Category Archives: Kalaallit Nunaat/Greenland

The Indy 500 Polar Ice Cap Marathon

Eureka! The Vavilov Ice Cap set unheard of speed records a couple of years ago in a massive “surge” and left climate scientists… well, speechless!

The Vavilov Ice Cap, located in the Russian High Arctic has, for years, cruised along at a speed of about 2 inches per day. But, along the way it was the recipient of an anthropogenic turbo-charged-CO2 infusion (scientists didn’t say that), setting all-time world speed records of 82 feet per day in a massive “surge.”

Hand-wringing scientists were aghast, confused. After all, ice caps are supposed to move by “inches,” not by 82 feet per day! Especially considering the mean average annual temperature at Vavilov Station of −16.5°C. Which is b-b-brittle cold.

Additionally, ice caps are very stable. The term “ice cap” refers to a specific type of glacier, a stable slow-moving glacier. That’s how it’s always been, until Vavilov hit the scene!

Vavilov Ice Cap is on October Revolution Island in the Arctic between the Kara Sea and Laptev Sea. It is a polar desert where frigid temps and dry weather should keep ice firmly tethered to bedrock. But, not Vavilov; it’s like a wild horse. As September 26, 2018, it is slipping/sliding at 15-35 feet per day, much faster than its long-term average of 2 inches. The Vavilov is 1,000 to 2,000 feet or 1/3rd of a mile thick, covering over 700 square miles.

Not only did Vavilov set all-time speed records but the scientists, after explaining they’ve never seen acceleration like Vavilov, raised a warning flag about the possibility that “other currently stable ice caps” may be more vulnerable than expected. Oh, really!1

They go on to say the rapid collapse of Vavilov has significant ramifications for glaciers in other polar regions, especially “those fringing Antarctica and Greenland,” where Sea Rise Monsters hang out.

Once again, similar to the same old story of scientists surprised by how fast things are happening, Vavilov caught them off guard: “Climate models don’t take this kind of surge into account.”2

Still, it’s important to realize that scientists have very limited historical data on glaciers in the world’s remotest locations, and without further study, the authors of the Vavilov report are reluctant to boldly claim that “climate change was/is the villain.” It’ll require considerable more study before drawing conclusions.

Yet, common sense would seem to indicate that some kind of warming is behind such an unusual shift in the speed. What else could it be? In time, more answers will become available. As for now, scientists are scratching their heads in disbelief.

Significantly, Vavilov breaks open a new dimension that should haunt the world’s major players. Previously, it was believed that large bodies of ice could only respond slowly to changing climate conditions. That’s dead wrong!

But then again, the entire Arctic is experiencing anomalous sea ice breakup of monstrous proportions. For example:

The oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up, opening waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen, even in summer… a phenomenon scientists described as scary.3

Here are the gritty details: The Arctic sea north of Greenland has always, always, always been frozen rock solid, until now. Over the years, scientists labeled it “the last ice area,” a moniker that has now been crushed by global warming.

“Scary,’ wrote Thomas Lavergne, a scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, in a retweet of a satellite-gif of the blue water penetrating white ice and exposing hundreds of miles of the Greenland coastline. “In February, the Kap Morris Jesup weather station in the region is usually below -20C, but earlier this year there were 10 days above freezing and warm winds, which unlocked the ice from the coast.”2

Whoa! Something is horribly amiss: It’s “usually below -20C” but instead it was above freezing for 10 consecutive days in February, in the middle of winter at the North Pole, and just to top off how ridiculous the year has been, an enormous ice cap elsewhere in the Arctic is moving at 15-25 feet per day after surging 82 feet per day!

The world is upside down and awry! You’ve gotta wonder: What climatic event(s) could possibly rival the implicit dire forecast of an ice cap speeding towards collapse?

Postscript:

Our globe is under new dramatic environmental pressure: our globe is warming, our ice caps melting, our glaciers receding, our coral is dying, our soils are eroding, our water tables falling, our fisheries are being depleted, our remaining rainforests shrinking. Something is very, very wrong with our eco-system.

— Richard Lamm, American politician, writer, attorney

  1. “Unprecedented Ice Loss in Russian Ice Cap”, University of Colorado at Boulder, EurekAlert! September 19, 2018.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Jonathan Watts. “Arctic’s Strongest Sea Ice Breaks Up for First Time on Record”, The Guardian, August 21, 2018.

Climate Change 10-Year Check-Up

Ten years ago Kevin J. Surace delivered a fascinating TED talk entitled “Worst Case Climate Change.”

Based upon credits at the end of his speech, data for his talk came from the following sources:

  • Fred Pearce, With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change (Beacon Press, 2007)
  • John D. Cox, Climate Crash Abrupt Climate Change and What It Means for Our Future (John Henry Press imprint of the National Academies Press, 2005)

— Reviewed by Dr. Anthony Strawa, atmospheric scientist, NASA.

Mr. Surace’s brilliant summation Worst Case Climate Change, as of 2008, was done for purposes: (1) exposure, (2) making the issue controversial, and (3) to make people think about the prospects. He did not intend to suggest the worst case would happen, rather encouraging people to learn more and act accordingly.

Ten years later, how does Surace’s TED talk hold up?

Unfortunately explained herein his “Worst Case” scenario hasn’t missed a beat, and maybe worse than expected. Sorrowfully, head held downward, his thesis holds up!

