Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Climate: Arctic Thermostat Blows Up

The Arctic thermostat for the world is broken, with record heat & emissions in 2012. Four speakers from Arctic Methane Emergency group film: Peter Wadhams, James Hansen, Natalia Shakhova, and David Wasdell. Plus interview with AMEG member Paul Beckwith from University of Ottawa. How polar ice-melt derails climate of Northern Hemisphere, heading for uncontrollable heating. Radio Ecoshock 121219 1 hour.


Download/listen to the show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Download/listen to the audio-enhanced sound track from the short film "Arctic Methane: Why Sea Ice Matters" 19 minutes in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

The Paul Beckwith interview (29 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

In this Greenpeace photo, Dr. James Hansen of NASA looks over the ice. Hear James Hansen in this program.


This may not be pleasing holiday fare, but our time together is limited and valuable. Critically important news cannot go unreported, no matter what local tragedy dominates the mainstream headlines.

We are just beginning to understand why the sudden melt-back of the Arctic Sea ice could change the climate of the world. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, your own weather has changed already because of it.

As we will hear in this program, there is enough methane buried in the Arctic to drive us into an extinction event from runaway climate change, well beyond our ability to adapt.

I'm going to talk at length with Paul Beckwith. He's trained in engineering and physics, but is now working on his PHD in climate science at the University of Ottawa.

That connection began in our Radio Ecoshock program featuring Dr. Guy McPherson on the most alarming climate news. Guy mentioned Beckwith's claim that Earth's mean temperature could go up as much as six degrees in a decade or two. Beckwith confirmed the statement.

Surely it can't be true? So I going to call up Beckwith in Ottawa - hoping to find out more. I also know Paul is part of a group of scientists and activists called the Arctic Methane Emergency Group or AMEG. You can find my earlier interview with one of AMEG's senior scientists, Arctic ice expert scientist Dr. Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University. That's in the Radio Ecoshock show February 15th, 2012. I also interviewed critics of this theory that methane from melting permafrost and shallow northern sea beds pose an immediate emergency for the planet.

In September Greenpeace held a "UN Polar Emergency Panel" in New York.

Find the Greenpeace "Save the Arctic" campaign here. I'll ask Paul Beckwith about all that. But I also hope to get a better grip on how melting sea ice could possibly cause the unstable weather we've seen this year in North America, and Europe. Why did March of 2012 become more like summer all of a sudden? Why do sudden cold snaps hit in Europe, changing from balmy weather to the deep freeze in just a day or two? Why has a massive drought stalled over the croplands of the United States? Have changes in the Arctic destabilized weather in the Northern Hemisphere? We find out.

I'm also going to present for the first time a radio adaptation from a new movie by the Arctic Methane Emergency Group. You will hear from Dr. Wadhams, but also James Hansen, the NASA super-scientist, plus Natalia Shakhova, a Russian scientist now working at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and David Wasdell, founder of the Apollo-Gaia Project.

Here is a link to my intriguing Radio Ecoshock interview with David Wasdell in our December 10, 2010 show "Beyond the Tipping Point"

For some of the science, here is a critical paper on Arctic Methane from one of the speakers in the film, Natalia Shakhova:

Shakhova, N. and I. Semiletov (2012). Methane release from the East-Siberian Arctic Shelf and its connection with permafrost and hydrate destabilization: First results and potential future development. Geophys. Res., Vol. 14, EGU2012-3877-1.

All this comes against a chorus of steadily worse revelations about the prospect of very dangerous climate change developing now and in the decades to come.


As you heard in our recent programs, the possibility of staying below the alleged safety point of two degrees temperature rise has more or less passed away. Reports from the World Bank, the International Energy Agency, accountants PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and many more, show the world is headed to at least a 4 degree warming by 2100, if not sooner.

The year 2012 has been the hottest in the instrumental records. Hotter than the previous tied records of 1998 and 2005. According to Joe Romm at thinkprogress.org, the "very warm November and early December assures record-breaking 2012."

Weather-meister Jeff Masters from the Weather Underground writes "The year-to-date period of January – November has been by far the warmest such period on record for the contiguous U.S.–a remarkable 1.0°F above the previous record."

Not coincidentally, and despite all the expensive international climate talks, world greenhouse gas emissions are not dropping but rising steeply, year on year. The Global Carbon Project, which measures such things, finds global emissions in 2012 set a new all-time record. In 2012 we pumped out an eye-popping 58% more greenhouse gases than in 1990.

