tagged w/ Arctic
A controversial decision last month by the Discovery Channel to forego airing its new nature series collaboration with the BBC in its entirety appears to have been resolved.
"Frozen Planet", the the newest high-budget series chronicling the amazing wildlife and nature found in earth's polar regions, recently debuted in the UK to rave reviews and record-breaking ratings. While audiences there were treated to the series' full seven episodes, the BBC made the unusual decision to sell the program worldwide without the final one titled "On Thin Ice"; dealing specifically with climate change.
The Discovery Channel was initially game to go along with the subtraction - saying that "scheduling conflicts" and the series light addressing of climate change in other episodes was good enough. Environmentalists, however, cried foul - saying that the BBC was allowing network's to censure the issue and that outlets like Discovery were giving in to climate change skeptics.
“It’s a bit like pressing the stop button on Titanic just as the iceberg appears," said one Greenpeace rep. "Climate change is the most important part of the polar story, the warming in the Arctic can’t be denied, it’s changing the environment there in ways that are making experts fearful for the future.”
Yesterday, the Discovery Channel backpedaled on their decision, announcing that the network would run the full seven episodes starting in March 2012.
According to the AP, Discovery and TLC networks head Eileen O'Neill called the series remarkable "because it's so surprising. You see sequences that have never been captured on film before—a world you would expect to see in a 'Narnia' film, not on this planet."
She adds, "You see an environment that's changing, if not disappearing, in our generation."
Frozen Planet airs on the Discovery Channel starting March 18th.A controversial decision last month by the Discovery Channel to forego airing its new... more
Since 2006, the Arctic has been less Arctic — warmer, and with less snow and ice than the region used to have — according to the latest comprehensive analysis of the Arctic environment released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
This doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Scientists have long expected that greenhouse gases would warm the Far North up faster than other parts of the globe since various feedback cycles unique to the Arctic can magnify relatively small temperature changes (melting ice and snow, for example, let exposed land and water absorb more of the Sun’s heat, which melts more ice and snow, and so on). This “Arctic amplification” is one reason why the polar bear, which relies on sea ice for survival, has been the enduring symbol of global warming activism.
This past year (October 2010-September 2011), surface temperatures in the Arctic were 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than average. The image above shows where average air temperatures were up to 3 degrees Celsius above (red) or below (blue) the long-term average (1981-2010). Credit: NOAA
Cute as they are, though, polar bears don’t have much to do with the lives of most Americans, so using them as a global-warming mascot sends the message that it’s happening far, far away.
But as the new NOAA report makes clear, it isn’t. More and more, what happens in the Arctic isn’t staying in the Arctic. One of the more intriguing findings of the 2011 Arctic Report Card concerns what some scientists are referring to as the “warm Arctic/cold continents” climate pattern, featuring winds that drive warmer air into the Arctic, while displacing frigid Arctic air masses to the south, into the US and Europe.
When this pattern occurred during December 2010, it contributed to freak snowstorms in the eastern US and western Europe. In western Greenland, meanwhile, and in other parts of the Arctic, temperatures were above average. At Climate Central we like to refer to this pattern as the “Arctic Paradox.” We even made a nifty graphic to describe it.
This climate pattern may be triggered in part by the loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic, since this alters the exchange of heat and moisture between the Arctic Ocean and the atmosphere.
According to the Report Card, the five deepest summer meltbacks in sea ice in the satellite record, which extends back to 1979, all occurred during the past five years. In 2011, sea ice extent at the end of the melt season was the second-lowest on record, while sea ice volume (that is the ice’s extent times its average thickness) set a new record low.
Jim Overland, an oceanographer at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, notes that during the 2011 melt season, 35 percent of the Arctic sea ice area was lost, and this is only expected to get worse in coming decades as the climate continues to warm. “We’re starting to see modifications of weather patterns... it’s a major research question over the next few years of how the climate will change overall [in response to sea ice loss].”
According to the report, the warm Arctic-cold continent climate pattern existed in late fall 2010 and part of last winter. During both periods, the report says, “an increased linkage between Arctic climate and mid-latitude severe weather occurred.”
The report warns that it’s very tough for the Arctic climate system to reverse course from the accelerated warming and melting path that it is on right now. “Once multi-year sea ice and glacial mass is gone,” it says, “it is difficult to return to previous conditions.”
The peer-reviewed report, which is the result of an international collaboration among 121 researchers from 14 countries, contains many other findings that point to the rapid pace of climate change in the region. Here are just a few of them:
More at the linkSince 2006, the Arctic has been less Arctic — warmer, and with less snow and ice... more
Recent arctic sea ice loss is 'unprecedented' over the past 1,450 years, concludes a reconstruction of ice records published in the journal Nature.
The study, which was led by Christophe Kinnard of Chile's Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Aridas, used terrestrial proxies including ice cores, lake sediments, tree ring data, and historical sea ice observations from the Arctic region to reconstruct past summer sea ice extent, the period when Arctic sea ice is at its minimum. They conclude that "both the duration and magnitude of the current decline in sea ice seem to be unprecedented for the past 1,450 years" and blame higher Atlantic water temperatures, which they link to human-caused climate change, for the trend.
Comparison between reconstructed late-summer Arctic ice extent and other Arctic sea ice, climate and oceanic proxy records. a, 40-year smoothed reconstructed late-summer Arctic sea ice extent. b, Chukchi Sea ice cover. c, Fram Strait sea ice cover. d, Normalized IP25 flux in the BASICC-8 sediment core, a proxy for springtime sea ice occurrence in the western Barents Sea. f, Reconstructed Arctic surface air temperature anomalies. Caption and image adapted from Kinnard et al 2011. Click image to enlarge.
