Showing posts with label comprehensive. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comprehensive. Show all posts

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ocean Temperature Rise

Ocean Temperatures

Of all excess heat resulting from people's emissions, 93.4% goes into oceans. Accordingly, the temperature of oceans has risen substantially.

Globally, the average September ocean temperature marked a record high for that month in 2014, at 0.66°C (1.19°F) above the 20th century average, breaking the previous record that was set just one month earlier. On the Northern Hemisphere, the temperature of the ocean in September 2014 was 0.83 °C (or 1.49 °F) above the 20th century, 

The anomaly was 0.84 °C in August 2014, as illustrated by the image below.

On specific days, anomalies were much higher. On August 19, 2014, the Northern Hemisphere showed a sea surface temperature anomaly of 1.78 °C, while the North Atlantic sea surface temperature was 1.82 °C above average (CFSR 1979-2000 Baseline) on October 16, 2014, as illustrated by the image below.

Sea surface temperature anomalies are at the top end of the scale in many places in the Arctic, as well as off the coast of North America. The danger is that the Gulf Stream will keep carrying ever warmer water from the North Atlantic into the Arctic Ocean, threatening to unleash huge methane eruptions from the Arctic Ocean's seafloor, in turn causing even higher temperatures and more extreme weather events, wildfires, etc.

Above image shows methane levels as high as 2666 ppb, as measured by the MetOp-2 Satellite at 14,385 ft (~4.4 km) altitude on October 26, 2014 am.

Is 2666 ppb as high as it will get?

Sadly, methane releases from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean are becoming increasingly larger around this time of year and they look set to get even larger than this. Note that the amount of methane actually erupting from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean is even larger than what is visible on above image, for the following three reasons.

  1. No data were available for some areas, as the IASI (Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer) instrument measuring methane only covers a certain width. The white shapes showing up on above images are areas where no measurements were taken, resulting from the way the polar-orbiting satellite circum-navigates the globe, as pictured on the image on the right.

    Furthermore, quality control failed in the grey areas on above images, indicating reading difficulties due to high moisture levels (i.e. snow, rain or water vapor), as also discussed in an earlier post. Accordingly, high methane levels (above 1950 ppb) as show up in the yellow areas could also be present in the many grey areas over the Arctic Ocean.

    When also looking at methane levels on days following the high 2666 ppb reading, methane is persistently present over most of the Arctic Ocean, as illustrated by the above October 29, 2014, combination image, confirming that high methane levels were likely present in areas where no data were available on October 6, 2014.
  2. Much of the methane that is released from the Arctic Ocean's seafloor is broken down by microbes as it rises up in the water. The SWERUS-3 research team recently found methane in the waters of the East Siberian Sea at levels that equate to atmospheric levels of  3188 ppb.
  3. Much methane is broken down in the atmosphere by hydroxyl, as illustrated by the image below, showing carbon dioxde levels on October 27, 2014, that indicate that large amounts of methane are broken down at higher latitudes on the Northern Hemisphere.

The latter point could explain the sudden recent rise in carbon dioxide levels, as also detected at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, as illustrated by the image below.

In conclusion, the amount of methane that is erupting from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean is larger than what is visible on satellite images, and the water will be highly saturated with methane at locations where the methane is escaping from the seafloor, highlighting the danger that, in case of large abrupt releases from the Arctic Ocean's seafloor, microbes and hydroxyl will quickly get depleted locally, resulting in little of the methane being broken down, as discussed at an earlier post.

Why are such huge amounts of methane starting to get released from the Arctic Ocean's seafloor now?  

As the image below shows, temperature at 2 meters was below 0°C (32°F, i.e. the temperature at which water freezes) over most of the Arctic Ocean on October 26, 2014. The Arctic was over 6°F (3.34°C) warmer than average, and at places was up to 20°C (36°F) warmer than average.

Above image illustrates the enormous amount of heat that has until now been transferred from the waters of the Arctic Ocean to the atmosphere. Underneath the surface, water temperatures are much higher than they used to be and, as around this time of year the Arctic Ocean freezes over, less heat will from now on be able to escape to the atmosphere. Sealed off from the atmosphere by sea ice, greater mixing of heat in the water will occur down to the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean.

As land around the Arctic Ocean freezes over, less fresh water will flow from rivers into the Arctic Ocean. As a result, the salt content of the Arctic Ocean increases, making it easier for ice in cracks and passages in sediments at the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean to melt, allowing methane contained in the sediment to escape. Furthermore, the sea ice makes that less moisture evaporates from the water, which together with the change of seasons results in lower hydroxyl levels at the higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, in turn resulting in less methane being broken down in the atmosphere over the Arctic.

This situation will continue for months to come. Salty and warm water (i.e. warmer than water that is present in the Arctic Ocean) will continue to be carried by the Gulf Stream into the Arctic Ocean, while less heat and moisture will be able to be transferred to the atmosphere.

