Greenland Glacial Melt Rapidly Increasing, So Why is Andrew Revkin Telling us No Policy Response Necessary?

In 1995, Greenland contributed no melt water to global sea level rise. By 2012, melt had increased rapidly to more than 7 mm. By comparison, Antarctica contributed about 4 mm by 2012. Ever since 2003, melt rate growth from Greenland has outpaced that of Antarctica.

In total, Greenland contains enough ice to increase world sea levels by about 6 meters or 20 feet. Quite a lot of water. By comparison, West Antarctica, which is most likely to melt alongside Greenland due to human-caused global warming, contains enough ice to raise sea levels by about 5 meters (16.5 feet). The last time greenhouse gasses were as high as they are today, both these ice stores melted. Along with thermal expansion of water and additional contributions from mountain glaciers and other parts of Antarctica, total sea level rise at around 400 ppm CO2 was about 75 feet.

As the globe warms due to human-caused climate change, we can expect increasing outflows of water from both Greenland and West Antarctica. To prevent such changes, at the very least, will require serious improvements to world energy and climate policy. And so monitoring ice melt in these regions cannot be entirely divorced from the need for such policy if we are to maintain a world with stable coastlines, a world in which states and nations aren’t at risk of being wiped off the face of the Earth by rising waters.

So one wonders why Andrew Revkin recently made this statement in his dotEarth blog:

“The dramatic surface melting [in Greenland], while important to track and understand has little policy significance.”

Revkin’s statement has to do with a recent ice core sample study which found that, during the Eemian, the last inter-glacial period, Greenland melted ‘only’ enough to increase sea levels by 1-2 meters. The study did not conclude, as Revkin did, that Greenland ice melt caused by increases in greenhouse gas emissions would follow the same pattern as it did in the Eemian. Nor did it recommend, as Revkin did, divorcing policy from observations of increasing Greenland ice melt.

Revkin’s argument and assertions aren’t new. In fact, James Hansen in his most recent paper on Greenland and West Antarctic ice melt cautions that melt in Greenland is not likely to follow the same pattern as the Eemian and that inland glaciers aren’t so buttressed from ocean influence as some suppose. Even more disturbing is the fact that some climate change deniers tend to use the Eemian to support some of their own, non-scientific, arguments.

Professor Richard Alley, whom Revkin interviewed in his blog, had his own response to this point by Revkin:

“We have high confidence that warming will shrink Greenland, by enough to matter a lot to coastal planners.”

In other words, Greenland melt has serious policy implications for coastal planners (and many more people, for that matter). A recent report found that Miami may well not be a viable city before the end of this century and, possibly, before it is even half over. Much of south Florida and many low-lying regions of the world are likely to suffer similar fates.

In general, it is not a good idea to suppose that current melt trends will mirror those of the Eemian. Nor that melt will be as gradual as some expect. Nor that we should not base policy decisions on an observable and increasing danger of damaging sea level rise.



Fossil Fuel Special Interests Attempting to Ban Wind Power in Vermont, Offer Money to Protest Wind

Two Vermont state Senators aligned with fossil fuel special interests this month in a bid to place a moratorium on new wind power installations for the state. Senators Robert Hartwell and Joe Benning announced a plan earlier this month that would place a three year moratorium on new wind energy installations in Vermont.

The plan, which had no viable rationale,  immediately drew fire from top environmentalists and environmental advocates in Congress.

Senator Bernie Sanders was one of the most outspoken detractors, stating: “I have no doubt, but that if Vermont ceases new wind development the message will go out all across the country, spread by well-funded coal and oil companies, that even in Vermont, even in progressive Vermont, even in environmentally conscious Vermont, there is not a serious commitment to combating global warming.”

Other top environmental organizations opposing the moratorium include: VPIRG, the Conservation Law Foundation, 350Vermont, the Vermont chapter of the Sierra Club, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, the Citizens Awareness Network, the Northeast chapter of the National Wildlife Federation, and the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance. These compose almost all the top environmental organizations in the state.

Despite broad environmentalist opposition to the ban, Hartwell and Benning are attempting to greenwash their fossil-fuel benefitting bill, using specious arguments to compare wind energy with coal mountaintop removal. The kind of dirty, dangerous and climate-damaging activities wind energy directly replaces.

