The extinction event which I talked about in ‘Free Markets, Corporate Profits and Mass Extinctions‘ looks by all unbiased scientific accounts to be happening again. Instead of volcanoes inducing climate change, today it is man’s industrial activities, specifically the burning of stored ancient sunlight, that is bringing about the end of the world as we know it. We will soon breach 400 ppm of atmospheric CO2 levels:
The ratio of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is flirting with 400 parts per million, a level last seen about 2.5 million to 5 million years ago, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego….
…The speed at which Earth’s atmosphere has reached that density of carbon dioxide, a known greenhouse gas, has scientists alarmed.
Scientists estimate that average temperatures during the Pliocene rose as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit. Sea levels during that 2.8-million-year epoch ranged between 16-131 feet higher than current levels, according to Richard Norris, a Scripps geologist.
“I think it is likely that all these ecosystem changes could recur, even though the time scales for the Pliocene warmth are different than the present,” Norris said. Heating the ocean probably will cause sea level rises and change the Ph balance of the ocean, affecting a wide array of marine life, he said. “Our dumping of heat and CO2 into the ocean is like making investments in a pollution bank,” he said…
Let’s go over and update the major tipping points again(covered earlier here and here) which are currently in play:
1.) Disintegration of the Arctic Ice Sheet:
2.) Disintegration of the Greenland Ice Sheet:
Jason Box speaks the language of Manhattans. Not the drink—the measuring unit.
As an expert on Greenland who has traveled 23 times to the massive, mile thick northern ice sheet, Box has shown an uncanny ability to predict major melts and breakoffs of Manhattan-sized ice chunks. A few years back, he foretold the release of a “4x Manhattans” piece of ice from Greenland’s Petermann Glacier, one so big that once afloat it was dubbed an “ice island.” In a scientific paper published in February of 2012, Box further predicted “100 % melt area over the ice sheet” within another decade of global warming. As it happened, the ice sheet’s surface almost completely melted just a month later in July—an event that, in Box’s words, “signals the beginning of the end for the ice sheet.”
Box, who will speak at next week’s Climate Desk Live briefing in Washington, D.C., pulls no punches when it comes to attributing all of this to humans and their fossil fuels. “Those who claim it’s all cycles just don’t understand that humans are driving the cycle right now, and for the foreseeable future,” he says. And the coastal consequences of allowing Greenland to continue its melting—and pour 23 feet’s worth of sea level into the ocean over the coming centuries—are just staggering. “If you’re the mayor of Hamburg, or Shanghai, or Philadelphia, I think it’s in your job description that you think forward a century,” says Box. “They’re completely inundated by the year 2200.”…
3.) Unleashing of Tundra methane clathrates and sub-sea methane deposits from (1) and (2):
Courtesy of the work by Sam Carana, the multitude of reinforcing feedback loops from the loss of the Arctic Ice Sheet are listed below:
- Albedo feedback: Accelerated warming in the Arctic speeds up the decline of ice and snow cover, further accelerating albedo change.
- Methane feedback: Methane releases in the Arctic further add to the acceleration of warming in the Arctic, further contributing to weaken Arctic methane stores and increasing the danger that methane releases will trigger runaway global warming.
- Currents feedback: Sea ice loss can cause vertical sea currents to weaken, reducing the cooling effect they had on the seabed. This can thus further cause sediments to warm up that can contain huge amounts of methane in the form of free gas and hydrates.
- Storms feedback: Increased frequency and intensity of storms can cause substantially more vertical mixing of the sea water column, causing more warming of the seabed, thus further contributing to the warming of sediments, as above.
- Storms feedback: Accelerated warming in the Arctic can result in more storms, causing mixing of cold Arctic air with warmer air from outside the Arctic. The net result is a warmer Arctic.
- Storms feedback: More open waters can result in more storms that can push the ice across the Arctic Ocean, and possibly all the way out of the Arctic Ocean.
- Storms feedback: Storms also cause more waves that break up the sea ice. Smaller pieces of ice melt quicker than large pieces. A large flat and solid layer of ice is also less susceptible to wind than many lighter and smaller pieces of ice that will stand out above the water and capture the wind like the sails of yachts.
- Storms feedback: Storms cause waters to become more wavy. Calm waters can reflect much sunlight back into space, acting as a mirror, especially when the sun shines under a low angle. Wavy waters, on the other hand, absorb more sunlight.
- Fires feedback: More extreme weather comes with heatwaves and storms. Thus, this is in part another storms feedback. The combination of storms and fires can be deadly. Heatwaves can spark fires that, when fueled up by storms, turn into firestorms affecting huge areas and causing huge amounts of emissions. Storms can whip up particles that when deposited on ice, snow or the bare soil, can cause more sunlight to be absorbed.