"These results reinforce the assertion that sea ice is an active component of Arctic climate variability and that the recent decrease in summer Arctic sea ice is consistent with anthropogenically forced warming," the authors write.
This year summer sea ice levels fell to the second-lowest extent since record-keeping began in 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The lowest-ever extent occurred in 2007.
Predictions range widely, but many experts expect the Arctic to be free of sea ice entirely within a few decades. By almost all standards, however, sea ice is disappearing faster than expected, partly a consequence of a positive feedback loop triggered by retreating ice. Sea ice typically helps cool the Arctic by reflecting sunlight back into space. But when sea ice melts, the dark areas of open water absorb the sun's radiation, warming the region and worsening melting.
Environmentalists are concerned that the loss of summer sea ice could have dramatic implications for wildlife -- like polar bear and walrus -- that depend on pack ice for feeding.
The loss of sea ice is also driving more exploitative industries, such as gas and oil, into once untouchable regions; however burning the fossil fuels lying beneath the Arctic will only worsen climate change, and thereby exacerbate ice loss in the Arctic.
CITATION: Christophe Kinnard, Christian M. Zdanowicz, David A. Fisher, Elisabeth Isaksson, Anne de Vernal & Lonnie G. Thompson. Reconstructed changes in Arctic sea ice over the past 1,450 years. 24 November Nature Vol 479 509-512
Read more: http://news.mongabay.com/2011/1124-sea_ice_record.html#ixzz1egityp18Recent arctic sea ice loss is 'unprecedented' over the past 1,450 years,... more
IPCC Extreme Weather Report Is Another Blown Chance to Explain the Catastrophes Coming If We Keep Doing NothingFortunately, the public already understands that global warming makes extreme weather more severe, as new polling reveals:
September polling by ecoAmerica found that 57% of Americans already understand “If we don’t do something about climate change now, we can end up having our farmland turned to desert.” Duh:
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is coming out Friday with its umpteenth watered down report on climate science, in this case on extreme weather. The thing to remember about IPCC reports is that pretty much everyone involved has to sign off on every word, so it is inevitably a least common denominator document.
The actual scientific literature from 2011 is far more useful than this report — see “Study Finds 80% Chance Russia’s 2010 July Heat Record Would Not Have Occurred Without Climate Warming” and “NOAA Study Finds Human-Caused Climate Change Already a Major Factor in More Frequent Mediterranean Droughts.” I will provide the links to as many recent studies as possible in this post.
Indeed we already know from a major 2011 study that “human-induced increases in greenhouse gases have contributed to the observed intensification of heavy precipitation events found over approximately two-thirds of data-covered parts of Northern Hemisphere land areas.” As predicted, the warming has put more water vapor in the air, making deluges more intense. Climatologist Kevin Trenberth explains:
There is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms,
Obviously, since it’s getting hotter, we’re worsening extreme heat waves — both in intensity and duration and scale (the area the heat wave covers). For the same reason, we know humans are making droughts worse — in intensity, duration, and scale. The earlier snow melts also makes summer droughts worse.
Actual observations reveal that since 1950, the global percentage of dry areas has increased by about 1.74% of global land area per decade (see here). Heck, our best scientists are already using global warming to help them predict dangerous extreme weather (see “USGS Expert Explains How Global Warming Likely Contributes to East Africa’s Brutal Drought“).
The reinsurance industry understands all this (see Munich Re: “The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change”).
Again, much if not most of the public appear to have a better sense of what’s happening right now than you’ll find in the summaries of a typical IPCC report, to go by Yale’s 2011 polling and the September poll from ecoAmerica quoted at the top, which also found:
69% of Americans Know “Weather Conditions (Such as Heat Waves and Droughts) Are Made Worse by Climate Change”
The American public can’t miss the extreme weather because it is everywhere now and increasingly off the charts (see “A New Record: 14 U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters in 2011“) and links below.
Of course, what’s to come is the real issue, since we still have control over that. We’re facing 5 to 10 times the warming this century that we’ve seen in the past half century.
Unfortunately, the IPCC continues to conflate uncertainty in future emissions of greenhouse gases with uncertainty in the climate’s sensitivity to those emissions. This means they present a very large range of possible overall impacts — and that allows the deniers to trumpet the low range with their powerful fossil-fuel-funded megaphone and induces the media to provide “balance” in their stories between the mid-range and the low range.
The reality is we are on the highest emissions trends (see “Biggest Jump Ever in Global Warming Pollution in 2010 means “levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago”). And the latest science and observation points towards the high end of the climate’s sensitivity (see Journal of Climate: New cloud feedback results “provide support for the high end of current estimates of global climate sensitivity”).
Most climate scientists know what is coming if we don’t act quickly– and more and more are shedding their reticence to speak out, even if that is not yet reflected in bland, least-common-denominator IPCC reports (see Lonnie Thompson on why climatologists are speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization”).
And as long as the deniers, inactivists and climate ignorati rule the debate, inaction is assured, which means that we are risking extreme weather beyond imagination, extreme events on top of an average warming this century that could hit 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 25°F in the Arctic:
More at the linkFortunately, the public already understands that global warming makes extreme weather... more
On October 3, 2011, the Obama administration said it was moving forward with oil-drilling leases off the coast of Alaska issued by the Bush administration in 2008. The leases had been challenged by environmental groups, opposition that gained momentum after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Yet the Interior Department said it would uphold nearly 500 leases issued in the Chukchi Sea, a victory for oil companies in the battle over Arctic Ocean drilling.
Those opposing the leases say there is no proven clean-up method for an oil spill in such harsh terrain and ice-choked waters, and that the environmental assessment done by oil companies for the area is inadequate.
