Thursday, 17 September 2015

Climate disruption

Just a short time ago there were very few articles on climate disruption.Now there’s a preponderance of them.

We're Obliterating Global Temperature Records, and There's No End in Sight
2015 is on track to be the hottest year on record. 

15 September, 2015

One after another, each of 2015's summer months have been among the hottest ever recorded on Earth. And a trio of new studies out this week, from three different countries, confirms that temperature records just keep tumbling—falling victim to an unusually massive El Niño climate event gathering strength in the Pacific, as well as unrelenting man-made climate change, which is cooking the entire system.

On Monday, Japan's Meteorological Agency said that this August was the hottest August worldwide since 1891, when its records begin. August was 0.81 degrees above the 1981-2010 average, smashing 2014's record.

Data from Japan's Meteorological Agency shows 2015's August was the hottest August in more than 120 years. JMA

Also on Monday, NASA confirmed that scientists have never recorded a hotter summer than this year's. When taken together, temperatures for June, July, and August were 1.4 degrees hotter than the long-term average, passing the previous hottest summer, 1998. Unlike Japan's study, NASA says this August was very narrowly the second hottest August on record (behind 2014).

And finally, major research from the United Kingdom's Met Office released this week concluded that 2015's overall temperatures are running at or near record levels (at about 0.684 degrees above the 1981-2010 average)—which suggests the next two years could be the hottest on record around the world.

"We know natural patterns contribute to global temperatures in any given year, but the very warm temperatures so far this year indicate the continued impact of (manmade) greenhouse gases," said Stephen Belcher from the Met Office, in a news release. "With the potential that next year could be similarly warm, it's clear that our climate continues to change."

The Met Office says this year's El Niño— the global climate event that occurs every five to seven years, bringing drought to places like Australia while heaping rain on the western United States—is likely contributing to record temperatures. (Sadly,it's unlikely to help quench California enough to break the drought.)
The El Niño itself could break records. "Recent oceanic and atmospheric indicators are at levels not seen since the 1997–98 El Niño," Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said on Tuesday, adding that the big climate event is unlikely to subside before early 2016.

El Niño is also probably contributing to the unusually active hurricane season in the Pacific. The Met Office says tropical cyclone activity across the northern hemisphere this year is about 200 percent above normal. Six hurricanes have crossed the central Pacific, more than in any other year on record.

Taking the Oxygen Out of the Room

20 September, 2015

The expression "taking the oxygen out of the room" is commonly used to mean that someone is getting unwarranted attention at the expense of others. For example, in the political circus de jour, the expression is often used to describe how Donald Trump, who thinks he is really, really smart, has received disproportionate media coverage compared with the 16 other wannabes. But, whether the discussion is about immigration, Planned Parenthood, Hillary's email, or something totally really inane, clearly it is understood that no one is literally taking all the oxygen out of the room -- that would be deadly.

However, in the real world, it turns out that oxygen is being "taken out of the room" -- or in this case, the oceans. Literally, oxygen is being lost, and the reason is the upper ocean is warming. 

This warming is due to climate change -- and yes, we scientists are sure that this isn't a natural cycle.
We live on a planet where the temperature of the air is the hair on the tail of the dog. The dog is the ocean.
Over 90 percent of the change in the heat on Earth driven by burning fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution isn't in the atmosphere. It is in the oceans. That is a whole lot of heat.
Just as hot air rises, warm water floats over the cold waters of the ocean interior. The upshot of heating the upper ocean is that it makes it harder to get the cold waters in the deep ocean to mix to the surface -- and that means that as the upper ocean gets hotter, and the ocean interior stays cold, the ocean is becoming increasingly stratified.
That is not good if you need oxygen.

The oxygen in the ocean interior gets there by being exposed to the atmosphere. Less mixing, means less exposure -- which means less oxygen gets into the oceans.
So what?
Oxygen isn't just important for fish and other animals -- it's also important for microbes. Microbes need oxygen for many processes that are critical to the core functions of the planet. One of those functions is to help make nitrogen available for phytoplankton -- the microscopic algae in the ocean that are actually generating half the oxygen we breathe.
So while the candidates for the highest office in the land are furiously discussing defunding Planned Parenthood, the oceans are slowly dying because they are becoming deoxygenated.
There are many effects of climate change that we can easily see -- the drought in California, the loss of glaciers from the Himalayas and the Andes to Greenland and Alaska, the record setting heat waves in the Middle East and southern Asia.
It is those effects that we can't see that are really critical -- the loss of oxygen in the ocean one of the most concerning to me.
In the end, nature couldn't care less who wins an election or whether or not that exalted person believes climate change is due to humans. The fact is that we are extremely efficient at finding, extract and burning. fossil fuels.
In the United States, our carbon "foot print" amounts to 110 pounds of carbon dioxide per person per day.
We just dump the gas into the atmosphere -- freely. And it freely absorbs infrared radiation from the Sun and makes this planet warm. The more we dump, the warmer the planet. That is physics. You don't get to vote on whether that is true or not. If you don't believe in physics -- try living on Venus, where the carbon dioxide levels are so high that lead will melt on the surface of the planet.
We know how to take it out of the atmosphere -- but it's expensive.
There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Unless we move much more rapidly towards building and deploying energy systems that don't emit carbon dioxide (including nuclear power), Earth will continue to slowly cook and the unintended consequences will be... well, consequential.
I don't worry about the microbes -- they will outlive us an they will go on providing their services that make this a habitable planet.
We are a fragile species -- and we don't even know it.
It would appear we aren't as smart as we think.
Whoever is running for high office should know they don't control the planet.
A little hubris may help us find solutions to our problems.

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