Scientists work from above to learn how Greenland is melting from below


Click to enlargeNASA

❝ If the climate keeps warming the way it has, Greenland may finally live up to its name…The island’s glacier-crusted surface is melting, and a lot of this is from balmier atmospheric temperatures. But as the saying goes, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The oceans are becoming more tepid as well, and that warmer water is causing the glaciers to thaw from below.

❝ Scientists have good measurements of how much ice melts due to warmer air. And now, thanks in part to torpedo-like probes, they are getting better data on the ice being lapped away by sea water. Those submarines are part of NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland campaign — OMG, for short. And that’s a fairly accurate acronym, because…those glaciers are melting fast…

❝ Greenland’s glacier-gouged coastline provides the deep, warm water a path to the inland ice. Ancient ice sheets carved subsurface fjords and canyons, many of which reach down to the same level as the Atlantic-Arctic currents at the continental shelf. Problem is, “the seafloor around Greenland’s coast isn’t very well known,” says Josh Willis, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the project lead for OMG. “The location and depths of these underwater fjords and canyons have just been poorly mapped out…”

Willis and his crew have spent the past five weeks flying over Greenland’s coastline, dropping torpedo-shaped probes into the underwater fjords. These units are called…AXCTDS, or Airborne Expendable Conductivity, Temperature and Depth Sensors…

❝ Mission OMG…spans five years and will look for ocean-caused changes to Greenland’s ice sheet. This spring, the team measured glacier height with aircraft radar, comparing past and future data to ascertain which glaciers are vanishing the fastest. The subsurface torpedo work took place this fall, when Arctic sea ice was at its minimum. It was the first time underwater probes had collected data on Greenland’s continental shelf depth, salinity and temperature.

Ultimately, the group wants to know how much of Greenland’s melting is because of air temperature, and how much is caused by water. Koppes, who has worked with the OMG team, believes air temperature and ocean water will play a 50/50 role in glacial melting.

❝ OMG will need time to analyze the data and confirm, but so far they’ve encountered some surprises. “The amount of warm water was bigger than expected, and we saw it in more places than expected,” continues Willis. “Almost everywhere along the shelf where the water was deep enough, we found Atlantic water interacting with the glaciers.”…

And the stakes are high. The deep current warming turns Greenland’s 27,000 miles of coastline — a distance greater than the Earth’s circumference at the equator — into a melt factory. The island’s interior is three times the size of Texas, and holds enough frozen water to raise global sea levels by 20 feet. More than enough to drown the Maldives, Venice, and New Orleans.

RTFA for detail about how research is proceeding, understanding all the processes contributing to the increased melt.

Increasing carbon dioxide is enhancing plankton growth


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Coccolithophores — tiny calcifying plants that are part of the foundation of the marine food web — have been increasing in relative abundance in the North Atlantic over the last 45 years, as carbon input into ocean waters has increased. Their relative abundance has increased 10 times, or by an order of magnitude, during this sampling period. This finding was diametrically opposed to what scientists had expected since coccolithophores make their plates out of calcium carbonate, which is becoming more difficult as the ocean becomes more acidic and pH is reduced.

…Based on analysis of nearly a half century of data collected by the long-running Sir Alister Hardy Foundation Continuous Plankton Recorder sampling program…”The results show both the power of long-term time-series of ocean observations for deciphering how marine microbial communities are responding to climate change and offer evidence that the ocean garden is changing,” said Dr. William Balch, senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and a co-author of the paper…

“We never expected to see the relative abundance of coccolithophores to increase 10 times in the North Atlantic over barely half a century. If anything, we expected that these sensitive calcifying algae would have decreased in the face of increasing ocean acidification (associated with increasing carbon dioxide entering the ocean from the burning of fossil-fuels). Instead, we see how these carbon-limited organisms appear to be using the extra carbon from CO2 to increase their relative abundance by an order of magnitude.

“This provides one example on how marine communities across an entire ocean basin are responding to increasing carbon dioxide levels. Such real-life examples of the impact of increasing CO2 on marine food webs are important to point out as the world comes together in Paris next week at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change,” Balch added.

Or as Anand Gnanadesikan…one of the study’s five authors, said, “Something strange is happening here, and it’s happening much more quickly than we thought it should.”

