In the meantime the heat and the ocean acidity that travels with it are doing untold damage in our oceans.
There have been several articles about the pause in global warming and these have been instigated by some new research which shows that the heat is going into the Atlantic. In fact it said that the Pacific Ocean could not absorb the sufficient heat to account for the pause. The researchers looked at the records from the Argo floats and found that the extra heat was going into the Atlantic.
93% of the world’s heat is stored in the oceans so it has an enormous effect on the atmospheric surface temperature anyway and our records of the oceans are abysmal. The Argo floats are doing great stuff but they have only been in operation ten years and only record the top 2000 metres, which is not much to go on.
A quick look at the NASA temperature records since 1880 shows that there have been two previous pauses and the last one lasted thirty years so we have a bit to go yet.
The pauses are caused by heat going into the ocean deeps from the Gulf Stream, Southern ocean and Alaskan current and coming out decades later.
In the meantime the heat and the ocean acidity that travels with it are doing untold damage in our oceans.
We are not going to run out of oil in the near future but all is not well in the oil world. It is decades now since oilmen have found more oil than we are consuming and increasingly difficult exploration has led to very deep ocean wells, Arctic exploration and fracking for tight oil. All are extremely expensive. Fracking has helped the USA to boost its oil production substantially and consumption savings in other parts of the world has offset the rising demand in emerging economies such as China and India.
What has changed is the high cost of exploration and extraction for very meagre returns. The oil companies have been selling assets and taking on more debt to fund their operations and the breakeven price of new oil has moved from $40 dollars a barrel to around $100 a barrel and some at $120 a barrel.
At the moment the price of oil is hovering around $100 but if ever there was a time for countries to be investing in electrical transport it is now. Many countries, including New Zealand have almost no other type of transport power except oil and their economies will be hard hit with a big price rise.
Oil is a diminishing resource with a volatile price and it would be prudent to have alternative transport systems to insure the economy against sudden price hikes.
The great boreal forests of the northern hemisphere, known as Taiga, are the world's largest and make up 29% of the total world forest cover. (Wikipedia). As the climate changes and the Polar region warms faster than the lower latitudes these forests become susceptible to fire.
Jason Box has been working in Greenland for many years and has become concerned about the deteriorating quality of the snow and the associated speed of melting. He has mounted a Dark Snow project aimed at researching and quantifying how soot from a variety of sources is lying on the snow is making it more absorbent to heat from the sun which increases the melt rate. You can follow his work on http://climatecrocks.com/
This northern summer there are huge fires burning in Canada and Siberia that are carrying soot around the globe and depositing it on the snow. This will be happening all round the permafrost region of the Taiga forests causing the snow to have a darker, less reflective surface. In Siberia a total of 4,929 fires have burnt 834,100 hectares of woodlands since the season begun. (http://en.itar-tass.com/russia/735659) and in Canada 4330 fires on 3,858,947 hectares.
This causes two problems. One is that it speeds up the melt rate of the massive ice store in the Greenland ice sheet which will raise the sea levels, and the second is that the melting snow increases the warmth of the Arctic permafrost, thereby releasing huge quantities of methane from the unfrozen subsoil.
Greenland contains enough ice, which if melted, could raise sea levels seven meters and while nobody is saying that this will happen quickly, just half a meter added to other melts would have extremely serious economic consequences and therefore of considerable concern.
The Tundra region needs to remain frozen because it is estimated that not less than 1,400 Gt of Carbon (Shakhova et al.2008) is presently locked up in the permafrost as methane and as methane is 72 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas over 20 years it can have a powerful effect on the climate.
A lot is happening in remote areas that can affect our lives and much of it goes unreported.
Two items in the news recently could be a worrying indicator of the future.
