Showing posts with label feedback. Show all posts
Showing posts with label feedback. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Temperatures threaten to become unbearable

Many people could face unbearable temperatures soon. 

Temperature anomalies on land in the Northern Hemisphere (red) are spread out much wider and they are more than 0.5°C higher than global land+ocean anomalies (blue).

The pale green and grey trends are both long-term trends based on January 1880-August 2020 NOAA data. The short-term red and blue trends, based on January 2013-August 2020 NOAA data, are added to show the potential for a rapid rise. How could temperatures possibly rise this fast? 

A rapid temperature rise could eventuate by 2026 due to a number of contributing factors:
• crossing of the latent heat and methane tipping points
• moving toward an El Niño 
• entering solar cycle 25
• changes in aerosols
• feedbacks kicking in more strongly as further tipping points get crossed.

Crossing the Latent Heat and Methane Hydrate Tipping Points

The image below, updated from an earlier post, shows two such tipping points.

The August 2020 ocean temperature anomaly on the Northern Hemisphere was 1.13°C above the 20th century average. The image shows a trend based on January 1880-August 2020 NOAA data. The latent heat tipping point is estimated to be 1°C above the 20th century average. Crossing the latent heat tipping point threatens to cause the methane hydrates tipping point to be crossed, estimated to be 1.35°C above the 20th century average.

Keep in mind that above images show temperature anomalies from the 20th century average, which is NOAA's default baseline. As an earlier analysis points out, when using a 1750 baseline and when using ocean air temperatures and higher Arctic anomalies, we may have already crossed both the 1.5°C and the 2°C thresholds that politicians at the Paris Agreement pledged would not get crossed.

Natural Variability - El Niño and Solar Cycle

Currently, we are currently in a La Niña period, which suppresses air temperatures.

Only a thin layer of sea ice remained left in the Arctic, with extent almost as low as it was in 2012 around this time of year, as discussed in the previous post. As air temperatures dropped in September 2020, Arctic sea ice extent started to increase again about September 15, 2020. This made that a patch of sea ice remained present at the surface of the Arctic Ocean, despite the dramatic thinning of the sea ice. 

When an El Niño event returns, conditions will get worse. 

How long will it take before we'll reach the peak of the upcoming El Niño? NOAA says
El Niño and La Niña episodes typically last nine to 12 months, but some prolonged events may last for years. While their frequency can be quite irregular, El Niño and La Niña events occur on average every two to seven years. Typically, El Niño occurs more frequently than La Niña.
The temperature rise is strongest in the Arctic, as illustrated by the zonal mean temperature anomaly map below. The map has latitude on the vertical axis and shows anomalies as high as 4.83°C or 8.69°F in the Arctic. The North Pole is at the top of the map, at 90° North, the Equator is in the middle, at 0°, and the South Pole is at the bottom, at -90° South. And yes, NASA's default baseline is 1951-1980, so anomalies are even higher when using a 1750 baseline. 

So, what could make the difference next year is an upcoming El Niño. Solar irradiance is also on the rise, in line with the 11-year Solar Cycle.

Above image shows a NOAA graph depicting the current Solar Cycle (24) and the upcoming Solar Cycle (25). 

In 2019, Tiar Dani et al. analyzed a number of studies and forecasts pointing at the maximum in the upcoming Solar Cycle occurring in the year 2023 or 2024.

The analysis found some variation in intensity between forecasts, adding images including the one on the right, which is based on linear regression and suggests that the Solar Cycle 25 may be higher than the previous Solar Cycle 24. 

In 2012, Patrick (Pádraig) Malone analyzed factors critical in forecasting when an ice-free day in the Arctic sea first might occur. 

Patrick concluded that once solar activity moved out of the solar minimum, Arctic sea ice extent would start to crash. Accordingly, a Blue Ocean Event could occur as early as 2021, as illustrated by the image below.  

Further Tipping Points and Feedbacks

Further tipping points and feedbacks can start kicking in more strongly as one tipping point gets crossed. At least ten tipping points apply to the Arctic, as discussed in an earlier post and it looks like the latent heat tipping point has already been crossed. 

Ocean heat is very high in the North Atlantic and the North Pacific, and heat continues to enter the Arctic Ocean. 

Arctic sea surface temperatures and air temperature are now high since ocean heat, previously consumed by sea ice, is now coming to the surface where the sea ice has disappeared.

As above image shows, sea surface temperature anomalies in the Arctic Ocean on September 14, 2020, were as high as 9.3°C or 16.8°F (at the location marked by green circle), compared to the daily average during the years 1981-2011. 

These high sea surface temperature anomalies occur at locations where the daily average during the years 1981-2011 was around freezing point at this time of year.

