NASA discovers massive hole melted away under Antarctic glacier

❝ A gigantic cavity – two-thirds the area of Manhattan and almost 1,000 feet (300 meters) tall – growing at the bottom of Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica is one of several disturbing discoveries reported in a new NASA-led study of the disintegrating glacier. The findings highlight the need for detailed observations of Antarctic glaciers’ undersides in calculating how fast global sea levels will rise in response to climate change.

❝ Researchers expected to find some gaps between ice and bedrock at Thwaites’ bottom where ocean water could flow in and melt the glacier from below. The size and explosive growth rate of the newfound hole, however, surprised them. It’s big enough to have contained 14 billion tons of ice, and most of that ice melted over the last three years…

❝ About the size of Florida, Thwaites Glacier is currently responsible for approximately 4 percent of global sea level rise. It holds enough ice to raise the world ocean a little over 2 feet (65 centimeters) and backstops neighboring glaciers that would raise sea levels an additional 8 feet (2.4 meters) if all the ice were lost.

RTFA. Nice of the French and Germans to help us out with this research. Our government thinks we need more aircraft carriers and the beginnings of a whole new project to redesign rifles for the whole US Army.

Yukon glaciers thinning fast — maybe forever!

Glaciologist Gwenn Flowers on Kaskawulsh glacierSusan Ormiston/CBC

❝ “We as Canadians are stewards of about a third of the world’s mountain glaciers and ice caps, so this is our responsibility,” Gwenn Flowers says.

The dramatic changes to the glaciers in the Yukon are an early warning of what climate change could mean for the rest of the planet, researchers say. And Flowers sees lots of reason for concern reflected in the state of the ice…

❝ Her tiny team of three is mapping the Kaskawulsh glacier — 70 kilometres long and five kilometres wide — as it struggles under the double threat of a warming climate and diminishing snow cover.

The research boils down to an inescapable conclusion: The glacier can’t compensate for the volume it’s losing now each year.

The shame is that those who have caused – and continue to cause – climate change take little or no responsibility for the results of their greed. Neither they nor the political hacks prancing through government halls are willing to confront or respond to what we learn from science and history.

In the Melting Arctic, an Account from a Stranded Ship

Aground on a shoalDONGLAI GONG

❝ On the second day of a U.S. National Science Foundation-sponsored expedition to the Arctic, we were sitting in the presentation room of the 364-foot Russian cruise ship, Akademik Ioffe, about 45 miles north of the Inuit village of Kugaaruk…

As the briefing transitioned into ways of avoiding a dangerous polar bear encounter, the Akademik Ioffe suddenly grounded to a violent halt. I knew that we were in a very remote area of the Gulf of Boothia in Canada’s central Arctic, and I knew the danger we were in if the hull of the ship had been breached in a serious way.

❝ Rumors – spread quickly, as the hours on the shoal passed. The captain wasn’t communicating with us directly. What little information was offered came from Dave Sinclair, expedition leader, who did wonders calming everyone’s nerves even though he had almost no idea what was going to happen.

RTFA. A good read. Firsthand experience sometimes rocks.

Plus I had to do a quick search through the article for an old bud of mine often on journeys to the poles. All clear.

Alaska’s Permafrost is Thawing – Which Will Cause More Warming

The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as other parts of the planet, and even here in sub-Arctic Alaska the rate of warming is high. Sea ice and wildlife habitat are disappearing; higher sea levels threaten coastal native villages.

But to the scientists from Woods Hole Research Center who have come here to study the effects of climate change, the most urgent is the fate of permafrost, the always-frozen ground that underlies much of the state.

Starting just a few feet below the surface and extending tens or even hundreds of feet down, it contains vast amounts of carbon in organic matter — plants that took carbon dioxide from the atmosphere centuries ago, died and froze before they could decompose. Worldwide, permafrost is thought to contain about twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere.

Once this ancient organic material thaws, microbes convert some of it to carbon dioxide and methane, which can flow into the atmosphere and cause even more warming. Scientists have estimated that the process of permafrost thawing could contribute as much as 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit to global warming over the next several centuries, independent of what society does to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels and other activities.

RTFA. Don’t try to explain it to a Republican. They just figure this will make it easier for the companies relying on them as pimps – to drill for oil and natural gas.

Massive amounts of carbon are locked away in permafrost — for how much longer?

Click to enlargeUniversity of Laval

Researchers have confirmed the widespread release of ancient carbon from melting Arctic permafrost in what could be the lit fuse on a climate-change bomb.

A paper published this week in Nature Geoscience has released the first measurements of greenhouse gases from permafrost under Arctic lakes. But while the study confirms those gases locked away in ice for thousands of years are seeping free, it concludes the amounts are not yet large.

Scientists have long known that permafrost contains vast quantities of carbon in dead plants and other organic material, about twice as much as the entire atmosphere. Now, that permafrost is melting more quickly as the Arctic warms up faster than anywhere else on Earth…

Researchers looked at lakes in Alaska and Siberia, as well as data from Canada. They used aerial photographs and other information to measure how the area had changed over the last 60 years.

They found that, across the Arctic, the amount of gas being released from a lake was directly related to its expansion. The more permafrost was melted around the water’s edge, the bigger the lake became, and the more greenhouse gases were released.

The team captured some of those gases and subjected them to radiocarbon dating. They found the gases had been generated from carbon stored for anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 years…

Models suggest that over the next 90 years, greenhouse gas releases from permafrost will be 100 times higher than the levels Walter Anthony measured.

That hasn’t begun to happen, yet. No accelerated rate. No “explosion”, yet.

Devotees of philosophical and political systems embracing sophistry will welcome the news. Sit around doing nothing, whining about folks who see a need for responsible action.

Know-nothings, especially the Congressional flavor, won’t even be that concerned.

OTOH, folks who comprehend the predictive aspect of scientific research will continue the fight to mobilize political and social response to climate change.

There’s a very cold ‘blob’ in the North Atlantic Ocean

day after tomorrow

Last week we learned from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that the first eight months of 2015 were the hottest such stretch yet recorded for the globe’s surface land and oceans, based on temperature records going back to 1880. It’s just the latest evidence that we are, indeed, on course for a record-breaking warm year in 2015.

Yet, if you look closely, there’s one part of the planet that is bucking the trend. In the North Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland and Iceland, the ocean surface has seen very cold temperatures for the past eight months:

What’s up with that?

First of all, it’s no error. I checked with Deke Arndt, chief of the climate monitoring branch at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, who confirmed what the map above suggests — some parts of the North Atlantic Ocean saw record cold in the past eight months…

And there’s not much reason to doubt the measurements — the region is very well sampled. “It’s pretty densely populated by buoys, and at least parts of that region are really active shipping lanes, so there’s quite a lot of observations in the area,” Arndt said. “So I think it’s pretty robust analysis.”

Thus, the record seems to be a meaningful one — and there is a much larger surrounding area that, although not absolutely the coldest it has been on record, is also unusually cold.

At this point, it’s time to ask what the heck is going on here. And while there may not yet be any scientific consensus on the matter, at least some scientists suspect that the cooling seen in these maps is no fluke but, rather, part of a process that has been long feared by climate researchers — the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation…

The fact that a record-hot planet Earth coincides with a record-cold northern Atlantic is quite stunning. There is strong evidence — not just from our study — that this is a consequence of the long-term decline of the Gulf Stream System, i.e. the Atlantic ocean’s overturning circulation AMOC, in response to global warming.

The short term variations will at some point also go the other way again, so I don’t expect the subpolar Atlantic to remain at record cold permanently. But I do expect the AMOC to decline further in the coming decades. The accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet will continue to contribute to this decline by diluting the ocean waters.

This won’t lead to anything remotely like The Day After Tomorrow (which was indeed based — quite loosely — on precisely this climate scenario). But if the trend continues, there could be many consequences, including rising seas for the U.S. East Coast and, possibly, a difference in temperature overall in the North Atlantic and Europe.

A good time to go back and watch at least the first portion of Day After Tomorrow. The movie does a good job of explaining the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation and what potentially can happen. There are climate scientists who agree – and some who disagree. A localized effect can become a regional effect and vice versa.

What is fairly likely is that if the circulation is interrupted by what has long been a predictable feature of global warming, folks in NW Europe and the UK who’ve been getting used to a generally warmer year-round batch of seasons better get out their woolies. The Gulf Stream circulation brings a fair chunk of warmth to what should feel like Poland or even Belarus. And may, soon.

Key West Antarctic glaciers already in runaway meltdown

Click to enlarge — Tongue of the Thwaites GlacierNASA/James Yungel

The collapse of glaciers along West Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea would raise seas by 1.2 metres.

Several of Antarctica’s most vulnerable glaciers have already begun a runaway meltdown, two new studies suggest. The work provides some of the first detailed forecasts on how quickly glaciers are likely to disappear from a region that has long concerned scientists.

One modeling paper finds that ongoing losses at the Thwaites Glacier have permanently destabilized that ice river, which drains into West Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea. The second study uses satellite radar observations to reveal that Thwaites and five neighbouring glaciers have nothing to hold them back from catastrophic collapse, leaving them more vulnerable than previously thought.

Were they all to melt, the six Amundsen Sea glaciers studied by Eric Rignot’s team contain enough water to raise global sea level by 1.2 metres. That process is likely to unfold slowly: at Thwaites alone, melting over the next century will probably cause sea levels to rise less than a quarter of a millimeter per year, or just 2.5 centimeters in total.

But that rate could speed up dramatically, to more than a millimeter per year, within two to nine centuries, says Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. “We are seeing the early stages of the collapse,” he says…

Thwaites is important because it flows from a broad, deep interior basin into the sea. Its vast storehouse of ice is big enough to contribute significantly to global sea level rise. The nearby Pine Island Glacier is retreating more quickly than Thwaites but drains only a very narrow trough.

The Joughin study “is a seminal paper,” says Andrew Shepherd, a cryosphere expert at the University of Leeds, UK. “It’s the first to really demonstrate what people have suspected, that Thwaites Glacier is a bigger threat to future sea level than Pine Island.”

Global sea levels are currently rising about 3 millimeters a year. Most of that comes from the thermal expansion of the warming oceans; some also comes from melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica.

“These systems, whether Greenland or Antarctica, are changing on faster time scales than we expected. We are kind of rediscovering that every day,” says Rignot.

It is the nature of scientific research to be conservative. Some may think discussions of events comprised of centuries instead of millennia still to be an exaggerated focus. Why talk about it if you ain’t about to live long enough to see it? That only demonstrates an absence of understanding of science and scientific goals. Everything in science tends to flow from the work that preceded whatever is current.

One important decision that needs to be made is allocation of funds and effort between the northern and southern hemispheres. The former tends to get the most attention because where the bulk of our species live. Sort of a silly reason; but, then, if we are anything it is irrational.

Thanks, Mike