Tag Archives: Greenland

Arctic’s coldest sea ice is vulnerable to melting

Every year an ice floe as big as Austria simply vanishes. That’s climate change, as the Arctic’s coldest sea ice risks melting.

LONDON, 6 July, 2021 − The frozen world is dwindling fast. New research suggests that the cryosphere − the area of the planet covered by snow and ice − is dwindling by around 87,000 square kilometres every year. This is an area bigger than Austria, almost as big as Hungary, or Jordan. Even the Arctic’s coldest sea ice is threatened.

A second, separate study warns that what glacier scientists call the Last Ice Refuge − the tract of Arctic Ocean that will stay frozen when the rest of it becomes open water during some summers in the next decades − is itself at risk: the coldest and most secure reaches of sea ice just north of Greenland and Canada could be vulnerable to summer melt.

That the polar regions and the high-altitude frozen rivers and lakes are at risk is not news: climate scientists have been warning for decades of accelerating melt in Antarctica, ever-higher losses of ice mass from Greenland, and a loss of northern polar sea ice so comprehensive that by 2050, much of the Arctic Ocean could be clear blue water most summers.

The cryosphere matters: it is a reservoir of two-thirds of the planet’s fresh water. Its gleaming white surface acts as planetary insulation: most of the sunlight that falls upon it is reflected back into space. As the ice thins and retreats, the exposed darker ocean below it warms up, to accelerate global heating and trigger yet more ice loss.

“In years when you replenish the ice cover in this region with older, thicker ice, that doesn’t seem to help as much as you might expect”

Scientists from Lanzhou University in China report in the journal Earth’s Future that they tried to look at the picture of change on a planetary scale. The cryosphere has always expanded and shrunk with the seasons in both hemispheres. Scientists calculated the daily extent of all the world’s snow and ice cover and then averaged it to get yearly estimates.

The Arctic is perhaps the fastest-warming zone on the planet and the northern hemisphere cover has been losing 102,000 sq kms a year, every year. This is an area bigger than Iceland, or Eritrea. The southern hemisphere ice however has been expanding by about 14,000 sq kms a year − think of the Bahamas − to offset a little of the loss.

The researchers also found that much of the cryosphere was now frozen for shorter periods: the day of first freezing now happens about 3.6 days later than it did in 1979, and the ice thaws 5.7 days earlier than it did 40 years ago.

But until now, one stretch of Arctic sea ice had shown no particular signs of change. When glaciologists repeatedly warned that the Arctic could be ice-free in summer by mid-century, they meant that the region would be down to its last million sq km of ice floe. This would be the last stronghold of the frozen world: the last place where seals, walruses and polar bears could find the surfaces they needed for survival.

Essential Refuge

But researchers aboard the German icebreaker Polarstern observed that the ice cover of the Wandel Sea off Greenland and Canada in the summer of 2020 was at a record low. This was a surprise, because at the beginning of the season it had been as dense as ever.

Permanent ice is a matter of life and death to the Arctic’s apex mammal predators: seals haul out onto the ice, to become potential prey for polar bears. Walruses use the ice as a platform for foraging. As the summer sea ice thins and shrinks a little more every year over the rest of the Arctic, the Last Ice Refuge becomes ever more important for their survival as species. The big question is: were the weather conditions unusual, or was this a sign of global heating?

“During the winter and spring of 2020 you had patches of older, thicker ice that had drifted into there, but there was enough thinner, newer ice that melted to expose open ocean,” said Axel Schweiger of the University of Washington in the US, who led the research.

“That began a cycle of absorbing heat energy to melt more ice, in spite of the fact that there was some thick ice. So in years when you replenish the ice cover in this region with older, thicker ice, that doesn’t seem to help as much as you might expect.” − Climate News Network

Every year an ice floe as big as Austria simply vanishes. That’s climate change, as the Arctic’s coldest sea ice risks melting.

LONDON, 6 July, 2021 − The frozen world is dwindling fast. New research suggests that the cryosphere − the area of the planet covered by snow and ice − is dwindling by around 87,000 square kilometres every year. This is an area bigger than Austria, almost as big as Hungary, or Jordan. Even the Arctic’s coldest sea ice is threatened.

A second, separate study warns that what glacier scientists call the Last Ice Refuge − the tract of Arctic Ocean that will stay frozen when the rest of it becomes open water during some summers in the next decades − is itself at risk: the coldest and most secure reaches of sea ice just north of Greenland and Canada could be vulnerable to summer melt.

That the polar regions and the high-altitude frozen rivers and lakes are at risk is not news: climate scientists have been warning for decades of accelerating melt in Antarctica, ever-higher losses of ice mass from Greenland, and a loss of northern polar sea ice so comprehensive that by 2050, much of the Arctic Ocean could be clear blue water most summers.

The cryosphere matters: it is a reservoir of two-thirds of the planet’s fresh water. Its gleaming white surface acts as planetary insulation: most of the sunlight that falls upon it is reflected back into space. As the ice thins and retreats, the exposed darker ocean below it warms up, to accelerate global heating and trigger yet more ice loss.

“In years when you replenish the ice cover in this region with older, thicker ice, that doesn’t seem to help as much as you might expect”

Scientists from Lanzhou University in China report in the journal Earth’s Future that they tried to look at the picture of change on a planetary scale. The cryosphere has always expanded and shrunk with the seasons in both hemispheres. Scientists calculated the daily extent of all the world’s snow and ice cover and then averaged it to get yearly estimates.

The Arctic is perhaps the fastest-warming zone on the planet and the northern hemisphere cover has been losing 102,000 sq kms a year, every year. This is an area bigger than Iceland, or Eritrea. The southern hemisphere ice however has been expanding by about 14,000 sq kms a year − think of the Bahamas − to offset a little of the loss.

The researchers also found that much of the cryosphere was now frozen for shorter periods: the day of first freezing now happens about 3.6 days later than it did in 1979, and the ice thaws 5.7 days earlier than it did 40 years ago.

But until now, one stretch of Arctic sea ice had shown no particular signs of change. When glaciologists repeatedly warned that the Arctic could be ice-free in summer by mid-century, they meant that the region would be down to its last million sq km of ice floe. This would be the last stronghold of the frozen world: the last place where seals, walruses and polar bears could find the surfaces they needed for survival.

Essential Refuge

But researchers aboard the German icebreaker Polarstern observed that the ice cover of the Wandel Sea off Greenland and Canada in the summer of 2020 was at a record low. This was a surprise, because at the beginning of the season it had been as dense as ever.

Permanent ice is a matter of life and death to the Arctic’s apex mammal predators: seals haul out onto the ice, to become potential prey for polar bears. Walruses use the ice as a platform for foraging. As the summer sea ice thins and shrinks a little more every year over the rest of the Arctic, the Last Ice Refuge becomes ever more important for their survival as species. The big question is: were the weather conditions unusual, or was this a sign of global heating?

“During the winter and spring of 2020 you had patches of older, thicker ice that had drifted into there, but there was enough thinner, newer ice that melted to expose open ocean,” said Axel Schweiger of the University of Washington in the US, who led the research.

“That began a cycle of absorbing heat energy to melt more ice, in spite of the fact that there was some thick ice. So in years when you replenish the ice cover in this region with older, thicker ice, that doesn’t seem to help as much as you might expect.” − Climate News Network

Pathway to global climate catastrophe is clear

Global climate catastrophe could be nearer than we think. New research suggests how it could happen.

LONDON, 8 June, 2021 − Here is a set of circumstances that could trigger global climate catastrophe. The Greenland ice sheet could begin a process of irreversible melting.

As it does, greater quantities of fresh water would flood into the Arctic Ocean, to further slow the already slowing Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, that great flow of water sometimes called the Gulf Stream that  distributes warmth from the tropics.

But as the Atlantic flow weakens, so rises the probability of increased and sustained drought and dieback in the Amazon rainforest: the entire region could begin to tip inexorably into savannah.

And the Southern Ocean would begin to warm: it could warm enough to hasten the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, to accelerate the rise of global sea levels and intensify the whole machinery of global heating.

Alarmingly, this process could begin to happen while global temperatures are still not much higher than they are now: 1.5°C has been repeatedly described as the limit beyond which global average temperatures should not rise, but the official global agreed target is a limit of 2°C.

In fact, the chance of a cascade of domino effects − of tipping points that trigger other climate tipping points − could begin somewhere between those two figures, and the probability rises thereafter.

No way back

And, researchers warn, when they say irreversible, they mean it. Once the Greenland ice sheet starts to slide into the sea, there will be no stopping it. The only question is how swiftly all these things could happen.

“Once triggered, the actual tipping process might take several years up to millennia, depending on the respective response times of the system,” the scientists write in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

It’s a scenario, not a prediction. It’s a calculation of possibilities and probabilities inherent in the process of global warming and climate change. It’s an identification of the way atmospheric warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions from human economies can and might change the climate system that drives planetary weather.

“We provide risk analysis, not a prediction, yet our findings still raise concern,” said Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the authors.

She and her colleagues base their study on computer simulations of planetary response to temperature rise. And one third of those simulations suggest that if the world reaches 2°C, then one of those elements could begin to tip towards irreversible change, and at the same time trigger other tipping points.

“We’re shifting the odds, and not to our favour − the risk is clearly increasing the more we heat our planet,” said her colleague and co-author Jonathan Donges. “It rises substantially between 1°C and 3°C.

“Rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is indispensable to limit the risks of crossing tipping points in the climate system”

“If greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting climate change cannot be halted, the upper level of this warming range could most likely be crossed by the end of this century. With even higher temperatures, more tipping cascades are to be expected, with long-term devastating effects.”

Climate science has been concerned with the idea of tipping points − temperatures beyond which climate change might be irreversible − for decades. There have been repeated findings that some of these might be nearer than anybody had suspected.

Greenland is in effect the reservoir of most of the Northern hemisphere’s ice − enough to raise sea levels by seven metres − and it is melting at an ever-accelerating rate.

Researchers have again and again identified a possible faltering of the Atlantic current, to warn of a paradoxical consequence: if the Gulf Stream slows, then average temperatures in western Europe could actually fall in a globally-heating world.

The Amazon rainforest − a vital part of the planet’s climate machinery since the end of the last Ice Age − has been hit not just by human degradation but by drought and forest fire, and could be about to slide into permanent savannah.

Overshoot nears

And scientists in Antarctica have been warning for a decade of thinning ice sheets, and accelerating glaciers.

The planet has already warmed by more than a degree Celsius in the last century or so. There is a high chance that some time this decade the annual average planetary temperature could pass the 1.5°C threshold, if only temporarily.

Right now, although 195 nations in Paris in 2015 committed themselves to a target of “well below” 2°C by 2100, the world is heading for a temperature rise by the end of the century of more than 3°C.

The authors concede that their results contain a lot of uncertainties: there is more research to be done. But that doesn’t mean there is no urgency.

“Our analysis is conservative in the sense that several interactions and tipping elements are not yet considered”, said Professor Winkelmann. It would hence be a daring bet to hope that the uncertainties play out in a good way, given what is at stake.

“From a precautionary perspective, rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is indispensable to limit the risks of crossing tipping points in the climate system, and potentially causing domino effects.” − Climate News Network

Global climate catastrophe could be nearer than we think. New research suggests how it could happen.

LONDON, 8 June, 2021 − Here is a set of circumstances that could trigger global climate catastrophe. The Greenland ice sheet could begin a process of irreversible melting.

As it does, greater quantities of fresh water would flood into the Arctic Ocean, to further slow the already slowing Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, that great flow of water sometimes called the Gulf Stream that  distributes warmth from the tropics.

But as the Atlantic flow weakens, so rises the probability of increased and sustained drought and dieback in the Amazon rainforest: the entire region could begin to tip inexorably into savannah.

And the Southern Ocean would begin to warm: it could warm enough to hasten the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, to accelerate the rise of global sea levels and intensify the whole machinery of global heating.

Alarmingly, this process could begin to happen while global temperatures are still not much higher than they are now: 1.5°C has been repeatedly described as the limit beyond which global average temperatures should not rise, but the official global agreed target is a limit of 2°C.

In fact, the chance of a cascade of domino effects − of tipping points that trigger other climate tipping points − could begin somewhere between those two figures, and the probability rises thereafter.

No way back

And, researchers warn, when they say irreversible, they mean it. Once the Greenland ice sheet starts to slide into the sea, there will be no stopping it. The only question is how swiftly all these things could happen.

“Once triggered, the actual tipping process might take several years up to millennia, depending on the respective response times of the system,” the scientists write in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

It’s a scenario, not a prediction. It’s a calculation of possibilities and probabilities inherent in the process of global warming and climate change. It’s an identification of the way atmospheric warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions from human economies can and might change the climate system that drives planetary weather.

“We provide risk analysis, not a prediction, yet our findings still raise concern,” said Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the authors.

She and her colleagues base their study on computer simulations of planetary response to temperature rise. And one third of those simulations suggest that if the world reaches 2°C, then one of those elements could begin to tip towards irreversible change, and at the same time trigger other tipping points.

“We’re shifting the odds, and not to our favour − the risk is clearly increasing the more we heat our planet,” said her colleague and co-author Jonathan Donges. “It rises substantially between 1°C and 3°C.

“Rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is indispensable to limit the risks of crossing tipping points in the climate system”

“If greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting climate change cannot be halted, the upper level of this warming range could most likely be crossed by the end of this century. With even higher temperatures, more tipping cascades are to be expected, with long-term devastating effects.”

Climate science has been concerned with the idea of tipping points − temperatures beyond which climate change might be irreversible − for decades. There have been repeated findings that some of these might be nearer than anybody had suspected.

Greenland is in effect the reservoir of most of the Northern hemisphere’s ice − enough to raise sea levels by seven metres − and it is melting at an ever-accelerating rate.

Researchers have again and again identified a possible faltering of the Atlantic current, to warn of a paradoxical consequence: if the Gulf Stream slows, then average temperatures in western Europe could actually fall in a globally-heating world.

The Amazon rainforest − a vital part of the planet’s climate machinery since the end of the last Ice Age − has been hit not just by human degradation but by drought and forest fire, and could be about to slide into permanent savannah.

Overshoot nears

And scientists in Antarctica have been warning for a decade of thinning ice sheets, and accelerating glaciers.

The planet has already warmed by more than a degree Celsius in the last century or so. There is a high chance that some time this decade the annual average planetary temperature could pass the 1.5°C threshold, if only temporarily.

Right now, although 195 nations in Paris in 2015 committed themselves to a target of “well below” 2°C by 2100, the world is heading for a temperature rise by the end of the century of more than 3°C.

The authors concede that their results contain a lot of uncertainties: there is more research to be done. But that doesn’t mean there is no urgency.

“Our analysis is conservative in the sense that several interactions and tipping elements are not yet considered”, said Professor Winkelmann. It would hence be a daring bet to hope that the uncertainties play out in a good way, given what is at stake.

“From a precautionary perspective, rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is indispensable to limit the risks of crossing tipping points in the climate system, and potentially causing domino effects.” − Climate News Network

Faster Greenland ice melt could be unstoppable

A rapid thaw could destroy a whole ice sheet if the faster Greenland ice melt scientists have found spreads across the island.

LONDON, 24 May, 2021 − Researchers say the faster Greenland ice melt affecting part of the island could mean a large area is on the verge of irreversible loss. Their new study shows that the central western region of the ice sheet is near what climate scientists call “a tipping point.”

That is, once the ice starts to slide away, most of it will tip into the sea, to raise global sea levels and potentially to trigger the collapse of the great Atlantic Ocean current that enhances the climate of north-west Europe.

“We have found evidence that the central western part of the Greenland ice sheet has been destabilising and is now close to a critical transition,” said Niklas Boers, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Our results suggest there will be substantially enhanced melting in the future − which is quite worrying.”

Dr Boers and his colleague Martin Rypdal of the Arctic University of Norway report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at data since 1880 of melt rates and ice-sheet altitude shifts of a region called the Jakobshavn basin in the central western region of the northern hemisphere’s biggest single block of ice − a block big enough to raise global sea levels by seven metres, were it all to melt.

And what they saw was something alarming: evidence that surface melting is beginning to accelerate. The conclusion, for now, is tentative.

“It’s high time we dramatically and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels”

“We might be seeing the beginning of a large scale destabilisation, but at the moment we cannot tell, unfortunately,” Dr Boers said. “So far the signals we see are only regional, but that might simply be due to the scarcity of accurate and long-term data for other parts of the ice sheet.”

The region is home to the Jakobshavn glacier, which began to accelerate its flow to the sea this century, but the alarm is consistent with other studies of the mass of ice piled up on Greenland.

For most of the last 10,000 years or so, the summer loss of ice through melt and glacial flow has been replaced by winter snow. But in recent years, other research teams have warned, repeatedly, that the rate of  melting of Greenland’s surface ice has increased, in ways that really could threaten the stability of the entire sheet. Last year, ice loss reached a new record.

Greenland’s ice sheet is high: colder, therefore, at altitude. As the surface melts, the elevation becomes lower, and therefore increasingly warmer. So once the high ground surface begins to melt away, it could reach a level below which there is no obvious reason why the process should stop.

Climate computer simulations predict a threshold of global average temperature change that could, in effect, start a process in which the loss of the entire ice sheet would become inevitable. The loss would happen over hundreds of years, or perhaps thousands, but once begun it would continue inexorably.

Extreme Arctic warming

Global sea levels would rise at ever faster rates, and the arrival of so much fresh water in the north Atlantic would be enough to interfere with the ocean circulation.

For years oceanographers have been warning that the existing current, which takes warm tropical water as far north as the Arctic, could weaken, or fail, with unpredictable and uncomfortable consequences for north European nations.

The only way to stop Greenland’s accelerated melt, once it reaches a critical point, would be to lower the temperature of the whole planet back to that which was normal more than 200 years ago. That is unlikely to happen. Instead, for the moment, the evidence is that average temperatures worldwide could rise by 3°C or more by 2100. The Arctic, however, is likely to become much, much warmer.

“So practically, the current and near-future mass loss will be irreversible,” said Dr Boers, “That’s why it’s high time we dramatically and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and restabilise the ice sheet and our climate.” − Climate News Network

A rapid thaw could destroy a whole ice sheet if the faster Greenland ice melt scientists have found spreads across the island.

LONDON, 24 May, 2021 − Researchers say the faster Greenland ice melt affecting part of the island could mean a large area is on the verge of irreversible loss. Their new study shows that the central western region of the ice sheet is near what climate scientists call “a tipping point.”

That is, once the ice starts to slide away, most of it will tip into the sea, to raise global sea levels and potentially to trigger the collapse of the great Atlantic Ocean current that enhances the climate of north-west Europe.

“We have found evidence that the central western part of the Greenland ice sheet has been destabilising and is now close to a critical transition,” said Niklas Boers, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Our results suggest there will be substantially enhanced melting in the future − which is quite worrying.”

Dr Boers and his colleague Martin Rypdal of the Arctic University of Norway report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at data since 1880 of melt rates and ice-sheet altitude shifts of a region called the Jakobshavn basin in the central western region of the northern hemisphere’s biggest single block of ice − a block big enough to raise global sea levels by seven metres, were it all to melt.

And what they saw was something alarming: evidence that surface melting is beginning to accelerate. The conclusion, for now, is tentative.

“It’s high time we dramatically and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels”

“We might be seeing the beginning of a large scale destabilisation, but at the moment we cannot tell, unfortunately,” Dr Boers said. “So far the signals we see are only regional, but that might simply be due to the scarcity of accurate and long-term data for other parts of the ice sheet.”

The region is home to the Jakobshavn glacier, which began to accelerate its flow to the sea this century, but the alarm is consistent with other studies of the mass of ice piled up on Greenland.

For most of the last 10,000 years or so, the summer loss of ice through melt and glacial flow has been replaced by winter snow. But in recent years, other research teams have warned, repeatedly, that the rate of  melting of Greenland’s surface ice has increased, in ways that really could threaten the stability of the entire sheet. Last year, ice loss reached a new record.

Greenland’s ice sheet is high: colder, therefore, at altitude. As the surface melts, the elevation becomes lower, and therefore increasingly warmer. So once the high ground surface begins to melt away, it could reach a level below which there is no obvious reason why the process should stop.

Climate computer simulations predict a threshold of global average temperature change that could, in effect, start a process in which the loss of the entire ice sheet would become inevitable. The loss would happen over hundreds of years, or perhaps thousands, but once begun it would continue inexorably.

Extreme Arctic warming

Global sea levels would rise at ever faster rates, and the arrival of so much fresh water in the north Atlantic would be enough to interfere with the ocean circulation.

For years oceanographers have been warning that the existing current, which takes warm tropical water as far north as the Arctic, could weaken, or fail, with unpredictable and uncomfortable consequences for north European nations.

The only way to stop Greenland’s accelerated melt, once it reaches a critical point, would be to lower the temperature of the whole planet back to that which was normal more than 200 years ago. That is unlikely to happen. Instead, for the moment, the evidence is that average temperatures worldwide could rise by 3°C or more by 2100. The Arctic, however, is likely to become much, much warmer.

“So practically, the current and near-future mass loss will be irreversible,” said Dr Boers, “That’s why it’s high time we dramatically and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and restabilise the ice sheet and our climate.” − Climate News Network

Faster glacier melting raises hunger threat

The world’s upland icecaps are in retreat. Faster glacier melting could slow to a trickle streams that once fed foaming rivers.

LONDON, 5 May, 2021 − Glacial retreat − the rate at which mountain ice is turning to running water − has accelerated. In the last two decades, the world’s 220,000 glaciers have lost ice at the rate of 267 billion tonnes a year on average, and this faster glacier melting could soon imperil downstream food and water supplies.

To make sense of this almost unimaginable volume, think of a country the size of Switzerland. And then submerge it six metres deep in water. And then go on doing that every year for 20 years.

European scientists report in the journal Nature that, on the basis of satellite data, they assembled a global snapshot of the entire world’s stock of land-borne ice, excluding Antarctica and Greenland. And then they began to measure the impact of global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use on the lofty, frozen beauty of the Alps, the Hindu Kush, the Andes, the Himalayas and the mountains of Alaska.

They found not just loss, but a loss that was accelerating sharply. Between 2000 and 2004, the glaciers together surrendered 227 billion tons of ice a year on average. By 2015 to 2019, the annual loss had risen to 298 billion tonnes. The run-off from the retreating glaciers alone caused more than one-fifth of observed sea level rise this century.

“The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario”

Right now an estimated 200 million people live on land that is likely to be flooded by high tides at the close of this century. Altogether, one billion people could face water shortages and failed harvests within the next three decades, in many instances because of glacier loss.

Glacial ice in the high mountains represents so much water stored, to be released in the summer melt to nourish crops downstream. The fastest melt is in Alaska, Iceland and the Alps, but global warming is also affecting the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and other peaks in Central Asia.

“The situation in the Himalayas is particularly worrying,” said Romain Hugonnet, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, and the University of Toulouse.

“During the dry season, glacial meltwater is an important source that feeds major waterways such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. Right now, this increased melting acts as a buffer for people living in the region, but if Himalayan glacier shrinkage keeps accelerating, populous countries like India and Bangladesh could face food and water shortages in a few decades.”

Climate change link

Such news could hardly be a shock to geographers and climate scientists: researchers have been warning for years that as many as half of the planet’s mountain glaciers could be gone by the century’s end. Europe’s Alps could by 2100 have lost nine-tenths of all the continent’s flowing ice.

Researchers have also identified the consequent risk to water supplies for millions, and confirmed an “irrefutable” link between human-induced climate change and glacier loss. So the latest research is an update, and a check on subtle changes in rates of loss, based on imagery from Nasa’s Terra satellite, which has been orbiting the planet every 100 minutes since 1999.

The scientists found that melt rates in Greenland, Iceland and Scandinavia all slowed in the first two decades of the century, perhaps because of a change in temperatures and precipitation in the North Atlantic. Conversely, glaciers in the Karakoram range that had once seemed anomalously stable had now started to melt.

“Our findings are important on a political level,” said Daniel Farinotti, also of ETH Zurich. “The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario.” − Climate News Network

The world’s upland icecaps are in retreat. Faster glacier melting could slow to a trickle streams that once fed foaming rivers.

LONDON, 5 May, 2021 − Glacial retreat − the rate at which mountain ice is turning to running water − has accelerated. In the last two decades, the world’s 220,000 glaciers have lost ice at the rate of 267 billion tonnes a year on average, and this faster glacier melting could soon imperil downstream food and water supplies.

To make sense of this almost unimaginable volume, think of a country the size of Switzerland. And then submerge it six metres deep in water. And then go on doing that every year for 20 years.

European scientists report in the journal Nature that, on the basis of satellite data, they assembled a global snapshot of the entire world’s stock of land-borne ice, excluding Antarctica and Greenland. And then they began to measure the impact of global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use on the lofty, frozen beauty of the Alps, the Hindu Kush, the Andes, the Himalayas and the mountains of Alaska.

They found not just loss, but a loss that was accelerating sharply. Between 2000 and 2004, the glaciers together surrendered 227 billion tons of ice a year on average. By 2015 to 2019, the annual loss had risen to 298 billion tonnes. The run-off from the retreating glaciers alone caused more than one-fifth of observed sea level rise this century.

“The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario”

Right now an estimated 200 million people live on land that is likely to be flooded by high tides at the close of this century. Altogether, one billion people could face water shortages and failed harvests within the next three decades, in many instances because of glacier loss.

Glacial ice in the high mountains represents so much water stored, to be released in the summer melt to nourish crops downstream. The fastest melt is in Alaska, Iceland and the Alps, but global warming is also affecting the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and other peaks in Central Asia.

“The situation in the Himalayas is particularly worrying,” said Romain Hugonnet, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, and the University of Toulouse.

“During the dry season, glacial meltwater is an important source that feeds major waterways such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. Right now, this increased melting acts as a buffer for people living in the region, but if Himalayan glacier shrinkage keeps accelerating, populous countries like India and Bangladesh could face food and water shortages in a few decades.”

Climate change link

Such news could hardly be a shock to geographers and climate scientists: researchers have been warning for years that as many as half of the planet’s mountain glaciers could be gone by the century’s end. Europe’s Alps could by 2100 have lost nine-tenths of all the continent’s flowing ice.

Researchers have also identified the consequent risk to water supplies for millions, and confirmed an “irrefutable” link between human-induced climate change and glacier loss. So the latest research is an update, and a check on subtle changes in rates of loss, based on imagery from Nasa’s Terra satellite, which has been orbiting the planet every 100 minutes since 1999.

The scientists found that melt rates in Greenland, Iceland and Scandinavia all slowed in the first two decades of the century, perhaps because of a change in temperatures and precipitation in the North Atlantic. Conversely, glaciers in the Karakoram range that had once seemed anomalously stable had now started to melt.

“Our findings are important on a political level,” said Daniel Farinotti, also of ETH Zurich. “The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario.” − Climate News Network

Human activity alters Earth’s spin on its axis

The planet may not catch fire, but climate change really has altered the Earth’s spin on its axis as it rounds the sun.

LONDON, 29 April, 2021 − Human action has altered Earth’s spin on its axis. Climate change since 1990 has altered both the rate and the direction of the drift of the north and south poles.

Chinese researchers report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that on the basis of their calculations, the dramatic melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps and the Andean glaciers of South America has shifted the weight of the global water storage system and affected the planetary drift of the poles.

This glacial loss has been compounded by massive increases in the use of groundwater − most of the planet’s fresh water is in fact stored in subterranean aquifers − which have helped to accelerate the rate of change.

It sounds like the plot of a science fiction film. It was in fact the plot of a British 1961 science fiction film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire. In that fantasia, Cold War superpower nuclear tests unintentionally alter the planet’s axis of rotation and trigger dramatic changes in climate.

In fact, in the real-life, here-and-now version of planetary rotational shift, climate change driven by economic growth powered by profligate fossil fuel use is the cause. And the superpowers have yet to decide upon a course correction.

Polar speed-up

There is a second difference: the axis of the rotational poles has always shifted, from year to year, in response to the distribution of ice and groundwater, and the oceanic currents; and from aeon to aeon in response to the movements of the continents, and the sloshing of molten iron at the Earth’s core.

What has happened since 1990 is that water loss from both the glaciated land surface and the soil beneath the inhabited surface has been so pronounced that it has tilted the North Pole away from Canada and towards Russia, and accelerated the rate at which this is happening.

Since 1990, geographic North has been tilting, in geodetic language, towards longitude 26°E at the rate of 3.28 milliseconds of arc per year. One millisecond of arc is about 3 cms.

The story has been pieced together by data from a US-German satellite system known as GRACE (short for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), which has been recording ice loss and water storage for most of this century.

“The faster ice-melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s”

The researchers, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, already had access to 176 years of precision measurement of the polar axial shift. In fact, the loss of ice from both the north and south polar regions has been colossal, and has been happening at speed.

Groundwater, too, has been abstracted at accelerating rates and the study notes that while in 1989 India pumped 194 billion cubic metres from the soil, by 2010 this had reached 351 billion cubic metres. There had, too, been dramatic changes in the water levels of vast inland lakes such as the Aral Sea.

The planet is always in a state of change: the magnetic poles are on the move and scientists have confirmed that climate over very long periods is affected by changes in planetary orbit.

Other teams of researchers had separately confirmed that climate change − and the redistribution of water around the planet − must have altered the length of the day by millionths of a second in the course of a year. But the new research has established something more immediately measurable: the alteration of the pattern of rotational tilt.

“The faster ice-melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s,” the researchers conclude. − Climate News Network

The planet may not catch fire, but climate change really has altered the Earth’s spin on its axis as it rounds the sun.

LONDON, 29 April, 2021 − Human action has altered Earth’s spin on its axis. Climate change since 1990 has altered both the rate and the direction of the drift of the north and south poles.

Chinese researchers report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that on the basis of their calculations, the dramatic melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps and the Andean glaciers of South America has shifted the weight of the global water storage system and affected the planetary drift of the poles.

This glacial loss has been compounded by massive increases in the use of groundwater − most of the planet’s fresh water is in fact stored in subterranean aquifers − which have helped to accelerate the rate of change.

It sounds like the plot of a science fiction film. It was in fact the plot of a British 1961 science fiction film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire. In that fantasia, Cold War superpower nuclear tests unintentionally alter the planet’s axis of rotation and trigger dramatic changes in climate.

In fact, in the real-life, here-and-now version of planetary rotational shift, climate change driven by economic growth powered by profligate fossil fuel use is the cause. And the superpowers have yet to decide upon a course correction.

Polar speed-up

There is a second difference: the axis of the rotational poles has always shifted, from year to year, in response to the distribution of ice and groundwater, and the oceanic currents; and from aeon to aeon in response to the movements of the continents, and the sloshing of molten iron at the Earth’s core.

What has happened since 1990 is that water loss from both the glaciated land surface and the soil beneath the inhabited surface has been so pronounced that it has tilted the North Pole away from Canada and towards Russia, and accelerated the rate at which this is happening.

Since 1990, geographic North has been tilting, in geodetic language, towards longitude 26°E at the rate of 3.28 milliseconds of arc per year. One millisecond of arc is about 3 cms.

The story has been pieced together by data from a US-German satellite system known as GRACE (short for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), which has been recording ice loss and water storage for most of this century.

“The faster ice-melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s”

The researchers, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, already had access to 176 years of precision measurement of the polar axial shift. In fact, the loss of ice from both the north and south polar regions has been colossal, and has been happening at speed.

Groundwater, too, has been abstracted at accelerating rates and the study notes that while in 1989 India pumped 194 billion cubic metres from the soil, by 2010 this had reached 351 billion cubic metres. There had, too, been dramatic changes in the water levels of vast inland lakes such as the Aral Sea.

The planet is always in a state of change: the magnetic poles are on the move and scientists have confirmed that climate over very long periods is affected by changes in planetary orbit.

Other teams of researchers had separately confirmed that climate change − and the redistribution of water around the planet − must have altered the length of the day by millionths of a second in the course of a year. But the new research has established something more immediately measurable: the alteration of the pattern of rotational tilt.

“The faster ice-melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s,” the researchers conclude. − Climate News Network

Climate heating may speed up to unexpected levels

When the ice thaws, ocean levels rise. And four new studies show climate heating can happen fast.

LONDON, 15 April, 2021 − If climate heating continues apace and the planet goes on warming, then up to a third of Antarctica’s ice shelf could tip into the sea.

And tip is the operative word, according to a separate study: at least one Antarctic glacier could be about to tip into rapid and irreversible retreat if temperatures go on rising.

And rise they could: evidence from the past in a third research programme confirms that at the end of the last Ice Age, Greenland’s temperature rose by somewhere between 5°C and 16°C in just decades, in line with a cascade of climate change events.

And ominously a fourth study of climate change 14,600 years ago confirmed that as the ice retreated, sea levels rose at 10 times the current rate, to 3.6 metres in just a century, and up to 18 metres in a 500-year sequence.

Each study is, on its own, an examination of the complexities of the planetary climate machine and the role of the polar ice sheets in climate change. But the message of the four together is a stark one: climate change is happening, could accelerate and could happen at unexpected speeds.

Unstable at 4°C

The Antarctic ice sheet floats on the sea: were it all to melt, sea levels globally would remain much the same. But the ice sheet plays an important role in stabilising the massive reserves of ice on the continental surface.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise,” warned Ella Gilbert, a meteorologist at the University of Reading in the UK. “When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that their detailed study of the vulnerable platforms of floating ice around the continent revealed that half a million square kilometres of shelf − 34% in total, including two-thirds of all the ice off the Antarctic Peninsula − would become unstable if global temperatures rose by 4°C, under the business-as-usual scenario in which nations went on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuel.

If however the world kept to the limit it agreed in Paris in 2015, that would halve the area at risk and perhaps avoid significant sea level rise. But already, just two Antarctic glaciers are responsible for around 10% of sea level rise at the current rate, and researchers have been warning for years that the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West Antarctica could be at risk.

Now researchers in the UK report in the journal The Cryosphere that their computer simulation had identified a series of tipping points for the Pine Island flow.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from contributing to sea level rise. When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water to pour into the sea”

The third of these, triggered by ocean temperatures that had warmed just 1.2°C, would lead to irretrievable retreat of the entire glacier. Hilmar Gudmundsson, a glaciologist at the UK’s Northumbria University and one of the authors, called the research a “major step forward” in the understanding of the dynamics of the region.

“But the findings of this study also concern me”, he said. “Should the glacier enter unstable irreversible retreat, the impact on sea level could be measured in metres, and as this study shows, once the retreat starts it might be impossible to halt it.”

Rapid polar melt is part of the pattern of climate history. Danish researchers report in Nature Communications that, on the evidence preserved in Greenland ice cores, they identified a series of 30 abrupt climate changes at the close of the Last Ice Age, affecting North Atlantic ocean currents, wind and rainfall patterns and the spread of sea ice: a set of physical processes that changed together, like a row of cascading dominoes.

The precise order of events was difficult to ascertain, but during that sequence the temperature of Greenland soared by 5°C to 16°C in decades to centuries. The question remains open: could such things happen today?

“The results emphasise the importance of trying to limit climate change by, for example, cutting anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, both to reduce the predictable, gradual climate change and to reduce the risk of future abrupt climate change,” said Sune Olander Rasmussen, at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, one of the authors.

Greenland’s future role

“If you do not want the dominoes to topple over, you are better off not to push the table they stand on too much.”

And another study in the same journal by British scientists reports on a close study of geological evidence to decipher the pattern of events during the largest and most rapid pulse of sea level rise at the close of the last Ice Age.

Their study suggested that although the sea levels rose 18 metres in about 500 years − a rate of about 3.6 metres a century − it all happened with relatively little help from a melting Antarctica. As the great glaciers retreated from North America, Europe and Asia, so the oceans rose.

“The next big question is to work out what triggered the ice melt, and what impact the massive influx of meltwater had on ocean currents in the North Atlantic,” said Pippa Whitehouse of the University of Durham, one of the researchers.

“This is very much on our minds today − any disruption to the Gulf Stream, for example due to melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, will have significant consequences for the UK climate.” − Climate News Network

When the ice thaws, ocean levels rise. And four new studies show climate heating can happen fast.

LONDON, 15 April, 2021 − If climate heating continues apace and the planet goes on warming, then up to a third of Antarctica’s ice shelf could tip into the sea.

And tip is the operative word, according to a separate study: at least one Antarctic glacier could be about to tip into rapid and irreversible retreat if temperatures go on rising.

And rise they could: evidence from the past in a third research programme confirms that at the end of the last Ice Age, Greenland’s temperature rose by somewhere between 5°C and 16°C in just decades, in line with a cascade of climate change events.

And ominously a fourth study of climate change 14,600 years ago confirmed that as the ice retreated, sea levels rose at 10 times the current rate, to 3.6 metres in just a century, and up to 18 metres in a 500-year sequence.

Each study is, on its own, an examination of the complexities of the planetary climate machine and the role of the polar ice sheets in climate change. But the message of the four together is a stark one: climate change is happening, could accelerate and could happen at unexpected speeds.

Unstable at 4°C

The Antarctic ice sheet floats on the sea: were it all to melt, sea levels globally would remain much the same. But the ice sheet plays an important role in stabilising the massive reserves of ice on the continental surface.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise,” warned Ella Gilbert, a meteorologist at the University of Reading in the UK. “When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that their detailed study of the vulnerable platforms of floating ice around the continent revealed that half a million square kilometres of shelf − 34% in total, including two-thirds of all the ice off the Antarctic Peninsula − would become unstable if global temperatures rose by 4°C, under the business-as-usual scenario in which nations went on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuel.

If however the world kept to the limit it agreed in Paris in 2015, that would halve the area at risk and perhaps avoid significant sea level rise. But already, just two Antarctic glaciers are responsible for around 10% of sea level rise at the current rate, and researchers have been warning for years that the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West Antarctica could be at risk.

Now researchers in the UK report in the journal The Cryosphere that their computer simulation had identified a series of tipping points for the Pine Island flow.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from contributing to sea level rise. When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water to pour into the sea”

The third of these, triggered by ocean temperatures that had warmed just 1.2°C, would lead to irretrievable retreat of the entire glacier. Hilmar Gudmundsson, a glaciologist at the UK’s Northumbria University and one of the authors, called the research a “major step forward” in the understanding of the dynamics of the region.

“But the findings of this study also concern me”, he said. “Should the glacier enter unstable irreversible retreat, the impact on sea level could be measured in metres, and as this study shows, once the retreat starts it might be impossible to halt it.”

Rapid polar melt is part of the pattern of climate history. Danish researchers report in Nature Communications that, on the evidence preserved in Greenland ice cores, they identified a series of 30 abrupt climate changes at the close of the Last Ice Age, affecting North Atlantic ocean currents, wind and rainfall patterns and the spread of sea ice: a set of physical processes that changed together, like a row of cascading dominoes.

The precise order of events was difficult to ascertain, but during that sequence the temperature of Greenland soared by 5°C to 16°C in decades to centuries. The question remains open: could such things happen today?

“The results emphasise the importance of trying to limit climate change by, for example, cutting anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, both to reduce the predictable, gradual climate change and to reduce the risk of future abrupt climate change,” said Sune Olander Rasmussen, at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, one of the authors.

Greenland’s future role

“If you do not want the dominoes to topple over, you are better off not to push the table they stand on too much.”

And another study in the same journal by British scientists reports on a close study of geological evidence to decipher the pattern of events during the largest and most rapid pulse of sea level rise at the close of the last Ice Age.

Their study suggested that although the sea levels rose 18 metres in about 500 years − a rate of about 3.6 metres a century − it all happened with relatively little help from a melting Antarctica. As the great glaciers retreated from North America, Europe and Asia, so the oceans rose.

“The next big question is to work out what triggered the ice melt, and what impact the massive influx of meltwater had on ocean currents in the North Atlantic,” said Pippa Whitehouse of the University of Durham, one of the researchers.

“This is very much on our minds today − any disruption to the Gulf Stream, for example due to melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, will have significant consequences for the UK climate.” − Climate News Network

Weakening Gulf Stream may disrupt world weather

The Gulf Stream is growing feebler, the Arctic seas are gaining fresh water. Together they could affect the world’s weather.

LONDON, 2 March, 2021 − The Atlantic Conveyer, otherwise the Gulf Stream − that great flow of surface water pouring northwards that overturns in the Arctic and heads south again at great depth − is now weaker than at any point in the last 1,000 years, European scientists report.

And in a second, separate but related study, researchers have found that the Beaufort Sea, in the Arctic, has gained two-fifths more fresh water in the last 20 years: water that could flow into the Atlantic to affect the Conveyor, and with it, climatic conditions.

Scientists call it the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation or just AMOC. Europeans know it as the Gulf Stream: the current that conveys tropic warmth to their coasts and keeps Britain and Western Europe at a temperature several degrees higher than latitude alone might dictate.

And for years, oceanographers and climate scientists have been observing a slowing of the flow, by as much as 15%. But direct measurement of the great current began only relatively recently in 2004: researchers needed to know whether the slowdown was part of a natural cycle, or a consequence of climate change driven by global heating.

Now they know a little more. European researchers report in Nature Geoscience that they looked for evidence of ocean circulation shifts in what they call “proxy evidence”: the story of climate change told by tree growth rings, ice cores, ocean sediments, corals and historical records, including naval logbooks.

The combined evidence of temperature patterns, the sizes of particles of ocean floor sediment and the salinity and density of sub-surface water helps build up a picture of the Atlantic current for the last 1,600 years.

“The Gulf Stream System moves nearly 20 million cubic meters of water per second, almost a hundred times the Amazon flow”

The verdict? Up to the 19th century, ocean currents were stable. The flow is now more sluggish than at any time in the last millennium.

This is roughly what climate models have predicted: the warm salty water moves north, cools, becomes more dense, sinks to the deep and flows back south. But the Arctic has begun to warm, Greenland to melt, and the flow of fresh water into the northern seas to intensify.

Since the flow is driven by the difference in temperatures, any change in the regional thermometer will play back into the rate of flow. And any extra arrival of fresh water could further slow the overturning circulation.

“The Gulf Stream system works like a giant conveyor belt, carrying warm surface water from the equator up north, and sending cold, low-salinity deep water back down south. It moves nearly 20 million cubic meters of water per second, almost a hundred times the Amazon flow,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in Germany, one of the authors.

“For the first time, we have combined a range of previous studies and found they provide a consistent picture of the AMOC evolution over the past 1600 years. The study results suggest that it has been relatively stable until the late 19th century.

“With the end of the Little Ice Age in about 1850, the ocean currents began to decline, with a second, more drastic decline following since the mid-20th century.”

Outcome awaited

The change could have ominous consequences for European weather systems: it could also deliver more intense coastal flooding to the US eastern seaboard. If the current continues to weaken, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Which is why a new study in Nature Communications matters so much. US researchers tracked the flow of fresh water from the Beaufort Sea − melt water from glaciers, rivers and disappearing Arctic sea ice − through the Canadian Archipelago and into the Labrador Sea.

Arctic water is fresher than Atlantic water, and richer in nutrients. But this extra volume, measured at a total of 23,300 cubic kilometres, could also affect the rate of flow of the overturning circulation. That is because relatively fresh water is less dense than saline water, and tends to float on top.

Quite what role it could play is uncertain: the message is that, sooner or later, it will escape into the North Atlantic. Then the world will find out.

“People have already spent a lot of time studying why the Beaufort Sea fresh water has gotten so high in the past few decades,” said Jiaxu Zhang,  of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, first author. “But they rarely care where the freshwater goes, and we think that’s a much more important problem.” − Climate News Network

The Gulf Stream is growing feebler, the Arctic seas are gaining fresh water. Together they could affect the world’s weather.

LONDON, 2 March, 2021 − The Atlantic Conveyer, otherwise the Gulf Stream − that great flow of surface water pouring northwards that overturns in the Arctic and heads south again at great depth − is now weaker than at any point in the last 1,000 years, European scientists report.

And in a second, separate but related study, researchers have found that the Beaufort Sea, in the Arctic, has gained two-fifths more fresh water in the last 20 years: water that could flow into the Atlantic to affect the Conveyor, and with it, climatic conditions.

Scientists call it the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation or just AMOC. Europeans know it as the Gulf Stream: the current that conveys tropic warmth to their coasts and keeps Britain and Western Europe at a temperature several degrees higher than latitude alone might dictate.

And for years, oceanographers and climate scientists have been observing a slowing of the flow, by as much as 15%. But direct measurement of the great current began only relatively recently in 2004: researchers needed to know whether the slowdown was part of a natural cycle, or a consequence of climate change driven by global heating.

Now they know a little more. European researchers report in Nature Geoscience that they looked for evidence of ocean circulation shifts in what they call “proxy evidence”: the story of climate change told by tree growth rings, ice cores, ocean sediments, corals and historical records, including naval logbooks.

The combined evidence of temperature patterns, the sizes of particles of ocean floor sediment and the salinity and density of sub-surface water helps build up a picture of the Atlantic current for the last 1,600 years.

“The Gulf Stream System moves nearly 20 million cubic meters of water per second, almost a hundred times the Amazon flow”

The verdict? Up to the 19th century, ocean currents were stable. The flow is now more sluggish than at any time in the last millennium.

This is roughly what climate models have predicted: the warm salty water moves north, cools, becomes more dense, sinks to the deep and flows back south. But the Arctic has begun to warm, Greenland to melt, and the flow of fresh water into the northern seas to intensify.

Since the flow is driven by the difference in temperatures, any change in the regional thermometer will play back into the rate of flow. And any extra arrival of fresh water could further slow the overturning circulation.

“The Gulf Stream system works like a giant conveyor belt, carrying warm surface water from the equator up north, and sending cold, low-salinity deep water back down south. It moves nearly 20 million cubic meters of water per second, almost a hundred times the Amazon flow,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in Germany, one of the authors.

“For the first time, we have combined a range of previous studies and found they provide a consistent picture of the AMOC evolution over the past 1600 years. The study results suggest that it has been relatively stable until the late 19th century.

“With the end of the Little Ice Age in about 1850, the ocean currents began to decline, with a second, more drastic decline following since the mid-20th century.”

Outcome awaited

The change could have ominous consequences for European weather systems: it could also deliver more intense coastal flooding to the US eastern seaboard. If the current continues to weaken, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Which is why a new study in Nature Communications matters so much. US researchers tracked the flow of fresh water from the Beaufort Sea − melt water from glaciers, rivers and disappearing Arctic sea ice − through the Canadian Archipelago and into the Labrador Sea.

Arctic water is fresher than Atlantic water, and richer in nutrients. But this extra volume, measured at a total of 23,300 cubic kilometres, could also affect the rate of flow of the overturning circulation. That is because relatively fresh water is less dense than saline water, and tends to float on top.

Quite what role it could play is uncertain: the message is that, sooner or later, it will escape into the North Atlantic. Then the world will find out.

“People have already spent a lot of time studying why the Beaufort Sea fresh water has gotten so high in the past few decades,” said Jiaxu Zhang,  of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, first author. “But they rarely care where the freshwater goes, and we think that’s a much more important problem.” − Climate News Network

Scientists say world’s huge ice loss is speeding up

The frozen world is shrinking at a “staggering” rate. New research takes a measure of the world’s huge ice loss.

LONDON, 27 January, 2021 − Planet Earth is losing its frozen mantle faster than ever as the world’s huge ice loss intensifies. Between 1994 and 2017, the polar regions and the mountain glaciers said farewell to a total of 28 million million tonnes of ice. This is a quantity large enough to conceal the entire United Kingdom under an ice sheet 100 metres thick.

More alarmingly, scientists warn, the rate of loss has been accelerating. Over the course of the 23-year survey of the planet’s ice budget, there has been a 65% increase in the flow of meltwater from the glaciers, ice shelves and ice sheets.

Early in the last decade of the last century, ice loss was counted at 0.8 trillion tonnes a year. By 2017, this had increased to 1.3 trillion tonnes a year, says a new study in the journal The Cryosphere.

The finding should come as no great surprise. Thanks to profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the clearance of forests and grasslands, the planet is warming: 2020 has been awarded the unwelcome title of equal place as warmest year ever recorded, and the last six years have been the six warmest since records began.

“The vast majority of Earth’s ice loss is a direct consequence of climate warming.”

Researchers warned last year that the melting rate of Greenland’s ice sheet − the biggest in the northern hemisphere − would soon hit a 12,000 year high. A second group warned in the same month that ice loss from Antarctica would soon become irreversible.

The latest research, based on satellite data, confirms all fears. “Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most,” said Thomas Slater, of the University of Leeds in the UK, who led the research.

“The ice sheets are now following the worst case climate warning scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century.”

The scientists measured loss from the land-based ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, from the shelf ice around Antarctica and from the drifting sea ice in the Arctic and Southern Oceans, as well as the retreat of 215,000 mountain glaciers worldwide.

‘Staggering’ loss

During the 23-year-survey, thanks to rising air and ocean temperatures, the Arctic Ocean lost 7.6 trillion tonnes, the Antarctic ice shelves 6.5 trillion tonnes. Melting sea ice will not affect sea levels, but it will expose greater areas of ocean to radiation, which would otherwise be reflected back into space. So the loss of sea ice can only lead to even more warming.

The researchers claim theirs is the first full global survey, but they also concede it can only be incomplete: they did not take the measure of fallen snow on land, nor of the icy soils of the permafrost, and they did not try to measure the loss of winter ice on lakes and rivers − but they note that the duration of ice on lakes has fallen by 12 days in the last two centuries, thanks to atmospheric warming.

However, they could put a measure on ice losses from land − 6.1 trillion tonnes from mountain glaciers worldwide, 3.8 trillion tonnes from the Greenland ice sheet, 2.5 trillion tonnes from the Antarctic surface − enough to raise global sea levels by 35mm.

Scientific studies tend to be presented without emotive language. But the researchers call their total of lost ice “staggering”. And they warn: “There can be little doubt that the vast majority of Earth’s ice loss is a direct consequence of climate warming.” − Climate News Network

The frozen world is shrinking at a “staggering” rate. New research takes a measure of the world’s huge ice loss.

LONDON, 27 January, 2021 − Planet Earth is losing its frozen mantle faster than ever as the world’s huge ice loss intensifies. Between 1994 and 2017, the polar regions and the mountain glaciers said farewell to a total of 28 million million tonnes of ice. This is a quantity large enough to conceal the entire United Kingdom under an ice sheet 100 metres thick.

More alarmingly, scientists warn, the rate of loss has been accelerating. Over the course of the 23-year survey of the planet’s ice budget, there has been a 65% increase in the flow of meltwater from the glaciers, ice shelves and ice sheets.

Early in the last decade of the last century, ice loss was counted at 0.8 trillion tonnes a year. By 2017, this had increased to 1.3 trillion tonnes a year, says a new study in the journal The Cryosphere.

The finding should come as no great surprise. Thanks to profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the clearance of forests and grasslands, the planet is warming: 2020 has been awarded the unwelcome title of equal place as warmest year ever recorded, and the last six years have been the six warmest since records began.

“The vast majority of Earth’s ice loss is a direct consequence of climate warming.”

Researchers warned last year that the melting rate of Greenland’s ice sheet − the biggest in the northern hemisphere − would soon hit a 12,000 year high. A second group warned in the same month that ice loss from Antarctica would soon become irreversible.

The latest research, based on satellite data, confirms all fears. “Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most,” said Thomas Slater, of the University of Leeds in the UK, who led the research.

“The ice sheets are now following the worst case climate warning scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century.”

The scientists measured loss from the land-based ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, from the shelf ice around Antarctica and from the drifting sea ice in the Arctic and Southern Oceans, as well as the retreat of 215,000 mountain glaciers worldwide.

‘Staggering’ loss

During the 23-year-survey, thanks to rising air and ocean temperatures, the Arctic Ocean lost 7.6 trillion tonnes, the Antarctic ice shelves 6.5 trillion tonnes. Melting sea ice will not affect sea levels, but it will expose greater areas of ocean to radiation, which would otherwise be reflected back into space. So the loss of sea ice can only lead to even more warming.

The researchers claim theirs is the first full global survey, but they also concede it can only be incomplete: they did not take the measure of fallen snow on land, nor of the icy soils of the permafrost, and they did not try to measure the loss of winter ice on lakes and rivers − but they note that the duration of ice on lakes has fallen by 12 days in the last two centuries, thanks to atmospheric warming.

However, they could put a measure on ice losses from land − 6.1 trillion tonnes from mountain glaciers worldwide, 3.8 trillion tonnes from the Greenland ice sheet, 2.5 trillion tonnes from the Antarctic surface − enough to raise global sea levels by 35mm.

Scientific studies tend to be presented without emotive language. But the researchers call their total of lost ice “staggering”. And they warn: “There can be little doubt that the vast majority of Earth’s ice loss is a direct consequence of climate warming.” − Climate News Network

Greenland’s ice loss likely to hit 12,000-year high

Greenland’s ice loss could be more this century than at any time in the history of civilization − and perhaps much more.

LONDON, 5 October, 2020 − By the end of this century Greenland’s ice loss will probably be higher than in any century during the last 12,000 years.

Even if humans take immediate drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this new record loss will happen. And if − as seems the case − nations go on burning ever more fossil fuels and destroying ever more natural forest, then this ice loss will be four times greater than at any period in human history, according to a new study.

US, Canadian and Danish scientists report in the journal Nature that they used geological evidence and detailed computer simulations to model the past and future loss of ice from the northern hemisphere’s biggest land-borne store − Greenland bears enough ice to raise global sea levels by six metres or more − and measure possible rates of change.

On their reckoning, shortly after the end of the last Ice Age around 12,000 years ago, Greenland’s ice loss was up to 6,000 billion tonnes in the course of 100 years. That, for the entire span from then till now, stayed the record.

They calculate that the rate of loss now, based on measurements in the first 18 years of this century, could still be slightly greater, even if the 195 nations that promised in Paris in 2015 to co-operate to keep global heating to a level “well below” 2°C above the annual average for most of human history, actually kept that promise.

“Our nation has produced more of the CO2 that resides in the atmosphere today than any other country. Americans need to go on an energy diet”

But if the world’s economies continue using fossil fuels under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, then the mass of ice shed from Greenland before the close of the century could be anywhere between 8,800 billion tonnes and 35,900 billion tonnes.

“Basically, we’ve altered our planet so much that the rates of ice sheet melt this century are on pace to be greater than anything we’ve seen under natural variability of the ice sheet over the past 12,000 years.

“We’ll blow that out of the water if we don’t make severe reductions to greenhouse gas emissions,” says Jason Briner, a geologist at the University of Buffalo in New York.

“If the world goes on a massive energy diet,” he adds, “our model predicts that the Greenland Ice Sheet’s rate of mass loss this century will be only slightly higher than anything experienced in the past 12,000 years.”

If on the other hand the world follows what has always been − for climate modellers − the worst case scenario, then, he warns, “the rate of mass loss could be about four times the highest values experienced under natural climate variability over the past 12,000 years.”

‘Eye-opening’ timeline

The latest study supports a flurry of alarming observations and conclusions about Greenland’s ice sheet just in the last few months. Other teams of researchers have found that ice loss from the island is possibly irreversible, that that loss is accelerating in an Arctic region that is warming as fast as or faster than all previous “worst case” predictions, and at a rate that suggests climate scientists may even have to redefine what used to be considered Arctic conditions.

The latest study is one of a series that take the long view of climate history: it is important to separate where possible the effect of natural cycles that would anyway deliver changing conditions, from human-driven or anthropogenic change that could tip the global climate into a new and potentially catastrophic state.

“We have long timelines of temperature change, past to present to future, that show the influence of greenhouse gases on Earth’s temperature. And now, for the first time, we have a long timeline of the impacts of that temperature − in the form of Greenland Ice Sheet melt − from past to present to future. And what it shows is eye-opening,” says Professor Briner.

“Our findings are yet another wake-up call, especially for countries like the US. Americans use more energy per person than any other nation in the world.

“Our nation has produced more of the CO2 that resides in the atmosphere today than any other country. Americans need to go on an energy diet.” − Climate News Network

Greenland’s ice loss could be more this century than at any time in the history of civilization − and perhaps much more.

LONDON, 5 October, 2020 − By the end of this century Greenland’s ice loss will probably be higher than in any century during the last 12,000 years.

Even if humans take immediate drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this new record loss will happen. And if − as seems the case − nations go on burning ever more fossil fuels and destroying ever more natural forest, then this ice loss will be four times greater than at any period in human history, according to a new study.

US, Canadian and Danish scientists report in the journal Nature that they used geological evidence and detailed computer simulations to model the past and future loss of ice from the northern hemisphere’s biggest land-borne store − Greenland bears enough ice to raise global sea levels by six metres or more − and measure possible rates of change.

On their reckoning, shortly after the end of the last Ice Age around 12,000 years ago, Greenland’s ice loss was up to 6,000 billion tonnes in the course of 100 years. That, for the entire span from then till now, stayed the record.

They calculate that the rate of loss now, based on measurements in the first 18 years of this century, could still be slightly greater, even if the 195 nations that promised in Paris in 2015 to co-operate to keep global heating to a level “well below” 2°C above the annual average for most of human history, actually kept that promise.

“Our nation has produced more of the CO2 that resides in the atmosphere today than any other country. Americans need to go on an energy diet”

But if the world’s economies continue using fossil fuels under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, then the mass of ice shed from Greenland before the close of the century could be anywhere between 8,800 billion tonnes and 35,900 billion tonnes.

“Basically, we’ve altered our planet so much that the rates of ice sheet melt this century are on pace to be greater than anything we’ve seen under natural variability of the ice sheet over the past 12,000 years.

“We’ll blow that out of the water if we don’t make severe reductions to greenhouse gas emissions,” says Jason Briner, a geologist at the University of Buffalo in New York.

“If the world goes on a massive energy diet,” he adds, “our model predicts that the Greenland Ice Sheet’s rate of mass loss this century will be only slightly higher than anything experienced in the past 12,000 years.”

If on the other hand the world follows what has always been − for climate modellers − the worst case scenario, then, he warns, “the rate of mass loss could be about four times the highest values experienced under natural climate variability over the past 12,000 years.”

‘Eye-opening’ timeline

The latest study supports a flurry of alarming observations and conclusions about Greenland’s ice sheet just in the last few months. Other teams of researchers have found that ice loss from the island is possibly irreversible, that that loss is accelerating in an Arctic region that is warming as fast as or faster than all previous “worst case” predictions, and at a rate that suggests climate scientists may even have to redefine what used to be considered Arctic conditions.

The latest study is one of a series that take the long view of climate history: it is important to separate where possible the effect of natural cycles that would anyway deliver changing conditions, from human-driven or anthropogenic change that could tip the global climate into a new and potentially catastrophic state.

“We have long timelines of temperature change, past to present to future, that show the influence of greenhouse gases on Earth’s temperature. And now, for the first time, we have a long timeline of the impacts of that temperature − in the form of Greenland Ice Sheet melt − from past to present to future. And what it shows is eye-opening,” says Professor Briner.

“Our findings are yet another wake-up call, especially for countries like the US. Americans use more energy per person than any other nation in the world.

“Our nation has produced more of the CO2 that resides in the atmosphere today than any other country. Americans need to go on an energy diet.” − Climate News Network

Antarctica’s ice loss could soon be irreversible

Global heating means the southern ice will melt. Antarctica’s ice loss could then be permanent, drowning many great cities.

LONDON, 2 October, 2020 – The greatest mass of ice on the planet is growing steadily more unstable, and that means Antarctica’s ice loss may before long be inexorable.

New studies show that right now, just one degree of warming must mean an eventual sea level rise of 1.3 metres, simply from the flow of melting ice from the continent of Antarctica.

If the annual average temperature of the planet goes beyond 2°C, then the Antarctic melting rate will double. And when global heating really steps up to 6°C or beyond, melting accelerates to the almost unimaginable level of 10 metres for every single degree rise in planetary average temperatures.

And, the researchers say, there is no way back. Even if the world’s nations stick to a promise made in Paris in 2015, to keep global heating to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century, the losses of the southern polar ice sheet cannot be restored: the process of melting, once triggered by global temperature rise, becomes inexorable.

European and US researchers report in the journal Nature that they worked through ice core records of long-ago change in Antarctica and employed a million hours of computer simulation time to build up a reliable picture of change on the Antarctic continent, in response to ever-higher planetary average temperatures, driven by ever more profligate use of fossil fuels to generate ever-higher atmospheric ratios of greenhouse gases.

Their word for the state they wanted to study is hysteresis: this can be interpreted as the way altered conditions might commit a state to further change.

“If we give up the Paris Agreement, we give up Hamburg, Tokyo and New York”

The planet’s climate has oscillated many times over many millions of years. What this climate shift does to the polar regions can literally change the map of the planet. Antarctica is an enormous continent, the size of the US, Mexico and India together, and the ice it bears would, if it all were to melt, raise global sea levels by 58 metres.

“Antarctica holds more than half of Earth’s fresh water, frozen in a vast ice-sheet which is nearly five kilometres thick. As the surrounding ocean water and atmosphere warm due to human greenhouse gas emissions, the white cap on the South Pole loses mass and eventually becomes unstable,” said Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Because of its sheer magnitude, Antarctica’s potential for sea level contribution is enormous. We find that already at two degrees of warming, melting and the accelerated ice flow into the ocean will, eventually, entail 2.5 metres of global sea level rise just from Antarctica alone. At four degrees, it will be 6.5 metres and at six degrees almost 12 metres, if these temperature levels would be sustained long enough.”

That loss of ice would be slow – it would take many thousands of years – but the point the researchers make is that the continent may already be nearing a tipping point, after which the slide towards ever-higher sea levels would be unstoppable.

Since the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are part of the planetary cooling system – their whiteness reflects solar radiation back into space, so that the ice becomes its own insulation – their loss would inevitably trigger the process of further and faster warming.

Scientists from all nations have been warning for more than a decade that the continent is losing its protective screen of seaborne shelf ice, which in turn would make glacier flow towards the sea ever faster, and that the rate of loss of ice has begun to accelerate.

No going back

“In the end, it is our burning of coal and oil that determines ongoing and future greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, if and when critical temperature thresholds in Antarctica are crossed.

“And even if the ice loss happens on long time scales, the respective carbon dioxide levels can already be reached in the near future,” said Professor Winkelmann.

“We decide now whether we manage to halt the warming. So Antarctica’s fate really lies in our hands – and with it that of our cities and cultural sites across the globe, from Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana to Sydney’s Opera House. Thus this study really is another exclamation mark behind the importance of the Paris Climate Accord: Keep global warming below two degrees.”

And her Potsdam co-author Anders Levermann reinforced the argument. “Our simulations show that once it’s melted, it does not regrow to its initial state even if temperatures eventually sank again.

“Indeed, temperatures would have to go back to pre-industrial levels to allow its full recovery – a highly unlikely scenario. In other words: what we lose of Antarctica now is lost forever.”

And he warned: “If we give up the Paris Agreement, we give up Hamburg, Tokyo and New York.” – Climate News Network

Global heating means the southern ice will melt. Antarctica’s ice loss could then be permanent, drowning many great cities.

LONDON, 2 October, 2020 – The greatest mass of ice on the planet is growing steadily more unstable, and that means Antarctica’s ice loss may before long be inexorable.

New studies show that right now, just one degree of warming must mean an eventual sea level rise of 1.3 metres, simply from the flow of melting ice from the continent of Antarctica.

If the annual average temperature of the planet goes beyond 2°C, then the Antarctic melting rate will double. And when global heating really steps up to 6°C or beyond, melting accelerates to the almost unimaginable level of 10 metres for every single degree rise in planetary average temperatures.

And, the researchers say, there is no way back. Even if the world’s nations stick to a promise made in Paris in 2015, to keep global heating to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century, the losses of the southern polar ice sheet cannot be restored: the process of melting, once triggered by global temperature rise, becomes inexorable.

European and US researchers report in the journal Nature that they worked through ice core records of long-ago change in Antarctica and employed a million hours of computer simulation time to build up a reliable picture of change on the Antarctic continent, in response to ever-higher planetary average temperatures, driven by ever more profligate use of fossil fuels to generate ever-higher atmospheric ratios of greenhouse gases.

Their word for the state they wanted to study is hysteresis: this can be interpreted as the way altered conditions might commit a state to further change.

“If we give up the Paris Agreement, we give up Hamburg, Tokyo and New York”

The planet’s climate has oscillated many times over many millions of years. What this climate shift does to the polar regions can literally change the map of the planet. Antarctica is an enormous continent, the size of the US, Mexico and India together, and the ice it bears would, if it all were to melt, raise global sea levels by 58 metres.

“Antarctica holds more than half of Earth’s fresh water, frozen in a vast ice-sheet which is nearly five kilometres thick. As the surrounding ocean water and atmosphere warm due to human greenhouse gas emissions, the white cap on the South Pole loses mass and eventually becomes unstable,” said Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Because of its sheer magnitude, Antarctica’s potential for sea level contribution is enormous. We find that already at two degrees of warming, melting and the accelerated ice flow into the ocean will, eventually, entail 2.5 metres of global sea level rise just from Antarctica alone. At four degrees, it will be 6.5 metres and at six degrees almost 12 metres, if these temperature levels would be sustained long enough.”

That loss of ice would be slow – it would take many thousands of years – but the point the researchers make is that the continent may already be nearing a tipping point, after which the slide towards ever-higher sea levels would be unstoppable.

Since the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are part of the planetary cooling system – their whiteness reflects solar radiation back into space, so that the ice becomes its own insulation – their loss would inevitably trigger the process of further and faster warming.

Scientists from all nations have been warning for more than a decade that the continent is losing its protective screen of seaborne shelf ice, which in turn would make glacier flow towards the sea ever faster, and that the rate of loss of ice has begun to accelerate.

No going back

“In the end, it is our burning of coal and oil that determines ongoing and future greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, if and when critical temperature thresholds in Antarctica are crossed.

“And even if the ice loss happens on long time scales, the respective carbon dioxide levels can already be reached in the near future,” said Professor Winkelmann.

“We decide now whether we manage to halt the warming. So Antarctica’s fate really lies in our hands – and with it that of our cities and cultural sites across the globe, from Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana to Sydney’s Opera House. Thus this study really is another exclamation mark behind the importance of the Paris Climate Accord: Keep global warming below two degrees.”

And her Potsdam co-author Anders Levermann reinforced the argument. “Our simulations show that once it’s melted, it does not regrow to its initial state even if temperatures eventually sank again.

“Indeed, temperatures would have to go back to pre-industrial levels to allow its full recovery – a highly unlikely scenario. In other words: what we lose of Antarctica now is lost forever.”

And he warned: “If we give up the Paris Agreement, we give up Hamburg, Tokyo and New York.” – Climate News Network