All around the world

The Arctic Ocean has been circumnavigated by sailing vessels in a single season for the first time. The Norwegian trimaran Northern Passage reports that it has passed 74ºN, traditionally regarded as the eastern end of the NW Passage, and is now sailing into Baffin Bay heading for Pond Inlet. The Russian boat Peter 1is reported to be about one hour’s sailing ahead of them. In their blog post marking the milestone, Thorleif Thorleifsson and Børge Ousland provide this telling comment:

It is, unfortunately, the dramatic changes in Arctic sea ice conditions in recent years that have made this trip possible. On the time of Roald Amundsen it took five to six years to complete the same distance, due to the extremely difficult and demanding ice conditions. Now we have proven that it is possible to make the voyage in a 31-foot fibreglass sailing boat, equipped with a 10 horsepower outboard motor for emergencies. This shows how dramatic and how fast these changes are happening. The changes that we are witnessing will influence climate on a global scale, in addition to the whole range of animal life in the Arctic – especially seals and polar bears, whose lives are dependent on the sea ice.

It is our hope that our voyage will be seen as a strong, visible symbol of the scale and the speed of these changes.

Congratulations to both teams for their remarkable achievement. Given that the first circumnavigation by a sailing vessel was made by the French yacht Vagabond over two seasons as recently as 2002-2003, it’s clear that the pace of change in the Arctic is not slackening. Reflecting that, the Arctic Forum — a meeting of countries with claims to Arctic territory — is currently underway in Moscow. The Independent reports that the mood of the meeting is “conciliatory”, but the pressure to establish territory is growing as the rush to exploit oil, gas and mineral resources intensifies (see BBC for more).

[Updated] And to remind us that what’s at stake in the Arctic is a great deal more than a few billion barrels of oil, Yahoo News carries an IPS story on Arctic warming and the methane problem. If the average global warming is held to 2ºC (which doesn’t seem likely under present policy settings), the Arctic will warm much faster. NSIDC director Mark Serreze is characteristically blunt:

“I hate to say it but I think we are committed to a four- to six-degree warmer Arctic,” Serreze said.

If the Arctic becomes six degrees warmer, then half of the world’s permafrost will likely thaw, probably to a depth of a few metres, releasing most of the carbon and methane accumulated there over thousands of years, said Vladimir Romanovsky of the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and a world expert on permafrost. […]

That would be catastrophic for human civilisation, experts agree.

In other words, we have very good reasons to believe that settling for a 2ºC target would be to acquiesce in a global disaster. We can only hope for two things: that the climate commitment (the inevitable warming “in the pipeline”) does not push the Arctic into a huge release of methane, and that the world’s leaders wake up to the real scale and urgency of the problem. For all our sakes


Monday miscellany

I‘m going to be away from my desk for a few days this week, so here’s a few interesting things to read and reflect on. First up: Wellington’s hosting this year’s New Zealand Soil Carbon Conference at Te Papa from Wednesday to Friday. Keynote speakers are Tim Flannery and Christine Jones, and topics to be covered include:

  • The science behind climate change and soil carbon
  • The on-farm benefits of biological farming
  • How research can support innovative farmers
  • An overview of the new biological economy and market opportunities
  • Practical tips to build soil carbon, humus and soil biology
  • Future directions for NZ agriculture and extension services

Full programme here — Friday’s a field trip day. Sounds very worthwhile. If any HT readers are attending (or if the conference organisers are reading this), I’d be very happy to carry a report on events.

Adding to the long list of material debunking standard sceptic & crank claims about climate change, Deutsche Bank’s Climate Change Advisors (DBCCA) have produced a nicely referenced document (PDF), prepared for them by the Earth Centre at Columbia University. Here’s a sample from the executive summary:

Claim: Human society and natural systems have adapted to past climate change.

Response: Past climate changes have often been accompanied by migration, war, and disease. The growing human population will inevitably make environmental change more disruptive in the future, even in the face of increased technological prowess.

A couple of items from Nature News: in Collapse of the ice titans, NN interviews Richard Bates, recently returned from a summer sail along Greenland’s NW coast on the Gambo (more on that voyage at Jason Box’s blog) about the melt season at the Petermann and Humboldt glaciers. Ocean conveyor-belt model stirred up looks at a new paper in Nature Geoscience that finds greater than expected variability in the great ocean current network known as the Thermohaline Circulation (THC). Understanding the short term changes in THC flows will be important in attempts to model short term and regional climate change.

The Arctic sea ice looks to be fast approaching its summer minimum, heading for somewhere between 2008 and 2009 — making it the third lowest in the record. Best place to keep up with events is (as it has been all NH summer) Neven’s Arctic Sea Ice blog. The two boats (Northern Passage, Peter 1) attempting to circumnavigate the Arctic Ocean in a single season are both now heading for the southern route of the NW Passage. In the southern Beaufort Sea the Norwegian team are reporting high sea temperatures:

We are still surprised and worried about the high water temperature. At the moment we are registering around 7 to 8 degrees Celsius, which according to the experts is far higher than normal.

Also of interest for sea ice aficionados: a new paper in Quaternary Science Reviews looks at what we know of the history of Arctic sea ice. Coverage at Climate Central and Science Daily but here’s Climate Central talking to the NSIDC’s Mark Serreze:

“They’re telling us that there was maybe no ice during the Arctic summers 7,000 years ago, and also ice-free summers during the last interglacial 125,000 years ago.” Those were due to natural factors, most notably the changes in Earth’s orientation to the Sun that brought more sunlight to the Arctic in summer. This time, says the paper, there is no known natural explanation, and climate skeptics who claim the ice is rebounding after the 2007 low, he says, “are grasping at straws.”

And finally: the British government starts planning to adapt to inevitable warming (but offers no new money). Plus ça change…

Long way around the sea

With the northern hemisphere summer fading into autumn, time for a quick overview of Arctic events. The sea ice is nearing its annual low point, and appears to be heading for a minimum somewhere between 2009 and 2008 — 2007’s record minimum appears to be beyond reach. The latest batch of forecasts for the SEARCH exercise mostly agree, but it’s still a bit early to make a final call — reductions in extent can continue right up to the end of the month. This graph of sea ice extent (from the University of Bremen) puts the current situation in context (click to see a large, updated version):


Now let’s see what that data looks like on a map…

Continue reading “Long way around the sea”

On fire inside a snowball

Fire: NOAA’s National Climate Data Centre has posted its report on global climate for July (press release). The combined global land and sea surface temperature of 16.5ºC was the second warmest in the NOAA record, 0.66°C above the average for the last 100 years of 15.8°C. The January to July period was the warmest in the record. The map below shows the anomalies for the month — spot the heatwave in Russia.


Meanwhile, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) has posted its take on the the July numbers: What Global Warming Looks Like. Click on the thumbnail image at the top of the post to see their map of July temperatures. One striking point they comment on:

…the area warmer than climatology already (with global warming of 0.55°C relative to 1951-1980) is noticeably larger than the area cooler than climatology. Also the magnitude of warm anomalies now usually exceeds the magnitude of cool anomalies.

GISS also note that the 12-month running mean (below) of global temperature is well into record territory, and that it’s possible that calendar 2010 could also set a record.


Meanwhile, up North….

Continue reading “On fire inside a snowball”