A quick update from Earth

In the past two weeks, the results of three surveys and studies about the Earth’s climate have been released: a paper on a possible dramatic climate shift, a survey of coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef, and a study on the West Antarctic ice sheet. All three investigations tell the story of climate change happening quicker than was previously anticipated.  In short the earth isn’t doing well.

From the paper published last week by former NASA climate scientist James Hansen:

The nations of the world agreed years ago to try to limit global warming to a level they hoped would prove somewhat tolerable. But leading climate scientists warned on Tuesday that permitting a warming of that magnitude would actually be quite dangerous.

The likely consequences would include killer storms stronger than any in modern times, the disintegration of large parts of the polar ice sheets and a rise of the sea sufficient to begin drowning the world’s coastal cities before the end of this century, the scientists declared.

“We’re in danger of handing young people a situation that’s out of their control,” said James E. Hansen, the retired NASA climate scientist who led the new research. The findings were released Tuesday morning by a European science journal, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

A draft version of the paper was released last year, and it provoked a roiling debate among climate scientists. The main conclusions have not changed, and that debate seems likely to be replayed in the coming weeks.

The basic claim of the paper is that by burning fossil fuels at a prodigious pace and pouring heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, humanity is about to provoke an abrupt climate shift.

Specifically, the authors believe that fresh water pouring into the oceans from melting land ice will set off a feedback loop that will cause parts of the great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica to disintegrate rapidly.

The paper, written by Dr. Hansen and 18 other authors, dwells on the last time Earth warmed naturally, about 120,000 years ago, when the temperature reached a level estimated to have been only slightly higher than today. Large chunks of the polar ice disintegrated then, and scientists have established that the sea level rose 20 to 30 feet.

Climate scientists agree that humanity is about to cause an equal or greater rise in sea level, but they have tended to assume that such a large increase would take centuries, at least. The new paper argues that it could happen far more rapidly, with the worst case being several feet of sea-level rise over the next 50 years, followed by increases so precipitous that they would force humanity to beat a hasty retreat from the coasts.

In Australia, more than 40% of the Great Barrier Reef has been damaged by coral bleaching.

Scientists who have dedicated their careers to studying the reef and its ecosystem say the current bleaching is unprecedented, and perhaps unrecoverable. The emotion in their responses so far have been palpable.

“I witnessed a sight underwater that no marine biologist, and no person with a love and appreciation for the natural world for that matter, wants to see,” said Australian coral scientist Jodie Rummer in a statement, after spending more than a month at a monitoring station in the Great Barrier Reef.

Though corals comprise only about 0.2 percent of the global oceans, they support perhaps a quarter of all marine species. There’s about 400 years of coral growth rings in the Great Barrier Reef, though no evidence of widespread bleaching before 1998. The current bleaching is the third major episode since then, and the worst yet—driven by the record-setting El Niño and steadily increasing ocean temperatures triggered by human-caused climate change.

“What we’re seeing now is unequivocally to do with climate change,” Justin Marshall, a reef scientist from the University of Queensland, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Nick Heath, a representative of the World Wildlife Fund in Brisbane, Australia, lamented that “we have been so complacent on this issue for so long” in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. He added that he hopes the current mass bleaching would “trigger us out of our complacency.”

“This will change the Great Barrier Reef forever,” Terry Hughes, the Australian coral scientist who has been conducting the aerial survey, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Hughes said the bleaching was his “worst nightmare” and expects about half the affected coral to die in the coming months. “This has been the saddest research trip of my life,” he said in a statement. More than sadness, though, Hughes said he feels anger at the Australian government, who he thinks should have acted sooner to prevent the current situation.

And just yesterday, a study on the West Antarctic ice sheet was released that says the ice sheet could melt much faster than previously thought, raising global sea levels by 3 feet in less than 90 years. Even the normally staid NY Times is getting really nervous.

For half a century, climate scientists have seen the West Antarctic ice sheet, a remnant of the last ice age, as a sword of Damocles hanging over human civilization.

The great ice sheet, larger than Mexico, is thought to be potentially vulnerable to disintegration from a relatively small amount of global warming, and capable of raising the sea level by 12 feet or more should it break up. But researchers long assumed the worst effects would take hundreds — if not thousands — of years to occur.

Now, new research suggests the disaster scenario could play out much sooner.

Continued high emissions of heat-trapping gases could launch a disintegration of the ice sheet within decades, according to a studypublished Wednesday, heaving enough water into the ocean to raise the sea level as much as three feet by the end of this century.

With ice melting in other regions, too, the total rise of the sea could reach five or six feet by 2100, the researchers found. That is roughly twice the increase reported as a plausible worst-case scenario by a United Nations panel just three years ago, and so high it would likely provoke a profound crisis within the lifetimes of children being born today.

Of course there has been a bunch of stories lately that Miami might not make it to the end of the century.

In major East Coast cities, where land is sinking at the same time that seas are rising, an independent analysis by Climate Central shows that the rapid Antarctic melting described by the new modeling effort would push tide levels up by between five and six feet this century alone.

Climate Central’s analysis combined mid-range values from the new projections for Antarctic melting with previous mid-range projections regarding global sea level rise, along with local factors such as sinking that naturally occurs in some areas. It illuminated the dangerous collective impacts of the different ways that climate change is expected to affect sea levels.

If climate pollution is quickly and dramatically reined in, the analysis shows sea level rise in major East Coast cities, including New York, Boston and Baltimore, could be kept to less than two feet — which could nonetheless see developed stretches of shorelines regularly or permanently flooded.

Problems associated with sea level rise are expected to be worse in Louisiana, where stretches of land are being lost to erosion caused by flood control projects and gas and oil exploration. New Orleans could see more than seven feet of sea level rise by 2100, Climate Central’s analysis of the new findings showed.

West Coast cities would experience four to five feet of sea level rise by 2100, Climate Central found.

Oh and BTW, the maximum extent of sea ice in the Arctic was a record low in 2016, February was an outlier in terms of how unusually hot it was, March, while not as warm, will still be the hottest March ever, and just look at the 2016 trend in the first chart here.

The reality is that most of the world’s leaders are still making half assed attempts of change or in the case of our Premier, wants all climate change proposals to pass an economic test.  Miami is going to disappear, there is a drought so bad in California that the land is actually sinking and Saskatchewan has no climate plan other than a carbon capture program whose main goal is to enable fracking. 

When do we realize we are all in this together and that is going to sacrifices on all of our part.  Technology isn’t going to save us.  Innovation isn’t going to save us.  It’s going to be all of us changing the way we live.  What are the chances of that happening?  Sadly about zero.

Leave a Reply