Lets hope that we do not get a string of typhoons like those in the North as many of our island nations will be washed away.
As the Sun moves into the Southern hemisphere the heat is transferring to the Southern Pacific. The picture from Weather Underground shows the situation in the Northern summer with a string of typhoons heading towards China/Japan.
The second illustration is late November and shows a subtle shift of the ocean heat towards the South. It will take some time for the heat to build and it will be at its maximum after our mid summer.
Lets hope that we do not get a string of typhoons like those in the North as many of our island nations will be washed away.
About 8200 years ago the Gulf stream was stopped by the flood of fresh water coming from the melting of the ice sheets on Greenland and North America/Canada at the end of the ice age. This caused a disastrous temperature drop in Europe of about 5C which lasted for 100 to 150 years.
Lets hope that this cold patch of cold water in the North Atlantic is not caused by the melting ice sheet on Greenland although there has been a slowing of the Gulf Stream reported in the last few years.
With the UN COP21 Paris meeting approaching and countries lagging in their commitments to reduce CO2 emissions we have to ask, how safe is a 2C temperature rise? Its not humans who are affected as we are very tough and resilient to wide temperature ranges, its the environment on which we depend that matters.
We are already committed to certain outcomes, such as the 1.5C to 1.75C temperature increase, that will come from the 400 ppm of CO2 we have already put into the atmosphere.
As the planet warms the ice melts and we should have between 12 and 20 metres of sea level rise over a period of centuries if the planet repeats its original action.
Ocean acidity is rising as the CO2 is absorbed into the oceans and we know that plankton and coral reefs find it difficult to survive in an acidic ocean but quite how bad it will be is poorly understood.
Marine life is much more sensitive to temperature changes than land creatures and many fish are already on the move to regions that suit them better.
Trees are also very sensitive to temperature and rainfall as they are not mobile have developed over millions of years to a certain set of conditions and are not tolerant to even small changes.
Even if humans can survive the higher temperatures, it will be a bleak world without the trees we know and love and the oceans that provide us with sustenance.
This screen capture illustrates the massive power of the Southern ocean and is a reminder that this system drives much of the world's climate and weather systems.
Get the original here
It helps drive the thermohaline ocean circulation system and effects winds and weather all round the world.
Currently we are in an El Nino year and the contrast between the hot Equator and the cold of Antarctica is driving the system faster and giving New Zealand an extra cold spring. We will have to wait for the summer heat to take over before we warm up properly.
Both systems are giving us drought because of the consistent power of the West winds.
We are in the middle of a strong El Nino which is currently more apparent in the Northern hemisphere, but will shortly becoming apparent here in New Zealand and it would be foolhardy not to take precautions.
The classic outcome from an El Nino event is a colder period in the spring and drought in the summer so I contacted Brett Mullan, Chief scientist with NIWA to ask him for some advice. He very kindly sent me his PowerPoint presentation from a talk that he and Gregor Macara of NIWA gave to Farmers on the South island to warn them of the impending problems and this is a very shortened version of their presentation.
The results of the last three El Ninos show different levels of drought in various parts of the country but the overall prediction from this very strong El Nino is that we will have a severe drought. As the graphic shows we are already very short of rain and the moisture content of the soil is already low we are in a very vulnerable position.
The graphic shows how the country fared in the 1972/3 El Nino drought and the current event is of similar strength or even stronger.
Climate change has changed the pattern of wind over New Zealand over the last fifty years so that we are getting a higher proportion of westerly winds and, as it is the Easterly’s that bring us the rain, we are already getting a higher incidence of drought.
Despite the forecast for drought the other problem with an El Nino is that the warmer water will make a cyclone more likely and the Northern Pacific has had a very busy cyclone season and we will most probably suffer the same fate. Cyclones are very unpredictable so whether we get hit is in the lap of the gods but just because a drought is forecast it does not reduce the likelihood of a cyclone and they are extremely damaging due to flooding and soil erosion.
Farmers and gardeners in particular need to be aware that we may have severe drought after Christmas and take necessary precautions to preserve plants and stock.
The cold winter meant we needed a heat pump and this put up our electricity bill to $450 for the first time for two years. Financially it is better to not pay for electricity if you have money in the bank earning interest. To earn $450 in interest at 3% requires $15,000 of capital and the extra panels only cost $3000.
By not having the annual expenditure of $450 it is equivalent to earning 15% on the money invested in the panels. I'm just waiting for the price of second hand electric cars to come down and I will be doing the same thing with my petrol bill.
The El Nino warming of the Pacific ocean is predicted to continue for some months yet and this is NOAA's forecast of the sea temperatures. Coral bleaching has already been observed but this amount of heat will have many other bad effects around the world.
With all the refugee problems in Europe due to the wars in Syria, Palestine and Iraq we should be thinking about our own situation in the South Pacific.
When many of the Pacific Islands flood due to climate change Australia and New Zealand we will be the nearest stable country. Should New Zealand be responsible for the Polynesians and Australia for the Micronesians and the Melanesians.
A recent sea-born scientific expedition to the Totten glacier in East Antarctica has discovered that the glacier is thinning from the bottom at the rate of 10 metres per year. This unexpected discovery is similar to the situation in West Antarctica and shows that the whole of the Antarctic ice is under threat. The oceans have been absorbing 93% of the heat from the Sun and it is beginning to make itself felt.
Sea water at the surface of the Southern Ocean is -1.8 C and if it becomes colder it would freeze and become ice. The sea water at greater depths is much warmer and this is the problem. As the winds in the Southern Ocean speed up it is bringing this warmer water up from the deep and this warm water although still very cold at 0.9C is entering valleys in the sea bed and reaching right under the ice shelf.
As the ice shelf thins it becomes vulnerable and large amount break off and no longer act as a buffer to hold the land ice sheets in check. It will take a few years for these huge glaciers to start moving, the way that they have in West Antarctica and Greenland, but it has started.
We only need one metre of sea level rise to have grave economic impacts to the USA and Europe and none of this recent research was included in the IPCC report so we are moving into a critical climate change stage. While politicians are arguing about climate change and how to cheat the system nature is relentlessly moving ahead.
The world temperature map from NASA shows a large cold patch in the North Atlantic right in the path of the Gulf Stream and this comes at a time when the Gulf Stream is slowing. The Gulf Stream is a major driver in the world circulation of the thermohaline system which distributes heat and nutrients around the world.
When the system is working normally the warm water of the Gulf Stream steadily evaporates as it travels North and the water grows heavier as this action leaves the salt behind. When the stream reaches the Arctic this sea water freezes and again only the fresh water freezes and the remaining salt water becomes very heavy with excessive salt and sinks into the deep ocean driving the system.
What appears to be happening is that an excessive amount of water has been melting from Greenland and flooding across the North Atlantic, mixing with the salt water and making it less dense so that it will not sink so fast. This mechanism has been known to stop the Gulf Stream completely in the past and also was mentioned by Al Gore in his famous video ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Although the theory has been known for some time, nobody really believed that it would happen in our lifetime.
Clearly this would have huge implications for the UK as it relies on the Gulf Stream to avoid the cold weather that it’s high northern latitude would normally dictate but the water has been 2C cooler this summer and it has been a poor summer. Let’s hope that things recover as a quick change in temperature can be disastrous for any country.
New Zealand's electricity companies, in common with those around the world. are on a plateaux of consumption caused by more efficient appliances and the big increase in solar panels. This trend has only just started and as the prices of solar panels falls it becomes much cheaper to make your own electricity.
This puts the power companies in a commercial dead end where chasing diminishing customers into a market of falling prices is not a good option.
The big area of energy use that is untapped is transport and here New Zealand is miles behind the rest of the world as we only have 700 electric cars and a very small network of electric rail system in Auckland.
At least forty years ago Europe started to modernise and electrify its rail system, as a method of separating heavy transport from domestic traffic and reduce road deaths and reduce congestion. It is also makes good economic sense as oil is mostly imported and electricity is mostly domestic energy.
Oil is a diminishing resource with a volatile price and its cheap today but will be expensive in five years time and New Zealand has more than enough renewable energy to power the whole country without using oil or coal.
Fraser Whineray, CEO of Mighty River power, recognises this
Read Here. and it trying to do something about it but he is ploughing a lonely furrow in what should be a busy and crowded market.
I believe that bold action is needed and it requires substantial investment to change the market. If two or three power companies joined together to buy the operating rights of a railway and converted it to run on electricity they could go into direct competition with road transport. We need a transport policy more like Europe where government's recognise the value of the rail system and put it on the same financial system as roads where improvement is considered an investment in infrastructure for sound economic reasons.
It takes years to convert a transport system and the sooner it is started the sooner the country will benefit.
July 2015 was the hottest month since records began in 1880 which is a huge worry but within that there is an anomaly in the North Atlantic.
The temperature map from NOAA shows a cool patch in the North Atlantic where the Gulf stream travels towards the UK..
Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany says that the speed of the Gulf Stream has slowed by 15-20% and this is likely caused by the big increase in melt water coming from Greenland. This melt water has increased substantially recently and has reached 13,000 cubic kilometres between 1970 and 2000 and has likely increased since then.
Fresh water floats over the salty sea water and has the ability to stop the normal sinking of salt laden sea water when the Gulf Stream reaches the Arctic region off Norway.
Sudden changes in climate can have unforeseen outcomes which must be a worry for the UK
Weather and climate watchers will know by now that we are in a very strong El Nino year and will be wondering what this means for local weather.
In most regions of New Zealand this means an increase in Westerly winds and as most of us live and farm on the East coast and are in the rain shadow of the Westerly mountains this increases the chance of drought.
The increased Westerlies in a classic El Nino year are caused by the combination of low pressure systems travelling to the South of us and a high to the North of us.
However for those of us who live in the very Far North of the North Island we may get a different set of weather. In our case we project into the Pacific region and with increased heat in the ocean the Hadley cell could extend further South and give us warmer and moister weather. It also puts us further into the cyclone region so, we are exposed to a greater risk of storms. Tropical storms are a very hit or miss affair, they either hit you or miss you. but for us the risk will likely be higher this summer.
In an El Nino year the Pacific is having a busy cyclone season and, as they track West, China and Japan are going to be targets. Cyclone Soudler is an exceptionally powerful category 5 storm currently in mid Pacific, and is heading for China. Weather Underground.
These huge storms are an early test for sea level rise as much of the massive industrial complex around the Shanghai region is only one metre above sea level. If there was a direct hit by a super cyclone the storm surge would flood much of the region and cause massive economic damage that would effect the whole world.
This map is from a sea level web site set at one metre and shows the small pockets of land which is below that level. This region has a population of over 24 million and the low land, which includes huge ports, industry and productive farmland extends right up the coast.
We humans live on the land and have named our planet Earth but as we get to learn more about our home it becomes obvious that the greatest habitable part is in the ocean.
Water in the oceans dictates almost all life and climate on our planet and we only have a very sketchy idea of its make-up. A few obvious things we know are that 70% of the Earth’s surface is ocean, 93% of all the heat from the Sun goes into oceans, it's deepest point is 11,000 metres deep compared to the highest point on land, Everest at 8884 metres.
The oceans have an average depth of 4.2 kilometres compared to the troposphere of 10 kilometres but we only live in the bottom one kilometre of the atmosphere. In addition water is thicker and heavier than air and is 784 times denser so it could be argued that water has a much greater capacity than air.
As far as life is concerned 93% of all biomass is in the oceans and we get 50% of all the oxygen we need to breathe from the oceans. Most life is in the top 100 metres of the sea, where sunlight penetrates, but the dark deeps hold more life than we expected and we know almost nothing about them.
Of all the water on the planet 95.6% is in the oceans and only 2.5% is fresh water. Of the available fresh water 68.7% is locked up in ice, 30.1% is in ground water (aquifers) and 1.2% is surface water available for our use.
There is a minuscule, but very important amount of water in the atmosphere. This is important because the water vapour condenses and makes rain and it is a vital contribution to changing temperature, redistributing heat and of course it is a big factor in our weather. Water vapour is an important greenhouse gas but it is driven by other factors such as temperature as water vapour increases in the atmosphere by 8% for every 1c increase in temperature.
There is enough water locked up in ice to increase the sea level by 66 metres and, as many of us live near the sea, we only need a one metre sea level rise to flood so much infrastructure that it will bankrupt most economies. When the planet was in the last ice age period the sea levels were 120 metres lower so there is quite a lot of natural movement.
There are important aspects of climate change that are dominated by the oceans. 93% of all the heat from the sun is absorbed by the oceans, 3% goes into melting ice and 3% is absorbed by the earth. Only 1% is taken up by the atmosphere. There is as much heat in the top three metres of the oceans as there is in the whole atmosphere.
The oceans contain the thermhohaline circulation currents that are vital to distributing heat around the planet and of course the interaction between the oceans and the atmosphere with clouds and storms that make our weather.
Probably the most important aspect of climate change and the way we are changing the planet is that the oceans are absorbing 25% of the CO2 that is produced by humans, which reduces the greenhouse effect, but it is making the oceans more acidic. Sea water is a saline solution with a pH number of 8.25 and has moved to a more acidic level of 8.14. Although this may not seem much it is a 30% increase in acidity. Marine life is very sensitive to acidity, especially creatures with a calcium carbonate structure such as plankton, the base of the food chain. Information on plankton is sketchy but there is a reported 40% decline in their numbers and their wellbeing is vital to our lives on this planet.
We can understand floods and drought on the land but the big action is in the oceans and it will pay to be alert to ocean acidity and ice sheet loss as they will have devastating effects.
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