Here are the latest data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). For the second time this year, the refreeze rate has stalled. This first happened in December 2008 for about a week. Now, once again, the refreezing rate has gone flat bringing 2008-2009 refreezing to nearly the same point that it was on the same day (January 22) in 2006-2007, the year when the record for minimal extent was set. The most significant difference between 2006-2007 and this year, is that this year’s ice has a lot more first- and second-year ice which is thinner, and therefore more likely to melt away quickly than older, thicker ice.

Now of course, none of this tells us what is going to happen over the next two months. The refreeze rate may continue downward and pass below the 2006-2007 level or it may swing back up again closer to the 1979-2000 average. But, if it continues to run parallel to or sink below the 2006-2007 average it is difficult to see how we will not have a record sea-ice melt this summer, even if the National Weather Service’s prediction of weak la Niña conditions through early summer hold true.


Graph and Map are from National Snow and Ice Data Center
For larger images click here and here.

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 23, 2009

Wilkins Ice Bridge Narrows to 500 Meters

I’ve been following the fate of the Wilkins ice shelf for months and I confess that I expected that it would have broken up by now. The narrow bridge that connects Charcot and Latady Islands has shrunk to 500 meters wide at its narrowest point, while cracks at the base of the bridge have lengthened.

The last time a piece of the ice shelf broke off was, to everyone’s amazement, during the Antarctic winter, which is why it is surprising that it continues to hold together now, in the middle of the Antarctic summer.

According to RedOrbit:

We’ve come to the Wilkins Ice Shelf to see its final death throes,” glaciologist David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) told Reuters after his red Twin Otter plane landed near the shelf’s narrowest section.

“It really could go at any minute,” he said, adding that the ice bridge could linger weeks or months.

The large, flat-topped ice shelf extends 65 ft. out of the sea off the Antarctic Peninsula, and is held together by a narrowing 25-mile ice strip that has dwindled to an hourglass shape of just 1640 ft. wide at its narrowest point.

In 1950, the shelf was over 60 miles wide, covering 6,000 square miles. Since then, temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have warmed by about 3 Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit), the fastest rise anywhere in the southern hemisphere. Other parts of the continent show little sign of warming. [Actually, the latest research shows that that last sentence is not true.]

Here is some video of the current state of the ice shelf.

The disintegration of ice shelves does not substantially raise sea levels because the ice is floating and already mostly submerged by the ocean. But scientists are concerned that their loss will allow land-based ice sheets to move more rapidly, adding extra water to the seas.

And while Wilkins has almost no pent-up glaciers behind it, ice shelves further south restrain enormous volumes of ice.

“When those are removed the glaciers will flow faster,” Vaughan said.

“It’s very unlikely that our presence here is enough to initiate any cracks,” Vaughan said, referring to the hour he spent on the shelf, accompanied by BAS scientists and two Reuters reporters.

“But it is likely to happen fairly soon, weeks to months, and I don’t want to be here when it does.”

I will continue to monitor the status of the Wilkins and will provide updated posts as events warrant.

Related Posts:
Less Sea Ice in the Arctic, More in the Antarctic, and, of Course, the Denialists Get It All Wrong

“Webcam” From Space/Arctic Sea Ice Soon Gone: News From Both Poles

Greenland and Antarctic Glacier Retreat Linked

Greenland and Antarctic Glacier Retreat Linked

From North to South, the Whole Damn World is Melting

When Ice Shelves Collapse: A Brief Tutorial

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 21, 2009

New Research Shows All of Antarctica is Warming

As scientists continue to accumulate data about the details of Global Warming, the denialists/delayers are finding themselves increasingly on the fringes of the conversation. Their disingenuous, worn-out arguments just seem so tired and strained–the latest one to be recycled, that the earth is cooling, can be easily refuted by any intellectually honest person willing to learn a few facts.

Calendar year 2008 was the coolest year since 2000, according to the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis of worldwide temperature measurements, but it was still in the top ten warmest years since the start of record-keeping in 1880. Given the range of uncertainty in the measurements, the GISS team concluded that 2008 was somewhere between the seventh and the tenth warmest year on record. (The 10 warmest years have all occurred within the 12-year period from 1997-2008.)

Now, a new study published today in Nature has taken away another denialist talking point: “Most of Antarctica is not warming, which means there must be a flaw in the theory of anthropogenic climate change.”

As it turns out, Antarctica has been heating up.

According to today’s Seattle Times:

Research has suggested that temperatures across the bulk of Antarctica were either unchanged or dropping in places — findings that run counter to what might be expected if the world is indeed warming. But a team led by a University of Washington scientist has combined satellite data and temperature measurements to find that, on average, Antarctica has gotten a little bit hotter over the past 50 years.

“That means all of the continents are warming, not just six out of seven,” said geochemist Eric Steig, who leads the UW’s Quaternary Research Center.

The effect is particularly strong in West Antarctica, which is lower in elevation and more moderate in climate than the high, frigid plateau of East Antarctica. “West Antarctica is more like Seattle and East Antarctica is more like central North Dakota,” Steig said.

A recent cooling trend that scientists believe is caused by a thinning of the ozone layer continues during some parts of the year in East Antarctica, where sea ice also is expanding, the researchers say. But warming elsewhere on the continent was strong enough to yield a net temperature gain.

Another article on the Nature paper from Physorg.com explains how the study was done.

The researchers devised a statistical technique that uses data from satellites and from Antarctic weather stations to make a new estimate of temperature trends.

“People were calculating with their heads instead of actually doing the math,” Steig said. “What we did is interpolate carefully instead of just using the back of an envelope. While other interpolations had been done previously, no one had really taken advantage of the satellite data, which provide crucial information about spatial patterns of temperature change.”

Satellites calculate the surface temperature by measuring the intensity of infrared light radiated by the snowpack, and they have the advantage of covering the entire continent. However, they have only been in operation for 25 years. On the other hand, a number of Antarctic weather stations have been in place since 1957, the International Geophysical Year, but virtually all of them are within a short distance of the coast and so provide no direct information about conditions in the continent’s interior.

