Arctic

img_2193-3

George Monbiot: The Pollution Paradox #auspol

The Pollution Paradox
Dirty industries spend more on politics, keeping us in the fossil age.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 19th January 2017
Make America Wait Again. That’s what Donald Trump’s energy policy amounts to. Stop all the clocks, put the technological revolution on hold, ensure that the transition from fossil fuels to clean power is delayed for as long as possible.

Trump is the president corporate Luddites have dreamt of; the man who will let them squeeze every last cent from their oil and coal reserves before they become worthless. They need him because science, technology and people’s demands for a safe and stable world have left them stranded. There is no fair fight that they can win, so their last hope lies with a government that will rig the competition.
To this end, Trump has appointed to his cabinet some of those responsible for a universal crime: inflicted not on particular nations or groups, but on everyone.


Recent research suggests that – if drastic action of the kind envisaged by the Paris agreement on climate change is not taken – ice loss in Antarctica alone could raise sea levels by a metre this century, and by 15 metres in subsequent centuries. Combine this with the melting in Greenland and the thermal expansion of seawater, and you discover that many of the world’s great cities are at existential risk.

The climatic disruption of crucial agricultural zones – in North and Central America, the Middle East, Africa and much of Asia – presents a security threat that could dwarf all others. The civil war in Syria, unless resolute policies are adopted, looks like a glimpse of a possible global future.
These are not, if the risks materialise, shifts to which we can adapt. These crises will be bigger than our capacity to respond to them. They could lead to the rapid and radical simplification of society, which means, to put it brutally, the end of civilisations and many of the people they support. If this happens, it will amount to the greatest crime ever committed. And members of Trump’s proposed cabinet are among the leading perpetrators.

In their careers so far, they have championed the fossil fuel industry while contesting the measures intended to prevent climate breakdown. They appear to have considered the need of a few exceedingly rich people to protect their foolish investments for a few more years, weighed it against the benign climatic conditions that have allowed humanity to flourish, and decided that the foolish investments are more important.
By appointing Rex Tillerson, chief executive of the oil company ExxonMobil, as secretary of state, Trump not only assures the fossil economy that it sits next to his heart; he also provides comfort to another supporter: Vladimir Putin. It was Tillerson who brokered the $500 billion deal between Exxon and the state-owned Russian company Rosneft to exploit oil reserves in the Arctic. As a result he was presented with the Russian Order of Friendship by Mr Putin.
The deal was stopped under the sanctions the US imposed when Russia invaded Ukraine. The probability of these sanctions in their current form surviving a Trump government is, to the nearest decimal place, a snowball’s chance in hell. If Russia did interfere in the US election, it will be handsomely rewarded when the deal goes ahead.
Trump’s nominations for energy secretary and interior secretary are both climate change deniers, who – quite coincidentally – have a long history of sponsorship by the fossil fuel industry. His proposed attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, allegedly failed to disclose in his declaration of interests that he leases land to an oil company.
The man nominated to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, has spent much of his working life campaigning against … the Environmental Protection Agency. As the attorney general in Oklahoma, he launched 14 lawsuits against the EPA, seeking, among other aims, to strike down its Clean Power Plan, its limits on the mercury and other heavy metals released by coal plants and its protection of drinking water supplies and wildlife. Thirteen of these suits were said to include as co-parties companies that had contributed to his campaign funds or to political campaign committees affiliated to him.
Trump’s appointments reflect what I call the Pollution Paradox. The more polluting a company is, the more money it must spend on politics to ensure it is not regulated out of existence. Campaign finance therefore comes to be dominated by dirty companies, ensuring that they wield the greatest influence, crowding out their cleaner rivals. Trump’s cabinet is stuffed with people who owe their political careers to filth.
It was once possible to argue, rightly or wrongly, that the human benefits of developing fossil fuel reserves might outweigh the harm. But a combination of more refined climate science, that now presents the risks in stark terms, and the plummeting costs of clean technologies renders this argument as obsolete as a coal-fired power station.

As the US burrows into the past, China is investing massively in renewable energy, electric cars and new battery technologies. The Chinese government claims that this new industrial revolution will generate 13 million jobs. This, by contrast to Trump’s promise to create millions of jobs through reanimating coal, at least has a chance of materialising. It’s not just that returning to an old technology when better ones are available is difficult; it’s also that coal mining has been automated to the extent that it now supports few jobs. Trump’s attempt to revive the fossil era will serve no one but the coal barons.
Understandably, commentators have been seeking glimpses of light in Trump’s position. But there are none. He couldn’t have made it clearer, through his public statements, the Republican platform and his appointments, that he intends to the greatest extent possible to shut down funding for both climate science and clean energy, rip up the Paris agreement, sustain fossil fuel subsidies and annul the laws that protect people and the rest of the living world from the impacts of dirty energy.
His candidacy was represented as an insurgency, challenging established power. But his position on climate change reveals what should have been obvious from the beginning: he and his team represent the incumbents, fighting off insurgent technologies and political challenges to moribund business models. They will hold back the tide of change for as long as they can. And then the barrier will burst. 

Press link for more: Monbiot.com
www. monbiot.com

img_2230

Most talked about climate papers in 2016 #science #climatechange #auspol 

Every year, thousands of scientific journal papers are published by researchers across the world, but only a tiny proportion make it into the pages of the newspapers.
Using Altmetric, we’ve compiled a list of the 25 most talked-about climate papers of 2016. You can see the Top 10 in our infographic above (zoomable version here).
Altmetric scores academic papers based on how many times they’re mentioned in online news articles and on social media platforms. You can read more about how the Altmetric scoring system works in last year’s article.
Top of the table

The highest scoring article of the year, with an Altmetric tally of 2,716, is the Nature paper “Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise”, by Prof Robert DeConto of the University of Massachusetts and Dr David Pollard of Penn State University.
Published in March, the study found that Antarctica has the potential to contribute more than a metre of sea level rise by 2100 and more than 15 metres by 2500, if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.

