tagged w/ Arctic
Let’s call it the polar express.
The multi-year ice floes that once dominated the Arctic Ocean have been shrinking fast over the past decade, replaced by pans that form anew each winter and melt away each spring. The increase in the extent of this seasonal ice has the potential to dramatically accelerate the warming of the planet’s far northern sea, according to a new four-year study published this week in Geophysical Research Letters.
It’s all hinges on how much sunshine gets absorbed and how much is bounced back into space over the course of a season, a physical process that scientists call albedo.
“My connection is really to answer a simple question — ‘Where does all the sunlight go?’” is how lead researcher Donald Perovich explained it in a You Tube video about the research near Barrow. “Or, to put it more scientifically, how is solar radiation partitioned among reflection, absorption and the ice in transmission to the ocean?”
The dazzling white and rugged surface of old, thick ice has the potential to reflect gobs of sunlight all summer. But the more fragile and flatter seasonal floes behave differently as the weeks pass — morphing from melting snow to standing ponds to the roiling green-gray of actual open water. As the ocean surface dominated by seasonal ice becomes less reflective, it absorbs more and more energy.
Spread the result over thousands of square miles season after season, and the Arctic Ocean will grow warmer at a much faster rate, boosting some forms of sea life while advancing the destruction of the seasonal ice cap, according to the findings in “Albedo evolution of seasonal Arctic sea ice.” In a sense, it’s becoming a self-fulfilling process, where the meltback of sea ice leads to an increasingly warmer upper ocean that leads to even greater ice loss in coming seasons.
“Once surface ice melt begins, seasonal ice albedos are consistently less than albedos for multi-year ice, resulting in more solar heat absorbed in the ice and transmitted to the ocean," wrote Perovich and co-author Christopher Polashenski, both with the U.S. Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in New Hampshire. This "shift from multi-year to seasonal ice cover has significant implications for the heat and mass budget of the ice and for primary productivity in the upper ocean.”
Tracking the dynamics of Arctic ice has never been more urgent. The extent and volume of the polar ocean’s ice cap has been shrinking fast over the past decade, climaxing each September with minimums at record and near record levels. (This spring, the extent of Arctic ice was greater than any late winter since the early 2000s, but still far below the long-term average for the time of year. See the May update from the National Snow & Ice Data Center.) Some climate models predict the Arctic will lose most of its multi-year ice by the end of the century if trends don’t change, with most of the ocean becoming ice-free by the end of every summer.
Theats to polar bears, walruses
An extensive polar ice cap has long played an essential role in stabilizing the world’s climate. It also provides essential habitat for healthy populations of polar bears, walruses and seals, and its disappearance during summer may threaten their survival. There are expensive indirect consequences too. The summer loss of ice has been creating fetches of hundreds of miles along the Chukchi and Beaufort sea coasts that now often expose Alaskan villages to catastrophic storms and erosion when fall weather starts bearing down.
More at the linkLet’s call it the polar express.
The multi-year ice floes that once dominated... more
The ongoing rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice is often interpreted as the canary in the mine for anthropogenic climate change. In a new study, scientists have now systematically examined the validity of this claim. They find that neither natural fluctuations nor self-acceleration can explain the observed Arctic sea-ice retreat. Instead, the recent evolution of Arctic sea ice shows a strong, physically plausible correlation with the increasing greenhouse gas concentration. For Antarctic sea ice, no such link is found - for a good reason.
When scientists try to attribute some observed climatic change to a specific forcing, they usually use complex climate models. The scientists at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M), however, decided on a different strategy as they set out to identify the main driver for the observed sea-ice loss in the Arctic. Dirk Notz, lead author of the study that was now published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters , explains why: "Sea ice is so thin that it reacts very sensitive to the large natural fluctuations of weather and climate that prevail in the Arctic. Because these fluctuations are inherently chaotic, their specific timing cannot be reproduced by standard climate models. Such models therefore aren't necessarily the best tool to examine if natural fluctuations did cause the observed sea-ice loss."
The scientists instead used a historical record that described the natural variations of sea-ice extent between the early 1950s and late 1970s. These natural fluctuations were then compared to the magnitude of fluctuations of the Arctic sea-ice cover as measured from satellites since the late 1970s. From such comparison, the scientists found only a minute chance that the recently observed extreme sea-ice minima simply happened by chance - and they could exclude self acceleration as the main driver for the observed sea-ice retreat. "Whenever we had a strong sea-ice loss from one year to the next, the ice cover always recovered somewhat in the following year," explains Dirk Notz. This would not be the case if the sea-ice retreat were indeed self-accelerating.
Jochem Marotzke, Director at MPI-M and co-author of the study, describes what the scientists did next: "Having excluded natural fluctuations and self acceleration as the main driver for the sea-ice retreat, it was clear to us that some external driver was responsible for the observed sea-ice decline. We therefore set out to find an external driver that showed a physically plausible relationship with the observed sea-ice retreat." The scientists examined, for example, the strength of solar radiation. "Here, a physically plausible link to the observed sea-ice retreat can only be established if solar radiation had increased in recent years." However, solar radiation has slightly decreased in the past decades. Its fluctuations are therefore very unlikely to be the main driver of the observed sea ice loss. The scientists could not find a plausible link to changes in prevailing wind patterns, volcanic eruptions, oceanic heat transport, or cosmic rays, either.
