Tag Archives: CO2

More on Antarctica. It IS melting….and fast!

A couple of days ago I posted an article from Time that discussed the rate of loss of Antarctic Ice. Another article has appeared, this time from Slate that explains what’s going on in simple terms, so that even deniers might be able to understand it.

Iceberg B31 recently broke off of Pine Island Bay in West Antarctic. Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE / EOSDIS Rapid Response

by Phil Plait from Slate

The scientists used observations from four different techniques to measure the amount and change in rate of ice loss from a region in West Antarctica. This area was already known to be melting at an astonishing rate; a recent study using Cryosat 2 showed that in the period from 2010 to 2013, the region was losing ice to the tune of 134 billion metric tons of ice per year.

The new study looked at four observation sets covering the years 1992–2013. They found that on average over that time, ice loss from West Antarctica was about 83 billion metric tons per year … but the average increase in that loss was 6.1 billion tons every year. By the end of the time range, the numbers between the new study and the one from CryoSat2 are consistent.

Amundsen sea
The location of the Amundsen Sea embayment, where the studies were done.

Illustration by NASA

This is staggering. Staggering. Imagine a block of ice a mile wide, a mile long, and a mile high—the size of a mountain. That would weigh something less than 6 billion tons.*

But it’s worse than that. We’re not just losing more ice every year; the rate itself is accelerating. We’re losing ice faster now than we were 21 years ago, and the rate at which we’re losing ice has more than doubled that average over that time span.

Think of it this way. Imagine in a given year that area lost 100 billion tons of ice. At an increase of 6 billion more tons per year every year, then the next year it would lose 106 billion tons, then 112 the year after that, and so on.

But in fact that loss rate is increasing. So it goes from 100 billion tons one year to 106 the next, then (say) 113 the year after that, to (say) 121 after that … The new study indicates that at the more recent end of the time range (2003-2011), ice loss is accelerating by nearly 16 billion tons per year every year.

This is the same math as freefall, an apt analogy. Antarctica is melting. Fast.

And this isn’t some natural variation, it’s not sunspots, it’s not the Earth’s orbit changing. It’s us. These changes aren’t happening on geologic or astronomical timescales, they’re happening on human timescales. We’re dumping carbon dioxide into the air at an accelerated rate, and there’s now more CO2 in the atmosphere than there has been for at 800,000 years. As my Slate colleague Eric Holthaus points out, the North Pole is draining away as well. We’re melting at both poles.

For decades, we’ve played at geoengineering by accident. Now we know what we’re doing, and it’s time we stopped playing. The deniers may stick their fingers in their ears and ignore or distract or sow doubt about what’s going on around them, but the rest of us can hear what our planet is telling us quite well.

The science is in, the scientists agree, and the global thermometer keeps rising ever upwards. After all this time, maddeningly, we’re still at Step 1: acknowledging the problem. It’s way past time we got past that and started doing something about it.

As always, don’t be fooled by people saying Antarctic sea ice is growing. Its growth is tiny, far smaller than what’s being lost, and sea ice comes and goes every season; the ice loss in West Antarctica is from glaciers on land, and won’t be coming back.

*Correction, Dec. 3, 2014, at 14:30 UTC: I originally wrote that mass loss was increasing at 6 billion tons per year, but neglected to add that this loss was accelerating, and is now at 16 billion additional tons per year every year. My thanks to Twitter user @didaclopez for pointing this out.

Original article here

For anyone who might be struggling to grasp what an accelerating rate of loss means, this old video from 2000 is an excellent primer for understanding exponential growth.

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Brazil’s Rainforests Are Releasing More Carbon Dioxide Than Previously Thought

from ScienceNewsline.com

Because of the deforestation of tropical rainforests in Brazil, significantly more carbon has been lost than was previously assumed. As scientists of the Hemholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) write in the scientific journal Nature Communications, the effect of the degradation has been underestimated in fragmented forest areas, since it was hitherto not possible to calculate the loss of the biomass at the forest edges and the higher emission of carbon dioxide. The UFZ scientists have now closed this knowledge gap. According to their calculations, the forest fragmentation results in up to a fifth more carbon dioxide being emitted by the vegetation.

To estimate the additional carbon emissions at the forest edges, the UFZ scientists developed….

Read the rest here.

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Ditch the 2 °C warming goal

from David G. Victor & Charles F. Kennel in Nature

Average global temperature is not a good indicator of planetary health. Track a range of vital signs instead, urge David G. Victor and Charles F. Kennel.

Illustration by David Parkins

For nearly a decade, international diplomacy has focused on stopping global warming at 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. This goal — bold and easy to grasp — has been accepted uncritically and has proved influential.

The emissions-mitigation report of the Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is framed to address this aim, as is nearly every policy plan to reduce carbon emissions — from California’s to that of the European Union (EU). This month, diplomatic talks will resume to prepare an agreement ahead of a major climate summit in Paris in 2015; again, a 2 °C warming limit is the focus.

Bold simplicity must now face reality. Politically and scientifically, the 2 °C goal is wrong-headed. Politically, it has allowed some governments to pretend that they are taking serious action to mitigate global warming, when in reality they have achieved almost nothing. Scientifically, there are better ways to measure the stress that humans are placing on the climate system than the growth of average global surface temperature — which has stalled since 1998 and is poorly coupled to entities that governments and companies can control directly1.

Failure to set scientifically meaningful goals makes it hard for scientists and politicians to explain how big investments in climate protection will deliver tangible results. Some of the backlash from ‘denialists’ is partly rooted in policy-makers’ obsession with global temperatures that do not actually move in lockstep with the real dangers of climate change.

New goals are needed. It is time to track an array of planetary vital signs — such as changes in the ocean heat content — that are better rooted in the scientific understanding of climate drivers and risks. Targets must also be set in terms of the many individual gases emitted by human activities and policies to mitigate those emissions.

Own goal

Actionable goals have proved difficult to articulate from the beginning of climate-policy efforts. The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) expressed the aim as preventing “dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system”. Efforts to clarify the meaning of ‘dangerous’ here have proved fruitless because science offers many different answers depending on which part of the climate system is under scrutiny, and each country has a different perspective2.

The 2009 and 2010 UNFCCC Conference of the Parties meetings, in Copenhagen and Cancun, Mexico, respectively, reframed the policy goal in more concrete terms: average global temperature. There was little scientific basis for the 2 °C figure that was adopted, but it offered a simple focal point and was familiar from earlier discussions, including those by the IPCC, EU and Group of 8 (G8) industrial countries3. At the time, the 2 °C goal sounded bold and perhaps feasible.

Since then, two nasty political problems have emerged. First, the goal is effectively unachievable4. Owing to continued failures to mitigate emissions globally, rising emissions are on track to blow through this limit eventually. To be sure, models show that it is just possible to make deep planet-wide cuts in emissions to meet the goal5. But those simulations make heroic assumptions — such as almost immediate global cooperation and widespread availability of technologies such as bioenergy carbon capture and storage methods that do not exist even in scale demonstration2.

Because it sounds firm and concerns future warming, the 2 °C target has allowed politicians to pretend that they are organizing for action when, in fact, most have done little. Pretending that they are chasing this unattainable goal has also allowed governments to ignore the need for massive adaptation to climate change.

Second, the 2 °C goal is impractical. It is related only probabilistically to emissions and policies, so it does not tell particular governments and people what to do. In other areas of international politics, goals have had a big effect when they have been translated into concrete, achievable actions6. For example, the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2000 were effective when turned into 21 targets and 60 detailed indicators — measurable, practical and connected to what governments, non-governmental and aid organizations and others could do7.

Troubling pause

The scientific basis for the 2 °C goal is tenuous. The planet’s average temperature has barely risen in the past 16 years (see ‘Heat exchange’). But other measures show that radiative forcing — the amount by which accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are perturbing the planet’s energy balance — is accelerating8.

The Arctic, for example, has been warming rapidly. High-latitude climates are more sensitive than the planet as a whole. Amplifications in the Arctic might be causing extreme weather in middle latitudes9.

How could human stresses on the climate be rising faster even as global surface temperatures stay flat? The answer almost certainly lies in the oceans. The oceans are taking up 93% of the extra energy being added to the climate system, which is stoking sea-level rise and other climate impacts.

Source: Berkeley Earth Project/NOAA

A single index of climate-change risk would be wonderful. Such a thing, however, cannot exist. Instead, a set of indicators is needed to gauge the varied stresses that humans are placing on the climate system and their possible impacts. Doctors call their basket of health indices vital signs. The same approach is needed for the climate.

The best indicator has been there all along: the concentrations of CO2 and the other greenhouse gases (or the change in radiative forcing caused by those gases). Such parameters are already well measured through a network of international monitoring stations. A global goal for average concentrations in 2030 or 2050 must be agreed on and translated into specific emissions and policy efforts, updated periodically, so that individual governments can see clearly how their actions add up to global outcomes.

Some pollutants that perturb the climate, such as methane or soot, have huge regional and local variations, and important uncertainties remain about the link between human emissions and measured concentrations. Policy initiatives are gaining momentum that would improve measurement and control of those warming agents. For example, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition is a group of countries focused on ways to cut emissions of short-lived climate pollutants.

Policy-makers should also track ocean heat content and high-latitude temperature. Because energy stored in the deep oceans will be released over decades or centuries, ocean heat content is a good proxy for the long-term risk to future generations and planetary-scale ecology. High-latitude temperatures, because they are so sensitive to shifts in climate and they drive many tangible harms, are also useful to include in the planetary vital signs9.

Chart a path

What is ultimately needed is a volatility index that measures the evolving risk from extreme events — so that global vital signs can be coupled to local information on what people care most about. A good start would be to track the total area during the year in which conditions stray by three standard deviations from the local and seasonal mean10.

The window of opportunity for improving goal-setting is open. This autumn, a big push on climate policy begins — with the aim of crafting a new global agreement by late 2015 at the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties in Paris. Getting serious about climate change requires wrangling about the cost of emissions goals, sharing the burdens and drawing up international funding mechanisms. But diplomats must move beyond the 2 °C goal. Scientists must help them to understand why, and what should replace it.

New indicators will not be ready for the Paris meeting, but a path for designing them should be agreed there. Such a clear international mandate would spur research on indicators of planetary health, just as the United Nations’ Millennium Summit on extreme poverty gave political momentum to the MDGs. The Paris agreement should call for an international technical conference on how to turn today’s research measurements into tomorrow’s planetary vital signs.

The public needs to understand what it is being asked to pay for. On this score, ‘CO2 concentration’ or ‘ocean heat content’ are not nearly effective as ‘temperature’ in conveying to the person in the street what is at risk. Yet patients have come to understand that doctors must track many vital signs — blood pressure, heart rate and body mass index — to prevent illness and inform care. A similar strategy is now needed for the planet.

Nature 514, 30–31 (02 October 2014) doi:10.1038/514030a

Original article is here

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Finally! The Greenland deglaciation paradox sorted.

from ScienceDaily

Bo Vinther prepares an ice core for visual inspection. Credit: Photograph by Christian Morel

A new study of three ice cores from Greenland documents the warming of the large ice sheet at the end of the last ice age — resolving a long-standing paradox over when that warming occurred.

 Large ice sheets covered North America and northern Europe some 20,000 years ago during the coldest part of the ice age, when global average temperatures were about four degrees Celsius (or seven degrees Fahrenheit) colder than during pre-industrial times. And then changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun increased the solar energy reaching Greenland. Beginning some 18,000 years ago, release of carbon from the deep ocean led to a graduate rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).

Yet past analysis of ice cores from Greenland did not show any warming response as would be expected from an increase in CO2 and solar energy flux, the researchers note.

In this new study, funded by the National Science Foundation and published this week in the journal Science, scientists reconstructed air temperatures by examining ratios of nitrogen isotopes in air trapped within the ice instead of isotopes in the ice itself, which had been used in past studies.

Not only did the new analysis detect significant warming in response to increasing atmospheric CO2, it documents a warming trend at a rate closely matching what climate change models predict should have happened as Earth shifted out of its ice age, according to lead author Christo Buizert, a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State University and lead author on the Science article.

“The Greenland isotope records from the ice itself suggest that temperatures 12,000 years ago during the so-called Younger Dryas period near the end of the ice age were virtually the same in Greenland as they were 18,000 years ago when much of the northern hemisphere was still covered in ice,” Buizert said. “That never made much sense because between 18,000 and 12,000 years ago atmospheric CO2 levels rose quite a bit.”

“But when you reconstruct the temperature history using nitrogen isotope ratios as a proxy for temperature, you get a much different picture,” Buizert pointed out. “The nitrogen-based temperature record shows that by 12,000 years ago, Greenland temperatures had already warmed by about five degrees (Celsius), very close to what climate models predict should have happened, given the conditions.”

Reconstructing temperatures by using water isotopes provides useful information about when temperatures shift but can be difficult to calibrate because of changes in the water cycle, according to Edward Brook, an Oregon State paleoclimatologist and co-author on the Science study.

“The water isotopes are delivered in Greenland through snowfall and during an ice age, snowfall patterns change,” Brook noted. “It may be that the presence of the giant ice sheet made snow more likely to fall in the summer instead of winter, which can account for the warmer-than-expected temperatures because the snow records the temperature at the time it fell.”

In addition to the gradual warming of five degrees (C) over a 6,000-year period beginning 18,000 years ago the study investigated two periods of abrupt warming and one period of abrupt cooling documented in the new ice cores. The researchers say their leading hypothesis is that all three episodes are tied to changes in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), which brings warm water from the tropics into the high northern latitudes.

The first episode caused a jump in Greenland’s air temperatures of 10-15 degrees (C) in just a few decades beginning about 14,700 years ago. An apparent shutdown of the AMOC about 12,800 years ago caused an abrupt cooling of some 5-9 degrees (C), also over a matter of decades.

When the AMOC was reinvigorated again about 11,600 years ago, it caused a jump in temperatures of 8-, 11 degrees (C), which heralded the end of the ice age and the beginning of the climatically warm and stable Holocene period, which allowed human civilization to develop.

“For these extremely abrupt transitions, our data show a clear fingerprint of AMOC variations, which had not yet been established in the ice core studies,” noted Buizert, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Other evidence for AMOC changes exists in the marine sediment record and our work confirms those findings.”

In their study, the scientists examined three ice cores from Greenland and looked at the gases trapped inside the ice for changes in the isotopic ration of nitrogen, which is very sensitive to temperature change. They found that temperatures in northwest Greenland did not change nearly as much as those in southeastern Greenland — closest to the North Atlantic — clearly suggesting the influence of the AMOC.

“The last deglaciation is a natural example of global warming and climate change,” Buizert said. “It is very important to study this period because it can help us better understand the climate system and how sensitive the surface temperature is to atmospheric CO2.”

“The warming that we observed in Greenland at the end of the ice age had already been predicted correctly by climate models several years ago,” Buizert added. “This gives us more confidence that these models also predict future temperatures correctly.”


From Science

Greenland deglaciation puzzles

Louise Claire Sime, British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Cambridge, CB23 7PP, UK.

About 23,000 years ago, the southern margins of the great Northern Hemisphere ice sheets across Europe and North America began to melt. The melt rate accelerated ∼20,000 years ago, and global sea level eventually rose by ∼130 m as meltwater flowed into the oceans. Ice cores from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets show the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations that accompanied this shift in global ice volume and climate. However, discrepancies in the temperature reconstructions from these cores have raised questions about the long-term relationship between atmospheric CO2 concentrations and Arctic temperature. On page 1177 of this issue, Buizert et al. (1) report temperature reconstructions from three locations on the Greenland ice sheet that directly address these problems.


Greenland ice core water isotopic composition (δ18O) provides detailed evidence for abrupt climate changes but is by itself insufficient for quantitative reconstruction of past temperatures and their spatial patterns. We investigate Greenland temperature evolution during the last deglaciation using independent reconstructions from three ice cores and simulations with a coupled ocean-atmosphere climate model. Contrary to the traditional δ18O interpretation, the Younger Dryas period was 4.5° ± 2°C warmer than the Oldest Dryas, due to increased carbon dioxide forcing and summer insolation. The magnitude of abrupt temperature changes is larger in central Greenland (9° to 14°C) than in the northwest (5° to 9°C), fingerprinting a North Atlantic origin. Simulated changes in temperature seasonality closely track changes in the Atlantic overturning strength and support the hypothesis that abrupt climate change is mostly a winter phenomenon.


Original Science Daily article here

Science paper here

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What the scientists really think about climate change.



Growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s on a farm in a small town, I spent most of my spare time outside playing riding around on my bike with my friends, and also helping out in the family business. I never really watched a lot of television but when I did I loved to watch The Curiosity Show with Rob and Dean. For those unfamiliar, here is a random clip from one of their shows.

It was this show that really got me interested in Science. Rob and Dean had a way of making science exciting and they did this through effective communication. They could explain what they were doing and make it exciting and relevant. What young kid watching the above example wouldn’t get excited about blowing the lid off something? All that nitrogen gas was also cool and creepy.

The other show I never missed was Why is it So? with Professor Julius Sumner Miller. Here was a guy who could have been typecast into any Hollywood movie or television drama as a stereotypical nutty professor. He was brilliant, not so much because he could communicate effectively (which he obviously could) but because he was so passionate about science and self-assured and this really came through. I was left in no doubt about how he was feeling at any given moment. Recently I have become re-acquainted with Miller and have spent many hours on YouTube watching grainy copies of Demonstrations in Physics. One of my favourites was his lecture on Bernoulli. It is classic Sumner Miller and it will leave you in no doubt about his passion for physics and ability to effectively communicate. I particularly enjoy his language. His “common enchantment” is on show.

Fast forward 30 something years to today and one of my biggest laments in science is the unwillingness of scientists to really express their personal feelings about the science they are doing. Scientists are for some reason almost expected to maintain the dispassion they apply to the scientific method throughout all aspects of their life or at least to keep their personal feelings out of the public eye, especially if they are negative. Perhaps I’m generalising a bit here but it is the impression I have gotten over the years, especially where climate science is concerned. I’m not a climate scientist and I am really pissed off about the lack of action. I am really pissed off by the bullshit “arguments” put up by non-experts. I am pissed off with the media giving false balance to these morons. When I see charlatans from fossil fuel funded think-tanks on my television I want to throw something. I will throw my hands up in the air and wonder why the climate scientists are not being heard? Why aren’t they putting a human face on their findings? I know they are all passionate about their science and they have to be tearing their hair out at the prospect of what we are doing to our world.

Well, with our new dysfunctional, fossil fuel funded, climate change denying, anti-science, fossil-filled conservative government destroying renewable energy initiatives, dismantling key climate institutions, removing the only demonstrable method of reducing CO2 emissions, dishing out corporate welfare to billionaire miners and removing environmental impediments to their business interests, it seems some Australian climate experts are finally putting their thoughts in the public domain.  Joe Duggan, a master’s student in science communication at the Australian National University’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science has asked the experts to write down their thoughts and has put them on his blog. It makes for some sobering reading.

Check it out here.




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100 000 000 people will die by 2030 if the world fails to act on climate change

from Reuters by NINA CHESTNEY

Rain clouds gather as a skytrain passes the victory monument in Bangkok September 25, 2012. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Rain clouds gather as a skytrain passes the victory monument in Bangkok September 25, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

More than 100 million people will die and global economic growth will be cut by 3.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030 if the world fails to tackle climate change, a report commissioned by 20 governments said on Wednesday.

As global average temperatures rise due to greenhouse gas emissions, the effects on the planet, such as melting ice caps, extreme weather, drought and rising sea levels, will threaten populations and livelihoods, said the report conducted by humanitarian organisation DARA.

It calculated that five million deaths occur each year from air pollution, hunger and disease as a result of climate change and carbon-intensive economies, and that toll would likely rise to six million a year by 2030 if current patterns of fossil fuel use continue.

More than 90 percent of those deaths will occur in developing countries, said the report that calculated the human and economic impact of climate change on 184 countries in 2010 and 2030. It was commissioned by the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a partnership of 20 developing countries threatened by climate change.

“A combined climate-carbon crisis is estimated to claim 100 million lives between now and the end of the next decade,” the report said.

It said the effects of climate change had lowered global output by 1.6 percent of world GDP, or by about $1.2 trillion a year, and losses could double to 3.2 percent of global GDP by 2030 if global temperatures are allowed to rise, surpassing 10 percent before 2100.

It estimated the cost of moving the world to a low-carbon economy at about 0.5 percent of GDP this decade.


British economist Nicholas Stern told Reuters earlier this year investment equivalent to 2 percent of global GDP was needed to limit, prevent and adapt to climate change. His report on the economics of climate change in 2006 said an average global temperature rise of 2-3 degrees Celsius in the next 50 years could reduce global consumption per head by up to 20 percent.

Temperatures have already risen by about 0.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. Almost 200 nations agreed in 2010 to limit the global average temperature rise to below 2C (3.6 Fahrenheit) to avoid dangerous impacts from climate change.

But climate scientists have warned that the chance of limiting the rise to below 2C is getting smaller as global greenhouse gas emissions rise due to burning fossil fuels.

The world’s poorest nations are the most vulnerable as they face increased risk of drought, water shortages, crop failure, poverty and disease. On average, they could see an 11 percent loss in GDP by 2030 due to climate change, DARA said.

“One degree Celsius rise in temperature is associated with 10 percent productivity loss in farming. For us, it means losing about 4 million metric tonnes of food grain, amounting to about $2.5 billion. That is about 2 percent of our GDP,” Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in response to the report.

“Adding up the damages to property and other losses, we are faced with a total loss of about 3-4 percent of GDP.”

Even the biggest and most rapidly developing economies will not escape unscathed. The United States and China could see a 2.1 percent reduction in their respective GDPs by 2030, while India could experience a more than 5 percent loss.

The full report is available at: daraint.org/


Original story here


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800000 years of atmospheric CO2

This was uploaded a few days ago and represents the latest data on CO2 levels upuntil January 2014. The physics of how CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas is well understood and has been for many years. Understanding this makes the following video all the more concerning.

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