Is the melting Arctic poised to release catastrophic quantities of methane? Actually, that’s one thing we don’t have to worry about, says Anil Ananthaswamy in a New Scientist article (paywalled). I’ve read the article, and I haven’t quite stopped worrying. Not quite. Continue reading Dealing with the methane time bomb
1. Indian heat wave
At Climate Progress Extreme Heat Wave In India Is Killing People And Melting Roads. Temperatures have reached 122°F (50°C), that’s 1°F less than the all-time record. Continue reading Climate clippings 141
Every year climbers of Mt Everest leave behind 26,500 pounds of poo. I make that about 12 tonnes.
Sherpas pick it up, bring it down in blue barrels, dig a hole and dump it. Now the proposal is to build an anaerobic digester in a small village near Everest’s base to create biogas to produce power. Apparently human poo is not the best, but it works.
2. Arctic sea ice record
I think it’s time to call it. The Arctic sea ice winter maximum is the lowest on record. This graph shows 2015 ice against the previous record of 2011 and the 1981-2010 average:
Also the maximum extent was reached on February 25, the second earliest on record.
According to a recent survey, thinning has been quite dramatic:
… annual mean ice thickness has decreased from 3.59 meters [11.8 feet] in 1975 to 1.25 m [4.1 feet] in 2012, a 65% reduction. This is nearly double the 36% decline reported by an earlier study….
In September the mean ice thickness has declined from 3.01 to 0.44 m [from 9.9 to 1.4 feet!], an 85 % decline.
Climate Central has a graphic showing the loss of ‘old’ ice. In 1987 it used to be 26% of the ice pack, now it’s down to 10%.
Polar bears will struggle to adapt.
Shell hopes to drill in the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic this summer. It looks as though Obama’s Department of the Interior will allow it, even though an Environmental Impact Report released by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) noted a 75% chance of one or more large spills occurring under the current plan. In 1989 the Exxon Valdez disaster spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Alaskan Gulf, polluting over 1300 miles of coastline. It is estimated that only 14% of the oil was cleaned up.
By comparison BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig spilled 168 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast.
Yet Obama himself stresses the need to move early on climate change. More than half of Republican politicians deny or question the science. Voter pressue will change that eventually.
A recent Stanford University poll found that two-thirds of voters were more likely to vote for a candidate that campaigned on a platform of fighting climate change, and were less likely to vote for a candidate that outright denies climate change.
We are destroying nature’s ability to help us stave off catastrophic climate change. That’s the bombshell conclusion of an under-reported 2014 study, “The declining uptake rate of atmospheric CO2 by land and ocean sinks,”…
Based on actual observations and measurements, the world’s top carbon-cycle experts have determined that the land and ocean are becoming steadily less effective at removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This makes it more urgent for us to start cutting carbon pollution ASAP, since it will become progressively harder and harder for us to do so effectively in the coming decades.
Joe Romm calls the study “one of the most consequential recent findings by climatologists”
More than half of emissions are currently absorbed by land and ocean-based carbon sinks. Increasingly these emissions will stay in the air.
5. Reasons the Australian solar market is so interesting
Clean Technica has found 7 reasons the Australian solar market is so interesting republished at RenewEconomy.
One reason is that we have so much sunlight, as shown below:
However, most of us live in the more cloudy parts in big cities and along the south-east edge. A commenter pointed out that for insolation Ney York lies between Melbourne and Sydney.
A second reason is that we are enthusiastic about roof-top solar, with over 20% of houses now with panels installed.
A third is that, along with Germany, Italy and The Netherlands, we reached socket (aka grid) parity in 2013.
This edition looks at changes in the cryosphere, a major US report, the prospects for an El Niño and the problem of China burning coal.
1. Pacific Ocean hot spot
Scientists have discovered a hot spot in the Pacific Ocean which is partly responsible for global warming in the Arctic. Incredibly this hot spot is east of Papua New Guinea.
This phenomenon is attributed to natural variations rather than global warming. Therein, perhaps, lies the reason that scientists have been constantly surprised by the rapidity of the Arctic sea ice loss.
2. Southern Ocean winds strengthening and moving south
Scientists have confirmed in a study covering the last 1000 years that winds are strengthening in the Southern Ocean and moving south. They found a definite trend greater than can be explained by natural variability and attributable to the effect of increased greenhouse gases.
Hence the drying of southern Australia is expected to continue. Also the tightening of winds around Antarctica inhibits warming of the continent. Nevertheless the warming of West Antarctica is considerable.
3. Antarctic glaciers melting past point of no return
A group of melting glaciers in West Antarctica appears to have reached the point of no return according to scientists from NASA and the University of California Irvine. Even if we cut back greenhouse gas emissions savagely now the melting will continue. We are probably looking at 3 to 5 metres of sea level rise, from Antarctica alone – that is our gift to future generations. Dangerous climate change is no longer just a future possibility, it’s happening now!
The question is, how long will it take? Here there is uncertainty. It could be as short as two centuries or as long as nine. Professor Eric Rignot thinks two centuries is “not outrageous”.
4. East Antarctica more vulnerable than thought
Part of East Antarctica is more vulnerable than expected to a thaw that could trigger an unstoppable slide of ice into the ocean and raise world sea levels for thousands of years, a study showed on Sunday.
The Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica, stretching more than 1,000 km (600 miles) inland, has enough ice to raise sea levels by 3 to 4 meters (10-13 feet) if it were to melt as an effect of global warming, the report said.
The Wilkes is vulnerable because it is held in place by a small rim of ice, resting on bedrock below sea level by the coast of the frozen continent. That “ice plug” might melt away in coming centuries if ocean waters warm up.
“East Antarctica’s Wilkes Basin is like a bottle on a slant. Once uncorked, it empties out,” Matthias Mengel of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, lead author of the study in the journal Nature Climate Change, said in a statement.
Wilkes basin could be more vulnerable than West Antarctica, but perhaps on longer time scales. Again there is concern with tipping points. James Hansen famously said, You can’t sling a rope around an ice sheet!
5. Climate change is clear and present danger, says landmark US report
Climate change is already severely impacting US economy, ecology and health, according to the the third National Climate Assessment report. Arid areas will become dryer, moist areas wetter and wildfires and storms will become more frequent and severe. For example floods have increased in frequency, mainly in the Midwest and Northeast:
Climate change has moved from distant threat to present-day danger and no American will be left unscathed, according to a landmark report due to be unveiled on Tuesday.
The National Climate Assessment, a 1,300-page report compiled by 300 leading scientists and experts, is meant to be the definitive account of the effects of climate change on the US. It will be formally released at a White House event and is expected to drive the remaining two years of Barack Obama’s environmental agenda.
The findings are expected to guide Obama as he rolls out the next and most ambitious phase of his climate change plan in June – a proposal to cut emissions from the current generation of power plants, America’s largest single source of carbon pollution.
6. Chances of El Niño almost 4 out of 5
The chances of an El Niño developing this year are now at almost 80% according to some estimates. This graph shows the increased temperature in El Niño years.
It could be a warm one.
Parts of the western United States suffering chronic drought could have flooding rains. In Oz where large areas are in drought, there would be even less chance of relief.
7. China, please stop using coal!
China should put a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from coal by 2020, and then swiftly reduce its dependency on the fossil fuel, according to a new study. Otherwise climate change will be impossible to stop.
Of relevance, back in 2011 the IEA said that after 2017 any new fossil fuel power generation should be matched by the decommissioning of equivalent existing capacity.
Reminder: Use this thread as an open thread on climate change.
As Cyclone Ita bears down on the coast of Far North Queensland I was reminded of the post I drafted in late February on extreme weather. Ita is rated as category 4, hence severe. On the upside few people live in the expected path. On the downside the people who do are not likely to get much help from the outside world.
The incidence of cyclones is not expected to increase with climate change, although I understand the story could be different in the Caribbean and the NW West Pacific. However, we are likely to get more severe cyclones and they may be more intense.
Here’s the post as I wrote it.
This summer, Australians again endured record-breaking, extreme heatwaves and hot weather. My daughter in Adelaide, for example, experienced a record 13 days of 40°C-plus maximums. The Climate Council’s latest report Heatwaves: Hotter, Longer, More Often came up with four key findings:
First, climate change is already increasing the likelihood and severity of heatwaves across Australia. Second, heatwaves have widespread impacts including increased deaths, reduced workplace productivity, damage to infrastructure such as transport and electricity systems, mortality of heat-sensitive plants and animals, and stress on agricultural systems. Third, record hot days and heatwaves are expected to increase further in the future. And finally, limiting future increase in heatwave activity requires urgent and deep cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions.(Emphasis added)
While the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires killed more than 170 people, the preceding heatwave killed double this figure. In fact heatwaves kill more Australians than any other natural disaster, a fact largely unremarked. The following graph plots 2009 deaths against temperature and the 2004-08 average.
According to the report it has been estimated that heatwaves could cause an additional 6214 deaths in Victoria alone by 2050.
Adelaide’s heatwaves are an average 2.5°C hotter than they were half a century ago, and peak heat days are 4.5°C hotter.
Hot days, previously considered to be “once-in-20-years” occurrences, will start to happen every two to five years in Australia by mid-century.
At the end of the report they return to their constant theme – this is the critical decade in which to take action.
Meanwhile in Toronto where my sister lives they had an ice storm around Christmas and have been living in below zero temperatures ever since (time of writing, 19 February). The snow shovelled from their driveway doesn’t melt, so the pile goes up and up and up. Of the cities listed on the weather page of our local rag only Montreal has been consistently colder.
(Update: I think the cold spell lasted at least another month.)
At the same time weather historian Christopher C Burt blogged about record warmth in Alaska.
He shows an amazing map of the forecast for February 1st at the end of the post. It’s stunning, showing the Northern Hemisphere weather split by a stream of warm air directly across the North Pole:
There is a related post at Dr Jeff Masters’ Wunderblog he says:
The cold air flowing out of the Arctic into the eastern half of the U.S. is being replaced by warm air surging northwards over Alaska and the North Atlantic east of Greenland. The warmth in Alaska the past three days has been particularly astonishing, with Alaska observing its all-time warmest January temperature of 62°[F] on Monday 1/27 at the Port Alsworth Climate Reference Network station, according to Rick Thoman of NWS Fairbanks. This ties the January state record set at Petersburg on January 16, 1981. Port Alsworth is about 160 miles southwest of Anchorage.
Nome, Alaska recorded a high of 51°F [10.5°C] on Monday. This was 38°[F] above average, and the warmest temperature ever observed in any November through March in Nome since record keeping began in 1907. (Emphasis added)
I think 38°F is about 21°C.
Elsewhere I’ve read that the US and Canada were 5°C colder than the 1951-1980 base in December, while north-eastern Europe and Siberia were 9°C warmer. Berlin and Moscow seem rather balmier than usual.
We are normally told that the jet stream has slowed down but for a time in February it speeded up, while being stuck in one place. The effect of this was to fling low pressure systems at the UK, where they experienced record floods.
Back in Oz again, much of the country is in severe drought, although, ironically, the grand tour by Abbott and Barnaby Joyce into the drought areas was interrupted by rain. Of course, one dump of rain doesn’t necessarily break a drought and the prospect for the coming 2014-15 summer is 75% stacked in favour of an El Niño. More records could be broken, including global average surface temperatures.
During this critical period of necessary climate action the Abbott government has appointed a climate denier Dick Warburton to head up the review of the Renewable Energy Target.
We live in interesting times.
PS One of my favourites from the archives is Remembering the floods.
These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as a roundtable. Continue reading Climate clippings 85
The summer melt of the Arctic appears to have reached it’s limit with the sea ice extent at 5.1 million km2 (cf. the 3.41 million km2 record in 2012) as shown on this graph from the NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis site:
The black line is the 1981-2010 average, plus and minus two standard deviations. The blue is 2007 and the dotted line represents the 2012 record. This year is the sixth lowest on record as this graph from Skeptical Science shows: Continue reading Arctic sea ice extent minimum for 2013
I’m not planning to do posts on the upcoming election apart from link posts if I see anything interesting and/or important. The post on the Murdoch’s intervention started out as a link post, but then I warmed to the task. While this space is open I’d like to explore a theme that came from a comment in reaction to the LNP ‘solution’ to the asylum seeker ‘problem’. I can’t find it now, but someone asked, “What have we become?”
Moreover, what will we become? We have a choice, and in our response to the stranger in need who has chosen us, we either grow or diminish ourselves.