The paper had more coverage in the news than another other climate paper published in 2016. It was featured in 386 news stories and was covered by – among 271 outlets in total – the BBC, Guardian, MailOnline, Independent, Huffington Post, New York Times, Washington Post and the New Yorker.
The study made a particular splash in the US after further analysis, published in August by estate agent firm Zillow, highlighted that 1.8m of sea level rise by 2100 could put two million American homes underwater.

The paper – not the news stories – was also tweeted from 369 accounts and posted on 16 Facebook walls. Overall, the paper’s score puts it in the top 5% of all journal articles in the Altmetric database.
Runner-up

In second place is “Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change”, by lead author Dr Marco Springmann from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food at the University of Oxford.
This paper was published in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), which also landed a paper in second place in last year’s list.
The research found that a worldwide switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruit and vegetables could reduce global mortality by up to 10% and food-related greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70% by 2050.

The paper’s overall Altmetric score of 1,981 includes 203 new stories from 156 news outlets, as well as 660 tweets from 627 users. This paper scored highest for Facebook, with 115 wall posts from 109 people.
Part of the popularity of the paper stems from being referenced in a press release for the “Kickstart Your Health Rochester” programme in which doctors in New York encouraged local residents to adopt a vegan diet for three weeks in May to improve their health.
Third place

Coming in third is another PNAS paper, “Temperature-driven global sea-level variability in the Common Era,” by lead author Dr Robert Kopp of Rutgers University.
The study compiled the first-ever estimate of global sea level change over the last 3,000 years. Their headline finding – that the speed of rising seas in the 20th century was faster than during any of the previous 27 centuries – generated headlines around the world, from the Boston Globe and Bangkok Post to Le Monde and the Hindu.
With a total score of 1,800, this paper appeared in 228 news stories from 186 outlets, was tweeted by 200 users, and posted on 21 Facebook walls.
Just missing out on the medals

In fourth place, published at the very beginning of 2016, is “The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene” in Science.
This study presented evidence that the impact of humans on the Earth is so severe and so enduring that the geological time period since the mid-20th century should be declared the “Anthropocene”.
This paper was one of the most tweeted about in our Top 25, with 904 tweets from 853 users, reaching a potential of more than three million followers.
The Anthropocene was also the subject of a feature article in Carbon Brief in October, which explored the history of the idea and the debate among geologists on whether they will formally inscribe a new epoch into their books.

In fifth is a paper that sounds like it could be the plot of a James Bond film. “The abandoned ice sheet base at Camp Century, Greenland, in a warming climate”, published in Geophysical Research Letters, assessed the possible fate of a US military base built in 1959 beneath the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet.
This nuclear-powered “city under the ice” doubled as a top secret site to study the feasibility of deploying missiles from the Arctic. The base was abandoned in 1967, under the assumption that all its chemical, biological, and radioactive wastes would forever be preserved in ice. However, the study shows that ice sheet melt as a result of climate change could uncover these wastes by the end of the century.
Completing the Top 10

Elsewhere in the Top 10, coming sixth is “Climate change decouples drought from early wine grape harvests in France” in Nature Climate Change.
This research found that increasingly hot summers are pushing wine grapes in French vineyards to mature earlier in the year. While this could bring some good years for French wine in the near future, it doesn’t bode well for the longer term, the researchers told Carbon Brief when we covered the paper in March.
The study was the second-most covered in the news of our Top 25, presumably because the fate of wine is a subject close to the hearts of many.

The topic of the paper in ninth place is quite a hot potato in climate science. “Greening of the Earth and its drivers”, published in Nature Climate Change, showed that up to half of the Earth’s vegetation-covered land is now “greener” than it was 30 years ago – mostly caused by rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
But any benefits of “CO2 fertilisation” may be temporary and are outweighed by the negative consequences of climate change, one of the authors told Carbon Brief.
And while the general principles of CO2 fertilisation are known, there is still much to learn about how these processes will act in future as the world continues to warm, said Prof Richard Betts, head of climate impacts research at the Met Office Hadley Centre, in a guest post for Carbon Brief.
Completing the Top 10 is “Consequences of twenty-first-century policy for multi-millennial climate and sea-level change” in Nature Climate Change. The paper aimed to tackle the “misleading impression in the public arena” that human-caused climate change is merely a 21st century problem.
Projecting changes in temperature and sea levels for the next 10,000 years, the researchers find that greenhouse gas emissions could eventually lead to 7.5C of warming and global sea level rise of 25-52m. With such stark results, it’s no surprise that the paper caught people’s attention.
Final score

If you want a closer look at the final scores, we’ve compiled all the data for the Top 25 climate papers of 2016 here. And there’s just space for a few honourable mentions…
Just missing out on the Top 10 in 11th place is “Observed Arctic sea-ice loss directly follows anthropogenic CO2 emission” in Science. This novel study calculated that for every tonne of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, summer sea ice cover in the Arctic shrinks by three square metres.

