July 3 (UPI) — The problem of thawing permafrost is worse than climate scientists thought. New research suggests previous studies have underestimated the rate at which thawing permafrost is releasing carbon into the atmosphere.
Thawing permafrost is one of the many negative feedback loops caused by global warming. As temperatures rise, more and more frozen tundra melts, releasing previously trapped carbon into the atmosphere and accelerating climate change.
The new findings build on researchers’ ongoing efforts to track carbon storage and carbon cycling in Arctic ecosystems.
In this Aug. 10, 2009, photo, a hill of permafrost “slumping” from global warming near the remote, boggy fringe of North America, 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) from the North Pole, where researchers are learning more about methane seeps in the 25,000 lakes of this vast Mackenzie River Delta, in the Northwest Territories, Canada. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
“This study was novel because we used new methods to directly track the soil carbon losses, and they were much higher than we previously thought,” Ted Schuur, a professor of ecology at Northern Arizona University, said in a news release. “This suggests that not only is carbon being lost through greenhouse gases directly to the atmosphere but also dissolved in waters that flow through the soil and likely carried carbon into streams, leaves and rivers.”
Scientists established a consistent relationship between the amount of carbon and ash content in the Alaskan soil, allowing them to use the soil’s mineralogy as a proxy for tracking soil carbon changes over time.
The approach revealed an annual loss of 5 percent of soil carbon.
The study is bad news for the planet’s carbon reserves, more than a third of which are located in frozen tundra. Researchers estimate 5 to 15 percent of the soil carbon sequestered in permafrost could be relinquished to atmosphere by the end of the century — a development that would no doubt lead to accelerated warming.
“Our results demonstrate the potential for repeated measurements that quantify changes in soil carbon across the entire permafrost region to better understand its environmental fate,” researchers wrote in the new study, published this week in the journal Nature Geosciece. “An effort such as this is a critical and currently overlooked link to determine the magnitude of the terrestrial permafrost carbon to climate change.”
Carbon dioxide levels from approximately 1750 to present. (Scripps Institute of Oceanography)Over the weekend, the climate system sounded simultaneous alarms. Near the entrance to the Arctic Ocean in northwest Russia, the temperature surged to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 Celsius). Meanwhile, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eclipsed 415 parts per million for the first time in human history.
By themselves, these are just data points. But taken together with so many indicators of an altered atmosphere and rising temperatures, they blend into the unmistakable portrait of human-induced climate change.
Saturday’s steamy 84-degree reading was posted in Arkhangelsk, Russia, where the average high temperature is around 54 this time of year. The city of 350,000 people sits next to the White Sea, which feeds into the Arctic Ocean’s Barents Sea.
In Koynas, a rural area to the east of Arkhangelsk, it was even hotter on Sunday, soaring to 87 degrees (31 Celsius). Many locations in Russia, from the Kazakhstan border to the White Sea, set record-high temperatures over the weekend, some 30 to 40 degrees (around 20 Celsius) above average. The warmth also bled west into Finland, which hit 77 degrees (25 Celsius) Saturday, the country’s warmest temperature of the season so far.
The abnormally warm conditions in this region stemmed from a bulging zone of high pressure centered over western Russia. This particular heat wave, while a manifestation of the arrangement of weather systems and fluctuations in the jet stream, fits into what has been an unusually warm year across the Arctic and most of the mid-latitudes.
These changes all have occurred against the backdrop of unremitting increases in carbon dioxide, which has now crossed another symbolic threshold.
Saturday’s carbon dioxide measurement of 415 parts per million at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory is the highest in at least 800,000 years and probably over 3 million years. Carbon dioxide levels have risen by nearly 50 percent since the Industrial Revolution.
The clip at which carbon dioxide has built up in the atmosphere has risen in recent years. Ralph Keeling, director of the program that monitors the gas at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, tweeted that its accumulation in the last year is “on the high end.”
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that, along with the rise of several other such heat-trapping gases, is the primary cause of climate warming in recent decades, scientists have concluded.
The frozen coastline of a Canadian Arctic island is eroding at up to a metre a day as a warming climate leads to longer summers, new research has found.
Researchers say the rate of collapse they found is six times faster than the average for the previous 65 years.
