Category Archives: Polar

Humans cause Antarctic ice melt, study finds

Yes, it’s us. Human activities are to blame for at least part of what’s melting the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, scientists say.

LONDON, 13 August, 2019 − A team of British and American scientists has found what it says is unequivocal evidence that humans are responsible for significant Antarctic ice melt.

They say their study provides the first evidence of a direct link between global warming from human activities and the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

The discovery is fundamentally important to international efforts to limit climate change, as a small number of scientists still argue that global warming results from natural rather than human causes. That argument should from now on be harder to sustain.

Ice loss in West Antarctica has increased substantially in the last few decades, and is continuing. Scientists have known for some time that the loss is caused by melting driven from the ocean, and that varying winds in the region cause transitions between relatively warm and cool ocean conditions around key glaciers. But until now it was unclear how these naturally-occurring wind variations could cause the ice loss.

“We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities”

The UK-US team report in the journal Nature Geoscience that, as well as the natural wind variations, which last about a decade, there has been a much longer-term change in the winds that can be linked with human activities.

This result is important for another reason as well: continued ice loss from the WAIS could cause tens of centimetres of sea level rise by the year 2100.

The researchers combined satellite observations and climate model simulations to understand how winds over the ocean near West Antarctica have changed since the 1920s in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations.

Their investigation shows that human-induced climate change has caused the longer-term change in the winds, and that warm ocean conditions have gradually become more prevalent as a result.

The team’s members are from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, and the University of Washington.

Galloping speed-up

BAS is one of the organisations researching a huge West Antarctic ice mass in the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, aimed at finding out how soon it and its neighbour, the Pine Island glacier, may collapse, with implications for sea levels worldwide.

The fact that melting at both poles has been accelerating fast has been known for some time, though not the reason. Since 1979 Antarctica’s ice loss has grown six times faster, and Greenland’s four times since the turn of the century.

One British scientist, Professor Martin Siegert, has said what is happening in the Antarctic means the world “will be locked into substantial global changes” unless it alters course radically by 2030.

The lead author of the new study, Paul Holland from BAS, said the impact of human-induced climate change on the WAIS was not simple: “Our results imply that a combination of human activity and natural climate variations have caused ice loss in this region, accounting for around 4.5 cm of sea level rise per century.”

Act now

The team also looked at model simulations of future winds. Professor Holland added: “An important finding is that if high greenhouse gas emissions continue in future, the winds keep changing and there could be a further increase in ice melting.

“However, if emissions of greenhouse gases are curtailed, there is little change in the winds from present-day conditions. This shows that curbing greenhouse gas emissions now could reduce the future sea level contribution from this region.”

One co-author, Professor Pierre Dutrieux from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said: “We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles lasting about a decade, but these didn’t necessarily explain the ice loss. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities.”

Another co-author, Professor Eric Steig from the University of Washington, said: “These results solve a long-standing puzzle.  We have known for some time that varying winds near the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have contributed to the ice loss, but it has not been clear why the ice sheet is changing now.

“Our work with ice cores drilled in the Antarctic Ice Sheet have shown, for example, that wind conditions have been similar in the past. But the ice core data also suggest a subtle long-term trend in the winds. This new work corroborates that evidence and, furthermore, explains why that trend has occurred.” − Climate News Network

Yes, it’s us. Human activities are to blame for at least part of what’s melting the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, scientists say.

LONDON, 13 August, 2019 − A team of British and American scientists has found what it says is unequivocal evidence that humans are responsible for significant Antarctic ice melt.

They say their study provides the first evidence of a direct link between global warming from human activities and the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

The discovery is fundamentally important to international efforts to limit climate change, as a small number of scientists still argue that global warming results from natural rather than human causes. That argument should from now on be harder to sustain.

Ice loss in West Antarctica has increased substantially in the last few decades, and is continuing. Scientists have known for some time that the loss is caused by melting driven from the ocean, and that varying winds in the region cause transitions between relatively warm and cool ocean conditions around key glaciers. But until now it was unclear how these naturally-occurring wind variations could cause the ice loss.

“We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities”

The UK-US team report in the journal Nature Geoscience that, as well as the natural wind variations, which last about a decade, there has been a much longer-term change in the winds that can be linked with human activities.

This result is important for another reason as well: continued ice loss from the WAIS could cause tens of centimetres of sea level rise by the year 2100.

The researchers combined satellite observations and climate model simulations to understand how winds over the ocean near West Antarctica have changed since the 1920s in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations.

Their investigation shows that human-induced climate change has caused the longer-term change in the winds, and that warm ocean conditions have gradually become more prevalent as a result.

The team’s members are from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, and the University of Washington.

Galloping speed-up

BAS is one of the organisations researching a huge West Antarctic ice mass in the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, aimed at finding out how soon it and its neighbour, the Pine Island glacier, may collapse, with implications for sea levels worldwide.

The fact that melting at both poles has been accelerating fast has been known for some time, though not the reason. Since 1979 Antarctica’s ice loss has grown six times faster, and Greenland’s four times since the turn of the century.

One British scientist, Professor Martin Siegert, has said what is happening in the Antarctic means the world “will be locked into substantial global changes” unless it alters course radically by 2030.

The lead author of the new study, Paul Holland from BAS, said the impact of human-induced climate change on the WAIS was not simple: “Our results imply that a combination of human activity and natural climate variations have caused ice loss in this region, accounting for around 4.5 cm of sea level rise per century.”

Act now

The team also looked at model simulations of future winds. Professor Holland added: “An important finding is that if high greenhouse gas emissions continue in future, the winds keep changing and there could be a further increase in ice melting.

“However, if emissions of greenhouse gases are curtailed, there is little change in the winds from present-day conditions. This shows that curbing greenhouse gas emissions now could reduce the future sea level contribution from this region.”

One co-author, Professor Pierre Dutrieux from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said: “We knew this region was affected by natural climate cycles lasting about a decade, but these didn’t necessarily explain the ice loss. Now we have evidence that a century-long change underlies these cycles, and that it is caused by human activities.”

Another co-author, Professor Eric Steig from the University of Washington, said: “These results solve a long-standing puzzle.  We have known for some time that varying winds near the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have contributed to the ice loss, but it has not been clear why the ice sheet is changing now.

“Our work with ice cores drilled in the Antarctic Ice Sheet have shown, for example, that wind conditions have been similar in the past. But the ice core data also suggest a subtle long-term trend in the winds. This new work corroborates that evidence and, furthermore, explains why that trend has occurred.” − Climate News Network

Artificial snow could save world’s coasts

In theory, artificial snow could save the ice caps and limit sea level rise. But rescuing civilisation this way would sacrifice Antarctica.

LONDON, 2 August, 2019 − German scientists have proposed a startling new way of slowing sea level rise and saving New York, Shanghai, Amsterdam and Miami from 3.3 metres of ocean flooding − by using artificial snow.

They suggest the rising seas could be halted by turning West Antarctica, one of the last undisturbed places on Earth, into an industrial snow complex, complete with a sophisticated distribution system.

An estimated 12,000 high-performance wind turbines could be used to generate the 145 Gigawatts of power (one Gigawatt supplies the energy for about 750,000 US homes) needed to lift Antarctic ocean water to heights of, on average, 640 metres, heat it, desalinate it and then spray it over 52,000 square kilometres of the West Antarctic ice sheet in the form of artificial snow, at the rate of several hundred billion tonnes a year, for decades.

Such action could slow or halt the apparently-inevitable collapse of the ice sheet: were this to melt entirely – and right now it is melting at the rate of 361 billion tonnes a year – the world’s oceans would rise by 3.3 metres.

“The fundamental trade-off is whether we as humanity want to sacrifice Antarctica to save the currently inhabited coastal regions and cultural heritage that we have built and are building on our shores,” said Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“The apparent absurdity of the endeavour to let it snow in Antarctica to stop an ice instability reflects the breathtaking dimension of the sea level problem”

“It is about global metropolises, from New York to Shanghai, which in the long term will be below sea level if nothing is done. The West Antarctic ice sheet is one of the tipping elements in our climate system. Ice loss is accelerating and might not stop until the West Antarctic ice sheet is practically gone.”

The Potsdam scientists report in the journal Science Advances that their simulations of ice loss from West Antarctica and the measures needed to halt such loss are not an alternative to other steps. Their calculations would be valid “only under a simultaneous drastic reduction” of the global carbon dioxide emissions that drive global heating, and sea level rise, in the first place.

That is, the world would need to abandon fossil fuels, agree to switch to renewable energy, and then use that renewable energy to in effect destroy the Antarctic’s unique ecosystem but save the great cities of the world from the advancing waves later in this millennium.

The researchers acknowledge that the solution is somewhere between impractical and impossible (in their words, it would have to be undertaken “under the difficult circumstances of the Antarctic climate”). But the mere fact that they could write such a proposal is itself an indicator of the accelerating seriousness of the planetary predicament.

In Paris in 2015, 195 nations agreed to take steps to limit global temperature rise to “well below” 2°C above the level that obtained for most of human history. Such steps for the most part have yet to be taken.

3°C rise possible

Carbon dioxide emissions are increasing, the Arctic ice cap is diminishing, the oceans are warming and the loss of ice in Antarctica is increasing.

By 2100, on present trends, the world will be at least 3°C above the historic average.

“The apparent absurdity of the endeavour to let it snow in Antarctica to stop an ice instability reflects the breathtaking dimension of the sea level problem,” Professor Levermann said.

“Yet as scientists we feel it is our duty to inform society about each and every potential option to counter the problems ahead.

“As unbelievable as it might seem, in order to prevent an unprecedented risk, humankind might have to make an unprecedented effort, too.” − Climate News Network

In theory, artificial snow could save the ice caps and limit sea level rise. But rescuing civilisation this way would sacrifice Antarctica.

LONDON, 2 August, 2019 − German scientists have proposed a startling new way of slowing sea level rise and saving New York, Shanghai, Amsterdam and Miami from 3.3 metres of ocean flooding − by using artificial snow.

They suggest the rising seas could be halted by turning West Antarctica, one of the last undisturbed places on Earth, into an industrial snow complex, complete with a sophisticated distribution system.

An estimated 12,000 high-performance wind turbines could be used to generate the 145 Gigawatts of power (one Gigawatt supplies the energy for about 750,000 US homes) needed to lift Antarctic ocean water to heights of, on average, 640 metres, heat it, desalinate it and then spray it over 52,000 square kilometres of the West Antarctic ice sheet in the form of artificial snow, at the rate of several hundred billion tonnes a year, for decades.

Such action could slow or halt the apparently-inevitable collapse of the ice sheet: were this to melt entirely – and right now it is melting at the rate of 361 billion tonnes a year – the world’s oceans would rise by 3.3 metres.

“The fundamental trade-off is whether we as humanity want to sacrifice Antarctica to save the currently inhabited coastal regions and cultural heritage that we have built and are building on our shores,” said Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“The apparent absurdity of the endeavour to let it snow in Antarctica to stop an ice instability reflects the breathtaking dimension of the sea level problem”

“It is about global metropolises, from New York to Shanghai, which in the long term will be below sea level if nothing is done. The West Antarctic ice sheet is one of the tipping elements in our climate system. Ice loss is accelerating and might not stop until the West Antarctic ice sheet is practically gone.”

The Potsdam scientists report in the journal Science Advances that their simulations of ice loss from West Antarctica and the measures needed to halt such loss are not an alternative to other steps. Their calculations would be valid “only under a simultaneous drastic reduction” of the global carbon dioxide emissions that drive global heating, and sea level rise, in the first place.

That is, the world would need to abandon fossil fuels, agree to switch to renewable energy, and then use that renewable energy to in effect destroy the Antarctic’s unique ecosystem but save the great cities of the world from the advancing waves later in this millennium.

The researchers acknowledge that the solution is somewhere between impractical and impossible (in their words, it would have to be undertaken “under the difficult circumstances of the Antarctic climate”). But the mere fact that they could write such a proposal is itself an indicator of the accelerating seriousness of the planetary predicament.

In Paris in 2015, 195 nations agreed to take steps to limit global temperature rise to “well below” 2°C above the level that obtained for most of human history. Such steps for the most part have yet to be taken.

3°C rise possible

Carbon dioxide emissions are increasing, the Arctic ice cap is diminishing, the oceans are warming and the loss of ice in Antarctica is increasing.

By 2100, on present trends, the world will be at least 3°C above the historic average.

“The apparent absurdity of the endeavour to let it snow in Antarctica to stop an ice instability reflects the breathtaking dimension of the sea level problem,” Professor Levermann said.

“Yet as scientists we feel it is our duty to inform society about each and every potential option to counter the problems ahead.

“As unbelievable as it might seem, in order to prevent an unprecedented risk, humankind might have to make an unprecedented effort, too.” − Climate News Network

Ice-free Greenland possible in 1,000 years

Look far enough ahead and in a millennium an ice-free Greenland is a possibility, scientists say. Sea levels too will be a lot higher by then.

LONDON, 25 June, 2019 − US scientists have just established that the long-term future may bring an ice-free Greenland, if melting continues at the current rate. By the year 3,000 it could simply be green, with rocky outcrops. Greenland’s icy mountains will have vanished.

By the end of this century, the island – the largest body of ice in the northern hemisphere, and home to 8% of the world’s fresh water in frozen form – will have lost 4.5% of its ice cover, and sea levels will have risen by up to 33cm.

And if melting continues, and the world goes on burning fossil fuels under climate science’s notorious “business as usual scenario”, then within another thousand years the entire cover will have run into the sea, which by then will have risen – just because of melting in Greenland – by more than seven metres, to wash away cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, Shanghai and New Orleans.

“How Greenland will look in the future – in a couple of hundred years or in 1,000 years – whether there will be Greenland, or at least a Greenland similar to today, it’s up to us”, said Andy Aschwanden, of the University of Fairbanks, Alaska geophysical institute.

He and colleagues from the US and Denmark report in the journal Science Advances that they used new radar data that gave a picture of the thickness of the ice and the bedrock beneath it to estimate the total mass of ice.

“We project that Greenland will very likely become ice-free within a millennium without substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”

They then selected three possible climate outcomes, depending on national and political responses to the climate emergency, considered the rates at which glaciers had begun to flow, the levels of summer and even winter ice melt, and the warming of the oceans, and ran 500 computer simulations to form a picture of the future.

Researchers have been warning for years that the rate of ice loss in Greenland is accelerating. Ice is being lost from the ice sheet surface, in some places at such speed that the bedrock beneath, once crushed by the weight of ice, is beginning to rise.

The great frozen rivers that carry ice to the sea to form summer icebergs are themselves gathering pace: one of these in 2014 was recorded as having quadrupled in speed, to move at almost 50 metres a day.

Research in polar regions is always difficult, and conclusions are necessarily tentative. On-the-ground studies are limited in summer and all but impossible in winter. The dynamic of ice loss changes, depending on conditions both in the atmosphere and the surrounding ocean.

Greenhouse gas increase

But the Fairbanks study is consistent with a huge body of other research. And the same computer simulations confirm that what happens depends ultimately on whether the world continues to heat up as a consequence of the profligate consumption of fossil fuels that increase the ratio of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

If carbon dioxide emissions are sharply reduced, the scientists say, the picture changes. Instead, the island could lose only up to a quarter of its ice cover by the end of this millennium, with a corresponding sea level rise of up to 1.88 metres.

Another, less hopeful scenario foresees a loss of up to 57% and sea level rise of up to 4.17 metres. In the worst case, the range of possible ice loss is from 72% to the lot, with the oceans higher by up to 7.28 metres, all of it from the existing ice mass of Greenland.

“We project that Greenland will very likely become ice-free within a millennium without substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”, the researchers conclude. − Climate News Network

Look far enough ahead and in a millennium an ice-free Greenland is a possibility, scientists say. Sea levels too will be a lot higher by then.

LONDON, 25 June, 2019 − US scientists have just established that the long-term future may bring an ice-free Greenland, if melting continues at the current rate. By the year 3,000 it could simply be green, with rocky outcrops. Greenland’s icy mountains will have vanished.

By the end of this century, the island – the largest body of ice in the northern hemisphere, and home to 8% of the world’s fresh water in frozen form – will have lost 4.5% of its ice cover, and sea levels will have risen by up to 33cm.

And if melting continues, and the world goes on burning fossil fuels under climate science’s notorious “business as usual scenario”, then within another thousand years the entire cover will have run into the sea, which by then will have risen – just because of melting in Greenland – by more than seven metres, to wash away cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, Shanghai and New Orleans.

“How Greenland will look in the future – in a couple of hundred years or in 1,000 years – whether there will be Greenland, or at least a Greenland similar to today, it’s up to us”, said Andy Aschwanden, of the University of Fairbanks, Alaska geophysical institute.

He and colleagues from the US and Denmark report in the journal Science Advances that they used new radar data that gave a picture of the thickness of the ice and the bedrock beneath it to estimate the total mass of ice.

“We project that Greenland will very likely become ice-free within a millennium without substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”

They then selected three possible climate outcomes, depending on national and political responses to the climate emergency, considered the rates at which glaciers had begun to flow, the levels of summer and even winter ice melt, and the warming of the oceans, and ran 500 computer simulations to form a picture of the future.

Researchers have been warning for years that the rate of ice loss in Greenland is accelerating. Ice is being lost from the ice sheet surface, in some places at such speed that the bedrock beneath, once crushed by the weight of ice, is beginning to rise.

The great frozen rivers that carry ice to the sea to form summer icebergs are themselves gathering pace: one of these in 2014 was recorded as having quadrupled in speed, to move at almost 50 metres a day.

Research in polar regions is always difficult, and conclusions are necessarily tentative. On-the-ground studies are limited in summer and all but impossible in winter. The dynamic of ice loss changes, depending on conditions both in the atmosphere and the surrounding ocean.

Greenhouse gas increase

But the Fairbanks study is consistent with a huge body of other research. And the same computer simulations confirm that what happens depends ultimately on whether the world continues to heat up as a consequence of the profligate consumption of fossil fuels that increase the ratio of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

If carbon dioxide emissions are sharply reduced, the scientists say, the picture changes. Instead, the island could lose only up to a quarter of its ice cover by the end of this millennium, with a corresponding sea level rise of up to 1.88 metres.

Another, less hopeful scenario foresees a loss of up to 57% and sea level rise of up to 4.17 metres. In the worst case, the range of possible ice loss is from 72% to the lot, with the oceans higher by up to 7.28 metres, all of it from the existing ice mass of Greenland.

“We project that Greenland will very likely become ice-free within a millennium without substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”, the researchers conclude. − Climate News Network

Arctic sea ice loss affects the jet stream

The jet stream affects northern hemisphere climates. And global warming affects the behaviour of the jet stream. Prepare for yet more extremes of seasonal weather.

LONDON, 6 June, 2019 − Did you shiver in a winter ice storm? Could you wilt in a protracted heatwave this summer? German scientists have just identified the guilty agency and delivered the evidence implicating the jet stream.

Blame it on Arctic warming, they conclude: the retreat of the sea ice over the polar ocean has distorted the pattern of flow of the stratospheric winds usually known as the jet stream.

It is not a new idea. But this time, scientists have employed artificial intelligence and a machine-learning programme to accurately model the changes in the jet stream and then link these to changes in the chemistry of the upper atmosphere, and increasing patterns of twisting waves in the high altitude winds which then distort seasonal weather in the northern hemisphere mid-latitudes. They describe their research in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Our study shows that the changes in the jet stream are at least partly due to the loss of Arctic sea ice. If the ice cover continues to dwindle, we believe that both the frequency and intensity of the extreme weather events previously observed in the middle latitudes will increase,” said Markus Rex, who heads atmospheric research at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany.

Cold bouts explained

“In addition, our findings confirm that the more frequently occurring cold phases in winter in the USA, Europe and Asia are by no means a contradiction to global warming; rather they are part of anthropogenic climate change.”

The jet stream – exploited by jet aircraft on the trans-Atlantic routes – is made up of westerly winds that, at an altitude of 10 kilometres, stream around the planet in the mid-latitudes, at speeds of up to 500 km an hour, and push weather systems from west to east.

But researchers have already observed this: they have been changing, in response to global warming and in particular to the rapid warming of the Arctic, as greenhouse gas ratios in the atmosphere rise, and go on rising, in response to profligate human combustion of fossil fuels.

Rather than stick to a course more or less parallel to the Equator, these winds have been observed describing dramatic waves.

“If the ice cover continues to dwindle, we believe that both the frequency and intensity of the extreme weather events previously observed in the middle latitudes will increase”

These twists of direction have been linked to blasts of Arctic air into regions that could normally expect relatively mild winters: in particular to the ferocious cold that hit the US Midwest in January 2019.

These winds have also weakened and been linked to prolonged drought and extremes of heat that hit Europe in 2003, 2006, 2015 and 2018.

But association is not the same as demonstration of cause-and-effect. The Potsdam scientists wanted surer evidence. And their new climate simulations now include a machine-learning component that accounts for ozone chemistry at high altitudes.

And what their new model found was that as the Arctic sea ice retreats, the atmospheric waves have warmed the polar stratosphere in ways that have been amplified by the behaviour of the ozone layer.

Ozone response

Since what powers the jet stream is the difference between the cold Arctic and the warm tropics, the jet stream has weakened, and begun to meander, like a river flowing across a flood plain towards the sea.

In effect, the new study introduces a new piece to the climate puzzle: the response of the ozone layer and its role in the play of winds around the planet. The pay-off could be a clearer picture of things to come.

“We are now for the first time employing artificial intelligence in climate modelling, helping us arrive at more realistic model systems,” said Professor Rex.

“This holds tremendous potential for future climate models, which we believe will deliver more reliable climate projections and therefore a more robust basis for political decision-making.” − Climate News Network

The jet stream affects northern hemisphere climates. And global warming affects the behaviour of the jet stream. Prepare for yet more extremes of seasonal weather.

LONDON, 6 June, 2019 − Did you shiver in a winter ice storm? Could you wilt in a protracted heatwave this summer? German scientists have just identified the guilty agency and delivered the evidence implicating the jet stream.

Blame it on Arctic warming, they conclude: the retreat of the sea ice over the polar ocean has distorted the pattern of flow of the stratospheric winds usually known as the jet stream.

It is not a new idea. But this time, scientists have employed artificial intelligence and a machine-learning programme to accurately model the changes in the jet stream and then link these to changes in the chemistry of the upper atmosphere, and increasing patterns of twisting waves in the high altitude winds which then distort seasonal weather in the northern hemisphere mid-latitudes. They describe their research in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Our study shows that the changes in the jet stream are at least partly due to the loss of Arctic sea ice. If the ice cover continues to dwindle, we believe that both the frequency and intensity of the extreme weather events previously observed in the middle latitudes will increase,” said Markus Rex, who heads atmospheric research at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany.

Cold bouts explained

“In addition, our findings confirm that the more frequently occurring cold phases in winter in the USA, Europe and Asia are by no means a contradiction to global warming; rather they are part of anthropogenic climate change.”

The jet stream – exploited by jet aircraft on the trans-Atlantic routes – is made up of westerly winds that, at an altitude of 10 kilometres, stream around the planet in the mid-latitudes, at speeds of up to 500 km an hour, and push weather systems from west to east.

But researchers have already observed this: they have been changing, in response to global warming and in particular to the rapid warming of the Arctic, as greenhouse gas ratios in the atmosphere rise, and go on rising, in response to profligate human combustion of fossil fuels.

Rather than stick to a course more or less parallel to the Equator, these winds have been observed describing dramatic waves.

“If the ice cover continues to dwindle, we believe that both the frequency and intensity of the extreme weather events previously observed in the middle latitudes will increase”

These twists of direction have been linked to blasts of Arctic air into regions that could normally expect relatively mild winters: in particular to the ferocious cold that hit the US Midwest in January 2019.

These winds have also weakened and been linked to prolonged drought and extremes of heat that hit Europe in 2003, 2006, 2015 and 2018.

But association is not the same as demonstration of cause-and-effect. The Potsdam scientists wanted surer evidence. And their new climate simulations now include a machine-learning component that accounts for ozone chemistry at high altitudes.

And what their new model found was that as the Arctic sea ice retreats, the atmospheric waves have warmed the polar stratosphere in ways that have been amplified by the behaviour of the ozone layer.

Ozone response

Since what powers the jet stream is the difference between the cold Arctic and the warm tropics, the jet stream has weakened, and begun to meander, like a river flowing across a flood plain towards the sea.

In effect, the new study introduces a new piece to the climate puzzle: the response of the ozone layer and its role in the play of winds around the planet. The pay-off could be a clearer picture of things to come.

“We are now for the first time employing artificial intelligence in climate modelling, helping us arrive at more realistic model systems,” said Professor Rex.

“This holds tremendous potential for future climate models, which we believe will deliver more reliable climate projections and therefore a more robust basis for political decision-making.” − Climate News Network

Unstable polar glaciers lose ice ever faster

As oceans warm, Antarctica’s ice sheets are at growing risk, with polar glaciers losing ice at rates to match the height of global monuments.

LONDON, 31 May, 2019 – Almost a quarter of all the glaciers in West Antarctica have been pronounced “unstable”. This means, in the simplest terms, that they are losing ice to the ocean faster than they can gain it from falling snow.

In the last 25 years most of the largest flows have accelerated the loss of ice fivefold.

And in places some glaciers, including those known as Pine Island and Thwaites, have “thinned” by 122 metres. That means that the thickness of the ice between the surface and the bedrock over which glaciers flow has fallen by almost the height of the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, and far more than the Statue of Liberty in New York or the tower of Big Ben in London.

The conclusions are based on climate simulation matched against 800 million measurements of the Antarctic ice sheet recorded by the altimeters aboard four orbiting satellites put up by the European Space Agency between 1992 and 2017. The conclusion is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“A wave of thinning has spread rapidly across some of Antarctica’s most vulnerable glaciers, and their losses are driving up sea levels around the planet”

Antarctic research is challenging. The continent is enormous – nearly twice the size of Australia – and frozen: 99.4% of it is covered by ice, to huge depths. It is also defined as a desert.

Snowfalls are low, but over millions of years these have built up to a reservoir of about nine-tenths of the planet’s fresh water, in the form of snow and ice.

It is also the coldest place on Earth and – even more of a problem for climate scientists – no observations or measurements of anything in Antarctica date back much further than the beginning of the 19th century. Most of the on-the-ground science is possible only in the Antarctic summer.

The latest study confirms a succession of alarming finds. The West Antarctic ice sheet is not just losing ice, it is doing so at ever-faster speeds. Scientists have already suggested that the rate of loss for the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers could be irreversible. So much has already been lost that the bedrock, crushed by its burden of ice for aeons, is actually beginning to bounce up in response.

Huge ice losses

“In parts of Antarctica the ice sheet has thinned by extraordinary amounts, and we set out to show how much was due to changes in climate and how much was due to weather,” said Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, UK, who led the research.

Changes in snowfall tended, they found, to be reflected over changes in height over large areas for a few years. But the most pronounced changes have persisted for decades: it’s the climate that is changing things, not the weather.

“Knowing how much snow has fallen has really helped us to detect the underlying change in glacier ice within the satellite record. We can see clearly now that a wave of thinning has spread rapidly across some of Antarctica’s most vulnerable glaciers, and their losses are driving up sea levels around the planet”, Professor Shepherd says.

“Altogether, ice losses from East and West Antarctica have contributed 4.6mm to global sea level rise since 1992.” – Climate News Network

As oceans warm, Antarctica’s ice sheets are at growing risk, with polar glaciers losing ice at rates to match the height of global monuments.

LONDON, 31 May, 2019 – Almost a quarter of all the glaciers in West Antarctica have been pronounced “unstable”. This means, in the simplest terms, that they are losing ice to the ocean faster than they can gain it from falling snow.

In the last 25 years most of the largest flows have accelerated the loss of ice fivefold.

And in places some glaciers, including those known as Pine Island and Thwaites, have “thinned” by 122 metres. That means that the thickness of the ice between the surface and the bedrock over which glaciers flow has fallen by almost the height of the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, and far more than the Statue of Liberty in New York or the tower of Big Ben in London.

The conclusions are based on climate simulation matched against 800 million measurements of the Antarctic ice sheet recorded by the altimeters aboard four orbiting satellites put up by the European Space Agency between 1992 and 2017. The conclusion is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“A wave of thinning has spread rapidly across some of Antarctica’s most vulnerable glaciers, and their losses are driving up sea levels around the planet”

Antarctic research is challenging. The continent is enormous – nearly twice the size of Australia – and frozen: 99.4% of it is covered by ice, to huge depths. It is also defined as a desert.

Snowfalls are low, but over millions of years these have built up to a reservoir of about nine-tenths of the planet’s fresh water, in the form of snow and ice.

It is also the coldest place on Earth and – even more of a problem for climate scientists – no observations or measurements of anything in Antarctica date back much further than the beginning of the 19th century. Most of the on-the-ground science is possible only in the Antarctic summer.

The latest study confirms a succession of alarming finds. The West Antarctic ice sheet is not just losing ice, it is doing so at ever-faster speeds. Scientists have already suggested that the rate of loss for the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers could be irreversible. So much has already been lost that the bedrock, crushed by its burden of ice for aeons, is actually beginning to bounce up in response.

Huge ice losses

“In parts of Antarctica the ice sheet has thinned by extraordinary amounts, and we set out to show how much was due to changes in climate and how much was due to weather,” said Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, UK, who led the research.

Changes in snowfall tended, they found, to be reflected over changes in height over large areas for a few years. But the most pronounced changes have persisted for decades: it’s the climate that is changing things, not the weather.

“Knowing how much snow has fallen has really helped us to detect the underlying change in glacier ice within the satellite record. We can see clearly now that a wave of thinning has spread rapidly across some of Antarctica’s most vulnerable glaciers, and their losses are driving up sea levels around the planet”, Professor Shepherd says.

“Altogether, ice losses from East and West Antarctica have contributed 4.6mm to global sea level rise since 1992.” – Climate News Network

Sea level rise may double forecast for 2100

Scientists say global sea level rise could far exceed predictions because of faster melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

LONDON, 22 May, 2019 − If you are among the many millions of people who live near the world’s coasts, it will probably be worth your while to read this: sea level rise could be much greater than we expect.

A team of international scientists led by the University of Bristol, UK, has looked again at the estimates of how much the world’s oceans are likely to rise during this century. It concludes that the figure could be far higher than previous studies suggested.

In an extreme case, the members say, sea level rise over the next 80 years could mean that by 2100 the oceans will have risen by around six feet (two metres) − roughly twice the level thought likely till now, with “pretty unimaginable” consequences

In its fifth assessment report, published in 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the continued warming of the Earth, if there were no major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, would see the seas rising by between 52cm and 98cm by 2100.

Sombre prospect

Many climate scientists have argued that this was a conservative estimate. The possibility that the eventual figure could be around double the forecast, threatening hundreds of millions of people with having to leave their homes, is sobering. It is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The Bristol team used a different way of trying to gauge the possible effect of the way the ice is melting in Greenland, West and East Antarctica, not relying simply on projections from numerical models.

Their method used a technique called a structured expert judgement study, which involved 22 ice sheet experts in estimating plausible ranges for future sea level rise caused by the projected melting of the ice sheets in each of the three areas studied, under low and high future global temperature rise scenarios.

If emissions continue on their current path, the business-as-usual scenario, the researchers say, then the world’s seas would be very likely to rise by between 62cm and 238cm by 2100. This would be in a world that had warmed by around 5°C, one of the worst-case scenarios for global warming.

 

“I think that a 5% probability, crikey − I think that’s a serious risk. If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable”

“For 2100, the ice sheet contribution is very likely in the range of 7-178cm but once you add in glaciers and ice caps outside the ice sheets and thermal expansion of the seas, you tip well over two metres,” said the lead author, Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol.

He added: “Such a rise in global sea level could result in land loss of 1.79 million sq km, including critical regions of food production, and potential displacement of up to 187 million people.”

For temperature rises expected up to 2°C Greenland’s ice sheet makes the single biggest contribution to sea level rise. But as temperatures climb further the much larger Antarctic ice sheets become involved.

“When you start to look at these lower-likelihood but still plausible values, then the experts believe that there is a small but statistically significant probability that West Antarctica will transition to a very unstable state, and parts of East Antarctica will start contributing as well,” said Professor Bamber.

“But it’s only at these higher probabilities for 5°C that we see those types of behaviours kicking in.”

Mass exodus

Globally important food-growing areas such as the Nile delta would be liable to vanish beneath the waves, and large parts of Bangladesh. Major global cities including London, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai would face significant threats.

“To put this into perspective, the Syrian refugee crisis resulted in about a million refugees coming into Europe,” said Professor Bamber.

Polar science is making striking advances in understanding what is happening to the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. New satellite measurements are showing ice mass loss happening faster than models expected, and there is also something called the marine ice-cliff instability hypothesis, which assumes that coastal ice cliffs can rapidly collapse after ice shelves disintegrate, as a result of surface and sub-shelf melting caused by global warming.

Serious risk

The chances of sea level rise as devastating as this are small, the Bristol team say − about 5%. But they should be taken seriously.

“If I said to you that there was a one in 20 chance that if you crossed the road you would be squashed you wouldn’t go near it,” Professor Bamber said.

“Even a 1% probability means that a one in a hundred year flood is something that could happen in your lifetime. I think that a 5% probability, crikey − I think that’s a serious risk.

“If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable.” − Climate News Network

Scientists say global sea level rise could far exceed predictions because of faster melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

LONDON, 22 May, 2019 − If you are among the many millions of people who live near the world’s coasts, it will probably be worth your while to read this: sea level rise could be much greater than we expect.

A team of international scientists led by the University of Bristol, UK, has looked again at the estimates of how much the world’s oceans are likely to rise during this century. It concludes that the figure could be far higher than previous studies suggested.

In an extreme case, the members say, sea level rise over the next 80 years could mean that by 2100 the oceans will have risen by around six feet (two metres) − roughly twice the level thought likely till now, with “pretty unimaginable” consequences

In its fifth assessment report, published in 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the continued warming of the Earth, if there were no major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, would see the seas rising by between 52cm and 98cm by 2100.

Sombre prospect

Many climate scientists have argued that this was a conservative estimate. The possibility that the eventual figure could be around double the forecast, threatening hundreds of millions of people with having to leave their homes, is sobering. It is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The Bristol team used a different way of trying to gauge the possible effect of the way the ice is melting in Greenland, West and East Antarctica, not relying simply on projections from numerical models.

Their method used a technique called a structured expert judgement study, which involved 22 ice sheet experts in estimating plausible ranges for future sea level rise caused by the projected melting of the ice sheets in each of the three areas studied, under low and high future global temperature rise scenarios.

If emissions continue on their current path, the business-as-usual scenario, the researchers say, then the world’s seas would be very likely to rise by between 62cm and 238cm by 2100. This would be in a world that had warmed by around 5°C, one of the worst-case scenarios for global warming.

 

“I think that a 5% probability, crikey − I think that’s a serious risk. If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable”

“For 2100, the ice sheet contribution is very likely in the range of 7-178cm but once you add in glaciers and ice caps outside the ice sheets and thermal expansion of the seas, you tip well over two metres,” said the lead author, Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol.

He added: “Such a rise in global sea level could result in land loss of 1.79 million sq km, including critical regions of food production, and potential displacement of up to 187 million people.”

For temperature rises expected up to 2°C Greenland’s ice sheet makes the single biggest contribution to sea level rise. But as temperatures climb further the much larger Antarctic ice sheets become involved.

“When you start to look at these lower-likelihood but still plausible values, then the experts believe that there is a small but statistically significant probability that West Antarctica will transition to a very unstable state, and parts of East Antarctica will start contributing as well,” said Professor Bamber.

“But it’s only at these higher probabilities for 5°C that we see those types of behaviours kicking in.”

Mass exodus

Globally important food-growing areas such as the Nile delta would be liable to vanish beneath the waves, and large parts of Bangladesh. Major global cities including London, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai would face significant threats.

“To put this into perspective, the Syrian refugee crisis resulted in about a million refugees coming into Europe,” said Professor Bamber.

Polar science is making striking advances in understanding what is happening to the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. New satellite measurements are showing ice mass loss happening faster than models expected, and there is also something called the marine ice-cliff instability hypothesis, which assumes that coastal ice cliffs can rapidly collapse after ice shelves disintegrate, as a result of surface and sub-shelf melting caused by global warming.

Serious risk

The chances of sea level rise as devastating as this are small, the Bristol team say − about 5%. But they should be taken seriously.

“If I said to you that there was a one in 20 chance that if you crossed the road you would be squashed you wouldn’t go near it,” Professor Bamber said.

“Even a 1% probability means that a one in a hundred year flood is something that could happen in your lifetime. I think that a 5% probability, crikey − I think that’s a serious risk.

“If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable.” − Climate News Network

Arctic soils may produce huge methane leak

Arctic soils tell an ominous story. Change in the high latitudes could be swifter and more devastating than anyone had imagined.

LONDON, 9 May, 2019 − The permafrost may be about to spring an unwelcome surprise, with Arctic soils thought to be thawing faster than anyone had predicted. This threatens to release vast quantities of frozen methane into the atmosphere and transform the northern landscape.

One-fourth of all the land in the northern half of the globe is defined as permafrost. This long-frozen soil is home to the detritus of life over many thousands of years: the remains of plants, animals and microbes. The permanently frozen soils of the region hold, so far in a harmless state, 1,600 billion tonnes of carbon: twice as much as exists in the atmosphere.

And as the Arctic warms, this could release ever-greater volumes of a potent greenhouse gas, to accelerate global warming still further, and the consequent collapse of the soil, the flooding and the landslides could change not just the habitat but even the contours of the high latitudes.

“We are watching this sleeping giant wake up right in front of our eyes,” said Merritt Turetsky, an ecologist at the University of Guelph in Canada.

“Let’s keep that carbon where it belongs – safely frozen in the stunning soils of the north”

“We work in areas where permafrost contains a lot of ice, and our field sites are being destroyed by abrupt collapse of this ice, not gradually over decades, but very quickly over months to years.”

And Miriam Jones, of the US Geological Survey, said: “This abrupt thaw is changing forested ecosystems to thaw lakes and wetlands, resulting in a wholesale transformation of the landscape that not only impacts carbon feedbacks to climate but is also altering wildlife habitat and damaging infrastructure.”

The two scientists are among 14 researchers who argue in the journal Nature that the thaw is happening far faster than anyone had predicted. The Arctic is warming at a rate faster than almost anywhere else on Earth.

So far the thaw affects less than one-fifth of the entire permafrost, but even this relatively small area has the potential to double what climate scientists call “feedback” – the release of hitherto stored greenhouse gases to fuel yet faster warming.

Growing urgency

It is the latest in a series of increasingly urgent warnings about the rate of change in the Arctic.

Stable climate patterns are maintained by stable temperatures. As the polar north warms twice as fast as the average for the rest of the world, the all-important difference between tropics and polar regions begins to accelerate the advance of spring, and delay the next freeze to bring weather extremes and ever higher sea level rises which could soon start to exact a toll on human economies on an unprecedented scale.

Researchers have been warning for years about the consequences of thaw and the release of ever more carbon into the greenhouse atmosphere.

But it is only in recent months that climate scientists have begun to see the effect of ice melt at depth upon the soils that – for now – support Arctic roads, buildings and pipelines as well as a huge natural ecosystem of plants and animals adapted by thousands of years of evolution to long winters and brief flowering summers.

Goal in jeopardy

Put simply: 195 nations met in Paris in 2015 and agreed  to contain average global warming to “well below” 2°C above the long-term level for most of human history. Accelerating thaw in the Arctic puts that goal at risk.

The researchers call for better and more reliable observation of change in the region, more investment in on-the-ground measurement of change, more information about the extent of carbon emissions from the soils, better models of global change in the region, and better reporting of change.

“We can’t prevent abrupt thawing of the permafrost, but we can try to forecast where and when it is likely to happen, to enable decision makers and communities to protect people and resources”, the scientists write.

“Reducing global emissions might be the surest way to slow further release of permafrost carbon into the atmosphere. Let’s keep that carbon where it belongs – safely frozen in the stunning soils of the north.” − Climate News Network

Arctic soils tell an ominous story. Change in the high latitudes could be swifter and more devastating than anyone had imagined.

LONDON, 9 May, 2019 − The permafrost may be about to spring an unwelcome surprise, with Arctic soils thought to be thawing faster than anyone had predicted. This threatens to release vast quantities of frozen methane into the atmosphere and transform the northern landscape.

One-fourth of all the land in the northern half of the globe is defined as permafrost. This long-frozen soil is home to the detritus of life over many thousands of years: the remains of plants, animals and microbes. The permanently frozen soils of the region hold, so far in a harmless state, 1,600 billion tonnes of carbon: twice as much as exists in the atmosphere.

And as the Arctic warms, this could release ever-greater volumes of a potent greenhouse gas, to accelerate global warming still further, and the consequent collapse of the soil, the flooding and the landslides could change not just the habitat but even the contours of the high latitudes.

“We are watching this sleeping giant wake up right in front of our eyes,” said Merritt Turetsky, an ecologist at the University of Guelph in Canada.

“Let’s keep that carbon where it belongs – safely frozen in the stunning soils of the north”

“We work in areas where permafrost contains a lot of ice, and our field sites are being destroyed by abrupt collapse of this ice, not gradually over decades, but very quickly over months to years.”

And Miriam Jones, of the US Geological Survey, said: “This abrupt thaw is changing forested ecosystems to thaw lakes and wetlands, resulting in a wholesale transformation of the landscape that not only impacts carbon feedbacks to climate but is also altering wildlife habitat and damaging infrastructure.”

The two scientists are among 14 researchers who argue in the journal Nature that the thaw is happening far faster than anyone had predicted. The Arctic is warming at a rate faster than almost anywhere else on Earth.

So far the thaw affects less than one-fifth of the entire permafrost, but even this relatively small area has the potential to double what climate scientists call “feedback” – the release of hitherto stored greenhouse gases to fuel yet faster warming.

Growing urgency

It is the latest in a series of increasingly urgent warnings about the rate of change in the Arctic.

Stable climate patterns are maintained by stable temperatures. As the polar north warms twice as fast as the average for the rest of the world, the all-important difference between tropics and polar regions begins to accelerate the advance of spring, and delay the next freeze to bring weather extremes and ever higher sea level rises which could soon start to exact a toll on human economies on an unprecedented scale.

Researchers have been warning for years about the consequences of thaw and the release of ever more carbon into the greenhouse atmosphere.

But it is only in recent months that climate scientists have begun to see the effect of ice melt at depth upon the soils that – for now – support Arctic roads, buildings and pipelines as well as a huge natural ecosystem of plants and animals adapted by thousands of years of evolution to long winters and brief flowering summers.

Goal in jeopardy

Put simply: 195 nations met in Paris in 2015 and agreed  to contain average global warming to “well below” 2°C above the long-term level for most of human history. Accelerating thaw in the Arctic puts that goal at risk.

The researchers call for better and more reliable observation of change in the region, more investment in on-the-ground measurement of change, more information about the extent of carbon emissions from the soils, better models of global change in the region, and better reporting of change.

“We can’t prevent abrupt thawing of the permafrost, but we can try to forecast where and when it is likely to happen, to enable decision makers and communities to protect people and resources”, the scientists write.

“Reducing global emissions might be the surest way to slow further release of permafrost carbon into the atmosphere. Let’s keep that carbon where it belongs – safely frozen in the stunning soils of the north.” − Climate News Network

Fast Arctic melt could cost $70 trillion

Polar change, notably the fast Arctic melt, could impose huge costs on world economies. New evidence shows how rapidly the frozen north is changing.

LONDON, 26 April, 2019 – The northern reaches of the planet are undergoing very rapid change: the fast Arctic melt means the region is warming at twice the speed of the planetary average.

The loss of sea ice and land snow could tip the planet into a new and unprecedented cycle of climatic change and add yet another $70 trillion (£54 tn) to the estimated economic cost of global warming.

In yet another sombre statement of the challenge presented by climate change, driven by ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from the fossil fuels that power the global economy, British, European and US researchers took a look at two manifestations of warming.

One is the growing levels of ancient carbon now being released into the atmosphere as the Arctic permafrost begins to melt. The other is the reduced reflection of solar radiation back into space as what had once been an expanse of snow and ice melts, to expose ever greater areas of light-absorbing blue sea, dark rock and scrubby tundra.

Abrupt surprises

The concern is with what the scientists like to call “non-linear transitions”. The fear is not that global warming will simply get more pronounced as more snow and ice disappears. The fear is that at some point the melting will reach a threshold that could tip the planet into a new climate regime that would be irreversible, and for which there has been no parallel in human history.

And if so, the costs in terms of climate disruption, heat waves, rising sea levels, harvest failures, more violent storms and more devastating floods and so on could start to soar.

The scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that if the nations of the world were to keep a promise made in Paris in 2015 to contain planetary warming to “well below” 2°C above the average for most of human history by the year 2100, the extra cost of Arctic ice loss would still tip $24 tn.

But on the evidence of national plans tabled so far, the world seems on course to hit 3°C by the century’s end, and the extra cost to the global economies is estimated at almost $70 tn.

“What we are witnessing is a major transport current faltering, which is bringing the world one step closer to a sea ice-free summer in the Arctic”

If the world goes on burning more and more fossil fuels – this is called the business-as-usual scenario – then global temperatures could rise to 4°C above the historic average by 2100. The bill for what the scientists call “the most expensive and least desirable scenario” is set at $2197 tn. And, they stress, their forecast $70 tn is just the extra cost of the melting Arctic.

They have not factored in all the other much-feared potential “tipping points” such as the loss of the tropical rainforests that absorb so much of the atmospheric carbon, the collapse of the great Atlantic current that distributes equatorial heat to temperate climates, the loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and other irreversible changes.

As they see it, even to contain global warming to 1.5°C by 2100 could cost a global $600 trillion.

And although the thawing of the permafrost and the opening of the Arctic Ocean would deliver mining and shipping opportunities, any such rewards would be dwarfed by the cost of the emissions from the thawing permafrost, and the reduction of what scientists call albedo: the reflectivity of pristine ice and snow that helps keep the Arctic frozen.

Model-based estimates

Research of this kind is based on vast numbers of simulations of the global economies under a range of scenarios, and the calculations of cost remain just that, estimates based on models of what nations might or might not do. The price economies must pay will be real enough, but the advanced accounting of what has yet to happen remains academic.

But the changes in the Arctic are far from academic, according to a series of new studies of what has been happening, and is happening right now.

●Researchers in California report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have now reconstructed change in the Greenland ice sheet between 1972 and 2018, to estimate the loss of ice.

Fifty years ago, the northern hemisphere’s greatest sheet of ice was losing 47 billion tonnes of ice every year, and by the next decade 50 bn tonnes annually.

Sea levels raised

Since then the losses have risen almost six-fold, and since 2010 the island has been losing ice at the rate of 290 billion tonnes a year. So far, ice from Greenland alone has raised sea levels by almost 14 mm.

●German scientists have looked at the results of 15 years of observations by the Grace satellite system – the acronym stands for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment – which ended in 2018. They calculate that between April 2002 and June 2017, Greenland lost about 260 bn tonnes of ice each year, and Antarctica 140 bn tonnes.

They warn in the journal Nature Climate Change that melting at this rate could accelerate sea level rise to 10 mm a year – faster than at any time in the last 5,000 years – as a direct consequence of a warming climate.

●And the traffic of sea ice across the Arctic ocean has begun to falter, according to German oceanographers. The Transpolar Drift is a slow flow of new sea ice from the Siberian Arctic across the pole to the Fram Strait east of Greenland.

Melting too early

It has its place in the history of polar exploration: in 1893 the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen deliberately sailed his ship the Fram into the ice pack off Siberia and went with the floes across the Arctic.

The Drift is a kind of frozen ocean conveyor that carries nutrients, algae and sediments across the pole. But, researchers say in the journal Scientific Reports, this flow has started to vary. Most of the young ice off the Siberian coast now melts before it can leave its “nursery”. Once, half the ice from the Russian shelf completed the journey. Now, only one-fifth does.

“What we are witnessing is a major transport current faltering, which is bringing the world one step closer to a sea ice-free summer in the Arctic,” said Thomas Krumpen of the Alfred Wegener Institute, who led the study.

“The ice now leaving the Arctic through the Fram Strait is, on average, 30% thinner than it was 15 years ago.” – Climate News Network

Polar change, notably the fast Arctic melt, could impose huge costs on world economies. New evidence shows how rapidly the frozen north is changing.

LONDON, 26 April, 2019 – The northern reaches of the planet are undergoing very rapid change: the fast Arctic melt means the region is warming at twice the speed of the planetary average.

The loss of sea ice and land snow could tip the planet into a new and unprecedented cycle of climatic change and add yet another $70 trillion (£54 tn) to the estimated economic cost of global warming.

In yet another sombre statement of the challenge presented by climate change, driven by ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from the fossil fuels that power the global economy, British, European and US researchers took a look at two manifestations of warming.

One is the growing levels of ancient carbon now being released into the atmosphere as the Arctic permafrost begins to melt. The other is the reduced reflection of solar radiation back into space as what had once been an expanse of snow and ice melts, to expose ever greater areas of light-absorbing blue sea, dark rock and scrubby tundra.

Abrupt surprises

The concern is with what the scientists like to call “non-linear transitions”. The fear is not that global warming will simply get more pronounced as more snow and ice disappears. The fear is that at some point the melting will reach a threshold that could tip the planet into a new climate regime that would be irreversible, and for which there has been no parallel in human history.

And if so, the costs in terms of climate disruption, heat waves, rising sea levels, harvest failures, more violent storms and more devastating floods and so on could start to soar.

The scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that if the nations of the world were to keep a promise made in Paris in 2015 to contain planetary warming to “well below” 2°C above the average for most of human history by the year 2100, the extra cost of Arctic ice loss would still tip $24 tn.

But on the evidence of national plans tabled so far, the world seems on course to hit 3°C by the century’s end, and the extra cost to the global economies is estimated at almost $70 tn.

“What we are witnessing is a major transport current faltering, which is bringing the world one step closer to a sea ice-free summer in the Arctic”

If the world goes on burning more and more fossil fuels – this is called the business-as-usual scenario – then global temperatures could rise to 4°C above the historic average by 2100. The bill for what the scientists call “the most expensive and least desirable scenario” is set at $2197 tn. And, they stress, their forecast $70 tn is just the extra cost of the melting Arctic.

They have not factored in all the other much-feared potential “tipping points” such as the loss of the tropical rainforests that absorb so much of the atmospheric carbon, the collapse of the great Atlantic current that distributes equatorial heat to temperate climates, the loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and other irreversible changes.

As they see it, even to contain global warming to 1.5°C by 2100 could cost a global $600 trillion.

And although the thawing of the permafrost and the opening of the Arctic Ocean would deliver mining and shipping opportunities, any such rewards would be dwarfed by the cost of the emissions from the thawing permafrost, and the reduction of what scientists call albedo: the reflectivity of pristine ice and snow that helps keep the Arctic frozen.

Model-based estimates

Research of this kind is based on vast numbers of simulations of the global economies under a range of scenarios, and the calculations of cost remain just that, estimates based on models of what nations might or might not do. The price economies must pay will be real enough, but the advanced accounting of what has yet to happen remains academic.

But the changes in the Arctic are far from academic, according to a series of new studies of what has been happening, and is happening right now.

●Researchers in California report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have now reconstructed change in the Greenland ice sheet between 1972 and 2018, to estimate the loss of ice.

Fifty years ago, the northern hemisphere’s greatest sheet of ice was losing 47 billion tonnes of ice every year, and by the next decade 50 bn tonnes annually.

Sea levels raised

Since then the losses have risen almost six-fold, and since 2010 the island has been losing ice at the rate of 290 billion tonnes a year. So far, ice from Greenland alone has raised sea levels by almost 14 mm.

●German scientists have looked at the results of 15 years of observations by the Grace satellite system – the acronym stands for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment – which ended in 2018. They calculate that between April 2002 and June 2017, Greenland lost about 260 bn tonnes of ice each year, and Antarctica 140 bn tonnes.

They warn in the journal Nature Climate Change that melting at this rate could accelerate sea level rise to 10 mm a year – faster than at any time in the last 5,000 years – as a direct consequence of a warming climate.

●And the traffic of sea ice across the Arctic ocean has begun to falter, according to German oceanographers. The Transpolar Drift is a slow flow of new sea ice from the Siberian Arctic across the pole to the Fram Strait east of Greenland.

Melting too early

It has its place in the history of polar exploration: in 1893 the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen deliberately sailed his ship the Fram into the ice pack off Siberia and went with the floes across the Arctic.

The Drift is a kind of frozen ocean conveyor that carries nutrients, algae and sediments across the pole. But, researchers say in the journal Scientific Reports, this flow has started to vary. Most of the young ice off the Siberian coast now melts before it can leave its “nursery”. Once, half the ice from the Russian shelf completed the journey. Now, only one-fifth does.

“What we are witnessing is a major transport current faltering, which is bringing the world one step closer to a sea ice-free summer in the Arctic,” said Thomas Krumpen of the Alfred Wegener Institute, who led the study.

“The ice now leaving the Arctic through the Fram Strait is, on average, 30% thinner than it was 15 years ago.” – Climate News Network

Arctic leaks of laughing gas may add to heat

Laughing gas from the thawing Alaskan permafrost is no laughing matter. Nitrous oxide is one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 22 April, 2019 − US scientists have identified yet another hazard linked to the thawing permafrost: laughing gas. A series of flights over the North Slope of Alaska has detected unexpected levels of emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide from the rapidly warming soils.

Nitrous oxide, which chemists know also as laughing gas, is an estimated 300 times more potent as a climate warming agent than the principal greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. It was present in data recordings at levels at least 12 times higher than all previous estimates.

And it is long-lived: it survives in the atmosphere for around 120 years, according to a separate new study of the microbiology of nitrous oxide. And if it gets even higher, into the stratosphere, it can be converted by the action of oxygen and sunlight into another oxide of nitrogen, to quietly destroy the ozone layer.

Oxides of nitrogen are at least as damaging to stratospheric ozone – an invisible screen that absorbs potentially lethal ultraviolet radiation from the sun – as the man-made chlorofluorocarbons banned by an international protocol three decades ago.

“Much smaller increases in nitrous oxide would entail the same kind of climate change that a large plume of CO2 would cause”

Nitrogen is an inert gas which makes up almost four-fifths of the planet’s atmosphere. It is vital to life: growing plants build their tissues by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with the aid of photosynthesis. But they must also absorb nitrogen from plant decay and animal waste, through their roots, with help from soil microbes.

The process is natural, but too slow to help deliver the cereals, tubers and pulses needed to feed seven billion humans and their livestock. For more than 100 years, nations have been making nitrogenous fertiliser in factories and applying it generously to soils to boost harvest yields.

As a consequence, nitrous oxide is now the third most significant greenhouse gas, and the news that it is rising from the permafrost could be troubling.

The permafrost is home to enormous stores of carbon: as soil microbes become warmer and more active, they start to break down long-frozen and partly-decomposed plant material to release both carbon dioxide and potent quantities of methane. The implication is that nitrous oxide could add to the mix, and accelerate warming still further.

Study’s revelation

“Much smaller increases in nitrous oxide would entail the same kind of climate change that a large plume of CO2 would cause,” said Jordan Wilkerson, a Harvard graduate student who led the research, now published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

“We don’t know how much more it’s going to increase and we didn’t know it was significant at all until this study came out.”

The research is based on data collected from a series of low-level flights over four different areas of the North Slope of Alaska, and the scientists used a routine technique to determine the balance of gases getting into the atmosphere from what had once been permafrost.

The point of the flights was to measure levels of carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour, but the raw data included information about nitrous oxide as well: information recovered and examined only years later.

Arctic in change

The weight of the finding is uncertain. One-fourth of the northern hemisphere is home to permafrost – 23 million square kilometres − and the flights covered only 310 square kilometres in all, and only in the month of August. What could be true for one part of the frozen landscape may not apply to all of it.

And thanks to global warming driven by fossil fuel emissions from the world’s power stations, vehicle exhausts and factory chimneys, the Arctic is changing.

Shrubs and trees are beginning to invade the frozen north. Green things consume nitrogen, and the greening of the Arctic might actually decrease nitrous oxide emissions.

Once again, the study is a reminder of how much more work is needed to understand the chemistry, biology and geophysics of climate change. − Climate News Network

Laughing gas from the thawing Alaskan permafrost is no laughing matter. Nitrous oxide is one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 22 April, 2019 − US scientists have identified yet another hazard linked to the thawing permafrost: laughing gas. A series of flights over the North Slope of Alaska has detected unexpected levels of emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide from the rapidly warming soils.

Nitrous oxide, which chemists know also as laughing gas, is an estimated 300 times more potent as a climate warming agent than the principal greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. It was present in data recordings at levels at least 12 times higher than all previous estimates.

And it is long-lived: it survives in the atmosphere for around 120 years, according to a separate new study of the microbiology of nitrous oxide. And if it gets even higher, into the stratosphere, it can be converted by the action of oxygen and sunlight into another oxide of nitrogen, to quietly destroy the ozone layer.

Oxides of nitrogen are at least as damaging to stratospheric ozone – an invisible screen that absorbs potentially lethal ultraviolet radiation from the sun – as the man-made chlorofluorocarbons banned by an international protocol three decades ago.

“Much smaller increases in nitrous oxide would entail the same kind of climate change that a large plume of CO2 would cause”

Nitrogen is an inert gas which makes up almost four-fifths of the planet’s atmosphere. It is vital to life: growing plants build their tissues by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with the aid of photosynthesis. But they must also absorb nitrogen from plant decay and animal waste, through their roots, with help from soil microbes.

The process is natural, but too slow to help deliver the cereals, tubers and pulses needed to feed seven billion humans and their livestock. For more than 100 years, nations have been making nitrogenous fertiliser in factories and applying it generously to soils to boost harvest yields.

As a consequence, nitrous oxide is now the third most significant greenhouse gas, and the news that it is rising from the permafrost could be troubling.

The permafrost is home to enormous stores of carbon: as soil microbes become warmer and more active, they start to break down long-frozen and partly-decomposed plant material to release both carbon dioxide and potent quantities of methane. The implication is that nitrous oxide could add to the mix, and accelerate warming still further.

Study’s revelation

“Much smaller increases in nitrous oxide would entail the same kind of climate change that a large plume of CO2 would cause,” said Jordan Wilkerson, a Harvard graduate student who led the research, now published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

“We don’t know how much more it’s going to increase and we didn’t know it was significant at all until this study came out.”

The research is based on data collected from a series of low-level flights over four different areas of the North Slope of Alaska, and the scientists used a routine technique to determine the balance of gases getting into the atmosphere from what had once been permafrost.

The point of the flights was to measure levels of carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour, but the raw data included information about nitrous oxide as well: information recovered and examined only years later.

Arctic in change

The weight of the finding is uncertain. One-fourth of the northern hemisphere is home to permafrost – 23 million square kilometres − and the flights covered only 310 square kilometres in all, and only in the month of August. What could be true for one part of the frozen landscape may not apply to all of it.

And thanks to global warming driven by fossil fuel emissions from the world’s power stations, vehicle exhausts and factory chimneys, the Arctic is changing.

Shrubs and trees are beginning to invade the frozen north. Green things consume nitrogen, and the greening of the Arctic might actually decrease nitrous oxide emissions.

Once again, the study is a reminder of how much more work is needed to understand the chemistry, biology and geophysics of climate change. − Climate News Network

Glaciers’ global melt may leave Alps bare

High mountain ice is vital to millions. As the world warms, the glaciers’ global melt could see the frozen peaks vanish.

LONDON, 12 April, 2019 – Many of the planet’s most scenic – and most valued – high-altitude landscapes are likely to look quite different within the next 80 years: the glaciers’ global melt will have left just bare rock.

By the century’s end, Europe’s famous Alps – the chain of snow- and ice-covered peaks that have become a playground of the wealthy and a source of income and pleasure for generations – will have lost more than nine-tenths of all its glacier ice.

And in the last 50 years, the world’s glaciers – in Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa and the sub-Arctic mountains – have lost more than nine trillion tonnes of ice as global temperatures creep ever upwards in response to profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

And as meltwater has trickled down the mountains, the seas have risen by 27mm, thanks entirely to glacial retreat.

“Present mass-loss rates indicate that glaciers could almost disappear in some mountain ranges in this century”

In two separate studies, Swiss scientists have tried to audit a profit and loss account for the world’s frozen high-altitude rivers, and found a steady downhill trend.

Glacial ice is a source of security and even wealth: in the poorest regions the annual summer melt of winter snow and ice banked at altitude can guarantee both energy as hydropower and water for crops in the valleys and floodplains.

In wealthy regions, the white peaks and slopes become sources of income as tourist attractions and centres for winter sport – as well as reliable sources of power and water.

Swiss focus

In the journal The Cryosphere, a team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, almost always known simply as ETH Zurich, looked into the future of the nation’s own landscape, and beyond.

They made computer models of the annual flow of ice and its melting patterns and took 2017 as the reference year: a year when the Alpine glaciers bore 100 cubic kilometres of ice. And then they started simulating the future.

If humankind kept the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, to drastically reduce fossil fuel use, lower emissions of carbon dioxide, restore the forests and keep global warming to no more than 2°C above historic levels, then the stores of high ice would be reduced by more than a third over the next eight decades. If humankind went on expanding its use of fossil fuels at the present rates, then half of all the ice would be lost by 2050 and 95% by 2100.

Time lag

But there will be losses in all scenarios: warming so far has seen to that. Ice reflects radiation and keeps itself cold, so change lags behind atmospheric temperature.

“The future evolution of glaciers will strongly depend on how the climate will evolve,” said Harry Zekollari, once of ETH and now at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, who led the research. “In the case of a more limited warming, a far more substantial part of the glaciers could be saved.”

The Alpine glaciers were made world-famous first by Romantic painters and poets of the 19th century, among them JMW Turner and Lord Byron. But their contribution to rising sea levels is, in a global context, negligible.

When Swiss researchers and their Russian, Canadian and European partners looked at the big picture, they found that the mass loss of ice from the mountains of AlaskaCanada, parts of Asia and the Andes matched the increasing flow of water from the melting Greenland ice cap, and exceeded the flow of melting water from the Antarctic continent.

Europe’s modest melt

They report in Nature that glaciers separate from the Greenland and Antarctic sheets covered 706,000 square kilometres of the planet, with a total volume of 170,000 cubic kilometres, or 40 centimetres of potential sea level rise.

And in the five decades from 1961 to 2016, according to careful study of satellite imagery and historic observations, the seas have already risen by 27mm as a consequence of increasing rates of glacial retreat. This is already between 25% and 30% of observed sea level rise so far.

Europe did not figure much in the reckoning. “Globally, we lose three times the ice volume stored in the entirety of the European Alps – every single year,” said Michael Zemp, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich.

He and his colleagues warn: “Present mass-loss rates indicate that glaciers could almost disappear in some mountain ranges in this century, while heavily glacierised regions will continue to contribute to sea level rise beyond 2100.” – Climate News Network

High mountain ice is vital to millions. As the world warms, the glaciers’ global melt could see the frozen peaks vanish.

LONDON, 12 April, 2019 – Many of the planet’s most scenic – and most valued – high-altitude landscapes are likely to look quite different within the next 80 years: the glaciers’ global melt will have left just bare rock.

By the century’s end, Europe’s famous Alps – the chain of snow- and ice-covered peaks that have become a playground of the wealthy and a source of income and pleasure for generations – will have lost more than nine-tenths of all its glacier ice.

And in the last 50 years, the world’s glaciers – in Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa and the sub-Arctic mountains – have lost more than nine trillion tonnes of ice as global temperatures creep ever upwards in response to profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

And as meltwater has trickled down the mountains, the seas have risen by 27mm, thanks entirely to glacial retreat.

“Present mass-loss rates indicate that glaciers could almost disappear in some mountain ranges in this century”

In two separate studies, Swiss scientists have tried to audit a profit and loss account for the world’s frozen high-altitude rivers, and found a steady downhill trend.

Glacial ice is a source of security and even wealth: in the poorest regions the annual summer melt of winter snow and ice banked at altitude can guarantee both energy as hydropower and water for crops in the valleys and floodplains.

In wealthy regions, the white peaks and slopes become sources of income as tourist attractions and centres for winter sport – as well as reliable sources of power and water.

Swiss focus

In the journal The Cryosphere, a team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, almost always known simply as ETH Zurich, looked into the future of the nation’s own landscape, and beyond.

They made computer models of the annual flow of ice and its melting patterns and took 2017 as the reference year: a year when the Alpine glaciers bore 100 cubic kilometres of ice. And then they started simulating the future.

If humankind kept the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, to drastically reduce fossil fuel use, lower emissions of carbon dioxide, restore the forests and keep global warming to no more than 2°C above historic levels, then the stores of high ice would be reduced by more than a third over the next eight decades. If humankind went on expanding its use of fossil fuels at the present rates, then half of all the ice would be lost by 2050 and 95% by 2100.

Time lag

But there will be losses in all scenarios: warming so far has seen to that. Ice reflects radiation and keeps itself cold, so change lags behind atmospheric temperature.

“The future evolution of glaciers will strongly depend on how the climate will evolve,” said Harry Zekollari, once of ETH and now at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, who led the research. “In the case of a more limited warming, a far more substantial part of the glaciers could be saved.”

The Alpine glaciers were made world-famous first by Romantic painters and poets of the 19th century, among them JMW Turner and Lord Byron. But their contribution to rising sea levels is, in a global context, negligible.

When Swiss researchers and their Russian, Canadian and European partners looked at the big picture, they found that the mass loss of ice from the mountains of AlaskaCanada, parts of Asia and the Andes matched the increasing flow of water from the melting Greenland ice cap, and exceeded the flow of melting water from the Antarctic continent.

Europe’s modest melt

They report in Nature that glaciers separate from the Greenland and Antarctic sheets covered 706,000 square kilometres of the planet, with a total volume of 170,000 cubic kilometres, or 40 centimetres of potential sea level rise.

And in the five decades from 1961 to 2016, according to careful study of satellite imagery and historic observations, the seas have already risen by 27mm as a consequence of increasing rates of glacial retreat. This is already between 25% and 30% of observed sea level rise so far.

Europe did not figure much in the reckoning. “Globally, we lose three times the ice volume stored in the entirety of the European Alps – every single year,” said Michael Zemp, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich.

He and his colleagues warn: “Present mass-loss rates indicate that glaciers could almost disappear in some mountain ranges in this century, while heavily glacierised regions will continue to contribute to sea level rise beyond 2100.” – Climate News Network