The task is ambitious and I’m not academically equipped for it. I’m not speaking as a philosopher or a sociologist, just “someone who is trying to sort out his ideas”, so the results may be modest. Some of the posts may not appear to be directly on the topic, but I hope all will fit together in the long run.
Meanwhile I’ll try to keep some information flowing on climate change. Both these projects may be of more use than any contribution I can make to an election here in Oz. This time CC will be free flow rather than numbered items, to save time. I’ll use bold to identify the topics.
Arctic ice is losing its reflective sheen. We all know that ice reflects more incoming radiation from the sun than does open water. Now by analysing 30 years of satellite data scientists have found that albedo of the ice itself at the end of the summer is about 15% weaker today than it was 30 years ago.
The cause of the darkening is
partly due to thinning ice and the formation of open water fissures, and partly because in the warmer air, ponds of liquid water form on the surface of the ice. The shallow ponds on the ice can dramatically reduce reflectivity and increase the amount of solar radiation that the ice absorbs.
These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as an open thread. This post has emphasised science, observations and impacts. Comments, about science, observations impacts, and future predictions are welcome. I do not, however, want a rehash of whether human activity causes climate change.
1. SAM and ENSO divorce
Roger Jones at Understanding Climate Risk has a post on global warming breaking the link between SAM and ENSO, with consequences for our weather.
To help, GMT in the graph means ‘global mean temperature’.
With the global warming signal taken out (top panel), the relationship between ENSO and SAM is strong but with it in, they depart in the late 1960s (lower panel).
There’s also an article in The Age.
So what does this mean for Australia’s climate? It means that an overwhelmingly positive SAM is keeping the westerlies south and contributing to our drier autumn winters and delivering weather typical of the Riverina to southern Victoria according to Cai. Recovery of the ozone layer and reduction in greenhouse gas emission would stabilise this process, rather than continuing to send it south.
In summer it also allows the easterly trades greater access, bringing in more moisture from the tropics and enhancing La Niña summer rainfall. Continue reading Climate clippings 79
1. Antarctic ice melt studies
A recent study by Abram et al showed that the ice on the Antarctic peninsula was melting about 10 times faster than it was 600 years ago, concluding that further melting was particularly sensitive to temperature increases. The headline and the text of this story perhaps gave the impression that the whole continent was ready to go.
A more sober assessment was found at The Carbon Brief where the study was linked with another study by Steig et al that finds recent changes in the West Antarctica ice sheet “cannot be distinguished from decadal variability that originates in the tropics.”
Nevertheless Antarctica overall is losing mass (see also here). Antarctica contributed strongly to sea level rise during the Eemian and the Andrill study showed that “the West Antarctic ice sheet has collapsed and regrown over 60 times in the past few million years”. Any complacency would be misplaced.
2. New review of ice sheet studies
The Carbon Brief has also posted on a new major review of the latest research on ice sheets. The last IPCC report (AR4) relied on about 10 years worth of reliable sea level data, from 1993 and 2003. Greenland and Antarctica together were found to be raising sea levels by about 0.42 mm per year. That has now doubled to about 0.82mm per year.
So while we are still dealing with short time periods, a clear acceleration is in evidence.
3. Skeptical bloopers
The Carbon Brief reckons that once about every six months David Rose runs an article saying global warming has stopped. Here’s their post of October 2012. Then they lined up six top rebuttals of the week, and a reader contributed a seventh by Tamino.
Elsewhere in case you missed it Andrew Glikson debunks the notion that CFCs are responsible for global warming.
4. Garnaut recommends 17% target
Dr Jenny Riesz of the University of NSW reports on Garnaut’s recommendation to the Climate Change Authority which is currently deliberating on the Caps and Targets Review. He favours a 17% target by 2020 to put us in line with the US, Canada and other major economies.
At the Cancun United Nations negotiations in 2010, President Obama committed the USA to an emissions reduction target of -17% by 2020 (below 2005 levels). This has been somewhat ignored in Australia’s carbon targets debate, because policy to implement a national carbon pricing scheme to achieve this target was filibustered by the US Senate.
However, the USA remains committed to this target, both in spirit, and in writing with the UNFCCC.
Canada has promised to match the USA.
He suggests that the EU has found it much easier to meet their targets than originally anticipated, which is a typical experience. This, he says, is in part why their carbon price has collapsed.