- Open doors feedback: Accelerated warming in the Arctic causes the polar vortex and jet stream to weaken, causing more extreme weather and making it easier for warm air to enter the Arctic.
4.) Disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet(covered here earlier):
Two papers released last week in the journal Nature Geoscience provide evidence that warming and melt in West Antarctica are occurring at levels that are highly unusual compared to natural variability.
The West Antarctic Ice Sheet contains about 2.2 million cubic kilometers of ice; enough to raise global sea levels by 3 to 4m. What’s making glaciologists nervous is that the ice rests on bedrock which is below sea level; this makes it vulnerable to attack from below by a warming ocean as well as attack from above by increasing air temperatures.
5.) Destruction of the Amazon Rain Forest, and indeed all forests of the planet:
As some of us were heading off for the Easter holiday weekend, the Brazilian government was quietly releasing deforestation trends showing an increase in deforestation for the first time in five years.
These numbers use the DETER rapid response satellite system, a system that provides estimates of deforestation rates every month. Over the time period documented, August 2012 to February 2013, the rates increased an estimated 26.82% and an area of the Amazon larger than the size of the city of London disappeared.
In absolute numbers, that means 1,695 square kilometers (654 square miles) of forest have disappeared. That equals an area the size of 237,000 soccer fields…
…The increase in deforestation rates can be directly attributed to the Brazilian government’s systematic dismantling of the laws and agencies that protect the Amazon…
…President Dilma Rousseff’s approval of a new Forest Code, a law that provides amnesty for crimes committed after 2008 in the Amazon and reduces large areas of protected land, paved the way for the increase in deforestation. The president also structurally weakened government agencies like IBAMA, the federal environmental enforcement agency, so unfortunately it won’t be a surprise if deforestation continues to rise in the Amazon…
6.) Die-Off of Boreal Forests:
After more than a decade, the mountain pine beetle epidemic that surged through British Columbia appears finally to be in remission. Having devastated the province’s lodgepole pine forests, the insect is running out of food.
But forest managers now see new beetle infestations appearing at the edge of the Boreal Forest, in Alberta, and in the Yukon and Northwest Territories — areas well outside the insect’s historical range. As a warming climate lifts the temperature limitations that once kept the beetle in check, scientists fear it may continue its push across the continent, perhaps as far as the Atlantic Coast…
…Without debating the causes of global climate change the effects of forest dieback can be viewed factually. The earth is warming and droughts are increasing in severity and magnitude. Temperature and drought are major contributing factors to forest dieback, so more trees will be dying in the future. As more carbon is released from dead trees, especially in the Amazon and Boreal Forests, more greenhouse gasses are released into the atmosphere. Increased levels of greenhouse gasses increase the temperature of the atmosphere. The negative feedback loop is reinforced and the biological adaptations of the species determine its survival. Projections for dieback vary, but the threat of global climate change only stands to increase the rate of dieback. The issue is complex and models are intricate, so scientists have serious work ahead of them.
Scientists do not know the tipping points of climate change and can only estimate the timescales. When a tipping point, the critical threshold, is reached a small change in human activity can have long-term consequences on the environment. Two of the nine tipping points for major climate changes forcast for the next century are directly related to forest diebacks. Scientists are worried that forest dieback in the Amazon rain forest and the Boreal evergreen forest will trigger a tipping point in the next 50 years.… – source
7.) The Sahara and Sahel in Africa
It is difficult to estimate the overall ability to increase food production, but a recent analysis suggests that human consumption may be approaching the limits of the net primary plant production (NPP) — that is, the maximum photosynthetic production that is possible on the planet.
It is “not whether humans will reach the global NPP boundary but when they will do so.” It seems probable that the developed countries will continue their excessively high levels of consumption. The emerging economies are likely to continue to eat more protein and a larger slice of grain production in countries with an appropriate climate for grain production will be diverted to feeding animals, or ethanol to drive automobiles. A child born in the Sahel today could belong to the first generation to come to maturity in the contemporary world where the ability to feed large numbers of ecological refugees may well diminish. It is also possible that the secondary effects of the collision of population growth and climate change could create what scientists call an “asymmetrical uncertainty.” The possible consequences of this asymmetrical uncertainty on political processes and violence could range from a slow worsening of the current situation to extremely serious conflict over resources and threats to security. Biologically, adverse factors can interact in ways that can cause a rapid downward spiral. For example, as noted above, ambient temperatures over 29°C (84°F) lead to a rapid decline in crop yields.
[At least 95% of the food production in the Sahel is based on rain-fed agriculture. The agricultural sector employs, directly or indirectly, more than half of the Sahel’s population...Global warming will mean that in temperate lands, where much of the global crop production occurs, the most productive regions will migrate away from the equator. While the net aggregate change as a result of climate change at a global level may be slow, the regional effects in the Sahel will be more rapid, significant, and adverse.] – source
8.) The El Nino Southern Oscillation(ENSO):
Climate models appear to be unable to accurately predict ENSO changes. Although scientists can predict some large-scale and long-term effects of anthropogenic global warming, there remains a lot of unknowns about specific regional effects.
The problem may lie in the models’ inability to reproduce the cycling between the ENSO’s El Niño and La Niña phases, especially given that many scientists think that La Niña is the major driver of drought in the southwest. The ENSO “behaves much messier in the real world than in climate models”, says Jessica Tierney, a climate scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts who has investigated the role of the ENSO in East African rainfall variability2. “We’re not sure how it has varied in the past, and we don’t know how it might change in response to climate change. This is really one of the big uncertainties we’re facing.”
In addition to their failure to reproduce El Niño and La Niña, existing models do not fully capture other factors that influence rainfall, such as clouds and vegetation. But Smerdon adds that the atmospheric and oceanic dynamics that inhibit rainfall and favour prolonged drought may be essentially random and so almost unpredictable.
Last week’s findings highlight the broader challenge of predicting how precipitation patterns will change as the global climate warms. Models are often at odds over the very direction of regional changes. For example, different projections prepared for the Colorado Water Conservation Board disagree on whether mean precipitation in the state will increase or decrease by 2050 (ref. 3).
But the uncertainties don’t change the larger picture, scientists say. “Climate models are not perfect, but they do the big things really well,” says Tierney. “We can be pretty confident that the southwest will warm and that water will become scarcer.
However, new research indicates La Nina instead of El Nino conditions in a warming planet: [La Niña conditions are "mostly the opposite of those of El Niño."]
…since the 1970s the atmospheric circulation patterns over the Pacific have tended to favor La Nina conditions over El Nino ones. And, they write: “The overall trend towards a stronger, La Niña-like Walker circulation is nearly concurrent with the observed increase in global average temperatures.”
9.) The Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation (THC):
From the THOR project…
We know from historical data that from these two climatic events – the Medieval Warm Period(the long stable warming period over Europe) and the Little Ice Age(a well-known described historical event) – that the temperature changed, and our big question is, “Does the ocean also respond in this very short time scale?”
And one of the major results and maybe one of the biggest prices is that the ocean and the thermohaline circulation(THC) respond to these thermal drivers within just a decade.
…What we are mostly concerned about is that there is a certain threshold which is then reached, a certain point of no return more or less. So we will have a trend where it’s getting warmer and warmer and warmer, and there will be no return from this warming… and that will change the whole system, the whole flow of the system, and the thermohaline circulation may be changed…
The major threats we see right now to the thermohaline circulation mainly derive from the Arctic region. We see increased melting from the Greenland Ice Sheet. We see a retreat of Arctic See Ice. We see large reorganizations in the Arctic ocean system which accumulate fresh water. All of these things are components which may affect the thermohaline circulation.”
The most important factors affecting changes in the conditions of the thermohaline circulation are:
1.) Global warming itself caused partly by greenhouse gases from human activity.
2.) From AGW, there will be more rainfall in the higher latitudes causing glacial melt.
Density in the water is a key factor for the THC driver mechanisms. Cold surface water temperatures make the water denser and high ocean salinity cause these waters to sink. These are the main engines that run the THC, but now more fresh water is entering the ocean through the melting of the Arctic and Greenland ice sheets.
When this is integrated into the models, a new development of the engines is revealed. In a warmer climate state, the engine of the Labrador Sea seems to simply collapse…
10.) The Indian Summer Monsoon:
…Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Potsdam University in Germany said increasing temperatures and a change in strength of a Pacific Ocean circulation pattern known as the Pacific Walker circulation in spring could cause more frequent and severe changes in monsoon rainfall.
The Walker circulation usually brings areas of high pressure to the western Indian Ocean but in El Nino years this pattern gets shifted eastward, bringing high pressure over India and suppressing the monsoon, they said.
Computer simulations show that with future global warming the Walker circulation is likely to bring more high pressure over India even without an increase in El Nino events.
These failures of the monsoon system suggested by the simulation, defined as a 40 percent to 70 percent reduction in rainfall below normal levels, were unprecedented in the researchers’ observational record, taken from the India Meteorological Department dating back to the 1870s.
“Our study points to the possibility of even more severe changes to monsoon rainfall caused by climatic shifts that may take place later this century and beyond,” lead author Jacob Schewe said. – source
Indeed if humans were able to set aside their anthropocentric view of the world, we would be frantically changing our behavior and rearranging our economic and social activities in order to prevent our own demise. But alas, if things aren’t right between one’s ears, then everything else is moot.