In a related issue, fossil fuel special interests in Europe offered money to individuals who would protest wind energy. The catch, made by Grist, showed a Craigslist advertisement offering $20 per hour to protest wind farms in the UK. Though no particular firm was mentioned in the ad, it was obvious who would stand to benefit from a faux appearance of public unrest against wind.

Increasingly, fossil fuel companies are using outside groups and second sources to funnel money into activities meant to maintain their dominance while concealing their under-handed activities. Current efforts are aimed at leveraging state senators to deny and delay advancement of clean energy technologies, funneling monies into organizations like ALEC to support such efforts, and, as seen above, pushing alternative energy bans and drumming up fake protests.


Are Globally Increasing Wildfires Amplifying Greenland Ice Melt? Help The Dark Snow Project Find Out.

According to polar research, Greenland ice is rapidly losing its albedo. This extreme loss of reflectivity helped lead to a period this summer when melt occurred over the entire Greenland ice sheet. Loss of Greenland albedo is a powerful amplifying feedback to human-caused global warming. It presents the danger that not only will melt rates continue to increase in Greenland, but that they will increase, as sea ice melt, at an accelerating pace.

Currently, it is apparent that loss of albedo is caused by a combination of melt and what researchers are now calling ‘dark snow.’ Dark snow is a blackening of the snow and ice covering Greenland. A new theory proposes that increasing wildfires worldwide, driven by human-caused global warming, are resulting in the deposition of a thickening layer of soot over the Greenland ice sheet. This shoot may well be adding to human soot from industrial sources and may contribute to the growing problem of dark snow.

Darker snow and ice absorbs more sunlight. This reduced albedo or reflectivity causes more rapid melt during the summer months. In the mid 2000s, researchers estimated that a combination of global warming and reduced ice sheet albedo would result in the entire ice sheet of Greenland melting during some summer months. In 2012, years ahead of schedule, this event happened.

Now, Dr. Jason Box of the Byrd Polar Research Center is attempting to raise funds for his Dark Snow Project research through crowd-sourcing. The project will remove soot samples from the Greenland ice sheet to determine whether increasing wildfires across the globe are contributing to increased melt rates in Greenland.

You can help to fund this critical research by donating to Dark Snow and/or by helping to spread the word. I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so!

Given the very rapid amplification of ice melt in the polar regions over the past ten years, it becomes critical that we learn as much as we can, as fast as we can. Doing so enables us to respond well to what appears to be a growing crisis.


2012 Third Worst Year on Record for US Wildfires; Rate, Size of Wildfires Increasing With Global Warming

Tamino Wildfires

2012 was the third worst year on record for US wildfires, a year that punctuates a growing trend of increasingly large and destructive fires. Preliminary totals from the National Interagency Fire Center show that during 2012 9.21 million acres burned. This compares to 2006 when 9.87 million acres burned and to 2007 when 9.32 million acres burned. Increasing heat and dryness caused by climate change has created a situation where the total area burned by wildfires annually in the US has doubled since the 1980s. Average acres burned each year since 2001 is now nearly 8 million acres. (The above image was produced by Tamino using data from The National Fire Center to rebuff disinformation being put out by George Will on the Washington Post Editorial Page)

Increasingly widespread and severe wildfires is just one example of the ratcheting effects of global warming.  But in the US, the danger posed by wildfires has become a substantial issue for most US states, especially states in the US southwest. The situation is one of increasing heat and dryness, one that is likely to result in increased risk of more dangerous fires as time goes forward.

This rising risk has resulted in serious effort by many states and the federal government to attempt to prevent wildfires. Large numbers of seasonal firefighters are hired each year, underbrush is cleared, controlled burns are initiated, and other measures are taken to reduce the risk of fires. The rising incidence of wildfires is especially ominous given this ongoing and growing effort to adapt to ever-more-challenging conditions.

During the massive fire outbreaks of 2012, states and the federal government received criticism for failing to prepare. Quite to the contrary, preparedness and mitigation efforts have never been so strong. The issue is not a failure to adapt, prepare, and mitigate. It is instead that conditions spurring wildfires — heat, drought, rising temperatures — all continue to worsen, threatening the nation’s forests, wilderness, farmlands and, increasingly, homes and businesses.

These already challenging conditions are now in place at a .86 degree Celsius increase in global average temperatures since 1880. If that temperature increase pushes through the barrier of 2 degrees Celsius and on to 6 or more (as is likely under business as usual by the end of this century), one can well imagine that the situation will rapidly grow into something that is increasingly unmanageable.