"In the end, only the increase in greenhouse gas concentration showed a physically plausible link with the observed sea-ice retreat.
More at the linkThe ongoing rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice is often interpreted as the canary in the... more
The Western campaign for global dominance has reached the top of the world. To the world’s military leaders, the debate over climate change is long over. They are preparing for a new kind of Cold War in the Arctic, anticipating that rising temperatures there will open up a treasure trove of resources and long-dreamed-of sea-lanes. The largest military exercise in the High North, inside and immediately outside the Arctic Circle, since the end of the Cold War (and perhaps even before) was completed on March 21 in northern Norway. http://www.makeahistory.com/index.php/recent-news/43061-cold-response-2012-nato-are-preparing-for-a-new-kind-of-cold-war-in-the-arcticThe Western campaign for global dominance has reached the top of the world. To the... more
1 year ago
In another stark warning about the dangers of Arctic Ocean drilling, the German bank WestLB announced on Friday that it would not provide financing to any offshore oil or gas drilling in the region. The company’s sustainability manager said the “risks and costs are simply too high.”
The decision was made just a week after insurance giant Lloyd’s of London issued a report concluding that offshore drilling in the Arctic would “constitute a unique and hard-to-manage risk” and urged companies to “think carefully about the consequences of action” before exploring for oil in the region.
Dustin Neuneyer, sustainability manager at the corporate and investment bank WestLB, explained the decision to Environmental Finance:
“The further you get into the icy regions, the more expensive everything gets and there are risks that are hard to manage.… There are projects that are evidently unsustainable in an encompassing sense. For WestLB, the risks and costs are simply too high.”
The bank’s new eight-point policy on offshore drilling lays out specific criteria for the projects and companies that are eligible for financing — excluding any exploration or production activities in areas where the average temperature for the warmest month is below 10°C (50° F). Additionally, the policy’s criteria — which are binding for any company seeking a loan — require companies to use the best available technology, abide by the highest technical safety standards, and show that activities are validated by an independent third party.
The concerns raised by Lloyd’s of London and WestLB come as Royal Dutch Shell prepares to drill in Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska this summer. The recommendations of these institutions echo those in the recent 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 dearth of supporting infrastructure throughout Alaska’s North Slope — including ports, roads, railroads, and permanent Coast Guard facilities — coupled with the lack of sound science and extremely volatile conditions make any potential offshore operations precarious at best. The remote location, harsh and unpredictable conditions, and absence of proven clean-up technologies designed for Arctic conditions would make large-scale response efforts nearly impossible.
Those factors represent a cost and risk WestLB isn’t willing to shoulder.
The stakes are high for Royal Dutch Shell, which after spending nearly five years and $4 billion, will likely soon receive the necessary permits for exploratory drilling in the remote Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. And other oil giants aren’t far behind — Exxon and ConocoPhillips are aiming to start offshore operations in the pristine Arctic Ocean by 2013.
WestLB might be the first bank to explicitly refuse financing for offshore drilling in the Arctic, but they may not be alone for long. “Other banks contacted us and are very interested in this approach and policy,” Neuneyer told Environmental Finance.
How many influential corporate voices will have to raise concerns before someone hits the pause button on Arctic Ocean drilling?
by Kiley KrohIn another stark warning about the dangers of Arctic Ocean drilling, the German bank... more
The world's ice sheets serve as cold-storage for creatures the Earth hasn't seen in eons. Scientists don't expect another Contagion or Andromeda Strain, but the release of unknown life forms does pose new concerns about effects of global warming.
By Cheryl Katz
The Daily Climate
BOZEMAN, Mont. – Locked in frozen vaults on Antarctica and Greenland, a lost world of ancient creatures awaits another chance at life. Like a time-capsule from the distant past, the polar ice sheets offer a glimpse of tiny organisms that may have been trapped there longer than modern humans have walked the planet, biding their time until conditions change and set them free again.
It's a way of recycling genomes. You put something on the surface of the ice and a million years later it comes back out.
- John Priscu, Montana State University
With that ice melting at an alarming rate, those conditions could soon be at hand. Masses of bacteria and other microbes – some of which the world hasn't seen since the Middle Pleistocene, a previous period of major climate change about 750,000 years ago – will make their way back into the environment.
Once thought to be too harsh and inhospitable to support any living thing, the ice sheets are now known to be a gigantic reservoir of microbial life. Altogether, the biomass of microbial cells in and beneath the ice sheet may amount to more than 1,000 times that of all the humans on Earth.
Internment in the ice amounts to an evolutionary strategy for microorganisms: preserving genetic blueprints by storing them in deep–freeze for a future re-entry, said John Priscu, a Montana State University professor and pioneer in the study of Antarctic microbiology.
"It's a way of recycling genomes," he said. "You put something on the surface of the ice and a million years later it comes back out."
'Storehouse for genes'
Priscu has spent the past 28 Austral summers on the southernmost continent, studying what he calls "the bugs in the ice sheet." Antarctica has the oldest ice on Earth; parts of its glacial landscape date back about a million years, and some pockets are believed to be up to 8 million years old. "There's a lot of history in that ice sheet," said Priscu.
Much of that history appears to still be alive. Priscu has found living bacteria in cores of 420,000-year-old ice and gotten them to grow in his laboratory. Other researchers report bringing far older bacteria back to life.
We don't really understand how an organism can sit around for 750,000 years in some sort of suspended animation like when Han Solo was put in carbonite.
- Brent Christner,
Louisiana State University
The ice allows microbes to enjoy a sort of immortality, preserving ancient genetic material and allowing creatures that have long disappeared from the planet to someday return. "That's what's interesting about the ice – it can serve as a storehouse for those genes," said Jonathan Klassen, an evolutionary biologist and postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "Things that went extinct have the possibility of coming back."
Could this be Jurassic Park on Ice? Not likely, scientists say. The only things able to survive in these cold, dark, crushed quarters with little to eat or drink are microscopic organisms, and most of what has been found appears related to microbes from other cold and icy environments.
Still, with heat-trapping greenhouse gases warming the polar regions much faster than the rest of the planet today, investigators have many questions about the bugs in the ice sheet.
Researchers are trying to determine how these organisms can survive such a brutal habitat, some seeming to sit in what resembles a state of suspended animation for millennia. The findings could point the way for the discovery of life in other extreme climates, such as frozen planets and moons.
The more immediate concerns sit here on Earth. Cells and carbon dumped out of melting glaciers could turn into huge piles of decomposing organic matter – compost – that generate carbon dioxide and methane as they decay, a potentially significant source of greenhouse gas emissions that climate researchers have yet to consider.
In addition to the effects on the atmosphere, masses of microorganisms flushed into the sea will certainly challenge marine systems and could upset the oceans' delicate chemistry. [See sidebar: Loss of 'world's largest wetland' could tip ocean balance]
And scientists see evidence that the microbes are evolving inside the ice sheets, exchanging DNA and gaining new traits. While these cold-loving organisms appear to pose little threat to warm-blooded creatures, they could force out existing microbial populations, with unknown consequences. [See sidebar: Warming climate sets evolution within ice to high]
The frozen "bacteriasicles," as Louisiana State University microbiologist Brent Christner describes them, can emerge from the ice after hundreds of thousands of years poised to grow and divide when favorable conditions arise. Christner, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, has revived bacteria encased in 750,000-year-old ice.
More at the linkThe world's ice sheets serve as cold-storage for creatures the Earth hasn't... more
Symptoms of a mysterious disease that has killed scores of seals off Alaska and infected walruses are now showing up in polar bears, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said on Friday.
Nine polar bears from the Beaufort Sea region near Barrow were found with patchy hair loss and oozing sores on their skin, similar to conditions found in diseased seals and walruses, the agency said in a statement.
Unlike the sickened seals and walruses, the affected polar bears seem otherwise healthy, said Tony DeGange, chief of the biology office for the USGS's Alaska Science Center. There had been no deaths among polar bears, he said.
The nine affected bears were among the 33 that biologists have captured and sampled while doing routine studies on the Arctic coastline, DeGange said.
Patchy hair loss has been seen before in polar bears, but the high prevalence in those spotted by the researchers and the simultaneous problems in seal and walrus populations elevate the concern, he said.
The USGS is coordinating with agencies studying the other animals to investigate whether there is a link, he said.
"There's a lot we don't know yet, whether we're dealing with something that's different or something that's the same," he said.
The disease outbreak was first noticed last summer. About 60 seals were found dead and another 75 diseased, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Most of the affected seals are ringed seals, but diseased ribbon, bearded and spotted seals were also found.
Several walruses in northwestern Alaska were found with the disease, and some of those died as well, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The diseased seals and walruses, many of them juveniles, had labored breathing and lethargy as well as the bleeding sores, according to the experts. The agencies launched an investigation into the cause of the disease, which has also turned up in bordering areas of Canada and Russia.
Preliminary studies showed that radiation poisoning is not the cause, temporarily ruling out a theory that the animals were sickened by contamination from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.
Spread of the disease among seals continues. A sickened and nearly bald ribbon seal pup was found about a month ago near Yakutat on the Gulf of Alaska coastline, according to the agency. The animal was so sick it had to be euthanized.
All of the afflicted species are dependent on Arctic sea ice and considered vulnerable to seasonal ice loss.
By Yereth Rosen
More at the linkSymptoms of a mysterious disease that has killed scores of seals off Alaska and... more
Video Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
One of the most striking changes that has taken place in the Arctic since the start of satellite monitoring in 1979 is the rapid decline of the perennial sea ice cover. This ice is the sea ice that survives the summer melt season, and is typically the thickest part of the sea ice cover, sometimes spanning several years. Sea ice extent has declined as the globe has warmed, but the ice cover has thinned as well. Thinner sea ice melts more easily, and as multiyear sea ice is lost, Arctic sea ice has declined more rapidly.
This NASA visualization shows the perennial Arctic sea ice cover from 1980 to 2012. The grey disk at the North Pole indicates the region where no satellite data is collected. A graph overlay shows the area's size measured in million square kilometers for each year. The '1980', '2008,' and '2012' data points are highlighted on the graph.Video Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
The disappearance of Arctic sea ice has crossed a "tipping point" that could soon make ice-free summers a regular feature across most of the Arctic Ocean, says a British climate scientist who is setting up an early warning system for dangerous climate tipping points.
Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter has carried out a day-by-day assessment of Arctic ice-cover data collected since satellite observation began in 1979. He presented his hotly anticipated findings for the first time at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London on Monday.
Up until 2007, sea ice systematically fluctuated between extensive cover in winter and lower cover in summer. But since then, says Lenton, the difference between winter and summer ice cover has been a million square kilometres greater than it was before, as a result of unprecedented summer melting. These observations are in contrast to what models predict should have happened.
Despite fears of runaway sea-ice loss after summer cover hit an all-time low in 2007 – opening the Northwest Passage for the first time in living memory – modelling studies based on our best understanding of ice dynamics indicated the ice cover should fully recover each winter. "They suggest that even if the ice declined a large amount in one year, it should bounce back," says Walt Meier of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.
Instead, Lenton's research shows a permanent alteration. According to data from the past five years, the Arctic sea ice has not recovered from the 2007 extreme low. "The system has passed a tipping point," he says.
What caused the change is still unclear. Lenton speculates that the exceptional low in 2007 (pictured, above right) might have allowed the ocean to absorb so much heat that a lot of the thicker multiyear ice, which used to persist through the summer, was melted. Alternatively, the loss of ice may have changed air circulation patterns above the Arctic in ways that have similarly "locked in" the change.
More at the linkThe disappearance of Arctic sea ice has crossed a "tipping point" that could... more
The world warmed more in the last ten years than previously thought, according to a new global temperature series updated by the Met Office.
The controversial record of climate change, put together by the Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia, is one of only a handful of global temperature data sets stretching back since the end of the 19th Century.
The temperature series was at the centre of the Climategate scandal in 2009, after hacked emails from the University of East Anglia showed scientist were unwilling to release original data.
Critics claimed that the whole argument for global warming could not be trusted if the data set was questioned.
However a series of inquiries found the science was correct, although the University of East Anglia was criticised for failing to share information.
Now a new analysis of land and sea temperatures, that includes new data from weather stations in the Arctic, has found the world is warming even more than previously thought.
(more at link)The world warmed more in the last ten years than previously thought, according to a... more
Expect records for high temps to be broken all week across the Northeast and Midwest, a rare event given that we're still in winter.
"We may be seeing about a week where we are going to be possibly breaking or at least coming close to temperature records," said National Weather Service meteorologist Byron Paulson.
It is not unusual to see record high temperatures for a day or two in March, but a week is rare, he said.
"The jet stream, which would normally be cutting across the middle of the country, is way up north into Canada" and keeping the cold weather there, said NBC TODAY show weather anchor Al Roker, leading to warm weather in the U.S.
Forecasts called for records or near-record highs on Wednesday and Thursday in the mid to upper 70s in Chicago. The warmth also brought the threat of thunderstorms to the Chicago area.
In North Dakota and South Dakota, warm and windy conditions prompted widespread warnings that wildfire conditions were ripe for explosive growth if blazes are ignited.
National Climatic Data Service
Yesterday, temperatures soared to record highs in the Northeast.
In Boston, temperatures reached a record 71 degrees Monday afternoon -- eclipsing the former high of 69 degrees for a March 12 set 110 years ago.
The unseasonably warm weather was expected to continue in Boston throughout the week, but likely not with record-setting temperatures, said Bill Simpson, a weather service meteorologist based in Taunton, Mass.
Temperatures also soared Monday afternoon in New York City to 71 degrees in Central Park, tying the record that dates back to 1890, weather.com reported.
Among the 102 high-temp records broken on Monday were those in Albany, N.Y., Bridgeport, Conn., Buffalo, N.Y., Burlington, Vt., and Newark, N.J.
St Louis, Mo., tied its record at 84 degrees, while Saline and Russell, both in Kansas, posted record 83 degrees.
Moe at the linkExpect records for high temps to be broken all week across the Northeast and Midwest,... more
Significant declines in perennial Arctic sea ice over the past decade may be intensifying a chemical reaction that leads to deposits of toxic mercury, a NASA-led study showed on Thursday.
The study found that thick, perennial Arctic sea ice was being replaced by a thinner and saltier ice that releases bromine into the air when it interacts with sunlight and cold, said Son Nghiem, a NASA researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
That in turn triggers a chemical reaction called a "bromine explosion" that turns gaseous mercury in the atmosphere into a toxic pollutant that falls on snow, land and ice and can accumulate in fish, said Nghiem, lead author of the study.
"Shrinking summer sea ice has drawn much attention to exploiting Arctic resources and improving maritime trading routes," Nghiem said.
"But the change in sea ice composition also has impacts on the environment," he said. "Changing conditions in the Arctic might increase bromine explosions in the future.
Nghiem said the released bromine can also remove ozone from the lowest level of the atmosphere, the troposphere.
Though much of the attention on Arctic sea ice has focused on summer sea ice cover, the NASA-led study, which has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, examined perennial sea ice during winter and the transition into spring.
Nghiem said scientists were still trying to determine why the Arctic had lost an estimated one million square kilometers of perennial sea ice over the last 10 years, saying it could be due to a change in wind patterns over that time period.
In March 2008, the extent of year-round perennial sea ice set a 50-year low, shrinking by an area the size of Texas and Arizona combined, according to NASA. It has been replaced by younger, seasonal sea ice that is saltier because it has not undergone the processes that wash out its salts.
The study was conducted by a team from the United States, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom and combined data from six NASA, European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency satellites as well as field observations and a model.
More at the linkSignificant declines in perennial Arctic sea ice over the past decade may be... more
Last year the Arctic, which is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth due to global climate change, experienced its warmest twelve months yet. According to recent data by NASA, average Arctic temperatures in 2011 were 2.28 degrees Celsius (4.1 degrees Fahrenheit) above those recorded from 1951-1980. As the Arctic warms, imperiling its biodiversity and indigenous people, researchers are increasingly concerned that the region will hit climatic tipping points that could severely impact the rest of the world. A recent commentary in Nature Climate Change highlighted a number of tipping points that keep scientists awake at night.
"If set in motion, [tipping points] can generate profound climate change which places the Arctic not at the periphery but at the core of the Earth system," Professor Duarte, a climatologist with the University of Western Australia's Ocean Institute and co-author other paper, said in a press release. "There is evidence that these forces are starting to be set in motion. This has major consequences for the future of human kind as climate change progresses."
One of the tipping points is sea ice loss. The Arctic wasn't just relatively hot last year—beating the previous record set in 2010 by 0.17 degrees Celsius (0.3 degrees Fahrenheit)—it also experienced the lowest sea ice volume yet recorded, and the second-lowest extent. Sea ice is essential to many Arctic species, from polar bears to walrus, and narwhals to seals. In just over 30 years, sea ice volume has dropped precipitously, declining by 76 percent from 1979 (16,855 cubic kilometers) to 2011 (4,017 cubic kilometers). This loss of sea ice also leads to greater regional and global warming, as the Arctic's sea reflects the sun's light back into space, cooling not only the region but the world.
Sea ice loss may also be having a direct impact on weather in the mid-latitudes. In fact, recent research has suggested that, perhaps unintuitively, the extreme cold spell experienced by Europe this winter was linked to the sea ice decline in the Arctic. Researchers argue that the Arctic Oscillation, which is partially responsible for weather conditions in the Northern Hemisphere in winter, has become unhinged by the sea ice decline, causing more extreme winters, such as Europe's cold spell and the massive blizzards that hit the U.S. in 2009 and 2010.
But it's not just sea ice loss that has produced stark concerns: greenhouse gases from thawing permafrost could be just as disastrous. A study published in Nature late last year warned that greenhouse gas emissions due to permafrost thaw could equal the amount currently emitted by deforestation worldwide, a significantly larger estimate than has been put forward before. Moreover, since permafrost thaw emissions include methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon, it could have an impact 2.5 times larger than deforestation overall.
Further tipping points include an input of freshwater into the Atlantic Ocean from melting ice and glaciers, already increased by 30 percent, which Durate says "may affect the whole ocean current system and, as a result, the climate at a regional level."
Governments have responded to warming in the Arctic with a resource race. Governments with Arctic territories plan to drastically expand oil and gas exploitation, utilize new shipping routes, and increase mining. The industrialization of the Arctic, according to Duarte, may only accelerate impacts on the fragile region and push tipping points.
"[Arctic tipping points] represents a test of our capacity as scientists, and as societies to respond to abrupt climate change," Duarte said. "We need to stop debating the existence of tipping points in the Arctic and start managing the reality of dangerous climate change. We argue that tipping points do not have to be points of no return. Several tipping points, such as the loss of summer sea ice, may be reversible in principle—although hard in practice. However, should these changes involve extinction of key species—such as polar bears, walruses, ice-dependent seals and more than 1,000 species of ice algae—the changes could represent a point of no return."
The solution, Durate says, is to cut the fossil fuel emissions that are causing climate change.
CITATIONS: Carlos M. Duarte, Timothy M. Lenton, Peter Wadhams, Paul Wassmann. Abrupt climate change in the Arctic. Nature Climate Change, 2012; 2 (2): 60 DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1386.
Schuur, Edward A. G.; Abbott, Benjamin. Climate change: High risk of permafrost thaw. Nature. 480, 32–33. 2011. doi:10.1038/480032a.
Polar bears approach a U.S. attack sub 280 miles from the North Pole in an encounter that would have been unimaginable a century ago. As the sea ice melts and the Arctic warms, many nations see not a climate warming, but an opportunity to exploit the region for resources. Photo by: U.S. Navy.
Read more: http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0213-hance_arctic_tippingpoints.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter#ixzz1mNBb8eGOLast year the Arctic, which is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth due to... more
Drilling in the Arctic waters of the U.S. may become as contested an issue as the Keystone Pipeline XL in up-coming months. Scientists, congress members, and ordinary Americans have all come out in large numbers against the Obama Administration's leases for exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea and the Chuckchi Sea.
Last month 573 scientists signed a letter against opening the Arctic up to drilling until more research can be done in the sensitive area. In addition, a letter signed by 60 Congress members has been sent to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar noting that the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred only two years ago. Finally, nearly half a million Americans (400,000) signed a petition against drilling in the Arctic. Critics of the Obama Administration's leases say there is no coherent plan to clean-up a spill in the icy, remote Arctic ecosystem, which already embattled by climate change.
"The Arctic is the last wild ocean on the planet. Its waters and the abundant life they support are simply too sensitive to be drilled—especially since neither the oil industry nor scientists have identified a proven way to contain or clean up a spill in the Arctic’s extreme conditions," Chuck Clusen, Alaska Project Director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a press release. "At the very least, there should be no plan to lease these areas until key scientific studies have been done and until the oil and gas industry can demonstrate its ability to contain and clean up a spill."
The letter from scientists asked the administration to "to follow through on its commitment to science" by following recommendations made by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and refrain from drilling until more research can be done.
Still, drilling in the Arctic could begin as early as this summer by Royal Dutch Shell. The oil company argues that it has a meticulous oil-response plan even given the intense conditions of drilling in the Arctic, including response vessels standing by. Shell Alaska Vice President Pete Slaiby told the Associated Press that the company would be ready with a capping stack, similar to what was used to stop the Gulf oil spill in 2010 after the well leaked for three months.
Critics of Arctic drilling argue that given the extreme weather conditions, icy waters, and the remoteness of any oil well, it would currently be impossible to clean-up an oil spill adequately. Furthermore, clean-up efforts would almost certainly have to stop during the long Arctic winter. Currently the federal government is asking Shell to stop operations 38 days before the seasonal sea ice would arrive to make certain an oil spill doesn't occur at the end of the season. Shell is trying to overturn this ruling.
"If the Obama administration were making its decision based on science rather than politics, drilling in the Arctic would be a nonstarter," Rebecca Noblin, the Alaska Director with Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). "The Arctic Ocean is America’s last best wilderness. Launching massive industrial drilling operations risks America’s Arctic legacy for oil company profits."
Read more: http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0209-hance_arctic_drilling_us.html#ixzz1m0w4myDx
http://photos.mongabay.com/j/oil.drilling.shell.arctic.568.jpgDrilling in the Arctic waters of the U.S. may become as contested an issue as the... more
A loss of sea ice could be a cause of the bitter winds that have swept across the UK in the past week, weather experts say
The bitterly cold weather sweeping Britain and the rest of Europe has been linked by scientists with the ice-free seas of the Arctic, where global warming is exerting its greatest influence.
A dramatic loss of sea ice covering the Barents and Kara Seas above northern Russia could explain why a chill Arctic wind has engulfed much of Europe and killed 221 people over the past week.
The death toll from Arctic blast has been particularly severe in the Ukraine, where many of the dead have been people sleeping on the streets. Heating and food tents have been set up to ease their hardship. In Romania 24 people are known to have died and 17 in Poland.
A growing number of experts believe complex wind patterns are being changed because melting Arctic sea ice has exposed huge swaths of normally frozen ocean to the atmosphere above.
In particular, the loss of Arctic sea ice could be influencing the development of high-pressure weather systems over northern Russia, which bring very cold winds from the Arctic and Siberia to Western Europe and the British Isles, the scientists believe. An intense anticyclone over north-west Russia is behind the bitterly cold easterly winds that have swept across Europe and some climate scientists say the lack of Arctic sea ice brought about by global warming is responsible.
"The current weather pattern fits earlier predictions of computer models for how the atmosphere responds to the loss of sea ice due to global warming," said Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. "The ice-free areas of the ocean act like a heater as the water is warmer than the Arctic air above it. This favours the formation of a high-pressure system near the Barents Sea, which steers cold air into Europe."
Sea ice covering the Barents and Kara Seas has been exceptionally low this winter, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado. But air temperatures above the Barents and Kara Seas have been higher than average. The relatively mild westerly winds that have kept Britain from freezing much of this winter have been blocked by fierce high pressure over north-west Russia, centred on an area just south of the Barents Sea.
Studies by scientists at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research have confirmed a link between the loss of Arctic sea ice and the development of high-pressure zones in the polar region, which influence wind patterns at lower latitudes further south. Scientists found that as the cap of sea ice is removed from the ocean, huge amounts of heat are released from the sea into the colder air above, causing the air to rise. Rising air destabilises the atmosphere and alters the difference in air pressure between the Arctic and more southerly regions, changing wind patterns.
Professor Rahmstorf said the Alfred Wegener study confirms earlier predictions from computer models by Vladimir Petoukhov of the Potsdam Institute, who forecast colder winters in western Europe as a result of melting sea ice.
Dr Petoukhov and his colleague Vladimir Semenov were among the first scientists to suggest a link between the loss of sea ice and colder winters in Europe. Their 2009 study simulated the effects of disappearing sea ice and found that for some years to come the loss will increase the chances of colder winters.
"Whoever thinks that the shrinking of some far-away sea ice won't bother him could be wrong. There are complex interconnections in the climate system, and in the Barents-Kara Sea we might have discovered a powerful feedback mechanism," Dr Petoukhov said.
More at the linkA loss of sea ice could be a cause of the bitter winds that have swept across the UK... more
“Arctic Story,” a full-length documentary by photographer Jenny E. Ross, documents the changing lifestyle and environment of the Inuit people of Siorapaluk, the northernmost settlement on Earth. “The sea remains unfrozen along the coast in late fall, at a time of year when it should be covered with ice,” Ross writes on the film’s Vimeo page. “Glaciers are melting, and shedding huge quantities of ice and meltwater into the ocean. The animals inhabiting the land and water are threatened by rising temperatures and loss of sea ice. Greenlanders who have survived for generations by hunting are now losing their prey and their traditional way of life."
You can also view this in the comments below if it will not play here.“Arctic Story,” a full-length documentary by photographer Jenny E. Ross,... more
This is why activism matters.
Six months ago, the Obama Administration was set to approve one of the single most environmentally disastrous fossil fuel projects imaginable.
Today, it's dead.
The Keystone XL pipeline - designed to bring filthy tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas so that oil companies can profit by selling the oil overseas - was dealt a severe setback Wednesday when President Obama said no to an election year blackmail threat by the American Petroleum Institute and its lackeys in Congress.
But President Obama didn't reject Keystone XL because he wanted to. Or because he thought it was the right thing to do. Or because he thought it would help his reelection campaign. He rejected it because you made him do it.
It's a victory for activists. But because the President rejected the pipeline on a narrow technicality,1 in no way has he set down a clear marker against the pipeline or the carbon bomb that burning Canadian tar sands oil in China represents.
We want to thank the many groups and thousands of activists, who, following the inspiring call of Bill McKibben, joined us in putting massive public pressure on the President. In fact, CREDO waged the single largest activism campaign in our history.2
It was this pressure that forced President Obama to initially delay the decision in November. And it was this pressure, combined with the Republicans' overzealous and irresponsible demand of a 60-day deadline that forced him to reject the pipeline permit.
Our pressure overcame the lies and propaganda of Republicans and oil giants, and their threats of massive political consequences if he didn't approve it.
Rejecting this pipeline was the right thing to do. But by rejecting it purely on a technicality, there are many things President Obama did not do:
•He did not close the door to this pipeline once and for all. In fact, he specifically opened the door to the southern portion of Keystone XL, which would allow this oil to be exported overseas -- the real reason TransCanada wanted Keystone XL in the first place.
•He did not explain the imperative of stopping not just this project, but others that will expedite disastrous warming. Just the opposite -- he touted the need to expand oil and gas drilling and made no mention of clean energy.
•He did not refute the lies of Republicans and polluters, whose biggest "jobs plan" is a foreign oil pipeline whose chief purpose is to export oil overseas.
The time to lead us away from dirty fuels and prevent escalating global catastrophes from climate change is here. And President Obama still can.
Tell President Obama: It's time to lead on climate. Make the case in your State of the Union Address.
Until President Obama makes a clear and compelling case to the American people for sweeping action to reduce our dependence on any and all fossil fuels, the pace of our transition will remain slower than what is required to stem the onrushing danger of climate pollution.
Until he refutes the false choice presented by Big Oil and Republicans -- that we must choose between a clean energy future and a stable economy - he empowers and remains vulnerable to their attacks.
Until he shows his commitment to clean energy over dirty fossil fuels, the energy of progressive activists will be spent fighting individual bad decisions, instead of pushing to support needed progressive policies.
And ultimately, until President Obama takes the opportunity for a true moment of leadership that publicly raises the stakes on the fight to stabilize our climate, the State of our Union will remain deeply clouded.
More at the linkThis is why activism matters.
Six months ago, the Obama Administration was set to... more
Harp seal pups are taking a hit due to global warming, according to the first study of its kind.
Ice-busting storms and warmer waters fueled by rising temperatures are diminishing the ice cover that harp seals need to survive during their first vulnerable weeks of life.
Without thick, solid ice expanses, seal babies drown or are crushed by broken-up chunks of ice.
For the harp seals, "good ice is about 30 to 70 centimeters [12 to 28 inches] thick and covers 60 to 90 percent of the water," said marine biologist Garry Stenson, who works for Canada's Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and helps to monitor and assess harp seal populations.
But ice cover in the sub-Arctic and North Atlantic Ocean has declined about 6 percent per decade since the 1970s. (Read "The Big Thaw" in National Geographic magazine.)
And as climate change continues to degrade the amount of good ice, the average pup survival rate is likely to drop over the years, experts say.
"Some years, when there's poor ice in a given pupping ground, essentially all of the pups don't make it," said study leader David Johnston, a marine biologist at Duke University.
In 2007, for example, more than 75 percent of pups in Canada perished because of poor ice conditions—in 2010, almost none survived, Johnston said.
Understanding Harp Seal Decline
To understand how climate variations are affecting sea ice—and how ice loss is affecting harp seal pups—Johnston and his team conducted three major studies, the first in 2005.
(See pictures of how climate change is changing the Arctic.)
The initial two studies examined the effects in Canada of the North Atlantic Oscillation—the difference between subtropical and polar atmospheric pressure, which pushes storms in the Northern Hemisphere to move from west to east.
The oscillation "basically governs the strength and track of storms, and sea ice formation and persistence across the entire North Atlantic," Johnston said. "We needed to understand shorter-term climate variation before looking at the long-term effects." (Take a water-and-climate change quiz.)
The third and most recent paper tied together variations in the North Atlantic Oscillation, long-term climate change, sea ice, and seal-pup death rates for the first time.
"It's really difficult to study this. There's a huge void of quantitative information about seal pup mortality," Johnston said. "So, we turned to the stranding record."