Part of this ocean heat is rising into the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean, resulting in high air temperatures that in turn prevent formation of sea ice thick enough to survive until the next melting season. The image on the right shows a forecast of Arctic air temperatures (2 m) that are 5°C higher than 1979-2000 (forecast for October 5, 2020, 18Z run Sep 26, 2020 06Z). 

Methane Danger is High

Ominously, peak methane levels of 2762 parts per billion (ppb) were recorded by the MetOp-1 satellite on the morning of September 20, 2020, at 586 milibar (mb), as above image shows.

Mean methane levels of 1925 ppb were recorded by the MetOp-1 satellite on the morning of September 20, 2020, at 293 mb, as above image shows.

Peak methane levels of 2813 ppb were recorded by the MetOp-1 satellite on the afternoon of September 30, 2020, at 469 mb, as above image shows. 

Methane has been rising most at higher altitudes over the past few years. On September 26, 2020 pm, the MetOp-1 satellite recorded a mean global methane level of 1929 ppb at 293 mb, which is equivalent to a height of 9.32 km or 30,57 ft, i.e. in the lower stratosphere over the North Pole (the top of the troposphere over the Equator is higher, at about 17 km).

Why methane is so important

As illustrated by the image on the right, from an earlier post, high methane levels could be reached within decades, and such a scenario could unfold even without sudden big bursts, but merely due to a continuation of a trend based on data up to 2014. This would obviously result in a huge rise in global temperature. 

A huge rise in global temperature would eventuate even earlier in case of a big burst of methane erupting from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. 

Methane's initial global warming potential (GWP) is very high. For the first few years after its release, methane is more than 150 times as strong as a greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide, as discussed in an earlier post.

How high are current methane levels? NOAA's May 2020 level for methane was 1874.7 ppb

Using a GWP of 150, this translates into 1.8747 x 150 = 281.205 ppm CO₂e. 

NOAA's figures are conservative, given that NOAA measures methane at marine surface level. 

Anyway, when using this conservative NOAA methane figure of 1874.7 ppb which at a GWP of 150 results in 281.205 ppm CO₂e, and when using an additional 413.6 ppm for recent carbon dioxide levels (NOAA's global May 2020 CO₂ level), these two add up to 694.805 ppm CO₂e, which is 505.195 CO₂e away from the cloud feedback tipping point (1200 CO₂e) that can, on its own, raise global temperatures instantly by 8°C. 

This is illustrated by the image on the right, an update from an earlier post

An additional eruption of methane from the Arctic Ocean into the atmosphere of 505.195 CO₂e translates into 505.195 / 150 = 3.368 ppm or 3368 ppb of methane. 

If the current amount of methane in the atmosphere is about 5 Gt, then 3368 ppb of methane corresponds with an amount of methane just under 9 Gt.

Coincidently, a peak level of 3369 ppb was recorded on August 31, 2018, pm. Granted, there is a large difference between a local peak level and a global mean level, but then again, a much smaller burst of methane can trigger the clouds feedback.

Even a relatively small burst of methane could trigger the clouds feedback, given that it will cause huge heating of the Arctic both directly and indirectly, in turn triggering further eruptions of methane from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean.

Huge direct heating of the Arctic could occur due to methane's high immediate GWP and its even higher Local Warming Potential (LWP) given that the release takes place in the Arctic, while huge indirect heating of Arctic would occur due to the resulting decline of sea ice and of much of the permafrost on land.

Even a relatively small burst of methane could cause not only albedo losses but also releases of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide and further fast feedbacks such as a rise in clouds and water vapor, especially over the Arctic Ocean, as illustrated by the image on the right, from the extinction page and an earlier post.

Importantly, the initial trigger to a huge temperature rise by 2026 could be an event that is typically categorized under natural variability, such as an El Niño, increased solar irradiance or a storm causing a sudden large influx of hot, salty water into the Arctic Ocean and causing an eruption of seafloor methane. Indeed, a seemingly small forcing can result in total collapse that takes place so rapidly that any political action will be too little, too late.

The video below illustrates the importance of the Precautionary Principle. The video shows how a seemingly small bump by a forklift causes all shelves in a warehouse to collapse. 

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


• NOAA Global Climate Report - August 2020

• Multivariate El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Index Version 2 (MEI.v2)

• What are El Niño and La Niña?

• NOAA ISIS Solar Cycle Sunspot Number Progression

• Multiple regression analysis predicts Arctic sea ice - by Patrick Malone (Pádraig) Malone 

• Prediction of maximum amplitude of solar cycle 25 using machine learning - by Tiar Dani et al.

• NOAA - Trends in Artmospheric Methane 

• Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide - global

• When will we die?

