Melting at both ends

Arctic sea ice is melting. The Greenland ice sheet is losing mass, and the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming parts of the planet. But the main part of Antarctica has often been assumed to be pretty safe from extensive surface melting. It’s very cold, and very high. NASA now reports that in January 2005, large parts of the surface of West Antarctica experienced a week long melt, the first time this has been seen.

“The observed melting occurred in multiple distinct regions, including far inland, at high latitudes and at high elevations, where melt had been considered unlikely. Evidence of melting was found up to 900 kilometers (560 miles) inland from the open ocean, farther than 85 degrees south (about 500 kilometers, or 310 miles, from the South Pole) and higher than 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) above sea level. Maximum air temperatures at the time of the melting were unusually high, reaching more than five degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) in one of the affected areas. They remained above melting for approximately a week.”

The picture accompanying the NASA story clearly shows large melt areas – the size of California (how many Belgiums is that?) – over the West Antarctic ice sheet. There hasn’t been a repeat of the event in the last two years, and the period studied only began in 1999, so it’s not clear how unusual the melt was, or if there is any trend. Given the concerns about the stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet in a warming world, this news will add urgency to this year’s International Polar Year effort (which is getting a bit of help from the International Space Station).

Elephants, forests and the Wright brothers

Tropical forests are in the news. The Global Canopy Project has announced its Vivocarbon Initiative, an effort to encourage a rapid reduction in the felling of tropical forests. The GCP study forest canopies, and judging from the back page of their Forests First In The Fight Against Climate Change (PDF) describing their new campaign, they have a lot of fun doing it. Their point is simple, and supported by the IPCC WG3, Stern and others:

“Tropical rainforests are the elephant in the living room of climate change. It is unwise for politicians to arm wrestle over rising aircraft emissions when just the next five years of carbon from burning rainforests (20% of global GHG emissions) will be greater than all the emissions from air travel since the Wright brothers to at least 2025. Forests must come first in efforts to mitigate global carbon emissions because carbon capture or nuclear technology will make no major impact on reducing emissions before 2030, whilst we can tackle deforestation now, without the need for inventing new and expensive infrastructure.

IPCC WG3 SPM headline: we can afford it

The Working Group 3 Summary For Policymakers is easily the least readable of the three SPMs released this year:

“In 2030 macro-economic costs for multi-gas mitigation, consistent with emissions trajectories towards stabilisation between 445 and 710ppm CO2-eq, are estimated at between a 3% decrease of global GDP and a small increase, compared to the baseline. However, regional costs may differ significantly from global averages (high agreement, medium evidence).

Polar opposites

Interesting reading: on the one hand, Christopher, Lord Monckton, Britain’s most famous climate crank, is exposed as, well, something of a crank in a profile in The Observer, while James Lovelock comes on a bit strong in the Times Online.


‘Well,’ he says, breezily, ‘for a few years, the temperature will continue to rise, but nowhere near as fast as the alarmists would wish it to rise. Then solar physicists suggest that in the next solar cycle but one, and a solar cycle is about 10.6 years, there will be a considerable cooling of the Sun. And the panic will disappear.’ Hey presto.


If you want to get some idea of what much of the Earth might look like in 50 years’ time then, says James Lovelock, get hold of a powerful telescope or log onto Nasa’s Mars website. That arid, empty, lifeless landscape is, he believes, how most of Earth’s equatorial lands will be looking by 2050. A few decades later and that same uninhabitable desert will have extended into Spain, Italy, Australia and much of the southern United States. “We are on the edge of the greatest die-off humanity has ever seen,â€? said Lovelock. “We will be lucky if 20% of us survive what is coming. We should be scared stiff.â€?

Meanwhile, Vanity Fair‘s now annual Green Issue includes an excellent profile of Myron Ebell, the man behind the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s sceptical effluvia. Worth reading if only for the phrase:

Many of the skeptics are curmudgeons: old, bald, and bitter. But not Myron Ebell.

Old, bald and bitter. Who can they mean…?

IPPC mitigation report released

The Summary for Policymakers of the IPPC’s Working Group 3 Report is now available from the IPCC web site. It says we have to take early action, but that the cost is affordable. Reports at the BBC, Reuters, Guardian (UK) and New Scientist. More from me when I’ve had time to read it.
Link to PDFs: WG3 SPM, WG2 SPM, WG1 SPM. Full WG1 report (index of pdfs).