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.

The Greenland Sea is warming faster than the world’s oceans


CTD probe being lowered into the depths

Since 1993, oceanographers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), have carried out regularly expeditions to the Greenland Sea on board the research ice breaker Polarstern to investigate the changes in this region. The programme has always included extensive temperature and salinity measurements. For the present study, the AWI scientists have combined these long term data set with historical observations dating back to the year 1950. The result of their analysis: In the last thirty years, the water temperature between 2000 metres depth and the sea floor has risen by 0.3 degrees centigrade.

‘This sounds like a small number, but we need to see this in relation to the large mass of water that has been warmed’ says the AWI scientist and lead author of the study, Dr. Raquel Somavilla Cabrillo. ‘The amount of heat accumulated within the lowest 1.5 kilometres in the abyssal Greenland Sea would warm the atmosphere above Europe by 4 degrees centigrade. The Greenland Sea is just a small part of the global ocean. However, the observed increase of 0.3 degrees in the deep Greenland Sea is ten times higher than the temperature increase in the global ocean on average. For this reason, this area and the remaining less studied polar oceans need to be taken into consideration’.

The cause of the warming is a change in the subtle interplay of two processes in the Greenland Sea: the cooling by deep convection of very cold surface waters in winter and the warming by the import of relatively warm deep waters from the interior Arctic Ocean. “Until the early 1980s, the central Greenland Sea has been mixed from the top to the bottom by winter cooling at the surface making waters dense enough to reach the sea floor” explains Somavilla. “This transfer of cold water from the top to the bottom has not occurred in the last 30 years. However, relatively warm water continues to flow from the deep Arctic Ocean into the Greenland Sea. Cooling from above and warming through inflow are no longer balanced, and thus the Greenland Sea is progressively becoming warmer and warmer.”

These modified conditions provide AWI scientists with unique research opportunities: “We use these changes as a natural experiment. The warming allows us to calculate how much water flows from the deep central Arctic into the Greenland Sea” says Prof. Dr. Ursula Schauer, head of the Observational Oceanography Department at the Alfred Wegener Institute, about this project and adds: “We observe here a distinct restructuring of the Arctic Ocean. This is a very slow process, and its documentation requires long term observations…”

Not exactly snap decisions; but, that wouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the methods of science. This is why there is more time between IPCC publications, for example, than box scores for the Miami Marlins. When I joined the discussion on climate change at the turn of the millennium, some folks had a few decades of research underlying their analysis.

I spent two years in study while engaged in the debate before I came to my own conclusions. Fortunately, most of the best researchers in the world publish in English – even if it’s not the native language of the institute where they work. This is how you go about real study. Personally, I find a healthy balance between the naturally conservative pace of science and my own root progressivism.

West Antarctica warming faster than expected — may increase the rate of sea level rising


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West Antarctica is warming almost twice as fast as previously believed, adding to worries of a thaw that would add to sea level rise from San Francisco to Shanghai…

Annual average temperatures at the Byrd research station in West Antarctica had risen 2.4 degrees Celsius (4.3F) since the 1950s, one of the fastest gains on the planet and three times the global average in a changing climate…

The unexpectedly big increase adds to fears the ice sheet is vulnerable to thawing. West Antarctica holds enough ice to raise world sea levels by at least 3.3 meters if it ever all melted, a process that would take centuries.

“The western part of the ice sheet is experiencing nearly twice as much warming as previously thought,” Ohio State University said in a statement of the study led by its geography professor David Bromwich.

The warming “raises further concerns about the future contribution of Antarctica to sea level rise,” it said. Higher summer temperatures raised risks of a surface melt of ice and snow even though most of Antarctica is in a year-round deep freeze…

The rise in temperatures in the remote region was comparable to that on the Antarctic Peninsula to the north, which snakes up towards South America, according to the U.S.-based experts writing in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Parts of the northern hemisphere have also warmed at similarly fast rates.

Several ice shelves – thick ice floating on the ocean and linked to land – have collapsed around the Antarctic Peninsula in recent years. Once ice shelves break up, glaciers pent up behind them can slide faster into the sea, raising water levels.

