Tag Archives: Antarctica

Ice sheet decay spells danger from sea level rise

think-progress_0-byvq9xmd8g3r6qzl_230In the post Scoping long-term sea level rise I indicated the possibility of 25 metres (±5) of SLR with emissions of 380 (360-400)ppm and a temperature variance of 2.7 to 3.7°C. The question was really how long it would take, and what were the prospects for the next century or three.

The received wisdom seemed to be that we could expect about a metre, by 2100, and some studies limited SLR to about two metres in the next millennium. A new study suggests we could get close to two meters in total by 2100. Moreover the melting of ice on Antarctica alone could cause seas to rise more than 15 meters by 2500. Continue reading Ice sheet decay spells danger from sea level rise

Hansen worries that all hell will break loose

Hansen-paper-370x232_250James Hansen worries that “we may be approaching a point of no return, a situation in which our children inherit a climate system undergoing changes that are out of their control, changes that will cause them irreparable harm”. He’s looked at the models, at current observations, and at what happened during the Eemian interglacial 118,000 years ago, and he doesn’t like what he sees.

During the Eemian, when global average temperatures were about 1°C more than now, sea level was about 3-4 metres higher than now for a considerable time. Then about 118,000 years ago, towards the end of the interglacial, it peaked at 6-9 meters, including a rise of 2-3 metres within several decades. A similar sea level rise of several metres now would see the inundation of many of the world’s major cities.

Also there were huge storms at mid-latitudes in the North Atlantic which would make Superstorm Sandy look mild. Hansen thinks that climate change may be entering a phase where similar events could occur this century. Continue reading Hansen worries that all hell will break loose

Climate clippings 168

1. Tesla 3 sales going gangbusters

    Demand for Tesla Motors’ new lower-priced electric car surprised even the company’s CEO Friday as 198,000 people plunked down $US1,000 ($1302) deposits to reserve their vehicles.

    The orders came from across the globe even though the car isn’t scheduled for sale until late in 2017.

Continue reading Climate clippings 168

Climate clippings 160

1. Game changing steel to make lighter cars etc.

From Gizmag, courtesy of John D:

    Back in 2011, we wrote about a fascinating new way to heat-treat regular, cheap steel to endow it with an almost miraculous blend of characteristics. Radically cheaper, quicker and less energy-intensive to produce, Flash Bainite is stronger than titanium by weight, and ductile enough to be pressed into shape while cold without thinning or cracking. It’s now being tested by three of the world’s five largest car manufacturers, Continue reading Climate clippings 160

Climate clippings 155

1. Climate change affects the brain

    In a landmark public health finding, a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health finds that carbon dioxide (CO2) has a direct and negative impact on human cognition and decision-making. These impacts have been observed at CO2 levels that most Americans — and their children — are routinely exposed to today inside classrooms, offices, homes, planes, and cars.

Continue reading Climate clippings 155

Climate clippings 136

1. Will Hillary Clinton be too weak on climate change?

Clinton_82a8efb1-4abb-41ab-ab60-22fbbcb08b78-1020x612_500

Campaign chair John Podesta tweeted:

Helping working families succeed, building small businesses, tackling climate change & clean energy. Top of the agenda.

Yet she herself has mentioned it only obliquely since announcing that she’s running. From the past we have this:

At the National Clean Energy Summit in September of last year, in her first major domestic policy address since stepping down from the state department, Clinton described global warming as “the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world”. Continue reading Climate clippings 136

Climate clippings 132

1. Accelerating ice loss from Antarctica shelves

Some ice shelves in Antarctica are thickening and some are thinning. The pattern between east and west is obvious from this image:

ice shelves_image-20150326-8713-1fyzwcb_600

When we sum up losses around Antarctica, we find that the change in volume of all the ice shelves was almost zero in the first decade of our record (1994-2003) but, on average, over 300 cubic kilometers per year were lost between 2003 and 2012.

According to the ABC story, some shelves lost almost 20% of their thickness.

Melting ice shelves does not itself cause sea level rise, but the shelves buttress land ice, which then becomes more mobile. The graph in the bottom corner of the image shows that East Antarctica is now also experiencing a net loss of ice from ice shelves.

2. Top polluters to set own limits virtually penalty free

ANU economist Frank Jotzo said the system is designed so no-one gets caught by it – a toothless tiger. Tony Wood of the Grattan Institute said the ideas proposed in the paper simply would not work. They were commenting on a Government consultation paper outlining “safeguards” to ensure the big polluters do not offset emissions saved through the Emission Reduction Fund (ERF), a flagship component of Direct Action.

Australia’s 140 top polluters will set their own limits for future pollution virtually penalty free, according to the Government’s latest Direct Action policy paper.

Companies subject to the safeguards will select a baseline, or limit, for future pollution.

That baseline will be set according to the highest peak of emissions from the past five years.

Just plain stoopid!

3. What’s going on in the North Atlantic?

Stefan Rahmstorf asks the question at RealClimate. There is a large patch in the North Atlantic which has cooled in the last century.

Rahmstorf_2015_1rc_600

Rahmstorf explains:

Our recent study (Rahmstorf et al. 2015) attributes this to a weakening of the Gulf Stream System, which is apparently unique in the last thousand years.

In fact during last winter, which was the warmest on record for the planet overall, this patch had the coldest temperatures on record.

Chief suspect has to be the increasing freshwater coming off Greenland. There will be consequences.

The consequences of a large reduction in ocean overturning would look nothing like the Hollywood film The Day After Tomorrow. But they would not be harmless either – e.g. for sea level (Levermann et al. 2005) particularly along the US east coast (Yin et al. 2009), marine ecosystems, fisheries and possibly even storminess in Europe (Woollings et al. 2012).

A complete breakdown of the current was given up to a 10% chance this century in the IPCC report. This may have been an underestimate.

4. Rapid Arctic warming is changing the Jetstream and the weather

Another study, also involving Rahmstorf, looks at changing atmospheric circulation patterns due to Arctic warming.

The Arctic is warming faster than lower latitudes. The Jetstream velocity depends on temperature difference, hence it is slowing. It is also more wavy and has a tendency to get stuck, so heat or cold persists over a large area. Ironically, there is less storminess. Storms transport water onto land and break up persistent weather patterns.

The jet stream that circles Earth’s north pole travels west to east. But when the jet stream interacts with a Rossby wave, as shown here, the winds can wander far north and south.

Jet stream_b7acb6bc-724d-4e2e-9078-17bb01ce052b-550

5. Brisbane EV charging technology takes on the world

Brisbane-based electric vehicle infrastructure company, Tritium, has done a deal to supply its award-winning Veefil DC fast charging stations to America’s ChargePoint company. ChargePoint has 21,000 EV chargers around the US.

The Australian-made stations will be installed on major routes across the country, including the express charging corridors on both the east and west coasts of the US that are being built as part of a recent deal between ChargePoint, Volkswagen and BMW.

The 50kW Veefil stations – which in the US will be called DC Fast stations and will be ChargePoint branded – are able to deliver up to 80 miles or 128 kilometers of charge in just 20 minutes, thus removing one of the key barriers to EV uptake: range anxiety.

Climate clippings 131

1. Totten Glacier

In Climate clippings 124 I mentioned concerns about Totten Glacier in East Antarctica, which is actively melting. It’s now in the news again. Dr Tas van Ommen:

“We’re realising that the East Antarctic ice sheet’s probably not the sleeping giant that we thought or at least, the giant’s starting to twitch and we’re concerned,” he said.

This article has a map showing the size of the glacier catchment, more than double Victoria:

Totten_6326094-3x2-600

Essentially with East Antarctica on the move, estimations of sea level rise this century could be underdone. We simply don’t know.

2. Great Barrier Reef ‘saved’

The Federal and Queensland Governments have together released the final version of the long-term plan for the Great Barrier Reef.

The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan satisfies one of the key recommendations made by the United Nation’s World Heritage Committee and forms a key plank in the Governments’ bid to avoid the site being declared “in danger” by UNESCO.

The report warns climate change is the biggest long-term threat facing the reef, while the immediate pressures include water quality, which has declined due to nutrient and sediment runoff from agricultural production.

Previously, a draft version of the report was criticised by some scientists as being a plan for sustainable development rather than protecting and conserving the reef.

The Queensland Government also sought urgent changes to the draft, to include its $100 million election commitment to improve water quality.

These news items never mention ocean acidification. As I’ve repeatedly warned:

It has been shown that “preserving more than 10 per cent of coral reefs worldwide would require limiting warming to below +1.5°C (atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs) range: 1.3–1.8°C) relative to pre-industrial levels”.

3. France says new rooftops must go green

According to a new French law approved on Thursday, rooftops on new buildings in commercial zones across France must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels.

France has lagged behind other major European countries like Germany, Italy and Spain in solar power development. As of last summer, France had just over five gigawatts of photovoltaic capacity, accounting for around one percent of total energy consumption. Germany has nearly 40 GWs installed.

France has relied on nukes for 83% of its power.

4. Are the UK’s emissions really falling?

Traditional emissions accounting only considers the greenhouse gases generated within a country’s own borders. In other words, emissions produced in the UK are allocated to the UK. On this measure, UK emissions have fallen dramatically to around 25% below 1990 levels.

But when the source of emissions generated by products consumed within the UK are counted, emissions have only fallen by 7%. This is the pattern over time:

UK emissions_screen-shot-2015-03-19-at-144932_599x299

The UK’s production emissions have fallen fast (dark blue area), but imports have offset much of the gain (lighter blues, purples and grey area). Clearly things changed after the GFC in 2008.

5. Germany penalises dirty coal power

Germany plans to force operators of coal plants to curb production at their oldest and most-polluting power stations, as part of efforts to achieve its climate targets, senior government sources said yesterday. Under the measures, the government plans to allow coal plants to produce 7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per gigawatt of installed capacity, but any produced above that level would be subject to a fine of 18 to 20 euros per ton.

6. Australia’s top ten emitters

Planet Oz takes a look at an ACF report on Australia’s top polluting companies. From the report here they are:

Top 10 polluters_cropped_600

Seven are energy companies, three are miners.

However, if you took the emissions generated from the products they produce, a very different picture would emerge. Rio, for example comes fourth with emissions of 18 million tonnes of CO2 last year. Yet Rio’s customers burning coal produce a further 129 million tonnes.

7. Climate change ‘exacerbated’ Cyclone Pam damage

That’s according to the Climate Council, (but see Item 8 below).

“Higher surface temperatures can mean that you have higher wind speed and more damaging rainfall,” Amanda McKenzie from the Council said.

“And what we saw in Vanuatu was in the lead-up to the cyclone, sea surface temperatures were well above average.”

Ms McKenzie said rising sea levels would multiply the damaging effects of cyclone storm surges.

Cyclone Pam, a category-5 storm with wind gusts reaching 300 km/h, struck Vanuatu on 13 March 2015 leaving twenty-four people dead, 100,000 people homeless and up to 70% of the nation’s 69,000 households damaged.

8. Cyclone Pam and Climate Change

Stefan Rahmstorf at RealClimate takes a look at whether climate change had an effect on Cyclone Pam.

My take is, quite possibly, but we can’t know for sure.

The basic problem is that the satellite record only goes back to around 1980, which is not long enough, and only in the North Atlantic are cyclones surveyed by aircraft and then only if they threaten populated regions within a few days.

A study by Kossin et al (2013) looked at the satellite data record from 1982 to 2009 and found an increase of 2.5 m/s per decade for high intensity events (Pam appears to have reached an intensity of around 75 m/s).

Other factors to look out for include the amount of rain delivered, changes in genesis locations and tracks, and diameters, all of which should be affected by climate change.

Haiyan and Pam, two of the most severe tropical cyclones on record, have struck the western Pacific in the past 16 months.

Climate clippings 124

1. Totten Glacier melting from below

Scientists have found that waters around Totten Glacier are warmer than expected and that it is melting from below. Amazingly the glacier, in East Antarctica, has never been studied before.

Totten glacier_251552E400000578-2926354-image-a-31_1422281876786_600

A team of scientists on the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis has recently taken a look. They don’t have comparative historical data to go by, but the concern is large. Totten is the biggest of the big and holds enough water to raise the sea level 6 metres. That’s somewhere between West Antarctica and Greenland!

2. State of the Climate 2014

The CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have released their State of the Climate 2014 report. There is a summary at the ABC.

One thing that was new was a prediction of more extreme El Niño and La Niña events. They are talking here of extreme La Niña’s appearing once in 13 years rather than once in 23 years. So it’s not the garden variety events, rather the exceptional events.

For the rest of the report, it seems on a quick look to be much as expected – less rainfall in southern Australia, more extreme hot days, less snow, continued ocean acidification, more worries about sea level rise and so on. I’ll take a closer look if I get time.

Graham Readfearn points out that in 1995 at Amberley near Brisbane the mercury climbed above 35C on 12 days per year on average. That could become 55 days per year.

3. Australian sport needs to lift game on climate issues, Olympians and sport bosses say

It has been a year since extreme heat wreaked havoc at the Australian Open, with players forced to endure temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius on the courts.

Some athletes said the conditions were akin to “tap-dancing on a fry pan”.

Unfortunately Tennis Australia are not on their lonesome in forcing athletes to perform in dangerous conditions. There are concerns also for spectators and venues, for example subject to flooding. The Climate Institute has produced a report analysing the vulnerability amongst sports like AFL, tennis, cricket and cycling as well as winter snow sports.

Part of The Climate Institute’s ongoing research into climate risk and resilience, this report will form the basis of ongoing discussions in the sporting world, including with the newly formed Sports Environment Alliance, chaired by former International Cricket Council CEO Malcolm Speed.

4. Keystone showdown and American climate opinion

The Senate has passed legislation approving the controversial Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline on a 62-36 vote.

asked Thursday about the vote, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reiterated that Obama would veto.

The Senate requires 67 votes to overturn a presidential veto.

