Monday, October 29, 2012

Climate Change Sandy Says to US: 'Take That, Idiots!'

By Nathan Currier

Superstorm Sandy shows signature of human-induced climate change 

Nathan Currier, senior climate advisor for Public Policy Virginia

After the second presidential debate, moderator Candy Crowley said, "Climate change -- I had that question, all you climate change people. We just -- you know, again, we knew that the economy was still the main thing, so you knew you kind of wanted to go with the economy." And the media's been talking about low information voters?

Now, along comes Sandy, who says to Candy, "Okay, then, take that!" See, Sandy doesn't get into debating these things, either. Now, let's see what Sandy's bill ends up being -- anyone taking bets? -- then let's sit down and talk some economy. In fact, there's an idea: Maybe a new American pastime could be organized 'disaster gambling,' with states collecting revenue as everyone bets on the tab for each new upcoming climate change disaster in their respective states?

Perhaps some still take issue with the suggestion that a superstorm like this is caused by our human-engendered climate change. But cigarette packages say things like, "cigarettes cause fatal lung disease." This, of course, is just shorthand, a monumental simplification, because in fact causation in complex systems is always a vastly complicated affair, and tobacco companies spent lots of money blowing smoke in the face of all that complexity: but the likelihood of getting lung disease is so greatly increased by smoking that eventually they gave up and we all agreed to go 'low-info' by just saying cigarettes cause fatal lung disease. As I'll demonstrate, in much the same way, we might as well keep it simple and just say this superstorm is caused by our human-made climate change.

I've been writing on the arctic crisis, and in a recent long list of immediate physical changes from loss of summer arctic sea ice, I listed (as #12) its potential impacts on weather at lower latitudes. It so happens that it is just at this time of year that this has the clearest line of causation, since lots of heat and moisture enter the atmosphere from the open waters that had been ice covered, and latent heat is released in the refreezing process, which progresses rapidly as the arctic cools down right around now. As Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University described in a recent paper: "This warming is clearly observable during autumn in near-surface air temperature anomalies in proximity to the areas of ice loss."

And this in turn becomes very important for large-scale atmospheric circulation. For example, Dr. Francis has used the metaphor of a river going down a steep incline, which runs straight, versus a river that runs along a flat plain, which tends to meander. Likewise the jet stream, since the normal energy gradient between arctic air and that of lower latitudes has become more relaxed in tandem with ice extent drops, is tending to meander more, and hence move more slowly as well. As the Francis paper said, "Previous studies support this idea: weaker zonal-mean, upper-level wind* is associated with increased atmospheric blocking events in the northern hemisphere." [*she means high west-east moving winds]

Let's look back again at this superstorm, and you'll see that important features of what you're about to experience stem from the arctic situation I've been discussing. First, arctic air is coming down to hook up with Sandy from the dip of the jet stream. Francis writes (from personal communication),
"The huge ice loss this summer, and subsequent enhanced warming of the Arctic (see attached figure), may be playing an important role in the evolution of Sandy by enhancing the amplitude of waves in the jet stream."

At the same time, high pressure over Greenland, and the extremely negative state of the North Atlantic Oscillation, is creating a blocking event that is impacting the path of Sandy herself, sending her back west over the U.S. Again, Dr. Francis (in personal communication):
"In this case, the effects could be causing strengthening of the block, elongating the block northward, and/or increasing its duration -- and this block is what's driving Sandy on such an unusual track westward into the mid-Atlantic coast."

Now, let's add to all that the underlying and obvious thing -- that Sandy is only surviving as a hurricane so far north, almost in November, because there are record high sea surface temperatures off the U.S. East coast right now. And while the third storm component, the one coming in from the west, might seem less remarkable, that is also something that generally becomes more probable with global warming, as our atmosphere can hold more water vapor as it warms and the evaporation rate is also increased by the warming. Thus, all major components of this superstorm show the signature of human-induced climate change to varying degrees, and without global warming the chance of the three occurring together like this would have a probability of about zero. So, let's make it simple, and just say climate change caused this storm.

I'm in New York City, just as much in the path of Sandy as so many others are, but come on, you do just have to sit back and love it, appreciate the full irony of it all, with Sandy striking right at those most sensitive loins of our American democracy, threatening to interrupt our sacred electoral process, after that process blocked climate change out, and now an atmospheric blocking pattern, created by that very climate change, pushes Sandy back on us. In a time when climate silence trumps climate science, when the candidates seem terrified to mention the 'C-word,' Candy, I hope you enjoy meeting Sandy. Maybe if the election gets as messed up as 2000, you three can even find time to meet up again, and go over a little issue you couldn't quite find time to fit in before? In my next piece I'll get back back to discussing what we should do right away, and hopefully it will at least be a bit clearer that this is serious business.

[First posted at the Huffington Post; posted with author's permission]

Warming Gulf Stream causes methane release

The Gulf Stream (dashed lines on NOAA image below) pushes warm water north.

Phrampus & Hornbach (2012) have analyzed the stability of methane hydrates along the Carolina rise off the east coast of North America using active-source seismic reflection data, with the goal of characterizing hydrate stability below the Gulf Stream.

The study suggests that ocean warming above the Carolina rise, caused by a warming Gulf Stream, is rapidly destabilizing methane hydrate along a broad swathe of the North American margin.

The area of active hydrate destabilization covers at least 10,000 square kilometres of the United States eastern margin, and occurs in a region prone to kilometre-scale slope failures.

The image on the right shows the study area; the pink area is where methane hydrate is destabilizing owing to recent changes in ocean temperature; the approximate location of the Gulf stream is between the two solid black arrows.

Over the past 5,000 years or so, the western North Atlantic margin has been warming by up to eight degrees Celsius. This is now triggering the destabilization of an estimated 2.5 gigatonnes of methane hydrate. The analysis suggests that we are observing the onset of methane hydrate destabilization along an ~300-km span of the North American margin that will continue for centuries unless the Gulf Stream shifts southward or intermediate ocean temperatures cool several degrees.

If continuing hydrate destabilization triggers slope failure at this site, the amount of methane released could be an order of magnitude greater. Furthermore, recent studies have suggested that similar ocean temperature shifts are taking place elsewhere, notably in the Arctic Ocean; the estimate of 2.5 gigatonnes of destabilizing methane hydrate is therefore likely to represent only a fraction of the methane hydrate currently destabilizing globally.

Without action, global warming looks set to increase temperature anomalies in the oceans. The above image shows the sea surface temperature anomalies that are now present along the east coast of North America.

In many ways, the situation in the Arctic is even more dire than in the Carolina rise. A warming Gulf Stream will push warmer water into the Arctic, which has many areas with extremely shallow seas, giving methane little opportunity to be oxidized in the sea. Furthermore, colder water in the Arctic is less friendly toward microbes that can decompose methane in the water. Once methane does reach the atmosphere, there's little hydroxyl in the Arctic atmosphere to decompose the methane there.

Most importantly, the Arctic contains huge amounts of methane and the Arctic is experiencing huge temperature anomalies in summer, due to albedo changes and further feedbacks. Therefore, the Arctic looks set to experience huge abrupt releases of methane that will add to make the situation in the Arctic worse, in a vicious spiral threatening to escalate into runaway global warming.


- Recent changes to the Gulf Stream causing widespread gas hydrate destabilization, Phrampus & Hornbach, Nature 490, 527–530 (25 October 2012) doi:10.1038/nature11528


- Big changes in Arctic within years

- Diagram of Doom

- How extreme will it get?

- The potential impact of large abrupt release of methane in the Arctic

- Methane in the Arctic

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hurricane Sandy moving inland

Hurricane Sandy is moving inland and its impact is forecast to be felt as far away as in Toronto and Ottawa.

Coastal Watches/Warnings and 5-Day Track Forecast Cone
Hurricane SANDY Advisory #019       11:00 PM EDT Fri October 26, 2012
from:  National Hurricane Center (check link for updates!)

Paul Beckwith,
B.Eng, M.Sc. (Physics),
Ph.D. student (Climatology)
and Part-time Professor,
University of Ottawa
This prompted Paul Beckwith to make the following comments:

All storms veer to the right in the northern hemisphere due to the spinning of the earth (1 revolution per day). Except when there is a tilted high pressure region northward and it has to go left and there is a massive low pressure region left that sucks it there as well. 

Why the high pressure ridge and massive low pressure? Because the jet stream is wavier and slower, a situation that is happening more and more often, because of massive sea ice decline this summer. Which is due to Arctic amplification feedbacks. Which in turn is due to rising greenhouse gases. Which is due to humans.

The situation is further illustrated by the image below, from ClimateCentral.

An atmospheric "blocking pattern" will push Sandy north, then northwestward, into the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast. Click to enlarge the image.     Credit: Remik Ziemlinski, Climate Central.
In an earlier post, Paul Beckwith described that a very rare cyclone churned up the entire Arctic region for over a week in early August 2012, destroying 20% of the ice area by breaking it into tiny chunks, melting it, or spitting it into the Atlantic. Cold fresh surface water from melted sea ice mixed with warm salty water from a 500 metre depth! Totally unexpected. A few more cyclones with similar intensity could have eliminated the entire remaining ice cover. Thankfully that didn't happen. What did happen was Hurricane Leslie tracked northward and passed over Iceland as a large storm. It barely missed the Arctic this time. Had the storm tracked 500 to 600 kilometres westward, Leslie would have churned up the west coast of Greenland and penetrated directly into the Arctic Ocean basin.

We dodged a bullet, at least this year. This luck will surely run out. What can we do about this? How about getting our politicians to listen to climatologists, for starters.

Below, rainfall forecast from the Hydrometereological Prediction Center of the National Weather Service - check the link for updates! 


- Vanishing Arctic sea ice is rapidly changing global

- Storm enters Arctic region

- Huge cyclone batters Arctic sea ice

Open Letter to Canadian MPs

Paul Beckwith
Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold.

The world food situation is deteriorating. Grain stocks have dropped to a dangerously low level. The World Food Price Index has doubled in a decade. The ranks of the hungry are expanding. Political unrest is spreading.

On the demand side of the food equation, there will be 219,000 people at the dinner table tonight who were not there last night. And some 3 billion increasingly affluent people are moving up the food chain, consuming grain-intensive livestock and poultry products.

At the same time, water shortages and heat waves are making it more difficult for farmers to keep pace with demand. As grain-exporting countries ban exports to keep their food prices down, importing countries are panicking. In response, they are buying large tracts of land in other countries to grow food for themselves. The land rush is on.

Could food become the weak link for us as it was for so many earlier civilizations? This slideshow presentation, based on Lester Brown's latest book, Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity, explains why world food supplies are tightening and tells what we need to do about it.

My video clip filmed about 3 weeks ago on Parliament Hill explains the clear connections between crop failures/droughts/floods/extreme weather/sea ice/greenhouse gases/climate change...

This is my presentation on Parliament Hill (Center blog) a few months ago at the All-Party Climate Change Caucus meeting.

This is a longer version of the linkages between food shortages and declining sea ice.

Please let me know what your plan is to deal with this coming turmoil.
I look forward to your response.


Paul Beckwith (B.Eng. Engineering Physics, M.Sc. Physics, presently working on Ph.D. in climatology)

Big changes in Arctic within years

Above interactive graphic illustrates the decline of the annual sea ice minimum volume in the Arctic over the years.

What trend can best be fitted to these data? Below, I've added a trendline that I believe best fits the data, but I encourage others to come up with better trends.

The trend points at 2014 as the year when Arctic sea ice will first reach zero volume for some time during that year. As discussed in the earlier post Getting the Picture, the Arctic Ocean looks set to be ice-free for a period of at least three months in 2015 (August, September and October), and for a period of at least 6 months from the year 2020 (June through to November).

Natural variability and strong feedbacks may speed things up further. Decline of sea ice in 2012 was such that we can expect a very low volume in December 2012, which could lead to inclusion of December in the period projected to be ice-free from 2020. That would make the ice-free period seven month long, i.e. well over half a year.

The image below shows the three areas where albedo change will be felt most in the Arctic, i.e. sea ice loss, decline of albedo in Greenland and more early and extensive retreat of snow and ice cover in other areas in the Arctic.


- Getting the Picture

- Albedo change in the Arctic

- Greenland is melting at incredible rate

- Albedo change in the Arctic threatens to cause runaway global warming

Amplification of climate change in the Arctic

In contrast to multi-year old ice, first-year old ice—ice that formed only since the last melt season—is thinner, saltier, and much more prone to melt.

Over the years, the loss of sea ice has become especially manifest in the older ice, as illustrated by the image below.

Salt content and hardness play a part in multi-year ice’s resistance to melt, explains a recent NOAA article, but the main characteristic that allows the ice to survive the melt season is thickness.

Screenshots from: PIOMAS Arctic Sea Ice Thickness Simulation 1978-2011
The decline in thickness over the years goes a long way to explain the self-reinforcing character of sea ice decline in the Arctic.

As another recent NOAA article describes, there is “something extra” behind the record ice retreats of the past 6 years: each June, the prevailing winds shifted from their normal west-to-east direction and instead blew strongly from the south across the Bering and Chuchki Seas (left on the image below), over the North Pole, and out toward Fram Strait. (The length of the lines is qualitative: longer lines mean stronger winds.)

Average June wind vectors in 2007-2012 (orange) compared to 1981-2010 average (white) based on NCEP reanalysis data provided by Physical Sciences Division at NOAA ESRL. Map by Dan Pisut, NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab.

The image below shows the unusual air pressure patterns that gave rise to the wind shift. Air pressure across the Arctic in Junes from 2007-2012 was completely lopsided, with two pockets of higher-than-average pressure sprawled across the North American Arctic and Greenland. These areas of high pressure act like boulders in a river. They slow and disrupt the normal westerly flow of the wind, forcing it to make, large, meandering detours to the north or south.

Average geopotential height anomaly at 700 millibar pressure level in Junes from 2007-2012 compared to the long-term average (1981-2010) based on NCEP reanalysis data provided by PSD at NOAA ESRL. Orange colors are higher-than-average pressure; blue is lower-than-average pressure.     Map by Dan Pisut, NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab.
Arctic oceanographer and his NOAA colleagues think these “blocking highs” on the North American side of the Arctic created the unusually strong southerly flow that brought warm air into the central Arctic and over Greenland. The persistent southerly winds would help explain both the record low sea ice extent in summer 2012, as well as the island-wide melting of the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which satellites detected in July 2012.

“This story started with us trying to figure out why the sea ice extents of the past 6 years or so have been so much lower than we would expect based on the long-term warming trend alone,” says Overland, “and we think this unusual circulation of the Arctic atmosphere is major part of it.”

Why, asks Overland, have these high pressure patterns have been forming so consistently each June for the past six years? The repeated appearance of these atmospheric features each June is so unusual that it’s the equivalent of a 1-in-a-1000 event. Can this be attributed to natural variability?

Instead, Overland’s hunch is that the cause is a change in the atmosphere that is itself connected to climate change in some way, possibly linked to record and near-record low June snow cover in the Canadian Arctic in recent years. “We don’t know that part of the story yet,” he says, “but this would certainly be the type of amplification of climate change [warming triggers changes that lead to more warming] we have been expecting to see in the Arctic.”


- Arctic Sea Ice Getting Thinner, Younger

- June wind shift a little something extra behind recent Arctic ice losses

- Poles apart: A record-breaking summer and winter

- PIOMAS Arctic Sea Ice Thickness Simulation 1978-2011, published Sep 14, 2012 by ArctischePinguin


- Arctic summer wind shift

- The recent shift in early summer Arctic atmospheric circulation

- Presentation by Dr. Jennifer Francis, Rutgers University

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Saving the Arctic Ice (#2)

By Nathan Currier

Greenpeace, Greenwashing and Geoengineering

Nathan Currier, senior climate advisor for Public Policy Virginia

I've been discussing the Greenpeace "Save the Arctic" campaign in light of the reality there, where we will likely reach near-zero summer arctic sea ice in just the next few years. Before exploring, in the next post, direct climate interventions that could really help save the arctic, we now must look at all our other options -- just as, in a medical crisis, one eliminates other options before opting for surgery.

Of course, one option is to blithely say, "Look, the ice can come back later," and therefore do nothing to impede the arrival of an ice-free arctic ocean. At the recent Greenpeace New York meeting, this seemed to be the tacitly assumed option. Now, I am quite aware of modeling studies demonstrating sea ice loss itself to be readily reversible. Andrew Revkin of the New York Times asked James Hansen at the meeting about the Eemian interglacial (~130,000-115,000 yrs ago), its ice loss and recovery -- seemingly keen to highlight this comforting reversibility. But this reversibility depends on environmental conditions. One minor detail that wasn't mentioned was that CO2 was then around pre-industrial levels (280ppm), hardly soaring up around 400ppm as now, a level possibly not seen on Earth for 15 million years, so one should hardly expect the planet to give an Eemian-style response now, either in the long-term or next year (for a variety of reasons aside from CO2 levels, in fact).

What about green energy, solar panels and the like, the kinds of things proposed at the Greenpeace meeting? Anyone contemplating emissions strategy ought to keep the UNEP graph (Shindell et al, 2011) in my first post up on their walls: Even pretty large CO2 source reductions won't bring relief from warming until about 2040 (and could bring near-term warming). By that time, the increased insolation to the arctic ocean might have gone so far as to give an ice-free arctic for a considerably larger chunk of the year, with really drastic effects. Is that a plan for "saving" the arctic?

The only way through emissions to have an impact on what is going on there right now is through non-CO2 reductions like black carbon and methane. And aside from that, there's nothing left except direct intervention -- which could cover a wide variety of options, some of them being what I'll call "localized geoengineering," and will discuss next time.

Now, Hansen has been the primary advocate of the concept of using non-CO2 reductions to help bridge the time gap of getting reduced warming from CO2 reductions, so my one question for Hansen at the meeting was whether he thought that could still be used alone to confront the arctic crisis. Hansen's answer was frank and accurate. As Hansen said, and I hope Greenpeace, Bill McKibben and all the others present heard, "If you need a rescue package, to some degree it inherently is geoengineering."

He didn't say that non-CO2 reductions wouldn't still be helpful (they are 100 percent necessary right away, just as massive CO2 reductions to near-zero by mid-century are necessary), but he certainly didn't say that they could halt the loss of the sea ice now alone, either -- indeed, I believe that the numbers show that they can't. It has now become clear that emissions reductions alone can no longer save the arctic ice. This is a big deal, and it needs to sink in.

Greenpeace's campaign aims to make the arctic a sanctuary, by which they primarily mean keeping out the fossil industry. Hansen himself has many papers stating that easily recoverable fossil sources inevitably will get used. The arctic's resources are obviously getting more easily recoverable by the season. Keeping the fossil industry away without cooling it is probably impossible -- and, at a certain level, might even be destructive. What if Greenpeace succeeded, but the arctic were left to melt? Picture some natural disaster, akin to the Macando well disaster, but happening all on its own. No, I don't mean an oil spill -- I mean a bunch of methane bubbling up from the seabed and reaching the atmosphere in large ongoing belches. This kind of thing is likely to start at some point if we let the sea ice disappear, as Hansen himself discussed at the meeting -- and it won't stop like an oil spill, but rather will likely become an ongoing process. Then we will actually need the fossil industry's expertise to go in there and help trap as much as possible. Believe me, I am not saying this to invite the fossil industry in. I am saying this because we must somehow keep the arctic cool. Lastly, ships and refineries both emit black carbon, which has an extremely strong but complex to quantify effect on local warming, and ice and snow-covered places are the most vulnerable to its effects because it settles on them and changes their reflectivity. So, even without fossil extraction, just if arctic ship traffic picks up dramatically, this could greatly accelerate ice (and snow) losses, helping ensure that this theoretical reversibility remains just that, something we'll never see. I'm sure Greenpeace means well, but currently their campaign most resembles those full-page greenwashing fantasies from Shell and PB, "Creating Your Clean Energy Future," and so on. At present, it's a sham.

The unquestioned reliance upon ice loss reversibility at the Greenpeace meeting might have been correct from a purely physical viewpoint alone, but was highly pernicious all the same, because it masks that we are about to quietly walk through the most monumental climate threshold we have yet crossed, and will then almost certainly discover, for a whole array of reasons -- all those minor physical mechanisms I elaborated last time, or the issues regarding the fossil industry I have just mentioned -- that it's difficult to turn around. Folks, what I am trying to say is: You can't let this happen, and yet you definitely can no longer prevent this happening just through emissions alone. That means that some form of direct climate intervention will be necessary there.

The clincher is this: When Hansen mentioned at the meeting that we could reverse ice loss, he also added, "And the truth is, we have to do that."

That is, he said, in order to avoid other major tipping points that clearly aren't reversible (ice sheets, methane hydrates). So the only remaining question is precisely when it must be reversed. London-based group AMEG, of which I am a member, takes the position: right away. Think of what this all means: It's completely impossible to achieve that reversal through emissions for many decades, even in the most optimistic scenario for large-scale emissions reductions -- and it would be far too dangerous to leave this unattended for that amount of time. So you will end up needing geoengineering in any case, just to achieve the reversal. Now, if you will quickly need to undo something that's about to happen, and potentially you might have great trouble undoing it at all later -- and the means will need to be the same in each instance -- then, isn't it far, far better to prevent that thing from happening, rather than trying to reverse it later?

Bill McKibben spoke with mild resignation about losing the sea ice, as though it were a pity, adding that we might "learn from it." But he's been profoundly ill-advised on the science, I'm afraid. If we don't fight this, we'll be "learning" like players of Russian roulette learn. And each decade left untreated might be like adding a bullet to the round.

Instead, we urgently need for Bill to understand this situation, and to start a "" (a 1250ppb target for methane) right away to complement his (Hansen's CO2 ppm target), and get his people back in the streets. Greenpeace must meet again with those scientists -- many more of them -- but with "time translators" present, so that Director Naidoo understands why Jim Hansen calls geoengineering a rescue package.

Trying to save the arctic is currently the most vital thing in the world, the front lines of the climate war, so let's all applaud Greenpeace for taking up the cause. Now they just have to bite the bullet, and recognize it's a fantasy unless two things happen right away, together at once:

1. A number of complementary direct arctic interventions (I'll discuss these soon).

2. Complete restructuring of the programs designed to reduce non-CO2 emissions (a long list of acronym-laden things like the M2M, GMF, GMI, CCAC), so that they really work -- and make this a public rallying cry, a global "1250" movement to help save ourselves.

[First posted at the Huffington Post; posted with author's permission]

Monday, October 22, 2012

State of Climate Change October 2012

A video featuring Paul Beckwith, climate scientist at University of Ottawa, who gives an update on the state of climate change, October 2012.

Paul adds that it was off the cuff and unscripted. "I wandered by Parliament Hill to see the people who were doing a climate change fast and ended up talking about the Arctic with them."

Here is a link to their website and protest:

Lethally Hot Temperatures During the Early Triassic Greenhouse

Paleogeographic reconstruction of the Early Triassic world (Smithian substage) around 250 million years ago, with
a ‘dead zone’ in the tropics. Presence of marine reptiles (ichthyosaurs), terrestrial tetrapods and fish was almost exclusively in higher latitudes (>30 °N and >40 °S) with rare exceptions. 
Credit: Yadong Sun, University of Leeds

The end-Permian mass extinction, which occurred around 250 million years ago, wiped out nearly all the world's species. Typically, a mass extinction is followed by a 'dead zone' during which new species are not seen for tens of thousands of years. In this case, the dead zone, during the Early Triassic period which followed, lasted for five million years.

A study jointly led by the University of Leeds and China University of Geosciences (Wuhan), in collaboration with the University of Erlangen-Nurnburg (Germany), shows the cause of this lengthy devastation was a temperature rise to lethal levels in the tropics: around 50-60°C (122-140°F) on land, and 40°C  (104°F) at the sea-surface.

Lead author Yadong Sun, who is based in Leeds while completing a joint PhD in geology, says: “Global warming has long been linked to the end-Permian mass extinction, but this study is the first to show extreme temperatures kept life from re-starting in Equatorial latitudes for millions of years.”

The dead zone would have been a strange world – very wet in the tropics but with almost nothing growing. No forests grew, only shrubs and ferns. No fish or marine reptiles were to be found in the tropics, only shellfish, and virtually no land animals existed because their high metabolic rate made it impossible to deal with the extreme temperatures. Only the polar regions provided a refuge from the baking heat.

Before the end-Permian mass extinction the Earth had teemed with plants and animals including primitive reptiles and amphibians, and a wide variety of sea creatures including coral and sea lillies.

This broken world scenario was caused by a breakdown in global carbon cycling. In normal circumstances, plants help regulate temperature by absorbing carbon dioxide and burying it as dead plant matter. Without plants, levels of carbon dioxide can rise unchecked, which causes temperatures to increase.

Professor Paul Wignall from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, one of the study's co-authors, said: “Nobody has ever dared say that past climates attained these levels of heat. Hopefully future global warming won't get anywhere near temperatures of 250 million years ago, but if it does we have shown that it may take millions of years to recover.”


- Lethally Hot Temperatures During the Early Triassic Greenhouse

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Is death by lead worse than death by climate? No.

Paul Beckwith,
B.Eng, M.Sc. (Physics),
Ph.D. student (Climatology)
and Part-time Professor,
University of Ottawa
by Paul Beckwith

Is death by lead worse than death by climate? That depends on your perspective. If you are the person dying then death by climate most likely means death by starvation. Or by dehydration. Or by painful vomiting and diarrhea from drinking contaminated water. It seems to me that this slow, painful death by climate would be much worse than catching a lead projectile from afar most likely with little or no warning.

If you are a journalist then penning death by lead stories allows you to write things that appeal to the visceral; namely to write about human conflict between “good” and “evil” and showing vivid images. People seem to innately enjoy reading about the competition of war or battle or insurgency and be able to cheer for a victor. To arms suppliers, it allows them to increase their profit margins. In addition, it allows politicians to have a rallying patriotic cry about the responsibility of their respective country to exercise some muscle with the pretense that they actually care about the well-being people being killed in another far off country. Or say that it is necessary to restore or create some democracy in such a country while ignoring the loss of democracy in their own country. Clearly hypocrisy. Almost inevitably armed intervention leads to a magnification of death and destruction.

How can western politicians, backed by an incredibly supportive and unquestioning main stream media and catering to the interests of large corporations make so much rah-rah about 20,000 people that have experienced death by lead in an internal conflict in one specific year in some other country while completely ignoring the deaths, every single year of 400,000 people?

That is the number of people, mostly children that are dying each year from climate change and carbon economies according to the DARA study that was released September 27th. Somehow this has been ignored up to now. However what politicians cannot ignore so easily is the claim in the same report that the global economy is losing 1.6% of GDP every year due to climate change. Today. Not in a decade or a century but today. This cannot be ignored so easily. In fact the Saturday Globe and Mail discussed the vanishing Arctic sea ice causing global extreme weather events causing global food supply disruption in a lengthy article on the front page of the Sept. 27th Business section. An image of the sea ice minimum of September 16th was even on the next page. Never before in the history of the Globe have I seen such a thing! Why was the article there? Not because of concern for sea ice or worry of extreme weather but because of the 1.6% GDP loss occurring today. Expected to rise to 3.5% of GDP loss 2030. Things are different now. Our world is changing rapidly, in real-time, before our very eyes. Just watch a video of the ice this summer. We have never experienced abrupt climate change before.

For decades, many climatologists have been warning that the energy balance of the earth is out of wack. Now, to the tune of the equivalent of 0.6 Watts per square meter over the entire surface of the planet. Isn’t this small, a Christmas tree bulb is a Watt or two? No. James Hansen calculated that this imbalance is equivalent to the energy of 300,000 Hiroshima sized bombs popping off every single second on every day of the year, year in and year out. Half of this energy is warming the atmosphere and half is warming the ocean. It is not small at all. Sounds like insanity to me. But I am biased. I live and breathe climatology and meteorology. Thus I know the dangers that climate change can bring much more deeply than others and I want to bring others up to speed. Quickly.

Methane hydrates: a volatile time bomb in the Arctic

By Carlos Duarte, University of Western Australia
and Antonio Delgado Huertas, Spanish Scientific Research Council CSIC

Methane locked under the Arctic ice could take climate change to a whole new level. Antonio Delgado Huertas
The risk with climate change is not with the direct effect of humans on the greenhouse capacity of Earth’s atmosphere. The major risk is that the relatively modest human perturbation will unleash much greater forces. The likelihood of this risk is intimately tied to the developments over the next decade in the Arctic.

Accelerating ice loss and warming of the Arctic is disturbing evidence that dangerous climate change is already with us. As I have argued earlier, now that we have realised this our efforts should be directed at managing the situation in the Arctic and avoiding the spread of dangerous climate change elsewhere.

The Arctic is a core component of the earth system. Six of the 14 climate change tipping points of the earth system are located in the Arctic region.

Whereas the term tipping point was initially introduced to the climate change debate in a metaphoric manner, it has since been formalised and introduced in the context of systems exhibiting rapid, climate-driven change, such as the Arctic. Tipping points have been defined in the context of earth system science as the critical point in forcing at which the future state of the system is qualitatively altered.

Tipping elements are defined, accordingly, as the structural components of the system directly responsible for triggering abrupt changes once a tipping point is passed. This is because they can be switched into a qualitatively different state by small perturbations.

Of the many tipping elements in the Arctic, that with potentially greatest consequences if perturbed is the vast methane deposit. Methane is a greenhouse gas. A molecule of methane has 20 times the greenhouse effect of a CO₂ molecule, and the release of methane has been linked to climatic transitions along the history of planet Earth.

The Arctic contains vast reserves of methane stored as methane hydrate, a gel-like substance formed by methane molecules trapped in frozen water. The methane hydrate deposits are estimated at between 1,000 and 10,000 Gigatons (109 tons) of CO₂-equivalents as methane, much of which is present in the shallow sediments of the extensive Arctic shelves. This amount of greenhouse gas is several times the total CO₂ release since the industrial revolution.

Even moderate (a few degrees C) warming of the overlying waters may change the state of methane from hydrates to methane gas, which would be released to the atmosphere. If this release is gradual, methane will add a greenhouse effect to the atmosphere. This will only be temporary, as it will be oxidised to CO₂, with a decline in the greenhouse effect of 20-fold per unit carbon.

However, if the state shift is abrupt it may lead to a massive release of methane to the atmosphere, which could cause a climatic jump several-fold greater than the accumulated effect of anthropogenic activity.
Data collected on a recent cruise confirm methane is being emitted. Antonio Delgado Huertas
Recent assessments have found bubbling of methane on the Siberian shelf. Models suggest that global warming of 3°C could release between 35 and 94 Gt C of methane, which could add up to an additional 0.5°C of global warming. Moreover, frozen soils and sediments contain large amounts of methane hydrates that can be released to the atmosphere. Indeed, rapid thawing of the Arctic permaforst has been reported to lead to the release of large amounts of methane.

In our most recent cruise this summer (June 2012) along the Fram Strait and Svalbard Islands we found concentrations of methane in the atmosphere of about 1.65 ppm. However our equilibrium experiments (air atmospheric with Arctic surface water) reached values that were generally between 2.5 ppm and 10 ppm, with maximum values up to 35 ppm. These results confirm that this area of the planet is emitting large amounts of methane into the atmosphere.

Understanding and forecasting the response of Arctic methane hydrate deposits to rapid warming and thawing in the Arctic is of the utmost importance.

Provided the magnitude of these risks, and those associated with other tipping elements in the Arctic, our collective response to climate change appears to be a careless walk on the razor edge.

Carlos Duarte receives funding from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and the EU R&D 7th Framework Program to conduct research in the Arctic. He is affiliated, through a joint appointment, with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

Antonio Delgado Huertas receives funding from Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Spain).
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Editor's note: For a discussion of the potency of methane compared to carbon dioxide, see the post Methane in the Arctic.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Albedo change in the Arctic threatens to cause runaway global warming

Mark Flanner et al. calculated in 2011 that snow and ice on the Northern Hemisphere had a combined cooling effect of 3.3 Watts per square meter (of which 2 W/m² relates to the snow cover on land and 1.3 W/m² to the sea ice).

This cooling effect is diminishing rapidly, as temperatures rise and snow and ice cover declines. Snow and ice on the Northern Hemisphere had already declined substantially over the years and was reflecting 0.45 watts less energy per square meter in 2011 than it did in 1979 (Flanner, 2011).

As discussed in Albedo change in the Arctic, Professor Peter Wadhams calculates that the loss of the Arctic sea ice cooling effect alone can be compared to the net global warming caused by people's emissions (1.66 W/m², IPCC, 2007b).

The exponential trends added by Wipneus to PIOMAS Arctic sea ice volume data show that the Arctic Ocean looks set to be ice-free from 2015 onwards for the period from August through to October, while July and November look set to follow from 2017, respectively 2018 onwards with June following closely thereafter. In other words, we could soon face an Arctic Ocean that is ice-free for half the year.

Snow cover on land takes up an even larger area than sea ice. The chart below illustrates the decline of snow cover on land in the Northern Hemisphere (without Greenland) for the month June.

What trends could fit these data? On the image below, I've added trendlines and I encourage others to come up with better ones.