• A rise of 18°C or 32.4°F by 2026?

• Most Important Message Ever

• Blue Ocean Event

• Record Arctic Warming

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

Monday, January 22, 2018

2017 was hottest year on record

The year 2017 was the hottest year on record, as the image below illustrates.

When determining which year was the hottest year, care should be taken to avoid bias due to temporary conditions such as the El Niño that was present in 2016 and the La Niña we're now experiencing now. Above image uses NASA land+ocean January 2012-December 2017 anomalies from 1951-1980, adjusted by 0.59°C to cater for the rise from preindustrial to 1951-1980, to calculate a linear trend that goes some way to smooth out variability due to El Niño/La Niña events. The trend shows that 2017 was significantly warmer than 2016.

The trend also shows that 1.5°C above preindustrial was crossed back in 2016. This 1.5°C (or 2.7°F) was set at the Paris Agreement as a guardrail that was not to be crossed. The trend further shows that we've meanwhile crossed 1.6°C above preindustrial and we look set to cross the 2°C guardrail within years.

Global warming has crossed 1.5°C / 2.7°F above preindustrial and looks set to cross 2°C / 3.6°F soon. Due to accelerating warming in the Arctic, that could happen within one or two years time, i.e. much faster than the trendlines below may suggest.

Indeed, warming in the Arctic is taking place much faster than elsewhere, and the difference is accelerating. There's a huge danger that accelerating warming in the Arctic will speed up feedbacks such as:
• huge amounts of methane getting released from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean;
• melting of sea ice and permafrost causing more sunlight to get absorbed in the Arctic, as less sunlight gets reflected back into space;
• changes to jet streams causing more extreme weather, in turn resulting in more emissions, such as due to wildfires;
• and more.

In conclusion, feedbacks could speed up global warming by much more than what may be suggested by above trends that look only at surface temperature of the atmosphere and that are based on previous data when such feedbacks had yet to become manifest.

Add up the impact of all warming elements and, as an earlier analysis shows, the rise in mean global temperatures from preindustrial could be more than 10°C in a matter of years, as illustrated by the image below, which shows a much steeper rise.

Particularly devastating feedbacks could result from changes regarding heat and carbon dioxide taken up by oceans. Oceans now take up 93.4% of global warming, as illustrated by the image below.

As said, when looking at surface temperatures of the atmosphere, there will be bias due to El Niño/La Niña events. One way to smooth out such bias is by calculating trendlines over many years. Another way to compensate for such bias is to also look at ocean heat. In terms of ocean heat, the year 2017 stands at the top, as the left panel of above image illustrates. In 2016, El Niño caused relatively more heat to be present in the atmosphere and less in oceans, whereas the opposite occurred in 2017, contributing to the fact that in 2017 a record amount of ocean heat was recorded. Occurrence of El Niño/La Niña events over the years is visualized by the image below.

One danger is that, in future, there will be more impact by El Niño events and less by La Niña events. A recent study concludes that as temperatures rise due to emissions by people, the frequency, magnitude and duration of strong El Niño events will increase.

In addition to higher temperature peaks due to El Niño events, more heat could remain in the atmosphere as the rise in temperature in general causes greater ocean stratification, making that less heat gets absorbed by oceans, as discussed in several earlier posts. The image below depicts this feedback and further feedbacks mentioned above. Feedbacks are described in more detail at the feedbacks page.

The situation is further illustrated by the danger assessment below.

[ Danger Assessment, from earlier post ]
Meanwhile, the Global Carbon Project projects a growth of 2% for the 2017 global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry (including cement production), compared to 2016 levels, as illustrated by image below.  

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


• Climate Plan

• Warming is accelerating

• The Arctic is changing the Jet Stream - Why This Is Important

• 10°C or 18°F warmer by 2021?

• Abrupt Warming - How Much And How Fast?

• Feedbacks

• Extinction

• Methane Erupting From Arctic Ocean Seafloor

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

Methane Erupting From Arctic Ocean Seafloor

Seafloor methane often missed in measurements

Large amounts of methane are erupting from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. These methane eruptions are often missed by measuring stations, because these stations are located on land, while measurements are typically taken at low altitude, thus missing the methane that rises in plumes from the Arctic Ocean. By the time the methane reaches the coast, it has typically risen to higher altitudes, thus not showing up in low-altitude measurements taken at stations on land.

The image below shows the highest mean global methane levels on March 10 over the years from 2013 through 2017, for selected altitudes corresponding to 945 mb (close to sea level) to 74 mb.

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

The signature of seafloor methane

Above image shows that, over the years, methane levels have risen strongly high in the Troposphere, up into the Stratosphere. This looks like the signature of methane that originated from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. The image below further explains why.