The first is the three holes that have suddenly appeared in the Siberian tundra and are reportedly caused by a methane explosion. There have always been worries about the possibility of a warming climate melting the permafrost and releasing methane from the frozen soil. This soil really consists of massive amounts of organic matter, grass and wood which is half rotted and held in suspension by the extreme cold. If the ice melts the organic matter rots and huge quantities of methane are released. As methane is a greenhouse gas that is 72 times as powerful as CO2 over a twenty year period this has the potential to change the world’s climate very rapidly.
The second incident is the sudden algae bloom in Lake Erie which has suddenly erupted and turned the water toxic and unsuitable for drinking. This is caused primarily by phosphates in the water which come from farming activities and it is triggered by warm water temperatures. The worry here is that tens of millions of people rely on water from the Great Lakes and that the climate is forecast to increase the temperature in the region by over three degrees centigrade this century.
Two swallows do not make a summer but these incidents highlight the type of problem that a warming world can bring.
The IPCC report on climate change is the gold standard as it is the distilled result of thousands of the top climate scientists in the world. Its weakness is that it can only report what can be definitively proved at the time the report is written and also, the projections of the worst case scenario, RCP 8.5, are so bad that there is not much research to say what the result would be if it actually happened.
There is a quote from Donald Rumsfeld explaining the reasons for invading Iraq without evidence which is more appropriate for the unpredictability of climate change. ‘There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.’
I also like the quote from Mike Tyson. ’Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.’
We are making big changes to our planet and even the last ten years have shown us that we are not prepared for the sudden changes that have happened. The Arctic ice was not supposed to melt for many years yet, and the big changes to the jet stream that have caused chaos in the USA, the UK, Germany, Russia and China were not forecast at the start of this century.
Here are two areas that point to an uncertain future but I am sure that they are not the only ones.
This chart from the International Energy Agency overlays the real CO2 levels over the IPCC forecast scenarios from 2000.
The above chart from the International Energy Agency shows how CO2 emissions have always been at the top end of IPCC projections apart from during times of recession.
The IPCC Fifth report shows an RCP8.5 scenario that probably reflects the reality of the political state of the world. In other words, ‘Business as usual’.
The above chart illustrates the problems. Most productive areas of the world are showing temperature increases of 4C to 6C at which level, food production as we know it cannot take place. The likely result will be substantial food shortages which in turn will precipitate civil unrest and war. Predicting war is impossible so it can be classed as an unpredictable tipping point.
Sea level rise.
Sea level rise has a lot of predictable components such as thermal expansion and the melt rate of ice for given temperatures. What cannot be calculated is the result of catastrophic collapse of an ice shelf or the sudden disintegration of land based glaciers in Greenland or West Antarctica.
This dilemma is illustrated by the Real climate website appraisal of the IPCC Fifth repot. http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/10/sea-level-in-the-5th-ipcc-report/
Here are some extracts which are in turn includes extracts of the IPCC report.
‘The range up to 98 cm is the IPCC’s “likely” range, i.e. the risk of exceeding 98 cm is considered to be 17%, and IPCC adds in the SPM that “several tenths of a meter of sea level rise during the 21st century” could be added to this if a collapse of marine-based sectors of the Antarctic ice sheet is initiated. It is thus clear that a meter is not the upper limit’.
- See more at: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/10/sea-level-in-the-5th-ipcc-report/#sthash.ADBKTBhu.dpuf
‘In the latest assessment report of the IPCC we did not provide such an upper limit, but we allow the creative reader to construct it. The likely range of sea level rise in 2100 for the highest climate change scenario is 52 to 98 centimetres (20 to 38 inches.). However, the report notes that should sectors of the marine-based ice sheets of Antarctic collapse, sea level could rise by an additional several tenths of a meter during the 21st century. Thus, looking at the upper value of the likely range, you end up with an estimate for the upper limit between 1.2 meters and, say, 1.5 meters. That is the upper limit of global mean sea-level that coastal protection might need for the coming century’
See more at: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/10/sea-level-in-the-5th-ipcc-report/#sthash.ADBKTBhu.dpuf
The world has experienced meltwater pulses in the past when the conditions have been right.
Melt water pulse 1A showed an increase level of twenty meters in four hundred years, or four metres every one hundred years, or one metre every twenty years.
With eleven of the world’s fifteen biggest cities at one metre above sea level plus big areas of productive farmland the economic consequences of sea level rise are incalculable.
‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’
Putting the atmosphere and CO2 into simple terms.
This is a picture of the atmosphere taken from space and the Troposphere, which is the part we live in, is the light blue section. The Troposphere is roughly ten thousand metres thick and at the top of it the temperature, where passenger jets fly, is about -54C. Not a place where we humans can live.
The earth is 12,500 kilometres in diameter and if we convert the scale of the earth and its atmosphere to millimetres and knock of all the noughts, to reduce the scale to a manageable size, the earth would be 1250 millimetres and the atmosphere 1 millimetre.
For those not familiar with the metric system 1,250 mm is roughly from the tip of an outstretched left arm to the elbow of the right arm and 1 mm is the thickness of your finger nail.
So far as the atmosphere is concerned, there is not much of it.
The tree line in the mid latitudes is at about 2000 metres and the temperature there is 0C and above that nothing much grows. We humans and most of the creatures and plants live in the warmer region below 1000 metres. Out of a very skinny troposphere we live in the bottom 10%.
Greenhouse gasses warm the earth and it’s just as well they do because the world would be 35C colder than it is today. Water vapour is the biggest greenhouse gas and makes up 2% of the atmosphere and CO2 makes up only 0.04% at 280 parts per million. The problem for us is that CO2 is the main driver of change and we are producing a lot of it by burning fossil fuels.
According to the International Energy Agency http://www.iea.org/ in 2012 we put 32,578,641,000 tons of CO2 into our skinny atmosphere by burning fossil fuels alone. This started in about 1750 with the burning of coal but the big numbers started after World War 2, in about 1950, and the amount has increased steadily and continues to grow at 2 points a year.
The chart above illustrates the growth of CO2 from its normal range of 180 ppm to 280 ppm to the current figure of 400 ppm.
The problem for our civilisation, as we know it, is that the world has not had 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere for 3.5 million years and the plants and animals alive today are not equipped to live in the temperatures associated with this new level.
We are committed to a sea level rise of 12 metres and a temperature increase of 3C and this is not a good scenario for us with seven billion people on the planet.
To understand how the natural ice ages and warm periods happen. http://globalwarmingsimplified.weebly.com/
The threats to our way of life. http://www.climateoutcome.kiwi.nz/climate-threats.html
The problems of the Middle East might seem far away but it can have serious effects on the economy of New Zealand and can be seen as a classic model for the future as climate change develops. The start of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Libya was ignited by the sudden increase in the price of wheat when Russia stopped the exporting of wheat because a severe draught destroyed their harvest. The civil war in Syria was caused by a drought that displaced farmers from their land and crowded them into cities looking for work and sustenance.
These situations have resulted in civil unrest throughout the region, a huge arsenal of weapons from looted armies, many sectarian armies funded by wealthy oil countries and individuals who support various groups, very often along religious or ethnic lines.
This whole region is a big producer of the World’s oil, and unrest there increases uncertainty and forces up the price of oil and this affects us all. It could get a lot worse as the various factions struggle for power.
So we have a situation where climate change has caused drought, which forced up food prices causing civil unrest in a region where autocratic governments are not sharing their wealth with the people and there are hugely valuable resources.
What does this mean for New Zealand? We rely almost completely on oil for our transport and as we have a light density population we need transport to deliver food and resources. We need cheap oil to deliver our goods and get to work as we have long distances to cover and almost no alternatives.
New Zealand has an abundance of renewable energy with hydro, geothermal, wind and solar all available for development. The electricity companies all round the world are on a plateau of turnover as electrical appliances become more efficient and people install solar panels to save money.
It would make good economic sense to use part of the four billion a year oil import bill to switch some of our transport to electricity. This would give New Zealand insurance against these oil price shocks and boost our economy by reducing our import bill by using domestic energy.
It should be remembered that oil is a diminishing resource with a volatile price and climate change will bring civil unrest by disrupting food supplies around the world.
Information from NOAA and commented on by top USA climate scientist Kiwi Kevin Trenberth, indicate that we have a larger than normal El Nino event forming and this is a much shortened version of the forecast.
With the deployment of the Argo buoys in 2004 we now have much better information of what is happening in the oceans and it is easier to see when an El Nino is forming and to forecast its size and effect.
Of the classic early indicators we have recently had three big bursts of Westerly wind which blow in the reverse direction to the normal seasonal trade winds.
There has also been a 100mm (4") increase in sea level in the Eastern pacific as the sea is driven up by the wind and boosted by thermal expansion as it heats up.
A more serious and certain indicator is the Kelvin wave which is a huge mass of warm water at a depth of 150 metres below the surface moving in an easterly direction towards Mexico and this water is 6C above normal.
During June there will be a more certain estimate of the El Niño’s size and it should start affecting our weather in December and peak in February. Classic changes to the weather would be increased hurricanes in the East Pacific around Hawaii and Tahiti with increased rains in Mexico and California, disruption of the monsoons in India and Africa and a hot and disrupted weather pattern all round the world.
In New Zealand we may have a drought.
From the NASA world temperature graph you can see that 1998 was an abnormally hot year which is why the deniers say we have not had any warming for seventeen years (2010 was actually the hottest year but in the deniers world facts get in the way of good misinformation) and if we get an El Nino of equivalent strength we should get a similar temperature spike.
With the number of people who die in these big events it is not a happy forecast.
There has been research published recently showing that the glaciers in Antarctica are unstable and destined to collapse and melt away. As always the timing is uncertain and it may be a long time in the future and also the potential seven metre contribution to sea level rise seems remote. The problem for people living today is that we only need one metre of sea level rise to totally disrupt the world economy and so it is in everyone’s interest to watch for sudden changes..
There are currently two major ice masses that are unstable, one is West Antarctica and the other is Greenland. Each of them has different problems but both suffer ice loss at the same time due to temperature increases and they can each contribute seven metre rises to sea levels.
When the planet moved from the last ice age to the present warm period around fourteen thousand years ago there was a sudden increase in sea levels which amounted to twenty metres over four hundred years or, five metres a century or, one metre every twenty years.
The recent research on West Antarctica focuses on the Amundsen Sea and the six glaciers around Pine Island. Observation has shown that the ice in the ice shelf has been melting from the underside at the rate of 50 mm a day
. As the ice melts it allows more warm water to circulate underneath the ice where it rests on the sea bed and the ice then floats. This point is called the grounding line and it has been retreating towards the land at up to thirty five kilometres (twenty two miles) a year. As the ice shelf floats in the sea and thins it becomes subject to tides and storms and begins to crack and break away. The ice shelf is around five hundred meters thick and acts as a buttress to hold back the ice in the glaciers on the land and so, with no ice shelf, the glacier starts to slip towards the sea at a much increased rate. This has already been observed with the glaciers in both Greenland and West Antarctica.
The scientists who work in Greenland and Antarctica are extremely concerned about the speed of changes in these regions and with only one metre of sea level rise needed for disaster so we be worried also .
Plants and Wildlife.
The last time the world had today's level of 400 part per million of CO2 was four million years ago and the trees and plants at that time were adapted to the climate that went with it. Those trees had taken thousands or years to evolve to match those conditions. The trees we have today are adapted to a CO2 level of 280 PPM and a climate 0.8C cooler than today and are rapidly going into conditions 2C warmer and with dramatical changed rainfall conditions of either drought or flood.
We can expect to see much large numbers of trees and other plant life dying in the coming years.