There are also Alaska Natives living off the coast of the Chukchi Sea who worry about how the drilling and its impacts will affect their way of life. One of them is Colleen Swan, a resident of Kivalina, Alaska. Kivalina is a largely Inupiat community on a barrier reef island in the northwest of the state. The island already faces erosion from climate change, and its residents are trying to relocate. In the meantime, they are still dependent on the local environment. Colleen shared some of her thoughts on the oil leases:
The oil leases, no matter where in the Arctic, will affect all people who live off the wild life from the ocean, because it will disrupt the migrations of sea mammals. Here are some points I like to make when the timing is appropriate:
In the event of an oil spill, the people in coastal communities are the ones whose lives are impacted directly, yet are the ones who are least prepared for such a disaster. These are communities of people who have no means to respond to oil spills to protect their shores and their villages from the oil slick.
The oil companies and the government who issues such permits will continue with business as usual and the oil companies will recover. They have reserves to fall back on. We don’t. Once we lose our livelihood, our subsistence way of life, it’s gone for a long, long time. The ocean will not recover as quickly as the oil companies and neither will the coastal communities.
The oil companies have their oil spill response plans, they have their resources. The government permit issuers don’t live up here; they will not be personally impacted. The coastal communities have no oil spill response plan that would enable us to protect our communities – we have no alternative food source identified aside from the land animals, which are not nearly enough to supply all of our needs throughout the year.
The fact that we are coastal communities, especially in Arctic Alaska, means that we would also lose our main food source, food that sustains us through the long, cold, harsh winters. The food we eat survives in the Arctic and it enables us to survive also in this climate. More than 3/4ths of our diet comes from the ocean.
These things are not thought through by neither the oil companies nor the government. As long as we are lacking in our ability to respond to oil spills, the plans that have been approved are seriously lacking. They have not begun to even comprehend the meaning of an oil spill in our already fragile environment.
Climate change is already wreaking havoc in our environment, especially in the oceans. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have caused serious harm to the ocean because of how CO2 reacts in the ocean: it has caused the ocean to become increasingly acidic, especially in the Arctic oceans.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has determined that not enough research has been done in the Arctic waters.
The entire Arctic is seriously lacking in scientific understanding of the current condition due to climate change. Because of how climate change has affected our relocation project and has caused stumbling blocks for our progress, climate change needs to be a consideration to be factored into any permitting or other federal or government-based action or decision. There is no telling how a changing climate, which has affected the ice conditions in the Arctic, will impact oil development activities.
More at the link
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2010/05/20/us/ALASKA/ALASKA-articleLarge.jpgOn October 3, 2011, the Obama administration said it was moving forward with... more
We're taking a look at some of the stories affecting our planet. Here's some news you shouldn't miss.
Panel recommending extreme climate fixes, just in caseA bipartisan panel of scientists, ex-government officials and national security experts is recommending we look into extreme engineering techniques to to reverse climate change, The New York Times reports. Members said they hoped that such extreme engineering techniques, which include scattering particles in the air to mimic the cooling effect of volcanoes or stationing orbiting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight, would never be needed. But in its report, to be released on Tuesday, the panel said it is time to begin researching and testing such ideas in case “the climate system reaches a ‘tipping point’ and swift remedial action is required.
Obama Administration OK's Arctic drilling leasesJanforGore shares a story from the Wall Street Journal, which reports the Obama administration is "moving forward with oil-drilling leases off the coast of Alaska issued by the Bush administration in 2008, a victory for oil companies in the battle over Arctic Ocean drilling."
Meanwhile, Sarkozy bans fracking in FranceFrance will maintain a ban on fracking until there is proof that shale gas exploration won’t harm the environment or “massacre” the landscape, President Nicolas Sarkozy said, BusinessWeek reports. “Development of hydrocarbon resources underground is strategic for our country but not at any price,” Sarkozy said.
Republican upping criticism on Solyndra, similar spendingRep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), who chairs an energy and commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, originally supported the program when Congress created it. Now he says, "I think the administration is putting taxpayers' money at risk in areas that are not creating jobs," NPR's "All Things Considered" reports. He still doesn't like the idea of government putting taxpayers on the line for other ventures. "We can't compete with China to make solar panels and wind turbines," Stearns says.
Emails reveal excessive chumminess with TransCanada on pipelineThe New York Times reports a State Department official provided Fourth of July party invitations, subtle coaching and cheerleading, and inside information about Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meetings to a Washington lobbyist for a Canadian company seeking permission from the department to build a pipeline that would carry crude from the oil sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
Fossil fuel subsidies up by $110 billion over last year, to $409 billionThe Hill reports that global fossil fuel consumption subsidies rose in 2010 despite a pledge by G-20 nations to take steps to reduce them in coming years, according to a new analysis. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated Tuesday that subsidies that artificially lower fuel prices reached $409 billion in 2010, an increase of almost $110 billion above 2009 levels.
Congressman tracking 'anti-environment' votes by 112th CongressOur boss wrote yesterday about a new, searchable database unveiled by Rep. Henry Waxman that reveals “anti-environment votes by the 112th Congress. The database details the 125 votes taken to date by the House that undermine the protection of the environment.” Check out the database here.
We're taking a look at some of the stories affecting our planet. Here's some... more
The Obama administration said Monday it was moving forward with oil-drilling leases off the coast of Alaska issued by the Bush administration in 2008, a victory for oil companies in the battle over Arctic Ocean drilling.
The Interior Department said it would uphold nearly 500 leases issued in the Chukchi Sea after several environmental groups challenged the sale of the leases in court.
The department's decision came in response to the lawsuit filed by environmental groups, and those groups still had the option of challenging the department's determination.