The Tropopause separates the Troposphere from the Stratosphere. The Troposphere ends at a height of some 9 km (5.6 mi; 30,000 ft) at the poles, and at a height of some 17 km (11 mi; 56,000 ft) at the Equator.

As said, methane is erupting from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean concentrated in plumes, unlike methane from wetlands and agriculture that is typically emitted over a wide area. Since seafloor methane is rising in plumes, it hardly shows up on satellite images at lower altitude either, as the methane is very concentrated inside the area of the plume, while little or no increase in methane levels is taking place outside the plume. Since the plume will cover less than half the area of one pixel, such a plume doesn't show up well at low altitudes on satellite images,

Methane over the Arctic typically does show up on satellite images at altitudes between 4.4 km and 6 km (14,400 ft and 19,800 ft). Seafloor methane will show up better at these higher altitudes where it spreads out over larger areas. At even higher altitudes, methane will then follow the Tropopause, i.e. the methane will rise in altitude while moving closer to the equator.

NOAA image

In conclusion, methane originating from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean can strongly contribute to high methane levels that show up over the Equator at higher altitudes, but this methane can be misinterpreted for methane originating from tropical wetlands.

Methane levels as high as 2846 ppb
[ click on images to enlarge ]

On March 14, 2017, methane levels were as high as 2846 ppb, as illustrated by the image on the right. While the origin of these high levels looks hard to determine from this image, the high levels showing up over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) later that day (image underneath) give an ominous warning that destabilization of methane hydrates is taking place.

The images also show that high methane levels are showing up at many other places, e.g. over Antarctica where hydrate destabilization also appears to be taking place, which could also be the cause of noctilucent clouds as discussed in earlier posts (see links at end of this post).

Why is methane erupting from the Arctic Ocean?

Why are increasingly large quantities of methane erupting from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean? The main driver is warming of the Arctic Ocean that is destabilizing once-permanently-frozen sediments that contain huge amounts of methane in the form of hydrates and free gas.

Ocean heat is increasingly entering the Arctic Ocean from the Atlantic Ocean, as illustrated by the images below. Self-reinforcing feedbacks, in particular sea ice decline, further speed up warming of the Arctic Ocean.

[ from earlier post ]

[ from earlier post ]
Self-reinforcing feedback loops

[ click on images to enlarge ]
Meanwhile, the next El Niño event has already started, at a time when sea surface temperature anomalies over the Pacific Ocean are very high as illustrated by the image on the right showing sea surface temperature anomalies east of South America as high as 5.3°C or 9.5°F (compared to 1981-2011) on February 28, 2017.

Greater contrast between sea surface temperatures and temperatures on land has contributed to flooding in California and South America.

Importantly, more water vapor in the atmosphere results in more warming, since water vapor is a potent greenhouse gas.

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

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.

Arctic sea ice looks set to take a steep fall, as illustrated by the image below.

The danger is that further self-reinforcing feedback loops such as albedo decline and methane releases will accelerate warming and, in combination with further warming elements, cause a temperature rise as high as 10°C or 18°F by the year 2026, as described at the extinction page.

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


• Climate Plan

• Extinction

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

• Low sea ice extent contributes to high methane levels at both poles

• Noctilucent clouds indicate more methane in upper atmosphere

• Noctilucent clouds: further confirmation of large methane releases

Monday, October 10, 2016

Blue Ocean Event September 2017?

Will there be a Blue Ocean Event in September 2017, during which the Arctic Ocean will be virtually ice-free? What would be the significance of such an event?

The Arctic Ocean is about to become virtually ice-free, perhaps as early as next year. At first, this Blue Ocean Event may last for one or more days in September 2017. Over the years, the ice-free period will grow longer and longer, if no action is taken.

Projections of an ice-free Arctic Ocean have been made for years. What makes the prospect of a Blue Ocean Event so dire?

Disappearance of the sea ice means that a huge amount of sunlight that was previously reflected back into space, is instead getting absorbed by the Arctic. The reason for this is that sea ice is more reflective than the water of the Arctic Ocean. The situation on land in the Arctic is similar, i.e. the snow and ice cover on land is more reflective than the darker soil and rocks that get uncovered as the snow and ice disappears. So, extra heat gets added and this is accelerating warming in the Arctic. On land, extra heat will also warm up water of rivers, and a lot of this heat will end up in the Arctic Ocean.

Another feedback is water vapor, as highlighted in the diagram below.

A warmer atmosphere carries more water vapor. Since water vapor is a potent greenhouse gas, this further accelerates warming over the Arctic.

As above image shows, temperatures have been more than 2.5°C warmer than 1981-2010 over most of the Arctic Ocean over the past 365 days (up to October 7, 2016). Accelerated Arctic warming has been taking place for a long time. So, what is it that makes a Blue Ocean Event, a virtually ice-free Arctic Ocean, such a big thing?