Clearly, a lot of snow and ice looks set to disappear over the next few years. Note that what happens in winter doesn't matter as much, as little sunlight reaches the Arctic in winter. What matters most is how much sunlight is reflected when insolation in the Arctic is high. Insolation during the months June and July is higher in the Arctic than anywhere else on Earth, as shown on the image below, by Pidwirny (2006).

While Greenland remains extensively covered with snow and ice, the reflectivity of its cover shows rapid decline, as illustrated by the image below. The July data since 2000, from the meltfactor blog with projection in red added by Sam Carana, suggest a exponential fall in reflectivity that looks set to go into freefall next year.
From: Greenland is melting at incredible rate


A drop of as little as 1% in Earth’s albedo corresponds with a warming roughly equal to the effect of doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which would cause Earth to retain an additional 3.4 watts of energy for every square meter of surface area (NASA, 2005; Flanner et al., 2011).

Combined, the snow line retreat, loss of sea ice and decline of Greenland's reflectivity constitute a huge loss of summer cooling in the Arctic.

As a result, summer temperatures in the Arctic look set to rise rapidly over the next few years, threatening to unleash massive amounts of methane from sediments below shallow waters of the Arctic Ocean, spiraling Earth into runaway global warming.

If you are also concerned about this development, please share the image below at Facebook, with a link to this post.


- Albedo - Wikipedia

- Albedo change in the Arctic

- Flanner et al. (2011), Radiative forcing and albedo feedback from the Northern Hemisphere cryosphere between 1979 and 2008.

- Flanner et al. (2011), Presentation October 27, 2011, WCRP Open Science Conference

- Greenland is melting at incredible rate

- NASA, 2005 (at

Pidwirny, M. (2006). "Earth-Sun Relationships and Insolation". Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition

- PIOMAS monthly average sea ice volume, with exponential trends added

- Snow Climate Lab, Rutgers University

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Glaciers cracking in the presence of carbon dioxide

Northern Hemisphere snow and ice map , October 14, 2012 (credit: NSIDC, NOAA)

Snow covers more than 33% of lands north of the equator from November to April, reaching 49% coverage in January. The role of snow in the climate system includes strong positive feedbacks related to albedo and other, weaker feedbacks related to moisture storage, latent heat and insulation of the underlying surface, which vary with latitude and season (IPCC, 2007a8).

Albedo or reflectivity of surfaces
Ice caps and glaciers cover 7% of the Earth—more than Europe and North America combined—and are responsible for reflecting 80–90% of the Sun’s light rays that enter our atmosphere and maintain the Earth’s temperature7. They are also a natural carbon sink, capturing a large amount of carbon dioxide7.

Snow and ice on the Northern Hemisphere has a cooling effect of 3.3 watts per square meter, peaking in May at ~ 9 watts per square meter. Snow and ice on the Northern Hemisphere has declined over the years and is now reflecting 0.45 watts less energy per square meter than it did in 1979 (Flanner, 2011). As discussed in Albedo change in the Arctic, this compares to warming of 1.66 watts per square meter for the net emission by people (IPCC, 2007b9).

A recent press release7 announced that researchers from the Massachusetts Institute for Technology have shown that the material strength and fracture toughness of ice are decreased significantly under increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide molecules, making ice more fragile and making ice caps and glaciers more vulnerable to cracking and splitting into pieces.

“If ice caps and glaciers were to continue to crack and break into pieces, their surface area that is exposed to air would be significantly increased, which could lead to accelerated melting and much reduced coverage area on the Earth,” said lead author of the study Professor Markus Buehler.

Buehler, along with his student and co-author of the paper, Zhao Qin, used a series of atomisticlevel computer simulations to analyse the dynamics of molecules to investigate the role of carbon dioxide molecules in ice fracturing, and found that carbon dioxide exposure causes ice to break more easily.

Notably, the decreased ice strength is not merely caused by material defects induced by carbon dioxide bubbles, but rather by the fact that the strength of hydrogen bonds—the chemical bonds between water molecules in an ice crystal—is decreased under increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide. This is because the added carbon dioxide competes with the water molecules connected in the ice crystal.

It was shown that carbon dioxide molecules first adhere to the crack boundary of ice by forming a bond with the hydrogen atoms and then migrate through the ice in a flipping motion along the crack boundary towards the crack tip.

The carbon dioxide molecules accumulate at the crack tip and constantly attack the water molecules by trying to bond to them. This leaves broken bonds behind and increases the brittleness of the ice on a macroscopic scale7.

A drop of as little as 1% in Earth’s albedo corresponds with a warming roughly equal to the effect of doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which would cause Earth to retain an additional 3.4 watts of energy for every square meter of surface area (NASA, 200510; Flanner et al., 2011b6).

Below, a video by Dr. Peter Carter4, showing loss of snow and ice albedo on the Northern Hemisphere from 1997 to 2009, using NOAA images, and also showing the relationship to global food security and Arctic methane.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Radio and Laser Frequency and Harmonic Test Ranges for the Lucy and HAARP Experiments and their Application to Atmospheric Methane Destruction

by Malcolm P.R. Light
October 7th, 2012


Methane is now being expelled into the Arctic atmosphere by the subsea methane hydrates at a fast increasing rate and that this expulsion began in earnest in August 2010 (Figure 1; Arctic atmospheric methane concentrations at ca 7 km altitude - Yurganov 2012; Carana 2011 a,b,c; 2012 a,b; Light 2002 a,b; 2011 a,b,c; 2012 a,b,c; Light and Carana 2011). The methane is rising into the stratosphere and mesosphere where some of it is being oxidised to produce larger quantities of noctilucent clouds between 76 and 85 km altitude. These noctilucent clouds were seen north of Norway but are now occurring at much lower latitudes over Colorado. An early figure from NASA indicates that noctilucent clouds were originally confined to the southern polar regions (Figure 2).