Garnaut points out that:
the biggest change of all is coming from China, in terms of quantity of emissions reduction from business as usual. They have set truly ambitious targets, and are meeting them through a wide range of activities, including substantial structural change in the Chinese economy. These actions are driven by a wide range of objectives, including environmental drivers, desire for expansion of the role of services in the economy, and desire for more equitable income distribution.
5. Carbon trading schemes
In the last CC thread Jumpy linked to a Parliamentary Library paper Countries trading greenhouse gas emissions.
Over the last three years, the global carbon market has more than doubled in volume but almost halved in value. In that time a further eight countries, states or cities have adopted a carbon market as their primary means for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the price for one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent has dropped by as much as 100 per cent in some markets.
That last sentence looks like an oops! A 100% drop gives you nothing!
6. Floods in Central Europe
Dramatic floods have spread over central Europe.
The New Scientist reports caution about a link with climate change:
While it is premature to pin the heavy rainfall on climate change, it could be partly to blame, says Stéphane Isoard of the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, Denmark. But he says bad land management is just as important.
Nevertheless wetter weather is predicted by climate change, making more floods inevitable.
Deutsche Welle goes into more detail, saying that while individual events can’t necessarily be linked to climate change, they’ve had once in a century floods now in the 1990s, in 2002 and now in 2013. We’ll have to expect more and prepare accordingly.
They make reference to Stefan Rahmstorf’s blog (which is auf Deutsch), but this paper is in English. On a quick look I think he’s saying they have found a mechanism linking floods, droughts and heat waves to climate change and if they are right expect more. And, yes they need money for research of the kind expended on the Higgs boson.
7. Interest grows in the Arctic
Now that the Arctic is increasingly becoming trafficable during the summer many countries are becoming interested. The politics of who sits where at the Arctic Council is complex, but China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, India and Italy have now been admitted as permanent observers.
According to the New Scientist China is the one to watch. They’re interested in the Arctic as a shipping route, but also in fish and oil.
“It’s fair to say China will drive development of Arctic resources,” says Malte Humpert of the Arctic Institute in Washington DC.
The Arctic is fragile so we hope they take care.
8. US and China agree to cooperate on phasing out HFCs
From the White House brief:
For the first time, the United States and China will work together and with other countries to use the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), among other forms of multilateral cooperation. A global phase down of HFCs could potentially reduce some 90 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2050, equal to roughly two years worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions.
William S. Becker explains that China had always wanted to consider the issue in the context of the current round of climate talks, which would delay action, whereas the Montreal Protocol already exists. HFCs were introduced as an alternative to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which were destroying the ozone layer. Unfortunately HFCs have a greenhouse effect like CO2.
To provide further context HFCs amount to about 2% of GHG emissions, as shown on this wondrous flowchart.
1. The scientific consensus remains solid
Suzanne Goldenberg in The Guardian has the story. A study led by John Cook of Skeptical Science fame considered the work of some 29,000 scientists published in 11,994 academic papers between 1991 and 2011.
Of the 4,000-plus papers that took a position on the causes of climate change only 0.7% or 83 of those thousands of academic articles, disputed the scientific consensus that climate change is the result of human activity, with the view of the remaining 2.2% unclear.
The survey found that the consensus has grown slowly over time, and reached about 98% in 2011.
Of the papers which specifically examine the contributors to global warming, they virtually all conclude that humans are the dominant cause over the past 50 to 100 years.
In this edition I’ve stuck to scientific articles, and, incidentally have used a couple (items 3 and 4) from stuff I gathered around this time last year when I thought I might be launching a new blog. For reasons we won’t go into it didn’t happen at that time.
1. Arctic ice watch
While we were on sabbatical last year the northern cryosphere had an exciting time. There was a giant storm in the Arctic ocean, Greenland surface melt covered virtually the whole ice sheet and all sorts of records were broken in the Arctic summer sea ice melt. I’m hoping to do an update to catch us up, but follow this link to see a dramatic animation of Arctic sea ice volume loss since 1979. I’ve posted this image to show how far we’ve come:
You can monitor Arctic sea ice extent on the NSIDC site. This image is a screenshot from the interactive graph on that page showing the way summer sea ice is sagging: