Will this increase the methane clatherate release from the sea bed? Or will it reduce the thermohaline circulation?.
The unusual warmth in the Arctic is causing some big problems, some of which are long term and some are short term. In the short term there is a lack of ice coverage of the ocean which means the dark ocean absorbs even more of the suns heat. The lack of long term thick ice will make for a very fast melt next summer increasing the heat absorbtion. This is better explained by Prof James Renwick in Hot Topic.
The higher temperatures in the Arctic reduce the temperature differential with the lower latittudes and this upsets the jet stream bringing the posibility of extreme weather in the lower, heavily populated, latittudes. Jennifer Francis has a good video on this.
With satellite information now available to us all, ametures like myself can look at current information and see conditions anywhere in the world. These are of course snap shots of information and real interpretation needs years of research and long term records. Nevertheless looking at the ocean surface temperature in the Labtov sea shows that the temperatue is only -0.9C and it needs -1.8C for the salty ocean to freeze. At the begining of December when the region is in almost total darkness it should be much colder and sea ice freezing very quickly. The Arctic is 10% lower in ice volume.
Will this increase the methane clatherate release from the sea bed? Or will it reduce the thermohaline circulation?.
The Arctic's temperature is way above normal for the time of year. The water is much warmer after the summer ice loss and there is a flood of warm air coming up from the South.
The unusually high temperatures reduce the temperature differential between the Arctic and lower latitudes and mean that the jet stream starts to slow down and meander bringing unusual weather to populated areas.
This is probably the fastest way that climate change will affect people in the heavily populated regions. Waiting for crops to fail when the temperature rises 2 C will take another thirty years and waiting for the ice to melt and raise sea levels is a slow business but this is quick. Reduce Arctic ice cover, temperature rises and straight away the jet stream moves course.
It can bring excessive rain and floods or it can bring dry weather becoming drought, but in either case it is quick, it is regional and it is very unpleasant and expensive.
These are the only things that governments understand about dealing with climate change.
The IPCC have projections for the amount of ice that will be lost due to melting depending on the amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere. This worrying research by NASA using the GRACE satellite shows that we are currently losing more ice than has been projected in our two largest ice sheets.
Ice on land does not melt as fast as that in the sea and the worry is that the glaciers which terminate in the sea are melting from the underside even faster. At this stage this underside melting does not add to sea level rise, but these ice shelves hold back the massive inland glaciers from slipping into the sea with catastrophic consequences to sea level rise.
There are reports regarding the sensitivity of the world’s climate and how it can change rapidly and without warning. A tipping point which we might be watching now.
This year the ice in the started out at record low levels, it did not match the minimum of 2012, and then it went all wrong in the regrowth of the ice. It is not refreezing into the areas that it should do and we are moving into new, frightening territory. If the ice does not form, the jet stream becomes unstable and Europe and America can have extremely unusual weather.
Just in case we in the Southern hemisphere think we are safe, the winter sea ice has stopped increasing as it had been and we now have a record low.
I suggest that you watch Paul Beckwith explain the science and the implications. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOo1TmaZi2U
Over the last several years the Gulf stream has been slowing and the North Atlantic RAPID array of buoys has been monitoring the results. Satellite images show how warm water is blocked by the 'Cold Blob' just South of Greenland and is pooling on the coast of the USA of the Cost around Cape Cod.
The position indicated by the green circle on the map has a temperature which is almost C above normal.
There are current reports of the Lobsters in Maine moving North at 43 miles a decade and it begs the question about the Cod which used to be prolific on the Newfoundland Banks.
Was the cause of their disappearance due to over fishing as we were led to believe, or was it due to a change in water temperature which lead them to abandon their traditional location and move to cooler waters?
A fascinating piece of research by Beth Fox of Waikato University and Tammo Reichgelta and William J. D'Andrea of the Columbia University, USA has been able to analyse soft tissue from 23 million years ago and discover more about CO2 levels of the Oligocene/Miocene period.
On Radio NZ Nine to Noon Kathryn Ryan,
The problem with obtaining knowledge of this type from 23 million years ago is that most samples are rock and obtaining soft tissue from that period, which can be dated accurately, is a real challenge. Beth Fox had the idea (and knew the place in New Zealand) of a cone shaped volcano caldera where there was no input from rivers to contaminate the scene and where the debris that fell to the bottom of the cone was preserved close to its natural state, over millions of years.
The research involved drilling a 180 metre core sample in the bottom of the volcano caldera and this revealed a perfect, layered record, going back more than 23 million years and examination of the contents revealed leaves that were perfectly preserved and could be analysed for the CO2 levels of that period.
What they revealed was that changes in the stomatal cells and carbon isotope ratios in the leaves indicated a major increase in the levels of CO2, rising from about 500 parts per million (ppm) to between 750 and 1550 ppm over a span of less than 10,000 years.
“What surprised us was how such large CO2 fluctuations happened over geologically, relatively short time scales,” says Dr Fox.
“We found that atmospheric CO2 levels began to rapidly increase around the same time as the ice-sheet began to decline, and more importantly, even when the CO2 levels dropped back to previous levels, the ice kept on melting. Once the process of destabilisation of the ice-sheet was kick-started, it could keep going by itself.”
The ice goes from about 125% of the present day Antarctic ice sheet to about 50% of the present day Antarctic ice sheet over that period of time. It’s a massive loss of ice, but the carbon dioxide levels do not stay high for the whole time, they actually go down and the ice appears to be able to keep on melting by itself presumably after it has been kick started by that carbon dioxide increase.”
This important research gives us an insight into what happens to the planet as the CO2 levels rise and will help to identify a point when the climate will reach a tipping point and change from one stage to another. By implication the tipping point would move us from the climate we have today to one with higher temperatures and much higher sea levels due to the melting of the ice caps. Having tipped the climate to a new state it did not recover even when CO2 levels returned to the original levels again.
The cause of the increase in CO2 is not known but it could be a comet impact, indicated by spherule layers at the Oligocene Miocene boundary or volcanos (La Garita Caldera of Colorado), or possibly both.
Another surprise was the relatively quick reduction in the levels of CO2 which possibly could have been the result of the opening up of the Drake passage between South America and West Antarctica which allowed the Southern Ocean to circulate and absorb or consume CO2 from the atmosphere.
There is still a lot of uncertainty about the timeline but Beth Fox and colleagues have added some important parts to the jigsaw and with a really neat piece of research.
We all understand that Greenland is melting and the Arctic sea ice is also disappearing rapidly but some areas are so high and so cold that they do not normally melt. Satellites have now identified two new areas of melting that have been discovered because they are making lakes of meltwater that are visible from space and they are in new regions.
One region is in East Antarctica which had previously been thought to be too cold to melt. West Antarctica is melting and the sea ice is melting from underneath due to warmer sea water but this is a new area to be seen melting.
The second surprise was on the high plateau of Mongolia which is so cold that the region is called the third pole. This region, which in its entirety would include the Himalayas, has thousands of glaciers and the summer melt provides water for some of the biggest in the world and supplies water for about 1.2 billion people in Asia and India all the way from Pakistan to China. The danger is that the ice will melt away and in the end their will not be enough water to supply the rivers in the summer leaving millions of people and whole nations short of water.
When Tesla announced its model 3 and took orders for 400,000 cars it had a devastating effect on the traditional car manufacturers who can now see that they have been far too complacent. Their symbiotic relationship with the oil companies has gone on far too long and they now realise their mistake and are scrambling to catch up.
Up to now electric cars have been more expensive and considered by the traditional petrol head manufactures a bit of a joke but this is because nobody before Tesla had used a volume production line for manufacturing to get costs down. However, when you consider a few facts you can see the depth of their mistake.
A petrol car has 2000 parts a whereas an electric car has 10% of that. A petrol car already has two electric power units, a starter motor and an alternator, and there is an annual world production of around 150 million of each so electric car motors can be very cheap in volume production.
Batteries prices are on a steep downward curve and this is with existing technology. Many research laboratories around the world are announcing breakthroughs in new materials and performance so we can expect many more improvements with an increase in research investment.
There will be leapfrogging downward plunge in car and van prices which will eliminate oil powered cars in much the same way that mobile phones and digital cameras devastated the tradition manufacturers and it could all happen in ten years.
When you include driverless car technology and solar energy providing very cheap energy, the transport industry as we know it is due for some massive changes and nothing will be the same again.
We may reach our CO2 emission reduction targets with a market driven initiative that will cut our oil consumption and save us money at the same time and no government intervention.
So far we have only been partially successful in reducing the use of fossil fuels, because the resistance put up by oil and coal companies and backed by their national governments has been formidable, but this appears to be about to change and more rapidly that anyone could have foretold.
One of the problems has been the huge amount of expensive infrastructure that will have to be abandoned and the assets stranded by a transition to a clean electric economy and the companies involved and politicians who support them are not prepared to face that.
This may all be about to change and will be market driven so that car companies and electricity companies will have to move rapidly to the new technologies or fail. It took ten years between 1910 and 1920 for the horse powered transport to be replaced by cars and we are entering a similar but bigger period of transition and disruption. Watch this half hour video for an in depth appreciation.
There are a large number of technologies coming together in a perfect storm of change that will change our way of life more rapidly than we could have imagined only a few years ago.
In brief, the price of solar power and wind is coming down so fast that it is cheaper than coal or oil, batteries are getting cheaper and more efficient so that they can deliver stored energy when we need it and cheaply, an electric car only has 18 moving parts compared to a petrol one having 2000 which makes them cheaper to manufacture and operate and more reliable.
Computers are getting massively more powerful and lower in price and can undertake bigger tasks such as self-driving cars and trucks and there are a whole host of new technologies that are changing our lives beyond belief. This blog describes the full range of technologies.
We may have to re-engineer our society to accommodate the massive changes in employment but it will be better than burning fossil fuels until changes in the climate overwhelm us.
It might be an idea to watch this Australian Broadcasting Co video in conjunction with the text.
A lot of things are changing in the energy world and the fossil fuel energy sources of coal and oil are under extreme pressure from two directions. The first is, the addition of CO2 to the atmosphere from burning coal and oil is raising the world temperature, and, if we are to avoid disaster we need to get it under control. At the same time the new energy from solar panels and wind farms is now cheaper than coal electricity and even oil for transport is likely to be replaced by electric transport.
These changes are bringing problems to our existing energy sources as the businesses in the them have a lot invested in infrastructure and need to protect themselves from being left with a redundant asset, or, being in an industry that is side lined. A traditional coal powered electricity supply system involves, typically, a centrally located 1000 megawatt coal powered energy source and a grid network that distributes electric power over long distances to power the region. The major disadvantages of coal are that it produces massive amounts of pollution, including CO2, sulphur and other noxious gasses and also because of the size and heat of the boilers it is not a system that is easy to alter its output and often burns coal at night when power is not needed.
An overview of the different renewable energy sources shows, that solar is reliable, in that it provides power every day when the sun shines and even cloudy days can be forecast in advance. Wind provides cheap electricity, but only when the wind blows and again, windy or calm days can be forecast in advance. Geothermal is reliable and can be used for constant base load but can be switched down if needed. Hydro is also good for base load but has the big advantage that it can be used for peak load spikes and can be switched on and go from nothing to full power in a few minutes.
A modern grid system designed for the new energy sources would be divided into smaller districts and have smart switching to balance power with demand. The big difference between the old and the new systems is that the renewable energy comes from much smaller, constantly changing local sources but its big advantage is that the energy is free and that there are so many small outputs that the gains and losses balance one another out and make it a reliable system.
It’s a different kind of system but with modern monitoring and switching it is a cheaper system to provide power.
If homes providing their own energy are perceived as a threat and weakening of the existing grid, the electricity companies have alternative plans and are looking at the huge transport system, where there is a massive market available. Oil is a diminishing resource and it is a fossil fuel, full of CO2 and other pollutants, and if we are to keep the global temperature below 2C we will have to stop using it.
One way or another we will have to stop using fossil fuels and need an alternative that works.
One of the things about climate change is the way that particles in the atmosphere (aerosols) keep the temperature down. I was first alerted to the statistics when it was reported that after the 9/11 disaster, the USA grounded aircraft for three days and the temperature went up 1C. Whether this was true or not the combination of soot particles from burning coal, farming and aircraft contrails do have a combined effect in shielding the earth’s surface from the suns heat and suppressing the temperature. The big question is by how much?
Another anecdotal story is that when I was living in the UK in the 1970’s the temperature had been stable or even falling for forty years and this was accepted, when we had a message from New Zealand (probably Kevin Trenberth) that the temperature was rising steadily. This was all before satellites.
Looking at the NASA graph the pause in temperature from about 1940 through to about 1980 can be seen quite clearly. This was when the world was gearing up after World War 2 and coal plants were working round the clock to rebuild the economy. From 1980 Europe and the USA stated to clean up their cities by switching from coal to cleaner energy and the atmosphere began to clear and the temperature restarted its upwards path.
There may well be other factors such as El Niño’s and similar cycles of the major oceans but I would suggest that there could easily be an extra 1.0 C increase in temperature built into the system for when we stop burning coal and cut back on flying.
A recent paper by James Hansen and 18 other scientists showed that there was a strong possibility of major storms in the Atlantic that were likely to be way outside the experience of modern history. The extra power of these storms was caused by the rise in temperature of the world and the changing differential between the poles and the equator would give them extra strength.
The situation in the Southern hemisphere is likely to be more extreme than the Atlantic, where the research evidence was found. The Antarctic continent is very high and continues to be very cold while the Equator continues to warm which increases the temperature differential between the two regions. We are already seeing signs of this with the 20% increase in the proportion of Westerly winds in New Zealand and the increase in winter sea ice surrounding the Antarctic, which is caused by stronger winds blowing the ice away from the continent.
The problem for New Zealand is that the South Island lies in the path of the roaring forties and is in the direct path of the route these powerful storms would travel. While the mountains on the West coast mostly protect the more heavily populated Eastern areas, there are still a lot of people and infrastructure that would be exposed to risk. Towns like Invercargill, Bluff and Dunedin and even Wellington, might have to re-evaluate their climate change strategy to accommodate the damage that a hurricane sized storm can do.
If we started including the social and environmental damage that fossil fuels do into the selling price of oil and coal, what would be a fair price? The scale of the implication makes it very difficult to imagine how this can work or even comprehend the concept.
We understand that the burning fossil fuels is putting more CO2 into the atmosphere and that it is changing the climate and threatening our way of life. The main threats are rising temperatures, changing weather patterns, increased ocean acidity and rising sea levels and it includes the whole world, so should we put the cost onto the price of a litre of petrol and would anyone understand?
If we scale the problem down so that we take the City of Auckland as a closed system and said that the use of oil for transport will cause sea levels will rise by one metre by 2050 to 2070 and at that point Auckland airport will be flooded (which it will) and we will have to build a new one in another place.
How much social cost should we add to the price of a litre of petrol or diesel?
That is the problem but on a much bigger scale. At the moment there are no social or environmental costs included in fossil fuels but if there were, we would be a lot more responsible and aware of what we are doing.
A lot of scientists are getting very worried about this years melting of the Arctic sea ice as it is way below normal. The very warm winter reduced the new ice cover and storms have broken up regions of ice making a bad start to the summer melt. There is some way to go yet but as the NASA satellite chart shows the season has made a disastrous start.
A few things have happened recently, both good and bad, that makes me wonder if we are doing our share to avert an impending climate disaster. On the good side we have signed and ratified the COP21 climate agreement and just announced a positive policy to introduce some electric transport. On the negative side we have delayed the closure of the Huntley power station coal fired boilers and Fonterra are opening two new dairy processing plants which will use coal to dry the milk into powder.
The UN have commissioned a huge amount of scientific research both in the IPCC reports and the COP21 agreement that set out what we need to do to avert disaster and how much we do, or don’t do will result in certain outcomes.
The best outcome that we can hope to achieve is a 1.5 C increase in temperature above 1880 (about where we are now) and it requires that we stop burning fossil fuels immediately, change our farming systems and then start removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
We are clearly not going to do that but it does highlight the situation that, as we get further into the century and the climate disasters start to get much worse we will have to act rapidly to stop using oil and coal and start to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
To highlight the scale of the problem by looking at our two negative decisions with burning coal, we will eventually have to remove the CO2 we are adding to the atmosphere.
If the single Huntly coal fired boiler is running at near capacity, it will be burning around 1000 tons of coal a day or 365,000 tons a year. To sequester the CO2 from this burning we will have to plant 40 trees per ton and this will amount to 14,600,000 trees for every year of operation.
The Fonterra boiler may burn 100 tons of coal a day for each operation and just one will burn 36,500 tons of coal a year and they will need to plant 1,460,000 trees a year to soak up the CO2 they are putting into the atmosphere.
The scale of the problem is huge but avoiding it today only piles up problems for the future and we have already wasted thirty years when the problems have been apparent but the people and the politicians political will have not been there and prepared to face the facts and take action.
It is much cheaper to face the problems now and reduce the disaster that is imminent.
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