisture flow.

image

(Not one, not two, but three high pressure centers stacking up on June 24, 2014 off the North American West Coast. The highs are indicated by the white, clockwise swirls on this GFS surface graphic. This triple barrel high pressure heat dome represents an impenetrable barrier to storms moving across the Pacific Ocean. You can see one of these storms, represented by the purple, counter-clockwise swirl approaching Alaska and the Aleutians. A second Pacific-originating storm is visible north of Barrow in the Beaufort Sea. Under a typical pattern, these storms would have funneled into the US west coast or skirted the Alaskan Coast before riding into Canada. Storms taking a sharp left turn through Alaska and the Bering Sea into the Arctic is an unprecedented and highly atypical weather pattern. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: NOAA/GFS.)

In the far north, today, at noon local time, in the Mackenzie Delta region of the extreme northwest section of Canada on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, temperatures rose to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, 2-3 degrees hotter than areas of South Dakota and Iowa hundreds of miles to the south. It is a temperature departure 20-25 degrees F above average for this time of year. Far to the south and east, yesterday saw a garden variety pop up thunderstorm turn into a record-shattering rain event for Savannah Georgia, one that dumped 4-10 inches of rain over the region, over-topped ponds, flooded streets, knocked out power and washed out rail lines. In some sections of the city, hourly rates of rainfall were on the order of 4-5 inches. One might expect such a rainfall rate from the most moisture dense and intense tropical storms or hurricanes. The Savannah event was a summer shower driven into a haywire extreme by a heat-facilitated over-loading of the atmosphere with moisture.

What do the west coast blocking pattern, the California Drought, the Mackenzie Delta Arctic heatwave and the Savannah summer shower turned monster storm have in common? Twelve words: hydrological cycle and jet stream patterns wrecked by human caused atmospheric warming.

Three Year Long Drought Intensifies

Californians, at this time, may well be hoping hard for a mutant summer shower like the one that hit Savannah yesterday. But they won’t be getting it anytime soon. The triple barrel high off the US west coast won’t move or let the rains in until something more powerful comes along to knock it out of the way. And the only hope for such an event might come in the form of a monster El Nino this winter. Then, Californians may beg for the rain to stop. But, for now, they’re digging in their heels to fight the most intense drought in at least a hundred years.

California Drought Map

(This week’s California Drought Map provided by the US Drought Monitor. Orange indicates severe drought, red indicates extreme drought, and that brick color spreading from the coast and into California’s Central Valley is what they call exceptional drought. Not a corner of the state is spared severe or higher drought levels, with fully 77% of the state suffering from extreme or exceptional drought.)

With no rain in sight, with the snows all gone from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east, and with both federal and state reservoirs under increasingly more stringent water restrictions, what it means for Californians is incessant drilling. So far this year an estimated 450 million dollars has been spent statewide to plunge ever-deeper wells into the state’s rapidly-dwindling underground aquifers. In regions where a 200 foot well was once considered deep, 600, 800 or even 1000 foot wells are now common.

In total, about 75% of California’s lost water supply has been replaced by what essentially amounts to mining ground water. But the drought mitigating flow can only last for so long. And if the rains don’t come, those sources will first dwindle and then dry up. So California’s agriculture and a decent chunk of its other industry may well be living on borrowed time facilitated by unsustainable drilling for water.

Communities local to the Central Valley region are already facing imminent loss of water supplies. Tom Vanhoff a Chowchilla local noted to CBS in a recent interview:

“I’m in a community out there with about 20 homes. We’re on one deep well ourselves and we lost it two years ago. We were at 200 feet and now we are down to 400 but all these new guys are going down to six, 800 and 1000 feet; it’s going to suck us dry here again pretty soon.”

So for Central Valley residents it’s literally a race to the bottom in the form of who can dig the deepest well the fastest.

Above ground, a once lush landscape is now parched and brittle. Most natives, even the octogenarians, have never seen it this dry. More and more, the productive Central Valley is being described as a dust bowl. In this case, Dust-Bowlification, a term Joe Romm of Climate Progress coined to describe the likely desertification of many regions as a result of human-caused warming, is hitting a tragically high gear for California.

Sierra Nevada No Snow

(Sierra Nevada Mountains in right center frame shows near zero snow cover on June 24 of 2014. Typically, California relies on snow melt to stave off water shortages through dry summers. This year, with drought conditions extending into a third year, snow melt had dwindled to a trickle by mid June. Sattelite Imagery provided by NASA LANCE MODIS.)

Global Warming to Raise Food Prices

For years, scientific models had shown that the US Southwest was vulnerable to increased drought under human-caused warming. Scientists warned that increased community resiliency combined with rapid reductions in global carbon emissions would be necessary to preserve the productiveness of regions vital to the nation.

California is one such region. Its economy, even outside the greater US, is the 8th richest in the world. It is also the US’s largest producer of vegetables, most fruits, and nuts. Other major agricultural production for the state includes meat, fish, and dairy.

Though much of the current drought’s impacts have been mitigated through unsustainable drilling for ground water, US meat and produce prices are expected to rise by another 3-6% due to impacts from the ongoing and intensifying California drought. But so far, major impacts due to large-scale reductions in total acres planted have been avoided. Without the drilling, overall repercussions would have been devastating, as planted areas rapidly dwindled in size. But with wells running dry, time appears to be running out.

Links:

California Drought: Snowmelt’s Path Shows Impacts From Sierra to Pacific

California Drought Poised to Drive up Food Prices as It Worsens

California Drought Turning Central Valley into Dust Bowl

All-Time 24 Hour June Precipitation Record Broken in Savannah Georgia

NOAA/GFS

US Drought Monitor

NASA LANCE MODIS/

Earth Nullschool

Dust-Bowlification

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

Nearly 9,000 More Homes Lost to Flooding as China’s 41-Day Deluge Continues

China Rains May 23China Rains June 23

(Side-by-side LANCE- MODIS satellite shots of China and Southeast Asia on May 23 (left frame) and June 23 (right frame) of 2014. Notice the massive swath of cloud and stormy weather covering much of the region? It’s been like this for 41 days, now.)

* * * * *

It rained for 40 days and 40 nights? In the case of China, it’s 41 days and 41 nights and counting. A litany of previously abnormal storm events that, for too many parts of the world, have now become all too common.

Tempest after tempest wracks the atmosphere over China as moisture flooding off a super-heated Pacific Ocean keeps becoming entrained in a south-to-north flow that collides with an intense and unstable upper level storm track running a thousands-mile gauntlet between sprawling heat domes. To the southwest, one of these high pressure domes continues to establish over India and Bangladesh, squeezing monsoonal moisture into its periphery over southern China. These three storm generating and moisture injection patterns have combined and persisted since May 12th. With the result being episode-after-episode of catastrophic rainfall for China.

In the middle of May, a massive rain event emerging from this destructive weather pattern capsized 25,000 homes and forced more than half a million to flee. Over the past four days, a re-intensification of these brutish storms over six provinces once again resulted in nearly half a million evacuated and, this time, destroyed nearly 9,000 homes while damaging more than 60,000 others.

Already saturated grounds gave way to the recent bout of heavy rains triggering numerous landslides. In Jiangxi, inundation set off a school building collapse. In total, these events resulted in the loss of more than 26 souls. Heavy rains and hail also caused widespread damage to crops. In Hunan province alone, more than 127,000 hectares were destroyed.

Traffic Signs Submerged along a River in Lanxi

(River flooding in Lanxi, China submerges street lights and traffic signs. View more images of China flooding here.)

The worse may be yet to come as the rainy pattern continues to persist over much of China.

Storms Build With Global Warming, El Nino

Though historically vulnerable to flooding, China’s multi-river region has been treated to more and more severe events in recent years. Warm ocean waters associated with El Nino and human-caused climate change have triggered weather alterations spurring ever more intense periods of heavy rainfall during summer over much of Eastern China. The worst of these episodes occurred in conjunction with the monster 1998 El Nino and then record atmospheric heating resulting in both massive structural damage and a terrible human toll. In total, more than 5,000 souls were lost in an extreme flooding episode along the Yangtze River during that major atmospheric disturbance.

For 2014, a potentially strong El Nino developing in the Pacific is combining with record high global temperatures to spike severe weather risks yet again. In the case of China, the potential is for summer-long rains punctuated by a continuation of extreme episodes as the current flood pattern remains locked in place and gorges on an amped-up heat and moisture flow off the blazing Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Links:

LANCE- MODIS

Storms Leave 26 People Dead in Landslides Across China

Rainstorms, Floods Affect Millions in China

Two Week Long Flood Destroys 25,000 Homes in China

Extreme Eastern Pacific Sea Surface Temperature Spike Looking A Lot Like El Nino

SST anomaly June 19

(Global Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly on June 19, 2014. Note the blossom of red and orange off the western coast of South and Central America. That’s very hot water in the Eastern Pacific. Image source: NOAA/ESRL)

The global weather altering event that is El Nino again took a step forward this week as temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific continued to rise, today hitting values of +0.78 C above the 1979 to 2000 average. An impressive climb adding to already warm readings which, since late May, have ranged between +0.6 and +0.68 C. It’s a strong rise that continues to show progress toward El Nino, increasing ocean-to-atmosphere heat transfer, and raising the likelihood that 2014 may break the all-time global high temperature records last set in 2010.

