May 2018 Broke Thousands of Temperature Records Across the US

A recent climbing trip up Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park brought the bittersweet experience I’ve become all too familiar with as someone who spends much of his free time on glaciers.

On the one hand, the experience of being on ice that is thousands of years old and often hundreds if not thousands of feet thick is humbling. The accompanying awe of this reality, coupled with the sheer beauty of these landscapes carved by and now covered with glaciers is not to be missed.

Returning from the summit, after descending to the lower Blue Glacier, one of the largest glaciers in Olympic National Park, my friends and I were struck by how much of this glacier had melted off. The stark grey lateral moraine (accumulations of dirt and rocks that have fallen onto the surface of a glacier or have been pushed along by the glacier as it moves) which we had descended to reach the climbing route that morning stood before us.

That morning, we had noted how much the glacier had melted from the high point of the moraine before we dropped down onto the glacier to rope up for the climb, but perhaps now because we had to ascend the moraine, its height really hit home. Witnessing these dramatic impacts from anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) first-hand always feels like a gut punch to me. My climbing partners and I shook our heads at the spectacle, then carried on to the edge of the glacier in order to unrope and ascend the moraine.

Olympic National Park alone has lost 82 glaciers since just 1984. The Olympic Mountains have four big valley glaciers with glaciers extending down into their lower slopes, but when the park first inventoried its glaciers back in 1958, there were twice as many. The winter of 2015 was the lowest snowpack on record for the Olympics. In the aftermath of that winter, Bill Baccus, an Olympic National Park field scientist and glacier expert, told Washington’s National Park Fund blog, “What we saw on our glaciers in 2015 will probably reflect our future conditions.”

Before and after photos of glaciers in Olympic National Park starkly illustrate how much ice the park is losing.

Once back atop the lateral moraine on our way back down to our camp, the shrinking Blue Glacier, now far below us, felt far smaller as the scope of its melting became all too clear with our new perspective.

The Blue Glacier from atop its lateral moraine. Alpine glaciers globally are in dramatic retreat as human-caused climate disruption continues apace.
DAHR JAMAIL

And this is not only happening in the Olympics; the cryosphere is melting apace globally.

In the Arctic, the sea ice hit a record low this year for ice older than five years, and scientists say the summers will be ice-free in the Arctic Ocean in the future — the only question is when. The last four years have been the four lowest on record for the maximum winter sea ice extend and clearly, this trend will continue.

And things are not any better in the Antarctic, where new research foundthat parts of the Larsen C ice shelf are actually melting during the depths of winter when temperatures stay well below freezing. This is due to the fact that “Foehn winds” are bringing warmer temperatures, and between 2015 and 2017, caused around 23 percent of the annual surface melt of the ice shelf to occur during the winter months.

Another discovery from Antarctica has shown that ACD is likely happening even faster than we know. A group of scientists found that Antarctica’s Southern Ocean is most likely not absorbing as much carbon dioxide as previously believed, which means more is remaining in the atmosphere, which of course, amplifies ACD.

Equally disconcerting is the fact that the “Atlantification” and “Pacification” of the Arctic has begun as warmer waters from other oceans are streaming into the increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean, bringing new species and signaling what is likely the upending of the incredibly sensitive polar environment.

Meanwhile, extreme weather events continue apace. The island of Kauai witnessed a shocking rain event, when one storm brought over four feet of rain in just 24 hours. Scientists warned that the event was a sign of the future, although it is now something that is a matter of history.

The second 1,000-year flood in just two years struck Ellicott City, Maryland, further underscoring the aforementioned warning from scientists.

As the 2018 hurricane season is officially underway, scientists have warned of super storms, with one of them suggesting the creation of a new Category 6 designation for extremely powerful storms as storms with higher winds and more rainfall are getting so intense, the current warning categories are soon to be outdated.

Earth

Disconcertingly, a recently published study showed that CO2 released from dying forests being decimated by tree-killing pests (which are on the increase as temperatures warm) is equivalent to the emissions from 11 million cars.

Rising temperatures bring other problems as well. One study showed that as winters continue to warm, hibernating black bears in the US aren’t sleeping. This means they require more food, and often end up searching for food from humans, which causes obvious problems. The study showed that for every 1 degree Celsius (1°C) minimum temperature increase, bears hibernate six fewer days. According to the study, by 2050, black bears will stay awake between 15-39 days longer each year, thus requiring that much more food.

Complicating things further, a recently published study showed that ACD is on track to cause a calamitous decline of insects across the world. Climate projections show that insects will lose nearly half their habitat from that alone, not even including human encroachment and other factors. Given that insects are vital to nearly every ecosystem on Earth, their widespread collapse would assuredly cause deep disruption across the planet, including humans’ ability to feed ourselves. It is worth remembering that last October, scientists warned of “ecological Armageddon” when a studyfound that the number of flying insects in Germany (and likely elsewhere) had plummeted by three-quarters in the last 27 years alone.

report from last month showed that honeybees may already be dying in larger numbers due to ACD, with beekeepers citing erratic weather patterns as one of the primary reasons. Beekeepers in the US reported that 40 percent of their colonies had unexpected deaths during the year that ended March 31, according to a survey released recently. Shockingly, this is an increase by one-third from the previous year. From a human-impact perspective, this obviously ties in with the collapse of insect populations, given the critical role bees play for pollination and human food production.

Finally, warmer temperatures are expected to produce more drug-resistant infections, along with genetic mutations and increased growth of the infections, according to another recent study.

