You ain’t seen nothing yet

arctic_AMSRE_29808.png This year’s Arctic sea ice minimum is now officially the second lowest in the record according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center in the US. On August 26, the ice extent stood at 5.26m km2, dropping below 2005’s 5.32m km2. The melt season still has several weeks left to run, and there are now suggestions that this year’s final minimum could be close to – perhaps even beat – last year’s record.

The NSIDC announcement has attracted a flurry of attention, and the media has been out trawling the usual suspects for quotes. The BBC reports:

Researchers say the Arctic is now at a climatic “tipping point”. “We could very well be in that quick slide downwards in terms of passing a tipping point,” said Mark Serreze, a senior scientist at the Colorado-based NSIDC. “It’s tipping now. We’re seeing it happen now,” he told the Associated Press news agency.

Adding to the interest, the European Space Agency released some interesting Envisat images of the state of the sea ice, and warned:

Following last summer’s record minimum ice cover in the Arctic, current observations from ESA’s Envisat satellite suggest that the extent of polar sea-ice may again shrink to a level very close to that of last year.

Meanwhile, Scientific American notes that the northwest passage is now open, and the Environment News Service does an admirable job of pulling all the info together – including recent work on possible rapid climate change around the Arctic. Earlier this month I was prepared to accept that I was going to lose my two bets on a new record minimum this year, so what’s been going on up north to change the outlook so dramatically?

Continue reading “You ain’t seen nothing yet”


NZETS.jpg The Green Party has just announced that it will support the government’s proposed emissions trading scheme, because “the substantial changes we have won to the ETS justify voting for it”, according to leader Jeanette Fitzsimons. The changes include a “billion dollar” fund from ETS revenues to improve home insulation and heating, new rules on credits for firms established to use new low-carbon technologies, and some improvements on agriculture and biodiversity protection.

“A target for agricultural emissions reduction before 2013 will be gazetted along with other targets for emission reductions. Government has also agreed that there will be investment in a range of technologies and practices which can reduce agricultural emissions, particularly nitrous oxide. These will include not just nitrification inhibitors but also low input farming which can be just as profitable; biogas plants to convert manure to energy; and methods to control soil damage in wet conditions such as herd homes and stand off pads.”

No news yet from NZ First, but Greenpeace were (predictably) pleased with the decision.

[Update 27/8: NZ First has announced that it will support the ETS legislation.]

[Update 29/8: The ETS has begun its passage through Parliament.]

I scare myself

arcticmethane.jpg More news from the Arctic. While the German research vessel Polarstern is cruising through the Northwest Passage, the Russian Yakov Smirnitsky is touring the Siberian seas measuring methane – and the news from scientists on board is not good. Igor Semiletov of the Pacific Oceanology Institute of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences told the Itar-Tass news agency (via Bernama):

“Yet another POI expedition is currently at work in the Arctic, along with ours. The expedition members are exploring the Lena River mouth, where we discovered abnormally high concentrations of methane last year. POI researchers have already carried out 47 studies and confirmed as follows: the concentration of methane in water and the atmosphere increases at a rapid pace, which is indicative of the break-up of permafrost on the shelf of Arctic seas.”

Refer to my last post on the subject and the comments here for some discussion of what that might mean. It’s not good news.

[Update 28/7: I love the internet. This morning I stumbled on a link to a Swedish team working on the Yakov Smirnitsky. Their blog is well worth a visit, if only for the amusing Google translations of the Swedish originals… Hat tip to a commenter at Eli’s warren.]

[Update 31/7: Magnus at Eli’s place links to a news item on the Swedish team’s gas measurements – Google translation here

This year’s Swedish-Russian expedition has found three new areas in western and eastern Laptev Sea where the concentration of methane is clearly increased, both in water and in the air. In addition, the scientists could measure up significantly elevated in the vicinity of Lenaflodens outflow, which Semiletov past have made similar observations.

The news gets worse.]

Taking tiger mountain (by strategy)

NZETS.jpgWith a final decision required next week, the Green Party has asked for public feedback on whether it should support the government’s emissions trading scheme legislation, and people have not been slow in coming forward. Jeanette Fitzsimons announcement on Thursday explained the dilemma facing the party:

“We set out to achieve a number of things, such as including transport and agriculture into the scheme earlier, a fund to insulate homes to keep power bills down, targets for emissions reduction and support for new innovations that offer significant carbon reduction. […] On some of the issues we have not been able to make progress. We have not been able to get agreement to phase in transport instead it will come in in one lump in 2011, so this has not changed. We have made very little progress on agriculture but we are still talking about this. Very importantly we have not found a way for Government to accept a biodiversity standard to ensure that planting pines does not destroy biodiversity.”

The usual suspects have not been slow to chip in. Business NZ wants them to vote against the scheme; Greenpeace believes they have no choice but to support it. The debate at frogblog and Chris Trotter’s new blog has been interesting, while No Right Turn provides a characteristically concise summary of the situation.

Continue reading “Taking tiger mountain (by strategy)”

The cracks are showing

petermann_breakup-1_web copy.jpg Arctic warming is taking a toll on more than sea ice: two of Greenland’s largest glaciers have experienced significant breakups over the last month, according to researchers at Ohio State University. The Petermann glacier in the far northwest of the island has lost a 29 square kilometre chunk of its floating ice tongue, and a big crack further back suggests another large piece could be about to break off. Meanwhile, the Jakobshavn Isbrae on the west coast – the largest glacier in Greenland – has retreated further inland this summer than at any time in the last 150 years, and possibly up to 6,000 years.

Further south, a team led by Ted Scambos at the University of Boulder has examined the rate of ice loss from the glaciers of south east Greenland, previously thought to be too small to contribute much to the overall mass balance of the ice sheet. Using a combination of laser altimetry and satellite imaging, they estimate that the region is losing about 100 cubic kilometres per year, a substantial part of the overall loss.

While we’re up there, the Arctic sea ice is still melting fast. Cryosphere Today shows the current area to be 3.68m km2, homing in on last year’s record. The fat lady’s still in her hotel…