Saturday, March 3, 2018

Warning Signs

The Arctic is warming up more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, due to numerous feedbacks. At times, large areas over the Arctic Ocean can become 30°C or 54°F warmer than 1979-2000, as illustrated by the image below.

On February 27, 2018, large parts of the Arctic Ocean north of Greenland had turned into open water, as illustrated by the image below.

Yet, while the situation in the Arctic is desperate, with sea ice north of Greenland collapsing and more, mainstream media do not seem to care. If there ever were warning signs of what could eventuate, this is one. The sea ice north of Greenland is typically the thickest, as it is the least affected by melting and can build over many years. Early February 2018, sea ice north of Greenland was up to 5 m thick. To see sea ice this thick getting pushed away and open water emerging north of Greenland in the middle of winter is simply stunning.

For years, I've been warning about the situation in the Arctic, in particular the 'Open Doors Feedback', which is accelerating Arctic warming. Such feedbacks were taken into consideration in an earlier analysis that warned about a potential 1.6°C warming globally due to albedo changes in the Arctic, in combination with associated changes such as loss of the ice buffer (latent heat), more heat transfer from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arctic Ocean due to stronger winds along the path of the Gulf Stream, and more heat entering the atmosphere or remaining in the atmosphere, due to more open water in the Arctic Ocean and as oceans get more stratified and take up less heat from the atmosphere.

So, the current situation doesn't come as a big surprise, but it's stunning to see sea ice collapse north of Greenland.

Back in March 7, 2007, I posted the article 'Ten Dangers of Global Warming', describing events getting progressively worse, with one danger feeding and reinforcing the next one, culminating in panic. Then, I thought that reading that post could at least help people better understand what's going on, and thus help people avoid panicking, but right now, I wonder whether most people do want to understand at all. Anyway, here are some images and words describing what happened over the past few days.

Jet Stream over Arctic Ocean on February 25, 2018

As Arctic warming keeps accelerating, there's ever less temperature difference between the North Pole and the Equator, and this slows down the speed at which the jet stream circumnavigates Earth.

Jet Stream over Arctic Ocean on February 26, 2018
The jet stream is getting more wavy and a more wavy jet stream makes it easier for cold air to move out of the Arctic and for warm air to move into the Arctic, so this 'Open Doors Feedback' is a self-reinforcing feedback that further accelerates warming in the Arctic.

During the northern winter, the Arctic is increasingly getting warmer than North America, Europe and Siberia. This increases the temperature difference between these continents and the oceans, which at times is causing winds to strongly speed up over the North Atlantic and the North Pacific, making an already wavy jet stream extend even further over the Arctic Ocean, reaching areas well beyond the North Pole.

Atmospheric river of heat reaches the North Pole; temperatures were as high as 1.1°C or 34.1°F on February 25, 2018
As the jet stream makes this detour, a huge amount of heat enters the Arctic from the south.

Temperatures above 6°C at Kap Morris Jesup, Greenland's northernmost weather station, on February 25, 2018

These events were preceded by the Polar Vortex splitting up. On February 9, 2018, the Polar Vortex was split up into 4 vortices and reached speeds as fast as 425 km/h or 264 mph.

Polar Vortex split up into 4 vortices
A Sudden Stratospheric Warming event occurred on February 16, 2018, with temperatures reaching as high as 8.9°C or 47.9°F over Hudson Bay.

Polar Vortex splitting up into 4 vortices with a Sudden Stratospheric Warming event occurring on February 16, 2018
The heat that has accumulated in the Arctic Ocean is further illustrated by the February 2018 NASA temperature anomalies image below.

Below is an animation of sea ice thickness, from the Naval Research Laboratory.

Arctic sea ice extent was at record low for the time of the year on February 26, 2018, at 14.159 million km². Arctic sea ice extent typically reaches its maximum in March, but maximum extent in 1991-2000 was reached on February 24. So, there is a chance that Arctic sea ice extent will go all downhill from now on this year.

Zero sea ice volume is within the margins of the trend depicted on the image above on the right. Decline of the snow and ice cover in the Arctic comes with a huge loss in albedo, which means that huge amounts of sunlight that were previously reflected back into space instead get absorbed by the Arctic. Loss of sea ice also means loss of the buffer that until now has consumed huge amounts of heat.

The Buffer has gone, feedback #14 on the Feedbacks page
Peak SST near Svalbard rose from
12.4°C or 55.4°F on Feb 23, 2018,
to 15.6°C or 60°F on Mar 2, 2018.
The danger is that a sudden influx of heat can no longer be absorbed by the sea ice and will instead warm up sediments at the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean that can contain huge quantities of methane in the form of hydrates and free gas.

Destabilization of hydrates can occur in a relatively small area as a result of a relatively small temperature rise. Destabilization comes with a 160 times expansion in volume of the methane, which will send out shock waves that can destabilize nearby hydrates, causing them to destabilize as well, resulting in an eruption of huge quantities of methane over a large area.

Here's another warning sign. Peak sea surface temperature near Svalbard rose from 12.4°C or 55.4°F on February 23, 2018, to 15.6°C or 60°F on March 2, 2018, as illustrated by the red line on the image on the right, with the blue line showing the 1981-2011 average.

And here's another warning sign. High methane releases followed this chain of events on February 27, 2018, pm, likely originating from the seafloor of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS).

Methane levels as high as 2892 ppb on February 27, 2018
On March 1, 2018, methane levels as high as 3087 were recorded. Note the solid magenta-colored areas over the ESAS on the image below.

The image below, with measurement by another satellite, shows that methane levels were again very high over the ESAS the next day, i.e. March 2, 2018, confirming earlier indications that this is where the very high methane releases did occur.

As the image below shows, methane levels on March 4, 2018, were still very high, i.e. as high as 2964 ppb.

The image below shows the highest mean global methane readings on March 10 over the years from 2013 through 2018, for selected altitudes corresponding to 945 mb (close to sea level) to 74 mb.

[ click on images to enlarge ]

The table below shows the altitude equivalents in feet (ft), meter (m) and millibar (mb).
57,016 ft44,690 ft36,850 ft30,570 ft25,544 ft19,820 ft14,385 ft 8,368 ft1,916 ft
17,378 m13,621 m11,232 m 9,318 m 7,786 m 6,041 m 4,384 m 2,551 m 584 m
 74 mb 147 mb 218 mb 293 mb 367 mb 469 mb 586 mb 742 mb 945 mb

An earlier analysis calculated that seafloor methane could cause a warming of 1.1°C within one decade. Given a possible additional warming of 2.7°C due to just two elements (i.e. Arctic albedo changes and associated changes, and seafloor methane), a further warming of 2.1°C due to extra water vapor in the warmer atmosphere does seem well possible within a decade. Add up the impact of all warming elements of this analysis and the rise in mean global temperatures from preindustrial could be more than 10°C within one decade, as illustrated by the images below.

A rise of a few degrees Celsius would be devastating, especially when considering that the speed at which such a rise could occur leaves little or no time for plants and animals to adapt, let alone in case of a 10°C rise.

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


• Climate Plan

• Feedbacks in the Arctic

• Extinction

• Ten Dangers of Global Warming

• Methane Erupting From Arctic Ocean Seafloor

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


  1. Great post. Lots of facts but who is actually reading this level of material regarding climate change. It’s time to step down from on high with all the charts and numbers and start having conversations at ground level if you want to get your messaging out to the masses. I know it’s next to impossible for a scientist to compete with watered down information in the main stream media but how long can you keep doing what you doing knowing you are not getting your message across to the masses. Scientists always assume that once they get there information out there, their job is done. Think again. It’s a soundbite reality we live in, headlines, clippers, 140 characters…etc. Remember, communication is suppose to be a conversation, not a series of scientific papers, charts or lectures. And don’t just expect that conversations will happen, you need to take part in making them happen (in non-scientific language). Sorry for the rant, but man this climate change shit needs to get out there to the masses, fast.

    p.s. You should allow people to post comments, even ones like this.

    1. Good points Doug, a lot of things are discussed at the Arctic News group and I posted an invitation to discuss what we can do to get the message out, see

    2. in all seriousness, and at the risk of being extremely cynical, is it already too late? Thank you.

    3. It's hard to predict the future with certainty, but it's clear that the situation is dire. While our prospects may look bleak, I feel that calling for action is the right thing to do. I may look at things from the perspective of a writer, and things will differ from person to person, so everyone will have to come to terms with this in their own way. I'm keen to hear suggestions on this, so do post comments at

  2. @doug: I agree we live in a headlines world, but I believe there's a lot of people like me who appreciate complex facts boiled down to easily understandable yet still informative articles such as is done in Sam's blog posts. If every blogger and journalist panders to the stark-headline-low-on-content brigade, it will become even worse.

    I've been following Sam's posts for years, and as far as I'm concerned, they're excellent for anyone who wants to understand these issues beyond soundbites but without delving into too much scientific detail. The charts are great, too.

    If anything, I would say the sometimes alarmist elements detract from the message and may put off those who consider themselves serious. For example, the extinction picture at the top of this post and the standard 'the situation is dire...' (I suggest taking it out; after seeing it once or twice it just becomes annoying).

    The conversation starts in these comments and with every reader who makes the effort to discuss the situation with others.

    1. Thanks Dreistein, let me add that a lot of people read such posts for the first time. An alarming image at the top of the post may be what makes them take notice in the first place and a link to the Climate Plan can be helpful in sorting out further questions.

  3. How can people complain about mentioning extinction when PNAS publishes papers entitled "Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines"?

    1. Not sure if your comment was referring to me, but just in case, I did not mean to complain about mentioning extinction. Quite the opposite, I think it's very important to make people aware of the enormous risks we are facing (IMHO, a lot of the estimates regarding when consequences will strike may well be too conservative by far).

      My point was that if people see a picture screaming extinction as the first thing, some may put the post in the same category as doomsday blogs without substance and not read further - which really would do the great posts here no justice.

  4. Sam your 10 risks thread is almost prophetic in light of so many recent events. One item not on the list is the possibility of increased compressive earth quakes triggerred by sea level rise global mass shift. Not proven but talked about by some. The proof will in the number and nature of the quake types, more convergent than divergent over a long period and one can start to argue that the Earths crust is reacting to the sqeeze of water pressure. Worst case would be divergent earth quakes under the Arctic Ocean triggered as mass is removed from Greenland, causing large dislodgements of Arctic clathrates.

    Recent compressive earthquake examples might be the New Zealand ones.

    1. Earthquakes are mentioned under one of the Ten Dangers of Global Warming, i.e. under Tipping Points. For more on this also see the page Seismic Events.

  5. Yes Sam, I missed that connection, though I had seen your much earlier work on methane releases in the Arctic due to siesmic activity along the fault, which Is why I mentioned it. This coupled with the perma frost thaw now well underway means that we are really screwed. However the point that I was making was that as sea level rise really gets underway and water transports to the equator under centrifical influence the bulging of the ocean has got to be squeezing the crust more around the equator to apply compressive forces for some considerable time into the future. Are these forces to small to create a difference? I don’t know.

  6. @Sam @Dreistein

    Thank you for the exchange.

    “Simplicity does not precede complexity but follows it.”

    No one likes to hear bad news but in the current reality we live in right now in regards to climate change, I think it’s time for the science to be translated into a simpler non-scientific language… sound bites the average person can understand (for example: ten commandments = ten lines = ten messages). As sad as this sounds, it’s about taking the product (the climate change scientific data/conclusions) to market (the masses). The focus should be on basic communications and marketing.

    A series of well timed and mindful messages can go a long way with those we need to talk to on a more personal and direct level. Try and simply say only what needs to be said and don’t mollify or sugar coat the messaging that is being shared, but also don’t make things worse than they already are with unnecessary dire language.

    If the messaging is transparent and totally genuine, then the general public will be much more receptive to the things that the scientists have to say. Remember, you have to respect who you’re talking to before they will respect you (and listen).

    The general public are also more inclined to support and respect those they trust, so it is important to develop rapport by building momentum in the relationship between the scientists and the general public with a series of basic understandable non-scientific messages.

    In the end, all the general public want is to understand the truth and know what they can do as individuals to help solve the bigger problem.

  7. These Methane levels are the highest you have yet published. If this trend continues it will lead to catastrophic warming.