The scientists found temperature measurements from weather stations corresponded closely with satellite data for overlapping time periods. That allowed them to use the satellite data as a guide to deduce temperatures in areas of the continent without weather stations.

“Simple explanations don’t capture the complexity of climate,” Steig said. “The thing you hear all the time is that Antarctica is cooling and that’s not the case. If anything it’s the reverse, but it’s more complex than that. Antarctica isn’t warming at the same rate everywhere, and while some areas have been cooling for a long time the evidence shows the continent as a whole is getting warmer.”

A major reason most of Antarctica was thought to be cooling is because of a hole in the Earth’s protective ozone layer that appears during the spring months in the Southern Hemisphere’s polar region. Steig noted that it is well established that the ozone hole has contributed to cooling in East Antarctica.

“However, it seems to have been assumed that the ozone hole was affecting the entire continent when there wasn’t any evidence to support that idea, or even any theory to support it,” he said.

Oh, well, denialists, you’ve still got sun spots, right? Oops…

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 21, 2009

New Poll Shows Most Earth Scientists Agree on Global Warming

The latest edition of the American Geophysical Union’s EOS Transactions (subscription required) has a report on the results of a poll that was conducted late in 2008 by Associate Professor, Peter T . Doran, and then-graduate student Maggie Kendall Zimmerman of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The report focuses on the 2 principal questions of the survey:

1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?

2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

The investigators had a professional polling firm send out invitations to

10,257 Earth scientists. The database was built from Keane and Martinez [2007], which lists all geosciences faculty at reporting academic institutions, along with researchers at stategeologic surveys associated with local universities, and researchers at U.S. federal research facilities (e.g., U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, and NOAA (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) facilities; U.S. Department Of Energy national laboratories; and so forth).

Over 90% of respondents had Ph.D.s and 7% had masters degrees.

The survey was designed to be answered in less than two minutes so as to encourage participation. The participant response rate was 30.7%, which is apparently a typical response rate for web-based surveys. For question 1, 90% of respondents answered “risen”. For question 2, 82% of respondents answered “yes”. These overall numbers would be much higher were it not for the heavy contrarian responses of the petroleum geologists and meteorologists.

According to an article in Physorg.com:

In analyzing responses by sub-groups, Doran found that climatologists who are active in research showed the strongest consensus on the causes of global warming, with 97 percent agreeing humans play a role. Petroleum geologists and meteorologists were among the biggest doubters, with only 47 and 64 percent respectively believing in human involvement. Doran compared their responses to a recent poll showing only 58 percent of the public thinks human activity contributes to global warming.

“The petroleum geologist response is not too surprising, [Come on, Professor Doran. Tell us why it’s “not too surprising”. –JR] but the meteorologists’ is very interesting,” he said. “Most members of the public think meteorologists know climate, but most of them actually study very short-term phenomenon.”

He was not surprised, however, by the near-unanimous agreement by climatologists.

“They’re the ones who study and publish on climate science. So I guess the take-home message is, the more you know about the field of climate science, the more you’re likely to believe in global warming and humankind’s contribution to it.” [emphases–JR]

You can see a graphical depiction of the results for question 2 below.

Fig. 1. Response distribution to our survey question 2. The general public data come from a 2008 Gallup poll (see http://www.gallup.com/poll/1615/Environment.aspx).

The authors concludes that:

It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes. The challenge, rather, appears to be how to effectively communicate this fact to policy makers and to a public that continues to mistakenly perceive debate among scientists

Hat tip to Keith Pickering at Daily Kos

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 21, 2009

Another Arctic Climate Report Bush Didn’t Want You to See

Yesterday, Joe Romm at Climate Progress revealed that the Bush administration had released four new studies on the consequences of global warming last Friday afternoon, a tactic traditionally employed when one doesn’t want the press to notice what the studies say.

What I have done below is to take one of the reports, Past Climate Variability and Change in the Arctic and at High Latitudes, and reprint its executive summary in full. The whole report is 538 pages long and if you are interested in examining it in more detail you can do so here (PDF). For those interested in sea-ice melting and the melting of Greenland’s ice sheets, but without the time to read the entire report, the Executive Summary should give you a good sense of the report as a whole. [I have added a few links to make it easier for the reader to look-up terms with which he/she may be unfamiliar.]

Past Climate Variability and Change in the Arctic and at High Latitudes–Executive Summary

Chapter 1 – Executive Summary

Chapter Lead Authors:
Richard B. Alley*, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
Julie Brigham-Grette*, University of Massachusetts, Amherst , MA
Gifford H. Miller*, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
Leonid Polyak*, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
James W.C. White, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO

Introduction

Paleoclimate records play a key role in our understanding of Earth’s past and present climate system and in our confidence in predicting future climate changes. Paleoclimate data help to elucidate past and present active mechanisms of climate change by placing the short instrumental record into a longer term context and by permitting models to be tested beyond the limited time that instrumental measurements have been available.

Recent observations in the Arctic have identified large ongoing changes and important climate feedback mechanisms that multiply the effects of global-scale climate changes. Ice is especially important in these “Arctic amplification” processes, which also involve the ocean, the atmosphere, and the land surface (vegetation, soils, and water). As discussed in this report, paleoclimate data show that land and sea ice have grown with cooling temperatures and have shrunk with warming ones, amplifying temperature changes while causing and responding to ecosystem shifts and sea-level changes.

Major Questions and Related Findings

1) How have temperature and precipitation changed in the Arctic in the past? What does this tell us about Arctic climate that can inform projections of future changes?

The Arctic has undergone dramatic changes in temperature and precipitation during the past 65 million years (m.y.) (the Cenozoic Era) of Earth history. Arctic temperature changes during this time exceeded global average temperature changes during both warm times and cold times, supporting the concept of Arctic amplification.

At the beginning of the Cenozoic Era, 65 million years ago (Ma), there was no sea ice on the Arctic Ocean, and neither Greenland nor Antarctica supported an ice sheet. General cooling since that time is attributed mainly to a slow decrease in greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. Ice developed during this slow, “bumpy” cooling, first as mountain glaciers and as seasonal sea ice with the first continental ice sheet forming over Antarctica as early as 33 Ma ago. Following a global warm period about 3.5 Ma in the middle Pliocene, when extensive deciduous forests grew in Arctic regions now occupied by tundra, further cooling crossed a threshold about 2.6 Ma, allowing extensive ice to develop on Arctic land areas and thus initiating the Quaternary ice ages. This ice has responded to persistent features of Earth’s orbit over tens of thousands of years, growing when sunshine shifted away from the Northern Hemisphere and melting when northern sunshine returned. These changes were amplified by feedbacks such as greenhouse-gas concentrations that rose and fell as the ice shrank and grew, and by the greater reflection of sunshine caused by more-extensive ice. Human civilization has developed during the most recent of the relatively warm interglacials, the Holocene (about 11.5 thousand years ago (ka) to the present). The penultimate warm interval, about130–120 ka, received somewhat more Northern-Hemisphere summer sunshine than the Holocene owing to differences in Earth’s orbital configuration. Because this more abundant summer sunshine warmed the Arctic summer about 5°C above recent temperatures, the Greenland Ice Sheet was substantially smaller than its current size and almost all glaciers melted completely at that time.

The Last Glacial Maximum peaked approximately 21 ka when the Arctic was about 20°C colder than at present. Ice recession was well underway by 16 ka, and most of the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets melted by 7 ka. Summer sunshine rose steadily from 20 ka to a maximum (10% higher than at present due to the Earth’s orbit) about 11 ka ago, and has been decreasing since then. The extra energy received in summer in the early Holocene resulted in warmer summers throughout the Arctic. Summer temperatures were 1°–3°C above 20th century averages, enough to completely melt many small glaciers in the Arctic and to slightly shrink the ice sheet on Greenland. Summer sea-ice limits were significantly less than their 20th century average. As summer sunshine decreased in the second half of the Holocene, glaciers re-established or advanced, and seaice became more extensive. Late Holocene cooling reached its nadir during the Little Ice Age (about 1250–1850 AD), when most Arctic glaciers reached their maximum Holocene extent. The Little Ice Age temperature minimum may also have been augmented by multiple large volcanic eruptions that lofted a reflective aerosol layer into the stratosphere at that time. Subsequent warming during the 19th and 20th centuries has resulted in Arctic-wide glacier recession, the northward advance of terrestrial ecosystems,  and the reduction of perennial (year-round) sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. These trends will continue if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase into the future.

2) How rapidly have temperature and precipitation changed in the Arctic in the past? What do these past rates of change tell us about Arctic climate that can inform projections of future changes?

As discussed with the previous question, climate changes on numerous time scales for various reasons, and it has always done so. In general, longer-lived changes are somewhat larger but much slower than shorter-lived changes.

Processes linked to continental drift (plate tectonics) have affected atmospheric and oceanic currents and the composition of the atmosphere over tens of millions of years; in the Arctic, a global cooling trend has switched conditions from being ice-free year-round near sea level to icy conditions more recently. Within the icy times, variations in Arctic sunshine in response to features of Earth’s orbit have caused regular cycles of warming and cooling over tens of thousands of years that were roughly half the size of the continental-drift-linked changes. This “glacial-interglacial” cycling was amplified by colder times bringing reduced greenhouse gases and greater reflection of sunlight, especially from expanded ice-covered regions. This glacial-interglacial cycling has been punctuated by sharp-onset, sharp-end (in as little as 1–10 years) millennial oscillations, which near the North Atlantic were roughly half as large as the glacial-interglacial cycling but which were much smaller Arctic-wide and beyond. The current warm period of the glacial-interglacial cycling has been influenced by cooling events from single volcanic eruptions, slower but longer lasting changes from random fluctuations in frequency of volcanic eruptions and from weak solar variability, and perhaps by other classes of events. Very recently, human effects have become evident, not yet showing both size and duration that exceed peak values of natural fluctuations further in the past, but with projections indicating that human influences could become anomalous in size and duration and, hence, in speed.

3) What does the paleoclimate record tell us about the past size of the Greenland Ice Sheet and its implications for sea level changes?

The paleo-record shows that the Greenland Ice Sheet has consistently lost mass and contributed to sea-level rise when the climate warmed, and has grown and contributed to sea-level fall when the climate cooled. This occurred even at times when offsetting effects from elsewhere in the climate system caused the net sea-level change around Greenland to be negligible, and so these changes in the ice sheet cannot have been caused primarily by sea-level change. In contrast, no changes in the ice sheet have been documented independent of temperature changes. Moreover, snowfall has increased with major climate warmings, but the ice sheet lost mass nonetheless; increased accumulation in the ice sheet center was not sufficient to counteract increased melt and flow near the edges. [emphasis–JR] Most of the documented changes (of both ice sheet and forcings) spanned multimillennial periods, but limited data show rapid responses to rapid forcings have also occurred. In particular, regions near the ice margin have been observed to respond within a few decades or less. However, major changes of the ice sheet are thought to take centuries to millennia, and this is supported by the limited data. The paleo-record does not yet give any strong constraints on how rapidly a near complete loss of the ice sheet could occur, although the paleo-data indicate that onset of shrinkage will be essentially immediate after forcings begin. The available evidence suggests such a loss requires a sustained warming of at least 2-7oC above mean 20th century values, but this threshold is poorly defined. The paleo-archives are sufficiently sketchy that temporary ice sheet growth in response to warming, or changes induced by factors other than temperature, could have occurred without being recorded.

4) What does the paleoclimate record tell us about past changes in Arctic sea ice cover, and what implications does this have for consideration of recent and potential future changes?

Although incomplete, existing data outline the development of Arctic sea-ice cover from the ice-free conditions of the early Cenozoic. Some data indicate that sea ice has covered at least part of the Arctic Ocean for the last 13–14 million years, and it has been most extensive during the last several million years in relationship with Earth’s overall cooler climate. Other data argue against the development of perennial (year-round) sea ice until the most recent 2 – 3 million years. Nevertheless, episodes of considerably reduced ice cover, or even a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean, probably punctuated even this latter period. Warmer climates associated with the orbitally-paced interglacials promoted these episodes of diminished ice. Ice cover in the Arctic began to diminish in the late 19th century and this shrinkage has accelerated during the last several decades. Shrinkages that were both similarly large and rapid have not been documented over at least the last few thousand years, although the paleoclimatic record is sufficiently sparse that similar events might have been missed. Orbital changes have made ice melting less likely than during the previous millennia since the end of the last ice age, making the recent changes especially anomalous. Improved reconstructions of sea-ice history would help clarify just how anomalous these recent changes are.

Recommendations

• Paleoclimatic data on the Arctic are generated by numerous international investigators who study a great range of archives throughout the vast reaches of the Arctic. The value of this diversity is evident in this report. Many of the key results of this report rest especially on the outcomes of community-based syntheses, including the CAPE Project, and multiply replicated, heavily sampled archives such as the central Greenland deep ice cores. Results from the ACEX deep coring in Arctic Ocean sediments were appearing as this report was being written. These results are quite valuable and will become more so with synthesis and replication, including comparison with land-based and marine records. The number of questions answered, and raised, by this one new data set shows how sparse the data are on many aspects of Arctic paleoclimatic change. Future research should maintain and expand the diversity of investigators, techniques, archives, and geographic locations, while promoting development of community-based syntheses and multiply replicated, heavily sampled archives. Only through breadth and depth can the remaining uncertainties be reduced while confidence in the results is improved.

• The questions asked of this study by the CCSP are relevant to public policy and require answers. The answers provided here are, we hope, useful and informative. However, we recognize that despite the contributions of many community members to this report, in many cases a basis was not available in the refereed scientific literature to provide answers with the accuracy and precision desired by policymakers. Future research activities in Arctic paleoclimate should address in greater detail the policy-relevant questions motivating this report.

• Paleoclimatic data provide very clear evidence of past changes in important aspects of the Arctic climate system. The ice of the Greenland Ice Sheet, smaller glaciers and ice caps, the Arctic Ocean, and in soils is shown to be vulnerable to warming, and Arctic ecosystems are strongly affected by changing ice and climate. National and international studies generally project rapid warming in the future. If this warming occurs, the paleoclimatic data indicate that ice will melt and associated impacts will follow, with implications for ecosystems and economies. The results presented here should be utilized by science managers in the design of monitoring, process, and model projection studies of Arctic change and linked global responses.

This very large study provides then, further evidence that in our current situation, changes could be quite rapid. Disconcerting to say the least given that new research: Record 2007 Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Melt Extent and Runoff published in the American Geophysical Union’s magazine EOS (subscription required) shows just what it’s title says–that 2007 was a record year for ice sheet surface melt extent and run off, part of an ongoing trend over the last dozen years.

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 20, 2009

ExxonMobil’s Inauguration-Day, Greenwashing Barrage

LIke so many other Americans, I’ve been watching the Inauguration events in Washington on CNN. The excitement is palpable. The enormous, passionate crowds are impressive and President Obama (doesn’t that roll off the tongue nicely?) gave a speech that inspired without in any way downplaying the seriousness of the problems that we face. And then, CNN breaks for a commercial, most of which are for large corporations bragging about all the good they are doing in the world, chief among which is ExxonMobil whose greenwashing propaganda ads tout all that the company is doing to guarantee America’s energy future. (I also have spotted one for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity-the imbecilic industry group that brought us the classic “Clean Coal Carolers“.) Nothing could more graphically express the challenges that Obama faces in leading the country in a new direction.

This is the question that all of us involved in fighting Climaticide are waiting to have answered. Will the new administration have the courage and will to successfully confront the powerful campaign already underway to convince the American people that their prosperity depends on their continued dependence on fossil fuels, the companies that produce them, and the perverted political structure that makes their power possible?

There is nothing surprising in the ExxonMobil ads. They are a continuation of a campaign that stretches back decades. As Greenpeace reports:

So. The day of reckoning has come – when we get to find out just how much of the climate change denial industry ExxonMobil is still paying for.

This is the company which, apparently, has been “misunderstood” on global warming and has said it has dropped its funding of the deniers.

The ExxonSecrets people have gone through the documents, and found a clear answer: last year Exxon spent $2.1 million on 41 groups who are leading the climate skeptic industry.

While the company has been forced to drop the hottest potato of them all, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and another particularly vocal denier, Steve “Junk Science” Milloy, the rest of them are still on the payroll.

Like who? The Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the George C Marshall Institute, the American Enterprise Institute… all the groups who’ve been at the heart of the climate change denial industry for more than a decade. These include the groups who were listed in a 1998 American Petroleum Institute memo outlining a communications strategy for taking down the Kyoto Protocol.

So despite its protestations, the company is still running the skeptic industry.

ExxonMobil’s campaign to sow confusion among the public about Climaticide has gone through many configurations. In its latest incarnation the company claims that it has been misunderstood in the past, Moreover, it now says it favors a carbon tax. We shall see. I would like to point out to the ExxonMobil folks that in the image above, the wolf, exposed and revealed, is hanging from a tree with a noose around it’s neck.

Here is the full text of Aesop’s fable:

A Wolf found great difficulty in getting at the sheep owing to the vigilance of the shepherd and his dogs. But one day it found the skin of a sheep that had been flayed and thrown aside, so it put it on over its own pelt and strolled down among the sheep. The Lamb that belonged to the sheep, whose skin the Wolf was wearing, began to follow the Wolf in the Sheep’s clothing; so, leading the Lamb a little apart, he soon made a meal off her, and for some time he succeeded in deceiving the sheep, and enjoying hearty meals. [emphasis–JR]

For “some time”, but not forever.

Crossposted at Daily Kos

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 19, 2009

Cancer, Climaticide and Capitalism: “When will we learn?

