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

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

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

Eastern Brazil Oct 15

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

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

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

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

monster storm UK

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

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

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

Gonzalo path

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

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

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

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

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

NOAA

North Atlantic Ramping up to ‘Storms of My Grandchildren’

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

How Climate Change Helped ISIS

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Bernard

 

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

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

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

Methane Oct 9 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Ramping methane

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

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

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

methane bubbles near the Laptev sea surface

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

Royal Society Goes Dark on Arctic Methane Observation

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

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

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

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

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

October 4th, 2014
By mail and email

Dear Sir Paul Nurse,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sea ice vs model runs

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

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

Links:

Arctic News

The Distribution of Methane on Marine Arctic Shelves

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

Ebullition and Storm Induced Methane Release From East Siberian Arctic Shelf

High Risk of Permafrost Thaw

SWERUS C3

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

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

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

Tracking the Footprints of the Arctic Methane Monster

The Arctic Methane Monster Exhales: Third Tundra Hole Discovered

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

Methane and Frozen Ground

NOAA OSPO

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

Antarctica October 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current Sea Level Rise Unprecedented in 6,000 Years

Past and future sea level rise WG 1 AR 5

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

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

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

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

Increasing Heat Melts Glaciers, Swells Seas

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

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

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

Sediment plumes from Greenland Sep 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Sea level rise 1993 to 2014

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

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

LANCE-MODIS

Earth Observatory

AVISO

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Use the ‘R’ Word

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change Spurred by Deforestation, Worsened By Atmospheric Heating

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

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

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

Drought Map South America

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

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

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

A Major Humanitarian Disaster

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

Sao Paulo Water Supply at Risk in Extreme Drought

Unprecedented Drought Puts Sao Paulo Water Supply at Risk

Brazil Drought Crisis Deepens in Sao Paulo

Climate Conditions Determine Amazon Forest Fire Risk

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

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

Amazon Could Shrink by 85% Due to Climate Change

Sao Paulo Weather Forecast

Linhas Populares

Impacts of Deforestation

(Hat tip to Andy)

(Hat tip to Colorado Bob)

Antarctic Heat Heralds Hottest September in the NASA Record

September 2014 Hottest on Record

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

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

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

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

zonal anomalies map september 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Conditions in Context

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

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

Links:

NASA GISS

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Ocean Acification Through 2050

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

Acid Damage to Coral Reefs To Cost 1 Trillion Dollars

Threat to Coral Reefs From Ocean Acidification

The World’s Coral Reefs Could be Gone by 2050

Severe Coral Bleaching Near Hawaii

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob)

Arctic Warmth Melting Greenland In October

greenland_melt_nomelt oct 8

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

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

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

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

October 9 GFS Anomaly

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

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

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

Greenland Still Melting in October

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

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

greenland_melt_area_plot oct

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

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

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

Links:

University of Maine

NSIDC

Hat Tip to Andy

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

Ocean Heat Map

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

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

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

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

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

Earth System Warming Far Faster Than Expected

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

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

Upper Ocean Heat Content trends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

Quantifying Underestimates of Long-Term Upper Ocean Warming

The World is Warming Faster Than We Thought

Different Depths Reveal Ocean Warming Trends

Climate Responses From Lewis and Curry

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Bassman

Very Hot Pacific Hurls Super Typhoon Vongfong Toward Japan

Vongfong

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

Bombification…

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

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

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

Forecast Track Brings Vongfong’s Heavy Rains Over Japan

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

Vongfong forecast strength and track

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

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

Conditions in Context

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

NOAA sea surface temperature anomaly

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

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

Links:

NOAA

Joint Typhoon Warning Center

NOAA/Ocean Surface Observation

Hurricane Marie

For Miami, Sea Level Rise Has Already Gone Exponential

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

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

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

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

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

Rapidly Rising Waters

 

Miami Sea Level Trend

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

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

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

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

Vulnerable Miami, South Florida

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

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

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

FinalUnifiedSLRProjection

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

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

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

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

Links:

Water, Water Everywhere: Sea Level Rise in Miami

Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact Page

Southwest Florida Governments Not Planning For Sea Level Rise

The Ocean is Already Higher

In Miami, The King Tide is Coming

Associated Press

Sea Level Rise: Everglades

Florida and Rising Seas

Dr. Zhaohua Wu, FSU

(Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs)

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

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

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

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

california-drying

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

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

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

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

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

Lake Oroville 2

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

100,000 Wells about To Go Dry

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

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

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

Blocking High California

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

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

Links:

Human Hothouse Found to Be California Drought Culprit

NASA Satellites Put California Drought into Shocking Perspective

NASA/UC Urvine

ECMWF

Crunch Time for California Drought

Drought Cuts California’s Food Exports Sharply

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

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

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

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

Difference in Ice mass Between now and last glacial maximum

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

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

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

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

From Nature Communications:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antarctic Ice Shelf Thickness Changes

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

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

Links:

Change Antarctic Conditions Could Trigger Steep Rise in Sea Levels

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

Weighing Change in Antarctica

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

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

Antarctic Ice Sheet Loss Driven by Basal Melting of Ice Shelves

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob)

 

 

 

 

 

Sixth Lowest Sea Ice Extent on Record Leaves 35,000 Walruses Stranded

(FAA blocks flights over stranded walruses in order to prevent panic. US Fish and Wildlife Service considers adding protection to walruses as endangered species after late summer stranding due to loss of sea ice.)