NASA Shows May Heat Record Shattered, Japan Meteorological Agency Records Hottest Spring

Already, even as the monster that is El Nino combined with human warming still struggled to emerge from Pacific waters, spring of 2014 set new global atmospheric heat records. According to NASA, this May was the hottest in the global measure, meanwhile, the Japanese Meteorological Agency marked the March-April period as the hottest spring in all of the past 130 years (NASA showed the same period was second hottest). Rising Pacific Ocean surface temperatures by themselves were enough, when combined with raging human greenhouse gas heat forcing, to nudge atmospheric temperatures into a new record range. But the emergence of full-blown El Nino will likely push current record readings even higher.

Wedge of Very Hot Water Stretching Out From South America

Now by mid-to-late June, a hot wedge of very warm water is flooding out from South America covering a large swath of ocean from the Ecuador coast and stretching all the way into the Central Pacific. Temperatures in this broad zone range from an impressively hot +1 C to an extraordinary +3 to +4 C in hot pools just off shore. This makes the Eastern Pacific a zone of hot water that now rivals and likely exceeds the extreme temperature departures in regions of anomalous warm water off the Pacific Northwest Coast and in the North Atlantic. A well of heat energy that is likely already extending an influence into global weather patterns, as seen in the continued delay and disruption of the Indian Monsoon over the past week.

Hot Pool off Ecuador

(Very hot pool of water off Ecuador showing sea surface temperature anomalies in the extraordinarily hot +2.25 to +4 C range with smaller pools of +4 C and hotter water visible in this NOAA/NWS graphic.)

During March, sub-sea temperature anomalies spiked to +5 to +6 C above average in the hottest zones. So it appears, now, that some of these sub-sea anomalies are hitting the surface, clogging up the Pacific’s ability to soak up atmospheric heat and allowing that heat to accumulate.

Trades Picked Up, Then Stalled Again

Last week, atmospheric feedback promoting El Nino had appeared to weaken. The east-to-west trade winds had picked up and few countervailing west winds running from Asia toward the Americas were observed. But by this week, the trades had again faded with west winds seen north of the Solomons, east of the Phillippines, and along a broad zone in the Eastern Pacific. A re-emergence of an atmospheric feedback necessary for El Nino’s continued development.

Overall, ongoing warming in the Eastern Pacific along with a renewed weakening of the trades shows devolopment toward the predicted El Nino and an ongoing enhanced likelihood that past global high temperature records will continue to fall during 2014.

Links:

NOAA/ESRL

NOAA/NWS

NASA Shows Global High Temperature Record Shattered

Climate Reanalyzer Daily Summary

Advance of the Southwest Monsoon 2014

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

Jet Stream Tattered By Climate Change Brings New Bout of Worst Storms On Record For North-Central US

image

(Mangled Jet Stream on June 20th, 2014 together with cut-off upper air low threatens record-shattering storms and flood events across a multi-state region from the Dakotas to Minnesota to Iowa and Nebraska over the coming days. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data source: NOAA.)

If you wanted an example of a Jet Stream mangled by human-caused climate change, you couldn’t find a better one than today’s tangle of upper level winds swirling over North America.

It’s a chaotic maelstrom of split flows, colliding storm tracks, blocking highs, and cut-off upper air lows. A barrel of snakes pattern that’s become ever-more-common since Arctic sea ice plummeted to staggering volume lows of nearly 80 percent less than 1979 levels at end summer of 2012. A loss that opened wide the gates for warm air to flood northward and confuse the hot-cold dividing line that drives this key weather governor.

Over the past week, we’ve seen what amounts to a mess of storms mostly locked in place. A Pacific Ocean flow squeezed between a blocking high off California and an upper level low south of Alaska drew a train of moisture trailing all the way across the Pacific into a hungry cut-off low that had stalled along the border between Canada and the US. Drifting slowly east to west, west to east, the low gorged on the synoptic moisture feed, dumping record rainfall after record rainfall over the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa.

100 Year Records Shattered

By the 16th of June, with just slightly more than half the month passed, Sioux Falls South Dakota had crushed its all-time record rainfall for any month by more than 2.5 inches. The previous record of 9.42 inches set in 1898 catapulting to a staggering 13.04 inches by early this week. And with the storm track writhing overhead the rains for the region just kept coming. By yesterday, the twin cities region in Minnesota had rocketed to its second wettest June on record amidst massive rainfall-driven landslides and region-wide preparations for Mississippi River flooding. At 10.33 inches measured rainfall so far, with storms still popping overhead, and with 11 days still remaining in the month, it appears the area may well be set to shatter the previous rainfall record of 11.67 inches set back in 1874.

