Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Arctic, Humanity's Barometer

As Sea Ice Melts Storm Surges Batter Arctic Coast

"As each Arctic summer brings less sea ice, two new studies warn of major changes, from devastating storm surges to huge increases in shipping.

Rising temperatures in the Arctic — a result of global climate change — are bringing bigger and stronger storms, with hurricane-equivalent winds, previous research shows. And the region's dwindling sea ice cover (Sept. 2012 saw a record summer sea ice low, NASA reported) means storms can charge across the ocean without restraint.

Thick summer sea ice once slowed down Arctic storm winds, stopping them from generating high storm surges, the bulge of water that builds up ahead of a storm that can batter and flood a coastline.

One of the new studies tracked 400 years of storm surges in Canada's Mackenzie River delta, and found the wave-borne floods are becoming stronger and more frequent.

"I think it's another piece of the puzzle that suggests the Arctic is changing very rapidly and these changes are related to what’s going on with respect to climate change," said study co-author Michael Pisaric, a biogeographer at Brock's University in Ontario, Canada.

"Storms are growing larger and stronger, and there's so much more open water for these storms to blow across. These two [factors] combined are creating new conditions for the Arctic that when you put increasing infrastructure and exploration for hydrocarbons, that's starting to create a recipe for disaster," Pisaric told OurAmazingPlanet. Hydrocarbon exploration in the Arctic includes floating and fixed oil and gas wells. [8 Ways Global Warming Is Already Changing the World]

The findings were detailed online Jan. 25 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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In previous entries I have written about Arctic amplification and its causation to extreme weather in the mid latitudes. I have also previously written about the carbon debt we as a species have now amassed and our moral duty to reconcile it for ourselves and future generations. I am continuing to focus on the Arctic in this entry because the Arctic is now the centerpiece in the climate crisis and because the events unfolding there are a reading of humanity's barometer. Yes, the Arctic is the center point of humanity's actions. It is not any distraction on tv, no piece of celebrity gossip, nor is it the other myriad wedge issue circle jerks we see in Washington DC backed by a very willing media in covering it while ignoring this Earth and life changing event. What is taking place here now, in this time, while you are alive will change this planet and how we live on it for all time.

You may not be aware of this but the stability of the Arctic region now effects your very survival. The rapid and excessive melting beyond conservative estimates of the IPCC and other bodies has now put into motion events that are effecting livelihoods, economies, communities, cultures, traditions and the biodiversity of ecosystems that will have repurcussions up and down the food chain and the entire web of life.

Case in point:

This is the crux of the crisis taking shape in the Arctic that is now changing its entire makeup and the ecosystems there as well as effecting our weather/climate here. This is also why it is so important for people to stand up against the Keystone XL (a million comments have been sent to the State Dept. already, mine one of them) but also against the Utah tarsands, any Arctic drilling and the current policy of this administration that calls for more fracking which is now being used as the latest ruse by the fossil fuel companies to keep their profits on track at the expense of this planet and us.

And yes, there is more investment in solar and wind with countries like India, Germany, Mexico, Australia, China, etc. moving towards more sustainable solutions (for China they now have no choice as the environmental toll for their progress is staggering) but the rapid changes we are now seeing taking place are happening faster than we can keep up with them. Keeping the oil in the ground is really the first order of business and with politicians on all sides in the pockets of the oil and gas industry it is illogical to state they should not be held accountable for their contribution to this. The only other illogical thing about all of this is the denial. I also see this as one reason why action on this from DC is not happening because companies and countries are already eyeing the resources of the melting Arctic. They do not see the moral and human implications of their greed. They only see false choices. They do not see through their blindness that to take the life of this planet is taking our own...

A Drastically Greener Arctic To Come

New Models Predict Drastically

Greener Arctic in Coming Decades

Mar. 31, 2013 — New research predicts that rising temperatures will lead to a massive "greening," or increase in plant cover, in the Arctic. In a paper published on March 31 in Nature Climate Change, scientists reveal new models projecting that wooded areas in the Arctic could increase by as much as 50 percent over the next few decades. The researchers also show that this dramatic greening will accelerate climate warming at a rate greater than previously expected.

"Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem," said Richard Pearson, lead author on the paper and a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

In addition, the researchers investigated the multiple climate change feedbacks that greening would produce. They found that a phenomenon called the albedo effect, based on the reflectivity of Earth's surface, would have the greatest impact on the Arctic's climate. When the sun hits snow, most of the radiation is reflected back to space. But when it hits an area that's "dark," or covered in trees or shrubs, more sunlight is absorbed in the area and temperature increases. This has a positive feedback to climate warming: the more vegetation there is, the more warming will occur.

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Some would say this is good for the most part. However, in this region when you factor in the Albedo Effect, the rate of decreasing reflectivity of the sun will overpower the sequestration effect of the vegetation. This will ultimately bring about greater feedbacks to the climate system here than anticipated and that does not bode well for the species there that depend on the ice for survival, nor the indigenous communities that have lived there for centuries. You see, this is not just about the graphs, there are people and species represented and effected by them.

Melting of sea ice also contributes to erosion which is also effecting indigenous communities in the Arctic and their way of life.

"Coastal erosion and warming temperatures — record high temperatures extended across Greenland and the Canadian Arctic last summer — could exacerbate global warming by releasing gas hydrates contained in the permafrost. Gas hydrates are ice-like crystals composed of water and gases, often methane, a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide; however, the implications of the release of gas hydrates aren't fully understood, according to Rachold.

The human dimension

Permafrost sediments are often flat and low-lying, making them good locations for settlements. Unfortunately, in some places, erosion can vary up to 33 to 98 feet (10 to 30 meters) per year. Storms are a particularly potent cause of erosion, according to the second report, The State of the Arctic Coast 2010. Both reports were prepared by teams of international scientists.

Many Arctic communities have a history of dealing with retreating land. Even so, some are in dire situations."

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Image on NSIDC

The changes to sea ice which have now seen half its mass gone with only 5% of the Arctic covered in older ice when the percentage was 25% just twenty years ago are changes that go beyond just the science. They speak to who we are as humans. Our actions are the barometer by which tomorrow will be measured. As has been mentioned earlier as well, what happens in the Arctic does not stay there either:

In A Warming World Storms May Be Fewer But Stronger

"All of these weather events have happened as the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been rising higher than it has been for at least 100,000 years. Scientists are nearly certain that the buildup of carbon dioxide has already sparked changes in Earth’s atmosphere and ecosystems. The lowest layer of the atmosphere (the troposphere) has warmed markedly, especially at high latitudes. So have the world’s oceans. Heat waves and droughts have grown more likely and more extreme. Arctic ice is melting at a record pace, and the snowy landscapes of the far north have started melting earlier each year. snip

Historically, research on tornadoes, hurricanes, and other types of storms has focused on short-term forecasting, not on understanding how storms are changing over time. Reliable, long-term records of storms are scarce, and the different reporting and observing methods have left many scientists and meteorologists feeling skeptical. But the study of storminess and climate has begun to mature, says Del Genio, and a consensus is emerging: for several types of storms, global warming may prime the atmosphere to produce fewer but stronger storms."

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Arctic amplification and the loss of sea ice being precipitated by anthropogenic global warming is now showing us that hubris is deadly. How many Hurricane Sandys will it take? I still hear the wind from her in my head and remember and see the devastation she left behind. Hurricane Sandy visited my home and left a stark message for all of us and it was that none of us are exempt from what we have sown. Arctic amplification has now also been linked to Sandy's strength:

Cornell University Study

We still have time however to work to slow down the most catastrophic effects of continuing to amplify and add to what we have already put into motion. That requires work by us and also by politicians we vote for to do the moral thing. Republicans, Democrats, they are all at fault if one side does nothing but place roadblocks in front of action while the other enables them. In years to come future generations will look back on this and see the events as they unfolded and weigh them against the response. What will they see? It's in our hands now.

Another World Water Day Gone

We see another World Water Day pass us by. The theme, Water For All, signifies that though some progress has been made we are woefully behin...