Sunday, May 21, 2017

Arctic Warming - Update May 2017

The image below illustrates how much and how fast oceans are warming on the Northern Hemisphere.
Trend points at 1.5°C warmer NH oceans in 2025. Shaded area covers seasonal fluctuations and natural variability.
As ocean warming continues, prospects for the sea ice in the Arctic are grim.

Warmer water is melting the sea ice from below. The image on the right shows ever less sea ice volume in the Arctic, reflecting huge thinning of the sea ice over the years.

As the sea ice gets thinner, it becomes ever more prone to break up in pieces that will melt quicker (as more surface area becomes exposed to heat from the atmosphere and heat from the water).

[ images from: Arctic Sea Ice May 2017 ]
Moreover, with more open water, stronger waves and winds can develop, increasing the chances that sea ice will melt and get pushed out of the Arctic Ocean.

El Niño looks set to strike again this year and the Arctic looks set to be hit much stronger than the rest of the world, as illustrated by the image on the right. The images below show updated indications for El Niño 2017.

Above on the right is a NOAA animation showing a Kelvin Wave forming in the Equatorial Pacific. The image on the left is the most recent frame from this animation.

[ click on images to enlarge ]
Above image shows ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts) plumes with strong positive anomalies in all three El Niño regions (image on right shows location of regions).

In other words, temperatures in 2017 look set to be very high, which spells bad news for the Arctic where temperature anomalies are already several times higher than in the rest of the world.

As a reminder, take February 2016.
Globally, it was 1.65°C warmer then, compared to 1890-1910, as shown on the inset of the image on the right.

Anomalies in the Arctic were even higher. As the main image on the right shows, it was around 6°C warmer at latitudes north of 70°N.

Note that insufficient data were available to include latitudes north of 85°N in the analysis, as also indicated by the grey areas on the image.

To get  an idea of the situation north of latitude 80°N, have a look at the image on the right, by Nico Sun, showing freezing degree days anomaly over the years, compared to the 1958 - 2002 mean temperature.

Warming looks set to strike the Arctic even harder and high levels of greenhouse gases over the Arctic are contributing to this.

The Scripps image below illustrates this, showing that carbon dioxide levels at Mauna Loa are now well above 410 ppm.
The image on the right shows carbon dioxide levels on May 18, 2017. The color indicates that the highest levels were present over the Arctic.

Temperature anomalies in the Arctic have already been the highest in the world for years, as also illustrated by the NOAA image below on the right, showing temperature anomalies above 2.5°C over the Arctic Ocean over the  365-day period up to May 18, 2017.

[ click on images to enlarge ]
There is a huge danger that temperatures will accelerate very rapidly in the Arctic, as self-reinforcing feedbacks are starting to kick in with greater force.

This applies in particular to feedbacks associated with loss of snow and ice cover in the Arctic and to methane releases from clathrates contained in sediments at the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean.

The latter danger is also illustrated by the images below, showing the (lack of) sea ice in the ESAS and the Bering Strait. The image underneath shows the temperature anomaly of water.

[ click on images to enlarge ]
Above NASA satellite image below shows the (lack of) sea ice in the ESAS and in the Bering Strait. The image below shows temperature anomaly of the water. In the ESAS, the water was 2.8°C or 5.1°F warmer on May 19, 2017, compared to 1981-2011.

In conclusion, the situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Earthquake east of Greenland triggers methane releases

An earthquake with a magnitude of M 4.5 on the Richter scale hit the seafloor 204 km East of Nord, Greenland, on May 8, 2017 at 04:48:53 (UTC). Location: 81.684°N 5.076°W. Depth: 10.0 km.

The inset shows that methane levels over 1950 ppb (magenta color) were recorded on the morning of May 8, 2017, by two satellites.

This is a reminder that earthquakes can destabilize methane hydrates, which can hold huge amounts of methane in sediments at the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. As temperatures keep rising, snow and ice on Greenland and Svalbard keeps melting, taking away weight from the surface, making that isostatic rebound can increasingly trigger earthquakes on the faultline that crosses the Arctic Ocean.

Methane releases have followed earthquakes in the Arctic before, e.g. see this 2016 post, illustrating the danger of potentially huge methane releases in case of larger earthquakes in the Arctic.

Why is methane so important again? Below follow some images from the methane page

Over a 10-year timescale, methane emissions cause more warming than carbon dioxide emissions, as illustrated by the graph in the left-hand panel of above image.

Methane levels fluctuate with the time of year, higher mean levels are typically reached in September.

On September 14, 2016, methane levels at 367 mb were as high as 2697 ppb (locally), while global mean methane level was as high as 1865 ppb (above image).

