Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why Is The Weather So Crazy?

Climate scientist Paul Beckwith explains weather distortion & spurt of Arctic methane. NOAA's Dr. Richard Feely on the threat of ocean acidification.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Download or listen to my 38 minute feature interview with Paul Beckwith in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

It takes a lot of nerve to talk about global warming just after a blast of Arctic weather in the Northern Hemisphere. But all our furnaces, cars, and factories churn out even more warming gases day in and day out. It's going to catch up to us. Scientists report big changes are already occuring, well ahead of previous predictions.

We're back with one of our go-to guys on the cutting edge. Paul Beckwith has two Masters Degrees and is working on his Doctorate in climate science at the University of Ottawa.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

We start with the big methane debate going on among scientists right now. As part of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, AMEG, Paul is tuned in to alarming developments around the polar sea, which could jolt global climate.

But already, we see the slower Jet Stream allowing Arctic cold and storms into the Northern Hemisphere. Beckwith explains the science of how that works. The interview is very revealing. Get even more in this Beckwith video.

The team of Natalia Shakhova, from the University of Alaska, and Russian scientists including Igor Semiletov, just released a paper on November 24th about methane emissions in the sea off East Siberia. We can also see increased blooms of methane, even in deep winter, on satellite tracking maps.

One thing puzzled me in the maps provided by Sam Carana of, as published in the Arctic-News blog. Maps showed ribbons of methane rising right across what must be frozen seas in the winter. How can methane come up through the ice cover? Paul says the Arctic ice is not a fixed block, but has cracks and holes all through it.

A group of scientists led by David Archer and Gavin Schmidt at say Arctic methane is still a small part of global methane emissions. They say it doesn't matter yet compared to carbon dioxide emissions from industrial society, and may be a distraction from what really could drive us to extinction.

Read that methane discussion on their realclimate blog here - and take time to read the comments section as well.

Here is a link to my interview of David Archer in December 2012 on the relative importance of methane.

On the other side, here is my Radio Ecoshock interview with renowned polar ice scientist Dr. Peter Wadhams in the same program.

Beckwith replies it's almost a battle between climate modelers, like David Archer, and researchers with observations on the ground, like Shakhova and here Russian counterparts. While it's true methane is not YET tipping us toward a sudden change of climate - it has more than enough potential to do so. Some members of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group critize the IPCC for missing the methane boat, and want an emergency alert issued.

Meanwhile, Archer and others say we can't take our eye off the ball of our own carbon dioxide production. That's something that is known to be changing the climate right now, and something we can allegedly control. Once the methane bomb goes off in the Arctic, both undersea and from melting permafrost, nature takes over. It will be beyond our control. I think both groups are right.


Paul Beckwith is one of the few people I know, with a trained scientific eye, to plow through all 2016 pages of the latest Working Group One report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC. I can already feel some listeners becoming impatient, ready to tune out, and that tells you a lot about how far public perception has fallen about these reports. Is the IPCC still relevant to the developing climate crisis?

We talk over what those limitations are, what the IPCC got right, and where they probably missed out, including the methane threat. Paul notes that ever edition of the IPCC reports keeps raising the global warming potential of methane.

Critics of the IPCC say they use out-dated science, and always low-ball the possibilities, to get approval from all those governments, including oil producing countries. Paul thinks we need more real-time analysis and a faster turn around from a massively funded team, versus today's tiny IPCC staff and guest volunteer editors.


Dr. James Hansen, recently retired NASA scientist, has just released another paper saying the warming limit assumed by all the climate negotiations and governments is far too dangerous. He says that 2 degrees Centigrade, I guess that's about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, is already beyond tipping points that will wreck the world as we know it. Paul and I discuss what that means.

We already have scientific conferences called "4 degrees and beyond". Various business pundits assume carbon levels above 550 parts per million by 2100 as though that's just something our kids will adapt to. Let's be real. Is it likely we can hold warming to even 2 degrees mean global warming, the way things are going?

Whatever our prospects, I keep making radio programs, and Paul keeps studying and communicating about climate change. There must be some hope and will to survive at the bottom of that.

Keep in touch with Paul Beckwith's lively climate Facebook feed here.


Download or listen to this 15 minute interview with Dr. Richard Feely in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

No doubt you've heard that fossil fuel emissions are turning the world's oceans more acidic. Scientists are scrambling to find out what that means for our future.

There is a new report out, based on a meeting of 540 experts from 37 countries held in Monterey California in September 2012. It was the Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World.

"Ocean Acidification Summary for Policy-makers – Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World."

Radio Ecoshock is pleased to welcome one of America's top ocean scientists, Dr. Richard Feely. He's from NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

Reading through this report, I became alarmed for our own future, as much as small sea life. The Symposium agreed the oceans have been soaking up 24 million tonnes of CO2 a day - but that buffer, protecting us from worse climate change, may not keep working as well.

A couple of years ago, I interviewed David Archer about his book "The Long Thaw". He made it clear even if we stopped burning fossil fuels today, our impact will continue for centuries. It that true in the oceans as well? Dr. Feely says our oceans are reaching acidification levels not seen for many millions of years - and will stay in this changed state likely for at least hundreds of thousands of years, if not longer. We are changing the oceans for all coming ages.

I'll add this: during some times when the oceans became more acidic because of high carbon in the atmosphere - there was a huge mass extinction event.

When scientists talk about the rate of acidification, the numbers seem rather small. Why does a point 1 change in PH reflect a big change in chemistry? Richard Feely explains that one for us. Due to the logarithmic scale used, just like for earthquakes, a small-sounding change reflects a giant change in the sea.

We can't consider ocean acidification in a vacuum. How does a more acid ocean interact with things like warmer seas, or human encroachment such as overfishing or land-based run-off? It turns out all these impacts feed on one another.

You know ocean dead zones are popping up all over the world. Some people on the Internet are afraid the ocean is dying. Dr. Feely says that is not what there reports says at all. Yes some species important to feeding humans and other large sea mammals are in trouble, or may even die off. But other species, including squid and jellyfish, will thrive on more acidic seas. The ocean is not dying.

I've interviewed scientists who believe human geoengineering is needed to save the Arctic ice, say by spraying sulphur aerosols. How would that affect the problem of ocean acidification? Feely says geoengineering does not stop the uptake of carbon and acidification of the seas. In some cases, and he mentions seeding the oceans as Russ George and the Haida did, may even make acidification worse.

I worry humanity is not taking this issue seriously enough, because we don't live in the ocean, and can't visibly see the change. That's why I took the trouble to highlight this new report, and talk with Dr. Feely.


Coming up next week: I couldn't bare delivering more doom and gloom news during the holiday season. Instead, we're bringing it on in song. It's the annual Radio Ecoshock Green Music Festival - a full hour of environmental songs played in full.

You'll get some humor, so bleakness, lots of bounce, in some songs I guarantee you've never heard before, from artists all over the world. I'll publish a playlist in next week's blog.

We kick of the new year of 2014 with more nuclear scandals. I'm not talking about Japan this time. Even if there is no major nuclear disaster, both Britain and the United States are piling up radioactive wastes with no good answer in sight. Wait until you hear the zany things they are doing with it. Heaven help the generations that come after us.


I appreciate all the listeners who included Radio Ecoshock in our Christmas gift list. Some donations have come in and they all help. I've improved the studio (no more echo) and added some software tools to make the audio sound better. My mixer also had to be replaced, as the old cheapie was starting to leak sound between the channels. That was a big purchase.

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The rules of non-profit radio stations mean I can't pitch for fund on air. (And besides, those stations need the money too). So I'm really counting on blog readers and podcast subscribers to help keep Radio Ecoshock on the air. Do it from this page.

Enjoy your holidays - but don't forget, the all-new Radio Ecoshock shows just keep on coming.

Alex Smith

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