Tuesday, April 24, 2018

April 2018 Update

[ click on image to enlarge ]
On April 22nd, 2018, Arctic sea ice extent was only 13.552 million km², a record low for the time of year. In 1987, by comparison, sea ice extent wasn't below 13.574 million km² even on May 22nd.

Meanwhile, CO₂ (carbon dioxide) levels are rising. The image on the right shows that Mauna Loa's CO₂ hourly average level was above 413 ppm recently. The daily average CO₂ level reached 412.37 ppm on April 23, 2018.

Fires are raging near the Amur River in East Siberia, with associated high emissions, as illustrated by the images below.

Above image shows CO₂ levels reaching as high as 973 ppm on April 18, 2018. As the image below shows, carbon monoxide levels at that spot were as high as 43,240 ppb on April 18, 2018.

The NASA satellite image below shows smoke plumes of the fires and burn scars on April 19, 2018.

Stuart Scott has produced two new videos in which he interviews Professor Peter Wadhams,
A Conversation with Dr. Peter Wadhams - Part 1

and the video below, A Conversation with Dr. Peter Wadhams - Part 2

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

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Mars Today - A 'Business-As-Usual' Model for Earth Tomorrow

Parallels between methane explosions in the Yamal and on Mars – by Dr. David Page

The Author in the field
Hello, I'm Dr. David Page, a terrestrial geologist researching the rocky planets of the inner Solar System. My area of interest for 15 out of the last 25 years has been twofold – specifically, the geological history of the low-lying plains of the martian equator, and methodologically, how study of the stratigraphical architecture of planetary surfaces allows robust, three-dimensional inferences to be drawn from two-dimensional image data. That is, how to do real geology beyond Earth in a field ordinarily characterised by the geomorphic interpretations of the physical scientists who dominate planetary geology.

My terrestrial interest has long been palaeoenvironmental – what the rock record can tell us about past environments and climates. The Lyellian notion of Uniformity, that 'the Present is the key to the Past', is needlessly contrasted with catastrophism in planetary science (e.g., Baker, 1978; 1993; 1996; 1998; 2002; 2014), and was never a principle to be applied beyond Earth. Yet, it gains an extra dimension with the multiple geological examples that study of multiple planets affords, and can be made to work both ways in that context – i.e., not only can the Present be the key to the Past, but that Past can also be key to the Future.

Let me explain.

Fifty years of orbital observation has resulted in the consensus view that the northern lowlands of Mars are covered in lava. The most cursory geological examination shows this model-based view to be wrong, but study of the heavens is the province of the physicist and the astronomer and so this view prevails. Of the many geological anomalies with this story, the standout is that the ostensibly 'volcanic cones' that populate this terrain are demonstrably post-depositional in origin and thus more likely to be intrusive permafrost mounds. Look at this terrain stratigraphically and that likelihood becomes a certainty, the mounds presenting striking parallels to a new phenomenon in Arctic permafrost.

The dramatic explosion of Siberian permafrost mounds over the last four years has received worldwide media attention, igniting speculations of a methane "time-bomb" and a climatic threshold crossed. Absent any precedent in the geological past, we do not know whether these blasts are random events related to local permafrost instabilities, or the first sign of cascading methane release under climatic warming. Prior to the Arctic explosions the possibility that Mars' mounds might also explode could never be anticipated. Yet explode they do, synchronously, and in their thousands, presenting a scaleable vision of this process run to completion on Earth.

The parallel between this mass-explosion on Mars and the Yamal explosions vis-à-vis methane is described in the paper 'A candidate methane-clathrate destabilisation event on Mars: a model for sub-millennial-scale climatic change on Earth' published last week in the journal 'Gondwana Research'. This link – https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1WtNh,UYEnN-Xs – allows the readers of Arctic-news to freely download the full text of the paper without limitation or registration (until June 9th). I've been asked to extract my paper for that readership and have chosen to précis that aspect that I believe will be of the most interest to them: what the geology says about the rate of devolatilisation on Mars.

It is typically not possible to constrain the rate of past geological events with any accuracy (e.g., was the methane-expulsion of the PETM a geologically instantaneous event, occurring over decades, or did it play out over 10s to 100s of 1000s of years?). Uncharacteristically for a past such event (and uniquely so for a non-terrestrial one), two aspects of the Mars observations allow both the frequency and the scale of the explosions there to be calculated.