In 1952 Joe Farman who was working in Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey, discovered a large hole in the ozone layer. Five years later, in an unusual show of international solidarity the Montreal Protocol was signed, which began the process of banning chlorofluorocarbons, the chief culprit in the destruction of the ozone layer.

What most people don’t know is how close the ozone crisis came to being an unmitigated disaster for the human race.

As Fred Pearce puts it in his fine book, With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Cimate Change.

And things could have been a lot worse. “Looking back we were extremely lucky that industrialists chose chlorine compounds, rather than the very similar bromine compounds, to put in spray cans early in the last century, says [Paul] Crutzen. Why so? Bromine compounds make refrigerants that are at least as effective as their chlorine equivalents. But atom for atom, bromine is about a hundred times better than chlorine at destroying ozone. Pure luck determined that Thomas Midgeley, the American chemist who developed CFCs did not opt for their bromine equivalent. “It is a nightmarish thought,” says Crutzen, but if had chosen bromine we would have had something far worse than an ozone hole over Antarctica. We would have had an catastrophic ozone hole everywhere and at all seasons during the 1970’s before we knew a thing about what was going on.

If Midgeley had chosen bromine there would have been a worldwide epidemic of skin cancer before anyone caught on to what was happening.

More recently, scientists at the University of California revealed the existence [subscription required] of a very potent greenhouse gas, Nitrogen Trifluoride (NF3) that had not been included on the Kyoto list of regulated chemicals. According to Michael J. Prather and Juno Hsu, in their study, NF3, the greenhouse gas missing from Kyoto, NF3 has an atmospheric life of 550 years and the second greatest global warming potential (GWP) of all known greenhouse gases after Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). NF3 has GWP of 12,200, 16,800 and 18,700 at 20 years, 100 years and 500 years respectively.

As the authors explain, there is a lot more of NF3 around than there used to be.

Like other specialty chemicals, NF3 began as a niche product, in this case for rocket fuel and lasers. Now, it is marketed as a plasma etchant and equipment cleaning gas in the semiconductor industry. With the surge in demand for flat panel displays, the market for NF3 has exploded.

Current production of NF3 now exceeds that of SF6 and the PFCs. Additionally, the equivalent Million Metric Tons of CO2 (MMTCO2) for NF3 is now greater than some of the worlds largest and most GHG-polluting coal-fired power plants.

Table 2. Annual Production or Emissions of Greenhouse Gases

Equivalent Million Metric Tons of CO2 (MMTCO2) Equivalenta

2008 Worldwide Production
NF3 67

2005 Annex-I Emissions
SF6 35
PFCs 42
HFCs 232
N2Ob 1,130
CH4b 1,615
CO2b 15,128

3600 MW Coal-Fired Plants
Scherer (Georgia, USA) 25
Tuoketuo-1 (Inner Mongolia, China) 32

aMass weighted by 100-yr GWP.
bWithout land-use change and forestry.

Supposedly most of the production of NF3 is destroyed during the manufacturing process, but the scientists still find reason for concern

While NF3 is ostensibly destroyed during the manufacture of flat screen displays, this destruction cannot be complete. We expect that some fraction of the NF3 produced will escape to the atmosphere during production, transport, use, or disposal. The maximum potential release of NF3, assumed here to be its production, is equivalent to approximately 67 MMTCO2 (million metric tons of CO2, see Table 2). Thus, in terms of climate change, annual production of NF3 is now larger than emissions of PFCs or SF6 reported by the developed nations (Annex I) for 2005.

Experience with the ozone-depleting gas CFC-12 [Rowland et al., 1982] has shown that emission inventories from the chemical industry cannot be relied upon. Once released to the atmosphere, gases like CFC-12 and NF3 will take centuries to clean out. Given this potential, the production of high-GWP, long-lived, greenhouse gases like NF3 should be included in the national greenhouse gas inventories once global usage exceeds a threshold, e.g., 5 MMTCO2, no matter what the claim for containment. Returning to the intent of UNFCCC Article 3.3 (‘‘. . . policies and measures should . . . cover all relevant sources, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases . . .’’), it seems prudent to expand the list of greenhouse gases for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. [emphasis–JR]

The doubts raised by Prather and Hsu have been confirmed in a recent paper, Nitrogen trifluoride in the global atmosphere [subscription required] published by Ray F. Weiss and a team from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California

Background atmospheric abundances and trends of nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), a potent anthropogenic greenhouse gas, have been measured for the first time. The mean global tropospheric concentration of NF3 has risen quasi-exponentially from about 0.02 ppt (parts-per-trillion, dry air mole fraction) at the beginning of our measured record in 1978, to a July 1, 2008 value of 0.454 ppt, with a rate of increase of 0.053 ppt yr−1, or about 11% per year, and an interhemispheric gradient that is consistent with these emissions occurring overwhelmingly in the Northern Hemisphere, as expected. This rise rate corresponds to about 620 metric tons of current NF3 emissions globally per year, or about 16% of the poorly-constrained global NF3 production estimate of 4,000 metric tons yr−1. This is a significantly higher percentage than has been estimated by industry, and thus strengthens the case for inventorying NF3 production and for regulating its emissions.

What the ozone story, and now the NF3 story, illustrate are the similarity between our regulatory system for manufacturing and a game of Russian Roulette.

Joe Farman, the scientist who discovered the hole in the ozone layer, has expressed the problem quite clearly:

There are many more difficult environmental problems than the ozone layer. The lesson in a sense has been learnt and put forward. There’s a thing called “The Precautionary Principle” – which is, simply, in essence that you don’t invest big money in new industry until you’re really convinced that the thing is – I was going to say – safe. But then that’s the problem. You can’t prove something’s safe. All you can do is prove it hasn’t yet been shown to be dangerous. If something’s dangerous, you’ve only got to do one experiment and kill someone – to be really cynical – and that’s the end of the matter. You’ve proved it’s dangerous. But to say it’s safe – you’re so clever, you’ve thought of every possible way in which it can do some harm. And there just aren’t people like that. We can’t do it. CFCs, you have to remember, are substances which essentially were synthesised by man. And they haven’t been in nature before. People have forgotten it. Everyone knows the hole in the ozone layer is there, but it should horrify them. You know, this is something which man did in 15 years. And one simply has to say: if you invent something, let’s take it slowly until we’re reasonably satisfied we can’t see how it can be dangerous. And then you can start to build up. You mustn’t start to build up straight away. [emphasis–JR]

In the quote above Farman has identified a key problem with industrial development under any economic system–we quite simply do not know what the consequences of our inventions will be. As he points out, given that reality, we ought to move quite slowly and cautiously with all of our new inventions. But we don’t.

