3.8 Million Square Kilometers Sea Ice Extent and Falling: Highlights of Strange and Disturbing Arctic Melt Season

Earlier this year, a group of forecasters attempted to model sea ice melt for the upcoming summer. The result was a range of forecasts predicting anywhere from 4.1 to 4.9 million square kilometers of sea ice left by the end of this melt season. These predictions were based on observed weather patterns that, in the past, had not been conducive for rapid melt.

Instead, this summer has seen the lowest levels ever for sea ice in the satellite record and likely, according to recent scientific observations, the lowest levels in 3,000 years. Today’s sea ice extent total, according to JAXA, has touched the 3.8 million square kilometer mark, 300,000 square kilometers below the lowest level predicted and more than 430,000 square kilometers below the previous record low set in 2007. It is just the latest goal post reached in a year of extreme and record melt.

So why has this happened? Observations of weather events have shown that conditions were not those typically favorable for a large melt. What changed to make such a rapid and historic melt come to pass? Is it possible the Arctic sea ice has passed a tipping point?

One hint for a potential answer to this question is an analysis of sea ice volume. Since the last record low for sea ice extent set in 2007, sea ice volume measurements have come in consistently lower each year. This year after year decline in total sea ice mass results in much thinner ice. So though the coverage may not have contracted as much, the ice underneath was growing thinner and thinner.

Hold that notion of thin ice in your mind. Now, let’s move on to the issue of weather. Usually, large areas of sea ice aren’t vulnerable to storms. In the past, storms during summer time haven’t contained enough energy to break the thicker ice. But since the ice began melting early in the 20th century, something strange has cropped up. Beginning in the later 20th century, more powerful storms began to form in the Arctic during summertime. These Arctic cyclones packed much more energy than their milder forebears and, over time, the strength of these storms continued to increase.

Now let’s fast forward to this summer. An area of thin, mostly broken sea ice was slowly melting in the Arctic. Then, a powerful storm formed off East Siberia and quickly tore through this ice — scattering it, casting it hither and yon, submerging it in a warming Arctic Ocean. By the time the storm was finished, a huge area of ice had melted.

After the storm, rapid declines continued almost unabated.

So one wonders, has the Arctic sea ice reached a tipping point? Are the number of environmental stresses that can cause rapid melt multiplying? Is the thinning ice just no longer able to absorb any insult of weather, wind, or heat? Or has the warming Arctic Ocean just gotten too hot for summer sea ice overall?

Given the serious anomaly of the 2012 melt season, it would seem a very strong possibility that we have entered a new, dynamic phase of melt. A phase in which past assumptions are rendered moot and the accumulating melt feedbacks are increasingly overwhelming the Arctic climate.





The Republicans Turned Obama into an Invisible Man; And Now You Can Follow Him on Twitter

Perhaps the most bizarre event at this week’s republican convention was Clint Eastwood’s surprise speech. The supposed republican ace in the hole. Their coupe de gras. Their outflanking maneuver to send the democrats running.

Yet this speech was both far more and far less than what they intended. Instead of sending democrats running in route, the surprise speech was, instead, a self-inflicted wound. And the speech was nothing short of surprising. It included, among other things, a down-talking ramble to an invisible Obama sitting in a chair on stage.

Clint asked the invisible, mute, captive Obama a number of off-color and degrading questions. It was a sort of odd massacre of beat-nick humor, stand-up comedy, acrid politics, and ad-lib all recast to appeal to the narrow persuasions of the Republican Convention audience.

Clint’s invention of the invisible Obama is like an odd melding of the sock puppet, the effigy, and the straw man. All are tools that republicans would be familiar with. The first being the oft-seen anonymous troll in political chat rooms who seems to endlessly spout, line-for-line and without deviation the most recently packaged set of republican misinformation. In this case, however, the sock puppet was produced to serve as an object of mockery. A mental outcast of Clint Eastwood and a reflection of republicans deep denigration of Obama.

As such, Invisible Obama absorbed the painted faces held aloft by tea party supporters, becoming a form of grotesque mental effigy that accurately portrayed the cognitive dissonance projected by a party motivated by disdain, increasingly disconnected from reality. Which brings us full circle to the ‘straw man.’ Poor invisible Obama was just an empty chair erected to contain all the fallacious arguments Clint or other republicans might dream up to throw at an imaginary object. One with no ability to respond to the oft-tossed barb.

In short, Invisible Obama is the dream opponent for republicans. He conforms to all their darkest fantasies. He doesn’t talk back. He looks as scarey as they can imagine in their most horrifying nightmares. And, last of all, he doesn’t respond. He is their invisible, mute, derided, painted punching bag.

But the deepest irony of Invisible Obama is an unintentional channeling of the seminal literary masterpiece by Ralph Ellison. The Invisible Man is a story about a man robbed of identity by an adversarial culture. A man whose achievements, brilliance, and talents go unrecognized. A man forced to live like a troglodyte, underground.

A more perfect allegory to what republicans have attempted to do to Obama could not have been crafted by the political and literary geniuses of our time. It took Clint Eastwood to tell the truth. To summarize for us all the detractions of Obama’s critical achievements, to reveal for us their downplaying of his eloquence, to unmask their denial of his sound and solid leadership. First they character assassinated him. Now they turn him into a wraith whom they exhibit, circus-like at their convention.

It took Clint Eastwood to unintentionally part the curtain on the republican psyche and reveal for us its ugly, bizarre and repressive inner workings. It took Clint Eastwood to show that the man republicans are running against isn’t our president at all, that it is, instead, a mute, invisible, hated contrivance. A Gollum-like creature enslaved, corrupted, and made permanently invisible. A fantasy foe for a party that can’t quite come to terms with the reality of Obama our President.

But perhaps the republicans have unintentionally invented something worthwhile here. Worthwhile at least in the way The Onion may find worthwhile. An Invisible Obama does have a certain appeal as parody of the republican psyche. As a revelation of their fears, racism, narrow-mindedness, and great lack of capacity to handle change. And, for this reason, it is likely that Invisible Obama has received over 45,000 followers on Twitter.

Romney’s Plan For 12 Million Jobs — Take Credit for the Work Done by Obama

During an arguably well-delivered speech at the Republican National Convention, Romney, unfortunately, served up a number of glaring whoppers. The first was his making light of an increasingly real, damaging, and dangerous climate crisis. This bald denial of an event affecting farmers all throughout the heartland was just the first of many statements that don’t quite jibe with facts, reality, or even decency.

Unfortunately for both Romney and the rest of us, Romney’s climate change denial was only his first fault. His second error had to deal with, not making light of a serious problem that needs addressing, but with attempting to do nothing and take credit for the hard work of others. In his speech, Romney claimed that his administration would create 12 million jobs. On its face, it sounds like an ambitious plan. But let’s take a little time to analyze this promise.

The sad, sorry, rough truth is that world economic conditions aren’t so hot when it comes to jobs. We have a number of powerful corporations ranging the globe searching for ever-more-productive workers for an ever-decreasing relative wage. The net effect of this endless flight to lower paying jobs is a world-wide pressure on all middle class and, for that matter, living wage jobs. Pervasive corporate worker exploitation on a global scale has made it increasingly difficult for people to find decent-paying jobs since the 1980s.

This growing jobs crisis reached a boiling point during the great recession when states began to adopt austerity programs. These programs drastically cut the number of decent-paying government jobs available. Now workers were faced with the tough reality that even governments weren’t likely to provide nearly as much in the way of worthwhile work. Austerity resulted in a geological shift in the employment market that drastically reduced the pool of living wage jobs. And it is, perhaps, ironic to note that the same corporations and political forces pushing lower wage market jobs were the same forces pushing for austerity in many countries, including the US.

The net result is that economic prospects, unless you’re the modern version of a robber-baron, aren’t so hot globally.

The US has been somewhat insulated to this hard reality through the efforts of President Obama. He pushed a stimulus program that was vital in reducing jobs losses and in restoring the opportunity for job creation. He has recoiled against republican efforts to force austerity on the United States. As such, he has preserved many well-paying jobs that would otherwise have been cut. However, since republicans dominate the House of Representatives and hold most US Governor’s seats, they have been successful in cutting public service rolls at the state and federal level. Less firefighters, teachers, researchers, police officers, and scientists means less decent-paying jobs available. A college graduate with a science degree might be forced, instead, to take a minimum wage, bad benefits job at Staples, for example.

But despite these political pressures and the predatory corporate practices resulting in an extremely adverse world jobs climate, Obama has managed to push through a number of policies that stabilized the US jobs situation. His first efforts stopped jobs losses at the rate of 750,000 per month during the last days of Bush. And his next efforts began the hard work of creating new jobs in an extremely adverse political and economic climate. These efforts resulted in a .84% increase in jobs so far throughout his administration. This increase, ironically, is equal to the percent of US jobs lost under Bush’s second term. It is more than the jobs created under Bush’s first term. It is also more than the number of jobs created under Bush senior or even the number of jobs created during the second term of Eisenhower.

After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and in the current terrible world jobs climate, this work amounts to serious heavy lifting. But looking forward, the real benefit of Obama’s jobs policies becomes even clearer. According to a recent report by Moody’s Analytics, over the next four years 12 million jobs will be created in the US. This is the more positive jobs climate Obama worked so hard to establish. And even if no further policy measures are implemented to create jobs, according to Moody’s, those 12 million jobs will be there.

And this, at last, brings us to Romney. It seems that climate change isn’t the only thing he and his fellow republicans are in denial of. It appears he’s in denial of the plain fact that Obama’s job creation policies actually worked. But his denial isn’t so deep as to disallow a cynical attempt to steal credit for the Obama Administration’s successes. This action is similar to that of a middle level corporate manager who waits for an enterprising employee to make a breakthrough and, essentially, steals his idea. So we can see where Romney’s corporate experience is starting to ‘shine through’ during this election process. But stealing an idea from a standing President isn’t so easy as from a victimized employee. The facts, as we have noted, are plainly visible for all should they care enough to look.

As for Romney’s so-called jobs ‘policy?’ According to fact checkers it is nothing short of a vague list of notions that don’t amount to any solid position at all. Nothing more than advertising and posturing mascaraing as serious political action. The Romney paper was so lacking in substance that analytic organizations had no means to score it for potential jobs created or lost. In short, it’s a puff paper.

So what, in the end, is Romney’s jobs policy?

Do nothing. Set America adrift. Take credit for other people’s work.

Convention Speech: Romney Makes Light of Global Warming During Hottest US Year On Record

For Mitt Romney, usually a less than stunning speaker, tonight’s speech was surprising in its passion and delivery. Pundits noted this speech was likely his best. He delivered a number of compelling lines including ones that don’t quite ring true for the most obstructionist republican party in seven decades. Lines like: ‘I wish President Obama had succeeded.’ I wonder if a party that reinvented the term filibuster can honestly say they agree? If Romney felt such a sentiment, it was a good one. Sorry to see it hasn’t born out among the vast majority of republicans.

That said, the most out-of-context reference in the entire speech occurred when Romney made light of the issue of global warming. Romney, in a rhetorical jab at Obama, poked fun at Obama’s promise to help stop sea level rise and begin to heal the planet. This jab is especially concerning when one looks at Romney’s energy plan which could well be described as coughing carbon dioxide. His promise to double down on fossil fuels, including coal, will certainly do further harm to an already fragile world climate.

These assaults on the validity of global warming science fly directly in the face of fact and reality. Romney’s loud whistle past the climate change graveyard happens during a year of unprecedented sea ice melt, during the hottest year on record in America, during the worst drought in fifty years and during a year of record fires around the world.

This belittling of an issue that is sure to have ever-increasing impact is nothing short of blatant irresponsibility. Romney claims to be concerned for families, for our future. But an ever-increasing amount of harm will come to our families and our future should we fail to respond to the very real danger of climate change.

Yet the most poignant note of the convention, for me, was watching children playing in the balloon drop. What will happen to them if their republican parents are wrong in their assertions? What will happen to them if the worst potentials of climate change are brought on by a sudden increase in dependence on fossil fuels? What happens to them in 20 years when the US farmlands are even drier than they are today? What happens if coastlines start to destabilize? How much poorer, more desperate and afraid will they be in such an uncertain and increasingly hostile place?

Romney speaks of the future even as he seeks to force dependence on the energy sources that may ruin it. And he brazenly laughs at the very climate change increasing use of those fuels would intensify. History will judge Romney very harshly on these points. And such judgement will be far more harsh should a Romney Presidency steer us full-speed into the teeth of climate change.

Historic Drought Persists, Isaac Likely to Bring Relief to Some Areas


According to reports from the US Drought Monitor, historic drought conditions persisted throughout much of the drought-stricken US this week. In total, about 63% of the country is still experiencing drought. Impacts to crops remain high. However, large areas planted earlier this year have provided some mitigation to what would otherwise be a terrible farming year. Nonetheless, food prices are expected to rise due to combined impacts from the US and Russian droughts.

Isaac, after lashing the Gulf Coast earlier this week, is expected to bring beneficial rains to much of the Mississippi valley. States in this region will likely see some abatement of drought conditions as many areas expect in excess of 5 inches of rain. A long, wet period would provide more overall benefit than a sudden tropical deluge. However, any major rainfall event should help conditions for ailing crops and struggling farmers. These rains are also likely to help relieve low water levels and increase river traffic for the Mississippi.

You can view expected rainfall amounts in the image, provided by NOAA, below:

West of the Mississippi, however, is a different story. Drought conditions are expected to continue or, potentially, worsen for parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. And large sections that include Iowa, the mountain west and parts of Texas are still under the gun.

Overall, the worst drought in more than 50 years persists, still troubling many regions. Under a continued and worsening regime of global warming, such conditions are expected to become more frequent and intense. Alleviation for these self-inflicted problems require long-term policy action to drastically reduce fossil fuel consumption as well as measures to mitigate current and likely future damage to US agriculture due to drought.




Arctic Sea Ice Melt Worst Seen in 3000 Years, Summer Arctic Ocean May be Essentially Ice-free Within 5-20 Years

“Curious changes have been taking place, with many animals invading this cold-temperature zone from the south and pushing up through Maine and even into Canada. This new distribution is, of course, related to the widespread change of climate that seems to have set in about the beginning of the century and is now well recognized — a general warming up noticed first in Arctic regions, then in subarctic, and now in the temperate zones of northern states.” — Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea, 1955

Ever since the middle of the twentieth century, Arctic warming has been a clear trend to those studying climate. Now, more than a half-century later, we are witnessing what appears to be the rapid demise of Arctic sea ice.


