Tag Archives: climate change

North Pole Ice Cap’s Melting Season Starts off With a Bang

With the sun barely appearing over the horizon in the far northern latitudes, another unusually warm weather pattern has ushered in an impressive start to the North Pole Ice Cap’s melting season – a season that could potentially set new records for lack of ice. This dramatic satellite photo of a huge fracture in the ice cap was acquired by NASA on February 23rd:

Extensive sea-ice fracturing in the Arctic Ocean - February, 2013

Extensive sea-ice fracturing in the Arctic Ocean – February, 2013

The boxed off area points to a close-up that you can view here. The mass fracturing was caused by warmer temperatures being pushed into the Arctic by a high pressure system in January and was made worse by a series of strong storms that moved across the region in the first couple weeks of February. A similar pattern of intense storms helped drive total ice coverage in the Arctic to brand new record lows this past summer. The cracks above are up to 600 miles long.

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2012’s Arctic Ice Melt Damage Done – On Pace for Ice-free by 2020

A new low mark has been set for the amount of the Arctic Ocean covered by the ice cap: 2.23 million km2. This new record low beats out the previous, in 2011, of 2.90 million km2, besting the old record by 23%. 2011′s mark was the lowest since 2007: 2.91km2. 2007 appears to have turned out to be a tipping point in the health of the North Pole’s ice cap. The 2.92 million km2 it shrank to destroyed the previous low (in 2006) by 27%. In all years of the satellite record (1979 – present) before then, the size of Arctic Ocean sea ice had not changed in either direction by more than 13%. 2012 is now the 2nd >20% change (loss) in six years. Presented for the world to see, document, take note, and observe is climate change in action – undeniable rapid changes in the environment that are far outpacing the worst case scenarios for potential ice loss in the 21st century.

On the heels of a radically altered North Pole region has come radically altered weather in the top most latitudes of the planet – leading to never before observed violent storms in typically quiet summer months, and jet stream reconfigurations that have caused wildly swinging weather extremes from year to year throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Much in the same way that computer models never in their most dire simulations saw ice retreatment this soon into the future, they have also not foreseen the resulting highly varied weather patterns that have resulted from such a fundamental change. The distance between extremes seems to have merely widened – brutally cold winters being followed by winters that see legitimate summer weather displaced into months as early as March.

We’ve moved past the prediction phase, and have rushed headlong into the observation of the very real effects of our changing climate.

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329 & Counting: Another Warmer-than-Average Month for Earth

According to the National Climate Data Center’s monthly report, July 2012 was the 4th warmest July on record for the planet – coming in at 0.62°C above average. A remarkable statistic pointed out by Dr. Jeff Masters at the Weather Underground:

July 2012 global ocean temperatures were the 7th warmest on record, and it was the 329th consecutive month with global temperatures warmer than the 20th century average. The last time global temperatures were below average was February 1985.

Or in graphical form:

Monthly global temperature anomalies from 1880 - present.

Monthly global temperature anomalies from 1880 – present.

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Climate’s Warning Signs Not Just In The Air

Yesterday’s post dealt with the recent announcement from scientists that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the polar region had surpassed 400 parts per million, with the rest of the planet to catch up to that level soon. This has continuing negative effects on climate – at least from our comfortable status quo perspective. What is in the air is not all that is observable, when it comes to changes at the arctic. Changes on the ground – some no doubt influenced by those atmospheric changes – have profound negative consequences of their own.

Consider some of the observable information…

Sea ice in the Arctic since 1979

Sea ice in the Arctic since 1979

The satellite record of Arctic ice goes back to 1979. In nearly every year since observations started, that concentration of ice has gone down year after year. The latter years of the 2000s saw shockingly low totals of the Arctic Ocean be covered with ice – opening up the Northeast and Northwest passages for the first time in the history of modern shipping – the best conditions have been for sailing at least since the time of the Vikings. 2012 for its part has flirted with or set new records for lowest volume. The primary bad effect of sea ice loss, aside from the reduction of places to live for polar bears, is that it literally makes the planet darker. Ice, being white, reflects light and heat back out into space – which creates colder temperatures. You can observe the same sort of effect every winter: clear nights with snow on the ground tend to be much colder than clear nights with bare ground.

