Friday, December 11, 2009

Catching up: global warming - the news

So as the nations of the world debate and dither and the nanny-nanny naysayers bluster and bellyache, what are some of the latest signs of global warming that the former too often ignore and the latter always do?

Well, let's start with a sort of footnote to the post about the emails. In the wake of the brouhaha over the theft of emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, came this from it's director, Phil Jones:
"That the world is warming is based on a range of sources: not only temperature records but other indicators such as sea level rise, glacier retreat and less Arctic sea ice," he said. "Our global temperature series tallies with those of other, completely independent, groups of scientists working for Nasa and the National Climate Data Centre in the United States, among others.

Even if you were to ignore our findings, theirs show the same results. The facts speak for themselves; there is no need for anyone to manipulate them." ...

He added that he had long been under pressure from climate sceptics to further explain his research: "From about 2001/2002 I was getting emails from a number of people involved in the climate sceptic community. Initially at the beginning I did try to respond to them in the hope I might convince them but I soon realised it was a forlorn hope and broke off communication. Some of the emails I sent them subsequently appeared and were discussed on various sceptic websites."
That last is part of the basis for the claims of "suppressing information." The CRU staff found they were spending so much time responding to "requests" for ever more data that it was interfering with their work until the finally went to the FOI officer at the University and asked if the stuff being demanded was really within the scope of the FOI. That officer ultimately agreed that a lot of it wasn't. And of course the agency's refusal to continue to respond to people not acting in good faith has been used against it.

Anyway, onward. What about some of those areas mentioned by Jones? Well, for one thing,
[t]he Greenland ice sheet is losing its mass faster than in previous years and making an increasing contribution to sea level rise, a study has confirmed. ...

For the period 2000-2008, melting Greenland ice raised sea levels by an average of about 0.46mm per year.

Since 2006, that has increased to 0.75mm per year. ...

In total, sea levels are rising by about 3mm per year, principally because seawater is expanding as it warms. ...

The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report projected a sea level rise of 28-43cm during this century.

But it acknowledged this was almost certainly an underestimate because understanding of how ice behaves was not good enough to make reliable projections. ...

Another analysis of satellite data, published in September, showed that of 111 fast-moving Greenland glaciers studied, 81 were thinning at twice the rate of the slow-moving ice beside them.

This indicates that the glaciers are accelerating and taking more ice into the surrounding sea.
The important point here is not the amount of melt but the fact that it's accelerating - and liquid water both absorbs more, and reflect less, heat, meaning more warmth to produce more melting. It's a positive feedback loop. It's thought to be unlikely to develop enough to be a serious problem for quite some time, maybe a couple of centuries - which is a very good thing, as a complete melt of the Greenland ice sheet would raise world sea levels by about 20 feet - but the more rapid melt is a clear indication that global warming is continuing.

In some areas, even what was thought to be good news turns out to be, well, not so good. Bad, even.
One of Canada's top northern researchers says the permanent Arctic sea ice that is home to the world's polar bears and usually survives the summer has all but disappeared.

Experts around the world believed the ice was recovering because satellite images showed it expanding. But David Barber says the thick, multi-year frozen sheets crucial to the northern ecosystem have been replaced by thin "rotten" ice that can't support weight of the bears. "It caught us all by surprise because we were expecting there to be multi-year sea ice. The whole world thought it was multi-year sea ice," said Barber, who just returned from an expedition to the Beaufort Sea.

"Unfortunately, what we found was that the multi-year (ice) has all but disappeared. What's left is this remnant, rotten ice."
The research ship easily broke through permanent ice, which is normally 10 meters (about 33 feet) thick. What the team thought to be stable ice cracked when they arrived, and
"[as] I watched, over the course of five minutes, the entire multi-year ice floe broke up into pieces," Barber said. "This floe was 16 km across. Something that's twice the size of Winnipeg, it just broke up right in front of our eyes." ...

Multi-year sea ice used to cover 90 per cent of the Arctic basin, Barber said. It now covers 19 per cent. Where it used to be up to 10 metres thick, it's now 2 metres at most.
This was an area thought to be recovering, based on satellite data, because from there it looks the same and has the same superficial temperature. But it's not.

And despite the nanny-nanny naysayer claims based on cherry-picking individual years and short-term trends, the warming of the planet is continuing. In fact,
[t]his decade is on track to become the warmest since records began in 1850, and 2009 could rank among the top-five warmest years, the U.N. weather agency reported Tuesday on the second day of a pivotal 192-nation climate conference.

Only the United States and Canada experienced cooler conditions than average, the World Meteorological Organization said, although Alaska had the second-warmest July on record.

In central Africa and southern Asia, this will probably be the warmest year, but overall, 2009 will "be about the fifth-warmest year on record," said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the WMO. ...

The decade 2000-2009 "is very likely to be the warmest on record, warmer than the 1990s, than the 1980s and so on," Jarraud told a news conference, holding a chart with a temperature curve pointing upward.

The decade has been marked by dramatic effects of warming.

In 2007-2009, the summer melt reduced the Arctic Ocean ice cap to its smallest extent ever recorded. In the 2007-2009 International Polar Year, researchers found that Antarctica is warming more than previously believed. Almost all glaciers worldwide are retreating.

Meanwhile, such destructive species as jellyfish and bark-eating beetles are moving northward out of normal ranges, and seas expanding from warmth and glacier melt are encroaching on low-lying island states.
But just remember, the whole thing is a UN-driven conspiracy and the WMO is part of the UN, so how can you believe anything they say, even if it is verified independently? They're all in on it, you know! "Climategate," after all, is an "international scientific fraud." (My gosh, this story of the hacked emails is turning into a game of Gossip - or, as we used to call it, Rumors - getting wilder and wilder over time.)

Meanwhile, the glaciers keep retreating, the ice keeps melting, the seas keep rising, the CO2 concentrations keep increasing, and the thermometers keep going up.

Going up just how much? Well, the UK Met Office just predicted a better than even chance that 2010 will be the hottest year on record, surpassing the previous "We've been cooling for over a decade!" record year of 1998. (Link via Notes from Underground.)
The "central estimate" of their forecast is that the global average surface temperature for 2010 will be 0.58 degrees C above the long-term average for 1961-1990 (which is 14 degrees C), compared to the average for 1998, which was 0.52 degrees above.

If a new hottest year is indeed recorded, it will undermine the argument of climate change sceptics that the actual warming of the atmosphere ceased in 1998. ... The new record is likely to be broken, the Met Office said, because of a combination of global warming and El Nino, the periodic, natural warming of the waters of the eastern tropical Pacific, which is currently pushing up world temperatures.

In 1998, the record was established because the El Nino of that year was the strongest ever seen. But 2010 is likely to top it, climate scientists believe, even though the present El Nino, which began this summer and is likely to extend to next spring, is much less strong than its 1998 equivalent, and is regarded merely as "moderate".

This implies that global warming will play an even stronger role in the average temperature out-turn for next year, although the natural variability of the climate will also play a part.
While there is no guarantee that 2010 will be an all-time record - remember, that was based on the "middle estimate" - the Met said there is a 90% chance that 2010 will be warmer than 2009. It's worthy of note that the Met's prediction for 2009 turned out to be spot on and that since it started making such predictions 10 years ago, it's average error has been 0.06 degrees - and even if it's prediction for 2010 proves to be too high by that amount, the coming year will still tie with 1998 for the warmest ever.

And you can bet that if 2010 does set a record, the nanny-nanny naysayers will claim the numbers were fudged to cover up "Climategate."

So what's the bottom line - or the top line, so to speak? Six.
Average temperatures across the world are on course to rise by up to 6C without urgent action to curb CO2 emissions, according a new analysis.

Emissions rose by 29% between 2000 and 2008, says the Global Carbon Project.

All of that growth came in developing countries, but a quarter of it came through production of goods for consumption in industrialised nations. ...

According to lead scientist Corinne Le Quere, the new findings should add urgency to the political discussions. ...

"If the agreement [at Copenhagen] is too weak or if the commitments are not respected, it's not two and a half or three degrees that we will get, it's five or six - that's the path that we are on right now." ...

Before about 2002, global emissions grew by about 1% per year.

Then the rate increased to about 3% per year, the change coming mainly from a ramping up in China's economic output, before falling slightly in 2008 as the global economy dipped towards recession. ...

Concentrations in the atmosphere also show an upward trend - as monitored at stations such as Mauna Loa in Hawaii - but at a lower rate. ...

One of the most intriguing findings from the study is the difference between the emissions produced directly by a given nation and the emissions generated through production of the goods and services consumed by its citizens.

Emissions from within the UK's borders, for example, fell by 5% between 1992 and 2004, says the GCP analysis.

However, emissions from goods and services consumed in the UK rose by 12% over the same period. ...

Another of the analyses shows that per-capita emissions across the globe are rising.

On average, each human now consumes goods and services "worth" 1.3 tonnes of carbon - up from 1.1 tonnes in 2000.

The GCP analysis suggests that constraining the global temperature rise to 2C would entail reducing per-capita emissions to 0.3 tonnes by 2050.
Fat chance of that happening. I've said this before in varying contexts, but it merits repeating: My biggest fear of death is the frustration of not knowing what happens after that. Not to me, to the world. It's the idea that there is an absolute end to knowledge.

But sometimes I do not regret I will not live to see the world I see coming.

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