Number 14 on the list is “Evidence for climate change in the satellite cloud record”, published in Nature, which used satellite data to gather evidence on how cloud patterns have changed in recent decades. The findings are another “brick in the wall” that “supports our confidence in the mainstream view of climate science,” a scientist not involved in the study told Carbon Brief.
Last month, scientists from the University of East Anglia and the Global Carbon Project released their annual stocktake of global CO2 emissions. Their paper, “Global Carbon Budget 2016”, published in Earth System Science Data, comes in 16th for 2016.
Their figures revealed that the amount of CO2 we put into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, gas flaring and cement production has held steady for three years in a row. But it’s too early to say whether this constitutes a peak in global emissions, one of the scientists told Carbon Brief.
Elsewhere in the Top 25 are “Millions projected to be at risk from sea-level rise in the continental United States” in Nature Climate Change (21st), and “Climate change: The 2015 Paris Agreement thresholds and Mediterranean basin ecosystems” in Science (25th). You can read more about both in our coverage here and here, respectively, when the papers were originally published.
Overall, the Top 25 is made up of six papers each from journals Science and Nature Climate Change, followed by three in Nature, two each in Environmental Research Letters and PNAS, and one in each of Earth System Science Data, Geophysical Research Letters, Nature Geoscience, Progress in Human Geography, Science Advances, and The Lancet.
Top infographic by Rosamund Pearce for Carbon Brief.
Press link for more: Carbon Brief

img_2228

It’s Time To Stand Up For Climate And Civilisation! #science #democracy #auspol 

DURING HIS CAMPAIGN for president, Donald Trump promised to end action on climate change and kill the climate treaty adopted in 2015 in Paris. 


To truly understand why that’s such a big deal—perhaps the biggest deal ever—you need to think about a few things.
Yes, you need to think about the oft-repeated but nonetheless true and alarming statistics: 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded till 2015 snatched the crown—till 2016 obliterated the record. Last summer featured some of the hottest days ever reliably recorded on this planet: 128 degrees Fahrenheit in cities like Basra, Iraq—right at the edge of human endurance. Global sea ice has been at a record low in recent months.

Think about the slow, difficult, centuries-long march of science that got us to the point where we could understand our peril. 

Think of Joseph Fourier in the 1820s, realizing that gases could trap heat in the atmosphere; John Tyndall in the middle of that century, figuring out that carbon dioxide is one of those gases; and the valiant Svante Arrhenius in the 1890s, calculating by hand how the global temperature rises in lockstep with carbon dioxide levels.

 Think of Hans Suess and Roger Revelle in the 1950s, fumbling toward an understanding that the oceans would not absorb excess CO2—the first modern realization that CO2 must be accumulating in the atmosphere and hence, as Revelle put it, “human beings are now carrying out a large-scale geophysical experiment of a kind that could not have happened in the past nor be reproduced in the future.” 

Think of Charles Keeling in 1958, installing the first real CO2 monitor on the side of Mauna Loa and for the first time watching the CO2 level steadily rise. 

Think of the scientists who built on that work, using satellites and ocean buoy sensors to erect a scaffolding of observations; think of the theorists who used that data and the new power of supercomputers to build models that by the 1980s had made it clear we faced great danger. 

Think of the men and women who educated those scientists and who built the institutions in which they were educated and who organized the learned societies that supported them. 

And think of the forums—like the UN and its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—that brought them together from across the planet to combine their knowledge.

The Paris accord would limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius—unless the incoming administration dismantles it.JONATHAN RAA/PACIFIC PRESS/LIGHTROCKET/GETTY IMAGES

All this, taken together, is one part of what we call civilization.
Now think of the men and women of the diplomatic corps, who over generations have learned to build bridges across nations, to sometimes reconcile disputes short of war. 

The Paris accord was a triumph for them, not because it solved the problem (it didn’t, not even close) but because it existed at all. Somehow 195 nations—rich and poor, those with oil beneath their sand and those that have to import it—managed to agree that we should limit the rise in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius this century and set up an intricate architecture to at least begin the process. That too is an aspect of what we call civilization.
None of this should be taken for granted. The building blocks of our common home—science and diplomacy and also civility—are hard-won, and history would indicate that they can fade fast. In fact, we now seem likely to start tossing them away based on nothing but the politically useful whim that climate change is a hoax. When Trump announced on the campaign trail that he would “cancel” the Paris agreement, it represented an assault on civilization as surely as announcing that he would jail his political opponent represented an assault on democracy. He’s backed down from the latter plan and, under pressure, said he now has an “open mind” about Paris—though his chief of staff clarified that his “default position” is that climate change is bunk. 

In any event, he has packed his transition team and cabinet with a small band of climate deniers who have blocked action for years. Already they’ve announced their intention to end NASA’s climate research, which has been a bulwark of the scientific edifice. 

If they have their way, there will be no more satellites carefully measuring the mass of ice sheets so we can track their melt, no more creative and fascinating “missions to planet Earth” that the space agency has run so successfully. We seem intent on blinding ourselves, on ripping out the smoke detectors even as the house begins to burn.
Trump’s team can’t, by themselves, change everything.

 Engineers and entrepreneurs have done their jobs magnificently over the past decade, as the price of a solar panel has fallen 80 percent. 

Because of that work, the potential for rapid change is finally at hand. 

Denmark generated nearly half its power from wind in 2015, and not because it cornered the world’s supply of breeze. Given the new economics of renewable energy, progress will continue.

 But the climate question has never been about progress per se; we know that eventually we’ll move to the sun and wind. The issue has always been about pace, and now Trump will add serious friction, quite likely shifting the trajectory of our path enough that we will never catch up with the physics of climate change. 

Other assaults on civilization and reason eventually wore themselves out—fascism, communism, imperialism.

 But there’s no way to wait out climate change, because this test has a timer on it. 

Melt enough ice caps and you live on a very different planet. 

Either we solve this soon or we don’t solve it. 

And if we don’t, then the cascading crises that follow (massive storms, waterlogged cities, floods of migrants) will batter our societies in new ways that we are ill prepared to handle, as the xenophobia of this election season showed.

Which is why we need to rise to the occasion. Not only in our day jobs but in our roles as citizens—of city, state, country, planet.

 Engineers should, by all means, keep developing the next generation of batteries; but that work is merely necessary now, not sufficient. 

We must not watch idly as Trump takes a hammer to the mechanisms of our civilization, mechanisms that can’t be rebuilt in the time we have. 

We need to resist in all the nonviolent ways that we’ve learned over the past century and in new ones that the moment suggests. 

There will be marches and divestment campaigns, pressure to be put on city halls and statehouses. We will not lack for opportunity. If many join in, then civilization will not just endure but will emerge stronger for the testing, able to face our problems with renewed vigor. At best, it’s going to be a very close call.


Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and founder of global grassroots climate campaign 350.org.”

Press link for more: Wired.com

img_2217-1

2016 warmest on record. #science #climatechange #auspol 

Earth’s 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern recordkeeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Globally-averaged temperatures in 2016 were 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit (0.99 degrees Celsius) warmer than the mid-20th century mean. 

This makes 2016 the third year in a row to set a new record for global average surface temperatures.
The 2016 temperatures continue a long-term warming trend, according to analyses by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. NOAA scientists concur with the finding that 2016 was the warmest year on record based on separate, independent analyses of the data.


Because weather station locations and measurement practices change over time, there are uncertainties in the interpretation of specific year-to-year global mean temperature differences. 

However, even taking this into account, NASA estimates 2016 was the warmest year with greater than 95 percent certainty.
“2016 is remarkably the third record year in a row in this series,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. 

“We don’t expect record years every year, but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear.”
The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.
Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year – from January through September, with the exception of June – were the warmest on record for those respective months. October, November, and December of 2016 were the second warmest of those months on record – in all three cases, behind records set in 2015.
Phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña, which warm or cool the upper tropical Pacific Ocean and cause corresponding variations in global wind and weather patterns, contribute to short-term variations in global average temperature. A warming El Niño event was in effect for most of 2015 and the first third of 2016. Researchers estimate the direct impact of the natural El Niño warming in the tropical Pacific increased the annual global temperature anomaly for 2016 by 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit (0.12 degrees Celsius).  
Weather dynamics often affect regional temperatures, so not every region on Earth experienced record average temperatures last year. For example, both NASA and NOAA found the 2016 annual mean temperature for the contiguous 48 United States was the second warmest on record. In contrast, the Arctic experienced its warmest year ever, consistent with record low sea ice found in that region for most of the year.

The planet’s long-term warming trend is seen in this chart of every year’s annual temperature cycle from 1880 to the present, compared to the average temperature from 1880 to 2015. Record warm years are listed in the column on the right. Credit: NASA/Earth Observatory.Joshua Stevens.

NASA’s analyses incorporate surface temperature measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperatures, and temperature measurements from Antarctic research stations. These raw measurements are analyzed using an algorithm that considers the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and urban heating effects that could skew the conclusions. The result of these calculations is an estimate of the global average temperature difference from a baseline period of 1951 to 1980.
NOAA scientists used much of the same raw temperature data, but with a different baseline period, and different methods to analyze Earth’s polar regions and global temperatures.
GISS is a laboratory within the Earth Sciences Division of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York.
The full 2016 surface temperature data set and the complete methodology used to make the temperature calculation are available at:
http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp

Press link for more: climate.nasa.gov

img_2199

We’re blowing the carbon budget! 

As of now—by one calculation—the world has one year to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere if we want to stop climate change at 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, the aim of the Paris climate agreement.

A carbon countdown clock from researchers at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change does the math, estimating the time left at current emission levels. Even with a higher limit of two degrees of warming and the most optimistic projections, we still only have about 23 years to fully transition to a carbon-free economy.

“Once we have exhausted the carbon budget, every ton of CO2 that is released by cars, buildings, or industrial plants would need to be compensated during the 21st century by removing the CO2 from the atmosphere again,” says Fabian Löhe, a spokesperson for the Mercator researchers. “Generating such ‘negative emissions’ is even more challenging, and we do not know today at which scale we might be able to do that. Hence, the clock shows that time is running out: It is not enough to act sometime in the future, but it is necessary to implement more ambitious climate policies already in the very short-term.”


Moving to a clean economy obviously requires massive change. Despite the massive growth of renewable energy, most energy still comes from fossil fuels. China, which is moving aggressively to shut down coal plants and spending an unprecedented $361 billion on renewable energy over the next few years, will still get half of its power from nonrenewable sources in 2020. Most heat is fossil-powered. Most transportation runs on gas. Building the infrastructure needed to change that in a year (or a little over four years, if you look at the optimistic projections for staying under 1.5 degrees) would take a level of action that isn’t happening now.


“Many experts see a growing dissonance between the increasing ambitions of climate policy and the lack of success in achieving sustained emission reductions today,” says Löhe. “So far, there is no track record for reducing emissions globally. Instead, greenhouse gas emissions have been rising at a faster pace during the last decade than previously—despite growing awareness and political action across the globe.”
Researchers have found that the commitments that countries made in the Paris agreement don’t go far enough to keep warming under 1.5 degrees—or even under 2 degrees.
“While countries were able to agree upon adequate long-term climate policy targets, they have not been able to match these long-term ambitions with appropriate short-term actions,” says Löhe. “In fact, short-term emission reduction commitments by countries so far—the so-called nationally determined contributions (NDCs)—will only slow the growth in global greenhouse gas emissions rather than starting an era of substantial and sustained emission reductions.”
That half-degree makes a difference; the flooding and droughts and other extreme weather that are already becoming more common will get worse at 1.5 degrees, and likely far worse at 2 degrees. It’s possible that Arctic sea ice might survive with “only” 1.5 degrees of warming. Some parts of the Persian Gulf that would be uninhabitable after 2 degrees of warming might still be tolerable at 1.5 degrees.
The International Governmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN group that produces comprehensive reports on climate change, won’t publish its report on 1.5 degrees of warming—and how to avoid it—until 2018, likely after the carbon budget has been blown. Even to stay under 2 degrees of warming, the world needs to act much more quickly.
“It is crucial that countries jointly raise the short-term ambition of climate policy by ratcheting up their respective [commitments made in Paris] through concrete policies and credible implementation plans for additional emission reductions,” Löhe says. “To successfully manage the transition toward a carbon neutral world economy, it is crucial to steer investments in the right direction. This will at some point require a price on carbon, either through a tax or a functioning emissions trading system.”

Press link for more: Fast coexist.com

img_2075-1

Short-lived greenhouse gases cause centuries of sea-level rise. #auspol 

Short-lived greenhouse gases cause centuries of sea-level rise

Researchers report that warming from short-lived compounds; greenhouse gases such as methane and chlorofluorocarbons, that linger in the atmosphere for just a year to a few decades; can cause sea levels to rise for hundreds of years after the pollutants have been cleared from the atmosphere.


Even if there comes a day when the world completely stops emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, coastal regions and island nations will continue to experience rising sea levels for centuries afterward, according to a new study by researchers at MIT and Simon Fraser University.
In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers report that warming from short-lived compounds — greenhouse gases such as methane, chlorofluorocarbons, or hydrofluorocarbons, that linger in the atmosphere for just a year to a few decades — can cause sea levels to rise for hundreds of years after the pollutants have been cleared from the atmosphere.

“If you think of countries like Tuvalu, which are barely above sea level, the question that is looming is how much we can emit before they are doomed. Are they already slated to go under, even if we stopped emitting everything tomorrow?” says co-author Susan Solomon, the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science at MIT. “It’s all the more reason why it’s important to understand how long climate changes will last, and how much more sea-level rise is already locked in.”

Solomon’s co-authors are lead author Kirsten Zickfeld of Simon Fraser University and Daniel Gilford, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.
Short stay, long rise
Recent studies by many groups, including Solomon’s own, have shown that even if human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide were to stop entirely, their associated atmospheric warming and sea-level rise would continue for more than 1,000 years. These effects — essentially irreversible on human timescales — are due in part to carbon dioxide’s residence time: The greenhouse gas can stay in the atmosphere for centuries after it’s been emitted from smokestacks and tailpipes.
In contrast to carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases such as methane and chlorofluorocarbons have much shorter lifetimes. However, previous studies have not specified what their long-term effects may be on sea-level rise. To answer this question, Solomon and her colleagues explored a number of climate scenarios using an Earth Systems Model of Intermediate Complexity, or EMIC, a computationally efficient climate model that simulates ocean and atmospheric circulation to project climate changes over decades, centuries and millenia.
With the model, the team calculated both the average global temperature and sea-level rise, in response to anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons.
The researchers’ estimates for carbon dioxide agreed with others’ predictions and showed that, even if the world were to stop emitting carbon dioxide starting in 2050, up to 50 percent of the gas would remain in the atmosphere more than 750 years afterward. Even after carbon dioxide emissions cease, sea-level rise should continue to increase, measuring twice the level of 2050 estimates for 100 years, and four times that value for another 500 years.
The reason, Solomon says, is due to “ocean inertia”: As the world warms due to greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide included — waters heat up and expand, causing sea levels to rise. Removing the extra ocean heat caused by even short-lived gases, and consequently lowering sea levels, is an extremely slow process.
“As the heat goes into the ocean, it goes deeper and deeper, giving you continued thermal expansion,” Solomon explains. “Then it has to get transferred back to the atmosphere and emitted back into space to cool off, and that’s a very slow process of hundreds of years.”
Stemming tides
In one particular climate modeling scenario, the team evaluated sea level’s response to various methane emissions scenarios, in which the world would continue to emit the gas at current rates, until emissions end entirely in three different years: 2050, 2100 and 2150.
In all three scenarios, methane gas quickly cleared from the atmosphere, and its associated atmospheric warming decreased at a similar rate. However, methane continued to contribute to sea-level rise for centuries afterward. What’s more, they found that the longer the world waits to reduce methane emissions, the longer seas will stay elevated. 
“Amazingly, a gas with a 10-year lifetime can actually cause enduring sea-level changes,” Solomon says. “So you don’t just get to stop emitting and have everything go back to a preindustrial state. You are going to live with this for a very long time.”
The researchers found one silver lining in their analyses: Curious as to whether past regulations on pollutants have had a significant effect on sea-level rise, the team focused on perhaps the most successful global remediation effort to date — the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty ratified by 197 countries in 1989, that effectively curbed emissions of ozone-depleting compounds worldwide.   
Encouragingly, the researchers found that the Montreal Protocol, while designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out pollutants such as chlorofluorocarbons — has also helped stem rising seas. If the Montreal Protocol had not been ratified, and countries had continued to emit chlorofluorocarbons to the atmosphere, the researchers found that by 2050, the world would have experienced up to an additional 6 inches of sea-level rise.
“Half a foot is pretty significant,” Solomon says. “It’s yet another tremendous reason why the Montreal Protocol has been a pretty good thing for the planet.”
In their paper’s conclusion, the researchers point out that efforts to curb global warming should not be expected to reverse high seas quickly, and that longer-term impacts from sea-level rise should be seriously considered: “The primary policy conclusion of this study is that the long-lasting nature of sea-level rise heightens the importance of earlier mitigation actions.”
This research was supported, in part, by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and NASA.

Press link for more: Climate.NASA.Gov

img_2183-1

Climate Change: feel the despair, then work harder. #auspol 

In the face of the mind-boggling peril of climate change, feel the despair, then work harder
From confirmation that 2016 was New Zealand’s warmest year on record to the imminent inauguration of a big-emissions US president, it’s easy to understand desperation in the face of climate change. But we need to channel all our energies into urgent action, writes James Renwick.

Climate change and global warming have been in the news a lot lately. The year 2016 is about to be confirmed as the warmest globally), in records going back over 130 years. A 5000km2 slab of the Larsen C ice shelf is poised to break away any day. Global sea ice extent has been running millions of square kilometres below normal for months now, and Santa sweltered in temperatures 20°C above normal at the North Pole over the Christmas period. Heatwaves, fires, droughts, floods, have all been ascribed to the effects of climate change over the past year and more, maybe not causing them outright, but making them ever more likely and contributing to the intensity of many events.

Now, thanks to the new NIWA annual climate summary, we know that 2016 was also the warmest year in New Zealand, in the historical record going back to 1909, just pipping 1998 and 2013. The New Zealand land mass covers just 0.05% of the earth’s surface so what happens here is hardly an indicator of global trends. Yet, just as with the global figures, it is getting warmer on average, up about a degree in the past century.
For New Zealand, last year’s warmth was a mix of local effects – winds from the north bringing subtropical air, warmer than normal regional sea temperatures – combined with the background global warming trend from increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. New Zealand temperatures vary a lot from year to year because the country is exposed to so many climate influences, but as time goes on the chances of a warm year keep going up while the chances of a cold year keep going down. NIWA scientist Brett Mullan points out that in the past two years, over 30 new high-temperature records have been set, and zero low temperature records.

The past year also saw two milestones: the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) passed 400 parts per million at every recording site in the world; and the Paris Agreement on limiting climate change came into effect, committing the global community to limiting global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial, and preferably closer to 1.5°C. The 400ppm threshold was last crossed something like three million years ago, so we are well into uncharted territory as far as humanity is concerned. The Paris Agreement is a clear commitment from the global community to take action.

And serious action is what’s needed – urgently. To limit warming globally to 1.5 or 2°C, there’s a maximum budget of CO2 we can put into the atmosphere. At current emissions rates, the 2°C budget will be blown within 20 years, and the 1.5°C budget in only four or five. Living up to Paris will take a huge concerted effort from every country. One other thing that became clear last year, thanks to research from VUW scientists and others, is that 2 degrees of warming, and around 400ppm CO2, is close to a threshold for irreversible loss of big parts of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and part of the East Antarctic as well. That fits with geological records showing that sea levels were 10-20 metres higher back 3 million years ago, the last time we had CO2 levels as high as they are now.


The Getz Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Photo: Jeremy Harback/NASA
What that means is that our actions (or lack of them) over the next 15-20 years will decide whether we get up to one metre of sea level rise, or 10-20 metres, over coming centuries. We as a global community will decide, over the next half dozen electoral cycles, what the world’s coastlines will look like for millennia to come.
Yet many are still arguing whether or not anything much is happening and whether we need to act at all. US President-elect Donald Trump is no friend of emissions reductions and his term in office will do nothing to spur action. No wonder that many in the climate community are very worried indeed. Veteran climate change journalist Eric Holthaus posted an impassioned series of tweets at the weekend about how he struggles to keep going in the face of what the future holds.
I’m starting my 11th year working on climate change, including the last 4 in daily journalism. Today I went to see a counselor about it. 1/
— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) January 6, 2017
Eric’s note of desperation and despair touched a chord, receiving hundreds of replies and words of support within hours. His words resonated with me – the challenge of climate change, the risks we face, and the number of lives in danger, are truly mind-boggling.
Despair may be a natural response to all this, but despair is not a constructive frame of mind. Now is the time for concerted action, for tackling emissions in all countries, all communities. To develop and deploy more efficient solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewables across the globe. To work harder on finding ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. To think seriously about how we adapt to a world of shrinking coastlines, extremes of heat, drought and flood and more precarious food supplies. To let our governments know that this is the one issue that must be tackled with everything we’ve got.
James Renwick is a professor in the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington.
The Spinoff’s science content is made possible thanks to the support of The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, a national institute devoted to scientific research.

Press link for more: The Spin Off

img_1962

Short lived Greenhouse Gases can drive sea level rise for centuries. #auspol 

Climate Change: Even Short-Lived Greenhouse Gases Can Drive Sea-Level Rise For Centuries

Over the past 100 years, the global average sea level has risen by roughly 7 inches. This rise has been fuelled by two key factors — the added water from melting land ice, and the expansion in volume of seawater as it absorbs heat from the atmosphere.
If we examine the trend over the past 20 years alone, world’s oceans have warmed at a rate of 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade — a continuation of the trend that began in the last half of the 20th century, when humans began pumping massive quantities of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
In such a scenario, there is a question climate activists have often asked — what, if anything, can be done to prevent sea levels from rising to an extent that poses an existential threat to low-lying island nations such as Fiji, the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands?
The answer, going by the findings of a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is not much.
This is because oceans, once they have absorbed a certain amount of heat, take hundreds of years to cool down — a phenomenon the authors of the study called “ocean inertia.”
“As the heat goes into the ocean, it goes deeper and deeper, giving you continued thermal expansion,” study co-author Susan Solomon, a professor of climate science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a statement. “Then it has to get transferred back to the atmosphere and emitted back into space to cool off, and that’s a very slow process of hundreds of years.”