Meanwhile Carbon Brief takes a look at the gap in opinion between scientists, the public, and politicians on climate change from Pew Center research. This is how it pans out:

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 11.04.43

A case of the blind leading the partially sighted.

Across the ditch Hot Topic posts about a book that meticulously goes through the development of climate science from the time of Arrhenius. Seriously, there isn’t an argument any more about the basic science.

5. Economists begin to take climate change, and poverty, seriously

I find this surprising:

current economic models… generally conclude that the economically optimal pathway results in a global surface warming around 3–3.5°C.

Current economic models mainly treat economic growth as an external factor. In these models, global warming and its impacts via climate change don’t significantly affect the rate at which the economy grows.

A new study finds:

while the economies of rich countries continue to grow well in a warmer world, the economic growth of poor countries is significantly impaired.

That’s not so surprising.

The authors find that:

the best path for society would limit temperatures to between 1.6 and 2.8°C warming in 2100, with a best estimate of around 1.7°C warming.

Meanwhile the rulers of the world at the Davos World Economic Forum conference were given a straight message:

In particular, the nexus between climate protection and development is a striking conclusion of the World Bank analysis: without climate stabilization at still manageable levels, development advances, especially in the poorest countries, are set to be reversed. Indeed, development work of past decades (involving significant financial resources) is at risk and with it the well-being of the most vulnerable citizens on Earth.

The “World Bank analysis” is Turn down the heat : confronting the new climate normal, a report prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics.

Climate clippings 118

1. Growth in CO2 slows

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel use and cement production grew 2% in 2013 to the new record of 35.3 billion tonnes of CO2. This was about half the average for the last 10 years and less than global GDP growth of 3.1%.

2. Aradhna Tripati gets a gong

The Center for Biological Diversity presented its third annual E.O. Wilson Award for Outstanding Science in Biodiversity Conservation to Dr. Aradhna Tripati for her groundbreaking research on carbon dioxide’s role in climate change.

Tripati’s work revealed that the last time CO2 levels were as high as they are today was 15 million to 20 million years ago, when the distribution of plants and animals was dramatically different, global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees warmer, and the sea level was 75 to 120 feet higher than today. Her research suggests that the CO2 threshold for maintaining year-round Arctic ice may be well below modern levels.

Converting from Fahrenheit to Celsius and feet to metres that would make 2.7 to 5.5°C and 23 to 36 metres.

I would caution that the shape of the ocean basins may have been different, but these are alarming findings.

3. 1000-year drought history of Queensland and New South Wales

By analysing ice cores Australian scientist have found that there were eight droughts in the last millennium that lasted more than five years, with one of the so-called mega droughts lasting for almost 40 years. That was back in the 12th century.

This tends to indicate that the Millennium Drought and the Big Dry from 1997 to 2009 were not unusual.

From the official news release:

Explaining the findings, Dr Vance said the ice core analysis had significantly enhanced our understanding of a relatively poorly understood phenomenon known as the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO).

The IPO describes a roughly 25-year cycle in the sea surface temperature, wind and other factors in the Pacific Ocean.

The IPO’s positive phase is closely linked with longer and more severe droughts in the United States and Australia. The risk of droughts occurring in Australia is higher during the IPO’s positive phase.

I’m not questioning the findings but how drought in Queensland and NSW can be derived from drilling ice cores in the Antarctic is not immediately obvious.

Where does this leaves global warming? The authors don’t say, but the clear implication is that severe droughts are part of the natural cycle. Warming is a given. The most recent analysis I recall is that drying along the southern edge of the continent has a climate change component. North of the Victorian border there is uncertainty.

4. Lifters or leaners?

Or backmarkers. UK PM David Cameron thinks Australia does not want to be a “backmarker” on climate change action. Global pressure will make us do more. Has he met our Tones?

Christian Downie thinks the real achievement of the Lima climate talks

wasn’t the goals set, but the fact that international talks like these make it increasingly hard for breakaway countries to ignore the issue.

John Kerry spells it out:

“If you are a big developed nation and you do not lead, you are part of the problem.”

Part of the problem indeed, and perhaps an active climate change vandal. Kieran Cooke reports that in Lima Australia was “lobbying for rules that undermine the integrity of the emissions accounting system”.

5. Antarctic sea ice

One of the conundrums of climate science has been the question of why the Antarctic sea ice has been expanding. Eric Steig at RealClimate takes a detailed look. One of the complexities is that the sea ice is expanding in some places and contracting in others. This, he says, rules out simplistic notions like an increase in westerly winds.

However, if you take into account the changes in all the wind patterns in the Antarctic you get a better match, indeed a good match.

Finally Steig says:

Not incidentally, changing winds also have a lot to do with what’s been happening to the Antarctic ice sheet (meaning the land-based glaciers, distinct from the sea ice). I’ll have another post on that later this month, or in the New Year.