In conclusion, high methane levels threaten to further accelerate warming in the Arctic, in a vicious cycle escalating into runaway warming and resulting in death, destruction and extinction at massive scale.

So, what can be done to reduce the risk?

Climate Plan

- Emission Cuts

It is imperative that large emissions cuts are made quickly. The Climate Plan calls for 80% emission cuts by 2020, as one of multiple lines of action that need to be implemented in parallel.

- Greenhouse Gas Removal and Storage

The IPCC points at the need for carbon dioxide removal and also warns about ocean warming continuing for centuries (text below).

Indeed, even if all emissions by people could somehow be brought to an abrupt end, this alone will not stop the rise of ocean temperatures, at least not for a long time. For starters, air temperatures would start rising within days, in response to the disappearance of aerosols that now mask the full wrath of global warming. Furthermore, such a temperature rise would further accelerate feedbacks such as snow and ice decline, methane hydrate destabilization, etc., in turn feeding further temperature rises.

The Climate Plan therefore calls for carbon dioxide removal, as well as for active removal of other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and for further lines of action.

- Further Action

Again, merely implementing the above lines of action will not suffice to quickly bring down ocean temperatures. Paleo-climate records show that falls in temperature go hand in hand with falls of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to levels under 280 ppm, as opposed to current carbon dioxide levels that are around 400 ppm.

Raising Funding for Further Action

The Climate Plan calls for comprehensive and effective action that includes additional lines of action. Such additional action will require U.N. supervision, which may make it hard for the necessary action to obtain sufficient funding.

In earlier posts, it was suggested that, besides having fees imposed on facilities that burn fossil fuel and on sales of fossil fuel itself, additional fees could be imposed on commercial international flights. As long as it seems too hard to substantially reduce emissions associated with such flights, it seems appropriate to explore further ways to minimize such flights, e.g. by imposing additional fees that could help fund further action.

There are a number of ways such fees could be implemented. Such fees could be calculated based on the distance traveled or as a percentage of the fare.

Fees could also be calculated on the basis of the traveler's flying history, e.g. in the form of frequent flyer fees. Such fees could be collected either by the respective airline or airport.

In the box on the right, Ekta Kalra gives further details about how the latter idea could be implemented.

What do you think?

References and related posts

- Four Hiroshima bombs a second: how we imagine climate change

- Arctic Methane Release and Rapid Temperature Rise are interlinked

- Climate Change Accelerating

- NOAA, Global Analysis - September 2014

- NOAA Ocean temperature anomalies

- Methane Hydrates

- Climate Plan

Monday, July 15, 2013

Comprehensive and Effective Climate Plan

President Obama's Climate Action Plan doesn't look much like a shift to genuinely clean energy. As discussed in a recent post by Peter Carter, the President's Plan sadly supports fossil fuel in many ways.

The plan supports natural gas very prominently. Indeed, how clean is natural gas? Years ago, a Cornell University study (image below) concluded that emissions caused by natural gas can be even worse than coal and diesel oil, especially when looked at over a relatively short period.

At the time, I wrote that this kind of support for natural gas - as if that was supposedly "clean energy" - would only perpetuate the government's support for fuel, while doing little or nothing to help genuinely clean energy. Moreover, continued support for fossil fuel comes at the expensive of growth in genuinely clean energy that we need instead.

EIA figures also show that, over the period from 1990 to 2010, the average amount of carbon dioxide produced in the United States for each unit of energy generated has remained much the same as the world average, while the situation in China has grown even worse.

IEA figures further show that the world's energy-related carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise rapidly and that they, for the period 1900 - 2012, add up to a staggering amount of 1257 Gt.

As the image below shows, from a recent IEA report, the carbon intensity of global energy has hardly improved over the decades.

The colored lines on the right correspond with scenarios in which global temperatures are projected to increase by, respectively, 6 degrees Celsius, 4 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius.

What are the chances that it will be possible to avoid the worst-case scenario?  The IEA elaborates that an extension of current trends would result in an average global temperature rise of at least 6 degrees Celsius in the long term. To have an 80% chance of limiting the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions need to be cut by more than half in 2050 compared with 2009. They would need to continue to fall thereafter.

While the IEA adds that the goal of limiting the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius can only be achieved if greenhouse gas emissions in non-energy sectors are also reduced, the IEA does not elaborate on what further action will be needed and whether emission reductions alone will suffice to avoid climate catastrophe.

[click to enlarge]
As said, the world's cumulative energy-related carbon dioxide emissions add up, for the period 1900 - 2012, to a staggering amount of 1257 Gt. As the graph on the right shows, methane's global warming potential for the first decade since its release into the atmosphere will be more than 130 times as much as carbon dioxide.

Abrupt release of just 10 Gt of methane will - during the first decade since entering into the atmosphere - have a stronger greenhouse effect globally than all cumulative energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from 1900 to 2012.

