Saturday, November 22, 2014

How melting Arctic ice is driving harsh winters

by Nick Breeze

The very least 'global warming' could do for us is to give us warmer winters, right? Wrong, writes Nick Breeze, who met climate scientist and meteorologist Jennifer Francis in his attempt to understand the complex interactions of jet stream, polar vortex, the melting Arctic, and the extreme snowfall that's hitting the northeast US right now.

"Historic" snowfalls have the US northeast this week, with Buffalo, New York under an astonishing 2.4m (8ft) of snow - enough to cause some roofs to cave in under the pressure.

It's just the latest chapter in 2014 unprecedented range of weather extremes - from persistent storms that battered, and flooded much of the UK at the beginning of the year, before going on to record the hottest October since records began.

And in the US, extremes have ranged from California's record drought, to the early snows now under way in the northeast - and let's not forget the 'polar vortex' that hit much of the US in January, bringing Arctic conditions as far south as Texas and Florida, causing flights to be cancelled in Chicago as aviation fuel froze in the -38.3C (-37F) temperatures.



Scientists now have evidence that these persistent extreme weather patterns are increasing in their frequency, due to the rapid heating up of the Arctic that is changing the behaviour of the jet stream, and in turn, the polar vortex.

And Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, one of the leading US scientists studying the relationship between Arctic warming and changes in the jet stream, believes that it's thanks to 'global warming' that northern hemisphere weather is becoming more extreme - and it's not about to get any better.

Screenshot from Youtube video further below

The 'vast river of wind' that makes our weather

"The Arctic is generally very cold", she told me, "and the areas farther south are warm, and that difference in temperature between those two areas is really what fuels that vast river of wind moving high over our head that we call the jet stream."

"The jet stream in turn creates most of the weather that we feel all around the northern hemisphere and the middle latitudes, so anything that affects this jet stream is going to affect weather patterns. So as the Arctic warms up much faster than the areas farther south, we're seeing this temperature difference between these two regions get smaller."

The result of that, she explains, is that the atmospheric forces driving the jet stream's circular motion are getting smaller - and that means the winds themselves in the jet stream are getting weaker, and moving more slowly.

"When that happens, the jet stream tends to take a wavier path as it travels around the northern hemisphere and those waves are actually what create the stormy patterns and the nice weather patterns. As those waves get larger because of this weakening of those winds of the jet stream, they tend to move more slowly from west to east."

"That means it feels like the weather patterns are sticking around longer, because those patterns are moving much more slowly and this then makes it more likely to have the kind of extreme events that are related to persistent weather patterns."



Are critical findings influencing policy?

These changes in climate have huge implications. As Dr Francis points out, there are "people who worry about whether there is enough fresh water to supply cities, whether there is enough snowpack on mountains to supply reservoirs, and for agriculture ..."

"Drought and agriculture is a big problem. Storminess in certain areas is another big problem. Yes, it has a huge impact for a whole range of issues that affect the way we live."

It's no wonder then that Dr Francis and her colleagues have attracted the attention of President Obama's chief science advisor, Dr John Holdren.

Dr Holdren has been reporting directly to the President on the real time effects of climate change and is keen to understand what this new research tells us about the future impact of changes to the jet stream.

Asked about this sudden interest in her work from the US Presidency, Francis muses thoughtfully. "Yes, we've had a lot of interest from policy makers", she acknowledges.

"I think we're starting to make a lot of progress now in getting policymakers to understand that this is a big problem they have to face ... I think decision makers and the policymakers at the local level get it much better because they're already seeing effects on their local areas.

"Sea level rise is an obvious one. They're already seeing changes in drought and agricultural problems and dealing with fresh water issues. It is really at the local level that we're having more success."

New research supports the case that Arctic sea ice loss is driving climate changes

So to understand the changes in the jet stream it's important to research how the vast atmospheric river of weather above our heads is connected to other climate mechanisms.

"It appears that over the north Atlantic, and towards Asia, there's a mechanism that appears to be quite robust, and several groups have found this mechanism using completely different analysis techniques", says Francis referring to new research by colleagues at the University of Alaska that has emerged in the last couple of months.

"So what we're finding is that there's an area, north of Scandinavia in the Arctic, where the ice has been disappearing particularly rapidly. When that ice disappears ... there is unfrozen ocean underneath, and that ocean absorbs a lot more energy from the sun through the summertime. So it becomes very warm there."

"Then as the fall comes around, all that heat that's been absorbed all summer long, where the ice has retreated, is put back in the atmosphere and that creates a big bubble of hot air ... over that region where the ice was lost."

And in turn, that goes on to disrupt the circumpolar winds whose behaviour determines much the weather across the northern hemisphere.

The gigantic bubble of warm air "tends to create a northward bulge in the jet stream", and in turn, "that creates a surface high pressure area that circulates in the clockwise direction. That sucks cold air down from the Arctic over northern Eurasia, and that creates a southward dip in the jet stream."



The bulging jet stream disrupts the polar vortex

"So what we're getting is this big northward bulge up over Scandinavia and a southward dip over Asia ... creating, first the tendency for a larger wave in the jet stream, which tends to move more slowly, but also we're seeing this mechanism that creates these colder winters that have been observed over Central Asia."

"Once the jet stream gets into this wavier pattern, it sends wave energy up into the highest levels of the atmosphere, which is called the stratosphere, where we have the polar vortex, which is kind of similar to the jet stream but it's much higher up in the atmosphere and it travels much faster."

"So as that wave energy gets sent up from this larger wave below, up into the stratosphere, it breaks down that polar vortex so that it becomes wavier as well. That wavier polar vortex sends energy back down to the lower atmosphere and it creates an even wavier jet stream in February."

"So we're seeing this connection of mechanisms that starts with Arctic sea ice loss and it makes a wavier jet stream for different reasons all the way through winter."

Will the jet stream continue to cause changes in climate?

By identifying these mechanisms and linking them back directly to loss of the Arctic sea ice, Dr Francis and her colleagues are demonstrating how man-made global warming is creating feedbacks that are changing the climate conditions in the northern hemisphere - and not for the better.

It may be counterintuitive, and it when it first happened it took scientists by surprise - but now it looks like this is one of the most important ways in which 'global warming' is hitting North America. Melting ice in the Arctic Ocean is indirectly pushing frigid Arctic air south across the continent, creating the perfect conditions for massive snowfall.

Which is all very well ... but what's coming next? "We are using these climate models, or computer simulations ... to try and project what we're expecting to see happen in the future, as greenhouse gases continue to increase.

"The early indications are that these large wavy patterns in the jet stream are going to become more frequent in the future, as far as we can tell. It is preliminary research that I haven't published yet but it does look as if they are going to increase."



Nick Breeze is a film maker and writer on climate change and other environmental topics. He has been interviewing a range of experts relating to the field of climate change and science for over four years. These include interviews with Dr James Hansen, Professor Martin Rees, Professor James Lovelock, Dr Rowan Williams, Dr Natalia Shakhova, Dr Michael Mann, Dr Hugh Hunt, among others.

Additional articles can also be read on his blog Envisionation.

Jennifer Francis is a research professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, where she studies Arctic climate change and the link between Arctic and global climates. She has authored more than 40 peer-reviewed publications on these topics. She was also the co-founder of the Rutgers Climate and Environmental Change Initiative.

Article earlier posted at TheEcologist.org




Related





Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ocean Temperature Rise Continues


Ocean Temperature Rise

Of all the excess heat that results from people's emissions, 93.4% goes into oceans. Accordingly, the temperature of oceans has risen substantially.

NOAA analysis shows that the most recent 12-month period, November 2013–October 2014, broke the record (set just last month) for the all-time warmest 12-month period in the 135-year period of record. The global oceans were the warmest on record for October. For January–October, the average global sea surface temperature was also record high.


The danger is that ocean temperatures will continue to rise, especially in the North Atlantic, and that the Gulf Stream will keep carrying ever warmer water from the North Atlantic into the Arctic Ocean, threatening to unleash huge methane eruptions from the Arctic Ocean's seafloor, in turn causing even higher temperatures and more extreme weather events, wildfires, etc.


High Methane Levels

High methane levels were recorded over the Arctic Ocean in October, as discussed in this earlier post, and were sustained in November, as discussed in this post. Methane levels as high as 2717 ppb were recorded on November 16, 2014, p.m, by the MetOp-1 satellite at 469 mb (i.e. 19,820 ft or 6,041 m altitude), as the image below shows.

Methane levels as high as 2549 ppb were recorded on November 19, 2014, p.m, by the MetOp-2 satellite at 586 mb (i.e. 14,385 ft or 4,384 m altitude), as the image below shows.

Above image further confirms earlier indications that these high methane levels do indeed result from large methane eruptions from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean.

Greenhouse gas levels in general are very high over the Arctic, as earlier discussed in a recent post and as illustrated by the image below, showing carbon dioxide levels as high as 420 ppm at high latitudes, while the global mean was 403 ppm, on November 19, 2014, p.m., at 945 mb (i.e. 1,916 ft or 584 m altitude).


As said, sustained instances of large abrupt methane eruptions from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean threaten to strongly accelerate warming in the Arctic even further, in turn resulting in ever more methane being released, as illustrated in the image below, from an earlier post.


Self-reinforcing Feedback Loops



Such methane eruptions are part of a number of self-reinforcing feedback loops that can strongly accelerate warming in the Arctic. Above image, from an earlier post, illustrates two such feedbacks, i.e. albedo changes due to snow and ice demise, and methane releases.

For a discussion of these and further feedbacks, see this page at the Climate Plan blog 

The threat is that such rapid temperature rises will appear at first in hotspots over the Arctic and eventually around the globe, while also resulting in huge temperature swings that could result in depletion of supply of food and fresh water, as further illustrated by the above image, from an earlier post, and the image below, from another earlier post.
[ click on image at original post to enlarge ]


IPCC warnings not strong enough



In above paragraph, the IPCC warns about the risk of methane eruptions from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean further accelerating global warming. While the IPCC does model for a temperature rise that could exceed 12 degrees Celsius in a 'business as usual' scenario (i.e. without action taken), the IPCC does not anticipate that such a rise could occur before the year 2250, as illustrated by the image below.


The situation could be much worse than foreseen by the IPCC, due to a number of reasons, including:
  1. The non-linear way feedbacks can hugely increase temperature rises.
  2.  The IPCC's underestimation of the amount of methane contained in sediments under the Arctic Ocean and prone to be released as temperatures rise. Shakhova et al. estimate the accumulated methane potential for the Eastern Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) alone as follows:
    - organic carbon in permafrost of about 500 Gt;
    - about 1000 Gt in hydrate deposits; and
    - about 700 Gt in free gas beneath the gas hydrate stability zone.
    Back in 2008, Shakhova et al. considered release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage as highly possible for abrupt release at any time.
    Furthermore, mantel methane could add to our predicament, as discussed in an earlier post.
  3. Back in 2002, Malcolm Light already warned that seismic events could trigger destabilization of methane hydrates. Furthermore, huge temperature swings can combine with pressure swings and storms, and with swings between expansion and contraction of soil and ice, resulting in severe shocks to ecosystems, as described in an earlier post
  4. The IPCC's ignoring of large methane eruptions from the seafloor of the Arctic Oceans and the resulting growth of mean global methane levels at higher altitudes, as discussed in an earlier post.
Steven Sherwood et al. wrote back in 2010 that peak heat stress, quantified by wet bulb temperature, across diverse climates today never exceeds 31 degrees Celsius (see also this update). Some may believe that this doesn't apply to the Arctic and the higher altitudes in mountain regions. However, at the June Solstice the amount of solar radiation received in the Arctic is higher than anywhere else on Earth, An increased occurence and intensity of heatwaves could expose large areas of the Arctic and mountain regions to sustained heatwaves exceeding peak heat stress temperatures. In addition, ocean acidification and oxygen depletion in the Arctic Ocean would make it hard for fish, seals, polar bears and further wildlife to survive. Furthermore, the short growth season combined with a long, cold winter limits vegetation in the Arctic, while ecosystems are also becoming increasingly exposed to wild weather swings and wildfires.


Risk Assessment

When taking above points into acount, an absence of action seems to guarantee human extinction by the year 2050. Little action will be ‘too little, too late’ and will merely delay human extinction by a few years, as illustrated by the graph below.


The graph identifies the years 2030 and 2040 as critical. Beyond the year 2030, the risk that humans will go extrinct grows larger than 1% in the absence of action. By the year 2040, the risk of human extinction will have increased substantially, especially if no action will have been taken, but also if too little action will have been taken up to 2040, while even with the best possible programs put in place by the year 2015, there will be a 2% risk of human extinction by 2040, e.g. due to war over what action to take, or due to political opposition or errors making such programs ineffective or even counter-productive.

In conclusion, it is highly likely that the risk of human extinction already now is intolerably high and rising with every moment passing with little no action taken to reduce the risk. This calls for comprehensive and effective action, as further discussed at the Climate Plan blog.


References

- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) WGI Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), Final Draft (7 June 2013), page 168.
http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/uploads/WGIAR5_WGI-12Doc2b_FinalDraft_Chapter02.pdf

- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) WGI Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), Final Draft (7 June 2013), Figure 12.5.
http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/uploads/WGIAR5_WGI-12Doc2b_FinalDraft_Chapter12.pdf


- An adaptability limit to climate change due to heat stress - by Steven C. Sherwood & Matthew Huber 
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/04/26/0913352107.full.pdf

- Ocean Temperature Rise - by Sam Carana
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2014/10/ocean-temperature-rise.html

- Methane release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf and the Potential for Abrupt Climate Change - by Natalia Shakhova & Igor Semiletov
http://symposium2010.serdp-estcp.org/content/download/8914/107496/version/3/file/1A_Shakhova_Final.pdf

- Anomalies of methane in the atmosphere over the East Siberian shelf: Is there any sign of methane leakage from shallow shelf hydrates? - by Shakhova, Semiletov, Salyuk & Kosmach  http://www.cosis.net/abstracts/EGU2008/01526/EGU2008-A-01526.pdf

- Mantle Methane - by Malcolm Light
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2014/02/mantle-methane.html

- Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes - by Jennifer A. Francis and S.J. Vavrus, in: Geophysical Research Letters 39 (6):. doi:10.1029/2012GL051000
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2012GL051000/abstract

- Near-Term Human Extinction - by Sam Carana
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2014/04/near-term-human-extinction.html

- Warm waters threaten to trigger huge methane eruptions from Arctic Ocean seafloor - by Sam Carana
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2014/08/warm-waters-threaten-to-trigger-huge-methane-releases-from-arctic-ocean-seafloor.html

- How many deaths could result from failure to act on climate change? - by sam Carana
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2014/05/how-many-deaths-could-result-from-failure-to-act-on-climate-change.html

- Methane linked to Seismic Activity in the Arctic - by Malcolm P. Light & Sam Carana
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/p/seismic-activity.html


- Wild Weather Swings - by Sam Carana
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2014/10/wild-weather-swings.html


- Four Hiroshima bombs a second: how we imagine climate change - by Sam Carana
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/08/four-hiroshima-bombs-second-how-we-imagine-climate-change.html



Sunday, November 2, 2014

Methane Erupting From East Siberian Arctic Shelf

Methane is erupting in huge amounts from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean, as illustrated by the images below, showing methane over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf on October 31, 2014.

The top image on the right shows methane at an altitude of 19,820 feet (6,041 m), on October 31, 2014, pm, as captured by the MetOp1 satellite.

The middle image shows the location of the seas north of Siberia, and shows methane over the Arctic Ocean close to sea level, for reference.

The bottom image is an animation, starting at an altitude close to sea level and rising over 25 frames to an altitude of 19,820 feet (6,041 m).

As altitude increases, the methane can be seen emerging from the Laptev Sea at first, then spreading over further parts of the Arctic Ocean.

The yellow color indicates that methane is present at levels of 1950 ppb or higher.

High CO2 levels over Arctic Ocean

As in the previous post, an image has been added (below) showing recent carbon dioxide levels. Close to ground level (or rather sea level), mean CO2 level increased to 402 ppm on November 1, 2014 am, as measured by the MetOp-1 satellite.


The image below shows a comparison between CO2 (left) and methane (right).

[ Image added later, Ed. Click on image to enlarge ]
Above images indicate that large amounts of methane are broken down at higher latitudes on the Northern Hemisphere, especially over the Arctic Ocean.

Large methane eruptions from the seafloor of Arctic Ocean continue

The two images below [added later, ed.] further confirm the huge size of the methane erupting from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. The image directly below shows that levels as high as 2362 ppb were recorded on November 5, 2014 p.m.by the MetOp-1 satellite at an altitude of 14,385 ft (4,384 m) altitude. The image also shows that the methane is predominantly visible over the Arctic Ocean, further confirming that this is indeed the cause of the continued high methane levels.


The recent methane eruptions from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean also appear to be pushing up methane levels at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, as measured by NOAA on November 6, 2014, as illustrated by the combination image below showing daily averages (left) and hourly averages (right).


Methane eruptions from Arctic Ocean seafloor look set to continue for months to come

As oceans keep warming, the Gulf Stream
will keep moving ocean heat into the Arctic Ocean, and ever more methane threatens to erupt from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean.

The image on the right shows the huge sea surface temperature anomalies off the coast of North America and in the Arctic. Heat in the North Atlantic will take some time to travel to the Arctic Ocean, so this heat has yet to arrive there and contribute to cause further methane eruptions.

Nations are ignoring the growing dangers and keep each seeking a bigger share of a 'carbon budget', but in reality there is no carbon budget to divide. Instead, there is a huge debt built up by a joint failure of nations to act on pollution.

Increased methane eruptions from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean threaten to further accelerate warming in the Arctic, in turn resulting in ever more methane being released, as illustrated in the image below, from an earlier post.

Methane in historic perspective

The image below shows that global methane levels have risen from 723 ppb in 1755 to 1839 ppb in 2014, a rise of more than 254%. Growth did flatten down for a few years in the early 2000s, but the overall rise does not appear to slow down.

The right-end of this graph is shown in greater detail on the image below, which also has a trendline extended to the year 2021, against a background of methane levels measured by the MetOp-1 satellite on November 2, 2014, p.m.

Note that the image used as background in the plot area has different axis labels, i.e. latitude for the vertical axis and longitude for the horizontal axis. The image below gives the levels associated with the colors on the background image, with yellow indicating levels of 1950 parts per billion (ppb) and higher.


Remember that the level of 723 ppb in 1755 was not a paleo-historic low, but instead was the high peak of a Milankovitch Cycle. The image below further illustrates this point.


And so does the image below, by Reg Morrison.


Comprehensive and effective action needed

The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action. The Climate Plan seeks emission cuts, removal of pollution from soils, oceans and atmosphere, and further action, as illustrated by the image below, from an earlier post.




Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ocean Temperature Rise

Ocean Temperatures

Of all excess heat resulting from people's emissions, 93.4% goes into oceans. Accordingly, the temperature of oceans has risen substantially.

Globally, the average September ocean temperature marked a record high for that month in 2014, at 0.66°C (1.19°F) above the 20th century average, breaking the previous record that was set just one month earlier. On the Northern Hemisphere, the temperature of the ocean in September 2014 was 0.83 °C (or 1.49 °F) above the 20th century, 


The anomaly was 0.84 °C in August 2014, as illustrated by the image below.

On specific days, anomalies were much higher. On August 19, 2014, the Northern Hemisphere showed a sea surface temperature anomaly of 1.78 °C, while the North Atlantic sea surface temperature was 1.82 °C above average (CFSR 1979-2000 Baseline) on October 16, 2014, as illustrated by the image below.



Sea surface temperature anomalies are at the top end of the scale in many places in the Arctic, as well as off the coast of North America. The danger is that the Gulf Stream will keep carrying ever warmer water from the North Atlantic into the Arctic Ocean, threatening to unleash huge methane eruptions from the Arctic Ocean's seafloor, in turn causing even higher temperatures and more extreme weather events, wildfires, etc.


Above image shows methane levels as high as 2666 ppb, as measured by the MetOp-2 Satellite at 14,385 ft (~4.4 km) altitude on October 26, 2014 am.

Is 2666 ppb as high as it will get?

Sadly, methane releases from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean are becoming increasingly larger around this time of year and they look set to get even larger than this. Note that the amount of methane actually erupting from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean is even larger than what is visible on above image, for the following three reasons.

  1. No data were available for some areas, as the IASI (Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer) instrument measuring methane only covers a certain width. The white shapes showing up on above images are areas where no measurements were taken, resulting from the way the polar-orbiting satellite circum-navigates the globe, as pictured on the image on the right.

    Furthermore, quality control failed in the grey areas on above images, indicating reading difficulties due to high moisture levels (i.e. snow, rain or water vapor), as also discussed in an earlier post. Accordingly, high methane levels (above 1950 ppb) as show up in the yellow areas could also be present in the many grey areas over the Arctic Ocean.

    When also looking at methane levels on days following the high 2666 ppb reading, methane is persistently present over most of the Arctic Ocean, as illustrated by the above October 29, 2014, combination image, confirming that high methane levels were likely present in areas where no data were available on October 6, 2014.
       
  2. Much of the methane that is released from the Arctic Ocean's seafloor is broken down by microbes as it rises up in the water. The SWERUS-3 research team recently found methane in the waters of the East Siberian Sea at levels that equate to atmospheric levels of  3188 ppb.
       
  3. Much methane is broken down in the atmosphere by hydroxyl, as illustrated by the image below, showing carbon dioxde levels on October 27, 2014, that indicate that large amounts of methane are broken down at higher latitudes on the Northern Hemisphere.

The latter point could explain the sudden recent rise in carbon dioxide levels, as also detected at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, as illustrated by the image below.


In conclusion, the amount of methane that is erupting from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean is larger than what is visible on satellite images, and the water will be highly saturated with methane at locations where the methane is escaping from the seafloor, highlighting the danger that, in case of large abrupt releases from the Arctic Ocean's seafloor, microbes and hydroxyl will quickly get depleted locally, resulting in little of the methane being broken down, as discussed at an earlier post.