Mound explosions on Mars and Earth. Main) Dense cluster of exploded mounds at martian equator, composite haloes
around individual clusters indicating synchronous blasts. Explosions traceable continuously for 100s-of-km.
Inset) Exploded mound 'C1' in Arctic permafrost, one of six such explosions documented since 2013.
HiRISE ESP_036220_1820, 2°N/145°E, 28 cm/px (NASA/JPL), Yamal Peninsula, Siberia (The Siberian Times,
reproduced with permission). Mars field-of-view ~ 6 km across, C1 mound-vent ~ 50-m across.
Firstly, and as Figs. 1, 3-4 and 6 of the linked manuscript show, the mound explosions interact with dunes at the surface, showering them with ejecta. The dunes in this region are still active, growing at a rate of ~ 0.4 m/yr, this interaction with a measurably active sedimentary landform showing that explosion did not occur slowly over time but on a timescale of years. Neither is this just a local synchrony, as some aspect of the explosions caused the dunes across the blast-zone to change migration direction post-explosion, the only process that is presently known to remobilise dunes being climatic change (Thomas et al., 2005). Given en-masse explosive degassing of frost-mounds and the detection of methane 500 km downwind of the explosion site, this dune remobilisation is most reasonably attributed to brief, mass-emission of a warming volatile.

Secondly, as neither the Earth nor Mars mounds are explosion 'craters' but positive-relief constructional landforms (whose explosion plays no part in their formation), this explosion of pre-existing landforms allows assessment of the degree of degassing on Mars to be made (i.e., "how many have exploded out of how many"). Observation shows over 99% of the exposed mounds to have exploded.

These explosions on Mars and Earth, both new-to-science, offer a unique opportunity for climatic inquiry across two worlds, having already occurred on Mars and now underway on Earth. Can this 'snapshot' of an abrupt, mass-devolatilisation event in-progress tell us anything about current events in Siberia? There is reason to believe that the Siberian explosions are only just beginning as neither the 1000s of onshore lake depressions across the Yamal-Pangody region nor the methane-venting 'pockmarks' of the various Arctic sea-floors show any evidence of explosive genesis, having thermokarstic- and subsidence-origins, respectively. What Mars shows is that once a certain permafrost stability threshold is passed, either through increasing temperature or decreasing pressure, the explosive 'reaction' appears to cascade.

It is important to place this statement in observational context, as those who set store by the solutions of numerical models will say that such cascading devolatilisation is not likely (and perhaps even irresponsible to voice) in regard to the Earth. Yet the martian observations are quite unambiguous, so let us list those elements that are factual:
  1. Thousands of mounds have exploded on a regional scale at a single geological horizon on Mars and with a significant degree of synchrony;
  2. This synchrony has operated, certainly partially and potentially completely, on a human timescale
  3. The devolatilisation was effectively complete, with > 99% of mounds exploded, the entire reservoir (at least as expressed at the surface) depleting in non-linear fashion.
This explosive-totality and -frequency are measured – they are not, inasmuch as anything can be otherwise when dealing with the geological past and non-terrestrial phenomena, an 'interpretation'. The volatile degassed from these mounds is interpreted to be methane based on the continuing seasonal methane detections in this region and the widespread evidence for freeze-thaw activity here (e.g., Page, 2007, 2008; Balme et al., 2009; Page, 2018), but it doesn't really matter if it's methane- or CO₂-clathrate that was degassed – the mechanism is the same. This regional synchrony documents either 1) the degassing of 1000s of individual volatile caches, indicating cascading devolatilisation, or 2) degassing of a larger, interconnected source at depth, pointing to complete devolatilisation. Collectively, these observations speak of a destabilised volatile reservoir moving rapidly towards total depletion, an inference that is independent both of the explosive stimulus and the volatile involved.

Climate-change studies have long struggled with the “impossible” task (Stassen, 2016) of predicting the consequences of sub-millennial-scale climatic change on Earth absent any example from our past. Mars provides one such example, the first, and a sobering one. If such cascade can occur on a permafrozen body such as Mars without the added drivers of annually-forced temperature increase or inundation by a warming transgressive ocean, then the scope for the same on Earth – where the shallow-marine clathrates of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), the largest near-surface reservoir of labile carbon on the planet, are rapidly warmed to the permafrost thaw-point – would appear straightforward. As a planet (probably) devoid of life and geologically inactive, the amount of methane on Mars will be both small and finite – were this degassing to occur on the same scale and frequency in a region of massive methane concentration on Earth, such as ESAS, then the beyond-worst-case scenario would follow: unstoppable runaway warming.