Among the companies securing leases in what is known as Lease Sale 193 was Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the energy giant already at the center of another high-profile fight to secure permits to drill in the Arctic.
Shell said it planned to begin exploring the Chukchi Sea area in 2012. Spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh called the exploration plan "technically and scientifically sound."
Environmental groups oppose the Chukchi Sea leases, contending U.S. regulators don't know enough about the Arctic's marine life and ecosystem to allow drilling in the region. The groups, invoking last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, also raise concerns about the ability of energy companies to respond to spills in the Arctic's icy waters.
The Interior Department's decision is the latest example of the Obama administration siding with energy companies against environmentalists amid a weak economy. Last month, President Barack Obama withdrew proposed ozone-emission rules that businesses said would have killed jobs.
"The Obama administration said it would make decisions in the Arctic based on sound science, but today it flunked the test," said Erik Grafe, a lawyer at Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm.
The fate of Lease Sale 193 has been uncertain since 2010, when a federal court told the Interior Department to reconsider certain aspects of the sale. Among the issues the court asked the department to re-examine were the environmental impact of natural-gas development.
Environmental groups and Alaska native organizations had sued the Interior Department in 2008 to challenge the lease sale. In the 2008 lease sale, the Bush administration collected bids worth about $2.7 billion.
The Interior Department said Monday it had addressed issues raised by the environmental groups. It said those drilling in the area would be required to mitigate risks to wildlife and take precautions against spills.
The debate over Lease Sale 193 represents the latest skirmish in a broader battle over Arctic drilling. Last week, environmental groups sued to block Shell's plans to explore in the Beaufort Sea, east of the Chukchi, saying the company hadn't yet developed an adequate oil-response strategy.
More at the linkThe Obama administration said Monday it was moving forward with oil-drilling leases... more
This NASA video shows the decline of Arctic sea ice from its near-maximum state in early spring 2011 to the near-minimum state on September 9, 2011.
Arctic sea ice goes through swings every year. Ice typically grows from October to February, and then slowly melts during the spring and summer months. During the end of the winter months, the greatest development of ice is called the annual maximum. Then, during the end of summer around September, the decline of ice is at its annual minimum. NASA created a video showing the decline of the ice from its near-maximum state (in early spring 2011) to the near-minimum state (in September 2011) using the AMSR-E instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite.
When it comes to climate change, scientists are worried about the decline in Arctic sea ice. As the white, reflective ice disappears, darker ocean waters appear. Snow and ice have a high albedo, meaning that a lot of sunlight reflects away from the surface. Ocean waters have a lower albedo, which means more sunlight can be absorbed into the water due to less reflectivity. If we see more ocean and less ice, more melting can occur. In the image below, Arctic sea ice is smaller than ever before. Ice extent is the lowest it has been for 2011, even at the maximum in March – that is, the maximum for 2011 is smaller than previous maximums.
According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), August 2011 was the 15th consecutive August and 123rd consecutive month that saw below-average Arctic sea ice extent. (The average period is from 1979 to 2000.) During the month of August 2011, the average Arctic sea ice extent was 28 percent below the long-term average, ranking as the second smallest August extent since satellite records began in 1979. Arctic sea ice volume reached a record daily low on August 31, 2011, of 1,026 cubic miles (4,275 cubic kilometers). The previous record daily low was held back in September 15, 2010, with 1,062 cubic miles (4,428 cubic kilometers).
The NCDC also includes that the difference between the August 2011 extent and the long-term monthly average was around 830,000 square miles (2.15 million square kilometers), which is roughly the size of Greenland.
Bottom line: Arctic sea ice is shrinking. NASA’s video shows the extent of the melting of ice from early spring 2011 into September 2011. The minimum is the lowest ever measured.
More at the linkThis NASA video shows the decline of Arctic sea ice from its near-maximum state in... more
U.S. scientists have unveiled new video documentation of what they say is another stunning effect of the world's steadily warming oceans: the unusual haul-out of up to 20,000 walruses off the coast of Alaska.
The video compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska Science Center, together with data collected from radio collars affixed to some of the animals, could help scientists learn more about the problems posed by shrinking sea ice for the creatures that call the distant Arctic home. The ice has been documented this year as among the lowest in recorded history.
Walruses normally spend summers far offshore in the Chukchi Sea, foraging for food on the relatively shallow continental shelf and resting on floating ice. But much of the ice isn't there this year. So the animals are forced either to dive unusually deep off the continental shelf looking for food or to choose -- as many apparently have -- to lumber ashore and try to find food there.
This is the fourth recent year that the barren coast near Point Lay, Alaska, has hosted the massive walrus gathering.
For an animal being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act, the unusual behavior is problematic. Most of the animals clustered onshore are females with calves, and calves can be trampled to death when so many animals crowd together, said Chad Jay, walrus project leader for the USGS' Alaska Science Center.
Moreover, scientists aren't sure there is adequate food for the animals so near shore. Adult walruses consume more than 100 pounds of food a day, mainly clams, snails and marine worms foraged from the ocean floor. That's why they prefer not to venture into deep water off the continental shelf, now the only place left with sea ice during the summer.
"They become a little more restricted in the areas they can forage, because they now can only access what's available from shore," Jay said in an interview with The Times.
Walruses have been swimming as far as 40 miles offshore from the haul-out to find food, he said.
There's more. Although similar haul-outs in Alaska were documented in 2007, 2009 and 2010 (in 2008 there was remnant sea ice and the walruses stayed offshore), this is the first year many walruses have left the Point Lay haul-out and begun venturing north.
Where are they going? There's no sea ice there. How will they manage?