I play you a short clip from Corrine Le Quere. She is a Professor of Climate Change Science and Policy at the University of East Anglia in the UK, and the Director of the prestigious British climate modeling agency, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Corrine Le Quere

That video from the Tyndall Center is here.


"The latest study from the Global Carbon Project shows that the carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels are set to increase again in two thousand and twelve to a record high of 35.7 billion tons of CO2.

And it means that the global emissions now are 58% above the levels they were in year 1990, the reference year for international Kyoto Protocol.

Contributors to global carbon emissions in 2011 were China with 28%, the United States with 16%, the European Union with 11%, and India with 7%.

The 2012 rise in carbon emissions, that further opens the gap between the real world emissions and the goals that are required to keep the global change under two degrees, which is the international agreement.

If the carbon emissions continue the way they are, they are leading to climate change of 4 degrees and above


We the scientific community are often asked what a four degree world would look like. Because after all we have seasons and day and night, so the four degrees really sometimes doesn't seem like very much. But actually, I think that we globally might be able to say with some confidence what one, two and perhaps three degrees looks like. But when you start looking at changes of four, five and six degrees it's really out of bounds of anything that we've experienced in the recent past.

And so these are really, really big changes in the way that the Earth operates. We are talking about warming changes that are really enormous in the climate system and it's difficult to say what this is going to look like, what kind of vegetation transitions we will have, what kind of changes in the soil where we grow our food.

Ice and melt - what does that do for instance for our weather patterns and for the changes in extreme events?

To be honest, such high climate change levels are really so much outside the bounds of experience that it is very difficult to say what such a world would look like. And impossible to guarantee that it would be safe for a population of seven billion and more.

I am worried about the continued increase in global carbon emissions and the consequences for our climate change and society.


Warming will impact the whole world. Graham Readfearn, a correspondent for ABC Broadcasting in Australia tried to look at what that country would look like in a four degree hotter world. His article came out December 10, 2012. I found it at climatchangepsychology.blogspot.ca, one of the blogs I check regularly. The article by Readfearn is on this page (scroll down a bit) here.

Here is one quote from that article:

"In 2008, work by CSIRO found that if there was no action to cut global emissions, the number of days each year over 35 °C experienced in Australia's capital cities would jump dramatically.

For example, Darwin gets about 9 days a year over 35 °C but by 2070 this was projected to rise to 221 -- more than half the year would be above 35 °C. Melbourne would go from 9 to 21 days above 35 °C, and Sydney from 3 to 9

There are similar projections for America. Most cities in America would be sweltering through unbelievable heat waves as the new normal for summer.

ABC Australia's Readfearn continues:

"Professor Jean Palutikof, director of the government-funded National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, believes an Australia 4 °C warmer than today will be a very different place.

'It would just be too unpleasant to be out of doors,' she says. 'People would be living far more enclosed lives. It would be a heavily energy-dependent existence as you have to cool all of those spaces that you put people into.

'You would have to be running your air-conditioners as a matter of course. The huge challenge would be to lay our hands on the energy we would need to maintain our comfort levels.'

Never mind the disappearing coral reefs, all ice and snow gone, forests burning and burning, and mass extinctions of animals, plants, and insects.


We've just talked about 2012 setting a new record for greenhouse gas emissions. The Global Carbon Project measures only emissions from fossil fuels, not from things like deforestation or agricultural emissions. And this projection does not include, as the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change does not include, the methane emissions coming from the Arctic that we will discuss in this program.

A new report released in late November by the United Nations Environment Program says the IPCC MUST report on melting permafrost and methane, including a special report if needed. Yet I've spoken by email with some IPCC reviews who assure me the Arctic methane emergency is NOT included in the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel reports coming out in 2013 and 2014. Again, the IPCC is far beyond not just the science, but actual climate change known to be happening already.


Let's hear what the Arctic Methane Emergency Group has to say in their new film "Arctic Methane - Why the Sea Ice Matters” This compilation of experts includes Dr. Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, NASA scientist James Hansen, Natalia Shakhova from the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and David Wasdell, founder of the Apollo-Gaia Project. The short film was put together by Nick Breeze and Bru Pearce of the new climate communication group Envisionation.

We start with Peter Wadhams, who has been measuring and exploring the Arctic ice for decades. He is president of the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Ocean Commission on Sea Ice, and head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University in England.

Find links to all this in at the Emergency Group web site at www.ameg.me


Paul H. Beckwith

Our feature is with Paul Beckwith, a man trained in both engineering and physics, but now devoting himself to the challenge of climate change and climate science. I reached him at the University of Ottawa.

