“Obliteration” is intentionally Machiavellian, and over-reaching, but the hard truth is that obliteration (extinction) could really, truly happen, assuming certain things happen, or not, depending….
In such case, in order to gain a full understanding of Arctic ice loss as it relates to obliteration, query the world’s foremost Arctic expert, Peter Wadhams, professor of Ocean Physics, University of Cambridge.
All of which brings to fore a fascinating fact: How many people have traveled under the ice of the North Pole?
Well, other than sailors on nuclear submarines, probably nobody, other than Professor Wadhams, who over the past 40 years, traversed Arctic ice, submarined beneath the frozen Arctic (numerous times), studies ice, dreams ice, researches ice, fondles ice, and writes about ice. In fact, he has a new book coming out in September, Farewell to Ice (Penguin Press).
Professor Wadhams does not sponsor any radical “obliteration” concepts, as indicated by the title of this article, but he does lay out, whether intentionally or not, in a compelling interview with Tom Hartmann, the groundwork for how it could happen, if human/anthropogenic activity stays the current course: An Ice Free Arctic???… A Reality Soon? Published June 9, 2016.
His interview prompts a sudden mental pause to “stop and think,” contemplating the ramifications of way too much complacency about the health and well being of the biosphere. As such, that extreme challenge of “stopping to think” brings to surface a mind-bending stark realization that, consummately, planet Earth is extraordinarily precious, almost beyond imagination, a vibrant blue sparkling jewel in the cosmos, truly an eye-moistening reflection.
Wistfully, the prismatic biosphere may very well be in peril but nobody can say for certain. Still, the signature of ecosystem collapse is far and wide, way too noticeable to ignore. And, it’s precisely that “signature” of human-influenced (anthropogenic) global warming that is not at issue with serious scientists throughout the world. There is no doubt about it. The physics, the hard-core science, is irrefutable, and anybody who denies the physics of global warming is a fool. After years and years of science confirming anthropogenic global warming, that’s official.
Tom Hartmann posed this question: What are the consequences of an ice-free Arctic for the first time in over 100,000 years? (As an aside: Heat melts ice, a tip-off to all of the Republicans and few Democrats who play in the climate-denier fruitcake factory.)
Wadhams: “A whole series of consequences, which are all unfortunately rather serious. Firstly, the retreat of the sea ice or the loss of the ice will mean that global warming will increase because you are changing a large area of white to dark, reducing the average albedo [reflection] of the planet… Secondly, there will be an acceleration of sea level rise because warm air that lies over the open water in the Arctic Ocean moves over to Greenland and gives you surface melt at the Greenland ice sheet [equals 23’ of sea level rise] to an extent that didn’t used to happen. We found in 2012, for instance, the entire surface of the Greenland ice sheet was starting to melt for a period in the summer, and this is completely new, and this means that sea level rise will be accelerated because that melt water runs off into the ocean… Possibly one of the most severe threats is the that the shallow waters off the Arctic coast, especially the Siberian coast, are very wide continental shelves, only about 50 to 100 meters of water. That water could warm up during the summer months because the area is ice-free now already, and this will give you positive temperatures on the seabed which will start to thaw out the seabed permafrost which has been sitting there frozen since the last Ice Age. This has never happened before because the sea ice never retreated very much in the summer and the water temperature could not rise above zero because of the ice cover… The permafrost is acting as a cap for a very large amount of methane (CH4), which is sitting in the sediments underneath in the form of methane hydrates. You release the pressure by removing that permafrost and methane comes out as huge bubble plumes. It’s already happening; it’s been detected by scientists all over the Russian Arctic and most recently by a Swedish expedition and by various U.S./Russian expeditions. Each time they go there’s more and more bubbles coming out, and the fear is that there’ll be a general release of methane trapped under those sediments, which could cause a very rapid rise in the rate of sea level. We calculated it could give you 0.6 C warming of the planet in five years. That’s a big boost because methane is such a powerful greenhouse gas.”
As for rapidity of climate change, Dr. Wadhams says that the situation is already getting very serious, and brand new feedback processes are coming into play. Accordingly, that’s what is most worrying, extra feedbacks from what global warming itself produces. It’s like AI with a “will of its own.”
For example, a study at Scripps Institute of Oceanography showed that just the retreat of sea ice alone is equivalent to adding a quarter to the amount of anthropogenic CO2 release into the atmosphere and including the snow line retreat, it adds one-half. So, for every two molecules of anthropogenic CO2 into the atmosphere, another extra molecule adds from self-fulfilling feedback. Therefore, the question becomes: Is this the forerunner to runaway global warming? It kinda seems like it is.
In fact, according to Dr. Wadhams, “What’s really worrying is that we are getting feedbacks that are almost dominating the warming process.”
That statement bespeaks a self-reinforcing out of control monster, a flourishing disaster; meaning, assume all the world’s utilities, trains, planes, automobiles, and ships stop, full stop, the global warming process continues on its own, insanely threatening, like a runaway train down a mountainside, in the vernacular, runaway global warming! At that point, it’s very likely lights out in due course. How to stop it?
Under such a scenario, climate change charges ahead on automatic pilot, cascading ice sheets into the oceans, sea levels swamp NYC, Boston, Miami, inland drought sizzles crops, ocean storm surges push tsunami-type floods far inland, Tibetan and Andean glacial water towers disappear, hordes of desperate people clash in bloody battles to control muddied water holes. Chaos impales civility.
According to Professor Wadhams, an ice-free Arctic (September low cycle) may occur within the next few years, possibly as early as the 2016-18 timeframe. Then, the ticking time bomb of massive methane release accelerates the ticking process, like a doomsday clock on the public square that spins ever faster as beads of sweat on the mayor’s forehead belie his adamant denial of human-caused global warming.
Still in all, Professor Wadhams is not a pessimist. He believes geo-engineering and carbon drawdown, removing CO2 from the atmosphere, for example, are ways out of the quagmire. He calls for the equivalence of a Manhattan Project, involving scientists and nation/states in unison to combat what today is still possible to combat.
Otherwise, in due course, irreversible tipping points cascade into an abyss so deep that there’s no way out. Life turns brutally ugly, vicious, and horribly messy.
Wadhams’ view of the planet: “A perfect storm of bad things is going on.”