“Big chunks of land were breaking away and waves were eating them away,” said the study’s co-author Isla Myers-Smith, a geoscientist at the University of Edinburgh. “They were often gone by the next day.”
A researcher inspects the coastline of Herschel Island-Qikiqtaruk in the Yukon. (Photo: Gergana Daskalova)
Myers-Smith was part of an international team that flew drone-mounted cameras to survey the tundra coast of Herschel Island, also known as Qikiqtaruk, off the Yukon coast in the Canadian Arctic. It is an unoccupied but historically significant island of about 116 square kilometres.
The researchers determined that summer storms are sweeping away coastal permafrost at a higher rate because it is being exposed for longer periods. Sea ice melts earlier and re-forms around the island later than it used to due to climate change, the researchers explain in their article published in the journal The Cryosphere.
Researchers mapped the area seven times over 40 days in the summer of 2017 and built computer models based on drone photos. They showed that the coast had retreated by an astounding 14.5 metres during the period, sometimes as much as a metre a day.
Researchers also compared the results with surveys taken between 1952 and 2011 that showed the 2017 rate of erosion was more than six times the historical average for the area.
The research team included university researchers, government scientists, and local park rangers from England, Germany, Netherlands, the United States and Canada, along with community members who live and work in the Arctic.
A Vancouver native, Myers-Smith has been travelling to Herschel Island-Qikiqtaruk to study plants since 2008 and has spent every summer there since 2013. She leaves again for the island in a few weeks.
The research team – dubbed Team Shrub – was studying changes in vegetation in 2017 when it witnessed big shifts in the coastline that it hadn’t seen in previous years, she told CTVNews.ca.
While coastal erosion is natural and inevitable, it’s important to document the rate, she says. Similar acceleration has been found along the Alaska coast.
“As the Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of our planet, we need to learn more about how these landscapes are changing,” said study lead Andrew Cunliffe, a geography researcher at the University of Exeter.
“Using drones could help researchers and local communities improve monitoring and prediction of future changes in the region.”
Herschel Island-Qikiqtaruk is uniquely suited to study because there has been a history of ecological documentation and it is located above the treeline but south of the extreme Arctic.
“Scientists expect to see lots of ecological change there,” said Myers-Smith.
The island’s Pauline Cove was at one time a significant settlement for Indigenous people and later served as a community for European and American whalers starting in the late 1800s. It was also an outpost for the Hudson’s Bay Company between 1915 and 1937. The island continues to be used by the Inuvialuit for hunting and fishing but the last permanent, year-round residents left in 1987.
A dozen structures survive on the island, including Indigenous sod homes and whaling buildings, which continue to be threatened by coastal erosion. It’s also home to a territorial park.
In 2008, the World Monuments Fund placed Herschel Island on its 100 Most Endangered Sites watch list, citing rising sea levels, eroding coastline and melting permafrost as imminent threats.
We’ve never experienced anything like this: We are living with the full knowledge of our collapsing biosphere and watching huge portions of it vanishing before our very eyes. Meanwhile, the industrial growth society (as eco-philosopher, author and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy calls it) continues to grind on, and this veneer of normalcy persists one more day.
Yet simultaneously, a great awakening is occurring. Millions of people around the world are rising to protect what remains, working to mitigate the damage and to adapt to the drastically changing world. They are working to hold space for that which, despite seemingly overwhelming odds, may continue in the wake of this great collapse.
I have been giving a lot of lectures lately about the climate catastrophe that is upon us, and have increasingly been led to discuss grief. My own experience has shown me that only by facing what is happening head on, and allowing my heart to break, can I begin to respond accordingly.
“Refusing to feel pain, and becoming incapable of feeling the pain, which is actually the root meaning of apathy, refusal to suffer, that makes us stupid, and half alive,” Macy told me in an interview. She described how that refusal to feel pain doesn’t mute the sense that there is something wrong — so people simply take that sense and project anxieties elsewhere, usually onto marginalized communities.
“Not feeling the pain is extremely costly,” Macy said.
Look out into the world, right now, the proof of what she said is surrounding us — starting in the White House, and filtering down throughout the dominant colonialist society.
Macy created a framework for personal and social change called the Work That Reconnects, and gives workshops on how to apply the framework. In these workshops and in our conversations, Macy has repeated this to me: “The most radical thing any of us can do at this time is to be fully present to what is happening in the world.”
And so, over the years, I’ve aimed to be fully present, and I’ve had my heart broken, and I’ve now had enough practice at this that I have seen, repeatedly, the transformational qualities of despair and grief. In the face of our overwhelming climate and political crises, that grief is transformed into a new clarity of vision, and a depth of passion for action that was previously inaccessible.
“It brings a new way of seeing the world as our larger living body, freeing us from the assumptions and attitudes that now threaten the continuity of life on earth,” Macy has told me of this experience.
So, dear reader, I urge you to find your own work that reconnects — or to find another way to ground yourself, as you read on, and as we each travel through another crises-ridden day into an increasingly bleak future.
That future is perhaps most visible at the poles. Greenland is melting much faster than previously understood, as melting has increased six-fold in recent decades, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We wanted to get a long precise record of mass balance in Greenland that included the transition when the climate of the planet started to drift off natural variability, which occurred in the 1980s,” study co-author Eric Rignottold CNN. “The study places the recent (20 years) evolution in a broader context to illustrate how dramatically the mass loss has been increasing in Greenland in response to climate warming.” Rignot added, “As glaciers will continue to speed up and ice/snow melt from the top, we can foresee a continuous increase in the rate of mass loss, and a contribution to sea level rise that will continue to increase more rapidly every year.”
The study also shows how sea level rise is accelerating, and will continue to do so with each passing year, as the effects compound upon themselves.
Permafrost in the Arctic is now thawing so fast that scientists are literally losing their measuring equipment. This is due to the fact that instead of there being just a few centimeters of thawing each year, now several meters of soil can become destabilized in a matter of days.
Adding insult to injury, another study revealed that this permafrost collapse is further accelerating the release of carbon into the atmosphere, possibly even doubling the amount of warming coming from greenhouse gases released from the tundra.
The recent U.N. report showing that one million species are now in danger of going extinct has grave implications for the future of humanity. Human society is under urgent threat because the global ecosystem upon which we depend is, quite literally, under threat of unraveling.
“The health of the ecosystems on which we and other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,” Robert Watson, the chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), told The Guardian.
Disconcertingly, since 2001 forests in Canada have released more carbon than they have sequestered. This is due largely to climate disruption-fueled drought, higher temperatures and wildfires. To give you an idea of what this means: In 2015 Canada’s forests emitted the equivalent of 231 million metric tons of CO2. By comparison, the total population of the city of Calgary emitted 18.3 million metric tons of CO2, merely a fraction of the amount released by the forests, largely via drought and wildfires.
Following ongoing protests and pressure from the activist organization Extinction Rebellion, the Welsh Government recently declared a “climate emergency,” noting that Wales’s health, economy, infrastructure and natural environment are all under threat from the impacts of human-caused climate disruption.
Around the same time, the Republic of Ireland also declared a climate and biodiversity emergency. Green Party leader Eamon Ryan told the BBC that “declaring an emergency means absolutely nothing unless there is action to back it up. That means the Government having to do things they don’t want to do.”
In Canada, the Ottawa city council has declared a climate emergency, joining several other Canadian municipalities in announcing the declaration. The vote freed up a quarter of a million dollars to be used to accelerate studies around moving the city onto renewable energy and meeting greenhouse gas emission targets.
The town of Old Crow, Yukon, also declared a climate state of emergencyas well. “It’s going to be the blink of an eye before my great grandchild is living in a completely different territory, and if that’s not an emergency, I don’t know what is,” Dana Tizya-Tramm, chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, told the CBC following a ceremony marking Old Crow’s declaration of the state of emergency. “Everything is changing right in front of our eyes.”
In the U.S., Mike Rosmann, a clinical psychologist working with farmers, wrote a heartbreaking article for The New Republic about depression among farmers in the wake of historic flooding that ravaged the Midwest. Rosmann detailed the psychological and personal pain he is experiencing while working with suicidal farmers, as the direct human toll of climate disruption becomes more apparent in the U.S.
Meanwhile, the refugee crisis from rising seas and extreme weather events continues apace in Bangladesh. Already one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to sea level rise, it is now estimated that more than 10 million people there are estimated to lose their livelihoods in the next decade. The larger cities are already overwhelmed with the number of people streaming into them from the submerging coastal areas.
Climate disruption-amplified, flood-inducing extreme weather events continue to make their mark around the planet.
In Canada, experts warned that climate disruption will continue to exacerbate extreme flooding across parts of the country. Thousands of people across Eastern Canada were forced to evacuate their homes due to flooding as the second of two “100-year-floods” struck Quebec in the last three years.
In the U.S., things are no better. After a $14 billion dollar upgrade in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’s levees are sinking, due to sea level rise and ground subsidence, and will be rendered “inadequate” within four years.
Just after the U.S. wrapped up its wettest 12 months on record, storms dumped enormous rainfalls across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Scientists warned that the extreme weather Houston is currently experiencing is no anomaly — it is what the area can expect regularly from now on.
Record-breaking spring high temperatures across the Pacific Northwest has people in the Seattle region worried about drought as intense heat in May has caused the snowpack (at only 58 percent of normal anyway) across Washington state to melt away far more rapidly than normal. “When you look at some of the snow packs in some of the basins, it looks like they are doing a swan dive off a cliff,” Jeff Marti, a state Ecology Department official, told The Seattle Times. Washington Governor Jay Inslee has already issued drought-emergency declarations in the Okanogan, Methow and upper Yakima watersheds, due to the low snow pack in the mountains.
Experts recently warned that the Hawaiian Islands are under severe threat from rising sea levels. The iconic Waikiki Beach and other well-known areas of the islands will experience chronic flooding and could disappear underwater forever within the next 15-20 years.
Scientists also recently announced that global sea levels could reach a two-meter rise by 2100 — the warning effectively doubles the previous worst-case scenario provided by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 2013. This new warning means that large portions of numerous major coastal cities will be completely submerged, according to Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol. “If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable,” Bamber told The New Scientist.
In the icy realms of Earth, things continue to deteriorate rapidly.
Scientists recently announced that a major breeding ground for emperor penguins has gone barren since 2016. This means that virtually nothing has hatched in the area, which is the second largest breeding ground for the penguins in the Antarctic, and things are looking just as bleak for this year.
Scientists have also found what they call “extraordinary thinning” of ice sheets deep within Antarctica. The affected areas are losing ice five times faster than they did during the 1990s, with some areas having lost 100 meters of thickness. A quarter of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is now considered unstable. The Northwest section of the Ross Ice Shelf, which bounds the WAIS and is the size of France, is melting 10 times faster than the global average. According to one 2016 study, if all of the WAIS melts, 17 feet of global sea level rise is projected to be the result.
Up in the Arctic, things are just as bad. April saw a new record low in Arctic sea ice extent.
Another report revealed how thawing permafrost across the Arctic will amount to a $70 trillion impact. Methane and CO2 released from the thawing will accelerate global warming by amplifying it nearly 5 percent.
Additionally, yet another recent permafrost study has revealed widespread degradation of it across the high Arctic terrain, to an extent worse than previously understood.
On the other side of the water spectrum, drought has impaired shippingthrough the Panama Canal, whose waters have precipitously lowered. The canal level is not connected to sea levels, hence drought conditions are impacting the functionality of the critical shipping lane. Panama’s canal authority recently had to impose draft limits on ships using the canal. This means that heavily laden cargo ships, namely from the U.S. and China, had to pass through with less of their cargo.
Just four months into 2019, the U.K. had already had more large wildfires than it had during the entirety of 2018. Rescue personnel stated that the scale and duration of the fires had already been a huge draw on fire and rescue service resources.
In Germany, the risk of wildfires has spiked amidst ongoing drought and high temperatures across most of the country.
Back in the U.S., the wildfires that ravaged California last year were the most expensive in the state’s history, totaling $12 billion in damages. More than 80 people were killed in the fires, in addition to them leaving large areas of toxic waste that needs to now be remediated.
A recent report shows how much warmer cities across the U.S. will be within one generation (by 2050).
“Every season in every city and town in America will shift, subtly or drastically, as average temperatures creep up, along with highs and lows,” reported Vox, which released the report. “Some of those changes — like summers in the Southwest warming by 4°F on average — will mean stretches of days where it’s so hot, it’ll be dangerous to go outside. Heat waves around the country could last up to a month.”
Meanwhile, Earth’s CO2 levels, for the first time in human history, reached 415 parts per million. The last time there was this much CO2 in the atmosphere, global average temperatures averaged between 4°C to 10°C warmer than they are today, depending on the location around the planet.
Denial and Reality
The U.S. is now one of the world’s leaders when it comes to climate change denial. A recent polling of the 23 largest countries in the world found that 13 percent of Americans believe the climate is being disrupted but that humans are not the cause, in addition to another 5 percent of Americans who believe the climate is not changing at all. The only other countries that are more anti-science than the U.S. are Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, according to the survey.
This information shouldn’t be a total shock, given the ongoing denialist machinations of the Trump administration, which recently objected to having “climate change” even referenced in a U.S. statement for the Arctic Council. Additionally, Trump’s EPA head was recently asked to back up his absurdly anti-science claim that climate disruption is still “50 to 75 years out.”
Adding fuel to the denial fire, Trump’s interior secretary recently told lawmakers that he hasn’t “lost sleep” over the record CO2 levels in the atmosphere. It’s worth remembering that the U.S. is responsible for emitting more CO2 into the atmosphere than any other country on Earth.
On the other hand, nearly half of younger Americans (between the ages of 18 to 29 years) believe human-caused climate disruption is a “crisis” and demand “urgent action,” according to a recent poll.
Another poll found that more than 80 percent of parents in the U.S. want climate disruption taught in the schools of their children. Among all parents, two-thirds of Republicans and nine out of every 10 Democrats agreed the subject should be taught in school.
With the ongoing acceleration of the climate crisis, it is clear that even if we believe the best-case scenarios, governments are not reacting according to the gravity of the situation at hand. Each one of us, knowing what we now know, must take full responsibility for preparing ourselves for the adaptation required to live on this increasingly warming, melting world as civilizations and societies continue to disintegrate.
Thousands of seabirds starved to death in the Bering Sea — and scientists see evidence of climate change
In a paper published Wednesday, researchers theorize the die-off is at least partially attributable to the changing climate.
Dead whales examined so far have been malnourished, and the current hypothesis is the animals failed to eat enough last year in their summering grounds in the Bering and Chukchi seas off Alaska, Milstein said.
Feeding grounds in Alaska
That is where they do most of their annual feeding and where they pack on the fat that sustains them until the next summer, he said.
“People think that clearly something happened up there that led the whales to not get as much food,” Milstein said. “Given that they put on the bulk of their weight in the summer season up there, the die is sort of cast there.”
Atmospheric researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) have developed a climate model that can accurately depict the frequently observed winding course of the jet stream, a major air current over the Northern Hemisphere. The breakthrough came when the scientists combined their global climate model with a new machine learning algorithm on ozone chemistry. Using the combined model, they demonstrate that the jet stream’s wavelike course in winter and subsequent extreme weather conditions like cold air outbreaks in Central Europe and North America are the direct result of climate change. Their findings were published in Scientific Reports on 28 May 2019.
For years, climate researchers around the globe have been investigating the question as to whether the jet stream’s winding course over the Northern Hemisphere—observed with increasing frequency in recent years—is a product of climatechange, or a random phenomenon that can be traced back to natural variations in the climate system. The term “jet stream” refers to a powerful band of westerly winds over the middle latitudes, which push major weather systems from west to east. These winds whip around the planet at an altitude of roughly 10 kilometers, are driven by temperature differences between the tropics and the Arctic, and in the past, often reached top speeds of up to 500 kilometers per hour.
But these days, as observations confirm, the winds are increasingly faltering. They blow less often along a straight course parallel to the Equator; instead, they sweep across the Northern Hemisphere in massive waves. In turn, during the winter, these waves produce unusual intrusions of cold air from the Arctic into the middle latitudes—like the extreme cold that struck the Midwest of the U.S. in late January 2019. In the summer, a weakened jet stream leads to prolonged heat waves and dry conditions, like those experienced in Europe in e.g. 2003, 2006, 2015 and 2018.
Machine learning allows climate model to grasp the role of ozone
These fundamental connections have been known for some time. Nevertheless, researchers hadn’t succeeded in realistically portraying the jet stream’s wavering course in climate models or demonstrating a connection between the faltering winds and global climate change. Atmospheric researchers at the AWI in Potsdam have now passed that hurdle by supplementing their global climate model with an innovative component for ozone chemistry. “We’ve developed a machine learning algorithm that allows us to represent the ozone layer as an interactive element in the model, and in so doing, to reflect the interactions from the stratosphere and ozone layer,” says first author and AWI atmospheric researcher Erik Romanowsky. “With the new model system we can now realistically reproduce the observed changes in the jet stream.”
According to the team’s findings, sea-ice retreat and the accompanying increased activity of atmospheric waves are creating a significant, ozone-amplified warming of the polar stratosphere. Since the low polar temperatures form the jet stream’s motor, the rising temperatures in the stratosphere are causing it to falter. In turn, this weakening of the jet stream is now spreading downward from the stratosphere, producing weather extremes.
The weakened jet stream is due to climate change
In addition, with the new model the researchers can also more closely analyze the causes of the meandering jet stream. “Our study shows that the changes in the jet stream are at least partly due to the loss of Arctic sea ice. If the ice cover continues to dwindle, we believe that both the frequency and intensity of the extreme weather events previously observed in the middle latitudes will increase,” says Prof Markus Rex, Head of Atmospheric Research at the AWI. “In addition, our findings confirm that the more frequently occurring cold phases in winter in the U.S., Europe and Asia are by no means a contradiction to global warming; rather, they are a part of anthropogenic climate change.”
The team’s efforts also represent a significant technological advance: “After the successful use of machine learning in this study, we are now for the first time employing artificial intelligence in climate modeling, helping us arrive at more realistic climate model systems. This holds tremendous potential for future climate models, which we believe will deliver more reliable climate projections and therefore a more robust basis for political decision-making,” says Markus Rex.
During the Arctic expedition MOSAiC, which will begin in September and during which the German research icebreaker Polarstern will drift through the Central Arctic along with the sea ice for an entire year, the researchers plan to gather the latest ice and atmospheric data. This will help them apply the new climate model to the future, so as to simulate the future development of the Arctic climate and sea ice. As Markus Rex explains, “Our goal is to understand in detail how the Arctic sea-ice retreat will progress—because only then will we be able to gauge how and on what scale the changes in the Arctic will lead to weather extremes in the middle latitudes.”
Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeocalled out Russian and Chinese activities and intentions in the Arctic, shocking his fellow foreign ministers at the biannual meeting of the Arctic Council, the premier regional forum for Arctic matters.
Pompeo disturbed a norm that had held since the council’s 1996 founding. For over 20 years Arctic states have attempted to compartmentalize Arctic cooperation on scientific research, environmental protection, fisheries management and search and rescue protocols — avoiding hard-power competition in military security and trade.
Pompeo’s speech peeled back the veneer of cooperation to expose the underlying great power competitionthat has been building for the past five years.
Though as early as 2015 Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende predicted the Arctic will not remain compartmentalized from broader geopolitical concerns, historians may remember Pompeo’s speech as the start of an emerging “great game” between and among the United States, Russia and China in the Arctic; perhaps even as the start of a new cold war (no pun intended).
Why would Pompeo do this and jeopardize the cooperative spirit among Arctic states? The answer is that the Trump administration — like the regime of Vladimir Putin in Russia and the Xi Jinping government in China — sees the world through realist, zero-sum glasses.
The Chinese need to sustain economic growth. One way to do that is to improve their access to natural resources, particularly energy, rare-earth minerals and sea-based protein. They also would like to develop an alternative shipping route from Europe to Asia that is not dependent on the Straits of Malacca or the Suez Canal, areas with a heavy U.S. naval presence.
Chinese actions in the Arctic are consistent with these goals. They are investing heavily in Russia’s natural gas fields in the Yamal Peninsula, mining in Greenland, and real estate, alternative energy and fisheries in Iceland. They are building icebreakers and ice-hardened ships to ply Arctic waters. And they are asserting themselves into international debates over Arctic governance, most recently by calling themselves a “near-Arctic” state.
Russia’s status as a great power is largely contingent on what they do in the Arctic. Their economy is heavily dependent on exporting oil and gas, much of which comes from their Arctic territory. Their fleet of nuclear-armed submarines is based in Murmansk, above the Arctic Circle. And they see the Northern Sea Route (NSR), a shipping channel along the Siberian coast, as a potential revenue source as well as an area that needs to be protected from oil spills and controlled from a military security perspective.
Russian actions in the Arctic arguably are consistent with these interests. They developed the Yamal natural gas fields with Chinese assistance. They refurbished or created military bases near Murmansk and along the NSR, and deployed what they claim are defensive weapons and search and rescue capabilities to those bases. They passed laws to tightly regulate who can use the NSR and how they can do so, and argue that those laws are justified by section 234 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Parts of the U.S. national security community see these developments with alarm. The security of the United States and its allies depends on preventing regional hegemony or coercion by hostile powers. Economic prosperity depends on the protection of the global commons.
In the Arctic, U.S. security interests are closely linked to allies’ and partner nations’ freedom from both coercion and threats to their territorial integrity. U.S. economic interests are closely linked to the maintenance of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) for resource extraction, and to regional freedom of navigation in Arctic international waters.
From a power-politics perspective, Chinese and Russian actions in the Arctic put U.S. security and economic interests at risk.
There is near-consensus in the United States that Russia challenges the international order through its actions in Ukraine, its remilitarization of its northern and eastern provinces, and its repeated infringements on Nordic and Baltic states’ airspace and territorial waters. From a U.S. security perspective, then, Russia’s Arctic buildup seems less defensive and more like the precursor to unilateral control of an international shipping route and an attempt to intimidate neighboring Scandinavian states.
The United States, like much of the western international community, increasingly is alarmed by China’s use of predatory loans to build infrastructure across the developing world, and then to control that infrastructure when borrowers default. Many are alarmed by China’s questionable environmental record when it comes to resource extraction. Moreover, many in the security community see China as actively trying to undermine the U.S.-led international order.
These officials see Chinese investment in Greenland’s mines as an attempt to corner the market on rare-earth minerals, to say nothing of being a recipe for environmental disaster. In a worst-case scenario, a Chinese-backed Greenland someday could even reconsider allowing the U.S. access to the Thule early warning and missile tracking facility, and use the facility for Chinese submarines instead. These officials see Chinese investment in Iceland as an attempt to lock in access to Arctic shipping route infrastructure, and even as a way to peel away a NATO ally. They see China’s attempt to change the governance narrative in the Arctic as a challenge to Arctic state control of their territories and EEZs.
Secretary Pompeo’s remarks should come as no surprise. They are consistent with a realist, power-politics perspective, and with the Trump administration’s emphasis on “America first” in an era of great power competition with the potential for great power conflict.
The most recent National Defense Strategy explicitly calls for “expanding the competitive space.” Now that climate change and record ice melt are opening up the Arctic, it is no wonder that competition and power politics has bled into this once pristine region.
Dr. David Auerswald is a professor of security studies at the National War College in Washington, D.C. Col. Terry L. Anderson is a professor of practice at the National War College. He was the U.S. senior defense official in Berlin from 2015-2018.
Note: The views expressed here are those of the authors and not the National War College, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the U.S. government.
The initiative is co-ordinated by the government’s former chief scientific adviser, Prof Sir David King.
“What we do over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years. There is no major centre in the world that would be focused on this one big issue,” he told BBC News.
Some of the approaches described by Sir David are often known collectively as geoengineering.
The Centre for Climate Repair is part of Cambridge university’s Carbon Neutral Futures Initiative, led by Dr Emily Shuckburgh.
She, said the initiative’s mission would be to “solve the climate problem”.
“It has to be. And we can’t fail on it,” she said.
It will bring together scientists and engineers with social scientists.
“This really is one of the most important challenges of our time, and we know we need to be responding to it with all our efforts,” Dr Shuckburgh told BBC News.
Refreezing the poles
One of the most promising ideas for refreezing the poles is to “brighten” the clouds above them.
The idea is to pump seawater up to tall masts on uncrewed ships through very fine nozzles.
This produces tiny particles of salt which are injected into the clouds, which makes them more widespread and reflective, and so cool the areas below them.
Another new approach is a variant of an idea called carbon capture and storage (CCS).
CCS involves collecting carbon dioxide emissions from coal or gas fired power stations or steel plants and storing it underground.
Prof Peter Styring, of the University of Sheffield, is developing a carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) pilot scheme with Tata Steel in Port Talbot in South Wales which effectively recycles CO2.
The scheme involves setting up a plant on-site which converts the firm’s carbon emissions into fuel using the plant’s waste heat, according to Prof Styring.
“We have a source of hydrogen, we have a source of carbon dioxide, we have a source of heat and we have a source of renewable electricity from the plant,” he told BBC News.
“We’re going to harness all those and we’re going to make synthetic fuels.”
Other ideas the centre would explore include greening the oceans so they can take up more CO2.
Such schemes involve fertilising the sea with iron salts which promote the growth of plankton.
But according to Prof Callum Roberts of York University, approaches that are currently thought beyond the pale now have to be considered and, if possible, made to work.
This is because the alternative of damaging and potentially irreversible climate change is considered beyond the pale.
“Early in my career, people threw their hands up in horror at suggestions of more interventionist solutions to fix coral reefs,” Prof Roberts said.
“Now they are looking in desperation at an ecosystem that will be gone at the end of the century and now all options are on the table”.
The options include genetically engineering heat-resistant coral or dumping chemicals into the sea to make the sea less acidic.
“At the moment, I happen to think that harnessing nature to mitigate climate change is a better way to go. But I do see the legitimacy of exploring [more radical] options as a means of steering us towards a better future,” Prof Roberts said.
Thinking the unthinkable
Such ideas have many potential downsides and may prove to be unfeasible.
But Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, said that they should be properly assessed to see if the downsides can be overcome, because he believes that reduction of CO2 emissions on its own won’t be enough.
“If we reduce our emissions all we are doing is making the global climate warmer a bit more slowly. That is no good because it’s already too warm and we have already got too much CO2 in the atmosphere,” Prof Wadhams said.
“So climate repair can actually take it out of the atmosphere. We can get the level down below what it is now and actually cool the climate bringing it back to what it was before global warming,” he added.
ROVANIEMI, Finland — Under pressure from the United States, the Arctic Council issued a short joint statement on Tuesday that excluded any mention of climate change.
It was the first time since its formation in 1996 that the council had been unable to issue a joint declaration spelling out its priorities. As an international organization made up of eight Arctic countries and representatives of indigenous groups in the region, its stated mission is cooperation on Arctic issues, particularly the protection of the region’s fragile environment.
According to diplomats involved in the negotiations, at issue was the United States’ insistence not to mention the latest science on climate change or the Paris Agreement aimed at averting its worst effects. The omission is especially notable because scientists have warned that the Arctic is heating up far faster than the world average because of rising greenhouse gas emissions.
Foreign Minister Timo Soini of Finland, the council’s outgoing chairman, made it clear, without naming names, that resistance to climate action was a minority opinion.
“A majority of us regarded climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic and acknowledged the urgent need to take mitigation and adaptation actions and to strengthen resilience,” Mr. Soini said in his 10-page statement.
The isolation of the United States could not be laid out more starkly, and that, too, in a forum made up mostly of staunch allies like Canada and Denmark.
That statement detailed the council’s work on a variety of topics, including marine pollution and helping Arctic communities adapt to the thawing of permafrost.
The statement also said most council members had welcomed the Paris Agreement and “noted with concern” the findings of a United Nations scientific panel that warned of worsening food shortages as soon as 2040 without a drastic transformation of the world economy.
Negotiations over competing versions of a declaration that every country could agree to have taken weeks. Arctic Council statements are issued on the basis of consensus, and an objection from any member country can scuttle adoption.
The statement, along with the chairman’s more detailed report, was finalized at 8 a.m. Tuesday, only two hours before council members gathered for a group photograph.
Mr. Soini said later on Tuesday that he would not call out any member by name for blocking consensus, except that “it is clear climate issues are different from the different viewpoints and from the different capitals.”
Tuesday morning, as the foreign ministers met for their official session, speaker after speaker warned about climate change.
“The effect of climate change is being felt most acutely here,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland of Canada said, referring to the Arctic.
“It’s happening as we speak,” the Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, said, expressing regret that “we did not manage to agree on joint declaration.”
Speakers from the indigenous groups that belong to the council offered the most sustained testimony about living with climate change, speaking of how deteriorating permafrost, wildfires, coastal erosion and melting sea ice had affected communities that have lived in the Arctic for centuries.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the final speaker, said the United States was committed to protecting the “fragile ecosystem” of the Arctic. But he focused much of his speech on concerns about expanding Chinese influence in the region.