“For the last 8,000 years we’ve had [relatively] amazing stability with constant weather temperatures and sea level. This stability has allowed the development of agriculture, civilization, industrialization, and a population of 7 billion and rising. This apparent stability is entirely a fluke. It is by amazing good luck that we are here today looking back on the past.”
~ John Nissen (12-4-2014), Arctic Methane Emergency Group
On the 4th, 5th, and 6th of December of the year 2014, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) held press briefings at the COP-20 United Nations Climate Change Conference that is taking place in Lima, Peru. For those unfamiliar with AMEG, here is a summary about them from their website that illustrates their proven track record of predictions:
AMEG is a group of determined scientists, engineers, communicators and others, dedicated firstly to establishing what really is happening to our planet (especially in the Arctic) using best scientific evidence, secondly to finding effective and affordable means to deal with the situation, and thirdly communicating these matters to authority and the general public.
AMEG aims to position itself in the centre ground – neither overstating nor understating the dangers of climate change. We are only alarmist in the sense that we are drawing attention to the more unpleasant realities of rapid Arctic warming and climate change, which have been downplayed or ignored by IPCC, unwittingly backed up by the media. We are determinedly optimistic as regards promoting an intervention strategy against all the odds, believing that mankind must have the collective intelligence to sort out the mess that mankind has got itself into.
In early 2012, AMEG gave evidence to the UK’s Environment Audit Committee in their inquiry on protecting the Arctic. Much of our evidence was dismissed by government advisers, but all our evidence has been borne out by subsequent observations and events, including: the rapid rise in temperature of Arctic ocean and atmosphere; the dramatic decline of sea ice to a record minimum in September 2012 (following the exponential downward trend we had warned the committee about); the exponential increase in release of the potent greenhouse gas, methane, from the Arctic Ocean seabed; the exponential increase in melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and consequent sea level rise; and the continuing disruption of the jet stream patterns we expected from Arctic warming, with resulting climate change in the form of weather extremes (despite a continuing hiatus in global warming), causing widespread crop failures and increase in the food price index above the crisis level, thus promoting civil conflict in a number of Asian and African countries where food prices have recently escalated, including most notably Syria.
Recent independent research, by scientists in AMEG and elsewhere, puts beyond reasonable doubt our assertion that the Arctic is locked in a vicious cycle of warming and melting, with the sea ice well past its tipping point. The current albedo forcing from snow and sea ice retreat is now estimated at around 0.4 to 0.5 Watts per square meter, averaged globally, amounting to 200 to 250 terawatts heating in the Arctic – more than mankind’s total energy consumption. This albedo forcing is liable to double within a few years as the snow and sea ice further retreat. AMEG believes that the vicious cycle of warming and melting can only be broken by rapid intervention to cool the Arctic.
Although AMEG’s research has concentrated on the Arctic and its effect on climate change, our study of IPCC’s own evidence suggests just how serious are the long-term prospects of climate change due to both CO2 and methane – far more serious than claimed by IPCC itself. The carbon budget for CO2 – the allowable amount of CO2 to avoid dangerous climate change – has already been used up, if one takes into account the effect of methane and other greenhouse gases. If one also takes into account the climate forcing through albedo loss in the Arctic, then it is clear that the world is heading for extremely dangerous global warming by mid-century, even without Arctic methane. The only way to head off such a disaster is by reducing the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere well below their current levels, using a combination of aggressive reduction in both CO2 and methane emissions but also by removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.
The videos of all three press briefings are below. They essentially cover much of the same material, but are all worth watching for the details that the different speakers give illustrating mankind’s dire predicament. Following the videos, I summarize AMEG’s discussions along with their conclusions. We truly are at a turning point in the survival of our species.
SUMMARY OF AMEG PRESS BRIEFINGS:
• The tipping point for the collapse of Arctic glaciers has been breached and a runaway meltdown of the North Pole ice cap is currently unfolding. Arctic ice is decaying exponentially. (For a better visualization, picture an area of ice the size of the state of Maine being lost every year since 1979.):
Highly reflective snow and ice is being replaced by dark sea water which is much more [absorbent] of solar energy causing the Arctic to warm much, much faster than the rest of the planet. This is destabilizing the atmospheric air circulation and ocean circulation. It is reducing the temperature gradient or difference between the equator and the pole which slows down the jet stream making it wavier with higher ridges and troughs. The jet stream has also become prone to stagnating in the same region. Very warm, humid southerly air can go to much higher latitudes than before, and cold arctic air can go to much southerly latitudes than before. This in itself is representing an enormous positive reinforcing feedback (not positive for humans) which is carrying more and more heat up into the Arctic and more and more coldness from the Arctic further south. What this will do is fracture the jet streams, leading us to a very different world, a less predictable climatic world where weather extremes such as torrential rains and extended droughts and floods come to dominate the weather system. The frequency, severity, and duration of these events all increase. These events also occur in regions where we did not have this before. For example, we get 80cm(32 inches) of snow in the Atacama Desert which is the driest region of the planet – an unprecedented event. We get torrential rains where we had desert before. We get desert where we had moderate temperatures before. This is already happening now with just 0.85 °C of warming that the world has experienced since the start of the industrial revolution. This situation is very dependent on the conditions in the Arctic. As the Arctic continues to exponentially decline in snow and sea ice cover, these extremes will undoubtedly have to increase. The physics of the system says so. Because we now live in a warmer planet, there is more evaporation of the oceans leading to more water vapor in the atmosphere which fuels stronger storms. (The atmosphere can hold 7% moisture for every 1°C increase in average temp. Since we have increased the average temp by ~0.8°C from pre-industrial times, we have 6% more water vapor in the atmosphere). Because we have changed the chemistry of the atmosphere, we have changed the planet’s weather and climate.
• Once we reach a point of no Arctic sea ice, perhaps as early as September 2015, this will create a “blue ocean event” in which all the heat from the sun will be able to penetrate Arctic waters, vastly accelerating the rate at which the Arctic is warming. Consequently, massive disruption of atmospheric circulation and ocean currents will ensue, thus locking the Arctic into an ice-free state. Global sea levels will rapidly rise and climate chaos will ramp up.
• The East Siberian Arctic Shelf, containing hundreds to thousands of times more heat trapping gases than what are presently in the atmosphere, is in the process of releasing a catastrophic amount of greenhouse gases.
• Climate models do not take into account fractures, imperfections in the sea floor, regions of unfrozen subsea methane and other weak points in methane deposits. The models simply treat these areas as uniform slabs that will act in a predictable and symmetrical manner.
• Historical ice core and sediment records show numerous instances of the Earth having undergone abrupt climate change of 5-6°C or greater within a very short time period, one or two decades.
• The initial heat-trapping strength of methane(CH4) is up to several hundred times more powerful than CO2 during the first couple decades of its release into the atmosphere before degrading into CO2.
• Collapse of Civilization is assured at a 4°C rise in global temperature.
Scientists consider a global warming of 6°C to be a threat to the survival of humanity, and anything beyond an increase of 2°C to be intolerable (as recorded at the Asia-Europe Summit by Khor, September 2006). – Link
• Even conservative IPCC projections of BAU predict a 4°C rise in global temperature by the end of the century and this estimate does not include the methane release from the Arctic seabed, permafrost and tundra. No where in its reports does the IPCC state that a 4°C would be catastrophic to civilization and life on Earth.
• Simply attempting to “adapt” to anthropogenic climate change is not a realistic option.
• The meme of money and profit holds sway over all of society.
• The operating system of global civilization, i.e. neoclassical economics, is fatally flawed and it will kill us.
• The consequences of predicted drought from global warming will make food production impossible in most of the world…
AMEG’S CONCLUSIONS ARE:
• A life-affirming system of ecological economics must replace the current ecocidal model of neoclassical economics.
• Institutions must divest from fossil fuel investments and burst the carbon bubble.
• Techniques for cooling the Arctic need to be implemented now, such as spraying salt into the atmosphere to thicken clouds. Additionally, carbon sequestration techniques need to be implemented now, such as biochar burial which is a carbon negative technology that also enriches soil fertility.
• The world must recognize that a 2°C target is not the benchmark we need to worry about right now. We need to worry about and immediately deal with the destabilization and disruption of our climate and weather patterns that are already occurring today at 0.85 °C.
• Only a concerted international effort will provide us with a chance to mitigate and adapt to climate change by building a deep toolbox of approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, reducing emissions alone will not be sufficient. An active withdrawal of CO2 from the atmosphere will need to be a part of managing climate change.
AMEG does not mention the Antarctic which was recently found to be melting three times faster than a decade ago:
The glaciers in the embayment lost mass throughout the entire period. The researchers calculated two separate quantities: the total amount of loss, and the changes in the rate of loss.
The total amount of loss averaged 83 gigatons per year (91.5 billion U.S. tons). By comparison, Mt. Everest weighs about 161 gigatons, meaning the Antarctic glaciers lost a Mt.-Everest’s-worth amount of water weight every two years over the last 21 years.
The rate of loss accelerated an average of 6.1 gigatons (6.7 billion U.S. tons) per year since 1992.
From 2003 to 2009, when all four observational techniques overlapped, the melt rate increased an average of 16.3 gigatons per year — almost three times the rate of increase for the full 21-year period. The total amount of loss was close to the average at 84 gigatons.
Also in the news a few months ago was the realization that Greenland’s ice sheet loss has doubled in just the last five years. Greenland’s ice is much more unstable and prone to collapse than previously thought, and it alone holds enough ice to raise sea levels by nearly twenty-three feet. Paul Beckwith notes that the rate of change in ice melt from Greenland and Antarctica has doubled every seven years for the last couple decades and that if we continue on this trend, then the world will indeed experience a sea level rise of nearly twenty-three feet by 2070.
Last month a seemingly reassuring headline stated that ‘Alaska shows no signs of rising Arctic methane‘ according to NASA’s CARVE project (Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment), but any hopes about the ticking methane time bomb in the Arctic were quickly dashed after reading the article:
…High concentrations of atmospheric methane have been measured at individual Arctic sites, especially in Siberia. This adds to the concern that massive methane releases are already occurring in the far North. NASA’s multiyear Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) is the first experiment to establish emission rates for a large region of the Arctic…
Alaska composes about one percent of Earth’s total land area, and its estimated annual emissions in 2012 equaled about one percent of total global methane emissions. That means the Alaskan rate was very close to the global average rate.
“That’s good news, because it means there isn’t a large amount of methane coming out of the ground yet,” said lead author Rachel Chang, formerly at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and now an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in Atmospheric Science at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Charles Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, the principal investigator for CARVE, noted that results from a single year cannot show how emissions might be changing from year to year. “The 2012 data don’t preclude accelerated change in the future,” he said.
Vast amounts of carbon are stored in undecayed organic matter—dead plants and animals—in Arctic permafrost and peat. Scientists estimate that there is more than twice as much carbon locked in the frozen North as there is in the atmosphere today. The organic material won’t decay and release its carbon as long as it stays frozen. But climate change has brought warmer and longer summers throughout the Arctic, and permafrost soils are thawing more and more. If large amounts of undecayed matter were to defrost, decompose and release methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the impact on global temperatures would most likely be enormous.
Because no other program has made measurements as comprehensive and widespread as CARVE’s, Chang said, “One of the challenges is that we have nothing to compare our results to. We can’t say whether emissions have already increased or stayed the same. Our measurements will serve as a baseline.”
We already know that methane levels have increased two-and-a-half times since the pre-industrial era and “since 2007 atmospheric methane has been on a renewed sustained increase… due to planetary feedback emissions.” Methane has “more than doubled its 800,000 [year] maximum”:
This increase in atmospheric methane started as a result of carbon feedback feedback methane (CH4) from anomalously high temperatures in the Arctic and greater than average precipitation in the tropics, rather than from increased industrial emissions (Dlugokencky et al, 2009). – Link
We also know that scientists continue to be shocked and awed at the increasingly accelerated rate at which glaciers around the world are melting. Essentially, industrial civilization is whistling past the graveyard.
Because of AMEG’s honest assessment about the climatic state of the world and the horrific future mankind faces, I support their efforts. We have no time left for philosophical musings about the ethics of AMEG’s geo-engineering ideas to cool the Arctic or debating why, how, and who is responsible for the mess we are in. The Blue Ocean Event is coming and time is not on our side.
“The end of the Arctic will be the noose gently placed around our necks. Get your affairs in order, Humankind.” ~ The Final Stand