tagged w/ Arctic
The record loss of Arctic sea ice this summer will echo throughout the weather patterns affecting the U.S. and Europe this winter, climate scientists said on Wednesday, since added heat in the Arctic influences the jet stream and may make extreme weather and climate events more likely.
The “astounding” loss of sea ice this year is adding a huge amount of heat to the Arctic Ocean and the atmosphere, said Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “It’s like having a new energy source for the atmosphere.” Francis was one of three scientists on a conference call Wednesday to discuss the ramifications of sea ice loss for areas outside the Arctic. The call was hosted by Climate Nexus.
The extent of Arctic sea ice on Aug. 26, 2012, the day the sea ice dipped to its smallest extent ever recorded in more than three decades of satellite measurements. The line on the image shows the average minimum extent from the period covering 1979-2010. Click on the image for a larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL.
On August 26, Arctic sea ice extent broke the record low set in 2007, and it has continued to decline since, dropping below 1.5 million square miles. That represents a 45 percent reduction in the area covered by sea ice compared to the 1980s and 1990s, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), and may be unprecedented in human history. The extent of sea ice that melted so far this year is equivalent to the size of Canada and Alaska combined.
The loss of sea ice initiates a feedback loop known as Arctic amplification. As sea ice melts, it exposes darker ocean waters to incoming solar radiation. The ocean then absorbs far more energy than had been the case when the brightly colored sea ice was present, and this increases water and air temperatures, thereby melting even more sea ice.
Peter Wadhams, the head of the polar ocean physics group at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., told BBC News on September 6 that the added heat from sea ice loss is equivalent to the warming from 20 years of carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas that is causing manmade global warming.
During the fall, when the sun sets once again and the Arctic Ocean begins to refreeze, the heat in the ocean gets released back into the atmosphere. Since the jet stream, which is a corridor of strong winds at upper levels of the atmosphere that generally blows from west to east across the northern mid-latitudes, is powered by the temperature difference between the Arctic and areas farther south, any alteration of that temperature difference is bound to alter the jet stream — with potentially profound implications. It just so happens that the jet stream steers day-to-day weather systems.
Francis published a study last year in which she showed that Arctic warming might already be causing the jet stream to become more amplified in a north-south direction. In other words, the fall and winter jet stream may be getting wavier. A more topsy-turvy jet stream can yield more extreme weather events, Francis said, because weather and climate extremes are often associated with large undulations in the jet stream that can take a long time to dissipate.
“We know that certain types of extreme weather events are related to weather that takes a long time to change,” Francis said.
While there are indications that the jet stream is slowing and may be more prone to making huge dips, or “troughs,” scientists have a limited ability to pinpoint how this will play out in the coming winter season.
“The locations of those waves really depends on other factors,” Francis said, such as El Niño and a natural climate pattern known as the Arctic Oscillation. “I can only say that it’s probably going to be a very interesting winter,” she said.
Francis’ work has linked Arctic warming to the unusually cold and snowy winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11, during which the U.S. East Coast and parts of Europe were pummeled by fierce winter storms and experienced cooler-than-average conditions. The winter of 2011-12 was much milder, by comparison, but Francis said it, too, was consistent with her research. Not all meteorologists agree on the Arctic connection theory, but that may change with time.
Jim Overland, an oceanographer at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, said the inconsistency of the past three winters doesn’t mean the Arctic connection hypothesis is invalid.
More at the linkThe record loss of Arctic sea ice this summer will echo throughout the weather... more
After a day of slower-than-expected preparations in the Chukchi Sea, Shell Alaska officially began drilling into the seafloor above its Burger prospect at 4:30 a.m. Sunday,
The action marks the first drilling offshore in the Alaska Arctic in two decades and is being closely watched by Alaskans and the oil industry -- and criticized by environmentalists.
A YouTube video posted by Shell shows the drill bit, labeled Shell Burger "A" and dated Sept. 8, creeping down from the ship's center into the gray sea as the operation got under way Saturday. The drilling machinery clanked and whirred.
By 6:30 a.m. Sunday, crews had drilled more than 300 feet into the ground for a narrow pilot hole that will eventually be about 1,400 feet deep, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said. It's used to check for unexpected natural gas pockets, oil or obstructions before a wider hole is drilled.
The actual drilling was supposed to begin mid-day Saturday but Shell and its contractors took time to reposition the drilling apparatus and make other adjustments, Smith said. A tool attached to the drill bit will allow Shell to collect data on the formation, density, pressures and other key attributes.
"Everything just took a little bit longer than they thought. There was certainly no rush," Smith said. "There was a collective thought that they were going to double- and triple-check everything."
Greenpeace, which earlier this summer had a research ship near the prospect site, said Shell's drilling began "after a summer of near-disasters and costly delays."
Shell began to drill almost two months later than planned because a key safety vessel, the oil spill containment barge Arctic Challenger, wasn't finished. It remains at a shipyard in Bellingham, Wash. It is scheduled to leave the dock Sunday evening for two to three days of inspections at sea by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
The Interior Department granted Shell a drilling permit that requires it to stop far short of oil-rich zones until the Challenger is in place. Shell also notified regulators it couldn't meet some limits on air pollution emissions specified in an Environmental Protection Agency permit. The EPA issued a one-year order allowing Shell to operate, and said overall emissions should fall under the already approved cap.
In July, Shell's Chukchi drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, dragged anchor while at Dutch Harbor. It wasn't damaged, and the Coast Guard cleared the ship to head to the Arctic.
Shell won't be able to complete a single well in the Chukchi Sea this year unless the Interior Department grants its request for an extended season. It still is waiting to hear back. As it stands, Shell must stop drilling into oil-rich zones by Sept. 24.
"Whatever Shell is able to do in the narrow window between now and when the sea ice returns, it won't erase the clear evidence we've seen in the past two months that there's no such thing as safe drilling in the Arctic," Dan Howells of Greenpeace said in a written statement.
Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2012/09/09/2618404/shell-begins-drilling-in-chukchi.html#storylink=cpy
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2012/09/10/blogs/shell/shell-blog480.jpgAfter a day of slower-than-expected preparations in the Chukchi Sea, Shell Alaska... more
Extraordinary melting of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has shattered the all-time low sea ice extent record set in September 2007, and sea ice continues to decline far below what has ever been observed. The new sea ice record was set on August 26, a full three weeks before the usual end of the melting season, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Every major scientific institution that tracks Arctic sea ice agrees that new records for low ice area, extent, and volume have been set. These organizations include the University of Washington Polar Science Center (a new record for low ice volume), the Nansen Environmental & Remote Sensing Center in Norway, and the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today. A comprehensive collection of sea ice graphs shows the full story. Satellite records of sea ice extent date back to 1979, though a 2011 study by Kinnard et al. shows that the Arctic hasn't seen a melt like this for at least 1,450 years (see a more detailed article on this over at skepticalscience.com.) The latest September 5, 2012 extent of 3.5 million square kilometers is approximately a 50% reduction in the area of Arctic covered by sea ice, compared to the average from 1979 - 2000. The ice continues to melt, and has not reached the low for this year yet.
More at the link
http://icons.wunderground.com/metgraphics/angela/npeo_cam1_20120901134731.jpgExtraordinary melting of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has shattered the all-time... more
As the northern summer draws to a close, two milestones have been reached in the Arctic Ocean — record-low sea ice extent, and an even more dramatic new low in Arctic sea ice volume. This extreme melting offers dramatic evidence, many scientists say, that the region’s sea ice has passed a tipping point and that sometime in the next decade or two the North Pole will be largely ice-free in summer.
NASA and U.S. ice experts announced earlier this week that the extent of Arctic sea ice has dropped to 4.1 million square kilometers (1.58 million square miles) — breaking the previous record set in 2007 — and will likely continue to fall even farther until mid-September. As the summer melt season ends, the Arctic Ocean will be covered with 45 percent less ice than the average from 1979 to 2000.
NASA On August 26, Arctic sea ice reached a new record-low summer extent.
Even more striking is the precipitous decline in the volume of ice in the Arctic Ocean. An analysis conducted by the University of Washington’s Pan Arctic Ice Ocean Model Assimilation System (PIOMAS) estimates that sea ice volumes fell in late August to roughly 3,500 cubic kilometers — a 72-percent drop from the 1979-2010 mean.
Peter Wadhams, who heads the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge and who has been measuring Arctic Ocean ice thickness from British Navy submarines, says that earlier calculations about Arctic sea ice loss have grossly underestimated how rapidly the ice is disappearing. He believes that the Arctic is likely to become ice-free before 2020 and possibly as early as 2015 or 2016 — decades ahead of projections made just a few years ago.
Mark Drinkwater, mission scientist for the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite and the agency’s senior advisor on polar regions, said he and his colleagues have been taken aback by the swiftness of Arctic sea ice retreat in the last 5 years. “If this rate of melting [in 2012] is sustained in 2013, we are staring down the barrel and looking at a summer Arctic which is potentially free of sea ice within this decade,” Drinkwater said in an e-mail interview.
More at the linkAs the northern summer draws to a close, two milestones have been reached in the... more
Drilling Set to Begin Immediately Risks Massive Spills, Polar Bears, Walruses, Bowhead Whales
The Obama administration today gave Shell Oil the initial approval to begin controversial and dangerous oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska, despite the fact that a critical oil-spill containment vessel is still awaiting certification in Bellingham, Wash. Until now, the Arctic Ocean has largely been off limits to offshore drilling. Shell Oil is expected to begin the initial phases of exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea as soon as it can get its drillship in place, in the heart of habitat critical to the survival of polar bears.
“By opening the Arctic to offshore oil drilling, President Obama has made a monumental mistake that puts human life, wildlife and the environment in terrible danger. The harsh and frozen conditions of the Arctic make drilling risky, and an oil spill would be impossible to clean up,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Scariest of all, the Obama administration is allowing Shell to go forward without even having the promised oil-spill containment equipment in place.”
Since 2007, the Center and its allies have successfully protected the Arctic Ocean from Shell's exploratory drilling plans. So far in 2012, a series of blunders and broken promises has prevented Shell from moving forward with its aggressive drilling plans. Last month the company announced that it could not comply with its air-pollution permits and asked the EPA to waive Clean Air Act requirements. Days later its drillship Noble Discoverer slipped its moorings in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and drifted dangerously close to shore. Right now, Shell’s oil-spill containment vessel, which was supposed to be onsite for any drilling, is still stuck in Washington state.
“While opposition to Shell’s drilling plans has resulted in significant safety improvements, Arctic drilling can never really be safe. The president is putting America’s natural heritage on the line just to add to Shell’s bottom line,” Noblin said. “Make no mistake: Once we’ve ruined the Arctic for wildlife, we’ll never get it back. The unique animals that evolved over millions of years to survive in this frozen wilderness — and nowhere else — will be condemned to extinction.”
More than 1 million people have sent President Obama messages asking him to save the Arctic from drilling. The Center for Biological Diversity, staunchly opposed to offshore drilling, will continue working to protect the Arctic Ocean’s sensitive wildlife.
“Pursuing fossil fuels in the remote Arctic will destroy the life there, even as it speeds up the climate change that’s already destroying the polar bears’ home and poses enormous risks to people, too,” Noblin said.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.Drilling Set to Begin Immediately Risks Massive Spills, Polar Bears, Walruses, Bowhead... more
Two new research papers published today improve our understanding of the planet's methane emissions, and might raise worries about the role of the gas in warming the planet. The first suggests that there may be extensive methane deposits under the Antarctic ice sheets. Meanwhile, the second concludes that emissions of the gas from Arctic permafrost have been underestimated.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas - accounting for around 14 per cent of the warming effect of current man made greenhouse gas emissions. Recent research has focused on measuring emissions from methane sources, both natural and manmade.
Antarctic methane reservoirs
Scientists have been particularly interested in methane emitted from the Arctic. This is because the region is warming particularly rapidly. In addition, methane released from melting permafrost and escaping methane hydrate deposits could exacerbate climate change. But research published today in the journal Nature suggests for the first time that there might also be large stores of methane at the other end of the planet, under the Antarctic ice sheet.
Plants thrived on Antarctica before the continent was covered by ice some 35 million years ago. Lab experiments show that microbes living beneath the ice are able to convert plant remains into methane, and scientists calculate that half of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (1 million square kilometers) and a quarter of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (2.5 million square kilometers) could cover carbon-rich sediments containing up to 4 billion metric tons of methane in the form of methane hydrates. These are an ice-like substance formed when methane and water combine.
The researchers suggest methane could be released if ice sheets retreat as global warming continues. According to study co-author Slawek Tulaczyk, professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz, the findings underline "the need for continued scientific exploration of remote sub-ice environments in Antarctica, because they may have far greater impact on Earth's climate system than we have appreciated in the past."
Media outlets have reported the findings widely, with most headlines focusing on potential impacts of escaping methane. For example, Reuters headlines the story ' Antarctic methane could worsen global warming - scientists', while the UK Press Agency goes for ' Methane fear beneath Antarctic ice'.
So how realistic is the prospect of enough of the Antarctic melting to release methane that might be beneath the ice?
The study's authors highlight that "significant uncertainty exists" in their estimates of methane reservoirs beneath Antarctic ice. But they calculate that Antarctic ice sheet retreat at the rate of 1,000 square kilometres per year - comparable to previous episodes of ice sheet collapse - could result in enough methane release to affect atmospheric methane levels.
At the moment, this isn't happening. The West Antarctic ice sheet is losing ice mass, but slower than an ice sheet which is collapsing. And with most of the potential methane under the East Antarctic ice sheet, it looks unlikely that there will be significant methane release from Antarctica soon.
Arctic methane underestimated
What about Arctic methane sources? Another new Nature paper finds ten times more carbon than previously thought is escaping from coastal permafrost in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf - an amount that dwarfs emissions from land and submarine permafrost in the region.
The escaping carbon has been trapped for tens of thousands of years, but with summer sea ice declining, Arctic coastlines are becoming more vulnerable to erosion from waves and storms. With roughly three-quarters of the Arctic coastline made of permafrost, it is perhaps not surprising that the crumbling coastline is releasing more methane and carbon dioxide than previously estimated.
The scientists warn that erosion of permafrost coasts might worsen as the Arctic warms, and that this will have "consequences for the temperatures all over the world."
More at the linkTwo new research papers published today improve our understanding of the planet's... more
Arctic sea ice cover melted to its lowest extent in the satellite record yesterday, breaking the previous record low observed in 2007. Sea ice extent fell to 4.10 million square kilometers (1.58 million square miles) on August 26, 2012. This was 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) below the September 18, 2007 daily extent of 4.17 million square kilometers (1.61 million square miles).
NSIDC scientist Walt Meier said, "By itself it's just a number, and occasionally records are going to get set. But in the context of what's happened in the last several years and throughout the satellite record, it's an indication that the Arctic sea ice cover is fundamentally changing."
According to NSIDC Director Mark Serreze, "The previous record, set in 2007, occurred because of near perfect summer weather for melting ice. Apart from one big storm in early August, weather patterns this year were unremarkable. The ice is so thin and weak now, it doesn't matter how the winds blow."
"The Arctic used to be dominated by multiyear ice, or ice that stayed around for several years," Meier said. "Now it's becoming more of a seasonal ice cover and large areas are now prone to melting out in summer."
With two to three weeks left in the melt season, NSIDC scientists anticipate that the minimum ice extent could fall even lower.
http://nsidc.org/news/press/20120827_2012extentbreaks2007record.htmlArctic sea ice cover melted to its lowest extent in the satellite record yesterday,... more
In the past week the Arctic sea ice cover reached an all-time low, several weeks before previous records, several weeks before the end of the melting season. The long-term decline of Arctic sea ice has been incredibly fast, and at this point a sudden reversal of events doesn’t seem likely. The question no longer seems to be “will we see an ice-free Arctic?” but “how soon will we see it?”. By running the Arctic Sea Ice blog for the past three years I’ve learned much about the importance of Arctic sea ice. With the help of Kevin McKinney I’ve written the piece below, which is a summary of all the potential consequences of disappearing Arctic sea ice.
Arctic sea ice became a recurrent feature on planet Earth around 47 million years ago. Since the start of the current ice age, about 2.5 million years ago, the Arctic Ocean has been completely covered with sea ice. Only during interglacials, like the one we are in now, does some of the sea ice melt during summer, when the top of the planet is oriented a bit more towards the Sun and receives large amounts of sunlight for several summer months. Even then, when winter starts, the ice-free portion of the Arctic Ocean freezes over again with a new layer of sea ice.
Since the dawn of human civilization, 5000 to 8000 years ago, this annual ebb and flow of melting and freezing Arctic sea ice has been more or less consistent. There were periods when more ice melted during summer, and periods when less melted. However, a radical shift has occurred in recent times. Ever since satellites allowed a detailed view of the Arctic and its ice, a pronounced decrease in summer sea ice cover has been observed (with this year setting a new record low). When the IPCC released its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, it was generally thought that the Arctic could become ice-free somewhere near the end of this century. But changes in the Arctic have progressed at such speed that most experts now think 2030 might see an ice-free Arctic for the first time. Some say it could even happen this decade.
What makes this event significant, is the role Arctic sea ice plays as a reflector of solar energy. Ice is white and therefore reflects a large part of incoming sunlight back out to space. But where there is no ice, dark ocean water absorbs most of the sunlight and thus heats up. The less ice there is, the more the water heats up, melting more ice. This feedback has all kinds of consequences for the Arctic region. Disappearing ice can be good for species such as tiny algae that profit from the warmer waters and extended growing season, but no sea ice could spell catastrophe for larger animals that hunt or give birth to offspring on the ice. Rapidly changing conditions also have repercussions for human populations whose income and culture depend on sea ice. Their communities literally melt and wash away as the sea ice no longer acts as a buffer to weaken wave action.
But what happens in the Arctic, doesn’t stay in the Arctic. The rapid disappearance of sea ice cover can have consequences that are felt all over the Northern Hemisphere, due to the effects it has on atmospheric patterns. As the ice pack becomes smaller ever earlier into the melting season, more and more sunlight gets soaked up by dark ocean waters, effectively warming up the ocean. The heat and moisture that are then released to the atmosphere in fall and winter could be leading to disturbances of the jet stream, the high-altitude wind that separates warm air to its south from cold air to the north. A destabilized jet stream becomes more ‘wavy’, allowing frigid air to plunge farther south, a possible factor in the extreme winters that were experienced all around the Northern Hemisphere in recent years. Another side-effect is that as the jet stream waves become larger, they slow down or even stall at times, leading to a significant increase in so-called blocking events. These cause extreme weather simply because they lead to unusually prolonged conditions of one type or another. The recent prolonged heatwave, drought and wildfires in the USA are one example of what can happen; another is the cool, dull and extremely wet first half of summer 2012 in the UK and other parts of Eurasia.
Much more at linkIn the past week the Arctic sea ice cover reached an all-time low, several weeks... more
I have postponed this post until I was sure that what follows is going to happen.
Remember the term 'flash melting'? That's when from one day to the next large swathes of ice disappear on the University of Bremen sea ice concentration maps. We witnessed one such instance last year when a relatively large and intense low-pressure area moved in from Alaska over the ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea regions (see blog post). It lasted about a day or two and then quickly faded, but the effects were spectacular.
Well, it looks like we have something bigger coming up this year.
More at the linkI have postponed this post until I was sure that what follows is going to happen.... more
Studies now indicate the answer is yes. Evidence is presented in this video showing a physical mechanism connecting Arctic Amplification (enhanced warming in high northern latitudes relative to the northern hemisphere) with the frequency and intensity of several types of extreme weather events in mid-latitudes, such as droughts, floods, heat waves, and cold spells.Studies now indicate the answer is yes. Evidence is presented in this video showing a... more
If you've been following the global warming debate over the past few years, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the problems it poses are restricted to the impacts of higher temperatures, sea level rise, extreme weather, and ocean acidification. Unfortunately, we're only just beginning to understand the potential of other more subtle risks and impacts.
The Arctic is the region that has experienced the greatest warming in recent decades and is a unique environment. On the surface, it may appear to be a relatively pristine place that has escaped the touch of man; however, a combination of atmospheric and oceanic circulation has made it a sink for numerous contaminants emitted from industrial activity around the World, particularly Asia. Prevailing ocean and atmospheric circulation cause many of these contaminants to be transported to the Arctic where they can be absorbed by plants and animals, or locked into snow, ice, and permafrost.
A risk to human health?
Indigenous populations in the Arctic, such as the Inuit, are at potential risk from these contaminants due to their reliance on hunting various species for food that may have been exposed to elevated concentrations of contaminants due to their progressive magnification through the food web. For example, algae in lakes may absorb a contaminant during photosynthesis. The algae are a food for small critters, which are then eaten by progressively bigger animals that in turn concentrate the contaminant in their tissue. At the top of the food-chain, human hunters that eat those animals in their regular diet may accumulate those contaminants in their own body tissue, with potential health side effects. Such scenarios exist for the main hunted food sources in the Arctic, including fish, whales, seals and birds.
One such contaminant is mercury, which has received recent attention by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) that published a 2011 Assessment of Mercury in the Arctic (Warning: 36MB PDF download). Mercury poses a particular danger to unborn children during pregnancy, as it can prevent healthy foetal development. AMAP has highlighted studies suggesting that indigenous Arctic populations are being exposed to levels of mercury that exceed World Health Organisation safety levels due to a diet of wild country foods.
The influence of climate change
Environmental changes in the Arctic due to warming are now generating great unknowns as to how food webs in the Arctic will be affected in the coming decades, and whether this will increase the health risks from mercury contamination. SKS'ers may be familiar with the carbon cycle, but the Arctic mercury cycle has just as much complexity and then some (AMAP, 2011). The mercury cycle has links and affinities with the organic carbon cycle, particularly with the formation of methylmercury, which is especially toxic. A store of mercury from human industrial sources has built up in the ice sheets, glaciers and snow fields over the past 200 years. Mercury is mobile in air, water, soil, flora and fauna. As scientists have examined this issue in recent years, the result is an ever increasing picture of complexity.
The Arctic has strong seasonality due to its high latitude, as well as large areas of melting and re-freezing sea ice affecting circulation patterns and biological turnover. Continuous sunlight in summer also allows continuous photosynthesis. All of which play their part in the biological uptake of mercury and its propagation through the food web. The ongoing reduction in summer sea ice extent is expected to have significant effects on mercury cycling and its availability to pass into the food chain.
A recent literature review by Stern et al (2012) elaborates on the impacts and uncertainties of how mercury pollution will be affected by climate change in the Arctic region. Factors considered include: changes in sea ice and snow cover, melting permafrost, and changes in animal behaviour and feeding habits. All of these reactions to Arctic warming will affect the transport of mercury and other contaminants through the environment and food web.
A further mechanism that has been a concern in recent years are Atmospheric Mercury Depletion Events (AMDE), that comprise a rapid oxidation and deposition of mercury from the atmosphere during the onset of Arctic spring; a photochemical reaction that has similarities with the mechanism responsible for the creation of the Ozone Hole. An estimated 243 tonnes of mercury is deposited in the Arctic each year, most of which is due to AMDE, though further photochemical reactions subsequently reduce a large proportion of the deposited mercury which becomes volatile, returning around 80% of it back to the atmosphere.
Warmer temperatures are expected to decrease AMDE deposition, though expanded areas of open sea due to reduced sea ice cover may result in up to 60 tonnes per year of AMDE mercury being absorbed by the ocean. Even this estimate is made uncertain by the possibility of enhanced transfer of mercury from the ocean to the atmosphere due to there being a greater area of open sea in the Summer.
Another result of changes in sea-ice distribution that has been observed is an increase in mercury levels in seals linked to their changing feeding habits as they adapt to the disruption of regular periods of sea-ice cover.
More at the linkIf you've been following the global warming debate over the past few years,... more
America declared a natural disaster in more than 1,000 drought-stricken counties in 26 states on Thursday.
It was the largest declaration of a national disaster and was intended to speed relief to about a third of the country's farmers and ranchers who are suffering in drought conditions.
The declaration from the US department of agriculture includes most of the south-west, which has been scorched by wildfires, parts of the midwestern corn belt, and the south-east.
It was intended to free up funds for farmers whose crops have withered in extreme heatwave conditions linked by scientists to climate change.
According to the US drought monitor, 56% of the country is experiencing drought conditions – the most expansive drought in more than a decade.
The agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, said the funds were intended to help farmers and ranchers across the country who have lost crops to extreme heat or wildfires.
The declaration will make affected ranchers and farmers eligible for low-interest loans and speed processing of disaster claims.
"Agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation's economy," Vilsack said. "We need to be cognisant of the fact that drought and weather conditions have severely impacted on farmers around the country."
The declaration covers counties in California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Delaware and Hawaii. It does not include Iowa, the country's biggest corn producer.
The first six months of this year were the warmest on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. Twenty-eight states east of the Rockies set temperature records.
Those record-breaking temperatures deepened drought conditions across much of the American west, triggering an early and violent season of wildfires in Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
The heat also destroyed expectations of a bumper corn crop. American farmers planted more than 96m acres of corn this year, the most in 75 years.
The early spring got the crop off to a good start but , after June's extreme heat, only 40% of the crop was in good condition, according to USDA figures.
From the midwest to the mid-Atlantic, meanwhile, there were triple digit temperatures, breaking hundreds of heat records. On Thursday, St Louis confirmed 18 deaths due to extreme heat conditions.
"The recent heat and dryness is catching up with us on a national scale," Michael Hayes, director of the national drought mitigation centre said in a statement.
Photograph: Eric Gay/AP
And as usual, the same ones turn this into only being about a political contest while people across the globe suffer because their political psychosis and appeasing it is more important than the reality.America declared a natural disaster in more than 1,000 drought-stricken counties in 26... more
An historic heat wave that has helped create tinderbox conditions in Colorado and other Western states is moving east, with record-breaking temperatures expected in at least 13 states Thursday, from Oklahoma to Ohio. Already during the past seven days, 1,701 warm temperature records had been tied or set across the U.S., compared to 401 cool temperature records during the same period.
As occurred during the March 2012 heat wave, some of the records that have fallen eclipsed readings not seen since the Dust Bowl-era of the 1930s. The National Weather Service is describing the heat as “debilitating,” warning millions of Americans affected to take precautions against heat-related illness.
The heat in the West has helped fuel the devastating wildfires in Colorado, where the Waldo Canyon Fire burned hundreds of homes in Colorado Springs on Tuesday and Wednesday. Now that the heat is moving east, it is prompting concerns about the U.S. corn crop, which is particularly sensitive to dry and hot conditions at this time of year.
Benkelman, Neb., set a monthly high temperature record on Wednesday, when the temperature hit 114°F, breaking the old mark of 111°F set in 1936. Dodge City, Kan., set an all-time high temperature record of 111°F, beating the previous mark of 110°, which was set just a day before. (Track record temperatures using Climate Central's Record Tracker.) As The Weather Channel noted, at least 10 cities in the Rockies and High Plains had high temperatures that were hotter than Death Valley, Calif. on June 26.
More at the linkAn historic heat wave that has helped create tinderbox conditions in Colorado and... more
The ancient reserves of methane gas seeping from the melting Arctic ice cap told Jeff Chanton and fellow researchers what they already knew: As the permafrost thaws, there is a release of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that causes climate warming.
The trick was figuring out how much, said Chanton, the John W. Winchester Professor of Oceanography at Florida State University.
The four-member team -- whose findings were published in the journal Nature Geoscience -- documented a large number of gas seep sites in the Arctic where permafrost is thawing and glaciers receding (they found 77 previously undocumented seep sites, comprising 150,000 vents to the atmosphere). Until recently, the cryosphere (frozen soil and ice) has served to plug or block these vents. But thawing conditions have allowed the conduits to open, and deep geologic methane now escapes.
The team studied the link between natural gas seepage and the melting ice cap, using aerial photos and field data to figure out the number -- and location -- of seep holes.
So, here's the rub: The more the ice cap melts, the more methane is released into the atmosphere -- and the more the climate warms.
Why should this matter to you?
People who live in coastal areas could be directly affected, said Chanton, who analyzed the methane and dated it to more than 40,000 years old.
All this seeping methane causes more melting ice, Chanton said, which causes sea levels to rise and could affect coastal real estate values -- sooner rather than later.
Possibly over the next 50 to 100 years, Chanton said.
"Methane is a very strong greenhouse gas that's grown three times faster than carbon dioxide since the industrial era," Chanton said. "As the Arctic warms, the ice caps melt and the fissures open, so methane escapes and causes more warming."
This phenomenon causes sea levels to rise, which is particularly problematic in Florida: "Along the flat Florida coastline, a 1-foot rise in sea level could cause anywhere from 10 to 100 feet of shoreline retreat -- erosion," Chanton said. "For us here in Florida, this is really important because we can expect the coast to recede."
That beach house, he warned, might be in peril: "It may not be there for your grandchildren."The ancient reserves of methane gas seeping from the melting Arctic ice cap told Jeff... more
There are benefits in the melting of the Arctic, but the risks are much greater
NOW that summer is here, the Arctic is crowded with life. Phytoplankton are blooming in its chilly seas. Fish, birds and whales are gorging on them. Millions of migratory geese are in their northern breeding grounds. And the area is teeming with scientists, performing a new Arctic ritual.
Between now and early September, when the polar pack ice shrivels to its summer minimum, they will pore over the daily sea ice reports of America’s National Snow and Ice Data Centre. Its satellite data will show that the ice has shrunk far below the long-term average. This is no anomaly: since the 1970s the sea ice has retreated by around 12% each decade. Last year the summer minimum was 4.33m square km (1.67m square miles)—almost half the average for the 1960s.
The Arctic’s glaciers, including those of Greenland’s vast ice cap, are retreating. The land is thawing: the area covered by snow in June is roughly a fifth less than in the 1960s. The permafrost is shrinking. Alien plants, birds, fish and animals are creeping north: Atlantic mackerel, haddock and cod are coming up in Arctic nets. Some Arctic species will probably die out.
Perhaps not since the 19th-century clearance of America’s forests has the world seen such a spectacular environmental change. It is a stunning illustration of global warming, the cause of the melt. It also contains grave warnings of its dangers. The world would be mad to ignore them.
(read more at link)There are benefits in the melting of the Arctic, but the risks are much greater
The Arctic is warming at an alarming rate – twice as fast as the rest of the planet – and according to a new report, those changes will be a key driver of geopolitics in the coming years.
As the rapidly melting ice unlocks commercial opportunities in shipping, tourism and oil and gas extraction, the world’s largest economies are jockeying for control of the region. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the melting of the Arctic is a “bellwether for how climate change may reshape geopolitics in the post-Cold War era.”
The widely held notion that climate change will occur gradually over the 21st century, allowing ample time for society to adapt, is belied by the unprecedented pace of both climate change and policy developments in the Arctic today. Such rapid changes will challenge governments’ abilities to anticipate and diplomatically resolve international disputes within the region.
Accelerating changes in the region are causing sea ice to melt at a rate exceeding scientists’ predictions. The absence of ice will open up strategic waterways, such as the Northwest Passage, for longer periods of time and allow more opportunity for activities like offshore oil exploration that require open water. Analysts believe the economic impact could be significant – new and expanded shipping routes can significantly reduce the transit time between Asia, North America and Europe, and oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell are eager to unlock the “great opportunity” for fossil fuels they believe lies beneath the pristine Arctic waters.
But increased opportunity will also lead to increased conflict. In analyzing recent policy statements and actions of the Arctic states, the report notes that while the countries seem “focused on building a cooperative security environment in the region,” there is an “apparently contradictory trend toward modernizing their military forces in the Arctic … Consequently, if political cooperation in the region should sour, most of the Arctic nations will have forces that are prepared to compete in a hostile environment.”
Further complicating Arctic claims is the absence of the U.S. in the Law of the Sea treaty, or UNCLOS, which details the rights and responsibilities of nations when it comes to use and protection of the world’s oceans. The treaty also provides an important framework for resolving territorial disputes in the Arctic. UNCLOS is ratified by every other developed country and is supported by a broad coalition that includes five former Republican secretaries of state, the Chamber of Commerce, and major environmental groups. America’s failure to ratify this key treaty puts us at an immediate disadvantage in frontier regions like the Arctic.
And what of the environmental implications? With more vessels trying to navigate the narrow straits and channels of the Northwest Passage, commercial fishing vessels, cruise ships, and drilling rigs operating in the previously inaccessible Arctic Ocean, the risk of a collision or oil spill increase exponentially.
As detailed in the Center for American Progress report, Putting a Freeze on Arctic Ocean Drilling: America’s Inability to Respond to an Oil Spill in the Arctic, the U.S. lags far behind other Arctic nations in infrastructure and preparedness to respond to a major event. There are no U.S. Coast Guard stations north of the Arctic Circle, and we currently operate just one functional icebreaking vessel. Alaska’s tiny ports and airports are incapable of supporting an extensive and sustained airlift effort. The region even lacks such basics as paved roads and railroads.
This dearth of infrastructure would severely hamper the ability to transport the supplies and personnel required for any large-scale emergency response effort. Furthermore, the extreme and unpredictable weather conditions complicate transportation, preparedness, and cleanup of spilled oil to an even greater degree.
The co-author of the C2ES report noted that “a prevalent theme in nearly all the policy announcements was the need to protect the region’s environment in the face of rapid climate change and increased economic activity.” However, it is difficult to imagine how forces as strong as rapid climate change and increased economic activity will lead to anything other than environmental destruction.
And as NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco explained last year, the potential ramifications of this industrialization extend far beyond the region itself:
Well, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. It has huge implications for the global system. And one of the reasons people are legitimately concerned about melting of sea ice are the uncertainties associated with the consequences of that for the rest of the planet. We’re entering a no-analogue world here. We’ve never experienced the kinds of changes that we’re seeing now in the Arctic and elsewhere. And we don’t fully understand what the consequences of that are going to be.
This is the analysis.
Based on human nature, war is not too farfetched.
More at the link
Actually, the one good thing about this is that it totally blows the denier lie that the Arctic isn't melting at a faster pace. Now you know they are all fakes and fossil fuel minions just guarding their own stashes.The Arctic is warming at an alarming rate – twice as fast as the rest of the... more
Four major heat records fell in a stunning new climate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Thursday. The lower 48 states set temperature records for the warmest spring, largest seasonal departure from average, warmest year-to-date, and warmest 12-month period, all new marks since records began in 1895. While the globe has been tracking slightly cooler than recent years — thanks in part to the influence of now dissipated La Nina conditions in the tropical Pacific — the U.S. has been sizzling.
The average springtime temperature in the lower 48 was so far above the 1901-2000 average — 5.2°F, to be exact — that the country set a record for the largest temperature departure for any season on record since 1895.
Spring 2012 beat 1910, which had held the title for record warm spring, by a healthy margin of 2°F. No doubt much of this was driven by the massive heat wave that gripped the country during March, but unusual warmth continued during April and May, albeit not as intense. Such warming trends are consistent with both the influence of manmade global warming, particularly the prevalence of record warm nighttime temperatures, and natural variability has also favored warmer-than-average conditions so far this year. Studies show that as greenhouse gases continue to increase in the atmosphere, the odds of heat extremes are growing as well.
Climate Extremes Index showing 2012 has had the most extreme weather to date for any year on record. Credit: NCDC.
According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, the spring of 2012 “was the culmination of the warmest March, third warmest April, and second warmest May. This marks the first time that all three months during the spring season ranked among the 10 warmest, since records began in 1895.”
Des Moines, Iowa offers a case study of just how warm it’s been. The year-to-date there has averaged a whopping 8 degrees F above average, with many other cities across the country tracking close to that figure as well.
Temperature trend chart for Des Moines, IA, showing that 2012 is the warmest year to date by far. Click for a larger image. Credit: NOAA/NCDC.
Most of the states that experienced record or near-record warmth this spring were located east of the Rocky Mountains, with 31 states setting records for warmest spring temperatures. Remarkably, not a single state in the lower 48 was cooler than average this spring, and only Oregon and Washington had spring temperatures that were close to average. Although there were exceptions, much of the country had a drier-than-average spring with Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Utah, and Wyoming coming in with a top 10 driest spring.
The record warmth helped propel the U.S. Climate Extremes Index, which tracks the highest and lowest 10 percent of extremes in temperature, precipitation, drought and tropical storms and hurricanes across the contiguous U.S., to a record-large 44 percent during the March-May period, which was more than twice the average value. “Extremes in warm daytime temperatures (81 percent) and warm nighttime temperatures (72 percent) covered large areas of the nation” were mainly responsible for this record.
Spring was unusual for the pre-season tropical weather, as two tropical storms developed before the official start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season on June 1. Tropical Storm Beryl made landfall near Jacksonville, Fla., on May 28, and brought heavy rainfall to parts of the Southeast that were in the grips of a severe drought. This year marked the third time on record that two tropical storms occurred during May in the North Atlantic Basin.
Major drought has remained elsewhere, though, and drought plus high winds led to ideal conditions for wildfires in the West. The White-Water Baldy Fire Complex in New Mexico, which was the result of two separate fires that combined into a massive conflagration, broke the record set just last year for the largest wildfire in New Mexico history.Four major heat records fell in a stunning new climate report from the National... more
* Arctic's abundant oil, gas attracts global interest
* As sea ice recedes, new trade routes open
(Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will assert U.S. interest in the Arctic, where the prospects for abundant oil, gas and new trade routes has been likened to a modern-day gold rush, when she visits the region on Saturday.
As the sea ice recedes with climate change, huge oil and gas fields are adding vast amounts to global reserves, while sea passages are opening for longer periods each year and cutting thousands of miles off trade routes between Europe and Asia.
Clinton will visit Tromsoe, a Norwegian town in the Arctic Circle, as part of an 8-day trip to Scandinavia, the Caucasus and Turkey.
She follows a host of high-profile international visitors as the region enjoys unprecedented political and economic power.
Norway has moved its military operational headquarters into the Arctic Circle, China has development plans for Iceland and countries, including Russia, are laying claim to exploration rights in the once pristine Barents Sea. Continued...* Arctic's abundant oil, gas attracts global interest
* As sea ice recedes,... more
The world’s air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant.
Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. The number isn’t quite a surprise, because it’s been rising at an accelerating pace. Years ago, it passed the 350 ppm mark that many scientists say is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. It now stands globally at 395.
So far, only the Arctic has reached that 400 level, but the rest of the world will follow soon.
“The fact that it’s 400 is significant,” said Jim Butler, global monitoring director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colo. “It’s just a reminder to everybody that we haven’t fixed this and we’re still in trouble.”
Carbon dioxide is the chief greenhouse gas and stays in the atmosphere for 100 years. Some carbon dioxide is natural, mainly from decomposing dead plants and animals. Before the Industrial Age, levels were around 275 parts per million.
For more than 60 years, readings have been in the 300s, except in urban areas, where levels are skewed. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline, has caused the overwhelming bulk of the man-made increase in carbon in the air, scientists say.
It’s been at least 800,000 years — probably more — since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s, Butler and other climate scientists said.
Readings are coming in at 400 and higher all over the Arctic. They’ve been recorded in Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and even Mongolia. But levels change with the seasons and will drop a bit in the summer, when plants suck up carbon dioxide, NOAA scientists said.
So the yearly average for those northern stations likely will be lower and so will the global number.
Globally, the average carbon dioxide level is about 395 parts per million but will pass the 400 mark within a few years, scientists said.
The Arctic is the leading indicator in global warming, both in carbon dioxide in the air and effects, said Pieter Tans, a senior NOAA scientist.
“This is the first time the entire Arctic is that high,” he said.
Tans called reaching the 400 number “depressing,” and Butler said it was “a troubling milestone.”
More at the linkThe world’s air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for... more
Russia is still the world's largest producer of oil and gas, but growth has stalled and to get to new supplies requires going to a very difficult place — the Arctic.
"If you want to be in this business in 2020, 2025, you must think about the Arctic," says Konstantin Simonov, head of the National Energy Security Fund in Moscow.
In the past month, Moscow has signed several deals with foreign oil companies designed to maintain Russia's position as the top producer. The most important deal, and the most lucrative, is a partnership between Exxon Mobil and Russian oil giant Rosneft.
Exxon Mobil could eventually spend half a trillion dollars to look for and extract oil and gas in the Russian Arctic. The investment is enormous, but so are the potential rewards.
Getting To The Arctic's Reserves
"The reserves in the Russian Arctic are vast," says Roland Nash, chief investment strategist for Verno Investment in Moscow. "Nobody quite knows how vast, but the numbers are enormous."
Some estimates put the oil and gas reserves in Russia's Arctic waters at 100 billion tons. According to Simonov, the deal with Exxon Mobil is a sign that Russia knows it needs international investment and technology to get to those reserves.
"Without foreign partners, for us it will be impossible to develop this area," Simonov says. "It's out of [the] question."
The deal was signed on April 18 with Russian President Vladimir Putin looking on. It gives Exxon Mobil access to oil fields in the Black Sea and provides Russia some access to Exxon Mobil's oil deposits in Texas, Canada and the Gulf of Mexico.
At the signing, Putin said Exxon Mobil also had the option to work in Russia's north and south, as well as in other regions. Meanwhile, the Russians will soon start work with Exxon Mobil in the U.S. and Canada.
Changing Russia's Reputation
Russia Pushes To Claim Arctic As Its Own
Russia has launched a drive to own vast parts of the Arctic, including its oil and gas deposits.
Shell Pushes Forward To Drill Well In Arctic
The company says it's ready to clean a spill, but environmentalists say it's not worth the risk.
In addition to the Exxon Mobil deal, Russia's Rosneft recently signed smaller deals with Italian oil company Eni to go after oil in North Africa, and with Norway's Statoil elsewhere in the Arctic.
But it hasn't been easy for foreign oil companies to do business in Russia. BP had a similar deal with Rosneft that fell apart last year. According to Roland Nash, everyone knows about Russia's troubled past with international oil companies.
"Signing the deal is Step 1," Nash says. "Implementing the deal is a bigger step in some ways."
So Russia has changed the game in favor of the oil giants. The government has eased the tax burden on Exxon Mobil and others looking for oil in the Arctic, making it a more attractive proposition.
And, according to Simonov, letting Rosneft in on energy deposits elsewhere in the world turns the Russian oil giant into an international player, helping it spread its risks. There are also potential political benefits.
"It's like, you know, the logic of capitalism," Simonov says. "If you are the shareholder of serious assets in Europe and the United States, maybe there will be more reason to have political dialogue also."
More at the link
http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2012/05/24/russia4_wide.jpg?t=1337896132&s=4Russia is still the world's largest producer of oil and gas, but growth has... more