Why are such huge amounts of methane starting to get released from the Arctic Ocean's seafloor now?  

As the image below shows, temperature at 2 meters was below 0°C (32°F, i.e. the temperature at which water freezes) over most of the Arctic Ocean on October 26, 2014. The Arctic was over 6°F (3.34°C) warmer than average, and at places was up to 20°C (36°F) warmer than average.


Above image illustrates the enormous amount of heat that has until now been transferred from the waters of the Arctic Ocean to the atmosphere. Underneath the surface, water temperatures are much higher than they used to be and, as around this time of year the Arctic Ocean freezes over, less heat will from now on be able to escape to the atmosphere. Sealed off from the atmosphere by sea ice, greater mixing of heat in the water will occur down to the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean.

As land around the Arctic Ocean freezes over, less fresh water will flow from rivers into the Arctic Ocean. As a result, the salt content of the Arctic Ocean increases, making it easier for ice in cracks and passages in sediments at the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean to melt, allowing methane contained in the sediment to escape. Furthermore, the sea ice makes that less moisture evaporates from the water, which together with the change of seasons results in lower hydroxyl levels at the higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, in turn resulting in less methane being broken down in the atmosphere over the Arctic.

This situation will continue for months to come. Salty and warm water (i.e. warmer than water that is present in the Arctic Ocean) will continue to be carried by the Gulf Stream into the Arctic Ocean, while less heat and moisture will be able to be transferred to the atmosphere.

In conclusion, high methane levels threaten to further accelerate warming in the Arctic, in a vicious cycle escalating into runaway warming and resulting in death, destruction and extinction at massive scale.

So, what can be done to reduce the risk?

Climate Plan

- Emission Cuts

It is imperative that large emissions cuts are made quickly. The Climate Plan calls for 80% emission cuts by 2020, as one of multiple lines of action that need to be implemented in parallel.

- Greenhouse Gas Removal and Storage

The IPCC points at the need for carbon dioxide removal and also warns about ocean warming continuing for centuries (text below).


Indeed, even if all emissions by people could somehow be brought to an abrupt end, this alone will not stop the rise of ocean temperatures, at least not for a long time. For starters, air temperatures would start rising within days, in response to the disappearance of aerosols that now mask the full wrath of global warming. Furthermore, such a temperature rise would further accelerate feedbacks such as snow and ice decline, methane hydrate destabilization, etc., in turn feeding further temperature rises.

The Climate Plan therefore calls for carbon dioxide removal, as well as for active removal of other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and for further lines of action.

- Further Action

Again, merely implementing the above lines of action will not suffice to quickly bring down ocean temperatures. Paleo-climate records show that falls in temperature go hand in hand with falls of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to levels under 280 ppm, as opposed to current carbon dioxide levels that are around 400 ppm.


Raising Funding for Further Action

The Climate Plan calls for comprehensive and effective action that includes additional lines of action. Such additional action will require U.N. supervision, which may make it hard for the necessary action to obtain sufficient funding.

In earlier posts, it was suggested that, besides having fees imposed on facilities that burn fossil fuel and on sales of fossil fuel itself, additional fees could be imposed on commercial international flights. As long as it seems too hard to substantially reduce emissions associated with such flights, it seems appropriate to explore further ways to minimize such flights, e.g. by imposing additional fees that could help fund further action.

There are a number of ways such fees could be implemented. Such fees could be calculated based on the distance traveled or as a percentage of the fare.

Fees could also be calculated on the basis of the traveler's flying history, e.g. in the form of frequent flyer fees. Such fees could be collected either by the respective airline or airport.

In the box on the right, Ekta Kalra gives further details about how the latter idea could be implemented.

What do you think?


References and related posts

- Four Hiroshima bombs a second: how we imagine climate change
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/08/four-hiroshima-bombs-second-how-we-imagine-climate-change.html

- Arctic Methane Release and Rapid Temperature Rise are interlinked
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2013/11/arctic-methane-release-and-rapid-temperature-rise-are-interlinked.html

- Climate Change Accelerating
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2014/10/climate-change-accelerating.html

- NOAA, Global Analysis - September 2014
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/2014/9

- NOAA Ocean temperature anomalies
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/time-series

- Methane Hydrates
http://methane-hydrates.blogspot.com/2013/04/methane-hydrates.html

- Climate Plan
http://climateplan.blogspot.com




Friday, October 17, 2014

U.S. hit by numerous earthquakes?

During the past decade from December 2004 to present, no less than 18 great (Mw ≥ 8.0) earthquakes occurred globally (~1.8 per year), compared to 71 from 1900 to mid-2004 (~0.68 per year), yielding an effective rate increase of 265%, says seismologist Thorne Lay of the University of California at Santa Cruz.

What about smaller earthquakes? As the image below illustrates, of the 1495 earthquakes that hit the world over a period of seven days up to October 17, 2014, 05:04:30, UTC, 1404 occured in the map area of the image below. However, the U.S. is over-represented, the USGS map doesn't show smaller earthquakes (under magnitude 4) outside the U.S.

[ click on image to enlarge ]
Can we expect more earthquakes to hit the U.S.? If so, why?

First of all, as said, many earthquakes do appear to hit the U.S. when looking at above image, but the above USGS map doesn't show smaller earthquakes (under magnitude 4) outside the U.S.

Nonetheless, there can be other reasons why so many earthquakes have recently hit the U.S., so let's explore some of them further.

It's a well-known phenemenon that, during the northern summer, more earthquakes do hit the Northern Hemisphere, rather than the Southern hemisphere. That's a natural phenomenon, but there can also be ways in which people can contribute to the incidence of earthquakes.

Isostatic rebound and changing stress conditions due to meltwater run-off can trigger seismic events. For months now, a huge amount of seismic activity has hit faultlines along the boundaries of the North American Plate, as earlier discussed in the earlier post Ring of Ice.

Bill McGuire, Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences at the University College London, recently said the following in post at ClimateState.com:

“There may be a threat of submarine landslides around the margins of Greenland, which are less well explored. Greenland is already uplifting, reducing the pressure on the crust beneath and also on submarine methane hydrates in the sediment around its margins, and increased seismic activity may be apparent within decades as active faults beneath the ice sheet are unloaded. This could provide the potential for the earthquake or methane hydrate destabilisation of submarine sediment, leading to the formation of submarine slides and, perhaps, tsunamis in the North Atlantic.

We see evidence of the Earth ‘waking up’ specifically in relation to seismic activity in areas of Alaska where dramatic ice loss (up to 1km vertical thickness) has occurred over the last 100 years, and also in relation to the correlation in many high mountains terrains of increased landslide occurrence and heatwaves.

There is no unequivocal evidence for a specific volcanic response, unless the high level of recent activity at the Icelandic volcanoes is a reflection of unloading due to melting of the Vatnajokull Ice Cap. Certainly this whole region is uplifting by a few centimetres a year, so such a suggestion would not be completely unreasonable, even if we don’t (yet?) have any hard evidence.”


Particularly dangerous in this respect are earthquakes along the fault that crosses the Arctic Ocean, such as the 4.5 M earthquake indicated by the blue dot on the top map, also indicated on the map below. The danger here is that such earthquakes could destabilize methane hydrates that are highly prominent in sediments under the Arctic Ocean.

Map, created with methanetracker.org, with recent earthquakes on the northern boundery of the North American Plate
[click on image to enlarge]
As discussed in earlier posts, wild weather swings could also contribute to destabilization of methane hydrates. Furthermore, a study published this year suggests that human-caused groundwater depletion contributed to the prominence of earthquakes in California. Similar suggestions were made in a study focusing on a 2011 earthquake in Spain.

[ click on image to enlarge ]
Besides the above wild weather swings, wild weather itself could similarly be destructive. As hurricane Sandy approached the U.S. coast in 2012, the force of waves slamming into other waves shook the seafloor, which was recorded by earthquake sensors. The energy generated by Sandy was similar to small earthquakes between magnitudes 2 and 3, seismologists at the University of Utah estimated.

Did typhoon VongFong cause earthquakes around Japan? The image on the right shows earthquakes that occured around Japan during the seven days up to October 16, 2014. Again, the map doesn't show the smaller quakes, so further studies may be needed to shed more light on this.

[ click on image to enlarge ]
As above image shows, some 1500 earthquakes hit the world over a period of seven days up to October 17, 2014, 03:59:21, UTC. Of all these earthquakes, some 1300 hit the U.S. alone. This points at a further cause, i.e. fracking. A recent study has confirmed that fracking is linked to more earthquakes than previously believed.

“Earth to Obama . . .”

from: FAQs
Rob Howarth, Ph.D. and Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University, comments:

“By once again failing to announce strong, decisive action to combat methane at the recent Climate Summit at the United Nations, Obama missed a major opportunity to demonstrate global leadership on climate change. Global emissions of methane equal or exceed the global emissions of carbon dioxide, when the methane emissions are converted to their equivalency for causing global warming using an integrated 10-year time period.”

Meanwhile, the EPA is still underreporting methane's Global Warming Potential, as earlier discussed at Myth #7 and despite a call by Rob Howarth and other methane experts to accurately account for warming effects of methane.

Update

Below is an updated map with more recent data, showing that over a period of 7 days up to October 18, 2014, 01:39:12 UTC, some 1400 earthquakes hit the U.S. Again, note that the USGS map doesn't show earthquakes under magnitude 4 outside the U.S.




References

- A global surge of great earthquakes from 2004-2014 amd implications for Cascadia - by Thorne Lay
https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2014AM/webprogram/Paper242140.html

- Ring of Ice
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2014/08/ring-of-ice.html

- Methane hydrate destabilisation is clearly a real worry, particularly in the context of warming ocean waters in the East Siberian Continental Shelf
http://climatestate.com/2014/10/16/methane-hydrate-destabilisation-is-clearly-a-real-worry-particularly-in-the-context-of-warming-ocean-waters-in-the-east-siberian-continental-shelf

- Wild Weather Swings
http://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2014/10/wild-weather-swings.html

- Uplift and seismicity driven by groundwater depletion in central California
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v509/n7501/full/nature13275.html

- The 2011 Lorca earthquake slip distribution controlled by groundwater crustal unloading
http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v5/n11/full/ngeo1610.html

- Superstorm Sandy's Energy Jolted U.S., Detected By Earthquake Sensors In Pacific Northwest
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/18/superstorm-sandy-energy_n_3112814.html

- Sandy Shook US Like an Earthquake
http://www.livescience.com/24726-sandy-earthquake-movie.html

- Fracking Linked to More Ohio Earthquakes
http://www.livescience.com/48294-fracking-caused-ohio-earthquakes.html

- Characterization of an Earthquake Sequence Triggered by Hydraulic Fracturing in Harrison County, Ohio
http://srl.geoscienceworld.org/content/early/2014/10/09/0220140127.extract

- Climate change, Obama, and methane
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/energy-environment/219704-climate-change-obama-and-methane




Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Royal Society snubs important Arctic scientists and their research

by Dorsi Diaz

Nick Breeze interview with East Siberian Arctic Shelf researcher (ESAS) Dr. Natalia Shakhova on why the important news about methane news is not reaching mainstream news. Powerful interests seem to be in the way of Arctic methane education.

A few days ago an important Royal Society meeting took place that presented important research on the current state of the Arctic. Called ‘Arctic sea ice reduction: the evidence, models, and global impacts’, the event was held in London, England. It was advertised as a “Scientific discussion meeting organised by Dr Daniel Feltham, Dr Sheldon Bacon, Dr Mark Brandon and Professor (Emeritus) Julian Hunt FRS.”

Powerful interests seem to be standing in the way of
important research on 
methane and a dwindling Arctic.
Nick Breeze, Dorsi Diaz
The presenters and attendees there included a list of over 200 important climate scientists from different parts of the world. One could assume from the list of workshops that this conference was being held to talk about and discuss the critical loss of ice we are seeing in the Arctic, and that the purpose of the meeting would be to include any and all data relevant to this never-before-seen-in-human-history event.

People following the rapid loss of Arctic ice and all that data could even be forgiven for feelings of excitement and hope that at least someone is ‘working on it’. We could have assumed that communication was one of the goals here, especially since the conference was tweeted widely, even from inside the conference. Following those tweets we could also have assumed that it was intended that people in the conference were to share information that was important not only about climate change but the loss of the Arctic sea ice.

Such a conference sounds like a great idea, doesn't it? We could have a cause for hope and the organizers seemed transparent, even going so far as to tweet plans. But such assumptions and presumptions would have been misplaced. Instead, what happened has turned into what has been called a Royal Society snubbing of scientists: a brouhaha has developed both in scientific circles and the world wide web, and has now raised serious questions. The main issue was that cutting edge scientists Dr Shakhova and Dr Semiletov were not even invited to present or discuss their very recent findings on important Arctic sea ice and methane releases.

Who are they and what did they have to offer to this conference? Perhaps it was an ‘accident’ that they were not invited? Maybe they were just not on the guest list? Or, if they were deliberately not invited, what could be the reason?

As it turns out Dr Shakhova & Dr Semiletov had just returned from a crucial expedition to the Arctic. The Swerus C3 expedition was conveyed aboard the icebreaker Oden. The goal was to gather data about the Arctic, in particular concerning methane hydrates and systems interaction.

Arctic Expedition

Martin Jakobsson, Professor at Stockholm University and chief scientist on Leg 2, says: “SWERUS-C3 is a two-leg Swedish-Russian-US cooperation that will investigate the linkages between climate, the cryosphere, and carbon. Leg one of the expedition departed from Tromsø, Norway, on 5 July and travelled along the Russian Arctic coast to reach Barrow, Alaska, where a change-over of research staff and crew took place on 20 August. On 21 August SWERUS-C3 set off for its return journey back to Tromsø, this time over the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater mountain range.”

Jakobsson continues: “During the expedition's second leg we studied the warm Atlantic water that flows into the Arctic Ocean and pockmarks at 900-meter depths as well as the enormous tracks on the ocean floor left by previous ice sheets found in the central Arctic Ocean. The material will be able to provide new perspectives on Arctic sea ice development and history as well as stability of gas hydrates along the Arctic continental shelf.”

Findings in the Arctic have not been particularly reassuring; in fact they portend a dire scenario. A press release from University of Stockholm described that they discovered: “Vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor of the Laptev continental slope. These early glimpses of what may be in store for a warming Arctic Ocean could help scientists project the future releases of the strong greenhouse gas methane from the Arctic Ocean.”

This could all be read as some mere diplomatic or career-based tussle among scientists, or some type of television drama happening at an obscure conference of less-than household names, so why would the average reader be interested in what this has to do with life on earth?

It does have everything to do with every being that inhabits this planet. To put it into context: Arctic events are turning into a planetary emergency and are developing as you read. Key is the full meltdown of Arctic sea ice, akin to our planetary air conditioner going kaput. Please see the startling Arctic Death Spiral photo here to check just how little Arctic ice is left: Arctic Death Spiral 1979-2013 ( Sea Ice Decline / Deglaciation)

Key words: Planetary emergency

A recent article in USA Today entitled Study: Earth in the midst of sixth mass extinction states: “The loss and decline of animals around the world — caused by habitat loss and global climate disruption — mean we're in the midst of a ‘sixth mass extinction’ of life on Earth, according to several studies out Thursday in the journal Science. One study found that although the human population has doubled in the past 35 years, the number of invertebrate animals – such as beetles, butterflies, spiders and worms – has decreased by 45% during that same period.” Simple Google searches on this topic allow one to uncover a recent addition of many such articles on the same topic.

To be clear, I have the utmost respect for the scientific community and what they have contributed to the advancement of science. I have interviewed some, and helped give voice to the work of scientists, professors, teachers. and experts: I believe in open communication. I believe that when there is a huge problem as in this case of our planetary emergency or ‘6th mass extinction event’, we need all hands on deck, especially the ones out there on the front lines. Dr Shakhova & Dr Semiletov are two of these.

According to computer modelling, our ‘Arctic air conditioner’ was supposed to stay intact and run effectively for many years. Previously the year 2100 was said to have been the year we would really see all ‘he##’ break loose. Now we realize that those models were way off. In fact, our ‘air-conditioner’ is self-destructing more every minute, causing a meandering jet stream which is already reeking climate havoc around the world: typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other such catastrophic climate events are more commonplace. Indeed, climate change has already become downright nasty. What we were told would not happen until much later is actually taking place right now.

Scientists and governments realize we have a great big problem and have started doing lots and lots of research into our ‘Arctic air conditioner’. Experts were sent to view the problem, Dr Shakhova & Dr Semiletov on board, and told to report back their findings.

The Problem

The air conditioning experts that were sent to check on the problem were not invited to address the Royal Society event to report back, nor to even discuss the air conditioner break down. To be fair, some of them were called upon, including Professor Peter Wadhams (although other significant issues arose to do with Prof Wadhams too). However, the only reporting scientists who were called upon to report on the problem were those same who have been using those same types of conservative computer modeling methods that have traditionally proved to be seriously behind the time actual timeline followed by the Arctic ice.

Clearly it is has been safe to say for years now that those computer modeling methods are more conservative than accurate, and are now in fact far and away off the mark of accuracy. Even a non-scientist can clearly see there is a deeply serious divide between the predictions of conservative models and the dramatic melting events of current days.

The Royal Society plans a ‘communicative’ conference on Arctic sea-ice and leaves out experts recently returned from a life-threatening expedition specifically to review the problem. Meanwhile, others in comfortable office chairs merely crunch data for help guessing at possible problem scenarios. To whom would you listen? Would you trust just one expert or would you call on as many experts as possible to pool resources? Do you feel safe just listening to one side of the story without real-world observations, data, and discussion being included?

created by Zaven Ohannessian with screenshot from interview with Dr. Natalia Shakhova, by Nick Breeze

Imagine for a minute that you are Shakhova and her colleagues. You have been sent to view and report back on the broken air conditioner. You have observed rapid and almost unbelievable changes taking place on your expeditions. It is falling apart and leaking methane. You know that methane is many times more potent and powerful than carbon dioxide and can cause way more damage to the earth if lots of it are coming out. In fact, you have not seen such massive changes before on numerous previous expeditions. You are deeply concerned and really need to let others involved with the ‘Arctic air conditioner’ know what you have seen.

But, when a chance to talk about your data and observations comes up, you are not invited. The very important meeting goes on without you and nothing that you have seen, documented, and observed will become public knowledge. You are stunned by this snub. You want to be able to tell them and therefore the world what is going on. You want to get this information out so that they will let others know what is happening to our ‘Arctic air conditioner’ and the symptoms that its melt are causing.

I can only imagine how that must have felt, sitting on this newest and very important data and not being able to share. Politely though, Dr Shakhova writes a letter about her exclusion, and asks to be able to present her data and observations. She sends a letter to Sir Paul Nurse at the Royal Academy (via climate communication journalist Nick Breeze):

October 4th, 2014
By mail and email

Dear Sir Paul Nurse,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voicing concerns

Among concerned people following this closely is part-time Professor Paul Beckwith, PhD student of abrupt climate change. Beckwith offers his concerns on this latest turn of events at the Royal Society in his newest video: A little chat on methane

Beckwith’s latest statement about his overall assessment of the Arctic situation and where we stand is not particularly comforting either: Our climate system is presently undergoing preliminary stages of abrupt climate change. If allowed to continue, the planetary climate system is quite capable of undergoing an average global temperature increase of 5°C to 6°C over a decade or two. Precedence for changes at such a large rate can be found at numerous times in the paleo-records. From my chair, I conclude that it is vital that we slash greenhouse gas emissions and undergo a crash program of climate engineering to cool the Arctic region and keep the methane in place in the permafrost and ocean sediments.”

Beckwith points at research in the U.S., such as a study published in 2012 by Lawrence Livermore Laboratory researchers who sum up the situation as follows: “The question is not whether but how much and how quickly methane will be released due to warming, and whether it will be enough to trigger a runaway feedback loop.” The study, earlier discussed at the Arctic-news blog, concludes: “In our review of Arctic methane sources, we found that significant gaps in understanding remain of the mechanisms, magnitude, and likelihood of Arctic methane release. No authors stated that catastrophic release of methane—e.g., hundreds of Gt over years to decades—is the expected near-term outcome. But until the mechanisms are better-understood, such a catastrophe cannot be ruled out. The evidence is strong that methane had a role in past warming events, but the particular source and release mechanisms of methane in past warming is not settled. Whereas most authors indicated that a catastrophic release is unlikely, a chronic, climatically significant release of Arctic methane appears plausible. Such a release could undermine or overwhelm gradual emissions reductions made elsewhere, and thus warrants technological intervention.”

Beckwith further points at paper by 21 Russian scientists, including Shakhova and Semiletov, who sum up the situation as follows: “The emission of methane in several areas of the East Siberian Shelf is massive to the extent that growth in the methane concentrations in the atmosphere to values capable of causing a considerable and even catastrophic warming on the Earth is possible.”

In the meantime, we wait with anticipation to see what the U.K. Royal Society's response will be, and if we will be able to hear of Shakhova and Semiletov's latest data and observations on the state of the Arctic. I, for one, would like to know everything about how the ‘Arctic air conditioner’ is really doing; wouldn't you?

Planetary Emergency Update

As I write the text above, a new article is released: “It’s Worse Than We Thought” — New Study Finds That Earth is Warming Far Faster Than Expected. A small excerpt: “Earlier this week, a new study emerged showing that the world was indeed warming far faster than expected. The study, which aimed sensors at the top 2,000 feet of the World Ocean, found that waters had warmed to a far greater extent than our limited models, satellites, and sensors had captured. In particular, the Southern Ocean showed much greater warming than was previously anticipated.”

Many thanks to Julian Warmington, Associate Professor at BUFS, Busan University of Foreign Studies, for editing this news report.

Related

Climate Change: Paul Beckwith discusses the threat of methane
Dr. Malcolm Light interview on climate change: 'Extreme national emergency'
Special presentations on climate change and its effects by Dr. Guy McPherson