It is a huge event, because once the sea ice is gone, warming of the Arctic Ocean is likely to speed up even more dramatically. Why? Because having no more sea ice means that the buffer is gone. In the past, thick sea ice extended meters below the sea surface, in many parts of the Arctic Ocean. Melting of this ice into water did consume massive amounts of ocean heat. As such, thick sea ice acted as a buffer. Over the years, Arctic sea ice has become thinner and thinner, as illustrated by the image below.

[ click on image to enlarge ]
Over the past few years, trends have been pointing at zero thickness soon, i.e. in a matter of years. Added below is a trend produced by Arctische Pinguin, pointing at zero volume sea ice in the year 2021.
[ click on image to enlarge ]
Note that there is some variability from year to year. This indicates that a Blue Ocean Event may well happen earlier than the trend, e.g. in September 2017. The image further shows that there's hardly any buffer left, the buffer is virtually gone!

This buffer used to consume massive amounts of ocean heat that is carried along sea currents into the Arctic Ocean. Once the sea ice is gone, that heat must go somewhere else. A huge amount of energy used to be absorbed by this buffer, i.e. by melting ice and transforming it into water. The energy that used to be absorbed by melting ice is as much as it takes to warm up an equivalent mass of water from zero °C to 80 °C. Much of this heat will then suddenly speed up warming of the water of the Arctic Ocean, rather than going into melting the ice as it did previously. So, the water of the Arctic Ocean will suddenly warm up dramatically. Remember that the Arctic Ocean in many areas is very shallow, in many places it's less than 50 m deep, as discussed in an earlier post.

The Buffer has gone, feedback #14 on the Feedbacks page
The danger is that this extra heat will reach the seafloor and destabilize methane hydrates that are contained in sediments at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. This could result in huge methane eruptions. It is hard for methane plumes to get broken down in the water, given the abrupt and concentrated nature of such releases and given that the Arctic Ocean is in so many places very shallow. Once that methane enters the atmosphere, it will strongly contribute to further warming of the atmosphere over the Arctic.

In conclusion, disappearance of the sea ice would mean that the buffer has gone. This further increases the danger of huge abrupt releases of methane from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. In many respects, the danger is such that we can just count ourselves lucky that such huge releases haven't occurred yet.

In response to this danger, comprehensive and effective action is needed, along multiple lines of action, each implemented in parallel and simultaneously. While local feebates are typically the most effective policies, local communities can each decide what works best for them, provided that agreed targets are met, and such targets will need to be a lot stronger and more comprehensive than the aspirational emission reductions that countries have submitted as part of the Paris Agreement.

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

Above post was also read by David Petraitis as part of the podcast by Wolfgang Werminghausen

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Storms Over Arctic Ocean

The image below shows sea surface temperature anomalies over the Arctic on July 27, 2015.

departure from 1961-1990 temperatures, click on image to enlarge ]
The image below shows sea surface temperature anomalies on July 28, 2015.

[ departure from 1971-2000 temperatures, click on image to enlarge ]

There is a growing chance that the sea ice will collapse over the next few weeks, due to heavy melting and storms speeding up the flow of sea ice out of the Arctic Ocean into the Atlantic Ocean.

An example of such storms is shown on the animation below. This is a forecast for July 31, 2015, showing cyclonic winds at the center of the Arctic Ocean, with strong winds moving sea ice down Fram Strait.

The above situation alone is not likely to trigger sea ice collapse. It is more likely to be short-lived. However, there is a growing possibility for such storms to emerge and drive the melting sea ice out of the Arctic Ocean into the Atlantic Ocean.

As the situation in the Arctic further deteriorates, feedbacks can be expected to kick in with growing strength.

One of these feedbacks is the growing amount of heat (due to both latent heat and albedo changes) that will have to be absorbed by the Arctic Ocean as the sea ice disappears, and that will accelerate warming of the water of the Arctic Ocean.

Another feedback is a changing jet stream, as illustrated in above animation. This, in combination with the presence of more open water, can be expected to cause increasingly intense storms over the Arctic to emerge. Such storms can bring more heat into the Arctic Ocean, especially during heatwaves over North America and Russia. Such heatwaves can further cause surface heat to be mixed down to the seafloor, especially in the many places where the Arctic Ocean is very shallow. This can in turn cause destabilization of hydrates, resulting in huge amounts of methane to be abruptly released from the seafloor.

Methane itself is yet another feedback that will accelerate warming in the Arctic, in turn threatening to trigger further methane releases in a spiral of self-reinforcing positive feedback loops.

