Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


CO2 Acidifying Oceans Faster Than Oceans Can Adapt

The Earth’s oceans are taking quite the pounding.  As a direct result of people’s activities, most of the accumulated warmth has been absorbed by the oceans.  CO2 also presents a problem: chemical reactions involving CO2 work to make the oceans more acidic.  It doesn’t take too much of a difference from long-term pH values for life-forms to be negatively impacted.  The world’s oceans are currently acidifying at a rate that hasn’t been seen for at least 800,000 years.  That acidifying rate is projected to further increase during the remainder of this century.

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Off-Shore Drilling Rig Exposion Leads To Growing Environmental Disaster

If this happened under the Bush Regime, you could have filed this under, “Nobody ever could have foreseen …”.  Iraq, Katrina, Great Depression II are all examples of disasters that received that ridiculous verbal hand-waving in pointless attempts to deflect responsibility.  The Deep Horizon oil well disaster would have fit in perfectly.  Everybody knows that the Dirty Energy industry is called “dirty” for very good reasons.  Oil spills happen more when people drill for that dirty fluid.  It’s going to happen.  The only question is, how often and how much?

In the immediate aftermath of the Deep Horizon oil well explosion last Tuesday, the giant dirty energy corporation BP assured everyone that they were going to cap the well at the bottom of the ocean and the threat to the environment would be minimized.  Because drilling is much cleaner than the stupid public has been led to believe?  Hardly, as it turns out.  As events have unfolded, it appears that the well head at the ocean bottom is leaking out at the rate of 42,000 gallons per day.  And if you think that volume isn’t noteworthy, I challenge you to dump 42,000 gallons of oil on your front yard and tell me what you think afterward.

In reality, the oil spill stretches across more than 1,800 square miles of Gulf of Mexico waters.  As a result, the Coast Guard is trying to come up with plans to protect shorelines (if they can) and clean the oil slick up with BP’s help.  BP is planning on lowering a dome to capture the oil on the ocean bottom.  Unsurprisingly, it’s never been tested for the depth at which the leak is occurring – 5,000ft below the sea surface.  Haven’t we all heard the virtues of mega-corporations, who altruistically ensure all their operations are completely safe?

Why would corporations need restrictive things like regulations, after all?  In another unsurprising piece of news, BP was among a list of corporations that vigorously attacked a proposed rule issued by the Interior Department’s Minerals and Management Service that would have changed, get this, voluntary safety program audits to required audits once every three years.  Gasp!  The horror that a safety audit every three years might be drastically imposed on the poor, suffering drilling industry!  What kind of socialists would even dream up such a business-killing proposition anyway?

The same folks who have noted that “there were 41 deaths and 302 injuries out of 1,443 incidents from 2001 to 2007″.  The same folks who “issued 150 reports over incidents of non-compliant production and drilling operations and determined there was ‘no discernible improvement by industry over the past 7 years.'”  Yeah, voluntary safety audits are sure taking care of all the problems, aren’t they?

Who’s going to get to pay the bill for this containment and clean up effort?  Financially, the U.S. taxpayers, followed by local small businesses and tourism; physically, the environment.  Wildlife Refuges, barrier islands and other coastal locations are under direct threat of this disaster.  Ads run by BP continue to tout their “clean” way of conducting business.

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21st Century Sea-Level Rise: More Than IPCC 4AR Projected

New research was published a few months ago that provides additional evidence that sea-level projections made by the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report are likely too conservative: sea-levels are more likely to be 1 meter higher than they were in 1990 (Vermeer and Rahmstorf), rather than only 0.5m higher, as projected by the IPCCs multi-model ensembles.

There was nothing inherently bad about the IPCC’s 4AR; I and others simply feel that their final report had to include more conservative estimates and projections in order for world governments to sign off on its language.  That does the world’s citizens an injustice, however.  In order to correctly assess risk, people need best- and worst-case scenarios available to them.  The most likely amount of sea-level rise by 2100 provided by the 4AR came out to between 0.2m and 0.6m.  Those estimates have implications to world societies, conservative though they were.  Additional implications will enter into our lives if there is 0.4-0.8m additional rise.

I want to stay on the IPCC projections for another moment.  The 2007 estimates included rates of sea level rise between 1980 to 1999 and 2090 to 2099 in metes and mm/yr.  The mm/yr rates in particular interest me because they allow for both the IPCC projections and the updated projections from the Vermeer and Rahmstorf paper to be placed in context with actual observations.  The six emissions scenarios examined by the IPCC had rates of 1.5, 2.1, 2.1, 1.7, 3.0 and 3.0mm/yr.  Satellite observations indicate that there has been approximately a +3.2mm/yr change in sea level (linear fit since 1993).  Only two IPCC emissions scenarios are close to the observed rate, and both of them underestimate them, albeit very slightly.  It is worth pointing out that the IPCC wrote:

The global average sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 [1.3 to 2.3] mm per year over 1961-2003.

Averages over longer periods of time like this will, by nature of the averaging, tend to reduce extreme values that are small in number, as in the case of sea-level rise in the past 10 years or so.

Onto the new research findings.  Vermeer and Rahmstorf developed and tested an updated methodology to project future sea levels based on projected changes in temperature that was originally presented by Rahmstorf in a separate paper.  The original technique was based on the assumption that the sea level response time scale was long compared to the time scale of interest.  The updated technique allows for some sea level components to change quickly to a given temperature change.  The updated technique is shown to agree very well with historical data (82% of sea-level rate variance from the year 1000 to 2000).

Applying the technique to future conditions provides another potential case against which real-world observations can be compared.  By the year 2100, three different IPCC emissions scenarios generate a range of sea level projections: 1.0m, 1.2m and 1.4m, as the figure below (from the paper) shows.  That’s a big difference between the AR4 projections, using the same emissions scenarios, of 0.2-0.4m.  That extra potential meter of sea level rise will indeed have large implications across the world.

The figure shows the possible range of sea level rise values for 3 emissions scenarios considered by the IPCC: B1 in green, A2 in blue and A1F1 in yellow.  The observed emissions to date is represented by the red curve.  One important detail to note is our actual emissions rate is currently at the high end of all those considered by the IPCC (Copenhagen Diagnosis Figure 1, after Le Quere et al. 2009).

The IPCC projected a higher future rate of sea-level rise than was observed from 1961-2003.  1.8mm/yr equals 0.18m after a century (by linear extrapolation), slightly below the 0.2 minimum projected by all emissions scenarios.  Recent observations of 3.2mm/yr equals 0.32m after a century – well within the IPCC range, but well below the Vermeer and Rahmstorf range.  So what will it take to get 1.0-1.4m of sea level rise by 2100?  10mm-14mm/yr or 3-4X as much per year as is currently being observed.  There are some important details involved with that projection.  First of all, sea level change is not linear.  It varies year to year and decade to decade.  There has to be a transition from today’s 3.2mm/yr to the 10mm/yr necessary to achieve 1m sea level rise by 2100.  The rate of sea level rise would therefore have to increase over time.

Given the state of today’s atmosphere, oceans and cryosphere, a drastic change would have to occur for sea levels to rise by 10mm+ per year by the end of this century.  It is widely known that the IPCC’s science basis did not include a number of processes and feedbacks to the globes’ continental ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice (cryosphere).  Again, that wasn’t their fault – it just happens to be a weak link in the climate community’s research.  Work has been conducted since the IPCC 4AR to rectify those shortcomings.  Much more work will have to be done in the future.  Once that area is fleshed out further, I expect the IPCC’s projections to be more closely aligned with the leading research of today.

h/t RealClimate

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Record High Atlantic SSTs: Active Hurricane Season To Follow?

Sea surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean were higher in March 2010 than any other time in the past 160 years – the UK’s Hadley Center has data going back to 1850.  When temperatures in this region are warmer than average, very active hurricane seasons usually occur.  There are some complex interactions between Atlantic SSTs and other phenomena across the globe, most notably El Niño, so the relationship isn’t exact or direct.  2005 was the last year Atlantic SSTs north of the equator were also significantly warmer than usual.

How much above average were SSTs?  1.26°C above average during March.  That might not sound like it’s too much warmer than usual until you realize the previous record, set back in 1969, was 1.06°C.  This year’s record handily beat that value.  For additional context, the temperatures observed in March are closer to what are normally observed around June.  Finally, the record tied with June 2005 as the biggest positive departure from average in the dataset.

Read on for a more detailed explanation of why this has happened.

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Climate Legislation To Be Introduced Next Monday

Next week will start a period of time in which a lot of discussion will focus on the climate and energy legislation that Sens. Kerry, Graham and Lieberman have been working on for the better part of a year now.  I have my own expectations of the legislation, based on the science of climate change and the very real potential for that change to become catastrophic to Earth’s ecosystems and a threat our species’ survivability.  I will, at the beginning, share that I do not think my expectations will be met.  I think that if we haven’t passed critical tipping points in the climate system already, then we will do so before the American legislature finally musters the political will to act in accordance with the threat, at which time it will be too late to prevent the worst effects from taking place.

Joe Romm, at Climate Progress, has the following to say (emphasis his):

No bill that could pass Congress right now or in the immediate future would be sufficient to put us on the path to stabilizing the world at 2°C. We simply aren’t sufficiently desperate to do what is needed, which is nonstop deployment of a staggering amount of low-carbon energy, including efficiency, for the rest of the century.

I think Democrats really screwed up the health care debate.   Instead of fundamentally changing a broken system, they decided to force more Americans into that broken system while doing little to nothing to ensure that costs will slow their astronomical rise.  Giving the Cons everything they did during the year of “debate” while securing not one vote in return set a precedent that will come to haunt progressives for years.  The financial industry?  Nothing with teeth in it will pass Congress this year.  Banks that are too big to fail will continue to exist and gamble with our money in 2010 and beyond.  Immigration?  Arizona is certainly forcing the issue with their extremist, race-based approach.  But Congress won’t substantially fix that broken system this year either.  How many giveaways to the Cons will Dems make in return for zero votes – does anyone care to guess before things get going?

Which takes me to climate legislation.  As Romm points out, we need to stabilize at 2°C.  Because of the ridiculous precedent that was set with the health insurance giveaway, and will continue with the financial sector and immigration, nothing Congress passes will get us close to that 2°C.  The result won’t become apparent in the next year or two.  But in the next 10 years; in the next 25 years; in the next 50 years, the failure to pass something substantial in 2010 will lock in many degrees more warming and acidify the worlds oceans for centuries to come.  Romm identifies things that by the 2020s we’ll want to have done already to set the table for future legislation.  The 2020s will be too late.

If this year’s legislative effort falls short or fails to pass, I want the Democrats of today who support Congress’ lack of action to relay this silly message to our future generations: “We couldn’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”  I’m sure those future generations will be thankful that people in the early 21st century put off so many of today’s actions off until tomorrow.  Surprise me Democrats and pass something worthwhile.  Far too much depends on the opportunity facing you today.


2010 Earth Day Poll: Better Results Than 2007?!

In surveying different articles discussing Earth Day, I ran across these poll results.  I have to be honest, they don’t make much sense.

Only 49% of respondents think the environment will be worse for the next generation.  Only 3 short years ago, 57% held the same view.

In contrast, 16% now think it will be better, up from 11% 3 years ago.

Seriously?  What magical wand was waved in the last 3 years that would lead people to believe the environment they’re leaving for the next generation will be better than it is today.  I could write a very long list of the things that are getting worse by the year, yet fewer people today think the next generation will have a worse environment than today’s.

This is simply stunning.  Or perhaps not – people that are free to choose the policy that means most to them or needs the most work do not choose the environment or catastrophic climate change as their top issue.  Those issues are lucky to combine to garner double digit percentages of respondents.

The reason is the success of the disinformation/propaganda effort perpetrated on the American public in the past 40 years by the dirty energy industry.  “There is no climate crisis,” they tell us.  It seems to be working.  Combine that with the perception that a Democrat in the White House is enough to change the environment all by itself and you get nonsensical poll results like this.  Don’t worry about the lack of legislation, Americans.  After all, signing legislation into law is the only thing that has brought about the successes of the whole Earth Day movement in the first place.

The simple truth is that the next generation will be very lucky indeed if their environment isn’t a catastrophe.  If people still live their lives in more or less the same way they do today, a monumental victory will have been achieved.  What we’re doing to the planet is truly frightening.  Ignorance really is bliss.

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Off-shore Drilling Is Safe. Really.

I don’t expect the dirty energy drillers to speak up too loudly any time in the near future with an oil rig off the Louisiana coast on fire and 11 people missing.  Remember, President Obama gave the right-wing extremists one of their most sought-after energy policies by announcing the opening of additional off-shore areas to drilling exploration.  He got no votes for his energy bill in return, of course, nor will he.  But one of the reasons the pro-drilling community gave for wanting those areas open was the “increased safety” of drilling.  I’d hate to see what unsafe drilling operations looks like:

Since 2001, there have been 69 offshore deaths, 1,349 injuries and 858 fires and explosions in the Gulf, according to the agency, which did not break down the cause of the deaths, the severity of the injuries, or the size of the fires and explosions.

This is one more reason why the climate and energy bill in the Senate should have been introduced already.  The policy is far from perfect, but you won’t read of explosions and fires at solar or wind farms.  Those are safe industries – on a number of levels.


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