35,000 thousand. That’s the number of climate change refugees left stranded upon a thin strip of land along the northern coast of Alaska. The refugees, driven from their summer resting place along floating rafts of summer sea ice, have been forced to concentrate en mass for safety and foraging upon a near-ocean stretch of beach and simply wait for the sea ice’s return.

The ice they have previously used for their summer homes is simply gone. Yet one more casualty of human-driven climate change.

These refugees, of course, are walruses, members of a growing group of climate orphans who’ve lost homes and haunts due to a vicious and rapid changing of the geophysical world. All across the media this week, we’ve been witness to pictures of the mass stranding. But one wonders if we really fully understand the impact of what we are seeing — yet one more vulnerable inhabitant of the natural world now dislocated by climate change:

Walrus Mass Stranding

(Aerial photo of Walrus mass stranding. Image source — NOAA.)

The mass beaching is directly linked to devasting losses of Arctic sea ice ongoing since 2007. The sea ice serves as a kind of summer shelter for Walruses, especially for nursing pups and mothers who use the ice floating over shallow water for both a resting place and a feeding platform.

But now, the new abnormal is that walruses are stranded. The sea ice is too far off shore for it to be useful to them. So they collect in a disease amplifying huddle, rapidly stripping resources along a thin swath of shore. A fearful and vulnerable concentration of animals facing an uncertain future as brown bears prowl threateningly about them. A present in which infant walruses are vulnerable to trampling by the larger adults. A new world starkly devoid of the gentle gray whales with whom they once shared these shallow waters. The whales went on to the edge of the ice — a place now too remote for the walruses to follow.

During six of the last eight years, we’ve witnessed such events. Masses of walruses along shore that are 80 fold larger than during similar periods just 30 years ago.

 

chart

(Arctic Sea Ice Extent as measured by the National Snow and Ice Data Center for the six lowest years on record including 2014. Record lowest extent occurred during 2012 [dotted green line]. Image source: NSIDC.)

And this year the sea ice retreated far into the Beaufort, well out of even the reach of strong swimmers like walruses. A sea ice extent for the entire Arctic was sixth lowest in the record. Part of an ongoing and brutal trend that, if it continues, will strip the late summer Arctic of all sea ice during the time-frame of 2017 to 2035. A decline that has implications for all living creatures — not just the walruses. For as humans continue to force a hothouse state upon the Earth, the risk is that we all, like the walruses, become refugees living in ever more difficult and dangerous environs.

Links:

NOAA

35,000 Walruses Left on Beach Due to Climate Change

Walrus Stranding — A New Phenomena And We Don’t Know How Bad it Will Get

NSIDC

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob)

Ebola, Climate Change and Going Airborne — Merciless Outbreak Raises Fears

  • UN Warns of Remote Possibility Ebola Could Become Airborne
  • 3,330 dead and more than 7,100 infected during recent outbreak
  • 5 new infections every hour
  • One confirmed US case of Ebola in Texas, another suspected in Hawaii. Both air travelers from Africa.
  • US dispatches 1,400 troops to Liberia to aid in massive effort to contain the virus
  • Death rate for Ebola is 25-90 percent
  • Climate change only indirectly related to current outbreak

 

west-africa-distribution-map

(Current extent of Ebola outbreak in West Africa, according to CDC sources. Image source: Google/CDC)

As of this July of 2014, the number of recorded Ebola deaths worldwide since the mid 1970s was a little over 1,500 with less than 3,000 infections. That was before a massive outbreak centering on Sierra Leone in Africa killed more than 3,300 and infected more than 7,100.

Today, the estimated rate of infection is about 5 persons every hour. Persons infected with the virus have come as far as Texas in the United States prompting the immediate US quarantine of over 100 people thought to have been exposed. In total, this outbreak is likely to infect more than 20,000. And that’s if a massive international effort to stop the virus is effective.

It’s an effort that includes all the resources the UN has available to fight and contain diseases. An effort that has resulted in the mobilization of 1,400 US Military troops from Fort Campbell Kentucky bound for the West African hot zone.

Ebola — A Deadly Killer

Some years ago, I managed the editing of a Jane’s emergency response guide called The Chem-bio Handbook. The handbook was a compilation of information from leading experts about the world’s most deadly poisons and diseases. A quick reference guide for first responders unfortunate enough to have to deal with the most nightmarish toxins and infections dreamed up by nature or humankind.

Among these, Ebola was certainly one of the most feared and mysterious.

Ebola progression

(Ebola progression of symptoms. Image source: CDC — Ebola.)

It was transferred by contact with bodily fluids — blood, sweat, saliva, semen, excrement. It waited latent in the body for between two and twenty one days before first flaring into flu-like symptoms. Headache, fever, sore throat, weakness, muscle pain. These indistinct symptoms could go along with a hundred other illnesses. But after some days, Ebola went hemorrhagic. At this point vomiting, diarrhea, rash, failing liver and kidneys, and internal and external bleeding displayed Ebola’s all too familiar and terrifying call signs.

In the end, the disease claimed between 25 and 90 percent of all those who fell ill with it. A death rate that is among the worst of the worst for any disease now active on the Earth.

Treatment for the illness is primarily limited to supportive care and isolating the patient to prevent the infection from spreading. But during recent years a serum derived from the blood of victims who have survived the illness has provided some hope for raising recovery rates. Investigation for an effective vaccine is ongoing.

