Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

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After passing legislation 6 years ago that prohibited North Carolina policymakers from considering climate change data in planning for rising sea levels along their coast, Hurricane Florence now threatens to cause a devastating storm surge that could put thousands of lives in danger and cost North Carolina billions of dollars worth of damage.

The hurricane, which is expected to make landfall on Friday, is shaping up to be one of the worst storms to hit the East Coast. Residents of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and mainland coasts have already been ordered to evacuate. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in both North and South Carolina, and a Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator said that the Category 4 hurricane will likely cause “massive damage to our country.”

And the rise in sea levels, experts say, is making the storm surge worse.

Sea level rise is a direct consequence of global warming; the warming of the ocean has resulted in thermal expansion and melted ice sheets and glaciers that are causing the oceans to rise. Since 1950, the sea level has risen 6.5 inches ― a number that sounds small but has actually had major consequences across the country.

“Sea level rising, simply put, makes every coastal flood deeper and more destructive,” said Ben Strauss, CEO of Climate Central, a climate change research organization that has published dozens of studies about rising sea levels and the risks of ignoring the problem. “Ignoring it is incredibly dangerous.”

“It only takes a few extra inches of water depth to be the difference between a ruined floor and no damage, or a ruined electrical system and just a ruined floor,” Strauss said. “Floods tend to be a great deal more destructive and costly than homeowners anticipate.”

Sea level rise can also affect the severity of hurricanes, said William Sweet, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “If you compared storm surge heights from the same storm at the same location over several decades, the surge would be higher ― assuming no change in flood defenses ― because of sea level rise,” Sweet said.

But in North Carolina, lawmakers chose to ignore the threats. A panel of scientists on the state Coastal Resources Commission issued a dire warning in March 2010, estimating that the sea levels along the state’s coast would rise 39 inches over the next century. Conservative lawmakers and business interest groups feared the report would hurt lucrative real estate development on the state’s coast and sought to undermine it. A lobbying group committed to economic development on the coast accused the panel of “pulling data out of their hip pocket.”

Conservative state Rep. Pat McElraft, whose top campaign contributors were the North Carolina Association of Realtors and the North Carolina Home Builders’ Association, drafted a bill in response that rejected the panel’s predictions.

McElraft introduced the bill in April 2011, and it passed the legislature in the summer of 2012.

Part of the bill stipulated that state and local agencies must also refer to historical linear predictions of sea level rise rather than current research, and another alarming section required that research look only at 30-year predictions rather than at a century, as the CRC report had done. Supporters of the bill saw short-term benefits in more affordable insurance, and continued opportunities for real estate development and tourism along the attractive coast. Critics saw the long-term consequences of damaged homes and businesses and vast swaths of the state being swallowed by floods.

Environmental scientists, coastal researchers and a number of lawmakers called the measure a blatant denial of crucial climate science and criticized then-Gov. Bev Perdue (D) for not acting on the bill and therefore allowing it to become law.

“By putting our heads in the sand, literally, we are not helping property owners,” said then-state Sen. Deborah K. Ross. “We are hurting them. We are not giving them information they might need to protect their property. Ignorance is not bliss. It’s dangerous.”

‘It’s a really bad setup’

In North Carolina, the state’s topography and the rising sea levels have made for even more dangerous storms and floods, Strauss said. Unlike coastal communities that have deep, cliff-like dropoffs, North Carolina’s coast is flat, wide and shallow, “like a kiddie pool,” Strauss said. “When you think about storm surge, some places have higher potential than others. The same storm would produce different surges depending on the topography,” said Strauss.

The state also has a wide, shallow continental shelf compared with places like Miami, which “means there is massive potential for a storm surge,” he said.

“Especially a storm like this, that’s moving straight forward,” he said. “It’s a really bad setup.”

At the same time, climate change has “supercharged” recent storms, as HuffPost’s Chris D’Angelo reported on Friday, putting Florence on track to do as much, if not more, damage than last year’s Hurricane Harvey, which devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana.

“It is fair to say that the very same factors are likely at play here, namely very warm ocean temperatures and an anomalous jet stream pattern favoring stalled weather systems,” said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/north-carolina-sea-level-rise-hurricane-florence_us_5b985a87e4b0162f4731da0e?ncid=APPLENEWS00001

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Suicide rates and temperatures are both on the rise, but are these two occurrences connected? A new study suggests maybe so. The research revealed hotter-than-average months corresponded to more deaths by suicide—and the effect isn’t limited to the summer, even warmer winters show the trend.

In the study, published in Nature Climate Change, the investigators looked at all of the suicides that occurred in the U.S. and Mexico over several decades (1968 to 2004 for the U.S. and 1990 to 2010 for Mexico), comprising 851,088 and 611,366 deaths, respectively. They then observed how monthly temperature fluctuations over these periods in every county or municipality in both countries correlated to the suicide rates for that region. They discovered that for every 1-degree Celsius (1.8-degree Fahrenheit) rise in temperature, there was a 0.7 percent increase in suicide rates in the U.S. and a 2.1 percent increase in Mexico, averaging a 1.4 percent increment across both countries. That is, over the years, a given county would see more deaths by suicide in warmer-than-average months.

Notably, the average temperature of the county did not matter; for example, Dallas and Minneapolis saw a similar rise in suicide rates. The effect did not depend on the month either—it made no difference whether it was January or July. There was also no difference between gender, socioeconomic status, access to guns, air-conditioning and whether it was an urban or rural region. Across the board, when temperatures rose in a given place, so did the number of suicides.

“A lot of times when you hear about climate change and climate change impacts, you hear this catch phrase ‘climate change is going to generate winners and losers,’” says study author Marshall Burke. “Some people could benefit from climate change, the idea being if you live in a really cold location, sometimes things improve when you warm it up a little bit. We do not find that for suicide.” He continues, “Climate change in terms of suicide is not going to generate winners and losers, it’s just going to generate losers. Everyone, as far as we can tell—no matter whether you live in a cold place or live in a hot place—everyone is going to be harmed in terms of suicide risk when we increase the temperature.”

If climate change continues on its current trajectory with an estimated temperature increase of 2.5 degrees C (4.5 degrees F) by 2050, Burke, who is an assistant professor of earth system science at Stanford University, projects suicide rates would rise by 1.85 percent, resulting in an additional 21,770 deaths by suicide across the U.S. and Mexico. For comparison, economic recession is thought to increase suicide rates by 0.8 percent whereas news of celebrity suicides accounts for a 4.6 percent bump in rates.

Not everyone is convinced by these projections, though. Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, says, “I think it’s an interesting and provocative idea. These two things may be co-occurring. You know, it’s possible that the rate of suicide is going up as the temperature is going up. But we don’t know that there’s anything causal about that.”

In their study the researchers speculate there could be some biological effect linked to temperature regulation in the brain that alters mental health and could underlie the correlation. In an attempt to connect mental well-being with temperature change more generally, they examined more than 600 million Twitter posts for depressive language over a 14-month period. The researchers again found hotter months corresponded to a higher probability of using depressive language. Prior work by the researchers also saw a similar trend in interpersonal conflict, with a 4 percent rise in violence attributed to climate change.

Burke acknowledged suicide is a complex phenomenon and temperature is certainly not the only or even the most important factor affecting mental health: “What studies like ours contribute is just saying on average, as you increase temperature, what’s going to happen to suicide rates? So that won’t tell you with utmost certainty what’s going to happen in specific locations, but it will tell you okay on average this is what we should expect. Our view is it would be foolhardy to ignore the evidence,” he notes.

Radley Horton, an associate research professor at Columbia University who was not involved in the research, says the study is a good reminder of how fundamental temperature is and how widespread its impacts are. “The deeper we look, the more likely we are to uncover ways that temperature directly impacts things we care about,” he says. “Climate uncertainty is not our friend. The further we push things, the greater the risk.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/global-warming-linked-to-higher-suicide-rates-across-north-america/


Analysis of Hurricane Harvey, which drowned Houston, confirms predictions that the storms are likely to get bigger, be more intense and last longer.

By Mark Fischetti

Hurricane Harvey, which inundated the Houston area with up to 60 inches of rain last August, was one of the most outlandish storms ever to hit the U.S. Ironically, it crossed a Gulf of Mexico that had been calm for days and quickly quieted again afterward. This rare situation allowed scientists to obtain unusually specific data about the ocean before and after the hurricane, and about the storm’s energy and moisture.

Last week researchers published that data in Earth’s Future. The numbers indicate the amount of energy Harvey pulled from the ocean, in the form of rising water vapor, equaled the amount of energy it dropped over land in the form of rain—the first time such an equivalence has been documented. Investigators say this revelation supports assertions climate change is likely to make Atlantic hurricanes bigger, more intense and longer-lasting than in the past. The researchers calculate climate change caused Harvey’s rainfall to be 15 to 38 percent greater than it would have been otherwise.

Kevin Trenberth, a senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, led the team. Scientific American asked him why Harvey behaved so strangely, how it confirms predictions about changing hurricanes and what the U.S. and other nations prone to the storms should prepare for in the future.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows:]

You say hurricanes will get bigger, and last longer. Why?

As climate change makes oceans hotter there is more heat—more energy—available, so there is likely to be an increase in hurricane activity. That can be the size of the storms, their duration and their intensity.

So hurricane dynamics are really driven by ocean energy?

Right. The way that energy moves around is transporting water vapor in the atmosphere—in this case, pulled up into the storm and dumped over the land in Texas. As the water vapor condenses it releases the latent ocean heat into the atmosphere. Our study was the first time anyone has been able to match up these two numbers.

Is moving energy a hurricane’s main role in the climate system? Why do we even have them?

A hurricane moves heat out of the ocean rapidly. It keeps the oceans cooler. A hurricane is actually a relief valve for the tropical ocean.

Why does it need a relief valve?

In general, the global weather system doesn’t like to have big temperature contrasts. If it’s hot in one place and cold in another, that produces wind that blows the warm air toward the cold and the cold air toward the warm. The atmosphere is always trying to remove those temperature gradients.

Similarly, thunderstorms move heat upward from a hot ocean to a cooler atmosphere but they don’t have the strong winds that a hurricane does, which produce the very large evaporating out of the ocean into the atmosphere. A hurricane is a collection of thunderstorms, but having the same number of thunderstorms without hurricane winds doesn’t cool off the tropical ocean to the same extent. Without hurricanes the tropical ocean would get really hot and the contrast between there and the middle latitudes would create different weather systems than we have now.

Warmer oceans mean more intense hurricanes. But you note that the number of large storms might actually decrease. Why?

By pulling up an ocean’s heat, a hurricane leaves a colder ocean in its wake. One big storm creates more cooling than, say, four smaller storms. It leaves a cooler ocean that is less favorable for a new storm.

That explains why Harvey got so big; your paper notes that the Gulf of Mexico water temperature was several degrees hotter than usual for late August. But why did Harvey stay big?

Over the ocean a hurricane’s circulation typically reaches about 1,000 miles in all directions, grabbing moisture and bringing it into the storm. Once over land the storm dries and weakens. But even when two sides of Harvey were over land, the spiral arm bands reached well out over the Gulf, which was still very warm. That kept the storm going.

After several days the storm moved back over the Gulf before it came inland again, and then moved north. We don’t attribute that movement to climate change. But the fact that when it did come back over the Gulf it reintensified is very much related to climate change. Despite the fact that Harvey had taken a lot of energy from the Gulf and cooled the waters in the upper 100 meters in particular, the deeper Gulf was still warm enough to well up and sustain hurricane-force winds.

The related question is why did Harvey remain over Houston so long? Some experts say it had to do with climate change altering the nature of the jet stream—giving it bigger bends, causing it to meander more slowly from west to east across the U.S.— which can help weather systems get stuck in one place.

Some people suggest that may have played a role. I’m inclined to think it didn’t. The storm track does depend on the weather; a high-pressure system blocked Harvey from moving north or northeast over land as it normally would have. But that high wasn’t part of a big jet steam wave structure. Also, the idea of a slow jet stream, because of changing conditions in the Arctic, is still a controversial topic. I and others think the bigger factor is the tropical Pacific—systems like El Niño and so on. We need to research this more, but I think the effect of the tropics is much greater than the effect of polar regions.

The end of the paper addresses what society needs to do to prepare for stronger hurricanes. It’s commentary, which is unusual. Why did you decide to include this?

Physical scientists often do not talk about impacts and consequences. They often leave that to social scientists or economists. But we need to connect the physical and social effects much more. The Earths’ Future journal is designed to help bridge that divide. Our study is relevant to a lot of policy. And it’s especially relevant to the current administration, whose operational rule seems to be to do away with regulations even when they make sense and are based in science.

You also recommended actions hurricane-prone regions should take. What is the most crucial?

The hurricane damage last season in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas shows that infrastructure should have been hardened for such storms, which were certainly going to come sooner or later. There were many meetings—I was at some of them—in which politicians, heads of countries and states, were very aware of two main threats: sea level rise and intense hurricanes. But they haven’t done much to prepare.

In Texas, after Hurricane Ike in 2008, there were proposals to add flood control measures in Houston, and they were voted down. In contrast, places like Taiwan, in the typhoon belt, hardened their infrastructures: drainage systems, building codes to withstand category 4 and 5 storms, emergency systems. In 2015 Taiwan had four typhoons that caused flooding and damage—but each time, within about four days they were back up and fully operational because they had built-in resilience and were prepared. Places in the U.S. need to make that kind of investment.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-data-hurricanes-will-get-worse/


Pod shatter in oilseed rape – problem for farmers worldwide.

Breeding temperature-resilient crops is an “achievable dream” in one of the most important species of commercially-cultivated plants, according to a new study.

The vision of crop improvement in the face of climate change is outlined in research by the John Innes Centre which establishes a genetic link between increased temperature and the problem of “pod shatter” (premature seed dispersal) in oilseed rape.

Research by the team led by Dr Vinod Kumar and Professor Lars Østergaard, reveals that pod shatter is enhanced at higher temperature across diverse species in the Brassicaceae family which also includes cauliflower, broccoli and kale.

This new understanding brings a step closer the prospect of creating crops that are better adapted to warmer temperatures a step closer.

Dr Vinod Kumar, a co-author of the paper explained the significance of the findings:

“It’s almost as if there is a thermostat that controls seed dispersal, or pod shatter. As we learn how it works, we could in the future ‘rewire’ it so seed dispersal does not happen at the same pace at higher temperatures

“This piece of the puzzle, coupled with the use of advanced genetic tools means that developing temperature-resilient crops becomes an achievable dream.”

Controlling seed dispersal, or “pod shatter” is a major issue for farmers of oilseed rape worldwide, who lose between 15-20% of yield on average per year due to prematurely dispersed seeds lost in the field.

The study set out to find out if temperature increases had a direct influence on pod shatter in oilseed rape, and how this is controlled by genetics.

“Over the last two decades, scientists have identified the genes that control pod shatter. However, it is not until now that we begin to understand how their activity is affected by the environment, and in this case temperature,” explained Professor Lars Østergaard.

To study the effects of temperature on seed dispersal, Dr Xinran Li, a postdoctoral researcher, monitored fruit development in Arabidopsis, a model plant related to the important Brassicaceae crops, at three different temperatures 17, 22 and 27 degrees centigrade.

This showed that stiffening of the cell wall at the tissue where pod shatter takes place is enhanced by increasing temperature leading to accelerated seed dispersal.

Dr. Li demonstrated that this was true not only for Arabidopsis, but across the Brassicaceae family, including oilseed rape.

The team went on to establish the genetic mechanism which organises the plant response to higher temperatures. Previous studies have shown that pod shatter is controlled by a gene called INDEHISCENT (IND). This study reveals that IND is under the control of a thermo-sensory mechanism in which a histone called H2A.Z is a key player.

The report concludes: “Our findings introduce an environmental factor to the current knowledge, which provide alternative avenues for crop improvement in the face of climate change.”

The paper Temperature modulates tissue-specification programme to control fruit dehiscence in Brassicaceae which appears in the journal Molecular Plant also identifies the genetic pathways behind the temperature sensing mechanism which coordinates the crop’s response to rises in temperature.

Temperature modulates tissue-specification program to control fruit dehiscence in Brassicaceae: authors Xin-Ran Li, Joyita Deb, S. Vinod Kumar and Lars Østergaard.

Read the full report and paper here: http://www.cell.com/molecular-plant/fulltext/S1674-2052(18)30023-6

https://www.jic.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2018/02/temperature-resilient-crops/#


An iron arrowhead, possibly dating back a millennia or more, emerging from an ice patch in the mountains of Norway.

by MICHAEL D’ESTRIES

Ancient artifacts preserved in snow and ice over thousands of years in Norway’s mountains are emerging at an unprecedented rate, and archaeologists are scrambling to collect them all before it’s too late.

The finds are truly remarkable: iron arrowheads dating back to 1,500 years, tunics from the Iron Age, and even the remains of a wooden ski complete with leather binding left behind sometime in the year 700 A.D. Some of the oldest objects were dropped more than 6,000 years ago.

The catalyst behind the sudden emergence of these ancient relics is climate change, with lower winter precipitation and warmer summers dramatically reducing the alpine ice that acts as a time capsule for lost treasures.

“The ice is a time machine,” Lars Pilö, an archaeologist who works for the Oppland County council told Archaeology in 2013. “When you’re really lucky, the artifacts are exposed for the first time since they were lost.”


A ski with leather binding recovered from an ice patch in the Norwegian mountains. Analysis later determined that the artifact dates back to 700 A.D.

Unlike glaciers, which tend to crush and grind objects as they move down a mountain, the majority of artifacts coming out of Norway are being recovered from ice patches. These isolated non-moving accumulations of ice and snow are significant to the archeological record because of their extreme stability, with many containing layers of seasonal snowpack dating back thousands of years.

In 2017, a study of the ice of the Juvfonne snow patch in Jotunheimen, Norway was discovered to be an astounding 7,600 years old.


An Iron Age tunic recovered from the Lendbreen ice patch in August 2011.

Despite their remote setting and scarce visits from modern day humans, ice patches for thousands of years were veritable hot spots for ancient hunters. In the summer, reindeer herds often crowd together on the islands of snow and ice to escape pesky, biting botflies, which have a strong aversion to the cooler temperatures. In the past, hunters would follow, losing or forgetting precious equipment along the way that was later buried and preserved in the winter snows.

Some items, such as the 1,600-year-old knife shown in the video below, look as if they were lost only a few decades ago.

Because ice patches in the past have contracted and expanded due to temperature shifts, many of the objects recovered have likely one time or another been exposed and then reburied by snow and ice. They also have a tendency to be carried by meltwater. As explained on the Secrets of the Ice Facebook page, the 2,600-year-old arrows shown in the image below were washed downslope far from the place they were originally lost.


Arrows discovered in the scree of an ice patch were later determined to date back to 600 B.C.

Some of the most exciting finds are those objects found emerging from the surface of the ice, a sign that they have previously been untouched by melting, according to researchers from the Oppland County Council. These artifacts are generally exceptionally preserved, with organic materials such as leather and fabric still present. It’s also an indication of the severity of anthropogenic global warming, with certain ice patches in Norway estimated to have retreated to levels last seen during the Stone Age.

“It’s very impressive when you can say this melting ice is 5,000 years old, and this is the only moment in the last 7,000 years that the ice has been retreating,” Albert Hafner, an archaeologist at the University of Bernsays Hafner, told Archaeology. “Ice is the most emotional way to show climate change.”


The preserved remains of a 3400-year-old hide shoe discovered on an ice patch in 2006. Over the last 30 years, some 2,000 artifacts have been recovered from Norway’s melting ice fields.

Unfortunately for archaeologists, the rate of ice loss coupled with the extremely small annual windows of opportunity to scour the alpine patches, means some newly exposed items will break down and disappear before anyone has a chance to study them.

“This material is like the library of Alexandria. It is incredibly valuable and it’s on fire now,” George Hambrecht, an anthropologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, told New Scientist.


Archaeologists are in a race against time to discover and preserve ancient artifacts exposed to the elements. Here, a team member searches the edge of a retreating ice patch for potential relics from the past.

Right now you might be thinking, “I want to help find and preserve these incredible artifacts!,” and we agree, it sounds like quite the adventure to take a romp into the Norwegian wilderness and possibly stumble upon a well-preserved Viking Sword (see below). The reality, however, is that field work can sometimes be laborious and uncomfortable, with every day at the mercy of Mother Nature’s fickle moods.

That said, the Oppland County Council did accept volunteers last spring and it’s possible, especially with so many finds emerging from the ice each year, that others may be called upon to assist.

“We may not find much (or we could strike the jackpot, who knows),” Lars Pilø wrote last April in the Secrets blog. “It all depends on the melting conditions, and they develop over the summer and during fieldwork. If we are unlucky, the scenery and the team spirit make up for the lack of finds.”

To learn more about the work underway at Norway’s precious ice patches, visit the Secrets of the Ice blog here: http://secretsoftheice.com/


A Viking sword discovered in 2017, and dating back to c. AD 850-950.

https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/climate-weather/blogs/ancient-artifacts-are-emerging-norways-melting-ice

Physicist Steven Desch has come up with a novel solution to the problems that now beset the Arctic. He and a team of colleagues from Arizona State University want to replenish the region’s shrinking sea ice – by building 10 million wind-powered pumps over the Arctic ice cap. In winter, these would be used to pump water to the surface of the ice where it would freeze, thickening the cap.

The pumps could add an extra metre of sea ice to the Arctic’s current layer, Desch argues. The current cap rarely exceeds 2-3 metres in thickness and is being eroded constantly as the planet succumbs to climate change.

“Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice. In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly,” Desch told the Observer.

Desch and his team have put forward the scheme in a paper that has just been published in Earth’s Future, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, and have worked out a price tag for the project: $500bn (£400bn).

It is an astonishing sum. However, it is the kind of outlay that may become necessary if we want to halt the calamity that faces the Arctic, says Desch, who, like many other scientists, has become alarmed at temperature change in the region. They say that it is now warming twice as fast as their climate models predicted only a few years ago and argue that the 2015 Paris agreement to limit global warming will be insufficient to prevent the region’s sea ice disappearing completely in summer, possibly by 2030.

“Our only strategy at present seems to be to tell people to stop burning fossil fuels,” says Desch. “It’s a good idea but it is going to need a lot more than that to stop the Arctic’s sea ice from disappearing.”

The loss of the Arctic’s summer sea ice cover would disrupt life in the region, endanger many of its species, from Arctic cod to polar bears, and destroy a pristine habitat. It would also trigger further warming of the planet by removing ice that reflects solar radiation back into space, disrupt weather patterns across the northern hemisphere and melt permafrost, releasing more carbon gases into the atmosphere.

Hence Desch’s scheme to use wind pumps to bring water that is insulated from the bitter Arctic cold to its icy surface, where it will freeze and thicken the ice cap. Nor is the physicist alone in his Arctic scheming: other projects to halt sea-ice loss include one to artificially whiten the Arctic by scattering light-coloured aerosol particles over it to reflect solar radiation back into space, and another to spray sea water into the atmosphere above the region to create clouds that would also reflect sunlight away from the surface.

All the projects are highly imaginative – and extremely costly. The fact that they are even being considered reveals just how desperately worried researchers have become about the Arctic. “The situation is causing grave concern,” says Professor Julienne Stroeve, of University College London. “It is now much more dire than even our worst case scenarios originally suggested.’

Last November, when sea ice should have begun thickening and spreading over the Arctic as winter set in, the region warmed up. Temperatures should have plummeted to -25C but reached several degrees above freezing instead. “It’s been about 20C warmer than normal over most of the Arctic Ocean. This is unprecedented,” research professor Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University told the Guardian in November. “These temperatures are literally off the charts for where they should be at this time of year. It is pretty shocking. The Arctic has been breaking records all year. It is exciting but also scary.”

Nor have things got better in the intervening months. Figures issued by the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), in Boulder, Colorado, last week revealed that in January the Arctic’s sea ice covered 13.38 million sq km, the lowest January extent in the 38 years since satellites began surveying the region. That figure is 260,000 sq km below the level for January last year, which was the previous lowest extent for that month, and a worrying 1.26 million sq km below the long-term average for January.

In fact, sea ice growth stalled during the second week of January – in the heart of the Arctic winter – while the ice cap actually retreated within the Kara and Barents seas, and within the Sea of Okhotsk. Similarly, the Svalbard archipelago, normally shrouded in ice, has remained relatively free because of the inflow of warm Atlantic water along the western part of the island chain. Although there has been some recovery, sea ice remains well below all previous record lows.

This paucity of sea ice bodes ill for the Arctic’s summer months when cover traditionally drops to its lower annual level, and could plunge to a record minimum this year. Most scientists expect that, at current emission rates, the Arctic will be reliably free of sea ice in summer by 2030.

By “free” they mean there will be less than 1m sq km of sea ice left in the Arctic, most of it packed into remote bays and channels, while the central Arctic Ocean over the north pole will be completely open. And by “reliably”, scientists mean there will have been five consecutive years with less than 1m sq km of ice by the year 2050. The first single ice-free year will come much earlier than this, however.

And when that happens, the consequences are likely to be severe for the human and animal inhabitants of the region. An ice-free Arctic will be wide open to commercial exploitation, for example. Already, mining, oil and tourism companies have revealed plans to begin operations – schemes that could put severe strain on indigenous communities’ way of life in the region.

Equally worrying is the likely impact on wildlife, says Stroeve. “Juvenile Arctic cod like to hang out under the sea ice. Polar bears hunt on sea ice, and seals give birth on it. We have no idea what will happen when that lot disappears. In addition, there is the problem of increasing numbers of warm spells during which rain falls instead of snow. That rain then freezes on the ground and forms a hard coating that prevents reindeer and caribou from finding food under the snow.”

Nor would the rest of the world be isolated. With less ice to reflect solar radiation back into space, the dark ocean waters of the high latitudes will warm and the Arctic will heat up even further.

“If you warm the Arctic you decrease the temperature difference between the poles and the mid-latitudes, and that affects the polar vortex, the winds that blow between the mid latitudes and the high latitudes,” says Henry Burgess, head of the Arctic office of the UK Natural Environment Research Council.

“Normally this process tends to keep the cold in the high north and milder air in mid-latitudes but there is an increasing risk this will be disrupted as the temperature differential gets weaker. We may get more and more long, cold spells spilling down from the Arctic, longer and slower periods of Atlantic storms and equally warmer periods in the Arctic. What happens up there touches us all. It is hard to believe you can take away several million sq km of ice a few thousand kilometres to the north and not expect there will be an impact on weather patterns here in the UK.”

For her part, Stroeve puts it more bleakly: “We are carrying out a blind experiment on our planet whose outcome is almost impossible to guess.”

This point is backed by Desch. “Sea ice is disappearing from the Arctic – rapidly. The sorts of options we are proposing need to be researched and discussed now. If we are provocative and get people to think about this, that is good.

“The question is: do I think our project would work? Yes. I am confident it would. But we do need to put a realistic cost on these things. We cannot keep on just telling people, ‘Stop driving your car or it’s the end of the world’. We have to give them alternative options, though equally we need to price them.”

THE BIG SHRINK
The Arctic ice cap reaches its maximum extent every March and then, over the next six months, dwindles. The trough is reached around mid-September at the end of the melting season. The ice growth cycle then restarts. However, the extent of regrowth began slackening towards the end of the last century. According to meteorologists, the Arctic’s ice cover at its minimum is now decreasing by 13% every decade – a direct consequence of heating triggered by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Climate change deniers claim this loss is matched by gains in sea ice around the Antarctic. It is not. Antarctic ice fluctuations are slight compared with the Arctic’s plummeting coverage and if you combine the changes at both poles, you find more than a million sq km of ice has been lost globally in 30 years.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/12/plan-to-refreeze-arctic-before-ice-goes-for-good-climate-change

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The army base at Camp Century in Greenland was abandoned in the ’60s, leaving behind buried toxic waste that may become exposed by the end of the century. (Photo: U.S. Army/Wikimedia Commons)

by Sami Grover

When the Cold War ended, much of the world breathed a huge sigh of relief. And while the immediate threat of nuclear armageddon may have faded, there are countless sites around the world that are still burdened with the toxic legacy of military superpowers.

As global climate change reshapes our world, at least one such site is in danger of becoming a more immediate problem.

As reported over at Scientific American, Camp Century in northwest Greenland was a U.S. military base abandoned in the mid-1960s. When American forces shipped out, they left behind literally thousands of tons of waste buried deep inside tunnels that were dug out of the thick, year-round ice. Not unreasonably — given that the tunnels were 120 feet below the surface, and that fresh snow fell every year to bury the tunnels ever deeper — an assumption was made that the waste would remain buried for tens of thousands of years. But we all know what they say about assumptions…

With the rapid rate of Greenland’s ice melt (which CNN reports is off to a record start this year), concerns are surfacing that the buried waste — which includes everything from radioactive coolant to toxic PCBs — will be exposed much sooner than previously thought. A new study led by glaciologist William Colgan of York University in Toronto suggests that while cleaning up the site will have to wait until melting brings it closer to the surface, now would be a good time for world powers to start thrashing out who is responsible for such long abandoned waste materials.

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/climate-weather/stories/melting-ice-could-expose-cold-war-toxic-waste