Sunday, May 21, 2017

Arctic Warming - Update May 2017

The image below illustrates how much and how fast oceans are warming on the Northern Hemisphere.
Trend points at 1.5°C warmer NH oceans in 2025. Shaded area covers seasonal fluctuations and natural variability.
As ocean warming continues, prospects for the sea ice in the Arctic are grim.

Warmer water is melting the sea ice from below. The image on the right shows ever less sea ice volume in the Arctic, reflecting huge thinning of the sea ice over the years.

As the sea ice gets thinner, it becomes ever more prone to break up in pieces that will melt quicker (as more surface area becomes exposed to heat from the atmosphere and heat from the water).

[ images from: Arctic Sea Ice May 2017 ]
Moreover, with more open water, stronger waves and winds can develop, increasing the chances that sea ice will melt and get pushed out of the Arctic Ocean.

El Niño looks set to strike again this year and the Arctic looks set to be hit much stronger than the rest of the world, as illustrated by the image on the right. The images below show updated indications for El Niño 2017.

Above on the right is a NOAA animation showing a Kelvin Wave forming in the Equatorial Pacific. The image on the left is the most recent frame from this animation.

[ click on images to enlarge ]
Above image shows ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts) plumes with strong positive anomalies in all three El Niño regions (image on right shows location of regions).

In other words, temperatures in 2017 look set to be very high, which spells bad news for the Arctic where temperature anomalies are already several times higher than in the rest of the world.

As a reminder, take February 2016.
Globally, it was 1.65°C warmer then, compared to 1890-1910, as shown on the inset of the image on the right.

Anomalies in the Arctic were even higher. As the main image on the right shows, it was around 6°C warmer at latitudes north of 70°N.

Note that insufficient data were available to include latitudes north of 85°N in the analysis, as also indicated by the grey areas on the image.

To get  an idea of the situation north of latitude 80°N, have a look at the image on the right, by Nico Sun, showing freezing degree days anomaly over the years, compared to the 1958 - 2002 mean temperature.

Warming looks set to strike the Arctic even harder and high levels of greenhouse gases over the Arctic are contributing to this.

The Scripps image below illustrates this, showing that carbon dioxide levels at Mauna Loa are now well above 410 ppm.
The image on the right shows carbon dioxide levels on May 18, 2017. The color indicates that the highest levels were present over the Arctic.

Temperature anomalies in the Arctic have already been the highest in the world for years, as also illustrated by the NOAA image below on the right, showing temperature anomalies above 2.5°C over the Arctic Ocean over the  365-day period up to May 18, 2017.

[ click on images to enlarge ]
There is a huge danger that temperatures will accelerate very rapidly in the Arctic, as self-reinforcing feedbacks are starting to kick in with greater force.

This applies in particular to feedbacks associated with loss of snow and ice cover in the Arctic and to methane releases from clathrates contained in sediments at the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean.

The latter danger is also illustrated by the images below, showing the (lack of) sea ice in the ESAS and the Bering Strait. The image underneath shows the temperature anomaly of water.

[ click on images to enlarge ]
Above NASA satellite image below shows the (lack of) sea ice in the ESAS and in the Bering Strait. The image below shows temperature anomaly of the water. In the ESAS, the water was 2.8°C or 5.1°F warmer on May 19, 2017, compared to 1981-2011.

In conclusion, the situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Earthquake east of Greenland triggers methane releases

An earthquake with a magnitude of M 4.5 on the Richter scale hit the seafloor 204 km East of Nord, Greenland, on May 8, 2017 at 04:48:53 (UTC). Location: 81.684°N 5.076°W. Depth: 10.0 km.

The inset shows that methane levels over 1950 ppb (magenta color) were recorded on the morning of May 8, 2017, by two satellites.

This is a reminder that earthquakes can destabilize methane hydrates, which can hold huge amounts of methane in sediments at the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. As temperatures keep rising, snow and ice on Greenland and Svalbard keeps melting, taking away weight from the surface, making that isostatic rebound can increasingly trigger earthquakes on the faultline that crosses the Arctic Ocean.

Methane releases have followed earthquakes in the Arctic before, e.g. see this 2016 post, illustrating the danger of potentially huge methane releases in case of larger earthquakes in the Arctic.

Why is methane so important again? Below follow some images from the methane page

Over a 10-year timescale, methane emissions cause more warming than carbon dioxide emissions, as illustrated by the graph in the left-hand panel of above image.

Methane levels fluctuate with the time of year, higher mean levels are typically reached in September.

On September 14, 2016, methane levels at 367 mb were as high as 2697 ppb (locally), while global mean methane level was as high as 1865 ppb (above image).

On May 13, 2017, am, global mean methane levels were as high as 1844 ppb at altitudes corresponding to 383mb to 469 mb (MetOp-1 satellite), while local levels as high as 2485 ppb were recorded.

Methane levels have risen 256% from 1750 to 2015, as illustrated by the image on the right.

Growth in methane levels has been accelerating recently. Contained in existing data is a trend indicating that methane levels could increase by a third by 2030 and could almost double by 2040, as illustrated by the image below. 

The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described at the Climate Plan.


• Climate Plan

• High Methane Levels Follow Earthquake in Arctic Ocean

• Methane

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Abrupt Warming - How Much And How Fast?

How much could temperatures rise? As the image shows, a rise of more than 10°C (18°F) could take place, resulting in mass extinction of many species, including humans.

How fast could such a temperature rise eventuate? As above image also shows, such a rise could take place within a few years. The polynomial trend is based on NASA January 2012-February 2017 anomalies from 1951-1980, adjusted by +0.59°C to cater for the rise from 1750 to 1951-1980. The trend points at a 3°C rise in the course of 2018, which would be devastating. Moreover, the rise doesn't stop there and the trend points at a 10°C rise as early as the year 2021.

Is this polynomial trend the most appropriate one? This has been discussed for years, e.g. at the Controversy Page, and more recently at Which Trend Is best?

The bottom part of above image shows the warming elements that add up to the 10°C (18°F) temperature rise. Figures for five elements may be overestimated (as indicated by the ⇦ symbol) or underestimated (⇨ symbol), while figures in two elements could be either under- or overestimated depending on developments in other elements. Interaction between warming elements is included, i.e. where applicable, figures on the image include interaction based on initial figures and subsequently apportioned over the relevant elements.

A closer look at each of these warming elements further explains why abrupt warming could take place in a matter of years. As far as the first two elements are concerned, i.e. the rise from 1900 and the rise from 1750 to 1900, this has already eventuated. The speed at which further warming elements can strike is depicted in the image below, i.e. the rise could for a large part occur within years and in some cases within days and even immediately.

Assessing the Danger

The danger can be looked at on three dimensions: timescale, probability and severity. On the severity dimension, a 10°C temperature rise is beyond catastrophic, i.e. we're talking about extinction of species at massive scale, including humans. On the probability dimension, the danger appears to be progressing inevitably toward certainty if no comprehensive and effective action is taken.

In terms of timescale, a 10°C temperature rise could eventuate within a matter of years, which makes the danger imminent, adding further weight to the need to start taking comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.

The Threat

With little or no action taken on global warming, it appears that the Antropocene will lead to extinction of the very human beings after which the era is named, with the Anthropocene possibly running from 1950 to 2021, i.e. a mere 71 years and much too short to constitute an era. In that case a better name for the period would be the Sixth Extiction Event, as also illustrated by the image below.

[ See: Feedbacks in the Arctic and the Extinction page ]
In conclusion, it's high time that homo sapiens starts acting as genuinely wise modern human beings and commit to comprehensive and effective action as discussed at the Climate Plan.

Further reading

Read more about the threat here. Warming elements are discussed in more detail at the Extinction Page, while specific elements are also discussed in posts, e.g. methane hydrates are discussed at Methane Erupting From Arctic Ocean, decline of the snow and ice cover and associated feedbacks is discussed at Arctic Ocean Feedbacks and less take-up by oceans of CO₂ and heat from the atmosphere is discussed at 10°C or 18°F warmer by 2021? and at the new post High Waves Set To Batter Arctic Ocean.

The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action as described in the Climate Plan.


• Climate Plan

• Feedbacks

• Extinction

• The Threat

• Controversy

• Which Trend Is best?

• 10°C or 18°F warmer by 2021?

• Arctic Ocean Feedbacks

• Methane Erupting From Arctic Ocean

• High Waves Set To Batter Arctic Ocean

• Warning of mass extinction of species, including humans, within one decade

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Arctic Sea Ice May 2017

Last year, the Arctic was some 3.5°C warmer than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Was this 3.5°C a spike or was it part of a trend pointing at even higher temperature anomalies this year and the following years?

Above image shows NASA annual mean 64°N-90°N land-ocean temperature anomalies from 1951-1980, with +0.59°C added for the rise from 1750 to 1951-1980. A polynomial trend is added (based on 1880-2016 data), pointing at 4.5°C anomaly by 2019.

Will the Arctic keep warming over the coming years in line with this trend? Let's have a look at what affects temperatures in the Arctic most, specifically Ocean Heat, Sea Ice, Land Temperatures and Emissions.

1. Ocean Heat

Warmer Oceans on the Northern Hemisphere will contribute strongly to warming in the Arctic. Here's a graph showing a trend pointing at continued warming of the oceans on the Northern Hemisphere.

Will oceans keep warming like that, in particular the North Atlantic? The Coriolis force keeps pushing warm water of the North Atlantic along the Gulf Stream toward the Arctic Ocean.

On the image on the right, the Gulf Stream shows up as the warmer water (orange and yellow) off the coast of North America.

Thus, as oceans keep warming, warmer water will reach the Arctic Ocean, melting the sea ice from below.

The image on the right shows that the sea surface was 9.3°C or 16.8°F warmer than 1981-2011 on May 7, 2017, at the location marked by the green circle.

2. Sea ice

Meanwhile, the sun will warm up the sea ice from above. The sea ice acts as a barrier, insulating the water of the Arctic Ocean from the heat from above. As long as there is sea ice, water just underneath the sea ice will stay close to freezing point.

Sea ice can strongly affect the amount of heat that is retained by Earth. Sea ice reflects most sunlight back into space, but in the absence of sea ice, most sunlight will instead be absorbed by oceans.

For almost a year now, global sea ice extent has been way below what it used to be, meaning that huge amounts of sunlight that were previously reflected back into space, are now instead getting absorbed by Earth, as shown by the graph below (by Wipneus).

Over the past 365 days, most of the Arctic has been more than 2.5°C or 4.5°F warmer than it was in 1981-2010, as the image on the right illustrates. Note also the anomalies around Antarctica. Decline of the snow and ice cover contributes strongly to these temperature anomalies.

When looking at albedo changes, sea ice area is an even more critical measure than sea ice extent. For a discussion of the difference between area and extent, see this NSIDC page. The image below shows trends for both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice area pointing downward.

When looking at sea ice volume, zero sea ice in September 2017 is within the margins of the trendline below on the right.

[ Arctic sea ice, gone by Sept. 2017? ]
Given the speed at which many feedbacks can kick in and the interaction between warming elements, Arctic sea ice volume could be zero by September 2017.

Arctic sea ice is at a record low volume for the time of the year (see graph below by Wipneus). This means that there is very little sea ice left to act as a buffer this year. Therefore, heat that won't be consumed in the process of melting the ice will instead speed up Arctic warming.

As said - less sea ice additionally makes that less sunlight will be reflected back into space, and that instead more heat will speed up Arctic warming.
As the sea ice gets thinner, it becomes more fragile. Furthermore, changes to the Jet Stream can fuel strong winds and waves, which are also more likely to hit the ice as the size of the open water increases.

The satellite image below of the Beaufort Sea shows that the sea ice is cracked in many places and broken into pieces by winds, waves, currents and ocean heat. A huge crack can be seen running along the Canadian Archipelago toward Greenland (bottom right on the image).

An animation (1.3 MB) is added at the end of this post showing the sea ice breaking into pieces in the Beaufort Sea from April 26 to May 10, 2017. It illustrates that a combined force of winds, waves, currents and ocean heat can break even the thicker ice into pieces, with the danger that all ice can be pushed out of the Arctic Ocean.

3. Temperatures on land

High temperatures on land will affect the Arctic in a number of ways. What kind of temperatures can be expected over the coming months, which are so critical for Arctic sea ice?

- Heatwaves

Heatwaves over the continents can more easily extend over the Arctic Ocean as the Northern Polar Jet Stream becomes more wavy. Heatwave conditions are more likely to occur as the jet stream is changing due to accelerated warming of the Arctic.

- Wildfires

High temperatures on land can also cause wildfires that can in turn cause huge quantities of emissions, including soot that when settling on snow and ice, can strongly speed up melting. The image below shows carbon dioxide as high as 607 ppm and carbon monoxide as high as 24.84 over Laos on May 4, 2017.

- Warm water from rivers flowing into the Arctic Ocean

Furthermore, high temperatures on land will warm up the water of rivers flowing into the Arctic Ocean.

- El Niño

An El Niño event can dramatically boost temperatures of the atmosphere. What are the projections for an El Niño in 2017? The image on the right, by the ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts), indicates an El Niño that is gaining strength.

4. Emissions and Greenhouse Gas Levels

Continued emissions and high greenhouse gas levels are responsible for warming of the planet. Have efforts to cut emissions been successful? Is growth in greenhouse gas levels slowing down? The image below shows accelerating growth of carbon dioxide levels recorded at Mauna Loa, Hawaii.

The image below shows carbon dioxide levels recorded at Barrow, Alaska.

The image below shows methane levels at Barrow, Alaska.
In conclusion, indications are that warming in the Arctic will continue in 2017, which spells bad news for Arctic sea ice and for the world at large, as discussed in earlier posts.

The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.