(Record flooding along the Big Sioux River in Iowa and South Dakota as witnessed yesterday by Storm Chasers.)

All the massive rainfall has built up quite a pulse of flood water that is now moving down major river systems and threatens record flooding events throughout a multi-state region from the Dakotas to Minnesota to Iowa to Nebraska. Residents are being called to aid in sand bagging and other flood mitigation operations as rivers keep rising through numerous regions. According to a report today in the Christian Science Monitor:

“In Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska, officials are asking volunteers to build sandbag barriers and other fortifications in advance of the brunt of the storm – but politicians and emergency workers are conceding that their efforts, in some areas, may not be enough.

In South Dakota, workers have begun turning a major Interstate exchange bridge into a temporary levee. While officials there say that will mitigate the flood in many locales, Governor Dennis Daugaard (R) said he expects parts of North Sioux City, S.D., to be underwater by the end of the week.”

Storms Expected to Continue

Today a frontal boundary sweeping out from our upper air low is bringing rains to the Great Lakes and Central Plains region. Meanwhile, behind the front, instability and moisture flow beneath the low continue to result is a high risk for severe thunderstorms accompanied by strong winds, torrential downpours, hail and frequent lightning. Severe storm risks are most extreme for areas of southeastern Nebraska, western Iowa, northern and western Minnesota, and eastern North Dakota.

Already, satellite imagery shows strong storms and accompanying high cloud tops popping up over Nebraska with more likely to follow as afternoon and evening progresses.

Conditions in Context: How Climate Change Intensifies Droughts/Storms

Multiple news agencies are now gathering reports of record storm events throughout the affected multi-state region. Recording agencies and residents alike note a dramatic increase in both the frequency of record events and in their intensity.

Storm precipitation intensity is a measure of how much rain, snow, sleet or hail falls from a given storm over a given period. And what we have seen is an increasing number of record hourly rainfall events in which precipitation totals measure 1 to 2 inches or more within a 60 minute span. Such intense events rapidly overwhelm infrastructure, flood roads, and burst river banks, creating a dangerous situation that often results in numerous water rescues. And both local and national climate reports have marked a major increase in both precipitation and precipitation intensity over the past two decades for regions such as Iowa.

In the context of human-caused climate change, frequency of intense storm events is increased due to rising atmospheric moisture loading. Overall, for each 1 degree C increase in temperature, the hydrological cycle increases by about 7% in intensity. The current .8 C rise since 1880 has resulted in about a 6% increase in the rate of evaporation and of rainfall. So in regions where heat and dryness tend to take hold, the soils tend to dry out faster, tipping into drought conditions far more rapidly and seeing an overall intensification and lengthening of droughts. And in regions where storms do form, they tend to dump far more rainfall than they used to.

Thunderstorm

(Global warming intensifies thunderstorms by adding convective energy, increasing atmospheric moisture, and expanding the troposphere. As a result, thunderstorm cloud heights increase resulting in more intense rain and hail events. Image source: National Weather Service.)

Changes in the Jet Stream due to loss of sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere also tends to result in more persistent weather patterns. The Jet Stream tends to meander more, spinning off more cut off lows that linger over regions creating instability and rough weather for longer periods. High amplitude waves tend to also form as more warm air invades the higher Latitudes. In the ridges, powerful high pressures tend to dominate. And once these highs establish, they can be very difficult to move. Beneath these blocking highs, droughts proliferate due to the extreme length of dry periods and due to the intensified rate of evaporation. We see such an event now in the 15+ month long blocking high that has so greatly impacted California and the ongoing drought there.

Lastly, increasing convection and a thickening, hotter atmosphere tend to spike storm intensity. In areas where moisture and heat are both high, the explosive rate of evaporation tends to rapidly form storms with very high cloud tops. These cloud tops, now sometimes pushing 50,000 or 60,000 feet pack in more moisture and can generate very intense rainfall events over shorter periods than we are used to.

In these ways, climate change forms an ideal brew for perfect thunderstorms and perfect droughts. With temperatures expected to spike to +2 C or great anomalies over the coming century, we can look forward to extreme weather continuing to intensify with both record rainfalls and record droughts dominating with ever-increasing frequency.

 

 

Links:

Weather Underground: Record Rainfall in Sioux Falls South Dakota

Twin Cities: Flood Preparation Begins as Record Rainfall Sends Mississippi Rising

Global Warming to Spawn More Severe Thunderstorms

Warming Planet Could Spawn Bigger, Badder Thunderstorms

How Climate Change Wrecks the Jet Stream, Amps up the Hydrological Cycle and Spawns Severe Weather

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestis

 

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