Prof. James Russel of Hampton University argues that the build up of methane in the atmosphere is the reason for the increase in noctilucent clouds. Prof Russel says that "When methane makes its way into the upper atmosphere it is oxidised by a complex series of reactions to form water vapour. This extra water vapour is then available to grow ice crystals for noctilucent clouds". Therefore if we succeed in breaking down the methane in the stratosphere and mesosphere using the HAARP - IRIS (Ionospheric Research Instrument) using the 13.56 MHz methane destruction frequency it could lead to an increase in noctilucent cloud formation in a circular zone directly above the HAARP transmitters which could be detected by optical cameras or radar. The HAARP tests should be conducted in the summer when the temperatures are at their lowest in Alaska (140o to 160o Kelvin) increasing the chances of noctilucent cloud formation from the radio frequency oxidised methane. The HAARP IRIS transmitters normal frequency range is from 2.8 MHz to 10 MHz (Wales 2012). If for example a 10 MHz carrier wave is modulated by a 3.56 MHz signal it will produce and Upper Side Frequency of 13.56 MHz the required methane destruction frequency and a Lower Side Frequency of 6.44 MHz (see Table 3)(Penguin Dictionary of Physics, 2000)

NASA modelling shows a wide equatorial band of stratospheric methane reaching 1.8 ppmv, much higher than occurs in the troposphere indicating that the methane is rising up into the stratosphere where it is now accumulating and it will soon form a continuous global warming veil causing extreme heating of the Earth's surface by trapping the suns heat below it (Figure 3)(Light 2011c).
The problem is that the methane being released into the Arctic atmosphere from destabilization of the submarine methane hydrates has an extremely high global warming potential compared to carbon dioxide, close to 100 times for the first 15 years of its life (Wales 2012; Dessuse et al. 2008). Hence a methane concentration of 2 ppmv is approximately equivalent to adding 200 ppmv of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, i.e. multiplying the present carbon dioxide content by 1.5. But 2 ppmv is only 2 ten thousands of a percent of methane and you need about 15 percent of methane in the air for it to burn (Wales 2012). Therefore you cannot burn these giant clouds of methane erupting into the Arctic atmosphere and they are rising so fast through the troposphere into the stratosphere that they become impossible to deal with without some action at a distance method such as radio waves or laser. We could of course try to get chemicals up there and into the Arctic but that would lead to even more pollution in the long run. Vibrating the ionosphere at the correct methane destruction radio frequency using HAARP may help to oxidise some of the methane throughout the entire stratosphere and troposphere but more localised radio/laser destruction of the rising methane clouds will also be required if we are going to make any dent at all in the volume of methane that is now being released into the atmosphere from the Arctic ocean.

We are dealing with oceanic methane being released in increasing quantities into the atmosphere from destabilised methane hydrates over which we have no control at all and once it is in the air and in the stratosphere we presently have no way to break it down. This Stratospheric methane reservoir is going to increase in density, thickness and extent until it encompasses the entire Earth and will eventually cause catastrophic global warming and the extinction of all life on earth (Light 2011c). Furthermore because the methane remains mostly in the stratosphere, it is not recorded when average atmospheric compositions are determined at Mauna Loa and other locations so we don't know how much is up there yet (Light 2011c). When the German-French Merlin Lidar methane detecting satellite is launched in 2014 we should have a better idea of the methane distribution from the surface to 50 km altitude.

When the Arctic ice cap melts towards the end of 2015 there will be a massive increase in the amount of heat being absorbed by the Arctic ocean from the sun. Tthe Gulf Stream which presently feeds the Arctic with Atlantic water along the west side of Svalbard and through the Barents Sea is normally cooled when it hits the floating ice pack and this will cease to happen bringing even vaster amounts of Atlantic heat via the Gulf Stream into the Arctic. Consequently the Arctic subsea methane hydrates will destabilize at an even faster rate because of the increasing Arctic ocean temperature pouring methane into the Arctic atmosphere and stratosphere (Light 2011c, Light 2012a, b).

The extreme weather events in the United States this year which included record heating and drought conditions, massive loss of food crops with farmers going bankrupt, more hurricane flooding in New Orleans and tornadoes in New York is just a small sample of what will come in the next four or five summers as the Arctic ice finally melts. The Arctic ice cap works like the Earths air conditioner because of the latent heat of melting and freezing of the floating ice and its effect on moderating atmospheric temperatures.

An extensive stratospheric methane warming veil is spreading over the United States and is undoubtedly the reason for the extreme weather events and very high temperatures. The livelihoods of all the American people are going to be totally compromised in the next few years unless we develop a system of destroying the atmospheric methane that is erupting in the Arctic from the destabilization of submarine methane hydrates and is accumulating as a global warming veil in the stratosphere and mesosphere

We are facing impossible odds with regard to the Arctic ocean methane release and in the same way that Colonel Travis drew a line at the Alamo to ask for volunteers to help him defend the mission against Santa Ana's massive Mexican army, I am drawing a virtual line through the snow on the top of the Arctic ice pack to ask for volunteers to defend the American people from the fast gathering Arctic methane global firestorm. We desperately need dedicated scientists and engineers to volunteer to develop an effective "action at a distance" method of destroying the Arctic oceanic methane clouds as they are erupting from the sea surface and entering the stratosphere and mesosphere. If the United States can land giant rovers on the mars with a sky crane, surely American engineers and scientists are up to this challenge. We need to get rid of as much of this atmospheric methane as we can to drop the polar temperatures to reasonable levels. This will of course have to go hand in hand with a massive cut back in carbon dioxide emissions from all developed and developing countries.