Still, there’s a hidden trick found within this subject matter. Worst Case Climate Change consists of negative changes not seen in everyday life, other than by climate scientists, and therefore it is difficult, if not impossible, for ordinary people to understand the gravity of this situation. After all, who lives in Antarctica or the Arctic or in the ocean? Nobody. Meantime, by the time the brutal after effects become evident, it’s already “lights out!”

Surace’s approach to the subject utilized Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) data for comparison/contrasting purposes. As referenced therein, more or less, the IPCC used a linear or straight-line methodology. However, by way of contrast, in the real world “discontinuities” (non-linear) are common throughout climate history and throughout nature, thus suggesting the IPCC model too conservative in approach and in conclusion.

Carbon Dioxide- CO2

Surace starts his talk with a remarkable statistic that seems simple enough, but it is filled with a powerful haunting message; i.e., CO2 or carbon dioxide in the atmosphere under 300 ppm for 40,000 years. But, all of a sudden, within the geologically short time frame of 200 years, it is “now at 387 ppm,” circa 2008, thus insinuating that the Goldilocks climate” not too hot, not too cold” throughout human history may be a thing of the past.

That fact alone is consummately important and warrants attention beyond the stating of mere numbers because each 1-ppm molecular increase of CO2 has bigger and bigger and bigger impact on global warming, similar to adding individual layers of woolen blankets onto somnolence. Enough blankets added and even an enormous gargantuan perfectly round-faced fading-blue grimacing planet sweats bullets.

Whereas as of May 2, 2018 the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Mauna Loa Observatory/Hawaii reading for atmospheric CO2 registers 408.90 ppm, still climbing higher and higher, year-by-year, thus adding heavier, thicker woolen blankets to an increasingly achromatic Mother Earth. The logical upshot is a hotter and hotter much hotter planet, kinda like a yet-to-be-born baby Venus (864F), where the atmosphere is so thick with CO2 that it can be cut with a knife, which would melt in an instant.

Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation

Thereafter, Surace segues into one of the most far-reaching, yet least understood, aspects of climate change/global warming, the North Atlantic Flow, an ocean conveyor belt named Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) that keeps Europe warm. Without AMOC grinding away, moving unbelievable tonnage of water throughout the world’s seas, Europe would be ice-covered.

According to Surace’s research, thousands of years ago, within only 10 years, the conveyor belt (AMOC) shut down very quickly. Results: Europe cooled by 5F within several years and glaciers overwhelmed Northern Europe.

Per his speech, according to NASA, since 1990, North Flow is down 30% and South Flow down 50%. Regrettably, IPCC Models did not mention this climacteric risk factor. Once again, demonstrating inherent weaknesses with IPCC overall methodology.

Here’s what recent up-to-date science, as of 2018, has discovered about the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC):

The AMOC is in a very weakened state—the most anemic it has been in the last 1,600 years.1

Therein lay the world’s greatest paradox as global warming impacts worldwide temps whilst possibly casting a cold spell over Europe. Which side wins?

Arctic

Headed northward, Surace set sights on the Arctic, showing a graph of actual Arctic melt vs. IPCC models. Whereas IPCC models suggested the Arctic would melt by 2100, NASA satellite data thru 2007 indicated that the North Pole ice melt was falling off a cliff, way below IPCC projections, and could complete “by 2017, or so.”

As of August 17th, 2017 U.S. Naval Research Lab measurements of Arctic sea ice over a 30-day period “shows that the multi-year sea ice has now virtually disappeared.”2

Multi-year ice was formed over thousands of years and constitutes — or rather constituted — the infrastructure for the North Pole.

This means the Arctic has lost its infrastructure. It’s gone. Yes, ice still forms during wintertime with no sunlight 24/7, but it is thin and almost meaningless, which can lead to untold horrific consequences of radical climate change throughout the Northern Hemisphere, throwing humanity into a tailspin, a tizzy of despair, social unrest, and starvation. The reasons are multi-fold and too broad to tackle herein, but the consequences down the road are brutal!

Greenland

Regarding Greenland, the giant ice sheet experiences loss of ice every year, ever since 1980. It is melting, and the especially bad news is the rate of melt is accelerating. As of 2008, cumulative acre-feet loss equals 3-4 billion acre-feet, an amount that would cover the entire US with two feet of ice.

As for an updated (2017) analysis of Greenland ice melt: Previously “Glaciologists were already fully occupied trying to track and forecast the surge in glacial calving. Now, they are striving to understand the complex feedbacks that are speeding up surface melting.”3

The big melt-off is accelerating because of unseasonably warm summers as well as microbes and algae, soot and dust that blow from lower latitudes and darken the ice, collecting on the white, shiny Greenland ice, thus absorbing rather than reflecting solar energy.

Greenland is living up to, in fact, beyond, Surace’s expectations from a decade ago. Nightmarishly, the big chunk of ice contains over 20 feet of sea level rise.

Antarctica

Speaking of “living up to expectations,” Antarctica is flat-out losing it, but first Surace’s comments of a decade ago: Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica is an example of something happening much quicker than we thought. Within days in 2002, the large ice shelf crashed, splintering into the water.  The ice shelf was 12,000 yrs old and 650 feet thick, 100 square miles.

The IPCC model suggested Larsen B would last thousands of years, but remarkably, it broke up and crashed in 3 short days. Trouble is: It’s the “cork” holding back land-based glacial ice. That cork is out of the bottle, which will accelerate Antarctica ice flow to the sea. Ouch!

Historically, as recently as 1979 Pine Island Ice Shelf and Thwaites Ice Shelf were status quo for decades, not much change. Then, things suddenly went haywire, changing very rapidly, to wit:

1995- Losing 70M-acre feet/yr

2006- Losing 220M-acre feet/yearly – an astounding annualized rate.

Notice the remarkable pick up in acceleration over 11 years. That’s bad news.

According to Surace, for perspective purposes, Pine Island and Thwaites have been in place millions of years, but are now (2008) melting and thinning at record pace. It they collapse, 6 feet sea level rise.  Not only that, NASA spotted a weak underbelly in recent (2007-08) radar images.

Accordingly, in 2008, the British Antarctica Survey estimated: “Thwaites is in danger of imminent collapse.”

No collapse models were found in the IPCC model, as of 2008, only expecting slow melt over time. Unfortunately, behind Thwaites is the West Antarctica Ice Sheet, and if that collapses, sea levels up 18 feet.

IPCC Models, as of 2008, show nothing about this risk to such a vast extent.

Heavens to Betsy! Surace was conservative about Antarctica. July 12, 2017, the Larsen C Ice Shelf crashed, a trillion-ton iceberg, fundamentally changing the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula. As a result, National Geographic will have to redraw the World Atlas.

The recent tally of ice shelf collapses:

1995 – Larsen A Ice Shelf collapses

2002 – Larsen B Ice Shelf splinters and collapses

2017 – Larsen C Ice Shelf falls apart

Problem is… the ice shelves, which extend over water, serve as giant buffers, holding back the flow of inland glaciers where the real serious ice flow originates, like a hockey goalie stopping pucks. Hopelessly, it must be late in the game, as Antarctica’s gone Full Monty without its goalie.

Paleoclimate Perspective

For a broader perspective, Surace segues to a discussion of the paleoclimate record, painting a most interesting picture of climate change over millennia:

1) 3M years ago: sea level was 75 feet higher than today with CO2 at 400 ppm and only 3 degrees warmer than 2008. The reason 75 feet higher back then, and not today with similar CO2 levels, it happened gradually, over centuries, not over decades, like today.

2) 20,000 yrs ago- 400 feet lower sea level and CO2 was 200 ppm.

Thereby proving that CO2 levels in the atmosphere directly impact sea levels.

The Amazon

Amazon Rain Patterns are changing as atmospheric warming shifts rain away from the Amazon. As a result, multiple droughts are taking a toll on overall growth. In point of fact, only 3-5 years of severe drought kills most trees.

For point of reference, Amazonian trees store 77B tons of CO2 which equals 20 yrs of man-made CO2. But, when trees die and during forest fires, CO2 is released back into the atmosphere. This is happening today (2008), but not factored into the IPCC model.

Here’s an Amazon update, as referenced in National Geographic:

In the time it takes to read this article, an area of Brazil’s rainforest larger than 200 football fields will have been destroyed. The market forces of globalization are invading the Amazon.

Especially bad news as “the world’s lungs” take one hit after another. That wunderkind of nature experienced unprecedented back-to-back-to-back severe droughts, 2005, 2010, and 2016, unheard of throughout geologic history. This one fact alone is worthy of ringing the bell at the public square, “all hands on deck.”

Permafrost

Ancient permafrost stores tons and tons of methane in Siberia, but it is already releasing 50M tons per year equivalent to 1B tons of CO2. Sorrowfully, methane release is rapidly accelerating since average temps now run 32F. In fact, the entire Siberian region is on the verge of collapse. According to Surace, here’s the problem: If it all melted or collapsed, it would add 30F to average earth temps, scorching agricultural crops into blackened brittle stems.

IPCC models make no assumptions about this. But, according to Surace, it is already happening.

Here’s guessing that Surace would be shocked, knees folding under, by the current status of Arctic methane. Again, this is a non-populated area, and that’s a good thing, as it’s coming apart at the seams. For example, Russian scientists have already, as of 2018, discovered 7,000 Siberian pingos, mounds containing mucho methane. Vladimir Romanovsky, geophysist at University of Alaska, estimates there could be as many as 100,000 pingos across the Arctic permafrost.

Furthermore, Surace would likely drop to his knees upon hearing another latest: Recent measurements in Alaska show biological sources alone emitting 220M tons of GHG over a two-year time period, which is equivalent to all U.S. commercial emissions per annum. In short, the planet’s ecosystem is now competing with humans in GHG emissions, or in other words, if humans dropped dead, the planet will self-feed greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in an anomalous fashion, meaning not normal, not natural, incipient Runaway Global Warming. That news should take Surace down to his knees and prostrate him onto the ground.

Oceans

According to Surace, the oceans are changing dramatically, but that may be an understatement. For eons, the ocean served as a CO2 sink, but it has probably absorbed all it can. Since 1850 it has absorbed 130B tons of CO2 from humans. Nowadays, according to Surace, it’s more acidic and nearly maxed-out as carbon sink. According to him, over time, the ocean could become a source of CO2, similar to what’s happened on land in Alaska only recently. Once again, the IPCC models forget to calculate this threat.

An update, as of 2018, too much CO2, too much heat, and too much acidification in the oceans would require an additional 100-page article. It’s that bad!

Methane Clathrates at Bottom of Ocean

Surace discussed a paleoclimatic event 55M years ago: clathrates (containing frozen methane over the eons) broke open and ocean temps rose a few degrees, shattering clathrates over the following 10 years, as temps rose 18F very rapidly leading to mass extinction. That happened millions of years ago.

IPCC models do not include mention of clathrates.

As of 2018, Russian scientists in conjunction with Americans have identified massive quantities of methane releasing into the atmosphere in the Arctic, especially around the East Siberian Arctic Shelf where waters are only 50 metres deep.

The world’s foremost authority on the region, Dr. Natalia Shakova, stated:

As we showed in our articles, in the ESAS (East Siberian Arctic Shelf), in some places, subsea permafrost is reaching the thaw point. In other areas it could have reached this point already. And what can happen then? The most important consequence could be in terms of growing methane emissions… a linear trend becomes exponential. This edge between it being linear and becoming exponential is very fine and lies between frozen and thawed states of subsea permafrost. This is what we call the turning point…. Following the logic of our investigation and all the evidence that we accumulated so far, it makes me think that we are very near this point. And in this particular point, each year matters. This is the big difference between being on the linear trend where hundreds and thousands of years matter, and being on the exponential where each year matters.4

When Dr. Shakova mentions “exponential versus linear,” she references an astounding fact, to wit: Thirty (30) linear steps to the water cooler across the room would be equivalent, if 30 exponential steps, to circumnavigation of the planet. That’s exponential. That’s a nightmare scientists like Dr. Shakova live with.

Stern Report for British Government

Finally, Sucrea mentions the Stern Report to the British government, assessing the worst case. Assuming worst-case scenario, here’s their list of outcomes ten years ago:

– Sea rise 15-20 feet in few decades

– Underwater Florida, NYC, Monterey, London, Tokyo

– 1B people displaced, sick and/or dead

– Massive water and food shortages

– $20T worldwide damages

– Food and water wars.

Amazingly and fascinatingly, all of the climate events mentioned above occur where people do not live, do not see, and do not sense the danger. But, significantly, they are happening right now.

  1. Andrea Thompson, “Slow-Motion Ocean: Atlantic’s Circulation Is Weakest in 1,600 Years”, Scientific American, April 11, 2018.
  2. “Storms over Arctic Ocean”, Arctic News, August 19, 2017.
  3. Eli Kintisch, “The Great Greenland Meltdown”, Science, February 23, 2017.
  4. “Nature Communication Journal, Current Rates and Mechanisms of Subsea Permafrost Degradation in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf”, Article No. 15872 June 22, 2017.

The Current Onset of Climate Tipping Points

Arctic Ice Melt

As extreme temperatures, the rate of sea ice melt, the collapse of Greenland glaciers, the thawing of Siberian and Canadian permafrost and increased evaporation in the Arctic drive cold snow storms into Europe and North America, and as hurricanes and wild fires affect tropical and semi-tropical parts of the globe, it is becoming clear Earth is entering a shift in state of the atmosphere-ocean system associated with destructive climate tipping points. As Arctic permafrost is thawing an analogy with geological methane-release events such as the 56 million years-old Paleocene-Eocene boundary thermal maximum (PETM) event is becoming more likely.

As is well known to students of the history of the climate, once a temperature threshold is breached, abrupt weather events ensue amplified by feedbacks such as decreased reflectivity of the Earth surface and enhanced release of greenhouse gases, often within short time frames.

Figure 1. 1880-2018 annual mean temperatures and 5-years smoothing. 

Such abrupt changes are occurring at present. As mean global temperature has exceeded 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880 temperatures (Figure 1), sharp reductions occur in Arctic sea ice from 45 percent in 1985 to 21 percent in 2017, when the ice cover was 8.5 percent lower than the average of 1981-2010.

As the ice melts the near-total reflection (high albedo) of solar radiation from the ice is replaced by absorption of infrared radiation by open water. The flow of ice-melt water from the Greenland glaciers creates a large pool of cold water in the North Atlantic Ocean. The cold water region south of Greenland slows down to abort northward flow of the thermohaline Atlantic Meridional Ocean Circulation (AMOC), leading to cooling of the North Atlantic and adjacent North America and Europe.

Rising temperature and evaporation over the warming Arctic Ocean results in build-up of masses of cold vapor-laden air, intermittently penetrating into lower latitudes through the weakened undulating boundary of the high-altitude polar vortex, which allows penetration of snow storms southward through Siberia and North America (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Arctic air temperatures in January 2018 in degrees Celsius relative to the average (Arctic sea – 3-9 degrees, yellow to red; Greenland and Siberia (-1 to -3 degrees C, blue to magenta) Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division

In 2006 the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets experienced a combined mass loss of 475±158 Gt/yr (billion ton/year), equivalent to 1.3±0.4 mm/year sea level rise. The acceleration in ice sheet loss over the last 18 years was 21.9±1 Gt/year2 for Greenland and 14.5 ± 2 Gt/year2.

The slow-down to collapse of the northward flow of warm water from tropical regions, namely the Atlantic Meridional Ocean Circulation (AMOC), originating from the Gulf of Mexico, and further warming of the tropical ocean pools, produce in temperature polarities with cool northern ocean regions. This ensues in storms and hurricanes in regions such as the Caribbean islands. Warming of the west Pacific Ocean leads to cyclones such as have affected the Philippines, Fiji and Samoa,

Polar warming is leading to the release of large amounts of methane from frozen organic matter stored in the permafrost and from methane hydrates in lakes, the sea and sediments. This has already raised atmospheric methane levels during 1960-2017 from ~1600 parts per billion to 1860 ppb. The bubbling of methane is locally leading to collapse and cratering of the permafrost. The total mass of methane on land of ~2050 GtC (billion tons) and methane hydrates at sea of ~16,000 GtC (Global Carbon Project) is some 30 times greater than the >600 GtC which has been produced by anthropogenic emissions since the onset of the industrial age. Even a release of 10 percent of Arctic-stored carbon would raise atmospheric greenhouse levels by a factor of about three.

The current warming of Earth manifest in the Arctic Sea, the melting of polar ice sheets, penetration of snow storms into mid-latitudes, permafrost thaw, hurricanes and wildfires and the rise in extreme weather events, manifesting a shift in state of the atmosphere-ocean system, constitutes an existential threat to humanity and much of nature.

Apart from sharp reduction in carbon emissions, there appears to be one chance to save the biosphere as we know it, namely CO2 down-draw using every available method (cf. basalt dust application of soils, carbon cultivation of soils (biochar), CO2 removal by air streaming through basalt, extensive sea weed farms, ‘sodium trees’ sequestering CO2 using sodium hydroxide in pipe systems). This would require funds on the $trillions-scale currently allocated for the military and for wars, humanity’s choice being between ongoing wars and defense of the Planet.

The Arctic Heats Up in the Dead of Winter

Every once in a while a climatic event hits that forces people to sit down to catch their breath.  Along those lines, abnormal Arctic heat waves in the dead of winter may force scientists to revaluate downwards (or maybe upwards, depending) their most pessimistic of forecasts.

By the end of February 2018, large portions of the Arctic Ocean north of Greenland were open blue water, meaning no ice. But, it’s wintertime, no daylight 24/7, yet no ice in areas where it’s usually meters thick! In a remarkable, mindboggling turn of events, thick ice in early February by month’s end turned into wide open blue water, metaphorically equivalent to an airline passenger at 35,000 feet watching rivets pop off the fuselage.

The sea ice north of Greenland is historically the thickest, most solid ice of the North Pole. But, it’s gone all of a sudden! Egads! What’s happening and is it a danger signal? Answer: Probably, depending upon which scientist is consulted. Assuredly, nobody predicted loss of ice north of Greenland in the midst of winter.

Wide open blue seas in the Arctic expose all of humanity to risks of Runaway Global Warming (“RGW”) as, over time, massive amounts of methane erupts with ancillary sizzling of agricultural crops, and as the Arctic heats up much faster than the rest of the planet, this also throws a curve ball at weather patterns all across the Northern Hemisphere, radical weather patterns ensue, like snow on the French Riviera only recently.

According to Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute in Copenhagen, February was the warmest (hottest) on record in the Arctic, which includes 10 days of temps above freezing. As for Arctic temps in February, that’s hot! “We’ve actually got open water at the top of Greenland right now, which is incredibly unusual.”1

“This is an anomaly among anomalies. It is far enough outside the historical range that it is worrying – it is a suggestion that there are further surprises in store as we continue to poke the angry beast that is our climate,” said Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.2

During February the world’s most northerly weather station at Cape Morris Jesup on the tip of Greenland registered temps warmer than London and Zurich for days on end. The Cape Morris Jesup weather station is only 440 miles away from the North Pole.

When analyzing or writing about the complexities of ecosystem events, like loss of Arctic sea ice, it is easy to overstate negatives, if only because there is no evidence of a similar event in recent climate history. Furthermore, the scientific community is widely split on likely consequences, running the gamut from “no worries for at least 100 years” to “the world will incinerate within 10 years,” meaning Runaway Global Warming (RGW”), as a result of massive release of methane (“CH4”) trapped in frozen waters for millennia, causing temps to crank up by 10 °F-to-15 °F, which will pretty much wipe out a lot of agricultural crops. In turn, the world turns into a dystopian hellhole and reverts to caveman/cavewoman lifestyle.

Indeed, the dangers that arise with loss of Arctic ice are multi-fold, including loss of the Arctic as the planet’s biggest reflector/air conditioner. When covered with white reflective ice, it reflects up to 90% of solar radiation back into outer space. Without ice, that same 90% is absorbed within a dark blue background, potentially heating up tons upon tons, and more tons yet, of frozen methane, metaphorically similar to throwing kindling onto a hot fire, as global warming heats up big time and sizzles agricultural crops down to blackened stubs throughout the mid latitudes, driving humanity into the farthest northern latitudes for survival, a crowded scenario indeed.

Generally speaking, people shrug their shoulders with a signal of “so what” when confronted with the risks of global warming/climate change. After all, nothing horrible will happen until well into the latter part of this century, or beyond, right? Well, yes and no, as the real issue that comes into play is timing. How fast is climate change/global warming happening?

And that’s the rub because, across the board, scientists agree ecosystem changes today are exponential, which could be problematic. As explained by one scientist, linear versus exponential means that a person can take 30 linear steps to the water cooler across the room but if exponential, the 30 steps takes him/her around the world, more than once. That’s exponential, and that’s the rate of change in ecosystems, like the Arctic. Therein lies the unknown risk factor of how soon temps mushroom upwards? Nobody knows for sure, but they do know that ecosystems are changing exponentially, especially in the ocean.

Here’s the ultimate risk: 55 million years ago global temps spiked during the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (“PETM”). The temp surge by 6°C (11°F) happened in just 13 years, which if repeated today, would be unbelievably devastating, but the science is controversial as to the timing of the surge 55 millions ago. Some scientists say 13 years; some scientists that look at the same data say 1500 years. Hopefully, it’s the latter. But unfortunately, with exponential change already underway, that wish does not look very promising.

Postscript:

The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.
— Albert A. Bartlett 1923-2013, American Physicist

  1. Ruth Mottram. “Europe’s Cold Blast, Arctic’s Heat Wave are Two Sides of the Same Coin,” Public Radio International, March 2, 2018.
  2. Jonathan Watts, Global Environmental Editor, Arctic Warming: Scientists Alarmed by ‘Crazy Temperature Rise’, The Guardian, February 27, 2018.

Dying Ecosystems

Earth’s ecosystems support all life, though collapsed ecosystems would be like stepping outside of the international space station not wearing a space suit. Pop! Bam! Gone!

A recent academic study about signals of ecosystem collapse throughout history fits the space suit analogy. Terrifying truth is exposed: The all-important biosphere is sending out warning signals of impending crises… worldwide. It does not seem possible that ecosystems collapse and life dies off.  That’s too hard to believe… but, what if it does collapse?

The Earth’s biodiversity is under attack. We would need to travel back over 65 million years to find rates of species loss as high as we are witnessing today.1

Biodiversity increases resilience: more species means each individual species is better able to withstand impacts. Think of decreasing biodiversity as popping out rivets from an aircraft. A few missing rivets here or there will not cause too much harm. But continuing to remove them threatens a collapse in ecosystem functioning. Forests give way to desert. Coral reefs bleach and then die.2

It’s already happening! Imagine flying in an aircraft while watching the rivets pop, one by one. At some point in time screaming overrides thinking. But, thank heavens; we’re not quite there yet.

Scientists from University College London and the University of Maryland studied 2,378 archeological sites and discovered that every society for thousands of years gave early clues to its own demise. Of course, demise happened precisely because those early warnings were ignored, while thinking: “it’s impossible, can’t happen.”

The determinate signal of upcoming demise is referred to as “flickering,” which is a change in society’s responses to perturbations resulting in a society caught in a socio-ecological trap that reinforces negative behavior that started the issue in the first instance, thus, preventing adaption.3

The formula: Every time a society flickers, losing rivets, it loses recovery time, thereby moving closer to collapse. In every case study, with nearly 100% accuracy, researchers found flickers precedent to eventual collapse.  All but 2 of 27 test cases showed statistically significant results. Every case experienced massive population growth as a result of the emergence of agriculture followed by technological advancements. Sound familiar?

Societal decline is empirically signaled by any number of drivers such as (1) changing climate, (2) declining environmental productivity, (3) disease, (4) warfare, or (5) combinations thereof. Today, we’ve got ’em all.

Rivets are popping all across the globe; e.g., the Great Barrier Reef, the largest living structure in the world, is signaling its demise like there’s no tomorrow. “Many scientists are now saying it is almost too late to save it. Strong and immediate action is required to alleviate water pollution and stop the underlying cause: climate change.”4

According to David Attenborough, the world’s most famous naturalist:

The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger… The twin perils brought by climate change – an increase in the temperature of the ocean and in its acidity – threaten its very existence.

In point of fact, Attenborough’s remarkable new film Blue Planet 2 details the damage wreaked in the seas by climate change, plastic pollution, and overfishing. This final episode of his series lays bare shocking damage.

Compared with what was happening before the 20th century, three-times as much sediment, twice as much fertilizer and 17,000 extra kilograms of herbicide wash over the reef each year. When the coral dies, the entire ecosystem gets hit. Fish that feed on the coral, use it as shelter, or nibble on the algae die or move away. The bigger fish that feed on those fish disappear. But the cascading effects don’t stop there. Birds that eat fish lose their energy source, and island plants that thrive on bird droppings are depleted. And, of course, people who rely on reefs for food, income or shelter from waves lose their vital resource, as the final rivets pop followed by high-pitched screaming.

The signal or flicker of the Great Coral Reef is not nature’s way. It is an anomaly.  It is easy to read about it and dismiss it and go on with life, but, in large measure, that’s the problem haunting and overriding ecosystem disintegration. It’s easy to read but punishingly painful to fix. Unwavering commitment is simply not there but for a select few like David Attenborough or Sylvia Earle, the world famous marine biologist.

Alas, groundswell of public opinion is not extant for collapsing ecosystems. It’s just not there at all. Yet, one hundred million people will be glued to TVs watching Super Bowl LII on Sunday, February 4th, 2018, whilst the fate of the world’s largest and most important ecosystem rests in the hands of Attenborough, Earle and a handful of dedicated naturalists/marine biologists. Singularly, as well as unfortunately, ecosystem collapse is warranted based upon mathematical calculations alone: One hundred million (100,000,000) watch football while a handful of scientists work at fixing the world’s seas. Football’s more immediate.

Ad interim, massive environmental degradation flickers around the world, including climate change-derived crop losses for which the Federal Crop Insurance Program pays out $17.3B.

Meanwhile, heavily sprayed agrichemical pesticides and fertilizers bring about the absolutely shocking discovery that parts of the ecosystem are dropping dead right before society’s eyes, seventy-five percent (75%) insect loss detected in a major 27-yr. German study. How in the world is it possible for a 75% insect die-off, if not for chemically infested environmental degradation?

As it happens, the list of collapsing/flickering ecosystems is a very long list indeed. Here’s only a smattering:

Oceans have lost 40% of plankton production over past 50 years, threatening loss of one of the major sources of oxygen for the planet.5

If the same amount of global heat that went into top 2000m of ocean from 1955-2010 went instead into atmosphere, temps would warm by 36 C and destroy all life.6

Ocean seasons are changing as a result of too much heat and CO2… The scale of ocean warming is truly staggering with numbers so large that it is difficult for most people to comprehend.7

The ocean’s acidification rate of growth is unprecedented in Earth’s known history.8

Ocean acidification occurring at least 1oxs faster than 55 million years ago based upon paleoclimate record.9

Nearly all marine life that builds calcium carbonate show deterioration due to increasing levels of CO2 and acidification.10

A foreboding flicker haunts the Arctic Circle, as permafrost melts away as a result of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming, awakening forgotten pathogens from the depths. A Russian team analyzed material from 125 feet below surface in permafrost. They found extremely abnormal viruses; e.g., Pithovirus Sibericum, which survived 30,000 years frozen in ice. All of which brings to mind John Carpenter’s spectacular film The Thing (1982), and likelihood that zombie pathogens are buried in super-charged-melting-like-crazy permafrost.

Seven thousand (7,000) pingos discovered in Siberia… new development in permafrost science, never reported before, there could be 100,000 explosive methane pingos extant.11

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf has reached “thaw point,” the turning point from linear to exponential release of CH4 leading to runaway global warming.12

Methane emissions in East Siberian Ice Shelves are 100xs higher than normal.13

Tibetan Plateau headwater glaciers for Lancang River (Danube of the East) down by 70%- similarly for Yellow River and Yangtze River- that flow into Mekong Delta, which feeds the entire SE Asia basin of countries.14

According to YaleEnvironment360: “As Oceans Warm, the World’s Kelp Forests Begin to Disappear,” Nov. 20,2017: “Kelp forests – luxuriant coastal ecosystems that are home to a wide variety of marine biodiversity – are being wiped out from Tasmania to California, replaced by sea urchin barrens that are nearly devoid of life.” Tasmania’s kelp forests hit by a devastating loss of 95%. In northern California, magnificent bull kelp forests along hundreds of miles of coastline have collapsed into an ecological wasteland, ocean desert.

Venice, Italy risks going on the UN’s endangered heritage site list unless it bans humongous cruise ships from the city’s lagoon, which is rapidly deteriorating into a state of utter disrepair.

Greenland’s entire surface experienced melt for the first time in scientific history.15

Greenland 2012 melt of the entire island not expected by scientific models for decades ahead, but it hit in 2012.16

The all-important Atlantic ocean conveyor belt circulation pattern, aka: Thermohaline, has already started to slow down way ahead of schedule as predicted by scientific models – a result of global warming. This has strong negative ramifications for Europe. Models claimed it wouldn’t start slowing until 22nd century. It’s already started slowing down and could be sudden, maybe within decades!16

In 2017, the Gulf of Mexico’s Dead Zone, where oxygen is so weak that fish die, is the largest ever at 8,800 square miles.17

Positive Climate Feedbacks just starting to influence the warming process, meaning the planet itself is now emitting one molecule of CO2 via positive feedback for every two molecules of CO2 emitted by human activity.18

The scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has reported that the Earth is already in the stages of the sixth mass extinction, which will see the world’s wildlife and plants die out. The research found that species, including those, which are not endangered, had reduced in number due to habitation shrinkage, hunting, pollution and climate change.

The deadly trio, or fingerprints, of mass extinctions, including global warming, ocean acidification, and anoxia or lack of ocean oxygen at current rate of change are unprecedented in Earth’s known history.19

According to YaleEnvironment360, d/d April 2017, a survey of 12,000 adults and children shows that people have lost a closeness or connection with nature. “It is increasingly normal to spend little time outside.”

In the face of people mindlessly staring at very small and/or super large screens, the planet’s ecosystems are flashing signals all the way from Patagonia to Burrow, Alaska with bells clanging, alarms blaring, sirens screeching, but not a word on Good Morning America.  Ergo, people really do not know what’s going on, which in a strange, twisted macabre fashion may be a blessing in disguise, until the final rivets pop.  Then, loud screaming will register all across the land: Off with their heads! But whose?

Postscript: For each of the past 5 mass extinctions the one common factor has been massive increase in CO2, but none of the mass extinctions in the past compare to the spike in CO2 today.20

  1. James Dyke, “The Ecosystem Canaries, Which Act as Warning Signs of Collapse”, The Guardian, August 19, 2016.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Sean S. Downey, et al, “European Neolithic Societies Showed Early Warning Signals of Population Collapse”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 113, no. 35, March 2016.
  4. Michael Slezak, “The Great Barrier Reef: A Catastrophe Laid Bare”, The Guardian, June 6, 2016.
  5. Boris Worm, Dalhousie University.
  6. Grantham Institute.
  7. D. Laffoley, IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme.
  8. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA.
  9. C.L. Dybas, Oxford
  10. Richard Feely, NOAA.
  11. Vladimir Romanovsky, geophysicist University of Alaska.
  12. Natalia Shakhova, Int’l Arctic Research Centre.
  13. Igor Semiletov, Int’l Arctic Research Centre.
  14. Yang Yong, Senior Chinese Geologist.
  15. Jason Box – Geologic Survey of Denmark & Greenland.
  16. Michael Mann.
  17. NOAA.
  18. Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
  19. Alex Rogers, Oxford, scientific director State of the Ocean.
  20. Jen Veron, Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The Great Acceleration Death Trap

The Great Acceleration, post WWII humanity forcing the earth system, is charging ahead at exponential speed, including record temps year-after-year-after year-after year and on and on it goes, relentlessly.

Fatally, many parts of the world become uninhabitable with a 2°-4°C increase in temps, too hot for human physiology. Under the circumstances, the human body cannot get rid of bodily heat fast enough. People die. Will worldwide average temps increase by 2°-4° and if so, how fast? Nobody knows for sure, but the outlook is lousy.

We need to understand that we are in a nonlinear exponential phase… we have overwhelming scientific evidence that humanity now faces a new juncture of grand global risk. We have in just five decades transitioned from being a small world on a big planet where we could allow ourselves to have unsustainable economic growth without Earth sending any invoices back to humanity up to now with overwhelming scientific evidence of a new big world on a small planet. We’ve reached the saturation point. We’re hitting the ceiling of the biophysical capacity where we can no longer exclude destabilizing the entire earth system.1

Ergo, the overriding risk is a complete breakdown of the earth system, ecosystem collapse. In that regard, traversing from a linear to an exponentially charged earth system is risky and could be fatal. Here’s how Will Steffen, “The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration”, Australian National University, 2015. describes the impact of the new exponential biosphere, speaking from the World Economic Forum in Zurich:

If I take 35 linear steps, I’ll barely reach the coffee stand outside of this room. What happens if I take 35 exponential steps?  I’d reach Copenhagen after 21 steps. Three more steps, I’m in New York. Another two steps and I encircle the entire planet. And, if I add another nine steps to my 35, I reach planet Mars.2

In other words, it takes 35 linear steps to go to the water cooler when, in fact, 35 exponential steps circumnavigate the planet. That’s the impact of exponential climate change, and we’re dead center in the midst of it.

In fact, what if the earth system is experiencing negative exponential rise? Answer: It is! For example:

Incremental linear business as usual is no longer an option. We’ve had five decades of negative exponential rise.3

Furthermore, science is starting to get nervous because its starting to see destabilization of critical components that regulate the earth system, for example, (1) recently the entire surface of the Greenland ice sheet was liquid for a period of time; (2) ocean heat is upwelling in the Arctic after absorbing planetary heat at the rate of 95%. These are surprising exponential early warning signals.3

In other-other words, now that “exponential” is on the lips of climate scientists around the world, the timing couldn’t be worse for weak presidential leadership, like Trump. He’s clueless about the status of the planet, doesn’t read, doesn’t listen, and watches a lot of TV! Are those desirable leadership qualities when faced with an exponentially charged climate system?

We are the generation right at the tipping point… We now have ample evidence that Earth is not responding linearly… as we weaken the system, then a small incremental change can lead to abrupt irreversible and potential disastrous shift… Even if we stay within the limits of Paris, we cannot avoid (1) losing the coral reefs on planet earth (2) Arctic sea ice- we lose the system (3) Greenland and Antarctic are in the risk zone within the limits of Paris.3

The Paris agreement of 2015-16 included nearly 200 nations that pledged to hold temps below 2° C, preferably 1.5° C in relation to pre-industrial temps of the late 18th century.

However, major significant early warning signs of tipping points are here now, already plainly evident out in the open for all to see, like the loss of major bios; i.e., major pieces of the biosphere. One of several prime examples is the Amazon Rainforest, which experienced three (3) unprecedented back-to-back-to-back severe droughts (2005 and 2010 and 2016, unheard of in geologic history), wiping out the equivalent of 10 years of carbon uptake for the planet. Even the massive Amazon Rainforest is clocking exponentially.2

According to Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change/UK, at 4°C, life can no longer adapt because the ecosystem will be destroyed. Problematically, he claims the Paris agreement that aims to hold temps to under 2°C is horribly flawed, not realistic, dependent upon negative emission technology, which does not work at scale and/or has unintended negative consequences. In the end, Paris is a politically constructed carbon budget to satisfy the masses that, rather than constraining warming as advertised, has the planet headed for 4°C, not 2°C.

The harsh truth is: Less than 20% of global population (OECD countries) account for 75% of the world’s consumption/impact on the earth system. The other 6,000,000,000 people are on the outside looking in, meaning, if society wants a shot at staying under the dreaded 2°C temp increase, wealthy nations must go to zero emissions by 2035.4

The USA doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell with Trump hanging out at the WH.

  1. “Beyond the Anthropocene, Johan Rockström, Stockholm Resilience Centre- Sweden, World Economic Forum, Zurich, February 14, “2017.
  2. Will Steffen, “The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration”, Australian National University, 2015.
  3. Johan Rockström.
  4. Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change/UK.