Monday 29 May 2017

The Dying Earth - 05/28.2017

Alaska's Sea Ice Is Melting Unusually Early, 'Another Sign Arctic Is Unraveling'
The meltdown, following an extra warm Arctic winter, will have an impact on coastal communities and permafrost.

26 May, 2017

The Arctic's record-warm winter has allowed thousands of square miles of sea ice off Alaska to melt more than a month early, leaving the shoreline vulnerable to waves and exposing dark ocean water to absorb more heat from the sun.

The loss of ice in the Chukchi Sea will boost the regional temperature and could increase precipitation over nearby land, said Alaska-based climate scientist Rick Thoman.

As of May 24, the ice cover on the Chukchi Sea had melted away from the shore along a 300 mile stretch, from Point Hope all the way to Barrow, the northernmost town in the United States. Satellite and radar data show the ice-free area totaled about 54,000 square miles.

The huge area of open water off the coast is something you would normally see in early July, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The rapid disintegration of the Chukchi Sea ice is an "exclamation point" on a remarkable series of rapid fire Arctic changes, he said.

Disappearing Arctic sea ice map

"It's another sign that the Arctic is unraveling. We had heat waves in the central Arctic last winter, record-low winter sea ice coverage, and even periods of ice retreat when it should be growing. These extremes are moving from place to place," Serreze said. 

The Arctic climate change underway is caused by the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

"If it's just one event, you can say it's natural variability, but it's the collective picture you're seeing now, that things are changing very fast," he said. "If this is natural variability, it's of a kind I'm not familiar with."
The sea ice meltdown was just mapped in the past few days. Scientists suspect it was caused by a combination of factors, including an inflow of relatively warm Pacific Ocean water through the Bering Strait and record warmth across the entire Arctic region that persisted most of 2016 and early 2017.

Last autumn, the same area remained unfrozen until late in the season, shortening the freeze-up by at least a month. That meant there was less time for the ice to grow thick, leaving it more susceptible to faster melting in the spring, said ice scientist Lars Kaleschke, with the University of Hamburg. The ice was already unusually thin in the Chukchi Sea in March and April, he said. 

The rapid recent decline in ice coverage and thickness has led researchers to believe that most of the Arctic Ocean will be free of ice in the summers as soon as the mid-2020s.

NSIDC researcher Julienne Stroeve, currently based at University College, London, said at a recent science conference that each of the last 10 years saw record-low sea ice coverage, and that there were seven months of record-low sea ice conditions during 2016, setting the stage for a Chukchi Sea meltdown.

Sea ice conditions were so unusual in late 2016 that NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos called it ablack swan event in December, after reporting record low ice extent in the Arctic and Antarctica, far below natural historic variations. In mid-November 2016, much of the Arctic—spanning an area as large as the lower 48 states—was 30 to 35 degrees above average.

Currently, a thin strip of shore-fast ice remains along Alaska's north coast, but it's exposed to the open ocean and will melt fast, which means a much longer season during which waves will batter crumbling permafrost bluffs and threaten coastal roads and communities.

It's important to remember that a large part of the world's coast is Arctic, and that erosion, on average, is taking a 1.5-foot bite out of that coastline each year, said Michael Fritz, a polar and ocean researcher with the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany.

Fritz has been studying how coastal erosion releases organic carbon into the ocean and atmosphere, where it forms more heat-trapping carbon dioxide, which intensifies the cycle of Arctic melting.

The open water that is left exposed when the sea ice disappears also absorbs more solar radiation, further warming the ocean. Thoman said the open ocean could also add moisture to the atmosphere and fuel increased snow and rain over and.

The meltdown of ice in the Chukchi Sea also affects the ability of native Inupiak communities to travel and hunt for walrus, seals and whales.

"When you get this much open water this early, some of the species may be too far away or too dispersed," Thoman said.

Laptev Sea 2016 vs 2017

Researchers amass in southern Chile to observe effect of climate change

Researchers don't think a frozen arctic will always be as stable or as safe as we thought it would be.

We've built everything from roads to pipelines to nuclear power stations on the cold ground at the top of the world. But climate change means ice is melting, and permafrost is getting less permanent.

In Greenland, melting ice is expected to expose an old U.S. military base — and the radioactive waste that's buried under the snow.

"They thought it would snow in perpetuity," arctic researcher William Colgan told NPR. "And the phrase they used was that the waste would be preserved for eternity by perpetually accumulating snow."

In Svalbard, in the Arctic Ocean, there's a bunker holding a huge catalog of Earth's seeds — a so-called "insurance policy for the world's food supply."

The permafrost is supposed to keep it cold and isolated, even if the power cuts out. But it's been raining instead of snowing due to the warming climate, and the vault was never planned with flooding in mind.

Entire cities in the Arctic Circle are engineered to take advantage of permafrost. Now they're cracking and sinking. In Norilsk, Russia, builders didn't account for the possibility of climate change making their foundations unstable. Whole apartment buildings are being condemned.

These changes were unexpected, but we can still address them. Officials in Norway say they're waterproofing the seed vault. Scientists in the European Union built a database to track what permafrost is melting and when.

And we should be able to prevent some melting outright. The steps we take to cut emissions and counter climate change will slow down the arctic thaw.

Scientists have had their eyes on Greenland as its iconic glaciers have begun disappearing due to a warming climate. But, what they didn't expect to see was a whole new type of melting.

The Rink Glacier, the largest glacier on the west coast of Greenland, was exhibiting some strange melting behaviors during the hot summers of 2010 and 2012 that can only be described as a "warmed freezer pop sliding out of its plastic casing." This kind of mass melt lasted four months between June and September in 2012 with a loss of 6.7 gigatons of mass.

The mass moved 2.5 miles every month for the first three months, then 7.5 miles all at once in September. That's actually pretty speedy considering the Rink Glacier usually melts at a speed of one to two miles a year. But, still, it was slow enough that NASA had to use aerial GPS data to measure the movement.

"You could literally be standing there and you would not see any indication of the wave," said Eric Larour of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and coauthor of the research. "You would not see cracks or other unique surface features."

  • Cities at most risk from extreme weather still get top ratings
  • Storms, floods could diminish tax revenue and raise costs

Few parts of the U.S. are as exposed to the threats from climate change as Ocean County, New Jersey. It was here in Seaside Heights that Hurricane Sandy flooded an oceanfront amusement park, leaving an inundated roller coaster as an iconic image of rising sea levels. Scientists say more floods and stronger hurricanes are likely as the planet warms.

Yet last summer, when Ocean County wanted to sell $31 million in bonds maturing over 20 years, neither of its two rating companies, Moody’s Investors Service or S&P Global Ratings, asked any questions about the expected effect of climate change on its finances.

Gradual changes in climate, sea ice changing way of life in Rigolet

As millions of Canadians eagerly anticipate the arrival of warm weather, many people living in Canada's North will be lamenting the end of winter.

For the Inuit, milder temperatures mean the sea ice is melting, making travel more difficult. This ice melt is happening earlier and earlier in the spring because of climate change. In the tiny community of Rigolet, in Nunatsiavut — located on the northern coast of Labrador — research shows this is affecting the mental health of the population.

Planting trees to take up carbon can only be a small part of our climate solution

A new report from the Potsdam Institute in Germany shows that planting trees and other plants to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere cannot substitute for cutting carbon emissions.

Growing trees and other kinds of "biomass" have been thought of as an effective countermeasure against our rising global carbon emissions. In fact, countries that preserve forests or green spaces can receive carbon credits that they can trade or sell to other countries that are polluters.

The researchers looked at several scenarios. One was the the "business-as-usual" scenario, in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at current rates, and which scientists fear could lead to a global average temperature rise of 4.5 C by 2100. They found that if we want trees to absorb all that extra carbon, even if we converted all of our agricultural land to biomass cultivation, it cannot be done without experiencing the "most dire consequences for food production or the biosphere."

Even if emissions are reduced to meet the levels agreed to in the UN Paris Agreement, which aim to keep the planet's average temperature within 2 C of pre-industrial levels, tree planting alone is still not enough to reach that goal. While it will be an important player in combating climate change, absorbing carbon with plants will have to be just be one of several mitigation strategies.

new NASA study finds that during Greenland's hottest summers on record, 2010 and 2012, the ice in Rink Glacier on the island's west coast didn't just melt faster than usual, it slid through the glacier's interior in a gigantic wave, like a warmed freezer pop sliding out of its plastic casing. The wave persisted for four months, with ice from upstream continuing to move down to replace the missing mass for at least four more months.

This long pulse of mass loss, called a solitary wave, is a new discovery that may increase the potential for sustained ice loss in Greenland as the climate continues to warm, with implications for the future rate of sea level rise.

84% of People Now Consider Climate Change a 'Global Catastrophic Risk' 

A majority of people in eight countries say they are ready to change their lifestyles if it would prevent climate catastrophe, a survey on global threats released Wednesday found.

The poll of 8,000 people in eight countries—the U.S., China, India, Britain, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Germany—found that 84 percent of people now see climate change a "global catastrophic risk."

It comes as President Donald Trump goes to Italy for his first conference with the Group of 7 (G7) to discuss inequality and the environment. Anti-poverty groups are urging the president not to pull out of the Paris climate deal, as he has threatened to do

Due to congressional budget cuts, the 38-year continuous U.S. Arctic satellite monitoring program is about to end, leaving researchers blind to ongoing Arctic sea ice losses

  • Starting in the mid-1980s, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) constructed eight “F-series” satellites, in bulk, with the plan to launch satellites in succession as each one failed to maintain a continuous record of Arctic sea ice extent.
  • But in 2016, Congress cut the program, resulting in the dismantling of the last, still not launched, satellite. It is now likely that an impending failure of the last DMSP satellites in orbit will leave the world blind until at least 2022, even as the Arctic shows signs of severe instability and decline.
  • While international and U.S. monitoring is still being done for ice thickness, the Trump administration has proposed cuts to satellite missions, including NOAA’s next two polar orbiting satellites, NASA’s PACE Satellite (to monitor ocean and atmospheric pollution), and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (for carbon dioxide atmospheric measurements).
  • All of these cuts in satellite monitoring come at a time when the world is seeing massive changes due to climate change, development and population growth. One satellite program spared Trump’s budgetary axe so far is Landsat 9, which tracks deforestation and glacial recession. How Congress will deal with Trump’s proposed cuts is unknown.

On its surface, the Greenland ice sheet is a vast expanse of seemingly immovable ice. But beneath the monotonous stretch of white, scientists have discovered evidence of waves rippling through one of its outlet glaciers and roiling its innards.

The waves, observed during the two most intense melt seasons on record, sent an unprecedented cascade of ice and water rushing into the sea and warping the very bedrock upon which the ice sits. As temperatures continue to rise, scientists fear that massive waves of ice could expedite Greenland’s melt even further, pushing sea levels higher.

It’s the latest piece of bad news about Greenland’s ice. The ice sheet has been pouring roughly 270 megatons of ice a year into the ocean via the glaciers that stretch out from its hulking mass since 2000. That’s a big uptick compared to preceding decades.

The new research, published earlier this week in Geophysical Research Letters shows a new way that climate change is taking a toll. Scientists at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, led by Surendra Adhikari, were looking at data from a series of GPS stations set up around the various outlet glaciers that tumble from Greenland’s ice sheet to the sea. Ironically, they were looking at the GPS data to see if it was worth maintaining the network of stations that rings Greenland.

A doorway to 200,000 years ago.

It's no secret that Siberia's permafrost has been on thin ice lately. Conditions are varying so much that huge holes are appearing out of nowhere, and, in some places, tundra is quite literally bubbling underneath people's feet.

But new research has revealed that one of the biggest craters in the region, known by the local Yakutian people as the 'doorway to the underworld', is growing so rapidly that it's uncovering long-buried forests, carcasses, and up to 200,000 years of historical climate records.

It’s no surprise that a change in our planet’s climate would affect our coastlines, our weather patterns and our food supply. But here’s something you may not have considered before: Global warming might also affect how well we sleep at night.

In a paper published Friday in Science Advances, researchers show that when local temperatures get unusually high people don’t sleep as well as they usually do. And if climate trends continue, we can expect to have more frequent heat waves that also last longer.

Climate & Extreme Weather News #27 (May 19th to May 27th 2017)

At least 126 people have been killed and nearly 500,000 displaced in Sri Lanka following flooding and mudslides triggered by monsoon rains, the government says.

A further 97 people are still missing, a spokesman said.

Military boats and helicopters have been sent to help rescue operations

The flooding is believed to be the worst since May 2003 when a similarly powerful south-west monsoon destroyed 10,000 homes and killed 250 people.

Several northern provinces have been hit by flash floods following persistent heavy rain with the Meteorological Department warning that downpours will continue until today.

In Uttaradit, mountain run-off triggered by torrential downpours caused the Phi and Pladuk creeks in tambon Nam Phi of Thong Saen Khan district to overflow yesterday.

Floods submerged scores of villages in tambon Nam Phi with more than 200 households affected.

Final word is with Prof. Guy McPherson

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