2012: 9th Hottest Year on Record, Continuation of Inexorable Heating Trend


According to reports from NASA’s GISS division, 2012 was the 9th hottest year on record globally. It was also the hottest year on record for the continental United States. The above image is a composite heat map showing global temperature difference for the 2008-2012 period — a period that has included one hottest year (2010) and two consecutive La Nina years that ranked 2nd and 3rd hottest (2011, 2012). Overall, 2008 was the 12th hottest year on record, 2009 the 7th hottest, 2010 the hottest, 2011 the 10th hottest, with 2012 coming in 9th hottest.

The last year that experienced temperatures cooler than the 20th century average was 1976.


“One more year of numbers isn’t in itself significant,” GISS climatologist Gavin Schmidt said. “What matters is this decade is warmer than the last decade, and that decade was warmer than the decade before. The planet is warming. The reason it’s warming is because we are pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

Given the degree to which heat keeps building up in the atmosphere due to human CO2 emissions, a record 34 gigatons in 2012, it is likely that the next El Nino year will produce a strong new temperature record. However, 2011 and 2012 both experienced La Nina conditions. ENSO conditions are expected to remain neutral throughout much of 2013 with chances rising for a return to El Nino by the end of this year.

NASA scientist James Hansen, who has labeled the ongoing procession of extreme weather events, rapid sea ice melt, glacial melt, and abnormally hot conditions a ‘planetary emergency,’ puts the current state of the human-caused warming trend into perspective:

“The U.S. temperatures in the summer of 2012 are an example of a new trend of outlying seasonal extremes that are warmer than the hottest seasonal temperatures of the mid-20th century,” GISS director James E. Hansen said. “The climate dice are now loaded. Some seasons still will be cooler than the long-term average, but the perceptive person should notice that the frequency of unusually warm extremes is increasing. It is the extremes that have the most impact on people and other life on the planet.”


Arctic Losing Thickest Sea Ice in Midst of Winter


What remains of the thickest and most stable Arctic sea ice is now huddled against the northern coasts of Greenland and the Arctic Archipelago. But in today’s unstable Arctic environment, even this, relatively thick, multi-year ice is in jeopardy.

The above image, a composite graphic representation of satellite images that measures sea ice thickness, shows thick ice flushing out through the Fram Strait throughout the last 12 months, even in the midst of winter.

The Fram Strait includes the icy waters just east of Greenland, north of Iceland and west of Svalbard. Over the past 10 years, loss of thick sea ice through the Fram Strait has been a ‘normal’ event. This steady flushing of the Arctic ice cap has led to increased fragility, more mobile and rapidly thinning ice. 2012-13 stands out due to an unprecedented and extraordinarily rapid loss of ice even in the midst of winter — a time when the possibilities for sea ice recovery are strongest.

Particularly shocking was the flushing of thick sea ice off its anchor on the north Greenland coastline, out the Fram Strait, and into the North Atlantic during the sea ice ‘recovery’ month of December. You can watch this expulsion in the last few frames of the sequence above.

Early indicators though they are, these instances are more evidence that the Arctic sea ice is very, very fragile and is becoming increasingly vulnerable to rapid, catastrophic collapse.


Voter Suppression Didn’t Work, So Grasping Republicans Turn to Undermining Democracy


The United States is endowed with a democracy that remains the envy of the world. Now, a group of republicans, embittered after a stinging defeat during the 2012 election, seeks to undermine that democracy in order to rig the electoral college in their favor.

Republican state legislators in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia are attempting to change state election rules so as to apportion electoral college votes to counties rather than the entire state. The result of this cherry-picking is that democratic presidential candidates would have to win the popular vote by 6 percent or more (a landslide) in order to edge out republicans in the electoral college.

The reason has to do with demographics. Most democrats concentrate in or near cities. So republican success in re-apportioning electoral college votes to counties would result in a tipping of the scales dramatically against democratic candidates. It would also result in a virtual nullification of the popular vote in elections. Popular vote totals would count less while where the votes came from would count more.

This kind of manipulation, funny games, and distortion is entirely normal for the current republican party. The same party that sand-bagged voting rights in an attempt to suppress the vote in key battleground states. The result was lines in which voters waited, in many cases, all day to exercise their right to vote. Other republican funny business has included purging voter rolls, multiple attempts at voter intimidation (almost always struck down in court), publishing fallacious information about voting dates in official public documents, and questionable instances of monkeying with voting machines.

The most recent attempts at voter disenfranchisement through fiddling with the electoral college system is just one more example of the sense of entitlement many republicans seem to have. They don’t believe they need to win on issues or to appeal to the hopes, needs and concerns of a broad segment of the American people. Instead, any means to win seems justified to their increasingly myopic world-view.

Links: Leads Wave of Fossil Fuel Divestment


In a Rolling Stone interview this past summer, Bill McKibben, head of and related tar sands protests, called for investors to dump holdings in oil, gas, and coal companies as a means to fight climate change. McKibben’s call for this divestment mirrors similar action during the latter 20th century against South Africa’s Apartheid government via its state issued bonds and corporate backers.

Now, divestment of fossil fuel company stocks is again being spear-headed by major universities, cities, religious groups, and individuals. In total, over 210 university campuses now host divestment groups — and the number continues to grow. Even major cities have pitched in with the mayor of Seattle ordering the city trust to dump fossil fuel company holdings.

Spurring this large and growing divestment movement are two numbers: 565 gigatons and 2,795 gigatons. 565 gigatons represents the amount of carbon we can dump into our atmosphere without pushing human caused global warming above the catastrophic level of 2 degrees Celsius. 2,795 gigatons is the total amount of carbon that would end up in the atmosphere if fossil fuel companies managed to sell all the oil, coal, and natural gas on their books. Carbon pollution they are doing their best to foist upon a world increasingly damaged by an angry climate.

Making matters worse is the fact that fossil fuel companies are increasing the amount of carbon we pump into the atmosphere at a break-neck rate. Last year alone, 34 gigatons were dumped into Earth’s already riled climate. At the current rate of emission, enough carbon will be emitted to pre-set a 2 degree increase by 2029. But since emission rates continue to increase, that date will likely be closer to 2025. And since the world’s policy-makers are failing to act, divestment activists are attempting to pull the rug out from under fossil fuel industries by denying them public funds via the world’s investment markets.

Now anyone — an individual, an investment firm, any institution or municipality with a trust or an endowment — can take part in the campaign to reclaim a healthy climate by pulling investment funds out of fossil fuel industries. And, so far, the response has been massive — far more rapid than the response to Apartheid. Let’s hope that these direct actions on the part of responsible individuals begins to roll back the tide of increasing fossil fuel exploitation and carbon emission. For my part, I hope you express your right to divest as well.


Arctic Melt Trend Shows 10% Chance for Ice-Free Summer in 2013


New analysis of data produced by PIOMAS shows that, if current trends hold, Arctic sea ice may completely melt by end of summer 2013.

The above image, provided by Wipneus, is a graphical representation of current Arctic melt trends observed and produced by PIOMAS. The solid lines show past years’ sea ice volume measurements. The dotted line shows the predicted levels for 2013. At the bottom of the melt trough is an error bar, the lowest 10% of which is below the zero line.

So according to this statistical analysis, there’s a 10% chance of zero sea ice by end of summer 2013. Not a high chance, but the first time in any statistical measure that the possibility has arisen. And if melt trends hold, the chances for ice free summers increases year on year. By 2015, the chance for an ice-free summer jumps to around 40%.

These observed trends follow directly with predictions by Arctic sea ice experts like Peter
Wadhams who have asserted that zero ice is likely to be reached by or before 2015-2016.

“Climate change is no longer something we can aim to do something about in a few decades’ time,” Wadham said, urging that we need to immediately reduce CO2 emissions.

“This collapse, I predicted would occur in 2015-16 at which time the summer Arctic (August to September) would become ice-free. The final collapse towards that state is now happening and will probably be complete by those dates”.

The larger body of climate scientists appears to be far more conservative, estimating a final melt date sometime between 2030 and 2050. But even these estimates are significant advances from previous estimates of around 2080-2100. In any case, if sea ice volume losses in the Arctic continue to bear out, it appears likely that the Arctic sea ice will be entirely gone within the next six years and could possibly be gone much sooner. Possibly even next year.

Such an early melt-out would indicate a climate sensitivity far greater than even the most ‘alarmist’ scientific reports indicated. It would also show that the current, very rapid, rise of CO2 caused by human fossil fuel emissions from 280 ppm to over 394 ppm since 1880 is setting off a series of unprecedented changes to Earth and key Earth systems with a speed and violence few expected.


%d bloggers like this: