Snow chaos in Europe caused by melting sea-ice in the Arctic

by Maja Sojtaric, UiT The Arctic University of Norway

Snow chaos in Europe caused by melting sea-ice in the Arctic
The Finnish Meteorological Institute’s observation station used in the study, Pallas National Park, Arctic Finland. Credit: Jeff Welker

They are diligently stoking thousands of bonfires on the ground close to their crops, but the French winemakers are fighting a losing battle. An above-average warm spell at the end of March has been followed by days of extreme frost, destroying the vines with losses amounting to 90 percent above average. The image of the struggle may well be the most depressingly beautiful illustration of the complexities and unpredictability of global climate warming. It is also an agricultural disaster from Bordeaux to Champagne.

It is the loss of the Arctic sea-ice due to climate warming that has, somewhat paradoxically, been implicated with severe cold and snowy mid-latitude winters.

“Climate change doesn’t always manifest in the most obvious ways. It’s easy to extrapolate models to show that winters are getting warmer and to forecast a virtually snow-free future in Europe, but our most recent study shows that is too simplistic. We should beware of making broad sweeping statements about the impacts of climate change.” Says professor Alun Hubbard from CAGE Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate at UiT The Arctic University of Norway.

Melting Arctic sea ice supplied 88% of the fresh snow

Hubbard is the co-author of a study in Nature Geoscience examining this counter-intuitive climatic paradox: A 50% reduction in Arctic sea-ice cover has increased open-water and winter evaporation to fuel more extreme snowfall further south across Europe.

The study, led by Dr. Hanna Bailey at the University of Oulu, Finland, has more specifically found that the long-term decline of Arctic sea-ice since the late 1970s had a direct connection to one specific weather event: “Beast from the East”—the February snowfall that brought large parts of the European continent to a halt in 2018, causing £1bn a day in losses.

Researchers discovered that atmospheric vapor traveling south from the Arctic carried a unique geochemical fingerprint, revealing that its source was the warm, open-water surface of the Barents Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean between Norway, Russia, and Svalbard. They found that during the “Beast from the East,” open-water conditions in the Barents Sea supplied up to 88% of the corresponding fresh snow that fell over Europe.

Snow chaos in Europe caused by melting sea-ice in the Arctic
Professor Alun Hubbard downloading information from an Automatic Weather Station in the Barents Sea. Credit: Alun Hubbard

Climate warming is lifting the lid off the Arctic Ocean

“What we’re finding is that sea-ice is effectively a lid on the ocean. And with its long-term reduction across the Arctic, we’re seeing increasing amounts of moisture enter the atmosphere during winter, which directly impacts our weather further south, causing extreme heavy snowfalls. It might seem counter-intuitive, but nature is complex and what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.” says Bailey.

When analyzing the long-term trends from 1979 onwards, researchers found that for every square meter of winter sea-ice lost from the Barents Sea, there was a corresponding 70 kg increase in the evaporation, moisture, and snow falling over Europe.

Snow chaos in Europe caused by melting sea-ice in the Arctic
The Beast from the East on March 15, 2018, captured by Aqua MODIS satellite imagery. The parallel cloud bands (“cloud streets”) streaking south across the Barents Sea indicate convection rolls of warm, moist air rising from the ice-free surface. Credit: NASA

Their findings indicate that within the next 60 years, a predicted ice-free Barents Sea will likely become a significant source of increased winter precipitation—be it rain or snow—for Europe.

“This study illustrates that the abrupt changes being witnessed across the Arctic now, really are affecting the entire planet,” says professor Hubbard.

Explore furtherA relationship between severe winter weather and Arctic warmth?

US to enter mega drought which will be the worst for 1200 years – here’s what to expect

Experts warn of permanent drought after third-driest winter in California’s history

Gino Spocchia4 hours ago 2 comments

As parts of the Western US emerge from one of the driest winter seasons on record, the expectation of yet another summer of wildfires will be familiar to many.

Scientists, in fact, are already issuing warnings of an increased risk of wildfires in places such as California for 2021, and other parts of the Western US, as the San Francisco Chronicle recently reported.

The region, where wildfires are increasingly common, is ripe for wildfires following a winter with extremely dry conditions – and reportedly the third worst ever seen.

And it could for a single reason – what is being described by scientists as the second worst drought for 1,200 years.Scientists Begin Studying ‘The Year Of The Quiet Ocean’PauseNext video0:00 / 0:00SettingsFull-screen

The Western US, a region at the front of the world’s fight against a warming climate, is on the verge of a “mega drought”, according to a report by CBS, following analysis of the US Drought Monitor and warnings from scientists.


The period of so-called “mega drought”, of which the consequences are only starting to be seen, is thought to have begun in 2000, with peaks in periods of severe drought – and wildfires.

As shown in figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the period was responsible for the two worst droughts to occur, in 2003 and 2013.climate imageWEEKLY EXCLUSIVE EMAIL

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Figures for 2020-2021 are more alarming, with the amount of area being in a state of “exceptional drought” at 20 per cent – wider than at any point for 20 years.about:blank

Craig Clements, a professor at California’s only wildfire research centre, told the Chronicle that “the lack of rain this season has severely impacted” the moisture of the ground – or its ability to catch alight.

Roughly 60 per cent of Western states are currently under severe, extreme or exceptional drought, according to The US Drought Monitor. The region’s reservoirs are also at half of their operating capacity.

It follows winter temperatures ranging from 4 to 15 degrees above average for Western states, and a lack of snowfall — immediately after the worst wildfire event for California in 2020, and another summer of below average rainfall.

Scientists argue that it could end with permanent drought for swathes of the Western US, which could soon become unable to recover from recurring dry winters and summers.

Reasons for the “mega drought” are twofold, a warming climate caused by human activity, and in the short term, a La Niña event in which cooler waters in the Pacific are failing to provide moisture.

“It’s hard to say if it’s going to be worse, but it could be very similar,” Mr Clements added of the current conditions. “As long as we don’t have a lightning event, we should be in better shape, but our fuels are not.”

Executives call on Biden to slash greenhouse gas emissions to curb climate change

PUBLISHED TUE, APR 13 202110:00 AM EDTUPDATED TUE, APR 13 202112:40 PM EDTEmma Newburger@EMMA_NEWBURGERSHAREShare Article via FacebookShare Article via TwitterShare Article via LinkedInShare Article via EmailKEY POINTS

  • More than 300 businesses have called on President Joe Biden to nearly double U.S. targets to reduce planet-warming emissions below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • The push by leaders from companies like Google, Apple, Walmart and Unilever comes ahead of the global leaders’ climate summit the Biden administration is hosting next week.
  • The Obama administration set out to cut emissions by up to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, but former President Donald Trump halted federal efforts to meet that target.
U.S. President Joe Biden joins a CEO Summit on Semiconductor and Supply Chain Resilience via video conference from the Roosevelt Room at the White House on April 12, 2021 in Washington, DC.

U.S. President Joe Biden joins a CEO Summit on Semiconductor and Supply Chain Resilience via video conference from the Roosevelt Room at the White House on April 12, 2021 in Washington, DC.Amr Alfiky | Getty Images

More than 300 businesses and investors are calling on President Joe Biden to nearly double U.S. targets to reduce planet-warming emissions below 2005 levels by 2030.

In a letter published Tuesday, corporate leaders from companies like GoogleAppleWalmartUnilever and General Electric praised the Biden administration for rejoining the Paris climate accord and aggressively addressing climate change.

The push by executives of some of the country’s largest companies to set a goal to slash emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases by at least 50% — a target in line with what environmental groups want — comes ahead of the global leaders’ climate summit the administration is hosting April 22.

The White House plans to unveil a stricter emissions target for the Paris accord on or before the summit of world leaders. The Obama administration set out to cut emissions by up to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, but former President Donald Trump halted federal efforts to meet that target and pulled the U.S. from the Paris accord.

The companies that signed the letter comprise more than $3 trillion in annual revenue and more than $1 trillion in assets. The letter indicates a shift by the private sector to address their own climate change impact and better align with the goals of the Biden administration, which has vowed to put the country on a path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Australia’s ‘Black Summer’ Fires Have Left a Shocking Effect on Earth’s Atmosphere

Bushfires south of Canberra on 31 January 2020. (John Moore/Getty Images)ENVIRONMENT


The scorching destruction of Australia’s Black Summer bushfires between 2019 and 2020 provided an ominous glimpse of fire’s reach in our hotter, dryer world, and the impact of the unprecedented inferno is still being measured.

Just weeks ago, scientists observed that the amount of smoke spewed from the blaze into the atmosphere rivaled that of a great volcanic eruption. Now, researchers say the giant smoke cloud was so immense, it measurably heated the stratosphere for months on end.

In a new study led by first author and climate modeler Pengfei Yu from China’s Jinan University, scientists simulated the plume’s emergence and evolution, showing the worst documented wildfires in Australian history left a lasting impact on the region’s skies.

“Extreme wildfires can inject smoke into the upper troposphere and even into the stratosphere under favorable meteorological conditions,” the researchers write in their paper. “The higher the smoke is injected, the longer it will persist and the wider its extent.”

In the case of the Black Summer fires, the flames sent almost a trillion grams (approximately 0.9 teragrams) of smoke particles up into the stratosphere, which the researchers explain is the largest amount ever documented in the satellite era.

This smoke mass was made up of different kinds of smoke particles, including both organic carbon (OC, which includes brown carbon, aka BrC), and black carbon (BC).

Each of these have different heat-trapping effects in the atmosphere, with BC being the most heat-trapping, due to the way it warms surrounding air after absorbing sunlight.

According to the researchers’ calculations, the Black Summer plume was composed of about 2.5 percent black carbon, which helped provide a heating effect in the stratosphere that lasted the remainder of the year.

“Simulations suggest that the smoke remained in the stratosphere for all of 2020 and that it measurably warmed the stratosphere by about 1-2 K [Kelvin, equivalent here to 1-2 degrees Celsius] for more than six months,” the team explains.

“Our study highlights that record‐breaking wildfire smoke can cause persistent impacts to stratospheric dynamics and chemistry.”

In addition to warming the stratosphere, the researchers say the record-breaking smoke event would also have had a diminishing effect on ozone levels in the stratosphere, destroying ozone molecules in the mid-high latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere, and likely making the ozone hole bigger temporarily.

While the researchers acknowledge that observations of aerosols producing stratospheric warming have been made before, it’s the first time scientists have measured the phenomenon to such an extent as this, given the record-breaking output of the Black Summer fires.

The findings are reported in Geophysical Research Letters.

Alaskan glacier has started moving 50 to 100 times faster than normal, scientists say

A glacier is surging.ByChristian Spencer | April 12, 2021 20% 

Story at a glance:

  • A glacier in Denali is experiencing a surge event.
    • Glaciers move due to the ice on the base becoming wet from heat.
    • Muldrow Glacier has not moved this fast since the 1950s.

Muldrow Glacier, a mountain in Denali — south central Alaska — is moving quickly in what is called a glacial surge event.

The surging glacier is moving at a rate between 50 and 100 times faster than normal, according to Denali National Park, Gizmodo reported.

“They are these things that have fascinated glaciologists for decades,” Jonny Kingslake, an assistant professor of environmental science at Columbia University, said.

Glaciers normally move at a glacial rate of mere millimeters per day, but sometimes some of them experience rare surges, likely tied to the seasons.

The glacier surge was first discovered by Chris Palm, a K2 Aviation pilot, which does flight-seeing tours and glacier landings in Talkeetna, Alaska.

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Experts aren’t sure what causes the surge, but they suspect this particular one isn’t related to climate change. Still, a warming world is causing many of the world’s glaciers to recede and has been implicated in some surge events.

The bottom base of the ice creates a lubricant for the glacier to tile or move.

“The whole thing is flowing very slowly, and then suddenly it accelerates, and that can cause the glacier at higher elevations to thin, and then the ice slumps down to lower elevations,” Kingslake explained. “Then that happens, and it slows back down, and the material at lower elevations starts to melt, and the ice near the top thickens, and the whole thing repeats. It’s doing, like, a see-saw thing.”

The sometimes-slow, sometimes-fast moving river of ice presents challenges to people and animals who depend on transportation and the use of water.

“Denali for climbers, may no longer be transversable for the nearly 1,000 climbers who have signed up to climb Denali this year, as the surge creates new crevasses and jostles up the familiar landscape,” Gizmodo reported.

The last time Muldrow Glacier surged was in the 1950s, when it moved 4 miles over a couple of months.

Ecological impacts of solar geoengineering are highly uncertain

New research describes the unknowns in our knowledge of solar geoengineering.

DOUG JOHNSON – 4/11/2021, 6:30 AM

Aerial photograph of volcanic eruption.
Enlarge / Most geoengineering plans involve humanity doing what some volcanoes already do: inject particles into the stratosphere that reflect sunlight.NASA


Without condoning or condemning the poorly understood tactic, recent reports suggest we should try to understand one proposed strategy to cool the planet: altering the atmosphere to reflect sunlight. Called solar radiation modification (SRM), this strategy is a type of geoengineering that involves scattering particles into the sky that cause sunlight to reflect out into space rather than warming the Earth’s atmosphere.

In theory, SRM could cool off the planet and help limit global warming to 1.5ºC compared to preindustrial levels. But it’s viewed as something of a last-resort tool to tackle climate change. Two new analyses explore what deploying this tactic could mean for the environment and the flora, fauna and people living in it. In all, the authors of both reports suggest that more work needs to be done to understand SRM.

Greater cooperation

The idea has gained some traction. Bill Gates, for example, advocated for it in 2019. The Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP), has released more than 100 studies related to SRM in the decade since the group was formed. But recently, the Swedish Space Corporation canceled a test flight that would help study SRM in response to public outcry.

But studies may be what we need most. According to one of the papers, which was published this week, a great many unknowns within SRM still need to be addressed.

The document is the outcome of a large group of geoengineering modelers, climate scientists, and ecologists who met digitally over the past two years. Called the Climate Intervention Biology Working Group, the team was concerned that efforts, like GeoMIP, to understand or model SRM outcomes didn’t account for ecology and biodiversity. The paper doesn’t come out for or against SRM but rather suggests that these knowledge gaps need filling before the world decides to use the strategy.

This research focused on one particular SRM approach called stratospheric aerosol injection, which involves releasing reflective particles into the stratosphere.

The paper lays out an agenda for us to understand what these impacts might be. According to Peter Groffman—professor at the Advanced Science Research Center at City University of New York and one of the paper’s authors—it advocates for increased teamwork between climate scientists, geoengineering modelers, and ecologists. In the past, this teamwork was uncommon, he said.”We went in with the idea that we really needed to bring these groups together to talk about this complex problem,” he told Ars.Advertisement

Alan Robock is one of the founders of GeoMIP and a co-author on the paper. GeoMIP asks climate scientists around the world to perform standardized tests on how climate would change in certain situations: a continued release of carbon, a reduction of carbon emissions, and under a hypothetical deployment of SRM.

Missing ecosystems

Currently, GeoMIP’s climate models work on parcels of land, which can contain different types of natural vegetation and crops. But considering the importance of accurate modeling in understanding SRM’s potential impacts, the paper also suggests expanding GeoMIP to include Earth’s many and complex ecosystems. For example, while current modeling can take into account, say, a field of corn, it misses out on the myriad other plants, animals, and insects that live within it. Several of the paper’s authors are also ecology scholars who focus on biodiversity.

“They don’t have details that ecologists like to look at, at very fine scales,” Robock told Ars. “They could do with better simulations, but for that, we would need better data.”

According to Groffman, right now, SRM’s impacts on many important ecological functions are unknown. For example, injecting particles into the atmosphere might impact precipitation in unforeseen ways, as it and temperature are closely linked.

Similarly, an SRM strategy might work to cool the planet, but it would still leave carbon lingering in its atmosphere, which can create problems down the line. But it also can change ecosystems in the present. Plants use both sunlight and carbon dioxide—the former decreasing in this hypothetical, and the latter remaining the same. So the tactic might change how they grow in unpredictable ways. This, in turn, could have unforeseen consequences to river flows, groundwater, and the slew of organisms that rely on trees for food and shelter, Groffman said.

SRM proposes a kind of indirect pathway toward mitigating the effects of humanity’s filling of the atmosphere with carbon without directly impacting the cause. “You’re solving a problem in a different way from how it was created, and that makes huge uncertainties as to how it’s going to affect ecosystems,” he said.

Addressing concerns

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine published a similar report a few weeks ago. A large and diverse team—ranging from lawyers to atmospheric chemists—were part of the committee that oversaw its creation.Advertisement

While the ecosystem report focused on aerosol injection, the National Academies looked at two additional methods: marine cloud brightening and cirrus cloud thinning. Cloud brightening involves adding aerosol particles to the lower atmosphere to make clouds more reflective, particularly near coastal regions. The theory behind cloud thinning—which is not technically a proper SRM strategy—is to modify high-altitude clouds to make them thinner, increasing the planet’s ability to radiate heat.

The 329-page document suggests the creation of a research program in the United States to answer the environmental questions like those raised by the other report, as well as the technical and social questions that come with SRM. We should also investigate its viability, the document notes. It suggests this program be funded at between $100 and $200 million over a 5-year period.

“I think the main message from both [reports] is that we would need to understand a lot more about impacts before we did anything,” said Christopher Field, chair of the committee that drafted the document.

Even beyond the ecological and technical questions, the National Academies document dives into how to address public concern—like the public outcry that saw the Swedish test canceled. Some people, for example, don’t think a government should be deliberately mucking around with the environment. The document also outlines the importance of addressing these concerns and even proposes ways of addressing them, like a liability system if an SRM strategy goes awry.

“I wish… we didn’t need to consider this”

There are also worries that any emphasis on geoengineering would distract from more pressing issues. “[Some] people are concerned that even the idea of discussing solar geoengineering might lead to a decreasing emphasis on mitigation,” Field told Ars.

All of the researchers agreed that SRM is not necessarily a solid alternative to reducing greenhouse gasses. Field noted that the big hope is that humans decrease their carbon emissions to a sustainable level, but that might not happen in time for the world to reach its climate goals. In the meantime, scientists, policymakers, and environmentalists should have a “full toolbox” of strategies to handle global warming, and this means understanding if SRM has a place in it, he said.

“Like everybody, I wish we were in a situation where we didn’t need to consider this.”

PNAS, 2021. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1921854118 (About DOIs).

Over a third of Antarctic ice shelf could collapse as climate change warms the Earth

By Chelsea Gohd 8 hours ago

The Larsen C ice shelf.

The Larsen C ice shelf. (Image credit: NASA ICE)

Over a third of the Antarctic ice shelf is at risk of collapsing as Earth continues to warm. 

In a new study, scientists at the University of Reading have found that as climate change continues, if Earth’s global temperature rises to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels, about 193,000 square miles (500,000 square kilometers) of the Antarctic ice shelves could collapse into the sea. Ice shelves are permanent floating slabs of ice attached to coastline, and the collapse of these shelves could significantly raise global sea levels, the researchers suggest. 

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise. When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea,” lead study author Ella Gilbert, a research scientist in the University of Reading’s Department of Meteorology, said in a statement

Related: 2020 ties record for hottest year ever, NASA analysis showsClick here for more videos… of 03:42Volume 0% PLAY SOUND

Every summer in Antarctica, ice on the surface of the ice shelf melts and that water travels into the snow below where it refreezes. But in years with more melting ice than snowfall, that water ends up pooling on the ice shelf’s surface and falls into cracks in the ice, melting and growing those cracks until the ice shelf breaks off into the ocean. This exact thing happened with the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002 and in this study researchers identify ice shelf Larsen C as at particular risk for collapse in warmer temperatures. 

In this study, researchers used high-resolution regional climate modeling technology to predict how melting ice and water runoff will affect ice shelf stability over time and at different global temperatures. They modeled ice shelf vulnerability at global temperatures 2.7 degrees F (1.5 degreesC), 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) and 7.2 degrees F (4 degrees C) above pre-industrial levels, three scenarios that are all possible within this century, according to the statement. 

“We know that when melted ice accumulates on the surface of ice shelves, it can make them fracture and collapse spectacularly. Previous research has given us the bigger picture in terms of predicting Antarctic ice shelf decline, but our new study uses the latest modelling techniques to fill in the finer detail and provide more precise projections,” Gilbert said. 

They found that, at 7.2 degrees F (4 degrees C) above pre-industrial global temperatures, 34%of all Antarctic ice shelves (including 67%of the ice shelf area on the Antarctic Peninsula) 

“The findings highlight the importance of limiting global temperature increases as set out in the Paris Agreement if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including sea level rise,” Gilbert said. 

The Paris Agreement is an international treaty that was signed in 2016, made within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Under the agreement, nations have pledged to work to limit global temperature increase to 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C), or preferably 2.7 degrees F (1.5 degrees C), above pre-industrial levels.

Related: Earth is hotter than ever — So what happens next?Click here for more videos…2020 tied for hottest year! talks with NASA 0% PLAY SOUND

Scientists have been worried about the continued effects of global warming on floating ice shelves for some time. 

“The floating ice shelves around the coast of Antarctica are of particular concern,” Paul Cutler, a program director for National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Sciences Division, said during a live webinar Thursday (April 8). “They interface with the ocean which is changing, and they hold back the flow of the inland ice as it moves towards the ocean. So if you lose the integrity of those ice shelves, you release more inland ice to the ocean, and you cause even more sea level rise.”

Rising sea levels can have many dangerous effects including extreme coastal flooding, destructive erosion and more. 

Additionally, “with the loss of the glaciers, you actually lose their gravitational pull,” Cutler said. “So when you lose West Antarctica, you lose its gravitational pull on the United States. And actually, part of the sea level rise we see in the U.S. is related to the loss of ices by that indirect gravity effect as well.” 

“Limiting warming will not just be good for Antarctica — preserving ice shelves means less global sea level rise, and that’s good for us all,” Gilbert said.




Doomed Doomsday Glacier

Researchers studied the waters underneath the Thwaites Glacier (aka the “Doomsday Glacier”) and have discovered that the ice shelf is melting faster than they previously thought. 

Scientists utilized an uncrewed submersible known as “Ran” to explore the underside of the glacier in Western Antarctica, according to SciTechDaily. There they discovered that the warm waters flowing underneath is wearing away at the glacier at a faster rate than they anticipated, creating cracks and fissures in the ice.   

This poses a glacier-sized problem: If the ice shelf collapses, we could all see a massive rise in global sea levels (that’s why it’s called the Doomsday Glacier). 

The researchers published a study of their findings in Science Advances


Warm Waters Run Deep

The Thwaites Glacier is roughly 119,300 square miles big, according to Gizmodo. Despite its immense size, the ice is melting faster than any other glacier in Antarctica.

The Ran submersible discovered that the water beneath can rise as high as 33.89 degrees Fahrenheit — which is warm enough to deteriorate the ice. 

“The worry is that this water is coming into direct contact with the underside of the ice shelf at the point where the ice tongue and shallow seafloor meet,” said Alastair Graham, associate professor of geological oceanography at the University of Southern Florida and co-author of the study, to Gizmodo. 

He continued saying, “This is the last stronghold for Thwaites and once it unpins from the sea bed at its very front, there is nothing else for the ice shelf to hold onto. That warm water is also likely mixing in and around the grounding line, deep into the cavity, and that means the glacier is also being attacked at its feet where it is resting on solid rock.”


So it’s certainly a bittersweet moment for the researchers. On the brightside, they were able to study a previously unexplored part of the glacier — but they also learned that the Doomsday Glacier might live up to its name sooner than they thought. 

READ MORE: First Exploration of Ocean Currents Beneath the “Doomsday Glacier” Triggers Concerns [SciTechDaily]

More on ice melt: A Melting Antarctica Could Raise the Sea Level More Than Expected

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Current climate model simulations overestimate future sea-level rise

APRIL 9, 2021

by Utrecht University, Utrecht University Faculty of Science

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The melting rate of the Antarctic ice sheet is mainly controlled by the increase of ocean temperatures surrounding Antarctica. Using a new, higher-resolution climate model simulation, scientists from Utrecht University found a much slower ocean temperature increase compared to current simulations with a coarser resolution. Consequently, the projected sea-level rise in 100 years is about 25% lower than expected from the current simulations. These results are published today in the journal Science Advances.

Estimates for future sea-level rise are based on a large ensemble of climate model simulations. The output from these simulations helps to understand future climate change and its effects on the sea level. Climate researchers continually aim to improve these models, for example by using a much higher spatial resolution that takes more details into account. “High-resolution simulations can determine the ocean circulation much more accurately,” says Prof. Henk Dijkstra. Together with his Ph.D. candidate René van Westen, he has been studying ocean currents in high-resolution climate model simulations over the past few years.

Ocean eddies

The new high-resolution model takes into account ocean eddy processes. An eddy is a large (10-200 km) swirling and turbulent feature in the ocean circulation, which contributes to the transport of heat and salt. Adding ocean eddies into the simulation leads to a more realistic representation of the ocean temperatures surrounding Antarctica, which is key for determining the mass loss of the Antarctic ice sheet. “The Antarctic ice sheet is surrounded by ice shelves which reduce the flow of land ice into the ocean,” Van Westen explains. “Higher ocean temperatures around Antarctica increase the melting of these ice shelves, resulting in an acceleration of land ice into the ocean and consequently leading to more sea-level rise.” of the new high-resolution model (left) with the previously used low-resolution one (right). Credit: Utrecht University

The current climate model simulations, which do not take ocean eddies into account, project that the ocean temperatures around Antarctica are increasing under climate change. The new high-resolution simulation shows quite different behavior and some regions near Antarctica even cool under climate change. “These regions appear to be more resilient under climate change,” says Van Westen. Dijkstra adds: “One obtains a very different temperature response due to ocean-eddy effects.”


The new high-resolution model projects a smaller mass loss as a result of ice-shelf melt: only one third compared to current climate models. This reduces the projected global sea-level rise by 25% in the upcoming 100 years, Van Westen mentions. “Although sea levels will continue to rise, this is good news for low-lying regions. In our simulation, ocean eddies play a crucial role in sea-level projections, showing that these small-scale ocean features can have a global effect.”

It took the team about one year to complete the high-resolution model simulation on the national supercomputer at SURFsara in Amsterdam. Dijkstra: “These high-resolution models require an immense amount of computation, but are valuable as they reveal smaller-scale physical processes which should be taken into account when studying climate change.”

Explore furtherAntarctic ice loss expected to affect future climate change

Carbon Dioxide Levels Reach 3.6 Million-Year High

Residential houses next to an oil refinery in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.
Residential houses next to an oil refinery in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

BYMatthew RozsaSalonPUBLISHEDApril 9, 2021SHAREShare via FacebookShare via TwitterShare via Email

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READING LISTPRISONS & POLICINGMore Than Two-Thirds of Students Want Police Out of SchoolsPOLITICS & ELECTIONSGeorgia’s Voter Suppression Is Sparking Boycotts. History Shows They Can Work.ECONOMY & LABORUnion Calls Foul Play as Amazon Unionization Vote FailsPOLITICS & ELECTIONSMcConnell-Led Opposition to Infrastructure Plan May Haunt GOP in Next ElectionsPOLITICS & ELECTIONSGOP Threatens to Out Donors as “Defectors” to Trump If They Don’t Give MonthlyECONOMY & LABORWork Isn’t Fulfilling Because Capitalism Is a Death March

Because the COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive economic slowdown, experts had hoped that the decline in transportation and manufacturing might slow greenhouse gas emissions at least a little.

Unfortunately, a new report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reveals that one of the major gases behind climate change has reached its highest level in 3.6 million years.

The NOAA reports that the average amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere was 412.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2020, an increase by 2.6 ppm through the course of the year.

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Climate scientists generally agree that in order for life on Earth to be minimally interrupted, Earth’s carbon dioxide levels should remain under 350 parts per million. Yet since NOAA begin recording atmospheric composition data in 1960, there has not been a year in which carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere did not increase.

Likewise, in 2020, overall carbon dioxide emissions increased at the fifth-highest rate in the 63 years that NOAA has been recording. It was only surpassed by the rates of increase in 1987, 1998, 2015 and 2016.

A senior scientist at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, Pieter Tans, said that if there had not been an economic slowdown, it would have been the highest increase on record. As things current stand, the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are at a point comparable to the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period, when the temperature was 7 degrees hotter and the sea level was roughly 78 feet higher than today.

Another organization, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, released similar results on Wednesday, announcing that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 417.4 ppm at their monitoring station in Hawaii.

The NOAA also reported a “significant jump” in the atmospheric burden of methane in 2020, with the annual amount increasing by 14.7 parts per billion (ppb) in 2020. Not only is this the biggest jump since methane levels began to be systematically measured in 1983, but it is also troubling because of how effective methane is at trapping heat. Although there is much less methane than carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, it is 28 times more potent at trapping heat over the course of a century.

Still, the COVID-19 lockdowns had a minor effect on emissions.

“The estimates vary among the different groups doing these sorts of calculations, but the consensus seems to be about a 7% decrease [in greenhouse gas emissions] relative to 2019 levels,” Dr. Michael E. Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, wrote to Salon in December.

If climate change is not halted and/or reversed in the near future, experts agree that there will be serious and negative repercussions for all life on Earth, including humans. There will be an increase in extreme weather events like hurricanes and blizzards, an increase in the amount of wildfires and a reduction in the amount of land that can be used to produce food. All of this will lead to fierce competition for resources and mass population displacements, even as an increasing amount of the world’s surface either too hot or too dry to be inhabitable.

President Joe Biden has said that he will prioritize fighting climate change in his presidency. Shortly after taking office, he said in a statement that “environmental justice will be at the center of all we do.”