I don't think that it's 'alarmist' to be alarmed about events in the Yamal when seen in this new martian context – Siberian news reports last year described mapping of 7000 methane-venting mounds across the Yamal-Gydan (The Siberian Times, 27/03/2017), a number far in excess of the global frost mound population (~ 5000 [Mackay, 1998]) as of 1998. If confirmed, these 1000s of 'new' mounds must have formed within the last 20 years by a disequilibrium process unrelated to progressive ice-intrusion (Page, 2018). A University of Alaska permafrost decay expert quoted on the same day (The Washington Post, 27/03/2017) said that this mapping is likely to be an underestimate, and that the new mounds may number as many as 100,000. Should even the smaller of these numbers be correct and disequilibrium methanogenesis the cause, then Mars' explosions may only hint at the near future for a methane-rich Earth of rapidly rising temperatures if Arctic permafrost-explosion follows suit.

A seemingly compelling counterargument, often reused in the media, is that none of the glacial-interglacial transitions of the past 400 kyr shows a sudden, large methane-spike, suggesting that abrupt, large-scale methane outbursts are unlikely. One might appeal to such abrupt events being below the temporal resolution of the rock record in explanation, but absent such spikes the safest answer is to say that large-scale interglacial outbursts did not occur during that time. This time, however, is different. Anthropogenic warming has interrupted the Glacial-Interglacial cycle of the Quaternary (Ganopolski et al., 2016; Haqq-Misra, 2014) and there will be no coming Ice-Age n-1000 years from now to reseal all of this volatile Carbon, as happened at the end of each previous interglacial. This now-broken cyclicity is one reason why catastrophic reservoir-collapse has never occurred in the past and we should not take any comfort from that lack of precedent as never before has an Interglacial period been combined with annual, planetary-scale thermal forcing.

While high CO₂ levels have been present in Earth's atmosphere before (e.g., during the Cambrian and Archaean) without initiating either the moist or runaway greenhouse state, never has the rate of warming been annual in scale as today. The question is not whether anthropogenic emissions could initiate these greenhouse states, but whether Arctic clathrate release could. The IPCC 3rd Assessment Report (2001) concluded that rapid increase in atmospheric methane from the release of buried clathrate reservoirs would be "exceptionally unlikely", at < 1% chance, a figure revised up to 10% by the following report in 2008. Yet the Mars observations show that abrupt, cascading devolatilisation occurs readily in nature, and there is nothing about these observations to suggest that this process is not portable or scalable to Earth. That ESAS lacks Mars' mound-density makes the scaling no less valid, the methane-supersaturation of 80% of ESAS bottom waters (Shakhova et al., 2010) showing that frost mounds are not the sole venting pathway, gas migration pathways growing in capacity annually in the areas of greatest emissions (Shakhova et al., 2017). Destabilisation of the shallow-marine clathrates of ESAS continues to be excluded from every global climate model, the only (regional-scale) model to consider this being that of Archer (2015). The reader is referred to that paper for detail (https://www.biogeosciences.net/12/2953/2015/bg-12-2953-2015.pdf), but I would like to consider one element of that model here.

As a geologist, it is not clear to me how a model can have "...lessons to teach us about the real Siberian continental margin" (Archer, 2015) when "...many of the model variables are not well known", "...meaning that in some aspects the model results are not a strong constraint on reality". When this model "...neglects many of the mechanisms that could come into play in transporting methane quickly to the atmosphere, such as faults, channels, and blowouts of the sediment column" then one must ask what bearing or predictive-value it has for abrupt methane release. In ignoring faults and thaw-taliks, this model – "...the first simulation of the full methane cycle on the Siberian continental margin" – neglects those surface, subsurface, subaqueous, and subaerial pathways through which methane moves rapidly through permafrost, as observed in ESAS (e.g., Shakhova et al., 2010, 2017). Little wonder that "...No mechanism has been proposed whereby a significant fraction of the Siberian permafrost hydrates could release their methane catastrophically" (Archer, 2007) when every method of rapid release is neglected by the only 'full' model. The importance of such thaw-discontinuities cannot be underplayed in a model of catastrophic devolatilisation (Shakhova, 2014), as illustrated by Mars where violent degassing equivalent to 20 Yamal explosions per km² occurs through sub-mound palaeo-taliks alone (e.g., Figure above). The stated lack of constraint between model and reality is reflected in its most important Prediction, i.e., that atmospheric methane flux from anthropogenic warming of ESAS permafrost will never exceed 0.04 Tg C-CH₄ yr⁻¹ over 100-kyr of global warming (see Figure 15 of Archer, 2015). In Actuality, air sampling surveys over ESAS yield a calculated annual flux to the atmosphere of 8 Tg C-CH₄ (Shakhova et al., 2010), a figure 200 x higher than the model estimate (at Year-1 of this 100-kyr-scale warming) and equivalent to the methane emissions of the entire world's oceans.

In questioning the abrupt 50 Gt Arctic-methane release proposed by Shakhova et al. (2010), Archer says that "...A complex model is not really required to conclude that methane hydrate will probably not produce a methane eruption of this scale so quickly". Yet models (particularly the complex ones) are only as good as their base assumptions, and that regarding the methane flux in this region shows little correspondence with reality. There is thus no support for the Conclusion that "...The model results give no indication of a mechanism by which methane emissions from the Siberian continental shelf could have a significant impact on the near-term evolution of Earth’s climate" as the geological discontinuities that should be foremost in that mechanism are omitted from the model and the long-term CH₄-flux predictions of that model have no bearing to current, observed methane flux.

Knowing whether reservoir degassing follows a linear or cascading path makes all of the difference to whether such a system can be dynamically modelled. The 'plan-view' of the martian event exposed at the surface shows one explosion communicated to another and another, with mutual interference of blast-waves evident throughout. In this explosive degassing over 100s-of-km, Mars shows that once explosion begins it spreads, with local- to regional-scale synchrony. Thus, whether this is the explosion of 1000s of discrete volatile caches confined to the mounds, or 1000s of explosions that depleted a greater reservoir at-depth doesn't really matter, as devolatilisation appears to be limited only by volatile availability and to run to completion once initiated. As such, the proposed < 5% (50 Gt) release from ESAS may be highly conservative. It could also be extremely rapid if the isochroneity of explosion on Mars is valid, the brief dune-remobilisation there consistent with mass-emission of a warming volatile of decadal atmospheric lifetime. If a mechanism be required before mass-degassing of ESAS is considered possible, then Mars provides one in the thermal disequilibrium of progressive deposit unroofing – a thermophysical process that will operate just as readily in submerged permafrost as subaerial, having already occurred on Mars and now underway in ESAS.

Unsurprisingly, argument in the scientific press between those who place their faith in numerical models and those who prefer the empiricism of "boots on the ground" (or ice, in this case) is heated in regard to possible ESAS degassing (e.g., http://www.biogeosciencesdiscuss.net/11/C6800/2014/bgd-11-C6800-2014-print.pdf). Ultimately, the 'watchful waiting' of ongoing, in situ documentation and the under-parameterised, low-dimensional abstractions of the modeller will both fail to capture the complexity and timescale of change in this most Open climate system as we must wait for the outcome to arrive before we can fully understand it, and that will be too late. Let us have no more 'scientific reticence' about Arctic methane. Earth at 1 AU is forever on the 0.97-0.99 AU margin of runaway warming (Kopparapu et al., 2013). To see what that's like, we need only look to our other nearest planetary neighbour and carry on with 'Business-As-Usual'. For the $3-trillion that was spent a decade ago bailing-out the shareholders of two corrupt mortgage lenders and a failing bank we could have built enough offshore wind turbines to power the entire planet, fixing dangerous climate-change globally and permanently.

If we're lucky, we may have a decade remaining to fix it now.