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

Sea surface temperatures over the Arctic on July 27, 2015. There is a growing chance that the sea ice will collapse over...
Posted by Sam Carana on Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Another Heatwave Hits Arctic

As parts of Canada, Greenland and Russia are hit by -40 degrees temperatures (anomalies at the bottom end of the scale), parts of the Arctic are experiencing temperatures above freezing (anomalies at the top end of the scale), as illustrated by the image below.

[ click on image to enlarge ]
Temperatures in the Arctic are much higher than they used to be and this situation further accelerates warming in the Arctic, due to a number of feedbacks.

One such feedbacks has been coined the ‘open doors feedback’. Indeed, the situation is much like leaving the fridge door open. This allows cold air to more easily move out of the fridge, i.e. the Arctic, resulting in the cold temperatures over North America that have received extensive news coverage in the media. At the same time, warm air can move more easily into the fridge, i.e. the Arctic, and this is one of the reasons why the Arctic is hit by temperatures that are so much higher than what used to be normal.

The situation has been described in a number of earlier posts such as this one, as well in a recent interview with Jennifer Francis. As the Arctic warms more rapidly than the rest of the world, there's less temperature difference between the Arctic and the equator, resulting in the jet stream going around the globe at a lower speed with more elongated loops.

The left chart on above image shows such an elongated loop going north along the east coast of Greenland, then bending before Scandinavia and moving over the north of Greenland, then going around the North Pole and moving back to Scandinavia. This loop is not very visible on the chart, because the jet stream moves faster along straight tracks, and this chart highlights wind speed more than it highlights the path of the jet stream. Yet, the shape of this loop is very important, as it traps warmer air north of Greenland.

BTW, a weaker jet stream also elevates the chance of heat waves elsewhere, which can indirectly warm up the Arctic. Examples of this are heat waves over the Gulf Stream as it crosses the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in warmer water being carried into the Arctic Ocean, and heat waves over Siberia and North America, resulting in warming up of rivers that end in the Arctic Ocean.

Anyway, to get back to the current heatwave, there are a number of reasons why temperatures in the Arctic are so high at the moment. One of the biggest reasons is ocean heat, which has reached very high levels, especially in the North Atlantic, while the Gulf Stream keeps transporting warmer water from the North Atlantic into the Arctic Ocean (i.e. water that is warmer than the water in the Arctic Ocean). This warms up the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean, resulting in methane erupting from the seafloor, with a strong immediate local warming impact in the Arctic, thus further accelerating warming in the Arctic in another one of these self-reinforcing feedback loops, as pictured in the image below.

Further feedbacks that accelerate warming in the Arctic are discussed at the feedbacks page.

Without effective and comprehensive action, these feedbacks threaten to lead to runaway warming, i.e. abrupt climate change causing mass death and destruction, and resulting in extinction at massive scale, as depicted in the image below and as described in this earlier post.

In conclusion, the situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as discussed at the Climate Plan blog.

Monday, October 28, 2013

How Do We Act in the Face of Climate Chaos?

Guy McPherson

Guy R. McPherson is Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at University of Arizona.
Below are some (slighly edited) extracts from a post at Guy
McPherson's website: 
summary and update on climate change.

The Warning

As described by the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases in 1990, temperature rise “beyond 1 degree C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage”.

We’ve clearly triggered the types of positive feedbacks the United Nations warned about in 1990. Yet my colleagues and acquaintances think we can and will work our way out of this horrific mess with permaculture (which is not to denigrate permaculture, the principles of which are implemented at the mud hut). Reforestation doesn’t come close to overcoming combustion of fossil fuels, as pointed out in the 30 May 2013 issue of Nature Climate Change. Furthermore, forested ecosystems do not sequester additional carbon dioxide as it increases in the atmosphere, as disappointingly explained in the 6 August 2013 issue of New Phytologist.

Here’s the bottom line: On a planet 4 C hotter than baseline, all we can prepare for is human extinction (from Oliver Tickell’s 2008 synthesis in the Guardian).

John Davies concludes: “The world is probably at the start of a runaway Greenhouse Event which will end most human life on Earth before 2040.” He considers only atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, not the many self-reinforcing feedback loops described below. 

