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Thursday, May 31, 2012

More eye-popping Greenland data

Over at Weather Underground, meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters has a new post on Greenland, including some recent temperature records and a look at the melting of the giant island's ice cap during 2011:

"The record books for Greenland's climate were re-written on Tuesday, when the mercury hit 24.8°C (76.6°F) at Narsarsuaq, Greenland, on the southern coast. According to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, this is the hottest temperature on record in Greenland for May, and is just 0.7°C (1.3°F) below the hottest temperature ever measured in Greenland. The previous May record was 22.4°C (72.3°F) at Kangerlussuaq (called Sondre Stormfjord in Danish) on May 31, 1991. ...

"Between 2003 - 2009, Greenland lost an average of 250 gigatons [billion tons] of ice per year. In 2011, the loss was 70% greater than that." (This is accompanied by a seriously scary graph showing ice loss from 2003 to 2011.)

To briefly recap the nature of the problem:

- The Greenland ice cap is one of the world's two major land-based ice accumulations along with Antarctica.  "Land-based" is key because when land-based ice melts, it adds to sea level rise. (The Arctic ice cap floats on the ocean, so while it is melting too, that doesn't change sea level.)

- There is enough ice in Greenland's mile-high ice cap to raise global sea levels by 7 meters (23 feet) if it all melts (although that's expected to take hundreds of years to happen).

- Many millions of people live in low-lying coastal areas around the world that will have to be abandoned if sea level continues to rise.

Dr. Masters cites studies that estimate Greenland's current contribution to sea level rise at just 0.7 mm (.03 inches) per year, and expect that rate to double over the next decade.

So, nothing urgent here, just another trend that is headed in the wrong direction and accelerating.  On the other hand, it's also a process that may not be entirely predictable.  See Science News, April 16, 2012, "Greenland may be slip-sliding away due to surface lake melting."

Friday, May 25, 2012

Butterfly declared climate change 'winner'

There is some rejoicing in the global-warming-denial, anti-science camp today.  As usual, it is caused by scientific findings, but ones of which deniers happen to approve.  Today's lucky find: a formerly rare butterfly in the United Kingdom, the brown argus, whose range has rapidly expanded in recent years.

Even the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, which seems to have about the best environmental coverage of any mainstream news source in the world, had the kind of headline that the Heartland Institute (Denier Central) would love: "British butterfly defies doom prediction to thrive in changing climate."  If, of course, the Heartland Institute believed the climate were changing.  Meanwhile, one of the study's coauthors delivered another Heartland-warming sound bite: "There will be winners and losers from climate change."

It is good news--don't get me wrong--but some other outlets' stories had a less perky take.  After a few minutes' perusal, my nominee for one of the most perceptive is Bryan Walsh's "Why an English Butterfly Is a Rare Winner in Global Warming" at Time magazine's EcoCentric blog. Walsh starts off by noting, "Little is expected to benefit from climate change, with the possible exception of air-conditioning manufacturers, popsicle makers and Canada," then reviews the scientific findings about the brown argus, and moves on to this insightful close:

"But the brown argus butterfly is likely to be the exception to climate change, not the rule. Past periods of sudden climate change in the Earth‘s history have led to a reduction in biodiversity and even great extinction waves. If warming keeps up at the expected rate—and we’re doing little to slow it down—far more species will suffer as they attempt to adapt than those likely to succeed, especially since climate change is only one of many other challenges wildlife will face, including habitat loss and degradation. And the big question for 7 billion plus human beings is: will we be able to adapt and even thrive like the brown argus, or will we fail?"  Several good sound bites there too, and more important, an appropriate level of respect for the very complicated planetary climate and environmental system in which we are mucking about.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Emissions rise. Temperature projections too.

A couple of bad news items on the same day (May 24):

First, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that global carbon dioxide emissions in 2011 totaled 31.6 billion metric tons (tonnes), an all-time high and 1.0 billion tonnes (3.2%) above 2010: 

"Coal accounted for 45% of total energy-related CO2 emissions in 2011, followed by oil (35%) and natural gas (20%).

"The 450 Scenario of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2011, which sets out an energy pathway consistent with a 50% chance of limiting the increase in the average global temperature to 2°C [3.6 degrees F], requires CO2 emissions to peak at 32.6 [billion tonnes] no later than 2017, i.e., just 1.0 [billion tonnes] above 2011 levels." 

Meanwhile, researchers with a German project called the Climate Action Tracker said their monitoring of countries' progress in meeting their greenhouse gas emission reductions pledges indicates that global warming cannot be contained to 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 Fahrenheit):

Marion Vieweg, a policy researcher with German firm Climate Analytics, told AFP the 3.5 C (6.3 F) estimate had been based on the assumption that all countries will meet their pledges, in themselves inadequate, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

"New research has found this is not 'a realistic assumption,' she said, adding that right now 'we can't quantify yet how much above' 3.5 C (6.3 F) Earth will warm."  Climate Action Tracker is a joint effort of Climate Analytics, Ecofys, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Update - 25 May 2012: Climate Progress has a new blog that covers the IEA info in more detail, noting that IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol says the emissions data are "perfectly in line" with a temperature rise of 6 degrees C (11 F), which would be somewhere well beyond catastrophic.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Heat threatens leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica

Endangered leatherback sea turtles on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica are threatened by beaches that are hotter in the past, creating conditions that interfere with normal hatching, according to an article in The New York Times' Green blog by Rachel Nuwer:

"James Spotila, the Betz Chair professor of environmental science at Drexel University in Philadelphia, says that in decades to come, global warming is likely to heat up the beach and kill off turtles. 'They’re facing not just one problem, but a convergence of many negative effects of both people and climate change,' he said in an interview ...

"'I’d say this is yet another example in this mounting pile of how global warming and climate change are threatening animals and plants all over the place,' Dr. Spotila said." (emphasis added)

Sea-level rise threatening? No problem, say lawmakers

Much of eastern North Carolina is low-lying, level land that appears threatened by sea-level rise due to global warming, particularly if some of the more challenging scenarios scientists envision come to pass (more info here on one of these troublesome ideas, by noted climate scientist James Hansen and Makiko Sato).

The legislature of the Tarheel State, however, seems to be considering emulating the fabled approach taken by the medieval King Canute (or Cnut), who some chroniclers say went out to the sea's edge, ordered the tide not to come in, and nearly drowned. Recently, North Carolina's lawmakers elected to ignore a scientific report on the issue and may simply legislate a solution, according to Bill Chameides, dean of Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Writes Chameides in the Huffington Post: "In late April a revised version of a bill from the state House surfaced in the Senate that would enshrine [the position of a group that has lobbied against the scientific report]. This new bill would:
- limit sea-level rise to historical rates circa 1900,
- specify that sea-level rise may be extrapolated linearly to estimate future rates of rise, and
- disallow consideration of scenarios with accelerated rates of sea-level rise.

"Should this legislation come to fruition, North Carolina would be planning for a sea-level rise of about one foot rather than the scientifically projected three feet by the end of the century. That leaves a whole lot of water unaccounted for. And it could leave whole communities up coastal creeks paying for roads and bridges that no longer make sense to maintain in the face of rising seas."

Fascinating approach.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tropics widening, drought threat grows

A new study in the scientific journal Nature suggests that two human-caused pollutants, black carbon aerosols and tropospheric ozone, are causing the boundary of Earth's tropics to expand, a change which may worsen drought in the subtropics. According to Climate Progress: "Led by climatologist Robert J. Allen, an assistant professor of Earth sciences at the University of California, Riverside, the research team notes that an unabated tropical belt expansion would impact large-scale atmospheric circulation, especially in the subtropics and mid-latitudes. "'If the tropics are moving poleward, then the subtropics will become even drier,' Allen said. 'If a poleward displacement of the mid-latitude storm tracks also occurs, this will shift mid-latitude precipitation poleward, impacting regional agriculture, economy, and society.'"

Climate change wiping out Minnesota moose?

Minnesota moose are suffering what appears to be a rapid population decline, according to this ClimateWire article republished in Scientific American: "[T]he animals that inspired Bullwinkle are not what they were. Here, even healthy bulls -- whose size, strength and rutting prowess make them the undisputed kings of the North Woods -- are dying from what appear to be a combination of exhaustion, exposure, wasting disease triggered by parasites and other maladies."