A Question and an Answer 

Q: Why should the reader pay any heed to the words of an 'off-world' geologist when it comes to Arctic methane, particularly one who mentions Uniformitarianism? A: Because the methodology employed is not his own but one grounded in the geometrical principles of that science, honed over 200 years of inquiry¹. Using that methodology, the volatile-hypothesis for genesis of the martian mounds has been testing its own predictions observationally for over a decade now and has yet to falter, leaving others to explain-away the resulting inconsistencies in the established model (e.g., Jaeger et al., 2008; Dundas et al., 2010). In 2007, I suggested that the methane detected over this region was related to decadal-scale thaw-destabilisation of permafrost mounds, providing a mechanism for clathrate dissociation, and that "...unless thaw and the local methane enhancement over this region are unrelated, release of methane from within the permafrost is a consistent explanation" (Page, 2007). Ten-years on, and this destabilisation-geology and -chronology have been borne out in the discovery of widespread explosive mass-devolatilisation of frost mounds in that same region, paralleling the identical but otherwise new-to-science explosive phenomena in the Yamal (Page, 2018).

This successful prediction is not self-advertisement, and is stated here for one reason alone² – in providing the only analogue for what is beginning in Siberian permafrost now, this past event on Mars provides a unique guide to how such degassing plays-out for real. It is one that we must not ignore – scaling this event to Earth yields 10s-of-millions of explosions in the Arctic and a terminal mass-emission of methane that will make 50 Gt look modest.

It is said that the greatest contribution that Geology has made to human knowledge is the discovery of 'Deep Time'. More significant Today is its unique capacity to reconstruct the Past, and to apply that understanding to anticipating the Future.

¹ When I consider the landforms and surfaces of other planets I do not do so in terms of models, morphology, or hypotheses of origin, but their geometrical relations with one-another vis-à-vis relative-age, a method of inquiry that goes back two centuries to the very inception of geology as a science. In a traverse across the Scottish Highlands, James Hutton (1788) was able to piece together the history of the various plutonic, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks based on the geometry of their intersections. He inferred that the Caledonian granites were younger than the “Primitive” (metamorphic) basement that they intrude, with the numerous faults and intrusive dykes younger than the Old Red Sandstone that they cut. By determining the age of one rock relative to another, Hutton produced a geological “history of events” for rocks whose origins he did not know, a history that remains unchanged to this day (Page, 2015). This directional, temporal logic is practiced by all geologists as a matter of course, whether they be determining the crystallization history of minerals under the microscope, the stratigraphy of an outcrop in the field, or the order of undefined events on a distant planetary surface. These relative-age relations are all defined geometrically, a straightforward reductio, such as Euclid's proof that two intersecting circles cannot share their centres, being the basis for much stratigraphical reasoning. By the same reasoning, two spatially coincident events (mound-formation and -explosion, in this case) cannot share the same point in time if they are separated by a third, intervening event of significant duration (e.g., dune-formation). This simple deposit geometry is what shows accepted explanation of the geology of mound-bearing terrain on Mars to be deficient, and something entirely different, the propositions of planar geometry matters of neither opinion nor interpretation.

² As stated by Hansen (2017) after losing funding for publishing research that pointed out the consequences of findings with no other consideration, "...Funding decisions for other researchers, I noted, sent a clear message: funding prospects were brighter if one emphasized that the science was very uncertain and that much more research was needed before it might be possible to draw inferences related to policy". If emphasising 'uncertainty' is the path to healthy funding, then this Contribution makes it clear that my work is not scientific careerism pitching for funds – the Author's post-doctoral research is entirely self-funded, as detailed in my Funding Statements for papers going back to 2010. It took 15 months to get this paper through peer-review in two Elsevier journals, the majority of which time was taken, after 13 reviewers refused to look at it, by a single, gainsaying reviewer who did not wish to see the MS published and resorted to foot-dragging and non-physical pseudo-geology to try to block its progress. These observations, if not necessarily my treatment of them, should not be blocked simply to protect the previous intellectual contributions of others.


• Archer, D., 2007. Methane hydrate stability and anthropogenic climate change. Biogeosciences Discuss. 4, 993–1057.

• Archer, D., 2015. A model of the methane cycle, permafrost, and hydrology of the Siberian continental margin. Biogeosciences 12, 2953–2974.

• Balme et al., 2009. Sorted stone circles in Elysium Planitia, Mars: Implications for recent martian climate. Icarus 200, 30-38.

• Baker, V.R., 1978. The Spokane Flood Controversy and the Martian Outflow Channels. Science 202, 1249–1256.

• Baker, V.R., 1993. Extraterrestrial geomorphology: science and philosophy of Earthlike planetary landscapes. Geomorphology 7, 9–35.

• Baker,V. R., 1996, Hypotheses and geomorphological reasoning, in Rhoads, B. L., and Thorn, C. E. (Eds.). The scientific nature of geomorphology. New York, Wiley, p. 57–85.

• Baker, V.R., 1998. Catastrophism and uniformitarianism: logical roots and current relevance in geology. In: Blundell, D.J., Scott, A.C. (Eds.), Lyell: The past is the key to the present. 143. Geological Society of London Special Publications, pp. 171–182.

• Baker, V.R., 2002. The Study of Superfloods. Science 295, 2379–2380.

• Baker, V.R., 2014. Terrestrial analogs, planetary geology, and the nature of geological reasoning. Planetary and Space Science 95, 5–10.

• Dundas, C.M., et al., 2010. The cratering record of young platy-ridged lava on Mars: implications for material properties. Geophys Res Lett. 37, L12203.

• Ganopolski, A., et al., 2016. Critical insolation–CO₂ relation for diagnosing past and future glacial inception. Nature 2016, 529 (7585): 200.
DOI: 10.1038/nature16494

• Hansen, J., 2017. Scientific Reticence: a DRAFT Discussion.

• Haqq-Misra, J., 2014. Damping of glacial-interglacial cycles from anthropogenic forcing, J. Adv. Model. Earth Syst. 6, 950–955.

• Hutton, J., 1788. Theory of the Earth. Trans. R. Soc. Edinb. I, 209–304.

• IPCC, 2001: Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Houghton, J.T.,Y. Ding, D.J. Griggs, M. Noguer, P.J. van der Linden, X. Dai, K. Maskell, Johnson, C.A. (Eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 881pp.

• Jaeger, W.L. et al., 2008. Response to comment on “Athabasca Valles, Mars: a lava-draped channel system”. Science 320, 1588c.

• Kopparapu, R.K., et al., 2013. Habitable Zones around Main-Sequence Stars: new estimates. The Astrophysical Journal 765, 131, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/765/

• Mackay, J.R., 1998. Pingo growth and collapse, Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula area, western arctic coast, Canada: a long-term field study. Géographie Physique et Quaternaire 52, 1–53.

• Page, D.P., 2007. Recent low-latitude freeze–thaw on Mars. Icarus 189, 83–117.

• Page, D.P., 2008. Comment on “Athabasca Valles, Mars: a lava-draped channel system”. Science 320, 1588b.

• Page, D.P., 2015. The geology of planetary landforms. In: Hargitai, H., Kereszturi, Á. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Planetary Landforms. Springer Science, New York:pp. 2385–2446. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-3134-3.

• Page, D.P., 2018. A candidate methane-clathrate destabilisation event on Mars: A model for sub-millennial-scale climatic change on Earth. Gondwana Research 59, 43–56. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1342937X18300790

• Shakhova, N., 2014. Interactive comment on “A model of the methane cycle, permafrost, and hydrology of the Siberian continental margin” by D. Archer. Biogeosciences Discuss. 11, C6800–C6809.

• Shakhova, N., et al., 2010. Extensive methane venting to the atmosphere from sediments of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Science 327, 1246–1250.

• Shakhova, N., et al., 2017. Current rates and mechanisms of subsea permafrost degradation in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Nature Comms. 8.

• Stassen, P., 2016. Global warming then and now. Nature Geoscience 9, 271–272. https://www.nature.com/articles/ngeo2691

• Thomas, D.S.G. et al., 2005. Remobilization of southern African desert dune systems by twenty-first century global warming. Nature 435, 1218–1221.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Heat Storm

[ click on images to enlarge ]
On April 11, 2018, Arctic sea ice extent was only 13.9 million km². Arctic sea ice extent has been at a record low for the time of year for most of 2018, as illustrated by above image. In 2012, extent went below 3.4 million km². The question is what minimum 2018 extent will be.

Arctic sea ice could disappear altogether in 2018. Have a look at the progressive loss of sea ice volume depicted in the image on the right, from an earlier post. Zero sea ice volume by 2018 is within the margins of the trend line contained in the data going back to 1979.

What drives volume decline is the combination of extent loss and especially thickness loss. Sea ice thickness has declined particularly where the ice once was at its thickest, i.e. north of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

The combination image below shows the decline of the thicker sea ice, by comparing sea ice thickness on April 15 (run April 14) for the years 2015 through to 2018, showing that sea ice this year is entering the melting season with little or no thick sea ice left north of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to cope with the influx of warmer water.

The image below shows how much Bering Strait sea ice is at a historic low and the associated International Arctic Research Center post describes that this is caused by higher ocean temperatures and frequent storms.

The influx of warm water from the Atlantic Ocean and from the Pacific Ocean is melting the sea ice from below, while sunlight is melting the sea ice from above. Furthermore, warm water from rivers that end in the Arctic Ocean also contribute to melting of the sea ice, and there are numerous feedbacks that can dramatically speed up melting.

Disappearance of the sea ice means that the buffer that until now has consumed huge amounts of heat, will be gone and that heat that previously went into melting the sea ice, will instead warm up the Arctic.

Sea ice can be expected to continue its downward spiral, given the continued rise of the temperature of the sea surface in the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean, as illustrated by the image below.

The sea surface is not necessarily the place where the water is at its warmest. This is illustrated by the image below, showing subsurface ocean heat in the area most relevant to El Niño/La Niña events.

[ click on images to enlarge ]
We're currently still in a La Niña period in which temperatures are suppressed, as illustrated by the Multivariate El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Index image on the right.

As illustrated by the forecast plumes image underneath on the right, it looks like a new El Niño will arrive this summer, which will elevate temperatures from the trend.

This could result in a heat storm as early as summer 2018, in which heat waves could decimate the sea ice, while storms could push the remaining sea ice out of the Arctic Ocean.

This danger is further illustrated by the trend line in the image below, a trend that is contained in NASA LOTI data up to March 2018, adjusted by +0.79°C to better reflect the rise from preindustrial and surface air temperatures, and to better include Arctic temperatures.

[ click on images to enlarge ]
The temperature rise in the Arctic is causing decline of the sea ice extent as well as the extent of the snow cover on land.

The image on the right shows the progressive decline of the spring snow cover on land in the Northern Hemisphere.

A recent study shows that the amount of water melt from the glaciers on Mt. Hunter, Alaska, is now 60 times greater than it was before 1850.

Heat waves combined with strong rainfall due to storms could devastate the snow cover in 2018.

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.

The Buffer has gone, feedback #14 on the Feedbacks page
A rapid rise in temperatures in the Arctic will also accelerate changes to jet stream, which can cause huge amounts of heat from the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean to enter the Arctic Ocean, further speeding up its warming and threatening to destabilize methane hydrates in sediments under the Arctic Ocean.

The methane will initially be felt most strongly in the Arctic, further speeding up Arctic warming which is already accelerating due to numerous feedbacks including - as said - the loss of the snow and ice cover in the Arctic, which makes that less sunlight is reflected back into space and instead adds to warming up the Arctic.

All this shouldn't come unexpected. In the video below, Guy McPherson warns that a rapid temperature rise will affect agriculture across the globe, threatening to cause a collapse of industrial civilization, in turn resulting in an abrupt halt of the sulfates that are currently co-emitted as a result of burning fuel, which will further add to a temperature rise that is already threatening to cause people across the globe to perish at massive scale, due to heatstroke, dehydration and famine, if not perish due to nuclear radiation and further toxic effects of war, as people fight over who controls the last habitable places on Earth.

Guy mentions the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, who in a press conference on August 28, 2017, warns that: "If we lose the Arctic, we lose the globe". The video below shows an extract of the press conference.

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


• Climate Plan

• Feedbacks in the Arctic

• How much warmer is it now?

• Extinction

• Ten Dangers of Global Warming

• Methane Erupting From Arctic Ocean Seafloor

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

• In the coastal communities near the Bering Strait, a winter unlike the rest

• A 400‐Year Ice Core Melt Layer Record of Summertime Warming in the Alaska Range

• Warning Signs

Monday, April 2, 2018

How much warmer is it now?

The IPCC appears to be strongly downplaying the amount of global warming that has already occurred and that looks set to eventuate over the next decade or so, according to a leaked draft of the IPCC 'Special Report on 1.5°C above pre-industrial'. The 'First Order Draft of the Summary for Policy Makers' estimates that the global mean temperature reached approximately 1°C above pre-industrial levels around 2017/2018.