Rapid Mutation

One issue with the current strain of Ebola now impacting Seirra Leone and broader Africa is that it is a rapid mutator. The strain separated from the standard forms of Ebola seen in humans about ten years ago. Since that time, the virus has accumulated about 395 mutations. After leaping back to humans this summer, the virus had accumulated 5o new mutations in just one month.

The problem with rapid mutation is that it gives the virus a chance to become more virulent. In the worst case, some researchers and international officials fear that the virus could become airborne.

Today, Anthony Banbury, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative, raised these dire concerns in public stating:

‘The longer [Ebola] moves around in human hosts in the virulent melting pot that is West Africa, the more chances increase that it could mutate. [Airborne contagion] is a nightmare scenario, and unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out.’

Most researchers consider the risk for such a transfer from fluid-borne to airborne infection for any illness, even a rapid mutator, to be very low. So it is rather odd that the UN’s special representative would voice these fears without special cause for concern.

Highest Risk Event Ever

This high level of concern may well be related to the terrors UN and international aid workers are witnessing on the ground.

Mr. Banbury, who has worked with the UN on the issue of dangerous and infectious diseases, wars, natural disasters and other extreme events since 1988 appeared both horrified and taken aback by the ferocity of the current outbreak:

“We have never seen anything like it. In a career working in these kinds of situations, wars, natural disasters – I have never seen anything as serious or dangerous or high risk as this one. I’ve heard other people saying this as well, senior figures who are not being alarmist. Behind closed doors, they are saying they have never seen anything as bad,” he said.

In order to contain the outbreak, the international community is scrambling to set up thousands of clinics and isolation centers throughout affected regions. The idea is to isolate more than 70 percent of the infected persons to prevent the virus from making yet another explosive advance. Ultimately, the goal is to get a reduction in cases after a strong three-month-long response:

“We intend to see a significant improvement in the 30 to 60-day window, so that by 90 days the curve is headed in the right direction. We are putting resources in place very fast, and we will continue to flow in. It is not all there at the moment,” Mr Banbury said. “That’s the theory and that’s the plan. If it spreads in an urban setting, then it’s a different story.”

“I would not say I am confident we will succeed [in the 90-day plan] given the absolutely merciless numbers of the spread and what needs to be done to get it under control. These are extremely, extremely ambitious targets, set by doctors. We are blowing down bureaucratic barriers to get things done…but I don’t know if it will be enough…I would not want to give the impression that we can wave a magic wand.”

Climate Change an Indirect Factor

Back in August, both Newsweek and MSNBC provided speculative stories raising the possibility that the current Ebola outbreak was directly related to climate change. But unlike vector driven illnesses such as Cholera and Malaria, it is very difficult to pin down a specific link between Ebola and the human-caused warming of the globe.

Related factors such increasing poverty and hunger driving humans to consume more bush meat and therefore expose themselves to higher risk of contracting an animal-borne infection such as Ebola are likely at play. And larger factors such as increasing human population density, global travel, and human concentration into urban centers all likely increase risks linked to Ebola. But the heat driven influences on Ebola are far less than expanding the range of Malaria bearing mosquitos or a proliferation of flooding events greatly magnifying the risk of Cholera outbreaks.

It is worth noting, however, that diseases, overall, tend to become more virulent with warming as pathogen killing cold spells are retreating further and further poleward.

Links:

Please See the CDC Website for Official Information on Ebola and for Frequent Updates

UN Chief Raises Warning That Ebola Could Become Airborne

Ebola Could Become Airborne

Ebola in the Air?

Nature: Ebola Mutating Rapidly as it Spreads

Nightmare Chance that Ebola Could Become Airborne, UN Warns

Fort Campbell Troops Headed to Liberia to Fight Ebola

Google/CDC

Media Jumps to Conclusions on Ebola and Climate Change

 

 

 

 

You Know There’s Something Wrong When Vast Expanses of Greenland Look Like A Blackened Volcanic Crater

Lowest albedo on record for Greenland.

That’s what data provided by NASA and processed by polar scientist Jason Box are showing for August of 2014.

But it doesn’t take a polar scientist to tell you something is dreadfully wrong with this:

(Swaths of Greenland’s Ice Sheet look more like a volcanic crater than mountains of frozen water. Video source: Dark Snow.)

The above video, provided by the Dark Snow Project and featured on Peter Sinclair’s fantastic Climate Crocks blog, shows a vast swath of the Greenland Ice Sheet from helicopter. Miles and miles of previously pristine ice now show a blackening similar in color to volcanic basalt. A color vastly uncharacteristic of Greenland and more suited to melting and salted snow in an urban parking lot.

Melt is a primary driver of such widespread blackening of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Compaction and removal of snow through melting of the surface layer uncovers dirt, dust and soot left over through the years and millennia, depositing it in a dense layer just beneath the newly melted and washed away snow.

Snow and ice darkening is also compounded by vastly expanding Arctic wildfires. And this year featured the most severe outbreak of wildfires on record for the Northwest Territory of Canada together with extreme and explosive fires throughout Arctic Siberia.The dark soot ejected in immense plumes from these fires is borne aloft by the winds, eventually falling together with rain and snow over the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Lastly, manmade sources of black and brown carbon are also implicated in the great ice sheet’s blackening. And, during recent years, with the explosion of dark particulate sources in developing countries and through global slash and burn agriculture, more and more dark particulate from human activities is finding its way to the great ice sheet.