Note that above calculation applies to methane as it's typically released at present, i.e. gradually and spread out over the world, mostly originating from cattle, wetlands, biowaste, energy, forest fires, etc. Things will be much worse in case of abrupt release of methane from the Arctic seabed, when much of the methane will initially remain concentrated in the Arctic, where hydroxyl levels are also very low.

After 5 years, a methane cloud 20% the size of its original abrupt release of methane in the Arctic will still have more than 1000 times the warming potency locally that the same mass of carbon dioxide has globally.

Look at it this way; an abrupt release in the Arctic Ocean will initially remain concentrated locally. The Arctic Ocean covers 2.8% of the Earth's surface, while there's currently about 0.14 Gt of methane in the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean. Abrupt release of 1 Gt methane from the Arctic seabed will thus initially multiply methane levels in the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean by 8, trapping much more heat from sunlight, especially during the June solstice when solar radiation received by the Arctic is higher than anywhere else on Earth.

This comes on top of warming that is already accelerated in the Arctic. Albedo changes alone could cause more warming than all emissions by people globally, according to calculations by Prof. Peter Wadhams, who also describes things in the video below.

The resulting temperature rises in the Arctic threaten to trigger further methane releases from the seabed and wildfires on land in the Arctic, further driving up temperatures in an exponential spiral of runaway global warming.

In conclusion, we need a climate plan that will genuinely produce the necessary action, i.e. a comprehensive and effective climate plan as articulated at

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Terraforming Earth


Terraforming is a fascinating idea. Creating Earth-like conditions on other planets or on the moon, or inside structures built in space, that has long been a popular theme in many science fiction stories. 

What are habitable conditions? Many will point at the presence of water and certain minerals. Many will also point at some things our own Earth has, such as an atmosphere that spreads the heat from sunlight around the world, and that has levels of greenhouse gases that keep temperatures within a range that supports life on our planet.

Habitability at risk

At present, changes are taking place in the world that indicate the opposite is happening here on Earth. The conditions that make Earth habitable are at risk in many ways. One threat is the rise in the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

A safe operating space for humanity is a landmark 2009 study that identifies nine essential areas where sustainability is stressed to the limits, in three cases beyond its limits. In the image below, these areas are pictured as wedges. The inner green shading represents the proposed safe operating space for nine planetary systems. The red wedges represent an estimate of the current position for each variable. The boundaries in three systems (rate of biodiversity loss, climate change and human interference with the nitrogen cycle), have already been exceeded.

 From: A safe operating space for humanity, Rockström et al, 2009.

How to reduce the risk

Global warming is caused by emissions such as from burning fuel. Such emissions are still rising. Such emissions must obviously be reduced dramatically, while additional measures are needed to avoid runaway global warming and to bring the atmosphere and oceans back their pre-industrial state as soon as possible.

The table below shows these nine areas in the column on the left, while examples of technologies that could be helpful in the respective area feature in the column on the right. 

1. Climate changeCDR: biochar, carbon air capture, enhanced weathering, algae bags, EVs, renewable energy, clean cooking & heating, LEDs, etc.
SRM: surface and cloud brightening, release of aerosols
AMM & AWIM: methane capture, release of oxygen and diatoms, wetland management, river diversion, enhanced methane decomposition
2. Ocean acidificationenhanced weathering
3. Stratospheric ozone depletionoxygen release
4. Nitrogen & Phosphorus cyclesalgae bags, biochar, enhanced weathering
5. Global freshwater usedesalination, biochar, enhanced weathering
6. Change in land usedesalination, biochar, enhanced weathering
7. Biodiversity lossdesalination, biochar, enhanced weathering
8. Atmospheric aerosol loadingbiochar, EVs, renewable energy, clean cooking & heating, LEDs, etc. 
9. Chemical pollutionrecycling, waste management (separation)

A Comprehensive Plan of Action

At present, governments support polluting products in all kinds of ways, while they use international agreements or the lack thereof as excuses to avoid making the necessary changes.

To facilitate the shift from polluting technologies to clean technologies, political change is imperative and governments around the world should commit to a comprehensive plan of action such as articulated here.

Reducing emissions is obviously an important part of such a plan. This can be effectively achieved by imposing fees on the sales of polluting products, while using the revenues to fund rebates on locally sold clean alternatives. Each nation can start implementing such policies without the need to wait for other nations to take similar action. Clean products are in many respects already economically competitive. Active support by government is the long-awaited signal for local industries to make the necessary investments and create many local clean jobs in the process, while this also supports people's health and has many further benefits.

Moreover, there is a risk of runaway global warming. This risk is unacceptably high and needs to be dramatically reduced as soon as possible, which makes that geo-engineering will have to be an indispensable part of the necessary plan of action. International agreement must be reached on this, not only to minimize possible negative side-effects, but also to ensure that such geo-engineering will not be used as a way for a nation to avoid taking the necessary action to reduce emissions domestically.

Terra is Latin for Earth and sounds sufficiently ancient to indicate that it refers to Earth like it used to be when it was a habitable planet. Indeed, we need a massive effort to restore Terra to the way it used to be. We need to terraform Earth itself.