TDB Today: WACCy weather and a warm year

WACCyweather

A classic case of WACCy weather in the northern hemisphere, seen here in a map from the excellent Climate Reanalyzer site, prompts me to discuss the 2013 global temperature numbers, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, and what sea ice loss is doing to northern hemisphere weather patterns in my post at The Daily Blog this week. We live in interesting times…

HARDtalk on thin ice in Alaska

Stephen Sackur took the BBC’s HARDtalk programme on the road in Alaska in a climate change episode screened a few days ago. It was the kind of aware and intelligent journalism one hopes to see on the topic, and deserves plaudits. Not that it exceeded what we have a right to expect from major mainstream television, but it was all the more welcome because the medium so rarely tackles the climate change question. It also represented a considerable advance on the Sackur interview I discussed on Hot Topic a couple of years ago when he attacked Rajendra Pachauri and the IPCC on spurious grounds.

Sackur began in the coastal Inuit village of Kivalina, whose days are numbered as sea ice disappears and storm surges are unimpeded. (I reviewed Christine Shearer’s book on Kivalina in 2011.) The programme was stark in its Alaskan juxtapositions. On the one hand it detailed some of the impacts of climate change on Inuit communities. Kivalina is not alone. Retreating ice, slowly rising sea levels and increased coastal erosion have left three Inuit settlements facing imminent destruction, and at least eight more at serious risk. The town of Barrow depends on bowhead whale and seal hunting which is now affected very badly by the early breakup of sea ice.

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I think it’s going to rain today (when it’s wet, it’s very very wet)

I took Rosie the truffle machine for a walk around the farm just before dark yesterday. We were both a bit stir-crazy after four days of cold, cold rain and a couple of days of screaming southerlies that brought snow to our hills. The ground passed field capacity at the beginning of last week, when an atmospheric river brought torrential downpours and flooding to much of the South Island. Now the soil is sodden, quivering with water and oozing mud at every footstep. Every drop of extra rain is taking that mud and sluicing it down to the river. A stream runs through my black truffle plantation. I spent this afternoon digging a drainage trench. Truffles don’t enjoy sitting in water. My crop might rot. The Waipara is roaring along at the bottom of our cliff at about 50 cumecs1, an impressive sight for a river that normally dribbles down to the sea at under a cumec. It peaked last week at about 110 cumecs. The riverbed will have been reshaped. But we got off lightly.

Over the last couple of days the New Zealand news has been dominated by extreme weather. The southerly storm that soaked us also battered Wellington and brought deep snow2 to much of the South Island. It made for compelling pictures. But what’s going on elsewhere in the world is even more dramatic:

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  1. Cubic metres per second. []
  2. The Mt Hutt ski field got 2.8 meters of snow — just over 9 feet in the old money — a record start to the season. Take a look at the green line on their snow graph to get some sense of the context. []

Early Warming

Nancy Lord is a writer who has spent her adult life in Alaska. In her new book, Early Warming: Crisis and Response in the Climate-Changed North, she tells the stories of people and places and natural environments on whom climate change is impacting in her part of the world. She is climate science savvy, understanding why “in the north we live with disappearing sea ice, melting glaciers, thawing permafrost, drying wetlands, dying trees and changing landscapes, unusual animal sightings, and strange weather events”.

The science is woven into a narrative of her visits to people living in the midst of the change, some of them tracking the changes, some facing the challenge of re-shaping their lives to adapt to what is happening. Always the landscape figures strongly as the writer communicates a lively sense of place, whether in the wild or in the crumbling coastal villages where the people wonder what the uncertain future holds for their communities.

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Kivalina: A Climate Change Story

Kivalina: A Climate Change StoryThe remote Alaska village of Kivalina has been in danger for a number of years from the effects of climate change: “Sea ice no longer adequately forms on the village’s coastline, leaving the tiny island—perched on a thin strip of land between a sea and a lagoon—vulnerable to storms and erosion, and requiring relocation.” But the word relocation is easier spoken than achieved, as Christine Shearer’s arresting book Kivalina: A Climate Change Story tells.

Government sources of finance don’t appear to be available for the move estimated to cost between $100 million and $400 million. The village therefore in 2008 filed a claim against twenty four oil, electricity and coal companies alleging that the defendants are significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating global warming and the erosion in Kivalina, constituting a public nuisance under federal and state law. The suit seeks damages of up to $400 million, enough to cover relocation costs. There were secondary claims of conspiracy and concert of action against eight of the companies for conspiring to create a false scientific debate about climate change to deceive the public. The ruling to date is that the issue of addressing climate change and its negative effects is not a matter for the courts but should be left to the government. The judgment is being appealed.

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