Polar vortexes and bizarre massive snowstorms in November allow many Republicans, conservatives and other climate deniers (cough – Big Oil – Cough) to scoff at the idea of climate change or global warming. Indeed, I’ve seen a number of dismissive comments regarding the reduction in the polar ice cap, because this last year it didn’t decline by as much as prior years. To them its a big joke (and/or justification for taking big campaign contributions from corporations with huge investments in fossil fuels).
Unfortunately, climate scientists who have done the research have known for some time that the effects of greenhouse gas emissions have had their greatest warming effect on the Arctic, and this year’s report from NOAA, the 2014 Arctic Report Card provides further confirmation of that fact:
The latest word from scientists studying the Arctic is that the polar region is warming twice as fast as the average rise on the rest of the planet. And researchers say the trend isn’t letting up. That’s the latest from the 2014 Arctic Report Card — a compilation of recent research from more than 60 scientists in 13 countries. The report was released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The scientific explanation for this rapid warming of the Arctic region isn’t hard to understand, if one bothers to take the time to learn. It comes down to the the principle of feedback loops, or as some refer to it “arctic amplification.”
… Here’s how it works: Normally, snow and ice cool the surface by reflecting a lot of the sun’s energy back up into the atmosphere. But warming air temperatures melt snow and ice. “And when they melt,” says [Jackie Richter-Menge, a scientist with the US Corps of Army Engineers], “they expose darker regions.”
Darker regions, once covered in snow and ice, now absorb more heat, like a dark shirt does on a hot, sunny day. The same thing happens when sea ice melts — the exposed water is darker and warms up.
As this amplification effect continues unabated, it also becomes less and less reversible. One example? The loss in volume of the ice field that covers most of Greenland. Let Geophysicist Beata Csatho explain how the phenomenon of lowering the ice field leads to greater warming.
Csatho, whose research appears separately in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, says she has noticed something else about Greenland’s blanket of ice: Because the ice melts from the top down, the surface elevation gets lower over time. And at lower elevations, the air generally is warmer.
“As Greenland is losing ice, it gets more and more irreversible,” Csatho explains, “because you get the ice into lower and lower elevations.”
As a result of this unprecedented rapid warming at the “top of the world,” weather patterns in North America and Europe have become subject greater variability Again, this is something we have known for several years now, as this study from 2012 demonstrates:
The study, by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University and Stephen Vavrus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, ties rapid Arctic climate change to high-impact, extreme weather events in the U.S. and Europe.
The study shows that by changing the temperature balance between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, rapid Arctic warming is altering the course of the jet stream, which steers weather systems from west to east around the hemisphere. The Arctic has been warming about twice as fast as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, due to a combination of human emissions of greenhouse gases and unique feedbacks built into the Arctic climate system.
The jet stream, the study says, is becoming “wavier,” with steeper troughs and higher ridges. Weather systems are progressing more slowly, raising the chances for long-duration extreme events, like droughts, floods, and heat waves.
“[The] tendency for weather to hang around longer is going to favor extreme weather conditions that are related to persistent weather patterns,” said Francis, the study’s lead author.
This isn’t just an inconvenient problem for future generations. Arctic warming on this scale is having negative economic effects now, and those costs are only likely to rise precipitously in the future.
Economic modelling shows that the methane emissions caused by shrinking sea ice from just one area of the Arctic could come with a global price tag of 60 trillion dollars — the size of the world economy in 2012.
Writing in a Comment piece in the journal, Nature, academics argue that a significant release of methane from thawing permafrost in the Arctic could have dire implications for the world’s economy. The researchers, from Cambridge and Rotterdam, have for the first time calculated the potential economic impact of a scenario some scientists consider increasingly likely — that methane from the East Siberian Sea will be emitted as a result of the thaw. […]
“The global impact of a warming Arctic is an economic time-bomb,” Whiteman, who is Professor of sustainability, management and climate change at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), said.
Wadhams added: “The imminent disappearance of the summer sea ice in the Arctic will have enormous implications for both the acceleration of climate change, and the release of methane from off-shore waters which are now able to warm up in the summer. This massive methane boost will have major implications for global economies and societies.”
Yet, we have a Congress and media dominated by individuals who promote the false idea that climate scientists are either stupid or lying when they point out the obvious. Unfortunately, a large part of our voting population has drunk the climate deniers’ Kool Aid. And so now we have legislative results doing direct harm to our efforts to educate the public about climate change and efforts to ameliorate its effects, such as this recent provision in the Cromnibus Bill:
Since 2010, the EPA budget has been reduced by more than $2 billion.
EPA employee levels are at the lowest since 1989.
Budget rejects new EPA regulatory programs.
As my title says, not exactly breaking news, but very, very bad news, nonetheless.