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World Whips By Another Climate Change Milepost

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has been on a relentless rise for decades.

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has been on a relentless rise for decades.

Last week scientists announced that another troubling milestone was passed for the state of our climate. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere across the Arctic latitudes had definitively passed 400 parts per million (ppm). It is the latest in a very long line of observations for decades about the continuing change in the make up of our atmosphere – with the continued introduction of gasses that can lead to a warming effect over a majority of the planet. It, like the multitude of other troubling facts that have been revealed by scientists, was largely ignored by the media – blips in the papers and on newscasts before reporting turned back to the usual political background noise. You’re welcomed to read about it online, though. You’ll find information like this:

Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. The number isn’t quite a surprise, because it’s been rising at an accelerating pace.

Years ago, it passed the 350 ppm mark that many scientists say is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. It now stands globally at 395.

“The fact that it’s 400 is significant,” said Jim Butler, global monitoring director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Lab. “It’s just a reminder to everybody that we haven’t fixed this, and we’re still in trouble.”

It’s been at least 800,000 years — probably more — since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s, Butler and other climate scientists said.

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La Niña Draws To Close, El Niño For Winter 2012/13?

Departure from normal of water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean on December 26, 2011 (left), and February 27, 2012 (right), show a rapid eroding of La Niña and the potential start of an El Niño pattern.

Departure from normal of water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean on December 26, 2011 (left), and February 27, 2012 (right), show a rapid eroding of La Niña and the potential start of an El Niño pattern.

UPDATE 4 December: Probably not an El Niño for 2012/13 – read here for more. The American drought will probably continue, though.

A large change in ocean temperature patterns is underway in the equatorial waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean, as it appears La Niña – the colder than average water temperature phenomenon which has lingered in varying strengths for the past two years – is drawing to a close.

While offset in the eastern 2/3 of the North American continent by Atlantic-based atmospheric influences, the first year of La Niña helped contribute to an active, cold weather pattern across much of the United States. This winter the effects were more limited to the western coast of North America and especially Alaska, where snow pummeling by the foot have continued throughout the winter.

La Niña has also influenced the last two Atlantic hurricane seasons – providing more favorable wind conditions over the regions of the ocean where storms spin up, helping contribute to back-to-back 19-storm seasons, which was 97.9% above the 1950 – 2000 average of 9.6 storms per year. (Tropical storms becoming hurricanes was suppressed in 2011 by an unusual amount of dry air from Africa, in spite of favorable winds.)

La Niña has also helped keep global temperatures from setting monthly and yearly records, with a huge region of the Pacific kept with air temperatures a couple of degrees below normal to compensate for the lower water temperatures.

Typically the pendulum swings from one state to the other (though not necessarily with similar extremes) so as La Niña departs, conditions appear favorable for its much more well known counterpart - El Niño – to develop by year’s end. What will that mean, in general, for weather patterns over the next year?

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Warm & Dry Winter Weather Continues to Prevail in U.S.

Climate data is in for the month of January that has just passed, and the lower-48 of the United States has recorded its 4th warmest January since reliable records began in 1895. Most of the warmth was concentrated in the Midwest and Great Plains states, where a winter largely without significant snowfall to speak of continues almost unabated with little forecast change in sight. As snowpack and eventual snowmelt is a large contributor to soil moisture at the start of the growing season, this spells a building drought threat that could have significant impacts on this year’s harvest. See the images below for a more detailed look:

January 2012 departure from normal for temperatures.

January 2012 departure from normal for temperatures.

Note that with the exception of slivers of California, Oregon, and New Mexico, the state of Washington, and south Florida, the entire country saw January temperatures that were above normal.

January precipitation departure from normal.

January precipitation departure from normal.

When precipitation is considered, most of the country also came in drier than normal, with the exception of a dominant storm track that went from central Texas through the eastern Great Lakes states. This storm track helped Texas record its second above normal precipitation total for a month since February of 2010. Much of that state still remains mired in a multiyear drought however. As far as the entire country goes, January 2012 comes in at the 28th driest January since 1895. Even with the severe winter storms that have lashed the Pacific Northwest this past month, it has only been able to move the needle from “below normal” to just average for precipitation.

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Canada Trades in Kyoto Protocol For Some Sweet, Sweet Oil

The Conservative government, not wanting to spoil the money pot that is Alberta's oil, has formally decided to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol.

The Conservative government, not wanting to spoil the money pot that is Alberta's oil, has formally decided to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol.

Following through on earlier telegraphed threats, Canada has become the first nation that embraced the Kyoto Protocol to formally reverse its stance and reject adhering to it in the future. Environment Minister Peter Kent summed up the country’s new position, saying Kyoto “does not represent a way forward for Canada”.

“Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past, and as such we are invoking our legal right to withdraw from Kyoto,” Mr Kent said in Toronto.

He said he would be formally advising the United Nations of his country’s intention to withdraw.

He said the cost of meeting Canada’s obligations under Kyoto would cost $13.6bn (10.3bn euros; £8.7bn): “That’s $1,600 from every Canadian family – that’s the Kyoto cost to Canadians, that was the legacy of an incompetent liberal government”.

Petty politicking and name calling aside, much has changed for Canada since the 1997 landmark agreement. Canada’s economy, and main driver for potential economic growth (and carbon-based pollution), will continue to be the mass exploitation of the Athabasca oil sands which are mainly found in the province of Alberta (which happens to be the home of the Prime Minister, funny enough). Much more difficult and environmentally destructive to extract from the ground than traditional oil deposits (such as the ones found in the Middle East), the Canadian deposits did not become economically viable until oil prices breached and remained above $70/barrel US.

With oil trading a few dollars either side of $100/barrel and showing no signs of ever dropping in a meaningful way, it would appear the economic temptations have gotten the best of the Conservative government. To adhere to Kyoto would be to put a lid on this environmentally destructive, economically enriching pot of money.

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Media Cocoons: Selective Obfuscation of the Real World

Six out of seven episodes of the BBC's "Frozen Planet" are just fine for American consumption, so deems the Discovery Channel. The seventh, about climate change? Not so much.

Six out of seven episodes of the BBC's "Frozen Planet" are just fine for American consumption, so deems the Discovery Channel. The seventh, about climate change? Not so much.

Yesterday I discussed the soft censorship of the world as it is in the name of profit. The idea being that there is probably not a vast conspiracy to misinform or push the rest of the world to the back burner, but that instead more fluff-filled stories sell more magazines, and thus there is a positive feedback loop. This selective re-displaying of the world as it is extends beyond straight “news”, too. Frozen Planet, the latest excellent nature-in-HD production from the BBC, is a seven-episode documentary of life as it is at our polar regions – detailing the surprising diversity and amount of life that exists in climates that we would normally see as inhospitable and deadly. The same producers behind The Blue Planet and Planet Earth were also behind this series, which is currently airing on BBC One as a seven part series. The show is also being offered up for networks around the world to air. In the United States, the program will be aired by the Discovery Channel with one slight omission – about one-seventh of the series.

While the Discovery Channel found plenty of room to air the first six episodes in the series, the seventh – titled “On Thin Ice” and dealing with the subject matter of climate change and its effects on the poles – was just too much for the network to handle. For its part the Discovery Channel said that not airing the seventh episode wasn’t because of any attempt to not inform their viewers about the very real and happening-right-now effects of climate change, it was instead because of a “scheduling issue so only had slots for six episodes”.

What there is time for include shows about criminals that got caught, a show purporting to answer “the most fundamental questions facing the world today” but winds up with episodes like “Why is Sex Fun?”, a show about killing Osama Bin Laden, motorcycles, guns, and so on…

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Newsbyte: Syria Protest Violence, Greece Nears Government Collapse, Antarctic Birthing New Iceberg

Hello & welcome to newsbyte. This will be my attempt to hit on a couple of the bigger stories of the day and attempt to make sense of it all, as much as brevity allows.

Inside this issue:

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