In order to reach their conclusions, the researchers used a climate model to simulate three scenarios —global greenhouse gas emissions ending in 2050, 2100, and 2150. Even in the most optimistic scenario, wherein anthropogenic emissions of all heat-trapping gases ceased altogether in 2050, up to 50 percent of carbon dioxide would remain in the atmosphere for over 750 years. And, even after carbon dioxide emissions cease, sea levels will continue to rise, measuring twice the level of 2050 estimates for 100 years, and four times that value for another 500 years.
Even methane — a gas that has an atmospheric lifespan of just 10 years — would continue to contribute to sea level rise for centuries after it has cleared up from the atmosphere.

Effectively, this means that even if humans were to stop emitting all greenhouse gases right now, thermal expansion and the ensuing rise of ocean levels would continue for centuries to come — quite possibly inundating several island nations and low-lying coastal areas in cities across the world.
“If you think of countries like Tuvalu, which are barely above sea level, the question that is looming is how much we can emit before they are doomed. Are they already slated to go under, even if we stopped emitting everything tomorrow?” Solomon said. “It’s all the more reason why it’s important to understand how long climate changes will last, and how much more sea-level rise is already locked in.”

There is, however, one silver lining. As part of their study, the researchers also examined what impact the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which eliminated the use of the ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, had had on stemming the rise of ocean levels. They found that if the deal had never been ratified, and if countries had continued to emit CFCs, the world would have experienced up to an additional 6 inches of sea-level rise by 2050.
“Half a foot is pretty significant,” Solomon said. “It’s yet another tremendous reason why the Montreal Protocol has been a pretty good thing for the planet.”

Press link for more: IBTimes.com

img_2126-2

Say goodbye to polar bears #auspol 

More than two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be killed off by 2050 — the species completely gone from Alaska — because of thinning sea ice from global warming in the Arctic, government scientists forecast. (Subhankar Banerjee/Associated Press)
   As the Arctic warms faster than any other place on the planet and sea ice declines, there is only one sure way to save polar bears from extinction, the government announced Monday: decisive action on climate change.
In a final plan to save an animal that greatly depends on ice to catch prey and survive, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified the rapid decline of sea ice as “the primary threat to polar bears” and said “the single most important achievement for polar bear conservation is decisive action to address Arctic warming” driven by the human emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
“Short of action that effectively addresses the primary cause of diminishing sea ice,” the agency’s plan said, “it is unlikely that polar bears will be recovered.”

[The Arctic keeps warming, and polar bears are feeling the heat]
That determination puts the plan itself on thin ice. Global climate change, of course, is completely out of the control of Fish and Wildlife, a division of the Interior Department. An international effort to address the issue was signed about a year ago in Paris, but President-elect Donald Trump has questioned U.S. participation in a treaty that nearly 190 governments signed.


Trump has waffled in his perspective on climate change. When asked about the human link to climate change following his election, he said, “I think there is some connectivity. . . . It depends on how much.” He also said he would keep an open mind about the international climate accord and whether his administration will withdraw from it.
But the president-elect has also openly doubted the findings of more than 95 percent of climate scientists who say climate change is driven by human activity. In 2012, he tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created for and by the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Fish and Wildlife officials declined to speculate on whether the next president will follow the guidance of its new plan. But the scientists had doubts about the survival of bears before Trump’s election.
“Even when we started the planning process, that was the discussion we were having … are we wasting our time here,” said Jenifer Kohout, deputy assistant director for Fish and Wildlife’s Alaska region, and a co-chair of the group that wrote the plan.

The extent of sea ice in September 2014 was the sixth lowest since satellite observations began in 1979. (Courtesy of Kathy Crane/NOAA)

“We wanted this plan to partially tell that story,” she said, but to also show that there were other steps that could save bears, such as adjusting the number that can be harvested by Alaska’s native people depending on the rise and fall of the animal’s population. Indigenous people and state officials participated in forming the plan. Another step was to find ways to deter hungry bears drawn to human garbage, so that fewer of them are destroyed.
Polar bears were listed as threatened by Fish and Wildlife under the Endangered Species Act in 2008, which automatically qualified it as a depleted species under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. Under both acts, Fish and Wildlife is required to develop a plan for their recovery with an analysis of why their threatened, the cost of restoring their populations and the time it will take to do it.


For eight years, federal scientists have tried to figure that all out. Monday’s recovery plan reflects earlier science that foresaw the extinction of polar bears in a warming world. Fish and Wildlife took the further step of establishing a Polar Bear Recovery Team of representatives from federal agencies, Alaska, the North Slope Borough, Alaska Native organizations, industry, non-profit organizations and the Canadian Wildlife Service.
Together they are showing Alaskans how starving polar bears are attracted to their garbage, which brings them closer to humans, which leads to their slaughter, hastening their decline. With Native organizations that rely on bear meat for nutrition, they came up with a system where the numbers of bears that can be hunted rises and falls depending on the population.
For many observers, the concern about polar bears is odd because more of the animals exist now than 40 years ago, when protections against hunting were minimal. Scientists say about 19 populations make up an estimated 25,000 to 31,000 bears, including a subpopulation of about 3,000 that roam Alaska. Estimates of their increases and declines go up and down depending on which population is being counted.
But researchers say 80 percent of the populations will almost certainly collapse if sea ice continues to decline. Air temperatures at the top of the world are rising twice as fast as temperatures in lower latitudes, resulting in significant ice melt, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
[The Arctic is showing stunning winter warmth, and these scientists think they know why]
Under the effects of global warming, Alaska recorded temperatures nearly 20 degrees higher than the January average as warm air flowed north, NOAA said in an Arctic Report Card.
“We’re quite confident that absent action to address climate change, there would be very significant reduction in the range of polar bears,” said Michael Runge, a U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist who served as the plan’s other co-chairman. 
But even if the vast majority of bears die, the species can be saved if the ice stabilizes decades into the future, so that they can hunt, find mates and find dens that allow them to survive, Runge said. Polar bears, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, could be delisted if an improved climate and stronger ice increase their likelihood of survival.


An estimated 35,000 walrus gather on shore north of Point Lay, Alaska. A decline in sea ice in the Arctic region of the Chukchi Sea is forcing female walruses and their young to “haul out” to land. (NOAA via Agence France-Presse)

The plan said the outlook is grim for bears only if international governments do absolutely nothing to address climate change, said David Douglas, another USGS researcher. But if they limit some greenhouse gases, even if Trump withdraws the United States from the Paris climate agreement, polar bears will have a slightly better chance of survival.
“There are two ends of a spectrum. One is not hopeless,” he said.
Energy and Environment newsletter

The science and policy of environmental issues.

Without an aggressive call to address climate change, the plan is toothless, said Shaye Wolf, climate science director for the Center for Biological Diversity. Allowing for massive reductions in polar populations, including the possible extinction of bears in Alaska, Wolf said, is unacceptable.
“This recovery plan is too risky for the polar bear. Recovery plans work, but only if they truly address the threats to the species,” she said. “Sadly, that simply isn’t the case with this polar bear plan.”

Press link for more: Washington Post

img_2168

We are already in danger! #auspol 

The risks of climate change are not easy to communicate clearly. 

 Since the atmosphere affects everything, everything will be affected by its warming — there’s no single risk, but a wide and varied array of risks, of different severities and scales, affecting different systems, unfolding on different timelines. It’s difficult to convey to a layperson, at least without droning on and on.
 One of the better-known and more controversial attempts to address this problem is a graphic from the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The so-called “burning embers” graph attempts to render the various risks of climate change — “reasons for concern,” or RFCs — in an easy-to-grasp visual form.
 In a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, a group of 17 scholars examines the RFC conceptual framework and reviews the latest science. (Because IPCC reports take so long to produce, the science they contain is always a few years behind.)
 Long story short, they find that the graphic is generally accurate (though it has key limitations). They offer suggestions for how the RFC framework could be extended in the future to “better account for possible changes in social and ecological system vulnerability.”
 I won’t get into the details — I just want to have a look at their new and improved burning-embers graph, which is up at the top of this post.

 As you can see, there is a ton of information about the risks of climate change crammed in there, so it’s worth unpacking a bit. It offers a remarkably coherent overview of the various risks that lie ahead this century.

The thermometer on the right shows temperatures relative to preindustrial levels; the thermometer on the left shows them relative to 1986-2005. The distance between the two blue lines is warming that occurred through 2005. (As that note on the right indicates, warming is up a bit 2003-2012.)
Following the IPCC, risks are divided into five buckets or RFCs:
Risks to unique and threatened systems. These are ecological or human systems that are geographically constrained and have a high degree of “endemism” — they are uniquely adapted to a particular geography and climate. The authors cite as examples “tropical glacier systems, coral reefs, mangrove ecosystems, biodiversity hotspots, and unique indigenous communities.”

Risks associated with extreme weather events. This is what it says, i.e., “risk to human health, livelihoods, assets, and ecosystems from extremes such as heat waves, heavy rain, drought and associated wildfires, and coastal flooding.”

Risks associated with the distribution of impacts. This reflects the fact that some groups will be hit earlier and harder than others. Distribution of impacts can be uneven with respect to “geographic location, income and wealth, gender, age, or other physical and socioeconomic characteristics.”

Risks associated with global aggregate impacts. This refers to “impacts to socio-ecological systems that can be aggregated globally according to a single metric such as lives affected, monetary damage, number of species at risk of extinction, or degradation and loss of a number of ecosystems at a global scale.”

Risks associated with large-scale singular events. These are the much-discussed “tipping points,” whereby a series of incremental changes pushes some system over a threshold, at which point it shifts into a period of rapid, discontinuous, and sometimes irreversible change. The iconic example here is “disintegration of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets leading to a large and rapid sea-level rise.”

Scattered across these five buckets are eight “key risks,” coded by those little colored circles, and which RFC buckets they fall into. Here’s the key to those:
 key risks (Nature Climate Change)

These are the more granular risks: rising sea level, flooding, infrastructure damage, food insecurity, etc.
For each RFC, there are four levels of risk: undetectable, moderate, high, and very high.
The little graphics along the bottom are selected key risks, which are plotted at various points on the graph to illustrate specific dangers. Next to them is a letter indicating the level of confidence scientists feel in predicting the risk — M for medium, H for high.
So, for instance, scientists believe:
with a high degree of confidence that biodiversity hot spots, coral reefs, and Arctic systems will come under very high risk at 2 degrees;

with medium confidence that there is high risk of heat waves and extreme precipitation at 2 degrees;

with medium to high confidence that agriculture is already at moderate risk, which becomes high risk around 2 degrees.

RFCs 4 and 5 are the biggest, scariest dangers — the species-level impacts — but they’re also the ones in which scientists have the least confidence. Still, medium confidence that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will come under high risk by 3 degrees ought to terrify us. That’s gambling with trillions of dollars.
In short, panic
There’s a lot to glean from this graph, but here’s the takeaway: We’ve already crossed over into moderate risk on the first three RFCS. Pushing temperatures up 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels — the target at which the world claims to want to stop warming — puts us at high risk on the first three and moderate risk on the last two. That is the best-case scenario.
Three degrees over preindustrial levels, where we are very likely headed this century, puts us at high risk across the board, very high for those uniquely threatened systems. Five degrees, which is entirely possible, puts basically every human and ecological system at high to very high risk.
We are already in danger, there’s more danger to come, and the best we can hope for is to slow and stop the process before the dangers are catastrophic. That’s the shape of things.

Press link for more: Vox.com