Water

recently published study of hundreds of species of fish showed that they are all migrating northwards to cooler water as global oceanic temperatures warm. The migrations due to ACD are larger than what had been expected. One alarming example of this is how Atlantic cod in New England are expected to decline by 90 percent by 2100, which would crash that centuries-old fishery. On the other side of the US, rockfish in the Pacific Northwest are moving away from the Native American communities that rely upon them and northwards into Alaskan waters.

ACD is already threatening salmon and trout species’ existence in the Pacific Northwest, as their river habitat is warming up dramatically.

On the other side of the world, a marine heat wave caused a grouper from waters off the coast of Queensland, Australia, to appear all the way in New Zealand, 1,800 miles away.

Meanwhile, ocean acidification — the process by which ocean waters become more acidic due to absorbing so much CO2 from the atmosphere — is causing neurological disruption in fish, causing them to have their senses of sight, smell and sound altered.

Back on land, increasingly intense droughts are now the norm across the US Southwest. A recent report showed that even in years with normal precipitation, temperatures are increasing so much that droughts are increasingly hot, doing exceptional damage to plants and trees; whereas in the past, droughts were normally caused primarily by lack of rainfall. According to climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck, “warm temperatures tend to make the droughts more severe because they pull the moisture out of plants, they pull the moisture out of rivers and out of soil — and that moisture ends up in the atmosphere instead of where we normally like to have it.”

In fact, it’s already so dry across the Southwest that forests are being closed by the US Forest Service in efforts to prevent wildfires started by errant campfires. Already this year, two-thirds of New Mexico is experiencing extreme drought due to radically low snowfall/snowpack over last winter, and this is the same story throughout much of the rest of the arid region. In Arizona it is even worse: 74 percent of that state is already under extreme drought conditions.

In Australia, sheep and cattle farmers are being forced to adapt to increasingly dry conditions as rainfall across regions of that country continues to remain far below normal, with this April having been the eighth-driest on record, at 63 percent below average.

NASA warned recently that water shortages are likely to be the largest environmental challenge of this century. Places like California, Antarctica, Greenland, China, Australia and the Caspian Sea regions are already experiencing serious declines in their freshwater supplies, and these are among numerous other places around the globe where this is happening and is expected to worsen.

On that note, a recent report from New Zealand revealed a shocking decline in glaciers in that country. According to ongoing studies there, a 30 percent loss of glacial ice has occurred in just the last 40 years.

Another recently published studyshowed the existence of previously unknown massive canyons hidden beneath hundreds of feet of ice in the interior of Antarctica. “[If] climate conditions change in Antarctica, we might expect the ice in these troughs to flow a lot faster towards the sea,” Kate Winter, a researcher at Northumbria University in the UK and lead author on the paper, told the BBC. “That makes them really important, and we simply didn’t know they existed before now.”

On the rising seas front, Tangier Island, a small strip of land off the coast of Virginia, which is home to about 600 year-round residents, is expected to be swallowed up by the seas as early as 25 years from now, giving rise to more climate refugees in the US.

Fire

It has been well-known for years now that ACD is increasing the frequency, duration and intensity of wildfires, so it should come as no surprise that 2018 is again off to what could be another record-setting wildfire year across the US.

By June 8, firefighters across eight US states were already hard at work on 24 different larger wildfires. Ten of these fires were in Alaska alone. By June 8, about 1,780,633 acres had burned across the country since the beginning of 2018, which already places this year well above the annual average of burned acreage for that date frame over the previous 10 years.

In a 24-hour period, one fire north of Durango, Colorado, nearly doubled in size to almost 17,000 acres, forcing new mandatory evacuation orders affecting nearly 700 homes, as the fire is expected to continue to expand and spread across conditions that the Denver Post described as “tinderbox weather conditions.”

Air

This May was the warmest May ever recorded across the US, as at least 8,600 records were tied or broken across the country. In fact, the previous warmest May occurred at the height of the Dust Bowl. For the entire country, that month’s temperature was a shocking 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal.

This May was also the warmest ever recorded for Norway’s Arctic islands, which saw temperatures soaring as high as 6 degrees Celsius above normal.

Germany saw its hottest April and May since 1881, which the German Weather Service said was not possible without the impacts of ACD.

In Pakistan, temperatures that used to only occur in June and July are now happening in March. The country’s weather service warned that the spring heat is driving up water use and demand around the country.

Meanwhile, near-surface wind speeds over planetary landmasses have dropped by as much as 25 percent since just the 1970s, according to climate scientists. Decrease in wind speed means a decrease in evaporation, which will negatively impact irrigation and farming. It also means the dispersal of wind-blown seeds will be negatively impacted, and city-dwellers reliant upon winds to clear out pollution will also suffer the consequences.

More recent research also shows that by 2100 at the latest (it is likely already happening), ACD will cause hurricanes and typhoons to be stronger, slower and far wetter than they are today. “Hurricane Ike, for example, which devastated the US Gulf Coast in 2008, would have had 13 percent stronger winds, moved 17 percent slower, and been 34 percent wetter if it had formed later this century,” reported Yale 360 on the study. “With temperatures 9 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today — the warming expected if greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked.”

Denial and Reality

As usual, there is too much fodder from the ACD denialists to include in one dispatch, so here are just a few high/lowlights.

In early May, the Trump White House quietly cancelled funding for a NASA research program that verifies greenhouse gas cuts (agreed to in the Paris climate accord) by stitching together satellite images used to produce high-resolution models of Earth’s atmospheric carbon flows.

Then, after delaying release for months in order to delete all mentions of ACD, the Trump administration finally made public a National Park Service report — of course, with no mention of ACD.

If there were a Darwin Award for most ridiculous ACD denialist, however, it would most certainly go to Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, who in May claimed that sea level rise was not due to ACD, but instead is being caused by rocks tumbling into the ocean.

Back to reality, new NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, a long-time ACD denier, recently admitted that humans are the cause of climate disruption.

Furthermore, a growing number of Republican voters are acknowledging that climate disruption is human-caused, as a recent poll showed 14 percent more of them are accepting reality.

Perhaps because more of their constituents are waking up, three House Republicans recently joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers working to address ACD threats.

Thanks to a group of high school students, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert recently signed an ACD resolution the students had championed, which acknowledges the existence of ACD and calls for emissions cuts.

These reality checks are indeed refreshing, as we must have factually accurate maps to navigate this era of runaway climate disruption in order to prioritize our life decisions wisely.

This knowledge is made more urgent by the fact that atmospheric CO2 levels recently broke yet another record, when they exceeded 411 parts per million in May, a month which also had the highest monthly average ever recorded.

Advertisements

The permafrost bomb is ticking

We must act now to disarm it.

Collapsed block of permafrost
A collapsed block of ice-rich permafrost along Drew Point, Alaska. Photo credit: Benjamin Jones, USGS.

About a fifth of the Northern Hemisphere landmass is permafrost, ground that has been mostly frozen for half a million years or more. Now there are signs of thaw appearing in many places across this vast landscape circling the Arctic, and at accelerated rates.

It is only a matter of time until the incremental thawing of the permafrost reaches a tipping point of no return, a state of accelerated and irreversible change, the side effects of which might well push other parts of the Arctic beyond their own tipping points. Quite possibly, we are poised to witness such a transformation within our lifetimes – ice sheet loss, increased frequencies of fires in the tundra and boreal forests, and complete habitat loss for marine mammals, to name just a few examples of the changes that could occur.

The major side effect of a thawing permafrost is that it will further enhance global warming with the release of large quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The permafrost contains organic matter, and thawing will enable bacterial decomposition that will release methane as a byproduct of anaerobic respiration.

The permafrost is not the only climatic system that is susceptible to abrupt regime shifts – the Greenland Ice Sheet, the West Antarctic Ice sheet, and numerous ice shelves in both hemispheres have the potential to undergo abrupt and irreversible change in their state. However, the permafrost is likely one of the fastest to respond, given its southward extent and the existence of positive feedback loops – vicious circles that can amplify the thawing initiated by human-caused warming.

The question is, where is the tipping point? The past history of permafrost thawing might give a few clues.

Permafrost thaw in the past

During the last two million years, the climate has periodically shifted between cold (glacial) and warm (interglacial) states. We are currently in an interglacial that began about 11,000 years ago. Not coincidentally, the beginning of this warm stable period marked the dawn of agrarian societies and complex human civilizations.

The glacial cycles were driven by changes in Earth’s axial tilt, which slightly altered the distribution of solar energy across latitudes. The small variations in incoming energy was amplified by internal feedbacks within the climate – feedbacks from growing and retreating ice sheets, sea ice extent, and large scale changes in ocean circulation, for example.

Through the repeated bouts of glaciation, large ice sheets waxed and waned over North America and Eurasia. However, significant portions of the ground frozen during the glacial phases persisted through multiple interglacial cycles up to the present day, their thaw slowed down by insulating layers of soil.

The last time there was a large-scale thaw of the permafrost was four interglacials ago. Evidence of this thawing event can be found in Siberian caves where stalactites and stalagmites growth last occurred at that time. Such deposits can only form when there is liquid water flowing. At the time of the thaw, about 450,000 years ago, the climate was about 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures. Today, the temperature is nearly as warm – 1°C hotter than in pre-industrial times. Even more worrisome is the rate of the current warming, unprecedented in over 50 million years of geological history.

2° might be too much

It’s worth noting that the principal goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. In part, the value of 2°C derives from evidence – such as that found in the Siberian caves – that predict tipping points at or beyond that threshold.

However, it is possible that a tipping of the permafrost may not happen at a specific temperature threshold, but would rather depend on the rate of human-caused warming.

That scenario is an extension of the “Compost Bomb instability” model proposed in 2010 by a team led by mathematician Sebastian Wieczorek. Wieczorek’s team modeled peatlands, which have large carbon reservoirs like the permafrost. Their model predicted that decomposition of that organic matter, once initiated, would become a source of heat itself, causing an explosive increase in soil temperatures, additional decomposition, and methane release. Crucially, the higher the rate of global warming, the sooner the tipping point could take place.

Figure 1

Simulation of ground temperatures in the ‘compost bomb’ model. Above a certain rate of global warming, v, the model predicts an explosive increase in soil temperatures due to heat generated from bacterial decomposition. The higher the global warming rate the sooner the tipping takes place.

There are good reasons to suspect that this would also be true for the permafrost, which like the peatlands would have the same capacity to generate internal heat due to bacterial decomposition of organic matter. If so, we might expect a tipping before reaching the 1.5°C limit as was the case for the last thaw 450,000 years ago.

A principal difficulty in modeling and predicting tipping points is the inclusion of positive feedbacks. By their nature, they tend to “blow up” due to exponential growths, especially if the physics of those processes aren’t known with great certainty. For this reason, climate scientists often err on the side of caution and do not include many of them in climate models. The IPCC projections, for example, do not include feedbacks from the permafrost. As a result, climate predictions often underestimate future warming.

There are telltale signs that the permafrost is already tipping across the Arctic.CLICK TO TWEETConsider a recent study which finds that the models which do the best job at simulating the recent past predict greater future warming. In other words, models that predict the greatest future warming are very likely the most accurate.

So it might turn out that the goals set forth by the Paris Agreement are not sufficient. Indeed, there are telltale signs that the permafrost is already tipping across the Arctic.

The state of the permafrost

The Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost makes available temperature data from hundreds of boreholes across the Arctic. Analysis of the data reveals that in many places, the thickness of the seasonally thawed upper layer increased significantly between 2009 and 2015, the end points of a large number of datasets.

Figure 2a
Bolvansky 59
Figure 2b
Olsky pass-6

 

Temperature profiles with time at two borehole locations in Siberia, Bolvansky 59 and Olsky pass-6. The trends show seasonal variations as well as a steady upward drift in temperatures through the period of observations. Analysis and figures by by Raj Saha.

Ground temperatures at shallow depths show large seasonal variations, warming during the summer months and cooling in winter. In many places, particularly at lower latitudes, temperatures near the surface of the permafrost go above freezing. This is the “active layer”, so called on account of the biological activity, vegetation and microbial growth, the thawing initiates.

Temperatures at greater depths respond much more slowly, being insulated by the overlaying permafrost, and typically do not change appreciably. However, at many borehole sites, heat is observed to be steadily penetrating into the depths, aided by warming trends in surface temperatures and percolating meltwater from the upper layers. As a result, the permafrost landscape is starting to show signs of a dramatic transformation.

Figure 3a

Figure 3b

Variations in the thickness of active layer with time at the borehole sites above. Analysis and figures by Raj Saha.

Thermokarst lakes, formed from the collapse of thawing ground, are appearing at accelerated rates in Alaska and in the Canadian Arctic. Large number of gas emission craters are appearing in Siberia. Methane emissions measured from degrading permafrost on land and subsea continental shelves are increasing. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 16-24 percent of the Alaskan permafrost will degrade by 2100.

Since 2007, there have been reports of increasing numbers of fires in the tundra and boreal forests, at rates that are unprecedented in the last 10,000 years. The meltwater from the already underway thaw and the fires could work together to speed up permafrost thaw even more.

The picture emerging is that the Arctic is full of positive feedback mechanisms that can work together to amplify warming. In fact, this is already evident in the amplified warming of the Arctic relative to the rest of the world.

Figure 4

Variations in the mean temperature across latitudes between 1880-2015. The blue line is the annual mean and the gray area depicts the max/min monthly variations. Data source: NASA GISS Surface Temperature Analysis. Visualization by Raj Saha.

While it is difficult to quantitatively pinpoint when a system is about to undergo tipping (though some studies have outlined definite criteria), it is likely a decent guess to speculate that the permafrost, and indeed the Arctic as a whole, is already at or very near a tipping point. The basis for such a claim is the simultaneous shift towards tipping points in a number of interconnected systems, many of which are positive reinforcing feedback mechanisms.

Adopting a hands-off policy

Is it too late to prevent a regime shift in the Arctic? Possibly. That by no means implies that we might as well sit back and continue with the “business-as-usual” agenda. While it is a certainty that Arctic systems like the permafrost are susceptible to tipping, it is also likely that the thresholds are sensitive to rates of human-caused greenhouse emissions. By acting now, and on a frantic global scale, we just might be able to delay the tipping and the climatic domino effect from taking hold.

Even if a tipping is inevitable, we might be able to prevent further degradation of the last of pristine environments left on Earth and the rich and intricate ecosystems it supports.

It’s a no-brainer that we need to reduce and cut emissions, and there are many studies that provide directives and roadmaps for how we should proceed. One such study, by the Stockholm Resilience Institute, proposes a set of multi-decadal efforts on global scales to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. That’s a start, though a “Herculean” undertaking in itself, as the authors put it.

We also need specific policies aimed at the protection of the entire Arctic, not just limited to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This means stopping any and all kinds of resource extraction – oil, natural gas, shale oil, and heavily restricting and regulating trans-Arctic shipping and tourism, all of which have seen a boom in recent years due to the access made possible by receding sea ice.

At the same time, we need policies to support indigenous communities of the Arctic whose lives have been the most affected by the changing environment. Some communities are being displaced right now due to coastal erosion. Some have become entirely reliant on tourism to support their economies. Protection and empowerment of the peoples of the Arctic is a must.

It’s time we start accepting that climate change is here, not something waiting to happen in some hypothetical future. By acting now we have some chance of disarming the ticking permafrost bomb.

AUTHOR
Raj Saha studies climate dynamics and teaches climate and mathematical modeling at Bates College.

Could reviving Woolly-Mammoth genes fight the effects of global warming?

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Woolly mammoths have been extinct for more than 4,000 years, but with new gene-editing techniques, they could help mitigate the effects of a modern problem: climate change.

Most of the hype so far has focused on bringing these shaggy beasts back to life using their permafrost-preserved DNA. But this time, scientists aren’t aiming for a “Jurassic Park” scenario — they’re not trying to bring back entire mammoths exactly as they were in the last ice age. Rather, they’re hoping to mingle some of the mammoths’ ancient genes with those of today’s Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), to increase the elephants’ tolerance to the cold, said George Church, a Harvard and MIT geneticist who is heading the Harvard Woolly Mammoth Revival team.

“I don’t even think it’s desirable” to bring back the entire mammoth, Church told Live Science Friday (May 11) here at the 2018 Liberty Science Center Genius Gala. He thinks a few ancient genes will do more good, by boosting the survival chances of threatened elephants, which could then be reintroduced to northern parts of the globe. Once there, the genetically tweaked elephants would topple trees that keep the area warm in the winter, thereby restoring a more climate-friendly ecosystem. [6 Extinct Animals That Could Be Brought Back to Life].

Restoring the steppe

When mammoths roamed in a northern area known as the “mammoth steppe,” that ecosystem was rich in grasses. But after the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) went extinct and other grazers left the area, grasses gave way to shrubs and a tundra ecosystem, an environment that the Harvard Woolly Mammoth Revival team says is “contributing to human-driven climate change.”

“The elephants that lived in the past — and elephants possibly in the future — knocked down trees and allowed the cold air to hit the ground and keep the cold in the winter, and they helped the grass grow and reflect the sunlight in the summer,” Church said. “Those two [factors] combined could result in a huge cooling of the soil and a rich ecosystem.”

In the absence of large creatures to knock down trees and trample the snow, the opposite happens, Church said, as tall trees and a fluffy blanket of snow keep the permafrost warm in the winter months.

“Fluffy snow is like a down blanket keeping the warm summer soil away from the -40 degree winter winds,” Church said. And trees absorb light and heat in the summer and keep cold winds out in the winter, he added.

With already warmer temperatures, this leads to the melting of permafrost and the release of greenhouse gases like methane, Church said. In fact, 1,400 gigatons of carbon — the amount equivalent to 43 times as much carbon as fossil fuels and industry produced last year, according to the International Energy Agency — is at risk of escaping into the atmosphere if permafrost melts, he added.

The elephants on our planet right now can’t tolerate the cold climate of the steppe. So the idea is to use gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR to insert the ancient robust genes from mammoths into Asian elephant cells and create embryos that may grow up to be elephant-mammoth hybrids that can.

“It could just be 44 genes [that] might be sufficient to make them adapted again to the cold,” Church said. He hopes to insert a few others that could help elephants in other ways as well — such as genes that could allow them to eat certain toxins and thus increase the range of vegetation they can nibble, or genes that decrease their tusk size so they are less likely to be poached.

Because of the ethical concerns of implanting the embryos into elephants, the scientists hope to be able to grow the mammoth-elephant hybrid in the lab. But whether that’s possible is still to be determined, Church said. First, the researchers will try growing mice from mouse embryos in the lab. So far, they have managed to insert some mammoth genes into elephant cells in the lab, such as those for more hair growth or fat production, according to a previous Live Science report.

Of course, many questions remain. For example, how would these genes interact with other genes? Would the embryos survive in the lab environment? How would these massive hybrids fare in today’s ecosystems, and would they alter them? Of course, there are ethical considerations as well: Even if humans can manipulate the ecosystem, should they?

Originally published on Live Science.

Dahr Jamail | The Arctic Is Melting Down as the Antarctic Food Chain Is Breaking

Monday, March 05, 2018By Dahr JamailTruthout | Report 

(Photo: Little Visuals)(Photo: Little Visuals)

A draft UN report has warned that missing the 1.5°C warming target set by the Paris Climate Accords will multiply hunger, migration and conflict around the globe. The 1.5°C target means limiting atmospheric temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C above what they were prior to the industrial revolution when humans began emitting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

The report, slated to be finalized this coming September, provides several sobering points (the draft summary of the report can be read here):

• The UK’s Met Office predicts a 1 in 10 chance the global average will flicker over 1.5°C within five years, meaning, we’re already very close to the 1.5°C line, although the conservative estimate is that we could reach it by 2040.

• At 1.5°C tropical reefs are at “high risk” of no longer being dominated by corals, the Arctic could become nearly ice-free in September, and there will be “fundamental changes in ocean chemistry” that could take several millennia to reverse.

• 2°C warming brings with it an additional 10 cm of sea level rise by 2100, and increases the risk of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets collapsing, ensuring future generations will see multi-meter sea level rise.

Meanwhile, much evidence signals that catastrophic change is already upon us.

The average high temperature for northern Greenland in February is approximately -20°F, which is the equivalent of Denver seeing a 112°F day in February.

The average high temperature for northern Greenland in February is approximately -20°F, making recent readings from a weather station there a stunning 63°F warmer than average. This would be the equivalent of Denver seeing a 112°F day in February. Arctic sea ice levels are already at record lows for this time of year. Recently, Alaska’s Bering Sea lost a full one-third of its ice in only eight days, and even more recently, an area north of Greenland is already free of ice.

“There is no ice where there is almost always ice,” The Washington Post’s weather experts tweeted February 26. “There is open water north of Greenland where the thickest sea ice of the Arctic used to be,” Lars Kaleschke, a German physicist, explained in a tweet. “It is not refreezing quickly because air temperatures are above” freezing.

While no single weather anomaly can be attributed to anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), what is happening in the Arctic is so far off the charts scientists are aghast.

Worldwide, the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 were each a record warm year for Earth, with 2017 a close second place behind 2016. A report in Anthropocene Magazine recently showed that if carbon emissions remain unchecked, such multi-year global record temperature surges, along with their accompanying coral bleaching events, droughts, polar ice loss, storms and floods, will likely become routine by 2100.

A recent report described the future of San Francisco’s East Bay area as looking “a lot like Los Angeles – only with parts of it underwater.

Satellite images show that planetary warming is further accelerating the melting of the Greenland and Western Antarctic Ice Sheets, which is ramping up already-accelerating sea level rise.

Our world has changed. Massive parts of the biosphere are collapsing before our eyes. This is our new reality, and each of us must ask each day, “How then, shall I live my life?”

Earth

Across terra firma, there are stunning warning signs of abrupt ACD.

recently published study from the UK’s Newcastle University warned that ACD will “push European cities towards the breaking point.” The study showed how floods, droughts and heat waves will cause cities across the UK to be more heavily impacted by ACD than previously believed. Even the most optimistic scenarios, for example, showed 85 percent of cities located near rivers in the UK will face increased flooding. The lead author of the study, Selma Guerreiro, told The Guardian: “Although southern European regions are adapted to cope with droughts, this level of change could be beyond breaking point.”

Meanwhile in Africa, a recent report linked increasing violence to ACD across two regions that encompass 26 countries on that continent. The UN Security Council’s report showed that ACD was a driver of conflict across West Africa and the Sahel, and showed that water scarcity and desertification were causing resources to dwindle, hence fueling increased conflict.

Mercury trapped in permafrost since the last Ice Age is now being released into the biosphere.

A study published in the journal Science showed that melting Arctic sea ice is making it more difficult for predators, such as the iconic polar bear, to consume enough calories to survive. The research showed that polar bears require many more calories to survive than previously known, and this coupled with rapidly diminishing sea ice has left them in a struggle to survive. An ecologist affiliated with the study showed that the already-declining bear populations could shrink by another 30 percent over the next 40 years.

Water

recent Pentagon study showed that half of all US military bases have been reporting climate extremes and threatening weather. Extremes, such as storm surges, wildfires and droughts, along with sea level rise, have become prevalent among hundreds of the bases, and more than 780 military sites have reported drought conditions.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

The southern Louisiana region is already locked into losing somewhere between 1,200 and 2,800 square miles of coastal zone by 2067. Even if the state funded the full $92 billion for all the mitigation projects it would require to save parts of the coast from sea level rise, erosion and hurricanes, it would lose approximately 1,200 square miles of coast. This is due to the fact that the bottom one-third of the entire state of Louisiana has an average elevation of only 2.5 feet, and sea levels are expected to rise far higher than that. In fact, another recent study showed that even if the Paris climate accord goals were met, Earth is already set to see roughly one meter of sea level rise in the next two centuries.

Out on the US West Coast, a mid-February report described the future of San Francisco’s East Bay area as looking “a lot like Los Angeles – only with parts of it underwater,” due to worsening drought and sea level rise. Studies have long since shown that the Bay Area will become much drier as global temperatures continue to increase, and of course, high levels of sea rise are already locked in, no matter what kind of mitigation measures are taken.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, warm weather is causing that country’s “water tower” glaciers, those which communities rely upon for sustaining the flow of some of their major rivers, to melt at dramatic rates. Scientists there are describing the changes to the glaciers they are witnessing as “striking,” and warned that New Zealand’s hydropower generation, irrigation and agriculture will be impacted in the future, and water availability will become a major issue.

The Bering Sea recently lost fully one third of its total sea ice coverage in a mere eight days.

Back to the cryosphere, a recently published study found that mercury trapped in permafrost since the last Ice Age is now being released into the biosphere as permafrost is thawing and then melting. “This discovery is a game-changer,” Paul Schuster, a hydrologist at the US Geological Survey and lead author of the new study, told Science Daily. This is particularly worrisome, as the study found that permafrost soils are the single largest reservoir of mercury on the planet, containing nearly twice as much mercury as all other soils, the oceans and atmosphere combined.

“There would be no environmental problem if everything remained frozen, but we know the Earth is getting warmer,” Schuster said. “Although measurement of the rate of permafrost thaw was not part of this study, the thawing permafrost provides a potential for mercury to be released — that’s just physics.”

The Arctic is displaying some of the most shocking impacts of abrupt ACD that we have seen anywhere else in the world.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Arctic is currently undergoing the fastest decline in sea ice in at least the last 1,500 years.

Furthermore, the Bering Sea recently lost fully one third of its total sea ice coverage in a mere eight days.

In a sign of the times, this December saw an LNG tanker cross the Arctic during the winter without an icebreaker escort — the first time this has ever occurred during winter months.

Other signs of big trouble in the oceans abound.

In the Antarctic, major declines in krill are now threatening most of the wildlife there, including whales, leopard seals and penguins. Industrial fishing and ACD are the primary causes, as krill populations have dropped by 40 percent in some areas of the Antarctic.

In the Antarctic, major declines in krill are now threatening most of the wildlife there, including whales, leopard seals and penguins.

Lastly in this section, another recently published study showed that coral reefs are at risk of dissolving due to oceans becoming increasingly acidic. Scientists warned that global reefs could begin dissolving by 2100, as CO2 continues to form a weak acid in seawater and begins to dissolve reef sediments. Reef sediments are 10 times more vulnerable to acidification than the tiny coral animals that build the stony skeletons that form the reefs.

Coral reefs are home to roughly one-quarter of all marine life.

Fire

In February, a wildfire raging in southern Australia was large enough to be seen from space. The area burned in the fire was larger than Singapore and New York.

Meanwhile, scientists from Columbia University once again confirmed the link between ACD and increased incidence and ferocity of wildfires. They estimated that between 1984 and 2015, ACD had caused an additional 4.2 million hectares of forest to burn: an area approximately three times the size of the state of Connecticut. Previous studies had already shown that ACD had contributed to the fact that the area impacted by forest fires in the American West has doubled in just the last 30 years alone.

Air

Record warm temperatures continue to be set around the globe.

Even the Arctic, where the sun is not shining at all during winter months, saw the warmest December on record.

On that note, the northernmost weather station on Earth, located on Cape Morris Jessup in Greenland only 400 miles from the North Pole, experienced above-freezing temperatures for two days in a row.

The Arctic wasn’t the only place experiencing record-warm temperatures during the winter. The US East Coast saw numerous temperature records across several states while portions of the central US and Midwest, from Texas to the Great Lakes, were facing flooding from record-setting precipitation.

Washington, DC, saw its earliest 80-degree day on record … in February. Pittsburgh saw a 78°F day which beat the previous record by 10 degrees. Meanwhile, high-temperature records were set this February from Atlantic City to Manchester to Wilmington, among dozens of other cities. An even longer list of cities saw record highs for the entire month of February set as well.

In February, a wildfire raging in southern Australia was large enough to be seen from space.

South Bend, Indiana, saw a 500-year flood event, meaning a flooding event extreme enough that it is estimated to have only a 1 in 500 chance of occurring. The Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes regions were beset by flooding as well, due to snow melt and ongoing major precipitation events.

Scientists warned that these anomalies are likely a glimpse at what we can expect more broadly as the planet continues to warm.

Denial and Reality

Climate Disruption DispatchesIn an interview with Piers Morgan aired on Britain’s ITV, President Donald Trump, when asked point blank about his stance on ACD, stated amazingly, “The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records.”

Needless to say, as has been made all too clear in this dispatch, among dozens of others, the opposite is true: Ice, both on land and in the sea, is actually melting at record rates.

But then, Trump has never let facts stand in the way of his own warped version of reality. His administration is now seeking large cuts to the country’s ACD research infrastructure, including satellites, science centers and education, via his budget proposal.

News also came out recently that fossil-fuel-lobbyist-turned-EPA-chief Scott Pruitt was closely involved in the scrubbing of the EPA’s climate websites, according to emails that have surfaced.

Speaking of Pruitt, he recently had the gall to say that ACD could be good for humanity. During an interview with Michael Barbaro of The New York Times, Pruitt was criticizing scientists warning of the dangers of ACD when he said, “I think it’s pretty arrogant for people in 2018 to say, ‘You know what, we know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100.'”

Multiple prestigious climate scientists resoundingly rebuked Pruitt’s absurd claim. He was also contradicted by the government’s own Climate Assessment Report.

Meanwhile, Alaska Senator and fossil fuel lobbyist Lisa Murkowski has on the one hand stated that it is time for her Republican party to take ACD seriously, while at the same time salivating over the fact that more than a million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are now set to be opened for drilling.

High-temperature records were set this February from Atlantic City to Manchester to Wilmington, among dozens of other cities.

More news on the reality front comes from US intelligence agencies. While the Trump administration continues its denial antics, the agencies have warned that ACD is bound to fuel disasters and violent conflicts around the world. In their recently released annual summary of global threats, the agencies warned that ACD and other associated environmental trends “are likely to fuel economic and social discontent — and possibly upheaval — through 2018.”

Also on the reality front, Michigan utility Consumers Energy has announced it will phase out its electrical production from coal by the year 2040 in an effort to slash emissions of greenhouse gases.

While it is always a positive sign to see at least some government agencies, politicians and companies acknowledging the reality of ACD and the need to work toward mitigation, anything short of a massive, global, government-coordinated, immediate, full-scale effort will not be enough to sufficiently confront the climate crisis.

(Photo: Ghost Presenter; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Ghost Presenter; Edited: LW / TO)

A group of polar scientists recently met in New Orleans to share information and provide an update on the status of the Arctic.

Their prognosis was dire. The Arctic is often seen as the world’s archetypal freezer, but that is now a thing of the past. The entire region is now on a trajectory toward an ice-free state.

In releasing its annual report on the Arctic, Arctic Report Card 2017, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made several very clear assessments.

The headline statement of the report states that the Arctic environmental system has reached a “‘new normal,’ characterized by long-term losses in the extent and thickness of sea ice cover, the extent and duration of the winter snow cover and the mass of ice in the Greenland Ice Sheet and Arctic glaciers, and warming sea surface and permafrost temperatures.”

“New Arctic”

In its report, NOAA coined the term “New Arctic” to describe the region, as it is being changed so dramatically by anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).

The report also states unequivocally in a headline that, “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades.”

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

Highlights of the report include the fact that the average surface temperature for the year ending in September 2017 was the second warmest since 1900. Sea ice cover continues to be younger and thinner, with older, thicker sea ice comprising only 21 percent of the ice cover in 2017 as compared to 45 percent in 1985.

Also noted is the fact that during this past August, the sea surface temperatures in the Barents and Chukchi seas were up to 4°C warmer than average, which caused a delay in the autumn freeze-up across those regions. Meanwhile, Arctic permafrost is experiencing record-breaking warming.

“The unprecedented rate and global reach of Arctic change disproportionally affect the people of northern communities,” the report states, “further pressing the need to prepare for and adapt to the new Arctic.”

Several graphics are included in the report, and tell the story: For example, the last graphic shows Air Temperature Rank By Month, and each year, starting roughly in 2005, shows the vast majority of those months to be some of the warmest ever recorded.

In an interview with NPR, Jeremy Mathis, who directs NOAA’s Arctic Program, said “there is no normal” anymore. “The environment is changing so quickly in such a short amount of time that we can’t quite get a handle on what this new state is going to look like,” he said. “The rate of change is unprecedented in at least the last 1,500 years and probably going back even further than that. Not only are we seeing big changes, we’re seeing the pace of that change begin to increase.”

Given the NOAA report shows that in 2017 the Arctic experienced its second-warmest year on record, along with the smallest winter sea ice coverage on record, some Inuit people are using the word “uggianaqtuq” to describe what they are seeing. The word means “to behave strangely.”

And what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.

Research published in early December 2017 showed that the loss of Arctic sea ice causes climate shifts that have increased the severity of droughts in California, as well as shifting storm patterns across the Northern Pacific. The reduction in sea ice coverage has also disrupted the flow of energy toward the Arctic from the tropics, which has led to warmer-than-normal waters just north of the equator.

It is clear that planetary climate patterns are deeply disrupted, and NOAA’s report shows that this will only intensify as the Arctic region continues its meltdown.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

A battle is brewing with Russia over the Arctic, and the US is outnumbered

The changing climate has created a new frontier in the Arctic, but as the world’s major powers scramble to take advantage, the U.S. is at risk of falling dangerously behind.

Melting ice has made vast amounts of mineral and energy reserves available for the first time in modern history. As many as 90 billion barrels of oil, the equivalent of 5.9 percent of the world’s known reserves, are up for grabs. That’s more than twice what Russia currently owns, and more than three times what the U.S. has available. The future opportunities could be crucial to the national interest, but the U.S. presence in the region is sorely outnumbered by Russia, according to Coast Guard commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft.

“So the numbers are roughly 40 to 2,” Zukunft told me in an interview regarding U.S. versus Russian icebreaker ship presence. “So if I was playing basketball, those are not good numbers … you are far outnumbered when it comes to having any presence in the Arctic.”

Icebreakers are tailor-made to smash through the tough Arctic ice that cuts off most ships. More icebreakers means more access, and the Russians have a lot more than the U.S. does. To make matters worse, Russia is also staking claim to much of the region.

“Russia has claimed most of the Arctic Ocean up to the North Pole,” explained Zukunft. “Which to me looks like they want to deny access by others.”

Russia is also in the midst of developing new Corvette-class icebreakers that can carry deadly cruise missiles.

“We have no surface presence really to counter a threat like that,” said Zukunft. “But if we have sovereign interests at stake, we might need to look at an icebreaker of the 21st century that we can retrofit with a modular weapons system so we can at least stand our own ground.”

Even if the U.S. were to increase its icebreaker presence, it could still run into some issues with international law. Russia, along with most countries, is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a 1982 agreement which outlined guidelines for how nations can use the world’s oceans. The U.S. participated in the convention, but has yet to sign the agreement.

A treaty requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate for ratification, and conservatives have historically been apprehensive on acquiescing to the convention due to concerns that it may restrict U.S. sovereignty. But James Kraska, an international law expert with the U.S. Naval War College, has argued that joining could empower the U.S. position by giving it a solid legal framework from which to gather ocean resources.

Zukunft believes that signing onto the convention would be a positive step when it comes to staking a U.S. claim in the Arctic, but even with the legal backing, the Coast Guard could use some financial help from Congress.

“They already know what they need,” noted Zukunft, with a smile. “We need to grow our budget by five percent ever year.”

It’s a modest request for a force that is responsible for a litany of jobs along the nation’s massive coast line and beyond. With the increase, Zukunft can build the new icebreakers, ships and unmanned aerial vehicles the services needs. He can also expand his workforce and hire back 1,100 reservists that were cut due to budget constraints.

“Not a big ask for a service that is only funded at $10.5 billion to begin with,” said Zukunft. “That would put the Coast Guard where it needs to be in the 21st century.”

Over 15,748 Seal Pups Killed in 3 Days

http://www.all-creatures.org/articles/ar-15,748-seal-pups-killed.html

An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM

HarpSeals.org
April 2017

Sealers have killed 15,748 harp seal pups in just 3 days.

canadian seal hunt

Sealers have killed 15,748 harp seal pups in just 3 days. These seal pups are just a few weeks old, and many are just learning how to swim. Sealers on a killing spree of this magnitude will almost certainly neglect to carefully check whether all the seals they have shot and/or beatened are really dead before dragging them onto their boats and/or skinning them.

seal mother and baby

The Canadian government continues to stand by this ‘industry’, claming that it is important to Atlantic Canada and the fishermen who participate in this massacre. In reality, it represents a tiny fraction of the provincial economies of Newfoundland and Quebec, where most of the sealers come from, and just a small percentage of each sealer’s income.

Please take action.

1. Distribute leaflets where you live. Send us an email with the number of leaflets that you want and your mailing address – contact@harpseals.org .

2. Organize or participate in a protest. Let us know if you are interested in either organizing or participating. We will help bring activists together – contact@harpseals.org .

3. Send emails and/or write letters to Canadian government officials and tourism industry officials and also to the Chinese government, to urge the country to ban seal product imports – Find that information at  http://www.harpseals.org/help/letters_and_emails/index.php

4. Boycott Canadian seafood and tourism.