Friday, August 16, 2013

Stop All New Fossil Fuel Megaprojects

Why is Obama not rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline now?

In light of Obama's 42 minute climate change speech, his understanding on the lack of permanent jobs created, as well as his knowledge on the corrupted environmental assessment report generated by pipeline advocates, one has to wonder what the delay is for? Clearly, Obama will reject the pipeline or completely lose support and credibility and destroy his long-term legacy.

So why the delay? For one thing, other pipelines are being planned and designed and pretty much slipped under the radar. Like the reversal of Enbridge Line 9 and conversion from natural gas to dilbit and a capacity of 1.1 million barrels per day, much higher than the 0.85 mbd from Keystone XL. By delaying on the Keystone XL, Obama is keeping pressure off these other projects which are threatening to slip in under the radar while people opposed are preoccupied with the Keystone XL.

This needs to change. People opposed to Keystone XL need to ramp up their opposition to all pipeline projects, in fact to all new fossil fuel megaprojects, including coal and pipelines and tankers and also to fracking. The reason is that climate change has moved into a much more rapid and abrupt regime, whereby massive extreme weather events like torrential rains cause floods in some regions, and long-term persistent droughts occur in other regions, all at the whim of a wavy and stuck jet stream.

Paul Beckwith is a part-time professor with the laboratory for paleoclimatology and climatology, department of geography, University of Ottawa. He teaches second year climatology/meteorology. His PhD research topic is “Abrupt climate change in the past and present.” He holds an M.Sc. in laser physics and a B.Eng. in engineering physics and reached the rank of chess master in a previous life.


- The Social Tipping Point - by Paul Beckwith

- The Obama Climate Plan: Disappointing and Hopeless - by Peter Carter

- Comprehensive and Effective Climate Plan - by Sam Carana

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Arctic Sea Ice in Free Fall

Arctic Sea Ice has declined dramatically recently. The recent image below, by the Danish Meteorological Institute, shows the decline in extent over the past few days, with extent calculated by including all areas with ice concentration higher than 30%.

As the above image shows, sea ice extent (30%+ concentration) is now lower than any other year, except 2007 and 2012. Moreover, the sharp decline looks set to continue.

Ice volume and concentration have dropped dramatically, partly as a result of the cyclone that hit the Arctic Ocean a few days ago. The eye of the cyclone is still visible almost exactly above the North Pole on the Naval Research Laboratory image below on the right, where sea ice concentration appears to form a circle.

The sea ice looks set for an all-time record low; all this thin ice looks set to disappear over the next few weeks.

The graph below, also by the Danish Meteorological Institute, calculates sea ice extent by including all areas with 15% or more ice concentration.
The above graph also shows a steep recent descent, although not as pronounced as in the graph at the top that includes spots with 30% or more ice concentration. The graph at the top better illustrates recent drops in ice concentration from, say, 40% to 20%, which can occur quite abruptly due to the impact of a cyclone. 

The Danish Meteorological Institute has meanwhile produced a more recent version of the graph based on spots with 30% or more ice concentration (added below).

The above graph shows an August 15 extent that appears to be back in line with the earlier trend. At first glance, it may appear as if the sea ice has largely recovered from the impact of three cyclones that have hit the Arctic Ocean over the past two months. 

However, these cyclones are likely to have contributed to the appearance and persistence of thin spots in the ice close to the North Pole. This phenomenon was earlier described in posts such as Thin Spots developing in Arctic Sea Ice

The conclusion remains the same as the one drawn then in that post, i.e. that for years, observation-based projections have been warning about Arctic sea ice collapse within years, with dire consequences for the Arctic and for the world at large.

Cyclones can speed up this collapse. On this point, it's good to remember what Prof. Peter Wadhams said in 2012:
". . apart from melting, strong winds can also influence sea ice extent, as happened in 2007 when much ice was driven across the Arctic Ocean by southerly winds (not northerly, as she stated). The fact that this occurred can only lead us to conclude that this could happen again. Natural variability offers no reason to rule out such a collapse, since natural variability works both ways, it could bring about such a collapse either earlier or later than models indicate.

In fact, the thinner the sea ice gets, the more likely an early collapse is to occur. It is accepted science that global warming will increase the intensity of extreme weather events, so more heavy winds and more intense storms can be expected to increasingly break up the remaining ice, both mechanically and by enhancing ocean heat transfer to the under-ice surface."
Hopefully, more people will realize the urgency of the situation and realize the need for a comprehensive and effective plan of action as described here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Arctic Ocean is turning red

The Arctic Ocean is turning red, as sea surface temperatures (SST) rise. The NOAA maps below, dated August 12, 2013, show sea surface temperature anomalies across the Arctic Ocean of up to 5°C (9°F). Virtually all areas were the sea ice has disappeared are now colored scarlet red.

[ click on image to enlarge ]
The (updated) animation below shows SST anomalies from June 3 to August 26, 2013.

For a full-size animation, see

Locally, the situation can be even worse. The NOAA map below, dated August 13, 2013, shows that areas where the sea ice has disappeared in the Arctic Ocean can be exposed to sea surface temperature anomalies higher than 8°C (14.4°F).

[ click on image to enlarge ]
These anomalies are very high, even when compared to some of the recent years, when the decline of sea ice extent didn't look as bad as it appears now.

Many people may only look at the sea ice, assuming that things are fine as long as there is no dramatic decrease in sea ice area or extent (see Cryosphere Today image right).

However, there are many other things to consider, as described in the earlier post Cyclone raging over thin ice. Most importantly, sea surface temperature anomalies this high are very alarming!

For comparison, the image below shows August sea surface temperature anomalies in 2007, 2010 and 1011.

These high sea surface temperature anomalies are firstly caused by higher sea and air temperatures as a result of global warming. Additionally, there are many feedbacks that accelerate the temperature rise in the Arctic, as discussed at the post Diagram of Doom. Local conditions can further accelerate the temperature rise in specific areas, such as where warm water from rivers flows into the Arctic Ocean.

As the map below shows, a number of large rivers end in the Kara Sea, where high temperatures have been recorded for some time.

map from:
Another large river is the Mackenzie River, which ends in the Beaufort Sea, where sea surface temperatures of about 20°C (68°F) are currently recorded, as the image below illustrates.

Similarly, the NOAA image below shows that sea surface temperatures of up to 18°C (64.4°F) were recorded in the Bering Strait on August 12, 2013.

Note that the melting season still has quite a while to go. Arctic sea ice volume minimum is typically reached around halfway into September, which is more than one month away. On September 12-13, 2011, temperatures of 6-7°C were reached over East Siberian Arctic Shelf, and up to 9°C along the coast of Alaska.

The danger of this situation is that this dramatic rise in temperature anomalies will not remain restricted to surface waters, but that heat will penetrate the seabed which can contain huge amounts of methane in the form of hydrates and free gas in sediments.

Submarine pingoes: Indicators of shallow gas
hydrates in a pockmark at Nyegga, Norwegian Sea -
Hovland et al., Marine Geology 228 (2006) 15–23
At the moment, a cyclone is raging over the Arctic Ocean, and this causes warm surface waters to be mixed down, in many places all the way down to the seabed, due to the shallow nature of many of the seas in the Arctic Ocean.

As shown on the image right and also described at the FAQ page, there can be all kinds of fractures in the sediment, while there can also be conduits where methane has escaped earlier from hydrates, allowing heat to penetrate deep into the sediment and causing methane to escape.

Methane is kept stable inside hydrates as long as the temperature remains low. Since methane expand some 160 times in volume, compared to its compressed frozen state inside the hydrate, warming of even a small part of a hydrate can cause destabilization across the entire hydrate. It may take only a small rise in temperature of a single conduit in the sediment to set off a large abrupt release of methane, which subsequently threatens to cause further releases elsewhere in the Arctic Ocean and trigger runaway global warming, as described at the methane hydrates blog.

Arctic Death Spiral - Evolution to July 2013

Image by Andy Lee Robinson, from
The video below is a visualization of the Arctic Death Spiral showing the evolution of the volume of sea-ice over time from 1979 to July 2013.

The rate of ice loss in the Arctic is staggering. Since 1979, the volume of Summer Arctic sea ice has declined by more than 80% and is accelerating faster than scientists believed it would, or even could melt.

Pitch of the notes are proportional to the average sea-ice volume for each month. Spectral filters are derived from the average sea-ice volume for each year. Produced using Perl and PovRay, Midi perl and Reason and Virtualdub on a cluster of Linux servers.

Above image is another way to visualize the data. It is a screenshot from the video below, by Andy Lee Robinson, illustrating the dramatic decline since 1979 until July 2013.

Andy Lee Robinson
The soundtrack "Arctic Requiem" also by Andy Lee Robinson, is available for free download:

Sea Ice Volume is calculated using the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS, Zhang and Rothrock, 2003) developed at APL/PSC.

Source data is available from: