Global warming accelerating growth of methane in Earth’s atmosphere

Methane is four times more sensitive to global warming than previously thought, a new study shows. The result helps to explain the rapid growth in methane in recent years and suggests that, if left unchecked, methane related warming will escalate in the decades to come.

The growth of this greenhouse gas – which over a 20 year timespan is more than 80 times as potent than carbon dioxide – had been slowing since the turn of the millennium but since 2007 has undergone a rapid rise, with measurements from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recording it passing 1,900 parts a billion last year, nearly triple pre-industrial levels…

To understand what was driving the methane acceleration, (Simon) Redfern and his colleague Chin-Hsien Cheng used four decades of methane measurements and analysed changes in the climate to identify how the availability of hydroxyl radicals might have changed and what impact the changing climate might have had on methane sources.

An important and worthwhile read.

Climate scientists predict accelerating sea level rise

One of the great things about science is that it allows you to make predictions. Three top climate scientists just made a very bold prediction regarding sea level rise; we should know in a few years if they are correct…

For instance, the oceans are rising. We know that’s indisputable. Measurements taken from physical gauges and from satellites confirm sea level rise. The cause of the rise is more complex…

The three ways we know sea levels are rising are from physical tide gauges, from satellites that measure the water height, and from satellites that measure where ice is stored across the globe. While tide gauge measurements go back many years, they only measure water levels at their location. Many tide gauges have to be in place to get an accurate sense of what is happening globally.

Satellites, on the other hand, are much more capable of taking global measurements. The problem with satellites is they have only been taking measurements since approximately 1993 (not nearly as long as tide gauges). So scientists try to combine these two measurements to get a long-term and global picture of what is really happening.

A very recent paper published in Nature has evaluated the history of sea level rise, and what they find is really interesting…Using satellite data, the authors found little evidence of an acceleration. However, they show that this is because the satellites began measuring in 1993, right after a large volcanic eruption (Mount Pinatubo). This eruption temporarily reduced global warming because particles from the eruption blocked sunlight. Just by coincidence, the timing of the satellites and the eruption has affected the water rise so that it appears to be linear. Had the eruption not occurred, the rate would have increased.

This allows the scientists to make a prediction:

barring another major volcanic eruption, a detectable acceleration is likely to emerge from the noise of internal climate variability in the coming decade.

This means that the authors will be able to statistically observe an increase, even though the Earth experiences natural changes that may mask any increase.

…Dr. Fasullo…told me:

This article shows that the acceleration of sea level rise is real and ongoing. It is also an example of how climate models can play a key role in both the interpretation of observations and the prediction of near-future climate.

While only time will tell if they are right, I’d put my money on the scientists.

I’ll second that emotion.

Coastal conservatives need new places to hide their heads – Sea level rising faster


Click to enlarge — this ain’t the future, this is Miami in June 2014

Ocean levels on Earth have risen an average of three inches in the last 23 years, and could rise an additional three feet in the next century, according to an interdisciplinary NASA team charged with measuring changing sea levels.

Scientists from NASA Wednesday presented satellite data gathered since 1992 that measured ocean levels rising at an average of 3 millimeters per year. The findings pointed to thermal expansion caused by warming ocean temperatures, as well as melting ice sheets and glaciers, as the reasons for the rise — and scientists warned that the rate at which sea levels are climbing is accelerating.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made a comprehensive assessment of rising sea levels in 2013, with climate experts stating that oceans would rise from one to three feet by the end of the century.

But NASA said Wednesday that satellite data gathered since then has shown that sea levels will climb to the higher end of that range, though it will be difficult to predict exactly how long it will take to reach that level.

Along with partners from French space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA has been tracking changing sea levels and the melting of ice sheets and glaciers using satellites equipped with highly sensitive instruments.

Mike Freilich, director of NASA’s earth science division in Washington, explained that the satellites were so accurate that they would be able to detect the movement of a dime lying on the ground from 40,000 feet above it.

The scientists said that melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica have been contributing to rising sea levels sooner and more significantly than they had anticipated…

Sea levels don’t rise uniformly across the planet, and in some places — particularly on the West coast of the U.S. — they are actually declining due to natural cycles of ocean currents. The scientists expect sea levels in those regions to catch up, and perhaps to exceed global average sea levels.

People need to understand that the planet is not only changing, it’s changed,” said NASA scientist Tom Wagner…

Researchers noted that with the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melting, it will be difficult for scientists to predict when sea levels will rise as a result because they have never actually witnessed the collapse of an ice sheet.

This will not bother the folks who not only never witnessed a conversation with a burning bush – they can’t find scientific record of such an occurrence. But, they still believe.

The same cultural rejection of science and scientific research that justifies superstition makes it easy to place the fate of future generations in the hands of politicians who make the same noises as your grandparents. And that’s true whether your rationale is defined in terms of ideology, religion or just something your favorite demagogue said, last Thursday on the radio.

Antarctica’s retreating ice may re-shape Earth’s geopolitical boundaries


Click to enlargePeter Convey on his way to the office

From the ground in this extreme northern part of Antarctica, spectacularly white and blinding ice seems to extend forever. What can’t be seen is the battle raging thousands of feet below to re-shape Earth.

Water is eating away at the Antarctic ice, melting it where it hits the oceans. As the ice sheets slowly thaw, water pours into the sea – 130 billion tons of ice per year for the past decade, according to NASA satellite calculations. That’s the weight of more than 356,000 Empire State Buildings, enough ice melt to fill more than 1.3 million Olympic swimming pools. And the melting is accelerating.

In the worst case scenario, Antarctica’s melt could push sea levels up 10 feet (3 meters) worldwide in a century or two, recurving heavily populated coastlines…

Here on the Antarctic peninsula, where the continent is warming the fastest because the land sticks out in the warmer ocean, 49 billion tons of ice are lost each year, according to NASA. The water warms from below, causing the ice to retreat on to land, and then the warmer air takes over. Temperatures rose 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last half century, much faster than Earth’s average, said Ricardo Jana, a glaciologist for the Chilean Antarctic Institute…

Robert Island hits all the senses: the stomach-turning smell of penguin poop; soft moss that invites the rare visitor to lie down, as if on a water bed; brown mud, akin to stepping in gooey chocolate. Patches of the moss, which alternates from fluorescent green to rust red, have grown large enough to be football fields. Though 97 percent of the Antarctic Peninsula is still covered with ice, entire valleys are now free of it, ice is thinner elsewhere and glaciers have retreated, Peter Convey of the British Antarctic Survey said…

A few years back, scientists figured Antarctica as a whole was in balance, neither gaining nor losing ice. Experts worried more about Greenland; it was easier to get to and more noticeable, but once they got a better look at the bottom of the world, the focus of their fears shifted. Now scientists in two different studies use the words “irreversible” and “unstoppable” to talk about the melting in West Antarctica. Ice is gaining in East Antarctica, where the air and water are cooler, but not nearly as much as it is melting to the west.

“Before Antarctica was much of a wild card,” said University of Washington ice scientist Ian Joughin. “Now I would say it’s less of a wild card and more scary than we thought before…”

“Changing the climate of the Earth or thinning glaciers is fine as long as you don’t do it too fast. And right now we are doing it as fast as we can. It’s not good,” said Eric Rignot, of NASA. “We have to stop it; or we have to slow it down as best as we can.”

I understand how short-sighted most folks are. After all, if our politicians only think ahead to the next election, if corporate CEOs only think ahead to the next quarter, if the average person thinks long-term planning means paying off your car – or maybe a home – 100 years or 1000 years is beyond comprehension. But, scientists, especially in a discipline like climatology have to think in geologic time and those wee chunks like 1000 years happen in the blink of an eye. Look over the edge of your TV set, folks. Read, search, include some real science in whatever you add to your thinking life.

Cripes, I remember the first ice geologist I met. I was only 20 and working as a tech in a non-ferrous metals research lab. And with all of his qualifications, the only job he could find here in the States was investigating stress-corrosion cracking – even though he had practically defined the discipline during the couple of years he spent in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year.

I got to spend lunchtimes with him and a few other scientists from the lab who didn’t mind including in a kid who could only afford to go to engineering night school.

He taught us all about geologic time. He tried to teach us about ice.

NRC report outlines how climate change may affect our military

Climate change is accelerating, and it will place unparalleled strains on American military and intelligence agencies in coming years by causing ever more disruptive events around the globe, the nation’s top scientific research group said in a report…

The group, the National Research Council, says in a study commissioned by the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies that clusters of apparently unrelated events exacerbated by a warming climate will create more frequent but unpredictable crises in water supplies, food markets, energy supply chains and public health systems.

Hurricane Sandy provided a foretaste of what can be expected more often in the near future, the report’s lead author, John D. Steinbruner, said in an interview.

“This is the sort of thing we were talking about,” said Mr. Steinbruner, a longtime authority on national security. “You can debate the specific contribution of global warming to that storm. But we’re saying climate extremes are going to be more frequent, and this was an example of what they could mean. We’re also saying it could get a whole lot worse than that…”

Climate-driven crises could lead to internal instability or international conflict and might force the United States to provide humanitarian assistance or, in some cases, military force to protect vital energy, economic or other interests, the study said…

In other words, states will fail, large populations subjected to famine, flood or disease will migrate across international borders, and national and international agencies will not have the resources to cope…

Mr. Steinbruner said that as the need for more and better analysis is growing, government resources devoted to them are shrinking. Republicans in Congress objected to the C.I.A.’s creation of a climate change center and tried to deny money for it. The American weather satellite program is losing capability because of years of underfinancing and mismanagement, imperiling the ability to predict and monitor major storms.

Know-nothings who pass off their ideology as a new conservatism really should get an honest job. Meanwhile, our military tries planning for a future already challenged by a degraded environment.

Questions of revising military responsibilities should be part of the larger strategy of drawing back wasted money from the military budget. Instead of funding assault vehicles, funds would be better spent on repurposing the thousands of vehicles already purchased to invade far-off lands. Instead of doubling, tripling the cost of constructing stealthy littoral patrol boats, we could increase utility and cut costs with designs capable of serving search-and-rescue operations – followed by useful time as construction headquarters for rebuilding coastal communities. Building good will for the United States instead of hatred and contempt ain’t exactly a daring experiment.

Not so incidentally, shutting down several hundred facilities designed to support expeditionary legions – means dollars saved and troops brought home. We need some nation rebuilding here in North America. 50% to 95% of the cost of maintaining troops abroad, combat zone or not, goes away when those troops return to American soil. Hardly anyone other than pimps and theme park bar-owners will be sad to see us go.

Those Congressional know-nothings? One thing they do care about more than their holy ideology is the holy dollar. That’s why they don’t care to learn about 4th generation warfare or redesigning our military to achieve rather than destroy. And they don’t care about science and satellites – when they have campaign funding guaranteed by oil companies cranking out profits from both the Persian Gulf and the Permian Basin.

Ice field in Patagonia is melting 1.5 times faster than previously


The color image is the same HPS 12 glacier in 2010 using data from the ASTER instrument onboard the NASA Terra satellite…The loss of ice thickness is comparable to the height of the Empire State Building

A little-studied mass of ice in South America is undergoing some big changes: The Southern Patagonian Ice Field lost ice volume at a 50 percent faster rate between 2000-2012 than it did between 1975-2000, according to new analysis of digital elevation models performed by Cornell researchers.

The researchers from Cornell’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences developed a new way of using digital topography maps obtained from a stereo camera on a NASA satellite to draw their conclusions…

The researchers stacked more than 100 of the digital maps, Michael Willis explained, so that a time-stamped pixel on one map is at the same place as a time-stamped pixel on a second map, and so on, like a pile of perfectly aligned pancakes, oldest on the bottom. At any particular place, there is a time series of ice topography changes coded by color…

The Cornell analysis better isolates the ice field changes only, Andrew Melkonian said. “While it’s not directly measuring mass, it is isolating the ice field signal, and by making some assumptions about what the density is, we can say how much mass these ice fields are actually losing,” he said…

Though it’s not nearly as studied as Greenland and Antarctica, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the world’s second-largest temperate (not frozen all the way through) ice field. The researchers call Patagonia a “poster child” for rapidly changing glacier systems, so studying them could be key to learning how melting cycles work and how they may be affected by climate change.

Ah, Patagonia. A terrible place to climb. Which means, of course, the world’s best mountain climbers always want to climb there.

China rushes to become an urban nation at breakneck speed

Every few minutes another car brakes sharply as it reaches Tangbaguan on Guiyang’s new ring road. Another driver does a double-take. The dual carriageway ends abruptly in a narrow dirt track twisting downwards through heaps of rubble.

The city is eating hungrily into the hillsides, swallowing up maize fields and rice terraces in loops of tarmac and towers of concrete and glass. But the pace of change is so rapid, the transition so sharp, that its citizens are increasingly bewildered by their surroundings. Some, like the migrant workers building the roads, are new to city life. Others no longer recognise their hometown as it sprawls across the land.

This is the year China finally became an urban nation. In April the census revealed that 49.7% of its 1.34 billion population was living in cities, compared with around a fifth as economic reforms got off the ground in 1982. By now, China’s urbanites outnumber their country cousins. “The process they have been going through over three decades took four or five decades in Japan and [South] Korea and 100 years in the west,” says Edward Leman, whose Chreod consultancy has advised numerous Chinese cities on development.

It is not only the extraordinary speed that is “unprecedented and unparalleled”, says Prof Paul James of the Global Cities Institute at RMIT University in Melbourne. “It represents the most managed process of urbanisation in human history. The state is involved in every way. It manages the building of new cities. It regulates the housing of internally displaced people. It responds actively and sometimes oppressively to new waves of squatters.”

The new five-year plan pushes urbanisation even further, as the government seeks to raise living standards and promote development in the poorer central and western regions. A hard landing for the economy could slow this process – local government debt is a particular worry – but will not stop it…

And don’t hold your breath expecting a hard landing.

Continue reading

Fact Check: Toyota not alone in acceleration problems


Pay attention to Congress and we’d still be driving these!

Toyota Motor Corp. has recently been in the hot seat after issuing massive recalls because of problems related to the accelerator pedal in several of its auto models.

To date, 8.1 million vehicles worldwide have been recalled by the manufacturer…

Speaking on Wednesday to CNN’s Campbell Brown, Larry Webster of Popular Mechanics magazine spoke at length on the problem, saying that “in the last decade, there have been tens of thousands of reports of sudden unintended acceleration in cars made by all the manufacturers.” Is this true?

The CNN Fact Check Desk wondered: Which other car manufacturers have had a problem with sudden unintended acceleration…?

The top five manufacturers of cars driven in the United States are General Motors, Toyota, Ford, Honda and Chrysler.

The NHTSA’s online database indicates that every one of these five has received numerous consumer complaints of sudden unintended acceleration in more than one of its models. Each manufacturer has faced a formal investigation into these complaints by the NHTSA and as a result has had to recall vehicles to fix various conditions that led to the problem.

Recalls due to incidents of sudden unintended acceleration are not limited to the big five manufacturers. According to the NHTSA database, recalls have also been issued for vehicles made by Nissan, BMW, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Mercedes-Benz, Kia, Mazda, Land Rover, Suzuki and Volvo…

Bottom Line: Sudden unintended acceleration is not a problem limited to Toyota. Many car manufacturers, including the other four with the largest shares of the U.S. market, have had to recall vehicles because of this issue.

Speaking as a car geek who’s been involved with everything from building hot rods to racing sports cars – there is hardly a social phenomenon more deserving of cynical disregard than a typical U.S. recall.

First, they generally are the result of some sleazy lawyer who found a case akin to the poor benighted bastard who picked up his lawnmower to trim a hedge and managed to lose a few fingers. Thereby leaving the rest of us to pay for stickers, warnings and inspection regimes on every lawnmower sold since – in the United States.

Second, absurdity triumphs in these lawsuits over reason – consistently. The first “major” recall I experienced on my 1994 Dodge Ram pickup was a special plug required to be installed in a recess in the steering column. Someone with fourteen pounds of crap dangling from his keychain managed to get a portion of it stuck into the recess – which he then blamed for a subsequent crash into something sturdy and inanimate.

Someone with a “stuck accelerator who whines about being unable to stop their motor vehicle obviously never had the brainpower to understand that turning off the ignition key also stops the engine from running.

Melting of Greenland glaciers seems to be picking up speed

More than two trillion tons of land ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska have melted since 2003, according to new NASA satellite data that show the latest signs of what scientists say is global warming.

More than half of the loss of landlocked ice in the past five years has occurred in Greenland, based on measurements of ice weight by the Grace satellite, said a NASA geophysicist, Scott Luthcke. The Greenland melt seems to be accelerating, he said.

Scientists studying sea ice will announce that parts of the Arctic north of Alaska were about 5 to 6 degrees Celsius, or 9 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer this past autumn, a strong early indication of what researchers call the Arctic amplification effect. That is when the Arctic warms faster than predicted, and when warming there is accelerating faster than elsewhere on the globe.

Two other studies presented at the conference assess how Arctic thawing is releasing methane – a potent greenhouse gas. One study shows that the loss of sea ice warms the water, which warms the permafrost on nearby land in Alaska, thus producing methane, Stroeve said.

A second study suggests even larger amounts of frozen methane are trapped in lake beds and sea bottoms around Siberia and they are starting to bubble to the surface in some spots in alarming amounts, said Igor Semiletov, a professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Late last summer, Semiletov found methane bubbling up from parts of the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea at levels 10 times higher than those of the mid-1990s.

Semiletov thinks the latest data plus what he foresees for the next decade “will alarm people”. I think he underestimates the capability of people with an above-average education to delude themselves on behalf of ennui. That doesn’t count in the outright ignorant and superstitious.

Not doing something to change the status quo is always more appealing than getting up off your rusty-dusty and volunteering for a truly challenging task. Easier to say – “it couldn’t be so” – for whatever reason.