For the past few decades, groups of New England volunteers have walked their local beaches and reported dead, stranded seals. This gave Johnston and colleagues a measure of seal-pup deaths to compare with oscillation-affected sea ice.
Their results revealed that seal-pup deaths rose and fell with sea ice loss driven by fluctuations in the North Atlantic Oscillation, which are in turn caused by climate change.
"This is something we knew about awhile ago, but it's complicated," said the Canadian fisheries department's Stenson, who wasn't involved in Johnston's research.
Stenson added that Johnston and colleagues' analysis is "deeper than anyone has done in the past."
"We know that bad ice affects pup mortality, and that sea ice has been declining," Stenson said. "You have to account for that or you can't understand the population dynamics."
(Also see "Longest Polar Bear Swim Recorded-426 Miles Straight.")
Avoiding a Conservation "Train Wreck"
Though harp seals are not rare, Johnston and other researchers are concerned for the animal's future.
The new study adds to evidence that climate change, since the 1970s, has reduced the only birthing grounds that harp seal populations have ever known.
The harp seal's ability to weather long-term climatic changes in unknown, but it's not too late to avoid a "conservation train wreck," Johnston said.
"We should control what we can control. We can't control the reproductive biology of seals, or where and how ice forms in their breeding habitats from year to year," he said.
"What we can control is human behavior."
More at the linkHarp seal pups are taking a hit due to global warming, according to the first study of... more
Fierce winter storms battered Britain on Tuesday, leaving two men dead and causing widespread chaos for air, sea and rail travellers.
Winds of more than 100 miles per hour (160 kilometres per hour) swept in, closing the English Channel port of Dover for several hours and causing major disruption to train services across Britain and flights at Scottish airports.
A van driver in his 50s died after his stationary vehicle was crushed by a falling oak tree in Tunbridge Wells, a town southeast of London, police said.
A second man died after a chemical tanker was hit by a large wave in the Channel amid stormy conditions, coastguards said. A Navy helicopter evacuated the man, who was unconscious, from the vessel, but he died later in hospital.
The renowned Epsom racecourse, home of the English Derby in southeast England, was evacuated after part of the grandstand roof blew off, although there were no spectators there at the time.
Some of the worst weather was in Scotland, where at least 35 flights were cancelled at Glasgow airport and 40 at Edinburgh airport.
In Dunoon in western Scotland, five people were injured when high winds overturned caravans, while 15 people were rescued from a boat that was blown away as it was being repaired in a west coast shipyard.
Many train services that normally take passengers from England to Scotland were forced to halt their journeys in northern England due to the high winds, while bridges across Scotland were forced to close.
In Northern Ireland, 10,000 properties were left without electricity after fallen trees and severe winds damaged power lines.Fierce winter storms battered Britain on Tuesday, leaving two men dead and causing... more
I previously stated that I was going to recap 2011 regarding the extreme climate events we saw that have been the trend. I will say this is a much more daunting task than I had envisioned because without dispute, 2011 was the year climate change by our hand became indisputable. And even so, this was one of the underreported stories in 2011.
This is part 1 and covers not even barely the first three months nor all of the places where we saw these events occur. I will be continuing this in part 2 and perhaps even a part 3, with other different features to present the information.
I believe it is imperative that we understand the connection between our actions and the effects they are now having on the world we live in, our only home and the world community we share it with.
Thanks to those who supported the Climate Extremes Group in 2011. We will be here to continue providing information on this in the coming year with the hope that we will see the consciousness and perspective necessary to address this in the time we have left to do so.
This is about the survival of humanity! Our agriculture especially is being hard hit by this and food prices reflect that.
Part 2 coming soon.I previously stated that I was going to recap 2011 regarding the extreme climate... more
Belugas trapped in icy Arctic waters at risk of death
By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 2:45 PM EST, Wed December 14, 2011
More than 100 Belugas are trapped in ice flows off the Bering Sea
Unless the whales are rescued soon, they could die from suffocation or starvation
Local authorities have sought help from Moscow
Moscow (CNN) -- Prisoners in ice, more than 100 Beluga whales in far eastern Russia risk death unless rescued soon.
The flock of gentle ghost-white whales was trapped in ice floes in the Sinyavinsky Strait off the Bering Sea near the village of Yanrakynnot, said a statement from the Chukotka Autonomous Region.
Fishermen reported that the whales were concentrated in two relatively small ice holes, where, for now, they can breathe freely. But the Belugas' chance of swimming back to water is slim due to the vast fields of ice over the strait.
The whales have little food, and the ice flow is increasing, the statement said. They are at risk of rapid exhaustion and, ultimately, death by starvation or suffocation. Trapped whales are also susceptible to predators like polar bears and killer whales.
The Chukotka Autonomous Region government has sought help from federal authorities and asked for an icebreaker to help rescue the Belugas. A rescue tug, Ruby, was in the area helping a Korean cargo ship that ran aground on the southern coast of Chukotka but it would take one and a half days for it to reach the whales, the statement said.
Trapped belugas are a frequent phenomenon in the Arctic waters but are not often detected by people. In Chukotka, the last relatively successful case was recorded in 1986, when an ice-breaker helped free trapped beluga whales.
Belugas trapped in icy Arctic waters at risk of death
By the CNN... more