The net effected is Greenland ice sheet albedo dropping like a rock.

Greenland Ice Sheet Albedo Loss

(Falling like a rock. Greenland Ice Sheet albedo hits record low for August of 2014. Data source: NASA MOD10A1. Data Processed by: Dr. Jason Box.)

Albedo is a measure of reflectivity. The less reflective an ice sheet is, the more vulnerable it is to melting through direct heating by solar radiation. The ice sheet surface absorbs more energy from the sun’s rays as reflectivity falls and this process, in turn, further hastens a melt that is already being amplified by human-caused atmospheric and ocean heating.

But charts and graphs do little justice to this ongoing tragedy. In looking at vast stretches of ice, now colored an ominous grey-black, blanketing Greenland, it becomes all-too-easy to realize that we are likely witnessing the start of the Great Ice Sheet’s demise.

Links:

Dark Snow Project

Dark Snow

Climate Crocks

NASA MOD10A1

Dr. Jason Box

2014 To Be Hottest Year on Record? Arctic Ocean, West Antarctic Heat Spikes Amidst Scorching End to September

Strange and anomalous heating of the Earth’s surface waters. That’s what could best characterize the year of 2014. Waters warm enough to break world records and all arrayed in extraordinarily odd distributions.

***

The Summer of 2014 (June through August) was the hottest in the 135 year global temperature record and likely the hottest in at least 100,000 years. According to the National Climate Data Center, global temperatures were 0.88 degrees Celsius above the 1880 average and 0.71 degrees Celsius above average temperatures for the 20th Century.

Summer of 2014 temperatures slightly edged out previous heat records set in 1998 by 0.01 degrees Celsius. But 1998 was a year during which a raging El Nino was dumping immense volumes of Pacific Ocean heat into the atmosphere. This year, summer conditions displayed Pacific Ocean warmth in the Nino regions — but nowhere near enough heat anomaly to shove the equatorial region into El Nino status. So a luke-warm equatorial Pacific and possible pre El Nino in 2014 when combined with a raging human heat forcing of the atmosphere is enough to beat out the super El Nino of 1998 for record hottest summer, even if only by a hair.

Global land and ocean temperature anomalies summer 2014

(Summer of 2014 beats out 1998 as hottest on record amidst steady and ongoing rise in global atmospheric temperatures. Image source: NOAA’s National Climate Data Center.)

The hottest summer on record follows the hottest May on record and could well include the hottest September on record. This is a strong trend that may well be building 2014 into the hottest year on record. And all without a pronounced El Nino so far.

For if the final four months of this year all fall within the range of first to fifth hottest, 2014 will be a record breaker.

A Very Hot End to a Hot September

Preliminary GFS measures show that September of 2014 may well be in record-challenging range with global temperatures averaging between +0.4 C to +0.7 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 period. It was a period that featured ramping polar heat amplification in both the Arctic and Antarctic. A period that followed summer of 2014 trends showing extreme high temperature departures in the Northern Pacific and even higher sea surface temperature departures in the Arctic Ocean regions near the Bering Strait.

The last day of September closed near the top of this hot temperature range with the global atmospheric anomaly at +0.69 C above the 1979 to 2000 average (which is about 0.3 to 0.4 C above the 20th Century average respectively).

September 30 temperature anomaly

(September 30 global temperature anomaly map. Image source: University of Maine.)

Analyzing the map above, we note strong polar amplification already advancing in the Arctic region with a +1.15 C positive anomaly. We would well expect this trend to continue through fall and winter due to a combination of factors including — the amplified impact of overburden greenhouse gasses during periods of seasonal darkness, a very strong observed heating of the sea surface in Arctic regions providing latent heat through the colder months, and pronounced atmospheric heat transport through ridiculously resilient ridging patterns over the northeastern Pacific and Scandinavia.

In the Southern Hemisphere, we’ve also observed an extraordinary polar heat spike ongoing over the region of West Antarctica in association with an anomalous atmospheric ridge feature in that region as well. West Antarctic temperature departures hit well above +20 C over recent days. This excessive warm anomaly was enough to drive the entire Antarctic zone to an extreme +3.09 C above that polar region’s average for this time of year. Though it is still early spring for the Antarctic, persistence of the West Antarctic ridge could have serious impacts come summer time. So the feature will bear watching.

Extreme temperature anomaly over West Antarctica

(Extreme positive temperature anomaly over West and Central Antarctica on September 30, 2014. Note the broad area of +20 C positive departure. Image source: University of Maine.)

Troubling Arctic Ocean Heat Spike

But perhaps the most troubling feature for September and, indeed, all of the summer of 2014 is a massive accumulation of far warmer than average surface ocean water in both the Northern Pacific and in the Arctic Ocean.

The Northern Pacific heat has occurred in conjunction with an anomalous 21 month long blocking pattern that has tended to fix in place a south to north flow pattern and far warmer than average land and ocean temperatures for the region. Sea surface temperatures in the range of 2-3 C above average for a swath from California to Alaska have remained in place for nearly two years running.