To quote Farman again:

There is still a lack of commitment to prudent long-term goals. We need to break the cycle by assisting new halocarbon-free and energy-efficient technologies to capture mass markets against competition from the obsolescent established giants. We should try to protect the ozone layer, combat global warming and assist developing countries by one-off investment wherever possible.

Such is our industrial capacity that we can, in just a decade or two, affect the world so severely that it may take a century or more to recover. This is what happened over ozone depletion, where we performed what in retrospect will surely be seen as an unnecessary experiment. That the consequences have not been more severe must be attributed to luck rather than good judgement.

When will we learn? [emphasis–JR]

Farman states that “there is still a lack of commitment to prudent long-term goals”. But how can that be, when it seems so logical to make such a commitment? It is because an economic system whose only true goal is maximum production, is by it’s very nature opposed to consideration of question of public safety. The system can be Capitalist or Communist, it makes no difference. Whether one is maximizing production in order to maximize profits or to satisfy the decrees of central planners, the system will inevitably be hostile to regulatory mechanisms which cannot help but be a brake on production.

The implications of the discovery of the Ozone hole or the potent GHG effect of NF3 are that there needs to be an on-going regulatory process for checking on the safety of new inventions.

In such a system, in addition to initial safety studies, all products would be subject to periodic, safety reviews by regulatory bodies in the light of the latest scientific knowledge. This regulatory process needs to be transparent, objective, and completely independent of the businesses whose products are being scrutinized. This means that there can be no tolerance of any non-professional contact between regulators and those whom they regulate. The principal goal of the economic system, as enforced by government regulators, would be the public’s safety and welfare.

Free market Capitalism needs to be tossed on to the same “dust bin of history” as the one on to which Communism was tossed. As recent events have shown us, it is a dangerous, duplicitous monster willing to sacrifice all standards of decency to the god of maximum production. Even regulated Capitalism, because of human greed and the concomitant tendency toward maximum production, is a potentially dangerous monster, always searching for a way to corrupt those charged with containing it, in hopes of casting off its chains and freeing itself of any moral restrictions.

It is a mantra for all business that “public safety is its number one priority”. With rare exceptions this is a lie. From the tobacco industry to mountain top removal, from William R. Grace in Libby Montana to TVA in Kingston, Tennessee, from the coal and oil companies to industrial agribusiness, the real goal of corporate business is to maximize production regardless of the cost to the public welfare.

Unregulated/minimally regulated Capitalism is a product of the 19th century, which saw the world as made up of discrete unrelated parts. The modern, ecological worldview, on the other hand, recognizes the interrelatedness of all things. In other words, in the ecological worldview one expects one’s actions to have unintended consequences because one knows that everything affects everything else and that, although we can do better than we currently do, it is impossible for us to anticipate all the effects of our actions.

One of the consequences of the traditional Capitalistic world view is it’s emphasis on compensation for harm inflicted rather than prevention. Yet, we now know that prevention of harm, although it slows down the maximization of production, is, in the long run more economical and more moral. It is often cheaper to prevent harm through regulation than to attempt to provide compensation for harm inflicted. Moreover it is certainly more moral, because many forms of harm are irremediable–the things or people damaged cannot be restored to their original state. Once a species is gone it is gone forever. Climate change beyond a certain point, is irreparable. Fatal diseases cannot be undone.

I have a personal interest in all of this because I am a cancer patient whose odyssey began with an environmental cancer, and whose doctors regard every day that I remain alive as a surprise and a mystery. I currently have secondary AML a form of leukemia for which all the treatments that I have received,have failed. My leukemia is the consequence of the treatment that I received for lymphoma a cancer known to be caused by environmental factors, even if we cannot say for certain which factors those are (I personally suspect the paper mill in the town that I grew up in, but that’s another story).

I appreciate all the efforts that have been made to cure me, but what I really would like is never to have had cancer at all. Our emphasis on maximizing production, however, means that little effort goes into prevention (by the way, I lived as healthy a lifestyle prior to my illness as one possibly could). Similarly, our precipitous rush to maximize production with its consequent opposition to regulation, as Joe Farman pointed out above in the case of the ozone hole, came close to killing off hundreds of millions of us. And today, in the most egregious example so far of our rejection of regulation in favor of maximized production, we are confronted with Climaticide, the sin qua non of uncompensatable infliction of harm.

So, by all means, let us add NF3 to the list of chemicals regulated by the Kyoto treaty, but if we are really serious about saving ourselves (from cancer, global warming etc., let us also institute a vigorous, independent and transparent regulatory system, a system of inspection, re-inspection and control, in which human and environmental welfare are the prime motivators. The Capitalists may go ahead and maximize production but only within the parameters of a public policy that we define, a public policy that puts our and the planet’s well being first. It is time to make Capitalism the servant of society rather than it’s master.

Crossposted at Daily Kos</em>

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 14, 2009

Denialist Climate Change Quiz–The Teacher is Wrong!

If you are interested in Climaticide and are on the lookout for new information, sooner or later you are likely to stumble across Smart Green Frontiers innocuous looking Climate Change Quiz. Although, at first glance, Smart Green Frontiers looks like a legitimate climate change education site, in reality it is, as Greenfyre has pointed out in his excellent I did not have sex with that red herring, a propaganda outlet of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a right-wing Canandian think tank.