(Image Credit: World Wildlife Fund)


(Image Credit: JAXA)

For 2012, sea ice decline has been inexorable even after a stunning record loss just five years before. With more than two weeks remaining in the melt season, sea ice extent is about 420,000 square kilometers below the record set in 2007 while sea ice area is about 460,000 square kilometers below the record low set last year. If these measurements do not shatter the doubts of skeptics, deniers, and other unrealistic or traumatized persons, then nothing will. Those who cannot recognize these obvious and powerful trends have become inoculated to facts, immune to observations of the world around them, locked in a padded room of their own choosing.

In comparison with past record lows, this year alone is a 10% decline for sea ice extent and a 16% decline for sea ice area. With melt still continuing on an almost daily basis, we can expect these percentages to rise throughout the next couple of weeks. If current rates of decline hold for just the next seven days, we can expect to see loss values for both extent and area exceed 700,000 square kilometers (a 17% decline for extent and a 24% decline for area). If current decline rates hold for another week and a half, the percentage of sea ice area lost will approach the loss for 2007 — 27%.

Given these very high melt numbers, the question for many is — ‘how long can Arctic sea ice survive?’

For an increasing number of scientists and Arctic observers, the number of years remaining is swiftly shrinking. Just this year, a team of British scientists have indicated we could see nearly ice-free seas within a decade. This observation parallels those made by scientists at the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington whose sea ice volume measurements indicated a potential for near ice-free summers within the next five to ten years. Even Andrew Revkin, who has been very reluctant to admit the potential for ice-free summers in the near future, has now said that there’s about a 50% possibility for ice-free conditions within the next twenty years.

Five years ago, before the amazing summer melt of 2007, a person predicting a 50% chance for ice-free summers within twenty years would have faced scorn and derision. Most models indicated that the Arctic Ocean could experience a late summer ice-free condition by the end of this century. A seemingly comfortable, far off time that most didn’t worry about. Now, events are more pressing and far more immediate. Simply put, we are bearing unbelieving witness to the rapid loss of our north polar ice. Many of us just can’t abide with the fact that rates of ice loss indicate a high potential for nearly ice-free summers within the next 5-20 years.

It would take just two more melt seasons like the ones we’ve experienced this year and the one we experienced in 2007, to push sea ice area below 500,000 square kilometers and sea ice extent below 2 million square kilometers. When you consider the fact that these totals are smaller than Greenland, it would be more than fair to call this a nearly ice-free state. When taking into account past summer sea ice extent values at above 10 million square kilometers, this would represent a more than 80% loss since the early 20th century.

Using the same measure, we have currently lost more than 62% of sea ice for end of summer since the early 20th century. Most of this loss has occurred since the mid 1970s. So though loss is high over the course of the past 100 years, it is concentrated toward the end of the period.

To further put the unprecedented nature of this ice-loss period into perspective, it has been found through observations of the age of drift wood frozen in sea ice that this period of melt is the greatest seen in 3000 years. With melt continuing, this 3000 year marker is just a snap-shot of a dynamic and increasingly severe melt event. In the context of greenhouse gas concentration and forcing, we are currently at levels not seen in about 3 million years. So should these CO2 concentrations remain or continue to increase, we are likely to speed past the 3000 year melt mark and on into even less familiar territory.






Obama Fights For Renewable Energy Future, Runs on Superb Energy Record

Today, in a campaign speech at Colorado State University, Obama stated:

“You believed we could use less foreign oil and reduce the carbon pollution that threatens our planet. And in just four years, we have doubled the generation of clean, renewable energy like wind and solar. We developed new fuel standards for our cars so that cars are going to get 55 miles a gallon next decade. That will save you money at the pump.  It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a level roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of carbon emissions from all the cars in the world put together.”

“If your friends or neighbors are concerned about energy, you tell them, do we want an energy plan written by and for big oil companies?”

“Or do we want an all-of-the-above energy strategy for America — renewable sources of energy. Governor Romney calls them ‘imaginary.’ Congressman Ryan calls them a ‘fad.’ I think they’re the future. I think they’re worth fighting for.”

And Obama is correct. Correct in that he has achieved a stunning transformation in US energy policy. Correct in that he has increased US energy independence since taking office. And Correct in that Romney’s energy plan is one drafted entirely to cater to the interests of oil, gas, and coal companies.

Taking a look at the data, we can find evidence of this amazing progress. Since 2008, the US capacity for alternative energy generation has nearly doubled from 10,508 gigawatthours in 2008 to 18,777 gigawatthours by the end of the first half of this year. In total, renewable energy generation now accounts for 14.76% of all US power sources. This is more than nuclear but less than coal and natural gas.

New installations for wind and solar energy have soared over the period. Solar energy grew by 285% and wind energy grew by 171%. New installations for renewable energy are outpacing every energy source except natural gas. As a share of new energy installations, renewable energy accounts for 38% of the total while natural gas accounts for 42%.

This stunning surge in renewable energy capacity and its ability to compete, increasingly, with coal, gas, and nuclear, can be credited, in large part, to Obama’s energy policy. Obama pushed for measures to encourage new alternative energy installation. He pushed for stimulus funds for alternative energy programs. And he risked severe political backlash from powerful fossil fuel industries as he pushed for these new sources.

And the backlash came. It came from campaign contributions from oil special interests to republican rivals. It came in the form of an endless series of advertisements aimed at spreading oil, gas, and coal focused messaging. It came in the form of a republican party transformed to almost entirely represent fossil fuel interests even as it has denied climate change. Last of all, it came in the form of vicious attacks directed at the wind, solar, and electric vehicle industries.

But Obama’s push didn’t end with alternative energy. Obama provided a major push for increasing US fuel efficiency standards. Pushing competitiveness of US automakers in key areas while vastly reducing US dependence on foreign oil. These new efficiency standards have already taken a bite out of oil imports. Under Obama US oil imports have plummeted by 2 million barrels per day from 12.9 million barrels per day in 2008 to 10.9 million barrels per day this year. These reductions in oil imports are bound to continue as Obama’s policy results in fuel efficiency standards rising to 55 miles per gallon by the 2020s. It results in more electric and plug in hybrid electric vehicles on the road. It results in the US auto industry becoming leaders in this key new technology. All these results are signs of progress Americans can feel proud of. All these results are signs of a burgeoning independence that, if continued, will result in a far stronger America.

By contrast, Obama’s rival would cut renewable energy incentives and slash efficiency standards. This would not only increase dependence on fossil fuels at a time of amplifying global warming. It will also increase US dependence on foreign energy sources at a time when the world is increasingly competing for every available export. Romney’s policy will result in higher emissions, higher energy prices, and higher profits for oil, gas, and coal companies. It is a policy that aims to rig the game in favor of those interests and turns a blind eye to all the external harm such a policy would cause. It is a policy that will result in a weaker America that will likely attempt to dominate other countries in order to pursue energy security. It is a policy that will likely result in more costly foreign wars. It is a policy that will result in the expansion of both the trade deficit and the current public debt.

Obama, on the other hand, can proudly show that he fought for America’s energy future. A future with the potential for both energy independence and independence from the dirty, dangerous, and depleting fossil fuels. A future that may give us a glimmer of hope for being leaders against the powerful forces of climate change. A difficult future we may equip ourselves to navigate if we continue in the example set by Obama.





Arctic Sea Ice Extent Breaks 3.9 Million Square Kilometers, Continues Record Plunge


Today Arctic sea ice extent continued its plunge into record territory. According to measurements provided by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), current sea ice extent for August 29th was 3,863,000 square kilometers. This value is 84,000 square kilometers below yesterday’s value and nearly 400,000 square kilometers below the previous record set in 2007.

NSIDC also showed Arctic sea ice continuing its plunge into record territory today. The below image provides a good visual of the lowest sea ice coverage in the NSIDC record:


Arctic sea ice area melt also continued today reaching a new low of 2,570,000 square kilometers, according to reports from Cryosphere Today. This value is 420,000 square kilometers below the record low set in 2011.

Over the past week, all values for sea ice area and extent have pushed to significant new lows. Given the current rates of melt, it appears possible that new records will approach or exceed 500,000 square kilometers below the previous record. By all measures this is a very significant loss of ice for one year.





Moving Toward the Fire Age: Significant Global Temperature Impacts and Predictions for the 21rst Century

Since 1880, temperatures have risen worldwide by about .8 degrees Celsius. As we can see with current weather changes and sea ice melt, even what would seem a ‘small’ rise in average temperature has had dramatic effects. Here is a graph of the temperature rise since 1880:


In context, the last ten years have been the hottest decade on record. Last year was the 9th hottest year on record and the hottest La Nina year on record. July, last month, was the fourth hottest July on record globally, and the hottest month on record ever for the United States.

Climate change deniers have often misused the argument that the current rise in temperature has been small. That the rise is somehow insignificant and unimportant. And they have pointed to pauses in that rise in an attempt to claim that CO2 is not having an impact. These false assertions only serve to distract from the larger issue even as the physical changes happening to our world vastly belie these arguments.

In context, the increase in temperature has already been enough to result in some rather dramatic changes. Some of the most visible have been to our ice sheets and glaciers. Others include increased extreme weather events, droughts, and fires.

So, in the context of Earth’s climate, is the rise really so small?

By comparison, we can take a look at the last ice age. During that time, temperatures were, on average, about 5 degrees Celsius cooler than the 20th century average. This temperature change is about six times that currently caused by human greenhouse gas emissions and related feedbacks. In other words, human forcing on climate has already created a difference equal to 1/6th that of an ice age. But this time, the change is in the direction of hot.

This change is, arguably, quite significant. And the physical changes in our world caused by the added heat, along with the likely feedbacks that will further enhance heating, lend support to this assertion. This 1/6th difference, therefore, is just a start. And, looking at paleoclimate, we can see that current CO2 levels of around 400 ppm lead to additional changes. These include another 2-3 degrees Celsius of warming and the melting of Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice sheets.

The reason these changes haven’t taken effect yet is inertia. It takes a lot of energy to melt all that sea ice, all those glaciers. It takes a lot of energy to alter Earth’s reflectivity and to heat up the oceans. These changes, depending on the degree of forcing, amplifying feedbacks, and climate sensitivity, can be gradual, moderate, or rapid. In the case of Arctic sea ice melt, changes have been very rapid indeed. But the end state for CO2 at 400 ppm, no matter how quickly or slowly reached, is something like the conditions described above. (For a more in-depth exploration click here)

These are rather large changes brought about by current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. They are about equal to half an ice age, but on the hot end of the spectrum.

Yet our current situation isn’t static. The world’s fossil fuel based industries are pumping ever increasing volumes of CO2 into the atmosphere. The Earth is beginning to respond by pumping its own carbon into the atmosphere — primarily methane from heated tundra and seabeds. Current climate models project temperature increases between 2.2 and 4.7 degrees Celsius additional warming. The average values of these figures is 3.45 degrees Celsius. And when added to the current .8 degrees of warming we get a 4.25 degree increase. That’s essentially the difference between the Holocene and the last ice age. In this case, however, the temperature difference is on the side of hot.


But what is most critical are the expected greenhouse gas concentrations by end of century under business as usual fossil fuel burning. Many studies are now showing that CO2 levels will be in the range of 800-1100 ppm CO2 by that time. A recent MIT study showed 866 ppm CO2 by 2095.

These levels of CO2 are almost unimaginable and long-term will likely result in far greater warming than the climate models predict. It is worth noting that the model estimates have been well behind actual sea ice melt. And it is also possible that model projections will lag behind temperature increase once the more powerful feedbacks start kicking in. The MIT study demonstrated the potential for a phenomenal final equilibrium temperature increase of 16 degrees Celsius at 866 ppm CO2. This change in temperature is equal to about three times that of the last ice age, but on the side of hot.

But even if the, likely conservative, models are only off by a little, we are headed toward what amounts to the opposite of an ice age by the end of the 21rst century. What we are looking at, should we not vastly curtail fossil fuel emissions, is what amounts to an Age of Fire.


MIT Joint Program on The Science and Policy of Global Change


IPCC Emissions Scenarios

American Meteorological Society: Global Warming Now ‘Unequivocal’ — ‘Dominant Cause’ is ‘Human Induced Increases in Greenhouse Gasses’

This month, the American Meteorological Society issued a new statement on human-caused climate change. If possible, this statement is even stronger than their previous one issued in 2007.

The statement comes down hard on the side of anthropogenic global warming. It notes that humans are the dominant cause of global warming. That evidence for a warming climate is now unequivocal. And that rapid reductions in CO2 are necessary to deal with an ongoing global warming crisis.

Some key statements from the paper include:

Warming of the climate system now is unequivocal, according to many different kinds of evidence.  Observations show increases in globally averaged air and ocean temperatures, as well as widespread melting of snow and ice and rising globally averaged sea level.

The effects of this warming are especially evident in the planet’s polar regions. Arctic sea ice extent and volume have been decreasing for the past several decades. Both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have lost significant amounts of ice. Most of the world’s glaciers are in retreat.

Globally averaged sea level has risen by about 17 cm (7 inches) in the 20th century, with the rise accelerating since the early 1990s. Close to half of the sea level rise observed since the 1970s has been caused by water expansion due to increases in ocean temperatures. Sea level is also rising due to melting from continental glaciers and from ice sheets on both Greenland and Antarctica.

It is clear from extensive scientific evidence that the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half century is human-induced increases in the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), chlorofluorocarbons, methane, and nitrous oxide. The most important of these over the long term is CO2, whose concentration in the atmosphere is rising principally as a result of fossil-fuel combustion and deforestation.

There is unequivocal evidence that Earth’s lower atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; sea level is rising; and snow cover, mountain glaciers, and Arctic sea ice are shrinking. The dominant cause of the warming since the 1950s is human activities. This scientific finding is based on a large and persuasive body of research. The observed warming will be irreversible for many years into the future, and even larger temperature increases will occur as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere. Avoiding this future warming will require a large and rapid reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.

The American Meteorological Society was founded in 1919 and includes over 14,000 weather and climate professionals as well as enthusiasts. Its goal is to promote the advancement of the atmospheric sciences and to aid in the distribution of information and in education relating to those fields of study.

The American Meteorological Society is part of a long list of scientific organizations that recognize the impacts and potential harm caused by global warming. It is also one of the most vocal watch-dogs on the issue of human caused climate change. As such, it has been the brunt of a series of attacks by industry, individuals, and climate change denial groups.

About 97% of climate scientists and 60% of meteorologists are aware of and acknowledge the impacts of human-caused global warming.