Positive feedbacks
Positive feedbacks
Methane hydrates are bubbling out the Arctic Ocean (Science, March 2010). According to NASA’s CARVE project, these plumes were up to 150 kilometers across as of mid-July 2013. Whereas Malcolm Light’s 9 February 2012 forecast of extinction of all life on Earth by the middle of this century appears premature because his conclusion of exponential methane release during summer 2011 was based on data subsequently revised and smoothed by U.S. government agencies, subsequent information — most notably from NASA’s CARVE project — indicates the grave potential for catastrophic release of methane. Catastrophically rapid release of methane in the Arctic is further supported by Nafeez Ahmed’s thorough analysis in the 5 August 2013 issue of the Guardian as well as Natalia Shakhova’s 29 July 2013 interview with Nick Breeze (note the look of abject despair at the eight-minute mark).
Warm Atlantic water is defrosting the Arctic as it shoots through the Fram Strait (Science, January 2011).
Siberian methane vents have increased in size from less than a meter across in the summer of 2010 to about a kilometer across in 2011 (Tellus, February 2011)
Drought in the Amazon triggered the release of more carbon than the United States in 2010 (Science, February 2011). In addition, ongoing deforestation in the region is driving declines in precipitation at a rate much faster than long thought, as reported in the 19 July 2013 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.
Peat in the world’s boreal forests is decomposing at an astonishing rate (Nature Communications, November 2011)
Invasion of tall shrubs warms the soil, hence destabilizes the permafrost (Environmental Research Letters, March 2012)
Methane is being released from the Antarctic, too (Nature, August 2012). According to a paper in the 24 July 2013 issue of Scientific Reports, melt rate in the Antarctic has caught up to the Arctic.
Russian forest and bog fires are growing (NASA, August 2012), a phenomenon consequently apparent throughout the northern hemisphere (Nature Communications, July 2013). The New York Times reports hotter, drier conditions leading to huge fires in western North America as the “new normal” in their 1 July 2013 issue. A paper in the 22 July 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates boreal forests are burning at a rate exceeding that of the last 10,000 years.
Cracking of glaciers accelerates in the presence of increased carbon dioxide(Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, October 2012)
The microbes have joined the party, too, according to a paper in the 23 February 2013 issue of New Scientist
Summer ice melt in Antarctica is at its highest level in a thousand years: Summer ice in the Antarctic is melting 10 times quicker than it was 600 years ago, with the most rapid melt occurring in the last 50 years (Nature Geoscience, April 2013). Although scientists have long expressed concern about the instability of the West Atlantic Ice Sheet (WAIS), a research paper published in the 28 August 2013 of Nature indicates the East Atlantic Ice Sheet (EAIS) has undergone rapid changes in the past five decades. The latter is the world’s largest ice sheet and was previously thought to be at little risk from climate change. But it has undergone rapid changes in the past five decades, signaling a potential threat to global sea levels. The EAIS holds enough water to raise sea levels more than 50 meters.
Surface meltwater draining through cracks in an ice sheet can warm the sheet from the inside, softening the ice and letting it flow faster, according to a study accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface (July 2013). It appears a Heinrich Event has been triggered in Greenland. Consider the description of such an event as provided by Robert Scribbler on 8 August 2013:
In a Heinrich Event, the melt forces eventually reach a tipping point. The warmer water has greatly softened the ice sheet. Floods of water flow out beneath the ice. Ice ponds grow into great lakes that may spill out both over top of the ice and underneath it. Large ice damns (sic) may or may not start to form. All through this time ice motion and melt is accelerating. Finally, a major tipping point is reached and in a single large event or ongoing series of such events, a massive surge of water and ice flush outward as the ice sheet enters an entirely chaotic state. Tsunamis of melt water rush out bearing their vast floatillas (sic) of ice burgs (sic), greatly contributing to sea level rise. And that’s when the weather really starts to get nasty. In the case of Greenland, the firing line for such events is the entire North Atlantic and, ultimately the Northern Hemisphere.
Breakdown of the thermohaline conveyor belt is happening in the Antarctic as well as the Arctic, thus leading to melting of Antarctic permafrost (Scientific Reports, July 2013)
Loss of Arctic sea ice is reducing the temperature gradient between the poles and the equator, thus causing the jet stream to slow and meander. One result is the creation of weather blocks such as the recent very high temperatures in Alaska. As aresultboreal peat dries and catches fire like a coal seam. The resulting soot enters the atmosphere to fall again, coating the ice surface elsewhere, thus reducing albedo and hastening the melting of ice. Each of these individual phenomena has been reported, albeit rarely, but to my knowledge the dots have not been connected beyond this space. The inability or unwillingness of the media to connect two dots is not surprising, and has been routinely reported (recently including here with respect to climate change and wildfires) (July 2013)
Earthquakes trigger methane release, and consequent warming of the planet triggers earthquakes, as reported by Sam Carana at Arctic-news (October 2013)
Arctic drilling was fast-tracked by the Obama administration during the summer of 2012
Supertankers are taking advantage of the slushy Arctic, demonstrating that every catastrophe represents a business opportunity, as pointed out by Professor of journalism Michael I. Niman and picked up by Truthout (ArtVoice, September 2013)
As nearly as I can distinguish, only the latter feedback process is reversible at a temporal scale relevant to our species. Once you pull the tab on the can of beer, there’s no keeping the carbon dioxide from bubbling up and out. These feedbacks are not additive, they are multiplicative. Now that we’ve entered the era of expensive oil, I can’t imagine we’ll voluntarily terminate the process of drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic (or anywhere else). Nor will we willingly forgo a few dollars by failing to take advantage of the long-sought Northwest Passage.

