Posts Tagged ‘Global warming’

Ocean Heat

Thursday, October 30th, 2014
Deploying an Argo Floater (NOAA.png)

Deploying an Argo Floater (NOAA.png)

Argo Floaters are technological wonders.

Each one, when set, sinks to 1000 meters below the ocean surface where it drifts with the current for 9 days. On day 10 it sinks to 2000 meters, then over a 6 hour period it rises to the surface, recording temperature and salinity. When it reaches the surface, it signals its position to a GPS satellite, and it transmits its data to a data bank. Then it sinks again to 1000 meters to start the cycle over again.

An Argo floater (there are actually a few different models) measures salinity and temperature, adjusts its buoyancy to rise and fall in the water column, signals its position at the surface, when it also transmits its most recent data.  (argo.ucsd.edu)

An Argo floater (there are actually a few different models) measures salinity and temperature, adjusts its buoyancy to rise and fall in the water column, signals its position at the surface, when it also transmits its most recent data. (argo.ucsd.edu)

Since the Argo project started, funded by NOAA, in 2000, more than 3500 floaters have now been set, about 300 km apart, with 30 countries participating. The US has set about half of them, but Canada has set almost 400, and China nearly 200. They now produce about 120,000 temperature and salinity profiles from all parts of the ice-free oceans each year.

Argo floaters have now been set in all ice free oceans, one every 3oo km (argo.ucsd.edu)

Argo floaters have now been set in all ice free oceans, one every 3oo km (argo.ucsd.edu)

An Argo floater sinks, drifts, sinks further, rises rapidly gathering data, transmits the data, then sinks to start the cycle over again (argo.ucsd.edu)

An Argo floater sinks, drifts, sinks further, rises rapidly gathering data, transmits the data, then sinks to start the cycle over again (argo.ucsd.edu)

It gets better. That transmitted data uploaded to a data bank is made available to internet users around the world within the next 24 hours, providing an almost real-time view of ocean temperatures and salinity down to 2000 meters.

We have been measuring ocean temperature and salinity at many depths and many places for decades, but never like this. With so much data, uncertainty decreases, and a detailed picture of the climate of the oceans emerges. We are documenting in remarkable detail the heat accumulating in the ocean and how it is transferred within the ocean on local, seasonal, annual and now decade scales.

The graphs are unequivocal, updated almost daily, there for all to see.

The heat content of the ocean continues to rise correlated with the increase in emissions of greenhouse gases (NOAA.png)

The heat content of the ocean continues to rise correlated with the increase in emissions of greenhouse gases (NOAA.png)

A recent commentary in Nature emphasizes that no one indicator of global climate change is sufficient. Just as the measurement of multiple vital signs give a clearer sense of a human’s health, so multiple indicators give us an increasingly clear image of the planet’s climate change. We have relied a lot on the calculation of the global average surface temperature of our atmosphere, which is variable in every way imaginable. Other indicators are greenhouse gas emissions and concentrations, high-latitude temperatures, and sea level rise.

And now we also have the finest data we could hope for, measuring the relentless increase in the heat of the oceans. Oceans absorb 93% of the extra energy being added to the climate system, in turn heating the atmosphere. The rising levels of ocean heat is our best indication – and warning – of the long-term global warming that has just begun.

We may be documenting global warming with increasing accuracy and confidence, but denial by powerful politicians remains an immense obstacle to action. For instance if the Republican Party wins the US Senate in next week’s election, Senator Inhofe is in line to Chair the Committee on Environment. He’s the one who wrote the book about global warming called The Greatest Hoax

Meanwhile, school programs scattered around the US are following the Argo project, learning about the rising heat content of the oceans, even adopting Argo Floaters.

Hope lives.

Talking About Climate Change.

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

In his new book ‘Don’t Even think About It’ George Marshall raises a lot of very uncomfortable questions.

Marshall is an environmentalist, certainly is convinced of the seriousness of the impact of climate change, and considers himself a communicator.

His book, however, is not what you might expect. Instead of a defense of the science, he presents a strong case that climate change scientists and environmentalists have failed in their job of communicating.

George Marshall's book (climateconviction.org)

George Marshall’s book
(climateconviction.org)

It is a discouraging list. We have failed to explain ‘uncertainty’, we use language that turns off listeners, we lack engrossing narratives, we pile on more and more evidence that further turns people away, we buy into the confrontational approach of the extremists at both ends, and we do not honestly face up to our own energy-consuming habits that others find hypocritical.

And there’s a lot more. Marshall explores why it is that most of us avoid talking about climate change, or even thinking about it – hence the title of his book. He suggests that we find the topic too complex, with too many aspects, what he calls ‘multivalent’. It seems to be an issue of the future, not the immediate present. No single solution can possibly solve it. Thinking about it only provokes anxiety. We avoid thinking and talking about it the way we do about death, for some of the same reasons.

This isn’t a book that attacks the climate change deniers – in fact Marshall seeks to understand them and to find some common ground with them. This is an attack on the rest of us for our poor communications skills and for our silence and unwillingness to truly confront the issue.

Marhall has talked with a large number of people, and quotes a lot of them – this is book of many voices. Through it all is a sense that we as humans are deeply imperfect, filled with contradictions, our opinions a product of our biases and the views of our peers and society, struggling still to do the right thing. And that we need to acknowledge our imperfections.

marshall is also the founder of Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN) (climateoutreach.org.uk)

marshall is also the founder of Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN) (climateoutreach.org.uk)

So Marshall calls on us to talk about climate change with each other – not expecting everyone to agree since that will never happen, but to seek ways to cooperate, ways to deal with the issue together.

This is a scary book. It is scary because the problem ultimately is us. We are all responsible, and yet we are silent. Our limitations are too clearly on display. You may not read this book, but if you get a chance, at least visit his websites: www.climateconviction.org and www.climatedenial.org .

Let’s talk, not fight, about climate change.
Let’s talk about global warming.

Eemian Evidence

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

So what do we really know?

We’re deep in an Ice Age, the third that has occurred in the past half billion years. In between Ice Ages, the Earth has been very warm, in its ‘hot-house’ phase, with high sea levels and free of glaciers and ice caps.

The Ice Ages that preceded ours occurred 290 and 440 million years ago. Note that the time scale is more compressed on the left(acer-acre.ca)

The Ice Ages that preceded ours occurred 290 and 440 million years ago. Note that the time scale is more compressed on the left(acer-acre.ca)

Our Ice Age began 2.6 million years ago, caused at least in part by the drift of Antarctica to cover the southern polar region, and the northern continents closing off much of the Arctic Ocean. Without cold polar water easily mixing with warm tropical water, polar ice caps and glaciers formed and grew, and the global average temperature dropped from about 22 degrees C to about 12 degrees C.

plate_history_lge classroomatsea.net

The continents drift endlessly, slowly, on 12 plates driven by convection currents in the magma below the Earth’s crust (classroomatsea.net)

During our Ice Age glacial and interglacial periods have cycled regularly. We’re in an interglacial period now, but even the interglacial periods are cool – the ice caps just retreat, they don’t completely melt, for cold polar water is still trapped in the Arctic and around Antarctica.

In our current Ice Age, glacial and interglacial periods cycle with remarkable regularity (atala.fr)

In our current Ice Age, glacial and interglacial periods cycle with remarkable regularity (atala.fr)

Our interglacial period, which we’ve named the Holocene Interglacial, started about 12,000 years ago. Probably not merely coincidentally, while we as a species have evolved over the whole time of this Ice Age, our explosion into whatever it is we are now began with the onset of the Holocene Interglacial.

Antarctic temperatures and atmospheric CO2 and Methane levels over the past four cylces of glacial and interglacial periods (eoearth.org)

Antarctic temperatures and atmospheric CO2 and Methane levels over the past four cylces of glacial and interglacial periods (eoearth.org)

We have also learned much from the analysis the last interglacial, the Eemian Interglacial, which began 130,000 years ago and lasted for about 20 thousand years. An ice core drilled into the northern Greenland ice sheet reached down to bedrock through 2.5km of ice, and back 250,000 years. The drilling took three years, the analysis another year, and the results were published in Nature last January.

The NEEM ice core was taken from the northeern part of the ice sheet where the deepest ice is 250,000 years old (neem.dk)

The NEEM ice core was taken from the northeern part of the ice sheet where the deepest ice is 250,000 years old (neem.dk)

In the Eemian Interglacial, global average temperatures were about 4 degrees C warmer than our current global average; CO2 levels rose to about 320 parts per million, sea levels rose about 6-8 meters higher than present, and the Greenland ice sheet melted from about 200m higher than present to about 130 lower than it is now. Since the Greenland ice sheet didn’t all melt during the Eemian Interglacial, the rest of the sea level increase must have come from the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet.

Knowing all this, what can we truly predict about our future? We have clear models from the recent and from the more distant past of what the possible outcomes actually would be.

With atmospheric CO2 levels as high as they are at present, 393 ppm as of October, we can expect the global average temperature to become at least a few degrees warmer, and sea levels to rise at least a few more meters.

Average global temperature tracks CO2 levels over the past 400,000 years. Our Holocene Interglacial is on the extreme right, and our CO2 levels are striking (icecore_records-sympatico.ca)

Average global temperature tracks CO2 levels over the past 400,000 years. Our Holocene Interglacial is on the extreme right, and our CO2 levels are striking (icecore_records-sympatico.ca)

If CO2 levels continue to rise, as they are likely to do, we may force the Earth prematurely out of this Ice Age and back to its hothouse phase, over-riding the impact of continental drift in keeping the poles cold.

Obviously this is an ever changing planet, whether or not we are here to ride it out, and any sense we have that it is stable, benign or in any kind of equilibrium is shear delusion on our part.

But we have increased the pace of change, and this is going to be quite a trip. There are an awful lot of us on the planet, and if the changes happen as quickly as all the graphs from the past indicate they will, the human cost of the upheaval is going to be huge.

Of course we can adapt, but we need more time to do so without excessive misery.
We still do have the potential to limit both the extent and the pace of global warming.

Celebrating the last piece of ice core, extracted from 2.5 km below the surface of the Greenland ice sheet (neem.dk)

Celebrating the last piece of ice core, extracted from 2.5 km below the surface of the Greenland ice sheet (neem.dk)

Chasing Ice

Friday, December 21st, 2012

At the culmination of the documentary movie Chasing Ice there is a striking time-lapse sequence, covering three years in a couple of minutes, of glaciers retreating and collapsing.

Almost all the glaciers on the planet are in retreat – we’ve known this for years – but still the images are impressive, and those of the collapse are new. The glacier lying before us appears to deflate, leaving a pile of dirty rubble on the ground.

Huge icebergs break off from the Greenland ice sheet, while the glaciers retreat at an ever faster rate (chasingice.com)

Huge icebergs break off from the Greenland ice sheet, while the glaciers retreat at an ever faster rate (chasingice.com)

Chasing Ice has played in theaters in many North American cities throughout the autumn and will continue to do so through much of the winter. James Balog, who made this movie, thinks – hopes? – that seeing his images will make climate change appear more real to us, and maybe even prod us into action.

Will anyone not already convinced of the reality of a warming planet go to see the movie? I hope so.

Melting glaciers in Tibet will result in short-term flooding and then long-term drought in China and northern India (the hindu.com)

Melting glaciers in Tibet will result in short-term flooding and then long-term drought in China and northern India (the hindu.com)

Chasing Ice isn’t quite a great movie, though it is long-listed for an Academy Award. It lacks the rich data and fine graphics of Al Gore’s Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth that upset so many people. It also lacks the human drama of Ric O’Barry’s Oscar-winning The Cove. But it is interesting enough, and some of it is quite arresting. It is worth seeing.

If we experience evidence of global warming directly, as many did with the wave surge of Hurricane Sandy, perhaps then we will be convinced to act. In Chasing Ice we follow one man’s obsession with showing some of the other evidence of global warming. Like most documentary movies it was made to try to disturb us, to engage us more emotionally.

Seeing it happen on film is not the same as experiencing it, of course. On the other hand, watching a glacier retreat in real time is less than a gripping experience. Seeing it in time-lapse turns it into the real drama that it is.

This movie can only help.

Even a single picture can have a powerful impact: in 2012 the Arctic ice cap melted further than ever on record, to half of what it was 20 years ago. (wunderground.org)

Even a single picture can have a powerful impact: in 2012 the Arctic ice cap melted further than ever on record, to half of what it was 20 years ago (wunderground.org)

Self-inflicted Heat

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

An astonishing event has occurred. The Wall Street Journal just ran a regular column acknowledging that the climate is getting warmer, and that the warming is caused by humans.

The record-breaking and devastating heat and drought across America may be the immediate reason for this change in point of view, but a political consensus may be emerging in the US that global warming is real. Not of course on what to do about it, but it’s a start.

Another reason for the possible shift in thinking is the recent research of atmospheric scientist Richard Muller. An out-spoken climate change skeptic in the past, he has received a lot of attention this year because he has changed his mind. His own careful analysis of global temperature data has convinced him that in fact the Earth is warming after all, and that human-produced greenhouse gases are the cause.

Nothing is more convincing than a scientist who looks at the evidence and changes his mind. His impact is huge.

Muller’s analysis of temperature data (the red Berkeley line on the graph, which ignores the data that Muller has been so skeptical about, still shows the same increase in global temperature. He concludes that global warming is real, and human-caused. (ibtimes.com)

Climate change skeptics, though, have continued to argue that any increase in levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is a natural phenomenon, not caused by the increasing burning of fossil fuels.

So a more remarkable contribution is the research of a NOAA-funded a team of atmospheric scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder led by John Miller and Scott Lehman, and published a couple of months ago.

In this study, atmospheric gases along the northeast coast of the US were sampled by aircraft every 2 weeks for 6 years. The team then analysed the CO2 in the samples for the presence of Carbon 14. While CO2 from biological sources such as plant respiration is rich in C14, CO2 from burning fossil fuels has no C14, for its half life is only 5700 years, and fossil fuels are of course many millions of years old. So the less C14 in the sample, the greater the contribution of CO2 from burning fossil fuels.

The half life of C14 is 5700 years. CO2 emitted by the burning of fossils fuels, all of which are many millions of years old, has no measurable amounts of C14 left. (yellowtang.org)

Their results: the increase of atmospheric CO2 from the 280 ppm of the early 1800s to the current level of 390 ppm can only have come from sources lacking C14, and the only sources are the fossil fuels we have burned.

So what are the facts?
– CO2 levels have risen from 280 ppm in early pre-industrial 1800s to 390 ppm currently.
– That increase is human-caused, the result of burning ever increasing amounts of fossil fuels.
– Global temperatures over the same period have been increasing, and the increase is highly correlated with increasing atmospheric CO2 levels.

For the past 400,000 years, global temperature atmospheric CO2 levels have been tightly correlated (atlas.nrcan.gc.ca)

The correlation of global temperature and atmospheric CO2 increases in the past century are also tight. (skepticalscience,com)

– The correlation between increasing global temperature and atmospheric levels of CO2 is so tight that it is almost certainly causal.
– The planet is going to continue to get warmer.
– Fossil fuel companies have proven reserves sufficient to drive CO2 levels and global temperatures to frightening levels (check out Bill McKibben’s recent essay in Rolling Stone).
– Fossil fuel companies a show no inclination to curtail exploitation. We’ll adapt, they say.

We’re screwed.

Cassandra Syndrome

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Cassandras are prophets who speak the truth, yet no one seems to listen.

The original Cassandra had a very hard and frustrating life. She was the king of Troy’s daughter at the time of the Trojan War. The god Apollo liked her, and gave her the gift of foretelling the future. Unfortunately, she didn’t much like Apollo, so he twisted his gift to her: in her prophecies, she would still speak the truth, but no one would believe her. After the war, Agamemnon took her home with him as a concubine, where – as she knew would happen – his wife Clytemnestra killed her.

Death of Cassandra (historyforkids.org)

Perhaps most prophets are unlikely to be believed, but it is most discouraging when their predictions are based on mountains of hard data. With increasing detail and breadth of evidence, environmental scientists have been warning us for two decades or more about the immense impact of global warming and the climate destabilization associated with it. They are the Cassandras of our times, for those who have the power to take action have chosen not to believe them.

Do you remember The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, published in a few volumes in 2005, involving more than 1300 scientists from around the world? It clearly documented the declining health of the planet, and explored in several distinct scenarios the major options we have. By far the bleakest was the take-no-action ‘business-as-usual’, scenario, which none of the authors expected would occur. But business-as-usual it has remained.

Considering the bad press of a year ago, you probably do remember the 4th Assessment Report published in 2007 by the
International Panel on Climate Change. Another huge multi-national, multi-authored effort, it got a couple of its facts wrong, but it also clearly presented the evidence for current rapid climate change. It almost certainly has underestimated the rate of change that is occurring. Yet, at least in North America, it has been ignored.

The 5th IPCC Report is underway, due in 2013 (ipcc.ch)

And who can forget the embarrassing and disastrous outcome of the ‘take-no-action’ UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last December?

Many books of course have also been published. The most popular was The Weather Makers, by Tim Flannery. He followed it up with Now or Never in 2009. He has been a fluent and tireless critic of the inaction of the global community.

Tim Flannery

Gus Speth, one of the most experienced environmentalists on the planet, with the ear of US presidents over the past decades, has written two remarkable books, Red Sky at Morning , where he pointed out the ways we could have dealt with some of the challenges, and several years later with Bridge at the End of the World, where it was clear he feared how little time we have left to do anything meaningful. He initiated the unusually useful website environment360 www.e360.yale.edu.

Gus Speth

Have any policies changed? Not in the US, or Canada.

David Orr, in his more recent book Down to the Wire once again raised the familiar issues and their discouraging causes, but since time has passed, the challenges are both clearer and larger. As the time we have left to respond grows ever shorter, the necessary response grows ever larger and more complex.

Since just saying it is now too late to do anything useful is hardly a helpful message, Orr calls for transformative change – of how we govern ourselves, of our consumerism, of our use of energy and fossil fuel resources. He calls for an end of war and violence, and for global cooperation, as we become submerged in a long emergency for planet Earth.

David Orr

He says we have run out of time to do anything less, but that we do have the capacity to act. So will the US Congress finally listen? Will the Canadian Parliament begin to show some leadership? Will the massive corporate world recognize its responsibilities?

At some point, our environmental prophets will have to be believed, and cease to be Cassandras.
How do we get there?

Arctic Melt 2010

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

The planet just had its warmest January through July period on record – and this despite the cooling effects of La Nina in the Pacific, not to mention the snow blizzard in Washington, D.C. last winter.

The Arctic had an extraordinarily warm spring, with temperatures as much as 6 degrees C above average, the warmest on record (adequate temperature records go back to 1948). The ice cover is now the second lowest it has been since ice records began to be kept in 1979. Though the northern Northwast Passage is not completely open, there is still time, for a month of melting still lies ahead in the lower Arctic.

Ice cover in the Arctic at the end of July 2010. The northern Northwest Passage is almost completely free of ice. (nsidc.org)

This is the 14th consecutive year of above average Arctic ice melt. Each year the ice starts to melt a little earlier, and then the increased extent of open water absorbs more heat instead of reflecting it back the way ice does. So the melt season then lasts a little longer. The melt season has extended an average of 6.4 days per decade over the past three decades: 20 days longer in just 28 years.

All this spurs on Canadian efforts to develop the Arctic as the irresistible Northwest Passage gets ever closer. This week, Canadian Prime Minister Harper, on his annual summer trip into the Arctic, announced the development of the airport at Churchill in northern Manitoba, on the west coast of Hudson’s Bay – anticipating that it will become the airport hub to serve Canada’s north.

Prime Minister Harper in Churchill to announce the expansion of the airport there (thetelegram.com)

Then Harper announced that Cambridge Bay in Nunavut will become the home of the planned Canadian High Arctic Research Station – and Cambridge Bay is (perhaps you guessed it) the major community nearest to the entry to the Northwest Passage.

Cambridge Bay in Nunavut, a community of about 10,000 that is now likely to grow considerably.(magicstatistics.com)

And so the drumbeat continues. The Arctic ice cover continues to melt at unexpected rates each summer, changing Arctic ecosystems in the process, with predicted but uncertain impact on global climate and on ocean currents. And the impending opening of the Northwest Passage forces coastal Arctic countries to press their sovereignty concerns with far greater energy and effectiveness than they do in trying to mitigate the catastrophic impacts of global warming.

What is Canada doing to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate global warming? Nothing. The Government will not initiate any stricter regulations than those that exist in the US, and the current US Congress will initiate nothing.

Now, sovereignty issues, and economic issues concerning who owns the Northwest Passage – that’s quite different. All the players are taking initiatives.

Are we really so short sighted? Not for a second.

But our leaders are.

Prime Minister Harper (grey pants) standing on an iceberg during his Arctic tour annonces that: We must continue to exercise our sovereignty while strengthening the safety and security of Canadians living in our High Arctic (Canadain Press)