“The stakes would be much higher if a similar event occurred to an ice shelf restraining one of the enormous West Antarctic ice sheet glaciers,” said Andrew Monaghan, a co-author at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The Pine Island glacier off West Antarctica, for instance, brings as much water to the ocean as the Rhine river in Europe.

I think some of the Know-Nothings in American politics believe that glaciers calving into oceans produce something like plastic ice cubes. They just bob around and never melt. Cripes.

Arctic current warmer than for 2,000 years

A North Atlantic current flowing into the Arctic Ocean is warmer than for at least 2,000 years in a sign that global warming is likely to bring ice-free seas around the North Pole in summers.

Scientists said that waters at the northern end of the Gulf Stream, between Greenland and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, averaged 6 degrees Celsius (42.80F) in recent summers, warmer than at natural peaks during Roman or Medieval times.

The temperature is unprecedented in the past 2,000 years,” lead author Robert Spielhagen of the Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Literature in Mainz, Germany…

The summer water temperatures, reconstructed from the makeup of tiny organisms buried in sediments in the Fram strait, have risen from an average 5.2 degrees Celsius from 1890-2007 and about 3.4C in the previous 1,900 years.

The findings were a new sign that human activities were stoking modern warming since temperatures are above past warm periods linked to swings in the sun’s output that enabled, for instance, the Vikings to farm in Greenland in Medieval times.

“We found that modern Fram Strait water temperatures are well outside the natural bounds,” Thomas Marchitto, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, one of the authors…

The Fram strait is the main carrier of ocean heat to the Arctic.

The authors wrote that the warming temperatures “are presumably linked to the Arctic amplification of global warming” and that the warming “is most likely another key element in the transition to a future ice-free Arctic Ocean…”

Even the stodgy Brits prepare for the future like good little Ants. Meanwhile, Congress and other fools – not quite up to the cheery fiddling of Grasshopper – rely on dour haters of science and other mystical props guaranteed to continue America’s steady slide into the economic ditch of irrelevance.

Only the educationally-challenged think 2,000 years is a long time in earth studies. Meanwhile, the world will be able to build alternative energy systems with products from Germany, Norway and China.

Best case scenario: Climate change to continue to year 3000

New research indicates the impact of rising CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere will cause unstoppable effects to the climate for at least the next 1000 years, causing researchers to estimate a collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet by the year 3000, and an eventual rise in the global sea level of at least four metres.

The study…is the first full climate model simulation to make predictions out to 1000 years from now. It is based on best-case, ’zero-emissions’ scenarios constructed by a team of researchers from the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis…and the University of Calgary.

“We created ‘what if’ scenarios,” says Dr. Shawn Marshall, Canada Research Chair in Climate Change and University of Calgary geography professor. “What if we completely stopped using fossil fuels and put no more CO2 in the atmosphere? How long would it then take to reverse current climate change trends and will things first become worse?”  The research team explored zero-emissions scenarios beginning in 2010 and in 2100.

The Northern Hemisphere fares better than the south in the computer simulations, with patterns of climate change reversing within the 1000-year timeframe in places like Canada. At the same time parts of North Africa experience desertification as land dries out by up to 30 percent, and ocean warming of up to 5°C off of Antarctica is likely to trigger widespread collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, a region the size of the Canadian prairies…

Researchers will next begin to investigate more deeply the impact of atmosphere temperature on ocean temperature to help determine the rate at which West Antarctica could destabilize and how long it may take to fully collapse into the water.

My first response to reading this was, “Cripes! One more excuse for Know-Nothings to Do-Nothing.”

The follow-on to that is that they aren’t going to do anything sensible, responsible, constructive – anyway. Political reactionaries, ethical and social ignoranuses never have responded to science and reason with anything other than fear and scorn. That is what limits their species to the superstitions that bound their comprehension of reality.

Everyone else will continue on with educated politics and the construction of appropriate means to respond to changing circumstances. As we always have done.

Commercial harbors and business centers in Shanghai, Auckland and Vancouver will be altered or relocated. The leaders of Texas will kneel and pray for a miracle while Houston sinks into the Gulf of Mexico.

RTFA for more detail.

Decades of data show troposphere is warming

Not only is Earth’s surface warming, but the troposphere — the lowest level of the atmosphere, where weather occurs — is heating up too, U.S. and British meteorologists have reported.

In a review of four decades of data on troposphere temperatures, the scientists found that warming in this key atmospheric layer was occurring, just as many researchers expected it would as more greenhouse gases built up and trapped heat close to the Earth.

This study aims to put to rest a controversy that began 20 years ago, when a 1990 scientific report based on satellite observations raised questions about whether the troposphere was warming, even as Earth’s surface temperatures climbed.

The original discrepancy between what the climate models predicted and what satellites and weather balloons measured had to do with how the observations were made, according to Dian Seidel, research meteorologist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration…

The first satellite data on troposphere temperature was gathered in 1979, but neither weather balloons nor these early satellite weather observations were accurate measures of climate change, Seidel said.

“They’re weather balloons and weather satellites, they’re not climate balloons and climate satellites,” she said. “They’re not calibrated precisely enough to monitor small changes in climate that we expect to see…”

This latest paper reviewed 195 cited papers, climate model results and atmospheric data sets, and found no fundamental discrepancy between what was predicted and what is happening in the troposphere. It is warming, the study found…

Scientists at NOAA, the United Kingdom Met Office and the University of Reading contributed to the paper, published on Monday in Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews – Climate Change, a peer-reviewed journal.

The junk science crowd won’t read it – or comprehend it if they did. Governments mostly will ignore the information.

Forgive my cynicism; but, I have little confidence in most human beings responding to scientific analyses of human problems – when we barely get past ideology or superstition for issues affecting the whole species.

This will be the warmest decade on record

The first decade of this century is “by far” the warmest since instrumental records began, say the UK Met Office and World Meteorological Organization.

Their analyses also show that 2009 will almost certainly be the fifth warmest in the 160-year record.

Burgeoning El Nino conditions, adding to man-made greenhouse warming, have pushed 2009 into the “top 10” years…

World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and Met Office scientists have been giving details of the new analysis at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen…

“We’ve seen above average temperatures in most continents, and only in North America were there conditions that were cooler than average,” said WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud…

Mr Jarraud emphasised that the final analysis would not be complete until early next year; but the UN agency always issues a summary during the annual climate negotiations in order that delegates have the latest information.

The WMO uses three temperature sets – one from the UK Met Office and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), and two from the US, maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the space agency NASA.

There’s always someone present who cares most about pop-science and junk-science reporting.

Asked whether the controversy surrounding e-mails hacked from CRU could have any bearing on the results, Mr Jarraud replied that all three datasets showed the same result.

Vicky Pope from the UK Met Office made the same point: “The datasets are all independent, and they all show warming,” she said.

RTFA for a bit more detail. If you care to press further, well – Google is your friend. Or whichever search engine you actually use. The information provided by peer-reviewed scientists ain’t going to change regardless of your ideology.

Rising sea level won’t be stopped

A rise of at least two meters in the world’s sea levels is now almost unstoppable, experts told a climate conference at Oxford University.

“The crux of the sea level issue is that it starts very slowly but once it gets going it is practically unstoppable,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, a scientist at Germany’s Potsdam Institute and a widely recognized sea level expert. “There is no way I can see to stop this rise, even if we have gone to zero emissions.”

Rahmstorf said the best outcome was that after temperatures stabilized, sea levels would only rise at a steady rate “for centuries to come,” and not accelerate…

His best guess was a one meter rise this century, assuming three degrees warming, and up to five meters over the next 300 years…

Speakers in Oxford used history to back up their arguments on rising seas. Three million years ago the planet was 2-3 degrees warmer and the sea 25-35 meters higher, and 122,000 years ago 2 degrees warmer and 10 meters higher, they said.

“What we now see in Greenland, Antarctica could be a temporary phenomena but it could also be the start of what we saw 122,000 years ago,” said Vellinga…

About 40 million people worldwide live in flood plains, said Southampton University’s Robert Nicholls. That is 0.6 percent of the global population and 5 percent of global wealth, because of valuable assets such as airports and power plants.

The airports and power plants are assets more important to American politicians than, say, healthy or educated citizens.