Tuesday May 1st… Dear Diary. The main purpose of this ongoing post will be to track United States extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials)😊. Here is today’s main climate change related topic:
Arctic Feedbacks…A Potent Problem?
Over the weekend I began writing about positive feedbacks that have the potential to accelerate warming far beyond that of mere carbon. Those thermokarsts, or methane blast holes, looked quite alarming. Let’s put the Arctic feedback item in the “how bad how soon” climate change debate bucket. I asked for and received some expert guidance on what the release of great quantities of trapped methane and carbon in the Arctic potentially will do to the environment, which I will report today. Over the weekend I found plenty of u-tube videos exclaiming that positive feedbacks releasing methane will lead to the end of humanity in a few years due to insane heat levels, which, thankfully, are sensationalistic. Peer reviewed literature is much tamer.
First, here is what climatologist Robert Fanney has to say:
You can check out Fanney’s web site at robertscribbler.com .
Next, Dr. Katherine Heyhoe recently completed a study on the positive feedbacks from carbon pollution:
Quoting from Dr Heyhoe’s study:
Arctic feedbacks are increasingly viewed as the wild card in the climate system; but their most unpredictable and potentially dangerous aspect may lie in the human, rather than the physical, response to a warming climate. If Arctic policy is driven by agendas based on domestic resource development, the ensuing oil and gas extraction will ensure the failure of the Paris Agreement. If Arctic energy policy can be framed by the Arctic Council, however, its environmental agenda and fragmented governance structure offers the scientific community a fighting chance to determine the region’s energy future. Connecting Arctic climate science to resource economics via its unique governance structure is one of the most powerful ways the scientific community can protect the Arctic region’s environmental, cultural, and scientific resources, and influence international energy and climate policy.
What is the Arctic Council?
The Arctic Council is comprised of eight member states: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the US. It also includes six permanent representatives of indigenous groups, all bound by a shared mission to preserve and protect the scientific and environmental integrity of the Arctic region(s). Unlike the Antarctic, the Arctic is ruled not by treaty but by agreement via the Rovaniemi Declaration on the Protection of the Arctic Environment (1991), the Nuuk Declaration (1993), and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The fragmented nature of this governance has long been recognized as being problematic .
Further into the artice we have this ominous warning:
Failing to account for the region’s unique governance, and the many degrees of influence increasingly being exerted to decide the future of its natural resources, may lead to serious a underestimation of the potential for Arctic energy extraction and global carbon emissions. With an estimated ‘13% of the world’s undiscovered conventional oil resources and 30% of its undiscovered conventional natural gas resources’ [9, 10], short-term economic influence could trigger a modern-era energy boom the likes of which has not been seen since the discovery of Texas oil in 1901. Given that less than 300 GtC of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions can, barring advances in new sequestration technology, be emitted between 2011 and 2050 if the world is to attain the 2 °C target laid out in the Paris Agreement, and even less for the more ambitious 1.5 °C target , it is clear that even a modest Arctic energy boom would extinguish any chance the world has to limit warming below dangerous levels.
Figure 1 From the article. An illustration of some of the physical, economic and governance feedbacks affecting Arctic climate.
Here is the last paragraph of the conclusion to the paper:
Scientists’ hierarchical position of influence is much higher within the Arctic Council’s subgovernment policymaking environment than at the domestic level within the nations that make up the Council. By incorporating governance into the Arctic climate/resource feedback loop, the scientific community can begin to explore potential strategies to counter-balance those employed by the energy development community to dominate the Arctic Council’s subgovernment policymaking environment. Specifically, scientists have the potential to exert a negative or dampening influence on what may be otherwise a nearly uncontrollable positive feedback cycle between global change, Arctic warming, and resource economics.
I did notice a number of articles referred to in Dr. Heyhoe’s paper. This one from 2012 stood out:
From the Science Magazine article: SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—Scientists are expressing fresh concerns about the carbon locked in the Arctic’s vast expanse of frozen soil. New field studies, presented here this week at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, quantify the amount of soil carbon at 1.9 trillion metric tons, suggesting that previous estimates underestimated the climate risk if this carbon is liberated. Meanwhile, a new analysis of laboratory experiments that simulate carbon release by thawed soil is bolstering worries that continued carbon emissions could unleash a massive Arctic carbon wallop.
This reporter is getting a lot of conflicting information on Arctic feedbacks. Suffice it to say, I dearly hope that we have not already crossed a global temperature threshold in which positive feedbacks unleash literal hell in light of the recent warmth occurring in the Arctic region since the last strong El Nino began in 2015. We truly need to leave as much fossil fuels as possible in the ground.
Last today let’s see what Dr. James Hansen thinks about Arctic feedbacks:
Quoting the Washington Post Article:
Hansen and his colleagues think that major melting of Greenland and Antarctica can not only happen quite fast — leading to as much as several meters of sea level rise in the space of a century, depending on how quickly melt rates double — but that this melting will have dramatic climate change consequences, beyond merely raising sea levels.
That’s because, they postulate, melting will cause a “stratification” of the polar oceans. What this means is that it will trap a pool of cold, fresh meltwater atop the ocean surface, with a warmer ocean layer beneath. We have actually seen a possible hint of this with the anomalously cold “blob” of ocean water off the southern coast of Greenland, which some have attributed to Greenland’s melting.
There is some debate between Hansen and Dr. Michael Mann as reported in the article:
Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University climate scientist familiar with the original study, said: “Near as I can tell, the issues that caused me concern originally still remain in the revised manuscript. Namely, the projected amounts of meltwater seem unphysically large, and the ocean component of their model doesn’t resolve key wind-driven current systems (e.g. the Gulf Stream) which help transport heat poleward. That makes northern hemisphere temperatures in their study too sensitive to changes in the Atlantic meridional overturning ocean circulation,” the scientific name for the ocean circulation in the Atlantic that, the study suggests, could shut down.
However, another Penn State researcher, glaciologist Richard Alley, said by email that “though this is one paper, it usefully reminds us that large and rapid changes are possible, and it raises important research questions as to what those changes might mean if they were to occur. But, the paper does not include enough ice-sheet physics to tell us how much how rapidly is how likely.”
In conclusion today we just can’t definitely say how much any Arctic positive feedbacks will affect global warming trends. Climatologists are frantically trying to get answers from the polar regions, which I’ll continue to report as findings are published. I will write that for now being of British descent, keep calm carry on.
In other news today:
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The Climate Guy