We talk about too many things to list here. In just one instance, I finally understood how changes in the Arctic could create the strange weather patterns we've been seeing all over the Northern Hemisphere. Expect to see a lot more. Don't miss the interview.

After our interview, I checked out the methane maps which show red hot spots hovering over the Arctic, where the gas is leaking out at faster rates. I wondered if that could cause regional warming. Paul responded to my email question saying, quote:

"Yes, methane can accumulate in the atmosphere over the Arctic and affect regional weather there, causing localized warming. A strong polar vortex, with mostly zonal jet streams (moving west to east, very little meridional (north to south) waviness) acts to confine atmospheric gases to that region. More meridional or wavy jet streams with more north-south waviness will not confine the methane as well. Over time, the concentrations would equilibrate throughout the atmosphere; faster with meridional jets and slower with zonal jets.

Since the global warming potential of methane is as high as 170 on short timescales of a year of so then it would contribute to warming there. How much? Well CO2 measurements in the Arctic have reached 400 ppm. Methane flask measurements (Barrow and Svalbard) reached 2200 ppb (=2.2 ppm). Since 2.2 x 170 = 374 ppm CO2e. So the methane there is providing the same radiative forcing as the CO2 there. No way this can be neglected by the IPCC; that would be incredibly misleading and dangerous. It is even at today’s levels the same as the CO2 forcing in the region.

Another way to look at the confinement is directly via the coriolis force (which results in the jets, so same thing really). The coriolis force deflects moving objects to the right in the northern hemisphere (to the left in the southern hemisphere); it is zero at the equator (reason why no hurricanes form right near equator). It is maximum right at the pole on the axis of rotation. This confines air to the Arctic.

Consider the massive cyclone in the Arctic from August 2nd or so to August 10th or so (see my blogs on Arctic news Sam Carana site for details). It was centered near the pole. Every time it started to move southward it was strongly deflected to the right and ended up doing loops around the polar region. Since it was basically confined to the Arctic basin due to this coriolis force it continued to gain/maintain strength for about 10 days since it was fed by warm 20 degree C air from over Siberia.

Many fires were burning in northern Siberia at the time so I suspect that a lot of ash/soot from the fires many have been ported into the pole region also. Who knows, it may have contributed to the drop in albedo on sea ice and over Greenland? What I am getting at is that a packet of air in the Arctic will start moving southward and be deflected to the right and end up curving around and heading back into the region; thus the strong confinement.

For the same reason, a packet of air near the pole will be somewhat constrained to the region and not diffuse to the global atmosphere too quickly.

We also got into a discussion about the benefits and risks of putting sulphur aerosols into the high atmosphere over the Arctic, as a last ditch geoengineering attempt to save the last of the ice sheets. The point would be to try to stabilize weather in the Northern Hemisphere, possibly averting global food shortages, and maybe staving off a runaway climate event from ever-increasing methane releases in the Arctic.

To quote Paul's email:

"Adding sulfur has the purpose of buying us time before the abrupt shift to a much warmer state occurs. It can be done quickly. I suggested a while back that adapting the KC-135 flying fuel tank (for midair refueling of fighter aircraft) to contain liquid mixtures with sulfur and adding nozzles to the umbilicals could quickly and easily deliver the sulfur to the stratosphere.

This method is a short term band-aid that would buy some time to slash greenhouse gas emissions as fast as humanly possible. This slashing is vital since it is the only way to slow and eventually reverse the rapid ocean acidification problem. The sulfur would be in the stratosphere (above normal weather) so would stay there for years, the vortex would somewhat confine it in the Arctic region; we would have to carefully monitor the time between recharges.

Huge amounts of sulfur are injected into the lower atmosphere from smokestacks around the planet. Coal contains sulfur (the worse the coal, the more sulfur there is) and we are pumping ever increasing amounts out. Rain washes it down into the environment, scrubber technology on the smokestacks helps to reduce the problem. What we would put into the Arctic region is negligible compared to what comes out of smokestacks

Here is Paul Beckwith's blog at the Sierra Club of Canada.

Should we do it? Is it time to save the last of the Arctic ice cap? You have to decide.

I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock. Be sure and visit our web site at ecoshock.org to download all our past programs. Please make a donation if you can, to keep the site full of free downloads for all. Please tell others about this show blog at ecoshock.info.

Thank you for donating your attentive mind to our broadcast this week.

No comments: