September 18, 2012

Arctic Sea Ice All Time Low

The sea ice in the Arctic Ocean dropped below the previous all-time record set in 2007 by an area larger than the state of Texas. 

This year also marks the first time that there has been less than 4 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles) of sea ice since satellite observations began in 1979. 

This animation shows the 2012 time-series of ice extent using sea ice concentration data from the DMSP SSMI/S satellite sensor. The black area represents the daily average (median) sea ice extent over the 1979-2000 time period. Layered over top of that are the daily satellite measurements from January 1 -- September 14, 2012. A rapid melt begins in July, whereby the 2012 ice extents fall far below the historical average. The National Snow and Ice Data Center ( will confirm the final minimum ice extent data and area once the melt stabilizes, usually in mid-September.

September 15, 2012

Republican Meteorologist: Top 10 Reasons to Accept Climate Reality

If it's not raining, why are we getting wet?
As a Republican business owner, entrepreneur, meteorologist and father of two upbeat, optimistic boys, I may not fit the stereotype of a "global warming alarmist." I'm an Evangelical Christian. I'm enthusiastic about streamlining government and letting the markets work. But unlike some, I see no inherent struggle between my faith and the ability of science to improve our understanding of the world. The Creator gave me a brain, to think and reason, and react to facts on the ground. And I'm disillusioned, because some in my party are pro-science-denial, and on the wrong side of history.
The word "conservative" no longer applies to the environment. The GOP's new energy platform shows this, in a stunning departure from 2008. Don't get me wrong. My party's focus on the economy and putting Americans back to work is dead on. And America has been blessed with a rich supply of natural resources and innovative technologies to wean ourselves off foreign crude. But our fossil fuel frenzy is impacting the weather floating above our heads. Denying that it's raining doesn't keep you from getting wet, and climate change has gone from theory to reality — while our side fiddles away like Nero.
What the data tells me
climate extreme index
CEI. Climate Extreme Index. 46% of the USA experienced extremes in temperature and moisture (floods and droughts) in 2012, breaking the old record in 1934. Source: NOAA NCDC.
If any climate change skeptic had spent the year I have watching the weather maps – I'm confident they would be saying the same thing. These maps passed "normal" a long time ago. 2012 is the most severe year in recorded history; 46% of the USA has experienced extremes in moisture, drought, temperatures and tropical cyclones, breaking the old record set at the height of the Dust Bowl in 1934. This has been The Year of All or Nothing: drought or flood. And jaw-dropping weather is accomplishing what climate scientists couldn't quite pull off: convincing a majority of reasonable, logical, God-fearing Americans that something is up. Something has changed.
I make predictions every day, and based on the data I'm seeing here's my long-range prognosis. What we just experienced was not an aberration. It's a conservative example (most climate scientists have been, if anything, extremely conservative in their projections) of what's to come. Sizzling summers will become the norm in the years ahead. We may soon look back on 2012 with fondness for its mild weather. We've experienced 7 times more record highs than record lows in 2012; expect that lop-sided ratio to continue. Meteorologists will be spending more precious airtime tracking brushfires — when they're not warning of impending floods. Nights will trend warmer and fewer subzero outbreaks will reach the continental US, a big silver lining for many. But both Greenland and the Arctic are melting faster than computer models predicted, with the Arctic shattering the old record set in 2007. Scientists were once predicting it would be ice-free in 2080 or 2090. Considering this acceleration we're seeing, they're now saying it could be as early at 2030, and some have even said 2015. You heard right. More water absorbing sunlight and less ice reflecting sunlight is accelerating a feedback effect, speeding the warming we're already witnessing, worldwide.
A two-headed frog still might be a prince
On Earth Day I wrote a story for a blog post in Minnesota. The Huffington Post picked it up. A Republican concerned about climate change? Rare as a two-headed frog. And I can tell you, I got plenty of negative mail from conservatives. But here's the thing: this isn't a popularity contest. There's too much on the line. Some in the GOP mock climate science, but most voters under the age of 30 take the subject very seriously. Dismissing it out of hand is not only disingenuous, but politically short-sighted, and is a failure to care for our children as our parents cared for us. Your kids are following this issue closely. They vote.
"The weather has always been extreme. Why is this any different?" There's no denying the trends. Actions have consequences. Releasing 90 trillion tons of greenhouse gas, 90 trillion hot air balloons of CO2 and methane in just the last 50 years, is spiking our weather extremes like never before. So rather than focus on the green skin of the messenger, put your ear up to hear what he's saying.
Paul Douglas's Top Ten Reasons to Accept Reality on the Climate
Here's my Top Ten Reasons Why This Isn't Business as Usual for the Climate – things that convince me — and should convince you too.
10). Shifting Weather Patterns – The jet stream is shifting north over time. I'm seeing things on the weather maps every other day that can't be explained away as "normal extremes".
9). Rising Sea Levels – whatever your skeptical uncle Joe says, seas are warming, and as they warm, they expand and sea level goes up. Most scientists predict 3-4 feet in the next 80 years or so. Think twice about buying that retirement condo right on the beach. Find something 4 blocks inland, and be patient.
8). Warmer, More Acidic Oceans – if you scuba dive, you've probably noticed that corals reefs aren't what they used to be. That's ocean acidification from absorbing carbon dioxide. It's radically changing the ocean ecosystems and fisheries right now.
7). Straining Water Resources – water for drinking, "fracking", farming, ethanol production, soda pop, or energy generation – whatever your flavor, it's getting scarcer. That affects all of the above.
6). Dying Forests – not just by massive, historic wildfires, but by pests like the pine beetle that no longer gets killed off in the warmer winters, turning entire rocky mountains brown with dead pine trees.
5). Extreme Rains and More Severe Local Storms. 4-5% increase in atmospheric moisture – warmer air holds more moisture. That means it gets drier on the ground because more is absorbed by the atmosphere. But it also means when it rains, it rains harder as that higher water content rains out. But dry soil and heavy rains equal floods, and that means more damage and more water lost to runoff.
4). Spike in Wildfires – less water plus pine beetles and other crawly critters that kill trees plus drier soil means more wildfires.
3). More Drought — more water in the atmosphere means less on earth and thus more drought.
2). Superheated summers — the above combine to create hot, hot, hot summers. Drier air is hotter without water to moderate it. Hotter air absorbs even more, even quicker. And hotter air means more air conditioners, means more carbon going back into the atmosphere.
And the number one reason:
arctic sea ice extent
Arctic Sea Ice Monitor. The latest value: 3,593,750 square kilometers on September 9, 2012. A new record minimum of Arctic sea ice extent was set on August 24, 2012. The four lowest values of Arctic sea ice have been observed since 2007. Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Earth Observation Research Center.
1). Record Arctic Ice Loss. As I said, less ice reflecting means more water absorbing. We used to say the Arctic might be ice free by the middle of the century. Now scientists are saying it may happen as early as 2015. That's in three years, people. The ice is melting this year at an unprecedented rate, and if we have another warm winter, it won't be replenished. This could tip the scales for a lot of larger climate changes to come. A comprehensive article in the Wall Street Journal on September 7 summarized "…the six lowest Arctic sea ice levels on record all occurred in the past six years."
How Mitt Romney can really help you and your family
With the problems facing America today, from record deficits to stubborn unemployment to Iran and The Bomb, why fixate on climate change? Because this will impact all our families; your kids and mine, as well as America's competitive footing in the 21st century. If Mitt Romney is genuine about his promise to "help you and your family," he needs to acknowledge this, and work for a solution that will solve both the economic and the climate crisis. He needs to help America to innovate our way into a new energy paradigm, one that will fuel growth, add jobs, and launch new companies focused on cleaner, more sustainable American energy sources.
Will the GOP rise to the occasion, or bet the farm on carbon, and ask our grandkids to deal with the mess? It's time for bold leadership. Climate change is a threat, but it is also an opportunity to transition to a cleaner, greener, more sustainable economy. American Exceptionalism shouldn't stop when it comes to innovating new energy sources. We have the technology and entrepreneurial DNA to mitigate climate change, foster innovative, job-producing clean energy technologies, and reinvent America's economy. Let's put it to work, Governor Romney. As one prominent supporter said at the convention: "Go ahead, make my day!"
Paul Douglas is Founder and President of The Media Logic GroupMinnesota's first Certified Broadcast Meteorologist, Douglas writes a daily print and online column for the Star Tribune. This piece was originally published at Neorenaissance and was reprinted with permission from the author.

Arctic Sea Ice Melt

The "astounding" loss of sea ice this year is adding a huge amount of heat to the Arctic Ocean and the atmosphere, said Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "It's like having a new energy source for the atmosphere."
… Peter Wadhams, the head of the polar ocean physics group at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., told BBC News on September 6 that the added heat from sea ice loss is equivalent to the warming from 20 years of carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas that is causing manmade global warming.
For more detail, see Arctic Warming Favors Extreme, Prolonged Weather Events "Such As Drought, Flooding, Cold Spells And Heat Waves."

Romney Pledge

On Meet the Press, the GOP nominee actually told NBC's David Gregory:
I'm not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet.
You can watch it here.

Our Moral Responsibility

"What is a conservative after all but one who conserves, one who is committed to protecting and holding close the things by which we live... And we want to protect and conserve the land on which we live — our countryside, our rivers and mountains, our plains and meadows and forests. This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it."
President Ronald ReaganRemarks at dedication of National Geographic Society new headquarters building
June 19, 1984

Canada and US agree on Great Lakes Protection

The United States and Canada have amended a 40-year-old environmental accord on the Great Lakes, expanding its goals to tackle problems like invasive species, pollution and climate change.
"The challenges are even bigger today than they were then," said Dereth Glance, one of three Americans on the International Joint Commission, a bilateral group that monitors environmental agreements between the United States and Canada. "It's a matter of ongoing stewardship and collaboration with as many people as possible."
In addition to tightening goals for phosphorus reductions in Lake Erie, the amendments call for action on ships' ballast water, which introduces invasive species into the lake system, and climate change, which is expected to make heavy precipitation like that of 2011 more common.

Solar Installations Surge

U.S. solar installations jumped 116 percent in the second quarter from a year ago thanks to the completion of more than 20 big projects for utilities, according to an industry report released on Monday.

The U.S. market, though robust, still represents just 10 percent of the global market.

Arctic Sea Ice Charts

Temperature in the Arctic is going up 6.3 degrees Centigrade per century (11 degrees Fahrenheit per century).

This chart shows arctic temperatures for the last 2000 years. Note we have been on a cooling trend until around 1960. 

Arctic sea ice extent over the past 1,450 years.  Note that data in this figure extend through 2008, and thus it doesn't show this year's current record low. 

Tar Balls close Louisiana beaches

The state is closing a 12-mile section of Gulf coastline from Caminada Pass to Pass Fourchon after Hurricane Isaac washed up large areas of oil and tar balls at the location of one of the worst inundations of BP oil during the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010. Robert Barham, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said agency crews surveying damage from Isaac discovered large sections of viscous oil and tar balls floating along the coast from the beach to one mile offshore between Elmer's Island Wildlife Refuge, just west of Grand Isle, to Pass Fourchon.

"It's a very large mass that is viscous but hasn't coalesced into tar mats yet," Barham said. "But the Elmer's Island beaches are littered with tar balls of every size, from eraser size to the size of baseballs."

According to the US Coast Guard, oiled pelicans and other wildlife have been found in Louisiana marshes as well.
"This is another disaster on top of the hurricane that we're going to have to deal with," Garret Graves, chairman of Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, told The Huffington Post. "The threat is not insignificant."
Up to 1 million barrels of oil are estimated to remain in the Gulf of Mexico. That oil remains, Graves said, because BP has failed to clean it all up in the more than two years since the tragedy. "That's four to five times the oil that was spilled with the Exxon Valdez," he added.

Update: Tests confirmed that the oil found on the Louisiana shoreline after Hurricane Isaac was in fact from the BP spill in 2010. 

Keystone XL Pipeline Protests

Protesters locked themselves on Wednesday to logging equipment being used to clear trees in the northeast Texas path of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.

TransCanada broke ground on Keystone XL's southern leg last month, beginning work a stretch of pipeline that will connect the oil hub of Cushing, Okla., with the Texas Gulf Coast. 

Environmentalists say the pipeline would expand the marketplace for oil sands crude that produces more greenhouse gas emissions from production to combustion than alternatives because of the energy-intensive techniques used to harvest it. Companies typically extract the tar-like hydrocarbon bitumen from Canada's oil sands by open-pit mining and in-situ techniques involving underground injections of steam that liquefy the otherwise hard fossil fuel.

The protests in Texas this morning are only the latest move by activists who have tethered themselves to bulldozers in recent weeks to halt work on the project.

According to Tar Sands Blockade, work was prevented at the Saltillo site this morning after about 20 contractors found three protesters locked to feller buncher machines used to clear trees.

One of the three, Houstonian Sarah Reid, said she was fighting on behalf of East Texas landowners "who have been taken advantage of by TransCanada."

Food or Natural Gas?

A new race for water is rippling through the drought-scorched heartland, pitting farmers against oil and gas interests, driven by new drilling techniques that use powerful streams of water, sand and chemicals to crack the ground and release stores of oil and gas.

A single such well can require five million gallons of water, and energy companies are flocking to water auctions, farm ponds, irrigation ditches and municipal fire hydrants to get what they need.
That thirst is helping to drive an explosion of oil production here, but it is also complicating the long and emotional struggle over who drinks and who does not in the arid and fast-growing West. Farmers and environmental activists say they are worried that deep-pocketed energy companies will have purchase on increasingly scarce water supplies as they drill deep new wells that use the technique of hydraulic fracturing.
"It's not a level playing field," said Peter V. Anderson, who grows corn and alfalfa on the parched plains of eastern Colorado. "I don't think in reality that the farmer can compete with the oil and gas companies for that water. Their return is a hell of a lot better than ours."

In average years, farmers and ranchers like Mr. Anderson say they pay about $30 for an acre foot of water — equal to about 326,000 gallons — a price that can rise to $100 when water is scarce. In the spring, during an annual auction of surplus water in northern Colorado, Mr. Anderson and a handful of other farmers were outbid by water haulers who supply hydraulic fracturing wells. 

Will people have enough to eat?

Perhaps the biggest single question about climate change is whether people will have enough to eat in coming decades.
We have had two huge spikes in global food prices in five years that were driven largely by chaotic weather. And this year we may be in the early stages of a third big jump. Droughts and heat waves have damaged crops in many producing countries this year, including the United States and India.
As Annie Lowrey reported this week, United Nations agencies are hitting the alarm button.
If any of that sounds alarmist, recall what has already happened because of the price spikes of recent years. In 2008, food riots broke out in more than 20 countries, and the government of Haiti fell as a result of the unrest. The second price spike, in 2011, apparently played a role in the social discontent that led to the revolutions in the Arab world.

September 4, 2012

Why Climate Change Matters

by Rob Hogg, Iowa State Senator
In case you missed it last week, Mitt Romney said in his nomination acceptance speech that "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family."
And then the crowd erupted in laughter and cheers.
There is something wrong when, in 2012, a major party candidate for President uses global warming and the environment as a quip – especially when much of the State of Louisiana is still under water from Hurricane Isaac, which brought huge storm surges and record rain falls that were literally pulling parts of the Gulf Coast back into the ocean.
It is surreal. It ignores the reality of what is happening. But it does provide an opportunity to explain better why rising seas and the planet's declining health hurt us and our families.
If you are concerned about yourself and your family, you ought to be concerned about fossil fuels, climate change, and the sustainability of the planet. Here's why:
Jobs and our Economy – The single most important reason that our economy remains sluggish is high gas prices and the high cost of imported oil. We import the same amount of oil into this country as we did in 1997 – but it now costs us nearly $300 billion a year more, a five-fold increase.
That is nearly $1,000 more per American each year. If we had that money here, rather than sending it out of the country, we could employ almost 5 million people with jobs that pay wages and benefits worth $60,000 per year.
Increasing our dependence on expensive oil, domestic or foreign, will not help our economy. The most expensive oil in the world, both economically and environmentally, is offshore oil and oil extracted from the tar sands of Canada.
By contrast, energy conservation, energy efficiency, fuel efficiency, and clean renewable energy like wind power are already creating jobs, saving consumers money, and growing prosperity right here in Iowa.
Health Care Costs – One of the causes of increasing health care costs is pollution from coal and other fossil fuels – a cost of more than $175 billion a year from coal alone according to research led by Paul Epstein of the Harvard Medical School. That figure is more than $560 per American every year.
The pollutants from coal and other fossil fuels cause or contribute to bronchitis, asthma, respiratory disease, heart disease, and neurological disorders. When people suffer these problems, they and their families not only incur substantial health care costs, they also lose economic productivity from the need for medical care and treatment.
Climate Disasters – In 2011, the United States was hammered by a record 14 billion-dollar disasters at a total cost of $52 billion – damages of more than $160 per American from just those 14 disasters.
In Iowa, we have suffered floods, drought, and severe storms. Around the country, Americans have suffered damage from hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, droughts, severe storms, wildfires, infestations of pests, and outbreaks of disease.  These disasters cause severe property damage, endanger people, and disrupt our economy. Their numbers are growing and will continue to grow until we deal effectively with climate change.
As the sea levels continue to rise, it is projected that more than 3 million Americans will be displaced from their current homes over the coming century. Globally, the number is much, much higher. If we do not stop sea level rise, you and your family will be affected by the disruption of our global economy and an influx of environmental refugees from other places.
Loss of Natural Resources – Unusual weather and habitat loss are combining to disrupt ecological areas across the state and our country. At its web site, Ducks Unlimited states that it has examined "the best available science" and concluded that "climate change poses a significant threat to North America's waterfowl that could undermine achievements gained through more than 70 years of conservation work." If you and your family enjoy hunting and fishing, you should be concerned about rising sea levels and the planet's health.
Finally, I am not afraid to say that I care about the health of the planet simply because I care about it. I want my children and someday my grandchildren and future generations to have the opportunity to live in a world where there are forests in the Rocky Mountains, glaciers in Glacier Park, polar bears, cheetahs, and Monarch butterflies.
The health of the planet matters to me and my family. It should matter to all of us and all of our families.
Rob Hogg is an Iowa state senator from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.