"We're wondering what they're going to do, because they're spending their time in the water while they're out there," said Jay. He said radio-collared animals have been tracked to about 120 miles north of Point Lay, still in the Chukchi Sea.
"If the weather gets up, it could exhaust the animals," he said. "The concern is more for the very young animals. The calves are totally dependent on the mother for protection, and the calves are also hitching a ride on the mother when they're traveling, and sometimes the mother and calf can get separated."
More at the linkU.S. scientists have unveiled new video documentation of what they say is another... more
The area covered by Arctic sea ice reached its lowest point this week since the start of satellite observations in 1972, German researchers announced on Saturday.
"On September 8, the extent of the Arctic sea ice was 4.240 million square kilometres (1.637 million square miles). This is a new historic minimum," said Georg Heygster, head of the Physical Analysis of Remote Sensing Images unit at the University of Bremen's Institute of Environmental Physics.
The new mark is about half-a-percent under his team's measurements of the previous record, which occurred on September 16, 2007, he said.
According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the record set on that date was 4.1 million sq km (1.6 sq mi). The discrepancy, Heygster explained by phone, was due to slightly different data sets and algorithms.
"But the results are internally consistent in both cases," he said, adding that he expected the NSIDC to come to the same conclusion in the coming days.
Arctic ice cover plays a critical role in regulating Earth's climate by reflecting sunlight and keeping the polar region cool.
Retreating summer sea ice -- 50 percent smaller in area than four decades ago -- is described by scientists as both a measure and a driver of global warming, with negative impacts on a local and planetary scale.
It is also further evidence of a strong human imprint on climate patterns in recent decades, the researchers said.
"The sea ice retreat can no more be explained with the natural variability from one year to the next, caused by weather influence," Heygster said in an statement released by the university.
"Climate models show, rather, that the reduction is related to the man-made global warming which, due to the albedo effect, is particularly pronounced in the Arctic."
Albedo increases when an area once covered by reflective snow or ice -- which bounces 80 percent of the Sun's radiative force back into space -- is replaced by deep blue sea, which absorbs the heat instead.The area covered by Arctic sea ice reached its lowest point this week since the start... more
The blanket of ice coating Earth’s northernmost seas was thin and ragged in July, setting a record low for sea ice extent for the month. Sea ice stretched across only 3.06 million square miles; the long-term July average is 3.9 million. The photo above provides a glimpse of what this seasonal unraveling looks like. Taken by a photographer onboard the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy, the photo shows scientists treading carefully through a seemingly endless landscape of ice, sea, and meltwater in the Canada Basin of the Arctic on July 22, 2005.
In the few weeks remaining in the 2011 sea ice melt season up north, Arctic winds and waves and weather could change, possibly even slowing the melt rate. But researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, are not optimistic about the future of the floating ice—either this year, or in the long-term.
“Sea ice extent at the end of this summer is likely to rank as one of the four lowest in the satellite record,” said Mark Serreze, director of the NSIDC*, a University of Colorado center funded in part by NASA, NOAA, and the National Science Foundation. “Exactly where we end up in the books depends in large part on changeable weather patterns over the next month.”
Serreze and other scientists aren’t concerned about the sea ice only because of the potential loss of habitat and changes in the Arctic region. The huge expanse of reflective northern ice affects climate around the world. Arctic sea ice helps cool the Northern Hemisphere, reflecting sunlight that would otherwise be absorbed by ocean water. Sea ice also protects fragile coastlines from storm surges and battering waves, and it may even affect weather far south of the Arctic.
NSIDC tracks sea ice extent year-round, and the minimum extent of the ice – marking the end of the melt season – generally hits in mid-September. By then, the sunlight is almost gone and a chill returns, allowing the floating ice to begin knitting itself back together.
In individual years, weather and waves play a huge role in determining just how far the ice retreats during summer. Winds can pile ice into thick floes or spread it out thinly over a larger area. For most of this summer, weather patterns in the Arctic have brought relatively warm temperatures and winds that helped speed ice loss. Since July – the last full month of data available – ice loss slowed down for a short time, but current Arctic sea ice extent is hovering just above levels seen in 2007, the lowest year since the satellite records began in 1979.
A single bad year wouldn’t be reason for concern. But NSIDC has been tracking sea ice extent for 32 years using satellite data, and the low sea ice this year is not isolated. The amount of Arctic Ocean covered by sea ice has dropped 6.8 percent per decade in July since 1979, and more than 10 percent per decade in September, the month with the lowest ice cover.
“We have long known that as the climate warms up, it would be the Arctic where the impacts would be first seen and would be most pronounced,” Serreze said. “What we are seeing unfolding in the Arctic, while disturbing, is no surprise.”
More at linkThe blanket of ice coating Earth’s northernmost seas was thin and ragged in... more
Los Angeles Times...
Polar bear killed in Arctic 'hazing' operation
August 25, 2011 | 2:23 pm
A polar bear was inadvertently shot to death by a security guard at BP's Endicott field on the North Slope of Alaska when it approached a compound where oil workers live.
The shooting earlier this month marked the first time one of the region's iconic bears -- listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act -- has died during a hazing operation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Bruce Woods said in an interview. The guard tried to "haze," or scare away the bear, but ended up shooting it.
"As far as during authorized hazing operations, there has not been a polar bear mortality, although of course anyone can kill a bear to protect a human life," Woods said.
There are about 3,500 polar bears along the Arctic coast of Alaska, but their survival is increasingly threatened by shrinking sea ice.
Federal wildlife officials have imposed strict restrictions to prevent operations on the North Slope's busy oil fields from harming the bears, who in recent years have been spotted more frequently on shore as their ice habitat diminishes.