Arctic Sea Ice Extent Falls Below 4 Million Square Kilometers For First Time


Today sea ice extent continued its inexorable push into record territory. According to the Japanese Space Agency’s sea ice monitor, Arctic sea ice reached a new record low today and for the first time dipped below 4 million square kilometers.

The observation showed 3,947,500 square kilometers. This level is about 50,000 square kilometers below yesterday’s value and about 300,000 square kilometers below the record low set in 2007.

Arctic sea ice has retreated drastically this year. You can take a look at the most recent observation by JAXA here:

The Cryosphere Today site appears to be down today. But yesterday’s measure was also in record low territory at 2,643,000 square kilometers for sea ice area. A good reference for this size is the land area of Greenland itself, which is 2.1 million square kilometers.

NSIDC published a report on this year’s historic decline yesterday. You can view the report here. Currently, NSIDC is also showing continuing declines for sea ice extent. Based on the latest observation, NSIDC’s extent measure is also approaching the historic 4 million square kilometer mark.


The most recent graph for sea ice area from the Cryosphere Today website has finally published. It shows sea ice area continuing its rapid decline. The area measurement for today shows 2,594,000 square kilometers of sea ice remaining. This is 49,000 square kilometers below yesterday’s measurement and 296,000 square kilometers below the record low set in 2011.





How Arctic Sea Ice Melt is Amplifying the Problem of Human-Caused Warming


We are getting ourselves into a rather severe fix. Arctic sea ice is melting at a very rapid rate and changes are happening to the Arctic environment at a pace much faster than that expected by many scientists. These observable changes to the world’s climate were predicted. It is just the rate at which they are happening which is so startling.

The most conservative, early, predictions estimated sea ice would average around 8 million square kilometers by the end of the melt season in 2012. Even the later, more aggressive, models showed an average of about 5.5 million square kilometers by this year. In the record, according to the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), we are currently sitting at less than 4 million square kilometers of sea ice — with more than two weeks still remaining in the melt season. This is twice the average melt predicted as near back as a year ago. And the current model predictions are still woefully behind.

This lagging of prediction behind the pace of change is a simple underestimation, by mainstream climate scientists, of how sensitive the Earth is to the force of human greenhouse gas emissions. It is also a broader failure of society to encourage scientists to do the work necessary to protect the long-term interests of our civilizations. Instead, we have allowed monied interests to engage in vicious, politically-driven attacks on the scientists who should be the watch-dogs against the harm caused by human global warming.

In short, based on current observations, the climate system in the Arctic appears to be extremely sensitive to the human greenhouse forcing. And, as such, it is rapidly changing, altering in ways that will further worsen the already serious impact of human-caused climate change.

This foreseen impact could have been prevented had we received a more immediate and widely trumpeted warning, had we gathered the political will to act, and had the monied interests not decided to wage a war on the future for a few temporary and transient gains. Instead, we are now injected into a world where constant change is becoming the norm. Instead, we must fend off powerful, entrenched interests in order to have an inkling of hope to prevent the worst impacts even as we expect strong impacts for some time to come.

Loss of Sea Ice Reflectivity

The first impact of drastically smaller sea ice coverage is a loss of reflectivity or albedo. The sun is almost always in the Arctic sky during the summer months. This 24-hour shine beams down on all surfaces of the Arctic. And the darker surface of water absorbs much more of that solar energy than the white, reflective surfaces of an ice sheet.

Research has found that water is, on average, five degrees Celsius hotter under open ocean than under the white, reflective covering of an ice sheet. As more and more areas open up, they absorb more and more of the sun’s energy creating a much hotter Arctic environment. And, currently, we have about half the ice cover we enjoyed during the 1980s.

Loss of Late Season Snow Cover

As the Arctic Ocean warms, more air is warmed above the waters. These hotter airs then blow over land, warming it as well. The result is that snow cover in the high Arctic is reduced. 2012 saw the lowest level of snow cover on record.

Snow produces an effect similar to that of Arctic sea ice. It reflects the sun’s rays resulting in much cooler temperatures in regions of high snow cover. It also keeps the ground beneath it much colder. And ground beneath snows in the Arctic tend to be methane-trapping permafrost.

Land without snow cover is also darker than snow. So areas where high snow melt occurs will heat faster, having higher than average temperatures and breaking down the permafrost layer beneath.

Changing Weather Patterns

Recent research has found that the change in wind patterns brought about by melting sea ice and a warmer Arctic drastically alter the Jet Stream. The result is a tendency of the Jet Stream to travel in larger waves from north to south. In addition to creating ‘blocking patterns’ in the mid latitudes, these elongated atmospheric waves dig deeper into the temperate zones, sometimes touching the tropics. And when they do they create a powerful transport mechanism for moving hot air into the Arctic. The result is an even greater degree of amplification in Arctic heating.


(Image credit: Geophysical Research Letters)

Permafrost Methane Release

All this new hot air swirling about in the Arctic drastically increases the rate of melting both in the sea ice and on land. Eventually, the heat sinks into the soil where it does work melting permafrost.

All around the Arctic circle we have seen the effects of melting permafrost. Structures have crumbled as the soil beneath becomes softer. Coastlines, once hard as stone, are now just mud and are eaten away by a freshly churning Arctic sea. Throughout the wild Arctic, permafrost melt lakes have formed and these lakes seep high volumes of methane.


(Image credit: Energy BC)

The added methane throughout the Arctic increases fire hazards. High concentrations of methane are very flammable and may combust due to a lightning strike or as a result of the spontaneous heating of a balmy day. And throughout the Arctic we have seen a drastic increase in the rate of fires. Just this year, Siberia saw massive blazes devour miles and miles of tundra and Arctic wilderness.


(Image credit: NASA)

A vast amount of carbon is stored in the Arctic permafrost as well as in the forests and tundras above. A National Snow and Ice Data Center study conducted in 2008 found that from 1400-1700 gigatons of carbon were locked in frozen soils worldwide and that much of these soils were in the Arctic. NSIDC estimates that warming could result in carbon releases from Arctic soil equal to 15-35 percent of human greenhouse gas emissions. In 2011, China emitted about 29% of the world’s greenhouse gasses. The human forcing in the Arctic could, in the case of frozen permafrost alone, add another China worth of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere every year.

Yet a large portion of this carbon emission would come from methane. And methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2. So even if a third of this added emission were methane, it could easily double the human forcing.

Clathrate Methane Release

Sadly, the permafrost, soils, and forests in the Arctic aren’t the only source of methane in the region. Large deposits of a substance called clathrates or methane hydrates rest upon or just beneath the Arctic sea bed. The clathrates are essentially frozen formations of methane combined with water. They tend to be rather unstable and sensitive to heating. In an Arctic ocean that is increasingly ice-free during the summer months, the water column can warm by as much as five degrees Celsius. This extra heating has the potential to destabilize clathrate formations.

About 1400 gigatons of methane is stored in clathrates. This is roughly equal to the amount stored in permafrost worldwide. So this potential added forcing combines with methane and carbon releases from the Arctic tundra.

Evidence of Amplifying Methane Release

Over the past four years, researchers have found a wealth of evidence pointing toward an amplified methane release in the Arctic. Atmospheric methane levels are on the rise.


(Image credit: NOAA)

A proliferating number of methane emitting ponds have been found throughout the Arctic. Large areas of ocean, especially in the East Siberian Sea, are emitting high volumes of methane. Underwater plumes of methane as large as one kilometer across have been discovered. And recent satellite research conducted by the University of Maryland shows that the amount of methane released from the Arctic is amplifying year-on-year.

The Next Domino to Fall: Greenland

The Arctic amplification described above is likely to have another non-linear affect — increasing direct impacts to Greenland ice melt. Loss of sea ice substantially reduces a buffer surrounding Greenland. In the past, sea ice served to block the flow of warm air masses and to protect Greenland from pulses of heat coming from the south. This was clearly not the case this summer when a very warm air mass repeatedly formed over Greenland, drastically increasing melt there.


(Image credit: NOAA)

Blocking patterns also have a tendency to park over Greenland, consistently funneling in warmer air from the south. Loss of permafrost and snow cover along with increased atmospheric methane create a witch’s brew of heat that could all result in a state-change in Greenland.

It is important to consider that loss of sea ice, though an important and devastating loss, results in relatively moderate impacts to human society when compared with Greenland ice loss. Imagine, for a moment, the loss of fifty percent of Greenland ice in a few decades. The result would be an 11 foot sea level rise. Now there are no scientific models or observations saying this will happen. But there were no models that estimated sea ice loss would be this rapid either. And though the mile-high glaciers of Greenland aren’t as likely to suffer from the same widely varied set of forces affecting sea ice, they are certainly not impenetrable. The issue here is that the risk to Greenland is high and the impacts, should the worst risks bear out, are very high.

It is worth re-emphasizing that after sea ice, should human greenhouse gas emissions not be vastly curtailed, Greenland will be the next domino to fall. And when it does, it will be almost impossible for the world to ignore.

Arctic Cooling Cycle Changing to Arctic Heating Cycle

The net effect of all these changes: Arctic sea ice melt, permafrost melt, methane release, and Greenland melt is that the cooling mechanism of the Arctic is being transformed into a warming mechanism. As we added greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere we relied on these cooling mechanisms to help maintain a stable climate and to prevent the worst impacts of human greenhouse gas heating. Now, these mechanisms have been forced by human climate change to a new a phase. A phase where they increasingly add to the problem, resulting in a powerful amplifying feedback, that will be more and more difficult to reign in should we continue to fail to respond.

My Response to Andrew Revkin’s Recent Article on Arctic Sea Ice

Well, we are finally having a few articles on this summer’s record Arctic sea ice melt start to trickle in. And one I’d like to focus on, in particular, comes from Andrew Revkin over at the New York Times.

The article entitled “Arctic Sea Ice Hits New and Early Summer Low for Satellite Era” does some justice to the current epic melt going on in the Arctic. However, it provides undue coverage for those claiming ‘natural variability’ may have influenced this record low. This is typical of current mainstream media coverage, which was rife with this false equivalency in recent papers on the 1000 year melt occurring in West Antarctica. And, going forward, it is very important to address this argument directly. When taken in context of the larger trend, any reasonable assertions for major events being caused by natural variability evaporate. But poor Andrew clings to it like a melting iceberg in a stormy Arctic Sea.

You can read his article here.

And below is my response to him:

*        *        *         *         *         *         *
Andrew —

I think a more accurate prediction would be for about a 50% chance of an ice-free or nearly ice-free (less than 500,000 square kilometers extent, less than 300,000 square kilometers area) Arctic Ocean during summer months within 10 years.

I’d say, given the factors below, we are closer to 70-80% within the two decades you mentioned.

1. We have year-on-year volume declines.
2. We have a precipitous fall in sea ice extent and area for this decade and we are less than half the coverage seen in 1980.
3. The rate of decline is increasing for summer months.
4. The ice is fragile now, making it more susceptible to storms like the cyclone we saw this month. The fragile state of sea ice increases the kinds of events that can result in rapid melt.
5. The elongated atmospheric wave patterns created by Arctic melt enhance melt by transporting more warm air into the Arctic.
6. The loss of sea ice enhances Arctic methane release, adding to local warming and enhancing global warming.
7. The loss of sea ice reduces albedo, creating a powerful feedback for enhanced melt during the summer months.

As for the scientists who are taking the ‘complexity’ argument. Events on the ground seem to have vastly over-ridden these analysis. I think it is fair to say that the primary driver of global weather events and any radical change in environments around the world is via the mechanism of global warming. Variability is just the small noise happening on top of the larger trend — much like foam will form on the top of a violent wave.

You have to take things vastly out of context to make the variability argument. Those making that argument are looking at data-sets that are too narrow. One obvious proof of this is that we aren’t having any major anomalies on the ‘cold’ side of the equation. Everything, all the weather and climate data, points to warming and impacts and feedbacks caused by warming. The same people who are making the complexity argument were the ones who were saying Arctic sea ice would recover — it clearly hasn’t.

The only likely driver for an Arctic sea ice recovery would be something on the order of a large Greenland melt — dumping cold melt water and ice bergs at a very high rate into the northern oceans. This might slow down melt or even cause some freeze-back. But this really isn’t an event we want to witness, is it?

*          *         *         *          *          *           *

In general, the mainstream media has dropped the ball in a major way. The loss of Arctic sea ice for this decade is historic. It is both a major weather and climate event. And, as such, it should be covered by the major weather news sources. The 2007 record low for Arctic sea ice was historic and yet there was hardly a peep from the mainstream media. This year, we have had major melting events both for Greenland and for the Arctic sea ice. Within the Arctic was saw major wildfires throughout Siberia. And just last year we had a rather large pulse of methane coming from the ocean as well as the Arctic tundra.

Again, these are weather and climate related events. Yet the discussion is still at the level of denial. At the level of arguing over whether these events are normal or are they really happening. This is not the kind of coverage we need. We need an identification and a rational discussion of an ongoing problem. As yet, there are no adults in the room. Just a number of children who appear to be in varying states of trauma.

Revkin does give valid information on most days. And his prediction that there may be a 50% chance of an essentially ice-free Arctic within two decades is certainly movement on the issue. But his false equivalency given to those claiming ‘natural variability’ is unqualified given that these statements are entirely out of context.

All Measures For Sea Ice Extent, Area, Show New Record Lows in Arctic; Record Low for Volume also Likely by End of Melt Season


On August 24, 2012, the Japanese Space Agency showed a new record low for sea ice extent. The next day, NSIDC and all other agencies measuring sea ice extent also showed record lows. In the above image, you can see a comparison between 2007 and 2012 for August 24th of this year.

A week before, Arctic sea ice area also set a new record low. Sea ice volume measured by PIOMAS has yet to be recorded for August. But this measure is also likely to see new record lows when published.

About two and a half weeks remain for the normal melt season, which usually ends around September 15th. And since Friday we have continued to see melt in both sea ice area and extent.

Today, sea ice area set a new record low at 2,643,000 square kilometers. This measurement is 262,000 square kilometers below the previous record low set in 2011.


The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) also continued to reach new record territory with sea ice extent showing 4,000,625 square kilometers. This value is more than 250,000 square kilometers below the record low set in 2007.

On Friday, JAXA issued a statement predicting sea ice extent could fall below 4 million square kilometers before the end of this season. Given the rapid melt since Friday, it seems likely that sea ice extent could fall below 4 million square kilometers by tomorrow or the next day, and perhaps far less by the middle of September.


It is worth noting that melt for the 2007 record year ended nearly ten days later than during a normal season. So it is possible that 2012 will also extend melt beyond mid-month. Though the pace of sea ice area melt has slowed, indicating some consolidation of the ice sheet, sea ice extent measurements have plummeted at an average rate of about 80,000 square kilometers per day for the past few days.

With both area and extent pushing into new record territory almost daily, we can reasonably expect new lows beyond the values currently seen. Best estimates for new sea ice area lows are in the range of 2.1 million square kilometers to 2.6 million square kilometers and 3.6 million square kilometers to 4.0 million square kilometers for extent.

The rates of decline for the Arctic this year have been startling for many reasons. Not only has melt far exceeded that seen in 2007, it has also occurred during periods of weather that wouldn’t normally result in a rapid melt. This result shows that Arctic sea ice has grown very fragile. This apparent fragility has become clearer even as more scientists note the possibility for ice free periods in the Arctic within 10 years, 20-30 years sooner than even the most rapid forecasts and as much as 90 years sooner than the more conservative models.

These results are, indeed, startling and will require further explanation in another blog.





Japanese Space Agency Shows New Record Low For Arctic Sea Ice Extent, Record Set in 2007 Falls


The Japanses Space Agency recorded a new record low for sea ice extent this morning. The new low, now 4,189,000 square kilometers is about 20,000 square kilometers below the previous record low set in 2007.

2007 was a year of extreme melt, making it even more important that these records have fallen, again, in such a short span. Many climate change deniers had claimed that sea ice in the Arctic would begin to recover. This clearly hasn’t happened and the trend established by human-forced climate change has continued despite a massive effort underway to cloud the issue.

NSIDC, another measure tracking sea ice extent shows that ice is still slightly above the record low for that monitor. With the current rate of melt, the NSIDC measure will likely show a new record for tomorrow or the day after.

I’ll leave you with a fully resolved picture of the polar sea ice from August 23rd provided by JAXA:






Romney Gunning to Kill US Wind, Solar Industries, Enforce Monopoly of Dirty, Dangerous, and Depleting Fuels

Today Mitt Romney held a speech on the border of Texas and New Mexico where he laid out his plans for the US’s energy future. And if two words come to mind from his proposals they are these: Robbery and Ruin.

Just yesterday, Romney received more than $10 million dollars in campaign contributions from the coal and oil industry. Money he is trying to hand back many times over in special perks, subsidies, and give-aways to his big polluting backers.

First, Romney proposes to take public lands from the people of the US and hand it over to states who would then be encouraged to give these land rights, free of charge, to oil, gas, and coal companies. He would take a resource in the public trust, one of America’s great treasures, and hand it over to what amounts to a group of corporate looters. The ghost of Teddy Roosevelt must be turning over in his grave as Romney offers up this sacrifice to his corporate masters. For it would result in public lands being transformed from something like this:

Into something like this:


Romney’s second big giveaway is to cut taxes for the highly profitable oil companies again. I say again because it was the same thing Bush did when he was elected back in 2000. And it is also ironic to see a massive influx of Bush energy advisers finding places of prominence on Romney’s energy team.

This year, oil companies already received more than 2.3 billion dollars in subsidies and tax assistance. This public support after having recorded over $137 billion dollars in profits. But Romney seems to think that greed is its own virtue and has decided to give another 2.4 billion away in additional tax breaks. This 5 billion dollars in tax-payer support each year would come on top of record profits from the highest oil prices ever and the great American land giveaway described above.

But Romney’s plan goes still further. Romney would cut regulations that keep coal companies from dumping massive volumes of mercury into the air and water. Coal companies have often complained that the public health protection measure is too expensive. But what Romney and his coal backers don’t reveal is that the added pollution kills more than 30,000 people each year. For Romney and big coal, profits are far more important than lives. So the protections for Americans must go.

In general, all these policies draw support from a vast and ongoing denial over the damage caused to the United States by an intensifying climate crisis. Just this year alone, over $100 billion in damages will likely be inflicted on the US economy by a number of climate-related disasters. Romney’s push to double down on big oil and big coal will only worsen the damage that is still to come.

Romney’s plan is first a dire insult to American interests in the form of a giveaway to a destructive industry. Romney’s plan is second a harm that results in added toxins spewed into the atmosphere and an ever-decreasing likelihood of dealing with the ongoing climate crisis.

But the crowning black jewel to the whole dark and devastating Romney energy policy is this: attack the wind and solar industry.

Romney plans to bring down all competitors to oil and coal through direct policy measures. He is gunning to devastate the wind and solar industry by removing the production tax credit even as he pushes to further subsidize the heavily polluting oil and coal industries. His plan would gut US innovation and progress in wind and solar energy. It would cede leadership in a 2 trillion dollar alternative energy market to China and Germany. And it would result in the loss of tens of thousands of US jobs. Worse, it would remove the prospect for creating hundreds of thousands more jobs in the future and shackle us to an energy source that is bound to abandon us during our hour of greatest need.

Republicans and Romney often deride industries that require subsidy support. However, the oil and coal industry still receive subsidies after more than 150 years of operations. The level of subsidies they receive is far higher than those of the burgeoning alternative energy industry. Typically, for a new industry to effectively get off the ground it needs a higher level of support than a traditional, established industry. And considering that the oil industry has become so profitable through its effective cornering, total dominance and monopolization of all transportation markets, giving it any subsidy at all simply amounts to paying tribute to a tyrant. It is unnecessary, wasteful, and encourages the worst behavior.

Yet this is exactly what Romney and Ryan are pushing to double down on. And they would lay the slain carcass of the alternative energy industry at the feet of their fossil fuel masters.

Given the intensifying climate crisis. Given the depleting and increasingly expensive fossil fuels. Given the need for America to create sustainable jobs in a sustainable industry. And given the fact that if we fail to lead in the alternative energy revolution, others will in our stead, it is absolutely necessary that the American public reject Romney. Reject Ryan. Reject robbing from the American people for the profit of special interests and reject policies that will ruin our future. And, last of all, reject the vicious and anti-American agenda of the oil and coal company barons who stand behind them.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent Continues Push For New Lows, Large Areas of Fragile Ice Show Potential For More Melt


Today sea ice extent monitors continued to push toward new record lows.

Measurements taken from the Japanese Space Agency for this date showed sea ice extent at 4,333,000 square kilometers. This is about 70,000 square kilometers below yesterday’s total and about 130,000 square kilometers above the low set in 2007. At the current rate of melt, this record will be broken within the next 2-3 days.

NSIDC also showed sea ice extent measures continue to fall. The extent of sea ice shown by NSIDC is very close to that of JAXA. So should melt rates hold, we should see a new record for NSIDC ice extent within the coming days as well.

Sea Ice area, as measured by Cryosphere Today, showed a slight freeze back today with about 51,000 square kilometers of sea ice area recovered. These kind of small freeze-backs tend to occur during this time of year. However, they usually overlay a slowing downward trend. Currently the record low for sea ice area was set yesterday and stands at 2,742,000 square kilometers or 163,000 square kilometers below the previous record low.

In total, about nine different reports track various values for sea ice in the Arctic. So far, according to Neven’s ‘domino count,’ five of these reports are now showing that Arctic Sea ice has reached a new record low for this year. The ‘domino count’ has increased by one since yesterday with Cryosphere Today’s arctic basin sea ice area measurement showing a new record low.


Lastly, I’d like to give you a little analysis about the potential for future melt. A region of ice in the Kara, Laptev, and Barents seas has been undergoing rapid melt over the past 5 days. This area continues to show thinning ice pulling back in toward the polar region. The area is large compared to the remaining ice sheet, and could provide significant further melting. From this region runs a thick band of fragmented and fragile ice through the East Siberian and Beaufort seas around to the Queen Elizabeth Islands.

Though the angle of the sun is getting lower, there is still a lot of warm air and water moving around in the Arctic. So these regions of fragile ice will remain vulnerable to adverse weather throughout the coming weeks. In short, due to the thin and fragmented nature of the ice in the regions described, there is still potential for significant melt through mid September.





Cooler Temperatures Bring Little Relief From Intensifying Drought


Though cooler temperatures graced the mid-section of the country this week, the most recent report from the US Drought Monitor shows that the worst drought since 1956 continued to deepen over much of the country.

In total, more than 63% of the land area of the continental US suffered from drought conditions. This is an increase of 1% over last week’s drought report which showed 62% of the US mainland suffering from drought. Fully thirty percent of the US was suffering from extreme or exceptional drought, about the same levels as last week.

That said, beneficial rains in the Ohio valley resulted in slightly less farmland being gripped by drought. According to the Drought Monitor, 85% of the U.S. corn crop, 83% of soybeans, 63% of hay, and 71% of cattle areas are still experiencing drought. Though this number is a slight improvement, it is still a very large swath of US agriculture.

Other impacts from the ongoing drought this week included large regions affected by fires. California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington all experienced large blazes. Idaho has experienced its worst fire year on record and so far the United States has seen the most area burned for this time of year. Fires continued to rage in far eastern Russia, but most Siberian fires are now currently contained. The Balkans also experienced a major outbreak of wildfires during an extreme heat wave that resulted in numerous heat deaths and temperatures soaring to well over 104 degrees in many places. Spain saw fires continue both on the mainland and on one of its islands. Greece saw a major wildfire engulf one of its islands as well.

The Mississippi river experienced sporadic interruptions of traffic with sections of the river shut down on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week. Though the river has been running low throughout the summer, this is the first time that major traffic interruptions have occurred.

Worldwide, large areas of drought also affected the Balkan states, swaths of Europe, parts of India, and large sections of Asia.

The UN has recommended that nations begin setting up plans to deal with long-term droughts and the number of climate scientists linking the current droughts and extreme weather events to climate change continues to grow.



Large Tropical Storm Isaac Churns In Caribbean, May Rain on Republican Convention


Forming over the tropical Atlantic early this week, Tropical Storm Isaac is a large system that models project may impact the Tampa Bay region just as the republican convention kicks off.

The ninth storm of a busy hurricane season, Isaac is currently spinning out massive thunderstorms as it plows through open water. According to the National Hurricane Center, Isaac is forecast to rapidly strengthen over the next 48 hours and could become a hurricane within that time-frame.

Forecast weather tracks bring the storm to the coast of Florida early next week, with some long-range tracks bringing it over the Tampa Bay region by sometime Monday or Tuesday.

Some researchers have linked the increase in hurricane frequency and intensity over the past few decades to ongoing global warming and the warmer oceans that result. Model studies have shown that higher temperatures do result in the most intense storms being more severe but conclusions have been mixed on storm number.

Many republicans deny that human beings are causing global warming. They are the representatives of political interests who have manufactured a false debate over the existence of human-caused climate change. Just this week, three oil company-funded specialists published an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal with the goal of appealing for a longer period of non-action on climate change. All of these individuals have received oil company funding. One of them is a former oil company executive.

The Journal and sources like it, however, have treated these individuals as if they were climate change experts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Two of the authors have never published a peer-reviewed paper on climate change. The third, one of the last remaining scientists who deny global warming, has been consistently proven incorrect by both data and observation.

Sadly, the Journal, since its acquisition by Newscorp, has become the mouthpiece for such nonsense. Even worse, the republican party, which once contained a number of members who recognized the validity of climate science, has since been gobbled up by oil company special interests bent on creating a cloud of silence, inaction, and misinformation over the issue.

Now a storm forms over hotter than average seas, plows through hotter than average air, and sets its sights on a land parched by climate-change induced drought. As republicans and their oil company allies gather in Tampa, let us hope that a climate-enhanced storm doesn’t cause them undue inconvenience or discomfort. We wouldn’t want the oil companies’ servants to be hampered by something so trivial as climate, after all.



Loss of Arctic Sea Ice Creates Long-Period Atmospheric Waves That Enhance Extreme Weather

A number of recent articles and reports from Geophysical Research Letters, WeatherUnderground, Climate Progress, and Climate Central have highlighted how loss of Arctic sea ice helps to create extreme weather events over the northern hemisphere. In short, the loss of ice moves the polar wind patterns and changes temperatures there in such a way as to create giant, lumbering atmospheric waves.

Now imagine a huge wave of air swooping down from the Arctic, digging deep into the mid-latitudes, and then swooping back up toward the poles again. This is what is happening with greater and greater frequency as Arctic sea ice continues to fade.

The wave patterns created are not only deeper, moving air through zones that typically have a variety of temperature and moisture conditions, they are also longer-lasting. The result is that you get an increasing number of zones of extreme, non-typical conditions parked over regions of the world for longer and longer time-periods. This summer’s drought is one example of a persistent weather condition caused by these atmospheric waves.

But other extreme events, including floods and long periods of colder weather, could be caused by these waves or, what meteorologists have tended to call ‘blocking patterns.’

One issue that researchers have raised is that these blocking patterns tend to establish themselves consistently over similar regions. What this means is that it is more likely for certain zones to experience a certain kind of blocking pattern. This is one feature that has helped to enhance drought and drying conditions in the central US throughout the past decade.

These blocking patterns have another dark side. They transport warmer air into the Arctic, pushing temperatures  closer to those of surrounding regions and further amplifying melt and carbon feedback. One typical pattern is a flow that pulls heat and moisture from as far south as the Gulf of Mexico and deposits that air near or over Greenland. This kind of flow had an influence on the extreme melt conditions that occurred there this year. If these kinds of flows are to become more common, we can expect to experience similar, or possibly more extreme, melting over Greenland in the years to come.

This strange elongating of atmospheric wave patterns creating persistent weather and increasing the likelihood for extreme, long-lasting conditions, overlaps a long-term regime of increasing temperatures. So more extreme weather is combining with hotter weather overall to create a very volatile brew.

A recent paper from the 2012 Geophysical Research Letter entitled ‘Evidence Linking Arctic Amplification to Extreme Weather in Mid-Latitudes‘ provides the scientific basis for these conditions. The following video essay is provided by one of the study’s authors, Jennifer Francis, and gives a very in-dept explanation for these events:

It is certainly worth watching if you have the time.

In any case, changes to the Arctic caused by global warming are leading to more extreme weather patterns. This impact shows that the climate response to a warming world is non-linear. It creates unexpected changes and extremes that severely alter our world. This change has happened in a world that has warmed, on average, about 1 degree Celsius since the 1880s. If such large atmospheric changes can occur with relatively ‘small’ temperature changes, one can imagine how much more strange and severe the weather may become with 1, 2, 4 or 6 degrees of additional warming.

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