On May 13, 2017, am, global mean methane levels were as high as 1844 ppb at altitudes corresponding to 383mb to 469 mb (MetOp-1 satellite), while local levels as high as 2485 ppb were recorded.

Methane levels have risen 256% from 1750 to 2015, as illustrated by the image on the right.

Growth in methane levels has been accelerating recently. Contained in existing data is a trend indicating that methane levels could increase by a third by 2030 and could almost double by 2040, as illustrated by the image below. 

The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described at the Climate Plan.


• Climate Plan

• High Methane Levels Follow Earthquake in Arctic Ocean

• Methane

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Abrupt Warming - How Much And How Fast?

How much could temperatures rise? As the image shows, a rise of more than 10°C (18°F) could take place, resulting in mass extinction of many species, including humans.

How fast could such a temperature rise eventuate? As above image also shows, such a rise could take place within a few years. The polynomial trend is based on NASA January 2012-February 2017 anomalies from 1951-1980, adjusted by +0.59°C to cater for the rise from 1750 to 1951-1980. The trend points at a 3°C rise in the course of 2018, which would be devastating. Moreover, the rise doesn't stop there and the trend points at a 10°C rise as early as the year 2021.

Is this polynomial trend the most appropriate one? This has been discussed for years, e.g. at the Controversy Page, and more recently at Which Trend Is best?

The bottom of the image shows the warming elements that add up to the 10°C (18°F) temperature rise. Figures for five elements may be overestimated (as indicated by the ⇦ symbol) or underestimated (⇨ symbol), while figures in two elements could be either under- or overestimated depending on developments in other elements. Interaction between warming elements is included, i.e. where applicable, figures on the image include interaction based on initial figures and subsequently apportioned over the relevant elements.

Warming elements are discussed in more detail at the Extinction Page, while specific elements are also discussed in posts, e.g. methane hydrates are discussed at Methane Erupting From Arctic Ocean, decline of the snow and ice cover and associated feedbacks is discussed at Arctic Ocean Feedbacks and less take-up by oceans of CO₂ and heat from the atmosphere is discussed at 10°C or 18°F warmer by 2021?

The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action as described in the Climate Plan.


• Climate Plan

• Extinction

• Controversy

• Which Trend Is best?

• 10°C or 18°F warmer by 2021?

• Arctic Ocean Feedbacks

• Methane Erupting From Arctic Ocean

• Warning of mass extinction of species, including humans, within one decade

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Arctic Sea Ice May 2017

Last year, the Arctic was some 3.5°C warmer than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Was this 3.5°C a spike or was it part of a trend pointing at even higher temperature anomalies this year and the following years?

Above image shows NASA annual mean 64°N-90°N land-ocean temperature anomalies from 1951-1980, with +0.59°C added for the rise from 1750 to 1951-1980. A polynomial trend is added (based on 1880-2016 data), pointing at 4.5°C anomaly by 2019.

Will the Arctic keep warming over the coming years in line with this trend? Let's have a look at what affects temperatures in the Arctic most, specifically Ocean Heat, Sea Ice, Land Temperatures and Emissions.

1. Ocean Heat

Warmer Oceans on the Northern Hemisphere will contribute strongly to warming in the Arctic. Here's a graph showing a trend pointing at continued warming of the oceans on the Northern Hemisphere.

Will oceans keep warming like that, in particular the North Atlantic? The Coriolis force keeps pushing warm water of the North Atlantic along the Gulf Stream toward the Arctic Ocean.

On the image on the right, the Gulf Stream shows up as the warmer water (orange and yellow) off the coast of North America.

Thus, as oceans keep warming, warmer water will reach the Arctic Ocean, melting the sea ice from below.

The image on the right shows that the sea surface was 9.3°C or 16.8°F warmer than 1981-2011 on May 7, 2017, at the location marked by the green circle.

2. Sea ice

Meanwhile, the sun will warm up the sea ice from above. The sea ice acts as a barrier, insulating the water of the Arctic Ocean from the heat from above. As long as there is sea ice, water just underneath the sea ice will stay close to freezing point.

Sea ice can strongly affect the amount of heat that is retained by Earth. Sea ice reflects most sunlight back into space, but in the absence of sea ice, most sunlight will instead be absorbed by oceans.

For almost a year now, global sea ice extent has been way below what it used to be, meaning that huge amounts of sunlight that were previously reflected back into space, are now instead getting absorbed by Earth, as shown by the graph below (by Wipneus).

Over the past 365 days, most of the Arctic has been more than 2.5°C or 4.5°F warmer than it was in 1981-2010, as the image on the right illustrates. Note also the anomalies around Antarctica. Decline of the snow and ice cover contributes strongly to these temperature anomalies.

When looking at albedo changes, sea ice area is an even more critical measure than sea ice extent. For a discussion of the difference between area and extent, see this NSIDC page. The image below shows trends for both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice area pointing downward.

When looking at sea ice volume, zero sea ice in September 2017 is within the margins of the trendline below on the right.

[ Arctic sea ice, gone by Sept. 2017? ]
Given the speed at which many feedbacks can kick in and the interaction between warming elements, Arctic sea ice volume could be zero by September 2017.

Arctic sea ice is at a record low volume for the time of the year (see graph below by Wipneus). This means that there is very little sea ice left to act as a buffer this year. Therefore, heat that won't be consumed in the process of melting the ice will instead speed up Arctic warming.

As said - less sea ice additionally makes that less sunlight will be reflected back into space, and that instead more heat will speed up Arctic warming.
As the sea ice gets thinner, it becomes more fragile. Furthermore, changes to the Jet Stream can fuel strong winds and waves, which are also more likely to hit the ice as the size of the open water increases.

The satellite image below of the Beaufort Sea shows that the sea ice is cracked in many places and broken into pieces by winds, waves, currents and ocean heat. A huge crack can be seen running along the Canadian Archipelago toward Greenland (bottom right on the image).

An animation (1.3 MB) is added at the end of this post showing the sea ice breaking into pieces in the Beaufort Sea from April 26 to May 10, 2017. It illustrates that a combined force of winds, waves, currents and ocean heat can break even the thicker ice into pieces, with the danger that all ice can be pushed out of the Arctic Ocean.

3. Temperatures on land

High temperatures on land will affect the Arctic in a number of ways. What kind of temperatures can be expected over the coming months, which are so critical for Arctic sea ice?

- Heatwaves

Heatwaves over the continents can more easily extend over the Arctic Ocean as the Northern Polar Jet Stream becomes more wavy. Heatwave conditions are more likely to occur as the jet stream is changing due to accelerated warming of the Arctic.

- Wildfires

High temperatures on land can also cause wildfires that can in turn cause huge quantities of emissions, including soot that when settling on snow and ice, can strongly speed up melting. The image below shows carbon dioxide as high as 607 ppm and carbon monoxide as high as 24.84 over Laos on May 4, 2017.

- Warm water from rivers flowing into the Arctic Ocean

Furthermore, high temperatures on land will warm up the water of rivers flowing into the Arctic Ocean.

- El Niño

An El Niño event can dramatically boost temperatures of the atmosphere. What are the projections for an El Niño in 2017? The image on the right, by the ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts), indicates an El Niño that is gaining strength.

4. Emissions and Greenhouse Gas Levels

Continued emissions and high greenhouse gas levels are responsible for warming of the planet. Have efforts to cut emissions been successful? Is growth in greenhouse gas levels slowing down? The image below shows accelerating growth of carbon dioxide levels recorded at Mauna Loa, Hawaii.

The image below shows carbon dioxide levels recorded at Barrow, Alaska.

The image below shows methane levels at Barrow, Alaska.
In conclusion, indications are that warming in the Arctic will continue in 2017, which spells bad news for Arctic sea ice and for the world at large, as discussed in earlier posts.

The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.

Monday, April 24, 2017

10°C or 18°F warmer by 2021?

Skyrocketing emissions

On April 21, 2017, at 15:00 UTC, it was as hot as 46.6°C/115.8°F in Guinea, in West-Africa (at the location marked by the green spot on the map below).

That same time and day, a little bit to the south, at a spot in Sierra Leona, a level of carbon monoxide (CO) of 15.28 parts per million (ppm) was recorded, while the temperature there was 40.6°C or 105.1°F. Earlier that day (at 13:30 UTC), levels of carbon dioxide (CO₂) of 569 ppm and of sulfur dioxide (SO₂) of 149.97 µg/m³ were recorded at that same spot, shown on the bottom left corner of the image below (red marker).

These high emissions carry the signature of wildfires, illustrating the threat of what can occur as temperatures keep rising. Further emissions that come with wildfires are black carbon and methane.

Above image shows methane levels on April 22, 2017, AM, at an altitude corresponding to 218 mb. Methane at this altitude is as high as 2402 ppb (magenta indicates levels of 1950 ppb and higher) and while the image doesn't specify the location of this peak, it looks related to the magenta-colored area over West Africa and this looks related to the wildfires discussed above. This wasn't even the highest level recorded that day. While at lower altitudes even higher methane levels were recorded that morning (as high as 2505 ppb), above image illustrates the contribution wildfires can make to methane growth at higher altitudes.

The table below shows the altitude equivalents in feet (ft), meter (m) and millibar (mb).
57,016 ft44,690 ft36,850 ft30,570 ft25,544 ft19,820 ft14,385 ft 8,368 ft1,916 ft
17,378 m13,621 m11,232 m 9,318 m 7,786 m 6,041 m 4,384 m 2,551 m 584 m
 74 mb 147 mb 218 mb 293 mb 367 mb 469 mb 586 mb 742 mb 945 mb

Above image compares mean methane levels on the morning of April 22 between the years 2013 to 2017, confirming that methane levels are rising most strongly at higher altitudes, say between 6 to 17 km (which is where the Troposphere ends at the Equator), as compared to altitudes closer to sea level. This was discussed in earlier posts such as this one.

On April 26, 2017, CO₂ levels at Mauna Loa, Hawaii spiked at 412.63 ppm.

As the image below shows, some hourly CO₂ averages for that day were well above 413 ppm.

These high CO₂ levels were likely caused by wildfires, particularly in Siberia.

CO₂ readings on April 26, 2017, 22:30 UTC
As said, besides emissions of CO₂, wildfires cause a lot of additional emissions, as illustrated by the images below.

As above image shows, methane levels as high as 2683 ppb were recorded on April 27, 2017. While the image doesn't specify where these high levels occurred, there are a lot of magenta-colored areas over Siberia, indicating levels over 1950 ppb. The image below shows carbon monoxide levels as high as 5.12 ppm near Lake Baikal on April 27, 2017.

As the image below shows, temperatures on April 28, 2017, were as high as 26.5°C or 79.6°F near Lake Baikal.

The satellite images below shows some of the wildfires. The images also show ice (in the left panel) over Lake Baikal on April 25, 2017, as well as over much of the Angara River that drains Lake Baikal. On April 28, 2017, much of that ice had melted (right panel).

[ click on images to enlarge ]
Warming oceans

Oceans are hit by high temperatures as well. The image below shows sea surface temperature anomalies (from 1981-2011) on April 21, 2017, at selected locations.

Accelerating temperature rises

The image below illustrates the danger of accelerating temperature rises.

Above image uses trendlines based on data dating back to 1880, which becomes less appropriate as feedbacks start to kick in that accelerate such temperature rises. Indeed, temperatures could rise even faster, due to feedbacks including the following ones:

Less sunlight getting reflected back into space

As illustrated by the image below, more ocean heat results in less sea ice. This makes that less sunlight gets reflected back into space and instead gets absorbed by the oceans.

[ Graph by Wipneus ]

More ocean heat escaping from the Arctic Ocean into the atmosphere

As discussed before, as less heat is mixed down to deeper layers of oceans, more heat accumulates at or just below the surface. Stronger storms, in combination with the presence of a cold freshwater lid on top of the North Atlantic, increase the possibility that more of this ocean heat gets pushed into the Arctic Ocean, resulting in sea ice loss, which in turn makes that more heat can escape from the Arctic Ocean to the atmosphere, while more clouds over the Arctic Ocean make that less heat can get radiated out into space. As the temperature difference between the Arctic Ocean and the Equator decreases, changes are occurring to the Northern Polar Jet Stream that further speed up warming of the Arctic.

More heat remaining in atmosphere due to less ocean mixing

As also discussed before, warmer water tends to form a layer at the surface that does not mix well with the water below. This stratification reduces the capability of oceans to take up heat and CO₂ from the atmosphere. Less take-up by oceans of CO₂ will result in higher CO₂ levels in the atmosphere, further speeding up global warming. Additionally, 93.4% of global warming currently goes into oceans. The more heat will remain in the atmosphere, the faster the temperature of the atmosphere will rise. As temperatures rise, more wildfires will erupt, adding further emissions, while heat-induced melting of permafrost will also cause more greenhouse gases to enter the atmosphere.

More seafloor methane entering the atmosphere

The prospect of more heat getting pushed from the Atlantic Ocean into the Arctic Ocean also comes with the danger of destabilization of methane hydrates at the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. Importantly, large parts of the Arctic Ocean are very shallow, making it easy for arrival of more ocean heat to warm up these seas and for heat to destabilize sediments at the seafloor that can contain huge amounts of methane, resulting in eruptions of methane from the seafloor, with much the methane entering the atmosphere without getting decomposed by microbes in the water, since many seas are only shallow, as discussed in earlier posts such as this one.

These feedbacks are depicted in the yellow boxes on above diagram on the right.

How fast could temperatures rise?

When taking into account the many elements that are contributing to warming, a potential warming of 10°C (18°F) could take place, leading to rapid mass extinction of many species, including humans.
[ Graph from: Which Trend is Best? ]
So, how fast could such warming take place? As above image illustrates, it could happen as fast as within the next four years time.

The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described at the Climate Plan.


• Climate Plan

• Extinction

• How much warming have humans caused?

• Accelerating growth in CO₂ levels in the atmosphere

• Arctic Sea Ice Getting Terribly Thin