Hazing of bears who approach oil operators is permitted, and that apparently is what the security guard, contracted to BP by Purcell Security, tried to do on the evening of Aug. 3 when a female bear was found walking toward a housing area at Endicott, near Prudhoe Bay.
The guard flashed the lights and sounded the horn and siren on his vehicle, but when the bear began acting aggressively instead of retreating, he fired what he thought was a beanbag round, intended to strike the bear's hindquarters and scare it away.
The bear did run off but was spotted in the same area for several days afterward. "It just hung around," BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said.
"People believed, I think, by the bear's demeanor and activity, just that fact that it wasn't going anywhere, that it might be injured or somehow in distress. We communicated that to Fish and Wildlife: 'This is what the bear is doing, what do you want us to do?' We followed their directions: 'Monitor the bear, keep people away,'" he said.
Several days later, the bear swam to a nearby island and by Aug. 15 had stopped moving -- dead, it turned out. It was then determined that the security guard had fired not a beanbag round but a "cracker shell," a loud explosive intended to be fired near but not at the bear to scare it away.
The bear is believed to have died of internal injuries as a result of the cracker shell penetrating her side, but a full investigation by the Fish and Wildlife Service is underway.
"I can tell you that apparently a bear was shot and injured as part of a hazing operation, and exactly what the details are of what happened are what we are not talking about yet," Woods said.
Rinehart said the company already has taken steps to require clear packaging and labeling of hazing rounds to avoid future confusion.
"We don't think we've ever had this happen on our lease before, and we're going to do everything we can to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said.
Polar bears are a common sight on the North Slope. BP had 541 sightings of the animals between 2005 and 2010 -- many of the sightings might have involved the same bear -- and employees used hazing to drive them away from oil operations in 159 cases.
Woods said the federal permits issued to oil operators under the Endangered Species Act authorize only "non-lethal disturbance" of the animals.
.Los Angeles Times... Polar bear killed in Arctic 'hazing' operation... more
The recent scientific literature makes clear that while that death spiral could theoretically be reversed, it would require policies that climate science deniers have successfully demonized, policies many in the traditional media regularly pooh pooh or undercut.
So we have passed a de facto tipping point, “the critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development.” If that wasn’t obvious from observations, then it should have been clear from a December study in Nature widely misunderstood by the media. That study showed sea ice extent crashing by two thirds by the 2030s and then collapsing to near-zero shortly thereafter — unless we cut global GHG emissions about 60% to 70% almost immediately and have further cuts after that, an implausible assumption the authors never spelled out clearly (as I explain here).
Now comes a new study that has also proven an irresistible source of confusion to both the deniers and the media, “A 10,000-Year Record of Arctic Ocean Sea-Ice Variability—View from the Beach” (subs. req’d). The news release is as misleading as the Nature article:
“The bad news is that there is a clear connection between temperature and the amount of sea ice. And there is no doubt that continued global warming will lead to a reduction in the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. The good news is that even with a reduction to less than 50% of the current amount of sea ice the ice will not reach a point of no return: a level where the ice no longer can regenerate itself even if the climate was to return to cooler temperatures,” [lead author Svend] Funder says.
Huh? How precisely is the climate going to return to cooler temperatures? It really bugs me when scientists who are very sophisticated in one arena — here, proxy reconstructions of ice coverage of part of the Arctic — exhibit magical thinking in another area.
The best recent models show staggeringly high Arctic warming this century if we stay on our current emissions path (see M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F — with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F). Cooling ain’t in the cards. Quite the reverse.
The Nature article projected a 50% decline in sea ice within 2 decades no matter what we do on emissions — and then total collapse even on a scenario with significant emissions reductions. As an aside, since that study almost certainly underestimated the rate of sea ice loss — for instance, it ignores black carbon, a major source of ice loss — I tend to think that the actual summer ice loss will be somewhere between what that study projected and the oversimplified quadratic projections in the figure above.
The BBC, which promised better coverage on climate change, failed to deliver this time — as can be seen in its story, “Arctic ‘tipping point’ may not be reached.”
NYT opinion blogger Andy Revkin wrote one of the worst pieces in his career, “On Arctic Ice and Warmth, Past and Future,” which quickly became a darling of the hard-core anti-science deniers for these absurd lines:
But even as I push for an energy quest that limits climate risk, I’m not worried about the resilience of Arctic ecosystems and not worried about the system tipping into an irreversibly slushy state on time scales relevant to today’s policy debates. This is one reason I don’t go for descriptions of the system being in a “death spiral.”
The main source of my Arctic comfort level — besides what I learned while camped with scientists on the North Pole sea ice — is the growing body of work on past variations* in sea ice conditions in the Arctic. The latest evidence comes in a study in the current issue of Science. The paper, combining evidence of driftwood accumulation and beach formation in northern Greenland with evidence of past sea-ice extent in parts of Canada, concludes that Arctic sea ice appears to have retreated far more in some spans since the end of the last ice age than it has in recent years.
“Not worried about the resilience of Arctic ecosystems“? Seriously?
Exactly what Arctic ecosystems are going to survive the accelerated warming humans are imposing, warming that will occur at twice the rate of the planet as a whole? And that is compounded by ocean acidification, which is equally devastating in the Arctic.
Revkin’s wishy-washy “energy quest” can’t stop either of those disasters. Indeed, Revkin never tells you what CO2 concentrations target he is questing for, but he endlessly criticizes those of us who actually spell out a target, like 450 ppm (or lower) and a path to achieve it. He dismisses such targets as a “magically safe level of carbon dioxide” — a reductio ad absurdum meant to put him above the fray, allowing him to critique all those trying to avert 800+ ppm — a CO2 level he once told me is where he expects we’ll end up.
Indeed in 2008, he himself quoted Nobelist Sherwood Rowland who thinks we’re headed toward 1000 ppm, an unimaginable catastrophe. Back then he wrote, “Keep in mind that various experts and groups have said risks of centuries of ecological and economic disruption rise with every step toward and beyond 450 parts per million.” Now, by failing to identify even a range we should aim for, say 400 to 500 ppm or policies that could plausibly keep us near such a range — and worse, by mocking those of us who do — he is effectively endorsing the acceptability of the 800 to 1000 ppm range.
The science is clear that human-caused Arctic warming has overtaken 2,000 years of natural cooling, as a “seminal” 2009 Science study found” [see figure below]:
In short, “greenhouse gas emissions are overwhelming the system,” as David Schneider, a visiting scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the co-authors of the 2009 Science article put it.
Oh, but Revkin says he’s “not worried about the system tipping into an irreversibly slushy state on time scales relevant to today’s policy debates.”
Well, NOAA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) are worried, and unlike Revkin, they have published science to back them up — see NSIDC bombshell: Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s, releasing 100 billion tons of carbon by 2100.
More at the linkThe recent scientific literature makes clear that while that death spiral could... more
Reporting from Seattle— Shell Exploration was conditionally cleared Thursday to proceed with the most ambitious oil and gas drilling program ever attempted in the U.S. Arctic, a plan that would offer access to a crucial new domestic energy supply in one of the most environmentally fragile regions on Earth.
After years of legal wrangling by Shell and Arctic conservationists, the exploration plan in the Beaufort Sea off the coast of Alaska was tentatively approved by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which could clear the way for Shell to begin drilling three exploratory wells as early as next July.
Several key hurdles remain, including federal permits for discharging air pollutants and disturbing the whales, seals, walrus and polar bears that reside near the proposed drilling sites, and those hurdles could easily delay the drilling further, though opponents by now are running short of legal options.
A decision is expected as early as next week on the additional crucial issue of Shell's plan for cleaning up any oil spilled during drilling operations — a matter of concern because of the fragility of the Arctic environment and the difficulty in cleaning up oil amid ice floes, the towering waves of Arctic storms and the long hours of dark once the autumn drilling season winds to a close.
Conservationists also fear that drilling could disrupt a key resting and feeding area in Camden Bay for endangered bowhead whales.
Shell has a separate application under review to launch up to six exploratory wells in the nearby Chukchi Sea, an operation that also could get underway next year if approvals are in place.
"Shell has come back with the largest and most aggressive drilling proposal we've ever seen in the U.S. Arctic. We've never seen anything of this scale before in this country," said Holly Harris, attorney for the environmental law group Earthjustice, which has battled drilling plans in the Arctic.
"This is a disaster waiting to happen…. Scientific integrity and government accountability took their familiar back seat to oil company profits and power today," she said.
But officials in Alaska who have long been frustrated with lengthy court delays over opening production on what they see as a crucial and obvious new energy resource welcomed the federal agency's decision, which followed an earlier approval that was tied up by court orders for additional environmental reviews.
"Approval of this exploration plan is fantastic news for Alaska's oil and gas industry and is a welcome shot in the arm for Alaska's long-term economic good health," Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said. "I'm confident this will ultimately be the first of many developments to keep oil flowing through Alaska's economic lifeline, the trans-Alaska oil pipeline."
More at the link.Reporting from Seattle— Shell Exploration was conditionally cleared Thursday to... more
Interior Department Fails to Collect Billions in Oil Royalties, Launches Major Investigation into … Polar Bear ResearchA US government department that has spent six months investigating potential fraud in polar bear studies has failed to collect tens of billions of dollars in royalties from oil companies, it has emerged….
The controversy over [polar bear expert Charles] Monnett has become an embarrassment for the agency, which was renamed after last year’s BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Texas exposed the overly close relationship between government regulators and the industry that they were meant to be regulating.
A US watchdog has designated the interior department at ‘high risk’ of fraud, waste and abuse.
I have previously written about the Kafkaesque investigation into polar bear researcher Charles Monnett (see “Breaking Exclusive: Polar Bears Still Screwed by Global Warming“).
As the UK Guardian reports, what’s even more amazing about the whole thing is that while the Inspector General has been sending numerous innumerate investigators to question Monnett about science whose validity has never been questioned, they have ignored the real incompetence at the Interior Department, which is costing American taxpayers of billions of dollars. Here’s the rest of that story:
Investigators from the Department of Interior called in a government wildlife biologist, Charles Monnett, for questioning on his design of an ongoing polar bear study, which was conducted on a budget of $1.2m over seven years.
Monnett was suspended on 18 July for unspecified “integrity issues” related to the study, and an alleged oversight of about $50m in research contracts.
But while the interior department has been focusing on polar bears, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has faulted the department for failing to collect billions in royalties from oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic.
The GAO designated the department at “high risk” of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement in a report to Congress in February 2011.
“Interior does not have reasonable assurance that it is collecting its share of billions of dollars of revenue from oil and gas produced on federal lands, and it continues to experience problems in hiring, training, and retaining sufficient staff to provide oversight and management of oil and gas operations on federal lands and waters,” the GAO wrote.
The report went on to say that the interior department had consistently failed to monitor oil and gas production – which made it impossible for the government to collect a full share of the royalties it was owed from oil companies.
It is unclear how many billions the government failed to collect, it added. However, it noted a 2008 report from the GAO, which estimated potential losses on royalties from deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico between 1996 and 2000 to be as high as $53bn.
More at the linkA US government department that has spent six months investigating potential fraud in... more
This is from the:
Snippet from link:
OBuoy Project, where real-time telemetry is used to bring both data and video from a buoy (UBuoy 2) moored in the Barents Sea north of Alaska to anyone with a web connection. Scientists have even spliced images from the buoy into a spectacular movie for all to see.
Prospects for continued documentation of the sea ice melt around the buoy seem to have dimmed somewhat lately, as video transmission has ceased and the temperature of its battery has spiked (suggesting that the buoy may have been swamped by ice).
H/T to Neven's Sea Ice blog contributor R. Gates, who alerted folks there as to the UBuoy Program and to another contributor at Neven's, Rob Dekker, who found the video and the evidence of the buoy's perhaps premature end.This is from the: Snippet from link: OBuoy Project, where real-time telemetry is... more
A wildfire that burned over 400 square miles of Alaska tundra in the scorching summer of 2007 poured as much carbon into the atmosphere as the entire Arctic normally absorbs each year, according to a new study in the scientific journal Nature.
The tundra fire, near the Anaktuvuk River of Alaska's North Slope, was considered an unprecedented event at the time. It was, by far, the largest single wildfire on treeless Arctic tundra ever recorded, and was twice as big as all previously recorded Alaska tundra fires combined.
But it may be an ominous sign of climate problems in the future, according to the study and the researchers who conducted it.
The study, published on Thursday, measured the volume of carbon emitted by the months-long fire -- although massive it covered only a tiny portion of the vast North Slope -- at 2.1 million metric tons.
"It was the same order of magnitude as what the Arctic takes up and stores in plant biomass," said Syndonia Bret-Harte of the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, one of the study's authors.
That creates the potential for a "positive feedback" loop that would reinforce the warming trend in the far north, according to the study.
Repeated large fires might even cancel out any potential carbon-absorption benefits from increased plant growth in the Arctic that has been made possible by the region's warming climate, the researchers said.
Fires on the Arctic tundra are not unusual, but most blazes are very small and short-lived because of the cool climate and the dampness of the environment, Bret-Harte said.
The 2007 fire, however, occurred under extreme conditions -- an especially hot, dry year, marked by the smallest Arctic sea ice cover ever recorded by satellite, plus strong winds. The lightning-sparked blaze began in July of that year and smoldered for weeks before it was whipped up by winds in September, when tundra plants were dried out, she said.
All indications are that climate changes in the Arctic will make future fires more likely, Bret-Harte said. Lightning strikes on the North Slope have increased dramatically over the last 20 years, raising the potential for fire starts, while temperatures are rising, he said.
"The expectation would be that conditions that allowed that to happen could probably recur in the future," Bret-Harte said. "We'll probably see it more frequently than we have in the past."
One bright note in the study was the discovery that none of the material burned in the fire was older than 50 years, contrary to fears the fire released carbon that had been stored in the soils from vegetation that grew hundreds or thousands of years ago.
More at the link.A wildfire that burned over 400 square miles of Alaska tundra in the scorching summer... more
This group is for documentation of the extreme climate/weather events that have taken place around the globe and that continue to affect our water, agriculture, ecosystems, economy and way of life. Connecting the dots on this is essential to preparation, adaptation and survival of the human and all other species.
If ever there was a time when we need to look beyond the politics and propaganda this is it. If you care to help in connecting these dots and in bringing awareness of this reality in order to prepare and adapt and hold those who need to be leading on this with us accountable, then please join our group.
Thanks.This group is for documentation of the extreme climate/weather events that have taken... more
Warming in the Arctic is causing the release of toxic chemicals long trapped in the region's snow, ice, ocean and soil, according to a new study.
Researchers from Canada, China and Norway say their work provides the first evidence that some persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are being "remobilized" into the Arctic atmosphere.
"Our results indicate that a wide range of POPs have been remobilized into the Arctic atmosphere over the past two decades as a result of climate change, confirming that Arctic warming could undermine global efforts to reduce environmental and human exposure to these toxic chemicals," write the scientists, whose analysis was published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
That's of concern because POPs can travel long distances on air currents, persist in food and water supplies, and accumulate in the body fat of humans and other animals. The pollutants also can be passed from mother to fetus and have been linked to serious health problems in humans and other animals.
Co-author Hayley Hung, a scientist with Environment Canada's Air Quality Division who studies toxic organic pollutants in the Arctic, said that in recent years, researchers had posited that warmer conditions would liberate POPs stored in land, ice and ocean reservoirs back into the atmosphere.
"The chemicals are known to be semi-volatile," Hung said. "They have the ability to evaporate out of storage" -- if temperatures are warm enough.
She and her colleagues began to suspect the phenomenon was already under way when they examined 20 years of air monitoring data collected at a high Arctic monitoring site, Zeppelin Mountain Air Monitoring Station in Norway's Svalbard archipelago.
Toxic blasts from the past
Beginning in the mid-2000s, scientists observed higher levels of certain POPs, including hexachlorobenzene and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), at the Norwegian research station. That stood out, Hung said, because the chemicals' use has been restricted to the point where many POPs are no longer produced. As a result, the level of POPs in Arctic air had been decreasing.
"Stockpiles still exist, but these are limited sources," she said, "and the sources are already known to us. So we were surprised to see concentrations actually coming up at the Svalbard station."
The scientists then examined two decades of monitoring data from the Alert monitoring station in the Canadian province of Nunavut. They saw smaller, though still significant, increases in POPs at the second site.
Hung believes the larger increase at the Svalbard site is caused by its proximity to ocean areas where sea ice has retreated. "This is a sign to us that these chemicals are indeed evaporating out of the ocean," she said.
More at the linkWarming in the Arctic is causing the release of toxic chemicals long trapped in the... more