If you use the Smart Green Frontiers’ web site in conjunction with Greenfyre’s site you can still make a highly educational experience out of the process. Here’s how to do it. Open two tabs in your browser, one at the Smart Green Frontiers‘ web site and another at Greenfyre’s web site. Then take the Climate Change Quiz. After you answer each question read the site’s “correct answer”, which, in reality, is the wrong answer, and the specious reasoning used by Smart Green Frontiers in its attempt to mislead you. Then switch tabs and read Greenfyre’s analysis of how Smart Green Frontiers uses disinformation and twisted logic to try to deceive you, the quiz taker.

You have a double opportunity to educate yourself here. You can, if you don’t know them already, learn some facts about global warming, and, at the same time, you can learn how global warming denialists attempt to manipulate the facts and the science behind them to befuddle and confuse honest people on the issue.

Have fun, and remember: You’re smarter and have more integrity than the teacher! And, when you’re done, you might consider putting a link to Greenfyre’s site in the “Send Us Feedback” box on the Climate Change Quiz web site. Just so they know that they’ve been busted.

Dr. James Hansen of NASA’s GISS and 3 colleagues have just released the GISS analysis of 2008 global surface temperatures, (PDF version available here) which I have reproduced in its entirety below, including graphs. [All emphases are mine–JR]

This just in: Joe Romm at Climate Progress is reporting that Dr. Hansen has been chosen by The American Meteorological Society to receive its highest honor, the 2009 Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal.

Congratulations, Dr. Hansen!

2008 Global Surface Temperature in GISS Analysis

James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Reto Ruedy, Ken Lo

Calendar year 2008 was the coolest year since 2000, according to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies analysis [Reference 1] of surface air temperature measurements (Figure 1, left). In our analysis 2008 is the ninth warmest year in the period of instrumental measurements, which extends back to 1880. The ten warmest years all occur within the 12-year period 1997-2008. The two standard deviation (95 percent confidence) uncertainty in comparing recent years is estimated as 0.05°C [Reference 2], so we can only conclude with confidence that 2008 was somewhere within the range from 7th to 10th warmest year in the record.

The map of global temperature anomalies in 2008, Figure 1 (right), shows that most of the world was either near normal or warmer than in the base period (1951-1980). Eurasia, the Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula were exceptionally warm, while much of the Pacific Ocean was cooler than the long-term average. The relatively low temperature in the tropical Pacific was due to a strong La Nina that existed in the first half of the year. La Nina and El Nino are opposite phases of a natural oscillation of tropical temperatures, La Nina being the cool phase.

Figure 2 (top) provides seasonal resolution of global and low latitude surface temperature, and an index that measures the state of the natural tropical temperature oscillation. The figure indicates that the La Nina cool cycle peaked in early 2008. The global effect of the tropical oscillation is made clear by the average temperature anomaly over the global ocean (Figure 2, bottom). The “El Nino of the century”, in 1997-98, stands out, as well as the recent La Nina.

Figure 3 compares 2008 with the mean for the first seven years of this century. Except for the relatively cool Pacific Ocean, most of the world was either near normal or unusually warm in 2008. The temperature in the United States in 2008 was not much different than the 1951-1980 mean, which makes 2008 cooler than all of the previous years this decade. As shown by the right side of Figure 3, most of the United States averaged between 0.5 and 1°C warmer than the longterm mean during 2001-2007.

The GISS analysis of global surface temperature, documented in the scientific literature [References 1 and 2], incorporates data from three data bases made available monthly: (1) the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) of the National Climate Data Center [Reference 3], (2) the satellite analysis of global sea surface temperature of Reynolds and Smith [Reference 4], and (3) Antarctic records of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) [Reference 5].

Figure 1. Left: Annual-mean global-mean anomalies. Right: Global map of surface temperature anomalies for 2008.

Figure 2. Top: Seasonal-mean global and low latitude temperature anomalies relative to 1951-1980 base period. Bottom: Monthly-mean global-ocean surface temperature anomaly (based on satellite temperature analyses of Reynolds and Smith).

In the past our procedure has been to run the analysis program upon receipt of all three data sets and make the analysis publicly available immediately. This procedure worked very well from a scientific perspective, with the broad availability of the analysis helping reveal any problems with input data sets. However, because confusion was generated in the media after one of the October 2008 input data sets was found to contain significant flaws (some October station records inadvertently repeated September data in the October data slot), we have instituted a new procedure. The GISS analysis is first made available internally before it is released publicly. If any suspect data are detected, they will be reported back to the data providers for resolution. This process may introduce significant delays. We apologize for any inconvenience due to this delay, but it should reduce the likelihood of instances of future confusion and misinformation. [Thank you denialists/delayers and gullible Traditional Media for your hysterical response to the error and use of it as a political weapon. Now we will have to wait longer in future for the global surface temperature results–JR]

Figure 3. Comparison of 2008 temperature anomalies with the mean 2001-2007 anomalies. Note that this figure uses a slightly different color bar than that of Figure 1 in order to show more structure in the right-hand map.

Finally, in response to popular demand, we comment on the likelihood of a near-term global temperature record. Specifically, the question has been asked whether the relatively cool 2008 alters the expectation we expressed in last year’s summary that a new global record was likely within the next 2-3 years (now the next 1-2 years).

Response to that query requires consideration of several factors:

1) Natural dynamical variability: the largest contribution is the Southern Oscillation, the El Nino – La Nina cycle. The Nino 3.4 temperature anomaly, bottom of Figure 2 (top), suggests that the La Nina may be almost over, but the anomaly fell back (cooled) to -0.7°C last month (December).

It is conceivable that this tropical cycle could dip back into a strong La Nina, as happened, e.g., in 1975. However, for the tropical Pacific to stay in that mode for both 2009 and 2010 would require a longer La Nina phase than has existed in the past half century, so it is unlikely. Indeed, subsurface and surface tropical ocean temperatures suggest that the system is “recharged”, i.e., poised, for the next El Nino, so there is a good chance that one may occur in 2009. Global temperature anomalies tend to lag tropical anomalies by 3-6 months.

2) Solar irradiance: the solar irradiance remains low (Figure 4), at the lowest level in the period since satellite measurements began in the late 1970s, and the time since the prior solar minimum is already 12 years, two years longer than the prior two cycles. This has led some people to speculate that we may be entering a “Maunder Minimum” situation, a period of reduced irradiance that could last for decades. Most solar physicists expect the irradiance to begin to pick up in the next several months – there are indications, from the polarity of the few recent sunspots, that the new cycle is beginning. However, let’s assume that the solar irradiance does not recover: in that case, the negative forcing, relative to the mean solar irradiance is equivalent to seven years of CO2 increase at current growth rates. So do not look for a new “Little Ice Age” in any case!

Assuming that the solar irradiance begins to recover this year, as expected, there is still some effect on the likelihood of a near-term global temperature record due to the unusually prolonged solar minimum. Because of the large thermal inertia of the ocean, the surface temperature response to the 10-12 year solar cycle lags the irradiance variation by 1-2 years. Thus, relative to the mean, i.e, the hypothetical case in which the sun had a constant average irradiance, actual solar irradiance will continue to provide a negative anomaly for the next 2-3 years.

Figure 4. Solar irradiance through November 2008 [Reference 8].

3) Volcanic aerosols: colorful sunsets the past several months suggest a non-negligible
stratospheric aerosol amount at northern latitudes. Unfortunately, as noted in the 2008 Bjerknes talk [http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/], the instrument capable of precise measurements of aerosol optical depth (SAGE, the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment) is sitting on a shelf at Langley Research Center. Stratospheric aerosol amounts are estimated from crude measurements to be moderate. The aerosols from an Aleutian volcano, which is thought to be the primary source, are at relatively low altitude and high latitudes, where they should be mostly flushed out this winter. Their effect in the next two years should be negligible.

4) Greenhouse gases: annual growth rate of climate forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases (GHGs) slowed from a peak close to 0.05 W/m2 per year around 1980-85 to about 0.035 W/m2 in recent years due to slowdown of CH4 and CFC growth rates [Reference 6]. Resumed methane growth, if it continued in 2008 as in 2007, adds about 0.005 W/m2. From climate models and empirical analyses, this GHG forcing trend translates into a mean warming rate of ~0.15°C per decade.

Summary: the Southern Oscillation and increasing GHGs continue to be, respectively, the dominant factors affecting interannual and decadal temperature change. Solar irradiance has a non-negligible effect on global temperature [see, e.g., Reference 7, which empirically estimates a somewhat larger solar cycle effect than that estimated by others who have teased a solar effect out of data with different methods]. Given our expectation of the next El Nino beginning in 2009 or 2010, it still seems likely that a new global temperature record will be set within the next 1-2 years, despite the moderate negative effect of the reduced solar irradiance.

References
1. Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, J. Glascoe, M. Sato, GISS analysis of surface temperature change, J. Geophys. Res. 104, 30997-31022, 1999.
2. Hansen, J., M. Sato, R. Ruedy, K. Lo, D.W. Lea, M. Medina-Elizade, Global temperature change, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 103, 14288-14293, 2006.
3. Peterson, T.C., R.S. Vose, An overview of the Global Historical Climatology Network
temperature database, Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc.78, 2837-2849, 1997.
4. Reynolds, R.W., T.M. Smith, Improved global sea surface temperature analyses, J. Clim. 7, 929-948, 1994.
5. Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), http://www.scar.org/
6. Hansen, J., M. Sato, Greenhouse gas growth rates, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 101, 16109-16114, 2004.
7. Tung, K.K., J. Zhou, C.D. Camp, Constraining model transient climate response using
independent observations of solar-cycle forcing and response, Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L17707, doi:10.1029/2008GL034240, 2008.
8. Frohlich, C., J. Lean, Solar radiative output and its variability: Evidence and mechanisms. Aston. Astrophys. Rev. 12, 273-320, 2004.
9. Hansen, J.E., Climate Threat to the Planet: Implications for Energy Policy and
Intergenerational Justice. Bjerknes Lecture presented at American Geophysical Union,
San Fransisco, on Dec. 17, 2008. (Available at http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1.)

Posted by: JohnnyRook | January 14, 2009

Climaticide Video Festival

Welcome to the Climaticide Chronicles first (insert your preferred unit of periodicity [centennial, annual, monthly, etc.] here since I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll do this again) video festival.

You may be familiar with many of the following videos, but I hope you’ll find a couple of new ones that you like. I looked at a lot of different ones in compiling this diary and was surprised to learn how much chaff there is out there, and how little wheat.

I realize that there are a lot of Greenpeace videos in here, but there’s a good reason for that–Greenpeace makes more clever, hard-hitting videos than any other environmental group.

If you have a favorite eco-video of your own, please share it in the comments section.

Blue Man Group

Will Ferrell as George Bush on global warming:

Quercus: Stop Global Warming

World Wildlife Fund-Brazil

Stephen Harper, Conservative Party Prime Minister of Canada

Greenpeace–Sunshine

Greenpeace – New Radicals – You Get What You Give

U2 and Green Day “The Saints Are Coming”

X10–CO2

FreeLoveForum–Coal

Friends of the Earth–Polar Bears

Greenpeace Brazil–Cristo

Clean Coal?– Laoc Naelc! (Thinking in Reverse)

Rainforest Action Network–Greenwash of the Week: The Dirty Truth About Clean Coal

Burning The Future: Coal in America – Trailer

Greenpeace–JFK Calls for an Energy Revolution

Blacksmoke – Danger Global Warming (Henry Saiz Remix)

Greenpeace–Dove Onslaught(er)

Greenpeace–Grow Up, Cool Down

Greenpeace–Bomb the World!

Greenpeace–DON’t just sit BACK…

NOAA video warning about global warming (from 1984!)

Greenpeace–Everything you didn’t want to know about sex

Greenpeace–Blame Canada! And España!

Greenpeace–Buy it, Use it, Break it, Junk it, it’s Toxic

Rick McLean–Give Oil Wars A Chance / Yes We Can

(We’ll conclude with two unintentional exercises in self-parody)

General Electric–Model Miners

American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity–Clean Coal Carolers

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