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.
Continue reading “HARDtalk on thin ice in Alaska”
Reading this press release about a new paper in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology spoiled my day. It might not be obvious to a casual reader just glancing through the morning news — but a couple of paragraphs leapt out at me:
Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations recently reached 400 parts per million for the first time since the Pliocene Epoch, three million years ago. During this era, Arctic surface temperatures were 15-20 degrees Celsius warmer than today’s surface temperatures.
Ballantyne’s findings suggest that much of the surface warming likely was due to ice-free conditions in the Arctic. That finding matches estimates of land temperatures in the Arctic during the same time. This suggests that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations of 400 ppm may be sufficient to greatly reduce the spatial extent and seasonal persistence of Arctic sea ice.
In other words, losing Arctic sea ice brings huge warming to the lands around the Arctic Ocean. This is extremely bad news for a number of reasons:
Continue reading “Arctic sea ice time bomb ticking: the bang’s gonna be huge”
Looking down on the North Pole from satellite, NASA’s Arctic mosaic image for July 14 shows an unusually cloud-free view of the sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean. Click on the image to see the bigger original, and to zoom in on interesting regions. So far this year the sea ice melt has lagged behind last year’s record-setting performance, but in the last few weeks the rate of melt has increased significantly and the two years are moving closer together.
The NSIDC’s sea ice extent graph (above, for July 13) clearly shows the increase in melt, but there is still a substantial gap — over 0.5 million km2 — between the two years. This is, however, the time of year when the melt season goes into overdrive, with sunshine pouring energy into the Arctic 24 hours a day.
Continue reading “Arctic summer 2013: fragile ice pack feeling the pressure”
It’s certainly hot in the southwestern USA at the moment — a dome of heat has established itself under a persistent high pressure ridge, and temperatures are pushing up towards all-time highs. Wildfires are running out of control. One caused the tragic death of 19 firefighters at Yarnell Hill in Arizona yesterday. One more extreme weather event to add to this year’s growing list, and as with most of the others, there’s a clear sign of a link with rapid climate change. That heat dome is being held in place by a large, slow-moving northward loop in the jetstream — and that jetstream pattern is beginning to look very much like the characteristic fingerprint of rapid warming in the northern hemisphere, as Jennifer Francis explains in this video, recorded at a Climate Desk event in Washington last month. It’s just about the clearest explanation of what’s going on that I’ve encountered — particularly in her description of why the jetstream exists in the first place, and why warming is changing the way it behaves. If you want to understand what’s going on, you have to watch this.
There’s a full recording of the Climate Desk event here, including a talk by Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro. Ostro used to be a confirmed sceptic, but began to see changes in weather patterns that he traced back to the effects of warming — specifically, an increase in the “thickness” of the atmosphere, the very thing that’s driving the changes in jetstream behaviour.
Kicking off the afternoon sessions on the first day of this year’s NZ CCC conference, Professor Barry Smit of the University of Guelph in Canada launched his keynote — titled From theory to practice, from impacts to adaptation (abstract) — with a rousing climate version of Let It Be. I caught up with him during the evening reception, but didn’t ask him to sing…