This feature and now prevailing associated south to north wind pattern appears to be driving warmer than normal waters through the Bering Strait and into the already vulnerable Arctic zone. There, the added warm water appears to have combined with the warming of a deeper, but sometimes surface influencing, warm water flow newly emerging from the Atlantic. These combined warm water flows have resulted in a broad swath of 4 C + above 1979 to 2000 average surface water temperatures ranging from the Bering Sea into the Chukchi, Beaufort, East Siberian, Laptev and Kara Seas of the Arctic Ocean.

Sea surface temperature anomaly global September 30

(Extreme global sea surface temperature anomaly of September 30, 2014 features extraordinary +4 C positive temperature departures in the Northern Polar Ocean. Image source: University of Maine.)

During recent years featuring very low Arctic sea ice measures, August, September and October have displayed very strong positive sea surface temperature anomalies in the Arctic. These extraordinary sea surface temperature values have tended to push global temperature averages higher with a number of global heat records set despite the presence of La Nina or ENSO neutral conditions in the Pacific. A clear instance where human-driven polar heat amplification and heating of the northern polar ocean is beginning to have a measurable and substantial impact on global temperature variation as well as overall rate of warming.

In general, we find much of the global ocean heat spike clustered near the northern polar zone. This is clearly visible in the anomaly color display on the map above together with the +0.27 C of added heat in the Northern Hemisphere surface ocean vs the Southern Hemisphere Ocean measure.

A final feature of this enhanced Arctic warming — increased instances of microbial blooms in northern ocean surface waters — was plainly visible in the MODIS shot during late September as well. In this case a massive bloom covering a 550 by 100 mile swath of the Bering Sea just south of the Bering Strait:

Microbial bloom Bering Sea September 28

(Massive Bering Sea microbial bloom as visible in the LANCE-MODIS satellite shot on September 28 of 2014. For reference, the Bering Strait is to the right of frame. Bottom edge of frame is about 500 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

In these instances, concurrent with human-caused warming, large regions of newly ice free water contain higher nutrient content than more southerly waters. As the human heat forcing spurs these waters to above average temperatures, ocean microbial activity becomes more prolific — since larger numbers of microbes thrive in warmer conditions. The result has been the appearance of very large blooms in far northern waters during recent years.

Within Striking Distance of a Record Hot Year — Serious Implications For Weather and Climate

Despite a Pacific El Nino that appears to be set on slow to low burn, if the event appears at all, it appears possible that 2014 may be setting up for a record breaking year. The factors driving this event include a continued if very mild Pacific Equatorial warming together with far more troubling heat amplification driven by human greenhouse gas warming at the poles. The most troubling of these regions continues to be the Arctic. And the added heat there will almost certainly increase stress on vulnerable carbon stores as well as potentially add to the human-spurred havoc now playing out in northern hemisphere and global weather systems.

The disposition of early fall atmospheric heating with high ocean heat content near the northern polar zone certainly leaves wide the door to future polar vortex disruption come winter 2014-2015 together with providing a Jet Stream weakness that continues to facilitate Northeastern Pacific Ocean ridge development. And, in the case of the Northeastern Pacific especially, there are few challenges to that very disruptive and damaging pattern on the near term horizon (30 day).

Links:

NOAA’s National Climate Data Center

University of Maine

LANCE-MODIS

Human Hothouse Found to be California Drought Culprit as Ridiculously Resilient Ridge Reasserts

This is an event that is more extreme than any in the observed record, and our research suggests that global warming is playing a role right now. — Stanford Scientist Noah Diffenbaugh

****

Last week, a strong storm over-rode a powerful high pressure ridge that has been deflecting moisture-loaded weather systems northward and away from the US West Coast for the better part of two years. Though some precipitation did grace the northern and mountain stretches of the drought-stricken state of California, it is no-where near enough to alleviate an epic 21+ month long drought. A drought borne of a blocking pattern that began during the winter of 2012-2013 and now threatens to extend to the end of 2014 and, possibly, beyond.

In the wake of the storm, the powerful ridge reasserted — again delaying hopes that a parched California would at last begin to receive at least a normal allotment of rain.

Blocking Ridge Oct 6, 2014

(Euro Model forecast shows the ridiculously resilient ridge [RRR] strongly in place off the US and Pacific Northwest coasts in the October 6 run. Image source: ECMWF.)

It is a high pressure ridge based blocking pattern that has become so persistent that researchers at Stanford University have given it a new name — the ridiculously resilient ridge or Triple R. And the Triple R, according to those same researchers has climate change based origins.

For this week, Stanford scientists published a new study that found:

The atmospheric conditions associated with the unprecedented drought currently afflicting California are “very likely” linked to human-caused climate change.

Researchers used a combination of climate models and statistical techniques to determine that large, persistent high pressure systems of the kind that have been locking California into perpetual drought are more likely in the presence of high concentrations of greenhouse gasses. They found that the ridge, which has generated year-round wildfires in California and at its peak intensity during January of 2014 stretched from Hawaii all the way to coast of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, was a kind of new species of extreme weather far more likely to occur in a human-warmed world.

south-to-north-weather-pattern-alaska

(January 23 of 2014 weather pattern showing a moisture flow diverted from Hawaii to Alaska by the Triple R west coast blocking pattern. Image source: NASA.)

The anomalous strength of the ridge also likely played a role in the powerful polar vortex disruptions that were commonplace throughout the winter of 2014. As the ridge shoved more warm air into the polar zone north of Alaska the cold core of the polar vortex was displaced south and eastward over the Canadian Archipelago and Hudson Bay — driving extreme weather events over the central and eastern US as well as across the Atlantic and on to the UK.