Robin Westenra provides an assessment of these positive feedbacks at Seemorerocks on 14 July 2013. It’s worth a look.

Earth-system scientist Clive Hamilton concludes in his April 2013 book Earthmasters that “without [atmospheric sulphates associated with industrial activity] … Earth would be an extra 1.1 C warmer.” In other words, collapse takes us directly to 2 C within a matter of weeks. 

Several other academic scientists have concluded, in the refereed journal literature no less, that the 2 C mark is essentially impossible (for example, see the review paper by Mark New and colleagues published in the 29 November 2010 issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A). 

The German Institute for International and Security Affairs concluded 2 June 2013 that a 2 C rise in global-average temperature is no longer feasible (and Spiegel agrees, finally, in their 7 June 2013 issue), while the ultra-conservative International Energy Agency concludes that, “coal will nearly overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017 … without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change.” 

Image from: The two epochs of Marcott, by Jos Hagelaars

At the 11:20 mark of this video, climate scientist Paul Beckwith indicates Earth could warm by 6 C within a decade. 

If you think his view is extreme, consider: 
  1. the 5 C rise in global-average temperature 55 million years ago during a span of 13 years (reported in the 1 October 2013 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences); and also 
  2. the reconstruction of regional and global temperature for the past 11,300 years published in Science in March 2013. One result is shown in the above figure.

How Do We Act in the Face of Climate Chaos?

Below is a video of a recent presentation by Guy McPherson. 

Presentation by Guy McPherson in Boulder, Colorado on October 16, 2013.

Below are some extracts from the video, again slightly edited.

Malcolm Light in 2012 concluded, based on data from NOAA and NASA, that methane release had gone exponential and was leading to the demise of all life on Earth, not just human extinction, by the middle of the century.

So 3.5 C to 4 C is almost certainly a death sentence for all human beings on the planet, not because it'll be a warmer planet, but because the warming of the planet will remove all habitat for human beings. Ultimately we're human animals like other animals, we need habitat to survive.

Changes we see in three or four decades happen as a result of what we do today. There's a huge lag between our actions today in the consequences down the road in terms of the Earth's planetary systems.

Without plankton in the ocean, there goes roughly half the global food supply. The ability to lose land plants is growing rapidly and there goes the other half for the food supply for human beings. If we have up to 5 C by 2050, that'll certainly do the trick.

Why is this happening? It's civilization that drove us into population overshoot. We cannot go back anymore since 1939, since we invented nuclear armageddon. There's no going back. If we ceased the set of living arrangements at this point, the world's 400 or so nuclear power plants melt down catastrophically and we're all dead in a month. We cannot terminate industrial civilization until we decommission all nuclear power plants. It takes at least 20 years to decommission a nuclear power plant.

The bad news is that means that the world's four hundred or so nuclear power plants meltdown catastrophically in a short period of time. Fukushima represent a major threat to humanity. If they fail in moving the spent fuel rods next month, according to nuclear researcher Christina Consola, if one of those MOX fuel rods is exposed to the air, one of the 1565, it will kill 2.89 billion people on the planet in a matter of weeks, so nuclear catastrophe is right there on the horizon. 

People ask me: Why are you presenting this horrible information?

Action is the antidote to despair even if the action is hopeless. When a medical doctor knows that somebody has cancer, it's malpractice if they don't tell that. So I'm doing that. I think Bill McKibben and James Hansen and a whole bunch of climate scientists are guilty of malpractice. Because they know what I know. Almost every politician in the country knows what I know. All the leaders of the big banks know what I know. And they're lying to us.

I'm just presenting the information from other scientists here. I'm trying to the widest extent possible not to infuse my opinion in the situation. It's John Davies who on September 20, 2013, taking into account only carbon dioxide, says there will be few people left on the planet by 2040. It's Malcolm Light, writing in February 2012, who assesses the methane situation. And so on.

Yes, I agree with them, and that agreement is illustrated by me showing you that information.

I promote resistance against this omnicidal culture, not in the hope that it will save our species, but in the hope that it will save other species. Because as E.O. Wilson, biologist at Harvard, points out, it only takes 10 million years after a great extinction event, before you have a blossoming full rich planet again. That's what we're working toward. We're saving habitat for other species at this point.