Let's go over the numbers step by step, by following the image below line by line (click on the image to enlarge it).

NASA's data for the two most recent years for which data are available (2016/2017) show a warming of 0.95°C when using a baseline of 1951-1980 and a warming of 1.23°C when using a baseline of 1890-1910 (left map on image below). In other words, using this earlier baseline results in an additional 0.28°C rise. When using an even earlier baseline, i.e. 1750 or preindustrial, it could be 1.53°C warmer, as discussed in an earlier post.

In other words, merely changing the baseline to preindustrial, as agreed to at the Paris Agreement, can show that we're already above the 1.5°C guardrail that the Paris Agreement had pledged we should not cross.

There's more! As a recent publication points out, most methods that calculate the global temperature use sea surface temperatures. However, doesn't it make more sense to calculate the temperature of the air just above the sea surface? Measuring air temperature at the surface is done in the case of temperatures over land, where one doesn't measure the temperature of the soil or rocks when telling people how warm it is. Since air surface temperatures are slightly higher than sea surface temperatures, the result of looking at air surface temperatures across the globe would be a temperature that is approximately 0.1°C warmer. Furthermore, many areas in the Arctic may not have been adequately reflected in the global temperature, e.g. because insufficient data were available. Since the Arctic has been warming much faster than the rest of the world, inclusion of those areas would add another 0.1°C to the rise. Adding this to the above 1.53°C rise makes that it's already 1.73°C (or 3.11°F) warmer than preindustrial.

Another question is over what period measurements should be taken when assessing whether thresholds have been crossed. When focusing on temperatures during specific months, the rise could be much higher than the annual average. So, does it make more sense to look at a monthly peak rather than at a long-term average?

When building a bridge and when calculating what load the bridge should be able to handle, it makes sense to look at peak traffic and at times when a lot of heavy trucks happen to be on the bridge. That makes a lot more sense than only looking at the average weight of cars driving over the bridge during a period of - say - one, two or thirty years.

Accordingly, the right panel of the top image shows numbers for February 2016 when temperature anomalies were particularly high. When looking at this monthly anomaly, we are already 2.37°C (or 4.27°F) above preindustrial, i.e. well above the 2°C guardrail that the Paris Agreement had pledged we should definitely not cross.

Should the temperature rise be calculated using a longer period? The IPCC appears to have arrived at its temperature rise estimate by using an extrapolation or near term predictions of future warming so that the level of anthropogenic warming is reported for a 30 year period centered on today.

The image below, from an earlier post, shows global warming for a 30-year period centered on January 2018, using NASA 2003 to January 2018 LOTI anomalies from 1951-1980, adjusted by 0.59°C to cater for the rise from preindustrial to 1951-1980, and with a polynomial trend added.

If above trendline is adjusted by a further 0.2°C, by shifting to air temperatures instead of sea surface temperatures, and by better reflecting Arctic temperatures, then the trendline looks set to cross the 2°C guardrail in 2018. So, will Earth cross 2°C in 2018?

Above images illustrate the importance of what's going to happen next. The temperature rise up until now may well be dwarfed by what's yet to come and the outlook may well be even worse than what most fear will eventuate. The image below, from an earlier post, shows a steep rise from 2016 to 2026, due to the combined impact of the warming elements listed in the left box of the image below.

Meanwhile, the rise in carbon dioxide levels appears to be accelerating, as illustrated by the images below.

Indeed, despite pledges made at the Paris Agreement to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial, the rise in CO₂ since preindustrial, i.e. 1750, still appears to be accelerating.

On March 18, 2018, the sea surface temperature near Svalbard (at the green circle) was 16.7°C or 62.1°F, i.e. 14.7°C or 26.4°F warmer than the daily average during the years 1981-2011.

On March 30, 2018, methane levels as high as 2624 parts per billion were recorded.

On April 1, 2018, methane levels as high as 2744 parts per billion were recorded.

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


• Climate Plan

• Extinction

• How much warming have humans caused?

• IPCC seeks to downplay global warming

• 2016 well above 1.5°C

• Interpretations of the Paris climate target, by Andrew Schurer et al.