The Researchers found that ridging was the overall and anomalous tendency of the pattern in this region of the northeast Pacific. They observed that the ridge remained strong throughout the winter of 2013, weakened during the summer of that year, then flared into an extreme intensity by January of 2014. Since that time, the ridge has swelled and spluttered, occasionally letting a storm or two pass but still serving as a kind of brutal sentinel to weather systems that would typically make their way to California.

The results of such a human-caused disruption of the climate are all too visible in the most recent US Drought Monitor.

September 23 drought monitor

(Despite tropical storms and the occasional weakness in the Triple R allowing a brief influx of moisture, 100% of California is still suffering from drought conditions with 58% percent of the state under the most extreme level of drought. Image source: US Drought Monitor)

A drought event that is the most extreme in the observed record and that is now linked to climate change by at least three major studies.

From the Stanford Study’s authors:

“We’ve demonstrated with high statistical confidence that the large-scale atmospheric conditions, similar to those associated with the Triple R, are far more likely to occur now than in the climate before we emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases,” Rajaratnam said.

“In using these advanced statistical techniques to combine climate observations with model simulations, we’ve been able to better understand the ongoing drought in California,” Diffenbaugh added. “This isn’t a projection of 100 years in the future. This is an event that is more extreme than any in the observed record, and our research suggests that global warming is playing a role right now.”

Links:

Stanford Scientists: Causes of California Drought Linked to Climate Change

ECMWF

NASA

US Drought Monitor

New York City is Planning to Go Fossil Fuel Free — So Why Not the Rest of the World?

greenhouse-gas-reductions-in-NYC-1-537x356

(New York City plans a number of measures to eliminate fossil fuel use and rapidly build climate change resiliency through 2050 including mass installation of solar energy on roof-tops, major reductions in energy use and increases in efficiency, painting roofs white to reduce the heat island effect, and providing both incentives and enforcement for those living within the city to make an energy switch and control consumption. Image source: New York City.)

As a city sitting at the edge of rising seas and in the path of almost certainly more severe storms, New York City faces the grim prospect of facing the brunt of impacts set off by human-caused climate change. This vulnerability was recently highlighted as Superstorm Sandy flooded 90,000 of New York’s buildings and inflicted 19 billion dollars worth of damages on the city alone.

The storm raced in on tides that were more than 1 foot higher than original New York City designers planned for. And the storm was likely enhanced by a combination of much warmer than normal ocean temperatures and a disrupted Jet Stream pattern that makes it more likely for tropical and polar air masses to come into confluence — increasing the energy potential of hybrid storms like Sandy.

And Sandy may just have been a warning shot across the bow.

Based on the city’s own figures, New York City is facing 4-10 inches of additional sea level rise before 2030 and 11-30 inches of sea level rise through 2050. Stark results of ocean current changes that are piling more water up on the US East Coast as well as an increasing number of destabilized and irreversibly collapsing glaciers in Greenland and West Antarctica that will likely provide ramping sea level rise through both this century and for many centuries to come.

80 Percent + Emissions Reductions By 2050 With The Ultimate Goal to Eliminate Fossil Fuel Use

Faced with these threats, New York City has put together a plan to completely eliminate fossil fuels as energy sources. To greatly increase energy efficiency measures and to shift the city to renewable energy sources entirely. The plan, in total, would reduce New York City’s carbon emissions by 83% below 2005 levels through 2050 with the ultimate aim of eliminating fossil fuel use altogether.

In pursuit of this goal, the city is providing a series of ten year planning measures aimed directly at both public and private energy users. The plans are broad based and set ambitious goals for both reduction in energy consumption and rapid adoption of renewable energy sources. For example, the city itself plans to install 100 megawatts of solar panels on public buildings even as it reduces building energy consumption by as much as 50 percent over the next ten years. Meanwhile the city plans to provide incentives and financing aimed at private solar installations exceeding 250 megawatts over the same period.

Other aspects of the plan include setting up an efficiency and renewables marketplace for the city, ensuring that the benefits of reducing energy costs are shared across the economic spectrum, providing standards enforcement for private buildings, transportation and consumption, and setting in place a scaling series of investments to build city resiliency for the climate-related troubles that are likely to worsen for the foreseeable future even if the world follows New York’s example and rapidly responds to climate change.

To this point, New York City joins New York State, California and the European Union as government bodies now pursuing broad policy goals to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in their areas of responsibility by 80 percent or more. Responsible actions that should serve as models for cities, states, and nations around the world if we are to have much hope of confronting a growing climate nightmare set off by a reckless and irresponsible broader human-based carbon emission.

Links:

Please Read New York City’s Comprehensive Climate Action Plan Entitled: One City Built to Last

Why You Should Read the City’s Plan to Reduce Carbon Emissions by 80 Percent

New York State Executive Order 24: Climate Action Planning

When it Comes to The Arctic Methane Monster, What We Don’t Know Really Could Kill Us — NASA Model Study Shows Very High Carbon Release Uncertainty

(Can we save humanity from the greatest threat ever? Must-watch video highlights the risks and uncertainties of catastrophic methane release from the Arctic environment.)

After millions of years of ice ages, the Arctic has become a vast repository of fossil carbon.

Over the millennia, layer after layer of carbon-based biological material has been locked away in the frozen soil of the Arctic tundras and sea beds. Some of these stores have simply become entombed within the ice. Others, already turned to methane through the slow fluxes of time, underlay the frozen ground and the chilly Arctic sea-bed floor as a kind of fire ice.

An unstable, flammable, and explosive substance called clathrate.

The stores themselves are massive — containing between 2,000 to 3,000 billion tons or more of carbon. Likely more than five times the amount of carbon humans have already emitted into the atmosphere over the past 150 years. An amount that has already likely locked in about 1.8 C of warming short term and 3.6 C worth of warming long-term.

But a thawing Arctic could set off a chain of events leading to far worse warming to come.

In a cold, ice-age world these carbon stores are no threat. Like a sleeping dragon, they remained dormant in the world’s chill zones — unable to break the seal of the ice. But in a world that humans are forcing to rapidly warm through a pace of greenhouse gas emission at least 6 times faster than at any time in Earth’s billions-years history, we risk a major release of this monstrous carbon stockpile.

A Matter of Methane Feedback

We really don’t know how much heat forcing is required to set off a runaway release of this monstrous pile of carbon. But we’ve already warmed the world by at least 0.8 degrees Celsius and many Arctic researchers believe that just 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming is enough to thaw all the Arctic’s tundra.

Such a thaw would certainly expose the massive tundra carbon store to the elements and to microbial action. Increasing an already significant release of Arctic carbon and greatly contributing to the human heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans through greenhouse gas emissions.

Dragon's Breath Jason Box

(In a recent article on his Meltfactor blog, Dr. Jason Box questions whether local anomalies in Arctic methane data involve mini methane outbursts set off by human-caused heating. Dr. Box also, appropriately questioned whether such releases were signs of a potential and larger release due to the human heat forcing of the Arctic environment. Dr. Box, in a manner similar to our own investigation of the Arctic Methane Monster, metaphorically labels these outbursts ‘dragon’s breath.’ Image source: Meltfactor.)

A few years ago, a group of 41 Arctic researchers suggested that even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gasses rapidly, the Arctic release of carbon would equal about 10 percent of human annual human emissions and would continue for a long time into the future. More ominously, these researchers noted that a failure to rapidly draw down human carbon emissions would result in an annual Arctic release of equivalent to 35% or more of the human emission — putting the world on track for a runaway warming scenario.

But the matter of Arctic carbon release is anything but simple or easy to understand. For a significant portion — possibly as much 1/3 to 1/2 of the Arctic carbon store could release as methane. And methane, on very short time scales, is a very potent greenhouse gas. Over the course of 20 years, methane has a global warming potential 86 times that of a similar volume of CO2. If even a very small portion of the Arctic carbon store were to release as methane over a relatively short period — 1, 5, 10 or 50 gigatons out of a total store measuring in the thousands of gigatons — it could greatly exaggerate the already powerful human warming underway or, in the worst case, set off a runaway heating event similar to that of the great Permian and PETM extinctions.

A Poorly Understood Risk

Unhelpfully, there is nowhere near enough direct observation of the Arctic environment to pin down the current rate of carbon release or the likely increase in release rates over the past few decades. We have studies that show more methane emitting from tundra lakes, for example. We have the Semiletov and Shakhova expeditions to the Arctic Ocean which keep providing higher and higher estimates of the methane emissions coming from plumes on the sea floors of the Laptev and East Siberian Seas. We have studies that show increasing CO2 and methane release from the vast carbon stores of Yedoma’s frozen tundra in Siberia. And we have the more disturbing instances of explosive methane outbursts — likely from rapidly thawing clathrates beneath the permafrost — in the Yamal region of Russia this year that resulted in a dramatic cratering of Siberian tundra.

Arctic Methane Overburden

(Large sea-bed methane release ongoing? The Arctic continues to show a very significant overburden of Methane — hinting at larger releases of methane from the Arctic environment. Last year during October, methane readings over the Gakkel Ridge spiked to 2662 parts per billion — or more than 800 parts per billion above the global average — before diffusing into the atmosphere. The above image shows methane over the same region spiking to over 2,400 parts per billion on September 16 of 2014. Link: Arctic News.)

But these studies and instances focus only on subsections of the Arctic. And, in much the way several blind men investigating the various parts of an elephant might disagree on the overall shape of the beast, we have a similar problem with understanding the total shape of the threat posed by Arctic methane and carbon release.

Dr. David Archer, who has developed various model essays of potential Arctic and sea bed methane release claims that there is essentially zero cause for concern for a large-scale methane release this century. A number of Arctic researchers disagree with the chief of these being Peter Wadhams, Dr Semiletov and Dr Shakhova who all seem very concerned about the potential for a large-scale release soon. A middle ground is populated by a number of researchers like Carolyn Ruppel and Sue Natali from the Woods Hole observatory. These researchers are rationally calling for more data on an issue that is all-too-poorly understood in the science.

NASA’s CARVE Finds Models in Disagreement Over Arctic Carbon Release

This current lack of broader understanding and scientific consensus on the issue of potential Arctic and Earth Systems response to a growing human heating of the atmosphere and ocean was highlighted in last week’s report by NASA’s CARVE study.

The study — aimed at monitoring Arctic Carbon emissions — ran a number of global climate models to try and determine how much carbon is currently being released from the Arctic environment. The study didn’t try to pin down future release scenarios. It just aimed at trying to establish a base line for emissions as they stand now. An understanding required to provide any clear assessment of where Arctic carbon emissions may be going in the future.

The researchers plugged the current spotty Arctic carbon emissions data into 40 global climate models and the models dutifully spit out results that were all across the board. In essence, the models confirmed what we risk analysts already knew — there’s not enough information currently available to provide a clear understanding of potential Arctic carbon release scenarios much less pin down how much carbon is currently being emitted.

From last week’s Science Daily Report:

How much carbon is leaving its thawing soil and adding to Earth’s greenhouse effect? …

A new study conducted as part of NASA’s Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) shows just how much work still needs to be done to reach a conclusion on this and other basic questions about the region where global warming is hitting hardest.

Lead author Josh Fisher of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, analyzed 40 computer models of the amounts and flows of carbon in the Alaskan Arctic and boreal ecosystems. His team found wide disagreement among the models, highlighting the urgent need for more measurements from the region…

“We all knew there were big uncertainties in our understanding, and we wanted to quantify their extent,” said Fisher. That extent proved to be greater than almost anyone expected. “The results were shocking to most people,” he said.

Cause For Rapid Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Now

Ocean-methane-seeps-3

(Ocean methane seeps like these recently discovered vents off the US East Coast and those Discovered in the Laptev Sea by the SWERUS C3 expedition are almost always more numerous and energetic than expected — a likely result of increasing human heat forcing. Such releases almost always include destabilized clathrate stores. Image source: Nature-Geoscience.)

It will take years for scientists to more certainly pin down the risk posed by Arctic Carbon and methane release. A risk that now wraps within it the potential to set off a new Permian type hothouse extinction during the coming 1 to 3 centuries. A risk that, altogether, is likely the most dire risk we’ve ever faced as a species.

As such, we can’t wait for absolute certainty on the scope of that risk. Whether there’s enough sensitivity to set off a large Arctic carbon release at 1.5 C or 6 C warming is moot — because we know that continuing to burn fossil fuels eventually gets us there sooner or later.

So as we continue to research what may well be the greatest environmental threat we’ve ever faced it is entirely prudent to begin a rapid reduction of global carbon emissions with a goal to hit zero carbon and net negative carbon emissions as soon as possible. The risks are simply too great to continue to delay action.

High Risk of Permafrost Thaw

With Few Data Arctic Carbon Models Lack Consensus

Can We Save Humans From the Greatest Threat Ever?

Rate of Methane Release From Tundra Thaw Lakes Increases by 58%

Why We Should Be Paying More Attention to Methane

Hundreds of Seeping Methane Plumes Discovered off US East Coast

Meltfactor

Arctic News

SWERUS C3 Arctic Carbon Study

NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Climate Science: The Vast Cost of Arctic Change

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

Arctic Methane Monster Exhales: Third Tundra Crater Found in Siberia

High Velocity Human Warming Leads to Arctic Methane Monster’s Rapid Rise from Fens

How Much Methane Came Out of That Hole in Siberia?

Rapid Arctic Thaw Could be Economic Timebomb

Hat Tip to Apneaman

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Climate Catastrophe: Too Late For Action? Or Just Trapped by a Dangerous Ideology?

(Above video by Democracy Now. Please also take a look at a related video at : Huffington Post Live)

*****

Hopeless.

That’s the state of many environmentalists and ecologists these days when faced with the growing ravages of human-caused climate change and a when confronted with a society that has ignored their pleas for rational societal response for decades.

And who can blame them?

They were the ones who acted first. Who took on vegan diets. Who stopped driving cars. Who stopped using airplanes. Built solar and carbon neutral homes. Who blockaded pipelines and coal plants. Who threw themselves bodily into the ocean in front of massive oil tankers in an attempt to halt their operations.

These individuals acted, they fought, they set the example. And who listened? Who followed in their footsteps? Who understood the cause — the most important of all things — they were fighting for?

Is it any wonder that collections of severely depressed persons crop up with greater and greater frequency? That blogs and whole web communities are dedicated to the notion of coping with what many see to be an inevitable near term human extinction?

Why did so many people turn deaf ears to those fighting for climate action over the long years? And why have so many of us now succumbed to hopelessness?

Perhaps it is well a sign of the terrible time in which we live. A time in which individualism rose to ascendency and crowded out all other views. A time in which any collective action was disparaged to the point that the term collectivism itself became a bad word. We were seen as responsible for only ourselves — but not for each other.

We became members of the church of selfishness and so many of us became blind to the impact of that all too narrow view on the world around us. On our communities, our churches, our cities, indeed our civilizations and ultimately our world.

We thought that by taking on selfishness that we would grow stronger. But, instead, we gave up an essential human strength. We gave up the ability to effectively work together.

But climate change is a problem that no individual alone can solve. A problem that requires the strength of individuals collected together and acting as one.

A raindrop cannot fill a creek bed. But a rainstorm can.

If we are to deal with climate change we must cast off the old constraints and the old views that have trapped us for so long. We must learn to act, not as individuals, but as members of a larger union. As a group that multiplies the strength of our parts. We much collect. We must gather. And we must focus our energies.

In this, Naomi Klein is absolutely correct –

We must first learn to believe that we are worth saving. And, in doing so, to understand that working collectively to halt climate catastrophe is now the most good and needed of things.

(Hat tip to Colorado Bob)

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