In my column at The Daily Blog this week — Dragon breath and the Age Of Consequences — I take a look at the latest news on Arctic methane. It’s not good, as Jason Box demonstrated by not mincing his words about the seriousness of the threat. For an idea of the consequences, I strongly recommend finding half an hour to look at the video above. Max Wilbert interviews some of the top scientists in the field (including East Siberian Shelf methane expert Natalia Shakova), and the result is a good overview of the pace of change up North and the sheer scale of the permafrost carbon threat.
Over the weeks since the release of the first section of the IPCC’s Fifth Report, the Heartland Institute — the Chicago-based extreme right wing and free-market propaganda outfit that has done so much to promote climate denial — has been trying to get media traction for its latest Not-the-IPCC report (NIPCC: the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change), Climate Change Reconsidered 2: Physical Science. Heartland describes CCR2 as…
… an independent, comprehensive, and authoritative report on the current state of climate science.
The truth is somewhat more prosaic. CCR2, like its predecessors, is an extended effort in cherry-picking and misdirection designed to demonstrate that, as Heartland puts it:
…the human effect is likely to be small relative to natural variability, and whatever small warming is likely to occur will produce benefits as well as costs.
For a detailed take-down of the NIPCC’s main arguments, take a look at Graham Wayne’s Notes for Educators, prepared as a response to an effort by Heartland to push CCR2 to schools in the US. Wayne notes:
The NIPCC report is akin to a confidence trick. It is pseudo-science, badly presented, made difficult to assess or check, and depends on ‘blinding the reader with science’ that may look credible until you actually try to verify those claims against the peer-reviewed published literature.
Climate statistician Tamino was equally unimpressed, suggesting that the NIPCC would be better designated the ICP – for Intentional Cherry-Picking in service of a predetermined conclusion.
My interest in the latest NIPCC “report” was piqued by the discovery that Don Easterbrook, the retired geologist with a long track record of misunderstanding and misrepresenting the Greenland ice core temperature record, was the lead author of chapter 5, Observations: The Cryosphere [pdf]. The NIPCC is clearly not blessed with an overabundance of qualified authors if they have to rely on Easterbrook as an expert on the cryosphere. Worse, his co-authors are two other retired geologists with little or no domain expertise: Cliff Ollier from Western Australia, and Bob Carter, a marine stratigrapher and all-purpose climate denier who never saw an argument against warming that he didn’t like ((Carter is also one of the lead authors of the full report.)).
My first reaction to a quick skim through the chapter was pretty much the same as everybody else: this was cherry-picking taken to an extreme. To make sure that I was on the right track, I asked two real ice experts — Greenland maven Jason Box, and glaciologist Mauri Pelto — to take a quick look. Their reaction was scathing.
Massive forest fires are raging beyond control in Quebec, sending huge plumes of smoke to the east. The Eastmain fire — top left in this image from NASA’s Earth Observatory — is spreading towards the east coast of James Bay, the southernmost extension of Hudson Bay, and is currently estimated to cover an area of 656,000 hectares (1.6 million acres). Smoke from the huge fires has already caused smog problems in Montreal and Maine, and is heading round the globe. On July 8 NASA’s Terra satellite spotted a great swathe of Canadian smoke crossing Norway and Sweden, and heading across the Baltic towards Finland.
The Eastmain fire is the largest wildfire in Canada since 1959, and is almost as big as all the wildfires that have burned in the US so far this year. Forecasts for the area show warm temperatures continuing for at least another 5 days, so the fire is likely to continue to spread.
Meanwhile, up on the Greenland ice sheet, Jason Box, Peter Sinclair and the Dark Snow team, who are investigating the effect of smoke particles deposited on the ice on melting, have successfully completed their first sampling mission. It’s well worth checking Sinclair’s blog for frequent updates — and lovely images — of the team’s progress.
At long last: John Cook from Skeptical Science rejoins the Climate Show team for the first show of 2013. He hooks up with Glenn and Gareth to review Australia’s big heatwave, and stays around to dig into the new Greenpeace report on dirty energy, discuss Obama’s inauguration speech and Boris Johnson’s climate blunder, the latest scary news on sea level rise and the implications for the future. Plus much much more…
In this guest post, Professor Jason Box of the Geologic Survey of Denmark and Greenland (yes — he has a new job!) explains the genesis of the Dark Snow Project, a unique crowd-funded scientific expedition to Greenland planned for later this year. If you’ve got a few dollars to spare and want to make a contribution to improving the sum of human knowledge in a place that’s proving crucial to the future of the planet, this is a great way to do it.
Birth of an idea
On my way to my 23rd Greenland expedition, sitting in New York’s LaGuardia airport terminal, completing a 25 June, 2012 blog post about Greenland’s declining reflectivity, I noticed that the crowd in the waiting area were captivated by TV news coverage of the record setting Colorado wildfires. While my recently published work had linked Greenland’s reflectivity (aka albedo, Latin for whiteness) decline with the warming of the previous decade, what remains unresolved is the relative importance wildfire soot that further darkens the ice, acting as a multiplier of the feedback process.
From LaGuardia, I rang fellow Colorado native and NASA JPL snow optics expert Dr. Tom Painter to ask if snow samples plus modern microscopy and chemistry could identify wildfire soot from Colorado?
As we talked, I recalled a 2009 headline: Alaska’s biggest tundra fire sparks climate warning.
“Tom, given samples, is it possible to discriminate wildfire soot with that from industrial sources?”
“Yes,” he said.
Before the flight boarded we had decided it would be a good idea to sample Greenland’s ice and snow for wildfire soot. All we had to do was muster the resources to get to the ice sheet’s highest elevations where the satellite data showed a conspicuous pre-melt reflectivity decline.
7.5% reflectivity decline in July for the upper elevations ice sheet, corresponding with 50 exajoules more solar energy absorption by the ice sheet for this month between 2000 and 2012. For the June-August [summer] period, the ice sheet is now absorbing an additional 1.5 times the total US annual energy consumption. Part of the reflectivity decline is due to the effect of heat, rounding ice crystals, reducing light scattering. Another component is soot. But we don’t know if the effective importance of soot is 1%, 10%, or 50%.